"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘Totalitarianism’

Believing Oppression Only Happens Elsewhere

In Uncategorized on January 16, 2013 at 9:30 pm

Oldspeak: “People who resist the natural human tendency to follow, venerate and obey prevailing authority typically have a much different view about how oppressive a society is than those who submit to those impulses. The most valuable experiences for determining how free a society is are the experiences of society’s most threatening dissidents, not its content and compliant citizens. It was those who marched against Mubarak who were detained, beaten, tortured and killed, not those who acquiesced to or supported the regime. That is the universal pattern of authoritarian oppression.” -Glenn Grunwald. One need look no further than the experiences of people, Americans, like Jacob Appelbaum, Bradley Manning, Laura Poitras, Anwar Al-Alaqui, & Jose Padilla, to see how America treats its most threatening dissidents.  The experiences of Occupy Wall Street protestors, the abuse, harassment and illegal detention some were subjected to is instructive as well. In the so-called “Land of the Free” peaceful protest, is met with aggressive, brutal, and hyper-militarized responses, just as it is in other oppressive totalitarian states. Peaceful protest is spied upon, and designated as “terrorist”. Oppression is present in many forms in the U.S. The most absurd actions, like cursing in a school,  like walking between subway cars, standing in front of an apartment building, or downloading publicly available data from the internet are criminalized. All while widespread surveillance, censorship and propaganda are normalized. These are the enduring features of authoritarian/totalitarian states. To act as if they are not present in this country is naive. “Ignorance Is Strength”. “Freedom Is Slavery”.

By Glenn Greenwald @ GG Side Docs:

It is very easy to get people to see oppression and tyranny in faraway places, but very difficult to get them to see it in their own lives (“How dare you compare my country to Tyranny X; we’re free and they aren’t”). In part that is explained by the way in which desire shapes perception. One naturally wants to believe that oppression is only something that happens elsewhere because one then feels good about one’s own situation (“I’m free, unlike those poor people in those other places”). Thinking that way also relieves one of the obligation to act: one who believes they are free of oppression will feel no pressure to take a difficult or risky stand against it.

But the more significant factor is that one can easily remain free of even the most intense political oppression simply by placing one’s faith and trust in institutions of authority. People who get themselves to be satisfied with the behavior of their institutions of power, or who at least largely acquiesce to the legitimacy of prevailing authority, are almost never subjected to any oppression, even in the worst of tyrannies.

Why would they be? Oppression is designed to compel obedience and submission to authority. Those who voluntarily put themselves in that state – by believing that their institutions of authority are just and good and should be followed rather than subverted – render oppression redundant, unnecessary.

Of course people who think and behave this way encounter no oppression. That’s their reward for good, submissive behavior. As Rosa Luxemburg put this: “Those who do not move, do not notice their chains.” They are left alone by institutions of power because they comport with the desired behavior of complacency and obedience without further compulsion.

But the fact that good, obedient citizens do not themselves perceive oppression does not mean that oppression does not exist. Whether a society is free is determined not by the treatment of its complacent, acquiescent citizens – such people are always unmolested by authority – but rather by the treatment of its dissidents and its marginalized minorities.

In the US, those are the people who are detained at airports and have their laptops and notebooks seized with no warrants because of the films they make or the political activism they engage in; or who are subjected to mass, invasive state surveillance despite no evidence of wrongdoing; or who are prosecuted and imprisoned for decadesor even executed without due process – for expressing political and religious views deemed dangerous by the government.

People who resist the natural human tendency to follow, venerate and obey prevailing authority typically have a much different view about how oppressive a society is than those who submit to those impulses. The most valuable experiences for determining how free a society is are the experiences of society’s most threatening dissidents, not its content and compliant citizens. It was those who marched against Mubarak who were detained, beaten, tortured and killed, not those who acquiesced to or supported the regime. That is the universal pattern of authoritarian oppression.

The temptation to submit to authority examined by Compliance bolsters an authoritarian culture by transforming its leading institutions into servants of power rather than checks on it. But worse, it conceals the presence of oppression by ensuring that most citizens, choosing to follow, trust and obey authority, do not personally experience oppression and thus do not believe – refuse to believe – that it really exists.

With Assassination Of Anwar al-Awlaki, Has U.S. Entered New Era of Killing Its Citizens Without Charge?

In Uncategorized on September 30, 2011 at 8:02 pm

In this Nov. 8, 2010 file image taken from video and released by SITE Intelligence Group on Monday, Anwar al-Awlaki speaks in a video message posted on radical websites

Oldspeak:”President Obama has claimed the right to detain, eavesdrop on, and kill American citizens without due process. Anwar al-Awlaki was a U.S. citizen. He was ordered assassinated by the President of the United States without presenting any evidence of any kind as to his guilt, without attempting to indict him in any way or comply with any of the requirements of the Constitution that say that you can’t deprive someone of life without due process of law. The president ordered him killed wherever he was found, including far away from a battle field, no matter what it was he was doing at the time. And if you’re somebody who believes that the president of the United States has the power to order your fellow citizens murdered, assassinated, killed without even a shred of due process, without having to have charged him with a crimes or indict him and prove in a court he’s actually guilty, then you’re really declaring yourself to be as pure of an authoritarian as it gets.” -Glenn Grunwald. Is this what it’s come to? The U.S. conspiring with illegitimate and murderous foreign governments to target and kill American deemed citizens undesirable without due process? Now that it’s started down this frightfully slippery slope, where does it end? What is there to prevent You or I from being unilaterally targeted for assassination with no evidence of wrongdoing or guilt?”

Related Story:

The Due-Process-Free Assassination Of U.S. Citizens Is Now Reality

By Juan Gonzalez @ Democracy Now:

Guest:

Glenn Greenwald, constitutional law attorney and political and legal blogger for Salon.com.

The United States has confirmed the killing of the radical Yemeni-American cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki, in northern Yemen. The Obama administration says Al-Awlaki is one of the most influential al-Qaeda operatives on its ‘most wanted’ list. In response to news of al-Awlaki’s death, constitutional scholar Glenn Greenwald and others argue the assassination of U.S. citizens without due process has now has become a reality. “One of the bizarre aspects of it is that media and government reports try to sell al-Awlaki as some grand terrorist mastermind … describing him as the new bin Laden. The United States government needs a terrorist mastermind to replace Osama bin Laden to justify this type of endless war … For a while, al-Awlaki was going to serve that function,” Greenwald says. “If you are somebody that believes the President of the United States has the power to order your fellow citizens murdered, assassinated, killed without a shred of due process … then you are really declaring yourself to be as pure of an authoritarian as it gets.”

JUAN GONZALEZ: Shortly before we went on the air this morning, senior U.S. administration officials confirm the killing of the radical Yemeni-American cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in northern Yemen. The United States says Awlaki is one of the most influential Al Qaeda operatives on its most wanted list. News of the death was first announced by Yemen’s Defense Ministry in a text message sent to journalists the ministry wrote, “The terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki has been killed along with some of his companions,” but did not provide further details. In a separate email statement, the Yemeni government reported Awlaki was targeted and killed about 90 miles east of the capital Sanaa. The statement said the attack was launched at 9:55 a.m. local time. Despite the Yemeni government’s claims its forces successfully targeted Awlaki in a raid near the capital, sources on the ground say he was likely killed in a U.S. air-strike. Awlaki was previously targeted in U.S. bombing of Yemen earlier this year. Well, for more, we turn to Glenn Greenwald, constitutional law attorney and political and legal blogger for salon.com. He joins us via Democracy Now! video-stream from Brazil. He first reported in January of last year that the Obama administration had compiled a hit list of American citizens whom it had ordered assassinated without any due process. One of those Americans was Anwar al-Awlaki, despite substantial doubt among the Yemen experts about whether he had an operational role in Al Qaeda Glenn Greenwald, welcome to DEMOCRACY NOW!

GLENN GREENWALD: Good to be here.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well Glenn, your reaction, first of all, to this news and what it means in terms of any new precedence now set by this administration in the targeting of U.S. citizens?

GLENN GREENWALD: Let’s begin with the fact Anwar al-Awlaki is a U.S. citizen. He was ordered assassinated by the President of the United States without presenting any evidence of any kind as to his guilt, without attempting to indict him in any way or comply with any of the requirements of the Constitution that say that you can’t deprive someone of life without due process of law. The president ordered him killed wherever he was found, including far away from a battle field, no matter what it was he was doing at the time. And if you’re somebody who believes that the president of the United States has the power to order your fellow citizens murdered, assassinated, killed without even a shred of due process, without having to have charged him with a crimes or indict him and prove in a court he’s actually guilty, then you’re really declaring yourself to be as pure of an authoritarian as it gets. Remember that there was great controversy that George Bush asserted the power simply to detain American citizens without due process or simply to eavesdrop on their conversations without warrants. Here you have something much more severe. Not eavesdropping on American citizens, not detaining them without due process, but killing them without due process, and yet many Democrats and progressives, because it’s President Obama doing it, have no problem with it and are even in favor of it. To say that the President has the right to kill citizens without due process is really to take the constitution and to tear it up into as many little pieces as you can and then burn it and step on it.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, for those in the audience not familiar with him, give us the sketch of who Al-Awlaki is and what the alleged terrorist plots that he was involved with are.

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, he, as I said, was born in the United States and went to college in the United States and, for a long time, was considered by the U.S. government and the media to be a moderate Muslim cleric. In fact the Pentagon invited him to a lunch in the wake of 9/11 in order to talk to him and other Muslim leaders about how to root out extremism in the Muslim community. The Washington Post had him host his own chat about the meaning of various Muslim holidays and the like. So, for a long time he was viewed as this, sort of, moderate figure. He became increasingly radicalized, like a lot of people have, over the last decade, as the United States has continued to slaughter Muslim men, women and children in multiple countries around the world, and he definitely became much more hostile in his sermons to the United States, and began arguing that it wasn’t just the duty but the right of Muslims to not just be passive receivers of violence by the U.S., but also to begin to attack the United States back as a means of deterring further violence. And so, he definitely became a great concern to the U.S. because he was so effective in communicating these ideas in English to large parts of the English speaking Muslim world. And, of course, expressing those ideas that the United States is engaged in aggression against the Muslim world and that Muslims have the right or even the duty to fight back rather than getting passively slaughtered, whether you agree with those ideas are not, or think they’re horrible ideas, they’re obviously rights you have to express under the First Amendment of the Constitution. The government began claiming that it wasn’t just his messages and his ideas that were bothering them and making them want to kill him, but the fact he started to have an operational role in various plots, such as the attempt by Abdulmutallab to detonate a bomb in a jet over Detroit over Christmas. They claim that he was involved in the attack by Nidal Hasan on the Fort Hood base that killed 14 American service members. The problem with that is that, there’s been no evidence presented that he’s actually been involved in any of those plots. He is not been indicted or charged. If he has been involved in those plots, then the solution is to charge him with those crimes, bring him before a court of justice, and prove his guilt; not simply to order him killed as though the President is judge, jury, and executioner.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Now, his father had attempted, or started a court proceeding to try to enjoin the Obama administration from carrying out any attack on his son. Could you talk about that and where that is?

GLENN GREENWALD: Sure, well, Awlaki, himself, was incapable of suing to vindicate his rights because, had he popped his head up at any time, as we proved today, he would have been killed by the Unites States government, which sought on several occasions before today to kill him. So, his father brought suit on his behalf, represented by the ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights, asking a court to enjoin the President from murdering his son without due process, and in response the Obama administration made numerous claims, mostly arguing courts have no right to interfere in the decisions the president makes about who is an enemy combatant using standard Bush-Cheney theories about how this is a military operation that the court shouldn’t be involved in it. They argued that whom the president decides to assassinate is a state secret. And that courts have no business meddling in or judging or adjudicating the president’s choices in that regard. A federal court, several months ago, accepted the argument that this was really a political and military number, and not a legal or constitutional or judicial question for courts to resolve. Although, the judge said there are very difficult questions raised because of what an extraordinary step this is for the president to order American citizens killed. He said it’s really up to the Congress to stop it or for the president to make decisions on his own. That, I believe that is being appealed; the appeal is pending, but, obviously, it’s now it is too late. There’s no point in trying to obtain an injunction now that Awlaki has been killed by President Obama.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And the Bizarre irony of the government in Yemen which is clearly illegitimate by any international standards, facing a huge popular rebellion among its own people, being involved, to some degree or other, with the United States in this killing?

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, President Saleh, who, of course, has been slaughtering his own citizens by the dozens over the last several months, and is still, you know—-has been a longtime ally of the United States. The State Department has issued some very meek statements, suggesting that there should be a democratic transition. But, we’ve continued to work with President Saleh, the U.S. government has, to try and kill those people that we want dead in Yemen, including Awlaki, and this is widely viewed as an attempt by President Saleh to, sort of, offer an olive branch to the United States; we will help to kill the American citizen within our borders whom you want dead in exchange for your continuing to support our regime. Of course, the United States has been trying to claim to the Arab world that it is on the right side of the Arab Spring, and yet just yesterday, of course, in Bahrain, numerous medical professionals, doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers, were imprisoned for the crime of treating protesters who were shot by government forces just two weeks after the U.S. government announced that it plans to ship to Bahrain huge amounts of new weapons. Here, our long time ally, President Saleh, is not only now slaughtering his own citizens, but helping the United States government murder its own. So, it’s a pretty difficult sell to people in the Muslim world to claim that we’re on the right side of the Arab Spring when we not only continue to embrace the people who kill their own citizens, but now kill our citizens as well.

JUAN GONZALEZ: I want to read to you a quote from the editor of The Yemeni Post, Hakim Al Masmari. He said, “The Yemeni government will face a lot of criticism, especially in the south, for allowing US drones to attack Yemeni civilians. But it will not be a blow to Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula from any perspective. We don’t feel they will suffer, because Awlaki did not have any real role in Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.”

GLENN GREENWALD: Right,well, one of the bizarre aspects of this is that media and government reports have tried to sell Awlaki is some kind of grand terrorist mastermind. There’s even lots of articles you can find online and major publications describing him as the new Bin Laden. The United States government needs a terrorist mastermind to replace Bin Laden to justify this type of endless war that President Obama, the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize winner, is insisting on not just continuing, but escalating. And for a while, Awlaki was the person to going to serve that function. But, the problem is, if you the read experts in Yemen, like Gregory Johnson and others, they mock the idea Awlaki was some kind of a leader of Al Qaeda and even question whether he had any operational role at all in any of these plots. He was clearly a cleric who developed some audience and was popular, particularly among English-speaking Muslim youth because of his ability to communicate with them. But, the idea that he was some high up in Al Qaeda or this is a blow to the operational capability of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is absolutely ludicrous. And if you read Yemen experts, you’ll see that that’s true. The problem is that American political culture is such that evidence doesn’t make a difference. Trials and due process are very pre-9/11. What we believe is that if the president stands up and says, someone is a terrorist, that’s all we need to know; they are therefore there are guilty because the leader has accused him of being that, and as long as the Aides then go and leak to the media, which they have done, that he played a significant operational role and was a big Al Qaeda leader, we won’t need to see evidence. We’ll just stand up and blindly click our heels and accept it’s true, and then cheered the fact he’s been murdered based on as unproven claims.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Glenn, what can people who are concerned about this extraordinary extension of the powers of a president to basically ignore any kind of due process with our American citizens, what can they do?

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, one thing that is obvious, is that voting for Democrats as opposed to Republicans doesn’t help. In fact, if you read The New York Times article from 2010 confirming that Awlaki is on the hit list, it makes clear that there’s been no instances where George Bush ordered American citizens targeted for assassination, that this is extraordinary and perhaps an unprecedented step under the Democratic president. What people in the Arab world did, when their leaders did things like imprison them, let alone kill them, and their fellow citizens without trials, is they went out into the streets and protested and demanded that it stop. It’s hard to see how voting for one of these two parties is going to end these extraordinary excesses in violations of the constitution; it clearly doesn’t. Something outside of that system is necessary to address it. That’s been proven. So, I think if Americans cared about the constitutional rights the pretended to care about under George Bush, Democrats in particular, they would be very vocally protesting and objecting to this. But, the problem is that, the opportunity to use these issues as a means to undermine Republican politicians is now gone, and so, many people who, three years ago, were pretending to care about these things, no longer do. So, the question that American citizens have to ask themselves, is whether they believe in the principles of liberty and rights that they have learned were protected by the Constitution? That’s just a piece of paper—-the Constitution—-it cannot protect those rights, only the citizenry can ensure that those rights are not trampled on; and the question is whether citizens actually believe in those.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Finally, Glenn Greenwald, we’re getting reports that U.S. government confirming that it was a joint operation with the Yemeni government. Your sense of whether you believe this was a drone strike largely carried out by the United States?

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, there’s no question I believe that the United States played a significant role. I mean, the United States have been wanting to kill Awlaki for a long time. The Yemeni government has not wanted to kill him, in part, because if it does, it will trigger lots of unrest and resentment, and that’s the last thing, especially at this point, that it wants. So, I believe that this has been done by an air strike, certainly the Yemeni government would not have the ability to carry that out on its own. The fact U.S. government confirmed so quickly that he was dead and accepting responsibility, I think, is fairly definitive proof that the U.S. played a very significant role, if not the lead role, in extinguishing the life of its own citizen without due process.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Glenn Greenwald, I want thank you for being with us, constitutional law attorney, political and legal blogger for Salon.com.


NeuroFocus Uses “Neuromarketing” To Hack Your Brain

In Uncategorized on August 23, 2011 at 1:28 pm

Oldspeak:”Neuromarketing Hackers, hacking INTO YOUR BRAIN to find new and more insidious ways to sell you shit you don’t need: GOOD. “Anonymous” Hackers, hacking into computer networks to bring to light lax security of your sensitive and personal data stored on the internet: BAD. In a glowing article written in a magazine owned by marketing company Neilsen Research about a company NeuroFocus also owned by Nielsen Research, we glimpse the future of “marketing”: subconscious thought manipulation. Indeed, psychotronic warfare, like many other initially military applications (Internet, LASER, Kevlar, Radar, GPS, etc etc) has been adapted for civilian use. Only in a society of based on profit-driven overconsumption and materialism can a technology that has the potential to aid corporations in manipulating your behavior on a subconscious level be seen as a good thing. Never mind the slippery slope. What’s to stop this technology from being used to suppress undesirable behaviors, like dissent and protest? What’s to stop ‘every Wall Street banker, politician, and corporate CEO with gobs of cash and a desire to manipulate your brain?” -Paul B. Farrell.  They’re not content to bombard you with ads to entice you to buy their brand. They want to literally get inside your mind and  MAKE you choose to do so, whether your want it or not. Literally neurologically engineering your consent, creating a society of “Happiness Machines“. “Ignorance Is Strength”

By Adam L. Penenberg @ Fast Company:

K. Pradeep knows what you like and why you like it. Take the sleek, slick iPad. Ask Mac lovers why they adore their tablet and they’ll say it’s the convenience, the touch screen, the design, the versatility. But Apple aficionados don’t just like their iPads; they’re preprogammed to like them. It’s in their subconscious–the curves, the way it feels in their hands, and in the hormones their brains secrete when they touch the screen. “When you move an icon on the iPad and it does what you thought it would do, you’re surprised and delighted it actually happened,” he says. “That surprise and delight turns into a dopamine squirt, and you don’t even know why you liked it.”

Pradeep is the founder and CEO of science-based consumer-research firm NeuroFocus, a Berkeley, California-based company wholly owned by Nielsen Holdings N.V. that claims to have the tools to tap into your brain (or, as Woody Allen called it, “my second favorite organ”). You might say Pradeep was born to plumb the depths of our minds. The “A.K.” in his name stands for Anantha Krishnan, which translates as “unending consciousness”; Pradeep means “illumination.” Fortunately, he doesn’t refer to himself as Unending Illuminated Consciousness, preferring, as is custom in his native region of India, a single name: Pradeep. “Like Prince or Madonna,” he explains.

On this particular spring day, he’s in New York to offer a presentation at the 75th Advertising Research Foundation conference. As he holds court on a small stage in a ballroom of the Marriott Marquis in Midtown, Pradeep seems to relish the spotlight. Swizzle-stick thin and topped with unruly jet-black hair, the effusive 48-year-old is sharply dressed, from his spectacles to his black jacket and red-and-black silk shirt, and all the way down to his shiny boots. He stands out, needless to say, from the collective geekdom gathered at this egghead advertising fest.

Speaking with the speed and percussive enunciation of an auctioneer, Pradeep is at the conference today to introduce his company’s latest innovation: a product called Mynd, the world’s first portable, wireless electroencephalogram (EEG) scanner. The skullcap-size device sports dozens of sensors that rest on a subject’s head like a crown of thorns. It covers the entire area of the brain, he explains, so it can comprehensively capture synaptic waves; but unlike previous models, it doesn’t require messy gel. What’s more, users can capture, amplify, and instantaneously dispatch a subject’s brain waves in real time, via Bluetooth, to another device–a remote laptop, say, an iPhone, or that much-beloved iPad. Over the coming months, Neuro-Focus plans to give away Mynds to home panelists across the country. Consumers will be paid to wear them while they watch TV, head to movie theaters, or shop at the mall. The firm will collect the resulting streams of data and use them to analyze the participants’ deep subconscious responses to the commercials, products, brands, and messages of its clients. NeuroFocus data crunchers can then identify the products and brands that are the most appealing (and the ones whose packaging and labels are dreary turnoffs), the characters in a Hollywood film that engender the strongest emotional attachments, and the exact second viewers tune out an ad.

These corporations share the same goal: to mine your brain so they can blow your mind with products you deeply desire.

Pradeep and his team in Berkeley are hardly the first to make a direct connection between brain function and how it determines consumer behavior. Advertisers, marketers, and product developers have deployed social psychology for decades to influence whether you buy Coke or Pepsi, or a small or an extra-large popcorn. Like the feather weight of that mobile phone? Suddenly gravitating to a new kind of beer at the store? Inexplicably craving a bag of Cheetos? From eye-deceiving design to product placement gimmickry, advertisers and marketers have long exploited our basic human patterns, the ones that are as rudimentary and predictable as Pavlov’s slobbering dog.

NeuroFocus CEO A.K. Pradeep thinks that traditional focus groups are a Cro-Magnon form of market research.
NeuroFocus CEO A.K. Pradeep thinks that traditional focus groups are a Cro-Magnon form of market research. | Photo by Gene Lee

NeuroFocus, however, promises something deeper, with unprecedented access into the nooks and crannies of the subconscious. It’s a tantalizing claim, given that businesses spend trillions of dollars each year on advertising, marketing, and product R&D, and see, by some estimates, 80% of all their new products fail. The hope that neuroscience can provide more accurate results than traditional focus groups and other traditional market research is why Citi, Google, HP, and Microsoft, as well as soda companies, brewers, retailers, manufacturers, and media companies have all become NeuroFocus clients in the past six years. When salty-snack purveyor Frito-Lay looked to increase sales of its single-serve 100-calorie snacks to women, it tapped NeuroFocus, whose research informed new packaging and a new ad campaign. CBS partnered with the firm to measure responses to new shows and TV pilots; Arts & Entertainment (A&E) had NeuroFocus track viewers’ second-by-second neurological reactions to commercials to ensure that its programs work with the ads that fund them; and Pradeep’s team helped ESPN display the logos of its corporate advertisers more effectively on-air. California Olive Ranch had NeuroFocus test its olive-oil labels for maximum appeal. And, as we’ll see later, Intel hired the company to better understand its global branding proposition, while PayPal sought a more refined corporate identity.

These corporations vary widely, but they share a fundamental goal: to mine your brain so they can blow your mind with products you deeply desire. With NeuroFocus’s help, they think they can know you better than you know yourself.

Orange cheese dust. That wholly unnatural neon stuff that gloms onto your fingers when you’re mindlessly snacking on chips or doodles. The stuff you don’t think about until you realize you’ve smeared it on your shirt or couch cushions–and then keep on eating anyway, despite your better intentions. Orange cheese dust is probably not the first thing you think of when talking about how the brain functions, but it’s exactly the kind of thing that makes NeuroFocus, and neuromarketing in general, such a potentially huge and growing business. In 2008, Frito-Lay hired NeuroFocus to look into Cheetos, the junk-food staple. After scanning the brains of a carefully chosen group of consumers, the NeuroFocus team discovered that the icky coating triggers an unusually powerful response in the brain: a sense of giddy subversion that consumers enjoy over the messiness of the product. In other words, the sticky stuff is what makes those snacks such a sticky brand. Frito-Lay leveraged that information into its advertising campaign for Cheetos, which has made the most of the mess. For its efforts, NeuroFocus earned a Grand Ogilvy award for advertising research, given out by the Advertising Research Foundation, for “demonstrating the most successful use of research in the creation of superior advertising that achieves a critical business objective.”

This seemingly precise way of unveiling the brain’s inner secrets is the ultimate promise of neuromarketing, a science (or perhaps an art) that picks up electrical signals from the brain and spins them through software to analyze the responses and translate those signals into layman’s terms. While evolving in tandem with advances in neuroscience, the field owes much to a study conducted at the Baylor College of Medicine in 2004 to investigate the power of brand perception on consumer taste preferences. Based on the famous Coke vs. Pepsi tests of yesteryear, volunteers had their brains scanned in an MRI as they sampled each beverage. When they didn’t know what they were drinking, half liked Coke and half liked Pepsi. When they did know, however, most preferred Coke, and their brain scans showed a great deal of activity in the cranial areas associated with memory and emotion. In other words, the power of Coke’s brand is so great that it preps your brain to enjoy its flavor–and presumably to influence your purchasing decisions when you’re in the supermarket.

Since the Baylor study, neurotesters have turned to the EEG as their standard measurement tool, rather than the MRI. For starters, the MRI is bulkier, harder to administer, and expensive. Far more important, however, is the fact that an EEG measures the brain’s electrical activity on the scalp, while an MRI records changes in blood flow inside the brain. This means that an EEG reading can be done almost in real time, while an MRI’s has a five-second delay. MRIs provide beautiful, high-resolution pictures, ideal for identifying tumors and other abnormalities, but they are useless for tracking quick-hit reactions.

For example, imagine that you are asked to generate an action verb in response to the word ball. Within 200 milliseconds, your brain has absorbed the request. Impulses move to the motor cortex and drive your articulators to respond, and you might say “throw.” This process happens far too fast for an MRI to record. But an EEG can capture virtually every neurological impulse that results from that single word: ball.

This is where modern neuromarketing exists–at the very creation of an unconscious idea, in the wisp of time between the instant your brain receives a stimulus and subconsciously reacts. There, data are unfiltered, uncorrupted by your conscious mind, which hasn’t yet had the chance to formulate and deliver a response in words or gestures. During this vital half-second, your subconscious mind is free from cultural bias, differences in language and education, and memories. Whatever happens there is neurologically pure, unlike when your conscious mind takes over and actually changes the data by putting them through myriad mental mechanisms. It’s all the action inside you before your conscious mind does the societally responsible thing and reminds you that artificially flavored and colored cheese dust laced with monosodium glutamate is, well, gross.

With the instantaneous readings of EEG sensors, neuromarketers can track electrical waves as they relate to emotion, memory, and attention from specific areas of the brain: namely, the amygdala, an almond-shaped region that plays a role in storing emotionally charged memories and helps trigger physical reactions (sweaty palms, a faster heartbeat); the hippocampus, where memory lurks; and the lateral prefrontal cortex, which governs high-level cognitive powers (one being attention). Once the brain waves are collected, complex algorithms can sift through the data to connect each reaction to a specific moment.

Neuromarketers like Pradeep argue that this testing is much more efficient, cost effective, and precise than traditional methods like focus groups. While Gallup must poll roughly a thousand people to achieve a 4% margin of error, NeuroFocus tests just two dozen subjects for its corporate clients–and even that is a sample size larger than those deployed by leading academic neuroscience labs. This is possible because people’s brains are remarkably alike, even though there are some differences between male and female brains, and between those of children and senior citizens. And NeuroFocus collects a massive amount of input, recording and analyzing billions of data points during a typical neurological testing project. This is the genius of neuromarketing, according to a booster like Pradeep. He promises an accurate read of the subconscious mind. Focus groups and surveys, on the other hand, give an imprecise measure of the conscious mind, of so-called articulated, or self-reported, responses. They are one step removed from actual emotion, inherently weak: like flashbacks in a film. They are fine for eliciting facts, less so for probing into what people really feel.

Ray Poynter of the Future Place saves his harshest criticism for neuromarketers: “They are overclaiming massively.”

Not everyone agrees that neuromarketing is the next great thing, of course. Because its research has been primarily corporate funded and its tangible results primarily anecdotal, neuromarketing is not without detractors, who tend to lump it in with the array of businesses, like biometrics or facial mapping, that promise all sorts of new-wave marketing breakthroughs. Ray Poynter, founder of the Future Place, a social-media consultancy in Nottingham, England, colors himself a skeptic on all of them but saves his harshest criticism for neuromarketers. He believes they offer far more hype than science. “Neuromarketers are overclaiming massively,” he says. “While it is likely to reduce the number of bad mistakes, and slightly increase the chance of good things happening, it’s all a matter of degree.”

Even so, it’s hard to imagine neuromarketing proving less reliable than traditional market research. For decades, marketers have relied on focus groups and surveys to divine what consumers want, using these methods to solicit feedback on their attitudes, beliefs, opinions, and perceptions about an advertisement, a product and its packaging, or a service. Each year, hundreds of thousands of focus groups are organized around the world, and about $4.5 billion is spent globally on qualitative market research.

This kind of “mother-in-law research,” as ad exec Kirk Cheyfitz calls it, has all manner of shortcomings. It’s not statistically significant, so it’s risky to graft your findings onto the population at large. One or two blowhards may hijack an entire panel, and researchers can, without knowing it, influence participants. The world has changed, and yet so much market research is still conducted the same old way.

Brain Eaters

Companies try to keep their neuromarketing efforts secret. Here are six that we flushed out.

Illustration by Superexpresso

[Illustration by Superexpresso]

“I bet you, long ago if you looked at cave paintings, there were a bunch of Cro-Magnon men and women sitting around a fire in focus groups wondering whether to go hunt mastodon that night,” Pradeep says. “Today, our focus groups are no different.” In the tale of our inner lives, we have always been unreliable narrators. Pradeep believes he can get at the truth.

When David Ginsberg joined Intel in 2009 as the company’s director of insights and market research, he was something of an expert on the slippery nature of “truth,” having spent 15 years working on political campaigns for John Edwards, John Kerry, Al Gore, and Bill Clinton. Ginsberg was downright skeptical of neuromarketing, or, as he calls it, “nonconscious-based research.” He thought it had more to do with science fiction than reality. But he also knew that Intel had been conducting market research as if it were still 1965, with surveys that were the equivalent of sending Gallup off to knock on thousands of doors. That may have worked decently in the days when a person bought a computer based on specs–processing speed, RAM, etc. But in an age where virtually every computer is sold with power to spare, Ginsberg knew that the rationale for buying a certain computer was as much emotional as it was rational. To compete in this new market, Intel the company had to understand how people felt about Intel the brand.

“If you ask people if they know Intel, something like 90% will say they know Intel,” Ginsberg says. “Ask if they like Intel, a huge percentage will say they like Intel. Ask them [to rank or name] tech leaders, however, and we come out much lower on the list.” Ginsberg felt that he needed to understand consumers’ feelings at a deeper level: What words did consumers associate with Intel? Were these associations altered by one’s culture? Ginsberg decided to run pilot tests with a number of market-research firms, and despite his sense of neuromarketing as mumbo jumbo, he included NeuroFocus. What he learned surprised him and turned him into a believer.

NeuroFocus structured its test for Intel as it does most of its market research, patterning it after something called the Evoked Response Potential test, a staple of neuroscience. Test subjects were paid to come to a NeuroFocus lab and put on a cap with 64 sensors that would measure electrical activity across the brain. Because the U.S. and China are two very important markets for Intel, NeuroFocus tested groups of 24 consumers (half men, half women) in Berkeley and in a midsize city in China’s Sichuan Province.

In a quiet room, each test subject was shown the words “achieve,” “possibilities,” “explore,” “opportunity,” “potentiality,” “identify,” “discover,” “resolves,” and “solves problems.” Each flitted by on a TV screen at half-second intervals. The subject was instructed to press a button whenever she saw a word with a letter underscored by a red dot. After several minutes of this subconscious-priming word test, she was shown a few Intel ads. Following this, the words were again presented on the screen, this time without the dots.

The exercise served two functions: First, the red dots focused the subject’s attention; second, they gave NeuroFocus a baseline measure of the brain’s response, since each time a test subject saw the red dot, her brain went “A-ha! There’s a word with a red dot.” Click.

Pradeep knows how to read your mind--so long as you put on that device first.
Pradeep knows how to read your mind–so long as you put on that device first. | Photo by Gene Lee

When NeuroFocus later analyzed the EEG readings, it looked for those same “a-ha” moments from the period during which the subject had viewed the Intel ads. The words that provoked the most such responses were “achieve” and “opportunity.” Interestingly, women in the U.S. and in China had virtually the same response post-advertisements, as did American men and Chinese men. The differences were in the genders; on both sides of the pond, men and women had strikingly different reactions. “Achieve” prompted the most intense reaction among women, while men gravitated toward “opportunity. “

Says Ginsberg: “This was incredibly fascinating to us. There seem to be fundamental values across humanity.” He believes that Intel would have never learned this through traditional market research and focus groups, where cultural biases come into play. He also concluded that there are differences in how men and women think, and that these differences cross cultural boundaries. This is not news to Pradeep, who points out that male and female brains are different, and not in a Larry Summers women-aren’t-as-good-at-math-and-science-as-men-are kind of way. The female brain is our default brain when we are in the womb. But at week eight, about half of all fetuses are bathed in testosterone. These now-male brains close down certain communication centers in the brain while opening up others geared toward sex and aggression. In female brains, meanwhile, the communication pathways continue to evolve, intricate neural routes are constructed across both hemispheres, and areas dedicated to emotion blossom. Life seems to imitate a beer commercial, doesn’t it?

Now Intel is changing its marketing strategy. “A brand that helps people achieve and offers opportunity has a phenomenal brand attribute,” Ginsberg says. “It gives you a new perspective on things, to understand your consumer better.” The NeuroFocus findings have informed the next round of creative advertising you’ll see from Intel, due to emerge later this year. “I guarantee when you see these ads you’ll see a straight line,” Ginsberg adds. “The study gave us fresh insights to talk about things we didn’t have permission to talk about before.”

It is conceivable that Intel could have redirected its advertising toward achievement and opportunity with the help of focus groups. But Ginsberg feels, and Pradeep fervently believes, that neuromarketing has a much better shot at getting closer to the unconscious truth, and therefore proving more effective. Still, the difference between the two forms of research sometimes seems to be just a matter of degrees.

Barry Herstein left American Express to join PayPal in October 2007 as global chief marketing officer with the goal of giving eBay’s transaction-processing division a coherent marketing strategy. After the first few weeks, he knew just how difficult the task would be. Almost every time he asked a PayPal employee, “What’s the big idea behind PayPal?” the following response came back: “Safe, simple, wow!”

“Safe, simple, wow?” Herstein scoffs. “That’s not a big idea. It’s a tagline.” It didn’t even make sense. Wasn’t any payment product supposed to be safe and simple? He supposed that software engineers might know that paying for things was complicated, but having worked at American Express and Citi, he knew that the consumer didn’t think that was the case. And “wow”? He cringed. Then, after a series of brainstorming sessions and conversations with a broad range of customers, he hired NeuroFocus to help him figure out the basic concepts around which he could build a new global identity for PayPal.

As part of its standard methodology, NeuroFocus captures the subconscious resonance consumers have for seven brand attributes: form, function, and benefits, as well as feelings (the emotional connection a brand elicits from consumers), values (what it represents), metaphors (aspirations, challenges, lessons, or life events that seem connected to the product), and extensions (the unexpected and perhaps illogical feelings it inspires). Based on his earlier brainstorming sessions, Herstein asked NeuroFocus to home in on three attributes and create three phrases for testing within each. For function he offered “convenient,” “fast,” and “secure”; for feelings, “confident,” “hassle-free,” and “in the know”; and for benefits, “new opportunity,” “on my side,” and “empowering.” The 21-person panel had 11 men and 10 women and was also segmented into regular, light, and non-PayPal shoppers.

According to NeuroFocus, “fast” ranked the highest in the function category. (Notably, “fast” was not acknowledged in any way by “safe, simple, wow.”) In fact, according to the brain heat map that NeuroFocus created from the aggregated data, speed is a huge advantage that sets off extremely positive feelings, especially from regular users. The more people use PayPal, it seems, the more they appreciate how quickly they can close transactions. For the feelings category, “in the know” resonated best, and in benefits, “on my side” won out.

Examining brand attributes is a standard of traditional market testing, of course. Herstein ran a parallel, more conventional track at the same time as his NeuroFocus study, creating a conventional online survey. The results were significantly different. While the word “fast” resonated with this group, the phrase “on my side” wound up at the bottom of the benefits category, which was topped instead by “confident”–a word that had finished dead last among men in the NeuroFocus study.

Herstein trusted the NeuroFocus results, though, and set out to create a coherent global image for the company based on them. That image would humanize PayPal by emphasizing the outcomes it delivers, not the act of paying; nowhere in the new marketing would you find any dreaded, dreary images of two people hovering around a computer. “People don’t want to see that,” Herstein says. “They want to see people enjoying either what they just bought or the time that it gives them by paying fast.”

Not everyone at the company was sold on his new approach. The heads of some foreign markets–Herstein declined to name which– predicted that the new campaign would bomb. Herstein says that his boss, PayPal president Scott Thompson, told him he was crazy–but Herstein was willing to stake his reputation on the new approach.

What happened? According to Herstein, when he changed PayPal’s visual and verbal identity across the company’s email and web pages, click-through and response rates increased three to four times. “I’m telling you, in the world of direct marketing, the words ‘400% improvement’ don’t exist,” he says. “If you can go from 1.2% response rate to 1.3%, you’ll get a promotion, right? And if you can take something from a 4% response rate to 16%? Unheard of.”

“The mystique is that there’s a way to turn consumers into robots to buy products. That’s simply not the case,” says one neuromarketer.

Herstein has left PayPal to join Snapfish and now sits on NeuroFocus’s board as an unpaid adviser. While eBay confirms the basics of his account, it won’t confirm his description of the outcomes from the marketing campaign he created; a spokesman repeatedly asked Fast Company not to include this information in our story.

This bid for secrecy is entirely in keeping with the aura around neuromarketing, an industry that is both highly confident about what it can deliver and very nervous about its perception in the broader world. Several neuromarketing firms were approached for this story, but the only one that would do more than provide vague descriptions of its work was NeuroFocus, which is by all accounts the industry leader. Out of dozens of its corporate clients, very few would agree to discuss their work with the firm.

Neuromarketing outfits are afraid of being branded as trendy voodoo science, no more trustworthy than palm readers. Such a perception, they believe, will wither with good results. Perhaps more worrying is the other end of the speculative spectrum, which posits that corporations armed with our neurological data will be able to push a secret “buy button” in our brains. This is a fear promulgated by, among others, Paul B. Farrell, a columnist for Dow Jones and author of The Millionaire Code. He calls this buy button your brain’s “true decision-making processor,” a “weapon of mass delusion.” You end up like a computer “without virus protection” and “exposed to every Wall Street banker, politician, and corporate CEO with gobs of cash and a desire to manipulate your brain.”

“There’s still this mystique that there’s a way to control consumers and turn them into robots to purchase products,” says Ron Wright, president and CEO of Sands Research, a rival neuromarketing firm based in El Paso, Texas. “That is simply not the case.” Nevertheless, after spending time with Pradeep, you get the feeling we’ve only just begun to tap the potential of this new movement. Pradeep is not a neuroscientist. He’s a former GE engineer and consultant who became fascinated by neuromarketing after a conversation with a neuroscientist who sat next to him on a cross-continental flight. After seven years at the helm of NeuroFocus, he sees every product relationship in terms of the brain, like a virtuoso musician who hears music in everyday sounds, from the clackety noise of a woman’s heels on a wooden floor to the melange of notes from a car engine.

On a sun-drenched afternoon in Berkeley, we tour the shops at the local mall. We stop in front of a Victoria’s Secret plate-glass window and Pradeep points out the ambiguous expression of a lingerie model on one of its posters. He explains that the brain is constantly looking out for our survival and as part of that is always ready to measure another person’s intent. Is that stranger happy? Angry? Sad? When an expression is not easy to decipher, we do a database search through our collection of faces–curious, worried, nervous, threatening–to choose which is closest to the one we see, and match it. “If the expression is easy to decipher, I hardly glance,” he says. “But if the expression is relatively hard to decipher, she makes me open the cupboard of memory.” Contrast this with the nearby Bebe store, where Pradeep shakes his head at the headless mannequins in the window. “Now that’s what I call a crime against humanity. Money down the drain.”

At the Apple store, we pause at a desktop computer and he explains why it’s always better to put images on the left side of the screen and text on the right: “That’s how the brain likes to see it,” he says. “If you flip it around, the right frontal looks at the words and has to flip it over the corpus callosum to the left frontal lobe. You make the brain do one extra step, and the brain hates you for that.” Pradeep loves Apple, and he loves to talk about Apple, in part because Steve Jobs never has been and probably never will be a client. (Apple doesn’t even use focus groups. Jonathan Ive, Apple’s top designer, famously said they lead to bland products designed to offend no one.) But the real reason he loves talking about Apple is that he believes the company has elevated basic design to high art, a hugely successful strategy that Pradeep thinks is justified by our most basic neurological underpinnings.

Which brings us back to that iPad. Pradeep claims the brain loves curves but detests sharp edges, which set off an avoidance response in our subconscious. In the same way our ancestors stood clear of sticks or jagged stones fashioned into weapons, we avoid sharp angles, viewing them as potential threats. NeuroFocus has performed several studies for retailers and food manufacturers and found that test subjects prefer in-store displays with rounded edges over those with sharper edges. In one instance, when these new rounded displays were rolled out to replace traditional store shelving, sales rose 15%.

But curved edges are only one reason for the iPad’s success. We also like how the tablet feels, how sleek and well balanced it is. Signals generated by our palms and fingers, along with lips and genitals, take up the most surface area within our brain’s sensory zone. The way a product feels in our hands can be a major selling point. It’s why we prefer glass bottles to cans, which NeuroFocus product-consumption studies bear out, although it’s not just the material, it’s also the slender curve of the bottle and the ridges in it. The touch screen, too, is a mental magnet and can induce those hormonal secretions Pradeep likes describing.

Why we like these curves no one knows for sure. Perhaps our brains correlate curves with nourishment–that is to say, mommy. (Calling Dr. Freud.) In men, it could be sexual. One study asked men to view before-and-after pictures of naked women who underwent cosmetic surgery to shrink their waists and add to their derrieres. The men’s brains responded as if they had been rewarded with drugs and alcohol. But this response to curves may be even more primal than sex, or beer. Another study suggested that men seek women with curves because women’s hips and thighs contain higher doses of omega-3 fatty acids, which nurture babies’ brains and lead to healthier offspring.

This is the flip side to our fears of neuromarketing: the potential to look at our choices in a new way that blends science, psychology, and history. Lately, NeuroFocus has been moving into product development, providing research to companies that will influence how products look, feel, and function before they hit the market. That’s what the firm is doing with its Mynd crown of sensors. But Pradeep has visions that go far beyond testing products, packaging, and commercials. He imagines neurotesting as ideal for court-room trials: A defense attorney could pretest opening and closing arguments for emotional resonance with mock juries. And while NeuroFocus is not getting involved in politics, he says that competitors of his helped Republican politicians shape their messages for the 2010 midterm elections.

One stunning application of neurotesting is the work of Robert Knight, Pradeep’s chief science officer, and a host of other neuroscience researchers who are trying to develop a way for quadriplegics to control their wheel-chairs just by thinking alone. When you watch someone move a hand to grab a can of soda, mirror neurons in your brain react as if you were grasping it yourself. Knight is studying which brain signals can be translated into software commands to drive a wheelchair. To further this research, Knight, part of the team that invented the Mynd, plans to give it away to scientists and labs around the world. And the next iteration, he promises, will be a big step up, with eye-tracking capability, a built-in video camera, and three times as many sensors for greater brain coverage. “If our limbs will not respond to the beauty of your thinking or your feeling, that is a horror beyond horrors,” Pradeep says. “Restoring a little bit of gesture, a little bit of movement, a little bit of control to that beautiful mind is an extraordinary thing to do.”

He seems sincere, passionate even, though of course I cannot read his mind.

A version of this article appears in the September 2011 issue of Fast Company.

Correction: Neurofocus is owned by Nielsen Holdings N.V., not Nielsen Research as stated in the original article.

 

Police Say They Can Detain Photographers If Their Photographs Have ‘No Apparent Esthetic Value’

In Uncategorized on August 19, 2011 at 1:31 pm

A photograph shot by Sander Roscoe Wolff on June 30 before he was detained by Long Beach Police

Oldspeak:” In a police state, Photography is Terrorism. Thought Police moonlight as art critics. And if in their professional opinion, your work has “No apparent esthetic value” and you are not engaging in “regular tourist behaviour” they can arrest you for the offenses. Yes my pretties, the Police States of America is full-formed and hard at work depriving you of your rights to freedom, movement, assembly, protest, and now apparently to photograph. All in under the guise of “National Security”. This makes complete sense in a society where its government creates 452 new laws criminalizing non-criminal behavior over a 7 year period.  “Freedom is Slavery”

By Greggory Moore @ The Long Beach Post:

Police Chief Jim McDonnell has confirmed that detaining photographers for taking pictures “with no apparent esthetic value” is within Long Beach Police Department  policy.

McDonnell spoke for a follow-up story on a June 30 incident in which Sander Roscoe Wolff, a Long Beach resident and regular contributor to Long Beach Post, was detained by Officer Asif Kahn for taking pictures of a North Long Beach refinery.1

“If an officer sees someone taking pictures of something like a refinery,” says McDonnell, “it is incumbent upon the officer to make contact with the individual.” McDonnell went on to say that whether said contact becomes detainment depends on the circumstances the officer encounters.

McDonnell says that while there is no police training specific to determining whether a photographer’s subject has “apparent esthetic value,” officers make such judgments “based on their overall training and experience” and will generally approach photographers not engaging in “regular tourist behavior.”

This policy apparently falls under the rubric of compiling Suspicious Activity Reports (SAR) as outlined in the Los Angeles Police Department’s Special Order No. 11, a March 2008 statement of the LAPD’s “policy …  to make every effort to accurately and appropriately gather, record and analyze information, of a criminal or non-criminal nature, that could indicate activity or intentions related to either foreign or domestic terrorism.”

Among the non-criminal behaviors “which shall be reported on a SAR” are the usage of binoculars and cameras (presumably when observing a building, although this is not specified), asking about an establishment’s hours of operation, taking pictures or video footage “with no apparent esthetic value,” and taking notes.

Also listed as behaviors to be documented are “Attempts to acquire illegal or illicit biological agent (anthrax, ricin, Eboli, smallpox, etc.),” “In possession, or utilizes, explosives (for illegal purposes),” and “Acquires or attempts to acquire uniforms without a legitimate cause (service personnel, government uniforms, etc.).” Special Order No. 11 does not distinguish between how these behaviors should be handled and how (e.g.) photography should be handled.

McDonnell says that LBPD policy is “on-line” with all instructions contained in Special Order No. 11, “as is everyone else [i.e., other police departments] around the country.”

In response to Long Beach Post’s coverage of the incident, the National Press Photographer’s Association has written to Chief McDonnell expressing concern “about the misplaced beliefs that photography is in and of itself a suspicious activity.”

Deputy City Attorney Gary Anderson says that the legal standard for a police officer’s detaining an individual pivots on whether the officer has “reasonable suspicion of criminal activity”; and that whether taking photographs of a refinery meets that standard “depends on the circumstances the officer is confronted with.” For that information, Anderson says, we must know what is in the officer’s mind.

Officer Kahn did not reply to repeated attempts to contact him in order to determine what was in his mind when he allegedly detained Wolff; and the LBPD Public Information Office referred pertinent questions to Anderson.

According to Anderson, Kahn claims that Wolff complied with Kahn’s request to see his license, and that it was unnecessary for him to compel Wolff to do so — a version of events Wolff flatly contradicts. “I absolutely asked him if showing him my license was necessary,” Wolff says, “which is when he gave me his little spiel about Homeland Security [allowing Kahn to detain Wolff under the circumstances].”2

Anderson reports that Kahn asserts Wolff denied being a reporter, which Wolff says is untrue. “I never denied being a reporter,” Wolff says. “He never asked me about being a reporter. He asked me why I was taking pictures, and I told him that I was an artist.”

Regarding whether Kahn felt Wolff’s behavior gave him “reasonable suspicion of criminal activity,” Anderson initially replied, “I never asked [Kahn] that question.” Agreeing that “we can’t go any further in discussing [whether Kahn had ‘reasonable suspicion of criminal activity’] without knowing what was in the officer’s mind in this specific instance,” Anderson agreed to follow up with Kahn on that matter.

However, when reached 10 days later, Anderson stated, “I’m not going to get into the officer’s subjective state of mind at this point. … That’s attorney-client privilege.”

As to why Anderson failed to cite attorney-client privilege initially, Anderson says only that he has “been thinking about it more”; and, “We have no further comment. Seriously.”

1 After running Wolff’s driver’s license, Kahn left the scene without ordering Wolff to desist.

2 Legally, a police detention has occurred when “a reasonable individual” in that circumstance would be believe he or she is not free to leave

U.S. House Bill H.R. 1981 Approved To Create Massive Surveillance Database Of Internet Users

In Uncategorized on August 1, 2011 at 12:01 pm

Oldspeak: “If they called it H.R. 1984 it would have been a bit much I suppose. H.R. 1981? Close enough to make the point without being explicitly dickish. While the Debt Theater came to its denouement, politricians voted to relieve you of more of your privacy rights. It represents “a data bank of every digital act by every American that would let us find out where every single American visited Web sites” -Rep. Zoe Lofgren. “Requiring Internet companies to redesign and reconfigure their systems to facilitate government surveillance of Americans’ expressive activities is simply un-American.” -Kevin Bankston. Never mind that retention of identifying information would put at rist 99.9% of internet users of identity theft, decrease the overall safety of the internet, and increase the probability of potentially devastating hacker attacks. “Ignorance is Strength”

 

Related Story:

NSA Admits It Tracks Americans Via Cell Phones

By Steve Watson @ Prison Planet:

Legislation that will force Internet providers to store information on all their customers and share it with the federal government and law enforcement agencies was significantly beefed at the last minute last week and approved by a U.S. House of Representatives committee.

Under the guise of protecting children from internet pornographers, the House Judiciary committee voted 19-10 to approve a bill that will require Internet Service Providers to store temporarily assigned IP addresses for future government use.

In addition, the bill was re-written yesterday to also include the enforced retention of customers’ names, addresses, phone numbers, credit card numbers and bank account numbers.

As Declan McCullagh of CNet reports, the panel rejected an amendment that would have clarified that only IP addresses must be stored.

“The bill is mislabeled,” said Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, the senior Democrat on the panel. “This is not protecting children from Internet pornography. It’s creating a database for everybody in this country for a lot of other purposes.”

It represents “a data bank of every digital act by every American” that would “let us find out where every single American visited Web sites,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, who led Democratic opposition to the bill. The Californian Representative described the legislation as a “mess of a bill” and a “stalking horse for a massive expansion of federal power”.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., noted that the bill would open a Pandora’s box of government abuse.

“This is not about child porn. It never has been and never will be,” Issa said. “This is a convenient way for law enforcement to get what they couldn’t get in the PATRIOT Act.”

Advocates for the legislation include the National Sheriffs’ Association, which has said it “strongly supports” mandatory data retention. The bill has also attracted endorsements from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, as well as the FBI.

In a last ditch effort to derail the bill, the ACLU, along with dozens of other privacy watchdog groups penned a letter (PDF) to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith earlier this week, noting that “any data retention mandate is a direct assault on bedrock privacy principles.”

“The data retention mandate in this bill would treat every Internet user like a criminal and threaten the online privacy and free speech rights of every American, as lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have recognized,” Senior Staff Attorney Kevin Bankston of the Electronic Frontier Foundationsaid.

“Requiring Internet companies to redesign and reconfigure their systems to facilitate government surveillance of Americans’ expressive activities is simply un-American. Such a scheme would be as objectionable to our Founders as the requiring of licenses for printing presses or the banning of anonymous pamphlets.” Bankston added.

“This is China-style law enforcement, treating everyone as a potential suspect and requiring the collection of personal information just in case it might later be useful to the government,” said Greg Nojeim, senior counsel for the Washington based Center for Democracy and Technology, in aninterview with Bloomberg.

A fortnight ago, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) appealed before the House Judiciary Committee, asking that Congress recognize the fact that retaining identifying information would put at risk “99.9% of Internet users.”

EPIC President Marc Rotenberg pointed out that it is more prudent to seek data minimization rather than data retention, in the wake of increased risk of data breaches and identity theft. Rotenberg noted that enforced data retention would make ISPs more vulnerable to hackers, citing the LulzSec group, which recently claimed responsibility for temporarily shutting down a CIA website and other high-profile hacks.

“Minimizing stored user data reduces incentives for hackers to attack data storage systems by reducing the amount of data available to steal. Minimization also reduces the costs of data breaches,” Rotenberg said in prepared testimony.

Rotenberg suggested that the data could be used to bring criminal charges that were unrelated to child pornography, noting that any mandatory retention of data would be accessible to police investigating any crime.

“Although this data retention requirement has been introduced as part of a bill focused on child sexual exploitation, there is no evidence to suggest that the majority of law enforcement requests for customer subscriber information relate to child protection cases.” Rotenberg argued.

The bill would also allow access to the data by attorneys litigating civil disputes in divorce, insurance fraud, and other cases that have nothing to do with the protection of children on the internet.

“It would give the government sweeping authority to mandate the collection and retention of personal information obtained by business from their customers, or generated by the business in the course of providing services, for subsequent examination without any reason to believe that information is relevant or necessary for a criminal investigation,” Rotenberg further testified.

Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., had proposed an amendment to the bill that would have limited use of the data to child-pornography or terrorism cases, but it was withdrawn at the last minute, as Lamar Smith claimed that limiting the use of the information to child-pornography investigations could “undermine current cases on other issues”.

Rep. Scott also attempted to add an amendment to allocate $45 million a year to pay for more than 200 additional federal investigators and prosecutors dedicated to child pornography cases. Clearly a real move to crack down on child porn peddlers was unwelcome, however, as this too was struck down by committee members who claimed the funding wasn’t available.

The legislation, with all it’s privacy stripping measures intact, will now be scheduled for a full House debate.

——————————————————————

Steve Watson is the London based writer and editor for Alex Jones’ Infowars.net, and Prisonplanet.com. He has a Masters Degree in International Relations from the School of Politics at The University of Nottingham in England.

Free Speech Under Siege In The “West”

In Uncategorized on June 27, 2011 at 1:51 pm

Oldspeak:“Democracies stand for free speech; dictatorships suppress it….The censorship of memory, which we once fondly imagined to be the mark of dictatorship, is now a major growth industry in the “free” West. Indeed, official censorship is only the tip of an iceberg of cultural censorship. A public person must be on constant guard against causing offense, whether intentionally or not.” - Robert Skidelsky. How can knowledge, discovery, and intellectual advancement be achieved without free, unfettered inquiry and constant and rigorous questioning of “accepted truths” based in religion, science or cultural memory?  Political correctness cannot ever usurp freedom of speech, to do so opens the door to authoritarianism, totalitarianism, rigidity of thought and society. There should be no such thing as accepted ways of thinking in a free society. The frightening thing is in the supposedly “free” U.S. much of the population self-censors and acts as thought police to those who think outside the politically correct and accepted spheres of thought. Phrases like “Conspiracy Theorist”, “Radical” “Fringe Elements” or ” ‘Your name here’ Extremists” are used to dismiss un-PC thought and speech as not worthy of serious, critical consideration, as they fly in the face of generally “accepted truths”  There are fewer and fewer public spheres one can introduce ideas which challenge people to actually think and consider facts that don’t jive with what they see in corporate media networks and learn from commodified, corporate controlled for-profit education systems. This has a chilling effect on those interested in engaging in political protest movements, dissent, and challenging and questioning the official narrative of history and objective reality. It’s what leads the Department of Justice to think it’s ok to surveil harass and violate the civil liberties of  law abiding citizens who dare dissent. It that that much different than what goes on in China, Iran, or Israel? If people are discouraged or afraid to engage politically in any way that they wish, state-sanctioned or not, democracy dies.”

By Robert Skidelsky @ Project Syndicate:

Recently, at a literary festival in Britain, I found myself on a panel discussing free speech. For liberals, free speech is a key index of freedom. Democracies stand for free speech; dictatorships suppress it.

When we in the West look outward, this remains our view. We condemn governments that silence, imprison, and even kill writers and journalists. Reporters Sans Frontièreskeeps a list: 24 journalists have been killed, and 148 imprisoned, just this year. Part of the promise we see in the “Arab Spring” is the liberation of the media from the dictator’s grasp.

Yet freedom of speech in the West is under strain. Traditionally, British law imposed two main limitations on the “right to free speech.” The first prohibited the use of words or expressions likely to disrupt public order; the second was the law against libel. There are good grounds for both – to preserve the peace, and to protect individuals’ reputations from lies. Most free societies accept such limits as reasonable.

But the law has recently become more restrictive. “Incitement to religious and racial hatred” and “incitement to hatred on the basis of sexual orientation” are now illegal in most European countries, independent of any threat to public order. The law has shifted from proscribing language likely to cause violence to prohibiting language intended to give offense.

A blatant example of this is the law against Holocaust denial. To deny or minimize the Holocaust is a crime in 15 European countries and Israel. It may be argued that the Holocaust was a crime so uniquely abhorrent as to qualify as a special case. But special cases have a habit of multiplying.

France has made it illegal to deny any “internationally recognized crimes against humanity.” Whereas in Muslim countries it is illegal to call the Armenian massacres of 1915-1917 “genocide,” in some Western countries it is illegal to say that they were not. Some East European countries specifically prohibit the denial of communist “genocides.”

The censorship of memory, which we once fondly imagined to be the mark of dictatorship, is now a major growth industry in the “free” West. Indeed, official censorship is only the tip of an iceberg of cultural censorship. A public person must be on constant guard against causing offense, whether intentionally or not.

Breaking the cultural code damages a person’s reputation, and perhaps one’s career. Britain’s Home Secretary Kenneth Clarke recently had to apologize for saying that some rapes were less serious than others, implying the need for legal discrimination. The parade of gaffes and subsequent groveling apologies has become a regular feature of public life.

In his classic essay On Liberty, John Stuart Mill defended free speech on the ground that free inquiry was necessary to advance knowledge. Restrictions on certain areas of historical inquiry are based on the opposite premise: the truth is known, and it is impious to question it. This is absurd; every historian knows that there is no such thing as final historical truth.

It is not the task of history to defend public order or morals, but to establish what happened. Legally protected history ensures that historians will play safe. To be sure, living by Mill’s principle often requires protecting the rights of unsavory characters. David Irving writes mendacious history, but his prosecution and imprisonment in Austria for “Holocaust denial” would have horrified Mill.

By contrast, the pressure for “political correctness” rests on the argument that the truth is unknowable. Statements about the human condition are essentially matters of opinion.  Because a statement of opinion by some individuals is almost certain to offend others, and since such statements make no contribution to the discovery of truth, their degree of offensiveness becomes the sole criterion for judging their admissibility. Hence the taboo on certain words, phrases, and arguments that imply that certain individuals, groups, or practices are superior or inferior, normal or abnormal; hence the search for ever more neutral ways to label social phenomena, thereby draining language of its vigor and interest.

A classic example is the way that “family” has replaced “marriage” in public discourse, with the implication that all “lifestyles” are equally valuable, despite the fact that most people persist in wanting to get married. It has become taboo to describe homosexuality as a “perversion,” though this was precisely the word used in the 1960’s by the radical philosopher Herbert Marcuse (who was praising homosexuality as an expression of dissent). In today’s atmosphere of what Marcuse would call “repressive tolerance,” such language would be considered “stigmatizing.”

The sociological imperative behind the spread of “political correctness” is the fact that we no longer live in patriarchal, hierarchical, mono-cultural societies, which exhibit general, if unreflective, agreement on basic values. The pathetic efforts to inculcate a common sense of “Britishness” or “Dutchness” in multi-cultural societies, however well-intentioned, attest to the breakdown of a common identity.

Public language has thus become the common currency of cultural exchange, and everyone is on notice to mind one’s manners. The result is a multiplication of weasel words that chill political and moral debate, and that create a widening gap between public language and what many ordinary people think.

The defense of free speech is made no easier by the abuses of the popular press. We need free media to expose abuses of power. But investigative journalism becomes discredited when it is suborned to “expose” the private lives of the famous when no issue of public interest is involved. Entertaining gossip has mutated into an assault on privacy, with newspapers claiming that any attempt to keep them out of people’s bedrooms is an assault on free speech.

You know that a doctrine is in trouble when not even those claiming to defend it understand what it means. By that standard, the classic doctrine of free speech is in crisis. We had better sort it out quickly – legally, morally, and culturally – if we are to retain a proper sense of what it means to live in a free society.

Robert Skidelsky, a member of the British House of Lords, is Professor Emeritus of Political Economy at Warwick University.

 

FBI To Expand Domestic Surveillance Powers As Details Emerge Of Its Spy Campaign Targeting American Activists

In Uncategorized on June 15, 2011 at 12:57 pm

Oldspeak:”While Obama smiles and waves in Puerto Rico, his justice department is wildin the fuck out.  Today in the supposed land of the free, COINTELPRO is on steroids. Political activists who don’t adhere to the status quo are labeled “domestic terrorists”. They are physically and electronically surveiled and intimidated for years, without firm evidence for suspecting criminal activity.  What’s to stop this vast and unaccountable misuse of government power from being turned on non-politically active Americans? “The FBI is giving agents more leeway to conduct domestic surveillance. According to the New York Times, new guidelines will allow FBI agents to investigate people and organizations “proactively” without firm evidence for suspecting criminal activity. The new rules will free up agents to infiltrate organizations, search household trash, use surveillance teams, search databases, conduct lie detector tests, even without suspicion of any wrongdoing.”- Amy Goodman. Best believe the Thought Police are in full effect.

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By Amy Goodman @ Democracy Now:

AMY GOODMAN: Civil liberties advocates are raising alarm over news that the FBI is giving agents more leeway to conduct domestic surveillance. According to the New York Times, new guidelines will allow FBI agents to investigate people and organizations “proactively” without firm evidence for suspecting criminal activity. The new rules will free up agents to infiltrate organizations, search household trash, use surveillance teams, search databases, conduct lie detector tests, even without suspicion of any wrongdoing.

The revised guidelines come as the FBI’s existing practices have already come under wide scrutiny. Last month, the New York Times revealed a number of new revelations against activists targeted by domestic spying. One of those activists is 44-year-old Scott Crow, an Austin, Texas resident, self-proclaimed anarchist. He has just learned he was targeted by the FBI from 2001 until at least 2008. Using the Freedom of Information Act, Scott received 440 pages of heavily redacted documents revealing the FBI had traced the license plates of cars parked in front of his home, recorded the arrival and departure of his guests, observed gatherings that he attended at bookstores and cafes. The agency also tracked his emails and phone conversations, picked through his trash to identify his bank and mortgage companies, visited a gun store where he had sought to purchase a rifle for self-defense. Agents monitored—also asked the Internal Revenue Service to examine his tax returns, and even infiltrated activist groups he associated with. While Crow has been arrested a dozen times in his years of activism, he has never faced a charge more serious than trespassing. He is among a growing number of people and groups finding themselves on the receiving end of government spying.

Well, Scott Crow joins us now from Austin, Texas, to tell his story. And we’re also joined from Washington, D.C., by Mike German, national security policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. He previously served as an FBI agent specializing in domestic counterterrorism from 1988 to 2004.

Mike German, we want to start with you on the most recent news of the new leeway granted to FBI agents, of which you were one years ago, to monitor people, not under any criminal charges or even suspicion. Explain what you understand is happening right now.

MIKE GERMAN: Right. You might remember that in 2008 Attorney General Michael Mukasey altered the attorney general guidelines that govern the FBI’s investigative authorities, and he created a new category of investigations called “assessments.” And these required no factual predicate—in other words, no evidence that anybody had done anything wrong, much less the person who is under investigation. And there are a number of intrusive investigative techniques that were allowed to be used, including physical surveillance, including recruiting and tasking informants, including FBI agents acting in ruse trying to gather information from the subjects of the investigation, conducting interviews, even using grand jury subpoenas to get telephone records.

What the new changes to the FBI’s internal policy is, to allow FBI agents, even without an assessment being open, to search commercial databases—these are subscription services of data aggregators that collect, you know, a broad swath of information and really have a lot of detailed private information about people—and also state and local law enforcement databases. Again, this is without any suspicion of wrongdoing. Without even opening an investigation, agents can start searching for all this private information.

Another increase in their authority is with assessments that they use to determine whether an informant is—whether they can recruit an informant. And one of the things they’re allowed to do is they’re adding trash haul, which means that when you put your garbage out for the garbageman to pick up, it’s an FBI agent picking it up instead, and they go through all this material. And when I asked why they would want to give agents that authority—again, before you have any evidence of wrongdoing—and they said, “Well, it’s often helpful to find something derogatory that could be used to pressure the person into becoming an informant.” So, you know, this is a technique being used specifically to coerce somebody to cooperate against their neighbors or co-workers.

AMY GOODMAN: The FBI declined our interview request today but did send us a statement about the new guidelines. Quoting FBI General Counsel Valerie Caproni, saying, quote: “Each proposed change has been carefully looked at and considered against the backdrop of the tools our employees need to accomplish their mission, the possible risks associated with use of those tools, and the controls that are in place. Overall, this is fine tuning, not any major change. The FBI’s authority to use specific investigative tools is determined through the U.S. Constitution, U.S. statutes, executive orders and the Attorney General’s Guidelines for Domestic FBI Operations. The Domestic Investigations Operations Guide cannot and does not confer additional powers to agents beyond that provided by those controlling authorities.” Your thoughts on that, Mike German?

MIKE GERMAN: Well, again, the 2008 attorney general guidelines so loosened the standards for FBI investigations that they’re basically nonexistent. No factual predicate is required. So the idea that agents would be able to start those investigations without even going through an administrative hurdle of opening an assessment, I think, is an expansion of power that is completely unaccountable.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to Scott Crow to hear a real-life story. Scott, talk about when you first applied under the Freedom of Information Act to get information about whether the FBI was monitoring you.

SCOTT CROW: Well, there’s a local organization called the Austin People’s Legal Collective. It all came out after Brandon Darby came out as an informant in 2008. Austin People’s Legal Collective decided to put together a FOIA request for about 30 activists, about 40 organizations and about 10 events going back to the year 2000 in Austin. We sent it to multiple field offices around the country and then—to see what we’d get back, to try to build a picture of what kind of surveillance had been going on, if there’s other infiltration. And in that, most—about 50 percent of the documents that came back came back with nothing. About 30 percent came back—people came back with a mention, or a group came back with a mention. And then there was two cases, a case with the woman who organized the Showdown in Texas, which was an event in 2003—there was about 400 pages of documents—and then mine was a case where they had years of extensive documentation going on. And that was kind of the impetus of it all. And through that, I was able to find out that, you know, that I had—there had been five informants in my life. Brandon Darby was just the last one, who had run through our communities. But when we did this, we did it across nine states. And I found out I was investigated in nine states for arsons and other criminal acts that I was never charged with.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, Brandon Darby, for those who aren’t familiar, who has become a very familiar name in progressive circles, explain your relationship with him and who he is.

SCOTT CROW: Brandon Darby was a person who had been a friend of mine and been on the edge of the activist community within Austin for a number of years. He and I had gone to New Orleans together, and then I ended up co-founding an organization called Common Ground Relief out of that, out of those actions. And he worked at Common Ground for a couple of years and left, and then he ended up setting up—participating in this case with two men at the Republican National Convention, where he possibly entrapped them, but definitely provoked them into doing actions that they would not normally have done, which they ended up going to prison for. And then he came out as an informant, and it turned out he had been investigating a number of us for a number of years.

AMY GOODMAN: So, when exactly did you get the documents from the FBI? And talk about the extent that they showed of their surveillance of you.

SCOTT CROW: Well, let me—let me backtrack for a second. I first found out that I was listed as a domestic terrorist in 2006. The FBI, in the way that they ended up dealing with a lot of law enforcement around the country is they let the local DAs and the local law enforcement officers know in different cities. So in 2006, they let the DA in Baton Rouge know, and he let the lawyers for the Angola 3 know, and the Angola 3 lawyer told me. And that was the first time I ever heard about it, that I was listed as a domestic terrorist and an animal rights extremist.

And what it did was it opened up this world of possibilities in this kafkaesque world, where I’m not being formally charged with anything, but all of these things are happening. I mean, I could see people sitting out in front of my house for years—I mean, all different kinds of cars. And I’m not a paranoid person. I live a very transparent, open glass house. But I could see all these things happening.

There was a BOLO that was issued, a “be on the lookout” report that was issued in 2008, in the Austin Police Department that said I might injure police officers, burn down police cars, or incite riots. And the way I knew about it is because people from the city that I had worked with told me that they saw this poster with my picture on it. Now, again, I couldn’t do anything about this. Well, finally, in 2010, I get these documents that list me as a domestic terrorist since 2001, and it starts—the picture starts to become clearer on all of the things that the FBI has been doing across states, across multiple states, to investigate me and to sow dissent, basically, amongst local and regional law enforcement.

AMY GOODMAN: Some of the redacted FBI documents that show the surveillance of you, Scott, have been posted on the New York Times website. One FBI report describes the meeting of an activist group that you were a part of, saying, quote, “Most attendees dressed like hippies, had [dreadlocks] (both men and women), and smelled of bad odor.” Another report has the extensive details on the contents of your trash.

SCOTT CROW: I mean, those two incidences just scratch the surface. The infiltration happened over and over again in different groups, in different events. There would be law enforcement and informants and people gathering information at all different levels—city, county, state and federal authorities—and private security, too. It’s a revolving door between that sharing information and all of these things. Going through the trash was part of it.

But really, what was—to me, what I think we should talk about is that—how much money they spent investigating me, and not charging me with anything. You know, like, if I’m the tip of the iceberg and there’s other people in other communities that they’re doing this with, how much is the government spending to do something like this? And what kind of chilling effect does it have on activist communities and on us as citizens in this country?

AMY GOODMAN: How extensive, in terms of throughout the United States, was the monitoring of you, Scott? What have you figured out at this point?

SCOTT CROW: Well, they investigated me in nine states, like I said, in 12 field offices. There was five informants. There was one in Austin, two in Houston, one in Dallas and one in Detroit. I could only identify three of those people. The other ones I can’t even identify who they are, people I might have come in contact with over and over again. But they’re targeting—but what we found out through these FOIAs—

AMY GOODMAN: They went to—they went out—

SCOTT CROW:—and through other FOIAs that—

AMY GOODMAN: They went out to the IRS to investigate you, as well?

SCOTT CROW: Absolutely. They sent a letter to the IRS to see if they could get me for tax evasion. And luckily, my partner Ann and I had always had our taxes done, because we had owned our own businesses for the longest time, and they found—the IRS came back and said they couldn’t—there was nothing they could do about it. And there seemed to be a consternation at the FBI about that.

They also used closed-circuit television on a house in Dallas that I lived in, and then in Austin, where they put cameras across—on poles across the streets from my house. The levels that they went to, I think, are unimaginable to most people, because it’s what you hear about in movies or what people fear the most about it. But pretty much anything that you can think of that they did, except for kicking my door in, happened to me. I was threatened with grand juries, the trash digging, which they did on two occasions on the trash digging, being visited at my work and visited at my home. You know, Mike German spoke to, earlier, how they try to put pressure on people to give information. I was first visited by the FBI in 1999. That was the first time I ever heard the words “domestic terrorism” and “animal rights” used together. And also, not only did they try to implicate me in some crimes in Dallas or say that I had—or suggest that I had some responsibility for those crimes, then they tried to use that pressure to get me to give information on other people.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, you were—

SCOTT CROW: And so, how many people is that happening to across the country?

AMY GOODMAN: That is a very important question. Mike German, you’re with the ACLU. There have been a number of raids. These are the obvious—you know, more obvious manifestations of this, raids in Chicago and Minneapolis of activists’ homes. Can you talk about how wide this surveillance is and what you understand is happening in other parts of the country?

MIKE GERMAN: Sure. I think, like Scott said, we only see the tip of the iceberg. But in 2004, 2005 and 2006, the ACLU issued a number of Freedom of Information Act requests for Joint Terrorism Task Force investigations against a number of political—politically active groups who suspected that they were spied on, the same way Scott did. And we uncovered widespread surveillance of different, you know, peace and justice groups, environmental groups, all kinds of different groups. And that, in turn, started an inspector general investigation that was just released in September of 2010 that showed that the FBI was opening these investigations with what they called factually weak predicates, sometimes even speculative predicates. So it wasn’t that they thought that the groups were involved in any criminal activity now, but just that it was a possibility in the future they might be. Well, of course, that’s true for all of us. We all might be future criminals. And that was the sole criteria that the FBI was using to open preliminary inquiries.

Now, these are supposed to be predicated investigations where there is some factual basis. And these investigations, unfortunately, the IG only looked at the cases that the ACLU had already uncovered. He didn’t look beyond those. But what he found was those investigations remained open for years, with no evidence of wrongdoing, that the victims of these investigations would be put on terrorist watch lists. And, you know, you can imagine, for a political activist, you know, kind of like Scott recounted, when the FBI is going around telling local officials that this political activist is a terrorist, that cripples their ability to be effective in their advocacy. And it creates a huge chilling effect that affects not just the people under investigation, but others active on those political issues, and even further, people who want to be active but feel it’s not worth it to come under that kind of surveillance. So it has a real serious effect on our democracy. And that’s really, you know, one of the most dangerous parts about this.

AMY GOODMAN: How has the FBI changed from Bush to Obama? I mean, Robert Mueller has now been head of the FBI for almost 10 years under Bush and Obama.

MIKE GERMAN: You know, this meeting that we were brought to about the expansion of the FBI’s authority last month was really the first opportunity. We were hoping, because we criticized the 2008 guidelines that were put in place in December of 2008—so, literally just a month before the Obama administration took over—we had criticized those heavily, so we were hoping that what we were going to hear was that our criticism had been heard and that they were going to scale back some of the things they were doing. One of the things that we’re still working on is an authority the FBI has given itself in their internal guidelines that allows them to collect racial and ethnic demographic data and to map racial and ethnic communities and collect racial and ethnic behavioral information, whatever that is. And we’re trying to use Freedom of Information Act to get at that information, but it’s difficult.

AMY GOODMAN: Scott Crow, what are your plans right now? And I want to ask Mike German also, what kind of recourse does someone like Scott have, now that you’ve learned the extent of the surveillance? Do you even know, Scott, right now if you’re be monitored?

SCOTT CROW: I assume that I am, because my documents ended in 2008. They said that was all that there was. And just to clarify, they gave me 500 pages of 1,200 pages. So there’s still 700 pages more to get. We’re going to sue to try to get the rest of them and try to get the redactions taken away, so we can see what was going on. But my biggest thing is not to—to tell people not to be afraid, because everything that people fear I’ve had happen to me, and I’m still OK. And I don’t mean that in a cavalier way, because it’s been definitely traumatizing at different points, but if we don’t come out and be open about this, then they’ve already won, and the surveillance and the “war on terror” wins against us.

AMY GOODMAN: And Mike German, the kind of recourse people have? How do they even find out if they are the subject of surveillance?

MIKE GERMAN: It’s very difficult. I mean, one of the things that we’re just finding out in a California case is that the FBI and the Department of Justice have been interpreting a portion of the Freedom of Information Act to allow them to falsely say they do not have responsive documents when they do. So it makes unclear whether the government is even being upfront about whether they have documents that they’re not giving you. So it’s very difficult, but we’re working with the Freedom of Information Act the best we can. We’re working through the courts, and we’re working on Capitol Hill, trying to get our elected representatives to realize how important this is to the American public and to our democracy. If people are afraid to engage in political activism, that’s ultimately going to hurt us more than, you know, the waste of resources and other aspects of this that are also untenable.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both very much for being with us, Mike German, national security policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, formerly an FBI agent specializing in domestic counterterrorism, and thank you to Scott Crow, Austin-based activist targeted by FBI surveillance. His book Black Flags and Windmills is set to be published in August.

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Zombie Politics, Democracy, And The Threat of Authoritarianism

In Uncategorized on June 10, 2011 at 11:59 am

Oldspeak:”In the minds of the American public, the dominant media, and the accommodating pundits and intellectuals, there is no sense of how authoritarianism in its soft and hard forms can manifest itself as anything other than horrible images of concentration camps, goose-stepping storm troopers, rigid modes of censorship, and chilling spectacles of extremist government repression and violence. That is, there is little understanding of how new modes of authoritarian ideology, policy, values, and social relations might manifest themselves in degrees and gradations so as to create the conditions for a distinctly undemocratic and increasingly cruel and oppressive social order. As the late Susan Sontag suggested in another context, there is a willful ignorance of how emerging registers of power and governance “dissolve politics into pathology.”[10] It is generally believed that in a constitutional democracy, power is in the hands of the people, and that the long legacy of democratic ideals in America, however imperfect, is enough to prevent democracy from being subverted or lost. And yet the lessons of history provide clear examples of how the emergence of reactionary politics, the increasing power of the military, and the power of big business subverted democracy in Argentina, Chile, Germany, and Italy. In spite of these histories, there is no room in the public imagination to entertain what has become the unthinkable—that such an order in its contemporary form might be more nuanced, less theatrical, more cunning, less concerned with repressive modes of control than with manipulative modes of consent—what one might call a mode of authoritarianism with a distinctly American character.” – Henry A. Giroux

By Henry A. Giroux @ Truthout:

Introduction (Part I)

Education is the point at which we decide whether we love the world enough to assume responsibility for it and by the same token save it from ruin which, except for renewal, except for the coming of the new and young, would be inevitable. And education, too, is where we decide whether we love our children enough not to expel them from our world and leave them to their own devices, nor to strike from their hands their chance of undertaking something new, something unforeseen by us, but to prepare them in advance for the task of renewing a common world. -Hannah Arendt [1]

The Rise of Zombie Politics

In the world of popular culture, zombies seem to be everywhere, as evidenced by the relentless slew of books, movies, video games, and comics. From the haunting Night of the Living Dead to the comic movie Zombieland, the figure of the zombie has captured and touched something unique in the contemporary imagination. But the dark and terrifying image of the zombie with missing body parts, oozing body fluids, and an appetite for fresh, living, human brains does more than feed the mass-marketing machines that prey on the spectacle of the violent, grotesque, and ethically comatose. There is more at work in this wave of fascination with the grotesquely walking hyper-dead than a Hollywood appropriation of the dark recesses and unrestrained urges of the human mind. The zombie phenomenon is now on display nightly on television alongside endless examples of destruction unfolding in real-time. Such a cultural fascination with proliferating images of the living hyper-dead and unrelenting human catastrophes that extend from a global economic meltdown to the earthquake in Haiti to the ecological disaster caused by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico signals a shift away from the hope that accompanies the living to a politics of cynicism and despair. The macabre double movement between “the dead that walk”[2] and those who are alive but are dying and suffering cannot be understood outside of the casino capitalism that now shapes every aspect of society in its own image. A casino capitalist zombie politics views competition as a form of social combat, celebrates war as an extension of politics, and legitimates a ruthless Social Darwinism in which particular individuals and groups are considered simply redundant, disposable—nothing more than human waste left to stew in their own misfortune—easy prey for the zombies who have a ravenous appetite for chaos and revel in apocalyptic visions filled with destruction, decay, abandoned houses, burned-out cars, gutted landscapes, and trashed gas stations.

The twenty-first-century zombies no longer emerge from the grave; they now inhabit the rich environs of Wall Street and roam the halls of the gilded monuments of greed such as Goldman Sachs. As an editorial in The New York Times points out, the new zombies of free-market fundamentalism turned “the financial system into a casino. Like gambling, the transactions mostly just shifted paper money around the globe. Unlike gambling, they packed an enormous capacity for collective and economic destruction—hobbling banks that made bad bets, freezing credit and economic activity. Society—not the bankers—bore the cost.”[3] In this way, the zombie— the immoral, sub-Nietzschean, id-driven “other” who is “hyper-dead” but still alive as an avatar of death and cruelty—provides an apt metaphor for a new kind of authoritarianism that has a grip on contemporary politics in the United States.[4] This is an authoritarianism in which mindless self-gratification becomes the sanctioned norm and public issues collapse into the realm of privatized anger and rage. The rule of the market offers the hyper-dead an opportunity to exercise unprecedented power in American society, reconstructing civic and political culture almost entirely in the service of a politics that fuels the friend/enemy divide, even as democracy becomes the scandal of casino capitalism—its ultimate humiliation.

Click below to listen to The Critical Lede’s audio interview with Dr. Henry Giroux.

Press play to listen to the interview:

But the new zombies are not only wandering around in the banks, investment houses, and death chambers of high finance, they have an ever-increasing presence in the highest reaches of government and in the forefront of mainstream media. The growing numbers of zombies in the mainstream media have huge financial backing from the corporate elite and represent the new face of the culture of cruelty and hatred in the second Gilded Age. Any mention of the social state, putting limits on casino capitalism, and regulating corporate zombies puts Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck,
Rush Limbaugh, and other talking heads into a state of high rage. They disparage any discourse that embraces social justice, social responsibility, and human rights. Appealing to “real” American values such as family, God, and Guns, they are in the forefront of a zombie politics that opposes any legislation or policy designed to lessen human suffering and promote economic and social progress. As Arun Gupta points out, they are insistent in their opposition to “civil rights, school desegregation, women’s rights, labor organizing, the minimum wage, Social Security, LGBT rights, welfare, immigrant rights, public education, reproductive rights, Medicare, [and] Medicaid.”[5] The walking hyper-dead even oppose providing the extension of unemployment benefits to millions of Americans who are out of work, food, and hope. They spectacularize hatred and trade in lies and misinformation. They make populist appeals to the people while legitimating the power of the rich. They appeal to common sense as a way of devaluing a culture of questioning and critical exchange. Unrelenting in their role as archetypes of the hyper-dead, they are misanthropes trading in fear, hatred, and hyper-nationalism.

The human suffering produced by the walking hyper-dead can also be seen in the nativist apoplexy resulting in the racist anti-immigration laws passed in Arizona, the attempts to ban ethnic studies in public schools, the rise of the punishing state, the social dumping of millions of people of color into prisons, and the attempts of Tea Party fanatics and politicians who want to “take back America” from President Barack Obama—described in the new lexicon of right-wing political illiteracy as both an alleged socialist and the new Hitler. Newt Gingrich joins Glenn Beck and other members of the elite squad of the hyper-dead in arguing that Obama is just another version of Joseph Stalin. For Gingrich and the rest of the zombie ideologues, any discourse that advocates for social protections, easing human suffering, or imagining a better future is dismissed by being compared to the horrors of the Nazi holocaust. Dystopian discourse and End Times morbidity rule the collective consciousness of this group.

The “death panels” envisaged by Sarah Palin are not going to emerge from Obama’s health care reform plan but from the toolkits the zombie politicians and talking heads open up every time they are given the opportunity to speak. The death threats, vandalism, and crowds shouting homophobic slurs at openly gay U.S. House Representative Barney Frank already speak to a fixation with images of death, violence, and war that now grips the country. Sarah Palin’s infamous call to a gathering of her followers to “reload” in opposition to President Obama’s policies—soon followed in a nationally televised press conference with a request for the American people to embrace Arizona’s new xenophobic laws—makes her one of the most prominent of the political zombies. Not only has she made less-than-vague endorsements of violence in many of her public speeches, she has cheerfully embraced the new face of white supremacy in her recent unapologetic endorsement of racial profiling, stating in a widely reported speech that “It’s time for Americans across this great country to stand up and say, ‘We’re all Arizonians now.’”[6] The current descent into racism, ignorance, corruption, and mob idiocy makes clear the degree to which politics has become a sport for zombies rather than engaged and thoughtful citizens.[7]

The hyper-dead celebrate talk radio haters such as Rush Limbaugh, whose fanaticism appears to pass without criticism in the mainstream media. Limbaugh echoes the fanatics who whipped up racial hatred in Weimar Germany, the ideological zombies who dissolved the line between reason and distortion-laden propaganda. How else to explain his claim “that environmentalist terrorists might have caused the ecological disaster in the gulf”?[8] The ethically frozen zombies that dominate screen culture believe that only an appeal to self-interest motivates people—a convenient counterpart to a culture of cruelty that rebukes, if not disdains, any appeal to the virtues of a moral and just society. They smile at their audiences while collapsing the distinction between opinions and reasoned arguments. They report on Tea Party rallies while feeding the misplaced ideological frenzy that motivates such gatherings but then refuse to comment on rallies all over the country that do not trade in violence or spectacle. They report uncritically on Islam bashers, such as the radical right-wing radio host Michael Savage, as if his ultra-extremist racist views are a legitimate part of the American mainstream. In the age of zombie politics, there is too little public outrage or informed public anger over the pushing of millions of people out of their homes and jobs, the defunding of schools, and the rising tide of homeless families and destitute communities. Instead of organized, massive protests against casino capitalism, the American public is treated to an endless and arrogant display of wealth, greed, and power. Armies of zombies tune in to gossip-laden entertainment, game, and reality TV shows, transfixed by the empty lure of celebrity culture.

The roaming hordes of celebrity zombie intellectuals work hard to fuel a sense of misguided fear and indignation toward democratic politics, the social state, and immigrants—all of which is spewed out in bitter words and comes terribly close to inciting violence. Zombies love death-dealing institutions, which accounts for why they rarely criticize the bloated military budget and the rise of the punishing state and its expanding prison system. They smile with patriotic glee, anxious to further the demands of empire as automated drones kill innocent civilians—conveniently dismissed as collateral damage—and the torture state rolls inexorably along in Afghanistan, Iraq, and in other hidden and unknown sites. The slaughter that inevitably follows catastrophe is not new, but the current politics of death has reached new heights and threatens to transform a weak democracy into a full-fledged authoritarian state.

A Turn to the Dark Side of Politics

The American media, large segments of the public, and many educators widely believe that authoritarianism is alien to the political landscape of American society. Authoritarianism is generally associated with tyranny and governments that exercise power in violation of the rule of law. A commonly held perception of the American public is that authoritarianism is always elsewhere. It can be found in other allegedly “less developed/civilized countries,” such as contemporary China or Iran, or it belongs to a fixed moment in modern history, often associated with the rise of twentieth-century totalitarianism in its different forms in Germany, Italy, and the Soviet Union under Stalin. Even as the United States became more disposed to modes of tyrannical power under the second Bush administration—demonstrated, for example, by the existence of secret CIA prisons, warrantless spying on Americans, and state-sanctioned kidnaping—mainstream liberals, intellectuals, journalists, and media pundits argued that any suggestion that the United States was becoming an authoritarian society was simply preposterous. For instance, the journalist James Traub repeated the dominant view that whatever problems the United States faced under the Bush administration had nothing to do with a growing authoritarianism or its more extreme form, totalitarianism.[9] On the contrary, according to this position, America was simply beholden to a temporary seizure of power by some extremists, who represented a form of political exceptionalism and an annoying growth on the body politic. In other words, as repugnant as many of Bush’s domestic and foreign policies might have been, they neither threatened nor compromised in any substantial way America’s claim to being a democratic society.

Against the notion that the Bush administration had pushed the United States close to the brink of authoritarianism, some pundits have argued that this dark moment in America’s history, while uncharacteristic of a substantive democracy, had to be understood as temporary perversion of American law and democratic ideals that would end when George W. Bush concluded his second term in the White House. In this view, the regime of George W. Bush and its demonstrated contempt for democracy was explained away as the outgrowth of a random act of politics— a corrupt election and the bad-faith act of a conservative court in 2000 or a poorly run election campaign in 2004 by an uncinematic and boring Democratic candidate. According to this narrative, the Bush-Cheney regime exhibited such extreme modes of governance in its embrace of an imperial presidency, its violation of domestic and international laws, and its disdain for human rights and democratic values that it was hard to view such antidemocratic policies as part of a pervasive shift toward a hidden order of authoritarian politics, which historically has existed at the margins of American society. It would be difficult to label such a government other than as shockingly and uniquely extremist, given a political legacy that included the rise of the security and torture state; the creation of legal illegalities in which civil liberties were trampled; the launching of an unjust war in Iraq legitimated through official lies; the passing of legislative policies that drained the federal surplus by giving away more than a trillion dollars in tax cuts to the rich; the enactment of a shameful policy of preemptive war; the endorsement of an inflated military budget at the expense of much-needed social programs; the selling off of as many government functions as possible to corporate interests; the resurrection of an imperial presidency; an incessant attack against unions; support for a muzzled and increasingly corporate-controlled media; the government production of fake news reports to gain consent for regressive policies; the use of an Orwellian vocabulary for disguising monstrous acts such as torture (“enhanced interrogation techniques”); the furtherance of a racist campaign of legal harassment and incarceration of Arabs, Muslims, and immigrants; the advancement of a prison binge through a repressive policy of criminalization; the establishment of an unregulated and ultimately devastating form of casino capitalism; the arrogant celebration and support for the interests and values of big business at the expense of citizens and the common good; and the dismantling of social services and social safety nets as part of a larger campaign of ushering in the corporate state and the reign of finance capital?

Authoritarianism With a Friendly Face

In the minds of the American public, the dominant media, and the accommodating pundits and intellectuals, there is no sense of how authoritarianism in its soft and hard forms can manifest itself as anything other than horrible images of concentration camps, goose-stepping storm troopers, rigid modes of censorship, and chilling spectacles of extremist government repression and violence. That is, there is little understanding of how new modes of authoritarian ideology, policy, values, and social relations might manifest themselves in degrees and gradations so as to create the conditions for a distinctly undemocratic and increasingly cruel and oppressive social order. As the late Susan Sontag suggested in another context, there is a willful ignorance of how emerging registers of power and governance “dissolve politics into pathology.”[10] It is generally believed that in a constitutional democracy, power is in the hands of the people, and that the long legacy of democratic ideals in America, however imperfect, is enough to prevent democracy from being subverted or lost. And yet the lessons of history provide clear examples of how the emergence of reactionary politics, the increasing power of the military, and the power of big business subverted democracy in Argentina, Chile, Germany, and Italy. In
spite of these histories, there is no room in the public imagination to entertain what has become the unthinkable—that such an order in its contemporary form might be more nuanced, less theatrical, more cunning, less concerned with repressive modes of control than with manipulative modes of consent—what one might call a mode of authoritarianism with a distinctly American character. [11]

Historical conjunctures produce different forms of authoritarianism, though they all share a hatred for democracy, dissent, and civil liberties. It is too easy to believe in a simplistic binary logic that strictly categorizes a country as either authoritarian or democratic, which leaves no room for entertaining the possibility of a mixture of both systems. American politics today suggests a more updated if not a different form of authoritarianism. In this context, it is worth remembering what Huey Long said in response to the question of whether America could ever become fascist: “Yes, but we will call it anti-fascist.”[12] Long’s reply suggests that fascism is not an ideological apparatus frozen in a particular historical period but a complex and often shifting theoretical and political register for understanding how democracy can be subverted, if not destroyed, from within. This notion of soft or friendly fascism was articulated in 1985 in Bertram Gross’s book Friendly Fascism, in which he argued that if fascism came to the United States it would not embody the same characteristics associated with fascist forms in the historical past. There would be no Nuremberg rallies, doctrines of racial superiority, government-sanctioned book burnings, death camps, genocidal purges, or the abrogation of the U.S. Constitution. In short, fascism would not take the form of an ideological grid from the past simply downloaded onto another country under different historical conditions. Gross believed that fascism was an ongoing danger and had the ability to become relevant under new conditions, taking on familiar forms of thought that resonate with nativist traditions, experiences, and political relations.[13] Similarly, in his Anatomy of Fascism, Robert O. Paxton argued that the texture of American fascism would not mimic traditional European forms but would be rooted in the language, symbols, and culture of everyday life. He writes: “No swastikas in an American fascism, but Stars and Stripes (or Stars and Bars) and Christian crosses. No fascist salute, but mass recitations of the Pledge of Allegiance. These symbols contain no whiff of fascism in themselves, of course, but an American fascism would transform them into obligatory litmus tests for detecting the internal enemy.”[14] It is worth noting that Umberto Eco, in his discussion of “eternal fascism,” also argued that any updated version of fascism would not openly assume the mantle of historical fascism; rather, new forms of authoritarianism would appropriate some of its elements, making it virtually unrecognizable from its traditional forms. Like Gross and Paxton, Eco contended that fascism, if it comes to America, will have a different guise, although it will be no less destructive of democracy. He wrote:

Ur-Fascism [Eternal Fascism] is still around us, sometimes in plainclothes. It would be much easier for us if there appeared on the world scene somebody saying, “I want to reopen Auschwitz, I want the Blackshirts to parade again in the Italian squares.” Life is not that simple. Ur-Fascism can come back under the most innocent of disguises. Our duty is to uncover it and to point our finger at any of its new instances—every day, in every part of the world.[15]

The renowned political theorist Sheldon Wolin, in Democracy Incorporated, updates these views and argues persuasively that the United States has produced its own unique form of authoritarianism, which he calls “inverted totalitarianism.”[16] Wolin claims that under traditional forms of totalitarianism, there are usually founding texts such as Mein Kampf, rule by a personal demagogue such as Adolf Hitler, political change enacted by a revolutionary movement such as the Bolsheviks, the constitution rewritten or discarded, the political state’s firm control over corporate interests, and an idealized and all-encompassing ideology used to create a unified and totalizing understanding of society. At the same time, the government uses all the power of its cultural and repressive state apparatuses to fashion followers in its own ideological image and collective identity.

In the United States, Wolin argues that an emerging authoritarianism appears to take on a very different form.[17] Instead of a charismatic leader, the government is now governed through the anonymous and largely remote hand of corporate power and finance capital. Political sovereignty is largely replaced by economic sovereignty as corporate power takes over the reins of governance. The dire consequence, as David Harvey points out, is that “raw money power wielded by the few undermines all semblances of democratic governance. The pharmaceutical companies, health insurance and hospital lobbies, for example, spent more than $133 million in the first three months of 2009 to make sure they got their way on health care reform in the United States.”[18] The more money influences politics the more corrupt the political culture becomes. Under such circumstances, holding office is largely dependent on having huge amounts of capital at one’s disposal, while laws and policies at all levels of government are mostly fashioned by lobbyists representing big business corporations and commanding financial institutions. Moreover, as the politics of health care reform indicate, such lobbying, as corrupt and unethical as it may be, is not carried out in the open and displayed by insurance and drug companies as a badge of honor—a kind of open testimonial to the disrespect for democratic governance and a celebration of their power. The subversion of democratic governance in the United States by corporate interests is captured succinctly by Chris Hedges in his observation that

Corporations have 35,000 lobbyists in Washington and thousands more in state capitals that dole out corporate money to shape and write legislation. They use their political action committees to solicit employees and shareholders for donations to fund pliable candidates. The financial sector, for example, spent more than $5 billion on political campaigns, influenc[e] peddling and lobbying during the past decade, which resulted in sweeping deregulation, the gouging of consumers, our global financial meltdown and the subsequent looting of the U.S. Treasury. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America spent $26 million last year and drug companies such as Pfizer, Amgen and Eli Lilly kicked in tens of millions more to buy off the two parties. These corporations have made sure our so-called health reform bill will force us to buy their predatory and defective products. The oil and gas industry, the coal industry, defense contractors and telecommunications companies have thwarted the drive for sustainable energy and orchestrated the steady erosion of civil liberties. Politicians do corporate bidding and stage hollow acts of political theater to keep the fiction of the democratic state alive.[19]

Rather than being forced to adhere to a particular state ideology, the general public in the United States is largely depoliticized through the influence of corporations over schools, higher education, and other cultural apparatuses. The deadening of public values, civic consciousness, and critical citizenship is also the result of the work of anti-public intellectuals representing right-wing ideological and financial interests,[20] dominant media that are largely center-right, and a market-driven public pedagogy that reduces the obligations of citizenship to the endless consumption and discarding of commodities. In addition, a pedagogy of social and political amnesia works through celebrity culture and its counterpart in corporate-driven news, television, radio, and entertainment to produce a culture of stupidity, censorship, and diversionary spectacles.

Depoliticizing Freedom and Agency

Agency is now defined by a neoliberal concept of freedom, a notion that is largely organized according to the narrow notions of individual self-interest and limited to the freedom from constraints. Central to this concept is the freedom to pursue one’s self-interests independently of larger social concerns. For individuals in a consumer society, this often means the freedom to shop, own guns, and define rights without regard to the consequences for others or the larger social order. When applied to economic institutions, this notion of freedom often translates into a call for removing government regulation over the market and economic institutions. This notion of a deregulated and privatized freedom is decoupled from the common good and any understanding of individual and social responsibility. It is an unlimited notion of freedom that both refuses to recognize the importance of social costs and social consequences and has no language for an ethic that calls us beyond ourselves, that engages our responsibility to others. Within this discourse of hyper-individualized freedom, individuals are not only “liberated from the constraints imposed by the dense network of social bonds,” but are also “stripped of the protection which had been matter-of-factly offered in the past by that dense network of social bonds.” [21]

Freedom exclusively tied to personal and political rights without also enabling access to economic resources becomes morally empty and politically dysfunctional. The much-heralded notion of choice associated with personal and political freedom is hardly assured when individuals lack the economic resources, knowledge, and social supports to make such choices and freedoms operative and meaningful. As Zygmunt Bauman points out, “The right to vote (and so, obliquely and at least in theory, the right to influence the composition of the ruler and the shape of the rules that bind the ruled) could be meaningfully exercised only by those ‘who possess sufficient economic and cultural resources’ to be ‘safe from the voluntary or involuntary servitude that cuts off any possible autonomy of choice (and/or its delegation) at the root….[Choice] stripped of economic resources and political power hardly assure[s] personal freedoms to the dispossessed, who have no claim on the resources without which personal freedom can neither be won nor in practice enjoyed.”[22] Paul Bigioni has argued that this flawed notion of freedom played a central role in the emerging fascist dictatorships of the early twentieth century. He writes:

It was the liberals of that era who clamored for unfettered personal and economic freedom, no matter what the cost to society. Such untrammeled freedom is not suitable to civilized humans. It is the freedom of the jungle. In other words, the strong have more of it than the weak. It is a notion of freedom that is inherently violent, because it is enjoyed at the expense of others. Such a notion of freedom legitimizes each and every increase in the wealth and power of those who are already powerful, regardless of the misery that will be suffered by others as a result. The use of the state to limit such “freedom” was denounced by the laissez-faire liberals of the early 20th century. The use of the state to protect such “freedom” was fascism. Just as monopoly is the ruin of the free market, fascism is the ultimate degradation of liberal capitalism.[23]

This stripped-down notion of market-based freedom that now dominates American society cancels out any viable notion of individual and social agency. This market-driven notion of freedom emphasizes choice as an economic function defined largely as the right to buy things while at the same time cancelling out any active understanding of freedom and choice as the right to make rational choices concerning the very structure of power and governance in a society. In embracing a passive attitude toward freedom in which power is viewed as a necessary evil, a conservative notion of freedom reduces politics to the empty ritual of voting and is incapable of understanding freedom as a form of collective, productive power that enables “a notion of political agency and freedom that affirms the equal opportunity of all to exercise political power in order to participate in shaping the most important decisions affecting their lives.”[24] This merging of the market-based understanding of freedom as the freedom to consume and the conservative-based view of freedom as a restriction from all constraints refuses to recognize that the conditions for substantive freedom do not lie in personal and political rights alone; on the contrary, real choices and freedom include the individual and collective ability to actively intervene in and shape both the nature of politics and the myriad forces bearing down on everyday life—a notion of freedom that can only be viable when social rights and economic resources are available to individuals. Of course, this notion of freedom and choice is often dismissed either as a vestige of socialism or simply drowned out in a culture that collapses all social considerations and notions of solidarity into the often cruel and swindle-based discourse of instant gratification and individual gain. Under such conditions, democracy is managed through the empty ritual of elections; citizens are largely rendered passive observers as a result of giving undue influence to corporate power in shaping all of the essential elements of political governance and decision making; and manufactured appeals to fear and personal safety legitimate both the suspension of civil liberties and the expanding powers of an imperial presidency and the policing functions of a militaristic state.

Busy schedule? Click here to keep up with Truthout with free email updates. [5]

I believe that the formative culture necessary to create modes of education, thought, dialogue, critique, and critical agency—the necessary conditions of any aspiring democracy—is largely destroyed through the pacification of intellectuals and the elimination of public spheres capable of creating such a culture. Elements of a depoliticizing and commodifying culture become clear in the shameless propaganda produced by the so-called “embedded” journalists, while a corporate-dominated popular culture largely operates through multiple technologies, screen cultures, and video games that trade endlessly in images of violence, spectacles of consumption, and stultifying modes of (il)literacy. Funded by right-wing ideological, corporate, and militaristic interests, an army of anti-public intellectuals groomed in right-wing think tanks and foundations, such as the American Enterprise Institute and Manhattan Institute, dominate the traditional media, police the universities for any vestige of critical thought and dissent, and endlessly spread their message of privatization, deregulation, and commercialization, exercising a powerful influence in the dismantling of all public spheres not dominated by private and commodifying interests. These “experts in legitimation,” to use Antonio Gramsci’s prescient phrase, peddle civic ignorance just as they renounce any vestige of public accountability for big business, giant media conglomerates, and financial mega corporations. How else to explain that nearly twenty percent of the American people believe incorrectly that Obama is a Muslim!

Under the new authoritarianism, the corporate state and the punishing state merge as economics drives politics, and repression is increasingly used to contain all those individuals and groups caught in an expanding web of destabilizing inequality and powerlessness that touches everything from the need for basic health care, food, and shelter to the promise of a decent education. As the social state is hollowed out under pressure from free-market advocates, right-wing politicians, and conservative ideologues, the United States has increasingly turned its back on any semblance of social justice, civic responsibility, and democracy itself. This might explain the influential journalist Thomas Friedman’s shameless endorsement of military adventurism in the New York Times article in which he argues that “The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist—McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the U.S. Air Force F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technologies to flourish is called the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps.”[25] Freedom in this discourse is inextricably wedded to state and military violence and is a far cry from any semblance of a claim to democracy.

Zombie Politicas and the Culture of Cruelty

Another characteristic of an emerging authoritarianism in the United States is the correlation between the growing atomization of the individual and the rise of a culture of cruelty, a type of zombie politics in which the living dead engage in forms of rapacious behavior that destroy almost every facet of a substantive democratic polity. There is a mode of terror rooted in a neoliberal market-driven society that numbs many people just as it wipes out the creative faculties of imagination, memory, and critical thought. Under a regime of privatized utopias, hyper-individualism, and ego-centered values, human beings slip into a kind of ethical somnolence, indifferent to the plight and suffering of others. Though writing in a different context, the late Frankfurt School theorist Leo Lowenthal captured this mode of terror in his comments on the deeply sedimented elements of authoritarianism rooted in modern civilization. He wrote:

In a system that reduces life to a chain of disconnected reactions to shock, personal communication tends to lose all meaning….The individual under terrorist conditions is never alone and always alone. He becomes numb and rigid not only in relation to his neighbor but also in relation to himself; fear robs him of the power of spontaneous emotional or mental reaction. Thinking becomes a stupid crime; it endangers his life. The inevitable consequence is that stupidity spreads as a contagious disease among the terrorized population. Human beings live in a state of stupor, in a moral coma.[26]

Implicit in Lowenthal’s commentary is the assumption that as democracy becomes a fiction, the moral mechanisms of language, meaning, and ethics collapse, and a cruel indifference takes over diverse modes of communication and exchange, often as a register of the current paucity of democratic values, identities, and social relations. Surely, this is obvious today as all vestiges of the social compact, social responsibility, and modes of solidarity give way to a form of Social Darwinism with its emphasis on ruthlessness, cruelty, war, violence, hyper modes of masculinity, and a disdain for those considered weak, dependent, alien, or economically unproductive. A poverty of civic ideals is matched not only by a poverty of critical agency but also by the disappearance among the public of the importance of moral and social responsibilities. As public life is commercialized and commodified, the pathology of individual entitlement and narcissism erodes those public spaces in which the conditions for conscience, decency, self-respect, and dignity take root. The delusion of endless growth coupled with an “obsession with wealth creation, the cult of privatization [and] uncritical admiration for unfettered markets, and disdain for the public sector” has produced a culture that seems “consumed by locusts” in “an age of pygmies.”[27]

This culture of cruelty is especially evident in the hardships and deprivations now visited upon many young people in the United States. We have 13.3 million homeless children; one child in five lives in poverty; too many are now under the supervision of the criminal justice system, and many more young adults are unemployed and lack any hope for the future.[28] Moreover, we are subjecting more and more children to psychiatric drugs as a way of controlling their alleged unruly behavior while providing huge profits for drug companies. As Evelyn Pringle points out, “in 2006 more money was spent on treating mental disorders in children aged 0 to 17 than for any other medical condition, with a total of $8.9 billion.”[29] Needless to say, the drugging of American children is less about treating genuine mental disorders than it is about punishing so-called unruly children, largely children of the poor, while creating “lifelong patients and repeat customers for Pharma!”[30] Stories abound about poor young people being raped, beaten, and dying in juvenile detention centers, needlessly trafficked into the criminal justice system as part of a profit-making scheme cooked up by corrupt judges and private correction facilities administrators, and being given powerful antipsychotic medicines in schools and other state facilities.[31] Unfortunately, this regression to sheer Economic Darwinism is not only evident in increasing violence against young people, cutthroat reality TV shows, hate radio, and the Internet, it is also on full display in the discourse of government officials and politicians and serves as a register of the prominence of both a kind of political infantilism and a culture of cruelty. For instance, the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, recently stated in an interview in February 2010 that “the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina.”[32] Duncan’s point, beyond the incredible inhumanity reflected in such a comment, was that it took a disaster that uprooted thousands of individuals and families and caused enormous amounts of suffering to enable the Obama administration to implement a massive educational system pushing charter schools based on market-driven principles that disdain public values, if not public schooling itself. This is the language of cruelty and zombie politicians, a language indifferent to the ways in which people who suffer great tragedies are expelled from their histories, narratives, and right to be human. Horrible tragedies caused in part by government indifference are now covered up in the discourse and ideals inspired by the logic of the market. This mean and merciless streak was also on display recently when Lieutenant Governor Andre Bauer, who is running for the Republican nomination for governor in South Carolina, stated that giving people government assistance was comparable to “feeding stray animals.” The utterly derogatory and implicitly racist nature of his remark became obvious in the statement that followed: “You know why? Because they breed. You’re facilitating the problem if you give an animal or a person ample food supply. They will reproduce, especially ones that don’t think too much further than that. And so what you’ve got to do is you’ve got to curtail that type of behavior. They don’t know any better.”[33]

Lowenthal’s argument that in an authoritarian society “stupidity spreads as a contagious disease” is evident in a statement made by Michele Bachmann, a Republican congresswoman, who recently argued that “Americans should purchase [health] insurance with their own tax-free money.”[34] That 43 million Americans are without health insurance because they cannot afford it seems lost on Bachmann, whose comments suggest that these uninsured individuals, families, unemployed workers, and children are not simply a disposable surplus but actually invisible and therefore unworthy of any acknowledgment.

The regressive politics and moral stupidity are also evident in the emergence of right-wing extremists now taking over the Republican Party. This new and aggressive political formation calls for decoupling market-driven financial institutions from any vestige of political and governmental constraint, celebrates emotion over reason, treats critical intelligence as a toxin possessed largely by elites, wraps its sophomoric misrepresentations in an air of beyond-interrogation “we’re just folks” insularity, and calls for the restoration of a traditional, white, Christian, male-dominated America.[35] Such calls embody elements of a racial panic that are evident in all authoritarian movements and have increasingly become a defining feature of a Republican Party that has sided with far-right-wing thugs and goon squads intent on disrupting any vestige of the democratic process. This emerging authoritarian element in American political culture is embodied in the wildly popular media presence of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck—right-wing extremists who share a contempt for reason and believe in organizing politics on the model of war, unconditional surrender, personal insults, hyper-masculine spectacles, and the complete destruction of one’s opponent.

The culture of cruelty, violence, and slander was on full display as the Obama administration successfully passed a weak version of health care reform in 2010. Stoked by a Republican Party that has either looked away or in some cases supported the coded language of racism and violence, it was no surprise that there was barely a peep out of Republican Party leaders when racial and homophobic slurs were hurled by Tea Party demonstrators at civil rights legend Jon Lewis and openly gay Barney Frank, both firm supporters of the Obama health policies. Even worse is the nod to trigger-happy right-wing advocates of violence that conservatives such as Sarah Palin have suggested in their response to the passage of the health care bill. For instance, Frank Rich argues that

this bill that inspired G.O.P. congressmen on the House floor to egg on disruptive protesters even as they were being evicted from the gallery by the Capitol Police last Sunday. It’s this bill that prompted a congressman to shout “baby killer” at Bart Stupak, a staunch anti- abortion Democrat. It’s this bill that drove a demonstrator to spit on Emanuel Cleaver, a black representative from Missouri. And it’s this “middle-of-the-road” bill, as Obama accurately calls it, that has incited an unglued firestorm of homicidal rhetoric, from “Kill the bill!” to Sarah Palin’s cry for her followers to “reload.” At least four of the House members hit with death threats or vandalism are among the 20 political targets Palin marks with rifle crosshairs on a map on her Facebook page.[36]

There is more at work here than the usual right-wing promotion of bigotry and ignorance; there is the use of violent rhetoric and imagery that mimics the discourse of terrorism reminiscent of Oklahoma bomber Timothy McVeigh, dangerous right-wing militia groups, and other American-style fascists. As Chris Hedges insists, “The language of violence always presages violence”[37] and fuels an authoritarianism that feeds on such excesses and the moral coma that accompanies the inability of a society to both question itself and imagine an alternative democratic order. How else can one read the “homicidal rhetoric” that is growing in America as anything other than an obituary for dialogue, democratic values, and civic courage? What does it mean for a democracy when the general public either supports or is silent in the face of widely publicized events such as black and gay members of Congress being subjected to racist and homophobic taunts, a black congressman being spit on, and the throwing of bricks through the office windows of some legislators who supported the health care bill? What does it mean for a democracy when there is little collective outrage when Sarah Palin, a leading voice in the Republican Party, mimics the tactics of vigilantes by posting a map with crosshairs on the districts of Democrats and urges her supporters on with the shameful slogan “Don’t Retreat. Instead—RELOAD!” Under such circumstances, the brandishing of assault weapons at right-wing political rallies, the posters and signs comparing Obama to Hitler, and the ever-increasing chants to “Take Our Country Back” echoes what Frank Rich calls a “small-scale mimicry of Kristallnacht.”[38] Violence and aggression are now openly tolerated and in some cases promoted. The chants, insults, violence, and mob hysteria all portend a dark period in American history—an historical conjuncture in the death knell for democracy is being written as the media turn such events into spectacles rather than treat them as morally and politically repugnant acts more akin to the legacy of fascism than the ideals of an aspiring democracy. All the while the public yawns or, more troubling, engages fantasies of reloading.

Unfortunately, the problems now facing the United States are legion and further the erosion of a civic and democratic culture. Some of the most glaring issues are massive unemployment; a rotting infrastructure; the erosion of vital public services; the dismantling of the social safety net; expanding levels of poverty, especially for children; and an imprisonment binge largely affecting poor minorities of color. But such a list barely scratches the surface. In addition, we have witnessed in the last thirty years the restructuring of public education as either a source of profit for corporations or an updated version of control modeled after prison culture coupled with an increasing culture of lying, cruelty, and corruption, all of which belie a democratic vision of America that now seems imaginable only as a nostalgic rendering of the founding ideals of democracy.

NOTES

1. Hannah Arendt, Between Past and Future (1968; New York: Penguin Books, 1993), p. 196.

2. I have taken this term from Stephen Jones,ed.,The Dead That Walk (Berkeley,CA: Ulysses Press, 2010).

3. Editorial, “Wall Street Casino [6],” The New York Times (April 28, 2010), p. A24.

4. Some of the ideas come from Richard Greene and K. Silem Mohammad, eds., Zombies, Vampires, and Philosophy: New Life for the Undead (Chicago: Open Court, 2010).

5. Arun Gupta, “Party of No: How Republicans and the Right Have Tried to Thwart All Social Progress [7],” Truthout.org (May 21, 2010).

6. Jonathan J. Cooper, “We’re All Arizonians Now [8],” Huffington Post (May 15, 2010).

7. See the excellent commentary on this issue by Frank Rich, “The Rage Is Not About Health Care,” The New York Times (March 28, 2010), p. WK10. See also Justine Sharrock, “The Oath Keepers: The Militant and Armed Side of the Tea Party Movement [9],” AlterNet (March 6, 2010); and Mark Potok, “Rage on the Right: The Year in Hate and Extremism [10],” Southern Poverty Law Center Intelligence Report 137 (Spring 2010).

8. Paul Krugman, “Going to Extreme,” The New York Times (May 16, 2010), p. A23.

9. James Traub, “The Way We Live Now: Weimar Whiners [11],” The New York Times Magazine ( June 1, 2003). For a commentary on such intellectuals, see Tony Judt, “Bush’s Useful Idiots [12],” The London Review of Books 28:18 (September 21, 2006).

10. Cited in Carol Becker, “The Art of Testimony,” Sculpture (March 1997), p. 28.

11. This case for an American version of authoritarianism was updated and made more visible in a number of interesting books and articles. See, for instance, Chris Hedges, American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America (New York: Free Press, 2006); Henry A. Giroux, Against the Terror of Neoliberalism: Politics Beyond the Age of Greed (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2008); and Sheldon S. Wolin, Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008).

12. Cited in Paul Bigioni, “Fascism Then, Fascism Now [13],” Toronto Star (November 27, 2005).

13. See Bertram Gross, Friendly Fascism: The New Face of Power in America (Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1985).

14. Robert O. Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004), p. 202.

15. Umberto Eco, “Eternal Fascism: Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt,” New York Review of Books (November–December 1995), p. 15.

16. Wolin, Democracy Incorporated.

17. Along similar theoretical lines, see Stephen Lendman, “A Look Back and Ahead: Police State in America [14],” CounterPunch (December 17, 2007). For an excellent analysis that points to the creeping power of the nation- al security state on American universities, see David Price, “Silent Coup: How the CIA Is Welcoming Itself Back onto American University Campuses,” CounterPunch 17:3 (January 13–31, 2010), pp. 1–5.

18. David Harvey,“Organizing for the Anti-Capitalist Transition [15],” Monthly Review (December15, 2009).

19. Chris Hedges, “Democracy in America Is a Useful Fiction [16],” TruthDig (January 24, 2010).

20. See Janine R. Wedel, Shadow Elite: How the World’s New Power Brokers Undermine Democracy, Government, and the Free Market (New York: Basic Books, 2010).

21. Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid Times: Living in an Age of Uncertainty (London: Polity Press, 2007), pp. 57–58.

22. Ibid., p. 64.

23. Bigioni, “Fascism Then, Fascism Now.”

24. Cornelius Castoriadis, “The Nature and Value of Equity,” Philosophy, Politics, Autonomy: Essays in Political Philosophy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), pp. 124–142.

25. ThomasL.Friedman,“A Manifesto for the Fast World [17],”The New York Times Magazine (March 28, 1999).

26. Leo Lowenthal, “Atomization of Man,” False Prophets: Studies in Authoritarianism (New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books, 1987), pp. 182–183.

27. Tony Judt, Ill Fares the Land (New York: Penguin Press, 2010), pp. 2–3.

28. I have taken up this issue in my Youth in a Suspect Society: Democracy or Disposability? (New York: Palgrave, 2009). For a series of brilliant commentaries on youth in America, see the work of Tolu Olorunda in The Black Commentator, Truthout, and other online journals.

29. Evelyn Pringle, “Why Are We Drugging Our Kids?,” Truthout (December 14, 2009), http://www.alternet.org/story/144538 [18].

30. Ibid.

31. See Nicholas Confessore, “New York Finds Extreme Crisis in Youth Prisons,” The New York Times (December 14, 2009), p. A1; Duff Wilson, “Poor Children Likelier to Get Antipsychotics,” The New York Times (December 12, 2009), p. A1; and Amy Goodman, “Jailing Kids for Cash [19],” Truthout (February 17, 2009).

32. Jake Tapper, “Political Punch: Power, Pop, and Probings from ABC News Senior White House Correspondent—Duncan: Katrina Was the ‘Best Thing’ for New Orleans School System [20],” ABC News.com ( January 29, 2010).

33. Nathaniel Cary, “GOP Hopeful: People on Public Assistance ‘Like Stray Animals [21],’” Truthout ( January 23, 2010).

34.Cited in Frank Rich, “The State of Union Is Comatose, ”The New York Times (January 31 ,2010).

35. See, for example, Patrick J. Buchanan, “Traditional Americans Are Losing Their Nation [22],” WorldNetDaily (January 24, 2010).

36. Frank Rich, “The Rage Is Not About Health Care,” The New York Times (March 28, 2010), p. WK10.

37. Chris Hedges, “Is America ‘Yearning for Fascism’? [23],” TruthDig (March 29, 2010).

38. Rich, “The State of the Union Is Comatose,” p. WK10.

Deserving Neither Liberty Nor Safety: The Patriot Act & The FBI’s Long-Term Assault on Civil Liberties In America

In Uncategorized on June 1, 2011 at 9:34 am

Oldspeak:” In the wake of the Congress and Obama’s reauthorization of the USA PATRIOT ACT (sans Candidate Obama’s promised reviews and reforms, complete with ‘secret’ interpretations of the laws’ provisions) rest assured that violations of your 4th amendment rights will continue unabated.  “This assault on the Fourth Amendment, which protects citizens from unwarranted search and surveillance, has some startling ramifications. The FBI can not only search your home or business, but also listen to your phone conversations, monitor your computer and Internet use, and search your medical, financial, library, and academic records. All this without ever letting you know…Moreover, the FBI gets to label any group it wants as supporting terrorism. Did you give money to the African National Congress in its fight against apartheid in South Africa? Did you support CISPES, an organization trying to change U.S. policy in El Salvador and Central America? If you did and you are not a citizen, you could join the thousands who have been rounded up, questioned, and held in indefinite detention, without charges and without access to legal representation. Two U.S. citizens have also been imprisoned in this manner, establishing a chilling precedent for the future, no matter what their supposed crimes.” -Fred Nagel.  Yet another disheartening example of President Obama extending and unchanging an unconstitutional, anti-democratic, police state promoting Bush era policy. It’s getting harder and harder to distinguish these tactics, secret police, the spying, the intimidation, the warrantless searches, from those used by the Gestapo in Nazi Germany.   The “War On Americans” is still going strong, and Americans are losing. They’re losing HUGE.”

Related Story: FBI’s Counterterrorism Operations Scrutinizing Political Activists

 

Related Story: Spying on U.S Citizens — Uncle Sam turns his multi-billion dollar espionage network on U.S Citizens

By Fred Nagel @ Z Magazine:

Visiting Budapest in the early nineties, after the fall of the Soviet Union, I had a chance to talk to some Hungarians about their lives during and after the Soviet occupation. I was particularly interested in the secret police. Did they feel safer now that they couldn’t be taken away in the middle of the night for something they had said or written? One woman’s response was typical. “They would never
come for me,” she said. “They came for our writers, our intellectuals, but never for me; I was never scared.”

Perhaps the average American thought the same way about the USA PATRIOT Act, passed within a month after the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Certainly members of Congress felt that way. The act was over 300 pages long, and most simply did not have time to read it in the rush for passage.

They should have. It gives our government the right to secretly investigate individuals and groups if they violate criminal laws and their actions “appear to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population…” Cutting a fence, throwing a stone, or crossing a police barrier in pursuit of civil rights, protecting the environment, or protesting the World Trade Organization would certainly qualify.

And only one member of a group needs to engage in this type of action for the whole group to be investigated. The USA PATRIOT Act does away with the need for a search warrant, the process that requires the government to show a judge some good reason for snooping in your house (reasonable cause that there is evidence relevant to a crime). This assault on the Fourth Amendment, which protects citizens from unwarranted search and surveillance, has some startling ramifications. The FBI can not only search your home or business, but also listen to your phone conversations, monitor your computer and Internet use, and search your
medical, financial, library, and academic records. All this without ever letting you know.

As an example, librarians were put on notice that it is a violation of law to let any library user know that his/her records have ever been checked. And hundreds of libraries report that records have been checked, although they are forbidden to reveal the specifics. There can be little doubt that homes have also been searched, patient records copied, etc. since passage of this act. Could my house or
computer be searched simply because I wrote this article? In the brave, new world of the USA PATRIOT Act, anything is possible.

Indefinite imprisonment without charges and without evidence used to be unthinkable as well. But the USA PATRIOT Act allows this for non-citizens who are members of a designated “terrorist organization.” Moreover, the FBI gets to label any group it wants as supporting terrorism. Did you give money to the African National Congress in its fight against apartheid in South Africa? Did you support CISPES, an organization trying to change U.S. policy in El Salvador and Central America? If you did and you are not a citizen, you could join the thousands who have been rounded up, questioned, and held in indefinite detention, without charges and without access to legal representation. Two U.S. citizens have also been imprisoned in this manner, establishing a chilling precedent for the future, no matter what their supposed crimes. The line has clearly been crossed, and as a citizen of this country,
you can be locked up and denied your most basic rights, based on evidence you may never even find out about.

Secret military tribunals have been set up to try immigrants and other foreigners for terrorism, with the death penalty a distinct possibility. Even U.S. citizens who are allowed access to a lawyer may have their conversations monitored if the attorney general “suspects” that terrorist activity is involved. Good-bye to another very basic right we have come to expect, that of attorney/client
privilege. The Total Information Awareness database, organized as part of the Bush Era’s Department of Homeland Security, was a omonous step toward a police state. Masterminded by Admiral John Poindexter (criminally convicted in 1990 for lying to Congress, destroying official documents, and obstruction of justice), this database would have collected every bit of information that existed on
every citizen in this country. A massive public outcry stopped that program before it was put into place. But since then, the goverment’s surveillance programs have multiplied dramatically, especially under Obama, who signed the extension of the USA PATRIOT Act without any reforms at all. Currently, the Justice Department is trying to get a federal appeals court to overturn a ruling against planting GPS devices without a warrant.

“Big deal,” you reply. “The FBI has been doing all this stuff for years. Where have you been?” Well, it has been doing this since 1908, when Congress first refused to authorize the FBI (at that time the Bureau of Investigation), explaining that “a system of spying upon and espionage of the people, such as has prevailed in Russia” was unacceptable in a free society. The president then created the FBI
while Congress was not in session.

The clearest and most reliable source of FBI history is the Church Committee Report, a congressional investigation of the Bureau conducted in 1975. According to this report, the FBI was in trouble by the 1920s when agents carried out the “Palmer Raids” that eventually rounded up 10,000 citizens in what was termed “indiscriminate arrests of innocent with the guilty” as well as “unlawful seizures by federal detectives.” The Church Committee also cited reports by legal scholars that “found federal agents guilty of using third-degree tortures, making illegal searches and arrests, using agents provocateurs.” A young man, J. Edgar Hoover, joined
the Bureau in time to take part in these raids .

By the 1950s Hoover, as head of the FBI, was one of the most powerful men in the country. He used his investigators to collect information on a broad range of public figures and had no scruples when it came to using that information to influence congressional votes or presidential decisions. It was under Hoover that COINTELPRO was born, a comprehensive system of surveillance that the Church Committee found “had no conceivable rational relationship to either national security or violent activity. The unexpressed major premise of much of COINTELPRO is that the Bureau has a role in maintaining the existing social order, and that its efforts should be aimed toward combating those who threaten that order.” Combating the civil rights movement, the American Indian Movement, and the anti-Vietnam War movement to be specific. The FBI served as thought police of the 1950s and 1960s.

The mindless destruction caused by COINTELPRO is still coming to light. Martin Luther King Jr. was a particular target. Over several years, the FBI wiretapped King’s home and office phones and put bugs in his hotel rooms. At the same time, it worked to deny him awards and honorary degrees, and even tried to prevent an audience with Pope Paul VI. Hoover was quick to exploit the results of the wiretaps, proof of King’s illicit affairs that he then had his agents mail to King’s supporters and to the media. Finally, the FBI mailed copies of bedroom tapes to King himself, along with an anonymous letter suggesting he commit suicide rather than having his wife, family, and the nation know about his marital infidelity.

The FBI vendetta against other African-American and Indian groups was just as brutal. Leonard Peltier sits in a federal prison today, framed for a murder that most historians doubt he committed. The role of the FBI in his extradition from Canada and the withholding of more than 12,000 FBI documents from his trial is another low point in the violation of civil liberties. Among the documents withheld was a ballistic test that proved that the fatal bullets could not have come from the gun tied to Mr. Peltier at the trial. According to Amnesty International, he is a “political prisoner” who should be “immediately and unconditionally released.”

The Church Committee Report was released in 1976. Senator Frank Church told the nation at that time that the FBI’s COINTELPRO had been “a sophisticated vigilante operation aimed squarely at preventing the exercise of First Amendment rights of speech and association.” He also reassured U.S. citizens “that never again will an agency of the government be permitted to conduct a secret war against those citizens it considers a threat to the established order.”  But by 1980, things were back to normal for the FBI, at least according to Frank Varelli, who infiltrated a CISPES office in Dallas for the Bureau that year. In an in-depth statement to Congress in 1987, he revealed a complicated but all too familiar pattern of surveillance, theft, and dirty tricks directed at this legal and nonviolent organization.

CISPES was founded to promote peace in El Salvador. Specifically, it worked to expose U.S. military aid that funded right-wing death squads operating there. Varelli was hired by the FBI as part of an “international terrorism investigation,” but his tactics included the familiar cameras and sound equipment in bedrooms, this time as part of an attempt to smear and blackmail the Dallas head of CISPES, a nun by the name of Sister Linda Hajak. Varelli also provided the Salvadoran National Guard with lists of U.S. citizens traveling there “who were not friendly to Reagan policies.” Just one year before Varelli supplied these lists, three nuns and one church worker, all U.S. citizens, had been raped and murdered in El Salvador by members of this same National Guard. The FBI has admitted to launching this investigation from 1981 through 1985 but has refused to reveal on what legal authority it did so. More than 50 CISPES offices were broken into during this period. In 1990, it was the turn of the environmental movement. Two activists, Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney, were arrested and accused of making and transporting bombs, a charge the FBI knew was false. Historian and writer,Howard Zinn’s testimony in a successful lawsuit against the FBI says it all. “It seems clear that the history of the FBI is consistent with the charges that it sought to discredit and ‘neutralize’ Judi Bari and Darryl Cherney, and the environmental cause they were working for, by smearing them publicly with sensational false charges of possession of a bomb,
and that it did not hesitate to violate their constitutional rights to achieve its ends.”

The fact that the average U.S. citizen is unaware of all of this is a testament to the FBI’s skill at public relations. Of course, the FBI has done some excellent crime fighting in its history. But even its campaign against the Mafia has been exaggerated in the media. Anti-crime efforts in places like Boston are now being exposed for what they were. The FBI  allied itself with certain crime families to arrest and take the credit for convicting members of other families. It was a little crime fighting and a lot of PR, a Hoover legacy that extends into the 21st century. How many movies and TV shows were influenced by the Bureau over the last 40 years? That is where you and I learned about the FBI. The FBI, as well as similar federal law enforcement agencies, has done a much better job of protecting us from dissent than of protecting us from crime for all these years. And as for terrorists, in the entire history of the FBI there were precious few of those caught among the tens of thousands detained, bugged, discredited, falsely charged, and publicly humiliated. Looking at the history of the FBI, is it any wonder that 19 men were able to board four domestic airliners and fly them with such deadly accuracy into their targets? They learned to fly at U.S. flight schools while the Bureau was busy tracking down and playing dirty tricks on students protesting free trade and the World Bank. Police forces all across this land have followed the
lead of the FBI in snooping.

The Denver Police Department revealed a 40-year program of gathering and storing information on the usual suspects: Sister Antonia Anthony, a 74-year-old nun who taught destitute Indians, and Shirley Whiteside, who with her husband ran a community soup kitchen. These were the types of people labeled “criminal extremists” in the database developed by Orion, a software company with ties to the Pentagon. When asked how more than 3,000 Denver citizens ended up with this label, the police said that it was up to each officer to “use his own judgment” in characterizing people. The label “criminal extremist” was often used when a person didn’t seem to fit any other category. There just doesn’t seem to be much hesitation when it comes to spying on and labeling this country’s citizens. It is done from the FBI all the way down to the local police.

On Friday, September 24, 2010, the FBI raided seven homes and an antiwar office. Fourteen activist in Illinois, Minnesota, and Michigan were also handed subpoenas to testify before a federal grand jury. The usual groups were targeted: the Twin Cities Anti-War Committee, the Palestine Solidarity Group, the Colombia Action Network, Students for a Democratic Society, and the Freedom Road Socialist Organization. All had been involved in the antiwar marches at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul.
Tracy Molm was one of the activists targeted in the early morning raid.

“I heard a pounding on my door in my apartment complex; that was pretty bizarre. I opened the door and they shoved their way in saying ‘We are FBI agents and we have a warrant.’ I was in my bathrobe and they told me I had to sit on my couch, and they were going to search my apartment. They pulled my roommate and a friend out of her room and told them to sit on the couch too. They took my phone from me. And they took my computer. They proceeded to go through everything in our apartment. If we wanted to go to the bathroom, a FBI agent had to come with us. We were told we could leave, but couldn’t come back. “I was outraged and stunned. I never thought in my wildest dreams that this could happen. Everything I have ever done has been around peace and justice issues around the world, and particularly U.S. foreign policy. So it was really surprising. I was on a delegation to the West Bank, in the occupied territories in 2004, which is six years ago. And they said this is in regards to that.” I have never much liked Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote about civil liberties: “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” It seemed a little elitist, suggesting that some people haven’t earned the right to enjoy freedom of expression. Perhaps they have no need for it, like the woman in Budapest saying that the secret police would never come for her. But maybe Franklin was simply saying he had done his part and the rest was up to us.

In many ways, we have failed Ben Franklin and we have failed ourselves. I like to think that there is still time to win back our basic civil liberties in the land of the free, home of the brave. To get involved, make a donation or find out more go to http://www.stopfbi.net.
Fred Nagel is an activist writer, filmmaker,and radio show host ; his website is classwars.org.

U.S. Supreme Court Expands Police Power, OKs Warrantless Searches Of Private Homes

In Uncategorized on May 19, 2011 at 9:32 am

Oldspeak: “Welp, so much for the 4th Amendment. ‘”How ‘secure’ do our homes remain if police, armed with no warrant, can pound on doors at will and …forcibly enter?’ -Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. It’s not enough that the government can conduct warrantless wiretapping on your phone calls or email on mere suspicion of  ‘being a spy or terrorist’.  It’s not enough that police can use illegally obtained evidence to charge you with a crime. Now law enforcement can enter your home and conduct a warrantless search based on suspicious smells, sounds or manufactured “emergency”. As the Prison-Industrial Complex expands, your rights to privacy, individual freedom and due process are being obliterated. ‘There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious—makes you so sick at heart—that you can’t take part. You can’t even passively take part. And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop. And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all.” -Mario Savio. When will the time come to stop this odious machine?!

By David G. Savage @ McClatchy-Tribune:

The Supreme Court on Monday gave police more leeway to break into residences in search of illegal drugs.

The justices in an 8-1 decision said officers who loudly knock on a door and then hear sounds suggesting evidence is being destroyed may break down the door and enter without a search warrant.

Residents who “attempt to destroy evidence have only themselves to blame” when police burst in, said Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr.

In a lone dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said she feared the ruling in a Kentucky case will give police an easy way to ignore the 4th Amendment. “Police officers may not knock, listen and then break the door down,” she said, without violating the 4th Amendment.

In the past, the court has said police usually may not enter a home unless they have a search warrant or the permission of the owner. As Alito said, “The 4th Amendment has drawn a firm line at the entrance to the house.”

One exception to that rule involves an emergency, such as screams coming from a house. Police may also pursue a fleeing suspect who enters a residence. Police were attempting to do that in the Kentucky case, but they entered the wrong apartment, raising the issue of what is permissible in situations where police have reason to believe evidence is being destroyed.

It began when police in Lexington, Ky., were following a suspect who allegedly had sold crack cocaine to an informer and then walked into an apartment building. They did not see which apartment he entered, but when they smelled marijuana smoke come from one of the apartments, they wrongly assumed he had gone into that one. They pounded on the door and called “Police. Police. Police,” and heard the sounds of people moving.

At this, the officers announced they were coming in, and they broke down the door. They found Hollis King smoking marijuana, and put him under arrest. They also found powder cocaine. King was convicted of drug trafficking and sentenced to 11 years in prison.

But the Kentucky Supreme Court overturned his conviction and ruled the apartment break-in violated his 4th Amendment right against “unreasonable searches and seizures.” Police had created an emergency by pounding on the door, the state justices said.

The Supreme Court heard an appeal from state prosecutors and reversed the ruling in Kentucky v. King. Alito said the police conduct in this case “was entirely lawful,” and they were justified in breaking down the door to prevent the destruction of the evidence.

“When law enforcement officers who are not armed with a warrant knock on a door, they do no more than any private citizen may do,” he wrote. A resident need not respond, he added. But the sounds of people moving and perhaps toilets being flushed could justify police entering without a warrant, he added.

“Destruction of evidence issues probably occur most frequently in drug cases because drugs may be easily destroyed by flushing down a toilet,” he added.

The ruling was not a final loss for King. The justices said the Kentucky state court should consider again whether the police faced an emergency situation in this case.

Ginsburg, however, said the court’s approach “arms the police with a way routinely to dishonor the 4th Amendment’s warrant requirement in drug cases.” She said the police did not face a “genuine emergency” and should not have been allowed to enter the apartment without a warrant.

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