Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Fingers in the Dike

I've been reading Naomi Wolf's 2007 screed The End of America: Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot in which she details "ten classic pressures" that are essential to and lead inevitably toward dictatorship if not promptly stopped.  If you let them go, she says, dictatorship is inevitable and unstoppable. 
Item by item, she reports on how various dictatorships (with special focus on Mussolini's Italy, Hitler's Germany, and Stalin's Soviet Union) adopted and used each of those pressures to cow any opposition, secure absolute control over the state, and destroy individual freedom.
Each of the steps is a chapter title.
  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
Wolf sees and describes the Bush administration taking steps to adopt each of these.  The result is what she calls a "fascist shift." It's not fascism yet, she says, but it will be if we don't stop it. Soon.
All of us -- Republicans, Democrats, Independents, American citizens -- have little time to repeal the laws and roll back the forces that can bring about the end of the American system we have inherited from the Founders -- a system that has protected our freedom for over 200 years.
I have written this warning because our country . . . is in the process of being altered forever.
She blames all this on the Bush administration and sees the evil in Karl Rove's stated goal of a "permanent Republican majority." And she's concerned that the then-newly elected Democratic-controlled Congress won't undo all the damage.
OK, that was 2007.  Now we know.  The Democrats in Congress didn't fix it when they were in power, and while Obama's administration has eased some of it (apparently, though who really knows, we no longer waterboard ourselves, preferring to outsource direct torture through rendition), it's been more than happy to pursue an anti-civil-liberties agenda.  (As, by the way, did the Clinton administration.  It's folly to believe that any President - or any Congress - will embrace most of the Bill of Rights except, perhaps as a rhetorical device.)
Wolf, again, wrote that in 2007.  And with a built in hatred of the Bush administration.  Consider torture. The experts say it doesn't work.  So he asks this question.
Because torturing prisoners is counterproductive if the goal is securing the Homeland, and because it makes us pariahs in the eyes of the rest of the world, then what could be some genuine reasons why this is so important to this White House?
The implicit answer, of course, is that Bush and company were using the torture of the prisoners at Guantanamo to scare the rest of us. What we do to them, we can do to you. Maybe. But I doubt it. Wolf's question, after all, assumes that those driving the torturing, and those who did it, acted with a canniness I don't see any indication they had. And it assumes that they knew - and actually believed - torture to be counterproductive.
More likely, they actually thought it worked. That's certainly the explanation they offered and the defense they continue to offer.
Torturing those guys kept us safe.  No longer torturing them endangers us.
Besides, look at the pictures from Abu Ghraib. The torturers were having fun. Shits and grins, as they say.
Ultimately, motivation probably doesn't matter. If you end up with a police state, it doesn't really matter much whether you got there by design or by accident.  If we're on the path, regardless of whether the road is carefully paved, we want to get off.
Rick Horowitz, looking more at his own practice and at how the police and courts treat his clients.makes essentially the same point right now. (I'm leaving in his links but deleting his footnote.)
To argue that we should never compare what’s happening in America today to what happened in Germany in the period leading up to the Nazi disaster is to risk ignoring the warning signs should it ever occur again. And don’t think it can’t happen here. As I’ve noted more than once previously (yes, I’m going to quote myself), pre-Nazi Germany wasn’t all that different from the United States today:
As alluded to above, even Nazi Germany didn’t spring fully-armored from the brow of Zeus. There really was a time in Germany, before the reign of the Nazis, in which there were constitutionally-protected freedoms. As Ingo Müller has pointed out, the German legal system was brought down not overnight, but over a period of time, by “the doctrine of ‘national emergency.’”
But, secondly, I’m not even trying to argue here that the police are Nazis.
Not yet, anyway.
And he's about had it.
One reason I haven’t been blogging as much lately is I’m too angry. I’d be calling for a bloodbath: shoot all governmental authorities on sight, I’d be saying. To avoid doing that, I’ve just stopped writing much of anything.
It's all too easy to get to this point.  Follow Radley Balko's nearly daily links to stories of puppycide.  (Here, for instance.)  Look at Scott Greenfield's But for the Video series. (Here, for instance.)  Read . . . Aw, hell, there's too much to point to.
Wolf is right.  So is Horowitz.  We're edging down the path. The steps (they both recognize this) are incremental.  The thing is, enough small steps add up.
Here's the thing.  I can't change the system.  Neither can you.
And, frankly, most people don't really give a damn.  And can't be made to.
We can do it collectively, but frankly none of us with our blogs - not even all of us with our blogs - have the clout.
So we can speak up, each in our own way, and we should.
And we can band together as we can.  There is strength in institutional numbers.  But there are limits, too.
Beyond that, I'm a criminal defense lawyer. What I do is work for my clients.  This one today, that one tomorrow. Greenfield:
The criminal defense lawyers who hit the wall of frustration and break through are the ones who keep the system as honest as it can ever be. It may not be much, but without them, there is no one to impede the machinery of justice. We've all been there. We just keep fighting. Sometimes it help to make a joke of it just to keep our sanity. Sometimes a stiff drink helps. A vacation is always a good idea. Whatever it takes, break through the wall. Welcome to the other side.
Because, really, it's what we do.  One damn case at a time.


  1. Nice post.

    I was talking about this subject with a few friends the other day, all of whom I consider to be intelligent, erudite adults. I proposed that the facade of freedom that we enjoy today will have disappeared during my lifetime; that Federal law will have restricted our civil rights to the point of practical extinction. I also predicted that at the same time, daily life wouldn't change. People would still get up, go to work, come home and have dinner, watch TV and maybe pat momma on the ass.

    How bright do you actually think the average man is, anyway? Do you really think the average man is capable of understanding the implications of suppressing our constitutional rights? Because I don't.

  2. I can't help but wonder whether the title of this post is intended as commentary on Naomi Wolf.

    1. Here I go, writing all this elegant, high-minded shit, and you drag it through the gutter.

      Have you no shame?