We’re a Small Arkansas Newspaper. Why Is the State Making Us Sign a Pledge About Israel?

At The Arkansas Times, a publication I founded 47 years ago, our pages focus on small-scale local issues, like protecting Medicaid expansion from the predations of our state legislature and other elements of Arkansas politics, history and culture. So I was surprised when in 2018 I received an ultimatum from the University of Arkansas’s Pulaski Technical College, a longtime advertiser: To continue receiving its ad dollars, we would have to certify in writing that our company was not engaged in a boycott of Israel. It was puzzling. Our paper focuses on the virtues of Sims Bar-B-Que down on Broadway — why would we be required to sign a pledge regarding a country in the Middle East?

I understood the context of that email. In 2017, Arkansas pledged to enforce support for Israel by mandating that public agencies not do business with contractors unless those contractors affirm that they do not boycott Israel. The idea behind the bill goes back 16 years. In 2005, Palestinian civil society launched a campaign calling for “boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel until it complies with international law and universal principles of human rights.” Around the world, Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or B.D.S., as it became known, gained momentum. In response, Israel and lobbyists have used multiple strategies to quash the movement. In the United States, one such strategy took the form of anti-B.D.S. bills. Currently, more than 30 states have provisions on the books similar to Arkansas’s.

It soon became clear that The Arkansas Times had to answer our advertiser. Though boycotting Israel could not have been further from our minds and though state funding is a significant source of our income, our answer was no. We don’t take political positions in return for advertising. If we signed the pledge, I believe, we’d be signing away our right to freedom of conscience. And as journalists, we would be unworthy of the protections granted us under the First Amendment.

And so, instead of signing, we sued to overturn the law, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, on the grounds that it violates the First and 14th Amendments. We are still fighting it.

The Arkansas legislature is dominated by conservative evangelicals, such as the former Senate majority leader, Bart Hester. He is featured in the new documentary film “Boycott,” directed by Julia Bacha and produced by the group Just Vision. “Boycott” follows three plaintiffs, including me, challenging their states’ anti-boycott laws. In the film, Senator Hester explains that his religious belief motivates everything he does as a government official, including writing Arkansas’s anti-boycott lawHe also explains his eschatological beliefs: There is going to be certain things that happen in Israel before Christ returns. There will be famines and disease and war. And the Jewish people are going to go back to their homeland. At that point Jesus Christ will come back to the earth.” He added, “Anybody, Jewish or not Jewish, that doesn’t accept Christ, in my opinion, will end up going to hell.” Senator Hester and his coreligionists may see the anti-boycott law as a way to support Israel, whose return to its biblical borders, according to their reading of scripture, is one of the precursors to the Second Coming and Armageddon.

In other words, Senator Hester and other supporters of the law entwine religion and public life in a manner that we believe intrudes on our First Amendment rights.

These types of laws are not restricted to states in which fundamentalist Christians hold sway. In 2016, California passed a law requiring large contractors working with a state agency to certify that they will not discriminate against Israel, and Andrew Cuomo, as governor of New York, signed an executive order that compels state entities to divest money and assets from a list of organizations regarded by the state as participating in the boycott. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York proposed national anti-boycott legislation.

Let’s be clear, states are trading their citizens’ First Amendment rights for what looks like unconditional support for a foreign government.

When our case reached the Federal District Court in 2019, the state argued that boycotting was not political speech but rather an economic exercise and therefore subject to state regulation. We found that argument absurd. After all, our nation’s founding mythology includes the boycott of tea. Since then, boycotts have repeatedly been used as a tool of political speech and protest, from the Montgomery bus boycott to end segregation to the Delano grape strike protesting exploitation of farmworkers. University students throughout the country engaged in anti-apartheid boycotts of and divestment from South Africa. In 1982, the right to boycott as a method of collective political speech was upheld by a unanimous Supreme Court ruling in N.A.A.C.P. v. Claiborne Hardware Company.

And yet U.S. District Judge Brian Miller ruled against us. We appealed to the Eighth Circuit — and won — before a three-judge panel in February. But on June 10, a rehearing by the full Eighth Circuit was ordered. That hearing occurred on Sept. 21, and a decision is expected very soon. Frankly, we’re concerned it won’t go our way.

If we lose in the Eighth Circuit, our last hope is the Supreme Court. Ours isn’t the only case out there. In 2018 and 2019, federal courts in Texas, Arizona and Kansas ruled against their states’ anti-B.D.S. laws. If the Supreme Court rules against us, the other favorable rulings could be in jeopardy. Also concerning is that these states have since amended their anti-boycott laws, narrowing their scope so they apply only to companies with a large number of contractors and to public contracts that are more than $100,000 but without addressing what we see as the laws’ fundamental unconstitutionality.

Although the Arkansas press has covered the case, there has been little editorial support for or comment on our fight beyond that. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette signed the pledge — as did Arkansas Business, our business journal. And yet freedom of expression is a sacred American value and foundational to our democratic ideals.

If these anti-boycott laws are allowed to stand, get ready for a slew of copycat legislation. Texas passed two laws that went into effect on Sept. 1 — one prohibiting state agencies from conducting business with contractors that boycott fossil fuels and another preventing agencies from contracting with businesses that boycott firearm companies or trade associations.

What the outcome of The Arkansas Times’s lawsuit will be is unclear. One thing, however, remains crystal clear: These anti-boycott laws, allowing government to use money to punish dissent, will encourage the creation of ever more repressive laws that risk strangling free speech for years to come.

Alan Leveritt is the founder and publisher of The Arkansas Times. His lawsuit against Arkansas’s anti-boycott law is the subject of Just Vision’s upcoming documentary “Boycott.”

The Economics of Climate Change

Professor Steve Keen explains how mainstream economics is driving the climate disaster

Professor Steve Keen was one of the few economists to realise that a serious economic crisis was imminent in 2005. He publicly warned the world, and helped his native Australia navigate the 2008 crash without the major repercussions that crippled markets everywhere else.

He is now working on a new model of economics for a post-crash world. He joined me today to discuss why and how capitalism needs to be constrained, the economics of climate change and what mainstream economists and academics are getting wrong—to the detriment of us all.

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Listen here or catch it on Apple or Spotify. Enjoy!

Support Steve’s work here.

 

Iranian TV Network BANNED By US Government

DUBAI, June 22 (Reuters) – The U.S. Justice Department said on Tuesday it seized 36 Iranian-linked websites, many of them associated with either disinformation activities or violent organizations, taking them offline for violating U.S. sanctions. Several of the sites were back online within hours with new domain addresses. “Today, pursuant to court orders, the United States seized 33 websites used by the Iranian Islamic Radio and Television Union (IRTVU) and three websites operated by Kata’ib Hizballah (KH), in violation of U.S. sanctions,” the department said in a statement. https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-…

Bitcoin’s rise reflects America’s decline

A little over 100 years ago, there was a bubble asset that rose and fell wildly over the course of a decade. People who held it would have lost 100 per cent of their money five different times. They would have, at various points, made huge fortunes, or seen the value of their asset destroyed by hyperinflation.

The asset I’m referring to is gold priced in Weimar marks. If this reminds you of bitcoin, you are not alone. In his newsletter Tree Rings, analyst Luke Gromen looked at the startling similarities in the volatility of gold in Weimar Germany and bitcoin today. His conclusion? Bitcoin isn’t so much a bubble as “the last functioning fire alarm” warning us of some very big geopolitical changes ahead.

I agree. Central bankers have over the past 10 years (or the last few decades, depending on where you put the marker) quashed price discovery in markets with low interest rates and quantitative easing. Whether you see this as a welcome smoothing of the business cycle or a dysfunctional enabling of debt-ridden businesses, the upshot is that it’s now very difficult to get a sense of the health of individual companies or certainly the real economy as a whole from asset prices.

The rise in popularity of highly volatile cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin could simply be seen as a speculative sign of this US Federal Reserve-enabled froth. But it might better be interpreted as an early signal of a new world order in which the US and the dollar will play a less important role.

The past four years of Donald Trump’s presidency and his toxic politics have taken a toll on the world’s trust in America. That has also diminished trust in some quarters about the dollar’s stability as the global reserve currency. This feeling reached an apex during the January 6 attack on the US Capitol building. As financial policy analyst Karen Petrou put it in a recent note to clients: “There are many casualties of this quasi-coup, but the US dollar may well be among them. It’s no more immortal than any other category-killer brand.”

Trump certainly devalued Brand USA. But he is also a symptom of longer-term economic problems in the US — problems which have in recent years been papered over by low rates and monetary policy, which kept asset prices high but also encouraged debt and leverage.

Bitcoin’s rise reflects the belief in some parts of the investor community that the US will eventually come in some ways to resemble Weimar Germany, as post-2008 financial crisis monetary policy designed to stabilise markets gives way to post-Covid monetisation of rising US debt loads. There are, after all, only three ways out of debt — growth, austerity, or money printing. If the US government sells so much debt that the dollar starts to lose its value, then bitcoin could conceivably be a safe haven.

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Watch: What we saw the day the Capitol was attacked | ‘America, Interrupted’ Podcast

On Jan. 6, for the first time in more than two centuries, Congress was attacked and overrun, this time by its own citizens. The PBS NewsHour’s anchor and managing editor Judy Woodruff talks to correspondents Lisa Desjardins, Amna Nawaz and Yamiche Alcindor about what they saw as they reported from inside the Capitol, the grounds that surround it and the White House, respectively– and what they and other Americans will remember from that day.

Sam Harris’ Dissection Of Donald Trump (from Joe Rogan Experience #804)

This clip is taken from the Joe Rogan Experience podcast #804 with Sam Harris (https://youtu.be/RJ5_hAEsLkU), also available for download via iTunes & Stitcher (http://bit.ly/1XvSzR3).

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even if we had our house in order in
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every respect
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we still have terrorism and the you know
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global climate change will you have that
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you’ve got China and India and what are
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they doing in terms of complying with
55:20
with climate goals you have all the
55:25
things we’ve been talking about you know
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the the virtual certainty that there’s
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going to be a pandemic at the not what
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I’m talking about bioterrorism we’re
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talking about just the sheer fact that
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in 1918 there was a killer flu and
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there’s going to be another killer flu
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right there’s just no way there’s not
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gonna be another killer flu and we need
55:45
we need people and we need people people
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to smart people to change to optimize
55:51
the system to deal with these kinds of
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things and if we’re promoting you know
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religious maniacs and and crazy
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narcissists and liars and ignoramus and
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only that those people how could this
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end we’ll this is just a weird year for
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like heavyweight boxing you know they
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have those weird years for heavyweight
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boxing when Tony Allen is a champ and
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and then are you where you could be the
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heavyweight champion they went through a
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period of time in like the early 80s for
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Tyson came around was a series of like
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these champs that were like you know
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sort of like journeyman fighters and
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then Tyson came along maybe that’s what
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it only only with heavyweights right
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yeah mostly with heavyweights yeah the
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lighter weights they were always badass
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but I think that maybe that’s what’s
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going on maybe we need to have this bad
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season get the season out of our way
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realize the danger of having an inept
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person in office whether it’s a liar or
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dude who hates money or or Trump whoever
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it is just go through it and realize how
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silly it is that we have it set up this
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way still

Saagar Enjeti: How The Elites RIGGED Supreme Court Politics To Cover Their Corporate Scam

Saagar Enjeti discusses the political fallout from the open vacancy on the Supreme Court following the death of RGB.