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Requesting feedback on letter to my Senator

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If the incoming government is going to be as bad as many of us think, there's likely to be a tremendous public opinion backlash against them even from their own supporters. We may be able to take the government back over the next two elections, provided:

1) We can find some political candidates who aren't afraid of advocating egoism and capitalism. Rush Limbaugh is working on that, I think.

2) We can get information and opinions out past whatever censorship methods the government tries to impose.

3) The elections aren't rigged.

I've been inspired by this post to do something about the second and draft an e-mail to my Senator (Mary Landrieu, Louisiana). Since I'm new to the whole political activism thing, I thought I'd run my draft by you all first and get some feedback (ignore the fact that my e-mail address is not provided near the end):

Senator Landrieu,

First, let me congratulate you on your victory this Election Day and thank you for taking the time to read this.

I've largely ignored politics up until this year, but the events of 2008 have motivated me to register to vote and become politically active. As one of your constituents, I thought I should contact you and voice a concern. I'll get straight to it: there's a lot I'm worried about concerning the next few years, but the single biggest issue for me is the First Amendment. Specifically, the freedoms of speech and press.

I believe that an ignorant population is easily enslaved or destroyed, and consequently I believe that a free and informative press is essential to the future of this country. Unfortunately, it seems that the press itself no longer agrees. Their overwhelmingly one-sided coverage of this election shows that they have abandoned their constitutional role to keep us informed in favor of becoming a PR machine. This by itself would be bad enough. But their willingness to ruin the lives of people like Joe "The Plumber" Wurzelbacher in the process goes beyond disgraceful and straight into the realm of horrific. Their credibility is gone, and as far as helping to preserve our country goes the traditional press is effectively dead.

Fortunately, we no longer need them. A new press has been on the rise in the form of blogs, podcasts, talk radio and so forth. Blogs in particular are making it possible for millions of ordinary citizens to become reporters and analysts to each other, since the only barrier to entry is getting online (the software and server space needed can be had for free). We private citizens are becoming our own press, and I believe we can handle the job as long as we are allowed to do so.

Of course, the key phrase there is "if we are allowed." I'll be blunt with you, Senator: I have absolutely no trust whatsoever in the incoming government's willingness to respect the First Amendment. I suspect the President-Elect to be the type of man who is quite willing - even eager - to punish dissent. And as for the legislators... I'm sorry, ma'am, but things like Chuck Schumer's recent comparison of speech to pornography don't instill me with confidence in your branch of the government either.

I must be clear on this: I believe in the right to speak my mind. I believe it is vital that we be able to exercise that right towards the goal of keeping each other informed, especially now that those who had the job of keeping us informed have defaulted. And I believe it is the job of the government - namely, you - to PROTECT that right. If you ever want a vote or any other form of support from me, then I must insist on the following:

1) You must oppose any legislation that would restrict or punish the expression of ideas and opinions, especially political ones. An example would be the misnamed "Fairness" Doctrine.

2) One cannot disseminate ideas without a means to do it with. Consequently, the freedom of the press is meaningless without the ability to use the internet, the airwaves, printing presses and so forth. If the government controls the use of these things, it can effectively muzzle us even if it does not directly seem to violate the First Amendment.

Therefore, you must also oppose any legislation which grants the government ownership or control of such media or the instruments needed for their use. An example would be Net Neutrality.

3) Should the President ever be found to have gone outside the law to suppress dissent, you must support his removal from office.

4) I must stress that what I am looking for here is ACTIVE involvement from you when such issues arise. When it comes to defending the First Amendment, neutrality, complacency or silence will not be enough.

I hope to hear from you and learn that you are of like mind, Senator. Should you wish to respond it would be best to use my e-mail address:

Again, thank you for your time and congratulations on your next few years in the Senate.

Sincerely,

Daniel McNeese

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A few short comments in no particular order.

  1. You have picked THE most important issue for us.
  2. Landrieu is a Democrat likely to ignore or discount your message. Get her attention -- and more mileage for your message -- by cc:ing every newspaper in Louisiana, every chairman of an important Senate committee, every Republican in the Senate, and every member of a commiittee relevant to free speech and communication, etc.
  3. It is a good first draft making good points in logical order, but like most first drafts it needs serious editing and pruning to focus on essentials and give your argument more power.

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If the incoming government is going to be as bad as many of us think, there's likely to be a tremendous public opinion backlash against them even from their own supporters. We may be able to take the government back over the next two elections, provided:

1) We can find some political candidates who aren't afraid of advocating egoism and capitalism. Rush Limbaugh is working on that, I think.

2) We can get information and opinions out past whatever censorship methods the government tries to impose.

3) The elections aren't rigged.

I've been inspired by this post to do something about the second and draft an e-mail to my Senator (Mary Landrieu, Louisiana). Since I'm new to the whole political activism thing, I thought I'd run my draft by you all first and get some feedback (ignore the fact that my e-mail address is not provided near the end):

Print it and mail it in an envelope, don't email it.

Here is a first pass:

Senator Landrieu,

First, let me congratulate you on your victory this Election Day and thank you for taking the time to read this.

I've largely ignored politics up until this year, but the events of 2008 have motivated me to register to vote and become politically active. As one of your constituents, I thought I should contact you and voice a concern. I'll get straight to it: there's a lot I'm worried about concerning the next few years, but the single biggest issue for me is the First Amendment. Specifically, the freedoms of speech and press.

I believe that an ignorant population is easily enslaved or destroyed, and consequently I believe that a free and informative press is essential to the future of this country. Unfortunately, it seems that the press itself no longer agrees. Their overwhelmingly one-sided coverage of this election shows that they have abandoned their constitutional role to keep us informed in favor of becoming a PR machine. This by itself would be bad enough. But their willingness to ruin the lives of people like Joe "The Plumber" Wurzelbacher in the process goes beyond disgraceful and straight into the realm of horrific. Their credibility is gone, and as far as helping to preserve our country goes the traditional press is effectively dead.

There is no "constitutional role" for the press to keep you informed as opposed to being a PR machine. (Historically, early newspapers after the founding of the country were often heavily based on promoting particular candidates.) If you argue for "non-bias" in the press on the grounds of the First Amendment it makes it sound like you should favor the "Fairness Doctrine". The distortions and misrepresentations in this campaign were reprehenisble, but they were not a First Amendment issue.

Fortunately, we no longer need them. A new press has been on the rise in the form of blogs, podcasts, talk radio and so forth. Blogs in particular are making it possible for millions of ordinary citizens to become reporters and analysts to each other, since the only barrier to entry is getting online (the software and server space needed can be had for free). We private citizens are becoming our own press, and I believe we can handle the job as long as we are allowed to do so.

You don't need to elaborate on the role of the internet and talk radio for a whole paragraph.

Of course, the key phrase there is "if we are allowed." I'll be blunt with you, Senator: I have absolutely no trust whatsoever in the incoming government's willingness to respect the First Amendment. I suspect the President-Elect to be the type of man who is quite willing - even eager - to punish dissent. And as for the legislators... I'm sorry, ma'am, but things like Chuck Schumer's recent comparison of speech to pornography don't instill me with confidence in your branch of the government either.

Pornography should not be banned either. Schumer's argument is an example of how they extend supression of freedom of speech after they have their nose under the tent, but that isn't especially relevant to Landrieu. The precedents giving concern for suppression of freedom of speech by Obama are his attempts to use government to intimidate his opponents, such as Ohio Democrats using state data bases to "investigate" Joe the Plumber, Obama's truth squads consisting of prosecutors, and the attempts to have the government shut down advertisements exposing Obama's connections with Ayers.

I must be clear on this: I believe in the right to speak my mind. I believe it is vital that we be able to exercise that right towards the goal of keeping each other informed, especially now that those who had the job of keeping us informed have defaulted. And I believe it is the job of the government - namely, you - to PROTECT that right. If you ever want a vote or any other form of support from me, then I must insist on the following:

Don't threaten.

1) You must oppose any legislation that would restrict or punish the expression of ideas and opinions, especially political ones. An example would be the misnamed "Fairness" Doctrine.

2) One cannot disseminate ideas without a means to do it with. Consequently, the freedom of the press is meaningless without the ability to use the internet, the airwaves, printing presses and so forth. If the government controls the use of these things, it can effectively muzzle us even if it does not directly seem to violate the First Amendment.

You need to clarify this. Economic controls can be used to suppress freedom of speech, but freedom of speech does not guarantee access to any particular medium.

Therefore, you must also oppose any legislation which grants the government ownership or control of such media or the instruments needed for their use. An example would be Net Neutrality.

3) Should the President ever be found to have gone outside the law to suppress dissent, you must support his removal from office.

What do you mean by this? What would he do outside the law? The problem is that the law is what the government says it is and he will use the law to go after people. With his record of intimidation he might try to use the IRS to go after his enemies. What the IRS does would most likely be within the vagueries of its sweeping powers under the law, and it is unlikely anything could be proved about motives arising from the Obama administration.

4) I must stress that what I am looking for here is ACTIVE involvement from you when such issues arise. When it comes to defending the First Amendment, neutrality, complacency or silence will not be enough.

I hope to hear from you and learn that you are of like mind, Senator. Should you wish to respond it would be best to use my e-mail address:

Again, thank you for your time and congratulations on your next few years in the Senate.

Sincerely,

Daniel McNeese

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Landrieu is a Democrat likely to ignore or discount your message. Get her attention -- and more mileage for your message -- by cc:ing every newspaper in Louisiana, every chairman of an important Senate committee, every Republican in the Senate, and every member of a commiittee relevant to free speech and communication, etc.

Democrats like to think of themselves as being for free speech even when they aren't. Writing a letter on behalf of free speech will sound supportive to her and it's important to hammer on them what that has to mean in reality -- such as no "Fairness doctrine" and no use of government agencies to intimidate people.

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Print it and mail it in an envelope, don't email it.

Why? This is at odds with Betsy's suggestion, so what are the merits of this?

There is no "constitutional role" for the press to keep you informed as opposed to being a PR machine. (Historically, early newspapers after the founding of the country were often heavily based on promoting particular candidates.) If you argue for "non-bias" in the press on the grounds of the First Amendment it makes it sound like you should favor the "Fairness Doctrine". The distortions and misrepresentations in this campaign were reprehenisble, but they were not a First Amendment issue.

Well, I thought the reason the press was specifically mentioned in the First Amendment was because of the importance of keeping the populace informed. But yeah, I can see how I trip myself up there.

You don't need to elaborate on the role of the internet and talk radio for a whole paragraph.

Agreed. I can probably cut that to a single sentence without losing impact.

The precedents giving concern for suppression of freedom of speech by Obama are his attempts to use government to intimidate his opponents, such as Ohio Democrats using state data bases to "investigate" Joe the Plumber, Obama's truth squads consisting of prosecutors, and the attempts to have the government shut down advertisements exposing Obama's connections with Ayers.

Point taken. I'll try to focus on that more.

Don't threaten.

How about "I can not in good conscience support you as Senator, unless you do the following?"

You need to clarify this. Economic controls can be used to suppress freedom of speech, but freedom of speech does not guarantee access to any particular medium.

Hmm... How would you phrase this, then?

What do you mean by this? What would he do outside the law? The problem is that the law is what the government says it is and he will use the law to go after people. With his record of intimidation he might try to use the IRS to go after his enemies. What the IRS does would most likely be within the vagueries of its sweeping powers under the law, and it is unlikely anything could be proved about motives arising from the Obama administration.

So, should this point be dropped entirely or is there a useful way to phrase this?

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You have picked THE most important issue for us.

I've been following Ezra Levant's story, and something funny occured to me: It looks like Canada is about to become the best country on Earth for free speech, and Canadians might soon be better able to speak to and for Americans than Americans themselves! We may soon need them to pay us back for the help we've given them in their battle for free speech.

I admit there's an element of fear influencing my thinking on this, but I'm honesty wondering: if I were to start a political blog and speak out, could I do more good for this country by leaving it first and moving up there? I don't have the money, skills or connections to fight back if the government were to come down on me, but from there I could speak openly to anyone with internet access.

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I've been following Ezra Levant's story, and something funny occured to me: It looks like Canada is about to become the best country on Earth for free speech, and Canadians might soon be better able to speak to and for Americans than Americans themselves!

I highly doubt that.

In the days when it took millions of dollars of equipment with giant antennas, all in fixed locations, to communicate, the FCC *could* demand "equal time" or impose censorship. Let them try now. It's dead easy to move service to a locale external to the U.S. that will not care about such laws.

I don't think even Washington is stupid enough to try to mass censor the internet. Beijing could sort-of do it because of totalitarian controls over the physical network connections into the country, but as bad as America has/will become, it seems very unlikely that it will happen here anytime soon. The very people they would be trying to suppress are the ones most likely to tell them to go to hell and keep right on writing.

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I'm not so worried about their control over the physical means. I was thinking more along the lines of what ewv pointed out: the government can come after critics in other ways - like sending in the IRS - that I don't have the means to fight. I think that sort of thing would be extremely unlikely to fly in Canada, given the massive public outrage over HRC censorship and the government's own movement towards more protection for free speech.

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I'm not so worried about their control over the physical means. I was thinking more along the lines of what ewv pointed out: the government can come after critics in other ways - like sending in the IRS - that I don't have the means to fight. I think that sort of thing would be extremely unlikely to fly in Canada, given the massive public outrage over HRC censorship and the government's own movement towards more protection for free speech.

Where do you see the government "mov[ing] towards more protection for free speech?" I've been following Levant's case too, and, apart from his increasing profile, notably among civil groups and legal-society groups, it appears Canada's executive arm is still opposed to scrapping the HRCs.

Could you provide a reference? I would be most happy to find that what you are saying is true.

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Print it and mail it in an envelope, don't email it.

Why? This is at odds with Betsy's suggestion, so what are the merits of this?

Physical letters get more attention, so do BOTH.

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I'm not so worried about their control over the physical means. I was thinking more along the lines of what ewv pointed out: the government can come after critics in other ways - like sending in the IRS - that I don't have the means to fight.

I suggest writing under a pseudonym on a blog located on an offshore server if it's on a scale they would care about, and it concerns you.

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Where do you see the government "mov[ing] towards more protection for free speech?" I've been following Levant's case too, and, apart from his increasing profile, notably among civil groups and legal-society groups, it appears Canada's executive arm is still opposed to scrapping the HRCs.

Could you provide a reference? I would be most happy to find that what you are saying is true.

Canada's Supreme Court made a move towards free speech earlier this year, so the judicial branch is apparently on the right side: http://ezralevant.com/2008/06/a-major-shif...amation-la.html

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Where do you see the government "mov[ing] towards more protection for free speech?" I've been following Levant's case too, and, apart from his increasing profile, notably among civil groups and legal-society groups, it appears Canada's executive arm is still opposed to scrapping the HRCs.

Could you provide a reference? I would be most happy to find that what you are saying is true.

Canada's Supreme Court made a move towards free speech earlier this year, so the judicial branch is apparently on the right side: http://ezralevant.com/2008/06/a-major-shif...amation-la.html

I read that post at the time. But, the problem is not the traditional rights-based legal system in Canada -- the HRCs' cases don't ever get into the real judicial system. The kangaroo court HRCs are used to intimidate and impoverish Canadians in this way:

1. A case is entered against you by some "offended" party, who is usually an HRC official;

2. You spend a lot of money defending yourself;

3. If you raise a ruckus like Levant has, they'll drop the case when they know they've drained you.

4. If you don't raise a ruckus, you lose money and you lose the "case."

It's not that Levant hasn't made some headway. The problem is philosophical: there just aren't (yet?) enough people who want to be free in Canada, and the country doesn't possess the U.S.'s proud individual-rights history. So, the type of Canadian who rises to power is a career powerluster. This type wants to rule, period.

But, maybe Levant will change that. I'm hopeful, but not holding my breath. Canada's fate is inextricably tied to the U.S.'s.

For a rather good perspective of the relative states of the two countries, consider this piece by the very talented Mark Steyn:

At that point, America might as well apply for honorary membership in the European Union. It will be a nation at odds with the spirit of its founding, and embarking on decline from which there are few escape routes. In 2012, the least we deserve is a choice between the collectivist assumptions of the Democrats, and a candidate who stands for individual liberty — for economic dynamism not the sclerotic “managed capitalism” of Germany; for the First Amendment, not Canadian-style government regulation of approved opinion; for self-reliance and the Second Amendment, not the security state in which Britons are second only to North Koreans in the number of times they're photographed by government cameras in the course of going about their daily business. In Forbes this week, Claudia Rosett issued a stirring defense of individual liberty. That it should require a stirring defense at all is a melancholy reflection on this election season. Live free — or die from a thousand beguiling caresses of nanny-state sirens.

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I've been thinking about how to rewrite my letter, and I've decided to replace the part about supporting the President's removal. Instead I want to take ewv's suggestion and talk about how the government can come after a private citizen for his words in ways that don't seem to have anything to do with speech (like IRS audits).

The question is, what could a Senator do about it? What kind of action could I call on her to take, other than just publicly protesting?

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The question is, what could a Senator do about it? What kind of action could I call on her to take, other than just publicly protesting?

If it is a Democrat Senator, probably not very much. When dealing with such people, my argument is extremely pragmatic.

I make clear that there is active opposition to a particular rights violation, that the opposition is able and willing to make a big, fat, stinking fuss about it, and if they have any part in the rights violation their contituents will hold it against them at election time.

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