Chomsky on state power, domestic surveillance and ‘national’ security

Writing for In These Times, Noam Chomsky offered the following observations about the kind of security sought by the security-surveillance state:

In an interview on German TV, Edward J. Snowden said that his “breaking point” was “seeing Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, directly lie under oath to Congress” by denying the existence of a domestic spying program conducted by the National Security Agency.

Snowden elaborated that “The public had a right to know about these programs. The public had a right to know that which the government is doing in its name, and that which the government is doing against the public.”

The same could be justly said by Daniel Ellsberg, Chelsea Manning and other courageous figures who acted on the same democratic principle.

The government stance is quite different: The public doesn’t have the right to know because security thus is undermined — severely so, as officials assert.

There are several good reasons to be skeptical about such a response. The first is that it’s almost completely predictable: When a government’s act is exposed, the government reflexively pleads security. The predictable response therefore carries little information.

A second reason for skepticism is the nature of the evidence presented. International relations scholar John Mearsheimer writes that “The Obama administration, not surprisingly, initially claimed that the NSA’s spying played a key role in thwarting 54 terrorist plots against the United States, implying it violated the Fourth Amendment for good reason.

“This was a lie, however. Gen. Keith Alexander, the NSA director, eventually admitted to Congress that he could claim only one success, and that involved catching a Somali immigrant and three cohorts living in San Diego who had sent $8,500 to a terrorist group in Somalia.”

A similar conclusion was reached by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, established by the government to investigate the NSA programs and therefore granted extensive access to classified materials and to security officials. There is, of course, a sense in which security is threatened by public awareness — namely, security of state power from exposure.

The basic insight was expressed well by the Harvard political scientist Samuel P. Huntington: “The architects of power in the United States must create a force that can be felt but not seen. Power remains strong when it remains in the dark; exposed to the sunlight it begins to evaporate.”

Indeed, power does decay when made public, and we may recall here that Huntington was a leading figure of the excess of democracy movement (1970s) which sought to rehabilitate and secure state authority after federal institutions had weathered poorly the many political crises of the 1960s. American democracy was thought to be a burden for those governing America, according to these analysts. The governors could not govern if the governed refused to affirm governmental power. Today, on the other hand, the ‘excesses’ of an energetic civil society do not trouble much America’s national political institutions. The latest crisis of American democracy has another cause:

Is there a new crisis of democracy? Certainly, the American public seems to think so. Anger with politicians and institutions of government is much greater than it was in 1975. According to American National Election Studies polls, in 1964, 76 percent of Americans agreed with the statement “You can trust the government in Washington to do what is right just about always or most of the time.” By the late 1970s, that number had dropped to the high 40s. In 2008, it was 30 percent. In January 2010, it had fallen to 19 percent.

With trust goes authority. When trust is lacking, when citizens no longer believe their representatives, the wielders of power necessarily find themselves placed on a slippery slope with illegitimacy sitting at the bottom of the plane. If the American democracy is now in crisis, this crisis would have little or nothing to do with democratization efforts originating from below. The crisis is not a by-product of the Tea Party or Occupy movements. Nor has it issued from anti-system tendencies within the duopoly parties or from an emerging anti-system party the existence of which effectively threatens the American political system as such. Rather, the crisis originates instead in the anti-democratic qualities which now define governmental institutions in the United States, qualities which elicit mistrust in the governed. The federal government is neither responsive nor responsible, neither accountable nor transparent. Its failures are many, sometimes obvious and often painful for its citizens as well as for others subject to its operations. It has earned the mistrust it enjoys, for it is more akin to an automaton than a place where citizens gather in order to govern themselves.

updated 3.11.2014

Austerity kills

It is always worth making the effort to recognize that an unnecessary but not pointless austerity politics creates adverse and, sometimes, existential problems for those individuals without the means or power to solve their personal problems. These individuals can only suffer what they cannot avoid. Scot Rosenzweig of Allentown, PA confronted Pennsylvania Governor Corbett with this issue, forcing him to defend his support for his Healthy Pennsylvania project, derided by its critics as CorbettCare. Corbett notoriously refused to accept the greater Medicaid monies authorized by the Affordable Care Act. Corbett eventually proposed a plan that would limit the scope and efficacy of the health care provided by the state of Pennsylvania to its poorest citizens. Currently, thanks to Corbett’s ideologically motivated scheming, Pennsylvania has neither an expanded Medicaid program nor even the lesser CorbettCare. At least one death can be attributed to this lack:

Her death did not faze Corbett, however.

First Black President© to open Plantations!

A White House press release announced the good news:

For decades before the economic crisis, local communities were transformed as jobs were sent overseas and middle class Americans worked harder and harder but found it more difficult to get ahead.  Announced in last year’s State of the Union Address, the Promise Zone Initiative is part of the President’s plan to create a better bargain for the middle-class by partnering with local communities and businesses to create jobs, increase economic security, expand educational opportunities, increase access to quality, affordable housing and improve public safety.  Today, the President announced the next step in those efforts by naming the first five “Promise Zones”.

The first five Zones, located in San Antonio, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Southeastern Kentucky, and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, have each put forward a plan on how they will partner with local business and community leaders to make investments that reward hard work and expand opportunity.  In exchange, these designees will receive the resources and flexibility they need to achieve their goals.

Each of these designees knows and has demonstrated that it takes a collaborative effort – between private business and federal, state, tribal and local officials; faith-based and non-profit organizations; children and parents – to ensure that hard work leads to a decent living for every American, in every community.

Good jobs for everyone? Well, no. The program is limited in scope (it does not include everyone in need) and lacks a living wage requirement (wages and benefits will reflect the labor market for unskilled labor). Is this welfare for the common man and woman? Again, no. The program will be formed around tax breaks, regulation suspensions and similar corporate welfare programs. The tacit goal is to create a government sponsored low-wage, low-regulation labor market in areas which suffer from a labor market surplus. The program is, in fact, a rehash of what were once called Urban Enterprise Zones. The Promise Zones are, plainly put, plantations, as Mike Whitney pointed out:

Plantations were a familiar feature of the antebellum South, but were abandoned following the Civil War. Now a new generation of corporate kleptocrats want to revive the tradition. They think that weakening consumer demand and persistent stagnation can only be overcome by skirting vital labor protections and shifting more of the cost of production onto workers. Obama’s promise zones provide a way for big business to slip the chains of “onerous” regulations and restore, what many CEO’s believe to be, the Natural Order, that is, a Darwinian, dog-eat-dog world where only the strongest and most cunning survive.

I wonder if Foxconnthe “we drive our employees to commit suicide” people — will open an Arbeitslager in the United States? They surely are the kind of company Obama wants to attract.

The PRC — A worker’s paradise

 

Ariel Sharon — dead

I’d say this inevitable event came much too soon. Sharon would have lived another 1,000 years if the universe were a justice machine. But it isn’t.

He no longer suffers. His friends and admirers ought to rejoice.

The Iraq genocide

Barry Lando, at one time an investigative producer for 60 Minutes, made a succinct yet indirect case for identifying America’s efforts in Iraq as a genocide. About the United States’ post-9.11 war Lando wrote the following: “The military onslaught and the American rule that immediately followed, destroyed not just the people and infrastructure of Iraq, but the very fiber of the nation.”

Why genocide? When one couples the invasion and occupation with American long-term support for Saddam Hussein, with George H.W. Bush‘s inciting a rebellion in Iraq which he later would not support, with America’s attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure during and after the Gulf War, with the murderous sanctions regime of the 1990s, the United States has directly or indirectly killed or displaced millions of Iraqis. It has also provoked the peoples of Iraq to take up arms and use them in the struggle for power and advantage in their country. The United States destroyed a nation. This, indeed, is a genocide.

Socialism: Converting Hysterical Misery into Ordinary Unhappiness for a Hundred Years

Stephen Zielinski:

Corey Robin nails it in his depiction of the collateral effects produced by neoliberal regimes like Obamacare. One may wonder why other countries can have single-payer health care systems while the United States generates a Rube Goldberg monstrosity? Well, Uncle Sam is exceptional, and Obamacare provides one more data point in the case proving his exceptional nature!

Originally posted on Corey Robin:

In yesterday’s New York Times, Robert Pear reports on a little known fact about Obamacare: the insurance packages available on the federal exchange have very high deductibles. Enticed by the low premiums, people find out that they’re screwed on the deductibles, and the co-pays, the out-of-network charges, and all the different words and ways the insurance companies have come up with to hide the fact that you’re paying through the nose.

For policies offered in the federal exchange, as in many states, the annual deductible often tops $5,000 for an individual and $10,000 for a couple.

Insurers devised the new policies on the assumption that consumers would pick a plan based mainly on price, as reflected in the premium. But insurance plans with lower premiums generally have higher deductibles.

In El Paso, Tex., for example, for a husband and wife both age 35, one of the cheapest plans on…

View original 1,268 more words

Word

This has been said before, many times, in fact, but Zach Ward-Perkins and Joe Earle say it again because economists and their paymasters cannot learn from their past mistakes:

Every year thousands of economics graduates take jobs in the City, thinktanks and at the heart of government itself. Economics is highly technical and often mathematical, and this elevates economists to a position of expertise from which they mediate economic analysis to the British public. They are the guardians of our economy, charged with its upkeep, and they play an important role in shaping political narratives around economics. Yet British universities are producing economics graduates who are not fit for this purpose.

The financial crisis represents the ultimate failure of this education system and of the academic discipline as a whole. Economics education is dominated by neoclassical economics, which tries to understand the economy through modelling individual agents. Firms, consumers and politicians face clear choices under conditions of scarcity, and must allocate their resources in order to satisfy their preferences. Different agents meet through a market, where the mathematical formulae that characterise their behaviour interact to produce an “equilibrium”. The theory emphasises the need for micro-foundations, which is a technical term for basing your model of the whole economy on extrapolating from individual behaviour.

Economists using this mainstream economic theory failed to predict the crisis spectacularly. Even the Queen asked professors at LSE why nobody saw it coming. Now five years on, after a bank bailout costing hundreds of billions, unemployment peaking at 2.7 million and plummeting wages, economics syllabuses remain unchanged.

Catastrophes such as this are what one necessarily encounters when the mote remains in one’s eye.

The shutdown: Day two

Norman Pollack’s recent description of the impasse rings true:

The “shutdown issue,” presently mired in the political-ideological battle between the Far Right and the Less-Far Right (House Republicans and Administration Democrats), has little to do with the social welfare of the American people, and instead reveals discernible differences only on the degrees of sophistication informing the programs of each in their determined assistance to corporate capitalism. Republicans in this tableau (a staged presentation going back decades in the roles assumed by each side) are the visceral fascists, striking out at government without realizing how much it helps, assists, and protects business and banking, while Democrats actively, yet with becoming liberal rhetoric to hide from themselves their delusions and treachery, take help, assistance, and protection to a higher level of systemic interpenetration between business and government by means of a regulatory framework written by the affected interests.

Pollack considers the shutdown to be an opportunity:

Shutdown, ideally, equals wake-up, an exposure of widespread impoverishment on one hand, widespread waste, corruption of democratic institutions, and military aggression pure-and-simple on the other. If nothing more, scaring the folks at Morgan Chase and Goldman Sachs until the legislative conflict is papered over, is worth the candle, considering that nothing will be done for the poor in any case.

But it should prove to be an opportunity missed by those who need to act to bring Superpower to heel:

Sequestration will ensure the lifeblood of the current American polity and economy, militarism attached to the continuing program of global hegemony, so that neither Republicans nor Democrats find urgency in resolving the present stalemate—and in fact, holding the bottom one-fourth of the people hostage to the utter good will of the political system and the consolidated wealth standing behind it, as the source for a solution, is a good lesson in proper obedience, deportment, citizenship. Dangle just enough social- welfare anticipated goodies before the people to ensure quiescence while simultaneously magnifying ideological differences that hardly exist, and one has the perfect formula keeping the masses distracted from the main show—not shutdowns or debt ceilings, but a foreign policy of global capitalist expansion geared to US-defined financial, monetary, and trade advantages, coupled with necessary regime change for their realization, all wrapped in a framework of massive surveillance at home and the quickening paces for demanding patriotism and conformity.

Today, political accountability originates in the streets. Democracy also. Both originate in the streets because America’s electoral mechanism, its judicial practices and its Congress have proved themselves incapable of protecting the citizenry from the government and, of course, the world from America’s empire. But public action of this kind is now risky and even mortally dangerous. Nevertheless the appearance of anti-system social movements and public protest motivated by a system-critical political culture appear to be necessary conditions for the country if it is to move beyond the current situation.

With October first approaching

Let us recall a Kathleen Sebelius (Health and Human Services Secretary) interview which dates to 2009:

Asked if the administration’s program will be drafted specifically to prevent it from evolving into a single-payer plan, Sebelius says: “I think that’s very much the case, and again, if you want anybody to convince people of that, talk to the single-payer proponents who are furious that the single-payer idea is not part of the discussion.”

Sebelius says such concerns are unfounded because a single-payer plan is not under consideration, and these “draconian” scenarios have muddled the conversation over the president’s proposal for a public option.

“The whole idea of the public option has been difficult, in part, because some of the opposition has described it as a potential for a, you know, draconian scenario that was never part of the discussion in the first place,” Sebelius says. “So, disabusing people of what is not going to happen is often difficult, because there’s no tangible way to do that.”

Let us also recall that Obamacare (The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) will be neither universal nor affordable for many. Nor will it impose adequate controls on the costs generated by health care providers and drug companies. It might have mildly disinflationary effects on these costs. But it will not reduce them to a degree that they would approach the costs of care typical of a more rational health care system. Finally, Obamacare will make Uncle Sam the bagman for the health insurance industry.

America could have adopted a single-payer system that was universal, controlled costs, eliminated oligopoly profits, etc. But Obama and his party did and does not want that.

I wonder if the Democratic Party awards style points for exceptionally smarmy legislation?

BOA meant DOA

Should anyone find this event surprising? No, they should not. Moritz Erhardt was a commodity. He was nearly fungible. Bank of America could easily find someone to replace him if it had wanted to do so. As such, Erhardt needed to prove his worth to his current and any future employer, doing so while knowing that the job market has been and will remain tight. There ought to be a law, and there is such a law when the hyper-exploited laborer is a medical resident working in the state of New York. Known as the Libby Zion Law. Ms. Zion died when severely overworked medical residents blundered into prescribing medicine for her that would prove fatal. Nationally, medical resident’s hours are now capped, albeit at an astonishing 80 hours per week! There is yet no federal law addressing this matter. There are, however, compelling personal and socio-economic causes which produce deaths like Mr. Erhardt’s. The problem, of course, is an intrinsic feature of capitalism. A commodity like Mr. Erhardt has monetary value only insofar as it produces for those who employ it. Despite his impressive credentials, Mr. Erhardt would soon need a job. He gave his life to secure a good one.

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