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Has the First Amendment Become an Exercise in Futility? PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Guest Commentaries
Written by John W. Whitehead   
Wednesday, 15 February 2012 09:25

Living in a representative democratic republic such as ours means that each person has the right to stand outside the halls of government and express his or her opinion on matters of state without fear of arrest. That’s what the First Amendment is all about.

It gives every American the right to “petition the government for a redress of grievances.” It ensures, as Adam Newton and Ronald K.L. Collins report for the Five Freedoms Project, “that our leaders hear, even if they don’t listen to, the electorate. Though public officials may be indifferent, contrary, or silent participants in democratic discourse, at least the First Amendment commands their audience.”

As Newton and Collins elaborate: “‘Petitioning’ has come to signify any nonviolent, legal means of encouraging or disapproving government action, whether directed to the judicial, executive, or legislative branch. Lobbying, letter-writing, e-mail campaigns, testifying before tribunals, filing lawsuits, supporting referenda, collecting signatures for ballot initiatives, peaceful protests, and picketing: All public articulation of issues, complaints, and interests designed to spur government action qualifies under the petition clause, even if the activities partake of other First Amendment freedoms.”

Unfortunately, through a series of carefully crafted legislative steps, our government officials – both elected and appointed – have managed to disembowel this fundamental freedom, rendering it with little more meaning than the right to file a lawsuit against government officials. In the process, government officials have succeeded in insulating themselves from their constituents, making it increasingly difficult for average Americans to make themselves seen or heard by those who most need to hear what “we the people” have to say.

 
Stopping the Rush to War Against Iran PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Guest Commentaries
Written by Sheldon Richman   
Wednesday, 25 January 2012 05:57

A growing group of individuals and organizations has designated Saturday, February 4, as a “National Day of Action” aimed at preventing a war against Iran. The manifesto is simple: “No War, No Sanctions, No Intervention, No Assassinations.”

Nothing is more urgent than stopping the march to war now underway. Economic warfare has begun already. Sanctions and embargoes are belligerent acts under international law; such policies goaded the Japanese into attacking Pearl Harbor in 1941. The U.S. State Department recently reassured Israeli leaders, who along with their American lobby are in a bigger hurry for war than President Obama is, that the sanctions will devastate the Iranian economy – more precisely, the Iranian people.

 
U.S. V. Jones: The Battle for the Fourth Amendment Continues PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Guest Commentaries
Written by John W. Whitehead   
Tuesday, 24 January 2012 11:30

In a unanimous 9-0 ruling in United States V. Jones, the U.S. Supreme Court has declared that police must get a search warrant before using GPS technology to track criminal suspects. But what does this ruling, hailed as a victory by privacy advocates, really mean for the future of privacy and the Fourth Amendment?

While the Court rightly recognized that the government’s physical attachment of a GPS device to Antoine Jones’ vehicle for the purpose of tracking his movements constitutes a search under the Fourth Amendment, a careful reading of the court’s opinion, written by Justice Antonin Scalia, shows that the battle over our privacy rights is far from over.

 
Privatizing the War on Terror: America’s Military Contractors PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Guest Commentaries
Written by John W. Whitehead   
Wednesday, 18 January 2012 06:49

America’s troops may be returning home from Iraq, but we’re far from done paying the costs of war. In fact, at the same time that President Obama is reducing the number of troops in Iraq, he’s replacing them with military contractors at far greater expense to the taxpayer. In this way, the war on terror is privatized, the American economy is bled dry, and the military-security-industrial complex makes a killing – literally and figuratively speaking.

 
2011: A Civil Liberties Year in Review PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Guest Commentaries
Written by John W. Whitehead   
Thursday, 29 December 2011 14:25

It’s been a year of populist uprisings, economic downturns, political assassinations, and one scandal after another. Gold prices soared, while the dollar plummeted. The Arab Spring triggered worldwide protests, including the Occupy Wall Street protests here in America. Nature unleashed her forces with a massive earthquake and tsunami in Japan, flooding in Thailand and Pakistan, a severe drought in East Africa, and a famine in Somalia. With an unemployment rate hovering around 9.5 percent, more than 4 million Americans passed the one-year mark for being out of a job. After a death toll that included more than 4,500 American troops and at least 60,000 Iraqis, the U.S. military officially ended its war in Iraq. At the conclusion of their respective media-circus trials, Casey Anthony went free while Conrad Murray went to jail. And Will and Kate tied the knot, while Demi and Ashton broke ties. All in all, it’s been a mixed bag of a year, but on the civil-liberties front, things were particularly grim.

MQ-1 Predator Drone

Welcome to the new total security state. The U.S. government now has at its disposal a technological arsenal so sophisticated and invasive as to render any constitutional protections null and void. And these technologies are being used by the government to invade the privacy of the American people. Several years ago, government officials acknowledged that the nefarious intelligence-gathering entity known as the National Security Agency had exceeded its legal authority by eavesdropping on Americans’ private e-mail messages and phone calls. However, these reports barely scratch the surface of what we are coming to recognize as a “security/industrial complex” – a marriage of government, military, and corporate interests aimed at keeping Americans under constant surveillance. The increasingly complex security needs of our massive federal government, especially in the areas of defense, surveillance, and data management, have been met within the corporate sector, which has shown itself to be a powerful ally that both depends on and feeds the growth of governmental bureaucracy.

 
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