The Gifts Terrorists Bear

The prime directive of virtually all governments is to defend and expand their power. This holds true whether that government is authoritarian or democratic, whether its intentions are malevolent or benign, whether the head of state is King Tiglath-Pileser or President Obama.  Of course, an Assyrian king and an American President face different problems when it comes to defending their government’s power.  If you have absolute power and are ruling as an agent of divine forces, you need only keep an eye on the priesthood and your family members, whereas a modern autocrat must mind the army, bureaucracy and the people.  Naturally, the democratically elected ruler has more constraints and a limited tenure, but there appears nevertheless to be a common inclination that your government should exercise as much power as possible, even if that government may pass into the hands of the opposition.  And certainly the unelected bureaucracy that underpins the government and its agencies wishes to retain as much authority as it can.

 

The premier mechanism for expanding a government’s power is dealing with threats, domestic or foreign, real or imagined.  War has traditionally been a way, at least for authoritarian regimes, to deal with domestic discontent and unite the population behind the government in a burst of nationalism, though one must of course win the war, as the Argentinian generals discovered.  Exterminating Chechens is popular with Russians, so Putin has engaged in wars in Chechnya to improve his standing; now it is the Ukraine.  On the other hand, wars, even the limited ones that have characterized the post-WW II world, are very expensive, though guaranteed money-makers for sundry corporations.

 

Wars typically produce emergency powers, which then tend to remain even when the threat is gone.  The Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, enacted in 1964, gave the President the power to wage war without a Congressional declaration of such, and though it was limited by the War Powers Act of 1973, the fact is that fifty years later the US President still essentially has the power to send troops around the planet and bomb countries against whom we have not declared war.

 

Domestic threats are excellent, since they are more immediate and more easily engender the fear that governments can take advantage of.  The classic example has been the burning of the German Reichstag in 1933 by a Dutch communist, which act provided Hitler with the excuse to assume dictatorial powers.  This has now been supplemented by the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US, which resulted in the constitutionally questionable Patriot Act and dramatically increased powers of surveillance and policing.  Note that President Obama, a liberal, has not surrendered those powers, despite their seemingly being against his general political philosophy.

 

The greatest example of the usefulness of domestic threats to the government is found in the USSR under Stalin.  The constant threat of spies, counter-revolutionaries and “wreckers” allowed the General Secretary to rid himself of anyone he desired and develop the largest security apparatus the world has seen.  The young Soviet government did of course fight a civil war and suffer foreign intervention, but one might question why a decade and more later the most totalitarian state on the planet was still suffering wave after wave of treasonous plots and sabotage.  Could virtually all the Old Bolsheviks be traitors?  How could it be that in the thirties the vast majority of the military hierarchy were conspiring against the regime and working for foreign powers?  Why were ardent Stalinists being arrested?

 

The often farcical Stalinist Terror is a wonderful demonstration of how people will believe what they want.  Many intellectuals of course saw through things like the Show Trials, but it is amazing how many intelligent people believed it was a mistake when they were arrested and sent off to the gulag: “If only Comrade Stalin knew…”  Building socialism was not child’s play, and fulfilling the dream required harsh methods inasmuch as it spurred such destructive responses from the reactionary elements, who despite being imprisoned and executed by the millions apparently still constituted a huge percentage of the population.  And Stalin was able to play this game until he died of old age in 1953.

 

Communism was a great resource for non-communist governments.  Communists were not only a foreign threat, justifying all sorts of military expenditures and silly conflicts, but they were a magnificent fifth column, providing an excellent domestic threat, useful for pumping up governmental power.  There was also a wonderful kind of vagueness about this threat, allowing anyone with leftist leanings to be identified as a “communist” and thus someone inclined to overthrow the state, perhaps even as an agent of the Evil Communist Empire.  We now know that some American clients would alert Washington to an imaginary “communist threat” in their countries in order to squeeze military and financial aid from the gullible Yankees.  And communist Cuba with its aid to anti-government movements in Latin America provided the US with the perfect excuse to claim every popular uprising against an authoritarian state (usually supported by the US) was communist inspired.

 

Well, the communists are pretty much gone now (and czarist Russia has reemerged, this time with nuclear weapons), so what is a government interested in putting paranoia to work to do?  Enter terrorism.  As far as the purposes of the government are concerned, “communism” and “terrorism” are virtually synonymous; one could take a government document on communism and substitute the word terrorism and it would still make sense.   But terrorism is even better!  Exactly what constitutes terrorism is even more vaguely defined than communism, and while the base definition involves killing or conspiring to kill innocents for ideological reasons, that can cover a mighty lot of people, from ISIS to a mental case – and of course freedom fighters who are not necessarily targeting innocents.

 

While primarily Muslims, terrorists can be anyone and can be anywhere, the perfect threat for any security apparatus.  The intelligence services are especially delighted, now having an excuse to spy on virtually everyone (including that hotbed of terrorism, the US Congress).  No longer are the spooks limited to governments and groups, but can now claim justification for monitoring everyone on the planet, including American citizens.

 

And now there is ISIS, the Rolls Royce of terrorism.  They kill anyone who is not with them, they kill women and children, they make women sex slaves and they do it all with great enthusiasm.  They are well organized, they have heavy weapons (thank you, Uncle Sam) and they actually control territory and constitute something of a state.  Far more than any other group they are the face of Evil, crucifying and beheading people, forcing victims to dig their own graves and doing it all on camera.  Instead of tedious filmed ideological diatribes they produce snappy, if often gruesome videos, and are attracting gullible and/or sociopathic recruits from Europe and America.  It just does not get any better than this when it comes to providing a government with potent material for establishing fear.

 

Being situated in Syria and Iraq of course makes it difficult for them to be construed as a direct threat to American shores, but they are terrorists and have obligingly made it clear they will attack the United States, which automatically makes them a threat to “national security.”  The fact that guns and drunk driving kill far more Americans than any terrorist could dream of does not seem to bother anyone when it comes to the issue of national security, which may be why we constantly hear of the possibility that they may acquire a nuclear weapon.  I expect the scientists and research labs of the Islamic State are working diligently to produce such a weapon.  Odd that our friends, the eighth century monarchies in the Gulf, do not seem as worried as we do about this threat, despite having these barbarians (that may be an insult to the average barbarian) right next door.  On the other hand, that they are finally using some of their expensive weaponry and bombing fellow Sunnis might indicate a bit of concern for their oppressive little kingdoms.

 

If the regional powers (excepting Israel of course) could get together and launch a serious war against this ISIS scum, the Islamic State would be doomed.  Turkey alone could roll over them, but Erdoğan is playing his own short-sighted game and will not even allow his supposed NATO allies use of his airfields.  Perhaps ISIS will be stupid enough to attack Israel.

 

 

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Worst Legislator Who Actually Has a Brain Award

(This piece is self-indulgent and motivated solely by disgust. Next week I will endeavor to do something of interest to all.)

 

 

There would appear to be few members of the United States Congress for whom the good of the country is their primary concern. Rather, being reelected comes first, which means soliciting huge amounts of money, which is hardly likely to be handed over without some promise of a payback in the form of legislation. This is tacit and apparently acceptable corruption. Adding to the abysmal quality of our legislators is the recent appearance of Republican extremists, such as Sen. Ted Cruz, who are willing to threaten the welfare of the nation if they do not get their way. There are also growing numbers of anti-science ignoramuses, such as Rep. Paul Broun, who wish to make legislative decisions on the basis of beliefs plainly contradicted by fact. That men like Cruz and Broun are complete buffoons does not seem to bother their constituents, perhaps because they represent southern states.

 
There are indeed many disgusting individuals in Congress who seem to be doing their best to injure the country, whether from self-interest, extremist ideology or simple stupidity, but my pick for the Worst Legislator Who Actually Has a Brain Award is Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida’s 27th congressional district, which includes Dade county. She is an American of Cuban extraction, who has served in the House of Representatives continuously since 1989. She is best known as Israel’s woman in Congress, a significant distinction given that most all of Congress is inclined to give the Jewish state unqualified support, but she is also an enthusiastic supporter of the security state that America is turning into.

Israeli agent

Israeli agent

 
Ros-Lehtinen’s legislative activities on the domestic front suggest a person who might be comfortable with the Stalin administration. It must be said, however, that her positions on social legislation are not extremist, but rather simply conservative. She supported the Defense of Marriage Act, an implicit anti-gay stance, but later became a champion of gay rights, presumably because her eldest child turned out to be transgender. (There seems to be a lot of this going around among conservatives who discover they have gay or lesbian children.) She singlehandedly scuttled the International Protecting Girls by Preventing Child Marriage Act, concerned that funds might be used for abortions. She opposes stem cell research and any estate tax and supports drilling in the Arctic National Wild Life Refuge. She supported the disastrous Bush tax cuts and opposes the Peace Corps, although it is not at all clear why.

 
These are standard conservative positions, and while they are increasingly out of step with the majority of Americans, they are not extreme or particularly detrimental to the country. The same cannot be said for her positions regarding the emerging security state. She supported the Military Commissions Act, which was created to provide a replacement for the Combatant Status Review Tribunals, which were declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Besides circumventing the Geneva Convention this act was so worded that an American citizen could be denied habeas corpus, for which it was also declared unconstitutional. She has advocated that the Patriot Act, which was passed by an intimidated Congress in response to a (bogus) state of war, become permanent. This would make what were presumably temporary and extreme measures, to wit, dramatic increases in the power of the Presidency and the security services, permanent fixtures of the federal government. That legal scholars have seriously questioned the constitutionality of many of the provisions of the Patriot Act is apparently unimportant. One is reminded of the emergency Enabling Act of 1933, which also gave the executive enhanced power and became permanent, establishing the basis for the dictatorship of Adolf Hitler.

 
In the area of foreign policy Ros-Lehtinen is, in my opinion, seriously misguided and is injuring American interests abroad. She of course voted for the utter catastrophe that was the Iraq war, but then again, virtually everyone did, abandoning rationality for the satisfaction of revenge – against anyone. Whether the target was actually culpable was unimportant, as Ros-Lehtinen boldly declared: “Whether or not there is a direct link to the World Trade Center does not mean that Iraq is not meritorious of shedding blood. The common link is that they hate America.” Now, that is a reasoned policy. Of course, no hawk can ignore domestic politics, and having declared that harsher penalties should be imposed on Libya, she balked at the NATO airstrikes, presumably because they were initiated by a Democratic President: “I am concerned that the President has yet to clearly define for the American people what vital United States security interests he believes are currently at stake in Libya.” It seems there is no problem that President Bush failed to do this in the case of Iraq.

 
Born in Cuba and living in south Florida, Ros-Lehtinen is understandably, if not rationally, an extremist when it comes to the communist left-over in the Caribbean. The half century embargo of Cuba is probably the most obviously failed policy ever implemented by the United State. It has not brought about regime change, and indeed communist Cuba has already survived the Soviet Union by a quarter century. The major impact has been the impoverishment of the island and the complete absence of the sort of interaction that might soften or even change the regime. Inasmuch as Cuba is a threat to no one, and certainly not the United States, continued support of this failed embargo can only be understood in terms of emotion and revenge. Ros-Lehtinen is Cuban and represents a district that is packed with Cubans, many old enough to have fled when the revolution took place. In fact, it would seem that the continuation of this now silly embargo is due to the fact that as a Presidential candidate, if you oppose it, you lose south Florida, and if you lose south Florida, you lose Florida, and if you lose Florida, you lose the election. This may not be true, but politicians think it is.

 
When Obama dared to shake the hand of Raúl Castro at the Nelson Mandela funeral, Ros-Lehtinen exploded with rage, ranting about exchanging greetings with this bloody dictator. Well, Castro is indeed a dictator, there are political prisoners in his jails and Cubans enjoy very few freedoms, but the guy is a lightweight on the authoritarian stage. I have not heard her or other anti-Castro zealots complain about China, which is at least nominally communist and certainly more bloody. They still have a gulag, they have shot people in the streets and they are methodically turning Tibet into a Chinese province, yet the policy here is engagement. Incidentally, in their fulsome praise of Mandela American politicians and media had virtually nothing to say about Mandela’s close relationship with Castro and Arafat.

 
Ros-Lehtinen has of course worked against every attempt to end the embargo and open a dialogue with the Cuban government and tried to block President Carter’s visit to Cuba in 2002. This is of course all stupid but hardly radical, but she has clearly revealed her extremism. She defended Veletin Hernández, who was convicted of murdering a Cuban who advocated talking to Cuba, and she worked to obtain a pardon for Orlando Bosch, who was convicted of terrorism and is suspected of complicity in the bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73 people. She has publically advocated assassinating Fidel Castro and apparently anyone else she deems an oppressor. Most rational people would consider defending convicted murderers and supporting the assassination of foreign heads of state to be extremist.

 
But it is Ros-Lehtinen’s unqualified support for the state of Israel that seems most inimical to American interests and is certainly for me the most disgusting part of her political activity. She has authored a seemingly endless stream of bills seeking to tie the United States financially and militarily even more closely to Israel and impose more restrictions on the Palestinians. Any criticism of Israel, even if rooted in established American policy, will bring an immediate condemnation from her. When the State Department expressed concern about growing Israeli settlement activity in Palestine, she demanded that the administration stop such attacks on our ally, even though the United States has opposed the settlements for decades and they are blatant violations of well-established international law.

 
She opposes American support for the Palestinian Authority and any agency that works with the Palestinians, even if the work is simply humanitarian aid. The Palestinian Authority certainly has its problems, but it is the recognized government of Palestine and the only authority that can engage in negotiations with Israel (pointless though they may be). The fifty year old United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East has been frequently accused of malfeasance, generally by Israel and its supporters, who oppose any public discussion of the conditions in the occupied territories, but many of the accusations have been shown to be groundless. In any case, while there are likely problems associated with UNRWA’s operations, most of its work has been manifestly humanitarian. She has also attempted to deny American funds to any UN agency that recognizes Palestine as a state, no matter how important that organization’s efforts are in helping distressed people. A major source of her campaign financing comes from Irving Moskowitz, a notorious supporter of the settlement program and annexation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Irving the Bag Man

Irving the Bag Man

 
Regardless of how one estimates the value of Israel as a US ally, Ros-Lehtinen is clearly an extremist when it comes to the Israelis. She has defended Israel when it violates international law (not that international covenants mean anything to America anymore), but more seriously, she has rushed to Israel’s defense even when it is blatantly opposing established American policy, embarrassing us and undermining our own national interests. While most politicians are terrified of angering Israel and its American organizations, this crosses the line into anti-Americanism, of putting the interests of a foreign state above our own.

 
One wonders why. As a radical opponent of the Castro regime, you would think she would feel some sympathy for the Palestinians, who under the Israeli occupation are suffering a more oppressive regime than even the Cubans. Is it Moskowitz’s money? Is it her Jewish constituents? Is it some deep-seated hatred of the Palestinians? What could bring her to be essentially the agent of the Israeli government in Congress? Who knows? Congress is filled with a lot of strange and loathsome people.

(The title is classified.)

We are now beginning to see the staggering extent to which the Patriot Act has undermined our Constitution and privacy, thanks to the actions of a man who is being labeled a traitor by politicians and a hero, if a self-righteous one, by more sensible people.  The broad and ambiguous powers granted the FBI are enough of a cause for concern, and now we learn the NSA has been conducting secret surveillance of apparently everyone on the planet who has access to a telephone, computer or credit card.  That would include Americans, whom the NSA is of course not empowered to spy on, but we cannot afford to be obsessive about details when it comes to national security.  Besides, the FBI, which is in fact commissioned to pry into our lives, is too busy with its own vastly expanded powers.

Is this process of collecting and analyzing astronomical amounts of data at all effective in combating terrorism?  Perhaps, but an independent estimation is impossible when virtually everything – including the very existence of the program – is classified, and the public knows only what the government deigns to release.  “Trust us, your elected officials,” says the President.  Trust Congress, which seems to be generally in the dark itself and in any case is focused on politics?  Trust the military, which has a long and rich history of lying to the people?  Trust the spooks, whose whole existence is deception?  Keep in mind that the Man, Director of Intelligence James Clapper, when asked before a Congressional committee if data on Americans was being collected, said no, deliberately lying to the body that is supposed to be providing oversight.

Head of the NSA

Head of the NSA

Perhaps the saddest thing in all this is that fully half the American population accepts this massive invasion of the Fourth Amendment.  This is hardly a surprise.  Judging from the apparent abandon and relish with which people, especially younger people, place personal and revealing information and photos on social media platforms, it would appear that many Americans have little interest in the Fourth Amendment.  Of course, most Americans would not be able to identify the Fourth Amendment, but most do have a sense that the Constitution guarantees privacy.  Besides, what is a little snooping if it prevents terror attacks?  Further, many are taken by the assurance – second only to national security as a reason for undermining civil liberties – that you have nothing to worry about if you are doing nothing wrong.  Well, at least until the government has some reason to find wrongdoing.

That the odds of being injured by a terrorist are infinitesimal compared to being shot or by a gun or hit by a drunk driver is seemingly unimportant.  For some obscure reason killing a couple of people with a bomb and a cause is a threat to national security, while gunning down a dozen people in the streets of Chicago is just crime.  And the mere mention of national security means the Constitution is likely to be assaulted.  I am constantly amazed that the same people who constantly remind us that men died to preserve the freedoms we exercise, especially when we criticize the government and military, are among the first to accept limitations on those freedoms whenever the cry of national security is raised.

But even more annoying than the surveillance programs and the sanctimonious defense of the same is the stupefying and frequently ludicrous application of secrecy.  Is there nothing done by our government that is not classified?  Of course, left to itself the government, in all its manifestations, would classify everything; it is the easiest way to cover mistakes, avoid blame and embarrassment and do illegal things.  The spooks obviously feel better when the public knows nothing, but generals and politicians can also operate more freely and feel superior and important when they know stuff the public is unaware of.

The constant refrain is that revealing pretty much anything about our security apparatus damages national security, though exactly how is inevitably left vague.  We are told, for example, that the outing of NSA’s PRISM program has caused “serious and irreversible damage to this nation.”  What, now all of a sudden the terrorists realize it is dangerous to use cell phones and credit cards?  Those plotting acts against America could hardly be that stupid; the stupid guys get to blow themselves up in Kabul.  Except among the stupid in the US, of whom there seem to be many (one even sits on the Intelligence Committee – Michele Bachmann), such outlandish claims only further undermine the already almost non-existent credibility of the government on these issues.  Incidentally, that same person, General Keith Alexander, director of the NSA, also claimed the revelation undermined our relations to our allies, a rare burst of truth from such a source.

Why is the very budget of the NSA secret?  What can our enemies conclude from knowing exactly how much money is poured into the agency, when simply knowing that is a very large amount is enough to make a terrorist wary?  The only sensible reason is to hide the coast and extent of the NSA’s activities from the American public, which is exactly what is happening.  And for political reasons the government is now revealing little bits of information regarding the NSA’s programs.  Well, if this stuff can be declassified now without hurting our security, why was it classified in the first place?

This can get very silly.  James Clapper lied to Congress because he would have violated the laws binding him to secrecy had he replied truthfully.  Rep. Peter King, a poster child for ignorance, further explained that the Committee had placed the Director in an “untenable” position by asking him the question at all, even though Clapper was advised ahead of the hearing that he would be asked this.  Sen. Ron Wyden, who asked the question, later stated that he knew Clapper was lying but could not say so without violating his own security clearance agreements.  Clapper later explained that faced with the problem he answered “no” as the “most truthful, or least untruthful” reply.  He might just as well used the expression “truthiness.”  He lied, plain and simple, and his explanation only makes him look either disingenuous or stupid – or perhaps both.

But the whole business is in fact very serious for us, the people.  The Patriot Act is of course a public document, but apparently exactly how the government interprets its clauses is different from what one might suppose from reading the law.  Naturally, that interpretation is secret, presumably because any terrorist can read the law and thus undermine its effectiveness by understanding its provisions.  Or because the government is abusing even the broad unconstitutional powers granted by the Act.

And the most nefarious and ultimately destructive part of this compilation of police state laws is the provision for the establishment of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which is to provide the “oversight” promised by the politicians.  Of course, the court is secret.  It is staffed by judges appointed by the Chief Justice for seven year terms, and this should comfort us inasmuch as the Supreme Court is the defender of the Constitution, which, however, many scholars believe has already been violated by the Patriot Act itself.  There is no defense; the Justice Department makes its case for a warrant, and the judge decides, apparently positively in the vast majority of instances.   The arguments, the targets, the outcome and the information acquired are all secret.

No one is actually being tried before this court, although the decision to grant a warrant to the FBI might be considered the first step in a judicial process that could culminate in an individual’s arrest or death.  Nevertheless, it is a secret court, an institution traditionally associated with oppressive governments.  Like blowing up American citizens with a Hellfire missile (after a secret judgment in the White House), this court rests on a very slippery slope and establishes an incredibly dangerous precedent.  The next step is a secret court to try American citizens because the evidence used by the prosecution must be kept secret in the interests of national security, a development already emerging is the trials of foreign nationals and resident aliens.  The Patriot Act is transforming the Federal Bureau of Investigation into an actual Geheime Staatspolizei.

Head of the FBI

Head of the FBI

I see little hope.  The technology of spying has become so sophisticated, especially in connection with the information and communications structures, that resistance seems futile.  Not only has it become easier for the security services to spy and keep their operations secret, but the new electronic technologies are just too damn useful to the government, particularly regarding domestic concerns, and a generally ignorant Congress will continue to legalize activity ultimately destructive to a democratic society.  The Constitution is of course protected by the Supreme Court, but some of their recent decisions do not fill me with hope.  Besides, I am guessing that most of this stuff is also kept secret from the Justices.

One final thing: is Michele Bachmann actually entrusted with secrets?

 

 

 

 

 

 

War without End, Amen

Chancellor Obama

Chancellor Obama

On September 21, 2001 Congress passed the Authorization to Use Military Force act, the legislation that essentially allowed the President and military to wage war on “terrorism” anywhere, anytime and seemingly forever.  In an impressive imitation of the German parliament under Hitler Congress, after virtually no debate, approved the act with an almost unanimous vote; apart from a few abstentions there was only a single nay cast in both houses.  That no vote was cast by Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Cal), who is now sponsoring a bill, HR 198, that would repeal the AUMF.

The Patriot Act, another demonstration of incredible political cowardice, is of course much more pernicious domestically, with its constitutionally dubious provisions for dramatically enhancing the powers of the country’s security apparatus while undermining civil liberties.  The Patriot Act (always be suspicious of legislation with the word “patriot” in the title) immediately reminded me of the Enabling Act of 1933, which essentially allowed Hitler to henceforth govern by decree: both were justified by “threats” to national security (9/11, the burning of the Reichstag) and both increased the power of the state and undermined the democratic constitution.  And since no government will voluntarily surrender power the life of the Patriot Act, like the Enabling Act, has been constantly extended, most recently by that defender of freedom, Barack Obama, whom we now know is collecting information on Americans on a scale unmatched by any dictatorship in history.

In some ways the AUMF is the foreign affairs counterpart to the Patriot Act.  It dramatically increases the power and scope of the executive, military and CIA in waging war overseas and obviously allows the transgression of international covenants we are pledged to defend, once again in the name of national security, the favorite excuse of every authoritarian state.  Even better than the Patriot Act, the AUMF has no sunset clause, presumably because the war against terror will last so long as there is even a single individual contemplating violence against the United State, which is to say, forever.

President Obama, who was apparently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize simply for replacing George Bush, is now using the AUMF to “wage war,” i.e., assassinate people, to an extent the Bush administration could only dream of.  Obama thus joins such notables as Henry Kissinger, Menachim Begin and Yasser Arafat in the contest to see which Nobel Peace laureate has the most blood on his hands.  And his administration has just made it clear, at least in White House language, that the war is likely to continue for another ten or twenty years.  We could be going for a record here.

Lee’s bill is doomed to failure, because the forces perpetuating the forever war are simply too strong for Congress to resist, not that it takes that much to cow our noble leaders.    Unlike the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, however, it is not economic pressures that play a major role, since drone warfare is relatively cheap, and for Haliburton, Blackwater Mercs, Amalgamated Latrine Diggers, et al. there is in this case little “money to be made, supplying the army with the tools of the trade.”  Instead, the forces behind the forever war are institutional: the Presidency, federal security and intelligence agencies and the military.

Governments are the ultimate beneficiaries of wars, assuming they win them.  Threats to national security, particularly those that are seen as internal to the country, have always been a grand justification for the state, especially the executive, to accumulate more power, and the security threat is most obvious and useful when the country is actually at war, whether or not the enemy is seriously a threat.  The beauty of the forever war, of course, is that is in fact forever.  Crises need not be invented, because inasmuch as the country is always in a state of war, it is also always in the midst of a politically useful crisis.  Further, not only can we not lose the war on terror but it also does not need to be won, so long as terrorists (or reasonable facsimiles) are being blown up.  Even a failure, such as a successful serious terror attack in the country, provides a platform for seeking more authority and more leeway in the exercise of that authority.  It’s a politician’s dream come true.

The Executive branch clearly benefits, certainly in its relationship to the Congress.  The President of the United States now has more power, both in domestic and foreign affairs, than he has ever had, even, I would suggest, during the Second World War.  Governments do not willingly surrender power.  Much of the power accumulated during the war against Germany and Japan was retained by the Presidency, and more was added by the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, a fine example of war – or shadow war – playing into the hands of the executive and military.  Some of that authority was rescinded by the War Powers Act, but not all, and the measure in fact enshrines the idea that the President can commit the country to war without getting anyone’s approval by granting an exception: in case of “a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.”

Presidential authority and the mechanisms for exercising that authority clearly skyrocketed after 9/11, leading to two costly wars that really did not involve the American public.  Barack Obama has now dramatically underscored the point that all governments crave power; the putative liberal and one time critic of the Bush administration’s abuses has preserved all those emergency powers, which are now being used on a whole new scale.  The obsession with secrecy and leaks, which has resulted in an administration even more opaque than the previous one, obviously has a lot to do with preventing the public from realizing just how extensive and questionable the government’s activities are.

New digs for CIA spooks

New digs for CIA spooks

The forever war is a bonanza for the FBI, the CIA, the NSA and whatever other security and intelligence groups that are mucking about the country.  Since the war against terrorism has a domestic component our secret police, the FBI, has an unending excuse for enhanced activities, even those of constitutional questionable nature, and a basis for demanding more money.  Nobody, probably not even members of Congress, really knows exactly what the mandate and powers of the NSA are since this set of spooks makes the CIA look positively transparent, but clearly it is involved in domestic affairs, whether legally or illegally, who knows?  Intelligence agencies always do well in times of war, and we can expect the NSA to see increases in its funding, though we will not see them, since the agency’s budget is also secret.

The big winner in the forever war is the CIA (probably; who knows what the NSA is doing?), inasmuch as it is directly involved in foreign affairs and external threats to the US.  Such agencies inevitably grow larger in times of war, and in this regard the forever war is perfect, since it is against shadowy individuals scattered around the planet.  Consequently, the CIA becomes more important and plays a bigger role than the military, and the organization that was formally prohibited from assassination in 1975 now does so openly and with heavy weapons.  Why drone warfare and serious weaponry was put in the hands of an intelligence agency, particularly one with a history of incompetence and law-breaking, rather than the military is not at all clear.  Perhaps because they were considered better at secrecy and deception than the military.

While the forever war is essentially in the hands of its competitors, the military still benefits, since a war is a war, even one in which traditional armed forces have only a limited role.  Any war means budget increases for the Pentagon and provides them squealing points should any traitorous politician suggest their budget be cut.  Besides, the forever war is everywhere, which means more military personnel planted around the world.  And those aircraft carriers will be real handy for launching drones.

NSA.  Try to get in there.

NSA. Try to get in there.

None of these people have any serious reason to see the war on terror end; it is simply too good for business.  And it will not end, since it is unlikely there will ever come a moment when nobody is interested in killing Americans, especially since every drone strike, every violation of others’ national sovereignty is creating more jihadists.  So, the war on terror can even be good for terrorists.

The only real losers are the American people and their Constitution.

How Dare Those Wogs Bomb Us?

The Boston marathon terror bombings have revealed again the extensive – and typically negative – role American media plays in such attacks.  Regardless of the extent of the damage, regardless of the real impact of the event and inevitably regardless of any sense of perspective the media outlets, especially the television news channels, play any attack for all its worth, indulging in an orgy of strained and meaningless coverage and righteous indignation.  To be sure, this sort of thing also happens when students are massacred, especially children, but the attention only comes when the casualty list is long and fades without any action taken by government.

Nothing obliterates all other news in America like a “terrorist” attack.  More than a week later and with the bombers killed or captured CNN was still devoting all its airtime to this single issue; even ESPN and the NFL channel bumped their programming for a day or two to talk about the incident.  This meant seeing the bombing videos over and over and over and being treated to increasingly vapid and uninformative interviews.  And everyone felt obliged to put their own touch on the story: CNN of course trucked out the heavies, Blitzer, Cooper and Gupta, while my local media scored a couple of New Mexico runners who had been at the marathon.  The unending expressions of grief and outrage could hardly fail to become unconvincing.  Does Wolf Blitzer actually pray for the victims in the news, as he says he does?

The down side of all this media fawning is of course that we are in effect rewarding the terrorist scum with seemingly endless air time and vastly exaggerating the impact and importance of their petty (in the great scheme of things) murders.  This is the dramatic overreaction that accompanies any attack involving an apparent foreign enemy, though the perpetrators themselves might actually be Americans.  Reason and perspective fly out the window, and the deaths of four or five people become a national tragedy, even though such would be a slow day for murder in many American cities.  The suggested message is clear: we can slaughter dozens of our own neighbors, but you foreigners watch out.  And murdering on behalf of some weirdo notion of Islam means “foreigner,” even if the criminals are Americans.  A clear sign of this distinction: donations to the Boston victims have reached $14 million, while those for the victims of the Texas fertilizer explosion, which killed fourteen, wounded hundreds and devastated an entire town, are up to only $1 million.

As Europe has observed, our rage and retaliation in the wake of such acts seems way out of proportion to the damage actually done.  Granted, two skyscrapers obliterated and some 3000 people dead is serious business, but the reaction was two essentially pointless wars and several hundred thousand Iraqis and Afghanis dead, not to mention the squandering of American lives and treasure.  Worse, 9/11 was our Reichstag moment, beginning an ongoing assault on American civil liberties and accepted international law, which has only escalated under the Obama administration.  The Patriot Act, unread by those who voted for it and containing clearly unconstitutional provisions, was a product of fear, ignorance and pressure from the country’s security apparatuses.  To be sure, it falls short of the 1933 Enabling Act that formed the foundation of Hitler’s power, but it has tremendously increased the power of the executive, particularly in the areas of domestic surveillance and detention and waging war independent of Congress.

The Brothers Tsarnaev: Tamerlan, we hardly knew ya.

The Brothers Tsarnaev: Tamerlan, we hardly knew ya.

This time the governmental response has been far more measured, perhaps because the casualties were so limited and the perpetrators were so quickly dealt with, but Rep. Peter King, a man who is as blatantly anti-Muslim as one can be and still hold office, is already calling for increased surveillance of the already over-surveilled American Muslim community.  And of course the petty beings who inhabit Congress are carping about who is to blame and making demands for a level of security that could only be achieved by the complete abnegation of the Constitution.  In contrast the Middleton school massacre has resulted in absolutely no action, even though an incredible 90% of Americans support better gun control.  The jihadist lobby obviously lacks the clout of the NRA.

“National security” has always been the clarion call of political oppression, and now the threat of “terrorism” has allowed for a never ending crisis justifying a never ending period of emergency measures and war.  The definition of these two terms is also deliberately left vague.  In the most obvious meaning of the term there has not been a serious threat to our national security since the Japanese Empire and the USSR, and even terrorists with nuclear weapons could not really threaten the destruction of the state.  Now, however, blowing up a single American raises the issue of national security as readily as an invading army heading for our shores, so long as that individual is blown up by a Muslim or a foreigner.  I seem to recall that Timothy McVeigh did not elicit cries of national security.  Nor was he generally called a terrorist, though destroying innocents to make a point is the typical understanding of terrorism.  You simply must be acting for a foreign cause, which in the American mind means Islam.

There is of course in all this a huge element of hypocrisy and double standards.  Presumably every national/ethnic group considers its own people more valuable than others, but with its superior technology the west was able to take the “wog” idea to extremes: “Human life is cheap for them.”  Well, we may plead self-defense as we assassinate people around the world, but the “just wogs” attitude is perfectly clear in our disregard for the innocents we are killing daily.  Because of the staggering amount of secrecy – they only acknowledge the drone strikes because an exploding missile is difficult to cover up – accurate numbers are difficult to obtain, but even allowing for the most conservative figures we are on the average slaughtering with each strike far more innocents than the Chechin brothers did.  But of course they killed Americans.  The President and his spooks are just killing wogs, who probably intended to hurt us anyway.

My poor country.  What happened to us?