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James Bovard

Thanksgiving Travel: Trump's Holiday Gift is More Invasive Airport Security

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On the campaign trail last year, Donald Trump derided the Transportation Security Administration as a “total disaster.” But his administration is making TSA more intrusive and abusive while its 42,000 screeners remain as incompetent as ever. New TSA screening guidelines will likely make Thanksgiving travel a disaster for legions of Americans — and the worst is yet to come.
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Do Trump's Liberal Critics Seem Increasingly Unhinged?

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Last week’s anniversary of Trump’s election sparked widespread teeth-gnashing by the nation’s pundits. Trump is supposedly the gravest threat to American democracy since the secession of the Confederacy. His presidency, probably, continues to be a boon for antidepressant sales across the land.

New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg, in a column last week headlined “Anniversary of the Apocalypse,” lamented the “terror-struck and vertiginous days” after Trump’s win and the ongoing “metaphysical whiplash” and “hideous interregnum,” which leaves her “poleaxed by grief at the destruction of our civic inheritance.” Professor Henry Giroux of McMaster University frothed that Trump’s “ascendancy in American politics has made visible a culture of cruelty, a contempt for civic literacy, a corrupt mode of governance and a disdain for informed judgment that has been decades in the making.”

It is understandable that folks would be riled by Trump’s bluster about revoking the broadcast licenses of his critics or calling for the firing of protesting football players. His administration’s rhetoric on trade and the drug war threaten to revive moronic policies that should have been banished forever by perennial failures. But while Trump poses plenty of constitutional perils, many of his opponents are even more authoritarian.
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Facebook Farce Shows Lawmaker Deviousness, Demagoguery

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The 2016 election was the first time in history that goofy advertisements were considered an act of war. The frenzy on Capitol Hill over a smattering of Russian advertisements would be comical except that most of the American media has jumped on the hysteria bandwagon. The latest clamor is a stark warning to anyone who presumes that politicians are natural friends of freedom of speech.

Russian political advertisements amounted to only .004 percent of the total content that Facebook users saw last year in the United States.Russian ads on Facebook were clumsy and schizophrenic, hitting multiple sides of issues, and were often laughably simplistic (such as the “Jesus Punches Hillary” ad shown here).

Rep. Andre Carson (D-Ind.) railed that “a dictator like Vladimir Putin abused flaws in our social media platforms to inject the worst kind of identity politics into the voting decisions of at least 100 million Americans.” This presumes that Russian ads had a mysterious power to zap the minds of Facebook users who perhaps had zero resistance after viewing too many cat videos. But my experience running a few ads on Facebook for one of my books found that it was a worse investment than buying used lottery tickets from a wino on the street corner.

Axios reporter Sara Fischer observed, “In the political advertising world, you would need to serve at least 7-10 viewable impressions to a person over a short window, two-four weeks, to even begin driving intent or action."
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Torturer-in-Chief Turned Savior of Freedom?

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Former President George W. Bush gave a speech yesterday implicitly slamming President Donald Trump for dragging down democracy. Bush told political cronies and other attendees: “We are gathered in the cause of liberty this is a unique moment.” He assured listeners that freedom “should be the defining commitment of our country, and the hope of the world.” Bush invoked the “high ideals” of our nation, declaring, “We become the heirs of James Madison by understanding the genius and values of the US Constitution.”

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How World War One Still Haunts America

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This year is the 100th anniversary of Woodrow Wilson’s pulling America into World War I. Many people celebrate this centenary of America’s emergence as a world power. But at a time when the Trump administration is bombing or rattling sabers at half a dozen nations and many Democrats are clamoring to bloody Russia, it is worth reviewing how World War I turned out so much worse than the experts and politicians promised.

Wilson was narrowly reelected in 1916 on the basis of a campaign slogan, “He kept us out of war.” But Wilson had massively violated neutrality by providing armaments and money to the Allied powers that had been fighting Germany since 1914. At the same time, he had no quarrel with the British blockade that was slowly starving the German people. In his April 1917 speech to Congress seeking a declaration of war against Germany, he hailed the U.S. government as “one of the champions of the rights of mankind” and proclaimed that “the world must be made safe for democracy.”

American soldiers helped turn the tide on the Western Front in late 1918. But the cost was far higher than Americans anticipated. More than 100,000 American soldiers died in the third-bloodiest war in U.S. history. Another half- million Americans perished from the Spanish Flu epidemic spurred and spread by the war. But the political damage lasted far longer.

In his speech to Congress, Wilson declared, “We have no quarrel with the German people” and feel “sympathy and friendship” towards them. But his administration speedily commenced demonizing the “Huns.” One Army recruiting poster portrayed German troops as an ape ravaging a half-naked damsel beneath an appeal to “Destroy this Mad Brute.” Wilson’s evocations of fighting for universal freedom were quickly followed by bans on sauerkraut, beer, and teaching German in public schools. Tolerance quickly became unpatriotic.
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Juggalo Blues: Their Beef With FBI No Laughing Matter

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Despite being billed as a showdown of competing political protests and rallies, the only political action on the streets of Washington this past weekend were the raging clowns. They did not come to beat Nazis or chase Pro-Trumpers off the Mall, the way the mainstream media suggested on Friday. Instead, thousands of Juggalos—ardent fans of the Insane Clown Posse (ICP) duo—assembled near the Lincoln Memorial to protest their vilification by Uncle Sam. They came to defend their honor—or at least try to get their record expunged.

In 2011, a Federal Bureau of Investigation National Gang Threat Assessment labeled the Juggalos as “a loosely-organized hybrid gang, rapidly expanding into many U.S. communities” and that “many Juggalos subsets exhibit gang-like behavior and engage in criminal activity and violence.”  But there were only sporadic reports of Juggalo-related criminality at that time—and nothing remotely comparable to notorious gangs such as MS-13 or the Crips and the Bloods.

The FBI report noted that “social networking websites are a popular conveyance for Juggalo sub-culture to communicate and expand.” This may be the real source of the feds’ ire. It is understandable why the Juggalos would make law enforcement nervous. The band’s logo is the Hatchetman. The band’s lyrics radiate homicidal hatred towards rednecks, anyone displaying a Confederate flag, and plenty of other targets. The pervasive profanity in ICP’s lyrics make George Carlin sound like a choir boy.
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Janet Reno: Saint or Tyrant?

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When former Attorney General Janet Reno died last November, the media heaped praise on her as if she had been justice incarnate. Reno had long enjoyed sainthood inside the Beltway; the Women’s Bar Association of the District of Columbia even created a Janet Reno Torchbearer Award. But Reno’s record of deceit, brutality, and power grabs should not be forgotten by any American who cares about freedom.

Shortly after Reno became attorney general in 1993, she approved the FBI final assault on the Branch Davidians holed up in a rickety building outside of Waco, Texas. She went on Nightline the evening after 80 people died in a conflagration and announced, “I made the decision. I’m accountable. The buck stops with me.” Reno then asserted that the fiery end was all somebody else’s fault: “I don’t think anybody has ever dealt with a David Koresh, who would purposely set people afire in that number.” Nightline host Ted Koppel asked Reno why the feds used “tanks to ram the compound down.” Reno replied, “I think that what we were trying to do was to give everybody an opportunity to come out in the most unobtrusive way possible, not with a frontal assault.”

Reno masterminded a cover-up of the federal role at Waco. Americans did not learn until 1999 that the FBI had fired pyrotechnic grenades into the Davidians’ home, which could have started the fire that left 80 people dead. She also muzzled federal officials who had been involved at Waco. When she traveled to Oklahoma to hype Clinton’s crime bill in a speech in April 1994, FBI agent Bob Ricks, who had been the agency’s daily spokesman during the 51-day siege, told Reno that many people were still agitated by Waco and asked that the gag order be lifted on himself and other officials. Reno replied, “I don’t think the American people care about Waco anymore.”

The Oklahoma City bombing the following April showed otherwise. In a speech a few weeks later, Reno told federal law-enforcement agents, “There is much to be angry about when we talk about Waco — and the government’s conduct is not the reason. David Koresh is the reason.” She also revealed that the “first and foremost” reason for the tank and gas assault was that “law-enforcement agents on the ground concluded that the perimeter had become unstable and posed a risk both to them and to the surrounding homes and farms.
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Ruby Ridge Lessons for Fighting Right-Wing Extremism

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In the wake of the protest in Charlottesville by white supremacists, many people are demanding a crackdown on dangerous right-wing extremists. The federal government has previously carried out similar campaigns against with disastrous results. Rather than intellectually purifying the nation, such efforts are far more likely to turn nitwits into martyrs and to ravage Washington’s credibility.

Prior federal law enforcement efforts to take down “bad ideas” quickly spiraled out of control. In the 1960s, an FBI COINTELPRO operation set up its own 250-member Klan organization “to attract membership away from the United Klans of America,” as a 1976 Senate report noted. One federally-funded informant admitted that he and other Klansmen had “beaten people severely, had boarded buses and kicked people off; had went [sic] in restaurants and beaten them with blackjacks, chains, pistols.” Other FBI COINTELPRO operations sought to destroy black activists, including Martin Luther King Jr.  One FBI office boasted of spurring “shootings, beatings and a high degree of unrest … in the ghetto area of southeast San Diego.”

Once the FBI committed to subverting “dissident speech,” its crackdowns became a bureaucratic growth industry that eventually included even women’s liberation movements. Nixon aide Tom Charles Huston testified in 1975 of COINTELPRO’s tendency “to move from the kid with a bomb to the kid with a picket sign, and from the kid with the picket sign to the kid with the bumper sticker of the opposing candidate. And you just keep going down the line.”
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End Democracy Promotion Balderdash

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The Trump administration’s foreign policy often resembles a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party or a loose cannon on a ship deck. But every now and then, a good idea emerges from the fracas. Such is the case with a reform that could sharply reduce America’s piety exports.
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