When I was an undergraduate at Ohio University in the early '80s, majoring in magazine journalism, I attended the keynote address during Communications Week to hear Lyle Dennison speak. I don't recall what his theme was, but I remember the moment when he said: "Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes was wrong. You do have a first amendment right to shout "fire" in a crowded theater and if people panic and start running about without looking for smoke, well. That's on them."

Minors and the mentally challenged should be protected, but the rest of us are responsible for our actions and if someone makes a fool of us because we don't pay attention, well, that's on us.

As a working journalist I've held to one primary maxim: The response to objectionable speech must never be censorship. In any free society--especially one where the freedoms of speech and the press are enshrined in our constitution--the only acceptable response to offensive speech must be more speech.

I think Moore's right, but I'll accept that some disagree with me and if they think they have a case then they should tell the world about why they believe that to be true, not call upon corporate “community reviewers” or “news credibility specialists" to tuck them safely in their beds.

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I don't care what it was a dogwhistle for. On the literal case of actually shouting fire in a physically existent crowded theater, I think it should be illegal. That is, I disagree almost entirely with the metaphorical use. But can we please not use a metaphor where dozens of people will predictably die?

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First, thank you for reading and for taking the time to enter the conversation. We build community with our conversations.

Second, the crowded theater metaphor is not random, but the specific choice of words by Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes in the landmark 1919 U.S. Supreme Court Case Schenck v. United States. Remember, the end of The Great War was the beginning of The Red Scare following the imprisonment of presidential candidate and socialist leader Eugene V. Debbs for speaking out against the war and the rise of a man named John Edgar Hoover who would launch our surveillance state decades before we even had the term.

Third, yes people, sometimes innocent people die, for liberty. This is how our nation was born and how oppressors tamp down revolt. Benjamin Franklin, on the behalf of the Pennsylvania General Assembly, wrote: "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

Fourth, there is a vital reason why our First Amendment gathers together five liberties that are joined by an individual’s right to express their thoughts: freedom to choose a religion (or no religion); freedom of (literal) speech; freedom for those who own a press to publish; to assemble to share opinions and debate; and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. The founders could have made these five separate amendments—indeed there was some discussion along those lines—but in the end they chose to bundle them because the erosion of one meant the erosion of all.

I’ll say this again: the only response to objectionable speech must be more speech. Any other solution is oppression and tyranny.


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And when I am trampled to death by the person next to me, because I was not fooled by the false call of 'Fire' but they were, I will die smugly knowing that I paid attention to the truth and did not panic like those whose boots are crushing me.

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You do know that the case - Schenk - had nothing to do with shouting "Fire" in a crowded theater? Holmes - very much wrongly - used that example to justify upholding the conviction of a man who encouraged young men to resist the draft during World War I. The shouting fire example actually proves the opposite point, that censorship is wrong and dangerous.

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Of course. That is precisely why I mention Debbs in another response and why Dennison (and I) think Holmes, in writing for the majority, was wrong.

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And that, sir, will be a death your ancestors and descendants will be proud of because you acted as a human and not an animal.

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More likely my descendents will be taught that I was one of the villains the followers of the brave fire-caller had to overcome in his quest to save the masses, as the tramplers will be the ones teaching them, not me.

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If you can keep your head when all about you

Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;

If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve your turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

--If by Rudyard Kipling

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It's very easy to talk about how "the response to objectionable speech must never be censorship" when you are not the target of that speech. When someone like Milo Y gets on stage andliterally puts up the picture of a trans woman in front of his meathead Hitler Youth followers, and then spends the next however long degrading and dehumanizing that person, the obvious subtext being "Hey, something should be done about this FREAK", are you seriously going to argue that that's something that should just continue happening? That the institutional power to roll that back or counter it after the fact exists?

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Now there's a name I haven't heard in years. I had to go online to check what Hanrahan is up to these days. Not much, apparently, because Julia took him down back in 2017.

You do realize that if you make the argument that Hanrahan--or whatever pseudonym he may be using these days--should be silenced for degrading and dehumanizing someone because of an obvious subtext, that that same argument may be used against you for degrading and dehumanizing him? We should never take away freedoms from others we're not willing to lose ourselves.

To answer your question directly, no, that should not just continue happening. Every place such a person speaks or publishes should be flooded with counter speech, not noise but actual, truthful speech, constantly reminding their audience just who they are.

Several years back there was a Klan march here in Northeast Ohio and the call initially was to ban the march, but thankfully the their first amendment rights were protected and a tiny few marched along a miles-long gauntlet of counter protestors humiliating them and their message at every step.

One of the cases I studied in Journalism Law under the amazing Dr. Dru Evarts was the 1977 Supreme Court decision in National Socialist Party of America v. Village of Skokie. You should look it up.

If we start playing thought police, we deserve what we'll get.

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I'm sorry that your truthful analysis falls on deaf ears in the age of the Social Media mob and the Hate Inc. media. But as you say, more speech, not less, no matter how difficult it is to be rational with the irrational and the reactionary.

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You know, Joe... my email updates include *all* replies to me. Even prior to editing.

So I have to say there's a certain level of irony in you lecturing about engaging with "the irrational and the reactionary" when your original reply was "engaging with the irrational, reactionary "Janine's" of this world". Almost as though you knew both why you were putting scare quotes around my name, what the reaction would be, and why you ultimately decided to edit the comment. I think it's a pretty safe bet that it's because I brought up trans people in my comment, you assumed I was trans, and for some reason that makes my name... invalid?

Well, whatever. Let's get it out of the way: I am trans. And personally, I could not give two shits less what you think of that fact. I'm used to dealing with people like you day in and day out.

But here's the thing; according to people like Jeff, I should HAVE to put up with you. I should HAVE to engage with you, I should HAVE to repeat the same arguments ad nauseam, I should HAVE to deal with the same daily assault on my validity from random strangers until I'm sick enough of it to puke through my teeth because otherwise it's *drum roll please* CENSORSHIP. Whether it's the micro or macro level of me blocking you and not engaging with the 1000th "you" I've encountered, or Twitter locking your account for being "you".

And Jeff Hess, I'll include my reply to you here as well, since presumably you'll be reading this: Slippery slope fallacies about the "thought police" aside, I sincerely never thought I'd encounter someone so in love with this argument that they'd actually argue *directly targeting an individual and whipping a bunch of hateful meatheads into a frenzy regarding that person* is OK speech and should definitely be defended because we can just defeat it in the Marketplace of Ideas!

I'm sure your commitment to confronting bigots after the fact will be of great comfort to the next trans woman allowed to choke to death on her own blood in the back of an ambulance while the EMTs stand around laughing.

I'll repeat: it's a good deal easier to go all Evelyn Hall about the lengths to which you'll defend freeze peach when you aren't on the sharp end of the stick.

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Janine, I hear you and and I hear your frustration. I have no solutions that does not require severely curtailing both your, and my, rights to be heard.

I'm sorry, but I got nothin'

Be well,


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Fair enough. Oddly enough, given the context overall, I appreciate having the conversation.

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You say you can give two shits about what he has to say. Yet you advocate silencing that same speach?🤔

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Joe, thank you for the comment. The problem with more speech is that people have to more than carp. They have to engage, as you've done, and help to build community with their conversations. Cheers.

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Janine... stfu.

YOU don't get to tell everyone else what should and should not be allowed, and according to your own tastes.

You can do so within your rights, but this is supposed to be above anyone's right.

Mylo Y can't rise to power and censor speech, gas trannies... whatever horrors you can imagine... BECAUSE we have free speech and the RIGHT to speak out against such hatred. Imagine a world where he, (or you,) can just decode what speech is allowed and what is not and you will see how stupid it is to regulate thought.

Or, if you have no interest... seig, HEIL to your new masters.

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Janine, I ran a public company that was subject to tons of derisive comment by short sellers and I never considered that they should be censored in any way. When they wrote a critical article filled with fact, I respected their different opinions even if it stung a bit. When one massively stepped over the line, I sued for defamation and won the largest similar judgment in Delaware history. But the line is defamation. We can not censor factual critical speech in ANY way. You claim that it's not censorship because the tech companies are private, which is technically true under current law. But it's in our interest to change that situation as quickly as possible, in a way similar to increased requirements of public utilities that have been legislated over time.

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Every one is entitled to their own opines, but not their own unique "facts" - Truth is Truth.

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The idea that those doing the censoring will preserve truth is laughable.

(1) Often truth is not even the goal. Instead, the goal is often something else entirely like avoiding offense or winning an argument by silencing the other side. I would say the goal of censorship very rarely to preserve truth. In fact more often than not, the goal of censorship is to hide uncomfortable truth.

(2) Even if truth is the goal, it is through opposition and argument that the truth is discovered. This has been the basis of our legal system for centuries. It is through argument by opposing sides that the truth emerges. I will be convinced that my version of truth is the right one. You will be convinced that your version of truth is the right one. The legal system understands this and forces us to argue it out in front of a third party that is supposed to be unbiased.

(3) Even censoring speakers who often get their facts wrong is a bad idea. Alex Jones was (and I use the past tense because he is gone from all social media) often prone to wild conspiracy theories. But he was also the primary antiwar voice on the right. The power and willingness to speak against war from a right wing perspective is really great, because the establishment right is a bunch of war crazies. All the establishment pro-war voices of the right are unmolested. Big tech never censors John Bolton. Meanwhile most of the anti-establishment, anti-war voices of the right are gone. How does that make the world better?

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Janine -- You refer to Milo Y. audience members as 'Hitler Youth.' They were not 'Hitler Youth'. There is no such organization in America in this century. Should you censored for writing something untrue and defamatory? Or does censorship only apply to others.

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You can’t separate the mentally challenged from the rest of us. It’s clearly a spectrum. Your free speech can’t objectively harm my life. Period.

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That's true, you're absolutely correct. All individual challenges are marked at some point on a spectrum

As an educator of students K-12 with a very wide spectrum of physical and mental challenges I can say some of my students will live their lives always under the constant supervision of responsible adults and some have gone on to live fully functioning independent lives while those in the middle will need some level of support.

I have seen up close and personal how objectively free speech can certainly damage people less able to handle the free-for-all of adult life. Tragically, that hurt all too often takes the form of self-harm or even suicide. Some will need protection while others can learn to stand up for themselves.

There is no full-stop here.


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Unfortunately these knee-jerk calls to ban and censor have become mainstream, even amongst people who really ought to know better.

In the late-80s Noam Chomsky defended a French Holocaust denier’s right to free speech even though he did not agree with the man’s views. When confronted by critics who said he was legitimizing disinformation, he answered “if you believe in free speech only for views you agree with, you don’t believe in free speech.” This used to be the default position of the “liberal left.”

How far we have fallen. Nowadays even people like Naomi Klein support the censoring of views that she does not agree with (one can hardly classify Moore’s film as disinformation even if one does not see eye to eye with him on every issue it raises).

Advocating for the censoring of views you don’t like is silly and immature and, among other negative consequences, further splinters the notoriously sectarian left. Whatever happened to debating contentious issues In good faith?

Censoring Holocaust deniers and other fringe loons or charlatans like Alex Jones actually does them a favour and raises their stock amongst supporters. It gives them the perfect opportunity to say “I speak the truth and this frightens my powerful enemies and, as I predicted, they are now trying to shut me up.”

It is really disconcerting how dumbed down and credulous many intelligent people have become since Trump was elected. It’s like their brains are broken. This new love of censorship is also a disturbing example of how media distributed propaganda stealthily influences even highly literate and university educated people.

These wise intellectuals and their fans ought to take a time out and consider how, without them apparently noticing, they and the mainstream liberal “left” came to embrace the authoritarian anti-free speech position that was perviously associated with the reactionary right. The benefits of self-awareness and a basic understanding of history and human psychology are many.

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Indeed. A previous comment made reference to the racist march in Skokie and how it was not censored. Not only was it not censored, but the ACLU showed a sterling commitment to principle by defending the right of the marchers to march. You will not see the ACLU make anything even close to a defense of such liberty principles today. I mourn its passing.

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I read the tea leaves when the ACLU jumped on the "#Resist" bandwagon after Trump's election. That was a partisan move. The ACLU must remain nonpartisan. So, Trump has led to the ACLU's also losing its direction, forgetting its mission and raison d'etre. I had been a supporter of the ACLU for 15 years---making monthly donations---but I canceled my membership and I called the local chapter on the telephone and told them why.

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No matter WHAT you think of Moore’s movie, or his methods, there is exactly ZERO justification in censoring or cancelling it and him. The world can take a little harsh criticism, even of its most righteous “movements.” There is no question there is much validity in Moore’s depiction, and likewise no question that he bends the rules a bit. But, the New York Times BREAKS the rules almost every day, more than once at my personal expense, but I still read it and defend its right to publish, though I believe it has too much protection from libel and defamation laws. Moore is a vital voice, and we should listen to him. He has this nasty habit of being right about almost everything.

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And especially using copyright as a pretext. No other content rules violated and 4 seconds is fair use.

This is that woman calling 911 in NYC whose dog was off the leash saying "I'm being attacked by a huge black man".

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4 seconds is not by default fair use. There is no such rule. Under the DMCA He could have filed a counter notice. YouTube would then keep it up. Then he could get sued and would have to use fair use as a defense.

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Absolutely brilliantly piece of writing. It does scare me because this is moving in the wrong direction, and it is accelerating.

I watched the movie 3 times. And yes, it is provocative (duh, it's a Michael Moore Doc). But still, they might not give newer data on solar efficiency. But that doesn't mean the mining, production, and shipping of it isn't still devastating for nature.

Here in the EU/Netherlands/Amsterdam most people were on the wrong side of it as well. New media & traditional. They were all promoting censorship or at least condoning it. And even people here in the comment section are losing their minds. As if you wrote a fluff piece on Hitler?! Wtf, how come even your audience doesn't agree with this piece? Wow, that is really baffling. You'd expect to see a more critical thinking approach here. But who knows, it might be paid opposition, not sure.

This whole situation makes me think of being a teenager again and sitting in the Jehovah's Witness Church. Hearing this constant indoctrination and monopolizing on what is ''truth''. Because that is really what I see everywhere on this issue. A religious response with a lot of faith-based reactionary arguments. Mixed with intersectional/left-identitarianism. How can people not see that going straight for ''white man wants mass murder, depopulation and genocide'' is absolutely ridiculous. How do people fail to see that is an absurd claim? Those are just vicious ad hominem attacks with extreme conclusions. As if talking about population size directly means you are for eugenics and genocide. It is an utterly ridiculous conclusion.

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The US is in turmoil, but its so sad to see people don't realize that our freedom of speech is what makes the world move and change forward, but when you have a black and white democracy and both are terrible, people get stupid and start bashing each other, like I see here in this comments, in Europe we've got a wider range of political speech so we are more open to other ideas, but we have a serious problem with the media too, no wonder, they're owned by the same corporations that owns American media.

"who's gonna fact-check the fact-chequers?!"

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Internet censorship is far worse in Europe than the US. Some European countries will already arrest people over tweets. The 1st amendment is the only thing preventing that from being the case in the US.

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No, it's moving in the RIGHT direction: That of destruction and of subsequent rebuilding.

It's clearly time for the whole thing to come crashing down. Not by my hand, mind you... I'm too old to participate in such things. No... There is some serious destruction coming and we'll just have to see what comes in to fill the void. (Historically mighty terrors have jumped in,)

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I live near the new Berryessa Snow Mountain Natl. Monument, and there is a wind plant being proposed and planned 2 miles from where I live, at an entrance to the Monument.

I looked into wind with a depth I hadn’t previously, looking at fire danger, bird fatalities etc.

I kept running across claims that it would not reduce carbon overall, and would in fact increase it, which I dismissed as right-wing crap. Of course if you replace a plant that burns anything with a wind plant you are making progress - I assumed.

Turns out that because of their intermittency they are backed up by regular plants, just as the movie points out. Plus they use massive amounts of grid power, on or off.

It took me days of reading to convince myself, and I’ve angered friends trying to explain it, so I was greatly heartened that Michael Moore and a Jeff Gibbs made that point in the movie.

Great movie, and if it bothers anyone, they need to hit the books and open up to the truth.

I think we should still make use of things like solar panels on the roofs of cars and attached to microgrids, to lessen the dangers of pollution, fire from the grid, and profits in the hands of oligarchs.

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Fairy dust is a much more effective energy source. And it even smells good!

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I think your heart is in the right place, but if you think car roofs are a good place for solar panels, alas, you may not be very good at assessing engineering tradeoffs. That makes me take your assessment of wind energy's net effects with a large grain of salt. I'm still open to hearing both sides, but mainly from people who can numerically compare alternatives.

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Matt. Another great article. Sad how we witnessing a repeat of bad history. My mom grew up in a fascist European country and would tell us of the censorship and the horrendous lies by the government and the tattlers who would turn in their neighbor or the teacher who told authorities about the objections her parents had with the government. This is the modern-day version of censorship except with a new private-public partnership.

Sad to see Michael Moore being censored or marked as ”dangerous”. The fake left knows they cannot win their arguments in the field of ideas. Instead they lie, intimidate, and partner with tech and “pure” liberal activists (See MSNBC - Pod Save America) and government officials who share their ideas.

True conservatives and true liberals have more in common than one might think. Especially now!

It’s our children who will inherit this insane world of lies and algorithms - in the land of the free. Sad!

I think the fake left is way more “dangerous”.

Big tech sold its soul to China a long time ago. Now they are censoring Doctors who disagree with the party-line on COVID and now Twitter is shame censoring 45 - (yes he says the stupidest things) - I haven’t seen similar scrutiny for Adam Schiff and most MSNBC hosts. Now they go after Michael Moore. Sure he’s not pure - and he knows he isn’t. He is very entertaining but pedaled the Russiagate nonsense, etc. I have respect for him as a businessman. He knows his audience or at least he did until the release of this documentary.

Matt , you are pretty pure in your reporting and you call BS on all sides. How come you are never on MSNBC? ( I think we all know the answer)

PS: Michael Moore dangerous to the left?

(The snowflakes are in charge)

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and its so painful to see WHO press conferences during a pandemic that they declared, signing contracts, speaking of money, but about the disease nothing, after 5 months of lock-down, deaths, hungry and despair

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Right on! This crap is really dangerous, and it's disheartening that it is coming from the "left" (mainstream liberal environmental activists).

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Your timing is perfect on this one.

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Matt, thank you for all the years you've served as a voice for empirical reason and been doing what all lawyers and journalists (at the least) should be doing: following the facts to their logical conclusion, even when that conclusion is inconvenient and uncomfortable. We already have a super-abundance of blindly loyal partisan cheerleaders and self-serving sophistry, so I'm especially grateful you're out there as a counterweight to all that.

The environmental crisis is *the* issue of our time and unless we solve it, nothing else will matter. Since you're a sports guy, whether the facts in Moore's film are "dead-on balls accurate" or not, it's about time serious environmentalists reviewed the game tape to see how we can improve our swing. The attempts to suppress even the discussion are dangerous, tragic, and yet not surprising. They reveal the danger of greenwashing and self-flattery.

As with anyone else, If environmentalists need to silence the voices of people they don't agree with to successfully make the case (because those voices are too dangerous to be hear), they are using pathetically weak arguments for what should be an easy case to make: "Hey, let's figure out how to live our lives in a way that doesn't burn the house down." That should not be a hard sell. It weakens even the right position to use it as a justification to suppress voices you don't want to hear.

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Nah, it's far easier to send some death out into the world and wait until enough of the population has died off.

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Amazed at the vitriol being poured on Matt and this piece, in particular.

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LOL Welcome to the new Authoritarian Technocracy, comrade.

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Excellent Reporting Matt. Thank you

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Thank you so much for writing this. We have reached a point where we cannot even discuss the truth - whatever it may be - because taking a stance, even if it is untrue, or dangerous, or actually harmful to its own cause in the long run, must be enforced on every one at all costs, otherwise the other side might "win". It is exactly the same argument Democrats are using against anyone criticizing Biden or Russia hysteria; there is no connection anymore between facts and what is allowed to be discussed. Regardless of the film's chosen green examples, it was asking some very important questions, ones we need to answer if we are to gauge how we are addressing the climate crisis bearing down on us: are we right to put all our hopes in addressing climate change in the rollout of renewable energy? Especially if we disregard biomass and hydro and focus only on wind and solar, will these really be enough to reduce our emissions in the amount required, in the time needed? If not, what else do we need to be pushing for in addition? How do we respond to the fact that increases in wind and solar energy have not even been able to keep pace with the growth in energy demand? These are critical questions, and time is running out.

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Rapid substitution of renewables in the electric generation sector is possible- IF we as a nation want it

And we can switch to electrifying surface transport and building heat.

So this is about two-thirds of national greenhouse gas emissions.

The rest is much harder, involving basic changes in materials and processes - steel, cement, plastics, fertilizers, airplanes.

So we likely have to capture carbon and stably sequester it either geologically storing it underground or mineralizing it with chemistry.

A further wrinkle is emission reduction and offset is no longer enough. We are in the danger zone already and now have to remove carbon from the atmosphere using chemical and mechanical means, a daunting task.

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No power should be granted unless the givers are willing to give it to the opposition. Thank you for an insightful piece.

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Ironic that those of us who are Trump voting conservatives would NEVER agree to silence people like Moore or any other left wing activist, even over scurrilous bullshit like Fahrenheit 9/11. Either we have freedom of speech or we don't.

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Matt, I think the day you go over to the other side is the day I will have to end my life. I have been waiting for someone who knows how to think and has the skill to write to take on the issues of censorship. Thank you, thank you, thank you. SO IMPORTANT!! Thank you! I can keep breathing. Never lose your integrity, Matt. You are awesome.

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Matt's walking a tight-rope in an environment that demands opinion writers take a "side". A brave and honorable man.

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"... progressives seem to have lost the ability to care."

O, they do care, like a Stalinist would; but they "care" only about the purity of their virtuous right opinion(s). Everyone else can go fuck themselves, find an accommodation in Gulag or burn in Hell, reserved for the "other."

Our one-party two-branches (Despicable and Repulsive) oligarchic political system is now so grotesquely disfigured that we're witnessing an inner fight of fascist-like, ultra right lunatics on one side of the political arena and a totalitarian, morally superior Stalinist-like party line on another.

We've lost our souls a long time ago (think Amy Cooper, think George Floyd of today) and are now losing our collective minds. An ability to have an open, honest conversation would soon be a pure revolutionary act and therefore banned for life.

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