Tuesday, January 03, 2012

United States of Homeland Security

President Obama has signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012. The signing comes after weeks of equivocation and obfuscation, and a widespread reporting blackout in the major media.

At issue are sections 1031 and 1032, which, in somewhat ambiguous language, seem to provide for the indefinite detention of US citizens without trial, by the military if the government so chooses, if those citizens are classified as terrorists or as terrorist sympathizers.

When it came out of the Senate, the law (then S.1867) was accompanied by Feinstein amendment #1456, which states that the law shall not be "construed to affect existing law or authorities, relating to the detention of United States citizens, lawful resident aliens of the United States or any other persons who are captured or arrested in the United States."

This amendment, however, was a political maneuver to pacify opponents, while proponents believed they already had the ability in question with respect to the detention of US citizens classified as terrorists (which enabled the detention without trial of the US citizen Jose Padilla in 2002, after being classified as an "enemy combatant").

In signing the bill into law, President Obama issued a signing statement clarifying that this current Administration "will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens." This, of course, says nothing about future Administrations, which can reverse signing statements and executive orders at will.

Moreover, the sections in question are blatantly unconstitutional.

Article I Section 9 of the US Constitution says, "privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it."

The Constitution doesn't specify that habeas corpus applies only to citizens of the US, and British legal custom (the American revolutionists were ethnically British) reinforces the claim that this is an "inalienable right."

The Magna Carta says, "No Freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseized of his Freehold, or Liberties, or free Customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any other wise destroyed; nor will We not pass upon him, nor condemn him, but by lawful judgment of his Peers, or by the Law of the land." It says, "Freeman" not "subject."

By strengthening the ability of the government to choose by ad hoc action which system of justice applies to which detainees (i.e., the new military established by President George W. Bush under the Military Commissions Act of 2006; or civilian courts), this bill flies in the face of the principle of rule of law, and therefore exemplifies arbitrary government.

In 1944, free market theorist Friedrich Hayek wrote:
"while every law restricts individual freedom to some extent by altering the means which people may use in the pursuit of their aims, under the Rule of Law the government is prevented from stultifying individual efforts by ad hoc action... If the law says that such a board or authority may do what it pleases, anything that board or authority does is legal -- but its actions are certainly not subject to the Rule of Law. By giving the government unlimited powers, the most arbitrary rule can be made legal; and in this way a democracy may set up the most complete despotism imaginable....The Rule of Law thus implies limits to the scope of legislation: it restricts it to the kind of general rules known as formal law and excludes legislation either directly aimed at particular people or at enabling anybody to use the coercive power of the state for the purpose of such discrimination. It means, not that everything is regulated by law, but, on the contrary, that the coercive power of the state can be used only in cases defined in advance by the law and in such a way that it can be foreseen how it will be used."
Language like that contained in this law has no place in American jurisprudence, and President Obama, as a "constitutional scholar" ought to know better.

I guess it takes a constitutional scholar to most effectively dismantle the constitution.

The government's next step is likely to start using this law very selectively and carefully establishing precedent. Then, gradually, the scope of the law will be extended, using legal theories like those advanced by John Yoo under Bush II, or though a classified legal interpretation such as that described by Senators Mark Udall and Ron Wyden.

But Obama is the lesser of two evils, right?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Irrational Contagion

Informed, rational debate is a cornerstone of American ideology. The American constitutional republic is a clear implementation of European Enlightenment Rationalist ideals.

Conservatives want government to keep its hands off their Medicare. They're going to get what they asked for and they're not going to like it.

Conservatives claim government can't run anything efficiently, but that government-run healthcare will put private insurers out of business. The healthcare industry seems to be doing just fine despite Medicare and Medicaid; the health care industry is making out like a bandit.

Conservatives criticize Muslims for wanting theocracy, and advocate returning the US to its "Christian roots."

Conservatives think we need to cut back the public sector -- except the military, which at 5% of GDP, is a pretty sizable chunk of the public sector (1/3 of federal spending).

Conservatives claim to oppose subsidies on principle, but promote school vouchers, expect free roads, advocate increased spending on "national security," and hold that corporate welfare is beneficial to ordinary citizens. "National security" is the oldest subsidy program in the United States: 80% of the federal budget under George Washington's administration went to Indian eradication. America was built on subsidies and genocide, not entrepreneurial initiative: railroad subsidies and land grants fueled the Westward expansion, which was more about the advance of technologies like the telegraph than it was about the rugged individualist squaring off against the wilderness. In this sense, conservatives do hold traditional values.

Conservatives believe in traditional values, and uphold entrepreneurs has the epitome of these values, despite the fact that entrepreneurs get ahead by innovating -- that is, overturning tradition. It was the new, urban, bourgeoisie that displaced the feudal system in the Middle Ages, and it was the bourgeoisie that overthrew the monarchy in the 18th Century. Capitalism is the enemy of tradition.

Conservatives want competition, which is unpredictable if it is fair; and they also want stability in the markets to guarantee a return on their investments. They blame regulation for causing "uncertainty," despite the fact that accepting risk is a central feature of entrepreneurialism, which they hold to be quintessentially American.

Conservatives oppose stem cell research because it destroys embryos, but have no problem with fertility clinics, which also destroy embryos.

Conservatives oppose biological Darwinism, but embrace social Darwinism.

Conservatives claim to be religious, but have no compassion for the poor or the sick. They believe we're all sinners, and that we need laws like the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule to guide our behavior; but somehow, we're more trustworthy where large sums of money are involved, and industry suffers from too much regulation.

Conservatives want government to stay out of business, but expect their elected officials to create private sector jobs.

Conservatives oppose "activist judges," but uphold an individual right to bear arms, which is the result of "activist judges." Conservatives often ignore the first clause in the Second Amendment, "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State," which, as a preamble, serves the purpose of a legal "whereas" clause. If there is an individual right to bear arms, it is the result of "activist judges." They support the NRA as though it were a civil rights organization, when in fact, it is an industry trade group.

Conservatives disdain the mainstream media, but cultishly adhere to the Fox News worldview -- the most watched cable news channel -- part of a multi-billion dollar media empire, including the Wall Street Journal.

Conservatives want lower taxes so they can "starve the beast," but disparage anybody who is too poor to pay federal income tax.

Conservatives claim to love the Constitution, but despise the federal government.

Conservatives claim to love liberty and marriage, but want to dismantle the Bill of Rights for the sake of national security, and refuse to let gay couples marry.

Conservatives point to dysfunctional government as evidence that government itself is a threat, but would never point to the contemporary rise in divorce rates as evidence that the institution of marriage is a problem that should be abolished.

Anything follows from a contradiction. Even though conservatives believe that their positions represent established, well-reasoned principles, they are conditioned by the media to exhibit knee-jerk reactions in response to stock key phrases. With respect to the vehemence with which conservatives advocate their positions, it is worth noting that hardly anybody ever actually sees the people they elect; voters give authority to "personalities" constructed through the media. The media then uses the authority of these constructed personalities to further shape the behaviors and attitudes of voters.

Monday, May 02, 2011


A: We killed Osama bin Laden.
B: Who?
A: Osama bin Laden.
B: ?
A: The Al Qaeda guy?  911?
B: I stopped keeping track of the bastards after we bagged Saddam Hussein.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Lot of Change, Not Much Difference

The broadcast media's portrait of the 2006 elections as a referendum on the Iraq War has turned out to be not only meaningless, but also an utterly disposable bit of wall-to-wall fanfare and tongue-wagging. There's no reason to suppose that the media's portrait of these 2010 elections as a referendum on the Democrats or the Obama Administration's economic policies will prove to be any more meaningful.

Like the Progressive Democrats who voted for Obama in 2008, last week, many citizens were coerced into voting against their own interests, but won't be told about it, and don't have the tools to figure it out. Tea Party supporters who voted for Republican candidates would have their cake and eat it too: they make a lot of noise, but don't have the courage to vote for a real third party. They might present a good argument for the efficacy of an instant runoff voting system, but in the mean time, will likely serve as live bait for Neocon operatives.

When I tune in the Jesus channel on my TV set, the evangelicals claim ownership of the Tea Party movement (the Jesus channel truly is the lunatic fringe: a few years ago Pat Robertson called for the assassination of Hugo Chavez -- other than radical Muslim clerics, what type of religious leader calls for the assassination of a foreign head of state?). When I turn in to Fox News radio, they claim ownership of the Tea Party too. Despite the pride the movement takes in claiming to be leaderless, I think NPR is probably right to align them with the Republican Party -- given that the Tea Party has exclusively elected Republicans (maybe that's just a statement about correlation rather than causation, but let's leave SCIENCE OUT of things, OK?).

When backers of Tea Party candidates express fears about the GOP co-opting the movement, those fears are really about the big-government, big-deficit, war-mongering, anti-civil-liberties Neocon GOP contingent that has for the past few decades dominated the GOP. They won't admit it, because criticizing anything about the Republican Party might embolden some Democrat somewhere, but the Tea Party is not just pissed off at Big Government -- a lot of them are also pissed off that they were duped for two terms of George W. Bush. I expect the revisionists will soon take care of that -- otherwise the Tea Party may realize that the Neocons pose a greater threat to their movement than the Democrats do. In 2008 Ron Paul was excluded from presidential debates by both Fox News and the GOP -- that Fox and the Republicans now seem to embrace the movement Ron Paul kicked off should be cause for concern.

Even though George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Karl Rove, and Alberto Gonzales left office when Barack Obama moved into the White House, President Obama's Administration is very much a continuation of the Bush era's Neocon agenda. The Democrats won't talk about it, because then some Republican somewhere might accuse them of harping on the past rather than moving forward and taking action. It would be nice if they'd talk about it, because it could as easily be the result of corruption, psychopathy, or simply not being left many options by the previous Administration (which itself may have been corrupt, psychopathic, or inept).

Democrats are not by definition "liberal." Barack Obama is no "liberal" -- and in many ways the Republican party is far more radical than anything found in the Democratic party. Barack Obama is definitely not Malcolm X. He's not Al Sharpton either. I don't care how heart-wrenching it was for the Independent Voters on TV in 2008, wringing their hands over whether or not to vote for a black man. Obama acts more like a Neocon than a liberal, and the media is still dominated by liars. The health care reforms he proposed were perfectly compatible with classical 20th Century free market thinking, and what Congress eventually passed was quite favorable to Big Business.

In the 1940's, the influential free market thinker Friedrich Hayek wrote: "there can be no doubt that some minimum of food, shelter, and clothing, sufficient to preserve health and the capacity to work, can be assured to everybody… Nor is there any reason why the state should not assist the individuals in providing for the common hazards of life against which, because of their uncertainty, few individuals can make adequate provision. Where, as in the case of sickness and accident, neither the desire to avoid such calamities nor the efforts to overcome their consequences are as a rule weakened by the provision of assistance -- where, in short, we deal with genuinely insurable risks -- the case for the state's helping to organize a comprehensive system of social insurance is very strong."

The basic logic behind state-run healthcare in a free market economy is this (according to the Grand-Daddy of the Chicago School of Economics that was so influential during Bush II's Administration): industrialization has destroyed the intergenerational knowledge necessary for an individual to successfully live life as a farmer; most workers therefore have no choice but to work in the industrial system; because workers must work for the industrial state, the industrial state has an obligation to provide workers with social insurance systems that ensure that workers can work. Hayek was by no means a socialist: he strongly believed that free markets were among the most profound inventions ever devised for the promotion of individual liberty. In his support of individual liberty, he was equally suspicious of coercive pressures originating from states as from corporations.

Some years before George Orwell, Hayek wrote: "Few traits of totalitarian regimes are at the same time so confusing to the superficial observer and yet so characteristic of the whole intellectual climate as the complete perversion of language, the change of meaning of the words by which the ideals of the new regimes are expressed." Although Hayek was a proponent of free markets, he called his platform "liberalism." So did his predecessors for the prior 200 years. In 2010 AD, Hayek's views are more commonly called "conservatism."

Despite what might be called two years of "liberal" or Democrat rule, the Department of Homeland Security has continued a Neocon agenda of chipping away at civil liberties, most recently increasing the scrutiny given to routine financial transactions, and habituating citizens to livestock-like inspections prior to boarding airplanes. The Neocon wars continue: our unnecessary war in Iraq, in Afghanistan with new fervor, on Drugs here and with NORTHCOM through Plan Mexico, on Secular Humanism, and on Terror. Almost everything about the War on Terror is preposterous: more Americans DIE EVERY MONTH in auto accidents than died from highjacked planes on September 11, but we subsidize roads like mad, and bail out auto manufacturers, and hand out cash for clunkers to insure that America keeps on rolling. As of 2010 AD, the federal gas tax was last raised by a nickel in 1993, and currently stands at 18¢ per gallon. For the Federal Interstate System to be fiscally solvent, the Federal Gas Tax needs to be over 56¢ per gallon. Without hyperbole: roads are heavily subsidized. That's FACT.

President Obama has followed through with his promise to expand America's military conflicts into Pakistan, and is following former Republican Presidential nominee John McCain's position that stricter sanctions should be imposed against Iran. The Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility remains in operation, the CIA is targeting US citizens for extrajudicial execution, the telecommunications industry's retroactive immunity for surveilling US citizens remains unchallenged, Predator drones conduct illegal targeted assassinations abroad, the militarization of the Mexican border continues, and the militarization of the Canadian border is underway unabated. Globalists took the lead in engineering and managing the "bailout" of the financial industry through a series of coordinated government actions here and throughout Europe. Nebulous threats to "security" are guiding the coordination and militarization of police tactics among the various nations through intelligence sharing agreements, contractor outsourcing, and with support from secondary markets that supply contractors. Instead of soldiers in Iraq, we have private contractors importing logistical support from third-world nations. As US troops withdraw from Iraq, the number of mercenaries is expected to double. War is a business proposition, not the solemn duty the TV says it is. That's why the US Constitution authorizes a Navy to protect trade routes but prohibits standing armies (which tend to bankrupt nation-states).

Whether through bribery, indoctrination, or blackmail, media complicity with Neocon objectives continues as well: reporters like Judith Miller and Juan Williams are part of a growing pattern of politicized public figures rewarded with lush Fox News contracts after suicide-bombing their former careers and scuttling clear of the fallout. If history is any guide, the CIA is lurking in the shadows somewhere, dedicated to promoting violence and strife on the airwaves and in the desert while marketing a veneer of professional foreign conduct. In secret they're committed to human sacrifice.

Citizens who thought the Iraq invasion smelled fishy from the start -- and who spoke up at the time -- have had many of their fears borne out. Fears of a protracted or perpetual conflict, of the erosion of civil liberties, of budgetary nightmares (Bill Clinton ELIMINATED deficit spending) -- these citizens have been ignored far longer than even the most vocal Tea Party voters, despite being correct in many of their politicized beliefs. Can you imagine a time in the future when the P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act is no longer needed, when The Emergency is passed, when Senators feel FREE to vote AGAINST increasing security at airports? We hear about the sacrifices of soldiers much more than we hear about how the Iraq invasion was based on a convenient lie. We crack jokes about the size of SUV's as though the Energy Crisis of the 1970's never happened -- or nearly put the US auto industry out of business with compact Japanese cars. THERE IS NO "liberal" media -- even PBS parrots the Neocon line, they're just not militant or angry like Fox.

Anti-globalism protesters who have been demonstrating at G8 summits for over a decade have seen many of their fears come to fruition, but when global bank bailouts transfer huge sums of money from average citizens to the wealthiest, The News features Officials and Pundits who talk about uncomfortable economic necessities; the police state is overlooked, the security contractors are only mentioned in the most carefully delineated contexts, and the use of global communications intercepts for state-sponsored industrial espionage is nearly inconceivable.

Climate change activists in Copenhagen were kept away from the international leadership conference by military barricades. The activists were upset about decades of government inaction in response to our rapidly deteriorating and increasingly polluted ecosystem. When, at the end of the highly publicized conference, governments failed to act, the news media did not then report that the protesters were correct in their positions and accusations -- that governments not only had failed to act, but had furthermore failed to consider a large number of reasonable solutions presented to them free of cost by reputable citizens and researchers over the course of several decades -- rather, the news just "changed the subject." If The Activists can't be portrayed as anarchist rioters, they're either represented in the mainstream media as inarticulate hippies or else they are utterly ignored.

While the so-called "liberal media" dotes over the Tea Party, and takes care to contrast their interests with those of fiscal conservatives, social conservatives, Libertarians, Evangelicals, Reaganites, Moderates, Centrists, and the "far right," the Democrats remain roughly synonymous with "liberals" and "the left" even when they support the Neocon status quo. The "liberal media" devotes more time to discussing "conservative" views than "liberal" views, and discusses "conservative" views with far more nuance and subtlety.

If you are a member of the Tea Party, and have read this far, I'd like to share with YOU a few things about my experience voting for third-party candidate Ralph Nader in the 2000 elections. In the year 2000, Nader wasn't trying to win the Presidency, but was trying to earn 5% of the popular vote in order to qualify FUTURE Green Party electoral campaigns for federal matching funds. In those less polarized times, this was a reasonable strategy: just a few years earlier, Ross Perot earned nearly 20% of the popular vote.

In 2002, I got off a city bus one day and encountered a group of protestors upset about rumors of war in Iraq. I verbally sympathized with one of them, who was also hustling for some Democrat candidate. He tried to give me some literature about his candidate, and I told him I wasn't interested, and that I voted for Nader in 2000. He then got angry and told me that I was the reason George W. Bush was in office.

The rhetoric among "liberals" in early November 2000 AD incited a lot of Nader supporters to vote for Al Gore instead, and after early November, indicted Nader supporters for spoiling the election for Al Gore. Nobody on the TV or the radio appealed to Reason. Nobody said this rhetoric was foolish, since the Supreme Court settled the election anyway. Nobody said it was foolish to call Nader a spoiler because Nader didn't earn any votes in the electoral college. This guy I encountered at the bus stop, who was blaming me for ruining American Democracy, was infected by a type of delusion common among Broadcast news consumers on "the left" as well as "the right."

If you suppose that the GOP wants to co-opt the Tea Party, beware: the media, the Evangelical Church, and the PR industry want to do the same. There is no "liberal media" to speak of -- just opportunists in control of huge corporations looking to write the history that will benefit them in the future. If you suppose that it's natural and healthy for different media outlets to push "competing narratives" of historical events, your conception of history as the product of conflict is probably Marxist (even if you think you're a "conservative"). If you've noticed that most broadcast media outlets pick the same "top stories" every day -- day after day, week after week -- you might suspect that competition doesn't really play the role in our society that major media outlets say it does.