2020-04-22: Statements

I hereby make the following statements available under the latest Creative Commons by-attribution derivatives-permitted no-need-to-share-alike commercial-use-permitted license.

Which wins: The 1st and 14th Amendments---OR---orders issued by state governors? Facebook's answer: https://www.wsj.com/articles/facebook-curbs-organizing-of-lockdown-protests-11587419628

If Beijing wants the world to believe the coronavirus didn't come from one of its virology labs, then it should stop taking advantage of the coronavirus like it came from one of its virology labs: https://www.wsj.com/articles/with-trump-facing-virus-crisis-u-s-warns-rivals-not-to-seek-advantage-11587385652

/s/ Martin "MartyG" Gottesfeld
I sent you this message at approximately 7:25 P.M. on Wednesday, April 22nd, 2020.


Articles behind paywall. Text below. 


(1) Facebook Puts Limits on Protest Organizers
The social media giant is allowing users to voice support for lockdown protests but not advocate violating social-distancing rules


Facebook Inc. FB 1.56% is banning posts and groups promoting anti-lockdown protests that don’t comply with government health directives, as organizers of those events seek to recruit new members on social media.

Dozens of protests have taken place in recent days, with participants complaining of shelter-in-place restrictions and pushing for state governments to allow more freedom to return to normal activities as the coronavirus pandemic plays out. Most of the events have been relatively small, but have drawn outsize attention on social media as the debate about when and how to reopen the economy becomes increasingly political.

Facebook groups, some with tens of thousands of members and some using near-identical language in their descriptions, have popped up in states like Michigan, Minnesota and Pennsylvania. The groups raise concerns about what they see as overly restrictive orders imposed by state governors.

Facebook’s prohibition doesn’t explicitly target posts promoting anti-lockdown protests; rather the company said it is barring content that advocates for in-person gatherings that don’t follow government health guidance. A spokeswoman for the social media giant said it is also taking down claims designed to discourage treatment for coronavirus infection or taking appropriate precautions against its spread.

Facebook removed content related to anti-lockdown protests planned in California, New Jersey and Nebraska.

“Unless government prohibits the event during this time, we allow it to be organized on Facebook,” the spokeswoman said in a statement. “For this same reason, events that defy government’s guidance on social distancing aren’t allowed on Facebook.”

Michigan has emerged as the epicenter of the protests, with critics focusing their frustration on the state’s Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer, who has imposed some of the most stringent coronavirus restrictions in the country. Ms. Whitmer has put in place measures limiting the number of shoppers in stores and closing off some sections of stores, including those for gardening supplies, a move that prompted condemnation from the state’s greenhouse industry.

Two right-leaning groups—the Michigan Conservative Coalition and the Michigan Freedom Fund—created a Facebook event called “Operation Gridlock” to protest the state’s restrictions. The April 15 event in Lansing, Mich., drew more than 3,000 protesters, many in cars to bring traffic to a standstill. Some participants left their cars and huddled in groups in violation of social-distancing rules.

Facebook’s decision to ban content that promotes events that risk defying health restrictions is part of a series of moves it has made to limit the spread of what it sees as misinformation and harmful content related to the pandemic. Some of the content also attempts to erode trust in public-health authorities, who say social distancing rules have slowed the spread of the virus and reduced the number of deaths attributable to it.

The move again injects Facebook into an increasingly polarized national debate. While some governors have asked protesters to stay home, President Donald Trump expressed his support for their actions in tweets over the weekend

The president’s son on Monday criticized Facebook’s move.

“Why is Facebook colluding with state governments to quash peoples free speech?” Donald Trump Jr. posted to Twitter. “Regardless of what you think about the lockdowns or the protests against them, this is a chilling.”

The protest in Lansing last week was organized by the Michigan Conservative Coalition. The group was founded by Michigan State Rep. Matt Maddock and his wife, Meshawn Maddock. The Maddocks didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The gathering also received backing from the Michigan Freedom Fund, a conservative group started by Greg McNeilly, a political adviser to the DeVos family. In an interview, Mr. McNeilly said his group wasn’t the main organizer of the event, but paid for $250 worth of Facebook advertising for it.

Mr. McNeilly said nobody in the DeVos family, including Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, backed the protest. He said the organizers of the protests repeatedly stressed that people should remain in their vehicles so as not to violate social-distancing rules, adding that the majority of people complied.

In the aftermath of the Michigan protests, similar “Operation Gridlock” events have been organized in other cities. Ben Dorr, a pro-gun activist who is the executive director of the group Minnesota Gun Rights, launched a Facebook group last week called “Minnesotans Against Excessive Quarantine,” later renamed “Reopen Minnesota.” He then created a similar group in Wisconsin, and his brothers, also pro-gun activists, established groups in other states. The Washington Post first reported their involvement.

“People’s livelihoods are being annihilated,” Mr. Dorr said in an interview. Critics of the states’ restrictions don’t want their lives to be “dictated unilaterally by governors,” he said.

Mr. Dorr said his Facebook groups aren’t being funded by outside organizations, and people are volunteering their time. “It’s 100% organic. We don’t have to pay anybody,” he said.

Mr. Dorr is organizing a protest in Madison, Wis., later this week. He remained hopeful that Facebook wouldn’t shut down his groups, stressing that he isn’t encouraging people to break social-distancing rules during the event. “The rallies are drive-in rallies allowing for social distancing,” he said.

Nearly six in 10 people surveyed in a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll said they were concerned that the country would move too fast to loosen restrictions aimed at slowing the outbreak, compared with about three in 10 who said the greater worry was the economic impact of waiting too long.

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(2) With Trump Facing Virus Crisis, U.S. Warns Rivals Not to Seek Advantage
China expands territorial foothold, while other adversaries ramp up harassment of U.S. forces


While President Trump is absorbed with confronting the devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic at home, administration officials and their allies are seeking to head off any attempt by adversaries around the world to test U.S. resolve.

In a succession of public warnings, Mr. Trump, his key aides, military officials and allies in recent weeks have voiced concern that attention to the health crisis by the White House and military could give rise to challenges.

“I think some of this stuff is profoundly and clearly taking advantage of a bad situation,” said an administration official, who pointed to China’s actions in the South China Sea as particularly troubling.

In recent weeks, Beijing has conducted operations to gain more of a foothold in the Spratly and Paracel island chains in the South China Sea, emblematic of China’s attempts to assert its influence around the world.

Since the outbreak of the global health crisis, China has begun operating various military aircraft from Fiery Cross Reef in the South China Sea, including an airborne early warning and control aircraft that has begun to use an airstrip on the reef as a “forward operating base” to conduct reconnaissance flights, military and State Department officials said.

While some of the operations might have been planned before the pandemic swept the globe, U.S. officials said American rivals like China are capitalizing on the Trump administration’s diverted attention and the strains on its military.

“Beijing is a net beneficiary of global attention diverted towards the pandemic rather than military activities in the South China Sea,” said Navy Capt. Mike Kafka, a spokesman for Indo-Pacific Command, Honolulu.

Officials at China’s embassy didn’t respond to a request for comment, but the country’s foreign ministry has said that it considers the island chains its territory and that its activities on its territory are lawful.

Chinese forces were accused earlier this month of sinking a Vietnamese fishing vessel in the vicinity of the Paracel Islands, prompting a protest from the State Department.

“We call on [China] to remain focused on supporting international efforts to combat the global pandemic, and to stop exploiting the distraction or vulnerability of other states to expand its unlawful claims in the South China Sea,” spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said.

China’s foreign ministry said the vessel was fishing illegally and, when confronted, rammed a Coast Guard ship, took on water and sank.

China’s latest moves come as a U.S. aircraft carrier in Asia, the USS Theodore Roosevelt, is sidelined in Guam, with more than 600 crew members stricken by Covid-19. One crew member has died.

The Pentagon says it remains prepared despite 5,000 members of the Defense Department testing positive for the disease, with 19 deaths.

“Our readiness is still strong, and we are able to deter and defeat any challenges that may try to take advantage of these opportunities at this point of crisis,” Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said last week.

The warnings come as the U.S. also has faced a series of fresh tests elsewhere in the world, including from Russia, North Korea and Iran.

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy last week made a series of “dangerous and harassing” moves near six American warships in the Persian Gulf, U.S. Navy officials said, the first such encounter since 2018.

Russia test-fired an antisatellite missile and twice buzzed American Navy planes over the Mediterranean Sea, military officials said. North Korea also test-fired suspected short-range cruise missiles—the first time it has used such missiles in nearly three years.

Mr. Trump sought to dispel any perception that he is preoccupied with the coronavirus by bringing the national security team to the White House earlier this month to take part in a daily coronavirus response briefing.

At that briefing, Robert O’Brien, Mr. Trump’s national security adviser, said: “Let me be clear: It would be a mistake—a mistake with terrible consequences—for any adversary to attempt to do us harm during this health crisis, or ever, for that matter.”

In the Middle East, militant rocket strikes in Iraq have continued, while Taliban fighters continue to attack Afghan forces as they seek political leverage while the U.S. withdraws forces. Islamic State and al Qaeda militants around the world are urging their followers to strike America and its allies while their health-care systems and military forces are being strained.

“The pandemic can be an opportunity for U.S. adversaries to test American resolve,” said Lina Khatib, director of the Middle East and North Africa Program at Chatham House, the London-based think tank.

She added Iran-backed militias and the Taliban are groups that may see the U.S. health crisis as a strain and will try to “score points against the U.S.”

An immediate concern for the Trump administration is in Iraq, where Iran-backed militants continue attacks on U.S. positions. On April 1, Mr. Trump publicly warned the groups against a “sneak attack” on Americans.

“If this happens, Iran will pay a very heavy price, indeed!” he wrote on Twitter.

U.S. officials said their concerns were elevated by a recent military exercise in Iraq held by Kataib Hezbollah, the Iran-backed militant group the U.S. has blamed for a series of rocket attacks. The group said it held the exercise, dubbed “The Hunting of the Crows,” to prepare for a possible U.S. attack.

“Each country is trying to get advantage of the other’s weakness because of the coronavirus,” said an Iranian official close to the country’s security services.

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