Monday, November 28, 2011

Rights Alienable by the Federal Government

No Free Speech at Mr. Jefferson’s Library by Peter Van Buren

An outstanding article on the case of Morris Davis. Morris Davis was at one time the chief military prosecutor at Gitmo. He stated publicly that he would not use evidence obtained by torture. Then a pro-screaming-in-pain-and-mortal-fear general was put in as his commanding officer. Rather than wait for the inevitable order to try to put people to death by using evidence obtained while the witness was screaming in pain or shaking in fear of their life, Mr. David resigned his commission in the US military.

Mr. Davis then took a job as a researcher at the Library of Congress. But, he also continued to speak out about Gitmo in articles and letters to the editor. He was fired for this. His bosses at the Library of Congress, an institution founded by Thomas Jefferson, claimed that by using his right to express his political views showed poor judgement on Mr. Davis' part. Mr. Davis is suing, and amazingly American courts have so far let this come to trial.

The whole article is outstanding, and should be read in full. If you are only going to read one article today, this is the most important one. Well, this and the articles (left and right) about how Goldman Sachs is taking over Europe in the midst of the crisis in the financial markets largely controlled by Goldman Sachs and its former employees in government jobs.

But here's a taste ...

More broadly, the Davis case threatens to give the government free rein in selecting speech by its employees it does not like and punishing it. It’s okay to blog about your fascination with knitting or to support official positions. If you happen to be Iranian or Chinese or Syrian, and not terribly fond of your government, and express yourself on the subject, the U.S. government will support your right to do it 110% of the way. However, as a federal employee, blog about your negative opinions on U.S. policies and you’ve got a problem. In fact, we have a problem as a country if freedom of speech only holds as long as it does not offend the U.S. government.

Morris Davis’s problem is neither unique nor isolated. Clothilde Le Coz, Washington director of Reporters without Borders, told me earlier this month, “Secrecy is taking over from free speech in the United States. While we naively thought the Obama administration would be more transparent than the previous one, it is actually the first to sue five people for being sources and speaking publicly.” Scary, especially since this is no longer an issue of one rogue administration.

Government is different than private business. If you don’t like McDonald’s because of its policies, go to Burger King, or a soup kitchen, or eat at home. You don’t get the choice of federal governments, and so the critical need for its employees to be able to speak informs the republic. We are the only ones who can tell you what is happening inside your government. It really is that important. Ask Morris Davis.

Actually, Mr. Van Buren is wrong on the last part. Since he refers to the Library of Congress properly as Mr. Jefferson's library, perhaps he should go visit and read some of Mr. Jefferson's more memorable words.

We hold these truths to be self-evident,
  • that all men are created equal,
  • that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,
  • that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
  • --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,
  • --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
  • Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.
  • But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security

Perhaps the most important concept of America, perhaps the most fundamentally 'American' thing in all of history is the belief that we do indeed get to choose our federal government. That power really does come from and justly resides with We The People. Not the government. Not some King or President. Power comes from We The People, and we have the right and the duty to our great nation of America to choose our Federal government and to choose it well.


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