Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Time to Limit NSA Snooping Is Now

When Congress passed the PATRIOT Act in 2001, it did not intend to authorize the indiscriminate collection of personal information about every American. But that is what Congress will be doing if it renews the law next month without changes aimed at protecting our privacy from an increasingly intrusive national security state.

Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, which is scheduled to expire at the end of May, allows the FBI to obtain secret court orders demanding "any tangible things," including "books, records, papers, documents, and other items," that are "relevant" to a terrorism or espionage investigation. For years the Obama administration, with the blessing of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, secretly read Section 215 as permitting the mass collection of telephone records by the National Security Agency (NSA).
The NSA's phone-record dragnet was revealed in 2013, thanks to leaks by former NSA analyst Edward Snowden. At first President Obama said it was no big deal, but he changed his mind after polls showed Americans were increasingly skeptical of the program.
Obama now says the NSA does not need to routinely collect information on who called whom, when, and for how long. Instead it can ask phone companies for records tied to particular targets as the needs arises. The current approach, he concedes, needlessly jeopardizes Americans' privacy.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Montana Is Second State to Slow Police Militarization

Last Thursday Montana Governor Steve Bullock signed into law the strongest prohibition yet by any state against accepting “free” used military equipment from the federal government. A month ago New Jersey Chris Christie signed into law prohibiting such “free” used war materiel without express approval from the local governments involved. Montana’s new law outright prohibits any department in the state from receiving drones that are armored or weaponized (or both), military aircraft, grenades or grenade launchers, silencers and “militarized armored vehicles.”

In New Jersey the bill passed both houses unanimously; in Montana the House voted 79-20 in favor while the Senate voted 46-1 in favor. Under the new law police departments remain free to purchase such materiel, but they would have to use their own funds (not federal grants), and they would have to notify the public about the intended purchase at least 14 days in advance.

The difference between the laws was spelled out by Mike Maharrey of the Tenth Amendment Center:

By making it a local decision, the New Jersey law is a great first step, but the Montana law takes things to the next level. It closes loopholes and covers almost all the bases.

The next step would be to expand the equipment banned, and we’re hopeful that the good people in Montana will work on that in the next session.

Friday, April 24, 2015

The Clintons, Crony Capitalism, and American Foreign Policy

The income stream of the Clinton Foundation, which includes many millions of dollars from foreign governments and individuals with close links to foreign governments, has created a firestorm of controversy. A forthcoming book, Clinton Cash: The Untold Story of How and Why Foreign Governments and Businesses Helped Make Bill and Hillary Rich, by Peter Schweizer, contends that, during her tenure as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton granted favors and concessions to governments that were generous in their donations to the Foundation that bears her name.

More than that, reporting published prior to the book’s publication shows that enormous speaking fees were paid to both Hillary and Bill Clinton by entities closely tied to these same foreign interests. The Washington Post informs us that Bill Clinton alone collected $26 million in speaking fees in his work on behalf of the Foundation.

As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton was supposed to have filed full disclosure reports, and the Clinton Foundation was supposed to have forsworn donations from foreign governments during Mrs. Clinton’s tenure. The latter did not happen, and as for the former: there are huge loopholes in the disclosure rules, one of them being that, while sponsors of paid speaking engagements must be revealed, “sub-sponsors” are exempt. As the Washington Post tells it:

“[I]n 2012, Hillary Clinton’s disclosures show, Bill Clinton was paid $250,000 for a Boston speech to the Global Business Travel Association. But the documents filed by Bill Clinton’s office show that a proposed sub-sponsor was the aircraft manufacturing giant Boeing. During a 2009 trip to Russia, Hillary Clinton made a personal pitch for a state-owned airline to buy Boeing jets.”

Bill’s documentation was only made public because Judicial Watch, a conservative legal watchdog group, sued to obtain it. But Bill’s haul in that instance is just chump change compared to the big money that poured into Clinton Foundation coffers – and Bill and Hillary’s pockets – from foreign governments and companies owned or controlled by those governments.

Read the entire article

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Global Capitalism and the Global Police State: Crisis of Humanity and the Specter of 21st Century Fascism

The world capitalist system is arguably experiencing the worst crisis in its 500 year history. World capitalism has experienced a profound restructuring through globalisation over the past few decades and has been transformed in ways that make it fundamentally distinct from its earlier incarnations. Similarly, the current crisis exhibits features that set it apart from earlier crises of the system and raise the stakes for humanity.

If we are to avert disastrous outcomes we must understand both the nature of the new global capitalism and the nature of its crisis. Analysis of capitalist globalisation provides a template for probing a wide range of social, political, cultural and ideological processes in this 21st century. Following Marx, we want to focus on the internal dynamics of capitalism to understand crisis. And following the global capitalism perspective, we want to see how capitalism has qualitatively evolved in recent decades.

The system-wide crisis we face is not a repeat of earlier such episodes such as that of the the 1930s or the 1970s precisely because capital- ism is fundamentally different in the 21st century. Globalisation constitutes a qualitatively new epoch in the ongoing and open-ended evolution of world capitalism, marked by a number of qualitative shifts in the capitalist system and by novel articulations of social power. I highlight four aspects unique to this epoch.1

First is the rise of truly transnational capital and a new global production and financial system into which all nations and much of humanity has been integrated, either directly or indirectly. We have gone from a world economy, in which countries and regions were linked to each other via trade and financial flows in an integrated international market, to a global economy, in which nations are linked to each more organically through the transnationalisation of the production process, of finance, and of the circuits of capital accumulation.

No single nation-state can remain insulated from the global economy or prevent the penetration of the social, political, and cultural superstructure of global capitalism. Second is the rise of a Transnational Capitalist Class (TCC), a class group that has drawn in contingents from most countries around the world, North and South, and has attempted to position itself as a global ruling class. This TCC is the hegemonic fraction of capital on a world scale. Third is the rise of Transnational State (TNS) apparatuses. The TNS is constituted as a loose network made up of trans-, and supranational organisations together with national states. It functions to organise the conditions for transnational accumulation.

Read the entire article

Monday, April 20, 2015

How NBC Knowingly Let Syria Rebels’ False War Propaganda Stand For Years

An NBC News journalist is involved in a harrowing scene of battlefield danger. The journalist’s first-person story serves as the dominant narrative for years—but it turns out to be wrong, very wrong. Sound familiar? This isn’t the Brian Williams scandal. It’s worse: the story of the December 2012 kidnapping and rescue of Richard Engel, NBC’s chief foreign correspondent, in Syria.

The prevailing narrative held that, as Engel reported immediately after he was freed, a group of Shia militiamen loyal to Basher Assad’s embattled government had kidnapped and mistreated the star reporter and his colleagues. Engel pointed to the language his captors used and other pronounced signs of their allegiances, ranging from graffiti scrawled on the wall of their prison to the coffee cups they drank from.

But the narrative was false, a set-up by a Sunni rebel group opposing Assad. That much became clear on Wednesday night, when NBC quietly posted a piece to its website where Engel corrected the record. “The group that kidnapped us was Sunni, not Shia,” Engel wrote. Curiously, the piece is posited as producing “new details” about the attack, not as a correction; there was no retraction of or apology for earlier errors in reporting, as is customary.

Far from answering all the questions about the episode, Engel’s update piece did not give a full accounting of the story from NBC’s perspective. Those gaps were filled, in part, by a subsequent report in The New York Times. The resulting picture looks very bad for NBC, in many ways worse than Brian Williams’s fall from grace due to self-aggrandizement of his now-infamous helicopter incident in Iraq. This was war propaganda spread by NBC, a respected institution in American news. And if the Times’s account is to be believed, the network let the false story stand for years knowing full well that it was at least questionable, if not entirely false.

In Engel’s clarification of his original version story, he wrote:

Read the entire article

Friday, April 17, 2015

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Religious Fanaticism is a Huge Factor in Americans’ Support for Israel

A new poll from Bloomberg Politics contains a finding that, if you really think about it, is quite remarkable:

Almost half of all Americans want to support Israel even if its interests diverge from the interests of their own country. Only a minority of Americans (47 percent) say that their country should pursue their own interests over supporting Israel’s when the two choices collide. It’s the ultimate violation of George Washington’s 1796 Farewell Address warning that “nothing is more essential than that permanent, inveterate antipathies against particular nations, and passionate attachments for others, should be excluded. … The nation which indulges towards another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave.”

It is inconceivable that a substantial portion of Americans would want to support any other foreign country even where doing so was contrary to U.S. interests. Only Israel commands anything near that level of devoted, self-sacrificing fervor on the part of Americans. So it’s certainly worth asking what accounts for this bizarre aspect of American public opinion.
The answer should make everyone quite uncomfortable: it’s religious fanaticism. The U.S. media loves to mock adversary nations, especially Muslim ones, for being driven by religious extremism, but that is undeniably a major factor, arguably the most significant one, in explaining fervent support for Israel among the American populace. In reporting its poll findings, Bloomberg observed:
Religion appears to play an important role in shaping the numbers. Born-again Christians are more likely than overall poll respondents, 58 percent to 35 percent, to back Israel regardless of U.S. interests. Americans with no religious affiliation were the least likely to feel this way, at 26 percent.
The primary reason evangelical Christians in the U.S. are so devoted to Israel is simple: their radical religious dogma teaches them that God demands this. In 2004, Pat Robertson delivered a speech entitled “Why Evangelical Christians Support Israel” and said:

“evangelical Christians support Israel because we believe that the words of Moses and the ancient prophets of Israel were inspired by God,” and “we believe that the emergence of a Jewish state in the land promised by God to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was ordained by God.” He added that “God’s chosen people” — Jews — have an obligation to God to fight against “Muslim vandals” so that Israel remains united in their hands:

Read the entire article

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Who Isn’t Fascist?

Having recently completed a book on fascism, the career of a concept, it seems that all my efforts to lessen the abuse of my key term may go for naught. Fascism will likely live on, not as a resurgent interwar European movement but as a freely bandied about epithet that can be applied to whatever journalists don’t like. The unsuspecting reader of our partisan media will go on being be made to believe that fascists are one or more of the following villains: anti-American jihadists, outspoken opponents of immigration here and in Western Europe, Democratic presidential candidates, Israeli soldiers, homophobic Christians, foreign-policy isolationists, or the nationalist governments of Viktor Orban in Hungary and Vladimir Putin in Russia. This “fascist” list continues to grow—a comprehensive one would be at least twice as long.

Almost all attempts to apply “fascist” as a dirty word entail comparisons that have little or no historical basis but evoke all too predictable responses. Put most simply, we are made to think “Fascism equals Hitler.” By associating what the speaker doesn’t like with the f-word or by making this association by indirection, one links the hated object of one’s attack to Nazi genocide. In his book Liberal Fascism, Jonah Goldberg does not even rely on this implicit equation of bad guys with Nazis. He just plunges ahead and makes the argumentum ad Hitlerum when he compares Hillary Clinton’s economic planning to the policies of Hitler and the Nazi Minister of Labor Robert Ley. We are thereby made to believe that the Democratic Party has turned Hitlerian, and any fool knows what that means.

Someone who should know better than to abuse the term, the Israeli Francophone historian Zev Sternhell, is undoubtedly the world’s greatest authority on French fascism. In an interview with Haaretz last August, Sternhell lashed out against the Israeli bombing of Gaza, which he compared to the behavior of interwar fascists. He asserted that the fascist danger “reached a new peak in Israel during the Gaza operation” and that Israel is now fraught with fascist thinking of the kind that permeated France when Hitler’s armies invaded in 1940. These comparisons are inexcusable for two reasons. One, whatever one may think of the Israeli military operation, those carrying it out were not “fascists”—one may disapprove of the violence unleashed by these soldiers without having to reach for the emotive, ill-fitting f-word. Moreover, France fell in 1940 because the Germans outmaneuvered French armies militarily. The country was not overthrown from within by fascists, and the group that collaborated with the enemy most blatantly during the invasion was the French Communists, who were taking orders from Hitler’s Soviet allies.

Mentioning these facts in response to Sternhell’s abuse of historical parallels seems redundant, given that the writer in question knows the history far better than I. This is what renders his rant all the more remarkable. We are talking about a distinguished historian of fascism who writes brilliantly about his subject when he is not wearing his political hat. Sternhell introduces a sober thought when he reminds us that “there are worse things than fascism.” The Italian fascist regime before it was taken over by Nazi Germany killed “no more than a few dozen” opponents, and those were mostly assassinations that occurred outside Italy, probably without Mussolini’s knowledge. (One might note that while the partisan use of “fascism” has grown exponentially in recent decades, the scholarship on this topic has not degenerated in the same way.)

Read the entire article

Friday, April 10, 2015

The Long Retreat in the Culture War

The Republican rout in the Battle of Indianapolis provides us with a snapshot of the correlation of forces in the culture wars.

Faced with a corporate-secularist firestorm, Gov. Mike Pence said Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act would not protect Christian bakers or florists who refuse their services to same-sex weddings. And the white flag went up again.

Politics follows culture. And the cultural revolution of the ’60s is triumphant. Traditional Christianity, driven out of schools and the public square, is being whipped back into the churches and told to stay there.

America has gone over to the revolution.

Looking back, the sweep of the capitulation becomes stark.

First came the plea of atheists not to have their children forced to participate in prayers at school. Fair enough. Americans do not believe in compelling people to do as they disbelieve.

Then followed the demand that no child be exposed to prayers or religious books, including the Bible, nor have any day or week set aside as a holiday if connected to Christianity.

Read the entire article

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

U.S. Special Operations forces stage assault on . . . Fort Lauderdale

When the largely geriatric city of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, is not putting residents who feed the homeless in jail, it is playing host to U.S. Special Operations Command troops who used the city to stage mock urban warfare assaults.

WMR’s sources in the city nicknamed “Fort Liquordale,” where “happy hour” extends in some bars from 12 noon to 8 pm, confirm that on the evening of March 26, U.S. Special Operations Command Blackhawk helicopters hovered around downtown Ft. Lauderdale, alarming many local residents and businessmen.

The Broward County Sheriff’s Department and local police departments aided some 200 members of the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, and Air Force in carrying out the urban warfare operation, according to a press release from the Broward sheriff’s department.

The exercises, coordinated by the U.S. Special Operations Command in Tampa, were to have concluded on March 27. The exercises were, according to the U.S. Special Operations Command, not to be held in “large population centers.” Fort Lauderdale has a population of 175,000 and sits within a narrow urban strip that extends from Miami to West Palm Beach where 5 million people live.

One Fort Lauderdale businessman told WMR, “I went outside, shouted obscenities at them [the helicopters] and flipped them the bird.”

Some websites mistakenly reported that the Fort Lauderdale exercise was part of Operation Jade Helm. However, that domestic counter-insurgency exercise is not scheduled until July 15 to September 15 of this year in several western states, including Texas, Utah, Colorado, and Nevada.


Monday, April 6, 2015

Washington’s Agenda: The Destabilization and Destruction of Syria. “Islamic State” Terrorists Deployed by the CIA

The military forces of the Bashar al-Assad government have collapsed on two fronts. The capital of Idlib province in northwest Syria has been lost to Islamic State terrorists sanctioned by the United States, Israel and their Persian Gulf allies and mobilized by the CIA.

Government forces in the south have also lost the border crossing at Nasib, the only functioning crossing with Jordan—the key southern import/export route.  The surrender of this border to Al-Nusra Front Al-Qaeda terrorist “rebels”—CIA/Washington proxies—further threatens a Syrian economy already devastated by years of warfare, relentless US-led terrorism of every variety, and endless NATO economic and political terror.

Together, the Al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State—aka Washington and the CIA—now control roughly half of Syria.

As Al-Qaeda terrorists run rampant on the ground from both the north and south, Syria is bombed by American planes from Turkey. US air strikes are now called in by terrorists themselves. Behind a cover story of operations directed at the alleged Islamic State, the actual targets are (and will increasingly become) Syrian military targets and command/control— in support of the US-led Islamic State terrorists that Washington and NATO claim to be fighting.

Washington’s objective: the decapitation of the Assad government in the same manner as in Libya.
Can you hear the chortling coming from the halls of CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, and in the halls of Congress in Washington?

Read the entire article

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Why Iran Distrusts the US in Nuke Talks

The Iranians may be a bit paranoid but, as the saying goes, this does not mean some folks are not out to get them. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his knee-jerk followers in Washington clearly are out to get them – and they know it.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the surreal set of negotiations in Switzerland premised not on evidence, but rather on an assumption of Iran’s putative “ambition” to become a nuclear weapons state – like Israel, which maintains a secret and sophisticated nuclear weapons arsenal estimated at about 200 weapons. The supposed threat is that Iran might build one.

Israel and the U.S. know from their intelligence services that Iran has no active nuclear weapons program, but they are not about to let truth get in the way of their concerted effort to marginalize Iran. And so they fantasize before the world about an Iranian nuclear weapons program that must be stopped at all costs – including war.

Among the most surprising aspects of this is the fact that most U.S. allies are so willing to go along with the charade and Washington’s catch-all solution – sanctions – as some U.S. and Israeli hardliners open call for a sustained bombing campaign of Iranian nuclear sites that could inflict a massive loss of human life and result in an environmental catastrophe.

On March 26, arch-neocon John Bolton, George W. Bush’s Ambassador to the United Nations, graced the pages of the New York Times with his most recent appeal for an attack on Iran. Bolton went a bit too far, though, in citing the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) of November 2007, agreed to unanimously by all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies. Perhaps he reasoned that, since the “mainstream media” rarely mentions that NIE, “Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities,” he could get away with distorting its key findings, which were:

Read the entire article