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James Bovard

Twenty Years of a Dictatorial Democracy

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The 2016 election campaign is mortifying millions of Americans in part because the presidency has become far more dangerous in recent times. Since Sept. 11, 2001, we have lived in a perpetual emergency, which supposedly justifies routinely ignoring the law and Constitution. And both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have signaled that power grabs will proliferate in the next four years.

Politicians talk as if voting magically protects the rights of everyone within a 50-mile radius of the polling booth. But the ballots Americans have cast in presidential elections since 2000 did nothing to constrain the commander in chief.

President George W. Bush’s declaration in 2000 that America needed a more “humble” foreign policy did not deter him from vowing to “rid the world of evil” and launching the most catastrophic war in American history. Eight years later, Barack Obama campaigned as the candidate of peace and promised “a new birth of freedom.” But that did not stop him from bombing seven nations, claiming a right to assassinate American citizens, and championing Orwellian total surveillance.
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The Census Bureau's Latest Peril to Freedom

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The Census Bureau is sending its hefty American Community Survey to more than three million households a year. I recently received this 28-page tsunami of questions about everything from my plumbing to my profession to my ethnicity and income. But as a former Census taker who has written about Census controversies for more than 25 years, I distrust this blunderbuss.

In 2005, the American Community Survey replaced the long Census form that was sent to a minority of respondents as part of the once-a-decade population count. Many congressmen are irate that the Census Bureau threatens $5,000 fines against anyone who refuses to answer all the questions. Rep. Ted Poe (R-Tex.) denounced it as an “unnecessary and completely unwarranted government intrusion.”

Unfortunately, citizens’ compliance with Census demands does nothing to ensure that the government itself will respect their privacy or obey the law.
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Obama's Global Anti-Corruption Cops Should Call Internal Affairs

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The Obama administration wants Americans to believe that it is fiercely anti-corruption. “I've been shocked by the degree to which I find corruption pandemic in the world today," declared Secretary of State John Kerry at last week’s Anti-Corruption Summit in London. Kerry sounded like the French detective in Casablanca who was “shocked” to discover gambling. Six years ago at the United Nations, President Obama proclaimed that the US government is “leading a global effort to combat corruption.” Maybe he forgot to send Kerry the memo.

Or maybe Kerry lost the memo. By the time he got to Egypt on Wednesday, judging by his public comments, he seems to have forgotten about corruption despite standing in one of its capitals.

Much of the teeth-gnashing at last week’s summit involved tax evasion. Politicians pledged to share more data on tax records and corporate ownership to help boost government revenue around the globe. Summit attendees castigated hidden offshore tax havens — ironically, the same type of accounts used by both British Prime Minister David Cameron and Kerry. A joint communique solemnly pledged to “driv(e) out those lawyers, real estate agents and accountants who facilitate or are complicit in corruption.”
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The Cover-Up of the Damning 9/11 Report Continues

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Do Americans have the right to learn whether a foreign government helped finance the 9/11 attacks? A growing number of congressmen and senators are demanding that a 28-page portion of a 2002 congressional report finally be declassified. The Obama administration appears to be resisting, and the stakes are huge. What is contained in those pages could radically change Americans’ perspective on the war on terror.

The congressional Joint Inquiry Into Intelligence Community Activities Before and After the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001, completed its investigation in December 2002. But the Bush administration stonewalled the release of the 838-page report until mid 2003 — after its invasion of Iraq was a fait accompli — and totally suppressed a key portion. Former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) chairman of the investigation, declared that “there is compelling evidence in the 28 pages that one or more foreign governments was involved in assisting some of the hijackers in their preparation for 9/11.” Graham later indicated that the Saudis were the guilty party. But disclosing Saudi links to 9/11 could have undermined efforts by some Bush administration officials to tie Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 attacks.

Almost everyone has forgotten how hard the Bush administration fought to torpedo that report. In April 2003, controversy raged on Capitol Hill over the Bush administration’s continuing efforts to suppress almost all of the report by the Joint Intelligence Committee investigation. Some intelligence officials even insisted on “reclassifying” as secret some of the information that had already been discussed in public hearings, such as the FBI Phoenix Memo.
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My Too-Intimate Relations With The TSA

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Airport security or Gitmo? Transportation security requires competence not sexual assault.

The Transportation Security Administration finally obeyed a 2011 federal court order March 3 and issued a 157 page Federal Register notice justifying its controversial full-body scanners and other checkpoint procedures. TSA’s notice ignored the fact that the “nudie” scanners are utterly unreliable; TSA failed to detect 95% of weapons and mock bombs that Inspector General testers smuggled past them last year while the agency continues to mislead the public about its heavy-handed treatment of travelers.

The Federal Register notice is full of soothing pablum about how travelers have no reason to fear the TSA, declaring that “passengers can obtain information before they leave for the airport on what items are prohibited.” But it neglects to mention that TSA can invoke ludicrous pretexts to treat innocent travelers as suspicious terrorist suspects.

Flying home from Portland, Ore., on Thanksgiving morning, I had a too-close encounter with TSA agents that spurred me to file a Freedom of Information Act request. On March 5, I finally received a bevy of TSA documents and video footage with a grope-by-grope timeline.
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Obama Speech Ignored His Death Toll at Home and Abroad

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The White House kept one seat vacant in the gallery during Obama’s State of the Union Address on Tuesday “for the victims of gun violence who no longer have a voice.” This was part of Obama’s campaign for new federal restrictions on firearms ownership.

But shouldn’t there have also been chairs left empty to memorialize other casualties – including those “who no longer have a voice” thanks to Obama administration policies?

While trumpeting the private death toll from guns, Obama ignored the 986 people killed by police in the United States last year according to The Washington Post‘s database. Many police departments are aggressive — if not reckless — in part because the Justice Department always provides cover for them at the Supreme Court. Obama’s “Justice Department has supported police officers every time an excessive-force case has made its way” to a Supreme Court hearing, The New York Times noted last year. Attorney General Loretta Lynch recently said that federally-funded police agencies should not even be required to report the number of civilians they kill.

To add a Euro flair to the evening, Obama could drape tri-color flags on a few empty seats to commemorate the 42 medical staff, patients, and others slain at a last Oct. 3 when an American  AC-130 gunship blasted a French Médecins Sans Frontières‎ hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan. The US military revised its story several times but admitted in November that the carnage was the result of “avoidable … human error.” Regrettably, that bureaucratic phrase lacks the power to resurrect victims.
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Surrendering Liberty: America’s Fatal Freedom Apathy

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According to our civic folklore, Americans are more devoted to freedom than any other nationality on earth. But it is increasingly appears that this dogma is a relic of bygone times.

A Gallup poll last July asked a thousand Americans: “Are you satisfied or dissatisfied with your freedom to choose what to do with your life?” Only twenty-one percent of respondents said they were dissatisfied.

Admittedly, the percentage of Americans who say they don’t have sufficient freedom has doubled since the previous Gallup poll on this question in 2006, when only 9% complained. That number was stunningly low, considering the controversies back then over the Patriot Act and repressive “free speech zones,” and the first round of explosive revelations of National Security Agency illegal wiretaps on thousands of Americans. Obama in 2008 exploited the Bush administration’s dreadful civil liberties record to portray himself as America’s constitutional savior.

Jon Clifton, the managing director of the Gallup World Poll, observed last summer that the 2006 freedom poll “ numbers make sense in terms of our classic self-perception. The recent numbers do not.” But has the “classic self-perception” been bogus for decades?
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