America’s got talent, just not political talent

With finalists like Biden and Trump, the reality tv show that is the US election can soon turn into a chaotic nightmare.

By Marwan Bisharaby

August 31, 2020 “Information Clearing House” –  The US presidential elections have the feel of the popular talent competition, America’s Got Talent (AGT).

Like the reality TV show, they are entertaining, emotional and highly competitive, and focus exclusively on the candidates’ talent and character or lack thereof, rather than anything that resembles political substance or agenda.

This is reinforced by the mainstream media’s “horse race journalism”, focusing mainly on the odds, through daily broadcasts of polls throughout.

The elections not only provide cost-free content for corporate media, but the windfall from campaign advertising makes it ever more profitable to treat them like a reality TV drama.

Today, the elections and their coverage are centred almost exclusively on whether Donald Trump or Joe Biden has the character, talent or experience to lead the country in trying times.

Trump insists that it all boils down to leadership, where “talent is more important than experience”.

He reckons, the choice could not be easier between himself, the strong and “stable genius”, and the “weak” and “cognitively challenged” Biden.

And so, in their efforts to anoint Trump the next president/king, the Republicans adopted an elephant and a crown as their 2020 convention logo.

However, it was Biden who had to go through the nomination’s loops and hoops, where like AGT, the gruelling primaries start with smaller auditions on the state level before going national.

While Trump was watching TV or playing golf, Biden was running a serious campaign against 28 other contestants/candidates, the largest number of nominees in recent memory.

And he was able to pull ahead early on, thanks in no small part to his coalition-building and connections within the Democratic Party.

Behind the scenes, party apparatchiks, consultants, and their financial backers, like the judges and producers of AGT, play a major role in vetting the candidates during the primaries, which make up the longest commercial reality TV show on television.

They decide on the schedule, makeup and shape of the highly produced debates and public appearances, where performances are scripted and practised well in advance to draw the loudest applause.

And like AGT, even emotions during the primaries seem rehearsed, packaged and edited for national audiences, to optimise support and participation.

Likewise, the dramatic spotlights on supportive family members beaming and cheering emotionally from the centre or edges of the stage are AGT par excellence.

But this year’s pandemic has disrupted much of the drama during the second half of the election process, frustrating Trump, who has been eager to “get the show back on the road” to catch up with Biden in the polls.

Even the parties’ conventions, which usually promise excitement before the elections, fell flat because of the absence of live-audiences shouting and cheering.

This was especially true for the populist Republicans, who attempted some bizarre stunts to manufacture drama by screaming and yelling at an audience of none.

The gimmickry and trickery reached a new low with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivering a speech from Jerusalem, trading Palestinian rights for evangelical votes for Trump.

Show me the talent

Whether live or virtual, entertaining or boring, the elections now depend on two old men with big egos and small talents of the required kind.

It is indeed tragic that the contest to choose the next leader of the world’s leading democracy is now between two septuagenarians, who espouse no fresh vision for America and its role in the world.

In fact, one is pressed to recall a single original idea, or even a memorable quote uttered by either man during their long careers.

Worse, Trump is unable to speak in full sentences or even read properly from a prepared script on a prompter. And the many who believe that Biden suffers from dementia are only looking for him to stumble on the next sentence.

But whatever the Republican and the Democrat lack in vision, speech and inspiration, they made up for in venom and indignation.

So instead of building themselves up, they have torn each other and the country apart.

Trump called Biden mentally unfit and anti-God, and Biden returned the favour, labeling Trump a racist and a fool.

Trump has inflamed the spirits of and appeals to the “demons of America’s worse nature”, while Biden has calmed the souls of and appeals to “the angels of its better nature”.

Trump has cultivated an image of an aggressive, uncompromising warrior who will fight for his base come what may, while Biden nurtured the image of a caring, compassionate leader who heals wounds and restores dignity to the White House and respect to America.

Biden’s message seems to resonate more, for now. But America may still embrace the warrior over the therapist.

Either way, the decisive votes will be those against a candidate rather than for a candidate, which does not inspire much confidence whoever wins.

All of which makes one wonder why a country as remarkable as the United States, which produces the most talented artists, writers, scientists, innovators and entrepreneurs, ends up with two old, uninspiring leaders.

Politics as showmanship

Many claim the establishment elites and oligarchs have rigged the entire political system through undue influence and big money.

And there is a lot of truth to that.

But there is another crucial factor that has shaped these and the last elections.

The rise of populism in America, and in Western democracies in general, has opened the door for demagogy, disruption and showmanship in the person of Donald Trump.

His unparalleled talent for political and personal spin gives him an edge over Biden as it did over Clinton.

He has already succeeded during the past year in making the presidency and the party, and to some degree the country, all about him.

Indeed, the talented Mr Trump has turned his entire tenure as president into a long and determined campaign to win the next election.

And it is why Trump, who is behind in the polls, is already going far and wide to discredit the elections, threatening to reject an unfavourable outcome.

This promises to turn the elections from an entertaining show into a chaotic nightmare.

If Biden’s victory is anything less than sweeping, America may end up weeping well after the show.

Marwan Bishara is the senior political analyst at Al Jazeera.

Lessons in Social Justice from the 16th century

It was a damp evening in the early 1560s when Walter Kapell was marched through a silent crowd in the town square.

He had just been convicted of heresy by the Inquisition, and he would only have a few more minutes to live.

Kapell was a wealthy man and beloved by the townspeople of his native Diksmuide in modern day Belgium. He reportedly gave much of his wealth away to feed and clothe the poor, and his many beneficiaries turned up to watch his execution in horror.

This was a period in history when the Catholic Church, having long ruled over European society, was starting to lose its grip on power.

Martin Luther famously wrote his ‘95 Theses’ in 1517, which was one of the first popular works that questioned the Church’s practices. And a revolutionary movement quickly picked up steam.

Countless Europeans began breaking away from the Catholic Church. And by the mid-1500s, dozens of Protestant religious groups had formed all over Europe.

The Church fought back aggressively against this threat to its power, and it quickly enlisted the support of friendly governments.

Philip II of the Holy Roman Empire was a zealous ally to the Church; he decreed that Protestant heretics should be snuffed out and executed, and the Inquisition that he established in the ‘United Provinces’ (which includes modern day Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands) was legendary for its brutality.

People the United Provinces were overwhelmingly Catholic. But for the most part the average citizen was easy-going and supported religious freedom for Protestants.

In 1558, for example, when the Inquisition in Rotterdam sentenced several protestants to death, local Catholic citizens rescued them from the stake.

Any execution that did take place was horrifying for Catholics and Protestants alike.

And then, in the 1560s, a few particularly gruesome executions took place.

One of them was Walter Kapell. Again, Kapell was loved by everyone– Catholic and Protestant.

And his death was so painful that a Flemish peasant threw himself onto the very pyre where Kapell was being burned to death, reportedly screaming:

“Ye are bloody murderers! That man has done no wrong but given me bread to eat.”

Another victim, an Anabaptist whose name has been lost to history, was hacked to death with a rusty blade in front of his family.

Thomas Calberg, a weaver from the town of Tournay in modern Belgium, was burned alive because he had some Protestant hymns in his possession.

These executions prompted both Catholics and Protestants in the United Provinces to say ‘enough is enough’.

And in the summer of 1566, the United Provinces exploded into full blown social revolution.

On June 28th, 6,000 people gathered in Tournay (where Thomas Calberg was executed). Within two days their ranks had swelled to 10,000. Within a week, 20,000.

The protests quickly spread across the provinces.

In Antwerp, one of the most commercially important cities of the day, 30,000 protesters gathered, many of them armed.

It didn’t take long for things to become violent.

On August 14th , a crowd of ‘peaceful protestors’ broke into numerous churches across the provinces and destroyed the property inside.

On the 16th and 17th, a mob in Antwerp entered the great cathedral and destroyed everything in sight. They ripped down Catholic monuments and set church libraries ablaze.

In Tournay (again, where Thomas Calberg was executed), EVERY church in the town was razed.

Around the same time, prominent Dutch noblemen from the region saw the political tides shifting, and they began to swear allegiance to the protestors.

The most prominent local politician was William of Orange; he came from a wealthy landowning family in the Netherlands and was born a Protestant.

But then he switched to Catholicism as a young man in order to gain favor with the ruling Holy Roman Empire.

At the outbreak of the revolt, William maintained his loyalty to the Empire and remained a Catholic.

Only after the revolt had carried on for several years did he switch back to Protestantism and claimed that he had been a lifelong Protestant.

(Most people saw right through his self-serving BS.)

Many prominent noblemen supported the sacking of churches; they insisted that most of the protests were peaceful, and that any property destruction was less important than the fact that so many Protestants had been burned alive.

Eventually the violence spread to individuals.

Catholics were routinely beaten and maimed… even though the majority of Catholics in the United Provinces supported the Protestants and their religious freedom.

In March 1568, angry mobs (which included many Catholics), stormed into churches and cut off the ears of priests.

As historian John Motley wrote of the mob, “[Catholics] had ceased to be human in their eyes. . .” Anyone who did not vocally and publicly disavow their identity as a Catholic was in danger.

And even though the mob was only a small percent of the population, it was able to take over local governments.

They almost immediately imposed their own version of the Inquisition, stamping out anyone who practiced or tolerated Catholicism.

Margaret of Parma (the governor of the United Provinces) summed it up when she wrote to Philip II, “Anything and everything is now tolerated in this country, except the Catholic religion.”

The lawlessness and chaos was so pronounced that citizens across the United Provinces—both Catholic and Protestant—wondered whether the new Inquisition was actually worse than the old one.

The economic effects were devastating. Antwerp and Amsterdam emptied out. Businesses shuttered, and many prominent entrepreneurs left altogether and fled to England.

Entire industries left the United Provinces, never to return. Their businesses relocated to other countries, vastly benefitting those foreign economies.

And this chaos in the United Provinces raged on, literally for more than eight decades.

Modern pundits often write that what’s happening in the United States today is reboot of the 1960s. Honestly it seems a lot closer to the 1560s.

The U.S. Will See a Monetary Regime Change

  | Aug 29, 2020

Earlier this year, today’s guest editor, Dan Denning, predicted the S&P 500 would rise to 3,500… and then crash 50%.

This week, after surging 56% since late March, the S&P 500 just crashed through the 3,500 barrier for the first time ever.

Buoyed up by the feds’ promises and money printing, it seems stock investors have put the recent crash firmly in the rearview mirror.

So what about the second half of Dan’s prediction? Today, Dan looks behind all the effusive headlines to see what’s really going on… and concludes that there will be a heavy price to pay for this excess and euphoria…

I’m not buying it. Things like that don’t happen in America. If anything, the dollar will be the last man standing. You guys are going to lose a lot of money.”

That was the response of a friend in the investment industry who reads my work. He obviously took issue with my claim about what’s driving all asset prices.

The claim?

That what you’re witnessing in financial markets is the decline of paper money relative to precious metals. This “monetary regime change” is driven by government debts over 100% of GDP and rising annual government deficits.

My friend is more interested in Apple than gold bullion. That’s fine. More power to him. It wouldn’t be a market if there weren’t different views and values.

But let me share this crucial information with you. It reinforces that no matter what happens in the short term, in the long term, the U.S. dollar is a dead man walking.

Past the Point of No Return

When gross government debt is greater than 130% of GDP, a default is almost assured.

U.S. government gross debt will be 141% of GDP by the end of 2020, according to research published by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). By 2030, the IMF projects it will be 160%.


We have passed the point of no return in the destruction of the dollar. The annual deficits and total debt will almost certainly be higher than projections from the IMF or Congressional Budget Office.

Debt levels this high have nearly always resulted in some form of devaluation, according to research from Hirschmann Capital.

Since 1800, 51 out of 52 countries with gross government debt greater than 100% have defaulted on their debts. By defaulted, I mean either a restructuring of the debt, a devaluation of the currency, outright default, or (what we expect) deliberately high inflation to make refinancing/repayment of existing debts more affordable.

This is one of those occasions where what you call it doesn’t really matter. As a saver and investor, what you need to focus on is the net effect of high debt levels on the value of the currency. The value goes down. And so does the value of your savings.

It’s important you don’t get hung up on the technical definition of a default. Why?

Technically, the U.S. government NEVER has to default on its debt. After all, it prints the money in which the debt is denominated. Even if there was a tax revolt, or the economy shrunk by 50%, or there was a second Civil War after the November election, the government could keep cranking the printing press to pay back owners of U.S. Treasury bills, notes, and bonds.

It wouldn’t be a default, at least not in name. But the value of the dollar would be in freefall. In real terms – the only ones that really matter – you’d lose your fortune.

That’s why any of the other alternatives – restructuring, devaluation, high inflation – all end in the same place: the destruction of wealth.

Happening Right Now

In today’s America, you have a monetary policy which favors a tiny portion of the population. You have an unsustainable fiscal policy that, historically, guarantees a monetary crisis.

And you have millions of people who are angry about the status quo but can’t figure out exactly why.

When the Fed’s policies ultimately fail, stocks and the U.S. dollar will fall.

The failure of the money system will strain the bonds of civil society and lead to more authoritarian politics. Not only CAN these things happen in America, they’re happening right now.

And the stock market seems to have no idea.

Bold Prediction

Earlier this year, I told Bonner-Denning Letter readers that the S&P 500 would climb to 3,500… and then crash 50%. [Paid-up Bonner-Denning Letter subscribers can catch up on my prediction here.]

The first part of that prediction is happening right on schedule.

Signs of excess and euphoria abound. For example, a London-based firm says the Nasdaq 100 will hit 90,948 by 2040 as tech consumes the world. [It’s currently at 12,000.] It says value investing is dead. Under its scenario, you’ll see an almost eight-fold increase in big tech stocks.

Meanwhile, the market value of U.S. stocks as a percentage of GDP – the “Buffett Indicator,” that tells you whether stocks are expensive or cheap – is at 180%. The recent surge in markets has raised the market value of publicly listed companies by $11 trillion to $35 trillion.

And while Apple became the first $2 trillion company in history in August, it’s Tesla shares that boggle the mind. The stock is up 520% from the pandemic lows.

Tesla now has a larger market cap than Ford, GM, BMW, Fiat Chrysler, Ferrari, VW, and Honda – combined.

And not long after blasting through $2,000/per share, one analyst said pent-up demand for electric vehicles in China could drive the share price to $3,500!


Crash Indicators

Soaring valuations, ridiculous price forecasts, and the total absence of bears and short sellers are ALL pre-incident indicators of a crash. Short interest in S&P 500 stocks is at a 15-year low, according to research from Goldman Sachs published by the Financial Times.

It’s a momentum market. And the momentum is almost out of control. But I’m not going to try to convince you of the risk. At this point, if you’re still reading my work, you know it’s there. The question is, what should you do?

Simple: Use the tech euphoria and any selloff in gold or silver to add to your bullion positions. This may be your last chance for a long time to buy gold under $2,000 per ounce. Don’t miss it!

Dan Denning
Coauthor, The Bonner-Denning Letter

P.S. The ruination of America’s money continues unchecked. There are huge financial and economic moves afoot. And for the most part, the dire consequences of these moves are being entirely ignored by the mainstream media.

How Blockchain Tech Can Secure Elections

  | Aug 28, 2020

America is the greatest democracy on the planet. So the one thing I believe we can all agree on is the need for secure elections, with results we can trust.

Every vote must count. We can’t afford to wonder if our elections have been tampered with.

This concern has led to a battle playing out between the White House and the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). The controversy surrounding the “hows” and “whys” isn’t what I want to focus on.

Instead, I want to talk about a solution that can forever secure the sanctity of our country’s election process…

You see, our current method of delivering ballots through the mail is outdated. There’s not enough accountability and no efficient way to ensure your vote will be counted.

The solution to this problem lies in what I call “the fourth technological revolution.”

I’ve been pounding the table on it for years, telling anyone who’ll listen that this tech will upend the traditional financial system.

But in recent months, I’ve come to realize its potential goes way beyond money. It could protect our democracy, too.

The full story is one the mainstream press is completely missing…

A Truly Secure Voting System

As you know, the coronavirus pandemic has made it risky for Americans to stand in long lines in public. So to keep voters safe, many states are turning to mail-in ballots.

The problem is: No matter what you think of mail-in voting, as I mentioned, it’s an outdated system.

With tens of millions of people expected to vote by mail this fall… there are just too many points where someone can tamper with our ballots.

Now, I’m not saying voter fraud is widespread or anything like that… What I am saying is there’s a better way to secure our elections. And it’s through the blockchain.

As you may already know, blockchain is the innovative tech behind bitcoin. It uses a public ledger to verify every transaction.

That’s because at its core, blockchain is really just a very secure way to store information. In fact, I believe it’s the safest way to store information that’s ever been devised.

For instance, the blockchain powering the bitcoin network uses advanced cryptography coupled with a unique way of verifying information that, so far, has made it unhackable.

That’s why the USPS just patented a form of blockchain for voting

Earlier this month, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office made the USPS application public. It’s called “Secure Voting System.” And it describes using blockchain technology to secure mail-in voting:

A registered voter receives a computer-readable code in the mail and confirms identity and confirms correct ballot information in an election. The system separates voter identification and votes to ensure vote anonymity, and stores votes on a distributed ledger in a blockchain.

You don’t need to understand the nuts and bolts of how it works. Just know that it’s a tamperproof way to easily cast your ballot.

The U.S. (and other countries) are embracing blockchain tech because it’s one of the most secure ways to send information.

The Defense Department is testing blockchain for national security… NASA is eyeing it to secure aircraft flight data… The Department of Health and Human Services is adopting it to streamline contracts… The list goes on and on.

So it’s no surprise the USPS wants to harness it to secure one of our most precious rights – voting.

A Non-Partisan Way to Profit

Here’s the most important thing you need to know about the fourth technological revolution…

For the first time in history, we have an asset that allows us to directly profit from a technological shift: cryptocurrencies.

That’s what’s so revolutionary about blockchain. Investors can take a stake directly in the technology in a way they never could during other tech revolutions like the internet.

If you believe – as I do – that blockchain will make our lives better… then you’ll want to place your stake in this technology now.

Friends, it doesn’t matter if you identify as Democrat, Republican, or Independent…

Those who recognize blockchain as the future will take small grubstakes in cryptos… and potentially see them turn into life-changing gains.

Germany will pay you to do nothing, but force you to walk your dog

The old joke about the 1990s TV show Seinfeld was that it was a show about nothing. Now it looks like Germany wants to be an economy about nothing.

German University paying scholarships to do nothing

A German university is looking for people it can pay to do nothing. Literally. They want to pay people to refrain from activities.

Anyone can submit proposals on what they pledge to stop doing, for how long, and why.

The idea is to explore how NOT doing certain activities impacts your life, and the lives of others. So for example, if you pledge to stop shopping for three weeks, they would study how NOT shopping would cut fuel consumption, plastic waste, etc.

Right now it’s just a pilot program that will only select a handful of people. But if the results prove that doing nothing promotes environmental and social justice, we’re already expecting some much bigger funding for the next round.

Just imagine how much better the world would be if we valued laziness and sloth! And this trend won’t end with Covid until we recognize that sitting at home and doing nothing is brave and heroic.

Click here to read the full article.

Germany to test universal basic income

Speaking of doing nothing, “Universal Basic Income” is an idea that has caught fire with the Bolsheviks.

The idea is that people should be paid just for existing. We all just get to collect money that the central bank conjures out of thin air.

Obviously some people think this will cause laziness, and rob people of achieving their full potential. But others insist it is the best way to relieve poverty and inspire creativity.

So to test the idea, Germany will pay 120 ‘volunteers’ €1,200 ($1,400) a month for three years to see what happens.

It’s almost like Western civilization is rejecting the idea that actual work has to be done to produce the food, clothing, and shelter humans need to survive.

Click here to read the full article.

Germans must walk dogs twice a day under new law

Well, here’s at least one thing that Germany wants you to do: WALK YOUR DOG!

Under a newly introduced plan, all Germans will be required to take their dogs for a walk twice a day, totalling an hour of walking time.

An earlier version of the law required two one-hour walks per day, but that was changed after a backlash.

Still– a little chihuahua needs the same amount of exercise as a Golden Retriever? And now Germans will be legally liable if they have a busy day, and don’t have a full hour to spare?

Maybe next the state can micromanage the proper number of pats and belly rubs. WHO’S A GOOD BOY??

Ironically, when it comes to absurd nanny states, there seems to be no consensus: while Germany is forcing people to walk their dogs, other governments have forced people to NOT walk their dogs during the pandemic.

Click here to read the full article.

Teachers are worried you’ll hear what they teach your kids

A Tennessee school district asked parents to sign a form agreeing not to listen in or “eavesdrop” on online classes.

Parents were not a big fan of this idea, and after a backlash the district backed down.

But this wasn’t the first time schools worried about parents hearing what they are drilling into students’ brains.

One teacher complained on Twitter that virtual classrooms will have “potential spectators… overhearing the discourse.”

Several teachers expressed concern about parents overhearing “honest conversations about gender/ sexuality” in their classrooms which usually has a “what happens here stays here” policy.

Apparently these gender and sexuality-obsessed public school teachers want to have sensitive conversations with your children behind your back.

Click here to read about the waivers, and here for the Tweets.

Punctuation is now triggering to Millennials

We all know that text messages lack the nuance of face to face conversations. Without emotion, things like sarcasm and passive aggression are harder to detect.

But did you know that something as simple as a period at the end of the sentence could trigger anxiety in Millennials and Generation Z?

The author of a new book on digital etiquette claims that youngsters find it stressful to read text messages with a period at the end.

According to the author, the period is perceived as abrupt, unfriendly, and even insincere.

You already ended the text, you don’t have to be a big jerk about it and add a period! WE CAN ONLY IMAGINE HOW MUCH ANXIETY AN ALL-CAPS MESSAGE WOULD CAUSE.

Click here to read the full article.

Great Britain bans advertising “unhealthy” foods on daytime TV

Coronavirus is not the only public health emergency that allows authoritarian control of society; obesity is another excuse for power hungry politicians.

Great Britain announced it will ban the daytime TV advertising of foods with more than 1.5g of salt, 20g fat or 22.5g of sugars per 100g.

This includes stuff like ketchup, bacon, and cheese.

This tramples free speech, but also will take a bite out of advertising and sales revenue, when companies are already struggling.

And this is coming from a ‘moderate’ party… not even the most radical politicians in Britain.

Click here to read the full article.

Massachusetts now requires flu shot for all students

The Massachusetts Department of Health announced it will require all students in K-12 schools, and college undergraduates to take a yearly flu shot.

Curiously, students who are staying at home and engaged in their public school system’s remote learning are NOT exempt.

There’s no corona vaccine yet, but we imagine this is a way to get everyone used to the idea of the government mandating what goes in your body.

It is no longer for individuals or parents to weigh the benefits and drawbacks for their family.

Homeschoolers, however, are exempt from the law.

Click here to read the full article.

Attack of the Tomato Killers: The Police State’s War on Weed and Backyard Gardens

By John W. Whitehead

“They came again this morning at about 8:00 o’clock. A large cargo-type helicopter flew low over the cabin, shaking it on its very foundations. It shook all of us inside, too. I feel frightened … I see how helpless and tormented I am becoming with disgust and disillusionment with the government which has turned this beautiful country into a police state … I feel like I am in the middle of a war zone.”—Journal entry from a California resident describing the government’s aerial searches for marijuana plants

August 25, 2020 “Information Clearing House” – Backyard gardeners, beware: tomato plants have become collateral damage in the government’s war on drugs, especially marijuana.

In fact, merely growing a vegetable garden on your own property, or in a greenhouse on your property, or shopping at a gardening store for gardening supplies—incredibly enough—could set you up for a drug raid sanctioned by the courts.

It’s happened before.

After shopping for hydroponic tomatoes at their local gardening store, a Kansas family found themselves subjected to a SWAT team raid as part of a multi-state, annual campaign dubbed “Operation Constant Gardener,” in which police collected the license plates of hundreds of customers at the gardening store and then investigated them for possible marijuana possession.

By “investigated,” I mean that police searched through the family’s trash. (You can thank the Supreme Court and their 1978 ruling in California v. Greenwood for allowing police to invade your trash can.) Finding “wet glob vegetation” in the garbage, the cops somehow managed to convince themselves—and a judge—that it was marijuana.

In fact, it was loose-leaf tea, but those pesky details don’t usually bother the cops when they’re conducting field tests.

Indeed, field tests routinely read positive for illegal drugs even when no drugs are present. According to investigative journalist Radley Balko, “it’s almost as if these tests come up positive whenever the police need them to. A partial list of substances that the tests have mistaken for illegal drugs would include sage, chocolate chip cookies, motor oil, spearmint, soap, tortilla dough, deodorant, billiard’s chalk, patchouli, flour, eucalyptus, breath mints, Jolly Ranchers and vitamins.”

There’s a long list of innocent ingredients that could be mistaken for drugs and get you subjected to a raid, because that’s all it takes—just the barest whiff of a suspicion by police that you might be engaged in criminal activity—to start the ball rolling.

From there, these so-called “investigations” follow the usual script: judge issues a warrant for a SWAT raid based on botched data, cops raid the home and terrorize the family at gunpoint, cops find no drugs, family sues over a violation of their Fourth Amendment rights, and then the courts protect the cops and their botched raid on the basis of qualified immunity.

It happens all the time.

As Balko reports, “Police have broken down doors, screamed obscenities, and held innocent people at gunpoint only to discover that what they thought were marijuana plants were really sunflowers, hibiscus, ragweed, tomatoes, or elderberry bushes. (It’s happened with all five.)”

Surely, you might think, the government has enough on its hands right now—policing a novel coronavirus pandemic, instituting nationwide lockdowns, quelling civil unrests over police brutality—that it doesn’t need to waste time and resources ferreting out pot farmers.

You’d be wrong.

This is a government that excels at make-work projects in which it assigns at-times unnecessary jobs to government agents to keep them busy or employed.

In this case, however, the make-work principle (translation: making work to keep the police state busy at taxpayer expense) is being used to justify sending police and expensive military helicopters likely equipped with sophisticated surveillance and thermal imaging devices on exploratory sorties every summer—again at taxpayer expense—in order to uncover illegal marijuana growing operations.

Often, however, what these air and ground searches end up targeting are backyard gardeners growing tomato plants.

Just recently, in fact, eyewitnesses in Virginia reported low-flying black helicopters buzzing over rural and suburban neighborhoods as part of a multi-agency operation to search for marijuana growers. Oftentimes these joint operations involve local police, state police and the Army National Guard.

One woman reported having her “tomato plants complimented by the 7 cops that pulled up in my yard in unmarked SUVs, after a helicopter hovered over our house for 20 minutes this morning.” Another man reported a similar experience from a few years ago when police “showed up in unmarked SUV’s with guns pulled. Then the cops on the ground argued with the helicopter because the heat signature in the ‘copter didn’t match what was growing.”

Back in 2013, an aerial surveillance mission spotted what police thought might be marijuana plants. Two days later, dozens of city officials, SWAT team, police officers and code compliance employees, and numerous official vehicles including dozens of police cars and several specialized vehicular equipment, including helicopters and unmanned flying drones, descended on The Garden of Eden, a 3.5-acre farm in Arlington, Texas, for a 10-hour raid in search of marijuana that turned up nothing more than tomato, blackberry and okra plants.

These aerial and ground sweeps have become regular occurrences across the country, part of the government’s multi-million dollar Domestic Cannabis Eradication Program. Local cops refer to the annual military maneuvers as “Eradication Day.”

Started in 1979 as a way to fund local efforts to crack down on marijuana growers in California and Hawaii, the Eradication Program went national in 1985, right around the time the Reagan Administration enabled the armed forces to get more involved in the domestic “war on drugs.”

Writing for The Washington Post, Radley Balko describes how these raids started off, with the National Guard, spy planes and helicopters:

The project was called the Campaign Against Marijuana Production, or CAMP… In all, thirteen California counties were invaded by choppers, some of them blaring Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” as they dropped Guardsmen and law enforcement officers armed with automatic weapons, sandviks, and machetes into the fields of California … In CAMP’s first year, the program conducted 524 raids, arrested 128 people, and seized about 65,000 marijuana plants. Operating costs ran at a little over $1.5 million. The next year, 24 more sheriffs signed up for the program, for a total of 37. CAMP conducted 398 raids, seized nearly 160,000 plants, and made 218 arrests at a cost to taxpayers of $2.3 million.

The area’s larger growers had been put out of business (or, probably more accurately, had set up shop somewhere else), so by the start of the second campaign in 1984, CAMP officials were already targeting increasingly smaller growers. By the end of that 1984 campaign, the helicopters had to fly at lower and lower altitudes to spot smaller batches of plants. The noise, wind, and vibration from the choppers could knock out windows, kick up dust clouds, and scare livestock. The officials running the operation made no bones about the paramilitary tactics they were using. They considered the areas they were raiding to be war zones. In the interest of “officer safety,” they gave themselves permission to search any structures relatively close to a marijuana supply, without a warrant. Anyone coming anywhere near a raid operation was subject to detainment, usually at gunpoint.

Right around the same time, in the mid-1980s, the federal government started handing out grants to local police departments to assist with their local boots-on-the-ground “war on drugs.” These grants (through the Byrne Grant program and COPS program, both of which started to be phased out under George W. Bush, only to be re-upped by Barack Obama) could be used to pay for additional police personnel, equipment, training, technical assistance and information systems. However, studies show that while these federal grants did not improve police effectiveness or drug deterrence, they did incentivize SWAT team raids.

But how do you go from a “war on drugs” to SWAT-style raids on vegetable gardens?

Connect the dots, starting with the government’s war on marijuana, the emergence of SWAT teams, the militarization of local police forces through the federal 1033 Program, which allows the Pentagon to transfer “vast amounts of military equipment—machine guns and ammunition, helicopters, night-vision gear, armored cars—to local police departments,” and the transformation of American communities into battlefields: as always, it comes back to the make work principle, which starts with local police finding ways to justify the use of military equipment and federal funding.

Each year, the government spends between $14 and $18 million funding helicopter sweeps and police overtime to help the states track down illegal marijuana plants. These sweeps are even being carried out in states where it’s now legal to grow marijuana.

The sweeps work like this: Local police, working with multiple state agencies including the National Guard, carry out ground and air searches of different sectors. Air spotters flying overhead in helicopters relay their findings to police on the ground, who then carry out a search-and-destroy mission.

Mark my words: the use of police drones will make these kinds of aerial missions even more common.

For the most part, aerial surveillance is legal. As Arthur Holland Michel writes for The Atlantic: “When it comes to law enforcement, police are likewise free to use aerial surveillance without a warrant or special permission. Under current privacy law, these operations are just as legal as policing practices whereby an officer spots unlawful activity while walking or driving through a neighborhood.”

There have been a few notable exceptions.

In 2015, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that surveillance from a low-flying helicopter conducting an aerial search for marijuana by state police and the national guard was illegal under the U.S. Constitution. The court reasoned that “when low-flying aerial activity leads to more than just observation and actually causes an unreasonable intrusion on the ground—most commonly from an unreasonable amount of wind, dust, broken objects, noise, and sheer panic—then at some point courts are c and require a warrant before law enforcement engages in such activity. The Fourth Amendment and its prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures demands no less.”

In Philip Cobbs’ case, helicopter spotters claimed to have seen two lone marijuana plants growing in the wreckage of a fallen oak tree on the Virginia native’s 39-acre family farm.

Cobbs noticed the black helicopter circling overhead while spraying the blueberry bushes near his house. After watching the helicopter for several moments, Cobbs went inside to check on his blind, deaf 90-year-old mother. By the time he returned outside, several unmarked police SUVs had driven onto his property, and police (ten in all) in flak jackets, carrying semi-automatic weapons and shouting unintelligibly, had exited the vehicles and were moving toward him.

Of course, it was never about the two pot plants.

What the cops were really after was an excuse to search Cobbs’ little greenhouse, which he had used that spring to start tomato plants, cantaloupes, and watermelons, as well as asters and hollyhocks, which he planned to sell at a roadside stand near his home. The search of the greenhouse turned up nothing more than used tomato seedling containers.

Nevertheless, police charged Cobbs with misdemeanor possession of marijuana for the two plants they claimed to have found. Eventually, the charges were dismissed but not before The Rutherford Institute took up Cobbs’ case, which revealed that police hadn’t even bothered to secure a warrant before embarking on their raid of Cobbs’ property—a raid that had to cost taxpayers upwards of $25,000, at the very least—part of their routine sweep of the countryside in search of pot-growing operations.

Two plants or two hundred or no plants at all: it doesn’t matter.

A SWAT team targeted one South Carolina man for selling $50 worth of pot on two different occasions. The Washington Post reports: The SWAT team “broke down Betton’s door with a battering ram, then fired at least 57 bullets at him, hitting him nine times. He lost portions of his gallbladder, colon, bowel and rectum, and is paralyzed from the waist down. He also suffered damage to his liver, lung, small intestine and pancreas. Two of his vertebrae were damaged, and another was partially destroyed. Another bullet shattered his leg.” After security footage showed that most of what police said about the raid was a lie, the cops settled the case for $2.75 million.

Monetary awards like that are the exception, however.

Most of the time, the cops get away with murder and mayhem. Literally.

Bottom line: no amount of marijuana is too insignificant if it allows police to qualify for federal grants and equipment and lay claim to seized assets (there’s the profit motive) under the guise of fighting the War on Drugs.

SWAT teams carry out more than 80,000 no-knock raids every year. The vast majority of these raids are to serve routine drug warrants, many times for crimes no more serious than possession of marijuana.

Although growing numbers of states continue to decriminalize marijuana use and 9 out of 10 Americans favor the legalization of either medical or recreational/adult-use marijuana, the government’s profit-driven “War on Drugs”—waged with state and local police officers dressed in SWAT gear, armed to the hilt, and trained to act like soldiers on a battlefield, all thanks to funding provided by the U.S. government, particularly the Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security (DHS)—has not abated.

Since the formation of the DHS post-9/11, hundreds of billions of dollars in grants have flowed to local police departments for SWAT teams, giving rise to a “police industrial complex” that routinely devastates communities, terrorizes families, and destroys innocent lives.

No longer reserved exclusively for deadly situations, SWAT teams are now increasingly being deployed for relatively routine police matters, with some SWAT teams being sent out as much as five times a day. Nationwide, SWAT teams have been employed to address an astonishingly trivial array of criminal activity or mere community nuisances: angry dogs, domestic disputes, improper paperwork filed by an orchid farmer, and misdemeanor marijuana possession, to give a brief sampling.

Unfortunately, general incompetence, collateral damage (fatalities, property damage, etc.) and botched raids tend to go hand in hand with an overuse of paramilitary forces.

In some cases, officers misread the address on the warrant. In others, they simply barge into the wrong house or even the wrong building. In another subset of cases, police conduct a search of a building where the suspect no longer resides.

SWAT teams have even on occasion conducted multiple, sequential raids on wrong addresses or executed search warrants despite the fact that the suspect is already in police custody. Police have also raided homes on the basis of mistaking the presence or scent of legal substances for drugs. Incredibly, these substances have included tomatoes, sunflowers, fish, elderberry bushes, kenaf plants, hibiscus, and ragweed.

All too often, the shock-and-awe tactics utilized by many SWAT teams only increases the likelihood that someone will get hurt with little consequences for law enforcement, even when the raids are botched.

Botched SWAT team raids have resulted in the loss of countless lives, including children and the elderly. Usually, however, the first to be shot are the family dogs.

SWAT raids are usually carried out late at night or shortly before dawn. Unfortunately, to the unsuspecting homeowner—especially in cases involving mistaken identities or wrong addresses—a raid can appear to be nothing less than a violent home invasion, with armed intruders crashing through their door.

That’s exactly what happened to Jose Guerena, the young ex-Marine who was killed after a SWAT team kicked open the door of his Arizona home during a drug raid and opened fire. According to news reports, Guerena, 26 years old and the father of two young children, grabbed a gun in response to the forced invasion but never fired. In fact, the safety was still on his gun when he was killed. Police officers were not as restrained. The young Iraqi war veteran was allegedly fired upon 71 times. Guerena had no prior criminal record, and the police found nothing illegal in his home.

The problems inherent in these situations are further compounded by the fact that SWAT teams are granted “no-knock” warrants at high rates such that the warrants themselves are rendered practically meaningless.

This sorry state of affairs is made even worse by U.S. Supreme Court rulings that have essentially done away with the need for a “no-knock” warrant altogether, giving the police authority to disregard the protections afforded American citizens by the Fourth Amendment.

Clearly, as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American Peoplesomething must be done.

When the war on drugs—a.k.a. the war on the American people—becomes little more than a thinly veiled attempt to keep SWAT teams employed and special interests appeased, it’s time to revisit our drug policies and laws.

“You take the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, all the rights you expect to have—when they come in like that, the only right you have is not to get shot if you cooperate. They open that door, your life is on the line,” concluded Bob Harte, whose home was raided by a SWAT team simply because the family was seen shopping at a garden store, cops found loose tea in the family’s trash and mistook it for marijuana.

Our family will never be the same,” said Addie Harte, recalling the two-hour raid that had police invading their suburban home with a battering ram and AR-15 rifles. As The Washington Post reports:

Bob found himself flat on floor, hands behind his head, his eyes locked on the boots of the officer standing over him with an AR-15 assault rifle. “Are there kids?” the officers were yelling. “Where are the kids?” “And I’m laying there staring at this guy’s boots fearing for my kids’ lives, trying to tell them where my children are,” Harte recalled later in a deposition on July 9, 2015. “They are sending these guys with their guns drawn running upstairs to bust into my children’s house, bedroom, wake them out of bed.”

It didn’t matter that no drugs were found—nothing but a hydroponic tomato garden and loose tea leaves. The search and SWAT raid were reasonable, according to the courts.

There’s a lesson here for the rest of us. As Bob Harte concluded: “If this can happen to us, everybody in the country needs to be afraid.”

John W. Whitehead, Constitutional attorney and author John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute. His new book Battlefield America: The War on the American People  is available at Whitehead can be contacted at