The American Bear

Sunshine/Lollipops

U.S. officials say the hope is that the General Purpose Force — a [US] trained Libyan military organization — will start to fill the country’s festering security vacuum, initially by protecting vital government installations and the individuals struggling to make this country run. The Obama administration hopes the force eventually will form the core of a new national army.

U.S. plan for new, Western-trained Libyan force faces obstacles | The Washington Post

We never learn.

Drones, Tanks, and Grenade Launchers: Coming Soon to a Police Department Near You

Why does a police department which hasn’t had an officer killed in the line of duty in over 125 years in a town of less than 20,000 people need tactical military vests like those used by soldiers in Afghanistan?  For that matter, why does a police department in a city of 35,000 people need a military-grade helicopter? And what possible use could police at Ohio State University have for acquiring a heavily-armored vehicle intended to withstand IED blasts?

Why are police departments across the country acquiring heavy-duty military equipment and weaponry? For the same reason that perfectly good roads get repaved, perfectly good equipment gets retired and replaced, and perfectly good employees spend their days twiddling their thumbs—and all of it at taxpayer expense. It’s called make-work programs, except in this case, instead of unnecessary busy work to keep people employed, communities across America are finding themselves “gifted” with drones, tanks, grenade launchers and other military equipment better suited to the battlefield. And as I document in my book, A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, it’s all being done through federal programs that allow the military to “gift” battlefield-appropriate weapons, vehicles and equipment to domestic police departments across the country.

It’s a Trojan Horse, of course, one that is sold to communities as a benefit, all the while the real purpose is to keep the defense industry churning out profits, bring police departments in line with the military, and establish a standing army. As journalists Andrew Becker and G. W. Schulz report in their insightful piece, “Local Cops Ready for War With Homeland Security-Funded Military Weapons,” federal grants provided by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) have “transformed local police departments into small, army-like forces, and put intimidating equipment into the hands of civilian officers. And that is raising questions about whether the strategy has gone too far, creating a culture and capability that jeopardizes public safety and civil rights while creating an expensive false sense of security.” For example, note Becker and Schulz:

In Montgomery County, Texas, the sheriff’s department owns a $300,000 pilotless surveillance drone, like those used to hunt down al Qaeda terrorists in the remote tribal regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan. In Augusta, Maine, with fewer than 20,000 people and where an officer hasn’t died from gunfire in the line of duty in more than 125 years, police bought eight $1,500 tactical vests. Police in Des Moines, Iowa, bought two $180,000 bomb-disarming robots, while an Arizona sheriff is now the proud owner of a surplus Army tank. [continue]

Here’s a question for you: Can a military tiptoe onto a continent? It seems the unlikeliest of images, and yet it’s a reasonable enough description of what the U.S. military has been doing ever since the Pentagon created an Africa Command (AFRICOM) in 2007. It’s been slipping, sneaking, creeping into Africa, deploying ever more forces in ever more ways doing ever more things at ever more facilities in ever more countries — and in a fashion so quiet, so covert, that just about no American has any idea this is going on. One day, when an already destabilizing Africa explodes into various forms of violence, the U.S. military will be in the middle of it and Americans will suddenly wonder how in the world this could have happened. Tom Engelhardt

Sharing science is a crime | Charles Davis

You did it, friend. You helped discover the cure for cancer. Pretty big deal, that. Just imagine: Within 20 years, leukemia and lymphoma could end up being nothing more than trendy baby names - alongside yours.

Understandably, your first impulse might be to share your discovery. Tell the world! But not so fast, professor. Your holier-than-thou plan for sainthood has one big flaw: that fancy little cure of yours is worth a pretty little penny. And divulging that cure before someone can patent it is likely to land you in a prison cell for crimes against economic disparity. Quarterly profits are people too, you know. And the reality is whether you want to be a saint or not, the economic considerations that govern academic research in the United States almost give one no choice but to be a scoundrel.

It doesn’t matter if you start out working for a university. Scientists are given two choices for getting their research funded, academia or not: go to work for the Pentagon or start making something you can patent. And the government and its corporations want it that way.

Of the $140bn in research and development funding requested by President Barack Obama for 2013, according to the Congressional Research Service, more than half goes through the Department of Defense; less than $30bn through the National Institutes of Health (NIH). That invariably leads to a shift in resources, with scientists going to where the money is: instead of finding ways to cure, finding high-tech ways to kill or otherwise aid the war effort. Researchers at the University of Arizona, for instance, received a $1.5m grant to “adapt their breast cancer imaging research for detection of embedded explosives”, which speaks rather well to the US government’s priorities and the toll it takes on research that has the general public in mind. [READ]

US Promises Israel: New Iranian President Will Be Met With Hostility

Last month, US officials were greeting the election of Reformist candidate Hassan Rohani as Iran’s next president as a hopeful sign, while simultaneously patting themselves on the back and taking credit for his election.

But if Rohani was really the candidate the US wants, they have a funny way of showing it, as US diplomats are now reassuring Israelis that the US will treat Rohani with intense hostility, and will up the sanctions and threats against Iran going forward.

The promises appear designed to assuage Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who fears that Rohani’s election has spoiled his assorted war plans and has been railing about the need to threaten Iran more often every chance he gets.

Border Patrol Drone Fleet Straying Far From The Borders When Not Being Loaned Out To Whatever Agency Comes Asking | Techdirt

“How much spying on Americans is too much spying?” is the question no one seems to be asking, unless prompted by document leaks or a handful of legislators. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) has had access to drones for a few years now, mainly using them to (you guessed it) patrol the borders. The immigration legislation that is working its way through Congress seeks to expand the CBP’s drone armada … [and] the CBP has been acting as a drone lending library, loaning out its drones to other government agencies. [++]

Last Thursday, the US Senate passed an expansive ‘immigration reform’ bill. The bill’s Hoeven-Corker Amendment would increase the US government’s ‘border security’ spending to $46.3 billion. This money will be used to create what John McCain calls ‘the most militarized border since the fall of the Berlin Wall,’ staffed by at least 38,405 Border Patrol agents. That’s a larger force than George W. Bush had stationed in Afghanistan when he left office. No wonder it’s been called the ‘border surge.’ The Brutality of “Border Security”

The Border Patrol Wants to Arm Drones | The Atlantic Wire

Documents obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation from the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Patrol indicate that the agency is close to finalizing payload standards for its drone aircraft. Among the things the CBP might want to use in its unmanned aircraft: “non-lethal weapons designed to immobilize” targets.

… A fact sheet provided by the agency notes the current capabilities of the aircraft, including electro-optical/infrared sensors and “Surface Search Radar/Ground Moving Target Indicator.” The specific drone rolled out in 2009 was loaded with “the Raytheon MTS-B Multi-Spectral Targeting System (with electro-optical, infrared, laser designation, and laser illumination capabilities) and Synthetic Aperture Radar.” Raytheon describes the capabilities of the MTS-B: “provides long-range surveillance, high-altitude target acquisition, tracking, rangefinding, and laser designation for the HELLFIRE missile and for all tri-service and NATO laser-guided munitions.” You can see the surveillance systems at work in this video, shot at the Mexican border; obviously, the CBP drones aren’t HELLFIRE equipped [YET, ed.].

… The prospect, then, is this. Predator aircraft patrolling the Mexican (and Canadian) border equipped with “non-lethal” weapons and advanced targeting systems. The EFF notes in its blog post:

However, this is the first we’ve heard of any federal agency proposing using weapons on drones flown domestically. That CBP has, without broader public discussion, considered this step—combined with the fact that the agency (with Congress’ blessing, if the immigration bill is approved (pdf, p. 92)) is planning to sharply increase the number of drones it flies—should cause serious concern for Americans.

(We assessed the effectiveness of the CBP’s recent expansion of its resources on the border last month. There hasn’t been a correlation between increased resources and more apprehensions.)

… Jennifer Lynch, a staff attorney for the EFF, told The Atlantic Wire by phone Tuesday afternoon, it’s not just the CBP that uses these drones. The FOIA request stems from a lawsuit filed by Lynch after a 2011 Los Angeles Times article that indicated the agency was sharing its aircraft with other agencies at all level of government. Among the ones she identified off the top of her head: the Coast Guard, the FBI, the U.S. Marshalls, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the Texas Department of Public Safety. The drone’s surveillance capability “is what we’re actually focused on,” Lynch said, but the possibility of using weapons stood out. “This is the first I’ve seen any mention of any plans to weaponize any drones that fly domestically,” she said. “I haven’t seen this anywhere else.”

See also: Customs & Border Protection Logged Eight-Fold Increase in Drone Surveillance for Other Agencies

The Authoritarian Seduction | Mike Lofgren

… While Congress’s dismal approval rating was the lede in virtually all reporting on the Gallup poll, there are several other findings in that poll that establish a pattern. Labor unions? They are near the bottom, at 20 percent. The print and televised media? They clock in at 23 percent, deservedly so… . Public Schools? They do better, but only relatively, at 32 percent.

What do those institutions have in common? They are all bodies necessary for enlightened self-government and the self-improvement of citizens. And they are all perceived to be failing in their roles, such that most poll respondents lack confidence in them. There is a good deal of justification in the public’s view, but it cannot be healthy for a democracy if its instrument of representational government, its free press, its common provision of education, and the main organizational means by which working people improve their lives, are all held in such low regard.

What else was striking about the poll? The military, predictably, was once again at the top, with 76 percent of respondents expressing “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in it. This is an institution whose budget (exclusive of war funding) nearly doubled in the 2000s and which spends almost as much money as the rest of the world combined, yet has had a curious incapacity to win wars, as opposed to keeping them lucratively protracted. The scandals involving Halliburton, endemic sexual abuse and miscarriages of justice, the abrupt fall from near-deity status by General David Petraeus - all these things seem to have bounced off the consciousness of the public like pebbles against steel plate. So much for our revered founders’ distrust of standing armies.

It is also worth noting that the military, police and religion constitute three of the top four categories in public esteem. And what do these institutions have in common? They are all presumably necessary as long as societies feel the need for national defense and public order, and as long as individuals seek spiritual solace, but they are all undeniably authoritarian. The military possesses its own legal system whose principal tenet, “different spanks for different ranks,” is no less powerful for being unwritten. As H.L. Mencken observed in his recollections as a Baltimore city reporter, cops tend to harbor the assumption that a suspect is ipso facto guilty, and that evidence just might need to be planted to sway a jury. As for religion, papal infallibility and justification by faith alone may be sound doctrine, but they do not lead to conclusions drawn from facts, reason and evidence. In a self-governing society, these institutions’ claims need to be treated with judicious skepticism. The American public’s derision of the institutions of self-government is understandable, if troubling; its relative approval (amounting, in the case of the military, to adulation) of authoritarian bodies is less forgivable.

While it may be an exaggeration to see the beginnings of an authoritarian mass psychology based just on one opinion poll, there is some supporting evidence. Whether the initial high popular support for the invasion of Iraq, the increasing public approval of government surveillance, or the strong support - almost unique among advanced democracies - for draconian incarceration and the death penalty, the authoritarian temptation lies just beneath the surface of Americans’ compensatory boastfulness about freedom and liberty, usually reduced to kitsch demonstrations involving rattlesnake flags and Lee Greenwood lyrics.

It is a psychology at once absolutist and schizophrenic. That is why health insurance and restrictions on carrying loaded weapons in public are intolerable tyrannies, while all-encompassing surveillance, life in prison for growing marijuana, or assassination without judicial process are praiseworthy. Paradoxically, the authoritarian personality embodies anarchic rebellion and craven submission at the same time. It is, as Richard Hofstadter said, a disordered relationship to authority, “characterized by an inability to find other modes for human relationship than those of more or less complete domination or submission.” [++]

No one expects Obama to offer anything on this trip that will reverse America’s declining share of the African market. That’s because the U.S. is not in the business of fair and mutually beneficial trade – it’s about the business of imperialism, which is another matter, entirely. The Americans ensure their access to African natural resources through the barrel of a gun. So, while the Chinese and Indians and Brazilians and other economic powerhouses play by the rules of give and take, the U.S. tightens its military grip on the continent through its ever-expanding military command, AFRICOM. The Obamas Do Africa

Edward J. Snowden and the Exposure of Voyeuristic Fascism | Norman Pollack

SURVEILLANCE is not accidental strategy, but rather the cutting edge of individuals’ self-pacification, a well-tested mechanism of social control. One hesitates to speak, then even to think; one chooses one’s associates warily, lest found on someone’s list, the all-pervasive fear of being watched, dissected, analyzed by the prying eyes of the State, now a government-empowered and –legitimated National Security Agency (and multiple other intelligence agencies, along with such legislative onslaughts as TALON, CIFA, TIAP, and don’t forget MATRIX, Multistate Anti-Terrorism Information Exchange, some of which going even too far for Congress’s reactionary taste), fully capable of spying on and retrieving the most intimate conversations between people hitherto unsuspecting of eavesdropping. Hopefully, suspiciousness of government will ensue, even though practices of this nature continue, because, as political theory teaches us, democratic society and government are founded on trust, without which, there can be no social compact—and start expecting the worse.

Snowden put his finger in the dike holding back the sea of totalitarianism, itself not an inaccurate designation any longer, i.e., if one believes that civil liberties is the linchpin of its polar opposite, a social democracy based on the respect for and equal treatment of the individual under the rule of law, because what the US government has done is destroy the American constitutional-social fabric, in the process making a mockery of the law through trampling on traditional safeguards to freedom of thought and rights of association, protection from unwarranted searches and seizures, and down a slippery slope to everything from use of informers, planted evidence, “dirty tricks,” to encouragement of mutual suspicion, the breakup of radical organizations, whatever government deems central to its interests, safety, and continued lawlessness.

Snowden turned the spotlight on the forbidden territory of the dark world inhabited by the Obama administration, a reaching out of tentacles not only in America but on a world basis, as his revelations of PRISM and foreign communications intercepts, including wiretaps of diplomats and conferences shows. The details are familiar by now, from the Guardian, Washington Post, New York Times, to the Continental press and worldwide—a story that will not go away, given the enormity of the offense and the hypocrisy of Washington. For this reason, I believe Snowden is a marked man in Obama’s eyes, to him to be practically equated with Osama bin Laden, and therefore, being in Obama’s cross-hairs, if not through rendition (“accidents will happen”) then a direct target of paramilitary operations, Snowden is right to fear for his life and to seek asylum. At this writing, he has landed safely in Moscow, through, as reported, the cooperation of Chinese and Hong Kong authorities (creating diplomatic friction between them and the US) and will be in transit to a third country. The Damoclean sword of the Espionage Act will have to await other victims, sure to turn up in light of Obama’s obsession with secrecy and personal hostility toward being crossed. As I’ve said before, secrecy for him is insurance against being discovered for having committed war crimes.

Snowden cannot be allowed to go free, not because he divulged State Secrets, but because he symbolizes the power—may I say, sublimeness?—of truth, particularly against what he exposed as a pack of political criminals, and beyond that, exposed, through their workings, the inner springs of repression on which American society and its structure of power depend, namely, self-pacification as an overriding state of moral-political inaction of body and mind, a rejection of social protest in thought and deed, the individual subject to cues provided by acute patriotism, consumerism, and the heavy-handed militarization of Authority. That, we could see, and for some, speak out against. But this added factor, brought out by Snowden, of surveillance, gives self-pacification silent and powerful reinforcement: the fear of terrorism, itself contrived by government to justify security arrangements bordering on informal regimentation, has become transformed/extended into what psychologists would term—if only they examined consequential societal issues—the “introjection” of the entire power system in America, including its capitalist and military foundations, and the people’s own expected docility to its furtherance, goals, and ideology. That is a big burden to carry around, even if unnoticed (the test of repression’s value and successfulness to an authoritarian government), which leaves the individual naked and vulnerable to the extreme politicization of mindset designed to eschew critical thinking, and rather, glorify the State.

Domestic spying of the breadth and scope practiced by the NSA (which along with the CIA has become Obama’s Janus-faced look toward both internal and external acts of structural-political subversion) becomes the handmaid of counterterrorism, the latter, now self-legitimated through government edict thus spreading a cloak of legitimacy as well around the former. Surveillance is good! We hear ad nauseum that there must be a balance struck between security and privacy, with the former invariably taking precedence—a convenient debater’s trick because the former can be infinitely enlarged, and the latter, a straw man, toothless to boot. America’s fear of terrorism, itself a form of terrorism practiced on the people, paves the way for domestic spying on the part of Authority with impunity. Surveillance, as we are made aware by Snowden’s revelations, becomes so pervasive and institutionally entrenched (the recent exposure in the New York Times of the close relationship between the NSA and Silicon Valley confirms what he already has shown in the way the government has gained the cooperation of Google and others, our presumed agents, via the social media, of liberation) as to render one fearful, apathetic, in the face of Inevitable Technology and Big Government, that our turn may be next in the docket, the FISA Court applauding in the background, fearful, that is, that we may be suspected of ultimate subversion if we do not conform to every tenet, measure, operation, transmitted from On High.

The New Scramble for Africa and the War On Terror | Counterfire

The current scramble for Africa is not simply about the ongoing scramble for resources on the part of imperialist powers. The eurocrisis is an extra motivating factor. The crisis of neoliberalism which began in America in 2008 and then spread to Southern Europe and elsewhere threatens to spread much further still. This crisis has lit a fire under the US imperialists who are experiencing an economy in dire straits which is heading towards the ‘cliff edge’ we keep hearing about with no solutions in view and both government debt and the deficit increasing.

By way of contrast the old 19th Century scramble for Africa was motivated by a period of rapid industrial expansion fuelled by the industrial revolution. Expansion within Europe had hit a wall with the unification of Italy and Germany and so on. So the European powers turned their focus outwards towards the untapped continent of Africa at the end of the century. This involved both an imperialist scramble between imperialist rivals but also involved partial agreements and marriages of convenience in order to carve up African resources whilst attempting to minimalise inter-imperialist conflict.

Today we have a eurocrisis instead of an industrial revolution. Where previously rapid industrial growth pushed the west into Africa in order to open up new markets, now we have an economic crisis forcing imperialists to try and monetise Africa in an attempt to get some kind of purchase in a tanking economy.

When talking about the New Scramble for Africa it’s worth noting that it’s not just the left using the phrase, however convenient it may be for the left to bring up the imperialist past in the context of our current liberal democracy. In fact we don’t have to look any further than the head of Meryll Lynch Bank of America, a man by the name of Richard Gush, who said that ‘a new scramble for Africa is underway’ in the economic sphere in terms of the competition for markets and resources in Africa.

We also saw US Secretary of State John Kerry almost putting his foot in it at his inauguration hearing when he said that ‘China is all over Africa and we’ve got to get in the game here, folks, because if we get in the game we can win’. Presumably realising that he wasn’t just talking to his mates, he was also being broadcast on TV as well, Kerry tried to cover up this gaff by quickly adding that ‘when I say “win” I don’t mean win in the cold war sense, I mean win in an economic sense in terms of creating jobs for Americans’.

So the new scramble for Africa is a very real question we need to address. It’s important that we don’t just seek to understand the significance of the New Scramble For Africa but that we actually oppose any interventions into the continent and also oppose proxy wars and drone wars. Drones and proxies are in a way a partial response to the fact that the anti-war movement stopped conventional wars from being politically viable, at least in the West, forcing the imperial powers to find new ways to be horrendous and new ways of killing people.

It showed that a mass movement did actually force the imperialist powers onto a new track. Of course it’s still a nasty and dangerous situation we find ourselves in. This means that it is vital that we don’t just try to understand this new phase in the War on Terror but that we organise to effectively oppose this imperialist project as well.