Thursday, June 7, 2018

The First Amendment Has Its Protections--and Its Consequences

An uproar occurred recently over Roseanne Barr's tweet where she referred to former Obama aide Valerie Jarrett as a product of parents who were apparently not only Muslims but emigrated from the Planet of the Apes.  Although she apologized to Jarrett and all those she offended by her remark, ABC made the decision to cancel her show.  This led to an additional uproar of her supporters claiming her First Amendment right had been violated.  But had it?

The First Amendment, in its entirety, states: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

What that essentially says is that the government cannot arrest or prosecute you for practicing religion, assembling peacefully, or speaking your mind. What it does not say is that there will be no consequences for your words or actions.

Certainly, anyone has the right to voice their opinion.  But if that opinion is demeaning or offensive to many others, the First Amendment does not protect you from any political, social or financial consequences that may result.  Anyone has the right to be offensive, but that does not mean that the rest of us need to put up with it.

And that is exactly what ABC was saying when it made the decision to cancel her popular show.  But that decision could not have been an easy one.

By reviving Roseanne, ABC recognized a niche in the market.  Donald Trump rose to the presidency because of a sense of disenfranchisement felt by many Americans toward its government.  And that sense of disconnect has now extended to Hollywood. In its heyday, Rosanne and the Connor family presented the everyday struggles of a middle-class family that reflected what many Americans live through on a daily basis. Clearly, the market that made the show a hit in the first place still existed.

Did it ever. The show averaged around 10 million viewers per episode.  And the advertisers were paying attention.

The problem is the advertisers were also paying attention when Barr sent out a racist tweet.  It was only a matter of time before the network saw a backlash not only from viewers but advertisers as well.  If anything was learned with the mass exodus of advertisers from Fox News programs due to the controversial statements and behaviors of their show hosts, it is that advertising money speaks louder than ratings.

Immediately, the cries of injustice were heard throughout the country, including calls to boycott ABC and questions as to why Bill Maher, the host of Real Time on HBO, has been able to continue despite his offensive statements, and calls for cancellation of ABC's The View because of the anti-Trump sentiment the show regularly addresses.

First of all, let me state that I have no respect for Bill Maher or anyone who refers to any woman by the "c-word."  The difference, however, is that Bill Maher is on a cable show which can only be viewed by subscribers.  He is not in a prime-time spot on a major network.  And being that HBO is a subscription channel, they have no advertisers to which they must answer.

Secondly, The View is a talk show which touches on many issues, including political.  And as far as I know, none of them have ever made a racially-charged statement.  I am sure, however, that if any of the women on that show were to refer to a person of color as a Muslim ape, they too would immediately get the boot. I used to be a viewer (although I have not watched the show in years) and never once heard a racist slur directed at anyone.  They are anti-Trump, but unless the president has somehow found a way to cancel out the First Amendment, their right to speak out against him is protected by the constitution.

 I also find it interesting that many who find The View offensive have no problem devoting blind loyalty to a man who openly mocks the handicapped, brags about grabbing women by a certain part of their anatomy, and declares that "really great people" willingly participate in rallies alongside neo-nazis, white nationalists and KKK members. And when violence or even death is inflicted upon those who oppose their hateful messages, well, they brought it upon themselves.

Even the Supreme Court has declared that not all speech is protected.  The court has ruled on several occasions that First Amendment rights are not absolute.  Examples of what the courts have left unprotected include:

  • Speech that incites illegal activity or imminent violence
  • Defamation and libel
  • Obscenity
  • Threats and intimidation
  • False advertising
I believe ABC had no choice but to cancel Rosanne given the backlash they were facing.  That does not mean I am happy to see it go.  I was a fan of the show and watched it since the beginning (although they lost me when they won the lottery near the end of the show's original run) and enjoyed the series' revival.  I had reservations at first given Rosanne Barr's fondness for Trump that the show would focus on that issue, but that was not the case.  It was a show about a family which, like many Americans, was one medical emergency, job layoff or household disaster away from financial catastrophe.  It was as relevant today as it was back in the 1990s.

Perhaps we should all take a lesson from Rosanne.  Even freedom of speech comes at a price.  Be careful what you say lest you pay a penalty for your words. The cost could be devastating.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Hatriots Rising

There is a new brand of patriotism sweeping this country.  But if you think this new brand of patriotism is all about love of country, you would be sadly mistaken.  This particular love of country involves hating those Americans whose religion, sexual orientation, skin color, and, most importantly, political beliefs differ from their own.

Hatriotism--according to the website proving your patriotism by hating someone just because a government, politician, or a self-appointed artbiter of social or moral issues deems it appropriate.  A person on either side of the political fence can certainly be a hatriot, but the term generally applies to staunch right-wing supporters who believe anyone who is non-white, non-Christian or non-heterosexual to be, well, a force of evil.

They hate Muslims because every one of them is obviously a terrorist, regardless of the fact that many have lived in this country for decades and have assimilated themselves into mainstream communities, are respected business owners and effective community leaders.  They dislike women who join the Me Too or Time's Up movements because they are trying to discredit respectable men.  They especially dislike the women who participate in the Women's Marches because, even though the goal of the marches are to bring attention to issues that women around the world still struggle to overcome, they see it as an international referendum on the Donald Trump presidency.

They dislike minorities because they see them as lazy and a drain on the nation's entitlement programs, even though 40 percent of SNAP recipients are white compared to 26 percent African American, 10 percent Hispanic, 2 percent Asian and 1 percent Native American, according to Newsweek.    They hate immigrants, legal or illegal, because they believe that they come to this country simply to obtain welfare, even though U.S. law dictates that any person receiving any entitlements must, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, have proof of U.S. citizenship.

But in the last year or so, the definition of  hatriot is expanding to include a much wider category.  This includes those who supposedly do not show enough respect for the flag, military or the national anthem, those who believe differently from our own views, and--most of all--those who do not support Donald Trump.

Hatriotism is a favorite tool of radio pundits, most notably those on the far right.  And although its very definition may seem incompatible with Christian ideals, it has been used for the last two decades to make powerful gains among evangelical Christians.  Evangelism has become almost synonymous with conservative politics, so much so that, at times, it is difficult to see where one begins and the other ends.

It seems ironic that the very group that shuns drinking, dancing and even R-rated movies will happily look the other way when a pundit such as Rush Limbaugh uses vulgar language or promotes misogyny or racism.  They justify it by claiming that if  he "speaks the truth," what does it matter how it is delivered? As a lifelong Christian, it seems to me a slap in the face to all that Christianity is supposed to represent. But it is an outlet that some politicians have been eager to exploit, and never has it been more evident than in the last presidential election.

And is getting bigger.  And louder.  In the Huffington Post column, "The Politics of Hate", Dr. Dustin Swanger, president of Fulton-Montgomery Community College, describes how the hatred has found a willing audience in today's political climate and a poster boy under Donald Trump. "It seems that we have more than a few — well, let’s call them leaders — who are fanning the fires of hatred for one cause or another. Using tactics like yelling your message loudly — because if you’re loud, you must be right or pointing a finger at a group of people and telling us (loudly) that they are the cause of trouble and we should put them in their place. Encouraging violence among crowds to settle disputes or to make a point is becoming the norm in our country."

And this behavior did not stop on the campaign trail.  His unwillingness to put a stop to the hate politics that helped him get elected was never more evident than when  a protester was killed at at a white nationalist rally in Charlotte, NC last year by a known member of the Alt-Right movement. When Trump initially gave a statement, rather than condemn the white supremacy movement in the United States, he declared that there were "really great people" on both sides of the protest and practically blamed the anti-hate marchers for starting the entire incident.  He later issued a statement condemning hate groups such as the KKK, neo-Nazis and Alt-Right, but not before these groups erupted in euphoria on social media at what they perceived as his initial support for their actions.  

What is most frightening, according to Swanger, is how readily a large proportion of the population responded to  these tactics and happily elected one of the  biggest perpetrators of hatriotism to the highest office of this country.  Trump declared all Mexicans to be rapists, advocated physical violence to protesters at his rallies, and pretty much summed up his policy toward women with his "grab 'em by the pussy" statement.  All this was did was earn him the adoration of millions of voters to the point where he could have, as Trump himself so eloquently put it, killed someone and he would still get the votes of this segment of the population.  And why?

Quite simply, they are angry.  "They are mad at the government. They are mad at the police. They are mad at the wealthy. They are mad at each other. They are just plain mad. It is easy to whip mad folks into a tither with the tactics discussed earlier. Hate and anger are strong emotions. They are forceful motivators. And, for many, whether they are right is of little consequence," said Swanger.

Regardless of the fact that this misled segment of the American public believes they have a right to embrace hate,  it needs to stop. If history has taught us anything, it is that this sort of behavior in a civilized society will lead to its destruction.  Throughout history, from Rome to the Third Reich, societies that embrace animosity and violence will eventually self-destruct.

But the solution will not be an easy one.  It will require people of character, those who oppose hateful narrative and reject bigotry and misogyny, to stand up against it. Our leaders can no longer simply tow the party line but must speak out against beastly behavior and derogatory comments toward marginalized groups, even if it means speaking out against those in their own party.  And we the people must elect leaders of integrity to our highest offices as well, not just bullies and egomaniacs who "speak their mind."

Most people I know are appalled by the rise of the "hatriots."  And I am calling on all of you who oppose the divisive rhetoric, insulting tweets, childish name-calling and overall immature behavior of our so-called "leaders" who cater to the ignorance of these haters to speak with both your voices and your votes in upcoming elections.  If history also teaches us anything, it is that good and right will eventually prevail.  But the battle may be a costly one, and it will not be easy.

It entails putting yourself out there and making yourself vulnerable to the haters.  Since early last year, I decided to be as neutral as I could regarding political issues on my own social media sites so as not to offend family or friends.  But recent events and the continued decline of civility and decency from my fellow citizens has showed me I can be silent no more.

As Dr. Swanger points out, "In a country as wealthy as the United States to leave so many of our people uneducated, so easily led down a path of violence, is not worthy of our history, of our founding fathers, and of our people."  Let's take a lesson from other so-called great societies that fell prey to their own propensity for violence and hateful rhetoric.  Before the United States of America is no more than a lesson in the history books.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Pumpkin Spice Me

Here in the Midwest it is finally starting to feel like the autumn.  The leaves - delayed by hot, dry weather - have finally begun to turn.  The warm days give way to cool nights.  And the pumpkin spice products are everywhere.

Coffee shop windows declare that the pumpkin spice lattes and cappuccinos are now available.  Burt's Bees has come out with a pumpkin spice lip balm.  And grocery stores advertise pumpkin spice-everything, from baking chips to cereals to protein bars.

I am waiting for the local gas station to announce that pumpkin spice scented gasoline has finally arrived.

This pumpkin-flavored frenzy may seem a bit much.  But there is something that drives this pumpkin obsession: the words "available for a limited time only."

That is the problem with this beautiful season we call autumn.  It is with us for such a limited time.

Here in Michigan the winter seems like it will go on forever.  The spring brings a slow warming and a promise of what lies ahead.  And the lazy, idyllic summer days, when we are in the midst of them, often feel like they will go on forever.  But that is the thing about fall. It seems to go by in a heartbeat with the leaves falling from the trees before our very eyes and the temperature falling ever so steadily toward that first snowfall.

And with that sense of urgency comes an overwhelming desire to visit that pumpkin patch for the perfect jack o'lantern, take that drive to see the trees in all of their blazing autumn glory, and grab something pumpkin-spice before it is gone.

Now that November is upon us, pumpkin spice flavors will slowly be replaced by more traditional Christmas favorites like peppermint and eggnog.  And so, I will happily indulge in something, anything, pumpkin spice before--like the fall season itself--it is gone.

Here's hoping that you too find something to enjoy during this all-too-short autumn

Monday, June 26, 2017

Cat-egorically Speaking

With my children now grown, working and in college, the house is now quiet during the day.  It is the perfect setting to work from home--no arguments coming from the next room, no little fists banging on the office door, and no competition for my attention.

Except I forget one small detail.  I have cats.

I have a dog as well (two if you count the days my son's beagle puppy is here), but the dog does not seem that desperate for my attention.  She will bark at the door if she needs to go out, but other than that she is content to nap on the floor or patrol her domain in the backyard.

The cats are a different story.  Especially my son's cat, Saito.  He is a large black and white shorthair.  And when I say large, he more than covers the entire keyboard on my laptop when he decides he needs to lay across it.

My office is in our basement and gets quite cold, so I generally run a portable heater.  Saito loves the heater.  If he knows I am in here and the door is closed, he will scratch and screech at the door to get inside.  And then proceeds to lay directly in front of the heat.  I have had to move him away from it at times for fear that he will catch himself on fire.

You may be thinking to yourself, "That does not sound so bad. Certainly it is less distracting than working with children nearby."  But there are certain tactics that cats will employ that are far more annoying than a child whining in your ear. For example:

  • Your work space automatically qualifies as a cat bed.
  • If you have any document sitting on your desk that is the least bit important, it will emit some sort of chemical signature that signals to a cat, "I must chew on this."
  • Cables and phone cords are as enticing as yarn.
  • Pens, paper clips, pencils or any other small items fall under the category of "cat toys."
  • Paper coming out of a printer is a mortal enemy that must be attacked and subdued.

Working with pets may have its challenges, but there is also something soothing about having an animal companion nearby.  Studies have shown that workers who are allowed to bring pets with them to the office have higher productivity and lower stress levels.  For this reason, some companies have instituted special "Take Your Pet to Work" days.

I do feel fortunate to be able to work with my kitty companions nearby.  Right now Saito is curled up on a pile of documents on my desk.  And I would not have it any other way.  Even though I know my hand will be under attack when I need to retrieve them.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Ties That Blind

The latest presidential election has come at a great cost on many levels.  It has affected relationships between friends and co-workers and, as I can attest to personally, it has damaged family relationships as well.

Yesterday I shared a post from a friend that featured an ignorant woman screaming and swearing at a couple speaking Greek and insisting that they "speak @&$%#!* English."  The name Donald Trump was never even mentioned in the post, nor in any of the comments made by friends that followed.

Here is the link to that post:

A few hours later a family member chimed in.  This person claims I have made this woman a representative of everyone who voted for Donald Trump. They posted an angry and confusing message saying something about my valuing the Black Lives Matter movement over the lives of police officers and supporting criminals visiting the White House.  As far as I can tell, I am being accused of joining the Black Lives Matter movement and bringing criminals to the White House for a tour.

Then this person said they were only using my own "analogy" to make a point.  How there is an analogy between a bigot screaming obscenities and my apparent conversion into an African American White House tour guide for incarcerated individuals, I have yet to figure out.  Perhaps someone else can tackle that one.

I am connected to hundreds of people on social media.  At least half of them have political views that differ from my own.  I can have a rational, respectful and logical conversation with each and every one of them on any subject, including politics.  With the exception of this one person.

When confronted with the nonsensical, clarity is generally your best defense. I pointed out a quote featured put on this individual's own wall from Winston Churchill that said, "Some people's idea of free speech is that they are free to say what they like, but if anyone says anything back that is an outrage." I told this family member that they must have directed that quote at themselves because they were incapable of responding to any difference of opinion without hurling rude and insulting comments. They are the only one I know who behaves like this. And all of this is coming from a person who puts the most vulgar and mean-spirited political posts on their wall that they can possibly find.

I then suggested that if they did not like my posts, perhaps they should simply not read them.  And as far as the ugly comments directed toward me are concerned, they would not be justified with any sort of response because I am not insecure and feel no need to stoop to that level.

And this person responded exactly as you may expect someone who has been cornered to reply.  They lie.  They attempt to manipulate words and statements to justify their bad behavior.  They repeated the statement about my using screaming racist woman as a representative of all Trump voters.  They repeated several times that I had declared I was no longer part of America.  I had my husband, son and daughter all read the initial post and asked them to point out where I had made either of those statements.  They all agreed that this person had fabricated that information.

And the coup de gras of this person's argument was that I had proved theChurchill quote right because I got mad.

People who live in glass houses really should not call out others on Facebook.

Anyone reading that exchange could easily have discerned the utter ridiculousness and immaturity of this person's argument and logic.  I certainly would have been justified in responding, even though I vowed I would not.

I didn't.  Instead I made a decision. As far as I can tell I am the only one in the family this person chooses to treat this way, even though not everyone in our family shares this individual's views.  This is not the first time this person has been abusive towards me over politics. But I decided it would be the last.

I went into Facebook and deleted most of this person's comments.  Then I went into my contacts and removed them from my list of followers. And I have no intention of making contact with this person through social media or on a one-on-one basis anytime in the near future.

Was I happy to do it?  Of course not.  This person has been part of my life for over 40 years.  Was it hard to do?  Not as difficult as you may think.

Because I came to a realization.  The ties that bind are often the same ones that blindfold us to the truth.

For some people, being right, justifying your viewpoints and using any means to make yourself appear superior override all else, including relationships.  People like this feel justified in exhibiting any behavior they wish, no matter how offensive, vulgar or ridiculous, but the fact that you express anything that challenges their view of the world is a threat not only to their superiority, but a threat the validity of their very existence.  And they cannot allow that.

More importantly, a person who has so little respect for your views that they would go out of their way in an attempt to publicly embarrass you has absolutely no respect for you as a person.  And life is too short to surround ourselves with people whose only intent is to use us as a scapegoat for their own insecurities and proceed to take pleasure in tearing us down.

Sometimes, for the sake of self-preservation, it is best to simply cut our losses and walk away.  Perhaps it preserves hope for reconciliation in the future.  But that re-connection will only happen with an apology, and whether or not that would ever come remains in question.  People like that tend to think they do no wrong.

For  the  time being I will allow myself to have contact with this person in group settings.  They have a birthday coming up and we will send our well-wishes as a family.  But as far as my having any individual contact with this person which will allow them to use me as the sole outlet for their anger issues and make me their political punching bag, they will simply have to find someone else.  I resign from the job.

Regardless, anyone reading this needs to remember to value yourself, your happiness and your well-being over all else, and most importantly, remove the toxins in your life as much as you can.  Let them go, no matter how hard it may seem.  Surround yourself only with those who value you.  As Eleanor Roosevelt once said, "No one can make you feel inferior without your permission."  Never, ever give it to them.

Monday, November 7, 2016

The Presidential Circus of 2016

It is election eve.  Time magazine has posted a picture of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton together, holding a sign saying "The End Is Near."

That statement could be open to several interpretations

This current election cycle, however, is nearing its end.  It has lasted approximately 82 years.  At least it feels that way.

When thinking back on this election, I am reminded of a three-ring circus.  At the center is Donald Trump, the ringmaster who shouts insults and slanderous remarks at the circus performers.  Half of the crowd screams in approval.  The other half pelts him with popcorn and soda cups.

At the center ring is Hillary Clinton, who walks precariously on a tightrope above a huge pit divided into two parts.  One part contains thousands of swirling emails.  The other is occupied by a so-called "basket of deplorables" holding pitchforks and sharp sticks and eagerly waiting for her to falter.

In the left-hand ring, we have Bernie Sanders, staunchly trying to tame the lion that is the Democratic Party with a spray bottle filled with water.  The right ring contains a clown car out of which pop the 16 former Republican presidential hopefuls.  There never seems to be an end to them and they make absolutely no sense as they climb over each other and attempt to shout down one another.  They are, however, clearly terrified of the ringmaster, who declares them all idiots and keeps pointing to his hands, showing off how large they are.

I am not excited nor hopeful of the change to come in 2016.  If Clinton is elected, she will be continually surrounded by controversy, distrust and questioning of her judgement.  A Republican-held Congress would behave much as they have over the past six years by putting partisanship ahead of what is good for the country, preferring to mimic a group of preschoolers in a sandbox who will take their toys and go home if they don't get their way.

And if Donald Trump wins, there will be no more elections.  Either he will declare himself president for life, or we will all be dead in four years.

Either way, I am steeling myself for a not-so-bright future.  I wish I could be like an ostrich and simply stick my head in the sand until the next election cycle.  Or until the earth is blown to bits when some world leader says something insulting to Donald Trump on Twitter.

If you are excited about your particular choice for president, I wish you luck.  If you are like me, the best advice I can give you is keep drinking until the election is over.  Then stay drunk for the next four years.

If you are disappointed with tomorrow's results, don't despair for long.  After all, it won't be long until the circus is back in town.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Another One Bites the Dust

It is 2016.  Our world as we know it will never be the same.  The nation is truly in trouble.  Our faith in our leaders have been shaken to the core.

Brad and Angelina are getting a divorce.

The demise of this Hollywood super couple has grabbed headlines, at times overshadowing the presidential election. The public and media seem to be in shock that the ultimate Hollywood marriage has hit the skids.  I, however, am not.

Marriage is difficult enough with two distinct personalities carrying two varying perspectives trying  to survive in one household. Conflict is unavoidable in the best marriages, and the fight to work it through day after day can be overwhelming.

Add to that a gaggle of paparazzi reporting on your every move, going through your trash and hounding your children, and any semblance of a normal life, or a normal marriage, becomes virtually impossible.  No wonder so many celebrity marriages dissolve.

You would think that having it all--fame, fortune and a picture-perfect family--would translate to eternal happiness.  But according to an article in The Huffington Post, those are the exact reasons why these marriages fail.

The article by M. Gary Neuman, "Why Do Celeb Marriages a Fail?" lists some interesting reasons why Hollywood couples can't seem to keep it together.  Celebrities seem to accept that they will be spending long periods of time away from home and family and embrace the delusion that short visits at home to "catch up" is sufficient to maintain long-term relationships.

There also seems to be an issue with defining themselves as a "couple."  With much of their time spent living individual lives and pursuing their own careers at the expense of time at home, it is quite easy to realize that you can live without the other person. With more time spent on self-indulgence and less time building a life with their partner, separation becomes rather easy.

As the story of their own "conscious uncoupling" begins to evolve, we will surely be riveted to our screens with morbid fascination.  There is something a bit satisfying about perfect people having their dirty laundry aired in public.

So the next time I find my husband's dirty socks on the kitchen island, or he leaves the outdoor hose running for six hours for no apparent reason, I will not become frustrated.  I will realize how lucky I am.

After all, I could be jet-setting off to a Paris movie set, leaving my children with their au pair, while conferencing with my lawyers whether or not my pre-nup will hold up in court.  I could be Angelina.

The horror of it all.