Thursday, June 30, 2022


 Me, in 2020:

     It pains me to have to write this.  It's probably going to cost me some readers.

     But it's an important principle, one at the very heart of our country's strength, and it appears to me that we're in danger of losing it:  The First Amendment.

     Freedom of thought; freedom of belief.  Freedom of expression.  Freedom of the press.  These are very basic things, things that are supposed to be set outside the government's grasp.  They apply not only to ideas we like, or to ideas that most people agree with -- they also apply to unpopular ideas.  Repugnant ideas.  Wrong ideas.  The most effective way to fight bad ideas is to counter them with better ideas, not by attempting to suppress them.

     In West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, the Supreme Court wrote, "There is no mysticism in the American concept of the state or of the nature or origin of its authority.  We set  up government by consent of the governed and the Bill of Rights denies those in power any legal opportunity to coerce that consent. [...]
     "Those who begin coercive elimination of dissent soon find themselves exterminating dissenters. [...] Freedom to differ is not limited to things  that do not matter much.  That would be a mere shadow of freedom.  The test of its substance is the right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order."

     When I wrote about law enforcement apparently targeting journalists, in reports a Federal judge found so credible he granted a temporary restraining order, I received a few comments.  They were...heated.  Vitriolic.  The people who wrote them are free to hold such ideas, of course.  I'm not obliged to post them on my blog, but I will quote from them in order to address the significant concerns they raise.

     Let me be clear: to the extent that modern "cancel culture," largely a phenomenon originating in the Left, focuses on silencing unpopular opinions, it is a bad thing; and to the extent that that it turns government powers to that end, it is contrary to the Bill of Rights.  But the fact that one side of a conflict is bad does not necessarily mean the opposing side is good; they can both be bad, and to varying degrees.

     When a commenter writes, "I am so tired of watching Portland Antifa and their I'll [sic] get away with arson and battery etc that I want to see the mobs machine gunned into hamburger. I want to see Portlands [sic] gutters running with the blood of these idiots. If that includes a bunch of lefty so-called journalists, it's just collateral damage and no great loss," the course of action he endorses is completely contrary to American values.

     Individuals who commit arson and battery indeed ought to be arrested by police and charged with their crimes -- but the person standing next to them, waving a sign and jeering, is not equally culpable.  In any event "machine-gunning" is not how the government should or, Constitutionally, can respond -- and if they could, there would be nothing to keep a future, Left-leaning Administration from doing the very same to a rioting mob of Right-wing protestors.

     As for "lefty so-called journalists," there's nothing in the Bill of Rights that limits press freedom to one political leaning or another: John Stossel, Glenn Greenwald, Sean Hannity, Rachael Maddow and some nitwit with a blog are all protected from government interference, even when they're offering up nothing but opinion.  It is generally understood that the government is expected to not shoot them, especially when they have taken pains to make themselves identifiable as "press."

     Dreams of  "gutters running red with blood" are best left to authoritarians: fascists and communists, either of whom will kill you just as dead for saying the wrong thing.  That's not how it is supposed to work in the United States of America.  When you urge it, you are urging the overthrow of our system of government.

     Another commenter was irked at the press:
     "I duuno but I have not seen any evidence of a true independent reporter for some time."
     I'm not sure what this means, especially in a world of blogs, Twitter and YouTube videos open to anyone.  Most professional journalists do work for some entity, and they answer to some kind of an editor -- but they operate pretty independently: it's the only way you can cover a developing event.  And it is true that if we send reporters working for National Review and The Nation to cover the same event, they're going to deliver very different views of it -- not because they got their marching orders from above, but because they freely chose where they wanted to work, based in part on congruent outlooks.

     "Also the police know that if a protest is not broadcast in living color it can die out."
     That doesn't give the police the right to censor or deny coverage.  That would be the opposite of a free press.  Still, it seems nonsensical; I have seen everything from long-term "Occupy" camp-outs to Second Amendment rallies get lots of attendance despite receiving only cursory TV coverage.  It takes more than the chance to grace TV screens to get feet on the ground -- especially for more than one day.

     "We saw that with the Vietnam war. Put all the losses up and cover up the wins and before long you have a vibratent [sic] anti war faction."
     This is a distortion of history -- of something that was on TV screens every night of my childhood and teens.  Opposition to the war in Vietnam started in 1965 with opposition to the draft, especially in the age group subject to it.  Protests grew after that, still focused on the draft, escalating to the mass turning-in of draft cards in October, 1967.  The Tet offensive in early 1968 resulted in the first press coverage implying the U. S. military in Vietnam was weak -- with causality lists to support that impression.  The truth was closer to a strong U. S. military, fighting a war under conditions and with aims that were so misaligned with reality as to make the war unwinnable: they'd been a given a mission that left them stuck throwing men into a meatgrinder.  Under such circumstances, a "vibrant antiwar faction" was inevitable.  You're blaming the media for what should be laid on Congress and the Presidents who were running that "police action."

     "But sure, let's make a protected class that wants to tear down civilization. That will end well."
     The men who wrote the Bill of Rights, and who got the Amendment passed in the U. S. Congress and the legislatures of the States, were convinced that by protecting freedom of belief, freedom of thought, freedom of expression and freedom of the press from government meddling and limitation, they were protecting the exchange of ideas fundamental to the United States of America.  I'm quite sure there are reporters, commentators and editors who would love to "tear down civilization," everything from radical Islamic fundamentalists to black-flag anarcho-communists to pipsqueak Nazis to some kinds of crazy I can't even conceive of.  Our best weapon to fight them is to address and counter their destructive nonsense with constructive sense, with better ideas -- ideas that include freedom of the press.

     You cannot improve a free society by making it less free.  That road only leads to one place, and it's not freedom.

     History is unmistakably clear about that.

Back to 2022: it's still true.  And I'm still opposed to authoritarianism in every form.  Trump-humping nitwits wallowing inside the hollowed-out elephant of the GOP are merely the latest nasty flavor of an always-bad dish.


RandyGC said...

I still don't find anything to disagree with, but won't bother to repost my comments from 2020. That's a privilege best left to the blog owner.

pigpen51 said...

A very good post, as usual. I of course don't approve of anyone who riots in the streets, anymore than I approve of anyone who riots in the United States Capitol Building, whether they mean to overthrow an election, or to prove a point, or just to be a fun seeking tourist.
I had several buses going from my small area of Michigan heading to the DC area to participate in the "protest", but I knew what was coming, and never even had to make a decision to stay far, far away. I have seen what a protest of only a few hundred people can do to a place, when they are angry. I certainly don't want to be anywhere near several hundred thousand angry, sometimes very far right, idiots would do. Of course most of those in attendance might not have been so outrageous. The entire idea of such a protest is what was outrageous. The time to gather in support of Trump was on election day. They failed to do so in enough numbers, so they needed to stay home and cut their losses.
Why the name of Trump continues to stay in the news and mentioned as a potential candidate for president, after he made such an ass of himself during the run up to January 20th, I don't see how anyone could ever vote for him for dog catcher. He did some things as president that I supported. He as a person was always bad, but by the way he fought the election, he showed that he no longer was tolerable as a president.
As far as the media, that has never been considered a branch of government. And now,with the miracle of the internet, which it truly is, for those of us who grew up with huge buildings filled with books that you had to go into to find facts that are now at your fingertips in your phones that you carry anywhere, you can watch or record events as they happen. So you can ignore any media if you wish, and just watch the millions of recordings that are available showing nearly any event, from shootings in Chicago, to the war between Russia and Ukraine. Or a protest march in NY over abortion rights, to a mass shooting in a school in Texas, or even a camera from a drone that someone often flies over the dam on the river in the small town where I grew up, just hovering about 100 feet above the river, giving a birds eye view of nostalgia for those of us who no longer live there.
And for those who don't actually work for a media company, but wish they did, they can post videos with their own opinions online, much the same as if they were actual field reporters, and you see many of them on platforms like youtube,among others, and you can pick whichever one you like, or several, to get more than one opinion on the same isssue.
If anything, we have much more media coverage than we did when I saw the same 3 evening news broadcasters. I remember the nightly body counts from Vietnam, and even at the age of 7,8, 9 years old, having been born in 1960, I knew just how bad war was, even if I didn't know that our country was willing to lie to us back then. Back then, I always thought that America could only be great, and any country we fought against must be bad. Times, they are a-changing. And continue to change.

The Old Man said...

I can safely hazard a guess that you approve of the West Virginia v. EPA decision?

Roberta X said...

TOM: can you? I haven't reviewed it. The quickie versions of SCOTUS's reasoning sound like politically-driven BS to me but perhaps the details make up for it.

The planet's getting warmer. I don't pretend to know why for sure, but other things being equal, I'm in favor of not dirtying it up any more than the irreducible minimum. And I expect a great deal of argument over what, exactly, constitutes "too much pollution."

The Sun is givin' away heaps of energy, most of which we're not using. We should be; the energy investment to build infrastructure for it is cheap per kWH. And we should be making more use of existing-technology storage methods, like pumping water uphill all day and letting it run back down through turbines overnight. Sure, it's inefficient, but as long as you're burning sunlight, who cares? Oil and even coal are too valuable as plastics (and other synthetics) feedstocks to keep on burning, aside from any environmental considerations.

Jeffrey B Smith said...

Perhaps the person advocating machine gunning crowds should be reminded that when such things happen, they often end up in the long run being very bad things for the machine gunners. Bloody Sunday 1905 was an important step in the de-czaring of Nikolai II. And look who eventually came out on top in the Boston Massacre.

pigpen51 said...

I was in elementary school, here in Michigan, when they took us on a field trip to Ludington to see the new electric plant that was doing that very thing, pumping water up and letting it run down at night through turbines, to generate electricity. Fascinating for some of us geeky science nerds, back then. Many were bored.
They were just in the newspaper this year as shutting that plant down. I don't know if they ever said why, but I am guessing that they have come up with a more efficient way to generate electricity now.
Ludington is on Lake Michigan, by the way. And most of our electrical energy needs, at least for my side of the state, are generated using renewable resources.
While I certainly agree that we must always attempt to reduce pollution, just to be good stewards of that which we wish to pass on to future generations, it does not make the end justify the means. If the EPA does not have the legal right to make the laws, as the Court ruled, then the Legislature screwed up, and the remedy is that they go back and give them that right, and the President signs the bill into law.
We must be a nation of laws, and not of decrees set forth by unelected agencies, or we can see the issues that can occur. Things like the BATFE and their track record of abuse. Or a Dept. of Education Secretary that likes parochial schools like the last one, giving more than a little extra care than is fair. Congress needs to get their act together, or they will see more issues like this when they pass laws that, no matter how good intentioned, have partisan elements in them, that later down the line come back and bite them.