Friday, April 27, 2012

Advertisements Do Not Equate to Endorsements

When I looked at this blog online a few minutes ago, I noticed an advertisement for Richard Mourdock for US Senate. Gag! Please recognize that I do not control the ads that Google places on my site. I’m actually tempted to cancel the ads (after all, I’ve earned a whopping $4.89 in ad revenue since I started this blog back in December 2007). But, on the off chance that someone wants to click through and help me earn a few bucks, I’m going to leave the ads up for now. Hint. Hint.

But please, please understand, that the appearance of a candidate, issue, or product in an advertisement on this blog is not indicative of an endorsement by me of that candidate, issue, or product. Rather, it is an automated placement made by Google on the basis of the topics and keywords it finds in my posts.

If I endorse a candidate or product, I will say so directly!

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Mississippi’s Governor: Stupid, Evil, or Both?

This is almost hard to process. Here is Mississippi’s Republican Governor Phil Bryant speaking on a conservative radio show:

Did you catch what he said at about 0:34?

Even if you believe in abortion, the hypocrisy of the left that now tried to kill this bill, that says that I should have never signed it, the true hypocrisy is that their one mission in life is to abort children, is to kill children in the womb. And it doesn’t really matter, they don’t care if the mother’s life is in jeopardy, that if something goes wrong that a doctor can’t admit them to a local hospital, that he’s not even board certified.

(Emphasis added.)

See, that comes as news to me. I’m a supporter of a woman’s right to reproductive choice. I didn’t know that my “one mission in life is to abort children, is to kill children in the womb.” And please recognize that this statement isn’t from some fringe candidate or a spokesperson for the anti-choice lobby. No. This is the sitting governor of the State of Mississippi.

I don’t really want to spend any time discussing the substance of the bill being addressed, other than to say that it is one of the standard sort of anti-choice bills that we’ve seen in Indiana and across the country that seek to ban abortions via stealth. In the case of the Mississippi bill, abortions could only be performed by a board certified OB-GYN with admitting privileges at a local hospital. As Huffington Post and other have noted:

While all of the physicians at the one clinic in the state are currently board certified OB-GYNs, only one of them has admitting privileges at a local hospital. The other two physicians can't get privileges because they live out of state, and the owner of the clinic has said it can't operate with only one doctor on staff.

For what it’s worth, I wrote about bills like this several years ago: IN Touch: Abortion Ruse and Keep Your Religious Doctrine Out of My State's Laws (scroll down to the section on Hospital Privileges).

Perhaps Gov. Bryant should focus on real problems. For example, according to the most recent data that I could find, Mississippi ranks worst in the US in infant mortality (10.6 per 1,000 live births; by comparison, Louisiana ranks second worst with 9.9 per 1,000 live births, Indiana is 10th with 8.0 per 1,000, and Washington, Massachusetts, and California are the best, with 4.7, 4.9, and 5.0, respectively). Mississippi also ranks 48th in number of doctors (177.9 per 100,000 residents), ranks 48th in the percentage of people 25 or over with a bachelor’s degree (19.4 percent), and ranks 48th in the average salary of school teachers. I tried to find statistics for things like rape, incest, and so forth, but that information wasn’t as readily accessible.

But back to the main point. Does Gov. Bryant really believe that the “one mission in life” of pro-choice advocates — or of the much broader “left” that he cites — “is to abort children, is to kill children in the womb”? Seriously? Because if he really believes that he is either stupid or evil (or maybe both).

We can’t allow elected leaders to use such divisive, such over-the-top, such antagonistic language without calling out their behavior. We’ve seen abortion providers killed; we’ve seen clinics bombed. What sort of reaction might the most hardcore (and slightly unbalanced) in the anti-choice community do now that they’ve heard the Governor of Mississippi proclaim that choice advocates and those on the left have, as their “one mission in life” to “abort children” and “kill children in the womb”.

I wrote the bulk of this post earlier in the week. And then I sat on it. There was more that I wanted to say … but frankly (and a bit out of character) I was at a loss for words. I really want to write more on this. But I’m so disgusted that I’m just going to stop now before I say something even more harsh.


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And in the Ongoing War on Women…

Prominent Republicans like Speaker John Boehner, Sen. Mitch McConnell, Sen. John McCain, and Republican National Committee Chair Reince Preibus tell us that there is no Republican war on women, though I’m not sure how much attention you want to pay to Preibus given that in his effort to prove that the war on women was a fiction, he chose to compare women to caterpillars. Um. OK. So I guess their claims help un-explain some of the recent events in the war on women.

For example, yesterday, the Senate voted 68-31 to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. Guess what? Every Democrat voted in favor of the legislation. But you know what else? All five Republican women in the Senate also voted in favor of the reauthorization. Or, if we want to look at it a bit differently, all 38 votes against the bill were cast by Republican men. Interestingly, of the two Republican senators often mentioned as a potential vice presidential candidate, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Florida) voted against reauthorization while Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) voted in favor.

The fact that there isn’t a war against women probably explains why the Republican dominated Wisconsin legislature passed — and the Republican Governor signed — a bill to eliminate Wisconsin’s equal pay law. One of the bill’s Republican supporters helpfully noted that women don’t care about money as much as men. Nope. That doesn’t sound like a shot in the war on women. Not at all.

And it is the deep concern that some Republicans have for women that must explain why Florida Gov. Rick Scott used his line item veto to strip from the state’s budget $1.5 million for rape crisis centers. He’s obviously expressing his deep concern for the women of Florida who aren’t raped by saving them a handful of tax dollars.

I’m sure that presumptive GOP candidate Mitt Romney has helped to make it clear that there isn’t a Republican war on women by choosing as his campaign’s judicial advisor none other than Judge Robert Bork who, according to this recent article in Huffington Post (internal links omitted):

hopes to wipe out not only the constitutional right to privacy, especially the right to contraception and to abortion, but decades of Equal Protection decisions handed down by what he calls a feminized Supreme Court deploying “sterile feminist logic” to guarantee equal treatment and inclusion of women. Bork is no casual chauvinist but rather a sworn enemy of feminism, a political force that he considers “totalitarian” and in which, he has concluded, “the extremists are the movement.”

So that is the judicial philosophy upon which Romney will be making decision. Noted. I’d love to hear Romney answer whether he agrees with Judge Bork’s views on feminism. Actually, I’d love to hear Ann Romney explain whether she agrees with Judge Bork’s views on feminism.

Should you happen to hear Mitt Romney claim that President Obama is conducting his own war against women, you might want to consider something provable by empirical evidence: Mitt Romney is full of BS. You see, Romney keeps claiming that President Obama’s policies have caused harm to women and, as proof, claims that 92% of jobs lost under President Obama have been women. Not so fast, say those who actually study issues like this. I won’t take the time to dive into the numbers, but it’s worth taking some time to read what and (which rated Romney’s claim “mostly false”)have to say. But this chart is worth noting.

While I’m talking about Mitt Romney, I can’t forget his wife Ann’s comment several days ago, especially given her role in the faux controversy stirred by Hillary Rosen’s boneheaded remark about Ann Romney not working a day in her life (recall, that Rosen was really talking about working for a wage outside the home). So after telling people that Rosen’s comment was like a “birthday present” Ann Romney waded back into the issue of working women and said (emphasis added):

I love the fact that there are women out there who don’t have a choice and they must go to work and they still have to raise the kids. Thank goodness that we value those people too. And sometimes life isn’t easy for any of us.

She loves that there are women who “don’t have a choice and they must go to work”? Wait, what?

I can’t remember if I touched on this before, but women visiting Arizona need to be very careful now. Why? Well, under the new law adopted in Arizona to help further limit access to abortions, the state now considers that a pregnancy commenced “from the first day of the last menstrual period of the pregnant woman”. In other words, in Arizona, a woman can be considered pregnant before she has a fertilized egg or, I suppose, without even having sex. For a bit more on the war on women on the reproductive rights front, check out the list of bills noted in this Huffington Post article.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the dismissive response of Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Illinois) about his Democratic challenger Tammy Duckworth. Perhaps you will recall Rep. Walsh; I posted a video of his wife taking him to task for his unpaid child support obligations. By contrast, Duckworth, while serving in Iraq, lost the lower part of both legs and had her right arm partially destroyed when the helicopter she was co-piloting was shot down. Following her recovery, Duckworth was the Director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs and Assistant Secretary for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs in the United States Department of Veterans Affairs. So what did Rep. Walsh have to say about her? Well, in response to a statement in which he seemed to make light of her military service and failed to acknowledge her government service, Rep. Walsh, showing a classic streak of chivalry, said, “What else has she done? Female, wounded veteran … ehhh.”

Nope. Clearly there is no such thing as a war on women. Nope. Nothing to see. Move along, move along.

Oh, and remember how I mentioned that Sen. Mitch McConnell thinks that the war on women isn’t real? His specific claim was that the war on women was “manufactured issue”. In support of that proposition, Sen. McConnell said:

There is no issue. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison and Kelly Ayotte from New Hampshire and Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe from Maine I think would be the first to say — and Lisa Murkowski from Alaska — “we don’t see any evidence of this.”

But guess what? Yup. You know what’s coming… Three of the five senators McConnell mentions came out, in one way or another, and essentially agreed that there is a war on women. For example, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) said regarding the debate over women’s access to contraception that:

I feel like it’s a retro-debate that took place in the 1950s… It’s sort of back to the future, isn’t it? And it is surprising in the 21st century we would be revisiting this issue.

Similarly, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) talked about her support for Planned Parenthood. But best of all are the comments from Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) who first expressed regret over her vote for the Blunt amendment (the amendment that would have permitted businesses to withhold contraception coverage on religious or moral grounds) and said “I have never had a vote I’ve taken where I have felt that I let down more people that believed in me”. Then, a few days later, in response to claims by Republican men — like Sen. McConnell — that here is no war on women, said:

It makes no sense to make this attack on women… If you don’t feel this is an attack, you need to go home and talk to your wife and your daughters.

“Attack”. Her word. Not mine. Hmm. Doesn’t the use of the word “attack” sort of bring to mind … um … oh, I don’t know … maybe, um, like … a war? On women.

Stay tuned for future episodes. Same Bat Time. Same Bat Channel. (Look it up if you’re too young…)

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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Who Shares Responsibility for Educating Children Attending Public Schools?

My children are in sixth grade at Clay Middle School (part of Carmel Clay Schools). Prior to last week, I’d never had any real cause to examine the student handbook provided to Clay students. But then my daughter came home upset about the school’s intent to adopt a more rigorous enforcement regime for its dress code. I looked at the dress code to see what upset her and, while much of the dress code seems appropriate and reasonable, a few elements seem to go a bit too far. But that is a discussion for another day.

Instead, I want to focus on something else that I discovered in the student handbook. I decided, after the discussion over the dress code, to see what else the handbook might say. I didn’t get very far before my blood began to boil (or at least simmer slightly):


In stating our philosophy for Clay Middle we would like to quote from the Carmel-Clay Policies Book:

Recognizing that the purpose of education is to help the individual to develop his potential in order that he might achieve and maintain a positive status in a rapidly changing democratic society, we believe Carmel Clay Schools must provide a program of activities covering all phases of growth.

We are concerned with helping every individual develop to the highest degree his intellectual capacities, with due regard for physical, moral, and social aspects of individual development, in an atmosphere of self-disciplined behavior.

We believe it is the responsibility of the school to maintain the fundamental concepts of American democracy by instruction, example, and practice. We further believe that education is a continuing process, and that the responsibility of educating must be the combined effort of the school, the church, and the home.

All activities, curricular and co-curricular, should be educational experiences designed to promote constructive growth of the individual.

Finally, we believe administrators, teachers, and parents must motivate and guide each student to think logically, positively, and actively for the enrichment of himself and of the society in which he lives.

By and large, that Philosophy is commendable. But did you pick upon the part that prompted this post? Here it is again (emphasis added):

We further believe that education is a continuing process, and that the responsibility of educating must be the combined effort of the school, the church, and the home.

Oh, really? The responsibility for educating our children must include the efforts of the church?

So I decided to do a bit of research and see what the Carmel Clay Policies Book has to say given that it is being quoted for Clay Middle School’s philosophy. Sure enough, the exact same sentence is found in the Policies Book. Well, now. To quote a certain church lady, isn’t that special?

OK. So I can already hear some of you saying, “Gee, what’s the big deal?” Simple. The school (or the school system) has no business pushing off any responsibility onto “the church”. Certainly a parent can choose to place responsibility for some portion of the child’s education on to a church. And I suppose a student can make that determination, too. But the school should not be devolving responsibility to or sharing responsibility with a church.

Why not? Several reasons.

First, let’s recall the First Amendment and the separation of church and state. The school is an arm of the state. It is the job of the school to educate children. At least as far as the structure of our political system is designed, it is not the job of the church to educate children; children are obligated to attend school but they are not obligated to attend a house of worship (or even to believe in a deity). Furthermore, by suggesting that the church plays a role in the combined effort of educating children, aren’t the school and school system essentially endorsing the participation by students in religious affiliation, if not observance? Is that the role of the school and school board?

And how does this belief in the responsibility of the church impact students who are not affiliated with a church or who are … gasp … atheists? Are those students only receiving two-thirds of the education that the school and school system believe are necessary? Remember, the Philosophy uses the commandment “must” not just a simple suggestion like “should”.

It’s probably worth recalling what Article 1 of Indiana’s Constitution has to say:

Section 3. No law shall, in any case whatever, control the free exercise and enjoyment of religious opinions, or interfere with the rights of conscience.

Section 4. No preference shall be given, by law, to any creed, religious society, or mode of worship; and no person shall be compelled to attend, erect, or support, any place of worship, or to maintain any ministry, against his consent.

Perhaps even more important is Article 8 of Indiana’s Constitution (you did know that Indiana’s Constitution has an entire article dealing with public education, right?):

Section 1. Knowledge and learning, generally diffused throughout a community, being essential to the preservation of a free government; it shall be the duty of the General Assembly to encourage, by all suitable means, moral, intellectual, scientific, and agricultural improvement; and to provide, by law, for a general and uniform system of Common Schools, wherein tuition shall be without charge, and equally open to all.

Hmm. You know what I don’t see in Article 8 Section 1 of the Indiana Constitution? I don’t see a reliance upon or belief that the church is a necessary component to the education of Hoosier children or that the responsibility for teaching students must include the church. (Of course, I’m not sure that my kids are getting much of an “agricultural improvement” either, though that omission is just fine by me…)

And why do the school and school system believe that the church has responsibility for educating children? What is the church teaching that the school is not? What is the church teaching that parents are not? If your answer is that the church is “teaching morals” or some such, then I would ask you the following questions: First, why isn’t the school and why aren’t parents teaching those morals? Sorry, but I have a hard time believing that children are going to learn sound morals from a stranger at church if those morals are not also taught and reinforced in the home … and school. Second, does that mean that someone who is either not affiliated with a church or who does not believe in a deity cannot learn morals due to the absence of a church? Or is there something that the school and school system think that churches are teaching that is valuable to children but which the schools can’t teach? Hmm.

Let’s see. Schools teach math, science, history, languages, writing, reading, art, athletics, music, and so on and so forth. So what is that schools aren’t or can’t teach that the church can? Hmm. Let’s think. What could it be? Might it be, you know, just perhaps, religion? Which brings me back to the original point. Is it appropriate for the government, in the form of a school or school board, to be advocating religious belief, affiliation, or education? I don’t think so. If parents want their children to receive a religious education to supplement (or in place of) the education offered by the public schools they are free to do so. But, by the same token, if parents don’t choose to inculcate their children with religious belief or to provide supplementary religious education, then isn’t that fine, too? Why must (in the word of the school system and school) a student’s education include a religious education?

Moreover, ask yourself this: Why is it just the church that bears a share of the responsibility for educating a child? Why not the Girls Scouts and Boy Scouts (well, other than that whole notion that the Girl Scouts are a communist front for Planned Parenthood…)? Schools aren’t teaching kids how to tie knots, row a canoe, or build a fire. So shouldn’t the involvement of scouts to help children learn those sorts of skills be added to the educational responsibility roll? What about cotillion or dance schools? I’m pretty sure that public schools aren’t teaching children how to waltz (square dance, maybe), but that seems like an important skill that children ought not miss. Should it be reflected in the school’s philosophy, too? What about skills like self-defense or even marksmanship? Should those be part of the educational philosophy? And, perhaps most importantly, what about the logical skills involved in debunking someone else’s religious beliefs? Are those skills being taught in school? Hmm. I know that a lot of parents want us to “teach” controversies like intelligent design or avoid things like global warming. Should we be “teaching the controversy” that argues for or against the existence of a deity? Should the school be teaching which religions are “real” or even “right”? If the school thinks the church is an important component of the educational process, the it seems that the inverse of that is also important.

And it’s worth noting the sentence that immediately precedes the one with which I’ve taken issue:

We believe it is the responsibility of the school to maintain the fundamental concepts of American democracy by instruction, example, and practice.

It would seem that by advocating for the involvement of the church in the educational process, the school and school system are violating “the fundamental concept[] of American democracy” by ignoring the constitutional separation of church and state.

As I was finishing this post, I decided to take a few more minutes and peruse the handbooks for some of the other Carmel Clay schools. Creekside Middle School has the same sentence in its handbook but neither Carmel Middle School nor Carmel High School do (I searched for the word “church”; I didn’t read the entire handbook). But each of those latter two schools have something in their handbooks missing from both the Clay Middle School and Creekside Middle School handbooks:

Diversity Statement

As a member of the Carmel Clay school community, Carmel High School is dedicated to fostering an environment which promotes education and well being regardless of ability, age, appearance, gender, nationality, race, religion, sexual orientation, and socio-economic status. All educational programs, activities, and interactions are enriched by celebrating uniqueness as well as commonalities. Respect for human diversity will be encouraged, followed, and enforced by the Carmel Clay schools.

Carmel Clay Schools is committed to equal opportunity and does not discriminate on the basis of age, race, color, religion, sex, disabling conditions, or national origin including limited English proficiency.

(From the Carmel High School Student Handbook.) I didn’t take the time to look at the handbooks of the elementary schools. In case you’re wondering, the Carmel Clay Policies Book does include a section on nondiscrimination and equal access.

I’m not sure what, if anything, to make of the fact that the two schools that do have a diversity statement do not have the sentence denoting the responsibility of the church in a student’s education while the two schools that do include responsibility of the church do not have a diversity statement. To quote Arsenio Hall: “Things that make you go, hmmm.”

Updated April 27, 2012 to correct an ugly typo.

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Friday, April 20, 2012

Mitt Romney, Ted Nugent, Dana Loesch, the Politics of Hate, and the Fear of the Voting Base

I’m reluctantly wading back in to several topics that I’ve written about in recent weeks (and a theme that has permeated this blog since its inception). Let me start by revisiting, briefly, the remarks made by Democratic pundit and strategist Hillary Rosen last week when she inarticulately suggested that Mitt Romney’s wife Ann had not “worked a day in her life” (when, what Rosen was really talking about, was work outside of the home). As I pointed out in my post Insults, Apologies, and the False Equivalency in the War of Words, within hours after making her statement, David Axelrod (President Obama’s chief political strategist) and Jim Messina (President Obama’s campaign chair) both expressed outrage at Rosen’s comment. And within twenty-four hours, President Obama personally took issue with Rosen’s comment and spoke at some length about the issue.

And, before I go further, please remember that Rosen’s statement, though inarticulate, was actually addressed at a substantive issue.

Now let’s compare how Mitt Romney and his campaign respond to outrageous comments. First, again as I related in Insults, Apologies, and False Equivalency in the War of Words, when Rush Limbaugh went on his three day orgy or rage against a student who was concerned with access to birth control for healthcare reasons, calling her a “slut” and “prostitute”, suggesting that she began having sex in middle school, alleging that she had so much sex she couldn’t afford birth control, and requesting that she send him videotapes of her sexual encounters, what did Mitt Romney have to say?

I’ll just say this, which is, it’s not the language I would have used.

Um, gee, Mitt. What language would you have used? Note that Romney doesn’t take issue with the substance of Limbaugh’s attacks on Sandra Fluke. He doesn’t say, “Gee, Rush, you were lying because Ms. Fluke never discussed her sex life,” or “Rush, a personal attack against a woman testifying about healthcare needs is inappropriate.” Nope. Romney just said Rush’s attack was “not the language I would have used.” Would Romney have substituted “tramp” for “slut” or maybe “harlot” for “prostitute”? Would he have asked for a DVD instead of a video? Would he have claimed that Fluke began having sex in junior high instead of middle school?

Why didn’t Romney issue a harsher condemnation of Limbaugh’s attacks? Could it be that Romney, like many others on the right, are afraid of Limbaugh? Could it be that Romney is afraid that, should he criticize Limbaugh too much, he’ll wind up alienating the Republican base that he needs come November? Could it be that he recognizes that many of those whose votes he is relying on believe the sorts of things that Rush said and that to call out those comments would suggest to his voting base that they are wrong?

And, before I go further, ask yourself the degree to which Rosen’s one-time comment about Ann Romney and work is comparable to Limbaugh’s three day diatribe about Fluke being a slut, prostitute, etc. I think that Rosen’s one comment is not even in the same proverbial ballpark of offensiveness. Does anyone disagree?

Which brings me to this past weekend and the comments from ’70s era rock star Ted Nugent who is known for some of his highly inflammatory rhetoric. But before diving into what Nugent said, let’s first remember this: Nugent publicly endorsed Mitt Romney after the two spoke on the phone for a while and discussed issues that were important to Nugent. In my mind, that makes Nugent more than just a run-of-the-mill celebrity endorser; after all, how many people are able to get Romney to spend time discussing issues with them on the phone? And the Romney camp (which now claims that they didn’t “seek” Nugent’s endorsement) was certainly thrilled when they got it, as evidenced by the gleeful tweet from Tagg Romney on March 2, 2012: “Ted Nugent endorsed my Dad today. Ted Nugent? How cool is that?! He joins Kid Rock as great Detroit musicians on team Mitt! (the tweet has now been deleted from Twitter … hmm, I wonder why?). Romney’s own comments about the endorsement? On a radio interview shortly afterward, Romney said, “it’s been fun getting to know Ted”.

Of course, one might wonder about why the Romney campaign would welcome Nugent’s endorsement in the first place (or why Romney would want to get to know him), given some of Nugent’s prior “colorful” commentary such as:

Those are but three of many, many, many examples.*

But Nugent did endorse Romney and the Romney campaign welcomed that endorsement. So how does the Romney campaign respond to Nugent’s most recent outrageous comments at last weekend’s National Rifle Association convention (watch the video or read the transcript below; I’ve highlighted my “favorite” parts):

We've got people from every walk of life here. These people are NRA members because they know that we left the slave lands of tyranny, and we came to a new land, and our founding fathers wrote down self-evident truths.

But each and every person in here, I hope they grasp that their current membership and their activism is only good. And if you were a good bass player, you couldn't be in my band. 'Cause where I come from, good sucks. You gotta be one stone-cold hell-raisin' bad mofo to hang out with Uncle Ted.

And in order to be one stone-cold, hell-raisin' bad mofo, each and every one of you — if you can't get a couple of hundred people each, each of you — some of you, I bet you can get a couple thousand. Your goal should be to be able to get a couple of thousand people, per person who's here, to vote for Mitt Romney in November.

Because if you don't galvanize people who really understand an experiment in self-government, and understand the U.S. Constitution — there are flag-draped coffins coming home right now of heroes in the military, who took a vow, a pledge to defend and uphold the U.S. Constitution.* If that dead Marine isn't worth it to you to demand that the enemies in the White House are ousted, then you probably ought to just move to France. It's that serious.

If you don't know that our government is wiping its ass with the Constitution, you're living under a rock someplace. And that there's a dead soldier, an airman, a Marine, a seaman, a hero of the military that just got his legs blown off for the U.S. Constitution, and we've got a president and attorney general who doesn't even like the Constitution. We’ve got four Supreme Court justices who don’t believe in the Constitution.

Does everybody know here that four of the Supreme Court justices not only determined you don’t have the right to keep and bear arms, four Supreme Court justices signed their name to a declaration that Americans have no fundamental right to self-defense. That sounds like a stoned hippie. That doesn’t sound like a Supreme Court anything. It sounds like a supremely intellectually vacuous punk. To think that a human could think that humans don't have a basic right to self-defense is so bizarre to me — as to — my brain can't accept the information. And if you want more of those kinds of evil, anti-American people on the Supreme Court, then don't get involved, and let Obama take office again.

Because I'll tell you this right now: If Barack Obama becomes the president in November, again, I will either be dead or in jail by this time next year. Why are you laughing? Do you think that's funny? That's not funny at all. I'm serious as a heart attack.

So, being at the NRA event, God bless you, good indicator, but if you can't go home and get everybody in your lives to clean house in this vile, evil, America-hating administration, I don't even know what you're made out of. And if you're taking offense at that, tough. I see warriors amongst us. I see people who get it. You made a lot of sacrifices to be here at NRA. It was a long trip for a lot of you. You're giving up valuable time to make a statement for freedom. If you can't galvanize and promote and recruit people to vote for Mitt Romney, we're done. We'll be a suburb of Indonesia next year.

Our president, attorney general, our vice president, Hillary Clinton, they're criminals. They're criminals. That guy on the radio the other day said, 'Well, name the crimes.' About 10 minutes later, I said, "Have you had enough?" I mean, who doesn't know the crimes our government is committing?

So, God bless you for being here. I feel a positive energy. But turn up the heat. Take this energy and this belief in freedom home with you, and get everybody you know to get involved and engaged. Because it isn't the enemy that ruined America. It's good people who bent over and let the enemy in. If the coyote's in your living room, pissing on your couch, it's not the coyote's fault. It's your fault for not shooting him.

So, it's an important time. So, you're talking about exhibits, you're talking about hardware and ammo and everyone's fondling sporting goods and everybody's got a big old sexy grin on their face 'cause they're surrounded by ballistic celebration — that's cool. But what I feel in this room, is I feel this: I'm not taking this crap anymore. I've about had it. Leave my damned paycheck alone. Unless you can be accountable, you get nothing. And if you take that adamant, we-the-people defiance — remember, we're Americans because we defied the king. We didn't negotiate and compromise with the king. We defied the emperors. We are patriots. We are Braveheart. We need to ride into that battlefield and chop their heads off in November. Any questions?

(Transcript via Politifact.)

Note that these comments were so outrageous, so over-the-top, that the Secret Service interviewed Nugent yesterday. Apparently the Secret Service isn’t terribly keen on obviously violent rhetoric directed at the President. And while no charges were filed, it’s not everybody who gets a visit from the Secret Service (well, other than Colombian hookers).

So, did Mitt Romney step up to a podium and castigate Nugent for his comments? Did he reject the endorsement? (Remember in 2008 when Sen. John McCain rejected the endorsement of Pastor John Hagee after news broke of Hagee’s claim that the Holocaust was caused by G-d and his reference to the Catholic church as the “great whore”?) When faced with Nugent’s outrageous comments, did Romney follow Sen. McCain’s example or have a Bill Clinton “Sister Souljah” moment? Did Romney say “gee, I really want people to vote for me, but I don’t welcome people who express support for me through hate speech”? Did pigs fly beside the Space Shuttle as it landed in Washington earlier this week? No. Here’s what Mitt Romney had to say (speaking through a spokesperson and not on his own) about Nugent’s comments. I hope you’re braced for this harsh condemnation:

Divisive language is offensive no matter what side of the political aisle it comes from,” said Romney spokesperson Andrea Saul. “Mitt Romney believes everyone needs to be civil.”

Wow! The leadership that Romney exhibits in situations like this is just stunning isn’t it? Of course, I bet that we are expected to believe that Romney will be much more forceful in dealing with Vladimir Putin or Mahmoud Achmedinajad, right? How about a big campaign contributor that wants something from President Romney? I mean, think about it for a minute. First, Romney didn’t address the comments; his spokesperson did. And even then, she couldn’t just condemn Nugent’s comments or even try to distance the Romney campaign from Nugent. Nope. All that she could do was talk about divisive language from both sides. Um, when the Romney campaign was firing at the Democrats for Hillary Rosen’s comments, did they talk about what Rosen said and the attack on Ann Romney (ignoring all sorts of right-wing attacks on Michelle Obama, for example) or did they talk about “divisive language” from both sides? Exactly.

Romney is too scared of alienating those who latch onto comments like Nugent’s. If he pushes away those voters who love hearing people talking about killing President Obama (even if metaphorically) or calling he and the others in his administration “evil” or “criminals” or “anti-American”, then who exactly will be left to vote for Romney? I just hope that independent voters understand how damaging this kind of speech and response (or lack thereof) is to our system of government and the civil discourse upon which it is based.

But there’s another point that I want to make, too. In the wake of the criticism that has been directed at him over his weekend comments, Nugent decided to appear on the radio program of Dana Loesch. You remember Loesch, don’t you? She’s the Tea Party leader, radio personality, and CNN paid contributor that I wrote about last month in CNN Provides a Platform for a Vile Voice of the Tea Party. Loesch was fresh off an appearance at a Tea Party rally in which she claimed said, “What did women receive for supporting the left? You’ve seen it here with your Occupy movement, haven’t you? They get raped.” She hosted Nugent for a discussion. Hmm. How did that conversation go (listen if you dare; text below)?

National Rifle Association board member and Washington Times columnist Ted Nugent refused to back down from his recent inflammatory comments about the Obama administration in a radio interview with CNN contributor Dana Loesch on The Dana Show. Nugent told Loesch that “I will stand by my speech” and said that he was being attacked with the “Saul Alinsky Rules for Radicals playbook.”

Nugent insisted to Loesch that his message had been “100 percent positive,” and Loesch agreed that he was being used as a “scapegoat” by the Obama administration.

Later in the interview, Nugent added more derogatory comments about Democrats. He described Democratic chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz as a “brain-dead, soulless, heartless idiot,” and said House Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi was a “sub-human scoundrel.”

Asked about a request from the Democrats that Mitt Romney (who sought and received Nugent's endorsement) distance himself from Nugent's comments, Nugent claimed that “Mitt Romney knows what I'm saying is true. He puts it into words for him, I put it into words for me.”

“Sub-human”? Seriously? That’s the anglicized word for what the Nazis called untermensch. Here’s a nice, brief article on Nazi propaganda and the depiction of Jews (and others) as sub-humans (published by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum). Do I really need to discuss the results of describing and denigrating others as being “sub-human”? And note that of two women at whom Nugent was directing his anger (Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, now head of the DNC), one of them is Jewish. Nugent also told Loesch that he was a “black Jew at a Nazi-Klan rally” (real black Jew and blogger Adam Serwer responded on Twitter, “Actual black Jew says you’re not”).

So I’m sure you can imagine the horror that Dana Loesch expressed when Nugent used that term, right? Um, but guess what? She didn’t express horror. She didn’t say, “Gee, Ted, that sort of inflammatory rhetoric really crosses some lines that shouldn’t be crossed” or “Wow, Ted, I know that you don’t like those women, I don’t either, but don’t you think that calling them ‘sub-human’ is going just a tiny bit too far?” Nope. Instead, Loesch when Nugent finished that portion of his rant, said “Yep.” She found the denigration of others as subhuman to be A-OK.

You know, on second thought, perhaps you should go back and listen to that interview. It’s got a little bit of virtually every right-wing conspiracy claim and baseless allegation after baseless allegation that gives fire to much of the right’s hatred of President Obama. And by listening to Nugent and Loesch and hearing the absolute hate and vitriol in their voices, you may gain a further understanding of the current thinking from much of the far-right.

Perhaps someone can explain to me why Loesch is still employed by CNN. For that matter, why would any radio station continue to give her airtime? And why would any political organization want to be associated with someone who so clearly demonstrates that they have no standards of simple human decency?

And this is what the November 2012 elections will, in large part, be about. No, I don’t mean we’ll be voting on whether we think this kind of rhetoric is acceptable or whether someone is or is not a sub-human. Rather, far, far too many people will be making up their minds on who to vote for on the basis of this sort of inflammatory, derogatory, denigrating hate speech and the kind of “facts be damned” conspiracy-minded arguments offered by people like Nugent and Loesch. Tax policy, the future of Medicare, energy policies, all of these are complicated. But whether someone is a sub-human, whether the person is an American citizen, whether someone deserves to be killed for their beliefs? Now those are subjects that it is easy for people to wrap their brains (and Confederate flags) around.

*It’s also worth remembering that Ted Nugent is a draft dodger. He has said that he neither showered nor changed clothes for 30 days prior to his draft hearing and, for the last few days, defecated and urinated in his clothes, so that he would be rejected. And then he lied about being in school in order to get a deferment. So pardon me if I don’t take his discussions about the bravery of American soldiers at full face value. Oh, and did I forget to mention the time that Nugent had the parents of his underage lover sign her over to him as her guardian (he was 30…) so that they could continue to have sex? For a fun little expose on Nugent written by someone on the right, please take a look at Ted Nugent Shoulda Been “In Jail or Dead” Long Before Obama: Draft-Dodging Multi-Baby Daddy Child Predator by Debbie Schlussel. And if that doesn’t turn your stomach enough, you can read some more of Nugent’s “thoughts” on on this page dedicated to helping people learn about the leadership of the National Rifle Association. Reader beware.

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Monday, April 16, 2012

Teabonics: More Reasons to Fear the Teabaggers (2012 Bonus Edition)

Almost two years ago, I posted Teabonics: More Reasons to Fear the Teabaggers, yet another in my series of photos of Tea Party rallies. While most of the posts were aimed at pointing out racism and violent rhetoric, my Teabonics post took a more humorous look at the Tea Party.

Well today, Tax Day 2012, the Tea Party held several (tiny) rallies across the country. A friend on Twitter P.J. Nicolatore posted a photo from one of these rallies that I couldn’t help but smile at … and post here for your enjoyment:

Well, I guess the media might be lying if it called these folks “rascists”.

How hard is it really to have correct spelling on your poster?

Here are links to my other posts on signs from Tea Party rallies:

A Sampling of Signs from the "Tea Bag" Parties That You Didn't See on the News
A Sampling of Signs from the "Tea Bag" Parties That You Didn't See on the News (update 1)
Here We Go Again: More “Tax Protest” Signs
Here We Go Again: More “Tax Protest” Signs (Part 2)
Here We Go Again: More “Tax Protest” Signs (Part 3)
Here We Go Again: More “Tax Protest” Signs (Part 4)
Tea Party Idiots Are Back ... and Just as Vile
How Do We Respond? 

Update: A few minutes after this post went live, P.J. Nicolatore posted links to a few more photos that I now share for your enjoyment:

teaparty_11Go ahead. Take your time. I’ll wait.

I guess I’m not sure why this guy is upset that our elected leaders are not betraying American citizens. Does he wish that they were? Odd point of view for a Tea Partier.
6935057126_f095ee6da0_zRepeat after me: Q is followed by U, Q is followed by … oh, never mind. And just out of curiosity, why do you suppose that this fellow thinks that President Obama is “sqatting”? Might it have anything to do with, oh, I don’t know, the fact that he he doesn’t think President Obama is a natural born United States citizen who is eligible to be President? Remember, there’s no “rascism” in the Tea Party.

Update November 29, 2012: Repaired dead link and formatting irregularities.

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Friday, April 13, 2012

Insults, Apologies, and the False Equivalency in the War of Words

On Wednesday night, Democratic strategist Hillary Rosen claimed that Mitt Romney’s wife Ann had never worked a day in her life. The comment became a viral controversy almost immediately. Rosen’s comments and the resulting firestorm have been likened to Rush Limbaugh referring to Sandra Fluke as a “slut” and “prostitute” and a number of other controversies of recent vintage. But I want to look a bit more closely at a few things, including both what was said and meant as well as the aftermath.

So, first let’s understand who Hillary Rosen is … and is not. According to Wikipedia (again, I know, I know), she is a lobbyist and a democratic pundit. She is a paid contributor to CNN. She is also an activist for gay rights (she is a lesbian). But she is not a consultant to either the Obama campaign or to the Democratic National Committee. She is a TV talking head.

Next, as always in these sorts of kerfuffles, it is important to go beyond the one-line sound bite and review precisely what was said, in its entirety and in context (I’ve highlighted the statement that has generated the controversy):

With respect to economic issues, I think actually that Mitt Romney is right, that ultimately women care more about the economic well-being of their families and the like. But he doesn’t connect on that issue either. What you have is Mitt Romney running around the country saying, “Well, you know my wife tells me that what women really care about are economic issues and when I listen to my wife that’s what I’m hearing.”

Guess what? His wife has actually never worked a day in her life. She’s never really dealt with the kinds of economic issues that a majority of the women in this country are facing in terms of how do we feed our kids, how do we send them to school and  why do we worry about their future.

So I think that, yes,  it’s about these positions and yes, I think there will be a war of words about the positions. But there’s something much more fundamental about Mitt Romney. He just seems so old-fashioned when it comes to women and I think that comes across and I think that that’s going to hurt him over the long term. He just doesn’t really see us as equal.

(Transcript from

Clearly Rosen’s comment about Ann Romney having never worked was wrong and inappropriate. But consider the following: First, let’s revise that statement ever-so-slightly and see if it remains quite to troubling. What if we add the phrase “outside the home” to the end of the sentence? Does that change how you feel about what Rosen said? Now, normally I’d probably argue that changing a quotation like that isn’t fair. But go back and read the next sentence of Rosen’s statement and then think again about the point that Rosen was trying to make. Was Rosen denigrating Ann Romney’s work as a mother or was Rosen critiquing Ann Romney’s understanding of the struggles of women who do work outside the home? Not to put too crass of a point on it, but how many working women have dressage horses and a “couple” of Cadillacs?

I think Ann Romney, and all women who have chosen to stay home and raise their children, are to be applauded and recognized for their efforts and contributions. Heaven knows that I hear it when I don’t give my wife enough credit for her efforts with our kids. But I think that there is a difference between a woman has is able to choose to stay home with her children and one who is not economically stable enough to make that choice. I’m sure that Ann Romney, like other stay-at-home moms, had to work very hard in the day-to-day effort to raise her children. But do we think that she ever worried whether she’d be able to afford to put food on the table or clothes on their backs? Did she ever have to skip a meal because the family couldn’t afford for both she and her children to eat? Did she ever skip any of her medications because they couldn’t afford it and pay for medications needed by her children (or food or shelter)? Did she ever miss a school play or a sporting event because her boss wouldn’t give her time off or because she couldn’t afford not to get her paycheck? Did she ever worry about if her children would get into college, let alone whether the family could afford to pay for college? Of course not. And I don’t begrudge her any of the financial security she and her family have. After all, it’s what most of us strive for. But there is a difference between Ann Romney’s life experience and that of a mother who has to work outside the home to support or help support her family.

In the end, I think that the point that Rosen was trying to make, however inarticulately, was valid. Ann Romney has “never really dealt with the kinds of economic issues that a majority of the women in this country are facing”. And thus, while she may tell Mitt Romney that women really care about economic issues, her discussion of those issues, however sincere and well-meaning, is not a concern spoken from experience. And that’s OK, too. I mean I’ve never been pregnant or had an abortion, but there’s nothing wrong with me speaking out on the issue. But my understanding of the issue is obviously tempered by the fact that I’m not a woman, I can’t get pregnant, and those are issues that I have not and will not have to face myself. We don’t have to have experience to speak out or about issues, but the experience or lack thereof is an element in what we have to say.

Now leaving aside the substance of what Rosen said, the various responses are really interesting. First, it’s worth noting that Rosen herself apologized and tried to explain better what she meant. Her apology came less than a day after the original statement.

Let's put the faux “war against stay at home moms” to rest once and for all. As a mom I know that raising children is the hardest job there is. As a pundit, I know my words on CNN last night were poorly chosen. In response to Mitt Romney on the campaign trail referring to his wife as a better person to answer questions about women than he is, I was discussing his lack of a record on the plight of women’s financial struggles. Here is my more fulsome view of the issues. As a partner in a firm full of women who work outside of the home as well as stay at home mothers, all with plenty of children, gender equality is not a talking point for me. It is an issue I live every day. I apologize to Ann Romney and anyone else who was offended. Let’s declare peace in this phony war and go back to focus on the substance.

In addition, almost immediately, David Axelrod, President Obama’s chief political strategist and Jim Messina, Obama’s campaign chair, both expressed their outrage at Rosen’s original comment. And those expressions of outrage came within hours of the comment. In fact, I saw the apologies before I’d even heard of the controversy. Michelle Obama talked about her support for stay-at-home mothers and the respect that they deserve. And even President Obama weighed in on the comment:

President Obama strongly disagreed with Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen’s controversial comment about Ann Romney, saying today that “there’s no tougher job than being a mom.”

“Anybody who would argue otherwise, I think, probably needs to rethink their statement,” the president told Bruce Aune of ABC’s Cedar Rapids affiliate KCRG.

The president went a step further, suggesting candidates’ families should be off limits. “I don’t have a lot of patience for commentary about the spouses of political candidates,” he told KCRG.

“My general view is those of us who are in the public life, we’re fair game. Our families are civilians,” he said. “I haven’t met Mrs. Romney, but she seems like a very nice woman who is supportive of her family and supportive of her husband. I don’t know if she necessarily volunteered for this job so, you know, we don’t need to be directing comments at them. I think me and Governor Romney are going to have more than enough to argue about during the course of this campaign.”

One of the problems here is that Rosen’s comment has sparked another case of false equivalency; that is, equating Rosen’s comment to comments from the other side of the political divide and somehow believing that all “bad” comments are equal and sort of cancel each other out. Of course Rush Limbaugh’s attacks on Sandra Fluke are the most obvious comparison. But that comparison is both wrong and worth analyzing a bit further.

First, recall that Limbaugh didn’t just call Fluke a “slut” and “prostitute” one time; rather, he continued his attack against her for three days. His comment was a mistake in what he was trying to say. Second, his attack against Fluke was full of outright lies. And the larger point he was trying to make? Well, it didn’t really have anything at all to do with what Fluke was testifying about. She was was talking about birth control for health reasons; Limbaugh was talking about sex.

And unlike Rosen who apologized the very next day, it took Limbaugh several days to issue his non-apology (see my discussion of Limbaugh’s faux apology Anatomy of an Apology). And that “apology” only came after pressure from the public began to build on his advertisers.

Let’s also compare the relative status and importance of Rosen and Limbaugh to the left and right, respectively. Had you ever heard of Rosen before this? I’ll admit, as much of a political and news junkie as I am, I don’t recall ever having heard of her before. But I bet that you’d heard of Rush Limbaugh before, right? How much influence does Rosen have on Democrats? How much does Limbaugh have on Republicans? Exactly.

And then let’s think about the responses to the comments. As mentioned previously, even though Rosen is not associated with either the Obama campaign or the DNC, representatives of those organizations almost immediately took to social media to criticize her statements. And by the next day President Obama was doing so as well. Now compare those responses to the virtual silence from Republicans following Limbaugh’s attack (not to mention the numerous bloggers on the right who defended or repeated Limbaugh’s attack). It wasn’t until several days after Limbaugh’s attack that Romney responded at all. His response? “I’ll just say this, which is, it’s not the language I would have used.” Wow. Such a strong condemnation! Please go back and re-read President Obama’s comment regarding the statement about Ann Romney “not working” and compare that to Romney’s statement about Sandra Fluke being a “slut” and “prostitute” who is “having so much sex” she can’t afford her birth control. So, Gov. Romney, what language would you have used?

Or consider some of the things that CNN’s Republican pundits have said. Remember my post CNN Provides a Platform for a Vile Voice of the Tea Party about Dana Loesch and her baseless accusations of sexual crimes and favorable comments about a blatantly anti-Semitic article? Funny, but I don’t recall hearing Mitt Romney’s campaign manager or the chair of the Republican National Committee denouncing Loesch.

Then there is CNN contributor Erick Erikson who accused President Obama of choosing to “pervert God’s word” and suggested that President Obama was only “claiming” to be a Christian. Where was the firestorm over those allegations? Where was the condemnation from the Romney campaign, the RNC, and others? Where was the apology?

Or what about when Limbaugh, Fox contributor Michelle Malkin, Glenn Beck and others criticized Michelle Obama for shopping at Target? Or when the Drudge Report blamed Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” exercise campaign for pedestrian deaths (seriously)? Or when one of the Breitbart websites attacked Michelle Obama for her weight and her healthy eating advocacy in blatantly racist terms (and just so you can see how bad it really is, here’s a cartoon that ran on a Breitbart website):

Seriously. Have you heard Mitt Romney or the RNC criticize Breitbart’s sites for running this cartoon?

Bloggers on the right even criticized Michelle Obama for a joke that was written for her to say during a guest appearance on iCarly (to praise the show for supporting American soldiers).

Barely a word of critique (if any at all) of any of this from Mitt Romney (or the other Republican candidates), from the RNC, or from any other important voices on the right. Apologies? Yeah, right.

I could probably go on and on. There’s the picture of Marie Antoinette with Michelle Obama’s head (and muscular arms). There’s the United States Congressman complaining that Michelle Obama has an overly large posterior (a comment for which he did apologize). And heaven help you if you should happen to go read some of what is said about Michelle Obama on right wing blogs. And we all know what the right has to say about President Obama (Muslim, Marxist, Terrorist, etc., etc., etc.). Where were “god-fearing” people like Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum when preachers talk about praying for Obama’s death?

The point, though, is this. Someone on the left said something wrong. It was an inarticulate way to try to make a substantive point. She apologized. And people all across her side of the political aisle (and up and down the chain of command) jumped, not to her defense, but to call out and condemn her comments. But when someone on the right says something — and the something is likely to be far harsher, far crueler, far less likely to have anything whatsoever to do with any sort of substance, and far more likely to be based on race — then those on the right rush, not to criticize the statement, but to defend it. Or they stay silent. Apologies are rarely forthcoming. This whole evidence gives proof to the notion of false equivalency and appropriateness of response. One side criticizes and apologizes. The other says far harsher things without apology or critique.

Perhaps voters can show that we see through these sorts of games.


Shortly after posting the above entry, I remembered something else that I’d meant to touch on. Yesterday, in response to Rosen’s comment, the Catholic League tweeted the following:

Lesbian Dem Hilary Rosen tells Ann Romney she never worked a day in her life. Unlike Rosen, who had to adopt kids, Ann raised 5 of her own.

Yes, that’s right. The Catholic League felt the need not only to raise Rosen’s sexual orientation but also to demean the fact that she “had to adopt kids”. Query the purpose of noting that Rosen is gay (and to those who say, “but you did it in the beginning of this post”, the reason I did so was because I’d intended to mention this tweet). And is the notion that Rosen “had to adopt kids” any less offensive than the suggestion that Ann Romney never worked? I’d argue that it is a much more offensive statement, especially as it is not tied to any substance whatsoever; it doesn’t make any kind of point at all.

To their credit, the Republican National Committee (via spokesperson Sean Spicer) promptly criticized the Catholic League for the tweet:

The @catholicleague should be encouraging adoption, not demeaning the parents who are blessed to raise these children

Except, notice that the RNC’s spokesperson only mentions the adoption portion of the attack on Rosen; he says nothing about the Catholic League raising Rosen’s sexual orientation as an issue. Oh, and I haven’t heard Mitt Romney (or Ann Romney … or how about Catholic Rick Santorum?) criticize the Catholic League yet.

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A Missed Opportunity? Indianapolis and the Zipline

One of the most talked about attractions during the recent Super Bowl festivities in Indianapolis was the zipline that ran for several blocks down the center of Capitol Avenue. People waited in line for hours to pay $10 for the brief thrill. Thousands had the opportunity (I, unfortunately, never managed to…). It was featured on TV coverage and provided an exciting backdrop to much of the anchor coverage from Super Bowl Village.

But then the game was played, the crowds went home, Super Bowl Village was dismantled, and down came the zipline.

Shortly thereafter, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway talked about possibly installing a zipline for the Indianapolis 500. Ultimately, they chose not to do so. But I think the idea of a zipline at the Speedway missed the point. You see, I don’t think that people were so excited about the zipline per se; after all, there are ziplines that can be found all over (this website lists five in Indiana). Instead, I think that there was something special about the location of Super Bowl zipline … and I think that the City of Indianapolis will miss an opportunity if it doesn’t recognize that uniqueness and capitalize upon it.

So what do I think made the zipline unique? Simple: It’s location. It wasn’t in a remote state park; it wasn’t at an amusement park; it wasn’t at a venue known for sports or other activities. It was in the heart of a vibrant, active downtown. And it went right down the center of the street. I think that made it special and memorable and an activity for which people were willing to wait and pay.

So why not recapture that?

Obviously, it’s not possible to permanently close a street for the purpose of installing a zipline. I get that. But there are a number of other places within downtown Indianapolis that an urban zipline could be installed:

  • From the top of the Emmis Building, across the Soldiers & Sailors monument, to the area by Christ Church Cathedral or Bank One.
  • From the west side of the Soldiers & Sailors monument, along and over the sidewalk, toward the Statehouse.
  • Down the center of the new pedestrian mall on George Street.
  • From the Indiana Historical Society along the canal.
  • In or along one of the parks that make up the American Legion mall.
  • In or around the NCAA Hall of Champions or Eiteljorg Museum.
  • Military Park.

Sure, there would be obstacles to overcome. What activity doesn’t have obstacles? But think of the benefit to the City. Think of the stories that visitors will tell about their visit to Indianapolis, with the zipline ride in the heart of the City. Think of the families from central Indiana who might choose to come downtown on a weekend for that activity … and while downtown, what else might they choose to do?

Maybe I’m off base, but I think that something cool and exciting like an urban zipline could become one of those permanent fixtures that a city becomes known for as well as another thing to draw local residents to downtown and all of the other activities to be found. I can see a family coming down on a Saturday afternoon to ride the zipline … and then taking the kids to one of the museums. Or how about this? Offer a discount (or even a free ride) with a museum admission?

We saw something that people loved, that they were willing to wait in line and pay for. So why let it just fade away to a nice memory? Capitalize on its success and find a way to incorporate it into the life of the city.

The where are the how are mere details. If a permanent urban attraction is a good idea, Indianapolis has shown time and time again that where there is a will, there is a way.

So what do you think? Would a downtown zipline be cool? Would you pay a few bucks to give it a try? Do you think it would be an attraction that tourists would take note of? If a downtown zipline sounds like a good idea, let me know. More importantly, let others — and the City — know too!

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Friday, April 6, 2012

Schools, Free Speech, and Social Media

How much control should a school be able to exert over a student with regard to the student’s conduct outside of school? With the continued increase in the use of social media, whether in the form of Facebook, Twitter, or any of a host of other new media sources, this question is being asked more and more often. And so far, I think that schools are often overstepping their bounds and depriving students of their protected free speech rights.

A story in The Indianapolis Star earlier this week (not available online, apparently) offers a prime example of the way the issue plays out. Apparently a student at an Indiana high school tweeted a profanity in the middle of the night. The school, contending that the student had used either the laptop provided by the school or the school’s computer network, expelled the student.

Now, my point here is not to defend the student for using Twitter to fire off an expletive; nor is it my goal to discuss whether expulsion was the appropriate punishment. Rather, I want to discuss whether the school has any business policing this or similar conduct.

So let’s start by throwing away the idea of new social media and, instead, focusing on more traditional forms of communication. Thus, for example, in thinking about the student mentioned above, let’s presume that he wasn’t using Twitter or a laptop or any technology at all. But, rather, while sitting in study hall or at lunch he took out a piece of paper and wrote a note to some friends and that note included an expletive. Does that change your feelings at all? What if the note was written, not in school, but at the kitchen table in his house?

One thing to keep in mind is that courts have held over the years that students don’t lose their First Amendment rights simply by walking through the doors to the school. On the other hand, schools are allowed to discipline a student or restrict speech to the extent that it has an impact on the educational process at the school or is disruptive. Thus, for example, in the most well-known case on the subject, Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, the United States Supreme Court analyzed a school’s effort to stop students from wearing black armbands to school to protest the Vietnam war and, ultimately, ruled that wearing the armbands was protected free speech that did not disrupt the educational process.

Now, while I’ll grant that a note (or tweet) with an expletive is a far cry from an anti-war message, the broader question of how that speech disrupts the school’s educational process remains the key question. I would argue that the note (or tweet) has absolutely no impact on the school or the educational process and thus should not be subject to control by the school. My belief on that subject is furthered when the speech in question is done outside of the confines of the school. And frankly, I’m having a hard time getting worked up over the issue of whether the computer that the student used was his personal computer or one provided by the school; would the note written by the student be subject to less protection if the paper or pencil had been provided by the school?

Well, you might ask, what if the message was actually about the school or a teacher? Should that matter? In response to that query, I’d ask the following question in return: If a kid stands on a street corner and yells, “Mr. _____ is a jerk who gives too much homework” or “Mrs. _____ is a bitch because her grading is unfair” would the school have the right to discipline the student? I don’t think that there is an exception to the right to freedom of speech that restricts that speech if it is insulting to a teacher; that would be a content-based prior restraint that would, I think, run afoul of the First Amendment. And frankly I doubt that many schools would argue that they could discipline a kid for that kind of speech anyway. So why does identical speech on social media seemingly fall within the purview of a school’s right to punish?

But schools appear to be going even further in the zeal to enforce some kind of discipline on students. Witness, for example, the two girls from northern Indiana who, during their summer vacation, posted racy pictures of themselves on Facebook. Their high school kicked them off the volleyball team. Now query what business it is of the school to monitor and punish what students do when not in school, let alone on summer break? And query further just why the school was monitoring the girls’ Facebook pages in the first place? And ask yourself whether the school would have taken the same action had the photo not been on Facebook, but say, in a swimsuit calendar or if the girl had a role in a movie that required her to dress racy (think Brooke Shields in Pretty Baby … or was it Blue Lagoon? … all those years ago)?

If a student is convicted of a crime, then the school might have a right to impose discipline (but query whether that would be a form of double jeopardy prohibited by the Constitution). And if a student “abuses” his or her right to free speech within the school environment in a way that disrupts the educational process, then the school certainly has a right to discipline (for example, a student who won’t let a teacher teach because he keeps yelling or calling the teacher names or a student who uses his free speech rights to bully another student). But when that conduct is not disruptive (black armbands) then the school ought not to be attempting to discipline the student (and query, then, whether the I Heart Boobies wrist bands are disruptive or more in line with the anti-war black armbands). I’m somewhat torn on the issue of whether a school can discipline a student for exercising free speech rights to advocate illegal conduct at a school related event (the students that held up a “bong hits for Jesus sign” at a school-related activity). But when the speech is not disruptive to the school and educational process, the school ought not be imposing discipline.

And when that speech is outside of the school confines, then the nature of the disruption should, I think, be much, much higher in order for the school to properly become involved. Thus, it would probably be OK if a school were to discipline a student for creating a fake Facebook page that appeared to be that of a teacher or if a student were to invade the privacy of a teacher or give instructions on how to hack into the school’s computer system. And, it might also be acceptable for a school to impose discipline if the speech was the in the nature of bullying another student as, I think, an argument could be made that such would, indeed, disrupt the educational process of the school.

But if a student is simply exercising his or her First Amendment rights to engage in speech with others, especially when doing so outside of the school confines, then the school should not be involved and discipline should not issue. Social media may be new and different but we shouldn’t just presume that because it is new and different that it is subject to a greater degree of control and abridgement of the freedom of speech inherent to students.

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