Tag Archives: distrust of government

Stand up to Government Officials that Attempt to Silence Political Dissent and Criticism: Emma Sullivan Stands up for Freedom of Speech

The test of democracy is freedom of criticism. ~David Ben-Gurion

I have written about the Freedom of Religion and religious speech a number of times and in doing so have often touched on the broader aspects of the right of Freedom of Speech.  I find that tolerance for opposing views from both sides of the political aisle to be a disappearing commodity and nowhere was this more evident last week then deep in our nation’s heartland, the fair an flat State of Kansas where an 18 year old high school student named Emma Sullivan found herself the target of Governor Sam Brownback’s communications director.

And what did did the audacious and dastardly Ms Sullivan do? She “tweeted” that Governor Brownback “sucked.” If she was Ann Coulter, Keith Olberman or Rush Limbaugh she would have been paid good money and cheered to say that about a politician.

Who would think that a “tweet” from a teenager to her 65 Twitter followers was a threat to the good name and reputation of a governor or for that matter any elected official at any level of government. Such tweets take place millions of times a day around the the nation and for the most part they go in one ear and out the other. They are in a sense the new form of schoolyard chatter that back in my day took place between class periods or at lunch.  One kid tells another “hey I think that girl is hot” or “that guy sucks” and their friends agree, disagree or laugh.  It is part of the human experience, it is high school, heck I can remember some of that even today and if Twitter was around back then would have probably “tweeted” about the Jimmy Carter Playboy interview and probably the centerfold a Ms Patti McGuire. But now the advent of Twitter, Facebook and other social media have transformed how all of us communicate, especially young people who are far quicker to adopt and maximize new communication tools, oh too be young again.

However the advent of this new media scares people in power. The thoughts posted on these sites don’t get edited by the media elites and packaged to maintain market share.  They are media from below so to speak. In the Middle East the “Arab Spring” and the unsupported “Green Revolution” in Iran and “Jasmine revolution” in China were and are driven by young people using social media.  Yes there are other powers at work, business, government, finance, military and political/religious movements in all of these countries.  However, the key in making these revolts grow has been the ability of young people to use social networks to criticize their governments and organize themselves in ways that were never before possible.

This is why people in power fear the media of any kind. Napoleon Bonaparte commented that “Four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets.” But even more feared by some governments and individuals within government is the thought that springs up outside the institutional press, the kind of ideas that prior to our revolution were talked about in the pubs and ale houses of Boston and Philadelphia as well as in churches around the colonies.  They were the ideas of individuals that could not be shuttered and made their way into print because printing presses were not the sole property of a media elite.

At the same time many people legitimately fear excessive government intrusion on the internet, especially by agents of the government, police, or intelligence agencies.  It is bad enough that businesses can track us via tasty “cookies” planted on our computers for marketing sake and use our personal information for almost anything that they desire, but for all their power businesses do not have the police power of government at their immediate disposal. They can go to court to silence critics or mount advertising campaigns but they do not have the government’s power through the police, judiciary, legislative and executive powers invested in it to silence their critics through force.  They may brutally use the courts and their own economic power to silence opponents but they are limited in what they can do. If a high school student says “Pepsi sucks” the Pepsi-Cola corporation cannot impose penalties on the student. But government officials, especially unscrupulous, thin skinned and petty ones who fear dissent do have power and seem to be willing to use that power in was that would frighten those that founded this nation.

This was very much in evidence last week when Emma Sullivan “tweeted” what she thought was was funny to her twitter followers, her high school friends. She had been to the Kansas State Capitol with the Youth in Government program. She joked that she had told Governor Sam Brownback “just made mean comments at gov. brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot.” In fact people say to say worse about politicians of all parties, especially the President, key Congressional leaders and other major Presidential Candidates and do to tens of millions of listeners, readers or viewers every day and they make big money doing it, in some cases millions of dollars a year.  Most of us actually listen to at least the ones that we agree with or that say what we like to hear about people that we don’t like and don’t have the platform to say it ourselves. Sometimes these pundits cross the line and their employers tell them to tone it down or on rare occasions end their employment, but rude and crude they are free to speak as they want so long as their employers get enough advertising revenue from listeners to make money.

But woe betide the teenager that tweets to friends that the the governor of her state “sucks.” What she did is over the line and has to be crushed before it can damage the good name and reputation of the governor.  What happened to this teen after she sent her “tweet” out to her friends was one of the most Orwellian displays of the brute use of government power by an unelected public official that I have seen.  Governor Brownback’s communications director Sherriene Jones-Sonntag who is in charge of monitoring negative comments and criticism of the less than popular governor spotted the tweet and declared war.

Ms Jones-Sonntag contacted the organizers of the Youth in Government program and expressed her and presumably Governor Brownback’s outrage and indignation at the tweet. The organizers of the Youth in Government program instead of telling Jones-Sontag to pound sand and remember the First Ammendment contacted the Principal of Sullivan’s school.  The principal in turn scolded Sullivan for over an hour demanding a written apology to the governor by Monday morning.  Thankfully Sullivan did not oblige.  She refused and her cause became to use the language of the internet “viral.” This brought about an apology from Brownback who said “My staff over-reacted to this tweet, and for that I apologize.” Be assured there would have been no apology from the governor had Emma Sullivan bowed to her principal’s demands and the story gained national traction.

I find that the use of public tax dollars to pay public employees to peruse blogs, Twitter, Facebook and other social media in search of negative comments and then use their position to threaten critics as a mark of totalitarianism.  Unfortunately this is not just as Kansas thing because local, state and Federal government agencies, especially political appointees of both major parties routinely use their position to search out and work to counter or silence criticism but are usually much more nuanced in the way they do it in order not to be caught blatantly doing it. Most politicians have learned the lessons of Richard Nixon and are much more careful using surrogates, Political Action Committees, think tanks or political pundits that are not public employees to do their dirty work.  Almost every “talking head” on Cable TV news stations or the radio fits in category but they are not on the public payroll and not directly working for any particular government agency.

Ms Jones-Sonntag on the other hand is a paid public employee. Tax dollars paid by the citizens of Kansas pay her salary.  She is not only influential in the information management of the Governor’s Office but a key part of the executive branch of the state government in particular the Governor.  A call from her to a school principal’s office is enough to for a spineless educational bureaucrat to attempt to force force a student to apologize for crude but still protected political free speech. That is something that should send a chill down every American of every political point of view’s spine.  The capricious and dictatorial method employed by Jones-Sonntag against Emma Sullivan is something that every American that values their own freedom of speech, religion and association should rally against. In doing so we send a message to others like her that we will not tolerate a public employee of the executive branch no matter what their political party or ideology would use their government office to silence dissent, criticism or opposition.

Emma Sullivan stood up for her beliefs.  Whether one agrees with her or not it takes much more courage to stand up for those beliefs even when the result is further bullying from those that support the right of the government to suppress criticism.  Her criticism of the Governor Brownback was rather crude and juvenile but it is protected by the Constitution.

To his credit Governor Brownback apologized but that does not remove the threat posed by people like Ms Jones-Sonntag who prowl the internet on behalf of those in power to silence dissent.  If elected officials feel so emboldened that they can employ people for the purpose of not only spinning stories but actively trolling for dissent in order to crush it we are not far from Orwell’s  vision of 1984.  The sad thing is that had Ms. Jones-Sonntag and the Principal of Emma Smith’s school ignored this it would have never become an issue at all.  But those prone to love political power seldom pass the opportunity to go after people that they think will simply roll over. It happens all the time I’m sure if she had said the same thing about the President or a Democratic party Governor and had a White House aide or Democratic governor’s communication’s director try to silence her she would be cheered and defended by many of those that curse her now.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Day after the Attack on Congresswoman Giffords: Pointing the Finger of Blame without Evidence and Raising the Extremist Language to a New Level

Aftermath of the attack on Congresswoman Giffords: What Next?

A day after he shot and wounded Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, killed Judge John Roll and 5 others and wounded 11 more innocent people the motives and beliefs of Jared Lee Loughner are still clouded in mystery and subject to conjecture.  Those on the political left have blamed the influence of the Tea Party movement and those on the far right conservative web are saying that Loughner was a liberal. There are also reports that he could be affiliated in some way with the White Supremacist anti-Government group American Renaissance. At this point we still don’t know much but we can begin to look at probabilities based on the limited amount of evidence at hand.

The hard right exemplified by the people at World Net Daily, News Max and News Busters are claiming that Loughner is a “liberal” or “fascinated by liberal political thought.” They base this on the statement made on Twitter by a woman that claims to have known him in High School but has not seen him in years, 2007 to be exact.  Hardly what I would call a truly knowledgeable source but all of these sites are taking her statements at face value.  That is very poor journalism at best and pure partisan propaganda at worst. I lean to the latter because all of these “news” sites have one goal in mind and that is to defeat and demonize liberals.  They have made the claims without even questioning the source. They don’t ask why someone that hasn’t seen Loughner in four years would be marketing this story to the media.  What is her background, how well did she know him and what are her political affiliations? They also ignore others that know him who thought that he was a “normal kid” and were shocked by what he had done.  The uncritical approach of these sources has now spread across the “conservative” blogosphere like wildfire and my bet is when it is disproved as I think that it will be that none of these news sites or bloggers will retract their words.

The left claims that the Tea Party influence has to be a factor.  While we don’t know if Loughner had any connection with the Tea Party movement he echoes some Tea Party themes in his web postings. Personally I doubt if Loughner was a member of the Tea Party but I cannot rule it out but my gut tells me otherwise.  That being said Loughner’s posts on his My Space and You Tube pages echo common themes of the Tea Party as well as groups which are much more violent than the Tea Party is.  Look at his themes and tell me if they are what one would traditionally equate with liberalism:

Distrust of current government: This is a common theme of the party which is out of power and has recently more often associated with the political right and in particular the Tea Party movement which often decries Republican moderates as much as they do Democrat liberals. Likewise far right extremists groups echo that sentiment but in much more conspiratorial ways.  There are liberal groups that also espouse this but they tend not to be as numerous or loud as those on the right.

Return to the Gold Standard and a New Currency: His posts ramble but he seems pretty clear that he does not approve of the Federal Reserve or government control of currency and supports currency backed by gold and silver. This is not a tenant of liberalism but often is found in parts of the political right.

Complaints of Illiteracy: One of the hallmark themes of some right wing commentators such as the very incendiary Michael Savage is “borders, language, culture.” Loughner in particular was a critic of the lack of literacy of Americans in general but even more pointedly those in the congressional district in which he lives. Once again this is a subject, especially in relation to immigrants and the use of English that is more a theme of conservatives than it is liberals.

Vague References to the Constitution and Unconstitutionality of Federal Laws: In his internet posts Loughner makes a number of references to the Constitution, such as how most Americans have never read it and that we do not need to “accept Federalist laws” and to “read the United States of America’s Constitution to apprehend all of the current treasonous laws.” This is a common theme of the far right which believes that many laws are unconstitutional.

Government Mind Control: This is something not from either the political right or left but from the realm of anti-government conspiracy theorists.

Unbelief in God and Religion: The manner in which he states this is similar to those on the nihilistic fringe of anti-government White Supremacist groups.

There is also the fact that Congresswoman Giffords has never been the target of the left but has been the frequent target of the Tea Party and others on the right and that it would be illogical for a Democrat or leftist to kill one of their own, even a moderate that is not associated with the far left of the Democratic Party who recently voted against Nancy Pelosi for Speaker of the House.

My belief is that Loughner is a severely mentally disturbed individual who has been influenced at various times by different ideologies from the right and left with more of the radical right wing though being present now. I do not know what further investigation will prove or rule out.  I doubt if he was part of any larger conspiracy but a thorough investigation will probably show some connection with White Supremacist or racist extremist groups with some Tea Party ideological influence but no formal connection to the Tea Party.

Right now as I am patient to point out it is wrong to blame his actions on any group at this point, too little is known and I believe that those on the right that are calling Loughner a Democrat and liberal will have egg on their face at the end of the day.

The authorities have now determined that Loughner acted alone and that he planned the attack in advance ruling out a person of interest.

In the end the reaction, especially that from extremes, especially the right in this case will continue to stoke the fires of intolerance and hatred and likely sow the seeds of even more attacks on political leaders, judges and other government officials and even potentially members of the media.  As much as I hope and pray that this attack will help end such inflammatory language in politics and violent acts I think that they will continue. The extremists have too much invested to back down and as the reaction on the blogosphere demonstrates there is little concern with what actually occurred in Tucson and the lives lost or shattered but rather a continued escalation of extreme rhetoric which in my belief will only lead to greater violence and bloodshed.

Where this ends I can’t be sure, but history points to a tyranny being established by the most extreme and organized elements in the debate.  We can be sure that it will not be a more civil discourse and return to moderation. That would be a defeat for the extremists which they will not allow to happen.  I expect more physical confrontations at political rallies with roughnecks and bullies using physical violence and intimidation against their opponents. Likewise I expect the heated vitriol to become more so and calls to violent action to increase with corresponding increases in political violence.  We are not far removed from street battles between extremists and death squads which target the opposition or anyone for that matter that deviates from the party line.  I am not optimistic because I know human nature and history.

God help us.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Filed under History, philosophy, Political Commentary