Authoritarian America

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I submit that the United States we call home has long ago become an authoritarian form of government. According to Wikipedia, democracies rarely exhibit much authoritarian behavior, except in transition to/from authoritarian states or when martial law is imposed (during war, for example). Many (if not most) citizens of authoritarian states do not perceive their state as authoritarian until late in its development.

Authoritarian regimes grant wide powers to law enforcement agencies; in the extreme, this leads to a police state. Authoritarian regimes may or may not have a rule of law. In the former case, laws are enacted, and though they may seem intrusive, unjust or excessive, they are applied to common people.

Consider the Merriam-Webster New Collegiate Dictionary definition of authoritarian: 1. of, or relating to, or favoring blind submission to authority. 2. of, relating to, or favoring a concentration of power in a leader or elite not constitutionally responsible to the people.

An elite, not constitutionally responsible to the people. So I have a benchmark to go by. We do have a Constitution, and a Bill of Rights. Our leaders are oft described as elite. Let me see . . . .

Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Patriot Act 2 would terminate court-ordered limits on political spying by local and state police. Religious and secular organizations that take controversial political positions could face infiltration and surveillance, whether or not they have any connection to terrorism or other crime (Sec. 312). The people rely on a free press to be able to make wise decisions. The bill would deny the press, and the public, access to the following important information: arrests of terrorism suspects who have not been charged with a crime (Sec. 201) , which might include material witness detainees, immigration detainees, or American citizens or others labeled "enemy combatants" by the President; grand jury proceedings in connection with a terror investigation (Sec. 206), and public information about health and safety hazards of chemical and other plants (Sec. 202). This is a minor but important abridgement of freedom of the press. Free Speech Zones are a new form of control as well. Besides, it is hard to 'redress government' if your free speech zone is far away from your intended audience.

Amendment II

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state , the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

We haven't been free to keep and bear arms uninfringed. We are infringed. Period.

Amendment III

No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

I don't know that this has been violated. Yet. One for three so far . . . .

Amendment IV

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Section 215 of the Patriot Act allows the FBI to order any person or entity to turn over "any tangible things," so long as the FBI "specifies" that the order is "for an authorized investigation . . . to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities." Section 215 vastly expands the FBI's power to spy on ordinary people living in the United States , including United States citizens and permanent residents.

The FBI need not show probable cause, nor even reasonable grounds to believe, that the person whose records it seeks is engaged in criminal activity. The FBI need not have any suspicion that the subject of the investigation is a foreign power or agent of a foreign power. The FBI can investigate United States persons based in part on their exercise of First Amendment rights, and it can investigate non-United States persons based solely on their exercise of First Amendment rights.

Amendment V

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

The Patriot Act II states quite clearly that you simply need to engage in civil disobedience (Sec. 501) to lose your citizenship. THEN you can be classified as an enemy combatant. THEN you can be subject to extraordinary rendition. Furthermore, draconian drug laws have made private property taken for public use without compensation a multi-million dollar business.

Amendment VI

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

Under the Patriot Act, any individual or group that breaks the law with the intent of influencing the government can be labeled a terrorist if their activities are "dangerous to human life." Under that definition, diverse "direct-action" organizations, including Operation Rescue or the World Trade Organization protestors, could be labeled "terrorist organizations." The right to a speedy and public trial has been relinquished quite effectively in the new Patriot Acts. Extraordinary rendition, Habeus Corpus suspension, its all gone, folks. This is a new era in our system of government.

Amendment VII

In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States , than according to the rules of the common law.

Not being an expert in common law, I'll relent here--perhaps two for seven now . . . .

Amendment VIII

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Waterboarding, sleep deprivation, yada yada yada . . . all cruel and unusual until 9/11. Not considered cruel and unusual now. This goes great with extraordinary rendition. Still, only two for eight thus far.


Amendment IX

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

We retain these rights, supposedly, and rights beyond these, according to this. Since we don't have the original ten above (two for eight still), I must heartily assume we don't have this either. I'm an all or nothing kind of guy. Read into it what you like. (Now two for nine).

Amendment X

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

People have rights beyond these enumerated powers, or did at one time, or perhaps never did, but they look nice written on that hemp paper! So we get left with two of ten rights. Hey, great! I feel free already! Ahhh, just bask in the warmth of that freedom!

Being a biker, and having traveled the country, I can say that it is still quite livable; we still have plenty of vestiges of freedom left in this country. However, we are on the brink of no longer being a constitutional republic, and we may never be again. The police state is growing exponentially, and our greatest industry may turn out to be the prison industry in the future. I remain pro-individual liberty, and anti-authoritarian.

Civil disobedience just could get you in quite a bit of trouble today. So if you don't like what is going on, how does a person redress their masters properly? From far away--and quietly.

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Barry Tudor's picture
Columns on STR: 8

Barry Tudor was born in Arkansas in 1960.  He has travelled the entire U.S. from coast to coast.  He's a motorcycle rider, father of three, husband to one, and hater of those who would remove any more of his liberties for the sake of safety, or any other damned reason!