Leaving for Chicago

[27 years ago on this date, November 25, I left Los Angeles, arriving in Chicago on December 3.  I have now lived in Chicago sc00039808more years than I have lived in any other place.This essay is part of a much larger work in progress, call it a memoir of a radical bookseller if you want.  It is also an exploration of what it means to use words to change the course of social development, what new ideas mean in the course of human history, and an exploration of how the introduction of new ideas — call it propaganda — changes from the days of the first printing press to the new days of the twittersphere. — Lew Rosenbaum]

Harold Washington was dead. It felt like a sledgehammer in the gut, hearing the words coming from the car radio on November 25, 1987. News radio KFWB in Los Angeles, give us 22 minutes and we’ll give you the world. Well, they gave it to us and my wife and I were not prepared for it. I chose this day, the day before Thanksgiving, to leave Los Angeles for Chicago (with stops in Phoenix, Edmond (Oklahoma), and Rolla (Missouri) on the way).

Some people maintain that there is no bad time to leave Los Angeles. We picked the worst time.

Wednesday, November 25, 1987. Rush hour on the San Bernardino Freeway, heading east, out of town at 4 pm. The day before Thanksgiving. The Toyota station wagon packed full, the rear view mirror useless, then more added to the carrier rack on top. Lee, her sister Marie, and I squeezed inside, Marie wedged in among packages and clothing in the back.

That morning I said good-byes to our Chinatown neighbors, people we had known for many years. The people in our building still thanked us for fighting the landlord to keep him from doubling the rents in violation of rent-control. By early afternoon, irritation at our delay had reached mountainous proportions. When we finally piled into the car and I started the engine, the irritation began to recede. By the time, 15 minutes later, when we’d entered the freeway off Mission St. and inched our way across four lanes to go toward San Bernardino, we had resigned ourselves to baking in slow moving traffic, millions of Angelenos leaving for the holiday weekend.

80 miles to the east towered the peaks of Mt. San Jacinto and San Gorgonio, 10,000 feet above the desert floor. We might be lucky and make it through Banning and into the San Gorgonio Pass in 2 hours. By then, once the sun had set behind us, the drive would be tolerable, even as we entered the desert. Resignation didn’t stop us from blaming each other for the late start, but soon that became old. We listened to music for a while, nothing to seize our attention.   As we passed Pomona, we turned on the all news station. “Give us 20 minutes and we’ll give you the world.”

We didn’t need KFWB to give us the traffic report. It was all around us. We weren’t prepared for the world. Sports and weather yielded to the big story of the day. Harold Washington, mayor of my new home, Chicago, had suffered a massive heart attack, or so it was thought. The news confirmed that he was dead. There may have been other news. There probably was. Lee and I stared open mouthed at each other. Marie, who had not known the significance of Washington’s election against the machine, the significance of his program, couldn’t fathom the grief we showed.

I turned the radio louder, expecting to hear more if I turned it up. When the radio refused to divulge new information, we started switching stations, Lee turning the buttons. We needed to be sure that what we had heard was true.

Then, when finally we hit the vivid loneliness of the desert, the news story sunk in, as if in the noise of the horns and the rubber against cement it was impossible to come to grips with the truth. We stopped at a diner in Indio, silently ate burgers for dinner, gassed up the car, and crossed into Arizona. It was late when we reached Phoenix, pulled up in the driveway outside the Yue family house, and, physically and emotionally exhausted, fell into bed.

Thanksgiving came and went, we stayed through the weekend, and then packed up again, saying good-bye to family. It might be my last time in Phoenix, I thought. Marie stayed behind, Lee and I headed to Chicago. We stopped with Lee’s friends in Edmond, Oklahoma; then in Rolla, Missouri we stayed over in a motel. Late afternoon the next day, Thursday, December 3, we drove into Chicago as the somber daylight was fading, temperature in the rainy, nasty, bone-chilling forties and going down. As we came in, thousands had gathered in the University of Illinois pavilion, at a memorial for the mayor the people called “Harold.”

Jo Ann and Mike made us a bed in their living room, a second floor apartment in Humboldt Park. Desperate to get a feel for my new city, we walked in the rain for a couple of blocks, got a bite to eat at the first local dive, and then went back to unpack. We stayed for a few days until I could settle in. As soon as I got my bearings, I moved a mile east to Wicker Park, the front room of the first floor of an old three-flat at 1248 Hoyne. But when you’ve come 2,000 miles east, left the life you’ve known for 27 years, made plans to move your family to a new city, to take up a position for which you have been recruited, you feel obliged, anxious, need to look again, even if you know the surroundings, to see where you will be spending the next section of your life. So that’s what Lee & I did. We went to Lincoln Avenue, went to see Richard Bray, went to Guild Books.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Mr. Sourwine, Mr. Feely and Mr. Port are not names from the pages of Dickens novel. They speak from the pages of a transcript of hearings before a subcommittee of the United States Senate Judiciary Committee. The hearings, held August 3, 1970, investigated the “Extent of Subversion in the “New Left.” Senator Marlow Cook presided over these hearings. J.G. Sourwine was the chief counsel. The subcommittee met in Washington, D.C. and took the testimony of Hugh Patrick Feely and Harry Port, both board members of the Lincoln park (Chicago) Conservation Association. Feely & Port had conducted “investigations” of revolutionary organizations operating in Lincoln Park in the 2 years prior to the hearings. Early in the testimony Port brought a list of “revolutionary organizations” and organizations supporting them, to the attention of the committee. He mentioned churches, youth gangs (these include the Young Lords and Young Patriots organizations), underground media, a coffehouse, the Student Health Organization, and Guild Books, characterized as a “radical information center.”

Much later in the transcript, p 1096, the following exchange occurs between Mr. Sourwine and Mr. Port:

Mr. Port: The other thing, what I call radical information centers which handle not only the underground newspapers from Chicago but material which is Communist material which is printed in China, and so forth, which are the Guild Book Shop, and the People’s Information Center, located in the Lincoln Park area.

Mr. Sourwine: Tell us a little about each one.

Mr. Port: The Guild Book Shop, as well as acting as a bookshop also is the publisher of the Second City newspaper, which is an underground newspaper purporting to deal in matters of revolutionary activities.

Mr. Sourwine: Is the Guild Book Shop in fact a book shop?

Mr. Port: It acts as a bookshop, yes.

Mr. Sourwine: Where is it located?

Mr. Port: It is located on Halsted Street, 2136 North Halsted . . .

Mr. Sourwine: What is the Guild, so-called, in connection with the Guild Book Store?

Mr. Port: I have no idea.

Mr. Sourwine: Do you know who owns the Guild Book Shop or runs it?

Mr. Port: I do not.

Mr. Sourwine: What goes on there that is subversive, or violent, or contributes to subversion or violence?

Mr. Port: I would say it is the distribution point of most of the radical literature in the area.

Mr. Sourwine: You understand, I am not arguing . . .

Mr. Port: Right. In other words, their ad would read, you know, “Open 7 days a week, Marxist and other radical literature.”

Mr. Sourwine: Are you in fact reading from one of their ads?

Mr. Port: Right . . .

Mr. Sourwine: Should the text of that ad go into this record, in your opinion?

Mr. Port: I would say that, since they mention Marxist and other radical literature, Lenin, Mao, underground press, et cetera.

". . .my greatest satisfaction is in getting things done . . ."

Post card from South African activist and poet Denis Brutus

The testimony hints at what Lincoln Park was like then. During the 2 years prior to these hearings the 1968 Democratic Party convention had taken place in Chicago, with much of the activity and leadership emanating from organizations in Lincoln Park. In between then and October, 1969, according to Mr. Port’s detailed research, the Young Lords Organization initiated many protests and takeovers in Lincoln Park, often with the help of SDS, the Black Panthers, the Young Patriots, and others. Lincoln Park was the foundation and stronghold of the Young Lords, based among Puerto Rican youth. The immediate cause of the investigation was the October 8 to October 11 “Bring the War Home” rally scheduled for Lincoln Park, that turned into what the committee termed a riot. Fred Hampton’s name appears in the records, mainly as a speaker at a number of northside rallies. No one mentions, in the hearings, the murder of Fred Hampton and Mark Clark, leaders of the Black Panthers, on December 4, 1969.

Reading this testimony more than 40 years later feels almost prurient, voyeuristic. Of the names mentioned, some continued for many years as key activists in causes for social justice. Among them are people who own businesses today, teach university classes, offer art classes to south side young people. But there it is, the Guild Book Shop, then on Halsted Street, the center of distribution of all this dangerous material that foments violence and subversion. What a wonderful pedigree to inherit, to explore. And then I did.

The World Watches Wisconsin: Tom Morello Gathers Messages of Solidarity

The World Watches Wisconsin: Tom Morello Gathers Messages of Solidarity

Tuesday, 05 June 2012 09:33 By Tom Morello, Truthout | Op-Ed

Tom Morello on the steps of the Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin, February 21, 2011.

Tom Morello on the steps of the Capitol in Madison, Wisconsin, February 21, 2011. (Photo: Dave Hoefler)

Tom Morello played a concert in Madison, Wisconsin, on Friday in solidarity with the effort to recall Governor Walker. In advance of the concert, he solicited messages of solidarity from around the world and they came pouring in from Spain, Quebec, Chile, Greece, Tunisia and Egypt.

Here is a collection of the statements.

From Spain: 

From Madrid, we send our support and solidarity to the people of Madison on their fight, which is our fight too. We are part of a global non-violent movement that claims for a true, direct and participative democracy of people and for the people. Because we are the 99% we fight for a change in the system, since the current system does not represent us.

The ruler’s mistakes, sponsored by the dictatorships of markets and financial systems, are provoking the destruction of the deepest roots of the Rule of Law. We will not allow more reforms to undermine the basic rights.

The same claim sounds all around the world, in different languages: “we don’t gonna pay this crisis” in Spain, “Your time is up” in Wisconsin and it has the same meaning: the power belongs to the people. “Madison, we are with all of you. We are the 99%.”

(From Toma Madrid, the communication group of the 15M.)

From Quebec:

The fight we are currently leading in Quebec is the same as the ones workers and students of Wisconsin and throughout the world are in.

We are only a small part of a global struggle against social and economic injustice.

We have to restart to think about concrete ways to ensure solidarity between our struggles.

Over the borders, over our own interests, over our differences, we can find a global link that unites us all.

We are eager to be free.

Free from domination, oppression and domination from the corporate elites.

We might only be writing the first lines of the story of a global fight, but one thing is for sure, we all know the end of that story.

In the end, our solidarity will beat their oppression!

Quand l’injustice devient loi, la résistance est un devoir!

Which means: When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes a duty!

(From the Quebec student organization ASSESolidarite, sent in by ASSESolidarite member Guillaume Lagault.)

From Chile: 

Un fuerte abrazo desde Chile a todos los estudiantes y trabajadores de Wisconsin. Hemos estado luchando durante más de un año, y contra todos los pronósticos, para mantener la bandera de la igualdad de derechos para todos y por un sistema de educación pública y gratuita. No permitan que un grupo de personas decidan por todos, sin hacerles ver las injusticias que ustedes demandan.

Mantengan la fuerza, deben seguir luchando por sus derechos!

A warm hug from Chile to all the students and workers from Wisconsin. We’ve been struggling for more than a year and against all the odds, to maintain the flag of equal rights for everyone and for a free public education system. Don’t allow one group of people to decide for all, without letting them know the injustices that you’re complaining for.

Keep up your strength, you all must fight for your rights!”

(From Giorgio Jackson, a Chilean student leader.)

From Greece:

From Greece and Europe to Wisconsin and the Midwest, bankers, politicians and the 1% club are trying to make the rest of us pay for their crisis. In the process, they are attacking salaries, pensions and basic labor and collective bargaining rights. It is time for all of us to say: Enough is enough! It is time for all of us to join the movement of resistance to social and economic injustice, a movement that has been spreading from Tahrir square to Madrid’s Puerta del Sol; from Greece to Iceland; and from New York’s Zuccotti Park to Madison, Wisconsin, and hundreds of other cities and towns around the country and the world. Stop the social barbarism they have in store for us, join the struggle!

(From Costas Panayotakis.)

From Tunisia: 

18 months ago, we defeated a 23 year long dictatorship, one of the worst in the world. The power had not heard the silence of the crowds which announced a global geopolitical earthquake that began in a small town, in a small country in North Africa.

Today, the World citizens growl and revolt and the power refuses to hear the bells tolling for him. Institutions that govern the world are inhabited by men; the decisions taken there are human choices. We can change them right away; it is our choice to live differently. The pains, injustice and misery of our world are not inevitable, but the choices we make.

It is for this reason that I reiterate the call of Tunisian revolution to the world.

It Is Time For action. We Must Stand Together Against the Same Forces That Oppress and Exploit Us Both – Us All. The World is Art Of Being One, instead of being Nothing. This is a call to action. This is a call for the freedom. For the outliers. For the forgotten. This is a call for intellectuals. A call for journalists. This is a call for free thinkers. A call for the intelligentsia. This is a call for poets. A call for the strong. And a call for the weak. This is a call to the youth. To the wise. To the clever.

Occupy the World, Occupy your mind, get back the power.

(From Kerim Bouzouita, a well known Tunisian musician, professor and cyberactivist.)

From Egypt: 

The truth of revolution is the ecstasy that never shows a way … neither sends you away. It’s a faith that its path would never let you lose hope … neither it’ll let you lose the confusion. And that’s a faith that us, revolutionaries need, others don’t. There’s no march that is just another march. Keep rocking the chair. Some people might call us ignorant, radical or they might just wave us way wishing us to grow up. I say we actually are radical – a revolutionary never takes half-answers, that’s what tells revolution and defeat apart. And we might be ignorant of what’s behind the hill, but we just know that we hate that goddamn hill! With revolution, time and space become meaningless … thus we never age. If these words of mine come across, then know … the revolution is well.

(From Amor Eletrebi, a young organizer who spent weeks in Tahrir Square leading up to the ouster of Mubarak.)

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Tom Morello

Tom Morello is a musician and activist leader, and was the co-founder and lead guitarist of Rage Against the Machine. He currently performs as The Nightwatchman.

Tom Engelhardt: Praying at the Church of St. Drone — Elections 2012


Posted by Tom Engelhardt at 7:51am, June 5, 2012.

[Note for TomDispatch Readers: Signed, personalized copies of Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050, the new book Nick Turse and I have co-authored, will soon be in the mail to the many of you who contributed $75 or more to this site — with our deepest thanks.  (Copies of my book The United States of Fear, similarly signed, will similarly be off.)  Those of you who still have the urge to contribute, do check TD’s donation page for our offer on both books.

And as for the rest of you, remember to pick up your copy of Terminator Planet, either the ebook by clicking here or the paperback by clicking here, and ensure that our little publishing venture is a success.  News of drones now seems to be everywhere, even in the comic strips, so this couldn’t be more timely! To catch Timothy MacBain’s latest Tomcast audio interview in which Engelhardt discusses drone warfare and the Obama administration, click here or download it to your iPod here. Tom]

Praying at the Church of St. Drone
The President and His Apostles

By Tom Engelhardt

Be assured of one thing: whichever candidate you choose at the polls in November, you aren’t just electing a president of the United States; you are also electing an assassin-in-chief.  The last two presidents may not have been emperors or kings, but they — and the vast national-security structure that continues to be built-up and institutionalized around the presidential self — are certainly one of the nightmares the founding fathers of this country warned us against.  They are one of the reasons those founders put significant war powers in the hands of Congress, which they knew would be a slow, recalcitrant, deliberative body.

Thanks to a long New York Times piece by Jo Becker and Scott Shane, “Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will,” we now know that the president has spent startling amounts of time overseeing the “nomination” of terrorist suspects for assassination via the remotely piloted drone program he inherited from President George W. Bush and which he has expanded exponentially.  Moreover, that article was based largely on interviews with “three dozen of his current and former advisers.”  In other words, it was essentially an administration-inspired piece — columnist Robert Scheer calls it “planted” — on a “secret” program the president and those closest to him are quite proud of and want to brag about in an election year.

The language of the piece about our warrior president was generally sympathetic, even in places soaring.  It focused on the moral dilemmas of a man who — we now know — has personally approved and overseen the growth of a remarkably robust assassination program in Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan based on a “kill list.” Moreover, he’s regularly done so target by target, name by name.  (The Times did not mention a recent U.S. drone strike in the Philippines that killed 15.)  According to Becker and Shane, President Obama has also been involved in the use of a fraudulent method of counting drone kills, one that unrealistically deemphasizes civilian deaths.

Historically speaking, this is all passing strange.  The Times calls Obama’s role in the drone killing machine “without precedent in presidential history.”  And that’s accurate.

It’s not, however, that American presidents have never had anything to do with or been in any way involved in assassination programs.  The state as assassin is hardly unknown in our history.  How could President John F. Kennedy, for example, not know about CIA-inspired or -backed assassination plots against Cuba’s Fidel Castro, the Congo’s Patrice Lumumba, and South Vietnamese autocrat (and ostensible ally) Ngo Dinh Diem? (Lumumba and Diem were successfully murdered.)  Similarly, during Lyndon Johnson’s presidency, the CIA carried out a massive assassination campaign in Vietnam, Operation Phoenix.  It proved to be a staggeringly profligate program for killing tens of thousands of Vietnamese, both actual enemies and those simply swept up in the process.

In previous eras, however, presidents either stayed above the assassination fray or practiced a kind of plausible deniability about the acts.  We are surely at a new stage in the history of the imperial presidency when a president (or his election team) assembles his aides, advisors, and associates to foster a story that’s meant to broadcast the group’s collective pride in the new position of assassin-in-chief.

Religious Cult or Mafia Hit Squad?

Here’s a believe-it-or-not footnote to our American age.  Who now remembers that, in the early years of his presidency, George W. Bush kept what the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward called “his own personal scorecard for the war” on terror?  It took the form of photographs with brief biographies and personality sketches of those judged to be the world’s most dangerous terrorists, each ready to be crossed out by Bush once captured or killed. That scorecard was, Woodward added, always available in a desk drawer in the Oval Office.

Such private presidential recordkeeping now seems penny-ante indeed.  The distance we’ve traveled in a decade can be measured by the Times’ description of the equivalent of that “personal scorecard” today (and no desk drawer could hold it):

“It is the strangest of bureaucratic rituals: Every week or so, more than 100 members of the government’s sprawling national security apparatus gather, by secure video teleconference, to pore over terrorist suspects’ biographies and recommend to the president who should be the next to die. This secret ‘nominations’ process is an invention of the Obama administration, a grim debating society that vets the PowerPoint slides bearing the names, aliases, and life stories of suspected members of Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen or its allies in Somalia’s Shabab militia. The nominations go to the White House, where by his own insistence and guided by [counterterrorism ‘tsar’ John O.] Brennan, Mr. Obama must approve any name.”

In other words, thanks to such meetings — on what insiders have labeled “terror Tuesday” — assassination has been thoroughly institutionalized, normalized, and bureaucratized around the figure of the president.  Without the help of or any oversight from the American people or their elected representatives, he alone is now responsible for regular killings thousands of miles away, including those of civilians and even children.  He is, in other words, if not a king, at least the king of American assassinations.  On that score, his power is total and completely unchecked.  He can prescribe death for anyone “nominated,” choosing any of the “baseball cards” (PowerPoint bios) on that kill list and then order the drones to take them (or others in the neighborhood) out.

He and he alone can decide that assassinating known individuals isn’t enough and that the CIA’s drones can instead strike at suspicious “patterns of behavior” on the ground in Yemen or Pakistan. He can stop any attack, any killing, but there is no one, nor any mechanism that can stop him.  An American global killing machine (quite literally so, given that growing force of drones) is now at the beck and call of a single, unaccountable individual.  This is the nightmare the founding fathers tried to protect us from.

In the process, as Salon’s Glenn Greenwald has pointed out, the president has shredded the Fifth Amendment, guaranteeing Americans that they will not “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”  The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel produced a secret memo claiming that, while the Fifth Amendment’s due process guarantee does apply to the drone assassination of an American citizen in a land with which we are not at war, “it could be satisfied by internal deliberations in the executive branch.”  (That, writes Greenwald, is “the most extremist government interpretation of the Bill of Rights I’ve heard in my lifetime.”)  In other words, the former Constitutional law professor has been freed from the law of the land in cases in which he “nominates,” as he has, U.S. citizens for robotic death.

There is, however, another aspect to the institutionalizing of those “kill lists” and assassination as presidential prerogatives that has gone unmentioned.  If the Times article — which largely reflects how the Obama administration cares to see itself and its actions — is to be believed, the drone program is also in the process of being sanctified and sacralized.

You get a sense of this from the language of the piece itself.  (“A parallel, more cloistered selection process at the C.I.A. focuses largely on Pakistan…”)  The president is presented as a particularly moral man, who devotes himself to the “just war” writings of religious figures like Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine, and takes every death as his own moral burden.  His leading counterterrorism advisor Brennan, a man who, while still in the CIA, was knee-deep in torture controversy, is presented, quite literally, as a priest of death, not once but twice in the piece.  He is described by the Times reporters as “a priest whose blessing has become indispensable to Mr. Obama.”  They then quote the State Department’s top lawyer, Harold H. Koh, saying, “It’s as though you had a priest with extremely strong moral values who was suddenly charged with leading a war.”

In the Times telling, the organization of robotic killing had become the administration’s idée fixe, a kind of cult of death within the Oval Office, with those involved in it being so many religious devotees.  We may be, that is, at the edge of a new state-directed, national-security-based religion of killing grounded in the fact that we are in a “dangerous” world and the “safety” of Americans is our preeminent value.  In other words, the president, his apostles, and his campaign acolytes are all, it seems, praying at the Church of St. Drone.

Of course, thought about another way, that “terror Tuesday” scene might not be from a monastery or a church synod, but from a Mafia council directly out of a Mario Puzo novel, with the president as the Godfather, designating “hits” in a rough-and-tumble world.

How far we’ve come in just two presidencies!  Assassination as a way of life has been institutionalized in the Oval Office, thoroughly normalized, and is now being offered to the rest of us as a reasonable solution to American global problems and an issue on which to run a presidential campaign.

Downhill All the Way on Blowback Planet

After 5,719 inside-the-Beltway (largely inside-the-Oval-Office) words, the Times piece finally gets to this single outside-the-Beltway sentence: “Both Pakistan and Yemen are arguably less stable and more hostile to the United States than when Mr. Obama became president.”

Arguably, indeed!  For the few who made it that far, it was a brief reminder of just how narrow, how confining the experience of worshiping at St. Drone actually is.  All those endless meetings, all those presidential hours that might otherwise have been spent raising yet more money for campaign 2012, and the two countries that have taken the brunt of the drone raids are more hostile, more dangerous, and in worse shape than in 2009.  (And one of them, keep in mind, is a nuclear power.)  News articles since have only emphasized how powerfully those drones have radicalized local populations — however many “bad guys” (and children) they may also have wiped off the face of the Earth.

And though the Times doesn’t mention this, it’s not just bad news for Yemen or Pakistan.  American democracy, already on the ropes, is worse off, too.

What should astound Americans — but seldom seems to be noticed — is just how into the shadows, how thoroughly military-centric, and how unproductive has become Washington’s thinking at the altar of St. Drone and its equivalents (including special operations forces, increasingly the president’s secret military within the military). Yes, the world is always a dangerous place, even if far less so now than when, in the Cold War era, two superpowers were a heartbeat away from nuclear war.  But — though it’s increasingly heretical to say this — the perils facing Americans, including relatively modest dangers from terrorism, aren’t the worst things on our planet.

Electing an assassin-in-chief, no matter who you vote for, is worse.  Pretending that the Church of St. Drone offers any kind of reasonable or even practical solutions on this planet of ours, is worse yet.  And even worse, once such a process begins, it’s bound to be downhill all the way.  As we learned last week, again in the Times, we not only have an assassin-in-chief in the Oval Office, but a cyberwarrior, perfectly willing to release a new form of weaponry, the most sophisticated computer “worm” ever developed, against another country with which we are not at war.

This represents a breathtaking kind of rashness, especially from the leader of a country that, perhaps more than any other, is dependent on computer systems, opening the U.S. to potentially debilitating kinds of future blowback.  Once again, as with drones, the White House is setting the global rules of the road for every country (and group) able to get its hands on such weaponry and it’s hit the highway at 140 miles per hour without a cop in sight.

James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and the rest of them knew war, and yet were not acolytes of the eighteenth century equivalents of St. Drone, nor of presidents who might be left free to choose to turn the world into a killing zone.  They knew at least as well as anyone in our national security state today that the world is always a dangerous place — and that that’s no excuse for investing war powers in a single individual.  They didn’t think that a state of permanent war, a state of permanent killing, or a president free to plunge Americans into such states was a reasonable way for their new republic to go.  To them, it was by far the more dangerous way to exist in our world.

The founding fathers would surely have chosen republican democracy over safety.  They would never have believed that a man surrounded by advisors and lawyers, left to his own devices, could protect them from what truly mattered.  They tried to guard against it.  Now, we have a government and a presidency dedicated to it, no matter who is elected in November.

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of The United States of Fear as well as The End of Victory Culture, runs the Nation Institute’s TomDispatch.com. His latest book, co-authored with Nick Turse, is Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050. To listen to Timothy MacBain’s latest Tomcast audio interview in which Engelhardt discusses drone warfare and the Obama administration, click here or download it to your iPod here.

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Copyright 2012 Tom Engelhardt