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NON-REPLICATING DNA? November 29, 2011

Posted by wmmbb in Australian Politics, Social Environment, US Politics.

While President Obama was declaring in the House of Reps before a joint sitting in what The Age called a tough speech but which I thought reads as palaver that the US has a commitment to freedom, because ”in our DNA, it’s who we are”, the NYPD were trashing and tearing down Occupy Wall Street in Liberty Park.

If the DNA is taken as the US Constitution then the First Amendment is clear evidence that analogy. It states:

“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.”

As with the Australian Constitution, which lacks a Bill of Rights, it is not the words you see that count but how they have been interpreted by the relevant courts. At Tom Despatch, Peter Van Buren writes:

Those beautiful words, almost haiku-like, are the sparse poetry of the American democratic experiment. The Founders purposely wrote the First Amendment to read broadly, and not like a snippet of tax code, in order to emphasize that it should encompass everything from shouted religious rantings to eloquent political criticism. Go ahead, reread it aloud at this moment when the government seems to be carving out an exception to it large enough to drive a tank through.

As the occupiers of Zuccotti Park, like those pepper-sprayed at UC Davis or the Marine veteran shot in Oakland, recently found out, the government’s ability to limit free speech, to stopper the First Amendment, to undercut the right to peaceably assemble and petition for redress of grievances, is perhaps the most critical issue our republic can face. If you were to write the history of the last decade in Washington, it might well be a story of how, issue by issue, the government freed itself from legal and constitutional bounds when it came to torture, the assassination of U.S. citizens, the holding of prisoners without trial or access to a court of law, the illegal surveillance of American citizens, and so on. In the process, it has entrenched itself in a comfortable shadowland of ever more impenetrable secrecy, while going after any whistleblower who might shine a light in.

Not doubt those that suffered the para-military and violent policing at the various Occupy sites will get there day to argue for their First Amendment rights, but the process will take time and the outcome is less than certain. A newspaper article which saw Morris Davis lose his job is only now scheduled for a hearing. Bradley Manning’s case is inherently difficult and the circumstances so extraordinary, aside from any tactical considerations, and the statement by the President that he was guilty, has not been adjudicated, never mind the principle that justice delayed is justice denied.

The NYPD, the Mayor, and the owners of the public park were able to ignore a judicial order which had been served while they went shopping for a suitable judge to hear their prepared case, while not acknowledging as elsewhere that the First Amendment was not at issue reduces it to irrelevant. DNA only replicates in a living body. We will have to wait to see whether the Constitution in this respect, as in others, has not become a dead letter.

As always it is not the words that matter; it how they are understood. “The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life”. It is not coincidental that President Obama was addressing the members of the House of Representatives and Senate in Canberra the revival of the First Amendment may be implied rights here as well.


New Zealand does have a Bill of Rights and it seems to be making a difference in the opening court arguments to close down Occupy Aotearoa (which obviously should be called re-occupy Aotearoa)



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