Tuesday Links: Crooked Sheriffs, Frivolous Lawsuits, and Middle East Shitholes

Louisiana’s governor has signed into law a bill raising the minimum age for strippers from 18 to 21. The bill’s sponsors claim that the law will “help fight human trafficking.” Bullshit. This has nothing to do with human trafficking and everything to do with suppressing sexuality.

– Last January, Grant County (Oregon) Sheriff’s deputy Zach Mobley falsely arrested a 911 caller in order to protect his trigger-happy relatives. Sheriff Glenn Palmer approved the bogus arrest, and later promoted Mobley to under-sheriff. The incident came to light now that Palmer, a so-called “constitutional sheriff”, is under criminal investigation for records tampering.

A Pakistani woman has been arrested for pouring kerosene on her daughter and burning her alive after the young woman eloped with her motorcycle mechanic boyfriend. Goddammit. Why even bring a child into this world if you’re just going to murder them over some trivial bullshit?

A blind man is suing McDonald’s in federal court after he was turned away from the drive-thru window at one of the chain’s Louisiana locations because he was on foot and not in a car (the incident occurred late at night after the restaurant’s lobby had closed; only the drive-thru was open). Screw this guy. If McDonald’s doesn’t want his money, I’m sure there are plenty of other fast-food places that do. Suing them just makes him an asshole.

After the Dutch government announced that the BDS (Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment) movement targeting Israel over its treatment of the Palestinians would be allowed to continue to operate in the Netherlands because of free speech, the Israeli government condemned the Dutch government’s stance. An Israeli government spokesman proclaimed confusion at how free speech could include the right to boycott Israel, saying that “Once free speech becomes a pretext for allowing hate speech, then it is no longer legitimate.” Oh, fuck you. Free speech as a concept is meaningless if the government can ban any speech it dislikes.

A Dutch woman is finally returning home after spending nearly three months in a Qatari prison for reporting her rape to police. The woman was vacationing in the gulf state in March when she told authorities she had been drugged and raped. Since this is the Middle East, she was charged and convicted of having sex outside of wedlock (the alleged rapist was charged as well). If this sounds familiar, it’s because the same thing happened to an Australian woman in the United Arab Emirates in 2008, and again to a Norwegian woman in the U.A.E. in 2013. Goddammit.

Two gay men were arrested in Russia after attempting to place a poster bearing the words “Love Wins” outside of the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, in an act of solidarity with the victims of the Orlando nightclub shooting. The men were charged with “holding a public event without making prior notice”, which I assume is code-word for “being gay in Russia.”

– And finally, a Massachusetts man who sold a used printer online has been embroiled in a 6-year legal dispute with the buyer, a Ukrainian-born professional litigant and all-around terrible person named Gersh Zavodnik. Zavodnik purchased the printer in 2009 for around $40 plus shipping costs, but turned around and sued the seller for $6,000, alleging that the printer was broken. After the first lawsuit was dismissed, Zavodnik filed another one, this time for $30,000. Zavodnik also sent letters to the seller demanding up to $600,000 in damages. Fortunately, it seems that justice and common sense have finally prevailed: An appeals court has ruled against Zavodnik, calling him a “prolific, abusive litigant” who “spends much of his life prosecuting lawsuits against individuals and businesses with whom he has entered into online transactions.” Good, now is there any way we can kick this guy out of the country? (I hear the surface of the Sun is nice this time of year.)

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Yes, Open Borders Is Libertarian

In a recent blog post, “libertarian” anarchist blogger Christopher Cantwell argues that, contrary to widespread perception, the libertarian position on immigration is not open borders, but rather severely restricted immigration.

According to Cantwell, the libertarian is in favor of “privatizing” borders. Cantwell correctly points out that property owners have the right to determine who is or is not allowed on their property, but seems to believe that in the absence of a state the situation would more closely mirror East Germany than anything resembling open borders.

Cantwell says that open borders would allow in “massive waves of dangerous, poverty stricken people who victimize the populace with crime, drain the public coffers with welfare dependency, and alter the course of the civilization through the ballot box.” This kind of rhetoric, which would not sound out of place at a Klan meeting (or a Trump rally), suggests that Cantwell is as much concerned with keeping out “undesirables” as he is with protecting private property rights.

Like many closed-border “libertarians”, Cantwell makes the mistake of treating national borders and private property lines as equivalent, when they are most certainly not. Borders are (often arbitrary) lines created by governments and protected by force. If borders are creations of the state, and the state is illegitimate, then it only follows that borders are illegitimate as well.

While a property owner has the right to prohibit others from his property, he does not have the right to prohibit others from his neighbors’ properties. If Joe Smith doesn’t want to open his property to a Syrian refugee family, that’s his right. But he doesn’t have a right to say that the landlord down the street can’t rent rooms to any Syrians. For the libertarian, there is no such right to dictate how others may use their property.

So, what is the appropriate immigration policy preference for anti-state libertarians, given the current reality? I would say that repealing all of this country’s immigration laws and ending immigration enforcement would be a worthwhile (if unrealistic) goal. This country’s immigration laws have long had the effect of destroying lives and tearing apart families, and any person with even an ounce of decency should strongly oppose the status quo.

The proper libertarian position on immigration, then, is not, as Cantwell argues, some version of “Papers, please.” Rather, it is to support freedom of movement and private property rights (meaning the right of any person to pack up and move–to seek a better life in a new place), while also supporting the rights of private property owners to refuse access to immigrants.

This is what libertarians mean when we talk about “open borders”. We’re not saying that immigrants should be free to trespass (at least not on private property that is clearly labelled so). We’re simply arguing that someone from Mexico should be free to move to Texas, in the same way that someone from Michigan is already free to do so.

For those so-called “libertarians” who want to keep the borders closed, I ask: What could be a greater manifestation of the evils of the state than a policy of forcibly removing individuals from their own homes because they happen to have been born on the wrong side of an invisible line?

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Weekend Links: Indian Child Welfare Act, Cultural Appropriation, and Revenge Porn

– A 6-year-old California girl who is 1/64th Choctaw Indian has been forcibly removed from her longtime foster family and sent to live with extended family in Utah because of the Indian Child Welfare Act. The 1978 federal law was enacted to halt the practice of taking Native American children from their homes and placing them in Non-Native American families. So, in other words, a law meant to stop children being forcibly removed from their homes has resulted in a child being forcibly removed from her home. Goddammit.

An Ohio man is facing a felony charge of “disrupting public services” for creating a parody Facebook page for the Parma Police Department. A police spokesperson claimed that 27-year-old Anthony Novak’s speech went beyond constitutionally-protected satire to constitute “an actual risk to public safety.” How stupid does this guy think we are? Let’s hope whichever judge gets this case has enough sense to toss it out before the City of Parma and its joke of a police department are embarrassed any further.

– In an incident captured on video, a black female San Francisco State University student assaulted a white male student because he had dreadlocks, accusing him of “cultural appropriation.” Amazingly, some commentators are still defending the woman’s actions, including this person, who says that white people don’t have the right to style their hair however they want if it offends minorities, and that to insist otherwise is to exercise “white entitlement.” Wow.

– Andrew Wakefield, the disgraced former British physician and prominent anti-vaxxer, has condemned the Tribeca Film Festival’s decision to pull his “documentary” exploring the discredited link between the MMR vaccine and autism, claiming that his “first amendment” rights are under attack. I guess we can add freedom of speech to the list of things that Mr. Wakefield does not understand.

– And, finally, I never though this day would come, but I’m actually in agreement with the MPAA: The Motion Picture Association of American has come out against proposed revenge porn legislation in Minnesota, saying that the law as written would be broad enough to criminalize such constitutionally-protected speech as “images of Holocaust victims, or prisoners at Abu Ghraib.” I applaud the MPAA for taking such a bold stance against a well-intentioned but unconstitutional law.

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Wednesday Links: Sex Offenses in Minnesota, Public Drunkenness, and Anti-Vaxxers vs. the State of California

– Last month, a federal judge ruled Minnesota’s sex offender civil commitment program unconstitutional. U.S. Federal District Judge Donovan Frank stopped short of ordering the release of the 740 individuals currently in the program, though, instead giving lawmakers until August 10th to come up with solutions. Good–hopefully the legislature will release those who no longer pose a risk to others, while finding a way to keep the truly dangerous locked up for life.

A British man in Alberta on a tourist visa has been deported from Canada after immigration officials discovered that he helped his girlfriend do repairs in her apartment. Like many countries, Canada prohibits tourists from doing work that a Canadian could be paid to do. Where does it end though? Could I be kicked out of Canada for wiping my own ass? (Because I could pay a Canadian to do that!)

The Minnesota Supreme Court has upheld the felony conviction of a minister for having sex with a woman who had come to him for spiritual guidance. Goddammit. Same-sex marriage is legal nationwide, and yet states like Minnesota still criminalize consensual sex between adults! Why are legislators so determined to regulate peoples’ sex lives?

– Nevada’s governor has signed into law a bill that, among other things, changes the definition of “physical control” of a vehicle to exclude people who are sleeping in the backseats of parked cars. In other words, police in Nevada can no longer arrest drunk people for “sleeping it off” in their cars. The question remains: Why where they arresting people for that in the first place, unless it was their intent to encourage drunk driving? (If you’re going to get a DUI either way, you might as well risk driving home rather than sleeping in your car.)

California Governor Jerry Brown has signed into law one of the nation’s strictest childhood vaccination requirements, eliminating personal belief exemptions for both public and private school students in the state. Of course, anti-vaxxers are doubling down on the crazy, comparing vaccinations to concentration camps and the State of California to Nazi Germany (a comparison that is not entirely unwarranted).

The Iowa Supreme Court has affirmed the right to get drunk in front of your own home, throwing out the public intoxication conviction of a Waterloo woman who arrested for blowing a 0.267 on her front porch. Okay, public intoxication laws don’t make sense to me–if you’ve even been to a bar or any other public place that serves alcohol, you’ve probably been in violation of the law. (For that matter, unless you never drink or never leave the house, you’re probably going to be “publically intoxicated” numerous times in your life.)

– A girl performs oral sex on you while you’re passed out drunk and two years later decides that she regrets it–congratulations, according to Amherst College, you’re a rapist!  And, if the victim’s advocates and feminists crying for “affirmative consent” get their way, situations like this will only become more common.

– And finally, in light of the recent Supreme Court same-sex marriage victory, LGBT activists are now trying to determine what the next step is. Unfortunately for libertarians, many of the LGBT movement’s remaining goals can only be obtained through government coercion and restrictions on individual liberty. At Reason.com, Scott Shackford has a wonderful piece up exploring whether this is the moment at which libertarians and the larger LGBT communities part ways.

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Why Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act is Not That Big of a Deal

Indiana’s newly-passed Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and the controversy surrounding it have dominated headlines this week. Indiana Governor Mike Pence and the RFRA legislation he signed have been excoriated in the media based on fears that the law will “legalize discriminations against gays.”

However, while three Indiana cities have laws prohibiting business discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation (Bloomington, Indianapolis and South Bend), the state itself has no such law, meaning that most Indiana businesses are already free to refuse service to gays.

Despite what the brain-dead liberals calling for boycotts of Indiana would have people believe, this law will not lead to businesses across the state refusing service to gays. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (similar versions of which exist at the federal level and in 19 other states) only prohibits the government from “substantially burdening” the free exercise of religion unless it has a “compelling interest” and can do so in the least restrictive way.

(Indiana’s RFRA also allows religious freedom to be used as a defense in private lawsuits. So, theoretically, a florist in Bloomington who is sued for refusing to provide flowers for a same-sex wedding could offer an RFRA-based religious freedom defense.)

But even if the RFRA did legalize private discrimination against gays or any other group, why would that be controversial? If I own a businesses, I should be able to refuse service to anyone I want, and for any reason. That’s freedom of association.

Certainly, I would never turn away a customer or a prospective employee simply because of some arbitrary characteristic like sexuality, race or religion. I detest bigotry in any form. However, I also support the right of others to engage in behavior that I personally find abhorrent, whether it’s joining the Ku Klux Klan, protesting outside abortion clinics, or discriminating against gays.

In a free market, discriminatory firms pay a price for their discrimination. Businesses that turn away gay customers are going to lose those customers and their friends to more gay-friendly businesses. Similarly, employers who care more about their employees’ sexuality than their job qualifications will lose qualified gay applicants to non-discriminatory firms.  Not only that, but businesses that discriminate will likely face a backlash that could include not only negative online reviews but boycotts and loss of contracts.

Considering the potentially enormous economic costs of discrimination, only the most committed homophobes will refuse to do business with gays, even in the absence of laws protecting gays from discrimination. (And, as we have seen, small mom-and-pop stores are the businesses most apt to discriminate, because the economic cost of doing so is much smaller for them than it would be for large chain stores).

So, no, Indiana’s RFRA will not lead to gay customers and job applicants being turned away in droves. It hasn’t happened yet, and it won’t happen now. Most Hoosiers, like most Americans, care far more about a person’s money or their job qualifications than they do about who that person is sleeping with.

Don’t boycott Indiana for its clumsy attempt at protecting homophobic business owners, boycott the homophobic business owners themselves! Don’t punish an entire state for the vaguely homophobic actions of its legislature, especially not when there are still countries out there that treat homosexuality as a crime.

The energy being directed against Indiana right now would be better directed against laws criminalizing homosexuality throughout the world, or–closer to home–against laws prohibiting adoption by same-sex couples. LGBT activists need to pick their battles. Trampling over freedom of association to protect some fuzzy “right not to be discriminated against” shouldn’t be one of them.

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Weekend Links: Ballot Selfies, Delhi Gang Rape, and ISIS vs. Twitter

– Defying a federal court order, the Alabama Supreme Court this week ordered probate judges in the state to stop issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Chief Justice Roy Moore defended the ruling, claiming that the court was merely standing up for state’s rights (state’s rights being the rallying call for bigots who are clinging desperately to the past).

A French man is suing Facebook for deleting his account after he posted an image of a sexually-explicit painting on the site. The man claims that Facebook violated his “freedom of expression”, demonstrating once again that the French don’t understand how free speech works. (Facebook is a private company, it can’t “censor” anybody. Only the government can do that.)

India has banned the airing of a BBC documentary about the 2012 Delhi gang rape, ostensibly because the government objected to an interview with one of the rapists in which he blames the victim for the attack (it’s more likely that the government is simply trying to whitewash the country’s image, and in particular its treatment of women). India’s government is now considering legal action against the BBC, as well as seeking a global ban on the documentary. Goddammit India.

ISIS supporters are issuing death threats to Twitter staff, including founder Jack Dorsey, for deleting their accounts. Threats of violence are explicitly banned by Twitter’s terms of service (you know those things you have to agree to when you create an account–yeah, obviously no one at ISIS bothers to read those things either).

A group of Colorado sheriffs, joined by law enforcement officials in neighboring states, are suing to overturn marijuana legalization in Colorado. The Colorado sheriffs claim that they are being forced to choose between violating state law and violating the U.S. constitution, but where in the constitution does it ban marijuana? These guys are just pissed off that they can’t break down people’s doors over an ounce of pot anymore.

The California Supreme Court has overturned San Diego County’s harsh sex offender residence restrictions, ruling that the law, passed by voters in 2006 and which prohibits sex offenders from living within 2,000 feet of a school or park, violates the 14th Amendment because it does not take into consideration the nature of the sex offenders’ crimes or their level of danger to the community. Finally, common sense has prevailed. Hopefully other communities in California that are considering such laws will reconsider.

– And finally, voters in New Hampshire who post “ballot selfies” online could face prosecution under state election laws. According to Secretary of State Bill Gardner, the ban on “ballot selfies” was enacted to prevent voter coercion or vote buying. Is this asshole serious? (Also, it’s no surprise that Gardner is a Democrat, considering that Democrats are the ones who believe that freedom of speech must be limited to preserve the “sanctity of democracy”.)

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Wednesday Links: SWAT Raids on Poker Games, Sex is Rape, and Childless Deadbeat Dads

The City of Seattle is enforcing a new law requiring food to be separated from other trash so that it can be composted. Since the law just took effect this month, the city is currently only handing out warnings in the form of red tags on garbage bins (the city won’t start issuing fines until July). Surely there are better ways for the city to promote composting?

A Fairfax County SWAT Team raided a high stakes poker game in Northern Virginia, seizing over $150,000 in cash and charging eight men with misdemeanor illegal gambling (punishable by a fine of up $500). Prosecutors have now cut a deal with the defendants, whereby the police agreed to return 60% of each player’s cash. So, in other words, Fairfax County police just got away with armed robbery. Goddammit.

Western Michigan residents are upset that a local atheist has taken it upon himself to enforce the separation of church and state in their community, most notably by having a 48 ft. cross removed from city land and replaced with an anchor. When will these Bible-thumpers learn that, in the U.S., the State cannot promote one religion over another? Christianity is not an exception to that rule.

– In Oklahoma, a 32-year-old high school sex ed. teacher has been arrested for having sex with an 18-year-old student. Yes, you read that right: in Oklahoma, it’s apparently a crime to have sex with a student under the age of 21. The teacher has been charged with one count of sexual battery and six counts of second degree rape, which is the most fucking asinine thing I’ve ever heard. If consensual sex between two adults can be called “rape”, then the word has lost all meaning.

– And finally, the State of Michigan has ordered a Detroit man to pay the state over $30 thousand in child support for a child that isn’t his. It all started in the late ’80s, when Carnell Alexander’s ex-girlfriend falsely listed him as the child’s father in order to receive state assistance. Now that the child is (presumably) grown up, the state is seeking reimbursement from the child’s listed father for welfare benefits that the child received. Despite the fact that a DNA test proved that Alexander was not the child’s father, that’s not good enough for the State of Michigan, which apparently operates on a different plane of reality than the rest of the world. Alexander has now turned himself in rather than pay child support for a child that isn’t his. Goddammit.

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Charlie Hebdo and Free Speech Hypocrites

In the wake of the attack on Charlie Hebdo, freedom of speech seems to be having a moment. As the rallies in Paris and elsewhere last weekend demonstrated, freedom of speech has strong support in the West. It is the one value that can unite Americans and Brits, Russians and Ukrainians, Israelis and Palestinians.

Except looks can be deceiving. Many of the governments that sent representatives to the rally in Paris, while displaying superficial support for free speech in France, actually have little respect for free speech at home. For example, countries such as Canada, The Netherlands, Belgium, Finland, Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom, Turkey, and Brazil all have laws criminalizing “offensive speech.”

Even more bizarrely, the governments of Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates all sent representatives to the rally in Paris despite having prosecuted individuals in their respective countries for the crime of “insulting religion.” Turkey’s government is now apparently banning any webpage that depicts the latest Charlie Hebdo cover. (Nobody shows solidarity better than the Turks, huh?)

Moreover, 14 countries whose governments sent representatives to the rally in Paris (Russia, Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, UAE, China, Algeria, Benin, Mali, Niger, Tunisia, Togo, Senegal, and Egypt) were among the countries voting in favor of a U.N. resolution opposing “defamation of religion.”

In addition, as Reporters Without Borders has pointed out, several of the governments represented at the rally have very poor records on freedom of the press, including Turkey, Russia, Algeria, Gabon, and the United Arab Emirates. Turkey, in particular, seems to have a fondness for imprisoning journalists.

Decrying the presence of authoritarian regimes at a rally for free speech, Reporters Without Borders issued the following statement:

“It would be unacceptable if representatives of countries that silence journalists were to take advantage of the current outpouring of emotion to try to improve their international image and then continue their repressive policies when they return home. We must not let predators of press freedom spit on the graves of Charlie Hebdo.”

One of the more astonishing cases of hypocrisy is that of British Prime Minister David Cameron. Cameron, who attended the rally in Paris, said in a press conference following the attack that “[W]e should never give up the values that we believe in and defend as part of our democracy and civilisation [sic] and believing in a free press, in freedom of expression, in the right of people to write and say what they believe.”

Cameron has also defended Charlie Hebdo’s latest cover, saying that “It’s not for politicians to tell magazines or television stations or radio stations what they should publish or what they shouldn’t publish.”

This all comes from the same man who has been leading the charge against pornography in the U.K., cracking down on everything from simulated rape porn to female ejaculation. For David Cameron to praise freedom of expression is laughable, given how hard the Prime Minister has worked to prevent adults from seeing pictures of other adults having sex. (No doubt Cameron would take a different stance on Charlie Hebdo if its covers depicted uncensored female genitalia instead of the Prophet Muhammad.)

Even the French themselves have little moral authority when it comes to freedom of speech. Although it ostensibly supports Charlie Hebdo‘s right to offend, the French government has a long history of prosecuting individuals for “inciting racial hatred” and similar offenses.

Just this week, French authorities arrested 54 individuals for offenses including “hate speech” and “glorifying terrorism.” Among those arrested was controversial anti-Semitic comedian Dieudonne, who was charged for a Facebook posting in which he seemed to express support for Amedy Coulibaly, the Islamist gunman who killed four hostages at a kosher supermarket in Paris last Friday. (So much for France’s brief commitment to free speech!)

Freedom of speech needs real champions, not governments that will pay lip service to it while locking up journalists, censoring pornography, and prosecuting people for mere words. Certainly, the rallies in Paris and elsewhere would have been much smaller gatherings if only those who absolutely, genuinely support free speech had attended, but at least attendance would have meant something.

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This is the New Charlie Hebdo Cover


Buzzfeed has a list of who is and isn’t publishing the new cover. Notably, The New York Times, NBC, NPR, BBC and The Daily Mail are among the publications opting not to show the image. Cowards.

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The Attack on Charlie Hebdo is an Attack on Free Speech


Yesterday, Islamist militants attacked the Paris offices of left-wing satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, killing 12 people, including the paper’s editor and four of its cartoonists. The gunmen were almost certainly motivated by the paper’s publication of cartoons satirizing the Prophet Muhammad, and they were heard to shout “Allahu Akbar” and “We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad.”

This is the second time the newspaper’s offices have been attacked. In November 2011, the paper’s offices were firebombed and its website hacked after it published the above special issue (featuring Muhammad as guest editor).

Despite the tremendous losses it has suffered, the newspaper has announced that it will still be publishing next week’s issue, with a print run of one million copies (much larger than its normal run of 60,000). It doesn’t look like Charlie Hebdo will disappear quietly into obscurity as the terrorists must have wished.

It should be clear that this attack is not only an attack on Charlie Hebdo and its employees. It is an attack on freedom of speech, and–specifically–on our freedom to satirize religious figures. It is not enough to condemn the loss of life, if one truly wants to “Stand with Charlie”, one must appreciate the freedoms that are being threatened.

We cannot let a bunch of thugs acting in the name of religion take away our freedom to mock, to criticize, and, yes, even to denigrate revered historical figures. If the price we pay for freedom of speech is that we must endure violence and threats of violence from a bunch of semi-literate barbarians, then so be it.

Even if Al-Qaeda kills every cartoonist in the West, they will have succeeded only in demonstrating how insecure their faith really is. A religion that cannot stand of its own accord–that needs to be defended against every insult by angry men with guns and knives–is a religion of wimps and cowards. If Muhammad is really the mighty prophet they say he is, he wouldn’t be bothered by some stupid cartoons.

These Islamic terrorists will never win as long as we don’t let them. For every cartoonist they kill, we should publish 10,000 cartoons of Muhammad being sodomized. For every building they bomb, we should release 10 fake movie trailers parodying the life of Muhammad.

When they attack us with guns and bombs, we will strike back with words. And we will win, because the pen (or the keyboard) is mightier than the sword. Every bomb and machine gun in the Middle East cannot put an end to religious satire. The combined might of Al Qaeda and ISIS cannot stop cartoons of Muhammad from being published. Only our western governments can do that.

But we must not let them. We must not be silenced by fear, nor by a desire to “keep the peace” and “not offend anyone.” No one has the right to not be offended, no matter how much artillery they have. That’s what this ultimately comes down to: the right to offend.

Many people in the world, particularly in the Middle East, believe that causing offense should be illegal, even punishable by death. These people believe that it is morally acceptable to kill someone because that person has offended them. We saw this belief in action yesterday in Paris.

It is precisely because so many people in the world hold these views that we cannot let ourselves be intimidated into self-censorship. Once we start pixelating Muhammad’s ass, we might as well give the terrorists keys to our offices.

But we must not be intimidated; we must not be afraid. We must resolve to continue to defend freedom of speech from Islamists and others who would take it away. We must continue to satirize and offend, even if especially if threatened or attacked.

bjmir4cbrhsrfdwzxiuxP.S. Fuck Muhammad. I Stand with Charlie Hebdo.

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Wednesday Links: Adiós Google News, Sandy Hook Gun Lawsuit, and Russia’s Economic Woes

Multiple national theater chains are declining to screen The Interview (the controversial James Franco-Seth Rogen comedy about the assassination of Kim Jong-un) after the group responsible for the Sony hack threatened violence against any theaters showing the film. Cowards.

Google News announced last week that it was shutting down the Spanish version of its service, in response to a new Spanish law that allows (requires?) publications in the country to charge Google for featuring their content. Spanish journalists claim that the law is needed to protect their intellectual property, but since Google only uses snippets from the articles it links to, and the company makes no money from the service, that claim is specious. Following Google’s announcement, the Spanish Newspaper Publisher’s Association (AEDE) called for the government to prevent the closing of Google News Spain, claiming that it would hurt their businesses. (Gee, a little late for that, isn’t it?) Google News Spain is now offline.

A pickup truck formerly owned by a Texas plumber is now being used by Islamic militants fighting in Syria’s civil war. The truck, still displaying the business name and phone number for Texas City-based Mark-1 Plumbing, is seen in a photo posted online by the Islamist Ansar al-Deen Front. The company is now receiving threats from people who are apparently stupid enough to believe that a company in Texas just decided one day to donate one of its trucks to some Islamic militants. On the lighter side, the company is receiving some hilarious Google+ reviews.

Nine families of Sandy Hook victims are suing the manufacturer and distributor of the rifle used in the shooting, as well as the store that sold it to perpetrator Adam Lanza’s mother. What’s next, suing General Motors because some old fart decides to drive his Buick into a crowd of people?

– Apparently, socialism isn’t working out too well for Venezuela’s poor, who are facing high inflation, long checkout lines in grocery stores, and shortages of essential goods like diapers and laundry detergent. The country’s economic situation isn’t helped by the recent collapse in oil prices (Venezuela is a founding member of OPEC and its economy is highly dependent on petroleum exports).

– On a similar note, Russia’s economy is reeling from the double whammy of collapsing oil prices and economic sanctions imposed by the west, with the country’s currency, the Ruble, experiencing rapid devaluation. While I’m tempted to take delight in Russia’s (and particularly Putin’s) misfortune (few countries are more deserving of some bad karma), I’m afraid that what’s bad for Russia is ultimately bad for the world. Here’s hoping that Russia’s economy can rebound before it drags the rest of Europe down with it.

– And finally, the town of South Pittsburg, Tenn., has instituted a new social media policy effectively banning anyone associated with the town from speaking negatively about it online. The Internet has responded in its typical fashion, by creating fake Twitter accounts for the town’s mayor and commissioner, and sending out tweets like “They say it is hard to find jobs for retards, but Chief Dale Winters does a great job filling our fire department with them.

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Monday Links: Britain vs. Porn, Campus Rape, and Satanic Holiday Displays

– The British government is continuing its War on Sexual Pleasure Smut, this time taking on fetish pornography, and in particular femdom porn (that’s “female dominance” for the more vanilla readers). Last week, new regulations took effect that require all Video on Demand (which includes online subscription porn) in the United Kingdom to adhere to the BBFC’s standards for an R18 certificate (standards that adult video store content must already adhere to). The list of acts now prohibited in VoD porn includes spanking, fisting, facesitting, and female ejaculation. Fortunately for British porn consumers, the new rules only apply to pornography produced in the U.K.

– Slate’s Emily Yoffe (“Dear Prudie”) has written a comprehensive article on misguided efforts to address campus sexual assault, taking on everything from “affirmative consent”, to the kangaroo courts that the accused often find themselves in, to the overlooked role that alcohol plays in many campus sexual assaults. She also tackles the absurd but oft-repeated “one in four” statistic, that yours truly has previously debunked.

Rolling Stone has backed off from Sabrina Rubin Erdely’s controversial Nov. 19 article about a rape on the University of Virginia campus, first issuing a statement calling their trust in “Jackie” (the alleged victim and the primary source for the article) “misplaced”, and then revising their statement to say that any mistakes “are on Rolling Stone, not on Jackie.” The article, which detailed the young woman’s alleged gang rape at a fraternity house in the fall of 2012, was criticized by the Washington Post and others for failing to speak to the alleged rapists or any other members of the fraternity in question.

– And finally, the State of Florida will allow the Satanic Temple to put up a holiday display in the State Capitol later this month. Last year, the state had refused the Satanic Temple’s request, despite allowing nearly every other religion imaginable to erect a display under the Capitol Rotunda. This year, however, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State threatened to sue the state on First Amendment grounds, prompting the state to reverse itself and allow the Satanic display.

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I’m Back! Here’s What Happened While I Was Away…

If anyone’s wondering why I haven’t posted here in several months, I’ve been taking a break from blogging in order to focus on other projects. Well, I think I’m back now, at least for the time being. Here are some of the things that happened while I was “away”:

May: The Supreme Court rules that sectarian prayers before town meetings don’t violate the First Amendment, thereby preserving the religious freedom of our country’s threatened Christian majority …. Michael Sam becomes the first openly gay football player drafted by the NFL, and celebrates by kissing his boyfriend on live TV …. A college student at the University of California-Santa Barbara goes on a killing spree that ends in suicide, and–surprise!–the guy was kind of an asshole ….

June: The Supreme Court rules that warrantless searches of cell phones during arrests are unconstitutional …. and then promptly undoes all the good will it gained from that decision by ruling against Aereo …. The Supreme Court also rules that the Obamacare contraception mandate doesn’t apply to Hobby Lobby and other closely-held corporations, thereby forcing potentially millions of American women and couples to pay for birth control ….

July: Washington state’s first legal cannabis stores open, and sales of Funyuns go through the roof …. A Staten Island man dies after being placed in a chokehold by an NYPD officer. Police were attempting to arrest 43-year-old Eric Garner for the heinous crime of allegedly selling untaxed individual cigarettes ….

August: The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) releases a video showing the beheading of American journalist James Foley, prompting worldwide condemnation …. A white police officer in suburban St. Louis County, Missouri, fatally shoots an unarmed black teenager following a struggle between the teen and the officer during which the officer says he feared for his life …. The shooting of Michael Brown is followed by weeks of unrest, and while many protest peacefully, some take the opportunity to loot and commit acts of violence …. Hackers leak hundreds of private photos of female celebrities, including Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton. The photos were most likely obtained by exploiting vulnerabilities in Apple’s iCloud service ….

September: An Iraq war veteran with a knife jumps the White House fence and manages to make it inside and all the way to the East Room before being subdued by the Secret Service (in other words, security at the White House is just slightly more lax than security at your local mall) …. The CDC confirms the first diagnosed Ebola case in the U.S., in a man who had recently arrived in Dallas from Liberia ….

October: President Obama appoints an Ebola “Czar” to address our nation’s Ebola crisis. (No word yet on an “African Geography Czar” to educate Americans on which African countries do and do not have Ebola) …. The Supreme Court declines to review same-sex marriage cases in five states, letting stand lower-court rulings allowing same-sex unions in Virginia, Utah, Oklahoma, Indiana and Wisconsin ….

November: On election night, voters in Alaska, Oregon and the District of Columbia vote to legalize recreational use of marijuana by adults 21 and over, while medical marijuana activists in Florida fail to obtain the 60% of the vote needed to amend the state constitution to legalize medical marijuana in the state …. Kim Kardashian’s ass breaks the Internet, but probably not in the way she intended …. Multiple women come forward with rape allegations against Bill Cosby after a clip of comedian Hannibal Buress calling Cosby out as a rapist goes viral …. A grand jury in St. Louis County, Missouri, declines to indict Darren Wilson, the officer who shot Michael Brown, touching off yet another wave of unrest ….

…And that brings us to the present. I’m going to try to post here as often as I can, and hopefully I’ll have time to address some of these more recent events in more depth.

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Wednesday Links

Almost two years after being cleared of child pornography charges after videos of his children playing naked were found on his phone, Todd Hoffner has returned to his job as head football coach at Minnesota State University-Mankato. Hoffner’s ordeal began with his arrest in August 2012, just two months after Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky was convicted on 45 counts of child molestation and related offenses.

– Last week, Louisiana’s House of Representatives voted 67-27 against repealing the state’s sodomy law, despite the fact that such laws were declared unconstitutional (and therefore rendered unenforceable) by the Supreme Court’s 2003 decision in Lawrence v. Texas. Christian conservatives claimed that repealing the law would make it harder to prosecute sexual predators, but we all know this is really about hating “teh gays.”

The Supreme Court began hearing arguments this week in a case that will decide whether Aereo–an online subscription service that lets users watch broadcast TV on their computers, smartphones, or tablets–violates the copyrights of broadcasters. Broadcast corporations claim that Aereo is “stealing their content.” Bullshit. As Aereo’s lawyers have pointed out, broadcast TV is freely available over the public airwaves, and all the service does is provide viewers with a special antenna that allows them to pick up those TV signals on a device other than a television.

The Missouri mayor who said that he “kind of agreed” with the views of Neo-Nazi spree killer Frazier Glenn Miller resigned on Monday after a raucous town meeting in which residents called for his impeachment. Daniel Clevenger, the now former mayor of Marionville, Missouri (pop. 2,225 at the 2010 Census), had a history of making anti-Semitic statements, writing in the past that “[t]he Jew-run medical industry has succeeded in destroying the United State’s workforce” and that the “Jew-run government backed banking industry turned the U.S into the world’s largest debtor nation.”

-And finally, the New York Police Department’s latest attempt at social media outreach has backfired hilariously. On Tuesday, the NYPD’s official Twitter account asked users to tweet photos of themselves with the NYPD and tag them #myNYPD. Many users did just that, tweeting photos of police brutality at the hands of the NYPD. (The photos can be seen here.) An organization with as many black marks on its record as the New York Police Department should have known better than to ask for the Internet’s help in whitewashing its public image.

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Monday Links

15 Facts About the Underground Sex Economy in America (according to a new report from the Urban Institute).

– The State of Louisiana is suing MoveOn.org over the group’s use of the state’s tourism motto, “Louisiana: Pick Your Passion”, on billboards and in television ads attacking Governor Bobby Jindal. Legal experts say that Louisiana doesn’t have a case, but I’m just surprised that anyone in the state can read.

– Hundreds of Muslims attacked and set fire to a Hindu temple in southern Pakistan last week, following rumors that a local Hindu man had desecrated a Qur’an. Elsewhere in the region, angry Muslims set fire to Hindu-owned shops. Christ! You’d think they’d lost the Stanley Cup!

– According to health experts, anti-vaxxers like Jenny McCarthy may be partly responsible for recent Measles outbreaks in New York City, Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Geez, if Playboy’s 1994 Playmate of the Year is not a reliable source of medical information, then who is?

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