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The Dynastic Hillary Bandwagon: Bad for America November 11, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Hillary Clinton, Women.
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Roger’s note: Electoral politics in the United States is little more than a spectator sport.  It certainly does not relate to the goals of social and economic justice in more than marginal ways.  There are obvious differences between the two major parties, but when it comes to the military industrial complex and the corporate/bankster state, the differences disappear.  After working full time on the 1964 presidential campaign to support the re-election of Lyndon Johnson and stop the war-mongering Barry Goldwater, I felt betrayed by Johnson’s escalation of the Vietnam War and became totally disillusioned with electoral politics.  I spent my energies on political organizing and protest.  I was frightened into voting again, this time for John Kerry in 2004 after four years of the neo-fascist Bush/Cheney administration and for Obama in 2008.  Obama has confirmed my original estimation of the futility of electoral politics.  I will watch the races for the nominations and then the 2016 general election mostly for its entertainment value.  I do not expect the Democratic Party to nominate a genuine social justice candidate, in effect, an impossibility (many left Democrats are touting Elizabeth Warren, who is certainly a genuinely progressive politician; however, to win the nomination she would have to make the kind of deals that would bind her to traditional regressive politicians, politics, and policies).  I post this article because Hillary Clinton has convinced so many that she is progressive and pro-woman, and also, quite frankly, because the Clintons with all their slick phoniness simply get under my skin.  Enjoy.

 

 

(Cliff Owen/AP Photo)

The Hillary Clinton for President in 2016 bandwagon has started very early and with a purpose. The idea is to get large numbers of endorsers, so that no Democratic Primary competitors dare make a move. These supporters include Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY), financier George Soros and Ready for Hillary, a super PAC mobilizing with great specificity (already in Iowa).

Given this early bird launch, it is important to raise the pressing question:

Does the future of our country benefit from Hillary, another Clinton, another politician almost indistinguishable from Barack Obama’s militaristic, corporatist policies garnished by big money donors from Wall Street and other plutocratic canyons?

There is no doubt the Clintons are syrupy political charmers, beguiling many naïve Democrats who have long been vulnerable to a practiced set of comforting words or phrases camouflaging contrary deeds.

Everybody knows that Hillary is for women, children and education. She says so every day. But Democrats and others can’t get the Clintons even to support a $10.50 federal minimum wage that would almost equal the 1968 minimum wage, inflation-adjusted, and would raise the wages of 30 million workers mired in the gap between the present minimum wage of $7.25 and $10.50 an hour. It just so happens that almost two-thirds of these Americans are women, many of them single moms struggling to support their impoverished children. Nearly a million of these workers labor for Walmart, on whose Board of Directors Hillary Clinton once sat. Words hide the deeds.

As a Senator on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Hillary had to start proving that women, just like the macho men, can be belligerent and never see a weapons system and its use that they didn’t like. Never did she demonstrate any ongoing interest in debloating the massive, wasteful, duplicative military budget so as to free up big monies for domestic public works programs or other necessities.

As Senator she also admitted that she didn’t have time to read a critical National Intelligence Estimate Report, which had caveats that might have dissuaded her from voting with George W. Bush to invade Iraq in 2003. War-mongering and wars of Empire never bothered her then or now. Just a few weeks ago, she was photographed giving the recidivist war criminal, Republican Henry Kissinger, a big, smiling hug at a public event. It’s all part of the bi-partisan image she is cultivating under the opportunistic banner of “cooperation.” (For more information, read the New York Times’ Collateral Damage and Nixon and Kissinger’s Forgotten Shame, or Seymour Hersh’s The Price of Power: Kissinger in the Nixon White House.)

As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton accelerated the Department’s militarization, belting far more war-like, threatening assertions toward governments of developing countries than did the Secretaries of Defense. She loved to give speeches on “force projection,” the latest synonym for “the Empire,” and “the pivot” toward East Asia and against the asserted looming threat of China. Taking due note, the Chinese generals demanded larger budgets.

The Secretary of State’s highest duty is diplomacy. Not for her. Despite her heavy travelling, she made little or no effort to get the government to sign onto the numerous international treaties which already had over a hundred nations as signatories. These include stronger climate change agreements and, as Human Rights Watch reports, unratified treaties “relating to children, women, persons with disabilities, torture, enforced disappearance and the use of anti-personal landmines and cluster munitions.” These tasks bore her.

Much more exciting was military action. Against the wishes of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, she pulled Barack Obama into the Libyan war. There were consequences. Libya is now in militia chaos, having spilled over into Mali, but without Gaddafi, its overthrown dictator who had disarmed and was making peace with western nations and oil companies.
As a Yale Law School graduate, she was not in the least bothered that the attack on Libya occurred without any Congressional declaration, authorization or appropriation of funds – a classic Madisonian definition of impeachable high crimes and misdemeanors.

Like Bill Clinton, she is an unabashed cheerleader for corporate globalization under NAFTA, the World Trade Organization and the proposed sovereignty-stripping, anti-worker Trans-Pacific Partnership Free Trade Agreement. Secretary of State Clinton, in the words of trade expert Jamie Love, “put the hammer to India when the government took steps to grant compulsory licenses on cancer drug patents.”

Even regarding the easy clampdown on waste and fraud, Hillary Clinton fired Peter Van Buren, a 24-year-Foreign Service Officer, who exposed such waste and mismanagement by corporate contractors in Iraq. (For more information, see http://wemeantwell.com/).
Foreshadowing this season’s headlines, former Secretary of State Clinton ordered U.S. officials to spy on top UN diplomats including Secretary General of the UN, Ban Ki-Moon, and those from the United Kingdom. She ordered her emissaries around the world to obtain DNA data, iris scans and fingerprints along with credit card and frequent flier numbers. Not only was this a clear violation of the 1946 UN convention, but after admitting what happened she didn’t even make a public apology to the affected parties.

Under her watch, the advice and status of the Department’s foreign service officers and aid workers were marginalized in favor of the militarists – and not only in Iraq.
Many Wall Streeters like Hillary Clinton. Expecting their ample contributions, and socializing with their business barons, it is not surprising that Hillary Clinton avoids going after the crooked casino capitalism that collapsed the economy, drained investors, pensions, jobs and taxpayer bailouts. Hillary Clinton is a far cry from the stalwart Senator Elizabeth Warren on this towering pattern of unaccountable corporate abuse.

The surreal world of Hillary Clinton is giving $200,000 speeches, collecting prestigious awards she does not deserve, including one from the American Bar Association, and basking in the glory of her admirers while appropriately blasting the Republicans for their “War on Women” – the safe refrain of her forthcoming campaign.
It is true that the Republican madheads make it easy for any Democratic candidate to judge themselves by the cruel, rabid, ravaging Republicans. But, is that the kind of choice our country deserves?

A Clinton Coronation two years or more before the 2016 elections will stifle any broader choice of competitive primary candidates and more important a more progressive agenda supported by a majority of the American people.

Full Medicare for all, cracking down on corporate abuses, a fairer tax system, a broad public works program, a living wage, access to justice and citizen empowerment, clean election practices, and pulling back on the expensive, boomeranging Empire to come home to America’s necessities and legitimate hopes are some examples of what the people want.

Maybe the sugarcoating is starting to wear. Columnist Frank Bruni, writing in the New York Times (Hillary in 2016? Not so Fast), reports her polls are starting to slump. Apparently, as Bruni suggests, she’s being seen as part of the old Washington crowd that voters are souring on.

As I wrote to Hillary Clinton in early summer 2008, when calls were made by Obama partisans for her to drop out, no one should be told not to run. That’s everyone’s First Amendment right. However, not voting for her is the prudent decision.

Ralph Nader

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer, and author. His latest book is The Seventeen Solutions: Bold Ideas for Our American Future. Other recent books include, The Seventeen Traditions: Lessons from an American Childhood, Getting Steamed to Overcome Corporatism: Build It Together to Win, and “Only The Super-Rich Can Save Us” (a novel).

Class War??? Elect “Progressive” Democrats??? November 7, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Political Commentary, Revolution.
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THE FIRS WEB SITE I GO TO EVERY DAY IS COMMON DREAMS.  I DON’T READ EVERYTHING BECAUSE I HAVE OTHER WEB SITES TO CHECK OUT, BUT I TRY TO FIND WHAT SPEAKS TO THE CRISES IN OUR WORLD TODAY AND WILL HAVE A UNIVERSAL AND HUMANISTIC APPEAL TO THE READERS OF MY BLOG.  AS HAPPENED TODAY, SOMETIMES I READ WHAT I HAVE A FEELING  WILL BE SOMETHING I CANNOT AGREE WITH.  AS WITH THESE KINDS OF ARTICLES, AS WELL AS THOSE WHICH FOR ME ARE RIGHT ON, MORE OFTEN THAN NOT THE COMMENTS AT THE END OF THE ARTICLE FOR THE MOST PART CONTAIN AS MUCH OR MORE WISDOM AS THE ARTICLE ITSELF.  THIS GIVES ME LOTS OF HOPE BECAUSE THESE ARE NOT OPINIONS OF THE SO-CALLED EXPERTS, BUT RATHER ORDINARY JANES AND JOES LIKE YOU AND ME.

I AM NOT GOING TO POST THESE TWO ARTICLES, RATHER GIVE YOU THE LINKS AND SUGGEST YOU DO AS I DID AND TAKE THE TIME TO READ ALL THE COMMENTS.  JUST READING THE TITLES OF THESE TWO ARTICLES GOT MY DANDER UP: “Bill de Blasio: Harbinger of a New Populist Left in America” AND “Class War is a Bad Strategy for Progressive Politics.”

JUST CLICK ON THESE TITLES TO READ THE ARTICLES AND I PROMISE YOU IT WILL BE WORTH YOUR WHILE TO READ ALL THE COMMENTS (THE GREAT PERCENTAGE OF WHICH I CONSIDER TO BE WELL STATED).  THERE IS A QUOTE IN THE COMMENTS OF THE SECOND ARTICLE BY FREDERICK DOUGLAS, WHICH I GIVE YOU HERE AS AN APPETIZER:

“The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. … If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.” – Fredrick Douglas – 1857

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Bradley Manning is Off Limits at SF Gay Pride Parade, but Corporate Sleaze is Embraced April 27, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, LGBT, San Francisco.
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A seemingly trivial controversy reveals quite a bit about pervasive political values

News reports yesterday indicated that Bradley Manning, widely known to be gay, had been selected to be one of the Grand Marshals of the annual San Francisco gay pride parade, named by the LGBT Pride Celebration Committee. When the predictable backlash instantly ensued, the president of the Board of SF Pride, Lisa L Williams, quickly capitulated, issuing a cowardly, imperious statement that has to be read to be believed.

(Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

Williams proclaimed that “Manning will not be a grand marshal in this year’s San Francisco Pride celebration” and termed his selection “a mistake”. She blamed it all on a “staff person” who prematurely made the announcement based on a preliminary vote, and she assures us all that the culprit “has been disciplined”: disciplined. She then accuses Manning of “actions which placed in harms way the lives of our men and women in uniform”: a substance-free falsehood originally spread by top US military officials which has since been decisively and extensively debunked, even by some government officials (indeed, it’s the US government itself, not Manning, that is guilty of “actions which placed in harms way the lives of our men and women in uniform”). And then, in my favorite part of her statement, Williams decreed to all organization members that “even the hint of support” for Manning’s action – even the hint – “will not be tolerated by the leadership of San Francisco Pride”. Will not be tolerated.

I originally had no intention of writing about this episode, but the more I discovered about it, the more revealing it became. So let’s just consider a few of the points raised by all of this.

First, while even a hint of support for Manning will not be tolerated, there is a long roster of large corporations serving as the event’s sponsors who are welcomed with open arms. The list is here. It includes AT&T and Verizon, the telecom giants that enabled the illegal warrantless eavesdropping on US citizens by the Bush administration and its NSA, only to get retroactively immunized from Congress and thus shielded from all criminal and civil liability (including a lawsuit brought in San Francisco against those corporations by their customers who were illegally spied on). Last month, AT&T was fined by OSHA for failing to protect one of its employees who was attacked, was found by the FCC last year to have overcharged customers by secretly switching them to plans they didn’t want, and is now being sued by the US government for “allegedly bill[ing] the government improperly for services designed for the deaf and hard-of-hearing who place calls by typing messages over the web.”

sf pride

The list of SF Pride sponsors also includes Bank of America, now being sued for $1 billion by the US government for allegedly engaging in a systematic scheme of mortgage fraud which the US Attorney called “spectacularly brazen in scope”. Just last month, the same SF Pride sponsor received a record fine for ignoring a court order and instead trying to collect mortgage payments from bankrupt homeowners to which it was not entitled. Earlier this month, SF-Pride-sponsoring Bank of America paid $2.4 billion to settle shareholder allegations that Bank executives “failed to disclose information about losses at Merrill Lynch and bonuses paid to Merrill Lynch employees before the brokerage was acquired by Bank of America in January 2009 for $18.5 billion.”

Another beloved SF Pride sponsor, Wells Fargo, is also being “sued by the US for hundreds of millions of dollars in damages over claims the bank made reckless mortgage loans that caused losses for a federal insurance program when they defaulted”. Last year, Wells Fargo was fined $3.1 million by a federal judge for engaging in conduct that court called “highly reprehensible” relating to its persecution of a struggling homeowner. In 2011, the bank was fined by the US government “for allegedly pushing borrowers with good credit into expensive mortgages and falsifying loan applications.”

Also in Good Standing with the SF Pride board: Clear Channel, the media outlet owned by Bain Capital that broadcasts the radio programs of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck; a pension fund is suing this SF Pride sponsor for making cheap, below-market loans to its struggling parent company. The health care giant Kaiser Permanente, another proud SF Pride sponsor, is currently under investigation by California officials for alleged massive privacy violations in the form of recklessly disclosing 300,000 patient records.

SF pride

So apparently, the very high-minded ethical standards of Lisa L Williams and the SF Pride Board apply only to young and powerless Army Privates who engage in an act of conscience against the US war machine, but instantly disappear for large corporations and banks that hand over cash. What we really see here is how the largest and most corrupt corporations own not just the government but also the culture. Even at the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade, once an iconic symbol of cultural dissent and disregard for stifling peities, nothing can happen that might offend AT&T and the Bank of America. The minute something even a bit deviant takes place (as defined by standards imposed by America’s political and corporate class), even the SF Gay Pride Parade must scamper, capitulate, apologize, and take an oath of fealty to their orthodoxies (we adore the military, the state, and your laws). And, as usual, the largest corporate factions are completely exempt from the strictures and standards applied to the marginalized and powerless. Thus, while Bradley Manning is persona non grata at SF Pride, illegal eavesdropping telecoms, scheming banks, and hedge-fund purveryors of the nation’s worst right-wing agitprop are more than welcome.

Second, the authoritarian, state-and-military-revering mentality pervading Williams’ statement is striking. It isn’t just the imperious decree that “even a hint of support” for Manning “will not be tolerated”, though that is certainly creepy. Nor is it the weird announcement that the wrongdoer “has been disciplined”. Even worse is the mindless embrace of the baseless claims of US military officials (that Manning “placed in harms way the lives of our men and women in uniform”) along with the supremely authoritarian view that any actions barred by the state are, ipso facto, ignoble and wrong. Conduct can be illegal and yet still be noble and commendable: see, for instance, Daniel Ellsberg, or most of the leaders of the civil rights movement in the US. Indeed, acts of civil disobedience and conscience by people who risk their own interests to battle injustices are often the most commendable acts. Equating illegal behavior with ignominious behavior is the defining mentality of an authoritarian – and is particularly notable coming from what was once viewed as a bastion of liberal dissent.

But the more one learns about the parties involved here, the less surprising it becomes. According to her biography, Williams “organized satellite offices for the Obama campaign” and also works for various Democratic politicians. It was President Obama, of course, who so notoriously decreed Bradley Manning guilty in public before his trial by military officers serving under Obama even began, and whose administration was found by the UN’s top torture investigator to have abused him and is now so harshly prosecuting him. It’s anything but surprising that a person who was a loyal Obama campaign aide finds Bradley Manning anathema while adoring big corporations and banks (which funded the Obama campaign and who, in the case of telecoms, Obama voted to immunize).

What we see here is how even many of the most liberal precincts in America are now the leading spokespeople for and loyalists to state power as a result of their loyalty to President Obama. Thus do we have the President of the San Francisco Gay Pride Parade sounding exactly like the Chairman of the Joints Chief, or Sarah Palin, or gay war-loving neocons, in depicting any meaningful opposition to the National Security State as the supreme sin. I’d be willing to bet large amounts of money that Williams has never condemned the Obama administration’s abuse of Manning in detention or its dangerously radical prosecution of him for “aiding the enemy”. I have no doubt that the people who did all of that would be showered with gratitude by Parade officials if they attended. In so many liberal precincts in the Age of Obama – even now including the SF Gay Pride parade – the federal government, its military, and its federal prosecutors are to be revered and celebrated but not criticized; only those who oppose them are villains.

Third, when I wrote several weeks ago about the remarkable shift in public opinion on gay equality, I noted that this development is less significant than it seems because the cause of gay equality poses no real threat to elite factions or to how political and economic power in the US are distributed. If anything, it bolsters those power structures because it completely and harmlessly assimilates a previously excluded group into existing institutions and thus incentivizes them to accommodate those institutions and adopt their mindset. This event illustrates exactly what I meant.

While some of the nation’s most corrupt corporations are welcome to fly their flag over the parade, consider what Manning – for whom “even a hint of support will not be tolerated” – actually did. His leak revealed all sorts of corruption, deceit and illegality on the part of the world’s most powerful corporations. They led to numerous journalism awards for WikiLeaks. Even Bill Keller, the former Executive Editor of the New York Times who is a harsh WikiLeaks critic, credited those leaks with helping to spark the Arab Spring, the greatest democratic revolution the world has seen in decades. Multiple media accounts describe how the cables documenting atrocities committed by US troops in Iraq prevented the Malaki government from allowing US troops to stay beyond the agreed-to deadline: i.e., helped end the Iraq war by thwarting Obama’s attempts to prolong it. For all of that, Manning was selected by Guardian readers as the 2012 Person of the Year, while former Army Lt. Dan Choi said yesterday:

As we move forward as a country, we need truth in order to gain justice, you can’t have justice without the whole truth . . . So what [Manning did as a gay American, as a gay soldier, he stood for integrity, I am proud of him.”

But none of those vital benefits matter to authoritarians. That’s because authoritarians, by definition, believe in the overarching Goodness of institutions of power, and believe the only bad acts come from those who challenge or subvert that power. Bad acts aren’t committed by the National Security State or Surveillance State; they are only committed by those who oppose them. If a person’s actions threaten power factions or are deemed prohibited by them, then Good Authoritarians will reflexively view the person as evil and will be eager to publicly disassociate themselves from such individuals. Or, as Williams put it, “even the hint of support” for Manning “will not be tolerated”, and those who deviate from this decree will be “disciplined”.

sf pride

Even the SF Gay Pride Parade is now owned by and beholden to the nation’s largest corporations, subject to their dictates. Those who run the event are functionaries of, loyalists to, the nation’s most powerful political officials. That’s how this parade was so seamlessly transformed from orthodoxy-challenging, individualistic and creative cultural icon into yet another pile of obedient apparatchiks that spout banal slogans doled out by the state while viciously scorning those who challenge them. Yes, there will undoubtedly still be exotically-dressed drag queens, lesbian motorcycle clubs, and groups proudly defined by their unusual sexual proclivities participating in the parade, but they’ll be marching under a Bank of America banner and behind flag-waving fans of the National Security State, the US President, and the political party that dominates American politics and its political and military institutions. Yet another edgy, interesting, creative, independent event has been degraded and neutered into a meek and subservient ritual that must pay homage to the nation’s most powerful entities and at all costs avoid offending them in any way.

It’s hardly surprising that someone who so boldly and courageously opposes the US war machine is demonized and scorned this way. Daniel Ellsberg was subjected to the same attacks before he was transformed many years later into a liberal hero (though Ellsberg had the good fortune to be persecuted by a Republican rather than Democratic President and thus, even back then, had some substantial support; come to think of it, Ellsberg lives in San Francisco: would expressions of support for him be tolerated?). But the fact that such lock-step, heel-clicking, military-mimicking behavior is now coming from the SF Gay Pride Parade of all places is indeed noteworthy: it reflects just how pervasive this authoritarian rot has become.

Corporate corruption and sleaze

For a bit more on the dominance of corporate sleaze and corruption in our political culture, see the first few paragraphs of this extraordinary Politico article on a new book about DC culture, and this Washington Post article detailing the supreme annual convergence of political, media and corporate sleaze called “the White House Correspondents’ Dinner”, to be held this weekend.

Glenn Greenwald

Glenn Greenwald is a columnist on civil liberties and US national security issues for the Guardian. A former constitutional lawyer, he was until 2012 a contributing writer at Salon.  His most recent book is, With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful. His other books include: Great American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of Republican PoliticsA Tragic Legacy: How a Good vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency, and How Would a Patriot Act? Defending American Values from a President Run Amok. He is the recipient of the first annual I.F. Stone Award for Independent Journalism.

Obama: A GOP President Should Have Rules Limiting the Kill List November 27, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Civil Liberties, Constitution, Criminal Justice, Democracy, Pakistan, War, War on Terror.
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Roger’s note: No one says it better than Glenn Greenwald.

Published on Tuesday, November 27, 2012 by The Guardian/UK

The president’s flattering view of himself reflects the political sentiments in his party and the citizenry generally

  by  Glenn Greenwald

For the last four years, Barack Obama has not only asserted, but aggressively exercised, the power to target for execution anyone he wants, including US citizens, anywhere in the world. He has vigorously resisted not only legal limits on this assassination power, but even efforts to bring some minimal transparency to the execution orders he issues.

Mitt Romney and Barack Obama during the second US presidential debate. (Photograph: Mike Segar/Reuters)

This claimed power has resulted in four straight years of air bombings in multiple Muslim countries in which no war has been declared – using drones, cruise missiles and cluster bombs – ending the lives of more than 2,500 people, almost always far away from any actual battlefield. They are typically targeted while riding in cars, at work, at home, and while even rescuing or attending funerals for others whom Obama has targeted. A substantial portion of those whom he has killed – at the very least – have been civilians, including dozens of children.

Worse still, his administration has worked to ensure that this power is subject to the fewest constraints possible. This was accomplished first by advocating the vague, sweeping Bush/Cheney interpretation of the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) – whereby the President can target not only the groups which perpetrated the 9/11 attack (as the AUMF provides) but also those he claims are “associated” which such groups, and can target not only members of such groups (as the AUMF states) but also individuals he claims provide “substantial support” to those groups. Obama then entrenched these broad theories by signing into law the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act, which permanently codified those Bush/Cheney interpretation of these war powers.

From the start, Obama officials have also ensured that these powers have no physical limits, as they unequivocally embraced what was once the core and highly controversial precept of Bush/Cheney radicalism: that the US is fighting a “global war” in which the “whole world is a battlefield”, which means there are no geographical constraints to the president’s war powers. In sum, we have had four straight years of a president who has wielded what is literally the most extreme and tyrannical power a government can claim – to execute anyone the leader wants, even his own citizens, in total secrecy and without a whiff of due process – and who has resisted all efforts to impose a framework of limits or even transparency.

But finally, according to a new article on Sunday by The New York Times’ Scott Shane, President Obama was recently convinced that some limits and a real legal framework might be needed to govern the exercise of this assassination power. What was it that prompted Obama finally to reach this conclusion? It was the fear that he might lose the election, which meant that a Big, Bad Republican would wield these powers, rather than a benevolent, trustworthy, noble Democrat – i.e., himself [emphasis added]:

“Facing the possibility that President Obama might not win a second term, his administration accelerated work in the weeks before the election to develop explicit rules for the targeted killing of terrorists by unmanned drones, so that a new president would inherit clear standards and procedures, according to two administration officials. . . .

“The matter may have lost some urgency after Nov. 6. But . . . Mr. Obama and his advisers are still debating whether remote-control killing should be a measure of last resort against imminent threats to the United States, or a more flexible tool, available to help allied governments attack their enemies or to prevent militants from controlling territory. . . .

For years before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the United States routinely condemned targeted killings of suspected terrorists by Israel, and most countries still object to such measures.

“But since the first targeted killing by the United States in 2002, two administrations have taken the position that the United States is at war with Al Qaeda and its allies and can legally defend itself by striking its enemies wherever they are found.

“Partly because United Nations officials know that the United States is setting a legal and ethical precedent for other countries developing armed drones, the U.N. plans to open a unit in Geneva early next year to investigate American drone strikes. . . .

“The attempt to write a formal rule book for targeted killing began last summer after news reports on the drone program, started under President George W. Bush and expanded by Mr. Obama, revealed some details of the president’s role in the shifting procedures for compiling ‘kill lists’ and approving strikes. Though national security officials insist that the process is meticulous and lawful, the president and top aides believe it should be institutionalized, a course of action that seemed particularly urgent when it appeared that Mitt Romney might win the presidency.

“‘There was concern that the levers might no longer be in our hands,’ said one official, speaking on condition of anonymity. With a continuing debate about the proper limits of drone strikes, Mr. Obama did not want to leave an ‘amorphous’ program to his successor, the official said. The effort, which would have been rushed to completion by January had Mr. Romney won, will now be finished at a more leisurely pace, the official said.”

Now that Obama rather than Romney won, such rules will be developed “at a more leisurely pace”. Despite Obama’s suggestion that it might be good if even he had some legal framework in which to operate, he’s been in no rush to subject himself to any such rules in four full years of killing thousands of people. This makes it safe to assume that by “a more leisurely pace”, this anonymous Obama official means: “never”.

There are many important points raised by this report: Kevin Gosztola and Marcy Wheeler, among others, have done their typically excellent job of discussing some of them, while this Guardian article from Sunday reports on the reaction of the ACLU and others to the typical Obama manipulation of secrecy powers on display here (as usual, these matters are too secret to permit any FOIA disclosure or judicial scrutiny, but Obama officials are free to selectively leak what they want us to know to the front page of the New York Times). I want to focus on one key point highlighted by all of this:

Democratic Party benevolence

The hubris and self-regard driving this is stunning – but also quite typical of Democratic thinking generally in the Obama era. The premise here is as self-evident as it is repellent:

I’m a Good Democrat and a benevolent leader; therefore, no limits, oversight, checks and balances, legal or Constitutional constraints, transparency or due process are necessary for me to exercise even the most awesome powers, such as ordering people executed. Because of my inherent Goodness and proven progressive wisdom, I can be trusted to wield these unlimited powers unilaterally and in the dark.

Things like checks, oversight and due process are desperately needed only for Republicans, because – unlike me – those people are malevolent and therefore might abuse these powers and thus shouldn’t be trusted with absolute, unchecked authority. They – but not I – urgently need restrictions on their powers.

This mentality is not only the animating belief of President Obama, but also the sizable portion of American Democrats which adores him.

There are many reasons why so many self-identified progressives in the US have so radically changed their posture on these issues when Barack Obama replaced George W. Bush. Those include (a) the subordination of all ostensible beliefs to their hunger for partisan power; (b) they never actually believed these claimed principles in the first place but only advocated them for partisan opportunism, i.e., as a way to discredit the GOP President; and (c) they are now convinced that these abuses will only be used against Muslims and, consumed by self-interest, they concluded that these abuses are not worth caring about because it only affects Others (this is the non-Muslim privilege enjoyed by most US progressives, which shields them from ever being targeted, so they simply do not care; the more honest ones of this type even admit this motivation).

But the primary reason for this fundamental change in posture is that they genuinely share the self-glorifying worldview driving Obama here. The core premise is that the political world is shaped by a clean battle of Good v. Evil. The side of Good is the Democratic Party; the side of Evil is the GOP. All political truths are ascertainable through this Manichean prism.

This is the simplistic, self-flattering morality narrative that gets reinforced for them over and over as they sit for hours every day having their assumptions flattered and validated (and never questioned or challenged) by watching MSNBC, reading pro-Obama blogs that regularly churn out paeans to his greatness, and drinking up the hundreds of millions of dollars of expertly crafted election-year propaganda from the Party that peddles this Justice League cartoon.

The result is that, for so many, it is genuinely inconceivable that a leader as noble, kind and wise as Barack Obama would abuse his assassination and detention powers. It isn’t just rank partisan opportunism or privilege that leads them not to object to Obama’s embrace of these radical powers and the dangerous theories that shield those powers from checks or scrutiny. It’s that they sincerely admire him as a leader and a man so much that they believe in their heart (like Obama himself obviously believes) that due process, checks and transparency are not necessary when he wields these powers. Unlike when a GOP villain is empowered, Obama’s Goodness and his wisdom are the only safeguards we need.

Thus, when Obama orders someone killed, no due process is necessary and we don’t need to see any evidence of their guilt; we can (and do) just assume that the targeted person is a Terrorist and deserves death because Obama has decreed this to be so. When Obama orders a person to remain indefinitely in a cage without any charges or any opportunity to contest the validity of the imprisonment, that’s unobjectionable because the person must be a Terrorist or otherwise dangerous – or else Obama wouldn’t order him imprisoned. We don’t need proof, or disclosed evidence, or due process to determine the validity of these accusations; that it is Obama making these decisions is all the assurance we need because we trust him.

Similar sentiments shaping the Bush era

This mindset is so recognizable because it is also what drove Bush followers for years as they defended his seizures of unchecked authority and secrecy powers. Those who spent years arguing against the Bush/Cheney seizure of extremist powers always confronted this mentality at bottom, once the pseudo-intellectual justifications were debunked: George Bush is a Good man and a noble leader who can be trusted to exercise these powers in secret and with no checks, because he only wants to keep us safe and will only target the Terrorists.

Molded by exactly the same species of drooling presidential hagiography now so prevalent in progressive circles – compare this from the Bush era to things like this and this – conservatives believed that Bush was a good man and a great leader and thus needed no safeguards or transparency. If Bush wanted to eavesdrop on someone, or wanted to imprison someone, then – solely by virtue of his decree – we could and should assume the person was a Terrorist, or at least there was ample evidence to believe he was.

We were graced with a leader we could trust to exercise unlimited war powers in the dark. This is precisely the same mentality applied by Democrats (and by Obama himself) to the current President, except it not only justifies due-process-free eavesdropping and detention but also execution.

Faith v. reason and evidence

It is, for several reasons, extraordinary that so many citizens have been successfully trained to so venerate their Party’s leaders that they literally believe no checks or transparency are necessary, even as those leaders wield the most extremist powers: executing people, bombing multiple countries, imprisoning people with no charges, mass monitoring and surveilling of entire communities.

For one, there is ample evidence that virtually every leader of both major parties over the last century systematically abused these powers because they were able to exercise them in the dark. It was this discovery by the Church Committee that led to the reforms of the mid-1970s – reforms grounded in the premise that virtually all leaders, by virtue of human nature, will inevitably abuse these powers, exercise them for ignoble ends, if they operate without serious restraints and oversight. One has to ignore all of this historic evidence in order to place trust in any particular leader to exercise these powers without checks.

Then there is all the specific evidence of all the post-9/11 abuses. Over the last decade, the US government – under both parties – has repeatedly accused people of being Terrorists and punished them as Terrorists who were nothing of the sort. Whether due to gross error or more corrupt motives, the Executive Branch and its various intelligence and military agencies have proven beyond any reasonable doubt that their mere accusation that someone is a Terrorist – unproven with evidence and untested by any independent tribunal – is definitively unreliable.

Even beyond that, it is well-documented that the US government, under Obama, often targets people for death when they don’t even know the identity of the person they’re trying to kill. From the Sunday New York Times article:

“Then there is the matter of strikes against people whose identities are unknown. In an online video chat in January, Mr. Obama spoke of the strikes in Pakistan as ‘a targeted, focused effort at people who are on a list of active terrorists.’ But for several years, first in Pakistan and later in Yemen, in addition to ‘personality strikes’ against named terrorists, the CIA and the military have carried out ‘signature strikes’ against groups of suspected, unknown militants.

“Originally that term was used to suggest the specific ‘signature’ of a known high-level terrorist, such as his vehicle parked at a meeting place. But the word evolved to mean the ‘signature’ of militants in general – for instance, young men toting arms in an area controlled by extremist groups. Such strikes have prompted the greatest conflict inside the Obama administration, with some officials questioning whether killing unidentified fighters is legally justified or worth the local backlash.”

It is truly staggering to watch citizens assert that their government is killing “Terrorists” when those citizens have no clue who is being killed. But that becomes even more astounding when one realizes that not even the US government knows who they’re killing: they’re just killing anyone whose behavior they think generally tracks the profile of a Terrorist (“young men toting arms in an area controlled by extremist groups”). And, of course, the Obama administration has re-defined “militant” to mean “all military-age males in a strike zone” – reflecting their propagandistic sloganeering that they are killing Terrorists even when they, in fact, have no idea who they are killing.

In light of all this evidence, to continue to blindly assume that unproven government accusations of “Terrorist” are tantamount to proof of those accusations is to embrace the type of faith-based trust that lies at the core of religious allegiance and faith in a god, not rational citizenship. Yet over and over, one encounters some form of this dialogue whenever this issue arises:

ARGUMENT: The US government shouldn’t imprison/kill/surveil people without providing evidence of their guilt.

GOVERNMENT-DEFENDING RESPONSE: But these are Terrorists, and they have to be stopped.

OBVIOUS QUESTION: How do you know they’re Terrorists if no evidence of their guilt has been presented and no due process accorded?

Ultimately, the only possible answer to that question – the only explanation for why this definitively authoritarian mentality persists – is because people have been so indoctrinated with the core Goodness of their particular party leader that they disregard all empirical evidence, and their own rational faculties, in order to place their blind faith in the leader they have grown to love and admire (if my leader says someone is a Terrorist, then I believe they are, and I don’t need to see evidence of that).

One can reasonably debate the extent to which democracy requires that some degree of trust be vested in the capabilities and judgment of whichever political leaders one supports. But however far that trust should extend, surely it must stop well before the vesting of the power to imprison and kill in total secrecy, far from any battlefield and without any checks or due process.

Core principles disregarded in lieu of leader-love

The Times article describes the view of Obama that some “drone rules” would be needed to be developed in light of the possibility of Romney’s victory. But at least some such rules already exist: they’re found in these things called “the Constitution” and “the Bill of Rights”, the Fifth Amendment to which provides:

“No person shall be . . . deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law;”

Yet all of that has been tossed aside in lieu of a deeply disturbing and unhealthy faith-based belief that our leader can make these determinations without the need for any such bothersome impediments.

To me, this comment, left in response to a Gawker post from Sunday on the new NYT article, perfectly conveys the sentiment I heard for years in right-wing circles to justify everything Bush did in secret, and is now just as miserably common in progressive circles to justify Obama’s wielding of the same and even greater powers:

“The fact of the matter is that the complexities of security and war go far beyond what those interested in appearing morally superior are willing to concede. It just so happens that a lot of liberals are most interested in the appearance of moral superiority. . . .

“I used to be the exact same way, but then I actually genuinely considered how I would feel if I held the weight of the presidency and these decisions. I have no doubt that most liberals, when presented with that, would act just as Obama has. . . .

“I’m liberal, I’m no fan of war, I’m no fan of Republican fanaticism and thumping America-is-the-best nonsense across the globe. But I can understand why drone strikes might be the most expedient option in a war. Or, perhaps more precisely, can understand just how incapable I am of understanding. And instead of supposing myself worthy of understanding the complexity and therefore offering criticism, I trust those more intelligent than myself. But a lot of my fellow liberals don’t believe there are people more intelligent than themselves. I have no self-loathing of liberals. Its just like a moderate Republican finding the right wing of their party crazy even if they believe in most of the same stuff.”

That’s the Platonic form of authoritarian leader-faith:

I don’t need to know anything; my leader doesn’t need to prove the truth of his accusations; he should punish whomever he wants in total secrecy and without safeguards, and I will assume that he is right to do so (as long as I and others like me are not the ones targeted) because he is superior to me and I place my faith in Him.

Anyone who thinks the leader (when he’s of my party) should have to show proof before killing someone, or allow them due process, is being a childish purist. I used to be like that – until Obama got in office, and now I see how vital it is to trust him and not bother him with all this “due process” fanaticism. That’s what being an adult citizen means: trusting one’s leader the way children trust their parent.

This is the only sentiment that can explain the comfort with allowing Obama (and, before him, Bush) to exercise these extreme powers without checks or transparency. This is exactly the sentiment any Obama critic confronts constantly, even if expressed a bit more subtly and with a bit more dignity.

Ultimately, what is most extraordinary about all of this – most confounding to me – is how violently contrary this mentality is to the ethos with which all Americans are instilled: namely, that the first and most inviolable rule of government is that leaders must not be trusted to exercise powers without constant restraints – without what we’re all taught in elementary school are called “checks and balances”. Here is how Thomas Jefferson expressed this warning in the Kentucky Resolutions of 1798:

“In questions of power…let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.”

And here is what John Adams said in his 1772 Journal:

“There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty”.

It is literally impossible to conceive of any mindset more at odds with these basic principles than the one that urges that Barack Obama – unlike George Bush or Mitt Romney or whoever the scary GOP villain of the day is – can be trusted to unilaterally and secretly kill or imprison or surveil anyone he wants because he is a Good man and a trustworthy leader and therefore his unproven accusations should be assumed true. But this is, overwhelmingly, the warped and authoritarian sentiment that now prevails in the bulk of the Democratic Party and its self-identified “progressive” faction, just as it did in the GOP and its conservative wing for eight years.

Ultimately, this unhealthy and dangerous trust in one’s own leader – beyond just the normal human desire to follow – is the by-product of over-identifying with the brand-marketed personality of politicians. Many East and West Coast progressives (which is overwhelmingly what Democratic Party opinion leaders are) have been trained to see themselves and the personality traits to which they aspire in Obama (the urbane, sophisticated, erudite Harvard-educated lawyer and devoted father and husband), just as religious conservatives and other types of Republicans were trained to see Bush in that way (the devout evangelical Christian, the brush-clearing, patriotic swaggering cowboy, and devoted father and husband).

Politicians are thus perceived like contestants in a reality TV show: viewers decide who they like personally and who they dislike – but the difference is that these images are bolstered with hundreds of millions of dollars of relentless, sophisticated, highly manipulative propaganda campaigns (there’s a reason the Obama 2008 campaign won multiple branding awards from the advertising and marketing industry). When one is taught to relate to a politician based on a fictitious personal relationship, one comes to place excessive trust in those with whom one identifies (the way one comes to trust, say, a close family member or loved one), and to harbor excessive contempt for those one is trained to see as the villain character. In sum, citizens are being trained to view politicians exactly the way Jefferson warned was so dangerous: “In questions of power…let no more be heard of confidence in man.”

There’s one final irony worth noting in all of this. Political leaders and political movements convinced of their own Goodness are usually those who need greater, not fewer, constraints in the exercise of power. That’s because – like religious True Believers – those who are convinced of their inherent moral superiority can find all manner to justify even the most corrupted acts on the ground that they are justified by the noble ends to which they are put, or are cleansed by the nobility of those perpetrating those acts.

Political factions driven by self-flattering convictions of their own moral superiority – along with their leaders – are the ones most likely to abuse power. Anyone who ever listened to Bush era conservatives knows that this conviction drove them at their core (“you are with us or with the Terrorists”), and it is just as true of Obama-era progressives who genuinely see the political landscape as an overarching battle between forces of Good (Democrats: i.e., themselves) and forces of Evil (Republicans).

Thus should it be completely unsurprising that Obama (and his most ardent followers) genuinely believe that rules are urgently necessary to constrain Republicans from killing whoever they want, but that such urgency ceases to exist when that power rests in the hands of the current benevolent leader. Such a dangerous and perverse mindset is incredibly pervasive in the citizenry, and goes a long way toward explaining why and how the US government has been able to seize the powers it has wielded over the last decade with so little resistance, and with no end in sight.

© 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited

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Glenn Greenwald

Glenn Greenwald is a columnist on civil liberties and US national security issues for the Guardian. A former constitutional lawyer, he was until 2012 a contributing writer at Salon.  His most recent book is, With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful. His other books include: Great American Hypocrites: Toppling the Big Myths of Republican PoliticsA Tragic Legacy: How a Good vs. Evil Mentality Destroyed the Bush Presidency, and How Would a Patriot Act? Defending American Values from a President Run Amok. He is the recipient of the first annual I.F. Stone Award for Independent Journalism.

Attorney General Holder defends execution without charges March 6, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Democracy, War on Terror.
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Roger’s note: declare “war” on something, war on terror, for example, and you then have the absolute right to kill the “enemy” no questions asked.  Prior to the so-called war on terror, there had been acts of terrorism for centuries.  They were always dealt with via intelligence gathering and other policing techniques, and alleged terrorists prosecuted through he judicial system (albeit with notable examples of abuse, e.g. Sacco and Vanzetti).  This made sense.  The ultimate purpose of the war on terror today is to militarize civilian authority.  Declare war and you have every right to kill whomever you say is the enemy, be it a citizen or a foreigner.  The world is a battlefield.  By this logic, the president and the CIA should be able to execute anyone they deem active in the phony “war on drugs.”  I am surprised that they haven’t … yet.  When they declare war on left-wing political comedians, look out Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.

Tuesday, Mar 6, 2012 4:50 AM 20:09:43 EST, www.salon.com

A new speech by Eric Holder cements Obama’s legacy as the president who pioneered secretive, charge-less executions

By Glenn Greenwald
Barack Obama and Eric Holder

Barack Obama and Eric Holder    (Credit: Reuters)

In a speech at Northwestern University yesterday, Attorney General Eric Holder provided the most detailed explanation yet for why the Obama administration believes it has the authority to secretly target U.S. citizens for execution by the CIA without even charging them with a crime, notifying them of the accusations, or affording them an opportunity to respond, instead condemning them to death without a shred of transparency or judicial oversight. The administration continues to conceal the legal memorandum it obtained to justify these killings, and, as The New York Times‘ Charlie Savage noted, Holder’s “speech contained no footnotes or specific legal citations, and it fell far short of the level of detail contained in the Office of Legal Counsel memo.” But the crux of Holder’s argument as set forth in yesterday’s speech is this:

Some have argued that the president is required to get permission from a federal court before taking action against a United States citizen who is a senior operational leader of Al Qaeda or associated forces. This is simply not accurate. “Due process” and “judicial process” are not one and the same, particularly when it comes to national security. The Constitution guarantees due process, not judicial process.

When Obama officials (like Bush officials before them) refer to someone “who is a senior operational leader of Al Qaeda or associated forces,” what they mean is this: someone the President has accused and then decreed in secret to be a Terrorist without ever proving it with evidence. The “process” used by the Obama administration to target Americans for execution-by-CIA is, as reported last October by Reuters, as follows:

American militants like Anwar al-Awlaki are placed on a kill or capture list by a secretive panel of senior government officials, which then informs the president of its decisions . . . There is no public record of the operations or decisions of the panel, which is a subset of the White House’s National Security Council . . . Neither is there any law establishing its existence or setting out the rules by which it is supposed to operate.

As Leon Panetta recently confirmed, the President makes the ultimate decision as to whether the American will be killed: “[The] President of the United States obviously reviews these cases, reviews the legal justification, and in the end says, go or no go.”

So that is the “process” which Eric Holder yesterday argued constitutes “due process” as required by the Fifth Amendment before the government can deprive of someone of their life: the President and his underlings are your accuser, your judge, your jury and your executioner all wrapped up in one, acting in total secrecy and without your even knowing that he’s accused you and sentenced you to death, and you have no opportunity even to know about, let alone confront and address, his accusations; is that not enough due process for you? At Esquire, Charles Pierce, writing about Holder’s speech, described this best: “a monumental pile of crap that should embarrass every Democrat who ever said an unkind word about John Yoo.”

* * * * *

I’ve obviously written about the Obama assassination program many times before but there are several points worth examining in light of Holder’s speech and the reaction to it:

(1) The willingness of Democrats to embrace and defend this power is especially reprehensible because of how completely, glaringly and obviously at odds it is with everything they loudly claimed to believe during the Bush years. Recall two of the most significant “scandals” of the Bush War on Terror: his asserted power merely to eavesdrop on and detain accused Terrorists without judicial review of any kind. Remember all that? Progressives endlessly accused Bush of Assaulting Our Values and “shredding the Constitution” simply because Bush officials wanted to listen in on and detain suspected Terrorists — not kill them, just eavesdrop on and detain them — without first going to a court and proving they did anything wrong. Yet here is a Democratic administration asserting not merely the right to surveil or detain citizens without charges or judicial review, but to kill them without any of that: a far more extreme, permanent and irreversible act. Yet, with some righteous exceptions, the silence is deafening, or worse.

How can anyone who vocally decried Bush’s mere eavesdropping and detention powers without judicial review possibly justify Obama’s executions without judicial review? How can the former (far more mild powers) have been such an assault on Everything We Stand For while the latter is a tolerable and acceptable assertion of war powers? If Barack Obama has the right to order accused Terrorists executed by the CIA because We’re At War, then surely George Bush had the right to order accused Terrorists eavesdropped on and detained on the same ground.

That the same Party and political faction that endlessly shrieked about Bush’s eavesdropping and detention programs now tolerate Obama’s execution program is one of the most extreme and craven acts of dishonesty we’ve seen in quite some time. By stark contrast, right-wing leaders, pundits and bloggers are being commendably consistent: they cheered for Bush’s due-process-free eavesdropping and detention programs and, based on exactly the same reasoning, they now lavishly praise President Obama for extending that mentality to assassinations.

 

(2) It isn’t merely the Democratic Party generally and its hordes of adherents who have performed a complete reversal on these issues as of January 20, 2009. It’s also true of Barack Obama and Eric Holder themselves.

Throughout the Bush years, then-Sen. Obama often spoke out so very eloquently about the Vital Importance of Due Process even for accused Terrorists. As but one example, he stood up on the Senate floor and denounced Bush’s Guantanamo detentions on the ground that a “perfectly innocent individual could be held and could not rebut the Government’s case and has no way of proving his innocence.” He spoke of “the terror I would feel if one of my family members were rounded up in the middle of the night and sent to Guantanamo without even getting one chance to ask why they were being held and being able to prove their innocence.” He mocked the right-wing claim “that judicial inquiry is an antique, trivial and dispensable luxury.” He acknowledged that the Government will unavoidably sometimes make mistakes in accusing innocent people of being Terrorists, but then provided the obvious solution: “what is avoidable is refusing to ever allow our legal system to correct these mistakes.” How moving is all that? What a stirring tribute to the urgency of allowing accused Terrorists a day in court before punishing them.

Then we have Eric Holder, who in 2008 gave a speech to the American Constitution Society denouncing Bush’s executive power radicalism and calling for a “public reckoning.” He specifically addressed the right-wing claim that Presidents should be allowed to eavesdrop on accused Terrorists without judicial review in order to Keep Us Safe. In light of what the Attorney General said and justified yesterday, just marvel at what he said back then, a mere three years ago:

To those in the Executive branch who say “just trust us” when it comes to secret and warrantless surveillance of domestic communications I say remember your history. In my lifetime, federal government officials wiretapped, harassed and blackmailed Martin Luther King and other civil rights leader in the name of national security. One of America’s greatest heroes whom today we honor with a national holiday, countless streets, schools and soon a monument in his name, was treated like a criminal by those in our federal government possessed of too much discretion and a warped sense of patriotism. Watergate revealed similar abuses during the Nixon administration.

To recap Barack Obama’s view: it is a form of “terror” for someone to be detained “without even getting one chance to prove their innocence,” but it is good and noble for them to be executed under the same circumstances. To recap Eric Holder’s view: we must not accept when the Bush administration says “just trust us” when it comes to spying on the communications of accused Terrorists, but we must accept when the Obama administration says “just trust us” when it comes to targeting our fellow citizens for execution. As it turns out, it’s not 9/11/01 that Changed Everything. It’s 1/20/09.

 

(3) The ACLU said yesterday that Holder’s speech “is ultimately a defense of the government’s chillingly broad claimed authority to conduct targeted killings of civilians, including American citizens, far from any battlefield without judicial review or public scrutiny.” The ACLU then added:

Few things are as dangerous to American liberty as the proposition that the government should be able to kill citizens anywhere in the world on the basis of legal standards and evidence that are never submitted to a court, either before or after the fact.

Anyone willing to trust President Obama with the power to secretly declare an American citizen an enemy of the state and order his extrajudicial killing should ask whether they would be willing to trust the next president with that dangerous power.

This is notable for three reasons. First, the ACLU isn’t merely saying this is a bad policy; they are instead pointing out the obvious: that there are “few things as dangerous” as having your own Government assert the right to target citizens for death with no judicial process, yet that’s exactly what the Obama administration is doing with little backlash. Second, the ACLU is challenging progressive defenders of the President to do what none will ever do: explain why they would trust not only Barack Obama, but also Sarah Palin, or Newt Gingrich, or Michele Bachmann, with the power to target U.S. citizens for assassination in secret and with no judicial oversight. Third, that the ACLU is condemning an Obama policy as “as dangerous to American liberty” as a policy can be — also known as: a supreme hallmark of tyranny — demonstrates the huge gulf that has arisen under the Obama presidency between the Democratic Party and the ACLU (a group universally praised by Democrats when a Republican President is in office), though this gulf has been obvious for quite some time.

 

(4) What’s so striking is how identical Obama officials and their defenders sound when compared to the right-wing legal theorists who justified Bush’s most controversial programs. Even the core justifying slogans are the same: we are at War; the Battlefield is everywhere; Presidents have the right to spy on, detain and kill combatants without court permission; the Executive Branch is the sole organ for war and no courts can interfere in the President’s decisions, etc. I spent years writing about and refuting those legal theories and they are identical to what we hear now. Just consider how similar the two factions sound to one another.

When it came to their War on Terror controversies, Bush officials constantly said back then exactly what Obama officials and defenders say now: we’re only using these powers against Terrorists — The Bad People — not against regular, normal, Good Americans; so if you’re not a Terrorist, you have nothing to worry about. Here’s White House spokesman Trent Duffy in December, 2005, defending Bush’s warrantless eavesdropping program:

This is a limited program. This is not about monitoring phone calls designed to arrange Little League practice or what to bring to a potluck dinner. These are designed to monitor calls from very bad people to very bad people who have a history of blowing up commuter trains, weddings and churches.

Similarly, when George Bush went before the cameras in December, 2005, to proudly admit and defend his warrantless spying program, he assured the nation that this was all justified because it was only aimed at “the international communications of people with known links to al Qaeda and related terrorist organizations.”

Find a defender of Obama’s assassination program and all you’ll hear is exactly the same thing: this is only being directed at The Terrorists like Awlaki, so we don’t need any court review or due process. Here was Holder yesterday: “it is imperative for the government to counter threats posed by senior operational leaders of al Qaeda, and to protect the innocent people whose lives could be lost in their attacks,” and assassination orders are only issued once “the U.S. government has determined, after a thorough and careful review, that the individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States.”

This is nothing more than an exercise of supremely circular reasoning and question-begging: whether someone is actually a Terrorist can be determined only when the evidence of their guilt is presented and they have an opportunity to respond, just as Holder and Obama said during the Bush years. Government assurances that they’re only targeting Terrorists — whether those assurances issue from Bush or Obama — should reassure nobody: this is always what those who abuse power claim, and it’s precisely why we don’t trust government officials to punish people based on unproven accusations. Here’s what Nixon’s Attorney General, John Mitchell, said in order to assuage growing fears of new government eavesdropping powers, as reported by this July 25, 1969 article from Time Magazine:

Mitchell refused to disclose any figures, but he indicated that the number was far lower than most people might think. “Any citizen of this United States who is not involved in some illegal activity,” he added, “has nothing to fear whatsoever.”

We supposedly learned important lessons from the abuses of power of the Nixon administration, and then of the Bush administration: namely, that we don’t trust government officials to exercise power in the dark, with no judicial oversight, with no obligation to prove their accusations. Yet now we hear exactly this same mentality issuing from Obama, his officials and defenders to justify a far more extreme power than either Nixon or Bush dreamed of asserting: he’s only killing The Bad Citizens, so there’s no reason to object!

Here’s a critique I wrote in January, 2006, of the Bush DOJ’s 42-page whitepaper justifying its warrantless eavesdropping on accused Terrorists. Just read that and you’ll see: the essence of the Bush view of the world was that when it comes to war, it is the President who has sole responsibility and power and courts may not review or interfere with what he decides about who is a Terrorist and what should be done to them. The President is the “sole organ for the Nation in foreign affairs,” declared the Bush DOJ, and ”among the President’s most basic constitutional duties is the duty to protect the Nation from armed attack” and thus, “the Constitution gives him all necessary authority to fulfill that responsibility.” Or, as Holder put it yesterday: “The conduct and management of national security operations are core functions of the Executive Branch, as courts have recognized throughout our history” and therefore “the president is [not] required to get permission from a federal court.” One cannot reject the Bush legal worldview invoked to justify those programs while embracing the Obama worldview expressed here — at least not with an iota of intellectual coherence or dignity.

 

(5) The dubious or outright deceitful legal claims made by Holder are too numerous to chronicle all of them, but there are a couple worth highlighting. He said, for instance, that “the Supreme Court has made clear that the Due Process Clause does not impose one-size-fits-all requirements, but instead mandates procedural safeguards that depend on specific circumstances.” That part is true: in the 2004 case of Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, the Supreme Court rejected the Bush administration’s argument that it could detain American citizens accused of Terrorism without any process for them to contest the accusations against them, though the Court held that something less than a full-scale trial could satisfy the Due Process clause. But as Marcy Wheeler points out, the Court imposed “due process” requirements that are the exact opposite of what the Obama administration is doing with its assassinations. Said the Court (emphasis added):

It is during our most challenging and uncertain moments that our Nation’s commitment to due process is most severely tested; and it is in those times that we must preserve our commitment at home to the principles for which we fight abroad. . . .

We therefore hold that a citizen-detainee seeking to challenge his classification as an enemy combatant must receive notice of the factual basis for his classification, and a fair opportunity to rebut the Government’s factual assertions before a neutral decisionmaker. . . .

In sum, while the full protections that accompany challenges to detentions in other settings may prove unworkable and inappropriate in the enemy-combatant setting, the threats to military operations posed by a basic system of independent review are not so weighty as to trump a citizen’s core rights to challenge meaningfully the Government’s case and to be heard by an impartial adjudicator.

How can Eric Holder possibly cite the Supreme Court’s Due Process holdings in the War on Terror context when the Court has held that citizens — merely to be detained, let alone killed — are entitled to exactly that which the Obama administration refuses to provide: “a fair opportunity to rebut the Government’s factual assertions before a neutral decisionmaker” and “a citizen’s core rights to challenge meaningfully the Government’s case and to be heard by an impartial adjudicator”? It’s precisely because Obama refuses to fulfill those Court-imposed obligations before ordering citizens executed that this behavior is so objectionable.

If, as Holder argues, the Due Process Clause allows a citizen to be killed based on accusations by the President that are made in total secrecy and which he has no opportunity even to hear, let alone refute, then that core Constitutional safeguard is completely meaningless. And the Supreme Court in the very ruling Holder references leaves no doubt about that, as it required an adversarial hearing before a neutral arbiter even for someone accused of being an “enemy combatant” at the height of the War on Terror.

Then there is Holder’s reliance on the old neocon trick: cite what Lincoln did in the Civil War or what FDR did in World War II — as though those are comparable to the War on Terror — to justify what is being done now. Thus we hear this from Holder: “during World War II, the United States tracked the plane flying Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto — the commander of Japanese forces in the attack on Pearl Harbor and the Battle of Midway – and shot it down specifically because he was on board.” This argument has been hauled out before by administration officials when responding to my critiques of Obama’s assassination program.

Even leaving aside the vast difference between wars posing an existential threat (the Civil War, WW2) and the so-called War on Terror, the difference between the Yamamoto killing and Obama’s citizen assassinations is self-evident. There was no doubt that Adm. Yamamoto was in fact a commander of an enemy army at war with the U.S.: he wore that army’s uniform and identified himself as such. By contrast, there is substantial doubt whether Anwar Awlaki or other accused Al Qaeda members are in fact guilty of plotting Terrorist attacks on the U.S. That’s true for exactly the reason that Holder, in another part of his speech, explained: Al Qaeda members “do not behave like a traditional military – wearing uniforms, carrying arms openly, or massing forces in preparation for an attack.”

That’s why applying traditional war doctrine to accused Terrorists (who are not found on a battlefield but in their cars, their homes, at work, etc.) is so inappropriate, and why judicial review is so urgent: because the risk of false accusations is so much higher than it is when capturing uniformed soldiers on an actual battlefield. Just recall how dubious so many government accusations of Terrorism turned out to be once federal courts began scrutinizing those accusations for evidentiary support. Indeed, Yemen experts such as Gregory Johnsen have repeatedly pointed out in response to claims that Awlaki plotted Terrorist attacks: “we know very little, precious little when it comes to his operational role” andwe just don’t know this, we suspect it but don’t know it.” Given this shameful record in the War on Terror, what rational person would “trust” the Government to make determinations about who is and is not a Terrorist in the dark, with no limits or checks on what they can do?

 

(6) Holder’s attempt to justify these assassinations on the ground that “capture is not feasible” achieves nothing. For one, the U.S. never even bothered to indict Awlaki so that he could voluntarily turn himself in or answer the charges (though at one point, long after they first ordered him killed, they “considered” indicting him); instead, they simply killed him without demonstrating there was any evidence to support these accusations. What justifies that? Additionally, the fact that the Government is unable to apprehend and try a criminal does not justify his murder; absent some violent resistance upon capture, the government is not free to simply go around murdering fugitives who have been convicted of nothing. Moreover, that Awlaki could not have been captured in a country where the government is little more than an American client is dubious at best; if the U.S. could locate and enter the home of Osama bin Laden without the cooperation of the Pakistani government, why could it not do the same for Awlaki in Yemen?

But the most important point is that Holder is not confining this assassination power to circumstances where “capture is not feasible.” To the contrary, he specifically said that killing “would be lawful at least in the following circumstances”: meaning that the President’s asserted power is not confined to those conditions. As Charlie Savage wrote: “Significantly, Mr. Holder did not say that such a situation is the only kind in which it would be lawful to kill a citizen. Rather, he said it would be lawful ‘at least’ under those conditions.” We have no idea how far the Obama administration believes its assassination power extends because it refuses to release the legal memorandum justifying it; there is no legal framework governing it; and there is no transparency or accountability for the President’s execution orders.

* * * * *

In sum, Holder’s attempt to make this all seem normal and common should insult anyone with the most basic understanding of American law. As The New York Times put it when first confirming the assassination program in April, 2010: ” The Obama administration has taken the extraordinary step of authorizing the targeted killing of an American citizen. . . . It is extremely rare, if not unprecedented, for an American to be approved for targeted killing, officials said. A former senior legal official in the administration of George W. Bush said he did not know of any American who was approved for targeted killing under the former president.” To date, not a single such citizen has been identified.

As always, the most important point to note for this entire debate is how perverse and warped it is that we’re even having this “debate” at all. It should be self-negating — self-marginalizing — to assert that the President, acting with no checks or transparency, can order American citizens executed far from any battlefield and without any opportunity even to know about, let alone rebut, the accusations. That this policy is being implemented and defended by the very same political party that spent the last decade so vocally and opportunistically objecting to far less extreme powers makes it all the more repellent. That fact also makes it all the more dangerous, because — as one can see — the fact that it is a Democratic President doing it, and Democratic Party officials justifying it, means that it’s much easier to normalize: very few of the Party’s followers, especially in an election year, are willing to make much of a fuss about it at all.

And thus will presidential assassination powers be entrenched as bipartisan consensus for at least a generation. That will undoubtedly be one of the most significant aspects of the Obama legacy. Let no Democrat who is now supportive or even silent be heard to object when the next Republican President exercises this power in ways that they dislike.

Sleazy California Democratd on Health Reform February 6, 2012

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Roger’s note: this is an excerpt from an email I received from activist.thepen@gmail.com.  It describes the machinations of the California Democratic Party in appearing to support a single payer health insurance plan while at the same time behind the scenes doing everything it can to ensure that it DOESN’T come to pass.  In the seven years I spend on the Toronto municipal council, I saw this kind of hypocrisy in action time and time again.  What they did in California is a classical example of this tactic, and the pen activists captured it perfectly and are to be congratulated for the exposé.  And one more example of why electoral politics (as opposed to taking to the streets) is for the most part futile.

As you know, if you have been a participant of this distribution list for a while, we have been valiantly advocating for a single payer health care system for many years. Such a bill (SB 840) was passed by both chambers of the CA state legislature in 2006, but the bill was vetoed by Governor Maid Molester (Schwarzenegger).
At the time we TRIED to get the Democratic nominee Phil Angelides (who had previously claimed to support single payer) to do an action to demand that Arnold sign the bill. It would have been a great campaign issue for him, but he was too chicken hearted or corrupt himself (your choice) to do it, and he lost by 30 points or something like that.

The same bill passed in 2008 and was vetoed again.

Now fast forward the clock to last week, when single payer
(renumbered SB 810) was again in front of the CA Senate, but now with a Democratic governor, Jerry Brown, who would be expected to sign the bill. All of a sudden four Democratic senators refused to even vote at all. That’s right, folks, they ABSTAINED, which is being in the room for the vote and refusing to cast a vote one way or another. At least three of these abstainers had voted “Yes” for single payer the last time.
So we cranked out a targeted action aimed only at these turncoat abstainers and have good information they got LOTS of phone calls for them to reconsider. But reconsideration never happened. So what’s really going on here? Here’s what the sponsor of the bill, Mark Leno, said on the Thom Hartmann show when gently challenged on why previous supporters were now abstaining.
“Arnold Schwartzeneggar was always going to veto the bill, so if one
had an interest in not ruffling the feathers of the insurance industry, the possibility is to vote for it with the wink of the eye that it’s not going anywhere anyway.”
In Greek mythology, Tantalus as his eternal punishment was cursed to stand in a pool of water underneath a fruit tree with low hanging branches always just out of reach, with the water always receding before he could take a drink. THAT is the very image of what the
Democratic party has become for the interests of the people who consider themselves constituents. It’s all a scam, folks, just one great, big, giant, honking scam.
This is essentially the same thing that happened in 2010 with that phony baloney health care bill, with a bottom line of nothing but pig grease for the medical insurance corporations. After lulling people
along for almost a year with the promise of a “public option”, itself a feeble impersonation of single payer, they refused to even allow a vote on it. In the end, having been forced to pass the bill using a reconciliation gimmick requiring only 51 votes, and 51 Democratic senators on record as supporting the so-called public option, they simply REFUSED to bring it up for a vote, even though they had the votes to do.
And the worst thing about it is that even the so-called good guys are in on it. Mark Leno, the sponsor of SB 810, KNOWS it will never pass, that the vote will always be manipulated so it falls just short in some way. The only reason for him to bring the bill up at all is to CON his own constituents into thinking he’s on their side, otherwise he would be vociferously calling out these abstainer traitors, not accidentally spilling the beans as he did. It’s nothing but a cynical PR stunt, and they are ALL in on it. No matter how many Democrats we vote for, till the end of all eternity, they will always find some way to fail to pass single payer health care.

Political spectacles cannot hide reality of deranged September 30, 2011

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Verizon workers all across the
U.S. went out on strike for 15 days to force the company to bargain in good
faith. Represented by the Communications Workers of America and the
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, they agreed not to strike again
for 30 days. Verizon called for draconian measures that would have destroyed the
union. The workers are ready to resume their strike when
necessary.

by Ron Kelch

www.newsandletters.org, Sept – Oct 2011

At the end of a months-long political spectacle in Washington–manufactured
over irrelevancies concerning what should have been a routine raising of the
national debt limit before the Aug. 2 deadline–reality struck with a bombshell:
the anemic “jobless” recovery in the U.S. has stalled. The economy is getting
worse and there is no solution under capitalism. Revised data revealed that the
economy grew at less than 1% in the first half of the year. The 9.1%
unemployment rate is really over 16% when you consider that at 63.9% the level
of labor participation in the economy is the lowest since the Great Recession
started in 2007.
__________

Economists worry that the global economy is poised for a double dip
recession. Most agree that, for the foreseeable future, at best there will be
low or no growth–namely, a prolonged depression in employment.
The government spared no expense in immediately rescuing the finance sector in
the face of a total meltdown in 2008. A completely inadequate stimulus package,
which is about to run out, barely made a dent in mass unemployment. Now, in the
face of a new downturn, there is the highest long-term unemployment since the
Great Depression.

FANATICAL TEA PARTY POLITICS

Republican Tea Party fanatics, who control the U.S. House of Representatives,
were willing to risk a default on the national debt by refusing to raise the
debt limit. A default would have triggered a “financial Armageddon” and pushed
the already weak U.S. and world economies into an abyss. The
mass misery this would have generated was of no consequence to the Tea Party,
for whom nothing mattered except gutting spending on all social programs and
stopping any tax increases for the wealthy.

The tax structure in the U.S. is so outrageous that billionaire Warren
Buffett pleaded with the politicians to stop “coddling” the rich like him whose
tax burden, at 17.4%, is less than half of the average 36% paid by the other 20
employees in his office. Inequality in the U.S., where the top fifth has 84% of
the national wealth while the bottom two fifths have a mere 0.3%, is one of the
most extreme in the world. One fifth of children in this richest country on
earth grow up in poverty. Thus, as the Aug. 2 deadline approached, without a
care to these facts or the consequences of their actions, the Republicans got
what they wanted. Standard & Poors (S&P) promptly lowered the U.S.
credit rating from AAA to AA+, not because of a U.S. inability to pay its debts,
but because such a deranged political system can no longer be counted on to do
so.

The religious fanatics who control the Republican Party like Michele Bachmann
and Texas governor Rick Perry adhere to “Dominionism,” which holds that certain
Christians should not let anything get in the way of fulfilling their destiny:
to run the government according to their strictures and in turn impose them
throughout society. Dominionist views are totally divorced from reality–whether
on evolution, global warming or the nature of homosexuality–but, when they
include ruining the economy, then many capitalists get scared.
Such a deranged single-minded reach for power on the part of these ideologues
can’t be dismissed, however, precisely because capitalists are still so willing
to use them to force cuts on workers’ pensions, healthcare and education to pay
for deficits from wars, tax cuts for the rich, and speculative excesses that
caused the downturn.

 

KEYNESIANISM AND AUSTERITY-INDUCED DOWNWARD SPIRAL

The capitalist dilemma is that austerity has also revealed itself as a
deranged policy that makes the deficits worse because it drives down economic
growth. In Europe, an austerity-induced downward spiral in employment and living
conditions has been met with mass strikes, riots and “Take the Square” movements
inspired by the Arab Spring and demands for “Real Democracy.” Nationalism is
tearing apart Europe’s economic union as countries like Germany, with financial
prowess due to an export-driven economy, have dictated harsh conditions for
bailouts of other countries. Bailouts became necessary after bond dealers, who
were rescued from their own speculative bubble, forced one country after another
to face exorbitant interest rates on their debt. The contagion spread from
marginal countries like Ireland, Portugal and Greece to Spain and even Italy.
Now economic growth in Germany itself has collapsed to almost nothing.
Economists fear not just another global recession but another financial meltdown
like 2008.

After S&P’s downgrade, far from fleeing from U.S. debt, investors
demanded more of it, making it even cheaper for the government to borrow. The
interest rate on ten-year Treasuries fell to historic lows of under 2%. U.S.
capitalists have a huge cash hoard of nearly $2 trillion that is not being
invested in the real economy. It gets lent to the government for almost nothing.
The near religious faith that capital creates jobs has met the reality
of stalled capital accumulation creating permanent mass
unemployment.

As economists like Paul Krugman and Robert Reich keep saying, Keynesian
economics arose in the 1930s to deal with a similar deranged moment when
capitalism kept digging itself into a deeper hole. Today is said to be akin to
1937, when President Roosevelt listened to those who wanted to cut the deficit
and the Depression returned with a vengeance.

Only when Roosevelt turned to several years of what would in today’s dollars
be $3 trillion deficits in the buildup and execution of World War II did the
U.S. exit the Depression. Krugman claims the economic impact of the war–the
massive physical destruction of capital, which left the U.S. as the lone
economic superpower–wasn’t necessary for ending the Depression and restarting
capital accumulation.

But total war was not separate from the Depression. War was preceded by the
monstrosity of Nazism arising in an advanced capitalist country. A more
thoughtful evaluation came from another renowned academic economist, Simon
Kuznets, who also saw only “transient difficulties” in the collapse in the rate
of capital accumulation, but nevertheless questioned the capitalist basis of
economic growth if it is “susceptible to such a barbaric deformation”
(Postwar Economic Growth, Harvard University Press, 1964).

CAPITALISM’S FALLING RATE OF PROFIT

Karl Marx showed that the collapse in capitalist growth is no “transient
difficulty,” but is rather a reflection, despite many countervailing tendencies,
of an overall tendency for the rate of profit to decline. (See “Deep recession, rate of profit and the supreme
commodity, labor power
“.) A financial meltdown reveals a dramatically lower
rate of profit in the real economy where capitalists balk at investment and
produce not jobs but a growing army of unemployed and mass pauperization.

Profit can only come from surplus value extracted from living labor, and the
rate of profit falls when there is relatively less living labor in proportion to
dead labor or capital. Capital’s self-contradictory motivation is to diminish
living labor as much as possible–this goose that lays their golden eggs–by
constantly revolutionizing production with new dead labor or machines. With a
given level of technological development and ratio of capital to living labor,
the only way to boost profit is to lower the cost of labor through a class war
on labor rights, wages, benefits and pensions.

The capitalist system will not collapse on its own, but will continue as long
as it can in a protracted painful decline. There are persistent new revolts on
the ground searching for a new path as when mass demonstrations and sit-ins in
Wisconsin confronted Governor Walker–not only because of his huge take-backs
but because of the repeal of public workers’ basic labor rights. The opposition
to Walker also came within one vote of taking control of the State Senate in
recall elections and effectively ended his majority for the most extreme of his
agenda items. The political arena of elections, however, is where capitalists
have infinite cash to spin facts in the media according to their inverted
reality.

President Obama, who was elected on a promise of change that inspired masses
of new people to work for his election, behaves as if he also believes fervently
in the political process that operates on a different plane than the conditions
of life and labor of those who elected him. Obama kept exclaiming that high
unemployment is unacceptable and a prime concern, but the political process,
divorced from the aspirations of those who elected him, revolved around deficit
cuts that undermined employment. His new promise to introduce a jobs program has
little credibility.

Workers experience the process of accumulating capital as an alien one, where
the object, capital in the form of a machine, dominates the subject, the living
laborer. The capitalist begins from total costs and views labor not as the
source of value but only as an expense. In this way, says Marx, “the extortion
of surplus-value loses its specific character.” For the capitalists it
always appears as though an increase in value results from technology.

New technology lowers socially necessary labor-time and makes those commodities
issuing from it temporarily sell above their value, which is determined by the
average socially necessary labor-time. The “crisis” hits when all capitalists
get the same technology (or are driven out of business) and all commodities sell
for their now lower value, the amount of labor-time “in” them. What pervades the
totally dysfunctional political system is the capitalist’s fantasy thinking that
treats capital as the generator not only of jobs but of value itself.

The appearance of creating value from nothing through speculative finance
capital is twice removed from the “specific character” of creating value in
production and greatly amplifies the hallucinatory thinking of capitalists and
their political allies. Production is the source of both profit and the
illusions of finance capital.
Under finance capital, as Marx put it,
“the way that surplus-value is transformed into the form of profit…is only
further extension of that inversion of subject and object which already occurs
in the course of the production process itself. We saw in that case how all the
subjective forces of labor present themselves as productive forces of capital”
(Capital, Vol. 3, Fernbach trans, p. 136).

DIGGING HUMANITY OUT OF A MENTAL HOLE

Ideologues never tire of projecting anew this disordered consciousness in
which humans begin from reality not as our own creative powers in metabolism
with nature, but bow to technology as capital. In Foreign Affairs
(July/August, 2011), Michael Spence warns of “structural underpinnings” driving
a divergence between “growth and employment,” which means “the United States
should brace itself for a long period of high unemployment” because of the
impending loss of even “high-value-added” jobs that revolutionize technology.
“Value-added” fantastically becomes “capital and labor that turn the inputs into
outputs.” Capital produces no new value. Only living labor, whose proportion
diminishes relative to dead labor, creates new value even as it transfers the
value of the machine over its lifetime in production.

Apple Corp. came to be the iconic center of high-tech jobs and briefly the
company with the largest market capitalization in the world based on an
abundance of alienated, sweated labor. Foxconn, which employs a million workers
in China manufacturing high-tech gadgets for Apple and others, has an
ignominious reputation for workplace injuries and a rash of suicides from long
hours and high production quotas. Workers, who make at most $200 a month, must
sign a promise to not commit suicide. Safety nets have been placed outside
factory windows. Foxconn chairman Terry Gou wants to deal with these erratic
humans by replacing as many as possible with a million robots by 2013. This is
in the name of wanting his employees to move “higher up the value chain” (“Cheap
Robots vs. Cheap Labor”, New York Times, Aug. 14, 2011) in a country
which still has 300 million peasants. Nothing will stop China, rife with worker
revolts, from a reckoning, not only with speculative excesses in finance, but
with its own internal barriers to accumulation.

New revolts, emerging outside the familiar players like political parties and
labor unions–including the mass demonstrations that forced the shutdown of an
ecologically disastrous chemical plant in Dalian, China, or the new people’s
assemblies that have filled the public squares in Europe–reveal masses of
people searching for a way out of capitalism’s upside-down thinking. It’s time
to stop digging ourselves into not only deeper economic stagnation but also the
stagnation of the mental hole that just reproduces capitalist illusions. For
Marx, the only way to wipe away those illusions is when production is run by
freely associated laborers, a conceptual guide-rail for all the new spontaneous
and self-organized revolts.

What’s Behind the Scorn for the Wall Street Protests? September 28, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Economic Crisis, Media.
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Published on Wednesday, September 28, 2011 by Salon.com

 

  by  Glenn Greenwald

 

 

It’s unsurprising that establishment media outlets have been condescending, dismissive and scornful of the ongoing protests on Wall Street.  Any entity that declares itself an adversary of prevailing institutional power is going to be viewed with hostility by establishment-serving institutions and their loyalists.  That’s just the nature of protests that take place outside approved channels, an inevitable by-product of disruptive dissent: those who are most vested in safeguarding and legitimizing establishment prerogatives (which, by definition, includes establishment media outlets) are going to be hostile to those challenges.  As the virtually universal disdain in these same circles for WikiLeaks (and, before that, for the Iraq War protests) demonstrated: the more effectively adversarial it is, the more establishment hostility it’s going to provoke.

Nor is it surprising that much of the most vocal criticisms of the Wall Street protests has come from some self-identified progressives, who one might think would be instinctively sympathetic to the substantive message of the protesters.  In an excellent analysis entitled “Why Establishment Media & the Power Elite Loathe Occupy Wall Street,” Kevin Gosztola chronicles how much of the most scornful criticisms have come from Democratic partisans who — like the politicians to whom they devote their fealty — feign populist opposition to Wall Street for political gain.

Some of this anti-protest posturing is just the all-too-familiar New-Republic-ish eagerness to prove one’s own Seriousness by castigating anyone to the left of, say, Dianne Feinstein or John Kerry; for such individuals, multi-term, pro-Iraq-War Democratic Senator-plutocrats define the outermost left-wing limit of respectability.  Also at play is the jingoistic notion that street protests are valid in Those Bad Contries but not in free, democratic America.

A siginificant aspect of this progressive disdain is grounded in the belief that the only valid form of political activism is support for Democratic Party candidates, and a corresponding desire to undermine anything that distracts from that goal.  Indeed, the loyalists of both parties have an interest in marginalizing anything that might serve as a vehicle for activism outside of fealty to one of the two parties (Fox News‘ firing of Glenn Beck was almost certainly motivated by his frequent deviation from the GOP party-line orthodoxy which Fox exists to foster).

The very idea that the one can effectively battle Wall Street’s corruption and control by working for the Democratic Party is absurd on its face: Wall Street’s favorite candidate in 2008 was Barack Obama, whose administration — led by a Wall Street White House Chief of Staff and Wall-Street-subservient Treasury Secretary and filled to the brim with Goldman Sachs officials — is now working hard to protect bankers from meaningful accountability (and though he’s behind Wall Street’s own Mitt Romney in the Wall Street cash sweepstakes this year, Obama is still doing well); one of Wall Street’s most faithful servants is Chuck Schumer, the money man of the Democratic Party; and the second-ranking Senate Democrat acknowledged — when Democrats controlled the Congress — that the owners of Congress are bankers.  There are individuals who impressively rail against the crony capitalism and corporatism that sustains Wall Street’s power, but they’re no match for the party apparatus that remains fully owned and controlled by it.

But much of this progressive criticism consists of relatively (ostensibly) well-intentioned tactical and organizational critiques of the protests: there wasn’t a clear unified message; it lacked a coherent media strategy; the neo-hippie participants were too off-putting to Middle America; the resulting police brutality overwhelmed the message, etc. etc.  That’s the high-minded form which most progressive scorn for the protests took: it’s just not professionally organized or effective.

Some of these critiques are ludicrous.  Does anyone really not know what the basic message is of this protest: that Wall Street is oozing corruption and criminality and its unrestrained political power — in the form of crony capitalism and ownership of political institutions — is destroying financial security for everyone else?  Beyond that, criticizing protesters for the prominence of police brutality stories is pure victim-blaming (and, independently, having police brutality highlighted is its own benefit).

Most importantly, very few protest movements enjoy perfect clarity about tactics or command widespread support when they begin; they’re designed to spark conversation, raise awareness, attract others to the cause, and build those structural planks as they grow and develop.  Dismissing these incipient protests because they lack fully developed, sophisticated professionalization is akin to pronouncing a three-year-old child worthless because he can’t read Schopenhauer: those who are actually interested in helping it develop will work toward improving those deficiencies, not harp on them in order to belittle its worth.

That said, some of these organizational/tactical critiques are valid enough as far as they go; the protests could probably be more effective with some more imaginative, concerted and savvy organizational strategies. The problem is these criticisms don’t go very far — at all.

* * * * *

There’s a vast and growing apparatus of intimidation designed to deter and control citizen protests.  The most that’s allowed is to assemble with the permission of state authorities and remain roped off in sequestered, out-of-the-way areas: the Orwellian-named free speech zones.  Anything that is even remotely disruptive or threatening is going to be met with aggressive force: pepper spray, mass arrests by highly militarized urban police forces, and aggressive prosecutions.  Recall the wild excesses of force in connection with the 2008 RNC Convention in Minneapolis (I reported on those firsthand); the overzealous prosecutions of civil disobedience activists like Aaron Swartz, environmentalist Tim DeChristopher, and Dan Choi; the war being waged on whistleblowers for the crime of exposing high-level wrongdoing; or the treatment of these Wall Street protesters.

Financial elites and their political servants are well aware that exploding wealth inequality, pervasive economic anxiety, and increasing hostility toward institutions of authority (and corresponding realization that voting fixes very little of this) are likely to bring London-style unrest — and worse — to American soil; it was just two weeks ago that New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg warned that the unemployment crisis could trigger “riots.”  Even the complacent American citizenry — well-trained in learned impotence and acquiescence to (even reverence for) those most responsible for their plight — is going to reach a tipping point of unrest.  There are numerous weapons of surveillance and coercion that have been developed over the last decade in anticipation of that unrest: most of it justified in the name of Terrorism, but all of it featuring decidedly dual-use domestic capability (illustrating what I mean is this chart showing how extensively the Patriot Act has been used in non-Terrorist cases, and how rarely it has been used for Terrorism).

In sum, there is a sprawling apparatus of federal and local militarized police forces and private corporate security designed to send this message: if you participate in protests or other forms of dissent outside of harmless approved channels, you’re going to be harmed in numerous ways.  As Yves Smith put it this week:

I’m beginning to wonder whether the right to assemble is effectively dead in the US. No one who is a wage slave (which is the overwhelming majority of the population) can afford to have an arrest record, even a misdemeanor, in this age of short job tenures and rising use of background checks.

This is all designed to deter any meaningful challenges to the government and corporate institutions which are suffocating them, to bully those who consider such challenges into accepting its futility.  And it works.  In an excellent essay on the Wall Street protests, Dennis Perrin writes:

 

The dissident children were easily, roughly swept aside. Their hearts are in a good place. Their bodies a minor nuisance. They’ll stream back to prove their resolve. And they’ll get pepper sprayed and beaten down again. And again.

I admire these kids. They’re off their asses. Agitating. Arguing. Providing a living example. There’s passion and feeling in their dissent. They’re willing to be punished. It’s easy to mock them, but how many of you would take their place? . . . .

Yet I have doubts. The class war from above demoralizes as much as it incites. Countless people have surrendered. Faded from view. To demonstrate or occupy corporate turf doesn’t seem like a wise option. You’ll get beaten and arrested. For what? Making mortgage payments is tough enough.

Given the costs and risks one incurs from participating in protests like this — to say nothing of the widespread mockery one receives —  it’s natural that most of the participants will be young and not yet desperate to cling to institutional stability.  It’s also natural that this cohort won’t be well-versed (or even interested) in the high arts of media messaging and leadership structures.  Democratic Party precinct captains, MBA students in management theory and corporate communications, and campaign media strategists aren’t the ones who will fuel protests like this; it takes a mindset of passionate dissent and a willingness to remove oneself from the safe confines of institutional respectability.

So, yes, the people willing to engage in protests like these at the start may lack (or reject the need for) media strategies, organizational hierarchies, and messaging theories.  But they’re among the very few people trying to channel widespread anger into activism rather than resignation, and thus deserve support and encouragement — and help — from anyone claiming to be sympathetic to their underlying message.  As Perrin put it:

 

This part of Michigan [where I live] was once militant. From organized labor to student agitation. Now there’s nothing. Shop after shop goes under. Strip malls abandoned. Legalized loan shark parlors spread. Dollar stores hang on. Parking lots riots of weeds. Roads in serious disrepair. Those with jobs feel lucky to be employed. Everyone else is on their own. A general resignation prevails. Life limps by.

Personally, I think there’s substantial value even in those protests that lack “exit goals” and “messaging strategies” and the rest of the platitudes from Power Point presentations by mid-level functionaries at corporate conferences.  Some injustices simply need anger and dissent expressed for its own sake, to make clear that there are citizens who are aware of it and do not accept it.

In Vancouver yesterday, Dick Cheney was met by angry protests chanting “war criminal” at him while he tried to hawk his book, which prompted arrests and an ugly-for-Canada police battle that then became part of the story of his visit.  Is that likely to result in Cheney’s arrest or sway huge numbers of people to change how they think?  No.  But it’s vastly preferable to allowing him to traipse around the world as though he’s a respectable figure unaccompanied by anger over his crimes — anger necessarily expressed outside of the institutions that have failed to check or punish (but rather have shielded and legitimized) those crimes.  And the same is true of Wall Street’s rampant criminality.

But for those who believe that protests are only worthwhile if they translate into quantifiable impact: the lack of organizational sophistication or messaging efficacy on the part of the Wall Street protest is a reason to support it and get involved in it, not turn one’s nose up at it and join in the media demonization.  That’s what one actually sympathetic to its messaging (rather than pretending to be in order more effectively to discredit it) would do.  Anyone who looks at mostly young citizens marching in the street protesting the corruption of Wall Street and the harm it spawns, and decides that what is warranted is mockery and scorn rather than support, is either not seeing things clearly or is motivated by objectives other than the ones being presented.

Read more at Salon.com

© 2011 Salon.com

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Glenn Greenwald

Glenn Greenwald was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator in New York. He is the author of the New York Times Bestselling book “How Would a Patriot Act?,” a critique of the Bush administration’s use of executive power, released in May 2006. His second book, “A Tragic Legacy“, examines the Bush legacy. His next book is titled “With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful.”

Would We Be Better Off If John McCain Were President? August 1, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, John McCain.
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Roger’s note: for those of us who vote the “lesser of evils,” here is a cogent and fascinating argument.  Should it be McCain and not Obama who is selling out wholesale to the military-industrial complex, warring incessantly abroad and helping the rich get richer and the poor poorer at home, not only would the hypocritical Democratic Party be taking up indignant opposition, but, more importantly, there would be massive protests in the street (which is the only effective antidote to Imperial America).
AlterNet /Fred Branfman

Presidents serve the institutional interests of the
corporations behind them. A President McCain may have at least triggered a true
progressive fight.

July 17, 2011  |

Beth Rankin / Flickr Creative Commons
Photo Credit: Beth Rankin / Flickr
The following piece first appeared on Truthdig.

Democrats were united on one issue in the 2008 presidential election: the
absolute disaster that a John McCain victory would have produced.

And they were right. McCain as president would clearly have produced a long
string of catastrophes: He would probably have approved a failed troop surge in
Afghanistan, engaged in worldwide extrajudicial assassination, destabilized nuclear-armed
Pakistan, failed to bring Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu to the negotiating table, expanded prosecution of whistle-blowers, sought to
expand executive branch power, failed to close Guantanamo, failed to act on climate change, pushed both nuclear energy and opened new
areas to domestic oil drilling, failed to reform the financial sector enough to prevent another financial catastrophe, supported an extension of the
Bush tax cuts for the rich, presided over a growing divide between rich and poor, and failed to lower the jobless rate.

Nothing reveals the true state of American politics today more than the fact
that Democratic President Barack Obama has undertaken all of these actions, and
even more significantly, left the Democratic Party far weaker than it would have
been had McCain been elected. Few issues are more important than seeing behind
the screen of a myth-making mass media, and understanding what this demonstrates
about how power in America really works—and what needs to be done to change
it.

First and foremost, McCain would have undoubtedly selected as treasury
secretary an individual nominated by Wall Street—which has a stranglehold on the
economy due to its enjoying 30 to 40 percent of all corporate profits. If he
didn’t select Tim Geithner, a reliable servant of financial interests whose
nomination might have allowed McCain to trumpet his “maverick” credentials,
whoever he did select would clearly have also moved to bail out the financial
institutions and allow them to water down needed financial reforms.

Ditto for the head of his National Economic Council. Although appointing
Larry Summers might have been a bit of a stretch, despite his yeoman work in destroying financial regulation—thus enriching
his old boss Robert Rubin and helping cause the Crash of 2008—McCain could
easily have found a Jack Kemp-like Republican “supply-sider” who would have
duplicated Summers’ signal achievement of expanding the deficit to the highest
levels since 1950 (though perhaps with a slightly higher percentage of tax cuts
than the Obama stimulus). The economy would have continued to sputter along,
with growth rates and joblessness levels little different from today’s, and
possibly even worse.

But McCain’s election would have produced a major political difference: It
would have increased Democratic clout in the House and Senate. First off, there
would have been no Tea Party, no “don’t raise the debt limit unless we gut the
poor,” no “death panel” myth, no “Obama Youth” nonsense. Although there would
have been plenty of criticism from the likes of Rush Limbaugh, the fact remains
that McCain, a Republican war hero, would never have excited the Tea Party
animus as did the “Secret-Muslim Kenyan-Born Big-Government Fascist White-Hating
Antichrist” Obama. Glenn Beck would have remained a crazed nonentity and been
dropped far sooner by Fox News than he was. And Vice President Sarah Palin,
despised by both McCain and his tough White House staff, would have been
deprived of any real power and likely tightly muzzled against criticizing
McCain’s relatively centrist (compared to her positions) policies.

Voters would almost certainly have increased Democratic control of the House
and Senate in 2010, since the Republicans would have been seen as responsible
for the weak U.S. economy. Democrats might even have achieved the long-desired
60 percent majority needed to kill the filibuster in one or both houses.

Democratic control of the House and Senate fostered by disastrous Republican
policies would have severely limited McCain’s ability (as occurred with George
W. Bush) to weaken Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment insurance
and other programs that aid those most in need. (Yes, domestic spending might
have been cut less if McCain had won.)

Had McCain proposed “health insurance reform,” because health insurers saw a
golden opportunity to increase their customer base and profits while retaining
their control, the Democrats would at least have passed a “public option” as
their price for support. And possible Health and Human Services Secretary Newt
Gingrich—placed in that position in a clever move to keep him away from economic
or foreign policy—might have even accelerated needed improvements in
computerizing patient records and other high-tech measures needed to cut health
care costs, actions that he touted in his book on the subject.

In foreign and military policy, McCain would surely have approved Gen. David
Petraeus’ “Afghanistan surge,” possibly increasing the number of U.S. troops
there by 40,000 instead of 33,500. But Gen. Stanley McChrystal would probably
have remained at the helm in Afghanistan, since he and his aides would never
have disparaged McCain to Rolling Stone. McChrystal
might have continued a “counterinsurgency” strategy, observing relatively strict
rules of engagement, unlike his successor, Petraeus, who tore up those rules and
has instead unleashed a brutal cycle of “counterterror” violence in southern
Afghanistan. (Yes, far fewer Afghan civilians might have died had McCain
won.)

McCain, like Obama, would probably have destabilized nuclear-armed Pakistan
and strengthened militant forces there by expanding drone strikes and pushing
the Pakistani military to launch disastrous offensives into tribal areas. And he
would have given as much support as has Obama to Israeli Prime Minister
Netanyahu’s opposition to a peace deal because he believes that present policies
of strangling Gaza, annexing East Jerusalem, expanding West Bank settlements and
walling off Palestinians are succeeding. (It is possible that a McCain secretary
of state might not have incited violence against unarmed American citizens—as
did Hillary Clinton when she stated that Israelis, who
killed nine unarmed members of the 2010 Gaza flotilla, “have the right to defend
themselves” against letter-carrying 2011 Gaza flotilla members.)

While McCain would have wanted to keep 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan
until 2014, he might have been forced to reduce their numbers, as has Obama. For
McCain would have faced a strengthened and emboldened Democratic Congress, which
might have seen electoral gold in responding to polls indicating the public had
turned against the Afghanistan War—as well as a far stronger peace movement
united against Republicans instead of divided as it now is between the desires
for peace and seeing an Obama win in 2012.

Most significantly, if McCain had won, not only would Democrats be looking at
a Democratic landslide in the 2012 presidential race, but the newly elected
Democratic president in 2013 might enjoy both a 60 percent or higher majority in
both houses and a clear public understanding that it was Republican policies
that had sunk the economy. He or she might thus be far better positioned to
enact substantive reforms than was Obama in 2008, or will Obama even if he is
re-elected in 2012.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt took office in March 1933 after a 42-month
Depression blamed entirely on the Republicans. Although he had campaigned as a
moderate, objective conditions both convinced him of the need for fundamental
change—creating a safety net including Social Security, strict financial
regulation, programs to create jobs, etc.—and gave him the congressional
pluralities he needed to achieve them. A Democratic president taking office in
2013 after 12 years of disastrous Republican economic misrule might well have
been likewise pushed and enabled by objective events to create substantive
change.

Furious debate rages among Obama’s Democratic critics today on why he has
largely governed on the big issues as John McCain would have done. Some believe
he retains his principles but has been forced to compromise by political
realities. Others are convinced he was a manipulative politico who lacked any
real convictions in the first place.

But there is a far more likely—and disturbing—possibility. Based on those who
knew him and his books, there is little reason to doubt that the
pre-presidential Obama was a college professor-type who shared the belief system
of his liberalish set: that ending climate change and reducing nuclear weapons
were worthy goals, that it was important to “reset” U.S. policy toward the
Muslim world, that torture and assassination were bad things, that
Canadian-style single-payer health insurance made sense, that whistle-blowing
and freedom of the press should be protected, Congress should have a say in
whether the executive puts the nation into war, and that government should
support community development and empowering poor communities.

Upon taking office, however, Obama—whatever his belief system at that
point—found that he was unable to accomplish these goals for one basic reason:
The president of the United States is far less powerful than media myth
portrays. Domestic power really is in the hands of economic elites and their
lobbyists, and foreign policy really is controlled by U.S. executive branch
national security managers and a “military-industrial complex.” If a president
supports their interests, as did Bush in invading Iraq, he or she can do a lot
of damage. But, absent a crisis, a president who opposes these elites—as Obama
discovered when he tried in the fall of 2009 to get the military to offer him an
alternative to an Afghanistan troop surge—is relatively powerless.

Whether a Ronald Reagan expanding government and running large deficits in
the 1980s despite his stated belief that government was the problem, or a Bill
Clinton imposing a neoliberal regime impoverishing hundreds of millions in the
Third World in the 1990s despite his rhetorical support for helping the poor,
anyone who becomes president has little choice but to serve the institutional
interests of a profoundly amoral and violent executive branch and the
corporations behind them.

The U.S. executive branch functions to promote its version of U.S. economic
and geopolitical interests abroad—including engaging in massive violence which
has killed, wounded or made homeless more than 21 million people in Indochina
and Iraq combined. And it functions at home to maximize the interests of the
corporations and individuals who fund political campaigns—today supported by a
U.S. Supreme Court whose politicized decision to expand corporations’ control
over elections has made a mockery of the very notion of “checks and balances.”
The executive branch’s power extends to the mass media, most of whose
journalists are dependent on executive information leaks and paychecks from
increasingly concentrated media corporations. They thus serve executive power
far more than they challenge it.

No one more demonstrates what happens to a human being who joins the
executive branch than Hillary Clinton, a former peace movement supporter whose
1969 Wellesley commencement address stated that “our prevailing, acquisitive, and
competitive corporate life is not the way of life for us. We’re searching for
more immediate, ecstatic and penetrating modes of living”; praised “a lot of the
New Left [that] harkens back to a lot of the old virtues”; and decried “the
hollow men of anger and bitterness, the bountiful ladies of righteous
degradation, all must be left to a bygone age.” Clinton the individual served on
the board of the Children’s Defense Fund, promoted helping the poor at home and
Third World women abroad and at one point was even often compared to Eleanor
Roosevelt.

Although her transformation began once she decided to try to become
president, it became most visible after she joined the executive branch as
secretary of state. The former peace advocate has now become a major advocate
for war-making, a scourge of whistle-blowers and a facilitator of Israeli
violence.

But while rich and powerful elites have always ruled in America, their power
has periodically been successfully challenged at times of national crisis: the
Civil War, the Progressive era, the Depression. America is clearly headed for
such a moment in the coming decade, as its economy continues to decline due to a
parasitic Wall Street, mounting debt, strong economic competitors, overspending
on the military, waste in the private health care sector and elites declaring
class war against a majority of Americans.

Naomi Klein has written penetratingly of Disaster Capitalism, which
occurs when financial and corporate elites benefit from the economic crises they
cause. But the reverse has also often proved true: a kind of “Disaster
Progressivism” often occurs when self-interested elites cause so much suffering
that policies favoring democracy and the majority become possible.

The United States will clearly face such a crisis in the coming decade. It is
understandable that many Americans will want to focus on re-electing Obama in
2012. Although Democrats and the country would have been better off if McCain
had won in 2008, this is not necessarily true if a Republican wins in
2012—especially if the GOP nominates Sarah Palin or Michele Bachmann.

But however important the 2012 election, far more energy needs to be devoted
to building mass organizations that challenge elite power and develop the kinds
of policies—including massive investment in a “clean energy economic
revolution,” a carbon tax and other tough measures to stave off climate change,
regulating and breaking up the financial sector, cost-effective entitlements
like single-payer health insurance, and public financing of primary and general
elections—which alone can save America and its democracy in the painful decade
to come.

Fred Branfman’s writing has been published in
the New York Times, the Washington Post, the New Republic, and other
publications. He is the author of several books on the Indochina War.

The Democrats Attack Unions Nationwide May 16, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Labor.
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By shamus cooke
(about the author)

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Obvious political truths are sometimes smothered by special interests. The cover-up of the Democrats’ national anti-union agenda is possible because the truth would cause enormous disturbances for the Democratic Party, some labor leaders, liberal organizations and, consequently, the larger political system.
Here is the short list of states that have Democratic governors where labor unions are undergoing severe attacks:   Massachusetts  , Connecticut, Oregon, California, New York, Illinois, Washington, Hawaii, Minnesota, Maryland and New Hampshire. Other states with Democratic governors are attacking unions to a lesser degree.
The Democrats in these states have sought to distance themselves from the Republican governors of Wisconsin and Ohio, who have specifically attacked the collective bargaining rights of unions. The above Democrats all hide their anti-union attacks behind a “deep respect for collective bargaining;” akin to a thief who will steal your car but, out of respect, will not target your deceased Grandma’s diamond earrings.
For example, the anti-union Democratic governor of Connecticut is demanding $1.6 billion in cuts from state workers! The contract has not been ratified yet, but Governor Malloy referred to the agreement as: “historic because of the way we achieved it – we respected the collective bargaining process and we respected each other, negotiating in good faith, without fireworks and without anger.”
The anti-union Democratic governor of the state of Washington uses similar language:
“They [labor unions] contributed [to fixing the state budget deficit] with a salary cut; they contributed by paying more in health care. They have stepped up and said we want to be a part of the solution. I did it by going to the table, respecting their collective bargaining rights and we got the job done.”
The anti-union Democratic governor of Oregon is demanding 20 to 25 percent pay cut for state workers:
“But [says the Governor] those concessions will be made across a bargaining table through our collective bargaining process and with mutual respect.”
This garbage normally wouldn’t fool a 4th grader, but some labor leaders are playing dumb, in the hopes that the above attacks will not ruin the long-standing friendship between unions and Democrats. Of course, such hopes are founded on illusion: workers are not so blind as to not notice that the governors they campaigned for are now demanding their wages and benefits be destroyed in an unprecedented attack.
But by minimizing the Democrats role in targeting unions, some labor leaders are disarming the labor movement. On the one hand, labor leaders of both the AFL-CIO and Change to Win federations have drawn some correct conclusions from the events in Wisconsin, especially when they say that “labor is in the fight of its life” and “the corporations are out to bust unions.” On the other hand, both union federations have made excuses for the anti-union Democratic Party, enabling labor to be vulnerable on its “left” flank to the anti-union attack.
The fight against massive cuts in wages and benefits cannot be separated from the attack on collective bargaining; they are two sides of the same coin. Workers only care about collective bargaining because it enables them to improve their wages and benefits. A union that agrees to massive cuts in wages will not remain a union for long, since workers will not want to pay dues to an organization that cannot protect them. Concessionary bargaining destroys the power of a union in the same way that cancer destroys the body; pulling the plug [ending collective bargaining] comes after losing a battle with cancer.
Fighting the concessionary cancer is the essence of the problem. This is the real lesson of Wisconsin: workers want to fight back against the nationwide attack against their livelihoods, whether it be wages and benefits or collective bargaining. The AFL-CIO and Change to Win realize this to a certain degree; they are separately creating campaigns to deal with the attack, with SEIU jumping out in front with its Fight for a Fair Economy.
These union campaigns are doomed to fail if the energy generated by them is funneled into the 2012 campaign for Barack Obama.
Any successful union campaign will require that massive resources and energy be used, since the attack workers are facing is colossal. If workers are told to halt their campaigns to door knock and make phone calls for Obama, the campaign will lose all legitimacy, since Obama has established himself as a friend of Wall Street and thus no friend to workers. Voting for Democrats has a demoralizing effect on workers when the inevitable “betrayal” happens; and demoralized union members will not fight as effectively for their own pro-union campaign.
A successful union campaign will require that workers are energized about it. SEIU’s campaign focuses largely on making more connections with other labor and community groups, which is very positive. However, without waging an energetic battle to prevent state workers from making massive concessions, the campaign will fail, because workers who make massive concessions will be demoralized and not take the union campaign seriously, since it failed to address their most pressing needs. The fight to defend state workers has the potential — as Wisconsin proved — to unleash tremendous fighting energy among workers, while also uniting those in the broader community, who are eager for working people to fight back.
If labor unions continue down their current path of making huge concessions in wages and benefits while making excuses for the Democrats attacking them, the movement will wither and die.
If, on the contrary, labor unions demand that state budget deficits be fixed by taxing the rich and corporations, workers would respond enthusiastically; if public-sector unions demanded No Cuts, No Concessions, workers would energetically join the union’s cause; if unions banded together to demand that a national jobs campaign be created by taxing the top 1 percent, a flood of energy would erupt from working people in general; if, during election time, unions joined together to run their own independent candidates with these demands, an unstoppable movement would quickly emerge.
Without using aggressive demands aimed at solving the immediate problems facing working people, a social movement cannot be created to deal with the crisis facing labor unions and working people in general.    ONLY a national social movement with Wisconsin-like energy has the potential to shift the direction in which the country is going, away from the rich and corporations towards working people. Such a social movement cannot be born from soft demands, half-fought battles, or campaigning for Democrats.

Shamus Cooke is a social service worker, trade unionist, and writer for  Workers Action (www.workerscompass.org)

1) http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/14/nyregion/connecticut-reaches-deal-with-unions-to-close-budget-shortfall.html?_r=2&hp

2) http://www.npr.org/2011/02/27/134103416/Governors-Meet-As-Pro-Union-Protests-Spread

3) http://www.katu.com/news/local/117565323.html

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