Living In The Truth

Václav Havel believed that dissent in a post-totalitarian power structure could not be effective when expressed through direct political confrontation. Although direct confrontation is an irritant to the power structure, it also merits, according to the internal law and logic of such a system, a harsh reaction towards the perpetrator. Direct confrontation then, gives an oppressive government an excuse to behave like an oppressive government.

The post-totalitarian system that Havel describes in his essay The Power of the Powerless has, at its foundation, ideology. Although it’s possible that this ideology was originally formed for the purpose of serving real human needs, it evolved into a doctrine whose sole purpose was to sustain the power structure. The result — an ideology not grounded in the “aims of life” but rather in the “aims of the post-totalitarian system.”

Ideology is attractive when it offers an illusion of something greater —“the illusion of an identity, of dignity, and of morality while making it easier for them to part with” real identity, dignity and morality. Ideology supplies an excuse to deny those virtues and go along with an abusive system.

For example, United States foreign policy ideology provides an excuse to use violence to insure the flow of oil while at the same time making us feel good that our presence in the Middle East is all about peace, democracy and women’s rights. The ideology of the war on terror also supplies the excuse for lost rights here at home.  Say, that of electronic privacy.  Out of fear, you don’t frequent websites that criticize government invasion into your privacy. You may say you don’t visit such sites because you believe the government actions are legitimate and meant to provide safety, but might it really be because of the risk that your internet searches and emails will be the next ones scrutinized?

Havel explains that ideology “pretends that the requirements of the system derive from the requirements of life. It is a world of appearances trying to pass for reality.” That people go along with this pretense is necessary for the stability of the system. He posits that “If the main pillar of the system is living a lie, then it is not surprising that the fundamental threat to it is living the truth.” Living in the truth then, Havel argues, is the most effective dissent.

If effective dissent in a post-totalitarian system is not direct political confrontation, but rather it is living in the truth, then I wonder what living in the truth looks like in pre-totalitarian United States of America?

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The Improbability of Liberty Through Political Means

In a collectivist oriented power structure, increased liberties flowing from a particular leader or political party holding office, are highly improbable. Two analysts, from two different times, places and professions, share many understandings on the nature of authoritarian governments. Economics writer, Gordon T. Long, in his article An Orwellian America, discusses the United States descent into totalitarianism. Long’s analysis of our unfolding political environment has much in common with playwright, dissident and, much later, president of the new Czech Republic,  Václav Havel’s analysis of the political environment of 1978 communist Czechoslovakia in his essay The Power of the Powerless.

Havel describes one feature of the nature of power, in what he calls a post-totalitarian system, is that it is contained in the system itself. Unlike a classical dictatorship, power is not focused on an individual or even a political party. Sure, there may be a leader, possibly even an elected leader, but the system does not profoundly change based on who that leader is. Havel explains that the role of the ruler, is often overrated because even though they are the focal point of great power, they are often “blind executors” – they do not reflect upon the laws of the system, but rather let it move automatically on its course.

The laws of the system, have their own logic, irrelevant to human needs. In other words, the laws of the system are incongruent with natural law. Instead, the system’s purpose is the continuity of the system. This continuity — this seemingly unstoppable motion, is what Havel refers to as the automatist system.

Havel claims that the appointment of specific leaders, even if elected, would not affect the consistency and direction of the automatist system in any profound way. Gordon T. Long claims that this has been the case in the United States, as it has move toward collectivism since the establishment of The Fed in the early 20th century. He argues that during the last few administrations, we have moved more quickly to the other side of the continuum, away from personal and economic freedom, towards personal and economic security – from individual liberty to socialism. In the chart below, Long places Clinton and Reagan closer to the ideals of liberty – both personal and economic, than either Bush or Obama.

The Political Continuum – An Orwellian America By Gordon T. Long

Long explains that both Republicans and Democrats are socialist in their belief that government should “run or mold society.”  Both parties have demonstrated that they will grow government, both in size and in reach to obtain that objective. Their differences are in the methods of control, and in who pays for and who benefits from wealth redistribution. The point that he makes, is that both parties are simply walking on the left side and the right side of their shared path to totalitarianism.

Illustration from An Orwellian America By Gordon T. Long

Long uses the 2008 Obama versus McCain presidential election to show the lack of real choices between the competitive candidates. Obama (the blue circle) and McCain(the red circle) are fairly close on the collectivism side of the illustration, each favoring a slightly different left/right leaning.  Although Obama and McCain had a few discernible differences, they did not represent different sides of the individualism/collectivism divide. The one candidate in that election who did offer a truly different view of America, Ron Paul (the yellow circle), was considered wacko by the mainstream media and both primary political parties. He was even rejected by many of his supporters as a throw-away vote. Individualism and Liberty proved to be personae non gratae in political America.

Because of my own skepticism of any real and viable choices, I found both the 2008 and 2012 election seasons quite discouraging. Obama and Romney offered little variation in their interpretations of the place of government in American life. Ron Paul was again the different candidate, but got very little voter support.

Based on his essay, Havel might say that Ron Paul did not hide his independent will enough to enter the power structure at the highest level.  He observed that “In any case, experience has taught us again and again that this automatism is far more powerful than the will of any individual; and should someone possess a more independent will, he must conceal it behind a ritually anonymous mask in order to have the opportunity to enter power at all.” If such a person does manage to enter into politics, Havel explains, he is either “ejected from the power structure like a foreign organism”, like Ron Paul, or he will “resign his individuality gradually” and become part of that stronger will. This is why Havel believes that politically driven changes to a post-totalitarian government are unlikely. He argues that change must come through the non-political sphere.

Gordon T. Long doesn’t hold out much hope for politically driven change that would increase liberty either. In his analysis, he concludes that “we are one crisis away from a police state” and that “it is only a matter of time and circumstance.”

I concur. Unless the American voters suddenly stop evaluating their candidates in terms of left and right, and begin to consider liberty as the weightier matter, I believe that our descent into totalitarianism will continue to accelerate.

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Big Sis Doesn’t Answer

Concerning the large number of bullets that the DHS has purchased over the last year —

“Congressman Timothy Huelscamp revealed this week that the Department of Homeland Security has refused to answer questions from “multiple” members of Congress regarding its recent purchase of huge amounts of weapons and ammunition.”

“Huge amounts” is quite an understatement given the 1.6 billion rounds purchased are enough for a 20 year war or about 4 bullets per man, woman and child living in the United States. Too expensive to use for practice rounds, the hollow point bullets that the agency purchased are the real deal.

In other news, the Obama administration hopes that using the DHS simply as the middleman for the expanded cybersecurity program will alleviate any privacy concerns. The DHS will scan all internet traffic to and from defense contractors and other critical infrastructure providers while other companies will process and analyze it.

That the administration really believes the agency, that won’t answer questions about the large number of bullets, has garnered enough public trust that their possession of the scanned internet traffic won’t be called into question, is unlikely. More likely, the administration believes the Department of Homeland Security doesn’t have to answer to anybody. Except the President.

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Rand Paul Filibuster – The Discussion Isn’t Over

Senator Paul asked “Are we so afraid of terrorism that we’re willing to just throw out our rights and our freedoms?” Apparently, there are many members of congress and constituents who answer “yes” to that question.

Rand Paul’s filibuster was an attempt to activate both Congress and the people to take on the issue of our rights. Twelve senators and sixteen representatives came to support him while 506 members of congress did not show up. Many, because they actually oppose the point that Rand Paul was making. To them, simply stated, the war on terror takes precedence over the rights of the people.

Unless there is a sea change amongst the people that forces Congress to reconsider their stance, the war on terror will continue to be fought at the expense of our freedoms. And, given the extraordinary powers granted to the president during war, the balance of power in our government will continue to tip more and more towards the president.

But, Rand Paul’s filibuster, that delayed the appointment of John Brennan as CIA director, was just the beginning of a discussion. Paul, in his commentary for The Washington Times said that his purpose was  to sound an alarm “from coast to coast that our Constitution is important, that our rights to trial by jury are precious, and that no American should be killed by a drone on U.S. soil without having been found guilty in a court of law.”

I appreciate that Rand Paul stood up, for 13 hours actually, and argued for the 5th amendment. At the same time, additional limitations to our 2nd  and 4th amendment rights are being legislated in Congress with new weapons bans, and with the continual expansion of the Patriot Act that allows government agencies to increasingly spy, collect private data, and perform warrantless searches and seizures on the American people, all in the name of security. Again and again, the war on terror has taken precedence over the rights of the people.

That the assault on our constitutional rights has become so entangled with the war on terror demands that the American people must bring foreign policy into the constitutional rights discussion. The primary complaint of the Middle Eastern terrorists against the United States is our policy of manipulating their societies for the sole purpose of propping up US interests. Yet, as our rights are becoming continually nullified in carrying out those policies, what interests are so important that we should give up what is, at least according to our Constitution, our highest interest — that of individual liberty?

The ten year war on terror has been most effective in the degradation of our rights. The terror itself hasn’t stopped – as one terrorist is killed, another seems to rise to take his place. Taking away our rights and our liberties to keep us safe so that we can continue to execute a foreign policy that compels the terror, makes no real sense.  If we continue the war on terror at the expense of our freedom, we lose what is fundamentally most important.

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To Tell The Truth

When Eric Holder finally clarified, in a letter to Sen. Rand Paul, that the president does not have “the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on U.S. soil”, some breathed a sigh of relief.  Yet Holder’s clarification came only after President Obama’s earlier response to the same question. “I haven’t killed anyone yet, and I have no intention of killing Americans. But I might.”

These differing responses invite the question — which answer is the truth and which is just politically expedient? Given the working definition of combatant as a male over 18 who happens to be in a bombing zone, are these answers actually the same? Upon which should I place my bet, when this president, or the next, has his finger on the trigger?

Metaphorically speaking of course. Because, presidents have agencies for that.

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Senator Paul Filibusters For Justice

Tonight Senator Rand Paul is filibustering on the Senate floor to bring national focus to the Obama administration’s policy that claims the executive right to kill American citizens on US soil without trial and without proof.  The policy makes one person —  the president  — accuser, judge and jury.

I don’t know how many Americans are paying attention to this filibuster. I don’t know how many American are paying attention to this extreme out-of-balance change in power that is occurring in our nation.

Rand Paul doesn’t think he will be able to put a stop to this presidential policy from his single protest, but I hope that America responds by understanding that this path is an evil and dangerous one. I hope that America rises up and says “no” to this policy — a policy which by the constitutional definition of justice, is unjust. Americans have the right to due process.

He said that he will speak until he cannot speak anymore. Thank you Senator Paul.

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The Boot Is On

“If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—for ever.” ― George Orwell, 1984.

Do we live in a police state?  I argue that whether we live in a police state or not is the wrong question. The right question is – do we still have the institutions in place that protect us against a police state?

At its founding, one thing that differentiated the United States from other nations was the institutionalized protection of our rights so that we would not be abused by our own government. That protection did not depend on a particular benevolent leader, but on our natural rights —constitutionally codified, on the separation of powers between the branches of government meant to sustain those rights and on the ability of the people to enforce their will on their representatives through the power of the vote.

This institutionalized protection of our rights is breaking down as both government agencies and private corporations are being given permission to operate underhandedly with rules that either aren’t clear to the public or are even directly contrary to our constitutional rights. The secretive government agencies, unconstitutional legislation and operations, denial of due process, and the abuse of the prison system are all features of a police state.

Secretive Government Agency

One aspect of a police state is that there is an agency, often a secretive one, that operates using rules and methods that aren’t aboveboard. This agency or agencies, whether they be local, state, federal or even corporate, enforces the will of the leaders upon the people through intimidation, violence and imprisonment. We have such an agency in the United States – the Department of Homeland Security(DHS), an umbrella for, amongst others, the FBI and TSA.

Police overreach is most obvious with the pat downs and x-rays of anybody who would like to travel. But, those cameras placed at stop lights all over America are also visible reminders of DHS’s presence in our lives.

What is less obvious is the federalization process of the local and state police forces that are supplied training, equipment and grants to cooperate with Homeland Security. One of those cooperative activities is the surveillance of ordinary citizens through feeds to Fusion Centers — regional intelligence hubs where the FBI, other DHS agents and local police work together to spy on Americans. They use facial recognition technology, license plate readers, and intersection camera video feeds to watch and identify. In addition, Homeland Security is now able to deploy the local police to do their federal business by sending them to survey the places where the cameras don’t reach.

Unconstitutional Legislation and Operations

The Patriot Act allows the DHS to indiscriminately spy on US citizens, in violation of our rights to privacy, property and unreasonable search and seizure. There is no need for a court warrant requiring proof that you are suspected of a crime before information is collected about you. Passed by Congress, confirmed by the Supreme Court and enforced by the President through Homeland Security, the act commissions the DHS to intercept your private emails, phone conversations and text messages without your knowledge. They are empowered to collect not just the information that you send out on the public infrastructure of land lines and the internet, but also to search banking records, tax records, travel records, purchasing records — essentially any record about you that can be collected. Your phone, your computer camera and microphone and your GPS unit can be turned on and accessed remotely by DHS and other law enforcement agencies.  In Michigan, police officers carry a device that allows them to turn on your phone without your permission or even knowledge and collect its contents during a regular traffic stop.

Police states tend, as a strategy, to keep secretive data about people, so that it can be used later in undisclosed ways to manipulate those who wish to stay in the good graces of government or to arrest those whom they don’t want influencing the public. Much of this data is stored in the Investigative Data Warehouse that is maintained by the FBI. It’s hard to tell what all is there and about whom because much of the actual contents are classified, thus, not available through the Freedom of Information Act. There are many privacy concerns based on what is known to be stored, including facial recognition data, surveillance records and other non-public records that are permitted by the Patriot Act.

Denial of Due Process

Of the institutionally protected rights that we supposedly have, the right to a trial is a last stand against the potential violations of all other rights leading up to it. Yet now, as we saw in Guantanamo, the federal government can arrest US citizens without even pressing charges or making it known that the person has been detained. That’s right. It’s legitimate, for a person to be held with no explanation.

Even worse, the President can order the killing of a US citizen on US soil, as the recent Department of Justice leak shows, with very little burden of proof of that person’s threat potential or guilt.

Another aspect of a police state is that the laws under which you may be detained are unclear and changing, leaving the people feeling intimidated and unsure if they can exercise their rights.  L. Gordon Crovitz of the Wall Street Journal in his article about Harvey Silvergate , civil liberties lawyer and author of the book 3 Felonies a Day : How the Feds Target the Innocent, writes that the laws are so ambiguous that the average American commits felonies unwittingly. Though under the institution of common law, intent was a central concept that had to proven, the US law originally based upon common law has moved far away from the centrality of intent. Now ordinary people are being accused of crimes that they didn’t realize they committed. Those crimes can often be identified via a search of the FBI data warehouse.

Abuse of Prison System

A police state cannot function without the means to incarcerate people. Currently, the US holds half of the global prison population in our huge prison-industrial complex and our local jails. In 2011, reported that 1 in every 34 US adults was under some form of correctional supervision and 1 in every 203 was in jail.  Of those, only 17% committed either violent or property crimes such as burglary. That means that of the 1,598,780 incarcerated in 2011, 1,326,987 did not commit the kinds of crimes that would indicate that they are a direct danger to the public.

What’s more disturbing is that many of these prisons are essentially tax financed labor camps for our military defense contractors and other large corporations. Sara Flounders at Global Research reports that the prison workers earn anywhere from 23 cents to $1.15 an hour making weapons parts and other military supplies keeping these jobs out of a regular labor market that demands higher wages and benefits. State governments and non-military corporations are beginning to use prison labor to lower their operational costs also. Our nation is becoming increasingly dependent on the supply of prisoners to help keep the economy afloat and America at war.

One large purchaser of military equipment is the Department of Homeland Security. Some recent purchases that have hit the news are an extremely large quantity of  bullets and explosivesarmored vehicles, surveillance and armed drones. Along with the military, the DHS has interests in keeping weapons costs down and prisons populated.

In Conclusion

The Department of Homeland Security is now able use its powers to stomp all over our civil rights in undisclosed ways. The legal framework is in place for you to just disappear from the streets quietly – with no explanation, no trial – no noise. The prison resources have been built to hold a large portion of the US population and the military and the Department of Homeland Security have become dependent on the labor the prison system provides. These are a full circle of institutions, both legal and physical in nature, that make a police state possible.

Do we still have the institutions in place that protect us against a police state? I say the boot is on.


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