Tag Archives: authoritarianism

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.

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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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Every Policeman Is A Licensed Rapist

This week, you can read my column, or watch it!

Strip-Searching is Legal and Democracy is Dead

The text of Justice Kennedy’s majority is cold and bureaucratic. “Every detainee who will be admitted to the general population may be required to undergo a close visual inspection while undressed,” he writes for the five right-wingers in the majority of the Supreme Court.

There’s no looking back now. The United States is officially a police state.

Here are the basics, as reported by The New York Times: “The case decided Monday, Florence v. County of Burlington, No. 10-945, arose from the arrest of Albert W. Florence in New Jersey in 2005. Mr. Florence was in the passenger seat of his BMW when a state trooper pulled his wife, April, over for speeding. A records search revealed an outstanding warrant for Mr. Florence’s arrest based on an unpaid fine. (The information was wrong; the fine had been paid.) Mr. Florence was held for a week in jails in Burlington and Essex Counties, and he was strip-searched in each. There is some dispute about the details, but general agreement that he was made to stand naked in front of a guard who required him to move intimate parts of his body. The guards did not touch him.”

“Turn around,” Florence later recalled his jailers ordering him. “Squat and cough. Spread your cheeks.”

A court motivated by fairness would have declared this conduct unconstitutional. Fair-minded people would have ordered the New Jersey municipality to empty its bank accounts and turn them over to the man it humiliated. Everyone involved—the police, county officials—ought to have been fired and charged with torture.

Not this court, the U.S. Supreme Court led by John Roberts. Besotted by the sick logic of paranoia and preemption that has poisoned us since 9/11, it ruled that what happened to Albert Florence was perfectly OK. The cops’ conduct was legal.

Now “officials may strip-search people arrested for any offense, however minor.”

If you get arrested at an antiwar protest, the police can strip-search you. If you’re pulled over for a minor traffic infraction, as was the plaintiff in this case. For setting off fireworks on the Fourth of July.

Humiliation is the law of the land.

The Court heard examples of people who were strip-searched “after being arrested for driving with a noisy muffler, failing to use a turn signal and riding a bicycle without an audible bell.” They considered amicus briefs by nuns and other “women who were strip-searched during periods of lactation or menstruation.”

Body-cavity searches are now legal for anyone arrested for any crime, no matter how minor. As of April 2, 2012, finger-rape is the law of the land.

Think it won’t happen to you? 14 million Americans are arrested annually. One in three Americans under age 23 has been arrested. It happened to me a couple of years ago, for a suspended drivers license. Except that it wasn’t really suspended. I was lucky. My cops weren’t perverts. They didn’t want a lookie-loo at my private parts.

How did we get here? Preemptive logic.

Saddam Hussein is a bad man. He hates the United States. What if he has weapons of mass destruction? What if he used them against us, or gave them to terrorists who would? Can’t take that chance.

We don’t need evidence in order to justify bombing and invading Iraq. We have fear and the logic of preemption.

The logic of preemption flails, targeting anyone and everyone. A single plane passenger sets his shoes on fire. He never came close to causing real damage, but now everyone has to take off their shoes before boarding a plane. Infants. Old people. Veterans whose limbs got blown off in Iraq. Everyone.

Can’t take chances. What if your toddler is a member of Al Kidda?

The logic of preemption is indiscriminate. What if terrorists are stupid enough to use phones and emails to plot their dastardly schemes? We’d want to know, right? In the old days before 9/11, officials who suspected a person of criminal conduct went to a judge to obtain a wiretapping warrant.

Now we’re paranoid. And the government is power-hungry. So government officials and their media lapdogs are exploiting our fear and paranoia, openly admitting that they listen to everyone‘s phone calls and read everyone‘s emails. Can’t take chances. Gotta cover all the bases.

What about the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures? Quaint relics of a time before the police state. Like the Geneva Conventions.

Here comes Justice Kennedy, amping up the perverse logic of preemption. Responding to the nasty cases of the finger-raped nun and the humiliated women on their period, Kennedy pointed out that “people detained for minor offenses can turn out to be the most devious and dangerous criminals.” Timothy McVeigh, who blew up the federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995, was pulled over for driving without a license plate. “One of the terrorists involved in the Sept. 11 attacks was stopped and ticketed for speeding just two days before hijacking Flight 93,” he wrote, continuing with the observation that San Francisco cops “have discovered contraband hidden in body cavities of people arrested for trespassing, public nuisance and shoplifting.”

No doubt about it: If you search every car and frisk every pedestrian and break down the door of every house and apartment in America, you will find lots of people up to no good. You will discover meth labs and bombs and maybe even terrorists plotting to blow up things. But who is the bigger danger: a drug dealer, a terrorist, or a terrorist government?

This summer will be ugly. Cops will arrest thousands of protesters who belong to the Occupy Wall Street movement, which is fighting corruption and greed and trying to improve our lives. Now that police have the right to strip and molest demonstrators, you can count on horrible abuses. Cops always go too far.

Note to people about to be arrested: pop a laxative before they slip on the flexicuffs.

I don’t know about you, but I would rather live in a country that respects rights and freedoms more than the paranoid madness of preemption. In the old America where I grew up, we lived with the possibility that some individuals were evil. Now we face the absolute certainty that every policeman is a fully licensed finger-rapist.

(Ted Rall’s next book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt,” out May 22. His website is tedrall.com.)

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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Brave New Book

Political Scientist Argues the U.S. is a Police State

The United States is a police state.

Not in danger of becoming one.

Is.

And it’s too late to restore democracy.

That’s the stark message of Andrew Kolin’s brave, lucid and important book “State Power and Democracy: Before and During the Presidency of George W. Bush.”

Kolin comes out swinging like Joe Frazier. Illusions and delusions about America as a democracy, much less one that is benevolent, don’t stand a chance.

The U.S., Kolin says, shares all the major attributes of a Third World police state: a constant state of emergency in which security always trumps civil liberties; sidestepping of laws by the government; excessive secrecy; the use of preventative detention and holding enemies of the state without filing formal charges; the manufacturing of reasons to go to war.

“The expansion of state power over the course of U.S. history came at the expense of democracy,” Kolin begins. “As state power grew, there developed a disconnect between the theory and practice of democracy in the United States. Ever-greater state power meant it became more and more absolute. This resulted in a government that directed its energies and resources toward silencing those who dared question the state’s authority.”

Some will find Kolin’s more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger deadpan delivery disconcerting or depressing. I think it refreshingly honest. Notice his use of the past tense to describe this country?

The U.S. is over. It’s always been over.

Creeping authoritarianism, Kolin says, began “not long after the end of the Revolutionary War, starting with the conquest of North America and by the start of the twentieth century, continuing with the expansionism outside of North America.”

That’s halfway down the first page.

A hundred pages in, you’ll either be stuffing rags into Molotov cocktails or slitting your wrists. You’ll definitely check the expiration date on your passport.

I was surprised to learn that Kolin is a political science professor at Hilbert College in upstate New York. His methodical walk through U.S. history and the struggle between increased state repression and popular democratic movements, a tug-and-pull in which government and its big business allies won the important battles, feels like a tight legal brief.

As Kolin argues, the fix was in from the start.

“The framers [of the U.S. Constitution] needed to establish a government that could promote and protect property, regulate the economy, create an elaborate infrastructure, and acquire native Indian lands, adhering to the policy of North American expansion, while allowing the democratic surge from below to be both expressed and contained,” Kolin writes.

Obviously, the legal status of most Americans has improved since 1789. For example, “the Abolitionists prove that political movements can disrupt repressive state policies and advance democracy.” However: “The success of the Abolitionists suggests that the government can accommodate reformism, provided its core interests [namely, to enlarge state power] remain unaffected.”

Anyone who has read Zinn or Chomsky will be familiar with the long litany of criminality and ultraviolence which expose the claim of exceptionalism as a ridiculous hoax. These are all here: the Sedition Acts, the Palmer Raids, the Red Scare, dirty deals with dictators. Where the book becomes indispensable is its last third, focusing on the Clinton, Bush and early Obama administrations. This, the author argues beyond any sane ability to disagree, is when Americans citizens lost our basic freedoms and civil liberties once and for all. Habeas corpus, an 800-year-old right held by the citizens of all Western nations, gone without so much as a broken window. A president-king who orders the execution of American citizens without a trial—nay, without evidence of wrongdoing, with barely a harshly-worded newspaper editorial to complain.

For Kolin the USA-Patriot Act, passed in haste by a cowed and cowardly Congress that hadn’t had time to read it after 9/11, marks the final end of formal democracy in the United States. If nothing else, sneak into a bookstore (if you still have one in your town) and read pages 142 to 152.

Here you will find the most thorough and clear dissection of this horrible law in print. Describing Title I, for example, Kolin explains: “Due process is not mentioned in the part that grants the president the authority to freeze assets at the start of, or even prior to an investigation [into terrorism], instead of after it is completed. All property seized can be disposed of according to the president’s wishes. There is no legal requirement to have a court order prior to a seizure, creating the possibility that mistakes may be made and, in most cases, won’t be corrected.”

Unfair confiscation may seem like a minor concern for an innocent man or woman arrested, tortured or assassinated on the order of a president. For conservatives who believe property rights are sacrosanct, however, the symbolism is unmistakable: a government that can steal your stuff with impunity is the enemy of the people.

I can imagine one logical objection to Kolin’s thesis. The government may have the right to oppress. But it is not impelled to do so. So long as government officials are well-intentioned men and women, stout of heart and full of integrity, they will refrain from abusing the rights they claim against us.

However, recent history proves that our government is not run by such individuals. And even if it were—a purely theoretical supposition—who would want to live in a nation where the difference between democracy and dictatorship relies on the whims of a coterie of elites?

Though “a glimmer of hope seemed to appear after President Obama took office,” Kolin shows how the Democratic president “merely modified police state practices.” Furthermore, the transitional nature of the brutal authoritarian tactics enacted by Bush into the next presidency indicates that they are not anomalous but structural. “The Obama Administration’s position that amnesty should be granted to those who tortured [under Bush] as well as those who authored the torture memos, itself violates national and international law; it also ensures that such policies will likely be repeated.”

Attorney General Eric Holder said: “We don’t want to criminalize policy differences.” Kolin replies: “Since when is support for a police state a policy difference?”

If you’ve somehow managed to ignore Obama’s record over the last few years, and you’re still thinking of voting for him next November, this book will change your mind.

Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)

COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL

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