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A Dying Empire Invades Oaksterdam, Our Privacy & Our Speech

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At freedom's core is protection from arbitrary police power and the right to choose one's own medicine, as well as to express one's opinion, however controversial.

All three of these rights have taken very troubling recent hits.

Mired in imperial war and corporate privilege, the U.S. Supreme Court and Obama Administration have escalated their attacks on our basic rights. The results are horrifying, and a huge warning to all Americans that the foul debris of a collapsing empire is falling directly on us all.

Since 1791, U.S. citizens have had the right to expect basic legal protection from arbitrary search and seizure by the police. A key bulwark has been the Fourth Amendment, drafted by James Madison and adopted with the Bill of Rights, two years after the ratification of the Constitution.

While the Constitution was being drafted in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787, Madison argued that the new federal government didn't need a Bill of Rights. But in the wake of a dicey ratification process, the grassroots citizenry -- mostly the armed farmers who won the Revolution against the British -- made it clear they would not accept a centralized multi-state authority without basic guarantees of liberty and human rights.

So Madison combed through the Bills of Rights of the new states (including Virginia's, which he had largely written with Thomas Jefferson). In terms of legal guarantees of freedom, the resulting Ten Amendments constitute the most important document ever written. The Fourth reads as follows:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

The key phrases have to do with probable cause, specific descriptions, and the requirement that police convince a judge to grant a warrant before they violate an individual's person, papers, property or privacy.

Over the 220 years since its adoption, the Fourth Amendment has been revered worldwide as a bulwark of essential human rights. When George W. Bush violated it by ordering warrantless wiretaps on millions of phone calls, a tremendous uproar ensued.

But now the 5-4 "conservative" majority on the U.S. Supreme Court has essentially trashed the entire amendment. In a horrifying decision that would make the Founders cringe, the Roberts-Scalia-Alito-Thomas-Kennedy cabal has ruled that police can strip-search any citizen without a warrant or even a shred of evidence that such an invasion is called for under the law.

As "strict constructionism" goes, the ruling is utterly insane. It negates even the most basic procedures mandated by Madison and those who fought the arbitrary power of the British king, then took such great care to limit that of the new federal government. It essentially says that police power is now unlimited in this country, that the niceties of the Constitution no longer matter, and that the core of the Bill of Rights is no longer with us. It is the perfect companion piece not only to the Citizens United decision granting human rights to corporations, but also to President Obama's recent assertion that he has the right to kill any American without due process.

Most troubling about this Fourth Amendment demolition is the lack of a public response. The New York Times and a few others have opined against it. But the decision has elicited precious little outrage, least of all from so-called conservatives who rant on about "freedom" but only when it comes in defense of corporate personhood and privilege. The right of actual human beings to dignity and defense from police assault apparently doesn't qualify for the right-wing lexicon.

Make no mistake -- the obliteration of the Fourth Amendment represents a giant step toward the kind of dictatorship brandished by empires throughout history as they collapse and grab desperately at every lever of arbitrary power available to keep their populations in line.

Likewise, the Obama Administration's recent attack on Oaksterdam University. Despite mainstream media accounts, Oaksterdam is a serious educational institution with a major positive economic base. Founded by Richard Lee in downtown Oakland, the school has grown to service California's multi-million-dollar medical marijuana industry. Hundreds of students have attended its classes on the pharmaceutical properties of cannabis, one of the world's oldest and most established medicines. Methods of growing, distribution and the legalities of the industry are also explored in a substantial downtown building which has helped revitalize the Oakland economy.

Apparently all that isn't good enough for an administration headed by our third consecutive pot-smoking president. Last week a platoon of federal DEA, IRS and other agents swarmed into the Oaksterdam facility, apparently bent on destroying it. They also raided Lee's home and confiscated long-nurtured strains of mother plants. The raids were staged just as a rogue shooter was killing seven people at Oikos University just 500 yards away .

Polls now show three-quarters of the public supports medical cannabis while up to half more than half want full legalization. Sixteen states have approved various uses of cannabis either through referenda or the legislative process. Tens of millions of dollars in productive commerce and tax revenues have been generated in cash-starved states like California. Oaksterdam founder Lee, a dedicated public citizen in the best sense, has taken great pains to keep a low profile, and to stick to the business of teaching how the industry can best operate. Now facing jail, he says he will give up ownership of the unique institution he has worked so hard to found.

Conspiracy theories abound, including the idea that Big Pharma hopes to suppress the grassroots spread of the cannabis business until it can monopolize and commodify it, partly by selling "Sativex" and other derivatives it can patent and turn into big profits.

Among President Obama's many campaign promises was a pledge to keep federal troopers from interfering in states like California, where medical marijuana has long been legal. Obama has written positively about his own marijuana use. When asked if he inhaled, he has said "That's the point, isn't it?"

But in office he has scorned marijuana advocates and dismissed his own past. Had he been subjected to the laws he is now enforcing, he could never have become president.

Like the destruction of the Fourth Amendment, this issue tracks back to the Founding. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were both enthusiastic, very public hemp growers. Cannabis was the first or second largest cash crop in most of the original colonies. Ben Franklin built an entire mill to process it for paper. The Declaration of Independence was written on it. Had someone at the Constitutional Convention proposed making it illegal, they would have been laughed out of the room.

But nobody's laughing now. With tens of millions of Americans regularly using cannabis, its prohibition allows the federal government to arrest virtually anyone it wants at any time. And now that the Fourth Amendment is up in smoke, not even a glazed look is needed for the police to strip search us all.

Such arbitrary arrogation of power is a sign of federal desperation, of a ruling apparatus deathly afraid of its own people. Grassroots citizens can reconstruct some of the Fourth Amendment and resist the assault on cannabis at the state and local level.

All of which is underscored by the most recent attack on free speech -- at the ballpark. Ozzie Guillen, the flamboyant coach of the Florida Marlins, has had the temerity to say a few nice words about Fidel Castro. As explained by the brilliant sportwriter Dave Zirin, Guillen's brief, simple phrases unleashed a hurricane of horror among Miami's Cuban exiles.

In response, Marlin's ownership has suspended Guillen -- and has gotten away with it. This is a big deal. When a sports coach loses his job for speaking his mind, we are all in serious trouble.

Sooner or later, our rights must be restored. The protections -- and the crops -- that gave this country its birth are being stripped away for the benefit of corporate power and the very few.

It will take an epic grassroots uprising, and an end to imperial war, to win back our freedoms. Are you ready?

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