Is it too Late for Democracy?

Chris HedgesChris Hedges wrote an update about his case Hedges v Obama, which challenged the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 (NDAA). The law allows the government to detain anyone (including US citizens) for indefinite periods of time as long as the government believes that they are terrorists. Of course, “terrorist” is meant in the Patriot Act sense where the government knows a terrorist when it sees one because a terrorist is someone the government wants to detain indefinitely.

If this sounds like circular reasoning, it shouldn’t be surprising. After a lower court found this part of the law unconstitutional, the Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit overturned it. Of course, they didn’t do it on its merits. That would be too much like an actual legal system. It said that Hedges had no standing because he did not know that the government was targeting him. Of course, he can’t know because that information is classified. And so we get into the usual catch-22 where the government can’t be forced to reveal its unconstitutional surveillance because the people can’t prove the the government is in engaged in unconstitutional surveillance.

Last September, Hedges asked the Supreme Court to force the lower court to reevaluate the case, given that the Snowden revelations showed that Hedges did in fact have standing. And a week ago the Supreme Court came back and said no. And interestingly, all it said was no. According to SCOTUSblog, “The Court made no comment as it denied review of Hedges v Obama.” I find it interesting that people like Scalia and Alito who were so concerned about government overreach in the matter of Obamacare leading to forced broccoli consumption don’t seem to be the least bit concerned about the government effectively making US citizens disappear.

For his part, Hedges sounds more desperate than I’ve ever heard him—and that’s saying a lot. He seems to think that nothing short of a popular uprising will save the country and the constitution that supposedly supports it. He explains what the ruling (such as it is) means:

It means the nation has entered a post-constitutional era. It means that extraordinary rendition of US citizens on US soil by our government is legal. It means that the courts, like the legislative and executive branches of government, exclusively serve corporate power—one of the core definitions of fascism. It means that the internal mechanisms of state are so corrupted and subservient to corporate power that there is no hope of reform or protection for citizens under our most basic constitutional rights. It means that the consent of the governed—a poll by OpenCongress.com showed that this provision had a 98 percent disapproval rating—is a cruel joke. And it means that if we do not rapidly build militant mass movements to overthrow corporate tyranny, including breaking the back of the two-party duopoly that is the mask of corporate power, we will lose our liberty.

He’s threading a needle here. His point is that the problem is not the government. That’s an important distinction because people like Hedges are not like the supposed “constitutional conservatives” who seem only to want to overthrow the government so they can stop paying taxes and set up a theocracy. The problem is that we really don’t live in a democracy anymore. The government does the bidding of the oligarchs and not much more.

Cecily McMillanBut when I look out on this country of ours, I don’t see people ready to demand their power back. In fact, I don’t even see many people who will bother to vote to keep things from getting much worse.[1] And at this point, voting is of limited power even if we could get politicians who would support the people. The judicial system has been thoroughly corrupted. Just today, Cecily McMillan was found guilty of assaulting a police officer while she was being arrested during an Occupy protest. She faces up to seven years in jail for allegedly elbowing the officer. (I find it amusing how cops claim to be so tough and whine about how hard their jobs are, but when a young woman elbows one, they run to the authorities.) And the judge wouldn’t even let her free for the two weeks until her sentencing.

The power elites own everything and everyone who matters. The rest of us are too busy scraping by to do anything about it. I don’t see much hope.


[1] Let me be clear. The candidates we get are bad. But if all the people showed up at the polls, all the time, we would get much better candidates. But instead, we get a government that is far more conservative on economic issues than the people. And one of the long-term results of this is that we have a ridiculously conservative judicial system where what was once considered conservative is now labeled “liberal.”

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

0 thoughts on “Is it too Late for Democracy?

  1. I watched most of an "Independent Lens" documentary, "Ai WeiWei: Never Sorry" on PBS this weekend. I think it’s on Netflix, too. (I was falling asleep when I turned it on and stayed up for as much as I could: ultimately, I like to zone off to PBS stuff listening to the audio and a lot was subtitled, so I had to just give up when my eyes got too tired to wear my glasses.)

    It seemed like what Taibbi describes in "Divide" and what Hedges has been battering his head against for some years; that the legal rules in these systems ostensibly support fairness. However, if you want to go up against the Chinese Communist party, or the military/Justice Department here, or corporate mistreatment of customers anywhere, the fact that the legal framework is supposedly fair means nothing. It’ll beat you into submission — not with physical force if that can be avoided — by demanding so much of your time and so much effort and producing so little in results.

    It’s as if these assholes have learned the lessons nonviolent movements slowly taught them about how moral outrage can garner sympathy among others. Now they eschew blatant cruelty whenever they can, diminishing your soul through hoop after hoop you have to jump through to be in the same league as their armies of functionaries. This doesn’t inspire movements (although those few who jump through the hoops are doing invaluable work.)

    You have to admire the creativity of power, in a way. It’s like the creativity of repugnant deep-ocean sea creatures or shit-eating insects. If there’s a more effective way to keep perpetuating its agenda, power inevitably finds it.

  2. Your solution…"if people show up at the polls"…is an old red herring. People showed up at the polls for Obama, and what did we get: the NDAA of 2012, no tranparency, Bush-Lite. Poor people have known it all along. Voting is a waste of time for those at the bottom. Now middle class people are learning the same lesson. Walmart gets subsidized, the employees get screwed.
    So Hedges is right. The corporate power brokers were scared shitless about OCCUPY. The banks participated in the repression. When..not if…an OCCUPY-like movement returns to our cities, some significant change could happen. Unless we are all arrested and detained. There are many different "catches" in Catch-22. But taking to the streets is the only recourse. Voting is mostly a joke. And you know it.

  3. Go to CNN and take a look at the comment thread for the stories about the botched OK execution. The constitution is nothing to these monsters.

    The 27% who never gave up on W would leap up out of their hover-rounds to march beneath the crooked cross.

  4. @JMF – I think it is just raw power. Just small variations on a theme. Not really very creative.

    @JimBob – I appreciate that perspective, but I do think that voting works. But it doesn’t work if people show up now and then. And liberals need to do what the Christian conservatives did: take over the party at the local level.

    @feckless – Yeah, I’m not too keen on the species. I wrote about this yesterday: [url=http://franklycurious.com/index.php?itemid=8624]Karl Marx as Moral Philosopher[/url]. But we can’t give up. I remain optimistic because I have no choice.

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