Tag Archives: General Petraus

Hooray for the First Amendment!

This article written by: Former Assemblymember Hannah-Beth Jackson of Speak out California

It’s quite amazing how the Constitution of our country seems to come through—even to skeptics who think it’s an antiquated or unrealistic set of principles. While those who don’t support its freedoms try  numerous tricks and subterfuge to undermine it (unfortunately, with some success), it nonetheless remains an extraordinary living and breathing document.  The most precarious of these principles, particularly “in time of war” is the First Amendment, dealing with the right of free speech. That’s the one that reads,

  “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 of the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

It seems that we have recently seen so many challenges to our rights and freedom in this country by the very people who are in charge of its government and are supposed to be preserving and protecting those very rights as defined by our constitution. They are often the very people who do not want the voices of the people to be raised in free and open exchange of ideas or criticism. Consider: All Saints Church in Pasadena, where its Pastor spoke openly against the war in Iraq and the IRS tried to challenge its tax-exempt status. Just this week, the IRS announced it was withdrawing its coercive effort. Then there is Erwin Chemerinsky,  the highly regarded constitutional scholar who was chosen to be the Dean of the newly created U.C. Irvine Law School, only to see his apppointment withdrawn by the Chancellor of the University in response to right-wingers who disagree with Chemerinsky’s  interpretation of the Constitution. But freedom of speech prevailed and after great public outcry, that appointment was properly restored.

And then we have the contrived assault on an organization that dared to challenge the accuracy of a report to Congress about the Iraqi War from its general in charge. By playing off of General Patreus’ name, MoveOn.org questioned whether or not he should be called General “Betray us”, given his less than straight-forward or candid assessment of what is truly going on in Iraq.  Did MoveOn have the right to say what it did? Absolutely. Was it controversial and perhaps in “bad taste”.  Was the young man who challenged Senator Kerry in Florida slightly obnoxious? While many of us might find the comments and behavior to be distasteful and wouldn’t have approached the discussion in similar fashion, where in the Constitution does it say you have to be polite in the exercise of one’s right to speak?  But this is all obfuscation and distraction from the real issue here: The Truth.

Was the information in Move-On’s article accurate? Was the challenge to Patreus’ claims legitimate? Did MoveOn have the constitutional right to do what it did? The answer is an unequivocal yes. Remember, this ad was simple speech, well-documented allegations and challenges to a stone-deaf administration that refuses to listen to the American people or acknowledge what the rest of the world has long known: This war has been a complete failure

Did their ad rise to the level of a Congressional rebuke? Absolutely not. But it would be hard to challenge the facts that they so studiously included . So, in keeping with the way the Bush administration and its apologists respond whenever they are caught with their hands in the cookie jar, they attacked the messenger, since they can’t attack the message because it is true. Think of Richard Holbrook, Joe Wilson (and Valerie Plame), just to name a few who have been vilified for speaking the truth about this administration’s lies and deceptions.

Shouldn’t we be focused instead on the CONTENT of the objection, rather than either the messenger, in MoveOn’s case (a liberal group)or the delivery of that message? The answer for MoveOn’s supporters is clearly “yes” and we are likely to see more, rather than fewer attacks on the administration’s orchestrated misinformation in the days and weeks ahead.

But for proof of the real success and genius of this country’s set of principles, as embodied by Article One of the Bill of Rights we need only to  look to the response to Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s remarks at Columbia University yesterday. Clearly, the man is a loose cannon. His claims and statements are not credible and he did not serve his cause well. But isn’t it better to let him speak, to allow the people to see for themselves just who and what this divisive and out-of-touch demagogue really is? Shouldn’t we be trusting that the people can decide for themselves after hearing all points-of-view? Ahmadinejad may be a madman, but he’s also the leader of a very significant player in the Middle East. Isn’t it better to know the enemy, see how he thinks and thus be better equipped to deal with him? Or is it just for the “decider” to know—since we can surely trust his judgment and understanding of what motivates this hostile regime to do what it does and threatens to do?

And isn’t this exactly what America has stood for in the world–a place where people can come and express their differences in a peaceful yet passionate way, without fear of reprisal or sanction?  We can differ, and we must often agree to disagree, but one thing we should not disagree about is the power and sanctity of the First Amendment to our Constitution. We are a nation with a proud tradition of openness. We understand that speech is basically the articulation of ideas and opinions. It is why we let people speak when their hearts are full of hate and anger; why we allow people to stand on soap boxes and express opinions that are neither logical or coherent; It is, after all, what we are fighting for when we call out to protect liberty and freedom.

We must remember, however, that the fight for those freedoms begins first at home. Let us not forget that this right is what sets us apart from countries like Iran where there is no such freedom to dissent. It is our glorious tradition of openness and candor  that is among our greatest contributions to the world. With that freedom we have been able to discuss, debate and disagree our way into greatness of purpose and action. This is the gift our Founding Fathers gave us. This is the great tradition that nations have tried either to squelch through dictatorship or emulate through democracy. We are its bastion and its protector. We must rejoice in the debate and not allow those in power to destroy it. Otherwise, we become like the nations we so reject–where there is no freedom and no opportunity for  dissent, nations like Iran. We are better and must be better. Let us honor the tradition of openness in America. It has always served us well.

What ever happened to the right to dissent?

This article written by: Former Assemblymember Hannah-Beth Jackson of Speak Out California

The American people are getting to be more and more like the frog in the pot of water. You know the analogy—if you put a frog in water and slowly up the heat, the frog doesn’t know when he’s getting cooked until the water is just about boiling and his fate is sealed because he can’t jump out.  Ive been feeling that this is what is happening to the American people recently and we’re not yet aware that the first amendment, like the frog, is being destroyed by a slow, but sure attack on dissent.

Today I awoke to a plea from the folks at MoveOn.org asking that I call my U.S. Senators and urge them to reject an attempt by Senate Republicans to condemn Move On for its ad last week regarding the testimony of General Patreus. If you recall, they referred to him as “General Betrayus” for what they claimed was a dishonest and slanted analysis on the progress of the so-called “surge” strategy that Bush and his cronies imposed upon Congress, the American people, and most importantly our soldiers and the Iraqi people.

This shameless ploy reminds me of one of the most fundamental strategies recommended when you’re being attacked and can’t respond effectively because the facts are simply against you. Don’t try to respond, just attack the messenger. By deflecting attention from the substance of what is being said, the focus moves from the issue to the character of who is sending the message. It is a strategy that the Bush administration has employed since its beginning. Every time the Emperor is observed walking without clothes, and that pesky child yells that the Emperor is naked, the Bush media machine (Fox News and others) steps in and attacks the child as being blind, or crazy, or both, or in the case of the Bush years, of being disloyal and unpatriotic.

It is not new that dissent is characterized as disloyalty. During times of war (that is REAL war, like World War 2) there was an effort to keep Americans focused on the battle, and dissent, as limited as it may be, was kept in check while our soldiers fought off the Nazi’s and Imperial Japan.  Think more dramatically about after that war, when Joseph McCarthy established his drunken and reckless reign of terror on the American people, using Communism as the “War” we were fighting and using anyone who ever read a book by Karl Marx as a scapegoat.

Fast forward to today, where the “War on Terror” has replaced the War on Communism as the war de jour. While the threat of terrorism is real, the threat of losing our democratic way of life appears to be even more real and immediate in our country today. It was one of our great sages who observed that democracy will never be defeated from without, it will only be defeated from within.

Are we at that stage where the cancer of extremism within our country, the lack of an open, free and independent press has extinguished an honest and open debate on the issues, where our President believes he is king and not subject to the checks and balances of the co-equal branch of government we call Congress? Is democracy being threatened from within?
The Founding Fathers of our country made it abundantly clear that the key to our democracy is a free and open press by which we can educate, debate and communicate our beliefs, opinions and knowledge.  Thomas Jefferson observed that we must make sure people have the necessary information to make intelligent and clear decisions and that we must do so through educating them. And in keeping with the spirit, I’m providing the actual quote from Jefferson to avoid being attacked as unpatriotic for suggesting we educate people as to the facts:

  “I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves;
  and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome
  discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education.
  This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.”

So where are we today? We have a US Senate that this week couldn’t find the will to give our troops a respite from war by providing them the opportunity to rest and refresh back home before redeployments (the Senator Webb amendment) but can find the time to castigate a grass-roots organization for calling out the general on the ground in Iraq for his  less than candid appraisal of the success/failure of his mission. Is this really happening?

Where are we when a slightly obnoxious and insolent young man asks pointed questions to former presidential candidate and U.S. Senator John Kerry about his early capitulation of the 2004 Presidential race and gets hauled away by police for asking these pointed questions? How well is our democracy functioning when a public institution of higher education pulls the appointment of a leading and highly respected constitutional scholar, to lead California’s newest law school after the announcement is made because he is too liberal and too outspoken in his opinions about the constitution for a cabal of influential right-wing extremists? Although reason and good judgment ultimately prevailed and Professor Chemerinsky will lead this new academic endeavor, how is it that we have become so unwilling to let the voices of disagreement and dissent speak?

While many of us have strong differences of opinion on any number of issues, and clearly the level of intensity has risen as the right-wing of this country has gotten more extreme and more entrenched, it is nonetheless a nation of ideas and differences of opinion that we honor and cherish.  The freedom to speak, to debate, to disagree, to object, to challenge and to dissent are among this nation’s finest traditions. 

Is it necessary to agree with MoveOn’s strategy—with the hostile young man in Florida, with the right-wing ideologues who are still running this country and sadly the majority of our news media? Certainly not. But to attempt to silence their voices because we may disagree is to let the enemies of democracy and freedom win. Let’s face it: The Emperor has been naked for some time. It’s way beyond the time that we stop pretending he’s dressed in his finery. It’s time we exercise the courage of a young child and call out the facts as we see them and insist that we be able to do so. To be silent or allow ourselves to be intimidated into silence is not an option.