The American Bear


In choosing silence over solidarity, comfort over comradeship, Galileo swaps one truth for another. It is not that fear silences his true self, that self-interest gets the better of his moral code. It is that the only way he can imagine fulfilling his ends is to capitulate to fear. That is how fear works in a repressive state. The state changes the calculus of individual action, making fear seem the better instrument of selfhood. The emblematic gesture of the fearful is thus not flight but exchange, its metaphorical backdrop not the rack but the market. “Blessed be our bargaining, whitewashing, death-fearing community,” Galileo howls. And in the distance, one can see Hobbes nodding in silent agreement, without the slightest hint of irony. The History of Fear, Part 1

Bloomberg and his police commissioner, Ray Kelly, have comported themselves with such brazen racial arrogance as to welcome a grand confrontation with the court – in much the same manner as white officialdom behaved in Dixie in the Fifties and early Sixties. Back in June, amidst voluminous court testimony on wildly disproportionate police stops of young Black and brown men, the mayor told listeners to his weekly radio show: “I think we disproportionately stop whites too much and minorities too little. It’s exactly the reverse of what they say.” The dignity of whites, who make up only nine percent of those stopped, is precious, while the rights of Blacks are of no consequence to the mayor. Commissioner Kelly has been Bloomberg’s enforcer of race-based law during the whole period scrutinized by Judge Scheindlin. Kelly admitted to a Black state senator and retired police captain that the purpose of stop-and-frisk was to “instill fear” among Black and Latino men that they would be stopped and frisked whenever they left their homes – a quote cited by the judge. Expect “Massive Resistance” to Stop-and-Frisk Ruling (via azspot)

(via afrometaphysics)

The Authoritarian Seduction | Mike Lofgren

… While Congress’s dismal approval rating was the lede in virtually all reporting on the Gallup poll, there are several other findings in that poll that establish a pattern. Labor unions? They are near the bottom, at 20 percent. The print and televised media? They clock in at 23 percent, deservedly so… . Public Schools? They do better, but only relatively, at 32 percent.

What do those institutions have in common? They are all bodies necessary for enlightened self-government and the self-improvement of citizens. And they are all perceived to be failing in their roles, such that most poll respondents lack confidence in them. There is a good deal of justification in the public’s view, but it cannot be healthy for a democracy if its instrument of representational government, its free press, its common provision of education, and the main organizational means by which working people improve their lives, are all held in such low regard.

What else was striking about the poll? The military, predictably, was once again at the top, with 76 percent of respondents expressing “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in it. This is an institution whose budget (exclusive of war funding) nearly doubled in the 2000s and which spends almost as much money as the rest of the world combined, yet has had a curious incapacity to win wars, as opposed to keeping them lucratively protracted. The scandals involving Halliburton, endemic sexual abuse and miscarriages of justice, the abrupt fall from near-deity status by General David Petraeus - all these things seem to have bounced off the consciousness of the public like pebbles against steel plate. So much for our revered founders’ distrust of standing armies.

It is also worth noting that the military, police and religion constitute three of the top four categories in public esteem. And what do these institutions have in common? They are all presumably necessary as long as societies feel the need for national defense and public order, and as long as individuals seek spiritual solace, but they are all undeniably authoritarian. The military possesses its own legal system whose principal tenet, “different spanks for different ranks,” is no less powerful for being unwritten. As H.L. Mencken observed in his recollections as a Baltimore city reporter, cops tend to harbor the assumption that a suspect is ipso facto guilty, and that evidence just might need to be planted to sway a jury. As for religion, papal infallibility and justification by faith alone may be sound doctrine, but they do not lead to conclusions drawn from facts, reason and evidence. In a self-governing society, these institutions’ claims need to be treated with judicious skepticism. The American public’s derision of the institutions of self-government is understandable, if troubling; its relative approval (amounting, in the case of the military, to adulation) of authoritarian bodies is less forgivable.

While it may be an exaggeration to see the beginnings of an authoritarian mass psychology based just on one opinion poll, there is some supporting evidence. Whether the initial high popular support for the invasion of Iraq, the increasing public approval of government surveillance, or the strong support - almost unique among advanced democracies - for draconian incarceration and the death penalty, the authoritarian temptation lies just beneath the surface of Americans’ compensatory boastfulness about freedom and liberty, usually reduced to kitsch demonstrations involving rattlesnake flags and Lee Greenwood lyrics.

It is a psychology at once absolutist and schizophrenic. That is why health insurance and restrictions on carrying loaded weapons in public are intolerable tyrannies, while all-encompassing surveillance, life in prison for growing marijuana, or assassination without judicial process are praiseworthy. Paradoxically, the authoritarian personality embodies anarchic rebellion and craven submission at the same time. It is, as Richard Hofstadter said, a disordered relationship to authority, “characterized by an inability to find other modes for human relationship than those of more or less complete domination or submission.” [++]

A Statement on Rep. Peter King's Call for the Prosecution of Journalists | Freedom of the Press Foundation

[On Tuesday] night, Rep. Peter King (R-NY) publicly called for the prosecution of Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald for his recent reports showing that the NSA has been secretly collecting private data on millions of Americans. Rep. King’s appalling call for legal action against a reporter for doing his job is an affront to all journalists, and indeed, the First Amendment itself. Freedom of the Press Foundation condemns Rep. King’s comments in the harshest terms.

Rep. King has a long and unfortunate history of calling for the prosecution of journalists when media organizations print something he doesn’t like. Unfortunately for him, that is not how the First Amendment works.

Mr. Greenwald and Laura Poitras—both of whom are founding board members of this organization—as well as the many other journalists reporting on the NSA revelations in the past week, are following in the finest traditions of press freedom that this country was founded on.

The freedom of the press clause in the First Amendment provides wide latitude for journalists to publish truthful information in the public interest, even when—and in many cases, especially when—the government considers that information “secret.” This has been the established law of the land for decades, if not centuries. And any attempt to prosecute journalists for doing their job should be met with the appropriate scorn.

Rep. King has cited unspecified “national security” concerns for his suggestion that we upend the First Amendment. As Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black once wrote, “The word ‘security’ is a broad, vague generality whose contours should not be invoked to abrogate the fundamental law embodied in the First Amendment.”

There is no better example of Justice Black’s statement than today comments by Mr. King, who cited no specific example as to how Mr. Greenwald’s reporting has harmed the country in any way. Indeed, former counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke wrote today that claims the recent NSA stories damaged national security are “laughable.” The only thing these reports reveal is what the government has been doing to millions of innocent Americans, in complete secrecy, for years.

Spy agency seeks criminal probe into National Security Agency leaks | Reuters

Here comes the backlash. Remember, to the authoritarian, the problem is the leaks - it is most certainly not the destruction of the 4th amendment. That’s just another necessary sacrifice to “security”:

A U.S. intelligence agency formally requested a criminal probe on Saturday into the leak of highly classified information about secret surveillance programs run by the National Security Agency, a spokesman for the intelligence czar’s office said.

A “crimes report has been filed,” said Shawn Turner, a spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The report, which goes to the U.S. Justice Department, was filed by the super-secret NSA, he said.

NY state senate passes bill making it a felony to 'annoy' the police | Privacy SOS

While you were feeling outraged about the NSA spying on Verizon (and, most likely, every other phone company’s) customers, you may have missed a very troubling bit of news from New York state.

From the NY state senate website:

Senate Passes Bill Making the Harassment of a Police Officer a Crime

The New York State Senate today passed a bill that creates the crime of aggravated harassment of a police or peace officer. The bill (S.2402), sponsored by Senator Joe Griffo (R-C-I, Rome) would make it a felony to harass, annoy, or threaten a police officer while on duty.

Before you (justifiably) freak out, note that in order for this atrocious bill to become law, the New York state assembly would have to also pass it, and then the governor would have to sign it. It is not current law. But it is a frightening display of authoritarian impulse, coming at a very troubling time.

The relevant text of the bill reads:


While assaulting an officer is already a crime, this weaponization of the widely abused ‘resisting arrest’ charge would tack on an additional four years to any prison term per ‘harassment’ charge, as well as imprint the scarlet letter tattoo of a felony conviction on any person at the receiving end of it. It is, in other words, a very big deal.

Imagine you are at a protest in New York City, events that arguably ‘annoy’ the police in the extreme. Say the police approach you and ask you to stop filming them. Now imagine that you refuse, and an officer reaches out to grab your camera. If you make the slightest movement that disturbs the officer’s hand while saying ‘Get your hands off me!’, you could theoretically, if this bill becomes law, be charged with a felony and imprisoned for four years.

… Defending the bill, Senator Griffo said “We need to make it very clear that when a police officer is performing his duty, every citizen needs to comply and that refusal to comply carries a penalty.”

Comply with racist stop and frisks, with a smile on your face, or else. And whatever you do, don’t ‘annoy’ the police.

Trained for Totalitarianism | Arthur Silber

[…] With tragically rare exceptions, all children are taught obedience as the primary, foundational virtue and, as a necessary corollary, they are taught to idealize the authority figures in their lives. In this way, they are, as [psychologist Alice] Miller suggests, trained for totalitarianism. (I suppose we could somewhat “soften” the argument, and merely say that we are trained for authoritarianism; the point remains the same.) Miller was trained in this way; so was I; and so were you. […]

I don’t think it is possible to overstate the significance of this early childhood training. Of equal significance is the fact that these issues are almost never discussed in the course of political analysis. Yet there is a profound sense in which authoritarianism (and even totalitarianism) feel right to many people — “right” in the sense that it is very familiar, that it is the environment in which they were first made to function. So when the State expands its control over us, when the State spies on us, when the State lists more and more activities which are forbidden or for which we must seek “permission” before we act, and even when the State announces that it has a Murder Program, many people, most people, think: “The State knows best. The State has much more information than I do, and our leaders must have reasons for their actions. And certainly, the State only acts to protect us. The State acts for our own good.” This is what we had to believe about our parents, regardless of the cruelties to which they subjected us — and this is what most adults now believe about their political leaders.

We are supposed to know everything that the government does. That is why they are called The Public Sector, and they are supposed to know almost nothing about us. That is why we are private individuals. This has been completely reversed so that we know almost nothing about what the government does, it operates behind this impenetrable bureaucracy, while they know everything about what it is we are doing, with whom we’re speaking and communicating, what we’re reading. Glenn Greenwald (via vulgartrader)

The Quarles decision created a very narrow exception to Miranda that relies upon both circumstance and an immediate danger to either the safety of officers or to public safety. It creates and exception that is neither indefinite in duration nor open-ended in scope. The inherent danger lies in expanding the exception beyond what SCOTUS recognized in Quarles. As noted by Anthony D. Romero, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, ‘The public safety exception to Miranda should be a narrow and limited one, and it would be wholly inappropriate and unconstitutional to use it to create the case against the suspect. The public safety exception would be meaningless if interrogations are given an open-ended time horizon.’ … When view concurrently with the fear mongering of Sen. Graham, this decision to pursue questioning must be watched with a suspicious eye. In a time of encroaching authoritarianism, his comments must be taken as jaundiced and pro-authoritarian at the least. The actions of the FBI must also be viewed in this light considering this is an American citizen arrested on American soil being stripped of their rights not just in the heat of the moment in a calculation of public safety, but in a post arrest rather direct and open manner. Gene Howington, Who is the Real Enemy of the State?

Holder Tells Senator That Obama Does Have Authority To Kill Citizens On U.S. Soil Without Criminal Charge or Conviction | Jonathan Turley

Attorney General Eric Holder this week held out the possibility that the President could kill an American citizens with a drone attack on U.S. soil without any criminal charge or trial. After Holder announced President Obama’s kill list policy, many apologists for the Administration insisted that the policy was limited to targets outside of the United States and was subject to a form of due process of the President’s own making. At the time, I wrote that these arguments were nothing but spin by the Administration and its supporters since the underlying claim of authority would have no such limitations. Holder now appears to have confirmed that even they do not believe in such limitations. This follows the release of a memo showing that Holder’s description of the policy at Northwestern University Law School was narrower than the actual policy described within the Administration.

Holder was responding to a letter to Sen. Rand Paul concerning the nomination of CIA director John Brennan on the use of lethal force. Holder said “It is possible I suppose to imagine an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution and applicable laws of the United States for the President to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States.”

It will be difficult for people to find someway, as in the past, to blame this policy on Republicans. The kill list policy of Obama belongs to him. As I discussed in earlier columns (here and here and here), it is astonishing how citizens, including so many liberals and civil libertarians, have remained relatively silent in the face of a classic claim of authoritarian power. The relative silence over this latest development shows just who passive the country, and particularly liberals, have become in challenging Obama on his aggregation of executive power. It also is the latest evidence showing Obama’s evisceration of the civil liberties movement in this country. There is little observable movement left after it was divided over loyalty to Obama in the first term. A president has previously said that he can kill U.S. citizens on his own authority. It was then revealed that the citizen does not actually have to be involved in an imminent terrorism attack. Now he claims the right to use that authority in the U.S. The response at every stage has been a collective and prolonged yawn from a people growing comfortable with a burgeoning security state and an imperial president.

Drones are coming home to skies near you: feel safer? | Kade Crockford

[…] Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether we trust the authorities to impose limits upon themselves when it comes to deployment of surveillance technologies that legislators nor courts have specifically circumscribed. The fact is that the law is out of date. The Bill of Rights was written a long time ago, well before cellphones, the internet, spy drones or even video cameras were invented. Our Electronic Communications Privacy law is woefully obsolete, itself predating widespread usage of three of those four technologies.

We need to bring the Bill of Rights into the 21st century for the same reason the ACLU and others want the Obama administration to tell us its legal rationale for its overseas killing operations: the public should know what rules the government is bound by, particularly when it comes to our rights to privacy and due process. Unfortunately, that’s simply not the case. Today, we live in an era of secret law, from top-secret CIA and military killings abroad, all the way down to the DOJ’s view of law enforcement location tracking powers here in the US. Where the law doesn’t explicitly provide guidance, we are largely ignorant of how the government interprets its authorities with respect to new technologies, its powers, and our rights.

Meanwhile, engineers and coders are not slowing down to wait for our state legislators or federal representatives to catch up. Just this week, I read about “research to build drones that can stop moving boats and cars” – what the technologists call “crime-stopping drones”. The week before that, it was a drone the size of a fist that can fly through your window and kill you.

Then, there is the privacy-lover’s worst nightmare: the all-seeing Argus, which can simultaneously watch an entire city and multiple targets within it. We are so far behind on digital privacy that it’s hard to imagine what the next phase of technological development has in store for our privacy interests. But we better shape up quickly before things like brain-computer interface technology and Darpa’s slime robots become more than abstractions.

Drone apologists say that police helicopters can already monitor us from the skies, but it’s clear as day that drone technology is different. The diversion tactic, on the other hand, is not: we hear similar refrains to counter public outcry about other technologies, too, like when police departments say license plate readers just enable police to do what they’ve always done more efficiently, and when they tell us that iris scans are nothing more than a modern fingerprint.

If it were true that “nothing changes” with the advent of these tools, law enforcement would support efforts to limit the privacy harms that the new technologies alone enable. Instead, the state security apparatus more often than not fights civil libertarian efforts to do so at every level. [++]

Handcuffing Seven-Year-Olds Won't Make Schools Safer | Chase Madar

[…] Truth be told, we were already well on our way to turning schools into carceral fortresses before the Sandy Hook slaughter even happened. In fact, the great national infrastructure project of the past 20 years may be the “school-to-prison pipeline.” After all, we are the nation that arrested Isamar Gonzalez for being in her high school early to meet with a teacher, then arrested her principal, Mark Federman, when he tried to intervene.

The stats speak as loudly as the anecdotes: of the Chicago School District’s 4,600 arrests in 2011, 86% were for misdemeanors. That school system spends $51.4 million on security guards, but only $3.5 million for college and career coaches. And for every incident that makes the news, there are scores that don’t. Despite a growing body of damning research by civil libertarians of the left and the right, including Annette Fuentes’s excellent book Lockdown High, political opposition to the school-to-prison pipeline has proven feeble or nonexistent. Brooklyn State Senator Eric Adams, who represents one of the most liberal districts in the country, has staked out the civil libertarian outer limit by helpfully suggesting that Velcro handcuffs might be more suitable than metal ones for arresting young children.

The metal detector at the schoolhouse door is threatening to become as iconic an American symbol as baseball or type 2 diabetes. Not that metal detectors in place were capable of preventing the massacre at Red Lake High School in Minnesota in 2005: young Jeffrey Weise just barged right in and shot six people dead; nor could the metal detectors at George Washington High School in Manhattan or Paul Robeson High School in Brooklyn prevent teens from getting stabbed. Yet metal detectors and school police proliferate across the country.

One state, however, truly leads the way. Self-satisfied Yankees have traditionally slandered the state of Mississippi as a jerkwater remnant of the past. As for me, I say Mississippi represents the American future. A new report by advocacy groups shows how the Hospitality State is leading the nation in cruel and draconian school over-policing. Felony assault charges for throwing peanuts on the school bus! Dress codes enforced by handcuffing a child to a railing for hours for the crime of not wearing a belt! Cops escorting a five-year-old home for wearing the wrong color shoes! And constant arrests of kids for “disorderly conduct.”

Yes, the “Mississippi model” of non-union teachers plus “zero tolerance” discipline is the kind of schooling that some of the best and brightest among our education “reformers” have been touting — and what they are increasingly getting. In fairness, Governor Rick Perry’s Texas is struggling with Mississippi for vanguard status, with cutting-edge surveillance of students and 300,000 misdemeanor arrests in 2010 for “crimes” like tossing a paper airplane. And Massachusetts is a strong contender for third place. [++]

It is unlikely that the full story of the prosecution of [Aaron] Swartz will be known. However, the reek of the sordid and ham-fisted is plastered all over it.

Disgrace: Swartz’s prosecutors sought jail time to justify their original charges

Some seriously ham-fisted shit:

… apparently a DOJ representative has admitted that part of the reason it insisted on having Swartz plead guilty to a felony and go to jail, no matter what, was that it feared the public backlash for the original arrest if they couldn’t then show a felony conviction and jailtime.