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I just found out two of the top ten challenged books in 2013 are favorites in my house

September 26, 2014 5 comments
Two graphic novels from my collection that I am currently re-reading. Photo by Ken Santema

Two graphic novels from my collection that I am currently re-reading. Photo by Ken Santema

It is Banned Books Week. Since Freedom of Speech is one of my top political issues I thought it would be worth doing a post on. One thing I didn’t expect though was to find my family has two of the top 10 challenged books in 2013. I say that because I have dozens of books/comics/graphic novels that could potentially be considered a lot more controversial than either of those on the list.

Here are the two banned book on the list that currently reside (quite enjoyably so) in my house:

1. Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited for age group, violence

10. Bone (series), by Jeff Smith
Reasons: Political viewpoint, racism, violence

The first most widely banned book (or rather series) is Captain Underpants. It happens to be a favorite of one of my boys. Supposedly it is causing quite a stir with parents due to language that isn’t well suited for fourth graders. I decided to read one of the Captain Underpants books this morning. I found nothing I would consider obscene for a fourth grade boy. Actually I found it to be a pretty interesting read compared to most of the books my kids get at the book fair every time teacher conferences come around. It is also worth noting that this book series (and the Ninjago books) has actually been able to get my kid to read without being asked. That is quite a remarkable accomplishment.

If there are parents out there that don’t like Captain Underpants. Well, all I can say is tell your kids not read them. It seems pretty silly to keep children from being entertained and learning new concepts (which is what reading is really about). But hey, I have no problem with parents censoring their kids. It is only when those parents try to get books banned that I have an issue with those same parents. Banning Captain Underpants from school libraries will not protect anyone. I would think by the 21st century that parents would have learned to stop trying to keep their kids from learning new things. But that is the way it goes. Too often in history books have become banned ‘for the children’.

Number ten on the list I found to be an even more odd selection. I first started reading Bone back in the mid 90’s (I think, time is getting fuzzy). Bone is such an interesting series because it started humble (story-line wise), yet became such an epic adventure. I don’t recall any time when I would say the book is racist. And as to violence, I don’t see it being any more violent than older contemporary comics before the CCA. Actually if my kids ever really get into comics I would probably recommend the series to them. It really is a good series that can be enjoyed by all ages. I really fail to see how this would be considered a title for people to try banning.

Looking at the list of ten most challenged books I can maybe understand why parents are trying to get them banned from libraries (I still disagree, but do understand). Personally I think parents would do better to promote reading and expanding knowledge for their children. Banning books has never solved anything………

PS. The picture in this post has nothing to do with either book being talked about in the post. It is just an example of two graphic novels that would probably cause someone’s head to explode if they think Captain Underpants is extreme.

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US Senate failed to overturn the First Amendment

September 15, 2014 3 comments

Last week I noted the US Senate was debating restricting political free speech. Just two days after that post the Constitutional Amendment died with a cloture vote of 54-42 (60 votes were needed). There really wasn’t much of a chance for this Amendment to actually be passed and forever alter the US Constitution, but it was good to see it die right away.

SJ Res 19 if passed would have allowed Congress to regulate political speech. I know, some people will say “money isn’t speech” and “corporations aren’t people”. There are problems with both statements. The simple fact of the matter is that any speech done beyond spoken work costs money. I really cringe when I discovered a large mass of political bloggers around the country supporting SJ Res 19. Political bloggers are a group that should specifically be opposed to restrictions on political speech. I’ll give myself as an example. This blog site, SoDakLibery, costs me money. Had this Amendment been passed by the US Senate, the US House, and ratified by the States it would be possible for Congress and the States to regulate what I say on this blog. Would that be likely? Maybe not at first. But “maybe not at first” doesn’t give very much comfort. Giving Congress the power to regulate political speech means trusting the current and all future Congresses to do the right thing. I personally don’t have that kind of trust in Congress, and find it odd that others would.

As to “corporations aren’t people”. That is a completely separate debate. This amendment was not aimed just at corporations. The Amendment would have applied to political speech for “natural persons and corporations or other artificial entities created by law”. Basically any laws made on the grounds of this Amendment would have applied to anyone Congress wanted it to apply to.

Even if this had been aimed directly at Corporations it would have been bad. Here are a few short reasons why:

  • What kind of Corporations are being talking about? Does that mean just full Corps? Are Sub-S Corps also impacted? How about LLC’s? Corporations are created for a variety of tax and legal protective reasons. Corporations are created at the state level and there are various requirements of what an actual corporation is from state to state.
  • How about non-profit corporations? Would they be impacted? Some of the largest non-profits in the US also happen to spend a lot of money in politics. Here in SD think Avera and Sanford….
  • What about Unions. Unions are basically an artificial entity similar to corporations. Should they fall under the same restrictions?
  • Corporations currently have their income taxed as if they are a real person (well some do). Does that mean if Corporations are not found to have the same rights as people, that Corporations will no longer be taxed as people? If that is true I might get  behind a Constitutional Amendment saying Corporations are not people. Removing income tax from Corporations would do more to revive the US economy than any misguided stimulus spending.

I understand why the Senate Democrats brought this Amendment forward. Even though they knew it wouldn’t pass, they wanted to get their base excited. A lot of Democrats are rightfully worried about the vast amount of money in politics. People of both parties are getting tired of bought and paid for elected officials. The Senate Democrats hoped the debate surrounding this Amendment would be a launching pad to get more votes this fall. I think that is the saddest part of this whole Amendment. DC Democrats decided the best way to get their base excited was to propose a Constitutional Amendment that would restrict free speech. That says a lot about the current state of the Democrat party at the national level.

So if money in politics is the problem, what is the fix? There probably isn’t an easy fix. But I would start with making sure all aspects of political spending are completely transparent. There will always be a lot of money in politics. If DC Dems somehow got their wish and Corporations no longer had rights and Super-PACs went away, money would still remain. All that would change is how that money is spent. Instead of looking for ways to restrict free speech, I believe we should be looking for new an innovative ways to make the current system even more transparent. With true transparency it then leaves it up to the voters to decided whether politicians have been bought and paid for. Some tools of transparency already exists, yet they are typically avoided during this debate because neither side truly wants a lot of attention on where money comes from for their favored politicians.

Hopefully the US Senate won’t try to amend the Bill of Rights anymore this year. Even if the move was done in the name of politics to excite their base, it is a move that makes civil libertarians very nervous. Actually it should make anyone nervous to think about giving Congress the power to regulate political speech. It takes some mind-twisting to believe that allowing Congress to restrict political speech would somehow make Congress less attached to special interest moneys.

I think Remy has a good way to end this post. Here is his video made for the Center for Competitive Politics a few years ago:

PS. Here are a couple more Free Speech videos. The first one is a Metal classic. It is Danzig’s reply to Tipper Gore’s crusade against music. The second is explicit, and comes from Ice-T and his Heavy Metal group Bodycount.

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US Senate will debate restricting free speech

September 9, 2014 6 comments
US Bill of Rights

US Bill of Rights

Yesterday the US Senate voted to advance debate on SJ Res 19. The title of SJ Res is “A joint resolution proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States relating to contributions and expenditures intended to affect elections.” The title I would give SJ Res is “A joint resolution proposing an amendment to Constitution of the United states restricting First Amendment protected freedom of speech and freedom of press”. The motion to advance the bill doesn’t mean it has majority support, it just means the majority of the Senators want to have debate on the issue. Actually it would be almost impossible for such a Constitutional Amendment to actually become reality. The proposed Amendment would need to be approved by 2/3 of the Senate, 2/3 of the House of Representatives, and then 3/4 of state legislatures.

I’ve written on this topic many times. Most relevant to this bill is probably my post supporting the McCutcheon SCOTUS decision and a post from the early days of this blog celebrating Free Speech Week 2012.

As I write this post there are Senators coming up to the floor speaking for and against the bill. So far I have seen South Dakota Senator John Thune speak against the constitutional amendment. Thune rightfully pointed out that Congress should not have the ability to choose how much of a political voice American’s have. Thune also pointed out that a government trying to revoke the right to speak already has a name: totalitarianism. Then Thune went on to mention that Senate Democrats know it has no chance of passing and they are only pushing this because it is an election year. Thune says the Democrats will use the defeat of this Amendment as a way to get their base worked up at the polls this fall.

Senator Al Franken (D-MN) just got up to speak in support of the Amendment. It is odd to hear him say the Amendment is good because “most people” agree that restricting political speech is OK. So much for Democrats being the party that looks out for the civil rights of all Americans.

Going forward, this is a bill I will likely keep a close eye on. It is also a good real-world example of what would happen if Democrat US Senate candidate Rick Weiland were to become elected this fall. He has said he would spend his first year as Senator meeting with all members of Congress to pass a Constitutional Amendment allowing Congress to restrict political speech. Is that really what the top priority of a Senator from SD should be?

PS. Speaking of free speech being restricted by the government. Here is the live version of Remy’s song What Are the Chances? (An IRS Love Song).

The SCOTUS McCutcheon decision was correct

April 8, 2014 1 comment

win7_mute (1)Today I finally had some time to actually read the MCCUTCHEON ET AL. v. FEDERAL ELECTION COMMISSION brief. I’ve waiting to actually post anything about the SCOTUS ruling until I’ve actually read it. From a civil liberty perspective SCOTUS got this decision right. That doesn’t mean anyone has to like special interest money in politics. It just means that anyone fighting against that special interest money should do so in a way that respect the liberties of everyone; including those they stand opposed to.

I have always found it odd that anyone that respects freedom of speech, freedom of association, or civil liberties would support a law that prevents people from backing as many candidates as they wish. Life is a not a video game. There isn’t a “free speech meter” that gets used up after showing support for an arbitrary amount of candidates. Trying to limit the amount of candidates a person can contribute to was nothing short of trying to remove money out of politics. This is not allowed. Here is the opening paragraph from the briefing, which basically shows why the McMutcheon ruling is correct:

The right to participate in democracy through political contributions is protected by the First Amendment, but that right is not absolute.Congress may regulate campaign contributions to protect against corruption or the appearance of corruption. See, e.g., Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U. S. 1, 26–27. It may not, however, regulate contributions simply to reduce the amount of money in politics, or to restrict the political participation of some in order to enhance the relative influence of others. See, e.g., Arizona Free Enterprise Club’s Freedom Club PAC v. Bennett, 564 U. S. ___, ___.

There are no corruption concerns that come up with contributing to multiple candidates. People may not like that it happens, but that doesn’t make it wrong. The key part is “or to restrict the political participation of some in order to enhance the relative influence of others”. In other words the rights of each individual are equal; Congress cannot pass a law that removes some free speech rights from one citizen and give it to another. That is basically what limiting the amount of candidates someone can contribute to had done. By reducing the ability of McCutcheon to exercise his free speech as he wished, it actually provided a greater voice for others that were contributing to other candidates. That is a form of progressivism I find most disturbing: rights redistribution.

There are ways to fight against the big money of special interest groups without actually trying to trample the rights of others. But almost all of the ways I can think of require voters that actually care about where money comes from and where it is going. There are many websites and non-mainstream media sources available that actually provide this information to the public. If people truly want to fight against special interest money in politics there is information available to fight against it.

One last point to remember is that special interest groups exist for almost any topic that can be thought of. Restricting the speech of sources that are ‘undesired’ will also restrict the speech of sources that are desired. This point was quite well made by Chief Justice Roberts when he wrote:

Money in politics may at times seem repugnant to some, but so too does much of what the First Amendment vigorously protects. If the First Amendment protects flag burning, funeral protests, and Nazi parades—despite the profound offense such spectacles cause—it surely protects political campaign speech despite popular opposition.

It is time for those pushing to overturn Citizens United (and now McCutcheon) to give up that anti-liberty approach and find ways to fight special interest money without trampling the First Amendment.

South Dakota legislature made a statement against transparency and free speech by endorsing the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP)

March 30, 2014 10 comments

Early in the 2014 South Dakota legislative session Representative Gosch brought House Concurrent Resolution 1011 (HCR 1011). This was a seemingly simple resolution aimed at showing support for South Dakota’s ‘sister state’ the Province of Taiwan. Here is the purpose of this resolution as introduce and passed by both Houses:

A CONCURRENT RESOLUTION, Endorsing Taiwan’s participation as an observer in the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the thirtieth anniversary of sister state relations with the Province of Taiwan in the Republic of China (Taiwan) and Taiwan’s inclusion in the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).

The actual text of the resolution has a lot of WHEREAS statements explaining why Taiwan’s participation in the Internation Civial Aviation Organziation (ICAO) is a good thing. I actually agree with those WHEREAS statements. It also goes on to say how things between South Dakota and Taiwan have been keen since officially becoming sister states back in 1984. Again, nothing wrong with any of that.

Finally the WHEREAS statements go into an area South Dakota should not have gone into. Here are the statements in questions:

WHEREAS, for Taiwan, the resumption of TIFA talks with the United States is only the beginning of what must be a sustained push for further and more wide-ranging trade arrangements with its myriad trading partners. A chief target should be Taiwan’s inclusion in the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) in the near future; and
WHEREAS, Taiwan’s inclusion in the TPP would contribute substantially to the depth, viability, and quality of the TPP, Taiwan’s strong economic weight in the Asia-Pacific, its well-developed knowledge base and highly-skilled workforce, its vital position along regional supply chains and value chains, and the positive economic and strategic gains for all make Taiwan an ideal candidate economy for the TPP’s expansion:

A new successful Trade & Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) is a good thing. It was necessary in part because the Republic of China had refused to import US Beef for a number of years if the cattle had been fed with certain additives. But then the resolution has to mention the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

TPP is an issue I’ve been following for a few years now and was quit stunned when I found out the South Dakota legislature actually passed a resolution endorsing this secretive multi-national agreement. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has a good summary of TPP (an infographic explains more at the end of this post):

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a secretive, multi-national trade agreement that threatens to extend restrictive intellectual property (IP) laws across the globe and rewrite international rules on its enforcement. The main problems are two-fold:

(1) IP chapter: Leaked draft texts of the agreement show that the IP chapter would have extensive negative ramifications for users’ freedom of speech, right to privacy and due process, and hinder peoples’ abilities to innovate.

(2) Lack of transparency: The entire process has shut out multi-stakeholder participation and is shrouded in secrecy.

The United States is already a part of TPP; and now South Dakota endorses TPP and Taiwans inclusion in this anti-free-speech and anti-transparency group with this RESOLVED statement in HCR 1011:

    BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the South Dakota Legislature is supportive of all efforts to include Taiwan in the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP); and

When the resolution was being discussed on the House floor it was only Representative Kaiser that spoke against the resolution due to its inclusion of TPP. Kaiser focused on the lack of transparency used by world leaders when creating agreements through TPP. None of the meeting agendas or notes is available for the public, or even Congress, to view.

In response Representative Steele made a statement I’ve heard many politicians say on a variety of topics; and it is always wrong to say. Here is what Rep Steel said about the resolution:

I’m not sure what this TPP stands for or what it does. But, Taiwan has been a friend of the United States for many years…

He then goes on to say that any problems with TPP can be worked out elsewhere. Basically Rep Steele said he doesn’t care about what he is actually endorsing because he wanted to make Taiwan feel good. And I’m not just picking on Rep Steele here. The resolution passed the House with a vote of 64-5 (with 1 excused) and the Senate with a vote of 28-0 (with 7 excused).

By my estimation all of the legislators in Pierre that voted yes to this resolution were making one of the following statements:

  1. I don’t bother to research anything I’m voting on. Therefore I only thought this resolution was about Taiwan.
  2. I don’t care about resolutions so I’ll just vote yes and hope nobody actually holds me accountable for whatever I’ve voted on.
  3. I support a lack of transparency and support attacks on free speech at the international level.

None of the above stances are good from the viewpoint of a constituent. I’ve heard it suggested that hearings should be held on Resolutions before they reach the floor. Before I thought of that as a silly waste of time. But if the South Dakota legislature is going to thoughtlessly pass such bad resolutions maybe public input is required. Apparently few of our legislators in Pierre will take the time to actually research what they are voting on so it is up to constituents to let them know.

PS. TPP as a topic is too broad for one little blog post. The best resource for information about TPP can be found on the Knowledge Ecology International website. Alternatively the EFF has created the following Infographic explaining TPP:

tpp_1

Free Speech Week 2013 Summary

October 27, 2013 Comments off

FreeSpeechWeek_Logo_Main125Today is the final day of Free Speech Week 2013. On a personal level I feel it has been a successful week. I had the opportunity to speak with a couple of youth groups about freedom of speech and do some activities with them. I also found time to write a few blog posts on the subject. Here are my posts from this week:

I also had some other posts throughout the year about freedom of speech. A few of the more important posts include:

I hope to have more posts in the next year about free speech and freedom of choice. I really feel this is an important issue that too few Americans (even politically active ones) take time explore.

Free Speech Week 2013: Freedom of Speech quotes

October 27, 2013 Comments off

It is Day 6 of Free Speech Week 2013. I thought it would be a good time to post some of my favorite free speech quotes. The following list is in no particular order of favoritism or importance.

  • Frederick Douglass: To suppress free speech is a double wrong. It violates the rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker.
  • Charles Bradlaugh: Without free speech no search for truth is possible… no discovery of truth is useful.
  • Neal Boortz: Free speech is meant to protect unpopular speech. Popular speech, by definition, needs no protection.
  • Jeff Dunham: I’ve skewered whites, blacks, Hispanics, Christians, Jews, Muslims, gays, straights, rednecks, addicts, the elderly, and my wife. As a standup comic, it is my job to make sure the majority of people laugh, and I believe that comedy is the last true form of free speech.
  • Dana Carvey: I think free speech is probably the coolest thing we have in this country, and again, you can label it hate speech and dismiss it, and then you’re allowed to censor it.
  • Thomas Sowell: Both free speech rights and property rights belong legally to individuals, but their real function is social, to benefit vast numbers of people who do not themselves exercise these rights.
  • George Washington: If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.
  • Brad Thor: I live in America. I have the right to write whatever I want. And it’s equaled by another right just as powerful: the right not to read it. Freedom of speech includes the freedom to offend people.
  • George Orwell: If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.
  • George Carlin: Their only words. You can’t be afraid of words that speak the truth, even if it’s an unpleasant truth.

As a bonus here is one of my favorite Free Speech and Free Choice rants from Denis Leary in the movie Demolition Man:

And finally here is one of the greatest free speech songs out there and is a direct response to Tipper Gore and the PMRC. This is a rap song from Ice T (with Bodycount) and would be considered by many to be ‘explicit’. So if you don’t like a lot of “bad words” I wouldn’t watch it.

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