Saturday, April 20, 2013

Just What IS the "Lesson" of Boston?

I am duly impressed by the speed with which law enforcement found and either killed or apprehended the perpetrators of the Boston Marathon explosions that killed three and maimed many.

But I'm not chanting "USA" and waving flags.  I'm afraid. Very afraid.

What transpired in Boston made me much more aware of how far the United States has moved toward becoming a totalitarian police state.  To a degree that is frightening, what happened to those Chechen brothers could happen to you.

You've been stripped of your privacy without realizing it.  Most of your protective blanket under the Bill of Rights is in tatters.  Surveillance technology of various kinds has made it possible for law enforcement to pinpoint you in a trice.  Quiet changes in procedure have taken away Miranda rights.  Government drones can find you and kill you --"legally."  You can be grabbed off the street -- possibly even out of your home -- tomorrow and held incognito without charge and without trial -- forever. Nobody is "just a nobody" any more. You're on camera, in a data base, tracked by cookies; you're a number, a code, a profile; what you eat, what you buy, where you travel and how . . . these are your cyber signatures.

It's well and good when this efficient police state nails genuine wrongdoers.  Perhaps (although I doubt it) such efficiency as was displayed in Boston will serve as a deterrant to similar attacks by others.  But I fear for the day when someone in some position of authority, however great or however minimal, decides to use the awesome power of this apparatus to do away with political enemies, to silence critics of government or policy, to quell minorities, to shield powerful corporate interests from punishment or even trial for their crimes. 

Those who wrote our Constitution and Bill of Rights knew well how quickly abuse of power can kill a democracy, and sought to build into those documents a foolproof system of checks and balances.  With PATRIOT Acts and Justice Department memos, with Presidential orders and TOP SECRET stamps, by Congressional cowardice and brainwashing of the public, most of those checks and balances have been disabled.  The common citizen is but a single step from enslavement by the ruling oligarchs.

I can understand the feelings of those in the Boston crowds who broke into applause, chants of "USA" and loud cheers when Suspect No. 2 was taken into custody last night.

But as someone who has already been on one powerful politician's enemies list, and who reported on things government didn't want made public, and whose job took him into other dark places in America, I felt a deep, deep chill when I realized how efficient the modern American surveillance state really is.

I think of Bradley Manning, whose conscience told him to enable his fellow citizens to know about things he knew about that, to him, weren't right.  He could well be put to death for an act of good conscience. His "trial" by his military captors no more resembles justice than American television resembles journalism. There is precious little left of the Bill of Rights to protect any American from his fate.

The very person who will probably prosecute the surviving suspect in Boston -- Carmen Ortiz -- is the same Department of Justice attorney who prosecuted the activist, Aaron Swartz, for writing about the corrupting influence of money in our government, political system and society, until he committed suicide.

The apparatus indeed is vast.