JFK Gave Baby Boomers Responsibility to Protect Our Freedom. They Failed.

Eternal_Flame_Next_generation

The Eternal Flame has burned continuously since Jackie Kennedy lit it in Arlington Cemetery on November 25, 1963 during her husband’s state funeral. Today, fifty years to the day after it was lit, hundreds have come to take photos of the flame flickering in a cold breeze, while others stand silently watching flowers laid at its granite base.

At his inauguration, President Kennedy spoke of a “torch” passed to a “new generation”:

Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans—born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage—and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.

Fifty years after his assassination, this torch has been neglected, and the flame has nearly gone out.

Since JFK was killed, the Civil Rights movement has achieved important successes. But the present state of freedom and human rights in the U.S. is like a wound left unattended, and every day the hemorrhaging grows worse. Our government is systematically eviscerating our freedoms and those of people around the world. There are several signs of this: the police state, the huge numbers of citizens incarcerated, illegal NSA surveillance, and drone warfare.

The Police State

There are more uniformed police–800,000–than ever before. (Only China has more.) And this number does not include the numbers of hired armed private security officers on duty.

Paramilitary policing has quickly spread across the country. Today there are more than 1,000 U.S. police forces with SWAT or SWAT-type units. In 1980, nationwide, they carried out an average of eight paramilitary raids a day; now there are well over 100 per day. SWAT teams rely on speed and force, which result in many errors.

An Incarcerated Nation

Rates of incarceration are at epidemic levels with over one and a half million people in state and federal prisons, five times more than in 1980. There are more people incarcerated than high school teachers. And this number ignores the tens of thousands more languishing in city and county jails. Five percent of the world’s population live in the United States, yet 25% of the world’s incarcerated population are imprisoned here–more than all European nations combined. Half of all inmates are serving time for mandatory sentences for drug offenses.

Many prisons are run by corporations for profit. The “Prison Industrial Complex” has to keep cells full to keep profits flowing. Mandatory life terms for repeat offenders infringe on human rights. The excessive size of the American prison system is an indictment against human rights in this country.

The Surveillance State

The National Security Agency has harnessed advances in technology to systematically surveil every citizen’s cellphone meta data and email. The NSA has created a surveillance state in a way the Stasi of East Germany could only have dreamed of.

The NSA has gathered data on every American as well as world leaders and foreign citizens. In the guise of protecting the U.S. from terrorism, they operate on a “collect everything” philosophy, encroaching on the constitutional protections from illegal search and seizure. They have essentially erased the Fourth amendment.

Even the judges of the FISA court, a secret court empowered to oversee the NSA, has expressed misgivings about their own ability to reign in the NSA. Judge John Bates wrote, “NSA’s record of compliance with these rules has been poor.”

Reporter Glenn Grenwald and his husband, David Miranda have been threatened with prosecution for having reported the NSA’s unconstitutional breaches of law.

Drone Warfare

Unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, have created a climate of fear in countries which previously looked up to the U.S. as an example of democracy and freedom.

Drone warfare used in undeclared wars against countries like Yemen and Pakistan are perhaps the most egregious example of a government gone awry in its stated purpose to spread democracy and human rights.

Over the last ten years the U.S. has deployed drone robots against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. But the killing of innocents is creating a far-reaching fallout, turning an entire generation of people to revile and seek vengeance against the U.S. The drone warfare campaign is largely kept secret, and if not for the exposure of whistle-blower Bradley Manning, serious incidents of killing innocents would never have come to light.

Drone advocates say they are increasing security, and the machines are necessary in the war on terror because they have pinpoint accuracy. But these are myths.

Drone attack systems are fully robotic killing systems despite what military chiefs say. This is because killing is accomplished remotely by machine, without human touch from launch, seek-and-destroy and return to home base. Drone attacks are for the convenience and safety of the aggressor.

Drones have erased hundreds of years of human rights gains made through courts of law and legal review. They have gone around legal requirements such as habeus corpus, evidence review, legal defense and jury determination of guilt or innocence of the accused. Convicted felons on death row are afforded more due process than those killed by drones.

The torch of human rights and liberty JFK spoke of has practically been extinguished from the domestic landscape and abroad. A flickering flame, it is reserved for etchings on white stones at a tribute memorial somewhere. The Eternal Flame at Arlington National Cemetery still burns a hazy orange surrounded by a carpet of immaculate green–only a symbol of John Kennedy’s promise.

The torch was inherited by a generation who was not vigilant. Since they have abdicated the responsibility Kennedy entrusted to them, we and coming generations must pick it up and relight it. If we cannot rekindle the flame, it will be a promise that died with Kennedy. Otherwise, the post-constitutional era in which we live will only become darker.

50 Years Later, We Still Have a Dream

For the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, the NYC Light Brigade, Veterans For Peace, Get Equal, and activists from across the country have illuminated the message: “We Have A Dream – Jobs Not War.”

We need a March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom every bit as much today as we did fifty years ago.

We_Have_A_Dream

Jobs_Not_War

Miranda case shows, anti-terrorism laws used against us, not terrorists

Journalist Glenn Greenwald’s partner, David Miranda, was held on August 19 for nine hours of questioning at London’s Heathrow Airport under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act. Although it was clear that Miranda posed no terrorist threat, his cell phone, laptop, game consoles and camera were confiscated. Under the UK’s controversial Terrorism Act, anyone can be detained for up to nine hours of questioning before they clear customs.

A spokesperson for the Guardian said, “We were dismayed that the partner of a Guardian journalist who has been writing about the security services was detained for nearly nine hours while passing through Heathrow airport. We are urgently seeking clarification from the British authorities.”

According to the UK’s Home Office, “The government and police have a duty to protect the public and our national security.”

Translation: “Protect the public,” “national security” and variation “keep you safe” is doublespeak for “we’re watching you.”

International Big Brother is usually more discreet, but the Snowden revelations have driven him out of the shadows. The security services of the US and our allies are driving us inexorably towards the dystopian society predicted in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.

The rationale for anti-terrorism laws is public safety, a trade-off between protection and rights. Yet the anti-terrorism laws which empower security authorities are being abused. The NSA often violates even the secret regime of law established by the FISA Court. GCHQ used the Terrorism Act as a pretense to detain David Miranda at Heathrow. Glenn Greenwald calls it “a failed attempt at intimidation.”

Disregard for the law is not only a betrayal of trust and principle, it nullifies hundreds of years of struggle to secure our civil rights. And what’s more, it’s not keeping us safe either.

In reality, protection and surveillance have little to do with each other. In the military, we learned that there is a difference between guarding and surveilling. Guarding is providing that no harm will come to who or whatever you’re protecting. Surveilling is watching, observing and recording.

The NSA and GCHQ maintain that surveillance is a tool to protect the people from terrorists, when in fact they watch the people like we are the enemy. The laws that our government has put into place serve more to shield itself from public scrutiny than to protect the public.

The question is, when will we recognize that laws disguised as protection from terrorists are actually being used to surveil, gather unlimited information and track us? Lost rights can’t be regained when those in power believe no one is willing to fight for them.

Activists Identify DC Cop Who Infiltrated Bangladesh Sweatshop Protests

Originally posted on Earth First! Newswire:

Left: Still photo from a video of the May 15 protest at Children’s Place. Right: Photo from @snufftastic Twitter account.  by Mike Elk / In These Times

Rumors have flown for many years that DC police routinely infiltrate and spy on the frequent protests in the nation’s Capitol. But until now, activists have never been able to identify a specific undercover cop at a protest. Now, after months of piecing together evidence, attorneys Jeffrey Light and Sean Canavan working with United Students Against Sweatshop (USAS) have confirmed that under an assumed name, Metro police officer Nicole Rizzi has participated in USAS protests against companies doing business in Bangladesh who refuse to sign the Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh following the death of as many as 1,129 workers in the Rana Plaza factory collapse.

USAS and its lawyers have numerous pieces of evidence placing Rizzi at…

View original 1,191 more words

Freedom makes me anxious and the NSA beats Xanax

At Sheremetyevo Airport Edward Snowden reportedly passed the time reading Russian literature, including Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. To my knowledge he hasn’t read Brothers Karamazov, but this quote from a famous section called “The Grand Inquisitor” seems appropriate:

Man is tormented by no greater anxiety than to find someone quickly to whom he can hand over that great gift of freedom with which the ill-fated creature is born.

What else can explain the wholesale embrace of the “keep you safe” NSA surveillance industry among a significant part of the population?

Perhaps party loyalty can as well. New polling numbers from Pew show that major shifts in opinion against NSA surveillance programs and for civil liberties are occurring, except among one group:

The largest changes toward demanding civil liberties protections have occurred among liberal Democrats, Tea Party Republicans, independents and liberal/moderate Republicans. Only self-identified “moderate/conservative Democrats” – the Obama base – remains steadfast and steady in defense of NSA surveillance. The least divided, most-pro-NSA caucus in the House for last week’s vote was the corporatist Blue Dog Democrat caucus, which overwhelmingly voted to protect the NSA’s bulk spying on Americans.

Unwavering devotion to Obama and the Democratic Party leads to a blind, childlike faith capable of rationalizing almost anything.

All that was needed was an unending series of victories over your own memory.  -George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four

Message to DOJ: “Justice for Trayvon” means pursuing civil rights case

Light_brigade_angle

by John Zangas

Activists from the Light Brigade of Maryland, GetEqual, and Code Pink sent the Department of Justice an unmistakable blue light message tonight: “JUSTICE FOR TRAYVON”

The light display was set up just after dusk to tell the county’s leading law officials that George Zimmerman’s acquittal was not acceptable. Petitions have been circulating to demand that the DOJ charge Zimmerman with civil rights violations in the shooting death of the teenager.

Annell Mungo, 25, an activist with GetEqual, said, “The verdict of [the] George Zimmerman murder trial was sickening [and] a clear example of the miles and miles that our country has to go before we live up to our promise of liberty and justice for all.”

She spoke while other activists held the lettered light panels which spelled out their demand for justice for Trayvon Martin. “This week–from Sanford Florida to Austin Texas, and here in Washington, DC–has been a harsh reminder that this country is a dangerous place for people of color, for queer people, for youth and immigrants, for women, and for all those who continue to be devalued and dehumanized.”

“We have much work ahead of us to achieve a fully equal and inclusive America,” Mungo said, “and our commitment to a pathway to social justice for all continues.”

Fort Meade cops pull over Wikileaks Truck for distributing “Top Secret WikiLeaks Info”

Who knew that the WikiLeaks Truck was chock full of Top Secret Info? Just like it says in bold lettering on the side!

Clark Stoeckley was pulled over this evening while driving the WikiLeaks Truck–no connection to media group WikiLeaks–after a long day at Fort Meade covering whistleblower Bradley Manning’s trial. Stoeckley is a cartoonist who has published a book about Manning’s pre-trial hearings.

His tweets recounting his chat with the Fort Meade officers speak for themselves. It was Stoeckley who got pulled over, but the punchline is how someone pulled one over on these two cops for a laugh.