Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Banning speech at the funeral of the Arizona victums

Tragedy visited Arizona over the weekend. A representative of congress was seriously wounded and 6 others were killed. The gunman’s motives are unclear right now and may never really be known.
The debate after all of this is about the freedom of speech. The representative that was wounded was the focus of harsh comments by many that didn’t agree with her politically. The question that is being tossed around the media is what responsibility do those that preach political hate have? The answer for many is none. Political pundits and talk show hosts, many say, are just exercising their freedom of speech and should in no way be connected with what this young man did in Arizona. Even though his actions killed people, the freedom of speech should be protected at all costs.

Well, unless of course, politics get in the way.

Members of the Westboro Baptist Church from Topeka, Kansas will be in town for the funeral of Christina Taylor Green, a 9 year old girl that was one of the people that were killed. The church group is most famous for showing up at the funerals of veterans suggesting that the reason they died was because the United States accepts the gay lifestyle, as well as other issues. This time, they will arrive because “God sent the shooter to deal with idolatrous America.”

The Westboro Baptist Church is the focus of a Supreme Court case about the freedom of speech. Last fall, they argued that they have the right to express their opinion and should not have to pay damages to the father of a veteran that they picketed. That case is expected to be released sometime this Spring.

Lawmakers in Arizona have now crafted a law that will not allow the members of the Westboro Baptist Church from picketing the funeral of the little girl. The lawmakers suspended most of the rules to make this happen before the funeral. Jan Brewer, the governor of Arizona, signed the bill.

Even if every last person in Arizona agrees with the law banning the picketers, that doesn’t make it right. You can’t on one side of the argument defend the freedom of speech, then, make laws that limit the freedom of speech for no other reason than because it is uncomfortable.

The Westboro Church group may make us cringe to think that anyone would want to turn a funeral into a political statement and not respect the deep sorrow of the families of the 9 year old girl. The Westboro Church, though, at the very least broaden the limits of our freedoms. The lawmakers that are worked so hard at banning the Westboro group are limiting our freedoms in ways that may come to haunt us in the future.

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Politicians need to open about their income and contributions

Jack is the owner of a diner in Pontiac. He services up good food to working class people from the neighborhood and others that work in the area.

Jack immigrated to the United States from Iraq between the wars. He has known first hand corrupt politicians and officials. He lived under a dictatorship that only held elections to appease the voters. Where money came from to run campaigns and pay people was not known. That is no way to run a government he would often say.

When he came to America, Jack just knew things would be different. He quickly adds that it wasn’t the money. It was the way the government is run. But, it hasn’t turned out like he thought.

“They are all corrupt,” he was ranting the other day. “Every politician that is elected is corrupt.”

Thinking he meant the local politicians and officials from the city, I begin to quiz him about what he was really saying. There may be a few corrupt people working in Pontiac, but for the most part they are just everyday people.

“No, I don’t mean them…” he said with a roll of his eyes. “I am talking about everyone that goes to Washington.”

He must of seen my own roll of the eyes. Seems that most people think politicians are corrupt, even though they don’t have any proof. Everyday people, just like those that come into his diner, knows it for a fact… mostly because everyone else thinks so.

“Look, every time Verizon, or GM or some other big corporation gives money to one side, they give money to the other side,” he started explaining. “If they were giving money for the right reasons, they wouldn’t give money to both sides. Do you think anyone in this restaurant right now would give money to someone if it weren’t in their best interest?”

“This was a hard working class of people, they won’t give any of the little money they do have if it wasn’t for something good,” I had to admit. “But, giving campaign contributions is legal. It isn’t corrupt if it is legal. Besides, the Supreme Court said not only can they, but they don’t have to reveal themselves to the public.”

“But, the outcome is the same,” he challenged back with a growing passion. This was clearly a subject he had strong feelings about. “If I kill someone, it doesn’t matter if it was legal, the person is still dead. It is the same here. Politicians go to Washington and even if they don’t want to, they learn how to be corrupt.”

Jack’s words were harsh and passionate. But, his comparative approach to his home country and the United States did have merit. If the contributions to a politician come from a business or organization that disagreed with his or her political positions, most politicians will still take the money. Not that they can be blamed. Even the most honest politician knows that it takes money, and lots of it, to run a campaign. Politicians that have little money because they take limited contributions from only individuals most always loses to the one with lots and lots of money.

We as individual voters, not unlike all the people that eat lunch at Jack’s, need to know where that money is coming from for campaigns. It doesn’t matter what the Supreme Court says. If we as voters will not support a candidate, even if they take positions we agree with, unless they reveal all their sources, it would stop.

An example is Carol Moseley Braun. She is one of six candidates, including ex-White House Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, who made the cut yesterday in the run for Mayor of Chicago. She first said she wouldn’t release here income tax records. Then, changed her mind and did release them. But, now, she refuses to release details about her income.

If open government has any meaning, it means that the lives of politicians lose a lot of privacy when they run for office. Just as it should since they are suppose to be representing people, just like us, at Jack’s.

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Monday, January 10, 2011

6 gunned dead in Arizona, including a 9 year old girl

A shooting in Arizona brings back the debate about the freedom of speech and foreseeable harm that may result.

It was just two weeks ago a post was made on this blog about a disgusting man who wrote a book to help pedophiles. (The pedophile's book is free speech)  A sheriff in Florida sent deputies to Colorado to arrest him because the author had sold a book via mail order to the deputies. Charged with breaking Florida’s obscenities laws, the author’s defense lawyer claimed the book is protected speech. The conservative Republican sheriff’s response was that it is speech, but speech and words have consequences and can cause some to take action that can cause harm.

The blog took the side of freedom of speech, but hoped that someone could find a way to censor the author’s book without damaging one of the most important freedoms of all, the freedom of speech.

Sunday, six people were killed and a Democratic congresswomen was left with a bullet wound to her brain by a 22 year old gunman.  (Congresswoman still sedated after gunman’s attack; second person of interest sought) The congresswoman was one of the 20 districts that Sarah Palin had targeted on her website, with cross hairs like that of a gun site.  (We diagnosed the problem... )Others across the country, using a variety of media as their outlet, have also expressed in very vitriolic rhetoric, their hatred of people that disagree with their opinions in politics. The sharpness of political debate has come to the edge if not just crossing the line of speech that has consequences.

There are plenty of people with personalities that are easily manipulated. Political opinion leaders in the media know it well. They have built their careers, and filled their pockets, on the loyal readership, viewers and audience that follow their every word. As was suggested by the sheriff in Florida, speech can provide the justification needed to lead some to take action that they might not have otherwise.

This rhetoric flows in a circle. The opinion leader makes expressions that pulls in the audience. The audience then responds with their own harsh comments. That is then echoed back and forth until the debate loses any rational basis, leaving only the hate. In the last Presidential election, Senator John McCain stopped the echo when he shut down a woman in a televised town hall meeting. To his credit, he brought back the debate from the edge. Political opinion leaders need to do the same.

Political debate has always been hot. But, the opinion leaders’ venomous expressions have taken a sharp turn to the edge of lunacy. It will be difficult to find that line between freedom of speech and criminal activity. But to continue without backing up from the edge means that the expressions of some will be like the man that yells “fire” in a crowded theater or incites a riot. The freedom of speech ends when as a result, there is foreseeable harm.

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