Quote of the day

Norman Pollack accurately characterizes Barack Obama and the liberals who have lost their way while standing in his shadow:

Obama’s “Hidden Hand” political strategy in his second term (Peter Baker, in NYT, July 16) merits notice for its utter phoniness (and NYT/Baker gullibility), as though a low profile, designed to convey the velvet glove of measured yet steady reform, has changed anything in his presidency, which from the start has raised sophisticated corporatism, with its full antiradical implications, policies, consequences, to a high art. Obama’s legacy — it’s too late for him to worry about this now — will be defined by his treachery as a leader and putative tribune of the people. In retrospect, Nixon and Bush 2 appear as mere choirboys in comparison, not because of Obama’s “smarts” (he has the brashness of a hustler, which passes in our day for intelligence), but because he can use liberalism as a backdrop for the pursuit of consistently reactionary policies, domestic as well as foreign. Liberals and progressives, especially, have been taken in, the latest enormous crime being massive surveillance which, once revealed, is allowed to become yesterday’s news, attention shifting instead to Snowden’s apprehension — an example where the real criminal seeks to pin the label of “criminal” on the one who exposes the crime. Liberals/ progressives sit on their hands (perhaps that’s where Obama’s team got the idea of the “hidden hand” as the latest selling point to cover up a record which hardly needs covering up, so far has radicals’ rigor mortis set in) while data mining, Espionage Act prosecutions, the whole range of civil liberties made mincemeat of, all constitute only one area of manifold and fundamental abuses: the liberalization of cynicism, to render it palatable to the groupies, while the haute crowd of bankers, militarists, defense contractors, national-security advisors, DOJ apologists for international war crimes, and, as they say in the Shakespeare plays, diverse and assorted other characters, laugh in their teeth.

Warnings circulated during the 2007-8 election season. But they were unheeded by the ‘realistic left’ who was largely untroubled by the condition of the country he would co-govern. I suppose we can believe in the changes Obama has made or affirmed. These largely were changes which have already or will eventually make life worse for the 99%. We can believe in them because they are facts on the ground and not because they expressed the hopes many invested in the Nobel Laureate.

Let us keep to the path to nowhere

Perhaps the Demonicans would rather have a plutonium coin…

Birth of a dictator

It has been widely reported that Mohamed Morsi, the first democratically elected president of Egypt and a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, has claimed new and extensive powers, doing so, it has been stated, in response to impasse of Egypt’s Second Constituent Assembly and to persistent street violence. An English language version of Morsi’s Constitutional Declaration can be found here. His subsequent explanation for his deed: “He told… [his followers] he was leading Egypt on a path to ‘freedom and democracy’ and was the guardian of stability.” We should interpret his actions while remembering that coups affirm neither democracy nor stability. They do, however, affirm the coercive power of the state.

Morsi’s auto-golpe will replace the rule of law with rule by decree and, to be sure, Egypt’s transition to democratic governance with a putatively limited dictatorship. Obviously, secularists and those groups who wish for or need social and political pluralism fear the instauration of a constituent dictatorship serving the interests of Egypt’s Islamists or the sectarian interests of the Freedom and Justice Party. Some have already taken their opposition to Morsi’s recent coup to the street. We should recall here that Egypt’s revolution originated in a divided society and that Morsi gained the Presidency with a thin victory margin in a runoff election. He has, at best, only weak popular support, although we might suspect that the recently purged Egyptian Armed Forces affirmed the November 22 coup. So far, the United States has only faintly criticized the coup.

Situations like this can end badly, as recent history has so often demonstrated.

NYPD on Candid Camera

Quote of the day

The latest one originated from the late Alexander Cockburn‘s typewriter back in the late 1980s:

I came to the United States in, June of 1972, the month Nixon’s burglars broke into the Watergate, and I am writing these lines fifteen years later while Colonel North lectures Congress about the role of executive power in the Iran-Contra scandal. Looking at North’s cocksure, edgy ingratiating profile I am reminded of his avatar: the ‘can do’ guy in Nixon’s White House, Gordon Liddy. The contrast is a good measure of the political and social distance the country has traveled between the two scandals.

Liddy, endlessly testing his ‘will’ and firing himself up with Nietzschean vitamins, had the beleaguered paranoia of a sworn foe of the sixties counter-culture. Bad fellow though Liddy was, there was always an element of Inspector Clouseau about him. He held his hand over a candle to prove his fortitude against pain, and when the time came, he stood by the can do’ guys code of omerta and served his time in Danbury federal penitentiary without a whimper.

Back in the Watergate hearings you could look at the burglars, at their sponsors in the White House, at Nixon himself and see that despite noises of defiance and protestations of innocence they knew they had been caught on the wrong side of the law and, though they would do their utmost to keep clear of the slammer, it would not come as a shock to them if the slammer was where they finally ended up.

North is as true a memento of the Reagan era as Liddy was of that earlier time. North has Reagan’s own capacity for the vibrant lie, uttered with such conviction that it is evident how formidable psychic mechanisms of self-validation, in the very instant of the lie’s utterance, convince the liar — Reagan, North — that what he is saying is true. But if Liddy embodied the spirit of fascism at the level of grand guignol, North has the aroma of the real thing, eighties all-American style: absolute moral assurance that his lawlessness was lawful; that though he was there to ‘get things done’, he was following orders; that all impediments in his path, legal or moral, were, obstructions erected by a hostile conspiracy.

From Liddy to North to whom? This obvious question lacks an obvious answer. One might consider George W. Bush to be the provider of that image. We need only recall his searching for WMD around his office and under his speaking lectern while the Washington press corps and other beltway insiders snickered, humorless and thoughtless shtick which amused these well-connected Washingtonians. Rahm Emanuel provides another worthy candidate. Surely his “fucking retarded” outburst when characterizing a few liberal groups that wanted to attack those Blue Dog Democrats who were unwilling to support Obama’s corporate-friendly health care bill stands out for what passes as noblesse oblige in contemporary Washington. Yet I believe that the compelling symbol today is not a member of the political elite justifying his or her actions to Congress or a court or the public. Rather today these men and women mostly need not justify their crimes for these crimes are largely ignored by the much of the press, the public in general and most politicians. In the United States today, the rule of law applies to the many whereas a few enjoy the rule by law. The image of lawlessness has thus shifted from key members of an amoral elite confronting their crimes in public to the well-known and not-so-well-known victims of those crimes — to the Mannings and Padillias, the Assanges and Stewarts, as well as every black site prisoner who exists as homo sacer, civilly dead beings wholly lacking political rights; to the individuals sprayed, cuffed and beaten by police forces which have come to use barely restrained power on America’s rights bearing citizens; to those made bankrupt by a predatory banking system, by job loss, by massive and unavoidable debt and by a government committed to austerity and war. This is America today:

Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever (Orwell, 1984).

Fazaga v. FBI

Writing for the People’s Blog for the Constitution, Shahid Buttar observed that:

On Tuesday, August 14, a federal judge issued a disturbing ruling allowing the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to evade public accountability for infiltrating faith institutions, monitoring law-abiding people, recording sexual encounters, and then lying about all of it. Carney’s decision erodes democracy in two dimensions at once, enabling ongoing constitutional violations by the executive branch while, at the same time, eroding judicial independence.

What Buttar depicts above and throughout his article is a dualism intrinsic to a political system which observes the rule of law in some areas but not all areas. This dualism features prominently in Ernst Frankel’s seminal The Dual State. Frankel’s analysis focuses on the post-Weimar German state as used by the National Socialist to govern Germany. The gist of his analytical edifice rests upon a division of the German state into two coexisting but not equal domains. He calls one domain the Normative State. The Normative State is a domain in which the rule of law regulates social life. He calls the second and superior domain the Prerogative State. The Prerogative State is a domain defined and governed by the prerogative powers of the political sovereign, the kind of powers once available only to a Monarch. In the Prerogative State the law becomes a component of force available to the sovereign. Thus it can be said that the rule by law and coercion replaces the rule of law and legitimate authority in domain of the Prerogative State. In Nazi Germany, the object of Frankel’s analysis, Der Führer was the source of the state’s prerogative powers. In the United States today the state’s prerogative power originated in the President construed as Commander in Chief and the source of authority for the massive security-surveillance apparatus which now exists in the United States. It is this apparatus which operates beyond the reaches of the Normative State, a claim supported by Fazaga v. FBI. In his principal Fazaga ruling, a Federal Judge, Cormac J. Carney, ruled in favor of the Federal Bureau of Investigation:

After careful deliberation and skeptical scrutiny of the public and classified filings, the Court concludes that Plaintiffs’ claims against Defendants, aside from their FISA claim, must be dismissed under the state secrets privilege. Further litigation of those claims would require or unjustifiably risk disclosure of secret and classified information regarding the nature and scope of the FBI’s counterterrorism investigations, the specific individuals under investigation and their associates, and the tactics and sources of information used in combating possible terrorist attacks on the United States and its allies. The state secrets privilege is specifically designed to protect against disclosure of such information that is so vital to our country’s national security.

In his ruling Judge Carney recognized the separate and superior domain of the Prerogative State. It is, by definition, a legal space which lacks rule of law safeguards, as the victims of the FBI in Southern California can claim based on their experiences.

Bleaching the public sphere clean

Jules Boykoff, author of Beyond Bullets, described this cleansing work as it now appears in London:

This week marks the one-year anniversary of the London riots. In the wake of last summer’s destruction and the flurry of finger-pointing about who was to blame, London’s Metropolitan Police launched what they called “Total Policing.” A peculiar brew of creepy branding and wishful thinking, “Total Policing” has always been freighted with fuzziness — no one’s quite sure what it really means.

But with the recent outburst of political activism during London’s Olympic moment, Scotland Yard’s hazy notion has come into sharper focus. In the Olympics-induced state of exception, “Total Policing” means total paternalism plus political preemption.

A state of exception will come into being when a sovereign power places itself beyond the rule of law in order to achieve a self-given goal. Those subject to the state of exception can only hope that the exceptional moment is brief, peaceful and warranted by the situation at hand. They must depend upon hope, as mercurial and ineffective as hoping may be, because they will lack the legal means for opposing the imposition of the state of exception. The act of the sovereign in this instance is decisive. A frivolous declaration of a state of exception can be a milestone on a path that ends in a dictatorship of some kind.

Thus to the skeptical mind, a state of exception always appears specious. Besides being a component of a strategy meant to avoid state failure, there never ought to be a situation a government uses to justify imposing a state of exception.

Does London’s total policing project amount to a declaration of a general state of exception? I believe it does. According to my interpretation of Boykoff, the total policing idea results in the use of the government’s police powers to suppress dissent and to create an image of an orderly, happy and well-integrated society. It creates an image which occludes the complexity of London’s social and political situation. The image thus created is that of a Potemkin Village. The Olympic reality as lived by the majority of the spectators and viewers is akin to a Disney World, a place defined by light, magic and excellence.

Barack Obama

Barack Obama delivers a speech at the Universi...

Cynic In Chief

Glenn Greenwald once again destroys the credibility of this vile and cynical tool. This time, Greenwald examines Obama‘s current position of medical marijuana, the Department of Justice legal harassment of medical marijuana dispensaries and his dishonest use of rule of law rhetoric to attack the medical marijuana industry. To be sure, Obama’s Department of Justice could not bother itself to prosecute Bush era criminals, Wall Street criminals, etc. These individuals and institutions are largely exempt from legal accountability. But not medical marijuana producers and distributors.

A despicable man.

The well-armed DHS

The Department of Homeland Security, another dubious post-9.11 artifact, recently ordered 450 million rounds of .40 cal. hollow-point bullets from the defense contractor ATK. The quantity ordered is massive when compared to the current population of the United States (estimated to be 309M as of 2010), and immediately raises questions about the purposes to which this ammunition will be put.

The quality of the item purchased is also questionable because these bullets serve only one purpose: To efficiently kill human beings. Because this kind of bullet is so destructive and deadly, the Hague Conventions of 1899 banned its use in international war.

David Lindorff asked some of the relevant questions generated by this disturbing news:

First of all, why does the DHS need so much deadly ammo? Are they anticipating a mass surge over the Mexican or Canadian border that would require ICE agents to slaughter the masses “yearning to breathe free”? Are there so many terror cells in America that they feel they need to be ready for a mass extermination campaign? Or are they worried that eventually the quiescent and submissive US population will finally decide it’s had it with the crooked banks and insurance companies, and are going to start taking the law into their own hands, so that the government will have to institute martial law and start gunning down masses of citizens?

If not any of the above, it seems to me that the order for 450 million rounds of ammunition, hollow-point or not, is pretty wildly excessive.

But secondly, I’d suggest we need to rethink this domestic obsession with killing. In the U.K., police are not routinely issued hollow-point rounds. Many other foreign police agencies also do not use them. Here in the US though, they are standard-issue for cops on the beat.

Finally, when it comes to Homeland Security, the situation is really different [than the kind of situations faced by most law enforcement officers]. Most of the gun-toting officers working for Homeland Security are not in the business of chasing down vicious killers. They are ICE officers who are going after border crossers, TSA personnel who are patting down air travelers, and the Federal Protective Service, who are really glorified building guards tasked with protecting federal property.

The work these armed personnel do can on occasion be dangerous, I’ll grant, but for the most part their work does not require killing people or dodging bullets. Do we really want them shooting to kill with hollow-point bullets?

The DHS has yet to publicly defend its purchase of this product. While its silence is unsurprising in the current political situation — which is defined by excessive governmental secrecy, global war-making, expansion of the security-surveillance apparatus, prosecution of whistleblowers, erosion of civil and political rights, suppression of popular dissent, etc. — it is disturbing in its own right, for a federal agency quietly and unnecessarily arming itself to the teeth provides just another data point among many which shows the United States abandoning the rule of law, a modern public sphere and a modern civil society.

Is it too soon to identify the government of the United States as a terrorist state?

Related articles

The ACLU sues the Obama administration

The reason for the suit: “…[T]he release of records related to the U.S. government’s ‘targeted killing’ of U.S. citizens overseas.” The Obama administration has selectively released information regarding assassinations carried out under the targeted killing program, which it otherwise cloaks with claims of national security. The ACLU suit seeks to subject this assassination program to public scrutiny and even legal contestation. Glenn Greenwald pointed to the tyranical aspect of America’s assassination program:

From a certain perspective, there’s really only one point worth making about all of this: if you think about it, it is warped beyond belief that the ACLU has to sue the U.S. Government in order to force it to disclose its claimed legal and factual bases for assassinating U.S. citizens without charges, trial or due process of any kind. It’s extraordinary enough that the Obama administration is secretly targeting citizens for execution-by-CIA; that they refuse even to account for what they are doing — even to the point of refusing to disclose their legal reasoning as to why they think the President possesses this power — is just mind-boggling. Truly: what more tyrannical power is there than for a government to target its own citizens for death — in total secrecy and with no checks — and then insist on the right to do so without even having to explain its legal and factual rationale for what it is doing? Could you even imagine what the U.S. Government and its media supporters would be saying about any other non-client-state country that asserted and exercised this power?

Killing American citizens now sits within the prerogative powers of the American President. This ‘achievement’ ought to be considered a threshold passed on a road that ends in a dictatorship.

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