The state’s monopoly on crime over a given territory makes it necessary to eliminate its agents’ responsibility for their individual crimes. How often we have seen police take the stands to defend brutality and then get let off with a slap on the wrist. The state thus incentivises all manner of anti-social behaviour. Here are some examples.
Politicians’ main task is to steal one person’s money and give it to someone else. Sometimes they steal overtly, such as through taxation, and give it away just as overtly, as with bank bailouts. Sometimes the theft is far quieter or concealed as benevolence, as when they pass laws favourable to a few corporations that help them control markets by force, while telling everyone the laws are necessary measures in the fight against whatever the public is anxious about.
Politicians want to garner votes for the next election, which is done by a) handing things out to interest groups and b) spending money to appear to get things done. A number of well-connected people can give them cushy jobs with huge salaries when they retire from serving the public (which goes for bureaucrats, too). Their job is, in fact, to represent those people, the elite, and make the public think they are serving everyone. They are chosen because they are so good at it.
The military engages in war, destroying homes, lives and ecosystems. No one holds the military accountable for its crimes, except occasionally when grunts are tried for crimes their superior officers encouraged, or the pressure of war made inevitable. In fact, not only is the military not made to pay for the damage it causes; people are led to believe it actually protects them from all the bloodthirsty foreigners who cannot wait to kill them. This lie makes the next war, or the perpetual struggle against evil, easier. (The state’s incentive to lie is so obvious I will not go into it here.)
Police have all kinds of distorted incentives. Their jobs consist in large measure of harassing, bullying, beating, kidnapping, spying and stealing. Many of them want to control people, which may be why they became police, or they may have acquired a thirst for it as they went about their duties. The War on Drugs has enabled them to break into people’s homes, steal money and drugs, and gun those people down. Even when the people had no drugs at all, the police do not get in trouble. Why not? Because the police did not find the police guilty.
The police in the US have begun to spy on people. The irrational fear of terrorism, encouraged by politicians, law enforcement and the media, all of which have something to gain, has legitimised spying on marginal groups. Muslims have been targeted in particular, as have activists. It is widely known (and statistically obvious) that police stop, frisk and frame racial minorities in huge numbers. Thus, the state legitimises racism—and gives it a gun.
Lastly, TSA agents can do nearly whatever they want to your body. It is unsurprising to hear women say they feel disproportionately targeted by airport security, or to see children being felt up by people with badges. Laws that permit eliminating the rights of the many and the responsibility of the few has given perverts and pedophiles a great career path.
I am not accusing all TSA agents of being perverts, just like I am not accusing all police of racism. I am accusing the state of incentivising and legitimising these activities, and stealing from taxpayers to fund them. Find fuller explanations of the state’s crimes and how to end them in my book, available here.
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 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.
Secrecy makes for thrilling movies but unaccountable government. The unimpeded exercise of power requires that those over whom power is exerted do not know the truth. If they want to be our masters, there is some information they must control first. They want you to believe they are good people who win wars for freedom, that their policies make everything better, that they are uncorruptible supermen, and the more information we have, the more clearly we can see this is a lie. Free flowing information is the only safeguard against tyranny. We only ever find out about these secrets thanks to a few intrepid reporters and brave whistleblowers. The scandals keep coming, from the Pentagon Papers to Watergate to Iran-Contra and now Bradley Manning, who is being held in solitary confinement without charge under order of a president who came into office promising transparency.
Why do you think they do not want you to know what they are doing? Ostensibly, during wartime at least (which has become all the time), it is to prevent the enemy from finding out the secrets that could compromise national security. But who is the government’s enemy? Anyone who disagrees with their policies. That is why governments around the world have conducted a war on journalists. If journalists are being killed and arrested, how will we have any protection against propaganda?
There is no reason governments have to keep what they do secret from you except to maintain power. Not only does power corrupt but it is proportionally more dangerous when we are uninformed. When people’s backs are turned, power becomes a major force of corruption, and the powerful can do whatever they want.
Governments control trillions of dollars of money they stole from taxpayers, and creates trillions more in fiat money, which acts as a tax that lowers the value of the money everyone already has. What do they do with that money? Over the past few years, the New York Fed has quietly bailed out large banks all over the world to the tune of about $16t. We never knew about it until an audit of the Fed took place this year. This type of secret remains secret because its revelation could mean serious anger on the streets. This is not a call for more and better auditing. It is a call for the elimination of one group’s ability to extort money through taxes and give it to the already-privileged.
Here are some more things that we were not allowed to know about. Former senior US National Security Agency official Thomas Andrews Drake blew the whistle on his agency’s violation of the fourth amendment with the billion-dollar Trailblazer intelligence-gathering project. Of course, like Bradley Manning, like Daniel Ellsberg 40 years ago, Drake was prosecuted. American soldiers nearly got away with killing Afghan civilians for fun because their crimes were covered up. The death of football player Pat Tillman in Iraq was also covered up, originally said to have occurred “in the line of devastating enemy fire”, until it was revealed that he was killed by friendly fire. Were people actually surprised that a government covered up an unpopular event? The entire war, like all wars, was a lie. Why believe anything the government ever says?
Then there are the Wikileaks files. When the document dump began, one heard many voices speaking vaguely in support of Wikileaks, but I wondered if they had an understanding of what it all meant. Here is why everyone who is not in the government should support Wikileaks and its spinoffs.
Governments are self-important. They believe that their knowledge is superior to that of us little people, that they are wiser and in a position to decide for the rest of us. As such, they are right to take our money, impose their will on us, regulate every aspect of our lives and send us overseas to kill people who had the misfortune of being born in the wrong country. They need secrecy because if other people had the same knowledge, they would learn how poorly government policies actually function, despite the authorities’ supposedly superior wisdom. Now governments are being exposed, and people are finding out.
Statists from all corners have attacked Wikileaks with such cliched accusations as exposing troops to danger. (Viz. Iran-Contra criminal Oliver North: “This is an act of terrorism.“) However, they would presumably be in less danger if they had remained at Fort Worth. If anyone has put them in danger, it is those who voted for and approved of sending them overseas in the first place, and those who lie to keep them there. Naturally, having enemies requires secrecy; but since the enemies are just contrived, all the secrecy had accomplished was to eliminate accountability for the liars who had claimed otherwise.
Joel Hirst of the Council on Foreign Relations attempted to put things in perspective.
For those who applaud Mr. Assange and his particular version of cyber-terrorism, I would ask them how they feel about the rupture of other codes established to govern our relations in society. How would they like to see reports of treatment for their male-pattern baldness in downloadable format; or the details of their divorce settlements in an online database — displayed in vivid technicolor across the worldwide web. While this information may appear benign, and may be explained by cyber-thieves as an attempt to increase transparency, it will likely be viewed by the victims as damagingly intrusive. This is also true in the world of international diplomacy.
Unfortunately, Mr Hirst has missed the point. The treatment of my male-pattern baldness is purely a private matter. The actions and beliefs of influential public servants and the disastrous results of wars fought with our money by our friends in our names are not. To those who attacked Wikileaks and the act of whistleblowing, let me make clear the position you took. You are in favour of covering up and hiding from the public
-the repeated urging of the despotic (and with relation to the US government, influential) House of Saud and other Middle Eastern governments to start a war between the US and Iran;
-the US’s ally Saudi Arabia’s funding of al Qaeda, the Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba;
-the extent of the corruption of the Afghan government, which US, Canadian and other foreign taxpayers are funding;
-the intentional killing of reporters by helicopter in Iraq;
-an accurate picture of the disastrous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, including the extent of civilian casualties, such as the shooting in the head of Iraqi children and other things that should have the people who funded them up in arms;
But Wikileaks is just one anti-secrecy activist group. Any whistleblowers who uncover the secrets that keep us from realising how corrupt our masters are deserve praise and protection. Instead, they get called terrorists and get imprisoned. (Governments will do anything to pinch these guys, from trumped-up rape charges on Julian Assange to God knows what Bradley Manning is charged with. Why? Because powerful people want to cover up their sins and protect their interests and will break the constitution to do so. Strong, accountable government? Don’t make me laugh.
Does the leaking of confidential documents erode public trust in government? It is now clear that there was no basis for such trust to begin with. Wikileaks has exposed not only the loose tongues of a few diplomats but the bankruptcy of statist arguments for secrecy. Wikileaks brought us, in stark relief, a more accurate picture of government wheeling and dealing than we were getting from the mass media; or as Slavoj Žižek notes, the Wikileaks document dump revealed that the emperor truly had no clothes.
Another whistleblower I like is BlogDelNarco.com. Mexican media outlets are highly concentrated, and as such they are in bed with the government. They tend not to report the gruesome but highly informative images from the Mexican drug war. But a fearless blogger is feeding the huge market for the truth.
The pundits at the top of the security apparatus of the US government spent countless hours devising contingency plans for every possible step the Soviet Union could have made. An air of paranoia and groupthink has influenced most national security decisions made in Washington since WW2, which is why the central planners of the US military believed first in the “bomber gap”, that the USSR had far more bombers than the US did (when it didn’t), and then the “missile gap”, that the USSR had vast quantities of nuclear missiles that it could deploy preemptively to knock out US capabilities (when it didn’t).
They spent billions on intelligence services and did not predict the detonation of a Soviet atom bomb; the Korean War and China’s entry into it; the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion; the size and determination of the Viet Cong; the fall of the Soviet Union; the breakup of Yugoslavia; of course 9/11, (though admittedly there is a mountain of evidence they knew something was going to happen and did nothing); the Arab world’s reaction to the invasion of Iraq (though that one may have been outsourced to the think tanks); and several intelligence agencies told the world Saddam Hussein had a whole bunch of missiles that did not exist. Sure, it is not fair to expect anyone to predict such black swans. But then, what are intelligence agencies for?
Perhaps they are to make work for spies. An enormous quantity of intelligence has been gathered since 9/11. Because of its sheer volume, only 10% of it has even been analysed. The spies are a bureaucracy and as such, they are an entrenched pressure group. In his excellent book The Limits of Power, Andrew Bacevich explains the role of national security services (eg. the CIA). “Over the course of their existence, these entities have done far more harm than good…. [I]nstitutions nominally subordinate to executive authority pursue their own agendas, and will privilege their own purposes over whoever happens to occupy the White House.” Presidents frequently disregard what the security agencies tell them. But they tell the public the security apparatus is necessary because it provides legitimacy for “political arrangements that are a source of status, influence and considerable wealth.”
In the end, government secrecy is little more than immunity for the mafia that poses as your superiors. There is no reason why government knowledge is better than yours, or why governments should impose their will on you. Now that ordinary people have the chance, thanks to anonymous whistleblowers and Wikileaks, to spy on their governments, they may have a better idea of how secrecy destroys accountability. If democrats truly want accountable government, they should embrace Wikileaks. The good news is that most governments have mostly lost their monopoly on information. The Wikileaks dumps, the spread of cell phone cameras and attacks by anonymous hackers have seen to that. Embrace openness and deny the government its monopoly on information.