Friday, July 27, 2012

How Ignorance of History Leads Legislators to be Spineless & More Must Reads,

How Ignorance of History Leads Legislators to be Spineless


Gaetz really would make an outstanding congressman, or maybe even a president. He clearly loves power and believes in wielding coercive force to advance his political cause. Check out his preferred method of handling those of us who assert the state’s right and duty to check federal power through the principles of nullification.

As to nullification, I tend to favor the approach used by Florida’s first Governor, Andrew Jackson:

It is said that one evening, while he was president, General Jackson was interrupted in his reading in his bedroom by an alarmed military aide who breathlessly reported, “Mr. President, the “nullifiers” are in front of the Executive Mansion with torches and guns. They are screaming that each state has the right to decide for itself which federal laws to follow. They threaten to burn us down if you will not agree with them.”

Without lifting his head from his reading, Andrew Jackson said, “Shoot the first nullifier who touches the Flag. And hang the rest.”

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Chaplain (Gaetz’s constituent), I have sworn an oath on my father’s Bible before Almighty God to preserve, protect and defend the constitution and government of the United States. And that’s exactly what I intend to do. Count me with Andrew Jackson.

Well, Gaetz, you can have your shootings and your hangings. And you can have Andrew Jackson. Go ahead – stand with those who place protecting an out of control government above the Constitution and the people they were elected to serve. Count me in with James Madison and Thomas Jefferson.

And count me in with Wisconsin Supreme Court justice Abram D. Smith, who thought it was more important to protect due process and basic concepts of liberty than it was to prop up overreaching federal power. His court declared the federal Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 unconstitutional, null and void in the state. You find no awe of federal power in Smith’s opinion – no willingness to unquestioningly support a U.S. government trampling the rights of black citizens in Wisconsin. Smith respected the government created by the Constitution, but was determined to keep it chained within its proper bounds.

“Every jot and tittle of power delegated to the Federal Government will be acquiesced in, but every jot and tittle of power reserved to the States will be rigidly asserted and as rigidly sustained.”

Yes, please count me among the nullifiers.


Former Citigroup CEO urges big banks be broken up

Bail-outs Included Foreign Banks

After 89 Democrats in the House voted in a victory for bipartisanship to audit the Federal Reserve, some jaw-dropping numbers are emerging as a result of a partial conducted this year.  It is no surprise that the news is dropping with a dull thud in the media.  That's why you should get your news from the Internet and sites like this.

Senator Bernie Sanders at his official website reports: …

One of the most significant political developments in recent US history has been the virtually unchallenged rise of the police state.  Despite the vast expansion of the police powers of the Executive Branch of government, the extraordinary growth of an entire panoply of repressive agencies, with hundreds of thousands of personnel, and enormous public and secret budgets and the vast scope of police state surveillance, including the acknowledged monitoring of over 40 million US citizens and residents, no mass pro-democracy movement has emerged to confront the powers and prerogatives or even protest the investigations of the police state. 
In the early fifties, when the McCarthyite purges were accompanied by restrictions on free speech, compulsory loyalty oaths and congressional ‘witch hunt’ investigations of public officials, cultural figures , intellectuals, academics and trade unionists, such police state measures  provoked widespread public debate and protests and even institutional resistance.  

By the end of the 1950’s mass demonstrations were held at the sites of the public hearings of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) in San Francisco (1960) and elsewhere and major civil rights movements arose to challenge the racially segregated South, the compliant Federal government and the terrorist racist death squads of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). The Free Speech Movement in Berkeley (1964) ignited nationwide mass demonstrations against the authoritarian-style university governance.      
The police state incubated during the first years of the Cold War was challenged by mass movements pledged to retain or regain democratic freedoms and civil rights.   
Key to understanding the rise of mass movements for democratic freedoms was their fusion with broader social and cultural movements:  democratic freedoms were linked to the struggle for racial equality; free speech was necessary in order to organize a mass movement against the imperial US Indo-Chinese wars and widespread racial segregation; the shutting down of Congressional ‘witch hunts’ and purges opened up the cultural sphere to new and critical voices and revitalized the trade unions and professional associations.  All were seen as critical to protecting hard-won workers’ rights and social advances. 
In the face of mass opposition, many of the overt police state tactics of the 1950’s went ‘underground’ and were replaced by covert operations; selective state violence against individuals replaced mass purges.  The popular pro-democracy movements strengthened civil society and public hearings exposed and weakened the police state apparatus, but it did not go away.  

However, from the early 1980’s to the present, especially over the past 20 years, the police state has expanded dramatically, penetrating all aspects of civil society while arousing no sustained or even sporadic mass opposition.   
The question is why has the police state  grown and even exceeded the boundaries of previous periods of repression and yet not provoked any sustained mass opposition? 

This is in contrast to the broad-based pro-democracy movements of the mid to late 20th century.  That a massive and growing police state apparatus exists is beyond doubt:  one simply has to look up the published records of personnel (both public agents and private contractors), the huge budgets and scores of agencies involved in internal spying on tens of millions of American citizens and residents.  

The scope and depth of arbitrary police state measures taken include arbitrary detention and interrogations, entrapment and the blacklisting of hundreds of thousands of US citizens.  Presidential fiats have established the framework for the assassination of US citizens and residents, military tribunals, detention camps and the seizure of private property.  
Yet as these gross violations of the constitutional order have taken place and as each police state agency has further eroded our democratic freedoms, there have been no massive “anti-Homeland Security” movements, no campus ‘Free Speech movements'.  

There are only the isolated and courageous voices of specialized ‘civil liberties’ and constitutional freedoms activists and organizations, which speak out and raise legal challenges to the abuse, but have virtually no mass base and no objective coverage in the mass media.    
To address this issue of mass inactivity before the rise of the police state, we will approach the topic from two angles. 
We will describe how the organizers and operatives have structured the police state and how that has neutralized mass responses.   
We will then discuss the ‘meaning’ of non-activity, setting out several hypotheses about the underlying motives and behavior of the ‘passive mass’ of citizens.

The Concentric Circles of the Police State   
While the potential reach of the police state agencies covers the entire US population, in fact, it operates on the basis of ‘concentric circles’.  The police state is perceived and experienced by the US population according to the degree of their involvement in critical opposition to state policies.  While the police state theoretically affects ‘everyone’, in practice it operates through a series of concentric circles.

The ‘inner core’, of approximately several million citizens, is the sector of the population experiencing the brunt of the police state persecution.  They include the most critical, active citizens, especially those identified by the police state as sharing religious and ethnic identities with  declared foreign enemies, critics or alleged ‘terrorists’.  These include immigrants and citizens of Arab, Persian, Pakistani, Afghan and Somali descent, as well as American converts to Islam.     
Ethnic and religious “profiling” is rife in all transport centers (airports, bus and train stations and on the highways).  Mosques, Islamic charities and foundations are under constant surveillance and subject to raids, entrapment, arrests, and even Israeli-style ‘targeted’ assassinations.   
The second core group, targeted by the police state, includes  African Americans, Hispanics and immigration rights activists (numbering in the millions).  They are subject to massive arbitrary sweeps, round-ups and unlimited detention without trial as well as mass indiscriminate deportations.   
After the ‘core groups’ is the ‘inner circle’ which includes millions of US citizens and residents, who have written or spoken critically of US and Israeli policy in the Middle East, expressed solidarity with the suffering of the Palestinian people, opposed US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan or have visited countries or regions opposed to US empire building (Venezuela, Iran, South Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank and Gaza, etc.).  

Hundreds of thousands of these citizens have their telephone, e-mail and internet communications under surveillance; they have been targeted in airports, denied passports, subject to ‘visits’ and to covert and overt blacklisting at their schools and workplaces.   
Activists engaged in civil liberties groups, lawyers, and professionals, leftists engaged in anti-Imperialist, pro-democracy and anti-police state activities and their publications are on ‘file’ in the massive police state labyrinth of data collecting on ‘political terrorists’. 

Environmental movements and their activists have been treated as potential terrorists – with their own family members subjected to police harassment and ominous ‘visits’.      
The  ‘outer circle’ includes, community, civic, religious and trade union leaders and activists who, in the course of their activity interact with or even express support for core and inner circle critics and victims of police state violations of due process . The ‘outer circle’ numbering a few million citizens are ‘on file’ as ‘persons of interest’, which may involve monitoring their e-mail and periodic ‘checks’ on their petition signing and defense appeals.

These ‘three circles’ are the central targets of the police state, numbering upward of 40 million US citizens and immigrants - who have not committed any crime.  For having exercised their constitutional rights, they have been subjected to various degrees of police state repression and harassment.

The police state, however, has ‘fluid boundaries’ about whom to spy on, whom to arrest and when - depending on whatever arouses the apparatchiks ‘suspicion’ or desire to exercise power or please their superiors at any given moment. 

The key to the police state operations of the US in the 21st century is to repress pro-democracy citizens and pre-empt any mass movement without undermining the electoral system, which provides political theater and legitimacy.  

A police state ‘boundary’ is constructed to ensure that citizens will have little option but to vote for the two pro-police state parties, legislatures and executives without reference to the conduct, conditions and demands of the core, inner and outer circle of victims, critics and activists.  Frequent raids, harsh public ‘exemplary’ punishment and mass media stigmatization transmit a message to the passive mass of voters and non-voters that the victims of repression ‘must have been doing something wrong’ or else they would not be under police state repression.

The key to the police state strategy is to not allow its critics to gain a mass base, popular legitimacy or public acceptance.  The state and the media constantly drum the message that the activists’ ‘causes’ are not our (American, patriotic) ‘causes’; that ‘their’ pro-democracy activities impede ‘our’ electoral activities; their lives, wisdom and experiences do not touch our workplaces, neighborhoods, sports, religious and civic associations.  

To the degree that the police-state has ‘fenced in’ the inner circles of the pro-democracy activists, they have attained a free hand and uncontested reach in deepening and extending the boundaries of the authoritarian state.  To the degree that the police state rationale or presence has penetrated the consciousness of the mass of the US population, it has created a mighty barrier to the linking of private discontent with public action.

Hypothesis on Mass Complicity and Acquiescence with the Police State     
If the police-state is now the dominant reality of US political life, why isn’t it at the center of citizen concern? 

Why are there no pro-democracy popular movements? 

How has the police state been so successful in ‘fencing off’ the activists from the vast majority of US citizens?  

After all, other countries at other times have faced even more repressive regimes and yet the citizens rebelled.  In the past, despite the so-called ‘Soviet threat’, pro-democracy movements emerged in the US and even rolled back a burgeoning police state.  Why does the evocation of an outside ‘Islamic terrorist threat’ seem to incapacitate our citizens today? Or does it?        
There is no simple, single explanation for the passivity of the US citizens faced with a rising omnipotent police state.  Their motives are complex and changing and it is best to examine them in some detail.    
One explanation for passivity is that precisely the power and pervasiveness of the police state has created deep fear, especially among people with family obligations, vulnerable employment and with moderate commitments to democratic freedoms.  This group of citizens is aware of cases where police powers have affected other citizens who were involved in critical activities, causing job loss and broad suffering and are not willing to sacrifice their security and the welfare of their families for what they believe is a ‘losing cause’ – a movement lacking a strong popular base and with little institutional support.  

Only when the protest against the Wall Street bailout and the ‘ Occupy Wall Street ’ movements against the ‘1%’ gained momentum, did this sector express transitory support.  But as the Office of the President consummated the bailout and the police-state crushed the ‘Occupy’ encampments, fear and caution led many sympathizers to withdraw timidly back into passivity.         
The second motive for ‘acquiescence’ among a substantial public is because they tend to support the police state, based on their acceptance of the anti-terror ideology and its virulent anti-Muslim-anti-Arab racism, driven in large part by influential sectors of pro-Israel opinion makers.  The fear and loathing of Muslims, cultivated by the police state and mass media, was central to the post-9/11 build-up of Homeland Security and the serial wars against Israel ’s adversaries, including Iraq , Lebanon , Libya and now Syria with plans for Iran . 

Active support for the police state peaked during the first 5 years post- 9/11 and subsequently ebbed as the Wall Street-induced economic crisis, loss of employment and the failures of government policy propelled concerns about the economy far ahead of support for the police state.  Nevertheless, at least one-third of the electorate still supports the police state, ‘right or wrong’.  

They firmly believe that the police state protects their ‘security’; that suspects, arrestees, and others under watch ‘must have been doing something illegal’.  The most ardent backers of the police state are found among the rabid anti-immigrant groups who support arbitrary round-ups, mass deportations and the expansion of police powers at the expense of constitutional guarantees.       
The third possible motive for acquiescence in the police state is ignorance: those millions of US citizens who are not aware of the size, scope and activities of the police state. 

Their practical behavior speaks to the notion that ‘since I am not directly affected it must not exist’.  Embedded in everyday life, making a living, enjoying  leisure time, entertainment, sports, family, neighborhoods and concerned only about household budgets … This mass is so embedded in their personal ‘micro-world’ that it considers the macro-economic and political issues raised by the police state as ‘distant’, outside of their experience or interest:  ‘I don’t have time’, ‘I don’t know enough’, ‘It’s all ‘politics’ … The widespread apoliticism of the US public plays into its ignoring the monster that has grown in its midst.   
Paradoxically as some peoples’ concerns and passive discontent over the economy has grown, it has lessened support for the police state as well as having lessened opposition to it.  In other words the police state flourishes while public discontent is focused more on the economic institutions of the state and society.  

Few, if any, contemporary political leaders educate their constituency by connecting the rise of the police state, imperial wars and Wall Street to the everyday economic issues concerning most US citizens.  The fragmentation of issues, the separation of the economic from the political and the divorce of political concerns from individual ones, allow the police state to stand ‘above and outside’ of the popular consciousness , concerns and activities.    
State-sponsored fear mongering on behalf of the police state is amplified and popularized by the mass media on a daily basis via propagandistic-‘news’, ‘anti-terrorist’ detective programs, Hollywood’s decades of crass anti-Arab, Islamophobic films.  The mass media portrayal of the police state’s naked violations of democratic rights as normal and necessary in a milieu infiltrated by ‘Muslim terrorists’, where feckless ‘liberals’(defenders of due process and the Bill of Rights) threaten national security, has been effective.       
 Ideologically, the police state depends on identifying the expansion of police powers with ‘national security’ of the passive ‘silent’ majority, even as it creates profound insecurity for an active, critical minority.  

The self-serving identification of the ‘nation’ and the ‘flag’ with the police state apparatus is especially prominent during ‘mass spectacles’ where ‘rock’, schlock and ‘sports’  infuse mass entertainment with solemn Pledges of Allegiance to uphold and respect  the police state and busty be-wigged young women wail nasally versions of the national anthem to thunderous applause. 

Wounded ‘warriors’ are trotted out and soldiers rigid in their dress uniforms salute enormous flags, while the message transmitted  is that police state at home works hand in hand with our ‘men and women in uniform’ abroad.  The police state is presented as a patriotic extension of the wars abroad and as such both impose ‘necessary’ constraints on citizen opposition, public criticism and any real forthright defense of freedom.

Conclusion:  What is to be done?        

The ascendancy of the police state has benefited enormously from the phony bi-partisan de-politicization of repressive legislation, and the fragmentation of socio-economic struggles from democratic dissent. The mass anti-war movements of the early 1990’s and 2001-2003 were undermined (sold-out) by the defection of its leaders to the Democratic Party machine and its electoral agenda.

The massive popular immigration movement was taken over by Mexican-American political opportunists from the Democratic Party and decimated while the same Democratic Party, under President Barack Obama, has escalated police state repression against immigrants, expelling millions of Latino immigrant workers and their families.        
Historical experience teaches us that a successful struggle against an emerging police state depends on the linking of the socio-economic struggles that engage the attention of the masses of citizens with the pro-democracy, pro-civil liberty, ‘free speech’ movements of the middle classes. The deepening economic crisis, the savage cuts in living standards and working conditions and the fight to save ‘sacred’ social programs (like Social Security and Medicare) have to be tied in with the expansion of the police state.  

A mass social justice movement, which brings together thousands of anti-Wall Streeters, millions of pro-Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid recipients with hundreds of thousands of immigrant workers will inevitably clash with the bloated police-state apparatus.  

Freedom is essential to the struggle for social justice and the mass struggle for social justice is the only basis for rolling back the police state.  

The hope is that mass economic pain will ignite mass activity, which, in turn, will make people aware of the dangerous growth of the police state.  

A mass understanding of this link will be essential to any advance in the movement for democracy and people’s welfare at home and peace abroad.

Foreign policy has always been a weak spot for presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney. The former governor of Massachusetts has no diplomatic experience to speak of, and even fellow Republicans have described Romney’s foreign policy positions as “strangely amateurish.”
On Thursday, the first day of Romney’s much hyped overseas trip — which was intended to burnish his diplomatic credentials — Romney’s foreign policy problems were crystallized. In a matter of hours Romney managed to doubt the success of the upcoming Olympics, question whether Brits even cared about the games, and offend Prime Minister David Cameron. What’s worse, the episode wasn’t even the Romney campaign’s worst foray into statecraft this week.

Here are 5 more of Mitt Romney’s worst foreign policy fails of the campaign so far:

Continue Reading >> 1 2 3 4 5 6

Romney  must  start  to  sell  himself  to  voters,  polls  show

Mitt Romney has spent much of this year's campaign attacking President Obama's economic record and attitude toward small businesses, but many in his party are beginning to warn him that he will have to focus more on his own qualifications to win this fall.

As awkward, socially inept, misinformed and arrogant as he is; this will be a miracle for a man who lands in England and then insults an entire nation.

Texas Judge Rules 'The Sky Belongs To Everyone'


Is this a "shot heard round the world" for fight against climate change?

“Texas judge rules atmosphere, air is a public trust”, reads the headline in the Boston Globe. A tiny breakthrough but with big potential consequences.(Wikipedia/Creative Commons)

And as we continue to suffer from one of the most extended heat waves in US history, as major crops have withered and fires raged in a dozen states, we need all the tiny breakthroughs we can get.

The “public trust” doctrine is a legal principle derived from English Common Law. Traditionally it has applied to water resources. The waters of the state are deemed a public resource owned by and available to all citizens equally for the purposes of navigation, fishing, recreation, and other uses. 

The owner cannot use that resource in a way that interferes with the public’s use and interest. The public trustee, usually the state, must act to maintain and enhance the trust’s resources for the benefit of future generations.

Back in 2001, Peter Barnes, a co-founder of Working Assets (now CREDO) and On the Commons as well as one of the most creative environmentalists around, proposed the atmosphere be treated as a public trust in his pathbreaking book, Who Owns the Sky: Our Common Assets and the Future of Capitalism (Island Press).

In 2007, in a law review article University of Oregon Professor Mary Christina Wood elaborated on similar idea of a Nature’s Trust. “With every trust there is a core duty of protection,” she wrote. “The trustee must defend the trust against injury. Where it has been damaged, the trustee must restore the property in the trust.”

She noted that the idea itself is not new. In 1892 “when private enterprise threatened the shoreline of Lake Michigan, the Supreme Court said, ‘It would not be listened to that the control and management of [Lake Michigan]—a subject of concern to the whole people of the state—should . . . be placed elsewhere than in the state itself.’ 

You can practically hear those same Justices saying today that ‘[i]t would not be listened to’ that government would let our atmosphere be dangerously warmed in the name of individual, private property rights.”

In 2010 Wood, along with Julia Olson, Executive Director of Our Children’s Trust “had the vision to organize a coordinated international campaign of attorneys, youth, and media around the idea that the climate crisis could be addressed as a whole system,” Peter Barnes observes, replacing a situation in which “legal solutions were fragmented, focused on closing down a particular power plant or seeking justice for a particular endangered species, threatened neighborhood or body of water impacted by our fossil fuel abuse.”

On behalf of the youth of America, Our Children’s Trust, Kids Versus Global Warming and others began filing suits around the country, arguing the atmosphere is a public trust. So far cases have been filed in 13 states.

In Texas, after a petition to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to institute proceedings to reduce greenhouse gases was dismissed, the Texas Environmental Law Center sued on behalf of a group of children and young adults. The Center asserted the State of Texas had a fiduciary duty to reduce emissions as the common law trustee of a “public trust” responsible for the air and atmosphere.

The lawsuit argued, “The atmosphere, including the air, is one of the most crucial assets of our public trust….Global climate change threatens to dry up most of these waters, turning them from gorgeous, life-giving springs into dangerous flash-flooding drainages when the rare, heavy rains do come. 

The outdoors will be inhospitable and the children will have few places to recreate in nature as the climate changes. 

They will be living in a world of drought, water shortages and restrictions, and desertification.”

The TCEQ argued the public trust doctrine applies only to water. Judge Gisela Triana, of the Travis County District Court disagreed. Her letter decision, issued on July 12, 2012 stated, “[t]he doctrine includes all natural resources of the State.” The court went further to argue that the public trust doctrine “is not simply a common law doctrine” but is incorporated into the Texas Constitution, which (1) protects “the conservation and development of all the resources of the State,” (2) declares conservation of those resources “public rights and duties,” and (3) directs the Legislature to pass appropriate laws to protect these resources.

The immediate impact of the case is limited. Noting that a number of climate change cases were wending their way up the judicial ladder, Judge Triana upheld the TCEQ decision not to exercise its authority.

But a few days after Judge Triana’s ruling, Judge Sarah Singleton of the New Mexico District Court denied the state’s motion to dismiss a similar case. That will now move forward.

The Texas court is the first to support the possibility that the “public trust” doctrine may justify the creation of an atmospheric trust. One Houston law firm advised its clients the decision “may represent a ‘shot heard ‘round the world’ in climate change litigation…Given the stakes involved in such cases, clients should monitor these suits carefully—and perhaps participate as amicus curiae to support the state’s attorneys’ arguments.”

What a delicious irony if future generations could look back to Texas as the catalyst that ultimately afforded legal protection to the sky.

America's Descent Into Darkness

Slouching Towards Nuremberg?


Strange things are happening in the United States these days, and every day seems to bring additional scary news. 

The similarity to the erosion of civil liberties in Germany during the 1930s is a bit too close for comfort. Many will regard this statement as hyperbole, and, to some extent, it is. But let’s take a close look at what is going on before we dismiss the comparison out of hand.

In terms of the historical record for Germany, legal discrimination against Jews certainly existed before the Nuremberg Laws of 1935, and grew steadily over time. There was always a feeling in the Jewish community—most of whom regarded themselves as Germans, after all—that “OK, that’s the worst of it.” Hence, the decision to stay. 

Then came the next set of restrictions, and again the response: “This is as far as it will go.” It was like the classic experiment of turning up the heat on frogs placed in warm water. Gradually, they get boiled to death, because the increase of heat is incremental. It was only toward the end of the thirties that the choice began to look like: jump or die. Finally, it became simply, die.

In 1933, the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service banned “non-Aryans” from the civil service.
In 1935, the Nuremberg Laws deprived Jews of German citizenship and prohibited marriage between Jews and “Aryans.” They also prohibited sexual intercourse between Jews and “Aryans,” and the employment of “Aryan” females under forty-five years of age as domestic workers in Jewish households. In addition, Jews could not work as lawyers, doctors, or journalists; could not use state hospitals; and could not be educated by the state past the age of fourteen. 

They could not enter public parks, libraries, or beaches, and could not receive winnings from the national lottery.

In 1938, Jews with first names that were not characteristically Jewish had to adopt the middle name Sara (if female) or David (if male). Passports of German Jews were stamped with a “J”.

In 1939, Jews living in German-occupied Poland had to wear the yellow star. This was extended to all Jews living within Nazi-controlled areas in 1941.

By way of comparison, one thing that makes me particularly nervous is what has been called the “conspiracy of silence.” Almost nobody spoke up in Germany as this process was unfolding, and the American public has been similarly silent about the events documented below. 

Indeed, I would venture to say that 98% of the American public (maybe more) is unaware of events such as these, or of the passage of repressive legislation, and that they wouldn’t care even if they did know about it. (“Hey, I ain’t no Ay-rab!”) The classic quote that has come down to us is from Martin Niemoeller, a German pastor and theologian who wound up in the Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps (he was liberated by the Allies in 1945). It goes something like this:

“First they came for the communists, but I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, but I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, but I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for me, but by that time there was no one left to speak out.”

It is no accident that Chris Hedges entitled a recent article “First They Come for the Muslims” (see below, Item IV). God forbid something like that might happen in the U.S., but the signs of a gradual slide towards Nuremberg, and concomitant citizen apathy, are very much present in the current political milieu. Let’s have a look at what has been going on in the decade since 9/11. I’m going to discuss the following topics:

I. The creation of a political climate in which the police are out of control, arbitrarily free to intimidate anyone for virtually anything

II. The persecution of whistleblowers, protesters, and dissenters

III. The dramatic expansion of the surveillance of American citizens on the part of the National Security Agency (NSA)

IV. The corruption of the judicial system by means of show trials of Muslim activists

V. The construction of political detention centers, also known as Communication Management Units (CMU’s)

VI. The shredding of the Bill of Rights by means of the National Defense Authorization Act

VII. Future scenarios: The “disappearing” of intellectual critics of the U.S. government?

I. The creation of a political climate in which the police are out of control, arbitrarily free to intimidate anyone for virtually anything

The evidence for this is perforce anecdotal, but events such as the ones discussed below are getting to be so common that we have to keep in mind that when you have accumulated enough anecdotes, the result is called “data.”

-In June 2011 the sheriff of Nelson County, North Dakota, called in a Predator B drone from the local Air Force base to capture three men who had stolen some cows. Once the unmanned aircraft located the suspects, police rushed in to make the first known arrests of U.S. citizens with the help of a Predator spy drone. It turns out that predator drones are frequently used for domestic investigations all over the U.S.—by the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and by state and local law enforcement officials.

-In July 2011 police in a small town in Georgia shut down a lemonade stand being run by three girls, ages 10-14, who were trying to save up for a trip to a local water park. The police said that they didn’t know what was in the lemonade; and in addition, that the girls needed a business license, a peddler’s permit, and a food permit in order to run the stand. The permits, by the way, cost $50 a day.

-In January 2012 the library system of Charlton, Massachusetts, called the police to collect some overdue books charged to Hailey Benoit—a five-year-old girl.
-Also in January 2012, a young couple was arrested in Baltimore for asking a police woman directions to highway I-95. They spent the night in jail.

-In April 2012 the Supreme Court ruled that jail authorities may strip search people arrested for minor offenses before they are jailed while awaiting a hearing. Individuals have been strip searched for offenses such as biking with an inaudible bell, walking a dog without a leash, and driving with a noisy muffler. The sexual humiliation involved in these searches, writes Naomi Wolf, is clearly a way of keeping the masses in line, politically docile. How long, she asks, before saying anything controversial online or on the phone (see Item III, below) will result in the “guilty” party facing arrest and sexual humiliation? I think we need to pause a moment before we summarily dismiss this as paranoia.

II. The persecution of whistleblowers, protesters, and dissenters 

This has been going on throughout the past decade, first under President Bush, and then more aggressively under President Obama. According to the New Yorker, “the Obama Administration has pursued leak prosecutions with a surprising relentlessness.” To which the New York Times added: “In 17 months in office, President Obama has already outdone every previous president in pursuing leak prosecutions.” In the famous case of Bradley Manning, who revealed government documents to Wikileaks, Mr. Obama publicly declared him guilty before he went to trial or was convicted of a crime. 

The overall result is that the government has basically criminalized public servants who speak out to expose waste or corruption or unethical behavior. Whistleblowing and dissent have, in themselves, become criminal activities.
-Since 2006 the filmmaker Laura Poitras, who made a documentary about the U.S. occupation of Iraq, has been detained and questioned at airports more than forty times. Government agents confiscate her computer and notebooks without a warrant. She is hardly an isolated case. 

With no oversight or legal framework for its activities, the Department of Homeland Security routinely singles out individuals who are suspected of no crimes, detains them at the airport when they return to the U.S. from an international trip, and then seizes their laptops, cameras, cellphones, notebooks, and credit card receipts.

-William Binney, an intelligence official who worked for the NSA for nearly forty years, resigned in October 2001 when massive domestic spying became the norm. Binney and several other NSA officials reported their concerns about this to Congress and the Department of Defense. In 2006, he exposed the NSA practice of installing secret monitoring rooms in major U.S. telecommunications facilities. Finally, in 2007, a dozen FBI agents charged into his house with guns drawn, pointed their weapons at his head, and interrogated him at length. Three other ex-NSA employees were raided the same day.

- You can now go to jail in the United States simply for speaking. In July 2011, environmental activist Tim DeChristopher was sentenced to two years in prison for his repeated declaration that environmental protection required civil—i.e., nonviolent—disobedience. One wonders if the same judge, Dee Benson, would have also put Rosa Parks and Mahatma Gandhi in jail, had he been around during their lifetimes.

-In March 2012 the president signed H.R. 347, the so-called trespass bill, into law, which allows the government to jail anyone protesting near someone with Secret Service protection for up to ten years. This makes it quite easy for the government to criminalize protest per se, because the exclusion zones defined by the law have no clear boundaries. In fact, they can be as large as the law wants them to be; which means that the free speech zone is a moving target.

III. The dramatic expansion of the surveillance of American citizens on the part of the National Security Agency (NSA)

-On 19 July 2010 the Washington Post reported that 854,000 people work for the National Security Agency in thirty-three building complexes amounting to 17 million square feet of space, in the DC Metro and suburban area. Every day, collection systems at the NSA intercept and store 1.7 billion emails and phone calls of American citizens, in what amounts to a vast domestic spy system. 

Writing in the New Yorker on 23 May 2011, Jane Mayer reported that the NSA has three times the budget of the CIA, and has the capacity to download, every six hours, electronic communications equivalent to the entire contents of the Library of Congress. They also developed a program called Thin Thread that enables computers to scan the material for key words, and they collect the billing records and the dialed phone numbers of everyone in the country. In violation of communications laws, ATT, Verizon, and BellSouth have opened their electronic records to the government. At the height of its insanity, the Stasi in East Germany was spying on 1 out of 7 citizens. The U.S. is now spying on 7 out of 7.

-To make the surveillance of American citizens even more comprehensive (assuming that is even possible), the NSA is currently building the biggest-ever data complex in Bluffdale, Utah, as part of a secret surveillance program code-named “Stellar Wind.” The center, scheduled for completion in 2013, will be twice as large as the U.S. Capitol, and contain 100,000 square feet of computer space, at a cost of $2 billion. In addition, the NSA has established listening posts throughout the country as part of this operation. 

All in all, there are now 1,271 government agencies and 1,931 private companies that work on programs related to counterterrorism and homeland security in about 10,000 locations across the U.S. The goal is to store and review the e-mails, phone calls, online shopping lists, and virtually every bit of information about every single American. 

Everything you do, from traveling to buying groceries, will be displayed on a graph. William Binney (see above, Item II) has stated that we are about two millimeters away “from a turnkey totalitarian state.”

IV. The corruption of the judicial system by means of show trials of Muslim activists 

This was discussed at length by Chris Hedges on truthdig, 16 April 2012. That very week, Tarek Mehanna, a U.S. citizen, was sentenced to 17½ years in prison. He was convicted of conspiring to kill American soldiers in Iraq and giving material support to al-Qaeda. No proof of these charges was provided. What seems to have been the more relevant issue is that Mehanna had spoken out against U.S. foreign policy, and had refused to become a government informant.

These types of trials have been going on since 9/11. In them, federal lawyers are allowed to prosecute people on “evidence” that the defendants are not allowed to see. Stephen Downs, a lawyer who has defended Muslim activists since 2006, has documented the phony charges used to label these people as terrorists and then put them behind bars, typically for long stretches of time. 

He told Hedges: “People who have committed no crime are taken into custody, isolated without adequate recourse to legal advice, railroaded with fake or contrived charges, and ‘disappeared’ into prisons designed to isolate them.” Basically, they are condemned before they have committed a crime, in a process that Downs calls “pre-emptive prosecution.”

Downs discovered all this in 2006, when Yassin Aref, the imam of a mosque in Albany, New York, was entrapped in a government sting operation. What then happened, he told Hedges, was that the government “put together a case that was just one lie piled on top of another lie, and when you pointed it out to them they didn’t care. They didn’t refute it. They knew it was a lie….But the facts are irrelevant. 

The government has decided to target these people.” Essentially, he went on, the government lawyers “must know they’re prosecuting people before a crime has been committed based on what they think the defendant might do in the future.” These are, in other words, kangaroo courts.

The bottom line, of course, is that if you destroy the judicial system, then finally nobody is safe. The government could wind up railroading anyone they don’t like, and I very much doubt that this possibility is far-fetched. First they came for the Muslims…

V. The construction of political detention centers, also known as Communication Management Units (CMU’s) 

Where do the suspected Muslim terrorists go? It turns out that the government is using secret prison facilities to house inmates accused of non-violent activities, i.e. of allegedly being tied to terrorist groups. As it turns out, these are not just Muslim groups; the CMU’s are also being used to house environmental activists. The first CMU was built in 2006 in Terre Haute, Indiana; in 2008 a second facility was constructed in Marion, Illinois. Restrictions on contact with the outside world are quite severe—for example, having all phone calls monitored and limited to fifteen minutes per week. Among the so-called terrorists housed in these units are the following:

-Rafil Dhafir, an Iraqi-born oncologist from Syracuse, New York, who created a charity called Help the Needy to provide food and medicine to the people of Iraq who had been suffering from U.S. economic sanctions. He was sentenced to twenty-two years in prison for violating those sanctions. (I cite some of these in Dark Ages America; they include a ban on the importation of medicine and toilet paper.)

-Daniel McGowan, an environmental activist who committed two acts of arson to protest logging in the Pacific Northwest, was sentenced to seven years. He was not convicted of any terrorist crime or being affiliated with any terrorist group, although the government claimed that he was a member of the Earth Liberation Front, which they regard as a domestic terrorist organization. One thing that did not help was his public visibility, both through media appearances and his website.

-Andrew Stepanian, recently released—the first prisoner ever to be released from a CMU. He spent three years in jail, which included six and a half months at the Marion facility, for trying to shut down an animal testing laboratory. He was then put under house arrest in New York. In fact, he was not accused of any violent crime or property destruction.

What distinguishes the CMU’s from other jails is that they are political prisons. All of the defendants are incarcerated there for what appear to be ideological reasons. Meanwhile, the definition of “terrorist” continues to grow (see below, Item VI); it won’t necessarily stop with Muslims or environmental rights activists. Significantly, the word “ecoterrorism” was coined by corporations in the early 1980s. The CMU’s even contain antiwar tax protesters. In general, the legal wall separating “terrorist” from “dissident” is starting to break down, if, indeed, it hasn’t already.

VI. The shredding of the Bill of Rights by means of the National Defense Authorization Act 

The NDAA, also known as the “indefinite detention bill,” was signed into law by President Obama on 31 December 2011. It has no temporal or geographic limitations, and can be used by Mr. Obama or any future president to military detain U.S. citizens. As in pre-Magna Carta days, you can simply be swept up and put away forever—disappeared—with no explanation of why, no right to call a lawyer or anybody else, and no right to a trial. 

You can actually be tortured to death, if the government decides it is in the national interest. The NDAA is probably the greatest rollback of civil liberties in the history of the United States. Under the Act, literally anyone can be described as a “belligerent,” or as they are now called, “covered person.” The president claimed that he signed the bill only to provide funding for American troops, and that he had been reluctant to sign it because it included American citizens. This b.s. was subsequently exposed by one of the bill’s sponsors, Senator Carl Levin, who revealed that it was Mr. Obama himself who insisted that the indefinite detention clause include U.S. citizens. 

Meanwhile, the White House had been conducting a misinformation campaign to secure this incredible dictatorial power while portraying the president as some type of reluctant absolute ruler. It is also important to note that there was virtually no coverage of this issue on the part of the mainstream media. In effect, as Naomi Wolf has written, the U.S. “is sleepwalking into become a police state.” The New American website posted the following comment on the new law:

“The universe of potential ‘covered persons’ includes every citizen of the United States of America. Any American could one day find himself or herself branded a ‘belligerent’ and thus subject to the complete confiscation of his or her constitutional civil liberties and nearly never-ending incarceration in a military prison.”

You don’t have to be convicted of terrorism to be rounded up, under this new law; you only have to be suspected of terrorist activity. And as Senator Rand Paul pointed out prior to the passage of the bill, the Department of Justice now has a list of “identifying characteristics” of terrorists that includes having one or more fingers missing from your hands; having more than seven days’ worth of food in your house; and having a loaded weapon on your property—which describes half the households in the United States. 

In effect, with the NDAA, if the government, for any reason, doesn’t like you—for example, if you are simply a critic of the U.S., nothing more—they can brand you a terrorist and put you away forever, with literally no one knowing what happened to you.

Note also that even before the passage of this law, the president had the legal right, even though it violates the Geneva accords, to designate anyone on the planet an enemy, and have him or her assassinated. Thus on 30 September 2011, Mr. Obama had two American citizens, Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan, assassinated because of suspected—i.e. not proven—al-Qaeda membership and terrorist activity. 

Two weeks later, the CIA killed al-Awlaki’s sixteen-year-old son. The real problem in these cases is not whether these people were actually guilty of terrorism; it’s that the Constitution says that no matter how heinous the crime, every American citizen has a right to his or her day in court. If I remember correctly, it does not say that the president has the right to rub them out without a trial.

(Just as an aside, there are, in general, more people under “correctional supervision” in America than there were in the Russian gulag under Stalin, at its height. Writing in the New Yorker on 30 January 2012, Adam Gopnik declared: “Mass incarceration on a scale almost unexampled in human history is a fundamental fact of our country today.”)

VII. Future scenarios: The “disappearing” of intellectual critics of the U.S. government? 

This leads me to my final point. The distinctive characteristic of American democracy, from 1776, was the protection of the individual and the preservation of individual rights. That no longer exists. Anyone is a potential terrorist now; anyone can be persecuted, prosecuted, and in effect, destroyed. Democracy is only possible if dissent is not only permitted, but also respected.

This too is finished. What does this mean for someone such as myself?, is something I lay awake nights thinking about. I have published three books, and half a collection of essays, showing where we have gone wrong, predicting our eventual collapse—indeed, this repression is part of that collapse—and arguing that the U.S. no longer has a moral compass; that it is spiritually bankrupt. 

I run a blog that is anything but polite: it says the U.S. is finished; that it is essentially a corporate plutocracy, run by a gangster elite; that the American people are basically morons, with little more than fried rice in their heads; and that anyone with half a brain and the means to do so should emigrate before it’s too late. 

I’m not really a threat to the U.S. government, largely because I am not a political activist and because it’s not likely that more than 74 people out of 311 million regularly read my blog (it’s probably more like 24, in fact). But as the definition of terrorism widens in this country, what is to prevent the creation of a category known as “intellectual terrorism” from arising, and putting folks like myself in that category? What is to prevent the government from calling such activity a clear and present danger to national security? 

As must be obvious by now, the government can do anything it wants to; as in Nazi Germany, we now have a government of men, not of laws. Indeed, the “laws” are little more than a pretext for whatever the government wishes to do.

Is the following scenario completely paranoid? Five or ten years down the line, as I fly into the DFW Airport en route to giving a lecture somewhere, or simply visiting friends, I am suddenly surrounded by government agents, whisked off to a holding cell, and eventually sent to Guantanamo. 

Nobody knows what happened to me, and I’m not allowed to phone anyone—not my lawyer, not a friend, and certainly not Chris Hedges, who is probably being tortured in the adjoining cell. Two points to remember here, historically speaking:

-When a country puts laws such as torture or indefinite detention or arbitrary assassination on the books, sooner or later it will use these legal instruments. They won’t just lie dormant, in other words. As in the case of technology, once the mechanisms are there, the temptation to employ them simply becomes too great to resist. That is what is happening today.

-In a world that is politically construed along Manichaean lines—which, as I have argued elsewhere, America has been doing since Day 1—the first line of attack is against the enemy outside. It doesn’t matter if we are talking about Protestants or Catholics or al-Qaeda operatives or infidels of any kind, the first order of business is to go to war with them. 

But as the British anthropologist Mary Douglas shows in her book Purity and Danger, or Norman Cohn demonstrates in The Pursuit of the Millennium, if the war goes on long enough, inevitably the enemy is also seen to be a fifth column, i.e. within the walls of the body politic itself. 

They become Huguenots or Marrano Jews or heretics of whatever stripe, and as in the case of Goya’s famous painting, Saturn Devouring His Son, the country begins to eat itself alive. Everybody becomes an enemy; no one is safe any longer. And so I believe that I, and you, really do have reason to worry.

Somewhere along the line, God stopped blessing America. We are not marching to Pretoria; rather, we are slouching towards Nuremberg. 

To quote Edward R. Murrow, Good Night, and Good Luck.

Morris Berman’s latest book is Why America Failed.

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