Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Washington War On The Constitution

President Bush and his supporters in Congress seem to be in the business of promoting democracy and support for writing constitutions almost everywhere else in world, but not in the U.S. Today by a slender 1 vote margin, a constitutional amendment to cut down the first amendment and to allow Congress to pass criminal sanctions against burning the American flag lost in the U.S. Senate. This vote just concluded a few minutes before I wrote this. Besides stripping away basic freedom for protests, this amendment could have opened up a tidal wave of new exceptions to the First Amendment.

In another very disturbing attack on the free press, some in Congress including Senator Pat Roberts(R-Kansas) and Representative Peter King(R-NY) seem to support some possible legal sanctions against the NEW YORK TIMES after they published a story dealing with a covert money tracking program that supposedly was used to track potential terrorists by tracking their international bank transfers.

It is interesting that only the more liberal leaning NEW YORK TIMES has been singled out for these conservative attacks. The moderately conservative WALL STREET JOURNAL that also printed a similar feature story has not been singled out.

The right wing claim is that somehow this feature story by THE NEW YORK TIMES has somehow hurt the U.S. while "at war". However there is no formal declaration of war against Al Qaeda or terrorists in general. All the actions against terrorism by the U.S. can be considered a form of law enforcement action meant to keep Americans safe from terrorist threats. The absurd argument that because the U.S. is "at war" being used to justify prosecution of THE NEW YORK TIMES is so outrageous. Fighting terrorism is an extremely long range goal of law enforcement. Unlike a real "war" this law enforcement policy will continue without a forseeable ending. There will be no surrender on a ship's top like WWII, or terms of a ceasefire because you're dealing with an international crime issue. THE NEW YORK TIMES has the right to report on crime related stories dealing with terrorism just the same as other crime related stories. The political right cannot vaguely refer to this as the "War On Terrorism", a political speechwriters own quote, merely to enforce a long term gag on America's free press. This type of prior restraint of the American media is totally unacceptable.

But Washington and Congress are not satisfied to trample all the First Amendment in this area alone. Congress boosted broadcast "indecency fines by 10 times recently. This has a chilling effect on borderline questionable content as "indecency" has not been clearly defined in law.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has requested Internet search records from Google, Yahoo and other main search engines for some very vague supposed project against Internet obscenity or other content.

Gonzales has also renewed the prosecution of a married couple in their 20's from California who operate an adult content Website called Extreme Associates. They distribute adult films just like thousands more Websites including Ebay and others offer. Yet this couple is being singled out for a Federal test case to see just how far the Federal government can go in bringing "obscenity" prosecutions against adult entertaiment on the WWW. This young couple would face 50 years in prison and millions in fines and property confiscation if convicted of using the WWW to distribute adult entertainment. This is equal to bringing a death penalty against these young persons only because they sell sexually oriented materials to other consenting adults.

On many levels there is a serious war on freedom of expression and the First Amendment from the Bush Administration and their supporters. Just how far they will succeed unless Americans are willing to speak out and defend the Bill Of Rights is a very good question.

2 Comments:

At 7:47 AM, Blogger Paul said...

"But Washington and Congress are not satisfied to trample all the First Amendment in this area alone. Congress boosted broadcast "indecency fines by 10 times recently. This has a chilling effect on borderline questionable content as "indecency" has not been clearly defined in law."

It's a chilling environment, indeed. Every American who treasures the First Amendment should sound the alarm bell.

What's more, Dubya and Congress fail to understand that parents and individuals already have the TV ratings and content-blocking tools to make and enforce TV viewing decisions, both for their children and themselves. This makes government regulation of TV unnecessary and undesirable.

Check out TV Watch, at www.televisionwatch.org, for a common-sense voice of reason in this debate.

 
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