Saturday, January 31, 2015

American Sniper (a few thoughts)

I’ve listened to the criticism from individuals I have no use for.  Individuals who serve no purpose other than to condemn the United States while they make themselves rich from its largess.  They condemn what they don’t understand, for their lives are small and filled only with distain for those who do not share their same petty views.

Today my wife and I enjoyed the movie “American Sniper” a magnificent memorial to Chief Petty Officer Chris Kyle, produced and directed by American legend Clint Eastwood.  It was a dramatic testament to conflict that celebrates his combat, but understates the psychological conflict that so many veterans must fight if they are to survive in life, and the flaws that make an individual human.  I certainly understand the compromises a movie must make in the telling of a story; perhaps someday we will better understand those inner battles.

Through my career I was privileged to work with, and support, America’s elite warriors. These are men who had courage far beyond mine, men who placed themselves as shields to protect the weak and the helpless.   As a nation we’ve always had those that stood ready to risk all for a good far greater than the average person can understand, and for that same time we’ve had small and petty opportunist’s to condemn them, seeking their own personal gain.

For those who’ve been lucky enough not to know war first hand, and I count myself in that group, we can never appreciate what separates men like Kyle from the average, or what holds them together when the carnage ends.  There was a Navy Commander I worked with once, he was also a SEAL, and he carried with him the scares of a failed operation as part of our rescue in Granada.  We talked once about that operation and the courage of his team as they went into the Op.  His humility about his role, and the courage behind that humility was for me awe-inspiring.

Each morning I watch as the next generation of courageous young men and woman are shaped into warriors who will pick up the shield of defense.  I pray that those voters who will never  make the life or death decisions these warriors will, have the courage to elect leaders who honor their courage and realize the cost to the nation when they throw these young people away as a cost of doing business, or because their lives mean so little when compared to political aspirations.   

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Free Speech

 Free Speech is a mime everyone has an opinion about.  Usually used to condemn the other side for their lack of support, it is interesting how few really want free speech.  The list is almost endless.  Everyone in today’s world seems to only want speech they like.

Liberals – speech needs to be sensitive, non-hurtful, and politically correct. Any and every phase used can and will be considered insensitive, hurtful, or wrong, unless it condemns the right, the top 1%, or the nations role in the world.  If you are talking about anything we don’t like you’re a racist and must be condemned.  The only universally acceptable speech is limited to those who promise free stuff from the Government

Religious – Speech can never question the veracity of the church (it really doesn’t matter which church), the existence of God, and for some middle eastern religions, especially not his/her prophet.  Different religions have varying degrees of violence in dealing with those who transgress.

Conservatives – any questioning on the right to own guns must immediately be shut down, any discussion suggesting the left may have a fair point needs to be challenged.  The ideas espoused by extremists are sometimes okay, other times not, depending on some formula I’ve not figured out.

Academics – Free speech is good in theory, but not on my campus, unless you are standing on the designated free speech stone.  For further clarification see: liberals.

Atheists – any discussion of God is hurtful, insensitive, incorrect and a violation of the 1st Amendment’s protection regarding separation of Church and State. Any exercise of the other protections afforded under the Amendment is not relevant, and should be banned.

Socialists – any speech condemning the party leadership must be harshly dealt with, and stopped.  The party must be the government and it must not be questioned.

Black Activists – any questioning of motives from anyone is racist.  The use of derogatory language is offensive, unless used by black entertainers and street thugs.

White Supremacists  -- see above, just change colors

The Government – we’re listening, any use of the term Tea Party means you are not liberal and subject to whatever restrictions and penalties we can figure out

Facebook users – anything stronger then Like and LOL is questionable and should be banned.

The list goes on….

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Green, Green Hills of Home

I believe where we first experience life, where we grow up, where we become our individual self is the always thought to be the best place to have been raised.  I know it’s true for me.  The rolling hills and gentle dales of the Hudson Valley, and the distinctive seasons remain my model for how the world should be.

The winters were cold and foreboding; I can’t count the times as a teen I was up at 4 am to help clear the driveway so my folks could get out of the garage and on their way to work, of course the school had snow days so I’d go back to bed once they left.  It was a mushy, slushy, time of year.  As I grew we seemed to have ever larger snow blowers to clear the drive and the walkways of our home.  Cars were perpetually blanketed with salt or mud and it seemed the slush that caked behind the wheels always needed to be kicked off.  The non-existent curbs and shoulders of the roads left little room for error as you drove around the ice slickened roads, but I would not have wished for anything else, for with the cold and the snow came sledding, skating, skiing, and in my teen years house parties with music and darkened rooms. 

We skated on a number of ponds or lakes, and warmed ourselves with fires we built on the shore of wherever we skated.  Occasionally groups we associated with, either through scouts or church, would have outings to distant places like Vermont, or over to Newburgh.  I remember one year riding down to Newburgh for skating and perhaps a ride on iceboats.  The song that brings that memory back is Petula Clark’s single “Downtown,” I can be motoring along a hot and humid Florida road, and if they play that song, I am chilled and can taste the hot coco.   Most of my memories seem tied to some song or another.  For example, anytime I hear Johnny Horton’s “Sink the Bismarck” I am transported back to the Violet Avenue Elementary School playground.

Spring brought the renewal of life, with flowers and the greening of the fields as corn and grass was raised on the dairy farms so common in the area.  Gilbert’s Dairy was just down the road, but you didn’t need to drive very far to see others.  There seemed to be farms all over the northern county and their presence was reassuring, they had been there a hundred years, and would be there a hundred more.  It saddens me to realize how wrong my impression was.  The county is transitioning from the agrarian society it was to bedroom communities where work is somewhere else and the population is perhaps more transitory.

Summer -- ah summer, it was the best of times.  It brought the warmth of the sun and freedom to grow and play, and play we did.  There was so much for the kids to do then, to get out and meet friends, play pick up ball games on empty fields or even the little league fields that dotted the community.  We played for the joy of the game, not because some coach or parent was yelling at or for you.  I recall a year after college when I served as an umpire with the little league in Hyde Park.  I think the game was on the field behind the Hyde Park Elementary school.  The players were probably in the 8-10 year old range and by the third inning I had to call the coaches together and inform them if they didn’t control their parents they would be ejected or the game would be forfeit.  I then went to both stands and explained it the spectators.  No 8 year old deserved to have an overzealous parent belittle them or the opposition.  We never had that in our pickup games, the older and better players coached the younger ones, wouldn’t we be better off today if we had this kind of unorganized sporting outlet?  Maybe they do back in the Hudson Valley?

Summer evenings were magical.  I can still see the late afternoon thunderstorms rolling over the Catskills or to the east over Connecticut.  The sun whitened clouds flashing between themselves sending lightening crossing the sky as if the storms were at war.  In the Hudson Valley the legends of the original Dutch, as portrayed in the tales of Washington Irving still lived on.  Every time a thunderclap rolled across the river I could almost hear the old Dutch kegelers up in the hills playing 9-pin and drinking, along with good ol’ Rip Van Winkle.  With the dusk came the fireflies and an hour of chasing them with our jars.  I don’t recall air conditioning, except in the theaters, and some of the evenings would be pretty hot in the house, but listening to WABC nothing that was so terrible I couldn’t fall asleep.

Of course back then games were more challenging.  The invention and sale of Lawn Darts, as well as a number of other potentially fatal recreational challenges made life interesting.  I guess when you have an adult population whose lives were shaped by a World War; the risks of a one or two-pond metal spike falling from the sky didn’t seem that significant.  There were other, less fatal, great inventions designed to keep up with a society that had increasing leisure time available.  We had hula-hoops® and the Frisbee® to help keep us moving.  In the summer we always seemed to be moving.

Of course, at least once each summer we would make the pilgrimage across the river, through Kingston, onto the Thruway up to Catskill, and then west to see the Catskill Game Farm.  For us this was a summer must-do.  When I had children of my own, even though we lived in California, Florida or Virginia, if we came home in the summer the Game Farm remained a stopping point.  I can still picture my petite Mother getting mobbed by the young sheep, goats or deer, looking for the bottle she had in her hand.  I understand that park is closed now… too bad.

As the season drew down and we reached Labor Day I remember the Dutchess County Fair as the biggest deal in town. I don’t think anyone would want to miss the fair.  It was a week of true Americana.  If you parked in the Fairground lots to the south you were admitted almost immediately into the livestock area where we saw bulls and cows, sheep and rams, goats, pigs, chickens, and all sorts of domesticated animals.  On the warm days you always knew where that part of the fair was.

I think we must have spent half our time walking through the exhibit areas where we saw mops that rung themselves out, stuff you put on your glasses so they would never fog up, things for slicing and dicing, and perhaps even towels that folded themselves. There were ointments and salves to cure everything from dandruff to the mange, and oh was there cookware… tons and tons of pots, pans, bowls, and brushes.  I guess it was the Walmart of the day.

The midway was fun, and I think back then they even had a tent with fan-dancers.  I only speculate about that, because I certainly wasn’t old enough to gain admission.  I did get to go through the brand new “total electric” home put up by Mid-Hudson Electric.  Pretty cool stuff…Who would imagine a toothbrush that you had to turn on, or an oven that would clean itself, or a machine to wash the dishes for you?

Of course one of the main draws for me was the Joey Chitwood Thrill Drivers who put on quite the show… all the way around the track on two wheels, cars weaving together at sixty miles an hour …amazing!  The slide for life through a burning wall, how did he do that?

I don’t remember much about leaving the fair and driving home because I was usually in a cotton candy induced coma.

The end of the fair also marked the beginning of school.  The chance to reconnect with those you’ve not seen all summer and to see what the natural biology of a summer’s worth of aging had done.

The fall brought the last of the seasons and marked the transition from green in the trees and fields to the bright colors of the elms, ash, maples and hickory trees in their festive fall plumage.  Every once in a while you would be blessed with a few days of “Indian Summer” where it seemed even nature was unwilling to let go of the good times. 

One year, while in High School the organization I belonged to spent three or four weekends traipsing around the Catskills in Ulster County, looking for old aircraft wreckage so we could mark them with a big red X so if another plane crashed these old wrecks would not be mistaken for the new one.  What a wonderful way to spend a weekend… with friends climbing up and down the ancient mountains. 

The later it got in the fall, the more the walks in the woods took on a new feeling and the ground began to crunch under your feet as the morning frost would extend ever further into the day, until eventually it was not a frost, but a freeze -- and we returned once again to winter.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Who Are the Masters?

These past several months we have seen protests emanating from various urban communities about the perceived inequities of policing.  In the vernacular of twitter this is summed up in #Blacklivesmatter.  In fact, the organizers of this movement take great umbrage if that hash tag is altered to #Alllivesmatter for they claim in undermines their position.  If you consider this in the broader context the hypocrisy of this position is truly a sad statement about the lack of consistency in the movement that claims to fight for black lives.
If I understand the political ideology of the movement’s advocates correctly, I come away with the belief they are principally urban, liberal, social progressives arguing against the police who are portrayed as wolves within a society of innocents.  I won’t debate the values or the dangers of the police forces we have organized, trained and equipped, but I would like to focus on the moral inconsistency of the theory that #Blacklivesmatter to the urban, liberal and social progressive movement in America today.
Let’s start with the smallest and most defenseless of #Blacklives.  Since 1973 approximately 13,000,000 African-American embryos/fetus/viable infants have been aborted.  African American woman are roughly 13% of the American female population but account for about 36% of the abortions.  In that same period of time approximately 4.8 million African Americans died from other causes including disease, accidents and violent crime.[1] It is the urban, liberal, social progressives who argue so passionately for a woman’s right to terminate her infants life -- so how much do #Blacklivesmatter really?
If we foster a culture where the lives of the most defenseless count for so little why are we surprised when within that African American community the lives of the children and young people are equally cheap?  It appears violence against children is slowing down, but finding a study from 2001 we had a rate of 2.6/100,000 -- substantially higher than that of any other developed country.  The report noted “Rates are substantially higher for African American juveniles.”[2]
In 2005 the Bureau of Justice Statistics noted that African Americans accounted for nearly half of all homicide victims and the majority of those murders were intraracial.[3]  So again, what is the cause and effect?  Is it based purely on poverty, social density, and interpersonal friction, or have we pushed African Americans into a culture where we encourage violence through the advocacy of choice?
If you wanted to find a way to enslave a population and ensure they could never escape from that enslavement what better way than to create policies where they will make choices that lead to their own destruction.  It seems, in looking at the reality of our society, the vanguard of the liberal-progressive movements have found a way accomplish that very thing.  Under the guise of benevolent benefactors they keep 15% of the population indebted to the government for their survival, encourage them to limit their population through state sanctioned violence, discourage the concepts of initiative and personal responsibility that would lead to self-reliance, and then periodically inflame their passion against some visible opponent.  It strikes me this is not so much different than what the Emperors did in Rome with the Coliseum. 
It is unfortunate that those who do rise out of this enslavement to positions of authority are so indoctrinated they become overseers themselves, seeking all the rewards of those whose bidding they’ve done, while encouraging the continuation of policies to ensure the masters remain in control.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The Day I Almost Ran Away.

Author's Note:
I think the desire to run away is a natural thing, almost a rite of passage.  For those with strong family units the adventure is usually short lived. For example, my son ran away once, but he knew he wasn’t allowed to cross the street so all he could do was walk around the block until it was time to come home.  But having said this -- I must acknowledge that there is an alternative reality I have never had to deal with.

Unfortunately, far too many families have children who’ve run away or gone missing and they never come home.  Perhaps they seek escape without understanding they are usually escaping into a far worse reality than they are in, or perhaps worse.  This happens and can not be discounted.  It is easy to say we need to speak to our children more, but the reality is we never know exactly what our children may be going through and if it happens we are ill prepared.

The world is a dangerous place.  I tend to think it is really not significantly more dangerous now than it was when I was a boy, but the constant news brings home the danger to everyone, scaring us into locking our doors and huddling in the hallway lest we be confronted by the bogyman.  This story is not intended to open painful wounds or to encourage others to follow my example. If you've experienced a loss from a runaway I am truly sorry for that.  May you find peace and comfort for your grief. I recommend you not continue on with this story.
We were living at 7 Madison Avenue. The house was a small two-bedroom affair, a starter home, with my parents in one room, my Grandmother in the other, and my sisters still in the room with my parents.
I had been relegated to the living room couch as a bed.  Overall it wasn’t too bad since I could wake up early and see the farming shows that started the weekend programming.  I think I learned more from those shows than almost anything else I watched on that black and white console television.  For example, did you know it was common practice to rotate crops to keep the fields viable, or that most male calves are castrated?
In the freedom of youth I spent a lot of time exploring the area around the development.  In the course of those explorations I found a wonderful wooded area with a pond and small caves in the natural rock formations. In looking at Google Maps the area is still there adjacent to St. Andrews road and not far from the last homes in the development.  Of course neither St. Andrews road nor the homes were there in the late 50’s or early 60’s.  On the satellite photo the lake is now covered with green, but at the time it was a dark black still body with a sense of mystery about it and a wonderful discovery that I am not sure how I came to find.  I remember it had a shrine on one end so it must have been part of the St. Andrews Seminary. I know I rode my bike to the end of Holt Road and found some small path at the edge of a large dug out area.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Kevin McNearny was with me, or perhaps even led me to this place.  When we weren’t fighting we were best friends.
There were the rock outcroppings nearby with small caves in the hill that I imagined had been home to the native population, or perhaps even cavemen long ago.  I thought it the perfect place to escape to… no one would ever find you in these vast woods.  It was only years later that I would come to understand this area more closely matched A.A. Milne’s 100-acre wood of “Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh” fame, than the dark and vast wilderness of a 10 year old imagination.
I am not sure what momentous family catastrophe may have occurred, but somewhere along the line I decided the best thing was for me to run away and become a hermit living in one of those caves.  I was in Cub Scouts at the time and had learned all about camping and preparedness.  Heck, I even had a pack.  So I made up my mind one Saturday in the summer to steal away and leave the family problems behind me.
The day before, I prepared for the life I was going to lead, packing five or six cans of soup, beans, or hash from the pantry into my official Boy Scout pack that had the famous knife, fork, spoon and aluminum plate dinner utensils.  This would tide me over until I could trap my own wild game and live off the land. 
I packed my official Cub Scout flashlight, and a change of underwear because I was definitely not coming back.  I tucked the pack into a corner of the basement and returned to family life as if all was normal.
The night before, I went to bed on the couch and woke at first light, probably about 6 am.  I quietly dressed, wrote a farewell note on a paper plate, slipped out the door and grabbed my pack from the basement.  Mounting my bike I rode down the deserted streets of the neighborhood heading straight to my chosen cave.
Leaving my bike at the foot of the path I hiked into the cave and set about making my camp.  It was only then I realized I didn’t have matches and couldn’t make a campfire to cook my food.  What was I to do?  We hadn’t studied fire making in Cub Scouts so I was at a real loss.  Without the fire for warmth and to heat the soup I was sure I wouldn’t survive.  Darn the luck!  With no matches I had no choice, I must return home and put on a brave face to the family. 
I walked back to my bike, pedaled back to the house, hid the pack, hid my note, and laid down waiting for my family to wake up.  I think I was gone almost an hour.  About an hour later my folks started to stir and I turned on the television.  I wouldn’t run away again until after I graduated from High School, that time I made it stick for the four years of college, and the lifetime that followed.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Drivers Education at FDR

I think I took Drivers-Ed either the spring of my sophomore or fall of my junior year in high school; somewhere in 1967.  Along with typing and Humanities, it remains one of the three courses I took whose instruction has proven useful to me every day since high school.  

We were in a bright and shiny new school building and had bright and shiny new equipment.  We drove your basic 1967 Plymouth Fury, provided by the local dealership, whose name escapes me, but they where located on the corner of East Market and Rt 9.  We also had a driving simulator that kind of looked like a cross between a Ford and Plymouth with both a push button transmission and three on the tree (stick shift on the column).  I remember spending considerable time driving in the simulator, but more on that in just a bit.

The time in Drivers-Ed was interesting for a number of reasons; first and foremost it got me and two others out of school for an hour to drive around the roads of Hyde Park taking turns scaring the bejeezus out of the steely nerved instructor.  In my case I think it was usually Mr. King.  I don’t remember who my driving partners were because they were usually huddled on the floor in the back whimpering about wanting their mothers or something.  I’m not saying I was a bad driver, and I’m sure all four wheels were usually on the pavement.  I don’t recall ever being fully airborne, although I think I may have gone to zero G once or twice coming down South Cross Road trying to make it back at the end of the driving time.  In my defense, it couldn’t have been that bad, I don’t recall Mr. King actually using the extra brakes he had available, although I think I remember an armrest on the passenger door coming off.

Now about those driving simulators, I seem to remember the films we used were produced by Etna Insurance and were made in a suburban setting.  They had all kinds of hazards they were trying to teach you about without actually letting you kill anyone.  For example, I remember driving down the street and all the sudden a car door came open and you were supposed to swerve to avoid it and stop.  I think most of us in the class just took the door off, but obviously the film wouldn’t show that, just the clicking of the analogue computer in the back told you it was recording a failure.  We would stop the film and then discuss what had happened, what we were supposed to be looking for, and why it was poor form to take a parked car’s door off, even if the driver was stupid for opening it in front of you. 

One of the things that stuck with me about those films was how neat and tidy the neighborhoods were and how whitish the streets were.  In 1977 I discovered why.  That was when I reported to Hurlburt Field, (Eglin Auxiliary Field 9), Fort Walton Beach, FL for training on my new aircraft.  All the roads around here in NW Florida looked just like in the Drivers-Ed films.  Obviously the films were made in Florida where the streets where a mixture of asphalt and coral/sea shells that made them a whitish color and slicker than snot in the rain. Fortunately for me most of those roads have been replaced now with real asphalt or concrete, and drivers have lost that excuse for rear-ending other cars.

I don’t know how Drivers-Ed is handled in Hyde Park these days, but here in NW Florida I was amazed when my kids went through to see they never left the parking lot during the class.  They drive around some kind of maze knocking over cones just like Officer Laverne Hooks in Police Academy.  Only 10 percent of the students have to take road tests, so it is conceivable that the remaining neophytes get their license without ever leaving the parking lot, which should explain most of what you see if you drive around Florida.  Between the people who look through the steering wheel, and the kids being set loose on the public, defensive driving takes on a whole new meaning.

Stay safe, it’s a jungle out there!

Friday, January 2, 2015

A Few Thoughts on Freedom of Speech

I was amused the other day when I noticed a poster intended to condemn conservatives for their supposed hypocritical support for free speech.  It showed the Dixie Chicks singing trio with the words “If there is one thing people in the red states respect, it is freedom of speech. Just ask the Dixie Chicks.”  I had to laugh at the foolishness of the meme based on just how far it reaches to condemn the right, how little its author and those who publish it understand about freedom of speech, especially how it might relate to commerce, and the hypocrisy they display in the campaign.

So it got me to thinking about free speech as it stands in America.  That term is used commonly to refer to a much broader set of understandings than what was originally defined in the Bill of Rights, but let’s start with what the Constitution says and move on from there.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, ad to petition the Government for redress of grievances.
So in the eyes of founding father’s it seems clear their intent was to insure the government does not become a theocracy endorsing one religion over another, or forcing its citizens to become members of one church or another.  It is equally clear they understood the power of the press and the right of people to discuss the issues of the day without fear of repression.  They had fought a war with England over these ideals and although not included in the main body it was the first amendment endorsed with the ratification of the Constitution.

Since our founding, the issue of what the first amendment says, or intends regarding the right to free speech has come before the US Supreme court on a great number of occasions.  Interestingly, but not unexpectedly, different judges have taken differing views on the scope of what the government can or cannot do to regulate speech.  “Some like Justice Hugo L. Black, have believed freedom of speech is absolute.  But most jurists, along with most U.S. citizens, agree with Justice Oliver Wendell Homes, Jr, who felt the Constitution allows some restrictions on speech under certain circumstances.”[1]  As Justice Homes noted in Schenck v US, “The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic.”[2]

The footnoted reference offers a good discussion on limits the government has placed on the individual and corporations with regard to their rights to free speech.  For example, reasonable people agree that restrictions on the creation, use, and retention of child pornography fit within the acceptable limits to free speech, since this speech presents a clear and present danger to the children it exploits.

So at the end of the day the idea that free speech is an absolute right in America is at best an optimistic belief, and at worst one subject to court interpretation when the assorted political bodies that make up the federal and state governments weight in with limiting legislation they think is appropriate.

Again, keep in mind the constitutional construct is to limit the ability of the government, not the individual, to restrict speech.  It has been established that community standards are an acceptable basis for determining if speech should be protected, or is subject to restriction.  What is acceptable speech in Los Angeles may not be acceptable to the residents of Boston or NYC. It has always been assumed an individual can choose what they want to view or listen to, as long as it does not fit within an accepted or approved area of restriction.  Likewise, it has been established employers have the ability to limit or restrict how their infrastructure can be used and advise its employee’s on corporate policies regarding what they may say on those social media outlets as long as it is not “protected speech.”[3]  But the case with the Dixie Chicks involves neither government imposition or employer restriction.

As a reminder, the Dixie Chicks, a country music singing trio whose public statements against the Bush administration, and the war in Iraq significantly impacted their popularity and financial fortunes. For those who may not be familiar with the issue let me summarize the events. The Dixie Chicks were performing in London in 2003 before the Iraq invasion.  During the concert the lead vocalist, Natalie Maines, announced to the audience “We don’t want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.” The story was picked up in the US media, where her comments received wide condemnation in the conservative media, and within the country music community (both fans and performers).  In two weeks their cover of the Fleetwood Mac song “Landslide” fell from #10 on the Billboard Hot 100 to obscurity.  Their sponsor Lipton Ice Tea dropped them, and attempts to repair their reputation within the country music fan base have met with limited success.  The American Red Cross refused a $1 million dollar promotional partnership with them, and according to the Red Cross an association with them would have violated its organizational principles of impartiality and neutrality.  They continue to record and perform, but have made a transition into the rock and roll genre rather than what had been their original fan base.  Wikipedia notes that at the time of the original statements and controversy Merle Haggard supported their right to speak their mind.  When President Bush was asked about Ms. Maines comments he said “The Dixie Chicks are free to speak their mind.  They can say what they want to say… they shouldn’t have their feelings hurt when people don’t want to buy their records when they speak out…Freedom is a two-way street…”[4]

So we come to the principle point of the poster, did Red State Governments restrict Ms. Maines speech?  I see no evidence of this. 

Was the rejection of their position only in the Red States?  I don’t believe this has been proven.  Indications are that a majority of country music fans, regardless of where they lived, and a great many live in Blue states, objected all the way to the point of stopping their support of the band and its merchandizing.

Were there individuals who reacted inappropriately and made death threats, and in so doing attempted to violate their right to express their opinions? I think there is enough information to say yes, within in a limited scope.  There is every indication that authorities dealt with them on a case by case basis and I seen nothing to suggest the government held their views against them in rendering protection. 

Were those people conservative?  I see no indication that any research has been done to confirm the political positions of the individuals who made these threats.  It is therefore a useful assumption, but not a fact for the meme.

Does mass condemnation of an individual’s opinion, and loss of profit; constitute a lack of respect of the right to free speech, or rejection of the protections of the US Constitution?  I think this would be an extremely hard argument to make.  As noted earlier individuals have the right of choice to agree or disagree with public statements.  Even the organized boycotts were not viewed as violation of the Groups right to speak as they wish, and as far as I can determine in my limited research neither the group itself, nor their supporters made anti-trust claims.

One of the foundations for conservative thought is the acceptance of responsibility, and recognition there are consequences for your words and actions.  The fact the group felt they could make inflammatory statements and not alienate their fan base is an indictment on how out of touch they were; a failure to understand the core values of a nation that had been attacked just 2 years earlier.  In their song, “Not Ready to Make Nice” the group continued to stand behind their position and antagonize the audience they would seek to reclaim.  It would seem they have chosen to place their politics ahead of the their commercial product.  That is fully within their rights, but in doing so you cannot condemn others for doing the same.  Evaluating how to spend their money is an individual choice based on personal preference.

It strikes me that we humble fans often make our entertainment choices based on scant information.  For the most part we neither know, nor care to know, the politics of a performer.  We enjoy their art for what it's worth, that is until more information is made known, and perhaps thrust into our consciousness by some noteworthy event.  At that time we are forced to make a choice.  For example, in the 80's and 90's the character Peewee Herman was hugely popular, until it was discovered his alter ego Paul Reubens was involved in a scandal and drew considerable negative press.  Where is Paul Reubens/PeeWee Herman today?  Sound familiar?

Now lets talk about hypocrisy, or specifically the hypocrisy of those who would push this meme to condemn those who take an opposing view.  As in most propaganda there is a nugget of fact, there must be or the propaganda is immediately dismissed, but idea that the commercial impacts to this group reflects an intolerance of free speech is unsupported by either a rational definition of the term or the facts as they stand.  The people who push this notion have, at the same time, shown an especially rabid desire to limit speech on college campuses, have pushed for the boycott of Israeli scholars in academic conferences and campus venues, and as congressional hearings indicate have used positions of authority vindictively against those who would speak in opposition of the administration’s positions.  So who really is on the side that restricts speech?

There was a term attributed to Vladimir Lenin, but more probably it came into vogue in the time of the McCarthy hearings in the US.  “Useful idiots” are defined as individuals who supports one side of an ideological debate, but who are manipulated and held in contempt by the leaders of their faction or is unaware of the ultimate agenda driving the ideology they subscribe.  As illustrated by Professor Gruber, of MIT, described variously as an economics advisor or architect of the Affordable Care Act, those in positions of power within the liberal establishment do not hesitate to leverage these useful idiots to push the party line.

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