Thursday, May 24, 2012

Corn-Pone Nazis

We've covered the continuing transformation of capitalist democracy to a totalitarian state many times  here - something we've called authoritarian capitalism. To keep the capitalist project going as living standards start to fall and profits shrink, increasingly drastic measures to keep the citizenry in line  must be taken, just as they were when communism started to fail. I use this term for a couple of  reasons - one to point out that authoritarian repression is just as possible under a capitalist economic  system as it was under a state-controlled economy (some would say more so), and to point out that China  is now not only the model for the new economy, but for the future world political order (unelected  oligarchies beholden to the financial class with no limits or checks on their power). The latest example is a truncheon law being passed hurriedly in Canada to whip Montreal protesters in line. This is used in combination with "kettling" tactics in an increasingly draconian crackdown north of the border in supposedly "enlightened" Canada.

More and more people are starting to  take notice. My colleague Bill Hicks did a two part post on some of the historical aspects of the Nazi regime that are often forgotten:
Though obviously much shorter lived, the German empire built by the Nazis followed a trajectory very similar to our own. Germany in the 1930s went through a period of rapid expansion not all that dissimilar to how America aggressively conquered a continent and then began expanding its reach overseas. The amount of physical territory acquired by Germany didn’t actually peak until 1942, at the time of its greatest advance on the eastern front but well beyond the point where its battlefield successes were going to be sustainable in the long run. Likewise, America’s “Operation Barbarossa” moment came in the wake of 9/11 when the Bush administration decided to double down on America’s planetary hegemony by launching two wars of choice in the Middle East while simultaneously expanding both our military presence around the globe and the national security state here at home. Ten years later, the national debt has nearly tripled in size and we have already passed the point where our “successes” at expanding the reach of the empire during the War on Terror will be sustainable in the long run.

The lesson here is again fairly simple: governments become more repressive during times of national crisis, and that repression increases as the situation becomes more desperate. Looking back at some of the greatest assaults on individual liberties throughout American history—the Alien and Sedition Acts in the late 1790s, the suspension of Habeas Corpus during the Civil War, the imprisonment of antiwar protestors during World War I, the Palmer raids during the first wave of Red scares, the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, the McCarthy hearings early in the Cold War, the Kent State shootings when the Vietnam War had become a hopeless quagmire and waterboarding, rendition, and warrantless wiretapping during the “War” on Terror—shows that they all occurred at a time when America was either actively at war or feared it was about to be attacked.

The fact is, if you were a non-Nazi “Good German” during this time—law abiding, able bodied, willing to work and not too vociferous in your complaints about the nation’s leadership—the first seven years or so of Hitler’s rule must have seemed like a glorious time to be alive. Even after Hitler launched the war and chronic shortages of nearly every consumer good became endemic, for awhile you could at least take national pride in the seemingly never ending stream of German military successes. In fact, unless you were one of the unlucky souls slogging it out in the brutal combat of the eastern front, it was only after the defeat at Stalingrad and the appearance of American and Royal Air Force bombers overhead with relentless regularity that your quality of life really began to suffer.
People think of fascism as just a man with a silly mustache. Because of their compartmentalized thinking, they cannot accept the tell-tale signs when they are wrapped in pro-America rhetoric. Simply put, people supported Hitler because in the short run things were better, he had the backing of wealthy industrialists, and they were the finest masters of twisting manipulating people's passions the world had yet seen at that point.

Morris Berman has an excellent post in the same vein documenting many of the things we've been talking about here. I urge you to read it in its entirety. He documents six major areas of creeping authoritarianism:
  • I. The creation of a political climate in which the police are out of control, arbitrarily free to  intimidate anyone for virtually anything.
  • II. The persecution of whistleblowers, protesters, and dissenters
  • III. The dramatic expansion of the surveillance of American citizens on the part of the National  Security Agency (NSA)
  • IV. The corruption of the judicial system by means of show trials of Muslim activists
  • V. The construction of political detention centers, also known as Communication Management Units  (CMU’s)
  • VI. The shredding of the Bill of Rights by means of the National Defense Authorization Act.
Some of his points:
In June 2011 the sheriff of Nelson County, North Dakota, called in a Predator B drone from the local Air Force base to capture three men who had stolen some cows. Once the unmanned aircraft located the suspects, police rushed in to make the first known arrests of U.S. citizens with the help of a Predator spy drone. It turns out that predator drones are frequently used for domestic investigations all over the U.S.—by the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and by state and local law enforcement officials.

At the height of its insanity, the Stasi in East Germany was spying on 1 out of 7 citizens. The U.S. is now spying on 7 out of 7.

The NDAA, also known as the “indefinite detention bill,”  was signed into law by President Obama on 31  December 2011. It has no temporal or geographic limitations, and can be used by Mr. Obama or any future  president to military detain U.S. citizens.  As in pre-Magna Carta days, you can simply be swept up and  put away forever—disappeared—with no explanation of why, no right to call a lawyer or anybody else, and  no right to a trial.  You can actually be tortured to death, if the government decides it is in the  national interest. The NDAA is probably the greatest rollback of civil liberties in the history of the  United States.

The bottom line, of course, is that if you destroy the judicial system, then finally nobody is safe. The government could wind up railroading anyone they don’t like, and I very much doubt that this possibility is far-fetched.  First they came for the Muslims...

Where do the suspected Muslim terrorists go? It turns out that the government is using secret prison facilities to house inmates accused of non-violent activities, i.e. of allegedly being tied to terrorist groups. As it turns out, these are not just Muslim groups; the CMU’s are also being used to house environmental activists.

Just as an aside, there are, in general, more people under “correctional supervision” in America than there were in the Russian gulag under Stalin, at its height. Writing in the New Yorker on 30 January 2012, Adam Gopnik declared: “Mass incarceration on a scale almost unexampled in human history is a fundamental fact of our country today.”
Berman concludes:
This leads me to my final point. The distinctive characteristic of American democracy, from 1776, was  the protection of the individual and the preservation of individual rights. That no longer exists.  Anyone is a potential terrorist now; anyone can be persecuted, prosecuted, and in effect, destroyed.  Democracy is only  possible if dissent is not only permitted, but also respected. This too is finished.  What does this mean for someone such as myself?, is something I lay awake nights thinking about. I have  published three books, and half a collection of essays, showing where we have gone wrong, predicting  our eventual collapse—indeed, this repression is part of that collapse—and arguing that the U.S. no  longer has a moral compass; that it is spiritually bankrupt. I run a blog that is anything but polite:  it says the U.S. is finished; that it is basically a corporate plutocracy, run by a gangster elite;  that the American people are basically morons, with little more than fried rice in their heads; and  that anyone with half a brain and the means to do so should emigrate before it’s too late. I’m not  really a threat to the U.S. government, largely because I am not a political activist and because it’s  not likely that more than 74 people out of 311 million regularly read my blog (it’s probably more like  24, in fact). But as the definition of terrorism widens in this country, what is to prevent the  creation of a category known as “intellectual terrorism” from arising, and putting folks like myself in  that category? What is to prevent the government from calling such activity a clear and present danger  to national security? As must be obvious by now, the government can do anything it wants to now; as in  Nazi Germany, we now have a government of men, not of laws. Indeed, the “laws” are little more than a  pretext for whatever the government wishes to do.

-When a country puts laws such as torture or indefinite detention or arbitrary assassination on the  books, sooner or later it will use these legal instruments.  They won’t just lie dormant, in other  words. As in the case of technology, once the mechanisms are there, the temptation to employ them  simply becomes too great to resist. That is what is happening today.

-In a world that is politically construed along Manichaean lines—which, as I have argued elsewhere,  America has been doing since Day 1—the first line of attack is against the enemy outside. It doesn’t  matter if we are talking about Protestants or Catholics or al-Qaeda operatives or infidels of any kind,  the first order of business is to go to war with them. But as the British anthropologist Mary Douglas  shows in her book Purity and Danger, or Norman Cohn demonstrates in The Pursuit of the Millennium, if  the war goes on long enough, inevitably the enemy is also seen to be a fifth column, i.e. within the  walls of the body politic itself.  They become Huguenots or Marrano Jews or heretics of whatever  stripe, and as in the case of Goya’s famous painting, Saturn Devouring His Son, the country begins to  eat itself alive.  Everybody becomes an enemy; no one is safe any longer. And so I believe that I, and  you, really do have reason to worry.
Slouching Toward Nuremberg (Dark Ages America)

That last point is one that worries me too. Are we going to have to watch what we say; watch what we do? Is this what the Founding Fathers wanted?

In a similar vein, Naomi Klein writes in The Guardian:
Some have argued that this present "war on women" is a war against progressivism – or a war against feminism, in particular. I would say, looking at the big picture, that it is more serious than that – not that those options are not plenty serious enough. I would say that the call for transvaginal probes, for gagging medical providers, for sending the state to shake a finger for an extra 72 hours at a distressed woman and stand between her and the discussion she is having with her inner-most and private conscience, is all part of the larger crackdown we see on privacy, private space, freedom and personal choice.

It is on the same spectrum of control: the will to gag Bradley Manning or Julian Assange also seek to gag a medical provider in South Dakota. The same impulse to peer into personal emails and listen to private phone calls that has led the NSA to pour billions into surveillance stations in Utah, is the same impulse of panopticon state control that wants to get between the sheets of men and women in consensual sexual decision-making, and monitor or restrict their access to condoms and contraception. And it is the same Big Brother impulse for control that maintains that what a woman does with her own care-provider is a function of state management.

But in fact, the bigger crackdown shows us that it is merely the genderized manifestation of state control. This impulse to mediate and regulate personal choices has been inflamed, I would argue, not by women being particularly uppity – but by people being uppity. The awakening of protesting and demanding behavior of Occupy communities and of Ron Paul supporters, of the unions in Wisconsin, and the students in Montreal, and the rebellious Greeks in Athens, has made the gatekeepers seek every kind of method of control available to them.
If Germany, one of the most intelligent and literate places on earth, with multiple newspapers and an  educated citizenry could not hold off fascism, then how can America, full of cranks, charlatans, opportunists, and zealots, seething with poverty and racial tension, where most people have no access to any  information outside of Fox News, and with no essential cultural connections binding us together, hold off the tide?

I'm surprised, given his recitation of the rollback of civil rights for Jews, Berman did not point out that  the exact same things are being done in the United States today using homosexuals as scapegoats.  Numerous states have taken the time to take legislative action to strip civil rights from gays (while simultaneously  ignoring more pressing issues like mass unemployment and deteriorating infrastructure). And now the corn-pone Nazis are now openly calling  for homosexuals to be rounded up into concentration camps and murdered, every last one. Please watch the following, and feel a chill go up your spine:

Laugh and dismiss these clowns all you like. That's exactly what they did with Hitler and his reprobate followers early on too. Who had  the last laugh there?