Category Archives: Free Speech

Don’t like Obama, you’re a terrorist?

I am about to say something that will probably get me labeled as a terrorist: I am sore tired with the conduct of the Barack Obama administration.

In a normal universe, that sort of speech would be met with supreme indifference. Anyway, who says “sore tired” these days? But in this brave new world under the banner of the Obama Administration, such speech could tar me as a “right-wing extremist.” Me, who has no party (if both the Democrats and the Republicans were to disappear overnight and take their most obnoxious supporters with them, I’d be hard pressed to shed a tear) and couldn’t be motivated to choose a wing. 

According to a new report by the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence and Anaylisis Assessment,

Rightwing extremists have capitalized on the election of the first African American president, and are focusing their efforts to recruit new members, mobilize existing supporters, and broaden their scope and appeal through propaganda, but they have not yet turned to attack planning.

While I’m sure that there are some unreconstructed rednecks who think that Orville Faubus was a great leader who are put out of joint by the fact that we’ve finally been able to elect a black man president, it’s one thing to spew racist screeds (and I’ve heard some distressing doozies — can we finally all agree that whatever the man may be, he is not a crypto-Muslim? Or a secret Muslim? Or a sub-rosa-Muslim? Or any sort of Muslim at all?) and another to take pot shots at his motorcade. The former is, as far as I remember Constitutionally protected. Slimy, disgusting and utterly devoid of rational thought, but Constitutionally protected.

Here’s where the report starts to get worrying, however, as the light is seemingly turned on anyone who has a political opinion that doesn’t track with the current Administration:

The current economic and political climate has some similarities to the 1990s when rightwing extremism experienced a resurgence fueled largely by an economic recession, criticism about the outsourcing of jobs, and the perceived threat to U.S. power and sovreignty by other foreign powers. (p.2)

Rightwing extremist chatter on the Internet continues to focus on the economy, the percieved loss of U.S. jobs in the manufacturing and construction sectors and home foreclosures. (p.3)

Rightwing extremists are harnessing this historical election as a recruitment tool. Many rightwing extremists are antagonistic toward the new Presidential administration and its percieved stance on a range of issues, including immigration and citizenship, the expansion of social programs to minorities and restriuctions on firearms ownership and use. (p. 3-4)

Prominent among these themes were the militia movement’s opposition to gun control efforts, criticism of free trade agreements (particularly those with Mexico) and highlighting perceived government infringement on civil liberties as well as white supremacists’ longstanding exploitation of social issues such as abortion, inter-racial crimes and same-sex marraige. (p.4)

Rightwing extremist views bemoan the decline of U.S. stature and have recently focused on themes such as the loss of U.S. manufacturing capability to China and India, Russia’s control of energy resources and the use of these to pressure other countries… (p.7)

See a theme there? Many of those same concerns are held by a large majority of people who would never join an extremist group. I’m concerned about the very concrete loss of jobs to Mexico — the drywall business, according to Doug McIntyre (KABC‘s morning drive-time host), used to be a lucrative industry for African Americans. Then, with the Reagan amnesty, suddenly black drywall installers found their jobs and paychecks dwindling till they were completely driven out of the market by Mexican day laborers. This is not some white-supremacist claptrap — there are many blacks who had to leave a high-paying industry because of illegal immigration. Am I or Doug McIntyre suddenly to be called “rightwing extremists” because we state a quantifiable truth? I can assure you, that the Catholic Church (which is anti-abortion and anti-gay marraige) is not populated with neo-Nazi skinheads ready to blow up a black church. And not supporting the current administration is no hallmark for fascist sympathies.

Of course the KKK should be vehemently gone after when they commit hate crimes. I would like nothing better than to see Tom Metzger and his filthy W.A.R. organization brought up in front of a judge for the mayhem they’ve caused. I cheered when the Aryan Nations was destroyed in a lawsuit brought by a woman whose son was murdered by those thugs, and Idaho is better for their absence. The American Nazi Party and its descendents should be labeled for the traitors they are — their ideological forefathers took a very good try at killing some of my relatives on the beaches of Normandy.

But that’s not what this is about. This is not about extremists. This is not about white supremacists. This is not about Militias, Ruby Ridge, Waco, Oklahoma City, no matter how many times those references are thrown about. This is about political payback. This is about Monica Lewinsky, and Jeremiah Wright, and the fact that people won’t just sit down, shut up and let the Messiah run the country, because he knows what’s best for everyone. This is about the impeachement of Bill Clinton, and about the so-called “power of the conservative media” (though I’d gladly give that droning gasbag Limbaugh a nickle if he’d cork it for a week) and the “us-vs.-them, rah team” mentality that’s unfortunately reasserted itself in politics since the end of the Second World War.  This is about Tea Parties, and protests, and rightful, controlled anger at a nation that many people feel is slipping away into something they want no part of. These are not people about to bomb a Federal building. These are not people who have an interest in retreating to the hills and forming some farcical “resistance force” or “guerilla militia”, play-acting that they’re the loyal Maquis under an occupier. These are not people who have some delusional, paranoid notion that “the Jews”, or the Bilderberger Group, or the Freemasons  are conspiring to take over the world.

They’re just  people. 

People who are tired of “stimulus packages” which are throwing their money down ratholes and given to men who put us into this economic situation.

They’re tired of politicians cramming values, whether those are liberal or conservative, down their throats.

They’re tired of seeing their paychecks diminished by taxes, taxes not going to run the essential functions of government, but to a myriad of social programs that they likely do not or cannot use.

They’re tired of seeing us kowtow to governments who hold ideals foreign, nay — diametrically opposed, to our own, because they hold a marketable commodity that we want.

They’re tired of being told that we have to allow waves of people from a foreign country who, while in a deplorable state, are overburdening an already thinly-stretched  social safety net, and who are taking jobs that unemployed Americans could be doing.

They’re tired of seeing politicians, many of whom have never run so much as a lemonade stand, demanding a direct hand in major corporations. Particularly when those corporations would be better served by just collapsing into dust and letting others take their place. 

They’re tired of being told someone else knows what’s best for them, particularly if that someone is a faceless, nameless functionary in the bowels of government.

They’re tired of the parade of self-serving politicians, so eager to aggrandize their own power and base by taking our money and giving it to worthless projects that just coincidentally happen to be lavished on their home states.

They’re tired of legislators who try to work in secret, drafting reckless spending bills, wasting our money, and then say that the bill must be voted on, sight unseen — that any delay, or even debate, would irreparably harm the nation.  

They’re tired of politicians who demand one code of behavior from us, and then willfully hold themselves to a much looser standard.

And calling these people “extremists”, or trying to tar them all with the brush of “terrorism” is only going to make them that much more annoyed. It seems to be “coincidental” that this report was released a couple of days in advance of April 15, when numerous “Tea Party” rallies are to be held across the nation, by people fed up with a government that is stuck at the feeding trough like a prizewinning pig. It can only be that this report was timed to make people think that the Tea Party protestors are aberrant individuals, focused on the ruination of the country, beholden to a “right-wing hate machine” that seeks to impose a Nazi-style totalitarianism, bring back slavery, force Southern Baptist Charismatic Christianity on us as the state religion, and kick puppies for good measure.

Because this is how it starts. Don’t dare engage with your opponent. Demonize them. Make them less than completely American. Question their patriotism. Question their sanity. Question their capacity for rational thought. Rip them down, deconstruct them and build them back up into a straw-man image of their former self. It’s so much easier to fight a straw man.

So much more one-sided.

So much easier to demolish.

And we’ve been down this road before, too many times, from both sides of the political spectrum. No, the Republicans are not blameless either, when they were tarring anyone who questioned Bush’s polices with the brush of being “unpatriotic” or desirous of a terrorist strike against this nation, and drowned out criticism with the chant “U-S-A! U-S-A!” as if that mantra made them more patriotic than the critic. Even now, Marc Levine talks of “socialism.” Sean Hannity fears “marxism.” And Glen Beck is concerned of “fascism.” I don’t see the Swedes taking over, nor the dread hand of Ulyanov hovering over this nation, nor jack-booted, black-shirted thugs force-feeding enemies castor oil. I instead see mediocrity, imbicility and cupidity in government. I also hope to only see four years of it.

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Off With Their Heads! (Or, This blog ain’t getting seen in Thailand anytime soon…)

The ancient and hoary crime of lese majeste, or insult to monarchy, is in the West a quaint old relic of the days when a king could lop his wife’s head off with one hand while eating an enormous turkey leg with the other. A time when princes were routinely murdered in towers and when “Will no one rid me of that turbulent priest” wasn’t a lament over Cardinal Roger Dodger Mahoney’s shenanigans, but a potential order to kill an Archbishop of Canterbury. In short, it’s no longer valid. (Certainly, the Queen of England, given the fact that it seems harder to rein in Her Majesty’s wayward sons and grandsons, probably wishes it were — just to give her a moment’s peace from the latest bombshell in News of the World or The Sun…)

In Thailand, it’s the law. And it has engendered harsh censorship, an intellectual burden on the Thai people.

 Just try to access over 1000 websites on Thai servers, and perhaps as many as 3000, according to the BBC (Thailand itself once cited the number as being as high as 4,800) all of them critical of the Thai King, Bhumbibol Adulyadej. Good luck at that, as they’ve all been blocked by either the Thai government sub rosa (legally, the Thai government can’t block web content without a court order), or through the help of overzealous Thai ISPs. At least 12 bloggers sit in Thai prisons right now, on charges that they made statements that defamed the king. Harry Nicoladies, a Australian author, was arrested and thrown in a Thai prison, before the King pardoned him. He had faced three years in the notorious Klong Prem prison for these words: 

From King Rama to the Crown Prince, the nobility was renowned for their romantic entanglements and intrigues. The Crown Prince had many wives major and minor with a coterie of concubines for entertainment. One of his recent wives was exiled with her entire family, including a son they conceived together, for an undisclosed indiscretion. He subsequently remarried with another woman and fathered another child. It was rumoured that if the prince fell in love with one of his minor wives and she betrayed him, she and her family would disappear with their name, familial lineage and all vestiges of their existence expunged forever.

For those few sentences, in a book that had a print run of about 50 and sales of seven, Nicolaides faced arrest the moment he stepped onto Thai soil, and imprisonment for up to 15 years. He was shackled in irons and treated like a violent murderer. He was consigned to the notoriously posh, lavish, and oh-so-human-rights-abiding Thai prison system. For what? For daring to make a crack about the infidelity of the Crown Prince of Thailand. For words that, if spoken about a US President, would spark a national debate and impeachment proceedings, not a jailterm for the author. For words that if “King Rama” and “The Crown Prince” were replaced with “Henry VIII” would be an excerpt from a history book, not an actionable statement. CNN and the other spineless twits in the Western media whitewashed the story, fearing that the Thai people would lynch their staff in Bangkok.  In December and January, The Economist disappeared from Thai magazine racks — first because of a pair of articles about the King’s role in politicsincluding a number of political coups including the 2006 coup that toppled Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra (not surprisingly, one of the charges levelled against him was lese majeste) and brought a military junta to power, with the tacit support of Bhumbibol Adulyadej himself, and then a second one concerning l’affaire Nicolaides .

Yes, folks, among the manifold definitions of “lese majeste” in Thailand is making factual assertions about the King and his role in politics, or reporting on a newsworthy and noteworthy story about a prisoner of conscience who “insulted” His Majesty. 

And the police have to take every invocation of lese majeste seriously, according to The Economist, which, of course, makes it a great tool for silencing one’s critics. Just find any peg you can to hang a charge of “insulting the King” in your opponent’s statements, and there you go.

Of course, the Thai people think it’s a problem with us, those ignorant, racist redneck foreigners who have no respect for tradition or their god-king, when we have the unmitigated gall  to get snippy over mere human beings being thrown into prison for speaking their mind. The King’s supporters, showing their own utter contempt for what the civilized world thinks, have posted videos on YouTube, for instance, that essentially say “to Hell with free speech.”

Well, then, to Hell with the King of Thailand. Seriously. If people are not allowed to criticize their leaders, no matter how revered, then the leaders are no leaders at all. (While we’re at it, to Hell with Barack Obama. To Hell with George W. Bush. Have I covered all the bases?) Bhumbibol Adulyadej, Rama XI, or whatever the Hell we’re supposed to call him is no less a two-bit cult figure than Kim Jong-il, a sacred cow in gilt whose every utterance is supposed to be an apple of gold, apparently. His image is omnipresent. Before every movie, audiences must stand and pay respect to him. One can’t even do a normal act such as step on a coin to stop it if dropped, because it bears his august face on it. And God help you if you’re a fan of The King and I… Granted he may not be as ruthless or paranoid as Kim, but his personality cult is as worrying. And I hate personality cults. I had stomach upset hearing the chants of “O-BAM-A! O-BAM-A!” during the inauguration.

I’m not for sacred cows. Open a sacred abbatoir. Turn ’em all into sacred hamburger.  Nothing is so important or revered as to be unable to stand up to criticism or mocking, even robust criticism. If one cannot speak freely about his political system, if one cannot speak freely about her leaders, if one cannot speak freely about the political system, there is no freedom.  You cannot have freedom without the fundamental right of being able to speak about important issues without fear of arrrest.

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