Monday, July 23, 2007

Fletcher Official Admits Political Gagging

If you're reading this at work - on your lunch hour or break, of course! - count your blessings and do something nice for your boss.

You're better off than Kentucky state employees, who cannot read this, or any other blog that republican Governor Ernie Fletcher doesn't like, at work.

Yeah, yeah, they shouldn't be reading blogs at work, blah, blah, blah.

That's what Fletcher officials said. AFTER they got caught blocking a particular blogger who was exposing their crimes and stupidity several times a day.

For 2-1/2 years, from his inauguration in December 2003, Ernie had no problem with state employees reading blogs at work. State computer techs blocked porn sites, of course, and if your blog reading interferred with your work, your boss would call you in for a little chat about productivity, but if you wanted to spend your break reading the latest on Daily Kos or Little Green Footballs, nobody cared much.

But in May 2006, a grand jury indicted Fletcher on charges of violating state merit law by firing civil-service-protected Democrats to make room for his republican cronies.

And Mark Nickolas attacked.

Nickolas, who managed the campaign of Ben Chandler, who lost the governor's race to Fletcher, operated a blog called For two years, he'd been posting news and snarky commentary about Fletcher's Keystone Kops administration - along with strong criticism of the state's cowardly and incompetent Democrats.

But after the indictment, Nickolas moved into overdrive, and BluegrassReport became the don't-miss, refresh-all-day, multi-commented Blog Everybody Reads.

And Fletcher couldn't take it. One day, state employees checked out and found only a full-page message: "This Site Has Been Blocked by the Commonwealth Office of Technology."


That first day, you could still get on Kos, and LGF, and TPM, and Drudge, and all the rest.

So by lunchtime, it was pretty obvious what had happened. Fletcher had specifically blocked BGR because Nickolas - and his many bright, funny, well-informed commenters - hurt his tiny widdle feewings.

Emails flew between Nickolas and his state employee informers, and by close of business, Nickolas was accusing Fletcher of targeting BGR in political retribution.

The next day, all the liberal/progressive blogs were blocked, but state employees could still spend all day soaking up the vomit spewed by LGF and Drudge and the rest of the bush-fellators.

Nickolas cried foul again: Republican blogs were fine, but Democrats and liberals need not apply.

Fletcher officials blustered and lied and stalled, but in the end, they had no choice. To cover up their un-Constitutional gagging of BGR from state computers, they had to block all blogs.

Elephant-footed, they blanket-blocked everything on the Internet, to the point that people who needed information couldn't access even federal government websites.

Over the course of months, COT refined its blocking techniques, lifting the block on specific web sites if an employee could justify it as work-related.

It's still highly suspicious: FOX gets a pass, despite being news-free, as do Amazon and most shopping sites. Right-wing and Christian religious sites get through, but the Flying Spaghetti Monster is blocked.

It's also somewhat arbitrary: Talking Points Memo, TPM Cafe, TPM Election Central and TPM Horse's Mouth are blocked, but TPMMuckraker is not. Salon's War Room blog is blocked, but its Broadsheet blog is not. Kevin Drum's Political Animal blog at hung on for a few months, but was gone by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, Nickolas filed a federal First Amendment lawsuit against Fletcher and kept beating Ernie senseless on his blog.

In June, Nickolas moved to Montana and shut down BGR. But the lawsuit continues, and last Friday former Fletcher technology commissioner Michael Inman dropped a bombshell:

Robbie Rudolph, Fletcher's running mate for lieutenant governor and secretary of the executive cabinet, directly ordered Inman to block BGR.

"It was apparent that the state had intentionally targeted and had blocked the category of blogs and other categories of Web sites in an attempt to disguise that fact," Inman said in a sworn statement.

No shit.

The Blocking of BGR is small potatoes compared to the wholesale burning of the U.S. Constitution perpetrated by Smirky and Darth Cheney. But the testimony of Inman - whom Fletcher stupidly fired - is a crack in the Right-Wing Authoritarian Wall.

It gives me hope on two counts: That republicans with integrity are not a myth, and that they will, when pushed hard enough toward the Dark Side, do the Right Thing. And that blogs like BGR and Watching Those We Chose can, indeed, Make A Difference.

Mark Nickolas and BluegrassReport contributed enormously to the 2006-2007 rebirth of the Kentucky Democratic Party, not least by flaying moribund and corrupt Democrats as raw as he flayed Fletcher and other republicans. Nickolas and BGR strongly supported Steve Beshear's gubernatorial candidacy and played a significant role in Beshear's 20-point drubbing of Fake Democrat and Convicted Criminal Bruce Lunsford in the May primary.

The new chair of the Kentucky Democratic Party is State Treasurer Jonathan Miller, who staunchly opposed Fletcher's Internet blocking. Miller was the Voice of Reason, pointing out that Indiana, Ohio, Illinois and other neighboring states manage to get the work of the people done without denying their employees access to anything on the Internet except porn.

Miller's withdrawal from the governor's race ensured Beshear's victory, so Steve owes him big time.

If Beshear wins the election in November, state employees will be able to read political blogs at work again by Christmas.

BGR is gone, but several other progressive Kentucky blogs are working hard to fill its shoes, including Bluegrass Roots, Kentucky Democrat, Drinking Liberally Louisville, Hillbilly Report, Kentucky Woman and Ditch Mitch Kentucky.