Update I below.
This past Monday, June 14, 2010, the Unites States Supreme Court let stand without comment or dissent the Second Circuit Appeals Court decision to dismiss Maher Arar's suit against the U.S. Government. (Arar v. Ashcroft, No. 09-923)
Mr. Arar was illegally detained by U.S. officials while in transit back to his home in Canada, and then handed over to Syrian intelligence officials using “extraordinary rendition”. The Syrians kept Arar for ten months, interrogating him using torture, and finally releasing him when they concluded that Mr. Arar was neither a terrorist, nor in possession of any relevant intelligence.
Once free, Mr. Arar sued both the Canadian government (which peripherally assisted in his kidnapping and torture) and the U.S. government. The Canadian government issued him an unequivocal apology, and $10 million Canadian in compensation.
Mr. Arar did not get any similar justice from the U.S. government, though. The Second Circuit Appeals Court quashed his suit by stating that Congress had not authorized such suits as Mr. Arar’s. (!)
By letting stand the Appeals Court decision to quash the suit Mr. Arar brought against the U.S. Government, the Supreme Court effectively ruled that the Government cannot be held accountable by private citizens for its actions. The Government can do as it pleases to any individual—including assassinating one of its own citizens—and there is no legal remedy.
Now let's compare how the U.S. Government dealt with BP, regarding the oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico: President Obama met with BP officials, and as a product of that meeting, BP promised to set up a “compensation fund” of $20 billion over the next two years.
Note how this was agreed to outside of the ordinary judicial process. There was no suit. Neither did this agreement follow the law. It was simply a deal the White House made with BP. A Republican politician is receiving a lot of grief over having characterised the meeting and subsequent deal as a “shake down” of BP by the Government. This politician is being censured because apparently he sided with BP, the party responsible for the oil spill disaster—clearly the guy is an idiot.
Be that as it may, the politician’s characterization is in fact accurate: The Government did “shake down” BP for the money, in a manner no different from a street gang shaking down a neighborhood grocery store.
In the Arar case, one of the Government’s arguments in favor of quashing the case was that the suit would bring under scrutiny “the motives and sincerity of the United States officials who concluded that petitioner [Mr. Arar] could be removed to Syria.” In other words, the Government was deploying its full weight and power to protect the individuals who had actually ordered Mr. Arar’s detention and deportation to Syria.
Similarly, in the “compensation agreement” whereby BP acquiesced to pay $20 billion, the company as a whole was acting to protect the executives and personnel responsible for the oil spill disaster. (I have yet to read the actual deal memo, but I wouldn't be surprised to learn that, as part of the deal, the Government agrees not to prosecute any BP executive or personnel, either in criminal or civil court. This is pure supposition on my part—but it ought to be the first thing scrutinized once the actual deal memo comes out.)
As a third example, during the financial crisis, when AIG, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were all bailed out, none of the executives actually responsible for the firms being in the position that they were in were indicted or punished in any way. The corporations assumed the responsibility of the individuals who had made the bad decisions.
As a fourth example, the unions, in both the public sector and the private. GM’s unions forced the company to assume pension and health care liabilities which any actuarian would have realized would eventually bring about GM’s bankruptcy—which of course is exactly what happened. Teacher's unions across the U.S. refuse to implement basic competency tests on their members, threatening to strike if such tests are imposed, even going so far as to protect not merely incompetent teachers, but pedophiles—and these are the people who are supposed to be educating America’s youth.
A fifth example: The U.S. military. Soldiers routinely violate human rights of Iraqis and Afghans, in the most despicable, egregious manner imaginable. Yet they get away with it, the military going out of its way to protect its soldiers, under the rationale that to prosecute gross human rights violations would “erode the morale of the troops”. In the Abu Ghraib torture scandal, a half-dozen non-commissioned officers were jailed—but apart from a lone Lieutenant Colonel being tried and acquitted of a couple of minor charges, no officer was tried, and none jailed.
All of this underscores the same problems we are having throughout our society in the Industrialized West: Corporate entities, be they corporations, unions, the military, or the government, act lawlessly—anarchically—trampling the individual without hesitation, yet coming to accomodations between one corporate entity and another.
In other words, our society has become a neighborhood where street-gangs—corporate entitites—battle one another for position. Even the Government is just another street gang.
People allied with a particular corporate entity have rights and the full protection of the corporate entity to which they belong, much as street gangs are fiercely loyal to their individual members. The higher up in the corporate entities’ hierarchy—CEO, General, President—the more untouchable he or she is.
However, unaffiliated members—such as Mr. Arar, such as myself—have no such protection. Neither do they have recourse to the courts, as the Arar case proves. Courts and the so-called “justice system” are busy policing individuals. Individuals’ rights are more curtailed and restricted than ever before. But corporate entities are freer than ever before.
In such a lawless neighborhood, what can an individual do? Obvious: Join a gang—any gang. To remain unaffiliated is to be begging to be set upon by members of one gang or another, be it the various gangs that make up the government (TSA, IRS, ICE, Homeland Security, etc.), or the various corporations who have made sure that unaffiliated individuals are fleeced in health care, insurance, financial services, etc. (As an individual, health insurance is prohibitive in the U.S.—but as a corporate cog of a big corporation? That’s another story. How often do we hear of corporate employees kowtowing to their corporate masters in order to hang on to their health-care coverage?)
But what happens to a neighborhood where gangs dominate? Why, that’s quite simple: The neighborhood is destroyed. The gangs don’t disappear, as the neighborhood is slowly ruined. The gangs stay put, feeding off the corpse of the neighborhood, until it's nothing but a husk—kind of like digger wasps.
This is what's happening to the “Free World”—our world. Fun, ain’t it?
Update I: An article in the New York Times, about a Cameroonian man married since 2005 to an American woman who was about to be wrongly deported, gives another example of this street-gang style of protection: The man would have been deported, had not the ICE been pressed by the NY Times. The Times pressed the ICE because the woman happened to work for an advertising company which presumably did business with the Times. After being contacted by the Times, not only was the man not deported, he was released with promises to have his case “taken care of”.