Sic semperTyrannis: Israelite liberator Ehud slays the tyrant-king Eglon.
"... Ehud made him a dagger which had two edges, and he did gird it under his raiment upon his right thigh. And he brought [a] present unto Eglon, the king of Moab.... And Ehud put forth his left hand, and took the dagger from his right thigh, and thrust it into [Eglon's] belly...."
Judges 3:16-21, describing the assassination of Moabite tyrant Eglon by the "deliverer," Ehud the son of Gera
Even by local standards, the late Li Shiming was an uncommonly malicious "public servant." His unabashed rapacity and casual sadism eventually cost him his life. Like the ancient Moabite tyrant-king Eglon, Li was stabbed to death without warning in an unlikely setting -- a public school, in his case, rather than a summer parlor -- by a young man many of his erstwhile victims consider a heroic deliverer.
As regional commissar in the northern China town of Xiashuixi, Li confiscated land and other property at will and terrorized anybody who expressed an audible objection. Notes Jane MacCartney, Beijing correspondent for the London Times: "One villager who got into a row with him over the allocation of a contract was beaten so badly that he suffered a fractured spine. He was beaten again when he arrived at [the] hospital."
ZhangWeixing, a 58-year-old farmer, was among the scores or hundreds of people whose lands were confiscated by Li and distributed to the commissar's cronies. Zhang and his wife did what they could to defend their pitiful little plot of land; for their trouble they were beaten by a mob of hired thugs.
Tyrannicide: ZhangXuping, seen here in Beijing, confessed to killing a regional commissar in order to end his reign of terror. Zhang, 19, now faces the death penalty.
Similar treatment was visited on another local farmer named ZhangHuping (no relation), except that in his case the hired thugs were part of the official police force.
Zhang -- whose mother was imprisoned by Li, and who was vindictively expelled from school on the commissar's orders -- was routinely assaulted and detained on fraudulent criminal charges in retaliation for his role in organizing farmers whose orchards were seized and destroyed in 2003.
"Li lorded it over Xiashuixi, an arid mining region where farmers struggle to find water to grow vegetables to sustain themselves or corn to feed their pigs," recountsMacCartney. "His position as a local party boss gave him the power to run the district like a fiefdom."
Among Li's victims was a former childhood friend named Li Haiqing, who displayed astonishing strength of character by refusing to collaborate in the commissar's crimes, despite promises of complete impunity.
"Li Shiming said that if he [Li Haiqing] beat someone to death and was sentenced to be executed he could use his influence to make sure he would be all right," recalls Li Haiqing's wife. "My husband refused. And this is what happened to him."
"This" refers to the fact that Li Haiqing, after being arrested six times in retaliation for his refusal to work as one of the Commissar's enforcers, was beaten so severely that he can no longer walk or talk. Not satisfied to see his erstwhile friend crippled, Commissar Li used his official connections to shut down every business Li Haiquing attempted to build.
Commissar and Chum: Li Shiming, left, poses with his childhood friend, Li Haiqing -- a man whose life the Party functionary eventually destroyed.
Li was entirely typical of the local functionaries who represent China's collectivist ruling caste -- or, for that matter, the tax-devouring class afflicting any country, our own emphatically included.
While China has migrated in the direction of a market economy, the commissars and "princelings" who run the political system still exercise formidable power to enrich themselves through simple plunder. Their current economic model is a form of corporatist crony capitalism strikingly like the one prevailing in the USA, albeit with what Party ideologists call "Chinese characteristics."
In the People's Republic, the politically entrenched parasite class is making extensive use of the institutionalized larceny called "eminent domain" to confiscate property for their benefit.
"Chinese local governments in cahoots with developers have become infamous for forcibly seeking to evict residents from their homes with little compensation and often without their consent," reports the Wall Street Journal. The holdouts are known as `nail households,' since their homes are sometimes left stranded in the middle of busy construction sites. More often, however, they are driven away by paid thugs."
This kind of thing never happens here in Lee Greenwood's America.
Well, maybe it happens every once in a while.
Actually, it takes place all the time.
The Journal's description of Chinese corporatism at the local level brings irresistibly to memory the case of Lauren Canario, a freedom activist who was kidnapped by rented thugs -- better known as officers of the New London, Connecticut police department -- for refusing to vacate property that had been stolen through eminent domain on behalf of a federally subsidized "public/private partnership" (that is, fascist entity) called the New London Development Corporation (NLDC).
In December 2006, Susette Kelo, the lead plaintiff in the unsuccessful lawsuit to prevent the NLDC's larceny, sent the thirty people most deeply involved in that crime (a clique that could be considered a New London analogue to the Thirty Tyrants of Attic antiquity) a Christmas card that conjured every species of misfortune and hardship as punishment for their crimes.
"Arrogant and corrupt city and county officials -- with near limitless legal budgets ... continue to align themselves with well-heeled developers, political cronies, and major corporations to prey on the politically less powerful and disenfranchised, particularly minority communities," summarizes Corace.
Eminent domain "abuse" (if that word applies to a perfectly predictable application of an innately illegitimate power) is just one of many ways that property can be blatantly stolen through political means: "Through local zoning and the regulation of wetlands and endangered species, governments take property without compensating owners and also extort land and money in return for approvals."
This is, of course, exactly the same racket being run by local commissars in the People's Republic of China. It is interesting, and somewhat unsettling, that Chinese people for whom the concept of private property may be a relatively new and exotic concept seem to have a better understanding of what is happening than do their American counterparts.
Rebellion against eminent domain: A Navi fights back in the film Avatar.
This is why the current sci-fi epic Avatar resonates so powerfully with Chinese film audiences.
The film -- derided by some as a pastiche of Pocahontas and Dances With Wolves, with a beat or two borrowed from Star Trek: Insurrection -- depicts a desperate battle by aliens on a distant world to defeat human occupiers bent on seizing their most sacred land on behalf of a rapacious corporation. Considered by many American conservatives to be a paean to pantheist environmentalism, Avatar has been embraced in China as a parable of righteous rebellion by long-suffering, peaceful people against corrupt authority.
In Hong Kong, notes the Wall Street Journal, the film has served as a rallying point for "antigovernment activists trying to defeat a plan to demolish a village to make way for a new high-speed railway line. One mysterious benefactor reportedly donated movie tickets to the villagers to stoke their determination for protests."
As commentator David Boaz correctly notes, Avatar could be considered "a space opera of the Kelo case," a sci-fi parable denouncing blatant theft through eminent domain (or, what's much the same thing, the orgy of political theft celebrated today as "Manifest Destiny" -- which could be considered eminent domain practiced on a continent-spanning scale).
What can people do when everything they have can be seized at the whim of a ruler, without peaceful means of recourse or redress? Obviously, it is morally correct and, eventually, necessary in practical terms to defend one's property by force. But is the contract killing of a deeply corrupt, entrenched official a form of self-defense?
ZhangHuping, having exhausted the peaceful means at his disposal, hired a teenager named ZhangXuping (once again, no relation; apparently, "Zhang" is the Chinese equivalent of "Jones") to kill Commissar Li.
Zhang approached the student with the proposition after noticing that the official routinely left his bodyguards behind when he visited the local school. In September 2008, the teenager -- for a fee of roughly $150 -- carried out the act by stabbing Li in the heart when he visited the school in September 2008. The mortally wounded commissar staggered into the parking lot, his last breath escaping as he reached the Audi luxury SUV he'd purchased with wealth pilfered from some of China's poorest peasants.
The news that Li had died after being stabbed in the heart provoked widespread astonishment in the district -- not that the commissar had been killed, but rather that, in defiance of reasonable expectations, he was in possession of an actual human heart. Otherwise, the populace was unmoved by the news that the execrable functionary had paid his debt to nature.
"I didn't feel surprised at all when I heard that Li Shiming had been killed because people wanted to kill him a long time ago,"commented resident XinXiaomei. "I wanted to kill Li myself but I was too weak."
Interestingly, "corruption" is a capital offense in China; functionaries who enrich themselves without Party approval are sometimes put to death. Since Party officials were aware of the extent of Li's depredations, his crimes had their tacit approval, at least until he injured the interests of a comrade with more political clout than he had.
Under the terms of Chinese law, it's more accurate to say that Zhang didn't "murder" Li, but rather privatized the imposition of the penalty for the commissar's crimes. This will avail the young man exactly nothing, of course, but this fact offers yet another illustration of the consummate lawlessness of the regime under which Zhang and Li's other victims were sentenced to live.
Despicable as Beijing's ruling class is, the one tormenting our own country is even worse -- not merely because its hypocrisy makes its crimes all the more odious, but also because of the global impact of its malign ambitions. Beijing, after all, hasn't invaded and occupied countries on the other side of the planet, or deployed heavily armed drones over distant skies to kill unsuspecting people by remote control.
The corruption embodied by Li Shiming took root in the midst of China's economic boom. The commissars who populate our ruling class will most likely make their presence most keenly felt as our economic collapse accelerates. This will reduce conflicts over property rights to its most elemental level. To borrow a line from one of my favorite films, things are likely to get terminal in a hurry.
As someone with an unconditional commitment to the non-aggression principle and the sanctity of each individual human life, I'm finding it exceptionally difficult to justify the killing of Li Shiming. Loathsome as he was, I cannot imagine confronting him -- unarmed, defenseless, and unwary -- and driving a knife into his chest. My reaction to such an opportunity would probably be akin to that of Starbuck staying his hand as he looked on the sleeping, helpless Captain Ahab, or (what's much the same thing, as Melville pointed out) Hamlet declining to kill Claudius while the murderer was praying.
Of course, I didn't live under Li's reign, and so my reaction might be less an illustration of the strength of my principles than the weakness of my imagination. There are limits to what people can endure, and Li exceeded them with the serenely misplaced confidence that political impunity was the same thing as personal invulnerability. There is a lesson here that Li's counterparts in our own system ignore at their peril.
Sure, they're intellectually stunted, sartorially handicapped, and stranded in perpetual adolescence, but their grasp of economics rivals that of Ben Bernanke and Timothy Geithner: Dumb (Lloyd) and Dumber (Harry) live it up on money "borrowed" from a blackmailer.
What is this? Where's the money?!?
That's as good as money, sir. Those are IOUs. Go ahead and add it up; every cent's accounted for. Look -- see this [holds up a note written in magic marker]? That's a car. Two-hundred-seventy-five thou. Might wanna hang on to that one.
A moment's reflection is sufficient to convince an honest person that Harry and Lloyd, the cerebrally challenged duo featured in "Dumb and Dumber," were engaged in exactly the same kind of racket -- albeit in microcosm -- as the one run by the Federal Reserve System and its political servitors.
In substance, the worthless, crudely hand-printed rectangular slips of paper Harry and Lloyd had stuffed into Mary Swanson's briefcase were every bit as valuable as the worthless, elaborately decorated rectangular slips of paper the Fed insists are "as good as money." The same is true of Treasury Notes -- that is, official IOUs emitted by the Regime in Washington. It's also true of the corporate paper issued by the corporate beneficiaries of the Fed's most recent investment bubble -- such as the great corporate vampire squid called Goldman Sachs, to choose an example not entirely at random.
"I expected the Rocky Mountains would be a lot rockier than this": Dumb and Dumber pose in front of the Grand Teton Mountains during a retreat with the Power Elite at the Rockefeller redoubt in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
Goldman's corporate nomenklaturaprobably dresses just a bit better than Henry and Lloyd, who dropped several hundred dollars apiece for matching tailored tuxes in powder blue and safety orange.
But the Goldmanites were just as eager to spend other people's money and just as insistent that their unwilling creditors accept a pile of useless IOUs. Since they're the people who effectively run the Treasury Department, the Goldmanites have the means to force the rest of us to pay off the bad IOUs they received from AIG when that rotten pillar of the corporatist establishment was rescued by the federal government in 2008.
Newly released e-mails document the "frenzied" efforts made in September 2008 by Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner -- at the time the capo in charge of the New York "family" of the Federal Reserve mafia -- to arrange a taxpayer-backed bailout of the worthless AIG insurance and investment conglomerate.
Then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson was a former Goldman CEO; as head of the New York Fed, Geithner was a Goldman retainer, and Goldman was among the sixteen "counterparties" with the largest exposure to AIG's worthless paper.So it comes as a surprise to nobody that Geithner's most urgent priority in bailing out AIG was to make sure that the "counterparties" weren't left to absorb the financial consequences of investing in the firm's junk derivatives. This is why he and his comrades at the New York branch of the Fed arranged a "backdoor bailout" for Goldman and other unnamed beneficiaries by way of AIG.The details of that secret swindle were literally treated like a matter of "national security."
A Reuters report discloses that Geithner and his comrades at the New York Fed "were only comfortable with AIG submitting a critical bailout-related document to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission after getting assurances from the regulatory agency that `special security procedures' would be used to handle the document.'"
The SEC helpfully suggested that the critical information be filed under a special seal and then deposited "in a special area where national security related files are kept," with the information restricted from public inspection until 2018. I suspect that the really critical details of this arrangement were discussed by the principals in a room accessible only through a biometric scan, in conversations protected by the cone of silence.
Furthermore, this particular plot -- which was dragged into the light by the House Committee on Government Reform -- displays to good effect the practical definition of the term "national security." No, that phrase has nothing to do with protecting the rights, property, or well-being of the hoipolloi; it refers instead to the preservation of the plundering class and its interests from the people at large.
Everything Goldman "earned" last year was the product of officially sanctioned theft and fraud at the expense of the beleaguered productive class, which is confronting the prospect of extinction.
Just before the heads of that criminal enterprise gave a public account of their illicit haul, the syndicate's headquarters were surrounded by police. The problem here is that rather storming the building and frog-marching the perps into waiting paddy wagons, the police were on hand to erect barricades to protect them from their victims.
So profound is Washington's depravity that its conduct makes that of overtly fascist governments look positively moderate by comparison.
About a year and a half ago, Cristina Kirchner, the Peronist (which is to say, fascist) president of Argentina, decided to nationalize that country's private pension system. The pilferage took place in broad daylight: Legislation was submitted to the National Congress and duly enacted -- but only after a public debate that banished any residual doubt that this was an undisguised theft of private property by an insolvent government.
"We don't have any doubt that this is violating the right to private property," observed Argentine Senator Ernesto Sanz. Latin American political analyst Claudio Loser referred to the "nationalization/expropriation of Argentine pension funds" as "one of the most blatant acts of financial piracy in the country's recent history."
The confiscation of at least $30 billion in private pension funds by Kirchner's robber state took place in October 2008 -- just shortly after the Bipartisan robber state in Washington set in motion a much grander exercise in larceny.
Only the hermetically sealed clique fronting the criminal syndicate called the Federal Reserve System knows how much was stolen from the public for the benefit of Goldman Sachs and other politically protected banking interests after the Fed's speculative bubble exploded. For all of this, the appetites of the parasite class remain unappeased, and its servants in the government ruling us are casing out a target for another heist: Specifically, the Feds are examining the possibility of staging an Argentine-style raid on private pension funds, now that the re-inflated market has restored them to a plunder-worthy size.
As Wendy McElroy summarizes, Geithner's Treasury Department "is officially formulating ways to force a portion of every 401k/IRA account into `fixed payment annuities' -- that is to say, into long-term Treasury bonds. In other words, your retirement dollars would be converted into government IOUs.... The money-grab at your retirement will begin modestly -- e.g. with just a small portion of your retirement converted -- and then, like government itself, it will expand."
Once again, Treasury is poised to do this administratively, without further Congressional action. Just as Bush and his successor claim essentially limitless "war-making" power based on the September 2001 "Authorization for Use of Military Force," Hank Paulson and Timothy Geithner claim that the September 2008 TARP legislation provides cover for any act of wealth redistribution deemed suitable by the Treasury Secretary, aka America's Economic Dictator.
Doing "God's work" by plundering the powerless: Goldman Sachs Chief Commissar Lloyd Blankfein
Granted, the Feds have been stuffing suitcases full of IOUs for decades in the form of various non-existent "trust funds" for Social Security, highway maintenance, and the like. However, this new proposal would treat privately held retirement accounts as collective property.
The funds stolen from those accounts would be used to write long-term IOUs in order to help the Regime continue to float the short-term IOUs necessary to keep wealth flowing into the coffers of its corproatist clientele.
Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein, who has described the machinations of the bankster elite as "God's work" (this is true, assuming that the deity he refers to is Plutus), insists that Goldman's architects of financial fraud as "among the most productive people in the world." Assuming that Blankfein and his ilk consider lucrative deviousness to be a species of productivity, he might have a point.
As Sinclair Lewis observed decades ago, such people make "nothing in particular, neither butter nor shoes nor poetry." What will happen to them when there's nothing left to steal, the currency collapses, and the division of labor breaks down?
While it's likely that they've already made contingency plans to flee our looted and wrecked country in search of new populations to afflict, we can at least hope that a few of them will be caught on the way to the airport and forced to share in the misery they've arranged for the rest of us, or maybe treated to some personalized misery of our own design. Such thoughts provide cold comfort amid the destitution descending on our land, but the way things are going I'll take such comfort wherever I can find it.
(The original version of this essay erroneously used the expression "Goldman employee" to describe the significant but complicated relationship between the company and Timothy Geithner when the latter was head of the New York Fed. My thanks to commenter Isaac Stanfield for highlighting that inaccuracy.)
Pure, distilled badness : Unlike agents of state coercion, Hawk never preyed on the weak and helpless.
I don't like him. He hurts people for a living.
Only people who've hurt others, or who haven't kept a promise.
Spenser explains Hawk's code of ethics to his inamorata, Susan Silverman
For neither the first nor last time I find myself lamenting the fact that those employed by government typically aren't as moral as Hawk, the fearsome muscle-and-gun specialist created by novelist Robert Parker (and memorably brought to life on screen by Avery Brooks).
Singularly capable when it came to inflicting injury on other people, Hawk employed that gift for commendably narrow purposes: If you hurt others for whom he was responsible, or attempted to, he would hurt you; if you reneged on a loan made by someone who employed him, Hawk would inflict the necessary duress until the debt had been satisfied.
While he was honest and -- in the estimation of those who knew him -- honorable, Hawk wasn't entirely laudatory, particularly in his choice of employers. But he wasn't a predator; he didn't target the weak or helpless.
Hawk was a violent man, but he exercised violence only to deter or punish aggression and fraud.
If you chose not to get involved with the kind of people who employed him, Hawk -- for all his tightly coiled ferocity and potential for lethal violence -- was no threat at all. Think of the principle symbolized by the snake found on the Gadsen Flag given life in the form of an uber-slick urban enforcer so palpably deadly he'd make Shaft soil his underoos, and you've got Hawk.
Although he was frequently employed by unsavory people, Hawk was immeasurably more moral than those who presume to rule us, and the government they operate at our expense on their behalf. This is why he displayed nothing but wary contempt toward the government, especially those given the task of enforcing its laws.
Forget the banner of Empire: This is my flag.
Government, we are told, exists to protect us against anarchic violence that threatens life, liberty and property.
As Papa Hemingway might reply: Isn't it pretty to think so?
In practice the government ruling us is always and everywhere the single largest source of lethal violence and most acute threat of the same.
In order to find one's self on the receiving end of the kind of violence Hawk embodied, one has to make a specific set of bad choices involving contracts -- beginning with the inexcusably foolish choice to enter into such agreements with the kind of people who would hire Hawk as a debt collector. To an extent, then, Hawk's victims were volunteers.
However, any of us can experience state-inflicted violence at any time as a punishment for doing literally nothing, or by refusing to be bound by "contracts" arranged by other people in transactions to which he was not a party.
Many who have seen this clip pointed out that the partisan Chargers fans defended the admittedly obnoxious Jets fan after he was seized by a squad of tax-feeders.
What is most noteworthy about this brief clip was the harassment, intimidation and apparent arrest of the most outspoken critic of the police assault. This was done because the individual in question had the presence of mind and apparent strength of character to object when an annoying but harmless man needlessly became the victim of officially sanctioned violence.
When an armed police officer says "Let's go outside" while placing hands on someone and shoving him in the direction of the exit, this constitutes what people in official costumes call an "arrest," and refusing to cooperate constitutes what such people call the supposed crime of "resisting arrest."
No, the specific phrase "you're under arrest" wasn't spoken, but it doesn't have to be: Any time someone wearing the habiliments of the coercive caste detains, restrains, or redirects the progress of a member of the productive class, an "arrest" has taken place. Police were given permission to do this to you at their own discretion -- whether or not you've actually inflicted an injury upon anyone else -- by people whom you've most likely never met and wouldn't care to know.
What if the gentleman in San Diego who was escorted from his seat to "talk" with a police officer had offered the following reply to the officer's invitation: "No, thanks -- if you want to `talk' we can do it right here, in the seat I've paid for, on my terms rather than yours"?
What if he had reacted to the officer's presumptuous (and illegal) gesture of placing hands on him to escort him from the area by knocking the hands away and saying, "You don't have permission to touch me -- keep your hands off!"
There's little reason to doubt that either of those reactions would have resulted in an immediate escalation of aggressive violence by the police officer and his comrades, who would then file a "cover charge" against the victim (most likely "resisting arrest" or "disorderly conduct").
Amid the ugliness of that incident could be seen evidence of a small but welcome change in public attitudes toward state "authority": The Chargers fans, doubtless aggravated by the taunting they endured by a Jets fan as their home team went down to defeat, criticized the police for their needless display of authoritarian violence.
Granted, their reaction (with the exception of the insistent protests of the fan who was "invited" outside) was far too subdued. But even this somewhat timid and torpid resistance is a miraculous improvement over the bovine docility most Americans have displayed as the garrison state has taken shape around us.
Were it not for my principled opposition to mob violence, I'd be tempted to think it would be a healthy development if American sports fans get in touch with their inner Soccer Hooligans next time police needlessly rough up a spectator at a sporting event:
The case of New Hampshire resident Ed and Elaine Brown illustrates the second way innocent people regularly find themselves on the receiving end of the state's criminal violence -- that is, refusing to be bound by "contracts" made by other people.
A reminder of sieges past: Randy Weaver, whose wife and son were murdered by the Feds, holds a picture of his slain son Samuel during a visit to the Brown home (aka "fortified compound") in New Hampshire.
"I have no doubt in my mind that Mr. Brown would have killed multiple marshals if they hadn't dealt with him so quickly," insisted Singal as he imposed a 37-year prison sentence.
In fact, neither Ed nor his wife -- whatever one thinks of their beliefs and the wisdom of the actions they undertook -- threatened aggressive violence of any kind. Reasonable people have ample cause to suspect that if the couple hadn't acquired the means to defend themselves by force, they may well have been slaughtered by the heroic paladins of public order.
U.S. Attorney John Kacavas referred to Brown as "a dangerously defiant individual ... whose conduct posed a clear and imminent threat to the public and to law enforcement officers." While it's true that residents of Plainfield, New Hampshire grew weary of playing host to a horde of disreputable federal trigger-pullers, there's no evidence to support the characterization of Brown -- as opposed to his armed pursuers -- as a "threat to the public."
The real "poker tell" in Kacavas's soundbite is the use of the expression "dangerously defiant."
Ed Brown stole nothing, defrauded nobody, and posed no threat of aggressive violence. His "crime" -- the act that made him "dangerous" -- was his defiance.
Once again, it's useful to compare Brown's supposed crimes to the behavior of another "tax evader," Timothy Geithner. Like Brown, Geithner refused to pay certain taxes. Like Brown, Geithner is now living at public expense, albeit in a well-compensated job as Treasury Secretary, rather than a federal prison.
Here's the system we're sentenced to live under, concisely described:
Steal hundreds of billions from taxpayers, and you're a public servant; refuse to permit your legitimately earned wealth to be stolen from you, and you're a felon.
Geithner has been given a congressional subpoena to explain himself. Something tells me that he's not exactly palsied with terror over the thought that Congress would actually do something to hold him accountable.
The street crime equivalent of Geithner's actions would be something like this:
Hawk, pressed by an underworld figure to collect on a large number of bad debts, goes on a crime spree, shaking down shop owners and other small business owners in order to collect the necessary sum from people who had nothing to do with the transactions.
Geithner, of course, is a desk-bound nebbish who couldn't conduct shakedowns of that sort in person. Owing to his principles, Hawk would never do something so contemptible. Yet we're told by those who defend Geithner and his ilk that the system they've created is what protects us from common criminals, and that if that system were to collapse we'd be at the mercy of people like Hawk.
The natural heir to Raymond Chandler, Parker leaves behind a large body of work -- more than sixty novels, including several fine westerns and two unfinished Spenser books. Each of his books was dedicated to his wife, Joan.
(Today's essay is dedicated to Lysander Spooner on the occasion of his 202nd birthday.)
Either fight it now, or get used to this kind of thing: Pennsylvania State Troopers -- one with a drawn assault rifle, his trigger-finger ready -- bracket a terrified driver during a roadblock set up near Pittsburgh following the death of a "comrade" in a domestic shooting. Don't assume for a pico-second that the friendly people in official costumes would resist any opportunity to treat the rest of us like this.
We will not recognize [American Fascism] as it rises. It will wear no black shirts here. It will probably have no marching songs. It will rise out of a congealing of a group of elements that exist here and that are the essential components of Fascism....
It will be at first decorous, humane, glowing with homely American sentiment. But a dictatorship cannot remain benevolent. To continue, it must become ruthless. When this stage is reached we shall see that appeal by radio, movies, and government-controlled newspapers to all the worst instincts and emotions of our people. The rough, the violent, the lawless men will come to the surface and into power. This is the terrifying prospect as we move along our present course. --
John T. Flynn, American Mercury, February 1941
The formula for an American variant of Fascism includes, but is not limited to, the following:
*A fusion of institutions the constitutional Framers intended to keep separate; abolition or nullification of any residual checks on the power of the central government. Barack Obama'sJanuary 11 executive order creating a "Council of Governors" to help "synchronize" policy regarding foreign and domestic military operationsdoesn't merely add another redundant layer of bureaucracy to the overgrown Homeland Security apparatus. It represents a critical milestone in the devolution of the American republic into an undisguised Reich.
The Council of Governors will be a bipartisan panel of ten state governors who "meet at the call” of various executive functionaries, including the Secretaries of Defense and Homeland Security, to assist the Supreme Leader in carrying out the “synchronization and integration of State and Federal military activities in the United States.”
The Constitution's Framers defined what we now call "law enforcement" as a function to be reserved almost entirely by the states. They were deeply hostile to the concept of a standing army; it's not clear that most of them would support the existence of paramilitary government police bodies. It is clear, however, that they would be intransigently opposed to the consolidation of military and police power. They would also view the creation of an executive branch organ like the Council of Governors with considerable alarm.
As an advisory body, the Council of Governors will have no real policy-making authority. Its chief function, I suspect, will be to ratify a binding "consensus" on behalf of whatever mission the Commander-in-Chief ordains for his new personal army. This "consensus" will be invoked to justify the usurpation of state control over Guard units.
According to an official White House press release, the Council “will provide an invaluable Senior Administration forum for exchanging views with State and local officials on strengthening our National resilience and the homeland defense and civil support challenges facing our Nation today and in the future.”
In the interests of brevity, the Obamacrats could simply have said that the Council will help “relieve the distress of the people and Reich" -- a justification used by the German National Socialists during their own campaign of national "synchronization and integration."
The Nazis used the term Gleichschaltung to describe this process of “coordination” or “synchronization” of all government functions by centralizing power in the Chief Executive. This was accomplished through a series of executive decrees supposedly authorized by the 1933 Enabling Act, formally known as the “Law for Removing the Distress of People and Reich.”
Obama's January 11 executive order is a natural outgrowth of the post-911 American Enabling Act.
*Imposition of the "Leader Principle" under which the powers of the chief executive are self-defined, self-ratifying, and effectively limitless.
In terms of the role it played in institutionalizing a permanent state of emergency and wartime executive dictatorship, the German Enabling Act was the direct antecedent of the September 14, 2001 “Authorization for Use of Military Force” enacted by a Congress in a fit of institutional panic.
That measure was an open-ended grant of unspecified power to conduct war against all and sundry, whether at home or abroad. It has been invoked to justify the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, low-grade warfare in Pakistan and Yemen, and the prospective war against Iran.
Celebrity war criminal John Yoo, the chief legal architect of the American torture regime, maintains that the September 14 Enabling Act justifies any imaginable exercise of power by the president. On this construction the president can summarily imprison anyone he chooses to, authorize the use of torture -- either against the detainee or even his children -- or even order summary executions.
The only congressional recourse, according to Yoo and those who share his perspective, is to de-fund such presidential activities should they ever come to public notice. Given that Congress in September 2008 essentially surrendered its constitutional authority to control the public purse, it's not at all clear that it even retains the ability to withhold funding as a way of addressing presidential atrocities after the fact.
*Repudiation of explicit and indispensable due process guarantees and protections in the interest of "efficiency," expediency, and public "safety."
Attorneys representing terrorist suspects had invoked the protections of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (or RFRA), which explicitly applies to all “persons.” A federal appeals court rejected that argument, thereby effectively categorizing such detainees as “non-persons.”
Just as remarkable is the lower court's blithe observation that "torture is a foreseeable consequence of the military’s detention of suspected enemy combatants." Accordingly, torture victims thus categorized have no standing to pursue civil relief, let alone criminal prosecution despite the fact that torture is explicitly forbidden by both federal statute and the U.S. Constitution (as well as international accords, for whatever they're worth).
There is a sinister syllogism here: Only "persons" enjoy legal standing; "suspected enemy combatants" subjected to torture aren't "persons"; ergo, they have no legal standing and thus no recourse.
"Your papers, please": This billboard was on display in rural Arizona.(Photo courtesy of Ernest Hancock.)
It's not just accused or suspected terrorists who qualify for indefinite detention.
In 2006 -- a very busy year for those beavering away constructing the Homeland Security State -- Congress enacted the "Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act," a measure that permits perpetual "civil confinement" of "sexually dangerous persons."
As previously noted in this space, the Adam Walsh Act is firmly in the totalitarian tradition of designating entire groups of people to be "socially dangerous" and thus suitable only for confinement, even in the absence of a criminal conviction or after a prison term has been served.
The Obama administration, which recently defended that law before the Supreme Court, subscribes to the view of its predecessor that the end of a prison term doesn't necessarily mean the end of imprisonment. During oral arguments, this view appeared find favor with a majority on the Court, including liberal (and therefore supposedly "soft-on-crime") Justices Breyer and Ginsburg. Breyer, according to the Los Angeles Times, drew an analogy between open-ended "civil confinement" and quarantine.
The chief distinction here, of course, would be that "sexually dangerous" people (a category that includes many people entirely innocent of actual criminal offenses) would be subject to perpetual quarantine. As one former civil detainee pointed out to CNN, this may mean being "committed to a mental institution for the rest of your life."
No rational person should suppose that the practice of perpetual civil confinement will be restricted to "sexually dangerous people." The definition of "socially dangerous people" will be made as elastic as our rulers desire, eventually becoming a net that will gather indiscriminately of every kind of dissident. This is exactly how the Soviet ruling elite filled the gulag.
*Subsumation of state and local police into a centralized, militarized internal security apparatus.
All right -- would you believe that the police are concerned that "errant soldiers" stationed at local Ft. Bliss might run amok and slaughter local citizens?
While this argument effectively demolishes an assumption cherished by advocates of civilian disarmament (namely, that police and soldiers are uniquely trustworthy when it comes to firearms), firearms-related crimes involving soldiers have been quite rare and the weapon of choice has invariably been a handgun.
Well, whatever you do believe, those responsible for this policy simply won't countenance the idea that the police intend to over-awe the gun-owning public.
"We are not trying to outgun the people with guns in our community," insists El Paso city council member Beto O'Rourke, "but to protect the public."
Fellow council member Susie Byrd, to her credit, isn't inclined to buy what O'Rourke and his allies are selling."You always want police to approach any situation with an abundance of caution," she points out. "Having big assault rifles might embolden less cautious behavior."
This began in earnest decades ago with the creation, by future LAPD Chief Daryl Gates, of the first SWAT team, which was supposed to be used in extraordinary circumstances, such as hostage situations.
Richard Nixon's politically motivated invention of the "War on Drugs" caused a nation-wide proliferation of SWAT teams. In recent years, SWAT missions have expanded to include commonplace tasks, such as serving warrants or even policing city parades. It seems as if many police departments are becoming civilian support systems for the local SWAT teams.
SWAT and other tactical units are armed, trained, and equipped by the Pentagon; their members are marinated in military doctrines incompatible with civilian peace officer duty.It's reasonable to suspect that, whether by design or default, SWAT teams serve as a way to circumvent the Posse Comitatus prohibition on the use of the military for domestic law enforcement.
Lt. Esposito (a 21-year Marine veteran) would also require that "local" police departments "send [their] operators and SWAT commanders to Military schools that instruct infantry tactics and command.
A recent RAND Corporation report commissioned by the Pentagon'sPeacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute explores another possible detour around the Posse Comitatus Act -- namely, the creation of a "hybrid" military/law enforcement body called the "Stability Police Force."
The SFOR would created within the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) for use “in a range of tasks such as crowd and riot control, special weapons and tactics (SWAT), and investigations of organized criminal groups” — both in UN-supervised military missions abroad, and domestic emergencies here at home. Initially as small as 2–6,000 personnel, the SFOR’s size “could be increased by augmenting it with additional federal, state, or local police from the United States” as necessary.
Using the Marshals Service rather than the US Army’s Military Police as host for the SFOR would provide the Regime with all the advantages of militarizing law enforcement without creating a direct conflict with the Posse Comitatus Act. Using the USMS as a platform for the unit “would place it where its members can develop the needed skills under the hybrid staffing option,” summarizes the RAND report. “Furthermore, the USMS has the broadest law enforcement mandate of any U.S. law enforcement agency…. [This model] provides significant domestic policing and homeland security benefits by providing thousands of additional police officers across the United States.” (Emphasis added.)
Once retro-fitted into the Marshals Service, the SFOR would be used to deepen and accelerate the process of assimilating domestic law enforcement into the military by "augmenting state and local agencies, many of which currently suffer from severe personnel shortages."
*The demand for instant, unqualified submission by "civilians" to any directive issued by someone in a government-issued costume.
A recent California court ruling held that police officers cannot use Tasers as instruments of "pain compliance" in situations involving simple defiance of supposed police authority. Not surprisingly, that decision -- which probably won't lead to a noticeable reduction in gratuitous use of Officer Jackboot's favorite torture toy -- provoked the indignation of police unionsand was widely criticized by people who assume that citizens are required to render immediate, unquestioning submission to any demand made of them by anyone bearing the State's insignia.
News archives and file-sharing sites abound in episodes of entirely unnecessary criminal violence inflicted on harmless people in retaliation for "contempt of cop." (Here is an exceptionally comprehensive source.) To that collection we can add the recent experience of retired Marine and former police officer Ron Doyle of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.
Last Sunday (January 10), Doyle noticed a pickup truck parked in the fire lane outside a local grocery store. Annoyed by the sight, Doyle confronted the driver. The man, who was dressed in casual clothes, responded by reaching into the pocket of his jeans and produced the piece of costume jewelry identifying himself as a Pennsylvania State Trooper named Craig Finkle.
After Doyle made a disparaging comment pointing out that Finkle wasn't on duty and turned to leave. The Trooper pulled out his cell phone and demanded that Doyle come back; as Doyle approached Finkle again he overheard the Trooper call for "units that can roll now." Doyle quite understandably decided to leave. He walked a short distance to his car and drove home, with Finkle trailing him.
Shortly thereafter three state police cars converged on Doyle's home. Displaying a confidence that would be touching if not so tragically misplaced, Doyle called 911 and pleaded for intervention by the local borough police department.
The phone line was left open as Doyle unlocked the door, only to be dragged to the floor by three of Finkle's homies, who said he was being arrested for "disorderly conduct" -- a "cover charge" commonly used to punish anyone perceived to be insufficiently servile in the presence of the state's punitive priesthood.
Finkle -- who, as a police officer, is quite literally trained to lie -- claimed that a visibly intoxicated Doyle shouted obscenities at him. The arresting officers claimed that he had assumed an "aggressive stance" -- a phrase used to describe any posture other than that of cringing, chastened submission -- and that he had shouted obscenities at them as well.
Doyle points out that the entire incident was recorded by the 911 dispatcher. The "local" police, in whom Doyle had invested his trust, are refusing to release the recording. According to the county "open records" officer, "the public interest in disclosure does not outweigh the interest in nondisclosure." This almost certainly means that publicizing the recording would contradict the official story, which of course simply wouldn't do.
*The emergence of the military as the core public institution.
Written from the perspective of an officer awaiting execution as a traitor to the new junta, Dunlap's essay presents a terrifyingly plausible scenario for America's descent into undisguised military rule.
On the Empire's errand: In a Photoshop composite widely circulated by supporters of the Iraq War, a U.S. soldier in Iraq uses shoulder patches to express disdain for the refusal of Washington's tributaries to bear their "share" of an unnecessary imperial burden.
"It wasn't any single cause that led us to this point," writes the condemned patriot in a long letter to a friend. "It was instead a combination of several different developments, the beginnings of which were evident in 1992.
Rather than cashing in a peace dividend, the federal government actually expanded the military budget. It also found new domestic missions to keep the military occupied.
Military personnel became "an adjunct to all police forces in the country," the officer recalls; social and economic problems were redefined as "national security" issues and brought within the military's area of responsibility.
Uniformed military personnel became a common sight, recalls Dunlap's fictional narrator. People became inured to the sight of "uniformed military personnel partrolling their neighborhood.... Even the youngest citizens were co-opted.... [We have] an entire generation of young people who have grown up comfortable with the sight of military personnel patrolling their streets and teaching in their classrooms."
As political and economic turbulence hit the United States, the military was exempt from public disaffection with government institutions. While most people properly viewed elected officials and bureaucrats with contempt, for some reason they saw the military as a bottomless well of competence.
That perception somehow survived the disasters Dunlap predicted would occur in 2010, when the "Second Gulf War" in Iraq metastasized into a large-scale conflict with Iran, and event that triggered a terminal crisis of confidence in the existing political order.
As the federal government became a failed state, the proverbial Man on a White Horse arrived: General E.T. Brutus, who seized power in a bloodless coup in 2012, indefinitely "postponed" elections, andengineered a referendum in which his new status as military ruler of the United States was ratified by a traumatized and desperate plurality of the voting public.
Tanks for nothing: Is this what Washington will look like some day in the near future, when putsch comes to shove?
For Dunlap and others who cherish individual liberty protected by law, this projection is a nightmare scenario. For many conservatives it embodies an entirely realistic political "solution" for our current distress -- or perhaps even their fondest and most earnest wishes.
"When I see the worsening degeneracy in our politicians, our media, our educators, and our intelligentsia, I can’t help wondering if the day may yet come when the only thing that can save this country is a military coup," mused conservative columnist Thomas Sowell a few years ago.
Sowell later defended, and elaborated on, that comment during an interview on Sean Hannity's Fox "News" program: "I’m very serious about whether or not the country can be saved at all in the long run, especially with Iran moving toward nuclear weapons, with so many signs of degeneracy – the schools, whatnot. Heaven knows, I don’t want to see a military coup but I don’t want to see the society disintegrate, either."
Odom, a Texas resident who is a Navy veteran, self-made billionaire, and self-taught political philosopher, is a writer of considerable gifts and no small amount of wit. He describes his book as an updating of Machiavelli's notorious work The Prince, in this case addressed to the military veteran Odom predicts will arise in 2013 to become the first ruler of an undisguised American Empire.
While I may be blind to some Swiftian subtlety in Odom's writing, it seems clear to me that the author eagerly anticipates a military dictatorship and intended for his book to serve as a program of action, a blueprint for "America's transition from a dying Republic to a dynamic Empire."
The titular Man on Horseback, Odom predicts, will be a military veteran in robust middle age who will be elected "to deliver the honest, hardworking, law abiding minority from their persecution by the ungodly and the unconscionable ... the first president empowered to rid the country of crime and punish all criminals, whether violent or nonviolent, who rob Americans of their lives, their safety, and their livelihoods."
While the Ruler, the "sole arbiter of good and evil," will have power to do whatever he pleases to whomever he chooses, Odom predicts that he will exercise such power with surgical delicacy in order to "benefit the population on the whole with your necessary cruelties."
As was the case with Dunlap's dystopian projections, Odom's eager prescription for dictatorship anticipates developments that have already come to pass, either in whole or part.
"When you suspend the Constitution and the writ of Habeas Corpus, enemies and their public statements of indignation will surface," Odom writes. While the former hasn't formally happened -- why "suspend" a charter of government that has been rendered useless through decades of institutional contempt? -- the latter happened in 2006.
Odom observes that the Ruler's minions "will record the names" of those who condemned the abolition of the Great Writ and otherwise opposed the Dear Leader, "tape their television quotes, and fill electronic file cabinets with their newspaper articles -- all of which can be of immense value to you in times ahead, as the names of your impulsive adversaries will be documented for future recall and consideration."
A literal domestic "war on crime" would be undertaken, led by the Marines. All civilian law enforcement agencies would be "inducted temporarily into America's armed forces" in order to participate in "open warfare" against criminals. Rioters and armed domestic dissidents would be quickly liquidated, of course.
Under the new "justice" system, convicted criminals would be subject to "extraordinary rendition" to prisons in Siberia and Africa. Blackwater-style mercenaries in the employ of the president would be dispatched overseas to apprehend tax evaders and others who had fled the dictator's jurisdiction.
Odom anticipates a vastly expanded role for the Internal Revenue Service. It would be assigned to "oversee the United States domestic law enforcement agencies"; it would be put in charge of the national census, and be given the resources to hire huge numbers of civilian informants; it would be in charge of a database containing DNA samples from each American, and supervise the quarantine of anybody carrying AIDS or afflicted with other dangerous diseases.
The IRS would also be given the assignment of enforcing a sweeping bill of attainder against those deemed to be hereditary enemies of the state. Although those summarily executed would be "relatively few in number," Odom writes, at least some of them would be punished not for anything they had done, but because of the purported crimes of their ancestors.
"Attainder and corruption of blood recognize no innocence," he observes. "For the first time in American history, citizens will perish without a trial and, even, without a pronouncement of guilt." The IRS would seize and bank the assets of those "cleansed" in that fashion, an entirely suitable task for that repellent agency.
In economic affairs, the Ruler's regime would implement a hyper-Hamiltonian regime of state corporatism, with the federal government as the "employer of last resort." Vast New Deal-style public works projects would be undertaken. The educational system would be fused with early childhood programs and placed under the Ruler's personal direction as "child development centers."
"For your future glory, name the child-development schools after yourself," oozes Odom in an appropriately obsequious tone. Those centers would provide the Ruler with the means of cultivating a huge corps of Janissaries -- most of whom would be recruited from economically blighted inner cities -- ready to give their lives on behalf of their Dear Leader.
To offer his Janissaries a chance to prove their devotion in combat, the Ruler would embark on an ambitious campaign of foreign aggression that would include the conquest of Mexico and the destruction of "terrorist" nations by any necessary means, including pre-emptive nuclear strikes.
"Mobilizing the country's armed forces and making war to acquire territory is the only way a country can climb out of its decadence and into a stable period of growth and prosperity," writes Odom in a remarkably pure expression of military Keynesianism.
In addition to serving as the ultimate government "economic stimulus program," war is necessary in order to ensure the Ruler's continued primacy: "Without the catharsis of war, authoritative leaders are dislodged. Conquest can help maintain your leadership, Mr. President.... Conquest at some point becomes a must for you, Mr. President, not an option."
The Generalissimo envisioned by Odom would rule for at least thirty years, leaving behind him an American Empire spanning the entire Western Hemisphere, with the possible exception of Quebec.
Forestalling a Fascist Future
Much of what Dunlap warned against, and Odom cheerfully anticipated, can be seen materializing around us. The ambivalent good news is that the Regime may collapse before those predictions are consummated. This wouldn't mean the end of the domestic garrison state, but it would offer opportunities for rebellion against the imperial center, both abroad and at home. The growing movement toward interposition is a very encouraging trend, but that political movement will avail little unless Americans by the tens of millions start practicing interposition and nullification on an individual level.
"Everything within the state; nothing outside the state; nothing against the state," pronounced Mussolini in defining the fundamental fascist formula. Restoring freedom will me inverting that formula: We must exploit every opportunity to reject the state's authority over our lives, refuse both its plundered largesse and the chains that accompany it, and develop systems of mutual support outside of the state's ambit.
This will involve some social hardship and even an element of physical danger. Conspicuously refusing to celebrate the supposed valor and virtue of the imperial military and law enforcement apparatus is not a prescription for popularity. De-monetizing one's assets by converting them from fiat Federal Reserve Notes into real money (gold and silver) requires uncomfortable adjustments in one's time preference and consumer habits. Devising contingency plans to protect one's family in the event of a sudden threat from the State is difficult and time-consuming. Refusing to submit to unwarranted demands issued by an armed state functionary can be exceptionally risky.
These are minor inconveniences or trivial trials when examined in light of the future that awaits us. Breaking up Leviathan's political mass through political and personal secession may be the only way to prevent it from becoming a super-dense, liberty-annihilating political singularity.
Update and Clarification: The Leahy "National Guard Empowerment" Measure
A reader points out that the Senate passed a measure sponsored by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) overturning the 2006 amendment to the Insurrection Act. That amendment was designed to make the National Guard, in effect, the president's personal militia.
Sen. Leahy was an outspoken critic of the Insurrection Act revision, and the "National Guard Empowerment" amendment he sponsored in 2007 did mitigate its danger. In my view, however, Leahy's amendment isn't a step back from the brink, but more accurately seen as a sideways step along the brink.
"The Guard `empowerment' bill sponsored by Leahy ... actually continues the process of folding the Guard -- which was once ... the independent people's militias -- into the national military establishment.... Its commanding officer is made a full general, for instance, and given a more prominent role in the Pentagon's councils.
More significantly, the measure creates `a stronger relationship between the Guard and the Northern Command' and instructs the Pentagon to work with the Guard in planning homeland defense."
In the event of a future terrorist attack or a White House-decreed national emergency, I noted, Northern Command "would provide the assets and manpower to lock down the country under Homeland Security supervision."