URLs du Jour

2022-04-29

[Amazon Link, See Disclaimer]

  • On the LFOD front. My Google News Alert for "Live Free or Die" brought to my attention a Laconia Daily Sun LTE from Leonard Witt: How did Live Free or Die state pass law that encourages turning in teachers? It begins:

    The New York Times and Washington Post recently ran stories about Russian students turning in teachers who say anything negative about the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

    Here, Frank Edelblut, New Hampshire education commissioner, encourages students to identify and report teachers who disagree with the GOP rules on how to talk about race. Rules that caused Gov. Chris Sununu’s own diversity council members to resign, citing the chilling effect the law would have on teachers’ freedom of speech.

    Uh huh. New Hampshire: as bad as Russia! Well, Leonard continues in that vein for a while. But he's pretty slippery with his question-begging framing. What does it mean to talk about "teachers' freedom of speech"?

    Teachers are employees. You know, like Bob, a hypothetical shelf-stocker at your local grocery store. Bob's a Bernie bro. Or maybe a Trump fan. It doesn't matter.

    Bob's perfectly free to express his political opinions on social media sites (as long as he doesn't get "moderated"). He can write LTEs to his local paper (and they're free to accept or reject them). He can start his own blog, and comment on others. He can put bumper stickers on his car, erect yard signs on his lawn, even lug a soapbox to the local park and give speeches to passers-by.

    But if he starts giving speeches in the grocery store aisles to the customers who just want to pick up some Purina Dog Chow, Bob will soon find himself out of that job. Either his bosses will notice, or someone will (in Leonard's language) "turn him in".

    We don't generally consider this an attack on free speech. We consider this to be shedding an employee who's not doing his job, and probably pissing off a significant fraction of customers.

    Yes, employees don't totally lose their free speech rights in the workplace, and (to a certain extent) the specific rules differ depending on what state you're in. (That link found via 7 seconds of Googling.) But it's a safe bet that if your yammering runs up against what your employer considers to be your job duties, you won't have much of a legal leg to stand on.

    Ah, (you say) but teachers in government schools are public employees! Don't different rules apply?

    Sure. To some extent. But consider Bernadette, a hypothetical math teacher, who spends her class time reading to her students the entirety of Francisco d’Anconia's "Money Speech" from Atlas Shrugged… well, as sympathetic as I might be, she'd be justly fired, just like Bob.

    (As above, let me share an article found with a quick Google search: Rights of Teachers, from the "First Amendment Encyclopedia" at Middle Tennessee State University.)

    Let's also consider the context. Unlike Bob at the grocery store, Bernadette's audience is required to be there thanks to compulsory attendance laws; they can't just walk away, Renee. And there's a huge power differential between Bernadette and her students; in the absence of oversight, she can make their lives miserable if they don't pay attention, fail to give the right answers on her demand, or get too snotty about her behavior.

    So Leonard's wrong to blindly invoke "teachers’ freedom of speech."

    Let's take a closer look at what Leonard's so upset about. Here's the relevant NH Department of Education web page: Right to Freedom from Discrimination in Public Workplaces and Education. It has a link to the dreaded "turn in your teacher" web form: "Public Education Intake Questionnaire". What are the "GOP rules on how to talk about race" that might cause someone to fill out that form? Here are the guidelines:

    This web page is being offered in support of the New Hampshire Commission for Human Rights (Commission) for those who believe that they, or their child, was discriminated against because their child’s school was teaching and/or advocating that one identified group is:

    • Inherently superior or inferior to people of another identified group 
    • Inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously 
    • Should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment 
    • Should not treat members of other identified groups equally  

    I'm a huge fan of free speech, and I don't see a lot of room to complain here. If my kids were being taught that, I would (a) want to know about it; (b) want to complain about it effectively; and (c) want it stopped.


  • Betteridge's Law of Headlines applies… to this latest entry in a series by Greg Lukianoff and Nadine Strossen athe Foundation for Individual Rights in Education: Would censorship have stopped the rise of the Nazis? Some people claim the answer's yes, but…

    As I [Greg] explained in my review of Eric Berkowitz’s excellent book, “Dangerous Ideas: A Brief History of Censorship in the West, from the Ancients to Fake News,” Weimar Germany had laws banning hateful speech (particularly hateful speech directed at Jews), and top Nazis including Joseph Goebbels, Theodor Fritsch and Julius Streicher actually were sentenced to prison time for violating them. The efforts of the Weimar Republic to suppress the speech of the Nazis are so well known in academic circles that one professor has described the idea that speech restrictions would have stopped the Nazis as “the Weimar Fallacy.”

    A 1922 law passed in response to violent political agitators such as the Nazis permitted Weimar authorities to censor press criticism of the government and advocacy of violence. This was followed by a number of emergency decrees expanding the power to censor newspapers. The Weimar Republic not only shut down hundreds of Nazi newspapers — in a two-year period, they shut down 99 in Prussia alone — but they accelerated that crackdown on speech as the Nazis ascended to power. Hitler himself was banned from speaking in several German states from 1925 until 1927.

    More history at the link, and Nadine Strossen adds her insight too. Weimar Germany had problems that its censorship only made worse.


  • Progressives: finding yet another thing to mandate. Jeff Jacoby responds to the latest serious proposal: The Constitution protects your right to vote — and your right not to.

    E.J. Dionne Jr. and Miles Rapoport find it intolerable that so many Americans choose not to vote. In a new book, “100% Democracy: The Case for Universal Voting,” they lay out a case for making voting mandatory and penalizing nonvoters. Like many on the left, Dionne, a Washington Post columnist, and Rapoport, the former president of Common Cause, equate high voter turnout with democratic health. They note with approval that in Australia, where voting was made compulsory in 1924, turnout is generally around 90 percent. “The Australian experience suggests that when citizens know they are required to vote, they take this obligation seriously,” the authors write. (For some reason, they don’t mention North Korea, where voting is also mandatory and turnout is even higher than in Australia).

    Regardless of what other countries may do, mandatory voting is a terrible idea. Forcing citizens to vote is like forcing a couple to marry: The outcome may be legally binding, but it lacks the moral legitimacy that only a choice freely made can confer.

    The fundamental flaw with any compulsory voting scheme is that it nullifies the right to vote. By definition, if you have a right to do something, you have a right not to do it. Anything the state can make you do — pay taxes, register for the draft, vaccinate your children, get your car inspected — isn’t a right but a duty. An admirable duty, perhaps; even a vital duty. But if it is something you have to do, it isn’t a right. It’s a legal obligation.

    Practically every day I see examples of the general rule the WSJ laid out in a recent editorial:

    Why do progressives think any idea they come up with has to be imposed by political coercion? You know the answer. Because they believe in their superior moral virtue, and they like to order other people around.


  • "The power to tax is the power to destroy." Scott Sumner proposes a corollary to that well-known adage: The power to subsidize is the power to destroy.

    Subsidies are essentially the same as taxes, when viewed from a certain angle. Not surprisingly, it’s also true that the power to subsidize is the power to destroy. Suppose you are a libertarian, and you oppose government subsidies to farmers. A new president is elected in 2024 and he announces that henceforth any farmer caught criticizing the president on social media will no longer receive government farm subsidies. How should you feel about that?

    Some people might think to themselves, “This new provision will make the bad farm subsidy program smaller, and hence it’s a good thing.” I would focus on the way the new policy inhibits free speech, and oppose the policy.

    In a recent post, David Henderson correctly pointed out that in trying to punish Disney for speech they didn’t approve of, Florida’s legislators were ending a very useful public policy. I agree. But I’d go even further. I would oppose this action even if I thought Disney’s special status was a bad policy. (And perhaps it’s not so special, given that Florida has 1844 such “special” districts.)  

    Hoping Florida comes to its senses soon. Also Disney.


  • A modest proposal. It's from George F. Will: Amend the Constitution to bar senators from the presidency.

    To conserve the reverence it needs and deserves, the Constitution should be amended rarely and reluctantly. There is, however, an amendment that would instantly improve the legislative and executive branches. It would read: “No senator or former senator shall be eligible to be president.”

    Seventeen presidents were previously senators. Seven of them – Harding, Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Obama, Biden — became senators after 1913, when the 17th Amendment took the selection of senators away from state legislatures. The federal government’s growth, and the national media’s focus on Washington, has increased the prominence of senators eager for prominence, although it often is the prominence of a ship’s figurehead — decorative, not functional. As president-centric government has waxed, the Senate has waned, becoming increasingly a theater of performative behaviors by senators who are decreasingly interested in legislating, and are increasingly preoccupied with using social media for self-promotion.

    Although it's worthy of your consideration, I don't think GFW's proposed amendment would be high on my list. (My own crackpot proposal is described here.)