Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Paul Ryan and Lindsey Graham: Two Reasons the First Amendment May Never Be the Same

I spend too much time finding huge connections where only small ones may exist.  It’s a quality that I consistently try to rein in.  Today, I’m not even going to try.  Paul Ryan’s budget proposal and the comments that Lindsay Graham and Harry Reid made about curtailing free speech are linked in an important and dangerous way.

Today, Paul Ryan released his budget. According to a USA Today article, Ryan’s budget “would cut Social Security, defense and domestic spending to reduce federal deficits by $4.4 trillion over 10 years. Overall, federal spending would be reduced by nearly $6 trillion.”   USA Today also reports that Ryan’s plan would have “new Medicare beneficiaries . . . choose a private health plan, and the federal government would subsidize the cost. Low-income recipients and those with greater health risks would get extra help. The approach is modeled after Medicare's prescription drug program.”  Further, the plan would cut Medicaid by $750 billion over the next decade.

All these cuts may be necessary.  The deficit is enormous and unsustainable.  I refuse to accept, however, that Ryan is serious or that his plan will do any long term good for one huge reason: defense spending.  USA Today  reports that “[d]efense would be cut by $78 billion — $100 billion less than the cuts recommended by Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

Right now, the United States is at war in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya.  One could easily add Pakistan to that list.  Further, no one can predict what the result of the protests in Yemen or Syria.  Perhaps the US will undertake a few secret wars with CIA shoes on the ground.

First, it’s important to remember that some of the current fiscal woes began because the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were fought off the books for nearly six years.  The biggest cost of these three wars, however, is not financial.  The biggest cost is liberty.

Over the weekend, Harry Reid suggested that Congress “will take a look” at the violence caused by the Quron burning.  Lindsey Graham went further.  Free speech, according to Graham, “is great idea, but we're in a war.”  Today he tried to clarify, but the clarifications don’t seem to change the fact that he wants to decimate First Amendment protections.  Graham asserts “there are a lot of things under the guise of free speech that I think are harmful and hateful.” Later, Graham says 
the First Amendment means nothing without people like General Petraeus. I don’t believe that the First Amendment allows you to burn the flag or picket the funeral of a slain service member. I am going to continue to speak out and say that’s wrong. The First Amendment does allow you to express yourself and burn a Koran. I’m sure that’s the law, but I don’t think it’s a responsible use of our First Amendment right. Where does this end? How many more things are going to happen in the world that is going to incite violence against our service members overseas?
Indeed, where does Graham’s hatred of free speech end?  Glenn Greenwald, as usual, gives a far better explanation than I can.
this event demonstrates one of the most uncounted (though one of the most intended) costs of our posture of Endless War: the way it is exploited to endlessly erode core liberties. The last decade's unrelenting (and still escalating) War on Terror -- i.e., war in multiple countries in the Muslim world -- has led to an erosion of virtually every basic civil liberty, including due process, Fourth Amendment protections, and habeas corpus. All wars have the same effect, as many of the most abusive assaults on core civil liberties in American history have been justified by appeal to war.
The fact that wars constitute an “abusive” assault on civil liberties means that the country must carefully examine how and when the United States goes to war.  Congress has repeatedly abdicated its responsibility to check the President, most recently in Libya.  That leaves only one check, the budget. Ryan is giving the administration more, not less, than it asked for.  Instead of cutting back on a president’s ability to go adventuring in search of empire, Ryan has made it easier.  No budget proposal that does that can be considered serious.

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