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Saturday, March 04, 2017


What is America for?

by Tom Sullivan

Amendment I: 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.
Freedom or money? Freedom or money? Freedom or money? You'd think ever-posturing "values" legislators would at least make a good show of caring more about the first. And you would be wrong.

North Carolina joins a growing number of states where extremist legislators are on record putting money first. They may not agree with what you have to say, but if it impedes someone else making money, they'll defend to the death their right to make it:
House Bill 249, which was filed Thursday, defines the term as committing a crime with the intent to intimidate people or influence public policy and that crime impedes the normal course of a business or a government agency, resulting in the loss of at least $1,000. Such crimes include trespassing or blocking streets.

Under the proposal, anyone found guilty of economic terrorism would face four months to more than two years in prison, could be sued for damages of at least $50,000 and could be held liable for the costs of police and other public safety personnel who respond to the disturbance.
"Trespassing or blocking streets"? The newest dog whistle?

Thom Hartmann reminds readers that the war on drugs arose as a Nixonian tactic for suppressing the antiwar left and black people. Half a century later, Nixon's heirs are using Arizona's RICO statutes to suppress dissent in Donald Trump's America. Arizona's version of North Carolina's "economic terrorism" bill, Hartmann writes, "would hyper-criminalize any sort of organized political dissent if any person involved with that dissent (including, presumably, agent provocateurs) were to engage in even minor 'violence,' so long as that violence harms the 'property,' regardless of value, of any person (including a corporation)." Attend a street protest and you might go to jail and lose everything. Riot is helpfully redefined under the proposed Arizona law to include, "A person commits riot if, with two or more other persons acting together, such person recklessly uses force or violence or threatens to use force or violence, if such threat is accompanied by immediate power of execution, which EITHER disturbs the public peace OR RESULTS IN DAMAGE TO THE PROPERTY OF ANOTHER PERSON." (Caps in the original.)

Stifle dissent and protect money. These guys never do anything that's not at least a twofer.

Think Progress has more on the North Carolina legislation:
“No matter what your politics are, everyone should be concerned anytime that lawmakers seek to curb our fundamental constitutional right to not only protest, but to criticize our government,” American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina spokesman Mike Meno said in an interview. “This is one bill in a wave of legislation that we’ve seen across the country designed to criminalize peaceful protest and really have a chilling effect on our First Amendment rights.”

Washington state is weighing a similar “economic terrorism” measure. Arizona lawmakers want to treat protest organizers like mobsters. Minnesota legislators are pushing for the right to sue protesters to recoup the costs of police overtime incurred by demonstrations. At least four states have moved to criminalize roadway protests in recent months.

But the North Carolina law also recasts a longstanding American right as a sinister usurpation of public order. Where the Constitution protects citizens’ rights to group together in public to dissent from its government’s actions, Torbett’s bill targets efforts to “[i]ntimidate the civilian population at large, or an identifiable group…[or i]nfluence, through intimidation, the conduct or activities of the government of the United States, a state, or any unit of local government.”

It is a shame the headline on the Think Progress Twitter post above did not make it into the web headline: "Protester crackdown in North Carolina would sanctify commerce over free speech." According to Websters, to sanctify is to set apart to a sacred purpose or to religious use : consecrate. There's a new golden calf. It has many worshipers. In its service, the cult has reduced many of America's principles to shibboleths, freedom, liberty, and faith among them.

What is America for if making money comes before freedom of religion, speech, or the press? Candidates from both major parties genuflect before the altar of American exceptionalism, but if America puts making money ahead of its founding values, there is nothing exceptional about it. There are lots of places in this world to make money. Many places to find cheaper labor and lower taxes.

In the New York Times, Bryce Covert critiques Speaker Paul Ryan's promise to repeal Obamacare. It is a peculiar definition of freedom Ryan uses:

Covert writes:

He went on to argue that Obamacare abridges this freedom by telling you what to buy. But his first thought offers a meaningful and powerful definition of freedom. Conservatives are typically proponents of negative liberty: the freedom from constraints and impediments. Mr. Ryan formulated a positive liberty: freedom derived from having what it takes to fulfill one’s needs and therefore to direct one’s own life.

In so doing, Mr. Ryan inadvertently revived an idea that desperately needs to be resuscitated — the idea that freedom requires not just a lack of barriers, but also the conditions that allow people to live their lives fully. Deprivation, then, is a constraint on Americans’ freedom.
Freedom from want is the third of Franklin D. Roosevelt's Four Freedoms. Freedom of speech and expression is the first. Ryan's colleagues in the states want to coinstrain that one. Ryan inadvertently invoked the third in arguing to reduce the insured rate. His colleagues argue instead for "personal liberty." That is, Covert writes, "A constraint would be lifted. Who cares if uninsured people suffer because they can’t get medical care?"

Covert concludes:
Even though Mr. Ryan says he believes that freedom is “the ability to buy what you want to fit what you need,” he doesn’t want the government to do anything to help people experience that freedom. If he got his way on spending, the programs that allow the poor and struggling to buy food, housing and the other things they need would be utterly debilitated. The rich are the only ones who could be truly free in his vision of the country.
Because all the talk of “freedom and individual responsibility,” hides a corrupted vision of what America is, what it is for, and whom it serves. The emptiness and hollowness deepens. America's chest-thumping defenders are doing the digging.