Category Archives: US policy

Democrat Jones’ Victory in Alabama: Beyond #MeToo

Election graphic from Washington Post

In a stunning political upset, Alabama Republican Roy Moore was defeated in Tuesday’s special Senate election. A complex combination of factors, involving shifts in multiple demographic groups, gave Democratic challenger Doug Jones electoral success in a state that overwhelmingly supported Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Despite the accusations of child molestation against Moore, 91 percent of those voters who identified as Republican still voted for him, as did 63 percent of white women. However, there was a significant swing of suburban voters against the Republican candidate, and white rural Republicans stayed home. A detailed analysis in the Washington Post explained: “Typically reliable and sizable Republican wins in the rural North and South of the state evaporated into razor thin margins. Between that and an increased margin in the Black Belt, Jones was able to eke out a 21,000-vote victory, while Republicans normally win by more than half a million votes … These swings can be seen in counties majority white and black, Republican and Democrat. And that means it couldn’t have just been a surge in African American turnout, or just rural Trump voters staying home, or just Republicans crossing over to vote for Jones. Jones’ campaign was able to achieve a combination of the three that drove him to victory.”

The increased margin among African American voters reflected an exceptionally high mobilization of this community, with grassroots activists joining an important ground campaign to get out the vote. The New York Times reported that black voters at Jones’ victory celebration had long found Moore’s brand of evangelical politics distasteful. “But many others said that the Jones campaign uncorked the intense feelings of alarm and distaste that many African-Americans harbor toward President Trump, who had given Mr. Moore his full-throated endorsement in the campaign’s final days.” Jones was not particularly known in the African American community, but he had a track record of successfully prosecuting two white Klansmen for the 1963 bombing of the Birmingham church that killed four African American girls, and in the last weeks of the campaign he turned out to black churches and gained support from African American personalities, including Obama.

Michael Nabors was at the celebration with his wife, Ella. He told the Times that black voters were paying attention to Mr. Moore’s comments in September, in which he said that America was last “great” during the days when slavery was legal. He added that “they paid attention to Mr. Jones’s most famous case as a prosecutor. ‘Those four little girls are on their feet tonight at 16th Street Baptist Church, celebrating,’ he said. ‘They’re celebrating in spirit’.”

But despite the complex of factors at play in the historic result, the #MeToo women’s movement was quick to claim the credit for Moore’s defeat. Washington Post columnist Karen Tumulty called the result “a watershed moment for the national movement around the issue of sexual abuse,” and Tarana Burke, the founder of the “#MeToo” movement tweeted: “I hope the 9 women who accused Roy Moore feel some vindication tonight.” Mother Jones reporter Pema Levy told Democracy Now “You can absolutely look at this election last night through the lens of the “Me Too” movement and say that they had a huge victory.”

The danger is that the Democratic party leadership will also view the victory through the lens of the #MeToo movement and will fight the next election with the same failing strategy of foregrounding identity politics and attacking Trump’s character, instead of energizing their base and independents by focusing on core issues of healthcare, tax cuts for the rich, jobs and housing.

This tendency of leading Democrats to prioritize corporate-friendly identity politics is manifested in Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand coordinating statements by Democratic politicians that forced Al Franken to leave his Senate seat. According to the New York Times, “Mr. Franken stepped down one day after nearly all the Senate’s Democratic women — and most Democratic men, including the top two leaders — called for him to resign. Democrats appear determined to grab the moral high ground in an environment in which they hope sexual harassment becomes a wedge issue in the 2018 midterm elections — even if it costs them popular colleagues and political icons.”

Franken was a dogged and effective questioner of Republican appointees, including Jeff Sessions, then a senator, during his confirmation hearing to be attorney general in January. He pressed Sessions about reports of contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian officials, which he denied, later recusing himself from the Justice Department’s investigation which led to the appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel. He would have been a contender for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020, and his downfall removes a rival from Gillibrand’s own ambitions.

The Hill commented: “Those sympathetic to Franken suggested it was craven for her to be the first out with a statement Wednesday calling for him to resign, and suggested she was both seeking attention and building her brand on a fallen progressive hero. Gillibrand has won headlines with her action that could be useful if she chooses to run for president in 2020 against what could be a crowded field. … ‘All this reeks of is political opportunism and that’s what defines Kirsten Gillibrand’s career,’ one Democratic strategist said. … When it came to Franken, Gillibrand was ‘twisting in the wind until the goose was cooked and then saw an opportunity,’ the strategist added.”

Law professor Zephyr Teachout writes: “I also believe in zero tolerance. And yet, a lot of women I know — myself included — were left with a sense that something went wrong last week with the effective ouster of Al Franken from the United States Senate. … Zero tolerance should go hand in hand with two other things: due process and proportionality. As citizens, we need a way to make sense of accusations that does not depend only on what we read or see in the news or on social media. …

“We need a system to deal with that messy reality, and the current one of investigating those complaints is opaque, takes too long and has not worked to protect vulnerable women and men from harassment. And the current alternative — off with the head of the accused, regardless of the accusation — is too quick, too easily subject to political manipulation and too vulnerable to the passions of the moment. We don’t have the system I’m suggesting. But that doesn’t mean we should give up on process. … As citizens, we should all be willing to stay ambivalent while the facts are gathered and we collect our thoughts. While the choice to fire the television hosts Charlie Rose and Matt Lauer were the choices of private companies, condemning a sitting lawmaker is a public choice and one our representatives should make judiciously.”

The absolutist nature of the political climate tends to create a moral equivalency between those like Franken and those like Trump or Moore. This has given opportunists an easy way of denigrating and neutralizing their political opponents, since context is omitted and all allegations are assumed to be true. A parallel development across the Atlantic in the UK has seen claims of anti-semitism and sexual harassment made against supporters of Jeremy Corbyn in the course of vicious infighting within the British Labour party, even while the Tory government is falling apart over Brexit. In the case of one Labour MP, Clive Lewis, the party exonerated him after multiple witnesses made clear he could not have done what had been alleged. But there are other party members and MPs, like Luton North’s Kelvin Hopkins, who are still waiting their due process.

Denial of proper investigation and due process means that the media coverage of accusations and forced resignations is obscuring real problems of racism, ongoing sexual harassment for average women and men, and political corruption, as well as the real oppression of women and families – such as class war measures like defunding the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) in the US while giving huge tax cuts to the rich. While high profile cases get pilloried in the media, punitive policies against middle and working class women go unchallenged. Only when the Democratic party addresses the unequal power and wealth relations that structure harassment and predation in our society will the opposition to Trumpism and the Republicans be a rallying point for the different constituencies that are needed for victory and real change.


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Filed under #MeToo movement, African Americans, British Labour party, Democratic Party, Feminism, Jeremy Corbyn, Uncategorized, US policy

Gaza invasion shifts American attitudes to Palestinian resistance

In Europe, civil society has expressed its revulsion at Israel’s attacks on Gaza with mass protests across the continent. Ireland, historically pro-Palestinian, has whole towns that are boycotting Israeli products, and one British cabinet minister has resigned.

In the US, by contrast, popular sentiment is divided. Once monolithic, cracks are appearing in the post-Nixon ideological consensus that justified its pro-Israel foreign policy. While up until now most criticism of Israel has been met with  denunciations and sanctions, vehemently equating it with anti-Semitism, individuals and groups have begun to speak out against the occupation.

On Sunday August 3, an estimated 10,000 people protested outside the White House in Washington, D.C., calling on Obama to end military aid for Israel. One demonstrator told reporters: “My reason for being here today is that my tax dollar is paying for 1,600 people dead in Gaza today, many of whom civilians, many of whom are children. And I regret that my tax dollar is paying for them.” At the demonstration, Professor Cornel West described Obama as a “war criminal” for facilitating “the killing of innocent Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.”

The Washington Post reported: “Many Jewish Americans were among the crowd, said Shelley Cohen Fudge, 57, of Silver Spring, Md. She is the D.C. metropolitan chapter coordinator for Jewish Voice for Peace. ‘We have Arab Americans, Jewish Americans, people from Pakistan, people from all walks of life here,’ she said. ‘There are many Jewish Americans who are very upset by the very disproportionate situation — it’s not a war, it’s an assault and an invasion’.”

Smaller solidarity demonstrations have been taking place in major cities over the last two weeks, but have been ignored by the mainstream media. In New York City on Friday, several thousand braved driving rain to protest one-sided media reporting. “The US media is absolutely biased. All we hear is pro-Israel [stuff]. All the leaders we hear from on television are Israelis,” Palestinian-American Mohammed Hamad told Press TV.

In Washington, D.C., young Jewish-Americans protested outside the national office of the Jewish Federations of North America, calling on the organization to condemn the killing of Palestinian civilians and the bombing of UN schools. Huffington Post commented: “The protest is a reflection of broader trends among young Jewish Americans … while 70 percent of American Jews aged 18-29 believe there is a way for Israel and an independent Palestinian state to coexist peacefully, just 26 percent of people in that age group believe the Israeli government is making a sincere effort to reach that goal.” This is in line with national polling, which has found that American millennials were more likely to blame Israel for the current wave of violence than Hamas.

Most politicians – not just the born-again right, but the entire House and Senate, including Democratic progressives Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren – have proclaimed their unqualified support for Israel. Obama, while expressing distress at the plight of Gaza’s civilians, repeated and legitimized the Israeli rhetoric that it has an absolute right to defend its citizens from missile attacks.

In reply, Henry Siegman, the former executive director of the American Jewish Congress as well as the Synagogue Council of America, wrote in Politico that “Israel’s assault on Gaza … was not triggered by Hamas’ rockets directed at Israel but by Israel’s determination to bring down the Palestinian unity government that was formed in early June.” He asked on Democracy Now: “Couldn’t Israel be doing something in preventing this disaster that is playing out now, in terms of the destruction of human lives? … And the answer is: Sure, that they could have ended the occupation.”

According to the Guardian, the bombing “has emboldened diverse [Hollywood] figures to speak out – only in some cases to swiftly retreat. The actors Mark Ruffalo and Wallace Shawn, Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters and the director Jonathan Demme, have experienced jeers since taking a stand. … Two weeks ago Rihanna tweeted the hashtag #FreePalestine to her 36 million followers only to delete it eight minutes later, amid a surge of critical responses … Passions are running so high, however, that even silence from the likes of Spielberg, Streisand and Katzenberg is now considered a statement of sorts.” Pro-Israeli comedienne Joan Rivers yelled at reporters that Palestinians “deserve to be dead.”

One factor that explains American attitudes is the overwhelming partiality of the news media (with Diane Sawyer of ABC News showing footage of the aftermath of an Israeli airstrike on a devastated Palestinian family, which she then misidentified as an Israeli family), featuring Netanyahu prominently in newscasts and virtually nothing about Palestinians. However, reporters are beginning to question the official narrative.

At a State Department briefing, the spokesperson was challenged on the US resupply of weapons to Israel after the shelling of a school designated by the UN as a shelter. Alternet reported: “Matt Lee of the Associated Press dared to wonder about ‘consequences’ if the U.S. ever were to determine that Israel hit the U.N. school, and another reporter asked about U.S. munitions involved in these assaults on civilians.”

The Nation commented: “Already, there are anecdotal signs that conventional New York opinion, which tends to be liberal on everything except Palestine, is starting to shift. ‘If Netanyahu is so bothered by how dead Palestinians look on television then he should stop killing so many of them,’ wrote Benjamin Wallace-Wells in a piece on New York magazine’s website last week, a sentiment that would have been hard to imagine coming from that publication a few years ago.”

Americans in general are not aware of the connection of Israel with European settler colonialism, and propaganda about Muslim terrorists after 9/11 has had a cumulative effect. Furthermore, the Israeli narrative meshes with the American founding myth. An op-ed in the New York Times pointed out: “… the story of a nation of immigrants escaping persecution and rising from nowhere in the Holy Land resonates. The Israeli saga — of courage and will — echoes in American mythology …”

What should not be overlooked is that from the mid-1970s the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC had secured great influence in Congress by building on a narrative that linked the ideological justification of Israel with the Holocaust to make criticism of Israel taboo. Since Jewish people in the US benefited greatly from the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, when discrimination on the basis of race was outlawed, their votes became a pawn in AIPAC’s attacks on politicians who made even the mildest criticism of Israel’s actions.

What has changed is that politically significant sections of American society, especially the young, no longer believe the mainstream media and the spokesmen of their own government. While this may seem to be a minor change at the present time, growing struggles over the minimum wage and student debt will merge with this shift in attitudes to create potent new forms of resistance.

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Filed under Gaza, Israel, low-waged, Obama, political analysis, US policy

Salon misses the point: Feinstein’s speech on the CIA is a big deal

The crisis in relations between the CIA and the Senate Intelligence Committee has blown up with Sen. Diane Feinstein’s speech in the Senate last week, accusing the CIA of breaking the law and the constitution. The clash has put an unwelcome spotlight on the role of the White House, where Obama is refusing to intervene while still backing CIA director John Brennan.

Feinstein, chair of the Committee and until now the security agencies’ staunchest defender, has concluded the CIA is bent on intimidating the committee and is determined to evade Congressional oversight. The antagonism has been building for some years while the senate committee compiled a report on the CIA’s use of torture under the Bush administration.

She confirmed publicly that the CIA had been monitoring computers used by senate staff, and that documents detailing evidence of torture had been removed from the network. The Guardian reported: “In her speech, Feinstein described repeated attempts by the CIA to frustrate the work of Senate investigators, including providing the committee staff with a ‘document dump’ of millions of non-indexed pages, requiring years of work to sort through – a necessity, Feinstein said, after former senior CIA official Jose Rodriguez destroyed nearly 100 videotapes showing brutal interrogations of detainees in CIA custody.”

Without naming him, Feinstein said CIA acting general counsel Robert Eatinger had been closely involved in the torture program. Eatinger had reported her staff’s removal of a CIA document from a classified facility to the Justice Department, a move she called an intimidation tactic, but late last week the senate struck back by removing him as general counsel and confirming his replacement.

The CIA has always carried out dirty tricks abroad, but is constitutionally prevented from spying within the US. Its operatives have always acted under the assumption there would be no consequences for illegal actions, while Americans have been led to believe that their undercover operations were necessary for defense against the country’s enemies. The security agencies were emboldened by Bush after the 9/11 attack – the impact of which is now wearing off – to abandon international and constitutional legalities.

Ray McGovern, a former CIA analyst who publicly criticized the intelligence used to justify the invasion of Iraq, told Amy Goodman: “People always say, ‘After 9/11, everything changed.’ Well, it did change. The president, on the evening of 9/11, said, ‘I don’t care what the international lawyers say. We’re going to kick some ass.’ … Well, they took some prisoners in Afghanistan, and the first person tortured was John Walker Lindh, an American citizen.”

The legislature is finally responding to five years of obstruction from the agency over reporting the extent of torture it carried out because the spying has been turned on them, after senate aides discovered internal memos contradicting Brennan’s official rebuttal of the Intelligence Committee’s findings. However, the committee’s demand that the senate report be published represents a threat to the CIA’ s ideological justification for its activities.

Is the clash mere “hypocrisy, posturing, face-saving and obfuscation,” as Natasha Lennard claims in Salon? Or is Washington Post correspondent Eugene Robinson closer to the mark when he says: “This is not just a bunch of rhetoric. It’s a very big deal.”

Whatever Feinstein’s motives – and we can agree with Edward Snowden when he calls her hypocritical – by campaigning to make public the activities of the security agencies, other members of the senate committee like Mark Udall and Ron Wyden are challenging authoritarians within those agencies who want to override popular sovereignty.

Robinson notes the expansion of the security state: “Look at how the CIA’s role has expanded to include what most of us would consider military operations, including flying and firing armed drones. Look at the breathtaking revelations about the NSA’s collection of phone-call data. Look at how the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, in a series of secret rulings, has stretched the Fourth Amendment and the Patriot Act beyond all recognition.”

The paralysis of Congress by the Republicans has created a political space for the extension of executive power and security agencies to assert their will against the legislative bodies charged with representing the people’s interests. However, Snowden’s revelations have changed the political context by alerting the public to the extent of state surveillance in the US and worldwide. Feinstein’s speech is significant not so much because of the constitutional principles involved but because, despite her previous support of the NSA, her accusations resonate with the public which has become aware of the fact that repression abroad will come home to be used against Americans.

Now the crisis has reached the White House. Although Obama is trying to stay aloof, senators on the Intelligence Committee are challenging him to defend legislative oversight and to declassify the committee’s report. His administration is also refusing to hand over documents in its possession which relate to the torture program.

Some of my readers have asked why I would make so much of this conflict. After all, the senate and the security agencies are all part of the same capitalist state, they say; differences between them are merely tactical, they agree on the fundamentals of capitalist rule.

But these conflicts are one form in which the class struggle is being fought out in America today, a struggle to defend popular sovereignty. Far from being autonomous, state bureaucracies reflect the tensions within society, refracted through the particular configuration of the US state. Increasingly, protest is uniting political demands with economic issues, since divisions within the political elite are preventing legislation that might ameliorate growing poverty.

Even “managed democracy” needs to maintain the illusion of reflecting the popular will.  While still dominated by the corporate elite, the state’s fragmentation is undermining its legitimacy in the eyes of Americans.

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Filed under CIA, Homeland Security, Mark Udall, Obama, political analysis, Republicans, US policy

To Save Its Skin, CIA Throws American Democracy Under the Bus

A major conflict over access to secret documents has erupted between the CIA and members of the Senate Intelligence Committee which, in theory, oversees it. The battle makes “House of Cards” look like a kindergarten squabble.

The issue is torture: the CIA wants to suppress the history of its involvement in illegal interrogations during the Bush administration, and has hit out at the Intelligence Committee, which is investigating this history, by monitoring the computers used by its staff. The dispute has escalated to the point where the constitutional separation of powers, congressional oversight of the intelligence agencies, and the independence of Congress appear to be in question.

By seeking to control this narrative, the CIA is not only defending its turf, but also its legitimacy in the eyes of the public. Extreme interrogation techniques like waterboarding, ended by Obama when he took office, have been marketed by politicians, the media, and Hollywood as essential to the defense of the nation. To justify past and future illegal actions by the agency, they require Americans to buy into this account.

The CIA’s  role is also supported by the ideological conflation of US geopolitical interests with the defense of democracy around the world, which binds together the security agencies with Congress and the administration. There are certainly those on legislative committees willing to excuse anything the intelligence community does.  An admission that the agency went beyond the bounds of international and constitutional law and functioned no differently from the dictatorships it is supposed to guard against would seriously undermine its domestic image.

The Intelligence Committee spent several years working on a 6,000-page report, still classified, about the CIA’s detention and interrogation program after 9/11. The New York Times says the committee’s study appears to be “a withering indictment of the program and details many instances when C.I.A. officials misled Congress, the White House and the public about the value of the agency’s brutal interrogation methods, including waterboarding.”

According to McClatchy: “The report details how the CIA misled the Bush administration and Congress about the use of interrogation techniques that many experts consider torture, according to public statements by committee members. It also shows, members have said, how the techniques didn’t provide the intelligence that led the CIA to the hideout in Pakistan where Osama bin Laden was killed in a 2011 raid by Navy SEALs.”

CIA director John Brennan responded in June last year by challenging the principal conclusion of the investigation– that “enhanced interrogation” had resulted in little valuable intelligence.  Then, in December, Sen. Mark Udall revealed he was aware of an internal CIA review highly critical of the interrogation program that contradicted Brennan’s rebuttal, but that had not been handed over to the senate committee.

The CIA angrily reacted to Udall’s claim as a major breach of security, the New York Times says, and agency officials “began scouring the digital logs of the computer network used by the Senate staff members to try to learn how and where they got the report. Their search not only raised constitutional questions about the propriety of an intelligence agency investigating its congressional overseers, but has also resulted in two parallel inquiries by the Justice Department – one into the C.I.A. and one into the committee.”

Apparently what happened was that some months after Brennan made his official statement, while working in a CIA database senate aides discovered the draft of an internal review of interrogation materials ordered by former CIA Director Leon Panetta that confirmed the senate committee’s conclusions. The aides simply “printed the material, walked out of the CIA facility with it and took it to Capitol Hill,” according to McClatchy. The CIA then confronted the committee with the security breach, leading staff members to conclude that the agency were recording their use of computers in the CIA’s high-security research room.

On Tuesday last week, Sen. Mark Udall sent a letter to Obama that implied the president had known the CIA was interfering with their investigation but had not acted to stop it. He wrote: “As you are aware, the CIA has recently taken unprecedented action against the Committee in relation to the internal CIA review.” He called the action “incredibly troubling” and stated it jeopardized the constitutional separation of powers.

Brennan denied everything, calling Udall’s accusations “spurious” and “wholly unsupported by the facts,” and lashed out by suggesting the senate committee itself was guilty of wrongdoing.

TV journalist Rachel Maddow called it “death of the Republic stuff.” “The whole separation of powers thing almost pales in comparison to the seriousness of the allegation that a nation’s own spy services have been turned against its own government. Particularly, where that government is supposed to be overseeing the spy services.”

Following closely from Edward Snowden’s revelations of how the NSA evaded congressional oversight, this new scandal can only intensify the determination of elected representatives to assert control of the rogue agencies. “The CIA tried to intimidate the Intelligence Committee, plain and simple,” Udall told reporters Wednesday, according to Roll Call. “I’m going to keep fighting like hell to ensure that the CIA never dodges congressional oversight again.”

The scandal also spotlights Obama’s reluctance to prosecute CIA torturers and to keep top Bush administration officials in place, despite their clear rejection by the American public in 2008 and 2012.

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Filed under CIA, Edward Snowden, Mark Udall, National Security Agency, Obama, political analysis, US policy

Ukrainians, Russians and Europeans against Putin’s war

People and Nature

Ukrainians, Russians and Europeans were on the streets today protesting against the Putin regime’s attack on Ukraine. It’s the only shaft of light I can see in a dark sky overshadowed by the danger of war, with 6000 Russian troops reportedly on Ukrainian territory in Crimea, some of them surrounding Ukrainian bases.


In Moscow, anti-war demonstrators were detained in large numbers. Each

Nikolaev march Demonstration in Nikolaev. Photo: Ukrainska Pravda

time protesters assembled on Manezhnaya square in the city centre, more were arrested. Novaya Gazeta, the liberal opposition paper, reported 265 arrests and counting just after 16.00 Moscow time.

Voices on the Russian radical left were unequivocal. “It is necessary to call a spade a spade: what’s happening in Crimea these days is a classic act of imperialist intervention on the part of the Russian state”, said the Open Left group in a statement published in English here.

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Filed under Neoliberalism, political analysis, US policy

We the People Over the Deep State Goliath: Americans Reassert Popular Sovereignty Against the Plutocratic-Security Complex

Veteran radical journalist Chris Hedges successfully argued for the proposition that “Edward Snowden is a hero” at the Oxford Union on February 21. Of course, he is absolutely right to praise Snowden’s moral courage. But he painted a picture of a “solitary individual” standing up for his principles against a potentially all-powerful corporate state, neglecting the intention of Snowden’s revelations, which was to alert the public to the extent of NSA surveillance and engage them in discussing placing limits on it.

Prior to the debate, Hedges published an essay in Truthdig in which he writes that Snowden’s personal risk was heroic because we live in a “dual state” (using the terminology of the German political scientist Ernst Fraenkel) where “civil liberties are abolished in the name of national security. … The outward forms of democratic participation—voting, competing political parties, judicial oversight and legislation—are hollow, political stagecraft. … Those who challenge the abuses of power by the prerogative state, those who, like Snowden, expose the crimes carried out by government, are made into criminals.”

There is no denying the authoritarian nature of NSA surveillance, the vicious prosecution of whistleblowers, the outsized political influence bought by right-wing billiionaires, and killing of civilians by drone strikes. But despite the vast enterprise set up in the name of Homeland Security to suppress dissent, other whistleblowers and leakers continue to reveal what the security state is doing. Why would they do this? Only because they are not acting as isolated heroes; their bravery channels the commitment of Americans to their constitutional rights, their strong attachment to the ideal of democracy. Their moral imperatives are social, not individual.

A new report published in the German Bild am Sonntag reveals that, based on information provided by a “high-ranking NSA employee in Germany,” and not on any of the documents released by Snowden, the NSA responded to an order to refrain from spying directly on president Angela Merkel’s phone by intensifying its monitoring of other high-level officials in her government. As Glenn Greenwald points out, this means there is already at least one more NSA source prepared to risk his or her career to disclose the agency’s secrets.

It seems to me that by focusing on the authoritarian elements in the US, Hedges has prematurely written off society’s strengths. The political theorist he cites, Ernst Fraenkel, based his analysis on his direct experience of the Weimar Republic and the rise of Nazi authoritarian rule within the German state. Comparisons of the present situation of the U.S. with Weimar, which have been made recently by commentators ranging from Glenn Beck to Noam Chomsky, overlook major differences in the two societies: principally that Germany did not have a strong democratic tradition established through a revolution against European powers.

Authoritarian trends within US society certainly exist; but there is a continuing struggle between state coercion and democratic forms of popular participation. Hedges implies that the US surveillance state is part of a self-enclosed apparatus in a polar opposition to society. But to sustain their moral authority, ideals of legitimacy also penetrate state institutions. Edward Snowden, for example, was part of the US surveillance state just as much as the heads of the CIA or FBI, but became a whistleblower because of the contradiction between his experience of the actuality of surveillance and its justification with the misuse of democratic ideals. He began to question his own role when, as Hedges himself narrates, “he had watched as senior officials including Barack Obama lied to the public about internal surveillance.”

State entities need to preserve their moral justification even when political groups within them are misusing their authority to extend their own power – if we truly lived in a dual state, for example, the Christie scandal and the Walker prosecutions would not even be publicly known.

Mike Lofgren, a former GOP congressional staff member with the House and Senate Budget Committees, gives an insider’s view of the same phenomenon, the “hybrid entity of public and private institutions ruling the country … connected to, but only intermittently controlled by, the visible [constitutional] state.” He writes: “In terms of its scope, financial resources and sheer global reach, the American hybrid state, the Deep State, is in a class by itself. That said, it is neither omniscient nor invincible. The institution is not so much sinister (although it has highly sinister aspects) as it is relentlessly well entrenched. Far from being invincible, its failures, such as those in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, are routine enough that it is only the Deep State’s protectiveness towards its higher-ranking personnel that allows them to escape the consequences of their frequent ineptitude.”

Moreover, as Juan Cole points out, the “Deep State” is internally divided, and much more responsive to the exercise of public political power than it appears.  Cole also argues that the vast expansion of the security apparatus was a time-dependent effect of the impact of the September 11 attacks, and this influence is already beginning to wane.

The public has asserted its political power in diverse ways: Obama has had to abandon cuts to social security from his budget; had to back off from military intervention in Syria; and had to make at least a verbal commitment to NSA reform. The election of de Blasio in New York from an overt campaign against inequality signifies a marked shift in the popular mood – his new administration is already taking steps to reverse the plutocratic drive to commandeer society’s education resources.

The rapid escalation of minimum wage demands at the local level stems from years when wages have been held down and pressure on living standards has built up. Politically, the national Democratic leadership is being outflanked by a grass-roots surge of low-waged workers and community activists. Josh Eidelson reports that in Los Angeles, a City Council committee is studying nearly doubling the minimum wage for hotel employees to $15.37, while in Seattle, newly-elected mayor Ed Murray spoke confidently of a $15 minimum for the city’s public and private sector workers.

This movement and the interests of the plutocracy are on a collision course. But although the legal system discriminates in favor of corporations and security agencies are working diligently to suppress dissent, the more determined popular resistance becomes, the more likely state entities will be subverted from within. Their role is by no means settled in advance.

The state cannot rule through force alone. It would be a mistake to overestimate its strength when the American public has not been defeated or cowed, but up until now has been diverted from fighting for its economic interests by either liberal rhetoric or racism. While mindful of the dangers of a turn to authoritarian rule, we need to recognize that the society we live in is not at present a “dual state” but is in a transitional moment: the struggle for democracy is ongoing.

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Filed under Chris Hedges, Edward Snowden, fast-food workers, low-waged, National Security Agency, political analysis, poverty, US policy

NSA Stands For Not Suckers Anymore: Americans Rally Against Smooth Talk and Cheap Theatrics

US media are obsessed with Tea Party Republican threats to crash the economy and Ted Cruz’s self-promoting talkathon about Obamacare, while more important news gets buried.  US Senate hearings into abuse of NSA surveillance powers, far from representing popular opposition to the spying, in practice demonstrated nothing but the security agencies’ regulatory capture of Congressional committees. Fuming at their exposure by Edward Snowden, officials said they were finding ways to “counter the popular narrative” in order to keep monitoring citizens’ phone calls. Only Senator Ron Wyden challenged this story: the NSA leadership, he said, “built an intelligence collection system that repeatedly deceived the American people.”

This is the defining feature of US politics today – the diverging trajectories of the public and the executive branch. While the administration is negotiating secret trade agreements that would lock in corporate hegemony over small nations and the US population (such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership or TPP), there is growing domestic opposition to the administration’s plans for far-flung military interventions and its refusal to curb the excesses of big banks.

The lack of international and domestic support for these strategies is what constrains the Obama administration from continuing the course set by George W. Bush. Obama’s speech at the United Nations General Assembly Tuesday was a blunt assertion of neo-imperial ideology, while denying the label of empire.  He said: “The United States of America is prepared to use all elements of our power, including military force, to secure our core interests in the region. … We will ensure the free flow of energy from the region to the world.”

His realpolitik made Bush look like a starry-eyed idealist, while giving his message a liberal tinge by warning that US disengagement from the Middle East would lead to chaos by “creating a vacuum of leadership that no other nation is ready to fill.” This tone-deaf (to other countries) remark seemed intended primarily to bring his Congressional critics into line. Journalist Jeremy Scahill was flabbergasted by the speech, pointing out that Obama “basically stakes out a neo-con vision of American foreign policy and owns it and kind of wraps it in this cloak of democratic legitimacy.”

On the one hand, public disillusion with the US imperial role stems from Americans’ experience of Iraq and Afghanistan. But it is also connected to the revelations of NSA surveillance and growing economic impoverishment at home. Americans see themselves potentially caught in a vise of lost opportunity and lost rights. The administration is seeing pushback from several fronts: from the Occupy movement to whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, and even real congressional opposition within the Democratic party, to be distinguished from the sideshow theatrics of the Tea Party extreme right.

Take for instance the success of Democratic senators’ opposition to Obama’s pick for Federal Reserve chair, Larry Summers. Ezra Klein reported in the Washington Post: “Summers really fell because those Senate Democrats — and many other liberals — don’t trust the Obama administration’s entire approach to regulating Wall Street. … Liberals want to see the biggest banks broken apart so they’re easier to oversee and less of a threat to the financial system if they go bust. … The Obama administration simply disagrees that this concentration is, in and of itself, a problem.”

Harold Meyerson makes clear that these political divisions have their source in a profound social distrust of corporations and the financial sector. He explains that “the abject failures of the market economy” are creating a “growing conflict between those Democrats who have hitched their wagons to Wall Street [like Cory Booker and Rahm Emanuel]… and those … who believe government’s role is in advancing the interests of the middle class and protecting it from finance. … what Warren & Co. have going for them is millennials’ pervasive disenchantment with the market economics that have plunged them into a nightmare of unemployment and undercompensation.”

The same pervasive disenchantment with the results of neoliberal market economics that led to Occupy Wall Street’s rise two years ago continues to simmer. The campaign of the low-waged for a $15 minimum hourly rate taps into that same sensibility. Their argument is that they are forced to subsist on a pittance while the corporate owners make billions out of their labor. Bill de Blasio’s campaign for New York mayor is also boosted by the same anti-inequality sentiment.

Before Occupy came on the scene, public criticism of the super-affluent was taboo. Media commentators and political figures felt obliged to portray them as a shining symbol of capitalism’s success. Occupy’s most lasting legacy is a shift in the national discourse that identifies the antagonism between the “one percent” and the American public, one that surfaced again clearly in the political reaction to Romney’s “47 percent” remarks during the 2012 election.

Many of Occupy’s activists had voted for Obama in 2008 and became disgusted with his administration’s refusal to curb bank predations or to prosecute a single banker. The wildfire spread of occupations – alarming the establishment – brought together many preexisting protest and community campaigns around a common focus. As Rebecca Solnit writes: “Almost as soon as Occupy Wall Street appeared in the fall of 2011, it was clear that the national conversation had changed, that the brutality and obscenity of Wall Street was suddenly being openly discussed, that the suffering of ordinary people crushed by the burden of medical, housing, or college debt was coming out of the shadows, that the Occupy encampments had become places where people could testify about the destruction of their hopes and lives.”

The experimental communities of occupiers were not able to withstand systematic state disruption and the difficulties of maintaining their camps in a hostile environment.  The movement returned to its diverse origins – transformed by the experience but unable to continue general assemblies without the imperatives of communal survival keeping the components of the movement together – leaving intact networks that re-emerged when state institutions failed the community, such as Occupy Sandy.

Writing in CounterPunch, Steven Sherman discusses Occupy’s inherent weaknesses. He writes: “Occupy encampments were already starting to suffer exhaustion when they were swept off the streets by the police after about two months … Movements have been known to meet in union halls, community centers and many other places. You don’t actually need a camp out to have a movement. And yet Occupy did go into a tailspin. … The sense that the movement was growing and growing, that a call for a radically different sort of politics had truly touched a nerve, that ‘we are unstoppable’ has utterly receded.”

But it did not simply fall apart. Author and journalist Nathan Schneider points out: “This was a movement that was systematically torn apart by the security state, by the militarized police forces in cities all across the country. …It was not only brute force. In meeting after meeting after meeting, there were clear infiltrators who were disrupting the discussions and making sure that no sustainable organizing practices could take hold.”

Clearly the movement did not pose a physical danger to society by taking over public spaces. The threat to the ruling elite was primarily ideological, it seems to me. Occupy captured the public imaginary in a way that had not happened since the 1970s, and broke through the structure of social control that had confined dissent to ineffective and contained protests and to the two-party system.

Obama’s public role was to divert resistance into his re-election, leveraging the sentiment Occupy channeled by adopting its rhetoric. It’s a testimony to his political skill that his own role in the 2008 TARP bailout is not more clearly remembered and that he is able to retain his appeal as a symbol of the social movement that elected him.

The suppression of Occupy didn’t destroy this social movement, which is making itself felt in a subterranean way through the political system. The unlikely alliances of Democrats and libertarian Republicans in Congress express, however mutedly, intense public discontent with the way the Obama administration is running the country on behalf of Wall Street and the business classes while the plight of the average American is glossed over with soothing rhetorical phrases.

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Filed under 2012 Election, Bradley Manning, Edward Snowden, National Security Agency, Obama, Occupy Sandy, occupy wall street, political analysis, Rahm Emanuel, US policy