Salt Lake City Main Library, 5-1-14

Remarks at May Day Celebration

by Ross C. “Rocky” Anderson

The word “tyranny” means cruel and oppressive rule, under power that is arbitrarily and unequally applied according to the dictates of one or more people instead of according to law. Tyranny is the polar opposite of the rule of law.

“Tyranny” is a powerful word, not to be used in a loose or irresponsible fashion.

But we can say, without reservation — and should say without hesitation — that we the people of the United States are today living under a lawless, exploitative, inhumane tyranny.

It is a tyranny that has vastly enriched a relatively few extremely wealthy people while decimating pension plans and retirement accounts for working people, causing the loss of homes for hundreds of thousands of families, destroying jobs, and expanding the chasm between the wealthy and everyone else to the point where the disparity in income and wealth in the United States has never been so great, at least since the Gilded Age.

It is a tyranny that has devised a de facto two-tiered system of justice, one in which the law is applied, often with a vengeance, against the poor and middle class while granting nearly wholesale immunity for the wealthy and powerful.

It is a tyranny that has ground up tens of thousands of Americans’ lives in an immoral and unlawfully utilized war machine responsible for the murder, maiming, displacement, and terror of millions of innocent people in dozens of nations around the world.

An oligarchy is a government that is run by a few people — a small faction of persons or families. And a plutocracy is a government run by, and for, the wealthy.

Our government is now a tyranny comprised of political and economic elites who, in concert with treasonous sold-out elected officials, have rendered our federal government, as well as many of our state governments, an oligarchy and a plutocracy.

Tyranny by King George and his representatives was finally determined by certain colonists to be intolerable and, as a result, they declared independence of the colonies from rule by England.

The vision of our nation’s Founders, as reflected in the founding documents, was unprecedented at the time and, when carefully considered today, still awe-inspiring. While there was, at the time, gross hypocrisy in certain instances, as when slave-owners were declaring that “all men are created equal”, the Declaration of Independence and, several years later, the Preamble to the Constitution, are unquestionably aspirational — reflecting the goal that government is no longer to be an instrument of power exercised by kings, queens, and other aristocrats, but is to serve all the people, who are “created equal”, promoting, as set forth in the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence, “certain unalienable Rights”, including “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The Preamble to the Constitution is not simply a collection of niceties; it is a powerful statement about what the Constitution, and what our government, is to achieve. First, it starts out “We the people.” That may seem today to be old-hat and insignificant. However, it was an astounding, innovative idea at the time — signifying that the people are not to serve the government, but that the government is to serve the we-the-people. “We the people” signifies popular sovereignty — and that people are to be in control of their destiny — and that the Constitution is to be a means of guaranteeing that government will serve the public interest — not the narrow interests of a ruling elite.

Consider carefully the language of the Preamble to the Constitution — and consider whether we-the-people are doing our job to ensure that our government is living up to its sacred role:

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Our Constitution guarantees equal treatment under the law. And, by the way, it doesn’t make an exception for gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transsexuals. Perhaps someone should tell the Utah Legislature, our Attorney General, and our Governor.

Our Constitution guarantees that we will all be secure from unreasonable searches and seizures and that a warrant, based on probable cause to believe that illegal activity has taken place, shall be required for the government to go snooping around our persons, papers, homes, and other personal possessions. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, passed by Congress after the disclosure of rampant criminality by the F.B.I. and the C.I.A. during the Cold War, makes every instance of warrantless surveillance a federal felony, punishable by imprisonment for up to five years and a fine of $10,000, or both. President George W. Bush believed himself to be above the law, in the manner of a tyrant, and ordered the National Security Agency to engage in surveillance of U.S. citizens without first obtaining a warrant. Instead of abiding by the rule of law and instructing his Attorney General to investigate whether criminal acts — federal felonies — were engaged in by President Bush and members of his administration and, if so, to prosecute them as any law-breaker should be prosecuted, President Obama said that we should “look forward and not backward” — in other words, when it comes to federal felonies by executive branch authorities, let bygones be bygones. For one person to dictate what laws will be applied, under what circumstances, and against whom is the very definition of tyranny.

We in the Salt Lake City area should consider this with particular conscientiousness because, as the Wall Street Journal disclosed (followed up for a few days, but since forgotten, by the Salt Lake Tribune), the most massive, indiscriminate, unconstitutional, felonious surveillance of the contents of communications (not just meta-data, but the contents of communications) by government agents occurred right here in the Salt Lake Valley for up to six months before and during the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. The contents of every email and of every text message sent or received by every person in this Valley was captured and retained by the National Security Agency — all without a warrant. Every instance of such surveillance was a federal and a state felony, yet no one has been held to account. Quite the opposite: Our Governor’s response — again in the manner of a tyrant who unilaterally decides which laws will be applied, against whom, and under what circumstances — was that he would cut the NSA some slack because of the timing of the Olympics. And the response of former Senator Bob Bennett — whom one would think would believe that the laws passed by Congress should be treated as if they mean what they say — was that he didn’t know about the surveillance, but would have been surprised had it not been conducted. Really. A U.S. Senator would have been surprised if the executive branch had not disregarded criminal laws passed by Congress and spied on U.S. citizens without a warrant and without any probable cause — wholly violative of the terms of Utah statute, the terms of the federal Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, and the terms of both the Utah Constitution and the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution?

I was quoted in a SL Tribune article on August 23, 2013 (updated on the Tribune’s web site on Feb. 14, 2014), saying that the monitoring of the content of all email and texts amounts “to the greatest scandal so far of this century.” I was further quoted, saying, “When we brought the Olympics to this city, nobody agreed that we would trade off our fundamental civil rights for the government to come in and spy on us. . . . If [the matter] had [been raised when I was mayor], I would have raised utter holy hell. For them to have done this to the people in Salt Lake City in every single instance was a federal felony under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. . . . [The complacent comments by Governor Herbert and former Senator Bob Bennett ignore] the question that goes to the core of what this country is and whether we live under the rule of law or the rule of tyrants. . . . Will people be held criminally accountable, or do we have a two-tiered system of justice where the rich and powerful can skate by?”

The newspaper coverage of this massive governmental criminality — which included spying on the contents of attorney-client communications, physician-patient communications, and a myriad of other private communications that are supposed to be protected under our state and federal constitutions and state and federal criminal statutes — lasted three or four days in our major daily newspaper, then simply faded away. No investigation and prosecution by the state Attorney General, no investigation and prosecution by the federal government. Nothing. Nothing, except governmental criminality with impunity — zero accountability — loudly answering in the affirmative my question about whether we have a two-tiered system of justice where the rich and power can skate by without accountability for their crimes.

Consider this in comparison: Weldon Angelos, a Salt Lake City native, was a young man when he sold small amounts of marijuana three times to a law-enforcement informant who was seeking to escape accountability for his own criminal acts. Because Weldon owned guns, but did not use them or threaten anyone with them, at the time of the marijuana sales, he has now served ten years of a 55-year mandatory minimum sentence in a federal penitentiary. Notwithstanding the sentencing judge’s call for a presidential commutation, and notwithstanding over one hundred former U.S. federal judges, former U.S. Attorneys General, a former Director of the FBI, former Governors and Senators (including our own former Governor Bangerter and former Senator Garn) joining in a call for a presidential commutation, President Obama, who currently has the worst record of pardons and commutations of any president in recent history, has failed and refused to release Weldon from what even the sentencing judge termed a “cruel, unusual, and irrational” sentence.

Do you wonder how successful Weldon would have been if he’d said to the prosecutors and the judge they should just look forward and not look backward?

Blind justice? Lady justice has not only shed her blindfold; she has been locked away in the service of the pluto-oligarchy, which has weighted her scales down against the poor and the middle class and in favor of those who have committed massive crimes against our republic, its citizens, and our democracy.

Consider the tragedy of our nation’s world-record-high rate of incarceration, with hundreds of thousands of people imprisoned because of non-violent drug offenses, in the light of the immunity granted to the Wall Street fraudsters who engaged in such massive criminality as to destroy much of our economy, and that of much of the world, only to stuff their pockets with millions of dollars doled out to them by a federal government bought and paid for by the same Wall Street firms and individuals who escaped any accountability for their clearly illegal acts.

Following the 1929 stock market crash, many on Wall Street were imprisoned, including the president of the New York Stock Exchange. President Roosevelt called the law-breaking bankers and speculators “enemies of peace” and strong regulations were put into place to prevent similar economic disaster, including the Glass-Steagall Act, which prohibited the joint ownership of commercial banks, investment banks, and insurance companies.

Roll the calendar forward to the Clinton administration, when Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin (who later took home many millions of dollars as co-chair of Citigroup, which lost billions in the 2008 meltdown and was bailed out by the federal government) persuaded President Clinton to sign into law the repeal of Glass-Steagall and to allow trading in the reckless, fraudulent derivatives that ultimately played a decisive role in the 2008 economic disaster by signing into law the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000.

And roll the calendar even further forward to President Bush’s appointment of Henry Paulson, the former head of the atrocious Goldman Sachs, which bet against investments it was pushing its own clients to purchase, as his Treasury Secretary. Paulson, the classic fox guarding the henhouse, oversaw the federal bailout of the Wall Street firms that thereafter paid out hundreds of millions of dollars to the very executives who helped bring on the disaster in the first place.

In his new book, Unstoppable, about the need and opportunities for people across the political spectrum to come together on major issues on which they agree, Ralph Nader discusses the writings of Herbert Agar. Agar wrote about the situation in 1933, stating that under emergency conditions for which they were responsible, the “great lords of banking, who are said to hold us in the palms of their hands, were as gentle as the hearth-side of altered cats,” adding that “they asked the government please to save them, please to protect them from the alleged anger of the public.” (p. 148) Agar wrote that when the demagogue comes to power, he will turn to “the Lords and Masters . . . and make a deal. The demagogue stays in office and keeps the people quiet. The Lords and Masters stay in power and run the economic system just the way they always wanted to run it. The corporate state is monopoly-capitalism made safe.”

Agar was certainly prescient, as if he were writing about the United States government leading up to, during, and after the 2008 economic collapse. As Nader describes it, “During the collapse of 2008-2009, the ‘Lords and Masters’ simply sent their A-Team from Wall Street to save themselves by becoming the government, led by former Goldman Sachs chief Henry Paulson, the secretary of the Treasury.”

Presidents Bush and Obama have issued signing statements as they signed legislation passed by Congress into law. Incredibly, those signing statements contemptuously expressed an intention not to follow the law — or to decide, again in the manner of a tyrant, what the law would mean, whether it would be followed, and, if so, by whom. The American Bar Association issued a unanimous resolution in 2006 noting that it “opposes, as contrary to the rule of law and our constitutional system of separation of powers, the misuse of presidential signing statements by claiming the authority or stating the intention to disregard or decline to enforce all or part of a law the President has signed, or to interpret such a law in a manner inconsistent with the clear intent of Congress . . .” It was a terrific resolution, but the issue has gone nowhere. The craven, complicit Congress, which should be jealously guarding its constitutional prerogatives under our constitutional system of checks and balances, has done nothing to rein in the dictatorial practices of the president.

Torture is blatantly illegal under federal domestic laws passed by Congress, including the War Crimes Act of 1996 and the federal anti-torture statute, which makes the crime punishable by up to 20 years in prison — and even by the death penalty if the torture results in death. Torture is also outlawed under international law, including the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture. The Convention Against Torture also makes it illegal to refrain from enforcing laws against torture in the same manner as other serious crimes are prosecuted. Once again, in contempt of the rule of law, both domestic and international, President Obama said the Bush officials and others responsible for torture would not be held accountable. Fortunately, that disregard of significant human rights laws is not shared by all other nations. Some of the Bush administration officials have been charged and convicted by a court in Kuala Lumpur and are now threatened with prosecution for human rights violations by a Spanish judge, similarly to the threatened prosecution of Pinochet. The failure to hold major human rights abusers accountable under the law is a severe betrayal of the principles of the Nuremberg Tribunal. Is it the case, then, that the Nuremberg proceedings were not so much a matter of enforcing international law in a principled fashion as they were simply a case of victor’s justice?

Why is the United States the only nation that relies on for-profit insurance companies for the provision of health care — particularly when we pay more than double per capita what is paid in the rest of the industrialized world and our medical outcomes are so much worse — with the next to worst rate of infant mortality in the developed world and, among 50 nations, the worst rate of maternal mortality? We all know it’s because instead of serving the public interest, Congress and the President are beholden to, and obviously fearful of, the power wielded by the insurance and pharmaceutical industries.

Why was the United States the only industrialized nation that did not sign on to the Kyoto Accord, to work with the international community to reduce the risks of catastrophic climate change? And why does it not have any policies in place that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as required to save the world and its inhabitants from the most catastrophic effects of climate change? We all know it’s because of the immense power of the fossil fuel industry. Our energy and climate policies have nothing whatsoever to do with the public interest.

Why have Wall Street bandits escaped accountability for their brazenly illegal acts, leading to so much hardship for millions of Americans? Just follow the money, particularly the record contributions from Wall Street to the Obama campaigns.

Almost every major public policy disaster can be linked to the corrupting influence of money in politics and government. That, and the revolving door of business executives going to bat for their companies as they move into government, then back out to rake in their rewards of millions of dollars.

The destruction of our constitutional republic continues unabated, including the disregard for due process by a bi-partisan Congress and President who have purported to allow the federal government to round up anyone designated by the President, haul him or her off to a federal prison for up to the rest of the person’s life, without charges, without a trial, without the right of habeas corpus, and without legal representations.

These are all issues that most Americans can agree upon — and which can be resolved with an engaged, tenacious, public, without regard to political partisanship, in the grand tradition of the anti-slavery movement, the labor movement, the civil rights movement, the anti-Vietnam War movement, and the farmworkers movement.

When leaving the Constitutional Convention, Ben Franklin was approached by a woman who asked, “Dr., what do we have, a monarchy or a republic?” Franklin responded, “A republic, ma’am, if you can keep it.”

That is the job, the responsibility, the opportunity of every generation — to keep, and restore, our republic.

We CAN restore our republic — we can restore the rule of law — if only we WILL. It is up to each of us to do all we can . . . to learn the facts, to focus on solutions, to organize, to mobilize — and make this a better nation, with liberty and justice for ALL.