Right To Speak Out Against Our Government


The right to have disagreements with our government in strong energetic terms, is one of the most cherished of American values.  Read the words of those who opposed the adoption of the Constitution in the ratifying stage. Read the speeches of Henry Clay, John Calhoun, or Daniel Webster who took strong positions, for and against, a series of issues of national importance and connected to the presidential administrations of their time.

Or consider the language used against President Polk by then Congressman Abe Lincoln. Polk had called for war, accusing Mexico of shedding “American blood on American soil.”

Lincoln responded by introducing a series of resolutions demanding to know the “particular spot of soil on which the blood of our citizens was so shed.” One of Lincoln’s constituents branded him “the Benedict Arnold of our district.” The use of strong language against our government is as old as the nation itself.  And we also see that strong language is not a barrier to political advancement. 

Recall how congressional Republicans savagely attacked President Obama for eight years. Relentlessly. Those same people should now recognize that conflating lack of admiration for one particular president, or his administration, or his party with disrespect for the United States itself violates the nation’s founding principles.  That is just Basic 101 of every history course taught in this nation.

Yes, history does matter, as the point I am making deals with the very essence of the idea of America. Loyalty to our country does not demand, in any way, taking an uncritical eye to its past, or its present state of affairs.

Next time you hear Trump, or a sycophant, claim otherwise tell them to study John Randolph.

As Paul Harvey would now say, “Now you know the rest of the story”.

Colin Kaepernick, Nike, Profits, And The Correct Public Message

Label this post under ‘Nerd”.

I am fascinated by some news stories not for the usual above the water type headlines which garner most of the attention, but instead about the less observed under-water reactions to the event.  Such as the news this week about Colin Kaepernick and Nike.

I am not a follower of sports, have never wore Nike apparel of any kind, but do enjoy following the moves by business to make a profit–and at times–doing that in an edgy way.  I am a liberal who loves the business pages of the Wall Street Journal.   So this week–thus far–it has been a most interesting one and Nike is why.

Jason Gay, the one sports columnist I read–because I love the way he writes–offered this perspective about the news concerning Kaepernick and Nike.

Outrage is a branding strategy now. Doubling down on the public’s anger used to be the edgy domain of shock radio hosts, louche rock bands and dingbats on the internet, but now it’s a useful tool of multinational apparel corporations. Gone are the days when divisiveness was a third rail. Backlash? Nike laughs at your backlash. Both Kaepernick and Nike have been credited with an act of risk, but this is a campaign that pops only with a reaction, which has been delivered on cue.

It’s never been easier to get this reaction, with the instantaneousness of social media, and its adjunct culture of performative outrage. (Was it this year or last that people were throwing coffee makers out windows to protest an advertiser?) We are living in a moment in which theatrical anger is more viral than any kind of reason; in which Twitter is basically America’s “Who’s Mad at Whom?” ledger; in which we wake up in the morning and wait for the nation’s Chief Executive to haul off on someone and set the news day.

But what about Nike’s desire to make profit?  For at the end of the day it is all about profit for such a company.

Nike clearly knew the ad campaign could hurt its stock and draw criticism from the president. It did. But the decision is a sign that executives felt compelled to do something big. “They have to stay in the cultural conversation, which means being divisive,” Mr. Ordahl said. “Staying on the sidelines isn’t going to advance their cause.”

The bigger risk for Nike was failing to meet expectations. Investors have given Nike the benefit of the doubt because it is Nike, assuming that its genius marketers would eventually pull something out of the hat. They were right.

Even if the controversy over the ads grows, Nike’s risk is limited. The company may lose some of its older, white customers who ruined their sneakers and socks by cutting out logos, but it is right to bet that younger, more progressive buyers are its future. Nike will also remain one of the NFL’s biggest business partners, with a billion-dollar apparel deal as the league’s official uniform maker. The campaign has the added benefit of neatly pasting over unpleasant #MeToo allegations at the company.

If, in the worst-case scenario, the shares slide further, investors can buy the stock on the selloff and wait for the controversy to subside. As the news cycle produces something new to fume about, it inevitably will.

I have viewed the Colin Kaepernick story as one about free speech, and the ability to exercise it.  I respect the strength of people, who even in front of people who may disagree, still have the fortitude to make a plea for what they sincerely believe.  That is a far more mature and strong person than just the often over-weight helmeted man on the football field.  In the end, those who take a knee are a better example for the youth of the nation than those who simply play the game and sustain a needless concussion.

Free Speech On College Campuses And Newsrooms

Every time there is a ‘fire-eater’ invited to a college campus in the nation there is another round of discussions about either the value of hearing ‘the other side’ or why shutting down ‘hate-speech’ is a necessity.  Paying for a white supremacist to disparage whole sections of a campus seems not only a real waste of money, but a loss for truly engaging conversation that might have taken place from that stage which was instead wasted on hate.  I have never quite figured out why college campuses would not invest in truly weighty thinkers, if you will, the modern-day William F. Buckley Jr. types from both sides of the divide, and let the issues flow.

I know I am over-simplifying matters with putting a white supremacist at one end and the erudite world of Buckley at the other.  But as one who does enjoy listening to speakers at UW-Madison I am not pulled in by the ‘hair on fire’ types but instead find the words from the likes of George McGovern or Robert Novak to have appeal.  (I was most fortunate to walk with the slow-moving Novak due to recovering from a hip operation down the length of Memorial Union and ask about how he actually wrote his columns–he did it with one take.)  I am surely not alone in wanting diverse thought presented in an adult fashion.   But that is no doubt what comes with some experience in life and my DNA.

Meanwhile much of the nation is embroiled with the topic of college speakers and those who wish to prevent certain views from being heard.

But what smacks me as most unfair, however, is how some of these stories about the most incendiary of speakers, and the reaction they get, always is cast as a ‘liberal’ attempt to stop free speech.  History of course shows that conservatives have had their share of stopping free speech and even threatening the peace to make their points.  That seems to never get as much attention.

Leading up to the Civil War there was a very concerted effort made to stop any independent thinking at Southern universities that did not meld with the pro-slavery rhetoric that had taken over the planter elites and their paid-for politicians.  When a chemist professor at Chapel Hill stated he would vote for the 1856 Republican presidential ticket if it should be run in North Carolina he was met with students burning him in effigy.  The Raleigh Standard called for his ilk to be “silenced or…be driven out.”

Time and again to shut down the ideas advanced by abolitionists the pro-slavery crowds would dismantle the printing presses and in some way destroy them.  Throwing them in a local waterway was a sure-fire way to stop pamphlets from being printed.

Over the past decades casting blame on the press has been an applause line for many a Republican candidate running for office.  But since the entry of Donald Trump onto a political platform that notion of attacking the press has only deepened.    And it is troubling for our nation.

But where are the conservatives who have no shortage of words when it comes to speakers on college campuses, but are left tight-lipped when the national press is under verbal attack in Stalin-like style?   By remaining quiet on this matter of reporters and the work they do in our democracy a most concerning development is taking place.  We simply must think these matters through with more attention paid to the larger notion of what our country is about and what we wish it to remain.


Kneeling For National Anthem May Not Be My Way, But Free Expression Must Be Encouraged

The National Anthem was played by the Madison Symphony Orchestra last weekend as the new season got underway at Overture Hall.  For more leg room James and I have box seats and it was there I stood and was able to look about as over 2,000 people did the same.  I placed my hand over my heart as I have done for 5 decades at such moments.   But that is me.   And as I note at such occasions with the passing of the years a fewer number feel the need to do the same with their hands.

My purpose here is not to puff my chest over love of country or denounce those who have a less strict way of observing this national song.  Rather I want to make a point that with a large and diverse population there is room for many ways to show patriotism–and that can also occur even with protests and the making of political statements.

I have not been overly excited about the news concerning former San Francisco 49ers Quarterback Colin Kaepernick not getting a contract this year.  After admitting he did not vote in the 2016 presidential election I simply no longer find his voice to have credibility when it comes to the issues he feels important to protest over.  I can not fathom how anyone–regardless of which issue is strongly held–would not use the most important tool available to a citizen to effect change.   When it was reported Kaepernick did not vote he was no longer on my radar for following.

But that does not impact how I feel about the larger issue which he is central to as this nation moves towards another Sunday filled with games.

The fact that some professional athletes feel kneeling during the National Anthem is a form of expression and desire to do so is fine with me.  Powerful and peaceful political statements are good for the nation, even when they might offend some who witness those moments.  Therefore when President Donald Trump demonstrated a raging case of ‘sun downers syndrome’ in Alabama last night there was a collective tightening in the gut.   Among the outrages he uttered was the blast against those who wish to have freedom of expression in sports.

“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘get that son of a bitch off the field right now – he’s fired, Trump said

National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell said today Trump had demonstrated a “unfortunate lack of respect” for the league and its players by suggesting that team owners should get rid of players who disrespect the flag.

“Divisive comments like these demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for our great game and all of our players, and a failure to understand the overwhelming force for good our clubs and players represent in our communities,” Goodell said in a statement.

While I have no applause for the NFL given the tax exemptions they receive while many of the under-bellied chumps in the nation cheer them in mindless drunkenness, I do have to admit the statement from Goodell is tone-perfect regarding Trump.    I trust that there is a powerful reaction to the attempt by Trump to undermine free expression–even when that expression may differ from how I would react to the anthem.

American Soldier Begs Obama Not To Fire Him

CNN Reports on this important story.    An American soldier writes from his heart, and urges President Obama to act.

It is time that President Obama, who has demonstrated that he is most capable of dealing with the economy, Middle East peace, education, the budget and other items all at once, also place on his agenda one more item.  One that is long over-due for a resolution now.

I have been patient in this regard for the first 100 days, as I think I understand the scope of the mission that Obama is on with a whole host of issues.  But there are many hands at work in his administration, and surely a consensus can be arrived at to produce a quick resolution to this matter.  It may be just as easy as re-reading how Harry Truman dealt with African-Americans in the military.  After all this is 2009, and the answers are not so hard to grasp. 

The Department of the Army sent a letter discharging me on April 23rd. I will not lie to you; the letter is a slap in the face. It is a slap in the face to me. It is a slap in the face to my soldiers, peers and leaders who have demonstrated that an infantry unit can be professional enough to accept diversity, to accept capable leaders, to accept skilled soldiers.

President Obama Needs To Rein In DOJ Regarding Warrantless Wiretapping

The passion that I feel for limiting the excessive enlargement of presidential executive power has not faded only because Barack Obama is sitting in the Oval Office.  If anything, given President Obama’s deep knowledge of constitutional law, and his brilliant mind, I expect much more from him on the matters that touch so many critical parts of our civil rights and personal liberties.  President Bush did not know better given his shortcomings, but there are no excuses for President Obama.

Consider the news this week.

Yesterday, the Obama Justice Department asked a judge to dismiss a case that was initially brought against the Bush administration for their warrantless wiretapping program. The Justice Department said that if the claim were to move forward it would risk disclosure of classified or sensitive material. Basically they state that regardless of the actual merits of the case, the mere risk of the release of government records should be enough to dismiss the claim. That is only the first of their reasons for asking for this dismissal.

The other grounds for dismissal is that, according to the Obama Justice Department, no lawsuit should be allowed to be brought against the government for wiretapping unless they somehow publicly release information that they have gathered, irrespective of whether the means of gathering that information was legal or not. It seems that the Obama Justice Department is not only seeking to immunize the Bush administration from any claims of wrongdoing based on their warrantless wiretapping program, they are also seeking to expand the right of the government to the point that they can invade the privacy of its citizens at will.

This is not the way I want my country to operate.  Reason and logic steer us to a different shore than the one the DOJ is dragging us to at this time. 

All thoughtful citizens should support their President in times of crisis when often drastic actions need to be taken for the greater good, as was the case in the Civil War.  There are those times of genuine crisis when some relaxation of civil/legal rights occurs for the larger goals.  President Lincoln demonstrated that this can be done, and should be done, in times for the preservation of the Union.    It should be noted that we are not in one of those types of crisises at this time.  It was vitally important during the Civil War, as it is now, for the citizenry to remind the government with sternness that power must be exercisable within acceptable boundaries.   

The raw power grab of President Bush regarding wiretaps, torture, and other excesses was blasted by people such as myself as we understood how hard it is to wrestle these away from future elected people to that office, and put it all back in the bottle.  That is what made  Bush’s White House such a national tragedy.  When raw power is grabbed so unethically as Bush did, it has a tendency to grow if left unfettered and uncriticized.    When the Bush White House allowed for the warrantless wiretaps to take place the result was a proportional, and now we understand incremental reduction of personal rights of the citizenry.

President Bush was horribly wrong to accumulate and expand presidential powers of this kind, but President Obama will be equally wrong to hold onto them.  I hope and trust that Obama will place the values in his heart with the logic of his mind, and reverse course with these wiretaps while reining in his Department of Justice.

Book Banning Week Takes On Added Meaning This Year With Sarah Palin On GOP Ticket

“Do your parents know you are reading this book?”

That question from Mrs. Tunks, a middle school teacher of mine, was as close as book censorship ever came my way.  I still recall the stair steps in my old schoolhouse where she pointed at my copy of “The Throne Of Saturn” by Allen Drury, and while looking at it sounded her prudish alarm, though for what reason I could never understand.  Other than the fact is was 600 pages, and ‘kids’ were not supposed to read anything other than the Nancy Drew series, provides no real explanation for her remark.  The fact my parents encouraged me to read, as it kept me interested in all sorts of things, did not seem to settle her skeptical mind as to why that book would intrigue me.  A space adventure between the United States and the Soviet Union was high drama for my 6th grade mind, and I guess for lots of adult readers as well, or it would never have been published.  I finished that book, and kept Allen Drury as a writer I have long enjoyed into my adult years.

Today the hard copy edition of that book sets on my shelf as not only a reminder of a good read, but also to underscore a long held belief of mine.  No one should be censoring reading material for libraries, or as in the case above, inquisitive minds. 

This week, September 27-October 4, is Banned Books Week, and it takes on more importance as Sarah Palin, the Republican Vice-Presidential candidate who attempted to have books censored while mayor of Wasilla, Alaska might actually be elected to a national office.  The idea that  someone who strives for one of the nation’s highest offices, would attempt a chilling display of book censorship at some point in life, and finds no remorse about it is stunning.

The books that Sarah Palin seemed to find offensive were ones such as “Daddy’s Roommate” that took a humane approach to the issue of homosexuality.  But when one looks at the titles of those that have drawn the ire of some ‘concerned citizens’ around the nation, it is easy to see why there is no room to allow censorship to have any chance to win.  Not even in Wasilla with Sarah Palin.  Why should someone like Ms. Palin have any right to deny someone else the right to read a book, or have a copy of a book placed in a library?

Limiting ideas and stopping the flow of information is so very foreign to me.  Every educated person understands the slippery slope that censorship creates, and the harm that it does to both individualism, and society as a whole.  The fact that some churches, such as Christ Community Church of Alamogordo, New Mexico, had an actual book burning in 2002as a reaction to the release of a Harry Potter book may seem just weird to most people.  But for me the fact that anyone would even suggest such a thing in the 21st century in America is frightening and most alarming.  To know that people actually attended is numbing.

I am shocked by the Republicans for endorsing Sarah Palin, and trying to downplay her shameful role of banning books in Wasilla.  If we do not stop at every instance the act of censorship we will find that we are on that slippery slope where others like Ms. Palin will always find some topics not to be ‘safe’ or ‘pure’ enough to be placed on the local library book shelves.

The list below are the books from this past year (2007) that have gained national notice as ones that have frightened the pathetic ones who wish to censor for the majority.  Look at the list, and then work to prevent censorship, or stop those who promote censorship, from ever winning.

The “10 Most Challenged Books of 2007” reflect a range of themes, and consist of the following titles:

1) “And Tango Makes Three,” by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell
Reasons: Anti-Ethnic, Sexism, Homosexuality, Anti-Family, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group

2) The Chocolate War,” by Robert Cormier
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Violence

3) “Olive’s Ocean,” by Kevin Henkes
Reasons: Sexually Explicit and Offensive Language

4) “The Golden Compass,” by Philip Pullman
Reasons: Religious Viewpoint

5) “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” by Mark Twain
Reasons: Racism

6) “The Color Purple,” by Alice Walker
Reasons: Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language,

7) “TTYL,” by Lauren Myracle
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

8) “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” by Maya Angelou
Reasons: Sexually Explicit

9) “It’s Perfectly Normal,” by Robie Harris
Reasons: Sex Education, Sexually Explicit

10) “The Perks of Being A Wallflower,” by Stephen Chbosky
Reasons: Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Video: Sarah Palin As Mayor Asked How Books Could Be Banned From Library

More on the topic of Sarah Palin and censoring books from ABC News.

And from the Boston Hearld comes this story.

Back in 1996, when she first became mayor, Sarah Palin asked the city librarian if she would be all right with censoring library books should she be asked to do so.

According to news coverage at the time, the librarian said she would definitely not be all right with it. A few months later, the librarian, Mary Ellen Emmons, got a letter from Palin telling her she was going to be fired. The censorship issue was not mentioned as a reason for the firing. The letter just said the new mayor felt Emmons didn’t fully support her and had to go.

Emmons had been city librarian for seven years and was well liked. After a wave of public support for her, Palin relented and let Emmons keep her job.

In December 1996, Emmons told her hometown newspaper, the Frontiersman, that Palin three times asked her — starting before she was sworn in — about possibly removing objectionable books from the library if the need arose.

Emmons told the Frontiersman she flatly refused to consider any kind of censorship. Emmons, now Mary Ellen Baker, is on vacation from her current job in Fairbanks and did not return e-mail or telephone messages left for her Wednesday.

When the matter came up for the second time in October 1996, during a City Council meeting, Anne Kilkenny, a Wasilla housewife who often attends council meetings, was there.

Like many Alaskans, Kilkenny calls the governor by her first name.

“Sarah said to Mary Ellen, ’What would your response be if I asked you to remove some books from the collection?” Kilkenny said.

“I was shocked. Mary Ellen sat up straight and said something along the line of, ’The books in the Wasilla Library collection were selected on the basis of national selection criteria for libraries of this size, and I would absolutely resist all efforts to ban books.’”

Palin didn’t mention specific books at that meeting, Kilkenny said.

Palin herself, questioned at the time, called her inquiries rhetorical and simply part of a policy discussion with a department head “about understanding and following administration agendas,” according to the Frontiersman article.

Technorati Tags: , , , ,