Category Archives: First Amendment

Darwin’s Angels

Firstamend4

Sometimes there are news stories so over the top, so outrageous, that you double-check just to ensure you haven’t lost your mind. At times these stories involve incredibly weird acts with peanut butter jars and human orifices, other times, it’s North Carolina legislators trying to write laws.

According to the Huffington Post, a bill was filed Monday, April 1st, by two GOP lawmakers from Rowan County, NC and backed by nine other Republicans (including the Majority Leader) that would effectively allow the state of North Carolina to declare an ‘established’ religion. The April 1st date could be indicative of the joking nature of the thing, but they appear to be serious as a heart attack. They use proud state secessionist type speech that we really haven’t heard since those Halcyon days of the Civil War (that Recent Unpleasantness, by the way, left over half a million of our fellow citizens dead or about 620,000 …keep that figure in mind, we’ll be coming back to it).

Here are the two relevant sections from the bill:

SECTION 1. The North Carolina General Assembly asserts that the Constitution of the United States of America does not prohibit states or their subsidiaries from making laws respecting an establishment of religion.

SECTION 2. The North Carolina General Assembly does not recognize federal court rulings which prohibit and otherwise regulate the State of North Carolina, its public schools, or any political subdivisions of the State from making laws respecting an establishment of religion.

Even those of us who aren’t lawyers—much less state legislators– are passingly familiar with the First Amendment and what is commonly known as the Establishment Clause. This clause expressly prohibits Congress from passing laws respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise of religion in America. The North Carolina GOP’s argument, in all its simplicity, appears to be that the Establishment Clause does not apply to the states. Well, the kindest thing you can say is that the argument is courageous; in the same way that sticking your tongue to a steel pole in sub-zero temperatures is courageous. It’s not something you cheer: you just have to wonder what’s going on with that person. And you hope they get better soon.

As recently as 1971, a similar effort was soundly repudiated in Lemon v. Kurtzman. In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court established the three-pronged test—called “The Lemon Test”— for determining when a state has run afoul of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause:
• The law or state policy must have been adopted with a neutral or non-religious purpose.
• The principle or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion.
• The statute or policy must not result in an “excessive entanglement” of government with religion.

The Lemon test, by the way, has been upheld as recently as 2005 –even under our extremely conservative SCOTUS in McCreary County v. American Civil Liberties Union.

So passage of such a law in North Carolina has zero chance of surviving a constitutional challenge which apparently is beside the point. After all, this is the same state that continues to hold a provision in its State Constitution requiring that candidates for state office profess their belief in God. This despite the Supreme Court’s ruling in Torcaso v. Watkins, 367 U.S. 488 (1961) which held that such a law violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. To wit:

“We repeat and again reaffirm that neither a State nor the Federal Government can constitutionally force a person “to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion.” Neither can constitutionally pass laws or impose requirements which aid all religions as against non-believers, and neither can aid those religions based on a belief in the existence of God as against those religions founded on different beliefs.”

North Carolina’s response? … Crickets. They have not modified their State Constitution an iota in order to accord themselves with the law of the land.

This is a problem. It’s the same kind of problem we see in Mississippi where there’s a proposal to establish a state board with the power to nullify federal laws; and with legislation recently introduced in North Carolina by state Representative Larry Pittman (R-Concord), touting a state constitutional amendment that would allow for carrying concealed weapons to fight federal “tyranny.” Our own state, Virginia, is currently refusing millions in federal aid (even as we slash necessary local programs) in a pyrrhic effort to evade Obamacare, as if refusing federal funds for sick and poor people were a great and noble cause (right up there with defending slavery). All of these efforts are generated in a cloud of rightwing paranoia of the U.N. black helicopter variety. If they were merely childish, albeit costly efforts that would simply wither on the vine, it would probably be safe to disregard them, but what years ago would have been casually ignored as the lunatic fringe has now become the Republican party’s base. At the state level, this kind of rhetoric is quickly becoming standard operating procedure.

Progressives like to believe in an arrow to history, a teleological end point; but in reality for every few steps forward there are usually two or three steps back. Progress tends to be more evolutionary—in Stephen Gould’s sense of the matter– with bad or useless things hanging around that really shouldn’t— kind of like our appendices. Most gains are compromises with something slightly disingenuous or dysfunctional (think of Obamacare’s deep entanglement with an expensive and nearly useless private insurance overlay). Unfortunately, it’s difficult to imagine what can ameliorate the poisonous assumptions that are being made at the state level today. These are not compromise positions, but deeply atavistic nonnegotiables that aim to undermine the whole. They are symptoms of a malaise that surfaced nearly 150 years ago, at the cost of over half a million lives, and look to be trending once again. I suspect, unless roundly ridiculed, it might come back like Nietzsche’s eternal return, or worse, like Newt Gingrich (God help us).

We can only hope that, like the infamous Darwin awards, these Southern statesmen will do the human race a favor by self-selecting themselves out of our legal gene pools—through foolish acts, like sticking their tongues to freezing steel poles, or forgetting who won the Civil War.

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The Rand Paul Filibuster & Bridging the Divide

"Really the great irony of this is that President Obama’s opinion on this is an extension of George Bush’s opinion.”~Rand Paul

For the record, I do not like Rand Paul. I think his libertarian ideology would see the better part of America holding gruel cups like Oliver Twist and begging for more porridge in miserable work houses built circa 1875 to further the blessings of the ever illusive ‘free’ market. The best that I can say about the man is that is he probably isn’t innately evil, he’s just deeply misguided. Like most Republicans he wants rich people to pay almost nothing in taxes, and he wants ‘big’ government to fail. In the infamous phrasing of Grover Norquist, he wants to drown big government in a bathtub—only, drowning ‘big’ government is an abstraction. What he’s really advocating is drowning hundreds of thousands of poor and vulnerable citizens.

But …..BUT….in this one instance, God help me, Rand Paul is right. Last night, he took to the floor of the U.S. Senate and filibustered John Brennan’s nomination to head the C.I.A. For the best of reasons –at least on its surface–which in the realm of politics is all you’re going to get:

“I rise today to begin to filibuster John Brennan’s nomination for the C.I.A.,” Mr. Paul began. “I will speak until I can no longer speak. I will speak as long as it takes, until the alarm is sounded from coast to coast that our Constitution is important, that your rights to trial by jury are precious, that no American should be killed by a drone on American soil without first being charged with a crime, without first being found to be guilty by a court.”

Let me state categorically that this is a good thing. Habeas Corpus was trashed at the first passage of the Patriot Act and hasn’t been reinstated since–by either the Bush administration or the Obama administration. Anybody that slows our Executive Branch enough to decry the stripping of basic human rights that have been in place since the Magna Carta is doing a good thing. So kudos to Rand Paul for this filibuster.

And Progressives and Democrats and Democrats in name only should take notice. This is what Democracy looks like.

Maybe there’s a sweet spot here– a new ‘grand bargain’ so to speak. And it’s not really that complicated. On one side, don’t murder people without a fair trial  -especially not US citizens – just like we promised in the constitution. Roll back the creeping power of the Executive Branch that began with Nixon, really took wings with George W. Bush and has not slowed an iota under Obama. Reinstate Habeas Corpus, and maintain a standard trial by jury of peers for every citizen (again, just like we promised in the constitution). No more Executive executions, either here or abroad. Suspend the portion of the NDAA that provides for military detention of US citizens on US soil. On the other side, don’t trash our national economy in a childish tantrum. Republican economic policies (and neoliberal economic policies, in general, for that matter) are deeply dysfunctional and everybody knows it. Furthermore, implementing these wildly unpopular austerity measures flies in the face of the popular will—as dictatorial a move in its own right as invoking Executive privilege. The majority of Americans don’t like the austerity measures, don’t agree with the Republican policies and do not want their Social Security savings cut or their Medicare benefits revoked to further enable corporate welfare or tax breaks for millionaires. That’s what these last elections proved.

I’m not holding out much hope, but if our polarized country could agree on those two things: basic principles of fairness, really, maybe we could begin a long overdue national conversation about how to move forward in the 21st century.

 

Secret Laws and Hedges vs. Obama

To grasp the implications of the secret laws and overreach we’re dealing with in Hedges vs. Obama, start here:

The NSA Is Building the Country’s Biggest Spy Center (Watch What You Say)
By James Bamford
March 15, 2012

Under construction by contractors with top-secret clearances, the blandly named Utah Data Center is being built for the National Security Agency. A project of immense secrecy, it is the final piece in a complex puzzle assembled over the past decade. Its purpose: to intercept, decipher, analyze, and store vast swaths of the world’s communications as they zap down from satellites and zip through the underground and undersea cables of international, foreign, and domestic networks. The heavily fortified $2 billion center should be up and running in September 2013. Flowing through its servers and routers and stored in near-bottomless databases will be all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails—parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital “pocket litter.” It is, in some measure, the realization of the “total information awareness” program created during the first term of the Bush administration—an effort that was killed by Congress in 2003 after it caused an outcry over its potential for invading Americans’ privacy.

Secret Laws

“When the American people find out how their government has secretly interpreted the Patriot Act, they will be stunned and they will be angry.” ~ Colorado Sen. Mark Udall, Senate Intelligence Committee

The refusal of government to define ill-defined terms in public law constitutes secret interpretations of the law – secret laws. The ACLU:

Our FOIA request was an effort to uncover more information about the way that the Justice Department has interpreted the statute, and the way that the FBI is using it. Because the Justice Department hasn’t produced any records in response to our request, we filed suit in October, 10 years to the day after President Bush signed the Patriot Act into law. We’ll file our opening brief in that case later this month. (3/15/2012)

~~~~~

Regarding that ACLU lawsuit and another filed by the New York Times, Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden and Sen. Mark Udall stated in a recent letter to Eric Holder, the chief attorney for an administration that promised us it would be the “most open and transparent in history”:

It is a matter of public record that section 215, which is a public statute, has been the subject of secret legal interpretations. The existence of these interpretations, which are contained in classified opinions issued by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (or “FISA Court”) has been acknowledged on multiple occasions by the Justice Department and other executive branch officials.

We believe most Americans would be stunned to learn the details of how these secret court opinions have interpreted section 215 of the Patriot Act. As we see it, there is now a significant gap between what most Americans think the law allows and what the government secretly claims the law allows. This is a problem, because it is impossible to have an informed public debate about what the law should say when the public doesn’t know what its government thinks the law says.

~~~~~

ACLU:
The “FBI is using Section 215 much more aggressively. It’s using it more often. And statements by Obama administration officials raise the distinct possibility that the government is using the provision to support entire surveillance programs.

As Wyden and Udall say, the secrecy surrounding the government’s use of new surveillance powers is unwarranted and fundamentally antidemocratic. The public should know, at least in general terms, how the government interprets its surveillance authority and how that authority is being used.”

~~~~~

Yesterday, Naomi Wolf posted her notes from the first of the NDAA hearings in the Hedges vs. Obama case. The transcript excerpts speak for themselves.

When our judges, journalists, peaceful protesters and fiction writers are subject to the questionable doublespeak from a lawyer representing our president in a dire case involving our individual liberty, the people’s job as the guardians of freedom requires attention. This was not easy to read:

NDAA hearing notes ~ Naomi Wolf
March 30, 2012

To me, secret laws are like drawing a line in the sand in front of a walking blind man. The expectation can only be that he will cross the line.
DCKennedy

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Out of Many, One!

The one is made up of all things, and all things issue from the one. ~ Heraclitus’s 10th fragment

Gentleman’s Magazine Flowers Motto. America was originally likened to a bouquet of different flowers, where unity and individuality coexisted.

In 1782, the Great Seal of the United States said E Pluribus Unum – “Out of Many, One”.

I’ve always liked that a lot. Solidarity is what perpetuates the rule of the American people.

“Divided we fall” is pretty basic and understandable.

Then in 1956, Congress passed and President Eisenhower approved of a Joint Resolution of the 84th Congress declaring “In God We Trust” the national motto of the United States. However you feel about the intention to erect a wall of separation between church and state, on that day it went legislatively and divisively over the dam.

But here’s the thing: In 2011, our lawmakers (Forbes, R-VA) wasted all the time it takes and taxpayer dollars to reaffirm “In God We Trust‟ as the official motto of the United States. Why did they do that when it was already a law on the books? They were pandering to a voting bloc – the religious right. It served no other purpose.

Laws without cause are a rip off and they’re dangerous. If there’s no realistic purpose for a bill, it should go to File 13 and the bill’s sponsors should go with it. There’s too much else that needs to be done for us to put up with dubious bills and legislators with hidden agendas. Examples of that are so prevalent today it’s sickening. And meanwhile, needed legislation is ignored.

Iris Scanning – As Occupy Arrestees Arraigned, Iris Scans Affect Bail

Protesters “and their legal advisers were surprised yesterday to learn that the size of their bail was being affected by whether defendants were willing to have the distinctive patterns of their irises photographed and logged into a database.”

There is no law on the books for the ongoing use of Iris Scanning. Peaceful, non-violent, Occupy protesters in New York have once again been arrested and are being subjected to a hand-held scanning device that photographs and collects distinctive biometric information to be logged into a national database.

According to Paul J. Browne, chief spokesman, “a legal review by the department had concluded that legislative authorization was not necessary.”

Really?

In America, if there’s no law on the books, there can be no penalty for non-compliance. When someone hasn’t been charged with a crime, much less convicted, it seems to me that a “policy” leveraging the amount of the people’s bail and time spent in jail would be considered an issue worthy of the time and resources necessary for lawmakers to do their jobs and determine its legality.

The voting bloc for that is all the American people.

“This is an unnecessary process,” Mr. Banks said. “It’s unauthorized by the statutes and of questionable legality at best. The statutes specifically authorize collecting fingerprints. There has been great legislative debate about the extent to which DNA evidence can be collected, and it is limited to certain types of cases. So the idea that the Police Department can forge ahead and use a totally new technology without any statutory authorization is certainly suspect.”

Suspect? The NYPD is the world’s seventh biggest army! With that kind of power, I would have to say this policy is more than suspect, and that it needs to be yanked until legislated and the American public can catch up with the massive shift in private data handling that is progressing at an uncanny pace without public debate.

“Out of Many, One” is a fearful concept for those who would deem the power of the people a threat. We, all together, are the voting bloc that counts – and the one lawmakers and police departments are expected to protect and serve.

The many ways in which we’re being divided into subgroups as election pawns is counterproductive to our freedoms, our rights and true national interests.

“Divided we fall” is pretty basic and understandable.
DCKennedy

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Teach your children well – Hearts and Minds

Crosby Stills Nash and Young
You who are on the road
Must have a code that you can live by
And so become yourself
Because the past is just a good bye.

I found a safety pin in the carpet and remember being surprised and delighted when I got it open. I used it to scratch the paint off the face of my sister’s new dolly. After the tear fest that followed her outrage, torrents of Bible verses and lectures about jealousy fell on my young ears and then Daddy got home to teach me several other consequences of destructive behavior. I remember it well.

Feelings about fairness are rooted in every social problem.

A sense of fairness, whether innate or learned, is something I imagine most parents attempt to highlight in their children, and learning to respect the property of others is basic. Understanding why we wouldn’t is more subjective, requires empathy and addresses the feelings of persons negatively affected. When authoritative consequences drive home the point that punishment follows for those who disobey the law, it only works if the laws are understood, reflect society’s morals and ethics, and if the punishment is applied fairly across the board.

“Do as I say, not as I do” and “Do what I say without question” are old style authoritarianism, ineffective leadership, and not the least bit democratic. We need to get that mentality out of our government. When the American people react en mass out of feelings of unfairness, we don’t need to have the sin spanked out of us. We need representatives willing to listen first, ask and answer questions, and attend to our needs – whatever we say our needs are. Their secrecy and the favoritism they show to corporations is abhorrent. They need to keep their religion to themselves and legislate in fairness with the hearts and minds of the people as their priority. That could begin with laws that respect the peoples’ property.

When young lessons are twisted up in a mix of religious and economic self-righteousness, the result is confusion, then anger, then rage. The same goes for a nation with laws that allow corporations to abuse or destroy our property while others are subjected to jail time.

If my factory emissions cause your emphazima, loss of employment and homelessness, even death – that’s too bad. Illness, cancer, toxic waste, the destruction of our environment – it’s all the same. Erin Brockovich was popular because our hearts and minds were with her in a desperate struggle to right a wrong, but the rarity of her success is what made it a story.

Teach your children well,
Their father’s hell did slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams
The one they picked, the one you’ll know by.

It’s role reversal. The people are the teachers, not the government. And the parents of America’s children have their hands full trying to convey that message, I’m sure. It must be tough, for example, teaching children that their bodies are their most precious possessions, to be cared for and treated with respect by all. This, at the same time the state of Virginia among others have the audacity to force medical procedures on unwilling women for a purpose clearly not covered in the law – a future mandate for women to endure unplanned pregnancy and bear unwanted children.

Another thing I know parents struggle with today, because it’s getting difficult for everyone, is providing and modeling healthy nourishment. Having compromised the standards for the most fundamental requirements of the human body – in favor of corporate profits, government agencies have made a mockery of our basic needs. Body, heart and mind – it takes clean air and water, healthy food.  John Prine suggests,
“Blow up your T.V.
throw away your paper,
Go to the country, build you a home
Plant a little garden, eat a lot of peaches”.
And while you’re at it, exercise the freedom to make your own spiritual choices. The religious doctrine of others is healthy food for thought and a joy to study and consider – during the process of independent, personal resolve.

I jumped off the track with John Prine, but while I’m here, I’ll say what I’m thinking: there’s nothing reasonable about making smiles illegal. “Well done, hot dog bun, my sister’s a nun.” Try explaining that one to your kids, but you might hold off on the drug war. They’ll eventually see through it like everybody this side of “Just say no”, another authoritative instruction from the old school that never worked and never will.

Back to religion – by their very nature, spiritual choices are unregulated; they come through a variety of life and family experiences. Legislation that favors your experience over mine is categorically wrong, but a good example of the confusing religious and economic self-righteousness being dished out by ‘Daddy’ these days.

Among various other discrimination, Virginia’s new adoption law allows state agencies to say, “You may adopt this child if you’re a Christian, but not if you’re a Jew”. If you live in America, have a brain cell and are raising a child, that’s another one that should be difficult to explain, especially for Christians. Subjecting the soft skin of children to the warehousing of orphanages when they deserve, have a right and an opportunity to become a family member in a safe, protective and loving home, is not exactly ‘witnessing’. If I were an orphan under those circumstances, I can’t think of anything that would drive me away from Christians more completely.

And you, of tender years,
Can’t know the fears that your elders grew by,
And so please help them with your youth,
They seek the truth before they can die.

Don’t you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry,
So just look at them and sigh and know they love you.

The point is, good parents are what we need and I hold them in the highest esteem. Having the know-how, intuition, courage and stamina to make positives from negatives and prepare young minds for a go at the world ahead is more than I can grasp, but I appreciate them and the challenges they face.

One of the most important lessons in fairness and how our children will work toward it is in our Bill of Rights. The First Amendment enshrines the right to assemble peaceably, to speak freely, and to petition for governmental redress of grievances. In light of what happened at the Capital in Richmond on Saturday during the rally for women’s rights, I’ve wondered how parents are supposed to teach their children to be good citizens who practice healthy, peaceful redress efforts without being afraid or intimidated. (If you don’t know what happened, here’s March 3rd, 2012 – Of Protests and Bitch Slaps, by Jack Johnson, and excellent account of the rally and of the arrests that followed.)

The following is an example of good parenting that I think fits the bill. I saw it earlier today, and don’t know the mom who posted it, but see if you don’t agree that she has the “hearts and minds” of her children in full view of their future and our needs as a nation:

“Since Saturday I have been wondering about an appropriate role in the re-surging women’s rights movement. As I watched civil disobedience play out on Saturday I kept wondering, what can/should I do? What is my role in this?

I am a mom.
I am needed at home.
My life is busy.
You are too.
But…………………..

I sometimes wonder if some elected officials count on us being so busy as to not pay attention to what they do. I am not *that* busy anymore. But what, given the requirements of being a mother, should I be doing?

I am a mother.
I have two daughters.
I will teach.

Today I called the Capitol Tour Desk to inquire about having a picnic with my children on the grounds. I am told that we are allowed to bring food or purchase food at their underground café and eat anywhere on the grounds except inside in the historical part of the building.

I plan to take my girls for a field trip to discuss civil disobedience, democracy, and the women’s rights movement. I may do this more than once and I am putting the intention into the universe that other mothers will feel the strength of this lesson for the next generation. The erosion of personal freedoms is not to be tolerated. This Thursday I plan to sit on the steps in the same spot that the protesters were sitting and bring my laptop with the YouTube video of what happened in that spot.

Think of the tremendous life learning opportunity we have before us to teach the next generation. I am not looking to turn this into anything other than what it is… mothers teaching their children and remaining visible even while handling our busy lives.

I was thinking I might head over there this Thursday a little before lunchtime. Anyone care to join me???”

(That will be tomorrow, March 8, 2012)

~~~~~

DCKennedy

Some News from APV, Virginia:

Today Governor McDonnell signed HB 462 (the Mandatory Ultrasound Bill) into law. We are deeply disappointed by his decision, but not deterred. There is no doubt that our voices have been heard ‘loud and clear’, not just by our representatives, but by the press and therefore the country. We have gotten our message out there. We have been remarkably successful in fighting some of the worst legislation out of the GA this year with the odds against us. We have forged alliances and gathered people who will not forget, and we will continue to build momentum to take this state back. We’re in this for the long haul. Make no mistake, we ARE winning.

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Hearts and Minds

Sculpture “Non-Violence” in memory of John Lennon, Manhattan, by Swedish artist Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd

Gad! No wonder the people in this country are struggling. This issue is disturbing on so many levels that just being aware of it is intimidating! If it continues unabated like it is now, just imagine what life in the good ole USA will be like for Americans down the road a ways. You think they’ll be safe enough?

The cost of America’s police state, by Stephan Salisbury, is a good recent piece on the what, where, when, why, and how of the militarization of our local police forces, the vast network of video surveillance interlinked with information databases, “fusion centers”, and more.

One thing not mentioned in the article is 1033. But more than a year ago, Benjamin Carlson covered it in BATTLEFIELD MAIN STREET, and I think it’s key in understanding how all this got its big heave-ho. Here’s an excerpt, and the article has some great photos of the equipment being distributed at the time.

“Passed by Congress in 1997, the 1033 program was created to provide law-enforcement agencies with tools to fight drugs and terrorism. Since then, more than 17,000 agencies have taken in $2.6 billion worth of equipment for nearly free, paying only the cost of delivery.”

In today’s Mayberry, Andy Griffith and Barney Fife could be using grenade launchers and a tank to keep the peace. A rapidly expanding Pentagon program that distributes used military equipment to local police departments — many of them small-town forces — puts battlefield-grade weaponry in the hands of cops at an unprecedented rate.

Through its little-known “1033 program,” the Department of Defense gave away nearly $500 million worth of leftover military gear to law enforcement in fiscal year 2011 — a new record for the program and a dramatic rise over past years’ totals, including the $212 million in equipment distributed in 2010.

The surplus equipment includes grenade launchers, helicopters, military robots, M-16 assault rifles and armored vehicles.

And the program’s recent expansion shows no sign of slackening: Orders in fiscal year 2012 are up 400 percent over the same period in 2011, according to data provided to The Daily by the Pentagon’s Defense Logistics Agency. (…)

Experts say the recent surge is simply the continuation of a decades-long trend: the increasing use of military techniques and equipment by local police departments, tactics seen most recently in the crackdowns on Occupy Wall Street protesters across the country. But critics of the program say that the recent expansion of 1033 distributions should be setting off alarm bells. (…)

Arthur Rizer, a Virginia lawyer who has served as both a military and civilian police officer, stressed that their outlooks and missions are fundamentally different.

“If we’re training cops as soldiers, giving them equipment like soldiers, dressing them up as soldiers, when are they going to pick up the mentality of soldiers?” he asked.

“If you look at the police department, their creed is to protect and to serve. A soldier’s mission is to engage his enemy in close combat and kill him. Do we want police officers to have that mentality? Of course not.”

The intimidation factor associated with having a military presence instead of a “protect and serve” mentality in law enforcement from coast to coast is obvious. If you haven’t noticed it, try a little redress of grievances with a group of like-minded, concerned citizens some day soon. At this rate and before too long, most people will be afraid to object to any legislation that comes down the pike, and I’m not sure that isn’t the precise intention of all this beef-up. If you read the articles above, you may disagree, but I think it’s already out of control in every way. Regardless of the “freebies” provided to local law enforcement, we can’t afford it. It’s an oppression tactic, and we don’t want to be an oppressed people. At least, that’s not what I had in mind.

How do you go about turning something like this around before it gets worse? Salisbury offers a clue or two pointing out: “This is not simply a police issue. Law enforcement agencies may acquire the equipment and deploy it, but city legislators and executives must approve the expenditures and the uses. State legislators and bureaucrats refine the local grant requests. Federal officials, with endless input from national security and defense vendors and lobbyists, appropriate the funds.” [emphasis mine]

But for some historical context, validation and encouragement, this recent interview with Jonathan Schell did it for me. It’s worth your time, “hearts and minds”.

How Empires Fall: An Interview With Jonathan Schell
DCKennedy

March 3rd, 2012 – Of Protests and Bitch Slaps


Part 1, Protests – View from Top


By all rights, this should have been a boring article. Saturday, March 3, over a thousand activists converged on the steps of the State Capitol building. They assembled there to petition their government for a redress of grievances, in this case, asking Governor McDonnell not to sign into law a piece of legislation—HB462. Many of the marchers argued that HB462 was designed to shame and humiliate women seeking to end an unwanted pregnancy; something that had won the Republicans of the Virginia General Assembly overwhelming ridicule and nationwide notoriety. A massive protest barely two weeks earlier, organized by Speak Loudly With Silence, had flooded the State Capitol with protestors lining the walkway from the General Assembly building to the State Capitol. Saturday Night Live made jokes about the invasive transvaginal ultrasounds required by the language of HB462, with one wit noting that she really enjoyed ‘Transvaginal Airlines.’ Realizing that his conservative base had badly overstepped, Governor McDonnell suggested that they soften the language somewhat lessening the ‘transvaginal’ part of the bill and allowing for a less invasive abdominal ultrasound. The amendment passed, but it hardly lessened the fury of Pro-Choice activists who saw the bill as an intrusion of government into women’s reproductive rights, the proverbial war on women.

One activist, Sheila Jones, noted that over a million women marched to block such governmental overreach in reproductive health matters years ago. “I thought we’d taken care of these atrocities [on women’s rights] back then, and we haven’t,” On that Saturday, she wore a t-shirt from the 1992 Pro-Choice rally at the National Mall, “So I had to come back down here and do this for all of the young women that now are fighting for the same thing that we thought we had taken care of 20 years ago.”

If you happened to be standing on the top steps of the Virginia Capitol this last Saturday at around 2:00 pm, you would have seen something to make Sheila proud: a stream of hundreds (over a thousand by most estimates) Pro-Choice activists, many wearing red arm bands, filling the State Capitol grounds and waving signs that read “Life Begins when you Stand Against Madness”, “Gov. McDonnell Get Out Of My Vagina” and “Mind Your Own Private Parts.” All the while they chanted “Kill the Bill.” You may also have seen two or three Capitol Police officers on bicycles creating a mini phalanx attempting to block the protestors as they ascended the Capitol steps, but impotent against the sheer number of outraged citizens the General Assembly of Virginia had managed to piss off.

Now, as in the first protest march, the activists had a permit to assemble by the Bell Tower, but not on the Capitol steps. Eileen Davis, who helped organize the original Speak Loudly With Silence along with APV board member, Clair Tuite, saw this and quickly spoke to Capitol Police Col. Pike. “Just let this play out,” she pleaded. She asked for time. Ten minutes. Fifteen minutes. No good. According to Ms. Davis, Col. Pike argued that if he did this for one group, he’d have to do it for every group. Luckily for Col. Pike, State Police just happened to be on hand that day; State Police in full riot gear, as chance would have it….

Shortly, thereafter, the call went out that the activists had to leave the steps. “Alright everyone we have 5 minutes and then Capitol Police are bringing in the troopers!”

They weren’t kidding. State Police Troopers went quickly on the march themselves. Over-armored and over-weaponized, they made a tidy black row, creating an ominous phalanx of plexiglass covered helmets and body-length shields to separate those who refused to move off the steps from those who were further out on the State Capitol grounds. They wore the familiar body armor reminiscent of Darth Vader with padded elbows and padded knees and bullet proof vests, and thick scarves around their faces in case they might need to use tear gas (in order to disperse, through chemical weapons if necessary, the group of men, women and children requesting a redress of grievances by sitting peaceably on the Capitol steps). Captain Goodloe of the Capitol Police refused to say how many State Troopers in riot gear were on hand that day, but the number was right around 20, and even that number, apparently, wasn’t sufficient. To protect the Commonwealth from the dreadful depredations of 31 protestors sitting in silent protest, his men needed back up.

That’s why they brought in the Capitol Police tactical force, or the Men in Green. At a distance I mistook them for an armed military presence. Close up, I realized they were not, but they are no less scary. I was assured, later, that they were indeed just ‘police’… A somewhat rarefied variety of the Capitol Police, like our S.W.A.T. teams, apparently. They were decked out entirely in green camouflage, with green helmets that looked exactly like military helmets and they wore the same specialized padding the State Troopers wore and they carried –this is the scary part—assault weapons (like the kind they use in the military when they are ‘assaulting’ something deadly – an enemy military force equipped with Light Weight Anti-Tank Weapons, say, or bombs made of plastic explosives or nuclear weapons hijacked by maniacal terrorists for that matter—not, however, American men, women and children interested in petitioning their government for a redress of grievances). They also, by the way, spent a fair amount of time passing canisters back and forth that may have been tear gas, or, as I was told, flash grenades. No one was sure, and when asked, the officers refused to answer.

Labor organizer, Muna Hijazi, was dismayed by the heavy police presence: “The show of force was amazingly ugly and over the top.” Delegate Delores L. McQuinn, D-Richmond also spoke out. She said she had “never seen a similar police presence [even] when guns rights advocates assembled on Capitol Square on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.” She thought there was a slight political slant in such policy decisions.“ The men and women who marched on Capitol Square have a right to peacefully protest without the threat that they will be arrested for exercising that right,” McQuinn said in a news release. “At several recent women’s rights events, there has been an overabundance of police presence. In fact, the Capitol Police tactical team has been at all of the events,” she said.

Despite this show of force, thirty-one protestors chose not to relinquish their right to assemble on the Capitol Steps that day. Some were arrested to assert their first amendment right to peaceably assemble, after all the protestors had a permit for their assembly at the Bell Tower about 50 yards away and were within their time frame for that permit. No other like-sized protests were met with this ugly show of a police presence. Others who were arrested were protesting in favor of a woman’s right to choose. They were given numbers to call, legal advice and opportunities to leave. But they refused.

As an historical note, up until the 1970s, protests were allowed anywhere on the State Capitol grounds—or more accurately were not required to be ‘permitted’. This picture, taken in 1969 by APV member Mike Garrett, shows hundreds of anti-war protestors flooding the steps and covering the entire front of the of the State Capitol building. No arrests, no State Troopers and certainly no Men In Green. That’s mostly because up until then there weren’t that many protests to worry about. But by the 1970s –in the aftermath of the civil rights marches and the beginning of the anti-war protests– the Virginia Assembly decided that protests required permits with limited time durations and specific geographic areas –down to the foot and yards, apparently.

Protestors of this Saturday, March 3rd, 2012, locked arms and huddled. One by one they were pried apart and handcuffed, then led, dragged or carried to awaiting white buses emboldened with the initials DCP that drove them to the station at Ninth and Leigh Street.

Now, here’s where things get interesting. Those arrested Saturday afternoon were charged with either trespassing or unlawful assembly and were taken to the Richmond City Jail. Both charges are Class 1 Misdemeanors, usually processed with a summons (basically, like a traffic ticket) to return to court at a convenient date. But that’s not what happened to our March 3rd protestors. Not by a long shot.


Part 2, Arrests & The Long Wait.

Ninth and Leigh is an nondescript block, which, if you didn’t know better you would mistake for a faceless bureaucrat building ringed by a large parking lot. Maggie N., who works everyday as a Registered Nurse at MCV just across the street from Ninth and Leigh, had no idea what went on there. “I didn’t even know there was a jail here.” It’s easy to miss because the spot is actually about 10 -20 feet below street level, dug out, effectively, so unless you knew that the police vans backing up to the garage doors held desperate criminals, or, in this instance, disoriented women’s rights protestors, you’d never guess its true function.

On the afternoon of March 3rd, two white buses containing handcuffed activists parked in front of those two double garage doors and essentially spent three to four hours while the activists waited in handcuffs, either on the bus or inside the garage doors without water, without food and without access to a lawyer. Keep in mind, every one of them was ultimately charged with a Class 1 Misdemeanor that should have required the equivalent of a traffic ticket. Said one Richmond Police Officer (who preferred anonymity), “I think that this is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever seen.”

That’s how the male protestors that day were treated. But there was special treatment for the female activists. Many of them were made to wait a total of eight to nine hours before the last of them was finally processed and released. They were made to wait eight to nine hours with hands tied behind their backs, without food and without water and without access to a lawyer.

The wretched conditions for the activists were well known. Fellow protestors had taken up a position around the block-wide dug-out at Ninth and Leigh and spent all of that Saturday night banging on the metal rails, chanting “Give Them Water” and “Take off the cuffs” and trying to update anyone of influence in the city to let their general condition be known. Stories trickled out about their treatment. Apparently, one bus contained a primitive bathroom facility while the other did not. The women were kept on the bus without the bathroom, so, if nature should happen to call within their 5-9 hour wait, they were taken off one bus, transported to the other bus and allowed to use the restroom. Each time this happened the activists circling the lot would shout, “Give them water.” When women were finally released, one of the first things they looked for was some soap and water to clean up, because none had been provided in the primitive bathroom.

Initially, when asked why they couldn’t receive water, the protestors were told that while on the buses, the prisoners were under jurisdiction of the Capital Police. The Richmond City Police claimed that they were not supposed to assist them until they were taken into the building and processed. When the Capitol Police heard that, they repudiated it in the strongest terms, and said that, in fact, it was the City Police who had a policy of not allowing prisoners to drink water. Either way, the women did not receive water for easily seven hours that day, even when complaining of headaches or nausea.

In some instances, the treatment of the women approached the absurd. When Gabi S. was asked what country she came from, she replied “Israel”…. Before she was led away, the police officer asked her, “How do you spell that?” She was later placed in solitary confinement for two hours, apparently because she hailed from a different country. She noted in a short summary of her time there: “So yesterday I was arrested for peacefully protesting. I was pulled from the group of women to be fingerprinted, given a mug shot, strip searched and put in solitary confinement. After 2 hours in there without any updates I was allowed out to see the nurse because my wrists were swollen from the handcuffs [a frequent complaint from other protestors]. When I was eventually released I was told that I had been processed differently because I was born in another country, Israel….”  But Quincy M. who hailed from Scotland and didn’t have a social security number (or US citizenship), was not put into solitary confinement, and was released hours before Gabi so it’s difficult to determine if there was any rational procedure being followed, outside of general harassment.

Activists, Glen B., who works for the Sierra club and was released after being held for about four hours, said that holding the women under such conditions was abominable. “We can’t let them get away with this. This state, remember, Virginia, has a history of abusing prisoners, of sterilizing its own citizens. What they are doing here is inexcusable, unacceptable and un-American”

Eileen Davies put it more bluntly, “Attorney General Cucinelli is trying to bitch slap all these women.” Indeed, rumors that someone in the nether reaches of State government was requesting a particularly long and punitive process for the detainees did not seem outlandish. Each activist arrested had a thorough background check which is unusual for a Class 1 Misdemeanor. Wayne Powell, a criminal defense lawyer running against Eric Cantor in the 7th district, offered to represent the detainees pro bono and was outraged by the delays, the fact that he was not allowed to speak with his clients, and the enforced background checks. “This is nowhere close to standard operating procedure for this kind of offense.” A few of the arrestees were even given relatively large bails – up to $500, some for prior offenses, but at least one was given the large bail for putting into words what many of the activists felt—a resolve not to be ground down by the excessive use of force, the government overreach, and the punitive harassment involved in their detention.

When asked by the magistrate if he intended to return to the Capitol grounds after he was released, activist Jonathan C. answered simply, “What time is it?”

~~~~~

If you appreciate that 31 of the courageous M3 protestors chose to be taken to jail in defiance of Virginia’s attack on women’s rights, rather than retreat and just go home when they were given the option, you might consider donating to their legal fund today. You can do that here. I’m grateful for what they did and wish them a speedy and fair experience with Virginia’s court system! Big thanks to all 31!

One more important thing: The ACLU is investigating the conditions of detention for March 3rd, 2012 protestors at the State Capitol. If you or someone you know has information regarding the arrests and/or detention conditions, please contact Tom Fitzpatrick at 804-644-8080 or email him at tfitzpatrick@acluva.org.

And stay tuned for updates, as I imagine this story will be unfolding for some time to come ….

(All photos, unless otherwise identified, are from Style Weekly Magazine’s Facebook page.)

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The Invisible Hand Pummeling Public Schools

 

I can’t think of a more despicable or far-reaching example of ideology being forced on Americans than the money-grabbing obsession with dismantling our time-honored public school system. School choice, vouchers, corporate scholarships, educational freedom – call it what you like – the privatization of public schools is a movement on steroids. Every day the states are hit with new bills to aid neoliberals in their goal to educate Americans “their” way. The means to that end vary for different blocs of support, but all roads meet where powerful people control and market information.

A generation or two down this widening road to schools with selective entry and exit for students, religious indoctrination and poorly regulated online learning for the masses, the real people of America, our strength, will rely on the free market crumbs that fall from the learning opportunities available to the elite. Trickledown education is in the making.

Bit by bit, new interpretations change the meanings of our laws. Remember how that happened in Orwell’s Animal Farm?

No animal shall sleep in a bed with sheets.
No animal shall drink alcohol to excess.
No animal shall kill any other animal without cause.

~~~~~

No public school shall proselytize except by students.

Remember when public schools were not missionary fields? Just yesterday, the Florida Senate advanced a bill to allow prayer led by students. Proponents of religion in schools call this one “a God-given loophole” – peer evangelism. And of course, as religion gains ground in public schools to appease the religious right (a targeted voting bloc), separation of church and state, a main and valid objection to privatization is being overcome. As the separation objection loses its punch, vouchers allowing taxpayer money to be funneled into private schools become six of one, half-dozen of the other.

In How religion is infiltrating public schools, Katherine Stewart highlights this Animal Farm type “modification” made by the Supreme Court differentiating school-sponsored speech from student speech, allowing students to proselytize on federal property.

In New Heights Middle School in Jefferson, South Carolina:

School-sponsored prayers routinely opened and closed assemblies and performances. Religious messages made their way into lesson plans, and religious iconography decorated the walls. Students were punished for minor infractions by being told to write out sentences proclaiming their faith in God.

A number of these activities … appear to be violations of the clause in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution intended to maintain separation between church and state. And the school board admits as much in its proposed settlement of the ACLU case. Yet an even greater number of religious activities in public schools have recently become legal as a result of novel interpretations of the Constitution handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court. Ironically, had the administration of New Heights been a little smarter, it could have achieved its apparent goal of using the school’s position of authority to spread the word of God among its captive students without running the risk of being sued. Thousands of other schools across the country do just that.

All taxpayers shall contribute to public education unless they don’t.

Diverting funds away from the public schools through vouchers and other means will exacerbate every problem in the system, effectively breaking it. Defunding, attacking teachers and unions, etc., is the means. The golden rule in the neoliberal sweep to privatize the public good is: First, break it. Second, get paid to rebuild it in your own image. Third, funnel the money and benefits up to the top.

Money talks, regulation walks – The Cash Cow for Now  

How Online Learning Companies Bought America’s Schools by investigative journalist Lee Fang, points out the astonishing amount of investment capital flowing into online education. The rush to privatize in this way by businesses and “philanthropists” like the Koch brothers, is pretty transparent. Rupert Murdoch called it “a $500 billion sector in the US alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed.”

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the State Policy Network (SPN) have been the pivotal organizations aiding in the campaign for virtual schools.

Since 2005, ALEC has offered a template law called “The Virtual Public Schools Act” to introduce online education. (…)

SPN has faced accusations before that it is little more than a coin-operated front for corporations. For instance, SPN and its affiliates receive money from polluters, including infamous petrochemical giant Koch Industries, allegedly in exchange for aggressive promotion of climate denial theories.

It’s not a leap to assume that when corporations are in control of education, so will be information.

Typical of neoliberal fancy, virtual schools lack regulation and public debate. And without sufficient oversight or quality control, most online learning companies receive the same amount of taxpayer funding per-pupil as brick and mortar schools. Saving on the teacher-to-student ratio, costs for classrooms, transportation, meals, security, equipment, maintenance and other building support staff – and many other expenses associated with traditional learning, the profit margin for virtual education companies is so seductive that obscene amounts of their money is spent to lobby our lawmakers.

“Moe has worked for almost fifteen years at converting the K-12 education system into a cash cow for Wall Street. A veteran of Lehman Brothers and Merrill Lynch, he now leads an investment group that specializes in raising money for businesses looking to tap into more than $1 trillion in taxpayer money spent annually on primary education.” (…)

“In March, while busting the teachers unions in his state, Walker lifted the cap on virtual schools and removed the program’s income requirements.
State Representative Robin Vos, the Wisconsin state chair for ALEC, sponsored the bill codifying Walker’s radical expansion of online, for-profit schools. Vos’s bill not only lifts the cap but also makes new, for-profit virtual charters easier to establish.

Online learning in K-12 schools is still growing explosively, and public support for this arm of privatization is just baffling. Early on, it was promoted for computer literacy and otherwise unavailable courses, but that’s a distant memory. In 2006, Michigan stepped forward to become the 1st state requiring online learning for high school graduation, regardless of need.

If the public has been reticent in its opposition to online education, it may be because information on its success or failure to actually educate is hard to come by and often skewed. Its promotion has been framed to cover the bases, appealing to the voting blocs of rural communities, urban communities, home schoolers, the parents of children with special learning needs, and a myriad of “bully” and other social issues, including student acne. But the bottom line is profit for the few, poor education for the many.

While different issues continue to plague the most basic requirements for virtual schools to actually educate, they are not without some easily understood merit in the cases of some students. But one-third of our high school students drop out, and truancy issues usually precede throwing in the towel. Obama would like for the states to enforce education requirements to age 18. I think that would force many students into online study (a boon for business) where truancy is already a problem for students who have left traditional schools in favor of virtual classes, and where there’s no viable way to track online attendance.

To me, this doesn’t sound like an honest effort to educate; it sounds like a get-rich-quick scheme at the expense of education and the taxpayer:

“By almost every educational measure, the Agora Cyber Charter School is failing.
Nearly 60 percent of its students are behind grade level in math. Nearly 50 percent trail in reading. A third do not graduate on time. And hundreds of children, from kindergartners to seniors, withdraw within months after they enroll.

By Wall Street standards, though, Agora is a remarkable success that has helped enrich K12 Inc., the publicly traded company that manages the school. And the entire enterprise is paid for by taxpayers.
(…)
The state audit of the Colorado Virtual Academy, which found that the state paid for students who were not attending the school, ordered the reimbursement of more than $800,000.

With retention a problem, some teachers said they were under pressure to pass students with marginal performance and attendance.
Students need simply to log in to be marked present for the day, according to Agora teachers and administrators.” (emphasis mine)
Profits and Questions at Online Charter Schools

So, yes. Online learning would reduce class sizes in traditional schools. But as the public school system is being privatized, who is that intended to benefit? Corporations! And another neoliberal offering we hear a lot about these days would have the same effect: repealing child labor laws. I think it’s clear that the motive behind these efforts aligns less with the people of America caring for and educating our children, and more with washing our hands of the responsibility. Every relationship of ‘hegemony’ is necessarily an educational relationship. ~A. Gramsci

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~DCKennedy

Fists of Our Fathers

Those who weep for America today understand the loss of “liberty and justice for all”. What’s happening is a travesty, abhorred by our forefathers and guarded against to the best of their abilities. While I believe they would have pitched tents in our parks long ago, they would surely be defending them now. Their warnings are clear; it’s our torch to carry.

“A generous parent would have said, ‘if there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace.”

“It is the duty of the patriot to protect his country from its government.”

“He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.”

– Thomas Paine

“If ye love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of servitude greater than the animating contest for freedom, go home from us in peace. We seek not your counsel, nor your arms. Crouch down and lick the land that feeds you; and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen.” 

“If ever time should come, when vain and aspiring men shall possess the highest seats in Government, our country will stand in need of its experienced patriots to prevent its ruin.”

– Samuel Adams

“The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people, it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government.”

“If we wish to be free, if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending, if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged, and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained — we must fight!”

“The liberties of a people never were, nor ever will be, secure, when the transactions of their rulers may be concealed from them.” 

– Patrick Henry

“Let us therefore animate and encourage each other, and show the world that a free man, contending for his liberty on his own ground, is superior to any slavish mercenary on earth.”

“My anxious recollections, my sympathetic feeling, and my best wishes are irresistibly excited whensoever, in any country, I see an oppressed nation unfurl the banners of freedom.”

“The basis of our political systems is the right of the people to make and to alter their Constitutions of Government. But the Constitution which at any time exists, ’till changed by an explicit and authentic act of the whole People is sacredly obligatory upon all.”

“The best means of forming a manly, virtuous, and happy people will be found in the right education of youth. Without this foundation, every other means, in my opinion, must fail.”

– George Washington

“The ordaining of laws in favor of one part of the nation, to the prejudice and oppression of another, is certainly the most erroneous and mistaken policy. An equal dispensation of protection, rights, privileges, and advantages, is what every part is entitled to, and ought to enjoy.”

“Without Freedom of Thought there can be no such Thing as Wisdom; and no such Thing as Public Liberty, without Freedom of Speech.”

“It is a common observation here that our cause is the cause of all mankind, and that we are fighting for their liberty in defending our own.”

– Benjamin Franklin

“And I sincerely believe… that banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies; and that the principle of spending money to be paid by posterity, under the name of funding, is but swindling futurity on a large scale.”

“We must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt. We must make our selection between economy and liberty or profusion and servitude. If we run into such debts as that we must be taxed in our meat in our drink, in our necessities and comforts, in our labors and in our amusements, for our callings and our creeds…our people.. must come to labor sixteen hours in the twenty-four, give earnings of fifteen of these to the government for their debts and daily expenses; and the sixteenth being insufficient to afford us bread...” 

“The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers.”

 – Thomas Jefferson

APV supports the nonviolent Occupy movement and we appreciate everything you’re doing to help.
DCKennedy

MANHATTAN 2011

By John Marshall, November 15, 2011. (Update below w. Jack Johnson)

Isaac Davis: Has anybody read that Nazis are gonna march in New Jersey? You know, I read this in the newspaper. We should go down there, get some guys together, y’know, get some bricks and baseball bats and really explain things to them.

Party Guest: There is this devastating satirical piece on that in the Op Ed page of the Times, it is devastating.

Isaac Davis: Well, a satirical piece in the Times is one thing, but bricks and baseball bats really gets right to the point.

Party Guest: But biting satire is better than physical force.

Isaac Davis: No, physical force is better with Nazis. It’s hard to satirize a guy with shiny boots.

– “Manhattan” (1979)

When “Manhattan” came out, the controversy over Nazis marching in Skokie, Illinois was barely over a year old. According to the rule, “comedy is tragedy plus time,” not enough time had passed to satirize contemporary Nazis who wanted to march in a community of Holocaust survivors, which is why “Manhattan” has two characters discussing satire rather than portraying it.

One year later, a movie did satirize guys with shiny boots – “The Blues Brothers.” Jake and Elwood are driving the Bluesmobile and find their path in a Skokie-like town blocked by Nazis holding a demonstration. Their exchange is less clever than “Manhattan’s” but “gets right to the point”.

Elwood: Illinois Nazis.
Jake: I hate Illinois Nazis.

They not only disrupt the demonstration, their disruption turns the American Nazis – satirized even further by Henry Gibson, from terrifying new archetypes into classic comic villains.

Yet neither “Manhattan” nor “The Blues Brothers” disputed the right of the Nazis to free speech.

That was indicative of the debate at the time, in which free speech was defended by the ACLU and discussed throughout society and the media.

I was in high school and competing in the American Legion Constitution Public Speaking Contest (my first open mike, if you will). I remember a conservative student holding spellbound a whole Legion hall of World War Two vets with his argument that if we didn’t protect the right of Nazis to speak, one day we might the lose the same for the American Legion.

The U.S. Supreme Court, even its most right-wing, has seen the First Amendment as an immovable rock that you don’t fuck with (see, I can only say things like that because of the First Amendment).

When Jerry Falwell objected to being depicted sitting naked in an outhouse in the pages of Hustler and sued, the Court sided with Larry Flynt. That was a landmark decision for humor, which has benefited everybody from MAD magazine to the Colbert Report.

The test of the First Amendment is not whether it protects the speech that you like, but whether it protects the speech that you don’t like. I don’t particularly like the 2 Live Crew, but they’ve done more for my rights than most politicians.

Challenges to the First Amendment don’t usually occur on a daily basis over a period of months. The Skokie march was a huge issue, but it wasn’t replicated in dozens of other cities. The flag burning controversy didn’t come about as a result of hundreds of flag burnings a week. Past First Amendment controversies allowed us to feel that the First Amendment was basically strong, but needed tending here and there, from time to time.

Now the First Amendment is being weakened on a daily basis, not by its citizens, but by its authorities.

OWS protesters are being deprived of their right to protest and being physically attacked when they assert that right. In dozens of cities police are arresting people, not telling them the charges, macing them, beating them, shooting them with rubber bullets.

My own wife got caught in the riot after the Union Square march (her video of the young girls who got maced has gotten thousands of hits on YouTube).

My hope is that a year from now this episode will be seen as the end of an era when attempts to turn America into a police state failed. Then we can have funny movies (“Police Academy Zuccotti Park”) about how we all lost our minds and turned our civil liberties over to cops with nightsticks.

But that will take a larger national discussion than the one we’re having.

The country that at one time rationally weighed the pros and cons of Nazis marching on a community of Holocaust survivors will have to debate – openly, freely and without fear – whether we want our law enforcement officers to take away our First Amendment freedoms as they see fit.

Because 32 years after “Manhattan,” it’s still no easier satirizing guys with shiny boots.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The above post by John Marshall came in before the early morning eviction of OWS, NY City, which is still in a state of flux. “Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Lucy Billings signed an early-morning order temporarily barring cops from keeping protesters and tents out of Zuccotti Park.
But within hours, she was off the case as court administrators prepared to randomly choose a new judge — and excluded Billings’ name from the list of candidates.” (emphasis mine)

But the post is now more meaningful than it was yesterday. Hopefully, this turn of events will give rise to more discussion among the people – “openly, freely and without fear”.

If you’re still looking for details amid the media “non-coverage”, here’s Digby’s early morning take on it with video.
DCKennedy

Comment added by AVP member, Jack Johnson:

Good post from John Marshall, thanks Donna for highlighting it here. One of the things that Occupy Richmond did last night was exercise their ’1st Amendment Rights’ before City Council, waiting patiently for two hours in order to speak. As Occupy members stood before the council to address their concerns over the recent eviction at Kanawha Plaza and the suppression of their right to peaceably assemble, Mayor Dwight Jones walked out, refusing to listen to the speakers’ grievances. This is not how it’s supposed to work. Municipal officials only have the authority to the extent that we grant them authority. So, too, with Judicial, Legislative or Executive branch figures at the Federal level. Authority resides within ‘we, the people’ to the extent that ‘authorities’ ignore, walk out or suppress our rights–that is the extent to which they are no longer legitimate authorities. Mayor Jones or Mayor Bloomberg hold power only temporarily. They have apparently forgotten where ultimate authority resides.