Thursday, March 12, 2009

The question is about the source of fear

The babble in the blogosphere over perceived legions of Glenn Beck sleeper cells (meeting in their Chuck Norris footie pajamas) arming themselves for treason and sedition misses a major point (why am I not surprised?).

Part of what is stirring these folks up is a belief that the Federal government is busily making contingency plans to declare martial law.

Consider John Whitehead of the Rutherford Institute:

Bush expanded presidential power to, among other things, allow government agents to secretly open the private mail of American citizens; authorize government agents to secretly, and illegally, listen in on the phone calls of American citizens and read our e-mails; assume control of the federal government following a "catastrophic event"; and declare martial law.

Thus, the groundwork was laid for an imperial presidency and a potentially totalitarian government--a state of affairs that has not ended with Barack Obama's ascension to the Oval Office, despite hopes to the contrary that President Obama would fully restore the balance between government and its citizens to a pre-Bush status quo. As Charlie Savage reports in the New York Times, "Signs suggest that the administration's changes may turn out to be less sweeping than many had hoped or feared--prompting growing worry among civil liberties groups and a sense of vindication among supporters of Bush-era policies."

...

The local police have, in many regards, already evolved into de facto extensions of the military. Dressed like Darth Vader look-alikes, the police have opted for the SWAT-team dress formally adopted by the federal agencies. Congressional legislation allows the U.S. military, by way of the Pentagon, to train civilian police. The Pentagon has also provided local police with military equipment such as M-16 rifles, bayonets, boats, vehicles, surveillance equipment, chemical suits and flak jackets, among other items. Thus, they are armed to the teeth.

We already have a federal police force comprised of Secret Service agents who are authorized to "carry firearms; make arrests without a warrant for any offense against the United States committed in their presence." A recent incident demonstrates the increased and immediate involvement of federal agents in local matters with the assistance of local police. Chip Harrison, a construction worker in Oklahoma, was pulled over by local police because of an anti-Obama sign proclaiming "Abort Obama, not the unborn" in his pickup truck window. The sign was confiscated by local police, and Harrison was informed that the sign could be considered a threat to the president. The local police contacted the Secret Service, who, within a matter of hours, came to Harrison's home and investigated the matter. So much for the freedom of expression.

According to the Army Times, we now have at least 20,000 U.S. military troops deployed within our borders to "help with civil unrest and crowd control or to deal with potentially horrific scenarios such as massive poisoning and chaos in response to a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or high-yield explosive, or CBRNE, attack." I am not alone in believing that we are just one incident--be it a terrorist attack, a major financial blowout or a widespread natural disaster--away from martial law being declared in this country. And once that happens, the Constitution and Bill of Rights will be suspended and what government officials believe and do, no matter how arbitrary, will become law.

Our methods of communication are already being monitored--and, in some instances, shut down, abetted by the telecommunications giants, which act as extensions of the government. Thus, not only does the government have the ability to open and read our mail, it can also listen in on our phone calls and jam our cell phone calls. As the Washington Post reports, federal authorities already have the ability to jam cell phones and other wireless devices. Unbeknownst to the nearly two million people who attended the Obama Inauguration festivities, federal authorities jammed cell phone signals at specific locations. Such disruptions simply appear to be a dropped call or lost signal. Of course, such jamming could be conducted on a more extensive basis nationwide. This would prevent citizens from being able to communicate with one another or make appeals to their government representatives. Although jamming is technically illegal for state and local agencies, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) plans to introduce legislation to allow local police to "selectively" jam cell phones.

...

All that is needed is another threat to national security--a so-called "catastrophic event." Under the Bush administration, the danger was terrorism. Under the Obama administration, the economy is being posed as the greatest threat to national security.

This danger was made clear in a U.S. Army War College report issued last fall. As Hedges reports, "The military must be prepared, the document warned, for a 'violent, strategic dislocation inside the United States,' which could be provoked by 'unforeseen economic collapse,' 'purposeful domestic resistance,' 'pervasive public health emergencies' or 'loss of functioning political and legal order.' The 'widespread civil violence,' the document said, 'would force the defense establishment to reorient priorities in extremis to defend basic domestic order and human security.'"

...

Thankfully, we have not yet reached the point of no hope. But it must be acknowledged that the average American simply does not have the ability to withstand a totalitarian government.

Right now, all we can do is sound the alarm. Become educated. Form local citizens groups in your community. Educate your neighbors on their rights and inform them about the grave possibilities we face in the event of a government-declared emergency. Keep in almost near-constant contact with your representatives in Congress and voice your discontent. Most of all, stay informed and exercise your right to redress your grievances with the government while you still can.


I found this article through the left-leaning Antiwar.com, which is interesting, given that Whitehead's Rutherford Institute carefully presents itself as a civil rights organization, but is apparently a front for Christian reconstructionists.

And some of the lines in the segments I quoted above can be considered quite chilling: it must be acknowledged that the average American does not have the ability to withstand a totalitarian government and form local citizen groups in your community.

On the other hand, there's actually merit in a lot of Whitehead's observations. The government has diverted military armaments into the hands of local police; the US Army has redeployed 25,000 troops of the 3rd Infantry Division for an internal security mission; Joe Lieberman is introducing legislation to give local law enforcement orgnizations the power to jam civilian communications; the Obama administration has yet to roll back many Bush era powers....

So here's the dynamic that's occurring:

1) There are legitimate civil rights and civil liberties concerns about the accretion of government power

2) There is already a large, disaffected segment of our population that sees the Federal government more as a potential oppressor than the deliverer of benefits or economic salvation

3) There are plenty of people in the blogosphere who pour kerosene on the fire by telling those folks that they are un-American, that they should be rounded up and tried for treason, and that people with socially conservative beliefs are a danger to America

4) And there are plenty of hard-core survivalist militia-type dominationists who have been promising their followers and uncritical listeners for--literally--decades that the government was coming to get them.

My liberal and progressive friends want to make the denunciation of these folks some kind of litmus test for political legitimacy, which--in and of itself--helps guarantee two things: (1) the disaffected will become increasingly more paranoid; and (2) legitimate civil liberties questions will become increasingly marginalized in the political arena.

And those civil liberties concerns are very real.

16 comments:

Tyler Nixon said...

Generally speaking, when you combine 1) a near-idolatrous cult of personality, 2) a leader pushing and now enacting radical and rapid accumulation of economic power in the hands of an all-powerful central government, and 3) rabid packs of vicious partisans demonizing en masse anyone who dares challenge the dear leader and his grand agenda, it should come as no surprise that many civil libertarians of all stripes are reacting with equal vigor, for better or worse.

You touched on one key point, I believe, that many civil libertarians held out for hope that Obama would roll back the abuses and power-grabs of the Bushies. But that hope has been fairly quickly swept away by near-total affirmation and/or acquiescence to the type of institutionalized megalomania we saw from Bush and now see taken to a new level by Barack Obama.

The 2007 federal budget deficit was $162 BN. Just two years later the one-year deficit is more like $162000 BN. This is absolutely an extreme and rapid shift in this country, from which we can't simply turn back.

Bad laws can be repealed, but trillions of dollars thrown down the tubes bankrupting the country in service to the same-old partisan or ideological collectivism we have always seen peddled in Washington DC, only now on steroids, cannot be done-over or reversed.

It is just amazing that those so beholden to such extremism in the defense of government power could actually feign shock or horror that it is begetting increasingly-extreme responses from those who hold far different views of the constitution and the proper limits of state power.

The more extreme responses are, in truth, very much a mirror image of the extremism that has become so common in those shoving all this radical and rapid "change" down the country's craw, willing to exploit and even promote the notion that the country is in some epic existential crisis.

Radicalism and fear-mongering by those in power is bound to propagate radical fear in some...but also very-righteous dissent from many many more.

Anonymous said...

Steve wrote:

My liberal and progressive friends want to make the denunciation of these folks some kind of litmus test for political legitimacy...

You really need to make some new friends then or get out more often. None of my personal "liberal and progressive friends" feel this way.

Obviously, I can't fault you for making generalities! :)

Tyler,

I think you need to decouple the civil liberties and Constitutional issues from the budget and economic issues. They are different and separate issues.

Seven weeks into it, considering where we were before Obama relative to the recently released Bush memos (and now we're reading about Cheney/CIA assassination squads), I think some of the most disgusting aspects of Bush's dictatorship have been rolled back.

Perfect? No. Better? Yes. How much better? Time will tell.

Hopefully, Congressional oversight of Obama's civil liberties record will be better than it was for Bush. Of course, anything will better than none.

And I did say "hopefully."

anonone

Tyler Nixon said...

I think you need to decouple the civil liberties and Constitutional issues from the budget and economic issues.

I couldn't disagree more. In fact, it is the heart of the matter.

Tyler Nixon said...

I think some of the most disgusting aspects of Bush's dictatorship have been rolled back.

Only time will tell. My concern was great over the more discrete instances of power abuse like this, but let's face it such outrages do not impact on the daily lives and well-being of every citizen.

The outrages I see from the Obama fiscal profligacy pose a far greater danger to lasting individual liberty than anything of which I can think, short of actual martial law or outright flouting of the constitution's individual protections.

Yours and the stances of so many Obamites on the 2nd amendment alone is particularly disturbing to serious civil libertarians and the 100s of 1000s if not millions of peaceable, law-abiding workaday Americans who own firearms and believe that we have enough gun control laws both nationally and in the various states.

So it ain't just all about economic servitude to government, even though I focused on it as the central thrust of Obama's collectivist agenda.

Anonymous said...

OK, Tyler, but you haven't made the case in your comments to show how current economic policy is coupled with:
- Torture
- Warrantless domestic spying
- Imprisonment without charges or representation
- Denial of Habeas Corpus
- Denial of free speech rights

Just to name a few of the more egregious civil liberties violations America suffered under Bush and the repubs. I think Obama has taken steps to restore these rights.

In regards to a "collectivist agenda," the programs that he is enacting are what he promised before the election. You may call it a "collectivist agenda," but it is what he was elected to do by an electoral landslide. If what he is doing is illegal or unconstitutional, then those matters can be handled in our courts. If they are unpopular, we have congressional elections every two years and presidential elections every four years to change course.

In regards to 2d amendment rights, what has Obama done as President to cause you concern?

Also, you really don't know where I stand on gun control. Unless you believe that everybody regardless of age, criminal record, or psychological history has the right to own any gun that they wish, then we might be closer in agreement on this issue than you think.

And I am not an "Obamite" any more than you are or were a "Bushie."

anonone

Bowly said...

You actually made Tyler's point for him. Do you think the extra trillions in debt, coupled with increases in entitlements, can be "rolled back" 7 weeks into the next presidency? The next guy can't issue an executive order that says "We're unspending all that money and giving it back to the original taxpayers." It's far simpler to stop torture than it is to wipe out a few trillion extra dollars of debt.

I don't think Tyler's "coupling" the issues, he's merely pointing out the libertarian belief that both economic liberties and civil liberties are important.

Not that I think Obama is really an improvement over Bush on those civil issues; he just hasn't felt the need to do them yet. I'm not going to detail it in this comment; it's all been documented on this site already. Check the archives.

Tyler Nixon said...

Pardon my billion-trillion-gazillion dizziness...

I meant from $162 BN in deficit spending to $1620 BN (not $162000 BN).

It's all starting to add up to so much we can't even add it all up anymore, to rip off Everett Dirksen a bit.

Tyler Nixon said...

it is what he was elected to do by an electoral landslide.

That is where we obviously differ.

Read my post again on why we are a republic.

The tyranny of a slim majority is just as worthy of condemnation under Obama as it was under Bush. Doesn't matter the party to me. For you it does, because the tyranny serves your ideology at the present moment.

No one should be economically enslaved to a massive collective agenda by majority vote, if you ask me, or by any vote. And certainly not for a big honkin' ideological gamble on domestic economic policy much less foreign interventionist policy.

I don't want my ideology served, I simply want to be liberated from that of others by force, whether physical legal communal or otherwise.

The quickest path to defeat is to drag a divided country far far far down an ideological road. I am sure Bush was just as utopian about himself as Obama is and both have plenty of blind devotees. We should be rid of both varieties, or all frigging varieties of this nonsense.

So, once again :

1) a near-idolatrous cult of personality,

2) a leader pushing and now enacting radical and rapid accumulation of economic power in the hands of an all-powerful central government, and

3) rabid packs of vicious partisans demonizing en masse anyone who dares challenge the dear leader and his grand agenda.

The battle lines must be drawn at some point because none of us can simply "opt out" of what Obama has in store, without dropping out.

To rip off Timothy Leary, even the freedom "to tune in, turn on, drop out" is not possible even if one wanted to "drop out". Remember what Michelle said : Obama's having none of this.

You WILL participate in his and his fellow travelers' agenda, like it or not.

Anonymous said...

I hear you, Tyler.

For better or worse, that is how our system works. We can draw our battle lines and fight within the system as long as we have the Constitutional rights to do that. Once those are gone, we have all lost.

Your 3 point recitation is EXACTLY how many of us on the left felt about Bush/Cheney and the repubs for the last 8 years, except your side didn't even start out with a majority. However, it might hearten you to recognize that dems are more likely to oppose dem president (see Clinton) than reps are to oppose a rep President (see Bush II).

The current power held in Washington by Dems was won in tough battles over a long period of time. Remember when repubs were supposed to be a "permanent majority"? It wasn't won in a single election, overnight, or by even a "slim majority." It was district by district and state by state against intrenched and moneyed repub incumbents. The power shift in Washington was not the result of the election of a single person - it was the slow recognition by the country of the corruption and failure to govern wisely by the conservatives in power.

So, it isn't a "tyranny of a slim majority." In fact, based on the record number of filibusters in the last two years, one could also argue that we are living under the "tyranny of a large minority" that is frustrating the will of the majority. Even though it is frustrating, to me now, I understand that it is a feature, not a bug of our system.

You cannot deny that the Democratic policies being enacted by the government are popular by more than a "slim majority" according to polls. The dems in congress are much more popular than the repubs and the overall approval of congress is way up. (Note: I have to acknowledge this, too, even though I dislike Pelosi and Reid as the dem leaders.)

I guess we'll see if "The quickest path to defeat is to drag a divided country far far far down an ideological road" is true.

Although I don't think that is what Obama and the dems are doing, maybe it gives you some hope.

anonone

Tyler Nixon said...

Your 3 point recitation is EXACTLY how many of us on the left felt about Bush/Cheney and the repubs for the last 8 years

Exactly! It is why I wrote it !!

You cannot deny that the Democratic policies being enacted by the government are popular by more than a "slim majority" according to polls.

Again you're back to the majoritarian "popular" grounds for imposing a radical agenda, against a narrow minority. (Sorry, but any majority under 60% is a slim majority, ESPECIALLY when deciding highly-consequential, long-term and irretrievable actions for the whole 100% of us.)

"According to polls" has never been a valid excuse for anything, much less fundamentally altering the rights and liberties of every citizen in relationship to our government.

I believe all social agendists,if you will - left, right, center - inherently have little regard for the essence of our constitution beyond narrow anecdotal instances that serve their particular bent. As disgusting as they are, things like wiretapping and rendition are in truth irrelevant to the substance of the lives of 99.99% of citizens.

There is a reason I support the right to privacy as a logical result of a penumbra of all the other enumerated rights. All of them are preceded by the idea that we should be free from government meddling into all aspects of our lives.

I am beginning to think that Obama has little use for the constitution's fundamental precepts so I am certain the principles of the Federalist Papers are of no interest to him. But they inform us much about the intent to stifle radicalism and extreme swings, ESPECIALLY based on mere popular majorities.

So, in short, no...opinion polls and majoritarian coercion are NOT how our system works...or was meant to work.

Anonymous said...

Tyler,

I am not saying that "opinion polls and majoritarian coercion" are "how our system works...or was meant to work" but elections ARE the way our system is supposed to work. I was merely using the polls as an indicator that the electorate that voted for Obama and the dems still support his policy agenda in office.

It isn't all or even mostly because of "near-idolatrous cult of personality" although some of that is there in the same way some would despise whatever he does because of his race.

In America, like it or not, the majority rules within the limitations of the Constitution and the law and the procedures of the governing bodies. The minority has all the same individual political rights as the majority. In the Senate and House, each member also has one vote, regardless of party.

What I am really struggling sincerely to understand is what you think should be different without changing the fundamental structure of our Constitution, electoral processes, or separation of powers.

As an aside, I am sure that you are aware that it is the so-called "strict constructionists" who don't believe in the right to privacy as it is not a right explicitly listed in the Constitution.

anonone

tom said...

"Your 3 point recitation is EXACTLY how many of us on the left felt about Bush/Cheney and the repubs for the last 8 years, except your side didn't even start out with a majority."

A1, if you think Tyler (or anyone else at Delaware Libertarian) considered Bush/Cheney our side, you are more sadly and pathetically wrong than usual.

Check the archives. You'll find plenty of posts harshly critical of the previous administration and its policies, and damned few praising them.

Anonymous said...

Tom,

I get that. However, unless he changed since November, Tyler remains a republican, hence the referral to "your side."

anonone

Tyler Nixon said...

"strict constructionists" who don't believe in the right to privacy as it is not a right explicitly listed in the Constitution.

Complete fallacy. They simply believe, with support in plain constitutional language, that it is not enumerated explicitly and therefore is properly susceptible to legislative protections but not judicial constructions EITHER to strike down limitations of it OR define its limitations upward. Read the 9th Amendment.

The best way to ensure the right to privacy is to create an affirmative right by constitutional amendment (which I support) and/or strictly legislating against intrusions upon it.

Let's face it, there are a lot more decisions from judges that hurt the fundamental precepts of a right to privacy, particular vis a vis search and seizure actions, than there are ones expanding upon it.

Strict constructionists simply believe that stare decisis, a hodge-podge of judicial holdings that serve to define our privacy rights for better or worse, is an ultimately weak and perhaps perilous way to ensure privacy protections.

In short, our system is not working right when our legislators and executive fail to protect our privacy, even against activist judicial interpretations that limit it.

I am far more worried about expansionist/activist judges who want to say what privacy is rather than ones who say it is not within their constitutional purview to be saying what privacy is or is NOT.

Generally, I am OK with any judicial action that serves to expands the scope of any enumerated individual rights. Problem is that what we have myriad more instances in which activist judges end up narrowing their scope of these rights by affirming various state actions usurping individual liberties of all varieties.

That's plain reality, not some tired talking point myth that 'strict constructionists believe there is not right to privacy.'

Tyler Nixon said...

Incidentally in every one of my campaigns I, at one point or another, held forth that we should strictly legislate against state intrusions upon privacy.

If you've ever heard me discuss police checkpoints, drug raids, and pretty much any form of judicially-blessed dragnet type surveillance tactics including law "enforcement" cameras, you would know that I believe the right to privacy is one about which every one of our electeds should be fiercely vigilant.

It shouldn't be left to judges to decide for all of us.

Anonymous said...

Tyler,

That is very interesting regarding the right to privacy and "strict constructionist". What I have heard is that the anti-abortion rights hate the imputed right to privacy since it serves as the basis for Row v Wade. So your response was enlightening as to your point of view.

Still, I am most interested in the question I asked regarding what you think should be different without changing the fundamental structure of our Constitution, electoral processes, or separation of powers.

I read your "we are a republic," but did not find it very enlightening or solution oriented relative to your complaints about the situation that we find ourselves in today.

anonone