Monday, December 20, 2010

Assange is not protected by Freedom of Speech

It’s a provocative headline but accurate. Freedom of Speech only covers what one says and extrapolating to a minor degree what one does. For instance one can’t burn the American Flag on public property and then claim that you can’t be prosecuted because of the First Amendment’s Freedom of Speech clause.

Among things we’re missing in today’s political discourse, aside from civility, is clarity in political thought: Roe v Wade is not synonymous with being pro-abortion; Congress did not just pass a tax-cut (aside from a temporary payroll modification which was not a focal point of the debate); Assange is not protected by Freedom of Speech.

Freedom of Speech applies to what one personally says; that you cannot, within reason, be prosecuted for expressing political thought. (Advocating political assassination and outright insurrection are excluded.) Freedom of speech is, to a limited degree, expanded to non-political thought and applies to even a lesser degree to forms of political activity. It would be useful to start identifying how political activities are protected by the US Constitution. I would say, for example, that burning the American flag is NOT permitted by the Freedom of Speech clause. If burning a piece of cloth on public property is not permitted then the fact that the cloth that’s being burned was manufactured as a US flag does not, by the Freedom of Speech clause of the First Amendment, give you immunity from prosecution for burning that piece of cloth. It would, I would argue, protect you from added penalties for burning the US Flag – but it would not protect you from the liabilities involved in burning a piece of cloth on public property and “endangering” the lives of the people around you.

Regarding Assange, he is protected by the Freedom of the Press clause of the First Amendment, not the Freedom of Speech clause. This is not a matter of semantics. It is important in how we view the issues involved. Freedom of the Press expands Freedom of Speech, not only to the printed word (and by extension radio, TV and the internet) but also means that the ideas in question need not be ones’ own. A publisher is protected by the Freedom of Press clause.

How does that apply to Assange? Does it mean that he, like any other publisher cannot be prosecuted for publishing the ideas and thoughts of anyone else? Yes and no. Yes, he is protected as any other publisher, and no – a publisher may not publish the ideas and thoughts of anyone else. If The New York Times received a stolen manuscript of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows and published it would they be protected by the Freedom of the Press clause? No. We have copyright laws that protect ideas from being published without the owner’s approval.
Assange KNOWINGLY published stolen material. Why would he be any less liable than the NYTs in the above scenario? Does the fact that he did or didn’t make any money off publishing the material matter? No. Does the fact that Assange published classified material make him less liable than someone publishing a work of fiction where the only damage done is to the author and publisher’s bank account? No.

Without a doubt there is a societal benefit to exposing the activities of the government; we know that transparency is an important counter-measure to government power; and we know that reporters often get and then report on classified information from their sources. Therefore how do we balance these conflicting priorities – that some information needs to be private, and the people’s right to know?

The issue isn’t particularly about Assange. It is: How do we deal with the national security; criminal investigations and other issues if, at any time this information can be published without consequences? How do we deal with an arrangement between an Assange and a traitor / thief / spy who takes and then, through Assange, publishes information. This makes Assange, and others like him, part of a shadow-government, power-brokers who choose what information will be and will not be made public.

Lastly I find that the argument - made by many on the left - praising increased transparency to be deceptive at best. If one is concerned about an over-reaching government then the best thing to do is to limit government power to the bare minimum. I don’t find the transparency argument convincing by those who want to increase government’s power – especially by those who seem to find no limit in what the government can force its citizens to do.

UPDATE: May 4, 2011

"Wikileaks released a set of leaked Guantanamo prisoner files to the public last week. Among them is a document dated from 2008, which mentioned both Osama's trusted courier's name and Abbottabad, the city in which Osama had been hiding. There are speculations that, fearing al-Qaida realized their courier may have been tracked and move Osama, the US administration accelerated their plan and attacked the target site over the weekend. This link highlights the relevant section of the document."

UPDATE: November 18, 2011

Just found out that the USSC has ruled on flag burning.
Texas v. Johnson did not strike down fire codes, or even set out an exception to them for expressive purposes. It said the government may not penalize the specific act of burning a flag because of that act's symbolic meaning.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The New Tammany Hall: Early Elections and Voter Fraud

This has not been a good year for elections in New York State, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said Monday. The state recorded one of the lowest turnouts in the midterm elections of any state. And over the last three federal elections, New York has averaged 47th among the 50 states in voter turnout.

Mr. Bloomberg presented his critical assessment of the state’s electoral picture as he proposed a package of changes to state laws that he said would help remove the obstacles that make it hard for New Yorkers to exercise their right to vote.

“Our voting restrictions and requirements actually discourage citizens from participating in elections,” the mayor said. “We are proposing four changes to state law that would make it easier to participate in elections and easier for New York voters to have their voice heard.”

So, NY voters, in 2010, were uninspired with their choices for Governor and Senator - and knew, before hand, that the Democrat nominees were going to win the election. Were there any doubts in 2008 and 2006 and 2004 who were going to win? None whatsoever. So now Bloomberg and others say they're surprised and disappointed that voting participation is down. What is their solution?

The mayor proposed allowing for early voting, moving the deadline for registering to vote closer to Election Day, making the ballot easier to read and making absentee voting easier.
Bloomberg Seeking Election Law Changes to Increase Voter Turnout
by Elizabeth A. Harris

All these changes do is make fraud easier and increase suspicion of ballot-box rigging, ala Tammany Hall of yesteryear.

Mayor Bloomberg do you want to increase participation? How about making it easier for third parties to get on the ballot? How about we let some decisions be decided by referendum (such as allowable decibel levels coming from car or home stereos). Such changes would dramatically increase voter participation.

The solutions put forth are at best window dressing and at worse increases the power of the local political machine and make elections feel even more one-sided, if not actually rigged.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Assange, Freedom of Speech and Neo-Imperialist America

It's hard to take seriously the crap that's being printed in the New York Times. Do people really believe the nonsense quoted below?

First, for the record, I think that for the United States to prosecute Assange would be idiotic, un-American and a threat to the future health of investigative journalism. Second, the New Republic piece by John Judis that I linked to above is well worth reading. Judis emphasizes, as I do, the possible virtues of WikiLeaks exposing secret deals with other countries, but he situates his analysis in a different context: the history of imperialism, and the periodic disruption of imperialist schemes by revelation of the secret deals they involve. In this view, America’s alliances with dubious regimes — whether to secure oil, cooperation against terrorism, whatever — are a form of neo-imperialism, and WikiLeaks is anti-imperialist. Judis himself doesn’t necessarily embrace the characterization of American foreign policy as neo-imperialist, but I’m pretty sure Assange would ...

Julian Assange: Neocon Tool? by Robert Wright

Here's the salient point: Mr. Assange was dealing with stolen goods. He did not have a right to the information. All governments at all times have secrets. Who decides which information is to be kept secret and which is to be revealed, and at which time? Our elected officials that's who. If you don't like what they're doing elect new ones that do. If that doesn't work what do you propose Mr. Wright: rebellion? civil war? anarchy?

Are we now to believe that leftists, those that want to increase the size of government; those people who have contempt and disdain for those who want limited, smaller government are advocating that governments have no secrets: that we the people should have access to all the information? No. There is nothing but hypocrisy and lies coming from Mr. Wright, The New York Times' and The New Republic' editorial boards.

EDIT: See Assange Is Not Protected by the Freedom of Speech Clause of the First Amendment

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Pearl Harbor going the way of "Remember the Maine"

Funny how the media tut-tuts the fact that American public has such a limited knowledge of history and geography - and yet nary a peep about Pearl Harbor in today's papers. The Day Which Will Live in Infamy is already forgotten.

Media, The Treatment of Two Administrations: Bush and Obama

Can you imagine the headline in the Washington Post if Bush were president? How about if Palin is President? Could you not hear the calls for investigation; the demand for heads to roll?

ICE lies about its performance; "included more than 19,000 immigrants who had exited the previous fiscal year" and "ran a Mexican repatriation program five weeks longer than ever before, allowing the agency to count at least 6,500 exits that, without the program, would normally have been tallied by the U.S. Border Patrol." In addition officials were directed "to bypass backlogged immigration courts and time-consuming deportation hearings whenever possible."

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Sarah Palin is about as sharp as a wet balloon.

Nancy Pelosi's keen intelligence and profound understanding of Keynesian theory has led her to proclaim that unemployment insurance stimulates the economy and help lead us out of our economic malaise.

Meanwhile "sharp as a wet balloon" Palin thinks that the more the government grows, the more it takes through taxes, the less the private sector will grow jobs. Nancy is smart because she knows that government knows best. Palin is "hollow, dim and mean." Is there anyone who advocates free markets who would not be so smeared? Wouldn't I be so labeled if I was foolish enough to run for office.

I would rather have someone with a more accomplished resume than Palin but if Obama and Pelosi are the left's idea of intelligent and competent then I would rather have Palin.

Palin's a strategic thinker. Laugh if you will. But look at the end run she did when the left was trying to ruin her financially and destroy her political career by tieing her down with frivilous lawsuits. She did the unimaginable - she resigned her position as Governor. The left laughed with glee. One year later she is more powerful than she was before.

She has courage. She grows stronger the more she is attacked. Unlike the current occupant of the White House Sarah Palin rises to the occassion. This is a useful, and not irrelevant, trait.

Some say that Palin brings on and deserves all of the scorn she gets; and that she is a dangerous demagogue. I would answer this by saying that the media is trying a new tact. At first Palin was simply laughed at - now she is being portrayed as a dangerous demagogue. So Sarah Palin is a demagogue but Barack Obama isn't? Take another look at the Obama imagry, an idoltry reminisent of the smartest regimes of the last century: Hitler, Stalin, Mao and the other dear leaders of our time.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

National Security Song and Dance, Part 2

Last week the Department of Homeland Security shuts down Torrent and yet does nothing but send a letter regarding Wiki Leaks displaying classified information.

“My domain has been seized without any previous complaint or notice from any court!” the exasperated owner of Torrent-Finder told TorrentFreak this morning.

“I firstly had DNS downtime. While I was contacting GoDaddy I noticed the DNS had changed. Godaddy had no idea what was going on and until now they do not understand the situation and they say it was totally from ICANN,” he explained.

Critics of the bill object to it on a number of grounds, starting with this one: “The Act is an unconstitutional abridgment of the freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment,” the 49 law professors wrote. “The Act permits the issuance of speech suppressing injunctions without any meaningful opportunity for any party to contest the Attorney General’s allegations of unlawful content.” (original emphasis.)

Wired: Web Censorship Bill Sails Through Senate Committee

And Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the world wide web, said, “Neither governments nor corporations should be allowed to use disconnection from the internet as a way of arbitrarily furthering their own aims.” He added: “In the spirit going back to Magna Carta, we require a principle that no person or organization shall be deprived of their ability to connect to others at will without due process of law, with the presumption of innocence until found guilty.”

Wired: Web Censorship Bill Sails Through Senate Committee

The government acts tyrannically with COICA but does nothing regarding WikiLeaks. Are Wiki Leaks true leaks or is the Obama administration leaking this information for gain. If the government can shut down servers for illegally disseminating copyrighted material then surely it can do so for classified information.

A copy of the letter that the State Department sent to Wiki Leaks can be found at Reuters: Text of State Department letter to Wikileaks and The New York Times

A portion is presented below:

Dear Ms. Robinson and Mr. Assange:

I am writing in response to your 26 November 2010 letter to U.S. Ambassador Louis B. Susman regarding your intention to again publish on your WikiLeaks site what you claim to be classified U.S. Government documents.

As you know, if any of the materials you intend to publish were provided by any government officials, or any intermediary without proper authorization, they were provided in violation of U.S. law and without regard for the grave consequences of this action. As long as WikiLeaks holds such material, the violation of the law is ongoing. ...

Publication of documents of this nature at a minimum would:

* Place at risk the lives of countless innocent individuals -- from journalists to human rights activists and bloggers to soldiers to individuals providing information to further peace and security;

* Place at risk on-going military operations, including operations to stop terrorists, traffickers in human beings and illicit arms, violent criminal enterprises and other actors that threaten global security; and,

* Place at risk on-going cooperation between countries - partners, allies and common stakeholders -- to confront common challenges from terrorism to pandemic diseases to nuclear proliferation that threaten global stability.

(The letter is signed by Harold Hongju Koh, legal adviser to the State Department)

So WikiLeaks is a true threat to international stability and our government doesn't do anything. But they close Torrent?

Makes sense to me.

Below is a copy of the actual letter sent by the DOJ to WikiLeaks:

National Security Song and Dance, Part 1

Ever get the idea that national security is not important to some government types? Ever get the idea that the TSA screening guidelines are just one big song and dance to give the illusion that the government is doing their best to "protect" us?

For years I've been ridiculing the TSA's ban on nail clippers: the logic being that if you're so good that you're able to kill people and take over an airplane with nail clippers - then you don't need the nail clippers to do so. Furthermore a ball point pen is more effective in hand-to-hand combat than a pair of nail clippers and we don't confiscate them.

Now we get this article (HAT TIP: slashdot > > redstate

Soldiers boarding a military charter from Baghram Air Field in Afghanistan were apparently filed through the sort of full-body scanner which has been causing so much trouble in the good ole US of A.

The flight eventually landed in Indianapolis to discharge some of its passengers, but according to a report at, all 330 passengers were made to disembark.

"It’s probably important to mention that we were ALL carrying weapons," the anonymous source of the yarn writes. "Everyone was carrying an M4 Carbine (rifle) and some, like me, were also carrying an M9 pistol." The weapons weren't loaded, or course.

Despite having already been vetted, when the soldiers tried to re-board the plane they were subject to TSA checks. And one soldier was stopped and told he couldn't take his nail clippers on board.

"You’re not suppose(d) to have them," a TSA official informed the startled grunt.

"Why?" he asked.

"They can be used as a weapon," the official informed him.

The soldier then touched butt stock of the rifle he was carrying. "But this actually is a weapon. And I’m allowed to take it on."

"Yeah but you can’t use it to take over the plane, you don’t have bullets," the smug official replied.

"And I can take over the plane with nail clippers?" the soldier said, a suggestion that was met with 'awkward silence' according to the source

At which point the solder handed over the clippers and was allowed to board the plane.

You couldn't make it up.

I'lld like to know if this story is true. I have to say, as I'm rereading this post, that it sounds like bullshit to me. HOWEVER, the gist of the post is the silliness, and ineffectiveness of what the TSA is doing, not whether the above story is true or not.