Fools Rush In

On a clear, sunny September morning in the first year of the new millennium, a small group of radical Islamic terrorists, armed with nothing more than box cutters and a suicidal longing for dark-eyed virgins, hijacked four jetliners and used them to murder over three thousand innocent people. In reaction, the United States government declared a “War on Terror,” embarking on a ten-year imperialist adventure that has so far cost the American taxpayers over one trillion dollars, in addition to causing the direct and indirect deaths of tens of thousands of men, women, and children in foreign lands (the vast majority of whom had nothing to do with the events of that September day). Adding further insult to injury, Congress saw fit to pass a series of highly repressive laws here at home, which have endangered, if not outright destroyed, many of the most cherished constitutional liberties of our own citizens.

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One if by Land, Two if by Sea (and Three if Dressed in Riot Gear)

America is a nation born of revolution. Most of the individual rights and protections laid out in the Constitution were put there, not as part of some abstract philosophy of just governance, but rather in direct reaction to the harsh treatment the American colonists had endured at the hands of the despotic British monarchy and the soldiers it sent from overseas to enforce its decrees. Articles such as Amendment IV, which states;

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated…

were enacted expressly to prevent the kinds of arbitrary and malicious acts perpetrated by the “Redcoats” or “Lobsterbacks” (as British soldiers were mockingly called) against colonial citizens in the course of trying to stifle dissent against the King’s rule. The same goes for Amendment V;

No person shall be… deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law,

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Freedom of the Press? What About Responsibility of the Press?

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution clearly states, “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press”. These freedoms are considered so essential to the functioning of our democracy and the preservation of our liberty that they were enshrined in the founding document of our nation, making up the first few lines in the aptly named Bill of Rights. Following a major Supreme Court decision in 1919, later refined by subsequent cases in 1927 and 1969, some basic limitations were placed on these constitutional liberties; namely, that no one has a right to say anything in public which is likely to incite “imminent lawless action”. Together with laws against defamation, whose roots can be traced back to ancient Rome and which forbid causing “false or unjustified injury of the good reputation of another,” as well as perjury, these are pretty much the only restrictions imposed on what Americans are allowed to say in the public sphere.

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A Crisis of Liberty

America today is facing a crisis of liberty perhaps more profound than even that faced in the Revolutionary and Civil wars. On one hand are the continuing militarization of civilian police forces and the steady erosion of civil liberties embodied by the Patriot Act, the Military Cooperation with Law Enforcement Act, and the just-passed National Defense Authorization Act.  In addition to trashing the protections of the Bill of Rights, these laws authorize and promote the sale of surplus military hardware (including grenade launchers and armored personnel carriers) to civilian police departments nationwide – the vast majority of which is being used, not to combat terror, but rather in enforcing the over-thirty-year-old and increasingly futile War on Drugs.

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