Homeland Insecurity

From Will Bunch of The Philadelphia Inquirer:

Even in the hazy, flag-waving days surrounding the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attack on the United States [Note: when America had a nervous breakdown], there was something about [our] rush to create a massive state apparatus called the Department of Homeland Security that made some people’s skin crawl — and not just the usual patchouli-scented, granola-sated, leftist suspects.

“The word ‘homeland’ is a strange word,” George W. Bush’s Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told staffers in a memo after some floated the idea of combining federal functions around immigration, customs, domestic intelligence, and law enforcement into one vast department even before 9/11. “‘Homeland’ Defense sounds more German than American.”

The USA had functioned just fine for 226 years without a Department of Homeland Security, and the decision to create DHS was never cast in stone. Even the hawkish Bush administration wasn’t sure it was needed — politically, the pressure came from centrist Democrats . . . eager to show their post-9/11 cojones. Yet once planted in the ground, DHS has grown wildly like choking, invasive kudzu, causing even the libertarian, Koch-Brothers-funded Cato Institute to call it wasteful and declare “Americans are not safer.”

Donald Rumsfeld was very wrong about many, many things . . . but his qualms about a homeland-security state on U.S. soil were right on the money. The bureaucratic waste and the nation’s failure to confront its real threats from stronger hurricanes to a global pandemic have been bad enough. But the real risk of creating a state-security force was that it would follow the beaten-down, jackbooted pathway of every state security force before it and get turned against the American people.

It would be trite and arguably wrong to label as “unthinkable” the scenes out of Portland, Ore., over the last several weeks involving unbadged and anonymous federal agents hiding behind their dark visors and layers of camouflage. They fire choking tear gas at protesters demanding racial justice, or just-barely-less-than-lethal rubber bullets that can fracture skulls. Meanwhile their comrades take activists off the streets in unmarked vans, or arrest them so a judge can order them to avoid protests . . .

These DHS agents from militarized units within Customs and Border Patrol or Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have become a kind of secret police accountable only to [the president], some 3,000 miles away, and his appointed lackey now running DHS — even as public officials in Oregon . . . begged them to leave.

. . .  The first wave of serious-but-threat-obsessed Republicans who initially ran Homeland Security for Bush 43 [claimed] to be shocked by the nightly footage out of Portland. “It would be a cold day in hell before I would consent to a unilateral, uninvited intervention into one of my cities,” Tom Ridge, the former Pennsylvania governor who was Bush’s initial DHS Secretary, told a radio interviewer. . . . A U.S. government agency waging war on American people was never the idea!

It never is … at first.

“This is an experiment that has failed and needs to be radically rethought,” Elizabeth Goitein told me. She is co-director of the liberty and national security program at the Brennan Center for Justice . . . [She urges Congress] . . . to insist on major reforms, as well as the naming of a permanent secretary after acting chiefs for the last 15 months.

Those of us who warned about a Portland-style scenario in . . . the early 2000s were called alarmists, cranks, dirty [bleeping] hippies and much worse. The November 2002 vote to consolidate 22 federal agencies into the massive, now-240,000-employee DHS passed the Senate 90-9, as few listened to then-Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold . . . warn we were “weakening protections against unwarranted government intrusion into the lives of ordinary Americans.”

To be sure, the 3,000 deaths on 9/11 exposed flaws that required a major tune-up. The CIA and the FBI didn’t talk to each other, NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command) was caught flat-footed, and airport security — then close to nonexistent — needed the overhaul that’s been a bumpy success in the 19 years since. But the massive changes wrought by DHS — largely in response to an international terrorism threat that now seems greatly diminished — were just part of a broader “homeland security” mind-set. It saw every problem in America, from desperate refugees on the border to marginalized people demanding jobs and justice, as a nail to be jackhammered by a harsh, militaristic response, powered by armored personnel carriers (APCs) and private prison cells.

Just as Feingold tried to warn us, the homeland-security state began spying on everyday Americans from Day One, first demanding to see your library card and moving up to bulk collection of your emails, enabled by fear-inspired bills like the Patriot Act that seem impossible to get rid of once they’re on the books.

The panic-stricken notion that al-Qaeda would throw America a curveball by attacking some remote town in Idaho or the Pumpkin Festival in Keene, N.H., which obtained one of the Pentagon’s surplus APCs, was the spark that led to the rise of the militarized warrior cop wielding those spare weapons of war. I’m pretty sure it was Chekhov who advised writers never to introduce body armor or rubber bullets in Act One unless someone’s going to use them in Act Three — even if Act Three is Americans marching against systemic racism.

The surge of new, young recruits who signed up to become Border Patrol or ICE agents in post-9/11 America found there weren’t that many al-Qaeda terror plots to thwart — but they fostered an authoritarian culture that found other outlets (no group more enthusiastically backed [the president’s] 2016 election than the union representing Border Patrol agents) and shared a distrust of immigrants, liberals, and dissent.

They’ve been saying this quiet part out loud for years, and it’s getting louder in the George Floyd era. Txxxx’s Pentagon is now training soldiers to see protesters and journalists as “adversaries.” At DHS, it was inevitable that 77 local “fusion centers” that were supposed to help federal, state and local officials cooperate on terrorism would increasingly monitor legitimate dissent like antiwar activists, Occupy Wall Street, or Black Lives Matter. Or that 15 cities, including Philadelphia, would ask the feds for help spying on protests with its high-powered drones.

For everyday Americans who weren’t paying attention as the frog of free speech sat in this pot of boiling water, Txxxx’s immigration crackdown at the southern border should have been the alarm whistle. Again, there were voices back in 2002 that tried to warn us about the militarized, punitive regime that would be created with the formation of ICE, and with viewing immigration not as a social issue but a national security threat.

Goitein told me that some “mission creep” seemed inevitable with DHS, but the arrival of a president without respect for the rule of law has taken things to today’s current dark place. “Customs and Border Patrol — he has let them off the leash, although there’s a culture there that’s predisposed to [his]“strongman” approach.

Bill Ong Hing, now a professor at the University of San Francisco School of Law, testified back in 2002 against putting ICE under DHS and says today that “Congress created a monster” that conflates immigration and terrorism. Now that monster is putting peaceful protest and legitimate dissent under that same umbrella — and this approach is bleeding down to the local cop on the beat. . . .

Enough already! America had muddled through much of its glorious history without tear gas,or camouflaged robocops — or a massive, now out-of-control Department of Homeland Security . . . one of America’s first great mistakes of the 21st Century.

DHS should be abolished — its component parts rethought, then rebuilt from scratch — not only because the department is wasteful, inefficient, and ineffective against actual threats, but because we’ll be tearing down a neo-fascist mind-set that slowly corrupted America society until it crawled fully formed from the sewers near a Portland courthouse.

It would help in that mission if our policy leaders began to think deeper and realize that DHS wasn’t only one spectacularly bad idea, but symbolic of a militaristic society that can find the directions to send armed forces to Iraq and then to El Paso and finally Portland — yet utterly lacks a moral compass. Yes, even deluded Donald Rumsfeld got one thing right: “Homeland Security” was a dumb concept that sounded worse in the original German.

Question [from a reader]: How can [the president] send troops to Portland without the consent of the governor and mayor?

Answer: Well, that’s the thing. As many of you know, the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 aims to bar the government from deploying soldiers on U.S. soil in many (but not all) scenarios — but those green men with the heavy weaponry in Oregon’s largest city [weren’t] “troops,” not technically. There’s no ban on creating these paramilitary outfits in the Department of Homeland Security.

Unquote.

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Staring Down the Barrel of Martial Law

Yesterday, from The Guardian:

The former acting director of the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, which works under the Department of Homeland Security, has condemned the Trump administration’s handling of protests in Portland by deploying federal agents into the city.

John Sandweg, the former acting director of Ice, who also served as general counsel for the DHS, said Dxxxx Txxxx was using the agency as his own “goon squad”. . . .

From today’s Guardian:

America is “staring down the barrel of martial law” as it approaches the presidential election, a US senator from Oregon has warned as Dxxxx Txxxx cracks down on protests in Portland, the state’s biggest city.

In interviews with The Guardian, Democrat Ron Wyden said the federal government’s authoritarian tactics in Portland and other cities posed an “enormous” threat to democracy, while his fellow senator Jeff Merkley described it as “an all-out assault in military-style fashion”.

In the early hours of Saturday, thousands of protesters gathered again outside the federal courthouse in the city, shooting fireworks at the building as teargas, dispensed by US agents, lingered above. . . . At around 2.30 am, agents marched down the street, clearing protesters with gas at close range. They also extinguished a fire outside the courthouse.

The independent watchdogs for the US justice and homeland security departments said on Thursday they were launching investigations into the use of force by federal agents, including instances of unidentified officers in camouflage gear snatching demonstrators off the streets and spiriting them away in unmarked vehicles.

But Txxxx this week announced a “surge” of federal law enforcement to Chicago and Albuquerque, in addition to a contingent already in Kansas City. The move fueled critics’ suspicions that the president was stressing a “law and order” campaign theme at the expense of civil liberties.

Wyden said in a statement: “The violent tactics deployed by Dxxxx Txxxx and his paramilitary forces against peaceful protesters are those of a fascist regime, not a democratic nation.”

Speaking by phone, he said: “Unless America draws a line in the sand right now, I think we could be staring down the barrel of martial law in the middle of a presidential election.”

Military control of government was last imposed in the US in 1941, after the attack on Pearl Harbor. In current circumstances it would entail “trashing the constitution and trashing people’s individual rights”, Wyden warned.

The senator recalled a conversation with a legal adviser for the head of national intelligence.

“I asked him again and again what was the constitutional justification for what the Txxxx administration is doing in my home town and he completely ducked the questions and several times said, ‘Well, I just want to extend my best wishes to your constituents.’
“After I heard him say it several times, I said my constituents don’t want your best wishes. They want to know when you’re going to stop trashing their constitutional rights.”

Txxxx has falsely accused his election rival, Joe Biden, of pledging to “defund the police” so violent crime will flourish. Democrats condemn Txxxx for a made-for-TV attempt to distract both from Black Lives Matter protests and his mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic, now killing more than 1,000 Americans a day.

“I wish the president would fight the coronavirus half as hard as he attacks my home town,” Wyden said. “I think he’s setting up an us-against-them kind of strategy. He’s trying to create his narrative that my constituents, who are peaceful protesters, are basically anarchists, sympathisers of anarchists and, as he does so often, just fabricate it.
“Txxxx knows that his [coronavirus] strategy has been an unmitigated disaster. The coronavirus is spiking in various places and he’s trying to play to right wing media and play to his base and see if he can kind of create a narrative that gives him some traction.”

The Portland deployment, Operation Diligent Valor, involves 114 officers from homeland security and the US Marshals Service, according to court documents. Local officials say their heavy-handed approach, including teargas and flash grenades, has merely enflamed demonstrations against police brutality and racial injustice. The justice department-led Operation Legend involves more than 200 agents each in Kansas City and Chicago as well as 35 in Albuquerque. [Its stated purpose is to target] violent crime.

Lori Lightfoot, the mayor of Chicago, has vowed to resist the federal intervention.
“We’re not going to allow the unconstitutional, state-sanctioned lawlessness we saw brought to Portland here in Chicago,” she said on Thursday.

Merkley offered words of advice.

“I would say that you probably don’t believe that these federal forces will attack protesters if the protesters are peaceful and you will be wrong because that’s exactly what they’re doing in Portland,” he told The Guardian.

“This is an all-out assault in military-style fashion on a peaceful-style protest. The way to handle graffiti is put up a fence or come out and ask people to stop doing it, not to attack a peaceful protest but that’s exactly what happened. It’s very clear what the president is trying to do is incite violence and then display that violence in campaign ads. And I say this because that’s exactly what he’s doing right now. This is not some theory.”

Unquote.

VOTE.

Let’s Escalate! Another Perspective

From The Onion (five years ago):

Good afternoon, sir. Go ahead and roll your window all the way down for me. My name is Officer Daniel McEwen from the Greene County Police Department. Now, do you know why I’m pulling you over today, being overly aggressive, and charging you with a felony count of assaulting a police officer?

I’m going to need to see your driver’s license, vehicle registration, and proof of insurance. Thank you, sir. Now, just sit tight in your car while I take a look here and grow increasingly hostile. I’m just going to start addressing you in an unmistakably threatening tone that is specifically meant to intimidate and provoke, and then drastically escalate the situation so that it quickly gets out of hand.

Are you aware of the speed limit on this road, sir? It’s 35. I had you clocked at 52 miles per hour, which is why I had to stop you and exhibit a nakedly confrontational, antagonistic, and condescending attitude, practically daring you to challenge my authority in any way whatsoever. You can’t be driving that fast around here, so I’m going to have to write you a ticket and then violently place you under arrest the moment you do or say anything that isn’t in complete and utter compliance—or which could even be remotely construed as noncompliant—with every single instruction I give to you.

Do you understand all that, sir?

If you have any questions about this ticket, I’d be happy to wildly overreact to anything you say that shows the slightest hint of resentment, annoyance, or resistance. Really, while you have me here, I can easily interpret any snide remark or frustrated comment as a potential threat to my safety—even so much as an angry look—and respond in a disproportionately combative way by erupting in unwarranted rage, taking out either my 50,000-volt Taser or my handgun, and pointing it directly at you through the driver’s side window.

Now, I have to head back to my patrol car real quick, so please bear with me here for a few minutes. Then you can be on your way to jail in no time as soon as I come back and forcibly remove you from your vehicle, slam you into the asphalt, cuff you, and jam my knee into your back as I radio in that I need backup right away because you’re resisting arrest—all the while both outright ignoring your vocalized concerns for your safety and directing my own petty, barbed insults at you. Just so we’re on the same page here, you’ll be getting three points on your license for speeding and also assault charges that carry a minimum sentence of one year in prison, but you’ll be assumed guilty of both while I automatically receive the benefit of the doubt despite any and all evidence to the contrary.

You know what, why don’t you step out of the car, sir? And put that goddamn cell phone away.

It’s Already Happened Here

Quoting Adam Serwer in The Atlantic:

The process by which a democracy becomes an authoritarian regime is what social scientists call [“authoritarian-ization”]. The process does not need to be sudden and dramatic. Often, democratic mechanisms are eroded over a period of months or years, slowly degrading the ability of the public to choose its leaders or hold them to account.

Legislators in functioning democracies need not agree on substantive policy matters…, but no matter the party or ideology they support, they must hold the right of the people to choose their own leaders sacred. The entire Senate Republican Conference retains only one legislator willing to act on that principle….

Modern authoritarian institutions diligently seek to preserve the appearance of democratic accountability. Perhaps for this reason, [Attorney General] Barr has insisted publicly that he is protecting the independence of the Justice Department. “I’m not going to be bullied or influenced by anybody,” he told reporters last week…. This is a lawyerly dodge masquerading as bluster—Barr does not need to be bullied into shielding T—- and his friends or pursuing his enemies. Indeed, Barr’s task is to do so while maintaining a veneer of legitimacy over the process, which is impossible to do when T—- makes such demands publicly….

Although in nearly every other context, Barr has been an advocate for the harshest possible punishments, [but] members of the ruling clique are entitled to criticize law enforcement without sanction, and entitled to leniency when they commit crimes on the boss’s behalf. Everyone else is entitled to kneel….

With the exception of [Senator Romney], who voted against acquittal on the first of the two charges, the [Republican Party] now makes no distinction between fealty to T—- and loyalty to the country. The Founders devised the impeachment clause as a remedy for a chief executive who abuses his power to stay in office. But as there were no parties at the time of the founding, they did not foresee that such a chief executive would be shielded by toadies who envision their civic obligations as beginning and ending with devotion to the leader.

Much has been made of T—-’s unfitness for office. But if T—- were the only one who were unfit, his authoritarian impulses would have been easier to contain. Instead, the Republican Party is slowly transforming into a regime party, one whose primary duty is to maintain its control of the government at all costs. The benefits here are mutual: By keeping T—- in power, the party retains power. Individuals who want to rise in the Republican Party and its associated organizations today must be unwavering in their devotion to the leader—that is the only way to have a career in the [party], let alone reap the associated political and financial benefits…

But keeping T—- in office is not the ultimate goal, despite party members’ obsequious public performances….. Rather, the purpose is to preserve the authoritarian structure T—- and Barr are building, so that it can be inherited by the next Republican president. To be more specific, the T—- administration is not fighting a “deep state”; it is seeking to build one that will outlast him….

Let us pause for a moment to take stock of this vision of government. It is a state in which the legislature can neither oversee the executive branch nor pass laws that constrain it. A state in which legal requests for government records on those associated with the political opposition are satisfied immediately, and such requests related to the sitting executive are denied wholesale. It is a system in which the executive can be neither investigated for criminal activity nor removed by the legislature for breaking the law. It is a government in which only the regime party may make enforceable demands, and where the opposition party may compete in elections, but only against the efforts of federal law enforcement to marginalize them for their opposition to the president. It is a vision of government in which members of the civil service may break the law on the leader’s behalf, but commit an unforgivable crime should they reveal such malfeasance to the public.

Were it in any other nation, how would you describe a government that functions this way?

… People may think of authoritarian nations in Cold War terms, as states with bombastic leaders who grant themselves extravagant titles and weigh their chests down with meaningless medals. These are nations without legislatures, without courts, with populations cowed by armies of secret police.

This is not how many authoritarian nations work today. Most have elections, legislatures, courts; they possess all the trappings of democracy. In fact, most deny they are authoritarian at all. “Few contemporary dictatorships admit that they are just that,” writes the scholar Milan Svolik in The Politics of Authoritarian Rule. “If we were to trust dictators’ declarations about their regimes, most of them would be democracies.”

But the democratic institutions that authoritarian nations retain are largely vestigial or have little power to check the executive, either because they are under regime control, or because they are cowed or co-opted into submission.

Similarly, the typical image of an authoritarian nation involves violently suppressing dissent and assassinating or imprisoning political opponents and journalists. But violent suppression has tremendous risks and costs, and so authoritarians have developed more subtle methods of repression.

“Rather than using brute force to maintain control, today’s authoritarian regimes use strategies that are subtler and more ambiguous in nature to silence, deter, and demobilize opponents,” the scholar Erica Frantz writes. “Doing so serves a number of purposes. It attracts less attention, enables them to plausibly deny a role in what occurred, makes it difficult for opponents to launch a decisive response, and helps the regime feign compliance with democratic norms of behavior”…

The frequent worries that it can happen here are arrogant in one respect: It already has happened here. American democracy has always been most vulnerable to an ideology that reserves democratic rights to one specific demographic group, raising that faction as the only one that possesses a fundamentally heritable claim to self-government. Those who are not members of this faction are rendered, by definition, an existential threat.

In the aftermath of the Compromise of 1877, the Republican Party abandoned black voters in the South to authoritarian rule for nearly a century. But the Southern Democrats who destroyed the Reconstruction governments and imposed one-party despotism imagined themselves to be not effacing democracy, but rescuing it from the tyranny of the unworthy and ignorant. “Genuine democracy,” declared the terrorist turned South Carolina governor and senator Ben Tillman, was “the rule of the people—of all the white people, rich and poor alike.”

Similarly, many members of the Republican elite have transitioned seamlessly from attempting to restrain Trump’s authoritarian impulses to enabling them, all the while telling themselves they are acting in the best interests of democracy. This delusion is necessary, a version of the apocalyptic fantasy that conservative pundits have fed their audiences. In this self-justifying myth, only T—- stands between conservative Americans and a left-wing armageddon in which effete white liberals and the black and brown masses they control shut the right out of power forever….

To save “democracy” then, they must, at any cost, preserve a system in which only those who are worthy—that is, those who vote Republican—may select leaders and make policy. If that means disenfranchising nonwhite voters, so be it. If it means imposing a nationwide racial gerrymander to enhance the power of white voters at the expense of everyone else, then that is what must be done. And if it means allowing the president to use his authority to prevent the opposition from competing in free and fair elections, then that is but a small price to pay….

The insistence [by T—- defenders] that “the Democrats have never accepted that Donald Trump won the 2016 election, and they will never forgive him, either” has it exactly backwards. Democrats impeached T—- to preserve a democratic system in which they have a chance of winning, in which the president cannot blithely frame his rivals for invented crimes. Republicans acquitted him because they fear that a system not rigged in their favor is one in which they will never win again.

On Thursday, February 6, millions of Americans went about their lives as they would have any other day….Yet the nation they live in may have been fundamentally changed the day before.

Democratic backsliding can be arrested. But that is an arduous task, and a T—- defeat in November is a necessary but not sufficient step. Many Americans have doubtless failed to recognize what has occurred, or how quickly the nation is hurtling toward a state of unfreedom that may prove impossible to reverse. How long the T—- administration lasts should be up to the American people to decide. But this president would never risk allowing them to freely make such a choice. The Republican Party has shown that nothing would cause it to restrain the president, and so he has no reason to restrain himself.

Since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the American imagination of catastrophe has been limited to sudden, shocking events, the kind that shatter a sunny day in a storm of blood. That has left Americans unprepared for a different kind of catastrophe, the kind that spreads slowly and does not abruptly announce itself. For that reason, for most Americans, that Thursday morning felt like any other. But it was not—the Senate acquittal marked the beginning of a fundamental transition of the United States from a democracy, however flawed, toward [authoritarianism]. It was, in short, the end of the T—- administration, and the first day of the would-be T—- Regime.

Unquote.

Meanwhile, Congressional Democrats have decided to shut up about T—-‘s abuses and talk about healthcare and jobs. It’s an excellent time to contact Speaker Nancy Pelosi and your congressional representative to remind them there is a more urgent issue to deal with.

Destroyed By Madness?

Tom Sullivan of the Hullabaloo blog summarizes. Quote:

… The trend lines were there — from the Birchers and Goldwater to Nixon and the Southern Strategy, from the parallel rise of the Christian right and movement conservatism, to Reagan, to “Rush Rooms” and the Gingrich revolution, and from birtherism to climate denialism to Trumpish authoritarianism.

It is quaint to think George W. Bush’s tax cuts, malapropisms, and war cabinet once seemed the apotheosis of the conservative project. The momentum of that project would carry the right’s explosive-laden artillery shell beyond its intended liberal targets. Plutocrats would get their tax cuts and regulatory rollbacks, but at risk of bringing the shining city on the hill’s walls down around them and us…

The movement conservative leaders thought they had built upon a philosophy of lower taxes and small government was simply a facade. Their own internal polling told them their voters had no interest in it. The culture wars the party fueled as a useful tool in advancing their donors’ objectives was their base voters’ true philosophy:

This would seem to confirm the conclusions that liberals have long harbored. The Republican Party’s political elite is obsessed with cutting taxes for the wealthy, but it recognizes the lack of popular support for its objectives and is forced to divert attention away from its main agenda by emphasizing cultural-war themes. The disconnect between the Republican Party’s plutocratic agenda and the desires of the electorate is a tension it has never been able to resolve, and as it has moved steadily rightward, it has been evolving into an authoritarian party.

The party’s embrace of Trump is a natural, if not inevitable, step in this evolution. This is why the conservatives who presented Trump as an enemy of conservative-movement ideals have so badly misdiagnosed the party’s response to Trump. The most fervently ideological conservatives in the party have also been the most sycophantic: Ryan, Mike Pence, Ted Cruz, Mick Mulvaney, the entire House Freedom Caucus. They embraced Trump because Trumpism is their avenue to carry out their unpopular agenda.

… As dead as irony is in the Age of Trump, the irony remaining is how a movement in reaction to the social transformations of the 1960s now mirrors, and in many ways exceeds, the worst excesses of which it accused civil rights “communists” and long-haired hippies with their drugs and godless “moral relativism.”

Now it is the Republican base addicted to drugs, looking for an angry fix, and making obeisance to a false prophet as the party’s elite grovel for a seat at his right hand. What conservatives need now is not pundits or preachers, but poets.

“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness …”

End quote. 

Or psychiatrists. Anyway, he’s being poetic. He knows they weren’t the best minds to begin with.