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  • Old Glory and Free Speech

    • Posted on Jul 03, 2016
    Here's today's (July 3) Courier column.  Watching the salt tide wash away a sand graffiti version of an American flag on a beach got me to thinking:  Should that sand flag-scratcher be prosecuted for desecration? 

    Recently I was moseying along an Atlantic beach at low tide when I came upon an American flag scratched out in the sand with a stick. 

     It had the familiar outline—the box in the upper left with stars, horizontal stripes on the right and bottom, the whole sitting in a rectangle.  Well done, I thought, probably by a patriotic beach-walker with a sharp stick.  

     I knew that graffiti-sand flag wouldn’t last past noon, thanks to the approaching tide. 

     Imagine if someone had placed a Wal-Mart American flag there instead, and tacked it down with sticks.  The saltwater tide would inundate it daily.     

     Trouble. People would complain that a “real” flag was being desecrated by saltwater and carelessness.  No such problem with the sand flag.   

     That flag was a mere scrawl, a graffiti that any smart 10-year-old could have done. 

     So should patriots take “real” flags more seriously than sand flags?  Should anyone be fined or jailed for “desecrating” store-bought versions of Old Glory? 

     No.  They should not. If desecrating a flag depends on the elaborateness and detail with which the flag is created, it’s nonsense. 

     The flag serves as the country’s logo, and worldwide, the Stars and Stripes symbolizes what the country stands for.  Nothing more, nothing less.

     If this seems like common sense, point your browser to “Flag Desecration Amendment” and check out the serious attempts to outlaw flag destruction. 

     In the late 1960s, legislators from practically every state as well as federal legislators were rabidly opposed to flag burnings by Vietnam War protestors. 

    It infuriated them to see their beloved Stars and Stripes trampled and burned. 

     If you think the country’s divided now, a half-century ago we were burning down buildings—not just flags—and police and the National Guard were beating and shooting students for marching and protesting.  Now we merely carp and grouse on the Internet.  

     When the so-called “Flag Burning Amendment” to the constitution went to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1968, the decision split 5-4 in favor of “desecration” being free speech.  And therefore perfectly legal.  

     And get this—Justice Antonin Scalia voted with the majority, insisting that public
    desecration of the flag was in fact protected the by the First Amendment.    

    Still, the idea didn’t die.  The U.S. Senate brought it up in again as recently as 2006.  It lost by one vote.   Basically, lawmakers wanted to give the courts power to punish anyone who damaged the flag in any way. 

    That piece of colored cloth, in other words, would be treated like a powerful religious relic, with the government behaving like an avenging church.    

     There’s a crucial irony here.  You can’t damage a country’s freedom by hurting its logo.  The only way to inflict real damage is by curtailing freedom of speech.  

     That’s what anti-desecration laws would do, as the Supreme Court wisely declared.    

    Defacing or destroying any representation of the U.S. flag does nothing whatsoever to harm the country for which it stands, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. 

     
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  • The Contradictory Nature of Conservatism

    • Posted on May 05, 2016
    I wrote this some eleven years ago, and evidently scrapped it; don't think it was published at the time.  Re-reading it now, it seems to hold up well, and as we witness the utter collapse of conservatism under the guidance of Donald Trump, it rings true.   

    +++++++++++++++++
    Conservatives want smaller government, but still expect to be protected and defended by a strong standing army/air force/navy/marines/coast guard.  

    They also know that the federal government helps protect the food supply, and has a hand in detecting and preventing deadly epidemics.  Oh yes, they believe that upholding public morality is important, so regulating the media does have a role.  

     And they appreciate quality state education, though they might like to change it to fit their religious beliefs more than a secular government would allow.  They know how expensive private schools can be, so none call for national privatization of public schools.  

     They’d like to be able to drive or fly safely to any destination in the country safely and relatively cheaply, and that requires good roads as well as national oversight of the airlines, particularly when it comes to safety.  

    Oh yes, there’s social security, meaning some kind of assurance that old age doesn’t mean penury.  And Medicaid, which keeps medication costs from sending us all to the poorhouse. 

     All government programs, all costly, all to be continued.  So conservatives want smaller government, but no fewer services.  Ask a conservative what they would get rid of to cut government spending, and you end with a very short list. We’d still have a military, still government standards for food safety and water quality. We’d still have state schools both for grades 1-12, and they must know that our public universities remain the envy of the world.  

    As is the scientific research done at them, much of it funded by the federal government.  Because Americans have gotten so used to government providing so many critical services, from education to safe food to a large military, conservatives don’t seem to know how much they get from it.

     Like air to humans and water to fish, government is everywhere, so it’s taken for granted. In fact, here’s the dirty little secret behind conservatives’ anti-government rants:  they’re actually raving liberals by standards of just a few years ago. Few 1950s conservatives would have dreamed of the need for a pervasive and strong government in a globally-oriented world economy, not to mention a terrorist-threatened world.  

     Except for hot-button social issues such as gay marriage, abortion, and prayer in schools, today’s conservatives would seem rabidly liberal to 1950s conservatives,
    So though these conservatives can’t have a much smaller government, they yearn for it like their recent ancestors yearned for separation of the races, women keeping their place in the home, and a white-male dominated world.  

    We’ve moved beyond those too, thanks to liberal reforms, all of which conservatives fought--and lost. 

     Do any contemporary conservatives want women to stay out of the workplace? Would they now argue for segregation, as they once did so fervently?  Would they insist that blacks and whites not marry, as they once railed against “miscegenation” (interracial marriages) with as much fervor as they now outlaw gay marriages? 

     Of course not.  Such conservatives have long disappeared; we’ll all liberals now, no matter how much they might protest to the contrary.  That might explain why they’re so bitter and angry; except for a few outbuildings, they’ve lost the whole farm.     

     Of course conservatives still walk among us, but they mostly rant about secularism, about issues that they see threatening their beliefs, and about those demon liberals who seem to oppose such beliefs. 

     The major difference between liberals and conservatives these days?  Conservatives tend to base their arguments on black-and-white distinctions and demonizing the opposition, while liberals see complexities, gray areas, and mostly avoid name-calling and button-pushing, Al Franken excepted for his book, “Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Liar.”   

     In a culture dominated by religion and the visual media, emotional demonizing will trump reason and facts every time.  

     Conservatives even admit this approach as a strategy.  In a review of Richard Viguerie and Richard Frankes’ book “America’s Right Turn,” conservative reviewer Diana Feygin points out that  “While conservatives have basically been able to say, 'This is good. This is evil. There is no in between . . .liberals have been more hesitant to identify the good and "vilify the bad" in such stark terms.  
    Shades of “evil empire” and “axis of evil,” by Presidents Reagan and GW Bush, not to mention the ugly ranting of the Ann Coulters and Rush Limbaughs of the nasty-wing conservatives.  

     Reviewer Fegin even admits that this all-pervasive and effective conservative strategy could bring the downfall of conservatives.  She ends her review with this: “ a reliance on muckraking to shame the 'bad guys' creates risks of its own. In the end, too much "black and white" victim rhetoric could bring to a premature defeat the movement Viguerie and Franke worked so painstakingly to establish.” 

     Given the fact that most of the liberal causes of a few years ago have already occurred, conservatives have nowhere to go but down and out.  






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