Tag Archives: Police State

SYNDICATED COLUMN: The NSA Loses in Court, but the Police State Rolls On

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Edward Snowden has been vindicated.

This week marks the first time that a court – a real court, not a sick joke of a kangaroo tribunal like the FISA court, which approves every government request and never hears from opponents – has ruled on the legality of one of the NSA’s spying programs against the American people.

Verdict: privacy 1, police state 0.

Yet the police state goes on. Which is what happens in, you know, a police state. The pigs always win.

A unanimous three-judge ruling by the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in New York, states unequivocally that the Obama Administration’s interpretation of the USA Patriot Act is fatally flawed. Specifically, it says, Congress never intended for Section 215 to authorize the bulk interception and storage of telephony metadata of domestic phone calls: the calling number, the number called, the length of the call, the locations of both parties, and so on. In fact, the court noted, Congress never knew what the NSA was up to before Snowden spilled the beans.

On the surface, this is good news.

It will soon have been two years since Snowden leaked the NSA’s documents detailing numerous government efforts to sweep up every bit and byte of electronic communications that they possibly can — turning the United States into the Orwellian nightmare of 1984, where nothing is secret and everything can and will be used against you. Many Americans are already afraid to tell pollsters their opinions for fear of NSA eavesdropping.

One can only imagine how chilling the election of a neo-fascist right-winger (I’m talking to you, Ted Cruz and Scott Walker) as president would be. Not that I’m ready for Hillary “privacy for me, not for thee” Clinton to know all my secrets.

Until now, most action on the reform front has taken place abroad, especially in Europe, where concern about privacy online has led individuals as well as businesses to snub American Internet and technology companies, costing Silicon Valley billions of dollars, and accelerated construction of a European alternative to the American dominated “cloud.”

Here in the United States, the NSA continued with business as usual. As far as we know, the vast majority of the programs revealed by Snowden are still operational; there are no doubt many frightening new ones launched since 2013. Members of Congress were preparing to renew the disgusting Patriot Act this summer. One bright spot was the so-called USA Freedom Act, which purports to roll back bulk metadata collection, but privacy advocates say the legislation had been so watered down, and so tolerant of the NSA’s most excessive abuses, that it was just barely more than symbolic.

Like the Freedom Act, this ruling is largely symbolic.

The problem is, it’s not the last word. The federal government will certainly appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which could take years before hearing the case. Even in the short run, the court didn’t slap the NSA with an injunction to halt its illegal collection of Americans’ metadata.

What’s particularly distressing is the fact that the court’s complaint is about the interpretation of the Patriot Act rather than its constitutionality. The Obama Administration’s interpretation of Section 215 “cannot bear the weight the government asks us to assign to it, and that it does not authorize the telephone metadata program,” said the court ruling. However: “We do so comfortably in the full understanding that if Congress chooses to authorize such a far-reaching and unprecedented program, it has every opportunity to do so, and to do so unambiguously.”

Well, ain’t that peachy.

As a rule, courts are reluctant to annul laws passed by the legislative branch of government on the grounds of unconstitutionality. In the case of NSA spying on us, however, the harm to American democracy and society is so extravagant, and the failure of the system of checks and balances to rein in the abuses so spectacular, that the patriotic and legal duty of every judge is to do whatever he can or she can to put an end to this bastard once and for all.

It’s a sad testimony to the cowardice, willful blindness and lack of urgency of the political classes that the New York court kicked the can down the road, rather than declare the NSA’s metadata collection program a clear violation of the Fourth Amendment’s right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.

(Ted Rall, syndicated writer and the cartoonist for The Los Angeles Times, is the author of the new critically-acclaimed book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan.” Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2015 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

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Coming Soon

Between the NSA, license plate scanners and skies full of drones, there will soon be no place for anyone who opposes an oppressive dictator to hide. So it’s only a matter of time before someone exploits these new technologies.

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ANewDomain.Net Essay: NSA versus Tech Economy, Cost-Benefit Analysis

Silicon Valley worries that NSA spying is hurting American tech companies’ ability to compete internationally. Who wants to store their data here when they know it’s going to be spied upon? But the post-9/11 police state indirectly employs millions of Americans. What’s more valuable to the U.S. economy — the security surveillance sector, or IT? The answer may or may not surprise you…but it will bum you out:

But then I began thinking about the vast scale of the post-9/11 police state. Tens of thousands of employees. Hundreds of thousands of private contractors. Many of them, like former CIA contractor Snowden, paid six-figure salaries. That huge data farm in Utah. That’s a lot of economic activity. For the moment, let’s set aside the moral and political ramifications of law-breaking citizens (the NSA’s charter prohibits both intentional and accidental data collection in the United States) who spy on law-abiding citizens. As a simple matter of short-term cost-benefit analysis, what’s better for the American economy: privacy or police state?

This essay is exclusively at ANewDomain.net. Please check it out and spread the word.

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Arrest Them All, Let the NSA Sort Them Out

Under the NSA’s “three-hop analysis” policy, they mine the records of 2.5 million Americans for each suspected terrorist. It’s the miracle of math!

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Which Comes First

Police in rural Georgia arrested and handcuffed a 6-year-old for throwing a temper tantrum in kindergarten. After last week’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling, she could also have been subjected to strip-searching and a body cavity search. This is not unprecedented, by the way.

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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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SYNDICATED COLUMN: Next: Digital Totalitarianism

The Conspiracy to Abolish Cash

For many years figures on the political fringe, especially on the right, have claimed that the government and its corporate owners want to transform us into a cashless society. Their warnings about the conspiracy against paper money fell on deaf ears, primarily because the digitalization of financial transactions seemed more like the result of organic business trends than the manifestation of some sinister conspiracy.

Now, however, those who want to do away with liquid currency are stepping out of the shadows. They talk about increased efficiency and profit potential, but their real agenda is nothing less than enslavement of the human race.

“Physical currency is a bulky, germ-smeared, carbon-intensive, expensive medium of exchange. Let’s dump it,” argued David Wolman in Wired.

Citing a 2002 study for the Organization for Economic Development that states “money’s destiny is to become digital, ” a Defense Department-affiliated economics professor has authored an Op/Ed for The New York Times that asks: “Why not eliminate the use of physical cash worldwide?” Jonathan Lipow urges President Obama to “push for an international agreement to eliminate the largest-denomination bills” and urges the replacement of bills and coins by “smart cards with biometric security features.”

Lipow’s justification for calling for the most radical change to the fundamental nature of commerce since industrialization is, of all things, fighting terrorism. “In a cashless economy, insurgents’ and terrorists’ electronic payments would generate audit trails that could be screened by data mining software; every payment and transfer would yield a treasure trove of information about their agents, their locations and their intentions,” Lipow writes. “This would pose similar challenges for criminals.”

Terrorism is a mere fig leaf. According to the annual “Patterns of Global Terrorism” report compiled by the U.S. State Department, the highest total death toll attributed to terrorism in the last 20 years occurred in—surprise—2001. Including 9/11, only 3,547 people were killed in 346 acts of violence worldwide. Tragic. Obviously. But, in the overall scheme of things, terrorism is not a big deal.

Measured in terms of loss of life and economic disruption, terrorism is a trivial problem, hardly worth mentioning. According to the UN, 36 million people die annually from hunger and malnutrition. Over half a million die in car wrecks—but you don’t hear people like Lipow demanding that we get rid of cars. A more legitimate concern is the “loss” of taxes upon the underground economy, estimated by the IMF at 15 percent of transactions in developed nations.

What the anti-cash movement really wants is digital totalitarianism: a dystopian nightmare in which the entire human race is enslaved by international corporations and their pet governments. An anti-establishment gadfly like WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange could be instantly deprived of money—and thus freedom of movement—with a couple of keystrokes. (We saw a preview of this when PayPal and Amazon shut down WikiLeaks donation mechanism and web server, respectively.) The high-tech hell depicted by the film “Enemy of the State” would become reality.

It is true that, in a society where every good and service has to be paid for with a debit or credit card, terrorist groups would find it much harder to operate. Don’t forget, however, that today’s terrorists often become tomorrow’s liberators. Anti-British terrorists George Washington and Thomas Jefferson wouldn’t have stood a chance if the Brits had been able to intercept wire transfers from France.

Decashification would establish digital totalitarianism, a form of corporo-government control so rigid, thorough and all-encompassing that by comparison it would make Hitler and Stalin look like easygoing surfer dudes. The abolition of unregulated financial transactions would freeze the political configuration of the world, making it impossible for opposition movements—much less revolutionary ones—to challenge the status quo.

A society without dissent has no hope. Even if we lived in a perfect world where everyone was ruled by wildly popular, benevolent, scrupulously honest regimes—ha!—eliminating the slightest possibility of opposition would lead to barbarism.

We’re already more than halfway to a cashless society. In the U.S. few young adults still use checks. In many countries debit and credit card transactions now exceed those made via cash and checks combined. In 2007 the chairman of Visa Europe predicted the abolition of cash by 2012. Obviously he was wrong. But that’s where we’re headed. The U.K. plans to abolish checking accounts by 2018.

Even if you love your government, don’t want it to change, and think political opponents belong in prison, you ought to worry. As things currently stand, we know the big banks can’t be trusted. Remember when they introduced ATM cards? Banks wanted us to use them so they could lay off tellers. Then they instituted “convenience fees.” Which they have raised, and raised, to the point that taking $20 out of an out-of-town ATM could cost you $5 in fees ($2 for their bank, $3 for yours).

Imagine what your life will look like under digital totalitarianism. Your pay is direct-deposited into your bank account. You’ll pay for small purchases with your cellphone; if you owe a few bucks to a friend you’ll be able to bump your phone against your friend’s to settle up. Nowadays, some corporations allow you to control when your bills get deducted; in the future they’ll demand that you authorize them to do it automatically. What if you have a disputed charge? They’ll already have your dollars, or work credits, or whatever they’ll call them. Good luck trying to get it back from the Indian call-center guy.

As corporate ownership becomes increasingly monopolized and intertwined, your overdue phone bill might be owned by the same outfit as your bank, which would simply take what it says you owe.

The law of unintended consequences is getting a serious workout thanks to digitalization. Motorists in New York were thrilled when the EZPass system allowed them to breeze past lines at toll bridges—at a discount, no less. Then divorce lawyers began subpoenaing EZPass records to prove that a spouse was cheating. Next police set up EZPass scanners on the bridges; if you pass two of them too fast, a speeding ticket is automatically generated. The next step is to eliminate cash lanes entirely; non-EZPass tag holders will soon have their license plates scanned and receive a bill by mail—plus a $2 to $3 “handling” fee.

Think there are too many fees now? If you think you can’t trust banks now, imagine how badly they’ll gouge you when they control every single commercial transaction down to the purchase of a pack of gum. Angry about taxes? When tax agencies can take the money out of your account without asking, they will. Unlike cash, that phone bump to pay your friend will be a trackable, data mineable, fully taxable commercial transaction.

As if the post-2008 economic collapse hadn’t proven that no one is looking out for We the People but ourselves—and then barely so—the digivangelists tell us not to worry, that Big Brother, Inc. will smooth out the rough patches on the road to techno-fascist domination. From Wolman in Wired: “Opponents used to argue that killing cash would hurt low-income workers—for instance, by eliminating cash tips. But a modest increase in the minimum wage would offset that loss; government savings from not printing money could go toward lower taxes for employers.” Sure. The same way banks passed on the savings they earned by replacing tellers with ATMs to their customers.

Americans are skipping into the digital inferno wearing a smile and relishing the smell of their own burning flesh. Countless friends and acquaintances pay all their bills online. “I’m all about using my checking account in place of cash and would love to be able to eliminate cash entirely from my life,” gushed PCWorld’s Tony Bradley recently.

“Give me convenience or give me death” was the title of an album by the punk band Dead Kennedys.

We’ll get both.

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

COPYRIGHT 2010 TED RALL

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