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Let the Million Flowers Bloom

Let the Million Flowers Bloom

By William Rivers Pitt
28 March 2012

Totalitarian systems always begin by rewriting the law. They make legal what was once illegal. Crimes become patriotic acts. The defense of freedom and truth becomes a crime. Foreign and domestic subjugation merges into the same brutal mechanism. Citizens are colonized. And it is always done in the name of national security. We obey the new laws as we obeyed the old laws, as if there was no difference. And we spend our energy and our lives appealing to a dead system.

- Chris Hedges

If you're going to raise your voice in America, it's like this.

The first of the more than 70 Occupy Wall Street protesters arrested Saturday afternoon and evening were arraigned yesterday in Manhattan Criminal Court.

Exhausted by a night and day in jail and shaken by the violence of the police response to Occupy Wall Street's six-month anniversary celebration, many burst into tears of relief when they were finally released to the friendly welcome of the movement's Jail Support team.

Unlike many of the other defendants with whom they shared cells, the protesters could feel confident that they would soon be released -- Occupy posts bail for those arrested during movement actions.

But protesters and their legal advisers were surprised yesterday to learn that the size of their bail was being affected by whether defendants were willing to have the distinctive patterns of their irises photographed and logged into a database.

(Emphasis added)

...which strikes me as deeply troubling because of this:

The Associated Press recently obtained documents showing undercover NYPD officers attended meetings of liberal political groups and kept intelligence files on activists who planned protests around the country.

In its report, the AP goes on to mention that at the height of the Occupy Wall Street protests, officials at the U.S. Homeland Security Department repeatedly urged authorities not to produce intelligence reports based on political activities.

But documents obtained by Rolling Stone in late February show the DHS scoured OWS-related Twitter feeds for information and the report includes a special feature on what it calls Occupy's "social media and IT usage," complete with interactive maps of protests and gatherings nationwide.

The main concern in the documents appears to be maintaining a business-friendly environment for Wall Street.

(Emphasis added)

...which makes sense when you know about this:

[New York City mayor Michael] "Bloomberg visited Goldman Sachs Group Inc.'s headquarters in Manhattan in a show of support after a departing employee (Greg Smith) publicly criticized the firm's culture yesterday," according to a Bloomberg News report.

There's just so many things wrong with Bloomberg's visit, it's hard to know where to begin.

Whether or not you support the Occupy movement, it's stomach-turning to think about the NYPD ripping up camp sites, spraying mace and manhandling the disenfranchised, while the mayor dines with a Wall Street CEO who not only bet against U.S. homeowners in the mortgage meltdown but structured deals for his favorite billionaire clients, only to shaft investors on the other side of the deal.

(Emphasis added)

...but that's New York City, right? The known and accepted World Headquarters for mayhem, corruption and busting you in the face, right? That kind of strong-arm super-state crap wouldn't fly in the rest of America, in Obama's hopeful and changing America, right?

...except for this, which ran all too appropriately on the Ides of March:

Under construction by contractors with top-secret clearances, the blandly named Utah Data Center is being built for the National Security Agency. A project of immense secrecy, it is the final piece in a complex puzzle assembled over the past decade. Its purpose: to intercept, decipher, analyze, and store vast swaths of the world's communications as they zap down from satellites and zip through the underground and undersea cables of international, foreign, and domestic networks. The heavily fortified $2 billion center should be up and running in September 2013. Flowing through its servers and routers and stored in near-bottomless databases will be all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails-parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital "pocket litter." It is, in some measure, the realization of the "total information awareness" program created during the first term of the Bush administration-an effort that was killed by Congress in 2003 after it caused an outcry over its potential for invading Americans' privacy.

In the process-and for the first time since Watergate and the other scandals of the Nixon administration-the NSA has turned its surveillance apparatus on the US and its citizens. It has established listening posts throughout the nation to collect and sift through billions of email messages and phone calls, whether they originate within the country or overseas. It has created a supercomputer of almost unimaginable speed to look for patterns and unscramble codes. Finally, the agency has begun building a place to store all the trillions of words and thoughts and whispers captured in its electronic net. And, of course, it's all being done in secret. To those on the inside, the old adage that NSA stands for Never Say Anything applies more than ever.

Once the communications are intercepted and stored, the data-mining begins. "You can watch everybody all the time with data- mining," Binney says. Everything a person does becomes charted on a graph, "financial transactions or travel or anything," he says. Thus, as data like bookstore receipts, bank statements, and commuter toll records flow in, the NSA is able to paint a more and more detailed picture of someone's life.

(Emphasis added)

...which, when combined with the Obama administration's newly-minted "Counter-Terrorism Guidelines" regarding the legal, official use of private data on Americans:

On Thursday, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder signed expansive new guidelines for terrorism analysts, allowing the National Counter Terrorism Center (NCTC) to mirror entire federal databases containing personal information and hold onto the information for an extended period of time-even if the person is not suspected of any involvement in terrorism.

Despite the "terrorism" justification, the new rules affect every single American. The agency now has free rein to, as the New York Times' Charlie Savage put it, "retrieve, store and search information about Americans gathered by government agencies for purposes other than national security threats" and expands the amount of time the government can keep private information on innocent individuals by a factor of ten.

As other civil liberties organizations have noted, the new guidelines are reminiscent of the Orwellian-sounding "Total Information Awareness" program George Bush tried but failed to get through Congress in 2003-again in the name of defending the nation from terrorists. The program, as the New York Times explained, sparked an "outcry" and partially shut down Congress because it "proposed fusing vast archives of electronic records - like travel records, credit card transactions, phone calls and more - and searching for patterns of a hidden terrorist cell."

Despite Congress' utter rejection of the "Total Information Awareness" program (TIA) in 2003, this is the second time this month the administration has been accused of instituting the program piecemeal. In his detailed report on the NSA's new "data center" in Utah, Wired Magazine's James Bamford (Linked above) remarked that the new data storage complex is "the realization" of the TIA program, as it's expected to store and catalog "all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Google searches."

(Emphasis added)

...means the situation before us in America is terrifying, nauseating and infuriating in equal measure.

But wait, there's more:

Two Texas lawmakers are pushing the Pentagon to hand off surplus combat equipment from Iraq to local law enforcement agencies along the U.S.-Mexico border. The equipment includes Humvees, weapons and night vision goggles.

The Houston Chronicle reports Texas Reps. Ted Poe and Henry Cuellar (QUAY'-yar) have been joined by 17 border sheriffs from Texas, New Mexico and Arizona in a letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta requesting that he move up delivery of surplus equipment.

The lawmakers said more than 1.5 million pieces of equipment have already been shipped out of Iraq over the last year and nearly 900,000 remain.

(Emphasis added)

Yeah, OK.

Let me get this straight.

The Occupy protesters arrested in Zuccotti Park on March 17th were pressured to give retinal scans to the authorities - retinal scans! - by the same police that spied on and infiltrated peaceful liberal/progressive organizations, while the mayor broke bread with the worst of the Wall Street thieves. Meanwhile, a new NSA facility designed specifically to collect comprehensive information on every American comes to light, at almost the same time as a battery of "new rules" are unveiled that open the informational floodgates.

Oh, P.S., municipalities are actively seeking any and all leftovers from the ten years America spent in Iraq. Humvees, night-vision goggles, weapons...hell, whatever. "1.5 million pieces of equipment have already been shipped out of Iraq over the last year," says the report, "and nearly 900,000 remain."

The crushing of dissent, the official identification of dissenters, the vast expansion of federal power, and the hyper-arming of local authorities.

Nothing to worry about, right?


Buffalo Springfield was wrong. There's something happening here, and it is exactly clear.

We are, at this moment, in a savagely perilous place.

There are plenty of people out there who will flap the idiots currently running for the GOP presidential nomination in your face in order to dragoon you into supporting President Obama come November, and that's fine. That's their job, that's what they do, and there is no doubt that the comparison favors them...but it is a stone-sharpened fact that, nationally, we are at this moment hedging true fascism as sharply as we were back in the 'Bad Old Days' of George and the boys, if not more so.

Some would argue that we are closer now to a true fascist America than we were then, because people of good conscience who fought against George W. Bush's militant, media-succored fascism tend nowadays to be inclined to let this current happy-faced fascism slide. After all, it's an election year, "Obama is better than Bush," and retail politics in America, sadly, is more in tune with the NFL - "My team rules, your team sucks" - than it is with what is best for the nation.

It is up to you to decide where you stand. You know better than the blithering idiots on TV, radio and the internet. You know better than your elected officials, better than the advocates who howl for your support, better than anyone.

Do what you think is right.

Do what you think is best.

Understand that the real enemy is not Obama now, or Bush before him, but our own very American tendency to endure the abrogation of our sovereign American rights without complaint.

Enough of that, forever.

Let the million flowers bloom.


William Rivers Pitt is a Truthout editor and columnist. He is also a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of three books: "War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know," "The Greatest Sedition Is Silence" and "House of Ill Repute: Reflections on War, Lies, and America's Ravaged Reputation." He lives and works in Boston.

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