There Are Different Ways to Destroy Freedom

Freedom of SpeechEvery time I hear someone saying it is okay for all of us to limit freedom of speech because it isn’t the government doing it, I have a problem. Sure, I don’t especially care if people boycott Rush Limbaugh’s advertisers. But a much more likely scenario is that some company is going to fire some woman for what she says on her personal blog. It happens all the time. And people usually don’t care because it doesn’t contradict the Constitution — as though every right that people ought to have is found that the two century old document.

I’ve made arguments along these lines many times before, but I always get the impression that people don’t really get it. It’s really simple. People have a right to life. We no longer have free land where people can just go out and make their own living by hunting and gathering — or by farming. Just try it some time. Go out to an unused field and start developing it. You’ll find very soon that even though the property is not being used for anything, you don’t have the right to farm it. You don’t own the land; someone else does. So if you can’t get a job, you don’t have a right to life. You have a right to beg and maybe a right to starve, but that’s about it.

This is a fact of the world that libertarians in particular do not understand. But it is a fact that is poorly understood by even quite liberal people. Most liberals I know just have a gut feeling about what is right and wrong. They don’t think too deeply about it. And that’s fine! One should have a gut feeling about justice. And I think that conservatives mostly have the same gut feeling. It’s just that they’ve managed to slice and dice the world up into those people who deserve this kind of justice.

But it isn’t just on an individual level that we find this. On Monday, I read a very interesting article by Glenn Greenwald, Court Ruling Against Chicago Sheriff Proves Thuggish Anti-WikiLeaks Blockade Was Unconstitutional. The ruling doesn’t have to do directly with WikiLeaks. It has to do with a classified ads site, Backpage. Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart decided that he didn’t like the barely cloaked prostitution ads in Backpage, so he decided to shut it down.

Glenn GreenwaldNow before going forward, I should point out that Tom Dart is not a bad guy. He suspended foreclosures in Cook County, because he said (rightly) that renters were being evicted, based upon their landlords’ being behind in their payments. His legal reasoning was sound. He’s not some yahoo. He has a JD from Loyola University. But that doesn’t stop him from being wrong about other things. He first tried to shut down Craigslist. He did it by filing a lawsuit against the company for its offering of “erotic services.” He lost; the court found that Craigslist was an ISP and therefore not responsible for any illegal things that people using the service did.

So far, so good. But then Dart went over to the dark side. He knew he couldn’t take Backpage to court. So instead, he pressured Visa and MasterCard to not allow credit card transactions through the site. Brilliant, right?! And of course the credit card companies wouldn’t admit that they were doing this because of political pressure. It is, whether done by public or private entities, the perfect way to destroy just about anyone: don’t allow them to make money. The Constitution says nothing directly about that.

Well, the court didn’t buy it. It said that it was clear that Sheriff Dart had violated Backpage’s first amendment rights. But as Greenwald pointed out, back in 2010, this is exactly what Joe Lieberman did to WikiLeaks. And there it wasn’t just some overzealous sheriff with some sexual hangups; this was a sitting US Senator trying to destroy an explicitly political group using underhanded economic tactics because he knew that the First Amendment would never allow the important and legal work of WikiLeaks to be stopped directly. It’s not the government! It’s just a private sector!

Of course, even if the extension of this case to WikiLeaks is clear to Glenn Greenwald, it isn’t mentioned in the case. And you always have to wonder where the Supreme Court would come down on this. This is one of those cases where I actually think that Scalia would come out right. But Thomas and Alito, I feel certain would see things differently on this one. The truth is that we need a new Constitution. The Supreme Court has found far too many loopholes that have empowered the powerful and weakened the weak. This kind of financial extortion should be clearly illegal, and not left up to a bunch of people who owe their jobs to the power elite.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

29 thoughts on “There Are Different Ways to Destroy Freedom

  1. Oooh! It was written by Posner! I love his work because he is so judicially snarky.

    And it is clearly a government official doing suppression of free speech even though it was not directly related. Thomas would not get it because well he is kind of dumb. But Alito would even if he would pretzel logic his way to allowing it since he has Views on sexuality. Scalia might oppose it because he is UberPartisan.

    • I’ve just noticed that there are times when Scalia comes down solidly for certain kinds of civil/privacy rights. To be honest, Thomas seems more consistent to me. I think he has a truly screwed up idea of the Constitution, but it’s consistent. Alito just seems to be evil. I think he is probably the worst thing that George W Bush ever did.

      • True, Alito will be there, poisoning things long after we fix all the nine million other problems that Bush left us.

        Scalia does come down on the side of privacy once in a while-Crawford but he also is willing to let his personal views color his rulings at times.

        • Yeah, even though it means he sometimes rules the right way doesn’t mean that I don’t think he’s kind of a judicial mess. But Bush v Gore showed that (at least on the right), decisions work backwards: they decide then rationalize.

  2. And now back to being horrified that the landlord of the shooters yesterday broke into their apartment to let in the media.

    • I heard about that. I haven’t read anything. In fact, I’m trying to stay away from the story — it’s too upsetting in too many ways. But that doesn’t surprise me. I’ve known a lot of landlords who didn’t know squat about rental law. The thing is, they are almost never called on it. In this case, I would think there would be criminal charges. But who knows?

      • This one has a lot of the media scrambling to say “it was okay! The police said they were done!” Which, even if they were, the landlord still did not have the right to break in because I highly doubt he was able to process an eviction action in 24 hours in California giving him full rights to access the property.

        • This is a little off-topic, not too much. I’ve long thought we should have posters in the entrance of every rental property describing tenant rights under state/federal law and hotline numbers to call if those rights are violated. Like workplaces are (or were) mandated to have posters about worker rights displayed. Landlords get away with fucking murder, even though there are laws to prevent this which few tenants know about.

            • Very few. The more important aspect is scaring landlords who act with impunity. Those worker-rights posters aren’t read by workers but they do scare employers a little. You can get into major arguments with supervisors who demean and belittle you but once you utter the magic words “under state law” they back down somewhat. That there’s little chance the government will actually prosecute the employer doesn’t matter so much as throwing a little fright into the bastards.

              I used to use the magic words “under state law” with my slumlord and it worked for several years. But I hate moving, I’ve lived here too long, and after 12 years I’ve pretty much trashed the apartment, which negates any state laws. We’ve achieved an impasse. If shit doesn’t work, I fix it myself, I can’t ask for the landlord to do it. If I set a pile of socks on fire by accident (don’t ask!), I don’t get evicted, the landlord has broken so many laws he can’t evict me. It’s lousy, and I should move, but I got this space when it was super-cheap and rent-control laws mean I pay half what the average Twin Cities tenant does.

              • That is what drives me nuts as someone who has to deal with this. Almost all of the answers are out there but no one wants to read it. Granted it is often written in dense legalese but a lot of court systems are working very hard to make it accessible to the average person by breaking it up into smaller chunks and breaking it down in language to make it at least 11th grade if not lower.

                One of the funnier things though here locally is there is a certain attorney who deeply cares about the plight of the poor tenant abused by the landlord. So she wrote up a notice that has to be served on the tenant via the Rules of Eviction Procedures. As in the judge will dismiss if the notice is not served. It is a page of tiny dense language. No one has met a tenant who has read it because it is so much information to take in.

                So a colleague asked me to break it down to make it really simple for the average person. I rewrote it using about ten bullet points and about a third of the wording-just hitting the most important stuff that tenants need to know. The woman objected because it was not enough information even though she was informed no one reads it! Lawyers.

                • Lawyers are the best. If you’re ever mistreated by cops and can afford a principled lawyer, you will never look down on lawyers again. Good lawyers are saints, and the finest of them make barely a livable wage.

                  Great story, you’re quite right. I don’t know how we fix democracy in this country. I suspect it isn’t fixable. All thanks to those of you who try to repair it, though.

                  • I dunno about that-the Best Friend is a PD and he is paying for us to go the next DNC convention in Philly. Then again, he doesn’t have kids nor a wife to throw a fit he is taking his female best friend to some other city without her.

        • Also (and I base this only on having read every Scott Turow novel): isn’t the apartment off limits until all the cases are closed? I don’t think that’s true here.

          • I am going to go have silly fun with friends and then I will check when I get home. I believe there is only a .0005% of me getting shot so you should have your answer this evening.

            • Welp the FBI director claims they were done with the scene so it devolves down to a rather obvious violation of California renters rights although it is possible that the local Sheriff’s office was not finished. Either way it was a clear violation of the renter’s rights and good luck to that landlord ever having a tenant trusting him again.

              If there is a violation under CA Code 3479 or 3480:

              3479. Anything which is injurious to health, including, but not limited to, the illegal sale of controlled substances, or is indecent or offensive to the senses, or an obstruction to the free use of property, so as to interfere with the comfortable enjoyment of life or property, or unlawfully obstructs the free passage or use, in the customary manner, of any navigable lake, or river, bay, stream, canal, or basin, or any public park, square, street, or highway, is a nuisance.

              [3480.] A public nuisance is one which affects at the same time an entire community or neighborhood, or any considerable number of persons, although the extent of the annoyance or damage inflicted upon individuals may be unequal.

              The landlord has to send to the tenant via mail (and post on door if no one responds to the knock which they wouldn’t because they are dead) a three day notice of unlawful activity under CA Code 1162 (a)(3). He has to wait three days and then go off to court to file a lawsuit to get the possession reverted back to him. Even if the parties are accused of the most heinous of crimes, their rental rights have to be respected as the presumption under CAC 1927 presumes tenants have the right to quiet possession aka landlord cannot waltz in whenever. Being deceased does not negate the rental contract so it requires a legal process to be served on the estate of the decedents.

              Law is fun except for the way that the CAC is set up. Good grief, who was their IT person?

              • Wow! If this site made money, I’d hire you as a researcher! Three days is a lot longer than I had thought. But I doubt the landlord has to worry. Most tenants will think of those residents as a rat infestation. I doubt they’ll see it has anything that would ever affect them.

                My experience with all California state government sites is that they are usability nightmares. There are a number of counties and cities that have far better websites, but they are dealing with smaller amounts of data.

                Thanks for looking that up!

                    • I dunno know if Andrea will let me. *snickers*

                      I do have something about the recent consent decree that the CFPB came up with with Midland Funding.

                    • Like I can get Andrea to do any work!

                      That sounds interesting. Is the “something” an idea or a document?

                    • At the moment it is an idea. A colleague wrote something up but it is written for lawyers and may not be published. This would be for the rest of us.

                    • That sounds interesting. But I don’t want to take you away from your studies — even if that is exactly what you want!

                      But I think I would like that.

                    • End of the semester, I have one final left. I will type it up later tonight.

    • Another reason we need to wipe out/occupy every Muslim country; they consider charity to starving people a virtue! Sick monsters, that’s what they are.

        • Yeah, but they do it the true-blue American way! Don’t give to charity on a regular basis because you’re supposed to, do it with flair to let everyone know you give to charity! Build that “I’m a caring Christian” brand! That’s what Jesus and the Constitution and capitalism are all about! (These things, naturally, are all one and the same.)

          “And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.”

          Who printed that heresy? Burn them! BURN THE BLASPHEMERS!

    • Yeah, I am aware of those laws. In fact, I may have first read about them in Reason — probably in the 90s. I meant it in a more general sense — like standing around starving ostentatiously. But the truth is that there are vagrancy and loitering laws. So yeah, you have the right to die. That’s about it.

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