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Zapatistas: 20 years of reinventing revolution; the Zapatistas’ project of autonomy and horizontality has come to define a continent-wide cycle of struggles.

20 Sep

Democracy is forged from below, and peasants have been at the heart of many revolutions, emerging on decisive moments to define the course of history.
by Francisco Alonso on January 4, 2014 http://roarmag.org

 

On December 25, I was supposed to register at the Centro Indígena de Capacitación Integral (CIDECI) for the second round of the Escuelita Zapatista, but given that the flights from Mexico City to Tuxtla were full and the highway from Villahermosa to San Cristóbal was damaged by a flood, I couldn’t make it to San Cristóbal until late at night. The next morning I arrived at the CIDECI. The people there told me to wait until they were able to ask someone if I could still take the course even if I missed the first day. They offered me to have lunch with the guardian@s, the young Zapatistas who are in charge of receiving and accompanying the students of the Escuelita. There were about forty in the line waiting for food, and the oldest must have been at most eighteen years old. Except for three girls and the women serving food, all of them were male. The lunch was composed of beans, pasta, some vegetables, tortillas, coffee and a piece of sweet bread. I felt lucky since I was expecting only beans and tortillas, following the accounts of a Greek friend who spend some time in the several caracoles and Zapatista communities and who returned skeleton-thin months after. I sat at a table at CIDECI’s cafeteria with some guardian@s. Some of them started speaking an indigenous language, maybe Tsotsil. Two of them spoke among themselves in Spanish and I was able to listen to their conversation:

– “My mom is in the US, my dad is in the US, my brother is in the US. The next year I will go there with them.”

– “Why do you want to go there?”

– “Because that will allow me to earn enough money to have a house, a family.”

– “And why didn’t you go there this year?”

– “Because I am seventeen years old. If they catch you, they put you in a prison for kids. They think you don’t have parents and things like that. They lock you up for months, maybe years. If they catch you and you are eighteen years old, they release you in a week”

I started doing the math. If these kids are seventeen years old, it means they were born three years after the Zapatista uprising of 1994 and they were seven when the caracoles were created. They may be the first generation truly raised in the autonomous Zapatista territories. Their worldviews must be very different from those of other Mexican kids. They have the difficult task to instruct people older than them, coming from all corners in the world, about such a complicated matter as autonomy. But they don’t seem to panic. They don’t seem to share the pathetic reverence that people of modest education generally have for the supposedly better instructed. This made me think of one of the main ideas of Paulo Freire on education, in which he states that education requires solidarity between the act of teaching and being taught. I thought about the incredible life experience I was just going to begin and also about the enormous impact it must have on these kids to be exposed to people from many different countries and Mexican regions. After living isolated in their poor villages hidden in the hills of Chiapas, the world was now coming to them. Then, someone with a cell phone came, hung up the phone and told me: “I’m sorry, you can’t take the courses. You can’t stay.” Suddenly Freire, the villages and the hills disappeared. It took me days to digest the frustration: “They have to be strict, they are an army after all,” I thought. They invited me to the celebration of the Zapatista anniversary and offered to register me for the next round of the Escuelita. I refused this last offer because I had a plane to catch. Obviously, that refusal changed completely the idea of writing a journalistic type of article about the Escuelita. Following an advice I took from a fieldwork seminar I tried to turn the problem into an opportunity and opt for the plan B: installing myself in a cyber café in San Cristóbal for a couple of days, to focus on the anniversary and polish some reflections that I started when I was still a Bachelor student. This strategy allowed me to order my thoughts around a question that has been puzzling me for some time: why does Zapatismo seem even more up-to-date today than 20 years ago?

After the 1994 Uprising

I promised myself I would not write a text of propaganda, and I do not want to idealize the Zapatistas, but it is hard not to feel empathy for their outcry for human decency. Twenty years have passed since the Zapatistas declared war on the Mexican state for having signed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), for closing definitively the agrarian reform by modifying article 27 of the Constitution, and for the lack of institutions to guarantee fair elections in Mexico. The first day of 1994, the EZLN fought and occupied the municipalities of San Cristóbal, Ocosingo, las Margaritas , Altamirano, Chanal, Huixtán and Oxchuc in Chiapas. The official death toll of the armed struggle was 56 casualties, most of them young indigenous rebels. The EZLN also kidnapped the former governor of Chiapas, Absalón Castellanos Domínguez, together with his wife and his brother. The hostages were released later without any harm inflicted on them. The Zapatistas were expecting their armed struggle to activate other guerrilla “sleeper cells” throughout in Mexico. They thought that peasant organizations and unions would follow and rise up in arms, starting a revolutionary war against the government. Indeed, the call resonated in many places of Mexico’s geography and other belligerent groups, unions and peasant and social organizations declared their solidarity with the EZLN. But it quickly became clear it was not enough to overthrow the authoritarian PRI regime; that victory through military means would not be achieved. The revolution they expected didn’t occur and many diagnosed the total failure of the Zapatistas. Instead, the initial uprising triggered an erratic flow of events. The brief period of armed struggle was followed by a phase of tense and complicated peace talks which culminated in the agreements of San Andrés; several repressive acts perpetrated by paramilitary forces against Zapatistas sympathizers, including the shameful killing of 45 unarmed indigenous women and children praying in a church in the village of Actéal; several referendums to include Mexican and international civil society in their decisions; the mockery of including indigenous rights in the Mexican Constitution; the assassination of human rights’ activist Digna Ochoa who was defending the Zapatista political prisoners (the Distrito Federal attorney stated she shot herself with a gun, an account no one believes because the bullet came from the left side of her head — Digna was right handed); many mobilizations (some of them nationwide) followed by long periods of silence when the EZLN returned to the hills (silence became an event as well and served to intrigue the Mexican government about the next actions of the Zapatistas).

In the long run, there are many reasons why the eventful path of the Zapatistas may be even more surprising than a conventional revolution, like those of the 20th century. Many of the things that happened in these twenty years in Chiapas became crucial events for the creation of the autonomous Zapatista governments, the so-called Juntas de Buen Gobierno; for justice and democracy in Mexico; for the advancement of indigenous rights in Latin America; and for the rise of the global anti-capitalist movement. It is still surprising that indigenous people from Chiapas suddenly rebelled after centuries of quietly suffering appalling conditions of poverty, oppression and abandonment, and it is not very clear yet exactly how it happened. It is not very clear either how the Zapatistas, many of whom carried little more than toy guns carved out of wood, suddenly reached the very epicenter of this global anti-capitalist struggle. Perhaps, as Eric Hobsbawm thought, the 20th century was a short one, which ended in 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall. What happened in Chiapas in 1994 was already outside of the Cold War logic. Perhaps it pulled out of their mourning many of those who felt like orphans when the Soviet Union collapsed. Maybe the radical left was ready for the call (any call) and the Zapatistas were lucky enough to revolt at the exact right historic moment. Perhaps the call was not answered exactly as they thought, but for some reason and without doubt, the Zapatista uprising reached many hearts and resonated in many corners throughout the world. Some insights from the Zapatista struggle suggest that a deep understanding of the historical transformations taking place in Mexico and the world, rather than pure luck, had much more to do with the formation of a movement that for 20 years has provided new ideas to the radical left at many different levels. For example, the initial rebellion was a surprising success mainly because the Zapatistas strategically chose an optimal symbolic date, taking the PRI government completely by surprise. On January 1, 1994 NAFTA came into force, opening large segments of the Mexican, American and Canadian economies to free trade. The agreement signified the culminating of the neoliberal transformation process and a major step toward the liberal modernity offered by the Salinas administration. For these reasons the eyes of the world were fixed upon the region. The Zapatistas ruined Salinas’ party and literally transformed history. The next day, instead of covering Mexico’s “major leap forward” toward liberal modernity, journalists wrote about indigenous peasants being repressed by an authoritarian neoliberal regime.

Catching a Glimpse of Chiapas

I decide to take a quick glance at Chiapas in order to gather ideas and to answer my question. I head towards Yaxchilán, the amazing archaeological site at the Usumacinta River, which constitutes the Mexico-Guatemala border. To go there, you have to take several means of transport in order to traverse the hills of Chiapas deep into the Lacandon jungle. First to Palenque, then to Ococingo, then to Frontera Corozal, and then a 5km boat ride in order to get to the hidden Mayan city where small monkeys roar as loud as huge orangutans. “Are you ready for the turns in the road?” asks the driver, just before putting his hands on the wheel and hitting the road. Along the eternal curves I see many Baptist churches of several denominations; people carrying lumber on their backs and half-naked children trying to sell fruit. Complicated geography, organizational networks established by churches and a strong grievance are all elements that help one understand why Chiapas was the perfect place to start a rebellion and nurture a guerrilla organization. The Zapatistas took advantage of the hills and networks, and effectively channeled the local grievances.

On my way back I hear a passenger talking with the driver:

– “Do you know what is the main product of these ejidos?”

– “What?”

– “Kids.”

Answers the passenger as we cross a valley full of children. Some of them are not even three years old and they are let loose on the highway. Some of them cross running without even looking when cars are coming, some are already carrying wood on their backs with a rope sustained from their forehead. Some are carrying their younger brothers. Others gather on the multiple road bumps, uselessly trying to sell fruits. One was even sitting on the highway staring at the horizon, not in the middle of the highway but not close to the edge either.

But nothing will convince Chiapanese drivers that speeding is dangerous. Children, animals, heavy rain, fog, damaged roads, not even the intuition that other reckless drivers may be around, they just step on the gas until they reach their destination, trying to make as many trips as possible in order to make more money. It seems the drivers’ recklessness increases as buses become cheaper. My heart almost stopped when we tried to pass a trailer on a curve. Luckily no other car appeared in front of us, and it seemed I was the only person worried. It is December 31, a foggy day, and I’m heading towards one caracol for the anniversary of the Zapatista uprising. I arrive at Altamirano, where many people died 20 years ago when the EZLN took control of the municipality. I jump on the back of a pickup truck with a group of five Chilangos and two Tzeltales from the area. One of the two Tzeltales is sullen drunk. The other is drinking a beer. “¡Hola compa! ¡Hola compa!” They greet us and I start a conversation with the least drunk one. He excuses himself for drinking and he says he is Zapatista. He tells me he usually does not drink, but since it is New Years’ eve, he decided to cheer up a little. The man tells me he has seen a lot of places in Mexico, working in agriculture. He is one of the millions of internal migrants who leave the poor regions of Southern Mexico and head to the North. He was picking tomatoes in Sinaloa but he didn’t earn enough money, only 120 pesos per day (about $10 USD). He wanted to go to the US but he knew it was very dangerous so he missed his chance to cross the border when he was in Sinaloa. He regrets it now. The drunkest guy starts laughing and accuses the other of not being a Zapatista. “He is not a Zapatista, as he said, he is a Priista!” It starts raining and we are freezing on the pickup bed. The paved road ended some minutes ago and we have to hold tight in order not to fall. Finally, the fog and the rain reveal a wall painting of Emiliano Zapata and a sign: “Está usted en territorio Zapatista en rebeldía. Aquí manda el pueblo y el gobierno obedece.” You are in Zapatista rebel territory. Here the people govern and the government obeys. We gather in front of the fence where our names, nationalities and organizations are taken by the gatekeeper. The thinnest dog I’ve ever seen slips through the gate, as a recall that we are in one of the poorest regions in Mexico.

We are granted access and they take us to the chair of the junta, a humble one-piece brick building with amazing revolutionary murals. They welcome and assign us a place to sleep, a long and empty building where about fifty people can sleep on the floor. I leave my bag and head towards the epicenter of all action: the basketball court, where a wild game is taking place between two teams of Tzeltal women, followed by a match between Tzeltales and some Italian volunteers who were easily wiped out by the local team. The megaphone gives a message, something like this: “Good afternoon dear compa visitors, this message is to inform you that coffee is ready and therefore you can already go there to drink a cup.” A huge line of coffee seekers is formed. They are quickly served by two compas who prepared the coffee in a huge pot heated with wood. I sit on a bench close to the court. A music band starts to play a long list of cumbias, corridos and salsas. Drinking coffee I start thinking of the Tzeltal I met at the pickup truck. I doubt he was a Zapatista, given the strong measures against alcohol consumption that the juntas have taken. These measures were taken, according to a friend I found at the caracol, “because drunk men used to beat their wives after parties.” But restraining from alcohol also seems to be a measure to become productive, a “must” if Zapatistas are in the quest for autonomy. All the great ethnographies of Mexican peasants (Erich Fromm, Oscar Lewis) treat alcoholism as an essential problem for the campesinos’ well-being. And here the Zapatistas are surrounded by Priista communities receiving aid from the government (“los hermanos partidistas“, the partisan friends, as they are amicably referred to by the Zapatistas). If the Zapatistas drink less, they can work harder, gather some resources and save themselves from becoming employees of the Priista communities or being forced to sell their land. There is some evidence suggesting that families receiving government benefits are turning lazy and less productive. As the Zapatistas have become hard workers, they are the ones accumulating the partidistas’ money by selling them maize, cattle or chicken.

Celebrating Zapatismo

This leads me directly to one possible answer for the question why Zapatismo seems so up-to-date today. Critics of the EZLN argue that the Zapatistas have lost a justification for their very existence because the government found effective means to deal with one of their main claims: to reduce poverty. But these critics forget that, although poverty reduction programs have become an essential component of the income of many disadvantaged Mexican families, they have also been used as a counter-insurgency tactic to dismantle collective identities and to strengthen the clientelistic power of the government over the communities.

These social programs (planes sociales) were partly aimed to “win the hearts and minds” of the local population, just as the American army tried to do in its wars in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. As if this were not enough, real poverty in Mexico is actually increasing. According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), Mexico was the only case out of eleven Latin American countries in which poverty increased in recent years. Just last year, another one million Mexicans fell below the poverty line, joining the other half of the population that already lives in poverty.

Night has fallen together with rain. After songs and poems, now it’s time for the speeches. “Compas, compañeros y compañeras, compitas, compa anciano, compas visitantes, compañeros que nos acompañan.” The speech of the junta speaker cannot be more repetitive of the word “compa”. Nevertheless, it explains in a unique and touching way the motivation behind the Zapatista struggle. The man gives a great speech, better than anyone would ever expect considering how the educational system here has been abandoned by the Mexican government.

The rain is falling heavy when the speeches end. The band is playing its fastest cumbias. At this moment there are only two options: take shelter or join the frenetic dancers at the basketball court. I chose the latter, as did most of the people. I had heard the Zapatistas were tireless dancers and now I know is true. There are two Tzeltal girls dancing between themselves. They are soaking as if they just came out of a waterfall and couldn’t care less. I follow their example. Except for the basketball court, there is mud everywhere in the caracol. I was so happy I didn’t fall when I slipped on my way to the latrine, where I found evidence it had been used by city people. I remembered George Orwel’s words in Homage to Catalonia: “Dirt is something people make too much fuzz about,” and I agreed. I’m tired, so I went to sleep minutes after the midnight fireworks. I forgot to bring a blanket or a sleeping bag and half of my clothes are wet. I’m wearing two thick socks on each foot, two blue jeans, a T-shirt, a flannel shirt, a sweater, a jacket and a towel. Still, I’m freezing. I remembered Orwell’s account on the Catalonia trenches again: “We were not fighting the fascists, we were fighting pneumonia.” On my left side there is a Tzeltal woman sleeping peacefully, covered only with her rebozo. I feel ridiculous shivering next to my inured neighbor. It’s 5:30 am. They wake us up for civic duties around the flag. I skip the duties and sleep again. I wake up when I smell beef stew and coffee, feeling a little guilty. It’s around 8. This day the change of Junta will take place. They ask everyone to take a seat inside the auditorium. I got goosebumps when I saw the thirty or forty members of the outgoing junta entering the auditorium with their pasamontañas and paliacates. “Compas, compañeros, compañeras, etc…” the speaker starts again. They present everyone of the outgoing junta, who are giving back their command baton to the elder, who in turn will give it to the recently elected members of the junta, composed of men and women, more or less in equal numbers. Everyone is moved when a woman, wearing a pasamontaña and paliacate, receives the baton from the elder, and at the same time breastfeeds her newborn. I start thinking on the up-to-date question again. Critics of the EZLN claim that the Zapatistas’ stance to remain outside of the political institutions is anachronistic. “Marcos’ mission has been accomplished,” is a comment I have heard in many after-dinner conversations in Mexico City. They claim that the Mexican “transition” to democracy left those who see the antagonistic struggle as a legitimate path to social change without arguments. But maybe it’s the Mexican institutions that sidelined democracy.

The critics fail to understand the huge importance that traditions have for the political organization of the indigenous communities. “The elder compas pass on the command baton because they are the ones who know, they represent wisdom and experience,” says the junta speaker. The critics also claim that Zapatismo lost its rationale after indigenous rights were included in the Mexican Constitution. They ignore the fact that the constitutional bill that was finally approved was radically different than the text agreed at San Andrés during the pace talks between the EZLN and the Comisión de Concordia y Pacificación (COCOPA). The Constitutional text was limited to the lowest extreme; it is impossible to derive secondary laws from it and therefore impossible to define mechanisms by which indigenous peoples will benefit from their natural resources, meaning that Subcomandante Marcos’ qualification of the reform as a “legislative mockery” was entirely correct.

(Un)surprisingly, those politicians who argue that the EZLN is anachronistic today are the same politicians who spend millions to buy votes each election period. Rampant vote buying was one of the main features of the last 2012 elections (particularly in Chiapas and particularly by the ruling PRI, but by no means exclusively). The electoral process ended de facto when the Federal Electoral Institute exonerated the PRI from the “Monex” affair, a cynical vote buying act consisting in distributing electronic cards to buy food at a grocery store in exchange for votes for the PRI.

Learning the Hard Way

My trip started unpredictably and ended as such, just like the Zapatistas. There is a shortage of transport to San Cristóbal, but I am lucky enough to find a lift, on the trunk of a jeep van, but still a lift. On the trunk I think of what will follow for the Zapatistas now that they are moving away from the body of Mexico. But the PRI has returned to power both in Mexico and in Chiapas, so the Zapatistas may be cautious as the risk of a return of the paramilitaries — as during the time of Priista governor Roberto Albores — is real. The Zapatistas’ old enemies are in powerful positions, like the former Secretario de Gobernacion, Emilio Chuayfet, substituted a week after the Actéal massacre and whose responsibility in the killing is still unclear. He is the current Secretary of Education in the Peña Nieto administration.

Mexico’s neoliberal elite continues to sell what is left of the country to foreign capital. Oil, the strongest emblem of Mexican nationalism has finally been grasped, just as happened with land tenure over twenty years ago. The Mexican electoral system, praised as one of the most effective and trustworthy during the late 1990s and early 2000s, suffered a major setback as the Federal Electoral Institute finds itself being substituted by an ambiguous institution whose performance remains to be seen. Thinking about elections leads me to my final thought regarding the up-to-date question: it was just after (and to a great extent in response to) the Zapatista uprising that the Mexican electoral and party systems advanced substantively in terms of inclusiveness, independence and trustworthiness.

It seems that Mexicans only learn the hard way — that the relative leap forward of the 1996 political reforms, however incomplete, still remains almost unprecedented, perhaps with the exception of the 1977 reforms, which were also preceded by an armed struggle of peasants (the rebellion led by rural professors Lucio Cabañas and Genaro Vazquez in Guerrero). It seems there is little room for coincidence: democracy is forged from below, and peasants are central characters in any revolution, whether it takes place in France, China or Mexico. Millions of them. Coming out of the deep rural regions on decisive moments to define the course of history. A friend shared with me one of the questions he asked to his guardian once the Escuelita ended:

– “How many Zapatistas are there really?”

– “That can only be answered in one way: ¡Un chingo! A shitload!”

Dolores Huerta and Caesar Chavez’s “The United Farm Workers of America”.. Reagan, Class and Organized Labor, “One Of The Most Damaging Presidents In American History”

16 Aug

 

We speak with Dolores Huerta of the United Farm Workers of America and Francis Fox Piven, one of the country’s leading sociologists, about class and organized labor during Reagan’s presidency. [Includes transcript]

As we move to the issue of workers right’s and labor under Ronald Reagan. Many critics of the former president recall with great anger the policies of Reagonomics. His administration was one of the worst in history for organized labor. And his track record was consistent almost from the beginning of his career in the public eye. In the late 1940’s, as president of the Screen Actors’ Guild union, Ronald Reagan testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee on so-called “subversive activity” in Hollywood, reporting on actors, directors, and screenwriters deemed Communist sympathizers.

And in the 1960’s and 70’s, as Governor of the State of California, Reagan fought the efforts of migrant farm workers to win union contracts, vetoing the Agricultural Labor Relations Act, a bill granting farm workers collective bargaining rights. In one well-publicized episode, then-Governor Reagan appeared on television eating grapes in defiance of a union-sponsored boycott against miserable working conditions in California’s vineyards.

In August of 1981, thirteen thousand members of the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization, or PATCO, ignored federal laws prohibiting strikes and walked off the job in protest of long shifts and mandatory overtime. PATCO was one of a few unions that backed the newly inaugurated Ronald Reagan in the 1980 election, but the union would soon regret its decision to support the President. On August 3rd, Reagan ordered the striking controllers back to work:

(Tape)
“Let me read the solemn oath taken by each of these employees. I am not participating in any strike against the government of the United States or any agency thereof. It is for this reason that I must tell those that fail to report to duty this morning they are in violation of the law, and if they do not report for work within forty-eight hours, they will be terminated.”

Two days later, Reagan made good on his promise, firing more than eleven thousand air traffic controllers, jailing strike leaders and ultimately abolishing the union. It was the first time in U.S. history that permanent replacement workers had been used on such a wide scale to break a strike.

 

 WORLD REVOLUTION

ORGANIZE, EDUCATE, STRUGGLE, SERVE THE PEOPLE

 

  • Francis Fox Piven, one of the country’s leading sociologists. She is Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Sociology at the City University of New York. She is author of a number of books on class, including “Regulating the Poor,” “Poor Peoples’ Movements,” and “The New Class War.”
  • Dolores Huerta, Co-founder of the United Farm Workers of America with Cesar Chavez. Her efforts to organize the mostly immigrant farm workers of California in the 1960’s and 70’s were resisted at every turn by then-Governor Ronald Reagan.

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AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined right now by Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers of America with Caesar Chavez. Her efforts to organize the mostly immigrant farm workers of California in the 60’s and 70’s were resisted at every turn by then Governor Ronald Reagan, and Francis Fox Piven, one of this country’s leading sociologists. She’s Distinguished Professor of Political Science and Sociology at the City University of New York, author of many books including: “Regulating The Poor,” “Poor People’s Movements” and “The New Class War.” Dolores Huerta, can you describe then Governor Reagan, Governor of California’s relationship with farm workers and the kind of organizing efforts that you were doing with the United Farm Workers?

DOLORES HUERTA: Well as you know we had a very major group strike followed by a great boycott after we were being arrested and really couldn’t picket anymore and had all of these injunctions. Governor Reagan was one of the people in the forefront of fighting against the farm workers as you mentioned by eating grapes in public. It was interesting that the farm workers said once, they’re going to put a man on the moon before farm workers get unemployment insurance. The state legislature passed unemployment insurance for farm workers three sessions in a row. That was vetoed by Governor Reagan. It wasn’t until Governor Jerry Brown was elected as the Governor of California that farm workers finally got unemployment insurance, dozens of years after the other people in the country had received unemployment insurance.

Casper Weinberger, who was one of his buddies that we have seen on television recently, was out there debating and asking people not to support the grape boycott. One other thing I want to mention, too, just to kind of show the racism of that administration–when we were able to pass the Immigration Reform Act in 1984–and you know, people kind of forget that some of these things were passed like Dr. King’s holiday, was because we had a Democratic Congress and a Democratic Senate as was with the Immigration Reform Act, where we had some farm workers that were legalized and of course other people in the country. But then what they did, the Reagan Administration brought up the President of the Farm Bureau of Florida and put that man in charge of running the regulations for all of those farm workers who could get legalization under the IRCA act of 1984. What he did is that they made a regulation saying that sugar cane was not a perishable crop. Sugar cane cutting has been exempted from the Fair Labor Standards Act. When you translate that, what happened is that farm workers who brought in with H2A workers from Haiti, from Jamaica, from the Barbados Islands which are of African descent, that all of these farm workers who had a record of employment in agriculture in the United States were totally locked out of the amnesty of 1984-1985 that was passed.

That was a straight racist act. There was a lawsuit that was filed. It was lost, and there were probably about 20,000 African descended farm workers from those countries that should have been under that H2A act. I also want to mention that we know later on Reagan was one of the proponents of the “Star Wars” kind of a defense system, and you know, when we think about that comment of a man on the moon that he–you know, he thought so much of technology and yet had very, very little feeling for poor people. You know, I just want to quote–share this with listeners is that, you know, I was at an immigrant workers night classes the other day where they were learning English and they had on their wall, one of the things they were being taught, a quote from Voltaire which said, “Those who can make us believe in absurdities can also make us commit atrocities.” I think that all of this stuff we have been seeing on Reagan and the good guy that he was, is one of those absurdities that the media is making us believe.

rise up - public domain picture

AMY GOODMAN: Francis Fox Piven, can you share your thoughts on this week, the kind of media coverage that we have seen, which is not just about remembering a man, it is about really righting a record, a history of the period of the 1980’s.

FRANCIS FOX PIVEN: Yes. Well, I think that Ronald Reagan was one of the most damaging Presidents in American history, and that we’re still living with the kind of damage that he has done to American policies. Just as important and maybe more important in American politics, as you have said and your guests have said, Ronald Reagan presided over a set of policies that were anti-union–smashing the Air Controllers, and that was only the very beginning of a very anti-union National Labor Relations Board set of decisions. He presided over slashes in aid to the cities and welfare, unemployment insurance, housing. But what is remarkable about Reagan’s record, I think is not that he did that. After all, Presidents after him have done that, too. George Bush is doing that. But he managed to fashion a coalition, a majority coalition which included big business, his cronies in big business. It also included not only the populist right, not only the christian fundamentalists, but much of the American working class. So, we have got to ponder, I think, how he managed to do this. It was partly his John Wayne persona, his avuncular manner, but it was also the way in which he took advantage of the anxieties that had been stored up by the movements of the 1960’s.

Movements which made real progress in the United States, the Black Movement, the Poor People’s Movement of the cities. The Women’s Movement, the Anti-War Movement. All those movements have made progress, but the progress took a toll on many in the American middle class and working class because it changed America. Those changes, changes in the family, changes in sexual morays, changes in racial patterns, the assault on patriotism. All of this took a kind of psychological toll, and Reagan’s politics tapped a soreness that was created in the American psyche. He was a backlash politician, and he used the backlash sentiments, anxieties, hysteria, even, to create a majority coalition not only made up of big business, we can understand that, but made up of the South and much of the working class North as well. He spoke in something of a code. He didn’t attack blacks, but instead, he attacked welfare. When he attacked welfare, he was attacking blacks, because everybody knew who he meant by the “welfare queen.” He was attacking both blacks and women. He used to code about welfare, states rights, affirmative action. By doing that, he accomplished the incredible, that is twisting our politics to this day. He formed a popular majority by feeding their–the resentments that Americans felt with progress that had been made by those below them. In a way he turned their resentments against those below them. Even while he changed the tax code so that it became much more regressive. Not only did he slash taxes on the affluent, but in 1983, he presided over a huge tax increase for working people, and of course, he rolled back the programs that were provided working people with some protections–protections of the right to unionize, protections through unemployment insurance and so on.

Lauren Bacall (1924-2014) and Humphrey Bogart lead a march to the Capitol in Washington, DC to protest against Senator McCarthy’s witch hunt of communists and alleged communists, 1947.

AMY GOODMAN: Dolores Huerta, as you watched in 1981, August, when the 13,000 members of PATCO were fired after standing up, this most conservative union, the union that had supported President Reagan in his first bid for President, how did that relate to you? You might not have found a group who had less in common with the United Farm Workers except that you were both unions?

DOLORES HUERTA: Well, I think that really set off a whole chain of people who were starting to cut wages. We found that right after the PATCO People were fired, the United Autoworkers ended negotiations, made an agreement to freeze their wages. That put a lot of pressure on the other unions to do the same thing. So, what you had is you had a tremendous weakening of the power of labor shortly after that. It sent a big chill throughout the whole labor movement. I think that all of the workers at negotiations were pretty much stagnated. And I know that I, as a negotiator for the United Farm Workers at that time, that every time you went into a negotiation, of course, that was referred to, what the Auto Workers had done in terms of freezing wages and not asking for increases and as was said earlier that–I think that you mentioned it, is that people did forget that we did go into a recession at that time. So, therefore it, had a big impact. The other thing, too, that, you know, at one point, he cut the food stamps for immigrants. He did this right around Christmas time, which was another very big chilling thing that happened to poor people. In California, at one point in time, before Reagan became Governor, California had probably the best, if not one of the best mental health systems in the whole United States of America. I’m speaking to you from Stockton, California. There was a great Senator here named Senator Allen Short, who had done so much in a very innovative way to establish a very good mental health system. Well, Reagan totally dismantled that health system that we had at one time in California, which was one of the best, and today is now one of the worst.

AMY GOODMAN: Dolores Huerta, one of the founders of the United Farm Workers of America. Reverend Hagler, as you listen to this conversation, you’re also based in Washington, where the state funeral is taking place today of Ronald Reagan. Can you share your final thoughts?

REVEREND GRAYLAN HAGLER: Well, I mean, one of the things is that–I mean, I just was listening to all of the comments and the comments are extremely important for us to just simply remember that what we are seeing and hearing is not real, but we’re still paying the costs of this administration. We’re still having to deal with what was started, sort of a very anti-labor movement. A backlash to the movements that moved people, in a sense, from the back of the bus to hopes to have a place in the society. We’re still suffering from the backlash of that economic restructuring that took place under the administration that just simply made the wealthier even that much more wealthy. To an obscene level, and made the working class and the poor poorer and dispossessed us of a place to live, a dignity and respect. You know, just continual attacks that are carried out right now to this day. What we’re also really witnessing is in a sense right now and what happened when Reagan was elected, was that the old guard who felt that they had lost power in this country by having to open up their arms and include a very diverse constituency, and at least give that very diverse constituency hope and a sense of possibility. When Reagan was elected, it was a re-establishment of that old guard being back in charge. And the message was clear. Not only domestically, but around the world, that it’s time to get back to the back of the bus. There is a new driver in charge, and that driver is the old historical driver that basically maintained a system of rich and poor, a system of black and white.

AMY GOODMAN: Carol Fennelly, your final thoughts

CAROL FENNELLY: Well, the city, I mean Washington too, and the city has been completely disrupted by this three day grief glut that we are going through. I thought that it was completely appropriate that President Reagan would be brought into town on Wednesday at rush hour. We do a teleconference program out of our home, out of our office for kids so that they can talk to their fathers in prison. We couldn’t go get out kids to bring them in to talk to their dads because the whole downtown was shut down and I thought that the arrogance of that was so appropriate because that’s what they did when they were here, you know–completely oblivious to the needs of the people in this community and by extension, I think to the rest of the country.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you all for being with us. Carol Fennelly, leading activist on homeless issues during the Reagan Presidency, continues her work today. Reverend Graylan Hagler, who is a well-known activist in the Washington D.C. area, President of Ministers for Racial Social and Economic Justice. Also on the line with us, Francis Fox Pivin, one of the country’s leading sociologists, teaches at the City University of New York, author of many books including: “The New Class War,” “Regulating The Poor,” “Poor People’s Movements” and other books. Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers of America.

The Constitution Impaired; the Bill of Rights Annulled; Rights guaranteed by constitutional amendments are becoming irrelevant. Over Ridden by The Rise of the American Corporate Security State.

12 Jun

 WORLD REVOLUTION

Resist! Organize, Leadership, Solidarity, Struggle, Serve the People

 

Reason to be afraid #3:

The separation of powers established by the Constitution is eroding.

Rights guaranteed by constitutional amendments are becoming irrelevant. Reporting a crime may be a crime, and informing the public of the truth is treason.

Here in post-Snowden America, the language and the principles of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution sound almost quaint:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.41

The amendment, however, has an abiding intention and a context that are not-so-quaint. In the American colonies, it was an unpopular yet common practice of the British government to issue general search warrants for tax collection purposes. Law enforcement authorities and customs officials searched whole towns, house by house, in an effort to identify every taxable possession or activity. This practice was—and is—easily recognizable as the conduct of a tyrannical government, which gives law enforcement the sweeping authority to search anyone at any time for any reason. Or for no reason at all.

The new democratic government of the United States therefore explicitly prohibited this practice. And now, in June 2013, we find that the NSA is relying on general warrants from a secret court that take in the American population for purposes of bulk data collection. The lawyers can argue for as long as they care to about the legal meaning of the words search and seizure, but the intention of the Fourth Amendment is clear to anyone who speaks English. The government—law enforcement, IRS agents, intelligence agencies—cannot seize information about you or things that are yours without expressing first a suspicion of a crime and producing at least some evidence that you’re the responsible party. The evidence must be presented to authorities in the judicial branch of government, who decide whether it is convincing enough to justify the issuing of a warrant. A warrant, under US law, must be based on the individualized suspicion of a crime. Dragnet data collection, like that conducted by the NSA, is equivalent to a house-to-house, door-to-door search, and as such, it is prohibited.

 

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Despite this standard of American government, we have been told repeatedly since 9/11 that we must sacrifice privacy for security because we are engaged in the Global War on Terror. This is now a never-ending war. There is no final goal. There is no tangible victory, and after more than a decade of war, we remain right at the center of it—nowhere near either the beginning or the end.

America has been at war since 2001 in Afghanistan, where large numbers of US troops remain. The Afghanistan war is the longest in US history. At the same time, we fought an eight-year war of choice in Iraq, from 2003 through 2011. Polls show that the majority of Americans do not see either US intervention as victorious. This is because they weren’t. Behind us, after years of incalculable loss, we leave corrupt governments of cronies nominally in charge of states that will not cohere.

We are war-weary, and we don’t want another losing battle. Despite our politicians fear-mongering and saber-rattling when the Syrian government apparently used chemical weapons in the fall of 2013, 75 percent of Americans surveyed rejected the idea of a military strike on Damascus.42

The prospect of yet another Middle Eastern war does not appeal to Americans. On the contrary, we Americans tell anyone who asks that we think the economy is the most important issue, and we want to go back to work.43 The general feeling seems to be that should peace come, for the first time since September 11, 2001, the attention of the US government could turn inward to infrastructure, education, health care that actually is affordable, work and environmental conservation. This is what Americans are hoping for.44 They say so every chance they get.

In reality, though, it doesn’t matter what Americans want. The wars are not ending. Only the ground war is winding down. The War on Terror is with us still, and it may well last forever. After all, we cannot ever defeat terror, and we cannot negotiate with it. Terror is a tactic, not a government or a group. No one speaks for terror. Expressing the conflict this way allows our government to slip a new enemy into the picture whenever it needs one. So, when talking about our new threat—cyber-terror—our enemy can be Russia, China, hacktivists, Al-Qaeda, or “those who would do us harm,” whoever they are.

Even if we’re tired of war, the War on Terror is ramping up. National security officers talk now of target lists and a new strategy for pursuing terrorists, known by the bureaucratic and denatured phrase “disposition matrix.” The matrix is a database that includes the names of suspected terrorists, cross-tabulated by the tactics to be used against them. These may be indictments or secret operations, such as capture or killing. Those who have seen the matrix and helped compose it say it supersedes the president’s kill list, setting out plans for the termination of suspects.

 

 

That timeline suggests that the United States has reached only the midpoint of what was once known as the global war on terrorism. Targeting lists that were regarded as finite emergency measures after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, are now fixtures of the national security apparatus.45

More to the point, clandestine electronic warfare is here to stay. This is the truly chilling prospect because this will become the war within. This war can be silent and invisible. We won’t know where or when it is waged. We don’t know who the victims or who the aggressors really are. We don’t know the cost. We won’t know the objectives because these are secret. More and more of our national wealth will be used to fight this war. This will be the war without end, the forever war.

There are good reasons to resist it because the past decade has shown us that even here, on the aggressive end, a war footing weakens our already tenuous civil rights. The president himself says, “I think it’s important to recognize that you can’t have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience.”46 He speaks as if we are about to be hassled by a flight delay or a traffic jam, but the difficulty is much more serious than that. Obama was speaking shortly after June 5, 2013, when Edward Snowden revealed the extent to which Americans are subjected to massive surveillance. The inconvenience to which the president referred is the massive, ongoing violation of the Fourth Amendment.

In practice, the withdrawal of rights in the United States—and perhaps anywhere—is not difficult to accomplish when people are frightened and they’re not told what they’re losing. It’s especially simple to annul the civil rights of people who aren’t using them and don’t realize that they’re gone until they need them. “There is no subjugation so perfect as that which keeps the appearance of freedom, for in that way one captures volition itself.”47

In the United States, white middle-class people are not ordinarily mindful of their civil rights because, in the twenty-first century, we’ve long had them and are not often obliged to invoke them. We are not stopped and frisked. We are not detained for being in the wrong neighborhood after dark or in the proximity of a crime. We’re not arbitrarily asked for our identity documents. We learned in school that our country was the greatest, free-est, richest, fairest nation in history, that our judiciary is independent, and that we have three branches of government checking and balancing one another—a structure that is extraordinarily stable and clever.

 

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Most of us, though, learned these ideas before we were able to think critically. We learned them before we knew about the dramatic percentage of African American men imprisoned, before we saw unusual levels of economic inequality, shoddy health care for people who can’t pay, and crazed homeless people sleeping in downtown doorways.

Most of us never had to put our liberty-and-justice-for-all convictions to the test. If, however, in these post-9/11 decades you should say or do something that drops you into the hands of the federal justice system, you will find that your rights to freedom of speech and freedom of association—as set out in the Bill of Rights—are no longer operative. Without these rights, you will be ruined before it’s over, whether you are guilty of a crime or not.  I can explain.

In the winter of 2011, John Kiriakou, a former CIA agent, approached us at GAP for representation. He told us he would soon be indicted by the Justice Department for confirming to an investigator, who relayed to an attorney for a Guantanamo detainee, the name of a CIA interrogator who quite possibly extracted a confession from the detainee under torture. The defense attorney entered the CIA interrogator’s name into his client’s case file, and the Guantanamo tribunal put the document under seal. In other words, although Kiriakou did confirm the name, it was never publicly revealed. He believed, and we soon agreed with him, that although this information would imminently occasion his indictment, his legal problems actually stemmed from an interview he gave to Brian Ross of ABC News five years before. In that interview, Kiriakou became the first US official to reveal that US forces tortured their prisoners as a matter of policy. There was a torture program, a manual, a staff, training, and a budget. Kiriakou’s real crime, then, was reporting a crime—torture—just as Edward Snowden’s crime was reporting a crime—illegal surveillance. The Justice Department charged Kiriakou under the Espionage Act and the Intelligence Identities Protection Act for revealing classified information. The multiple charges could have resulted in his imprisonment for more than thirty years.

No one associated with the torture program—not those who designed it or approved it, not those who carried it out, not those who destroyed the video evidence of it despite an order not to—went to jail. Only John Kiriakou, who told the public about it, did. In the United States, reporting a crime has become a crime, and official secrecy can be used to conceal torture.

 

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It is the Espionage Act of 1917 that the Obama administration reaches for when a national security whistle blower must be silenced. The Obama Justice Department prosecuted Bradley Manning, Tom Drake, John Kiriakou, and Edward Snowden, using this archaic statute, branding them all enemies of the state. Adopted during World War I to address the political hysteria directed at German Americans, an early version of the Espionage Act included a punitive program of press censorship, which, fortunately, died in the Senate during debate, even then. At the time, Senator Charles Thomas (D-CO) made prescient remarks about the measure:

It strikes directly at the freedom of the press, at the constitutional exemption from unreasonable search and seizure. . . . I very much fear that we may place upon the statute books something that may rise to plague us.48

Truth is now treason in the United States. At this point in our history, if a crime is an official secret, anyone who speaks about it is a criminal.

Our lack of rights is not apparent, though, because our form of government is unchanged. Civilians control the military, the president runs the executive branch, Congress approves the nation’s budget and taxes the people, and the judicial system operates without visible influence from outside forces. The Constitution of the United States is intact, only impaired, but the Bill of Rights has been shredded.

In dissecting the loss of freedom, it is important to distinguish between the Constitution and the Bill of Rights—its first ten amendments. The Constitution per se, consists of seven articles that specify the rights of property, the responsibilities of the state, and the conduct of elections. Looking at the original, it is clear that the thinking behind it was ingenious for its time and established a government structure that would be difficult for any one faction to control completely, given at least some diversity of interests.

The actual Constitution—the original without its amendments—is ingenious because it ensures stability, but it’s not all that democratic. Slavery was an accepted practice. Women could not vote. The Senate was elected by the state legislatures, and the president was elected by a college of electors. Only the House of Representatives was directly elected by male citizens. In most states, only white male property owners could vote. For well over two hundred years, in practice, only white male property owners held the office of president of the United States.

 

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The rights of citizens came, first, through the Bill of Rights, which the Framers added as a concession to secure the support of yeoman farmers in the thirteen colonies who were not enthusiastic about granting a central/federal government the power to tax them. The Bill of Rights is what most of us think of when we express our reverence for the US Constitution: freedom of speech, the right to personal security, freedom of association and freedom from self-incrimination, guarantees of due process and habeas corpus.

Over the course of our history, we have democratized the state through constitutional amendments. Article XIII ended slavery, and Article XIV, passed in 1868, extended most of the provisions of the Bill of Rights to the states. Article XIX bestows upon women the right to vote.

Rights of people, then, as opposed to rights of property and privileges of the state, were added to the US Constitution, and therefore can be drained away without altering at all the form in which we’re governed. We do not live in Lenin’s Soviet Union, which had to depose the czar, or even in Pinochet’s Chile, which assassinated the civilian president and installed a military head of state. The constitutional forms are still in place. Only our rights as individual citizens are weakened.

Joseph Nacchio was the CEO of Qwest Communications in February 2001, when the NSA approached him about cooperation with the agency’s surveillance activities, seven months before the attacks of 9/11. Nacchio entertained the NSA’s request for Qwest’s customers’ call records and asked the Qwest general counsel for advice. After reviewing the NSA request, the general counsel advised Nacchio that the NSA’s proposal was illegal, and Qwest could not comply without a FISA warrant. Years later, of course, we found that the NSA had made similar requests of all the major telecoms—Verizon, AT&T, Sprint Nextel, and so forth—and Qwest was the only corporation to object. Nacchio claims that the NSA then retaliated by excluding Qwest from lucrative contract work.

Subsequently, the Department of Justice charged Joseph Nacchio with forty-two counts of insider trading. When he tried to defend himself against the charges by introducing the background conflict between himself as Qwest CEO and the NSA, the court ruled the information inadmissible.49

When ultimately released, court documents showed that during the crucial period, February 2001, Nacchio served as the chairman of the National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee. The NSA approached him about a program called Groundbreaker, which would outsource much of the agency’s nonclassified work. During a meeting, NSA officials also proposed another kind of cooperation, but redactions in the court documents obscure the exact nature of that proposal.50

 

 

Nacchio’s defense attorney claimed that the NSA pressured him for months after the February 2001 meeting to grant the agency broad access to phone call information and Internet traffic on the Qwest network, but Qwest’s attorneys warned him that if he complied with the NSA’s request, the corporation could be guilty of a felony. So he responded to the agency that he could only submit customer data to the government if presented with a FISA warrant.

Subsequently, Qwest acquired telecom US West, and in 2005, the Justice Department charged Nacchio with accounting fraud for misrepresenting his corporation’s bottom line in negotiations. In his defense, Nacchio wanted to claim that at the time of the purchase, he believed Qwest would soon prosper as the result of its participation in a series of lucrative government communications contracts. After he refused to cooperate with the NSA, however, the expected contracts did not materialize, and Qwest’s financial position deteriorated.

During Nacchio’s trial, none of this information was introduced because it was classified. Ultimately, he was convicted on nineteen of forty-two counts and served four and a half years of a six-year sentence.

Two things. First, whether Nacchio is guilty of a crime or not, his defense—once documents were unsealed—asserts that the pressure to provide the raw material for large-scale domestic spying involving telecoms began just after George W. Bush became president, well before September 11, 2001. If Nacchio were the only one who claimed this, it might be a fragile argument, but telecom customers of several corporations filed lawsuits accusing the providers of violating their subscribers’ privacy beginning around February 2001. The suit filed against AT&T asserts that seven months before September 11, 2001, the company:

[B]egan development of a center for monitoring long distance calls and Internet transmissions and other digital information for the exclusive use of the NSA.51

There is powerful evidence to substantiate the claim that September 11, 2001, was not, in fact, the incident that precipitated the broad sweep surveillance of Americans. Nacchio and the lawsuits against AT&T and other telecoms assert that the request for access to private data began virtually as soon as George W. Bush took office, months before 9/11.

 

 

Secondly, Nacchio’s case shows what Kiriakou’s does: the US intelligence apparatus retaliates through the Justice Department for noncompliance with its demands. As others have pointed out, if Nacchio’s defense were untrue, why didn’t the prosecutor allow it to be admitted and then expose it as bogus? Why did the defense have to be excluded?52

Five years later, we are no closer to knowing the truth. Part of the problem is that Congress is not pressing hard for answers. In the fall after the initial Snowden disclosures, at hearings called by the Senate Judiciary Committee, only a few senators, including Ron Wyden and Mark Udall, regularly asked specific confrontational questions of NSA Director Keith Alexander designed to elicit meaningful answers. Congressional oversight simply isn’t there.

Although electronic surveillance of Americans receives much of the public’s attention, other rights are quietly weakening, too. Most significant perhaps is the pending loss of the right to due process and habeas corpus. Under the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2012, the president apparently acquired the power to order the military to detain

[a] person who was a part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces.53

Anyone detained under the statute, may be held indefinitely without trial under the law of war “until the end of the hostilities authorized by the [Authorized Use of Military Force].”54 Moreover, people detained would have no right to be notified of the specific charges against them and would thus be unable to defend themselves.

There is considerable controversy surrounding the interpretation and application of the law, and civil liberties organizations protest it strenuously. Chris Hedges, a journalist, and six political dissidents filed suit in federal court asserting a fear of prosecution under new military powers. Most realistically and immediately, they fear the law could be used to detain American citizens on American soil, accuse them of association with Al-Qaeda, and deport them for detention at Guantanamo Bay until the end of hostilities, whenever that is. The concern and confusion surround the phrases “substantially support” and “associated forces,” and a number of journalists believe that the law could be used against them if they interview members of Al-Qaeda or publish information about them. If this could occur, or even be attempted, the NDAA (section 1021) violates the First Amendment (the right to free speech) and the Fifth Amendment (freedom from self-incrimination), at the very least.

In the most recent ruling on the lawsuit, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the implementation of NDAA:

 

 

Since the U.S. government has promised that citizens, journalists, and activists were not in danger of being detained as a result of NDAA, it was unnecessary to block the enforcement of 102 (b)(2) of the NDAA.55

 

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The judges apparently believe that if government lawyers assert something, then it’s true. The ruling, issued on July 17, 2013, came one month after the first disclosure made by Edward Snowden that exposed the NSA’s repeated assurances to Congress that the agency would not spy on Americans in an unwarranted wholesale fashion as a lie.

So here we are. The NDAA poses a real threat to journalists, whistleblowers, and whistleblower advocates, who may be detained without trial indefinitely for writing about someone who challenges government actions. The law is far from clear, and while the courts decide which interpretation of its nebulous phrases might be constitutional, its chilling effect is already obvious.

This is America in 2013, a country so far from its founding ideals that it’s difficult to recognize. Those running the electronic espionage system designed to track foreign terror suspects ultimately turned their surveillance equipment on us.

Congress does not object. Even when lied to in open session while the television cameras roll, as Senator Wyden was, the Senate does not investigate. There is no special prosecutor and no effort to determine what lies beneath the lies. Why is that?

Because, in acquiring all electronic information there is to have about each of us, the NSA also acquires unlimited information about senators and congressmen. Who among them wants to find him- or herself in a pissing match with Keith Alexander or James Clapper? How can any one of them be sure there is no record of a dubious campaign contribution, a fund-raising call from a Senate office instead of campaign headquarters, a childhood friend who turned out badly, a quick trip to rehab, a struggle with online poker playing or pornography? As Willie Stark told Jake in All the King’s Men: “There’s always something.” Any sensible politician would be afraid that the NSA knows what that something is.

This is the problem when the government—or part of it—knows more about us than we know about the government. In this context, information really is power. When a single secretive executive agency has it all, the responsiveness of democratic processes is compromised. Neither elected nor appointed officials can confront such an agency and survive the retaliation. Legislators in particular seem slavish when confronted with the potential crimes of the NSA. Moreover, the government seems to conduct itself in ways that do not accurately reflect the will of the electorate.

When we lose our right to freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, we lose the presumption of innocence. There’s a reason we need that departure point in a conflict with the state and a reason we have those rights. They establish the sovereignty of the people as opposed to that of a dictator. They protect us from the tyranny of the state.

 

17771_10200931364151094_12254622_n[1]This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source. 

Beatrice Edwards is both the executive director and international program director at the Governmental Accountability Project. Edwards has 30 years of experience working on labor issues, anti-corruption measures and public-service reforms. She holds a PhD in sociology from American University.

 

The Corporate Security State is increasingly stealing our rights to safety, liberty and fairness, and granting ever-growing power to the corporate elite. Beatrice Edwards discusses this very frightening, very real phenomenon in her new book.

Daniel Ellsberg writes of The Rise of the American Corporate Security State: “Edwards is an extraordinary writer who brilliantly captures the essence of what whistleblowers such as Snowden have sacrificed their careers and jeopardized their personal liberties to convey.” Truthout is serializing the The Rise of the American Corporate State in cooperation with Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

The Constitution Impaired; the Bill of Rights Annulled
Thursday, 12 June 2014
By Beatrice Edwards, Berrett-Koehler Publishers | Book Excerpt

Tuesday, 20 May 2014
By Beatrice Edwards, Berrett-Koehler | Book Excerpt
Friday, 16 May 2014
By Mark Karlin, Truthout | Author Interview 

Surveillance Posing as Counter-Terrorism: Foreward to “The Rise of the American Corporate Security State”
Tuesday, 13 May 2014
By Jesselyn Radack, Berrett-Koehler | Book Excerpt

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