On free speech and hate

January 27, 2017

Before anybody rushes to remind me that there’s already scholarship, legal theory, and jurisprudence on these issues–I know. I’m not making a legal argument.

Two precipitating events have me thinking about this topic.

The other day, our colleague and friend Sid Dobrin posted a photo on Facebook of somebody with a swastika armband bicycling around the University of Florida campus. He came back yesterday and drew a crowd. The swastika-wearing cyclist swears (O! Dear me! How could anyone think I have bad intentions?!?) the “protestors don’t understand my intentions” and that he doesn’t “mean to hurt anyone.”

Yesterday, at West Chester University where I teach, two “preachers” showed up on campus (this happens periodically) spewing incendiary bigotry at anyone and everyone within shouting distance. Unfortunately, a couple of students reacted strongly enough that they were arrested and are likely to be charged with assault.

So here’s the thing.

I understand what the First Amendment says, and that the jurisprudence around free speech has historically protected groups like the KKK and their right to speak. I understand as somebody who studies rhetoric and activism that sometimes groups need to create very uncomfortable spectacles and situations in order to mobilize people on behalf of issues. As somebody who was deeply involved in organizing our faculty strike last fall and has been doing activism of various kinds for 30+ years, I get it.

But I want to challenge people who defend the Nazi-bicycle-guy and the two “preachers” (who I refuse to acknowledge as Christian based on how explicitly hateful they are) to explain something to me.

The presumption free-speech laws and jurisprudence make is that such speech is necessary to the healthy functioning of democracy. Explain to me how riding a bicycle around a campus with one of the largest Jewish populations in the country, waving a swastika around at people, is positively contributing to democracy. Explain how we’re advancing public deliberation about, um, anything at all by standing in the middle of WCU campus telling women that they’re sinning just by being at college, or that calling people “faggots and whores” accomplishes anything useful at all. And “because if we don’t use our free speech rights, we lose them” isn’t an answer. And “because they can” isn’t an answer either. The question is: what do those hateful incendiary utterances do to advance public discourse about anything at all?

I’m listening.

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Jobs and the stimulus

February 27, 2010

Early this week, in an exchange of letters to the editor in the West Chester Daily Local, a regular (as in often) conservative writer named Anthony Oleck responds to praise for the stimulus bill with this letter:

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There’s a big difference

Stephanie Markstein, in her letter to the editor, wrongly asserts that the stimulus package was supported by “the greatest economists in the nation (and) all agree that, not only was it the right thing to do, but the only thing that has kept us out of a full-blown depression.”

You are confusing TARP with the boondoggle stimulus package. Economists mostly agreed that TARP, the bailout for the banks, was necessary to avert a full-fledged financial collapse.

Stimulus is nothing but a piggy bank for pork … plus it has not worked.

Obama said we needed it to keep unemployment below 8 percent, he passed it and unemployment immediately went to over 10 percent.

As far as the “saved jobs” he keeps touting … the stimulus may have saved and certainly did add government jobs, with big benefits and big pensions that we and our children will pay for from here to eternity … those are just the jobs we should be losing to help stimulate our economy and reduce our taxes.

Stimulus is a huge slush fund for Democrats to pay back their union friends.

Anthony J Oleck

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I wrote a response that the Daily Local (understandably) declined to publish, and I want to post a revised version of it here because I think the discussion is worth continuing.

A version very similar to what I sent the DL:

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Only somebody who hates the Democratic Party as much as Anthony Oleck does could believe that: (1) the stimulus is bad because it’s creating good jobs with good benefits; and (2) the cost of private sector versions of those jobs wouldn’t be passed along to consumers anyway.

Oleck’s argument is a strawman at its worst.  At a time when what we need most is to put people to work at decent wages and with decent benefits, complaining about who actually hires them reveals his true agenda–to attack Democrats no matter what they do.

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To be more explicit (since I’m no longer bound by the DL’s length limits…

Stephanie Markstein, to whom Oleck is replying, is actually correct.  The huge majority of economists supported the stimulus.  Those who didn’t were universally conservatives who reject any form of government intervention in anything besides abortion/birth control, and/or prayer/creationism in schools, and/or …  Most critiques of the stimulus from economists without neoconservative axes to grind critiqued it for being too SMALL, not too big, a critique I agree with.

The evidence is clear, and getting clearer every day, that stimulus has in fact kept unemployment from getting worse.  Yes, the number of unemployed has gone up during the Obama presidency, but to pin that on the stimulus is short-sighted at best, disingenuous (read, a lie) at worst.  There was no doubt that the economy hadn’t bottomed out yet (in fact probably still hasn’t).

As I note in my original letter, Oleck reveals his real agenda in his letter.  He doesn’t care the least bit about people; he wants only to attack Democrats.  The simple facts of the matter are that more jobs are better than fewer, and more jobs that pay reasonable salaries and benefits are better than fewer.  The “free market” (read, unregulated orgy of exploitation) has had plenty of chances to hire and pay workers.  Instead, corporations have downsized and off-shored, leaving millions of capable workers in this country in the lurch.  These are the people Oleck trusts to fix the very problem they’ve created, out of the goodness of their hearts?  Ridiculous. How could anybody who cares about people decry the creation of good jobs?

Oleck’s claim that the stimulus was a payoff to labor unions is just a gratuitous cheapshot at unions and the President.  Given the President’s unwillingness to push EFCA; to use recess appointments to put capable members on the NLRB; to push for taxing the very health plans that unions have fought hard to earn; it’s very clear that Obama is no friend of organized labor.  He’s not as hostile to it as most Republicans are, but his track record shows, without question, that he’s the last person who would “pay off” the unions.

After years of neo-conservative babble and hostility towards labor and laborers, Oleck’s position shouldn’t surprise me, and it doesn’t.  However, it’s incumbent upon those of us who actually give a sh*t about anybody but ourselves to lay bare the truth behind these arguments.  I don’t think Oleck is malicious in his intentions, but he (and people like him who articulate these kinds of positions) show without a doubt that they don’t much care about what happens to the huge majority of their fellow citizens.  They don’t much care about people who can’t get work because the “free market” has ruined the job market for its own profit.  They don’t much care about people who have to choose between rent, food, and medical treatment.  They don’t much care about anything except attacking a President whose positions, when seen through the lens of reality, are much closer to their own then they’d ever want to admit.

[UPDATED SUN, 2/28]

WordPress’ “related posts” links sent me to this entry on somebody else’s blog.  It’s an excellent compendium of all the Republicans who voted against the stimulus but then asked for stimulus money.  Across the board, they argue that it’s appropriate to accept money they voted against, without recognizing that their own “principled stands” get compromised in the process.

http://thegreatspot.wordpress.com/2010/02/10/you-lie/


Town Hall meetings

August 11, 2009

So today, for the first time, I saw Obama supporters step over the line in an attempt to respond to Freedom Watch and the Tea Baggers’ disruptions at town hall meetings.  What CNN didn’t comment on, when they showed the clip, was how totally furious the Obama supporter was.  And I don’t think it was the security that was not-very-gently leading her out the door.  She seemed like she was headed straight for the conservative contingent, and wanted to tangle with them.

Probably best that she wasn’t able to; it sure wouldn’t be very helpful for the first blood to be drawn by somebody who’s ostensibly on the same side I am.  I don’t want any blood drawn, of course, but the fury emanating from the right on this issue isn’t much different from the fury that emanates from anti-abortion activists; seems like the right has adopted that page from the playbook.  Infuriate your opposition, and then jump up and down celebrating when one of us acts on it.  Lovely.

I appreciate what the Dems are trying to do as they respond to this madness in their own meetings–to call the tension out, make a point of asking for some decency (civility is just too much to ask for these days, I guess), and do the best they can to keep the meetings moving while assholes try to shout them down.  It makes the assholes look really bad, as if they didn’t already.  Unfortunately, the people who need to be convinced that the assholes are assholes won’t be convinced even by direct evidence.  Not sure what to do about that.

By the way, a public shout-out to CNN, who hasn’t handled this whole mess very well.  But today, Rick Sanchez actually got on the air and explained to viewers that most of what the Freedom Watch people and the Palinites are spewing is just wrong.  I’m not sure it’ll make a huge dent in the problem, but at least somebody tried.  It’s a start.


Ranting about health care

August 2, 2009

I’ve made comments like this several times on my Facebook pages, but I need to put it here too…

Let me make this simple.  Anybody who opposes universal heath care (not universal health insurance, which doesn’t solve anything) has no moral ground from which to argue.  You (if you’re one of those people) quite simply don’t care whether people live or die.  Especially if you’re a “pro-life” conservative, the logic of your own position dictates that you should support open access health care for all.  If you’re so willing to go to the mat for fetuses, why not everybody else?

All the bullshit about “socializing” medicine is just that–bullshit.  And those of you who throw that word around know it.  “Government-run” does not equal “socialist.”  If it did, that would mean the entire defense industry (of which you’re so proud) is “socialist” since all its money comes from taxpayers via government contract.  If you’re really committed to privatization, you can start making that argument when you fully, unquestioningly support putting an end to corporate welfare.  In the meantime, you’re a hypocrite if you try to have this both ways.

The line about “healthcare rationing” is a hoax too.  Right now, people who have insurance, unless it’s really good insurance (and even then sometimes), have their care rationed.  The difference is that it’s rationed by organizations (health insurance companies) that have a priority other than your health.  Driven by profit margins first, it’s in their interests to make sure: (1) people stay sick so we need more health care for them to ration; and (2) people don’t get expensive treatments that cut into their profits.  Neither of those is good for any of us, unless you happen to be an owner of an insurance company.

This isn’t complicated, folks.  The ONLY people out there who have a serious interest in preventing universal healthcare are those who profit, at the expense of all the rest of us, on sickness.  Anybody who buys into the Republican and Bluedog Democrat hype about how universal healthcare would harm us just isn’t paying attention.  And before you (those who disagree with me) get your dander up, I know perfectly well that there are problems with government run systems elsewhere.  I also know that there are worse problems with the private system now.  Hands down, I’ll take a healthcare system that isn’t grounded in denial of coverage and the propagation of illness–that is, a system that’s designed to do exactly the opposite of what it says–over the current system any day.

And for the record, yes, this means I do NOT support the current legislation, even in its drafty forms, circulating in either house of Congress.  They’re both filled with giveaways to the criminals who have gotten us into this mess in the first place.

Single-payer, universal healthcare, without any qualification, is the only way to go.  It really is that simple.


Playing (Army of) God

October 26, 2008

Yesterday, on my blogger-buddy Ashley’s blog (AshPolitics–click to it from my blogroll), a Reverend Donald Spitz commented that pro-life “activists” who kill doctors and bomb abortion clinics aren’t “terrorists” because they’re protecting unborn babies.

I’m sickened by the advocacy of violence in the Reverend’s post.  It’s not just that he’s lost perspective on right and wrong, although that’s part of it (he seems not to recognize that murder is murder, no matter who commits it).  I’m even more sickened that the writer is a Reverend, somebody to whom people turn for spiritual guidance and, in some cases, even salvation.  He’s somebody who should be able to claim the trust of his congregation on the basis of having special insight into God’s will (for those who believe in such things).

Instead, in what strikes me as a quintessential example of the bully-pulpit, Reverend Spitz advocates murder, pure and simple.  I can only imagine–actually, I can’t, and I’m glad–what kinds of hate and violence he spews in his church.  He’s gone beyond appointing himself judge and jury; he gets to decide on executions as well.  If that doesn’t overstep the boundaries of righteousness, I don’t know what does.

So, Reverend Spitz, if you really believe that murder is a moral good, go out and try it so we can lock you up where you belong.  Don’t hide behind your frock while others do your bidding for you.  Don’t tell people who believe in your moral guidance to kill people you believe should be dead.  You’re not a general, sir, nor are you at war.

Sarah Palin’s inciting audience members to threaten Barack Obama’s life is despicable.  This is worse.