Peter Van Buren: Taking Down the First Amendment in Post-Constitutional America

Yves here. Van Buren continues his examination of what he calls the “post-Constitutional era”. He focuses on the steady erosion of freedom of speech, particularly in the media, including limits on the ability of journalists to protect sources to more self-censorship and increased antipathy towards reporting that involves the use of confidential material.

By Peter Van Buren, who blew the whistle on State Department waste and mismanagement during Iraq Reconstruction in his first book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. He writes about current events at his blog, We Meant Well. Van Buren’s new book, Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99Percent, is available now. Cross posted from TomDispatch

America has entered its third great era: the post-constitutional one. In the first, in the colonial years, a unitary executive, the King of England, ruled without checks and balances, allowing no freedom of speech, due process, or privacy when it came to protecting his power.

In the second, the principles of the Enlightenment and an armed rebellion were used to push back the king’s abuses. The result was a new country and a new constitution with a Bill of Rights expressly meant to check the government’s power. Now, we are wading into the shallow waters of a third era, a time when that government is abandoning the basic ideas that saw our nation through centuries of challenges far more daunting than terrorism. Those ideas — enshrined in the Bill of Rights — are disarmingly concise. Think of them as the haiku of a genuine people’s government.

Deeper, darker waters lie ahead and we seem drawn down into them. For here there be monsters.

The Powers of a Police State Denied

America in its pre-constitutional days may seem eerily familiar even to casual readers of current events. We lived then under the control of a king. (Think now: the imperial presidency.) That king was a powerful, unitary executive who ruled at a distance. His goal was simple: to use his power over “his” American colonies to draw the maximum financial gain while suppressing any dissent that might endanger his control.

In those years, protest was dangerous. Speech could indeed make you the enemy of the government. Journalism could be a crime if you didn’t write in support of those in power. A citizen needed to watch what he said, for there were spies everywhere, including fellow colonists hoping for a few crumbs from the king’s table. Laws could be brutal and punishments swift as well as extra-judicial. In extreme cases, troops shot down those simply assembling to speak out.

Among the many offenses against liberty in pre-constitutional America, one pivotal event, the Stamp Act of 1765, stands out. To enforce the taxes imposed by the Act, the king’s men used “writs of assistance” that allowed them to burst into any home or business, with or without suspicion of wrongdoing. American privacy was violated and property ransacked, often simply as a warning of the king’s power. Some colonist was then undoubtedly the first American to mutter, “But if I have nothing to hide, why should I be afraid?” He soon learned that when a population is categorically treated as a potential enemy, everyone has something to hide if the government claims they do.

The Stamp Act and the flood of kingly offenses that followed created in those who founded the United States a profound suspicion of what an unchecked government could do, and a sense that power and freedom are not likely to coexist comfortably in a democracy. A balancing mechanism was required. In addition to the body of the Constitution outlining what the new nation’s government could do, needed was an accounting of what it could not do. The answer was the Bill of Rights.

The Bill’s preamble explained the matter this way: “…in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of [the government’s] powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added.” Thomas Jefferson commented separately, “[A] bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth.”

In other words, the Bill of Rights was written to make sure that the new government would not replicate the abuses of power of the old one. Each amendment spoke directly to a specific offense committed by the king. Their purpose collectively was to lay out what the government could never take away. Knowing first-hand the dangers of a police state and unchecked power, those who wrote the Constitution wanted to be clear: never again.

It needs to be said that those imperfect men were very much of their era. They were right about much, but desperately wrong about other things. They addressed “humanity,” but ignored the rights of women and Native Americans. Above all, they did not abolish the institution of slavery, our nation’s Original Sin. It would take many years, and much blood, to begin to rectify those mistakes.

Still, for more than two centuries, the meaning of the Bill of Rights was generally expanded, though — especially in wartime — it sometimes temporarily contracted. Yet the basic principles that guided America were sustained despite civil war, world wars, depressions, and endless challenges. Then, one September morning, our Post-Constitutional era began amid falling towers and empty skies. What have we lost since? More than we imagine. A look at the Bill of Rights, amendment by amendment, tells the tale.

The First Amendment

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

The First Amendment was meant to make one thing indisputably clear: free speech was the basis for a government of the people. Without a free press, as well as the ability to openly gather, debate, protest, and criticize, how would the people be able to judge their government’s adherence to the other rights? How could people vote knowledgeably if they didn’t know what was being done in their name by their government? An informed citizenry, Thomas Jefferson stated, was “a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.”

That was how it was seen long ago. In Post-Constitutional America, however, the government strives to “control the message,” to actively thwart efforts to maintain a citizenry informed about what’s done in its name, a concept that these days seems as quaint as Jefferson’s powdered wig. There are far too many examples of the post-9/11 erosion of the First Amendment to list here. Let’s just look at a few important ones that tell the tale of what we have lost since 9/11.

(Lack of) Freedom of Information

In 1966, an idea for keeping Americans better informed on the workings of their government was hatched: the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Strengthened in 1974, it began with the premise that, except for some obvious categories (like serious national security matters and personal information), the position of the government should be: everything it does is available to the public. Like the Bill of Rights, which made specific the limits of government, FOIA began with a presumption that it was the government’s duty to make information available — and quickly — to the people, unless a convincing case could be made otherwise. The default position of the FOIA switch was set to ON.

Three decades later, the FOIA system works far differently. Agencies are generally loath to release documents of any sort and instead put their efforts into creating roadblocks to legitimate requests. Some still require signatures on paper. (The State Department notes, “Requests for personal information cannot be submitted electronically and should be submitted by mail.”) Others demand hyper-detailed information like the precise dates and titles of documents whose dates and titles may be classified and unavailable. The NSA simply denies almost all FOIA requests out of hand, absent a court order.

Most federal agencies now regard the deadline mandated for a response as the time period to send out a “request received” note. They tend to assign only a few staff members to processing requests, leading to near-endless delays. At the State Department, most FOIA work is done on a part-time basis by retirees. The CIA won’t directly release electronic versions of documents. Even when a request is fulfilled, “free” copying is often denied and reproduction costs exaggerated.

In some cases, the requested records have a way of disappearing or are simply removed. The ACLU’s experience when it filed an FOIA-style request with the Sarasota police department on its use of the cell phone surveillance tool Stingray could be considered typical. The morning the ACLU was to review the files, Federal Marshals arrived and physically took possession of them, claiming they had deputized the local cops and made the files federal property. An ACLU spokesperson noted that, in other cases, federal authorities have invoked the Homeland Security Act to prevent the release of records.

John Young, who runs the web site Cryptome and is a steadfast FOIA requester, stated, “Stonewalling, delay, brush-off, lying are normal. It is a delusion for ordinary requesters and a bitch of a challenge for professionals. Churning has become a way of life for FOIA, costly as hell for little results.”

Sealed Lips and the Whistleblower

All government agencies have regulations requiring employees to obtain permission before speaking to the representatives of the people — that is, journalists. The U.S. Intelligence Community has among the most restrictive of these policies, banning employees and contractors completely from talking with the media without prior authorization. Even speaking about unclassified information is a no-no that may cost you your job. A government ever more in lockdown mode has created what one journalist calls a “culture where censorship is the norm.”

So who does speak to Americans about their government? Growing hordes of spokespeople, communications staff, trained PR crews, and those anonymous “senior officials” who pop up so regularly in news articles in major papers.

With the government obsessively seeking to hide or spin what it does, in-the-sunlight contact barred, and those inside locked behind an iron curtain of secrecy, the whistleblower has become the paradigmatic figure of the era. Not surprisingly, anyone who blows a whistle has, in these years, come under fierce attack.

Pick a case: Tom Drake exposing early NSA efforts to turn its spy tools on Americans, Edward Snowden proving that the government has us under constant surveillance, Chelsea Manning documenting war crimes in Iraq and sleazy diplomacy everywhere, John Kiriakou acknowledging torture by his former employer the CIA, or Robert MacLean revealing Transportation Safety Administration malfeasance. In each instance, the threat of jail was quick to surface. The nuclear option against such truthtellers is the Espionage Act, a law that offended the Constitution when implemented in the midst of World War I. It has been resurrected by the Obama administration as a blunt “wartime” tool for silencing and punishing whistleblowers.

The Obama administration has already charged six people under that act for allegedly mishandling classified information. Even Richard Nixon only invoked it once, in a failed prosecution against Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg.

Indeed, the very word “espionage” couldn’t be stranger in the context of these cases. None of those charged spied. None sought to aid an enemy or make money selling secrets. No matter. In Post-Constitutional America, the powers-that-be stand ready to twist language in whatever Orwellian direction is necessary to bridge the gap between reality and the king’s needs. In the Espionage Act case of State Department contractor Stephen Kim, a judge departed from previous precedent, ruling that the prosecution need not even show that the information leaked to a Fox news reporter from a CIA report on North Korea could damage U.S. national security or benefit a foreign power. It could still be a part of an “espionage” charge.

A final question might be: How could a law designed almost 100 years ago to stop German spies in wartime have become a tool to silence the few Americans willing to risk everything to exercise their First Amendment rights? When did free speech become a crime?

Self-Censorship and the Press

Each person charged under the Espionage Act in these years was primarily a source for a journalist. The writers of the Bill of Rights chose to include the term “press” in the First Amendment, specifically carving out a special place for journalists in our democracy. The press was necessary to question government officials directly, comment on their actions, and inform the citizenry about what its government was doing. Sadly, as the Obama administration is moving ever more fiercely against those who might reveal its acts or documents, the bulk of the media have acquiesced. Glenn Greenwald said it plainly: too many journalists have gone into a self-censoring mode, practicing “obsequious journalism.”

For example, a survey of reporters showed “the percentage of U.S. journalists endorsing the occasional use of ‘confidential business or government documents without authorization,’ dropped significantly from 81.8% in 1992 to 57.7% in 2013.” About 40% of American journalists would not have published documents like those Edward Snowden revealed.

And the same has been true of the management of newspapers. In mid-2004, James Risen and Eric Lichtblau uncovered George W. Bush’s illegal warrantless eavesdropping program, but the New York Times held the story for 15 months, until after Bush’s reelection. Executives at the Times were told by administration officials that if they ran the story, they’d be helping terrorists. They accepted that. In 2006, the Los Angeles Times similarly gave in to the NSA and suppressed a story on government wiretaps of Americans.

Government Efforts to Stop Journalists

Reporters need sources. Increasingly, the government is classifying just about any document it produces — 92 million documents in 2011 alone. Its intelligence agencies have even classified reports about the over-classification of documents.  As a result, journalistic sources are often pressed into discussing, at great personal risk, classified information. Forcing a reporter to reveal such sources discourages future whistleblowing.

In one of the first of a series of attempts to make journalists reveal their sources, former Fox News reporter Mike Levine stated that the Justice Department persuaded a federal grand jury to subpoena him in January 2011. The demand was that he reveal his sources for a 2009 story about Somali-Americans who were secretly indicted in Minneapolis for joining an al-Qaeda-linked group in Somalia. Levine fought the order and the Department of Justice finally dropped it without comment in April 2012. Call it a failed test case.

According to Washington lawyer Abbe Lowell, who defended Stephen Kim, significant amounts of time have been spent by the Department of Justice in the search for a legal rationale for indicting journalists for their participation in exposing classified documents. A crucial test case is James Risen’s 2006 book, State of War, which had an anonymously sourced chapter on a failed CIA operation to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program. When Risen, citing the First Amendment, refused to identify his source or testify in the trial of the former CIA officer accused of being that source, the government sought to imprison him. He responded that the “Obama administration… wants to use this case and others like it to intimidate reporters and whistleblowers. But I am appealing to the Supreme Court because it is too dangerous to allow the government to conduct national security policy completely in the dark.”

In June 2014, the Supreme Court refused to take Risen’s case on appeal, essentially ratifying a U.S. Court of Appeals decision that the First Amendment didn’t protect a reporter from being forced to testify about “criminal conduct that the reporter personally witnessed or participated in.” That decision makes clear that a reporter receiving classified information from a source is part of the crime of “leaking.”

Risen has said he will go to prison rather than testify. It is possible that, having secured the precedent-setting right to send Risen to jail, the government will bring the suspected leaker to trial without calling on him. Attorney General Eric Holder recently hinted that his Justice Department might take that path — a break for Risen himself, but not for reporters more generally who now know that they can be jailed for refusing to divulge a source without hope of recourse to the Supreme Court.

The Descent Into Post-Constitutionalism

As with the King of England once upon a time, many of the things the government now does have been approved in secret, sometimes in secret courts according to a secret body of law. Sometimes, they were even approved openly by Congress. In constitutional America, the actions of the executive and the laws passed by Congress were only legal when they did not conflict with the underlying constitutional principles of our democracy. Not any more. “Law” made in secret, including pretzeled legal interpretations by the Justice Department for the White House, opened the way, for instance, to the use of torture on prisoners and in the Obama years to the drone assassination of Americans. Because such “legalities” remain officially classified, they are, of course, doubly difficult to challenge.

But can’t we count on the usual pendulum swings in American life to change this? There were indeed notable moments in American history when parts of the Constitution were put aside, but none are truly comparable to our current situation. The Civil War lasted five years, with Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus limited in geography and robustly contested. The World War II Japanese internment camps closed after three years and the persecuted were a sub-set of Japanese-Americans from the West Coast. Senator McCarthy’s notorious career as a communist-hunter lasted four years and ended in shame.

Almost 13 years after the 9/11 attacks, it remains “wartime.” For the war on terror, the driver, excuse, and raison d’être for the tattering of the Bill of Rights, there is no end in sight. Recently retired NSA head Keith Alexander is typical of key figures in the national security state when he claims that despite, well, everything, the country is at greater risk today than ever before. These days, wartime is forever, which means that a government working ever more in secret has ever more latitude to decide which rights in which form applied in what manner are still inalienable.

The usual critical history of our descent into a post-constitutional state goes something like this: in the panic after the 9/11 attacks, under the leadership of Vice President Dick Cheney with the support of President George W. Bush, a cabal of top government officials pushed through legal-lite measures to (as they liked to say) “take the gloves off” and allow kidnapping, torture, illegal surveillance, and offshore imprisonment along with indefinite detention without charges or trial.

Barack Obama, elected on a series of (false) promises to roll back the worst of the Bush-era crimes, while rejecting torture and closing America’s overseas “black sites,” still pushed the process forward in his own way. He expanded executive power, emphasized drone assassinations (including against American citizens), gave amnesty to torturers, increased government secrecy, targeted whistleblowers, and heightened surveillance. In other words, two successive administrations lied, performed legal acrobatics, and bullied their way toward a kind of absolute power that hasn’t been seen since the days of King George. That’s the common narrative and, while not wrong, it is incomplete.

Missing Are the People

One key factor remains missing in such a version of post-9/11 events in America: the people. Even today, 45% of Americans, when polled on the subject, agree that torture is “sometimes necessary and acceptable to gain information that may protect the public.” Americans as a group seem unsure about whether the NSA’s global and domestic surveillance is justified, and many remain convinced that Edward Snowden and the journalists who published his material are criminals. The most common meme related to whistleblowers is still “patriot or traitor?” and toward the war on terror, “security or freedom?”

It’s not that Americans are incorrect to be fearful and feel in need of protection. The main thing we need to protect ourselves against, however, is not the modest domestic threat from terrorists, but a new king, a unitary executive that has taken the law for its own, aided and abetted by the courts, supported by a powerful national security state, and unopposed by a riven and weakened Congress. Without a strong Bill of Rights to protect us — indeed, secure us — from the dangers of our own government, we will have gone full-circle to a Post-Constitutional America that shares much in common with the pre-constitutional British colonies.

Yet there is no widespread, mainstream movement of opposition to what the government has been doing. It seems, in fact, that many Americans are willing to accept, perhaps even welcome out of fear, the death of the Bill of Rights, one amendment at a time.

We are the first to see, in however shadowy form, the outlines of what a Post-Constitutional America might look like. We could be the last who might be able to stop it. 

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  1. Keith Ackermann

    Read the People’s History of the United States for a long list of constitutional violations.

    The thing is… by calling this the post-constitutional era, are we supposed to accept that, or is it a suggestion to rise up?

  2. Banger

    Important foundational issue. We no longer live in a Constitutional Republic with healthy democratic institutions. We no longer have habeas corpus and rule-of-law as fundamental principles behind our political structures. There have been growing, for some time, a class of special people who are excluded from legal liabilities. Senior execs in large Wall Street firms and major banks, as long as they don’t step on each other’s toes and are too disruptive are, in my view largely immune to legal liabilities for major crimes. I would say the same is to a slightly lesser degree true of the large corporation and that, mainly on a case-by-case basis. Even the structure of our legal system provides opportunity for abuse–since there are so many laws often with endless reams of text written by lobbyists at all levels we all are probably breaking laws every day. So should some surveillance (and we are under constant surveillance to the degree technology allows which will eventually consists of hidden drones swimming in our bloodstreams (and why not?) monitoring our hormone levels most of us can be pulled out of our house today and put in handcuffs–and, at some level, we all know that.

    Even if we have studiously avoided crime some cop can break down the door plant some drugs and seize our property and put us in jail for most our lives and why not? Increasingly cops are let off the hook for killings, beatings and, I would guess, planting evidence as well. In other words at any level the era of “rights” is waning–yes, it is still possible to get a judgement in your favor in court–but, as the poison of this particular Supreme Court moves downward the chance for the non-powerful getting a fair shake gets lower and lower. Also, justice costs a lot of money–you don’t even have a chance in court unless your lawyer is “connected” to the court and the local authorities in some way–that’s just a fact. There is no “equal justice under law” and if there is it is rare.

    Now, to be fair, many people who we have to call oligarchs are not mean-spirited and will dispense mercy at their discretion. Companies exist that honor and empower their employees and do as much as they can to share their success with those that work for them. Public officials exist who genuinely will use their discretion to help others. Human beings don’t change because the system does but they provide good results because they have the power to help others not because “the people” have certain rights that cannot be violated. In short, we are moving towards neo-feudalism. At the moment we are caught in between the old form of gov’t and the new one.

    One can argue that we have had various points in our history when civil and legal liberties were blocked but never has there been such a wholesale an fast elimination of fundamental rights. Yes, they may have been violated but it had to be on the sly or because of national emergencies. I submit to you that we are now in a permanent Orwellian War that is a fraud from beginning to end. There was no justification for a permanent war or the suspension of civil liberties. 9/11 was followed by a coup against the Constitution, already floundering.

    Without going into the details the source of all this is the creation of a secret government. When a community of operatives areis able to operate in secret without real oversight over decades it has a competitive advantage over other actors in the political arena–and make no mistake, the interplay of forces in Washington is fierce. Eventually those that operate in secret will claim the major power of the state–it’s elemental game-theory–something few people want to think about. It’s all simple logic–no need for “conspiracy theory.”

    1. James Levy

      The existential crisis of World War II damaged democracy here in the United States and destroyed it in the United Kingdom. The Cold War only legitimized and institutionalized the replacement of normal representative governance with secret executive branch rule. Our affluence and raw power attenuated and hid to a certain extent just how much the various entities in the Executive were claiming as their right. Cheney and his cronies were dumb enough to bring this out in the open and give it a name: the Unitary Executive. What they maintain is that in any “emergency” (and I think we’ve been in some kind of state of emergency or another since the fall of France in June 1940) the Executive Branch simply makes shit up as it goes along with no regard to the rest of the Constitution in order to prosecute war and keep us safe. Frankfurter laid out the twisted rationale nicely in his Korematsu decision (the purpose of war is winning, so if the Executive has the power under the Constitution to run the war, it has the right and duty to do anything necessary to win). George Carlin, as so often, brilliantly laid it out when he said in his famous “you have no rights” rant that anyone how thinks they have inalienable rights should just Google Japanese-Americans 1942. If we have to trace our epoch back to a defining moment, it was then.

    2. Jim Haygood

      ‘9/11 was followed by a coup against the Constitution, already floundering.’

      Indeed. The USA Patriot Act, which suspends numerous constitutional rights, is de facto martial law.

      In retrospect, the author’s complacent assumption (taught to all of us) that the Bill of Rights was ‘expressly meant to check the government’s power’ is debatable. As Eric Peters notes,

      ‘I threw the Constitution in the woods years ago, when I became aware of its true nature as a document empowering government rather than protecting the rights of the people. The historic fact is the Constitution was intended to gut the rights of the people; it was only as an afterthought that the Bill of Rights was tacked on, to placate those who were – rightly, as it turns out – suspicious of what Hamilton & Co. were up to.’

      Turns out the anti-Federalists were the ones who represented the people. By contrast, the Constitution was drafted in secret by a group of elitists who grossly exceeded their mandate to amend the Articles of Confederation. What they gave us was a voracious national entity that not only trampled the states, but even took away their votes in the Senate via the 17th amendment.

      Thus, we now live under a FINO (Federal In Name Only) regime. As one might expect, today’s megalomaniacal fedgov makes the maligned King George look like a veritable exemplar of enlightenment, collegiality and tolerance.

      1. Vatch

        I agree that the U.S. national government is oppressive, but the Seventeenth amendment was an improvement to the Constitution that trampled on nobody, with the possible exception of a few oligarchs. Previously, citizens had no direct vote for members of the U.S. Senate. Instead, senators were chosen by the state legislatures. This multi-level arrangement was semi-feudal, and resembled the atavistic Electoral College that still chooses the U.S. President.

        1. Jim Haygood

          It’s a matter of opinion as to whether the 17th amendment was an improvement.

          However, it certainly eliminated the federal structure, in which the federal government was supposed to be a creature of the states, rather than vice versa.

          Unfunded mandates would not exist if the Senate still represented the states.

      2. Banger

        The Federalists believed that a weak patrician class would disperse power too broadly and chaos was the likely result, while centralizing it too much would create stagnation and thus the Constitution was a result. They left out the Bill of Rights because they felt that a government that could not turn on a dime when danger approached would be vulnerable but the BOR got in there anyway and has served us well. Sad to see it disappear. BTW, the patricians really are not threatened by civil liberties–I think the were, along with the rest of us stampeded by racketeers who found a golden opportunity and seized on it. The rich were fully established in their domination through the propaganda media so why did they have support a police state which could, theoretically, turn against them.

    3. fresno dan

      “I submit to you that we are now in a permanent Orwellian War that is a fraud from beginning to end. There was no justification for a permanent war or the suspension of civil liberties. 9/11 was followed by a coup against the Constitution, already floundering. ”

      well spoken – couldn’t agree more.

  3. Reno Dino

    This is the single most important issue of our times, notwithstanding the environmental issues that will be our great undoing. We’ve slipped our moors and are now at sea. No longer exceptional, our “leaders” ramp up the rhetoric to proclaim ourselves so blessed. The country is now hollow to the core. Those of us over 40 distinctly remember a different time of laws not men and big media taking on big government. Those times are gone forever, never to return. While the ruling powers claim to be making us safe, we know just the opposite to be true. In fact, this observation holds true for nearly everything told to us by those in power. We are a nation in mourning over our loss as we transition to becoming an empire bent on destruction. If nothing else, this is a great moment in history.

    1. jrs

      I agree with you on the prioritization of issues, single most important, beyond the complete collapse of the ecosystem which will do us all and our descendents in. Only most people are so screwed by the economic system (and by what already exists of the police state – ask a poor minority how many decades it has been going on) to even get to the point of prioritizing the runaway metasphasizing of the police state and the destruction of the planet we live on. THEREFORE LEFTISM (but that which is willing to to work with anyone on singular issues advocacy). But then what since the left is so marginalized? I have no clue.

      I like how I’ve heard “American exceptionalism” used lately, I’ve heard people using it to mean Americans thinking they are immune to the nightmares the u.s. military and intelligence agencies have subjected the rest of the world to. That may not be what Obama’s means when he uses it, but who the heck wants to use Obama’s language without co-opting it and making it one’s own? OTherwise it’s just the language of our ruling psychopaths.

  4. susan the other

    We should consider it an opportunity to write a new constitution. The one we’ve got, however compromised, is like a contract without any express limitations, without any teeth. Haiku indeed.

  5. Art Eclectic

    The First Amendment is getting in the way of corporation profits and will be eliminated at the first opportunity, in the meantime they’ll keep chipping away at it so as to remain beneath the notice of most citizens.

    In fact, they’ll most likely set it up so that the citizens are HAPPY to eliminate the First Amendment on the grounds of protecting children or maintaining the supremacy of Christian religions.

    1. jrs

      Well currently the “First Amendment” is very convenient for corporate profits, as buying off politicians hs been defined as free “speech”. But yea all rights to corporations none for actual flesh and blood people is the goal, but you have to get there slowly, by a two step, can’t just up and elimate the First Ammendment, have to make use of it first. Maybe all the science fiction where the robots take over humanity is really a metaphor for corporations.

  6. Ulysses

    “We are the first to see, in however shadowy form, the outlines of what a Post-Constitutional America might look like. We could be the last who might be able to stop it.”

    This call to action is very important. We need to stop lamenting the loss of liberties at home and start exercising our 1st Amendment rights in the streets at every opportunity. The recent $580,000 settlement
    we were awarded for unlawful arrests, on New Years Day 2012, shows that there remains a few pockets of respect for our Bill of Rights left.! We need to keep pushing back against the erosion of liberties and force those who would silence us to reveal themselves as the oppressors (not protectors) they actually are.

  7. הגנה ב

    Don’t blame “Americans.” If the subject population of the US government doesn’t know their rights, that’s one more dereliction of state duty by this failing state (denying the right to education). Do you bitch at North Koreans because they haven’t massed for Occupy Pyongyang? Of course not. Just like Pyongyang, the US rogue state doesn’t give a shit what Americans think. Just like in Pyongyang, nothing will change without external pressure.

    And external pressure is mounting, through treaty bodies, charter bodies, special procedures, and mutilateral countermeasures. The US public is indoctrinated to ignore or deride it all, but the government is thrashing around furiously to evade it. It’s not easy to follow because the government buries it, but the pressure’s applied domestically through bottom-up and top-down NGOs. Everyone is welcome to pile on.

    Anyway, the constitution’s obsolete crap. You can borrow a better one from any African wasteland. When this government flops down dead like the USSR, the new constitutions of the successor states will of necessity comply with the acquis of the civilized world.

    So chill, we’re on it, helping this diseased regime collapse.

    1. jrs

      Nice. Let’s hope so. But I wonder how many countries are the “civilized world” at this point. Not much of the west perhaps where civil liberties abuses increase of course as does mass impoverishment.

  8. tim s

    I think that the focus is too narrow. I see it more as POST MAGNA CARTA WESTERN SOCIETY. The oligarchs are not national, but transnational and the moves they are making transcend any national boundaries, which is why they are becoming so emboldened, and why it is so difficult to find a way to come up with a coordinated effort to counter their moves.

    The USA is the poster child since the constitution and the Bill of Rights were so rightly held in such high regard, in practice to a great extent as well as our American mythology. But then our powerful became so much more powerful in the latter half of the last century with predictable results…and here we are with blight, illusion, denial, confusion, and darkness descending. Is it any different in England, the EU, Australia, etc?

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