Thursday, September 14, 2006

The 14 CHARACTERISTICS OF FASCISM: Part 12, Obsession with Crime and Punishment..official

PART 12:
By Brandon and Enlightenment

The following article is based, in part, on the ideas of Bertram Gross as expressed in his perennial favorite, FRIENDLY FASCISM (1980, South End Press).

"The rights of the people to be secure in their persons, homes, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized."

The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

As in the case of the First Amendment religion clause, the Fourth Amendment does not need to mention the specific, overall right that it is designed to protect because, by its very nature, it is a definition of that specific right, namely the right to privacy. And yet, for reasons which boggle the imagination, there are actually politicians and constitutional "scholars" out there who will tell you that the right to privacy does not exist. Moreover, the people who would tell you that the right to privacy does not exist are conservative, strict constructionists who believe that the constitution should be interpreted as the Founding Fathers would have in 1787.

Before we say anything else, the older members at The Coalition for a Republican-Free America must admit that we have major problems when it comes to a strict constructionist view of the Constitution. For the most part, the framers understood that the Constitution was a living, breathing document which would grow and evolve as the people, society, and technology grew and evolved. We're talking about a group of white, upper class men who would have been as baffled by steam power and the telegraph as we are by gene splicing and quantum physics. In other words, we feel that the Founding Fathers should be admired but not worshiped as infallible gods. The Constitution, as it stood in 1787 was a fair enough document, but it had some obvious shortcomings. The right to vote was limited to male property owners; slavery was a protected institution; blacks were counted as 3/5 human; United States senators were selected by the respective state legislatures, not by the direct vote of the people; 18-year-olds could not vote. Moreover, the framers knew that their creation wasn't perfect. They knew that future generations would need to amend the document to their own needs and situations. (Thomas Jefferson, while not a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, was highly interested in the proceedings and went so far as to suggest that no generation should be allowed to impose its constitutional values on the next, going so far as to suggest that the Constitution be torn up and rewritten from scratch by each new generation; which, considering the life span and marriage habits of the late Eighteenth Century would have been every 19 years. Consequently, if Jefferson and his disciples had prevailed, we would be operating under our twelfth or thirteenth constitution instead of the amended one under which we presently operate. In addition, the framers gave is Ninth Amendment which reads "The enumeration in the constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people," and a Tenth Amendment which reads, "The powers not delegated to the United States by this constitution nor prohibited by it to the states are reserved to the states respectively or to the people." Also, the fact that the constitution has a means by which it can be amended tells us that the framers themselves did not accept a strict constructionist view on the matter.

The constructionist (revisionist) view that the Founders did not believe in a right to privacy is not only delusional and absurd, it demonstrates how radical this (mis)interpretation of the founding document truly is. The Founding Fathers has just freed themselves from the British Empire. They knew well what it was like to live in an occupied nation where the citizens could be forced to quarter British troops; where their houses could be searched, ram shackled, or burned to the ground. To suggest that they did not understand the value of privacy is highly akin to siding with Imperial Britain. Indeed in private conversations the three of us have often wondered: On which side would the strict constructionists have fought in 1776--with George Washington or Benedict Arnold? The answer seems clear. If the side they emulate the most had won the Revolutionary War we would be speaking with English accents and the only red, white, and blue that we would be flying would be in the British Union Jack.

By now you're probably wondering what any of this has to do with our national obsession over crime and punishment: in a word, everything. Unlike the younger members on these blogs, one of us lived through the McCarthy Era, which was not a pleasant time. Two others lived through the Post McCarthy Era when we began to take civil liberties a little more seriously. Those three of us can remember a time when guard dogs and police officers were NOT common place in American high schools. Locker searches were few and far in between. We can even remember a time, before the 1980s, when law enforcement was actually controlled by the United States Constitution. How things have changed in the past 25 years. Today we have not one, but two generations which were raised to believe that the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Amendments don't matter. We have two generations of young people who have been conditioned (read brainwashed by Reagen and company) into believing that locker searches, German Shepherd Dogs, random check points, and random searches are a Constitutional standard. And to make the matter even more chilling, we have a Supreme Court which has consistently given more power to law enforcement to conduct what, under normal circumstances, would be considered illegal searches and seizures. But as Brandon has already pointed out, these are not normal circumstances, and our leaders themselves have demonstrated time and time again that they too are anything but normal.

Our leaders, in a megalomaniacal (and yes, often sociopathic) grab for power have constructed the strict constructionist interpretation to destroy the constitutional provisions which deny them absolute control over the American people; and our obsession over crime and punishment has only helped them in that repressive endeavor.

Unfortunately that obsession has been narrowly focused on lower class blacks and Hispanics, rarely on upper class, white collar (i.e. corporate) criminals which do as much or more damage through their crimes. And yet, the similarities between corporate and lower class criminals are striking to say the least: 1. most lower and corporate class crimes are deliberate, not accidental; 2. most are repeat offenders and seldom respond to attempts at deterrence or rehabilitation; 3. corporate crime is usually more extensive than complaints and prosecutions might indicate; 4. like modern day gang members, who see prison time as an indication of status, corporate criminals rarely lose status with their associates; 5. both lower class and corporate class criminals reveal contempt for law enforcement and the government; 6. like modern day drug gangs, corporate crime is both formally and informally organized--both have cartels, secret agreements, and sets of ethics which are coupled with reward systems, all of which are designed to conceal illegal activities; 7. both corporate and lower class crime depends on secrecy--whether it's the proverbial burglar who is breaking into your house, or the white collar tobacco CEO, who knew his product was addictive and killing people, both depend on secrecy to get away with crimes.

The only difference is that lower class criminals really do see themselves as criminals. The society at large tends to see them as criminals. In sharp contrast, corporate criminals (i.e. the financial backers of our political parties), while engaging in criminal, or even destructive, behavior, seldom consider themselves criminals, and often are not seen as such by the American people.

The results are predictable. Most of our time and resources have been directed against minority Blacks and Hispanics who commit lower class crimes. Laws are directed against the powerless lower classes, the penalties rigged so as to benefit white collar offenders while persecuting minorities for (often) similar crimes. For example: Harsh penalties are imposed on lower class individuals (read minorities) who use/abuse crack, while the penalties for upper class, corporate criminals who use good, old-fashioned cocaine are comparatively lighter.

Our corporate owned media haven't helped the situation either. As we have already seen, the bottom line for corporate owned media is profit. That means that viewers and readers, who are predominantly white, middle to upper middle class white people, are frequently pandered too. "If it bleeds it leads," and that too often means a splashy, sensational, front page story or televised news segment about a minority-committed crime, which only convinced the white consumer that we need to invest the police and justice system with unconstitutional powers to protect them from Blacks and Hispanics. Of course, the dirty little secret throughout all of this is that the majority of Blacks and Hispanics are decent, hard-working people who only want to raise their families and get on with their lives in the best way or ways that they can. That isn't to say that issues of poverty and racism aren't important issues, but our media have done such a devastatingly efficient job of demonizing all minorities as criminals, that we have now reached the point where the obsessed American people are more interested in gated communities and in cracking down on crime than they are in eradicating the causes of crime. Convinced that heavy-handed, unconstitutional measures are the only way to proceed, the frightened American people opt for hard-line tactics which undermine the constitutional provisions on which our freedoms are based. Conversely, the vast majority of corporate crimes go ignored, and unpunished. Again, "if it bleeds, it leads," meaning that if the corporate criminal isn't a celebrity like Martha Stewart, or an obsessive risk taker like Ken Lay, the chances are that corporate crime will almost certainly be ignored.

To that end, our police are now endowed with unconstitutional powers to persecute minorities, while white collar criminals are given an occasional slap on the wrist. That's a terribly heavy price for a society to pay because the financial backers of the budding fascist regime in Washington are the beneficiaries of corporate funding.

Regrettably the American people have been the victims of the greatest crime of all. They have been tricked by professional con artists, both corporate and political, into giving up their civil liberties. And that is a great deal more than a crime.

That is a tragedy.

Editor's note
By Jeffrey

When we wrote this in 2005, we had no idea that the Bush Administration would both, propose the idea that Donald Rumsfeld should be given the ability to arrest any American at any time for any reason with little to no regard for Constitutional protections.   Nor were we aware of the fact that the House of Representatives would vote to give George W. Bush authority over the state national guards in case of a national emergency.   More than an obsession with crime and punishment,  this is just another example of the megalomaniacal rubber stamp Congress giving a megalomaniacal president the absolute power that he has been craving all along. 


Friendly Fascism
By Bertram Gross
1980 South End Press
Racism and the Administration of Justice
From Racism and Human Rights
Poor Left Defenseless in Courtroom
By mary Zahn and Jessica McBride
Milwaukee Journal Sentienl online
December 8, 2002
From Social Justice to Criminal Justice: Poverty and
the Administration of Criminal Law

NY: Oxford University Press, 2000
The Institute for Criminal Justice Ethics


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