According to a former naval officer in our armed forces who is also a former U. S. president, President Carter, the United States is no longer a functioning democracy.
According to Chalmers Johnson, a former Asian expert and CIA consultant turned public intellectual, we can be either a democracy or an empire, but not both.
Former U. S. Army colonel and now public intellectual Andrew Bacevitch explains why we can have either a functioning democracy or a large standing army and worldwide bases (that is, an empire), but not both.
Another public intellectual, Tony Judt, has written that we can have either a democracy or high income and wealth inequality, but not both.
Then there is humble me, up in NW Connecticut. What do I care?
But … I am getting worried about black helicopters landing on our little plot of land, probably bringing down the bluebird and wren houses we’ve set up out there. Hey, I am an American. Now, I know we Americans have enemies abroad, but I found out that I am being monitored by the national government, here in my quiet corner, according to information released by the renegade government operative Edward Snowden.
Also, last week I learned that there are 78 “fusion centers” across my country, operated by “state and local authorities,” a group including “dozens of officials from police and fire departments, federal agencies, and [this is especially intriguing] private companies.” (New York Times.) The centers have been funded by “hundreds of millions of dollars” from the Department of Homeland Security and “other federal agencies” as well as state governments…
This “wide net” — which seems mostly to have captured information from public social media such as Facebook — was notably employed to track the doings of the dreaded Occupy movement, which began to use the ultimate tool to undermine our nation’s security: peaceful public assembly for protest (initially, in this case, against the financial system as being undemocratic). At least Occupy didn’t target shopping.
But then came this tidbit, some Orwellian and wryly amusing thoughts (New York Times again) from a flunky at Homeland Security. Saying that the fusion centers play an important role in helping law enforcement and emergency responders understand how to protect people [which “people” would that be?] during “large public events,” she continued that the centers are required [yeah, right] to protect privacy and civil liberties. More: Agencies receiving Homeland Security grants must [or else what?] follow guidelines similar to those adopted by that department, which forbid (oh, dear me!) the collection of information “solely for the purpose of monitoring activities protected by the U.S. Constitution, such as the First Amendment-protected freedoms of religion, speech, press, and peaceful assembly and protest.” Cue up the Star Spangled Banner.
However, the Times article goes on to catalog a number of instances that directly contradict that functionary’s reassuring rhetoric. Two of many examples of activities hoovered up by the centers: “yoga, faith & spirituality classes,” and the potential threats outlined in a report prepared by the International Council of Shopping Centers [!!], as implemented by the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department.
This latter item, like many of the others, was focused on the Occupy movement, in particular “its attitudes towards [sic] retail,” as well as a group of people who declared, on a website, that they would “intentionally forgo the [Black Friday] shopping frenzy.” Well, that last ugly bit of subversion does get America where it hurts, although I do wonder what James Madison would have to say about that threat?
I read, too, that the CIA has its own “venture capital arm,” called In-Q-Tel, which has invested in at least one private intelligence-gathering firm, called Palantir Technologies. Palantir is hired by all sorts of corporations and “other entities” to create and search “innovative” databases culled from disparate, “counterintuitive” areas of the lives of Americans. The Palantir executives are reportedly losing sleep over the possibility that “the government” may use Palantir capabilities to track its own citizens. Not to worry, guys; whatever put that notion into your noodles? ( For all the money we pour into the CIA and the NSA, I do wonder why they feel the need to reach outside for this effort. Maybe we taxpayers should privatize the CIA and the NSA to Palantir and the Private Army Formerly Known As Blackwater.)
I see these initiatives — and I would bet that there are others of which We the People do not know — as illustrating a central “tension” (aka contradiction) in present-day America: the constant reference to the principles on which the nation was founded, contrasted with the never-slaked thirst for that corrosive social obsession: Control. Control and fear — themes pervasive throughout the World’s Sole Remaining Superpower (per Condoleeza). Have these drives taken us to the point beyond which the overriding fear is of ... ourselves?