Monday, June 19, 2017

Censorship 101 - Crimson Style

“I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.” -- Evelyn Beatrice Hall, British writer (1868-1956)

Censorship 101 - Crimson Style
Commentary by Sanford D. Horn
June 19, 2017

Hate speech, provided it does not incite violence, is still free speech, except at Harvard University. At Harvard, free speech and expression is costly - to the tune of about a dozen rising freshmen being told their First Amendment rights end at the front gates of the ivory towers of the Cambridge, MA campus, as their acceptances were rescinded.

Apparently the First Amendment does not include social media postings that were determined to be offensive by a faceless, nameless committee that Harvard won’t divulge. On what has been called a “private Facebook page,” according to the Wall Street Journal, this particular group of students, posted sexually explicit messages, along with others mocking the Holocaust, joking about pedaphilia, and child abuse.

There is no question that the posts were vile, distasteful, unsavory, and repugnant; yet, no laws were violated. These students, heretofore previously on their way to matriculate at Harvard this fall, find themselves on the outside looking in, whose potential notoriety could prevent them from landing at any campus, should fight the rescinding of their acceptances.

This is a classic example of the slippery slope so bone chilling, it makes George Orwell’s 1984, look like Dr. Seuss. This is precisely why the United States has a First Amendment - protecting the right to speak one’s mind. It’s still not against the law to say/post offensive comments, and while Harvard also has the right to deny admission to any applicant it chooses, to do so because of opinions with which a committee does not agree, is disturbing.

Brilliant jurist Alan Dershowitz, who has a 53 year relationship with Harvard, and said as a private institution, Harvard is not “technically bound by the First Amendment.” He then quickly added that the rescinding of acceptances is “over-punishment and Draconian…. Harvard has committed itself to following the First Amendment and I think this violates the spirit, if not the letter of the First Amendment.”

How many students on campus, be it Harvard or anywhere else, think the same thoughts that were posted on this private Facebook page? (Although how a Facebook page is private in and of itself is flummoxing.) Perhaps the admissions committee did not vet these applicants carefully enough; but that’s on Harvard, not the students.

What will be the next set of opinions to keep people from the hallowed ivy of Harvard? Perhaps the committee will deny admission to those making disparaging remarks about Boston or the Kennedy family. And, this isn’t even about denying admission, it’s about rescinding admission from students already deemed “acceptable” for Harvard.

One cannot shield oneself from hurtful, offensive, or even viscerally disturbing images and words unless shuttered within their homes sans print, audio, visual media and even music lyrics. Nor does one have the right not to be offended.

The school claims it denies admission based upon honesty, maturity, and moral character. Wow - talk about a broad based set of criteria; and criteria decided upon by whom? The students in question were certainly honest in their despicable postings.

As for maturity, who defines maturity? Is maturity based upon whether or not the young students agree with the opinions of the older admissions committee? Does age alone define maturity? Is a 60-year-old automatically more mature than an 18-year-old simply based upon the numbers?

With regard to moral character, who is the arbiter of that definition? What if the admissions committee does not support gay marriage. Should students who do, be denied admission? Or should students who are married to a same-sex partner be denied admission? Is it morally acceptable to be anti-gay, but not anti-Semitic? Is it morally acceptable to oppose pedaphilia but not beastiality? By whose morals is Harvard basing their subjectivity?

In the Supreme Court case Matal v. Tam decided on Monday, June 19, the justices ruled unanimously, 8-0, that trademarks cannot be  banned simply because they are offensive. (Rookie Justice Neil Gorsuch, not on the court when the case was heard, did not participate.)

Banning an offensive trademark “offends a bedrock First Amendment principle: Speech may not be banned on the ground that it expresses ideas that offend,” wrote Justice Samuel Alito.

Alito also wrote that restricting “speech expressing ideas that offend… strikes at the heart of the First Amendment. Speech that demeans on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, age, disability, or any similar ground is hateful; but the proudest boast of our free speech jurisprudence is that we protect the freedom to express the thought that we hate.”

“A law that can be directed against speech found offensive to some portion of the public can be turned against minority and dissenting views to the detriment of all. The First Amendment does not entrust that power to the government’s benevolence. Instead, our reliance must be on the substantial safeguards of free and open discussion in a democratic society,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy.

If the likes of Justices Alito, Clarence Thomas and Ruth Bader Ginsburg can agree on anything, let alone a pivotal First Amendment case, Harvard University can see its way clear to readmit those students with whom they disagree and open a dialogue where speech is encouraged and treasured, not thwarted and silenced.

Sanford D. Horn is a writer and educator living in Westfield, IN.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Baseball is America; not a Miracle Worker

“The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again.” - Terence Mann (James Earl Jones) in Field of Dreams (1989)

Baseball is America; not a Miracle Worker
Commentary by Sanford D. Horn
June 17, 2017

Baseball is emblematic of what the United States of America should be. A manager, who earned the right to his position puts the nine best players on the field each day, regardless of background, religion, or ethnicity.

Prior to April 15, 1947 that was certainly not the case, until Jackie Robinson stepped on the field for the Brooklyn Dodgers and broke the color barrier that plagued our national pastime for decades. But baseball righted its own wrong. It was not ordered by the commissioner; nor was it ordered by the federal government.

In fact baseball desegregated itself a year before President Harry Truman ordered the Armed Forces desegregated in 1948.

Baseball is what America should be because it does not acquiesce to a government mandated quota system. Fans don’t care, or at least they shouldn’t care, if a Japanese hurler is pitching to a Dominican catcher, backed up by a Puerto Rican shortstop, a white second baseman, a black first baseman, and throw in a Jewish right fielder for good measure. As long as those are the best players the team has to offer that day. That is what the American workforce should look like - folks legally immigrating to the United States to make it a better country, just as players make a team better and stronger - better able to compete. Competition, after all, is the bellwether of America.

Baseball, however, is not a miracle worker.

Following the tragic shooting during the Republican’s baseball practice on Flag Day, Wednesday, June 14, at Simpson Stadium Park in Alexandria, VA, members of Congress, led by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) and House  Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), came together for their ubiquitous kumbaya moments.

This was the last practice prior to the annual Congressional Baseball Game, played on Thursday, June 15 at Nationals Park. During the practice, a deranged shooter fired more than 50 shots hitting GOP Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA), Capitol Hill police officers David Bailey and Crystal Griner, as well as Congressional aide Zach Barth, and lobbyist Matt Mika. Fortunately the would-be assassin was killed as police returned fire saving dozens of lives.

The Democrat’s team, practicing at a different field, upon hearing of this vicious attack, were seen huddled in prayer on the steps of one of the dugouts. Hours later, in the House chamber Speaker Ryan said “An attack on one of us, is an attack on all of us,” a sentiment Pelosi echoed in bi-partisan support. Yet, back in Virginia, Governor Terry McAuliffe (D), never missing an opportunity to be an opportunist, bemoaned the need for more strict gun control.

The next night, the pregame and post-game activities took center stage at Nationals Park. Hall of Fame manager Joe Torre, Major League Baseball’s chief baseball officer brought a special guest out to the mound to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. Crutches and all, wounded Capitol Hill police officer David Bailey hobbled to the mound amid a standing ovation from the appreciative crowd. Tossing one crutch aside, Bailey managed to will his pitch reasonably close to home plate where it was received by Roberto Clemente, Jr.

The teams were introduced and lined up across the infield. Also prior to the first pitch the teams met at second base, Scalise’s position, to join in prayer. A video message from President Donald Trump was then played in the stadium. He spoke of the importance of playing the game that night - both in support of our national pastime as well as the charities benefitting from the proceeds of the game. Trump thanked the Capitol police and the Alexandria police for their efforts. “By playing tonight’s game we will not be intimidated by threats or acts of violence and assault… I offer these unifying words - let’s play ball!”

The game itself was anticlimactic as the Democrats took the GOP to the woodshed by a final score of 11-2 in the seven inning affair. Congressman Cedric Richmond (D-LA), an across the aisle friend of fellow Pelican Stater Scalise, tossed a complete game gem - surrendering two runs in the first inning and yielding nothing the rest of the way. In his MVP performance, Richmond also laced three hits, including a triple, and scored three runs.

Following the game, the teams’ two managers met for the presentation of the trophy, where Democrat skipper Mike Doyle (PA) gave it to GOP manager Joe Barton (TX) to be presented to Scalise’s office.

While it would be nice to see the on field gestures carry over to the House and Senate chambers, let’s not hold our breath. Certainly there is room to reduce the rhetoric and attempt to work for the people who sent them there, but then that would put a lot of political consultants and ad copywriters out of work. Hmm - perhaps there is some good that could come out of this horrific event.

While not played every year, the tradition of the Congressional Baseball game dates back to 1909 and the Democrats currently hold a 40-39 lead, with one tie. A record crowd of 24,959 attended the game (outpacing the attendance of half of the 10 MLB games played that same night) where more than $1 million was raised for the following charities: the Boys and Girls Clubs of Greater Washington, the Washington Literacy Center, the Capitol Police Memorial Fund, and the Washington Nationals Dream Foundation.

To contribute to any of the charities visit the following sites:

While the people are generously supporting these charities, let’s hope the elected officials will remember why they were sent to Washington in the first place and work generously to ensure a better America.

Sanford D. Horn is a writer and educator living in Westfield, IN

Friday, June 9, 2017

Grounding Greg Gianforte

Grounding Greg Gianforte
Commentary by Sanford D. Horn
June 9, 2017

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution grants people freedom of the press. However, body slamming a reporter is in no way an acceptable rewrite of the definition of a free press.

Yet, on Wednesday, May 24, that is precisely what Greg Gianforte, then Republican candidate for the At-Large seat in Congress from Montana, did to Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs, knocking him to the ground. The full-on assault occurred in Gianforte’s Bozeman campaign headquarters one day prior to the special election being held to fill the seat vacated by Ryan Zinke upon his Cabinet appointment to become Secretary of the Interior.

The following day, on Thursday, May 25, Gianforte emerged victorious, yet not necessarily unscathed, in winning the special election with 50 percent of the vote, defeating Democrat Rob Quist, who garnered 44 percent of the vote, and Libertarian Mark Wicks with six percent. For his actions, Gianforte is charged with misdemeanor assault.

Gianforte has admitted his guilt via three apologies to Jacobs, who not only accepted, but indicated he has no plans to sue the Representative-elect. Gianforte plans to plead guilty when appearing in a Bozeman court on Monday, June 12. Jacobs has certainly taken the high road; he should have sued Gianforte.

Prior to the assault, Jacobs had been questioning Gianforte about the GOP healthcare plan. Perhaps in lieu of a true plan to repeal and replace Obamacare a physical assault would draw attention away from the GOP’s shortsightedness on this all-important issue. The Republican Party, after all, had seven years to cobble together a brilliant plan to replace the deleterious and destructive Obamacare.

In the weeks following the assault Gianforte has issued several apologies, one in part saying, "My physical response to your legitimate question was unprofessional, unacceptable, and unlawful. As both a candidate for Office and a public official, I should be held to a high standard in my interactions with the press and the public. My treatment of you did not meet that standard. …I made a mistake and humbly ask for your forgiveness," wrote Gianforte.

In addition to his apologies, Gianforte pledged $50,000 to the Committee to Protect Journalists, an organization that promotes freedom of the press.

Despite his many mea culpas and monetary contribution Gianforte should be denied his seat in the House of Representatives on the grounds of moral turpitude. Not only is there precedence to not seat a member-elect of Congress or eject a sitting member, such actions are supported by the Constitution.

Article I Section 5 of the United States Constitution states: "Each House shall be the Judge of the Elections, Returns and Qualifications of its own Members, and a Majority of each shall constitute a Quorum to do Business; but a smaller Number may adjourn from day to day, and may be authorized to compel the Attendance of absent Members, in such Manner, and under such Penalties as each House may provide.

Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings, punish its Members for disorderly Behaviour, and, with the concurrence of two thirds, expel a Member.”

In spite of the Constitution, Gianforte has the Supreme Court case Powell v. McCormack (1969) on his side. The crux of that case determined neither house of Congress has the "power to exclude a member-elect who meets the Constitution's membership requirements," of age and residency. Thus remains the expulsion option which the House should exercise.

In the state of Montana, misdemeanor assault convictions carry a maximum penalty of six months in prison and a $500 fine. Clearly a $500 fine is meaningless considering the $50,000 Gianforte is contributing to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Seating Gianforte based upon Powell, and then expelling him would have a greater impact, not just on Gianforte, but hopefully the body politic as a whole, that actions have repercussions and severe ones at that.

Members of the press, regardless of in how low esteem they are held by the public, especially politicians, should never be put in an intimidating position where they are unable to properly perform their jobs.

From personal experience as a member of the Fourth Estate, not everybody reports biased or fake news. Those who do should be admonished or dismissed from their positions. The American people, hell, all people deserve to know the truth. Make no mistake, the people do not have the right to know everything – state secrets potentially putting national security at risk should neither be leaked nor revealed. I’m an American first and a reporter/commentator second. Information on deep background or expressed off the record should stay there. I’ve managed to eke out a living keeping my word. We need an honest press, but we also need a press free to do its job without the threat of physical violence or intimidation.

Thomas Jefferson said it best: "The only security of all is in a free press. The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed. The agitation it produces must be submitted to. It is necessary, to keep the waters pure." (Sadly, the purity of those waters has long passed us by.)

Sanford D. Horn is a writer and educator living in Westfield, IN.