Archive for February, 2016

“The main problem in any democracy is that crowd-pleasers are generally brainless swine who can go out on a stage & whup their supporters into an orgiastic frenzy—then go back to the office & sell every one of the poor bastards down the tube for a nickel apiece.” ― Hunter S. Thompson

Politics today is not about Republicans and Democrats.

Nor is it about healthcare, abortion, higher taxes, free college tuition, or any of the other buzzwords that have become campaign slogans for individuals who have mastered the art of telling Americans exactly what they want to hear.

Politics today is about one thing and one thing only: maintaining the status quo between the Controllers (the politicians, the bureaucrats, and the corporate elite) and the Controlled (the taxpayers).

Hillary will not save the nation. Nor will Bernie, Trump, Rubio, or Cruz.

The only ones who can save the nation are “we the people,” and yet the American people remain eager to be persuaded that a new president in the White House can solve the problems that plague us.

No matter who wins this next presidential election, you can rest assured that the new boss will be the same as the old boss, and we—the permanent underclass in America—will continue to be forced to march in lockstep with the police state in all matters, public and private.

Battlefield_Cover_300Indeed, as I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, it really doesn’t matter what you call them—the 1%, the elite, the controllers, the masterminds, the shadow government, the police state, the surveillance state, the military industrial complex—so long as you understand that no matter which party occupies the White House in 2017, the unelected bureaucracy that actually calls the shots will continue to do so.

Consider the following a much-needed reality check, an antidote if you will, against an overdose of overhyped campaign announcements, lofty electoral promises and meaningless patriotic sentiments that land us right back in the same prison cell.

FACT: According to a scientific study by Princeton researchers, the United States of America is not the democracy that it purports to be, but rather an oligarchy, in which “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy.”

FACT: Despite the fact that the number of violent crimes in the country is down substantially, the lowest rate in forty years, the number of Americans being jailed for nonviolent crimes such as driving with a suspended license is skyrocketing.

FACT: Thanks to an overabundance of 4,500-plus federal crimes and 400,000-plus rules and regulations, it is estimated that the average American actually commits three felonies a day without knowing it. In fact, according to law professor John Baker, “There is no one in the United States over the age of 18 who cannot be indicted for some federal crime. That is not an exaggeration.”

FACT: Despite the fact that we have 46 million Americans living at or below the poverty line, 16 million children living in households without adequate access to food, and at least 900,000 veterans relying on food stamps, enormous sums of taxpayer money continue to be doled out for presidential vacations ($16 million for trips to Africa and Hawaii), overtime fraud at the Department of Homeland Security (nearly $9 million in improper overtime claims, and that’s just in six of the DHS’ many offices), and Hollywood movie productions ($10 million in taxpayer money was spent by the Army National Guard on Superman movie tie-ins aimed at increasing awareness about the National Guard).

FACT: Since 2001 Americans have spent $10.5 million every hour for numerous foreign military occupations, including in Iraq and Afghanistan. There’s also the $2.2 million spent every hour on maintaining the United States’ nuclear stockpile, and the $35,000 spent every hour to produce and maintain our collection of Tomahawk missiles. And then there’s the money the government exports to other countries to support their arsenals, at the cost of $1.61 million every hour for the American taxpayers.

FACT: It is estimated that 2.7 million children in the United States have at least one parent in prison, whether it be a local jail or a state or federal penitentiary, due to a wide range of factors ranging from overcriminalization and surprise raids at family homes to roadside traffic stops.

FACT: According to a Gallup poll, Americans place greater faith in the military and the police than in any of the three branches of government.

FACT: “Today, 17,000 local police forces are equipped with such military equipment as Blackhawk helicopters, machine guns, grenade launchers, battering rams, explosives, chemical sprays, body armor, night vision, rappelling gear and armored vehicles,” reports Paul Craig Roberts, former Assistant Secretary of the Treasury. “Some have tanks.”

FACT: At least 400 to 500 innocent people are killed by police officers every year. Indeed, Americans are now eighttimes more likely to die in a police confrontation than they are to be killed by a terrorist. Americans are 110 times more likely to die of foodborne illness than in a terrorist attack.

FACT: Police officers are more likely to be struck by lightning than be made financially liable for their wrongdoing.

FACT: On an average day in America, over 100 Americans have their homes raided by SWAT teams. Most of those SWAT team raids are for a mere warrant service. There has been a notable buildup in recent years of heavily armed SWAT teams within non-security-related federal agencies such as the Department of Agriculture, the Railroad Retirement Board, the Tennessee Valley Authority, the Office of Personnel Management, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Education Department.

FACT: The FBI’s Next Generation Identification (NGI) facial recognition system, which is set to hold data on millions of Americans, will include a variety of biometric data, including palm prints, iris scans, and face recognition data. The NGI will be capable of uploading 55,000 images a day, and conducting tens of thousands of photo searches daily.

FACT: Comprising an $82 billion industry, at least 30,000 drones are expected to occupy U.S. airspace by 2020.

FACT: Everything we do will eventually be connected to the Internet. By 2030 it is estimated there will be 100 trillion sensor devices connecting human electronic devices (cell phones, laptops, etc.) to the Internet. Much, if not all, of our electronic devices will be connected to Google, which openly works with government intelligence agencies. Virtually everything we do now—no matter how innocent—is being collected by the spying American police state.

FACT: Americans know virtually nothing about their history or how their government works. In fact, according to a study by the National Constitution Center, 41 percent of Americans “are not aware that there are three branches of government, and 62 percent couldn’t name them; 33 percent couldn’t even name one.”

FACT: Only six out of every one hundred Americans know that they actually have a constitutional right to hold the government accountable for wrongdoing, as guaranteed by the right to petition clause of the First Amendment.

Perhaps the most troubling fact of all is this: we have handed over control of our government and our lives to faceless bureaucrats who view us as little more than cattle to be bred, branded, butchered and sold for profit.

If there is to be any hope of restoring our freedoms and reclaiming control over our government, it will rest not with the politicians but with the people themselves.

When all is said and done, each American will have to decide for themselves whether they prefer dangerous freedom to peaceful slavery. One thing is for sure: the reassurance ritual of voting is not going to advance freedom one iota.

 

This commentary appeared originally on The Rutherford Institute’s website.

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RICHMOND, Va. —Sounding a warning over proposed legislation that would bar the public from learning the identity of persons employed as law enforcement officers, The Rutherford Institute is cautioning the Virginia General Assembly against taking an unprecedented and unjustified step toward the creation of unaccountable secret police forces. The proposed legislation, Senate Bill No. 552, would classify the names of all police officers as “personnel records,” and exempt them from mandatory disclosure under Virginia’s freedom of information law.

“American citizens have a right to know when government agencies and government officials have engaged in wrongdoing,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author ofBattlefield America: The War on the American People. “Whether those individuals occupy a public office or are employed by a law enforcement agency is immaterial. If a government employee has been charged with misconduct, it is the right of the taxpayer to know both the name of the individual and the charge against them.’”

donatenow-samAt a time when Americans all across the country are clamoring for increased transparency and accountability of police departments and officers in the wake of police shootings of unarmed individuals and subsequent agency cover-ups, the Virginia Senate has approved legislation, Senate Bill 552, that proposes to change Virginia’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requirement that governments disclose the identity of their employees and other employment-related information of the bodies’ officers and employees by prohibiting the public’s access to the “names and training records of law-enforcement officers.” As Rutherford Institute attorneys point out, the scope of the information that would no longer be accessible under SB 552 is staggering, given that “law-enforcement officer” is defined in the Virginia Code as any full-time or part-time employee of a police department or sheriff’s office which is a part of or administered by the Commonwealth or any political subdivision thereof” as well as a host of other officers of state and local departments with law enforcement responsibility.

The Rutherford Institute’s letter to the General Assembly outlines its concerns with the proposed legislation, notably that if adopted, SB 552 will undermine public trust in government agencies, create an unaccountable secret police force, and do away with critical legal remedies available to victims of police misconduct. As Whitehead notes, “Efforts to circumvent greater government transparency which, in the process, potentially shields government wrongdoing will only weaken that which makes our system of government strong: a system of checks and balances, public accountability, and government agencies and employees that are fully cognizant of the fact that they serve the taxpayers.” Having already been approved by the Virginia Senate, the bill is scheduled for a hearing before a subcommittee of the House General Laws committee, chaired by Del. James LeMunyon (R-Fairfax). If passed, the bill would go before the entire committee, then possibly sent out to the entire House of Delegates.

“I was astonished, bewildered. This was America, a country where, whatever its faults, people could speak, write, assemble, demonstrate without fear. It was in the Constitution, the Bill of Rights. We were a democracy… But I knew it wasn’t a dream; there was a painful lump on the side of my head… The state and its police were not neutral referees in a society of contending interests. They were on the side of the rich and powerful. Free speech? Try it and the police will be there with their horses, their clubs, their guns, to stop you. From that moment on, I was no longer a liberal, a believer in the self-correcting character of American democracy. I was a radical, believing that something fundamental was wrong in this country—not just the existence of poverty amidst great wealth, not just the horrible treatment of black people, but something rotten at the root. The situation required not just a new president or new laws, but an uprooting of the old order, the introduction of a new kind of society—cooperative, peaceful, egalitarian.” ― Historian Howard Zinn

America is at a crossroads.

History may show that from this point forward, we will have left behind any semblance of constitutional government and entered into a militaristic state where all citizens are suspects and security trumps freedom.

Certainly, this is a time when government officials operate off their own inscrutable, self-serving playbook with little in the way of checks and balances, while American citizens are subjected to all manner of indignities and violations with little hope of defending themselves.

Battlefield_Cover_300As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we have moved beyond the era of representative government and entered a new age—the age of authoritarianism. Even with its constantly shifting terrain, this topsy-turvy travesty of law and government has become America’s new normal.

Don’t believe me?

Let me take you on a brief guided tour, but prepare yourself. The landscape is particularly disheartening to anyone who remembers what America used to be.

The Executive Branch: Whether it’s the Obama administration’s war on whistleblowers, the systematic surveillance of journalists and regular citizens, the continued operation of Guantanamo Bay, or the occupation of Afghanistan, Barack Obama has surpassed his predecessors in terms of his abuse of the Constitution and the rule of law. President Obama, like many of his predecessors, has routinely disregarded the Constitution when it has suited his purposes, operating largely above the law and behind a veil of secrecy, executive orders and specious legal justifications. Rest assured that no matter who wins this next presidential election, very little will change. The policies of the American police state will continue.

The Legislative Branch:  It is not overstating matters to say that Congress may well be the most self-serving, semi-corrupt institution in America. Abuses of office run the gamut from elected representatives neglecting their constituencies to engaging in self-serving practices, including the misuse of eminent domain, earmarking hundreds of millions of dollars in federal contracting in return for personal gain and campaign contributions, having inappropriate ties to lobbyist groups and incorrectly or incompletely disclosing financial information. Pork barrel spending, hastily passed legislation, partisan bickering, a skewed work ethic, graft and moral turpitude have all contributed to the public’s increasing dissatisfaction with congressional leadership. No wonder 86 percent of Americans disapprove of the job Congress is doing.

The Judicial Branch: The Supreme Court was intended to be an institution established to intervene and protect the people against the government and its agents when they overstep their bounds. Yet through their deference to police power, preference for security over freedom, and evisceration of our most basic rights for the sake of order and expediency, the justices of the United States Supreme Court have become the guardians of the American police state in which we now live. As a result, sound judgment and justice have largely taken a back seat to legalism, statism and elitism, while preserving the rights of the people has been deprioritized and made to play second fiddle to both governmental and corporate interests.

Shadow Government: America’s next president will inherit more than a bitterly divided nation teetering on the brink of financial catastrophe when he or she assumes office. He or she will also inherit a shadow government, one that is fully operational and staffed by unelected officials who are, in essence, running the country. Referred to as the Deep State, this shadow government is comprised of unelected government bureaucrats, corporations, contractors, paper-pushers, and button-pushers who are actually calling the shots behind the scenes right now.

Law Enforcement: By and large the term “law enforcement” encompasses all agents within a militarized police state, including the military, local police, and the various agencies such as the Secret Service, FBI, CIA, NSA, etc. Having been given the green light to probe, poke, pinch, taser, search, seize, strip and generally manhandle anyone they see fit in almost any circumstance, all with the general blessing of the courts, America’s law enforcement officials, no longer mere servants of the people entrusted with keeping the peace but now extensions of the military, are part of an elite ruling class dependent on keeping the masses corralled, under control, and treated like suspects and enemies rather than citizens. In the latest move to insulate police from charges of misconduct, Virginia lawmakers are considering legislation to keep police officers’ names secret, ostensibly creating secret police forces.

A Suspect Surveillance Society: Every dystopian sci-fi film we’ve ever seen is suddenly converging into this present moment in a dangerous trifecta between science, technology and a government that wants to be all-seeing, all-knowing and all-powerful. By tapping into your phone lines and cell phone communications, the government knows what you say. By uploading all of your emails, opening your mail, and reading your Facebook posts and text messages, the government knows what you write. By monitoring your movements with the use of license plate readers, surveillance cameras and other tracking devices, the government knows where you go. By churning through all of the detritus of your life—what you read, where you go, what you say—the government can predict what you will do. By mapping the synapses in your brain, scientists—and in turn, the government—will soon know what you remember. And by accessing your DNA, the government will soon know everything else about you that they don’t already know: your family chart, your ancestry, what you look like, your health history, your inclination to follow orders or chart your own course, etc. Consequently, in the face of DNA evidence that places us at the scene of a crime, behavior sensing technology that interprets our body temperature and facial tics as suspicious, and government surveillance devices that cross-check our biometricslicense plates and DNA against a growing database of unsolved crimes and potential criminals, we are no longer “innocent until proven guilty.”

Military Empire: America’s endless global wars and burgeoning military empire—funded by taxpayer dollars—have depleted our resources, over-extended our military and increased our similarities to the Roman Empire and its eventual demise. The U.S. now operates approximately 800 military bases in foreign countries around the globe at an annual cost of at least $156 billion. The consequences of financing a global military presence are dire. In fact, David Walker, former comptroller general of the U.S., believes there are “striking similarities” between America’s current situation and the factors that contributed to the fall of Rome, including “declining moral values and political civility at home, an over-confident and over-extended military in foreign lands and fiscal irresponsibility by the central government.”

I haven’t even touched on the corporate state, the military industrial complex, SWAT team raids, invasive surveillance technology, zero tolerance policies in the schools, overcriminalization, or privatized prisons, to name just a few, but what I have touched on should be enough to show that the landscape of our freedoms has already changed dramatically from what it once was and will no doubt continue to deteriorate unless Americans can find a way to wrest back control of their government and reclaim their freedoms.

That brings me to the final and most important factor in bringing about America’s shift into authoritarianism: “we the people.” We are the government. Thus, if the government has become a tyrannical agency, it is because we have allowed it to happen, either through our inaction or our blind trust.

Essentially, there are four camps of thought among the citizenry when it comes to holding the government accountable. Which camp you fall into says a lot about your view of government—or, at least, your view of whichever administration happens to be in power at the time.

In the first camp are those who trust the government to do the right thing, despite the government’s repeated failures in this department. In the second camp are those who not only don’t trust the government but think the government is out to get them. In the third camp are those who see government neither as an angel nor a devil, but merely as an entity that needs to be controlled, or as Thomas Jefferson phrased it, bound “down from mischief with the chains of the Constitution.”

Then there’s the fourth camp, comprised of individuals who pay little to no attention to the workings of government, so much so that they barely vote, let alone know who’s in office. Easily entertained, easily distracted, easily led, these are the ones who make the government’s job far easier than it should be.

It is easy to be diverted, distracted and amused by the antics of the presidential candidates, the pomp and circumstance of awards shows, athletic events, and entertainment news, and the feel-good evangelism that passes for religion today. What is far more difficult to face up to is the reality of life in America, where unemployment, poverty, inequality, injustice and violence by government agents are increasingly norms.

The powers-that-be want us to remain divided, alienated from each other based on our politics, our bank accounts, our religion, our race and our value systems. Yet as George Orwell observed, “The real division is not between conservatives and revolutionaries but between authoritarians and libertarians.”

The only distinction that matters anymore is where you stand in the American police state. In other words, you’re either part of the problem or part of the solution.

RICHMOND, Va. — The Rutherford Institute and a coalition of educational, legal, human rights and media organizations, including the ACLU, Wikipedia, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, have asked the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals to reinstate a lawsuit challenging the government’s mass surveillance programs.

Despite extensive evidence that the government is systematically copying and substantially reviewing all international text-based communications, a Maryland federal court dismissed the lawsuit, ruling that the coalition of national and international groups does not have standing to bring the First and Fourth Amendment lawsuit against the National Security Agency (NSA), the U.S. Department of Justice and their directors. The Obama administration has argued that the organizations do not have concrete evidence their communications have been monitored under the secret program.

In their appeal brief, The Rutherford Institute and its coalition cite a vast array of sources rebutting the administration’s claim, including statements by former intelligence officials such as Edward Snowden, that corroborate allegations that the NSA’s program involves copying and sifting through the contents of international internet traffic.

“On any given day, the average American going about his daily business will be monitored, surveilled, spied on and tracked in more than 20 different ways, by both government and corporate eyes and ears,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author of Battlefield America: The War on the American People. “Revelations about the NSA’s spying programs only scrape the surface in revealing the lengths to which government agencies and their corporate allies will go to conduct mass surveillance on Americans’ communications and transactions. Senator Ron Wyden was right when he warned, ‘If we do not seize this unique moment in our constitutional history to reform our surveillance laws and practices, we are all going to live to regret it.’”

The lawsuit brought by The Rutherford Institute, the ACLU, Wikipedia, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and other educational, legal, human rights and media organizations arises from efforts by the U.S. government since the 9/11 terrorist attacks to increase the surveillance and monitoring of U.S. citizens and foreign nationals. Although Congress had previously authorized the issuance of orders for electronic surveillance of foreign agents for intelligence purposes under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in October 2001, President George W. Bush secretly authorized warrantless interception of emails and telephone calls involving persons within the United States if NSA personnel had a “reasonable basis” to believe one party was connected with al Qaeda. When a judge refused to authorize the continuation of this program, the Bush administration obtained amendments to FISA in 2008 authorizing the acquisition without individualized suspicion of the international communications of U.S. citizens that are with or are about foreigners who the NSA chooses to target.

In carrying out this broad authority under the 2008 law, the NSA has engaged in so-called “Upstream surveillance,” which according to the complaint “involves the NSA’s seizing and searching the internet communications of U.S. citizens and residents en mass as those communications travel across the internet ‘backbone’ in the United States—the network of high-capacity cables, switches and routers that facilitates both domestic and international communications via the internet.” Upstream surveillance encompasses the copying of virtually all international text-based communications, review of the content of those communications by the NSA, and the retention of the copied communications for future use and analysis.

Click here to read the appeal brief in Wikipedia et al. v. National Security Agency.

“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”—Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The untimely death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has predictably created a political firestorm.

Republicans and Democrats, eager to take advantage of an opening on the Supreme Court, have been quick to advance their ideas about Scalia’s replacement. This is just the beginning of the furor over who gets to appoint the next U.S. Supreme Court justice (President Obama or his successor), when (as soon as Obama chooses or as long as Congress can delay), how (whether by way of a recess appointment or while Congress is in session), and where any judicial nominee will stand on the hot-button political issues of our day (same-sex marriage, Obamacare, immigration, the environment, and abortion).

This is yet another spectacle, not unlike the carnival-like antics of the presidential candidates, to create division, dissension and discord and distract the populace from the nation’s steady march towards totalitarianism.

Not to worry. This is a done deal. There are no surprises awaiting us.

We may not know the gender, the orientation, the politics, or the ethnicity of Justice Scalia’s replacement, but those things are relatively unimportant in the larger scheme of things.

The powers-that-be have already rigged the system. They—the corporations, the military industrial complex, the surveillance state, the monied elite, etc.—will not allow anyone to be appointed to the Supreme Court who will dial back the police state. They will not tolerate anyone who will undermine their policies, threaten their profit margins, or overturn their apple cart.

Scalia’s replacement will be safe (i.e., palatable enough to withstand Congress’ partisan wrangling), reliable and most important of all, an extension of the American police state.

With the old order dying off or advancing into old age rapidly, we’ve arrived at a pivotal point in the makeup of the Supreme Court. With every vacant seat on the Court and in key judgeships around the country, we are witnessing a transformation of the courts into pallid, legalistic bureaucracies governed by a new breed of judges who have beencareful to refrain from saying, doing or writing anything that might compromise their future ambitions.

Today, the judges most likely to get appointed today are well-heeled, well-educated (all of them attended either Yale or Harvard law schools) blank slates who have traveled a well-worn path from an elite law school to a prestigious judicial clerkship and then a pivotal federal judgeship. Long gone are the days when lawyers without judicial experience such as Earl Warren, William Rehnquist, Felix Frankfurter, and Louis Brandeis could be appointed to the Supreme Court.

As Supreme Court correspondent Dahlia Lithwick points out, “a selection process that discourages political or advocacy experience and reduces the path to the Supreme Court to a funnel” results in “perfect judicial thoroughbreds who have spent their entire adulthoods on the same lofty, narrow trajectory.”

In other words, it really doesn’t matter whether a Republican or Democratic president appoints the next Supreme Court justice, because they will all look alike (in terms of their educational and professional background) and sound alike (they are primarily advocates for the government).

Given the turbulence of our age, with its police overreach, military training drills on American soil, domestic surveillance, SWAT team raids, asset forfeiture, wrongful convictions, and corporate corruption, the need for a guardian of the people’s rights has never been greater.

Unfortunately, as I document in Battlefield America: The War on the American People, what we have been saddled with instead are government courts dominated by technicians and statists who march in lockstep with the American police state.

This is true at all levels of the judiciary.

Thus, while what the nation needs is a constitutionalist, what we will get is a technician.

It’s an important distinction.

A legal constitutionalist believes that the authority of government derives from and is limited by a body of fundamental law (the Constitution) and strives to hold the government accountable to abiding by the Constitution. A judge of this order will uphold the rights of the citizenry in the face of government abuses.

Justice William O. Douglas, who served on the Supreme Court for 36 years, was such a constitutionalist. He believed that the “Constitution is not neutral. It was designed to take the government off the backs of the people.” Considered the most “committed civil libertarian ever to sit on the court,” Douglas was frequently controversial and far from perfect (he was part of a 6-3 majority in Korematsu vs. United States that supported the government’s internment of American citizens of Japanese descent during World War II). Even so, his warnings against a domineering, suspicious, totalitarian, police-driven surveillance state resonate still today.

A legal technician, on the other hand, is an arbitrator of the government’s plethora of laws whose priority is maintaining order and preserving government power. As such, these judicial technicians are deferential to authority, whether government or business, and focused on reconciling the massive number of laws handed down by the government.

John Roberts who joined the Supreme Court in 2005 as Chief Justice is a prime example of a legal technician. His view that the “role of the judge is limited…to decide the cases before them” speaks to a mindset that places the judge in the position of a referee. As USA Today observes, “Roberts’ tenure has been marked by an incremental approach to decision-making — issuing narrow rather than bold rulings that have the inevitable effect of bringing the same issues back to the high court again and again.”

Roberts’ approach to matters of law and justice can best be understood by a case dating back to his years on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. The case involved a 12-year-old black girl who was handcuffed, searched and arrested by police—all for eating a single French fry in violation of a ban on food in the D.C. metro station. Despite Roberts’ ability to recognize the harshness of the treatment meted out to Ansche Hedgepeth for such a minor violation—the little girl was transported in the windowless rear compartment of a police vehicle to a juvenile processing center, where she was booked, fingerprinted, and detained for three hours, and was “frightened, embarrassed, and crying throughout the ordeal”—Roberts ruled that the girl’s constitutional rights had not been violated in any way.

This is not justice meted out by a constitutionalist.

This is how a technician rules, according to the inflexible letter of the law.

Circuit Judge Sri Srinivasan of the DC Court of Appeals, who is rumored to be a favorite pick for Scalia’s spot on the court, is another such technician. When asked to strike down a 60-year-old ban on expressive activities in front of the Supreme Court Plaza, Srinivasan turned a blind eye to the First Amendment. (Ironically, the Supreme Court must now decide whether to declare its own free speech ban unconstitutional.)

By ruling in favor of the ban, Srinivasan also affirmed that police were correct to arrest an African-American protester who was standing silently in front of the Supreme Court wearing a sign protesting the police state on a snowy day when no one was on the plaza except him.

Srinivasan’s rationale? “Allowing demonstrations directed at the Court, on the Court’s own front terrace, would tend to yield the opposite impression: that of a Court engaged with — and potentially vulnerable to — outside entreaties by the public.”

This view of the Supreme Court as an entity that must be sheltered from select outside influences—for example, the views of the citizenry—is shared by the members of the Court itself to a certain extent. As Lithwick points out:

The Court has become worryingly cloistered, even for a famously cloistered institution… today’s justices filter out anything that might challenge their perspectives. Antonin Scalia won’t read newspapers that conflict with his views and claims to often get very little from amicus briefs. John Roberts has said that he doesn’t believe that most law-review articles—where legal scholars advance new thinking on contemporary problems—are relevant to the justices’ work. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Scalia’s opera-going buddy, increasingly seems to revel in, rather than downplay, her status as a liberal icon. Kennedy spends recesses guest-teaching law school courses in Salzburg.”

Are you getting the picture yet?

The members of the Supreme Court are part of a ruling aristocracy composed of men and women who primarily come from privileged backgrounds and who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.

These justices, all of whom are millionaires in their own rights, circulate among an elite, privileged class of individuals, attending exclusive events at private resorts orchestrated by billionaire oil barons, traveling on the private jets of billionaires, and delivering paid speeches in far-flung locales such as Berlin, London and Zurich.

When you’re cocooned within the rarefied, elitist circles in which most of the judiciary operate, it can be difficult to see the humanity behind the facts of a case, let alone identify with the terror and uncertainty that most people feel when heavily armed government agents invade their homes, or subject them to a virtual strip search, or taser them into submission.

If you’ve never had to worry about police erroneously crashing through your door in the dead of night, then it might not be a hardship to rule as the Court did in Kentucky v. King that police should have greater leeway to break into homes or apartments without a warrant.

If you have no fear of ever being strip searched yourself, it would be easy to suggest as the Court did in Florence v. Burlington that it’s more important to make life easier for overworked jail officials than protect Americans from debasing strip searches.

And if you have never had to submit to anyone else’s authority—especially a militarized police officer with no knowledge of the Constitution’s prohibitions against excessive force, warrantless searches and illegal seizures, then you would understandably give police the benefit of the doubt as the Court did in Brooks v. City of Seattle, when they let stand a ruling that police officers who had clearly used excessive force when they repeatedly tasered a pregnant woman during a routine traffic stop were granted immunity from prosecution.

Likewise, if you’re not able to understand what it’s like to be one of the “little guys,” afraid to lose your home because some local government wants to commandeer it and sell it to a larger developer for profit, it would be relatively easy to rule, as the Supreme Court did in Kelo v. New London, that the government is within its right to do so.

Now do you understand why the Supreme Court’s decisions in recent years, which have run the gamut from suppressing free speech activities and justifying suspicionless strip searches to warrantless home invasions and conferring constitutional rights on corporations, while denying them to citizens, have been characterized most often by an abject deference to government authority, military and corporate interests?

They no longer work for us. They no longer represent us. They can no longer relate to our suffering.

In the same way that the Legislative Branch, having been co-opted by lobbyists, special interests, and the corporate elite, has ceased to function as a vital check on abuses by the other two branches of government, the Judicial Branch has also become part of the same self-serving bureaucracy.

Sound judgment, compassion and justice have taken a back seat to legalism, statism and elitism.

Preserving the rights of the people has been deprioritized and made to play second fiddle to both governmental and corporate interests.

In the case of the People vs. the Police State, the ruling is 9-0 against us.

So where does that leave us?

The Supreme Court of old is gone, if not for good then at least for now.

It will be a long time before we have another court such as the Warren Court (1953-1969), when Earl Warren served alongside such luminaries as William J. Brennan, Jr., William O. Douglas, Hugo Black, Felix Frankfurter and Thurgood Marshall.

The Warren Court handed down rulings that were instrumental in shoring up critical legal safeguards against government abuse and discrimination. Without the Warren Court, there would be no Miranda warnings, no desegregation of the schools and no civil rights protections for indigents.

Yet more than any single ruling, what Warren and his colleagues did best was embody what the Supreme Court should always be—an institution established to intervene and protect the people against the government and its agents when they overstep their bounds.

That is no longer the case.

We can no longer depend on the federal courts to protect us against the government. They are the government.

Yet as is the case with most things, the solution is far simpler and at the same time more complicated than space allows, but it starts with local action—local change—and local justice. If you want a revolution, start small, in your own backyard, and the impact will trickle up.

If you don’t like the way justice is being meted out in America, then start demanding justice in your own hometown, before your local judges. Serve on juries, nullify laws that are egregious, picket in front of the courthouse, vote out judges (and prosecutors) who aren’t practicing what the Constitution preaches, encourage your local newspapers to report on cases happening in your town, educate yourself about your rights, and make sure your local judges understand that they work for you and are not to be extensions of the police, prosecutors and politicians.

This is the only way we will ever have any hope of pushing back against the police state.

“If you can’t say ‘Fuck’ you can’t say, ‘Fuck the government.’” ― Lenny Bruce

Not only has free speech become a four-letter word—profane, obscene, uncouth, not to be uttered in so-called public places—but in more and more cases, the government deems free speech to be downright dangerous and in some instances illegal.

The U.S. government has become particularly intolerant of speech that challenges the government’s power, reveals the government’s corruption, exposes the government’s lies, and encourages the citizenry to push back against the government’s many injustices.

Indeed, there is a long and growing list of the kinds of speech that the government considers dangerous enough to red flag and subject to censorship, surveillance, investigation and prosecution: hate speech, bullying speech, intolerant speech, conspiratorial speech, treasonous speech, threatening speech, incendiary speech, inflammatory speech, radical speech, anti-government speech, right-wing speech, extremist speech, etc.

Yet by allowing the government to whittle away at cherished First Amendment freedoms—which form the backbone of the Bill of Rights—we have evolved into a society that would not only be abhorrent to the founders of this country but would be hostile to the words they used to birth this nation.

Don’t believe me?

Conduct your own experiment into the government’s tolerance of speech that challenges its authority, and see for yourself.

Stand on a street corner—or in a courtroom, at a city council meeting or on a university campus—and recite some of the rhetoric used by the likes of Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, John Adams and Thomas Paine without referencing them as the authors.

For that matter, just try reciting the Declaration of Independence, which rejects tyranny, establishes Americans as sovereign beings, recognizes God as a Supreme power, portrays the government as evil, and provides a detailed laundry list of abuses that are as relevant today as they were 240 years ago.

My guess is that you won’t last long before you get thrown out, shut up, threatened with arrest or at the very least accused of being a radical, a troublemaker, a sovereign citizen, a conspiratorialist or an extremist.

Try suggesting, as Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin did, that Americans should not only take up arms but be prepared to shed blood in order to protect their liberties, and you might find yourself placed on a terrorist watch list and vulnerable to being rounded up by government agents.

“What country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance. Let them take arms,” declared Jefferson. He also concluded that “the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” Observed Franklin: “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote!”

Better yet, try suggesting as Thomas Paine, Marquis De Lafayette, John Adams and Patrick Henry did that Americans should, if necessary, defend themselves against the government if it violates their rights, and you will be labeled a domestic extremist.

“It is the duty of the patriot to protect his country from its government,” insisted Paine. “When the government violates the people’s rights,” Lafayette warned, “insurrection is, for the people and for each portion of the people, the most sacred of the rights and the most indispensable of duties.” Adams cautioned, “A settled plan to deprive the people of all the benefits, blessings and ends of the contract, to subvert the fundamentals of the constitution, to deprive them of all share in making and executing laws, will justify a revolution.” And who could forget Patrick Henry with his ultimatum: “Give me liberty or give me death!”

Then again, perhaps you don’t need to test the limits of free speech for yourself. One such test is playing out before our very eyes in Portland, Oregon, where radio “shock jock” Pete Santilli, a new media journalist who broadcasts his news reports over YouTube and streaming internet radio, is sitting in jail.

Santilli, notorious for his controversial topics, vocal outrage over government abuses, and inflammatory rhetoric, is not what anyone would consider an objective reporter. His radio show, aptly titled “Telling You the Truth…Whether You Like It or Not,” makes it clear that Santilli has a viewpoint (namely, that the government has overstepped its bounds), and he has no qualms about sharing it with his listeners.

It was that viewpoint that landed Santilli in jail.

In early January 2016, a group of armed activists, reportedly protesting the federal government’s management of federal lands and its prosecution of two local ranchers convicted of arson, staged an act of civil disobedience by occupying the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Burns, Oregon. Santilli, who has covered such protests in the past, including the April 2014 standoff in Nevada between the Bundy ranching family and the federal government over grazing rights, reported on the occupation in Burns as an embedded journalist, albeit one who was sympathetic to the complaints (although not the tactics) of the occupiers.

When asked to clarify his role in relation to the occupation, Santilli declared, “My role is the same here that it was at the Bundy ranch. To talk about the constitutional implications of what is going on here. The Constitution cannot be negotiated.”

Well, it turns out that the Constitution can be negotiated, at least when the government gets involved.

Long a thorn in the side of the FBI, Santilli was arrested by the FBI following its ambush and arrest of key leaders of the movement. He was charged, along with the armed resistors, with conspiracy to impede federal officers from discharging their duties by use of force, intimidation, or threats—the same charge being levied against those who occupied the refuge—which carries a maximum sentence of six years in prison.

Notably, Santilli is the only journalist among those covering the occupation to be charged with conspiracy, despite the fact that he did not participate in the takeover of the refuge, nor did he ever spend a night on the grounds of the refuge, nor did he ever represent himself as anything but a journalist covering the occupation.

Of course, the government doesn’t actually believe that 50-year-old Santilli is an accomplice to any criminal activity.

Read between the lines and you’ll find that what the government is really accusing Santilli of is employing dangerous speech. As court documents indicate, the government is prosecuting Santilli solely as a reporter of information. In other words, they’re making an example of him, which is consistent with the government’s ongoing efforts to intimidate members of the media who portray the government in a less than favorable light.

This is not a new tactic.

During the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, Maryland, numerous journalists were arrested while covering the regions’ civil unrest and the conditions that spawned that unrest. These attempts to muzzle the press were clearly concerted, top-down efforts to restrict the fundamental First Amendment rights of the public and the press.

As The Huffington Post reports:

The Obama administration’s treatment of reporters has caused controversy before. In 2009, the Department of Justice targeted a Fox News reporter in an investigation. Three years later, DOJ seized Associated Press reporters’ phone records. After that, former Attorney General Eric Holder ordered a review of the Justice Department’s news media policies. DOJ employees must consult with a unit within the Criminal Division before they arrest someone when there is a “question regarding whether an individual or entity is a ‘member of the news media,’” according to a January 2015 memo from Holder to DOJ employees.”

That the government is choosing to target Santilli for prosecution, despite the fact that they do not recognize new media journalists as members of the mainstream media, signals a broadening of the government’s efforts to suppress what it considers dangerous speech and stamp out negative coverage.

The message is clear: whether a journalist is acting alone or is affiliated with an established news source, the government has no qualms about subjecting them to harassment, arrest, jail time and trumped up charges if doing so will discourage others from openly opposing or exposing the government.

You see, the powers-that-be understand that if the government can control speech, it controls thought and, in turn, it can control the minds of the citizenry.

Where the government has gone wrong is in hinging its case against Santilli based solely on his incendiary rhetoric, which is protected by the First Amendment and which bears a striking resemblance to disgruntled patriots throughout American history.

Here’s what Santilli said: “What we need, most importantly, is one hundred thousand unarmed men and women to stand together. It is the most powerful weapon in our arsenal.”

Now compare that with the call to action from Joseph Warren, a leader of the Sons of Liberty and a principal figure within the American Revolution: “Stain not the glory of your worthy ancestors, but like them resolve never to part with your birthright; be wise in your deliberations, and determined in your exertions for the preservation of your liberties. Follow not the dictates of passion, but enlist yourselves under the sacred banner of reason; use every method in your power to secure your rights.”

Indeed, Santilli comes across as relatively docile compared to some of our nation’s more outspoken firebrands.

Santilli: “I’m not armed. I am armed with my mouth. I’m armed with my live stream. I’m armed with a coalition of like-minded individuals who sit at home and on YouTube watch this.”

Now compare that to what George Washington had to say: “Unhappy it is, though, to reflect that a brother’s sword has been sheathed in a brother’s breast and that the once-happy plains of America are either to be drenched with blood or inhabited by slaves. Sad alternative! But can a virtuous man hesitate in his choice?”

And then there was Andrew Jackson, a hothead if ever there was one. He came of age in the early days of the republic, served as the seventh president of the United States, and was not opposed to shedding blood when necessary: “Peace, above all things, is to be desired, but blood must sometimes be spilled to obtain it on equable and lasting terms.”

This is how freedom rises or falls.

There have always been those willing to speak their minds despite the consequences. Where freedom hangs in the balance is when “we the people” are called on to stand with or against individuals who actually exercise their rights and, in the process, push the envelope far enough to get called out on the carpet for it.

Do we negotiate the Constitution, or do we embrace it, no matter how uncomfortable it makes us feel, no matter how hateful or ugly it gets, and no matter how much we may dislike its flag-bearers?

Comedian Lenny Bruce laid the groundwork for the George Carlins that would follow in his wake: foul-mouthed, insightful, irreverent, incredibly funny, and one of the First Amendment’s greatest champions who dared to “speak the unspeakable” about race, religion, sexuality and politics. As Village Voice writer Nat Hentoff attests, Bruce was “not only a paladin of free speech but also a still-penetrating, woundingly hilarious speaker of truth to the powerful and the complacent.”

Bruce died in 1966, but not before being convicted of alleged obscenity for challenging his audience’s covert prejudices by brandishing unmentionable words that, if uttered today, would not only get you ostracized but could get you arrested and charged with a hate crime. Hentoff, who testified in Bruce’s defense at his trial, recounts that Lenny used to say, “What I wanted people to dig is the lie. Certain words were suppressed to keep the lie going. But if you do them, you should be able to say the words.”

Not much has changed in the 50 years since Bruce died. In fact, it’s gotten worse.

What we’re dealing with today is a government that wants to suppress dangerous words—words about its warring empire, words about its land grabs, words about its militarized police, words about its killing, its poisoning and its corruption—in order to keep its lies going.

As I document in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, what we are witnessing is a nation undergoing a nervous breakdown over this growing tension between our increasingly untenable reality and the lies being perpetrated by a government that has grown too power-hungry, egotistical, militaristic and disconnected from its revolutionary birthright.

The only therapy is the truth and nothing but the truth.

Otherwise, there will be no more First Amendment. There will be no more Bill of Rights. And there will be no more freedom in America as we have known it.

As the insightful and brash comedian George Carlin observed:

“Rights aren’t rights if someone can take them away. They’re privileges. That’s all we’ve ever had in this country, is a bill of temporary privileges. And if you read the news even badly, you know that every year the list gets shorter and shorter. Sooner or later, the people in this country are gonna realize the government does not give a fuck about them! The government doesn’t care about you, or your children, or your rights, or your welfare or your safety. It simply does not give a fuck about you! It’s interested in its own power. That’s the only thing. Keeping it and expanding it wherever possible.”

Big Brother does not watch us, by his choice. We watch him, by ours. There is no need for wardens or gates or Ministries of Truth. When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk; a culture-death is a clear possibility. — Professor Neil Postman

If there are two spectacles that are almost guaranteed to render Americans passive viewers, incapable of doing little more than cheering on their respective teams, it’s football and politics—specifically, the Super Bowl and the quadrennial presidential election.

Both football and politics encourage zealous devotion among their followers, both create manufactured divisions that alienate one group of devotees from another, and both result in a strange sort of tunnel vision that leaves the viewer oblivious to anything else going on around them apart from the “big game.”

Both football and politics are televised, big-money, advertising-driven exercises in how to cultivate a nation of armchair enthusiasts who are content to sit, watch and be entertained, all the while convincing themselves that they are active contributors to the outcome. Even the season schedules are similar in football and politics: the weekly playoffs, the blow-by-blow recaps, the betting pools and speculation, the conferences, and then the final big championship game.

In the same way, both championship events are costly entertainment extravaganzas that feed the nation’s appetite for competition, consumerism and carnivalesque stunts. In both scenarios, cities bid for the privilege of hosting key athletic and political events. For example, San Francisco had to raise close to $50 million just to host the 50th Super Bowl, with its deluxe stadium, Super Bowl City, free fan village, interactive theme park, and free Alicia Keys concert, not including the additional $5 million cost to taxpayers for additional security. Likewise, it costs cities more than $60 million to host the national presidential nominating conventions for the Republicans and Democrats.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that there is anything wrong with enjoying the entertainment that is football or politics.

However, where we go wrong as a society is when we become armchair quarterbacks, so completely immersed in the Big Game or the Big Campaign that we are easily controlled by the powers-that-be—the megacorporations who run both shows—and oblivious to what is really going on around us.

For instance, while mainstream America has been fixated on the contenders for the Vince Lombardi Trophy and the White House, the militarized, warring surveillance state has been moving steadily forward. Armed drones, increased government surveillance and spying, SWAT team raids, police shootings of unarmed citizens, and the like continue to plague the country. None of these dangers have dissipated. They have merely disappeared from our televised news streams.

In this way, television is a “dream come true” for an authoritarian society.

Television isolates people so they are not joining together to govern themselves. As clinical psychologist Bruce Levine notes, viewing television puts one in a brain state that makes it difficult to think critically, and it quiets and subdues a population. And spending one’s free time isolated and watching TV interferes with our ability to translate our outrage over governmental injustice into activism, and thus makes it easier to accept an authority’s version of society and life.

Supposedly the reason why television—and increasingly movies—are so effective in subduing and pacifying us is that viewers are mesmerized by what TV-insiders call “technical events.” These, according to Levine, are “quick cuts, zoom-ins, zoom-outs, rolls, pans, animation, music, graphics, and voice-overs, all of which lure viewers to continue watching even though they have no interest in the content.” Such technical events, which many action films now incorporate, spellbind people to continue watching.

Televised entertainment, no matter what is being broadcast, has become the nation’s new drug high. Researchers found that “almost immediately after turning on the TV, subjects reported feeling more relaxed, and because this occurs so quickly and the tension returns so rapidly after the TV is turned off, people are conditioned to associate TV viewing with a lack of tension.”

Not surprisingly, the United States is one of the highest TV-viewing nations in the world.

Indeed, a Nielsen study reports that American screen viewing is at an all-time high. For example, the average American watches approximately 151 hours of television per month. That does not include the larger demographic of screen-watchers who watch their entertainment via their laptops, personal computers, cell phones, tablets and so on.

Historically, television has been used by those in authority to quiet citizen unrest and pacify disruptive people. In fact, television-viewing has also been a proven tactic for ensuring compliance in prisons. “Faced with severe overcrowding and limited budgets for rehabilitation and counseling, more and more prison officials are using TV to keep inmates quiet,” according to Newsweek. Joe Corpier, a convicted murderer, when interviewed said, “If there’s a good movie, it’s usually pretty quiet through the whole institution.”

In other words, television and other screen viewing not only helps to subdue people but, as Levine concludes, it alsozombifies and pacifies us and subverts democracy.

Television viewing, no matter what we’re collectively watching—whether it’s American Idol, the presidential debates or the Super Bowl—is a group activity that immobilizes us and mesmerizes us with collective programming. In fact, research also shows that regardless of the programming, viewers’ brain waves slow down, thus transforming them into a more passive, nonresistant state.

As such, television watching today results in passive group compliance in much the same way that marching was used by past regimes to create group indoctrination. Political advisor Bertram Gross documents how Adolf Hitler employed marching as a technique to mobilize people in groups by immobilizing them. Hitler and his regime leaders discovered that when people gather in groups and do the same thing—such as marching or cheering at an entertainment or sporting event—they became passive, non-thinking non-individuals.

By replacing “marching” with electronic screen devices, we have the equivalent of Hitler’s method of population control. Gross writes:

As a technique of immobilizing people, marching requires organization and, apart from the outlay costs involved, organized groups are a potential danger. They might march to a different drum or in the wrong direction….TV is more effective. It captures many more people than would ever fill the streets by marching—and without interfering with automobile traffic.

Equally disturbing is a university study which indicates that we become less aware of our individual selves and moral identity in a group. The study’s findings strongly suggest that when we act in groups, we tend to consider our moral behavior less while moving in lockstep with the group. Thus, what the group believes or does, be it violence or inhumanity, does not seem to lessen the need to be a part of a group, whether it be a mob or political gathering.

So what does this have to do with the Super Bowl and the upcoming presidential election?

If fear-based TV programming—or programming that encourages rivalries and factions—makes people more afraid and distrustful of one another, then our current television lineup is exactly what is needed by an authoritarian society that depends on a “divide and conquer” strategy.

Moreover, according to Levine, authoritarian-based programming is more technically interesting to viewers than democracy-based programming. War and violence, for example, may be rather unpleasant in real life. However, peace and cooperation make for “boring television.”

What this means is that Super Bowl matches and presidential contests are merely more palatable, less bloody, manifestations of war suitable for television viewing audiences.

This also explains why television has become the medium of choice for charismatic politicians with a strong screen presence. They are essentially television performers—actors, if you will. Indeed, any successful candidate for political office—especially the President—must come off well on TV. Television has the lure of involvement. A politically adept president can actually make you believe you are involved in the office of the presidency.

The effective president, then, is essentially a television performer. As the renowned media analyst Marshall McLuhan recognized concerning television: “Potentially, it can transform the presidency into a monarchist dynasty.”

If what we see and what we are told through the entertainment industrial complex—which includes so-called “news” shows—is what those in power deem to be in their best interests, then endless screen viewing is not a great thing for a citizenry who believe they possess choice and freedom. Mind you, the majority of what Americans watch on television is provided through channels controlled by a corporate elite of six megacorporations with the ability to foster a particular viewpoint or pacify its viewers on a large scale.

Unfortunately for us, the direction of the future, then, may be towards a Brave New World scenario where the populace is constantly distracted by entertainment, hooked on prescription drugs and controlled by a technological elite.

Freedom, as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, is an action word. It means turning off your screen devices—or at least greatly reducing your viewing time—and getting active to take to stave off the emerging authoritarian government.

Battlefield_Cover_300Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, and the countless science fiction writers and commentators have warned that we are in a race between getting actively involved in the world around us or facing disaster.

If we’re watching, we’re not doing.

As television journalist Edward R. Murrow warned in a 1958 speech:

We have currently a built-in allergy to unpleasant or disturbing information. Our mass media reflect this. But unless we get up off our fat surpluses and recognize that television in the main is being used to distract, delude, amuse, and insulate us, then television and those who finance it, those who look at it, and those who work at it, may see a totally different picture too late.