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The NSA: “The Abyss from Which There Is No Return” PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Guest Commentaries
Written by John W. Whitehead   
Tuesday, 20 August 2013 16:48

We now find ourselves operating in a strange paradigm where the government not only views the citizenry as suspects but treats them as suspects, as well. Thus, the news that the National Security Agency (NSA) is routinely operating outside of the law and overstepping its legal authority by carrying out surveillance on American citizens is not really much of a surprise. This is what happens when you give the government broad powers and allow government agencies to routinely sidestep the Constitution.

Indeed, as I document in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, these newly revealed privacy violations by the NSA are just the tip of the iceberg. Consider that the government’s Utah Data Center (UDC), the central hub of the NSA’s vast spying infrastructure, will be a clearinghouse and depository for every imaginable kind of information – whether innocent or not, private or public – including communications, transactions, and the like. In fact, anything and everything you’ve ever said or done, from the trivial to the damning – phone calls, Facebook posts, Tweets, Google searches, e-mails, bookstore and grocery purchases, bank statements, commuter toll records, etc. – will be tracked, collected, catalogued, and analyzed by the UDC’s supercomputers and teams of government agents.

By sifting through the detritus of your once-private life, the government will come to its own conclusions about who you are, where you fit in, and how best to deal with you should the need arise. Indeed, we are all becoming data-collected in government files. Whether or not the surveillance is undertaken for “innocent” reasons, surveillance of all citizens gradually poisons the soul of a nation. Surveillance limits personal options – denies freedom of choice – and increases the powers of those who are in a position to enjoy the fruits of this activity.

 
The Myth of a Post-Racial America PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Guest Commentaries
Written by John W. Whitehead   
Tuesday, 02 July 2013 14:19

How can you thank a man for giving you what’s already yours? How then can you thank him for giving you only part of what’s already yours? You haven’t even made progress, if what’s being given to you, you should have had already. That’s no progress.” – Malcolm X, 1964

In 1964, the United States was in the throes of racial conflict. Civil-rights activists were leading black Americans and their white allies in a struggle against institutionalized racism, segregation, and disenfranchisement. The situation was bleak, activists were being murdered, the government seemed deadlocked on the issue, and many were losing hope. However, the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act set the stage for a positive transformation in race relations in a country that had been plagued by racial tension since its inception.

We have yet to live up to that hoped-for transformation. Almost 50 years later, despite having made demonstrable progress on the race issue, the idea that we live in a “post-racial” society is simply a myth – a myth that was given a boost last month when the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, legislation enacted during the Civil Rights Era that was critical to the enfranchisement of black Americans living in the Jim Crow South. Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Roberts claimed that times had changed since thae 1960s, and the section of the law requiring historically racist sections of the country to have changes to their elections laws vetted by the federal government was anachronistic.

Superficially, Roberts’ claims ring true. Obviously Americans have made great strides in confronting issues of race since the 1960s. De jure segregation has been eliminated, minority groups have greater access to essential goods and services, and we have seen what many thought would never happen: the election of a black man to the office of the president.

Yet looking past the veil of progress that clouds the vision of well-meaning people who believe the issue of racism has been solved, we can easily see that there are many policies and practices in America that perpetuate the inequality of races. The following is a brief rundown of the many fronts on which America continues to fail to live up to its “post-racial” ideal.

 
Audubon School Should Be Saved PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Guest Commentaries
Written by Alexandra Elias   
Tuesday, 04 June 2013 08:04

(Editor’s note: After this commentary was submitted, the Save Audubon School coalition announced developer interest in the site.)

Does the Statue of Liberty pay her own way? Does the Chicago Public Library make money? The Rock Island City Council would have you think they ought to. Despite hearing overwhelming testimony in favor of retaining Audubon School, six council members voted on May 13 to destroy a 1923 historic treasure that has educated five generations of students in Rock Island. The building had been designated a city landmark until the city council stripped the designation to make way for a chain grocery store. This is terribly short-sighted and ignores this site’s value to the neighborhood that surrounds it and to the entire city. The school must be saved.

 
The “Why” Behind the IRS Scandal PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Guest Commentaries
Written by Daniel S. Brown Jr.   
Tuesday, 21 May 2013 09:41

Let’s begin with a premise: Challenging, delaying, questioning, or bullying organizations about their not-for-profit, educational purposes chills both free speech and a free press. The current ruckus involving Internal Revenue Service policies aimed at conservative political groups supports that notion to be sure.

What we are learning now is that not-for-profit political organizations connected to the network of Tea Party groups were not the only organizations targeted by IRS administrators. In the past few days, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) sent an open letter to President Barack Obama outlining its contention that it was subjected to discrimination because IRS agents investigated, audited, and threatened it with the loss of its tax-exempt status. To the current administration, the man who has appeared in Gallup’s Top 10 Most Admired Men in the World for 56 years needed to be investigated. So, too, did his son Franklin Graham’s not-for-profit charity, Samaritan’s Purse. The BGEA letter to the president states: “This is morally wrong and unethical – indeed some would call it ‘un-American.’”

 
The Insecurity State PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Guest Commentaries
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Thursday, 02 May 2013 05:17

(Editor’s note: This essay is a response to this commentary.)


The scene in Boston on April 18 and 19 was awesome.

By that, I don’t mean it was cool. Rather, the mass law-enforcement action to shut down the city and search for the brothers Tsarnaev was “awesome” in the dictionary sense of “awe”: “dread ... and wonder that is inspired by authority.”

In his commentary in the May 2 issue of the River Cities’ Reader, John W. Whitehead announces that the situation showed that “the police state has arrived.” Certainly, anybody who’s doubted warnings about the police state should have been struck by the swiftness, scope, coordination, and force of law-enforcement actions those two days following the bombs that exploded at the April 15 Boston Marathon. Even though television viewers didn’t see much beyond reporters breathlessly saying that something was happening, it was readily apparent that the combined resources of federal, state, and local law enforcement are a fearsome instrument that can be unleashed quickly and without regard for rights.

So if you have the misfortune of seeing your picture above “Suspect Number 1” or “Suspect Number 2” on TV, I hope you did something truly evil, as this is the man- and firepower you’ll face. And if you decline to let police search your home in a scenario similar to what happened in Boston, good luck.

But this was not a “police state” as most people think of it – a brutal, proactively oppressive regime. It would be more accurate to say that the Boston metro area on April 18 and 19 was a vivid demonstration of our potential for a police state through a single, short-lived, but widespread instance of de facto martial law.

Yet it was also a visible reminder of a more persistent underlying condition: the security state that has been built steadily in the United States since September 11, 2001. It’s ostensibly designed to prevent terrorist attacks, but it proved last month that it’s much more adept at responding to them.

Boston showed what our police state could look like. Now we need to decide whether it’s what we want.

 
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