My native state, Kansas, has so little money that the governor cancelled the state arts program, tried to eliminate all funding for family planning, slashed budgets for judicial support staff–putting court dates far into the future for many defendants–and even eliminated funding for a place that cares for severely brain-damaged adults, including many returning veterans. However, good news! He has enough money to monitor every mention of his name on the World Wide Web, including a tweet by a suburban KC teen who told all 65 of her followers that “he sucked.” Today, Emma Sullivan has 11,000 Twitter followers, thanks to Governor Brownback: the gov went to her high school principal after finding the tweet and demanded that Ms. Sullivan provide a written apology. The principal agreed.
I’ve been interested to read some of the worldwide coverage. Of course this story makes perfect pundit-fodder, and many pundits have sternly chastised Ms Sullivan for her rudeness in saying Mr. Brownback “sucks.” Perhaps she should have said, in 140 characters, “The governor’s style closely approximates that of Attila the Hun, or perhaps the angel of death, and our state will bear the scars of his destructive scythe for decades to come.”
(As of today, after the story went viral, the governor and principal have decided they “over-reacted.” Ms Sullivan need not apologize. The gov said free speech was our most “treasured” freedom. I don’t know if this is the place to point out that the First Amendment, which guarantees our freedom of speech, includes that pesky little separation of church and state clause. Which Mr Brownback apparently thinks is a fly speck on the Constitution, since I’ve been told that a number of his staffers begin meetings by saying, “I’m a Christian and we start meetings with Christian prayer.” The Kansas legislature also has a chaplain who hands out photocopies of Bible texts and commentary to state agencies to start the week with a bang. No money for the arts, but plenty for photocopying religious tracts.)
Closer to my current home, Chicago, our state attorney general went to court to enforce the state’s parental notification law for pregnant teens seeking abortions. In going to court to support the law, Ms Madigan, whom I’ve always liked and supported, went a little overboard: she said the state constitution’s guarantee of citizens’ rights to privacy doesn’t include our right to abortion. Meaning that women’s bodies are not our own, that the state has an overriding interest in regulating us. I think the logical next step is a law requiring all abortion providers to operate in open-air tents so that everyone can watch. Like Kansas, Illinois has major and serious budget issues, but, like every other state in the union, not to mention the U.S. Congress, the only legislation our state gets really enthusiastic about is how to add ever more burdens to women of all ages who want contraception or abortion services. (As of November 30, the state supreme court has agreed to hear Ms Madigan’s arguments and has further decided to let some conservative Catholic groups testify with her.)
I forgot another arena where we have a lot of enthusiastic legislation: making it illegal for citizens to video cops. When police sprayed pepper spray into protestors’ eyes on the UC-Davis campus, they claimed it was in response to student violence. A video of the scene showed no crowd violence, just a row of seated people getting sprayed as if they were aphids on the tomatoes. In a November 28 column, Leonard Pitts recounts the story of Emily Good, who was arrested for videotaping a police traffic stop in front of her house. He goes on to detail a number of jurisdictions that are passing laws against photographing the police in the performance of their duties.
We are a society under constant surveillance by our government. We’re a society gripped by fear, and there’s nothing like surveillance to add to paranoia. But we’re also a society with huge economic problems. I’d love to see our legislators grappling with those problems for a change.