BOOK REVIEW/Seth Sandronsky

US Security and Civil Liberties

In State Power and Democracy: Before and During the Presidency of George W. Bush, Andrew Kolin looks to the origin of the US to explain the post-9/11 era’s permanent state of emergency. His is a chronological approach. It brims with vital details.

Corporate America is no stranger in this book. Before Sept. 11, corporate power had been a part of—not apart from—the roots of the US. For instance, the Massachusetts Bay Company founded some of the first British colonies that later became the American nation.  

In the 20th century, corporate America drives two related trends of policing abroad and at home.

Kolin discusses the military-industrial complex. Corporations help to expand the post-9/11 war on terror. Take politically-connected telecoms firms. They, as Kolin shows, help the US state expand a surveillance network stateside and overseas. State capitalism is alive and well.

Kolin also lays out the US political system’s ideology as it designates official enemies of the state. From colonial days, internal enemies possess no/low human rights. We see a history of demonization and dispossession of Native inhabitants and African slaves. Civil and criminal misuse of Chinese and Japanese workers follows. Today Muslims and Mexicans are the “others” facing state mistreatment.

This form of governing that relies on violence against official outcasts, from natives and slaves to wage laborers, depends on groups of legally armed men. The anti-worker agenda to control those whose land and labor creates upper-class wealth is hard to miss.

What distinguishes the post-9/11 trend is a rising concentration of law-making and law-interpreting in the executive branch of government. This weakens the judicial and legislative branches of government, a theme that runs a red line through Kolin’s book.

Kolin contextualizes this trend of a “unitary executive.” It is, we read, a bipartisan affair that gathers steam during post-Watergate administrations. They, crucially, fill a political void after the FBI-directed COINTELPRO campaign of assassination and incarceration helps to crush movements of the 1960. Progressive forces in organizational disarray since then play catch-up.

Kolin details the George W. Bush White House’s role in an illegal “preventive war” on Iraq, which had zero to do with 9/11. Then with US forces and mercenaries in Iraq, the same administration rubber-stamped torture of Iraqi detainees. The Geneva Conventions became and continue as a dead letter under President Obama. 

Thus US policy-makers remain free of legal accountability.

Why? Kolin critiques Obama’s choice to move forward (not backward) on Iraqi torture, and the 2003 US invasion and occupation of the nation.  

Accordingly, a bipartisan, post-9/11 executive holds that security concerns trump civil liberties and international law. Hyper-secrecy rules in pursuit of foreign wars, open and hidden, across the planet.

Kolin does a public service in fleshing out the Patriot Act. He shows how it and the 2006 Military Commissions Act weaken the checks and balances of the nation’s democracy.

Kolin makes his case in an introduction, eight chapters, notes, bibliography and index. In all, his book brings a festering rot in the US polity. It’s not a pretty picture. But a deeper understanding of that can nurture movement politics. This is the way ahead to real democracy.

Seth Sandronsky lives and writes in Sacramento. Email

From The Progressive Populist, July 1/15, 2011

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