The American Bear

Sunshine/Lollipops

Secular stagnation theory needn’t be ‘true’ to suggest a host of related results. The initial implementation of the New Deal was a political decision made to moderate capitalism to prevent its wholesale overthrow. Much is made today of the relative cooperation the New Deal received from the reigning plutocracy of the 1930s. But the level of dispossession of the Great Depression suggested a real threat of political-economic rupture and the replacement of ‘free-market’ capitalism with state socialism. The popular distinction being made these days between capitalism and neo-liberalism is academic— neo-liberalism is capitalism and New Deal capitalism is technocratic ‘management’ of capitalism in the service of residual plutocracy. The New Deal ended approximately when the threat of political overthrow did in the mid-1970s. The practical background of current economic malaise is that the existing plutocracy of bankers, CEOs and inherited wealth was fully restored from recent catastrophe through means and methods that were ‘political,’ through restoration of economic resources along the lines of division of economic power, and Western economists busied themselves explaining why doing so was necessary. When it came to the other 99.7% of the equation conclusions were quickly drawn that either (a) nothing needs to be done or (b) using duct tape and chicken wire to ‘repair’ the existing order was the best course of action. The ‘infrastructuralists’ are the duct tape and chicken wire crowd who haven’t yet resolved that current circumstance is the result of the existing order, not some accident of nature from outside of it. Economic Stagnation and the Stagnation of Economics

5 days ago

On Data Dumps, Death States and "Respectable" Dissent

… Please keep in mind that we are dealing with a state that believes it has the arbitrary, unchallengeable right to kill any of its citizens, at any time, without any judicial process whatsoever, simply at the whim of the president — or any of the innumerable agents he empowers to kill on his behalf as they see fit. This is the reality we live under — a reality reconfirmed just this week by a federal judge, who ruled that the families of American citizens murdered by their own government have no standing to challenge this action in a court of law.  And of course, this system extends its arbitrary license to kill to every human being on earth. It claims the right to kill anyone, anywhere, at the order of the president — who meets every week with his advisers to pore over hit lists, just as Stalin did with the Politburo, and decide which of the targets will live and which shall die.

Now, you may be happy with such a system policing itself with a few “reforms” which are devised and supervised by the system itself. A system which remains, at every point, completely hidden to the public that pays for it, and which at every turn, day after day, year after year, exacerbates the very extremism, violence, instability and chaos it purports to combat. (When it doesn’t just fund it and arm it outright, as it is is doing in its backing of violent, head-chopping, heart-eating extremists in Syria, for example.) You may be comforted by the thought that a small number of legislators whose careers are funded by this system — and very often directly by war profiteers and “security” profiteers — will be “overseeing” whatever “reforms” of the system eventually become law (assuming that any of them actually do).

But some people aren’t comforted by this. Some people continue to believe — or hope against hope — that we can do better than this. If such people see promising openings — like the exposure of NSA documents — falling short of the effect they could have, if they see these opportunities slowly being swallowed up in toothless “reforms” and “debates” by the very system they hope to break down and do away with, can they not question, criticize, even rail against this state of affairs, without being accused of envy, personal pique or irresponsibility? Why can’t they, like Robert Kennedy,  “dream of things that never were, and ask, why not?”

1 week ago

'The persons holding the jobs of the named defendants must be trusted and expected to act in accordance with the U.S. Constitution when they intentionally target a U.S. citizen abroad at the direction of the president and with the concurrence of Congress,' Judge Collyer wrote. 'They cannot be held personally responsible … for conducting war.' … If it stands, the ruling suggests that courts have no role to play, before or after, in reviewing the legality of government decisions to kill citizens whom officials deem [in secret] to be terrorists … Judge Dismisses Suit Against Administration Officials Over Drone Strikes

Obama administration submits formal plan for NSA “reforms” | WSWS

The Obama administration released an official statement Thursday on its proposals to modify the US National Security Agency’s telephone-based surveillance and data collection efforts.

The “Fact Sheet” document, titled “The Administration’s Proposal for Ending the Section 215 Bulk Telephony Metadata Program,” details proposed changes to the bulk phone record surveillance, and is intended as a framework for new legislation to legitimize and further institutionalize the mass spying program.

Under the Obama proposal, the NSA would no longer engage in direct collection of telephone metadata. The government would instead submit requests to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). Once authorized, the surveillance agencies would be allowed to gather telephone data from telecommunications on targets and anyone within “two hops” (or degrees of separation) from a target.

The document specifies that authorization from the FISC would not be required in “an emergency situation.” In other words, when the state deems it necessary, it will override even the cosmetic protections laid out in the proposed legislation. In non-emergency situations, surveillance would be based on the FISC’s determination that the numbers relate to “national security concerns.”

Once FISC approval is granted, records would have to be provided by telecommunications companies on an “ongoing and prospective” basis. Moreover, “the companies would be compelled by court order to provide technical assistance to ensure that the records can be queried and that results are transmitted to the government in a usable format and in a timely manner.”

While it does not say so explicitly, this stipulation is at least in part aimed at ensuring that telecommunications companies turn over cell phone records, which is presently not the case. It is estimated that the NSA has access to only 30 percent of all phone call records because it has not had access to cell phone records. That is, the Obama administration is seeking to cement a legislative framework which effectively extends the surveillance powers granted by the Patriot Act, under the guise of “reform.”

The reform proposals come as existing authorization of the program is set to expire. The administration has pledged to seek from the FISC a 90-day extension of the program as it presently exists, along with further extensions until some legislation has passed.

US Representatives Mike Rogers and Dutch Ruppersberger have advanced their own variant of the administration’s proposal, which would not even require the government to pass its data requests through the FISC. Instead, the court would only have authority to “expunge” data if it is determined, after the fact, to be irrelevant to any discernible “suspicious activity.”

The Rogers/Ruppersberger legislation will likely form the basis for any final bill. On Thursday, a senior administration officials said that the White House was “very pleased” with the proposals put forward by the House Intelligence Committee.

The legislation is set to be processed by the House Intelligence Committee, rather than the Judiciary Committee, to give Rogers and Ruppersberger—both with close ties to the NSA—greater control of the process. If anything is passed by Congress, it will be thoroughly vetted and pre-approved by the intelligence agencies.

The surveillance “reforms” relate to only one small patch of the sprawling complex of surveillance activities being carried out by US intelligence agencies. Currently active surveillance programs analyze reams of data from virtually every source imaginable, gathered through indiscriminate dragnet methods including tapping directly into the trans-oceanic fiber-optic cables. In effect, the entire Internet is being recorded in real time and stored for analysis and use by the repressive agencies of the state.

2 weeks ago

Camus in the Time of Drones | Jeffrey St. Clair

… Camus’ essay [“Reflections on the Guillotine”] on the barbarity of the death penalty was written in 1956, against the backdrop of the executions of hundreds of dissidents during the Soviet crackdown in Hungary, as well as the execution of Algerian revolutionaries condemned to death by French tribunals. He notes that by 1940 all executions in France and England were shielded from the public. If capital punishment was meant to deter crime, why hold the killings in secret? Why not make them a public spectacle?

Because, Camus argues, deterrence isn’t the purpose of state murder. The real objective is vengeance through the exercise of extreme state power. “Let us recognize it for what it is essentially: a revenge. A punishment that penalizes without forestalling is indeed called revenge. It is a quasi-arithmetical replay made by society to whoever breaks its primordial law.”

Public executions became a threat to the state, because the dreadful act tends to provoke revulsion in ordinary citizens, like Camus’ father, who see it clearly for what it is: a new form of murder “no less repulsive than the crime.” A form of murder that is performed, in theory, in the name of the citizens and for which they are complicit.

This kind of state-sanctioned killing, Camus reasoned, leads only to more murder, a vast panorama of murder. “Without the death penalty,” Camus writes, “Europe would not be infected by the corpses accumulated for the last twenty years on its soil.”

So what would Albert Camus, the great moralist of the 20th century, think about the latest innovation in administrative murder, Obama’s drone program, a kind of remote-control gallows, where the killers never see their victims, never hear their screams, smell their burning bodies, touch their mutilated flesh?

The conscience of the killer has been sterilized, the drone operator, fully alienated from the act he is committing, can walk out the door after his shift is over and calmly order an IPA at the local microbrew or play a round of golf under the desert sky. He is left with no blood on his hands, no savagery weighing on his conscience, no degrading images to stalk his dreams.

Drone strikes, Camus would argue, are not just meant to kill. They are programmed to terrorize. In this regard, whether the missile strikes its intended target or incinerates a goat-herder and his flock is incidental. In fact, the occasional killing of civilians may well be a desired outcome since collateral deaths intensify the fear. This is punishment by example, not for any particular crime or impending threat, but merely because of who you are, where you live, what you might believe. These new circuitries of death are meant to humiliate, subdue and dehumanize.

As more and more evidence of Obama’s secret killing operations in Pakistan and Yemen began to leak out, public squeamishness over the deaths, especially of civilians and targeted American citizens, began to mount. Uncomfortable questions were raised, even on the political right. To salvage his program, Obama announced that new guidelines would soon be imposed on his high-tech assassinations.

But Camus would be the first to warn us that such regulations should be viewed with grave suspicion, since they will likely only serve to legitimize and normalize state murder, by making lawless killing legal. …

3 weeks ago

New York Times reporter James Risen, who is fighting an order that he testify in the trial of Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA officer accused of leaking information to him, opened the conference earlier by saying the Obama administration is ‘the greatest enemy of press freedom that we have encountered in at least a generation.’ The administration wants to ‘narrow the field of national security reporting,’ Risen said, to ‘create a path for accepted reporting.’ Any one journalist who exceeds those parameters, Risen said, ‘will be punished.’ … The administration’s aggressive prosecutions have created ‘a de facto Official Secrets Act,’ Risen said … Risen: Obama administration is this generation’s ‘greatest enemy of press freedom’ | Poynter.

3 weeks ago

The American Crisis | Rob Urie

… The circumstance in the U.S. is of a political class that has aligned itself with every capitalist scam, con and predation yet imagined— home foreclosures against millions of citizens to protect banks and bankers from the predatory loans they made; wholesale, unconditional bailouts of the predatory, dysfunctional banker class at public expense; sequential programs posed as in the public interest that are corporate scams in fact— the ACA (Affordable Care Act), the JOBS Act, mortgage ‘relief’ programs, ‘fracking’ and the looting of public resources under the con of ‘privatization,’ that pose it clearly against the public interest. The ‘pox on all houses’ sentiment about to be realized in the mid-term elections will likely bring a Republican sweep and with it more straightforward— less cluttered, implementation of the catastrophe-generating class’s agenda. In Philadelphia, USA, a place dear to my heart, fully one-third of the city’s population lives on food stamps. Recent cuts to food stamps—SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Plan), have so decimated the ‘engine of economic growth,’ small businesses, that the Republican Governor of Pennsylvania is seeking to restore food stamp payments. The privatization of Philadelphia’s schools is such an obvious scam that a graft system to induce local ‘leaders’ to continue to support it now constitutes a substantial proportion of the system’s expenses. Suburban parents now a decade or more into their own economic diminishment have seen their children take tens of millions of dollars in onerous student loans to pay for college educations when half of college graduates work in low-paid, dead-end jobs to repay crushing debt that cannot be discharged. The political class in the U.S. most certainly wants to change the subject.

The war on and occupation of Iraq may have been the ‘purest’ demonstration in recent history of dim hubris in the service of unqualified catastrophe generation— over a million Iraqis killed, tens of thousand of Western troops killed or substantially destroyed and an entire modern nation-state left in chaos and ruins. The imperial ‘spoils’ system implemented when the adventure was still considered ‘successful’ shines light on the imperial mechanics that funnel resources and stolen booty to their rightful ‘homes’ in Georgetown, Manhattan and London— multi-national oil companies, ‘security’ and other military companies, ‘reconstruction’ contractors and various and sundry bogus financiers and opportunists are the new frontline of imperial extraction. In their ‘purity’ Western imperial predations in Iraq find general relation to half a century or more of cynical capitalists hiding behind ideological difference to sell naked imperial looting to always-gullible publics under the guise of responding to external threats. In Venezuela, Argentina, Chile, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Vietnam, Iraq, and Iran and on and on ad infinitum Cold War demagogues cobbled the residual of imperial history onto wholly contrived ‘threats’ to secure land, resources, compliant workforces and ‘partners’ in imperial expropriation to feed the engines of capitalist wealth ‘production.’ The technical ‘problem’ for the West now is that restoring geo-political credibility outside of rapidly diminishing television audiences will require that more enthusiastic modes of coercion be used.

Western imperial wealth, the greatest in world history, serves as advertising slogan for capitalist democracy. If you can ignore your lying eyes and three hundred years of imperial history then you too can live like us. Left out of this ‘us’ is opportunistic circumscription— the overwhelming preponderance of U.S. history is genocide against indigenous populations, slavery, wars of imperial conquest and internal and external social repression. This may by degree be true of other empires, but that is the point. Before tossing their lot with the West the good citizens of Ukraine may wish to spend time with the economic theory of ‘internal devaluation’ so recently applied by the EU (European Union) to the European periphery in the service of Western bankers. Internal devaluation was also the ‘gift’ from the IMF and assorted and sundry Western economists to Russia in the late 1990s, the product of the accumulated ‘wisdom’ of the Harvard, Princeton and University of Chicago economics departments distilled and applied to such economically catastrophic effect. Either known or not by capitalist demagogues in the U.S., internal devaluation is the implied goal of Western public policy for the last three or so decades. When engineered by Western bankers and the IMF it doesn’t matter how onerous, or by whom, external debt was accumulated. Western bankers sitting in modern office towers wearing three thousand dollar suits will be repaid from your labor and your wealth. The storyline in the West has it that the Russian ‘system’ runs on ‘graft.’ Left out is that the West has simply legalized graft to avoid unpleasant associations— see ‘campaign contributions’ and ‘Citizen’s United’ for details.

The Western ruling classes have had their way with geo-politics through the neo-cons and with political economy through the capitalist neo-liberals. In recent decades both saw spectacular and wholly temporary ‘successes’ before it became apparent to all but the most committed ideologues that imperial hubris in the service of self-serving demagogues benefits neither those who fell in line behind them nor their victims. It is however the ‘business’ of the West, it’s how ‘we’ pay our bills. On the surface it would seem that not even Americans are so deluded as to continue to raise the stakes over a manufactured crisis (Crimea) with three centuries of history behind it. The problem is that this is all that the ‘leadership’ in the West has. The duct tape and chicken wire used to patch up ‘the economy’ has repaired the exact and precise catastrophe-generating system of predatory finance that has given ‘us’ three decades of regularly recurring economic calamities of increasing breath and scope. And instead of repudiating the (baby) Bush ‘doctrine’ of pre-emptive self-defense the Obama administration has automated it through the global distribution of drone warfare. Whereas the CIA once-upon-a-time had to train its proxy armies to slice villages full of innocents from loin to throat (see Nicaragua, El Salvador and Honduras), the task of automated slaughter can today be carried out with the press of a button by marginally literate soldiers sitting in air conditioned trailers in Nevada, USA. Selling the illusion that this leadership is on ‘our’ side in the realms of the political or the economic becomes exponentially more difficult by the day. All that it has left to sell is the illusion that it is defending us from contrived threat.

3 weeks ago

It is impossible for most Americans to think that their country and their government are not beloved around the world. That attitude is due to the relentless propaganda we are subject to our entire lives. We are told our nation is the best, richest, most just, and most deserving. After years of brain washing we are subject to a cynical collaboration between politicians and big business, the same big businesses who run our media outlets and determine what we’ll see and what we should think about what they choose to reveal. … This perversity has many negative consequences. Among them is the public acceptance and approval of nearly every crime committed by our government. Margaret Kimberly, Propaganda

3 weeks ago

Change Agents: The Curious Case of the "Responsible" NSA Revelations

"Whatever dangers much wider, and much more rapid, disclosure might have carried have been entirely obliterated. What remains constitutes no threat of any remotely serious kind to the States implicated. Yes, there will be hearings, some ‘reforms,’ and life for the States will go almost exactly as before. Your life, on the other hand … well, who gives a damn about your life.” — Chris Floyd

Has it only been 10 months since Edward Snowden’s NSA revelations changed the world? Can you even remember what the world was like, before he gave 50,000 — no, 200,000 — no, wait, 2 million— secret documents to Glenn Greenwald: smoking guns that exposed Washington’s global surveillance state, which far outstripped the wildest, wettest dreams of the Stasi, of Stalin, yea of Orwell himself?

Try to recall those dark days — now long since banished, thank God! — when the American imperium thrust its grubby hands and greedy eyes into every single digital pie available, scarfing up emails, URLs, locations, even webcam shots, of anybody and everybody, then storing them all in gargantuan data silos, to sift through and fondle for years on end. Remember that? Remember how this surveillance state, this über-Stasi, was put to the service of a regime that was actually going all over the world and murdering people — without charges, without due process, without defense, without warning. Just circling the world, blowing up a wedding party here, a couple of teenagers there, a village, a funeral, a farm, an apartment block, day after day, week after week, year after year? Innocent people, “guilty” people; guilty of something or other, that is — maybe just behaving in a “suspicious manner” in the eyes of unaccountable officials acting arbitrarily in secret, on the basis of screenshots sent by back by robots, and rumors and vendettas gathered, for pay, by secret agents.

Do you remember how this brutal, barbaric, ugly, inhuman regime would then go around the world condemning other nations for not being moral, holy, freedom-loving and strictly adherent to international law? Do you remember the base, sickening hypocrisy of it all? State murderers — proud state murderers, murderers who would go before legislators and under oath to God Almighty swear how proud they were to be murdering people — telling other nations how to order their affairs according to the principles of law and justice and human rights?

Isn’t it wonderful how much has changed since those days, when we discovered the spine and musculature of the surveillance regime that undergirded this ghastly system of murder and corruption and domination?

continue

1 month ago