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2016: The Year the Americans Found out Our Elections Are Rigged May 15, 2016

Posted by rogerhollander in 2016 election, bernie sanders, Democracy, donald trump, Hillary Clinton, Uncategorized.
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Roger’s note: this may be the year that Americans found out, but of course, in the sense of capital in the form of corporations and military limiting and controlling candidacies and choices, US elections have always been rigged.  The Trump and Sanders phenomena are somewhat unique challenges to the two-party oligarchy (Republicrats), with the difference being that the Republicans did not have the degree of entrenchment that the Democrats have in Hillary Clinton (although I admit that at first I was almost sure that Jeb Bush would in the nomination), thereby allowing the tide of populist support for Trump to sweep away the Republican establishment.  Probably only the indictment of Clinton for her blatant email security breaches would give Sanders a fighting chance to win the Democratic nomination in spite of his overwhelming grass roots popularity, the negatives about Clinton, garden variety misogyny, and polls hat show him dong better against Trump (I surf Instagram and find literally dozens of pro Bernie sites, a handful of right wingers, and absolutely not one Hillary Clinton supporter).

And by all means don’t miss George Carlin’s video at the end of this piece.  It is brilliant.

march_of_tyranny

“Now it’s just an oligarchy, with unlimited political bribery being the essence of getting the nominations for president or to elect the president. And the same thing applies to governors, and U.S. senators and congress members.” – Former President Jimmy Carter

By Nick Bernabe

Source: AntiMedia

The 2016 election has been a wild ride, with two insurgent grassroots campaigns literally giving the political establishment a run for its money. But as the events of this presidential primary season play out, it’s becoming clear the U.S. election — and even more so, the presidential race — is a big scam being perpetrated on the American people.

Events from the last week have exposed the system as an illusion of choice and a farce. They have reinforced at least one study showing the U.S. is an oligarchy rather than a democratic republic.

The Wyoming democratic caucus took place on Saturday, purportedly to allow voters to have their voices heard in the race between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. Sanders lost the Wyoming caucus by winning it with a 12 percent margin.

Wait, what?

How does one lose by winning 56 percent of the votes? This happens when the political process is, according to the New York Post, “rigged” by superdelegates. The Postsummed up this “strange” phenomenon:

“[U]nder the Democratic Party’s oddball delegate system, Sanders’ winning streak — he has won seven out of the past eight contests — counts for little.

“In fact, despite his win, he splits Wyoming’s 14 pledged delegates 7 to 7 under the caucus calculus.

“Clinton, meanwhile, also gets the state’s four superdelegates — who had already pledged their allegiance to her in January. So despite ‘losing,’ she triumphs 11-7 in the delegate tally.”

Even media pundits on MSNBC openly called the process rigged:

The superdelegate process is complicated, as we’ve noted before, but they have one essential function: to prevent candidates like Bernie Sanders from winning the Democratic nomination.

Don’t believe me? Here’s a video of Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz explaining superdelegates:

Adding insult to injury, even when Sanders does win states (despite Hillary’s advantage in superdelegates), the media can be reliably counted on to discount Sanders’s wins asnothing more than prolonging the electoral process, which will inevitably elect the presumptive nominee, Hillary Clinton. This pervasive commentary continues despite the fact Sanders only trails her by several hundred pledged delegates.

Meanwhile, according to the same media, the non-establishment Trump campaign is threatened every time Ted Cruz beats him — even though Trump leads by a larger percentage of pledged delegates than Clinton does. When Clinton loses, it doesn’t matter because she already has the nomination locked up. When Trump loses, his campaign is in big trouble. Starting to see the problem with the media coverage?

When you examine these media narratives, a troubling pattern emerges that goes beyond the political establishment’s self-interest. You begin to see that American corporate media also functions as an arm of the political machine, protecting establishment candidates while attacking — or dismissing — candidates who seem non-establishment.

This brings us to the events that transpired during the Republican nomination process in Colorado on Saturday. The Republican Party of Colorado didn’t even bother letting people vote before using arcane rules to strip the democratic process of its democracy. According to the Denver Post:

“Colorado GOP leaders canceled the party’s presidential straw poll in August to avoid binding its delegates to a candidate who may not survive until the Republican National Convention in July.

“Instead, Republicans selected national delegates through the caucus process, a move that put the election of national delegates in the hands of party insiders and activists — leaving roughly 90 percent of the more than 1 million Republican voters on the sidelines.”

Unsurprisingly, Trump’s non-establishment campaign walked away with zero delegates. They were all “awarded” to Ted Cruz.

“How is it possible that the people of the great State of Colorado never got to vote in the Republican Primary? Great anger — totally unfair!” Trump said on Twitter. “The people of Colorado had their vote taken away from them by the phony politicians. Biggest story in politics. This will not be allowed!”

In an interview on Monday, Trump was even more frank. “The system is rigged, it’s crooked,” he said.

The Colorado GOP didn’t even bother hiding its intentions, tweeting — then quickly removing — what was possibly the most honest insight into the back-door dealing so far this election season:

colorado-gop

The Republican party chooses the nominee, not the voting public. Still in disbelief? Watch a Republican National Committee member explain it better than I can:

What we are witnessing — for the first time on a large scale — is the political establishment’s true role in selecting the president of the United States. The illusion of choice has become apparent. The establishment anoints their two picks for president, and the country proceeds to argue vehemently over the two candidates they are spoon-fed. This dynamic is reminiscent of a prophetic 1998 quote from philosopher Noam Chomsky:

“The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum.”

Ahh, the illusion of choice. Sure, in reality there are third party candidates who should be given a fair shake, but in our mainstream media-augmented reality, third parties do not exist. They aren’t mentioned. They aren’t even included in presidential debates. This is another way the media stifles healthy debate, stamps out dissenting opinions, and preserves the status-quo.

We The People don’t choose our presidents; they are hand-picked by a powerful group of political party insiders — parties that have long since sold out to the highest bidders. What we have on our hands in America is a rigged oligarchy, and that’s not a conspiracy theory — it’s fact. Now, however, millions of Americans are becoming aware of it thanks to the populist campaigns of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump. America’s elections are controlled by a big club, but unfortunately, “you ain’t in it!”

Sanders Prepares to Bow Down to Hillary, But Many of His Supporters Won’t May 8, 2016

Posted by rogerhollander in 2016 election, bernie sanders, donald trump, Foreign Policy, Hillary Clinton, Imperialism, Uncategorized.
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Roger’s note: this article refers to Bernie Sanders as an “imperialist pig.”  That’s a pretty strong dose of medicine.  The Internet is saturated with Bernie supporters accolades balanced by Clinton trashing (this does warm the heart, however).  They would not take kindly to the denigration of their Saviour any more than an evangelical Christian to hers. Yet the record is the record.  From Israel to Afghanistan to Syria to drone missiles whose victims indeed feel the bern, Sanders has been on the side of American imperialism.  Ironically, it is Trump who has challenged the Empire, although as this article states, if he doesn’t change that tune he will pay for it.  

As for reforming the Democratic Party, I gave up on that after I worked my butt of to elect Lyndon Baines Johnson, 1964 election campaign peace candidate and subsequent Vietnam War Criminal.

I got a real good laugh when I read this today on an Instagram site:

“You don’t like Isis?  Join it and change the system from the inside.”

I recommend this wisdom to all those kindly and idealistic souls who have their heart, if not their mind, in the right place and hope to turn the Democratic Party into the party of peace and freedom.  Faith based politics.

 

From Black Agenda Report, April 27, 2016

Bernie Sanders has endorsed President Obama’s troop escalation in Syria, once again showing that “he is no more ‘progressive’ than Obama on foreign policy, and just as dishonest – a true Democrat. Sanders will ultimately bow to Hillary Clinton, while still claiming that the Democratic Party can be transformed from the inside. However, millions will have witnessed that the campaign proves exactly the opposite – and will seek alternatives.

by BAR executive editor Glen Ford

“His underlings are telling the troops that this whole electoral exercise will be worthwhile if they succeed in pushing through a progressive party platform, in Philadelphia.”

The 2016 presidential season will only be of historical significance if it leads to a fracturing of the duopoly electoral system in the United States, a “trap within a trap” in which the rich control both parties – one of which is always the overt party of white supremacy. Donald Trump has already succeeded in creating a “market” for a second right-wing party by stripping the GOP’s’ appeal to its raw, racist, white nationalist essentials – a political nightmare for every corporate public relations department in the nation. Corporate logos will be hidden in brown paper bags at the Republican convention, in Cleveland.

It is difficult to imagine how the Trump rank and file and the party’s corporate “establishment” will paper over their irreconcilable differences, rooted in the party’s failure to preserve skin privilege and good jobs in a White Man’s Country. Just as brazenly, Trump, the rabble rousing billionaire, has violated the most sacred ruling class taboos by rejecting the national security rationale for the hyper-aggressive, ever-expanding, global U.S. military presence. If Trump fails to convincingly recant such heresies, the rulers will deal with him with extreme prejudice.

“Trump has violated the most sacred ruling class taboos by rejecting the national security rationale for the hyper-aggressive, ever-expanding, global U.S. military presence.”

Bernie Sanders presents no such threat to Empire. He supports President Obama’s illegal drone wars and the 15-year occupation of Afghanistan. Should he somehow be elected president, Sanders would follow Obama’s practice of reserving Tuesday’s for choosing targets from his “Kill List.” To circumvent U.S. and international prohibitions against assassination, Sanders offers the same “self-defense” justification as the Israelis do, when they slaughter Palestinians by the thousands. “There are people out there who want to kill Americans, who want to attack this country, and I think we have a right to defend ourselves,” Sanders told Chris Hayes, of MSNBC.

The nominally socialist senator from Vermont claims that he differs from Hillary Clinton on foreign policy because she “is too much into regime change and a little bit too aggressive without knowing what the unintended consequences might be.” During the New Hampshire debate, Sanders said the ouster of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein “destabilized the entire region” and the overthrow and death of Muammar Gaddafi “created a vacuum for ISIS” in Libya. “Yes, we could get rid of Assad tomorrow,” Sanders told the crowd, back in February, “but that would create another political vacuum that would benefit ISIS.”

“It doesn’t bother Sanders a bit that the U.S. presence on sovereign Syrian soil is illegal, an act of war.”

His leftish boosters clung to these utterances as proof that Sanders was, deep down, a peaceable kind of guy, in sharp contrast to “Queen of Chaos” Clinton. Tuesday, however, as he was losing four of five primaries, Sanders showed that he is no less a warlord than Barack Obama – who, like Sanders, based his “peace candidate” appeal on his 2002 opposition to the Iraq invasion. Obama announced he was sending 250 more U.S. Special Forces troops into Syria, supposedly to fight ISIS and to arm and train more of those elusive, damn-near-extinct “moderate” rebels. It doesn’t bother Sanders a bit that the U.S. presence on sovereign Syrian soil is illegal, an act of war, as is U.S. funding and training of fighters attempting “regime change.”

“Here’s the bottom line,” said Sanders. “ISIS has got to be destroyed, and the way that ISIS must be destroyed is not through American troops fighting on the ground.” U.S. Special Forces have already been engaged in combat operations in Syria, as Sanders should know. Nevertheless, he plowed on:

“I think what the president is talking about is having American troops training Muslim troops, helping to supply the military equipment they need, and I do support that effort. We need a broad coalition of Muslim troops on the ground. We have had some success in the last year or so putting ISIS on the defensive, we’ve got to continue that effort.”

What Sanders is saying is that he would continue Obama’s policy of regime change, despite the “unintended consequences” and its clear illegality. He is no more “progressive” than Obama on foreign policy, and just as dishonest – a true Democrat.

Sanders opposes ‘regime change’ except when it is perpetrated by a Democratic administration.”

The same day, Sanders sidestepped Joe Scarborough’s attempts to get him to agree that Hillary Clinton is a “hawk” on foreign policy. “I don’t want to characterize her, but I think our views on foreign policy are different,” Sanders told the MSNBC host. “I think my views are a lot closer to President Obama’s than they are to Hillary Clinton’s…. I believe it must be Muslim troops on the ground who do the fighting with the support of the United States. I will do everything that I can to prevent our troops from getting involved in perpetual warfare in the Middle East.”

A distinction without a difference, as they say. Sanders opposes “regime change” except when it is perpetrated by a Democratic administration. He really doesn’t mind U.S. “boots on the ground” in other people’s countries, as long as they are arming and training people of native religions and races to kill others of their kind, and U.S. casualties are kept to a minimum.

Sanders is an imperialist pig. Although his self-image is that of a Scandinavian social democrat, Sanders is more like a French “socialist” who supports the maintenance of a safety net for his own people, but reserves the right to routinely commit mass murder in the former colonies in order to preserve the French “way of life” and “values.”

With the mathematics of the presidential primary race now undeniable, Sanders is preparing his supporters to scale back their dreams of social transformation – which, for some of them, includes a genuine retreat from Empire as well as a new domestic deal. His underlings are telling the troops that this whole electoral exercise will be worthwhile if they succeed in pushing through a progressive party platform, in Philadelphia. Then it will be time to unite with Hillary, the plutocrats’ candidate, in the battle against the dreaded Trumpster.

Sanders is preparing his supporters to scale back their dreams of social transformation.”

Bernie Sanders is peddling the sucker’s line, that the Democratic Party can be transformed from the inside. However, the actual experience of the campaign, as witnessed by millions of young, newly energized citizens, is proving exactly the opposite; that this corporate-crafted Democratic mechanism and its interlocking Republican counterpart are tools of the oligarchy, designed to manufacture consent to corporate rule and corral and crush dissent.

When Sanders consummates his “sheep dog” assignment, he will deflate to his original state: a small-town Democratic Party operative. Most of his supporters will acquiesce to Hillary’s nomination – just as most people everywhere acquiesce to everything most of the time. But, a significant proportion, numbering in the millions, and including the half of young African Americans that have rejected the Black Misleadership Class’s slavish allegiance to the Democratic Party hierarchy, will not.  And, although Hillary Clinton will surely win victory in November with her “big tent” Democratic Party – flush with white suburbanites who, only yesterday, were Republicans – it will be a Party that is even more hostile to Blacks and progressives than before Donald Trump plunged the duopoly into crisis.

Millions of people, especially young folks, will be looking for an alternative to the Democrats and the Republicans – or to electoral politics, entirely. It’s up to the Left to give it to them.

BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.

The 2016 Elections Reflect General Crisis of Imperialism April 8, 2016

Posted by rogerhollander in 2016 election, bernie sanders, Democracy, donald trump, Imperialism, Uncategorized.
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Roger’s note: This article is helpful in that it puts the Trump and Sanders campaigns in a broader context than the  totally corrupt two party system and the Hobson’s choice of picking the lesser of evils (which will probably end up being Hillary Clinton, who is Margaret Thatcher in sheep’s clothing).  That context being the virtually iron clad rule of capital (military industrial complex) over the political sphere in the United States.  What the article doesn’t do, despite use of the word “revolutionary,”  is pose a concrete alternative, which is the sixty four dollar question, abut which Karl Marx spent a lifetime of philosophical/political thought and action.  This is something that is necessary today for those who want genuine, not illusionary, change.

DUOPOLY

Presidential candidates Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders represent no danger to U.S. imperialism, but “the two-party establishment has not been kind to the Trump and Sanders development because it reflects the general crisis in the system.” This election cycle has “opened up room for debate that didn’t previously exist in the Obama era. It is what principled forces of revolutionary struggle do with this room that matters.”

The 2016 Elections Reflect General Crisis of Imperialism

by Danny Haiphong, http://www.blackagendareport.com, April 5, 2016

“The forces of US capital neither want an unpredictable Commander in Chief nor one that will inspire masses of people to push for concrete demands.”

Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are products of US imperialism’s post-Obama stupor. After eight years of bipartisan consensus on nearly every venture of imperialism, from privatization to endless war, Washington’s corporate duopoly finds itself in a delicate moment. Trump has split the Republican Party with his unorthodox combination of white supremacist vitriol and populist appeal. The Bernie Sanders campaign, on the other hand, has galvanized a large section of the Democratic Party base to support a New Deal politician. The two-party establishment has not been kind to the Trump and Sanders development because it reflects the general crisis in the system.

However, there should be no illusions about whether Trump or Sanders would alter the course of US imperialism. The answer is no. Both are running on establishment party tickets, which are fully indebted to US imperialism. War, privatization, and racist terrorism will exist and persist as long as the US is ruled by capital. However, the significance of Trump and Sanders cannot be ignored. Both present a potential nightmare for imperialism as discontent with the rule of capital reaches a high point.

The forces of US capital neither want an unpredictable Commander in Chief nor one that will inspire masses of people to push for concrete demands. Trump is the former and Sanders is the latter. Although the corporate media has given Trump the most attention of any candidate, the Republican Party establishment has revolted against him. Sanders has survived multiple attacks from the Democratic Party establishment, including the media. Trump and Sanders are not threats to the two-party duopoly in and of themselves. However, what their campaigns represent certainty is and the ruling class knows it.

“Masses of people are frustrated and are looking for an alternative.”

The Sanders and Trump phenomenon emerged from the internal revolt occurring in the respective bases of the Democratic and Republican Party. Young people across racial and gender lines favor Sanders while older Democrats favor Clinton. Donald Trump has become the most popular Republican Party candidate by attaching allegiance to white supremacy to real economic grievances. Since the Reagan era, the Republican Party has relied solely on appealing to racism for popular support. Over this same period, large sections of Republican Party supporters have lost significant economic ground to the forces of Wall Street.
Trump and Sanders have promised to reverse this trend in their own way. US capitalist society is crumbling and the 2016 elections reflect the growing cracks. Persistent joblessness, poverty, and debt have left workers disillusioned with the enormous profits raked in by lords of capital. US imperialism’s endless path of destruction all around the world no longer provides material benefit to any section of workers in the US. Mass surveillance, police brutality, and mass Black Incarceration have plummeted trust in the US state. Masses of people are frustrated and are looking for an alternative.

But workers and oppressed people remain stuck in the two-party corporate duopoly because the revolt of the 2016 elections has taken place within the establishment parties. However, in the coming months, the capitalist class will be forced to choose which candidate is best suited to run the Empire. This President will be tasked with managing the affairs of capital in a much more hostile political terrain. Trump and Sanders have energized a large section of the population around legitimate concerns about the various ills that stem from capitalist rule. However, the atmosphere of enthusiasm around this election should not replace a concrete analysis of where the left should go from here.

“US capitalist society is crumbling and the 2016 elections reflect the growing cracks.”

The left is visibly torn about this election cycle. Some have focused energy primarily on preventing a Trump victory while others have become enamored with Bernie Sanders.  Some believe that Hilary Clinton is the most dangerous candidate in the race while others think that Trump represents the rise of fascism in the US. The contradictions of this election cycle have opened up room for debate that didn’t previously exist in the Obama era. It is what principled forces of revolutionary struggle do with this room that matters.

The two-party corporate duopoly will always be a duopoly regardless of which candidates happen to speak to the issues afflicting the oppressed. The oppressed and working class inside the Empire has yet to grasp onto a political language and direction necessary to spur a mass movement. Even so, the US ruling class is genuinely concerned that this election cycle will inspire people to rebel against its two-party dictatorship of capital. The sooner this concern becomes a reality, the closer imperialism’s crisis comes to a revolutionary conclusion. The post-Obama hangover has the potential to be a violent one.

Danny Haiphong is an Asian activist and political analyst in the Boston area. He can be reached at wakeupriseup1990@gmail.com.

#BlackLivesMatter and the Democrats: How Disruption Can Lead to Collaboration August 17, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Hillary Clinton, Race, Racism, Revolution.
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by BAR executive editor Glen Ford

The #Black Lives Matter organization may believe that it is confronting, rather than collaborating with, the Democratic Party, by disrupting candidates’ speeches. However, the tactic inevitably leads to “either a direct or indirect, implicit endorsement of the more responsive candidate(s).” In the absence of radical #BLM demands, “all that is left are the petty reform promises that can be squeezed out of Democrats.” That’s not movement politics.

If the emerging movement allows itself to be sucked into Democratic Party politics, it is doomed.”

A year after the police murder of Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri, an incipient mass movement struggles to congeal and define itself. The emergent movement is rooted in resistance to systemic state violence and repression in Black America, yet its trajectory wobbles under the push and pull of the contending forces that have been set in motion, and is further distorted by relentless pressures from a power structure that pursues simultaneous strategies of both cooptation and annihilation.

Physical annihilation is a constant threat to the “street” component of the movement, such as the young people of Ferguson whose defiance of the armed occupation inspired a national mobilization, and whose urban guerilla language resonates in all the inner cities of the nation. They are the cohort whose social existence has been shaped and defined by a mass Black incarceration regime inaugurated two generations ago as the national response to the Black movements of the Sixties. The clearly visible fact that many of the cops that occupied Ferguson during this week’s anniversary of Michael Brown’s murder were physically afraid – and that the “street” brothers and sisters were demonstrably not – is all the proof we need that Black youth in what we used to call the “ghetto” remain eager to confront their tormentors.

Physical annihilation, or a lifetime of social death through imprisonment, is also only a presidential executive order away for the “above ground” activists of the movement, whose comings, goings and communications are carefully tracked by the First Black President’s secret police, as reported byIntercept. The various components of what is collectively called the Black Lives Matter movement are on the domestic enemies list of Homeland Security, overseen by Jeh Johnson, a Black man, and the FBI, under the overall direction of Attorney General Loretta Lynch, a Black woman.

“Black youth in what we used to call the “ghetto” remain eager to confront their tormentors.”

Lynch, like her predecessor, Eric Holder, believes her race entitles her to play both Lord High Prosecutor and Black role model. Thus, as a Black “elder” and “credit to her race,” Lynch purports to have the moral authority to define what the movement should be doing to commemorate Michael Brown’s murder. “The weekend’s events were peaceful and promoted a message of reconciliation and healing,” she said – as if people should reconcile themselves to a system that kills a Black person roughly every day, has resulted in one out of every eight prison inmates in the world being an African American; a system that cannot possibly be healed. “But incidents of violence, such as we saw last night,” Lynch warns, switching to her Lord High Prosecutor persona, “are contrary to both that message, along with everything [we] have worked to achieve over the past year.”

What the Obama administration has spent the year trying to do, is co-opt the same activists they are building dossiers on, in preparation for possible future detention. There are clear limits, however, to the enticements that can be offered by an administration that, like all Democratic and Republican governments in the United States for the past 45 years, is totally committed to maintenance of the Mass Black Incarceration regime – albeit with some tinkering at the margins.

The greatest asset of the movement cooptation project is the Democratic Party, itself, an institution that thoroughly dominates Black politics at every level of community life. Not only are Black elected officials overwhelmingly Democrats, but virtually all of the established Black civic organizations – the NAACP, the National Urban League, most politically active Black churches, fraternities and sororities – act as annexes of the Democratic Party. Two generations after the disbanding of the Black grassroots movement and the independent politics that grew out of that movement, the Democratic Party permeates political discourse in Black America. And the Democratic Party is where progressive movements go to die.

“There are clear limits to the enticements that can be offered by an administration that is totally committed to maintenance of the Mass Black Incarceration regime.”

If the emerging movement allows itself to be sucked into Democratic Party politics, it is doomed. Yet, the #BlackLivesMatter organization, a structured group with a highly visible leadership and chapters in 26 cities, is now circling the event-horizon of the Democratic Black Hole. To the extent that it, and other movement organizations, have gotten money from labor unions, they are accepting Democratic Party cash, since organized labor in the U.S. is also an extension of – and a cash cow to – the Democrats. Indeed, labor union money in a presidential election year is far more dangerous to the independence of the movement than grants from outfits like the Ford Foundation. Labor wants measureable results for its dollars, and will make its money talk at the ballot box.

#BlackLivesMatter activists may convince themselves that they are confronting the ruling class electoral duopoly by disrupting presidential candidates’ speeches, but the tactic leads straight to cooptation. What is the purpose? If #BLM’s goal is to push the candidates to adopt better positions on criminal justice reform, what happens afterwards? The logic of the tactic leads to either a direct or indirect, implicit endorsement of the more responsive candidate(s). Otherwise, why should #BLM – or the candidates – go through the exercise?

Former Maryland governor and Baltimore mayor Martin OMalley, whose draconian street-sweeps resulted in the arrest of 750,000 people in one year – more than the total population of the city – submitted a full-blown criminal justice system proposal after being confronted by #BLM. Will it be graded? Is #BLM in the business of rating candidates? If so, then the group is inevitably acting as a Democratic Party lobby/constituency, and is wedded to certain electoral outcomes. At that point, it ceases being an independent movement, or an example of independent Black politics. It’s just another brand of Democrat.

If the goal is to pressure candidates to put forward “better” positions on criminal justice or other issues, then what #BLM is actually doing is nudging Democrats towards incremental reform. In the absence of radical #BLM demands, all that is left are the petty reform promises that can be squeezed out of Democrats. (None of this works with the Republican White Man’s Party.)

The #BLM tactic avoids formulation and aggressive agitation of core movement demands. But, a movement is defined by its demands – which is one reason that the current mobilization is best described as an “incipient” movement; a mobilization with great promise.

“Any sustained Black movement must, of necessity, be in opposition to the Democratic Party and its civic society annexes.”

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. denounced Democratic president and sometimes ally Lyndon Johnson over the Vietnam War, in 1967, and rejected even the appearance of collaboration with the ruling class duopoly. King understood that his job was to move masses of people towards their own empowerment, not to act as an interest group or lobby in the corridors of the system. (Malcolm X, and later, the Black Panther Party, would have pilloried King if he had.) Half a century later, the Democratic Party is full of Black officials, but, in light of their performance in office, this is more evidence of defeat than victory. Two months before Michael Brown was murdered in Ferguson, 80 percent of the Congressional Black Caucus – four out of five full-voting members – supported continued Pentagon transfers of military weapons and gear to local police departments, including the Black congressman representing Ferguson, William “Lacy” Clay.

The Democratic Party, like its Republican duopoly cousin, is a criminal enterprise, polluting the politics of Black America. Any sustained Black movement must, of necessity, be in opposition to the Democratic Party and its civic society annexes. They are the enemies, within, the people who have facilitated the mass Black incarceration regime for two generations. “Lacy” Clay and his CBC colleagues have killed thousands of Michael Browns.

People’s core demands ring out in every demonstration. When Black protesters shout, “Killer cops out of our neighborhood,” they aren’t referring to a couple of especially bad apples; they’re talking about the whole damn occupation army. That’s why the Black Is Back Coalition for Social Justice, Peace and Reparations, which holds its national conference in Philadelphia,August 22 and 23, believes “Black Community Control of the Police” is a righteous, self-determinationist demand. Other groups may feel strongly about other demands, and that’s fine. Movements are lively places. But, a movement cannot congeal without core demands.

BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted atGlen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.

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, rightwing 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

Posted by rogerhollander in California, Democracy, Health.
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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.