Archive

Posts Tagged ‘prison’

The strongest police state in history: We are all terrorists now

December 20, 2011 5 comments

In case they are unaware of the laws some people are imposing on them, Americans should be furious about the latest legal grab at their last freedoms. A new law, cunningly woven into the annual defense appropriations bill and passed overwhelmingly, enables the US military to apprehend you anywhere in the world and detain you indefinitely. This law gives the strongest military the world has ever seen total power over you. You may want to reread that last sentence. It is true. The provisions target US citizens, giving every one of them the rights of a suspected terrorist with no recourse. As Guantanamo Bay prison has demonstrated, citizens of other countries had no rights to begin with. Therefore, due to its habit of picking up citizens of other countries, the US government can now wield its power over anyone in the world. That means you. They can detain you indefinitely without charge if they say you are a suspect. And no one will be punished if you are innocent (except you). No one will be held accountable, no matter what happens. This law is perhaps the most frightening in a long line of legal takeovers of your freedom.

Did I say this will be the strongest police state in history? Surely not, you say? Well, the totalitarian states have been strong, but they have rarely had the opportunity to catch people outside the state’s borders. And they did not have military bases all around the world. Remember, it is the trillion-dollar, million-man military that is now authorised to detain anyone anywhere for any length of time.

How did our liberties slip away? Anthony Gregory explains.

Ten years of the war on terror, decades of the war on drugs, and a century of growing government power in general, particularly in the presidency and various police authorities, have perhaps desensitized Americans to what is at stake here. As the proverbial frogs in the pot of water, we are accustomed to rising temperatures and so do not notice when our flesh begins to boil. Yet when the Senate overwhelmingly accepts the principle that the military should displace civilian courts even for citizens captured on American soil, it has adopted a standard of justice remarkably tyrannical even compared to America’s very rocky history.

A hundred years of encroaching control over our minds and bodies plus one spectacular terrorist attack and freedom somehow seems like a luxury to Americans who do not realise they are frogs.

Needless to say, these laws are unconstitutional, like so many other laws that a small minority of the people who swore to uphold the constitution tried to stop. The Bill of Rights, a wonderful idea in its time, lies in tatters. (See here for the history of the gutting of the constitution and limiting of Americans’ freedoms over the past decade.) Now that the government has such power and employs it every day, there is no reason to believe it will hold back. The tired, old canard that, if you just keep your head down and do not commit any crimes, you will be fine, is clearly untrue. Even if this bill had not passed, the US government (though of course not just the US one) can already spy on you from anywhere in the world by listening to your phone calls and reading your emails; has drones circling the skies in the US and all around the world, looking for anything anyone with any power at all deems “suspicious”; can lock you up and torture you in one of its many prisons (and not just ones you have heard of), as it already has with Bradley Manning and foreign journalists (Barack may be even worse than Bush with regard to torture); and can assassinate you without due process. Thus, as any informed libertarian already knew, these despicable practices have been going on for some time. The powerful are merely trying to make them easier.

Continuing the War on Terror will do that. The bill says that suspects will be held only until the end of hostilities. So, as Jon Stewart says, when terror surrenders, you’ll be free to go. For those who do not understand statist war, you must know that war is the health of the state, and the state exists to take your freedom. The more war, the more power the state has; the more power the state has, the less freedom you have. That is a consistent pattern in history. The War on Terror is not so much a war as a series of military operations designed to expand US government power everywhere it can, but the effect is the same. To stir up instability in Central Asia, secure supplies of natural resources and keep restive people down are its goals. This law will help win that war for the powerful.

War creates terrorists, as occupied people facing brutality from foreign powers have peaceful modes of resistance taken away from them. If terrorism is on the rise, blame the dictators and warmongers. (Oh, and when there is not enough terrorism and the hype dies down, the FBI will still arrest people for it.) Likewise, if crime is indeed rising in the US, it could be because of the fallout from the financial crash, which was of course the fault of the elites, and it could be because the criminalisation of and atrocious crackdown on drugs despite all logic incentivises the formation of gangs. Wars, whether on terrorism, drugs or the poor, create the conditions that politicians can use to justify accumulating ever more power. To think that the government exists to keep you safe is now obviously a myth.

But it is not just the Department of Defense that has been amassing power. The police and the courts have always been the tools of the elite, but are now conducting a war on liberty in the US. If you think I am exaggerating, please see my post on police here. Here is a preview. A man was recently sentenced to 75 years in jail for filming police. (Here is that link again.) The law, the police, the courts all tear society apart and destroy lives by criminalising victimless acts and subjecting innocent people to endless captivity. With its multiple layers of security apparatus, from the police to the FBI to the CIA to the DEA to Homeland Security to the military, not to mention the help of friendly governments around the world, the US federal government has enormous resources for violence at its disposal. It has already targeted Antiwar.com, Greenpeace and PETA under the pretext of investigating terrorism; who will be next? (Find more incredible facts about how the US is becoming a giant prison here.)

The main reason the government wants all this power (inasmuch as power is not an end in itself for many of the people involved, and aside from the large amounts of money politicians make from prison and related lobbies) is that dissent against government and the elites is growing. (Find a more developed argument here.) The protests that have gone global since Tunisia’s Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire to protest corruption and repression have threatened the elites’ position and they are not happy. Most recently, we have seen unnecessary brutality against people demonstrating peacefully at Occupy sites around the world. The photos of tear gas sprayed casually into the faces of the young and old; the arrests of thousands of people for nothing. Democracy or dictatorship, state brutality is everywhere. The elites are sending a message: do not question authority or you will be punished. The only cure for this disease that I know of is to disobey their command. I would like to see more people to join in occupations until this unjust, parasitic institution crumbles to dust.

The lion’s share of the blame for this state of affairs goes to the psychopaths and fools (these are not insults; they are reality) who have been running the US for so long. The US federal government has trillions of dollars that it forced out of the pockets of millions of people. Think how many wars, how many full-body scanners, how many drones, soldiers, police, jails, surveillance systems, tons of tear gas and pepper spray it can buy with that money. And that means that the money it takes from people is used to oppress them. The government does not obey its own laws, so we should not, either. Laws are nothing more than institutionalised control over people, arbitrary interpretations of morality and handouts to lobby groups at the barrel of a gun.

But while most of the blame belongs with the state who forcibly takes everyone’s freedom away, Americans have let their government get away with it all. Ignorant people who do not understand government, war, terrorism and crime continue to believe the government looks out for their best interest. Most of them have not demanded change, content to amble slowly along some meaningless path with their heads down and their fingers in their ears. Others are so scared of crime, terrorism and illness that they gladly give the government as much power as it wants. Sure, we are subject to humiliation whenever we get on an airplane; sure, the US has the biggest prison population in the world; sure, the upper 1% owns a third of the nation’s wealth; and sure, my neighbours are losing their homes; but at least we live in the land of the free and the home of the brave. Not anymore, you don’t. The most dangerous thing is to believe we are free when we are not. It is impossible to escape from a jail we do not realise we are in.

The fine line between democracy and dictatorship

November 12, 2011 4 comments

“The difference between a democracy and a dictatorship is that in a democracy you vote first and take orders later; in a dictatorship you don’t have to waste your time voting.” – Charles Bukowski

There are fundamental differences between democracy and dictatorship. In a democracy, one has more freedom than in a dictatorship. Well, there is one fundamental difference. Other than that, there are numerous similarities, too.

Dictatorships crack down on their people for expressing themselves publicly. And we live in a free country, right? So it could not happen here. Well, has there ever been a G8 summit in your country? Let me guess: a few people out of tens of thousands of protesters broke some windows, and rows upon rows of riot police came in spraying, beating and arresting. In a series of acts of civil disobedience over the past two years to protest the imperial wars in which the US is engaged, some 1400 Americans have gone to jail. And now that the Occupy movements are covering the globe, we are seeing police brutality everywhere. Critical thinkers need to seriously reconsider the idea that we need police to keep us safe, and begin searching for alternatives. How could they be so brutal in free countries? Because, dictatorship or democracy alike, the police are there to serve the elites, not to protect the people.

Dictatorships have a habit of jailing huge numbers of people. When democratic governments are under pressure from companies that run prisons, they have an incentive to do the same. And locking people up is as easy as passing a law. If it is illegal to smoke pot, you can go to jail for it. Look at the millions of people in the US who have. The US locks up more people than any of the world’s dictatorships. (Canada is set to start doing something similar.) And people in jail are not free. Just ask Bradley Manning, or however many are still in Guantanamo and who, despite centuries of legal tradition, have no right to habeas corpus. If rights were the difference between democracy and dictatorship, does that mean democracy is dead?

Dictatorships run secret agencies that find and neutralise enemies of the state. Again, it could not possibly happen here, right? Well, think about it. Have there been any new anti-terrorism laws introduced in the past 10 years? Have you taken a good look at those laws? Most people will not become targets of them, true, but the same could be said of authoritarian regimes. Most people who keep their heads down will be spared. But what do the laws say? Could they be reading your emails and text messages? Could they be listening to your phone calls? Could it be forcing Google to take down embarrassing videos and give them your information? The answer is yes. For the first time in history, you now need police permission to demonstrate within 1100 yards of the British parliament. Naturally, if the police say no, you stay at home. The police can put innocent people (including children) into databases and track them without any reason. (The cliché that if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear is a canard torn apart by the experts in this video. Clearly, we are no longer presumed innocent.) They can give you a full body search in public. And ten years after 9/11, Congress renewed the USA PATRIOT Act. As Peter Hitchens says, “this is more than a change in the law. It is part of a wide and deep change in the way we are governed, supposedly justified by the need to combat crime and disorder. While wrongdoers seem largely unaffected by all this, innocent citizens find that they are ruled by an increasingly officious and heavy hand.” Freedom slips quietly away, and the line between democracy and dictatorship slowly but surely fades.

One difference between democracies and dictatorships is that, because democracies tend to have more vibrant economies, they have more wealth. That wealth can be appropriated to fund militaries and war campaigns. Democracies are statistically more likely than dictatorships to invade and occupy foreign countries. It is, of course, staggeringly ironic that people who enjoy freedom would sanction the repression and killing of foreigners. But that irony is lost on most democrats who favour a strong military.

And now there is a danger that democracies will slide into dictatorship. With the possible collapse of currencies and governments in debt, what could happen is that many people, realising that the government is mostly to blame for their misfortune, will rise up against their masters. At the same time, there will be a group of people scared into submission, afraid to lose what they think is worth keeping. That means not just the elites who benefit from the status quo but people on the bottom who think that things could be worse. Those people would lend their support to stronger government, under the banner of “stability” and promises to “get the economy back on track”. The military has been trained to deal harshly with civic unrest if and when it occurs, and we do not have much chance against the military. With enough popular support, stronger government could take away more and more freedoms, put more and more people in jail, and pacify the masses. To guard against that possibility, we need to warn people of its possibility, and carefully explain the alternatives, the topic of the upcoming posts on this blog.

Crime

July 8, 2011 1 comment

Now that we have made the police redundant, how will we deal with crime? “Crime” in the legal sense would not exist in a free society, because people would be constrained by their consciencesand not uniformed thugs. But of course there would still be the initiation of violence against innocent people; it just would not carry any legitimacy. As such, it might be easier to reduce. The state, as it is now, encourages crime.

First, when something for which there is still demand is made illegal, the market goes underground and it becomes more valuable—so valuable, in fact, people will kill for it. People kill each other on the streets because of drugs every day, and the police sometimes kill innocent people they suspect of selling drugs as well. Sex slavery is enabled by the criminalisation of prostitution, and as a result, women from all over the world are bought and sold, and violence against them is routine. Human trafficking, similar in effect to sex trafficking, is the result of closed borders. Any law prohibiting something is a potentially lucrative black market, with the accompanying violence.

Second, to the extent that one is not allowed to defend oneself and must wait for the police to show up, criminals can take advantage of their weakness. The recent riots in the UK are an excellent example of a disarmed populace waiting to be victimised, held to ransom by the state, their protector. The more dependent we are on people who do not care about us, the weaker we are in the face of aggression.

I tend to agree with Murray Rothbard that if there were just one law, it should be that of ownership. That means ownership of everything you have created (though “ownership” over one’s children is somewhat different, as they too are humans who own themselves) or acquired through consensual transactions, plus the right to the protection of your body, which is your possession as well. Property must not be violated, which means that harming others or destroying their property, forcibly taking money or other things legitimately acquired is theft (including taxation). Beyond that, there should be no crimes. But this position is not universally held.

I remember watching Ann Coulter on Youtube saying liberals want to force you to do what they think is right. I wish I had been there to say “Yeah, liberals suck that way. By the way Ann, what’s your stance on gay marriage?” Statists of all points on the spectrum want to gain power in order to use government to force their opinions of what is right and wrong on others.

As such, anything a special interest group do not like or would benefit from the criminalisation of can be illegal. Anything that makes people squirm can be illegal. Policing victimless crimes create victims. The banning of veils in public seems unnecessary and incompatible with a free society. But we do not want to give others freedom; we want conformity. Raw milk is illegal in the US; and laws and regulations, pushed by big farms to destroy little ones, are punishing Americans farmers like crazy. Law is great for that. Kids almost get fined $500 for a lemonade stand, the funds from which would have gone to charity; Orlando police lock up a bunch of people for feeding the homeless. I guess they deserved it. If you want to use public space to help people, you’d better have a license!

Police have the power to read your emails, instant messages and the location of your mobile phone.  Is privacy a crime now? But I guess privacy is a luxury that we, in this age of really scary things, just can’t afford anymore. Sad, really, because not only do we have to follow whatever laws the government decides on, whether we agree with them or not, but because the government appropriates the tools created in the private sector for its own purposes, now we can be tracked electronically in case we break one of them.

Power, by definition, is unaccountable. The police are somewhat accountable, but they also have power, which means to an extent they are unaccountable. The courts are much the same. The purpose of the courts was always said to be the dispensation of justice, but when one juxtaposes headlines that say “Ex-Mortgage CEO Sentenced to Prison [for 40 months] for $3B Fraud” and “Homeless man gets 15 years for stealing $100”, you need to question this purpose. Either the courts are staggeringly inconsistent, or the system is rigged toward the powerful.

Prisons have an enormous amount of power. Once someone is deemed unfit for society, whether because they killed 10 children or stole and returned $100, their lives come under the complete control of the state. But while in prisons one can see the greatest concentration of government power, prisons are riddled with violence and drugs. The state claims to protect against crime but turns the other way when crimes are committed against criminals. Prisons are notorious hotbeds of rape. No one is safe in prison.

The rate of incarceration in the US is 743 per 100,000 people. That is the highest rate in the world. One in every hundred Americans is imprisoned during his or her lifetime, many of them for victimless crimes like drug possession. We tend to look at prisons as inherently good, an unquestioned net benefit for society, but we should pay attention to their costs. More prisons is not a way to reduce crime: it is a way to benefit the prison lobby. If there were no government, we could still have prisons, as there will still be people who are unrelentingly violent, but we would do more careful cost-benefit analyses of how our money was spent on them.

Prisons do not seem to work very well. As the “justice system” has evolved, it has gradually separated the victim and the perpetrator. Now, criminals are expected to “repay their debt to society” instead of repaying it to the only person they have wronged, by going through a court and prison system that costs the victim and all other taxpayers billions of dollars a year; and the victim may not even get compensation. It is not up to him. Prisons seem to be the only solution we can think of to crime: someone kills? Throw him in jail. Someone steals a candy bar? Throw him in jail too, at huge cost to society regardless of the magnitude of the crime.

There should only be two parties in criminal punishment: the one who aggressed against someone’s property, and the victim of that aggression. If the victim wants to forgive the aggressor, it should be done. If the victim orders the aggressor to pay the victim proportionally, it is fair. Not everyone has to go to jail.

How will we deal with other crimes? Stefan Molyneux makes a great case, so I will farm this one out to him. Read his excellent case for dealing with crime here. In the end, the logic of dismissing governments from “protecting” us, to whatever extent they ever have, is airtight.