With that introduction I would like to share a couple of news pieces I think that are worth taking the time to read.
Legislature should put e-mail under FOIA (Lansing State Journal editorial 1-12-11). I preface this by saying there was very little that the late Chetly Zarko and I agreed upon. He was a Republican, anti-union zealot. I am an unaffiliated progressive (a true moderate as I have both liberal and conservative perspectives) who understands the value of a unionized work force in America. That said, the one thing he and I readily agreed on was transparency in government. When we, as citizens are unable to access the communications of our government, to review their briefing memos, and briefings; it leaves people -- not by ill intent usually -- open to stumbling down the wrong path. When there is no way to see the operations of our government employees, including our elected officials, we leave the potential of an accidental stumbling down the wrong path. Some of those paths are, of course, deadly others are innocent albeit poorly thought out.
But a panel of the Michigan Court of Appeals made a mistake earlier this year when it issued a ruling based on a FOIA fight Zarko started with the Howell Public Schools. Zarko was in it to raise hell, there is no question about that. But he was also in it for the concept of transparency. He had requested all the private emails sent on the Howell servers from Union representatives. He argued that personal correspondence on a private email sent through a public server was therefore a public document. Now I in part disagree with that assessment-- at least in this case. I think if high ranking public official is doing something illegal, and doing so by hiding it in private emails (like yahoo or gmail) sent through public servers, that is something we have a right to know about. Whether or not a union representative, who is generally given paid time by the district to work on union issues, is doing so is another matter altogether. But our short sighted appeals court went much further in that kind of determination. The Appeals Court ruled that it did not believe that emails were even covered by FOIA. That is a wrong reading of the law -- both in spirit and in letter. Sadly the Supreme Court rejected an appeal on the matter earlier. Thus setting up a solid argument for public bodies who are worried about sharing public emails playing games with FOIA.
And let me be clear. Public bodies have been playing more and more with the spirit and letter of this law. They try to get around it. We have lost more access to public documents in the last ten years then I care to remember. If government is for and by the people, then it must also respond with integrity and transparency to the people. When government is given a way to hide, it only leads to mischief, sometimes intentional, sometimes not and sometimes a combination of both. And that is unacceptable in all three forms.
No one listened to Gabrielle Giffords (Frank Rich, NYT 1-15-11). As anyone who has not been a coma in the last week is aware, last weekend there was a terrible tragic event involving a Democratic Member of Congress, Gabrielle Giffords. A man, identified as Jared Loughner, walked up to the Congresswoman's Congress on your Corner event in front of a Safeway shopping location in Tucson, and open fired. Loughner's shooting spree allegedly killed six, and wounded 13 more, including Giffords. In fact, Giffords was shot in the head at point blank range. The news reported Saturday that she had had he breathing tube removed and doctors felt they would be able to judge if she could talk some time in the next couple of days.
But Giffords' shooting was not just a bizarre moment in American history. It was caused, allegedly, by a young man who by all accounts was seriously in need of mental health services. He never got them, and the result is 19 shot. There is very little by way of a national conversation about what we as Americans should do about those suffering with mental illness. That conversation is needed and necessary.
There is a second conversation that is not really happening. And this is about the tone of the rhetoric in American politics. Let's get real, first of all, those with strongly held political beliefs have long fought to express those beliefs with full throated support; and that is not a bad thing. But what has happened in this country, since the waning weeks of the 2008 Presidential campaign is more than that. The language goes above and beyond the rhetorical. It has resulted in foiled plots to kill Obama, widespread threats and violence in the weeks leading up to, the days after, the vote on health care reform. This is no longer about what we say and how we say it.
Giffords' made an issue about this in March of last year, and no one listened. At one of her Congress on your Corner events, some one in the crowd dropped a hand gun. It was quickly picked up. Then the window of her office was shattered the night of the vote for health care reform. That is not rhetoric, or protected speech or even the Second Amendment. That is violence and it is something we have seen before in world history.
On the night of Nov. 9-10, 1938, a country suffering massive economic turmoil including unfettered inflation, mortgage and lending crisises, unemployment and business collapses. It also included bank collapses. At the time, a conservative government -- one which disliked homosexuals and abortions an thought of itself as the pure Christian government-- was in control of the country. They targeted, first, the Jews. The country of course was Germany and it was lead by Adolf Hitler and the Nazis.
This was Kristallnacht or the Night of Broken Glass. It was so named because on this night, SA troopers and civilians broke into the homes of Jews all over Germany, dragging away the men. The smashed some of the homes with sledgehammers. It was a night of terror, and no one can deny that reality (well no rational thinking person anyway).
Here is what the Times of London reported on the event:
"No foreign propagandist bent upon blackening Germany before the world could outdo the tale of burnings and beatings, of blackguardly assaults on defenceless and innocent people, which disgraced that country yesterday."That sounds a lot like the mob mentality that has been unleashed on this country by GOP propaganda machines. It started in the waning weeks of the 2008 Presidential campaign, as supporters of Sen. John McCain of Arizona and his Vice Presidential selection Sarah Palin, were caught on tape screaming to kill Obama. The Republicans never rejected that language to the crowds.
After Obama's election, there was a lull, until the rise of the Tea Party which has been funded by right wing oil magnates. Since then the propaganda machines have been in high gear stirring fear and rallying the faithful with that fear. The sad thing about using fear to inspire an uprising is that once the mob reaches a critical point, a point that no one can determine with any given crowd or at any given moment in time, the propaganda machine loses control of the crowd and things get out of hand.
No, the GOP is not the Nazi Party. I have spoken with modern Nazis, and they are nothing in comparison to the power and voice the National GOP has. They are also usually rejected by most Americans who are rightly appalled at the racism of the Nazi Party.
However, the Tea Party and the GOP have stirred the pot with fear and rallied the crowds with panic. The instances of violence are, thankfully, less than they could be. But the rhetoric from the Machine continues to churn out vitriol. It continues to encourage fear and eventually when enough people convinced that their safety, their way of life is in jeopardy, they will act out, with violence. It's part of human nature to protect one's place in life. It defines us, and it bonds us together to a point. But when you threaten to take it away, or tell people that another group of people will take it away, they will eventually respond to that threat.