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American Elites On The 1st & 4th Amendments

The 1st Amendment

In Donald Trump Could Threaten U.S. Rule of Law, Scholars Say, the NYT has arrayed a number of experts critical of Donald Trump’s “contempt” for the 1st Amendment:

“They ought to look into Judge Curiel, because what Judge Curiel is doing is a total disgrace,” Mr. Trump said. “O.K.? But we will come back in November. Wouldn’t that be wild if I am president and come back and do a civil case?”

David Post, a retired law professor who now writes for the Volokh Conspiracy, a conservative-leaning law blog, said those comments had crossed a line.
“This is how authoritarianism starts, with a president who does not respect the judiciary,” Mr. Post said. “You can criticize the judicial system, you can criticize individual cases, you can criticize individual judges. But the president has to be clear that the law is the law and that he enforces the law. That is his constitutional obligation.”
Other legal scholars said they were worried about Mr. Trump’s commitment to the First Amendment. He has taken particular aim at The Washington Post and its owner, Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon.
“There are very few serious constitutional thinkers who believe public figures should be able to use libel as indiscriminately as Trump seems to think they should,” Professor Somin said. “He poses a serious threat to the press and the First Amendment.”
In When Google Met Wikileaks (Amazon link, also available on the web as PDF via Google search, ironically), a transcript and commentary by Julian Assange about his time with Eric Schmidt of Google, Assange says:

Whistleblowing publishers, they [Eric Schmidt and Jared Cohen] tell us, need “supervision” in order to serve a positive role in society. As for who should conduct this supervision, they suggest “a central body facilitating the release of information.” No more detail is offered, and none of the obvious dangers of this totalitarian vision are discussed.


In December 2010, in the wake of Cablegate, various US politicians called for the extrajudicial assassination of Julian Assange, including by drone strike. US senators labeled WikiLeaks a “terrorist organization” and named Assange a “high-tech terrorist” and an “enemy combatant” engaged in “cyber warfare.”


A 120-strong US Pentagon team was set up ahead of the release of the Iraq War Logs and Cablegate, dedicated to “taking action” against WikiLeaks. Similar publicly declared task forces in the FBI, the CIA, and the US State Department were also assembled. The US government began to apply pressure to allied countries to detain Julian Assange, and to prevent WikiLeaks from transiting or operating within their territories.


In early 2014 documents from the National Security Agency obtained by Glenn Greenwald from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden were published, revealing that the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) had conducted bulk surveillance against every regular visitor to the WikiLeaks website, collecting their IP addresses and search queries in real time. The documents show how GCHQ’s Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group (JTRIG) is authorized to perform “Active Covert Internet Operations,” “Covert Technical Operations,” and “Effects Operations” against online “adversaries,” including infiltrating chat rooms; “false flag” attacks; computer network attacks; DDoS attacks; disruption; jamming phones, computers, and email accounts; and offensive operations intended to “destroy” and “disrupt” adversaries.329 The same documents showed high-level internal discussions between the office of the NSA’s general counsel and other officials about the possibility of designating WikiLeaks a “malicious foreign actor” for the purposes of targeting it.

I have no doubt that Donald Trump is no 1st Amendment scholar or defender. It also seems true that the 1st Amendment has been on shaky ground for some time and will continue to be even if Donald Trump is not president.

The 4th Amendment

In this video interview of billionaire Larry Ellison, “Larry Ellison Talks Steve Jobs and Evil Google“, Ellison shares his frustration about Larry Page and Google using Oracle tools without license:

I don’t see how you can just copy someone else’s stuff, that really bothers me.

He then goes on to share his opinion about the NSA and whether it poses a threat to American liberties:

The great thing is we live in a democracy, if we don’t like what the NSA is doing we can just get rid of the government and put in a different government. We’ve been collecting this information for so long, long before NSA was collecting it, let me tell you who was collecting it– American Express, Bank of A-, Visa, all of your credit card data, all of your financial records, this whole issue of privacy is utterly fascinating to me. Who’s ever heard of this information being misused by the government? In what way? [Whatever the NSA is doing] is great, it’s essential. By the way, President Obama thinks it’s essential. It’s essential if we want to minimize the kinds of strikes we just had in Boston.

If the government used it to do political targeting, if the Democrats used it to go after Republicans, if the Republicans used it to go after Democrats. In other words, if we stopped looking for terrorists, and we started looking for people on the other side of the aisle.

In Stefan Molyneux’s “The Truth About Edward Snowden” video, we learn the following about the NSA and political spying:

  • The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (“FISA”) was created in response to the revelation that President Richard Nixon had employed federal resources to investigate his political opponents
  • Since the 1970s, the NSA has operated a worldwide intelligence gathering cooperative dubbed ECHELON through which partner intelligence agencies around the globe agree to spy on other countries’ citizens by request (ie, US requests UK to spy on US citizen as a “foreign citizen” of the UK government) to avoid domestic surveillance abuse charges
  • ECHELON was engaged in commercial spying in Europe; in one instance a German technology manufacturer had an invention stolen and marketed against it by an American firm
  • Since 1999, Microsoft has inserted special “keys” inside all Windows software at the NSA’s request, granting “back door” access to the US government

So senior politicians (aka the president) have in the past abused government surveillance resources for political gain. And the US intelligence apparatus has been used to violate license agreements (“copy people’s stuff”) and abjure property rights in business technologies. One would think, then, that Larry Ellison would be more skeptical of the NSA.

According to this interview, Larry Ellison has the same opinion of the NSA that a random, patriotic and credulous man-on-the-street might have. I find that pretty hard to believe given that Larry Ellison is a billionaire who owns 98% of Lanai all to himself. Here are some possible explanations that seek to reconcile Larry Ellison’s stated beliefs with his personal success and implicit intelligence:

  1. He is lying; Larry Ellison’s company, Oracle, is a major supplier to the NSA and he doesn’t want to put any sweetheart deals at risk.
  2. He is lying; Larry Ellison has made a sweetheart deal with the government and other power elites that he looks the other way/cheerleads NSA spying and in return he gets “protection”.
  3. He is scared; Larry Ellison knows the high stakes of being a billionaire and knows what can happen to a talkative, uppity guy at the top of the totem pole, so he plays dumb and loyal to save his own skin.
  4. He is lying and a hypocrite; Larry Ellison is using the NSA’s access to competitive intelligence for unfair advantage and license agreement violations of his own and is putting up a smoke screen by playing the annoyed priest in regards to the sins of others which are also his own.

Interestingly, Donald Trump, no fan of at least one amendment of the Bill of Rights (according to some of the legal scholars quoted above), believes that the Chinese government engages in corporate espionage:

If corporate espionage is bad, why isn’t Donald Trump talking about the NSA and corporate America’s record on business espionage?