Posts Tagged ‘injustice’

“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”—John F. Kennedy

Those tempted to write off the standoff at the Bundy Ranch as little more than a show of force by militia-minded citizens would do well to reconsider their easy dismissal of this brewing rebellion. This goes far beyond concerns about grazing rights or the tension between the state and the federal government.

Few conflicts are ever black and white, and the Bundy situation, with its abundance of gray areas, is no exception. Yet the question is not whether Cliven Bundy and his supporters are domestic terrorists, as Harry Reid claims, or patriots, or something in between. Nor is it a question of whether the Nevada rancher is illegally grazing his cattle on federal land or whether that land should rightfully belong to the government. Nor is it even a question of who’s winning the showdown— the government with its arsenal of SWAT teams, firepower and assault vehicles, or Bundy’s militia supporters with their assortment of weapons—because if such altercations end in bloodshed, everyone loses.

What we’re really faced with, and what we’ll see more of before long, is a growing dissatisfaction with the government and its heavy-handed tactics by people who are tired of being used and abused and are ready to say “enough is enough.” And it won’t matter what the issue is—whether it’s a rancher standing his ground over grazing rights, a minister jailed for holding a Bible study in his own home, or a community outraged over police shootings of unarmed citizens—these are the building blocks of a political powder keg. Now all that remains is a spark, and it need not be a very big one, to set the whole powder keg aflame.

As I show in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, there’s a subtext to this incident that must not be ignored, and it is simply this: America is a pressure cooker with no steam valve, and things are about to blow. This is what happens when a parasitical government muzzles the citizenry, fences them in, herds them, brands them, whips them into submission, forces them to ante up the sweat of their brows while giving them little in return, and then provides them with little to no outlet for voicing their discontent.

The government has been anticipating and preparing for such an uprising for years. For example, in 2008, a U.S. Army War College report warned that the military must be prepared for a “violent, strategic dislocation inside the United States,” which could be provoked by “unforeseen economic collapse,” “purposeful domestic resistance,” “pervasive public health emergencies” or “loss of functioning political and legal order”—all related to dissent and protests over America’s economic and political disarray. Consequently, predicted the report, the “widespread civil violence would force the defense establishment to reorient priorities in extremis to defend basic domestic order and human security.”

One year later, in 2009, the Department of Homeland Security under President Obama issued its infamous reports on Rightwing and Leftwing “Extremism.” According to these reports, an extremist is defined as anyone who subscribes to a particular political viewpoint. Rightwing extremists, for example, are broadly defined in the report as individuals and groups “that are mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely.”

Despite “no specific information that domestic rightwing terrorists are currently planning acts of violence,” the DHS listed a number of scenarios that could arise as a result of so-called rightwing extremists playing on the public’s fears and discontent over various issues, including the economic downturn, real estate foreclosures and unemployment.

Equally disconcerting, the reports use the words “terrorist” and “extremist” interchangeably. In other words, voicing what the government would consider to be extremist viewpoints is tantamount to being a terrorist. Under such a definition, I could very well be considered a terrorist. So too could John Lennon, Martin Luther King Jr., Roger Baldwin (founder of the ACLU), Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson and Samuel Adams—all of these men protested and passionately spoke out against government practices with which they disagreed and would be prime targets under this document.

The document also took pains to describe the political views of those who would qualify as being a rightwing extremist. For example, you are labeled a rightwing extremist if you voice concerns about a myriad of issues including: policy changes under President Obama; the economic downturn and home foreclosures; the loss of U.S. jobs in manufacturing and construction sectors; and social issues such as abortion, interracial crimes and immigration. DHS also issued a red-flag warning against anyone who promotes “conspiracy theories involving declarations of martial law, impending civil strife or racial conflict, suspension of the U.S. Constitution, and the creation of citizen detention camps.”

Fast forward five years, with all that has transpired, from the Occupy Protests and the targeting of military veterans to domestic surveillance, especially of activist-oriented groups and now, most recently, the Bundy Ranch showdown, and it would seem clear that the government has not veered one iota from its original playbook. Indeed, the government’s full-blown campaign of surveillance of Americans’ internet activity, phone calls, etc., makes complete sense in hindsight.

All that we have been subjected to in recent years—living under the shadow of NSA spying; motorists strip searched and anally probed on the side of the road; innocent Americans spied upon while going about their daily business in schools and stores; homeowners having their doors kicked in by militarized SWAT teams serving routine warrants—illustrates how the government deals with people it views as potential “extremists”: with heavy-handed tactics designed to intimidate the populace into submission and discourage anyone from stepping out of line or challenging the status quo.

It’s not just the Cliven Bundys of the world who are being dealt with in this manner. Don Miller, a 91-year-old antiques collector, recently had his Indiana home raided by the FBI, ostensibly because it might be in the nation’s best interest if the rare and valuable antiques and artifacts Miller had collected over the course of 80 years were cared for by the government. Such tactics carried out by anyone other than the government would be considered grand larceny, and yet the government gets a free pass.

In the same way, the government insists it can carry out all manner of surveillance on us—listen in on our phone calls, read our emails and text messages, track our movements, photograph our license plates, even enter our biometric information into DNA databases—but those who dare to return the favor, even a little, by filming potential police misconduct, get roughed up by the police, arrested, charged with violating various and sundry crimes.

When law enforcement officials—not just the police, but every agent of the government entrusted with enforcing laws, from the president on down—are allowed to discard the law when convenient, and the only ones having to obey the law are the citizenry and not the enforcers, then the law becomes only a tool to punish us, rather than binding and controlling the government, as it was intended.

This phenomenon is what philosopher Abraham Kaplan referred to as the law of the instrument, which essentially says that to a hammer, everything looks like a nail. In the scenario that has been playing out in recent years, we the citizenry have become the nails to be hammered by the government’s henchmen, a.k.a. its guns for hire, a.k.a. its standing army, a.k.a. the nation’s law enforcement agencies.

Indeed, there can no longer be any doubt that militarized police officers, the end product of the government—federal, local and state—and law enforcement agencies having merged, have become a “standing” or permanent army, composed of full-time professional soldiers who do not disband. Yet these permanent armies are exactly what those who drafted the U.S. Constitution feared as tools used by despotic governments to wage war against its citizens.

That is exactly what we are witnessing today: a war against the American citizenry. Is it any wonder then that Americans are starting to resist?

More and more, Americans are tired, frustrated, anxious, and worried about the state of their country. They are afraid of an increasingly violent and oppressive federal government, and they are worried about the economic insecurity which still grips the nation. And they’re growing increasingly sick of being treated like suspects and criminals. As former law professor John Baker, who has studied the growing problem of overcriminalization, noted, “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.”

To make matters worse, a recent scientific study by Princeton researchers confirms that the United States of America is not the democracy that is 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.” As PolicyMic explains, “An oligarchy is a system where power is effectively wielded by a small number of individuals defined by their status called oligarchs. Members of the oligarchy are the rich, the well connected and the politically powerful, as well as particularly well placed individuals in institutions like banking and finance or the military… In other words, their statistics say your opinion literally does not matter.

So if average Americans, having largely lost all of the conventional markers of influencing government, whether through elections, petition, or protest, have no way to impact their government, no way to be heard, no assurance that their concerns are truly being represented and their government is one “by the people, of the people, and for the people,” as opposed to being engineered expressly for the benefit of the wealthy elite, then where does that leave them?

To some, the choice is clear. As psychologist Erich Fromm recognized in his insightful book, On Disobedience: “If a man can only obey and not disobey, he is a slave; if he can only disobey and not obey, he is a rebel (not a revolutionary). He acts out of anger, disappointment, resentment, yet not in the name of a conviction or a principle.”

Unfortunately, the intrepid, revolutionary American spirit that stood up to the British, blazed paths to the western territories, and prevailed despite a civil war, multiple world wars, and various economic depressions has taken quite a beating in recent years. Nevertheless, the time is coming when each American will have to decide: will you be a slave, rebel or revolutionary?

“There is no evidence that Jesus himself openly advocated violent actions. But he was certainly no pacifist. “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth. I have not come to bring peace, but the sword” (Matthew 10:34 | Luke 12:51).” ― Reza Aslan, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth

Those living through this present age of SWAT team raids, police shootings of unarmed citizens, roadside strip searches, and invasive surveillance might feel as if these events are unprecedented. Yet while we in the United States may be experiencing a steady slide into a police state, we are neither the first nor the last nation to do so.

Although technology, politics and superpowers have changed over time, the characteristics of a police state and its reasons for being have remained the same: control, power and money. Indeed, as I point out in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, a police state extends far beyond the actions of law enforcement.  In fact, a police state “is characterized by bureaucracy, secrecy, perpetual wars, a nation of suspects, militarization, surveillance, widespread police presence, and a citizenry with little recourse against police actions.”

Just as police states have arisen throughout history, there have also been individuals or groups of individuals who have risen up to challenge the injustices of their age. Nazi Germany had its Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The gulags of the Soviet Union were challenged by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. America had its color-coded system of racial segregation and warmongering called out for what it was, blatant discrimination and profiteering, by Martin Luther King Jr.

And then there was Jesus Christ, an itinerant preacher and revolutionary activist, who not only died challenging the police state of his day—namely, the Roman Empire—but provided a blueprint for civil disobedience that would be followed by those, religious and otherwise, who came after him. Yet for all the accolades poured out upon Jesus, little is said about the harsh realities of the police state in which he lived and its similarities to modern-day America, and yet they are striking.

Secrecy, surveillance and rule by the elite. As the chasm between the wealthy and poor grew wider in the Roman Empire, the ruling class and the wealthy class became synonymous, while the lower classes, increasingly deprived of their political freedoms, grew disinterested in the government and easily distracted by “bread and circuses.” Much like America today, with its lack of government transparency, overt domestic surveillance, and rule by the rich, the inner workings of the Roman Empire were shrouded in secrecy, while its leaders were constantly on the watch for any potential threats to its power. The resulting state-wide surveillance was primarily carried out by the military, which acted as investigators, enforcers, torturers, policemen, executioners and jailers. Today that role is fulfilled by increasingly militarized police forces across the country.

Widespread police presence. The Roman Empire used its military forces to maintain the “peace,” thereby establishing a police state that reached into all aspects of a citizen’s life. In this way, these military officers, used to address a broad range of routine problems and conflicts, enforced the will of the state. Today SWAT teams, comprised of local police and federal agents, are employed to carry out routine search warrants for minor crimes such as marijuana possession and credit card fraud.

Citizenry with little recourse against the police state. As the Roman Empire expanded, personal freedom and independence nearly vanished, as did any real sense of local governance and national consciousness. Similarly, in America today, citizens largely feel powerless, voiceless and unrepresented in the face of a power-hungry federal government. As states and localities are brought under direct control by federal agencies and regulations, a sense of learned helplessness grips the nation.

Perpetual wars and a military empire. Much like America today with its practice of policing the world, war and an over-arching militarist ethos provided the framework for the Roman Empire, which extended from the Italian peninsula to all over Southern, Western, and Eastern Europe, extending into North Africa and Western Asia as well. In addition to significant foreign threats, wars were waged against inchoate, unstructured and socially inferior foes.

Martial law. Eventually, Rome established a permanent military dictatorship that left the citizens at the mercy of an unreachable and oppressive totalitarian regime. In the absence of resources to establish civic police forces, the Romans relied increasingly on the military to intervene in all matters of conflict or upheaval in provinces, from small-scale scuffles to large-scale revolts. Not unlike police forces today, with their militarized weapons and “shoot first, ask questions later” mindset, the Roman soldier had “the exercise of lethal force at his fingertips” with the potential of wreaking havoc on normal citizens’ lives.

A nation of suspects. Just as the American Empire looks upon its citizens as suspects to be tracked, surveilled and controlled, the Roman Empire looked upon all potential insubordinates, from the common thief to a full-fledged insurrectionist, as threats to its power. The insurrectionist was seen as directly challenging the Emperor.  A “bandit,” or revolutionist, was seen as capable of overturning the empire, was always considered guilty and deserving of the most savage penalties, including capital punishment. Bandits were usually punished publicly and cruelly as a means of deterring others from challenging the power of the state.  Jesus’ execution was one such public punishment.

Acts of civil disobedience by insurrectionists. Starting with his act of civil disobedience at the Jewish temple, the site of the administrative headquarters of the Sanhedrin, the supreme Jewish council, Jesus branded himself a political revolutionary. When Jesus “with the help of his disciples, blocks the entrance to the courtyard” and forbids “anyone carrying goods for sale or trade from entering the Temple,” he committed a blatantly criminal and seditious act, an act “that undoubtedly precipitated his arrest and execution.” Because the commercial events were sponsored by the religious hierarchy, which in turn was operated by consent of the Roman government, Jesus’ attack on the money chargers and traders can be seen as an attack on Rome itself, an unmistakable declaration of political and social independence from the Roman oppression.

Detail from Hans Holbein the Younger, The Passion of Christ (1524-25, Kunstmuseum, Basel)

Military-style arrests in the dead of night. Jesus’ arrest account testifies to the fact that the Romans perceived Him as a revolutionary. Eerily similar to today’s SWAT team raids, Jesus was arrested in the middle of the night, in secret, by a large, heavily armed fleet of soldiers.  Rather than merely asking for Jesus when they came to arrest him, his pursuers collaborated beforehand with Judas. Acting as a government informant, Judas concocted a kiss as a secret identification marker, hinting that a level of deception and trickery must be used to obtain this seemingly “dangerous revolutionist’s” cooperation.

Torture and capital punishment. In Jesus’ day, religious preachers, self-proclaimed prophets and nonviolent protesters were not summarily arrested and executed. Indeed, the high priests and Roman governors normally allowed a protest, particularly a small-scale one, to run its course. However, government authorities were quick to dispose of leaders and movements that appeared to threaten the Roman Empire. The charges leveled against Jesus—that he was a threat to the stability of the nation, opposed paying Roman taxes and claimed to be the rightful King—were purely political, not religious. To the Romans, any one of these charges was enough to merit death by crucifixion, which was usually reserved for slaves, non-Romans, radicals, revolutionaries and the worst criminals.

Jesus was presented to Pontius Pilate “as a disturber of the political peace,” a leader of a rebellion, a political threat, and most gravely—a claimant to kingship, a “king of the revolutionary type.” After Jesus is formally condemned by Pilate, he is sentenced to death by crucifixion, “the Roman means of executing criminals convicted of high treason.”  The purpose of crucifixion was not so much to kill the criminal, as it was an immensely public statement intended to visually warn all those who would challenge the power of the Roman Empire. Hence, it was reserved solely for the most extreme political crimes: treason, rebellion, sedition, and banditry. After being ruthlessly whipped and mocked, Jesus was nailed to a cross.

As Professor Mark Lewis Taylor observed:

The cross within Roman politics and culture was a marker of shame, of being a criminal. If you were put to the cross, you were marked as shameful, as criminal, but especially as subversive. And there were thousands of people put to the cross. The cross was actually positioned at many crossroads, and, as New Testament scholar Paula Fredricksen has reminded us, it served as kind of a public service announcement that said, “Act like this person did, and this is how you will end up.”

Jan Provoost, Crucifixion, 1500.

Jesus—the revolutionary, the political dissident, and the nonviolent activist—lived and died in a police state.Any reflection on Jesus’ life and death within a police state must take into account several factors: Jesus spoke out strongly against such things as empires, controlling people, state violence and power politics. Jesus challenged the political and religious belief systems of his day. And worldly powers feared Jesus, not because he challenged them for control of thrones or government but because he undercut their claims of supremacy, and he dared to speak truth to power in a time when doing so could—and often did—cost a person his life.

Unfortunately, the radical Jesus, the political dissident who took aim at injustice and oppression, has been largely forgotten today, replaced by a congenial, smiling Jesus trotted out for religious holidays but otherwise rendered mute when it comes to matters of war, power and politics. Yet for those who truly study the life and teachings of Jesus, the resounding theme is one of outright resistance to war, materialism and empire.

As Professor Taylor notes, “The power of Jesus is one that enables us to critique the nation and the empire. Unfortunately, that gospel is being sacrificed and squandered by Christians who have cozied up to power and wealth.” Ultimately, this is the contradiction that must be resolved if the radical Jesus—the one who stood up to the Roman Empire and was crucified as a warning to others not to challenge the powers-that-be—is to be an example for our modern age. — John W. Whitehead

Outrageous examples of wasteful government spending from Sen. Coburn’s 2013 ‘Wastebook’

“To force a man to pay for the violation of his own liberty is indeed an addition of insult to injury.”—Benjamin Tucker, 19th century advocate of American individualist anarchism

The State Department wants $400,000 to purchase a fiberglass sculpture of a camel looking at a needle for its new embassy in Pakistan. They’ve already spent their allotted $630,000 to increase the number of “likes” and fans on their Facebook and Twitter pages. The NATO ambassador for the U.S. needs $700,000 for landscaping and gardening, the National Science Foundation would like $700,000 to put on a theatrical production about climate change, and the Senate staffers need $1.9 million for lifestyle coaching. Also, Yale University researchers could really use $384,000 so they can study the odd cork-screw shape of a duck’s penis.

I promise this is no belated April Fools’ joke. These are actual line items paid for by American taxpayers, whose tax dollars continue to be wasted on extravagant, unnecessary items that serve no greater purpose than to fatten the wallets of corporations and feed political graft (such as the $1 million bus stop, complete with heated benches and sidewalks which can only shelter 15 people and provides little protection from rain, snow, or the sun).

Case in point: 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 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 was spent by the Army National Guard on Superman movie tie-ins aimed at increasing awareness about the National Guard).

This doesn’t even touch on the astronomical amounts of money spent on dubious wars abroad.

Consider that 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 there’s the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in McCutcheon v. FEC, which reinforces a government mindset in which the rights of the wealthy are affirmed by the courts, while the rights of average, working class Americans are routinely dismissed as secondary to corporate and governmental concerns. Under the guise of protecting free speech, a divided 5-4 Court did away with established limits on the number of candidates an individual can support with campaign contributions.

In doing so, the justices expanded on the Court’s landmark 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, which not only gave unfettered free speech rights to corporations but paved the way for corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money promoting candidates, especially presidential candidates. What this does, of course, is turn the ballot box into an auction block, wherein those who are “elected” to public office are bought and paid for by those who can afford to support their campaigns—namely, lobbyists, corporations and high-dollar donors. (Then again, perhaps it will remain status quo. According to a 2013 study by Trinity University, U.S. Senators do not take into account the opinions and wishes of their lower class constituents. Rather, their voting was aligned with their upper class constituents. This dismissal of lower class opinion held true for both Republican and Democratic Senators, themselves made up of millionaires.)

When all is said and done, what we are witnessing is the emergence of a disconcerting government mindset that interprets the Constitution one way for corporations, government entities and the wealthy, and uses a second measure altogether for average Americans. For example, contrast the Supreme Court’s affirmation of the “free speech” rights of corporations and wealthy donors in McCutcheon and Citizens United with its tendency to deny those same rights to average Americans when government interests abound, such as in its 2012 decision in Reichle v. Howards, where a unanimous Supreme Court allowed immunity protections for Secret Service agents to trump the free speech rights of Americans, and you’ll find a noticeable disparity.

Unfortunately, as I point out in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, this constitutional double standard is coming to bear in all aspects of our lives, not just in the realm of campaign finance law. It allows lobbyists intimate access to our elected officials, while prohibiting Americans from even standing silently in protest near a government building; it grants immunity to police officers who shoot unarmed citizens, while harshly punishing Americans who attempt to defend themselves, mistaking a SWAT team raid for a home invasion; and it gives government agents carte blanche access to Americans’ communications and activities, while allowing the government to operate in secret, with secret hearings, secret budgets and secret agendas.

This is a far cry from how a representative government is supposed to operate. Indeed, it has been a long time since we could claim to be the masters of our own lives. Rather, we are now the subjects of a militarized, corporate empire in which the vast majority of the citizenry work their hands to the bone for the benefit of a privileged few.

Adding injury to the ongoing insult of having our tax dollars misused and our so-called representatives bought and paid for by the moneyed elite, the government then turns around and uses the money we earn with our blood, sweat and tears to target, imprison and entrap us, in the form of militarized police, surveillance cameras, private prisons, license plate readers, drones, and cell phone tracking technology.

All of those nefarious deeds that you read about in the paper every day: those are your tax dollars at work. It’s your money that allows for government agents to spy on your emails, your phone calls, your text messages, and your movements. It’s your money that allows out-of-control police officers to burst into innocent people’s homes, or probe and strip search motorists on the side of the road. And it’s your money that leads to innocent Americans across the country being prosecuted for innocuous activities such as raising chickens at home, growing vegetable gardens, and trying to live off the grid.

Just remember the next time you see a news story that makes your blood boil, whether it’s a police officer arresting someone for filming them in public, or a child being kicked out of school for shooting an imaginary arrow, or a homeowner being threatened with fines for building a pond in his backyard, remember that it is your tax dollars that are paying for these injustices.

So what are you going to do about it?

There was a time in our history when our forebears said “enough is enough” and stopped paying their taxes to what they considered an illegitimate government. They stood their ground and refused to support a system that was slowly choking out any attempts at self-governance, and which refused to be held accountable for its crimes against the people. Their resistance sowed the seeds for the revolution that would follow.

Unfortunately, in the 200-plus years since we established our own government, we’ve let bankers, turncoats and number-crunching bureaucrats muddy the waters and pilfer the accounts to such an extent that we’re back where we started. Once again, we’ve got a despotic regime with an imperial ruler doing as they please. Once again, we’ve got a judicial system insisting we have no rights under a government which demands that the people march in lockstep with its dictates. And once again, we’ve got to decide whether we’ll keep marching or break stride and make a turn toward freedom.

But what if we didn’t just pull out our pocketbooks and pony up to the federal government’s outrageous demands for more money? What if we didn’t just dutifully line up to drop our hard-earned dollars into the collection bucket, no questions asked about how it will be spent? What if, instead of quietly sending in our checks, hoping vainly for some meager return, we did a little calculating of our own and started deducting from our taxes those programs that we refuse to support?

If we don’t have the right to decide what happens to our hard-earned cash, then we don’t have very many rights at all. If they can just take from you what they want, when they want, and then use it however they want, you can’t claim to be anything more than a serf in a land they think of as theirs. This was the case in the colonial era, and it’s the case once again.

“I thought I had freedom of speech here,” the man said to the police officer.
“You don’t. You just lost it,” the officer replied.

Once again, the U.S. government is attempting to police the world when it should be policing its own law enforcement agencies. We’ve got a warship cruising the Black Sea, fighter jets patrolling the Baltic skies, and a guided-missile destroyer searching the South China Sea for the downed Malaysia Airlines flight. All the while, back home in the U.S., our constitutional rights are going to hell in a hand basket, with homeowners being threatened with eviction for attempting to live off the grid, old women jailed for feeding crows, and citizens armed with little more than a cell phone arrested for daring to record police activities.

Robin Speronis now finds herself threatened with eviction from her own Florida home for daring to live off the grid, independent of city utilities such as water and electricity. City officials insist the Cape Coral resident’s chosen way of life violates international property maintenance code and city ordinances. Mary Musselman, also a Florida resident, is being held in jail without bond for “feeding wild animals.” The 81-year-old Musselman, on probation after being charged with feeding bears near her home, was arrested after officers discovered her leaving bread out for crows. Meanwhile, Brandy Berning of Florida was forced to spend a night in jail after recording her conversation with an officer who pulled her over for a routine traffic stop.

Welcome to the farce that passes for law and order in America today, where, as I point out in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, crime is low, militarized police activity is on the rise, and Americans are being penalized for living off the grid, feeding wild animals, holding Bible studies in their back yard, growing vegetables in their front yard, collecting rainwater, and filming the police.

This latter point should really stick in your craw. Consider the irony: the government insists it can carry out all manner of surveillance on us—listen in on our phone calls, read our emails and text messages, track our movements, photograph our license plates, even enter our biometric information into DNA databases—but if we dare to return the favor, even a little, we get roughed up by the police, arrested, charged with violating various and sundry crimes (often trumped up), and forced to make restitution.

For example, George Thompson of Boston was arrested after he used his cell phone to record a police officer he describes as being “out of control.” University of Texas college student Abie Kyle Ikhinmwi was arrested after recording a police speed trap with her cell phone. Kansas teen Addison Mikkelson was arrested after filming a patrol car allegedly speeding and failing to use a turn signal.

Leon Rosby was filming a police standoff in June 2013, his cellphone in one hand and his dog’s leash in the other, when three officers approached him. Anticipating a problem, Rosby placed his 2-year-old Rottweiler, Max, in his car. The LA Times reports: “As officers cuffed Rosby, the dog escaped through an open window and began to bark and lunge at officers. One officer tried to grab the dog’s leash, then drew his gun and fired four shots, killing Max. Video of the incident went viral on YouTube, prompting a public outcry and drawing protesters to the Police Department headquarters.” Rosby has now filed a civil rights lawsuit against the city and the three police officers.

And then there is the Baltimore man who was threatened by police after they discovered him filming them during an arrest. The local CBS station ran the footage of the ensuing confrontation, which went something like this:

“I’m allowed to do this,” the man told the officer.

“Get it out of my face,” the officer replied.

“I have my rights,” the man said.

“You have no rights,” the officer said.

But the man didn’t stop rolling and was once again aggressively approached.

“Do you see the police presence here? Do you see us all? We’re not [expletive] around. Do you understand? Do not disrespect us and do not not listen to us,” the officer said. “Now walk away and shut your [expletive] mouth or you’re going to jail, do you understand?”

After backing away, the officer came at the man a third time, appearing to grab him.

“I thought I had freedom of speech here,” the man said.

“You don’t. You just lost it,” the officer replied.

And that, in a nutshell, is what happens when law enforcement officials—not just the police, but every agent of the government entrusted with enforcing laws, from the president on down—are allowed to discard the law when convenient. At the point where there’s a double standard at play, where the only ones having to obey the law are the citizenry and not the enforcers, then that vital “social contract” that John Locke envisioned as the basis for society breaks down. The more we allow government officials to operate outside the law, the more we ensure that the law becomes only a tool to punish us, rather than binding and controlling the government, as it was intended.

This brings me back to the problem of Americans getting arrested for filming the police. Until recently, this has primarily been a problem experienced by journalists and photographers attempting to document political protests and other disturbances involving the police. However, with the preponderance of smart phones capable of recording audio and video, individuals who dare to record police engaged in questionable or abusive activities in public are increasingly finding themselves on the receiving end of the harsh treatment they intended to document. These videos, if widely distributed, can be a powerful method of subjecting police to closer scrutiny and holding them accountable to respecting the rights of those they are supposed to serve.

Naturally, police agencies and unions have sought out legal prohibitions on such videos from being created. Massachusetts police, for instance, have invoked a state surveillance law to charge citizen video-makers criminally for their actions. Because the state surveillance law requires “two-party” consent, most kinds of public filming can be construed as illegal. Similar laws exist in California, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. The law was enacted to protect private citizens from invasive surveillance, but the police have exploited it to curtail free speech that tarnishes their public image. Police claim that this regulation gives them legal justification to prohibit filming by citizens such as Jeffrey Manzelli, a journalist who recorded the police intimidating protesters at a rally and was arrested and charged under the law.

Saddled with costly lawsuits brought by individuals allegedly brutalized by police who didn’t appreciate their actions being filmed, a few cities across the country are attempting to adopt policies to protect citizens who film the police. In Troy, N.Y., for example, city police officers would face a fine and jail time if they stop people from legally photographing or filming them. If adopted, the Troy ordinance, which would carry a maximum $5,000 fine and a jail term of up to 15 days for an officer found guilty of violating it, would be the first of its kind in the country.

As part of a $200,000 legal settlement, Indianapolis police will soon be required to remind its officers that citizens have a legal right to videotape on-duty police officers. The case arose after a 66-year-old Indianapolis resident was tackled to the ground, arrested and charged with resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and public intoxication (he was found not guilty of the charges) after he used his cellphone to record police arresting a young man in his neighbor’s driveway. There is also a movement afoot to equip police with on-officer cameras that would provide footage of what an officer sees.

The courts, thus far, have favored the First Amendment rights of eyewitness filmmakers, even in the face of state efforts to outlaw such activities. In 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of an Illinois eavesdropping law that makes recording law enforcement officers a first-class felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison. In 2013, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a statement of interest in the case of Mannie Garcia v. Montgomery County, Md., declaring that not only do individuals have a First Amendment right to record officers publicly doing their duties, they also have Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights protecting them from having those recordings seized without a warrant or due process.

The Garcia case involves a journalist who was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct for filming police as they detained two men. According to the lawsuit, police “dragged Garcia to the police car, put him in handcuffs, threw him to the ground by kicking his feet out from under him, taunted him, threatened to arrest his wife if she came too close and took his camera, and seized the memory card, which was never returned.”

The problem, as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit recognized in Payne v. Pauley, is that “[p]olice officers must be more thick skinned than the ordinary citizen and must exercise restraint in dealing with the public” and “must not conceive that every threatening or insulting word, gesture, or motion amounts to disorderly conduct.”

The difficulty we face is that police officers are becoming increasingly thin skinned, less restrained in dealing with the public, and more inclined to conceive every word, gesture, or motion as a threat. In an ideal world, police would recognize that, as public servants, they are rightfully subject to recording and surveillance when carrying out their public duties. Unfortunately, this is far from an ideal world.

So what are we to do?

We must continue to stand up for our rights, record police when the opportunity presents itself, and politely remind any offended officers that they are, in fact, our public servants and, as such, their behavior is subject to public scrutiny. If they disagree and attempt to stop us from recording, we can refer them to the U.S. Constitution, which they have sworn to uphold, which protects our right to record matters of public interest. And if they continue to insist on hauling people to jail because they don’t like the idea of transparency and accountability, they can take it up with the courts. The goal is to eventually arrive at a point where we can keep a watchful eye on our government officials, instead of the other way around. As Justice Louis D. Brandeis once observed, “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.” — John W. Whitehead

“Twelve voices were shouting in anger, and they were all alike. No question, now, what had happened to the faces of the pigs. The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.” ― George Orwell, Animal Farm

What was striking about this year’s State of the Union address was not the sheer arrogance of the president’s remarks, the staged nature of the proceedings and interactions, or the predictable posturing of the rebuttals, but the extent to which the members of the various branches of government—President Obama, Congress, the Supreme Court, and the assorted government agencies—are just one big, brawling, noisy, semi-incestuous clan.

Watching these bureaucrats, both elected and appointed, interact in the unguarded moments before the event, with their hugging and kissing and nudging and joking and hobnobbing and general high spirits, I was reminded anew that these people—Republicans and Democrats alike—are united in a common goal, and it is not to protect and defend the Constitution. No, as Orwell recognized in Animal Farm, their common goal is to maintain the status quo, a goal that is helped along by an unquestioning, easily mollified, corporate media. In this way, the carefully crafted spectacle that is the State of the Union address is just that: an exaggerated farce of political theater intended to dazzle, distract and divide us, all the while the police state marches steadily forward.

No matter what the president and his cohorts say or how convincingly they say it, the reality Americans must contend with is that the world is no better the day after President Obama’s State of the Union address than it was the day before. Indeed, if the following rundown on the actual state of our freedoms is anything to go by, the world is a far more dangerous place.

Americans have no protection against police abuse. It is no longer unusual to hear about incidents in which police shoot unarmed individuals first and ask questions later, such as the 16-year-old teenager who skipped school only to be shot by police after they mistook him for a fleeing burglar. Then there was the unarmed black man in Texas “who was pursued and shot in the back of the neck by Austin Police… after failing to properly identify himself and leaving the scene of an unrelated incident.” And who could forget the 19-year-old Seattle woman who was accidentally shot in the leg by police after she refused to show her hands? What is increasingly common, however, is the news that the officers involved in these incidents get off with little more than a slap on the hands.

Americans are little more than pocketbooks to fund the police state. If there is any absolute maxim by which the federal government seems to operate, it is that the American taxpayer always gets ripped off. This is true, whether you’re talking about taxpayers being forced to fund high-priced weaponry that will be used against us, endless wars that do little for our safety or our freedoms, or bloated government agencies such as the National Security Agency with its secret budgets, covert agendas and clandestine activities. Rubbing salt in the wound, even monetary awards in lawsuits against government officials who are found guilty of wrongdoing are paid by the taxpayer.

Americans are no longer innocent until proven guilty. We once operated under the assumption that you were innocent until proven guilty. Due in large part to rapid advances in technology and a heightened surveillance culture, the burden of proof has been shifted so that the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty has been usurped by a new norm in which all citizens are suspects. This is exemplified by police practices of stopping and frisking people who are merely walking down the street and where there is no evidence of wrongdoing. Likewise, by subjecting Americans to full-body scans and license-plate readers without their knowledge or compliance and then storing the scans for later use, the government—in cahoots with the corporate state—has erected the ultimate suspect society. In such an environment, we are all potentially guilty of some wrongdoing or other.

Americans no longer have a right to self-defense. In the wake of various shootings in recent years, “gun control” has become a resounding theme for government officials, with President Obama even going so far as to pledge to reduce gun violence “with or without Congress.” Those advocating gun reform see the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms as applying only to government officials. As a result, even Americans who legally own firearms are being treated with suspicion and, in some cases, undue violence. In one case, a Texas man had his home subjected to a no-knock raid and was shot in his bed after police, attempting to deliver a routine search warrant, learned that he was in legal possession of a firearm. In another incident, a Florida man who was licensed to carry a concealed firearm found himself detained for two hours during a routine traffic stop in Maryland while the arresting officer searched his vehicle in vain for the man’s gun, which he had left at home.

Americans no longer have a right to private property. If government agents can invade your home, break down your doors, kill your dog, damage your furnishings and terrorize your family, your property is no longer private and secure—it belongs to the government. Likewise, if government officials can fine and arrest you for growing vegetables in your front yard, praying with friends in your living room, installing solar panels on your roof, and raising chickens in your backyard, you’re no longer the owner of your property.

Americans no longer have a say about what their children are exposed to in school. Incredibly, the government continues to insist that parents essentially forfeit their rights when they send their children to a public school. This growing tension over whether young people, especially those in the public schools, are essentially wards of the state, to do with as government officials deem appropriate, in defiance of the children’s constitutional rights and those of their parents, is reflected in the debate over sex education programs that expose young people to all manner of sexual practices and terminology, zero tolerance policies that strip students of any due process rights, let alone parental involvement in school discipline, and Common Core programs that teach students to be test-takers rather than critical thinkers.

Americans are powerless in the face of militarized police. In early America, citizens were considered equals with law enforcement officials. Authorities were rarely permitted to enter one’s home without permission or in a deceitful manner. And it was not uncommon for police officers to be held personally liable for trespass when they wrongfully invaded a citizen’s home. Unlike today, early Americans could resist arrest when a police officer tried to restrain them without proper justification or a warrant—which the police had to allow citizens to read before arresting them. (Daring to dispute a warrant with a police official today who is armed with high-tech military weapons and tasers would be nothing short of suicidal.) As police forces across the country continue to be transformed into outposts of the military, with police agencies acquiring military-grade hardware in droves, Americans are finding their once-peaceful communities transformed into military outposts, complete with tanks, weaponry, and other equipment designed for the battlefield.

Americans no longer have a right to bodily integrity. Court rulings undermining the Fourth Amendment and justifying invasive strip searches have left us powerless against police empowered to forcefully draw our blood, strip search us, and probe us intimately. Accounts are on the rise of individuals—men and women—being subjected to what is essentially government-sanctioned rape by police in the course of “routine” traffic stops. Most recently, a New Mexico man was subjected to a 12-hour ordeal of anal probes, X-rays, enemas, and finally a colonoscopy because he allegedly rolled through a stop sign.

Americans no longer have a right to the expectation of privacy. Despite the staggering number of revelations about government spying on Americans’ phone calls, Facebook posts, Twitter tweets, Google searches, emails, bookstore and grocery purchases, bank statements, commuter toll records, etc., Congress, the president and the courts have done little to nothing to counteract these abuses. Instead, they seem determined to accustom us to life in this electronic concentration camp.

Americans no longer have a representative government. We have moved beyond the era of representative government and entered a new age, let’s call it the age of authoritarianism. 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. Even with its constantly shifting terrain, this topsy-turvy travesty of law and government has become America’s new normal. It is not overstating matters to say that Congress, which has done its best to keep their unhappy constituents at a distance, may well be the most self-serving, semi-corrupt institution in America.

Americans can no longer rely on the courts to mete out justice. The U.S. 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 Supreme Court have become the architects of the American police state in which we now live, while the lower courts have appointed themselves courts of order, concerned primarily with advancing the government’s agenda, no matter how unjust or illegal.

Yes, the world is a far more dangerous place than it was a year ago. What the president failed to mention in his State of the Union address, however (and what I document in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State), is the fact that it’s the government that poses the gravest threat to our freedoms and way of life, and no amount of politicking, parsing or pandering will change that. — John W. Whitehead

“All governments are run by liars.”—Independent journalist I.F. “Izzy” Stone

President Obama has managed, with singular assistance from Congress and the courts, to mangle the Constitution through repeated abuses, attacks and evasions.

This is nothing new, as I’ve documented in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State. However, with his recent speech on the National Security Agency—a heady cocktail of lies, obfuscations, contradictions and Orwellian doublespeak—Obama has also managed to pervert and propagandize our nation’s history, starting with Paul Revere and the Sons of Liberty, likening their efforts to secure our freedoms to NSA phone surveillance. Frankly, George Orwell’s Winston Smith, rewriting news stories for Big Brother and the Ministry of Truth, couldn’t have done a better job of revising history to suit the party line.

While it didn’t bode well for what was to follow, here’s how Obama opened his speech:

At the dawn of our Republic, a small, secret surveillance committee borne out of the ‘The Sons of Liberty’ was established in Boston. And the group’s members included Paul Revere. At night, they would patrol the streets, reporting back any signs that the British were preparing raids against America’s early Patriots. Throughout American history, intelligence has helped secure our country and our freedoms.

Obama’s inference is clear: rather than condemning the NSA for encroaching on our privacy rights, we should be commending them for helping to “secure our country and our freedoms.” Never mind that the Sons of Liberty were actually working against the British government, to undermine what they perceived as a repressive regime guilty of perpetrating a host of abuses against the colonists.

After such a 1984-esque send-up, it doesn’t even really matter what else Obama had to say in his speech about NSA reforms and the like. Rest assured, it was largely a pack of lies. Mind you, Obama said it eloquently enough and interspersed it with all the appropriately glib patriotic remarks about individual freedom and the need to defend the Constitution and securing the life of our nation while preserving our liberties. After all, Obama has proven to be very good at saying one thing and doing another, whether it’s insisting that “you can keep your health care plan,” that he’ll close Guantanamo, or that his administration’s controversial drone strikes only target terrorists and not civilians.

When it comes to the NSA, Obama has been lying to the American people for quite some time now. There was the time he claimed the secret FISA court is “transparent.” Then he insisted that “we don’t have a domestic spying program.” And then, to top it all off, he actually insisted there was no evidence the NSA was “actually abusing” its power. As David Sirota writes for Salon: “it has now become almost silly to insinuate or assume that the president hasn’t also been lying. Why? Because if that’s true — if indeed he hasn’t been deliberately lying — then it means he has been dangerously, irresponsibly and negligently ignorant of not only the government he runs, but also of the news breaking around him.”

Sirota continues:

I, of course, don’t buy that at all. I don’t buy that a constitutional lawyer and legal scholar didn’t know that the FISA court is secret — aka the opposite of “transparent.” I don’t buy that he simply didn’t see any of the news showing that spying is happening in the United States. And I don’t buy that he didn’t know that there is evidence — both public and inside his own administration — of the NSA “actually abusing” its power.

I don’t buy any of that because, to say the least, it makes no sense. I just don’t buy that he’s so unaware of the world around him that he made such statements from a position of pure ignorance. On top of that, he has a motive. Yes, Obama has an obvious political interest in trying to hide as much of his administration’s potentially illegal behavior as possible, which means he has an incentive to calculatedly lie. For all of these reasons, it seems safe to suggest that when it comes to the NSA situation, the president seems to be lying.

So in terms of Obama’s latest speech on the NSA, if you read between the lines—or just ignore the president’s words and pay attention to his actions—it’s clear that nothing is going to change. The NSA will continue to abuse its power by spying on Americans’ phone calls and emails. They will continue to collect metadata on our various communications and activities. And they will continue to carry out their surveillance in secret, with no attempts at transparency or accountability.

The NSA will do so, no matter what Obama claims to the contrary, because this black ops-funded agency whose very existence is abhorrent to the Constitution has become a power unto itself. They no longer work for us or for the president, for that matter. He works for them.

Remember, Obama is the chief executive of a super secretive surveillance state whose overarching purpose is to remain in power by any means available. As such, he and his surveillance state cohorts have far more in common with King George and the British government of his day than with the American colonists who worked hard to foment a rebellion and overthrow a despotic regime.

Indeed, Obama and his speechwriters would do well to brush up on their history. In doing so, they will find that the Sons of Liberty, the “small, secret surveillance committee” they conveniently liken to the NSA, was in fact an underground, revolutionary movement that fought the established government of its day, whose members were considered agitators, traitors and terrorists not unlike Edward Snowden.

In much the same way that the U.S. government under the leadership of Barack Obama is today going after whistleblowers and activists who oppose their tactics, the British government went after the Sons of Liberty. These people were neither career politicians nor government bureaucrats. Instead, they were mechanics, merchants, artisans and the like—ordinary people groaning under the weight of Britain’s oppressive rule—who, having reached a breaking point, had decided that enough was enough. Through the use of Committees of Correspondence, they alerted the colonists to the abuses being meted out by the British crown by way of pamphlets, speeches and resolutions, inciting them to actively resist the acts of oppression, and conspiring with them to revolt.

The colonists’ treatment at the hands of the British was not much different from the abuses meted out to the American people today: they too were taxed on everything from food to labor without any real say in the matter, in addition to which they had their homes invaded, their property seized and searched, their families terrorized, their communications, associations and activities monitored, and their attempts to defend themselves and challenge the government’s abuses dismissed as belligerence, treachery, and sedition.

Unlike most Americans today, who remain ignorant of the government’s abuses, cheerfully distracted by the entertainment spectacles trotted out before them by a complicit media, readily persuaded that the government has their best interests at heart, and easily cowed by the slightest show of force, the colonists responded to the government’s abuses with outrage, activism and rebellion. They staged boycotts of British goods and organized public protests, mass meetings, parades, bonfires and other demonstrations, culminating with their most famous act of resistance, the Boston Tea Party.

On the night of December 16, 1773, a group of men dressed as Indians boarded three ships that were carrying tea. Cheered on by a crowd along the shore, they threw 342 chests of tea overboard in protest of a tax on the tea. Many American merchants were aghast at the wanton destruction of property. A town meeting in Bristol, Massachusetts, condemned the action. Ben Franklin even called on his native city to pay for the tea and apologize. But as historian Pauline Maier notes, the Boston Tea Party was a last resort for a group of people who had stated their peaceful demands but were rebuffed by the British: “The tea resistance constituted a model of justified forceful resistance upon traditional criteria.”

The rest, as they say, is history. Yet it’s a history we cannot afford to forget or allow to be rewritten. The colonists suffered under the weight of countless tyrannies before they finally were emboldened to stand their ground. They attempted to reason with the British crown, to plea their cause, even to negotiate. It was only when these means proved futile that they resorted to outright resistance, civil disobedience and eventually rebellion.

More than 200 years later, we are once again suffering under a long train of abuses and usurpations. What Americans today must decide is how committed they are to the cause of freedom and how far they’re willing to go to restore what has been lost. Nat Hentoff, one of my dearest friends and a formidable champion of the Constitution, has long advocated for the resurgence of Committees of Correspondence. As Nat noted:

This resistance to arrant tyranny first became part of our heritage when Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty formed the original Committees of Correspondence, a unifying source of news of British tyranny throughout the colonies that became a precipitating cause of the American Revolution. Where are the Sons of Liberty, the Committees of Correspondence and the insistently courageous city councils now, when they are crucially needed to bring back the Bill of Rights that protect every American against government tyranny worse than King George III’s? Where are the citizens demanding that these doorways to liberty be opened … What are we waiting for?

What are we waiting for, indeed? As Thomas Jefferson said, “I prefer dangerous freedom over peaceful slavery.”

“[E]verywhere, “time is winding up,” in the words of one of our spirituals, “corruption in the land, people take a stand, time is winding up.”—Martin Luther King Jr.

We now live in a two-tiered system of governance. There are two sets of laws: one set for the government and its corporate allies, and another set for you and me.

The laws which apply to the majority of the population allow the government to do things like sending SWAT teams crashing through your door in the middle of the night, rectally probing you during a roadside stop, or listening in on your phone calls and reading all of your email messages, confiscating your property, or indefinitely detaining you in a military holding cell. These are the laws which are executed every single day against a population which has up until now been blissfully ignorant of the radical shift taking place in American government.

Then there are the laws constructed for the elite, which allow bankers who crash the economy to walk free. They’re the laws which allow police officers to avoid prosecution when they shoot unarmed citizens, strip search non-violent criminals, or taser pregnant women on the side of the road, or pepper spray peaceful protestors. These are the laws of the new age we are entering, an age of neo-feudalism, in which corporate-state rulers dominate the rest of us, where the elite create the laws which can result in a person being jailed for possessing a small amount of marijuana while bankers that launder money for drug cartels walk free. In other words, we have moved into an age where we are the slaves and they are the rulers.

Unfortunately, this two-tiered system of government has been a long time coming. As I detail in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, the march toward an imperial presidency, to congressional intransigence and impotence, to a corporate takeover of the mechanisms of government, and the division of America into haves and have nots has been building for years.

Thus we now find ourselves at a point where, for the first time in history, Congress is dominated by a majority of millionaires who are, on average, 14 times wealthier than the average American. Making matters worse, as the Center for Responsive Politics reports, “at a time when lawmakers are debating issues like unemployment benefits, food stamps and the minimum wage, which affect people with far fewer resources, as well as considering an overhaul of the tax code,” our so-called representatives are completely out of touch with the daily struggles of most Americans–those who live from paycheck to paycheck and are caught in the exhausting struggle to survive on a day-to-day basis.

Indeed, although America is supposed to be a representative republic, these people– who earn six-figure salaries and inhabit a world exempt from parking tickets, where gym membership is free and health care is second-to-none, where you only have to work two, maybe three days a week and get 32 fully reimbursed road trips home a year, travel to foreign lands, discounts in Capitol Hill tax-free shops and restaurants, free reserved parking at Washington National Airport, free fresh-cut flowers from the Botanic Gardens, and free assistance in the preparation of income taxes–neither represent nor serve the American people. They have instead appointed themselves our masters.

While Congress should be America’s representative body, too many of its members bear little resemblance to those they have been elected to represent. As Dan Eggen reports for The Washington Post: “The new figures underscore a long-standing trend of wealth accumulation in Congress, which is populated overwhelmingly with millionaires and near-millionaires who often own multiple homes and other assets out of reach for most of the voters they represent.”

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 are supposed to 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.

The unfortunate but simple fact is that the rich sit perched at the top of the government. As Joseph Stiglitz writes for Vanity Fair:

Virtually all U.S. senators, and most of the representatives in the House, are members of the top 1 percent when they arrive, are kept in office by money from the top 1 percent, and know that if they serve the top 1 percent well they will be rewarded by the top 1 percent when they leave office. By and large, the key executive-branch policymakers on trade and economic policy also come from the top 1 percent. When pharmaceutical companies receive a trillion-dollar gift–through legislation prohibiting the government, the largest buyer of drugs, from bargaining over price–it should not come as cause for wonder. It should not make jaws drop that a tax bill cannot emerge from Congress unless big tax cuts are put in place for the wealthy. Given the power of the top 1 percent, this is the way you would expect the system to work.

Sadly, electoral politics have been so thoroughly corrupted by corporate money that there is little chance, even for a well-meaning person, to affect any real change through Congress. Whether it be the Oval Office or the halls of Congress, the road to the ballot box is an expensive one, and only the wealthy, or those supported by the wealthy, are even able to get to the starting line.

Just consider the 2012 presidential election cycle. Both parties spent $1 billion each attempting to get their candidate elected to the presidency. This money came from rich donors and corporate sponsors, intent on getting their candidate in office. Once in office, these already privileged wealthy bureaucrats enter into a life of even greater privilege, unfortunately at the expense of the American taxpayer. It doesn’t even seem to matter whether they’re Democrats or Republicans–they all take full advantage of what one news report described as “a mountain of perks that most Fortune 500 companies couldn’t begin to rival.”

Even President Obama’s closest advisers are millionaires, including those on his 15-member cabinet. It is not unusual for some of them to own vacation homes, such as Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of Health and Human Services, who owns a “summer home worth more than a million dollars.

And then there are the lobbyists, the source of much corruption and exchanging of money in Washington. With an estimated 26 lobbyists per congressman, it should come as no surprise that once elected, even those with the best of intentions seem to find it hard to resist the lure of lobbyist dollars, of which there are plenty to go around.

This lobbying is in turn buoyed by a congressional lifestyle which demands that our representatives spend the majority of their time fund raising for campaigns, rather than responding to the needs of their constituents. In November 2012, the Democratic House leadership offered a model daily schedule to newly elected Democrats which suggests a ten-hour day, five hours of which are dominated by “call time” and “strategic outreach,” including fund raisers and correspondence with potential donors. Three or four hours are for actually doing the job they were elected to do, such as attending committee meetings, voting on legislation, and interacting with constituents.

When half of one’s time is devoted to asking for money from rich individuals and special interests, there is no way that he can respond to the problems which pervade the country. Even well-meaning Congressmen face a Catch-22 where they are pushed to fundraise to secure their seats, but then once in office, it is basically impossible for them to do their jobs. The full ramifications of this are laid out by Rep. Brad Miller (D-NC):

Any member who follows that schedule will be completely controlled by their staff, handed statements that their staff prepared, speaking from talking points they get emailed from leadership… It really does affect how members of Congress behave if the most important thing they think about is fundraising. You end up being nice to people that probably somebody needs to be questioning skeptically… You won’t ask tough questions in hearings that might displease potential contributors, won’t support amendments that might anger them, will tend to vote the way contributors want you to vote.

What we are faced with is a government by oligarchy–in other words, one that is of the rich, by the rich and for the rich. Yet the Constitution’s Preamble states that it is “we the people” who are supposed to be running things. If our so-called “representative government” is to survive, we must first wrest control of our government from the wealthy elite who run it. That is a problem with no easy solutions, and voting is the least of what we should be doing.

“What they don’t want,” noted comedian George Carlin, is “a population of citizens capable of critical thinking. They don’t want well-informed, well-educated people capable of critical thinking. They’re not interested in that. That doesn’t help them. That’s against their interests.”

A population of citizens capable of critical thinking? That’s a good place to start, and it’s a sure-fire way to jumpstart a revolution. As Abraham Lincoln said, “Wise men established these great self-evident truths, that when in the distant future some man, some faction, some interest, should set up the doctrine that none but rich men, or none but white men, were entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, their posterity should look up again at the Declaration of Independence and take courage to renew the battle which their fathers began.”

Inspiring words, but what do they really mean for those of us laboring under the weight of an overreaching, militarized, corrupt government that grows increasingly so with each passing day?

How can we change this state of affairs? The government is too big, too powerful, and its overlords too entrenched to willingly give up any of its power or wealth. The wisest option is to employ the tactics of past protest movements such as the Bonus Army, the Civil Rights Movement, and the 1960s anti-war movement, all of which used sleep-ins, sit-ins and marches to oppose government policies, counter injustice and bring about meaningful change.

For example, in May of 1932, more than 43,000 people, dubbed the Bonus Army—World War I veterans and their families—marched on Washington. Out of work, destitute and with families to feed, more than 10,000 veterans set up tent cities in the nation’s capital and refused to leave until the government agreed to pay the bonuses they had been promised as a reward for their services. The Senate voted against paying them immediately, but the protesters didn’t budge. Congress adjourned for the summer, and still the protesters remained encamped. Finally, on July 28, under orders from President Herbert Hoover, the military descended with tanks and cavalry, beating some protesters senseless and setting their makeshift camps on fire. Still, the protesters returned the following year, and eventually their efforts not only succeeded in securing payment of the bonuses but contributed to the passage of the G.I. Bill of Rights.

Similarly, the Civil Rights Movement mobilized hundreds of thousands of people to strike at the core of an unjust and discriminatory society. Likewise, while the 1960s anti-war movement began with a few thousand perceived radicals, it ended with hundreds of thousands of protesters, spanning all walks of life, demanding the end of American military aggression abroad.

What these movements had was a coherent message, the mass mobilization of a large cross section of American society, what Martin Luther King Jr. called a philosophy of “militant nonviolent resistance” and an eventual convergence on the nation’s seat of power—Washington, DC—the staging ground for the corporate coup, where the shady deals are cut, where lobbyists and politicians meet, and where corporate interests are considered above all else.

It is no coincidence that just prior to his assassination in April 1968, King was plotting “to build a shantytown in Washington, patterned after the bonus marches of the thirties, to dramatize how many people have to live in slums in our nation.”

King’s advice still rings true: “We need to put pressure on Congress to get things done. We will do this with First Amendment activity. If Congress is unresponsive, we’ll have to escalate in order to keep the issue alive and before it. This action may take on disruptive dimensions, but not violent in the sense of destroying life or property: it will be militant nonviolence.”

The balance of power that was once a hallmark of our republic no longer exists. James Madison’s warning that “the accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elected, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny” has, regrettably come to pass.

Clearly, it’s time for a mass movement dedicated to change through “militant nonviolence.” If not, the shadow of tyranny that now hangs over us will eventually destroy every last semblance of freedom.

“We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor,” Martin Luther King Jr. warned in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” “It must be demanded by the oppressed.” — John W. Whitehead

“Everybody’s a target; everybody with communication is a target.”—A senior intelligence official previously involved with the Utah Data Center

The recent revelation that the National Security Agency (NSA) is collecting the telephone records of millions of Verizon customers, with the complete blessing of the Obama administration, should come as no surprise to anyone who has been paying attention over the past decade.

As I document in my new book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State (available now at Amazon.com), what we are witnessing, in the so-called name of security and efficiency, is the creation of a new class system comprised of the watched (average Americans such as you and me) and the watchers (government bureaucrats, technicians and private corporations). What too many fail to realize, consumed as they are with partisan politics and blinded by their own political loyalties, is that the massive bureaucracies—now computerized—that administer governmental policy transcend which party occupies the White House.

This explains why the civil liberties abuses carried out by the Bush Administration have not been corrected by the Obama Administration. Rather, they have been expanded upon. Take, for instance, the warrantless wiretapping program conducted during the Bush years, which resulted in the NSA monitoring the private communications of millions of Americans—a program that continues unabated today, with help from private telecommunications companies such as AT&T. The program recorded 320 million phone calls a day when it first started. It is estimated that the NSA has intercepted 15 to 20 trillion communications of American citizens since 9/11.

To our misfortune, the Obama White House has proven to be even worse than the Bush White House when it comes to invading the privacy rights of Americans. As Yale law professor Jack Balkin notes, “We are witnessing the bipartisan normalization and legitimization of a national-surveillance state. [Obama has] systematically adopted policies consistent with the second term of the Bush Administration.” Unfortunately, whereas those on the Left raised a hew and cry over the Bush administration’s constant encroachments on Americans’ privacy rights, it appears that the political leanings of those on the Left have held greater sway than their principles. Consequently, the Obama administration has faced much less criticism for its blatant efforts to reinforce the surveillance state.

Insisting that terrorists “will come after us if they can and the only thing that we have to deter this is good intelligence to understand that a plot has been hatched and to get there before they get to us,” Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who chairs the Senate intelligence committee, is defending the NSA’s actions, as well as the secret court order requiring Verizon to turn over its phone records to government agents. It’s a tired, overused line that preys on Americans’ fear of another terrorist attack and offers phantom promises of security while ensuring neither safety nor greater freedom. Even the vague and unsupported claim put forth by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) that the NSA surveillance program “helped thwart ‘a significant case’ of terrorism in the United States ‘within the last few years’” fails to justify a program of this magnitude, which makes everyone a target and turns us all into a nation of suspects.

Clearly, the age of privacy in America is coming to a close. We have moved into a new paradigm in which surveillance technology which renders everyone a suspect is driving the bureaucratic ship that once was our democratic republic. It will not be long before no phone call, no email, no Tweet, no web search is safe from the prying eyes and ears of the government. People going about their daily business will no longer be assured that they are not being spied upon by federal agents and other government bureaucrats.

Thus, the question looms before us.  Can freedom in the United States continue to flourish and grow in an age when the physical movements, individual purchases, conversations, and meetings of every citizen are constantly under surveillance by private companies and government agencies?

Whether or not the surveillance is undertaken for so-called “worthy” (read: politically expedient) reasons such as preventing another terrorist attack, does not surveillance of all citizens gradually poison the soul of a nation and render us all data collected in government files? Does not such surveillance completely eviscerate our right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures as guaranteed by our Constitution?

For  more on this and other pressing issues relating to the emerging police state in America, read my new book  A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, available now at Amazon.com.– John W. Whitehead

In a devastating ruling handed down in Maryland v. King, a divided U.S. Supreme Court has approved the practice by police of forcefully obtaining DNA samples from individuals arrested for serious crimes, even though they are presumed innocent, without first obtaining a search warrant.

Any American who thinks they’re safe from the threat of DNA sampling, blood draws, and roadside strip and/or rectal or vaginal searches simply because they’ve ‘done nothing wrong,’ needs to wake up to the new reality in which we’re now living. As the Supreme Court’s ruling in Maryland v. King shows, the mindset of those in the highest seats of power—serving on the courts, in the White House, in Congress—is a utilitarian one that has little regard for the Constitution, let alone the Fourth Amendment. Like Justice Scalia, all I can hope is that “today’s incursion upon the Fourth Amendment” will someday be repudiated.

As Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the dissent, points out, the Court’s ruling succeeds only in burdening “the sole group for whom the Fourth Amendment’s protections ought to be most jealously guarded: people who are innocent of the State’s accusations.” Moreover, if such a dubious practice were to prevail simply for the sake of “solving more crimes,” as Scalia suggests, it would not take much to justify the “taking of DNA samples from anyone who flies on an airplane (surely the Transportation Security Administration needs to know the “identity” of the flying public), applies for a driver’s license, or attends a public school.”

In 2009, Maryland police arrested Alonzo Jay King Jr. on charges of assault. Relying on a state law which authorizes DNA collection from people arrested but not yet convicted of a crime, police carried out a cheek swab on King to obtain his DNA profile without first procuring a warrant. The DNA sample was then matched up against a database which identified him as having allegedly been involved in a 2003 rape. King was then convicted of the 2003 crime. On appeal, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled in April 2012 that the state law violated the Fourth Amendment. In an unusual move, in July 2012, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts issued a stay of the lower court’s ruling, prior to the Court’s even agreeing to hear the case, using the rationale that collecting DNA from people accused of serious crimes is “an important feature of day-to-day law enforcement practice in approximately half the states and the federal government.”

In agreeing to hear the case, the Supreme Court was asked to determine whether the Fourth Amendment allowed law enforcement officials to collect DNA from people who have merely been arrested and so are presumed innocent. Yet  the Court’s subsequent 5-4 ruling which equates forcefully obtaining a DNA sample to “fingerprinting and photographing, a legitimate police booking procedure that is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment,” further guts an already severely disemboweled Fourth Amendment. Justices Anthony Kennedy, John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, Stephen Breyer and Samuel Alito affirmed the practice of warrantless DNA grabs by the police. Issuing a strongly worded dissent were Justices Antonin Scalia, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

The Supreme Court’s ruling in Maryland v. King is available at http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/12pdf/12-207_d18e.pdf.

For more on these issues, read my new book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State which paints a chilling portrait of a nation in the final stages of transformation into a police state, complete with surveillance cameras, drug-sniffing dogs, SWAT team raids, roadside strip searches, blood draws at DUI checkpoints, mosquito drones, tasers, privatized prisons, GPS tracking devices, zero tolerance policies, overcriminalization, and free speech zones.

“I am in Birmingham because injustice is here.”—Martin Luther King Jr., “Letter from Birmingham Jail”

Bookended by the Newtown school shootings late last year to the most recent Boston explosions, city-wide imposition of martial law and man hunt, we’ve gone from a winter of discontent, turmoil and strife to a spring of more discontent, turmoil and strife.

No one is happy—not the politicians, who want more power, more control and less oversight; not the citizenry, who want fewer taxes, fewer regulations and greater freedom; and not small business owners, who are being strangled to death by the glut of bureaucratic red-tape being directed their way. Indeed, the only two sectors that might be reasonably content with the status quo, profiting as they do from our misery, are the corporations (especially the security and military industrial complexes) and, by extension, the corporate media.

The times are definitely calling for a change, and a significant change at that, not the cosmetic pandering that passes for political and social rhetoric today. What we are grappling with is how that change will be brought about. Clearly, the political process hasn’t worked, as evidenced by the failure in recent years by both political parties and independent movements to achieve any meaningful change. Clearly, violence is also not the answer, neither on the government’s part nor on the part of disgruntled citizens. Violence only leads to more violence.

So where does this leave us?

It was exactly fifty years ago this year that Martin Luther King Jr. found himself faced with a similar dilemma. His answer to a white populace largely satisfied with the status quo and critical of his call to activism and a black citizenry hungry for equality and immediate change was what he would later refer to as “military nonviolent resistance.”

The seething stew that was racial conflict finally boiled over in 1963, with King at the helm, leading demonstrations and marches in one segregated city after another. Jailed for participating in civil rights demonstrations in Birmingham, Alabama—one of the most racially segregated cities in the country at the time, King found himself on the defensive after eight prominent “liberal” Alabama clergypersons, all white, published an open letter castigating King for inciting civil disturbances through nonviolent resistance and calling on him to let the local and federal courts deal with the question of integration.

Although King rarely bothered to defend himself against his critics, he used his time behind bars to put pen to paper and refute those who not only opted to stand silently on the sidelines and do nothing in the face of injustice and oppression but found fault with any who took a more activist stance in the face of an urgent need. The result was King’s stirring “Letter from Birmingham City Jail,” written on April 16, 1963.

King understood that if justice and freedom were to prevail, African-Americans could not afford to be long-suffering. Quoting U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, King wrote, “Justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

Action was needed immediately. In his letter, King declared:

We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives in the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere in this country…. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and establish such creative tension that a community that has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored…. We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed…. You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern…. One may well ask, “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer is found in the fact that there are two types of laws: there are just and there are unjust laws. I would agree with Saint Augustine that “An unjust law is no law at all.”… Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust…. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and willingly accepts the penalty by staying in jail to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the very highest respect for law…. We can never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.” It was “illegal” to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. But I am sure that if I had lived in Germany during that time I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers even though it was illegal…. It is the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually time is neutral. It can be used either destructively or constructively. I am coming to feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than the people of good will…. But as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a bit of satisfaction from being considered an extremist. Was not Jesus an extremist in love—“Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you.”… Was not Abraham Lincoln an extremist—“This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” Was not Thomas Jefferson an extremist—“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” So the question is not whether we will be extremist but what kind of extremist will we be. Will we be extremists for hate or will we be extremists for love?

The word “extremist” has taken on negative connotations over the years, but it is appropriate here. When talking about the urgent need for transformative change, there can be no room for timidity or lukewarm emotions. What we need is passion and dedication and courage.

Fifty years after Martin Luther King Jr. urged Americans to stop standing on the sidelines and become extremists for love and gadflies for change, relying on militant nonviolent resistance as the means for that change, we’re in dire need of that pep talk once again, because injustice is still here. — John W. Whitehead