Wednesday, June 18, 2008

On martial law in Trinidad—USA:

On June 7th, martial law came to America. Police in Washington, D.C. set up checkpoints on a one way street leading into the city’s Trinidad neighborhood. Anyone attempting to enter the area is asked for ID and a “legitimate reason” for going into the so-called "Neighborhood Safety Zone". Since when does an American innocent of any crime need to justify his or her travels around our free country as “legitimate?” This extreme and un-American tactic is being used ostensibly because there were 3 murders in a weekend and they are trying to prevent more drive bys. It is interesting to note that many of the media reports about this development mention that there were 7 murders that weekend, despite the fact that the majority of them were not in Trinidad. This smacks of the fear-mongering that Naomi Wolf identifies in her book, The End of America, as a tool utilized by many a would-be dictator seeking to precipitate a fascist shift in a free society.

“All those who seek to close down an open society invoke a terrifying external threat [internal threats are also invoked, see tens steps below]. Why is it so important for such leaders to whip up this kind of terror in a population? Free citizens will not give up freedom for very many reasons, but it is human nature to be willing to trade freedom for security. Before 1922 in Italy and 1933 in Germany, citizens of those nations suffered from mayhem playing out in the streets, and labored in economies ravaged by inflation and war. In both Italy and Germany, many citizens were eventually relieved when fascists came to power because they believed that order would be restored.” (The End of America, Naomi Wolf, 2007, p 36)

“Among the themes that fascist elites develop when they are driving toward an authoritarian system are: a sense of overwhelming crisis beyond the reach of any traditional solutions…” (Wolf p 37)

When I first read the review of Wolf’s book, subtitled Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot, I saw that she devoted a chapter to each of the ten steps she says dictators always take to close down a free society. They are:

1. Invoke an external and internal threat
2. Establish secret prisons
3. Develop a paramilitary force
4. Surveil ordinary citizens
5. Infiltrate citizens’ groups
6. Arbitrarily detain and release citizens
7. Target key individuals
8. Restrict the press
9. Cast criticism as “espionage” and dissent as “treason”
10. Subvert the rule of law

I knew the Bush administration had taken some of these steps but I did not understand how far down the road we’ve come until I read more carefully. Wolf spells out how each of these steps has been taken—is being taken-- and how each causes us to allow our freedoms to slip away.

We need to address this, despite the upcoming election, because our laws have been altered, reinterpreted and ignored such that Bush and any subsequent executive has too much power.

"Hitler could never have ascended to power as he did if the Reichstag [Parliament] had not first cravenly, but legally, weakened Germany’s system of checks and balances. Lawmakers who were not Nazis—who in fact were horrified by Nazis—unwittingly opened the door for Nazis to overturn the rule of law, and did so before the Nazis came formally to power." Wolf, p 39

"Hitler’s predecessor… was a centrist… but he tampered with the framework of the German democracy, reduced the power of the Parliament, and restricted civil liberties in a way that Nazis seized upon. Increasingly the republic was governed by emergency decree. The erosion of the rule of law unbolted the door for Hitler then he used the law to burst it open and let the flood ensue." Wolf pp 39-40

• Nazi “Hermann Goering informed Germany it was now on a ‘war footing’ because communist terrorists… planned to poison the water supply…” Wolf, p 41

• Another Nazi “introduced clause 2 which suspended parts of the German constitution” which, among other things, “gave police forces the power to hold people in custody indefinitely without a court order…” Wolf, p 41

• Then Hitler convinced Parliament to amend the constitution with the Enabling Act, “which would allow him to permanently circumvent some powers of the Parliament—it was now legal for the state to tap citizens’ phones and open their mail.” Wolf, p 41

“Not wanting to be seen as unpatriotic, there was little debate: lawmakers of all parties passed the Enabling Act by a wide majority…From then on, Hitler could govern by decree.” Wolf, p 41

Sound familiar?

We have already come too far down the road. One tactic of the ten that has not yet been widely employed is the turning of strong arm tactics on ordinary citizens by the state, usually by a paramilitary force (Don’t think Bush has one?—read the book!). If we go there, either because of fear of an outside threat like Islamic terrorism or an inside one like urban gang activity (or both!), I am afraid we will have passed the point of no return.

I heard about the checkpoints in Trinidad on National Public Radio, but I’m concerned that I haven’t heard a major outcry. When I googled to find articles about it, I couldn’t find them easily on the web (I had to search NPR’s site). The press is being restricted in insidious ways (read the book!). Wolf says bloggers, like the patriots who circulated pamphlets in the run up to the Revolution, must take over the responsibility of reporting the truth, thereby giving the people the ability to judge when action needs to be taken.

I believe that time is now.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

On a nominee for all of us:

It’s a bizarre irony that in this age of political correctness, tolerance and supposed acceptance, the latest excuse for why we can’t have a black president is that the candidate is a member of the elite. They used to tell us that black people were too dumb or backward to even vote, never mind run for office. Black people were portrayed as dirty, poorly dressed, slang-spewing monkeys. Now we’re presented with a guy whose intelligence can’t be denied, and he’s too smart?

The idea that Barack Obama is an elite who is out of touch with what real Americans face is a non-starter. (Compared to Dubya, who is seen as an everyman, despite the silver spoon in his mouth since birth, only because he sticks his foot in beside it constantly??) The fact that this is the only objection offered is proof that those who oppose a non-white president are fresh out of arguments. (I’m not sure it’s even possible to be black and elite in America. Blacks who have amassed wealth or been educated are just not entitled in the same way as white elites—but that’s another post.)

I’ve been quiet till now. We do need to be careful about this issue of race in America-- we are most certainly not past it. I have to say that it has been my experience that biracial people have a special ability to transcend race and understand it at the same time. My dad—who is looking down from up there somewhere smiling in giddy disbelief tonight-- made sure I understood, despite my lily white skin, the challenges of being black in our society. But he also lived his life in mainstream America and he did pretty damn well despite having to work twice as hard as any white person to get half as far. That taught me more than any bitter words he could have uttered-- though he uttered quite a few.

The next generation in mixed families—Barack and I—have a somewhat different perspective. The clothes and the degrees and the positions of power have come a little easier to us thanks to those who have come before. We haven’t forgotten the pain of our fathers (and mothers) but perhaps since its not our own, we can see it, give it its proper weight, and also manage to look past it to see the pain that defines and shapes the experience of others. Because we can "pass" in both worlds, we can see the racism and also know (and even love) the people behind it: the fears, the misconceptions, as well as the commonalities. That’s what Barack was talking about in his speech a while back.

Barack Obama looks at the same battlefield as the Reverend Wright and he refuses to take sides, ignore the problem or surrender to the difficult task of working it out.

Our nominee is mixed. It’s not his only feature, but it’s not something I think we should ignore because I believe it’s the reason he might actually—finally—offer Americans of all races, colors and creeds reconciliation.

(Dare we hope that he’ll offer the same to America the world actor and its enemies?)

We’re ready. Let’s elect a president for all of us.