“It’s time for the United States to start thinking of Iraq as a business opportunity.” – Hillary Clinton, 2011
There are apparently some interesting items coming out of Hillary Clinton’s released cache of e-mails.
And they seem to strengthen the notion that, after all, the Iraq War was not primarily fought for noble reasons such as ‘protecting national security’ or ‘promoting democracy.’ While boiling this down to the anti-war slogan ‘No Blood for Oil’ might simplify things a tad bid, this article by David Sirota points out in detail how Corporate America saw it as a way to get richer.
And guess who positioned herself as a champion of those large corporations in Iraq, even a year before publicly declaring the Iraq War as “a mistake?” — Hillary Rodham Clinton.
American voters might want to take note in the upcoming election.
We need to look into what the ‘desired effects’ are.
“Let me state this in the clearest terms possible: the problem of drug use is not solved with drugs!”
If, as I assume from the above statement, Pope Francis thinks that “the problem of drug use” is that people take drugs, then he is right—but also wrong.
Apparently, humans in all kinds of civilizations, long before the advent of Christianity, have been taking psychoactive substances. There seems to be a basic impulse in humanity to change the perception of reality, be it for the purpose of ritualistic religious practice or much more mundane motives.
Papa don’t preach!
In essence, Pope Francis is making a moralistic argument: drugs are just wrong.
Make no mistake: I am as terrified of the recent reports of flesh-eating ‘bath salts’ zombies, the sight of ‘meth mouths’ with rotting teeth, or the human decay caused by heroin addiction.
These are indeed harmful substances. Hard drugs. Most reasonable persons would agree that it is a bad idea to get involved with them.
In the U.S., the so-called war on drugs has dragged on for decades, and it is clear that it is unwinnable, just like the similarly silly concept of a ‘war’ against terrorism.
Should one not be worried about terrorism and not do anything about it?—absolutely not! Should one abandon the issue of drug addiction and leave addicts to their own devices? No.
What I am getting at here is that the strategy needs to be revised.
Just as much as I see the problem of terrorism rather as a task for police and intelligence services (but without violating everybody’s civil liberties, like the NSA), I think that the problem of drug abuse is more a task for medical professionals and health education.
This approach would also reduce the steady flow of people into the out-of-control American prison-industrial-complex which disproportionately jails young men of color for non-violent drug offenses and puts them in an environment full of violent hardcore criminals. And this is a manifestation of systemic racism, or, as one famous book on the subject calls it “The New Jim Crow.”
Legalize, tax, educate
My policy prescription would involve the legalization of drugs, their subsequent taxation, and the reallocation of funds used for the ‘war on drugs’ to health education and treatment of addicts.
A pope who has built his reputation as an advocate for the poor should understand this.
And then there was this ‘brilliant’ (moronic) piece of political analysis: An anti-gay pastor blames the Ukraine crisis of the past months on—wait for it—the gays.
And because of Russia’s state-sponsored discrimination of LGBTI people, this ‘Christian’ leader lauds Russian President Vladimir Putin as “defender of true human rights”—”true human rights” meaning the right to discriminate against the LGBTI community.
It is no secret that as part of every American presidential election campaign in recent times, presidential hopefuls seek to court the Jewish vote as part of their coalition. Speeches given by candidates at the usual lobby organizations, such as AIPAC, can typically be summed up like this: “I am the super best friend of Israel, support me!” So far, so good. Support of Israel has been a long-term position of the U.S. which I am generally in favor of. Of course it is a matter of dispute what exactly ‘friendship’ and ‘support’ mean in specific contexts.
This brings us to the long run-up to the 2016 presidential elections
Sin City brings huge GOP campaign donations
Last week, GOP presidential hopefuls traveled to Las Vegas to meet with GOP mega donor Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate, at the Republican Jewish Coalition—an event inofficially dubbed “the Sheldon primary”.
Among them were Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.
As far as reports go, all potential candidates voiced their unconditional support for Israel. So far, so predictable. But then something went wrong. In one of those statements, Chris Christie used the phrase “occupied territories.”
I took a helicopter ride from the occupied territories across and just felt personally how extraordinary that was to understand, the military risk that Israel faces every day.
Adelson is part of a tiny ultra-right Zionist fringe (as opposed to less extreme supporters of Israel) that sees any sort of compromise in the Middle East as betrayal. And from time to time, he does and says some truly ignorant and hateful things.
admitted that he is ignorant of Muslims: “I don’t know the difference between the Shia and the Sunnis.”
argued that Palestinians as a group do not exist: “There’s no such thing as a Palestinian. Do you know what they are? They call themselves southern Syrians.”
According to the New Republic, Adelson also bankrolled some propaganda movies that sought to cause paranoia about Muslims in general, not just religious extremists, and funded a lobby group that attempted to stop a Muslim Indian American nominee for Superior Court judgeship that had been selected by Chris Christie—supposedly because if that happened, Shariah law would take over New Jersey.
Because New Jersey Governor Christie (and the others, too) wants Adelson’s campaign dollars, he apologized for the use of the common term occupied territories in connection to Israel a boot-licking, subservient manner that can only be called a disgrace for American democracy. What matters, apparently, is not any diplomatic consensus, any long-standing U.S. foreign policy position, but the will of just one uber-rich donor who happens to be a bigoted hawkish nutjob. Here we see a politician lying prostrate, saying “Buy me, I will do whatever you please!”
Support for Israel can manifest itself in various forms apart from supporting the ultra-right fringe positions that not even the majority of people in Israel endorse. But the 2014 edition of the GOP thinks otherwise.
My two cents
Since unlike the aforementioned politicians I am not dependent on Mr. Adelson’s campaign donations, I am free to tell him what I think of his antics (although I doubt he reads this or would care). Here are a few suggestions: read more books to educate yourself about the Middle East and its inhabitants, stop funding asinine propaganda demonizing all Muslims, and quit your annihilationist fantasies.
Dreaming about mass murder is no better coming from you than when it is coming from djihadists, Nazis, or other unruly figures.
“The only things that interest me in the US are Tupac Shakur, Allen Ginsberg, and Jackson Pollock. I don’t need a visa to access their work. I lose nothing.” – Vladislav Surkov, top aide to Russian President Vladimir Putin, mocking U.S. sanctions against him after Russia announces plans to annex Crimea
In late February 2014, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced that the Pentagon would reduce the size of the United States Army “to its smallest force since before the World War II buildup and eliminate an entire class of Air Force attack jets,” according to the New York Times. The current spending proposal, Pentagon officials say, seeks to “aggressively push the military off the war footing adopted after the terror attacks of 2001.” In other words, there will be a reduction of the military budget.
However, there are two areas given special attention: Special Operations forces and cyberwarfare. The latter point has been unmistakably underscored through the Snowden leaks since last summer. U.S. aircraft carriers will remain at 11.
As it seems, the future of war will continue to involve special forces, drones, and hacking, not the mass armies of World War Two.
But any reduction of the military budget will prompt those working in the interest of the military-industrial complex to cry wolf.
[t]he United States remained by far the world’s biggest defence spender in 2013, with a budget of $600.4 billion, [. . .] followed by China ($112.2 billion), Russia ($68.2 billion) and Saudi Arabia ($59.6 billion).
If you look at the data, you cannot help but think that the notion that cutting back on the military budget to some extent would render the U.S. militarily incapable is pure propaganda. The magnitude by which U.S. military spending currently trumps all other states in the world is just so vast.
Reuters: The Pentagon has “lost” $8.5 trillion of taxpayer money since 1996
An often-repeated mantra in American politics, mostly (but not exclusively) coming from Republicans, is that the U.S. government should stop “wasting” the hard-earned tax dollars of its citizens.
Usually the proposed solution in Washington then involves some cuts to social programs that disproportionately affect the poor and middle classes. Examples of this modus operandi are cuts to food stamp programs as earlier in 2013.
One department to spend it all
But there is one institution that, according to the mainstream consensus in both the GOP and the Democratic Party, can never have enough funding: the Department of Defense.
While I also find the events in Ukraine, particularly on Crimea, in the last days quite disturbing, there is nonetheless a certain hypocrisy in Kerry’s grandiose statement. The twenty-four hours news cycle may cater to short attention spans, but I still remember the fallacious rationale for the 2003 Invasion of Iraq: Saddam Hussein’s imaginary mobile laboratories for biological weapons. This arguably “completely trumped up pre-text” for war was based on faulty intelligence by Iraqi informant “Curveball”—interestingly passed on to the U.S. by the German BND—and propagated by then-Secretary of State Colin Powell in his infamous presentation before the UN Security Council on February 2, 2003.
You might say that I am not fond of any state’s war propaganda. The amoral nature of such deceptions lies in the fact that it is almost never the decision-makers who bear the consequences of their warmongering. Those who die in these wars die in vain, for lies, as pawns in geopolitical games, and for the profits of the military-industrial-complex. It is just horrible.
As part of the effort, the GCHQ tracked in real-time any visitors to wikileaks.org, monitoring what they were searching for on the website.
The NSA also considered to designate WikiLeaks and other websites such as thepiratebay.org as “malicious foreign actors,” which would lift restrictions on spying on institutions and individuals inside the U.S that work with them. This might include international press agencies working in the U.S.
Watch an interview with Assange’s legal council Michael Ratner on DemocracyNow! here (it is the correct video, despite the image of Assange in the first frame):
In Ratner’s view, the persecution of whistleblowers and journalists parallels the U.S. government’s COINTELPRO program targeting radicals and “subversives” (such as Martin Luther King) between the late 1950s and the 1970s.
And here is Assange, from the same broadcast on DemocracyNow!:
The NSA Also Spied On German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder
New leaks reveal that the NSA not only spied on the current German Chancellor Angela Merkel but also on her predecessor Gerhard Schröder—mainly because of his opposition to the Bush administration’s plans to invade Iraq.
The premise of that war, as is now common knowledge, was deceptive propaganda using fabricated intelligence to prove that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had links to Al-Qaeda.
The infamous climax of this neoconservative beating of war drums was certainly Secretary of State Colin Powell’s presentation in front of the UN claiming that Saddam Hussein had at that moment weapons of mass destruction and links to Al-Qaeda.
Gerhard Schröder used the German population’s opposition to George W. Bush’s war plans in his reelection campaign, some would argue, by exploiting dormant anti-American resentment. And at that point, Bush ordered the NSA to spy on Schröder.
There might be some truth to the notion that catering to anti-American resentment among a segment of Germans was part of Schröder’s campaigning success, especially if one looks at the loud style in which Schröder publicly opposed the Bushies’ war plans. But that is beside the point. In my opinion, Schröder was still right on the facts.
I would like to emphasize that an opposition to a war that cost, as we now know, over a decade later, up to 133,000 civilian lives alone, does not equal hostikity against America as an idea per se. I certainly do not see it that way.
A lust for war should never be the benchmark of alliances among democratic states.
Unfortunately, it is almost never those who drag their countries into wars who face any accountability. In the end, it is not them, who pay with their lives, but the working classes who disproportionately enter the armed forces, and civilians in foreign countries, who likely never had a say in choosing their rulers.
The assumption that the Bush administration and the NSA acted as forces for democracy here seems hard to believe.
From my point of view, as a strong advocate for civil liberties, it was not at all satisfactory.
What did Obama actually say?
He used to be skeptical of US surveillance programs, but now he generally he sees nothing wrong with them. The logic of the national security state prevails.
He wants more control of the gathered information—inside the US. No blanket surveillance but warrants by a judge of the FISA court.
Close allied leaders (such as Angela Merkel) are not to be spied on, except for “compelling national security purpose[s]”—whatever that means. But nonetheless the US will continue to spy on even allied governments.
We, the U.S. government, are not going after you everyday foreigners, but we will still vacuum up all your data, just in case. – Note how Obama does not say anything about the exposed NSA programs in his speech.
The FiSA court gets one voice for civil liberties.
IT companies who are forced to hand over customer data to US intelligence will get temporary gag orders through National Security Letters instead of indefinite gag orders.
The NSA will continue to weaken cryptographic standards on the Internet – Obama did not say a word about this important reform point proposed by a panel of experts.
There are many issues with Obama’s views on American surveillance, even if we assume that this speech actually reflects his genuine views.
First, Obama seems to have bought into the idea that the American surveillance bureaucracy is different from any other comparable institution in the history of the world. He sounds as if he believes that by the virtue of character of the people working for it, the NSA is free from all the deformities that have been known to exist in other times and places in similar settings.
He wants us to believe that American spooks are so exceptional that they can defy human nature. But the point of the revelations about the NSA’s mass surveillance is not that its employees are evil as individuals. The mere fact that the NSA as an institution has the structural potential for “turnkey totalitarianism,” as one commenter put it, is the alarming fact.
Second, the FISA court has been known to be a rubber stamp court. So far, the U.S. government has almost never been denied a request there.
Third, the term “national security” is so vague that almost anything can be connected to it and hence spying can be justified almost all of the time.
TIME magazine nominates Edward Snowden as runner-up to the ‘Person Of The Year’ 2013.
It is an obvious choice. Time magazine nominated NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden as one of the candidates for their person of the year 2013. The winner is Pope Francis, the “people’s pope.” Other runner-ups include LGBT activist Edith Windsor, Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, and GOP Senator Ted Cruz. It is generally a list based on significance, not on sympathy.
TIME magazine calls Snowden the “dark prophet” and the “doomsayer of the information age.”
Being rather skeptical about Pope Francis’s capability to convince the Christian god to intervene on our behalf against the intelligence services (and while at it, why not pray to make terrorism disappear from the earth altogether), I personally would have given the ‘person of the year’ award to Snowden. But perhaps such a choice would have been to controversial for Time magazine.
Independent of what one may think about particular disclosures by Snowden through outlets of investigative journalism, his leaks have arguably been the second defining moment of the information age after the invention of the World Wide Web in the 1990s. Snowden has shown us that even democratic states are working to crush the cyber-libertarian utopia of the early Internet, using our communication infrastructure against us to establish a soft totalitarianism by surveillance.
In the grand scheme of things, we as citizens of the world must be thankful for having at least a discussion about mass surveillance, one that we would not be having at all if the intelligence services that supposedly are there to protect our democracies had had their way.
The NSA goes on CBS’s ’60 Minutes’ to defend its actions
Last weekend, NSA officials went on CBS’s 60 Minutes program to defend their mass surveillance activities and, as one might expect, put up their own ‘reality distortion field.’
The short version of the NSA’s spin goes like this: We don’t do mass surveillance, especially not on Americans, we don’t intend to break any laws, and don’t worry about us collecting ‘just’ metadata.
The task of critical journalism to control the government’s actions was not exactly helped by the ’60 Minutes’ feature. This was mostly due to the fact that host John Miller, who has been moving through the revolving door between journalism and government work throughout his career—which he did disclose—, did not present any opposing views. Miller has been working as a spokesperson for the NYPD, the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), and the FBI. One might see the potential for a conflict of interest here.
Or read about the recently revealed Co-Traveller program which is exactly about the worldwide collection of mobile phone metadata in order to determine patterns of social relationships.
Above all, the whole point of the recently revealed ‘full take’ approach in the NSA’s signals intelligence seems to be to store everything in the hope that all that data can later be combed through with the help of computer algorithms, if needed.
Read, hear, and see more:
[Podcast] Unfilter 79: “CBS: The NSA Network.” (Jupiter Broadcasting, 2013/12/18) – “60 Minutes attempts the boldest white wash of the facts and lies surrounding the NSA spying yet.” – Links to more articles can be found in the shownotes.
NSA Leaks: Are there really hundreds of millions of terrorist telephones? (spoiler alert: probably not.)
As the Washington Post reports, documents from Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks reveal that the NSA is collecting 5 billion telephone records daily and uses a suite of tools known as Co-Traveller to track the location and social relationships of “foreign targets.”
The NSA is said to track “at least hundreds of millions of devices [emphasis mine]” and can identify a person’s travels, both present and past, anywhere on the planet.
Notable quote from the end of the article:
“The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.”
That is perhaps because this revelation, like so many about the NSA’S activities since the summer of 2013, are utterly embarrassing for the White House.
Hundreds of millions of foreign terrorists?
So can there be hundreds of millions of (foreign) terrorists? Of course not. On the face of it, that idea is patently absurd. Even if you shrink the number of individuals by assuming that each of the alleged terrorists uses several cell phones. Vastly greater than the number of actual terrorists could ever be are the following groups: radicals, dissenters, third party politicians, or—that is where the money is—(foreign) business leaders.
If, however, the definition of terrorist is widened so far that it becomes to mean “anyone who dares to disagree with anything the (U.S.) government does,” then that would be the antithesis to liberal democracy—it is a characteristic of a totalitarian concept of statehood.
The real threat to liberty is the national security state
The out-of-control national security establishment of the U.S., and by extension that of other states, such as the UK and Germany, and the narrative of the preventive national security state itself, are the real threat to civil liberties in the U.S. and abroad.
As serious a problem and as ghastly as terrorist attacks are, the scope of their detrimental effects on democracy could never dream to be as big as those caused by our own governments’ reactions to them.
Permanent war and liberty cannot coexist
We must recognize that the ugly head of authoritarianism is rising among us, using the phantom of terrorism to scare us into giving up our liberties. As a “War against Terrorism” can by definition never end, because terrorism is a tactic, not a specific enemy, the logical conclusion of such an endless state of emergency must be the permanent destruction of civil liberties.
Do we really want to live in such a world? I certainly do not. If there is no reform of the intelligence services to achieve a balance between the legitimate goal of preventing terrorism and the rights of the individual not to be put under surveillance without reasonable suspicion, like in East Germany during the GDR, then we all lose our freedom.
Nelson Mandela, the Cold War, and the uses of history in American politics
After former South African President Nelson Mandela‘s death on December 5, 2013, political leaders and dignitaries from all over the world flew to South Africa to pay tribute to Mandela’s legacy as a fighter against Apartheid. Among them was Barack Obama, who praised Mandela as a great inspiration.
In 1962, the CIA betrayed Nelson Mandela to the South African Apartheid regime
On Democracy Now!, Amy Goodman interviewed former anti-Apartheid activist and later South African intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils on Mandela’s activism in the 1950s and early 1960s.
“The Anti-Apartheid Underground: Ronnie Kasrils on Meeting Mandela in an ANC Safehouse in 1962 (2/2)”
And here is an interview on Democracy Now! wherein Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez interview Andrew Cockburn of Harper’s magazine on the CIA and Mandela:
“One of Our Greatest Coups”: The CIA & the Capture of Nelson Mandela”
One person’s freedom fighter is another person’s terrorist
Since the 1950s, Mandela had been embracing Marxist thought and been involved with the African Communist Party. With the latter, he co-founded the African National Congress’s militant wing Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), which was active in sabotage campaigns against the Apartheid regime.
In hindsight, the support of the racist white supremacist government of South Africa at the time by the U.S. and other governments was obviously morally repulsive. Those supporting it were clearly on the wrong side of history. But during the Cold War, the communist leanings of Mandela probably drew more negative attention than his involvement in the righteous struggle against Apartheid.
[Update, 2014/07/10]As the Guardian now reports, previously classified documents show that the FBI continued to spy on Mandela and the ANC after his release from prison in 1990. They were interested in Mandela’s links to U.S.-based left-wing groups and anti-Apartheid activities of the American Communist Party.
A communist no more – Mandela as president
One interesting aspect of Mandela’s presidency is that despite his communist past, he quickly embraced neoliberal capitalism once in office. On Democracy Now!, Amy Goodman interviewed former anti-Apartheid activist and later South African intelligence minister Ronnie Kasrils on Mandela’s turnaround considering economic policies.
“From Marxism to Neoliberalism: Ronnie Kasrils on How Mandela & ANC Shifted Economic Views (1/2)”
A posthumous nontroversy (I): Conservative politicians saying nice things about a former communist
In the American news media, especially in the conservative blogosphere, a dubious controversy (or nontroversy) over Mandela’s political past has been stirred up in the days following his death.
Newt Gingrich, of all people, a politician not generally suspected of being a lefty, said some reasonable things about Mandela and was promptly criticized on his Facebook page. Yes, the obvious commie bashing and racism is in those comments. Other conservative politicians who praised Mandela posthumously received similar reactions. Gingrich, in his response to those commenters, asked a poignant question:
Where were the masses of conservatives opposing Apartheid?
Watch a summary of the whole thing on the progressive talk show The Young Turks here:
A posthumous nontroversy (II): Obama shakes hands with Raúl Castro
As one would expect with a historic figure as important as Mandela, there were many political leaders present at his funeral. President Obama ran into Cuban President Raúl Castro, brother of Fidel Castro, and shook hands with him. Some conservative politicians criticized Obama for a friendly gesture towards an authoritarian communist regime with a dubious human rights record.
On the one hand, this is true. There are many things worthy of criticism about the Cuban government, especially its abysmal human rights record. On the other hand, the U.S. has upheld the embargo against Cuba since Fidel Castro came to power, making this gesture in the context of a funeral look minuscule.
The ambiguous and rather flexible morality of realpolitik is also reflected in pop culture. Consider this: In the 1980s action movie Rambo III (1988), Sylvester Stallone as John Rambo fights along the Afghan Mujahideen against the Soviet Union. They are presented as benign freedom fighters against foreign communist occupation. Who else was among the Afghan Mujahideen, in reality? Osama bin Laden.
All things considered, the outrage over Obama shaking hands with Raúl Castro is nothing but a tempest in a teapot. In a perfect world, there would be no dictators, no authoritarian regimes, and certainly no superpowers backing any of them while hypocritically pretending to make the world safe for democracy. And to be clear, I extend that criticism to other states such as my native Germany, which allows the export of weapons and surveillance technology into non-democratic regimes.
That being said, in the world as it is, leading politicians will from time to time brush into unruly characters. It cannot be avoided.
Here is another entertaining clip from The Young Turks:
The NSA , the CIA, and the GCHQ spy on computer games
As ProPublica reports, the American NSA and CIA, and the British GCHQ, or more specifically, private contractors working for them, have run programs looking for the communications of terrorists and criminals in Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Games (MMORPG) such as World of Warcraft or Second Life. This new revelation comes from recently released leaks from Edward Snowden.
No terrorists found
But despite high costs paid to these private contractors, no case of terrorist activity has been discovered.
The whole scenario sounds as if it were lifted straight out of an episode of “Twenty-Four” or “Sleeper Cell.” It seems like an interesting idea, even though I doubt (based on pure speculation) that terrorist masterminds would communicate over insecure (read unencrypted) channels such as a game chat.
Slaying orks for national security?
It might also just be a brilliant excuse to play WoW at work for highly-paid security contractors. Who knows. But apparently, private security firms have long been lobbying the intelligence agencies for contracts in this line of work by playing up the threat from terrorism in video games.
A personal note on MMORPGing versus studying
I personally have never really gotten into MMORPGs like World of Warcraft, most of all because when these games became hugely popular, I was in the middle of my university studies. I suspected that if I committed my time to these obviously addictive games, this might seriously sabotage my academic education. So I decided to forgo the WoW phenomenon for the time being. Now I know that not only did that ‘abstinence’ probably save me a lot of juvenile, sexually-laden verbal insults, but also some spies listening to my (boring) chatter.
Read, hear, and see more:
[Podcast] Unfilter 78 “NSA Wargames.” (Jupiter Broadcasting, 2013/12/12) – “[T]he latest [NSA leaks] detail the infiltration of online gaming communities to conduct massive surveillance of gamers.” Plus speculations by a famous FBI officer about Snowden being a double agent for Russia.
“Geheimdienste: Sie hassen unsere Freiheit.” (Sascha Lobo, SPIEGEL ONLINE, 10.12.2013) – Interessanter Punkt von Sascha Lobo: Der Satz “Sie hassen unsere Freiheit” aus einer Rede von George W. Bush nach dem 11. September 2001 trifft nicht nur auf islamistische Terroristen zu, sondern auch ganz besonders auf die totalitären Überwachungspläne der Geheimdienste.
On November 28, 2013, journalist Glenn Greenwald, known for reporting on the NSA leaks by Edward Snowden, gave an interview to BBC HARDtalk, a format known for tough questioning that does not accept standard talking points.
The interview takes place at a time when the UK government, partly under pressure from the U.S., tries to attack the Guardian newspaper, i.e. shoot the messenger, for exposing the NSA’s and GCHQ’s blanket mass surveillance of the world’s citizens.
Der Film befasst sich mit den nicht erklärten Kriegen und geheimen Kommandoeinsätzen des JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command), einer paramilitärischen Einheit, die direkt dem Weißen Haus unterstellt ist.
In der Dokumentation wird über viele äußerst grausame Ereignisse berichtet. Zum Beispiel kommt ein nächtlicher Überfall auf ein afghanisches Dorf vor, bei dem Zivilisten getötet werden und im Nachhinein die Gewehrkugeln aus den Leichen herausgeschnitten wurden, um den Einsatz zu verschleiern.
In einem anderen Abschnitt geht es um einen jemenitischen Journalisten, der festgenommen wurde, als er einen amerikanischen Drohnenangriff dokumentierte. Dieser wurde, so Scahill, in ein jemenitisches Foltergefängnis geworfen und trotz massiver Proteste in Jemen auf direkte Intervention von Präsident Obama nicht freigelassen.
Insgesamt begräbt die Dokumentation auch jede Hoffnung, dass sich Präsident Obama als Kriegsherr “humaner” als sein Vorgänger Bush verhalten würde. Im Gegenteil. Die Drohnenangriffe und Kommandooperationen, bei denen regelmäßig unschuldige Zivilisten getötet werden, sind auf Befehl Obamas massiv ausgeweitet worden. Und laut Insideraussagen in der Doku ist das JSOC auch mit eigenen “Verhörzentren” an Folter beteiligt.
Ein Interviewpartner beschreibt das JSOC als einen riesigen Hammer, der sich in Zukunft seine Nägel suchen wird.
Mit anderen Worten: Der “Globale Krieg gegen den Terrorismus” ist mittlerweile zum ewigen Krieg mutiert und zu einer Maschine geworden, die sich selbst am Leben erhält.
[Podcast] Dan Carlin Interviews NSA Whistleblower William Binney
You should definitely listen to this. Dan Carlin of the ‘Common Sense’ and ‘Hardcore History’ podcasts recently interviewed NSA whistleblower William Binney.
Before Edward Snowden, Binney and Thomas Drake were among the few former NSA officials to go public about the agency’s activities after 9/11.
Many of the allegations made by these earlier whistleblowers against the NSA’s antidemocratic, totalitarian mass surveillance efforts were confirmed in 2013 by the Snowden leaks.
Some of the interesting aspects touched on in in the interview are
Binney’s estimation that the NSA stores the content of our electronic communication
The disregard of the U.S. Constitution among the leadership of the NSA
How U.S. presidents, once they take office, are “bamboozled” into believing the intelligence services’ narrative that they need to be allowed to break the Constitution in any way they wish in order to protect national security
The subversion of the judiciary process through creeping of NSA data into criminal cases that that do not have anything to do with terrorism and the subsequent cover-up through ‘parallel construction’ of legal cases
NSA Spies On Pornography Consumption To Discredit Islamists
According to a report by the Huffington Post, the Snowden leaks reveal that the NSA attempts to gather data about the pornography consumption habits of radical Islamists. This information is then used as kompromat in order to discredit these actors inside their respective communities.
According to the article, this is seen as a rather benign way of derailing radicalization efforts.
Still, it makes one wonder whether Islamic extremists are the only target of this strategy. My guess is that it is not. I speculate that the whole point of the NSA’s mass surveillance is to gather compromising materials on everybody, just in case.
And the article mentions a historical precedent in this regard, coming from another intelligence agency: the FBI, especially under J. Edgar Hoover. It is noteworthy that by no means were only actual threats to society at the receiving end of this kind of surveillance, but also legitimate emancipatory projects, such as the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s.
While the NSA’s blanket mass surveillance is a scandal in itself, the potential for repressive action against legitimate democratic forces in society should alert everybody.
While I do not have the slightest bit of sympathy for the religious radicalizers that are discussed in the leaked document, the trajectory of a panoptic state that potentially knows every intimate detail of its citizens’ private lives is undeniably anti-democratic in spirit.
German Universities Take Pentagon Cash For Military Research
The entanglement of Germany in America’s so-called Global War On Terrorism is happening within academia.
As the Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) reports (via thelocal.de), twenty-two German universities and research institutes have been taking more than €10 Mio. in research grants from the Pentagon since 2000.
Investigative reporting by the Süddeutsche Zeitung and Norddeutscher Rundfunk (NDR) has found that while some Pentagon funding is going into basic research, a part is directed into military-related research projects. The Federation of German Scientists criticizes military research as unethical.
Among the universities that have accepted Pentagon funding are
University of Bremen
LMU Munich (military explosives)
Fraunhofer society (bullet-proof glass, explosives)
University of Marburg (navigation systems for drones and “steered munitions”
The wider German public has been rather critical of America’s wars since 2001, especially the invasion of Iraq under false pretences and the ongoing drone campaigns that terrorize civilian populations through so-called signature strikes.
Website “Geheimer Krieg” visualisiert Aktivitäten der amerikanischen Geheimdienste und des Militärs innerhalb Deutschlands
[A new German website visualizes known activities of U.S. intelligence services and the military inside of Germany.]
Dass im sogenannten Globalen Krieg gegen den Terror entgegen anderslautender Verkündungen deutscher Politiker*innen von deutschem Boden aus Aktivitäten durchgeführt werden, die direkt mit den Kriegen im Irak, in Afghanistan und anderswo zu tun haben, ist mittlerweile bekannt.
Im Laufe der Snowden-Enthüllungen um die Aktivitäten der NSA seit dem Sommer 2013 sind die amerikanischen Geheimdienstaktivitäten hierzulande noch einmal massiv in das Bewusstsein der Öffentlichkeit getreten.
Der NDR und die Süddeutsche Zeitung haben monatelang zu den Aktivitäten der amerikanischen Geheimdienste und des Militärs innerhalb Deutschlands recherchiert. Bekannte Standorte wurden nun in Zusammenarbeit mit OpenDataCity auf einer interaktiven Karte visualisiert. Dabei geht es um die Koordination von Drohneneinsätzen, Entführungen und Abschöpfung von Informant*innen für die Geheimdienste.
Am 28.11.2013 läuft dazu bei ARD die Dokumentation “Geheimer Krieg”.
The new documentary UNMANNED: America’s Drone Wars by Robert Greenwald examines the impact of the United States’ drone wars on countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, as well as at home.
The film focuses on the plight of civilians targeted by so-called signature strikes and the continuing efforts by U.S. government officials (including President Barack Obama) and intelligence agencies to play down or deny the existence of civilian ‘collateral damage’ by retrospectively declaring civilian victims as ‘militants’ or ‘terrorists’ in media appearances to justify their killing.
Featuring interviews with former drone operators, relatives of drone victims, and legal experts, UNMANNED gives a rounded insight into the human cost of the drone wars that are being waged in the name of fighting terrorism.
For a limited time, the film’s production company Brave New Films streams UNMANNED on YouTube. I highly recommend watching it.
How Christian Fundamentalism Distracts From Real Political Problems in America
To fundamentalist Christians in America, the government shutdown, a potential debt default, and the destruction of the environment do not matter in the grand scheme of things.
A recent article on AlterNet by Amanda Marcotte highlights how Christian fundamentalists among the Republican party leadership and their base do not care about the actual detrimental real-world effects of their obstructionist policies such as the current (October 2013) government shutdown and the battle over raising the debt ceiling.
Tea Party libertarianism meets Christian fundamentalism
Her conclusion, based on various polls, is that the Tea Party Movement, whose economic libertarian ideology plays out right now in these grand showdowns, is also influenced by Christian fundamentalism more than usually assumed. A Pew poll showed that supporters of the TPM “are likely to cite religious belief as their prime motivation for their political views.”
Obamacare as sign of the end times
One strain of American Christian fundamentalists think that the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, colloquially called Obamacare, will reign in the biblical end times and believe they must do anything in their power to stop it from happening.
Marcotte sums up that perception of reality in these terms:
Sure, crashing stock markets, soaring unemployment, and worldwide economic depression sounds bad, but for the Christian right, the alternative is fire and brimstone and God unleashing all sorts of hell on the world.
Anticipating the end of the world
On the other hand, some Christian fundamentalists with notable Tea Party credentials, including Rep. Michele Bachman, founder of the Tea Party Caucus and one-time presidential contender cheer what they interpret as signs of biblical end times (such as violent conflict in Syria). Bachman wrongly claims that Obama intentionally supports Al Quaeda by providing aid to Syrian rebel groups and opines that the conflict in Syria is indeed a sign of the biblical end times.
This fits neatly with a recent right-wing conspiracy on the Internet claiming that during the government shutdown, President Obama had paid out of his own pocket for a museum of Muslim culture. As it turned out, FOX News had unknowingly, or intentionally ignoring the dubious source, reported a story from satirical news site The National Report. In the past years, numerous baseless allegations have been made from the same general direction (Tea Party Movement) about Obama being a Crypto-Muslim (read terrorist).
A similar line of (un-)reasoning holds true for the issue of climate change. To Christian fundamentalists who intentionally ignore scientific facts, such as the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on the human influence on climate change, climate change is not real or no problem. In their view, the world will either not end until Jahweh wills it so, or they do not worry because they believe in the return of Jesus in their lifetime.
Other-worldliness is the problem and offers no solutions to this world
As you might have guessed, I personally consider Rep. Bachmann’s end times beliefs to be dangerous, irrational, and irresponsible delusions, especially regarding US foreign policy in the Middle East.
From a reality-based outlook, the thinking of American fundamentalist Christians is no less scary than that of Iranian mullahs, Afghan taliban, or the Saudi religious police.
True, in America there is still the tiny obstacle of democracy, but it does not take much to observe how fundamentalist Christianity works to subvert it and attempts to transform the US into a theocracy. The school textbook wars, the battle over reproductive choice, or high-level self-styled holy warriors within the US military imagining themselves as Christian bulwark against the ‘Muslim hordes’ are just some of the fronts this confrontation takes place.
More generally, the problem of other-worldliness extends to fundamentalists of all religions, everwhere. In my view, any religious zealot eager to see the end of the world, especially those with (potential) access to nuclear weapons and other WMDs, deserves extremely close scrutiny and must be kept away from the ‘red button’ at all costs (preferably, by not electing them to any meaningful office in the first place).
Even if one discards the horrifying apocalyptic scenario of religious zealots using WMDs to bring about the end times and returns to the mundane issues of government and the economy, the prospects for those of us living in this world do not become brighter in the face of willful indifference.
A prolonged government shutdown will cause continued suffering among the weakest in American society. Representatives and Senators in Congress, most of whom are millionaires, will on the other hand never personally feel the effects of the power play they are engaged in. Even worse, a government default in the US would have detrimental effects on the interconnected economies of the world.
Those who merely look for another world for salvation and are willing to let this one go to pieces are the problem.
Obama returns to Berlin in the midst of NSA surveillance scandal
“It is the height of naivete to think that once collected this information won’t be used [. . .] This is the nature of secret government organizations. The only way to protect the people’s privacy is not to allow the government to collect their information in the first place.” – Wolfgang Schmidt, former Stasi lieutenant colonel 1
In the midst of the NSA surveillance scandal, President Barack Obama returned to Berlin for a second visit. But this time, the enthusiasm among the German public at large was much lower than when he first visited the capital of Germany as presidential candidate in 2008. Back then, the term ‘Obamania’ described Germans’ overwhelming support for Barack Obama.
Apart from the revelations about the extent of the American intelligence services’ surveillance of the Internet, the continuation of other practices of the Bush administration’s ‘Global War On Terrorism’ is worrying to many of Obama’s former German fans.
On Wednesday, June 19, Obama held a speech in Berlin at the Pariser Platz, the location of the Brandenburg Gate.
Here it is (from CNN):
Perhaps the most notable item within in a speech full of nice-sounding generalities was the offer towards Russia to reduce some of each country’s nuclear arsenal.
“Memories of Stasi color Germans’ view of U.S. surveillance programs.” (Matthew Schofield, McClatchy, 2013/06/26) – “It is the height of naivete to think that once collected this information won’t be used [. . .] This is the nature of secret government organizations. The only way to protect the people’s privacy is not to allow the government to collect their information in the first place.” – Wolfgang Schmidt, former Stasi lieutenant colonel
On June 6, 2013, the British Guardian newspaper, based on information from—as we now know—former NSA analyst Edward Snowden blew the whistle on the agency’s PRISM program. This NSA surveillance program is capable of spying on everybody’s online communications via backdoors/direct access to products and services from Apple, Google/YouTube, Facebook, Microsoft, Skype, Yahoo, AOL, and PalTalk—basically all the big players in today’s digital world that most people are using in some or other form (full disclosure: me, too).
“There is a massive apparatus within the United States government that with complete secrecy has been building this enormous structure that has only one goal, and that is to destroy privacy and anonymity, not just in the United States but around the world. [emphasis mine]” – Glenn Greenwald on CNN, 2013/06/07
Here is the series of articles from the Guardian (watch the dramatic build-up):
On June 25, journalist Glenn Greenwald told the Daily Beast that Snowden had given encrypted documents to several people as an insurance. Should “anything happe[n]” to him—translation: Should the intelligence services murder him—those documents would be released:
On July 1, the Guardian revealed documents showing that the US intelligence services are spying on other state’s embassies, including members of the EU. – This last point I did not find very surprising, as governments want to know what other governments are up to.
It is not just the US spying:
On June 17, the Guardian reveales that the British GCHQ spied on G20 summits by tapping politicians’ phones and setting up fake Internet cafés.
On June 21, the Guardian revealed GCHQ’s “Tempora” program which spies on global Internet communications and shares that information with the NSA, making a mockery of the US government’s claim that US citizens should not worry, because those programs are ‘only’ directed at foreigners. If every allied state ‘only’ surveilles foreigners and then exchanges that information with the others, that is a complete surveillance. To claim otherwise is just semantic games.
In the court of public opinion, a fierce debate over whether whistleblowers like Snowden are heroes or traitors is unfolding.
The government’s apparent strategy so far has been to shift attention from mass surveillance to whistleblower Edward Snowden and his (in their view) wrongdoing.
[Update, June 22, 2013] The Department of Justice charges Snowden with ” espionage and theft of government property.”
“USA: Snowden wird zum Verräter [erklärt].” – (Sabine Muscat, Zeit Online, 26.06.2013) – Die öffentliche Meinung in den USA kippt gegen Edward Snowden, weil er über Staaten geflohen ist, die den USA gegenüber mehr oder weniger feindselig eingestellt sind (Hong Kong/China, Kuba (wohl doch nicht), Russland).
[Update, July 1, 2013] The past two weeks have produced a plethora of stories about the cat and mouse game playing out between a fugitive Edward Snowden and the US government. Unfortunately, this focus on the person of Snowden and a spy-thriller-like chase around the globe along the lines of “Where in the world is Edward Snowden?” has been a distraction from the real issue at hand.
That issue is the blanket surveillance of citizens by their democratically elected governments, who increasingly view their own populations as potential enemies. In the national security state, a mockery is made of the rule of law by turning the long-standing legal principle of the presumption of innocence on its head. But as history has shown over and over, creating secretive, all-powerful, and unaccountable institutions inevitably leads to abuses. That is why President Obama’s message of ‘Trust us, we’re the good guys.’ is in the end meaningless.
And to be clear, the problem here is not just with the US government. At least since 2001, there has been a general trend within Western democracies of justifying all kinds of anti-democratic legal measures with reference to the necessity of fighting terrorism. But as important as that may be—and I do believe that terrorism poses a threat—these efforts are never worth turning our democracies into authoritarian surveillance states.
House Speaker John Boehner (R) called Snowden a “traitor.” Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) lambasted Snowden as “a high-school drop-out who had little maturity [and] had not successfully completed anything he had undertaken.” The point about lack of formal credentials might be true, but until Snowden became a whistleblower, his employers in the intelligence services and defense contractors obviously valued his skills.
On June 16, former Vice President Dick Cheney, unsurprisingly, joined the chorus of those calling Snowden “a traitor” and implied that Snowden might be a Chinese spy.
Independent of how one thinks of Snowden’s leaking in detail, that development is an alarming trend, indicative of a much bigger problem with mainstream media in the US.
The concept of an adversarial press, which is absolutely necessary to keep the government honest, has apparently been long-lost on many established so-called journalists, spoiled by their access and personal wealth. Rather than by default challenging the official statements of the government in search for the truth, these figures have decided to become the American version of Pravda. This is to the detriment of public awareness within a democracy. These parts of the press should remember the great American tradition of muckraking journalism.
Here is Glenn Greenwald’s article about how he is now on the receiving end of personal smears for working with Snowden as a source:
There is also some blatant partisanship going on around the issue. Fox News host Bill O’Reilly supported the NSA’s domestic spying under President Bush and now, under Obama, opposes it. Democratic Senator Al Franken, a harsh critic of the some practices under the Bush administration, now supports similar practices under a Democratic president.
Civil libertarian Senator Obama in 2007 versus national security hawk President Obama in 2013
You might remember a little-known Senator from Chicago who once was big on civil liberties. Here is what he said in 2007 about the massive surveillance put in place by the Bush administration:
“This [Bush’s] administration also puts forward a false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we provide. I will provide our intelligence and law enforcement agencies with the tools they need to track and take out the terrorists without undermining our Constitution and our freedom. That means no more illegal wiretapping of American citizens. No more national security letters to spy on citizens who are not suspected of a crime. No more tracking citizens who do nothing more than protest a misguided war. No more ignoring the law when it is inconvenient. That is not who we are. And it is not what is necessary to defeat the terrorists. The FISA court works. The separation of powers works. Our Constitution works. We will again set an example for the world that the law is not subject to the whims of stubborn rulers, and that justice is not arbitrary. [emphasis mine]”
Against the recent revelations about the scope of the NSA’s mass surveillance, I can think of but two possible conclusions. Either Obama never really believed what he said back then and was just going to cynically exploit the growing public unease about Bush’s post-9/11 surveillance state, or, once elected President, he was swarmed by national security advisors who made him reconsider—everything (Richard A. Clarke seems to confirm the latter below).
Down the memory hole: Change.gov quietly removes pledge to protect whistleblowers
As the Sunlight Foundationreports, a pledge to protect whistleblowers was quietly removed from Change.gov, the website set up by Obama’s transition team, in July 2013. Here is what it said:
“Protect Whistleblowers: Often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government is an existing government employee committed to public integrity and willing to speak out. Such acts of courage and patriotism, which can sometimes save lives and often save taxpayer dollars, should be encouraged rather than stifled. We need to empower federal employees as watchdogs of wrongdoing and partners in performance.Barack Obama will strengthen whistleblower laws to protect federal workers who expose waste, fraud, and abuse of authority in government. Obama will ensure that federal agencies expedite the process for reviewing whistleblower claims and whistleblowers have full access to courts and due process [emphasis mine].”
Unfortunately for the Obama administration, just as the NSA does not ‘forget’ any of our data, the Internet does not forget either. So this likely attempt to sweep an apparent and embarassing broken campaign promise under the rug will not be allowed to succeed.
One excellent resource on Obama’s transformation is http://www.obamatheconservative.com/ , a website by Ilari Kaila and Tim Paige “tracking Obama’s abandoning of the progressive agenda, and the disconnect between his words and deeds.”
Richard A. Clarke, a top counter-terrorism official under Clinton and Bush, Jr., voiced his concerns about government overreach in regards to the general collection of telephone records in an editorial for NYDailyNews.com:
“I am troubled by the precedent of stretching a law on domestic surveillance almost to the breaking point. On issues so fundamental to our civil liberties, elected leaders should not be so needlessly secretive.”
“[Obama] inherited this vacuum cleaner approach to telephone records from Bush. When Obama was briefed on it, there was no forceful and persuasive advocate for changing it. His chief adviser on these things at the time was John Brennan, a life-long CIA officer.”
“[W]e should worry about this program because government agencies, particularly the Federal Bureau of Investigation, have a well-established track record of overreaching, exceeding their authority and abusing the law. The FBI has used provisions of the Patriot Act, intended to combat terrorism, for purposes that greatly exceed congressional intent. [emphasis mine]”
Top spooks in denial mode
Earlier this year, on March 12, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified before Congress and was asked by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) whether the NSA gathered “any type of data at all on millions of Americans.” As is now quite clear, Clapper lied “gave the least untruthful answer possible” when he denied it back then, as he now tells NBC News (June 11, 2013).
[Update] On June 18, NSA chief General Keith Alexander testified before the House Intelligence Committee about the two recently revealed surveillance programs PRISM and Boundless Informant. When asked whether the NSA was technically capable of spying on Americans’ phone calls or emails, he said this:
REPRESENTATIVE MIKE ROGERS: Does the NSA have the ability to listen to Americans’ phone calls or read their emails under these two programs?
ALEXANDER: No, we do not have that authority.
ROGERS: Does the technology exist at the NSA to flip a switch by some analyst to listen to Americans’ phone calls or read their emails?
Did you notice the diversion? Alexander did not reply to the question about capability but said that the NSA did not have the authority to spy on Americans. Technically, the NSA might not have a mechanical switch—that image seems rather anachronistic—but as whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed, it works via software on computers.
[Update] During his visit to Berlin on June 19, 2013, President Obama defended the NSA programs while talking to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, claiming that the NSA would not scan ordinary citizens’ emails at home or abroad:
“This is not a situation in which we are rifling through the ordinary emails of German citizens or American citizens or French citizens or anybody else,” he said. “This is not a situation where we can go on to the internet and start searching any way we want.” – Barack Obama, June 19, 2013
But this does not seem wholly convincing, given that the basic principle of big data analysis on the scale of intelligence services such as the NSA contains the search for patterns in enormous amounts of data.
But there is also keyword analysis. In 2012, the Department of Homeland Security released a list of keywords that it monitored on social media channels—after being sued to release the document.
Corporations like Google already scan all emails for keywords for the commercial purpose of displaying fitting ads to their users.
Taken to its logical conclusion, the only feasible way for intelligence services to check on a broad scale whether Bob is sending dangerous contents to Sally, is to scan emails for keywords. But to do that, they must have access to all those emails.
From this premise it follows that by design, the intelligence services have a vested interest in scanning all email traffic. If they do not bug individual computers in targeted operations, how else should they find out whatever they are looking for? Therefore, the denials of James Clapper, Keith Alexander, and Barack Obama seem rather unbelievable.
What do Americans think about surveillance, according to polls?
Fourty-five percent of Americans, according to a recent poll by the Washington Post and Pew, are willing to be spied on for a false sense of security.
Many think that they personally ‘have nothing to hide’ and that surveillance is thus not detrimental to them. But everybody has something to hide.
If the supposedly benevolent guardians of the NSA decided one day that democracy is, let’s say, a little outdated in a world where capitalism and authoritarianism converge so neatly, there would be big trouble ahead (see the Atlantic piece linked below).
As many historians will tell you, there is really nothing new under the sun. As npr reports, Americans have been ambivalent about the balance between security and privacy since the beginning of the country:
[Op-Ed] “Was Cheney Right About Obama?” (Patrick Radden Keefe, New Yorker, 2013/06/11) – Very interesting point: Former Vice President Dick Cheney, the architect of the Bush administration’s executive power grab, said in an exit interview in 2008 that Obama, or any successor, for that matter, would like the additional powers, once he gets into office. The article argues that Obama, as a candidate in 2008, benefitted massively from leaks which his administration now mercilessly persecutes. “Obama,” Radden Keefe writes, “knew the full extent of [the Bush administration’s] excesses because of unauthorized disclosures to the press. Without leaks, Barack Obama might never have been elected to begin with.”
[Op-Ed] “A Real Debate on Surveillance.” (New York Times Editorial Board, 2013/06/10) – Obama’s new ‘openness’ about surveillance is hypocritical, opines the New York Times.
“Our Reflection in the N.S.A.’s Prism.” (Maria Bustillos, New Yorker, 2013/06/09) – On PRISM, Boundless Informant, tech companies’ denial of their complicity with the NSA, and prior warnings about a growing surveillance state.
[Podcast] unfilter, Episode 64: “75% of the Internet.” (unfilter Episode 64, 2013/08/21) – [Podcast] – “Declassified documents [. . .] reveal the NSA has intentionally abused their surveillance program, and retained data on US citizens despite a court order. [. . .] [T]he NSA collects nearly 75% of all US Internet traffic. David Miranda[,] Glenn Greenwald’s partner was held for nine hours under an Orwellian anti-terrorism law.”
[Podcast] “Die unerwünschte Diskussion – NSA Prism und die deutsche Politik.” (Peter Carstens, Deutschlandfunk, 17.08.2013) – Im deutschen Bundestagswahlkampf 2013 konnte die SPD mit dem Überwachungsskandal bisher kaum Punkte machen, da auch SPD-Politiker maßgeblich an der deutsch-amerikanischen geheimdienstlichen Zusammenarbeit nach 2001 beteiligt waren.
[Podcast] “Geheimdienste – Du warst es. Nein, du!” (Sebastian Sonntag, DRadio Wissen, 08.08.2013) – “Sebastian Sonntag mit der Webschau zum Polittheater um den BND-Skandal.” Über die Rolle der SPD bei der Zusammenarbeit zwischen BND und NSA.
[Podcast] “Spionage im Netz ist Selbstschutz.” – Der Politikwissenschaftler Anthony Glees meint: “Privates wird öffentlich – das ist nicht Folge von Schnüffelei, sondern die Logik des Internet-Zeitalters.” (Anthony Glees, Ortszeit:Politisches Feuilleton, Deutschlandradio Kultur, 08.07.2013) Anmerkung meinerseits: Ich finde, Spionage ist nicht gleich Spionage. Dass sich Regierungen gegenseitig ausspionieren ist etwas völlig anderes als wenn Geheimdienste die verdachtsunabhängige Totalüberwachung ihrer Bürger*innen und der anderer Staaten verfolgen.
[Podcast] unfilter, Episode 58: “Standing with Ed.” (unfilter Episode 58, 2013/07/10) – “New leaks give us a better picture of how the NSA vacuums up your Internet traffic, and leverages their relationships with telecom companies to take what they want. Then Latin America stands with Snowden as multiple offers of asylum come in, we’ll bring you up to date on the hunt for Snowden and discuss his latest revelations.”
[Podcast] “Der NSA-Skandal und die Precrime-Fantasien der Ermittlungsbehörden.” – “Vera Linß diskutiert mit Alexander Markowetz, Ben Kees, Niko Härting und Benedikt Köhler im Online Talk darüber, [. . .] inwieweit sich mithilfe von Algorithmen und anderen Technologien kriminelle oder überhaupt Verhaltensmuster identifizieren und vor allem prognostizieren [lassen].” (NETZ.REPORTER XL, DRadio Wissen Online Talk, 07.07.2013)
[Podcast] breitband “Vergiss’ den Schlüssel nicht!” – Zur digitalen Selbstverteidigung mit Crypto-Tools, Cryptoparties und dem Erfinder der Computermaus, Doug Engelbart. (DRadio breitband, 06.07.2013)
[Podcast] unfilter, Episode 57: “Obama Is Afraid Of You.” (unfilter Episode 57, 2013/07/03) – “Obama shrugged [Snowden] off, calling him some 29 year old hacker. But this week the administration’s actions spoke louder than their words. Their hunt for Edward Snowden intensifies as they twist the arm of Vladimir Putin, ground the jet of the Bolivian president, and placing frantic calls to nation leaders around the world.”
[Podcast] “Bändigt den Geheimdienst!” – Donya Farahani in der Webschau über die Proteste und Aktionen gegen Online-Überwachung. (DRadio WIssen, 28.06.2013)
[Podcast] Logbuch Netzpolitik, Episode 69: “Räume für Spezialbehandlung.” (LNP069, 27.06.2013) – Linus Neumann und Tim Pritlove berichten über Edward Snowdens Flucht und das britische Spionageprogramm “Tempora”.
[Podcast] unfilter, Episode 56: “From Russia With Love.” (unfilter Episode 56, 2013/06/26) – “Edward Snowden [. . .] makes his escape from Hong Kong. We’ll reflect on [the mainstream media’s] continued character assassination [. . .].”; Britain’s GCHQ and the NSA share info [from Internet fiber optic cables], create “world-wide police state.”; the death of American investigative journalist Michael hastings and the technical possibility of hacking car control systems.
[Podcast] Datenkanal, Folge 25: “National Security Agency.” (21.06.2013) – Der Datenkanal-Podcast aus Jena gibt einen ausführlichen Überblick über die Geschichte der NSA.
[Podcast] unfilter, Episode 55: “Snowden is Snowed Under.” (unfilter Episode 55, 2013/06/19) – “In the wake of the NSA leaks we’re being told to trust the government with our simple data, it’s the leaker we need to worry about. Edward Snowden takes to the web to defend his name, while the top officials in US intelligence answer softball questions read from prepared statements.”
[Podcast] unfilter, Episode 54: “The NSA PRISM.” (unfilter Episode 54, 2013/06/12) – “We’ll dig into the new revelations, how this could be technically be done, and then we’ll expose the lapdog media’s attempt manipulate the narrative.”
[Podcast] IQ – Wissenschaft und Forschung: “Spionage.” (IQ – Wissenschaft und Forschung, Bayern 2, 12.06.2013) – Wie die Überwachung des Internet technisch funktioniert.
[Podcast] Logbuch Netzpolitik, Episode 67: “Schon lange nichts mehr auf NSA gepostet.” (LNP067, 11.06.2013) – Linus Neumann und Tim Pritlove berichten über das amerikanische PRISM und die deutsche Variante “Strategische Fernmeldeaufklärung”.
[Podcast] Common Sense with Dan Carlin, Episode 255: “The Big Long Surveillance Show.” (2013/06/10) – Dan Carlin points out the historical irony of the Guardian, a British newspaper, taking on the role of the fourth estate on behalf of American citizens’ civil liberties.
[Podcast] EconTalk “Schneier on Power, the Internet, and Security.” (2013/06/10) – In a recent episode of EconTalk, security expert Bruce Schneier talks, among other things, about the worrying encroachments of the national security state and how the powerful have adapted to use the Internet to solidify their grip.
Other resources about Internet surveillance in general:
http://buggedplanet.info – “A [Wiki] about Signals Intelligence (SIGINT), Communication Intelligence (COMINT), Tactical and Strategical Measures used to intercept Communications and the Vendors and Governmental and Private Operators of this Technology.
Kathryn Bigelow’s 2012 movie Zero Dark Thirty, which depicts the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, is in some ways a CIA propaganda piece, according to a report from Gawker.
Based on declassified memos from the CIA’s Office of Public Affairs, which is the agency’s propaganda operation, the major revelation is that the CIA directly pressured director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal to take out scenes that would portray the CIA in a bad light.
And so Bigelow and Boal did.
What are the contents/scenes taken out that the CIA objected to?
Participation of CIA operatives in the torture (I am not buying the euphemism ‘enhanced interrogation’) of detainees in the opening scene
Intimidation of detainees with dogs
A drunk CIA officer firing an AK-47 rifle into the air at a drunken rooftop party in Islamabad
The CIA analyzing videotaped interrogations of tortured detainees
Apart from the CIA’s influence revealed through the memo, the movie falsely suggests in its opening scene that it was torture that ultimately led to the revelation of Bin Laden’s location. This powerful image created by a product of popular culture retroactively works to legitimize the practice of torture in the public mind.
[Video] “Zero Dark Irresponsible – Killing Bin Laden With Blinders On.” (TheLipTV, 2013/11/26) – FIlm critic Peter Rainer criticizes Zero Dark Thirty for not contextualizing the torture scenes of the movie in the ‘Global War on Terrorism.’ In particular, he notes the absence of any mention of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney as responsible for America’s torture policies.
Over at OpenCulture, there is a fascinating article about Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Charlie Savage’s reporting on the Guantanamo Prison library. The library collection features items such as Captain America comics (!), the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Harry Potter, and self-help books such as Don’t Be Sad (!). Savage has a photo blog featuring the prison library books.
What image of the West and America is being transported to prisoners at Guantanamo Bay?
Tomas Young, a dying Iraq War veteran, writes a condemning letter to Bush and Cheney
Recently, President Obama commemorated the tenth anniversary of the Iraq War in a White House press release. In that statement, he thanked American military for its sacrifices.
Now a letter by a severely injured military veteran illustrates what those sacrifices look like. Tomas Young, who joined the US military shortly after 9/11 has written a very condemning letter towards President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, in which he accuses both of war crimes and evasion of justice.
Young on how many military veterans view the Bush administration in hindsight:
You may evade justice but in our [military veteran’s] eyes you are each guilty of egregious war crimes, of plunder and, finally, of murder, including the murder of thousands of young Americans—my fellow veterans—whose future you stole.
Among the issues Young talks about in his letter are the illegality of the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive war, the catastrophic impact of the Iraq War on the Middle East, the war profiteering of oil companies, the chickenhawkishness of Bush and Cheney, their religious hypochrisy and their general betrayal of military veterans, especially when it comes to appropriate care through the Veteran’s administration.
I have, like many other disabled veterans, come to realize that our mental and physical wounds are of no interest to you, perhaps of no interest to any politician. We were used. We were betrayed. And we have been abandoned.
As a dying man,Young speaks truth to power and unmasks Bush and Cheney as moral failures:
Your positions of authority, your millions of dollars of personal wealth, your public relations consultants, your privilege and your power cannot mask the hollowness of your character.
Read Tomas Young’s letter in full on the website linked below.
“The Last Letter.” (Tomas Young, Truthdig, 2013/03/18) – The letter in full, plus links to an interview with Tomas young by Chris Hedges.
President Obama’s Statement On The Tenth Anniversary Of The Iraq War
On March 19, 2013, the White House published a press release commemorating the tenth anniversary of the US-lead invasion of Iraq. You can read it in full here.
Obama thanks the US military and their families for their sacrifices, and argues for a “strong Post 9/11 GI Bill” to take care of military veterans, especially those suffering from brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder.
But a certain sacrifice is carefully left out of the White House statement: that of Iraqi civilians. There is no mention of the civilian deaths caused by the war, no mention of civilian deaths by drone strikes, especially so-called signature strikes.
Certainly, Obama as the Commander in Chief and has responsibilities towards US military members, but their experiences alone constitute but a part of the whole story of the Iraq War in the past decade.
The Freedom of the Press Foundation has published the audio recording of Private First Class Bradley Manning’s statement to the military court in Ft. Meade on his motivations for leaking documents to whistleblowing website Wikileaks.
An Investigation By The Guardian and BBC Arabic Reveals Pentagon Involvement In Iraqi Torture Centers.
The abyss of US military involvement in torture in Iraq widens. According to a report by the Guardian and BBC Arabic, top US military brass was well-informed about Iraqi torture centers.
The expert for the dirty work: An ex-special forces organizer of deaths squads in El Salvador in the 1980s
The Pentagon brought Colonel James Steele to Iraq. “Who is this man?” you ask. Steele is a special forces veteran who spent his time in the US military, among other things, setting up right-wing death squads in El Salvador in the 1980s.
In Iraq, according to the report, Steele organized setting up Iraqi torture centers for detainees of the insurgency.
Petraeus knew about torture
Another top military advisor, retired Colonel James H Coffman, worked together with Steele in the detention centers and—this is where it gets interesting—reported directly to General Petraeus.
It follows that Petraeus knew exactly what kind of abuse was going on, and let it happen.
WikiLeaks as threat to the official war narrative
The Guardian’s report is in part based on material that was leaked to WikiLeaks. It is not hard to see why the Justice Department is currently attempting to make an example of Bradley Manning and get their hands on WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
As the dirtiest secrets of the Iraq war are revealed, the liberation narrative begins to unravel. Top military officials stand embarrassed, for they have been caught red-handed as ruthless condoners of torture. But as the maintenance of the facade of democratic values is elementary in order to win the home front, whistleblowers are quickly declared enemies of the state.
‘We’ are becoming ‘them’: Torture poisons our democracies
Reading the details on the practices in the Iraqi torture centers is frankly disturbing. It is all the more disgusting to learn that ‘we,’ i.e. the ‘West,’ and US military officials at the highest levels in particular, were completely fine with this.
It does not take much to realize the unbearable hypocrisy of it all. Not only is torture morally wrong, it is also ineffective, because victims will say anything to make their suffering stop.
Here in Europe, we have the best historic example of this: witch hunts in early modern times. Tortured victims would accuse neighbors or others they did not like of being witches just to save themselves. But that is besides the point.
If in this century’s ‘war on terrorism’ realpolitik prevails über alles, then the line between ‘them,’ the maligned autocratic rogue states, and ‘us,’ the liberal democratic West, becomes thinner and blurry to the point of being barely distinguishable.
And if we are not watchful, there might come a day when the next Mubarak or al-Assad has a more familiar-sounding name and speaks our own language. But then it will be too late.
Neocons, I beg to differ
Here is where I disagree with the neoconservative world view behind the Iraq war: I do not think that the end always justifies the means. And I doubt that the end of fighting terrorism can be achieved by becoming torturers, or having detainees tortured by proxy.
As for building a democracy, I am skeptical about how torture prisons constitute a solid foundation in this regard. But then again, the attachment of the neoconservative architects of the Iraq war to democratic values is questionable.
Torture enablers should be in prison
I do not know at which point the George W. Bushes, the Dick Cheneys, the John Yoos, the Donald Rumsfelds, or the David Petraeuses of the world became attached to this kind of amoral thinking, but when you read what is now publicly accessible, these men were not at all troubled by deploying torture and constructing a legal framework to make it seem legit. To the contrary. But torture is still wrong.
And to the big disgrace of the Obama administration and the Holder Justice Department, which I put high hopes in, none of these crimes had any consequences for the perpetrators.
In an ideal world, all of those who enabled the torture regime, including European government officials, would spend the rest of their days in prison for crimes against humanity. Call me naive, but not to speak up against this evil would make me an accomplice.
Conservative Activists/GOP/Fox News Claim That Obama’s Republican Nominee for Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (R-Nebraska) Is Funded By Hamas-Affiliated Group.
While there are many legitimate criticisms of the Obama administration, as I mentioned in my earlier posts, the level of absurdity in American political theater is almost always guaranteed to rise to unimagined heights when one turns their attention to today’s GOP and the vocal ultraconservative conspiracy-minded base.
Case in point: President Obama nominates former Senator Chuck Hagel (R-Nebraska) for Secretary of Defense. Not only does the GOP plan to filibuster Hagel’s nomination, which is unprecedented. [Update]: The Senate GOP did filibuster Hagel’s nomination.
Unfounded Claims Of Links To Hamas
No, some conservative activists try to prevent Hagel’s appointment by linking him to terrorist organization Hamas (!). Seriously.
The absurd claim includes an allegation that Hagel received foreign funding from a group called “Friends of Hamas.” According to the Treasury Department, which monitors charitable groups connected to Hamas, this group does not even exist.
Furthermore, does it sound plausible that an organization trying to funnel money to a terrorist group would include that groups name in its own name? Absolutely not. It would be quite a bad disguise.
[Update (2013/02/17)]: As it turns out, Senator James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma), who led the filibustering of Hagel, is quite the massive hypocrite when it comes to accusing Hagel of a friendly stance towards Hamas. As Salon reports, Inhofe’s own words on Hamas from 2006 sound at least as friendly to that organization as what he accused Hagel of. As Alex Seitz-Wald puts it, “using his current standard, Jim Inhofe might have a hard time voting to confirm Jim Inhofe.”
One Probable Reason For The Smear: Hagel’s Harsh Criticism Of ‘Jewish Lobby’
In the past, Hagel had criticized the “influence of the Jewish lobby,” i.e. AIPAC (which, by the way, describes itself as “America’s Pro-Israel Lobby” on its own website) in Washington, and in return received criticism by the above-mentioned and other pro-Israel groups.
And while the legitimacy of Hagel’s comments and the degree of influence in Washington by pro-Israel groups can be a subject of reasonable debate, the unfounded claim that Hagel must be associated with Hamas contains a classic fallacy: the excluded middle.
In my opinion, there are many shades of gray between supporting everything a particular government does and supporting a terrorist group that wishes for the murder of that state’s citizens. Criticizing particular activities of any government, be it the American, German, or Israeli one, does not make one anti-American, anti-German, or anti-semitic. It is the tonality that makes the difference.
One final word on lobbies: By definition, any lobby organization is supposed to represent their constituency’s interests. Despite the fact that there can be several lobbies claiming to represent the interests of any particular group, it is by no means conspiratorial to assume that there is a lobby for virtually any cause. A quick search with your favorite search engine will confirm this. Just read the mission statement of your organization of choice.
Other Probable Reasons Why The GOP Filibustered Hagel’s Appointment
Of course, Hagel’s statements on the ‘Israel Lobby’ are not the only reason why the GOP stonewalls his appointment.
According to Chris Cilizza of the Washington Post, the following reasons might also have factored into the GOP’s decision to filibuster Hagel’s appointment:
Because they can.—This should not be surprising. Since Obama took office, the main GOP tactic was obstructionism.
Some GOP senators believe Hagel to be inexperienced.
Rallying the party.—Romney lost the presidential election, the GOP did not win a majority in the Senate. Therefore, Senate Republicans needed something new to motivate themselves.
In the words of one man who arguably knew a thing or two about theater in the English-speaking world at the time, the great Chuck-Hagel-Hamas-conspiracy is much ado about nothing.
A Tea Party Senator From Texas Opens Another Smear Front: The Communists Are Coming!
In the context of the Chuck Hagel Senate confirmation hearing, Tea Party Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) alleged, without providing evidence, that Chuck Hagel was funded by North Korea. So now it is not only those Islamist terrorists (Hamas) that Hagel is supposedly in bed with, but also those darn commies.
Furthermore, according to Senator Cruz, Harvard Law School was completely infiltrated by communists in the 1990s (!), when he himself studied there. Cruz even claimed, like Joseph McCarthy in his day, to possess a list of said communists, who schemed to overthrow the American government.
And because Harvard Law School was supposedly such a hotbed of communism, Barack Obama must have become a communist there, which totally proves that therefore Chuck Hagel must somehow also be a communist. Of course, Cruz himself was able to resist the influence of marxists and communists.
Even fellow Republicans Lindsey Graham and John McCain thought that this nonsense was a bit too much, and some liberal commentators rightfully noted that Cruz’s mannerisms were indeed quite McCartyite.
“Why John McCain turned on Chuck Hagel.” (David Rogers, Politico, 2013/02/17) – Op-Ed: McCain voted against Chuck Hagel to help make South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham appear more right-wing.
“Lindsey Graham, watching his right flank.” (Dana Milbank, Washington Post, 2013/02/15) – Op-Ed: South Carolina Republican Senator opposes Hagel’s nomination to appear right-wing enough for his own re-election.
“More GOP Hagel hypocrisy.” (Alex Seitz-Wald, Salon, 2013/02/15) – Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), who lead the filibuster against Chuck Hagel’s nomination, had some friendly words for Hamas himself in 2006.
US Military Abuses Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Legacy For Pro-War Propaganda on MLK Day
Civil Rights Movement icon Martin Luther King, Jr. is well-known for his anti-war stance, especially regarding the US involvement in the Vietnam War at the time. But now some people within several branches of the US military have decided, in true orwellian fashion, to abuse MLK as an advocate for militarism and expanding military budgets on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (January 15).
If we are to believe those within the US military apparatus who promote this fantasy version of MLK, then apparently, like the slogan of the fictional ‘Ingsoc’ party’ in George Orwell’s novel ‘1984’ contends, “WAR IS PEACE” and “IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.”
King on militarism during the Vietnam War:
Here is what King had to say in his 1967 Riverside Church speech ‘Beyond Vietnam‘:
A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.
And just in case that was not clear enough:
America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing except a tragic death wish to prevent us from reordering our priorities so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood.
Finally, King lambasted the US at the time as the
greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.
The US military mischaracterizing King:
In contrast, here is what the US Marines tweeted for MLK Day 2013:
“A man who won’t die for something is not fit to live.” — Martin Luther King Jr. #MLK
And here is what the United States Air Force’s Global Strike Command claimed in an essay on its website:
Dr. King would be proud to see our Global Strike team – comprised of Airmen, civilians and contractors from every race, creed, background and religion – standing side-by-side ensuring the most powerful weapons in the U.S. arsenal remain the credible bedrock of our national defense.
Martin Luther King, Jr. would roll over in his grave if he could witness these pathetic attempts at deceiving the American public. To take a peace advocate and refashion him into a mouthpiece for militarism amounts to nothing but disgusting propaganda. A figure like King surely deserves better than this.
In my opinion, there are good reasons to be outraged at such revisionist practices: They smack of Stalin erasing Communist Party members from photographs after they fell from grace, China’s censorship of material covering the Tiananmen Square massacre, or the GDR’s claim that the Berlin Wall was an “Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart” —all purposeful distortions of reality unworthy of a democratic society.
There is something inherently evil in lying this way about historic figures. Whenever it happens, we need to be alert.
The Obama Inauguration 2013: Round Two For The 44th POTUS
On January 20, 2013, Barack Obama was sworn in for the second time as President of the United States. Will he change course towards a more progressive political agenda this time, as opposed to the past four years? Naturally, it remains to be seen, but from observing his first term in office, I got the impression that there were many continuities from the previous administration.
[Please note: I will add some sources for various claims that I make in this article later, when I have more time. In the meantime, please confirm any information by doing a news search with your favorite search engine. I will also continuously add more links to news coverage of the inauguration and background information.]
Looking back at Obama’s first election
Like many Europeans—and of course many Americans, for that matter—I was very excited about the first black (biracial, mixed, pick your favorite term) American president four years ago. Any student of American history should be. True, the campaign buzzwords ‘hope’ and ‘change’ were by themselves meaningless appeals to emotion, crafted by brilliant campaign strategists, but candidate Barack Obama also filled them with concrete policy proposals in his campaign speeches.
Obama positioned himself as a unifier, but it is clear that a key selling point was “I am not Bush.” Indeed, Obama was many things that Bush was not: a black man, an intellectual, not a son of privilege, urban, sophisticated, a Christian but not a religious fundamentalist with an eschatological interest in the Middle East. There were high hopes that Obama would act differently and that his administration would repair some of the damage caused by his predecessor.
Obama’s first term and continuities from Bush/Cheney
While Obama is certainly more socially liberal than any of the top Republicans, a substantial departure from neoliberal economic policies and a neoconservative security architecture is barely noticeable, despite any claims of America having fallen to communism on January 20, 2009, available on the usual propaganda channels. Of course an American president is not a dictator and legislation is supposed to go through Congress.
However, from the outside it looked like this: From day one, a Republican front aggressively attacked Obama at every turn while the POTUS offered concession after concession, ultimately in vain. The only times that the soft-spoken Obama did not find it difficult to metaphorically wack political opposition with the big stick that Theodore Roosevelt suggested to carry around at all times (referring to foreign policy) was when his own progressive political base reminded Obama of his campaign promises. So here we are, four years later:
The “War on Terrorism”
The paradigm shift caused by 9/11 still remains, and the behavior of the Obama administration is perhaps a good reminder to take seriously the phrase ‘paradigm shift.’ Osama Bin Laden is dead, even though his death was but a symbol, needed for closure, a counter to the terrorists’ symbol of attacking the World Trade Center. But the confrontation is not over.
The central question for democracies is how to act while engaging in that battle. In retrospect, unfortunately, the Obama administration’s answers sound very similar to those of the Bush administration in many cases. Guantánamo Bay is still open, the practice of kidnapping terrorism suspects, euphemistically called ‘rendition,’ has been increased, the drone killing program has been expanded and raises all kinds of ethical and legal questions, and the National Defense Authorization Acts (NDAA) now allow for worldwide secret arrests and killings on the President’s orders, outside of judicial oversight.
The most severe damage to American democracy, however, has been done by the Obama-Holder Justice Department, shielding the architects and perpetrators of the Bush administration’s torture regime from legal consequences. Here was the opportunity to signal to the world that American exceptionalism also means that the US government is above using the methods of despotic regimes elsewhere. But the message sent was a very different one. As the Obama administration put it, the aim is to look forward, not backwards.
But if these practices are not being punished, the official position that “the US does not torture” is meaningless. If any future administration decides to go down that route again, it can and will point to the precedent set by Bush and Obama. And it is exactly this lending legitimacy to authoritarian tendencies of a transgressive national security state that will tarnish Obama’s place in history. It is particularly bitter that these policies are advanced by a former constitutional law professor.
Regulation of the financial sector:
The Obama administration did not push for legislation ‘with teeth’ for stricter regulations of investment banks after the financial crisis. The Justice Department has not prosecuted top banking executives who have clearly engaged in serious criminal activity. Apparently, the Obama administration believed that this class of people needed to be shielded from legal repercussions in order for the economic recovery to succeed. In addition, many of Obama’s economic advisors are neoliberals with a background in big Wall Street firms. It is difficult to ignore the conflict of interest set up by this dynamic.
The positive changes during Obama’s first term
Admittedly, Obama’s key domestic policy project was a big step within in the American context, and extremely controversial, to be clear. However, a European-model public option, not to speak of a single-payer system, was wiped off the negotiating table very quickly, and from the reports I have read, Obama did not really mind. Insurance companies did not mind, either. That is because they get millions of new customers who are obliged to buy their insurance packages.
The repeal of ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’
The Obama administration repealed the Clinton-era policy that allowed gays and lesbians to serve in the military while keeping in the closet. The policy, apart from being discriminatory, established a power dynamic that made LGBT military members vulnerable to blackmail for fear of being outed by colleagues. Contrary to rumors, the American military did not collapse once LGBT soldiers were allowed to express their identity. Interestingly, the military has become a venue of social progress for a second time after the desegregation during World War Two.
Few drastic changes in crucial areas
In sum, the notion of a president who would radically depart from the paths taken since 2001 has evaporated regarding most foreign policy and economic issues. While some symbolic changes were enacted, the big issues seem ‘path dependent,’ to borrow a sociological term. On civil liberties, Obama’s record is rather dim, except for the DADT repeal. Regarding economic policy, the financial sector—investment firms in particular—is back to business as usual, which is great if you happen to be an investment banker. The question remains whether Obama, now that he does not have to worry about reelection, will be a different politician. I am skeptical about that, even though I still have a tiny bit of hope.
What do you think?
[I will update the article from time to time and add more information.]
News coverage of Obama’s second inauguration
[Video] The New York Times has the full inauguration speech:
[Video] Politico’s live video coverage of the 2013 inauguration can be found here.
[Video] The New York Times reports from Washington prior to the presidential inauguration (2013/01/18):
“Obama’s Rorschach.” (John T. Woolley, Professor of political science, UCSB; Co-director, American Presidency Project, Huffington Post, 2013/01/23) – A political scientist explains how people interpret Obama’s inaugural speech according to their own political leanings.
I also demand a hearing into which hearings
I should have attended while demanding more hearings.
– Liberal blog Daily Kos summing up John McCain’s press conference on Benghazi1
Former GOP presidential candidate Senator John McCain recently gave a press conference on the Benghazi terrorist attack, demanding more investigation of the incident. When a CNN reporter pointed out to McCain that, instead of giving a press conference, he might be attending a confidential briefing at the Senate Homeland Security Committee, of which he is a member, McCain lost it. Oh my…
Over at Crash Course World History (Episode #28), the hyperactive John Green presents a humorous look at the American Revolution, including a Monty Phython-esque cut-out Ben Franklin arguing with King George over taxation and representation, all in colorful animation. The most interesting serious point, in my opinion: the Founding fathers made sure that their revolution would not develop like the French Revolution, i.e. become radically democratic.
This Tuesday [March 27, 2012] I attended a talk on “The Upcoming U.S. Presidential Elections and U.S. Foreign Policy” by Dr. John C. Hulsman, who is a Senior Research Fellow at the The Hague Centre for Strategic Studies (HCSS). The talk was held at the Bibliotheca Albertina, the main university library in Leipzig, and presented by the AmCham Forum of the American Chamber of Commerce in Germany.
In his talk, Hulsman argued that five issues were crucial to current developments in US foreign policy:
the decline of the US economy
the decline of the European economies
the Arab Spring
rising powers such as India and China
the question of an Iranian nuclear program
Elections and Political Views in the US
Concerning the elections, Hulsman said that polls show that more more Americans consider themselves conservatives [He was probably talking about thisGallup poll].
Independent Voters in the US
Presidential elections in the US, Hulsman mentioned, are won by courting independent voters, who are neither attached to Democrats or Republicans.
These independents are disaffected and are most concerned about the economy.
In 2008, independents were largely for Barack Obama. Before the crash of investment bank Lehman Brothers, however, John McCain was ahead of Obama in the polls with independents.
In 2010, independents swung back to Republicans, mainly because of opposition to the Obama administration’s health care reform bill.
To independents, Hulsman explained, the health care reform was another ‘entitlement,’ which they dislike, and they felt that their main concern—the economy—was neglected.
[Here is a Pew poll from April 2012 on general election preferences.]
Economic Troubles Illustrated
To illustrate the severity of economic troubles in the US, Hulsman gave these examples:
One third of Americans have no retirement savings. When the Social Security system was initiated, life expectancy was much lower than today. During the 1990s, many who owned real estate, such as a house, felt this was securing their retirement.
One fourth of all homes in the US are now ‘underwater,’ meaning that homeowners owe the bank more in mortgage than the house is worth on the market. The house thus loses saving potential and becomes a drag for the owner. Hulsman said that the Hayekian idea (after classical liberal Austrian economist Friedrich August von Hayek) would have been to just leave the keys and get out of the house.
One fifth of all savings were wiped out during the financial crash that started in late 2007. Hulsman stressed that in a federal system such as that of the US, it is important to examine the respective figures for state and local levels to get the full scope of the financial crisis’ impact.
If the US economy would not grow by eight per cent, it would not be able to cushion these problems.
Anger at Washington and the Labor Market
Hulsman explained that part of the general dissatisfaction of voters with the Washington establishment is the great disparity of experiences in the labor market.
Jobs within the Washington political class are generally very secure, and it is hard to get fired. On the other hand, regular employees and workers get fired very easily in the US, compared to Germany.
The economic difficulties of the US, Huntsman noted, might produce a spillover effect with ramifications for foreign policy, due to constraints on the federal budget. The high costs of war and nation-building [see below] come under closer scrutiny in this climate.
The Republican Primaries in Early 2012
In January 2012, Mitt Romney was twenty points ahead with independents in the polls.
This time, more Republican primaries allocate their delegates proportionally.
By doing so, they adopt the Democratic system of primaries, wherein two candidates fight for the nomination.
Splitting the Republican Vote with Culture Wars
A problem for Republicans in their relationship with independent voters is their focus on ‘culture war’ issues such as abortion, contraception, and the separation of church and state. For instance, Rick Santorum has put the issues of contraception and state-church separation front and center in his campaign. This does not fit well with independents, who worry most about the economy.
As of March 2012, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich are splitting the conservative vote. This is beneficial to Mitt Romney, who is considered the more socially moderate Republican candidate.
Romney, Hulsman noted, does not like to talk about social issues. He is simultaneously forced to move to the right o social issues in order to appease conservatives, while trying to avoid alienating independents.
Hulsman bets his money on Romney becoming the Republican nominee in the end.
Obama’s campaign narrative to counter Romney will be that he stopped the ‘Great Depression.’
Partisan Differences in Foreign Policy
How would Republicans and Democrats differ on foreign policy?
Hulsman said that Republicans are always to the right of Obama and the Democrats, for instance on the issue of Israel.
Current Challenges in US Foreign Policy
Dealing with a Multipolar World
An ongoing general challenge for the US is how to deal with the new multipolar world, exemplified by the rise of countries such as Brazil, India, China, South Africa, or Malaysia.
The European financial crisis the tensions with Iran are examples of issues that the US cannot control alone. This is a new situation for the US and makes the Obama administration nervous.
The Arab Spring
Hulsman was skeptical about the long-term success of the Arab Spring, saying that he viewed it in Burkeian terms. History shows, he said, that the most well-organized groups prevail in revolutions. In Egypt, this would be the Muslim Brotherhood and the army. While Hulsman was optimistic about the situation in Tunesia, he had a very bleak outlook about developments in Syria.
Obama’s foreign policy style, Hulsman held, is basically one that focuses on limiting losses.
Iran, the US, and Israel
Hulsman noted that the US government realizes its own security interest does not equal Israeli security interest, even if both are close allies.
To illustrate this point, Hulsman explained that the US and Israel have different red lines in considering military action against Iran.
For Israel, an Iranian capability to build a nuclear weapon would be a reason to attack. For the US, the actual possession of nuclear weapons would be that flashpoint.
In Israel, the hawkish faction around Ehud Barak, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Avigdor Liebermann want a military strike, but cannot get a majority of the population behind them without US support.
In addition, several former Mossad chiefs have publicly argued against attacking Iran.
In the US, public opinion is such that 75% strongly support Israel, but also do not want a unilateral strike. In Israel, the number concerning a unilateral strike is similar.
If Iran would at some point in the future have a nuclear weapon, nuclear proliferation would spread throughout the Middle East, especially the gulf states.
A bombing of Iran would have terrible results, according to Hulsman. If Israel attacked Iran unilaterally, that would perhaps set back the Iranian nuclear program for a year. But the high price to pay would be that hope for peace in the Middle East would be gone for a generation. Already now, an Iranian threat to close the Strait of Hormuz has caused a spike in oil prices.
Currently, Washington talks to Tel Aviv to convince the Israelis to get more time to let the sanctions on Iran work.
Hulsman told the audience to behold the coming September, because the chance of a military strike at this time would be fifty-fifty.
Concerning Afghanistan, Hulsman, who is opposed to neoconservatives, held that it was a case of failed nation building, with a cost of $ 1 million per soldier per year. He said that failed nation builders always claim they need more time and money.
The US, the EU, and Global Influence
On the US as a global ordering power via the EU, Hulsman said that if the EU wants to play a greater role, it needs to spend more on defense. He said that the US cross-subsidizes European defense, while European nations spend very few on defense, and more on their social systems.
Here is a video from the US Embassy in Germany featuring John C. Hulsman talking about the 2012 elections:
Now that the Leipzig Book Fair 2012 (Leipziger Buchmesse) is over, I would like to share some thoughts about my impressions. There was so much to see that any attempt at catching everything of interest was doomed to failure. Nevertheless, I managed to attend some of the readings supported by the US Consulate Leipzig, as mentioned in my earlier post.
The book is based on a collection of interviews that Endler conducted with a variety American public intellectuals across the political spectrum. These public figures talked at length about how they imagine the role of the US as the remaining superpower after the Cold War.
Endler mentioned that the trauma of 9/11 is still present and informs national discourse in the US. He pointed to the 2012 Republican presidential primaries which had currently reached several Southern states in the US. Within the campaign rhetoric of the current crop of candidates, both the tropes of a potential Iranian nuclear threat and the fear of terrorism featured prominently.
Endler also talked about a specifically American “revolving door of public life,” a phenomenon wherein university professors often transfer to governmental posts, then to think tanks, and finally back to university or into journalism.
This mechanism, which is often difficult to understand from a German perspective, leads to a lively public debate in the US.
The discourses of public intellectuals in the US focus on such topics as the role of the US as a superpower, or the ability to survive crises.
Endler mentioned that in the public discourse, 9/11 entailed a sense of loss of the “free” US security provided by its geographic location. 9/11 was registered as the first attack on US territory since two hundred years, except for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor during World War II.
Since 9/11, the US government has been willing to defend what it defines as American values with military force. This rationale has been put forward by the Bush administration, but also has been acknowledged by President Obama.
Endler mentioned that a look back at the past three years of the Obama administration reveals a shift towards “realism” in its foreign policy approach.
From a German perspective, he noted, US public debate often looks like a traveling circus, and seems rather strange. From the American perspective, on the other hand, this willingness to controversial discussion is seen as embodiment of democracy.
This also includes public opinion about the president, as documented by polls. Endler pointed out that recent polls show diverging evaluations of Obama as person and Obama as politician. While Obama as a person still gets relatively high approval ratings, Obama the politician is seen comparatively worse by the American public. The president also still has an image problem as he is seen as “elitist” by large parts of the population.
Endler also mentioned that in comparison, the political spectrum of the US is generally more to the right of Germany.
A few examples from the interviews with US public intellectuals underscored this point. For instance, he mentioned Michael Novak of the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute (AEI), whom he characterized as an archconservative Catholic who forms a bridge between the Christian Right and neoconservatives. Novak thought of Obama as an extreme leftist.
Endler described how many conservative public intellectuals in the US also see Obama as “great nibbler” who hesitates to tackle problems of foreign policy at the root.
On the other end of the left-right spectrum, Endler gave the example of MIT linguist and icon of the US Left, Noam Chomsky. Chomsky told Endler that there was no substantial debate going on in the US. In his opinion, the educated classes are indoctrinated. Chomsky noted broad support for the US invasion of Iraq, and the absence of a “principled objective” to invading other countries. According to Chomsky, there exists a double standard for other countries’ invasions of foreign countries. In Chomsky’s view, the nature of the discourse on the invasion of Iraq was such that the only question asked was “Does it cost US too much?”
Endler pointed out that foreign policy generally plays a small role in US elections and that war fatigue has risen among the US public. One case in point, Endler argued, was President Obama’s 2012 State of the Union address, which did not discuss foreign policy matters.
In Endler’s opinion, the dialogue between the US and the EU has been set aback lately.
He concluded that there is by and large a consensus across the political spectrum in American public debate about the status of the US as a superpower and the benefit of exporting democracy.
I found the talk very interesting, but it was unfortunately a bit short, as the whole event including introduction and questions at the end had to fit into a thirty minute time slot. I certainly would have liked to hear more about certain aspects of current US foreign policy, especially the aforementioned ‘realist’ turn of the Obama administration.
As the audience of a reading at the Leipzig Book Fair is much broader than merely American studies people, it is certainly sensible to not dwell on details only of interest to (aspiring) specialists. I am of course biased here and would have gladly taken in some more information. Then again, I am probably a little spoiled by attending readings at my university, which usually have the luxury of a ninety minute time slot.
Overall, the talk got me interested and I will put the book on my to-read list.