Archive for July, 2016

“We’ve got to face it. Politics have entered a new stage, the television stage. Instead of long-winded public debates, the people want capsule slogans—‘Time for a change’—‘The mess in Washington’—‘More bang for a buck’—punch lines and glamour.”— A Face in the Crowd (1957)

Politics is entertainment.

It is a heavily scripted, tightly choreographed, star-studded, ratings-driven, mass-marketed, costly exercise in how to sell a product—in this case, a presidential candidate—to dazzled consumers who will choose image over substance almost every time.

This year’s presidential election, much like every other election in recent years, is what historian Daniel Boorstin referred to as a “pseudo-event”: manufactured, contrived, confected and devoid of any intrinsic value save the value of being advertised. It is the end result of a culture that is moving away from substance toward sensationalism in an era of mass media.

As author Noam Chomsky rightly observed, “It is important to bear in mind that political campaigns are designed by the same people who sell toothpaste and cars.” In other words, we’re being sold a carefully crafted product by a monied elite who are masters in the art of making the public believe that they need exactly what is being sold to them, whether it’s the latest high-tech gadget, the hottest toy, or the most charismatic politician.

Tune into a political convention and you will find yourself being sucked into an alternate reality so glossy, star-studded, emotionally charged and entertaining as to make you forget that you live in a police state. The elaborate stage show, the costumes, the actors, the screenplay, the lighting, the music, the drama: all carefully calibrated to appeal to the public’s need for bread and circuses, diversion and entertainment, and pomp and circumstance.

Politics is a reality show, America’s favorite form of entertainment, dominated by money and profit, imagery and spin, hype and personality and guaranteed to ensure that nothing in the way of real truth reaches the populace.

After all, who cares about police shootings, drone killings, SWAT team raids, asset forfeiture schemes, private prisons, school-to-prison pipelines, overcriminalization, censorship or any of the other evils that plague our nation when you can listen to the croonings of Paul Simon, laugh along with Sarah Silverman, and get misty-eyed over the First Lady’s vision of progress in America.

But make no mistake: Americans only think they’re choosing the next president.

In truth, however, they’re engaging in the illusion of participation culminating in the reassurance ritual of voting. It’s just another Blue Pill, a manufactured reality conjured up by the matrix in order to keep the populace compliant and convinced that their vote counts and that they still have some influence over the political process.

Stop drinking the Kool-Aid, America.

The nation is drowning in debt, crippled by a slowing economy, overrun by militarized police, swarming with surveillance, besieged by endless wars and a military industrial complex intent on starting new ones, and riddled with corrupt politicians at every level of government. All the while, we’re arguing over which corporate puppet will be given the honor of stealing our money, invading our privacy, abusing our trust, undermining our freedoms, and shackling us with debt and misery for years to come.

Nothing taking place on Election Day will alleviate the suffering of the American people.

The government as we have come to know it—corrupt, bloated and controlled by big-money corporations, lobbyists and special interest groups—will remain unchanged. And “we the people”—overtaxed, overpoliced, overburdened by big government, underrepresented by those who should speak for us and blissfully ignorant of the prison walls closing in on us—will continue to trudge along a path of misery.

With roughly 22 lobbyists per Congressman, corporate greed will continue to call the shots in the nation’s capital, while our elected representatives will grow richer and the people poorer. And elections will continue to be driven by war chests and corporate benefactors rather than such values as honesty, integrity and public service. Just consider: it’s estimated that more than $5 billion will be spent on the elections this year, yet not a dime of that money will actually help the average American in their day-to-day struggles to just get by.

And the military industrial complex will continue to bleed us dry. 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.

Then again, when faced with the grim, seemingly hopeless reality of the American police state, it’s understandable why Americans might opt for escapism. “Humankind cannot bear too much reality,” T. S. Eliot once said. Perhaps that is one reason we are so drawn to the unreality of the American political experience: it is spectacle and fiction and farce all rolled up into one glossy dose of escapism.

Frankly, escapism or not, Americans should be mad as hell.

Many of our politicians live like kings. Chauffeured around in limousines, flying in private jets and eating gourmet meals, all paid for by the American taxpayer, they are far removed from those they represent. Such a luxurious lifestyle makes it difficult to identify with the “little guy”—the roofers, plumbers and blue-collar workers who live from paycheck to paycheck and keep the country running with their hard-earned dollars and the sweat of their brows.

Conveniently, politicians only seem to remember their constituents in the months leading up to an election, and yet “we the people” continue to take the abuse, the neglect, the corruption and the lies. We make excuses for the shoddy treatment, we cover up for them when they cheat on us, and we keep hoping that if we just stick with them long enough, eventually they’ll treat us right.

People get the government they deserve.

No matter who wins the presidential election come November, it’s a sure bet that the losers will be the American people.

As political science professor Gene Sharp notes in starker terms, “Dictators are not in the business of allowing elections that could remove them from their thrones.” As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the Establishment—the shadow government and its corporate partners that really run the show, pull the strings and dictate the policies, no matter who occupies the Oval Office—are not going to allow anyone to take office who will unravel their power structures. Those who have attempted to do so in the past have been effectively put out of commission.

So what is the solution to this blatant display of imperial elitism disguising itself as a populist exercise in representative government?

Stop playing the game. Stop supporting the system. Stop defending the insanity. Just stop.

Washington thrives on money, so stop giving them your money. Stop throwing your hard-earned dollars away on politicians and Super PACs who view you as nothing more than a means to an end. There are countless worthy grassroots organizations and nonprofits working in your community to address real needs like injustice, poverty, homelessness, etc. Support them and you’ll see change you really can believe in in your own backyard.

Battlefield_Cover_300Politicians depend on votes, so stop giving them your vote unless they have a proven track record of listening to their constituents, abiding by their wishes and working hard to earn and keep their trust.

Stop buying into the lie that your vote matters. Your vote doesn’t elect a president. Despite the fact that there are 218 million eligible voters in this country (only half of whom actually vote), it is the electoral college, made up of 538 individuals handpicked by the candidates’ respective parties, that actually selects the next president. The only thing you’re accomplishing by taking part in the “reassurance ritual” of voting is sustaining the illusion that we have a democratic republic. What we have is a dictatorship, or as political scientists Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page more accurately term it, we are suffering from an “economic élite domination.”

A healthy, representative government is hard work. It takes a citizenry that is informed about the issues, educated about how the government operates, and willing to make the sacrifices necessary to stay involved, whether that means forgoing Monday night football in order to attend a city council meeting or risking arrest by picketing in front of a politician’s office.

It takes a citizenry willing to do more than grouse and complain. We must act—and act responsibly—keeping in mind that the duties of citizenship extend beyond the act of voting.

Most of all, it takes a citizenry that cares enough to get mad and get active. As Howard Beale declares in the 1976 film Network:

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Support the work of The Rutherford Institute with a tax-deductible donation today.

“I want you to get up right now, sit up, go to your windows, open them and stick your head out and yell, ‘I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.’ Things have got to change. But first, you’ve gotta get mad!…You’ve got to say, ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!’ Then we’ll figure out what to do about the depression and the inflation and the oil crisis. But first get up out of your chairs, open the window, stick your head out, and yell, and say it.”

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

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“A standing military force, with an overgrown Executive will not long be safe companions to liberty.”—James Madison

America is a ticking time bomb.

All that remains to be seen is who—or what—will set fire to the fuse.

We are poised at what seems to be the pinnacle of a manufactured breakdown, with police shooting unarmed citizens, snipers shooting police, global and domestic violence rising, and a political showdown between two presidential candidates equally matched in unpopularity.

The preparations for the Republican and Democratic national conventions taking place in Cleveland and Philadelphia—augmented by a $50 million federal security grant for each city—provide a foretaste of how the government plans to deal with any individual or group that steps out of line: they will be censored, silenced, spied on, caged, intimidated, interrogated, investigated, recorded, tracked, labeled, held at gunpoint, detained, restrained, arrested, tried and found guilty.

For instance, anticipating civil unrest and mass demonstrations in connection with the Republican Party convention, Cleveland officials set up makeshift prisons, extra courtrooms to handle protesters, and shut down a local university in order to house 1,700 riot police and their weapons. The city’s courts are preparing to process up to 1,000 people a day. Additionally, the FBI has also been conducting “interviews” with activists in advance of the conventions to discourage them from engaging in protests.

Make no mistake, the government is ready for a civil uprising.

Indeed, the government has been preparing for this moment for years.

A 2008 Army War College report revealed that “widespread civil violence inside the United States would force the defense establishment to reorient priorities in extremis to defend basic domestic order and human security.” The 44-page report goes on to warn that potential causes for such civil unrest could include another terrorist attack, “unforeseen economic collapse, loss of functioning political and legal order, purposeful domestic resistance or insurgency, pervasive public health emergencies, and catastrophic natural and human disasters.”

Subsequent reports by the Department of Homeland Security to identify, monitor and label right-wing and left-wing activists and military veterans as extremists (a.k.a. terrorists) have manifested into full-fledged pre-crime surveillance programs. Almost a decade later, after locking down the nation and spending billions to fight terrorism, the DHS has concluded that the greater threat is not ISIS but domestic right-wing extremism.

Meanwhile, the government has been amassing an arsenal of military weapons for use domestically and equipping and training their “troops” for war. Even government agencies with largely administrative functions such as the Food and Drug Administration, Department of Veterans Affairs, and the Smithsonian have been acquiring body armor, riot helmets and shields, cannon launchers and police firearms and ammunition. In fact, there are now at least 120,000 armed federal agents carrying such weapons who possess the power to arrest.

Rounding out this profit-driven campaign to turn American citizens into enemy combatants (and America into a battlefield) is a technology sector that is colluding with the government to create a Big Brother that is all-knowing, all-seeing and inescapable. It’s not just the drones, fusion centers, license plate readers, stingray devices and the NSA that you have to worry about. You’re also being tracked by the black boxes in your cars, your cell phone, smart devices in your home, grocery loyalty cards, social media accounts, credit cards, streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon, and e-book reader accounts.

All of this has taken place right under our noses, funded with our taxpayer dollars and carried out in broad daylight without so much as a general outcry from the citizenry.

It’s astounding how convenient we’ve made it for the government to lock down the nation.

We’ve even allowed ourselves to be acclimated to the occasional lockdown of government buildings, Jade Helm military drills in small towns so that special operations forces can get “realistic military training” in “hostile” territory, and  Live Active Shooter Drill training exercises, carried out at schools, in shopping malls, and on public transit, which can and do fool law enforcement officials, students, teachers and bystanders into thinking it’s a real crisis.

The events of recent years—the invasive surveillance, the extremism reports, the civil unrest, the protests, the shootings, the bombings, the military exercises and active shooter drills, the color-coded alerts and threat assessments, the fusion centers, the transformation of local police into extensions of the military, the distribution of military equipment and weapons to local police forces, the government databases containing the names of dissidents and potential troublemakers—have all conjoined to create an environment in which “we the people” are more distrustful and fearful of each other and more reliant on the government to keep us safe.

Of course, that’s the point.

The powers-that-be want us to feel vulnerable.

They want us to fear each other and trust the government’s hired gunmen to keep us safe from terrorists, extremists, jihadists, psychopaths, etc.

Most of all, the powers-that-be want us to feel powerless to protect ourselves and reliant on and grateful for the dubious protection provided by the American police state.

Their strategy is working.

The tree of liberty is dying.

There will be no second American Revolution.

There is no place in our nation for the kind of armed revolution our forefathers mounted against a tyrannical Great Britain. Such an act would be futile and tragic. We are no longer dealing with a distant, imperial king but with a tyrant of our own making: a militarized, technologized, heavily-financed bureaucratic machine that operates beyond the reach of the law.

The message being sent to the citizenry is clear: there will be no revolution, armed or otherwise.

Anyone who believes that they can wage—and win—an armed revolt against the American police state has not been paying attention. Those who wage violence against the government and their fellow citizens are playing right into the government’s hands. Violence cannot and will not be the answer to what ails America.

Whether instigated by the government or the citizenry, violence will only lead to more violence. It does not matter how much firepower you have. The government has more firepower.

It does not matter how long you think you can hold out by relying on survivalist skills, guerilla tactics and sheer grit. The government has the resources to outwait, out-starve, outman, outgun and generally overpower you.

This government of wolves will not be overtaken by force.

Unfortunately, we waited too long to wake up to the government’s schemes.

We did not anticipate that “we the people” would become the enemy. For years, the government has been warning against the dangers of domestic terrorism, erecting surveillance systems to monitor its own citizens, creating classification systems to label any viewpoints that challenge the status quo as extremist, and training law enforcement agencies to equate anyone possessing anti-government views as a domestic terrorist.

What the government failed to explain was that the domestic terrorists would be of the government’s own making, whether intentional or not.

By waging endless wars abroad, by bringing the instruments of war home, by transforming police into extensions of the military, by turning a free society into a suspect society, by treating American citizens like enemy combatants, by discouraging and criminalizing a free exchange of ideas, by making violence its calling card through SWAT team raids and militarized police, by fomenting division and strife among the citizenry, by acclimating the citizenry to the sights and sounds of war, and by generally making peaceful revolution all but impossible, the government has engineered an environment in which domestic violence has become inevitable.

What we are now experiencing is a civil war, devised and instigated in part by the U.S. government.

The outcome for this particular conflict is already foregone: the police state wins.

The objective: compliance and control.

The strategy: destabilize the economy through endless wars, escalate racial tensions, polarize the populace, heighten tensions through a show of force, intensify the use of violence, and then, when all hell breaks loose, clamp down on the nation for the good of the people and the security of the nation.

So where does that leave us?

Despite the fact that communities across the country are, for all intents and purposes, being held hostage by a government that is armed to the teeth and more than willing to use force in order to “maintain order,” most Americans seem relatively unconcerned. Worse, we have become so fragmented as a nation, so hostile to those with whom we might disagree, so distrustful of those who are different from us, that we are easily divided and conquered.

We have been desensitized to violence, acclimated to a military presence in our communities and persuaded that there is nothing we can do to alter the seemingly hopeless trajectory of the nation. In this way, the floundering economy, the blowback arising from military occupations abroad, police shootings, the nation’s deteriorating infrastructure and all of the other mounting concerns have become non-issues to a populace that is easily entertained, distracted, manipulated and controlled.

The sight of police clad in body armor and gas masks, wielding semiautomatic rifles and escorting an armored vehicle through a crowded street, a scene likened to “a military patrol through a hostile city,” no longer causes alarm among the general populace.

We are fast becoming an anemic, weak, pathetically diluted offspring of our revolutionary forebears incapable of mounting a national uprising against a tyrannical regime.

Battlefield_Cover_300If there is to be any hope of reclaiming our government and restoring our freedoms, it will require a different kind of coup: nonviolent, strategic and grassroots, starting locally and trickling upwards. Such revolutions are slow and painstaking. They are political, in part, but not through any established parties or politicians.

Most of all, as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, for any chance of success, such a revolution will require more than a change of politics: it will require a change of heart among the American people, a reawakening of the American spirit, and a citizenry that cares more about their freedoms than their fantasy games.

“I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.”—Martin Luther King Jr.

The latest shootings—in Texas, Minnesota, Louisiana, Illinois, New York, Missouri and every other state in the nation—are symptomatic of a psychotic outbreak by a nation that has been waging a war against its own citizens for too long.

We have long since passed the stage at which a government of wolves would give rise to a nation of sheep. As I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, what we now have is a government of psychopaths that is actively breeding a nation of psychopathic killers.

We’re getting distracted, people.

Battlefield_Cover_300Instead of focusing our ire on the architects of the American police state, who are responsible for turning the streets into mini-war zones, we’re getting distracted by the many voices eager to play the blame game by pointing their fingers at someone else.

Police groups are blaming President Obama and the Justice Department for failing to prosecute “cop killers.” Texas Republicans are blaming the Black Lives Matter movement for fomenting a “war on cops” mindset. Gun control advocates are blaming “gun lovers and their mouthpieces at the National Rifle Association” for America’s gun violence, reasoning that if all Americans were unarmed, police would not have to treat them as potential threats.

News outlets such as Rolling Stone and Mother Jones have concluded that racial bias is to blame for the “disproportionately high number of African-Americans among police shooting victims.” The Drug Enforcement Administration has suggested that illegal steroid use could be responsible for “police officers who exhibit rage, aggression and/or poor judgment (all symptoms of possible steroid abuse) in confrontations with citizens.”

Human Rights Watch blames police misconduct and excessive use of force on a systemic lack of accountability within law enforcement agencies and the criminal justice system. And civil rights advocates are blaming police militarization and the abundance of laws (overcriminalization) pushed by lawmakers for the nation’s over-policing, over-jailing and over-killing.

Yet in the midst of all this finger pointing, no one is stepping forward to take responsibility for the violence that is tearing the nation apart, deepening racial tensions, heightening police tensions, justifying all manner of civil liberties abuses, and pushing us ever closer to a state of lockdown.

Shame on President Obama for not taking personal responsibility for the blowback resulting from America’s endless wars abroad, the militarization of local police, and the ramifications of allowing police to use battlefield equipment such as drones, assault weapons, tanks, etc. How telling that the first domestic killing of an American citizen by a drone (in this case, a bomb-equipped police robot) should be carried out during the final term of a president whose targeted drone killings abroad have resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians.

Shame on Congress and the countless federal and state policy-making bodies for not taking responsibility for the overabundance of laws that have turned law-abiding citizens into criminals and police into the inflexible enforcers of a legal code that benefits the corporate elite at the expense of the working classes.

Shame on Corporate America, particularly the military industrial complex, for not taking responsibility for having militarized America’s police forces and subjected its citizenry to the tyranny of a heavily armed police state.

Shame on the various government agencies, from the FDA and Social Security Administration to the Department of Education, for not taking responsibility for ratcheting up tensions by using military firepower to advance their bureaucratic agendas.

Shame on Republicans and Democrats for not taking responsibility for having sidelined legitimate matters of concern such as police misconduct in favor of party politics and campaign contributions from special interest groups and unions.

Shame on the courts for not taking responsibility for allowing government agents to hide behind the shield of qualified immunity, rather than being held accountable for their actions.

Shame on law enforcement agencies for advancing the notion that the lives—and rights—of police should be valued more than citizens. Shame on them for not taking responsibility for allowing blind allegiance to the so-called “thin, blue line” to trump the constitutional rights afforded to every American equally.

Shame on communities for not taking responsibility for using SWAT teams that are armed to the teeth and ready for action to deliver mere search warrants, terrorizing and killing American citizens.

Shame on those who embrace violence as an answer to what ails America for not taking responsibility for their part in contributing to an environment that is growing increasingly tense with every new shooting. It’s a vicious cycle in which the police are becoming more hypersensitive, twitchy and quick to shoot at the slightest provocation, and the populace is growing more fearful, outraged and unconvinced that if they “just obey,” all will be fine.

Shame on the religious community for not taking responsibility for its deafening silence in the face of what can only be termed evil, despite its historic lineage of dissenters such as Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. who dared to speak truth to power.

Shame on white Americans, black Americans, brown Americans and every other skin tone in between for not taking responsibility for their part in allowing racism, prejudice and bigotry to dictate justice in America.

And shame on so-called “patriotic” Americans who equate good citizenship with blind obedience to government authority and adulation of the military for not taking responsibility for holding their government officials accountable to the nation’s founding principles. Remember, “we the people” were entrusted with the power to make and unmake the government whenever it ran afoul of its primary purpose, which is to protect our lives, freedoms and property.

Clearly, there’s more than enough blame to go around, but the real question is what can “we the people” do about it? What can average Americans do to stay alive and counter the violence being inflicted on our communities? What can you do to push back against the power of the police state?

For starters, let’s all agree that violence can never be the answer. Violence will only give rise to more violence.

Stop buying into the “us vs. them” rhetoric being pushed by politicians, police unions and those who use the race card as a justification for bloodshed. No matter what color your skin is, what politics you subscribe to, how much money you’ve got, whom you love, where you live, whom you worship, what school you attend, where you work, or any other superficial label that is used to divide us: we all bleed red.

Put your prejudices behind you and stop dealing in stereotypes. Not all police are bloodthirsty. Not all young black men are thugs. Not all people who challenge government authority want anarchy.

In a police state, you’re either the one with your hand on the trigger or you’re staring down the barrel of a loaded down. In other words, we’re all in this together. The oppression and injustice—be it in the form of shootings, surveillance, fines, asset forfeiture, prison terms, roadside searches, etc.—will come to all of us eventually.

Stop allowing yourself the luxury of distraction and the sin of neutrality. These things happen—the madness and the mayhem—because good people stood by and did nothing.

The only real power we have to push back against the police state is as a unified body.

So what can you do on a practical level?

For starters, find common ground on the issue of gun control, especially as it pertains to government agents. Demilitarize the police. It’s worked in other countries.

Demand that police be held financially responsible for official misconduct.

Put your taxpayer dollars to work for you instead of against you for a change. Tell your elected representatives to stop investing in militarization, wars and weaponry that will only be used against you eventually. Instead, apply the same funds being wasted on endless wars abroad on badly needed infrastructure here at home. By putting more Americans to work rebuilding our communities and our economy, we’ll also strike at the heart of the poverty that drives crime.

Get informed about the workings of government. Get outraged about the corruption that has rotted our republic from the core. Get vocal about the need for transparency, accountability and reform. There are so many issues in need of attention. Pick just one to start with and raise hell about it. For instance, why has the government been spending three times more on jails and prisons than schools for the past 30 years?

Finally, take it upon yourself to interfere. Pay attention to what’s going on around you. Use those cell phones that are never far from your side and record police interactions in order to hold them accountable to playing by our rules, the rules of the Constitution. Most important of all, take a stand for freedom and humanity.

“Neutrality,” as Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel reminded us, “helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.”