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Daily Archives: April 9, 2020
Posted: April 9, 2020 at 7:02 pm
In times of crisis, liberal democratic institutions and values are vulnerable to authoritarian power grabs, or corona coups, as we are seeing around the world today. One of the first victims, as always, is freedom of speech. But the current attack on free speech is particularly dangerous, because it does not only target, reasonably, fake news on coronavirus, but also critique of inadequacies in hospitals by healthcare workers.
Repressive measures against fake news have been a popular topic for years now, having reached feverish levels in the wake of the 2016 US presidential elections. Even though the actual effects of fake news and Russian interference remain unclear and highly disputed, many mainstream politicians have convinced themselves that the spread of fake news is one of the main reasons that they are losing votes and power to populists.
Social media platforms are pressured into fighting fake news and a true cottage industry of factcheckers has emerged many reputable, some not. Still, too little progress has been made. This is not that surprising, though, given the daily barrage of fake news coming out of some of the most powerful political offices in the world, including Downing Street and the White House.
Since the term was popularized by Donald Trump, it should come as no surprise that populists in power have enthusiastically embraced the fight against fake news. And now the coronavirus has given them an opportunity to intensify that fight by passing draconian new laws, allegedly to prevent fake news from worsening the crisis.
One of the worst examples, as so often in recent years, comes out of Hungary, where the rubber stamp parliament has passed a set of emergency measures without actually facing an emergency (as of 31 March, Hungary has officially had only 492 cases, including 16 deaths) to give the far-right prime minister Viktor Orbn dictatorial powers. As Orbn rules by decree, anything that he deems fake news will be punishable to up to five years in prison a death sentence for independent media, in so far as it still exists in Hungary.
Perhaps even more dangerous is the attack on the free speech of people at the frontlines of the fight against the coronavirus: healthcare workers. These are the people best informed about the situation, and thus the best potential antidotes to fake news. Yet, according to the Independent, British NHS doctors are being gagged over protective equipment shortages, while NHS England has taken control of communications for many NHS hospitals and staff.
In the US, one of the few western democracies without a universal public healthcare system, individual private hospitals are doing the censoring. Prioritizing their brand and profits over the health of their patients and staff, private hospitals across the US have threatened staff with termination if they speak out about the lack of protective gear. Several hospital staff have already been fired after speaking out, an incredible waste of crucial but sparse resources during a pandemic.
Leaving aside the problem of employers regulating the speech of their employees, incidentally an increasingly common development (even at universities), censoring healthcare professionals is outright dangerous to the broader community. These are the people who actually have day-to-day experience with the coronavirus and risk their lives to help others particularly if their employers dont provide them with adequate protective gear.
Free speech makes us more rather than less safe, both as citizens and patients
Moreover, we know how dangerous this type of censorship is from recent experiences in China. Max Fisher has written an excellent New York Times expos of how Chinas authoritarian structure had worsened the countrys response to the coronavirus outbreak. And western media have devoted ample attention to the tragic case of Li Wenliang, the Chinese whistleblower doctor who died of the coronavirus in February.
The irony is that some of the same politicians who support, or at least allow, the censorship of healthcare professionals in their own country have been outspoken critics of the Chinese approach. For instance, the British cabinet minister Michael Gove recently blamed China for failing to stop the spread of coronavirus, while Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the House foreign affairs committee, even called Chinas response one of the worst cover-ups in human history.
To ensure that we are not making the same mistakes as China, and to protect the health and lives of the heroic healthcare workers (including the many volunteers) who are putting their lives on the line every day to keep us alive and healthy, we must resist these dangerous attacks on free speech, as well as other unnecessary authoritarian measures in response to the coronavirus crisis. Irrespective of the hype about fake news, free speech makes us more rather than less safe, both as citizens and patients, even in times of a health crisis.
Read the original post:
Don't let free speech be a casualty of coronavirus. We need it more than ever - The Guardian
Posted: at 7:02 pm
Most citizens in the United States take the First Amendment guaranteeing freedom of speech as a source of patriotic pride. We have been taught that all speech is protected. Bad speech is overcome with good speech. No matter how much harm speech inflicts, when the First Amendment is in question, the Supreme Court feels it is its duty to defend all speech.
Thane Rosenbaum, a lawyer, novelist and Distinguished University Professor at Touro College, disagrees. In his informative and highly readable book, Saving Free Speech from Itself (Fig Tree Books), he explains how many of our assumptions about freedom of speech and the law are either incorrect as a matter of history or rest on a thin scaffolding of flawed reasoning. At the same time he shows there are many instances where America is shutting down free speech. In Rosenfelds view the time has come to save free speech from itself. His book deserves serious consideration in our current political and educational climate.
I must admit to being surprised to learn how little I understood the First Amendment. The Founding Fathers implicitly assumed free speech to mean that the government could not suppress any expression against the government, nor could private individuals be coerced into propagating government propaganda. In other words, free speech was initially a buffer against dictatorship and limited to freedom from government control. In 1919, this changed with Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.s stirring dissent in Abrams v. United States, which won over the American public by arguing that restraints on private speech were permissible only when speech constituted a present danger of immediate evil or an intent to bring it about essentially, the dont shout fire in a crowded theater test.
Rosenbaum attempts to reframe our assumptions about freedom of speech.
As Rosenbaum shows, free speech protection for private individuals is now used to violate peoples privacy and dignity. He describes how in 2011, the Supreme Court, in an 8-to-1 decision, overturned a jury verdict against the Westboro Baptist Church. The church set up a protest at the funeral of Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, chanting slurs against gays and holding up signs reading God hates America and Thank God for dead soldiers.
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Heartbroken by the fiasco of a funeral, the soldiers father sued. The 8-1 majority set aside all consideration for the family, piously invoked the right to free speech and further ordered that Snyder pay the churchs $16,000 in costs.
In other instances, Rosenbaum shows how the First Amendment is used to protect hate speech. Holocaust deniers and KKK members as well as possibly more benign flat earth and fake moon landing believers have all advanced their agendas under the umbrella of free speech. And most alarmingly he gives examples of how it is used to protect potentially fatal substances. Purveyors of, say, fake coronavirus cures and treatments can be sued on product claims, but anybody can get up on a street corner and make any claim that they want.
The coronavirus outbreak has also reminded us of the necessity of free speech as the Founding Fathers defined it. Dr. Li Wenliang, the Wuhan ophthalmologist who early on tried to warn the Chinese medical community about the virus potency, was forced by Communist Party authorities to recant his false comments. How many lives might have been saved if his speech had been free.
Dr. Lis warning is exactly the kind of free speech the First Amendment was trying to protect. Rosenbaum shows, however, that todays free speech is too often serving a different function. He writes: Here is what the First Amendment should never be called upon to protect: groups of nativists shouting Muslims Go Home; neo-Nazis marching through a hamlet [of] Holocaust survivors ; burning crosses on the lawns of African Americans; showing up to a military funeral to make ones hatred of homosexuals plainly known. They are, in fact, neither ideas nor debates. They are orgies of hate that amount to non-speech. Lets stop pretending we cannot tell the difference.
While this is not an explicitly Jewish book, Rosenbaums exploration of the harm caused by current applications of free speech will resonate with Jewish readers. His arguments about human dignity and free speech echo within the biblical notion of the image of God. Likewise he shows how Talmudic dictates that compare slander to physical harm and even death are backed up by modern scientific research that demonstrates that false speech can cause physical harm.
In an era in which American society has become radically polarized, Rosenbaum sets out to bridge the liberal-conservative divide, at least when it comes to permitted speech. He asks us to address some of our core ideas about American ideals. Not a bad thing to do when the government is ordering us to stay sheltered in place for the good of all Americans.
Scott A. Shay is chairman and co-founder of Signature Bank of New York and is the author of In Good Faith: Questioning Religion and Atheism (Post Hill Press, 2018).
Read more from the original source:
A Contrarian's View of the Uses, and Abuses, of Free Speech - Jewish Week
Posted: at 7:02 pm
As we head into another election cycle, several CGA members have asked about their rights with respect to unwanted signature gatherers and other solicitors.
Weve heard many stories about belligerent signature gatherers who insist theyre exercising their constitutional rights; and about local law enforcement agencies that are unaware of the recent Supreme Court rulings in favor of grocers on this subject.
About forty years ago, the California Supreme Court ruled that speech and petitioning, if reasonably exercised, in areas outside privately-owned shopping centers is constitutionally protected.
In Robins v. Pruneyard Shopping Center (1979) 23 Cal.3d 899, 910 (Pruneyard), high school students disseminated information in a courtyard inside the Pruneyard Center, which was approximately 21 acres in total and contained 65 shops, 10 restaurants, and a theater.
According to the Court, these students had a constitutional right to be present on Pruneyard Shopping Centers private property because the shopping center was essentially a place for citizens to socialize and congregate in constitutional terms, it was a public forum.
Not all private shopping centers are a public forum, however. Indeed, the Pruneyard Court cautioned that signature gatherers and solicitors do not have free rein to express themselves at private shopping centers. So the main question becomes: when is a store considered not a public forum?
Whether a private shopping center is a public forum largely depends on the nature and characteristics of each individual store or shopping center. A shopping centers common areas, those which generally have seating and other amenities producing an environment that encourages shoppers to stop, relax, linger, gather, and chat is more likely to be viewed as a public forum.
But when a storefront is not designed to promote gathering and relaxing, such as the entrance area or the apron, the store is less likely to be viewed as a public forum.
The California Supreme Court recently highlighted the public forum analysis in Ralphs Grocery Co. v. United Food & Commercial Workers Union Local 8 (2012) 55 Cal.4th 1083 (UFCW).
Union members gathered directly in front of a Foods Co. store to picket, and apparently to dissuade shoppers from entering the store. Unlike Pruneyard, the Court decided that the area immediately outside Foods Co.s customer entrances and exits, at least as typically configured and furnished, is not a traditional public forum. The union activity interfered with normal business operations more than it would have in the less heavily trafficked common areas of a public forum.
Ultimately, it was determined that the area directly outside Foods Co. did not encourage activities such as meeting friends, congregating, or lingering. Similarly, in Albertsons, Inc. v. Young (2003) 107 Cal.App.4th 106 and Van v. Target Corp. (2007) 155 Cal.App.4th 1375, the stores also successfully argued that their storefronts were not a public forum for expressive activity because the premises of each store was not designed to draw crowds like a traditional public forum.
As a first step to removing unwanted trespassers, stores should first evaluate their premises to determine if it is indeed a public forum.
Some factors to consider: are there seats, restaurants, walkways or common areas that encourage the public to gather like in Pruneyard? Or, are the premises simply intended for shoppers to enter and exit the stores or for customers to view a stores merchandise and advertising displays similar to the Ralphs v. UFCW case?
This analysis is highly factual, but the bottom line is: if the area encourages members of the public to meet friends, eat, rest, congregate or be entertained, the more likely it will be viewed as a public forum for signature gatherers and solicitors to exercise their freedom of speech.
After conducting the public forum analysis, another consideration is whether the signature gatherers and solicitors are engaged in union activities. In the UFCW case, the California Supreme Court ruled that while union members did not have a constitutional right to be at Foods Co.s entrance area and apron, the union members might have a statutory right to be present under the Moscone Act and Labor Code section 1138.1. Stores should thus also consider whether the signature gatherers and solicitors are engaging in union activities before seeking to evict them.
If the premises is not a public forum and there are no union activities involved, then stores may ask the trespassers to vacate the premises. As a practical matter, stores should review their leases to make sure they have authority and control over the apron and parking lot.
Many store leases place responsibility for maintenance and control of these spaces on the tenant grocer while some leases reserve this authority to the landlord. In the latter case, the store may need to ask the landlord for assistance in removing the unwanted trespassers.
If the signature gatherers and solicitors do not leave the premises, the store has options, including: The store may seek help from the local authorities, explaining that the stores premises are not considered a public forum.
We encourage store operators to meet in advance of a trespassing issue with the local police chief or sheriff to discuss their understanding of the law in this area, and their willingness to assist in the removal of trespassers.
CGA may be able to assist with the educational effort if your local law enforcement agency exhibits a lack of understanding of the law on solicitors and signature gatherers in front of stores.
Another option available to retailers is to sue for trespass and seek an injunction to prevent the trespassers from entering the stores private property.
When a store seeks injunctive relief against the trespassers, it would not be surprising if the trespassers filed an anti-SLAPP motion to strike the stores complaint. An anti-SLAPP motion is a special motion designed to dismiss claims interfering with protected speech.
This is exactly what happened in Ralphs Grocery Co. v. Victory Consultants, Inc. (2017) 17 Cal.App.5th 245. In this case, Food-4-Less and Ralphs filed a lawsuit to enjoin trespassing signature gatherers from operating in front of their stores. The trespassers filed an anti-SLAPP motion, contending that that their signature gathering was a constitutionally protected activity.
The Court of Appeal agreed with Ralphs that the signature gathering was not a protected activity because the stores were open to the public to buy goods, not to offer their property as a traditional public forum.
The main takeaway is that signature gatherers and solicitors do not have free rein to use store property as a public forum. First, stores must evaluate whether their premises are a public forum. If not a public forum, then second, determine whether the solicitors are engaging in union activities that may give them special statutory permission to be present.
And finally, if the store is not a public forum and there are no union activities involved, stores should know that there are remedies available to remove unwanted, trespassing signature gatherers and solicitors from their premises.
This article appeared in California Grocer, Issue 1 (2020) and is republished with permission. California Grocers Association.
Posted: at 7:02 pm
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Radicals in the Heartland: the 1960s Student Protest Movement at the University of Illinois, by Michael V. Metz. University of Illinois Press, 2019.
Radicals in the Heartland: the 1960s Student Protest Movement at the University of Illinois by Michael V. Metz gives an insightful, well-documented analysis of events that shaped each year of the 1960s at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana campus. The account is juxtaposed against what was occurring nationwide regarding the Vietnam War, civil rights, freedom of speech and students' feelings that they should be treated as adults. The early 1960s had its share of disagreements, but by the end of the decade, full-fledged violence had erupted.
Metz, who took part in the student movement, identifies the many student groups that organized on campus, provides biographical information about the main leaders and includes a section of first-person reflections by the leaders who went on to successful careers after graduation.
The book is divided into six parts and is well-researched, full of documented newspaper reports, archived materials and quotes by students and faculty.
The preface explains the catalyst of later events. George Stoddard, the president of the University of Illinois, was hired in 1946. A huge supporter of free speech, which some viewed as communistic, he argued for the end to a state law that prohibited political candidates from speaking on a college campus. Champaign State Representative Charles Clabaugh, who viewed the U of I as "the hotbed of communist influence," led the passage of a new law in 1947. Called the Clabaugh Act, it prohibited certain organizations from accessing university resources, and university administrators had the authority to decide. For over 20 years this law created controversy and conflict. Who or what was subversive? Who would decide and how?
In 1953, Stoddard met his end. The newly appointed U of I board trustee former Illini football hero Red Grange made a motion of no confidence in Stoddard. Stoddard resigned on the spot; Grange never attended another board meeting.
David Dodds Henry was named interim president and then hired in 1956. He would face the impact of the Clabaugh Act when controversies arose over such issues as the academic freedom of faculty, the university's role in recognizing campus student groups, even the strict curfews and dorm rules.
In 1960 two major issues created deeply divided opinions over academic freedom. Student Edward Yellin's pending fellowship that included a teaching assistant position was in jeopardy when it was revealed he had been subpoenaed years earlier by the House Un-American Activities Committee and refused to answer questions. Then Leo Koch, an assistant professor, published a letter in the Daily Illini advocating for premarital sex for "mature" students. In both cases, opinions were hotly debated. Yellin kept his fellowship; Koch was fired.
Metz explores the Free Speech Era, 1965-1967, in Part II. The impact of a 1964 large student protest against the prohibition of political activity at the University of California, Berkeley, spilled over onto other campuses. Some tried to hold a protest at the U of I campus, but few showed up. The Daily Illini editor, later famed movie critic Roger Ebert, wrote that 801 students at Berkeley had been arrested, but "we don't have 801 students who would understand why 801 students would want to be arrested for denial of free speech."
Vietnam hadn't yet become the overarching issue; a 1965 protest drew only 12 students. There was more interest in ending strict dorm rules. Students Against the Clabaugh Act (SACA) pushed for an end to the law but without success.
Students wanted to form a W.E.B. Dubois Club, which was considered, incorrectly, to be a communist organization. Trustees, who had first approved the group, reversed their decision. SACA changed its name to Students for Free Speech and invited a professed communist to speak on campus, raising concerns by many, including parents. Although the speaker drew 2,000 on the porch of the Union Hall, not much came of the event.
Women joined student groups that were mainly led by men; the women were often harassed, treated as secretaries and ignored. Women spoke up against strict rules: a 10 p.m. dorm curfew on weeknights, midnight on weekends, required skirt attire for Sunday dinner and in bowling classes. There was a policy that couples could only meet in lounges in the dorms and must have three feet on the floor. The first female student president, Patsy Parker, pushed for changes. A midnight rally against curfew failed as 9 fraternity men showed up and heckled the women.
Communism and curfews had been the focus, until the next stage, Part III: The Antiwar Movement, 1967-1969. Anger against the Vietnam War increased: male students openly burned their draft cards, students held sit-ins. At the University of Wisconsin in Madison, students led a sit-in against the Dow Chemical Company, a producer of chemicals used in the war. U of I students held their own five-hour sit-in, barring all interviews.
Across the country, Vietnam protests gained momentum. Civil rights gained interest; Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy were assassinated in the spring of 1968. In August that year the Democratic National Convention in Chicago led to riots. "A stark choice faced student activists," Metz writes. "Either let go of hopes for wide-scale political change and thus escape establishment retaliation, or continue the struggle by fighting violence with like violence." Most chose the first and few the latter, according to the author.
In Part IV, The Violent Time, 1969-1970, Metz follows the actions that led to the outbreak of violence. Many students had attempted to hold peaceful protests with speeches on the quad and at the student union. On Oct. 15, 1969, the nationwide Day of Moratorium, 9,000 U of I students participated in all-day events and a march. Peace turned to violence in the spring of 1970 after four students were killed at Kent State University. Illinois State Superintendent of Education Ray Page declared, "Four students that should have known better than to have participated in outright revolt against the forces of law and order lie dead." Students were shocked and angered. May 4-8, 1970, in Champaign has been called the week that was the "most violent period in the 100-year history of the university." There were protests, marchers throwing rocks and bottles through windows, sit-ins in the middle of intersections, marches to the president's home and arrests. Many, though, peacefully went about their lives.
On Saturday of that week, activities, speeches and music were planned on the quad. Students enjoying the spring weather congregated, some sharing a picnic, others throwing a frisbee. Then suddenly the Illinois National Guard came from both sides of the quad, surrounded the throng of people, arrested some and took them to Memorial Stadium to be held.
Thus ends the decade; Metz provides a final analysis. He applauds the students for speaking up, changing the course of the war and being influencers of later movements. He believes they were not extremists, but rather engaged individuals with a deep-seated feeling of moral right. He also claims they failed at political revolution. Mayhem ensued, but the silent majority prevailed and does so today. The students did not stop "the strength of the established order," he claims.
Cinda Ackerman Klickna was a student at the U of I, starting in 1969, but acknowledges she was unaware of all that was happening on campus. Her involvement was as a bystander, which may surprise those who know her now.
See more here:
U of I protests of the 1960s - Illinois Times
Posted: at 7:01 pm
Even as questions persist as to how China handled its own coronavirus pandemic including whether the Chinese government effectively silenced doctors and nurses who spoke out in the early days of the virus spread the United Nations has reportedly appointed China to serve on a UN Human Rights panel designed to help identify threats to the freedom of speech, and governments who are carrying out enforced disappearances and arbitrary detention.
International news reports that Chinas appointment came Wednesday, just as countries like the United States began to probe deeper into how the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, was allowed to spread so quickly inside mainland China, and whether Chinas reported death count just over 2,500 from the virus was, indeed, accurate.
It now seems, according to reports cataloging the return of thousands of cremated remaisn to families in and around Wuhan, China, the coronavirus epicenter, that more than 40,000 likely died from the virus in the Wuhan area alone.
The UN, always on the cutting edge of global matters will allow China to have a say in selecting at least 17 UN human rights mandate-holders over the next year. China will also assist in screening candidates for UN human rights positions.
Its absurd and immoral for the UN to allow Chinas oppressive government a key role in selecting officials who shape international human rights standards and report on violations worldwide, the executive director of UN Watch, which first reported Chinas appointment to the panel, told media in a statement. Allowing Chinas oppressive and inhumane regime to choose the world investigators on freedom of speech, arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances is like making a pyromaniac into the town fire chief.
The appointment seems particularly egregious in light of Chinas approach to the coronavirus pandemic and reports that the Chinese government, already well known for curbing the freedom of speech of its constituents as well as their access to vital information, silenced doctors who raised the alarm on coronavirus.
The New York Times reported in early February that Chinese officials initial handling of the coronavirus epidemic allowed it to spread.
Back in December, weeks before China admitted the outbreak, Dr. Li Wenliang sent a warning about seven people with a mysterious illness to an online chat group that included medical students, per the NYT. Quarantined in the emergency department, the doctor wrote to the group. Hours later, officials from the health department summoned the doctor and sanctioned him for sharing information. He was then compelled to sign a statement of secrecy and told his warning constituted illegal behavior.'
In those weeks, the authorities silenced doctors and others for raising red flags, the NYT adds. They played down the dangers to the public, leaving the citys 11 million residents unaware they should protect themselves.
As for arbitrary detention, in the weeks and months before China suffered the first coronavirus outbreak, the Chinese government was being investigated for a series of concentration camps, where millions of ethnically-Chinese Muslims, known as Uigurs, were reportedly being kept in cramped, unsafe conditions and forced to work as slaves in Chinese factories.
Posted: at 7:01 pm
By Lawrence DavidsonBackground: Weaponising anti-Semitism
Anti-Semitism has been weaponised. That is, the Zionists, within and without Israel, are using the charge of anti-Semitism as a weapon to silence those who are critical of the Israeli state. In wielding this weapon, Zionist organisations and the media outlets they control or influence have released a flood of slander and libel. The charge of anti-Semitism is levelled at anyone who opposes Israels inherently racist policies and is supportive of Palestinian human rights. And, where the Zionists have sufficient political influence, as is the case in so much of the United States, they are making every effort to encourage laws that make criticism of Israel illegal because, they claim, it is ipso facto anti-Semitic. In this way, the weaponisation of anti-Semitism maliciously defames individuals, corrupts legal systems and also threatens any reasonable notion of free speech.
In cases where individuals and organisations are labelled anti-Semitic as part of a concerted campaign of defamation, one would hope that the libel laws would offer some protection and / or relief. And, as we will see, in some cases such as the United Kingdom and Australia, this has proven possible. However, in the United States this has not happened. To understand why requires a short history lesson on the evolution of free speech, as against the need to protect individuals, particularly public persons such as those running for office, from defamation.
American attitudes towards free speech, which form the foundation for much of the countrys legal thinking when it comes to libel, slander and defamation, can be traced back to the writing of John Stuart Mill (1806-73). Mill was an influential English utilitarian philosopher and liberal thinker who supported the growth of democracy in the 19th century. He also considered what aspects of democracy would need the strongest defence. For instance, he supported a very broad interpretation of freedom of expression. He laid out his position in an 1859 book entitled On Liberty. Here he argued that allowing a broad interpretation of free speech was the best way of establishing what is true and what is not. Even if an opinion is false, the truth can be better understood by [publicly] refuting the error. Mill had faith in the citizenry (or at least the educated middle class of his day) to recognise, through the process of debate, what is true when it came to public pronouncements. If any argument is really wrong or harmful, the public will judge it as wrong or harmful. Thus, for Mill the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, [in this case by suppressing his or her public speech] is to prevent harm to others. However, considering that defamation was subject to rebuttal, the citizenry would ultimately reject such falsehoods without state intervention.
Even though Mills faith in an educated publics ability to know truth from falsehood has proven, at least as far as this author is concerned, quite naive, Mills notion of erring on the side of government inaction when it comes to slanderous or libelous speech has had much influence in the United States.
In 1919, sitting as an Associate Justice of the US Supreme Court, Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote a series of decisions that laid out the future standard for judging prosecutable speech: The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent. The example Holmes used for such an extreme case was that ones First Amendment right to free speech would not permit someone yelling fire in a crowded theatre. The libel laws in the US have followed this same path towards setting a high bar for any demonstration that free speech has been abused. Thus, in terms of defamation one now has to prove that the presentation in question is meant to defame (and is not just an opinion) and is put forth with actual malice [New York Times v Sullivan 376 US 254 (1964)]. This is particularly the case for public figures bringing suit for defamation. Public figures in the United States seem to be in a special category of people who are expected to attract a certain amount of, apparently legally acceptable, slanderous and libellous abuse.
The fact is that, in the US, libel is so difficult to demonstrate in both federal and most state courts that such suits are only rarely attempted. It is clear that in this case protecting an idealised principle of free speech has taken precedent over protecting the reputations and public standing of individuals.
As it has turned out, this situation has given American Zionists a wide field to use the weaponised charge of anti-Semitism with near impunity. A good example of this has been the smear campaign waged against the Democratic Partys presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, who is himself Jewish. Called an anti-Semite over and again, Sanders has relied on the American progressive community to defend him. There is no indication that either Sanders or his legal advisors have considered suing his defamers for libel.
The misbalance between freedom of speech on the one hand and recourse to legal protection against slander and libel on the other is greatest in the United States, and in this case, public figures appear most at risk. In England and some of the Commonwealth countries such as Australia, a somewhat greater balance exists, opening up the possibility of legally defending oneself against defamation.
Anecdotally, a key historical root in the evolution of this more balanced standard for Britains defamation law is the 17th century decision to outlaw duelling transforming an often deadly engagement into a supervised courtroom debate. As of today, English law allows actions for libel for any published [untrue] statements which are alleged to defame a named or identifiable individual(s) [including businesses] in a manner which causes them loss in their trade or profession, or causes a reasonable person to think worse of him, her or them. There are exceptions to and defences against this standard, but it certainly opens up a more reasonable opportunity for defending oneself against defamation than exists in the United States.
The same can be said for a Commonwealth country such as Australia. Here, the primary purpose of the law against defamation is to protect citizens from false statements about them that may cause harm to their personal or professional reputation.
Lets take a look at a few recent examples of successful challenges to libellous defamation issuing from Zionist sources.
Members of the United Kingdoms Parliament and those running for Parliament who are critical of Israel or otherwise supportive of Palestinian rights have suffered repeated exaggerated and fabricated allegations of anti-Semitism. Finally, in 2019, one such victim, Mrs Audrey White, former Member of Parliament (MP) for Liverpool Riverside, decided to sue the British paper the Jewish Chronicle for libel. She was able to prove that this Zionist paper had, over a series of four articles, published fake allegations that she was an anti-Semite. These pieces turned out to be part of a campaign of false charges waged against many left wing politicians. Ultimately, in early 2020, the paper was forced to admit, in print, that it had lied about Mrs White, and pay damages and court costs. It was also demonstrated that the paper had engaged in unacceptable obstruction of the investigation that led to the libel ruling.
This is not the first time the Jewish Chronicle has been sued for defamation. In August 2019 the paper was forced to pay a cash settlement to InterPal, a British charity providing aid for Palestinians. The Jewish Chronicle had implied that interPal was a terrorist organisation. The paper now faces a financial crisis and is reportedly operating with a $2 million deficit. It is staying afloat due to financial contributions from community-minded individuals. [Editors note: on 8 April 2020 the Jewish Chronicle announced that it has gone bankrupt and will cease publication.]
A similar series of events have taken place in Australia. Again, political figures are targets if they are critical of Israel or otherwise supportive of Palestinian rights. Take the case of former Labour Party MP Melissa Parke, who had the courage to assert that, To say that Israel has become an apartheid state is not anti-Semitic; it is a simple statement of fact and international law. She went on to suggest that Palestinian resistance, including retaliatory missile launches from Gaza, were a consequence of decades of brutal occupation. Finally, she drew attention to, and criticised, Zionist influence on Australian politics. For this she was described as an anti-Semite in a front-page story in the tabloid Herald Sun and similar piece in the paper West Australian. She was also slandered by Colin Rubenstein, executive director of the Australia / Israel and Jewish Affairs Council. He publicly described Parke as a fanatic and someone trafficking in conspiracy theories. She sued them all for defamation. To date both the Herald Sun and the West Australian have been forced to published retractions and offer apologies.
The weaponisation of anti-Semitism by the State of Israel and its Zionist allies worldwide should serve as a clear warning to American legislatures and courts that it would be both fair and wise to bring the countrys libel laws into closer conformity with those of the UK and Australia. Indeed, it can be argued that to simply ignore the defamation that is now being rolled out by the Zionists actually puts free speech in danger. Here is how this is happening.
The profuse and persistent use of slander and libel is an attempt at censorship. If you will, it is an attempt to silence a certain category of speech under the cover of free speech. The United States has a worse-case scenario of this fraudulent approach because American Zionists seek to use slander and defamation as a basis for novel speech-restricting law. Here they weave a particularly tangled web declaring that it should be illegal to stand in opposition of one form of racism (Israels racist policies towards the Palestinians) because to do so supposedly reflects another form of racism (they can assert this only by equating opposition to Israeli policies with anti-Semitism). It is enough to make your head spin!
John Stuart Mills 19th century assertion that If any argument is really wrong or harmful, the public will judge it as wrong or harmful has proved unreliable. Most people are buried in their local affairs and, in the present case, have no objective information or experience to judge the behaviour of a foreign country in this case, Israel. All they can go on is media and government messages which, in the US, are influenced by pro-Israel lobbies. This means that, with the possible exception of college campuses, there is no public debate as Mill would understand it. So, how is the average member of the public to judge Zionist slander and libel to be wrong and harmful?
The situation really demands legal recourse to seek retraction and compensation for purposeful falsehoods, not only for the sake of peoples reputations and public standing, but also for the sake of maintaining a reasonable doctrine of free speech. Weaponised words and concepts are, most of the time, synonymous with falsehood and propaganda. In that environment, free speech is diminished and corrupted.
How the Chinese Government Undermined the Chinese People’s Attempts to Prevent and Respond to COVID-19 – Heritage.org
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The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has become a global pandemic. The number of infections has now reached close to 1,275,542 globally with over 69,000 recorded deaths as of this writing.REF The first cases of the disease were identified in Hubei province in the Peoples Republic of China (PRC).REF
Initially, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) silenced whistleblowers like Dr. Li Wenliang, who tried to limit the spread of the disease domestically and abroad. The government subsequently repressed the freedom of speech of bloggers who tried to share accurate information about the spread of the disease, the mortality rate, and the challenges faced by medical professionals.
The CCPs ongoing, systematic repression of both freedom of association and freedom of religion has stunted civil societys capacity to respond to crises like infectious diseasesand the government has cracked down on private citizens attempts to help each other, including the donation of medical supplies. The CCPs onerous requirements for international nongovernmental organizations and its current policies have also prevented international humanitarian aid from reaching the Chinese people in their time of need.
The experience and capacity of international humanitarian aid organizations is tremendous. Both secular and faith-based aid charities have developed professional expertise, experience, and rapid response capacity through years of responding to outbreaks of infectious diseases. Organizations like Doctors Without Borders/Medicins Sans Frontiers, Oxfam International, and Save the Children, as well as faith-based organizations (FBOs) like Samaritans Purse, Caritas, Catholic Relief Services, and World Vision, were on the frontlines of fighting the Ebola and SARS epidemics.REF Dr. Ken Brantley was named one of Time magazines people of the year for his work fighting Ebola on behalf of Samaritans Purse.REF These groups are now combatting COVID-19 throughout Asia and in Europe.REF Their medical personnel are setting up field hospitals, and they are providing information about the disease to vulnerable populations in other countries.
However, because the Chinese Communist Party sought to maintain a positive public image by centralizing control while managing the outbreak, it sidelined and undermined its own citizens attempts to limit the number of victims of COVID-19. The CCPs systematic repression of citizens freedom of speech and association is especially pernicious in the face of the spread of a highly infectious disease.REF
If the Chinese government genuinely seeks to address the health and financial impacts of COVID-19 on its people, then it should rely on its people to help in appropriate ways. Nongovernmental, international and domestic, faith-based and non-faith-based organizations not only offer their medical skills, knowledge, and supplies, they also can provide much needed social and financial support to individuals who are struggling.
To aid the Chinese people and to mitigate the global impact of COVID-19 and any future infectious diseases, the U.S. government should press the Chinese government to respect freedom of speech, freedom of association, and freedom of religion so that citizens and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) can contribute their information, expertise, and resources. The U.S. is already the top single-country donor to China to counter the spread of COVID-19.REF As such, it should also press for better access for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), as well as international aid organizations, including faith-based NGOs.
As reports of a new virus began trickling in at the start of 2020, they were accompanied by stories of the Chinese government severely restricting freedom of information about the virus. The most stark example was the case of Chinese doctor and whistle blower, Li Wenliang.REF Dr. Li quietly sounded the alarm in a private WeChat message between himself and other doctors, alerting them to wear proper protective gear because he was witnessing the rise of a highly contagious, as-of-yet unknown pneumonia-like virus that is now known as COVID-19 or the novel coronavirus.REF
Dr. Li was called in for questioning and forced to recant his previous statements. He later died from the coronavirus. His death sparked outrage in China and an unofficial national period of mourning.
Restrictions on freedom of speech created challenges from the start. In shutting down Dr. Lis (and likely others) early warnings about the disease, the CCP may have enabled the disease to spread more quickly, as people did not know to take precautionary measures. In the same way, ongoing restrictions on speech will likely be obstacles to managing the disease going forward.
Other cases in which the Chinese government restricted free speech were reported, including the disappearances of outspoken individuals like businessman Fang Bin, human-rights-lawyer-turned-citizen-journalistREF Chen Qiushi, and citizen-journalist Li Zehua.REF Their reporting provided on-the-ground evidence of over-crowded hospital conditions and the dead and dying on the streets of China, revealing the initial inadequate response by the Chinese government to COVID-19.REF
Even free speech that does not reflect poorly on the Chinese government is being restricted. On January 31, after the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a global emergency, Sun Feng, a Christian in Shandong province, sent an urgent message to his WeChat group urging them to begin nine days of prayer and fasting for the victims and their families. On the seventh day of the fast, local police from the Public Security Bureau detained Mr. Sun for 24 hours. They ordered him to stop unauthorized prayers. Instead, he announced an additional day of fasting and prayer as a form of nonviolent form of protest.The police confiscated his cell phone and computers.REF There are other instances in which persons of faith are being persecuted.Pastor Li Wanhua was summoned by State Security for re-sharing posts by Dr. Li originally warning of COVID-19; other congregants from pastor Li Wanhuas church have also been called in for questioning.REF
Concerns have been raised about the means the Chinese government has used to implement its quarantines.REF When people are considered for quarantine, their standing with the CCP and their social credit scoresREF are reportedly taken into consideration.REF Chinese authorities have rolled out a new application called the Alipay Health Code that issues citizens a green, yellow, or red flag that determines the extent to which they are permitted to travel, based on the apps perceived risk about the individuals likelihood to contract the coronavirus.REF According to The New York Times, the app may have its utility during the coronavirus, but its far reach erodes personal privacy by sharing personal data, like location, with local law enforcement. The apps use after COVID-19 is over may prove a threat to the liberty of ordinary Chinese citizens in the future. For example:
There are other indicators that highlight the draconian nature of the Chinese governments response to COVID-19. Video footage showed families being roughly, sometimes violently, dragged from their homes in order to comply with quarantine.REF And the individuals who disappeared, like the citizen journalists, have, in most cases, not yet reappeared. Additionally, drones, some purportedly operated by private citizens and others used by traffic police, have been deployed to harass people on the street and instruct them to wear masks.REF Chinas checkered history with the use of surveillance technology casts this in a more sinister light.REF
The draconian application of surveillance technology is unnecessary, counterproductive, and judging by its scope, likely motivated by political concerns beyond any response to COVID-19.
The Chinese authorities overarching failure to safeguard freedom of speech has been coupled with restrictions on freedom of association and freedom of religion. These limits, as well as the governments increasing digital surveillance, severely limit civil society engagement, including during the coronavirus outbreak. From the outset of his tenure, Chinese President Xi Jinping began increasing the existing labyrinth of government regulations to exercise greater control over civil society.
The 2016 Charity Law, 2017 Regulations on Religious Affairs, and the 2016 Foreign NGO law have had several notable impacts on Chinas response to the coronavirus.
GONGOs. Government-organized nongovernmental organizations (GONGOs) are favored to the exclusion of grassroots groups. The Chinese Governments 2016 Charity Law governs organizations with the charitable purpose of relief from damage caused by public health incidents. But the law makes it extremely difficult for an organization without sponsorship by a Chinese government entity to register.REF At the end of 2018, the Ministry of Civil Affairs (MCA) reported that it had 816,027 registered social organizations, many of which are GONGOs.REF NGOs that lack a government sponsor do not register and, therefore, risk punishment for their charitable activities. Others register as business entities even though they do not seek profit. In 2018, the government began clamping down on unregistered social organizations.
The MCA and the Ministry of Public Security investigated 5,845 unregistered social organizations.REF Because unregistered NGOs are barred from publicly raising funds, their ability to operate or grow is severely limited. The Chinese government directs the public to fund GONGOs like the Chinese Red Cross. The Red Cross is the countrys biggest charity. But while it is a member of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), unlike in most other countries, the Red Cross in China is government-controlled and gets most of its funding from the state. The Red Cross in China is not just the Red Crossits a quasi-government organization, said Dali Yang, a political scientist at the University of Chicago. So the problems with the Red Cross undermine the trust, the confidence in the government.REF
The public distrusts the Chinese Red Cross because of revelations of its employees buying extravagant luxury goods with the publics donations.REF The publics mistrust is well-placed. The New York Times recently reported that the Chinese Red Cross failed to distribute supplies to fight COVID-19 to medical workersand gave them to government agencies instead.REF
Registration and Personal Information. Registration for religious groups is conditioned on loyalty to the CCP. In 2018, the Chinese government launched a campaign to pressure unregistered religious groups to register with the State Administration for Religious Affairs (SARA) and the MCA under the 2017 Regulations on Religious Affairs (RRA).REF Government officials essentially only accept the registration applications of groups that are affiliated with one of the five state-sanctioned patriotic religious associations (PRAs).REF Most house churches do not affiliate with the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) because of the requirement that they assist the CCP in carrying out its work of Sinicizing religious beliefs.REF
In addition to affiliation with the TSPM, authorities also demand that house churches provide personal information about their members. In January 2019, the SARA and MCA issued a joint notice stating that religious groups must provide information on finances from an authorized accounting firm and provide the social credit scores of group leaders.REF House churches lack of legal status prevents them from formally organizing relief efforts. Only faith-based organizations that have a close relationship with the PRAs, like the Protestant Amity Foundation or Catholic Jinde Charities, have limited freedom to respond to COVID-19.REF The state media and PRAs actively tout these groups workwhile affirmatively excluding other groups from joining in relief efforts.REF
International Registration. Onerous registration requirements discourage international NGOs from providing assistance. The 2016 Peoples Republic of China Law on the Management of Overseas Non-Governmental Organizations Activities requires them to register with the Ministry of Public Security and conditions their work (including humanitarian aid) on vague terminology about spreading rumors, obtaining state secrets, and endanger[ing] Chinas national unity.REF After the law passed, many international NGOs, including humanitarian groups, left the country. According to the Congressional-Executive Commission on Chinas 2019 Annual Report, the Chinese government intensified efforts to eliminate illegal overseas NGOs through Internet surveillance and mobilizing citizens to report on them.REF
Recent history further supports the supposition that the Chinese government will continue to punish whistleblowers and box out civil society organizations in favor of a heavy-handed CCP response to the COVID-19 crisis. Examples abound.
The 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) Virus. The SARS virus was another novel coronavirus that surfaced in China in 2002; similar to COVID-19, it was viewed by the Chinese government as a threat to the CCPs leadership. Cases were reported as early as November and December of 2002, but the Chinese government did not make the public aware of the disease until February 2003and the international community did not become aware of the extent of the disease until April 2003, when whistleblower, Dr. Jiang Yanyong, released a letter to international media.REF
Like with COVID-19, whistleblowers were quickly silenced. Dr. Jiang was the chief physician at a Beijing hospital and a senior member of the Communist Party. His leaked letter revealed that six people had already died, and another 60 were infected with the virus.REF It also led to the resignations of the Minister of Public Health and the mayor of Beijing.REF Some public health experts credit his open letter to the media with helping to contain the virus and prevent a pandemic. The government has intermittently detained Dr. Jiang, who has been under house arrest, most recently since April 2019, after he reiterated his calls for the CCP to admit responsibility for the crimes he bore witness to in Tiananmen Square in 1989.REF
By Chinese law, it is illegal for any entity other than the Ministry of Health to break the news about a health-related issue. The Implementing Regulations of the Law of the Peoples Republic of China on Guarding State Secrets actually classifies such information as a state secret.REF According to Jennifer Bouey at Rand Corporation, this law, coupled with Chinas lack of a center for disease control (at the time) or a reporting mechanism for health crises, contributed to the lack of information about the SARS epidemic.REF
The Chinese governments response to COVID-19 leaves the impression that history is, in fact, repeating itself. Apart from some notable improvements in the Chinese governments response to COVID-19, such as its reporting about the disease more quickly and its decision to share COVID-19s gene sequencing with the international community,REF the Chinese governments suppression of civil society is almost a copy-paste of the PRCs response to SARS.
The 2008 Wenchuan Earthquake and 2010 Qinghai Earthquake. When the eighteenth-deadliest earthquake in recorded history hit the Southwestern city of Wenchuan, killing more than 70,000 people, there was an unprecedented outpouring of grassroots citizen support.REF Both local religious congregations and congregations from other parts of China sent volunteers and delivered financial aid and supplies. Then-President Hu Jintao faced strong criticism for his mishandling of the earthquakes aftermath.REF After a brief period of freedom, the Politburo Standing Committee (the top leadership of the CCP) member and former Minister of Public Security Zhou Yongkang urged the local government to maintain stability, and they limited the grassroots groups ability to provide aid.REF Two years later when a strong earthquake hit Qinghai province, the government required all donations to be handed over to local officials, causing what has been described as the Death of Charity.REF Since then, there has been no comparable level of civil society response to a disaster.
Although responding to earthquakes is different than responding to a pandemic, they pose similar challenges to Chinese political leaders. Floods, earthquakes, and pestilence were once viewed as signs that an emperor had lost the mandate of heaven. Today, they are seen as a direct reflection of the regimes broader fitness for governing. Rebecca Lee, a law professor at the University of Hong Kong, wrote that natural disastersand the Wenchuan earthquake in particularbrought the shortcomings of the bureaucratic government starkly into focus, creating the opportunity, and indeed the necessity, for the charitable sector to thrive.REF
Today, COVID-19 poses an unprecedented threat to President Xi Jinpings legitimacy. His government has gone into crisis management mode, with videos of him greeting hospital workers while wearing a face mask and relentless praise from state media seemingly doing little to stem the peoples criticism.REF Until that point, President Xi had been absent from media and the public for several weeks.
The Chinese governments impulse to centralize is simple: It wants the CCP to be seen as the sole provider for its people. If carried out successfully, the Chinese governments response to COVID-19 enhances the legitimacy of President Xi and the CCPs leadership. On the flipside, however, a failure to successfully contain the virus poses a serious threat to the Chinese governments legitimacywhich is why control has been so tight during the crisis.
In free societies, the little platoonscharitable organizationsare often the first to show up and the last to leave in a crisis. A shining light among those little platoons are FBOs. There are at least three types of faith-based organizations: (1) congregations; (2) national networks, which include national denominations, their social service arms (for example, Catholic Charities), and networks of related organizations (such as the YMCA and YWCA); and (3) freestanding service organizations, which are incorporated separately from congregations and national networks.REF
The unique strengths of faith-based organizations include a high level of public trust, ability to build the capacity of local leaders, access to human and financial capital, a holistic view of service, roots in local communities, and a higher calling that creates tenacity.REF In a pandemic, faith-based organizations can augment the work of other civil society organizations by providing access to food, medical care (through faith-based hospitals), and social and economic support. A 2003 analysis of a World Bank survey found that no other organisations are more firmly rooted or have better networks in poor communities than the religious ones.REF
In the U.S., both federal and state governments have long-standing relationships with FBOs. President George W. Bush created offices of faith-based and community initiatives at the White House and in federal agencies to coordinate the governments efforts to incorporate FBOs into the U.S.s broader efforts to supply aid domestically and abroad.REF American religious institutions, such as universities, charities, and health systems, have a $303 billion socio-economic impact annually.REF
Among FBOs are a nations religiously affiliated medical networks. In America,17 percent of hospitals are faith-based.REF One in every six beds is at a Catholic hospital.REF Advent Health (sponsored by the Seventh-Day Adventist Church) operates one of the largest nonprofit health systems in the nation and serves more than 5 million patients annually.REF Americas capacity to treat infectious diseases would be significantly reduced without their existence.
In stark contrast, the Chinese governments politicized registration requirements and draconian restrictions have prevented FBOs from developing the capacity and receiving the necessary training to provide aid in a professional manner, as they do in other countries. Before the Communist Revolution in 1949, missionary hospitals provided the most advanced treatments for the sick. Of the 500 hospitals in China in 1931, 235 were run by Protestant missions and 10 by Catholic missions.REF The mission hospitals accounted for 61 percent of Western-trained doctors, 32 percent of nurses, and 50 percent of medical schools.REF Although religious denominations opened the first modern clinics and hospitals and launched modern medical education in China, the CCP now excludes both non-patriotic international and domestic religious communities from health care.
While the response to a pandemic should be primarily government-led, civil society can fill in the gaps where governments cannot. In China it is hard to envision what a robust civil society response to COVID-19 would look likeprecisely because these little platoons are largely absent from the landscape due to poor Chinese government laws and policies that fail to put the good of Chinese citizens above the desire for the CCPs power and control.
FBOs development has been stunted, despite the massive growth of faith in China. According to the CCPs own estimate, there are at least 200 million religious believers in the country whose total population is estimated at 1.4 billion.REF
In a country with hundreds of millions of religious believers there are fewer than a handful of legally registered FBOs, like Amity Foundation and Jinde Charities. Forced underground by the requirement of loyalty to the CCP through affiliation with a PRA and registration with the local religious affairs bureau, the majority of religious believers seek to perform good deeds without attracting the ire of a government that wants to be seen as the sole source of help.
Nevertheless, there are prominent examples of faith-based groups stepping up in the midst of humanitarian crises in Chinaoftentimes only to be later shut down. One such example was Early Rain Covenant Church, formerly run by Pastor Wang Yi. His church offered aid to earthquake victims and advocated on behalf of parents whose children died when their schools collapsed on them during the 2008 earthquake. Ten years after the earthquake, police arrested Pastor Wang Yi and 200 members of the Early Rain Covenant Church when they were preparing to hold a memorial service for the victims of the earthquake.REF
In spite of these restrictions and crackdowns, religious communities and individuals are determined to help. The patriotic religious associations have stepped in with financial assistance equivalent to more than $30 million.REF But after seven house churches in Beijing donated $10,000 in face masks and disinfectants to the people of Wuhan, police called their leaders in for questioning.REF
Reverend Huang Lei, a Wuhan church leader, believes that local officials rejected donations out of fear of angering Beijing officials who would accuse them of cooperating with illegal organizations. He said, In China, the government likes to control all channels for donating money. They dont like civil society to participate, and especially not faith-based organizations.REF Another pastor in Wuhan expressed the churchs desire for peaceful coexistence with the government: We are to seek peace for this city, peace for those who are afflicted with this illness, peace for the medical personnel struggling on the front lines, and peace for every government official at every level.REF
In a public health crisis, governments need to show their citizens strong leadership and a well-thought-out plan of action. That plan of action should include appropriate civil society responses, and even partnerships between the government and civil society actors. Chinas history of violating human rights norms and suppressing civil society to centralize control in order to shore up its own legitimacy has exacerbated the harms of natural disasters and infectious diseases.
China should relax restrictions that sideline domestic civil society organizations and allow them to build capacity so they can respond when possible to alleviate suffering. China should also allow international humanitarian aid organizations to register without imposing onerous political requirements on them so they can respond to crises and help build the capacity of Chinese civil society.
The U.S. obviously does not have the power to direct the Chinese government response to crises like COVID-19. It should, however, seek to create greater space for civil society to organize and operate. As the top government donorhaving donated nearly $1.3 billion in aid to assist in the alleviation of COVID-19 as of March 10, 2020REFthe U.S. should press the Chinese government to improve access for international humanitarian aid and to expand freedom for domestic humanitarian groups to contribute to the response to this and future crises.
Specifically, the U.S. government should:
As the world continues to grapple with the life-threatening effects of COVID-19, the U.S. government should use its influence to urge the Chinese government to expand freedom for both secular and religious civil society organizations and allow them to contribute their considerable assets to bear on crisis management. The growth of both the charitable and religious impulses among the Chinese people can provide tremendous benefits to civil society, especially in times of crisis.
But by silencing whistleblowers and sidelining charitable service, the Chinese government exacerbated the human toll of SARS, earthquakesand now COVID-19. The Chinese people are clamoring for the government to allow greater freedom for doctors and citizen journalists to respond to COVID-19not because they desire to overthrow the government, but because they are desperate to obtain life-saving information. Meanwhile, as the Chinese government criticizes the international community for not offering enough medical supplies and donations, it is simultaneously preventing its own people from meeting each others needs.
When Dr. Jiang Yanyong was recognized with an international award for his role in preventing SARS from becoming a global pandemic, he said, I am a doctor. If I see a human life at stake, I will intervene.REF Today, many Chinese citizens share Dr. Jiangs desire to preserve human life. As the Chinese government seeks to demonstrate that it can govern well and meet the challenges that this crisis presents, it can do so by embracing a greater role for its own people.
Olivia Enos is a Senior Policy Analyst in the Asian Studies Center, of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, at The Heritage Foundation.
ACLJ to File Amicus Brief with Supreme Court in Pro-Life Speech Case Battling the Abortion Distortion – American Center for Law and Justice
Posted: at 7:01 pm
The ability to speak ones one mind in an effort to persuade others of the truth of your position is a critical component in the workings of politics, academia, the courtroom . . . almost any area of public or private concern. Few personal liberties are therefore more cherished in this country than the right to free speech.
George Washington said it powerfully: For if Men are to be precluded from offering their Sentiments on a matter, which may involve the most serious and alarming consequences, that can invite the consideration of Mankind, reason is of no use to us; the freedom of Speech may be taken away, and, dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep, to the Slaughter.
Though it may have a checkered past on the issue, the Supreme Court has been an important guardian of the First Amendments guarantee of free speech. Recently, and positively, the Court has held that the state cannot compel pro-life pregnancy centers to advertise government-subsidized abortions. It has held that the government cannot treat Church signs advertising places of worship less than it treats non-religious directional signs.
Unfortunately, as with other rights, the right to free speech often falls prey to abortion distortion, where courts contort the meaning of well-established free speech principles to silence pro-life speakers. While the Supreme Court has made important and encouraging strides in the past decade to safeguard free speecheven in the abortion contextJustice Scalia once spoke of the Courts troubling tendency to bend the rules when any effort to limit abortion, or even to speak in opposition to abortion, is at issue.
Sadly, the abortion distortion doctrine continues to rear its ugly head in the lower courts.
For years, the City of Pittsburgh has tried to keep pro-life speakers away from the very place where their message matters most: close to the entrance of abortion clinics. Similar to the City of Englewood ordinance we are challenging in federal court, Pittsburgh adopted a buffer zone prohibiting persons from congregating, patrolling, picketing, or demonstrating within 15-feet of an abortion clinics entrance.
Despite the Supreme Courts 2014 decision in McCullen v. Coakley, which unanimously struck down a buffer zone abortion law in Massachusetts, both the district court and the Third Court of Appeals upheld Pittsburghs ordinance. Contrary to how the City interpreted its own ordinance, the Court of Appeals narrowed its scope by holding that the ordinance doesnt cover sidewalk counseling.
While laudably permitting the speech of pro-life sidewalk counseling, there are two critical problems with the courts ruling: (1) its not the role of federal courts to construe narrowly state and local laws in order to save them from a constitutional challenge, and (2) even if the ordinance does not apply to some pro-life speakers, it still sweeps within its ambit classic forms of free speech activity (including pro-life speech activity), such as demonstrating and picketing.
The Third Circuits decision shouldnt be allowed to stand. And well soon be filing an amicus brief with the Supreme Court in support of the pro-life speakers in Pittsburgh. Its time for the Supreme Court to put an end to abortion distortion in the realm of free speech once and for allboth in this case and in another pro-life speech case out of Chicago that the Court is still considering whether to accept and decide (we also filed an amicus brief in this case).
The right to free speech is not a luxury or perk. When the government impermissibly seeks to squelch or limit that right, courts should be vigilant in striking down those restrictions. And when lower courts wrongly uphold those restrictions, as did the Third Circuit here, the Supreme Court needs to step in and reverse them.
You can sign on to our Supreme Court brief below.
Posted: at 7:00 pm
The genetic code to alllife on Earth, both simple and complex, comes down to four basic letters: A, C,T and G.
Untangling the role thatthese letters play in lifes blueprint has allowed scientists to understandwhat makes everything from bacteria to people the way they are. But as researchershave learned more, they have also sought ways to tinker with this blueprint,bringing ethical dilemmas into the spotlight. The Gene, a two-part PBS documentary from executive producer Ken Burnsairing April 7 and 14, explores the benefits and risks that come withdeciphering lifes code.
The film begins with oneof those ethical challenges. The opening moments describe how biophysicist HeJiankui used the gene-editing tool CRISPR/Cas9 to alter the embryos of twin girls who were born in China in 2018 (SN: 12/17/18). Worldwide, criticscondemned the move, claiming it was irresponsible to change the girls DNA, asexperts dont yet fully understand the consequences.
This moment heraldedthe arrival of a new era, narrator David Costabile says. An era in whichhumans are no longer at the mercy of their genes, but can control and evenchange them.
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The story sets the stagefor a prominent theme throughout the documentary: While genetics holdsincredible potential to improve the lives of people with genetic diseases,there are always those who will push science to its ethical limits. But thedriving force in the film is the inquisitive nature of the scientistsdetermined to uncover what makes us human.
The Gene, based on the book of the same name by Siddhartha Mukherjee (SN:12/18/16), one of the documentarys executive producers, highlights many ofthe most famous discoveries in genetics. The film chronicles Gregor Mendels classicpea experiments describing inheritance and how experts ultimately revealed inthe 1940s that DNA a so-called stupid molecule composed of just four chemicalbases, adenine (A), thymine (T),cytosine (C) and guanine (G) is responsible for storing geneticinformation. Historical footage, inBurns typical style, brings to life stories describing the discovery of DNAshelical structure in the 1950s and the success of the Human Genome Project indecoding the human genetic blueprint in 2003.
The film also touches ona few of the ethical violations that came from these discoveries. The eugenicsmovement in both Nazi Germany and the United States in the early 20th century aswell as the story of the first person to die in a clinical trial for genetherapy, in 1999, cast a morbid shadow on the narrative.
Interwoven into thistimeline are personal stories from people who suffer from genetic diseases.These vignettes help viewers grasp the hope new advances can give patients asexperts continue to wrangle with DNA in efforts to make those cures.
In the documentarysfirst installment, which focuses on the early days of genetics, viewers meet a family whose daughter is grappling with arare genetic mutation that causes her nerve cells to die. The family searchesfor a cure alongside geneticist Wendy Chung of Columbia University. The secondpart follows efforts to master the human genome and focuses on AudreyWinkelsas, a molecular biologist at the National Institutes of Health studyingspinal muscular atrophy, a disease she herself has, and a family fighting tosave their son from a severe form of the condition.
For science-interested viewers, the documentary does not disappoint. The Gene covers what seems to be every angle of genetics history from the ancient belief that sperm absorbed mystical vapors to pass traits down to offspring to the discovery of DNAs structure to modern gene editing. But the stories of the scientists and patients invested in overcoming diseases like Huntingtons and cancer make the film all the more captivating.
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The PBS documentary The Gene showcases genetics promise and pitfalls - Science News
Few clinical trials are done in Africa: COVID-19 shows why this urgently needs to change – The Conversation Africa
Posted: at 6:59 pm
The World Health Organisation (WHO), in its quest to find efficacious therapies to treat COVID-19, plans to conduct a multi-arm, multi-country clinical trial. The trials have yet to begin, but ten countries have already signed up. Only one of them, South Africa, is on the African continent.
Of course, the WHO isnt the only organisation trying to find treatments or even a vaccine for COVID-19. The United States National Institutes of Health maintains an online platform that lists all registered, ongoing clinical trials globally. On March 26, a quick search of the platform using the term coronavirus revealed 157 ongoing trials; 87 of these involve either a drug or a vaccine, while the rest are behavioural studies. Only three are registered in Africa all of them in Egypt.
This low representation of African countries in clinical trials is not unusual. Poor visibility of existing sites, limited infrastructure and unpredictable clinical trial regulatory timelines are some of the key issues hindering investments in this area.
Africas virtual absence from the clinical trials map is a big problem. The continent displays an incredible amount of genetic diversity. If this diversity is not well represented in clinical trials, the trial findings cannot be generalised to large populations.
The same goes for the outcomes of the COVID-19 studies. They too may not be relevant for people in African countries unless conducted locally. This is because responses to drugs or vaccines are complicated and can be influenced by, among other things, human genetics: different people will respond differently to different drugs and vaccines.
More countries on the African continent must urgently get involved in clinical trials so that the data collected will accurately represent the continent at a genetic level.
Time is of the essence. The usual approach, of developing site or country specific protocols, wont work. Instead, African governments need to look at ways to harmonise the response towards COVID-19 across the continent. Now, more than ever, African countries need to work together.
Africa does have clinical trial infrastructure and capabilities. But the resources remain unevenly distributed. The vast majority are in Egypt and South Africa. Thats because these countries have invested more heavily in research and development than others on the continent.
Traditionally, clinical trials are conducted at centres of excellence, which are sites that have the appropriate infrastructure and human skills necessary to conduct good quality trials. These can be located at a single university or research organisation, or work can be split between a few locations. But setting up these centres requires significant time and financial investment. Most that I am aware of on the continent have developed over the years with heavy support from external partners or sponsors. In many cases, African governments have not been involved in these efforts.
Once such centres are set up, the hard work continues to maintain these centres and to ensure theyre able to attract clinical trial sponsors. They require continuous funding, the establishment of proper institutional governance and the creation of trusted, consistent networks.
Usually African scientists leading clinical trial sites can apply for funding to conduct a trial; if the site is well known the scientists may be approached by a sponsor such as a pharmaceutical company interested in conducting a trial.
Clearly this approach takes time and usually benefits well-known sites or triallists. So what alternatives are available in the face of an epidemic thats moving as fast as COVID-19?
Key stakeholders should work together to expedite the rollout of trials in different countries. This would include inter-country collaborations such as working with different governments and scientists in co-designing trials; and providing harmonised guidelines on patient management, sample collection and tracking and sharing results in real time.
African governments, meanwhile, should provide additional funding to clinical research institutions and clinical trial sites. This would allow the sites to pull resources together and rapidly enrol patients to answer various research questions.
Because of the uneven distribution of skills and resources the continent should also adopt a hub-and-spoke model in its efforts. This would involve countries that dont have much capacity being able to ship samples easily across borders for analysis in a centralised well-equipped laboratory, which then feeds back data to the country of sample origin.
Governments should also form a task force to quickly engage with key pharmaceutical companies with drug candidates for COVID-19. This team should establish the companies appetite for collaborations in conducting relevant trials on the continent.
Through all of this, it is necessary for stakeholders to identify and address key ethical issues that may arise. Ethics should not be compromised by haste.
Every countrys epidemic preparedness kit should contain funds set aside for clinical trials during epidemics or pandemics.
This would require governments on the continent to evaluate their role and level of investment in the general area of clinical trials. This will augment the quality and quantity of clinical trials in the face of the constant challenge of emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases as well as a steady rise in non-communicable diseases.
On top of this, clinical trial centres, clinical research institutions and clinical triallists on the continent should strive to increase their visibility in the global space. This will make them easy to find in times of crisis, and enhance both south-south and north-south collaborations.
The African Academy of Sciences is currently building an online platform to facilitate this visibility and encourage greater collaboration.