We are here.

So Ferguson happened.

The pictures say a lot, don’t they? What they say depends on who’s doing the looking. To me, it says dangerous times are ahead.

If you recall, I wrote about this very thing many months ago. In that piece, the militarization of America’s police departments was discussed. If we are brutally honest with ourselves, we know that Ferguson has been a forward moving train..gathering steam..barrelling toward us at a speed sure to cause massive damage when it finally made impact. Armored vehicles and military grade weapons are not new. SWAT teams are not new. Abuse of authority is not new. So, I won’t go into all that again. This begs the question: Are we truly surprised? Or are we simply expert reactionary Facebook/Twitter/Instagram protesters?

If, indeed, you are truly surprised..or if you really don’t understand why minorities, all across the nation, are angry..or if you find it impossible to fathom the type of desperation, frustration, and hopelessness that causes you to destroy your own communities…

“Hence I have no mercy or compassion in me for a society that will crush people, and then penalize them for not being able to stand up under the weight.”

“I was going through the hardest thing, also the greatest thing, for any human being to do; to accept that which is already within you, and around you.” –Malcolm X

We are here.

Remember when I said it depended on who was doing the looking? Yeah, well, African-Americans have always been here. This type of drama plays out on the stages of our communities Every. Single. Day.

America has done this. America – with her high handedness, her conceit, her total lack of will to right her wrongs – has done this. America is masterful at “breaking” a subset of people, at burdening them until they collapse to their knees, then punishing them for not standing up straight. (Bootstraps, anyone?) Systemic racism is like kudzu in the foundation of this nation. It has sprung up around -and intertwined itself with- every aspect of life. So much so, that far too many can’t recognize what a privilege it is to not be black in America. America wants to keep us in check with The Dream. (That they began waking us up from before we got too deeply involved in it.)

Americans have allowed it. (And by Americans, I mean ALL of us. Hang on, black folk, I’ll get to you in a minute.) There has been silence where there should have been shouting. Heads have been turned when we should have faced issues head on. Apathy has replaced action. The face we show to the world has got to be flawless, but our inner workings are as ugly as homemade sin. That ugliness fuels riots and rebellion. Unfortunately, when a people is left without power, they react in ways those without such experiences can not possibly relate to.

But, here is the thing…you don’t need to relate. You need to acknowledge. So, you’ve heard of Michael Brown. And Trayvon Martin. You posted about how sad it was for their families. You posted about the senseless waste of life. You may have even found a local march in an attempt to show your support. And then, you moved on with your life. Life does go on, right?

Not for Ousmane Zongo, Timothy Russell, Aaron Campbell, Victor Steen, Alonzo Ashley, Wendell Allen, Oscar Grant, Ramarley Graham, Manuel Loggins, Ezell Ford, Kimani Gray, Amadou Diallo, Timothy Stansbury, Jr., Sean Bell, Orlando Barlow, Steven Washington, Ronald Madison, James Brissette, Travares McGill, John Crawford III, or Eric Garner. To name a few.

The constitution was meaningless for these young men and thousands of others like them. But, guess what? That means that the constitution is meaningless for you, too. Today, your kids are pretty safe from lying in a pool of their own blood for hours in the middle of the street. What of tomorrow? Don’t think for a moment it can’t happen. It has already happened. For years, disgruntled blacks complaining of police brutality, harassment, and use of excessive force were ignored. Remember? We had it coming. We deserved it. We were whiners. While you were giving the “birds and bees” talk to your kids, we were giving the “statistics show that you will probably have an encounter with police, so this is how to avoid being shot” speech. Then one day, a funny thing happened. Your neighborhood cops became overzealous. They demanded respect without being bothered to return it. They began bursting into your homes, with or without warrants. Just like that, our problem became your problem. Welcome. You are here. What are you going to do about it? Point guns at officers of the law? You just might get away with it, but black people….

“America’s greatest crime against the black man was not slavery or lynching, but that he was taught to wear a mask of self-hate and self-doubt.”
“So early in my life, I had learned that if you want something, you had better make some noise.”
― Malcolm X

….know they would be shot down. Immediately. So what do we do? March and sing? Riot and loot?

No.  Plan our lives!  We must give up on the notion that America cares. Still waiting for forty acres and a mule? Ha! Hell, we can’t even eat skittles or jaywalk! The first step is to know your worth. Self hatred, doubt, and lack of pride are the greatest enemies we face. Stop allowing this country to dictate your value. We must be present. Present in our homes and in the lives of our children. Present in our communities and programs that lift one another up. Present in our classrooms where we learn how to play the game.  Present in our children’s classrooms to ensure they are well prepared to face the world. And, like my Grandma always said, “America ain’t giving away nothing. Money talks, bullshit walks.”  Therefore, we must purchase our equality with the only currency power accepts – ballots and dollar bills. These are our weapons; we must wield them well. The logo on your foot, the name on your rear, nor the initials on your purse are more important than the number on your bank balance. Finally, speaking of walking, high step it to the voting booth. You can’t expect to be heard when you don’t speak!

“We cannot think of being acceptable to others until we have first proven acceptable to ourselves.” –
Malcolm X

So, yes, we are here. But we don’t have to remain here. Stand for something.

 

Further Reading

http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/08/police-shootings-michael-brown-ferguson-black-men

http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2011/07/26/wealth-gaps-rise-to-record-highs-between-whites-blacks-hispanics/

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/08/14/police-killings-data/14060357/

http://www.csmonitor.com/The-Culture/Family/Modern-Parenthood/2014/0815/If-They-Gunned-Me-Down-on-Tumblr-Pressing-parents-to-take-a-second-look

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/michael-brown-shooting-us-cannot-lecture-others-on-human-rights-amnesty-says-9677800.html

 

Ferguson, Pt. II

See also, “Ferguson, Pt. I.”

More links of interest and diversity concerning the shooting of Michael Brown, 11 days ago.

  • Reparations for Ferguson: Total police control over black bodies has echoes in American history. 
  • Amnesty International sends team within US for first time 
  • This Doesn’t Make Any Sense
  • Gov. Jay Nixon’s Executive Order
  • “…Those who are determined to hate every African-American murdered by police (or anyone, for that matter) have managed to form an opinion that a simple theft is worthy of a death sentence if one’s skin is not light enough.
  • 90 year old Holocaust Survivor Arrested for Protesting
  • Getty Photographer Arrested
  • How the rest of the world sees Ferguson
  • US cannot lecture others on human rights, Amnesty says, as Egypt appeals for ‘restraint’
  • In “Google” English: (from a moderate German paper) 
    “Farewell to the dream of a post-racist society
    The death of Michael Brown in Ferguson testified deep-seated racism in the United States. The position of African Americans has changed since Martin Luther King hardly improved. OF SEBASTIAN MOLL , NEW YORK
    15 August 2014 08:27 Uhr
    LZ Granderson felt painfully in the sixties set back when he saw the pictures from the small town of Ferguson in the State of Missouri at the beginning of the week. “Let go of police in full riot gear, the dogs on black demonstrators – which reminds all too much of Alabama in 1965″
    The African-American commentator for CNN was not the only one in the United States, had to think during the events of the last days of the hardest times of the struggle for civil rights for black Americans almost 50 years ago. After the death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by a police bullet last Sunday makes in American sentiment is growing wide, that has changed in the situation of blacks in the country since the days of Martin Luther King fundamentally nothing: “It is for us never give justice “, Mychal Denzel Smith wrote in his blog for the political weekly The Nation . “The death of Michael Brown shows us once again that we are simply not allowed in this country.”
    Officially, the cause of Brown’s death is not yet clear. The police officers involved claim that a gun had gone off accidentally during a scuffle with the officers Brown. Dorian Johnson, the friend and companion Browns that night, but has a dramatically different version of events. According to Johnson, the police had the two black young men who were on the way home, harassed for no reason. As an officer then tried to pull Brown in the police car, this broke free and began to run away. Then opened the policeman, whose identity is not yet revealed, the fire. As Brown was hit by the fatal shooting, he had already stretched according to Johnson’s arms in the air to surrender.
    Video: USA – Hundreds protest after the killing of a black youth
    Hundreds have protested in St. Louis, after the police had killed an unarmed black youth. Security forces fired tear gas and smoke bombs at the demonstrators. Video Comment
    The demonstrations in Ferguson and throughout the United States, where breaks in the streets of many cities of the anger over the incident train, obviously tend to believe Johnson’s version. And for good reason: Only the events of the past week show a deep-rooted institutional racism of American law enforcement.
    Series of racist attacks by the police
    So died on July 17 in the New York City borough of Staten Iceland, the 43-year-old Eric Garner, while police officers wrestled him down on the street. On the video recording of a witness is clear to see that Garner had not attacked the officers and that he also did not sit down to defense when he was attacked.
    A few days later was shot in Dayton, Ohio, the 22-year-old John Crawford of policemen. Crawford was just going to pick out a toy gun for his son in a Walmart. And last Tuesday, two days after the death of Michael Brown, the 25-year-old, mentally handicapped Ezell Ford was shot dead by police in Los Angeles. According to eyewitnesses, Ford was attacked without warning, thrown to the ground and shot in the back. A reasonable suspicion against him there was not, except that he lived in a “problem area”.
    Page 2/2: Significantly more African Americans in prison
    The series of incidents, however, is only the culmination of a known issue. Civil rights have long been then that the American legal, regulatory and penal system suffers from a deep-seated racism. “I’m tired of every time to be afraid of being shot or arrested if I walk by a police officer,” LZ Granderson wrote in his commentary.
    The fear is well founded. So the new New York Mayor Bill de Blasio joined to the beginning of the year with the promises that ignominious stop-and-frisk strategy to end the NYPD. Under “Stop and Frisk” were allowed officials hailed on the street at random and without reason to suspect persons, browse and take into custody. From the vexatious practice, however, 80 percent of Latinos and African Americans were affected. Black and Latino neighborhoods felt terrorized.
    Institutional racism as a “caste system”
    The Inhaftierungszahlen for black Americans speak for systematic racism of American institutions. So 60 percent of American prison inmates are black, even though they make up only 30 percent of the population. Therefore, the sociologist Michelle Alexander speaks of a “caste system”, by the particular black males are permanently excluded from participation in American society.
    At the level of law that the picture is just as bleak. Thus, two years before the acquittal of the security guard George Zimmerman, who shot and killed an unarmed youth Trayvon Martin, ensured considerable anger among African Americans and citizens of real learning. Therefore, many were surprised, was condemned as last week in Detroit Theodor wafer for murder. Wafer had the black youth Renisha McBride shot that was kicked after a car accident on his door and asked for help. “That was after all, a little balm to our soul”, Denzel Smith wrote in the nation .
    USA torn apart because of racial problems
    The anger over the ongoing, deep-seated racism in the United States, which makes currently in the protests across the country after the Michael Brown incident wide, yet is large. Louder and louder the voices who believe in the United States will never change anything for African Americans are. So writes the black essayist Ta-Nehisi Coates that “America rests on a foundation of white supremacy”. American society is written deeply and irrevocably racist loud intellectuals like Coates and Alexander. Because neither the civil rights legislation of the sixties nor the election of Obama had really changed anything. “You get the knife sticking 20 inches deep in our shoulder, one centimeter pulled out,” said Coates.
    In Ferguson and elsewhere in the country, meanwhile, is trying with difficulty to prevent that the protests degenerate into open street battles the police. These had to be used on Tuesday and Wednesday tear gas and armored vehicles, demonstrators were taken away by the dozens. The United States is once again deeply torn because of race problems, and after six years of a black president. The dream of a post-racial society to flare up briefly after the election of Obama, seems more caught up than ever.”

     “Yo, check the diagonal
    Three brothers gone
    Come on
    Doesn’t that make it three in a row?
    Anger is a gift…
    Brotha, did ya forget ya name?
    Did ya lose it on the wall
    Playin’ tic-tac-toe?
    Yo, check the diagonal
    Three million gone
    Come on
    Cause they’re counting backwards to zero.”

Ferguson, Pt. 1

Some links I found interesting about what’s happening in Ferguson, Missouri:

The Struggle You Don’t See

Homo sum: humani nihil a me alienum puto.
(I am human, I consider nothing human foreign/alien to me.)
Publius Terentius Afer: The Self-Tormentor;” Act I, Scene 1, line 25 (77)

In 2001, I find myself at the top of a skyscraper. It is windy this high up. The city is lovely, the air is crisp and autumnal. And I catch myself thinking something that scares me. I immediately leave the balcony, take the elevator to the ground floor, and sit on a bench. I cannot cry. I wish I could. I don’t care that I’m in public. I am terrified of myself. .  

I am a college senior. I am severely depressed. And I have just had my first suicidal thoughts. 

Yes. I do believe, when we’re brutally honest with ourselves, something along the lines of “I wish I were dead” or “they’d be better off if I died” drifts through our minds when we find ourselves in a really unpleasant situation.

But the thoughts in 2001 weren’t like that. This was not a fleeting thought. I was seriously contemplating…

My thoughts were focused on planning. The how-to’s. And you will hopefully note, I am not going into detail of that planning. 

Later that week, I went to a mall, just to watch people and attempt to distract myself. That ended up pretty much the same way. I had a GREAT plan in place for that mall. 

Alas, I over-think things. I couldn’t do that to my family. Or the people at the mall. Or….the possibilities of many people I felt I owed my continuing existence, even if I wasn’t fully convinced I was right and they’d get over it. 

Again, I left. I blinked back some tears this time. I safely drove back to my dorm and called my parents. They were and are amazingly supportive. I assured them I was not going to do anything to hurt myself, but I told them that I was scaring myself. (I think my mom said something along the lines of, “I don’t think you will hurt yourself, we believe in you, but I do appreciate you telling us this.”)  Lucky for me, a fall break for school fell on the very next weekend.My parents arranged for me to come home and see a new psychiatrist. 

I was diagnosed with “treatment resistant depression.”  This means, simply, that I can be on anti-depressants and I’ll sometimes need to “jump start” the uptake of serotonin and all those other incredibly neurological chemicals with a new medication. I did start an additional medicine, and in a short time (less than 2 weeks), I was felt–well, not depressed. More like a person who enjoyed things in life, rather than going through motions so as not to stand out. I started cognitive behavior therapy, which trains me to recognize and deal with the dark thoughts when they bubble up.

I’ve found, over the years, I’m quicker at picking up when the black dog approaches, and take appropriate steps, thanks to kind support networks of family and friends. They hug me. They don’t always accept “fine” as an answer to “How are you?”   

They sit with me in silence. We share stories. They invite me to lunch or tea (and as I heal, it becomes a happy habit.) We laugh (yes, people with depression do laugh on occasion.) We listen. Serious, hardcore listening.

In essence, they accept that I have a chemical imbalance that benefits from medicine, like many forms of diabetes. Only my chemical imbalance doesn’t occur in my pancreas, but in my brain.

I really do not talk about it online. For starters, it by no means defines me. Yes, it is a part of me, but I am more. True friends know this. They know, for example, about that time I misspoke and said “promiscuity” in a course when I meant to say “potential” …

You get the idea.  

So while the US invaded Afghanistan, I threw myself into reading about Japanese war crimes in WWII. By no means is this a happy or even “meh” topic. It’s sickening. But I had read a book (prior to the depression reoccurance) about Hiroshima. So I threw myself into my school work, and when that was done, educated myself about Japan during WWII. 

This, I realized, is how I cope. I throw myself into academics. I can distance myself from my self. It works for me.

When I learned of Robin Williams death yesterday, I was sad. 
When I learned the death may have been a suicide, I was further saddened. 

But I saw people posting things on facebook and twitter that, quite frankly, frustrated me.

Take, for example, Friend Z. Friend Z knows about my depression, but their response when I confided in them was, “You have nothing in your life to be sad about. Just cheer up and stop thinking about it.” 

Um….thanks. I cannot imagine why no one told me that before, and I also had no idea Friend Z knew everything in my life.  

So Friend Z is posting about how we need to treat depression as a real illness (agreed, because it IS). But the justification from Friend Z was something along the lines of “because we lost someone famous.”

What am I then, Friend who tells me to just cheer up or “be happy?” What are we non-famous people who suffer from depression? And yes, it’s truly suffering. What are those who have/has or are suffering from depression supposed to make of that? We’re not as important? We should just, in Z’s words to me a while back, “be happy?”

Now–to switch gears a tad, let’s fast-forward a few years. I am in a long-term committed relationship, and the person starts having delusions and psychotic breaks. I find myself on the “other side” of mental illness, and it’s really hard. It’s trying for us both personally, but I’m not leaving because of many reasons. Love is a strong bond. Staying by this person’s side and talking them through an episode is trying, but essential–at least to me. 

I’ve been asked by people why I didn’t leave at the first break. Again, love. But also…the opening quote. “I AM HUMAN….” 

Now, there is no shame is acknowledging that you don’t understand whatever the illness is; there is no shame in admitting you have an illness!

But fully, 100% deserting someone you know is suffering–I cannot fathom that. I understand being fearful of unusual behavior, changes in behavior; call a helpline FOR yourself, do not assume the person who appears ill will call just because you gave them the number. It’s a good thing to do, but calling yourself can help equip you with tools for yourself and the person. 

Sure, I don’t understand it, but I get that you’re afraid and I will hold you tight and talk you through this, or just reassure you I’m here, you’re real. And I will help you get help, whatever form that help may be. 

I think, by my own nature, I would do this for anyone. Maybe it’s selfish on my part? I don’t want anyone dying or hurting themselves or feeling alone when I could have possibly stopped it. You will not scare me away. And if I am scared, I will gather a team of people I trust, who know and understand mental illness, to help me help that person.

We are all in this life together, and we can make it better or worse for someone hurting from a wound not visible to the eye.

I understand the frustration from not understanding an illness you cannot see. I cannot claim that I was always as sympathetic as I am advocating now. Live and learn?

If Williams’ death is ruled officially as a suicide, then let’s continue to live, and let’s learn from this tragedy.

Research. Learn that mental illnesses are biochemical and what the person is experiencing may be absolutely terrifying to them. 
Reach out. You may be turned away, but keep reaching out. “Let’s have lunch at X at noon on Friday.”

I could go on, but these are just my opinion/thoughts. 

I highly recommend the National Alliance on Mental Health’s website as a starting point for more  information on mental illnesses, the politics of it, symptoms, support (for everyone affected, family members, etc.), and advocacy. 

Addendum: An attempt at suicide should not, in my opinion, be viewed as a mere cry for help or attention. It should be taken as exactly what it is: an attempt at ending your own life. 

[Crap, it's 2014 and I have to write that?]

If you’re struggling, if you have struggled, if you’ve supported someone who’s struggled with mental illness…I send you big hugs. Nothing is alien to me. If you need help getting treatment, check out NAMI’s state chapters, your parish or county’s public health options, etc. 

The most dangerous thing is to not address this. Please, let’s keep this dialogue open and flowing. 

Drowning in America Without Water

If you haven’t heard,

“Tens of thousands of members of Iraqi religious minority groups are dying of heat and thirst on Mount Sinjar, human rights groups say, after death threats from Islamic State – formerly Isis.” (Source: The Telegraph, emphasis mine).

This is truly outrageous and tragic.

Yet in our own backyard….

We have the impoverished City of Detroit.

Perhaps you’ve heard that the City of Detroit shut off water for those with water bills past due. This resulted in international attention and outrage. Even the UN condemned this action.

“The Detroit water situation is resulting in violations of the right to housing and the right to water. Disconnections for non-payment are only allowed when it can be shown that the resident has the ability to pay.” (Leilani Farha, UN Special Representative on Adequate Housing)

This is still an issue the NAACP has (rightfully) taken to court, and a decision won’t be immediate.

In the meantime, action needed to be taken. Humans need water for survival.

Since the government was slow to move to protect the PEOPLE, two people (who don’t live in Detroit) started this program to get water flowing to residents in need. There are other, grassroots programs to get and keep the water flowing in Detroit.

Let’s be clear: this is a racial issue. This is an issue of class.

This is obscene.

“Meanwhile, General Motors and the city’s two sports arenas, which owe millions in unpaid water bills, have not had their water turned off.”

via “Water Rights March in Detroit”

The Detroit Water Department reports approximately 120,000 accounts in the economically depressed city of around 700,000 total are “delinquent” (where “delinquent” = 60 days behind or owing more than $150.)  The average water bill for a small family around $50.

BUT, after a shutoff, the residents must pay an additional $30 reconnection fee. There are also fines for “stealing water” (if you were to reconnect your household to water yourself) from $250 for the 1st offense, $500 for the 2nd offense, $660 for the 3rd offense. The Water Department is brutal on those who reconnect themselves–first by labeling them as “thieves” (or a human right?)  and secondly, by refusing to restore water unless the account is paid in full.

Approximately 2/3 of the households affected by the water shut-off have children. The state of Michigan, rather than help remedy the situation, instead decided to continue to enforce a protective law that allows children in households with no running water to be removed and placed into foster care. Just on an economic level, this makes no sense.

On a human rights level, it’s nauseating.

So…shutting off water to residents while enforcing a law allowing the State to remove children from homes without fresh water? I don’t have time, as I write, to “follow the money”….but this is abusive, classist, racist….and is happening right now in our country.

If you have the time, please watch and share this:

Remembering Hiroshima

(Disclaimer: this post solely represents the opinion of the author.)

On August 6, 1945, a B-29 Superfortress named Enola Gay dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, the climax of the gruesome struggle in the Pacific between the US and Japan. Approximately 90,000 people were killed immediately, and another 50,000 died within two years. Added to that was the toll paid by the survivors, and their descendents: radiation sickness, cancer, leukemia, mutation, genetic damage, and birth defects decades later add an incalculable amount of human suffering to the toll. Three days later, this Boschian tragedy was re-enacted, at Nagasaki.

It’s almost cliche, now, to dutifully go through the debate: the Japanese started the war, Pearl Harbor, Bataan, Manila, execution of prisoners, refused to surrender. The Bomb not only saved a million(?) Americans, but actually saved Japanese lives as well, by obviating the need for an invasion of Japan.

And so forth. For every one, there is a riposte, every charge, a justification. These justifications-and that’s what they are-are necessary, because they help obscure what the nuclear attack on Hiroshima was:

A massacre. A slaughter of the innocents. I don’t know what else you can call hitting an undefended city, containing few if any targets of military value, with a nuclear weapon.

You can call it justifiable if you want-I’ve given you the basic outline of the usual main points. Many do. But remember what you are doing: you are justifying the massacre of civilians, on a previously-unimagined scale. If massacres are justifiable, then where does it stop? It doesn’t, until it reaches its logical conclusion: justifiable genocide, as promoted in the Times of Israel last week.

Hitler and Stalin both thought massacres were justifiable, as seen in places like Babi Yar, Katyn Forest, the gulag archipelago, and the German concentration and extermination camp system. “Bomber” Harris was a big fan, as seen at Cologne, Hamburg, Dresden, and a hundred other incinerated cities. So was Curtis LeMay, whose firebombing campaign against Japan-hitting a major Japanese city every other day-made Harris look like a bush-leaguer. And of course, the Japanese officers who ordered the rape of Nanking, created IJA Unit 731, and killed hundreds of thousands in China, Korea, the Philippines, and Okinawa thought they were justified too. And Truman, who promised Japan “a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on the Earth”, went to his grave justifying his decision.

Nobody escapes the truth. Either these acts are universally wrong, or they are not. And if the massacre on a vast scale is justified, then why not genocide? After a while, they start to become indistinguishable from one another. If it is morally acceptable to nuke a city, then what is forbidden? And why? Is there still something worse, where we can draw a line and say “We won’t do that”?

So, amidst the jingoistic chest-pounding and nationalistic roars on one side, and the solemn memorial of the dead divorced from the acts of the leadership who brought this horror upon them on the other, remember Hiroshima, sacrificed on the alter of the justifiable massacre as an offering to the gods of vengeance. A vast, boiling, multi-colored monument to the failure of human beings to rise above their base, brutal, bloodthirsty programming. Remember the dead, the hibakusha, and the downwinders. And remember, even after all this time-it could still be you, your kids, your family.

We are all downwinders now.

 

The Covert Action Virus

Twenty or so years ago, I had a conversation with a soil scientist of my acquaintance, who had recently returned from an extended trip through Central America. He had been teaching alternative farming techniques to peasant farmers being squeezed into less and less available land, as part of a private aid group. It sounded to me like an ideal gig for the Peace Corps, so I was surprised when he answered: “Uh-uh. No way. If you’re in Central America with the Peace Corps, everyone just assumes you’re CIA. Nobody will talk to you, and you can’t get anything done.”
I was taken aback, given that, as the Peace Corps itself says:

Persons who have been employed by an intelligence agency, or otherwise have been associated with intelligence activities, are ineligible to serve as volunteers. This exclusionary policy is one aspect of the broader, long-standing policy of maintaining an absolute separation between Peace Corps and intelligence activities conducted by the U.S. government. This absolute separation is necessary to protect volunteers’ safety and to maintain the trust and confidence of the people in the countries in which volunteers serve.

The inverse, however, is also true. Because of this exclusionary policy, the Peace Corps would in fact make an excellent cover for an agent. This goes to the very nature of the deception that is the core of what intelligence agents do: it does not matter what lie is believed, as long as a lie is believed. As long as the target believes something that is not true, he/she can be manipulated. Which means that everything is a potential cover story, a legend, and a potential target for infiltration and exploitation. Every bureau, every commercial outlet, every information source is a potential target. Every cell of the body politic is susceptible to this, either proactively or by being compromised; a virus of deceit, secrecy, and covert action.

The problems with this are obvious, and became apparent to me again this morning, when I opened Firedoglake and saw USAID Fake HIV Center in Cuba Undermines Global Health Efforts. I followed the links; the gist, as reported by the AP, is that “Over at least two years, the U.S. Agency for International Development — best known for overseeing billions of dollars in U.S. humanitarian aid — sent nearly a dozen neophytes from Venezuela, Costa Rica and Peru to gin up opposition in Cuba.” These untrained agents, supplied with encrypted flash drives, and codes for communications, “posed as tourists, visited college campuses, and used…[a]n HIV-prevention workshop one called “the perfect excuse” to recruit political activists.” Perhaps not surprisingly, the operation was set up by the same contractor that dreamed up the failed “Cuban Twitter” project.

This program is being defended by the Obama Administration: according to State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki, the program “enabled support for Cuban civil society, while providing a secondary benefit of addressing the desires Cubans express for information and training about HIV prevention.” Note the moment of honesty: the secondary benefit of the HIV awareness program was HIV awareness. The first was covert action.

This type of covert action is not rare, as Peter at FDL goes on to elaborate; nor is it just medical aid being used as cover. The fake NGO that was used to decapitate a FARC unit in Columbia is missing, but he includes the fake hepatitis vaccine program in Pakistan that helped identify Usama bin Laden-since then, the Pakistani Taliban has outlawed polio vaccination and killed 60 vaccination workers, allowing polio to make a robust comeback. Another one Peter could have pointed to was the role of the NED-the National Endowment for Democracy-in Ukraine, where it has spent tens of millions of dollars on a wide variety of programs. As  One of the founders of the NED-“whose purpose is to support foreign organizations sympathetic to US foreign policy goals” explained it in 1991“A lot of what we do was done 25 years ago covertly by the CIA.” And so it is: whether it be Nicaragua, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Albania, Iran, Cuba, Mongolia, or Venezuela, the NED is there. No wonder Putin was pissed about US operations in Ukraine. Every dollar spent there was intended to lessen Russian influence. Every single aspect of the “civil society” NED is supporting there can be considered a covert operation targeted on Russian interests.

And that’s the real issue-the meta-issue. The effect of using everything as a cover for covert operations is the certain destruction of the ability of people to have faith in institutions that, in a democracy, require faith to operate (rampant conspiracy theory-the guaranteed response to pervasive secrecy-has the same effect). You can have democracy-or you can have deceit and covert action. You can have citizen participation-or you can have counterintelligence programs designed to “expose disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize…” You can have journalism-or you can have Operation MOCKINGBIRD, in which the CIA compromised dozens of journalists and fed them CIA propaganda. You can have community policing-or you can have Phoenix Program-style counterinsurgency as law enforcement, in which pervasive surveillance, secret and unconstitutional police methods, and Special Operations teams combine to “neutralize threats.” Radley Balko reports an average of fifty thousand SWAT raids annually in the US…we have come a hell of a long way from “to serve and protect.”

And that’s the point-when everything is a covert action bureau, or cover, that is all it is. It cannot be an institution that operates by deceit and covert violence, AND be a democratically-controlled institution responsive to citizens’ needs. You can have democracy, and freedom, and all the messy processes that democratic institutions require to operate; or you can have the expediency, secrecy, deception, and violence of government-by-secret-police-agency. When your service providers collect and sell your information; when your cell phone is tracked by retailers in the mall; when your movements are tracked via car tracking, facial recognition programs, and ubiquitous cameras; and when your police subvert oversight by deceiving responsible authority, your institutions have become spy agencies, whose tools are secrecy and deception: anathema to self-government in a free society. A paradigm of covert action, or a representative democracy. You cannot have both.

You cannot have both, and there will be no progress until this question is answered, definitively. Subverting change in defense of the status quo, after all, is what intelligence agencies do. Our government is infected with a virus, that has seemingly moved into every cell; healing America will require, first, a robust immune response from a citizenry that will not be able to suspend the necessary weight of disbelief much longer, and second, an intense vaccination course to keep the patient from  relapsing.