Posts Tagged 'CIA'

Spying on Democracy – reviewed

Spying on Democracy Heidi Boghosian City Lights Books – 2013 I haven’t reviewed any books for quite a while. This one, however, compels me to recommend it to anyone who is concerned about or isn’t aware of our government’s prolific domestic spying and its consequences. In the name of keeping us safe from terrorists the NSA, FBI, CIA, and the entire host of organizations, governmental and private, from the municipal to the national level are destroying the meaning and value of our Constitution and Bill of Rights. In short, in their minds they must destroy our open democratic society in order to “save” us. Tragically, the question has now become, who is going to save us from them? The New York City Police Department  gets special attention from the author for their despicable treatment of the Occupy Wall Street protesters. The NYPD created situations that forced protesters into circumstances for which they would then be arrested. That’s called entrapment. Not to be forgotten either is the $4.6 million “donation” to the NYPD by Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase, conveniently made during the Occupy protests making sure his interests were protected. The transaction made clear the NYP’s priorities and loyalties. The combination of class warfare and militarized police suppression of lawful protest across the US is a clear indication of the direction in which we are being steered and by whom. As to the global scope of surveillance read today’s (10/25/13) headlines exposing the US for tapping the phones of the heads of state of our allies; Brazil, France, and Germany among them. Our government is monitoring the phone calls of 35 world leaders. It isn’t just us Americans who are being surveilled  it’s also people who are supposed to be our allies. As detailed by Ms Boghosian, it isn’t just the government gathering and storing information about us either. Each and every purchase you make using a credit card in a store or on the internet is noted, aggregated, and sold. The information gathered is sold to corporations wishing to peddle their wares to you and, of course, the data is shared with the government. Spying of Democracy is a scary book. It details and explains how every aspect of your life is being constantly examined regardless of any acts on your part that would indicate you have terroristic tendencies or affiliations. Your phone calls, your credit card transactions, the books you buy, your waist size, your friends — all of this data and metadata is under a microscope and stored away for future use. The heads of government spy operations lie about these activities even when called before congress and testifying under oath. Heidi Boghosian is a brave and patriotic individual in the same manner as Edward Snowden. If the efforts of these patriots go unheeded we are in for a sorry ride to the end of freedom of speech and expression. Buy the book. Inform yourself. And remember, everyone is always watching you.

Midnight in the Land of Fear and Greed

In his 1896, “The Law Of Civilization And Decay,” Brooks Adams states: “Thought is one of the manifestations of human energy, and among the earlier and simpler phases of thought, two stand conspicuous – Fear and Greed. Fear, which, by stimulating the imagination, creates a belief in an invisible world, and ultimately develops a priesthood: and Greed which dissipates energy in war and trade.”  I wonder what Adams’ take would have been on today’s United States, driven by both fear and greed.

Scores of Americans are willing, out of Fear, to surrender freedom for the illusion of safety. Greed manifests in the relentless pursuit of profit by corporations, bankers and individuals through tax-evasion strategies and manipulation enabled by legislators gifted with PAC “donations.” The population dominating the economy promotes deregulation and tax relief for themselves, claiming “trickle-down” economics, which Kenneth Galbraith once characterized as allowing a horse to gorge on oats such that something will go through for the sparrows.

Corporations like Apple Computer utilize cleverly rationalized off-shore tax dodges, squirreling millions out of reach of the American tax system, thus withdrawing the energy represented by that money from the very society from which they derive their profits. The end result of this behavior is that the burden of taxes falls on an ever-diminished middle-class struggling to keep its head above water. Unless people believe in the fairness of the social contract as they live it on a daily basis it will be undermined.

The “priesthood” of the CIA, NSA, FBI, FISA, and IRS cite an “invisible world” they can’t tell us about but which they are a part of. Sounds like a religion, doesn’t it? Tapping your phones, reading, recording and storing your private e-mails and internet searches, photographing your mail, recording your book purchases, making “unintentional mistakes,” and storing all of this indefinitely without your knowledge or your permission, they are making you “safe” in the land of the free and the home of the brave. According to the Washington Post, “The chief judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court said the court lacks the tools to independently verify how often the government’s surveillance breaks the court’s rules that aim to protect Americans’ privacy.” We have descended into the same domestic spying we condemn elsewhere.

From the moment the first buckled shoe set foot on this continent, the United States has been a racist, classist, religiously bigoted  country dominated by business interests. Could it ever be different? This is a Darwinian world, and so long as there is a “getting ahead” or “having more” there will be people stepping on others to get their “more.” For their part, the polity would rather blame others – however characterized by disability, poverty, skin color, birthplace, intellect, or any quality that distinguishes them as “other” – instead of their own unwillingness to shoulder responsibility for social and economic equality, and they are encouraged in this behavior by the insatiable 1% and their puppet politicians.

What will our country look like if the sociopaths succeed? Will we be back to soup kitchens? People languishing in the streets and gutters? Will our world resemble the Middle Ages? Will there be rampant disease and lack of sufficient food, cleanliness, and health care? Is this the vision the oligarchs financing the assaults on social services, schools, and society in general have in mind?

Because, in Ronald Wright’s words, “… all civilizations become hierarchical; the upward concentration of wealth ensures there can never be enough to go around,” all civilizations throughout history have ascended and declined, evolved and devolved through a process of similar dynamics. This is not a new idea. Polybius, a 2nd-century BC Greek historian, noted the cycle of states as being growth, maturity and decay. This “rule” applied to sophisticated and primitive societies alike, especially those that invested heavily in their militaries and engaged in endless warfare, the Roman Empire being a good example.

The list of failed societies is long and extends to the furthest reaches of human history, and destructive energies of Fear and Greed drove those ancient societies to their collapse. They were, to paraphrase Shelley, the greatest nations that ever were. Beyond the boast, their greatness, subject to the resources of their commons, ultimately served them no further purpose; the wages of hubris.

Civilization is a recent development, something on the order of a mere six thousand years or so, consequently civilization remains, by any measure, an experiment. As with all experiments, there are no right or wrong answers—only results. The United States’ experiment is clearly at a crossroads in its history, the outcome of which is uncertain only to the extent of our collective ability to conquer fear and greed, to imagine, create, and maintain a just society. No small task.

 

Enough Already!

In physical science the term “saturated” means a system cannot dissolve more of what is being added the inevitable result being a falling out of or refusal to enter solution. I don’t know about you but I am nearly saturated by the daily tide of one miserable report after another chronicling the unrelenting assault on the American social contract. It has become nearly impossible to keep abreast of and assimilate the outrages. From one end of the country to the other, from border to border, conservative and neo-conservative led legislatures, national, state, county, and municipal, millionaires and billionaires all seem hell bent on turning this country into some sort of religious, socially retarded, antediluvian police state with voting restricted to churchgoing Christian white people who always have enough to eat. It’s a revolution of sorts orchestrated by wealthy sociopaths and their corrupt politician lackeys. How can this not lead to what Barbara Tuchmann called a “dementia of despair”?

It’s as though a plague of locusts has descended on the country and I wonder if perhaps we have somehow brought this on ourselves. Have we have sinned like Sodom and Gomorrah such that we must now pay suffering these sociopaths?   Companies like Monsanto are determined to shove genetically modified foods down everyone’s gullet. As fracking contaminates water tables Nestle is spreading their gospel that no one is entitled to free clean water. And a cast of characters from the Koch boys to Rupert Murdoch are salivating for privatized public education buying governors and, in return, having their operatives placed  in state government education offices.

Orson Welles once said that he had all the “equipment necessary to be a politician. Total shamelessness.” Representative Louie Gohmert a Texas Republican compares the civil rights of minorities to the rights of “ the snail darter, various lizards, the lesser prairie chicken, …. and so many other insects, …”. Darrel Issah declares that President Obama “has been one of the most corrupt presidents in modern time.”. And where else but on the Rush Limbaugh show? Mitch McConnell is deliberately, by his own admission, destroying the civil legislative process out of spite. And it isn’t just shameless  politicians stuffing their PACs with corporate money — that sort of dirty business has been going on long before it was institutionalized by Tammany Hall — it’s that it has since become expected, it has become a yawn. Corruption has become the norm — business as usual.

Beyond the corruption of individual politicians the country is now waking up to the reality that everyone is being spied on by our own government. I’m old enough to remember how we demonized the Soviet Union for exactly the same behavior, how their domestic spying was held up to inspire our domestic loyalty. We couldn’t let them to win the Cold War because then we would be living in  a surveillance state, a police state. We have become what we were once told we were defending ourselves against. The NSA is collecting your phone calls, your email, your online searches — your postal mail is photographed by the US Post Office, even your bookstore purchases are collected. And that information will be stored indefinitely. In fact they hold so much information about us that, at our expense, they are building a $1.7 billion facility in Utah to hold it all. Good Morning America. Wake up. You live in a surveillance state.

You are also living in a police state. Secret courts accountable to no one oversee the spying and the subjects, people like you and me, have no recourse. Watch footage of the policing of the Occupy Movement across the country. Helmeted cops wearing body armor in armored vehicles looking like an army of Darth Vader’s storm troopers, tear gas quickly deployed just as in the Vietnam War protests but more efficiently and thoroughly. Of course the protestors are also photographed for later identification. Do you remember Jamie Dimon, the JP Morgan Chase CEO, handing out a $4.6 million “donation” (Was it a bonus  perhaps?) to the New York Police Department during the 2012 Occupy demonstrations? Or how about millionaire John Boehner’s charming and disingenuous assertion that populist movements like Occupy are creating class-warfare in America. There’s some chutzpa for you. Good Morning, America. Are you yawning?

The American belief system and its social contract have been attacked, compromised, and damaged in significant ways and not by external enemies. Enemies are required to provide the glue to hold ideological structures together and in the past the enemies were external. Now we are become the necessary enemy – the necessary glue. We have become the suspects and we are not in charge. Perhaps we never have been in charge, perhaps it has always been a delusion. Who can say? Who can do more than ask the question? As Alasdair McIntyre observed, “our social order is in a very literal  sense out of our, and indeed anyone’s, control. No one is or could be in charge.” I suspect the President isn’t completely in charge nor are the dysfunctional on-the-take politicians in Washington DC and across the United States. You can be sure, however, someone somewhere is pulling the strings.

As enemies provide the glue of ideological structures, belief systems are the glue of social contracts. The problem here is that in thecontradictions lies a mine field of meaninglessness, a slippery slope to pervasive nihilism that overcomes people who have given up trying to make sense of the world around them. In other words, the “dementia of despair”. There becomes less and less to believe in because less and less proves true or is even comprehensible and this leads inevitably to disbelief. With the loss of belief, the social contract built on that foundation becomes fatally undermined and finally abandoned in the final chapter of dystopia.

I close this essay with a 1954 quote from General Dwight Eisenhower, a quote the 44th president ought to meditate on: “Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or businessman and they are stupid.”Amen, Brother. Enough, Already!

The Devolving American State

Why isn’t the Tea Party up in arms over the emerging American Police State? For all their tri-corner hats, knickers, white knee socks and tub thumping about freedom how is it that they are tolerating the pervasive surveillance being conducted against, most ostensibly, the occupy protesters. Are they being cowardly in the face of blatant Fascist government behavior, are they convinced they are not being watched, or perhaps they are a party to the crackdown being more in line with mainstream government policy than they are willing to admit to? In any case, as long as it’s happening to someone else perhaps the Tea Party feels safe and secure. The Tea Party activists have no understanding of the original Tea Party whose protest was against taxation without representation. This isn’t about costumes, however fetching, but about principles and a rudimentary understanding of history: it’s about community and basic humanity.

In case you aren’t aware there is in place a comprehensive system of coordinated police activity across the country via the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) compliments of the Obama administration. The DHS maintains what they call a National Operations Center which according to the agency is, “the primary national-level hub for domestic situational awareness, common operational picture, information fusion, information sharing, communications, and coordination pertaining to the prevention of terrorist attacks and domestic incident management.” The information gathered through local police departments, the FBI, the CIA, the US military, and other law enforcement agencies exists to monitor what you do when you exercise your rights as an American to protest. That is to say every American’s constitutional right to demonstrate peacefully for social justice without being tracked on the “domestic situational awareness” radar.

One must ask if the folks who brought this into being and run it are actually Americans or are they some sort of uber-agents, beyond the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Have these agents ever taken a civics class in high school. Might it be that they have modeled their agencies and their methods after the Gestapo, Stasi, and the KGB. These were state sponsored organizations designed for the same purposes concerned mainly with social control of a country’s own citizens exercising their rights and were, in their time, highly effective in controlling the public via “domestic situational management”. In Russia today there is resurgence of KGB behavior, now called the FSB but essentially the same organization – a rose by any other name is still a rose – in the past month has harassed and arrested Russian citizens for – Guess what? – protesting unfair and corrupt elections and a lack of social justice; in American terms, “domestic incident management”.

The arc of social evolution is like an old LP that stuck in a couple of grooves playing the same few notes over and over again until the needle is lifted and placed somewhere else. Socially we seem to ratchet from 1950s McCarthyism in one form or another to democracy in one form or another to plutocracy in one form or another and then back again. What is consistent is that people slide into and away from freedom to bondage. Today’s bondage consists of debt and unemployment. The debt represented by student loans is by far the most cynical trapping of an entire generation in a modern Dickensian debtor’s prison of limited possibilities and dystopian future. Young people and their families invested in a future that was taken away from them by big banks and big business. The banking and mortgage industry colossus just recently demonstrated how little was learned from the financial crisis we all bailed them out of a short while ago. How much was learned by J. P. Morgan from that financial collapse one wonders when their CEO, Jamie Dimon recently announced a $2 billion “mistake”. You’ll remember Jamie, he’s the guy who personally gave the New York City cops a couple of million bucks last winter as a tip presumably for keeping the #occupy people away from his high-rise condo. Great guy! Great city! Great cops – New York’s finest they say.

On May 18th, 35,948 American citizens around the US were arrested  45 of which were for protesting American NATO membership.  Takes me back to the “good old days” of the Vietnam and Selma protests. Did we really think things were going to be changed, that the social contract as expressed in the Constitution had been reaffirmed and enforced especially now by a president whose presidency rests on protestors who endured the beatings and killings of the civil rights era? In the current May 28th, 2012 issue of Newsweek magazine is a story on American veterans who are committing suicide at the rate of 18 a day. That’s right, 18 American veterans are taking their own lives every day. If some deranged individuals were roaming the United States killing 18 people a day it would be in headlines across the country and reported as carnage. Where is the Tea Party Patriot’s outrage over the matter of 18 American veterans taking their own lives daily, where is their opprobrium or is it just the taxes they must pay to be members of the society that matters to them? Where is the American conscience? Do we still have one or are we devolving into country without a conscience?

This essay first appeared at: The Light of New Mexico


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