Posts Tagged ‘militarism’

 

“The Founding Fathers never intended a nation where citizens would pay nearly half of everything they earn to the government.” ― Ron Paul

If there is an 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.

Not only are American taxpayers forced to “spend more on state, municipal, and federal taxes than the annual financial burdens of food, clothing, and housing combined,” but we’re also being played as easy marks by hustlers bearing the imprimatur of the government.

With every new tax, fine, fee and law adopted by our so-called representatives, the yoke around the neck of the average American seems to tighten just a little bit more.

Everywhere you go, everything you do, and every which way you look, we’re getting swindled, cheated, conned, robbed, raided, pickpocketed, mugged, deceived, defrauded, double-crossed and fleeced by governmental and corporate shareholders of the American police state out to make a profit at taxpayer expense.

The overt and costly signs of the despotism exercised by the increasingly authoritarian regime that passes itself off as the United States government are all around us: warrantless surveillance of Americans’ private phone and email conversations by the NSA; SWAT team raids of Americans’ homes; shootings of unarmed citizens by police; harsh punishments meted out to schoolchildren in the name of zero tolerance; drones taking to the skies domestically; endless wars; out-of-control spending; militarized police; roadside strip searches; roving TSA sweeps; privatized prisons with a profit incentive for jailing Americans; fusion centers that collect and disseminate data on Americans’ private transactions; and militarized agencies with stockpiles of ammunition, to name some of the most appalling.

Meanwhile, the three branches of government (Executive, Legislative and Judicial) and the agencies under their command—Defense, Commerce, Education, Homeland Security, Justice, Treasury, etc.—have switched their allegiance to the Corporate State with its unassailable pursuit of profit at all costs and by any means possible. As a result, we are now ruled by a government consumed with squeezing every last penny out of the population and seemingly unconcerned if essential freedoms are trampled in the process.

As with most things, if you want to know the real motives behind any government program, follow the money trail.

When you dig down far enough, as I document in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, you quickly find that those who profit from Americans being surveilled, fined, scanned, searched, probed, tasered, arrested and imprisoned are none other than the police who arrest them, the courts which try them, the prisons which incarcerate them, and the corporations, which manufacture the weapons, equipment and prisons used by the American police state.

Examples of this legalized, profits-over-people, government-sanctioned extortion abound.

In the schools: The security industrial complex with its tracking, spying, and identification devices has set its sights on the schools as “a vast, rich market”—a $20 billion market, no less—just waiting to be conquered. In fact, the public schools have become a microcosm of the total surveillance state which currently dominates America, adopting a host of surveillance technologies, including video cameras, finger and palm scanners, iris scanners, as well as RFID and GPS tracking devices, to keep constant watch over their student bodies. Likewise, the military industrial complex with its military weapons, metal detectors, and weapons of compliance such as tasers has succeeded in transforming the schools—at great taxpayer expense and personal profit—into quasi-prisons. Rounding things out are school truancy laws, which come disguised as well-meaning attempts to resolve attendance issues in the schools but in truth are nothing less than stealth maneuvers aimed at enriching school districts and court systems alike through excessive fines and jail sentences for “unauthorized” absences. Curiously, none of these efforts seem to have succeeded in making the schools any safer.

On the roads: It has long been understood that police departments have quotas for how many tickets are issued and arrests made per month, a number tied directly to revenue. Likewise, red light camera schemes—sold to communities as a means of minimizing traffic accidents at intersections but which in fact are just a vehicle for levying nuisance fines against drivers often guilty of little more than making a right-hand turn on a red light—have been shown to do little to increase safety while actually contributing to more accidents. Nevertheless, these intrusive, money-making scams, which also function as surveillance cameras, are being inflicted on unsuspecting drivers by revenue-hungry municipalities, despite revelations of corruption, collusion and fraud.

In the prisons: States now have quotas to meet for how many Americans go to jail. Increasing numbers of states have contracted to keep their prisons at 90% to 100% capacity. This profit-driven form of mass punishment has, in turn, given rise to a $70 billion private prison industry that relies on the complicity of state governments to keep the money flowing and their privately run prisons full, “regardless of whether crime was rising or falling.” As Mother Jones reports, “private prison companies have supported and helped write … laws that drive up prison populations. Their livelihoods depend on towns, cities, and states sending more people to prison and keeping them there.” Private prisons are also doling out harsher punishments for infractions by inmates in order to keep them locked up longer in order to “boost profits” at taxpayer expense. All the while, the prisoners are being forced to provide cheap labor for private corporations. No wonder the United States has the largest prison population in the world at a time when violent crime is at an all-time low.

In the endless wars abroad: Fueled by the profit-driven military industrial complex, the government’s endless wars is wreaking havoc on our communities, our budget and our police forces. Having been co-opted by greedy defense contractors, corrupt politicians and incompetent government officials, America’s expanding military empire is bleeding the country dry at a rate of more than $57 million an hour, and that’s just the budget for the Dept. of Defense for 2016, with its 1000-plus U.S. military bases spread around the globe. Incredibly, although the U.S. constitutes only 5% of the world’s population, America boasts almost 50% of the world’s total military expenditure,  spending more on the military than the next 19 biggest spending nations combined. In fact, the Pentagon spends more on war than all 50 states combined spend on health, education, welfare, and safety.

In the form of militarized police: The Department of Homeland Security routinely hands out six-figure grants to enable local municipalities to purchase military-style vehicles, as well as a veritable war chest of weaponry, ranging from tactical vests, bomb-disarming robots, assault weapons and combat uniforms. This rise in military equipment purchases funded by the DHS has, according to analysts Andrew Becker and G.W. Schulz, “paralleled an apparent increase in local SWAT teams.” The end result? An explosive growth in the use of SWAT teams for otherwise routine police matters, an increased tendency on the part of police to shoot first and ask questions later, and an overall mindset within police forces that they are at war—and the citizenry are the enemy combatants. Over 80,000 SWAT team raids are conducted on American homes and businesses each year. Moreover, government-funded military-style training drills continue to take place in cities across the country. These Urban Shield exercises, elaborately staged with their own set of professionally trained Crisis Actors playing the parts of shooters, bystanders and victims, fool law enforcement officials, students, teachers, bystanders and the media into thinking it’s a real crisis.

In profit-driven schemes such as asset forfeiture: Under the guise of fighting the war on drugs, government agents (usually the police) have been given broad leeway to seize billions of dollars’ worth of private property (money, cars, TVs, etc.) they “suspect” may be connected to criminal activity. Then—and here’s the kicker—whether or not any crime is actually proven to have taken place, the government keeps the citizen’s property, often divvying it up with the local police who did the initial seizure. The police are actually being trained in seminars on how to seize the “goodies” that are on police departments’ wish lists. According to the New York Times, seized monies have been used by police to “pay for sports tickets, office parties, a home security system and a $90,000 sports car.”

Among government contractors: We have been saddled with a government that is outsourcing much of its work to high-paid contractors at great expense to the taxpayer and with no competition, little transparency and dubious savings. According to the Washington Post, “By some estimates, there are twice as many people doing government work under contract than there are government workers.” These open-ended contracts, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, “now account for anywhere between one quarter and one half of all federal service contracting.” Moreover, any attempt to reform the system is “bitterly opposed by federal employee unions, who take it as their mission to prevent good employees from being rewarded and bad employees from being fired.”

Among defense contractors: Over the past two decades, America has become increasingly dependent on private defense contractors in order to carry out military operations abroad (the government’s extensive use of private security contractors has surged under Obama). In fact, the United States can no longer conduct large or sustained military operations or respond to major disasters without heavy support from contractors. As a result, the U.S. employs at a minimum one contractor to support every soldier deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq. With paid contractors often outnumbering enlisted combat troops, the American war effort has evolved from the “coalition of the willing” into the “coalition of the billing.”

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By the security industrial complex: Not only is the government spying on Americans’ phone calls and emails, but police are also being equipped with technology such as Stingray devices that can track your cell phone, as well as record the content of your calls and the phone numbers dialed. The DHS has distributed more than $50 million in grants—again, paid by taxpayers—to enable local police agencies to acquire license plate readers, which rely on mobile cameras to photograph and identify cars, match them against a national database, and track their movements. Relying on private contractors to maintain a license plate database allows the DHS and its affiliates to access millions of records without much in the way of oversight. That doesn’t even touch on what the government’s various aerial surveillance devices are tracking, or the dangers posed to the privacy and safety of those on the ground.

The bottom line?

These injustices, petty tyrannies and overt acts of hostility are being carried out in the name of the national good—against the interests of individuals, society and ultimately our freedoms—by an elite class of government officials working in partnership with megacorporations that are largely insulated from the ill effects of their actions.

This perverse mixture of government authoritarianism and corporate profits has increased the reach of the state into our private lives while also adding a profit motive into the mix. And, as always, it’s we the people, we the taxpayers, we the gullible voters who keep getting taken for a ride by politicians eager to promise us the world on a plate.

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.

Battlefield_Cover_300But 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.

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“A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” — The Second Amendment to the US Constitution

You can largely determine where a person will fall in the debate over gun control and the Second Amendment based on their view of government and the role it should play in our lives.

Those who want to see government as a benevolent parent looking out for our best interests tend to interpret the Second Amendment’s “militia” reference as applying only to the military.

To those who see the government as inherently corrupt, the Second Amendment is a means of ensuring that the populace will always have a way of defending themselves against threats to their freedoms.

And then there are those who view the government as neither good nor evil, but merely a powerful entity that, as Thomas Jefferson recognized, must be bound “down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.” To this group, the right to bear arms is no different from any other right enshrined in the Constitution, to be safeguarded, exercised prudently and maintained.

Unfortunately, as I document in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, while these three divergent viewpoints continue to jockey for supremacy, the U.S. government has adopted a “do what I say, not what I do” mindset when it comes to Americans’ rights overall. Nowhere is this double standard more evident than in the government’s attempts to arm itself to the teeth, all the while viewing as suspect anyone who dares to legally own a gun, let alone use one.

Indeed, while it still technically remains legal to own a firearm in America, possessing one can now get you pulled oversearchedarrested, subjected to all manner of surveillancetreated as a suspect without ever having committed a crime, shot at and killed. (This same rule does not apply to law enforcement officials, however, who are armed to the hilt and rarely given more than a slap on the wrists for using their weapons against unarmed individuals.)

Just recently, for example, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the case of a Texas man whose home was subject to a no-knock, SWAT-team style forceful entry and raid based solely on the suspicion that there were legally-owned firearms in his household. Making matters worse, police panicked and opened fire through a solid wood door on the homeowner, who had already gone to bed.

Earlier in the year, a Florida man traveling through Maryland with his wife and kids was stopped by a police officer and interrogated about the whereabouts of his registered handgun. Despite the man’s insistence that the handgun had been left at home, the officer spent nearly two hours searching through the couple’s car, patting them down along with their children, and having them sit in the back of a patrol car. No weapon was found.

In 2011, a 25-year-old Philadelphia man was confronted by police, verbally threatened and arrested for carrying a gun in public, which is legal within the city. When Mark Fiorino attempted to explain his rights under the law to police, police ordered him to get on his knees or else “I am gonna shoot ya.” Fiorino was later released without charges.

provision in a Washington State bill would have authorized police to search and inspect gun owners’ homes yearly. Connecticut has adopted a law banning the sale of large-capacity magazines and assault weapons. And a bill moving through the New Jersey legislature would reduce the number of bullets an ammunition magazine could hold from 15 to 10.

Under a proposal by the Department of Health and Human Services, anyone seeking mental health treatment–no matter how benign–could find themselves entered into the FBI’s criminal background check system and have their Second Amendment rights in jeopardy. They would join the ranks of some 175,000 veterans who have been barred from possessing firearms based solely on the fact that they received psychiatric treatment through the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Meanwhile, the government’s efforts to militarize and weaponize its agencies and employees is reaching epic proportions, with federal agencies as varied as the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration placing orders for hundreds of millions of rounds of hollow point bullets. Moreover, under the auspices of a military “recycling” program, which allows local police agencies to acquire military-grade weaponry and equipment, $4.2 billion worth of equipment has been transferred from the Defense Department to domestic police agencies since 1990. Included among these “gifts” are tank-like 20-ton Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles, tactical gear, and assault rifles.

Ironically, while the Obama administration continues its efforts to “pass the broadest gun control legislation in a generation,” which would include bans on military-style assault weapons, high-capacity magazines and armor-piercing bullets, expanded background checks, and tougher gun-trafficking laws, the U.S. military boasts some weapons the rest of the world doesn’t have. Included in its arsenal are armed, surveillance Reaper drones capable of reading a license plate from over two miles away; an AA12 Atchisson Assault Shotgun that can shoot five 12-gauge shells per second and “can fire up to 9,000 rounds without being cleaned or jamming”; an ADAPTIV invisibility cloak that can make a tank disappear or seemingly reshape it to look like a car; a PHASR rifle capable of blinding and disorienting anyone caught in its sights; a Taser shockwave that can electrocute a crowd of people at the touch of a button; an XM2010 enhanced sniper rifle with built-in sound and flash suppressors that can hit a man-sized target nine out of ten times from over a third of a mile away; and an XM25 “Punisher” grenade launcher that can be programmed to accurately shoot grenades at a target up to 500 meters away.

Talk about a double standard. The government’s arsenal of weapons makes the average American’s handgun look like a Tinker Toy.

It’s no laughing matter, and yet the joke is on us. “We the people” have been so focused on debating who or what is responsible for gun violence–the guns, the gun owners, or our violent culture–and whether the Second Amendment “allows” us to own guns that we’ve overlooked the most important and most consistent theme throughout the Constitution: the fact that it is not merely an enumeration of our rights but was intended to be a clear shackle on the government’s powers.

When considered in the context of prohibitions against the government, the Second Amendment reads as a clear rebuke against any attempt to restrict the citizenry’s gun ownership. As such, it is as necessary an ingredient for maintaining that tenuous balance between the citizenry and their republic as any of the other amendments in the Bill of Rights, especially the right to freedom of speech, assembly, press, petition, security, and due process.

Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas understood this tension well. “The Constitution is not neutral,” he remarked, “It was designed to take the government off the backs of people.” In this way, the freedoms enshrined in the Bill of Rights in their entirety stand as a bulwark against a police state. To our detriment, these rights have been steadily weakened, eroded and undermined in recent years. Yet without any one of them, including the Second Amendment right to own and bear arms, we are that much more vulnerable to the vagaries of out-of-control policemen, benevolent dictators, genuflecting politicians, and overly ambitious bureaucrats.

When all is said and done, the debate over gun ownership really has little to do with gun violence in America. Eliminating guns will not necessarily eliminate violence. Those same individuals sick enough to walk into an elementary school or a movie theater and open fire using a gun can and do wreak just as much havoc with homemade bombs made out of pressure cookers and a handful of knives.

It’s also not even a question of whether Americans need weapons to defend themselves against any overt threats to our safety or wellbeing, although a recent study by a Quinnipiac University economist indicates that less restrictive concealed carry laws save lives, while gun control can endanger them. In fact, journalist Kevin Carson, writing for Counter Punch, suggests that prohibiting Americans from owning weapons would be as dangerously ineffective as Prohibition and the War on the Drugs:

“[W]hat strict gun laws will do is take the level of police statism, lawlessness and general social pathology up a notch in the same way Prohibition and the Drug War have done. I’d expect a War on Guns to expand the volume of organized crime, and to empower criminal gangs fighting over control over the black market, in exactly the same way Prohibition did in the 1920s and strict drug laws have done since the 1980s. I’d expect it to lead to further erosion of Fourth Amendment protections against search and seizure, further militarization of local police via SWAT teams, and further expansion of the squalid empire of civil forfeiture, perjured jailhouse snitch testimony, entrapment, planted evidence, and plea deal blackmail.”

Truly, the debate over gun ownership in America is really a debate over who gets to call the shots and control the game. In other words, it’s that same tug-of-war that keeps getting played out in every confrontation between the government and the citizenry over who gets to be the master and who is relegated to the part of the servant.

The Constitution is clear on this particular point, with its multitude of prohibitions on government overreach. As 20thcentury libertarian Edmund A. Opitz observed in 1964, “No one can read our Constitution without concluding that the people who wrote it wanted their government severely limited; the words “no’ and “not’ employed in restraint of government power occur 24 times in the first seven articles of the Constitution and 22 more times in the Bill of Rights.”

In a nutshell, then, the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms reflects not only a concern for one’s personal defense, but serves as a check on the political power of the ruling authorities. It represents an implicit warning against governmental encroachments on one’s freedoms, the warning shot over the bow to discourage any unlawful violations of our persons or property. As such, it reinforces that necessary balance in the citizen-state relationship. As George Orwell noted, “That rifle hanging on the wall of the working-class flat or labourer’s cottage is the symbol of democracy. It is our job to see that it stays there.”

Certainly, dictators in past regimes have understood this principle only too well. As Adolf Hitler noted, “The most foolish mistake we could possibly make would be to allow the subject races to possess arms. History shows that all conquerors who have allowed their subject races to carry arms have prepared their own downfall by so doing.” It should come as no surprise, then, that starting in December 1935, Jews in Germany were prevented from obtaining shooting licenses, because authorities believed that to allow them to do so would “endanger the German population.” In late 1938, special orders were delivered barring Jews from owning firearms, with the punishment for arms possession being 20 years in a concentration camp.

The rest, as they say, is history. Yet it is a history that we should be wary of repeating. — John W. Whitehead

“Of all the tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive.”—C.S. Lewis

Caught up in the televised drama of a military-style manhunt for the suspects in the Boston Marathon explosion, most Americans fail to realize that the world around them has been suddenly and jarringly shifted off its axis, that axis being the U.S. Constitution.

For those like myself who have studied emerging police states, the sight of a city placed under martial law—its citizens under house arrest (officials used the Orwellian phrase “shelter in place” to describe the mandatory lockdown), military-style helicopters equipped with thermal imaging devices buzzing the skies, tanks and armored vehicles on the streets, and snipers perched on rooftops, while thousands of black-garbed police swarmed the streets and SWAT teams carried out house-to-house searches in search of two young and seemingly unlikely bombing suspects—leaves us in a growing state of unease.

Mind you, these are no longer warning signs of a steadily encroaching police state. The police state has arrived.

Equally unnerving is the ease with which Americans welcomed the city-wide lockdown, the routine invasion of their privacy, and the dismantling of every constitutional right intended to serve as a bulwark against government abuses. Watching it unfold, I couldn’t help but think of Nazi Field Marshal Hermann Goering’s remarks during the Nuremberg trials. As Goering noted:

It is always a simple matter to drag people along whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. This is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in every country.

As the events in Boston have made clear, it does indeed work the same in every country. The same propaganda and police state tactics that worked for Adolf Hitler 80 years ago continue to be employed with great success in a post-9/11 America.

Whatever the threat to so-called security—whether it’s rumored weapons of mass destruction, school shootings, or alleged acts of terrorism—it doesn’t take much for the American people to march in lockstep with the government’s dictates, even if it means submitting to martial law, having their homes searched, and being stripped of one’s constitutional rights at a moment’s notice.

As journalist Andrew O’Hehir observes in Salon:

In America after 9/11, we made a deal with the devil, or with Dick Cheney, which is much the same thing. We agreed to give up most of our enumerated rights and civil liberties (except for the sacrosanct Second Amendment, of course) in exchange for a lot of hyper-patriotic tough talk, the promise of “security” and the freedom to go on sitting on our asses and consuming whatever the hell we wanted to. Don’t look the other way and tell me that you signed a petition or voted for John Kerry or whatever. The fact is that whatever dignified private opinions you and I may hold, we did not do enough to stop it, and our constitutional rights are now deemed to be partial or provisional rather than absolute, do not necessarily apply to everyone, and can be revoked by the government at any time.

Particularly disheartening is the fact that Americans, consumed with the need for vengeance, seem even less concerned about protecting the rights of others, especially if those “others” happen to be of a different skin color or nationality. The public response to the manhunt, capture and subsequent treatment of brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is merely the latest example of America’s xenophobic mindset, which was also a driving force behind the roundup and detention of hundreds of Arab, South Asian and Muslim men following 9/11, internment camps that housed more than 18,000 people of Japanese ancestry during World War II, and the arrest and deportation of thousands of “radical” noncitizens during America’s first Red Scare.

Boston Marathon bomber suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev

Moreover, there has been little outcry over the Obama administration’s decision to deny 19-year-old U.S. citizen Dzhokhar Tsarnaev his due process rights and treat him as an enemy combatant, first off by interrogating him without reading him his Miranda rights (“You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law…”).

Presently, under the public safety exception to the Miranda rule, if law enforcement agents believe a suspect has information that might reduce a substantial threat, they can wait to give the Miranda warning. For years now, however, the Obama administration has been lobbying to see this exception extended to all cases involving so-called terror suspects, including American citizens. Tsarnaev’s case may prove to be the game-changer. Yet as journalist Emily Bazelon points out for Slate: “Why should I care that no one’s reading Dzhokhar Tsarnaev his Miranda rights? When the law gets bent out of shape for him, it’s easier to bend out of shape for the rest of us.”

The U.S. Supreme Court rightly recognized in its 1966 ruling in Miranda v. Arizona that police officers must advise a suspect of his/her civil rights once the suspect has been taken into custody, because the police can and often do take advantage of the fact that most Americans don’t know their rights. There have been few exceptions to the Miranda rule over the last 40 years or so, and with good reason. However, if the Obama administration is allowed to scale back the Miranda rule, especially as it applies to U.S. citizens, it would be yet another dangerous expansion of government power at the expense of citizens’ civil rights.

This continual undermining of the rules that protect civil liberties, not to mention the incessant rush to judgment by politicians, members of the media and the public, will inevitably have far-reaching consequences on a populace that not only remains ignorant about their rights but is inclined to sacrifice their liberties for phantom promises of safety.

Moments after taking Tsarnaev into custody, the Boston Police Dept. tweeted “CAPTURED!!! The hunt is over. The search is done. The terror is over. And justice has won.” Yet with Tsarnaev and his brother having been charged, tried and convicted by the government, the media and the police—all without ever having stepped foot inside a courtroom—it remains to be seen whether justice has indeed won.

The lesson for the rest of us is this: once a free people allows the government to make inroads into their freedoms or uses those same freedoms as bargaining chips for security, it quickly becomes a slippery slope to outright tyranny. And it doesn’t really matter whether it’s a Democrat or a Republican at the helm, because the bureaucratic mindset on both sides of the aisle now seems to embody the same philosophy of authoritarian government. Increasingly, those on the left who once hailed Barack Obama as the antidote for restoring the numerous civil liberties that were lost or undermined as a result of Bush-era policies are finding themselves forced to acknowledge that threats to civil liberties are worse under Obama.

Clearly, the outlook for civil liberties under Obama grows bleaker by the day, from his embrace of indefinite detention for U.S. citizens and drone kill lists to warrantless surveillance of phone, email and internet communications, and prosecutions of government whistleblowers. Most recently, capitalizing on the nation’s heightened emotions, confusion and fear, government officials used the Boston Marathon tragedy as a means of extending the reach of the police state, starting with the House of Representatives’ overwhelming passage of the controversial Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA), which opens the door to greater internet surveillance by the government. 

House of Representatives passes CISPA in the wake of Boston Marathon explosions.

These troubling developments are the outward manifestations of an inner, philosophical shift underway in how the government views not only the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, but “we the people,” as well. What this reflects is a move away from a government bound by the rule of law to one that seeks total control through the imposition of its own self-serving laws on the populace.

All the while, the American people remain largely oblivious to the looming threats to their freedoms, eager to be persuaded that the government can solve the problems that plague us—whether it be terrorism, an economic depression, an environmental disaster or even a flu epidemic. Yet having bought into the false notion that the government can ensure not only our safety but our happiness and will take care of us from cradle to grave—that is, from daycare centers to nursing homes, we have in actuality allowed ourselves to be bridled and turned into slaves at the bidding of a government that cares little for our freedoms or our happiness. — John W. Whitehead

“The shaping of the will of Congress and the choosing of the American president has become a privilege reserved to the country’s equestrian classes, a.k.a. the 20% of the population that holds 93% of the wealth, the happy few who run the corporations and the banks, own and operate the news and entertainment media, compose the laws and govern the universities, control the philanthropic foundations, the policy institutes, the casinos, and the sports arenas.” – Journalist Lewis Lapham

The pomp and circumstance of the presidential inauguration has died down. Members of Congress have taken their seats on Capitol Hill, and Barack Obama has reclaimed his seat in the White House. The circus of the presidential election has become a faint memory. The long months of debates, rallies, and political advertisements have slipped from our consciousness. Now we are left with the feeling that nothing has really changed, nor will it.

This is not by accident. The media circus leading up to the elections, the name calling in the halls of Congress, the vitriol and barbs traded back and forth among people who are supposed to be working together to improve the country, are all components of the game set up by those who run the show. The movers and shakers behind these engaging, but ultimately trite, political exercises are the elite, the so-called upper class, who benefit from the status quo. This status quo is marked by an economic crisis with no end in sight, by the slow but steady growth of a police state aimed at the lowest rungs of society, and a political circus which keeps us enraptured long enough that we don’t question what’s really going on.

Meanwhile, this elite, composed of corporations profiting off of our ignorance, avoid being brought to task for their destruction of democratic governance and the economy. These are the corporations who sent our economy into a tail spin and were then rewarded with taxpayer money. These are the corporations who write laws which eliminate real competition in the market in order to secure their profits through lucrative government contracts. These are the corporations who avoid criminal prosecution, and are instead slapped with meager fines which do nothing to halt their felonious activities.

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

The laws which apply to the majority of the population allow the government to do things like rectally probe you during a roadside stop, or listen in on your phone calls and read all of your email messages, or indefinitely detain 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 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 marijuana while bankers that launder money for drug cartels walk free.

Unfortunately, this two-tiered system of justice has been a long time coming. 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.

Journalist Chris Hedges, one of the few voices to speak against the corporate-state, who has put himself on the line by making a legal challenge to the President’s authority to indefinitely detain American citizens, summarizes the situation at hand:

 “Our passivity has resulted… in much more than imperial adventurism and a permanent underclass. A slow-motion coup by a corporate state has cemented into place a neofeudalism in which there are only masters and serfs. And the process is one that cannot be reversed through the traditional mechanisms of electoral politics.”

Indeed, electoral politics are off the table as a means of reforming the system. They are so thoroughly corrupted by corporate money that there is no chance, even for a well-meaning person, to affect any real change through Congress.

Just consider the last 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. This massive spending was mirrored at the congressional level, where business lobbying soared in the last three months of the year. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce alone spent over $125 million attempting to influence members of Congress, an 88 percent increase from 2011.

Indeed, lobbyists are the source of much corruption and exchanging of money in Washington, and their attempts to woo Congressmen only exacerbate the problems inherent to the institution. Jack Abramoff should know. Jailed for bribing public officials, the former lobbyist insists that the system is every bit as corrupt now as it was when he was convicted. From job offers for staffers and Congressmen after they leave Capitol Hill, to taking representatives to sporting events and fancy restaurants, there is no shortage of methods of influencing public officials to enact the policies of special interests. According to Abramoff, these tactics are still in use today, and “the system hasn’t been cleaned up at all.”

Once their foot is in the door, these lobbyists then offer up language for legislation that is “so obscure, so confusing, so uninformative, but so precise” as to make passage as easy as possible. This legislation cements the privilege of the corporations to do as they please, making all of their dubious activities “legal.”

This lobbying is 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. And yet, even Congressmen in safe seats are expected to fundraise constantly so as to support their colleagues in competitive districts. As Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.) put it, “…this is the mother’s milk of what [Congressmen] need to do to try to sustain their campaigns, and it’s the only system they have to work with.”

Thus, 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.”

The influence of corporate money on Congress is exacerbated by how out of touch Congressmen are with the daily struggles of most Americans. In February 2012, the median net worth of Congressmen was $913,000 as compared to $100,000 for the rest of the population. Aside from being immediately wealthy, Congressmen also weathered the tribulations of the financial crisis much better than the average American. An analysis of Congressional finances by theWashington Post in October 2012 revealed that the wealthiest one-third of Congress was largely shielded from the effects of the Great Recession. While the median household net worth of the average American dropped by 39 percent between 2007 and 2010, the median wealth of Congressmen rose 5 percent. It rose 14 percent for the wealthiest one-third.

At a time when most people in the country are suffering, Congressmen are profiting. This alone should demonstrate how out of touch our elected leaders have become. Members of Congress, entrusted to represent the best interests of the average American, instead play out a stilted, ineffective soap opera on our TV screens, complete with phony discussions of fiscal cliffs and debt ceilings which take the place of real proposals for meaningful change in the country.

There is no voice for the working American in the halls of Congress, the American who was promised a life beyond taxes, debt, and unemployment. There is no voice for the peace loving American, the American who understands that America’s military might is meant for defense of the homeland, not looking for trouble in faraway lands. There is no voice for the American who expects his representatives to abide by the Constitution, who laments the way Congress, the President, and the Supreme Court work together to take away our rights piece by piece. — John W. Whitehead

 

 

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”―  Martin Luther King Jr.

As one who came of age during the civil rights era, I was profoundly impacted by the life and teachings of Martin Luther King Jr. He taught me so much more than just what it means to look beyond the color of a person’s skin—he taught me that life means nothing if you don’t stand up for the things that truly matter. And what are the things that matter? King spoke of them incessantly, in every sermon he preached, every speech he delivered and every article he wrote. Freedom, human dignity, brotherhood, spirituality, peace, justice, equality, putting an end to war and poverty—these are just a few of the big themes that shaped King’s life and, in turn, impacted so many impressionable young people like myself.

Fast forward 40 years, and we find ourselves living through historic times, with the nation’s first black president embarking on his second term in office. The comparisons between President Obama and King have been inevitable and largely favorable, helped along by Obama, who spoke at King’s Ebenezer Baptist Church in 2008, a year before taking office—accepted the Democratic nomination on the anniversary of King’s “I Have a Dream” speech—presided over the installation and dedication of a national monument to King in Washington, DC—and took his oath of office using one of King’s Bibles on the national holiday dedicated to King.

Clearly, there are similarities between the two men. As a McClatchey news article noted: “Both battled enormous odds to build historic multi-ethnic, multi-racial coalitions—one to advance the cause of civil rights only to be assassinated in 1968, the other to win the nation’s highest office. Both won the Nobel Peace Prize. Both could use soaring rhetoric to inspire millions. Both also had to overcome critics who accused them of socialist or communist sympathies, as well as black activists who maintained that they weren’t strong advocates for African-Americans.”

Yet as Fredrick Harris, the director of the Institute for Research in African-American Studies at Columbia University, reminds us, “it is easy to assume that the president is an extension of King’s legacy and the civil rights movement. For black America, in particular, Obama has already joined the pantheon of great African American leaders, alongside Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells, Malcolm X and, of course, King. He has joined their ranks not for his activism or his efforts to break down racial inequality, but for the symbolic weight of being the nation’s first black president.”

We’d be doing King and his legacy a profound disservice, however, if we do not insist that Obama do more than pay lip service to the man he credits, alongside Abraham Lincoln, as being one of his two heroes. Indeed, Obama spent much of the last four years campaigning for re-election and will likely spend the next four attempting to establish a lasting legacy for his presidency.

If Obama wants to be remembered for anything more than the color of his skin, he would do well to brush up on King’s teachings, which were far more radical than the watered-down pap about him being taught today. The following key principles, largely absent from Obama’s first term in office, formed the backbone of Rev. King’s life and work.

Practice non-violence, resist militarism and put an end to war.

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.”—Martin Luther King Jr., Sermon at New York’s Riverside Church (April 4, 1967)

On April 4, 1967, exactly one year before his murder, King used the power of his pulpit to condemn the U.S. for “using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted.” Insisting that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America can ignore its part in the Vietnam War, King called on the U.S. to end all bombing in Vietnam, declare a unilateral cease-fire, curtail its military buildup, and set a date for troop withdrawals. In that same sermon, King warned that “a nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

Contrast this with Obama’s use of the power of his office to expand America’s military empire at great cost to the nation, authorize drone strikes which have wreaked havoc on innocent civilians, and defend indefensible police tactics used in SWAT team raids and roadside stops. Obama’s national security budget for 2013, which allots a whopping $851 billion to be spent on wars abroad, weapons and military personnel, significantly outspends the money being spent on education, poverty and disease.

Stand against injustice.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere… there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.”― Martin Luther King Jr., “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” (April 16, 1963)

Arrested and jailed for taking part in a nonviolent protest against racial segregation in Birmingham, Ala., King used his time behind bars to respond to Alabama clergymen who criticized King’s methods of civil disobedience and suggested that the courts were the only legitimate means for enacting change. His “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” which makes the case for disobeying unjust laws, points out that “a just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.”

Contrast this with Obama’s ongoing endorsement of clearly unjust laws and government practices, some of which he has publicly acknowledged to be problematic or altogether wrong. For example, Obama signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013 and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Amendments Act, which respectively authorize the military to indefinitely detain American citizens, as well as spy on Americans who communicate with people overseas, whether they are journalists, family members, or business associates. Obama’s Justice Dept. has also urged the U.S. Supreme Court to grant police more leeway to strip search Americans and raid homes without a warrant. As King warned, “Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal.”

Work to end poverty.

“True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”—Martin Luther King Jr., Sermon at New York’s Riverside Church (April 4, 1967)

Especially in the latter part of his life, King was unflinching in his determination to hold Americans accountable to alleviating the suffering of the poor, going so far as to call for a march on Washington, DC, to pressure Congress to pass an Economic Bill of Rights. In recounting a parable about a man who went to hell because he didn’t see the poor, King cautioned his congregants: “Dives didn’t go to hell because he was rich… Dives went to hell because he was passed by Lazarus every day and he never really saw him. He went to hell because he allowed his brother to become invisible. Dives went to hell because he maximized the minimum and minimized the maximum. Indeed, Dives went to hell because he sought to be a conscientious objector in the war against poverty.”

Prioritize people over corporations.

“When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”—Martin Luther King Jr., Sermon at New York’s Riverside Church (April 4, 1967)

With roughly 25 lobbyists per Congressman, corporate greed largely calls the shots in the nation’s capital, enabling our elected representatives to grow richer and the people poorer. One can only imagine what King would have said about a nation whose political processes, everything from elections to legislation, are driven by war chests and corporate benefactors rather than the needs and desires of the citizenry.

Stand up for what is right, rather than what is politically expedient.

“On some positions, cowardice asks the question, is it expedient? And then expedience comes along and asks the question, is it politic? Vanity asks the question, is it popular? Conscience asks the question, is it right? There comes a time when one must take the position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must do it because conscience tells him it is right.”—Martin Luther King Jr., Sermon at National Cathedral (March 31, 1968)

Five days before his murder, King delivered a sermon at National Cathedral in Washington, DC, in which he noted that “one of the great liabilities of life is that all too many people find themselves living amid a great period of social change, and yet they fail to develop the new attitudes, the new mental responses, that the new situation demands. They end up sleeping through a revolution.”

As King recognized, there is much to be done if we are to make this world a better place, and we cannot afford to play politics when so much hangs in the balance. It’s time, Mr. President, to wake up. To quote your hero: “[O]ur very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change. The large house in which we live demands that we transform this world-wide neighborhood into a world-wide brotherhood. Together we must learn to live as brothers or together we will be forced to perish as fools.” — John W. Whitehead