The American Bear


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 ‘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

When the State Floods the Zone, Reform Is Dead | Arthur Silber

[…] With regard to FISA and issues of liberty and privacy in general, let me now ask you a few questions. How long do you think it would take you to identify, read, and understand every provision in every statute, regulation and other authorization that gives surveillance powers to the government? Furthermore: Would you know each and every place to look, or how to determine what those places were? Additionally: With a staff of 20, or 50, could it be done, even if you were provided with limitless time and limitless funds? I submit to you, without qualification or reservation, that you could not do it. No one could. Consider that most legislators in Washington aren’t even aware of much of what’s in the bills they so eagerly vote on. Consider the prohibitive length and complexity of legislation that comes before Congress. That’s true of what is going on now. If you tried to track down every piece of legislation, every regulation, every administrative agency ruling, and every other pronouncement still in effect that allows the government to surveil and otherwise keep track of you, me, the guy down the street, the woman next door and the man in the moon, based on alleged concern with and the need to protect us all from the ravages of drugs, “illicit” sex, any and all other suspected criminal activity and, natch, terrorism, how on God’s green earth would you do it? You couldn’t. I further submit to you that the only reason you appear to have some precious remnants of freedom left, and the only reason you remain at liberty, is that the government hasn’t comprehensively focused on all the powers it already possesses and hasn’t come anywhere close to utilizing them fully and consistently. This is the moment you should fall to your knees and thank whatever gods may be for the miraculous, close to perfect incompetence of the pathetically ineffectual blockheads in Washington.

Certainly with regard to surveillance, the State has already granted itself entirely comprehensive, indeed omnipotent, powers. I guarantee you that, buried in the hideous bowels of all the laws, regulations, agency rulings, etc. and so on unto the ends of time, that give the State surveillance powers, the State has the power to spy on anything, anywhere, anytime, for any reason it manufactures, or for no reason at all. The State can do whatever it wants.

And since the State now claims the right to murder anyone, anywhere, anytime, that statement is literally true: the State can do whatever it wants.

But I must clarify one of my earlier points: it is not only because no one can possibly keep track of all the relevant laws and regulations, and it is not only incompetence on the part of the ruling class, that explain why the State’s already comprehensive powers have not yet been fully realized. Systemic restraints, and questions relating to the growth of the corporatist-authoritarian-militarist State, also play an important role … . For our purposes here, the basic point remains: the State already possesses total surveillance powers. It doesn’t need the NSA to accomplish its goals; an endless number of other agencies and programs (including InfraGard, as just one example) can fulfill those goals just as easily. Provide oversight and accountability all you want; it won’t make the slightest bit of difference, except to the reformers who will shout in triumph still one more time.

NSA Sends Letter to Its ‘Extended’ Family to Reassure Them That They Will ‘Weather’ This ‘Storm’ | The Dissenter

[…] The entire letter is emblematic of the insular culture of people who have committed their lives to Top Secret America and have placed themselves above criticism by any person, whether they be in the halls of power, a media organization or a civil society group in this country.

It is not the NSA who has engaged in operations that infringe upon privacy with very little discernible proof that the programs have stopped numerous actual terrorist plots, who should be shamed. It is the press, who have convinced many Americans that the NSA is some kind of “rogue element.”

And, even though the NSA director built a replica of the bridge from starship Enterprise and called it the “Information Dominance Center” and that wholly perverts the values of peace and cooperation creator Gene Roddenberry intended to promote, it is not a “rogue element” but a “national treasure” that we all should shower with honor and praise.

I have no way of knowing what will first strike you as wrong. I just know that something will. It might be very specific and close at hand — something amiss you see in the program you’re working on, some outrageous expenditure of money or set of lies about what an agency or outfit is doing, or some act or set of acts that you, in growing up, had been taught were un-American. The possibilities are legion. After all, the national security system that they’ve built and engorged with taxpayer dollars, using fear and the excuse of American ‘safety,’ has dispatched armies, and special ops outfits, and drones all over the world to commit mayhem and increase global instability, to kill civilians, wipe out wedding parties, kidnap and torture the innocent, assassinate by robot, and so on. … Or maybe it all just sneaks up on you, the wrongness of it. Maybe, even if you’re too young to remember the totalitarian states of the previous century, something about the urge of our national security managers to create total systems of control, trump the law, and do as they please in the name of their need for knowledge will simply get under your skin. You’ll know that this isn’t the way it was supposed to be. Tom Engelhardt, Letter to an Unknown Whistleblower

Cable News Far More Hawkish On Syria Than The Public

Sometimes we’re offered perfect examples of what some refer to as “Manufacturing Consent”:

A Pew study on Monday attracted attention for its assertion that Al Jazeera America, which promised a different take on the world than its cable news counterparts, mostly mirrored their approach when it came to the debate over Syria. But an equally interesting portion of the study found that all of the cable news channels were markedly more hawkish in their coverage than the public as a whole.

Poll after poll after poll has found that a large majority of Americans opposed a strike on Syria.

But Pew found that, “in the week studied, the overall percentage of cable stories conveying a message that America should get involved (47% ) solidly outnumbered stories with messages counseling against a strike (27%).”

The breakdowns are striking. For Al Jazeera, pro-strike messages outnumbered anti-strike ones by 43-24%. On CNN, it was 45-23. On Fox News, it was 45-20.

MSNBC, Pew found, had by far the most pro-strike sentiment, with a whopping 64%. But the network also had far more messages of opposition (39%) than its counterparts.

Even so, Americans tuning in to their news networks saw a debate that was far more skewed in favor of the pro-strike view than the debate happening off-screen.

To state the central fact baldly: the amount of data that the NSA now amasses is almost entirely useless with regard to the NSA’s stated goals. Yet they are undeterred: they want still more data. Make no mistake. Their ultimate aim, the final goal of all this hysterically frenzied activity, is to know everything about everyone. This is the chimera of ‘control’ run amok. Their profoundly damaged psychologies permit them to believe that if they know everything, they will be able to direct events in the way they wish: what they wish to happen is all that will happen, and nothing else at all will ever occur. … This has nothing to do with ‘policy,’ about national security or any other subject. This is severe neurosis, and it is the expression of badly damaged human beings whose overriding emotion is terror: of the world, of life, of everything and anything which happens and which is not subject to their direct orders. Arthur Silber, Dying for Control (I): Neurosis and Terror as National “Policy”

A New Media Shield Law Would Only Shield Corporate Media | VICE

[…] In May, a Senate bill titled the “Free Flow of Information Act Act of 2013” (S. 987) was introduced by Chuck Schumer and Lindsey Graham. The bill was originally introduced in 2007 (S. 2035), and then again in 2009 (S. 448), but either died in committee or failed a cloture vote. The bill is supported by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, but only if it includes specific language that excludes individuals she claims, “are not reporters at all.” Schumer echoed Feinstein’s concerns, specifically calling out WikiLeaks, saying, “We’re very careful in this bill to distinguish journalists from those who shouldn’t be protected, WikiLeaks and all those, and we’ve ensured that.” At the time of writing, the “Free Flow of Information Act” is schedule for more debate before the Senate Judiciary Committee on September 12.

This bill ironically purports to “maintain the free flow of information to the public by providing conditions for the federally compelled disclosure of information by certain persons connected with the news media.” The proposed law does not describe a “journalist” by that name, but instead a “covered person.” It defines this individual as someone who “regularly” reports on the news and excludes self-employed journalists. The House version of this bill (H.R. 1962) includes precarious language, solely defining this “covered person” as someone who reports for a news organization for “financial gain or livelihood.” The bill introduced by Representative Ted Poe (R-TX) suggests that the legal protections, already afforded to every US citizen under the Constitution, will only extend to an individual reporting the news for money.

It’s common practice for politicians to color coat the purpose behind a controversial piece of legislation in an attempt to disguise it with a friendlier title for their colleagues and the general public. The current “Free Flow of Information Act” under discussion does nothing to support the free flow of information. In practice, this law would endanger internet bloggers, freelance writers, and citizen journalists who are guilty of nothing more than performing acts of journalism. Essentially, members of Congress have proposed a “media shield law” that paradoxically has no hope of shielding the media—unless of course the reporter in question happens to work for an establishment like CNN or the New York Times.

The US Constitution does not mince words on this subject: Congress has no authority to abridge the freedom of the press. Most importantly, many of today’s respected citizen journalists represent more closely the kind of press originally referred to in that revered document, and certainly more so than anyone occupying a desk at 30 Rockefeller Plaza.

Some would argue that it’s essential for breaking news to be handled by so-called professionals in the modern era, a period of heightened national security, that in a time when government whistleblowers are disclosing classified documents claimed to damage US foreign relations and potentially endanger the lives of American troops abroad, no one person should have the right to report the facts of these delicate issues. While there should always be a consistent effort to verify information and weigh its value to the public against the cost of its disclosure, sometimes the close relationship that professional news companies have with the US government interferes with what’s best for the American public.

American Dirty Hands and Chain of Command | emptywheel

… [T]here is a fundamental problem with America launching a war against Assad for the August CW attack based on chain of command arguments (or “common sense,” as its most recent incarnation has it). That’s because, with all the legal problems surrounding any intervention on our part (especially without UN sanction, which may change under the Russian deal), there are such clear and ongoing instances where, even with clear evidence of human rights violations done under nothing but Presidential authorization, the US doesn’t hold its own responsible.

There was a time when US violations of human rights norms weren’t so clearly documented (though they definitely existed). But now that they are, to claim we have the moral authority to hold Bashar al-Assad responsible based on a chain of command argument when we won’t even hold our own responsible for partnering with him in human rights crimes is particularly problematic.

As human rights hypocrites ourselves, that makes us not even global policemen, but rather simple enforcers when it serves our geopolitical interests. [++]

Humanitarian Intervention: The Gift That Keeps on Giving to U.S. Imperialism | Ajamu Baraka

With the announcement by the Obama administration that it intends to launch an attack on Syria in response to the chemical attack alleged to have been carried out by the Syrian government, the U.S. Administration has again assumed for itself the role of global “gendarme,” policing, punishing, and as its drone warfare program demonstrates, even executing the natives of the global village at will. In its single-minded dedication to this global role, the Obama administration has also freed itself from the constraints of international law as the President shamelessly declared that he was “comfortable” operating outside of the global legal frameworks that the U.S. itself helped craft.

How is it that the administration can announce to the world its intentions to circumvent, and by doing so, subvert international prohibitions on war? By wrapping itself in the false flag of humanitarian concerns for the suffering masses in Syria. President Obama, the corporate and financial elite’s most effective propaganda weapon since Ronald Reagan, explains to the world that it is only the plight of people in Syria that drives the U.S. decision to attack the country.

No one asks the President to explain to the innocent human beings who are walking around today alive, but who will be the dead and maimed “collateral damage” of this pending attack, why their sacrifice is for the greater good of humanity.

This justification for this latest breech of international law is yet another example of the sham that is “humanitarian intervention.” [++]

Obama Denies That He Came Up With ‘Red Line’ on Syria | Jason Ditz

President Obama’s memory of his mid-August 2012 news conference isn’t great, as he sought today to “reframe” the whole red line on Syria conceit by insisting he’d never come up with it, and that it was actually “the world” who said that.

The world, for what it’s worth, never issued any such statement, but President Obama definitely did, terming chemical weapons use “a red line for us” in the conference, which was just one of many speeches in which he threatened Assad over last summer.

The point of all of this, from President Obama’s perspective, is selling the attack on Syria as something that the whole planet collectively obliged themselves into, as opposed to the truth of it being something President Obama manufactured on his own, and is now claiming was crossed on the basis of dubious, circumstantial evidence.

Ultimately it’s just one part of a multi-faceted effort to con the American public into a war that polls have repeatedly shown they just don’t want. This includes hostile rhetoric, phony claims of “proof,” and repeated references to the Holocaust.

Neglecting the Warfare State and Permanent War Economy | Jonathan Feldman

[…] A basic term used by the Left used to be ideology, where rhetoric or discourse becomes linked to material forces. What are the material forces, the interests, the power blocks that are served by human rights ideology? We have the new breed of defense intellectuals like Samantha Power whose career advanced by pointing out atrocities among worthy victims. Obama was drawn to this analysis, advancing Power to be his U.S. Ambassador. This despite Power’s description of Hillary Clinton as a “monster” during Obama’s first presidential campaign. Ali asks “Cui prodest? as the Romans used to inquire. Who profits?” The other groups who profit include those in the United States who benefit from having a pretext for war or the use of military weapons systems. These include: defense corporations, the Pentagon and national security agencies, politicians in military dependent districts, engineers and academics on the military’s payroll, universities and others investing in defense stocks, even industrial and service sector workers involved in making bombs or feeding troops.

A comprehensive account of why we have war can’t be reduced to geopolitical rivalries alone. If the country of Lichtenstein were to find Assad offensive, they would not bomb Syria. The U.S. is clearly not Lichtenstein and not merely because of its size, after all Indonesia has a population of about 240 million or more and it will not be bombing Syria either. The difference of course is that the U.S. has a history of interests in the region, tied to the control and use of oil and the location of Israel in the Middle East, with Israel being a key U.S. ally and having political influence in the U.S. Size, interests, allies, and the role of the Israeli lobby can’t be sufficient or even adequate explanations, however. One big difference between the U.S. on the one hand and Indonesia and Lichtenstein on the other, is the scale of military power projection that that U.S. has. This allows the U.S. to be the global policeman, albeit one not accountable to global judiciaries.

The U.S. spends hundreds of billions of dollars on “defense” (which is mostly offense), tied to a permanent war economy including budgets for nuclear weapons, security operations, and payments for debt and health costs associated with war. This economy favors a militarized foreign policy. The vast concentration of military economic power/capital translates into concentrated political and media capital, providing space for defense intellectuals and policy wonks favoring bombing as the security cure all. This enduring concentration of military, economic, political and media power constitutes both the warfare state and the permanent war economy. It’s allied with the oil, auto, financial and associated industrial complexes of the power elite. These are the leaders in corporations, government and leading academic circles who dominate decision-making. They are tied to firms, regions, and occupations dependent on military spending.

If we look to the past, we see the U.S. government has often bombed countries to get its way, often with disastrous results as Robin Wright explained in a recent op-ed in the Los Angeles Times. Bombing of cities causes reprisals as Jacques Maritain noted back in the 1930s. If we look to the future, the U.S. will be bombing yet another country and any geopolitical explanations will seem trivial. The reason for this triviality is the larger context of this game, defined by the enabling conditions created by the warfare state and the permanent war economy. The rhetorical and geopolitical reasons may differ, but the enabling conditions will be the same. So we have the rhetorical context at the first level, the geopolitical game at the second level, and the warfare state and permanent war economy at the third, highest level, of explanation. Without the third level, the second level becomes impossible. The first level enables the second and third levels, as ideology becomes a useful discourse, a material force that sustains economic, political and military interests. Yet, most critical social scientists understand that the winning ideologies have had more powerbehind them. The power comes from money, support from political leaders and media moguls, and paradigmatic victories in the academy. The latter refers to how most universities today have no courses on disarmament, demilitarization of the defense industry, civilian industrial policy, or even the role of militarism in the cycle of violence.

This naturally leads us to ask why don’t the oppositional ideologies have sufficient power? Why is the U.S. peace movement so weak? One reason is that bad design of the peace movement. Yet, there are structural issues to consider as well. In the United Kingdom, the peace movement and failure of the Iraq policy, including the huge costs of war, undoubtedly changed the equation and have encouraged Obama to seek Congressional approval for an attack on Syria. Yet, in the U.S. a Republican Party and allied interests benefit more from these very costs of war (or they become more affordable to the U.S. with its use of the dollar as international currency and Chinese purchases of U.S. debt).

In the U.S. militaristic solutions are partially tied to party competition based on rivals’ attempts to exploit foreign policy crises tied to war, democracy and human rights. During the coup against Honduras, Republicans pressured the Obama Administration to advance “democracy” in Honduras by supporting the coup, i.e. an Orwellian version of democracy defined by militarist thugs. There were U.S. economic interests in Honduras which together with a militarist strain in the State Department sustained the coup as well. Nevertheless, Republicans together with a journalistic corps that is largely superficial and war hungry, usually put pressure on any politician seeking a diplomatic solution, particularly when the human rights of “worthy victims” becomes an issue. Here we see how geopolitics at the second level helps shape the human rights discourse at the first level, i.e. the media can help trigger a need to intervene for “human rights” concerns when these are consistent with geopolitical calculations. Otherwise, we would have a kind of civil war within elites, with the state going after the media. The media can go after the state by directing militaristic discourse against any political leader who seeks a more diplomatic solution when such solutions can be subsumed by “concerns” for “worthy victims.” If you throw Israeli interests into the picture, you have another ally for certain media-policy decisions, but the destruction of a stable Syria is hardly in Israel’s real interests, i.e. the needs of its citizens versus its own military industrial complex. The Israeli warfare state might like to get rid of Hezbollah of course, but Israeli calculations, the human rights discourse and even geopolitics are secondary. The correlation of U.S. and Israeli warfare state interests don’t necessarily define causation.

The warfare state and permanent war economy necessitate and make possible enemies and wars. These interests and the weakness of oppositional peace forces are necessary conditions for any war or military action. Obama has inherited these forces and made alliances with defense intellectuals and Wall Street to get elected, stay in power and reproduce notions he assimilated for which he has been politically rewarded. Yet, he also understands that being a war president and wasting huge amounts of money on a future conflict will weaken his legacy, political party and the United States. A moderate bombing campaign is a way to compromise, but often triggers an escalation of forces that undermines the ability to restrain militarism, military spending and the domestic power of militarists. [more]

This draft is nearly as wide as the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists that Congress passed on September 14 2001 and which has been (ab-)used by the Bush and Obama administrations as an undiscriminating, unlimited license to incarcerate, torture or kill anyone at the free discretion of the executive. … It is all or nothing, peace or unlimited war. Anyone with peace on her mind should hope and work to prevent any war resolution from passing Congress. The abuse of any war resolution by this and the next executive is practically guaranteed. M of A - Obama’s Carte Blanche War Resolution