Wednesday, January 27, 2010


What Would It Take For Americans to Realize They Are Not Free?

I was having lunch with someone today (name being withheld in case he doesn't want this broadcast) and we were musing over the contradiction in the average American's mind. On the one hand, if you asked Americans to rate professions in terms of their morality or decency, politicians would come in at or near dead last, and if they beat out lawyers, that wouldn't be much help--most politicians are lawyers.

But at the same time, when it comes to the life-and-death decisions that U.S. politicians make, most Americans give them the benefit of the doubt--often ridiculously so. Sure, they might have made a mistake in, say, invading Iraq, but it really was always about protecting Americans and freeing Iraqis from a brutal thug. The CIA guys just goofed, that's all.

So anyway, my buddy asked something like, "At what point are Americans going to wake up and realize they can't trust their government?"

My answer, "When it's too late for them to do anything about it."

Note that I wasn't just trying to say something dramatic, at which point the snare drums kick in and lightning cracks in the background. I meant it quite seriously: The people in charge have to keep up appearances so long as it's necessary for the overwhelming majority to actually trust that the system basically works. In contrast, in more totalitarian regimes, the average person a large portion of the population knows full well that the rulers are evil, and they are kept in place by fear and helplessness. (They also might think there are no better alternatives.)

So with that in mind, let's quote from today's post by Glenn Greenwald. We have already learned that Americans won't revolt--heck, won't even vote against an incumbent--just because of worldwide CIA secret prisons and systematic torture of POWs. OK fine. What about this?
The Washington Post's Dana Priest today reports that "U.S. military teams and intelligence agencies are deeply involved in secret joint operations with Yemeni troops who in the past six weeks have killed scores of people."...

But buried in Priest's article is her revelation that American citizens are now being placed on a secret "hit list" of people whom the President has personally authorized to be killed...

Just think about this for a minute. Barack Obama, like George Bush before him, has claimed the authority to order American citizens murdered based solely on the unverified, uncharged, unchecked claim that they are associated with Terrorism and pose "a continuing and imminent threat to U.S. persons and interests." They're entitled to no charges, no trial, no ability to contest the accusations. Amazingly, the Bush administration's policy of merely imprisoning foreign nationals (along with a couple of American citizens) without charges -- based solely on the President's claim that they were Terrorists -- produced intense controversy for years. That, one will recall, was a grave assault on the Constitution. Shouldn't Obama's policy of ordering American citizens assassinated without any due process or checks of any kind -- not imprisoned, but killed -- produce at least as much controversy?

Obviously, if U.S. forces are fighting on an actual battlefield, then they (like everyone else) have the right to kill combatants actively fighting against them, including American citizens. That's just the essence of war....But combat is not what we're talking about here. The people on this "hit list" are likely to be killed while at home, sleeping in their bed, driving in a car with friends or family, or engaged in a whole array of other activities. More critically still, the Obama administration -- like the Bush administration before it -- defines the "battlefield" as the entire world. So the President claims the power to order U.S. citizens killed anywhere in the world, while engaged even in the most benign activities carried out far away from any actual battlefield, based solely on his say-so and with no judicial oversight or other checks. That's quite a power for an American President to claim for himself.
Sure, if you want to argue that we're not there yet--after all, people would flip out if they learned that the CIA was killing people in their beds in Hackensack--go right ahead and make that point. But we're sure a lot closer now, than any of us would have guessed 10 years ago, wouldn't you say? Could you possibly have imagined 10 years ago, that in a decade it would be common knowledge that the US tortured its prisoners, and that the president drew up lists of American citizens to be killed without any kind of process or review? Oh and that after he made up his list of who's naughty and dead, that the president would then review the balance sheet of the two Detroit car companies that he owned?

Glenn Greenwald: Obviously, if U.S. forces are fighting on an actual battlefield, then they (like everyone else) have the right to kill combatants actively fighting against them, including American citizens. That's just the essence of war....

Okay, Glenn... then declare the world a battlefield. Now what is your complaint?

Has anyone here read "Lone Survivor" by that jerk thug SEAL assassin for an author? When his team first effs up and gets discovered by a goatherd (just like the Bravo 20 SAS team got screwed in Iraq, btw... are they making this stuff up or are these highly trained spec ops guys just THAT susceptible to having their plots ruined by ignorant goatherds?) he and his team go into this intense debate about whether they just kill the goatherds, or let them go, etc. And Marcus Luttrell (the author) explains, as part of his reasoning for possibly killing the man, that it'd be totally within his right to do so because he's "at war" and this guy is on a battlefield and is jeopardizing his mission. It doesn't matter that he's unarmed, that he's likely never done anything to Luttrell personally or even any Americans, personally or by extension, and it doesn't seem to matter to Luttrell that, in fact, he's invading the goatherds territory as violent, criminal trespasser... El Presidente declared the territory a "warzone" and so suddenly, everything goes and murder isn't murder, it's just getting a job done.

It's insane. It's bizarre. It's disturbing that Glenn Greenwald falls for it, too.

Another point, and I hope you can see how it's tangentially related to your last paragraph and not completely off-topic: a thought experiment I usually offer for statists/pro-regulatory people who are simultaneously not pro-communism is, "Describe, generally speaking, what your ideal government is like, in size and scope" and once they do that, I say, "Okay, now, if the government ever goes beyond that size and/or scope, will you become a critical voice calling for its power to be reigned in?"

If yes, I thank them for at least pledging to put up some resistance, at some point. If no, I ask them how they figure they aren't a commie.

Perhaps what Glenn meant was that two opposing combatants would have a legitimate right to kill one another. I would imagine this statement assumes that all of them had agreed to take part in mortal combat knowing full well they could be killed. I don't believe Glenn was including non-combatants, who wanted no part in the war, in his statement.
Well, let's just remember three words:

1) CIA
2) Africa
3) 70's

The problem with declaring the world your battlefield is that it would make it legitimate for anybody else to battle you.

US presidents would be better off if they let us instead declare the world our, the people's, market. Then it would make it legitimate for anybody else to trade peacefully with you.
Our fellow citizens, many of whom don't bother to register to vote, much less vote, who would rather watch TV than to read a book, will not wake up until they get pinched hard in the wallet. They won't wake up until a loved one is killed in combat. They won't wake up until they go hungry or have to walk or bicycle to work.

In my opinion, those whose only priority is American Idol, the NFL, or any other vain activity gets what they deserve!

I don't vote.

I'm not ready to give up on democracy just yet. Your synthesis that if only 10-15% show up at the polls our leaders will wake up, is wishful thinking, I believe. A low voter turnout and nobody bothering to speak up at board meetings, town halls, and such will give the leaders even more incentive to stick the red, white, and blue up our 'you-know-where.'

Even though I disagree with you, you are a fine person, nonetheless.

Democracy is neither an efficient nor a just way to allocate scarce resources.

But, I am sure you knew that already.

Are you willing then, to allow anybody to run your school boards, county boards, state legislature, and Congress just because you think they allocate resources badly and you don't want to be a part of it?

It can be said that the reason the public schools are so bad is that parents would rather stay at home and watch TV than to go to a school board meeting. With engagement like that, what good can you expect? The best public schools have a heavy engagement by parents and the surrounding community.

The George Carlin video is hilarious at the same time being sad. Sad because Carlin probably didn't vote regularly, didn't contact elected leaders, and just couldn't put in any time to be engaged in the world around him that didn't entail his stand-up routine.

Evil is everywhere, not just in democracy.

"It can be said"

Are you saying that or trying to point out that the argument is possible, without you actually making it so you don't have to defend it against me?

You provide a lot of interesting commentary, especially on banking, which seems to be something you're knowledgeable and experienced with. Unfortunately, your commentary on democracy is not as helpful.

I don't think this thread is the place to go into the debunking of all the ideas you just put forth, so I won't bother. I will say, however, that I find it amusing that you believe, by implication of what you just said, that APATHY is the general reason politics produces the evil, ignorance and inefficiency it does. That's a good one, and one I don't hear often (aside from the socialists, who are always trying to encourage people to be less "apathetic" because they know anytime the population becomes politically "enthused" it usually translates into more legitimacy for socialism and more socialism at the polls).

We all voted, and democracy lost.

I can't get into a big debate right now either on this, but I just want to clarify something: I of course am not in support of "apathy." Half my blog posts lately are urging the American people to wake up, after all.

I am just saying that getting all excited about which candidate you're going to vote for is a huge waste of time, in my opinion. The system is rigged so that the people who have any shot at winning are basically the same. E.g. if you reversed the 1st and 2nd place vote receivers in every election in 2008, I don't think it would have made much of a difference. McCain would have done very similar things to what Obama has done, for example.

Now if you're thinking to push it back one step, and work hard to get "good people" to win the primaries etc., again you face the same problem. I've heard horror stories from Ron Paul delegates to Republican conventions where the chair will change the rules and do other tricks to minimize their impact.

So rather than worry about political campaigns and whether we should increase domestic spending by 8.4% versus 6.5%, I would much rather devote my time to educating people on why the free market can solve social problems better than coercive government, etc. etc.
Great post Bob, I guess your buddy is simply hopeful that your wrong and something can wake most Americans up before it is too late... You are probably right however.
Very scary Bob. Let's hope people are waking up. Keep informing people. I was a neo-con until I read your PIG on capitalism and started my blog to defend capitalism. In trying to write in defense of capitalism, I realized the errors in my previous thinking, mainly that Republicans were for freedom. Most of the errors were pointed out by blogs like yours and people on the Mises forums.

I think there are a lot more people like me who are beginning to see the light, so keep it up.
Americans are very free though, that's the problem.
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