Monday, September 16, 2013

Obama administration had secret court lift restrictions on domestic spying

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In 2011, the Obama administration had a secret surveillance court authorize the NSA to deliberately target the emails and phone calls of Americans to be read and listened to, the Washington Post reported Sunday, citing recently declassified documents.
In 2008, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court imposed a nominal ban on searches for the communications of US citizens and residents by the NSA. However, the Obama Administration succeeded in having the court overturn the ruling in 2011. This move was made without any public or congressional debate or discussion.
The ruling also extended the amount of time that the NSA is allowed to retain data it collected to six years, up from five years.
While the government claims that it does not specifically target US citizens, the wording of the ruling effectively allows the NSA to collect all communications that originated in or were routed through the US.
The recently declassified 2011 opinion allows the “NSA to query the vast majority of its Section 702 collection using United States-Person identifiers,” meaning that the NSA is allowed to search directly for the email addresses and phone numbers of US citizens and residents.
Gregory T. Nojeim, senior counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology, told the Washington Post, “The government says, ‘We’re not targeting U.S. persons.’ But then they never say, ‘We turn around and deliberately search for Americans’ records in what we took from the wire.’ That, to me, is not so different from targeting Americans at the outset.”
Alex Joel, civil liberties protection officer at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), told the Washington Post that the court banned such searches wholesale in 2008 in order “to remain consistent with NSA policies and procedures that NSA applied to other authorized collection activities.” Publicly, the NSA has claimed that it does not monitor the communications of US citizens.
In remarks to the Washington Post, however, Robert S. Litt, general counsel at the ODNI, admitted, “We did ask the court” to lift the ban on US domestic spying. “We wanted to be able to do it,” he said, referring to the searches through US communications.
The Washington Post’s story came the day after German magazine Der Spiegel reported, based on secret NSA documents, that the NSA has whole divisions dedicated to hacking into smartphones and is able to get into Apple’s iOS, Google’s Android, and Blackberry devices.
The documents also revealed that in 2010 the NSA succeeded in breaking through the encryption of Blackberry SMS messages, a development to which a top-secret memo responded with, “Champagne!” The NSA is also able to access the Blackberry mail system, despite the company’s insistence on the system’s security.
Hacking smartphones is just one of the tools in the NSA’s arsenal, ranging from the bulk collection of unencrypted data from fiber optic cables to the exploitation of secret electronic backdoors, to more conventional surveillance techniques.
These latest revelations come in the aftermath of the report Thursday by the Guardian newspaper in Britain that the NSA employs an enormous $250 million-per-year program to systematically break encryption, exploit software manufacturers’ backdoors, and hack individual computers.
The program, which is ten times larger than the PRISM program exposed earlier this year, includes the deliberate, “brute force” breaking of encryption by supercomputers, and includes working to “covertly influence” technology companies to make their product designs easier to exploit.
“For the past decade, NSA has lead [sic] an aggressive, multi-pronged effort to break widely used internet encryption technologies,” noted a 2010 British intelligence document quoted by the Guardian. “Vast amounts of encrypted internet data which have up till now been discarded are now exploitable.”

US Military - A Cancer

Striking Russia Through Syria

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We’re witnessing the last grotesque convulsions of a dying empire. As it threatens humanity with annihilation, it’s also nauseating the still sane among us with an unending farce, as in the hypocrite Kerry declaring, “this is not the time to be silent spectators to slaughter,” but John, you lying cynic, the world has been asked to be a mute audience to American mass murder for how long now? But Johnny wants more, much more.

Feigning outrage, the former anti-war darling and Democratic Presidential candidate was talking about the Syria chemical attack, which was likely the work of America itself, through its crazed terrorists, though Washington is trying hard to convince incredulous listeners that Assad somehow did this just so the US of A could have the excuse to destroy him, along with thousands of innocent Syrians. Putin called this explanation nonsense, and even branded Kerry a liar, and the UN has even concluded that an earlier chemical attack, also blamed on Assad, was committed by the American-backed “rebels.”

As in so many other wars, the US must save civilians by killing or maiming them, as well as poisoning their environments for centuries. Though the US routinely targets civilian infrastructures such as electrical stations and water treatment plants, and uses war means that murder long after the last bullet is fired, as in cluster bombs and depleted uranium, for example, it is now acting livid over Assad’s alleged use of sarin. 

But in his ketchup-bleeding heart, Kerry knows full well that America’s aggression against Syria is not over sarin but natural gas. First of, Syria’s biggest supporter, Russia, is the world’s leading exporter of this stuff, and supplies Europe with nearly 40% of its needs, so that’s a lot of leverage, Watson. If overly irked by America’s puppets in NATO, Russia can retaliate by turning off the gas, as has been done several times already. 

To wiggle out of this dependence, another source of natural gas was needed, and Qatar proposed a pipeline to Europe by way of Syria, except Assad would not acquiesce. Russia is Assad’s main protector, after all, and Russian navy ships have docked in the Syrian port of Tartus since 1971. Rebuffed, the US, France, England, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and others decided to back terrorists to unseat Assad. Aiming to destroy Syria, this charming group calls itself the Friends of Syria, naturally. A long time enemy of Syria, Israel also supports this hostility, though its escalation might just wipe a good chunk of this pariah state off the map. 

Syria has agreed to a pipeline originating from Iran, however. A much less significant source of natural gas than Qatar, Iran will hardly dent Russia’s profits, and since it’s also a Russian ally, the gas flow to Europe will still be controlled by Moscow. So Russia has Europe by the balls, so to speak, especially in winter, when enough people freeze to death as is. Many countries are entirely dependent on Russian natural gas, while France only imports a manageable 14%, and the UK, none, so they can afford to kiss Uncle Sam’s withered ass a bit harder, though the Brits, interestingly this time, have opted out of the current madness.

A war on Syria, then, is an attack on Russia itself, and that’s why Russian warships are patrolling the Mediterranean. Countering the American menace, Russia will certainly be no silent spectator, and to show support for Russia and Syria, a Chinese warship has also shown up, with more coming. Though Washington talks of a “warning shot across the bow” or “tailored strike,” a quickie hit and run that won’t distract too much from the exhilarating start of football season, World War III might just erupt, for we haven’t been this close to universal calamity in half a century. 

Two weeks ago, only 9% of Americans favored a military strike against Syria, but now, with such an onslaught of propaganda, up to 42% support it, but this figure might be exaggerated since it is reported by NBC News, a subsidiary of war profiteering General Electric. 

Voices of dissent have surfaced even in the mainstream media, however, for wiser heads can’t help but realize that a war against Syria and Russia will bring much grief and terror to us all, including those busy watching a missed tackle or punt return. The New York Times even showed on its front page a photo of Syrian “rebels” about to execute kneeling, shirtless prisoners, with their heads close to the ground. Much more damning images exist, and the Times has surely known about them, but it is choosing to feature this now, as if to put the kibosh on Obama and his war mongers. CNN televised war nut McCain being challenged by outraged citizens at a town meeting, though it did allow the old POW to have the last word in a live interview.

As America oscillates over its death wish, Obama himself is blinking, and we can only hope that Barack will just go on unleashing unnatural, gaseous nonsense, and not Tomahawk missiles towards Damascus. It’s hard to believe, but this man has turned out to be more preposterous than Bush, so if the trend holds, our next President will be a Mummer, some Lucha Libre guy or, why not, a real rodeo clown. In any case, it was quite a spectacle to see Obama fly to Russia to become Putin’s court jester, for he delivered one joke after another, most of them unintended. 

En route to Saint Petersburg, Obama stopped in Sweden, and there, promised that he would bug Putin about Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat who died in Soviet custody in 1945. The Nobel Peace laureate never wastes a chance to appear humanitarian and noble, and the Swedes had also done him a favor by prosecuting Assange over that CIA-staged threesome, but the real reason Obama dug up this man, one suspects, was to draw a parallel between Wallenberg’s protection of Jews in World War II with himself trying to “save” Syrians today. Brilliant! He’s evoking this famous saver of Jews to mass murder more Arabs. In the process, though, he will trigger the deaths of countless others, maybe even you.

US inequality at historic high, surpassing Roaring ’20s

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Recent survey shows inequality in the US is at its new peak. The richest 1 percent of the population received almost a fifth of the national households’ income in 2012, thus breaking the previous record set in 1928.
The gap between rich and poor in the US is wider than ever, according to research which uses preliminary 2012 US statistics for income. It’s an update to a comparative analysis tracing income figures back to 1913 and done by economists at the University of California, Berkeley, the Paris School of Economics and Oxford University. 

Indeed, the top decile share in 2012 is equal to 50.4 percent, a level higher than any other year since 1917 and even surpasses 1928, the peak of stock market bubble in the ‘roaring’ 1920s,” Berkeley’s Emmanuel Saez analyzes the new data in the article, posted at the University’s webpage. 

The study shows measures taken by the US government to get the country out of the Great Depression efficiently contributed to curbing the growth of inequality. However, since the early 1980s the gap between the rich and the poor has been steadily increasing. 

The Great Recession of 2007-2009 saw the richest being hardest hit with 36 percent of income loss, while incomes for the remaining 99 percent of the population it only diminished by 11 percent. 

The wealthiest 1 percent was, however, quick to recover, capturing 95 percent of the income gains in the first two post-recession years. The 2012 data suggests the bottom 99 percent of the population has hardly seen any recovery so far. 

We need to decide as a society whether this increase in income inequality is efficient and acceptable and, if not, what mix of institutional and tax reforms should be developed to counter it,” Saez writes as a conclusion to his analysis. 

The 2012 figures contribute to earlier reports on inequality surge in US, like the one issued by Pew Research Center in April, analyzing the period between 2009 and 2011. The study suggested only the top 7 percent of American households experienced an increase in their net worth during that time. 

The United States Federal Reserve is quite aware of the increasing wealth gap and is investigating how the issue is affecting the country’s attempts at rebounding from the financial crisis of 2009. 

“The large and increasing amount of inequality in income and wealth, which has been an ongoing development for decades, may have exacerbated the crisis and I think more research is required to determine whether it may also pose a significant headwind to the recovery from the crisis for years to come,” Fed Board of Governors member Sarah Bloom Raskin said in May. 

Delusional Thinking in the Age of the Single Superpower

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In an increasingly phantasmagorical world, here’s my present fantasy of choice: someone from General Keith Alexander’s outfit, the National Security Agency, tracks down H.G. Wells’s time machine in the attic of an old house in London.  Britain’s subservientGovernment Communications Headquarters, its version of the NSA, is paid off and the contraption is flown to Fort Meade, Maryland, where it’s put back in working order.  Alexander then revs it up and heads not into the future like Wells to see how our world ends, but into the past to offer a warning to Americans about what’s to come.

He arrives in Washington on October 23, 1962, in the middle of the Cuban Missile Crisis, a day after President Kennedy has addressed the American people on national television to tell them that this planet might not be theirs -- or anyone else’s -- for long.  ("We will not prematurely or unnecessarily risk the costs of worldwide nuclear war in which even the fruits of victory would be ashes in our mouth, but neither will we shrink from the risk at any time it must be faced.")  Greeted with amazement by the Washington elite, Alexander, too, goes on television and informs the same public that, in 2013, the major enemy of the United States will no longer be the Soviet Union, but an outfit called al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and that the headquarters of our country’s preeminent foe will be found somewhere in the rural backlands of... Yemen.

Yes, Yemen, a place most Americans, then and now, would be challenged to find on a world map.  I guarantee you one thing: had such an announcement actually been made that day, most Americans would undoubtedly have dropped to their knees and thanked God for His blessings on the American nation.  Though even then a nonbeliever, I would undoubtedly have been among them.  After all, the 18-year-old Tom Engelhardt, on hearing Kennedy’s address, genuinely feared that he and the few pathetic dreams of a future he had been able to conjure up were toast.

Had Alexander added that, in the face of AQAP and similar minor jihadist enemies scattered in the backlands of parts of the planet, the U.S. had built up its military, intelligence, and surveillance powers beyond anything ever conceived of in the Cold War or possibly in the history of the planet, Americans of that time would undoubtedly have considered him delusional and committed him to an asylum.

Such, however, is our world more than two decades after Eastern Europe was liberated, the Berlin Wall came down, the Cold War definitively ended, and the Soviet Union disappeared.

Why Orwell Was Wrong

Now, let me mention another fantasy connected to the two-superpower Cold War era: George Orwell’s 1948 vision of the world of 1984 (or thereabouts, since the inhabitants of his novel of that title were unsure just what year they were living in).  When the revelationsof NSA contractor Edward Snowden began to hit the news and we suddenly found ourselves knee-deep in stories about Prism, XKeyscore, and other Big Brother-ish programs that make up the massive global surveillance network the National Security Agency has been building, I had a brilliant idea -- reread 1984.

At a moment when Americans were growing uncomfortably aware of the way their government was staring at them and storing what they had previously imagined as their private data, consider my soaring sense of my own originality a delusion of my later life.  It lasted only until I read an essay by NSA expert James Bamford in which he mentioned that, “[w]ithin days of Snowden’s documents appearing in the Guardian and theWashington Post..., bookstores reported a sudden spike in the sales of George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel 1984. On Amazon.com, the book made the ‘Movers & Shakers’ list and skyrocketed 6,021 percent in a single day.”

Nonetheless, amid a jostling crowd of worried Americans, I did keep reading that novel and found it at least as touching, disturbing, and riveting as I had when I first came across it sometime before Kennedy went on TV in 1962.  Even today, it’s hard not to marvel at the vision of a man living at the beginning of the television age who sensed how a whole society could be viewed, tracked, controlled, and surveiled.

But for all his foresight, Orwell had no more power to peer into the future than the rest of us.  So it’s no fault of his that, almost three decades after his year of choice, more than six decades after his death, the shape of our world has played havoc with his vision.  Like so many others in his time and after, he couldn’t imagine the disappearance of the Soviet Union or at least of Soviet-like totalitarian states.  More than anything else, he couldn’t imagine one fact of our world that, in 1948, wasn’t in the human playbook.

In 1984, Orwell imagined a future from what he knew of the Soviet and American (as well as Nazi, Japanese, and British) imperial systems.  In imagining three equally powerful, equally baleful superpowers -- Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia -- balanced for an eternity in an unwinnable global struggle, he conjured up a logical extension of what had been developing on this planet for hundreds of years.  His future was a version of the world humanity had lived with since the first European power mounted cannons on a wooden ship and set sail, like so many Mongols of the sea, to assault and conquer foreign realms, coastlines first.

From that moment on, the imperial powers of this planet -- super, great, prospectively great, and near great -- came in contending or warring pairs, if not triplets or quadruplets.  Portugal, Spain, and Holland; England, France, and Imperial Russia; the United States, Germany, Japan, and Italy (as well as Great Britain and France), and after World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union.  Five centuries in which one thing had never occurred, the thing that even George Orwell, with his prodigious political imagination, couldn’t conceive of, the thing that makes 1984 a dated work and his future a past that never was: a one-superpower world.  To give birth to such a creature on such a planet -- as indeed occurred in 1991 -- was to be at the end of history, at least as it had long been known.

The Decade of the Stunned Superpower

Only in Hollywood fantasies about evil super-enemies was “world domination” by a single power imaginable.  No wonder that, more than two decades into our one-superpower present, we still find it hard to take in this new reality and what it means.

At least two aspects of such a world seem, however, to be coming into focus.  The evidence of the last decades suggests that the ability of even the greatest of imperial powers to shape global events may always have been somewhat exaggerated.  The reason: power itself may never have been as centrally located in imperial or national entities as was once imagined.  Certainly, with all rivals removed, the frustration of Washington at its inability to control events in the Greater Middle East and elsewhere could hardly be more evident.  Still, Washington has proven incapable of grasping the idea that there might be forms of power, and so of resistance to American desires, not embodied in competitive states.

Evidence also seems to indicate that the leaders of a superpower, when not countered by another major power, when lacking an arms race to run or territory and influence to contest, may be particularly susceptible to the growth of delusional thinking, and in particular to fantasies of omnipotence.

Though Great Britain far outstripped any competitor or potential enemy at the height of its imperial glory, as did the United States at the height of the Cold War (the Soviet Union was always a junior superpower), there were at least rivals around to keep the leading power “honest” in its thinking.  From December 1991, when the Soviet Union declared itself no more, there were none and, despite the dubious assumption by many in Washington that a rising China will someday be a major competitor, there remain none.  Even if economic power has become more “multipolar,” no actual state contests the American role on the planet in a serious way.

Just as still water is a breeding ground for mosquitos, so single-superpowerdom seems to be a breeding ground for delusion.  This is a phenomenon about which we have to be cautious, since we know little enough about it and are, of course, in its midst.  But so far, there seem to have been three stages to the development of whatever delusional process is underway.

Stage one stretched from December 1991 through September 10, 2001.  Think of it as the decade of the stunned superpower.  After all, the collapse of the Soviet Union wentunpredicted in Washington and when it happened, the George H. W. Bush administration seemed almost incapable of taking it in.  In the years that followed, there was the equivalent of a stunned silence in the corridors of power.

After a brief flurry of debate about a post-Cold War “peace dividend,” that subject dropped into the void, while, for example, U.S. nuclear forces, lacking their major enemy of the previous several decades, remained more or less in place, strategically disoriented but ready for action.  In those years, Washington launched modest and halting discussions of the dangers of “rogue states” (think “Axis of Evil” in the post-9/11 era), but the U.S. military had a hard time finding a suitable enemy other than its former ally in the Persian Gulf, Iraq’s Saddam Hussein.  Its ventures into the world of war in Somalia and the former Yugoslavia were modest and not exactly greeted with rounds of patriotic fervor at home.  Even the brief glow of popularity the elder Bush gained from his 1990-1991 war against Saddam evaporated so quickly that, by the time he geared up for his reelection campaign barely a year later, it was gone.

In the shadows, however, a government-to-be was forming under the guise of a think tank.  It was filled with figures like future Vice President Dick Cheney, future Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, future Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, future U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, and future ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, all of whom firmly believed that the United States, with its staggering military advantage and lack of enemies, now had an unparalleled opportunity to control and reorganize the planet.  In January 2001, they came to power under the presidency of George W. Bush, anxious for the opportunity to turn the U.S. into the kind of global dominator that would put the British and even Roman empires to shame.

Pax Americana Dreams

Stage two in the march into single-superpower delusion began on September 11, 2001, only five hours after hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 smashed into the Pentagon.  It was then that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, already convinced that al-Qaeda was behind the attacks, nonetheless began dreaming about completing the First Gulf War by taking out Saddam Hussein.  Of Iraq, he instructed an aide to “go massive... Sweep it all up. Things related and not."

And go massive he and his colleagues did, beginning the process that led to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, itself considered only a precursor to transforming the Greater Middle East into an American protectorate.  From the fertile soil of 9/11 -- itself something of a phantasmagoric event in which Osama bin Laden and his relatively feeble organization spent a piddling $400,000-$500,000 to create the look of an apocalyptic moment -- sprang full-blown a sense of American global omnipotence.

It had taken a decade to mature.  Now, within days of the toppling of those towers in lower Manhattan, the Bush administration was already talking about launching a “war on terror,” soon to become the “Global War on Terror” (no exaggeration intended).  The CIA would label it no less grandiosly a “Worldwide Attack Matrix.”  And none of them were kidding.  Finding “terror” groups of various sorts in up to 80 countries, they were planning, in the phrase of the moment, to “drain the swamp” -- everywhere.

In the early Bush years, dreams of domination bred like rabbits in the hothouse of single-superpower Washington.  Such grandiose thinking quickly invaded administration and Pentagon planning documents as the Bush administration prepared to prevent potentially oppositional powers or blocs of powers from arising in the foreseeable future.  No one, as its top officials and their neocon supporters saw it, could stand in the way of their planetaryPax Americana.

Nor, as they invaded Afghanistan, did they have any doubt that they would soon take down Iraq.  It was all going to be so easy.  Such an invasion, as one supporter wrote in the Washington Post, would be a “cakewalk.”  By the time American troops entered Iraq, the Pentagon already had plans on the drawing board to build a series of permanent bases -- they preferred to call them "enduring camps" -- and garrison that assumedly grateful country at the center of the planet’s oil lands for generations to come.

Nobody in Washington was thinking about the possibility that an American invasion might create chaos in Iraq and surrounding lands, sparking a set of Sunni-Shiite religious wars across the region.  They assumed that Iran and Syria would be forced to bend their national knees to American power or that we would simply impose submission on them.  (As a neoconservative quip of the moment had it, “Everyone wants to go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to Tehran.”)  And that, of course would only be the beginning.  Soon enough, no one would challenge American power. Nowhere. Never.

Such soaring dreams of -- quite literally -- world domination met no significant opposition in mainstream Washington.  After all, how could they fail?  Who on Earth could possibly oppose them or the U.S. military?  The answer seemed too obvious to need to be stated -- not until, at least, their all-conquering armies bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan and the greatest power on the planet faced the possibility of defeat at the hands of... well, whom?

The Dark Matter of Global Power

Until things went sour in Iraq, theirs would be a vision of the Goliath tale in which David (or various ragtag Sunni, Shiite, and Pashtun versions of the same) didn’t even have a walk-on role.  All other Goliaths were gone and the thought that a set of minor Davids might pose problems for the planet’s giant was beyond imagining, despite what the previous century’s history of decolonization and resistance might have taught them.  Above all, the idea that, at this juncture in history, power might not be located overwhelmingly and decisively in the most obvious place -- in, that is, “the finest fighting force that the world has ever known,” as American presidents of this era came to call it -- seemed illogical in the extreme.

Who in the Washington of that moment could have imagined that other kinds of power might, like so much dark matter in the universe, be mysteriously distributed elsewhere on the planet?  Such was their sense of American omnipotence, such was the level of delusional thinking inside the Washington bubble.

Despite two treasury-draining disasters in Afghanistan and Iraq that should have been sobering when it came to the hidden sources of global power, especially the power to resist American wishes, such thinking showed only minimal signs of diminishing even as the Bush administration pulled back from the Iraq War, and a few years later, after a set of misbegotten “surges,” the Obama administration decided to do the same in Afghanistan.

Instead, Washington entered stage three of delusional life in a single-superpower world.  Its main symptom: the belief in the possibility of controlling the planet not just through staggering military might but also through informational and surveillance omniscience and omnipotence.  In these years, the urge to declare a global war on communications, createa force capable of launching wars in cyberspace, and storm the e-beaches of the Internet and the global information system proved overwhelming.  The idea was to make it impossible for anyone to write, say, or do anything to which Washington might not be privy.

For most Americans, the Edward Snowden revelations would pull back the curtain on the way the National Security Agency, in particular, has been building a global network for surveillance of a kind never before imagined, not even by the totalitarian regimes of the previous century.  From domestic phone calls to international emails, from the bugging ofU.N. headquarters and the European Union to 80 embassies around the world, fromenemies to frenemies to allies, the system by 2013 was already remarkably all-encompassing.  It had, in fact, the same aura of grandiosity about it, of overblown self-regard, that went with the launching of the Global War on Terror -- the feeling that if Washington did it or built it, they would come.

I’m 69 years old and, in technological terms, I’ve barely emerged from the twentieth century.  In a conversation with NSA Director Keith Alexander, known somewhat derisively in the trade as “Alexander the Geek,” I have no doubt that I’d be lost.  In truth, I can barely grasp the difference between what the NSA's Prism and XKeyscore programs do.  So call me technologically senseless, but I can still recognize a deeper senselessness when I see it.  And I can see that Washington is building something conceptually quite monstrous that will change our country for the worse, and the world as well, and is -- perhaps worst of all -- essentially nonsensical.

So let me offer those in Washington a guarantee: I have no idea what the equivalents of the Afghan and Iraq wars will be in the surveillance world, but continue to build such a global system, ignoring the anger of allies and enemies alike, and “they” indeed will come.  Such delusional grandiosity, such dreams of omnipotence and omniscience cannot help but generate resistance and blowback in a perfectly real world that, whatever Washington thinks, maintains a grasp on perfectly real power, even without another imperial state on any horizon.

2014

Today, almost 12 years after 9/11, the U.S. position in the world seems even more singular.  Militarily speaking, the Global War on Terror continues, however namelessly, in the Obama era in places as distant as Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia.  The U.S. military remains heavily deployed in the Greater Middle East, though it has pulled out of Iraq and is drawing down in Afghanistan.  In recent years, U.S. power has, in an exceedingly public manner, been “pivoting” to Asia, where the building of new bases, as well as the deployment of new troops and weaponry, to “contain” that imagined future superpower China has been proceeding apace.

At the same time, the U.S. military has been ever-so-quietly pivoting to Africa where, as TomDispatch’s Nick Turse reports, its presence is spreading continent-wide.  American military bases still dot the planet in remarkable profusion, numbering perhaps 1,000 at a moment when no other nation on Earth has more than a handful outside its territory.

The reach of Washington’s surveillance and intelligence networks is unique in the history of the planet.  The ability of its drone air fleet to assassinate enemies almost anywhere is unparalleled.  Europe and Japan remain so deeply integrated into the American global system as to be essentially a part of its power-projection capabilities.

This should be the dream formula for a world dominator and yet no one can look at Planet Earth today and not see that the single superpower, while capable of creating instability and chaos, is limited indeed in its ability to control developments.  Its president can't even form a "coalition of the willing" to launch a limited series of missile attacks on the military facilities of the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad.  From Latin America to the Greater Middle East, the American system is visibly weakening, while at home, inequality and poverty are on the rise, infrastructure crumbles, and national politics is in a state of permanent “gridlock.”

Such a world should be fantastical enough for the wildest sort of dystopian fiction, for perhaps a novel titled 2014.  What, after all, are we to make of a planet with a single superpower that lacks genuine enemies of any significance and that, to all appearances, has nonetheless been fighting a permanent global war with... well, itself -- and appears to be losing?