Monday, December 05, 2011

Civil Society or Dictatorship?

Put aside all other issues for a moment, and ignore the trivialities that dominate the airwaves and what passes for national debate in this country. The Senate this week ratified a defense authorization bill containing an amendment cosponsored by Democratic Sen. Carl Levin and Republican Sen. John McCain that would empower the military to detain American citizens captured on U.S. soil indefinitely without civil process, in addition to expanding the post-9/11 Authorization to Use Military Force and making it harder to transfer detainees out of Guantánamo.

Ten years of the war on terror, decades of the war on drugs, and a century of growing government power in general, particularly in the presidency and various police authorities, have perhaps desensitized Americans to what is at stake here. As the proverbial frogs in the pot of water, we are accustomed to rising temperatures and so do not notice when our flesh begins to boil. Yet when the Senate overwhelmingly accepts the principle that the military should displace civilian courts even for citizens captured on American soil, it has adopted a standard of justice remarkably tyrannical even compared to America’s very rocky history.

In the Civil War, the Lincoln administration detained American citizens without trial. Parts of the country constituting the United States were actually battlegrounds, littered by many thousands of bodies. Congress formally suspended habeas corpus. This was a dramatic move that has been criticized to this day. Yet the Supreme Court ruled in Ex parte Milligan (1866) that even the suspension of habeas corpus did not preclude the federal court system from intervening in the military trial of U.S. citizens, and that such military commissions of U.S. citizens on U.S. soil were unconstitutional so long as the civil courts were operating. Neither Congress nor the president could overturn this constitutional protection, the Court found.

Ah, but those were quaint times. Defenders of the kind of despotic military law being proposed today often say that even citizens do not deserve due process if they are at war with their own country. This is 100% false, at least as far as the Constitution is concerned. Indeed, the founding document of this government requires additional due process to try someone for treason:
Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort. No Person shall be convicted of Treason unless on the Testimony of two Witnesses to the same overt Act, or on Confession in open Court

But this kind of talk seems awfully soft on terrorists, doesn’t it? It is not as though the framers of the Constitution had ever confronted a formidable foreign enemy. It’s only been ten years since 9/11. Of course, by the time the Constitution was ratified, the American Revolution had been over just six years, and in that war about one percent of the American population perished—the proportional equivalent of three million Americans today, or one thousand 9/11s.

Still, this is a new kind of war, as the majority of Senators clearly believe, including almost everyone from the supposed opposition party. An amendment to remove the Levin/McCain language was rejected 61 to 37. Only two Republicans—two!—Rand Paul and Mark Kirk—voted against this blatantly unconstitutional measure for military dictatorship. If anything demonstrates that the leaders of this party claiming to stand for liberty and the rule of law are in fact almost unanimously and adamantly opposed to these principles in the most important imaginable areas, this demonstrates it beyond a reasonable doubt. Indeed, the fact that John McCain, characterized in the 2008 presidential election as a “moderate” among Republicans on questions like torture, backed this bill, should reveal beyond question that had things gone differently in that election, we would not have likely gotten any sort of reprieve from the steady descent toward total tyranny that has characterized the Obama years.

And indeed Obama, for his part, offers no true alternative to the McCain-Republican line of the war on terror. The substance of this bill is essentially in line with everything Obama has done, and, for that matter, what Bush did for eight years, although without formal Congressional codification. Glenn Greenwald notes that the horrifying reality portended in this legislation “more or less describes the status quo. Military custody for accused Terrorists is already a staple of the Obama administration.” Greenwald also helpfully explains that the media’s coverage of the Obama White House’s indications that it might veto this legislation has tended to mischaracterize the situation:
[W]ith a few exceptions, the objections raised by the White House are not grounded in substantive problems with these powers, but rather in the argument that such matters are for the Executive Branch, not the Congress, to decide. In other words, the White House’s objections are grounded in broad theories of Executive Power. They are not arguing: it is wrong to deny accused Terrorists a trial. Instead they insist: whether an accused Terrorist is put in military detention rather than civilian custody is for the President alone to decide.

The United States is not a free country, not even close. There are plenty of worse places in the world, for sure, but a key characteristic of something resembling a free society that adheres to something resembling a rule of law is that the executive branch cannot use the military to indefinitely detain people, regardless of citizenship or location, indefinitely without ever explaining itself to a court or affording the detainee some process to challenge his detention.

Even with such protections, a free country requires more—a functioning legal system that respects property rights and free exchange; civil liberties including free speech and freedom from lawless search and seizure; the freedom of people to control their own bodies, homes, and businesses; protections against involuntary servitude; and a general respect for freedom of association. In all of these areas, America has lost some of its liberties, and they all must be restored if the country is ever going to deserve the label of a “free country.”

Yet one freedom without which the whole concept of liberty is a total mirage, befitting of a black comedy and best affirmed only in Orwellian doublespeak, is the freedom from unjust, lawless, indefinite imprisonment. Since 9/11, the United States has abandoned this principle in many respects. Predictably, it was war—threat of a foreign enemy—that allowed this fundamental freedom to be destroyed, initially in large part for foreigners whose rights and dignity were never even given a significant consideration as thousands were rounded up, many tortured, many killed, many detained to this day for no crime at all but being in the wrong place at the wrong time, whether seized by Pakistani war lords in exchange for American dollars or declared terrorists by a presidential military legal system several of whose own military prosecutors have resigned in disgust with the blatant injustice of the whole enterprise.

American citizenship doesn’t guarantee due process either, of course—it did not for Jose Padilla for almost four years of detention, nor for the citizens currently targeted for assassination by the Nobel Prize-winning Constitutional law professor sitting in the Oval Office. Today we are on the verge of seeing the last bits of this retreat from civilized standards of justice codified into law. Our political culture has degenerated so much that should the courts strike down these developments, I would not be surprised to see the court decisions ignored altogether or, alternatively, a successful effort to amend the Constitution and finally give the president and his military full dictatorial power over the United States.

And for what, may I ask, did Americans finally relinquish this last claim to living under a qualitatively different kind of government from the absolutist monarchies or third-rate communist despotisms that now dot our history books as artifacts of political failure and vast human misery? Oh, that’s right. Because the terrorists hate us for our freedom.



Secretary of Defense Panetta Shows How the Obama Administration Is Selling Out Israel… and US Interests

In a major address on U.S. Middle East policy to the Brookings Institution U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta gave us a clear picture of the Obama administration’s view of the region. When taken along with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent speech on the same subject, we now know the following regarding Obama’s policy:

It is dangerously and absurdly wrong. This administration totally and completely, dangerously and disastrously for U.S. interests misunderstands the Middle East. They are 180 degrees off course, that is heading in the opposite direction of safety.

Despite the satisfactory state of relations on a purely military level, the Obama administration is not a friend of Israel, even to the extent that it was arguably so in the first two years of this presidency.

It is now an enemy; it is on the other side. Again, the issue is not mainly bilateral relations but the administration’s help and encouragement to those forces that are Israel’s biggest enemies, that want to rekindle war, and that are 100 percent against a two-state solution. And I don’t mean the Palestinian Authority, I mean the Islamists.

And the Obama administration is also a strategic enemy of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Algeria, Morocco, and Jordan. It is also a strategic enemy to the democratic opposition forces in Iran, Syria, Turkey, Tunisia, and Egypt.

Having analyzed and studied the Middle East for almost four decades I say none of this lightly. And these conclusions arise simply from watching what the administration says and does.

In his speech, Panetta has bashed Israel based on a ridiculously false premise. Here it is:

“I understand the view that this is not the time to pursue peace, and that the Arab awakening further imperils the dream of a safe and secure, Jewish and democratic Israel. But I disagree with that view.” Nevertheless, Israel needs to take risks and particularly, “The problem right now is we can’t get them to the damn table, to at least sit down and begin to discuss their differences.”

First, there is a peculiar phrase that I have not seen used even once to describe the Middle East events of 2011, “Arab awakening” instead of “Arab Spring.” This apparently comes from the title of a new book about these events.

But what is the origin of this phrase? The Arab Awakening was the famous book written by George Antonius (subsidized by a U.S foundation to do so, by the way) advocating Arab nationalism and opposition to Zionism in 1938. The Arab Awakening began a half-century pan-Arab struggle against Israel’s creation or existence. Might this not give us a hint of what the new “Arab Awakening” is going to do? Oh, and 1938 marks the year when Great Britain desperately tried to sell out the Jews in order to gain Arab support (for the coming war with Germany and Italy). Within two years of Antonius’s book the form the Arab Awakening took was an alliance with Nazi Germany. One of the main allies of Berlin was the Muslim Brotherhood, now coming into power in Tunisia and Egypt.

Interesting parallels. But there are three other major questions raised in Panetta’s statement.

First, does the current “Arab Awakening” imperil Israel? Yes, of course it does. By changing a reasonably friendly Egyptian government into a totally hostile Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi dominated political system closely allied with Hamas, the Gaza Strip’s ruler, and by helping establish Islamist regimes in Tunisia and Libya allied with this Muslim Brotherhood International; the changes create a four-member alliance intent on wiping Israel off the map.

Add to that Islamist domination of Lebanon by Hizballah, an Islamist regime in Turkey, and the continuing threat from Iran and you’ve got quite a regional situation.

Second, and more interestingly, why is the above true? The answer is as follows:

Democracy in theory is admirable but when you have masses imbued with very radical views, strong Islamist movements, and weak moderate ones, the election winners will be extremely radical Islamists. By winning massive victories, facing a weak (even sympathetic) United States, and seeing even more extreme forces becoming so popular (the Salafists in Egypt), the Islamists are emboldened to be even more radical in their behavior. Who’s going to stop them?

We are thus not facing a springtime of democracy but a springtime of extremism. The Islamists don’t want peace with Israel on any terms. They want its destruction.



Dear Left: Corporatism Is Your Fault

Dear members of the moderate left,

America is suffering from rampant, run-away corporatism and crony capitalism. We are increasingly a plutocracy in which government serves the interests of elite financiers and CEOs at the expense of everyone else.

You know this and you complain loudly about it. But the problem is your fault. You caused this state of affairs. Stop it.

Unlike we libertarianish people, you people actually hold and have been holding significant political power in the US over the past 50 years. What have you done with this power? You’ve greased the corporatist machine every chance you’ve gotten. You’ve made things worse, not better. Our current problems are your fault. You need to stop.

We told you this would happen, but you wouldn’t listen. You complain, rightly, that regulatory agencies are controlled by the very corporations they are supposed to constrain. Well, yeah, we told you that would happen. When you create power—and you people love to create power—the unscrupulous seek to capture that power for their personal benefit. Time and time again, they succeed. We told you that would happen, and we gave you an accurate account of how it would happen.

You complain, perhaps rightly, that corporations are just too big. Well, yeah, we told you that would happen. When you create complicated tax codes, complicated regulatory regimes, and complicated licensing rules, these regulations naturally select for larger and larger corporations. We told you that would happen. Of course, these increasingly large corporations then capture these rules, codes, and regulations to disadvantage their competitors and exploit the rest of us. We told you that would happen.

It’s not rocket science. It’s public choice economics. You recognized, rightly, that public choice economics was a threat to your ideology. So, you didn’t listen, because you didn’t want to be wrong. Public choice predicted that the government programs you created with the goal of fixing problems would often instead exacerbate those problems. Well, the evidence is in. You were wrong and public choice theory was right. If you have any decency, it is time to admit you were wrong and change. Stop making things worse.

You spent the past fifty years empowering corporations and the most unscrupulous of the rich. You created rampant moral hazard in the financial sector. You created the system that socializes risks but privatizes profit. You created the system that creates a revolving door between Obama’s staff and Goldman Sachs. There’s a reason why Wall Street throws money at Obama. It’s because you, the moderate left, are Wall Street’s biggest supporters. Oh, I know you complain about Wall Street. But your actions speak louder than your words.




Depression-era labor laws harmful in modern global economy: "Chalk up another 'victory' for unions as American Airlines filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Tuesday. The reason? High labor costs compared to its competitors. It seems the unions were demanding things such as a 10 percent signing bonus followed by 7 percent raises in each of the next three years for pilots"

The regulatory thicket: "In the seemingly endless debate about how to put Americans back to work, one solution dare not speak its name: deregulation. Yet if implemented correctly, it would provide an almost cost-free stimulus of a trillion dollars or more. According to the Small Business Administration (SBA), the regulatory burden on our economy is a staggering $1.75 trillion annually. The Obama administration is apparently in denial over that figure."

There is a new lot of postings by Chris Brand just up -- on his usual vastly "incorrect" themes of race, genes, IQ etc.


List of backup or "mirror" sites here or here -- for readers in China or for everyone when blogspot is "down" or failing to update. Email me here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or here (Pictorial) or here (Personal)


The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)


No comments: