Monday, May 23, 2011

The Libyan war and American democracy

The Libyan war and American democracy

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The Obama administration has allowed a 60-day legal deadline for obtaining congressional approval for the US war against Libya to expire without taking any action. The deadline passed on Friday, May 20, with barely any notice taken in the American media or in official political circles.

The War Powers Act was passed by Congress in 1973, amidst the debacle of the Vietnam War, overriding the veto of Richard Nixon. Its purpose was to prevent future presidents from waging open-ended undeclared wars with little or no accountability to the legislature, which under the US Constitution has the exclusive power to declare war.

It gives the president the right to use military force at his discretion for up to 60 days—itself a huge extension of presidential power—but requires withdrawal after a total of 90 days if Congress does not vote to approve the military action.

In 1980, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel concluded that the act was constitutional, and no administration has sought to challenge it in court. For major troop deployments, as in the Persian Gulf War of 1990-91, and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq by in 2001 and 2003, George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush sought congressional approval by resolution, as a substitute for a declaration of war.

In the 1999 Kosovo War, Bill Clinton escaped application of the War Powers Act by bombing Serbia into surrender after 78 days, before the 90-day cutoff. Moreover, Congress approved funding for the war against Serbia within the first 60 days, although it never voted to endorse the war itself.

In 2007, a presidential candidate who was highly critical of the Bush administration’s unilateral approach to waging war in Iraq, told the Boston Globe in an interview, “The president does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.”

That was candidate Obama, then a member of the US Senate. But President Obama publicly flouts any legal restrictions on his power to wage war.

Six Republican senators sent a letter May 18 to Obama, citing the upcoming 60-day deadline: “Friday is the final day of the statutory sixty-day period for you to terminate the use of the United States Armed Forces in Libya under the War Powers Resolution. As recently as last week your Administration indicated use of the United States Armed Forces will continue indefinitely. Therefore, we are writing to ask whether you intend to comply with the requirements of the War Powers Resolution.”

Obama responded with a letter to the top Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate, inviting them to support a congressional resolution to authorize the ongoing war against Libya, but not acknowledging that the War Powers Act was relevant to the conflict. In fact, the letter makes no mention of the 1973 law.

Instead, Obama constructs an argument that downplays the US role in the war against Libya, noting: “By April 4, however, the United States had transferred responsibility for the military operations in Libya to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the U.S. involvement has assumed a supporting role in the coalition's efforts.”

The US role consisted of “non-kinetic support to the NATO-led operation, including intelligence, logistical support, and search and rescue assistance,” the use of aircraft to attack Libyan air defenses, and “precision strikes by unmanned aerial vehicles.”

These are blatant sophistries, especially given the fact that a US officer, Admiral James Stavridis, serves as the NATO commander. The US military is manifestly engaged in a war against Libya in which untold numbers of Libyan soldiers and civilians have been killed, and US warplanes and Predator drones continue near-daily attacks on Libyan targets.

Moreover, on March 21, after ordering the first attacks on Libya, Obama sent a letter to Congress notifying it officially of the military engagement, “as part of my efforts to keep the Congress fully informed, consistent with the War Powers Resolution.”

Congressional Democrats and Republicans have for the most part accepted this stonewalling of the War Powers Act with indifference, or endorsed it openly. Obama’s Republican opponent in 2008, Senator John McCain, declared, “No president has ever recognized the constitutionality of the War Powers Act and neither do I. So I don’t feel bound by any deadline.”

Some congressional Republicans criticized the administration’s conduct of the war, but only because it was insufficiently aggressive or because the strategic goals of the intervention—such as the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime—were not adequately spelled out.

The bipartisan backing for the “right” of the president to wage war at his discretion demonstrates the extreme attenuation of democratic processes in the United States. The executive branch sends US military forces into combat at will, not only without obtaining a declaration of war—a power reserved to the legislative branch under the Constitution, Article II, Section 8—but without complying with the provisions of the law adopted in 1973 for the specific purpose of preventing new Vietnam-style wars.

The collapse of any serious check on executive power in this most critical of spheres is part of protracted historical process: overseas, the transformation of American imperialism into a worldwide military despot, disposing of more troops and firepower than all other countries combined; at home, the buildup of a police-state apparatus, directed at the democratic rights of working people.

Moreover, the anti-democratic character of Obama’s decision to go to war against Libya testifies to the reactionary, predatory character of the war itself. American troops, warships, planes and missiles have been deployed, not to defend the American people, but to oppress the people of Libya, seize control of oil resources and strategic territory, and threaten the peoples of North Africa and the Middle East as a whole.

The building of a mass movement in opposition to imperialist war requires a turn to the working class, and the building of a mass movement of working people in implacable opposition to both the political parties of imperialism, the Democrats just as much as the Republicans.

Escaping the Matrix

Escaping the Matrix
Are you ready for the red pill?

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The defining dramatic moment in the film The Matrix occurs just after Morpheus invites Neo to choose between a red pill and a blue pill. The red pill promises "the truth, nothing more." Neo takes the red pill and awakes to reality--something utterly different from anything Neo, or the audience, could have expected. What Neo had assumed to be reality turned out to be only a collective illusion, fabricated by the Matrix and fed to a population that is asleep, cocooned in grotesque embryonic pods. In Plato's famous parable about the shadows on the walls of the cave, true reality is at least reflected in perceived reality. In the Matrix world, true reality and perceived reality exist on entirely different planes.

The story is intended as metaphor, and the parallels that drew my attention had to do with political reality. This article offers a particular perspective on what's going on in the world--and how things got to be that way--in this era of globalization. From that red-pill perspective, everyday media-consensus reality--like the Matrix in the film--is seen to be a fabricated collective illusion. Like Neo, I didn't know what I was looking for when my investigation began, but I knew that what I was being told didn't make sense. I read scores of histories and biographies, observing connections between them, and began to develop my own theories about roots of various historical events. I found myself largely in agreement with writers like Noam Chomsky and Michael Parenti, but I also perceived important patterns that others seem to have missed.

When I started tracing historical forces, and began to interpret present-day events from a historical perspective. I could see the same old dynamics at work and found a meaning in unfolding events far different from what official pronouncements proclaimed. Such pronouncements are, after all, public relations fare, given out by politicians who want to look good to the voters. Most of us expect rhetoric from politicians, and take what they say with a grain of salt. But as my own picture of present reality came into focus, "grain of salt" no longer worked as a metaphor. I began to see that consensus reality--as generated by official rhetoric and amplified by mass media--bears very little relationship to actual reality. "The matrix" was a metaphor I was ready for.

In consensus reality (the blue-pill perspective) "left" and "right" are the two ends of the political spectrum. Politics is a tug-of-war between competing factions, carried out by political parties and elected representatives. Society gets pulled this way and that within the political spectrum, reflecting the interests of whichever party won the last election. The left and right are therefore political enemies. Each side is convinced that it knows how to make society better; each believes the other enjoys undue influence; and each blames the other for the political stalemate that apparently prevents society from dealing effectively with its problems.

This perspective on the political process, and on the roles of left and right, is very far from reality. It is a fabricated collective illusion. Morpheus tells Neo that the Matrix is "the world that was pulled over your eyes to hide you from the truth....As long as the Matrix exists, humanity cannot be free." Consensus political reality is precisely such a matrix. Later we will take a fresh look at the role of left and right, and at national politics. But first we must develop our red-pill historical perspective. I've had to condense the arguments to bare essentials; please see the annotated sources at the end for more thorough treatments of particular topics.

Imperialism and the matrix
From the time of Columbus to 1945, world affairs were largely dominated by competition among Western nations (1) seeking to stake out spheres of influence, control sea lanes, and exploit colonial empires. Each Western power became the core of an imperialist economy whose periphery was managed for the benefit of the core nation. Military might determined the scope of an empire; wars were initiated when a core nation felt it had sufficient power to expand its periphery at the expense of a competitor. Economies and societies in the periphery were kept backward--to keep their populations under control, to provide cheap labor, and to guarantee markets for goods manufactured in the core. Imperialism robbed the periphery not only of wealth but also of its ability to develop its own societies, cultures, and economies in a natural way for local benefit.

The driving force behind Western imperialism has always been the pursuit of economic gain, ever since Isabella commissioned Columbus on his first entrepreneurial voyage. The rhetoric of empire concerning wars, however, has typically been about other things--the White Man's Burden, bringing true religion to the heathens, Manifest Destiny, defeating the Yellow Peril or the Hun, seeking lebensraum, or making the world safe for democracy. Any fabricated motivation for war or empire would do, as long as it appealed to the collective consciousness of the population at the time. The propaganda lies of yesterday were recorded and became consensus history--the fabric of the matrix.

While the costs of territorial empire (fleets, colonial administrations, etc.) were borne by Western taxpayers generally, the profits of imperialism were enjoyed primarily by private corporations and investors. Government and corporate elites were partners in the business of imperialism: empires gave government leaders power and prestige, and gave corporate leaders power and wealth. Corporations ran the real business of empire while government leaders fabricated noble excuses for the wars that were required to keep that business going. Matrix reality was about patriotism, national honor, and heroic causes; true reality was on another plane altogether: that of economics.

Industrialization, beginning in the late 1700s, created a demand for new markets and increased raw materials; both demands spurred accelerated expansion of empire. Wealthy investors amassed fortunes by setting up large-scale industrial and trading operations, leading to the emergence of an influential capitalist elite. Like any other elite, capitalists used their wealth and influence to further their own interests however they could. And the interests of capitalism always come down to economic growth; investors must reap more than they sow or the whole system comes to a grinding halt.

Thus capitalism, industrialization, nationalism, warfare, imperialism--and the matrix--coevolved. Industrialized weapon production provided the muscle of modern warfare, and capitalism provided the appetite to use that muscle. Government leaders pursued the policies necessary to expand empire while creating a rhetorical matrix, around nationalism, to justify those policies. Capitalist growth depended on empire, which in turn depended on a strong and stable core nation to defend it. National interests and capitalist interests were inextricably linked--or so it seemed for more than two centuries.

World War II and Pax Americana
1945 will be remembered as the year World War II ended and the bond of the atomic nucleus was broken. But 1945 also marked another momentous fission--breaking of the bond between national and capitalist interests. After every previous war, and in many cases after severe devastation, European nations had always picked themselves back up and resumed their competition over empire. But after World War II, a Pax Americana was established. The US began to manage all the Western peripheries on behalf of capitalism generally, while preventing the communist powers from interfering in the game. Capitalist powers no longer needed to fight over investment realms, and competitive imperialism was replaced by collective imperialism (see sidebar). Opportunities for capital growth were no longer linked to the military power of nations, apart from the power of America. In his Killing Hope, U.S. Military and CIA Interventions since World War II (see access), William Blum chronicles hundreds of significant covert and overt interventions, showing exactly how the US carried out its imperial management role.

Elite planning for postwar neo-imperialism...
Recommendation P-B23 (July, 1941) stated that worldwide financial institutions were necessary for the purpose of "stabilizing currencies and facilitating programs of capital investment for constructive undertakings in backward and underdeveloped regions." During the last half of 1941 and in the first months of 1942, the Council developed this idea for the integration of the world.... Isaiah Bowman first suggested a way to solve the problem of maintaining effective control over weaker territories while avoiding overt imperial conquest. At a Council meeting in May 1942, he stated that the United States had to exercise the strength needed to assure "security," and at the same time "avoid conventional forms of imperialism." The way to do this, he argued, was to make the exercise of that power international in character through a United Nations body.
- Laurence Shoup & William Minter, in Holly Sklar's Trilateralism (see access), writing about strategic recommendations developed during World War II by the Council on Foreign Relations.

In the postwar years matrix reality diverged ever further from actual reality. In the postwar matrix world, imperialism had been abandoned and the world was being "democratized"; in the real world, imperialism had become better organized and more efficient. In the matrix world the US "restored order," or "came to the assistance" of nations which were being "undermined by Soviet influence"; in the real world, the periphery was being systematically suppressed and exploited. In the matrix world, the benefit was going to the periphery in the form of countless aid programs; in the real world, immense wealth was being extracted from the periphery.

Growing glitches in the matrix weren't noticed by most people in the West, because the postwar years brought unprecedented levels of Western prosperity and social progress. The rhetoric claimed progress would come to all, and Westerners could see it being realized in their own towns and cities. The West became the collective core of a global empire, and exploitative development led to prosperity for Western populations, while generating immense riches for corporations, banks, and wealthy capital investors.

Glitches in the matrix, popular rebellion, and neoliberalism
The parallel agenda of Third-World exploitation and Western prosperity worked effectively for the first two postwar decades. But in the 1960s large numbers of Westerners, particularly the young and well educated, began to notice glitches in the matrix. In Vietnam imperialism was too naked to be successfully masked as something else. A major split in American public consciousness occurred, as millions of anti-war protestors and civil-rights activists punctured the fabricated consensus of the 1950s and declared the reality of exploitation and suppression both at home and abroad. The environmental movement arose, challenging even the exploitation of the natural world. In Europe, 1968 joined 1848 as a landmark year of popular protest.

These developments disturbed elite planners. The postwar regime's stability was being challenged from within the core--and the formula of Western prosperity no longer guaranteed public passivity. A report published in 1975, the Report of the Trilateral Task Force on Governability of Democracies, provides a glimpse into the thinking of elite circles. Alan Wolfe discusses this report in Holly Sklar's eye-opening Trilateralism (see access). Wolfe focuses especially on the analysis Harvard professor Samuel P. Huntington presented in a section of the report entitled "The Crisis of Democracy." Huntington is an articulate promoter of elite policy shifts, and contributes pivotal articles to publications such as the Council on Foreign Relations's Foreign Affairs (access).

Huntington tells us that democratic societies "cannot work" unless the citizenry is "passive." The "democratic surge of the 1960s" represented an "excess of democracy," which must be reduced if governments are to carry out their traditional domestic and foreign policies. Huntington's notion of "traditional policies" is expressed in a passage from the report:

"To the extent that the United States was governed by anyone during the decades after World War II, it was governed by the President acting with the support and cooperation of key individuals and groups in the executive office, the federal bureaucracy, Congress, and the more important businesses, banks, law firms, foundations, and media, which constitute the private sector's 'Establishment'."
In these few words Huntington spells out the reality that electoral democracy has little to do with how America is run, and summarizes the kind of people who are included within the elite planning community. Who needs conspiracy theories when elite machinations are clearly described in public documents like these?

Besides failing to deliver popular passivity, the policy of prosperity for Western populations had another downside, having to do with Japan's economic success. Under the Pax Americana umbrella, Japan had been able to industrialize and become an imperial player--the prohibition on Japanese rearmament had become irrelevant. With Japan's then-lower living standards, Japanese producers could undercut prevailing prices and steal market share from Western producers. Western capital needed to find a way to become more competitive on world markets, and Western prosperity was standing in the way. Elite strategists, as Huntington showed, were fully capable of understanding these considerations, and the requirements of corporate growth created a strong motivation to make the needed adjustments--in both reality and rhetoric.

If popular prosperity could be sacrificed, there were many obvious ways Western capital could be made more competitive. Production could be moved overseas to low-wage areas, allowing domestic unemployment to rise. Unions could be attacked and wages forced down, and people could be pushed into temporary and part-time jobs without benefits. Regulations governing corporate behavior could be removed, corporate and capital-gains taxes could be reduced, and the revenue losses could be taken out of public-service budgets. Public infrastructures could be privatized, the services reduced to cut costs, and then they could be milked for easy profits while they deteriorated from neglect.

These are the very policies and programs launched during the Reagan-Thatcher years in the US and Britain. They represent a systematic project of increasing corporate growth at the expense of popular prosperity and welfare. Such a real agenda would have been unpopular, and a corresponding matrix reality was fabricated for public consumption. The matrix reality used real terms like "deregulation," "reduced taxes," and "privatization," but around them was woven an economic mythology. The old, failed laissez-faire doctrine of the 1800s was reintroduced with the help of Milton Friedman's Chicago School of economics, and "less government" became the proud "modern" theme in America and Britain. Sensible regulations had restored financial stability after the Great Depression, and had broken up anti-competitive monopolies such as the Rockefeller trust and AT&T. But in the new matrix reality, all regulations were considered bureaucratic interference. Reagan and Thatcher preached the virtues of individualism, and promised to "get government off people's backs." The implication was that everyday individuals were to get more money and freedom, but in reality the primary benefits would go to corporations and wealthy investors.

The academic term for laissez-faire economics is "economic liberalism," and hence the Reagan-Thatcher revolution has come to be known as the "neoliberal revolution." It brought a radical change in actual reality by returning to the economic philosophy that led to sweatshops, corruption, and robber-baron monopolies in the nineteenth century. It brought an equally radical change in matrix reality--a complete reversal in the attitude that was projected regarding government. Government policies had always been criticized in the media, but the institution of government had always been respected--reflecting the traditional bond between capitalism and nationalism. With Reagan, we had a sitting president telling us that government itself was a bad thing. Many of us may have agreed with him, but such a sentiment had never before found official favor. Soon, British and American populations were beginning to applaud the destruction of the very democratic institutions that provided their only hope of participation in the political process.

Globalization and world government
The essential bond between capitalism and nationalism was broken in 1945, but it took some time for elite planners to recognize this new condition and to begin bringing the world system into alignment with it. The strong Western nation state had been the bulwark of capitalism for centuries, and initial postwar policies were based on the assumption that this would continue indefinitely. The Bretton Woods financial system (the IMF, World Bank, and a system of fixed exchange rates among major currencies) was set up to stabilize national economies, and popular prosperity was encouraged to provide political stability. Neoliberalism in the US and Britain represented the first serious break with this policy framework--and brought the first visible signs of the fission of the nation-capital bond.

The neoliberal project was economically profitable in the US and Britain, and the public accepted the matrix economic mythology. Meanwhile, the integrated global economy gave rise to a new generation of transnational corporations, and corporate leaders began to realize that corporate growth was not dependent on strong core nation-states. Indeed, Western nations--with their environmental laws, consumer-protection measures, and other forms of regulatory "interference"--were a burden on corporate growth. Having been successfully field tested in the two oldest "democracies," the neoliberal project moved onto the global stage. The Bretton Woods system of fixed rates of currency exchange was weakened, and the international financial system became destabilizing, instead of stabilizing, for national economies. The radical free-trade project was launched, leading eventually to the World Trade Organization. The fission that had begun in 1945 was finally manifesting as an explosive change in the world system.

The objective of neoliberal free-trade treaties is to remove all political controls over domestic and international trade and commerce. Corporations have free rein to maximize profits, heedless of environmental consequences and safety risks. Instead of governments regulating corporations, the WTO now sets rules for governments, telling them what kind of beef they must import, whether or not they can ban asbestos, and what additives they must permit in petroleum products. So far, in every case where the WTO has been asked to review a health, safety, or environmental regulation, the regulation has been overturned.

Most of the world has been turned into a periphery; the imperial core has been boiled down to the capitalist elite themselves, represented by their bureaucratic, unrepresentative, WTO world government. The burden of accelerated imperialism falls hardest outside the West, where loans are used as a lever by the IMF to compel debtor nations such as Rwanda and South Korea to accept suicidal "reform" packages. In the 1800s, genocide was employed to clear North America and Australia of their native populations, creating room for growth. Today, a similar program of genocide has apparently been unleashed against sub-Saharan Africa. The IMF destroys the economies, the CIA trains militias and stirs up tribal conflicts, and the West sells weapons to all sides. Famine and genocidal civil wars are the predictable and inevitable result. Meanwhile, AIDS runs rampant while the WTO and the US government use trade laws to prevent medicines from reaching the victims.

As in the past, Western military force will be required to control the non-Western periphery and make adjustments to local political arrangements when considered necessary by elite planners. The Pentagon continues to provide the primary policing power, with NATO playing an ever-increasing role. Resentment against the West and against neoliberalism is growing in the Third World, and the frequency of military interventions is bound to increase. All of this needs to be made acceptable to Western minds, adding a new dimension to the matrix.

In the latest matrix reality, the West is called the "international community," whose goal is to serve "humanitarian" causes. Bill Clinton made it explicit with his "Clinton Doctrine," in which (as quoted in the Washington Post) he solemnly promised, "If somebody comes after innocent civilians and tries to kill them en masse because of their race, their ethnic background or their religion and it is within our power stop it, we will stop it." This matrix fabrication is very effective indeed; who opposes prevention of genocide? Only outside the matrix does one see that genocide is caused by the West in the first place, that the worst cases of genocide are continuing, that "assistance" usually makes things worse (as in the Balkans), and that Clinton's handy doctrine enables him to intervene when and where he chooses. Since dictators and the stirring of ethnic rivalries are standard tools used in managing the periphery, a US president can always find "innocent civilians" wherever elite plans call for an intervention.

In matrix reality, globalization is not a project but rather the inevitable result of beneficial market forces. Genocide in Africa is no fault of the West, but is due to ancient tribal rivalries. Every measure demanded by globalization is referred to as "reform," (the word is never used with irony). "Democracy" and "reform" are frequently used together, always leaving the subtle impression that one has something to do with the other. The illusion is presented that all economic boats are rising, and if yours isn't, it must be your own fault: you aren't "competitive" enough. Economic failures are explained away as "temporary adjustments," or else the victim (as in South Korea or Russia) is blamed for not being sufficiently neoliberal. "Investor confidence" is referred to with the same awe and reverence that earlier societies might have expressed toward the "will of the gods."

Western quality of life continues to decline, while the WTO establishes legal precedents ensuring that its authority will not be challenged when its decisions become more draconian. Things will get much worse in the West; this was anticipated in elite circles when the neoliberal project was still on the drawing board, as is illustrated in Samuel Huntington's "The Crisis of Democracy" report discussed earlier.

The management of discontented societies
The postwar years, especially in the United States, were characterized by consensus politics. Most people shared a common understanding of how society worked, and generally approved of how things were going. Prosperity was real and the matrix version of reality was reassuring. Most people believed in it. Those beliefs became a shared consensus, and the government could then carry out its plans as it intended, "responding" to the programmed public will.

The "excess democracy" of the 1960s and 1970s attacked this shared consensus from below, and neoliberal planners decided from above that ongoing consensus wasn't worth paying for. They accepted that segments of society would persist in disbelieving various parts of the matrix. Activism and protest were to be expected. New means of social control would be needed to deal with activist movements and with growing discontent, as neoliberalism gradually tightened the economic screws. Such means of control were identified and have since been largely implemented, particularly in the United States. In many ways America sets the pace of globalization; innovations can often be observed there before they occur elsewhere. This is particularly true in the case of social-control techniques.

The most obvious means of social control, in a discontented society, is a strong, semi-militarized police force. Most of the periphery has been managed by such means for centuries. This was obvious to elite planners in the West, was adopted as policy, and has now been largely implemented. Urban and suburban ghettos--where the adverse consequences of neoliberalism are currently most concentrated--have literally become occupied territories, where police beatings and unjustified shootings are commonplace.

So that the beefed-up police force could maintain control in conditions of mass unrest, elite planners also realized that much of the Bill of Rights would need to be neutralized. (This is not surprising, given that the Bill's authors had just lived through a revolution and were seeking to ensure that future generations would have the means to organize and overthrow any oppressive future government.) The rights-neutralization project has been largely implemented, as exemplified by armed midnight raids, outrageous search-and-seizure practices, overly broad conspiracy laws, wholesale invasion of privacy, massive incarceration, and the rise of prison slave labor (2) . The Rubicon has been crossed--the techniques of oppression long common in the empire's periphery are being imported to the core.

In the matrix, the genre of the TV or movie police drama has served to create a reality in which "rights" are a joke, the accused are despicable sociopaths, and no criminal is ever brought to justice until some noble cop or prosecutor bends the rules a bit. Government officials bolster the construct by declaring "wars" on crime and drugs; the noble cops are fighting a war out there in the streets--and you can't win a war without using your enemy's dirty tricks. The CIA plays its role by managing the international drug trade and making sure that ghetto drug dealers are well supplied. In this way, the American public has been led to accept the means of its own suppression.

The mechanisms of the police state are in place. They will be used when necessary--as we see in ghettos and skyrocketing prison populations, as we saw on the streets of Seattle and Washington D.C. during recent anti-WTO demonstrations, and as is suggested by executive orders that enable the president to suspend the Constitution and declare martial law whenever he deems it necessary. But raw force is only the last line of defense for the elite regime. Neoliberal planners introduced more subtle defenses into the matrix; looking at these will bring us back to our discussion of the left and right.

Divide and rule is one of the oldest means of mass control--standard practice since at least the Roman Empire. This is applied at the level of modern imperialism, where each small nation competes with others for capital investments. Within societies it works this way: If each social group can be convinced that some other group is the source of its discontent, then the population's energy will be spent in inter-group struggles. The regime can sit on the sidelines, intervening covertly to stir things up or to guide them in desired directions. In this way most discontent can be neutralized, and force can be reserved for exceptional cases. In the prosperous postwar years, consensus politics served to manage the population. Under neoliberalism, programmed factionalism has become the front-line defense--the matrix version of divide and rule.

The covert guiding of various social movements has proven to be one of the most effective means of programming factions and stirring them against one another. Fundamentalist religious movements have been particularly useful. They have been used not only within the US, but also to maximize divisiveness in the Middle East and for other purposes throughout the empire. The collective energy and dedication of "true believers" makes them a potent political weapon that movement leaders can readily aim where needed. In the US that weapon has been used to promote censorship on the Internet, to attack the women's movement, to support repressive legislation, and generally to bolster the ranks of what is called in the matrix the "right wing."

In the matrix, the various factions believe that their competition with each other is the process that determines society's political agenda. Politicians want votes, and hence the biggest and best-organized factions should have the most influence, and their agendas should get the most political attention. In reality there is only one significant political agenda these days: the maximization of capital growth through the dismantling of society, the continuing implementation of neoliberalism, and the management of empire. Clinton's liberal rhetoric and his playing around with health care and gay rights are not the result of liberal pressure. They are rather the means by which Clinton is sold to liberal voters, so that he can proceed with real business: getting NAFTA through Congress, promoting the WTO, giving away the public airwaves, justifying military interventions, and so forth. Issues of genuine importance are never raised in campaign politics--this is a major glitch in the matrix for those who have eyes to see it.

Escaping the matrix
The matrix cannot fool all of the people all of the time. Under the onslaught of globalization, the glitches are becoming ever more difficult to conceal--as earlier, with the Vietnam War. November's anti-establishment demonstrations in Seattle, the largest in decades, were aimed directly at globalization and the WTO. Even more important, Seattle saw the coming together of factions that the matrix had programmed to fight one another, such as left-leaning environmentalists and socially conservative union members.

Seattle represented the tip of an iceberg. A mass movement against globalization and elite rule is ready to ignite, like a brush fire on a dry, scorching day. The establishment has been expecting such a movement and has a variety of defenses at its command, including those used effectively against the movements of the 1960s and 1970s. In order to prevail against what seem like overwhelming odds, the movement must escape entirely from the matrix, and it must bring the rest of society with it. As long as the matrix exists, humanity cannot be free. The whole truth must be faced: Globalization is centralized tyranny; capitalism has outlasted its sell-by date; matrix "democracy" is elite rule; and "market forces" are imperialism. Left and right are enemies only in the matrix. In reality we are all in this together, and each of us has a contribution to make toward a better world.

Marx may have failed as a social visionary, but he had capitalism figured out. It is based not on productivity or social benefit, but on the pursuit of capital growth through exploiting everything in its path. The job of elite planners is to create new spaces for capital to grow in. Competitive imperialism provided growth for centuries; collective imperialism was invented when still more growth was needed; and then neoliberalism took over. Like a cancer, capitalism consumes its host and is never satisfied. The capital pool must always grow, more and more, forever--until the host dies or capitalism is replaced.

The matrix equates capitalism with free enterprise, and defines centralized-state-planning socialism as the only alternative to capitalism. In reality, capitalism didn't amount to much of a force until the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution of the late 1700s-- and we certainly cannot characterize all prior societies as socialist. Free enterprise, private property, commerce, banking, international trade, economic specialization--all of these had existed for millennia before capitalism. Capitalism claims credit for modern prosperity, but credit would be better given to developments in science and technology.

Before capitalism, Western nations were generally run by aristocratic classes. The aristocratic attitude toward wealth focused on management and maintenance. With capitalism, the focus is always on growth and development; whatever one has is but the seeds to build a still greater fortune. In fact, there are infinite alternatives to capitalism, and different societies can choose different systems, once they are free to do so. As Morpheus put it: "Outside the matrix everything is possible, and there are no limits."

The matrix defines "democracy" as competitive party politics, because that is a game wealthy elites have long since learned to corrupt and manipulate. Even in the days of the Roman Republic the techniques were well understood. Real-world democracy is possible only if the people themselves participate in setting society's direction. An elected official can only truly represent a constituency after that constituency has worked out its positions--from the local to the global--on the issues of the day. For that to happen, the interests of different societal factions must be harmonized through interaction and discussion. Collaboration, not competition, is what leads to effective harmonization.

In order for the movement to end elite rule and establish livable societies to succeed, it will need to evolve a democratic process, and to use that process to develop a program of consensus reform that harmonizes the interests of its constituencies. In order to be politically victorious, it will need to reach out to all segments of society and become a majority movement. By such means, the democratic process of the movement can become the democratic process of a newly empowered civil society. There is no adequate theory of democracy at present, although there is much to be learned from history and from theory. The movement will need to develop a democratic process as it goes along, and that objective must be pursued as diligently as victory itself. Otherwise some new tyranny will eventually replace the old.

It ain't left or right. It's up and down.
Here we all are down here struggling while
the Corporate Elite are all up there having a nice day!..
--Carolyn Chute, author of The Beans of Egypt Maine and anti-corporate activist

How Many SEALs Died?

How Many SEALs Died?

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In a sensational and explosive TV report, the Pakistani News Agency has provided a live interview with an eye witness to the US attack on the alleged compound of Osama bin Laden. The eye witness, Mohammad Bashir, describes the event as it unfolded. Of the three helicopters, "there was only one that landed the men and came back to pick them up, but as he [the helicopter] was picking them up, it blew away and caught fire." The witness says that there were no survivors, just dead bodies and pieces of bodies everywhere. "We saw the helicopter burning, we saw the dead bodies, then everything was removed and now there is nothing."
I always wondered how a helicopter could crash, as the White House reported, without at least producing injuries. Yet, in the original White House story, the SEALs not only survived a 40-minute firefight with al Qaeda, "the most highly trained, most dangerous, most vicious killers on the planet," without a scratch, but also survived a helicopter crash without a scratch.
The Pakistani news report is available on You Tube. The Internet site, Veterans Today, posted a translation along with a video of the interview. And, Information Clearing House made it available on May 17.
If the interview is not a hoax and the translation is correct, we now know the answer to the unasked question: Why was there no White House ceremony with President Obama pinning medals all over the heroic SEALs who tracked down and executed Public Enemy Number One?
The notion that Obama had to keep the SEALs' identity secret in order to protect the SEALs from al Qaeda detracts from the heroic tough-guy image of the SEALs, and it strains credulity that Obama's political handlers would not have milked the occasion for all it is worth.
Other than on the Veterans Today and ICH Internet sites, I have not seen any mention of the Pakistani news story. If the White House press corps is aware of the report, no one has asked President Obama or his press spokesperson about it. Helen Thomas was the last American reporter sufficiently brave to ask such a question, and she was exterminated by the Israel Lobby.
In America we have reached the point where anyone who tells the truth is dismissed as a "conspiracy theorist" and marginalized. Recently, a professor of nano-chemistry from the University of Copenhagen made a lecture tour of major Canadian universities explaining the research, conducted by himself and a team of physicists and engineers, that resulted in finding small particles of unreacted nano-thermite in dust samples from the wreckage of the World Trade Center towers in addition to other evidence that the professor and the research team regard as conclusive scientific proof that the towers were brought down by controlled demolition.
No American university dared to invite him, and as far as I know no mention of the explosive research report has ever appeared in the American press.
I find it astonishing that 1,500 architects and engineers, who actually know something about buildings, their construction, their strength and weaknesses, and who have repeatedly requested a real investigation of the destruction of the three WTC buildings, are regarded as conspiracy kooks by people who know nothing whatsoever about architecture or engineering or buildings. The same goes for the large number of pilots who question the flight maneuvers carried out during the attacks, and the surviving firemen and "first responders" who report both hearing and personally experiencing explosions in the towers, some of which occurred in sub-basements.
A large number of high-ranking political figures abroad don't believe a word of the official 9/11 story. For example, the former president of Italy and dean of the Italian Senate, told Italy's oldest newspaper, Corriere delia Sera, that the intelligence services of Europe "know well that the disastrous [9/11] attack has been planned and realized by the American CIA and the [Israeli] Mossad . . . in order to put under accusation the Arabic Countries and in order to induce the western powers to take part in [the invasions].
Even people who report that there are dissenting views, as I have done, are branded conspiracy theorists and banned from the media. This extends into the Internet in addition to newspapers and TV. Not long ago a reporter for the Internet site, The Huffington Post, discovered that Pat Buchanan and I are critics of the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions. He was fascinated that there were some Reagan administration officials who dissented from the Republican Party's war position and asked to interview me.
After he posted the interview on The Huffington Post, someone told him that I was not sound on 9/11. In a panic the reporter contacted me, demanding to know if I disbelieved the official 9/11 story. I replied that being neither architect, engineer, physicist, chemist, pilot, nor firefighter, I had little to contribute to understanding the event, but that I had reported that various experts had raised questions.
The reporter was terrified that he might somehow have given a 9/11 skeptic credibility and be fired for interviewing me about my war views for The Huffington Post. He quickly added at the beginning and, if memory serves, ending of the posted interview words to the effect that my lack of soundness on 9/11 meant that my views on the wars could be disregarded. If only he had known that I was unsure about the official 9/11 story, there would have been no interview.
One doesn't have to be a scientist, architect, engineer, pilot or firefighter to notice astonishing anomalies in the 9/11 story. Assume that the official story is correct and that a band of terrorists outwitted not only the CIA and FBI, but also all 16 US intelligence agencies and those of our NATO allies and Israel's notorious Mossad, along with the National Security Council, NORAD, air traffic control and airport security four times in one hour on the same morning. Accept that this group of terrorists pulled off a feat worthy of a James Bond movie and delivered a humiliating blow to the world's only superpower.
If something like this really happened, would not the president, the Congress, and the media be demanding to know how such an improbable thing could have happened? Investigation and accountability would be the order of the day. Yet President Bush and Vice President Cheney resisted the pleas and demands for an investigation from the 9/11 families for one year, or was it two, before finally appointing a non-expert committee of politicians to listen to whatever the government chose to tell them. One of the politicians resigned from the commission on the grounds that "the fix is in."
Even the two chairmen and the chief legal counsel of the 9/11 Commission wrote books in which they stated that they believe that members of the military and other parts of the government lied to the commission and that the commission considered referring the matter for investigation and prosecution.
Thomas Kean, chairman of the 9/11 Commission, said: "FAA and NORAD officials advanced an account of 9/11 that was untrue . . . We, to this day don't know why NORAD told us what they told us . . . It was just so far from the truth."
Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton said: "We had a very short time frame . . . we did not have enough money . . . We had a lot of people strongly opposed to what we did. We had a lot of trouble getting access to documents and to people. . . . So there were all kinds of reasons we thought we were set up to fail."
As far as I know, not a single member of the government or the media made an issue of why the military would lie to the commission. This is another anomaly for which we have no explanation.
The greatest puzzle is the conclusion drawn by a national audience from watching on their TV screens the collapse of the WTC towers. Most seem satisfied that the towers fell down as a result of structural damage inflicted by the airliners and from limited, low-temperature fires. Yet what the images show is not buildings falling down, but buildings blowing up. Buildings that are destroyed by fires and structural damage do not disintegrate in 10 seconds or less into fine dust with massive steel beams sliced at each floor level by high temperatures that building fires cannot attain. It has never happened, and it never will.
Conduct an experiment. Free your mind of the programmed explanation of the towers' destruction and try to discern what your eyes are telling you as you watch the videos of the towers that are available online. Is that the way buildings fall down from damage, or is that the way buildings are brought down by explosives? Little doubt, many Americans prefer the official story to the implications that follow from concluding that the official story is untrue.
If reports are correct, the US government has gone into the business of managing the public's perceptions of news and events. Apparently, the Pentagon has implemented Perception Management Psychological Operations. There are also reports that the State Department and other government agencies use Facebook and Twitter to stir up problems for the Syrian, Iranian, Russian, Chinese, and Venezuela governments in efforts to unseat governments not controlled by Washington. In addition, there are reports that both governments and private organizations employ "trolls" to surf the Internet and to attempt to discredit in blogs and comment sections reports and writers who are out of step with their interests. I believe I have encountered trolls myself.
In addition to managing our perceptions, much is simply never reported. On May 19, 2011, the 14-decade-old British newspaper, The Statesman, reported that the Press Trust of India has reported that the Chinese government has warned Washington "in unequivocal terms that any attack on Pakistan would be construed as an attack on China," and advised the US government "to respect Pakistan's sovereignty."
As trends forecaster Gerald Celente and I have warned, the warmongers in Washington are driving the world toward World War III. Once a country is captured by its military/security complex, the demand for profit drives the country deeper into war. Perhaps this news report from India is a hoax, or perhaps the never-diligent mainstream media will catch up with the news tomorrow, but so far this extraordinary warning from China has not been reported in the US media. [I had it posted on OEN.]
The mainstream media and a significant portion of the Internet are content for our perceptions to be managed by psy-ops and by non-reporting. This is why I wrote not long ago that today Americans are living in George Orwell's 1984.

When Austerity Fails

When Austerity Fails

I often complain, with reason, about the state of economic discussion in the United States. And the irresponsibility of certain politicians — like those Republicans claiming that defaulting on U.S. debt would be no big deal — is scary.

But at least in America members of the pain caucus, those who claim that raising interest rates and slashing government spending in the face of mass unemployment will somehow make things better instead of worse, get some pushback from the Federal Reserve and the Obama administration.

In Europe, by contrast, the pain caucus has been in control for more than a year, insisting that sound money and balanced budgets are the answer to all problems. Underlying this insistence have been economic fantasies, in particular belief in the confidence fairy — that is, belief that slashing spending will actually create jobs, because fiscal austerity will improve private-sector confidence.

Unfortunately, the confidence fairy keeps refusing to make an appearance. And a dispute over how to handle inconvenient reality threatens to make Europe the flashpoint of a new financial crisis.

After the creation of the euro in 1999, European nations that had previously been considered risky, and that therefore faced limits on the amount they could borrow, began experiencing huge inflows of capital. After all, investors apparently thought, Greece/Portugal/Ireland/Spain were members of a European monetary union, so what could go wrong?

The answer to that question is now, of course, painfully apparent. Greece’s government, finding itself able to borrow at rates only slightly higher than those facing Germany, took on far too much debt. The governments of Ireland and Spain didn’t (Portugal is somewhere in between) — but their banks did, and when the bubble burst, taxpayers found themselves on the hook for bank debts. The problem was made worse by the fact that the 1999-2007 boom left prices and costs in the debtor nations far out of line with those of their neighbors.

What to do? European leaders offered emergency loans to nations in crisis, but only in exchange for promises to impose savage austerity programs, mainly consisting of huge spending cuts. Objections that these programs would be self-defeating — not only would they impose large direct pain, but they also would, by worsening the economic slump, reduce revenues — were waved away. Austerity would actually be expansionary, it was claimed, because it would improve confidence.

Nobody bought into the doctrine of expansionary austerity more thoroughly than Jean-Claude Trichet, the president of the European Central Bank, or E.C.B. Under his leadership the bank began preaching austerity as a universal economic elixir that should be imposed immediately everywhere, including in countries like Britain and the United States that still have high unemployment and aren’t facing any pressure from the financial markets.

But as I said, the confidence fairy hasn’t shown up. Europe’s troubled debtor nations are, as we should have expected, suffering further economic decline thanks to those austerity programs, and confidence is plunging instead of rising. It’s now clear that Greece, Ireland and Portugal can’t and won’t repay their debts in full, although Spain might manage to tough it out.

Realistically, then, Europe needs to prepare for some kind of debt reduction, involving a combination of aid from stronger economies and “haircuts” imposed on private creditors, who will have to accept less than full repayment. Realism, however, appears to be in short supply.

On one side, Germany is taking a hard line against anything resembling aid to its troubled neighbors, even though one important motivation for the current rescue program was an attempt to shield German banks from losses.

On the other side, the E.C.B. is acting as if it is determined to provoke a financial crisis. It has started to raise interest rates despite the terrible state of many European economies. And E.C.B. officials have been warning against any form of debt relief — in fact, last week one member of the governing council suggested that even a mild restructuring of Greek bonds would cause the E.C.B. to stop accepting those bonds as collateral for loans to Greek banks. This amounted to a declaration that if Greece seeks debt relief, the E.C.B. will pull the plug on the Greek banking system, which is crucially dependent on those loans.

If Greek banks collapse, that might well force Greece out of the euro area — and it’s all too easy to see how it could start financial dominoes falling across much of Europe. So what is the E.C.B. thinking?

My guess is that it’s just not willing to face up to the failure of its fantasies. And if this sounds incredibly foolish, well, who ever said that wisdom rules the world?

Saying No to Permanent Global War

Saying No to Permanent Global War

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The House is expected to vote soon on a bill that hands over to the president Congress' constitutional authority to declare and authorize war, substantially altering the delicate balance of powers that the Founding Fathers envisioned.

The annual reauthorization of the Department of Defense contains unprecedented and dangerous language that gives the president virtually unchecked power to take the country to war and keep us there. This bill significantly undermines the Constitution, the institution of Congress and sets the United States on a path of permanent war.

The Fiscal Year 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) declares that the United States is in an armed conflict with not only al Qaeda and the Taliban, but "associated forces" and individuals, organizations and nations that support such forces. The president could then have the full legal authority to send American troops to engage in acts of war anywhere - Yemen, Somalia, Iran, even the United States - without constitutionally required Congressional authorization and, consequently, without any restrictions or oversight from the American people or Congress.

This bill would also make permanent the degradation of law and human rights which has become Guantanamo. It imposes bans on the transfer of any detainee held at Guantanamo, including those who have been cleared of any charges. This means that the United States would be forced to keep imprisoning men who are known to be innocent or are not a threat. This bill not only allows the imprisonment of innocent people, but could mandate it.

The bill also prevents the use of Article III federal courts for the trial of most terrorism suspects. This circumvents our system of justice and our protections under the Constitution, showing a lack of faith in US law enforcement and courts which are the constitutional venues for stopping terrorism. Our federal courts have a long history of trying terrorist suspects, while military courts are untested, lacking in legitimacy and of questionable effectiveness. Since 9/11, federal courts have prosecuted over 400 terrorism-related cases, while military courts have convicted only six.

It's as if the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan never happened. These wars cost thousands of lives of our men and women in uniform, and perhaps a million civilian lives, with long-term costs approaching $5 trillion. Yet, in light of the attempt to try to make permanent an authorization for war, it is as if the consequences of the wars we are in have not occurred. It's as if our "humanitarian" military intervention in Libya, which has helped create full blown civil war and which has ensnared us in yet another military stalemate in the region, never happened. It is as if centuries of evidence of the ramifications of the military overreach of empires never happened. It's as if the Constitution, which requires Congress to have a say in when and where we go to war and which guarantees U.S. citizens the right to a fair and speedy trial, was never written.

Congress must protect the American people from the over-reach of any Chief Executive who is enamored with unilateralism, pre-emption, first strike and the power to prosecute war without Constitutional or statutory proscriptions.

Permanent, global war is not the answer. It will not increase our national security. Far from ridding the world of terrorism, it will become a terrorist recruitment program.

White House budget attacks higher education for working class students

White House budget attacks higher education for working class students

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In July of 2009, newly elected President Obama spoke in Jackson, Michigan, and declared, “Education is the way forward.”

Apparently, he did not mean for everyone to enjoy this way forward. His administration’s proposed federal budget for fiscal year 2012 will limit access to higher education for countless working class students, while bringing the failed “Race to the Top” model used in K-12 to colleges and universities.

The administration proposes to ax $100 billion from federal higher education funding by restricting access to Pell Grants, government scholarships distributed to low-income students on a need basis. The White House, which has trumpeted the fact that it will maintain the maximum grant award at $5,500, is proposing to change the scholarship rules such that students can receive only one grant a year, as opposed to two.

Pell Grants, which do not have to be repaid, are available to students with family incomes up to $60,000 a year. However, most Pell Grants go to students with family incomes below $30,000 a year.

In its proposed budget, the Obama administration claims that the “second [Pell Grant] payment has cost 10 times more than anticipated and failed to demonstrate a meaningful impact on students’ academic progress.”

This is absurd on its face. Over 9 million needy students—27 percent of higher education enrollees—take advantage of the Pell Grant program every year. At the community college level, where many working class people go to receive a degree, 70 percent of students receive Pell Grants. The argument that their educational prospects will be unaffected by the loss of thousands of dollars of grant money every year is false.

For many working class youth, hopes of earning a post-secondary education will become a thing of the past. Those who are able to somehow cobble together the funds to attend college will increasingly be forced to find as many hours of paid work as they can while trying to complete their studies.

Furthermore, if the Obama administration’s proposed budget passes, working class students able to afford a post-secondary education will find many colleges to be little more than training centers tailored to corporate needs. The White House proposes to introduce the “Race to the Top” (RTTT) competitive funding model, which has been imposed on the country’s kindergarten through high school education system, into colleges and universities.

Initiated in 2009, the RTTT education model grants access to federal funding to those states and institutions that implement right-wing education policies. These policies include standardized testing, merit pay for teachers, and firing teachers whose students do not achieve adequate scores on the tests. Schools that don’t meet these criteria may be closed or turned into privately owned charter schools.

The proposed federal budget’s strategy for forcing this model into higher education is entitled, “A ‘First in the World’ Competition Among Colleges and Universities.” As with the 2009 initiative for kindergarten through high school, the Obama administration’s strategy for “improving” higher education will hasten the process of denying and/or lessening the quality of higher education for working class students.

Chief among the proposed measures is the investment of “$150 million in a new initiative to increase college access and completion and improve educational productivity.” A second effort will “provide $50 million in 2012 and a total of $1.3 billion over five years in performance-based funding to institutions that have demonstrable success in enrolling and graduating more high-need students and enabling them to enter successful employment.”

What underlies both of these initiatives is a shift in federal funding formulas. Historically, money has been disbursed to higher education institutions on the basis of how many students they enroll. Now, the White House proposes to finance colleges and universities on the basis of how many students complete their degrees.

What are the implications of this? First, this will lead to a reduction in the number of lower-level and remedial courses offered at universities and colleges, as these tend to attract many students—in particular, working class layers—who either struggle to improve their skills quickly enough or are unable to finish their education because of socioeconomic pressures. In other words, the number of these students on campuses leads to higher enrollment levels, but not necessarily higher graduation rates.

In forcing colleges and universities to divert funding away from large lower-level and remedial courses towards more advanced classes, the federal government will make it harder for working class students with a weak high school education to get a college degree. There will not be enough slots in lower-level classes, and many will simply not have the skills to take on more advanced coursework. Those who are unable to succeed in the new environment will be labeled as failures and the public schools will be further blamed for not producing “college-ready” students.

Underneath the endless rhetoric from the White House about “improving outcomes” and “rewarding performance” on the country’s college and university campuses is an effort to create an ever-more nakedly class-based system in higher education. A post-high-school degree will increasingly become the purview of the wealthy and those with access to special resources, while the vast majority of working class youth will be shunted into low-wage jobs, having been deemed ill-equipped for higher-level learning.

Democrats, Republicans agree to four-year extension of Patriot Act powers

Democrats, Republicans agree to four-year extension of Patriot Act powers

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Spokesmen for Democratic and Republican congressional leaders announced Thursday a bipartisan agreement to extend three key domestic spying powers established by the USA Patriot Act for another four years.

The agreement meets the demands of the Obama administration and the Justice Department for a “clean” extension, that is, one that does not make any concessions to concerns over the infringement of civil liberties, particularly in relation to the authorization to seize the records of libraries and other institutions.

The deal was worked out between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Democrat-Nevada), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Republican-Kentucky) and House Speaker John Boehner (Republican-Ohio).

Reid formally unveiled the agreement by filing a cloture petition Thursday afternoon that will force a vote on Monday to bring the legislation to the Senate floor on Monday. Assuming the Senate passes the legislation extending the Patriot Act provisions, the House would vote shortly afterwards, ahead of a May 27 deadline.

When the USA Patriot Act was first enacted in 2001, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, most of the new spy powers given the federal government were enacted permanently. But three provisions were established with expiration dates, supposedly because of their potential for abuse. These include:

• Authorizing the FBI to use roving wiretaps on surveillance targets, by waiving the requirement that wiretaps be targeted on specific phone numbers, and allowing the FBI to tap any phone number it deems linked to a suspect.

• Section 215, allowing the government to access “any tangible item” associated with a suspect under surveillance, including records of hotels, car rental agencies, credit card issuers, libraries and other institutions and businesses the suspect may have visited or made use of.

• Allowing the surveillance of individuals not connected to any terrorist organization but suspected of being “lone wolf” terrorists, a category so vague that it greatly extends the potential range of government monitoring.

After several extensions, the three provisions were again set to expire on February 28, 2011, but the House and Senate approved a 90-day extension, ending May 27, after a proposal for an extension to the end of this year was unexpectedly defeated in the House.

Because of the insistence of the FBI and the Obama administration that the extension contain no new restrictions of the use of the domestic spying powers, the House Republican leadership brought the bill up under a rule that bars any amendments but requires a two-thirds vote for approval. The bill was defeated February 8 by seven votes, 277-148, with 26 Republicans joining 122 Democrats to oppose it.

A similar rule will be applied in the House vote next week, making the outcome there less certain than the vote in the Senate, which is expected to approve the four-year extension by a wide margin.

The Republican caucus remains divided between a small minority who oppose the extension on libertarian grounds, and a large majority who have backed legislation to extend the provisions for roving wiretaps and business records for six years, and the “lone wolf” provision indefinitely.

Given this division, Speaker Boehner and the House Republican leadership will rely on the Democrats to provide the necessary margin of votes to approve the extension bill. A spokesman for Boehner declared, “The speaker supports this common-sense proposal because this law has been crucial to detecting and disrupting terrorist plots and protecting the American people.”

Attorney General Eric Holder and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper have urged Congress in a joint letter to extend all three surveillance powers for a long period of time, complaining that frequent, short-term extensions were disruptive of counterterrorism operations because they “increase the uncertainties borne by our intelligence and law enforcement agencies in carrying out their missions.”

The American Civil Liberties Union denounced the “backroom deal” between Reid, McConnell and Boehner that insures a four-year extension with no congressional hearings and no public examination of the abuses of individual rights perpetrated over the past decade under the auspices of the Patriot Act.

According to the annual report of the Department of Justice released earlier this month, there was a huge increase in domestic spying during the first two years of the Obama administration, including the issuance of National Security Letters (NSLs) by the FBI.

In 2009, the FBI issued 14,788 NSLs on 6,114 individuals. In 2010 this figure doubled, with the bureau issuing 24,287 NSLs on 14,212 individuals. Wiretapping applications rose from 1,376 in 2009 to 1,579 in 2010.

Requests known as 215 orders, named after the provision now to be extended another four years, rose even more sharply. The FBI made 21 applications for 215 orders in 2009, then more than quadrupled its use of this procedure last year, making 96 applications.

These figures underscore the extent to which the Obama administration represents, not merely the extension of the Bush administration’s war on democratic rights, but an acceleration and intensification of it.

Obama has reneged on promises like his pledge to close the Guantanamo Bay torture and detention camp, and is now making the successful operation to kill Osama bin Laden a centerpiece in his reelection campaign.

Last week the White House announced that it would seek legislation from Congress to extend the term in office of FBI Director Robert Mueller by an additional two years, on top of the ten-year term that expires in September, in order to provide “continuity” in the counterterrorism operations of the federal government.

Congressional Republicans immediately responded favorably to the proposal, which would have the effect of deferring a decision on Mueller’s successor to 2013, when it would be made by a Republican president if Obama is defeated for reelection.

Congressman Lamar Smith (Republican-Texas), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, issued a statement declaring, “I support the president’s decision to extend Director Mueller’s term for an additional two years and agree that it is important to maintain continuity for our intelligence community during this transition period.”

KGB-ing America

KGB-ing America

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The late sixties, when I started practice, were marked by a great number of salient political causes, embodied in demonstrations in Berkeley and San Francisco. I came to represent the White Panthers, the Black Panthers, the Symbionese Liberation Army, and a number of other groups like the New Liberation Front. I confronted a phenomenon then which we hoped would diminish, but which has instead increased steadfastly. I'll call that phenomenon "The Secret Police Motif: Orwellian Prophesy Fulfilled," or "The KGB-ing of America."


In every criminal case in our alleged system of justice, some form of spy mentality is now present. There are degrees of informants. We probably have more nomenclature for informants than does any other culture. We have citizen informants, confidential informants, confidential reliable informants, unnamed anonymous informants, informants who are precipient, informants who are participatory, informants who are merely eyewitnesses, informants who are co-defendants, informants who precipitate charges by reverse stings. We are confronting informants and cooperating witnesses at every level: preliminary hearings, grand juries, and state and federal jury trials. Our system of justice is permeated by the witness or the provocateur who is paid by government for a role in either revealing or instigating crime. It's probably the greatest tragedy of my career, in terms of whether or not justice is really pursued and whether truth is a foundation for actualizing justice.

I reason: if the defense went out and bought witnesses—paid $10,000 for one witness, $20,000 for another, and $50,000 for another for their testimony—it would be laughable from a jury's point of view. They would soundly reject that type of witness; we would be called obstruction-of-justice defendants and the lawyers would be prosecuted. Obviously, you can't do that. On the other hand, in every major case the informant or cooperating witness gets something far more precious than money; they get liberty. They get twenty years or ten years knocked off their sentences. They get to settle in a new lifestyle with a new identity and obtain a job or relocation in the federal or state witness protection program. The government is paying their witnesses with freedom. The witnesses have to deliver what the government wants or they don't get that bargain. As a consequence, the courts are rife with false testimony; every case is polluted by informants. The adversary system is tainted because everyone rolls or becomes a government witness and therefore there is no opposition. Constitutional rights aren't litigated because cases are determined by how much evidence an informant or corroborating witness can give you. At every level, independent judiciary is eroding.

It's something we confront every day. People in the subculture experience paranoia because they never know who's a spy or an informant. There's paranoia in the court system because you never know whether your codefendant is recording you. There's paranoia among the lawyers because you never know whether your client is rolling behind your back and recording you. In my opinion, the singularly most unexpected and singularly most devastating aspect of our system of criminal jurisprudence is the use of the informant.

The grand jury

Back in the sixties, the government utilized the grand jury to some small degree. Today, every federal caseóˆ ³.9 percent of all federal cases—involves indictment by grand jury. That means no preliminary hearing, no discovery prior to indictment, no confrontation, no lawyer present on behalf of the accused. The accused isn't there, and doesn't see, hear, confront, or cross-examine his or her accusers. The grand jury system by its nature is secretive; it is considered a felony to reveal anything that occurred or what your testimony was.

We have a kind of misplaced historical procedure. We inherited the grand jury from English Common Law, where they used it to go after the lords and persons who were otherwise above the law. In a sense it was needed and justified then. But in our country, it is used now as an instrument of terror. Everyone fears it. You have relatives testifying against one another. With no confidentiality privilege with respect to family members other than husbands and wives, you have parents called to testify against their children. Children are called to testify against their parents, and brother against sister, and so on. It lacks all due process. It is immoral. It is an instrument of oppression. It's another secret tool of an expanding executive branch.

Mandatory sentencing

"Three strikes" types of penal laws are prevalent both in federal and state jurisdictions. Beyond that, in most federal cases, at least in drug cases, but spilling over into other arenas, the sentence is really set by the legislative process and by the executive—that is, the law enforcement agencies. They mandate what sentence is going to occur by how they file charges. The judiciary lacks power or discretion to vary much, if at all, from the mandatory sentencing and its attendant guidelines. You have a fatal shrinking of the balance of powers. We're all taught that our constitutional form of government works because of its tripartite system: executive, legislative, judicial. When mandatory sentencing occurs, the legislative, actualized by the executive, has swallowed up the judiciary. We do not have an independent judiciary. We have a rubber-stamp judiciary.

We never anticipated in the sixties that one-third of the adult black population in the United States of America would be either in custody or on probation or parole. We have eliminated a whole generation of blacks by incarcerating the youth; the ugly head of racism appears both as built in—implied conditions in the law itself—and in how people are charged. So you have a revisitation of something that we thought was eliminated in the sixties: the weakening of the judiciary as an independent body, and the recurrence of racism wedded to mandatory sentences that lock people away for inordinate periods of time.

We all know the platitude that our country presently has more people in jails or prisons than any other country in the history of the world. That was unpredictable in the sixties. We thought things were getting better. We thought that more freedom was going to occur, more understanding, more compassion, more brotherhood and sisterhood, more actualization of constitutional rights, a more equal division of resources. Those motifs of the sixties have been sadly aborted. What we have instead is approaching a police state that is investigated by undercover officers and informants, with judges' hands tied and prosecutors obtaining prison sentences that we could never have conceived.


The notion of bail is vastly eroding. We have a concept now built into the law called "preventative detention," a euphemism that probably only totalitarian states could create. But what that means is that in most major cases, there's a presumption against bail. They don't have to give you bail. We're taught as children that in anything other than a capital offense, reasonable bail must be afforded. A presumption of innocence underlies our system of criminal jurisprudence; we have a strong history of not holding people in custody until their guilt or innocence has been determined. That's not true any more. Right now, the custodial status in preconvicted sentences—people who have not yet been sentenced—is astronomical and the jails are filled not only with convicted people, but with unconvicted people. We think that there are laws that establish rights to a speedy trial. In both federal and state cases, people languish in custody one or two years awaiting trial. It's what I'll call another plot, an agony visited upon criminal justice. In the sixties, we were naive, we were optimistic, and we believed that reform and new and enlightened ideas would ventilate through the judicial system. Instead, in most areas, the system has clamped down.

Some of us are crying out. The legal profession cries out like the miner's canary. We're saying, "The government is too strong. Beware!" "We're losing constitutional rights daily. Beware!" "The jury system is being poisoned by propaganda. They're not fair and impartial any more. Beware!" "Racism is creeping back into our system of justice. Beware!"

We hope that if we at least keep an eye on the situation and report it in a dramatic fashion, then another generation may do what we thought we were doing in the sixties, and swing the pendulum back. Because if the pendulum doesn't swing —judicially and court-wise—we are approaching a totalitarian state never before experienced in this country.

THE NORTH AMERICAN UNION: Big Business Pushing for a Single Unified North American Regulatory Regime

THE NORTH AMERICAN UNION: Big Business Pushing for a Single Unified North American Regulatory Regime

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It was surprising that bilateral relations with the U.S. did not play a more prominent role during the recent Canadian election considering that both countries are pursuing a trade and security agreement. In fact, the issue did not really surface until the dying days of the campaign. After winning a much coveted majority government, Stephen Harper’s Conservatives are moving ahead quickly with perimeter security and regulatory harmonization negotiations. NAFTA and the defunct Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) both addressed issues such as regulatory cooperation. The goal of creating a single unified business-friendly regulatory regime for North America now continues on different fronts.

In the final week of the Canadian election campaign, consumer advocate and four-time candidate for President of the United States, Ralph Nader warned about Canada-U.S. deep integration. In an open letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, he raised concerns over the lack of transparency regarding talks between the two countries on a trade and border security deal. Nader cautioned that a, “North American Security Perimeter Agreement will wrap many Canadian concerns — your Arctic, water, energy, anti-monopoly and foreign investment reviews — in a bi-national security blanket.” He added, “The corporatist lobbies and what President Eisenhower warned Americans about in his farewell address 50 years ago — ‘the military-industrial complex’ — will favour this lucrative and anti-democratic initiative.” Nader also explained in his letter to Harper, that, “Canada’s prudent bank regulation prevented a Wall Street style collapse of your economy.” North American deep integration is a corporate led agenda designed to foster privatization and deregulation.

With just days left before the election on May 2, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that a re-elected Conservative government would move forward on the Shared Vision for Perimeter Security and Economic Competitiveness signed with U.S. President Barack Obama back in February of this year. The deal would help promote trade while strengthening security and regulatory cooperation between both countries. Harper vowed that the agreement is critical for Canadian jobs and economic growth. He reaffirmed plans to cut regulatory barriers to cross-border trade through the United States-Canada Regulatory Cooperation Council (RCC) which is a component of the Beyond the Border declaration. Following Harper’s election victory, President Obama phoned to congratulate him and at the same time renewed his commitment to the proposed perimeter security deal, as well as the RCC. Both leaders appear eager to complete an agreement before the 2012 U.S. election cycle gets fully underway.

On February 4, 2011, President Obama and Prime Minister Harper addressed ways to coordinate and harmonize regulations in order to ease red tape for businesses that do trade on both sides of the border. They announced the creation of the U.S.-Canada RCC which will, “promote economic growth, job creation, and benefits to our consumers and businesses through increased regulatory transparency and coordination.” According to a joint statement, the leaders, “are committed to working through the RCC to provide early notice of regulations with potential effects across our shared border, to strengthen the analytic basis of regulations, and to help make regulations more compatible.” Both countries will also, “work through the RCC to determine sectors on which to focus its work that are characterized by high levels of integration, significant growth potential, and rapidly evolving technologies.” There are fears that the RCC could erode any independent Canadian regulatory capacity and weaken existing regulations. This would lead to a race to the bottom with respect to regulatory standards

In May of 2010, U.S. President Barack Obama and Mexican President Felipe Calderon directed the creation of the High-Level Regulatory Cooperation Council (HLRCC). In March of this year, the leaders laid out specific goals for the HLRCC. This included linking regulatory cooperation to improve border-crossing and customs procedures, increasing regulatory transparency, as well as making regulations more compatible and simple. The U.S. and Mexico will also focus on increasing technical cooperation and improving the analysis of regulations. The HLRCC has similar goals to the U.S.-Canada RCC. At some point, these dual-bilateral initiatives could come together to form a single continental regulatory model.

This year’s NAFTA Free Trade Commission meeting identified regulatory cooperation as a top priority. Part of the SPP prosperity agenda also called for improving regulatory cooperation. In 2007, Canada, Mexico and the U. S. announced regulatory cooperation in the area of chemicals.This later resulted in Canada raising pesticide limits on fruits and vegetables as part of efforts to harmonize rules with those of the United States. Regulatory integration threatens Canadian sovereignty and democracy. Further harmonization with the U.S. could result in Canada losing control over its ability to regulate food safety.

With the Canadian election now over, the Conservative government has resumed public consultation on the perimeter security deal with the U.S. and has extended the comment period until June 3, 2011. While the measure is open to all Canadians, it will be the input from the business community that will be given the most attention. A report summarizing the findings will be published at a later date and will help shape an action plan that is expected to be released at some point this summer. Last month, the U.S. Department of Commerce extended its request for public comments concerning regulatory cooperation activities. The submissions collected from business groups in the U.S. will serve as a basis for bilateral and trilateral talks with Canada and Mexico. This includes discussions with the HLRCC and the RCC. It is not hard to imagine that the U.S. will dominate both of these regulatory councils. Under the guise of improving the flow of travel and trade across the border, big business seeks to further control the rules and regulations that govern us.

The proposed Canada-U.S. trade and security perimeter agreement supports the process of deregulation. This new bilateral undertaking is being sold as vital to the safety and prosperity of both countries. A North American security perimeter goes well beyond keeping the U.S. safe from any perceived threats. It is a means to secure trade, resources and corporate interests. Much like the whole deep integration agenda, regulatory harmonization is taking incremental steps with the goal of achieving a single unified North American regulatory regime.