R.I.P. Bill of Rights

The Bill of Rights

Born: Dec 15, 1791
Died: Dec 15, 2011
Aged:  220 years (exactly)

Hyperbole?  Perhaps.  But it’s my blog, and I’ll write whatever the hell I want (while I still can).

The first 10 amendments to the United States Constitution are commonly known as the “Bill of Rights.”  This moniker is somewhat unfortunate, as it is not a collection of individual “rights,” but rather a list of restrictions on the powers of the Federal government.

How are these “rights” doing these days?  I’m glad you asked.  (Otherwise, I’d have stopped writing by now.)

The First Amendment seems to be in pretty bad shape lately.  One has but to look around at how certain state and local governments have been treating the #OWS movement.

“Are you smoking crack, HackerHaus?  That’s local government, not Federal.”

Yes, I’m aware of that.  But as long as the Federal government does nothing to dissuade the unreasonable reprisals (I do think that some of them have been reasonable) we’ve seen perpetrated against some of the protestors by local governments, this one would appear to be on life support.

It’s also kinda hard these days to disagree with the current President without being labeled a racist.  (Somewhat amusingly, making the conversation about race, when it isn’t about race at all, actually is racist.)

Then, there’s the issue of internet censorship.

“Are you high on airplane glue, HackerHaus?  The Internet has opened up free speech to millions all over the world, even playing a huge role in the overthrow of oppressive regimes in the Middle East.”

Enter: the Stop Online Piracy Act [H.R. 3261], which will allegedly allow the Federal government to “censor” portions of the internet.  Other phrases often thrown about are “PROTECT IP Act” and “internet kill switch.”  Go on… google ‘em.

While the first amendment to this bill states “Nothing in this Act shall be construed to impose a prior restraint on free speech or the press protected under the 1st Amendment to the Constitution,” it is hard to deny that it appears to put into place a mechanism by which this exact imposition could be exercised.

Depending on where you live, the Second Amendment is either in pretty good shape or completely non-existent.

“Are you cooking up meth in your non-existent basement again, HackerHaus?  Those are State governments deciding they don’t want an armed citizenry, not the Federal government.  Besides, guns kill people.”

First off, your anthropomorphized fantasy guns neither exist, nor do they kill people.  People kill people, using a variety of tools ranging from guns to knives to rocks to fists to the USS Enterprise (CVN-65) to Glenn Danzig.  Until you (yeah, you) can heal the human heart, people are going to continue murdering each other.  That understood, you can either make the choice to maintain the means to defend yourself or to be a sheep who relies on others to save them in times of need.  (That choice is yours.  Please do not attempt to make my choice for me.)

Let’s be clear:  The Second Amendment is not about protecting the rights of rednecks to keep rifles in their pick-em-up trucks so they can go a-huntin’ fer deer.  The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) ruled in District of Columbia v. Heller that the Second Amendment is an individual right, and again in McDonald v. Chicago that it applies to the individual States.  But still, the issue of CCW (Carrying a Concealed Weapon) remains largely unaddressed.

One thing that gives me a faint glimmer of hope for the future of CCW is the National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act [H.R. 822], which would compel all States to recognize all legal concealed carry permits issued by other states.  Of course, such a bill will probably never pass a Democrat-controlled Senate, nor will a Democrat President ever sign it, but it’s nice to fantasize.  The sick irony of this bill is that, were it to pass, I would be able to legally carry a concealed firearm in California under my Arizona CCW… but my friends who actually live there would still be screwed.

I don’t understand why this law is even necessary in the first place.  Why isn’t the so-called “Full Faith and Credit Clause” (Article IV, Section 1 of the United States Constitution) enough?  This clause requires that all states recognize marriage licenses, divorces, drivers licenses, birth certificates, etc., generated by the other States, yet somehow doesn’t apply only to lawfully-issued CCW permits?  Huh?

Now, it would seem that the Third, Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments and Posse Comitatus Act (18 U.S.C. § 1385) may also be in danger.  Enter: the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 [H.R. 1540].

“Are you playing limbo with the newlywed ghosts of Mr. and Mrs. Adolph Hitler again, HackerHaus?”

This bill, according to CBS News would give the military “a front line role in domestic terrorism cases” and would give the President “discretion in implementing these new provisions.” Per CBS, “the bill never expanded the authority to detain American citizens indefinitely without charges,” but admitted that “proponents said the legislation would codify court decisions finding the President does have the authority to declare ‘enemy combatants,’ as commander-in-chief and under the post-9/11 Authorization for Use of Military Force against al Qaeda and its allies.”

War on Drugs, anyone?  How many people have been wrongfully imprisoned and had their money and assets confiscated (and never returned, even upon acquittal) on the mere suspicion of being a drug dealer?

To quote the noted historian and philosopher Bruce Willis (as Major General William Devereaux), “The Army is a blunt instrument.  It’s no good for surgery.”

Even the Arabic-language news network Al Jazeera spoke out against this bill, saying “[t]hey’re also already defending the idea that you can extinguish citizen rights in various places if someone is suspected of being a terrorist. So, for example, Al Awlaki was a US citizen, and the claim is that you can engage in a targeted assassination even of a US citizen that contests whether or not he or she is a suspected terrorist.”

“Have you been huffing Slim Whitman again, HackerHaus?  The Obama administration has promised not to use this power.”

Maybe someday, I’ll write another post outlining all of the major promises Presidents have made, then later broken.  Like, after I finish my PhD and have nothing else to do for about a month.  Outlining President Obama’s broken campaign promises alone would require hours.  (Fortunately for my poor little fingers, a Google search for “Obama broken campaign promises” already turns up over 600,000 hits for your reading pleasure.)

Allow me to quote from the Fifth Amendment:

“No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”

And Sixth:

“In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.”

Exactly what part of this is unclear?  Maybe I’m not educated enough to be confused.  I certainly hope SCOTUS has something to say about this before things get out of hand.

Please keep in mind that the President of the United States, who campaigned on closing down the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, actually insisted that H.R. 1540 designate the Continental United States as a battleground and American Citizens as viable detainees, and threatened to veto it otherwise.  Some say this is just in there to clear up ambiguities in existing laws and to get their asses out of the fire for killing Al Awlaki.  If that is the case, I really don’t know how to feel about it.

In the House, 283 (190 Republicans/93 Democrats) voted for the bill, but only 136 (43 Republicans/93 Democrats) voted against.  I’m proud to say that my Representative, David Schweikert, voted no.  Former Speaker Nancy Pelosi voted yes.  So did Representative Sheila Jackson-Lee.  Somewhat strange to me is that Speaker John Boehner and Representatives Michele Bachmann and Ron Paul seem to have not voted.  How did your Representatives vote on H.R. 1540?

If you’re against 1540, and your representative voted no, please contact them and say “thanks.”  Conversely, if your representative voted yes, why not let them know how you feel?  Or better yet, send them packing in November.  Ya know… I wish there were a space on ballots for voters to explain to those voted out exactly why they were voting them out, and that the vanquished were required, by law, to read all of them publicly.  (And maybe to write “I will not be a douchebag” 300 million times on the chalkboard after school.)

Regardless of whether any of these are actually signed into law, and how these laws are interpreted and executed, the mere fact that our elected representatives sure seem to be up to some sneaky shit (again) should concern you.  It concerns me.

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