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John W. Whitehead

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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Drones, Tanks, and Grenade Launchers: Coming Soon to a Police Department Near You

Why does a police department which hasn’t had an officer killed in the line of duty in over 125 years in a town of less than 20,000 people need tactical military vests like those used by soldiers in Afghanistan?  BearcatFor that matter, why does a police department in a city of 35,000 people need a military-grade helicopter? And what possible use could police at Ohio State University have for acquiring a heavily-armored vehicle intended to withstand IED blasts?

Why are police departments across the country acquiring heavy-duty military equipment and weaponry? For the same reason that perfectly good roads get repaved, perfectly good equipment gets retired and replaced, and perfectly good employees spend their days twiddling their thumbs—and all of it at taxpayer expense. It’s called make-work programs, except in this case, instead of unnecessary busy work to keep people employed, communities across America are finding themselves “gifted” with drones, tanks, grenade launchers and other military equipment better suited to the battlefield.
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Who’s to Blame for Battlefield America? Is It Militarized Police or the Militarized Culture?

It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly is responsible for the growing spate of police shootings, brutality and overreach that have come to dominate the news lately, whether it’s due to militarized police, the growing presence of military veterans in law enforcement, the fact that we are a society predisposed to warfare, indoctrinated through video games, reality TV shows, violent action movies and a series of endless wars that have, for younger generations, become life as they know it—or all of the above.

Whatever the reason, not a week goes by without more reports of hair-raising incidents by militarized police imbued with a take-no-prisoners attitude and a battlefield approach to the communities in which they serve.

The latest comes out of New Mexico, where cops pulled David Eckert over for allegedly failing to yield to a stop sign at a Wal-Mart parking lot. Suspecting that Eckert was carrying drugs because his “posture [was] erect” and “he kept his legs together,” the officers forced Eckert to undergo an anal cavity search, three enemas, and a colonoscopy. No drugs were found.
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Welcome to the United Police States of America, Where Police Shoot First & Ask Questions Later

Bearcat

No longer is it unusual to hear about incidents in which police shoot unarmed individuals first and ask questions later. What is unusual is our lack of outrage, the relative disinterest of our elected representatives, the media’s abysmal failure to ask questions and demand answers, and our growing acceptance of the status quo in the United Police States of America—a status quo in which “we the people” are powerless in the face of the heavy-handed tactics employed by the government and its armed agents.

However, as I document in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, it’s all part of the larger police state continuum. Thus, with each tragic shooting that is shrugged off or covered up, each piece of legislation passed that criminalizes otherwise legal activities, every surveillance drone that takes to the skies, every phone call, email or text that is spied on, and every transaction that is monitored, the government’s stranglehold over our lives grows stronger.

We have been silent about too many things for too long, not the least of which is the deadly tendency on the part of police to resort to lethal force. However, as Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us, “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.”
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Obama, NSA Spying and the Dangers of Secretive, Authoritarian Government

Recent reports indicating that President Obama was aware of and personally approved an NSA program that involved spying on the personal communications of various international leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, have once again highlighted the deception and intransigence of the Obama administration in dealing with the revelations that the National Security Agency has been acting outside the bounds of the law, sucking up electronic communications the world over.

While this may come as a shock to most Americans, I’ve been writing about the NSA’s illegal surveillance tactics since the 1980s, which features prominently in my new book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State. However, this latest development in the spying saga—that the NSA has been aiming its surveillance activities at the citizens of allied countries, including France and Germany—has thrown a kink into the Obama administration’s attempts at maintaining a cozy relationship with its foreign allies.
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Who Will Protect You from the Police? The Rise of Government-Sanctioned Home Invasions

SWAT

It’s 3 a.m. You’ve been asleep for hours when suddenly you hear a loud “Crash! Bang! Boom!” Based on the yelling, shouting and mayhem, it sounds as if someone—or several someones—are breaking through your front door. With your heart racing and your stomach churning, all you can think about is keeping your family safe from the intruders who have invaded your home. You have mere seconds before the intruders make their way to your bedroom.


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Transforming America’s Schools into Authoritarian Instruments of Compliance

School Jail

These days, it is far too easy to rattle off the outrageous examples of zero tolerance policy run amok in our nation’s schools. A 14-year-old student arrested for texting in class. Three middle school aged boys in Florida thrown to the ground by police officers wielding rifles, who then arrested them for goofing off on the roof of the school. A 9-year-old boy suspended for allegedly pointing a toy at a classmate and saying “bang, bang.”

Two 6-year-old students in Maryland suspended for using their fingers as imaginary guns in a schoolyard game of cops and robbers. A 12-year-old New York student hauled out of school in handcuffs for doodling on her desk with an erasable marker. An 8-year-old boy suspended for making his hand into the shape of a gun, in violation of the school district’s policy prohibiting “playing with invisible guns.” A 17-year-old charged with a felony for keeping his tackle box in his car parked on school property, potentially derailing his chances of entering the Air Force. Two seventh graders in Virginia suspended for the rest of the school year for playing with airsoft guns in their own yard before school.
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From NSA Spying and VIPR Sweeps to Domestic Drones: A Round-Up of the Police State Programs NOT Affected by a Government Shutdown

Capitol Bldg

Like clockwork, we’ve ticked back to the annual government shutdown scare that invariably dominates news headlines and sends stocks seesawing for a few scant weeks until, at the very last moment, the nation is miraculously pulled from the brink of disaster. It’s always an entertaining show, with both Republicans and Democrats doing their best to one-up each other with heartbreaking anecdotes about the millions who will suffer in the event of a government shutdown and showy bravado over the need for greater fiscal stewardship, while conveniently failing to rein in two of the biggest drains on our budget—namely, the military and surveillance industrial complexes.

Indeed, while a government shutdown will inevitably impact everything from Head Start, and key welfare services to national museums and IRS audits, the one area not impacted in the least will be the police/surveillance state and its various militarized agencies, spying programs and personnel. Incredibly, although more than 800,000 government workers could find themselves without paychecks or with reduced (or for members of the military, delayed) paychecks, President Obama and Congress will still get paid on time.

Take a look at the programs and policies that will not be affected by a government shutdown, and you’ll get a clearer sense of the government’s priorities—priorities which, as I point out in my new book, A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, have little to do with serving taxpayers and everything to do with maintaining power and control, while being sold to the public under the guise of national security.
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Licensed to Kill: The Growing Phenomenon of Police Shooting Unarmed Citizens

SWAT

Here’s a recipe for disaster: Take a young man (or woman), raise him on a diet of violence, hype him up on the power of the gun in his holster and the superiority of his uniform, render him woefully ignorant of how to handle a situation without resorting to violence, train him well in military tactics but allow him to be illiterate about the Constitution, and never stress to him that he is to be a peacemaker and a peacekeeper, respectful of and subservient to the taxpayers, who are in fact his masters and employers.

Once you have fully indoctrinated this young man (or woman) on the idea that the police belong to a brotherhood of sorts, with its own honor code and rule of law, then place this person in situations where he will encounter individuals who knowingly or unknowingly challenge his authority, where he may, justifiably or not, feel threatened, and where he will have to decide between firing a weapon or, the more difficult option, adequately investigating a situation in order to better assess the danger and risk posed to himself and others, and then act on it by defusing the tension or de-escalating the violence.


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The NSA: ‘The Abyss from Which There Is No Return'

Teufelsberg
“The National Security Agency’s capability at any time could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left, such is the capability to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn’t matter. There would be no place to hide. If a dictator ever took over, the N.S.A. could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back.”—Senator Frank Church (1975)
We now find ourselves operating in a strange paradigm where the government not only views the citizenry as suspects but treats them as suspects, as well. Thus, the news that the National Security Agency (NSA) is routinely operating outside of the law and overstepping its legal authority by carrying out surveillance on American citizens is not really much of a surprise. This is what happens when you give the government broad powers and allow government agencies to routinely sidestep the Constitution.
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