Leonard Pitts, Jr. – We’re Surrendering Our Civil Liberties

The always read worthy Leonard Pitts, Jr.:

It will not be with guns.

If ever tyranny overtakes this land of the sometimes free and home of the intermittently brave, it probably won’t, contrary to the fever dreams of gun rights extremists, involve jack-booted government thugs rappelling down from black helicopters. Rather, it will involve changes to words on paper many have forgotten or never knew, changes that chip away until they strip away precious American freedoms.

I feel that Mr. Pitts is like me in that the particulars of the NSA programs are troubling but maybe not run to the ramparts troubling. More troubling is that so many Americans are not troubled at all. It’s all okay, nothing to see here, don’t even have to think about this one. That includes the Republicans that were okay when Bush did it and the Democrats that are okay now with their guy in the big chair.

Having watched the HBO documentary on Pussy Riot, the Russian punk band/performance artist /provocateurs that were arrested on charges of “giving offense” and “hooliganism”, two of whom  languish in a Russian jail today, one gives thanks for our Bill of Rights, system of justice and tradition of civil liberties. The 1st and 4th amendments were revolutionary when they were written and adopted and above everything else in the new Constitution and the soon added Bill of Rights, instrumental in making America the land of the free.  It’s at least worth a little consideration, a little time away from the NBA Finals or the Voice to make sure we’re not eroding one of the very real bulwarks given us against real-ass tyranny (as opposed to fake-ass tea party tyranny that is as easy to summon as banning Big Gulps).

Maybe it’s because we’re so used to these freedoms that we take them for granted. Watching three young Russian women go to jail, for years, for performing a song in a church is a reminder of what the architects of the Constitution had seen as routine in the world in their time and wanted to change.  

Maybe we don’t even know what civil liberties are any more.  I realize now that the idiot reflexive Obama defenders on Twitter who keep calling Glenn Greenwald a “libertarian”, which he is certainly not, have mistaken that term for “civil libertarian”, which he and many of my heroes most certainly are!  Have we completely lost the idea of fighting to defend the Constitution against the erosions of “precious American freedoms” that will always be attempted by the powers that be?    

We should know this, yet we fall for the same seductive con every time: We are afraid, but the state says it can make us safe. And all it will take is the surrender of a few small freedoms.

It makes you want to holler in frustration, especially since the promise is so false. Yes, the state can interdict a given terrorist plot, but even if it took every last freedom we have, it could not guarantee complete security. That is a plain truth with which we must make peace.

We will never be “safe.” But we just might, if we have the courage, be free.

So yeah, sigh, what Ben Franklin said: Those who can give up Essential Liberty to obtain a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

The Constitution is not a Suicide Pact – Part II

I’m reminded this morning, listening to Pete Dominick on Sirius 104, that another suicide pact issue is the free speech/campaign finance law conundrum.  Maybe it’s not really a conundrum, the rest of the world doesn’t treat it that way, only so-called free speech absolutists, like the Fab 5 on the Supreme Court, who actually find that free-speech is really quite limitable for poor people, just not for rich people.

Constitutional law professor Erich Segal commented, often, that the Citizen’s United decision is a “unique” view of campaign finance limits.  Perhaps he also meant that the equation of money and speech itself is unique. It’s all so unique and HORRIBLE FOR DEMOCRACY!  The execrable Will Cain was arguing in favor of free speech for all (businesses) with his usual libertarian nonsense (miming a jacking off motion) that takes a theoretical approach to aspects of life that do not require theoretical approaches.  We live here in the actual 3D real world – we have long historical experience with money corrupting politics, ALWAYS!  We have empirical evidence that the Citizen’s United system is just legalized bribery in which the people with the money to spend on campaigns have all the access to the politicians as well as the means to buy and hijack media.  We can study the history of the Copper Kings, the trusts, the selling of Senate seats before the 17th amendment, etc, etc. etc.  We don’t need theories.

And it’s so transparent because nobody who advocates for the confluence of money and speech believes that you can shout “fire” in a crowd.  They intellectually believe that society has an interest in limiting speech in the case of libel and fraud and other uses of speech that are clearly deleterious to life, limb and especially money.  But rich people should not have their “speech” limited by law.  They earned it and they know better.

That’s where this really comes from.  It’s not at all an effort to defend the 1st amendment from those who would sacrifice it for squishy, granola eating “good government” reasons. It’s a continuation of the old Federalist aristocracy-centered government when people believed that the men with money should have more say about things because they clearly knew more and God had smiled on them.  

Because in a real democracy Joe Shmoe with $20,000 in the bank should have as much ability and right to run for office as Thurston Howell III.  But as we all know, when Joe Shmoe walks into a party office and they ask him how he would finance his campaign and he says “Well I’ve got $20,000 but people like me and Ill work really hard to shake every hand and kiss every baby” he would have his posterior kicked out of the office right after he said “$20,000”.  Meanwhile across town billionaire Thurston, despite being a low grade moron, will have been recruited to run for office so that they can use his check book to win a seat. 

To think that the 1st amendment means that we have to just throw our hands up in the air and say “what are you going to do?” and shuffle away from addressing the problems in our democracy is insane.  Or as Will Cain said this morning “the answer is always more speech.” Which oddly enough is also the NRA’s answer to violence:  more guns!.