The Schoolgirl and the Governor

November 27, 2011 Leave a comment

The Story

Last week, an interesting little morality play developed in the heart of America.   This is a story of a school girl, the Governor of the great state of Kansas; and involves interesting questions of etiquette, power, ethics, and the 1st Amendment.

First the facts of the story as best I can piece it together.   Our first character in our play is Emma Sullivan.    Emma is an 18 year old senior who attends Shawnee Mission East High School in Prairie Village Kansas.  Last Monday, November 21, our schoolgirl visited the state capital for a mock legislative assembly sponsored by the Youth in Government Program .   During the assembly, our second character personas , Gov. Sam Brownback, spoke to the gathered students.   In the back of the room,  Emma posted a tweet that seems to have been heard around the world…

“just made mean comments at gov. brownback and told him he sucked, in person #heblowsalot.”

Note, that Sullivan never actually spoke to Brownback, she just made the tweet suggesting she did.   Also note that at the time, she had about 60 followers (as I write this, she now has 3200 followers) which generally would have been the limit of people who saw the posting.

Now, our story get’s interesting.  Apparently, the governor has a communication team that monitors all mentions of the Brownback on the Internet.     As a result,  Sullivan’s tweet was spotted.   Exactly what the conversation was in the governors office we do not know, or even if the governor was consulted, but shortly thereafter Niomi Burget,  Brownback’s scheduling secretary, e-mailed a screen shot of the tweet to the Youth in Government sponsor at Shawnee Mission East, writing: “I don’t know if this was someone with your group, but thought if it was, you might want it brought to your attention.”   Note that there needed to be a bit of research spent on the governors office to pinpoint the proper school.

Later, in defense of Burget’s actions, communication director Sherriene Jones-Sontag stated “That wasn’t respectful.  In order to really have a constructive dialogue, there has to be mutual respect.”  The message [Burget’s]  was forwarded, she went on, simply as a way to make Shawnee Mission East “aware what their students were saying in regards to the governor’s appearance.”

Finally enters our last character of note, school principal Karl Krawitz [Note, I believe I saw somewhere Krawitz had contributed to Brownback’s campaign, can someone confirm or deny this?].  On Tuesday, Krawitz called Sullivan into his office and lectured her for an hour.   According to Sullivan,  Krawitz “laid into me about how this was unacceptable and an embarrassment.  He said I had created this huge controversy and everyone was up in arms about it… and now he had to do damage control.”  Krawitz then ordered Sullivan to write a letter of apology to Gov. Brownback, even suggesting talking points to cover.

So closed our first act.   The second act I think is just opening today (Sunday, 27 Nov) .   Sullivan has decided not to write the letter of apology.   So the ball is now in the Governor’s court.

Note:  I drew from a number of sources for the above, so there probably are errors.   I tried to keep this part of my editorial factual, with opinion below, so I would appreciate any factual corrections.

Commentary

I would like to comment on each of the actors in our morality play.   Emma Sullivan is the first in that she made the original tweet.   I think we can safely say it was a rude tweet, typical of someone young.   However, I will note that she was at a mock legislative session.   We all know about Joe Wilson’s rude interruption of the President with “You Lie” and it is quite common both in state and national legislatures for those legislators to tweed denigrative post during sessions.  So while I do not approve of Sullivan’s actions, I do not understand how that comes close to the rudeness of our professional politicians.    Is a 18 year old high school student to be held to a higher standard than our professional politicians, and if so, what does it say about our country and culture?

The next actor is probably a combination of actors, i.e. the governors office.   This includes directly Niomi Burget and Sherriene Jones-Sontag but could also include Brownback himself.   Certainly, Burget and Jones-Sontag represent the Governor, and therefore he must take some of the responsibility.   Many questions come up with regard to the Governor’s office actions.   For example, it is probably a good thing that the governor keeps a watch on the nets with regard to his constituents viewpoints with respect to Kansas, but does it cross the line when they are monitoring views directed specifically at the governor?   In addition, should the taxpayer money be spent on researching an insulting tweet directed at the governor, and not the state?

I am especially concerned about Jones-Sontag’s response when she justified the Governors actions by stating “That wasn’t respectful”.   Are we living in a country that an individual must be respectful to government power, or be subject to retribution by that government power?  It’s a scary thought.

Then, there is the question of power.   Anything the governor’s office says will have a great deal of power and influence, and these representatives of Brownback should know it.   In addition, it is my understanding that the educations system is under siege by the governor, so there is a feeling of fear running through the states education system which would cause pretty much everyone to respond “how high” every time the governor says “frog”.  So what exactly did the governor’s office expect to happen when they forwarded Sullivan’s tweet.   Were they not engaged in just thoughtless bullying of someone they thought was powerless to complain?

Probably the most aggrieves act, or at least the one that should have been thought out the most, was Karwitz.   It’s pretty clear that as a government agent, Karwitz specifically violated Sullivan’s First Amendment rights.  Now, it has been decided in courts that a student’s right to free speech is not unlimited, students are limited in speech when it is disruptive to the school’s learning environment.   Given that clearly there was no disruption to the learning environment (it took the Governor’s office to discover the tweet),  Karwitz had no basis to discipline Sullivan, and definitely should have know better.  I would also question his specific punishment that Sullivan had to write an apology letter.   Forcing an individual to write an apology letter, by the very definition, is forcing the individual to engage in a dishonest act.   Dishonesty is not something we should be teaching in school.   It appears that Karwitz’s motives were not so much punishment but political damage control, and perhaps saving the budget of his school.   This definitely steps over the bounds of ethical behavior.

Empowerment, not destruction

November 2, 2011 Leave a comment

Today there is a general strike in Oakland.   I would like speak out against such actions.   Why?   Because strikes are another form of centralizing power and then proving that power by showing how much destruction you can do with it.   In many ways it is no different from the power imposed by Wall Street or the police.

As they say in the commercial, “That’s old school thinking baby!”  Strikes, like police tear gas, are inherently destructive to all.  We basically cut off our nose to spite our face.

The Occupy movement is not about old school destruction, instead it is a 21st century idea about empowerment of the individual.   We need to leave destruction behind.   Instead, let us look at empowerments like Bank Transfer Day that is coming up.  There, we are engaged in destruction, but instead engaged in transfer and empowerment, both of the individual and the small community bank.

Real Americans

October 31, 2011 Leave a comment

Recently, I receive a message from an individual who declared ‘Real Americans’ would never associate with such louts and misfits as the Occupy movement (actually, his language was much stronger than that). This was my response…

Tom, last night I was down at Occupy Denver for a peace vigil. For the most part, it was a time of quiet contemplation, framed with the sun setting in almost poetic beauty over Denver City Hall. At that vigil, I met many very different people. I met people of about every race and color I could think of. I met poor and I met rich. I met people with great jobs and people with many jobs and people with no jobs. I met young people and I met old people. I met people who have had every opportunity in life, and I met people who have had no opportunity in life. I met peaceful people who followed the footsteps of King and Gandhi, and I met others that preferred the footsteps of Washington and Lincoln. I met conservatives and liberals and people of every other possible political persuasion. I met men and women who had fought in America’s wars. I met good people, and yes, I met bad people.

The previous day, Saturday, many of these same people stood before armed and armored police who used nightsticks, tear gas, pepper spray, bean bags, rubber bullets, and even vehicles as tools to impose their will on the protestors. They failed. On this quiet eve of peace vigil, all there was to be seen of them were a few police cars in a park across the street, parked upon and destroying the very grass that previously the Governor said was so important to protect.

In your last message, you wrote using the term ‘Real American’, seemingly as a club to attack myself and the Occupy movement. You did not define the term, but by context it seems you meant people that look like you, that think like you, that love like you, that worship like you, that watch the same news media as you, that vote like you, and that suffer like you. I would suggest there are many bad definitions and many good definitions of the term ‘Real American’.

Last Saturday, a small group of very diverse people proved that they were willing to be spat upon, lied about, marginalized, denigrated, attacked, injured, arrested, and yes, even risk being killed because they believe in a better America and a better world; and they were willing to sacrifice for it.

I can think of no better definition of ‘Real American’ than that.

Marla Louise

Voice

October 20, 2011 Leave a comment

Do YOU have the same voice in Washington as George Soros or David Koch or the Bank of America?

Do you have the responsibility to take your voice back?

Remove corporate money from Washington

Voice

Deregulate; Get rid of Capital Gains

October 15, 2011 Leave a comment

Corporations have long called for deregulation.   And to some extent I agree.   While I think we should keep regulations that ensure a free market and help the citizens of the United States, there are many many more regulations designed to ‘help’ corporations (i.e. allow then to circumvent the free market).   Probably the most atrocious of these regulations are the ones that treat capital gains, i.e. unearned income, differently that income earned by the hard work of the citizen.    If you think about it, if income that results from no work of the citizen should be treated differently than income that results from hard work and innovation, it should be taxed at a higher rate, not a lower rate!   But I like the idea of less regulations when possible, so lets listen to Wall Street and deregulate.   Let’s deregulate Capital Gains!  It’s a small step but a good one.   Then let’s see what other anti-free market regulations that help corporations can be removed.

Do we have a free market?

October 11, 2011 3 comments

Do we have a free market IF a small self interested minority control the rules governing the market?

Do we have a free market IF a small self interested minority control the resources within the market?

Do we have a free market IF a small self interested minority control the information about  the market?

 

Learning and Changing

October 8, 2011 Leave a comment

Over a year ago I posted my sweet spot chart, which many people seemed to like.   But since then I have been learning a lot about economics, and perhaps some about today’s current Libertarianism.  While socially, I still favor very much the Libertarian ideals, I think I have been blind to the economic weaknesses and instability of Libertainism (Adam Smith can teach you a lot here).

So I have revised my chart.     It’s still basically the same, but the labels have changed as I have gained more understanding.    The big question is, what is the label for the political/economic sweet spot I am looking for?  I don’t even think the label Progressive Libertarian fits that point any more.   Perhaps there is no political philosophy that covers that point.   I threw in the label Progressive Freedom for now, but I hope to find a better label in the future.