An Unbearable and Choking Hell: The Loss of Our Freedoms in the Wake of 9/11
“I tell you, freedom and human rights in America are doomed. The U.S. government will lead the American people in — and the West in general — into an unbearable hell and a choking life.”—Osama bin Laden (October 2001), as reported by CNN
What a strange and harrowing road we’ve walked since September 11, 2001, littered with the debris of our once-vaunted liberties. We have gone from a nation that took great pride in being a model of a representative democracy to being a model of how to persuade a freedom-loving people to march in lockstep with a police state.
What began with the passage of the USA Patriot Act in October 2001 has snowballed into the eradication of every vital safeguard against government overreach, corruption and abuse. Since then, we have been terrorized, traumatized, and tricked into a semi-permanent state of compliance. The bogeyman’s names and faces change over time—Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein and now ISIS—but the end result remains the same: our unquestioning acquiescence to anything the government wants to do in exchange for the phantom promise of safety and security.
Ironically, just a short week after the 13th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, we find ourselves commemorating the 227thanniversary of the ratification of our Constitution. Yet while there is much to mourn about the loss of our freedoms in the years since 9/11, there has been little to celebrate.
The Constitution has been steadily chipped away at, undermined, eroded, whittled down, and generally discarded to such an extent that what we are left with today is but a shadow of the robust document adopted more than two centuries ago. Most of the damage has been inflicted upon the Bill of Rights—the first ten amendments to the Constitution—which historically served as the bulwark from government abuse.
Set against a backdrop of government surveillance, militarized police, SWAT team raids, asset forfeiture, eminent domain, overcriminalization, armed surveillance drones, whole body scanners, stop and frisk searches, roving VIPR raids and the like—all sanctioned by Congress, the White House and the courts—a recitation of the Bill of Rights would understandably sound more like a eulogy to freedoms lost than an affirmation of rights we truly possess.
As I make clear in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, the Constitution has been on life support for some time now. We can pretend that the Constitution, which was written to hold the government accountable, is still our governing document. However, the reality we must come to terms with is that in the America we live in today, the government does whatever it wants, freedom be damned.
Consider the state of our freedoms, and judge for yourself whether this Constitution Day should be a day of mourning, celebration or a robust call to action:
The First Amendment is supposed to protect the freedom to speak your mind and protest in peace without being bridled by the government. It also protects the freedom of the media, as well as the right to worship and pray without interference. In other words, Americans should not be silenced by the government. Yet despite the clear protections found in the First Amendment, the freedoms described therein are under constant assault. Increasingly, Americans are being arrested and charged with bogus charges such as “disrupting the peace” or “resisting arrest” for daring to film police officers engaged in harassment or abusive practices. Journalists are being prosecuted for reporting on whistleblowers. States are passing legislation to muzzle reporting on cruel and abusive corporate practices. Religious ministries are being fined for attempting to feed and house the homeless. And protesters are being tear-gassed, beaten, arrested and forced into “free speech zones.” But to the founders, all of America was a free speech zone.
The Second Amendment was intended to guarantee “the right of the people to keep and bear arms.” Yet while gun ownership has been recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court as an individual citizen right, Americans remain powerless to defend themselves against government agents armed to the teeth with military weapons. Police shootings of unarmed citizens continue to outrage communities, while little is being done to demilitarize law enforcement agencies better suited to the battlefield.
The Third Amendment reinforces the principle that civilian-elected officials are superior to the military by prohibiting the military from entering any citizen’s home without “the consent of the owner.” With the police increasingly posing as military forces—complete with military weapons, assault vehicles, etc.—it is clear that we now have what the founders feared most—a violent standing army on American soil. Moreover, as a result of SWAT team raids where police invade homes, often without warrants, and injure and even kill unarmed citizens, the barrier between public and private property has done away with this critical safeguard.
The Fourth Amendment prohibits the government from conducting surveillance on you or touching you or invading you, unless they have some evidence that you’re up to something criminal. In other words, the Fourth Amendment ensures privacy and bodily integrity. Unfortunately, the Fourth Amendment has suffered the greatest damage in recent years and been all but eviscerated by an unwarranted expansion of police powers that include strip searches and even anal and vaginal searches of citizens, surveillance and intrusions justified in the name of fighting terrorism, as well as the outsourcing of otherwise illegal activities to private contractors.
The use of civil asset forfeiture schemes to swell the coffers of police forces has continued to grow in popularity among cash-strapped states. The federal government continues to strong-arm corporations into providing it with access to Americans’ private affairs, from emails and online transactions to banking and web surfing. Coming in the wake of massive leaks about the inner workings of the NSA and the massive secretive surveillance state, it was recently revealed that the government threatened to fine Yahoo $250,000 every day for failing to comply with the NSA’s mass data collection program known as PRISM.
The technological future appears to pose even greater threats to what’s left of our Fourth Amendment rights, with advances in biometric identification and microchip implants on the horizon making it that much easier for the government to track not only our movements and cyber activities but our very cellular beings. Barclays has already begun using a finger-scanner as a form of two-step authentication to give select customers access to their accounts. Similarly, Motorola has been developing thin “digital tattoos” that will ensure that a phone’s owner is the only person who may unlock it. All of this information, of course, will be available to the spying surveillance agencies.
The Fifth Amendment and the Sixth Amendment work in tandem. These amendments supposedly ensure that you are innocent until proven guilty, and government authorities cannot deprive you of your life, your liberty or your property without the right to an attorney and a fair trial before a civilian judge. However, in the new suspect society in which we live, where surveillance is the norm, these fundamental principles have been upended. And now the National Defense Authorization Act, signed into law by President Obama, allows the military to arrive at your door if the president thinks you’re a terrorist (a.k.a. extremist), place you in military detention, jail you indefinitely and restrict access to your family and your lawyer.
The Seventh Amendment guarantees citizens the right to a jury trial. However, when the populace has no idea of what’s in the Constitution—civic education has virtually disappeared from most school curriculums—that inevitably translates to an ignorant jury incapable of distinguishing justice and the law from their own preconceived notions and fears.
The Eighth Amendment is similar to the Sixth in that it is supposed to protect the rights of the accused and forbid the use of cruel and unusual punishment. However, the Supreme Court’s determination that what constitutes “cruel and unusual” should be dependent on the “evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society” leaves us with little protection in the face of a society lacking in morals altogether. For example, if you are thrown into a military detention camp, then what constitutes cruel and unusual punishment is up to your jailers.
The Ninth Amendment provides that other rights not enumerated in the Constitution are nonetheless retained by the people. Popular sovereignty—the belief that the power to govern flows upward from the people rather than downward from the rulers—is clearly evident in this amendment. However, it has since been turned on its head by a centralized federal government that sees itself as supreme and which continues to pass more and more laws that restrict our freedoms under the pretext that it has an “important government interest” in doing so. Thus, once the government began violating the non-enumerated rights granted in the Ninth Amendment, it was only a matter of time before it began to trample the enumerated rights of the people, as explicitly spelled out in the rest of the Bill of Rights.
As for the Tenth Amendment’s reminder that the people and the states retain every authority that is not otherwise mentioned in the Constitution, that assurance of a system of government in which power is divided among local, state and national entities has long since been rendered moot by the centralized Washington, DC power elite—the president, Congress and the courts. Indeed, the federal governmental bureaucracy has grown so large that it has made local and state legislatures relatively irrelevant. Through its many agencies and regulations, the federal government has stripped states of the right to regulate countless issues that were originally governed at the local level. This distinction is further blurred by programs such as the Pentagon’s 1033 program, which distributes excess military hardware to local police stations, effectively turning them into extensions of the military.
If there is any sense to be made from this recitation of freedoms lost, it is simply this: our individual freedoms have been eviscerated so that the government’s powers could be expanded. In this regard, ironically, Osama Bin Laden was right when he warned that freedom and human rights in America are doomed, and that the U.S. government would be responsible for leading us into an “unbearable hell and a choking life.”
The choices before us are simple: We can live in the past, dwelling on what freedoms we used to enjoy and shrugging helplessly at the destruction of our liberties. We can immerse ourselves in the present, allowing ourselves to be utterly distracted by the glut of entertainment news and ever-changing headlines so that we fail to pay attention to or do anything about the government’s ongoing power-grabs. We can hang our hopes on the future, believing against all odds that someone or something—whether it be a politician, a movement, or a religious savior—will save us from inevitable ruin.
Or we can start right away by instituting changes at the local level, holding our government officials accountable to the rule of law, and resurrecting the Constitution, recognizing that if we follow our current trajectory, the picture of the future will be closer to what George Orwell likened to “a boot stamping on a human face—forever.”
Found at the Rutherford Institute.
A woman goes to her gynecologist with what she believes is a mysterious problem.
“What seems to be the problem?” asked the doctor.
“Something is terribly wrong, I keep finding postage stamps from Costa Rica in my hoohoo.”
The doctor had a look, then chuckled before she said, “Those aren’t postage stamps, my dear, they’re stickers from the bananas.”
Why no real American should ever go to subway again.
Stalking Wild Cattle In The Hawaiian Forest
In the jungles of Hawaii’s Big Island, wild cattle are the biggest — and most dangerous — game. But what are they even doing there?
“If they spot you first, they’ll definitely come for you,” says Orion Enocencio, manager and hunting guide at Ahiu Hawaii, an adventure company on the Big Island in Hawaii. Some of the most dangerous hunting in the entire United States is to be found on a single island in the most isolated island chain in the world. It’s not grizzly bears or mountain lions or even bison: it’s the wild Hawaiian cow.
Hawaii has precious few endemic animal species; the only endemic mammals are one bat and one seal. At 2,400 miles away from the nearest continental beach, Hawaii stayed animal-free for millenia. How would animals get to the Hawaiian islands to settle, if not by air or by sea? Humans introduced the vast majority of animal species to the islands, beginning with the Polynesians in, we think, around 300 CE, who brought with them a species of rat. Everything, animal-wise, is new in Hawaii.
In the last few years of the 18th century, the British navy captain George Vancouver, one of the first Europeans to explore the Pacific, landed on the Big Island of Hawaii (the island is also named Hawaii, but generally referred to as the Big Island). He had left from Veracruz, Mexico, and as a gift, had brought the Hawaiian king Kamehameha I some Mexican cattle: four males and eight females, of the Hereford breed, a classic British red-and-white cow. Kamehameha placed the cows under a kapu, a hunting taboo, for ten years. “Nobody could hunt or eat them, anything like that, until they reached a good number,” says Enocencio.
But the Hawaiians weren’t used to cattle; the largest animal then on the island was the domestic pig, and the enclosures built for the cows weren’t nearly strong enough to hold them. The cows bred, and broke out of their enclosures whenever they felt like it, and fled into the mountains. Even though the mountains of Hawaii are surely different from the hills of the West Midlands of England where the Hereford cattle originated, the cows thrived. The king, by then Kamehameha III, eventually lifted the kapu in 1830, but it didn’t much matter; the cows were established in the forest. By 1846, there were 25,000 wild cattle in Hawaii in addition to the cattle the Hawaiians had managed to keep domesticated and in pens.
In just a few decades, the cows wreaked havoc on Hawaiian settlements. A bull’s horns can grow as large as six feet across, and reports of cows destroying thatched houses, rampaging over farms, and injuring and killing people and horses were common. Scottish botanist David Douglas, for whom the Douglas fir is named, was killed by a wild Hawaiian bull in 1834. Something had to be done, and Kamehameha III called in assistance from the very place from which the cows came: Mexico.
In the early 1830s, Mexican vaqueros, or cowboys, were brought over to Hawaii to teach Hawaiians the skills they’d need to deal with the sudden influx of 2,000-pound horned beasts that never belonged on their islands in the first place. Known now in Hawaii as “paniolo,” the Mexican vaqueros brought cowboy culture to the islands, which promptly mixed with Hawaiian and Polynesian culture in unexpected ways. The ukulele, the instrument most associated with Hawaii, is the result of this infusion of Mexican cowboy culture, and the hybrid paniolo culture survives today in ranches on the Big Island. “That’s when the Hawaiians started becoming cowboys as well,” says Enocencio.
But the cows were so numerous and so entrenched that they couldn’t really be eradicated. They began to adapt to their new surroundings: modern Hawaiian wild cattle are considered a unique feral breed, slightly smaller than other Hereford cattle, boasting longer legs to tromp through the undergrowth, and thought of as tougher, with wild instincts.
It can be kind of difficult to think of cows as dangerous big game; our vision of the friendly dairy cow is a powerful one. But elsewhere in the world, varieties of wild bovine are feared more than even carnivores. In Africa, of the legendary “Big Five” game species — lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and cape buffalo — it is the cape buffalo, a distant relative of the cow, that is the most feared. In Hawaii, “a lot of horses do die,” says Enocencio. “Trucks, four-wheelers get flipped.” Set aside your conceptions of “cow,” and think about an enormously muscled 1,500 to 2,000-pound animal, with horns the size of a full-grown man, which hangs out in herds of bored and testosterone-driven bachelor males, and has no fear of humans and no qualms about charging. It makes a grizzly bear seem cuddly.
Cattle hunting in Hawaii today is, says Enocencio, legal and unrestricted, as long as you aren’t on private land or protected public land. The Department of Land and Natural Resources has lately even resorted to calls for cattle hunters to eradicate cattle from certain public areas, like Puu Oo, a popular hiking destination on an active volcano. The DLNR considers the cattle an invasive species which damages the local ecosystem and manages their population through airborne shooting. This doesn’t endear them much to hunters who grew up with the cattle. “They’ve been in this beautiful place for more than 200 years,” says Enocencio. “All of a sudden the state is saying they’re destroying everything.” From Enocencio’s perspective, hunting wild Hawaiian cattle is a tradition, and even a way for isolated Hawaii to provide some of its own meat. “I have eight boys and that’s what we live off,” he says.
It isn’t an easy way to live. Ahiu Hawaii operates about 40 cattle hunts per year, and each hunt requires a team of several people. The cows aren’t hard to find, but they can be hard to pin down. They move, according to forum posts from hunters like Nicolai Barca, who operates a Hawaiian-centric hunting and fishing site, silently and quickly, and have excellent hearing and vision. Ahiu Hawaii requires that each hunter carry, minimum, a rifle that fires heavy-duty .300 Winchester Magnum cartridges, and Enocencio tells me that a single shot is never enough to fell a bull. And a wounded bull is apt to charge.
Then there’s the problem of sheer weight. It’s not common to hunt animals this big; a mature deer buck might weigh 180 pounds, maybe 75 pounds of which is meat. A mature wild Hawaiian bull could weigh up to 2,000 pounds, about half of which might be edible meat. It’s just not possible for a hunter to responsibly eat that much meat (Enocencio says his company often gives meat to the community). Carrying out 800 pounds of meat is the kind of problem hunters don’t usually have to deal with. Very little about hunting wild Hawaiian cattle is like hunting other animals.
The DLNR’s stance is that the cattle are a non-native species that the island’s delicate ecosystem can’t support. Until only a few centuries ago, Hawaii had no land mammals at all, so the plants, insects, and birds that populated the island formed a balance that’s been completely thrown off by the rapid introduction of rats, then pigs, then dogs, and then wild cattle. The cattle stomp and eat the vegetation that’s had no time to evolve any protection against them, allowing other invasive species, like grasses, to take their place. That in turn affects the ability of every other life form on the island to survive: without the plants, the insects and birds lose a food source. And the cattle’s stomping also causes erosion of the island’s edges, forcing sediment runoff down into the coral reefs, which can have disastrous effects on the underwater ecosystem as well.
Enocencio, though, sees a place for them on the island, “with the right maintenance and the right management.” In the meantime, he offered a tip on how best to eat them. “The trick to wild cattle is, you gotta double-grind ‘em,” he says. “You double-grind it and it’s nice, way better than the supermarket.”
“Hillary Clinton reportedly asked wealthy donors and Wall Street executives in the Hamptons how she could best discuss “income inequality” in a potential presidential campaign.
According to a report in The New York Times, Clinton “spent August in the Hamptons, a working vacation that gave her plenty of time to interact with donors,” Washington lobbyists, hedge fund managers, and other one-percenters. She reportedly asked them “about how to tackle income inequality without alienating businesses or castigating the wealthy.” –Tony Lee