After a recent attempted terrorist attack set off a debate about full-body X-rays at airports, a new McClatchy-Ipsos poll finds that Americans lean more toward giving up some of their liberty in exchange for more safety.
The survey found 51 percent of Americans agreeing that “it is necessary to give up some civil liberties in order to make the country safe from terrorism.”
At the same time, 36 percent agreed that “some of the government’s proposals will go too far in restricting the public’s civil liberties.”
The rest were undecided or said their opinions would depend on circumstances.
As has happened often since the 2001 terrorist attacks, the renewed debate over security is hinging on the balance between personal liberty and safety. The suspect’s success in boarding a Detroit-bound plane allegedly carrying explosives is setting off calls for full body scans, which some find an invasion of privacy, and for new restrictions on passengers once they’re in flight.
To stop terrorists, Americans look first to better governmental coordination and use of intelligence, the poll found, with 81 percent calling that effective and only 11 percent calling it ineffective.
Body scans or full body searches at airports ranked second, named by 74 percent as an effective way to stop terrorism. Nineteen percent called those measures ineffective.
Further restrictions on carry-on baggage ranked third, called effective by 57 percent, ineffective by 34 percent.
New in-flight restrictions such as banning the use of laptops and electronic equipment or restricting people to their seats ranked last, called effective by 50 percent and ineffective by 42 percent.
A solid majority of Americans still feel safe flying, but the number has dropped.
The survey found 75 percent saying they feel safe, down from 86 percent in 2007, and 24 percent saying they don’t feel safe in the air, up from 13 percent in 2007.
Even with the Christmas Day bombing attempt and all the news coverage of it and its aftermath, terrorism remains very low on the national priority list. Just 4 percent called it the country’s most important problem.
The economy and jobs remained the top issue on people’s minds by far, named as the top problem by 48 percent of Americans polled.
Other domestic issues were cited by 31 percent, topped by 9 percent who said that health care was the biggest problem.
Fourteen percent cited some aspect of war or foreign policy, including the 4 percent who named terrorism.
The poll found that 52 percent approved of the way President Barack Obama is doing his job, and 45 percent disapproved.
These are some of the findings of a poll conducted from last Thursday through Monday. For the survey, Ipsos interviewed a nationally representative, randomly selected sample of 1,336 people 18 and older across the United States. With a sample of this size, the results are considered accurate within 2.68 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, of what they would’ve been had the entire adult population in the U.S. been polled. All sample surveys and polls may be subject to other sources of error, including coverage and measurement error. These data were weighted to ensure that the sample’s composition reflects that of the U.S. population according to census figures. Respondents had the option to be interviewed in English or Spanish.
In his classic defamation segment, ‘Patriots & Pinheads’, Bill O’Reilly condemned the man who confronted former President George H.W. Bush at a Houston restaurant.
“On the pinhead front, President Bush is 85 years old. The other day he was in a Houston restaurant when a deranged person approached him.”
“The guy should have been arrested by the Secret Service,” O’Reilly stated after playing a You Tube clip of the incident. “However, we called them and they will not comment. We don’t know what happened to him. We hope the service will clarify the situation quickly. The guy may be a pinhead but he also deserves to be held accountable– can’t let that stuff go. It’s threatening.”
It’s no surprise that O’Reilly is defending the former President, but at a bare minimum, free speech certainly should protect this man from arrest. He certainly has a right to criticize one of America’s most powerful dynasties, who have condemned millions to death through war, and much more.
Though the man did shout profanities, he clearly made no threats, was not violent and posed no danger to the former president.
In fact, the Secret Service did visit the man’s home the next day, but left shortly after refusing to speak while a camera was recording (i.e. on the record). Whatever their intentions were cannot be immediately known (see video below). He appeared today on the Alex Jones Show, using only his first name, Greg, to explain his perspective on the situation.
In October unbeknownst to most of us, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the Obama administration would reverse the Bush administration’s opposition to the UN’s proposed International Small Arms Treaty. This will clear the way for the treaty to reach a vote by the U.N. General Assembly. Seven countries, led by the British, are trying to restart U.N. efforts to restrict imports and exports of small arms. The goal is to “regulate the global arms trade” and “prevent the illegal transfer of guns.”
John Duncan, Britain’s ambassador for multilateral arms control and disarmament, describes the UN’s disarmament committee as launching point for a global treaty. The British believe their very stringent gun laws are the right direction for all countries. Now they intend to use the United Nations to bring their gun control model to the United States.
The irony of this effort is that since virtually banning guns in 1997, the UK has watched violent crime skyrocket by as much as 77% in some studies. The British Mail Online reports, “In the decade following [the election of the Labor Party] in 1997, the number of recorded violent attacks soared by 77 percent to 1.158 million – more than two every minute.” As a result the U.K. now has the highest violent crime rate in the European Union.
So what could this treaty require of its’ signatories, here is a quick overview according to The National Association For Gun Rights:
“If passed by the UN and ratified by the U.S. Senate, the UN “Small Arms Treaty” would almost certainly FORCE national governments to:
Enact tougher licensing requirements, making law-abiding citizens cut through even more bureaucratic red tape just to own a firearm legally;
CONFISCATE and DESTROY ALL “unauthorized” civilian firearms (all firearms owned by the government are excluded, of course);
BAN the trade, sale and private ownership of ALL semi-automatic weapons;
Create an INTERNATIONAL gun registry, setting the stage for full-scale gun CONFISCATION.
Disguised as legislation to help in the fight against “terrorism,” “insurgency” and “international crime syndicates,” the UN Small Arms Treaty is nothing more than a massive, GLOBAL gun control scheme.To the petty dictators and one-worlders who control the UN, the U.S. isn’t a “shining city on a hill” — it’s an affront to their grand totalitarian designs for the globe. These anti-gun globalists know that so long as Americans remain free to make our own decisions without being bossed around by big government bureaucrats, they’ll NEVER be able to seize the worldwide oppressive power they crave. Ultimately, the UN’s Small Arms Treaty is designed to register, ban and CONFISCATE firearms owned by private citizens like YOU.” So Patriots, here is yet another plan designed to usurp your rights which we need to defeat in 2010.
The gun-grabbers in the Obama administration and at the U.N. do not want us to have time to react and mobilize gun owners to defeat this radical treaty which if ratified steps on our 2nd Amendment rights. They (the UN) have been unsuccessfully trying to ram the “Treaty on Small Arms” down our throats since the mid-1990s. But this time they have an administration that appears willing to play along. The risk is high and the stakes are higher!
Wake up, America! Attempts to thwart our freedoms should be no surprise the anti-gun attitude of the current administration. We must turn the heat up on the U.S. Senate now before it’s too late! It takes 67 Senators to vote to ratify a treaty. Every freedom loving citizen needs to contact their Senator and tell them to vote against any attempt to ratify this treaty. This is just another attempt to give the U.N. jurisdiction over U.S. policy. On the heels of Obama’s recent Executive Order to provide Interpol with diplomatic level immunity from U.S. law and Constitutional behavior this is another slap in the face to our sovereignty.
“…to disarm the people is the best and most effective way to enslave them…” – George Mason
“The Constitution of most of our states (and of the United States) assert that all power is inherent in the people; that they may exercise it by themselves; that it is their right and duty to be at all times armed and that they are entitled to freedom of person, freedom of religion, freedom of property, and freedom of press.” – Thomas Jefferson
I have always taken it as a good thing that libertarians are detested by both the left and the right. To me it is proof positive that we libertarians are in the right. After all, both the left and the right are fundamentally the same – authoritarian statists who wish to use the force of government to make society in their own images and to compel others to live in ways that they approve of. And let’s be honest, both the left and the right do truly hate us and whatever we may ostensibly have in common with either – say free markets with the right and human rights with the left (of course neither really supports either except in qualified and conditional ways) – what they find detestable about us involves fundamental differences which can never be overcome as long as they remain “left” and “right,” as long as they remain wedded to that dialectic.
I’ll be honest, at this point in my life I find political philosophy to be tiresome or maybe I have just become tired and lazy. Beyond considering the merits of minarchism versus anarchism I don’t like to go much into any of it anymore. Debates about the implications of the privatization of this particular thing versus government control of that seem to me pointless. From my perspective, if you believe you own your own life, if you believe in liberty, there is nothing to debate. You are never going to convince anyone who doesn’t believe in or understand liberty in a meaningful way to come over to your side. At best, the arguments will all be utilitarian in nature and both sides are going to make counter arguments which are often essentially meaningless – what if this scenario occurred or what would happen in that particular circumstance.
Don’t get me wrong, I very much enjoy watching YouTubes of my libertarian heroes – most associated with Lew’s site and Mises and way too many to mention. And, of course, the great Dr. Paul – but when I see a libertarian debate a statist of whatever stripe the futility of it is tiring. It is as though they are talking different languages. It is particularly trying when I see what we often refer to as a “beltway libertarian” (think Cato, Reason) debating a main stream “progressive” or a main stream “conservative.” The feeling I get is that they are pretending at disagreeing, both of them really committed to never changing anything fundamentally.
The bottom line is that I have been troubled by the inability of libertarians in general to make any substantial inroads into the minds and hearts and thinking of most Americans, which is fairly ironic when you consider that the values on which this country was founded and the values continually espoused when speaking reverently about this country are distinctly libertarian values. Funny how they sound so foreign and unfathomable (and dangerous), except in the abstract, to so many devoted Americans. It’s fine to talk about dedication to liberty, but it’s something else altogether to actually consider living by the principles of liberty. It strikes me that whenever libertarians and those who are suspicious of libertarians talk they invariably talk past each other. It strikes me that our approach as libertarians has been off the mark. We are never going to win by talking principles and philosophy. The only way we are going to reach those who can not hear us now is to show them what they are missing and what they are losing by being afraid to seriously consider liberty and the kind of world they could inhabit by embracing the principles of liberty.
Also invariably critics on the left accuse libertarians of being “selfish” and “greedy” and being for rich people and against ordinary people. This charge is so far off the mark and beside the point it is almost impossible to respond to. It’s like accusing a computer of being short. It has nothing to do with what a computer is. But we get stuck in those kinds of arguments. For me, the best or at least most effective argument for libertarianism is that it is the one approach to governance that has the greatest hope of producing a humane society. The problem is to find a way to explain to people why that is so. “Progressives” like to consider themselves humane and singular in their concern for their fellow man. I don’t doubt the good intentions of those who consider themselves progressive (although, given the history of mankind you would have be somewhat dim to believe collectivism of any sort can lead to anything except misery and misery primarily for the most vulnerable and unconnected), but they seem not to be able to see the implications and unintended consequences of their philosophy.
Moreover, they tend to be primarily concerned with how they feel about their supposed altruism rather than the actual consequences of their initiatives. There are multitudes of examples of the way good intentions and supposedly progressive legislation has led to the suffering of those it is intended to help. This current recession/depression is a typical example, due in large part to the “ownership society” initiative which was intended to put anybody who wanted into a home of their own. It sounded good, but where are so many of those people now? How many of those people who could not pay their mortgages with their teaser rates are now on the street and have nothing?
This new healthcare plan will almost certainly lead to the same sort of thing. How many small businesses will go under or not be started at all and how many other businesses will cut back, all of which leading to job losses for those who need jobs the most. Again, the most vulnerable will end up suffering for the good intentions of those who think they know best how to arrange society. And then there is the current hysteria over global warming – sorry, climate change. How many of those who can least afford it will suffer the consequences of programs like cap and trade or carbon taxes? The list is really endless.
For many progressives it all seems to be about how they feel about themselves and the sense of self-righteousness that their “generosity” affords them. Of course, self-righteousness is hardly the domain of the left. Having lived through the reign of terror of the “religious right” and their devotion to their belief that they are God’s true representatives on earth, well, it was scary stuff. The left thinks they are on the side of the angels and the right thinks God is on their side. Libertarians don’t presume that they can divine the intentions of the almighty beyond the fundamental belief that we are all created equal and are endowed by our creator (whatever “creator” means to you) with certain inalienable rights.
The central libertarian principle is the principle of nonaggression. Taken to its logical conclusions it pretty much covers everything that is the cause of so much consternation in the life of our society. You would think that no one could possibly have a problem with this principle, but many people do. In order for the nonaggression principle to mean anything you have to believe you own yourself and, by extension, that you own the fruits of your endeavors. For any statist/collectivist self-ownership is conditional. In other words, you only own yourself to the extent society says you own yourself which is really the same as saying you don’t own yourself at all. You can make the decisions about your life that society/the state says you can make. Ultimately and inescapably, in the statist’s view, society/the state owns everything and anything you own, including yourself – you only own conditionally.
If you follow that logic then society cannot aggress against you since they own you. They cannot aggress against your property, since it is really society’s property. It is amazing to me how many are comfortable with this perspective on things. Without self-ownership the nonaggression principle means nothing. It may be that people don’t generally recognize how they are owned by society/the state and unless they are personally and painfully inconvenienced by their lifetime indenturement or their serfdom. Until it is your property being appropriated by the state by eminent domain and until it is you who is prevented from finding relief from your illness by laws dictating what substances you may or may not ingest into your own body you can continue to pretend to yourself that you are sovereign over your own existence. You can argue until you are blue in the face that conscription and income tax are both forms of slavery and are unjust in their conception, but until people feel it in their gut, they won’t get it. It’s just the price we pay for being “free.”
If you ask virtually any American if they are free the vast majority will tell you yes, this in spite of the multitude of ways we are not free. Most Germans thought they were free under Hitler. You are free only to the extent the government and society does not want anything from you beyond what you are already willing and ready to give and if you were to decide you were not willing and ready to give those things you already do, you would quickly see how free you are not. My argument and the argument of most libertarians is that personal, individual liberty over all aspects of our lives is the only way to achieve all the legitimate, defensible desires of both the right and the left. It is the rational hope for ever having a humane society with liberty and justice for all and the only way for both the right and the left to ever get the things they claim matter to them is to risk embracing liberty in all aspects of life.
This is what we are not communicating to those who oppose us. What they don’t see is that we want all of the things that they legitimately want, but we actually have a way to achieve it. If you want social justice, it is only liberty that can give it to you. If you want prosperity and opportunity and sustainability, if you want equality (in a legitimate sense), if you want peace and commerce and goodwill between men, liberty is the best hope for achieving those things. Libertarians are also often accused of being utopian and that for real liberty to work we must all be men of goodwill and compassion. This is exactly wrong. It is those who think they can fashion society to fit some ideal they imagine who are utopian. Libertarianism is the only political philosophy which actually takes into account the fallibility and corruptibility of man by recognizing that the last thing we should do is give men power over the lives of other men. If man cannot be trusted to govern their own lives as the left and right believe, then how can they possibly be entrusted with the power to govern the lives of others? They like to believe that the best and the brightest will gravitate toward positions of authority over others. Talk about utopian. The message we need to get across that we have not is that it is liberty with all its implications – for each of us individually, for commerce and enterprise and for everything else – that is the best hope for the kinds of society both the left and right dream of. A society where all men can live in peace and prosper and pursue happiness and find social justice and equal opportunity and learn to love his fellow man. There is a reason why that ubiquitous Ron Paul Revolution sign had the word love highlighted in it. If you really love your fellow man set him free to chart his own course and to follow his own dreams instead of some dream the collective has dreamed for him. Set people free to be everything they can be and the human race can achieve things we can now only dream of.
Forget that the draconian Patriot Act was written before 9/11.
Forget that the Bush administration used its heightened powers granted under the state of emergency declared in 2001 (and continuing to the present day) to harass those who disagreed with its policies. See this, this and this.
In some ways, the portrait bears a striking resemblance to the failures before the Sept. 11 attacks, despite the billions of dollars spent over the last eight years to improve the intelligence flow and secret communications across the United States’ national security apparatus.
President Barack Obama’s announcement that intelligence agencies had information that could have headed off the attempted airplane bombing on Christmas Day but failed to share it has left many of those who have urged a dramatic overhaul of the intelligence community exasperated.
“It’s discouragingly familiar,” said Tom Kean, a former Republican governor of New Jersey who co-chaired the 9/11 Commission. “It’s exactly the language we heard when we were making recommendations for the 9/11 report. That was five years ago. We made our recommendations based on the fact that agencies didn’t share information, and it seems to be the case that, once again, they didn’t share information. It’s very discouraging.”
“We thought that had been remedied,” the ranking member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Kit Bond (R-Mo.), told POLITICO. “If they’re not talking with each other, that’s a problem that we’ve been tearing our hair out over for a long time, demanding that they talk to each other. … I’m very upset.”
Indeed, while the 9-11 Commission made numerous recommendations on how to prevent future terrorist attacks — many of them simple and inexpensive to implement — the Bush administration failed to do so (and see this and this). Moreover, the Bush administration and its allies actively blocked efforts to do so.
So, on Christmas Eve, at a time when most people were paying no attention to the shenanigans going on in Washington, DC, the Senate of the United States of America pushed forward with its health care agenda that puts the health care of America in the hands of politicians rather than physicians. No surprise there. It seems to me that most really terrible, tyrannical, intrusive big government collectivist legislation is passed in the dark of night on the sly with as little fanfare as possible, like the Federal Reserve Act in 1913. Either that, or legislative monstrosities are rushed through after a horrific event while the people are still in shock like the Patriot Act was. Either way, these bills are more and more often hundreds or thousands of pages long, intrusive, and unpopular and so the congress critters that want them passed for the benefit of their high level friends rather than for the people try to pass them with as little publicized dissent as possible.
So it is with the health care bill. Who knows what little secretive controls have been put into this tome they call a law? Do you remember the Patriot Act, how many freedom violating usurpations were written into it? Do you remember the bailouts, how much control was taken from private hands and handed to government? It’s not enough for the authoritarians at the top of the government hierarchy to control the major industries and banks in this country. It’s not enough for them to create the ability to know every little electronic communiqué the ordinary folk send to each other. They must also control the way we go about seeking health care. They must make certain that each and every one of us pays their fair share to the health insurance industry so that Caesar can more easily collect his tribute. They want to be certain that no longer can a patient pay his doctor directly without a third party connected to government getting their hands in on what should be private business. They will go so far as to make it a crime for anyone to seek health care without insurance.
I remember growing up and learning that one thing that made America such a great place as compared to other nations was its lack of political prisoners. That’s simply not true anymore. We are all political prisoners. We are prisoners of a system that doesn’t care. Certainly those who rot in prisons and jails across this nation of ours who were sent there for victimless crimes are political prisoners. Those who refused to pay the extortionists the taxes they demanded, those who decided to use a medicinal plant that was not on the AMA approved list, those who simply refused to obey a police officer’s unlawful command, these people did not harm anyone nor did they damage or steal anyone’s property. They did not violate another’s rights, and yet they have their own rights violated by the state. They are imprisoned for defending their inalienable rights and therefore they are political prisoners. The United States of America is no longer a nation of free men. The United States of America has become that which it used to fear.
As the federal government continues trouncing more and more of our natural human rights, as it hides behind the iron security curtain to excuse itself when arresting and silencing those whose only crimes were to question the legitimacy of federal law, how long before they start to arrest even the most unobtrusive blogger for having an opinion? They need not wait until 2014 when I still won’t buy their crappy health insurance to arrest me. They don’t need to wait until 2014 to start letting everyone know that they are in charge and we will do as they say, buy and sell as they want, or else. It is already happening. Instead of passing “health care reform” that puts yet another economic sector in total government control, why not just start arresting everyone who disagrees with government mandates right now and be done with it? Why not just declare unending economic and security crises and use those as excuses for complete and total government takeover of all human activity?
Of course, the corporate political elite want to do this as stealthily as possible. They want to keep people from thinking for themselves, just as they’d like to keep them from conducting their own business when it comes to health care, or anything else for that matter. They strive to create an entitlement mentality in the populace and they’ve been quite successful at promoting this mindset, at least during my lifetime. The more people who are dependent on the federal government, the more power the federal government can laud over the public, the better off the corporate political elite are. The less people think for themselves, the more they let the federal government regulate their day to day lives and businesses, the more dependent on the corporate elite they become. It’s a vicious circle and if they move too quickly the people may suddenly be forced to think for themselves and the circle will be broken. That’s why so many of the corporate political elite feed the monstrous entitlement mentality of the public.
It was Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-Md) who said a couple weeks back that she felt it was immoral to vote against the current health care reform we are presently being burdened with. Who is this woman to talk about morality? Indeed, on close examination it becomes obvious that it is immoral to vote for this reform, as well as for so many other bills that have been forced through congress the last few decades. It is never moral to forcefully redistribute wealth. It is never moral to force one group of people to work for another group. Free people conduct business on a voluntary basis with each other and decide for themselves where to spend their money. Free people can determine on their own what products and services are worth and how much time and effort should be put into acquiring said products and services. If one has to mandate certain aspects of a business and force people to engage in that business under the threat of imprisonment than the true value of the product or service cannot be known.
The immorality of Senator Mikulski and all who voted for this “health care reform” becomes even more obvious when one realizes there were free market reforms that could have been enacted which would have lowered the cost of health care insurance for all and helped remove the hand of government from the industry. After all, nowhere in the Constitution has the congress been granted power to regulate health care. That would be left to state governments under the tenth amendment. The simplest answer to the problem of the cost of health insurance would have been to allow the citizens of one state to buy health insurance from another state and we would have seen the cost of insurance go down and the quality go up as the insurance companies were forced to compete with each other for business and the states were forced to ease regulations to keep the insurance businesses in their jurisdiction. But these reforms wouldn’t have allowed the federal government to grow and so they weren’t considered by the control freak leaders of the corporate power elite.
The charade of government health care control becomes even more evident when we look back at even recent history. It was the free markets that gave this nation a health care system that was the envy of the world. It wasn’t until regulations were put in place that the system began to falter. It was the regulations themselves that have brought the system to its knees and created the crisis (if indeed there is a crisis) that we experience at present. More government is not the answer to our nation’s health care woes, it will be the cause of more and greater woes. The immorality of voting for such socialistic health reform becomes even more egregious when considering such trends.
This health care bill has failed to address neither the concerns of those in favor of personal liberty and free markets nor the concerns of those who wish a total collectivist scheme to ensure access to health care by those least able to afford it. Instead, politicians have tried to compromise and as such have given more power to those who caused the problems in the first place. That seems to be what government does best, cause a problem, then take freedom from those who can fix the problem and give more power to those who caused it so they can cause bigger problems. Security failed on 911 and we gave the security industrial complex more power with the Patriot Act, and they continue to fail. The Economy failed in 2008 and we gave the banks more power with the bailouts and they continue to fail. Now the claim is made that the health insurance industry is failing and the answer is to give the health insurance companies more power by legislating into a law a monopolistic health care system paid for by higher taxes and backed by the threat of fines and imprisonment? When are we going to learn?
I don’t plan on taking part in this charade anymore, so they may as well arrest me now. I know of at least one doctor who plans on leaving the country if this bill passes and moving to Poland, of all places. She has her choice of the US, Canada or Poland, she’s a citizen of all three, and for now she chooses to live and work in the US, but if this bill becomes law she will chose to move to Poland. That should make you think. I don’t know how many other doctors feel like her, but I hope that for those trapped in the US the spirit of civil disobedience and non cooperation rises. Bad law does not need to be obeyed. Perhaps when they are forced to arrest good, decent people for not buying health insurance the masses will be shaken from their slumber. If that is what it takes to restore this nation’s founding principles, then so be it, though I do hope that this drive toward socialism is reversed long before 2014. I do pray that mass civil disobedience begins soon, before the power of the central planners is consolidated.
Syed Fahad Hashmi can tell you about the dark heart of America. He knows that our First Amendment rights have become a joke, that habeas corpus no longer exists and that we torture, not only in black sites such as those at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan or at Guantánamo Bay, but also at the federal Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) in Lower Manhattan. Hashmi is a U.S. citizen of Muslim descent imprisoned on two counts of providing and conspiring to provide material support and two counts of making and conspiring to make a contribution of goods or services to al-Qaida. As his case prepares for trial, his plight illustrates that the gravest threat we face is not from Islamic extremists, but the codification of draconian procedures that deny Americans basic civil liberties and due process. Hashmi would be a better person to tell you this, but he is not allowed to speak.
This corruption of our legal system, if history is any guide, will not be reserved by the state for suspected terrorists, or even Muslim Americans. In the coming turmoil and economic collapse, it will be used to silence all who are branded as disruptive or subversive. Hashmi endures what many others, who are not Muslim, will endure later. Radical activists in the environmental, globalization, anti-nuclear, sustainable agriculture and anarchist movements–who are already being placed by the state in special detention facilities with Muslims charged with terrorism–have discovered that his fate is their fate. Courageous groups have organized protests, including vigils outside the Manhattan detention facility. They can be found at www.educatorsforcivilliberties.org or www.freefahad.com. On Martin Luther King Day, this Jan. 18 at 6 p.m. EST, protesters will hold a large vigil in front of the MCC on 150 Park Row in Lower Manhattan to call for a return of our constitutional rights. Join them if you can.
The case against Hashmi, like most of the terrorist cases launched by the Bush administration, is appallingly weak and built on flimsy circumstantial evidence. This may be the reason the state has set up parallel legal and penal codes to railroad those it charges with links to terrorism. If it were a matter of evidence, activists like Hashmi, who is accused of facilitating the delivery of socks to al-Qaida, would probably never be brought to trial.
Hashmi, who if convicted could face up to 70 years in prison, has been held in solitary confinement for more than 2½ years. Special administrative measures, known as SAMs, have been imposed by the attorney general to prevent or severely restrict communication with other prisoners, attorneys, family, the media and people outside the jail. He also is denied access to the news and other reading material. Hashmi is not allowed to attend group prayer. He is subject to 24-hour electronic monitoring and 23-hour lockdown. He must shower and go to the bathroom on camera. He can write one letter a week to a single member of his family, but he cannot use more than three pieces of paper. He has no access to fresh air and must take his one hour of daily recreation in a cage. His “proclivity for violence” is cited as the reason for these measures although he has never been charged or convicted with committing an act of violence.
“My brother was an activist,” Hashmi’s brother, Faisal, told me by phone from his home in Queens. “He spoke out on Muslim issues, especially those dealing with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. His arrest and torture have nothing to do with providing ponchos and socks to al-Qaida, as has been charged, but the manipulation of the law to suppress activists and scare the Muslim American community. My brother is an example. His treatment is meant to show Muslims what will happen to them if they speak about the plight of Muslims. We have lost every single motion to preserve my brother’s humanity and remove the special administrative measures. These measures are designed solely to break the psyche of prisoners and terrorize the Muslim community. These measures exemplify the malice towards Muslims at home and the malice towards the millions of Muslims who are considered as non-humans in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
The extreme sensory deprivation used on Hashmi is a form of psychological torture, far more effective in breaking and disorienting detainees. It is torture as science. In Germany, the Gestapo broke bones while its successor, the communist East German Stasi, broke souls. We are like the Stasi. We have refined the art of psychological disintegration and drag bewildered suspects into secretive courts when they no longer have the mental and psychological capability to defend themselves.
“Hashmi’s right to a fair trial has been abridged,” said Michael Ratner, the president of the Center for Constitutional Rights. “Much of the evidence in the case has been classified under CIPA, and thus Hashmi has not been allowed to review it. The prosecution only recently turned over a significant portion of evidence to the defense. Hashmi may not communicate with the news media, either directly or through his attorneys. The conditions of his detention have impacted his mental state and ability to participate in his own defense.
“The prosecution’s case against Hashmi, an outspoken activist within the Muslim community, abridges his First Amendment rights and threatens the First Amendment rights of others,” Ratner added. “While Hashmi’s political and religious beliefs, speech and associations are constitutionally protected, the government has been given wide latitude by the court to use them as evidence of his frame of mind and, by extension, intent. The material support charges against him depend on criminalization of association. This could have a chilling effect on the First Amendment rights of others, particularly in activist and Muslim communities.”
Constitutionally protected statements, beliefs and associations can now become a crime. Dissidents, even those who break no laws, can be stripped of their rights and imprisoned without due process. It is the legal equivalent of preemptive war. The state can detain and prosecute people not for what they have done, or even for what they are planning to do, but for holding religious or political beliefs that the state deems seditious. The first of those targeted have been observant Muslims, but they will not be the last.
“Most of the evidence is classified,” Jeanne Theoharis, an associate professor of political science at Brooklyn College who taught Hashmi, told me, “but Hashmi is not allowed to see it. He is an American citizen. But in America you can now go to trial and all the evidence collected against you cannot be reviewed. You can spend 2½ years in solitary confinement before you are convicted of anything. There has been attention paid to extraordinary rendition, Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib with this false idea that if people are tried in the United States things will be fair. But what allowed Guantánamo to happen was the devolution of the rule of law here at home, and this is not only happening to Hashmi.”
Hashmi was, like so many of those arrested during the Bush years, briefly a poster child in the “war on terror.” He was apprehended in Britain on June 6, 2006, on a U.S. warrant. His arrest was the top story on the CBS and NBC nightly news programs, which used graphics that read “Terror Trail” and “Web of Terror.” He was held for 11 months at Belmarsh Prison in London and then became the first U.S. citizen to be extradited by Britain. The year before his arrest, Hashmi, a graduate of Brooklyn College, had completed his master’s degree in international relations at London Metropolitan University. His case has no more substance than the one against the seven men arrested on suspicion of plotting to blow up the Sears Tower, a case where, even though there were five convictions after two mistrials, an FBI deputy director acknowledged that the plan was more “aspirational rather than operational.” And it mirrors the older case of the Palestinian activist Sami Al-Arian, now under house arrest in Virginia, who has been hounded by the Justice Department although he should legally have been freed. Judge Leonie Brinkema, currently handling the Al-Arian case, in early March, questioned the U.S. attorney’s actions in Al-Arian’s plea agreement saying curtly: “I think there’s something more important here, and that’s the integrity of the Justice Department.”
The case against Hashmi revolves around the testimony of Junaid Babar, also an American citizen. Babar, in early 2004, stayed with Hashmi at his London apartment for two weeks. In his luggage, the government alleges, Babar had raincoats, ponchos and waterproof socks, which Babar later delivered to a member of al-Qaida in south Waziristan, Pakistan. It was alleged that Hashmi allowed Babar to use his cell phone to call conspirators in other terror plots.
“Hashmi grew up here, was well known here, was very outspoken, very charismatic and very political,” said Theoharis. “This is really a message being sent to American Muslims about the cost of being politically active. It is not about delivering alleged socks and ponchos and rain gear. Do you think al-Qaida can’t get socks and ponchos in Pakistan? The government is planning to introduce tapes of Hashmi’s political talks while he was at Brooklyn College at the trial. Why are we willing to let this happen? Is it because they are Muslims, and we think it will not affect us? People who care about First Amendment rights should be terrified. This is one of the crucial civil rights issues of our time. We ignore this at our own peril.”
Babar, who was arrested in 2004 and has pleaded guilty to five counts of material support for al-Qaida, also faces up to 70 years in prison. But he has agreed to serve as a government witness and has already testified for the government in terror trials in Britain and Canada. Babar will receive a reduced sentence for his services, and many speculate he will be set free after the Hashmi trial. Since there is very little evidence to link Hashmi to terrorist activity, the government will rely on Babar to prove intent. This intent will revolve around alleged conversations and statements Hashmi made in Babar’s presence. Hashmi, who was a member of the New York political group Al Muhajiroun as a student at Brooklyn College, has made provocative statements, including calling America “the biggest terrorist in the world,” but Al Muhajiroun is not defined by the government as a terrorist organization. Membership in the group is not illegal. And our complicity in acts of state terror is a historical fact.
There will be more Hashmis, and the Justice Department, planning for future detentions, set up in 2006 a segregated facility, the Communication Management Unit, at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind. Nearly all the inmates transferred to Terre Haute are Muslims. A second facility has been set up at Marion, Ill., where the inmates again are mostly Muslim but also include a sprinkling of animal rights and environmental activists, among them Daniel McGowan, who was charged with two arsons at logging operations in Oregon. His sentence was given “terrorism enhancements” under the Patriot Act. Amnesty International has called the Marion prison facility “inhumane.” All calls and mail–although communication customarily is off-limits to prison officials–are monitored in these two Communication Management Units. Communication among prisoners is required to be only in English. The highest-level terrorists are housed at the Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility, known as Supermax, in Florence, Colo., where prisoners have almost no human interaction, physical exercise or mental stimulation, replicating the conditions for most of those held at Guantánamo. If detainees are transferred from Guantánamo to the prison in Thomson, Ill., they will find little change. They will endure Guantánamo-like conditions in colder weather.
Our descent is the familiar disease of decaying empires. The tyranny we impose on others we finally impose on ourselves. The influx of non-Muslim American activists into these facilities is another ominous development. It presages the continued dismantling of the rule of law, the widening of a system where prisoners are psychologically broken by sensory deprivation, extreme isolation and secretive kangaroo courts where suspects are sentenced on rumors and innuendo and denied the right to view the evidence against them. Dissent is no longer the duty of the engaged citizen but is becoming an act of terrorism.
Chris Hedges, whose column is published on Truthdig every Monday, spent two decades as a foreign reporter covering wars in Latin America, Africa, Europe and the Middle East. He has written nine books, including “Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle” (2009) and “War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning” (2003).
Did America slip into a semiliterate, polarized, pre-fascist state over the past decade or so, allowing greedy oligarchs and corporate elites to run the government? Two books I recently read offer reasonably persuasive evidence and arguments that the country did, and a third suggests that dictatorial mindsets could besiege Americans, with an assist from the Internet, if they don’t come to their more deliberative senses. Each of the books offers an informed diagnosis of the dangers that widespread ignorance and ideological polarization pose for American democracy, though none offers a comprehensive treatment for the malaise.
I read the three books in less than two weeks; friends ask how that was possible. The trick is to avoid not only Facebook and Twitter but also: celebrity news, cable news, Oprah, Jerry Springer, American Idol, The Swan, other reality-TV shows, professional wrestling, violent pornography, positive psychology and right-wing Christian fundamentalism.
The latter list includes some of the spectacularly mind-numbing American pursuits that Chris Hedges examines in Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle. Hedges submits that while they mesmerized large portions of the American citizenry, CEOs being paid millions of dollars a year to run companies that feed on taxpayer money usurped our government — with the help of elected officials bought by campaign contributions and tens of thousands of corporate lobbyists who now write many of the nation’s laws.
“Those captivated by the cult of celebrity do not examine voting records or compare verbal claims with written and published facts and reports,” Hedges writes. “The reality of their world is whatever the latest cable news show, political leader, advertiser, or loan officer says is reality. The illiterate, semiliterate, and those who live as though they are illiterate are effectively cut off from the past. They live in an eternal present. They do not understand the predatory loan deals that drive them into foreclosure and bankruptcy. They cannot decipher the fine print on credit card agreements that plunge them into unmanageable debt. They repeat thought-terminating clichés and slogans. They seek refuge in familiar brands and labels. … Life is a state of permanent amnesia, a world in search of new forms of escapism and quick, sensual gratification.”
Of course, they did not get into this clueless state by themselves. They were manipulated by “agents, publicists, marketing departments, promoters, script writers, television and movie producers, advertisers, video technicians, photographers, bodyguards, wardrobe consultants, fitness trainers, pollsters, public announcers, and television news personalities who create the vast stage for illusion,” Hedges continues. “They are the puppet masters. … The techniques of theater have leeched into politics, religion, education, literature, news, commerce, warfare, and crime.”
I know those fools are out there — many millions of them. I might even be one. But what is absolutely maddening about this book is Hedges’ penchant for stating sweeping, generalized claims as absolutes. And yet this master of divinity turned New York Times war correspondent become sociological scholar often bolsters his summations with just enough research, statistical data and anecdotal evidence to make them plausible. The book takes readers to Madison Square Garden for an exegesis of professional wrestling; to the Adult Video News Expo in Las Vegas for lengthy interviews with porn actors and producers and an inflatable doll vendor; and to Claremont Graduate University in California for a seminar on positive psychology, which Hedges terms a “quack science” that “is to the corporate state what eugenics was for the Nazis.”
As a resident of Miami Beach, where the pornographic sensibility is a way of life, I wasn’t shocked to read that annual porn sales in the United States “are estimated at $10 billion or higher” or that DIRECTV distributes “more than 40 million streams of porn into American homes every month.” But I shuddered when Hedges documented not just a growing appetite for violent forms of porn in America but their remarkable visual similarity to photos of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib. “Porn reflects the endemic cruelty of our society,” he writes. “The violence, cruelty, and degradation of porn are expressions of a society that has lost the capacity for empathy. … The Abu Ghraib images that were released, and the hundreds more disturbing images that remain classified, could be stills from porn films.”
Hedges, who attended New England prep schools, Colgate and Harvard as a young man, and later taught at Princeton, Columbia and New York University, asserts in Chapter 3, “The Illusion of Wisdom,” that Harvard, Yale, Princeton and most elite schools “do only a mediocre job of teaching students to question and think.” Elite universities are in the business of producing “hordes of competent systems managers” not critical thinkers. Those statements strike me as generally accurate. But I’d expect some fierce academic blowback from this notion: “The elite universities disdain honest intellectual inquiry, which is by its nature distrustful of authority, fiercely independent, and often subversive.” And Hedges suggests that these high-end schools “refuse to question a self-justifying system” in which “organization, technology, self-advancement, and information systems are the only things that matter.”
Hedges not only blames the elite universities for our mortgage-fueled financial crisis but is sure their alumni on Wall Street and in Washington have no capacity to really fix the economic system. “Indeed, they’ll make it worse,” he predicts, exchanging his reportorial register for the absolutist. “They have no concept, thanks to the educations they have received, of how to replace a failed system with a new one.” (He includes George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Obama’s “degree-laden” cabinet members in this group.)
If Hedges knows how to fix the system, he doesn’t tell us inEmpire of Illusion. I hope that’ll be the subject of his next book, because in the meantime, “powerful corporate entities, fearful of losing their influence and wealth” are waiting for “a national crisis that will allow them, in the name of national security and moral renewal, to take complete control,” he warns, without citing verifiable evidence for his dire prediction.
What if PBS, Fox and YouTube organized a national debate featuring Chris Hedges, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, his predecessor Hank Paulson, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, Christian Coalition president Roberta Combs and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid? That panel is a little far-fetched, but it’s the sort of cross-ideological forum that Cass Sunsteinprescribes in Republic.com 2.0 as a way of preventing the nation from sliding into factional, perhaps even violent strife.
Sunstein is a law professor, author and perennial all-star in the world of public intellectuals; he took leave from Harvard Law School to be administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs at President Obama’s Office of Management and Budget. “The American constitutional order was designed to create a republic, as opposed to a monarch or direct democracy,” he writes. “Representatives would be accountable to the public at large. But there was also supposed to be a large degree of reflection and debate, both within the citizenry and within government itself.”
Of course, the Founding Fathers knew public debate could get ugly. Sunstein notes Alexander Hamilton’s belief that the “jarring of parties” was a good thing because it would engender deliberation and, over time, a “republic of reasons.”
Are we one today? Not as much as we could be, Sunstein thinks. His fundamental concern in Republic.com 2.0 is the Internet’s potential for impeding deliberation between groups with opposing viewpoints, eventually increasing ideological rigidity and polarization to a point of no return. It’s vastly easier to join like-minded Internet “enclaves” across the world than to drive across town for a meeting in which someone might challenge one’s pre-established beliefs and positions. Sunstein walks readers through behavioral studies finding that when groups of like-minded individuals are isolated from different viewpoints, they tend toward consensus on the most extreme position held within the group.
At worst, Sunstein says, Internet-induced polarization could lead to social instability. “The danger is that through the mechanisms of persuasive arguments, social comparisons, and corroboration, members will move to positions that lack merit,” he writes. “It is impossible to say, in the abstract, that those who sort themselves into enclaves will generally move in a direction that is desirable for society at large or even for its own members. It is easy to think of examples to the contrary, as, for example, Nazism, hate groups, terrorists, and cults of various sorts.”
Clearly, the Internet has potential to create political good. Citizens have access to vast amounts of information and commentary. Even like-minded enclave proliferation can be good: The more there are, the greater the potential for inter-enclave discussion.
But a study of 1,400 liberal and conservative blogs found the vast majority of bloggers link only to like-minded blogs. Worse, another study showed that when “liberal” bloggers comment on “conservative” blog posts, and vice-versa, a plurality of comments simply cast contempt on opposing views. “Only a quarter of cross-ideological posts involve genuine substantive discussion. In this way, real deliberation is often occurring within established points of view, but only infrequently across them,” Sunstein reports.
One cure for Internet-driven polarization lies with “general interest intermediaries.” By that terminology, Sunstein means media outlets like The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, current affairs magazines, PBS, NPR and old-fashioned network news broadcasts: “People who rely on such intermediaries have a range of chance encounters, involving shared experiences with diverse others, and also exposure to materials and topics that they did not seek out in advance.”
Of course, these are the media that are in decline because of the Internet. Sunstein imagines a greater role for private and public institutions, including the federal government, in ensuring enough general-interest intermediaries exist to make the republic’s communications system “a help rather than a hindrance to democratic self-government” and a counterbalance to the echo chambers of the Web.
For the most part, Thom Hartmann’s Threshold: Crisis of Western Civilization functions as a general-interest intermediary in book form. Still, readers can be forgiven for wondering, at times, whether they are in a no-conservatives zone. Hartmann is host of the Thom Hartmann Show, a nationally syndicated “progressive” radio talk show.
Just the same, Threshold is so geographically and temporally sprawling that it offers material even progressive readers might not have chosen in advance: a refugee camp in contemporary Darfur in southern Sudan (Lesson: Famine leads to war and more suffering.); ancient New Zealand, where the Maoris exterminated the moa birds, forcing them to become cannibals (Don’t repeat this mistake.); contemporary Denmark, where people happily send 30 to 60 percent of their income to the government in exchange for free health care, free university tuition, yearlong maternity leave, ample unemployment coverage and more (Americans should consider this.); Caral in ancient Peru, where anthropologists have found no evidence of weaponry (”Maybe peace is the natural state of things.”); the Iroquois people, who made certain decisions based on how they would affect tribe members seven generations hence. (If only the rest of us Americans would do that.)
In sum, Threshold is 262 pages of scientific and historical anecdote suggesting that unregulated markets, undemocratic behavior and unecological practices lead to catastrophe. If you haven’t already read a good overview of topsoil depletion, the marine fisheries crisis, rain forest destruction, the democratic behavior of red deer, the 1888 Supreme Court decision that defined corporations as “persons,” the $15 million that 30,000 corporate lobbyists spend weekly when Congress is in session, President Eisenhower’s premonition of a military-industrial complex with “unwarranted influence,” the 2004 computerized voting machines controversy, the $1 trillion in tax dollars the U.S. government spent on war in Iraq and Afghanistan, and not on infrastructure and schools, and the subprime loan/toxic securities debacle — you can find one in Threshold. Hartmann’s common-sense remedies include “recovering a culture of democracy,” “balancing the power of men and women,” “reuniting with nature,” “creating an economy modeled on biology” and “influencing people by helping them rather than bombing them.” His book offers few specifics on how these ends might be accomplished in the real world.
So are we drifting along in a pre-fascist state? Has our democratic system really fallen under the control of corporate America? Hartmann’s take obviously starts and stays (far) to the left of center, and we’ll just have to stay tuned and see whether future events support the dire view he and Hedges have of America’s political direction. Meanwhile, I’ll be on the lookout for a persuasive book telling me how it isn’t exactly so, and why America can escape from the economic and ecological spectacle it has made itself.
The Tea Party movement has reconnected the cooperation between conservatives and libertarians that harks back to their mutual opposition to FDR’s big government days. But a host of these newly forged alliances have failed to take hold. There is an undercurrent of ill-fitting philosophies and anti-intellectual clashes that suggest freedom is not always brewing in many Tea Parties. One example of a Tea Party divorcing its libertarian brethren recently occurred in Monterey California.
I helped create a nine-member board for the Monterey County Tea Party after an April 15 demonstration that attracted 600 sign-carrying protestors. The match seemed perfect. We all agreed on a mission statement that supported smaller government, lower taxes, the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The libertarians wanted to include a non-interventionist plank, but, under pressure, were willing to forgo it for the sake of a peaceful alliance.
But after a successful 4^th of July Tea Party parade and Freedom Rally in Monterey, the cracks in the alliance split wide open. I was accused of belonging to too many leftist organizations. In fact, I am co-chair of the local Libertarians for Peace, which joined the 27-member Monterey County Peace Coalition to protest the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But Libertarians for Peace is neither Left nor Right.
Looking back, the fur first hit the fan when Monterey CodePink asked to be one of the co-sponsors of the Tea Party Freedom Rally. I loved the idea of bringing together the anti-war and anti-tax crowds. But this possible alliance alarmed the conservatives. The Left and Right dehumanize each other daily on talk radio and cable news; so I should not have been surprised by their fierce determination to share no common ground with any leftist organization. To calm their fears I tried to put the issue in perspective. Nationwide, CodePink follows a socialist agenda; no argument there. But the Monterey branch of CodePink has worked with libertarians on both anti-war and anti-tax issues for years. In fact, the local Monterey CodePink leader was one of the most active signature-gathers in an attempt to abolish the utility tax in Seaside.
Next, I was accused of being too involved with the Libertarian Party, as if the Libertarians were somehow responsible for the financial meltdown, bailouts and stimulus packages. To their credit, the conservative flock wanted no association with Republicans or Democrats either, saying that both political parties had caused our current problems. But somehow they were upset with the Tea Party Board members who held leadership roles in the Libertarian Party. It did not seem to matter to them that libertarians were heavily involved in starting the Tea Party movement back in 2008, nor that the original 1773 tea partiers at Boston Harbor were classical liberals (libertarians), not Tories or conservatives.
Obviously, the Tea Party conservatives were neophytes; never before had they been involved in political activism. Some had never heard of Congressman Ron Paul. Prof. David R. Henderson, one of the libertarian Tea Party Board members, described this curious phenomenon as “activism without ideals.” I thought my phrase captured it best: “a cause without a rebel.” In fact, as demands to purge the libertarians intensified, we got the distinct feeling that the purgers fit the category of “reactionary” since they seemed to know only what they were against, not what they were for. Amazingly, they never pointed out any philosophical differences that they found objectionable. It was as if they were devoid of ideas, marooned with empty rhetoric and no real solutions.
One of my major crimes was passing out several copies of my book — /Facets of Liberty/. This occurred at a Tea Party event billed as a “mixer.” A few days later I was told that I should have neither passed out educational material nor mixed with the crowd. The libertarians soon labeled this misnamed event the non-mixer mixer.
In retrospect, it did not help our case when we asked these rookies embarrassing questions. We asked them why they had done nothing when President Bush bailed out the banks and auto companies, spent money like a drunken sailor, bashed civil liberties and advanced socialized medicine with Medicare Prescription Drug law, a program that some in Congress estimated will have a price tag of $1.2 trillion by 2016. I suppose our questioning merely rubbed their noises too deeply in their ignorance.
Whatever the reasons, the Monterey County Tea Party purged the libertarians by dissolving the entire organization. That failed to stop us. The libertarians quickly formed the Liberty Tea Party and, in an effort to set up a large tent, invited everyone to join a more enlightened Tea Party.