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Dismantling the Corporate State

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America has slid into a form of "corporate totalitarianism" where basic rights and freedoms outlined in our Constitution have been wiped away.

The only thing that will restore our rights will be a mass movement, similar to the labor movement and civil-rights movements of years past, where people defy the government and engage in acts of civil disobedience.

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That's the view of one of America's leading intellectuals, Chris Hedges, the author of numerous books on America's social condition and a former reporter for The New York Times.  Speaking at a recent conference on civil liberties at Central Connecticut State University, Hedges said the establishment of a mass surveillance system, repressive new laws and corporate power have made democracy in the United States "a fiction." There is only one way to turn it around.

"Reform will only come through building mass movements and alternative centers of power that can overthrow -- let me repeat that word for Homeland Security -- overthrow the corporate state," he said.  

Hedges was the keynote speaker at the conference sponsored by the Connecticut Coalition to Stop Indefinite Detention. The gathering also featured workshops and panel discussions on issues related to prisoners, discrimination against Muslims, deportations, drones, unlawful detentions, and other civil-liberties subjects.

A 20-year foreign correspondent who reported in East Germany and Czechoslovakia under communist rule, as well as in El Salvador and Guatemala during the civil wars in the 1980s, Hedges said the United States is taking on many of the characteristics of the dictatorial regimes he once covered.

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Under the guise of fighting terrorism, a vast surveillance apparatus has been set up through the National Security Agency and the FBI, which allows the government to learn everything about you -- who you are communicating with, what your views are, what your activities are, where you travel, and if you've had any personal issues or problems in the past. As whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed, the NSA sweeps up phone calling "metadata" of all Americans as well as their emails.

The FBI, through legislation passed after 911, can secretly obtain your personal information by issuing warrantless National Security Letters to anyone -- your employer, your bank, your doctor, your friends,  or a library, Hedges said. They also have the technical capabilities through cell phones and GPS systems to track your geographical movements. 

Moreover, "they will store this information for perpetuity in government computers," he said.

Additionally, under the Section 1021 provision of the National Defense Authorization Act, the government now has the power to arrest an American citizen simply on the basis that they might be linked to t errorists, place them in jail, and hold them indefinitely, without due process. And, as has happened under Barack Obama, the President can order the assassination of American citizens, if it is determined such individuals are terrorists.

Hedges said that those who try to expose illegal behavior by the government are "hunted down" and pay a heavy price. He pointed to Chelsea Manning, an Army officer who released military files to divulge war crimes by U.S. soldiers, and then was tried on espionage charges; and Snowden, who released classified files to reveal the unconstitutional NSA-spying program, and then had to flee the country to avoid prosecution.

"This is always the way totalitarian secret-police forces work -- the SS, the KGB, the East German Stasi," said Hedges. "Dissent is criminalized, truth is hidden."

As the laws were passed and court decisions handed down that enabled the surveillance state, constitutional provisions such as the 4th Amendment and its guarantee of privacy have been shredded, Hedges said.

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Hedges said many people in the legal profession should have spoken up during this period of constitutional erosion, but did not.  "Where are the judges, the deans of law schools, the nation's 1 million lawyers?" he asked.  "Why do they refuse to defend the Constitution? They have become  valued partners, along with a bankrupt press, in a campaign to eradicate our most basic civil liberties."

While the  'war on terrorism' and 'national security' are always cited as the reasons for the passage of the laws and judicial decisions curbing civil liberties, Hedges sees another reason behind the repression: corporate influence.  In these times of economic distress and widening inequality,  the elites in the corporate world fear potential unrest and seek control, Hedges said.  A mass-surveillance system serves their interests.

"Totalitarianism no longer comes through communism or fascism; it comes now from corporations," Hedges said. "And these corporations fear those who think, write and speak out and those who form relationships freely. Individual freedom impedes their power and their profit."

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Reginald Johnson is a free-lance writer based in Bridgeport, Ct. His work has appeared in The New York Times, BBC-Online, the Connecticut Post, his web magazine, The Pequonnock, and Reading Between the Lines, a web magazine affiliated with the (more...)

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