Posts Tagged ‘First Amendment’

All the News … If You Can Find It

Wednesday, March 6th, 2024

By BOB GAYDOS

The big news of the day. RJ Photography

The big news of the day.
RJ Photography

   It’s definitely time to connect the dots. When (1.) your Sunday New York Times, which you still get delivered to home, comes with a touching note from the delivery person thanking his customers for 12 years of “kindness and generosity” and announcing that, as of March 17, home delivery of the local morning paper, The Times Herald-Record, will cease and that the delivery person learned of the contract termination in the much slimmed-down version of the paper itself {which you no longer get delivered}, well, you kind of pause and wonder what those 29 years of your life were all about, (2.) decide to write more about that in a future column and (3) go looking in still-functioning news sources for some positive news, such as (4) Mitch McConnell, the two-faced weasel from Kentucky announcing that he will step down as Republican leader in the Senate in November after 18 years in which his primary motivation was to use his power to thwart any Democratic president or program and pack the Supreme Court with rightwing stooges to do the bidding of wealthy Republican backers, McConnell’s relinquishing of power also being (5) likely to result in a Donald Trump boot-licker ascending to the Republican leadership in the Senate and, one hopes, further hastening the death of the party as a vehicle for responsible governing, something which (6) the aforementioned Great Gray Lady of New York refuses to use its reputation and power to accomplish, preferring instead (7.) to feature stories on polls declaring that American voters are worried that Joe Biden, who has more hands-on experience in how to properly govern than any previous president and has rescued the country from the ethical and economic morass that Donald Trump left behind, is too old for the job, at 81, because he confused a couple of names while running the country, handling delicate foreign policy and dealing with a Republican Party that refuses to do its job, (8.) because it’s being led by a 77-year-old man who repeatedly confuses who the actual president is, confuses Nikki Haley for Nancy Pelosi, warns about a possible World War II, encourages Vladimir Putin to attack our NATO allies, insists he is immune from prosecution for (not innocent of) any crime he committed as president, claims to be a billionaire but can’t post $500,000 bond in New York to appeal a court ruling that his business there was a massive fraud, faces 91 felony counts, incited an insurrection, raped a woman in a New York City department store, hasn’t the foggiest idea or interest in learning how government is supposed to serve the people, says he will get rid of his enemies on Day One of a new Trump term and whose former staffers say is not only unfit for the office of president, but is also deteriorating mentally, which (9.) many Americans seem to have no problem with and, The Times tells us, can’t seem to even remember what the Trump four years were really like, possibly because the newspaper is too busy trying to be all things to all readers (“The best way to clear ear wax” arrived in today’s issue) to (10.) remind us daily, like a newspaper fighting to protect its First Amendment protection from forces out to abolish it, of Trump’s lying and vindictiveness and ignorance or to explain that sitting presidents typically have low favorability ratings in polls early in a reelection year because they are actually doing the job and the poll, assuming first of all that it’s accurate, may reflect the current situation, but does not predict the future, (11.) which, the way things are going, may not include home delivery of The New York Times. 

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Bob Gaydos is writer-in-residence at zestoforange.com.

Free speech, free press, free fall

Sunday, August 20th, 2023

By Bob Gaydos

The Marion County Record … still publishing

The Marion County Record … still publishing

     There has been plenty of news coverage of the daily stream of complaints from the twice-impeached, four times indicted former president that (1.) accusing him of crimes (91 of them) for things he has said and trying to silence him from talking about the accusations constitute an attack on his First Amendment right of free speech, but (2.) the most recent legitimate threat to the First Amendment has received much less attention, possibly because it happened in Marion, Kansas, where the entire sheriff’s force raided the offices of the local paper, the Marion County Record, and the home of its owners, taking computers, phones, notebooks, etc., looking for the source of information on embarrassing news about a local politician and a business owner, even though the paper had not published articles on either person and despite a warrant that the local DA invalidated two days after the raid as unwarranted, leading (3.) news media organizations to denounce the rare government interference in the operation of a free press, an action which the editor said (4.) created stress which contributed to the death of his 98-year-old mother and newspaper co-owner a day after the raid, which is tragic, as is each of (5.) the estimated 49,500 people who committed suicide in the United States last year, the highest number ever, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control, which said suicides had become more commmon in America than any period since just before World War II, a war whose outcome established the former Soviet Union as a world power, to fear and grudgingly respect, both of which were absent as (6.) Ukraine continued its counteroffensive in the disastrous war launched against it by Russian President Vladimir Putin, which revealed the weakness of Russia’s military, and (7.) Russia’s robotic Luna-25 spacecraft crashed on the surface of the moon, much as (8.) Hunter Biden’s plea deal on tax fraud and gun charges did when a judge

Hunter Biden

Hunter Biden

refused to accept the terms and (9.) Britain’s hopes of magically winning a World Cup in women’s soccer did when gritty Spain won the title match, one-nothing, which (10.) experts said was pretty much what Hawaii had done to prepare for the disastrous wildfire that devastated Maui, leveling a town and killing more than a hundred people, the kind of devastation Democrats could experience in 2024 if (11.) the deceptively named No Labels Party runs a candidate for president, since the moderate-conservative group wouldn’t take away any of Trump’s loyal followers (assuming he’s not in prison), but could sway some independents away from voting for Joe Biden, who (12.) practiced statesmanship by hosting the leaders of Japan and South Korea, traditional rivals if not enemies, at Camp David, to forge an alliance in the three countries’ favor, kind of the opposite approach of Trump, who (13.) said he would skip the scheduled Republican presidential candidates debate in favor of an interview with Tucker Carlson somewhere Trump can presumably demonstrate his right to free speech ad nauseum without fear of someone confronting him with facts, kind of like (14.) Rudy Giuliani‘s approach claiming that the RICO law, which he is charged with violating in trying to overturn the 2020 presidential election results in Georgia, does not apply to conspiracies among political  figures, even though, as the first U.S. prosecutor to use the law, Giuliani, who (15.) has experienced an epic fall from 9/11 grace, (16.) once bragged how he used it against Mayor Ed Koch and other New York City political figures. 

     Ain’t karma great?

rjgaydos@gmail.com

 

Republicans Wage War Against the Truth

Saturday, July 8th, 2023

By Bob Gaydos

3B0E6801-9810-44D0-B32F-0019DC5ED924“The truth shall make us free.”

   That was the motto of Adelphi College, my alma mater. Still is. Been around since 1896. It’s a good one, I think, as mottos go.

    Of course, it’s also a bit selective in that, today, it would preclude any loyal Republican from attending or teaching or in any other way participating in activities at such a socialist opponent of  free-speech.

    I know. That makes no sense. But neither do today’s Republicans.

    The problem arises today mostly in the minds of Republicans who confuse “free speech” with the right to say anything they feel like, without regard to the truth and certainly without regard to the repercussions of the lack of truth in their statements.

    But that’s not the end of it. They also don’t want people pointing out the fact that they might be spreading misinformation, or, heaven forbid, even lying. People like social media fact checkers or independent fact checkers or even government employees such as FBI agents or health care officials.

      Republicans have even found a Trump-appointed judge in Louisiana to say that officially for them.

       Last week, Judge Terry A. Doughty granted a preliminary injunction saying the Department of Health and Human Services and the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other government departments must stop communicating with social media companies for “the purpose of urging, encouraging, pressuring or inducing in any manner the removal, deletion, suppression or reduction of content containing protected free speech.”    

      “Protected free speech.” Like misinformation on Covid-19 or vaccines or election fraud. The judge, whose ruling will be appealed, said the government, which might well have factual information on the matter, should not inform social media platforms about the possibility of dangerous misinformation being spread on their platform.

     Now, much of this fear-mongering, conspiracy spreading and outright lying is caught by independent fact-checkers, be it simply other users or researchers or non-profit agencies. But they say the government agencies have never pressured social media companies to remove content, simply alerted them to possibly dangerous, non-factual content.

     Of course, non-factual content has become the entire Republican Party playbook since it swore allegiance to Donald Trump: Obama’s birth certificate, Hillary’s emails, Hunter Biden’s laptop, Mexico will pay for a wall, COVID’s not serious, stolen elections, January 6 didn’t happen, the mainstream media lies.

      I’m not aware of any Republican court challenge to the right of the free press to print the truth about Trump et al. It may be a bridge too far right now. Of course, newspapers printed long lists of Trump’s lies in office. Not that most Republicans, especially hard core MAGA Republicans, were concerned. They believed the lies. There’s the rub.

     A classmate of mine at my high school alma mater, Bayonne High School, has a theory on how even those who recognize the lies can unwittingly help them gain credence.

      If memory serves me correctly, Dr. George Lakoff was valedictorian of the BHS Class of ‘58, my class. He went on to become a highly regarded cognitive linguist and philosopher at University of California, Berkeley. A smart guy.

     Lakoff says, “Without knowing it, many Democrats, progressives and members of the news media help Donald Trump every day. The way they help him is simple: they spread his message.”

    He likens it to telling people not to think about an elephant. They can’t get rid of the image.

        “When arguing against the other side,” Lakoff says, “don’t use their language because it evokes their frame and not the frame you seek to establish. Never repeat their charges! Instead, use your own words and values to reframe the conversation. When you repeat Trump, you help Trump.”

       Trump’s barrage of outrageous claims has grown with each new report on his criminality and incompetence. It is being buttressed by a coordinated Republican assault on the truth, aimed at schools, think tanks, the news media, as well as the Biden White House.

     Republicans frame it as a fight for the First Amendment. Don’t buy it. This is a fight for the truth.

     And the truth shall make us free.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

(Adelphi College was founded in 1896. It became a university in 1963, the year I graduated with a degree in English, but not before I graduated, meaning I am part of the last class to receive a diploma that says Adelphi College.)

(Dr. George Lakoff’s views on politics, language and your brain can be found at https://substack.com › @framelab).

 

How I Came to be Called an ‘Enemy of the American People’

Sunday, June 11th, 2017

By Jeffrey Page

The Fake President

The Fake President

In late 1963, I was working a go-nowhere job for an airport shipping firm when I got an important phone call from George Trow, the night managing editor of the New York Post, telling me that the copyboy’s position I’d applied for was available.

Was I still interested, he inquired.

“When should I report,” I asked. Easy answer, my having been raised in a newspaper-reading family and believing that newspaper reporters and editors were important people.

Thus, a career began in those hazy distant days.

And oh yes, Mr. Trow said as he cleared his throat, the shift began at 1 a.m., and the pay was $48 a week. I was getting $65 at the airport. I took the job at the Post. One a.m.? $48? My father was aghast.

This was two months after the JFK assassination. The work at the Post was menial: I re-filled paste pots, I took coffee and sandwich orders from the night staff, I kept the reporters well-supplied with copy paper for their stories and the copy editors well-supplied with sharp pencils to edit stories and write headlines. I ran galley proofs and page proofs back and forth between the composing room and the copy desk.

Menial yes, but, it turned out, the start of a 42-year adventure. I worked for several dailies. At each of them we delivered to readers the information they needed, the scores of the sports events they had bet on, the features they enjoyed, some columnists they admired and others they loathed.

In my newspaper decades I covered some presidential campaigns. I wrote a great deal about transportation. Late in career, I got a general column. I interviewed the great Cesar Chavez. I went to Normandy for the 50th anniversary of the D-Day invasion.

Once, I found myself sitting across from Ray Charles who was in town to publicize a singing jingle promoting a new game in the New Jersey Lottery. Charles looked miserable and I had no idea what to ask this genius now reduced to singing commercials late in his career. I filed four dull paragraphs; it was enough.

There were thousands of other stories about politics, about people with interesting careers, about crime. I even found the abandoned creamery in the Catskills where Patricia Hearst spent a year in hiding.

Nowadays the voice in the Oval Office refers to what he has determined to be “Fake News,” which, if I understand it, means any news our Fake President doesn’t care for. An example: He really doesn’t like to be reminded that he drew nearly 3 million fewer votes than Hillary Clinton in last year’s election.

In addition to slandering the press as a purveyor of “fake news,” Trump maligns the entire news industry by labeling the press “enemies of the American people,” which is a lie.

By attacking American news gathering this way Trump forgets where he gets the right to speak his own fake mind in any newspaper he might someday choose to publish. He seems to forget a lot, such as the fact that the press is one of only two occupations specifically protected in the Bill of Rights: Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech or of the press, it says in the First Amendment. (The clergy has such protection as well.)

The need for a vibrant First Amendment has become more and more apparent in the months since Trump took office. Perhaps more than ever it has become clear that our democracy’s survival depends on a free and unfettered press.

A lot of people have fought to defend the United States Constitution. The Fake President was not one of them.

Would Trump dismiss Jefferson as a fake revolutionary? After all, it was Jefferson who uttered the familiar line that if forced to choose between government without newspapers or newspapers without a government he would prefer the latter.

Oops, There Goes the First Amendment

Thursday, May 8th, 2014

By Jeffrey Page

U.S. Supreme Court Building

U.S. Supreme Court Building

I’m not a constitutional lawyer. I’m just an American watching the U.S. Supreme Court change my country in ways that once would have been unimaginable.

For example, in Citizens United, the court decreed that corporations have the same rights as human beings. And now, the court holds that it’s essentially permissible for government to endorse one religion over another and put an end to the concept of religious neutrality.

Once, we were a nation of reason, a sanctuary for the tempest-tossed, a place where immigrants, no matter their faith, seeking peace and maybe even a little understanding, could go to get away from the mob. 

Once, we took the opening clause of the Bill of Rights seriously: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” We didn’t know of any other countries that offered such extraordinary protections to minorities and nonbelievers. The United States was really special.

Sometimes, the great American experiment didn’t work, but such failure was usually corrected fairly quickly. In any case, at least the guarantee of religious freedom was written down and signed; at least we knew how things were supposed to be.

Oh, America! Where else was religious freedom so clearly stated?

This has been a country where the official rule is that a Jew can be a Jew, a Sikh can be a Sikh. And if anyone made being a Jew or a Sikh in America a problem, there was the Supreme Court – with no agenda of its own – to set matters straight. We believed that certain truths were self-evident. You want to pray? Go ahead and pray. Just don’t force it on everyone else.

But now the Supreme Court has decided – in yet another 5-4 decision – that a prayer at the opening of town board meetings in Greece, N.Y. is no violation of the First Amendment because atheists and ministers of all faiths are welcome to register on the board’s “chaplain of the month” roster. The “chaplain of the month” gets to recite the invocation at town board meetings in Greece.

The New York Times has reported that the “chaplain of the month” in Greece was almost always a Christian, that two-thirds of the “chaplains of the month” made reference to “Jesus Christ,” “Jesus,” “your son,” or “the holy spirit,” and that one prayer ended: “We acknowledge the saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross.”

That sure sounds like the establishment of a religion, a point the Greece Town Board naturally denies.

If the town board is serious about representing all its constituents and if it had noticed – how could it not? – that almost all prayers were Christian in nature, it would have made a stronger effort towards inclusivity.

All the board had to do was to get out into the neighborhoods of Greece and proactively invite Jewish, Sikh, Muslim, Buddhist, Shintoist, and clergy or laity of other faiths to sign up on the “chaplain of the month” list. And since God is everywhere, board members could even have ventured into neighboring towns if, for example, there was no Buddhist temple in Greece but one in the next town over. Incidentally, Rochester, a city of about 211,000 people, is just eight miles east of Greece and is home to 12 synagogues, a Sikh temple, five mosques, and a Baha’i community among other places of worship.

Just hours after the Supreme Court ruling, the Greece Town Board opened its meeting with a prayer by the Rev. Peter Enyan-Boadu, who, the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle reported, “asked God to guide the board’s hearts and minds in the spirit of fairness.” He also called on God to bless the minds of the members of the town board, and finished with: “Thank you Lord, for being our source of guidance today.”

The Rev. Enyan-Boadu was from St. John the Evangelist Church.

The Limits to Our Rights

Wednesday, December 26th, 2012

By Jeffrey Page

The hand wringing over the Second Amendment continues in the days and weeks after the Newtown Horror. In op-ed columns and letters to editors some people who support the gun lobby have expressed concern that any attempt by the government to regulate gun traffic somehow betrays the spirit of the Bill of Rights.

The framers didn’t limit the people’s basic rights 221 years ago so why should we allow limitations now, the question goes. This is specious in two important respects. For one thing, taken to its no-limitation conclusion, we may soon hear an argument by the National Rifle Association and other gun rights advocates suggesting that to prevent someone from possession of flame throwers, nerve gas and nuclear weapons somehow deprives us of our right to bear arms. It sounds absurd, but deep down you know that someone, sometime is going to test this position.

Then there’s the generally overlooked fact that we have always placed limitations on the rights handed to the people in the first 10 amendments to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights.

–The limits on free speech – including the cry of “Fire!” in a theater, calls to violence, conspiracy, slandering, and libeling – have been detailed almost to the point of cliché. But platitudes or not, they remain limits on what are generally believed to be – but are not – absolute freedoms in the First Amendment.

–The First Amendment also prevents the government from establishing an official religion, but violations of this occur almost every year around this time. Invariably, some local bodies somewhere in America allow the placement of a Christmas tree, a crèche or a menorah on municipal property, thus violating the spirit of the First Amendment.

–The Eighth Amendment prohibits “cruel and unusual punishments,” which might come as a surprise to the two-thirds of the states with capital punishment statutes on their books.

–And then of course there is the explicit limitation in the 27 words of the Second Amendment itself: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” It’s confusing in its brevity, and this puzzlement is what keeps the fight over the amendment alive. The right of the people to keep arms shall not be infringed, yet the militia – comprised of the people – will be not just regulated, but well regulated.

What does “well-regulated” mean? I suggest that my interpretation of those two words is as valid as the NRA’s, maybe more. Here’s what I mean:

No, you may not possess a hand grenade, an Abrams battle tank or an assault rifle, all of which are designed to kill large numbers and not a white tailed deer or a couple of ducks. Those weapons are for the military.

And yes, background checks on the criminal and mental health histories of prospective gun buyers will be conducted with fervor and honesty. If this results in an extended long waiting period, so be it.

What America needs are politicians with the courage to inform the National Rifle Association that the working definition of “well-regulated” will not be written by NRA flacks.

The Constitution? What’s That?

Sunday, June 17th, 2012

By Jeffrey Page

If the American experiment with popular rule comes to an end, I’m convinced it will be as a result of otherwise sensible people allowing mold to grow on the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Often we don’t abide by what the framers had in mind. One glaring example is over the question of how the United States shall go to war. The Constitution, in Article I, spells it out within a long list of Congressional powers and authority. Congress declares war.

The last time that happened was 71 years ago, after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Since then, American presidents have sent troops and fleets to wage war in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Somalia, the Gulf and many other places with no congressional declaration sought or granted. I don’t recall any serious congressional objection to this presidential use of force.

In New York City, meanwhile, the mayor and his police commissioner are busy dismantling the Fourth Amendment – the one that forbids “unreasonable searches and seizures” – to ensure the continuation of their odious stop-and-frisk program. Briefly: A cop stops a “suspicious [read: nonwhite] person,” asks for identification, orders the “suspicious person” to empty his pockets, notices that along with some money and a handkerchief, the pocket contained some marijuana that is now showing, and promptly arrests the “suspicious person” for displaying marijuana in public. Never mind that to refuse to clear out his pocket renders the “suspicious person” guilty of ignoring a police officer’s command. Either way, there’s an arrest.

Last year, NYPD stopped and frisked 685,724 people: 53 percent were black (blacks comprise 26 percent of the city’s population); 34 percent were Latino (Latinos comprise 29 percent), and 9 percent were white (whites comprise 44 percent). The numbers suggest stop-and-frisk is something you might have encountered on the streets of Berlin around, say, 1939.

Racist? Not us, cry Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. If you bet $10 on the assumption that no relative of Bloomberg or Kelly has ever been stopped and frisked, pick up your money. You’re a winner.

If there’s been a popular movement involving huge numbers of middle class people marching on City Hall to protest this racist atrocity, I haven’t heard about it.

Now, in Middleborough, Mass., some residents are upset about people (especially high school students) swearing in public. And so, the Town Meeting voted to allow the police to fine people $20 for cursing in public. You might think the vote of 233 people who participated would have been about as close as 117 to 116 or that the measure would go down in flames. No such thing. The vote was 183 to 50. That’s 79 percent favoring a dubious move to get around the First Amendment.

It’s dangerous enough that the penalty for uttering a dirty word in public is strictly a police matter. It’s at an officer’s discretion, Police Chief Bruce Gates told The Patriot-Ledger.

Worse is the fact that there’s no official list of banned words. A dirty word is what a police officer on duty says it is.

Can you say “shit?” Probably not.

Can you say “asshole?” Maybe, maybe not.

And since this idiotic rule is up to the cop who hears it, can you say “cop?” Or “fuzz?” Can you call your boss a “son of a bitch?”

No one knows. But that’s OK in Middleborough where the people have accepted Gates’s explanation that the rule is not directed at what he called “ordinary swears,” whatever they are. Actually, he said, the rule is to prevent “profane [a word with religious overtones] language directed at some attractive female walking through town.” He didn’t say which member of the force will decide which females are attractive and thus deserving of protection or what official action he would take if he heard someone saying something profane to a female he finds unattractive.

What they’ve enacted in Middleborough sounds ridiculous. But it’s more than that. It’s dangerous. Oh, and I forgot to mention that children as young as 7 are eligible to be cited under Gates’s rule. He didn’t say what would happen if a kid and his mom and dad refuse to pay the fine.

jeffrey@zestoforange.com