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Day 506 – A Brief Primer on the First Amendment…And on What You Are Not Allowed to Limit or Direct, Mr. President.

Day 506 – A Brief Primer on the First Amendment…And on What You Are Not Allowed to Limit or Direct, Mr. President.

Image from Rolling Stone

Mr. President,

I’m writing to provide you a brief explanation of both freedom of speech and freedom of association. You have, I hope, heard of them.

Free speech is the right of every American to say basically anything he or she wants. There are some limitations on that speech (hate speech comes to mind), but the Supreme Court has historically been very protective of this fundamental right and very hesitant to limit it.

Freedom of association is an individual’s right to join or leave groups voluntarily, the right of a group to take collective action to pursue the interests of its members, and the right of an association to accept or decline membership based on certain criteria.

Here’s the thing. Our constitution guarantees individuals’ freedom of speech from government censorship. It prevents government restrictions on speech, not restrictions imposed by private groups or businesses. Restrictions by private organizations are examples of freedom of association. That means that private organizations can place limits on what employees say and do and whom the organization will serve. Organizations may do this because of values they hold deeply, or because of financial interests associated with ticket sales or television ratings. When the NFL requires players to stand, that’s freedom of association. When ABC fires Roseanne, that’s freedom of association. When a bakery won’t bake a cake or an organization won’t run an ad during a certain program, that’s freedom of association. You do not have to agree with it for it to be constitutional.

Americans get to weigh in on these choices, thereby influencing organizations via the market. We can – and should – speak, write, buy, boycott, petition, educate and by every peaceful means possible make our assent or dissent known. But you, Mr. President, do not get to weigh in. You cannot demand things like “take such-and-such off the air” or “make them stand.” You’re the one person who doesn’t get a say because you are the government. When you take a side, you’re making an official, government statement against free speech and free association.

As Americans, we can and should each say our piece. Buy, view, and support, or boycott and speak out against. We all get to participate in the market and influence individuals and organizations, and we should.

Everyone but you.




Day 495 – Letter to The American Professional Media: Thank You (Again and Again and Again) For Protecting and Upholding Freedom of the Press.

Day 495 – Letter to The American Professional Media: Thank You (Again and Again and Again) For Protecting and Upholding Freedom of the Press.

Image from News Press

Dear American Professional Media,

Thank you. Thank you for not giving up, facing the frontal and ongoing hostility of Trump and his minions, following the trail of facts, asking questions, finding sources, investigating background, and keeping us safe by trusting citizens with the truth.

We know you are not sleeping.  We know you are not seeing your families, celebrating holidays, or playing golf.  We read your insightful writing then see you hours later on television discussing what you have discovered.  We hear your analysis and commentary.  We cheer your careful questions of consultants and guests: men and women with deep knowledge who bring to your discussion their expertise, informing a country currently living through a “looking glass” of fantastical tyranny.

We know that you have unearthed information that cannot yet be shared, and so we suspect your angst about the future of the country runs even deeper than our own.  We appreciate your commitment to protect sources, endure hardships, and face physical danger and psychological assault.

When we see your continued commitment to professional conduct during farcical White House briefings, we admire your constraint.  How do you keep from laughing out loud at the blatant lies and outrageous claims?  (How do you keep from crying?)  We are awed by your respectful discussion of competing media who spew an ever growing flood of lies, rumors, and conspiracy theories into the life blood of the body politic.  They don’t deserve your respect.  They are a viral infection with the capacity to destroy the very free media that feeds them.  How do you keep from engaging them with facts?  How do you not shake your head in frustration that Americans believe their completely fabricated propaganda?

Please know that we know.  Please know that we know you are “standing the wall” in defense of freedom.  We know you as patriots; patriots with quill pens, fountain pens, ballpoint pens and pencils, tape recorders, copy machines, fax machines, and computers. Patriots around the world who are being threatened, imprisoned, and shot because you believe that shedding light into the world disinfects the growth of graft, corruption, and despotism. Your sometimes cynical nature provides energy to stand up to power, to dig deeper, to revel in finding what is true. Because, down deep, you are romantics committed to an ideal of honesty and engaging in the real world.

Thank you.  We’re behind your work.  We share your hope that this period will pass and your lives, and our lives, will return to a more normal pattern.  In the meantime we need your sacrifice, your talent, your drive, and your courage.  We support you as if our lives depended on you because, of course, they do.



Day 351 – Letter to the Media: Thank You For Fighting For Truth and Transparency

Day 351 – Letter to the Media: Thank You For Fighting For Truth and Transparency

Image from FreePress

Dear Journalists and Reporters, Editors, and Media Owners,

As we start a new year, I want to thank you.

The struggle to protect American democracy will accelerate in 2018.  In your professionalism, endurance, and analysis you clarified the stakes in 2017. You organized information, verified sources, and continued to pursue the stories despite significant daily harassment and bullying from the president and his minions.

Individually, there was brilliant reporting.  Collectively, you assembled the pieces so we can begin to know the truth. We need you to find the strength, wisdom, and endurance to meet the attacks of the coming year.  The legitimate free press and an activist citizenry remain our last guardrails for democracy.  (We have yet to test where the military and the police will cast their lot).

The president busily loads the courts with unqualified partisans and attacks our structures of justice and security. He openly defies the Constitution in his private business dealings. He lies. He assaults women. He courts tyrants and gives top secret information to our enemies. He diminishes America’s role in the world. He flippantly threatens nuclear war. He destroys families and encourages hatred and division. He defiantly demonstrates that he does not represent nor does he want to lead all of the American people.  He robs from the poor to give to the rich. He is both dangerous and an embarrassment.

Congress has walked away from its role as an independent branch of government. Our elected representatives in the Senate and House violate their Oaths of Office to protect and defend the Constitution.  Loyalty is to the Republican Party and its mega donors, not to citizens, or the Constitution, or even the law.

Big money already funds the propaganda machine of Fox News.  Other rich oligarchs seek to purchase the free press in order to muffle your voice. Worthy of a fascist dictatorship, Fox combined with the Russian infiltration of social media, fuels natural differences of opinion into divisions that go even deeper into families and friendships. The Cabinet appalls with its syrupy public adulation of the president served up to him on queue, while they actively dismantle the protections for citizens and the earth one by one.  There seems to be no vision other than to enrich the rich and destroy the country.

We are left to hold the president and the Congress to account.  We need you – and you need us.  I hope both the citizens of the country, and the free “press” (television, radio, social media, print media, and magazines) will rise to the challenge.  You stand in a long line of noble patriots. The essayists writing the Federalist Papers, the tradition of fearless, fair, and effective journalists across our history are your professional heritage.

I realize your job must take a personal toll.  You work long hours. You are pressured by powerful people, perhaps you are threatened.  The stakes are high and your commitment must be all consuming. Thank you for making the sacrifice in service to the truth.  Thank you for keeping us informed; for providing context and history; for speaking truth to power, even when the powerful disdain and distort the truth.

We’re behind you. We’re supporting you. We’re subscribing to your papers and podcasts. We’re commenting in social media. Our protest signs are finished and stacked in the garage for the day we must all make our voices heard with our bodies in the streets. We are grateful for your service on the front lines and your protection of the First Amendment.

2018 is a critical moment in the history of the United States. Thank you for what you have done to prepare us, and for what will be needed from you in the coming year.



Day 201 – Some Vacation Reading for You, Mr. President: the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Day 201 – Some Vacation Reading for You, Mr. President: the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Photograph by Trent Strohm

Dear Mr. President,

I understand you are on an extended summer vacation.  Perhaps you plan to read during your break and reflect on great ideas?  Many people do.

A real page turner is the United States Constitution and its Bill of Rights.  The Constitution isn’t very long.  It describes your job. The Bill of Rights, also a short read, explicitly details the limits of your power. The first ten amendments to the Constitution make up the Bill of Rights. Ten declared rights to be exact. Obviously you don’t own a copy, but I bet the National Archives could help you out if you don’t like reading online.

We know you are somewhat familiar with the first two amendments.  The first one, note it’s the first one, is the protection of individual freedoms. These are the really troubling ones for a wannabe despot and for a beleaguered attorney general.

Articulated in the First Amendment are those pesky freedoms of assembly, speech, and the prohibition on the government imposing religion.  Oh, and the real killer, this amendment includes the named right of freedom of the press.  In fact, the authors of the Bill of Rights wrote the “tweets of their time” in elegant arguments called the Federalist Papers describing why they cared about these ideas.  It’s a set of short essays. Maybe Ivanka would read them to you or summarize them on a sheet of paper.  Anyway, the founders went out of their way to describe the importance of a free press – must be annoying to you.

Then there is your favorite, the Second Amendment. I bet you’ve memorized that one.  Even though it was designed to help defend the country at a time when there were too few soldiers, the gun manufacturers have pushed the second to its limit….an assault weapon on every shoulder seems to be the goal.

Well, recently I heard one of your mouthpieces on Fox News working on the “discredit” part of your campaign against the Russian investigation into the attack on our nation.  Unfortunately, this commentator focused his attack on the institution of justice, and not on the merits of the Russian investigation.  This is a dangerous line of attack unless, of course, your mission is to destroy the United States.

Your mouthpiece said that the grand jury is not a legitimate process. So, I thought I would introduce you to the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution.  Perhaps, you and he hadn’t read that far.

“No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

There you have it!  So…quick review:

First Amendment – guarantees our civil liberties, the ones you are eager to eliminate

Second Amendment – guarantees that people can own guns, and I might note it’s for the purpose of defending the First Amendment rights, our individual liberties

Third Amendment – for another day, prohibits the government from forcing people to house soldiers

Fourth Amendment – also for another day, protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizure of property (another troubling one for Jeff Sessions who is trying to snatch property from citizens without due process) and

Fifth Amendment – the Constitutional establishment of the Grand Jury.

You might want to get to know the Fifth Amendment better because it is the one you will be using when you are called to testify at the Grand Jury.  It’s the part that says you don’t have to testify against yourself.  You might consider protecting the Fifth Amendment rather than condemning it.  I think it’s going to come in handy for you, your family, and friends.

I expect that after your holiday of golf, eating, television watching, and tweeting (basically your regular work day schedule), you will call Fox News and share your insights from your summer reading.  You might mention to them that they look silly when they rant and puff that a grand jury is somehow not legitimate. You might ask the National Archives to send the talking heads at Fox copies of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights for their reading, too – point them to the Fifth Amendment.



Day 14

Day 14

Photograph by Robert Huffstutter

Dear Mr. President,

Your war with the media astonishes me. As a former superintendent of a public school district, I knew without doubt that the media controlled the perception of me and what I was doing, not the other way around. Transparency and truthfulness were the best answers to media scrutiny. Anytime I tried to keep something from them or attempted to divert or distract them, it doubled their desire to dig deeper and check harder. And guess what? That is their job. This is America, Mr. Trump, and you are its President. That means allowing “no infringement on the freedom of the press” as promised in the First   Amendment to our Constitution, that same Constitution you swore on a bible on January 20th you would defend and protect.  I am sure you are smart enough to see that means you don’t muzzle the free press; you actively defend and protect it even when you don’t like what it says about you or your staff or your vice president. Saying things like “I have a running war with the media,” and calling journalists “the most dishonest human beings on earth” and threatening that “they are going to pay a big price,“ or having your close adviser Steve Bannon call the media “the opposition party,” saying that it “should be  embarrassed and humiliated and keep its mouth shut and just listen for awhile” are all in direct contradiction to that pesky First Amendment that you have sworn to uphold.

I didn’t always like what the media reported about me during my 14 years as a superintendent, but I learned my first day on my job that I had better respect them. That was simply self interest. If you can’t be convinced that when you swore to defend and protect the Constitution that vow included a free press, then consider your own self interest. There is always your legacy, which will reside to a large extent in what the media reports about you, your words, your actions. Do you really want to go down in history as a defensive, embattled, threatening president who is fearful of a free press? Journalists can fact-check your words as soon as you fire off a tweet and they will not be intimidated. If you stick to facts and not alternative facts and stop acting as if the press is your enemy, who knows? You might be received with respect by the media.

We citizens will fight to support a free press, will buy their papers, read and listen to their reports, and we will keep freedom of the press the cornerstone of our democracy. We will not adhere to the advice of your supporter, Rep. Lamar Smith who said, “Better to get your news directly from the president. In fact, it might be the only way to get the unvarnished truth.” No, sir, Mr. President. That is what dictators wish their citizens to believe; it cannot be the path followed by a leader of a democracy.

We will not be distracted or diverted by your efforts to keep your serious actions quiet with ridiculous exaggerations about the size of your inauguration crowd. What we truly care about are the egregious actions you are taking on restricting or banning immigrants from 7 predominantly Muslim countries, even families from war torn Syria; limiting women’s reproductive rights; restarting the Dakota Access pipeline in which until recently you had a financial interest; repealing the Affordable Care Act with as yet no plan to replace it. These are the actions we will look to the media to hold you accountable for, to continue to dig deeper and check harder.

So, Mr. President: is upholding the Constitution not your thing? How about your own self interest? You said during your speech at the CIA, “I’m, like, a smart person.” Prove your intelligence and stop trying to muzzle or bully the media. It won’t work.




Day 13

Day 13

Photograph by Noman Bukhari

Dear Mr. President,

I hold as a fundamental principle the right to practice religion freely. As I have witnessed the last 13 days, I have often tried to pinpoint why I am so concerned. After all, liberal and progressive platforms lose ground on a regular basis, and different political platforms are debated and negotiated year after year. I have a significant amount of moderate and conservative friends, and I have never found this to be a burden, but rather a joy, because I experience the freedom of arguing with people I disagree with while building meaningful, challenging relationships.

But this is different. The ban on Muslim immigrants and refugees feels more personal. And it feels personal not only because I have Muslim friends, but also because these measures attack the most fundamental parts of who I am: they go against the most basic tenets of human decency that I strive for.

My Catholic upbringing taught me that compassion would guide the way, that I should not judge or condemn those whom I did not understand and might disagree with. It also taught me that compassion is more difficult than other options, because it requires making peace with uncertainty and fear. American ideals echo this notion of bravery in the face of fear; we are a country founded on the idea that we will extend a hand to those who need it most, however difficult that might be.

I am asking you to uphold that most basic American ideal, the idea that fear does not supersede religious freedom, that fear does not compromise our commitment to extending a hand to those who need us most. We are a great country because we strive to uphold that most basic value, regardless of how challenging it might be or how imperfectly we might achieve that goal.

I am watching this country succumb to its fear and anxiety, as I am watching Quebec suffer the consequences of this fear. I am encouraged by how Canada’s leader has responded to a terrible terrorist act, bravely and courageously, with a stronger commitment to justice and tolerance. You are now tasked with the responsibility to ensure that our most basic American ideals are not betrayed in the United States; you are responsible for being the leader that guides us through this time. Your actions indicate that you are willing to succumb to fear, too, but you are expected to transcend your own fear. Our country’s honor, and our most basic democratic principles, depend on it.



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