Sep 30, 2010 - Issue 395
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Constitution and Bill of Rights Threatened by U.S. Policy Regarding Dissent or Even Disobedience - Solidarity America - By John Funiciello - Columnist

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A restive general, police armed with the latest technology in �non-lethal� force, and grid locked government have been joined by an FBI that seems to have morphed into the thought police, all firing the shot across the bow of those who seek to exercise their constitutional rights and the Bill of Rights.

The news of last week�s FBI raids of the homes of anti-war activists in Minneapolis and Chicago spread across the country like a wildfire.

In the raids, FBI agents, armed with warrants, entered the homes of the activists and left with boxes filled with personal belongings: computers, cell phones, photographs, papers, various publications, and many other items.

People whose homes were violated were served with summonses to appear before a grand jury and they were instructed to bring with them a list of items, presumably those things the agents could not snatch in the raid. The targeted men and women rightly called the raids a �fishing expedition� and said they had done nothing to warrant such an intrusion into their private lives.

For its part, the FBI�s official statement on the raids was that there were no arrests expected at this time and that the agency was simply investigating any individuals or groups that might have been in contact with, or supportive of, groups that have been identified by the U.S. government as terrorists. It is well known how easy it is to be placed on a terror list and it�s well known what a nightmare one has to endure in getting off any such list.

Possibly, though, the most ominous statement to come out of the raids was the FBI�s assertion to the general public that there is �no imminent danger� posed by the violated Americans. This, of course, implies that these people could - or would - pose a danger at some time in the future.

But what the raided citizens have been doing for years is what millions of Americans have done: Worked to uphold human rights everywhere, for equality and justice, for peace and against war - and they have contacted groups and individuals who work toward the same ends in other countries.

Many, if not the vast majority of them, have pacifist leanings or strong anti-war beliefs (or both) and would not look with favor on support for groups that advocate or engage in violence. So, why the raids on these citizens?

The short answer seems to be that an anti-war movement that is growing will interfere with the machinations of empire and, possibly, bring an end to endless war. The raids are a warning to Americans who actively work to end the wars: You could be the next one to have your life disrupted and your possessions confiscated, as well as your personal records examined, copied, and perused by strangers. You could be the next one charged as an �enemy combatant,� if someone in government chooses to call you one.

And, just this week, the Associated Press reported that the Obama Administration is seeking to make it easier to conduct Internet surveillance. That is, authorities want to more easily peruse Internet records, including your personal e-mails, whether on a computer or on a hand-held communications device. The list goes on.

Recent occurrences involving military brass contribute to the unease that citizens feel about the direction of their country. President Obama had to fire General Stanley McChrystal, commander in Afghanistan, because of derogatory opinions about the competence of the administration in matters of war. Although General McChrystal apologized, acknowledging that under our form of government, civilian leaders give the orders to the military. Obama replaced him with General David Petraeus, in charge of what is now America�s longest war.

Traditionally, moving up in the military is easier in wartime and, lately, the U.S. has given officers plenty of opportunity to advance in rank, because there are so many wars from which to choose. There are hundreds of U.S. bases around the world each of which must have its complement of troops. A reduction in the number of bases reduces the opportunity to serve and rise to a higher rank, especially if the base is in a place where there are hostilities. Therefore, any sensible second lieutenant is going to do whatever possible to see that all of those bases survive and the war opportunities continue to grow.

Some of the hostilities are, of course, for oil, some war is for other natural resources, and some of it is to make the world safe for low-wage factory sites or cash crops to pay for the national debt. There are many reasons for the U.S. to stand astride the world, among them the need simply to �express power.� The pesky citizenry opposed to extending the empire will be studiously ignored or neutralized, through programs like last week�s legalized home invasions.

It remains to be seen whether there was any reason whatsoever for the FBI to raid homes in Minnesota and Illinois, but it�s a good possibility that we won�t hear much about it after the initial flurry of public relations. There are some who will be convinced by last week�s raids not to become involved in very public demonstrations against the war or U.S. foreign policy. On the other hand, such an attempt as the raids to douse the fervor of anti-war activists may just steel their resolve and the movement might grow and become more unified. For example, there were demonstrations this week around the country to protest last week�s raids.

\The Bush-Cheney Administration, to curb the impulse of the people to express themselves as provided by the First Amendment (to petition their government), invented �free speech pens,� which were chain-link fence enclosures set up away from the government officials, so said officials never had to hear or even see the protesters.

There was an attitude promulgated by George W. Bush that, �if you�re not with us, you�re with the terrorists.� That kind of public attitude is what has set the stage for the kind of fishing expedition we saw last week and are likely to see more of in coming months.

It isn�t just the FBI that is ramping up threats against people who dissent from official policy or just fail to obey. With the hysteria that was generated by the previous administration about terrorism, it�s not surprising that authorities are demanding that the people immediately obey every law enforcement officer on any beat in America. A video of a mother being tasered by a cop outside her vehicle while her children watched from inside was listed on the Internet as one of many examples of abuse of so-called non-lethal weapons available to police and others�except they can, and have, killed innocent people.

America has experienced other times when dissent was especially vilified by the establishment, even criminalized. But this time, it�s different. Never has there been a time when there were technology and systems in place that allowed such complete intrusion into the lives of the people. As far as we know, they have not figured out a way to read the minds of the people, although someone must be working on it.

Until then, they can send FBI agents on fishing expeditions into private homes (remember that our homes used to be our �castles�) to see if they can determine what people are thinking by analyzing their letters, their papers, the publications they read, and the e-mails that arrive via computer every day.

If you oppose endless war, if you oppose the extension of the American Empire to the ends of the earth using the most powerful military the world has ever seen, if you want to see an end to the poverty, ignorance, and ill health that is all around us (caused by the bankrupting of our social programs by unlimited and growing military spending), you probably will have to make a decision soon.

The decision will be whether to take a stand against policies that are eating away the substance of our stated constitutional principles, publicly and consistently, or you will have to live �under the radar,� hoping to get along, without making waves, in a world that someone else creates for you. Columnist, John Funiciello, is a labor organizer and former union organizer. His union work started when he became a local president of The Newspaper Guild in the early 1970s. He was a reporter for 14 years for newspapers in New York State. In addition to labor work, he is organizing family farmers as they struggle to stay on the land under enormous pressure from factory food producers and land developers. Click here to contact Mr. Funiciello.

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