Tag Archives: authoritarianism

SYNDICATED COLUMN: The Pledge of Allegiance is anti-American

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Right-wingers conflate nationalism with patriotism. But they’re not the same thing. Patriots love their country because it does good things; for nationalists it’s our country right or wrong. A lot of stuff nationalists call patriotic couldn’t possibly be more un-American.

The singing of the national anthem before sporting events, and the reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance, are prime examples.

The latest nationalism vs. patriotism controversy arrives courtesy of Colin Kaepernick, the African-American pro football player blackballed by the NFL for kneeling in silent protest over police shootings of blacks rather than stand for the signing of the national anthem alongside his teammates and fans before games. The “take a knee” movement has spread throughout the league, largely in response to President Trump’s crude remark that those who refuse to stand during “The Star Spangled Banner” are “sons of bitches.”

At football games and similar events where the anthem is sung, standers far outnumber kneelers — and that’s weird. Because if one person is kneeling against police brutality, then it stands to reason that standing up means you support cops gunning down unarmed black people. Are there really that many racists?

That, and when you stop to think about it, the whole idea of rote rituals to prove our loyalty run completely counter to what most Americans, liberal or conservative, think their country is about.

As I have written before, lefties and righties don’t have the same ambitions for the U.S. Following the tradition of the French Revolution and the Declaration of the Rights of Man, the Left idealizes individual rights. They dream of a country where everyone is not only created equal, but treated accordingly. The Right values empire. Rightists’ ideal America is a global military and economic superpower.

Still, the two sides have something in common. They want to be left alone, to live their lives as free of government interference as possible. Progressives want the government out of their bedrooms. Traditionalists want it out of their incomes. Totalitarianism — a form of government whose control over citizens’ daily lives leads to the requirement that everyone attend one meeting after another and report dissent to the authorities — could no more catch on here than North Korean-style displays of signs flipped by synchronized flags or parades of military hardware (though Trump wants to start those).

Like the singing of the anthem at games, the Pledge of Allegiance reflects a totalitarian impulse you find in fascist and authoritarian regimes, not democracies. The U.S. and Canada are the only countries on earth where national anthems are played at the start of sporting events. Even in many authoritarian states, the requirement that children (and athletes) swear fealty to the nation (or, as here, its flag) would be considered too creepy to contemplate.

When your country is crazier than Zimbabwe, it’s time to take stock — even if you’re a Republican.

Other nations require oaths of allegiance from those taking public office, like members of parliament. Some ask the same of foreigners seeking to become naturalized citizens. But the U.S. may be the only nation on earth to have a widely-used pledge of allegiance.

Children who refuse to recite the Pledge of Allegiance are routinely punished, criticized and ostracized, even in public schools. I know — it happened to me in elementary school. Kaepernick, a top-tier athlete, has been denied employment. These are obvious violations of the all-American value of free speech and expression guaranteed by the First Amendment.

The addition of “under God” in 1954, at the height of the McCarthy era and its rancid loyalty oaths, further violates another core principle of Americanism, the freedom to worship as you please or not at all as protected under the Establishment Clause of the US. Constitution.

In one respect, however, the Pledge of Allegiance owes its origins to something that couldn’t be more American: a huckster out to make a few extra bucks.

Why do Americans pledge allegiance to the “flag,” as opposed to the nation or its government? It boils down to capitalist greed. The origins of the Pledge date to 1892, when James B. Upham, the marketing executive of the popular children’s magazine The Youth’s Companion used the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in the Americas to promote a conference in honor of the American flag. He pushed the Pledge in his magazine as a way to promote nationalism and sell flags to public schools. Schoolhouses purchased 26,000 flags the first year alone.

Kids reciting the pledge were supposed to raise their arms at the same time — yep, the Hitler “sieg heil” salute before Hitler. World War II put an end to that in American schools.

Having traveled extensively, I have observed that the countries whose governments insist upon the most extravagant displays of nationalism line up neatly with those with the least personal freedom. In authoritarian China and the police state of Turkmenistan, national flags and banners extolling slogans and quotes of the ruling party festoon every government office and pedestrian overpass. As Turkey moves away from democracy and closer to autocracy, Turkish flag stickers multiply on automobiles.

It is the opposite in the European democracies. A Frenchman who hung a French flag from his front porch would be ridiculed by his neighbors, socialist and Le Pen supporter alike. It is not that the French and the Dutch and the Spanish and other Europeans do not love their countries as much as Americans do; if anything, most Europeans are grateful that their countries are not like ours. They are patriots. And they remember World War II, when those who liked to wave flags and insisted on loyalty oaths to the state turned out to be dangerous.

Everyone should sit out the singing of the national anthem. It’s archaic and uncomfortably reminiscent of fascism.

It is time to leave the Pledge of Allegiance where it belongs, on the dungheap of history, remembered as a clever way to move piles of colored cloth.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Our Obsession with Trump Shows Authoritarianism Has Arrived

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Bernie Sanders has joined the chorus of politicians and pundits who warn that the U.S. is sliding into authoritarianism under Trump. But he’s kind of wrong about how.

There are indeed reasons to worry that civilian and constitutional rule are giving way to institutional post-democracy. Trump’s cabinet and top White House staff contain enough military generals to give Pakistan a run for its money. Trump’s party controls both the House and Senate yet the president prefers to dash off executive orders rather than making the necessary effort to shepherd legislation through Congress. And of course there’s his police-state rhetoric, like when he “joked” that cops should bash their suspects’ heads into the sides of their squad cars.

But the most reliable indicator of looming authoritarianism can be found in the media, specifically in its obsession with the president.

A study by Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy found that 41% of all news stories during the president’s first 100 days were about Trump. That’s three times higher than any other president. Six months in, news outlets still devote hundreds of broadcast hours and thousands of words dissecting 100-character tweets Trump dashed off in seconds at four o’clock in the morning.

Trump has a lot on his plate: healthcare, tax reform, the border wall, Venezuela for some reason. But one story towers above all others in news coverage: the Russia-Trump connection. Fifty-five percent of all stories about Trump on TV network news since Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel have been about the Russia probe, according to the conservative Media Research Center.

(Count me among the guilty: as a political cartoonist, it’s hard not to notice that images of Trump garner more clicks than those about climate change. Here I go again, right here in this column.)

Americans are divided along party lines. But Trump has brought us together in one respect: he’s making everyone feel anxious by creating a constant atmosphere of crisis.

The president’s Republican supporters are worried sick that a Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy will force Trump out before he can carry out his promises. “BREAKING NEWS! WATCH: Top Republican Issues Warning About ‘Taking Out’ Trump – This Is Terrifying…. ” warns an email blast from TeaParty.org. From the same email: “Establishment RINOs just teamed up with the bloodthirsty Democrats to betray their constituents and keep Obamacare – the DISASTER that is destroying he [sic] lives of millions of Americans.”

            These emails hit in boxes of Republican voters at an hourly rate. Here’s another:Within the darkest, dankest bowels of our government, the Leftist Deep State has nursed its wounds and regathered its might. They’re preparing for another surprise attack. The highest Deep State archons have gone absolutely berserk with gnashing, fist-bleeding, spit-flinging rage.” Terrifying! Given how much effort goes into working them up, it’s amazing how few gun owners go on a shooting spree.

Liberals are going crazy too. “Get Organized to Drive Out the Fascist Trump/Pence Regime. In the Name of Humanity — We REFUSE to Accept a Fascist America!” urges an email from RefuseFascism.org. “We’re in a crucial moment in history, when the danger of a full-out fascist regime, as we have analyzed, threatens the people all over the world and the planet itself as a viable place for humans and other species to thrive and survive.” Even the bugs are doomed!

No false equivalence here — I’m an unapologetic leftie. The point I’m making here is, everyone is obsessed with Trump, not just the media. And that obsession is a strong clue that the authoritarian era may already be underway.

For 15 years the global embodiment of authoritarian rule was Turkmenistan under former Soviet strongman Saparmurat Niyazov. Like Trump, Niyazov was a quirky megalomaniac who routinely issued executive orders on everything from grandiose construction projects (a vast manmade lake in the world’s hottest desert) to the mundane (a ban on chewing tobacco, ejecting dogs from the capital because of their “unappealing odor”).

Like other visitors to Turkmenistan, I was struck by the ubiquity of Niyazov’s image on currency stamps, statues and posters. But what really made an impression on me was how carefully the Turkmen people studied his every move, both literally and figuratively.

Whenever Niyazov’s motorcade left the presidential palace, the police shut down most streets in Ashkhabat. Motorists carefully tracked his schedule to avoid getting stuck in traffic — or arrested. Because college applicants knew that the president personally reviewed their applications, savvy students sprinkled their essays with quotes from the leader’s book, the Ruhnama. When the Father of All Turkmen let his hair go from dyed to white back to black again, countless thousands of his hapless subjects felt it wise to follow suit.

As in the U.S., where leftist opposition increasingly focuses against the person of Donald J. Trump (as opposed to the systemic oppressions of capitalism and militarism), political opposition in Turkmenistan was directed against Niyazov, the center of the nation’s personality cult. En route to my hotel, my taxi driver pulled over to toss his saved-up household trash over the fence surrounding the presidential palace. Judging from the lawn, he wasn’t the only one.

Prisoners will tell you that serving time safely requires a close watch on guards’ mood swings and shift changes. Survival is part of human nature; studying those with power of life or death over you is key to survival in situations where individual rights are slim to nonexistent.

The U.S government has become increasingly violent, intrusive and capricious since 9/11, brazenly listening to our calls and reading our emails and generally treating individual rights like quaint relics of the past. Obama announced his right to drone-kill Americans on American soil; he and now Trump are even deporting U.S. citizens. The erratic nature of Trump’s personality and policy prescriptions have amplified the sense that Americans, like the Turkmen, had better pay close attention to the man in charge if they want to survive.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: It Happened Here

http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-NAOVCoxpJs8/UyYHJ_VHtwI/AAAAAAAAIzU/D66LKEzY3aU/s1600/Berlin+in+1945+4.jpgIt began with the global economic crisis.

All around the world, millions of people who had nothing to do with the stock market crash — who didn’t earn enough money to save, much less invest, that much less speculate — lost everything nevertheless. They lost their jobs, then, in short order, their homes. They were scared.

The failure of democratic governance transformed their completely understandable fear into savage, uncontrolled anger.

Presidents and parliaments dithered. Part of the blame lie with the Constitution. It provided for a strong executive branch. Rather than grease the skids of government, it prompted members of the congress to dig in their heels, blocking every initiative they could because it was the only way to stay relevant.

The politicians knew they had a terminal systemic crisis on their hands, but they couldn’t agree how to respond. So they didn’t. The misery deepened.

Gridlock reigned.

The economy recovered. A little. Not much. But almost all the gains fell into the pockets of the wealthy and well-connected. Almost everyone else felt left out. They seethed.

Seeing opportunity amid the armies of the alienated and dispossessed, the perennial almost-candidate of the nationalist, nativist far-right began campaigning in earnest. Breaking all the rules of conventional campaigning, he drew huge crowds with a simple message:

Believe me.

Trust me, he assured his audiences, and I will make the country great again.

He was short on specifics and liberal with insults. Idiots, he called the incumbent politicians. They were losers — losers whose stupidity had betrayed a once-great country.

“People from this country can’t find a job. They can’t earn a decent living,” he ranted. “Foreigners must be expelled so our people can work!”

Forward-looking leaders within the establishment parties worried about the growing popularity of this strongman in the making. His intentions, after all, were dangerously radical — and they’d been published years before in a bestselling book. He was, he said himself, a “militarist.” Wars, fragmentation, scapegoating were all in the cards if he were allowed to come to power. But the parties weren’t motivated to respond. The system couldn’t save itself.

Some establishment analysts thought he was a flash in the pan, a buffoon whose appeal would fade in good time of its own accord. “The ranting clown who bangs the drum outside the…circus,” The Guardian called him.

The future tyrant’s natural ideological opposition couldn’t get it together. During key elections, they split their votes between the socialist Left and moderate liberals. Ultimately, however, historians blamed the Right most of all, for failing to rein in one of their own.

Traditional conservatives had played a dangerous game for years, using political “dog whistles” to appeal to citizens’ bigoted views of foreigners and ethnic minorities. As the economy worsened, this approach became more effective. Conservatives doubled down, setting the stage for what came next.

What the old guard didn’t understand was, that given a choice between half-hearted racism and the genuine article, the electorate would choose the authentic candidate. “He tells it like it is, and we need that now in a president,” 44% of voters told a major newspaper.

The conservative establishment faced a choice too: support a candidate of the left, or forsake true conservatism in favor of a fascist. To a man, they went with the fascist.

A tone of increasing violence accompanied the demagogue’s rise in the polls. Not only did he personally condone violence against his movement’s political opponents, his party offered its lawyers to defend partisans arrested for beatings in its name. Even his close associates were implicated in violent assaults; when they were, the Leader stood by them. “I think it’s a very very sad day in this country when a man could be destroyed over something like that,” he said.

The aging president was reluctant to issue an outright condemnation. “Troubling,” he called the gathering storm clouds.

The Leader’s authoritarian movement attracted a plurality of the vote — yet he wasn’t popular enough to consolidate a simple majority. Had his opponents set aside their personal ambitions and ideological biases, and united in favor of the national good, he could have been denied the chancellorship.

Alas, twelve years later, all would be ruins.

(Ted Rall is the author of “Bernie,” a biography written with the cooperation of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. “Bernie” is now on sale online and at all good bookstores.)

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: It’ll Probably Be President Trump

http://i.ebayimg.com/images/g/vhoAAOSwZd1VZs28/s-l300.jpgMy secret is contrarianism. Since the conventional wise men of the corporate mainstream media are almost always wrong, you’ll almost always be right if you bet against them.

The MSM take on Donald Trump is a rare exception to the rule. They’re scared and so am I. They’re right to be frightened. He’s an unconscious fascist, less like Hitler the careful schemer, more like Adolf’s mentor Mussolini, who cobbled together a little bit from the socialist left and a lot from the nationalist right, winged it as he noted which lines got the most applause, and repeated those.

The trouble with Trump isn’t his policies. He hardly has any. Those he has are so vague as to be laughable (see: the Mexican-financed border wall, mass deportations, etc.)

His temperament is the threat. Hillary Clinton hasn’t met a war she didn’t like, but it’s easy to imagine Trump starting one — maybe a big one — accidentally. Trump has so much contempt for the system, the job he’s running for, and the American people, that he hasn’t bothered to study up on the issues. If he took real estate this seriously, he would have gone bankrupt even more often.

Here’s some irony: America finally elects the magic businessman as president — which we’ve been told for years would be awesome — and securities markets tank in reaction to the uncertainty he creates.

Trump, used to getting his way all the time, is a bully. A president convinces. An authoritarian orders you. Do what he says, or else. This November, nothing less than the American political system is at stake.

So it’s time to get real.

The establishment types are still in denial. Wake up, idiots!

At this writing, Trump is my odds-on favorite to win in November. Things could change. But that’s where we’ve been for months and where we are now.

Because they didn’t think Trump could win the nomination, the party’s efforts to stop him have come way too little, way too late. Mitt Romney 2.0? Paul Ryan? Seriously?

Looking back, pressuring Trump and the other candidates promise to support the eventual nominee and forswear a third-party/independent candidacy rates as one of the stupidest political maneuvers of all time. Now the Republicans are stuck with the dude.

Not that the Democrats are blameless. Barring a miraculous EmailGate-related indictment or the eruption of some new scandal-in-waiting, Hillary Clinton will probably be the Democratic nominee. Thank you, DNC! And she’ll be a disaster. Head-to-head match-ups have consistently shown that she’s weaker against Trump than Bernie Sanders.

Trump is hardwired to find the weak spots in his opponents. He’ll have a field day demolishing Clinton’s candidacy, which is constructed on a pair of fantasies: that her long resume equals a list of impressive accomplishments, and that her record of supporting right-wing wars and trade agreements means she’s secretly a progressive longing to race out of the gate to keep “fighting for us.” Remember what he did to Little Marco Rubio.

Trump will blow up Hillary’s BS over and over and over. And there’s a lot of BS to blow up.

Hillary’s support is wide but shallow. Sure, some Bernie voters will dutifully Feel the Hill. But many Democrats, the ones who got into the Bern because they couldn’t abide Clinton, will not. DINO Hillary is to Trump’s right on war and trade and probably on Israel too. The #BernieorBust movement could leave enough progressives sitting home on election day or casting their votes for the Green Party’s Jill Stein to put Trump into the White House.

Should/can Trump be stopped? Yes, but not by the Republican Party. The GOP’s Stop Trump stampede — the anguished editorials, the cable-news rants, the pompous insider scolds, tens of millions of dollars in SuperPAC-funded attack ads that even smear his wife as a slut — is counterproductive, playing into the framing of a guy who sells himself as an establishment pissing-off outsider.

The Stop Trump movement within the GOP is undemocratic to the point of making me want to retch. Trump has a commanding lead against rival Ted Cruz (680 delegates to 424, 37% of the popular vote to 27%). Considering that Trump began the race against 18 other candidates, the establishmentarian talking point that he can’t get 50% of the vote is absurd. 37% is a commanding lead, and talk of pulling out some nothing guy who didn’t even run (Ryan, Romney) in second-round voting at the Republican convention is an insult to those who voted for Trump and to democracy itself.

The raison d’être for GOP anti-Trumpism is insane: he’s not a “real conservative” — this proto-fascist, they say, is too far left for their party.

If Republicans are serious about stopping Trump, they should pledge to support the Democratic nominee for president — with their votes, their PR machines, their SuperPACs and campaigning in person.

If the Democrats are serious about stopping Trump, they should Stop Hillary.

(Ted Rall is the author of “Bernie,” a biography written with the cooperation of Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. “Bernie” is now on sale online and at all good bookstores.)

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Inevitably

In the Democratic primaries, where Hillary Clinton’s victory is a foregone conclusion, Bernie Sanders is playing the role of the sacrificial lamb candidate familiar to citizens of dictatorships that hold phony elections in order to confer legitimacy upon their regimes.

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Autographed Copies Now for Sale! Revised/Updated 2014 Edition of “Silk Road to Ruin”

The expanded paperback 2nd edition of Silk Road to Ruin: Why Central Asia is the Next Middle East is OUT NOW. You can order it from Amazon or scroll below to order an autographed copy directly from me. Signed copies come with a personal sketch and can be dedicated to anyone you want. And most of the money goes to me, unlike Amazon, which pays authors about a buck a copy.

The new edition updates the politics and current events sections to the present. In addition, there is a bonus chapter about my expedition to Lake Sarez in Tajikistan — Central Asia’s “Sword of Damocles,” which could cause an epic flood that could kill millions of people at any time.

If you are a book critic or reviewer interested in a review copy, please contact NBM Publishing directly.

If you would like me to speak about Central Asia and the new book at an event, please contact me through the contact form here on the Rallblog.

To order an autographed copy:


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Silk Road to Ruin: 2nd paperback edition

The expanded paperback 2nd edition of Silk Road to Ruin: Why Central Asia is the Next Middle East comes out April 1, 2014. It is now available for pre-order from Amazon. The new edition updates the politics and current events sections to the present. In addition, there is a bonus chapter about my expedition to Lake Sarez in Tajikistan — Central Asia’s “Sword of Damocles,” which could cause an epic flood that could kill millions of people at any time.

I will sell personally signed copies of the book through my website. Please use the contact form if you’d like me to add you to the mailing list and I will get in touch as soon as I have copies to sell — probably around May 1st. (The Amazon copies will ship first, though.)

If you are a book critic or reviewer interested in a review copy, please contact NBM Publishing directly.

If you would like me to speak about Central Asia and the new book at an event, please contact me through the contact form here on the Rallblog.

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: The PRISM Scandal: The Last Chance for America

Will We Resist a Massive Government/Corporate Conspiracy?

Turkey teeters on the brink of revolution — because the government wants to build a mall in the middle of a public square in Istanbul.

What will we do about the PRISM conspiracy?

With due respect to the Turkish protesters — with whom I agree — PRISM is a trillion times worse than Taksim Square.

PRISM is run by the NSA and FBI.

The charter of the National Security Agency, a spy agency created to collect foreign intelligence, specifically states that it is prohibited from “acquiring information concerning the domestic activities of United States persons.” Simple English. NSA isn’t even allowed to spy on Americans accidentally.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation’s self-professed mission is to “protect and defend the United States against terrorist and foreign intelligence threats, to uphold and enforce the criminal laws of the United States, and to provide leadership and criminal justice services to federal, state, municipal, and international agencies and partners.”

The NSA claims that its actions are “consistent with U.S. laws and the protection of privacy and civil liberties.”

Yet:

Not.

The darkest dystopian visions of the future — 1984, Brazil, Sleep Dealer — have come to chilling, horrific life. There can no longer be any illusion that the U.S. is a democratic republic. Everything we learned as schoolchildren was a lie. The U.S. government does not serve us. This is not a government by the people or for the people. The regime in Washington no more respects our rights as citizens, our dignity as individuals, than the North Korean dictators of Pyongyang. We eat better and watch better TV but where it counts, at essence, we are exactly the same.

The Washington Post and the British newspaper The Guardian have broken a startling blockbuster, perhaps the biggest story of our lives. “The NSA and the FBI,” writes the Post, “are tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs that enable analysts to track one target or trace a whole network of associates.”

This is a government-big business conspiracy of the first order, so breathtaking in scope and ambition that it is scarcely comprehensible.

According to a classified PowerPoint presentation leaked by a patriotic intelligence officer said to be consumed with “horror at the capabilities” of the PRISM system, the U.S. government taps directly into the servers of Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube and Apple. Google, the biggest Internet company on earth, controlling 16% of global Internet traffic, pretended to stand up to China’s clumsy attempts to censor the Web, but when the NSA came calling, they saluted, bent over and paid for lube.

Google could have litigated. They could have called a press conference. They could have leaked the threats. Instead, they turned over everything. Voluntarily. If you’re online, Google has given your “private” information to the feds. “Don’t be evil?” Ha.

If capitalism counts for anything, contracts have to be enforced. There is a universally understood implicit contract between Internet users and companies like Microsoft and Apple: they keep your data private to the best of their abilities. They might get hacked; a court may serve them with a subpoena. Stuff happens. But they’re not supposed to voluntarily give every bit and byte to the government just because they asked nicely. Because they want to be considered, in government parlance, “a trusted company.”

The government trusts them. But now, can anyone else?

These Internet giants had a choice. They could have told the government to take a walk. According to the Post: “Apple demonstrated that resistance is possible when it held out for more than five years, for reasons unknown, after Microsoft became PRISM’s first corporate partner in May 2007. Twitter, which has cultivated a reputation for aggressive defense of its users’ privacy, is still conspicuous by its absence from the list of ‘private sector partners.'”

PRISM exposes the horrifying, galling partnership between the biggest Silicon Valley corporations and an out-of-control security state. No one is safe in a society governed by such powerful elites colluding so closely.

It also belies previous official claims that anti-terrorism and other security-based intelligence-gathering operations are specifically targeted at likely threats. To the contrary, the U.S. government is plainly interested in — and has largely succeeded at — intercepting, collecting and analyzing every electronic communication in the United States, and presumably abroad as well.

For example:

“According to a separate ‘User’s Guide for PRISM Skype Collection,’ that service can be monitored for audio when one end of the call is a conventional telephone and for any combination of ‘audio, video, chat, and file transfers’ when Skype users connect by computer alone. Google’s offerings include Gmail, voice and video chat, Google Drive files, photo libraries, and live surveillance of search terms.”

Offerings.

That’s what they’re calling the emails we send each other. The photos we store in the “cloud.” Our video chats.

Everything we do online. Our entire online lives.

Offerings. They’re offering us up.

Yeah, of course, we knew they — the government — not our government, mind you — They — the others — the minions of the 1% — were spying on Americans at an epic scale that the Stasi spymasters depicted in the East German drama “The Lives of Others” couldn’t have dreamed of.

First came the 2001 USA-Patriot Act, which opened the door to officially-sanctioned law breaking in the supposed service of national security. In 2002 there was DARPA’s Total Information Awareness, the Bush Administration’s post-9/11 data mining operation, an attempt to “turn everything in cyberspace about everybody—tax records, driver’s-license applications, travel records, bank records, raw F.B.I. files, telephone records, credit-card records, shopping-mall security-camera videotapes, medical records, every e-mail anybody ever sent—into a single, humongous, multi-googolplexibyte database that electronic robots will mine for patterns of information suggestive of terrorist activity.” After an uproar, Congress defunded TIA — so its staff and activities simply packed up and moved to the NSA, where they continue to work today.

There was also AT&T’s secret room 641A, the site of “clandestine collaboration between one big telecommunications company, AT&T, and the National Security Agency to facilitate the most comprehensive illegal domestic spying program in history.” That story broke in 2007.

A few days ago, another sweeping violation of privacy came to light. This time, “the government has obtained phone numbers of both parties on every Verizon call, the call’s duration, location data and the time of day the calls were made.” That program is ongoing. (Were other telecommunications carriers involved? Probably. This is one of the few rubber-stamp FISA court warrants to come to light.)

It doesn’t take a genius to extrapolate from these stories to the massive scope of PRISM. But there’s a big difference between knowing the government is reading your emails and looking at your dirty pictures, and KNOWING they’re doing it. Now we KNOW.

So. What are we going to do about this?

Dropbox, Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and Apple have all denied participation in PRISM. Maybe it’s all just a bad dream!

Probably not, though.

First: we need a full, independent investigation. Not by Congress. By someone we can trust. It’s hard to imagine who. Certainly not one of the big tech companies accused of betraying us.

Second: if this story turns out to be true, President Obama, Vice President Biden and the entire cabinet must resign and face prosecution. According to the Post, data collected from the rogue PRISM program is relied upon for roughly one out of seven of the President’s Daily Briefs on intelligence matters. “That is a remarkable figure in an agency that measures annual intake in the trillions of communications,” notes the newspaper. It means that knowledge of PRISM, and authorization thereof, goes to the Oval Office. There must be accountability. Swift accountability.

Members of Congress, corporate executives of the Internet companies involved, and of any other companies, must be held to account as well. Prosecutions should come quickly.

Finally, we have some hard questions to ask ourselves.

I’d start with this one:

What does it mean to be an American? Are we citizens, free men and women? Or are we serfs, not vested in even the primal right to talk to our friends and family members without some goddamn government asshole listening in?

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in April by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

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