Where Do We Draw A Line?

The First Amendment guarantees freedom of speech, and in recent times that has been challenged and the limits sorely tested.  It is a slippery slope, one fraught with the danger of going a step too far in censuring free speech, but it is the opinion of this writer that there must be a line … somewhere.  Last night I came across one of the right-wing pundits who I believe has crossed the line no matter where the line is.  His name is Josh Bernstein, and he is an online commentator.  His online show is called, predictably, the Josh Bernstein Show.  His bio says he is an anthropologist, writer, news anchor, political analyst, and more, but I rather doubt most of that, and don’t have time to spend trying to confirm or deny.

What brought him onto my radar was his call for Trump to “sharpen up them guillotines” to use on special counsel Robert Mueller in response to Mueller’s comment during his public statement on Wednesday that “If we had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.”  Bernstein went into attack mode, accusing Mueller of taking bribes.josh-bernstein.png

“How much were you paid to do that press conference? All of you are just disgusting, despicable excuses for human beings and, honestly, I hope you all go down. Treason. President Trump said treason. Guess what? I agree with that. … You know what they do for treason? U.S. Code 18 § 2381. They put you to death, that’s what they do. Let’s sharpen up them guillotines, let’s bring out Old Sparky, let’s make sure that those lethal concoctions are ready to go, because you people deserve it!”

Now, we’ve all become used to the hate speech that emanates from both sides of the political spectrum, but most viciously from the far right, and most of us take it with a grain of salt these days.  But I sense a more ominous tone here.  The danger is not in him saying it, but in people hearing it, and some people hearing it as a call to action.

If this were an isolated episode in Mr. Bernstein’s hate speech, I might be more inclined to chalk it up to the ravings of a lunatic and move along, but it is one of many.  In January, he had this to say about democrats …

“Democrats don’t care about Americans, they don’t care about their security, they don’t even care about their paychecks.  The bottom line is, and I hate to say this, these are the types of people that Americans fought against in World War II. These are the ones who should be sterilized so we can start over.”

In October, after Alex Baldwin made a statement that through the electoral process, we need to effect a change in government, Bernstein called him treasonous and said he should be banned.  He went a bit further, though …

“These idiot liberals, these morons that want to bring us down to a third-world level, these people should be locked up for treason. Liberals like to say, ‘Well, it’s very patriotic to say something nasty about your own country.’ You know what? No it’s not. It’s treasonous.”

He has called for all Muslims to be ‘eradicated’ …

“These people need to be eradicated from Western Europe, they need to be eradicated from the United States, they need to be eradicated, I would say, pretty much from everywhere, because they have shown time and time again—whether you’re a peaceful Muslim, whether you’re a radical Muslim—you’ve shown time and time again that you just cannot deal and cope with being in a civilized society. So we’ve got to do something about it.”

I could go on and on, but you get the idea.  Why is this man allowed to say these things on the airwaves?  Because of the 1st Amendment right to free speech.  I think by now you all know that I fully support the right to free speech and freedom of the press.  But, I’ve said more than a few times, with every right comes an accompanying responsibility to use that right with conscience.  Josh Bernstein is taking his right, but not exercising his conscience.

Picture a white supremacist, or a hater of gay people, or an Islamophobe sitting at his computer one night, watching one of Bernstein’s videos calling for the execution of President Obama, Hillary Clinton, Robert Mueller, or just ‘liberals’ in general.  The man has a few guns, maybe a few beers under his belt, and decides to take up the gauntlet.  I don’t need to paint the picture, do I, for we’ve seen it far too many times already.

Remember last October when Cesar Sayoc sent pipe bombs through the U.S. mail to a number of prominent Democrats and Trump critics, as well as CNN?  Fortunately, he was stupid, the bombs were discovered, and nobody was hurt.  But, what about next time, or the time after?  Remember the mosque shootings in Philadelphia last year and New Zealand this year?  What inspired those killers?

I think that the time has come to draw a line somewhere.  Alex Jones’ conspiracy theories about the Sandy Hook school shooting has had terrible consequences for the families of children who died in that horrific event.  In December 2016, Edgar Maddison Welch entered Comet Ping Pong pizzeria in Washington, D.C., armed and planning to kill whomever he came across.  His inspiration was the conspiracy theory that would become known as Pizzagate.

Words have consequences.  While I would not wish to stifle the ability of the press or anyone else to speak freely and offer an opinion, I think we must draw the line at calling for the death of another.  Mr. Bernstein just happened to cross my radar, but how many more are out there calling for the death of an individual or a group that we don’t know about?  I think that when you allow a right or a privilege to be abused, it ultimately ceases to be a right.  Think about it.

Don’t Look Now, But …

It is the job of the free press to keep the people of this nation informed.  In order to do so, they must be given access to our government, they must be allowed to ask questions and expect to receive honest answers.  Yesterday, that freedom was cut short by Donald Trump, the bully-in-chief.  It would be a mistake to let this slide, for it is not the first time, nor is it likely to be the last, that Trump has curtailed the freedom of the press.

It all began with a photo op with Trump and Kim Jong-un when a reporter for The Associated Press, Jonathan Lemire, asked Trump to comment on the congressional testimony of Mr. Trump’s former lawyer, Michael D. Cohen.  Another reporter, Jeff Mason of Reuters, had asked Trump a question about his commitment to de-nuclearization.  Note that this is common practice and every president in modern history has submitted to such questions.  But Donald Trump took umbrage.

As a result, mouthpiece Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced that reporters from Reuters, Associated Press, Bloomberg News and the Los Angeles Times would not be allowed to attend the dinner with Trump and Kim.  Sanders said that only photographers and television-camera operators would be allowed in … in other words, the American public would be allowed to see, but not hear.  Lauren Easton, spokeswoman for the Associated Press objected …

“The Associated Press decries such efforts by the White House to restrict access to the president. It is critically important that any president uphold American press freedom standards, not only at home but especially while abroad.”

Trump eventually allowed one reporter in … a reporter from The Wall Street Journal, owned by Trump’s good buddy Rupert Murdoch.  Whoopee.  Olivier Knox, president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, called foul …

“This summit provides an opportunity for the American presidency to display its strength by facing vigorous questioning from a free and independent news media, not telegraph weakness by retreating behind arbitrary last-minute restrictions on coverage.”

Methinks the American presidency has no strength to display, as became obvious when the summit became a bust and Trump flew home with his tail tucked between his legs, for he refused to compromise.  But that is a story for another time, as today the more important story is this one, the curtailment of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment by Donald Trump.

In recent months, the White House has sharply reduced the number of press briefings it gives and has cracked down on reporters who call out questions during the president’s public appearances. Reporters have publicly and privately been warned by White House aides that it is inappropriate to ask Trump questions in that context.  No, Sarah … No, Donald … it is NOT inappropriate!  There has been so much secrecy, so many blatant lies told to We the People, that reporters must work twice as hard to dig a rare gem of truth from this administration.

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution reads …

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

Denying access to an important … nay, crucial … summit meeting is an abridgement of the right to freedom of the press.  Hand-picking reporters who will be allowed to attend that aforementioned meeting is an abridgement of the right to freedom of the press.  Donald Trump and his mouthpiece Sarah Huckabee Sanders have stomped on our right to know what our government is doing.  We cannot … we simply cannot ignore this!

This is a clear-cut case of retribution and revenge taken on reporters for asking legitimate questions of the ‘man’ who is tasked with leading the nation.  Asking those questions was not harassment, but rather an attempt to get answers that We the People need, want and deserve.  Throughout history, the only presidents who have attempted to curtail the right of a free press have been those who had something to hide, such as Richard Nixon who, in 1971 attempted to prevent the New York Times and Washington Post from publishing materials belonging to a classified Defense Department study regarding the history of United States activities in Vietnam.  The Supreme Court, by the way, ruled against the government and in favour of the free press in that case of New York Times v. United States.

To wrap it up, I direct your attention to the 2018 World Press Freedom Index.  A brief excerpt …

“More and more democratically-elected leaders no longer see the media as part of democracy’s essential underpinning, but as an adversary to which they openly display their aversion. The United States, the country of the First Amendment, has fallen again in the Index under Donald Trump, this time two places to 45th. A media-bashing enthusiast, Trump has referred to reporters “enemies of the people,” the term once used by Joseph Stalin.”

Need I say more?

A Child … Just A Child

It seems to me that this nation places too much value on rites and rituals and not enough on substantive issues.  When an eleven-year-old child is arrested … yes, arrested by police … for exercising his right to free speech by refusing to recite the pledge of allegiance, something has gone awry with our values as a nation.

It all began on the morning of February 4th, when a young boy at Lawton Chiles Middle Academy in Polk County, Florida, refused to stand for the pledge of allegiance.  The boy had refused to stand for the pledge for the entire school year, and had written permission from his mother to do so. But on this day there was a substitute teacher, Ana Alvarez.  When Ms. Alvarez asked the boy why he didn’t stand, he told her he believes the pledge represents racism.  Ms. Alvarez’ responded …

“Why if it was so bad here you do not go to another place to live.”

And when the boy replied, “They brought me here,” Alvarez said …

“Well you can always go back, because I came here from Cuba and the day I feel I’m not welcome here anymore I would find another place to live.”

Perhaps Ms. Alvarez forgot she was talking to an 11-year-old child who has neither the autonomy nor the means to choose his own place to live?

“Then I had to call the office because I did not want to continue dealing with him.”

A school resource officer with the Lakeland Police Department eventually responded to the classroom and arrested the boy.  Arrested a child.  An African-American child who did not break any law.  According to a statement by Polk County Public Schools, the child “became disruptive” and “refused to follow instructions.”  Excuse me, but the boy is eleven years old!  He was no doubt frightened and felt threatened!  He was not an adult who might have been able to understand and deal with the situation in a moderated voice!

This case, naturally, brings to mind that of Colin Kaepernick who was unduly ostracized and penalized for exercising his first amendment right to refuse to stand for the national anthem.  If Colin Kaepernick had been Caucasian, would the results have been different?  If this 11-year-old boy had been Caucasian, would the results have been different?  We will never know for sure, but my best guess is that yes, in both cases the refusal to stand would have been largely overlooked.

On Tuesday, Brian Haas, the state attorney for the 10th Judicial Circuit in Florida, said that his office would not prosecute the boy despite statements by the police that he had made threats after disrupting class. “The case is closed,” Mr. Haas said.

However, the boy’s mother, understandably, is not satisfied, nor is the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).  Dhakira Talbot, the lad’s mother, declined an offer from prosecutors on Monday to drop the case if the boy completed a so-called diversion program, which could include a fine and community service.  She has obtained an attorney who plans to file a civil-rights complaint with the federal Department of Education this week.

A personal note here.  Throughout my childhood I refused steadfastly to stand for the pledge or to engage in the morning prayer that was requisite in the Catholic schools I attended.  The nuns did not like it and more than a few times I was smacked on the hands and even the head with the metal edge of a ruler (Catholic schools in the 1950s were notorious for corporal punishment).  But, being the stubborn girl I was even back then, I did not give in.  AND … I did not get arrested.  I seriously doubt that calling the police ever crossed their minds!

According to the New York Times article from February 19th

Across the country, black students are disciplined more often and face harsher consequences than their white peers. At Lawton Chiles Middle Academy, black students made up 17 percent of the student body last school year but represented 39 percent of disciplinary actions, according to data from the Florida Department of Education.

Systemic racism.  Perhaps the biggest shame of this nation.  And an 11-year-old boy has suffered an experience he will never forget.  He has been shown, first-hand, that black people are treated with less respect, less dignity than those with pale skin.  What lasting effect will this incident have on a young child’s life?  There is no way to know, but we can rest assured that it will colour his views for the rest of his life.

Trampling the Constitution …

“I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

These words are the presidential oath of office that every president takes upon being inaugurated into the office of president.  On 20 January 2017, Chief Justice John Roberts administered the above oath to Donald J. Trump.  In the past 24 hours, the same Donald Trump has threatened to break his oath not once, but twice.Constitution-1The first came on the wave of his rage over the Bob Woodward book, Fear, that is to be released next Tuesday.  Trump repeated his call for stricter libel laws … a threat he has made before.  What Trump is actually calling for, however, is a change in the very definition of the word ‘libel’.

Defamation is defined as the communication of a false statement that harms the reputation of an individual, business, product, group, government, religion, or nation.  Defamation falls under two categories:  slander & libel.  The difference is simple: slander is verbal or by gestures, whereas libel is written or printed.

There are several things a person must prove to establish that libel has taken place. In the United States, a person must prove that 1) the statement was false, 2) caused harm, and 3) was made without adequate research into the truthfulness of the statement. These steps are for an ordinary citizen. For a celebrity or public official, a person must prove the first three steps, and that the statement was made with the intent to do harm or with reckless disregard for the truth.

Trump has been referring to the legitimate press as “the enemy of the people” while at the same time praising Fox News and even Breitbart, neither of whom are known for fact-based, honest reporting.  And now, he wants Congress to enact stricter libel laws, by which he simply means, by his definition, anything printed that is critical of him.  This is not how it works, and it would be a blatant disregard of the 1st Amendment if it were.  As long as what the press prints is factual, or to the best of their belief was factual, they are well within their rights.

Despite the fact that Congress has been bowing to the wishes of Trump since day #1, I cannot imagine that they would even consider such a bill, so I am not concerned that the press will ultimately be shuttered from reporting anything critical of Trump.  However, that he even threatens it is very concerning, for it is but one more indicator of his intent to rule rather than lead.  To bring the government into the realm of autocracy.  Such disregard for the Constitution goes against his oath.constitution-2The second and equally concerning threat was made as a response to protests against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on Tuesday.

“I don’t know why they don’t take care of a situation like that. I think it’s embarrassing for the country to allow protesters. You don’t even know what side the protesters are on.”

Now, the statement in itself is disturbing enough, and taken in conjunction with his rants about Colin Kaepernick’s peaceful protest against police killing unarmed black men, it makes an even more chilling thought.  “I think it’s embarrassing for the country to allow protestors.”  Again, I direct attention to the 1st Amendment that protects freedom of speech, including peaceful protests.  And again, I remind you that he referred to white supremacists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville, Virginia last year as “very fine people”.  He did not suggest shutting down their freedom of speech.

What is, perhaps, almost as bothersome as what he said is to whom he said it.  He made the statement during an Oval Office interview with the Daily Caller.  Now, in case you aren’t familiar with the Daily Caller, it is a conservative website co-founded by Tucker Carlson of Fox News fame.  Mr. Carlson has more controversies under his belt than can even be tallied.  To give you one small example of his idiocy, he is against seat belt laws.  Like its co-founder, the Daily Caller is laden with controversy and is definitely not a legitimate source of news.  A few examples:

  • In 2017, The Daily Caller published a story claiming that a “peer-reviewed study” by “two scientists and a veteran statistician” found that global warming had been fabricated by climate scientists. The alleged “study” was a PDF file on a WordPress blog, and was not peer-reviewed or published in a scientific journal.

  • In March 2013 The Daily Caller posted interviews with two women claiming that New Jersey Democratic Senator Bob Menendez had paid them for sex while he was a guest of a campaign donor. The allegation came five days before the 2012 New Jersey senate election. News organizations such as ABC News, which had also interviewed the women, the New York Times, and the New York Post declined to publish the allegations, viewing them as unsubstantiated and lacking credibility. Subsequently, one of the women who accused Menendez stated that she had been paid to falsely implicate the senator and had never met him. Menendez’s office described the allegations as “manufactured” by a right-wing blog as a politically motivated smear. A few weeks later, police in the Dominican Republic announced that three women had claimed they were paid $300–425 each to lie about having had sex with Menendez.

Carlson Tucker is not much different than Alex Jones, it would seem, and anybody who reads and believes the Daily Caller should come see me about a bridge I have for sale.  For Donald Trump to treat the Daily Caller as a legitimate news source, while denigrating the 141-year-old Washington Post, and the 167-year-old New York Times, is an indicator of his intelligence, or lack thereof.

So, we have a president who, as I have said from the very beginning, is not satisfied with the office of president, but seeks to undermine the foundation of the Constitution by chiseling away at the rights and privileges that document gives us in order to expand and extend his power.  Surely Congress will stop him, right?  Um … well …

**  Endnote:  While I am writing a post, I rarely check news other than to verify facts or look up something pertaining to the post I am writing at the time, lest I lose my focus.  Thus, I was not aware of the anonymous letter from a senior administration official that was published in the New York Times late yesterday afternoon until I had finished writing this post.  I will have more to say about that later, once the dust has settled just a bit, but Trump’s comment that “the Times must, for National Security purposes, turn him/her over to government at once!” sends chills and signals another potential attempt to undermine the Constitution.  

The Senate Stands Up To The Bully …

“We swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution, including the First Amendment. Today, every senator upheld that oath by sending a message that we support the First Amendment, and we support the freedom of the press in the face of these attacks.” – Senator Brian Schatz, 16 August 2018

We should not need a Senate resolution to declare that the free press is not “the enemy of the people”.  It is rather akin to needing a Senate resolution to declare that parents should not beat their children to death, or men should not sexually abuse women.  It is already the damn law!  The U.S. Constitution protects the free press, so why do we need a Senate resolution to acknowledge the law?  Why?  Because we have a buffoon instead of a president who has, for 71 years, gotten what he wants by bullying, and he thinks he can still do that in the White House.

press-enemy-NixonSo, while we should not need the Senate to confirm that the press is not the enemy of the people, it is comforting to know that the Senate unanimously voted to confirm, for the sake of the madman in the Oval Office and his blind-faith followers who hang on his every word.

“Resolved, that the Senate affirms that the press is not the enemy of the people; reaffirms the vital and indispensable role that the free press serves to inform the electorate, uncover the truth, act as a check on the inherent power of the government, further national discourse and debate, and otherwise advance the most basic and cherished democratic norms and freedoms of the United States; and condemns the attacks on the institution of the free press and views efforts to systematically undermine the credibility of the press as an attack on the democratic institutions of the United States; and it is the sense of the Senate that it is the sworn responsibility of all who serve the United States by taking the oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States to uphold, cherish, and protect the entire Constitution, including the freedom of the press.”

The resolution mentions a number of former leaders who have spoken on behalf of freedom of the press:

  • Benjamin Franklin in 1722 wrote, ‘‘Whoever would overthrow the Liberty of a Nation, must begin by subduing the Freeness of Speech.’’;

  • Thomas Jefferson in 1786 wrote, ‘‘Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.’’;


  • James Madison in 1789 introduced the freedom of the press in the Bill of Rights to the Constitution of the United States;


  • James Madison based the freedom of the press on the Declaration of Rights of the Commonwealth of Virginia, which in 1776 declared, ‘‘The freedom of the Press is one of the greatest bulwarks of liberty, and can never be restrained but by despotic Governments.’’;


  • President Ronald Reagan proclaimed August 4, 1985, as Freedom of the Press Day, stating that ‘‘Freedom of the press is one of our most important freedoms and also one of our oldest.’’;


  • President Reagan also said, ‘‘Today, our tradition of a free press as a vital part of our democracy is as important as ever. The news media are now using modern techniques to bring our citizens information not only on a daily basis but instantaneously as important events occur. This flow of information helps make possible an informed electorate and so contributes to our national system of self-government.’’;


  • Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in International Soc. for Krishna Consciousness, Inc. v. Lee, 505 U.S. 672 (1992), ‘‘The First Amendment is often inconvenient. But that is beside the point. Inconvenience does not absolve the government of its obligation to tolerate speech.’’;


  • The United States Supreme Court also affirmed the history and intent of the freedom of the press in New York Times Co. v. United States, 403 U.S. 713 (1971), stating, ‘‘In the First Amendment, the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors. The Government’s power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the Government. The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people. Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government.’’;


  • Tyrannical and authoritarian governments and leaders throughout history have sought to undermine, censor, suppress, and control the press to advance their undemocratic goals and actions; and


  • The United States, including the long-held commitment to and constitutional protection of the free press in the United States, has stood as a shining example of democracy, self-government, and freedom for the world to emulate.

That this resolution was passed unanimously without a single dissenting vote even among the boot-lickers on the right side of the aisle, speaks volumes.  It tells us that even Mitch McConnell and all the rest are disturbed by Trump’s denigration of the press, and that they understand that the press is the only thing standing between a ‘president’ and a dictator.  However, it should be noted that this is only a non-binding resolution, meaning it does basically nothing more than send a message to Trump & Co saying that the Senate supports the free press and does not agree with Trump calling them the enemy of the people.  The law already exists in the form of the Constitution … we just need Congress to enforce that law upon the president.

Thoughts on Censorship …

I applauded the recent banning of Alex Jones and his InfoWars program by a number of social media outlets, notably Facebook, YouTube, Apple and Spotify.  Twitter has resisted the call by the media and politicians to ban Jones, saying that thus far he is not in violation of their terms of service.  Makes one wonder if they even have ‘terms of service’, doesn’t it? I noted this in a recent post, and a reader replied that he disliked censorship in any form and was perfectly capable of deciding what to see or not to see.  Which made me start pondering … again … sigh.

Alex Jones’ hate-filled lies and rhetoric pose a very real danger.  After his lies about Sandy Hook, families who had lost their children in that tragedy were threatened by people who listened to and believed Jones.  One family has had to move 7 times since 2012 in order to protect their remaining children from harm.  Words have very real consequences.

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees freedom of speech, but is it an absolute guarantee to unfettered and irresponsible speech?  I think not.  There are a few restrictions on free speech, as have been noted before, such as yelling “FIRE!!!” in a theater full of people, or “BOMB!!!” on an airplane.  It is the opinion of this writer that those restrictions are not enough.  With the privilege, or ‘right’ to free speech comes responsibility, and if we do not accept the responsibility, then we lose the right.

In a perfect world, it would be lovely to allow everyone complete and unrestricted free speech, but we do not live in a perfect world.  We live in a world where a percentage of the population is under-educated and will believe whomever yells the loudest.  We live in a world where ignorance abounds and there are those who delight in scandal, juicy gossip, and conspiracy theories.  This is the crowd that Alex Jones, Sean Hannity, Mike Cernovich and Jack Posobiec play to, the audience they can rile and incite to a frenzy.  This is not harmless entertainment, but more than once has led to violence and the threat of violence.

Censorship is a slippery slope.  Where do you draw the line?  Who decides where the line gets drawn?  I can well understand my reader’s concerns about censorship, for it would be all too easy for it to be taken too far.  But simply because something is hard, or is likely to offend some, doesn’t mean you shelve the notion.  To those who would argue against any degree of censorship, my response is that if people would think for themselves, learn to read between the lines, ask questions and be discerning, then we wouldn’t need to censor.  People like Alex Jones would be out doing real jobs to earn their living instead of feeding off the remains of the ignorant, for there would be no market for his brand of hate.

There is an argument that ‘censorship’ can only be applied to government, not private enterprise.  Again, it’s a slippery slope, and there is the potential for censorship by private companies to lead to discrimination against entire groups such as minorities or LGBT people.  This, too, must be carefully considered, for the potential lies just under the surface, waiting to bubble up in a nasty mess of bigotry and racism.

Facebook and the rest who have banned Jones have done so, not out of good conscience, but because the hue and cry against Jones was loud enough to get their attention and they saw visions of dollar signs flying away.  My guess is that once the brouhaha dies down, they will let ol’ Alex back in again, albeit quietly.  It is said that the InfoWars website gets some 10 million views per month.  More than 300 thousand people every day tune in to listen to an ugly man spew lies, filth and hatred.  This, folks, is what is wrong in society.  And because at least some of those 300 thousand people will believe Jones and then decide to take the law into their own gun-filled hands, I’m so sorry, but yes, we do need to censor this type of speech.

It is critical that decisions regarding any form of censorship be made by wise and well-informed people, people without a political agenda, people who are open-minded, fair and honest.  Where do we find such people?  NOT in the halls of government, but rather in think tanks and academia, I should think.  Certainly people with self-interest and the motivation of money, such as Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, are not qualified to sit on the panel.

Again, the reason we need censorship is the same reason that we need sensible gun regulations:  responsibility.  When a large portion of this nation refuses to step up to the plate and act as responsible citizens, placing the value of human lives above their own desires, when they refuse to ‘self-police’, then there need to be regulations.  Such regulations must be fair and invoke common sense, but they must exist.  Even some of the most democratic nations in the world have both gun laws and hate speech laws, and so must we.  Your thoughts?

Note to Readers in Response to Comments:

Dear Readers …

So many of you adamantly spoke against any form or degree of censorship, that I decided to respond to your comments collectively, rather than individually.

My goal with this post was to express my opinion and hopefully get some interesting dialog started.  I found, interestingly, that my friends from across the pond agreed that some degree and type of limitation on free speech is both necessary and desirable, while the majority of my U.S. friends are dead set against any limitation on the 1st Amendment. 

For those who believe that hate speech laws in other countries are typically used to silence opposition, I respectfully disagree, having over the years become friends with people from the Netherlands, Austria, Germany, and the UK, all of whom agree that the laws in their countries that make Nazi symbols and speech that is intended to incite violence, such as Alex Jones’ are fair and just laws and do not interfere with ordinary and responsible free speech.  This article in The Atlantic, written by a citizen of the Netherlands who now lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, tells the story from across the pond.  Remember that Europe has a much more direct link to the Nazis and Hitler, and are thus, perhaps, more sensitive to that sort of hate speech than we in the U.S.  

One reader said ‘goodbye’ to me over this post, which is certainly her prerogative, but does nothing to further civil discourse, but rather shuts down any attempt to see each other’s point of view.

As I tried, but obviously failed, to convey in my post, I do not like censorship either.  BUT … even less, I like that which endangers innocent human lives.  In my opinion, Alex Jones ought to be sitting behind bars for his role in inciting people to make threats against others.  Those who made the threats should be sitting right next to him in that prison cell.  Instead, they all run free while innocent people whose children were killed have to change their phone numbers and addresses to keep their families safe.  This is where I run into an ethical problem with unlimited free speech, and I sincerely believe that the framers of the Constitution, the Founding Fathers as we often refer to them, would be horrified at what is today protected as “free speech”. 

I sincerely do appreciate all the comments today, and have spent quite a bit of time pondering them and debating how to best respond to your opinions.  I certainly agree that this is a slippery slope, and not one to be taken lightly, but I must stand by my opinion that there simply MUST be consequences for falsehoods and speech that puts people’s lives and livelihoods in danger, for otherwise we are on a path toward anarchy, and humans have proven themselves incapable of handling unlimited freedom, I think.

Trump vs New York Times — AGAIN!

SulzbergerOn July 20th, A.G. Sulzberger, the publisher of the New York Times, went to the White House by invitation from Donald Trump.  Mr. Sulzberger was accompanied by James Bennet, who oversees the editorial page of The Times. Trump’s aides requested that the meeting be off the record, which has been the practice for such meetings in the past, and to which Mr. Sulzberger agreed.

However, yesterday morning, Trump, in his usual manner, was unable to control his thumbs and tweeted …

“Had a very good and interesting meeting at the White House with A.G. Sulzberger, Publisher of the New York Times. Spent much time talking about the vast amounts of Fake News being put out by the media & how that Fake News has morphed into phrase, ‘Enemy of the People.’ Sad!”

It should be noted that Trump himself coined the phrase “enemy of the people”.

Mr. Sulzberger saw that tweet as an invitation to put his prior meeting with Trump on record, and as such, he published a terse summary of the meeting in the New York Times.

Statement of A.G. Sulzberger, Publisher, The New York Times:

My main purpose for accepting the meeting was to raise concerns about the president’s deeply troubling anti-press rhetoric.

I told the president directly that I thought that his language was not just divisive but increasingly dangerous.

I told him that although the phrase “fake news” is untrue and harmful, I am far more concerned about his labeling journalists “the enemy of the people.” I warned that this inflammatory language is contributing to a rise in threats against journalists and will lead to violence.

I repeatedly stressed that this is particularly true abroad, where the president’s rhetoric is being used by some regimes to justify sweeping crackdowns on journalists. I warned that it was putting lives at risk, that it was undermining the democratic ideals of our nation, and that it was eroding one of our country’s greatest exports: a commitment to free speech and a free press.

Throughout the conversation I emphasized that if President Trump, like previous presidents, was upset with coverage of his administration he was of course free to tell the world. I made clear repeatedly that I was not asking for him to soften his attacks on The Times if he felt our coverage was unfair. Instead, I implored him to reconsider his broader attacks on journalism, which I believe are dangerous and harmful to our country. 

Not to be outdone, Trump put on his paint and returned to his warpath:

“When the media – driven insane by their Trump Derangement Syndrome – reveals internal deliberations of our government, it  truly puts the lives of many, not just journalists, at risk! Very unpatriotic! Freedom of the press also comes with a responsibility to report the news accurately. 90% of media coverage of my Administration is negative, despite the tremendously positive results we are achieving, it’s no surprise that confidence in the media is at an all time low! I will not allow our great country to be sold out by anti-Trump haters in the dying newspaper industry. No matter how much they try to distract and cover it up, our country is making great progress under my leadership and I will never stop fighting for the American people! As an example, the failing New York Times and the Amazon Washington Post do nothing but write bad stories even on very positive achievements – and they will never change!” (Compilation of a series of four tweets)

Note that Trump equates negative news about himself with ‘fake’ news.

Such maturity has surely never before been seen in the Oval Office before.  🙄free press-1During the meeting, Mr. Sulzberger recalled telling Trump that newspapers and other media outlets had begun posting armed guards outside their offices because of a rise in threats against journalists. Trump, he said, expressed surprise that they did not already have armed guards.  At another point, Trump bragged about using the phrase “fake news,” and said other countries had begun banning such “fake news”. Mr. Sulzberger explained to him that those countries were dictatorships and that they were not banning “fake news” but rather stifling independent scrutiny of their actions.  Why does the man who sits in the Oval Office need to have this explained to him?  WHY???free press-5.jpgTherein lies the potential problem.  Trump praises dictatorships for actually banning reporting that may not be favourable to the government, something Trump would very much like to be able to do, but he is stopped by that pesky 1st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  Do not, folks, for one minute think that Trump has stopped trying to find a way to do just that.

When Trump couldn’t garner the votes to repeal Obamacare, he began chipping away at it by executive orders and withholding payments to insurance companies.  Similarly, he realizes that he cannot simply revoke the 1st amendment, so he is chipping away at the freedom of the press by denigrating reporters, revoking press passes, refusing to answer questions from certain media outlets, barring reporters from events, and insisting that all televisions in his venue air only Fox News.

free press-2Every morning when I first boot up my computer, I wonder if I will receive an error message when I try to log onto BBC, The Guardian or the New York Times.  So far it hasn’t happened, but frankly I will not be surprised if it does someday.  The best weapon we have to prevent it is our vote in November and our support of the legitimate media – you know, the ones Trump calls ‘fake’.

Early Morning Thoughts …

As I lay awake this morning, unable to return to sleep after having slept a scant 2 hours, I engaged in my frequent activity of pondering.  Today I will share with you some of the results of that mind-bounce sort of pondering …


Taxation without representation …

We declared our independence from Britian in 1776 for a number of reasons, however the main stated reason was ‘taxation without representation’. The British passed many tax laws that impacted the colonists.  The colonists had no representatives in Parliament to vote on or discuss these laws.  In English government, the people had to have representatives who could vote on taxes that would affect them.  The colonists had no such voice in British government. Long story short, the colonists declared their independence, represented by the Declaration of Independence penned by Thomas Jefferson, fought off the British and ultimately became the nation known as the United States. Today, we are in a very similar situation, though there is the appearance that we are properly represented.  Yes, we go to the polls each November and every other year we vote for men and women to represent us, to be our voice in the U.S. Congress.  But are they?  No, they are not our voice, they are the voice, the ‘yes-men’, actually, of only one group of people, the very wealthy.  Our taxes?  They go to those who already hoard the majority of the wealth in the nation, but number less than 1% of the population.  Our taxes are merely donations to those who least need them.  Look at the example of Scott Pruitt, already a wealthy man, who now heads the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).   A very important job, and one that he is not bothering to do, as he is keeping busy trying to absorb as much money as he can into his own coffers.  For the complete story, see Gronda’s comprehensive series:  EPA Head Is One Sick Cheap Corrupt Puppy/ Pity His Poor Wife/ Part I, Part II, Part III  

This is but a single example of how our tax money is going to feed the overfed.  Think about the ‘tax cuts’ of last December.  If you saw any increase in your pay, it was minimal and has since been eaten by rising fuel and food costs, the latter thanks to Trump’s tariffs.  But trust me, people like Pruitt, the Trump family, the DeVos family … they gleefully saw a huge decrease in their quarterly taxes last month, and thus a rise in their profits … as if they needed any more.  And no, folks, it isn’t going to “trickle down” to us.


Free Speech, but for whom?

It’s puzzling to me that nearly 600 women were arrested last week during a peaceful protest against family separation and detention, yet people like Richard Spencer, Milo Yiannopoulos and others who preach hate and incite violence are guarded and their free speech protected.  So … if I am understanding correctly, 600 unarmed women marching in DC from Freedom Plaza to the Department of Justice to Congress, then sitting peacefully in the Senate’s Hart Office Building are a bigger threat than white supremacists and neo-Nazis inciting violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, where a woman was intentionally murdered and dozens injured by a man driving his car into the crowd – intentionally?  Can anybody explain this one?  I surely cannot.  The 1st Amendment, as I have said numerous times, gives us the right to protest when we feel our government is in the wrong.  If we no longer have the right of peaceful protest, but Nazis have the right to incite violence, what does that say about our nation?  And speaking of abuse of the right to free speech …


Alex Jones rants again …

We haven’t heard a lot from America’s #1 Conspiracy Theorist lately, but he is making up for lost time now.Jones-civil-warSeñor Jones is once again riling the masses, just in time for the nation’s Independence Day celebrations, with his declaration that the democrats are planning to use the July 4th holiday to start a “second Civil War”.  Good grief, what is this man smoking???

I tried to watch the clip from his program, InfoWars, where he expounded on this theory, but frankly after about two minutes, I felt ill, angry, and decided it wasn’t worth putting myself through.  It would, perhaps, be funny if it weren’t so dangerous.  The danger, however, is very real and I will not be surprised to find that tomorrow brings outbreaks of violence in our cities.  If it happens, the blame rests largely on the shoulders of Donald Trump, Alex Jones, Sean Hannity, and the rest of the minions who parrot these ridiculous taunts.  There is a saying among the saner of us, “Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should”.  It is a lesson that many in this nation need to learn.  Without this sort of incitement, we might be able to work through some of our differences, find common ground and stop the madness that has led to the great divide.  But no, we have people whose entire careers revolve around keeping the pot of hatred filled and stirred.


And now you know how I spent the hour between 6:30 and 7:30 a.m., before finally uttering an expletive and getting out of bed.  To my U.S. friends, please have a fun holiday, but most of all keep safe.

What Exactly IS Freedom?

Been a lot of talk about that thing called ‘freedom’ lately.  Started me thinking about some things.  What is freedom, anyway?  Freedom from what?  Freedom to do what?  Am I free?  Are you?  Are any of us?  And what is the trade-off for freedom, for there is a trade-off, a price to pay for everything, y’know.

I did a bit of thinking about it … and one thing I can say for certain is that we don’t all see freedom in the same way.  There are those, some are friends of mine even, who think freedom means you get to have a gun … any ol’ gun you want, carry it wherever you go … and use it however you want.  To them that is freedom, but wait … if they have that gun, and they can use it when and how they want … suddenly I don’t feel quite so free as I did a minute ago.  And … if my kid gets shot and killed at school by some student whose daddy has an arsenal and he snuck one out to take revenge on those kids he thinks don’t like him … then the people who think owning guns makes them free just tell me, “we send our thoughts and prayers”.  But … what good is that???  I don’t want your thoughts and prayers … they don’t bring my child back!  And then they say, “well, that is just the cost of being free”.  If that’s the cost of being free, maybe it’s time somebody did a cost-benefit analysis.

And then there’s that freedom of speech.  Now, I’m happy that I can write my opinions on this blog, and some may not like them, but I haven’t gone to jail yet, so I think that is my freedom of speech.  And I appreciate it, believe me I do, for I have a sharp tongue and if criticism and words could send you to jail, I’d surely be wearing an orange jumpsuit right now!  But … I never have and never will tell people they ought to go out and kill somebody else.  I never have urged my friends and readers to physically hurt another human being.  It seems to me that there’s a difference between calling Donald Trump or Paul Ryan a fool, and asking people to go out and hurt one another.  I keep hearing that the human race has become so advanced … but frankly, folks, I don’t see it.

On March 23rd 1775, Patrick Henry in a speech to the Second Virginia Convention is reported to have said, “Give me liberty, or give me death”.  The liberty that he was seeking was freedom from oppression, freedom from being ruled by a monarch 4,000 miles away, paying taxes to that monarchy, without having a say in the rules that bound the colonies that would become the United States of America.  Freedom from oppression, and freedom to self-govern.

Freedoms are either from something or to something.  The second amendment to the Constitution of the United States calls for the freedom to ‘bear firearms’.  But, in its present-day incarnation it has been interpreted as the freedom to kill.  The freedom to own an assault weapon that was never … NEVER … intended to be placed in untrained civilian hands.  And by so interpreting that ‘freedom to …”, the freedom from having to fear for one’s life in a school, church or shopping center has been trampled.  When you, Mr. Christian Republican, bought your AR-15, as was your perceived right, you robbed me of my freedom to be safe next time I go out in the same place you go.

In the same vein, when a person uses his freedom of speech to call for my death, as one of my readers did a while back, then that person is robbing me of my freedom to feel safe in my own home.  When a person like Milo Yiannopoulos says, “I can’t wait for the vigilante squads to start gunning journalists down on sight,” and just three days later five people are gunned down in a newspaper office … whose freedom took away whose?

We do not all define freedom in the same way, and until we do, one man’s freedom will be another man’s prison.  The Constitution, as well as other documents such as court rulings have attempted to bring about a uniform definition for ‘freedom’, but there seems to be a disconnect.  The man who has a few billion dollars in offshore accounts believes that he has the freedom to use those monies as he sees fit.  Fair enough, if the money legitimately belongs to him and was not earned off the sweat of others who were under-compensated for their labours.  BUT … how many who have billions actually earned them without trampling the freedoms of others?  Very, very few, I think.  Any?  I don’t know … perhaps Bill Gates?

As many have commented on this blog in the past, and as I myself have said, “your freedom ends at the tip of my nose”.  You like loud music?  Fine, but understand that not all of us enjoy the same music you do and don’t force it on us.  I smoke.  I have the freedom to do so, but I do not have the freedom to blow my smoke in your face, or even to smoke in a public venue where you might be.  If I can accept that I do not have a right to smoke in public, why can you not accept that you do not have the right to carry a gun in public?  Really, which is more potentially lethal?

In this world, in real life, freedom can never be complete, can never be 100%, for if it were, it would be depriving others of their freedoms.  That is a fact of life.  You can be free from a dictatorship, but you can never be completely free from rules, from laws.  Today, as we live under a ‘man’ who claims to make America “great” again, we are finding that for some, the freedoms are being expanded, but for the majority of us this has meant giving up other freedoms.  There comes a point when we must prioritize:  a right to live vs a right to carry a gun in public?  A right to have medical care for a chronic condition vs a right to pay less in taxes?  A right to breathe clean air vs a right to make a profit from mining coal?

Freedom is not an absolute.  It does not come without a cost.  Freedom for all requires compromise.  Think about it.

The Case Against Alex Jones

Well, well, well … well, well.  All I can say is it’s about time.  Well past time, if you ask me, that ol’ Alex Jones of Fox News’ InfoWars is heading off to court.  In December 2016, I considered Alex for an Idiot of the Week post, but I didn’t do that post.  Today, curious as to why I hadn’t, I found in my notes that I considered him simply too evil for an IOTW post.  A brief bit of background …

On December 14, 2012, 20-year-old Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 children between six and seven years old, as well as six adult staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.  As first responders arrived at the scene, Lanza committed suicide by shooting himself in the head.  President Obama, as well as leaders from many countries and organizations throughout the world also offered their condolences through the weekend after the shooting.There were a few however, who chose to further add to the grief and torment of the families, rather than join in offering compassion, and among those, Alex Jones led the pack.  Within days, Jones put out a video, since removed by YouTube for violation of terms of service, saying that the massacre was “staged,” “inside job,” “undoubtedly there’s a cover-up,” “giant hoax,” “the whole thing was fake,” “in my view, manufactured”.  He was selling snake oil, nothing more, and he knew his snake oil wasn’t the cure for anything, but guess what?  He didn’t care, for he was making money.  He was the talk of the town, his video having been viewed more than 10 million times by mid-January 2013, less than a month after the murders.

Nope, Alex didn’t care, but can you even imagine what it must have been like for the parents of those murdered children?  They lost the most precious part of their lives, and then to hear this nutcase say it never happened?  I remember now why I thought he was too evil for an IOTW post.  But it didn’t end there.  Jones’ claims that the ‘deep state’ government orchestrated the ‘event’ in order to justify shutting down or repealing the 2nd Amendment were as nothing as compared to what came next.

In a March 2014 broadcast, speaking of the parents of the murdered children in Newtown, Jones said …

“Undoubtedly, there’s a cover-up, there’s actors, they’re manipulating, they’ve been caught lying, and they were pre-planning before it.” 

He has accused the families of the murdered children of being paid actors, of lying and the media of staging coverage with green-screen video technology.  Does Jones even belief this himself?  I seriously doubt it … any more than I think Leonard Nimoy believed he was on the Starship Enterprise saving the world from evil.  (All you Trekkies out there, please forgive me for my blasphemy!)  But it got attention, it had entertainment value, and Fox, InfoWars and Jones were making money.

Today, a few of those parents stand a good chance of getting a bit of their own justice.

Leonard Pozner and his former wife, Veronique De La Rosa, parents of 6-year-old Noah Pozner who died in the shooting, have filed a lawsuit in Travis County District Court in Austin, Texas, where Jones lives and InfoWars is broadcast.  A second lawsuit, also in Travis County District Court, has been filed by Neil Heslin, father of murdered 6-year-old Jesse Lewis.  Both lawsuits are based on comments Jones made just last year in a segment on his radio show called “Sandy Hook Vampires Exposed,” which aired on April 22, 2017, as well as other broadcasts he has done over the 5-year period since the murders.  Four-and-a-half years later, and Jones was still milking this tragedy for all he could, bringing new waves of grief to the parents.  And not only grief over their lost children, but threats and obscene phone calls & letters.  One such threat was by 57-year-old Lucy Richards, who last June pleaded guilty to issuing death threats to Leonard Pozner, for she was convinced by Alex Jones’ taunts that the entire thing was a hoax and that the parents of the slain children were lying.  Ms. Richards is now serving a five-month prison term.

Noah Pozner

Jesse Lewis

The lawsuits contend the defendants acted with malice and their defamatory publications have injured the plaintiffs’ reputation and image and that they have exposed them to “public and private hatred, contempt, and ridicule.” Both lawsuits are for a minimum of $1 million, a paltry sum for Jones, whose net worth is estimated at between $7 million and $10 million.

I am a firm supporter of the 1st Amendment, the right to freedom of speech, the press, and religion.  However, I do not support unlimited free speech, nor does the law.  Remember Pizzagate, another of Jones wild conspiracy theories?  People almost died because one man actually believed his fantasies.  I hope these parents win their lawsuits, if for no other reason than to send a message to Fox and other media outlets that allow such pure garbage as Jones puts forth.  The message needs to be that there are limits, there is accountability, and the media has a responsibility to be truthful, else to label fiction as just that – fiction.  I think networks such as Fox and Breitbart that allow … nay, encourage … such falsehoods, should be obligated to label them as such, to present a clear and bold disclaimer that “what you are about to see is not based on fact, but is for entertainment purposes only.”

Jones is also being sued by Brennan Gilmore, who received death threats after Jones maliciously and incorrectly claimed Gilmore was a CIA operative who helped stage the scenario where a driver plunged into a group of protestors in Charlottesville, Virginia last year, killing Heather Heyer.

Alex Jones is not at all a nice man, not even a decent human being, for he puts forth his theories in order to make money, with no thought as to the lives he is endangering, the grief he is causing.  I would very much like to see Fox decide that he isn’t worth the trouble, but since he brings in the money, that is unlikely.  It is also unlikely that the public will tire of his garbage and tune out, or wise up and realize that he is not a newscaster, not an analyst, but merely an entertainer.

One final thought:  Donald Trump has praised Alex Jones, saying “Your reputation is amazing. I will not let you down.”  Perhaps Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, the one who also represents conspiracy theorist Sean Hannity, will take on Jones’ case. Think on that one for a while …