The American Bear

Sunshine/Lollipops

Two principles have formed the core of Wikileaks’ operative mores since its formation: uncensored information and a rigorous commitment to protect the anonymity of the whistleblowers who provide that information. Unsurprisingly, authoritarian governments, criminal corporate enterprises and their toadies just hate these two prongs of potential exposure – full disclosure of primary source material and protection of the sources of that information. Just ask Richard Nixon how he felt about Deep Throat. … For a more contemporary example, just ask the censorship-happy Obama administration, which is increasingly being viewed as the single most hostile government to whistleblowers and freedom of the press in the history of history, at least among our vaunted Western ‘democracies.’ Disney’s Ode to State Repression

Hobbes thought that a person’s fear of death was an expression of that person’s most intimate desires and wishes. All fearless people were alike— brash, foolish, enthralled by death—but a fearful person was fearful in his own distinctive way. For Montesquieu, it was the reverse. Because the terrified were incapable of reason, agency, and formulating their own ends, they possessed none of the irregularities distinguishing one person from the next. Terror fed on the dull sameness of animals motivated by nothing but the biological imperative of staying alive. The victim’s “portion, like beasts,’” was “instinct, obedience, and chastisement.” The fear of death could not be linked to the goods of a particular life, for it flourished only in the absence of those goods: “In despotic countries one is so unhappy that one fears death more than one cherishes life.” In free societies, obedience was “naturally subject to eccentricities.” Free subjects thought too highly of themselves to slavishly obey; they forced their rulers to accommodate their demands. Not so in despotism. A de-individualizing experience, despotic terror made no room for pluralism, difference, and individuality. The History of Fear, Part 2

In choosing silence over solidarity, comfort over comradeship, Galileo swaps one truth for another. It is not that fear silences his true self, that self-interest gets the better of his moral code. It is that the only way he can imagine fulfilling his ends is to capitulate to fear. That is how fear works in a repressive state. The state changes the calculus of individual action, making fear seem the better instrument of selfhood. The emblematic gesture of the fearful is thus not flight but exchange, its metaphorical backdrop not the rack but the market. “Blessed be our bargaining, whitewashing, death-fearing community,” Galileo howls. And in the distance, one can see Hobbes nodding in silent agreement, without the slightest hint of irony. The History of Fear, Part 1

On many thousands of occasions, drug dealers in foreign countries decided that, rather than using armed truck drivers, bribed customs agents, desperate drug mules, thuggish regional distributors, and street level drug dealers who used guns to defend their territory, they’d just mail drugs directly to their far away customers. Of course, folks at the beginning of the supply chain were still often violent drug cartels who one hates to see profit. But from the perspective of the many innocents who suffer from the black market supply chains involved in traditional drug sales, narcotics via mail order would seem to be a vast improvement. … The FBI summed up its case against The Silk Road by writing that “the site has sought to make conducting illegal transactions on the Internet as easy and frictionless as shopping online at mainstream e-commerce websites.” Insofar as it trafficked in violence-for-hire and hacked bank accounts, that was a bad thing — society has an interest in as much friction as possible in the market for hit men! But compared to the epidemic violence that has characterized the drug trade for the entirety of the War on Drugs, and that shows no signs of abating in the foreseeable future, a frictionless drug trade starts to seem like a relative utopia. Did Shutting Down The Silk Road Make the World a More Dangerous Place?

America’s unremitting self-preoccupation | War in Context

The U.S. government kills a lot of Muslims. With its war against Afghanistan, its sanctions on and wars against Iraq, its drone campaigns in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, it’s probably killed more than a million Muslims in the last quarter century. Let’s say a million. That’s more than a 9/11’s worth of corpses every month. And that doesn’t include the killing done by governments the United States props up and arms. Nor does it account for torture, maiming, poisoning, and terrorization. The brutalization of Muslims might be the defining feature of U.S. foreign policy in the post-Cold War era.

Not many Americans care. Their — our — indifference is both cause and effect of the dominant tenor of antiwar advocacy in the United States. Pundits and politicians tell Americans that we should oppose this or that American war or this or that involvement in another country’s war because it would hurt … Americans. It would cost “us” money. Or put “our” soldiers “in harm’s way.” Or threaten our safety. Or subvert our democracy. Or tarnish our reputation. Or violate our constitution. Rarely mentioned are the bodies ripped apart by the U.S. military monster. Rachel Maddow wrote an entire book opposing U.S. war-making and made only fleeting references to non-American victims.

During the debate over the proposed U.S. bombing of Syria, New York Times columnist Frank Bruni set out to remind us of the human toll of war. Justly taking aim at the expression “boots on the ground,” he pointed out that there would be people in those boots — so far, so good — but didn’t think to mention that Syrian footwear would be similarly inhabited. He went on to say that “the toll of our best intentions and tortured interventions” in Iraq and Afghanistan are thousands of dead, injured, and traumatized Americans.

Of the tens of millions of Iraqi and Afghan victims he wrote not a word. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder? Americans wars have given entire populations PTSD.

While the overwhelming opposition of Americans to (further) U.S. military intervention in Syria’s civil war was heartening, the rhetoric of some leading opponents was sickening. Congressman Alan Grayson (D-FL), warning against intervention from the ostensible left, kept saying that the suffering of Syrians was “none of our business.” In an interview on Democracy Now he wandered into truly dark territory when he seconded the stateswoman from Alaska: “…Palin actually has this right: Let Allah sort it out.”

I’m not suggesting that opponents of war should use only moral arguments; they’re wise to try to appeal to people’s self-interest, and nationalism in pursuit of peace is, if not a virtue, nonetheless preferable to nationalism in pursuit of war. Likewise, antiwar advocates on the Left can’t afford to be finicky about allies: I’d team up with the ideological descendants of Charles Lindberg to try to stop a U.S. military intervention. But nowadays, to listen to the rhetoric of mainstream war opponents is to hear a story in which foreign victims of American wars — almost always people of color — do not appear. The popular way of opposing war draws on the very chauvinism and racism that produce war.

The Thistle and the Drone

In the post-9/11 paranoia, many rogues have endeavoured to portray their local adversaries as part of a global terrorist threat. Russia did it with the Chechens; China with Uighurs; Israel with Palestinians – they all claimed to be fighting a “war on terror” against the same Islamist menace that threatened America. Others have followed the template. “Painting their peripheries as associated with Al Qaeda,” writes Akbar Ahmed in his remarkable new book The Thistle and the Drone: How America’s War on Terror Became a Global War on Tribal Islam, “many countries have sought to join the terror network because of the extensive benefits that it brings. They use the rhetoric of the war on terror to both justify their oppressive policies and to ingratiate themselves with the United States and the international system”.

This failure to distinguish regional struggles from global militancy allowed many states to harness US power to settle local disputes. The conflict between a centralising, hierarchical state and a recalcitrant, egalitarian periphery is not unique to Pakistan and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). In the multi-ethnic Orient, geography rarely corresponds with identity. Many tribal societies have been left excluded on the margins. In turn they have resisted modernisation, seeing it as the centre’s tool for expanding its authority. Some of these conflicts, as in Chechnya, have simmered for centuries. But in most places, modus vivendi were evolved guaranteeing the autonomy of tribes while upholding state sovereignty.

The war on terror has disrupted this balance. FATA, Yemen and Somalia represent the most obvious ruptures. But in his exhaustive study, Ahmed considers 40 cases, ranging from Africa and the Middle East to Eurasia, where the war on terror, or its local franchise, has upset the equilibrium to unpredictable, often atrocious effect. In turn, unable to match the power of central governments that are backed by the lethal technologies of a superpower, the tribes have resorted to asymmetrical warfare. The drone has been answered by the suicide bomber.

Ahmed draws the metaphor of the thistle from Tolstoy’s Hadji Murad to represent the resilience and prickliness of tribal society. The drone, on the other hand, is both the symbol and the instrument of the war on terror. The resentments sown by the drones have sprouted a new harvest with all of the thistle’s nettles but none of its beauty.

[…]

But the use of drones increases American insecurity in unpredictable ways. Freelance retribution of the kind attempted by Faisal Shahzad at Times Square and the Tsarnaev brothers at the Boston Marathon are harbingers of the blowback to come. None of them had any connection to the Fata, but the relentless killing in Waziristan and beyond outraged them all. The more “collateral damage” accumulates, the vaster will be the reservoir of resentment, the greater the willingness to retaliate.

The US is in effect creating the demons it is out to slay. President Barack Obama’s drone war is baiting new enemies and swelling the ranks of the old. Akbar notes: “92 per cent of the people surveyed in the Pukhtun-dominated areas of Kandahar and Helmand a decade after the war began in Afghanistan had never heard of 9/11”. To them, the causes of the US war remain opaque. They have no desire – or capacity – to hurt America; but they, like their forefathers, are committed to repelling overbearing intruders.

Ex-NSA chief jokes about putting Snowden on a hit list, advocates “targeted killings”

A former National Security Agency director joked at a cybersecurity conference on Thursday that NSA-leaker Edward Snowden should be put on a kill list rather than a human rights award list.

“I must admit, in my darker moment[s] over the past several months, I’d also thought of nominating Mr. Snowden, but it was for a different list,” Gen. Michael Hayden said at the Washington Post-sponsored event, according to The Hill.

Hayden later fielded a question about an upcoming investigation by journalists Glenn Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill into alleged NSA involvement with assassinations. He dismissed the idea and said that while the US does not conduct assassinations, it does conduct “targeted killings.”

“Yes, we do targeted killings, and I certainly hope they make full use of the capacities of the National Security Agency when we do that,” he said. “Assassinations are forbidden by executive order. We don’t do assassinations.”

The Shutdown Game | Glen Ford

The government shutdown battle is more like a Civil War reenactment than the real thing. A face-saving bargain will soon be struck, returning 825,000 furloughed federal employees to their jobs at wages that have been frozen for the past two years – not by the Republicans, but on President Obama’s orders. The clock has been stuck with both hands on “austerity” since Obama came fully out of the closet as a GOP fellow-traveler following the 2010 midterm elections. From that moment on, Republican-imposed gridlock has been the only barrier to Obama’s long-sought Grand Bargain to eviscerate entitlement programs. When the current theatrics are over, Obamacare will remain intact and the president will be back on his ever-rightward stride. The GOP will take Obama up on his offer, earlier this year, to cut Social Security and will probably be offered other bits and pieces of the social safety net in the interest of “shared sacrifice” and domestic peace.

In the interim, while the reenactors haul their cannons around the cow pasture, waiting for the rich people who call themselves “markets” to signal an end to the charade, rest assured that national security is sacrosanct.

For example, the pause in some government spending will have minimal effect on the National Security Agency’s spying on Americans and the rest of the Earth’s inhabitants. The NSA circulated a memo stating that its “intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance activities required to support national or military requirements necessary for national security” are exempt from the fiscal exercise, as are all programs that are necessary for “protection of life and property.” Presumably, that means President Obama can still spend next Tuesday morning selecting the week’s victims for his Kill List.

Protection of property being the prime directive of both wings of the Corporate Party, democracy will remain in shutdown mode in Detroit and all of Michigan’s largely Black cities, whatever happens on Capitol Hill. The markets are hungry to devour the nation’s pension funds, and have chosen Black locales to perfect the model, secure in the knowledge that nobody of consequence will raise a finger to stop them from filching the nest-eggs of the undeserving classes.

The disenfranchisement of Detroit under the iron rule of a corporate lawyer is simply another form of “shared sacrifice” necessitated by austerity – which is why the Obama administration challenges voter ID cards in North Carolina but does not deploy the Justice Department to re-enfranchise the majority of Blacks in the state of Michigan, whose votes have been rendered worthless. Detroit’s ability to borrow money – or, in this case, to be stripped of every asset of value for the benefit of Wall Street bankers – trumps citizenship rights, every time.

The same logic will dictate that the Republicans turn the spigot back on. Forget about social justice, the rule of law, and political decorum. The sanctity of U.S. Treasury notes is what holds the nation – and its global empire – together. As the “liberal” economist Paul Krugman writes, “Financial markets have long treated U.S. bonds as the ultimate safe asset; the assumption that America will always honor its debts is the bedrock on which the world financial system rests.” Which is another way of saying that the U.S. maintains its supremacy in the world, not merely by force of arms, but through the artificial supremacy of the dollar, as the world reserve currency. Should the dollar fall from its pedestal, the Empire would have to go out with guns blazing. Or, alternatively, the U.S. would be compelled to adjust to simply being one nation among many on the planet – a prospect too horrible to contemplate.

Therefore, for the sake of the almighty dollar (blessed be its name) – and because the shutdown has already achieved its purposes – the GOP will call a halt to its action before any money-changers get hurt. The Republicans will have shown their willingness to fight The Obama. Obama will appear to be defending the people from The Republicans. And then they will both slash away at social spending, as was the intention, all along.

SOFA Unlikely Due to Karzai’s Objection to Death Squads | Jim White

The US has set the end of this month as its artificial deadline for signing a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA, also Bilateral Security Agreement, or BSA) with Afghanistan to govern the presence of US troops inside Afghanistan after the scheduled end of NATO operations at the end of 2014. The driving force behind this push to have the SOFA in place so far ahead of the end of next year was to prevent a repeat of the embarrassment that the US suffered when it was unable to get the terms it wanted–specifically, full criminal immunity for US troops–in Iraq and wound up withdrawing all troops instead of leaving a force behind after the stated end of military operations.

The news today out of Afghanistan does not bode well for the US to meet its deadline. Although the issue of criminal immunity still seems likely to me to be just as big a barrier in Afghanistan as it was in Iraq, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has raised a different concern that the US seems quite unlikely to address in the way he wants. From Reuters:

But two issues have emerged as potential “deal breakers”, President Hamid Karzai’s spokesman, Aimal Faizi, told reporters late on Tuesday.

One is a U.S. desire to run independent counter-terrorism missions in Afghanistan after 2014, Faizi said. The other was a U.S. refusal to agree to a wide-reaching promise to protect Afghanistan from foreign aggression.

Karzai has long opposed operations in Afghanistan by U.S. special operations forces and the CIA, particularly when they run the risk of causing civilian casualties.

“These things are strongly related to our sovereignty,” Faizi said. “We find it to be something that will definitely undermine our sovereignty, if we allow the U.S. forces to have the right to conduct unilateral military operations.”

Recall that back in February of this year, Karzai grew frustrated with the death squad activities in Wardak province and called for the expulsion of US special forces there. As usual, the reference to “special operations forces and the CIA” means the death squads that the US organizes in Afghanistan (sometimes under the guise of Afghan Local Police) that carry out brutal night raids described as “counter-terrorism” operations.

Faizi is quoted on this issue further in an AFP piece picked up by Dawn:

“The US wants the freedom to conduct military operations, night raids and house searches,” Faizi told reporters late Tuesday.

“According to them, there are 75 Al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan, which is very strange as this agreement will be for 10 years to have the right to conduct military operations anywhere in the country.

“Unilaterally having the right to conduct military operations is in no way acceptable for Afghans.”

It appears that negotiations on this issue are now being carried out in direct phone conversations between Karzai and Obama. It’s hard to imagine that either will give up any portion of their position, so look for an announcement near the end of this month that the “deadline” has been extended. There already is discussion that the new Afghan president taking office after the April elections will be tasked with finalizing the agreement since Karzai and Obama seem unable to come to agreement.

The Deeper Poison Beyond the NSA Revelations | Chris Floyd

"Thanks for a nation of finks"
— William Burroughs

As the days and weeks go crawling by, bringing now and then another little drib, another little drab of revelations from the storehouse of secrets that Edward Snowden pried loose from the National Security Agency, the story turns slowly but surely from one of scandal and outrage bidding fair to trouble the well-cushioned bottoms on the seat of power to a dimmed, drained subject of “debate” amongst powerful insiders.

Indeed, we are now told by the dolers of the dribs that “debate” was the sole purpose of the exercise in the first place. Snowden was driven into permanent exile, his life and liberty put at constant risk, solely to provoke a “debate” in the national power structure, a conversation among the cognoscenti of political and media elites that will lead, eventually, to the holy grail of “reform.” Naturally, this debate — and the revelations themselves — must be kept within careful parameters; nothing that might actually damage the “national security” operations of the brutal, bristling, maniacally militarized, quasi-Stasi, Gorgon-staring imperial state is to be allowed into the “conversation” our betters are now having among themselves on how best to bring a modicum of restraint and oversight to the NSA’s all-pervading surveillance.

"Thanks for a country where
nobody’s allowed to mind his
own business.”

But put this aside for now. And put aside the fact that this slow drip-feed of carefully curated stories has come to seem more like an inoculation than a revelation, inurring people to the shock with small doses which, over time, simply fade into the background noise, become part of the new normal — while allowing the Security Apparat itself plenty of time to develop antibodies — defenses, diversions — to diffuse the impact of what could have been a powerful, multi-sided shock to the system.

Put all that aside, and let us grant, for a moment, the premise that the “debate” provoked by the Snowden revelations will indeed lead not to the usual application of skin-deep PR cosmetics but to a true “reform” of NSA practices: a more careful delineation of the scope of the agency’s activities, and more rigorous oversight by a few select members of Congress, who will, in this case, for the first time in many decades, actually carry out their responsibilities.

In other words, let us grant that every dream of the debate-provokers comes true and the NSA is genuinely “reformed.” The question then follows: so what? [continue]

United States Blocks German Author, Critical of NSA Surveillance, from Entering the Country | The Dissenter

German-Bulgarian author Ilija Trojanow, who has been highly critical of the National Security Agency’s massive surveillance apparatus, was blocked from taking an American Airlines flight from Salvador, Brazil, to a conference with German academics in Denver.

Trojanow approached a ticket counter and informed an American Airlines employee that he wanted to change his ticket to attend the conference in dinner on October 4. According to him, she entered his name and then stood up and disappeared. She returned with a higher-ranking person who rapidly spoke Portuguese and then English and informed him that a border security alert obliged them to notify US authorities immediately that he was at the airport.

“Your case is special,” the woman working the counter told Trojanow. Security spent more than twenty minutes looking over his passport and other personal information. She then asked for his Electronic System for Travel Authorization status, which is a system for determining if individuals are eligible to visit the US. Trojanow showed her some kind of document that he was approved and had paid an appropriate fee.

Forty-five minutes before his planned departure, he was told he was forbidden to travel to the US. [continue]

[The] NSA is only one small cog in a vast machinery of repression that already, right now, possesses — and exercises — an overwhelming level of control over the liberties and lives of every US citizen (not to mention the billions of meaningless non-entities and pieces of drone fodder who live beyond the sacred bounds of the Homeland). What’s more, a preponderance of this repressive machinery is already ‘transparent’ — openly acknowledged, even advertised by the ruling elite in many cases … almost all of this machinery is ‘legal’ in one way or another. Dead Zone: The Deeper Poison Beyond the NSA Revelations

the-lone-pamphleteer:

“The ‘shutdown issue,’ presently mired in the political-ideological battle between the Far Right and the Less-Far Right (House Republicans and Administration Democrats), has little to do with the social welfare of the American people, and instead reveals discernible differences only on the degrees of sophistication informing the programs of each in their determined assistance to corporate capitalism.

“Republicans in this tableau (a staged presentation going back decades in the roles assumed by each side) are the visceral fascists, striking out at government without realizing how much it helps, assists, and protects business and banking, while Democrats actively, yet with becoming liberal rhetoric to hide from themselves their delusions and treachery, take help, assistance, and protection to a higher level of systemic interpenetration between business and government by means of a regulatory framework written by the affected interests.”

-Norman Pollack, “Three Cheers for the Shutdown: Social Costs of Militarism