The Extradition Saga of Kim Dotcom

The hunger with which US officials pursue copyright or general intellectual property violations is insatiably manic. The degree of that hunger is expressed by the now suspended, and most likely defunct Trans-Pacific Partnership, an attempt to further globalise the policing of IP laws in favour of corporate and copyright control.

Then come the vigilantes and those singing different, discordant tunes suggesting another alternative. One such figure was Kim Dotcom, founder of Megaupload and on the US Department of Justice wanted list for some years, along with company co-founders Mathias Ortmann, Bram van der Kolk and Finn Batato.

His case is doing the torturous rounds in New Zealand, where the German-born defendant remains based, still seeing whether he can elude US authorities on the subject of inventive alleged violations.  It has become one of the largest criminal copyright cases in history, beginning after Dotcom’s dramatic arrest in 2012 at his New Zealand mansion at the hands of dozens of agents, both NZ and US, along with two helicopters.

The New Zealand court decided at the start of this week that the 2015 decision of the lower court favouring the extradition of Kim Dotcom and his co-defendants be upheld.  Justice Murray Gilbert of the High Court seemed rather tricky with his reasoning.  For one, he admitted “that online communication of copyright protected works to the public is not a criminal offence in New Zealand under s. 131 of the Copyright Act.”

Dotcom and his legal team would have felt rather thrilled with that. The prosecution plank had collapsed.  Case closed.  Except, of course, that it hadn’t.  Justice Gilbert proceeded to assume a mighty pulpit and preach despite the absence of a NZ copyright offence in this case.

Much of this lay in the prosecutorial effort to expand the range of offences, a tactic the Dotcom team termed “massaging”.  In widening the net, acts amounting to internet piracy were suggested, including racketeering, money laundering, to name but a few charges additional to the issue of copyright infringement.  Many coalesced around the issue of conspiracy, a favourite, catch-all provision US prosecutors have loved to employ.

The Crimes Act, in other words, had loomed into judicial consideration with its full force, its “general criminal law fraud provisions” doing their bit to undermine the case of the appellants, despite Dotcom’s assertion that this was purely a copyright matter.  Read along with s. 101B of the Extradition Act itself, the judge agreed “that the appellants are eligible for extradition on all counts for which their surrender is sought.”

That wilful infringement supposedly committed by Dotcom did something devastating to the copyright holder: deprive it “of something to which it may be entitled.”  (The amount alleged is staggering: $500 million worth.  Dotcom is alleged to have netted $175 million in criminal proceeds.)  It followed that the alleged conduct on count 2 constituted “the offence of conspiracy to defraud in terms of art II.16.”

Article II, paragraph 16 of the extradition treaty between the US and NZ outlines the grounds for extradition:

Obtaining property, money or valuable securities by false pretences or by conspiracy to defraud the public or any person by deceit or falsehood or other fraudulent means, whether such deceit or falsehood or any fraudulent means would or would not amount to a false pretense.

Digital activists have a brat element to them, an impetuousness that follows the crooked over the straight. They are often necessary boons excavating to find deficiencies in existing systems, rather than spotty criminals to be potted.

In Dotcom’s case, a cloud storage provider is being prosecuted, an aspect that has grave implications in the broader internet domain.  For one, it suggests a self-policing dimension to the operations of such an enterprise. Dotcom’s claims there, rather reasonably, are that policing the behaviour of 50 million daily users of a site is hardly credible, though efforts were made to detect copyright infringements. For all that, the US DOJ would still claim that there was a mere “veneer of legality” to such operations.

As Dotcom’s barrister, Ron Mansfield, said after Justice Gilbert had down his judgment, “The High Court has accepted that Parliament made a clear and deliberate decision not to criminalise this type of alleged conduct by internet service providers, making them not responsible for the acts of their users.”

Dotcom’s legal counsel, Ira Rothken, put it such last year: “The second you put a cloud storage site on the Internet, whether it’s Google or Megaupload, there’s going to be good users and bad users.  There’s going to be folks who are going to infringe, there are going to be folks who are saving wedding photos and using that for fair use.”

But the legal assessment of Dotcom’s case suggests that prosecuting authorities will be favoured, and that powerful corporate demands expressed through state intermediaries and lobbies, will continue to have their day. Any effort to battle this case out in a US setting is most likely, as Rothken asserts, going to take place on an “unfair playing ground“. Next stop: the NZ Court of Appeal.

South Korea’s Artist Blacklist

Question: What do a brilliant feminist novelist, a cutting-edge film director, and a Nobel-nominated poet have in common, in South Korea?

Answer: They are, of course, all world-class artists in their fields. They were also among the almost ten thousand artists revealed to be black-listed by the South Korean Government. A hundred page document originating from the South Korean president’s office, revealed by the Hankook Ilbo, listed these 9473 artists as targets to be surveilled, starved of financial and logistical support. Instructions were given that these artists e “punished” and “intimidated”.

Film director Park Chan Wook is probably the best internationally known on this list. A cinematic prodigy and aesthetic visionary in his own right, his Cannes’ award winning Old Boy is a hallucinatory epic of survival, resistance, and revenge. Kafka meets Sophocles and Aeschylus in the streets of modern day Seoul, the film tells a tale of arbitrary imprisonment, the torturing of victims to madness—the madness of an incestuously violent authoritarian state—and forgetting. It’s most clearly a metaphor for the South Korea of the Park-Chun-Noh era, during the developmental dictatorship of the collaboratoriat, when innocent people disappeared off the streets for no good reason, and the entire country was under lock down, surveillance, routinely gassed, and forced to undergo bad haircuts.

Han Kang is a masterful feminist writer, recent winner of the 2016 Man Booker award for the Vegetarian, a Kafkaesque critique of authoritarian patriarchy and its effects on the psyche and body of a young woman. She is the first Korean writer to win a major international literary prize. Her real masterpiece, however, is the hard-to-bear, hard-to-market, heart-searing Human Acts, a luminous, haunting, textured denunciation of the US-enabled massacre of South Korean citizens in the city of Kwangju in 1980.

Ko Un is the most venerable; a deep, powerful visionary; the senior statesman of poetry and resistance of South Korea. Zen master, jazz-like vocal performer, and radical artistic revolutionary. He has quietly reinvented the idiom of Korean poetry while extending the meaning of literature beyond the realm of culture and politics. Short-listed at least 4 times for the Nobel prize in literature, Robert Hass referred to him as “one of the heroes of human freedom in this half century… somebody who has been equal to the task [of history], a feat rare among human beings.”

Countless thousands with talent, artistry, or integrity were on the black list.

This begs, the question, why? Why hound and destroy artists, cultural workers, visionaries?

What were their sins and trespasses?

On Thought Crimes and Punishments

The list makes no bones about its reasons: 594 were blacklisted for opposing a government enforcement ordinance about the sinking of a ferry. 754 were put on the list for petitioning the government to investigate and take responsibility.

In 2014, a ferry, the MV Sewol, overloaded with iron rebar for the construction of a US-involved military base on Jeju Island, sank abruptly, killing 304 people, most were young students on a field trip. Flaunting neoliberal deregulation while kowtowing to geopolitical pressure to build the base, the Sewol ferry was a disaster waiting to happen, a symbol of the ship of state gone far astray. The petition asked—legitimately—to discover the causes of the sinking, and for the government to take responsibility.

Another 8125 artists and cultural figures were put on this blacklist for the inexcusable thought crimes of supporting opposition candidate Moon Jae In in his 2012 presidential bid or for supporting the current Seoul Mayor Park Won soon.

A large swathe of the artistic and cultural class were thus designated as enemies of the state.

Those placed on the blacklist were made ineligible for government funding, subjected to tax audits, prevented from exhibiting or screening at government sponsored or public events, put under surveillance, harassed, threatened, starved of resources. Some of them became literally untouchable–the noted activist painter Hong Sung-dam, best known for his extraordinary woodblocks about the Gwang Ju massacre and his censorship from the Gwangju Biennale, found that no logistics company would ship his paintings to Germany, where he had been invited to exhibit at the Prestigious Berlin Arts Festival. He had to recreate his paintings from scratch on site.

The Busan Film festival, the largest Asian cinema gathering, comparable to the Cannes Film Festival, found itself defunded and consigned to a cultural sink hole after it attempted to screen the documentary: The Truth Shall Not Sink With Sewol, a hard-hitting investigative documentary about the sinking of the ferry. The Mayor of Busan, attempted to stop the Festival from screening; local film makers organized protests at the interference, and the film was screened anyway. Drastic budget cuts and unprecedented audits hit the festival afterwards. Cinema Dal, the courageous distributor, was excluded from state funding and audited; even the cellphone records of employees were investigated. Cinema Dal is struggling, like the doomed Sewol Ho, to stay afloat. Other like-minded distributors, like AtNineFilm, the distributors of Namyeong Dong 1985, the story of the arrest and torture of activist Kim Kun-tae, were also defunded.

To understand, we need to look at history.

Killing Art, and the Art of Killing:

To break these foreign forces, these compradors, this betrayal,
to sweep up this division and this fascism,
to achieve our independence,
our equality, and our reunification,
buried deep in this history…

We will fight, dead.
We will fight, feverishly living.
Oh, dead fighters, friends,
a hundred years of struggle is not over yet.

— Ko Un

The modern South Korean state, was artificially and brutally constructed to prevent and suppress the emergence of an indigenous, populist, democratic nation state. In 1945, after liberation from Japanese colonization, thousands of peoples’ committees, representing millions of koreans, united to form a populist socialist government, and constituted the Korean People’s Republic (KPR). The caretaker US government in the south banned the KPR, and violently repressed its leaders, labor unions, and peasant cooperatives. Instead it, put into power the dregs of the Japanese colonial apparatus, creating a semi-vassal state malleable to its geopolitical designs. This state, illegitimate at its conception, has had a long, dark history of punishing, terrorizing, and torturing those who oppose the government. It’s also had a penchant for creating and maintaining long lists of “subversives” for punishment, erasure, and extermination.

One of the founding stains of this Korean state were the Bodo League registrations of 1949, where “leftist sympathizers” were told to register in exchange for “guidance” and amnesty. These registrations were a redux—down to the very name–of the punitive Japanese colonial era registrations. Most of the “leftists” dragooned into signing onto these lists were apolitical, impoverished peasants and artists recruited to fill mandated quotas. A year after collating these lists, as civil war crested into war, the South Korean government lined up the Bodo League registrants and shot them en masse, burying them—dead and alive-in miles upon miles of makeshift trenches. Near the coast, they were shot and dumped out to sea. The scale of killing was so vast and extensive that the Okinawan coast line, five hundred miles away, was littered with corpses; the Japanese government apparently lodged a complaint that their beaches were awash with korean bodies. In this fashion, and within a few short weeks, some 200,000—higher estimates say up to 1.2 Million innocents–were exterminated, making the Bodo League Massacres the world’s fastest—and least acknowledged– genocide of the 20th century. These atrocities, witnessed, facilitated and green-lighted by the US military, were then filmed and attributed to “communists”.

More directly related to current events, Park Chung Hee, the father of the current president, was a Japanese collaborator who took power in 1961, and ran the country like a personal brothel and a labor concentration camp. Despite western attempts to portray the country as a developmental miracle, the entire country, during most of the Park Era, was an economic runt, fenced in and run like a concentration camp modelled after the Japanese Imperial colony, Manchukuo, where Park had cut his teeth as a counterinsurgency officer against anti-colonial guerillas. Park copied the model of colonized Manchukuo, recreating a totalitarian state driven by forced labor, developmental prostitution, and sub-contracted military adventurism (in Vietnam).

With tightly sealed borders—only select people could obtain passports to travel—some attempted to escape to North Korea–a more prosperous, more egalitarian country at the time. These people were invariably shot to death at the borders by the South Korean military. Those who criticized or protested the government were routinely charged with being North Korean subversives, spies, and sympathizers, and were summarily arrested, tortured, imprisoned, or killed.

Tens of thousands of students, artists, labor organizers, were arrested, rounded up, imprisoned, tortured, and disappeared during this era; millions were terrorized. It was, despite propaganda and revisionism to the contrary, Korea’s darkest, ugliest, most sordid period.

During this period, criticism of the government was almost unthinkable; the arts were stifled almost into oblivion; and even failure to be sufficiently sycophantic was the kiss of death for artists.

Dying for Art: Little Deaths and Big Deaths

I wait for time to wash me away like muddy water.
I wait for death to come and wash me clean,

To release me from the memory of those other squalid deaths, which haunt my days and nights. I fight with the fact of my humanity. I fight with the idea that death is the only way of escaping this fact.

– Han Kang, Human Acts

Shin Jung Hyun, the father of Korean Rock, often referred to as South Korea’s Jimi Hendrix or Elvis, is probably the most talented musician you have probably never heard of. As South Korea’s (and at the time, one of the world’s) most virtuoso guitarists, he was commissioned by Park Chung Hee to write a piece praising Park. Instead he wrote a gauzy, trippy, moody, Doors-like piece of psychedelia extolling the natural beauties of the country. He was blacklisted, surveilled, eventually arrested, and his career and life was effectively consigned to oblivion. Shin was one of the lucky ones.

Other artists were not so fortunate. In 1968, the South Korean government rounded up 200 academics, poets, artists, and musicians, and accused them of being North Korean sympathizers and spies. This included the avant-garde composer Yun Isang—inventor of the compositional technique of Hauptton—who was kidnapped in Berlin, hustled back to Korea, and promptly sentenced to death, then life imprisonment. This entire “East Berlin Spy Incident” was later acknowledged to be a complete and total fabrication of the South Korean intelligence services. Yun, released only after massive international outcry, was exiled to Germany, and lived the rest of his life out in shattered, broken, isolated despair.

Female actresses, dancers, and performers were also routinely rounded up by the KCIA, less for anything they had done, but because they had caught the wandering eye of President Park. They would then be required to “entertain”, his “most noble presidential excellency” at one of the KCIA-run “safe houses”–gaudy pleasure palaces with oversize beds designed for presidential orgies. A black KCIA limousine would roll up like a terrifying hearse at the victim’s house; the actress or performer would be told that they had 15 minutes to doll up and present themselves; they would then be whisked to one of Park secret residences for their assignation. Failure to comply with Park’s droit de seigneur ended up badly for actresses or their families. One noted example, Kim Sam Hwa, a celebrated screen beauty and renowned traditional dancer, caught the lascivious eye of Park. A happily married mother with an infant baby, when she balked at the relationship with Park, her husband was spirited away. When he returned, he claimed, blind terror in his voice, that he had been to a “terrible, unimaginable place”, and that he needed to separate from her. He vanished the next day, leaving a note: “My love, they’ve come to take me away. I have to go. Please don’t look for me. That’s the only way for you and me to survive. Take care of our child. Far in the future, I will see you again. I love you”. He never was seen again; Kim never acted again, and was eventually sent into exile after Park tired of using her. Park’s own final karmic comeuppance happened at a safe house, when a singer and a drama student who had been procured for his sexual needs, witnessed the penetration of his body with lead bullets fired by their procurer, the head of the KCIA. Thus with a bang, and a whimper, South Korea’s Caligula passed ignominiously away; more generals would promptly fill his shoes.

Artists during this period were seen simply as servants of presidential power or pleasure; film and culture in this period were used as propaganda tools to maintain control of the populace, promote development objectives, and justify the authoritarian dictatorship. Art critic Kai Hong argues that during this period, South Korea exercised the strictest censorship of any country in the world. It’s clear that it also exercised some of the most arbitrary, perverse and terrifying.

The Prince of Darkness: “Make Them Afraid”

Anyone loitering at the seaside early in the morning,
anyone who laughs for no reason
at the sight of someone, anyone, all are spies. Report them.
Report them and earn a reward that will change your luck.

– Ko Un

During this dark, violent era of Park Chung Hee, a prosecutor by the name of Kim Ki-choon, played a key role in the architecture of terror that enabled the persecution of “subversives” and artists. A young but stellar legal mind—nicknamed “Kim Smarty Pants”—he was the key drafter and enforcer of South Korea’s dictatorial 1972 “Yushin Constitution”, a totalitarian document that made Park Chung Hee dictator for life and consolidated his reign of terror within an imperial executive. In particular, Kim is considered responsible for drafting the sections that conferred absolute emergency powers to the president, and the right to appoint a third of the national assembly and dissolve it on a whim, according him powers comparable to the Japanese Emperor during the Showa-era Empire. Kim also served as the grand inquisitor of the Anti-communist Investigation Bureau of South Korea’s horrific gestapo, the KCIA, which operated 30 torture centers across the country, and which, day and night, arbitrarily detained, tortured, imprisoned, and disappeared thousands of people that criticized, crossed, or simply displeased the government.

He also served as prosecutor general, justice minister, and then Saenuri (GNP) Party lawmaker from 1996-2008. Never one to let by an opportunity for bullying, Kim led the impeachment of the much-beloved civil rights-lawyer-turned-progressive-president Roh Moo-hyun on trumped up charges. Last but not least, Kim was one of the “Group of Seven Mentors”, a shadowy cabal of powerful consigliori who brought Park Geun Hye, Park Chung Hee’s daughter into national politics in a 2007 presidential bid.

This same Kim Ki-choon, later became the current president Park Geun Hye’s chief of staff. Kim has now been fingered as the author of this current blacklist, which was circulated to the Korean Film Institute, the Korea Arts Institute, and the Ministry of Arts, Culture, and Sports. According to Yoo Jin-ryong, former minister of culture, the list was masterminded by Kim Ki-choon from the president’s office. Reprising a paranoid page from his days as KCIA inquisitor, when he hounded and framed critics as traitorous leftist spies, it’s reported that Kim called for a “combative response to leftists in the cultural and art circles” and ordered aides to “uncover their networks.” He described progressive teachers and journalists as “poisonous mushrooms” to be extirpated; gave explicit “instructions to punish artists who satirized President Park” and to “conduct a “loyalty checks” of government officials”. He also directed staff to “intimidate” courts of law; and to “induce” scholars to write pro-government newspaper articles.

“Make them afraid”, said Kim. Many, indeed, were—and still are—afraid.

Crashing the Korean Wave

This approach was a 180 degree departure from the previous progressive administrations of Kim Dae Jung and Roh Moo Hyun, which had liberalized artistic production, relieving it from the toxic and stultifying culture of control of the prior military dictatorships. Presidents Kim and Roh had actively supported and nurtured the development of the culture industry, seeing it not only as part of necessary political liberalization, but also as strategic economic development. In particular, President Kim Dae Jung designated cultural production—film, broadcasting, gaming, music–and related technology, media, and communication industries, and their export–as designated growth engines for the Korean economy. He also set up a vast range of agencies and councils to promote the development of culture, along with multiple funding streams and sponsorships of large public promotional events; universities and colleges were also funded and encouraged to produce creative talent.

By the early 2000s this strategy had yielded impressive results, as Korean cultural products—film, music, television shows progressively swept China, Japan, Taiwan, and then global markets (Latin America, Europe), in what was named the “Korean wave” or “Hallyu”. Within a short decade, the revenue of the culture industry increased five-fold from $600 M to $3.2 B. South Korean television, music, and art were increasingly seen as the leading edge of Asian culture, and some of the most innovative and visionary cinema of the decade was made by Korean artists, many of whom were creatively processing the nightmares of the dictatorships.

The Park-Choi-Kim blacklist and its regressive cultural agenda is clearly a reversion to the Park Chung Hee era, when cultural production was expressly controlled, managed, subordinated to, and exploited solely for political ends, and where all art and artists are required to be visibly and sycophantically supportive or subservient.

This Park I era was largely an arid desert of culture, notable for its bad taste, maudlin kitsch, and laugh out-loud propaganda, especially in cinema, where misogynistic soft-core pornography and manipulative nationalistic screeds were the order of the day.

In this new Park II era, Korean films of artistic merit have been sidelined or left unfunded, brilliant directors left scrambling for funding, while maudlin, nationalistic, and reactionary films, shows, and organizations have had money thrown at them. While the occasional political film—usually expressing itself through metaphor—squeaks through, and no end of creativity and artistry spared by individual artists, for the most part, the industry and media companies have been bullied, harassed (for example, the vice-chair of CJ media) at the whims and pleasures of the Park-Choi-Kim cabal. The rest—saccharine pop culture—apes the addictive, mind-rotting, formulaic spectacle-candy that passes as artistic production in the west. The Ministry of Culture, Art, and Sports has been treated as a toy bauble of Choi Soon-sil, its budgets and funding seemingly directed by an artistic nincompoop—Choi herself—or a variety of self-serving or vengeful hanger-ons. Even the Olympic medal-winning figure skater Kim Yu na—a paragon of elegant, generous, gracious celebrity, was reputed to be on a blue house black list, for having had the impertinence to refuse to participate in an idiotic exercise video created by Choi Soon-sil’s beau, Cha Eun taek.

Kim, Roh, and a generation of martyred artists must be banging on their coffins and turning in their shallow, unmarked graves.

The 18 Brumaire of Park Geun Hye

A girl who looks quiet but plays when she plays
– Psy, Gang Nam Style

Kim Ki-choon is an old man now, sullen, defensive, slightly humbled, no longer the grand inquisitor of yore. During his interrogation in the Korean national assembly over the blacklisting, he did his best Eichmann impression, stumbling, fudging, and stonewalling, claiming that he was an “old man” with a “bad memory”, and “unaware that the list was illegal”. Still, it’s unlikely that Kim will go the way of the students, poets and artists he blacklisted and persecuted in the Park Era: to prison, to oblivion, or the gallows. Clearly, he still has his bones, fingernails, orifices, and wits intact, and he is still surrounded by powerful people and forces.

Nevertheless, this partial revealing and unraveling of the Park II administration—the ignominious 18th Brumaire of Park Geun Hye—is a sweet moment of karmic redress. If Kim is convicted—for abuse of power–, it will be belated, minimal, a slap on the wrist compared to the enormity of his iniquities, but still poetic justice for one of South Korea’s most infamous inquisitors and reactionaries. At the current moment, he and his angel-faced minister of culture, Cho Yun-soon, have been arrested for authoring the blacklist, but the list itself may reach all the way to Choi Soon-sil. Kim and Cho themselves are but one of the many tentacles of a vast-reaching corruption scandal involving the current president, the major corporations of South Korea, and the mysterious confidante-cum-Shaman, Choi Soon-sil, and her cronies. Old friends since the days of the dictatorship, it appears that Park suffered Choi Soon-sil, her close confidante, to edit speeches, dictate policy, game the presidency for private enrichment and personal gain, and to yank around the country’s artists, culture industry, and corporations on a whim, underscoring the irrational, incestuous, and superstitious foundation underlying South Korea’s neofascist capitalist order.

This regressive, neoliberal Park-Choi-Kim tendency could probably have gotten away with most of it; slowly, cunningly, and incrementally dialing Korea back to the Yushin Era, had it not been for Choi Soon-sil’s overweening horseplay. Choi insisted on shaking down the Samsung corporation for million-dollar horses for her dressage-athlete daughter, forced them to pony up for the training, and, in a critical misstep, bullied an elite women’s college into admitting her ne’er-do-well daughter on an equestrian scholarship.

Unlike the US, where any rich fool and their idiot progeny can legally buy their way into an elite university, in South Korea, the tradition of meritocratic admission and success holds firm, dating back to a thousand-year legacy of Confucian bureaucratic exams. The myth of meritocratic, competitive examination system is probably the only thing that holds back a dam of incandescent rage against an otherwise intolerably stacked system of rampant exploitation, inequality, and elitist iniquity. Young people routinely refer to their country as a living hell, “Hell Josun”, lament their fate as proletarian “dirt spoons”; fully 80% of them wish to leave the country. In this country, where exams are so important that office hours are shifted and airlines banned from flying on the day of the college entrance examination, tampering with the admissions process and gaming college entrance was the one inexcusable, irredeemable, intolerable sin. It put the lie to the ideology of meritocratic reward, and released the flutter of indignation that became the storm that burst the dam of outrage wide open. All bets were off after that.

Millions of protestors—not just workers and farmers shafted by Park’s vicious neoliberal labor restructuring, or grieving parents from the ferry disaster–but livid young students and their entire extended families took to the streets, demanding the immediate resignation and arrest of Choi, Park, and their sundry cohorts. This pressure led to the resignation of the president of the university responsible for the admission, then to the investigation of Samsung, and through widening ripples and waves into a full-scale investigation into bribery and influence-peddling across the board. It resulted finally in the impeachment of President Park in the national assembly, unavoidable after two and half million people took to the streets to demand her resignation and her approval ratings flat-lined to zero percent. Weeks after her impeachment, people still take to the streets, by the hundreds of thousands—800,000 by the latest count—braving Siberian winds and icy snow drifts, to shout themselves blue in the face demanding her immediate removal and arrest. Park is now cloistered in the Blue House, evading questioning, trying to run down the clock, as a caretaker Prime Minister runs the country, and the constitutional court decides on her final fate. Tragedy, then farce, is the manure-inflected flavor of this particular Korean drama. A kingdom, for a horse, no less, Gangnam style.

The Poet’s List

If someone opens my grave a few years after my death, they will find it full, not of my bones, but of poems written in that tomb’s darkness”

– Ko Un

Ko Un, the poet, is a survivor’s survivor. He survived decades of harassment, torture, imprisonment, much of it from the minions, instruments, or institutions of Kim Ki-choon; many of Kim Ki-choon’s victims did not. Ko Un also survived his own mental breakdown, his self-mutilation, and miraculously, his own suicide.

Like Han Kang’s protagonist in Human Acts, he stacked dead and dying bodies during war; prefiguring the maddened protagonist in Old Boy, he poured poison into his ears to drown out the never-ending screams in his head. He took vows as a Zen monk, but decades of meditation were an insignificant balm against the roar of darkness in his heart; he attempted suicide. The immolation of the sweatshop worker Chun Tae-il in the seventies, who set his body ablaze as a protest against the conditions of factory work, awoke him from his self-pitying torpor, and he became active in a cultural resistance. For this, he suffered dearly.

Ko-un states he survived the harsh darkness of that era, through the act of remembering and imagining; by writing and creating art:

Deprived of present time in that despair, the incompetent act of remembering alone served as a substitute for the present time. I began to realise that remembering and imagining something could be a source of strength, enabling me to endure day by day the darkness and the fear.

To survive all that, and to be blacklisted yet again in his sunset years, is a final, perverse tribute to the person referred to as “South Korea’s greatest living poet”. But with his usual Zen aplomb, Ko Un remarks that he is “honored to be on the list”.

Ko Un, also has been keeping a list of names, half as long as the blacklist, but one that took much longer to compile. It is the 30 volume poem, Maninbo (Myriad Lives), written to render homage to every human being he had encountered up to the eve of his impending death.

In this poem, there are 5600 people; the poems rendering them flesh and life took him 30 years to complete.

Because there is night, there should also be stars. Underneath the starlight, lives the history behind my poetry. The isolation cell in the military prison was a closed space without windows, measuring 3 feet by 4.5 feet…. I had decided what my final gesture would be when the time came for me to die…

He would render tribute, “through the insufficient act of remembering”–through poetry–to every human being he had ever encountered.

Rarely are the contrasts as clear, or the stakes as high. One, a list put together by the powerful to blacken, destroy, and erase lives and livelihoods.

The other, an epic act of attention, love, and remembrance, words stitched and cobbled together over a lifetime, to enliven, lift up, fathom care and render voice to life:

Ko Un’s list has survived so far, shimmering points of light against a dark sky.

Kim’s list may yet be consigned to the dust heap.

The Korean people have no doubt which one has to prevail. The winds of history may yet be on their side.

The Bloodletters

Bloodletting as a medical practice flourished for thousands of years before finally yielding to more “enlightened” medicine except in special circumstances. One of history’s ironies is that America’s first president, George Washington, a bloodthirsty warrior before and during his presidency, died arguably from bloodletters called in to his bedside to let out one-fourth of his blood.

This essay highlights two unparalleled groups of bloodletters in America’s 240 years of history — U.S. presidents and the captains of America’s industries. These two groups are part of the power elite of America’s corpocracy, the incestuous marriage between Government America and Corporate America, with the latter in charge. The power elite also include the chairs of relevant Congressional committees; key people in the shadow government (e.g. the CIA); the US Supreme Court (never ruling a war unconstitutional); and influential advisors and ideologues.

Besides being the vital fluid that courses through our bodies, “blood” serves as useful metaphors (as the one in the first paragraph about George Washington) that connote the diminishment or loss of what is valued by the victims and their loved ones.

The first purpose of this essay is to highlight the ways in which America’s power elite “let blood” literally and figuratively, with the metaphorical instances causing all sorts of human misery up to and including death. The second purpose is to underscore just who the real enemy of the American people is, America’s corpocracy and its power elite. The only reason the U.S. has foreign enemies is that the corpocracy creates them to sustain and grow its profits and power.

The essay begins with an overview of the greatest bloodletters, literally, of all time throughout the history of America, her presidents, and then overviews the bloodletting, figuratively and literally, by the captains of industry. The reason for picking the two at the top of their pecking orders is that any form of wrongdoing, bloody or not, is done under their leadership. They either authorize it explicitly, implicitly as in setting “wink and nod” expectations, or indirectly in creating and/or condoning an organizational culture of “anything goes.” The essay closes with a short explanation and prediction.

America’s Greatest Bloodletters: Her 42 Presidents

Three presidents don’t count. Two were in office too few months to send combatants and civilians in foreign lands to their graves. As for the new third it is too early to tell. All told, the 42 bloodletters have sent countless millions to their graves, maimed millions, devastated cities, villages, and historic sites, and done everything else imaginably and unimaginably atrocious. A conniving dishonest president sent 750,000 or so of his own countrymen to their graves. One president, who disingenuously and belatedly complained about the “military/industrial complex,” indirectly sent thousands to their graves to protect dictators and the likes of the United Fruit Company. One president is the only human being so far to ever have dropped nuclear bombs on two populous cities, not to win the war but to start a profitable Cold War with Russia. Two presidents committed treason in order to get elected and proceeded to send more than their share of people to their graves. The death toll in just one country from one president’s decisions was over one million. The most recent past president is the first so far to sit in the White House, pour over a hit list like a Mafia don, and decide who gets killed next by drone strikes, never mind that most of them are civilians, including children.

In Second Place: America’s Industries and their Captains

The industrial revolution swept away the cottage industry and ushered in corporations, an intrinsically dysfunctional, corrupting innovation and with them their captains, or CEOs, often bearing MBA credentials that alone predispose them to mismanagement and malfeasance of one form or another. It is pointless to name the captains. They come and go. The industries where they practice mostly stay unchangeable.

There are dozens of industries in America. The exact number is elusive because the counters disagree on what an industry means. That being said, industries vary in the scope and kind of their bloodletting, so it is possible to pick out the worst ones. But before doing that, let’s briefly consider the following victims of industry-wide bloodletting: the U.S. government; the environment; employees; and customers.

Victims of Industry-Wide Bloodletting

  1. The U.S. Government. It is Corporate America’s flunky, a revenue drain of misspending (the war budget) on behalf of the corpocracy, and a safety valve for mismanaged and errant corporations that would flounder and fail were it not for the U.S. government giving them myriad subsidies and overlooking and tolerating constant corporate wrongdoing of the illegal kind.
  1. The Environment. All human beings depend on the environment. Industries do too, on a wide scale, and they abuse the environment on a wide scale, polluting the air we breathe and the water we drink.
  1. Employees. Corporations have Human Resource Departments, but corporate employees are treated generally as disposable, not human, resources. Just ask Alice who wails in Dilbert, “I am not a resource!” Oh, but, yes, you are Alice, and so too are all real corporate employees except those in and close to the corner office, and, of course, they are not called “employees.” Unsafe and unhealthy working conditions topped by sweat shops; pittance compensation; reneged health benefit plans; emasculation of organized labor; and automation and outsourcing of jobs are the typical experiences of disposable employees.
  1. Customers. In fancy academic circles customers are theorized to be among corporations’ important stakeholders. If that is so, customers are barely holding on with excessive insurance and credit fees; and shoddy, unreliable, unsafe, and unhealthy products and services.

The Bloodiest Industries

They stand out like a bloody thumb. Rank them as you will. Here’s my ranking: hands down for first is the war and gun industry; second, the pharmaceutical industry; the food and agricultural industry; the health care industry; the banking industry; and lastly, the auto industry.

In Closing: An Explanation and a Prediction

U.S. presidents get away with bloody murder and more because the rest of the corpocracy wants regime changes in resource rich foreign lands, and the corpocracy gets away with bloody murder and more because it is the corpocracy.

Trained as a behavioral scientist (with apologies to the real physical sciences) to predict future human behavior I am going out on a limb to predict the future of Homo sapiens. It will probably not exist later this century. Our species has been a deplorably irresponsible ancestor of its descendants. And in modern times the blame rests mainly on America’s corpocracy and its power elite.

Trump, Moral Panics and Resistance

From the outset of Donald Trump’s campaign for the Presidency the infamous New York billionaire made it clear that the tactic of moral panic would be his chosen route to making it all the way to the White House. Like many politicians of the wealthy classes before him, threatening images of the “dangerous classes” were used wantonly to illustrate the common sense behind his ultra-conservative solutions to social and economic problems caused by fundamental disenfranchisement, inequality and poverty. Thus, the Trump campaign have treated us incessantly to scabrous descriptions of human beings who are supposedly arrayed against our innocent American sensibilities. They came thick and fast in the form of immigrant Mexican rapists, black urban gang bangers, Latino drug dealers and Muslim terrorists, among others. In each case, of course, it was always Donald the righteous who would save us from ourselves and thereby from these modern day “folk devils.”

Trump would not be the first Republican Presidential candidate to employ such tried and tested racialized “others” to reach the desired levels of fear and loathing among his supporters. Nixon in 1968 invoked the image of the “silent majority” encircled by rioting urban blacks and rampaging students, Reagan in 1976 used the specter of the black “welfare queen” to symbolize the “waste” of the entitlement system, George H. W. Bush in 1988 conjured the black rapist in the guise of Willie Horton to highlight the misplaced liberalism of his challenger Michael Dukakis, while George W. Bush appealed to the ongoing enemy of post-9/11 Islamic terrorism to shore up his inept time in office. But no one other than Trump has so brazenly, single-mindedly and arguably successfully used the moral panic strategy to advance his ambitions for public office.

Why then has this tactic of systematic lies, distortion and hyperbole gone from being so effective in the earlier stages of his presidential run now to be in tatters such that a journalist at Trump’s first solo press conference after just over three weeks in the job asked him, “Why should America trust you?” Meanwhile, as of writing, the renowned Pew Research Center announces that Trump’s approval ratings are once more at “historic lows” and hitting the 39 percent mark, in stark contrast to Obama who was getting 64 percent during the same time in his first presidency and even George W. Bush who was at 53 percent during his initial go at playing commander-in-chief.

To understand this turn of events it is important to consider how the pioneers of the concept saw the moral panic as a process with a life cycle and not at all as a “big lie” machine that was entirely sustainable. They all pointed out that the groups, persons or communities singled out by “right thinking people” through scapegoating and stereotypification reflected unresolved social anxieties produced by a social control system unable to base itself any longer on a moral consensus. They concurred that the more a regime depends on moral panics to govern the more it undermines its own legitimacy which is precisely what we are witnessing in the present White House melt-down. Such a regime through its addiction to its own rhetoric eventually sews the seeds of its own destruction.

Several British sociologists were at the forefront of this research. Stan Cohen, one of the first to coin the phrase while describing the media frenzy in the ‘60s over brawling English “mods and rockers” saw that it was youth’s embrace of hedonism and consumption undermining the message of disciplined work and restraint that was really at stake. Jock Young, who studied the public condemnation of “drug-takers” during the same period, concluded that the social interventions did more harm than the so-called “deviant” behavior (the U.S. War on Drugs is an ongoing example). Meanwhile, Stuart Hall described Margaret Thatcher’s discovery of young black “muggers” terrorizing English inner-cities as more about her commitment to be the virus that killed socialism and the global project of hyper-wealth concentration and inequality (what we now call “neo-liberalism”) than any concern over crime rates. Consequently, moral panics are never things in themselves no matter how self-serving. Further, they will always eventually motivate much larger sectors of society to question the legitimacy of both the diagnoses and policies that follow while encouraging new bonds of solidarity with those populations most targeted and vilified.

What we currently witness therefore is a moral panic process that instead of functioning as a unified narrative that constantly injects momentum into the various apparatuses of ideological production, pushing us ever closer to the practices of tyranny and dictatorial necessity, instead becomes the very object of our scorn and disbelief. This growing opposition to the cynical manipulation of our fears and vulnerabilities, whether real or imagined, in turn prompts us to envision a quite different world in which to resolve our social discontent and political unhappiness.

We see this with each Trumpian Punch and Judy show, a debilitating spectacle that has become both the form and essence of the Presidential regime. In response we, the people, recoil in disgust and amazement at the level to which our fellow human beings have debased themselves while we also begin to realize and accept the fallacy of our political fantasy, i.e., that we have been living in a world that pretentiously refers to itself as fundamentally democratic.

In other words, the dialectics of the moral panic now ensure that we not only participate in the death agony of what one Guardian writer describes as “a terrible mistake” but in the unraveling of society’s general fabric. It is not that the Emperor has no clothes but rather the whole neo-liberal project becomes revealed in all its stark naked ugliness along with the body politic that has enabled it. These are definitely new times. From where I sit the removal of Trump and his gaggle of know-nothings will only be the beginning as we enter a time when the future is truly up for grabs.

One State: Trump Has Reminded Palestinians What It Was Always About

Nazareth.

For more than 15 years, the Middle East “peace process” initiated by the Oslo accords has been on life support. Last week, United States president Donald Trump pulled the plug, whether he understood it or not.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu could barely stifle a smile as Trump demoted the two-state solution from holy grail. Instead, he said of resolving the conflict: “I am looking at two states or one state … I can live with either one.”

Given the huge asymmetry of power, Israel now has a free hand to entrench its existing apartheid version of the one-state solution – Greater Israel – on the Palestinians. This is the destination to which Netanyahu has been steering the Israel-Palestine conflict his entire career.

It emerged this week that at a secret summit in Aqaba last year – attended by Egypt and Jordan, and overseen by US secretary of state John Kerry – Netanyahu was offered a regional peace deal that included almost everything he had demanded of the Palestinians. And still he said no.

Much earlier, in 2001, Netanyahu was secretly filmed boasting to settlers of how he had foiled the Oslo process a short time earlier by failing to carry out promised withdrawals from Palestinian territory. He shrugged off the US role as something that could be “easily moved to the right direction”.

Now he has the White House exactly where he wanted it.

In expressing ambivalence about the final number of states, Trump may have assumed he was leaving options open for his son-in-law and presumed peace envoy, Jared Kushner.

But words can take on a life of their own, especially when uttered by the president of the world’s only superpower.

Some believe Trump, faced with the region’s realities, will soon revert to Washington’s playbook on two states, with the US again adopting the bogus role of “honest broker”. Others suspect his interest will wilt, allowing Israel to intensify settlement building and its abuse of Palestinians.

The long-term effect, however, is likely to be more decisive. The one-state option mooted by Trump will resonate with both Israelis and Palestinians because it reminds each side of their historic ambitions.

The international community has repeatedly introduced the chimera of the two-state solution, but for most of their histories the two sides favoured a single state – if for different reasons.

From the outset, the mainstream Zionist movement wanted an exclusive Jewish state, and a larger one than it was ever offered. Some even dreamed of the recreation of a Biblical kingdom whose borders incorporated swaths of neighbouring Arab states.

In late 1947, the Zionist leadership backed the United Nations partition plan for tactical reasons, knowing the Palestinians would reject the transfer of most of their homeland to recent European immigrants.

A few months later they seized more territory – in war – than the UN envisioned, but were still not satisfied. Religious and secular alike hungered for the rest of Palestine. Shimon Peres was among the leaders who began the settlement drive immediately following the 1967 occupation.

Those territorial ambitions were muffled by Oslo, but will be unleashed again in full force by Trump’s stated indifference.

The Palestinians’ history points in a parallel direction. As Zionism made its first inroads into Palestine, they rejected any compromise with what were seen as European colonisers.

In the 1950s, after Israel’s creation, the resistance under Yasser Arafat espoused a single secular democratic state in all of historic Palestine. Only with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Palestinians’ growing isolation in the early 1990s, did Arafat cave in to European and US pressure and sign up for partition.

But for Palestinians, Oslo has not only entailed enduring Israel’s constant bad faith, but it has also created a deeply compromised vehicle for self-government. The Palestinian Authority has split the Palestinian people territorially – between Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza – and required a Faustian pact to uphold Israel’s security, including the settlers’, at all costs.

The truth, obscured by Oslo, is that the one-state solution has underpinned the aspirations of Israelis and Palestinians for more than a century. It did not come about because each expected different things from it.

For Israelis, it was to be a fortress to exclude the native Palestinian population.

For Palestinians, it was the locus of national liberation from centuries of colonial rule. Only later did many Palestinians, especially groups such as Hamas, come to mirror the Zionist idea of an exclusive – if in their case, Islamic – state.

Trump’s self-declared detachment will now revive these historic forces. Settler leader Naftali Bennett will compete with Netanyahu to take credit for speeding up the annexation of ever-greater blocs of West Bank territory while rejecting any compromise on Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, Palestinians, particularly the youth, will understand that their struggle is not for illusory borders but for liberation from the Jewish supremacism inherent in mainstream Zionism.

The struggle Trump’s equivocation provokes, however, must first play out in the internal politics of Israelis and Palestinians. It is a supremely clarifying moment. Each side must now define what it really wants to fight for: a fortress for their tribe alone, or a shared homeland ensuring rights and dignity for all.

A version of this article first appeared in the National, Abu Dhabi.

Ten Examples of Direct Resistance to Stop Government Raids

Resistance to unjust government action is the duty of all people who care about human rights.

As Dr. King reminded us in his letter from a Birmingham jail, “Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal.”

It is now clear that Latinos and Muslims are Trump’s first target for government actions.  The orders just released put ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and US Customs and Border Protection on steroids.  These new policies also will have a devastating impact on LGBTQ , as well as Black and Muslim communities.

Here are ten recent examples of how people are directly resisting.

One.  Blocking vehicles of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.   A coalition of undocumented immigrants, faith leaders and other allies blocked a bus in San Francisco which was full of people scheduled for deportation.   Other buses were blocked in Arizona and Texas.  People blocked streets outside of ICE facilities in Los Angeles.

Two.  People have engaged in civil disobedience inside border highway checkpoints to deter immigration checks.  People have called neighbors to warn them that ICE is in the neighborhood and held up signs on  highways that ICE is checking cars ahead.

Three.  Cities refusing to cooperate with immigration enforcement and targeting.   Hundreds of local governments have policies limiting cooperation with immigration enforcement.

Four.  Colleges and universities declining to cooperate with immigration authorities and declare themselves sanctuary campuses.  Dozens of schools have declared themselves sanctuary campuses and over a hundred more are considering some form of resistance to immigration enforcement.

Five.  Churches sheltering and protecting immigrants scheduled for deportation in their sanctuary.  Over a dozen churches are already doing this with hundreds more considering sanctuary.  The Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles declared itself a Sanctuary Diocese in December 2016 and pledged to defend immigrants, and others targeted for their status.

Six.  Detained people demanding investigation into illegal actions.  Over 400 detained immigrants in Broward County Florida wrote and publicized a letter to government officials challenging the legality and conditions of their confinement.

Seven.   Divesting from stocks of private prisons.  Private prison companies CCA and GEO have pushed for building more prisons for immigrants and have profited accordingly.   Columbia University became the first university to divest from companies which operate private prisons.

Eight.  Lawyers have volunteered to defend people facing deportation. People with lawyers are much less likely to be deported yet only 37 percent of people facing deportation have an attorney and of those already in jail the percentage drops to 14 percent.   Los Angeles has created its own fund to provide legal aid to those facing deportations.  Other groups like the American Bar Association recruit and train volunteer lawyers to help.  Know Your Rights sessions are also very helpful.  Here are CAIR Know Your Rights materials for Muslims.  Here are Know Your Rights materials for immigrants from the National Immigration Law Center.

Nine.  Restaurants declaring themselves safe space sanctuaries for undocumented and LGBTQ workers.  The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 25 percent of workers in restaurants are Latino.

Ten.  Sit-ins at elected and appointed officials at government buildings. Bodegas have gone on strike.

Eleven.  Social self-defense.  Jeremy Brecher pointed out that decades ago communities in Poland organized themselves into loose voluntary networks called Committees for Social Self-Defense to resist unjust government targeting.   This opens resistance in many new forms in addition to the ones identified above including: setting up text networks for allies to come to the scene of ICE deportation raids, to document and hopefully stop the raids; identifying and picketing homes of particularly aggressive ICE leaders; providing medical, legal and financial assistance to help shelter people on the run from authorities; and boycotting businesses and politicians that cooperate with ICE.

Resist!  For more information on how, check out some of the many organizations already resisting targeting and deportations.  Mijente offers creative ideas and examples for action to expand the idea of sanctuary to protect all residents from criminalization and deportation.  National Day Laborer Network has many resources for communities seeking to stop deportations.  Central to the campus sanctuary movement is MovementCosecha.  The National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild provides resources for lawyers.  Faith communities looking into this should connect with the Sanctuary Movement.  Puente Arizona is a great example of grassroots organizing in local communities.

Bigot Boy Business: Trump Exposes His Ignorance and Intolerance, Again

Twice in recent weeks President Donald Trump reinforced his image of ignorance on African-Americans with astounding statements. Those statements amplified concerns about this president who rose to the Oval Office through a campaign tarred by brazen bigotry from his surrogates, his supporters and himself.

During a recent press conference, where Trump’s deportment was assessed as bizarre by conservatives and liberals, the self-proclaimed “least racist person…ever” evidenced ignorance about the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) –- that 46-year-old Capitol Hill contingent concerned with issues important to African-Americans.

During that press conference Trump bizarrely asked an African-American journalist to arrange a meeting for him with the CBC. He also falsely stated that a CBC member had rejected his repeated requests to meet with him.

Days before that press conference flub, President Trump made a faux pas regarding legendary 19th Century black activist Frederick Douglass during a White House meeting with a dozen-plus handpicked blacks held on the first day of African-American History Month.

During remarks at that February 1st “listening session,” Trump referenced Douglass as if the fabled abolitionist/orator/statesman was still alive. Trump somehow missed the fact that Douglass died 122-years ago, in February 1895.

Douglass died in DC at his home that is now a National Historic Site located less than five miles from the White House. Trump’s faux pas on Frederick Douglass ignited widespread ridicule, from social media postings to mainstream news media accounts.

However, more monumental than Trump’s blunders on the CBC and Frederick Douglass is the fact that his flub-ups fit the pattern of a long history of blunders made persistently by the Republican Party from presidents down to local party functionaries. For decades, GOP policy stances on issues of importance to African-Americans have ranged from indifference to assaults

Take, for example, Trump’s February 1st White House event presented as an outreach to blacks. Excluded from that meeting were blacks individuals who are widely recognized and/or respected — people prominent in civil rights, business or religion. Such exclusion is characteristic of GOP behavior that black Republicans have warned party leaders about for decades.

Sixteen years ago, the GOP’s former head of outreach to blacks lashed out at her party’s repeated blunders on race-related matters.

“Like it or not, the Congressional Black Caucus and heads of civil rights and labor groups are trusted by black voters. Republicans should try talking to them,” Faye Anderson said, faulting the GOP for foisting “handpicked” blacks distrusted by black voters, on such “outreach” efforts.

Trump’s February 1st meeting drew rebuke from leading black Republican consultant and columnist Raynard Jackson who termed Trump’s interactions with blacks “unmitigated disasters.” Jackson criticized Trump for excluding blacks serving on “his own transition team” and black members of the Republican National Committee’s governing body from that February meeting.

“This is totally bewildering to me,” Jackson wrote in a recent column.

Frederick Douglass, during an 1886 speech, made an observation that remains unheeded by too many across America: “Where justice is denied, where ignorance prevails…neither persons nor property will be safe.”

The Illusion of Freedom: the Police State Is Alive and Well

“What happened here was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise; to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believing that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if the people could understand it, it could not be released because of national security… This separation of government from people, this widening of the gap, took place so gradually and so insensibly, each step disguised (perhaps not even intentionally) as a temporary emergency measure or associated with true patriotic allegiance or with real social purposes. And all the crises and reforms (real reforms, too) so occupied the people that they did not see the slow motion underneath, of the whole process of government growing remoter and remoter.”

—Historian Milton Mayer, They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45

Brace yourself.

There is something being concocted in the dens of power, far beyond the public eye, and it doesn’t bode well for the future of this country.

Anytime you have an entire nation so mesmerized by the antics of the political ruling class that they are oblivious to all else, you’d better beware. Anytime you have a government that operates in the shadows, speaks in a language of force, and rules by fiat, you’d better beware. And anytime you have a government so far removed from its people as to ensure that they are never seen, heard or heeded by those elected to represent them, you’d better beware.

The world has been down this road before.

As historian Milton Mayer recounts in his seminal book on Hitler’s rise to power, They Thought They Were Free, “Most of us did not want to think about fundamental things and never had. There was no need to. Nazism gave us some dreadful, fundamental things to think about—we were decent people‑—and kept us so busy with continuous changes and ‘crises’ and so fascinated, yes, fascinated, by the machinations of the ‘national enemies’, without and within, that we had no time to think about these dreadful things that were growing, little by little, all around us.”

We are at our most vulnerable right now.

The gravest threat facing us as a nation is not extremism—delivered by way of sovereign citizens or radicalized Muslims—but despotism, exercised by a ruling class whose only allegiance is to power and money.

Nero fiddled while Rome burned.

America is burning, and all most Americans can do is switch the channel, tune out what they don’t want to hear, and tune into their own personal echo chambers.

We’re in a national state of denial.

Yet no amount of escapism can shield us from the harsh reality that the danger in our midst is posed by an entrenched government bureaucracy that has no regard for the Constitution, Congress, the courts or the citizenry.

If the team colors have changed from blue to red, that’s just cosmetic.

The playbook remains the same. The leopard has not changed its spots.

Scrape off the surface layers and you will find that the American police state is alive and well and continuing to wreak havoc on the rights of the American people.

“We the people” are no longer living the American Dream.

We’re living the American Lie.

Indeed, Americans have been lied to so sincerely, so incessantly, and for so long by politicians of all stripes—who lie compulsively and without any seeming remorse—that they’ve almost come to prefer the lies trotted out by those in government over less-palatable truths.

The American people have become compulsive believers.

As Nick Cohen writes for The Guardian, “Compulsive liars shouldn’t frighten you. They can harm no one, if no one listens to them. Compulsive believers, on the other hand: they should terrify you. Believers are the liars’ enablers. Their votes give the demagogue his power. Their trust turns the charlatan into the president. Their credulity ensures that the propaganda of half-calculating and half-mad fanatics has the power to change the world.”

While telling the truth “in a time of universal deceit is,” as George Orwell concluded, “a revolutionary act,” believing the truth—and being able to distinguish the truth from a lie—is also a revolutionary act.

Here’s a truth few Americans want to acknowledge: nothing has changed (at least, not for the better) since Barack Obama passed the reins of the police state to Donald Trump.

The police state is still winning. We the people are still losing.

In fact, the American police state has continued to advance at the same costly, intrusive, privacy-sapping, Constitution-defying, relentless pace under President Trump as it did under President Obama.

Police haven’t stopped disregarding the rights of citizens. Having been given the green light to probe, poke, pinch, taser, search, seize, strip, shoot and generally manhandle anyone they see fit in almost any circumstance, all with the general blessing of the courts, America’s law enforcement officials are no longer mere servants of the people entrusted with keeping the peace. Indeed, they continue to keep the masses corralled, under control, and treated like suspects and enemies rather than citizens.

SWAT teams haven’t stopped crashing through doors and terrorizing families. Nationwide, SWAT teams continue to be employed to address an astonishingly trivial array of criminal activities or mere community nuisances including angry dogs, domestic disputes, improper paperwork filed by an orchid farmer, and misdemeanor marijuana possession. With more than 80,000 SWAT team raids carried out every year on unsuspecting Americans for relatively routine police matters and federal agencies laying claim to their own law enforcement divisions, the incidence of botched raids and related casualties continue to rise.

The Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security haven’t stopped militarizing and federalizing local police. Police forces continue to be transformed into heavily armed extensions of the military, complete with jackboots, helmets, shields, batons, pepper-spray, stun guns, assault rifles, body armor, miniature tanks and weaponized drones. In training police to look and act like the military and use the weapons and tactics of war against American citizens, the government continues to turn the United States into a battlefield.

Schools haven’t stopped treating young people like hard-core prisoners. School districts continue to team up with law enforcement to create a “schoolhouse to jailhouse track” by imposing a “double dose” of punishment for childish infractions: suspension or expulsion from school, accompanied by an arrest by the police and a trip to juvenile court. In this way, the paradigm of abject compliance to the state continues to be taught by example in the schools, through school lockdowns where police and drug-sniffing dogs enter the classroom, and zero tolerance policies that punish all offenses equally and result in young people being expelled for childish behavior.

For-profit private prisons haven’t stopped locking up Americans and immigrants alike at taxpayer expense. States continue to outsource prison management to private corporations out to make a profit at taxpayer expense. And how do you make a profit in the prison industry? Have the legislatures pass laws that impose harsh penalties for the slightest noncompliance in order keep the prison cells full and corporate investors happy.

Censorship hasn’t stopped. First Amendment activities continue to be pummeled, punched, kicked, choked, chained and generally gagged all across the country. The reasons for such censorship vary widely from political correctness, safety concerns and bullying to national security and hate crimes but the end result remained the same: the complete eradication of what Benjamin Franklin referred to as the “principal pillar of a free government.”

The courts haven’t stopped marching in lockstep with the police state. The courts continue to be dominated by technicians and statists who are deferential to authority, whether government or business. Indeed, the Supreme Court’s decisions in recent years have most often been characterized by an abject deference to government authority, military and corporate interests. They have run the gamut from suppressing free speech activities and justifying suspicionless strip searches to warrantless home invasions and conferring constitutional rights on corporations, while denying them to citizens.

Government bureaucrats haven’t stopped turning American citizens into criminals. The average American now unknowingly commits three felonies a day, thanks to an overabundance of vague laws that render otherwise innocent activity illegal, while reinforcing the power of the police state and its corporate allies.

The surveillance state hasn’t stopped spying on Americans’ communications, transactions or movements. On any given day, whether you’re walking through a store, driving your car, checking email, or talking to friends and family on the phone, you can be sure that some government agency, whether it’s your local police, a fusion center, the National Security Agency or one of the government’s many corporate partners, is still monitoring and tracking you.

The TSA hasn’t stopped groping or ogling travelers. Under the pretext of protecting the nation’s infrastructure (roads, mass transit systems, water and power supplies, telecommunications systems and so on) against criminal or terrorist attacks, TSA task forces (comprised of federal air marshals, surface transportation security inspectors, transportation security officers, behavior detection officers and explosive detection canine teams) continue to do random security sweeps of nexuses of transportation, including ports, railway and bus stations, airports, ferries and subways, as well as political conventions, baseball games and music concerts. Sweep tactics include the use of x-ray technology, pat-downs and drug-sniffing dogs, among other things.

Congress hasn’t stopped enacting draconian laws such as the USA Patriot Act and the NDAA. These laws—which completely circumvent the rule of law and the constitutional rights of American citizens, continue to re-orient our legal landscape in such a way as to ensure that martial law, rather than the rule of law, our U.S. Constitution, becomes the map by which we navigate life in the United States.

The Department of Homeland Security hasn’t stopped being a “wasteful, growing, fear-mongering beast.” Is the DHS capable of plotting and planning to turn the national guard into a federalized, immigration police force? No doubt about it. Remember, this is the agency that is notorious for militarizing the police and SWAT teams; spying on activists, dissidents and veterans; stockpiling ammunition; distributing license plate readers; contracting to build detention camps; tracking cell-phones with Stingray devices; carrying out military drills and lockdowns in American cities; using the TSA as an advance guard; conducting virtual strip searches with full-body scanners; carrying out soft target checkpoints; directing government workers to spy on Americans; conducting widespread spying networks using fusion centers; carrying out Constitution-free border control searches; funding city-wide surveillance cameras; and utilizing drones and other spybots.

The military industrial complex hasn’t stopped profiting from endless wars abroad. America’s expanding military empire continues to bleed the country dry at a rate of more than $15 billion a month (or $20 million an hour). The Pentagon spends more on war than all 50 states combined spend on health, education, welfare, and safety. Yet what most Americans fail to recognize is that these ongoing wars have little to do with keeping the country safe and everything to do with enriching the military industrial complex at taxpayer expense.

The Deep State’s shadow government hasn’t stopped calling the shots behind the scenes. Comprised of unelected government bureaucrats, corporations, contractors, paper-pushers, and button-pushers who are actually calling the shots behind the scenes, this government within a government continues to be the real reason “we the people” have no real control over our so-called representatives. It’s every facet of a government that is no longer friendly to freedom and is working overtime to trample the Constitution underfoot and render the citizenry powerless in the face of the government’s power grabs, corruption and abusive tactics.

And the American people haven’t stopped acting like gullible sheep. In fact, many Americans have been so carried away by their blind rank-and-file partisan devotion to their respective political gods that they have lost sight of the one thing that has remained constant in recent years: our freedoms are steadily declining.

Here’s the problem as I see it: “we the people” have become so trusting, so gullible, so easily distracted, so out-of-touch and so sure that our government will always do the right thing by us that we have ignored the warning signs all around us.

In so doing, we have failed to recognize such warning signs as potential red flags to use as opportunities to ask questions, demand answers, and hold our government officials accountable to respecting our rights and abiding by the rule of law.

Unfortunately, once a free people allows the government to make inroads into their freedoms, or uses those same freedoms as bargaining chips for security, it quickly becomes a slippery slope to outright tyranny. And it doesn’t really matter whether it’s a Democrat or a Republican at the helm, because the bureaucratic mindset on both sides of the aisle now seems to embody the same philosophy of authoritarian government.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, this is what happens when you ignore the warning signs.

This is what happens when you fail to take alarm at the first experiment on your liberties.

This is what happens when you fail to challenge injustice and government overreach until the prison doors clang shut behind you.

In the American police state that now surrounds us, there are no longer such things as innocence, due process, or justice—at least, not in the way we once knew them. We are all potentially guilty, all potential criminals, all suspects waiting to be accused of a crime.

So you can try to persuade yourself that you are free, that you still live in a country that values freedom, and that it is not too late to make America great again, but to anyone who has been paying attention to America’s decline over the past 50 years, it will be just another lie.

The German people chose to ignore the truth and believe the lie.

They were not oblivious to the horrors taking place around them. As historian Robert Gellately points out, “[A]nyone in Nazi Germany who wanted to find out about the Gestapo, the concentration camps, and the campaigns of discrimination and persecutions need only read the newspapers.”

The warning signs were definitely there, blinking incessantly like large neon signs.

“Still,” Gellately writes, “the vast majority voted in favor of Nazism, and in spite of what they could read in the press and hear by word of mouth about the secret police, the concentration camps, official anti-Semitism, and so on. . . . [T]here is no getting away from the fact that at that moment, ‘the vast majority of the German people backed him.’”

Half a century later, the wife of a prominent German historian, neither of whom were members of the Nazi party, opined: “[O]n the whole, everyone felt well. . . . And there were certainly eighty percent who lived productively and positively throughout the time. . . . We also had good years. We had wonderful years.”

In other words, as long as their creature comforts remained undiminished, as long as their bank accounts remained flush, as long as they weren’t being discriminated against, persecuted, starved, beaten, shot, stripped, jailed and turned into slave labor, life was good.

This is how tyranny rises and freedom falls.

As Primo Levi, a Holocaust survivor observed, “Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.”

Freedom demands responsibility.

Freedom demands that people stop sleep-walking through life, stop cocooning themselves in political fantasies, and stop distracting themselves with escapist entertainment.

Freedom demands that we stop thinking as Democrats and Republicans and start thinking like human beings, or at the very least, Americans.

Freedom demands that we not remain silent in the face of evil or wrongdoing but actively stand against injustice.

Freedom demands that we treat others as we would have them treat us. That is the law of reciprocity, also referred to as the Golden Rule, and it is found in nearly every world religion, including Judaism and Christianity.

In other words, if you don’t want to be locked up in a prison cell or a detention camp—if you don’t want to be discriminated against because of the color of your race, religion, politics or anything else that sets you apart from the rest—if you don’t want your loved ones shot at, strip searched, tasered, beaten and treated like slaves—if you don’t want to have to be constantly on guard against government eyes watching what you do, where you go and what you say—if you don’t want to be tortured, waterboarded or forced to perform degrading acts—if you don’t want your children to grow up in a world without freedom—then don’t allow these evils to be inflicted on anyone else, no matter how tempting the reason or how fervently you believe in your cause.

As German theologian and anti-Nazi dissident Dietrich Bonhoeffer observed, “We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”

Restricting People’s Use of Their Courts

In not so merry old medieval England, wrongful injuries between people either were suffered in silence or provoked revenge. Cooler heads began to prevail and courts of law were opened so such disputes over compensation and other remedies could be adjudicated under trial by jury.

Taken across the Atlantic to the colonies, this system – called tort law or the law of wrongful injuries – evolved steadily to open the courtroom door until the nineteen seventies. It was then that the insurance industry and other corporate lobbies began pushing one restriction after another through state legislatures– not restrictions on corporations’ rights to sue, but restrictions on the rights of ordinary people to have their day in court.

Lawmakers, whose campaign coffers were  stuffed by corporate lobbyists, were not  concerned about advancing their passing rules that arbitrarily tied the hands of judges and jurors—the same judges and jurors who were the only people to see, hear and evaluate individual cases in their courtrooms. Legislation imposing caps on damages – as with California’s $250,000 lifetime cap on pain and suffering – was especially cruel for those victims of medical malpractice who were  young, unemployed or elderly and thus do not  have significant enough wage losses to receive sufficient damages.

In recent decades, the nonsense about our society being too litigious  (except for business vs business lawsuits) has become even more extreme. Not only do we file far fewer civil lawsuits per capita than in the 1840s, according to inpraiselitigationstudies by University of Wisconsin law professors, but jury trials have been declining in both federal and state courts, with trials down by 60% since the mid-1980s.

My father used say that “if people do not use their rights, they will over time lose their rights.”  This truism brings us to a new book by University of Connecticut Law Professor Alexander Lahav, with the title In Praise of Litigation (Oxford University Press). The title invokes the necessity of legal recourse in a society whose ordinary people are being squeezed out of their day in court, being denied justice, and are becoming cynical enough to want to get out of jury duty—a right for which our forebears demanded from King George III.

Professor Lahav makes the point we should have learned in high school, or at least college. The right to litigate is critical to any democratic society. Imagine living in a country where no one can sue powerful wrongdoers or the government. We have names for countries like that. They’re called dictatorships or tyrannies.

Here is author Lahav’s summary: “Litigation is a civilized response to the difficult disagreements that often crop up in a pluralist society. The process of litigation does more than resolve disputes: it contributes to democratic deliberation. This is the key to understanding what this process is supposed to be about and what should be done to improve it. By appreciating the democratic values people protect and promote when they sue – enforcement of the law, transparency, participation and social equality – reformers can work toward a court system that is truly democracy promoting.”

It would be more reassuring if more judges reflected those words. Were that the case, they would be fighting harder to expand the shrinking court budgets (about two percent of state budgets) that are increasingly causing civil trials to be deferred or courtrooms to be temporarily closed. Tighter budgets lead judges to excessively pressure lawyers to settle or go to arbitration. The latter is a malicious inequity between consumers, workers and other people unequal in power vis-a-vis big corporations like Wells Fargo, Exxon/Mobil, Pfizer and Aetna, who force consumers to sign fine print contracts that limit people’s rights to use the courts.

The usual sally against praising civil litigation is the claim of too many frivolous suits. Whenever Richard Newman, the Executive Director of the American Museum of Tort Law, hears that asserted, he asks for examples. They are not forthcoming. For good reason. Litigation is expensive; lawyers have to guard their reputations and judges, who largely lean to the conservative side, are in charge of their courtrooms. They are quite ready to approve motions to dismiss a case or summary judgments.

We have to take a greater interest in our courts. They are open to the public for a reason. Students need to visit them and understand what the burdens are on courts, and how our civil justice system can be improved. When I ask assemblies of students if they have ever visited a court as a spectator, hardly one in ten raise a hand.

Courts should not be places of case overloads and long delays. They should be welcoming temples of justice where judge and jurors engage in reasoned deliberation for the advancement of justice as part of a functioning democracy. The demands for justice are such in our country that courts should have more judges, more juries and more trials.

As the great judge, Learned Hand, wisely wrote “If we are to keep our democracy, there must be one commandment: Thou shalt not ration justice.”