Economic and political analysis-Window on culture-Media criticism

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Triumph of the National Security State

AT&T allegedly devoted a windowless room, 641-A, for US government spying on its customers, according to this Harper's piece by John Horton. The whistleblower, Mark Klein, has set off lawsuits directed at AT&T, alongside other telecoms, for their failure to protect the confidentiality of customer data, which includes e-mails and voice and data communications. Wired's article is here.

Government agents were reputedly given access to any information they sought on any of AT&T's customers. Additionally, any e-mails from other providers like Verizon sent into AT&T's network were vulnerable to spying. Open and unfettered access allowed the US government to peer into the private lives of millions.

Telecommunications firms have been a top political contributor and are now using their influence to gain a blanket immunity, retroactive to the dates in which the spying occured.

This defensiveness doesn't bode well for the telecomms. If they are worried about the consequences of giving government access, they must understand the true scope of the liability. Admitting that they'd given the government unconditional access may uncover their complicity in appeasing the information-hungry needs of the National Security State.

Into the risky legal waters the government intends to charge to protect their corporate benefactors, using the ubiquitous security argument: we need spying to keep you safe. Challenged for details, the government can claim that our national security is threatened should they reveal their methods. Clearly the firms would love to avoid their responsibility by claiming the need for secrecy. The Administration has gone to great lengths to cover its trail, classify vast volumes of information top secret and slamming shut lines of inquiries into its misdeeds.

The Adminstration's Unitary Executive approach to its responsibilities under the Constitution neuters the need for transparency or Congressional approval, dismissing those traditional restraints on its powers as a "pre-9/11 mindset."

If John Woo's interpretation of the Constitution is accurate, Bush is entitled to break any law he chooses in the name of protecting the American people. Naturally the primacy of security concerns shortchanges accountability and secrecy is used to mask government conduct, no matter how egregious, up to and including torture and warrantless spying.

Once again the threat posed by terrorism fosters corporate interdependency with our government--a progression not unseen by many who compare the rise of fascism to the present political environment. Fascism is defined as the perfect blend of co-dependent corporate sector and public. Needs of the National Security State offer a easily excused rationale for expanding the size of government.

Playing politics with our security

Corporations position as the benefactors of politicians reminds us of the days of Venice--Rove's now-popular style of winner-take-all politicking has been compared to the Macchiavellian period in which might made right and deception ruled.

The government intrusions on privacy are justified by the omnipresent boogeyman, who in the present case happens to come in the form of an radical Islamic fundamentalist. The terrorist has become the perfect enemy.

Alongside the War on Drugs, the War on Terror has landed squat on the Constitution and taken one there as well. Both expand the State; both appear unwinnable in the present age. In both "wars" we disintermediate due process believing terrorists dangerous enough, and drug dealers evil enough, to impose draconian punishments, preemptively, to ward off the societal malady associated with these foes that never seem to go away.

Scarily, opposing the War on ____ is equated with weakness, in a direct quote of Goering which advocated the creation of a phantasmal enemy through which Right-wingers could expose the softness of more pacifistic elements who'd been lax in opposing the threat.

The neo-conservatives know Nazi propaganda and the stream of lies told to the German people well; Strauss, the school's ideological head, was a survivor of the Nazi death machine. Having suffered alongside so many other European Jews, Strauss was committed to the concept of a good government--a democracy--doing all it can to stop the rise of a dictator like Hitler.

Rhetorically, making Saddam Hussein the boogeyman made for good theatre in its day. The timing was significant: the US had easily toppled the Taliban. An election was approaching and a war seemed to be an attractive method of sustaining Bush's popularity. Anchored always in the short-term, Rove and other political advisors far ont he right opted to spark the war based on fabricated intelligence, presented by the White House Iraq Group--under the control of the Vice Presidency.

The cherry-picked fictions put out by the Office of Special Plans formed the background of prowar propaganda dispensed by the White House. The OSP was a a murky group of shadow private consultants led by Douglas Feith who been brought in to make a case for war, as the Downing Street Memo would attest, in which intelligence was fixed around the policy which was, in this case to go to war.

Awake all ye from your endless slumber!

Perception is reality in politics and like our choices or not, we must make a choice (and as the Rush song goes not deciding is still a choice.) As long as the American people slumber, the grave damage already done its Consitutional heritage will worsen, more abuses of power and the concorrant misery will surely be on the way.

Already we have a middle class that's paid an enormous economic price for the unrestrained exercise of free market capitalism. Enron chaperoned in an era of corporate irresponsibility. The company was the number one contributor to George Bush's 2000 Presidential campaign; with its donations it bought off regulatory oversight, giving its Executives time to get out before the bulk of investors and employees got hammered.

Employees are sacrificed in the name of offshoring. Some 3 million manufacturing jobs have disappeared.

Theoretically, this free trade is good for us--us being apparently being the lucky few who've seen huge income gains under the low-tax policies on the rich enacted under Bush. Meanwhile home values are starting a slow motion chain reaction for the credit industry. Will the rich be affected by an economic downswing? Yes, but as a ratio of their total wealth housing is far less important than someone making say $40,000. Home values, typically the largest asset in middle income families--are depreciating. The inability to borrow on rising values has also constricted economic growth or at least moderated it.

Property taxes seem to keep rising. Surely the maxed out housing values mean local and state governments have to stop spending more and more, a tough habit to break considering how easily they've been able to tax rising propety values.

Still, in the height of the crisis, the Fed saw fit to dump some $200 billion in cheap money to major banks. So doing it managed to stabilize the short-run effect of a credit crunch, which could--and some would argue should--have led to a correction. By bailing out the superwealthy class, a larger downturn may have indeed been avoided...or delayed.

If excess is inevitability the precursor of economic downturns--the economic cycle--then we are most surely due. Some have said though that the US has entered into a post-industrial economy and the ups and downs of a manufacturing -based economy have left us behind.

Yet the October 9th's Republican candidates forum in Michigan gave some insights into GOP candidates' positions in the heart of the Rust Belt. It appears that the new economic realities are doing little to build confidence in politicians. Mismanagement of the economy is a major concern to many Americans, despite the rising Dow.

People ultimately shape their future political environment by agreeing to accept just so much from their government before they rise up. Acceptance of any action by government is a reflection of the tolerance thresholds of the population.

Where is the outrage? If Americans are willing to let their government and politicians do as they please, it's inevitable that our system of government will degrade until such time as things become unacceptable and the people make it know they will not take any more.

When will the American people know that things have gone too far, and that their government and purported representatives have exploited the public trust, emptied our treasury, all in the name of enriching their cronies and themselves, whatever the cost in human blood and misery?

Unrestrained greed is after all colonialistic, abusive, and racist. The rich have the wealth they need to survive, so they want more and more in order to appease their ever-inflating egos. The world is not really the plaything of the upper classes, though I'm sure many of the Gilded Class imagine themselves the rulers of all they survey, just as the kings of the past looked out above the fields of their serfs.

If Americans accept anything in the name of the War on Terror, War on Drugs, or whatever other foe the politicians of the day dream up, we will see our nation suffer. If however Americans find some behaviors by our government--like its treatment of the Katrina victims--completely unacceptable then--surprise--those who control our nation and its laws will bend to the will of the people.

What's so truly devious about our government's most recent scheming is that the people must be complicit in the loss of their liberties through inaction. If government is self-aware (like the computers in Terminator 3), it would see the will of the people as the chief threat to its control over the broader system.

Polls have consistenly shown that the American people want out of Iraq. A political party took control based on the desire for change in Iraq policy. Why then haven't we left? The answer is clearly that there is a hardcore Right wing constituency that has successfully coopted the political process to the point that opposing the exercise of arbitrary and unilateral military force is seen as unacceptable by politicians.

It's just easier for these politicians to go along than it is to raise their profiles and collectively shout: "We're mad as hell and we aren't going to take it anymore!" Re-election is their primary aim, and what happens to our country, our budget, or our national prestige are all secondary to the immediacy of re-election.

One consequence of inaction or an uninterrupted status quo is federal spending spiralling out of control. Ultimately monetary limitations will shape the direction of future spending. Wars are expensive and add up. Military spending has long been the province of the Right, but Democrats are undermining the security edge which has often been associated with Republicans.

A bigger State does need to rationalize itself. With traditional Republicans, the increased role for government is justified by the fear of terrorism in the public. Democrats will likely push some fear buttons of their own. Paying for health care and retirement are undoubtedly huge concerns for the elderly, who do vote. [Now if the younger people who didn't vote had awoken from their slumber and chosen to take action, the results of the past four years would have almost certainly been entirely different.]

If self-interest motivates like nothing else, the middle and lower classes will participate if they can to protect their future financial security. Increasingly, the damage to our nation's Treasury can't be ignored as the cost of entitlements rise. If outsiders stop lending the $2 billion a day+ (trade deficit ) or $1 billion + (fiscal deficit) that we need, we will be left to print dollars to keep the train running. Our currency will then devalue and most employees suffer higher prices and diminished standard of living.

Harsh new economic realities might force the less wealthy into political action. Then again, popular political opinions are shaped around corporate-driven agendas. We saw the Iraq War inflame nationalist sentiment and give Bush a big kick up.

Inflation won't be kind to the rich, but they have sufficient assets to achieve a rate of return higher than the increasing costs associated with inflation. (I've mentioned Catherine Austin Fitts' lecture in which she explains how easily high net worth individuals can achieve above market rates of return.)

Before inflation causes prices to rise, the rich invest and enjoy higher yields ahead of the inflation curve and get to enjoy the short-term pop in sales and prices. Meanwhile the little guy tries to keep pace with rising prices by seeking higher wages, as the tightening job environment shifts towards the lower paying and -benefit service sector.

Inflation is not the responsibility of one party, but bringing it under control is the responsibility of the incumbents. So if inflation hits, it will damage the party in control. If Democrats win the White House and Congress, inflation brought on by overspending on war might be the perfect Trojan Horse.

The stress on our budgets in the near future may be a means of eroding the Democrats' ability to use spending on "social programs" to attract voters. The Third Rail of American politics--Social Security--has established a Welfare State and raised expectations among the retired and soon-to-retire, the most active political block. Treasury drained, or dollar devalued, Democrats might have to confront a dormant political movement newly woken from its slumber, a slumber brought on at least in part from year after year of Congressional lethargy and ineptitude, and the perception that voting makes no difference and reflects nothing more than a choice of lesser evils.

As we saw under Carter, a Democratic-controlled White House and Congress might be contending with an economic crisis of continuing job losses, high inflation, and decreasing economic output in real terms. Sounds like the Perfect Storm, or the perfect gift to leave one's political enemies.

Recent Developments

This article from HuffPo, "House Approves Foreign Wiretap Bill" I'd meant to link to. The original FISA bill remained in effect for only 6 months, so renewal is now under consideration.

A lot of spin is still being churned out in order to justify a continuation of the changes in FISA, which just happens to come with a ride-along clause granting immunity for telecoms. I'm hearing that Americans won't be directly targetted, and that people "reasonable expected" to be outside the US will be spied on instead. Still, many Americans will be vulnerable to a dragnet or "basket" of warrantless searches conducted arbitrarily at the whim of our nation's unelected national security commissars.

The National Security state depends on a coopting of the law in order to grant extralegal power on the President. The semblance of appearing to conform with the law is so important probably because without a minimal veneer of lip service, Congress will be shown to have no more power than a debating society and the President can do as he wishes by imperial fiat.

The war on terror has already granted Bush unrestrained powers in direct violation of the Constitution. Selective enforcement of the law is not the right of the Executive; Congress can and should pass laws and use the power of the purse to protect its relevancy in the Age of Terror.

The Administration has been loaded with lawyers skilled in overcoming the law. When posed a theoretical example, John Woo recently said that the use of torture of children is acceptable if it provides actionable intelligence. Woo's comments come from an interview cited here of this former White House counsel who poses as a "Constitutional rights" scholar.

Another neoconservative figure, one who's been instrumental in implementing Israel-first foreign policy, has also been in the news. David Wurmser is interviewed in "US 'must break Iran and Syria regimes'" by Toby Harnden.

Wurmser is the author of Clean Break which advocated regime change in Iraq and the destabilization of Iran and Syria, Israel's main enemies. I've cited the policy document from 1996 here often. He recently quit as Vice President Cheney's adviser on the Middle East.

And if you aren't scared enough by those two here is an interview titled "You Have No Rights" posted on Aug 14, 2007 available throughtruthdig.

Truthdig explains:
"Matthew Rothschild, editor of The Progressive and author of “You Have No Rights,” explains how our president became a 'medieval king,' and why your civil liberties are in greater danger than ever."

Between the FISA changes, the blanket immunity for telecoms, and willingness of what poses as political opposition to cave in, the National Security State seems well entrenched.

Website Development: More Content Needs A Home

I've hosted my Sept 15th Protest March video alongside my interviews in a list of link on the right of this page. Both are amateurish but worth seeing. They require Windows Media Viewer.

I still have video clips and photos from march. These will be best seen in QuickTime and a .jpg photo viewer. I'm inclined to host them under my own site, alongside more of my content. I'm also in need of links to my articles on the Web, as well as links to specific topics I've discussed here.

I've been hesitant to act because of copyright concerns for my photographs. Also, I have hosted some photos on flickr.com and am in the process of assessing that site's suitability for hosting photos.

I want a web host that uses sustainable energy and am mulling my options.



Post a Comment

<< Home