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Est. April 5, 2002
November 01, 2018 - Issue 762

What Are the People To Do
When First Amendment Rights
Are Canceled?


"If Trump convinces more people that birthright
citizenship can be overturned, how far behind can
the attempt be to neuter our First Amendment rights? 
That's why it is important to vote next week, although
it has been shown that the simple act of voting does
not force politicians to act to benefit all of the people. 
But, it shows that we are watching and acting
and they need to know that."

Over the past three or four decades, the people have had a more and more difficult time reaching the politicians who run the country. And that includes the current occupant of the White House, who proclaimed that he is a successful businessman and, therefore, would make a good and efficient president.

Cleaning up the swamp” of Washington was what he promised to do, but what most of the people did not know is that he wasn't much of a businessman and over nearly two years, he has proven that he isn't much of a president either. He has destroyed regulations that protect public health, he has cut social programs that help millions, he has damaged years of citizen-demanded environmental protections, and he has expanded the military and defense budgets, which is easy to do when the populace is kept in abject fear of so many things. For example, he has stoked fear of the migrant “caravan” of Central American refugees and asylum-seekers who are heading north, to the safety of the U.S. He has indicated that migrants, such as those who are headed north from Honduras and Guatemala will “infest” the U.S., as if they are some kind of vermin.

Such is the president's view of anyone who doesn't look like him (a tough feat to accomplish, considering what he has constructed himself to be) or anyone who doesn't support his every statement and action and, more important, anyone who doesn't fawn over him and tell him how wonderful he is. Usually, U.S. presidents have not needed that kind of reinforcement or flattery, since most of them have accomplished something in their lives, other than accumulating as much money as possible. We are dealing with a personality so fragile that Trump makes the Wizard of Oz look like a giant.

The problem for the president is that much of what he and his Congress are attempting to do is not what the people want: they want the protection of healthcare programs, they don't want to be poisoned by the air they breathe or the water they drink, and they don't want their national parks and monuments (the people's land) to be broken up for the destructive extractive industries. Moreover, anyone who understands the enormity of the U.S. military and “defense” complex and the billions that are raked in every year by giant contractors doesn't want any more money pumped into the coffers of the rich and military and defense corporations. Just a reminder: The U.S. spends more on military and defense than at least the next six or eight major countries. While the U.S. spends some $750 billion on these items, Russia spends about $60 billion. The people seem to want programs and policies that benefit all.

Yet, the government for years has simply piled on the money spent for destructive enterprises and continued to cut social programs that benefit all the people. Obviously, the politicians know what the polls say about these things, but they ignore the will of the people and plunge further into the same old habits. More money for war and the preparation for war and cuts to programs like Social Security, Medicare, food stamps, Medicaid, and housing subsidies.

It is very difficult for the average citizen to get a hearing on any of these issues, however hard they try. Without marches and rallies and picketing in front of the houses of power, in Washington or in the state capitals. Over many years, public petitioning of the government and the politicians has been made more difficult, through use of police barricades and the construction of “free speech pens,” which usually are located away from the presence of the power broker politicians, so they don't have to listen, or even see, the citizens whom they purport to represent. There are many ways to thwart exercise of free speech rights of the people.

When they do get a hearing in a politician's office, it might be with a staffer who, at the end of the short meeting, says little more than, “Thanks for your input. Your thoughts and opinions are very important to us.” Not only is that attitude in 2018 an insult to citizens' rights that are principally ignored, it is a great danger to what's left of democracy in America, but there is a groundswell of understanding that the abuse of the planet over the past century has called into question the very survival of Mother Earth. Yet, the politicians listen to the concerns of individual citizens and small groups and then ignore them, instead doing the bidding of their major election donors, most of which are giant and powerful corporations and the billionaire class.

How then do rank-and-file citizens and working class Americans reach their politicians, who are protected by layers of staff and now, metal detectors and police of every description? They can address them when they are in public and that's what we have seen increasingly in the past few years. One of the latest is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his wife Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, who were dining at a restaurant; there was Ted Cruz, who was dining with his wife; there was Scott Pruitt, former head of the Environmental Protection Agency; Pam Bondi, reported to be close to Trump, and Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Trump's White House mouthpiece. All have been confronted in public places, to the consternation of most bigwigs in government, who say that these people should be able to live their private lives. “How about a little civility?” they complain.

A little civility toward the people and planet would go a long way toward granting politicians the same, but don't expect that to happen soon. Until then, look for more frustrated (and a few enraged) citizens to demand of their elected officials that which will never be forthcoming by handing them petitions. The frustrations with a democracy that doesn't seem to be working is going to bring more and more citizens to confront politicians. The problem goes back a long way. In the past, presidents have managed to ignore hundreds of thousands of protesters in the nation's capital, ignoring the demands (usually very reasonable) of the many, because they know that, after the one- or two-day rally or protest, everyone goes home and things “calm down.”

Things don't calm down, however, and the frustrations of the hundreds of thousands and millions continue to fester. This decades-long festering is beginning to manifest itself in the encounters the politicians have with an individual or small group who are really expressing the opinions of a legion of other citizens. Look for this to grow in size and scope. The people are sick of being ignored by their “leaders.” They will exercise their First Amendment rights, although many obstacles have been put up to keep them from such expressions, right up to massive police presence and even the military.

A Trump Republican National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) recently ruled that janitors picketing the place where they work violated the law. This convoluted reasoning came about because the workers were technically employed by a company that merely contracted them to work in the building where they actually worked. This is not an unusual circumstances today, but the relationships of various labor contracting companies allowed the Republican NLRB to cite the anti-union Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, which prohibited striking or picketing of “secondary employers,” which meant that unions could not come to the assistance of brother and sister unions by boycotting or assisting in a strike or other job action. That act of 70 years ago effectively took away the right of the working class to stand in solidarity with fellow workers. It killed solidarity across the breadth of working America. Again, it is an abrogation of the First Amendment right of free association, that is, men and women in trade unions acting in concert, a right that was granted by the National Labor Relations Law a decade earlier than Taft-Hartley.

The march of the oligarchs and their political minions continues and Trump continues with his endless supply of distractions, so the people will not see what he is trying to do to them and their democracy. Just this week, he announced that he thinks that he is capable, through executive order, of recinding the clause in the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which give citizenship to anyone born on American soil. Even some of his sycophants have said that he can't do that, but it won't stop him, because he is obsessed with keeping out what he considers lesser people, such as Muslims, Mexicans, Hondurans, Guatemalans, and people from the Middle East, in general. He apparently is greatly fearful that they will have children who will automatically become citizens.

It is possible that this is not just one of his usual off-the-wall daily fantasies. He may actually try to do it, though some in his own party have said that this is a bad idea and would be unconstitutional. After all, it is a distraction from his racist rants and public bows to the “good people” among white supremacists and he wants voters to forget his erratic behavior over the past 18 months before the mid-term elections. At least one Republican, Sen. Lindsey Graham, agrees with Trump. The Hill reported on Tuesday that the South Carolina senator has said he will introduce legislation to accomplish the end of birthright citizenship. The Washington newspaper quoted Graham in a string of tweets: “Finally, a president willing to take on this absurd policy of birthright citizenship. I’ve always supported comprehensive immigration reform – and at the same time – the elimination of birthright citizenship.”

Constitutional rights and laws don't seem to impress the Republicans and those in power and that's especially true of Trump, who makes it up as he goes along and expects the people to fall in line. The danger is that he will keep trying to reshape the nation as he thinks it should be, from his attempts to keep out peoples he loathes (much of the world), to his attempt to change a constitutional amendment. And, don't forget the First Amendment, which many in power would like to curb or eliminate and be rid of such patriotic acts like strikes and pickets and Black Lives Matter rallies and demonstrations. The unresponsiveness of politicians and their bosses in Corporate America are working on this every day and they have largely succeeded.

It isn't that these rights are going to be eliminated tomorrow. That would be difficult, even with an authoritarian regime, because there are precedents and law and court decisions to be overcome. However, with Trump in the White House, even the attempt to overturn rights weakens an already weak defense of basic rights of Americans. If Trump convinces more people that birthright citizenship can be overturned, how far behind can the attempt be to neuter our First Amendment rights? That's why it is important to vote next week, although it has been shown that the simple act of voting does not force politicians to act to benefit all of the people. But, it shows that we are watching and acting and they need to know that.

Despite the cries for “civility” among the public figures who are confronted in public places, those confrontations will grow, as the demands of the people are ignored, when they go through the official process to have their grievances known. There is little “civility” shown toward the least among us by the powers that be when they act in their own interest and those of the billionaire class, as they vote to cut food stamps and social programs to spend more money on war and tax cuts for the rich. Columnist, John Funiciello, is a former newspaper reporter and labor organizer, who lives in the Mohawk Valley of New York State. In addition to labor work, he is organizing family farmers as they struggle to stay on the land under enormous pressure from factory food producers and land developers. Contact Mr. Funiciello and BC.




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Executive Editor:
David A. Love, JD
Managing Editor:
Nancy Littlefield, MBA
Peter Gamble

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