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Reports are President Obama will soon give a speech about the prison at Guantanamo and the drone program (MSNBC). I hope he takes this opportunity to address the entire breadth of the Bush dictatorship: the spying, the indefinite detentions, the illegal searches, the generation of the police state, suppression of protests, voter suppression—not to mention the drones.

We have until the end of the Obama Administration to restore democracy and the rule of law. Any part of the Bush dictatorship not repudiated by that time will become a permanent part of our system of governance because it will have the imprimatur of a Democratic President. Given our worldwide empire, rule by fiat will then be the norm everywhere and always. We will have permanently given up the idea of a western, liberal democracy.

According to Daniel Klaidman, writing for Newsweek,

To rally public support for this effort [shutting down the prison at Guantanamo], Newsweek has learned, Obama plans to give a major speech partly devoted to the subject, possibly as soon as later this month. (He’ll also talk about drones and other related topics.)
See How Gitmo Imprisoned Obama.

The drone program is not an isolated evil. It derives from a new constellation of power growing for many years, long suppressed by our heritage of democracy, but emerging and crystallizing during the George W. Bush administration. That power bypasses the overarching intent of the Constitution, which is to ensure freedom of the people governed by giving those people the power to govern and explicitly protecting their natural rights.

We cannot let dictatorship prevail. But constitutional protections, such as Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights to due process, are faltering. Those with the dictatorial urge used “terrorism” as the lever to go through our rights one by one and pluck them off. It has now come to the point where our government is attacking freedom of speech. That’s what gathering call information about AP reporters means. While this got a bit of press coverage (it’s a concern to reporters, after all) it’s equated with the IRS paying attention to Tea Party tax exemption requests and the continuing Republican poking at the Benghazi wound.

They are not in the same class. The AP story is part of something larger and incredibly troubling: total information awareness, the idea the government should be omniscient. It’s the dream of the KGB, but with proper technology it will be realized within the shell of U.S. democracy in ways the KGB never dreamed possible. The AP scandal is just one isolated incident deriving from the government impulse to know all. Chilling as it is to learn the DOJ (essentially) spied on the AP, it’s nothing more than a manifestation of the overall intent to spy on all of us. As James Bamford reported in Wired (“The Black Box”, April 2012), “The National Security Agency is building a massive surveillance center.”

Its purpose: to intercept, decipher, analyze, and store vast swaths of the world’s communications as they zap down from satellites and zip through the underground and undersea cables of international, foreign, and domestic networks.
This heavily-fortified, $2 billion complex will attempt to know all, including private e-mail messages, phone calls and Internet searches. It will suck up personal data, including where you travel, where you stay, and what books you buy. All reporters will lose their ability to obtain information without government knowledge.

Not just reporters, but rival politicians. If you want to reform government, look out. The government is already totally aware of you.

Let’s take a moment to consider the Watergate scandal. Why did Congress react so strongly to petty criminals breaking into an office, to the point of [almost] impeaching President Nixon and forcing his resignation? At its core, the scandal was that the White House sent The Plumbers to bug the DNC. In other words, it became clear to politicians Nixon was spying on them.

The result of the Watergate scandal went beyond tossing Nixon out of office. It resulted in the FISA law, which created the secret FISA court to issue warrants for future wiretaps. The point of this was to provide independent oversight, by a separate branch of government, so the President couldn’t just listen in on other politicians without their knowing it.

The Bush dictatorship destroyed this safeguard. After 9/11, President Bush simply stopped submitting wiretaps to the court (creating its own scandal), but Congress caved in this time. In 2008, in fact, it eliminated this requirement from the FISA law; and along with it the safeguard that effectively prevents the current administration from spying on politicians. It is now entirely feasible for a President to order a wiretap on the person running against his re-election without anyone outside the direct chain of command being aware of it.

But, of course, if the NSA collects all calls it will be nothing but a procedural matter for the administration to keep tabs on all political opponents.

And this is just one aspect of the changes we’ve witnessed in the past several years. Combined, they add up to a literal dictatorship—the dictatorship of the knowing. Of course, we all live in a world where corporations know practically anything they want about us. Had an affair? I guarantee the Google servers know about it, as do the servers at rival Microsoft, not to mention the ones at VISA or American Express, and probably even the ones at Target.

But it’s another matter when the government knows it. The government has police and a military to enforce its wishes.

Yes, private companies know all about you. Trouble is, the police records probably know, as well, since what you do is recorded daily on videos and countless digital camera snaps that may have been gathered as evidence for one thing or another. It is only one step from there to someone in government knowing about it. Worse, it’s only a matter of installing the right equipment in Utah for the federal government to know about it.

And then, someone could have the thought this information would be handy. And, how handy it would be if they wanted to control you! If you stepped out of line and attended a protest, it would be handy—and possible—to put a little pressure on you if they knew all your secrets. If you wanted to reform something, like the Bush dictatorship, it would be handy for the dictatorship to know a great deal about you. Let’s say you wanted to run for office. Do you now have to consider what the establishment knows before you try to reform the establishment?

Which brings me to the Occupy Movement. Why didn’t #OWS go anywhere? Why don’t any protest movements get traction anymore?

One reason is because the DOJ did nothing to rein in the police. We have seen no prosecutions of police officers for excessive force. The ACLU had to do their work for them. In fact, it appears the DOJ coordinated police response to the protests in various cities.

Experience since 2000 shows it is literally impossible to use a sit-in in the twenty-first century to protest against the system. It has no effect. You can be abused financially by the biggest institutions in America, but if you go out in public and protest you’ll be abused by the police, too. And our justice system will try to look the other way.

Not that the media would actually cover it. The only reason Occupy got any real coverage is because they took the extraordinary step of protesting the actual seat of power. Instead of protesting on The Mall or at the gates of the White House, where protests are regularly ignored by the media, they took it to Wall Street. That got the media’s attention.

For a moment. The fight over the First Amendment is being lost in the media itself. To get even a moment’s attention you’d have to protest where it matters. You’d have to block the doors to CNN!

But, of course, CNN doesn’t have doors anymore; real, physical doors a human being could block. It’s virtual. News comes and goes by cell phone. So, don’t try protesting CNN. They are just as capable of ignoring you as the White House.

Is it impossible to fight the system because now the system has the computer power and the network connections to suppress all protest? More broadly, is it even possible to restore democracy now we’ve proceeded down the other path so long? The Bush dictatorship, in all its various manifestations, is an existential threat to our society.

This is the problem Obama needs to address. How do we get our democracy back? If the government can spy on you, drag you off the street, throw you into prison, and keep you there indefinitely, is that a democracy? If the government can spy on you with a remote-controlled flying object, decide without a trial you’re a menace, and execute you on the spot, is that a democracy?

Let me answer that question: No.

It’s time we did some very specific things to reassert the rule of law and the primacy of the people over their government. Specifically, we need to:

  • Repeal the AUMF.[1]
  • Restore prior warrants by the FISA court before wiretaps or any kind of electronic surveillance.
  • Put a limit on the areas where drones can be used in military operations.[2]
  • Turn the drones over to the military.[3]
  • Institute an effective way of protecting our private communications.
  • Move the prisoners at Guantanamo to federal facilities and put them on trial or release them. [4]
  • And one more thing.[5]

When the President gets around to addressing the issue of drones, I want to see if he begins the process of rolling back the Bush dictatorship. Is he even aware of the issue? What does he propose we do about it?

This is the one area where Republicans ought to be able to put aside their unnatural hatred of Obama to work on a solution. The dictatorship hurts them as much as it hurts Democrats. This is not something with a partisan bias. It’s anti-American in the deepest and most definitive sense.

Besides, I can’t imagine they like being spied on any more than the rest of us.

[1] Rep. Barabara Lee has a bill in the hopper to repeal the AUMF: HR 198. See this article by Eric Nolan in Raw Story for details.
[2] Congress needs to set territorial limits. Either we can depend on the government there to turn over anyone that actually threatens our national security or we can’t. If we can’t, then we have to use our military to protect ourselves. But, no drones spying on Kansas. Okay? No bombing Colorado. Got it?
[3] As before, I suggest they turn the drones over to the Marines, because this is consistent with their capability-based charter.
[4] As “Commander-in-Chief” and given the DOJ reports to him, President Obama has all the authority necessary to do this regardless of what Congress says. In fact, if President Bush had done the exact same thing, Republicans in Congress would have stood up, saluted him, and yelled “CINC!”
[5] He needs to put the Bush war criminals on trial. How long will it take to put self-proclaimed torture advocate VP Dick Cheney in the dock? Sigh.


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Comment Preferences

  •  Forgot to Ask (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Did anyone previously see this information that Obama was supposed to address these issues? I'm interested to hear what he has to say after nearly six years.

  •  Your analysis of Watergate is sketchy and (5+ / 0-)

    wrong on many levels.

    First of all, Congress DID NOT "react strongly to petty criminals breaking into an office." (You are collapsing and conflating the Congressional inquiries with the break-in when the two are quite rightly discrete events not directly related to one another). Congress reacted strongly to Nixon's abuse of power, meaning his use of the CIA to obstruct the FBI's criminal inquiry into the break-in, his use of the IRS to target people on his enemies' list and his payments of hush monies to Watergate conspirators.

    The actual Watergate break-in was actually a tiny part -- not the core -- of the larger eponymous "Watergate scandal," which involved using organs of government to silence and intimidate political enemies and punish leakers. (Were it not for the Vietnam War, there would never have been an Ellsberg to release the Pentagon Papers, thereby ensuring his targeting by a group of Plumbers. Of course, without a Vietnam War, there also might never have been a Tricky Dick, v. 2.0.)

    That said, I share your hopes for Obama's speech and the remainder of his term. I would only like to add that respect for the rule of law will only be restored when a criminal inquiry into the Bush Junta's crimes against humanity is launched.

    •  It Is Brief (0+ / 0-)

      Yes, I elided quite a lot of the Watergate scandal to focus on one of the results--the FISA law.

      However, Congress did impeach Nixon and that was the result of the break-in. The stated reasons by the House for impeachment go into other issues, but the break-in resulted in his impeachment. My point is that you might think this was an over reaction, given the crime, since impeachment is certainly a strong response. But there was far more to it than just a break-in.

      Not just that, but the wider scandal of using "the organs of government to silence and intimidate political enemies" is exactly the reason this is analogous to what we see today. The DOJ is using its power to retaliate against the AP and try to silence any potential leakers.

      I think one of the (many) failings of the current Congress is that it does not seem to realize how much freedom we are giving up in the various laws they pass. The NDAA, the so-called "Patriot Act", and even the revisions in FISA are an enormous problem. They need to start fixing this, and so does the President.

  •  Too pessimistic. We'll fall like the USSR. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Liberal Thinking
    We have until the end of the Obama Administration to restore democracy and the rule of law. Any part of the Bush dictatorship not repudiated by that time will become a permanent part of our system of governance because it will have the imprimatur of a Democratic President.
    Permanent only until the next revolution.  We're overdue and will probably have a revolution within my lifetime; the failure of the government to feed the people is the deciding factor.
    Given our worldwide empire, rule by fiat will then be the norm everywhere and always.
    Our empire is collapsing as we speak and the rest of the world has already rejected US overlordship.  Look to South America for the future of government.

    As with the collapse of the Roman Empire, it will take quite a while before someone decides to actually walk in and overthrow the central government in Rome.  But the empire will be hollowed out and incapable of projecting power long before that, and we are well down that path.

    •  I'm Glad You're Optimistic (0+ / 0-)

      And I hope you're right. But there are some significant differences with the past. You can't just go off in the woods and create a new country. And the power to control people through electronic means doesn't require the levels of middle management dictatorships in the past have required. It is inherently more dangerous and more difficult to overcome.

      The future is always subject to variation, and I don't claim to have a crystal ball that will allow me to see much past the end of the month. But I think people cannot assume this will be self-correcting the way it has been before.

      Sorry to bring such somber news. Maybe I'll feel more optimistic after Obama's speech.

  •  Well, apparently DKos has decided (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Liberal Thinking

    as long as a Democrat is doing it, it's OK.

    "When people spin this in partisan terms to obfuscate the truth, it does a real disservice to normal people not in the big club in DC. Many of them will be hurting...That is why I write."--priceman

    by SouthernLiberalinMD on Mon May 20, 2013 at 06:11:41 AM PDT

    •  Community Goes One Way (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I sometimes go the other. At least here I can be myself.

      I don't know what makes them think they are immune. They have to live in this world, too, so every time one of our rights is denied it is their right being denied.

      But, as they say, you can lead a Kossack to beer, but you can't make a horse drink. I offer my spot-on analysis from time to time and typically I get a collective yawn. I won't chastise them.

      Reality always takes care of the consequences.

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