April 26, 2007
By Ken Krayeske • 11:00 AM EST
Despite my exhaustion last night, I sat awake in bed for some time, pondering the potentially unstable future of American democracy.
Two events yesterday combined to push me to such discomfort. First, I took a tour of Waterbury's Rowland Courthouse with about a dozen students from Watertown High School, and two teachers (one of whom is my sister), where a law enforcement officer promised the students the situation in the States would worsen.
Then I read "Fascist America, in 10 Easy Steps," an essay in the UK's The Guardian by Naomi Wolf, clearly too hot to publish in any American newspapers.
Perhaps I shouldn't have added to my unrest by reading my notebook entries from early January, after I was arrested. But the longtitudinal ripples across the state that resulted when police here put a pacifist like me on a list and threw me in jail for taking photos are too hard to ignore.
And I hope this confluence of thoughts about dirty bombs and dictatorships in America is all wrong, that I am jumping to a Y2K conclusion here. But I can't quell the primal doubts about consolidation of executive power.
Chief Judicial Marshal Tony Candido, who is the head of all marhsals in the Waterbury judicial district, stretching from Meriden to Danbury, led us around courthouse. He began by locking us up in a cell and trying to scare us straight about drug abuse.
After Candido showed students how they frisk prisoners, he and I debated the merits of having the world's largest prison population and whether or not marijuana was a gateway drug.
Then we moved to a courtroom, where a judge, a prosecutor and a public defender spoke with about their jobs. Then Candido mentioned that he recently completed a three-day, 30-hour class about how he should deal with the terrorist threat to courthouses.
Judicials marhsals inspect the newspaper boxes and garbage cans outside daily for bombs. He indicated that marshals sweep the courtroom after we left to insure we left no bombs behind. And I asked him if he ever imagined a day when we might remove the metal detectors from the courthouse doors.
It's only going to get worse, he promised. Candido and I debated how to balance civil liberties and temporary security in the post-9/11 world. I, of course, err on the side of a democracy needing to take specific risks in order to preserve freedom, and I think challenged us to imagine the U.S. after a dirty bomb goes off somewhere.
Thanks to Naomi Wolf's essay called "Fascist America, in 10 easy steps," I didn't have to stretch too far. Wolf, a best-selling mainstream author, is also the advisor who taught Bill Clinton how to win the Soccer Mom vote in 1996.
I'll bet she understood when she raised the spectre of fascism, she knew the chattering classes would respond by calling her alarmist, pedestrian or even hypocritical, as has happened since her essay hit print Tuesday, April 24.
Wolf crafts a convincing argument that America has followed Bush down this path. Her first point, "Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy" was done a long time ago, between communism and the war on drugs. If the world's largest prison system already wasn't step two, "Create a gulag," then Guantanamo Bay certainly is.
Number 3, "Develop a thug caste," is perhaps her weakest argument. But Paul Craig Roberts, a former member of the Wall Street Journal Editorial Board and Ronald Reagan's former assistant secretary of the Treasury, in October 2004, was talking about a new class of Brownshirts.
Numbers 6 and 7, "Engage in arbitrary detention and release" and "Target key individuals" hit home for me.
"In a closing or closed society there is a 'list' of dissidents and opposition leaders: you are targeted in this way once you are on the list, and it is hard to get off the list," Wolf wrote.
Well, color me red. When will they stop reading my posts on CTLocalPolitics? I suppose I should be grateful for a guaranteed audience, but do I ever leave the list? I haven't flown lately, but in mid-May, I am heading to San Francisco, and I can't wait for the rape of my intellect and dignity at airport security.
Will I be jailed again on some similarly presumptuous charges? Who will be next? How do we see the list they are making for President Bush's visit to the Coast Guard Academy on May 23? If I did a Freedom of Information Act request to see it, I could guarantee the answer: Nope, law enforcement privilege. How long will we let them continue this sham?
Groups are already planning to protest Bush's commencement address, so I imagine that the Secret Service is busily focusing hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer dollars monitoring the pacifists and anti-war protestors behind this treasonous effort to exercise in free speech.
And based on what we know about the massive intelligence gathering effort by the New York City Police Department before the 2004 Republican National Convention, which led to hundreds of pre-emptive arrests, we should presume that they are watching or following the lead organizers. They may even try to drum up charges.
This is where it gets really tricky. This is why what happened to me is such a bellweather: at the statewide Green Party Convention last week in New Haven, Tahnee Stair of the CT ANSWER coalition, which is behind the effort, invited the CT Greens to participate in the May 23 rally.
Now suppose that meeting was monitored. Is that right in a democracy that the operations of a legitimate political party are monitored by security forces?
At that meeting, the Green Party held a legitimate election for new co-chairs. Cliff Thornton, who runs Efficacy, one of co-sponsors for May 23, is now co-chair of the CT Green Party. So when they tap his line or read his emails, are they spying on a political opponent?
While Wolf ends her essay with a disclaimer that America's political culture may be too resilient to be "vulnerable to the violent, total closing-down of the system that followed Mussolini's march on Rome or Hitler's roundup of political prisoners."
Instead, she talks about erosion. It's like the old cliche, it is too late to free yourself from the chains of slavery forged link by link, that didn't become too heavy until locked.
Wolf leaves us with the implacable thought that Candido mentioned, and that others have pondered previously :
"What if, in a year and a half, there is another attack - say, God forbid, a dirty bomb? The executive can declare a state of emergency. History shows that any leader, of any party, will be tempted to maintain emergency powers after the crisis has passed. With the gutting of traditional checks and balances, we are no less endangered by a President Hillary than by a President Giuliani - because any executive will be tempted to enforce his or her will through edict rather than the arduous, uncertain process of democratic negotiation and compromise."
With that, I must go study civil procedure. Learning about the law of non-violent dispute settlement will be my small contribution today to maintaining our democracy. What will you do?