Gun Nuts and Chilled Speech

When Daniel Ellsberg, Chris Hedges and Noam Chomsky, along with a handful of the world’s most prominent political activists, join together to bring suit against you in U.S. federal court it’s fair to say you have a problem.

Okay, so now we’re all armed. Present company included. Great job, America. Now what?

The debate over gun control would be uproarious if it wasn’t so pitiful. In typical American fashion we have taken to the streets and airwaves in the aftermath of Sandy Hook to engage in an irrational debate that, once again, places misguided ideology over common sense and humanity. If we’re going to have this conversation, let us at least place the discussion within its proper historical context so we may raise a more troubling question:

Why bother taking the guns when you can indefinitely detain their owners? 

Lost in the emotion surrounding the debate over the Second Amendment is a far more insidious assault on the First Amendment. In no way am I diminishing the consternation over our right to bear arms as citizens; rather, I’m making a pragmatic case for a far more clear and present danger than the idea that federal agents will show up at our doorstep to commandeer our weapons. Before we get to this larger and more important point, let us dispense with the ridiculous.

Of course, we shouldn’t sell guns to crazy people, just like we don’t give a driver’s licenses to  blind people. Of course, citizens shouldn’t own military-style weapons with enough ammunition to wipe out a village. Newsflash: the government has neither the authority nor the desire to seize our guns. We hold the dual distinction of being the planet’s most armed nation and its biggest dealer of arms. What does this mean? The gun culture is here to stay because it’s profitable as hell.

And another thing: Stop yelling sanctimoniously about what the Founding Fathers would say. Find out what they did say. Media pundits insult our intelligence by twisting the meaning of the Constitution and the rationale behind it. So instead of arming yourself with high-capacity weapons, arm yourself with knowledge and learn about the Second Amendment from those who wrote it.

Founding Father Knows Best

During the two short years between the ratification of the Constitution and the introduction of the Bill of Rights, three of the greatest minds in America publicly explored the rationale behind the country’s founding document. A trio of intellectual giants writing interchangeably under the name Publius—Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison—produced a collection of essays now known as The Federalist Papers. They are essentially crib notes to the Constitution left behind by the Founding Fathers.

These are treasured breadcrumbs of reasoning that lead us to understand that the great military concerns of the day were whether or not to allow a standing army and how to prevent one state from acquiring military dominance over another. (The nascent nation could ill-afford Virginia to sack Rhode Island.) This dilemma was at the heart of the federalist argument for a centralized authority. At the same time, the Founding Fathers knew that the great balancing act of the day was in maintaining enough military force to defend against external foes while simultaneously preventing armed insurrections from within.

Publius reasoned that neither citizens nor tyrants should have the ability to circumvent our legal system, therefore arms and force should be evenly rationed but employed by a central government when necessary. (For the politically impaired, this is the part about a well-regulated militia.) The framers of the Constitution were dubious when it came to having full-time, professional soldiers. After all, these men were revolutionaries themselves who intimately understood the danger of uprisings. Moreover, America was also flat broke and could never have paid for a standing army. They did, however, believe Congress should have the ability to organize a militia when necessary.

It was Hamilton (as Publius) who offered the most succinct viewpoint on the military. “To render an army unnecessary will be a more certain method of preventing its existence than a thousand prohibitions on paper.”

To have an army or not? If so, how best to regulate it? This was the debate. The easiest way to raise a militia was to call upon the armed citizenry should the need arise. (This is the right to bear arms part.) More importantly, it was cheap. The ability to compensate servicemen would become one of Hamilton’s central arguments in favor of a national bank—a far more delicate subject at the time than the right to bear arms would ever be. 

It’s fair to say even the Founding Fathers could never have imagined modern warfare and the rise of the military industrial complex. Nor could they have imagined the destructive capability of assault weapons in the hands of citizens. This much is clear from their writings: the Founding Fathers would have punished any idiot who attempted to stockpile enough weapons to take on the government long before they tolerated government prohibition of speech.

On several occasions our founders saw fit to violently quell popular uprisings in order to preserve the central authority of the union. In this there was great philosophical unity among them. They argued more about banking than guns and cared more about protecting speech than organizing militias. It was John Adams who created a divide among them when, as president, he passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, jarring both Thomas Jefferson and James Madison out of retirement; not because they were fearful of his demagoguery with respect to force, but because these acts took away a more sacred right: free speech.

This brings us to the larger issue at hand.

Just as Jefferson and Madison recoiled at the behavior of Adams once in office, the great intellectual giants of our day have come together to challenge President Barack Obama’s authority. 

The man who released “The Pentagon Papers” and forever changed the way in which we view our involvement in Vietnam. The award-winning multilingual journalist who quit the New York Times because it was too tepid and conservative. America’s foremost dissident who has influenced generations of thinkers and helped shape liberal intellectualism. When Daniel Ellsberg, Chris Hedges and Noam Chomsky, along with some of the world’s foremost political activists such as Jennifer “Tangerine” Bolen – the organizing force of the plaintiff’s team – join together to bring suit against you in U.S. federal court it’s fair to say you have a problem.

Such is the predicament Obama finds himself in today. The above group has brought suit against the government for infringing upon free speech as defined by the Constitution. Thus far, and thankfully, they are winning. Their lawsuit (which I refer to herein as the Hedges suit) not only challenges the government’s unconstitutional behavior, it casts a light on a dangerous trend in America and exposes a surprising secret weakness in the White House and the Justice Department.

Incarceration Nation

“There are now more people under ‘correctional supervision’ in America—more than six million—than were in the Gulag Archipelago under Stalin at its height.” —Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker, 2012.

The woeful mash-up of Conservatives, Libertarians, Tea Party loyalists and Democrats who wouldn’t know a liberal idea if the ghost of Gore Vidal whispered it to them, are so busy deconstructing America’s gun culture they have ignored a more alarming cultural trend: the culture of incarceration.

In addition to being the most armed nation in the world, America also has the greatest percentage of its population behind bars. While this trend has steadily risen over the past few decades, it has gained a level of acceptability in the post-9/11 era. Perhaps, this is why so few bristled at the passage of the provision the Hedges suit aims at. 

The plaintiffs in this suit have made the case in federal court that the Obama administration and Congress violated the First Amendment with the signing of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) of 2012. The Act is a routine bill that organizes defense spending for the year and typically garners little attention from citizens and the media. But the 2012 Act contained a new provision authored in secret by Sen. John McCain—known as Section 1021—that was so alarming it prompted the above suit.

Essentially, Sec. 1021 expands the scope of existing law that allows the government to hunt terrorists in connection with 9/11 to include anyone seen as providing “substantial support” of terrorism. Ever. Anywhere. The provision offers vague language that attempts to couch it within existing statutes but its very existence is evidence that the government is seeking more expansive authority.

In September of 2001 the White House put forward several provisions that gave the government the power to prosecute those responsible for the terrorist attacks on 9/11. The joint resolution—the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF)—passed Congress quickly and included nearly everything the Bush Administration requested. Everything, that is, except a provision that could have been interpreted as granting the government the ability to militarily detain U.S. citizens. This denial was subsequently upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Hedges suit argues that the broadness of Sec. 1021 and vagueness of the “substantial support” language endanger journalists and activists and theoretically expose U.S. citizens to indefinite military detention.

Katherine B. Forrest, district judge in the U.S. District Court Southern District of New York, presided over the opening salvo of the Hedges suit and delivered a resounding victory to the plaintiffs, and an injunction against enforcement of Sec. 1021, excoriating the government and its case in the process. In her decision she states, “The Government was unable to provide this Court with any assurance that plaintiffs’ activities…would not in fact subject plaintiffs to military detention.”

For its part, the government’s sole defense seemed to be inaction: If no one has yet been detained, then obviously there is no cause for alarm. Basically, their defense is that even though Sec. 1021 says that the government can punch you in the face if it doesn’t like your shirt, it hasn’t done it yet; therefore we must assume it won’t. Judge Forrest wasn’t buying it. Her decision examines various laws pertaining to what the government defines as criminal statutes related to terrorist activities of behavior in “material support” of such activities. In each case, laws are clearly designed to honor due process. She further argues that the plaintiffs are rightly concerned that Sec. 1021 falls outside the scope of constitutionality with respect to habeas corpus and is therefore not consistent with any legal precedent.

This is where it gets really, really interesting.

 Judge Forrest: “Section 1021 appears to be a legislative attempt at an ex post facto ‘fix’: to provide the President (in 2012) with broader detention authority than was provided in the AUMF in 2001 and to try to ratify past detentions which may have occurred under an overly broad interpretation of the AUMF.”

Whoa.

President Obama doesn’t have a journalism problem. He’s not afraid of liberal scholars, protests, or homegrown terrorism on the rise because of access to Jihadist websites. Barack Obama has a Guantanamo problem.

Ah, Guantanamo. Hundreds of suspected terrorists or their affiliates have been brought here for questioning. Scores have been indefinitely detained. Recall then-candidate Obama’s assurance that Gitmo would be closed. Upon becoming president, it didn’t take long for the political reality to set in that the remaining prisoners weren’t coming ashore to stand trial anytime soon.

On the one hand, the government makes the case that Sec. 1021 is no different than existing authority granted under the AUMF. On the other hand, the government stands by the need for this provision to continue its mission to find and prosecute suspected terrorists, as though AUMF isn’t sufficient enough. Judge Forrest barely shields her disdain for this conflicting stance and rightfully concludes that “Section 1021 is, therefore, significantly different in scope and language from the AUMF.” She goes on to wag her finger at the attorneys for the government, saying, “Shifting positions are intolerable when indefinite military detention is the price that a person could have to pay for his/her, or law enforcement’s, erroneous judgment as to what may be covered.”

Back to Hedges et al. for a moment. Stymieing the government’s continued attempt to cover up potential war crimes at Guantanamo may have been an incredible, yet unintended consequence of the Hedges suit. Remember, the plaintiffs in the Hedges suit aren’t suing over Guantanamo. That’s a different fight. Rather, they take issue with the inherent danger of the language to citizens, activists and journalists. Nevertheless, Sec. 1021 is still on the books as the suit is pending appeal. And regardless of whether or not any U.S. citizen has been specifically detained as a result of its passage (and how would we know?) it must disappear.

For his part, President Obama issued a signing statement distancing his presidency from Sec. 1021. But actions speak louder than words and in many ways he has been far more active in assaulting civil liberties than President George W. Bush ever was. Whether through the wide use of drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia or numerous examples of prosecutorial overreach—most recently the tragic case of “hacktivist” Aaron Swartz—or the failure to speak out against the alphabet soup of dwindling liberties (SOPA, PIPA, FISA) Obama has given the public little evidence that he cares about this issue. Perhaps even more troubling is that his tenure as a constitutional law professor has been touted so often that one can only assume he understands the complexity of the issue but has chosen to ignore it, or worse take advantage of it. Bush was able to play the no-nonsense (you’re either with us or against us) cowboy card. Obama has chosen to play the steely intellectual card, and in doing so has created legitimate cause for alarm.

All of which brings us back to the gun debate. As much as I am sympathetic to the right to bear arms, I refuse to capitulate to the cheap argument that it includes the right to possess combat-style weaponry. Furthermore, I’ve grown weary of the ignorant protestations from right-wing figures who poison the words of the Founding Fathers and miss the bigger picture altogether.

The more we divorce ourselves from the notion of liberty, the more abstract it becomes; the more divisive our discourse, the more perilous our future. The vociferous gun debate obscures the very real, current and existing assault on our civil liberties. And know this: Were they alive today, not only would Hamilton, Jay and Madison have joined Ellsberg, Hedges and Chomsky as plaintiffs in this lawsuit, they would challenge every right-wing blogger, talk radio host and television pundit who twisted their words to a duel.

With a pistol, not an assault rifle.

 

Illustration: Jon Moreno

 This version has been updated from the original that appears in the February edition of the Long Island Press.

 

Ain’t Necessarily So

Religion addresses a human yearning to fathom our place in an unfathomable universe and to immortalize our earthly mortality.

Words from de Bible
Dey turns into libel
Ain’t necessarily so!

-with apologies to Ira Gershwin

Oft time the Good Book is used to evil ends.  The Spanish Inquisition and the Salem Witchcraft Trials are iconic examples.  Then there is the more insidious evil spread by False Prophets Jesus warned us about: those  who “come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves.” -Mattthew 7:15

False Prophets have been spreading like locusts in grandiose displays of holier than thou.  They preach with absolute moral certainty that brooks no differences with their agenda.  Some, willfully and for pecuniary reasons, do their bible-beating so that folks “will betray and hate each other.” –Matthew 24:10.  Others may not be so much in touch with their inner wolf as they raven self-serving passages from the Good Book while ignoring others.  Still others may simply be regurgitating what they themselves have been spoon-fed.

However one feels about the Tim Tebow phenomenon, his psyche is infectious.  Tebowing and eye-black billboarding of biblical passages like John 3:16 have evangelized  millions that belief in Him means “ever lasting life.”  Note, however, what scripture has not made it on to Tebow’s eye-black: “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on street corners to be seen by men.” -Matthew 6:5

Pro ball players and coaches regularly thank God for victory.  Seldom, if ever, do we hear them ask for Divine guidance in the wake of defeat.  Jeremy Lin kind of went there as he announced his knee was going under the knife.  While his coach grudgingly felt Jeremy could tough it out, Lin mused that, “He has a plan.”  Coach couldn’t argue with that Big Commissioner in the sky.

A number of Founding Fathers who were, reputedly, Deists did not subscribe to the premise that everything happens for a reason, according to Divine plan.  Ours is a set-and-forget world, one spec of many in a universe produced by Creation or the Big Bang, as secular science would have it.  God does not micromanage.  He does not intercede to safely land a prop plane with a 60yrs-old in cardiac arrest then retreat when Timothy McVey blows up toddlers.  A cauldron of randomness, chaos and chance mix in a chain reaction that sometimes produces a semblance of order even when that order is terrifying. 

Religion addresses a human yearning to fathom our place in an unfathomable universe and to immortalize our earthly mortality.  Not a few feel that it is all so much whistling as we go by the graveyard.  But even non-believers may be inclined to hedge their bets.  On being caught, late in life, reading the bible, WC Fields, a renowned atheist, explained in his inimitable twang that he was, “just looking for loopholes, looking for loopholes!”

A couple of years back I was invited by a Mormon neighbor for whom I have considerable respect to listen to a missionary appeal ministered by Elder Elliot and Elder Joseph, both 21.  My knowledge of Mormonism was pretty sketchy so I was intrigued to hear that the Book of Mormon, as received by Joseph Smith, had, ostensibly, been inscribed on thin tablet-shaped gold plates and delivered by an angel.  Like the tablets etched with Ten Commandments by the Lord then shattered in a fury by Moses, no tangible evidence remains for posterity of the gold plates, though Eight Witnesses attested to their existence.

In addition to my wife and I, high holy day Episcopals, the group being missioned to included a Fundamentalist Christian and a medium of some Protestant persuasion.  The Fundamentalist, being of ‘my-way-or-the-highway’ faith, declared that those not embracing Jesus, according to select criteria, would not gain entry into the Kingdom of Heaven.  Figuring that the All-Knowing would know who had been naughty or nice, regardless of religious affiliation on earth, I asked, “What then might be the eternal fate of Gandhi, a Hindu who led his people from privation into freedom.

“We don’t know if Gandhi had a death-bed conversion,” the Fundamentalist responded evasively.  As it so happens, the Mormons have been magnanimously providing visas to Heaven by posthumous proxy baptism for non-Mormons like Anne Frank.  Relatives of  Holocaust victims who are, after all the Chosen People, have not been placated by the proposition that this may be a sort of insurance policy, just in case Divine Rights have been exclusively bestowed on some other religious order. 

Focus on the Family’s highly charged socio-politicizing has included the Tim Tebow “miracle baby” commercial in Super Bowl XLIV.  After the Janet Jackson ‘wardrobe malfunction’ during Super Bowl XXXVIII, I wrote Focus complaining that every other commercial was for a sex drug like Viagra.  How was I supposed to explain the chronically repeated (wink, wink) ’48hrs erection’ to my 8yrs-old daughter or expect her to ‘just say no’ to sex as a teen with non-stop TV images of lusting adults?   Focus has declined to focus on Big Pharma, perhaps because Pharma must have gotten Big thanks to Him.  Focus has not felt comparably constrained in going after environmentalists who they deem vanguards of the Godless World Order (see www.ResistingtheGreenDragon.com). 

Patrick, “Give Me Liberty of Give Me Death,” Henry introduced a bill in 1784 calling for state support for “teachers of the Christian religion.”  It was resoundingly rejected and instead the Founding Fathers bequeathed us the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”  As they seek to conflate their church and state while shilling for ideological agendas and vested economic interests, maybe it’s time to categorize False Prophets as For-Profits and tax them accordingly.  The country could use the revenues. 

 

Main Photo: Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – Albrecht Dürer

Putting the “Fun” in Fundamentalism

For those who insist on God as part of the original intent in America, allow me to disabuse you of the most commonly mistaken beliefs. To begin, there are no references to God in the Constitution.

The “my-perverted-form-of-Christianity-is-crazier-than-yours” show will be coming to New York soon when the GOP candidates come-a-barnstorming through our blue state. I have already received a lovely letter from Willard Romney asking for my support as if things aren’t bad enough with Tebow-mania sweeping the region.

My pitiful Jets. Sigh. That’s for another day.

Recently, my wife and I were fortunate to procure tickets to The Book of Mormon on Broadway. As one would imagine, it was delightfully wicked and painfully funny. (Unless, of course, you’re a Mormon, in which case I wouldn’t recommend it.) But its brilliance isn’t necessarily its provocative humor as much as its ability to bring the audience from uproarious laughter to dead silence within seconds. For all of its entertaining vulgarity, this Broadway show is a cautionary tale against the evils of forcing a belief system down the throats of others. If nothing else, it will leave you wondering how this particular sect became so powerful and accepted as to produce the odds-on favorite for the GOP nomination.

On the same side of the bizarro-spectrum is the new breed of Christian fundamentalist personified by Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator. In addition to the many things I find loathsome about him and other sanctimonious politicians is their annoying habit of twisting the words of the Constitution and, in particular, the Founding Fathers.

The rise of the conservative Christian fundamentalist clutching the Bible in one hand and the Constitution in the other is one of the more intellectually insulting developments of our time. The Founding Fathers were undoubtedly brilliant. But many of their flaws such as their racism and infidelity have been whitewashed over time, explained away as unfortunate characteristics of the era instead of the morally reprehensible traits they have always been. By claiming ownership of their ideas and intentions, the conservative fundamentalist movement has completely distorted the spirit of the Constitution. In everything they did the Founding Fathers—many of them downright heathens if ever there were any—took great pains to eradicate the role of God in governance. After all, these were men who knew and understood that America was settled by people fleeing, not seeking, religious persecution.

One needs to look no further than the Constitution itself to discover that our form of government was intended to be an entirely secular affair. Moreover, The Federalist Papers, which offers the greatest insight into the intentions set forth by the most scholarly of the Founding Fathers, explicitly denounced religious influence over government.  In his portion of the introduction, James Madison credits the “zeal for different opinions concerning religion,” among other things, with having, “divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good.” The majority of the writings proffered by our forefathers echo this sentiment. While freedom of religion among citizens was indeed a critical aspect of their collective philosophy, so too was freedom from religion.

This doesn’t mean they weren’t men of faith. In fact, my guess is that if they heard Rick Santorum profess that JFK’s insistence upon separation of church and state made him want to throw up, the Founding Fathers would likely vomit themselves.  After a good laugh at Santorum’s expense and a few hits of opium, Benjamin Franklin would take off with one of his several prostitute paramours, Jefferson would go back to chasing Sally Hemmings around her slave quarters, Washington would return to bidding on a few more colored people, Hamilton would resume paying hush money to the husband of his 20-something-year-old mistress, Adams would continue attempting to imprison reporters under the Alien and Sedition Acts, and Aaron Burr would get back to his target practice.

These guys would have fit in perfectly today with the likes of former Nevada Sen. John Ensign and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who both called for President Clinton’s impeachment over the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal while simultaneously carrying on extra-marital affairs of their own— the former with the wife of his best friend.

But enough about those God-fearing noblemen; let’s get on to the oft-abused phrases that seemingly comprise the bulk of Middle America’s knowledge of American history.

For those who insist on God as part of the original intent in America, allow me to disabuse you of the most commonly mistaken beliefs. To begin, there are no references to God in the Constitution. Period. Furthermore, the phrase “under God” was not part of the original Pledge of Allegiance, which was written by a socialist, by the by; it was formally adopted by Congress in 1954 as a reaction to the rise of secular Communism. I’ve also heard the argument the president serves the Almighty first and foremost because the Oath of Office closes with the phrase: “so help me God.” This is true, but you should know that it was ad-libbed by George Washington, not originally written as such. And finally, “In God We Trust” is neither from the Constitution nor the Declaration of Independence. It’s on our money. How very Christian of us.American history is fascinating and the work of our Founding Fathers is legendary and enduring, but it’s important to get it right. So too is it important to understand the origins of the modern Christian fundamentalist movement. In a nutshell:

A couple of babbling prophets roamed the country in the 1800s and early 1900s selling a new shiny brand of Jesus with little attention paid to them. Then, in the 1920s, Bruce Barton, best known as one of the “B’s” in the BBD&O ad agency, published The Man Nobody Knows. It was a self-help book about Corporate Jesus that spread like wildfire, and the fundamentalist movement latched on immediately with the thought that if you’re successful in this life, then Jesus must love you. Of course, the flip side of that coin is that if you’re poor through no fault of your own, it must be because Jesus hates you. Fundamentalists don’t like that side of the story much, though.

That’s right; the babbling nomadic Christian fundamentalists who evangelized throughout the United States were universally recognized as the crazy people they were until they got a makeover by the Don Draper of the 1920’s. The result: Rick Santorum. And the people who believed Jesus buried golden tablets (that no one ever actually saw) in the three days between dying on the cross and rising again only to later tell an angel named Moroni to let Joseph Smith know that the plates were buried in his back yard…in Rochester…New York…? I give you, Mitt Romney.

These are the GOP frontrunners that shall walk among us next month in a primary that looks like it actually might matter. And since I have maintained my Republican registration, I get to weigh in on this contest. Any thoughts on which one I should pull the lever, er, fill in the bubble for? Can I just go all the way and write in “Tim Tebow?” What the hell, right? Oops! There I go again.

Live Free and Die

Um, sorry, black folk. Apparently in Ron Paul’s America, the right of a state still trumps your right to be considered more than three-fifths human.

Originally published in the January 12th, 2012 edition of the Long Island Press

The highest office in the land is the only job where applicants are rewarded for the level of disdain they express for the position they seek. The greater the antipathy toward government, the better the candidate connects with voters; or so it seems given the tenor of the GOP primary season. 

The image of the self-loathing politician promising to shrink the role of government in our lives is as old as the nation itself and usually appears during woeful economic times such as these. Of course, what someone utters on the campaign trail is almost always a far cry from how he speaks upon ascending to the Oval Office. Watching the current slate of GOP-hopefuls repackage this timeless anti-government dogma while vying for the single most powerful job in government is as ironic as it is ridiculous, but it is not without precedent. 

Many of the Founding Fathers were highly suspicious of government and the competence of the men seeking to run it. To them, government was a necessary evil, which is why so many provisions were enacted during America’s youth to protect its citizens from tyranny. But even the Founding Fathers weren’t immune to the awesome and corrupting power that accompanies the presidency. One early example was John Adams, one of the staunchest proponents of the Bill of Rights and the author of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights, which included many of the Constitutional amendments we hold so dear today. It was Adams who cajoled a reluctant James Madison to introduce the Bill of Rights in Congress to protect citizens from encroachments on their liberty. 

Only a few years later, Madison was jolted from retirement to join with Thomas Jefferson against an emboldened President Adams, who had recently signed the Alien and Sedition Acts into law, thus allowing the federal government to detain and arrest any citizen who spoke out against it. Adams was reacting to federalist fears triggered by watching the French Revolution turn ugly, and his paranoia was not without merit. But the totality of federal authority granted under these acts was so abhorrent to many of his contemporaries and fellow American revolutionaries it prompted the passage of the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions whereby these respective states unilaterally deemed the Alien and Sedition Acts unconstitutional. 

Now put this conflict into its proper current context. Libertarians such as Ron Paul, the second-place finisher in the New Hampshire primary on Tuesday, and free-market conservatives (every other GOP candidate including frontrunner Mitt Romney) routinely paint themselves as Jeffersonian state’s rights advocates. Paul, in particular, identifies strongly with the Kentucky and Virginia resolutions in spite of the fact that they were specific to the threat of the Alien and Sedition Acts and later were the primary separatist arguments upon which the Civil War was fought. While the larger field of candidates is likely incapable of discussing these measures in any thoughtful way, Paul has actually made a career arguing that these resolutions are somehow as sacrosanct as the Constitution itself. He has even gone so far as to criticize their demise under President Abraham Lincoln and has called the Civil War a “major setback” due to the “undermining of the principle of sovereign states.” In a statement made on the floor of the House of Representatives in 2004, which was re-circulated by the organization Campaign For Liberty over the summer, Paul lamented this development saying, “The Civil War profoundly changed the balance of power in our federalist system, paving the way for centralized big government.”

Um, sorry, black folk. Apparently in Ron Paul’s America, the right of a state still trumps your right to be considered more than three-fifths human. 

Beyond the unintended consequence of setting the stage for the Civil War, the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions did serve to unify the Democratic-Republican Party (later just the Democratic Party) against the Federalists and Adams’ frightful encroachments on individual liberties. But the fight with Adams was cover for the real issue that divided the nascent empire: taxes. 

Most of the Founding Fathers were opposed to Alexander Hamilton’s insistence upon centralizing and maintaining a strong federal treasury. They opposed it, that is, until it was their time to lead the nation as president. America’s ability to purchase land, fight skirmishes at home or wage war on the high seas was impossible without levying taxes upon its citizens: an early example of the evaporating campaign promise. When it comes to dollars and cents, ideology cannot overcome fiscal reality. 

It’s one of the reasons why our economy is struggling so badly today. Believing that war somehow pays for itself and, even more magically, stimulates growth, the Bush administration chose to ignore history and embroil the nation in two costly wars while simultaneously cutting taxes to anemic levels. This type of disconnect is central to the Republican psychology of this presidential campaign and each candidate’s continued misinterpretation of the Founding Fathers.

As much as the Jeffersonians were ideologically opposed to a strong central bank and morally opposed to the Alien and Sedition Acts, they were pragmatists. Their fight against the latter gave spirit to the party, the former provided substance. Same concept, different century. 

Mind you, the GOP isn’t alone in their disassociation between candidacy and presidency. Take the curious case of candidate Barack Obama, self-proclaimed expert on the Constitution who signed the National Defense Authorization Act for 2012 on New Year’s Eve, which includes the controversial indefinite detention provision that has libertarians and others going berserk. As well it should. It’s a confusing bundle of words that, in conjunction with the authority granted to the government under the Patriot Act, theoretically provides President Obama with powers dangerously akin to those bestowed on President Adams by the Alien and Sedition Acts. 

So while pundits split hairs over who hates government the most and which candidate has been married the longest, we’ve tragically lost our place in our own history. And so here we are again: back where we started, none the wiser and with little to show for our experience.

Please Shut The F*#@ Up!

There is a grand chasm now in the media between punditry and journalism that previously existed as a slight divide. Increasingly it is becoming impossible to discern between what is vetted (journalism) and what is contrived for ratings (punditry). And because information is so readily available and propaganda is professionally disguised as gospel, false prophets in the guise of pundits have an incredible ability to take advantage of the masses.

So I says to this great old mama grizzy bear, "Gosh, you're not gonna catch any dinner with that darned cute lil' face. You gotta give the face I give to librel's ya. Like this!!! Grrrrr! Oh, you betcha. Gets 'em every gosh darned time!"

Hours before President Barack Obama’s address to attendees of a memorial service in Tucson, Arizona, Sarah Palin released a video titled “America’s Enduring Strength.” Her comments are tinged with appropriate sadness at first, before her sword turns against those who, she believes, are guilty of sullying the “national discourse”: namely, journalists.

During the video she accuses the press and the pundits who attempted to draw a link between her website and the shootings in Tucson of “blood libel.” The phrase “blood libel” originally referred to the anti-Semitic claim that during the Middle Ages Jews killed Christian children and used their blood in religious rituals. Now it will forever live on here in relation to a national American tragedy as conservative figures such as Palin attempt to appropriate historic and religious language for their own gain.

Palin’s misuse of historical references is nothing new. Her shocking lack of contextual understanding is an embarrassment to the nation, yet she persists, delivering ratings and gaining popularity. To continue with religious parallels for a moment, perhaps this memorial address by the president will be his road to Damascus moment; the great turning point in his presidency during which he transcends politics and becomes the vision of hope that fueled his ascent to our nation’s highest office.

By imputing journalists for tainting the national discourse, she inherently protects herself from the deserved vitriol over her sloppy remarks. The big problems with Palin’s video are that 1) she made it and 2) we’re watching. In it she bristles at being dragged into the limelight over this issue, though the very act of releasing the video furthers her involvement. Doing it on the day the president attempts to soothe the nation’s sorrow over the shootings and using the phrase “President Obama and I” reveal her true intention, which is to be seen as the de facto leader of conservative America. The not-so-silent majority.

Even more peculiar is the use of this video to excoriate journalists for taking part in public discourse while defending the freedoms we enjoy as Americans to engage in it. Palin is a walking, talking oxymoron—emphasis on the latter half of the word. This is essential to understanding Palin’s misunderstanding of America and the spirit of the documents that craft our existence to this day. In attempting to defend civil discourse by casting aspersions on the most valuable aspect of it—freedom of the press—she is engaging in rhetorical discourse and hoping the average American is incapable of discerning between the two. Civil discourse is what the Founding Fathers she is so fond of misinterpreting spent their lives trying to defend. Rhetorical discourse is a hallmark of demagoguery, the true philosophy to which Palin subscribes.

As a nation, we would be wise to tread lightly here. There is a grand chasm now in the media between punditry and journalism that previously existed as a slight divide. Increasingly it is becoming impossible to discern between what is vetted (journalism) and what is contrived for ratings (punditry). And because information is so readily available and propaganda is professionally disguised as gospel, false prophets in the guise of pundits have an incredible ability to take advantage of the masses.

Predictably, Palin plays to her followers by referencing the Founding Fathers, though her knowledge of these men and their actions skims the surface at best. In ecumenical tones, she says that “public discourse and debate isn’t a sign of crisis but of our enduring strength. In times like these we need God’s guidance and the peace He provides.” This is a favorite refrain of the new conservative movement—to draw straight lines between faith and freedom while evoking the Founding Fathers and the Constitution. But these are words that, spoken in foreign tongues, are considered the vocabulary of zealots and extremists. Yet spoken in measured, folksy tones, they have come to embody the political and spiritual zeitgeist in America today. Palin and other so-called fundamentalist Christians who have risen to prominence in our nation fail to realize the decidedly secular importance of a godless Constitution—which is to say that God is not part of our Constitution and our Founding Fathers fought heartily and purposefully to ensure it.
And so it should be said then that Palin has every Constitutional right and freedom to release this video. Just as I have every right to call her a dangerous idiot. (Thank you, Founding Fathers!)