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John W. Whitehead

‘Just Salute and Follow Orders’: When Secrecy and Surveillance Trump the Rule of Law

Spiedon

Question: How can you tell when a politician is lying?  Answer: When he’s moving his lips.

If that didn’t generate a chuckle, how about:
Q: Why is honesty in politics like oxygen?

A: The higher you go, the scarcer it gets.
Then there’s President Obama’s gaffe on the Tonight Show: “We don’t have a domestic spying program,” which is downright laughable in light of this past year’s revelations about domestic spying by the National Security Agency. But if that still doesn’t push you over the edge into near hysterics, here’s one guaranteed to get the biggest laugh of all, at least from those clear-sighted enough to grasp the irony of a politician talking about “trust”:
“If people can’t trust not only the executive branch but also don’t trust Congress, and don’t trust federal judges, to make sure that we’re abiding by the Constitution with due process and rule of law,” declared President Obama in June 2013, in response to questions about the government’s domestic spying program, “then we’re going to have some problems here.”

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A Military Plot to Take Over America: Fifty Years Later, Was the Mission Accomplished?

Sevendays

With a screenplay written by Rod Serling, creator of The Twilight Zone, director John Frankenheimer’s 1964 political thriller Seven Days in May is a clear warning to beware of martial law packaged as a well meaning and overriding concern for the nation’s security. Yet, incredibly enough, 50 years later, we find ourselves hostages to a government run more by military doctrine and corporate greed than by the rule of law established in the Constitution.

Indeed, proving once again that fact and fiction are not dissimilar, today’s current events—ranging from the government’s steady militarization of law enforcement agencies, and its urban training exercises wherein military troops rappel from Black Hawk helicopters in cities across the country, from Miami and Chicago to Minneapolis, to domestic military training drills timed and formulated to coincide with or portend actual crises, and the Obama administration’s sudden and growing hostilities with Russia—could well have been lifted straight out of Seven Days in May, which takes viewers into eerily familiar terrain.

The premise is straightforward enough: With the Cold War at its height, Jordan Lyman (played by Fredric March), an unpopular U.S. President, signs a momentous nuclear disarmament treaty with the Soviet Union. Believing that the treaty constitutes an unacceptable threat to the security of the United States and certain that he knows what is best for the nation, General James Mattoon Scott (Burt Lancaster), the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and presidential hopeful, plans a military takeover of the national government.
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Lights, Camera, Arrested: Americans Are Being Thrown in Jail for Filming Police

Film Police

Once again, the U.S. government is attempting to police the world when it should be policing its own law enforcement agencies. We’ve got a warship cruising the Black Sea, fighter jets patrolling the Baltic skies, and a guided-missile destroyer searching the South China Sea for the downed Malaysia Airlines flight.

All the while, back home in the U.S., our constitutional rights are going to hell in a hand basket, with homeowners being threatened with eviction for attempting to live off the grid, old women jailed for feeding crows, and citizens armed with little more than a cell phone arrested for daring to record police activities.

Robin Speronis now finds herself threatened with eviction from her own Florida home for daring to live off the grid, independent of city utilities such as water and electricity. City officials insist the Cape Coral resident’s chosen way of life violates international property maintenance code and city ordinances.

Mary Musselman, also a Florida resident, is being held in jail without bond for “feeding wild animals.” The 81-year-old Musselman, on probation after being charged with feeding bears near her home, was arrested after officers discovered her leaving bread out for crows. Meanwhile, Brandy Berning of Florida was forced to spend a night in jail after recording her conversation with an officer who pulled her over for a routine traffic stop.
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Free Speech, RIP: A Relic of the American Past

Free Speech

Living in a representative republic means that each person has the right to take a stand for what they think is right, whether that means marching outside the halls of government, wearing clothing with provocative statements, or simply holding up a sign. That’s what the First Amendment is supposed to be about.

Unfortunately, as I show in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American  Police State, through a series of carefully crafted legislative steps and politically expedient court rulings, government officials have managed to disembowel this fundamental freedom, rendering it with little more meaning than the right to file a lawsuit against government officials. In fact, if the court rulings handed down in the last week of February 2014 are anything to go by, the First Amendment has, for all intents and purposes, become an exercise in futility.

On February 26, the U.S. Supreme Court in a 9-0 ruling, held that anti-nuclear activist John Denis Apel could be prosecuted for staging a protest on a public road at an Air Force base, free speech claims notwithstanding, because the public road is technically government property.
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Paranoia, Surveillance and Military Tactics: Have We Become Enemies of the Government?

Policeguns

Relationships are fragile things, none more so than the relationship between a citizen and his government. Unfortunately for the American people, the contract entered into more than 200 years ago has been reduced to little more than a marriage of convenience and fiscal duty, marked by distrust, lying, infidelity, hostility, disillusion, paranoia and domestic abuse on the part of the government officials entrusted with ensuring the citizenry’s safety and happiness.

Don’t believe me? Just take a stroll through your city’s downtown. Spend an afternoon in your local mall. Get in your car and drive to your parents’ house. Catch the next flight to that business conference. While you’re doing so, pay careful attention to how you and your fellow citizens are treated by government officials—the ones whose salaries you are paying.

You might walk past a police officer outfitted in tactical gear, holding an assault rifle, or drive past a police cruiser scanning license plates. There might be a surveillance camera on the street corner tracking your movements. At the airport, you may be put through your paces by government agents who will want to either pat you down or run scans of your body. And each time you make a call or send a text message, your communications will most likely be logged and filed.
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The State of Our Nation: The Greatest Threat to Our Freedoms Is the Government

What was striking about this year’s State of the Union address was not the sheer arrogance of the president’s remarks, the staged nature of the proceedings and interactions, or the predictable posturing of the rebuttals, but the extent to which the members of the various branches of government—President Obama, Congress, the Supreme Court, and the assorted government agencies—are just one big, brawling, noisy, semi-incestuous clan.

Watching these bureaucrats, both elected and appointed, interact in the unguarded moments before the event, with their hugging and kissing and nudging and joking and hobnobbing and general high spirits, I was reminded anew that these people—Republicans and Democrats alike—are united in a common goal, and it is not to protect and defend the Constitution. No, as Orwell recognized in Animal Farm, their common goal is to maintain the status quo, a goal that is helped along by an unquestioning, easily mollified, corporate media. In this way, the carefully crafted spectacle that is the State of the Union address is just that: an exaggerated farce of political theater intended to dazzle, distract and divide us, all the while the police state marches steadily forward.
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Life in the Electronic Concentration Camp: The Many Ways That You’re Being Tracked, Catalogued and Controlled

Surviellance

What is most striking about the American police state is not the mega-corporations running amok in the halls of Congress, the militarized police crashing through doors and shooting unarmed citizens, or the invasive surveillance regime which has come to dominate every aspect of our lives. No, what has been most disconcerting about the emergence of the American police state is the extent to which the citizenry appears content to passively wait for someone else to solve our nation’s many problems. Unless Americans are prepared to engage in militant nonviolent resistance in the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi, true reform, if any, will be a long time coming.

Yet as I detail in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, if we don’t act soon, all that is in need of fixing will soon be unfixable, especially as it relates to the police state that becomes more entrenched with each passing day. By “police state,” I am referring to more than a society overrun by the long arm of the police. I am referring to a society in which all aspects of a person’s life are policed by government agents, one in which all citizens are suspects, their activities monitored and regulated, their movements tracked, their communications spied upon, and their lives, liberties and pursuit of happiness dependent on the government’s say-so.
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Life in the Emerging American Police State: What’s in Store for Our Freedoms in 2014?

In Harold Ramis’ classic 1993 comedy Groundhog Day, TV weatherman Phil Connors (played by Police StateBill Murray) is forced to live the same day over and over again until he not only gains some insight into his life but changes his priorities. Similarly, as I illustrate in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, we in the emerging American police state find ourselves reliving the same set of circumstances over and over again—egregious surveillance, strip searches, police shootings of unarmed citizens, government spying, the criminalization of lawful activities, warmongering, etc.—although with far fewer moments of comic hilarity.
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A Christmas To-Do List for a Better World

In an age of bureaucracy, overcriminalization and militarized police, it often seems as if no Christmas Treegood deed goes unpunished. Indeed, although Charles Dickens immortalized the money-loving, Christmas-hating, bah-humbuggiest of humbugs Ebenezer Scrooge in his classic A Christmas Carol, the world has always been plagued by Scrooges so single-minded in their pursuit of money, power and control that they exhibit few qualms about stamping out acts of kindness, compassion and true charity when they arise. Still, we must press on, despite the Scrooges of the world.

So how do we press on and make the world a better place in the face of weaponized drones, far-reaching surveillance and a government that with every passing day is coming to resemble authoritarian regimes of old?
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What We Should Not Be Thankful for This Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving

I will be the first to acknowledge that there is much to be thankful for about life in America, especially when compared to those beyond our borders whose daily lives are marked by war, hunger and disease. Despite our kvetching, grumbling and complaining, most Americans have it pretty good compared to less fortunates the world over.

Still, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that all of our so-called blessings will amount to little more than gilding on a cage if we don’t safeguard the freedoms on which this nation was founded, freedoms which have historically made this nation a sanctuary for the oppressed and persecuted. And if there is one freedom in particular need of protecting right now, it is the Fourth Amendment, which has been on life support for quite some time.

It used to be that the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which enshrines the rights to free speech, free press, assembly, religious exercise and petitioning one’s government for a redress of grievances, was considered the most critical of the amendments in the Bill of Rights. Since writing my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, however, I have come to believe that the Fourth Amendment, which demands that we be “secure” in our persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures by the government and, consequently, stands as a bulwark against the police state, is, in fact, the most critical.
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