Monday, December 19, 2011

Politics of power

I cracked open A History of the World in 100 Objects by Neil MacGregor (2010) on a friend's coffee table. In the chapter 'On King Den's Sandal Label' I scribbled down the following quotes:
So how do you lead and control a city or a state where most of the people don't know each other, and you can interact personally with only a very small percentage of the inhabitants? 
This United Egypt was one of the earliest societies that we can think of as a state in the modern sense, and, as one of its earliest leaders, King Den had to address all the problems of control and coordination that a modern state has to confront today.

This little label is the first image of a ruler in this history of humanity. It's striking, perhaps a bit disheartening, that, right at the beginning, the ruler wants to be shown as a commander-in-chief, conquering his foe. This is how, from earliest times, power has been projected through images, and there's something disturbingly familiar about it. 
The label-maker's job was, however, deadly serious: to keep his leader looking invincible and semi-divine, and to show that Den was the only man who could guarantee what Egyptians, like everybody else, wanted from their rulers — law and order.

There are some early hieroglyphs scratched into the ivory which give us the name of King Den and, between him and the enemy, the chilling words 'they shall not exist'. This 'other' is going to be obliterated. All the tricks of savage political propaganda are already here — the ruler calm and victorious, set against the alien, defeated, misshapen enemy.

"I think they realized, as world leaders have realized throughout history, that nothing binds a nation and a people together quite so effectively as a foreign war against a common enemy, whether that enemy is real or manufactured."  — Troy Wilkinson

It's a discouragingly familiar strategy. You win hearts and minds at home by focusing on the threats from abroad, but the weapons that you need to crush the enemy also come in handy when you're dealing with domestic opponents. The political rhetoric of foreign aggression is backed up by very brisk policing at home.
The clich├ęs are apparently  true:
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
        — French proverb 
Those who don't know history are destined to repeat it.
        — Edmund Burke

The author and Director of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor, has a radio series of A History of the World in 100 Objects on BBC radio. The 15 minute episode about King Den's Sandal Label can be listened to here.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The single biggest threat to democracy

The single biggest threat to democracy in the United States is not the corporate and government propaganda. It's not the corrupt revolving door between government and industry. It's not the mockracy where the bipartisan government always has just enough votes to pass a bill in the house or senate. See this. It's not the corporate lobbyists. It's not our unjust legal system. See this. It's not the corrupt supreme court. It's not the shredding of the Constitution. It's not the loss of civil liberties and the impending police state. It's not the deregulation or overregulation. It's not the inequality of income, wealth and education including unprecedented extreme poverty in the richest country in the world. See this and this. It's not deficits, debt or taxation. It's not globalization or the environment. Have you guessed yet? It's government secrecy. The systematic shutting down of information from the government will be the undoing of the United States as a democracy while shadowy governmental, quasi-governmental and non-governmental organizations operate the government from behind the scenes.

If the "facts" are not public, one no longer needs to "spin" them. The debate then changes to what are the facts and the public suffers from the lack of information.


The CIA is a quasi-governmental organization. It operates above the law. It is not accountable to congress. It operates or oversees 'black sites' outside of the US where inmates are tortured. The CIA gets involved in overthrowing governments, assassinations, drug trafficking, censorship and who knows what else as there is no governmental oversight by the US government. The CIA is still withholding JFK documents and it requesting to continue to withhold the JFK documents after the 50 year hold on classified documents expires. The CIA routinely denies freedom of information requests and doesn't get audited.

What the CIA is to international affairs, the FBI is to domestic affairs. Operations shrouded in secrecy. Files are kept on anyone who might step in their way. For ETC, see this.

The Federal Reserve

The Federal Reserve is a quasi-governmental organization but its true loyalties lie mostly with US financial institutions. The Fed stopped reporting M3 (the largest measure of the money supply) in 2006 and any statistics that would allow one to calculate M3 including large-denomination time deposits, repurchase agreements and Eurodollar. The Fed refuses Freedom of Information Act requests and is (and has always been) exempt from audit. During the financial crisis, the Fed provided at least $29.6 trillion of emergency assistance over 3 years to domestic as well as foreign banks. (source).

The military

The actual cost of the US military is shrouded in secrecy. It is estimated that the true military spending is over $1.2 trillion. (source) In regards to general secrecy of the US military there are black ops, black sites, black projects, black budgets and secret commando raids (source).

Super PACs

Thanks to the Citizen's United Supreme Court decision, super PACs have no limits on spending and do not have to disclose who and where the contributions came from - including foreign sources.

Classified information

16 million documents each year are classified top secret each year. (source).  77 million documents each year are classified.( Source).


Because so much of what the government does is now classified secret, there will be people working hard to release the truth to the public. "...these leaks have achieved enormous good and little harm.", wrote Glenn Greenwald. (source). The government, for its part, has been aggressively chasing and punishing whistleblowers. See this.

The Bradley Manning case epitomizes our current plight in America. Torture isn't about exerting physical pain but about breaking one's mind. Generally the best way to do that is to withhold sensory stimulus to the brain. They kept Bradley in isolation without clothes as a means purely to torture/break him. Keeping him in jail without starting the trial proceedings for 17 months is a clear denial of habeas corpus. When Obama stated his "guilt" in public, it again infringed on his rights. Follow Bradley Manning's trial here: Bradley Manning Support Network.

The Internet

The US government is on their third attempt to pass an Internet censorship bill. The government really really wants control over the Internet for obvious reasons. The House Judiciary Committee on SOPA (Stop Online Privacy Act) adjourned the committee due censorship issues. However, the Protect IP Act is up for a vote in the Senate. First, see why this bill is a bad idea (Protect IP Breaks the Internet):

Second, call your senator and tell him or her that if he or she votes for this bill, he or she will lose your vote (due diligence). Third, share or forward this article or write your own and spread the word that if this bill becomes law that you will never vote Republican nor Democrat again, period. The Internet is the last bastion of free speech and free information. Protect it.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Super solution to nation's debt

In metro new york's 'letters to the editior', December 8th, 2011:
Too bad the government doesn't refinance their debt. The interest per year right now on $15 trillion-plus is $452 billion. Why not refinance with the Federal Reserve at .01 percent, the same rate the Federal Reserve is giving its best customers the banks? That's a savings of $450 billion per year - $4.5 trillion over 10 years. Gee why didn't the super committee think of that one? DAVID SNIECKUS, VIA E-MAIL

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Villain rotation

From Glenn Greenwald's Salon column 'Congress endorsing military detention, a new AUMF' on December 1st, 2011:
The Levin/McCain bill would require that all accused Terrorists be held in military detention and not be charged in a civilian court — including those apprehended on U.S. soil — with two caveats: (1) it exempts U.S. citizens and legal residents from this mandate, for whom military detention would still be optional (i.e., in the discretion of the Executive Branch); and (2) it allows the Executive Branch to issue a waiver if it wants to charge an accused Terrorist in the civilian system.
...consider how typically bipartisan this all is. The Senate just voted 37-61 against an amendment, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Mark Udall, that would have stripped the Levin/McCain section from the bill: in other words, Levin/McCain garnered one more vote than the 60 needed to stave off a filibuster. Every GOP Senator (except Rand Paul and Mark Kirk) voted against the Udall amendment, while just enough Democrats – 16 in total — joined the GOP to ensure passage of Levin/McCain. That includes such progressive stalwarts as Debbie Stabenow, Sheldon Whitehouse, Jeanne Shaheen and its lead sponsor, Carl Levin.
I’ve described this little scam before as “Villain Rotation”: “They always have a handful of Democratic Senators announce that they will be the ones to deviate this time from the ostensible party position and impede success, but the designated Villain constantly shifts, so the Party itself can claim it supports these measures while an always-changing handful of their members invariably prevent it.” This has happened with countless votes that are supposed manifestations of right-wing radicalism but that pass because an always-changing roster of Democrats ensure they have the support needed. So here is the Democratic Party — led by its senior progressive National Security expert, Carl Levin, and joined by just enough of its members — joining the GOP to ensure that this bill passes, and that the U.S. Government remains vested with War on Terror powers and even expands that war in some critical respects. 
This example of our political system is best described as a mockracy. Incidentally, as Greenwald points out, the Obama administration objected to the the exemption for US citizens.

Read the whole article at: Congress endorsing military detention, a new AUMF. More Greenwald on 'villain rotation' at: The Democratic Party’s deceitful game.