America. Synonymous with freedom to the people of oppressive nations all over the globe--or was, once. These days, we’re seeing examples of the erosion of Constitutionally-guaranteed rights and freedoms with frightening regularity, and citizens of those oppressive nations are standing and protesting in solidarity with oppressed citizens of the United States. Our rapidly dwindling freedoms, combined with the conditions that many Americans are just waking up to discover, indicate that America is developing all the hallmarks of nations we refer to as the Third World. America is also perilously close to completely meeting the generally accepted definition of a police or totalitarian state. Sound alarmist? Sure. But for good reason. Alarmist doesn’t always equate to “wrong”.
Consider the elements of a police state. In a police state, the government: exercises rigid and repressive controls over the social, economic and political aspects of the lives of citizens; exhibits elements of totalitarianism; restricts mobility; and restricts freedom of expression, particularly with regard to views that are in opposition to the views held by the government. War or national emergency has historically been a precursor to the shift to becoming a police state, as fear generally causes people to accept restrictions and indignities they otherwise would not, in the name of safety.
Political control may be exerted by government-sponsored forces operating outside the laws citizens are subject to, and there is little to no distinction between the law and the exercise of political power by the government; in other words, the government cannot violate the law, because the government’s actions are the law, even when they’re not. The communications of residents are subject to monitoring by elements of the government, and nations accused of being a police state will generally deny it.
Totalitarianism involves the attempt to regulate every aspect of residents’ lives, and no recognized limit to the government’s authority. This type of system achieves and maintains control via a single political party, economic control, restricted speech, burdensome regulations, mass surveillance, etc. Widespread use of fear inspires terror in its residents, making them more malleable to control; this is achieved through an ongoing propaganda campaign, which is delivered to the people via government-controlled mass media.
Sound familiar? They should.
It’s always seemed odd to me that the nation lauded for being “free” has so many laws that it’s virtually impossible for the average citizen to keep track of them all--and more are passed every year. Our system of law is so rigid that ignorance of even one of the thousands of laws is not an excuse for those who break it unknowingly. These laws cover everything, from marriage to regulating individual seat belt use, use of substances, legal methods of procuring food, IRS, investments, campaign financing, etc. Laws are written in such a vague manner that they encourage expansive interpretation by law enforcement and prosecutors, leaving average citizens in danger of severe consequences for behavior that few would believe illegal.
Freedom of expression was so important in the eyes of our Founding Fathers that they guaranteed us the right to it in our First Amendment. Bear in mind that our Founding Fathers were men who felt so abused by their previous government that they started a war over the right to found their own, and designed the Constitution to protect American citizens from the new government. Since 1925, courts have consistently ruled that our 14th Amendment applies our First Amendment to states and localities as well. Lifelong American citizens often take free speech for granted, as most of us have never experienced anything to the contrary. But during the overreaching police actions against the Occupy protests, the Constitutionally-guaranteed rights of thousands of Americans were violated--publicly, intentionally, and violently. Peaceable, non- violent protesters have, during the practice of peaceable assembly, freedom of speech and airing of grievances, been violently evicted from public property; had their belongings wrongfully seized by police, tossed into garbage trucks and destroyed; have been pepper-sprayed, tear-gassed, beaten with police batons, shot with wooden dowels, bean bag rounds, rubber bullets and other “non-lethal” rounds, sometimes from lethal distances, and have been attacked with stun grenades and sound cannons. These rights violations against dissenting citizens have been so severe that they attracted the notice of the United Nations special rapporteur for the protection of free expression, who is drafting an official communication to the U.S. government, questioning why the government is not taking action to protect these fundamental rights. The First Amendment is far from the only example of Constitutional erosion by the government. For example, our 4th Amendment rights [unreasonable search & seizure] face regular attack, as does our 2nd Amendment [right to bear arms].
On the surface, America has two political parties. But if we look at what the combination of these parties have actually accomplished [not much], and who those accomplishments actually benefit [generally, Wall Street], they may as well be one. They certainly go out of their way to exclude any third parties that may not be as willing to play for the same team. Third party candidates do not enjoy the same level of financial support from their small party as do the major party candidates. Third-party candidates are also generally excluded from televised debates, and are not entitled to the level of public campaign financing received by candidates from the major political parties, often placing the cost of television advertising far out of reach. These disadvantages do all but guarantee that voters will remain largely ignorant of the party and its chosen candidates, and that a third party would find it exceedingly difficult to rise to the popularity of the Republicans or Democrats.
The government controls the economy, and even our personal finances, with a heavily biased hand. “Free trade” laws ostensibly allow free trade, but in reality only make fair trade extremely difficult, and contributes to low American wages. The IRS ensures that you make your “contribution” to the government, whether or not your individual circumstances allow you to afford to do so; failure to pay up can earn you a stint in prison. And our government appears to be happy to bail out Wall Street using our money, but refuses to take any significant action to help the millions of families and individuals severely injured by Wall Street’s illegal actions. This helps to ensure that, for the most part, the wealthy stay wealthy, and the poor remain poor.When you think about it, even our mobility in America is certainly regulated to an amazing degree, whichever mode you choose. To drive, you need a license, a vehicle, insurance, and gas, all of which are, of course, taxed. The license requires two forms of ID, a written test, a practical test, a photo, and processing time. The vehicle can be pricey, and needs to be registered, inspected and insured. Since 1999, fuel prices can be artificially manipulated by anyone with enough cash and time, and the government can manipulate prices as well, in a variety of ways. Taking the bus [other than locally] or a boat requires ID, and, of course, cash. Train stations are now beginning to be invaded by the Transportation Security Administration, and TSA airport security has been an example of gross, government-perpetrated indignity upon the people for quite some time. The choice between allowing an acne-prone, dim-witted barely-high-school-graduate to view you naked on a radiation-emitting machine with transmission and storage capability or permitting a large and frightening ugly woman to sexually assault you in an attempt to discern whether or not you are carrying a bomb in your cervix/testicles is not much of a choice at all. And no one is immune: men; women; diaper-wearing infants; diaper-wearing, terminally ill elderly ladies; breast prosthetic-wearing breast cancer survivors; colostomy/urostomy patients; rape survivors; young children; attractive, large-breasted women; etc. This is done in the name of “safety”, despite the fact that no bombs have been detonated on U.S.-departing planes since 1960. The TSA doesn’t make us safer.
Political control held by those outside the government is demonstrated by the power and influence of Wall Street. Elected government representatives, compelled by fat re-election campaign donations, work to pass legislation favorable to their donors. Such legislation often contributes to the continuation of the gross wealth inequality that pervades America. Past legislation has also been responsible for causing substantial damage to the environment, and to the safety and availability of food, prescription drugs, and other consumable products. While it’s true that the People are responsible for electing their government representatives, it’s also true that corporate campaign contributions pay for campaign ads, in which facts are grossly misrepresented and manipulated; >these campaign advertisements often represent the sum total knowledge that the average American has about the candidates. As a result, representatives who represent only the interests of themselves and their campaign donors are elected. In effect, this makes virtually the entire American government subject to control by the wealthiest 0.1% of the population.Contributing to this well-established, self-serving cycle is the covert campaign of propaganda. Most Americans truly believe that we have a free press. And we do, in Constitutional terms. But the Constitution only protects us from Congress. Virtually every major mainstream media outlet is owned and/or controlled by corporate interests or wealthy individuals. This encompasses all major TV & radio stations/channels, magazines, newspapers, and even major websites. And the reports of this corporate-controlled mainstream media do not accurately reflect the facts. Reports are carefully crafted to include only those facts which support the positions of those who own or control the specific media outlet. Uncomfortable events are ignored, if possible; if it can’t be ignored, the persons involved are purposefully and persistently discredited.
War creates a common enemy, and feelings of patriotic unity. Endless war and international conflict creates a faceless, constant, omnipresent enemy, and is an excellent way to inspire fear. Enough fear softens the populace into accepting “safety” measures a free society otherwise wouldn’t. Since 1775, there have been only a few years in which the United States was not involving itself, militarily or covertly, in the business of other nations. For the last ten years, we’ve been fighting the “War On Terror”, leading to American fears of brown-skinned, bearded, turban-wrapped, burka-wearing Muslim or mistaken-for-Muslim individuals, unattended packages, and invisible, would-be airliner bombers concealing explosive materials in unmentionable places. While we fret over the loss of expensive, >3oz personal hygiene products at the hands of pimply, authoritarian TSA officials, the United States has been carrying out internationally-illegal operations in more than 120 nations, including raids, bombings and assassinations that kill innocent civilians as well as or instead of the intended targets. At least one American citizen living overseas was the intentional target of one such operation. So much for operating within the law.
Libya is another good example of the executive’s political power operating outside the law. The Constitution, the War Powers Act and U.S. law are very clear, and were violated; much of Congress expressed concern and dismay, but in then end, most of Congress allowed these crimes to stand, despite possessing the ability to remedy the action and to punish the executive who ordered it.
On November 29th, 2011, a day which I most sincerely hope will NOT live in infamy, controversial portions of S1867, the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, were passed, allowing the U.S. military to indefinitely detain American citizens living on U.S. soil without due process or trial, and with nothing more than suspicion of terrorism as an excuse. Section 1031, in authorizing the military to engage in law enforcement actions on U.S. soil essentially repeals the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, which protected citizens from military occupation by limiting the ability of governments to commonly use the federal military to perform law enforcement functions within the U.S. The stated rationale for this action is best summed up by South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, who claims, “The homeland is part of the battlefield.”
Other than the obvious issues one might have with a constant, active, armed-and-uniformed military presence on our own soil, this law would appear to be incompatible with many of our Constitutionally-guaranteed rights, including our Fourth , Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and 14th Amendment rights, which grant us the freedom from unreasonable search and seizure; right to due process; right to a speedy, public, impartial jury trial; right to be informed of charges against us; right to face opposing witnesses and to present supporting witnesses, right to an attorney; protection against cruel and unusual punishment; right to equal protection under the law. Mere suspicion as grounds for an arrest, not being informed of the charges against you, indefinite detention, torture, and a closed military tribunal, which may or may not even take place within the U.S. do not appear to meet these Constitutionally-guaranteed obligations of the U.S. to its citizens.
In essence, this means that the military can, at any time, come into your home, take you away, hide you in a military prison on a military base, fail to tell you what’s going on, torture you, fail to charge you, and keep you forever, if they so chose. And there’s not a damn thing you could do about it.Terrifying, especially when one stops to ponder exactly who and what our government’s definition of terrorism includes. The many different agencies tasked with national security have various working definitions, but in general they include: protesters, who, according to the Department of Defense, practice "low-level terrorism"; members of groups which support states’ authority over the federal government; members of groups dedicating to opposing a single issue, such as abortion, or immigration; those who are opposed to federal policies; those who dare criticize government policies, even privately; those who focus on our specific economic issues; those opposed to the wars;; veterans, in general, and of the disillusioned, disgruntled and disabled varieties in particular. “Political deviants” are also on the radar; this is yet another way to discourage people from climbing out of the two-party political rut, as third-party supporters are considered “deviant“.
Combine this with the unsettling news that our “smart phones” apparently come fully equipped with stealth software that has the capability to keep track of the phone’s owner--and the phone’s owner’s business. Per Julian Assange, WikiLeaks founder, in addition to monitoring location--even when the phone is turned off--this type of software has the capability to record text messages, numbers dialed, keystrokes tapped and websites visited--including encrypted searches--and sends those records elsewhere, makes use of voice recognition software to identify the parties to a conversation, and can even snap surreptitious pics of people and places nearby.
They say that those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Unfortunately, America and its residents appear to be existing in a nightmare of endless reruns. The results, and the implications, are terrifying.