"In a time of universal deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act." -George Orwell

Posts Tagged ‘Corptalitarianism’

Can You Feel It? People are Getting More Tense As Anti-Human New Political Order Takes Shape

In Uncategorized on August 23, 2013 at 8:13 pm

Oldspeak:” As the loss of economic and political right increases, the population is getting spooked. The feeling I have is that of heightened generalized tension, the social/political equivalent of the sort of disturbance that animals detect in advance of earthquakes or volcanic eruptions, of pressure building up along major fault lines. The other way to articulate this vibe is that it is as if events are being influenced by a large unseen gravitational or magnetic force, as if a black hole had moved into the ‘hood. We can’t see the hidden superdense object, but we can infer that it’s distorting the space around it. -Yves Smith

“Happy to know that i’m not the only one… Feel this in the air every day walking the streets of New York. Anxiety, fear, tension, distortion, ignoring, frustration, hurriedness, anger, dysfunction… Really overwhelming at times. When you recognize that climate change increases violence, one can’t help but to anticipate dark days ahead. Watched a documentary today called “Wake Up” where they interviewed scientists who documented evidence of a global integrated supra-consciousness. And how the heightening of that consciousness makes a bunch of random number generators stationed around the planet stop generating random numbers and start generating coherent patterns. How it changes the magnetic field of the earth before major global events. Non-local consciousness.  i think we all intuitively and inter-connectedly know something bad is coming. The signs get harder and harder to ignore. Wages for the poorest are falling or stagnant, while the wages of the richest rise. People are beginning to resist the anti-human laws and policies being imposed on them. Witness the recent strikes by Wal-Mart and fast food workers. The prison strike in Pelican Bay in solidarity with prisoners in Palestine. The people know. There is a disturbance in the force…” –OSJ

By Yves Smith @ Naked Capitalism:

Perhaps I’m just having a bad month, but I wonder if other readers sense what I’m detecting. I fancy if someone did a Google frequency search on the right terms, they might pick up tangible indicators of what I’m sensing (as in I’m also a believer that what people attribute to gut feeling is actually pattern recognition).

The feeling I have is that of heightened generalized tension, the social/political equivalent of the sort of disturbance that animals detect in advance of earthquakes or volcanic eruptions, of pressure building up along major fault lines. The other way to articulate this vibe is that it is as if events are being influenced by a large unseen gravitational or magnetic force, as if a black hole had moved into the ‘hood. We can’t see the hidden superdense object, but we can infer that it’s distorting the space around it.

Now if you just want to go with the “maybe this is just your neurosis” view, we are in the midst of a counterrevolution, and it’s not exactly cheery to be watching its progress on a daily basis.

It isn’t just that the economic rights for ordinary workers and the social safety nets of the New Deal and the earlier labor movements here and abroad are being demolished. Major elements of a broad social and political architecture that served as the foundation for the Industrial Revolution are being torn apart: the Statute of Fraud (essential to give people of every level of society decent protection of property rights) and access to legal remedies; basic protection of personal rights (habeas corpus, due process, protection against unlawful search and seizure); local policing (as in policing being accountable to local governments). Decent quality public education and the freedom of the press are also under assault. People here have used various terms for this new political order that is being put in place; neofeudalism works as well as any, but it looks intended to dial the clock back on many economic and civil rights of ordinary people, not back to the Gilded Age, but to before the French and American Revolutions.

The sense of heightened tension isn’t that this program is underway, or the recent phases have moved rapidly (that’s bad enough) but that ordinary people are increasingly aware of it, and the folks behind it didn’t want to be caught out at this delicate stage. Imagine if you were executing a coup and got exposed, before you had seized all the critical installations you needed to capture for your victory to be complete.

The collective awareness of the degree of loss of economic and political rights we had all taken for granted, has risen considerably as a result of the Snowden/Greenwald/Poitras revelations. If you haven’t read it yet, the fact that the New York Times ran a favorable Sunday magazine cover story on Laura Poitras [3] (in striking contrast to its earlier hatchet job on Glenn Greenwald) and discussed in some detail how routine communication on the web are simply not secure and depicted the considerable measures Snowden, Greenwald, and Poitras have had to take (and by implication, ordinary people ought to be taking) is an indicator of the fault lines among the elites. A story like that (a story! not My Eyes Glaze Over reports on what sorts of surveillance might or might not be permissible under various programs most American can’t bother to keep track of) brings home in a visceral way how far Big Brother has gone to a large national audience. As Atlantic put it [4]:

The New York Times Magazine cover story by Peter Maass [3] detailing how Edward Snowden reached out to the two reporters that broke the NSA surveillance story isn’t about that surveillance. It’s only sort of about journalism. Instead, it’s largely a story about how close to the boundaries of civilization you must get — literally and figuratively — to be assured that you can protect your privacy. And it’s about how the United States government pushes people there.

But notice the Atlantic played it chicken by calling Poitras “paranoid” in its headline. If you read the abuse Poitras’ suffered when she would return to the US [5], including having her equipment repeatedly seized and the data searched, “paranoid” is the last word you’d use. “Prudent” is more like it.

And we have the drip drip drip of ongoing revelations such as XKeyscore, “mistaken” surveillance of thousands of ordinary Americans (and you can bet a lot more is dressed up as legit), CIA surveillance of Aaron Swartz and Noam Chomsky (Chomsky? Surveilling an academic successfully relegated to the “so left he’s irrelevant” ghetto? If he’s treated as a threat, the threat threshold is awfully low).

Now as a netizen, as well as someone who has been following the Big Brother story reasonably closely, I could be charged with overreacting to that. But Obama is losing his famous cool. It may simply be an coincidence of timing (as in he’s fighting his inevitable slide into lame duck status and none too happy about that) but he’s been visibly heavy handed of late. This is just off the top of my head:

Derailing Grayson’s session with Greenwald (which will go ahead in September, so what sort of victory was it to push it into a busier news period?)

Getting snippy in that Democratic caucus meeting when asked about Larry Summers and later calling senators who opposed Summers to his office to tell them to lay off

Launching a Big Lie speaking tour on how he’s creating middle class jobs (which seems to be landing like a lead balloon)

Launching a faux independent surveillance investigation (as I’ve said before, having Clapper on the committee is tantamount to saying, “So what are you going to do? Impeach me?”)

A bizarre flurry of “look, over there, an airplane” of actions that garner positive headlines. Mind you, this is standard operating procedure…except that there’s been a weird flurry in August, when most of them could have been held back to September: the London Whale prosecutions. Opposing the AMR-US Air merger. The announcement of an investigation into the use of antipsychotics on children [6].

Shorter: Obama looks off balance.

And we’ve got a whole ‘nother front opening up, that of municipal bankruptcies and restructurings, which puts the war against municipal workers and unions back in the headlines and creates another looting opportunity for Wall Street, in the form of privatizations. Ugh.

Or maybe the inchoate sense of pressure is real, but I’m looking in the wrong place for explanations. A newly-published study ascertained that climate change increases violence [7]. And we also have that long-standing Roubini call that 2013 will see a new outbreak of crisis, and winter October is coming.

So readers: do you have a similar sense of a collective rise in pressure, or tangible signs of disturbance among what passes for our elites? Or is this just me trying to draw a trend line through a random set of data?

The Politics of Disimagination and the Pathologies of Power

In Uncategorized on February 28, 2013 at 7:13 pm

Eye reflecitng TVOldspeak: ” A popular governemt without popular information of the means of acquiring it is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives” – James Madison (1798)The politics and machinery of disimagination and its production of ever-deepening ignorance dominates American society because it produces, to a large degree, uninformed customers, hapless clients, depoliticized subjects and illiterate citizens incapable of holding corporate and political power accountable. At stake here is more than the dangerous concentration of economic, political and cultural power in the hands of the ultrarich, megacorporations and elite financial services industries. Also at issue is the widespread perversion of the social, critical education, the public good, and democracy itself. –Henry A. Giroux (2013)The founding fathers knew all too well the indispensable importance of an informed citizenry to a vibrant democracy. My how things have changed in the ensuing 215 years. Learned ignorance is ubiquitous. As more and more actions of government, business &  industry are executed in secret (no pun intended), the further democracy recedes from view. The press which had the task of providing a check for the people against government and oligarchical overreach has been co-opted by the omnipresent corptalitarian state, becoming its formidable and highly effective propaganda arm. More information about the workings of government and business is conducted behind closed doors than ever before. Industry friendly lobbyists write entirely too much of the legislation our so-called elected officials pass in to law, that the people who know nothing about said laws must live under. Elected officials don’t have time to educate themselves sufficiently about the laws they pass because they spend most of their time collecting money from corprocrats who direct them what laws to pass and what laws to do away with. At some point the status quo will become untenable to the people. It’s probably why voting rights are being done away with. It’s probably why rights to free speech, free assembly and petitioning the government for grievances are being restricted. It’s probably why freedom from warrantless surveillance, search and seizure has been removed. It’s probably why protest has been designated as “low-level terrorism” and it’s frightfully easy to be labeled a “terrorist”. It’s probably why the Obama Administration refuses to definitively state that it’s claimed the right to assassinate Americans on American soil, that it has conveniently designated as a “battlefield“. The pieces have been put in to lock down this “turnkey totalitarian state“. As conditions deteriorate, it will begin to take a more tangible shape.” “Ignorance Is Strength”.

By Henry A. Giroux @ Truthout:

You write in order to change the world knowing perfectly well that you probably can’t, but also knowing that [writing] is indispensable to the world. The world changes according to the way people see it, and if you alter even by a millimeter the way people look at reality, then you can change it.” – James Baldwin

The Violence of Neoliberalism

We live in a time of deep foreboding, one that haunts any discourse about justice, democracy and the future. Not only have the points of reference that provided a sense of certainty and collective hope in the past largely evaporated, but the only referents available are increasingly supplied by a hyper-market-driven society, megacorporations and a corrupt financial service industry. The commanding economic and cultural institutions of American society have taken on what David Theo Goldberg calls a “militarizing social logic.”[1] Market discipline now regulates all aspects of social life, and the regressive economic rationality that drives it sacrifices the public good, public values and social responsibility to a tawdry consumerist dream while simultaneously creating a throwaway society of goods, resources and individuals now considered disposable.[2] This militarizing logic is also creeping into public schools and colleges with the former increasingly resembling the culture of prison and the latter opening their classrooms to the national intelligence agencies.[3] In one glaring instance of universities endorsing the basic institutions of the punishing state, Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, concluded a deal to rename its football stadium after the GEO Group, a private prison corporation “whose record is marred by human rights abuses, by lawsuits, by unnecessary deaths of people in their custody and a whole series of incidents.” [3A] Armed guards are now joined by armed knowledge.  Corruption, commodification and repressive state apparatuses have become the central features of a predatory society in which it is presumed irrationally “that market should dominate and determine all choices and outcomes to the occlusion of any other considerations.”[4]

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To read more articles by Henry Giroux and other authors in the Public Intellectual Project, click here.

The political, economic, and social consequences have done more than destroy any viable vision of a good society. They undermine the modern public’s capacity to think critically, celebrate a narcissistic hyperindividualism that borders on the pathological, destroy social protections and promote a massive shift towards a punitive state that criminalizes the behavior of those bearing the hardships imposed by a survival-of-the-fittest society that takes delight in the suffering of others. How else to account for a criminal justice stacked overwhelmingly against poor minorities, a prison system in which “prisoners can be held in solitary confinement for years in small, windowless cells in which they are kept for twenty-three hours of every day,”[5] or a police state that puts handcuffs on a 5-year old and puts him in jail because he violated a dress code by wearing sneakers that were the wrong color.[6] Why does the American public put up with a society in which “the top 1 percent of households owned 35.6 percent of net wealth (net worth) and a whopping 42.4 percent of net financial assets” in 2009, while many young people today represent the “new face of a national homeless population?”[7] American society is awash in a culture of civic illiteracy, cruelty and corruption. For example, major banks such as Barclays and HSBC swindle billions from clients and increase their profit margins by laundering money for terrorist organizations, and no one goes to jail. At the same time, we have the return of debtor prisons for the poor who cannot pay something as trivial as a parking fine. President Obama arbitrarily decides that he can ignore due process and kill American citizens through drone strikes and the American public barely blinks. Civic life collapses into a war zone and yet the dominant media is upset only because it was not invited to witness the golf match between Obama and Tiger Woods.

The celebration of violence in both virtual culture and real life now feed each other. The spectacle of carnage celebrated in movies such as A Good Day to Die Hard is now matched by the deadly violence now playing out in cities such as Chicago and New Orleans. Young people are particularly vulnerable to such violence, with 561 children age 12 and under killed by firearms between 2006 and 2010.[8] Corporate power, along with its shameless lobbyists and intellectual pundits, unabashedly argue for more guns in order to feed the bottom line, even as the senseless carnage continues tragically in places like Newtown, Connecticut, Tustin, California, and other American cities. In the meantime, the mainstream media treats the insane rambling of National Rifle Association’s (NRA) Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre as a legitimate point of view among many voices. This is the same guy who, after the killing of 20 young children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School, claimed the only way to stop more tragedies was to flood the market with more guns and provide schools with more armed guards. The American public was largely silent on the issue in spite of the fact that an increase of police in schools does nothing to prevent such massacres but does increase the number of children, particularly poor black youth, who are pulled out of class, booked and arrested for trivial behavioral infractions.

At the same time, America’s obsession with violence is reinforced by a market society that is Darwinian in its pursuit of profit and personal gain at almost any cost. Within this scenario, a social and economic order has emerged that combines the attributes and values of films such as the classics Mad Max and American Psycho. Material deprivation, galloping inequality, the weakening of public supports, the elimination of viable jobs, the mindless embrace of rabid competition and consumption, and the willful destruction of the environment speak to a society in which militarized violence finds its counterpart, if not legitimating credo, in a set of atomizing and selfish values that disdain shared social bonds and any notion of the public good. In this case, American society now mimics a market-driven culture that celebrates a narcissistic hyperindividualism that radiates with a new sociopathic lack of interest in others and a strong tendency towards violence and criminal behavior. As John le Carré once stated, “America has entered into one of its periods of historical madness.”[9] While le Carré wrote this acerbic attack on American politics in 2003, I think it is fair to say that things have gotten worse, and that the United States is further plunging into madness because of a deadening form of historical and social amnesia that has taken over the country, further reproducing a mass flight from memory and social responsibility. The politics of disimagination includes, in this instance, what Mumia Abu-Jamal labeled “mentacide,” a form of historical amnesia “inflicted on Black youth by the system’s systematic campaign to eradicate and deny them their people’s revolutionary history.”[10]

America’s Plunge Into Militarized Madness

How does one account for the lack of public outcry over millions of Americans losing their homes because of corrupt banking practices and millions more becoming unemployed because of the lack of an adequate jobs program in the United States, while at the same time stories abound of colossal greed and corruption on Wall Street? [11] For example, in 2009 alone, hedge fund manager David Tepper made approximately 4 billion dollars.[12] As Michael Yates points out: “This income, spent at a rate of $10,000 a day and exclusive of any interest, would last him and his heirs 1,096 years! If we were to suppose that Mr. Tepper worked 2,000 hours in 2009 (fifty weeks at forty hours per week), he took in $2,000,000 per hour and $30,000 a minute.”[13] This juxtaposition of robber-baron power and greed is rarely mentioned in the mainstream media in conjunction with the deep suffering and misery now experienced by millions of families, workers, children, jobless public servants and young people. This is especially true of a generation of youth who have become the new precariat[14] – a zero generation relegated to zones of social and economic abandonment and marked by zero jobs, zero future, zero hope and what Zygmunt Bauman has defined as a societal condition which is more “liquid,”less defined, punitive, and, in the end, more death dealing.[15]

Narcissism and unchecked greed have morphed into more than a psychological category that points to a character flaw among a marginal few. Such registers are now symptomatic of a market-driven society in which extremes of violence, militarization, cruelty and inequality are hardly noticed and have become normalized. Avarice and narcissism are not new. What is new is the unprecedented social sanction of the ethos of greed that has emerged since the 1980s.[16] What is also new is that military force and values have become a source of pride rather than alarm in American society. Not only has the war on terror violated a host of civil liberties, it has further sanctioned a military that has assumed a central role in American society, influencing everything from markets and education to popular culture and fashion. President Dwight D. Eisenhower left office warning about the rise of the military-industrial complex, with its pernicious alignment of the defense industry, the military and political power.[17] What he underestimated was the transition from a militarized economy to a militarized society in which the culture itself was shaped by military power, values and interests. What has become clear in contemporary America is that the organization of civil society for the production of violence is about more than producing militarized technologies and weapons; it is also about producing militarized subjects and a permanent war economy. As Aaron B. O’Connell points outs:

Our culture has militarized considerably since Eisenhower’s era, and civilians, not the armed services, have been the principal cause. From lawmakers’ constant use of “support our troops” to justify defense spending, to TV programs and video games like “NCIS,” “Homeland”and “Call of Duty,” to NBC’s shameful and unreal reality show “Stars Earn Stripes,” Americans are subjected to a daily diet of stories that valorize the military while the storytellers pursue their own opportunistic political and commercial agendas.[18]

The imaginary of war and violence informs every aspect of American society and extends from the celebration of a warrior culture in mainstream media to the use of universities to educate students in the logic of the national security state. Military deployments now protect “free trade” arrangements, provide job programs and drain revenue from public coffers. For instance, Lockheed Martin stands to gain billions of dollars in profits as Washington prepares to buy 2,443 F-35 fighter planes at a cost of $90 million each from the company. The overall cost of the project for a plane that has been called a “one trillion dollar boondoggle” is expected to cost more “than Australia’s entire GDP ($924 billion).”[19] Yet, the American government has no qualms about cutting food programs for the poor, early childhood programs for low-income students and food stamps for those who exist below the poverty line. Such misplaced priorities represent more than a military-industrial complex that is out of control. They also suggest the plunge of American society into the dark abyss of a state that is increasingly punitive, organized around the production of violence and unethical in its policies, priorities and values.

John Hinkson argues that such institutionalized violence is far from a short-lived and aberrant historical moment. In fact, he rightfully asserts that: “we have a new world economy, one crucially that lacks all substantial points of reference and is by implication nihilistic. The point is that this is not a temporary situation because of the imperatives, say, of war: it is a structural break with the past.”[20] Evidence of such a shift is obvious in the massive transfer upward in wealth and income that have not only resulted in the concentration of power in relatively few hands, but have promoted both unprecedented degrees of human suffering and hardship along with what can be called a politics of disimagination.

The Rise of the “Disimagination Machine”

Borrowing from Georges Didi-Huberman’s use of the term, “disimagination machine,” I argue that the politics of disimagination refers to images, and I would argue institutions, discourses, and other modes of representation, that undermine the capacity of individuals to bear witness to a different and critical sense of remembering, agency, ethics and collective resistance.[21] The “disimagination machine” is both a set of cultural apparatuses extending from schools and mainstream media to the new sites of screen culture, and a public pedagogy that functions primarily to undermine the ability of individuals to think critically, imagine the unimaginable, and engage in thoughtful and critical dialogue: put simply, to become critically informed citizens of the world.

Examples of the “disimagination machine” abound. A few will suffice. For instance, the Texas State Board of Education and other conservative boards of education throughout the United States are rewriting American textbooks to promote and impose on America’s public school students what Katherine Stewart calls “a Christian nationalist version of US history” in which Jesus is implored to “invade” public schools.[22] In this version of history, the term “slavery” is removed from textbooks and replaced with “Atlantic triangular trade,” the earth is 6,000 years old, and the Enlightenment is the enemy of education. Historical figures such as Jefferson, Thomas Paine and Benjamin Franklin, considered to have suspect religious views, “are ruthlessly demoted or purged altogether from the study program.”[23] Currently, 46 percent of the American population believes in the creationist view of evolution and increasingly rejects scientific evidence, research and rationality as either ‘academic’ or irreligious.[24]

The rise of the Tea Party and the renewal of the culture wars have resulted in a Republican Party which is now considered the party of anti-science. Similarly, right-wing politicians, media, talk show hosts and other conservative pundits loudly and widely spread the message that a culture of questioning is antithetical to the American way of life. Moreover, this message is also promoted by conservative groups such as The American Legislative Exchange Council, (ALEC) which has “hit the ground running in 2013, pushing ‘model bills’ mandating the teaching of climate change denial in public school systems.”[25] The climate-change-denial machine is also promoted by powerful conservative groups such as the Heartland Institute. Ignorance is never too far from repression, as was recently demonstrated in Arizona, where State Rep. Bob Thorpe, a Republican freshman Tea Party member, introduced a new bill requiring students to take a loyalty oath in order to receive a graduation diploma.[26]

The “disimagination machine” is more powerful than ever as conservative think tanks provide ample funds for training and promoting anti-public pseudo-intellectuals and religious fundamentalists while simultaneously offering policy statements and talking points to conservative media such as FOX News, Christian news networks, right-wing talk radio, and partisan social media and blogs. This ever growing information/illiteracy bubble has become a powerful force of public pedagogy in the larger culture and is responsible for not only the war on science, reason and critical thought, but also the war on women’s reproductive rights, poor minority youth, immigrants, public schooling, and any other marginalized group or institution that challenges the anti-intellectual, anti-democratic worldviews of the new extremists and the narrative supporting Christian nationalism. Liberal Democrats, of course, contribute to this “disimagination machine” through educational policies that substitute critical thinking and critical pedagogy for paralyzing pedagogies of memorization and rote learning tied to high-stakes testing in the service of creating a neoliberal, dumbed-down workforce.

As John Atcheson has pointed out, we are “witnessing an epochal shift in our socio-political world. We are de-evolving, hurtling headlong into a past that was defined by serfs and lords; by necromancy and superstition; by policies based on fiat, not facts.”[27] We are also plunging into a dark world of anti-intellectualism, civic illiteracy and a formative culture supportive of an authoritarian state. The embrace of ignorance is at the center of political life today, and a reactionary form of public pedagogy has become the most powerful element of the politics of authoritarianism. Civic illiteracy is the modus operandi for creating depoliticized subjects who believe that consumerism is the only obligation of citizenship, who privilege opinions over reasoned arguments, and who are led to believe that ignorance is a virtue rather than a political and civic liability. In any educated democracy, much of the debate that occupies political life today, extending from creationism and climate change denial to “birther” arguments, would be speedily dismissed as magical thinking, superstition and an obvious form of ignorance. Mark Slouka is right in arguing that, “Ignorance gives us a sense of community; it confers citizenship; our representatives either share it or bow down to it or risk our wrath…. Communicate intelligently in America and you’re immediately suspect.”[28] The politics and machinery of disimagination and its production of ever-deepening ignorance dominates American society because it produces, to a large degree, uninformed customers, hapless clients, depoliticized subjects and illiterate citizens incapable of holding corporate and political power accountable. At stake here is more than the dangerous concentration of economic, political and cultural power in the hands of the ultrarich, megacorporations and elite financial services industries. Also at issue is the widespread perversion of the social, critical education, the public good, and democracy itself.

Toward a Radical Imagination

Against the politics of disimagination, progressives, workers, educators, young people and others need to develop a a new language of radical reform and create new public spheres that provide the pedagogical conditions for critical thought, dialogue and thoughtful deliberation. At stake here is a notion of pedagogy that both informs the mind and creates the conditions for modes of agency that are critical, informed, engaged and socially responsible. The radical imagination can be nurtured around the merging of critique and hope, the capacity to connect private troubles with broader social considerations, and the production of alternative formative cultures that provide the precondition for political engagement and for energizing democratic movements for social change – movements willing to think beyond isolated struggles and the limits of a savage global capitalism. Stanley Aronowitz and Peter Bratsis point to such a project in their manifesto on the radical imagination. They write:

This Manifesto looks forward to the creation of a new political Left formation that can overcome fragmentation, and provide a solid basis for many-side interventions in the current economic, political and social crises that afflict people in all walks of life. The Left must once again offer to young people, people of color, women, workers, activists, intellectuals and newly-arrived immigrants places to learn how the capitalist system works in all of its forms of exploitation whether personal, political, or economic. We need to reconstruct a platform to oppose Capital. It must ask in this moment of US global hegemony what are the alternatives to its cruel power over our lives, and those of large portions of the world’s peoples. And the Left formation is needed to offer proposals on how to rebuild a militant, democratic labor movement, strengthen and transform the social movements; and, more generally, provide the opportunity to obtain a broad education that is denied to them by official institutions. We need a political formation dedicated to the proposition that radical theory and practice are inextricably linked, that knowledge without action is impotent, but action without knowledge is blind.[29]

Matters of justice, equality, and political participation are foundational to any functioning democracy, but it is important to recognize that they have to be rooted in a vibrant formative culture in which democracy is understood not just as a political and economic structure but also as a civic force enabling justice, equality and freedom to flourish. While the institutions and practices of a civil society and an aspiring democracy are essential in this project, what must also be present are the principles and modes of civic education and critical engagement that support the very foundations of democratic culture. Central to such a project is the development of a new radical imagination both through the pedagogies and projects of public intellectuals in the academy and through work that can be done in other educational sites, such as the new media. Utilizing the Internet, social media, and other elements of the digital and screen culture, public intellectuals, cultural workers, young people and others can address larger audiences and present the task of challenging diverse forms of oppression, exploitation and exclusion as part of a broader effort to create a radical democracy.

There is a need to invent modes of pedagogy that release the imagination, connect learning to social change and create social relations in which people assume responsibility for each other. Such a pedagogy is not about methods or prepping students to learn how to take tests. Nor is such an education about imposing harsh disciplinary behaviors in the service of a pedagogy of oppression. On the contrary, it is about a moral and political practice capable of enabling students and others to become more knowledgeable while creating the conditions for generating a new vision of the future in which people can recognize themselves, a vision that connects with and speaks to the desires, dreams and hopes of those who are willing to fight for a radical democracy. Americans need to develop a new understanding of civic literacy, education and engagement, one capable of developing a new conversation and a new political project about democracy, inequality, and the redistribution of wealth and power, and how such a discourse can offer the conditions for democratically inspired visions, modes of governance and policymaking. Americans need to embrace and develop modes of civic literacy, critical education and democratic social movements that view the public good as a utopian imaginary, one that harbors a trace and vision of what it means to defend old and new public spheres that offer spaces where dissent can be produced, public values asserted, dialogue made meaningful and critical thought embraced as a noble ideal.

Elements of such a utopian imaginary can be found in James Baldwin’s “Open Letter to My Sister, Angela Davis,” in which he points out that “we live in an age in which silence is not only criminal but suicidal.”[30] The utopian imaginary is also on full display in Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham City Jail,” where King states under the weight and harshness of incarceration that an “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere … [and asks whether we will] be extremists for the preservation of injustice – or will we be extremists for the cause of justice?”[31] According to King, “we must use time creatively, and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy.”[32] We hear it in the words of former Harvard University President James B. Conant, who makes an impassioned call for “the need for the American radical – the missing political link between the past and future of this great democratic land.” [33] We hear it in the voices of young people all across the United States – the new American radicals – who are fighting for a society in which justice matters, social protections are guaranteed, equality is insured, and education becomes a right and not an entitlement. The radical imagination waits to be unleashed through social movements in which injustice is put on the run and civic literacy, economic justice, and collective struggle once again become the precondition for agency, hope and the struggle over democracy.

Endnotes

1.
David Theo Goldberg, “Mission Accomplished: Militarizing Social Logic,”in Enrique Jezik: Obstruct, destroy, conceal, ed. Cuauhtémoc Medina (Mexico: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, 2011), 183-198.

2.
See, for example, Colin Leys, Market Driven Politics (London: Verso, 2001); Randy Martin, Financialization of Daily Life (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2002); Pierre Bourdieu, Firing Back: Against the Tyranny of the Market 2. Trans. Loic Wacquant (New York: The New Press, 2003); Alfredo Saad-Filho and Deborah Johnston, Neoliberalism: A Critical Reader (London: Pluto Press, 2005); Henry A. Giroux, Against the Terror of Neoliberalism (Boulder: Paradigm, 2008); David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007); Manfred B. Steger and Ravi K. Roy, Neoliberalism: A Very Short Introduction (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010); Gerad Dumenil and Dominique Levy, The Crisis of Neoliberalism (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011). Henry A. Giroux, Twilight of the Social (Boulder: Paradigm, 2013); Stuart Hall, “The March of the Neoliberals,” The Guardian, (September 12, 2011). online at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2011/sep/12/march-of-the-neoliberals

3.
See most recently  Kelly V. Vlahos, “Boots on Campus,” Anti War.com (February 26, 2013). On line: http://original.antiwar.com/vlahos/2013/02/25/boots-on-campus/ and David H. Price, Weaponizing Anthropology (Oakland, CA: AK Press, 2011).

3A. Greg Bishop, “A Company that Runs Prisons Will Have its Name on a Stadium,” New York Times (February 19, 2013). Online: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/20/sports/ncaafootball/a-company-that-runs-prisons-will-have-its-name-on-a-stadium.html?_r=0

4.
Ibid. Goldberg, pp. 197-198.

5.
Jonathan Schell, “Cruel America”, The Nation, (September 28, 2011) online: http://www.thenation.com/article/163690/cruel-america

6.
Suzi Parker, “Cops Nab 5-Year-Old for Wearing Wrong Color Shoes to School,” Take Part, (January 18, 2013). Online: http://www.takepart.com/article/2013/01/18/cops-nab-five-year-old-wearing-wrong-color-shoes-school

7.
Susan Saulny, “After Recession, More Young Adults Are Living on Street,” The New York Times, (December 18, 2012). Online: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/19/us/since-recession-more-young-americans-are-homeless.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

8.
Suzanne Gamboa and Monika Mathur, “Guns Kill Young Children Daily In The U.S.,” Huffington Post (December 24, 2012). Online: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/24/guns-children_n_2359661.html

9.
John le Carre, “The United States of America Has Gone Mad,” CommonDreams (January 15, 2003). Online: http://www.commondreams.org/views03/0115-01.htm

10.
Eric Mann Interviews Mumbia Abu Jamal, “Mumia Abu Jamal: On his biggest political influences and the political ‘mentacide’ of today’s youth.” Voices from the Frontlines Radio (April 9, 2012).

11.
See, for example, Charles Ferguson, Predator Nation: Corporate Criminals, Political Corruption, and the Hijacking of America (New York: Random House, 2012).

12.
Michael Yates, “The Great Inequality,” Monthly Review, (March 1, 2012).

13.
Ibid.

14.
Guy Standing, The New Precariat: The New Dangerous Class (New York: Bloomsbury, 2011).

15.
Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid Times: Living in an Age of Uncertainty, (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2007).

16.
This issue is taken up brilliantly in Irving Howe, “Reaganism: The Spirit of the Times,” Selected Writings 1950-1990 (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1990), pp. 410-423.

17.
I take up this issue in detail in Henry A. Giroux, The University in Chains: Challenging the Military-Industrial-Academic Complex (Boulder: Paradigm, 2007).

18.
Aaron B. O’Connell, “The Permanent Militarization of America,” The New York Times, (November 4, 2012). Online: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/05/opinion/the-permanent-militarization-of-america.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

19.
Dominic Tierney, “The F-35: A Weapon that Costs More Than Australia,” The Atlantic (February 13, 2013). Online: http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/03/the-f-35-a-weapon-that-costs-more-than-australia/72454/

20.
John Hinkson, “The GFC Has Just Begun,”Arena Magazine 122 (March 2013), p. 51.

21.
Georges Didi-Huberman, Images in Spite of All: Four Photographs from Auschwitz, trans. Shane B. Lillis (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008), pp. 1-2.

22.
Katherine Stewart, “Is Texas Waging War on History?”AlterNet (May 21, 2012). Online: http://www.alternet.org/story/155515/is_texas_waging_war_on_history

23.
Ibid.

24.
See, for instance, Chris Mooney, The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science – and Reality (New York: Wiley, 2012).

25.
Steve Horn, “Three States Pushing ALEC Bill to Require Teachng Climate Change Denial in Schools,”Desmogblog.com (January 31, 2013). Online: www.desmogblog.com/2013/01/31/three-states-pushing-alec-bill-climate-change-denial-schools

26.
Igor Volsky, “Arizona Bill to Force Students to Take a Loyalty Oath,” AlterNet (January 26, 2013).

27.
John Atcheson, “Dark ages Redux: American Politics and the End of the Enlightenment,” CommonDreams (June 18, 2012). Online: https://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/06/18-2

28.
Mark Slouka, “A Quibble,” Harper’s Magazine (February 2009).

29.
Manifesto, Left Turn: An Open Letter to U.S. Radicals, (N.Y.: The Fifteenth Street Manifesto Group, March 2008), pp. 4-5.

30.
James Baldwin, “An Open Letter to My Sister, Miss Angela Davis,” The New York Review of Books, (January 7, 1971). Online: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/1971/jan/07/an-open-letter-to-my-sister-miss-angela-davis/?pagination=false

31.
Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter from Birmingham City Jail” (1963), in James M. Washington, The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr. (New York: Harper Collins, 1991), pp.290, 298.

32.
Ibid, 296.

33.
James B. Conant, “Wanted: American Radicals”, The Atlantic, May 1943.

Henry A Giroux

Henry A. Giroux currently holds the Global TV Network Chair Professorship at McMaster University in the English and Cultural Studies Department. His most recent books include: Youth in a Suspect Society (Palgrave, 2009); Politics After Hope: Obama and the Crisis of Youth, Race, and Democracy (Paradigm, 2010); Hearts of Darkness: Torturing Children in the War on Terror (Paradigm, 2010); The Mouse that Roared: Disney and the End of Innocence (co-authored with Grace Pollock, Rowman and Littlefield, 2010); Zombie Politics and Culture in the Age of Casino Capitalism (Peter Lang, 2011); Henry Giroux on Critical Pedagogy (Continuum, 2011). His newest books:   Education and the Crisis of Public Values (Peter Lang) and Twilight of the Social: Resurgent Publics in the Age of Disposability (Paradigm Publishers) will be published in 2012). Giroux is also a member of Truthout’s Board of Directors. His web site is http://www.henryagiroux.com.

 

America’s Descent Into Corptalitarianism: The New Extremism & Politics Of Distraction In The Age Of Austerity

In Uncategorized on January 30, 2013 at 5:18 pm

https://i0.wp.com/alexanderltremayne.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/corporate_mafia2.pngOldspeak:What is missing in the current debates dominating Washington politics is the recognition that the real issues at stake are neither the debt ceiling nor the state of the economy, however important, but a powerful and poisonous form of authoritarianism that poses a threat to the very idea of democracy and the institutions, public values, formative cultures and public spheres that nourish it. The United States occupies a critical juncture in its history, one in which the forces of extremism are not just on the rise but are in the midst of revolutionizing modes of governance, ideology and policy. The politics of disconnect is just one of a series of strategies designed to conceal this deeper order of authoritarian politics. In a society that revels in bouts of historical and social amnesia, it is much easier for the language of politics and community to be stolen and deployed like a weapon so as to empty words such as democracy, freedom, justice and the social state of any viable meaning. Arundhati Roy captures the anti-democratic nature of this process in the following insightful comment. She writes:

This theft of language, this technique of usurping words and deploying them like weapons, of using them to mask intent and to mean exactly the opposite of what they have traditionally meant, has been one of the most brilliant strategic victories of the czars of the new dispensation. It has allowed them to marginalize their detractors, deprive them of a language to voice their critique and dismiss them as being “anti-progress,” “anti-development,” “anti-reform,” and of course “anti-national” – negativists of the worst sort. To reclaim these stolen words requires explanations that are too tedious for a world with a short attention span, and too expensive in an era when Free Speech has become unaffordable for the poor. This language heist may prove to be the keystone of our undoing.

This undoing of democracy to which Roy refers, and the dystopian society that is being created in its place, can be grasped in the current subordination of public values to commercial values and the collapse of democracy into the logic and values of what might called a predatory casino capitalism where life is cheap and everything is for sale. More specifically, from the ailing rib of democracy there is emerging not simply just an aggressive political assault on democratic modes of governance, but a form of linguistic and cultural authoritarianism that no longer needs to legitimate itself in an idea because it secures its foundational beliefs in a claim to normalcy;7 that is, Americans are now inundated with a pedagogy of cultural authoritarianism whose ideology, values, social practices and social formations cannot be questioned because they represent and legitimate the new neoliberal financial order. This is a mode of predatory casino capitalism that presents itself as a universal social formation without qualification, a social form that inhabits a circle of ideological and political certainty and cultural practice that equates being a citizen with being a consumer – in other words, predatory capitalism is transforming into a universal ethic that has exhausted all political differences, economic alternatives and counter readings of the world in the service of benefitting a financial and corporate elite and a savage form of economic Darwinism.” –Henry A. Giroux

In a corptalitarian, crypto-faccist state, dissent is criminalized and ridiculed. The rule of law becomes arbitrary, fluid. The range of acceptable opinion is seductively narrowed. Extremism, manufactured fear and consent increase significantly. The status quo systems and structures around which the society is organized are rarely questioned, if so only superficially and transiently. Language is militarized, tightly controlled, and comes to mean something other than it was originally intended as lies become truth. Ignorance is viewed as strength, desirable, adorable, comical, normal. Perpetual war is used to bring peace, surgically, cooly, remotely, covertly, via killer robots “special forces” and “signature strikes”. Freedom becomes slavery as the wonders of wireless technology heralded as the tools to enable free and ubiquitous communications and interactions are now used to surveil, track, record, restrict, atomize, disconnect, control, monetize and manipulate communications, interactions and behavior. Mindless and ever-increasing consumption becomes more important than critical thinking. Inequality increases, with the bottom 50% controlling 1% of wealth, while the to 10% control 75% of wealth. Whistleblowers, pot smokers, lawful protestors, journalists, academics, go to jail, while polluters, torturers, white collars thieves, economy collapsers, and war criminals walk free. It doesn’t have to be this way.

By Henry A. Giroux @ Truthout:

The debate in both Washington and the mainstream media over austerity measures, the alleged fiscal cliff and the looming debt crisis not only function to render anti-democratic pressures invisible, but also produce what the late sociologist C. Wright Mills once called “a politics of organized irresponsibility.”1 For Mills, authoritarian politics developed, in part, by making the operations of power invisible while weaving a network of lies and deceptions through what might be called a politics of disconnect. That is, a politics that focuses on isolated issues that serve to erase the broader relations and historical contexts that give them meaning. These isolated issues become flashpoints in a cultural and political discourse that hide not merely the operations of power, but also the resurgence of authoritarian ideologies, modes of governance, policies and social formations that put any viable notion of democracy at risk.2 Decontextualized ideas and issues, coupled with the overflow of information produced by the new electronic media, make it more difficult to create narratives that offer historical understanding, relational connections and developmental sequences. The fragmentation of ideas and the cascade of information reinforce new modes of depoliticization and authoritarianism. 3

At the same time, more important issues are buried in the fog of what might be called isolated and manufactured crises, that when given legitimacy, actually benefit the wealthy and hurt working- and middle-class individuals and families. Gerald Epstein rightly argues that the debate about the fiscal cliff is

a debacle on the part of the Obama administration and for progressives and for workers and for families. It’s a real disaster…. We shouldn’t be having to sit here talking about this; we should be talking about what are going to do about the employment cliff or the climate change cliff. But instead we’re talking about this fiscal cliff, which is a manufactured crisis.4

The fiscal cliff argument is manufactured both in that it is not a real crisis (except for its impact on poor and middle-class families), and it serves as a diversion from pressing issues ranging from mass unemployment and widespread poverty, to the housing crisis and the student debt bomb. Moreover, it undermines understanding how these various problems are interrelated ideologically and structurally as part of an assault by religious and market fundamentalists on all aspects of public life that address the common good.

The expanded reach of politics in this discourse of distraction shrinks, and in doing so separates private troubles from public considerations, while undermining any broader understanding of the confluence of socio-economic-cultural interests and interrelated issues and problems that characterize a particular age. For instance, the debate on gun control says little about the deep-rooted culture of symbolic and structural violence that nourishes America’s infatuation with guns and its attraction to the spectacle of violence. Similarly, the mainstream debate over taxing the rich refuses to address this issue through a broader analysis of a society that is structurally wedded to producing massive inequities in income and wealth along with the considerable suffering and hardships produced by such social disparities.

In this denuded notion of politics, the connection between facts and wider theoretical frameworks and the connection between politics and power disappear just as the relationship between private troubles and larger social realities are covered over. Under such circumstances, politics is cleansed of its extremist elements and informed modes of dissent are not only marginalized but also actively suppressed, as was obvious in the FBI surveillance of Occupy Wall Street protesters and the police’s ruthless suppression of student dissenters on campuses across the country.

Blind Publics in an Authoritarian Age

What is missing in the current debates dominating Washington politics is the recognition that the real issues at stake are neither the debt ceiling nor the state of the economy, however important, but a powerful and poisonous form of authoritarianism that poses a threat to the very idea of democracy and the institutions, public values, formative cultures and public spheres that nourish it.5 The United States occupies a critical juncture in its history, one in which the forces of extremism are not just on the rise but are in the midst of revolutionizing modes of governance, ideology and policy. The politics of disconnect is just one of a series of strategies designed to conceal this deeper order of authoritarian politics. In a society that revels in bouts of historical and social amnesia, it is much easier for the language of politics and community to be stolen and deployed like a weapon so as to empty words such as democracy, freedom, justice and the social state of any viable meaning. Arundhati Roy captures the anti-democratic nature of this process in the following insightful comment. She writes:

This theft of language, this technique of usurping words and deploying them like weapons, of using them to mask intent and to mean exactly the opposite of what they have traditionally meant, has been one of the most brilliant strategic victories of the czars of the new dispensation. It has allowed them to marginalize their detractors, deprive them of a language to voice their critique and dismiss them as being “anti-progress,” “anti-development,” “anti-reform,” and of course “anti-national” – negativists of the worst sort. To reclaim these stolen words requires explanations that are too tedious for a world with a short attention span, and too expensive in an era when Free Speech has become unaffordable for the poor. This language heist may prove to be the keystone of our undoing. 6

This undoing of democracy to which Roy refers, and the dystopian society that is being created in its place, can be grasped in the current subordination of public values to commercial values and the collapse of democracy into the logic and values of what might called a predatory casino capitalism where life is cheap and everything is for sale. More specifically, from the ailing rib of democracy there is emerging not simply just an aggressive political assault on democratic modes of governance, but a form of linguistic and cultural authoritarianism that no longer needs to legitimate itself in an idea because it secures its foundational beliefs in a claim to normalcy;7 that is, Americans are now inundated with a pedagogy of cultural authoritarianism whose ideology, values, social practices and social formations cannot be questioned because they represent and legitimate the new neoliberal financial order. This is a mode of predatory casino capitalism that presents itself as a universal social formation without qualification, a social form that inhabits a circle of ideological and political certainty and cultural practice that equates being a citizen with being a consumer – in other words, predatory capitalism is transforming into a universal ethic that has exhausted all political differences, economic alternatives and counter readings of the world in the service of benefitting a financial and corporate elite and a savage form of economic Darwinism.

We get hints of the current mechanisms of diversion and its hidden order of politics in Robert Reich’s claim that the debate over the fiscal cliff should not only be about the broader issue of inequality but also must ask and address crucial political questions regarding the increasing concentration of power and “entrenched wealth at the top, and less for the middle-class and the poor.8 We also see it in Frank Rich’s insistence that the endless debate conducted largely in the mainstream media about Washington being dysfunctional misses the point. Rich argues that beyond media’s silly argument that both parties are to blame for the current deadlock, lies a Republican Party strategy to make the Federal government look as dysfunctional as possible so as to convince the wider American public that the government should be dismantled and its services turned over to for-profit private interests. In fact, a number of recent critics now believe that the extremist nature of the current Republican Party represents one of the most difficult obstacles to any viable form of governance. Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein, two prominent conservative commentators, recently have argued that moderates not only have been pushed out of the Republican Party but they are for all intents and purposes “virtually extinct.” They go even further in stating that:

In our past writings, we have criticized both parties when we believed it was warranted. Today, however, we have no choice but to acknowledge that the core of the problem lies with the Republican Party. The GOP has become an insurgent outlier in American politics. It is ideologically extreme; scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition. When one party moves this far from the mainstream, it makes it nearly impossible for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges. 9

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has gone further and has characterized the Republican Party and its “corporate-centric super-PACs as treasonous.” He states that Americans “are now in a free fall toward old-fashioned oligarchy; noxious, thieving and tyrannical” and that given the role of the most corporate-friendly Supreme Court since the Gilded Age with its passage of the Citizens United decision, “those who have the money now have the loudest voices in our democracy while poor Americans are mute.”10

More radical critics like Noam Chomsky, Chris Hedges, Sheldon Wolin, Stanley Aronowitz, Judith Butler, Robert Scheer, Jeffrey St. Clair, Matt Taibbi, Angela Davis and David Theo Goldberg, among others, have long recognized the transformation of the United States from a weak democracy to a spirited authoritarian state. All of these theorists have challenged the permanent war economy, the erosion of civil liberties, the power of the corporate state, the moral bankruptcy of the liberal intelligentsia, the corporate control of the media, the criminal wars of repression abroad, the rise of the torture state and the increasing militarization of everyday life.

However extremist the Republican Party has become with its ongoing war on women, immigrants, young people, the welfare state, voting rights and all manner of civil rights, this should not suggest that the Democratic Party occupies a valued liberal position. On the contrary, policy in the United States is now being shaped by a Democratic Party that has become increasingly more conservative in the last 30 years along with a Republican Party that now represents one of the most extremist political parties to ever seize power in Washington. And while the Republican Party has fallen into the hands of radical extremists, both parties “support shifting the costs of the crisis and the government bailouts of banks, large corporations and the stock market, onto the mass of the citizens.”11 Both parties support bailing out the rich and doing the bidding of corporate lobbyists. Moreover, both parties reject the idea of democracy as a collectively inhabited public space and ethos that unconditionally stands for individual, political and economic rights. President Obama and his Wall Street advisors may hold onto some weak notion of the social contract, but they are far from liberal when it comes to embracing the military physics of the corporate warfare state.

As Chris Hedges, Paul Street, Noam Chomsky and Salvatore Babones have repeatedly pointed out, calling the Republican Party extremists should not cloud the increasingly authoritarian positions now embraced by the Obama administration. For instance, President Obama has deported more immigrants than his predecessor George W. Bush; he has advocated for the privatization of public schools, pursued neoliberal modes of educational governance and slashed funds from a number of vital social service programs. He has put into place a health care program that eliminated the public option and joined forces with insurance companies and Big Pharma.

As is well known, the Obama administration also kept Guantanamo open, justified warrantless wiretapping, accelerated drone attacks that killed many innocent civilians, supports indefinite detention and sanctions a form of “extraordinary rendition,” in which potential terrorists are abducted and shipped off to foreign countries to be tortured.12 In fact, the realm of politics has moved so far to the right in the United States that modes of extremism that were once thought unthinkable have now become commonplace. As Glenn Greenwald has argued, the Patriot Act, state-sponsored torture, assassinations, kill lists and surveillance programs, once “widely lamented as a threat to core American liberties” have “become such a fixture in our political culture that we are trained to take them for granted, to view the warped as normal.”13 While both parties have given up the mantel of democratic politics, the Republican Party is more extreme in its range of targets and its savage attempts to destroy those modes of governance and public spheres that provide the conditions for robust and critical forms of civic life, education, agency and democracy.

Republican Party Extremisms and the Destruction of Democracy

The extremism of the current Republican Party has many political, ideological, economic and cultural registers, but one of its most dangerous and punitive is its attacks on the social state, the public good and the very notion of responsible government. If the Democratic Party has undermined vital civil liberties while promoting a warfare state, the Republican Party has created a new understanding of politics as the space in which corporations and finance capital provide the template for all aspects of governance and policy. Governance in this mode of politics is a mixture of corporate power and financial warfare, accompanied by rule through the apparatuses of punishment, including the courts, military and police. If the slavish obedience to the corporate and finance state is visible in the Republican Party’s call for deregulation, privatization, free trade and a no-tax policy for the wealthy and corporations, the rule of the punishing state becomes clear in the call for the criminalization of a range of social behaviors ranging from abortion and homelessness, to debt payments and student protests.

While the use of military force against workers and civil rights has a long history in the US, the rule of finance capital is both new and takes on a new urgency, given the threat it poses to a substantive democracy. Robert McChesney argues that the rule of capital has transformed the United States from a weak democracy to “Dollarocracy – the rule of money rather than the rule of people – a specifically US form of plutocracy [that] is now so dominant, so pervasive, that it is accepted as simply the landscape people inhabit.”14 Michael Hudson goes further in his analysis and characterizes one element of the new extremism as a form of financial warfare waged against not merely the social state but all those groups that historically have fought for expanding political, economic and personal rights. He writes:

Finance has moved to capture the economy at large, industry and mining, public infrastructure (via privatization) and now even the educational system. (At over $1 trillion, US student loan-debt came to exceed credit-card debt in 2012). The weapon in this financial warfare … is to load economies (governments, companies and families) with debt, siphon off their income as debt service and then foreclose when debtors lack the means to pay. Indebting government gives creditors a lever to pry away land, public infrastructure and other property in the public domain. Indebting companies enable[s] creditors to seize employee pension savings. And indebting labor means that it no longer is necessary to hire strikebreakers to attack union organizers and strikers…. In contrast to the promise of democratic reform nurturing a middle class a century ago, we are witnessing a regression to a world of special privilege in which one must inherit wealth in order to avoid debt and job dependency. 15

The second feature of the new extremism is the ongoing commercialization and destruction of democratic public spaces. The latter refers to the ongoing privatization, commercialization and attack on those democratic public spheres that provide the space for critical thinking, informed dialogue, thoughtfulness, the affirmation of non-commodified norms and the unconditional protection of social rights. Institutions of democratic culture such as schools, the art world, unions, the media, and other public spheres where public values and important social issues are both engaged and offer the conditions for producing informed citizens are now viewed with disdain because they embrace modes of critical reasoning and a collective ethos at odds with anti-democratic and market-driven values.

The Republican Party is not simply wedded to a vicious anti-intellectualism; it scorns the very notion of reason and embraces ignorance as the basis for community. This is evident not only in the rejection of science, evidence and reason as the foundation of an informed community, but also in the embrace of fundamentalist positions that pander to ignorance as a basis for shutting down dissent, mobilizing supporters and retooling American education as a business, a training site to initiate the young into a world where the corporate, financial and military elite decide their needs, desires and future.

The third feature of the new extremism focuses on the attack on the social contract and welfare state and the ideas and institutions that make them possible. The new extremists recognize that the space of citizenship is as important as the idea of citizenship and they want to make sure that it is difficult, if not impossible, for the American public to find and inhabit those public spaces where the discourse of the common good, public life and social justice can be taught and learned – spaces where a language for defending vital public spheres can be developed. The Republican Party discourse on deficits and austerity is in reality an attempt to dismantle the welfare state and the social supports it provides. For Republican Party extremists, budget deficits become the key weapon in forcing the government to reduce its spending on Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other social provisions at odds with market-driven values, deregulation and the logic of privatization.

One consequence of this attack on the welfare state and the social contract has been the emergence of a market fundamentalism that trivializes democratic values and public concerns. At the same time, this market fundamentalism enshrines a rabid individualism, legitimates an all-embracing quest for profits, and promotes a Social Darwinism in which misfortune is seen as a weakness and the Hobbesian rule of a “war of all against all” replaces any vestige of shared responsibilities or compassion for others. If the conservative revolution launched by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher had as its goal the rolling back of social democratic rights, the counter-revolutionaries that now control the Republican Party go much further. That is, they are not interested in rolling back the benefits of the social state, they want to eliminate government-sponsored social provisions, trade union rights, and other social and economic rights. The enemy in this discourse is equality and substantive social rights.

In this form of free-market fundamentalism, the new authoritarianism posits the unregulated and unfettered market as an idol and fetish and promotes the rule of finance capital as part of a larger project leading to the rule of a callous corporate-dominated political economy. It also promotes an anti-public morality in which the only responsibility one has is to oneself, “with no responsibility for the interests or well-being of others.”16 How else to explain the refusal of both political parties to address myriad crises faced by young people as revealed in the following poverty-related statistics: Young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 are the new face of a national homeless population; more than a million public school students are homeless in the US; 57 percent of all children are in homes considered to be either low-income or impoverished, and that half of all American children will be on food stamps at least once before they turn 18 years old.17

At stake here is what John Clarke calls the subordination of the social and public values through a variety of policies that include: 18 “erasing the social” by withdrawing social protections for labor; “privatizing the social” by turning over publicly owned resources to profit-making interests; “subjugating the social” by subordinating social needs and policies to the imperatives of economic competitiveness and capital accumulation; domesticating the social by placing the burden for collective provision, security and care to the narrow realm of the family; narrowing the social by downsizing it into “meaner, degraded or recitalist forms.”19 Under this new market fundamentalism and political extremism, there is little interest in preventing inequality from running out of control – a savage ideology that feeds nicely into the notion that the social protections of the state have nothing to do with the common good or communal survival, but are largely a matter of charity.20 Central to the subordination of the social is the need to create new modes of agency and subjectivity in which “individuals think of themselves in economic terms – as entrepreneurial, calculating selves whose world is structured through contractual or quasi-contractual relationships.”21 This leads to the next element of the new extremism.

The fourth feature of the new extremism is its use of the media and other cultural apparatuses to promote a neoliberal form of public pedagogy and anti-politics engaged in the production of identities, desires and values that disparage any mode of sociality that embraces the common good, public values and shared responsibilities. The new extremism embraces a radical individualism that celebrates a consumer-oriented citizen “whose actions reflect mostly their material self-interests.”22 This is a form of anti-politics, an “authoritarian Utopia that is nothing less than ‘a program of methodical destruction of collectives,’ from trade unions and mill towns to families and small nations.”23 Under attack in this new form of authoritarianism are the social bonds and modes of communal cohesion that enable individuals, families and social movements to resist the ongoing transformation of citizens into customers, the criminalization of economic life, the corruption of politics and the massive increase in poverty, inequality, a culture of cruelty and the emergence of the punishing state.

The new extremism unleashes all the forces of brutal self-absorption that deepen and expand both the structure of cruelty and its ongoing privatization. Material self-interests have weakened any sense of collective purpose, just as America’s obsession with radical individualism and wealth and the growing existence of gross inequality have become symptomatic of our ethical and collective impoverishment.24 As Bauman points out, “the consuming life is [now] lived as a supreme expression of autonomy,” leaving no room for deploying activity in the service of “commitment, devotion, [and] responsibility.”25 Social life in this discourse has little to do with democracy and the formative culture needed to nourish it. As public values are disdained and the very notion of the public good and civic imagination disappear, people do more than surrender their citizenship, they also are rendered excess, disposable – waste products in a society wedded to throwing away not just consumer products, but increasingly human beings as well. What is new about the extremism that now rules American society is not simply the decline of public values but how they have become irrelevant to the existing contemporary neoliberal order, which weakens the foundation of social solidarity and creates identities, values and desires that turn the principles of democracy against themselves while undermining the very possibility of politics as a democratic project.

The Suffocation of Imagination, Agency and Hope

The war on the social contract, the welfare state, democratic politics, equality and the very idea of justice is an attack not simply on everything from Medicare to Social Security to the Equal Pay Act, it is an assault on “the basic architecture of our collective responsibility to ensure that Americans share in a decent life.”26 It is also an aggressive strike against the formative cultures and modes of individual and collective agency that legitimate a connection between the democratic polis and the possibility of economic, social and political freedom. The new extremism and its authoritarian politics draw attention away from serious social problems and the actual structural and ideological conditions that reproduce them. Underlying the shadow of authoritarianism is a corrosive attempt to “create a loss of conviction, a loss of faith in the culture of open democracy, a sense of skepticism and withdrawal.”27 To the degree that the private sphere becomes the only space in which to imagine any sense of hope, pleasure or possibility, citizenship becomes distorted, removed from issues of equity, social justice and civic responsibility. Tony Judt is right in arguing that we have entered a historical conjuncture in which politics is losing its shape, its power of attraction and its ability to confront the anti-democratic pressures at work in American society today.28

Opposing this contemporary, cruel form of authoritarianism demands a new language for embracing the social, for defining civic engagement, for rethinking the meaning of agency and politics and for talking about social responsibility. Rethinking the social means, in part, embracing the role of the state in providing regulations that limit the power of corporations and the financial service industries. It means reconfiguring the very nature of power in order to subordinate capitalism’s major structuring institutions to the rule of law, democratic values and the precepts of justice and equality. The state is not merely an instrument of governance, it is also a site where organized irresponsibility has to give way to organized responsibility, where ethics cannot be privatized and separated from economic considerations, where the rule of law cannot be used to produce legal illegalities and where politics becomes inseparable from the claims of justice, equality and freedom. This suggests the need for social movements to organize and fight for modes of sovereignty at all levels of government in which people, rather than money and corporations, shape the nature of politics, policies and cultural apparatuses that provide the public values that nourish critical modes of citizenship and democracy itself.

The Roles of Critical Education and Collective Struggle in Taking Back Democracy

At stake here is not merely a call for reform but a revolutionary ideal that enables people to hold power, participate in the process of governing and create genuine publics capable of translating private troubles and issues into public problems. This is a revolution that not only calls for structural change but for a transformation in the ways in which subjectivities are created, desires are produced and agency itself becomes crucial to any viable notion of freedom. There is a pedagogical element to a rethinking of the political that has often been ignored by progressives of various political persuasions and that is the necessity to make pedagogy itself central to the very meaning of politics. In this case, it is not enough to demand that people be provided with the right to participate in the experience of governing, but also educated in every aspect of what it means to live in a democracy. At the very least, this suggests an education that enables a working knowledge of citizen-based skills and the development of those capacities that encourage individuals to be self-reflective, develop a passion for public values and be willing to develop and defend those public spaces that lift ideas into the worldly space of the public realm.29

The philosopher Cornelius Castoriadis surely is right in insisting that we must take seriously the political task of creating those diverse public spheres which are capable of rendering all individuals fit to participate in the governing of society, willing to promote the common good and engage the social within a broader political and theoretical landscape, one not tied to the priority of economic interests and an endlessly commodifying market-driven social order. 30Politics demands an informed citizenry, which can only be produced collectively through the existence of public spheres that give meaning to their struggles and fight for justice, economic rights and human dignity. In that sense, any viable struggle against the new authoritarianism in the United States might start with Castoriadis’ insistence that any viable form of politics begins with creating formative cultures and public spheres in which critical education in the broadest sense becomes essential to the very meaning of justice, social responsibility, and democracy.

For Castoriadis, at the heart of such formative cultures are operative forms of public pedagogy that create citizens “who are critical thinkers capable of putting existing institutions into question so that democracy” can be nourished and sustained.31 As a moral and political practice, pedagogy becomes productive of what knowledge, values, and identities are produced in a particular society. Similarly, it becomes a determining factor in creating a society willing to both question itself and struggle for those ideals that give meaning and substance to the promise of a substantive democracy.

Against the dystopian visions that drive the new extremism, there is a need for teachers, workers, artists, students, young people, academics and others to produce a language of critique, provocation and possibility. This is a discourse of civic engagement that embraces politics, in part, as a pedagogical practice organized around what I have in the past labeled as educated hope. Educated hope sharpens the “ethopolitical” instrument and “operates at the root of where the ethical imagination and the political mingle.”32 Educated hope signals the merging of civic education and democratic action as part of a broader attempt to enable young people and others to critically analyze and transform those values, ideologies and market-driven politics that produce a growing machinery and register of widespread inequality and social death. It suggests creating a new language and order of symbolic relations so as to understand the past as well as the dynamics of the present and the future.

Educators, progressives, and civic-minded citizens need a language that puts justice back into the regressive culture of cost-benefit analyses and rejects the civic vacuum created by the extremist apostles of casino capitalism. We also need a language that is vigilant about where democratic identities are not only produced but also where forms of social agency are denied. Those concerned about the fate of justice and democracy also need to reconfigure the political order in order to create relations of power that are capable of controlling the increasing separation of politics, which are nation-based and local, from the exercise of power, which is now global and unrestrained by the politics of the nation-state. Power is now global while politics is local. What this means is that globalization has cut economic and military power free from its traditional political shackles exercised by the nation state and allows it to roam unhindered throughout the globe. The traditional merging of power and politics has been broken and as Bauman points out, “We may say that power has ‘flown’ from the historically developed institutions that used to exercise democratic control over uses and abuses of power in the modern nation-states. Globalization in its current form means a progressive disempowerment of nation-states and (so far) the absence of any effective substitute.”33

Consequently, resistance to the new extremism in the United States must be addressed as part of a broader global struggle, built on strong political and civic commitments and forms of solidarity that are local and internationalist in nature. Beyond critique, any viable challenge must rethink what Jacques Derrida has called the concepts of “the possible and impossible.”34 Thinking beyond the given involves constructing new narratives regarding the stories we tell about ourselves, about the future and the promise of a democracy to come.

A language of critique and educated hope suggests a new and spirited struggle against a culture of civic illiteracy, one in which the commanding institutions of society are divorced from matters of ethics, social responsibility and social cost. The new extremism in American society, which attempts to make critical thinking irrelevant and render hope a paralyzing cynicism, must be challenged by a politics and pedagogy that have the capacity not only to “influence those in power” but also mobilize those who don’t have power.”35 This is a pedagogy that should “not only shift the way people think about the moment, but potentially energizes them to do something different.”36 A politics that merges critique and hope recognizes that while the idea of the good society may be weakened, it is far from an idea that can be relegated to the dustbin of history.

Yet, while the grip of an authoritarian political culture and the politics of distraction are getting stronger in American society, the current attack on democracy should be taken as a new historical opportunity to generate new collective struggles in the hopes of creating a future that refuses to be defined by the dystopian forces now shaping American society. In the aftermath of the massive suffering of produced by World War II and the horrors of the Holocaust, Theodor W. Adorno in the shadow of an older form of authoritarianism refused to give up on hope as an essential condition of agency, politics and justice. He insists that: “Thinking is not the intellectual reproduction of what already exists anyway. As long as it doesn’t break off, thinking has a secure hold on possibility. Its insatiable aspect, its aversion to being quickly and easily satisfied, refuses the foolish wisdom of resignation…. Open thinking points beyond itself.”37 His words are both profound and instructive for the time in which we live because they point to the need to think beyond the given, to think beyond the distorted and market-based inverted hope now on offer from the advocates of casino capitalism.

Thinking beyond itself reinforces the notion that the job and political task of civic education is as the poet Robert Hass has written “to refresh the idea of justice which is going dead in us all the time.”38 Richard Swift builds on this notion adding that as long as there is suffering in the world, individuals and social movements need “to take responsibility for the direction of society.”39

The current talk about deficits, the debt ceiling and the cutting back of social provisions is not without value, but only if it is connected to broader anti-democratic practices and understood as posing a serious threat to a society dominated by religious and economic fundamentalists. The task now facing the American public in this moment of government deceit and civic abandonment is to think beyond the given, to recognize that we cannot act otherwise unless we can think otherwise. At stake here is the need to reconfigure the relationship between hope, community and democracy. If we are to overcome the debilitating pessimism of the current era, it is crucial to combine a reason and a sense of gritty realism with a notion of hope that taps into our deepest experiences, allowing us to take risks and think beyond the parameters of the given. Or as Alain Badiou states: “It is a matter of showing how the space of the possible is larger than the one assigned – that something else is possible, but not that everything is possible.”40 Imagining the unimaginable necessitates asking crucial questions regarding what types of knowledge, agents and moral order are necessary for a democracy to work. What will it take to connect the dots and broaden our horizon of understanding and politics in order to expand the ongoing and always unfinished business of justice, democratization, and freedom?

NOTES:

[1]
C. Wright Mills, “The Powerless People: The Role of the Intellectual in Society” in C. Wright Mills, The Politics of Truth: Selected Writings of C. Wright Mills, (NY: New York, Oxford University Press, 2008), p. 18.

[2]
Ibid. C. Wright Mills, “The Powerless People: The Role of the Intellectual in Society.” p. 18. For some insightful analyses of the new authoritarianism, see Sheldon S. Wolin, Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism, (Princeton University Press, 2008); Chris Hedges, American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America (New York: Free Press, 2008)Andrew J. Bacevich, The New American Militarism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005); Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire, (New York, NY: The Penguin Press, 2004).

[3]
See Zygmunt Bauman, On Education (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2012), p. 35.

[4]
Gerald Epstein, “Rich Should be Happy with Cliff Deal,” The Real News (January 3, 2013).

[5]
C. Wright Mills, “Culture and Politics: The Fourth Epoch”, The Politics of Truth: Selected Writings of C. Wright Mills, (Oxford University Press, 2008), p. 201.

[6]
Arundhati Roy, “What Have We Done to Democracy?,” Huffington Post, (September 27, 2009).

[7]
I have appropriated this idea from Roberto Esposito, Terms of the Political: Community, Imunity, Biopolitics (Fordham: Fordham University Press, 2013), pp. 100-110.

[8]
Robert Reich, “Inequality is Undermining Our Democracy,” Reader Supported News, (December 11, 2012).

[9]
Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein, “Let’s just say it: The Republicans are the problem,” The Washington Post, (April 27, 2012).

[10]
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., “A Hostile Takeover of Our Country,” Reader Supported News, (October 29, 2012).

[11]
Richard D. Wolff, “Fiscal Cliff Follies: Political Theater Distracts From Key Problems With the Fix,” Truthout, (January 3, 2013).

[12]
For the most extensive and exhaustive history on the technology of torture, see Darius Rejali, Torture and Democracy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007). Some of the more instructive books on torture under the George W. Bush administration include: Mark Danner, Torture and Truth: America, Abu Ghraib, and the War on Terror (New York: New York Review of Books, 2004); Jane Mayer, The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals (New York: Doubleday, 2008); and Phillipe Sands, Torture Team (London: Penguin, 2009). On the torture of children, see Michael Haas, George W. Bush, War Criminal? The Bush Administration’s Liability for 269 War Crimes (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2009). See, for instance, Alex Kane, “5 Ways President Obama Has Doubled Down on Bush’s Most Tragic Mistakes,” AlterNet (January 8, 2103). Salvatore Babones, “There Is No American Left,” Truthout, (December 27, 2012). Online:

Sheldon S. Wolin, Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism, (Princeton University Press, 2008); Andrew J. Bacevich, The New American Militarism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005); Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire, (New York, NY: The Penguin Press, 2004).

[13]
Glenn Greenwald, “Extremism Normalized: How Americans Now Acquiesce to Once Unthinkable Ideas,” Salon (July 31, 2012).

[14]
Robert W. McChesney, “This Isn’t What Democracy Looks like,” Monthly Review 64:6 (2012), p. 2.

[15]
Michael Hudson, “The Financial Elite’s war Against the US Economy,” CommonDreams.Org (December 31, 2012).

[16]
George Lakoff and Glenn W. G Smith, “Romney, Ryan and the Devil’s Budget,” Reader Supported News, (August 22, 2012).

[17]
Editor, “75 Economic Numbers From 2012 That Are Almost Too Crazy To Believe,” The Economic Collapse Blog (December 20, 2012).

[18]
All of these quotes come from John Clarke, “Subordinating the Social?:Neoliberalism and the remaking of welfare capitalism ,” Cultural Studies, Vol. 21, No. 6, (November 2007), pp. 974-987

[19]
John Clarke, “Governing the social?,” Cultural Studies, Vol. 21, No. 6,( November 2007), p. 996.

[20]
Zygmunt Bauman, This is Not a Diary (Cambridge: UK: Polity Press, 2012), p. 86-87.

[21]
Ibid, Clarke, “Subordinating the Social?: Neoliberalism and the remaking of welfare capitalism,” p. 977.

[22]
Manfred B. Steger and Ravi K. Roy, Neoliberalism: A Very Short Introduction, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), pp.2-3.

[23] Mike Davis and Daniel Bertrand Monk, “Introduction”, in Mike Davis and Daniel Bertrand Monk, eds. Evil Paradises (NY: The New Press, 2007), p.x.

[24]
Tony Judt, Ill Fares the Land, (New York, N.Y.: The Penguin Press, 2010).

[25]
Zygmunt Bauman, On Education, (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2012), p.129.

[26]
Robert O. Self, “The Antisocial Contract,” New York Times (August 25, 2012).

[27]
Tony Judt, “I am not pessimistic in the very long run,” The Independent, (March 24, 2010)

[28] Ibid.

[29]
Edward Said is particularly helpful on this issue. See, for instance, Representations of the Intellectual (New York: Vintage, 1996) and Humanism and Democratic Criticism (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004).

[30]
Cornelius Castoriadis, “The Problem of Democracy Today,” Democracy and Nature Vol. 8 (April 1996), pp. 18-35.

[31]
Cornelius Castoriadis, “Democracy as Procedure and Democracy as Regime,” Constellations 4:1 (1997), p. 10.

[32]
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “Changing Reflexes: Interview with Gayatri Chaakravorty Spivak,” Works and Days 55/56: Vol. 28 (2010), p. 2.

[33]
Zygmunt Bauman, Does Ethics Have a Chance in a World of Consumers (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2008), p. 73.

[34
Jacques Derrida, “The Future of the Profession or the Unconditional University,” in Laurence Simmons and Heather Worth, eds. Derrida Downunder (Auckland, New Zealand: Dunmore Press, 2001), p. 7.

[35]
A Conversation between Lani Guinier and Anna Deavere Smith, ” Rethinking Power, Rethinking Theater,” Theater 31:3 (Winter 2002),P. 3.

[36]
Ibid.

[37]
Theodor W. Adorno, Critical Models: Interventions and Catchwords (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005), pp. 291-292

[38]
Robert Hass cited in Sarah Pollock, ‘Robert Hass,” Mother Jones (March/April, 1992), p. 22

[39]
Richard Swift, The No-Nonsense Guide to Democracy (Toronto: Between the Lines, 2002), p. 138.

[40]
Alain Badiou, Ethics: An Essay on the Understanding of Evil (London: Verso, 1998), p. 116

 

Bi-Partisan NDAA Provision Would End Current Ban On Domestic Dissemination Of Propaganda By U.S. State Department & Pentagon

In Uncategorized on May 22, 2012 at 5:50 pm

Oldspeak:”This country has come to feel the same when Congress is in session as when the baby gets hold of a hammer” –Will RogersNothing speaks more urgently to the creeping fascism of American politics than the assertion by our “representatives”, who apparently have never read a book on Germany in the 1930s-1940s or on the Soviet Union in the Stalin period, that forbidding DoD and the State Department from subjecting us to government propaganda “ties the hands of America’s diplomatic officials, military, and others by inhibiting our ability to effectively communicate in a credible way.” And mind you, they want to use our own money to wash our brains!” Juan Cole The thought controllers, ever brazen in their audacity, have decided to officially do away with laws alleged to “prevent” them from doing what they have been doing for the past 100 years. Not sure what will be terribly different about the propaganda, we’re currently inundated with it. More overt perhaps? That wouldn’t make much sense though, why fix what’s been working to devastating effect for a century? *Shrugs* “Ignorance is Strength

By Washington’s Blog:

Because Banning Propaganda “Ties the Hands of America’s Diplomatic Officials, Military, and Others by Inhibiting Our Ability to Effectively Communicate In a Credible Way”

Michael Hastings reports:

An amendment that would legalize the use of propaganda on American audiences is being inserted into the latest defense authorization bill….

The amendment would “strike the current ban on domestic dissemination” of propaganda material produced by the State Department and the Pentagon, according to the summary of the law at the House Rules Committee’s official website.

The tweak to the bill would essentially neutralize two previous acts—the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 and Foreign Relations Authorization Act in 1987—that had been passed to protect U.S. audiences from our own government’s misinformation campaigns.

The bi-partisan amendment is sponsored by Rep. Mac Thornberry from Texas and Rep. Adam Smith from Washington State.

In a little noticed press release earlier in the week — buried beneath the other high-profile issues in the $642 billion defense bill, including indefinite detention and a prohibition on gay marriage at military installations — Thornberry warned that in the Internet age, the current law “ties the hands of America’s diplomatic officials, military, and others by inhibiting our ability to effectively communicate in a credible way.”

The bill’s supporters say the informational material used overseas to influence foreign audiences is too good to not use at home, and that new techniques are needed to help fight Al-Qaeda, a borderless enemy whose own propaganda reaches Americans online.

Critics of the bill say there are ways to keep America safe without turning the massive information operations apparatus within the federal government against American citizens.

***

“I just don’t want to see something this significant – whatever the pros and cons – go through without anyone noticing,” “ says one source on the Hill, who is disturbed by the law. According to this source, the law would allow “U.S. propaganda intended to influence foreign audiences to be used on the domestic population.”

The new law would give sweeping powers to the State Department and Pentagon to push television, radio, newspaper, and social media onto the U.S. public. “It removes the protection for Americans,” says a Pentagon official who is concerned about the law. “It removes oversight from the people who want to put out this information. There are no checks and balances. No one knows if the information is accurate, partially accurate, or entirely false.”

According to this official, “senior public affairs” officers within the Department of Defense want to “get rid” of Smith-Mundt and other restrictions because it prevents information activities designed to prop up unpopular policies—like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Critics of the bill point out that there was rigorous debate when Smith Mundt passed, and the fact that this is so “under the radar,” as the Pentagon official puts it, is troubling.

***

The evaporation of Smith-Mundt and other provisions to safeguard U.S. citizens against government propaganda campaigns is part of a larger trend within the diplomatic and military establishment.

In December, the Pentagon used software to monitor the Twitter debate over Bradley Manning’s pre-trial hearing; another program being developed by the Pentagon would design software to create “sock puppets” on social media outlets; and, last year, General William Caldwell, deployed an information operations team under his command that had been trained in psychological operations to influence visiting American politicians to Kabul.

The upshot, at times, is the Department of Defense using the same tools on U.S. citizens as on a hostile, foreign, population.

A U.S. Army whistleblower, Lieutenant Col. Daniel Davis, noted recently in his scathing 84-page unclassified report on Afghanistan that there remains a strong desire within the defense establishment “to enable Public Affairs officers to influence American public opinion when they deem it necessary to “protect a key friendly center of gravity, to wit US national will,” he wrote, quoting a well-regarded general.

The defense bill passed the House Friday afternoon.

Juan Cole notes:

Nothing speaks more urgently to the creeping fascism of American politics than the assertion by our representatives, who apparently have never read a book on Germany in the 1930s-1940s or on the Soviet Union in the Stalin period, that forbidding DoD and the State Department from subjecting us to government propaganda “ties the hands of America’s diplomatic officials, military, and others by inhibiting our ability to effectively communicate in a credible way.” And mind you, they want to use our own money to wash our brains!

***

Of course, having a Pentagon propaganda unit at all is highly anti-democratic. The best defense of the truth is a free press. It should also be remembered that nowadays everything in Washington is outsourced, so government propaganda is often being turned over to Booz Allen or the American Enterprise Institute ….

Doing propaganda abroad has the difficulty that it doesn’t stay abroad. False articles placed in the Arabic press in Iraq were translated into English by wire services, who got stung.

Then, another problem is that the Defense Intelligence Agency analysts *also* read the false articles placed in the Arabic press by *another* Pentagon office, which they did not know about. So the analysts were passing up to the White House false information provided by their own colleagues!

Mediaite points out:

The military has been trying to find new avenues for spread U.S. propaganda on social media websites for a while now. A 2011 Wired piece details how the Department of Defense has been working on ways to monitor and engage in “countermessaging” on social media sites like Twitter.

Government Has Been Illegally Using Propaganda for Decades

Of course – even though it is currently illegal – the government has already been using propaganda against U.S. audiences for decades.   Government agencies – including both the Department of Defense and other agencies – are actively manipulating social media for propaganda purposes, to crush dissent (and see this), to help the too big to fail businesses compete against smaller businesses (and here), and to promote viewpoints which have nothing to do with keeping us safe.

For example:

  • The New York Times discusses in a matter-of-fact way the use of mainstream writers by the CIA to spread messages
  • A 4-part BBC documentary called the “Century of the Self” shows that an American – Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays – created the modern field of manipulation of public perceptions, and the U.S. government has extensively used his techniques
  • The Independent discusses allegations of American propaganda
  • And one of the premier writers on journalism says the U.S. has used widespread propaganda

We noted in 2009:

The U.S. government long ago announced its intention to “fight the net”.

As revealed by an official Pentagon report signed by Rumsfeld called “Information Operations Roadmap”:

The roadmap [contains an] acknowledgement that
information put out as part of the military’s psychological
operations, or Psyops, is finding its way onto the computer and
television screens of ordinary Americans.

“Information intended for foreign audiences, including public
diplomacy and Psyops, is increasingly consumed by our domestic
audience,” it reads.

“Psyops messages will often be replayed by the news media for much
larger audiences, including the American public,” it goes on.

***

“Strategy should be based on the premise that the Department [of
Defense] will ‘fight the net’ as it would an enemy weapons system”.

Indeed, the Pentagon publicly announced years ago that it was considering using “black propaganda” – in other words, knowing lies.

CENTCOM announced in 2008 that a team of employees would be “[engaging] bloggers who are posting inaccurate or untrue information, as well as bloggers who are posting incomplete information.”

The Air Force is now also engaging bloggers. Indeed, an Air Force spokesman said:

“We obviously have many more concerns regarding cyberspace than a typical Social Media user,” Capt. Faggard says. “I am concerned with how insurgents or potential enemies can use Social Media to their advantage. It’s our role to provide a clear and accurate, completely truthful and transparent picture for any audience.”

In other words, the government is targeting “social media”, including popular user-ranked news sites.

In addition, when you look at what the Israeli lobby has done with Megaphone software to automatically vote stories questioning Israel down and to send pro-Israel letters to politicians and media (see this, this and this), you can start to see how the U.S. military – an even larger and better-funded organization – could substantially influence voting on social news sites with very little effort.

Moreover,the military has outsourced many projects to private contractors. For example, in Iraq, much of the fighting has been outsourced to Blackwater. And governmental intelligence functions have largely been outsourced to private companies.

It is therefore not impossible that the government is hiring cheap labor to downvote stories on the social media sites which question the government, and to post pro-government comments.

Raw Story reported last year that the Air Force ordered software to manage army of sock puppets:

Internet users would be well advised to ask another question entirely: Are my “friends” even real people?In the continuing saga of data security firm HBGary, a new caveat has come to light: not only did they plot to help destroy secrets outlet WikiLeaks and discredit progressive bloggers, they also crafted detailed proposals for software that manages online “personas,” allowing a single human to assume the identities of as many fake people as they’d like.

The revelation was among those contained in the company’s emails, which were dumped onto bittorrent networks after hackers with cyber protest group “Anonymous” broke into their systems.

In another document unearthed by “Anonymous,” one of HBGary’s employees also mentioned gaming geolocation services to make it appear as though selected fake persons were at actual events.

“There are a variety of social media tricks we can use to add a level of realness to all fictitious personas,” it said.

Government involvement

Eerie as that may be, more perplexing, however, is a federal contract from the 6th Contracting Squadron at MacDill Air Force Base, located south of Tampa, Florida, that solicits providers of “persona management software.”

While there are certainly legitimate applications for such software, such as managing multiple “official” social media accounts from a single input, the more nefarious potential is clear.

Unfortunately, the Air Force’s contract description doesn’t help dispel their suspicions either. As the text explains, the software would require licenses for 50 users with 10 personas each, for a total of 500. These personas would have to be “replete with background , history, supporting details, and cyber presences that are technically, culturally and geographacilly consistent.”

It continues, noting the need for secure virtual private networks that randomize the operator’s Internet protocol (IP) address, making it impossible to detect that it’s a single person orchestrating all these posts. Another entry calls for static IP address management for each persona, making it appear as though each fake person was consistently accessing from the same computer each time.

The contract also sought methods to anonymously establish virtual private servers with private hosting firms in specific geographic locations. This would allow that server’s “geosite” to be integrated with their social media profiles, effectively gaming geolocation services.

The Air Force added that the “place of performance” for the contract would be at MacDill Air Force Base, along with Kabul, Afghanistan and Baghdad. The contract was offered on June 22, 2010.

It was not clear exactly what the Air Force was doing with this software, or even if it had been procured.

Manufacturing consent

Though many questions remain about how the military would apply such technology, the reasonable fear should be perfectly clear. “Persona management software” can be used to manipulate public opinion on key information, such as news reports. An unlimited number of virtual “people” could be marshaled by only a few real individuals, empowering them to create the illusion of consensus.

***

That’s precisely what got DailyKos blogger Happy Rockefeller in a snit: the potential for military-run armies of fake people manipulating and, in some cases, even manufacturing the appearance of public opinion.

“I don’t know about you, but it matters to me what fellow progressives think,” the blogger wrote. “I consider all views. And if there appears to be a consensus that some reporter isn’t credible, for example, or some candidate for congress in another state can’t be trusted, I won’t base my entire judgment on it, but it carries some weight.

“That’s me. I believe there are many people though who will base their judgment on rumors and mob attacks. And for those people, a fake mob can be really effective.”

***

“Team Themis” [tasked by the Chamber of Commerce to come up with strategies for responding to progressive bloggers and others] also included a proposal to use malware hacks against progressive organizations, and the submission of fake documents in an effort to discredit established groups.

HBGary was also behind a plot by Bank of America to destroy WikiLeaks’ technology platform, other emails revealed. The company was humiliated by members of “Anonymous” after CEO Aaron Barr bragged that he’d “infiltrated” the group.

And see this, this, this, this.

Wired reported last year:

The Pentagon is looking to build a tool to sniff out social media propaganda campaigns and spit some counter-spin right back at it.

On Thursday, Defense Department extreme technology arm Darpa unveiled its Social Media in Strategic Communication (SMISC) program. It’s an attempt to get better at both detecting and conducting propaganda campaigns on social media. SMISC has two goals. First, the program needs to help the military better understand what’s going on in social media in real time — particularly in areas where troops are deployed. Second, Darpa wants SMISC to help the military play the social media propaganda game itself.

This is more than just checking the trending topics on Twitter. The Defense Department wants to deeply grok social media dynamics. So SMISC algorithms will be aimed at discovering and tracking the “formation, development and spread of ideas and concepts (memes)” on social media, according to Darpa’s announcement.

***

SMISC needs to be able to seek out “persuasion campaign structures and influence operations” developing across the social sphere. SMISC is supposed to quickly flag rumors and emerging themes on social media, figure out who’s behind it and what. Moreover, Darpa wants SMISC to be able to actually figure out whether this is a random product of the hivemind or a propaganda operation by an adversary nation or group.

Of course, SMISC won’t be content to just to hang back and monitor social media trends in strategic locations. It’s about building a better spin machine for Uncle Sam, too. Once SMISC’s latches on to an influence operation being launched, it’s supposed to help out in “countermessaging.”

***

SMISC is yet another example of how the military is becoming very interested in what’s going on in the social media sphere.

Gene Howington writes that mainstream media – including NPR – have used propaganda on American audiences to shape the debate on numerous issues:

Consider the use of media outlets like NPR that made a public and conscious decision to refrain from reporting on “torture” – a word with extremely negative denotation and connotation – and instead choosing to use the euphemistic language “enhanced interrogation”. Everyone with a conscience thinks torture is a bad thing and torturers are ethically abhorrent people. It’s not only a Federal crime, cruel and unusual punishment is specifically barred by the 8th Amendment of the Constitution. The word choice here is designed to clearly shift public attitudes from “those guys need to be prosecuted as criminals” to “maybe they aren’t so bad after all”. NPR (aided by the Bush Administration no doubt)  chose words with a neutral/positive value load compared to the word “torture”.  Connotation plays to your emotional response over your rational response.  When the word choice becomes more subtle, the damage of connotations can be even more insidious. Compare:

  • war – limited police action
  • conquest – liberation
  • famine – widespread hunger
  • pestilence – outbreak
  • death – casualties

Indeed – in the ultimate Kafkaesque nightmare – the Pentagon recently used black propaganda to smear USA Today reporters who were investigating illegal Pentagon propaganda.

Virtually Everything Government Does Is Propaganda

It is a sad fact that virtually everything government does these days is propaganda.

For example, the government has tried to corral the American public into a certain view on the economy: One that says that the big banks are more or less healthy, that they must be saved at all costs, that we need not prosecute Wall Street fraud, and that an economic recovery is just around the corner.

Indeed, in response to virtually every problem, the government puts out spin covering up the severity of the crisis and pretending that the problem was “unexpected” and that it won’t happen again … so we can keep on doing the exact same thing. This is true in regards to the financial crisis, Wall Street fraud, nuclear accidents, oil spills, groundwater pollution and a host of other problems.

Indeed, it sometimes seem like the only thing the government does these days is to provide propaganda on behalf of special interests so they can make more money.

 

 

1st Amendment Rights To Petition & Assemble To Be Suspended: U.S. Congress Passes ‘Trespass Bill’ Making Protest Illegal

In Uncategorized on March 5, 2012 at 2:09 pm

Oldspeak:” Last Monday, The US House of Representatives voted 388-to-3 in favor of ‘The Federal Restricted Buildings And Grounds Improvement Act of 2011’. The bill will allow the government to bring charges against Americans exercising their rights as protesters, demonstrators and activists at political events and other outings across America. So not only can you be subjected to the indignity of being labeled a low-level terrorist for daring to petition your government for grievances, but protest itself, and other ‘disruptive activity’ in the presence or vicinity of government officials, buildings, & ‘official functions’ is being deemed illegal. “Criminalizing legitimate First Amendment activity — even if that activity is annoying to those government officials — violates our rights” –United States Representative Justin Amash.Should President Obama suspend the right to assemble, Americans might expect another apology to accompany it in which the commander-in-chief condemns the very act he authorizes. If you disagree with such a decision, however, don’t take it to the White House. Sixteen-hundred Pennsylvania Avenue and the vicinity is, of course, covered under this act.

By RT News:

Just when you thought the government couldn’t ruin the First Amendment any further: The House of Representatives approved a bill on Monday that outlaws protests in instances where some government officials are nearby, whether or not you even know it.

The US House of Representatives voted 388-to-3 in favor of H.R. 347 late Monday, a bill which is being dubbed the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011. In the bill, Congress officially makes it illegal to trespass on the grounds of the White House, which, on the surface, seems not just harmless and necessary, but somewhat shocking that such a rule isn’t already on the books. The wording in the bill, however, extends to allow the government to go after much more than tourists that transverse the wrought iron White House fence.

Under the act, the government is also given the power to bring charges against Americans engaged in political protest anywhere in the country.

Under current law, White House trespassers are prosecuted under a local ordinance, a Washington, DC legislation that can bring misdemeanor charges for anyone trying to get close to the president without authorization. Under H.R. 347, a federal law will formally be applied to such instances, but will also allow the government to bring charges to protesters, demonstrators and activists at political events and other outings across America.

The new legislation allows prosecutors to charge anyone who enters a building without permission or with the intent to disrupt a government function with a federal offense if Secret Service is on the scene, but the law stretches to include not just the president’s palatial Pennsylvania Avenue home. Under the law, any building or grounds where the president is visiting — even temporarily — is covered, as is any building or grounds “restricted in conjunction with an event designated as a special event of national significance.”

It’s not just the president who would be spared from protesters, either.

Covered under the bill is any person protected by the Secret Service. Although such protection isn’t extended to just everybody, making it a federal offense to even accidentally disrupt an event attended by a person with such status essentially crushes whatever currently remains of the right to assemble and peacefully protest.

Hours after the act passed, presidential candidate Rick Santorum was granted Secret Service protection. For the American protester, this indeed means that glitter-bombing the former Pennsylvania senator is officially a very big no-no, but it doesn’t stop with just him. Santorum’s coverage under the Secret Service began on Tuesday, but fellow GOP hopeful Mitt Romney has already been receiving such security. A campaign aide who asked not to be identified confirmed last week to CBS News that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has sought Secret Service protection as well. Even former contender Herman Cain received the armed protection treatment when he was still in the running for the Republican Party nod.

In the text of the act, the law is allowed to be used against anyone who knowingly enters or remains in a restricted building or grounds without lawful authority to do so, but those grounds are considered any area where someone — rather it’s President Obama, Senator Santorum or Governor Romney — will be temporarily visiting, whether or not the public is even made aware. Entering such a facility is thus outlawed, as is disrupting the orderly conduct of “official functions,” engaging in disorderly conduct “within such proximity to” the event or acting violent to anyone, anywhere near the premises. Under that verbiage, that means a peaceful protest outside a candidate’s concession speech would be a federal offense, but those occurrences covered as special event of national significance don’t just stop there, either. And neither does the list of covered persons that receive protection.

Outside of the current presidential race, the Secret Service is responsible for guarding an array of politicians, even those from outside America. George W Bush is granted protection until ten years after his administration ended, or 2019, and every living president before him is eligible for life-time, federally funded coverage. Visiting heads of state are extended an offer too, and the events sanctioned as those of national significance — a decision that is left up to the US Department of Homeland Security — extends to more than the obvious. While presidential inaugurations and meeting of foreign dignitaries are awarded the title, nearly three dozen events in all have been considered a National Special Security Event (NSSE) since the term was created under President Clinton. Among past events on the DHS-sanctioned NSSE list are Super Bowl XXXVI, the funerals of Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford, most State of the Union addresses and the 2008 Democratic and Republican National Conventions.

With Secret Service protection awarded to visiting dignitaries, this also means, for instance, that the federal government could consider a demonstration against any foreign president on American soil as a violation of federal law, as long as it could be considered disruptive to whatever function is occurring.

When thousands of protesters are expected to descend on Chicago this spring for the 2012 G8 and NATO summits, they will also be approaching the grounds of a National Special Security Event. That means disruptive activity, to whichever court has to consider it, will be a federal offense under the act.

And don’t forget if you intend on fighting such charges, you might not be able to rely on evidence of your own. In the state of Illinois, videotaping the police, under current law, brings criminals charges. Don’t fret. It’s not like the country will really try to enforce it — right?

On the bright side, does this mean that the law could apply to law enforcement officers reprimanded for using excessive force on protesters at political events? Probably. Of course, some fear that the act is being created just to keep those demonstrations from ever occurring, and given the vague language on par with the loose definition of a “terrorist” under the NDAA, if passed this act is expected to do a lot more harm to the First Amendment than good.

United States Representative Justin Amash (MI-03) was one of only three lawmakers to vote against the act when it appeared in the House late Monday. Explaining his take on the act through his official Facebook account on Tuesday, Rep. Amash writes, “The bill expands current law to make it a crime to enter or remain in an area where an official is visiting even if the person does not know it’s illegal to be in that area and has no reason to suspect it’s illegal.”

“Some government officials may need extraordinary protection to ensure their safety. But criminalizing legitimate First Amendment activity — even if that activity is annoying to those government officials — violates our rights,” adds the representative.

Now that the act has overwhelmingly made it through the House, the next set of hands to sift through its pages could very well be President Barack Obama; the US Senate had already passed the bill back on February 6. Less than two months ago, the president approved the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012, essentially suspending habeas corpus from American citizens. Could the next order out of the Executive Branch be revoking some of the Bill of Rights? Only if you consider the part about being able to assemble a staple of the First Amendment, really. Don’t worry, though. Obama was, after all, a constitutional law professor. When he signed the NDAA on December 31, he accompanied his signature with a signing statement that let Americans know that, just because he authorized the indefinite detention of Americans didn’t mean he thought it was right.

Should President Obama suspend the right to assemble, Americans might expect another apology to accompany it in which the commander-in-chief condemns the very act he authorizes. If you disagree with such a decision, however, don’t take it to the White House. Sixteen-hundred Pennsylvania Avenue and the vicinity is, of course, covered under this act.

Wikileaks: Internal Report Indicates U.S. Department Of Homeland Security Monitoring Occupy Wall Street Protests

In Uncategorized on March 1, 2012 at 8:16 pm

Oldspeak:” ‘The internal DHS report emphasizes the need to “control protesters”, They talk about threats to ‘critical infrastructure’ and this fear that these protests are going to…make commerce difficult and people are going to start losing money. There is a kind of bottom line in analysis to what they’re talking about. There isn’t an emphasis on public safety in a way one would expect from a department that’s supposed to protect the homeland. It’s this sort of sense that they’re protecting somebody’s homeland, and they’re the folks who generally make all the money.Michael Hastings COINTELPRO lives on. New Department, same ole shit. Still more evidence that your government does not represent you. It represents those folks who ‘generally make all the money.’ The financial services, and myriad of other anational corporations who gamble with other people’s money, homes and livelihoods; they profit  handsomely as billions of others struggle with debt, poverty, hunger, sickness, homelessness and joblessness. The vast majority of Americans are de-politicized, minimally informed & apathetic, with has paved the way for replacement of often heralded democratic ideals with inverted totalitarianism. Democracy has been subverted by men with million-dollar smiles, and the unwitting masses clamoring for more divestment from their liberties. ”

Related Stories:

Obama Administration Coordinated Local Police Crackdowns On Occupy Encampments Nationwide

Occupy Wall Street “Counterinsurgency” Has Infiltrated Protests; Seeks To Diffuse Message

FBI To Expand Domestic Surveillance Powers As Details Emerge Of Its Spy Campaign Targeting American Activists

By Allison Kilkenny @ In These Times:

Rolling Stone’s Michael Hastings last night posted a story on an internal DHS report entitled “SPECIAL COVERAGE: Occupy Wall Street,” dated October of last year. The five-page report, part of five million newly leaked documents obtained by Wikileaks, sums up the history of the movement and assesses its “impact” on the financial services and government facilities.

In an interview on Citizen Radio, Hastings talked about the monitoring by DHS and also the leaked emails from Stratfor, a leading private intelligence firm Hastings describes as the “shadow CIA.”

The process of combing through the huge amount of leaked documents has only just begun, but Hastings considers the revelation that the government was keeping tabs on OWS to be the biggest news so far to come out of the latest dump.

The monitoring, or spying (depending on how generous one is feeling), process included DHS scouring OWS-related Twitter feeds.

“[DHS] was following all of the social networking activity that was going on among Occupy Wall Street,” says Hastings. “Now, I’m sure this is going to be spun tomorrow as this continues to grow that, oh, it’s just benign, DHS just used open source material to do this, and that’s true, but the question is: why is a large government bureaucracy who’s mandated to protect the homeland…monitoring very closely a peaceful political protest movement? They’re not monitoring the Democratic National Committee, they’re not monitoring Young Republican meetings. They’re monitoring Occupy Wall Street.”

The report emphasizes the need to “control protesters,” terminology Hastings finds troubling, along with DHS’s assertion that OWS will likely become more violent. Hastings calls that prediction “quite a leap,” as there is no evidence so far that the overwhelmingly peaceful movement is prone to become violent.

“[The report] names all the sort of groups [DHS is] worried about, one being Anonymous, this hacktivist group, but it also names the other people in Occupy Wall Street: labor unions, student groups,” Hastings says.

One might expect to read some hand-wringing over public safety concerns in a government document, and yet the DHS document appears to be more concerned with protecting the mechanisms of the financial sector than in ensuring the safety of citizens who are exercising their First Amendment rights.

“They talk about threats to ‘critical infrastructure’ and this fear that these protests are going to…make commerce difficult and people are going to start losing money. There is a kind of bottom line in analysis to what they’re talking about. There isn’t an emphasis on public safety in a way one would expect from a department that’s supposed to protect the homeland. It’s this sort of sense that they’re protecting somebody’s homeland, and they’re the folks who generally make all the money.”

This same business-over-people bias is present in the second major leak involving the Stratfor emails. “When you go look at the back-and-forth, it’s all about, well, we have to protect lower Manhattan so the bankers can get to work on time.”

Hastings talks about two troubling tracks: In the DHS case, the U.S. government monitoring activist groups, and in the Stratfor case, large corporations paying a private intelligence firm to monitor other activist groups.

Dow Chemicals had Stratfor analyze the activities of Bhopal activists such as the Yes Men, who famously pranked the company by impersonating a Dow Chemical executive and publicly apologizing on the BBC for the Bhopal disaster that killed 8,000 people.

The list of Stratfor’s corporate clients is an impressive one, including Dow Chemicals and Coca-Cola. Clients are willing to pay the firm $40,000 for a subscription to Stratfor’s services (and additional huge sums of money for more services,) because the company bills itself as a private CIA, privy to high-level intelligence access.

“You have the DOW Chemicals situation, you have Coca-Cola hiring Stratfor to go after animal rights activists, to sort of keep tabs on them, and then also the question is: why would Stratfor have this Department of Homeland Security document, right? And the answer to that is Stratfor’s clients, or clearly Stratfor saw a business opportunity in keeping track, and figuring out how to handle protesters. In fact, in the email record…they’re talking about different tactics in lower Manhattan about, well, the streets are narrow down there, so if they push the protesters this way, or that way, that’s a better way to catch them. They’re drilling down into the best ways to kind of protect the financial services who are some of their clients.”

On Jan. 26, 2011, Fred Burton, the vice president of Stratfor, fired off an excited email to his colleagues: “Text Not for Pub. We have a sealed indictment on Assange. Pls protect.”

The question was: who did Burton mean by “we”?

“It’s like the Big Lebowski, right? The royal We,” says Hastings.

What Burton meant by “we” was the U.S. government.

“We know that the Department of Justice had been investigating Assange, and playing this game of oftentimes not explicitly saying what they were doing, but sort of threatening they would be doing this espionage investigation. We know that they’ve interviewed people in a grand jury, and then a few weeks ago with the Bradley Manning pre-trial that they were actually trying to make this espionage case against Assange,” says Hastings. “Burton claims that there in fact a secret U.S. indictment against Assange related, essentially, to espionage. That’s pretty big news.”

Hastings is braced for all of the typically condescending and dismissive remarks to come rolling in from the beltway in the wake of these latest leaks. In fact, the derision has already begun. One editor at The Atlantic called Wikileaks “a joke,” and dismissed the Stratfor emails out of hand.

Hastings expects others to say there’s no difference between a private intelligence firm and a newspaper or news bureau.

“I think that’s totally wrong. Journalists have sources and informants, but also our mission is to share that information with the public so the citizenry can make more informed decisions. Stratfor’s mission is to gather information so it can sell it to the highest bidder so corporations can essentially make more profit and get a competitive edge on their opponents,” he says.

That kind of knee-jerk dismissiveness strikes of bad journalism, according to Hastings. While no cheerleader for Wikileaks – during the interview, Hastings admitted there’s a lot of stuff one can criticize Wikileaks about, particularly the practice of releasing large amounts of data that hasn’t been reviewed very carefully – he still finds the overall work done by the group extremely newsworthy.

“What news organization has had a bigger impact than Wikileaks? Iraq war logs, Afghan war logs, the Cablegate. These are important stories. This is news. DHS was monitoring Occupy Wall Street. That’s a story, and it’s a significant story. We’re talking about Occupy Wall Street: one of the biggest grassroots, political movements that we’ve seen in a generation and the government’s response to that.”

One of the most worrying aspects to the Stratfor story is the privatizing of yet another typically goverment-only function. Like Blackwater, here is another shadowy private agency doing the work usually done by the U.S. government, a recipe, as we’ve learned time and time again, for unaccountability and disaster.

Also, Stratfor is ripe for the revolving door effect.

“It’s a chance for people who worked in government in these various intelligence agencies to, once they leave, to have lucrative positions where they’re able to — in the same way some politicians become lobbyists to ply off their old contacts — to have these great, well-paying positions where they can use their former intelligence contacts and sell their services in the corporate world,” says Hastings.

To naysayers claiming there’s nothing wrong with former government officials capitalizing on their particular skill sets, Hastings responds, “Once you start spying on activists, and peaceful protesters, then I would say that’s very troubling.”

Obama Rings In The New Year By Signing “National Defense Authorization Act” In To Law, Allowing Indefinite Detention Of Americans

In Uncategorized on January 3, 2012 at 11:36 am

Oldspeak:Any hope that the Obama administration would roll back the constitutional excesses of George Bush in the “war on terror” was extinguished today. Thankfully, we have three branches of government, and the final word belongs to the Supreme Court, which has yet to rule on the scope of detention authority. But Congress and the president also have a role to play in cleaning up the mess they have created because no American citizen or anyone else should live in fear of this or any future president misusing the NDAA’s detention authority”-Anthony D. Romero, ACLU Executive Director Meanwhile, this brazen violation of the bill of rights, passes, much like the USA PATRIOT Act with little or no comment in corporate media. Probably because as you I’m sure are aware, corporate news media goes offline on the weekend. Hour upon hours of crime and infidelity and money and infotainment doccudramas. So with little more than a pause between holiday drinks, more of you civil liberties have been taken from you. Away we go down this slippery slope! It will be interesting to see as more and more freedoms are eliminated, and more and more people are viewed as “domestic terrorists” for protesting unconstitutional laws, who will be labeled “terrorists” or “enemy combatants” in the future. Intellectutals? Journalists? Activists? Bloggers?  Happy New Year!”

By Washington’s Blog :

Obama signed the NDAA – including a provision allowing the indefinite detention of Americans – on New Year’s eve.

Obama issued a “signing statement” with the bill, which – at first blush – appears to say he won’t indefinitely detain Americans. Specifically, Obama wrote:

My administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens … Indeed, I believe that doing so would break with our most important traditions and values as a nation.

But a closer reading shows that the signing statement is just smoke and mirrors.

Specifically, it was Obama – not Congress – who originally requested that an exception for American citizens be removed from the bill. As such, his professed reluctance is wholly disingenuous.

Moreover, Obama signed a bill which would allow future presidents to indefinitely detain U.S. citizens, and his signing statement in no way limits their power to run roughshod over our rights.

As the ACLU notes:

The statute contains a sweeping worldwide indefinite detention provision. While President Obama issued a signing statement saying he had “serious reservations” about the provisions, the statement only applies to how his administration would use the authorities granted by the NDAA, and would not affect how the law is interpreted by subsequent administrations. The White House had threatened to veto an earlier version of the NDAA, but reversed course shortly before Congress voted on the final bill.

“President Obama’s action today is a blight on his legacy because he will forever be known as the president who signed indefinite detention without charge or trial into law,” said Anthony D. Romero, ACLU executive director. “The statute is particularly dangerous because it has no temporal or geographic limitations, and can be used by this and future presidents to militarily detain people captured far from any battlefield. The ACLU will fight worldwide detention authority wherever we can, be it in court, in Congress, or internationally.”

Under the Bush administration, similar claims of worldwide detention authority were used to hold even a U.S. citizen detained on U.S. soil in military custody, and many in Congress now assert that the NDAA should be used in the same way again. The ACLU believes that any military detention of American citizens or others within the United States is unconstitutional and illegal, including under the NDAA. In addition, the breadth of the NDAA’s detention authority violates international law because it is not limited to people captured in the context of an actual armed conflict as required by the laws of war.

“We are incredibly disappointed that President Obama signed this new law even though his administration had already claimed overly broad detention authority in court,” said Romero. “Any hope that the Obama administration would roll back the constitutional excesses of George Bush in the war on terror was extinguished today. Thankfully, we have three branches of government, and the final word belongs to the Supreme Court, which has yet to rule on the scope of detention authority. But Congress and the president also have a role to play in cleaning up the mess they have created because no American citizen or anyone else should live in fear of this or any future president misusing the NDAA’s detention authority.”

In addition, Obama has claimed the power to assassinate American citizens without any trial or charge. Obama’s signing statement doesn’t even pretend to limit that power.

Details Of Secret Pact Emerge: Obama Administration Negotiating To Keep U.S. Troops In Afghanistan Until 2024

In Uncategorized on August 26, 2011 at 11:54 am

Oldspeak: Welp. So much for U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. “America is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives. I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.” –Major General Smedley Darlington Butler; Congressional Medal of Honor Winner. Today America is in more wars than at any point in its history. There appears to be no end in sight. Spiritual death is upon us. Physical death soon come.”

By Ben Farmer @ The U.K. Telegraph:

Maybe you thought we’d get out of Afghanistan this very year, the drawdown date President Obama set as he surged U.S. troops into the country in December 2009; or maybe you thought the Obama administration’s target for withdrawal might be the last day of 2014, that date certain of recent vintage for turning over U.S. and NATO combat duties to the Afghans; or maybe — if you happen to be a news jockey — you took note when Brigadier General Walter Givhan suggested that the Afghan air force he was training might finally be up and running in 2016; or when his successor Brigadier General Michael  Boera suggested that the date might slip to 2018 if Congress insisted that the Pentagon buy American, not Russian, helicopters for its pilots.  Or maybe you noticed when Lieutenant General William Caldwell, commander of NATO Training Mission Afghanistan, recently suggested that the Afghan military would need the support of thousands of foreign trainers until at least 2020.

Whatever you thought, it turns out that you were wrong, and it’s time to recalibrate.  After all, according to Ben Farmer of the British Telegraph, the Obama administration is now negotiating a “pact” with the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai that could leave American military “trainers” — thousands of them — as well as special operations forces, and the U.S. Air Force settled into some of the enormous Afghan bases the Pentagon has built there until… 2024.

Let’s try, as a start, to put 2024 in perspective.

It was 1979 — and I was 35 — when the U.S. embarked on its first Afghan war.  If 2024 is truly the Afghan endpoint for Washington, I’ll be 80 when the last American soldier leaves.

Or think of it another way: this September’s kindergarteners will be high school graduates in 2024 (and so eligible to join the all-volunteer army in the utterly unlikely event that victory hasn’t been achieved by then).

Or thought of another way, Mullah Omar, head of the Taliban, born in 1959, will 65 and ready for retirement in 2024; George W. Bush, the president who launched the war against the Taliban in 2001, will be 78; Barack Obama, the president who made Bush’s Afghan war his own, will be 63; and David Petraeus, the general who ran the Iraq War, Centcom, the Afghan War, and then the CIA, will be 72. (Expect years of Afghan-war-related memoirs.)  And NASA’s Voyager 1 spacecraft, launched in 1977, may be only a year from losing power in 2024 and perhaps less than 73,600 years from the nearest star (by which time, the U.S. will be out of Afghanistan).

But let’s not get downhearted. If Farmer’s 2024 date turns out to be accurate, based on what we’ve repeatedly seen over the last near decade, there’s plenty to look forward to in the intervening 13 years — and here’s just a sampling:

The U.S. Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (call it the IG), government task forces, and various media organizations can do periodic investigations and issue corruption reports for 13 more years, just like the one Task Force 2010, set up by General Petraeus, recently issued. It indicated that some $360 million in U.S. taxpayer dollars have “ended up in the hands of… the Taliban, criminals, and power brokers with ties to both,” all thanks to “profiteering, bribery, and extortion.”

And here’s something else to look forward to: If all goes well, the U.S. and its allies can continue to offer another 13 years’ worth of military and “development” funding that, as a June report by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Democratic majority staff indicated, already accounts for 97 percent of Afghanistan’s gross domestic product. And as that report (and so many others before it) also made clear, that funding has a remarkable way of “developing” next to nothing.

Or look forward to years more of reports like the one issued in April by the IG pointing out that some of the $10 billion a year being poured into training, building up, and supplying Afghanistan’s police is simply missing-in-action. Gone. Nowhere in sight. Not accounted for. The IG reported that “the country’s police rolls and payrolls cannot be verified because of poor record keeping,” which meant that the numbers “for all practical purposes become somewhat fictitious.” In other words, you can expect 13 more years in which your tax dollars fund significant numbers of “ghost policemen.”

Or look forward to more than a decade of news articles and official reports on the approximately 30 percent of Afghan army troops who desert each year. (Lieutenant General Caldwell supplied that figure in June.) To be exact, if enrolment in the army reaches 171,600 by this October, as scheduled, you’re talking about slightly more than 51,000 deserters a year, or a minimum of 668,000 by 2024 (and since army troop levels are slated to rise, however absurd that number already sounds, it’s undoubtedly an underestimate).

Or consider the cost of the war as reflected in the Pentagon’s 2012 budget request:$107.3 billion a year. (Of course, like those police figures, that’s probably a kind of happy fiction.) A group of experts on the Afghan war, for example, puts the actual number at $120 billion — and neither of these figures includes the money that Washington will be spending in 2024 and beyond to care for the war’s damaged veterans. Still, just for argument’s sake, let’s go with $107 billion a year through 2014, when the last U.S. “combat” troops are slated to depart, and then just arbitrarily slash that figure by half to 2024. That would total $856 billion over the next 13 years.  (By comparison, were President Obama’s proposals to close corporate tax loopholes and tax the mega-rich at Clinton-era rates put into effect, that would pull in only $700 billion over 10 years.)

And of course, while a rollicking good time would be had by all over those 13 years of training local forces and carrying out special operations and air missions in the greater Afghan region, a newly released report from the Medicare and Social Security Trustees predicts that “the Hospital Insurance fund, which pays for hospital stays of Medicare recipients, will run out in 2024, five years earlier than last year’s report estimate.” And don’t even think about what’s likely to happen to America’s infrastructure, already sorely underfunded — all those dams, bridges, natural gas pipelines, roads, and other basics of our lives — in those same years.

I could go on, but you get the idea. If by dint of sheer grit and tons of dough, the Pentagon somehow outlasts the Taliban (and whatever is left of al-Qaeda in the region), victory in Afghanistan in 2024 will assumedly leave in place a desperately frail semi-nation with a still-hemorrhaging security force of 400,000 that it will be utterly incapable of paying for.

In the meantime, the U.S. will undoubtedly be a nation unbuilt. Still, what a 13 years to look forward to!

So mark it on your calendars. If that Washington-Kabul pact goes through as planned, consider it settled: victory in 2024 and mission accomplished.

As U.S. Economy Tanks, “New Normal” Police State Takes Shape

In Uncategorized on August 15, 2011 at 4:42 pm

Oldspeak:Forget your rights. Under our current political set-up, “states of exception” and national security “emergencies” have become permanent features of social life. Entire classes of citizens and non-citizens alike are now suspect; anarchists, communists, immigrants, Muslims, union activists and political dissidents in general are all subject to unprecedented levels of scrutiny and surveillance. From “enhanced security screenings” at airports to the massive expansion of private and state databases that archive our spending habits, whom we talk to and where we go, increasingly, as the capitalist system implodes and millions face the prospect of economic ruin, the former American republic takes on the characteristics of a corporate police state. While the global economy circles the drain, with ever more painful cuts in so-called “entitlement” programs meant to cushion the crash now on the chopping block, the corporate and political masters who rule the roost are sharpening their knives, fashioning administrative and bureaucratic surveillance tools, the better to conceal the “invisible hand” of that bitch-slaps us all” –Tom Burghardt

By Tom Burghardt @ Dissident Voice:

Forget your rights.

As corporate overlords position themselves to seize what little remains of a tattered social net (adieu Medicare and Medicaid! Social Security? Au revoir!), the Obama administration is moving at break-neck speed to expand police state programs first stood-up by the Bush government.

After all, with world share prices gyrating wildly, employment and wages in a death spiral, and retirement funds and publicly-owned assets swallowed whole by speculators and rentier scum, the state better dust-off contingency plans lest the Greek, Spanish or British “contagion” spread beyond the fabled shores of “old Europe” and infect God-fearin’ folk here in the heimat.

Fear not, they have and the lyrically-titled Civil Disturbances: Emergency Employment of Army and Other Resources, otherwise known as Army Regulation 500-50, spells out the “responsibilities, policy, and guidance for the Department of the Army in planning and operations involving the use of Army resources in the control of actual or anticipated civil disturbances.” (emphasis added)

With British politicians demanding a clampdown on social media in the wake of London riots, and with the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) agency having done so last week in San Francisco, switching off underground cell phone service to help squelch a protest against police violence, authoritarian control tactics, aping those deployed in Egypt and Tunisia (that worked out well!) are becoming the norm in so-called “Western democracies.”

Secret Law, Secret Programs

Meanwhile up on Capitol Hill, Congress did their part to defend us from that pesky Bill of Rights; that is, before 81 of them–nearly a fifth of “our” elected representatives–checked-out for AIPAC-funded junkets to Israel.

Secrecy News reported that the Senate Intelligence Committee “rejected an amendment that would have required the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence to confront the problem of ‘secret law,’ by which government agencies rely on legal authorities that are unknown or misunderstood by the public.”

That amendment, proposed by Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Mark Udall (D-CO) was rejected by voice vote, further entrenching unprecedented surveillance powers of Executive Branch agencies such as the FBI and NSA.

As Antifascist Calling previously reported, the Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Justice Department “demanding the release of a secret legal memo used to justify FBI access to Americans’ telephone records without any legal process or oversight.”

The DOJ refused and it now appears that the Senate has affirmed that “secret law” should be guiding principles of our former republic.

Secrecy News also disclosed that the Committee rejected a second amendment to the authorization bill, one that would have required the Justice Department’s Inspector General “to estimate the number of Americans who have had the contents of their communications reviewed in violation of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 [FAA].”

As pointed out here many times, FAA is a pernicious piece of Bushist legislative detritus that legalized the previous administration’s secret spy programs since embellished by our current “hope and change” president.

During the run-up to FAA’s passage, congressional Democrats, including then-Senator Barack Obama and his Republican colleagues across the aisle, claimed that the law would “strike a balance” between Americans’ privacy rights and the needs of security agencies to “stop terrorists” attacking the country.

If that’s the case, then why can’t the American people learn whether their rights have been compromised?

Perhaps, as recent reports in Truthout and other publications suggest, former U.S. counterterrorism “czar” Richard Clarke leveled “explosive allegations against three former top CIA officials — George Tenet, Cofer Black and Richard Blee — accusing them of knowingly withholding intelligence … about two of the 9/11 hijackers who had entered the United States more than a year before the attacks.”

Clarke’s allegations follow closely on the heels of an investigation by Truthoutjournalists Jeffrey Kaye and Jason Leopold.

“Based on on documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and an interview with a former high-ranking counterterrorism official,” Kaye and Leopold learned that “a little-known military intelligence unit, unbeknownst to the various investigative bodies probing the terrorist attacks, was ordered by senior government officials to stop tracking Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda’s movements prior to 9/11.”

As readers are well aware, the 9/11 provocation was the pretext used by the capitalist state to wage aggressive resource wars abroad while ramming through repressive legislation like the USA Patriot Act and the FISA Amendments Act that targeted the democratic rights of the American people here at home.

But FAA did more then legitimate illegal programs. It also handed retroactive immunity and economic cover to giant telecoms like AT&T and Verizon who profited handily from government surveillance, shielding them from monetary damages which may have resulted from a spate of lawsuits such as Hepting v. AT&T.

This raises the question: are other U.S. firms similarly shielded from scrutiny by secret annexes in FAA or the privacy-killing USA Patriot Act?

Echelon Cubed

Last week, Softpedia revealed that “Google has admitted complying with requests from US intelligence agencies for data stored in its European data centers, most likely in violation of European Union data protection laws.”

“At the center of this problem,” reporter Lucian Constantin wrote, “is the USA PATRIOT ACT, which states that companies incorporated in the United States must hand over data administered by their foreign subsidiaries if requested.”

“Not only that,” the publication averred, “they can be forced to keep quiet about it in order to avoid exposing active investigations and alert those targeted by the probes.”

In other words, despite strict privacy laws that require companies operating within the EU to protect the personal data of their citizens, reports suggest that U.S. firms, operating under an entirely different legal framework, U.S. spy laws with built-in secrecy clauses and gag orders, trump the laws and legal norms of other nations.

Given the widespread corporate espionage carried out by the National Security Agency’s decades-long Echelon communications’ intercept program, American firms such as Google, Microsoft, Apple or Amazon may very well have become witting accomplices of U.S. secret state agencies rummaging about for “actionable intelligence” on EU, or U.S., citizens.

Indeed, a decade ago the European Union issued its final report on the Echelon spying machine and concluded that the program was being used for corporate and industrial espionage and that data filched from EU firms was being turned over to American corporations.

In 2000, the BBC reported that according to European investigators “U.S. Department of Commerce ‘success stories’ could be attributed to the filtering powers of Echelon.”

Duncan Campbell, a British journalist and intelligence expert, who along with New Zealand journalist Nicky Hager, helped blow the lid off Echelon, offered two instances of U.S. corporate spying in the 1990s when the newly-elected Clinton administration followed up on promises of “aggressive advocacy” on behalf of U.S. firms “bidding for foreign contracts.”

According to Campbell, NSA “lifted all the faxes and phone-calls between Airbus, the Saudi national airline and the Saudi Government” to gain this information. In a second case which came to light, Campbell documented how “Raytheon used information picked up from NSA snooping to secure a $1.4bn contract to supply a radar system to Brazil instead of France’s Thomson-CSF.”

As Softpedia reported, U.S.-based cloud computing services operating overseas have placed “European companies and government agencies that are using their services … in a tough position.”

With the advent of fiber optic communication platforms, programs like Echelon have a far greater, and more insidious, reach. AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein noted on the widespread deployment by NSA of fiber optic splitters and secret rooms at American telecommunications’ firms:

What screams out at you when examining this physical arrangement is that the NSA was vacuuming up everything flowing in the Internet stream: e-mail, web browsing, Voice-Over-Internet phone calls, pictures, streaming video, you name it. The splitter has no intelligence at all, it just makes a blind copy. There could not possibly be a legal warrant for this, since according to the 4th Amendment warrants have to be specific, “particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized. …

This was a massive blind copying of the communications of millions of people, foreign and domestic, randomly mixed together. From a legal standpoint, it does not matter what they claim to throw away later in their secret rooms, the violation has already occurred at the splitter. (Mark Klein,Wiring Up the Big Brother Machine… And Fighting It, Charleston, South Carolina: BookSurge, 2009, pp. 38-39.)

What was Google’s response?

In a statement to the German publication WirtschaftsWoche a Google corporate spokesperson said:

As a law abiding company, we comply with valid legal process, and that–as for any U.S. based company–means the data stored outside of the U.S. may be subject to lawful access by the U.S. government. That said, we are committed to protecting user privacy when faced with law enforcement requests. We have a long track record of advocating on behalf of user privacy in the face of such requests and we scrutinize requests carefully to ensure that they adhere to both the letter and the spirit of the law before complying.” (translation courtesy of Public Intelligence)

Is the Senate Intelligence Committee’s steadfast refusal to release documents and secret legal memos that most certainly target American citizens also another blatant example of American exceptionalism meant to protect U.S. firms operating abroad from exposure as corporate spies for the government?

It isn’t as if NSA hasn’t been busy doing just that here at home.

As The New York Times reported back in 2009, the “National Security Agency intercepted private e-mail messages and phone calls of Americans in recent months on a scale that went beyond the broad legal limits established by Congress last year.”

Chalking up the problem to “overcollection” and “technical difficulties,” unnamed intelligence officials and administration lawyers told journalists Eric Lichtblau and James Risen that although the practice was “significant and systemic … it was believed to have been unintentional.”

As “unintentional” as ginned-up intelligence that made the case for waging aggressive war against oil-rich Iraq!

In a follow-up piece, the Times revealed that NSA “appears to have tolerated significant collection and examination of domestic e-mail messages without warrants.”

A former NSA analyst “read into” the illegal program told Lichtblau and Risen that he “and other analysts were trained to use a secret database, code-named Pinwale, in 2005 that archived foreign and domestic e-mail messages.”

Email readily handed over by Google, Microsoft or other firms “subject to lawful access” by the Pentagon spy satrapy?

The Times’ anonymous source said “Pinwale allowed N.S.A. analysts to read large volumes of e-mail messages to and from Americans as long as they fell within certain limits–no more than 30 percent of any database search, he recalled being told–and Americans were not explicitly singled out in the searches.”

Nor, were they excluded from such illicit practices.

As Jane Mayer revealed in The New Yorker, “privacy controls” and “anonymizing features” of a program called ThinThread, which would have complied with the law if Americans’ communications were swept into NSA’s giant eavesdropping nets, were rejected in favor of the “$1.2 billion flop” called Trailblazer.

And, as previously reported, when Wyden and Udall sought information from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence on just how many Americans had their communications monitored, the DNI stonewalled claiming “it is not reasonably possible to identify the number of people located in the United States whose communications may have been reviewed under the authority.”

Why? Precisely because such programs act like a giant electronic sponge and soak up and data mine huge volumes of our communications.

As former NSA manager and ThinThread creator Bill Binney told The New Yorker, that “little program … got twisted” and was “used to eavesdrop on the whole world.”

Three years after Barack Obama promised to curb Bush administration “excesses,” illegal surveillance programs continue to expand under his watch.

A Permanent “State of Exception”

Under our current political set-up, “states of exception” and national security “emergencies” have become permanent features of social life.

Entire classes of citizens and non-citizens alike are now suspect; anarchists, communists, immigrants, Muslims, union activists and political dissidents in general are all subject to unprecedented levels of scrutiny and surveillance.

From “enhanced security screenings” at airports to the massive expansion of private and state databases that archive our spending habits, whom we talk to and where we go, increasingly, as the capitalist system implodes and millions face the prospect of economic ruin, the former American republic takes on the characteristics of a corporate police state.

Security researcher and analyst Christopher Soghoian reported on his Slight Paranoia blog, that according to “an official DOJ report, the use of ‘emergency’, warrantless requests to ISPs for customer communications content has skyrocketed over 400% in a single year.”

This is no trifling matter.

As CNET News disclosed last month, “Internet providers would be forced to keep logs of their customers’ activities for one year–in case police want to review them in the future–under legislation that a U.S. House of Representatives committee approved today.”

Declan McCullagh reported that “the 19 to 10 vote represents a victory for conservative Republicans, who made data retention their first major technology initiative after last fall’s elections.”

Significantly, CNET noted that this is also a “victory” for Democratic appointees of Barack Obama’s Justice Department “who have quietly lobbied for the sweeping new requirements.”

According to CNET, a “last-minute rewrite of the bill expands the information that commercial Internet providers are required to store to include customers’ names, addresses, phone numbers, credit card numbers, bank account numbers, and temporarily-assigned IP addresses.”

However, by “a 7-16 vote, the panel rejected an amendment that would have clarified that only IP addresses must be stored.”

Consider the troubling implications of this sweeping bill. While ultra-rightist “Tea Party” Republicans vowed to get “the government off our backs,” when it comes to illicit snooping by securocrats whose only loyalty is to a self-perpetuating security bureaucracy and the defense grifters they serve (and whom they rely upon for plum positions after government “retirement”), all our private data is now up for grabs.

The bill, according to Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), who spearheaded opposition to the measure said that if passed, it would create “a data bank of every digital act by every American” that would “let us find out where every single American visited Web sites.”

To make the poison pill legislation difficult to oppose, proponents have dubbed it, wait, the “Protecting Children From Internet Pornographers Act of 2011″ even though, as CNET noted, “the mandatory logs would be accessible to police investigating any crime and perhaps attorneys litigating civil disputes in divorce, insurance fraud, and other cases as well.”

Soghoian relates that the 2009 two-page Justice Department report to Congress took 11 months (!) to release under a Freedom of Information Act request.

Why the Justice Department stonewall?

Perhaps, as the Electronic Frontier Foundation disclosed last year, political appointees at the Department of Homeland Security and presumably other secret state satrapies, ordered “an extra layer of review on its FOIA requests.”

EFF revealed that a 2009 policy memo from the Department’s Chief FOIA Officer and Chief Privacy Officer, Mary Ellen Callahan, that DHS components “were required to report ‘significant FOIA activities’ in weekly reports to the Privacy Office, which the Privacy Office then integrated into its weekly report to the White House Liaison.”

Included amongst designated “significant FOIA activities” were requests “from any members of ‘an activist group, watchdog organization, special interest group, etc.’ and ‘requested documents [that] will garner media attention or [are] receiving media attention’.”

Despite the appearance of reporting “emergency” spying requests to congressional committees presumably overseeing secret state activities (a generous assumption at best), “it is quite clear” Soghoian avers, “that the Department of Justice statistics are not adequately reporting the scale of this form of surveillance” and “underreport these disclosures by several orders of magnitude.”

As such, “the current law is largely useless.” It does not apply to “state and local law enforcement agencies, who make tens of thousands of warrantless requests to ISPs each year,” and is inapplicable to “to federal law enforcement agencies outside DOJ.”

“Finally,” Soghoian relates, “it does not apply to emergency disclosures of non-content information, such as geo-location data, subscriber information (such as name and address), or IP addresses used.”

And with Congress poised to pass sweeping data retention legislation, it should be clear that such “requirements” are mere fig leaves covering-up state-sanctioned lawlessness.

War On Terror 2.0.1: Looting the Global Economy

Criminal behavior by domestic security agencies connect America’s illegal wars of aggression to capitalism’s economic warfare against the working class, who now take their place alongside “Islamic terrorists” as a threat to “national security.”

Despite efforts by the Obama administration and Republican congressional leaders to “balance the books” on the backs of the American people through massive budget cuts, as economist Michael Hudson pointed out in Global Research, the manufactured “debt ceiling” crisis is a massive fraud.

The World Socialist Web Site averred that:

As concerns over a double-dip recession in the US and the European debt crisis sent global markets plunging–including a 512-point sell-off on the Dow Jones Industrial Average Thursday–financial analysts and media pundits developed a new narrative. Concern that Washington lacked the ‘political will’ to slash long-standing entitlement programs was exacerbating ‘market uncertainty’.

Leftist critic Jerry White noted that “in fact, the new cuts will only intensify the economic crisis, while the slashing of food stamps, unemployment compensation, health care and education will eliminate programs that are more essential for survival than ever.”

Indeed, as Marxist economist Richard Wolff pointed out in The Guardian, while the “crisis of the capitalist system in the US that began in 2007,” may have “plunged millions into acute economic pain and suffering,” the “recovery” that began in 2009 “benefited only the minority that was most responsible for the crisis: banks, large corporations and the rich who own the bulk of stocks. That so-called recovery never ‘trickled down’ to the US majority: working people dependent on jobs and wages’.”

And despite mendacious claims by political officials and the media alike, the Pentagon will be sitting pretty even as Americans are forced to shoulder the financial burden of U.S. imperial adventures long into an increasingly bleak future.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta “warned Thursday of dire consequences if the Pentagon is forced to make cuts to its budget beyond the $400 billion in savings planned for the next decade,” The Washington Post reported.

The Post noted that “senior Pentagon officials have launched an offensive over the past two days to convince lawmakers that further reductions in Pentagon spending would imperil the country’s security.”

“Instead of slashing defense,” Panetta urged lawmakers to “rely on tax increases and cuts to nondiscretionary spending, such as Medicare and Social Security, to provide the necessary savings.”

But as Hudson points out, “war has been the major cause of a rising national debt.” After all, it was none other than bourgeois icon Adam Smith who argued that “parliamentary checks on government spending were designed to prevent ambitious rulers from waging war.”

Hudson writes that “if people felt the economic impact of war immediately–rather than postponing it by borrowing–they would be less likely to support military adventurism.”

But therein lies the rub. Since “military adventurism” is the only “growth sector” of an imploding capitalist economy, the public spigot which finances everything from cost-overrun-plagued stealth fighter jets to multi-billion dollar spy satellites, along with an out-of-control National Surveillance State, will be kept open indefinitely.

On this score, the hypocrisy of our rulers abound, especially when it comes to the mantra that “we” must “live within our means.”

As Wolff avers:

Where was that phrase heard when Washington decided to spend on an immense military (even after becoming the world’s only nuclear superpower) or to spend on very expensive wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Libya (now all going on at the same time)? No, then the talk was only about national security needed to save us from attacks.

“Attacks,” it should be duly noted, that may very well have been allowed to happen as the World Socialist Web Site recently reported.

Driving home the point that war, and not social and infrastructure investment fuel deficits, Hudson averred that “the present rise in in U.S. Treasury debt results from two forms of warfare. First is the overtly military Oil War in the Near East, from Iraq to Afghanistan (Pipelinistan) to oil-rich Libya. These adventures will end up costing between $3 and $5 trillion.”

“Second and even more expensive,” the economist observed, “is the more covert yet more costly economic war of Wall Street against the rest of the economy, demanding that losses by banks and financial institutions be passed onto the government balance sheet (‘taxpayers’). The bailouts and ‘free lunch’ for Wall Street–by no coincidence, Congress’s number one political campaign contributor–cost $13 trillion.”

“Now that finance is the new form of warfare,” Hudson wrote, “where is the power to constrain Treasury and Federal Reserve power to commit taxpayers to bail out financial interests at the top of the economic pyramid?”

And since “cutbacks in federal revenue sharing will hit cities and states hard, forcing them to sell off yet more land, roads and other assets in the public domain to cover their budget deficit as the U.S. economy sinks further into depression,” Hudson wrote that “Congress has just added fiscal deflation to debt deflation, slowing employment even further.”

While the global economy circles the drain, with ever more painful cuts in so-called “entitlement” programs meant to cushion the crash now on the chopping block, the corporate and political masters who rule the roost are sharpening their knives, fashioning administrative and bureaucratic surveillance tools, the better to conceal the “invisible hand” of that bitch-slaps us all.

And they call it “freedom.”

Tom Burghardt is a researcher and activist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His articles are published in many venues. He is the editor ofPolice State America: U.S. Military “Civil Disturbance” Planning, distributed by AK PressRead other articles by Tom, or visit Tom’s website.

THE TRUTH ABOUT THE DEBT DEAL: It’s Pretty Much Meaningless

In Uncategorized on August 1, 2011 at 5:33 pm

Oldspeak:Other than cuts to federally subsidized student loans to graduate and professional school students, the debt deal actually cuts NOTHING now and only promises future reductions that may never materialize…In short, for the past month, Congress has been arguing about little more than an agreement to reach an agreement at some point in the future. Your tax dollars at work. If the ‘Super-Committee’ can’t reach an agreement, or their recommendations cannot pass Congress, deep “real” spending cuts, which are painful to both sides, would take effect. For Democrats, entitlement cuts are at risk, while Republicans would see cuts to defense spending.” –Zeke Miller  This ‘deal’ sucks for the American people. It fails to address the root causes of America’s crushing debt: Lack of revenue generation via job loss and unemployment, multiple unpaid for ‘entitlement programs’ in the form of wars, and tax subsidies for the nations wealthiest “persons”: multinational corporations. “Yet it puts the nation’s most important safety nets, public investments, education, infrastructure, and everything else Americans depend on the chopping block. It also hobbles the capacity of the government to respond to the jobs and growth crisis. Added to the cuts already underway by state and local governments, the deal’s spending cuts increase the odds of a double-dip recession. And the deal strengthens the political hand of the radical right.” –Robert Reich” More change I can’t believe in.

Related Story

To Escape Chaos, A Terrible Deal

By Zeke Miller @ Business Insider:

The “historic, bipartisan compromise” reached to raise the debt limit does not end the struggle to reign in the federal deficit — in fact, it pushes the most difficult decisions off into the future.

More surprising, the debt deal actually cuts almost nothing now–it just promises future cuts that may or may not materialize.

There are very few specific cuts in the deal — and the $1 trillion in immediate cuts are almost entirely constituted of caps on future spending. And those caps are not required to be honored by future congresses.

The “real” spending cuts to current programs will come out of a bipartisan committee of Representatives and Senators, which is charged with finding an additional $1.5 trillion in savings from the federal deficit.

But White House and Republican leaders appear split on exactly what the so-called “Super Committee” can do.

In a presentation to his caucus, Speaker of the House John Boehner said it would “be effectively…impossible for [the] Joint Committee to increase taxes,” even though it could consider reforming the tax code.

White House officials strongly pushed back on that remark, saying revenue-increasing reform is possible — even though it almost certainly would not be able to get through Congress.

The committee is modeled on “BRAC” or the Base Realignment and Closure Commission, whose recommendations are presented to Congress for a straight up-or-down vote with no amendments allowed. Instead of non-partisan commissioners, each congressional leader will appoint three members of Congress to the committee.

If the Super-Committee can’t reach an agreement, or their recommendations cannot pass Congress, deep “real” spending cuts, which are painful to both sides, would take effect. For Democrats, entitlement cuts are at risk, while Republicans would see cuts to defense spending.

Additionally, President Barack Obama has the ability to veto an extension of the Bush tax cuts if he deems the committee’s solution insufficiently “balanced.”

So, again, other than cuts to federally subsidized student loans to graduate and professional school students, the debt deal actually cuts NOTHING now, and only promises future reductions that may never materialize.

In short, for the past month, Congress has been arguing about little more than an agreement to reach an agreement at some point in the future. Your tax dollars at work.