Posts Tagged ‘State of the Union’

“There will be, in the next generation or so, a pharmacological method of making people love their servitude, and producing dictatorship without tears, so to speak, producing a kind of painless concentration camp for entire societies, so that people will in fact have their liberties taken away from them, but will rather enjoy it, because they will be distracted from any desire to rebel by propaganda or brainwashing, or brainwashing enhanced by pharmacological methods. And this seems to be the final revolution.”—Aldous Huxley

There’s a man who contacts me several times a week to disagree with my assessments of the American police state. According to this self-avowed Pollyanna who is tired of hearing “bad news,” the country is doing just fine, the government’s intentions are honorable, anyone in authority should be blindly obeyed, those individuals who are being arrested, shot and imprisoned must have done something to deserve such treatment, and if you have nothing to hide, you shouldn’t care whether the government is spying on you.

In other words, this man trusts the government with his life, his loved ones and his property, and anyone who doesn’t feel the same should move elsewhere.

It’s tempting to write this man off as dangerously deluded, treacherously naïve, and clueless to the point of civic incompetence. However, he is not alone in his goose-stepping, comfort-loving, TV-watching, insulated-from-reality devotion to the alternate universe constructed for us by the Corporate State with its government propaganda, pseudo-patriotism and contrived political divisions.

While only 1 in 5 Americans claim to trust the government to do what is right, the majority of the people are not quite ready to ditch the American experiment in liberty. Or at least they’re not quite ready to ditch the government with which they have been saddled.

As The Washington Post concludes, “Americans hate government, but they like what it does.” Indeed, kvetching aside, Americans want the government to keep providing institutionalized comforts such as Social Security, public schools, and unemployment benefits, fighting alleged terrorists and illegal immigrants, defending the nation from domestic and foreign threats, and maintaining the national infrastructure. And it doesn’t matter that the government has shown itself to be corrupt, abusive, hostile to citizens who disagree, wasteful and unconcerned about the plight of the average American.

For the moment, Americans are continuing to play by the government’s rules. Indeed, Americans may not approve the jobs being done by their elected leaders, and they may have little to no access to those same representatives, but they remain committed to the political process, so much so that they are working themselves into a frenzy over the upcoming presidential election, with contributions to the various candidates nearing $500 million.

Yet as Barack Obama’s tenure in the White House shows, no matter how much hope and change were promised, what we’ve ended up with is not only more of the same, but something worse: an invasive, authoritarian surveillance state armed and ready to eliminate any opposition.

The state of our nation under Obama has become more bureaucratic, more debt-ridden, more violent, more militarized, more fascist, more lawless, more invasive, more corrupt, more untrustworthy, more mired in war, and more unresponsive to the wishes and needs of the electorate. Most of all, the government, already diabolical and manipulative to the nth degree, has mastered the art of “do what I say and not what I do” hypocrisy.

For example, the government’s arsenal is growing. While the Obama administration is working to limit the public’s access to guns by pushing for greater gun control, it’s doing little to scale back on the federal government’s growing arsenal of firepower and militarized equipment.

In fact, it’s not just the Department of Defense that’s in the business of waging war. Government agencies focused largely on domestic matters continue to spend tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to purchase SWAT and military-style equipment such as body armor, riot helmets and shields, cannon launchers and police firearms and ammunition. The Department of Veterans Affairs spent nearly $2 million on riot helmets, defender shields, body armor, a “milo return fire cannon system,” armored mobile shields, Kevlar blankets, tactical gear and equipment for crowd control. The Food and Drug Administration purchased “ballistic vests and carriers.” The Environmental Protection Agency shelled out $200,000 for body armor. And the Smithsonian Institution procured $28,000 worth of body armor for its “zoo police and security officers.”

The national debt is growing. In fact, it’s almost doubled during Obama’s time in office to nearly $20 trillion. Much of this debt is owed to foreign countries such as China, which have come to exert an undue degree of influence on various aspects of the American economy.

Meanwhile, almost half of Americans are struggling to save for emergencies and retirement, 43% can’t afford to go more than one month without a paycheck, and 24% have less than $250 in their bank accounts preceding payday.

On any given night, over half a million people in the U.S. are homeless, and half of them are elderly. In fact, studies indicate that the homeless are aging faster than the general population in the U.S.

While the U.S. spends more on education than almost any other country, American schools rank 28th in the world, below much poorer countries such as the Czech Republic and Vietnam.

The American police state’s payroll is expanding. Despite the fact that violent crime is at a 40-year-low, there are more than 1.1 million persons employed on a full-time basis by state and local law enforcement in this country. That doesn’t include the more than 120,000 full-time officers on the federal payroll.

While crime is falling, the number of laws creating new crimes is growing at an alarming rate. Congress creates, on average, more than 50 new criminal laws each year. This adds up to more than 4,500 federal criminal laws and an even greater number of state laws.

The prison population is growing at an alarming rate. Owing largely to overcriminalization, the nation’s prison population has quadrupled since 1980 to 2.4 million, which breaks down to more than one out of every 100 American adults behind bars. According to The Washington Post, it costs $21,000 a year to keep someone in a minimum-security federal prison and $33,000 a year for a maximum-security federal prison. Those costs are expected to increase 30 percent by 2020. Translation: while the American taxpayer will be forced to shell out more money for its growing prison population, the private prison industry will be making a hefty profit.

The nation’s infrastructure—railroads, water pipelines, ports, dams, bridges, airports and roads—is rapidly deteriorating. An estimated $1.7 trillion will be needed by 2020 to improve surface transportation, but with vital funds being siphoned off by the military industrial complex, there’s little relief in sight.

The expense of those endless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will cost taxpayers $4 trillion to $6 trillion. That does not include the cost of military occupations and exercises elsewhere around the globe. Unfortunately, that’s money that is not being invested in America, nor is it being used to improve the lives of Americans.

Government incompetence, corruption and lack of accountability continue to result in the loss of vast amounts of money and weapons. A Reuters investigation revealed $8.5 trillion in “taxpayer money doled out by Congress to the Pentagon since 1996 that has never been accounted for.” Then there was the $500 million in Pentagon weapons, aircraft and equipment (small arms, ammunition, night-vision goggles, patrol boats, vehicles and other supplies) that the U.S. military somehow lost track of.

Rounding out the bad news, many Americans know little to nothing about their rights and the government. Only 31% can name all three branches of the U.S. government, while one in three says that the Bill of Rights guarantees the right to own your own home, while one in four thinks that it guarantees “equal pay for equal work.” One in 10 Americans (12%) says the Bill of Rights includes the right to own a pet.

If this brief catalogue of our national woes proves anything at all, it is that the American experiment in liberty has failed, and as political economist Lawrence Hunter warns, it is only a matter of time before people realize it. Writing for Forbes, Hunter notes:

The greatest fear of America’s Founding Fathers has been realized: The U.S. Constitution has been unable to thwart the corrosive dynamics of majority-rule democracy, which in turn has mangled the Constitution beyond recognition. The real conclusion of the American Experiment is that democracy ultimately undermines liberty and leads to tyranny and oppression by elected leaders and judges, their cronies and unelected bureaucrats.  All of this is done in the name of “the people” and the “general welfare,” of course.  But in fact, democracy oppresses the very demos in whose name it operates, benefiting string-pullers within the Establishment and rewarding the political constituencies they manage by paying off special interests with everyone else’s money forcibly extracted through taxation. The Founding Fathers (especially Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, Madison, and James Monroe), as well as outside observers of the American Experiment such as Alexis de Tocqueville all feared democracy and dreaded this outcome.  But, they let hope and faith in their ingenious constitutional engineering overcome their fear of the democratic state, only to discover they had replaced one tyranny with another.

So are there any real, workable solutions to the emerging American police state?

A second American Revolution will not work. In the first revolution, the colonists were able to dispatch the military occupation and take over the running of the country. However, the Orwellian state is here and it is so pervasive that government agents are watching, curtailing and putting down any resistance before it can get started.

A violent overthrow of the government will not work. Government agents are armed to the teeth and will easily blow away any insurgency when and if necessary.

Politics will not help things along. As history has made clear, the new boss is invariably the same as or worse than the old boss—all controlled by a monied, oligarchic elite.

Battlefield_Cover_300As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, there is only one feasible solution left to us short of fleeing the country for parts unknown: grassroots activism that strives to reform the government locally and trickles up.

Unfortunately, such a solution requires activism, engagement, vigilance, sacrifice, individualism, community-building, nullification and a communal willingness to reject the federal government’s handouts and, when needed, respond with what Martin Luther King Jr. referred to as “militant nonviolent resistance.”

That means forgoing Monday night football in order to actively voice your concerns at city council meetings, turning off the television and spending an hour reading your local newspaper (if you still have one that reports local news) from front to back, showing your displeasure by picketing in front of government offices, risking your reputation by speaking up and disagreeing with the majority when necessary, refusing to meekly accept whatever the government dictates, reminding government officials—including law enforcement—that they work for you, and working together with your neighbors to present a united front against an overreaching government.

Unfortunately, we now live in a ubiquitous Orwellian society with all the trappings of Huxley’s A Brave New World. We have become a society of watchers rather than activists who are distracted by even the clumsiest government attempts at sleight-of-hand.

There are too many Americans who are reasonably content with the status quo and too few Americans willing to tolerate the discomfort of a smaller, more manageable government and a way of life that is less convenient, less entertaining, and less comfortable.

It well may be that Huxley was right, and that the final revolution is behind us. Certainly, most Americans seem to have learned to love their prison walls and take comfort in a dictatorship without tears.

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“As nightfall does not come at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there is a twilight when everything remains seemingly unchanged. And it is in such twilight that we all must be most aware of change in the air – however slight – lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness.” ― Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas

No matter what the politicians say about how great America is and how we, as a people, will always triumph, the fact is that the nation seems to be imploding.

Despite the dire state of our nation, however, you can rest assured that none of the problems that continue to plague our lives and undermine our freedoms will be addressed by our so-called elected representatives in any credible, helpful way, and certainly not during a State of the Union address.

Consider the following facts:

Our government is massively in debt. Currently, the national debt is somewhere in the vicinity of $18 trillion. More than a third of our debt is owned by foreign countries, namely China and Japan.

Our education system is abysmal. Despite the fact that we spend more than most of the world on education ($115,000 per student), we rank 36th in the world when it comes to math, reading and science, far below most of our Asian counterparts. Even so, we continue to insist on standardized programs such as Common Core, which teach students to be test-takers rather than thinkers.

Source: USA Today

Our homes provide little protection against government intrusions. Police agencies, already empowered to crash through your door if they suspect you’re up to no good, now have radars that allow them to “see” through the walls of your home.

Our prisons, housing the largest number of inmates in the world and still growing, have become money-making enterprises for private corporations that rely on the inmates for cheap labor.

We are no longer a representative republic. The U.S. has become a corporate oligarchy. As a recent survey indicates, our elected officials, especially those in the nation’s capital, represent the interests of the rich and powerful rather than the average citizen.

We’ve got the most expensive, least effective health care system in the world compared to other western, industrialized nations.

The air pollution levels are dangerously high for almost half of the U.S. population, putting Americans at greater risk of premature death, aggravated asthma, difficulty breathing and future cardiovascular problems.

Despite outlandish amounts of money being spent on the nation’s “infrastructure,” there are more than 63,000 bridges—one out of every 10 bridges in the country—in urgent need of repair. Some of these bridges are used 250 million times a day by trucks, school buses, passenger cars and other vehicles.

Americans know little to nothing about their rights or how the government is supposed to operate. This includes educators and politicians. For example, 27 percent of elected officials cannot name even one right or freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment, while 54 percent do not know the Constitution gives Congress the power to declare war.

Nearly one out of every three American children live in poverty, ranking us among the worst in the developed world.

Patrolled by police, our schools have become little more than quasi-prisons in which kids as young as age 4 are being handcuffed for “acting up,” subjected to body searches and lockdowns, and suspended for childish behavior.

We’re no longer innocent until proven guilty. In our present surveillance state, that burden of proof has now been shifted so that we are all suspects to be spied on, searched, scanned, frisked, monitored, tracked and treated as if we’re potentially guilty of some wrongdoing or other.

Parents, no longer viewed as having an inherent right to raise their children as they see fit, are increasingly being arrested for letting their kids walk to the playground alone, or play outside alone. Similarly, parents who challenge a doctor’s finding or request a second opinion regarding their children’s health care needs are being charged with medical child abuse and, in a growing number of cases, losing custody of their children to the government.

Private property means little at a time when SWAT teams and other government agents can invade your home, break down your doors, kill your dog, wound or kill you, damage your furnishings and terrorize your family. 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.

Court rulings undermining the Fourth Amendment and justifying invasive strip searches have left us powerless against police empowered to forcefully draw our blood, forcibly take our DNA, strip search us, and probe us intimately. Accounts are on the rise of individuals—men and women alike—being subjected to what is essentially government-sanctioned rape by police in the course of “routine” traffic stops.

Americans can no longer rely on the courts to mete out justice. The courts were established to intervene and protect the people against the government and its agents when they overstep their bounds. Yet the courts increasingly march in lockstep with the police state, while concerned themselves primarily with advancing the government’s agenda, no matter how unjust or illegal.

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. 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.

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 powerless in the face of militarized police. In early America, government agents were not permitted to enter one’s home without permission or in a deceitful manner. And citizens could resist arrest when a police officer tried to restrain them without proper justification or a warrant. Daring to dispute a warrant with a police official today who is armed with high-tech military weapons would be nothing short of suicidal. Moreover, as police forces across the country continue to be transformed into extensions of the military, Americans are finding their once-peaceful communities transformed into military outposts, complete with tanks, weaponry, and other equipment designed for the battlefield.

A Government of Wolves book coverNow these are not problems that you can just throw money at, as most politicians are inclined to do. As I point out in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, these are problems that will continue to plague our nation unless and until Americans wake up to the fact that we’re the only ones who can change things.

For starters, we’ll need to actually pay attention to what’s going on around us, and I don’t mean by turning on the TV news, which is little more than government propaganda. Pay attention to what your local city councils are enacting. Pay attention to what your school officials are teaching and not teaching. Pay attention to whom your elected officials are allowing to wine and dine them.

Most of all, stop acting like it really matters whether you vote for a Republican or Democrat, because it doesn’t, and start acting like citizens who expect the government to work for them, rather than the other way around.

While that bloated beast called the federal government may not listen to you, you can have a great impact on your local governing bodies. This will mean gathering together with your friends and neighbors and, for example, forcing your local city council to start opposing state and federal programs that are ripping you off. And if need be, your local city council can refuse to abide by the dictates that continue to flow from Washington, DC.

All of the signs point to something nasty up ahead. The time to act is now.

“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