Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced a sweeping crackdown Saturday under a new emergency decree, ordering the seizure of paralyzed factories,…
Valentina OROPEZA @ msn.com
Notice, in particular:
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced a sweeping crackdown Saturday under a new emergency decree, ordering the seizure of paralyzed factories, the arrest of their owners and military exercises to counter alleged foreign threats. Addressing his supporters at a rally in central Caracas on Saturday, Maduro announced some of the actions to be taken under the decree, which has not yet been published.
Maduro’s decree expanded an “economic emergency” declared in January to a full-blown state of emergency.
The extent of the decree was unclear, but political analysts said it could be used to limit the right to protest, authorize preventive arrests and allow police raids without a warrant.
Maduro said the measures, which initially apply for three months, will likely be extended through 2017.
For nearly a decade, the Conservative government in Canada enforced formal rules and a byzantine censorial bureaucracy deliberately intended to control the time, manner and content of any and all public statements by every one of the many scientists working for branches of the Canadian government. Of course this policy destroyed open communication, hampered research, and damaged the careers of promising scientists. It was often used heavyhandedly to censor scientists’ discussion of their own research to comply with political priorities and even to muffle public criticism of the governments’ communications procedures or censorship policies.
The basic liberal response is to look at this horrible situation and say, This is why it’s important to elect governments that won’t try to control what the scientists that work for them can say to the public. Just think of what might happen in Canada if the political winds reverse.
The radical response is to look at this horrible situation and say, This is why it’s important for scientists to be independent of government funding. If scientists work for the government, then their jobs are dependent on a political process and they are subject to political control. But scientific shouldn’t be subject to the direction of the political winds.
Canadian scientists are now allowed to speak out about their work — and the government policy that had restricted communications.
Nine years of censorship
Early one Thursday morning last November, Kristi Miller-Saunders was surprised to receive a visit from her manager. Miller-Saunders, a molecular geneticist at the Canadian fisheries agency, had her reasons to worry about attention from above. On numerous occasions over the previous four years, government officials had forbidden her from talking to the press or the public about her work on the genetics of salmon — part of a broad policy that muzzled government scientists in Canada for many years. At one point, a brawny minder had actually accompanied her to a public hearing to make sure that she didn’t break the rules.
But the meeting last autumn was different. Miller-Saunders’ manager at Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) in Nanaimo walked in with a smile and gave her advance notice that the newly elected government would be opening up scientific communication: she and other federal researchers would finally be free to speak to the press. Canadian scientists celebrated the move far and wide. Six months later, the government is loosening its grip on communications but the shift at some agencies has not been as swift and comprehensive as many had hoped. And with the newfound freedom to speak, the full impact of the former restrictions is finally becoming clear. Canadian scientists and government representatives are opening up about what it was like to work under the former policy and the kind of consequences it had. Some of the officials who imposed the rules are talking about how the restrictions affected the morale and careers of researchers. Their stories hint at how governments control communications in even more politically repressive countries such as China, and suggest what might happen in Canada if the political winds reverse.
The crackdown on government scientists in Canada began in 2006, after Stephen Harper of the Conservative Party was elected prime minister. During the nine-year Harper administration, the government placed a priority on boosting the economy, in part by stimulating development and increasing the extraction of resources, such as petroleum from the oil sands in Alberta. To speed projects along, the administration eased environmental regulations. And when journalists sought out government scientists to ask about the impacts of such changes, or anything to do with environmental or climate science, they ran into roadblocks.
For decades before the Harper administration, reporters had been free to call up government researchers directly for interviews. But suddenly, all requests for interviews had to be sent to government communications offices, which then had to get approval from multiple tiers of bureaucrats higher up. “It was an incredible rigmarole to try and get the most innocuous bit of information to media or the public,” says Diane Lake, who was a communications officer with the DFO at the time.
Lake had been a newspaper reporter for a dozen years before joining the department in 1992, so she knew what journalists needed to produce stories. She has fond memories of her time as a communications officer before the Harper years, but after he took office, her job became less about communicating science and more about censoring it. When journalists called her trying to reach scientists, she was required to get approval for scripted answers that researchers could give, but she found the authorization process opaque and arbitrary. There were never any written protocols on what would pass muster and what wouldn’t, she says. I would always say, can you write that down? to folks in Ottawa. No one ever did.
See if you can spot the Freedom in this photograph.
There are no enforceable laws against flag desecration in the United States. There have been no such laws for over twenty five years. But bring up flag burning and a lot of American nationalists — especially, it seems, political conservatives — will get pretty heated about their right to beat people up who express Patriotically Incorrect political views, or to beat people up just for being a dirty hippie. This kind of appeal to crude instinctual violence only goes so far however, so if the conversation goes on, many of them (more, it seems, in the last few years) will come around to make a claim that it is actually illegal to burn a U.S. flag, and that people can be arrested for doing it. They are completely mistaken about that claim. But it’s interesting, and a bit scary, that they are so pervasively and repetitively and insistently mistaken.
Let’s set aside for the moment the question of whether or not there’s anything wrong with burning a U.S. flag in protest. And let’s set aside for the moment whether or not there’d be anything wrong with burning a U.S. flag in protest if it were illegal. We’ll come back to that later, but it’s a separate question.
Those who claim that burning an American flag is illegal rarely cite a source for this claim. If they do, they will normally point to something like 18 USC 700, on Desecration of the flag of the United States. What they don’t seem to have noticed is that 18 USC 700 has no legal force. It hasn’t had any legal force for two and a half decades. It’s still printed in copies of the U.S. code, but both that law, and any law substantially like it, were struck down as violations of free speech rights a quarter century ago in Texas v. Johnson and United States v. Eichman. This is not a new development. It’s been the case for decades.
In 1989, Congress passed the Flag Protection Act which made it a crime to destroy an American flag or any likeness of an American flag which may be “commonly displayed.” The law did, however, allow proper disposal of a worn or soiled flag. Several prosecutions resulted from the Act. Eichman set a flag ablaze on the steps of the U.S. Capitol while protesting the government’s domestic and foreign policy. Another prosecution (United States v. Haggerty) resulted from a flag-burning in Seattle protesting the passage of the Flag Protection Act.Both cases (Eichman’s and Haggerty’s) were argued together.
Now, of course, even if there were an enforceable law against desecrating or burning a flag, your own property, whenever you see fit to do so, that law would be a petty tyranny, an obvious and stupid invasion of people’s basic rights to freedom of speech and freedom of conscience. Using force to censor and curtail basic freedom of speech and basic property rights is wrong, and fundamentally unjust, no matter what the law says.
If it were illegal to burn flags, then every one of us would have a perfect right to burn flags in defiance of the law, as an act of civil disobedience against unjust restrictions on free speech. Laws that elevate the symbolism of a piece of cloth over the rights of living people to the integrity of their own minds, their own bodies, and their own property, — laws that propose censorship and punitive force against those whose peaceful protests offend the delicate sensibilities of Patriotic Correctness — deserve nothing but contempt and defiance, whenever and wherever they exist.
But of course they don’t even exist in this case. They’re pure mythology. But myths are created and repeated because they serves a political and cultural function. There’s something worth noting in the fact that so many of the self-appointed Home Guard have a manifest felt need, that they so badly want to believe in a government that can and will use violence to punish offenses against the dignity of their national flag, even in spite of what they could have found out with two minutes’ research on the Internet. This kind of violent Patriotic Correctness is, of course, nothing more than bullying and violent censorship. A form of bullying and violent censorship where many of the bullies and the censors so desperately feel the need for government support that they will conjure non-existent laws to back up their burning desire to punch a hippie in the face. The saddest thing of all is that they will tell you that they do this because the flag means so very much, and it means so very much because it stands for freedom. That should tell you something about the kind of American Nation, and the kind of freedom, that they are so exercised to protect against the scourge of peaceful protest and free speech.
My own view of course is that sedition and open disrespect for the government are American traditions, and they deserve to be honored.
Occasionally they will point to the Federal Flag Code (4 U.S.C Ch. 1 § 5 and following) instead. But the Flag Code is explicitly purely advisory; if you read it, you’ll find that it never claims to be anything more than a list of etiquette and customs that the government specifies as guidance for such civilians or civilian groups or organizations as may not be required to conform with regulations promulgated by one or more executive departments of the Government of the United States. It has no legally binding force for anyone who isn’t in the employment of the United States government. You don’t commit any crime by disregarding it and there are no penalties for violating it.↩
So the city council of Detroit is now debating plans for the city’s upcoming River Days and Freedom Festival firework shows, held each year in downtown Detroit. This year, one of the plans under discussion is whether or not to celebrate Freedom Festival by imposing a city-wide curfew. If passed, the curfew would make it so that nobody 17 or younger would be allowed to be outside on their own in public, anywhere in the city of Detroit, at any time starting at six o’clock in the evening. If you want to celebrate yer Freedom, you can do it only in the presence of a guardian; and the curfew would allow the police to demand papers from anyone at any time after six, in order to prove their age and identity.
This is, of course, yet another assault on the basic civil liberties of teens and children, and yet another massive increase in the police’s power to harass, punish and detain young people, from the Detroit city government. It is an intolerable assault on the city of Detroit — i.e., on the people who live in Detroit and on their ability to inhabit and enjoy the city that they call home. The proposed Freedom Festival Curfew is a shameful measure. It ought to be rejected out of hand, and if passed, it deserves to be ridiculed and defied as much as possible.