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Wednesday, November 30, 2011


Three things are converging in my consciousness these days. In reaction to the expected distortions of Clint Eastwood’s biopic, "J Edgar", I began reading Curt Gentry’s biography of Hoover, ("J. Edgar Hoover, The Man and the Secrets," which I suspect will be more accurate.

I got to the part relating to the so-called "Palmer raids" of 1920, in which the Attorney General got the federal government to round up the usual suspects after his house was bombed.

A. Mitchell Palmer, who wanted to be president, used the insane acts of a miniscule terrorist group to gain fame, build his empire (getting Congress to increase his budget) and convince the American public that foreign born radicals were an existential threat to the democracy.

It was a press inspired hysterical response to the "Red Scare" -- which turned out to be a vast exaggeration arising from the paranoia of European and American conservatives over the spread of Bolshevism after WW I and the Soviet revolution -- exacerbated by the terrorist acts (bombs, letter bombs, attempted assassination) by a few, a very few "anarchists", including pronouncements, incitements, and rare violent acts by some on the very outer fringe, which the press was manipulated into ascribing to all "radicals", (including labor union advocates, whose repudiation was the goal of many of those who pushed the issue).

During a break, I happened on the news reports of the Occupy ____ Movement, which were highlighting conservative suspicions that the protests were motivated by murky leftist foreigners.

And this, of course, stirred embers in my memory of the 1960's when students and many others coalesced to clog campuses, streets, government buildings, and parks with protesters. The issues back then were as varied and serious as those that face this generation. In my day, there was segregation, then "free speech" on campus, then The War, then La Raza, then the liberation of women from the shackles of their bras and their men.

All of these movements within my own lifetime were accused of being inspired and funded by "outside agitators", communist governments who wished to overthrow the democracy. states its mission as:

"... a people-powered movement ... fighting back against the corrosive power of major banks and multinational corporations over the democratic process, and the role of Wall Street in creating an economic collapse that has caused the greatest recession in generations ... inspired by popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, and aims to fight back against the richest 1% of people that are writing the rules of an unfair global economy that is foreclosing on our future."

In all fairness, I have to admit that the "tea party movement,"  at least in the beginning, probably also qualifies as the same sort of grass root protest movement, arising from serious complaints about perceived wrongs by the government.

The First Amendment to the Federal Constitution purports to guarantee that:

Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

 Of course the Supreme Court and inferior courts are permitted to regulate the details of such "assembly" in order to assure that the "petition" is done "peaceably".

And the present Supreme Court majority puts "commercial speech" (including that of corporations) at a par with and sometimes superior to that of "the people".

Hoover was infamous as the Director of the F.B.I. for 50 years, during which time he wielded enormous power to restrict free speech and lawful assembly if these rights were exercised toward anything he disagreed with, such as racial and gender equality, liberal or progressive causes such as support for labor, peace, or against support of right wing dictators. 

He ordered and conducted illegal clandestine surveillance, warrantless searches and seizures of property, withheld exculpatory evidence from defendants, trumped up false incriminatory evidence when he concluded that the ends of his version of "national security" justified the means. 

He cultivated a culture in the F.B.I. specifically and in all of federal and local law enforcement of arrogant entitlement - they were the good guys getting rid of the filthy bad guys and you don’t need to know how they do it.

Nixon and Bush / Chaney were weaned on this attitude.

They despised the portion of my generation that dared to protest The War and overturn the de jure segregation of the South and the de facto segregation of the rest of the country.

One emotion motivates all of these enemies of liberty: They fear and hate change, i.e., progress. They want the power structure to remain untouched.

With rare exceptions in the history of our country, they have had their way.