Archive for the ‘Abuse of Power’ Category

Edward Snowden on the Joe Rogan podcast

October 30, 2019

Edward Snowden was interviewed on the Joe Rogan podcast a week ago, but I only got around to viewing it the whole way through last night.

It’s an unusually long interview – 2 hours, 49 minutes – but I found it interesting throughout.  However, you can get an idea of Snowden’s core message if you start at 1 hour 30 minutes and watch for 15 or 30 minutes.

Snowden is a great hero of our time, along with Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning.  They’ve all been charged with violating the Espionage Act for revealing wrongdoing by the U.S.government.

Assange is in prison in Britain facing extradition to the USA.  Manning served a prison term, and is in prison again for refusing to testify against Assange.  Snowden is in exile in Russia, but he said he’ll return to the USA if he can get a fair trial.

By “fair trial,” he means the right to tell a jury the reason why he did what he did,  Someone on trial for murder would have this right, but an accused whistleblower does not.

Snowden worked for the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency and learned that they monitor and store virtually every electronic communication by every citizen.

Everyone has done something in their lives that is shameful or can be made to look shameful.  If the FBI, CIA and NSA can know everything about you and me, and their activities are invisible to us, that comes close to having absolute power.

One interesting sidelight is that Snowden, who has a deep understanding both of the technology and of the political, legal and moral issues at stake, is a college dropout.  Educational credentials are not a measure of the intellect, let alone character.

Joe Rogan also lacks credentials.  He is a stand-up comedian with a love of the martial arts.  But his podcasts are more illuminating than most network news shows because of his open-mindedness, intellectual curiosity and willingness to let his guests have their say.  A lot of them are with guests or about topics I don’t care about, but so what?

The deeper problem concerning Julian Assange

October 25, 2019

Julian Assange, who faces extradition from the UK to the USA on charges based on his publication of American government secrets, is being denied the right to a fair hearing.  He is being abused and tormented.

But the deeper problem is that even if his legal rights were respected, he might well be convicted under existing U.S. law.

And this would establish the precedent that the U.S. government can commit crimes, classify those crimes as secret and imprison anyone who makes these crimes known.

This would break the uneasy truce between the government and the U.S. press, in which whistleblowers reveal secrets at their peril, but the press is allowed to publish them with impunity.

Such a distinction does not make logical or legal sense.  In the law of libel, for example, the writer and the publisher are both liable for damages.  But in practice, it has allowed some abuses of power to come to light that otherwise would have been hidden.

The U.S. government has already claimed the legal right to wage undeclared wars, to commit assassinations, to engage in warrantless arrests and warrantless surveillance and to torture people to get information—all in the name of national security.

The most important remaining restriction on abuse of these powers is the force of public opinion.  But the public can’t have an opinion on what it isn’t allowed to know.

Among the Presidential candidates, the prosecution of Assange is opposed by Democrats Pete Buttigieg, Tulsi Gabbard,, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Marianne Williamson and Republican Joe Walsh.

Sanders said that, if elected President, he would not prosecute whistleblowers.  I believe Sanders, but I remember President Obama also promised that, and Obama prosecuted more whistleblowers than any previous President.

Even if Sanders or one of the other candidates is elected, and even if they follow through on their promises, this would be just a matter of policy that could be reversed  by the next administration.

What’s needed is a law that allows people charged with revealing classified information to rebut the charge by showing they acted in the public interest by revealing crimes, wrongdoing or mismanagement and that the national interest was not harmed.

The same purpose could be achieved by judicial decision—that the use of the Espionage Act to protect the guilty or the incompetent is unconstitutional.

(more…)

U.S. treats Assange as Soviets treated dissidents

October 23, 2019

Americans and Britons have historically prided ourselves on the rule of law—the no-one is above being subject to the law and no-one is below being protected by the law.

Col. Rudolph Abel, the Soviet master spy who was apprehended in 1957, was defended in his trial by a top lawyer, James Donovan.  The accused Nazi war criminals tried at Nuremberg were given the opportunity to defend themselves and some actually got off.  All of them were treated humanely while awaiting trial.

The dissident publisher Julian Assange, who is accused of publishing secret information about U.S. war crimes, is being treated worse than any accused Nazi.  He has been kept in solitary confinement, denied needed medical care and restricted in the ability to conduct his own defense.

He appeared in Westminster Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday in a proceeding to schedule the hearing on whether he should be extradited from Britain to the United States on charges of spying.

Spectators saw that his physical and mental health is broken.  Of course it will be highly convenient to the U.S. national security establishment if he is unable to speak in his own defense and better still if he dies in prison.

He was barely able to understand what was going on.  He was like some Soviet dissident of the 1970s and 1980s who’d been subjected to psychiatric, or rather anti-psychiatric, drugs.

Here is what his friend Craig Murray, former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, saw:

I was badly shocked by just how much weight my friend has lost, by the speed his hair has receded and by the appearance of premature and vastly accelerated ageing. He has a pronounced limp I have never seen before. Since his arrest he has lost over 15 kg in weight.

But his physical appearance was not as shocking as his mental deterioration. When asked to give his name and date of birth, he struggled visibly over several seconds to recall both.  [snip]

[H]aving attended the trials in Uzbekistan of several victims of extreme torture, and having worked with survivors from Sierra Leone and elsewhere, I can tell you that … … Julian exhibited exactly the symptoms of a torture victim brought blinking into the light, particularly in terms of disorientation, confusion, and the real struggle to assert free will through the fog of learned helplessness. [snip]

Everybody in that court yesterday saw that one of the greatest journalists and most important dissidents of our times is being tortured to death by the state, before our eyes. To see my friend, the most articulate man, the fastest thinker, I have ever known, reduced to that shambling and incoherent wreck, was unbearable.

Yet the agents of the state, particularly the callous magistrate Vanessa Baraitser, were not just prepared but eager to be a part of this bloodsport. She actually told him that if he were incapable of following proceedings, then his lawyers could explain what had happened to him later.

The question of why a man who, by the very charges against him, was acknowledged to be highly intelligent and competent, had been reduced by the state to somebody incapable of following court proceedings, gave her not a millisecond of concern.  [snip]

(more…)

Whistleblowers, leakers and spies

October 7, 2019

A spy is someone who provides information of military, diplomatic or political significance to a hostile foreign power.

A whistleblower is someone who reveals secret information about crimes and bungling to the general public.

A leaker is someone who reveals selected secret information to the general public in order to further some goal of the organization he or she works for.

In general, governments pursue whistleblowers with much greater ferocity than they go spies, while leakers are rewarded.

President Trump’s confidential conversation with Ukraine President Zelensky was revealed by a leaker, not a whistleblower.  Unlike with a whistleblower such as Chelsea Manning, there is no attempt by the CIA to track down and punish the leaker.  That shows it was an authorized leak.

Just as one of the benefits of red tape is to give power and prestige to those who can cut it, one of the benefits of classified information is to give power and prestige to those empowered to reveal it.

What would be the motive of the CIA is trying to promote impeachment of President Trump?  No doubt one is that CIA officials, like many members of the American public, regard Trump as a dangerous and unpredictable loose cannon.

But there also is the possibility that Trump just might wind down the wars in the Middle East and end the new cold war with Russia.  From the CIA’s perspective, that would be a great threat.  Much better, from their standpoint, to have Mike Pence in the White House.

If a future President Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren or some libertarian Republican tried to make peace, that also would be regarded as a great threat, and no doubt would be met with a CIA attempt to undermine them.

LINKS

The Ukrainegate Whistleblower Isn’t a Real Whistleblower by Matt Taibbi for Rolling Stone.  As usual, Taibbi hits the nail on the head.  Highly recommended.

A Weak Whistleblower, a Ridiculous Impeachment by Peter Van Buren for The American Conservative.  Van Buren, a former career State Department employee, lost his job and was threatened with prosecution for writing a book about the bungling of the U.S. occupation of Iraq.

Onward, Christian Soldier: Imagining a Pence Presidency by Barbara Boland for The American Conservative.

Trump, Biden and Ukraine

September 25, 2019

I wrote a week ago that impeachment of President Donald Trump is a mirage, and now Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has called for an impeachment investigation of the President.  Such are the perils of commenting on breaking news.

The circumstantial  information already available to the public indicates that President Trump has abused the powers of his office.

President Trump

He acknowledged holding back $250 million in military aid that Congress had appropriated for Ukraine.

He acknowledged talking to President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine about reopening an investigation of Burisma, a Ukrainian energy company that paid Hunter Biden, the son of Joe Biden, $50,000 a month to serve on its board of directors.  The younger Biden resigned from the board earlier this year.

The House Judiciary Committee wants the transcript of Trump’s conversation with Zelensky, but even if nothing was said that connects the aid package to the investigation, the implication is clear.

The House has a duty to investigate.  I don’t think it is a good idea to call it an impeachment investigation just yet because calling it that means the investigation will be considered a failure if it does not result in impeachment recommendations.

Impeachment by the House may or may not be justified.  Conviction by the Senate would be next to impossible because it would require unanimity among the 47 Democratic Senators plus support by at least 20 Republicans.

Joe and Hunter Biden

What Republicans will point out is that Vice President Joe Biden threatened to hold up $1 billion in loan guarantees to Ukraine unless the government fired Viktor Shotkin, the prosecutor that was investigating Burisma.

Biden claims that Shotkin was corrupt, and his threat had nothing to do with his son.

I know of no evidence that either Joe Biden or his ne’er-do-well son, Hunter, broke the law.  But it’s obvious that Hunter would not have gotten his position if his father had not been Vice President.

It was a conflict of interest for Biden to be President Obama’s point man for Ukraine after his son took the job.

Biden may suffer more political damage than Trump.  The Trump Organization’s worldwide operations involve more extensive potential conflicts of interest.  But Biden has a reputation to lose and Trump doesn’t.

The greatest reputational damage of all in the whole affair is to the reputation of the United States of America as a whole.  It shows that American political leaders do not respect the sovereignty of allies.  It shows they use American power to advance their personal family and political interests.

So far as political strategy goes, I think that so long as public attention is focused on personalities, Trump benefits, and that Democrats can win only if they focus on policy and governance.  Trump may win if the 2020 election hinges on impeachment, and impeachment fails.

(more…)

Protest and dissent in Putin’s Russia

August 27, 2019

In Russia, the Fight Is Alive by Ilya Matveev for Jacobin.

The hour of maximum danger for U.S. democracy

August 16, 2019

The hour of maximum danger for U.S. democracy, or what will be left of it, will be when other nations rebel against the power of the U.S. dollar.   That will be when the United States is most in danger of a would-be Hitler or Mussolini.

The power of the U.S. dollar is what gives Washington the means to be a great economic power despite huge trade deficits and a hollowing out of American manufacturing.  It provides the means to maintain the world’s most expensive military.

It gives Washington the means to wage economic warfare against nations such as Iran, Venezuela and Russia, and to force poor nations to sacrifice the well-being of their people to foreign creditors.

But the power of the U.S. dollar is a legacy of a past when the U.S. was the world’s leading industrial nation, leading creditor nation and leading exporting nation.   Now the dominance of the dollar rests on the fact no nation’s leaders are both brave enough, and lead a nation that is strong enough, to defy the dollar system.

Benjamin Carter Hett wrote in The Death of Democracy that many European nations turned to fascist and right-wing dictatorships as a result of military defeat, which discredited the established governments, and strong Communist and revolutionary movements, which caused the middle classes to look for protectors.

German democracy survived for a time, but was pushed over the brink by onset of the Great Depression, which the established government was unable to cope with.

The conditions will exist in the United States following the crash of the U.S. dollar.  The U.S. government will no longer be able to raise money by borrowing in foreign markets.  Lack of borrowing power will mean it no longer will be able to pay for a world-wide network of military bases.

At the same time, the military will have to pay more for imported electronics components, imported oil and other supplies, including uniforms.  The fall in value of the U.S. dollar will make U.S. manufacturing costs cheaper in relation other currencies, but it won’t be able to fix the lack of manufacturing capacity.  And it will make investment in new manufacturing capacity more expensive.

The sudden collapse of U.S. military power without a military defeat would open the way to a “stab in the back” myth, comparable to the one about Germany’s defeat in World War One.

The buying power of U.S. workers will fall and the prices of merchandise, so much of which is directly or indirectly dependent on foreign supply chains, will fall.  There will be a crash in the U.S. financial markets and real estate markets.  Many workers will strike.  Many citizens will turn to the streets in protest—probably very few that are explicitly Communist, but who knows?

(more…)

How to undo legislative gerrymandering?

July 9, 2019

Click to enlarge.

It’s not an accident that Democrats won a majority of votes for state assemblies in Michigan, North Carolina and Wisconsin, but Republicans won a majority of the legislative seats.

It’s because legislative districts were intentionally drawn by Republican state legislatures to give Republicans an advantage.  You can comply with the Supreme Court’s “one man, one vote” ruling and create legislative districts with equal population, and still draw the lines so as to give one party an advantage.

Click to enlarge

Both parties have done this through American history.  The word “gerrymander” comes from Governor Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, whose party, the Democratic-Republicans (forerunner of today’s Democrats), drew up a strangely-shaped state senate district in 1812 to dilute the voters of the rival Federalists.

But Republicans during the last round of redistricting after the 2010 census used big data and computer analysis to lock in their control of legislatures in key states.  Democrats would have to do much more than win a majority of the votes to take back control.

They complained to the Supreme Court, but the Supreme Court turned them down, in a 5-4 decision.  Chief Justice John Roberts said the court can’t take up the burden of drawing legislative district boundaries for the states.

But Justice Elena Kagan pointed out that there is an accepted procedure for doing just this.  It consists of having a computer process draw up many different maps of legislative districts of equal population that are geographically compact and respectful of existing boundaries, and then allowing the state legislature to choose one of them.

If the state and federal courts do not do something about gerrymandering, who will?  State legislatures elected in gerrymandered district are unlikely to change the system that put them in power.  Congress? State legislatures draw congressional district boundaries, too.

But the fact is that the Supreme Court is not going to change its decision until and unless a new justice is appointed and maybe not even then.

What remains for Democrats is to try to get a large enough vote to offset a rigged system.  Or propose amendments to state constitutions to set up a fair process for drawing legislative districts.

LINK

Chief Justice Roberts OKs Minority Rule by Doug Muder for The Weekly Sift.  Hat tip to him for the chart.

Why would you believe John Brennan or the CIA?

May 31, 2019

The intelligence community – after two solid decades of PR disasters, from 9/11 to Iraq to Abu Ghriab to Gitmo – has rebounded in the public’s eye since 2016, cleverly re-packaging itself as serving on the front lines of the anti-Trump resistance.

It’s even managed to turn the invention of the term “deep state” to its advantage, having media pals use it to make any accusation of investigatory overreach, leaking, and/or meddling in domestic politics sound like Trumpian conspiracy theory.

But these people are not saviors of democracy. They’re the same scoundrels we rightfully learned to despise in the Bush and Obama years for lying about everything from torture to rendition to drone assassination to warrantless surveillance.

LINK

The intelligence community needs a house-cleaning by Matt Taibbi for Untitledgate.

Will Julian Assange die before he is tried?

May 30, 2019

Julian Assange’s lawyer said that Assange is too sick to carry on a normal conversation, that his health has deteriorated since his arrest, and that he has been transferred to the health ward of Belmarsh prison.

His health had reportedly been failing even before his arrest, as a result of being cooped up in a windowless room for seven years and not being able to get medical care he needed.

There is now no good reason why he shouldn’t receive all the care he needs, and it is possible that he is receiving such care. I hope my suspicions are groundless, and maybe they are.

But the events of the past 15 or 20 years have left me unable to say, “Such and such is impossible because the British (or U.S.) government would never do such a thing.”

It would be much more convenient from the U.S. and British governments if he were to die before being put on trial.  And treating Assange as some sort of super-villain terrorist who requires extra isolation from human contact is one way to accomplish that.

LINKS

Statement of Kristin Hrafnsson, Wikileaks editor-in-chief.

Assange Is Reportedly Gravely Ill And Hardly Anybody’s Talking About It by Caitlin Johnstone.

The UN Torture Report on Assange Is an Indictment of Our Entire Society by Caitlin Johnstone [Added 5/31/2019]

New jeopardy for Assange and press freedom

May 24, 2019

The U.S. Department of Justice has indicated Julian Assange on new charges—violation of the Espionage Act of 1917—which carry a maximum penalty of 175 years in prison.

What he is accused of is publishing confidential information disclosing American war crimes in Iraq in 2010.

The previous indictment accused him only of aiding and abetting unauthorized access to computer files, which would have meant a maximum penalty of five years.

Violations of some sections of the Espionage Act carry a maximum penalty of death, but these involve giving military secrets to an enemy in time of war, which Assange is not accused of.

He would most likely wind up in the Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado, and conceivably could spend the rest of his life in solitary confinement.

If he can be sent to prison for that, it means that the U.S. government has the power to commit crimes, up to and including murder, classify the evidence of those crimes as secret and send anybody who discloses those crimes to prison.

If he is sent to prison for that, it means that such freedom of the press as exists in the United States exists at the whim of whoever is in charge of the government.

So far as I know, the only prominent politician who has come to the defense of Julian Assange is Tulsi Gabbard.

In other news, Chelsea Manning is back in prison for refusing to testify against Assange.

And the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has rejected a resolution demanding that the President ask permission from Congress before attacking Iran.

(more…)

The new age of surveillance capitalism

May 13, 2019

There are two categories of Americans who are under constant surveillance.  One consists of paroled convicts and criminal defendants on bail who are under court order to wear electronic ankle bracelets.  The other consists of everybody.

That is what I took away from reading THE AGE OF SURVEILLANCE CAPITALISM: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power by Shoshana Zuboff, which came out earlier this year.

It’s about the prevalence of the new business of collecting information about people, usually without their knowledge, and using that information to shape their behavior.

If you have a Roomba robot vacuum cleaner, it’s making floor plans of your house.  If you have an OnStar GPS system in your car, it’s taking notes on your driving habits.  If you have a Next thermostat, it’s recording your energy use patterns.  If your children play with Genesis toys, they’re recording your children’s behavior.

Technical experts in Canada, France and the Netherlands found that the Google Street View trucks were not only taking photographs, but using Wi-Fi to collect telephone numbers, credit information, passwords, e-mails, records of on-line dating, pornography, browsing behavior, medical information and video and audio files.

All this information has economic value.  In fact, according to Zuboff, it often has more value to the provider than the fee for the service itself.  What she calls “market capitalism,” where a business makes money by selling a product or a service, is being replaced by what she calls “surveillance capitalism,” where a business makes money by collecting, processing and using data to shape human behavior.

It’s been said that people who use social media and other Internet services, especially free ones, are the product, not the customer.  Zuboff said that, in fact, the users are not even the product; they are the raw material.   The product is the model of their behavior  derived from the data they provide.

Click to enlarge.

The frontier of surveillance capitalism is gathering up seemingly meaningless information—what is called “data exhaust” or “digital breadcrumbs”—and using machine intelligence to correlate this information with human emotion and behavior.

Machine intelligences are not sentient, they have no understanding of the human mind.  They don’t need to. All they need to be able to do is look for correlations, and test them.  They are using the behavioristic psychology developed by B.F. Skinner.  He taught that it isn’t necessary to understand how individual people think and feel.  All that is necessary is to know what stimulus evokes what response.

How often you click on a “like” button on Facebook, how hard you step on the gas when accelerating your car, your willingness to answer questions about your politics and religion—all these things can be used to create a model of your behavior, which then can be tested.

Who would want such a model?  Advertisers,  Insurance companies.  Employers.  Lenders.  Credit rating companies.  Landlords.  And, of course, politicians.

Jaron Lanier wrote about some of these issues in Ten Reasons for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now,  His explanations were more brief, more readable and more clear than Zuboff’s 525-page tome (plus 124 pages of end notes).

But Lanier thought that the problem is limited to two companies, Google and Facebook, and could be easily fixed by changing their business models from advertising to fee-for-service.  If you read Zuboff’s book, you will understand that Google, Facebook and their imitators can no more give up collecting, processing and selling personal information than Starbucks can give up brewing strong coffee.  It is is not an aberration.  It is the core of their business model.

(more…)

The revelations of Wikileaks

May 10, 2019

Consortium News is publishing a series called “The Revelations of Wikileaks,” a reminder of the the vital Wikileaks disclosures.  They’re valuable reading both for their content and as a reminder of the world’s debt to Julian Assange.

This post consists of links to these articles.  I will add links to additional articles as they are published.

No. 1.  The Video That Put Assange in US Crosshairs.

No. 2.  The Leak That ‘Exposed the True Afghan War’,

No. 3.  The Most Extensive Classified Leak in History.

No. 4.  The Haunting Case of a Belgian Child Killer and How WikiLeaks Helped Crack It.  [Added 7/12/2019]

No. 5.  Busting the Myth that WikiLeaks Never Published Damaging Material on Russia.  [Added 9/25/2019]

The Assange prosecutors’ clever strategy

April 12, 2019

The U.S. Department of Justice cleverly Julian Assange is conspiracy to commit computer hacking—not violation of the Espionage Act.

This means that he would not face the possibility of execution or life imprisonment, as would have been possible under the Espionage Act.  The maximum penalty he faces is five years in prison.  Also, he would get a trial in a civil court and not before a secret military tribunal.

But it also makes his extradition more certain.  UK prosecutors promised President Moreno of Ecuador that Assange wouldn’t be extradited to a country with the death penalty.  The United States has the death penalty, but extraditing him to be tried for computer hacking rather than espionage could be seen as a way to keep this promise.

It also means Assange’s lawyers wouldn’t be able to raise the issue of abuse of the Espionage Act as a vehicle for censorship..

I say all this conditionally because there is a strong possibility that additional charges will be added later.

(more…)

Did Assange go stir-crazy in embassy?

April 12, 2019

The conventional wisdom is that Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno booted Julian Assange from Ecuador’s London embassy because of pressure from Washington.

President Moreno agreed to Washington’s demands that he deny asylum to Assange and dropping claims against Chevron for environmental damage to Ecuador’s rain forest.

He then received $10.2 billion in rescue loans from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, both headquartered in Washington and dominated by the United States.

CNN and Vox reported claims of strange behavior by Assange—behavior characteristic of a prisoner in solitary confinement who has had a mental breakdown.  If true, Assange is in need of psychiatric help.

Now people who defy the powers-that-be are always targets of character assassination.  All this could well be a smear.  It should be noted that neither CNN nor Vox quotes embassy staff or anyone else who personally observed Assange’s behavior, nor shows any effort to get Assange’s side of the story.

But Assange’s friends say he has suffered a deterioration in physical and mental health and has been denied access to care.  I hope he gets whatever care he needs.

The CNN report said that the Ecuadorian government’s main complaint against Assange was that he interfered in Ecuador’s internal affairs and tried to destabilize the country.

Vox also wrote that Moreno’s main complaint against Assange is that he refused to cease political activity, even when embarrassing to his host country.  He wrote that Moreno blames him for a leak of documents to an anonymous web site showing that he and his family may have profited from offshore bank accounts in Panama.

(more…)

President Trump invokes power of a dictator

February 18, 2019

President Donald Trump, having failed to persuade Congress to appropriate a full $5.7 billion for his border wall, has said he’ll declare a national emergency and take the money from Department of Defense funds.

The thing is, he doesn’t even pretend there is any emergency involved.

I could do the wall over a longer period of time.  I didn’t need to do this.  But I’d rather do it much faster.  And I don’t have to do it for the election.  I ’ve already done a lot of wall for the election. 2020.  And the only reason we’re up here talking about this is because of the election—because they want to try to win an election, which it looks like they’re not going to be able to do.

If a President can simply declare a national emergency and override the will of Congress, what power does he lack to make himself a dictator?

President Trump did not give himself these emergency powers, and he is not the first one to use them or abuse them, but none before him have been so blatant about the lack of justification for using these powers.

Our Constitution sets up a form of government with three branches of government with separate powers—the legislative, executive and judiciary—with the idea that each would check and balance the power of the others.

The problem with this is that separation of powers means separation of responsibility.  The path of least resistance for Congress is to abdicate responsibility to the President.

It’s true that Congress is not entirely to blame in this case.  The original law that President Trump invoked allowed Congress to veto an emergency declaration by a majority vote of the Senate and the House of Representations.  The Supreme Court ruled that unconstitutional; it said the two-thirds votes are required not only to overturn vetoes of legislation, but to overturn any Presidential action.

Even so, it is Congress that over the years has given Presidents the powers of dictators, and it is the responsibility of Congress to take these powers back.  No member of Congress who declares themselves a part of the “resistance” to President Trump can be taken seriously if they continue to allow him the powers of a dictator.

LINKS

Republic’s End: Trump’s Border Wall by Ian Welsh.

A Fishy Emergency Threatens the Republic by Doug Muder for The Weekly Sift.

Trump’s dictator move is the real emergency—and we handed him the keys by Will Bunch for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

What Is and Isn’t a Big Deal in Trump’s Executive Actions Related to the Border by Jack Goldsmith for Lawfare.

Ilhan Omar holds Elliott Abrams to account

February 14, 2019

Elliott Abrams in the 1980s carried out U.S. support for central American dictatorships that massacred their own people.  He is justly hated for his actions to this day.  For the Trump administration to put him in charge of U.S. policy toward Venezuela is an insult to the people of Latin America and a signal that the U.S. government does not care about human rights.

In the video above, Rep. Ilhan Omar, a new member of Congress from Minneapolis, questions Abrams about his record.  Along with Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib, she is a new voice in Congress, who speaks truths that others fear to state.

Omar referred to a notorious massacre in which more than 800 civilians, including two-year-old children, were killed by U.S.-trained troops.  The Intercept had details on this:

On December 11, 1981 in El Salvador, a Salvadoran military unit created and trained by the U.S. Army began slaughtering everyone they could find in a remote village called El Mozote.  Before murdering the women and girls, the soldiers raped them repeatedly, including some as young as 10 years old, and joked that their favorites were the 12-year-olds.  One witness described a soldier tossing a 3-year-old child into the air and impaling him with his bayonet.  The final death toll was over 800 people.

The next day, December 12, was the first day on the job for Elliott Abrams as assistant secretary of state for human rights and humanitarian affairs in the Reagan administration. Abrams snapped into action, helping to lead a cover-up of the massacre.  News reports of what had happened, Abrams told the Senate, were “not credible,” and the whole thing was being “significantly misused” as propaganda by anti-government guerillas.  [snip]

The extermination of El Mozote was just a drop in the river of what happened in El Salvador during the 1980s. About 75,000 Salvadorans died during what’s called a “civil war,” although almost all the killing was done by the government and its associated death squads. The numbers alone don’t tell the whole story. El Salvador is a small country, about the size of New Jersey. The equivalent number of deaths in the U.S. would be almost 5 million. 

Moreover, the Salvadoran regime continually engaged in acts of barbarism so heinous that there is no contemporary equivalent, except perhaps ISIS.

In one instance, a Catholic priest reported that a peasant woman briefly left her three small children in the care of her mother and sister. When she returned, she found that all five had been decapitated by the Salvadoran National Guard. Their bodies were sitting around a table, with their hands placed on their heads in front of them, “as though each body was stroking its own head.”  The hand of one, a toddler, apparently kept slipping off her small head, so it had been nailed onto it.  At the center of the table was a large bowl full of blood.

Criticism of U.S. policy at the time was not confined to the left. During this period, Charles Maechling Jr., who had led State Department planning for counterinsurgencies during the 1960s, wrote in the Los Angeles Times that the U.S. was supporting “Mafia-like oligarchies” in El Salvador and elsewhere and was directly complicit in “the methods of Heinrich Himmler’s extermination squads.”

Source: The Intercept

Similar stories could be told about U.S. support for the dictatorship in Guatemala and Panama and for the Contra rebels in Nicaragua.

(more…)

The ‘deep state’ plan to remake Latin America

January 31, 2019

Evidently the Trump administration’s demand for regime change in Venezuela was not a spur-of-the-moment decision.

It is part of a long-range plan to remake Latin America, along the lines of the failed plans to remake the Middle East.  Other targets are Cuba and Nicaragua.

At best, this will result in increased misery for millions of people who have never harmed or threatened us Americans, and an increased flow of refugees.

At worst, it will result in all these things, plus an increased Russian and Chinese presence in Latin America.

By ‘deep state,’ I mean all the U.S. military, intelligence and covert action agencies that set their own policies and operate out of sight of the U.S. public.

LINKS

Venezuelan Coup Attempt Part of US Plan to Remake Latin America by Yves Smith for Naked Capitalism.

The Making of Juan Guaidó: US Regime-Change Laboratory Created Venezuela’s Coup Leader by Dan Cohen and Max Blumenthal for Consortium News.

Sanctions Are Wars Against Peoples by Moon of Alabama.

Donald Trump and the power of sociopathy

January 15, 2019

Donald Trump is what I call a sociopath.

This not a psychiatric diagnosis, but an observation that he cares nothing for moral and ethical rules, for the law, for his pledged word, for objective facts or for the consequences of his actions to other people.

The power of a sociopath is that normal people have norms of behavior—at least to some extent—and don’t know how to deal with people who don’t recognize norms.

President Trump’s signature pledge during the 2016 presidential campaign was that he would solve the problem of unauthorized immigration by building a wall along the southern border, and make Mexico pay for it.

The cost of building a physical barrier along the entire 1,900-mile border with Mexico would be enormous.  The idea that Mexico can be compelled to pay for it is absurd.

Yet he is willing to close down the government and threaten to declare a national emergency in order to build a barrier along a relatively small portion of the border.  It is more important to him to win this symbolic victory than to have a functioning government.   He doesn’t really care whether the United States has a functioning government at all.

But the fact that establishment Washington politicians and journalists put up so little resistance to Trump shows how little these supposed norms have come to mean.

During the Bush and Obama administrations, the “norms” included invasions and proxy wars against countries that did not threaten us Americans, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, maybe a million all told, who never harmed us.  It meant prosecution of whistleblowers for telling the truth about abuse of governmental power.  It meant refusal to prosecute financial fraud and other crimes committed by members of the financial elite.

There is little that the Trump administration is doing, including governmental shutdowns, that does not have some sort of precedent.  What the Trump administration shows us is how acceptable sociopathy has become.

LINKS

What Is a Government Shutdown? by Kimberly Amadeo for The Balance.

Government shutdown: the border wall fight explained by Dara Lind for Vox.

Biggest Effects of the Government Shutdown by Ryan Bort for Rolling Stone.

Here’s What’s Really Happening at the Border by Kevin Drum for Mother Jones.

The Wall May Be a Waste, But It Is not a Crisis by Peter Van Buren for We Meant Well.

Wall B.S. and the Politics of 2020 by Peter Van Buren for We Meant Well.

Why Pelosi and Schumer Should Back Down Now by Joseph Cannon for Cannonfire.

Airports, security culture and the new normal

November 1, 2018

Source: Philosophy Tube.  Hat tip to Alex Page.

At the dawning of the “war on terror”, the new airport security rules seemed shocking and unnatural.  Conservatives as well as liberals objected to them.  The “no-fly” lists—the idea that the government could ban people from traveling by air and not give a reason—seemed outrageous.

But I’ve ceased to think about this.   The video above—about the thoughts and experiences of a young Englishman flying from London to New York—reminds me of how abnormal our security state really is.

The other thing I get from the video is how the United States is spreading police-state thinking to other countries.  I was brought up to think of my country as a beacon of freedom and democracy, and I think that, in some ways and to some extent, it was.

But nowadays cruel and ruthless dictators can point to the U.S. example to justify torture, warrantless arrests, extrajudicial killings and military intervention.

The question asked by the video is, “When will security ever go back to normal?”  The present security culture has been in existence for 15 years.  It now seems normal to many of us, maybe most of us.   Until and unless we stop thinking of it as normal, it won’t change.

A growing China reboots totalitarianism

October 22, 2018

Source: Dissident.

My great fear during the Cold War was that the totalitarian USSR would outlast the democratic USA.  I was afraid that a dictatorship would be able to take a longer view than a democracy, and would be better able to prioritize military and diplomatic power.

The philosopher Bertrand Russell, for one, scoffed at these fears.  He said that a democracy would always be able to outlast a dictatorship because dictators insulate themselves from bad news, while, in a democracy, contested elections and a free press provide a reality check.  The fall of Communism in Europe in 1989-1991 appeared to prove him right.

Now the Chinese government has created a new and more effective totalitarianism.  It uses social media and other new techniques to control the population more effectively than Mao ever dreamed of—while keeping the old Communist police state as backup.

When China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, Western leaders hoped that as China made economic progress, it would become more liberal and democratic.

China has made enormous economic progress.  Hundreds of millions of Chinese have been raised from poverty.  China is a major manufacturing nation.

Economic historian Adam Tooze said Chinese economic expansion was the main force pulling the world out of recession after 2008 and today contributes as much to world economic growth as the USA and Europe put together.

The Chinese Belt and Road Initiative, aka the New Silk Road, involves investing more than $1 trillion over the next 10 years to create a railroad, highway, pipeline and electrical grid extending over the whole of the interior of Eurasia, creating an integrated economy centering on China.

But if there was a possibility that this would make China more liberal and democratic, President Xi Jinping has moved to head it off.  Since 2013, China has been cracking down not only on corruption, but also on human rights lawyers, religious believers and critics o the government.

Xi Jinping has abolished the term limits that bound his predecessors and encouraged a Mao-style cult of personality.  There are even Institutes for the Study of Xi Jinping Thought.

Social media in China are monitored, and the Chinese government is in the process of implementing a scheme by which every Chinese citizen will be given a social credit score, based on an algorithm that takes into account credit history and good citizenship, but also opinions and associations, which can determine access to education, health care, credit and even public transportation.  This is powerful, because there is no individual against whom you can protest or to whom you can appeal.

In Xinjiang, members of the native Muslim Uighur population can be sent to Mao-style reeducation camps for the least little thing, even wearing a beard.  Surveillance cameras using facial recognition technology are everywhere.

China’s leaders have found a way to harness capitalism to the service of a capitalist government—much as Lenin tried to do with his New Economic Policy in the 1920s, allowing limited private business but maintaining ultimate control.  Maybe the USSR would have become like today’s China if not for Stalin’s forced collectivization drives.

There is a possibility that much of the rest of the world may come to regard China as a better example to follow than the United States.  Unless things change, the Chinese totalitarian model may prevail not through subversion or military force, but by force of successful example and as a price of doing business with China.

(more…)

Patrisse Cullors’ Black Lives Matter memoir

October 14, 2018

Patrisse Khan-Cullors, an artist and activist from Los Angeles, was one of three black women who started the Black Lives Matter movement.   She co-wrote WHEN THEY CALL YOU A TERRORIST: a Black Lives Matter Memoir (2017) to tell what it’s like to grow up and live in a world in which black lives don’t seem to matter.

She wrote about her childhood and coming of age, about her mother struggling in multiple low-age jobs to allow her four children to survive, about her vocations as an activist and a performance artist, and about finding love as a Queer person who doesn’t recognize gender boundaries.

The over-riding theme of the book is surviving as a poor black person in an unforgiving society, in which employers, governmental institutions and especially the police were indifferent or hostile.

When she was nine, she saw her older brothers, Paul, 13, and Monte, 11 (her third sibling is baby sister Jasmine), set upon and humiliated by police for no reason.  All they were doing was hanging out with other boys, none over 14, in an alley because they had no playground or vacant lot or any place else to so.  Police screamed at them, forced them up against a wall and half-stripped them in public—just for being boys with nothing to do.

The same thing happened to her when she was 12 years old.  Police entered her classroom, handcuffed her, took her to the dean’s office and had her searched, just like her brothers, because somebody had reported she’d smoked marijuana.

Later she visited a rich white friend, whose brother was a drug dealer was a high school student who kept marijuana in garbage bags.  He said he never was stopped by police, and never feared police.

The main thing she had going for her were sympathetic and supportive teachers, in elementary school and in a social justice-oriented charter high school she was able to attend.

Every time she writes about something awful that happened to herself, her family or her friends, she refers to some news article or academic study that indicates it was not an isolated event, but part of a pattern.

Her older brother Monte, was actually called a terrorist.

(more…)

The right wing’s winning long-term strategy

October 11, 2018

Appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court is part of a disciplined long-term strategy by the American right wing to lock in its power for generations to come.

It means the rest of the corporate Republican power play—gerrymandering, voter suppression and virtually unlimited campaign spending—is unrepealable.

The Supreme Court has become a House of Lords—a legislature of last resort.  During my lifetime, it abolished school segregation, legalized abortion, legalized gay marriage, blocked campaign finance reform, and reshaped Obamacare.  It has a potential veto power over virtually anything Congress might do.

Progressive and Democratic leaders have no long-term strategy of their own for the Supreme Court or anything else.  Instead they merely react to events, often in ways that are obviously futile—asking the Electoral College to overturn the results of the 2016 election, hoping Russiagate will drive President Trump from office, planning to impeach Kavanaugh in the future.

Even if the Democratic leaders got a strategy and stuck to it, it could take 10 or 20 years or more to undo what the right-wing corporatist movement has accomplished.  It took decades for the corporate right to bring the United States to where it is today, and changing things back will not be done overnight—if ever.

∞∞∞

You could say there is “a vast right-wing conspiracy” except that it is not secret.  It has always been out in the open for anyone to see, if they care to look.  I wrote about this at length in a previous post.

The strategic corporate movement began with the Lewis Powell memo to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in which the future Supreme Court justice argued that American business had to act strategically to protect its own position in society.

The result was the creation of a media, research and lobbying infrastructure, such Fox News, the Heritage Foundation and the American Legislative Exchange Council, which was tightly integrated with the corporate wing of the Republican Party.  The Federalist Society, founded in 1982, grooms reliably pro-corporate lawyers for judicial appointments.

It is true that there are many institutions with a built-in left-wing bias.  But the bias is unconscious and not a party line based on a planned, coordinated strategy.

The corporate movement crossed an ethical line with the REDMAP campaign.  In a targeted campaign, they gained control of both houses of 25 state legislatures in 2010, and proceeded to re-draw their congressional and state legislative districts so as to lock in a Republican majority.

At the same time they enacted laws making it more difficult for racial minorities to vote and canceling voter registrations, mainly of racial minorities, for bogus reasons.  The main obstacle to this strategy was the federal courts, which overruled the more obvious attempts to rig elections and disenfranchise voters.

Mitch McConnell (AP)

Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader since 2007, has removed this obstacle by his partisan and successful effort to give stack the judiciary in favor of the Republicans.

He made it his priority to hold up appointments to the federal bench when Barack Obama was President  and then to push through appointments after Donald Trump took office.

When the Republicans were out of power, they took advantage of the “blue slip” tradition, whereby Senators have the right to block a judicial appointment in their states.

They used procedural rules to slow down President Obama’s judicial appointments, creating a backlog of vacancies.

During the last year of the Obama administration, McConnell simply refused to permit consideration of Obama’s appointment of Merrick Garland, a moderately conservative but non-partisan judge.  There is no basis for such a refusal except partisanship.  It is an example of politics as a moral equivalent of war.

Now that Donald Trump is in the White House, judicial appointments go through quickly, and “blue slips” are a thing of the past.  Thanks to McConnell, the corporate movement has achieved its goal.

(more…)

U.S. rings Russia with bio-warfare labs

October 9, 2018

[Update 11/19/2018]  The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists published an article debunking these charges.  Click on The Russian disinformation attack that poses a biological danger to read it.  Somebody’s not telling the truth.

An investigative journalist, Dilyana Gaytanzhieva, has uncovered evidence of deadly tests of biological substances in a Pentagon-funded research laboratory in Tbilisi, Georgia.

The US Embassy to Tbilisi transports frozen human blood and pathogens as diplomatic cargo for a secret US military program. Internal documents, implicating US diplomats in the transportation of and experimenting on pathogens under diplomatic cover were leaked to me by Georgian insiders.

According to these documents, Pentagon scientists have been deployed to the Republic of Georgia and have been given diplomatic immunity to research deadly diseases and biting insects at the Lugar Center – the Pentagon biolaboratory in Georgia’s capital Tbilisi.

The work at the laboratory is part of a $2.1 billion program of the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency that operates in 25 countries, including the former Soviet republics of Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan as well as nations in the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Africa.

U.S. officials have said the research is aimed at promoting public health, and not on ways to spread disease to crops, animals and people.  If that is so, why is the research being done under a secret military program?

(more…)

Background on the Freddie Gray riots

August 24, 2018

Hat tip to Alex Page.

This video contains a lot of good information and clear thinking, presented in an engaging way.