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Free SpeechYou cannot travel far in this great country without hearing someone mention the Freedoms that Americans enjoy. In my eight years as a resident, husband, father and taxpayer, it is one of the most common refrains. References to European countries are often disdainful. I have heard criticisms of a population living under the baleful glare of closed circuit television (Britain), although that doesn't appear to extend much to New York, or any other city where you can barely move fifty yards without being recorded by cameras, cell phone towers even chips in your car.

Nope, that is a European disease, not an American one because here we are free.

My contention is that it is an illusion of freedom. That the 1st Amendment is the greatest illusion of all, and that it is broadly used to systematically strip away all the other rights that Americans think they have.

The 1st Amendment is a beautiful construction. It is visionary and it is right and proper that it takes its place at the top of the Bill of Rights. One might imagine that it is the pillar on which a great democracy could, and should be built:

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.
One sentence that sums up and codifys the essence of freedom in a free society. Yet there can be little doubt that this society is no more free than many others, indeed, in some respects one might reasonably argue that the very thing that was meant to ensure the freedoms, it the biggest single mechanism being used to undermine them.

Let's deal with the easy bit first. The only industry specifically granted freedom in the entire tapestry that is a modern economy, is the freedom of the Press. Clearly someone thought this important. No other enterprise existing at the time the constitution was ratified was so protected. No, it was the ability of the press to act as watchdogs, behave as a check on the possible burgeoning power of a new government. Their unique ability to hold the rich and powerful account that was recognised as one of the cornerstones of the preservation of freedom. That is why the press are enumerated here.

So how did the rich and powerful respond?

They bought the press. It really was that simple. They bought the press and the later established means of mass communication, and made it their own ... and no one stopped them.

The following chart shows the concentration of ownership that began in the seventies, and really took off following that. From 123btes.org:

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From the same organisation is this one, which shows where it all went:

Photo & Video Sharing by SmugMug

It really is beyond argument that if you control the messaging, you control the message. From the press barons of old, to the modern corporations, it has always been the case that media owners have a very powerful platform. Indeed, that is why they were protected in the first place.

While these organisations grow ever larger, more powerful and more "corporate" in their message, the one area that might challenge the single message is that of Public Broadcasting. The aforementioned downtrodden Brits have the BBC. While not entirely free of government, the BBC is a regular and persistent thorn in the side of the UK Government, and seen as a model of impartial broadcasting the world over. Not so NPR/PBS here in the US, yet they are a possible way forward. Don't misunderstand me, I am not suggesting that the BBC is some paragon of investigative virtue, but it is better than anything the US currently has in the field of impartial reportage.

The situation here is simply that virtually unfettered capitalism has allowed the capitalists to own the very organs that should be responsible for maintaining checks on the over-reach of both them, and government.

The ill-fated "Fairness Doctrine" was an attempt by the FCC to impose at least some journalists integrity on the broadcast media. It was the last bastion of those who felt that the airwaves, and the very loud megaphone they provided, should make some attempt to be "fair and balanced". When that disappeared in 1989, the gloves came off and we are left with right wing talk radio polluting the airwaves virtually unchallenged. It's not surprising that people vote against their own interests when those same people listen to Rush Limbaugh et al, and think they are listening to the news.

Once the oligarchs owned the propaganda, and it's ability to reach all of the population, then Supreme Court rulings that Corporations are people, my friend, and the equating of money with speech; were simply a matter of time.

The argument that the internet is a valuable resource that can be used to fight this growing domination is a good one. The internet gives a new voice to the opponents of concentrated power. The internet is able to disseminate information very widely, and at great speed. If you want to know how important the oligarchs consider this to be, one has to look no further than their attempts to stifle free speech online, and corral, and own the internet for their own purposes.

Net neutrality is not simply a laudable aim, it is a vital component of freedom in this country. If we lose that battle then every progressive goal will become much harder, if not impossible. If a handful of corporations is allowed to throttle the internet, then why would a single politician ever listen to the people, when the people cannot be heard.

From the EFF

From the Internet to the iPod, technologies are transforming our society and empowering us as speakers, citizens, creators, and consumers. When our freedoms in the networked world come under attack, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is the first line of defense. EFF broke new ground when it was founded in 1990—well before the Internet was on most people's radar—and continues to confront cutting-edge issues defending free speech, privacy, innovation, and consumer rights today. From the beginning, EFF has championed the public interest in every critical battle affecting digital rights.
This lack of an alternate voice has significantly affected the manner in which the 4th Amendment has been attacked. It has also impacted on the 5th, and currently the 14th is coming under fire. Without a robust 1st Amendment, all of these attacks carry more weight than they might were we able to truly inform the people of the implications.

If we were able to expose the Religious zealots, then living free from religion might become a real possibility. Were we able to do that, then religions could exist in a tolerant society. If we could gain a voice loud enough to stop the hate speech, the deliberate lies and obfuscations, we would be rid of the Westboro Baptists and the American Family Association. Those organisations are not a product of free speech, they are an example of what happens when free speech is hijacked and use to suppress reason.

In R.A.V. v. City of St Paul (1992), Justice Scalia writing the majority opinion said:

"A State may choose to prohibit only that obscenity which is the most patently offensive in its prurience — i.e., that which involves the most lascivious displays of sexual activity. But it may not prohibit, for example, only that obscenity which includes offensive political messages. And the Federal Government can criminalize only those threats of violence that are directed against the President, since the reasons why threats of violence are outside the First Amendment (protecting individuals from the fear of violence, from the disruption that fear engenders, and from the possibility that the threatened violence will occur) have special force when applied to the person of the President"
I know I am only a Blogger, and not a Justice of the Supreme Court. I also know that other Bloggers and commenters will not necessarily agree, but Justice Scalia was wrong. Not just a little bit wrong. Not just wrong in his angle. He was fundamentally wrong. Wrong on a level that harms society. Wrong in a way that informs us that he might understand the law, but he has absolutely no understanding of society.

What this ruling, and other like it do, is drive a stake into the very heart of the constitution. You know, that bit that assert that "all men a re born equal" and "a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness"

They are not enumerated rights. They do not form the Bill of Rights, they are more fundamental than either. Those words are there because they are the reason that the constitution was written .... to ensure all men are equal and that each has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

When hate speech is legally protected, it strikes right at the very epicenter of those aims. It condemns men, women and children to live in fear. If that is what the 1st Amendment has become, then it either needs to change, or it has long passed its "use-by" date.

One final point.

Along with, and at the same time as there is a concerted attempt to roll back various rights contained in the constitution, there is an equally vociferous campaign to extend and increase the scope of the 2nd Amendment.

Do not think for a single moment that this is forever. Once the oligarchs have firmly stripped away most rights, and cemented their hold on the levers of power, the only thing standing in the way of making this a permanent arrangement will be you and your guns, and the freedom of thought they confer on the citizens.

Do not think that they will not, at that point, come after your guns, because they will. Every last one of them and they will be able to do it not by the convoluted legislative process; they own the means of production and will simply shut off the supply.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Recced for discussion (19+ / 0-)

    Of some very important stuff.  Perhaps my one criticism, is that I think you may over-idealize the press of the early 20th century.  Figures like Hearst were really pretty much the same as the Murdoch is today...more or less advocating the Spanish American war to drive up newspaper sales.  As for the New York Times and other 'respectable' papers...if you go back and read them, they really are much closer to the London tabloids than great impartial newspapers.

    There was a brief spell, maybe for about 40 years after WWII where journalism was pretty good.  It was killed by cable here in the US, and killed by satalite TV in Britain.

    And even in that 40 years...It wasn't all Edward R Murrow...and the BBC wouldn't even play rock music.

    "Empty vessels make the loudest sound, they have the least wit and are the greatest blabbers" Plato

    by Empty Vessel on Sun Jan 13, 2013 at 07:15:44 PM PST

    •  I do not disagree with that (5+ / 0-)

      But at least those men had some competition, and some of them had at least a paternalistic view of a fair society.

      That has all but vanished.

      I hope that the quality of debate will improve,
      but I fear we will remain Democrats.

      Who is twigg?

      by twigg on Sun Jan 13, 2013 at 07:17:17 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Oh and as for corporate single ownership (6+ / 0-)

      Of media...you are right, it's very, very bad.

      "Empty vessels make the loudest sound, they have the least wit and are the greatest blabbers" Plato

      by Empty Vessel on Sun Jan 13, 2013 at 07:17:19 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  "Tell the Truth and Run" (5+ / 0-)

      Have you heard of that?  I caught it years ago when I had Free Speech TV.  It's a documentary about George Seldes, a journalist in the 1930s forward who railed against the absence of truth in mainstream media.  Highly relevant and very interesting in its own right.

      Here's a link to some information.  On that page is a link to video of the documentary itself.  Some of his work is available online, too.

      •  No I haven't seen it (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        twigg, VetGrl, Ojibwa, penguins4peace

        Sounds cool.

        Just thinking, I think twigg might be missing on odd feature of the post WWII phase...that is, when there was only one radio and tv in Britain, and only 3 channels in America...oddly, the news was better.

        That is, since they had no competition, conversely they didn't need to worry about ratings so much, but they did have to worry about being called out as jackasses.  So there was a surprising tendency for them to do news well.

        Once many channels arrived...that all went to shit.

        This doesn't mean that media consolidation is good...because today there are many channels, each tailored to smaller and smaller demographics.  But people don't think about the mega-corporation that owns them all, they just criticize single channels, then switch to another channel owned by the same company.  The huge number of channels makes nobody accountable.

        "Empty vessels make the loudest sound, they have the least wit and are the greatest blabbers" Plato

        by Empty Vessel on Sun Jan 13, 2013 at 07:34:54 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Twigg doesn't think we had a (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Empty Vessel, prettygirlxoxoxo

          glorious past, where there was equal access for all views.

          But, even with the problems, we did have a better past ... the danger is that we will not have much of a future as those industries contract further, and the money that the 1st has allowed gains an even tighter hold.

          I hope that the quality of debate will improve,
          but I fear we will remain Democrats.

          Who is twigg?

          by twigg on Sun Jan 13, 2013 at 07:41:54 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  I rec'd for discussion as well, though I disagree (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      twigg

      on some points.

      I think speech laws that restrict are almost inherently bad, and very difficult to enforce in several ways. European football is still struggling with racism, but several start players in big clubs are going through this weird and distracting process of trying to determine whether 1. a player said something purported to have been said and 2. whether it was hate/racism, etc.

      While you acknowledge that 'the pursuit of happiness' is not in the Constitution, I do agree with you that the pursuit of happiness is what I call a 'natural right'. However, I don't think society's elected/appointed authorities are obligated or even should wade into 'making sure everyone IS happy', which I think is sort of what you're leading to.

      I see what you did there.

      by GoGoGoEverton on Mon Jan 14, 2013 at 07:53:04 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Two things (0+ / 0-)

        First is that European authorities can, and do take action against overt racist speech. That it still exists is not a surprise, but never make the mistake of thinking that it is equivalent to what goes on here.

        Secondly ... I do not think it is the role of government to ensure that we are happy ... I was not going there.

        What I am saying is that it is the role of government to ensure that happiness is not denied by hate. If that means that some "speech" is curtailed ... Well some speech needs to be.

        And we are perfectly intelligent enough to understand the difference between oppressive hate speech, and political opposition.

        I hope that the quality of debate will improve,
        but I fear we will remain Democrats.

        Who is twigg?

        by twigg on Mon Jan 14, 2013 at 08:22:10 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  This is a serious question, not rhetorical: (0+ / 0-)

          In the EU/european countries, how is the litmus test laid out for hate speech? Are there exact definitions or limitations?

          I see what you did there.

          by GoGoGoEverton on Mon Jan 14, 2013 at 08:28:44 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  No. (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            GoGoGoEverton

            Like US Law, UK law tends to be "enabling".

            Much of it depends upon a jury interpreting the circumstances.

            That said, you will not end up in court for most types of speech.

            The Westboro Baptists would. They would be charged with "behaviour likely to cause a breach of the peace", and injuncted.

            If they broke that they would be jailed for contempt.

            It is rare that the "speech" itself is the charge on the sheet. It is more likely to be the actual behaviour, or incitement.

            I hope that the quality of debate will improve,
            but I fear we will remain Democrats.

            Who is twigg?

            by twigg on Mon Jan 14, 2013 at 08:57:47 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

  •  asdf (6+ / 0-)
    Along with, and at the same time as there is a concerted attempt to roll back various rights contained in the constitution, there is an equally vociferous campaign to extend and increase the scope of the 2nd Amendment.

    Do not think for a single moment that this is forever. Once the oligarchs have firmly stripped away most rights, and cemented their hold on the levers of power, the only thing standing in the way of making this a permanent arrangement will be you and your guns, and the freedom of thought they confer on the citizens.

    Do not think that they will not, at that point, come after your guns, because they will. Every last one of them and they will be able to do it not by the convoluted legislative process; they own the means of production and will simply shut off the supply.

    I hesitate to speak for RKBAers, but the fact that I know better than to trust plutocrats with any of my rights is near the core of the reason I vote Democrat.

    "The Taibbi article is a defense of status quo" -- citizen k

    by happymisanthropy on Sun Jan 13, 2013 at 07:18:30 PM PST

    •  I agree (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      raincrow, Chi

      I think the gun control debate is very important, but the principles that underscore a free society actually matter even more.

      That is why responsible gun owners should participate in the debate, and they should remain Democrats.

      I hope that the quality of debate will improve,
      but I fear we will remain Democrats.

      Who is twigg?

      by twigg on Sun Jan 13, 2013 at 07:20:47 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Wait, what? (4+ / 0-)

    Did I read your diary right?  Leaving out the press part, what I saw was, "The First Amendment is awesome, but it is being eroded, so what we need to do is exclude hate speech from its reach."

    Is that correct?

    •  I said more than that (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      nosleep4u, happymisanthropy

      The Press part matters. It is as important a part of the 1st, as the other parts.

      What I said was that the 1st Amendment was being used to remove rights in all areas, and that the buying off of the Press was the first part..

      Once you own the message, you can pretty much write your own rules, and they are doing just that.

      For example ... The Patriot Act, the FISA rules ... Where was the discussion of the pros and cons?

      I hope that the quality of debate will improve,
      but I fear we will remain Democrats.

      Who is twigg?

      by twigg on Sun Jan 13, 2013 at 07:26:04 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  none of my rights are eroded by the speech (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        VClib

        of others.

      •  Yea, I got all that (6+ / 0-)

        I'm asking specifically about this:

        When hate speech is legally protected, it strikes right at the very epicenter of those aims. It condemns men, women and children to live in fear. If that is what the 1st Amendment has become, then it either needs to change, or it has long passed its "use-by" date.
        I'm not remotely sympathetic to message of Westboro, Coulter, Limbaugh, etc., but their speech is protected by the First Amendment.  If we think it ought to be excepted from that protection, then the First Amendment truly is meaningless.
        •  If that were the only issue (8+ / 0-)

          then I might agree.

          But the 1st Amendment doesn't just protect the hate speech, the hate speech is a consequence of not being able to fairly present the arguments for a society that should be free of such nonsense.

          Instead, the 1st grants "personhood" to corporations, allows unlimited cash for election campaigns and has allowed to destruction of a competitive media.

          The hate and lies of Limbaugh are permitted on public airwaves, with no attempt made to provide any form of balancing view. So the people get ONE view, the view of those with the most money.

          It doesn't matter what you think, and would like to say, no one will hear you.

          I hope that the quality of debate will improve,
          but I fear we will remain Democrats.

          Who is twigg?

          by twigg on Sun Jan 13, 2013 at 07:38:49 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  I agree with you (6+ / 0-)

          And I am a 1st amendment junkie...but I also see it as a trick that maintains the status quo.  That is, if all speech, no matter how disgusting, no matter how wrong, no matter how biased is legal...all media becomes devalued.  Everything becomes just another opinion.  

          Perhaps the greatest trick that ever happened in America was the illusion, derived from the 1st amendment, that we all could be heard.  It's the safety valve...the thing that stops revolutions and the big strikes that occur in Europe.

          If everybody can say anything all the time...in some sense speech loses its value.

          To be clear, I think the obvious benefits of free speech outweigh that...all I am saying is that there are downsides beyond having to defend assholes like the Klan.

          "Empty vessels make the loudest sound, they have the least wit and are the greatest blabbers" Plato

          by Empty Vessel on Sun Jan 13, 2013 at 07:41:17 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  I agree with everything except for the guns issue. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    twigg, happymisanthropy, ChuckInReno

    The most important power the oligarchs have over the people is their ability to control their (our) minds through their dominance over the mass media.

    •  I added the bit about the 2nd (0+ / 0-)

      Simply to demonstrate how "not inalienable" the rights really are.

      What I am saying is that if the present situation is allowed to continue, there are no rights that are safe, including the much-vaunted 2nd.

      Worth remembering that the current interpretation of the 2nd is recent, and if the country reaches a point where those in power feel that we should not be allowed guns, they have the ability to shut off the supple, by a few simple methods, rights notwithstanding.

      The argument is similar to "first they came for the communists"

      I hope that the quality of debate will improve,
      but I fear we will remain Democrats.

      Who is twigg?

      by twigg on Sun Jan 13, 2013 at 09:43:14 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  The combination of (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    twigg, happymisanthropy

    hate speech and near-monopoly of media has given rise to a huge wave of stochastic terrorism.

    "What could BPossibly go wrong??" -RLMiller "God is just pretend." - eru

    by nosleep4u on Sun Jan 13, 2013 at 09:39:08 PM PST

  •  ...and that is why I don't pay any attention... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    twigg

    ...to those 5 media outlets.

    ego sum ergo ego eram

    by glb3 on Sun Jan 13, 2013 at 09:45:51 PM PST

  •  The first ten amendments, as is the body of the (4+ / 0-)

    Constitution, are addressed to agents of government, outlining prohibitions on their behavior, in contrast to the permissions and obligations in the main document.

    The whole purpose of the organization of limited governmental agencies by the people, who govern, is to secure to the people their rights and authorities -- i.e. to protect them from the almost inevitable urge to usurp power by the people selected to act in our stead.
    Many of the current crop of agents are of the opinion that what limits there are are on their obligations and that their powers to rule and regulate are to subordinate the citizenry. In other words, we have selected petty potentates whose practical skills to carry out their duties and obligations to manage the resources of the nation are minimal to non-existent. The people we have elected are into exploitation. It is all they know. Many of our legislators, at all levels, are thieves. Letting them legislate their thievery makes it legal, but it is still thievery. That's why they all get rich in office. The problem isn't with what they spend; it's with what they accumulate for themselves and their cronies.
    However, all things considered, thievery is better than murder, so we let them get away with it, until their greed turns them murderous.
    There is a hazzard in ending military engagements overseas and bringing the military home. If "we're" no longer "fighting them over there, so we don't have to fight them over here," then the "them" are likely to be revealed as the folks at home from whom they (the speakers) steal.

    In retrospect, was not the proposed thieving of Iraqi oil preferable to the fracking and theft of natural gas here at home? What we have to confront is the behavior of the ex-men in our midst. The ex-men are people who:

    explore
    examine
    exploit
    export
    extract
    exercise
    extort
    exterminate
    explode
    exact
    etc.

    They are takers, graspers for power and destroyers of life. They are not creators or producers or inventors or promoters. Those who are, tolerate them and that's a mistake. Creative destruction is a lie. The only thing it tells us is that the ex-men know what they are about. Destruction is not incidental. They do it on purpose.

    We organize governments to deliver services and prevent abuse.

    by hannah on Mon Jan 14, 2013 at 01:10:00 AM PST

    •  There is an interesting conumdrum (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      lostinamerica, penguins4peace

      here.

      The constitution broadly applies to government, in that it limits its actions.

      It does not apply to private institutions who have much greater freedoms, indeed they are the ones protected by the constitution.

      What happens when government and corporation are indistinguishable, one from the other.

      I hope that the quality of debate will improve,
      but I fear we will remain Democrats.

      Who is twigg?

      by twigg on Mon Jan 14, 2013 at 04:42:36 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

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