Teary-eyed John Boehner.
Serpentine-eyed Eric Cantor.
Vacation time for U.S. House members.
Millions of Americans were almost occupied again.
The pestilent priorities of politics almost prevailed again over principles.
Occupy Wall Street might soon have become Occupy America.
But the gestapo-like guardians of a quondam, dying Democracy (quasi-police state) are still capable and ready with their pepper spray, shields, batons, and those new-fangled things that zap eardrums to hinder dissenters.
Just take a shower and get a job.
The occupiers are occupying because they and most Americans have been occupied for quite some time.
(NOTE: Etymology of to occupy: During 16c.-17c. a euphemism for "have sexual intercourse with," which caused it to fall from polite usage.)
The occupying protestors are not just unclean hippies and anarchistic agitators, or homeless drugsters, or marauding men and women looking for quick and easy sex. Of course, there are some of these. It is the world, after all, and its stage has panoply of characters.
These protestors are fed-up, battered, beleaguered, brave souls who have lost jobs and savings.
They are the 99% who are telling the 1% to pay up---not down---and to contribute a higher percentage of taxes from their very high incomes. They beckon that some corporations actually start paying income taxes.
AMERICA IS FOR ALL, and NOT JUST FOR ONE!
IT'S THE OIL STUPID!
Nestled amid plains so flat the locals joke you can watch your dog run away for miles, Fargo treasures its placid lifestyle, seldom pierced by the mayhem and violence common in other urban communities. North Dakota’s largest city has averaged fewer than two homicides a year since 2005, and there’s not been a single international terrorism prosecution in the last decade.
But that hasn’t stopped authorities in Fargo and its surrounding county from going on an $8 million buying spree to arm police officers with the sort of gear once reserved only for soldiers fighting foreign wars.
Every city squad car is equipped today with a military-style assault rifle, and officers can don Kevlar helmets able to withstand incoming fire from battlefield-grade ammunition. And for that epic confrontation—if it ever occurs—officers can now summon a new $256,643 armored truck, complete with a rotating turret. For now, though, the menacing truck is used mostly for training and appearances at the annual city picnic, where it’s been parked near the children’s bounce house.
“Most people are so fascinated by it, because nothing happens here,” says Carol Archbold, a Fargo resident and criminal justice professor at North Dakota State University. “There’s no terrorism here.”
Like Fargo, thousands of other local police departments nationwide have been amassing stockpiles of military-style equipment in the name of homeland security, aided by more than $34 billion in federal grants since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, a Daily Beast investigation conducted by the Center for Investigative Reporting has found.Interactive Map: States Spend Billions on Homeland Security
The buying spree has transformed local police departments into small, army-like forces, and put intimidating equipment into the hands of civilian officers. And that is raising questions about whether the strategy has gone too far, creating a culture and capability that jeopardizes public safety and civil rights while creating an expensive false sense of security.
“The argument for up-armoring is always based on the least likely of terrorist scenarios,” says Mark Randol, a former terrorism expert at the Congressional Research Service, the nonpartisan research arm of Congress. “Anyone can get a gun and shoot up stuff. No amount of SWAT equipment can stop that.”
Local police bristle at the suggestion that they’ve become “militarized,” arguing the upgrade in firepower and other equipment is necessary to combat criminals with more lethal capabilities. They point to the 1997 Los Angeles-area bank robbers who pinned police for hours with assault weapons, the gun-wielding student who perpetrated the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007, and the terrorists who waged a bloody rampage in Mumbai, India, that left 164 people dead and 300 wounded in 2008.
The new weaponry and battle gear, they insist, helps save lives in the face of such threats. “I don’t see us as militarizing police; I see us as keeping abreast with society,” former Los Angeles Police chief William Bratton says. “And we are a gun-crazy society.”
Adds Fargo Police Lt. Ross Renner, who commands the regional SWAT team: “It’s foolish to not be cognizant of the threats out there, whether it’s New York, Los Angeles, or Fargo. Our residents have the right to be protected. We don’t have everyday threats here when it comes to terrorism, but we are asked to be prepared.”
The skepticism about the Homeland spending spree is less severe for Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and New York, which are presumed to be likelier targets. But questions persist about whether money was handed out elsewhere with any regard for risk assessment or need. And the gap in accounting for the decade-long spending spree is undeniable. The U.S. Homeland Security Department says it doesn’t closely track what’s been bought with its tax dollars or how the equipment is used. State and local governments don’t maintain uniform records either.
To assess the changes in law enforcement for The Daily Beast, the Center for Investigative Reporting conducted interviews and reviewed grant spending records obtained through open records requests in 41 states. The probe found stockpiles of weaponry and military-style protective equipment worthy of a defense contractor’s sales catalog.
In Montgomery County, Texas, the sheriff’s department owns a $300,000 pilotless surveillance drone, like those used to hunt down al Qaeda terrorists in the remote tribal regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan. In Augusta, Maine, with fewer than 20,000 people and where an officer hasn’t died from gunfire in the line of duty in more than 125 years, police bought eight $1,500 tactical vests. Police in Des Moines, Iowa, bought two $180,000 bomb-disarming robots, while an Arizona sheriff is now the proud owner of a surplus Army tank.
The flood of money opened to local police after 9/11, but slowed slightly in recent years. Still, the Department of Homeland Security awarded more than $2 billion in grants to local police in 2011, and President Obama’s 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act contributed an additional half-billion dollars.
Law enforcement officials say the armored vehicles, assault weapons, and combat uniforms used by their officers provide a public safety benefit beyond their advertised capabilities, creating a sort of “shock and awe” experience they hope will encourage suspects to surrender more quickly.
“The only time I hear the complaint of ‘God, you guys look scary’ is if the incident turns out to be nothing,” says West Hartford, Conn., Police Lt. Jeremy Clark, who organizes an annual SWAT competition.
A grainy YouTube video from one of Clark’s recent competitions shows just how far the police transformation has come, displaying officers in battle fatigues, helmets, and multi-pocketed vests storming a hostile scene. One with a pistol strapped to his hip swings a battering ram into a door. A colleague lobs a flash-bang grenade into a field. Another officer, holding a pistol and wearing a rifle strapped to his back, peeks cautiously inside a bus.
The images unfold to the pulsing, ominous soundtrack of a popular videogame, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. Though resembling soldiers in a far-flung war zone, the stars of this video are Massachusetts State Police troopers.
The number of SWAT teams participating in Clark’s event doubled to 40 between 2004 and 2009 as Homeland’s police funding swelled. The competition provides real-life scenarios for training, and Clark believes it is essential, because he fears many SWAT teams are falling below the 16 hours of minimum monthly training recommended by the National Tactical Officers Association.
“Luck is not for cops. Luck is for drunks and fools,” Clark said, explaining his devotion to training.
One beneficiary of Homeland’s largesse are military contractors, who have found a new market for their wares and sponsor training events like the one Clark oversees in Connecticut or a similar Urban Shield event held in California.
Special ops supplier Blackhawk Industries, founded by a former Navy SEAL, was among several Urban Shield sponsors this year. Other sponsors for such training peddle wares like ThunderSledge breaching tools for smashing open locked or chained doors, Lenco Armored Vehicles bulletproof box trucks, and KDH Defense Systems’s body armor.
“As criminal organizations are increasingly armed with military-style weapons, law enforcement operations require the same level of field-tested and combat-proven protection used by soldiers and Marines in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other high-risk locations,” boasts an Oshkosh Corp. brochure at a recent police seminar, where the company pitched its “tactical protector vehicle.”
The trend shows no sign of abating. The homeland security market for state and local agencies is projected to reach $19.2 billion by 2014, up from an estimated $15.8 billion in fiscal 2009, according to the Homeland Security Research Corp.
The rise of equipment purchases has paralleled an apparent increase in local SWAT teams, but reliable numbers are hard to come by. The National Tactical Officers Association, which provides training and develops SWAT standards, says it currently has about 1,650 team memberships, up from 1,026 in 2000.
Many of America’s newly armed officers are ex-military veterans from the front lines of Iraq and Afghanistan. Charles Ramsey, who was police chief in Washington, D.C., on 9/11, upgraded the weaponry when he moved to Philadelphia in 2008. Today, some 1,500 Philly beat cops are trained to use AR-15 assault rifles.
“We have a lot of people here, like most departments, who are ex-military,” Ramsey says. “Some people are very much into guns and so forth. So it wasn’t hard to find volunteers.”
Some real-life episodes, however, are sparking a debate about whether all that gear also creates a more militarized mind-set for local police that exceeds their mission or risks public safety.
In one case, dozens of officers in combat-style gear raided a youth rave in Utah as a police helicopter buzzed overhead. An online video shows the battle-ready team wearing masks and brandishing rifles as they holler for the music to be shut off and pin partygoers to the ground.
And Arizona tactical officers this year sprayed the home of ex-Marine Jose Guerena with gunfire as he stood in a hallway with a rifle that he did not fire. He was hit 22 times and died. Police had targeted the man’s older brother in a narcotics-trafficking probe, but nothing illegal was found in the younger Guerena’s home, and no related arrests had been made months after the raid.
In Maryland, officials finally began collecting data on tactical raids after police in 2008 burst into the home of a local mayor and killed his two dogs in a case in which the mayor’s home was used as a dropoff for drug deal. The mayor’s family had nothing to do with criminal activity.
Such episodes and the sheer magnitude of the expenditures over the last decade raise legitimate questions about whether taxpayers have gotten their money’s worth and whether police might have assumed more might and capability than is necessary for civilian forces.
“With local law enforcement, their mission is to solve crimes after they’ve happened, and to ensure that people’s constitutional rights are protected in the process,” says Jesselyn McCurdy, senior legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. “The military obviously has a mission where they are fighting an enemy. When you use military tactics in the context of law enforcement, the missions don’t match, and that’s when you see trouble with the overmilitarization of police.”
The upgrading of local police nonetheless continues. Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio now claims to operate his own air armada of private pilots—dubbed Operation Desert Sky—to monitor illegal border crossings, and he recently added a full-size surplus Army tank. New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly boasted this fall he had a secret capability to shoot down an airliner if one threatened the city again. And the city of Ogden, Utah, is launching a 54-foot, remote-controlled “crime-fighting blimp” with a powerful surveillance camera.
Back in Fargo, nearby corn and soybean farmer Tim Kozojed supports the local police but questions whether the Homeland grants have been spent wisely. ”I’m very reluctant to get anxious about a terrorist attack in North Dakota,” Kozojed, 31, said. “Why would they bother?”
Set Your Doomsday Clock to 11:51
The National Defense Authorization Act is not a leap from democracy to tyranny, but it is another major step on a steady and accelerating decade-long march toward a police state. The doomsday clock of our republic just got noticeably closer to midnight, and the fact that almost nobody knows it, simply moves that fatal minute-hand a bit further still.
I’m not referring to the “doomsday” predicted by Leon Panetta should military spending be scaled back to the obscenely inflated levels of 2007. I’m talking about the complete failure to keep the republic that Benjamin Franklin warned we might not. Practices that were avoided, outsourced, or kept secret when Bill Clinton was president were directly engaged in on such a scale under president George W. Bush that they became common knowledge. Under President Obama they are becoming formal law and acceptable policy.
Obama has claimed the power to imprison people without a trial since his earliest months in office. He spoke in front of the Constitution in the National Archives while gutting our founding document in 2009. So why not pick the 220th anniversary of the Bill of Rights to further codify its elimination? President Obama has claimed the power to torture “if needed,” issued an executive order claiming the power of imprisonment without trial, exercised that power on a massive scale at Bagram, and claimed and exercised the power to assassinate U.S. citizens. Obama routinely kills people with unmanned drones.
As Obama’s Justice Department has broken new ground in the construction of state secrecy and immunity, the Bush era advancers of imperial presidential power have gone on book tours bragging about their misdeeds. One can expect the next step to involve serious abuse of those who question and resist the current bipartisan trajectory.
So what does the latest bill do, other than dumping another $660 billion into wars and war preparation? Well, it says this:
“Nothing in this section is intended to limit or expand the authority of the President or the scope of the Authorization for Use of Military Force.”
In other words, Congress is giving its stamp of approval to the unconstitutional outrages already claimed by the president. But then, why create a new law at all? Well, because some outrages are more equal than others, and Congress has chosen to specify some of those and in fact to expand some of them. For example:
“Congress affirms that the authority of the President to use all necessary and appropriate force pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force (Public Law 107-40) includes the authority for the Armed Forces of the United States to detain covered persons (as defined in subsection (b)) pending disposition under the law of war.”
“The disposition of a person under the law of war as described in subsection (a) may include the following: (1) Detention under the law of war without trial until the end of the hostilities authorized by the Authorization for Use of Military Force.”
Jon Stewart explained when those detained without trial under the law might be released: “So when the war on terror ends, and terror surrenders and is no longer available as a human emotion, you are free to go.”
An exception for U.S. citizens was kept out of the bill at President Obama’s request.
So why did Obama threaten to veto the bill initially and again after it passed the Senate? Well, one change made by the conference committee was this:
“The Secretary of Defense President may, in consultation with the Secretary of State and the Director of National Intelligence, waive the requirement of paragraph (1) if the Secretary President submits to Congress a certification in writing that such a waiver is in the national security interests of the United States.”
The reference here is to military tribunals. The President – that is, the current one and future ones – need not hand someone over even to a military tribunal if . . . well, if he (or she) chooses not to.
President Obama wanted a bill that limited him in no way, and he is likely to issue a law-altering signing-statement that further removes any offensive limits on absolute tyrannical power. This type of signing statement is another example of something done secretly by Bush, exposed, turned into a temporary scandal, denounced by candidate Obama, then utilized by President Obama, formally established by executive order, and now more or less accepted by everyone as the norm.
That is what will happen with trial-free imprisonment and assassination as well. And the presidents who engage in these practices will be from both major political parties. So readers should weigh the acceptable crimes and abuses of the good tyrants on their team against the risk of presidents from the other team doing the same. Of course, this team loyalty is the main reason the streets of Washington are not filled with protesters. The corporate media believes that outrages agreed to by both parties are not news. Many Democrats believe any power a Democratic president wants he should have, even though all of his successors will have it too. And many Republicans back whatever comes out of a Republican House of Representatives.
A large majority of Republicans in the House voted to eviscerate our Bill of Rights, and the Democrats split 93 to 93. In the Senate both parties overwhelmingly voted “Aye.”
If ever there was a time to build an independent, principled movement based in activism rather than elections and to put a few more minutes back on the doomsday clock, this is it. While Obama’s decision not to veto this bill has discouraged many, at RootsAction we’ve continued demanding a veto because we think the Constitution should be upheld and improved, not dismantled. If signed into law, we will demand that this elimination of our rights be repealed by Congress or overturned in court, and we will use that campaign to educate the public about what just happened.
David Swanson is a campaigner for http://rootsaction.org and the author of “When the World Outlawed War,” “War Is A Lie” and “Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union.”