Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Dismantling the Corporate State


By Reginald Johnson 

                America has slid into a form of  “corporate totalitarianism”  where basic rights and freedoms outlined in our Constitution have been wiped away.

            The only thing that will restore our rights will be a mass movement, similar to the labor movement and civil rights movements of years past,  where people defy the government and engage in acts of civil disobedience.

            That’s the view of one of America’s leading intellectuals, Chris Hedges, the author of numerous books on America’s social condition and a former reporter for The New York Times.  Speaking at a recent conference on civil liberties at Central Connecticut State University, Hedges said the establishment of a mass surveillance system, repressive new laws and corporate power have made democracy in the United States  “a fiction.” There is only one way to turn it around. 

            “Reform will only come through building mass movements and alternative centers of power that can overthrow --- let me repeat that word for Homeland Security --- overthrow the corporate state,” he said.           

 Hedges was the keynote speaker at the conference sponsored by the Connecticut Coalition to Stop Indefinite Detention. The gathering also featured workshops and panel discussions on issues related to prisoners, discrimination against Muslims, deportations, drones, unlawful detentions and other civil liberties subjects.

A 20-year foreign correspondent who reported in East Germany and Czechoslovakia under communist rule, as well as in El Salvador and Guatemala during the civil wars in the 1980s, Hedges said the United States is taking on many of the characteristics of the dictatorial regimes he once covered.

    Under the guise of fighting terrorism, a vast surveillance apparatus has been set up through the National Security Agency and the FBI, which allows the government to learn everything about you --- who you are communicating with, what your views are, what your activities are, where you travel, and if you’ve had any personal issues or problems in the past. As whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed, the NSA sweeps up phone calling “metadata” of all Americans as well as their emails.

   The FBI, through legislation passed after 911, can secretly gain your personal information by issuing warrantless National Security Letters to anyone --- your employer, your bank, your doctor, your friends or a library, Hedges said.  They also have the technical capabilities through cell phones and GPS systems to track your geographical movements.

Moreover, “they will store this information for perpetuity in government computers,” Hedges said.

Additionally, under the Section 1021 provision of the National Defense Authorization Act, the government now has the power to arrest an American citizen simply on the basis that they might be linked to terrorists, place them in jail, and hold them indefinitely, without due process. And, as has happened under Barack Obama, the President can order the assassination of American citizens, if it is determined such individuals are terrorists.

Chris Hedges speaks on the surveillance state

Hedges said that those who try to expose illegal behavior by the government are  “hunted down” and pay a heavy price. He pointed to Chelsea Manning, an Army officer who released military files to divulge war crimes by U.S. soldiers, and then was tried on espionage charges; and Snowden, who released classified files to reveal the unconstitutional NSA spying program, and then had to flee the country to avoid prosecution.

     “This is always the way totalitarian secret police forces work --- the SS, the KGB, the East German Stasi,” said Hedges. “Dissent is criminalized, truth is hidden.”

   As the laws were passed and court decisions handed down which enabled the surveillance state, Constitutional provisions such as the 4th Amendment and its guarantee of privacy, have been shredded, Hedges said.

    Hedges said many people in the legal profession should have spoken up during this period of constitutional erosion, but did not.  “Where are the judges, the deans of law schools, the nation’s 1 million lawyers?” he asked.  “Why do they refuse to defend the Constitution? They have become valued partners, along with a bankrupt press, in a campaign to eradicate our most basic civil liberties.”

   While the  ‘war on terrorism’ and ‘national security’ are always cited as the reasons for the passage of the laws and judicial decisions curbing civil liberties, Hedges sees another reason behind the repression: corporate influence.  In these times of economic distress and widening inequality,  the elites in the corporate world fear potential unrest and seek control, Hedges said.  A mass surveillance system serves their interests.

            “Totalitarianism no longer comes through communism or fascism, it comes now from corporations,” Hedges said. “And these corporations fear those who think, write and speak out and those who form relationships freely. Individual freedom impedes their power and their profit.”

        Hedges, the author of a dozen books, including  “Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt,” “Empire of Illusion,” and “Death of the Liberal Class,” dismissed the idea that reform of our government and repealing anti-democratic laws will somehow come from elected officials like Obama or members of Congress.

  About the recent proposal by Obama to restrict NSA’s metadata collection, in the wake of Snowden’s revelations, Hedges said at first it seems good, “until you look at the details.”

  Then he said,  “I ask you, how many times does Barack Obama have to lie to you before you get it?”

     He said Obama had broken a number of pledges concerning civil liberties and constitutional matters, including the promise to close the Guantanamo Bay prison; a pledge to revisit the Patriot Act; the promise to shut down our “black sites”; or the promise to reverse unconstitutional executive decisions by his predecessor, former President George Bush.

   “We got none of this. We got more untruths,” Hedges said.

 To restore our liberties, Hedges said,  the American people cannot look to government officials. “It means refusing to trust in their cosmetic reforms. Reforms will never come from those complicit in crimes.”

 In the end, it will be the people who will have to bring about change. “We can only save ourselves. We are the people we have been waiting for,” he said.

  “We must find, like Snowden, the physical and moral courage to tear down the structures that enslave us,” he said.