Thursday, May 22, 2014

Obama administration asserts unlimited war powers without Congressional authorization

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In testimony before the US Congress on Wednesday, top Obama administration officials asserted that the president has unlimited war powers without even the fig-leaf of Congressional authorization.

Speaking before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the administration officials—State Department Deputy Legal Adviser Mary McLeod and Defense Department General Counsel Stephen Preston—declared that the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) was not required for any of the drone attacks, troop deployments and other war operations carried out by the Obama administration.

For more than a decade, the AUMF has been a catch-all justification for all the illegal and unconstitutional activities of the Bush and Obama administrations—military invasions, indefinite detention (including at Guantanamo Bay), torture and drone assassination. Congress is currently considering revising or ending the AUMF as part of an effort to shift these operations onto a more permanent foundation.

In the course of questioning from senators on the future of AUMF, McLeod and Preston indicated that, in the administration’s view, there are in fact no additional powers that the executive has as a result of the AUMF that it does not already have from Article II of the US Constitution—an assertion of unlimited executive power.

Preston testified, “I am not aware of any foreign terrorist group that presents a threat against this country that the president lacks authority to defend against simply because they are not covered by the AUMF. If the group presents a threat the president does have authority to take steps against that threat.”

When asked by Republican Senator Bob Corker whether the president could continue to “carry out the counter-terrorism activities he is carrying out today” if the AUMF were repealed, McLeod replied, “Yes, I believe he could.”

“The US has the authority to target individuals, including Americans, who pose an imminent threat to attack our country,” McLeod added (emphasis added).

In the language of administration lawyers, “imminent” has been redefined to render this condition meaningless. McLeod did not say whether the killing of Americans could take place within the United States.

A report in Rolling Stone on the hearings noted: “When asked by Senator Tim Kaine (D-Virginia) ‘what could [the president] not do without the AUMF,’ Preston didn’t have an immediate answer. Kaine then asked if the US could continue to hold detainees at Guantanamo Bay if the AUMF were repealed. Preston dodged; McLeod added that the US can continue to detain prisoners ‘as long as we’re in an armed conflict with Al Qaeda.’”

“I think it would be fair to say that with or without an AUMF, to the extent that it grants authority for use of military force against al Qaeda, and the Taliban, and associated forces in which we’re in armed conflict … the president does have constitutional authority to act,” said Preston.

Asked whether the executive could unilaterally attack any country that it declares is “harboring” terrorists, without Congressional approval, McLeod replied, “We would have to think about whether individuals in that state or in that government of that state actually posed an imminent threat.” That is to say, the executive would have an internal deliberation and decide on whether to wage war based on its definition of “imminent.”

McLeod added that in the administration’s view it had the authority to wage war against Syria without Congressional authority based on the spurious allegations of chemical weapons use (in an internal civil conflict) last year. In the Syrian civil war, it was the United States, and not the Syrian government, that was directly allied with Al Qaeda and its “associated forces.”

Wednesday’s testimony is part of an internal debate within the political establishment over how to justify endless war. Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee almost exactly one year ago, Assistant Defense Secretary Michael Sheehan argued that the AUMF gives the administration virtually unlimited war powers anywhere in the world, including within the United States. He added that the war authorization would go on indefinitely, “at least 10 to 20 years.”

Thus, according to Sheehan at the time, further authorization from Congress was not required to launch drone strikes or wage war in the future, as long as these military operations could be connected in some way to Al Qaeda or its “associated forces”—a phrase that does not appear in the AUMF itself. Sheehan specially referred to the recent bombing of the Boston Marathon to extend the “battlefield” to the United States.

Later the same month, Obama delivered a speech at the National Defense University, dedicated to a defense of drone assassination. For the first time, Obama publicly acknowledged that he ordered the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, a US citizen. Stating that “America is at a crossroads,” Obama said his administration intended to “engage Congress” about the AUMF in order “to determine how we can continue to fight terrorism without keeping America on a perpetual wartime footing.”

The testimony of McLeod and Preston makes clear that the administration is in fact seeking a mechanism for rooting unending war, drone assassination and associated illegal activities in the Constitutional powers of the president.

This legal rationale for what amounts to presidential dictatorship has been an underlying theme in the memoranda drawn up by both the Bush and Obama administrations. Bush’s Vice President Dick Cheney and his lawyers in particular sought to argue that the AUMF was essentially superfluous, a formality, and that the ability to torture and kill came from Article II.

These pseudo-legal arguments have been continued and extended under Obama, particularly as they relate to extrajudicial assassination. On Wednesday, the US Senate voted 52-43 to clear the way for a confirmation vote on Obama’s appointee for the First US Circuit Court of Appeals, David Barron. Barron is the author of the still secret memoranda drawn up to justify the killing of al-Awlaki and other US citizens without due process.

The vote on Wednesday was almost entirely along party lines, with Democrats voting for and Republicans against. Because of changes to Senate rules made late last year, the procedural vote prior to confirmation required only a simple majority, not a supermajority of 60 votes.

In order to facilitate confirmation, the administration said on Tuesday that it would cease its efforts to block the court-ordered declassification of one of the several memos drawn up by Barron during his tenure in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel from 2009 to 2010. This declassification, the White House announced, would take place at some indefinite point in the future.

The administration’s promise was enough to satisfy critics within the Democratic Party. Their basic agreement with the White House’s claims of unlimited executive power were summed up Senator Ron Wyden, who announced after voting for Barron’s nomination to go forward: “I believe that every American has the right to know when their government believes it has the right to kill them.”

A full confirmation vote on Barron will likely take place today.

How the Elites Extract Wealth from the People

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Fiat money is at base a form of indirect wealth transfer from those forced to hold the money to those issuing the money.

I describe the pernicious servitude created by debt as debt serfdom, as serfdom implies a neofeudal arrangement that requires serfs’ acceptance of this financial yoke of servitude. In other words, debt is freely accepted as the line of least resistance in a system that incentivizes debt and places high barriers to debt-free independence from a Status Quo operated to benefit the owners and issuers of debt, not the debtors.

Correspondent Jeff W. has identified an even more insidious form of monetary servitude that he calls fiat slavery, as the servitude is enforced by fiat (unbacked government-issued) money.

In other words, being forced to use state-issued fiat currency is a form of servitude, as fiat money is at base a form of indirect wealth transfer from those forced to hold the money to those issuing the money.

Beyond this state-enforced wealth transfer from citizens to the state, there is a secondary wealth transfer going on in any fiat-money system: the neofeudal financial nobility who are closest to the money spigot get to buy whatever real-world assets and income streams offer the best return before the money trickles down to the debt-serfs paying interest and taxes.

For example, the financial nobility can borrow billions of dollars at near-zero interest from the Federal Reserve, and use this nearly-free fiat money to buy student loans that pay 7+% annually. They can also snap up houses for cash that the nobility then rents to debt-serfs who have been outbid by those with the extraordinary advantage of unlimited access to the Fed’s nearly-free fiat money.

Here is Jeff’s commentary and analysis:

In a world where every country prints fiat money, the entire human race today, except for its money masters, is subjected to fiat slavery.

Almost everyone understands what it means to be a tax slave. It means that people must work several months of the year for the benefit of the taxing authorities. Taxes in the U.S. today are several times higher than they were 100 years ago, and at present-day tax levels, today’s Americans are rightly called tax slaves.

What it means to be a debt slave is also easy to understand.

It means that one must spend a large fraction of one’s time to earn money to pay creditors. Millions of Americans today are mired deeply in debt, but today’s America is also a country where if you personally stay out of debt, the government will go into debt for you.

Each American taxpayer is on the hook for his or her share of over $17 trillion in debt that government admits to; the real debt total is much higher. Government leaders are eagerly plunging us ever deeper into debt each year.

Most Americans also have personal experience of being a wage slave.

It means that a person has no way to make a living except by selling his labor into a glutted market. Thomas Jefferson hoped that most Americans could own their own farms and thereby profit from capital improvements that they made through their own efforts. Such Americans could be their own bosses and escape wage slavery. But today we live in an age of huge factory farms, and it is more difficult than ever to establish or run any small business. Thus wage slavery is the norm for Americans today.

But few people understand what it means to be a fiat slave.

Being a fiat slave means that one lives in a country where the machinery of money printing is used to maximize wealth extraction from its citizens.

How do they maximize the wealth they can extract through money printing? First of all, it is done by increasing of the volume of transactions that take place in a given fiat currency. Each newly-printed unit of fiat is a drop in the bucket in terms of the inflation it creates, and more fiat can be printed without causing serious inflation if a country has a bigger bucket.

For example, Canada’s GDP is about 11% the size of America’s. At first glance this might be taken to mean that Americans can print nine times more dollars than Canadians. But we must also remember that U.S. dollars circulate throughout the world, and Eurodollars and petrodollars also add to the total of U.S. dollar transactions.

Because of extraterritorial dollar circulation, the U.S. might actually be able to print 20 times more than Canada without causing serious (in terms of causing political problems for the money printers) inflation. From this we see why money printers may want to fight wars to protect America’s dollar circulation areas in the Middle East or in Afghanistan, where much of the opium trade is transacted in dollars.

But a country’s fiat transaction volume is only part of the equation. A more important part of the equation is the inflation level. Imagine two countries: Country A with an annual fiat transaction volume of 100 trillion units per year and Country B with a volume of 50 trillion. Everything else being equal, Country B can only print half as much fiat each year to give to its government and its banking elite.

But suppose further that the inflation rate in Country A is 5% absent any money printing, and the inflation rate in Country B is negative 2% due to global wage arbitrage, regulatory suppression of small businesses, and high unemployment. Suppose further that a real inflation rate of 5% is the money printers’ upper limit because it is the maximum asset erosion that wealthy bondholders will tolerate. Now we see that potential money printing in Country A is reduced to zero, while potential money printing in Country B is 3.5 trillion units (50 trillion times seven percent).

American money printers thus have trillions of dollars in incentive to support deflationary policies, which may include global wage arbitrage (sending work to the country where labor is cheapest), suppression of job creation by small businesses, suppression of private-sector labor unions, support for open borders immigration, commodity price suppression through market interventions, support for genetically modified seeds so as to push agricultural prices down, support for owners taking a larger share of corporate revenues so as to reduce labor’s share, and support for high levels of consumer debt so as to dampen inflationary pressure in a nation of demoralized debt slaves. All of these oppressive policies enrich the money printers at the citizens’ expense.

Tax slavery, debt slavery, wage slavery, and fiat slavery are four methods that elites employ to extract wealth from the people.

To this list we should also add their encouragement of Ponzi gambling. Ponzi asset bubbles are constantly being created and citizens are encouraged to go into debt to “cash in” on bubble profits (or get wiped out in bubble crashes). Those five methods are the major wealth extraction methods they use.

Those who support the cause of human freedom must resist tax slavery by insisting on a government that keeps its spending down to the bare basics. Free people must also support a culture that discourages people from getting into debt and encourages them to get out of debt and stay out. They must demand that government debt be rolled back to zero.

Policies that favor capital accumulation in families and a supportive legal environment for small businesses are the antidotes to wage slavery, and free people must also demand that there be zero wealth extraction from the citizens through money printing. That can best be done by requiring 100% gold backing for currency and eliminating fractional reserve banking. Eliminating the inflation that comes from money printing will also go a long way toward eliminating asset bubbles and Ponzi gambling on asset bubbles.

Older Americans have watched as a once-free people have been reduced to slave-like conditions. Not only has wealth been ruthlessly extracted from the people, but today’s surveillance state is more intrusive than ever, and the police are increasingly insolent and imperious.

What are we going to do? A necessary first step is to take the blinders off and to see clearly how elites are victimizing you. A second step is to figure out what practical steps you can take as an American to secure the blessings of liberty for yourself and your posterity. Freedom is not free, as the saying goes, and the price of freedom is not only eternal vigilance, but also intelligent action. We should begin this work today.

Awareness of the sources of wealth transfer and monetary servitude is the first step forward.

Let's End Congress's Blanket Authorization of Force

It's gone on 13 years too long

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It may sound hard to believe, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., isn't always wrong–at least when he states the obvious: "9/11 is a long time ago," he said Wednesday, "and it's something that needs to be looked at again."

The "it" is the post-9/11 Authorization for Use of Military Force resolution, or AUMF, adopted three days after the terror attacks, and now going on its lucky 13th year. It's been in effect nearly twice as long as the Gulf of Tonkin resolution authorizing Vietnam, what was "America's Longest War"–until the 21st century, that is.

On Sept. 14, 2001, Congress authorized the president to use "all necessary and appropriate force" against the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks and those who "harbored" them. Two successive administrations have since turned the 60 words of the AUMF's operative clause into what journalist Gregory Johnsen calls "the most dangerous sentence in U.S. history"–a writ for a war without temporal or spatial limits.

The last time the Senate held hearings on the AUMF, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., asked the Pentagon's civilian special operations chief, Michael Sheehan, "does [the president] have the authority to put boots on the ground in the Congo?" Answer: "Yes, sir, he does."

Predictably, the hawkish Graham was totally okay with that. "The battlefield is wherever the enemy chooses to make it," right? Right, said Sheehan: "from Boston to the [Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan]."

Asked how much longer the war on terrorism will last, Sheehan replied, "at least 10 to 20 years." So presumably the AUMF can serve as the basis for Chelsea Clinton's "kill list" in 2033, after she trounces George P. Bush.

Lyndon Johnson once compared the Gulf of Tonkin resolution to "Grandma's nightshirt" because "it covers everything." Even LBJ might have marveled at how the last two administrations have stretched the post-9/11 AUMF.

Under the theory that "the United States is a battlefield in the war on terror," the Bush administration invoked it to justify warrantless wiretapping and military detention of American citizens on American soil. The Obama administration cites it as legal authority for the extrajudicial killing of Americans via remote-control.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will be taking another look at the AUMF this week. The hearing's title, "Authorization For Use Of Military Force After Iraq And Afghanistan," hints at a preordained conclusion: that an updated authorization is needed. Ranking Republican Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee wants to be sure the executive branch has "all the tools and capabilities" it needs to address "threats that did not exist in 2001."

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., the sole member of Congress to vote "no" on the original AUMF, has a better idea: end it, don't mend it. Joined by libertarian-leaning, antiwar Republicans like Reps. Justin Amash and Walter Jones, she's introduced legislation to repeal the AUMF.

Two imperial presidents in a row have treated that authorization like a permanent delegation of congressional war power to the president. Their successors would no doubt do the same with any new "tools and capabilities" they're given.

Without the AUMF, presidents still retain the constitutional power to "repel sudden attacks," as James Madison put it. And if they think groups like al-Shabaab or Boko Haram demand a more sustained military response, they'll be free to make that case to Congress. But delegating new authorities in advance might permanently change our constitutional default setting from peace to war.

Madison also said that "No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare." We're now into our second decade running that experiment; how much longer do we want to risk proving him right?