Tag Archives: Augusto Pinochet

#JezWeCan: why I’m voting for Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader

As ballot papers for the Labour Party leadership contest are sent out, here are a few of the reasons I believe Jeremy Corbyn stands head and shoulders above the other candidates. To judge Corbyn better yourself, my own views are interspersed with a selection of recent interviews he has given.

Click here to read “Why I’m standing” on Jeremy Corbyn’s official jeremyforlabour.com website.

When Jeremy Corbyn announced his last minute intention to stand in the Labour leadership election he was dismissed as a 100-1 outsider, but a few months on and he’s become the odds-on favourite – the latest polls in fact putting him so far ahead of his rivals that it seems he may win outright victory in the first round. This is remarkable, however it shouldn’t surprise anyone.

For in a political age dominated by the “centrism” (so-called) of the “Third Way” (Blair’s not Mussolini’s), and consumed by image über alles with advert-style messages that glide slickly on a well-oiled surface of spin, Corbyn stands apart. He doesn’t expend his energies obsessing over soundbites, or how to gesture and strut more assertively. Nor does he get mixed up with publicity stunts like ordering pasties to prove his close allegiance to the ordinary bloke, or masticating awkwardly on bacon butties to show he’s normal or British (or something), or the unveiling tombstones to soon-to-be sunken promises, and we can be as near as certain that Corbyn never will. Yes, Ed Miliband had some god awful advisors, but then why did he keep on taking their god awful advice…? Short answer: to keep up with the Camerons, of course – bad decision!

Is that a scaffold we see behind you, Ed?

Corbyn comes ungarnished. He doesn’t need props to cling tight to, or even a fancy suit to make him look more dashing. Because instead of daft stunts and the rest of the trimmings, Corbyn wins support by virtue of sincerity, intelligence and the authority which comes from a lifetime dedicated to political campaigning. For Corbyn has always spoken truth to power, which is the bigger reason he stands apart.

Here is Corbyn recently interviewed by Afshin Rattansi on RT’s “Going Underground”:

Staunchly anti-“austerity”, anti-TTIP, anti-fracking, Corbyn, who has been an ardent anti-war activist throughout his years as a backbencher, is today a prominent figure both within the Stop the War Coalition and the Palestinian solidarity movement (reasons his name already features so large in my tag cloud right), just as he once championed gay rights and spearheaded the anti-Apartheid movement of the 80s (an era when championing these issues was a recipe for marginalisation).

More courageously still, Corbyn led the vanguard when it came to brokering an Irish peace accord. Unafraid of controversy, he invited Gerry Adams, Sinn Féin president and persona non grata, to talks in London a full decade prior to the start of official negotiations which would lead to the Good Friday Agreement (and shortly before Adam’s voice was banned altogether from British television).

Here is a more extended interview in which Corbyn discusses with Hassan Alkatib his personal role in trying to bring about a peace settlement in Northern Ireland; his experiences in Gaza; his opposition to the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria; and his support for Chilean, Palestinian and Irish independence:

Unlike the bulk of today’s career politicians, who plot their narrow course into office with the obligatory PPE degree from Oxford firmly in hand, Corbyn is able to draw upon firsthand experience in many fields both before and since he became an MP. He has worked as a union representative, as an elected councillor, and was a member of a public health authority, but, arguably more importantly, Corbyn is most well-versed in the intricacies of foreign policy. From Ireland to the Middle East, to Latin America, and beyond – across the world, Corbyn has been there and done that; including campaigning to bring former Chilean dictator Pinochet to trial, just as he has more recently (during this Labour leadership campaign in fact) been outspoken in his calls for Tony Blair to be tried for war crimes.

Indeed, in the most recent interview given on the BBC [Newsnight August 4th], Corbyn explained why Iraq War was illegal and why he believes Tony Blair should be prosecuted:

In short, Corbyn is a conviction politician – a tag so dreadfully sullied by Margaret Thatcher and others on the right, but one that once characterised the most admired and respected figures of the left. He is, as the late Tony Benn (one such illustrious leftist) so elegantly distinguished, a political ‘signpost’ and not a ‘weather vane’. Integrity that is a big part of the allure which persuades many hundreds of thousands of supporters (myself included) to sign up on the Labour register to cast their vote. It is a quality that the mainstream media, so utterly hung up on matters of image and spin, simply can’t get to grips with at all. A quality so rare in contemporary politics that they try very hard to pretend it has never existed.

Click here to read a summary of “15 times when Jeremy Corbyn was on the right side of history”.

For today there is an astonishing dearth not only of talented, imaginative and honourable politicians (“honourable members” – you really have to laugh!) but, and as a direct consequence, an ever-worsening deficit of democracy. A de facto one party line that serves the corporate sponsors and the special interests, while abandoning the rest of us to a counsel of despair. ‘The mother of parliaments’ reduced to the role of little more than a big business facilitator, with its recent cohorts of members determined, so it seems, to lessen themselves of the already diminished burden of real responsibility, preferring to function instead in some lesser capacity as the middle managers of out-sourced state interests.

Rather than serving the public good, as any government in a democracy should, by, for instance, rebuilding dilapidated infrastructure (a long overdue project in Britain), bolstering public services, hospitals, schools, and pensions and generally improving the standard of living for all – actually not very much to ask for in the Twenty-First Century – our governments have instead repeatedly sold our nation down the river (with sweetheart deals and no-bid contracts). But then, our politicians themselves are sell-outs, who seek election in order to get one foot in the revolving doors of the corporatocracy. It is evident, however, that Corbyn is not intent to follow them through it, why would he be? He is not a career politician, but a campaigner turned politician. And with Corbyn as a leader of Labour, “austerity” and “privatisation” – cuts and sell-offs to use their proper names – the chosen neo-liberal means for transferring wealth from the poor to the richest one-percent will not be so routinely passed off as the only remedy for an ailing economy.

Up until now, the electorate has simply sucked it all up and why? Because – and it is hard to over-emphasise the importance of this – (New) Labour, our only serious opposition party south of Hadrian’s Wall, presented no substantial alternative. This is a deplorable situation which last month culminated in Harriet Harman, the Party’s interim leader, capitulating to Tory government’s latest slashing and gouging Welfare Reform and Work Bill. Yes, Harman’s position was criticised by three of the four leadership election candidates, but actions speak louder than words:

Out of the four leadership candidates, Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham, and Liz Kendall all abstained on the proposals. Jeremy Corbyn voted against. 1

Corbyn voted against – did anyone seriously doubt he wouldn’t?

And this was Corbyn’s response in Parliament to the Tory’s atrocious budget:

Derided as “hard left”, in truth, Corbyn is rather moderate and, above all, a democrat, whereas most of those who accuse Corbyn of extremism fall into two (overlapping) camps: deliberately mendacious or else suffering from psychological projection. Because whether fully cognisant or unwitting dupe, they are unable to see beyond a prevailing orthodoxy for which Tariq Ali perspicaciously coined the term “extreme centre”. A hollowed out politics with an axis so precipitously skewed to the right that refuseniks are, by comparison at least, ‘extreme’ – ‘hard left’ of an ‘extreme middle’.

Another accusation I hear is that Corbyn is ‘a throwback’ or ‘a relic’, which comes with the latent presumption that progress in politics flows always in one direction. But this standpoint is ahistorical. Movements rise and fall, and many times social change pivots to become something appearing to be its opposite: revolution follows restoration; intolerance begets tolerance; and permissiveness bubbles up after droughts of prohibition; and the reverse applies in every case. ‘Progress’ does not sail unerring onward to the bright horizon, but gets caught up on strong currents, drifts into doldrums, and tacks back and forth to find a better course. This is why history repeats, or, as Mark Twain put it better, it rhymes.

During the last three decades (at least) the western world has been neither progressing nor merely regressing, but careering recklessly down a socio-economic cul-de-sac that ends with a cliff. We need to find reverse as fast as we possibly can. For as hard-line “free market” capitalism rushes us into a second financial meltdown (less than a decade after the last close catastrophe), it reveals itself not merely as an ideology without compassion, but as an inherently flawed system incapable of ensuring basic needs and a comfortable life for a majority of people. Rotten to the core, it is ripe for the dustbin of history.

Thus, Corbyn’s late arrival is propitious. In any case, given such an abiding commitment to peace, human rights, and social justice, it is Corbyn who looks forward, and not his detractors – those are the reactionaries, both in the strict sense and more simply by virtue of being opposed to real change (which are sullied words once again, but can be reclaimed). By any regular definition of the term, Corbyn has always been the true progressive.

“First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, and then you win”, said Mahatma Gandhi, although in Gandhi’s day it took a while to proceed through the check list, whereas in our (dis)information age progress has significantly quickened. So once the leadership campaign was underway, Corbyn was ignored only momentarily, and afterwards rather briefly ridiculed, before quickly coming under a sustained barrage of heavy fire – most conspicuously from figures within his own party: the old guard of New Labour being especially vitriolic. “Anyone but Corbyn” – how’s that for negative campaigning?

Then there is the media itself. Here, for instance, is Newsnight producer Ed Brown explaining “Why most of the ‘Stop Jeremy’ schemes won’t work” from BBC Newsnight Live [published on Monday 17th]:

So, in theory, if you, the “stop Corbyn” voter thought that, say, Burnham’s supporters are more likely to have Corbyn as their next preference than Cooper’s, you should put Burnham ahead of Cooper in your preference list even if you ACTUALLY prefer Cooper to Burnham – because it’ll starve Corbyn of the extra votes he’d get if Burnham was knocked out.

The thing is, I am not aware of any decent evidence that this is the case. We have very few polls on the Labour leadership election – and those that exist (necessarily) have small samples of what Burnham and Cooper’s second preferences would be. Very roughly speaking, the polling tables I’ve seen suggest supporters of both split their second preferences about 30/70 between Corbyn and his opponent. So it’s not clear which of these you should give a higher preference to tactically stop Corbyn anyway. 2

Is Ed Brown sticking by BBC’s duty to remain impartial? I let you judge for yourself. Meanwhile, this was Channel 4 news reporter Cathy Newman desperately trying to derail Corbyn by shamelessly playing the anti-Semitism card:

“Mr Corbyn, tell me, have you stopped being a Holocaust Denier?” Unsavoury yes, but these are truly desperate tactics. To return to Gandhi’s famous remarks, “… and then you win.”

I very much hope that Corbyn does win the selection (the result is not due until September 12th), though I anticipate further last-ditch manoeuvres by the both the corporate media and the establishment left as it does everything in its power to block his progress. Whatever the result, however, his campaign has been a resounding success which, in and of itself, marks the prospect for a sea change in political consciousness – another step for a movement that is gaining traction and momentum not only in Britain but across southern Europe as well as vast swathes of the United States – as evinced by the (largely unreported in Britain) momentous surge in support for socialist candidate Bernie Sanders in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination.

The nitty-gritty of Corbyn’s proposals will need refinement and polishing, but keep in mind that this is a campaign for party leadership and not for government. Importantly, Corbyn says that he is committed to reforming the party itself, and his track record proves both a commitment to fighting for the oppressed and a genuine readiness to serve a greater cause (the democratic one).

At present we are faced with two wars, an economic one at home and another comprised of drone attacks and proxy wars abroad which is now forcing millions of people to flee to our shores. These wars are not unconnected. If Corbyn is elected leader then our resistance to both will be reinvigorated. He is the anti-war candidate. Moreover this country will see a political debate once again – absent since the days of Michael Foot three decades ago.

Click here to follow the hashtag #JezWeCan

(For a discussion of the fall of Old Labour I refer readers to a previous post.)

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Update:

What is taking place in the Labour party is a democratic explosion unprecedented in British political history. Last week more than 168,000 registered to vote in Labour’s leadership election – on one day. About 400,000 people have applied to join Labour as members or supporters since May, tripling the size of the party to more than 600,000.

Writes columnist and associate editor of the Guardian, Seumas Milne, in an excellent article published on Thurs 20th entitled “Jeremy Corbyn’s surge can be at the heart of a winning coalition”. He continues:

You only have to go to one of the campaign’s huge rallies to understand that the idea this is the product of political or union manipulation is laughable – and that his supporters don’t only want a different kind of Labour leader: they want to change the political system.

Meanwhile, the claim that the other leadership candidates – steeped as they are in the triangulating “pro-business” politics of the 1990s – can offer a winning electoral alternative to Corbyn’s commitment to what are in fact mostly mainstream public views, looks increasingly implausible.

Andy Burnham has now broken ranks with the “anyone but Corbyn” bloc, while the Blairites are swinging behind the studiedly New Labour Yvette Cooper. But their spat looks like a battle for second place.

And the nature of the coalition Milne refers to in the title to his piece?

There isn’t in any case only one possible coalition of voters that could beat the Tories in five years’ time. And the idea that any of Corbyn’s rivals stands a better chance of winning back support in Scotland, from disaffected working-class and middle-income voters, Ukip or the Greens is hard to credit.

It’s possible, of course, that the relentless attacks will tip the vote against Corbyn after all. But if not, he will face an even more ferocious onslaught thereafter. That will come not only from the Conservatives and the media, but from sections of the Labour establishment that can be expected to launch a parliamentary campaign to undermine and unseat him.

But Corbyn will have an unprecedented democratic mandate if he wins, backed by a movement of hundreds of thousands. And not only is he committed to creating a leadership of “all the talents”, he also plans to open up Labour’s long-dormant internal democracy. Corbyn makes a point on the stump of emphasising that his policy ideas are currently only “proposals” and “suggestions”.

Click here to read Seumas Milne’s full article.

Seumas Milne also appeared on Saturday’s [Aug 22nd] episode of RT’s Sputnik hosted by George Galloway to discuss Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party leadership campaign. In part 2 of the same show, Galloway spoke with Shadia Edwards-Dashti of the Stop the War Coalition:

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Additional:

On Friday [Aug 21st], RT’s flagship discussion show Crosstalk was given over to debate the rise and electability of Jeremy Corbyn. It featured Lindsey German from Stop the War Coalition, Scottish left-wing activist and political commentator Chris Bambery, and academic Steven Fielding. The complete episode is embedded below.

One clarification I would like to make is that contrary to host Peter Lavelle’s claim to have heard Corbyn admitting on Channel 4 news to reading Karl Marx [10 mins in], in actual fact Corbyn was responding to a question about whether or not he did read Marx. In response to that very direct question, Corbyn said something to the effect that he felt he perhaps should have read more Marx because Marx was obviously an influential thinker, before turning the question around on the interviewer saying, (and I paraphrase from memory) he has influenced us all don’t you think, you included:

 

To finish I have also decided to embed a short clip of ‘the artist taxi driver’ delivering one his most effervescent and inspirational rants. A set of variations on the theme of “end the madness of Jeremy Corbyn” – I know this will not be to everyone’s taste, but I include it because I don’t disagree with a single syllable:

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1 From an article entitled “Welfare bill: These are the 184 Labour MPs who didn’t vote against the Tories’ cuts” written by Jon Stone, published in The Independent on July 21, 2015. The opening paragraphs read:

Below are the 184 Labour MPs who didn’t vote against the second reading of the Conservatives’ Welfare Reform and Work Bill.

The main changes in the Bill are reducing the household welfare cap from £26,000 to £23,000, abolishing legally binding child poverty targets, cuts to child tax credits, cuts to Employment and Support Allowance, and cuts to housing benefit for young people.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/these-are-the-184-labour-mps-who-didnt-vote-against-the-tories-welfare-bill-10404831.html

2 From an article entitled “Why most of the ‘Stop Jeremy’ schemes won’t work” written by Ed Brown, published by BBC news on August 17, 2015. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/live/uk-politics-33139218

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the Latin American Spring they never mention

On February 27th 1989, the Venezuelan army, under orders from President Carlos Andrés Pérez, put down a mass uprising against the imposition of IMF led “austerity measures”; a protest which became known as the Caracazo (“the big one in Caracas”). According to official government reports “only” 276 people were killed in their attempts to “restore order”, however estimates for the actual number of casualties range between 500 to more than 3000.

Just a few years on, in 1993, and having narrowly survived two failed coups attempts, Carlos Andrés Pérez (otherwise known simply as CAP) was suddenly forced out of office when the Supreme Court found him guilty of embezzlement. With the impeachment of CAP, the next directly elected President was Rafael Antonio Caldera Rodríguez, and it was Rafael Caldera who, during his second term in office, had pardoned the leader of the original coup against CAP, a then little known military officer by the name of Lt. Colonel Hugo Chavez Frías.

Back in the 1990s news stories from Venezuela rarely if ever made our headlines, and unless you happen to be Venezuelan, there is a good chance you have never heard of either Carlos Andrés Pérez or Rafael Caldera. But this is not the case for the man who succeeded Caldera following the 1998 elections. For whatever else might be said of the late Hugo Chavez, there is no dispute that his political leadership during the last fourteen years – Chavez having been voted into office on four separate occasions in free elections – has put Venezuela altogether more firmly on the political map. So when Chavez died on Tuesday, it was an event that reverberated across the world. The debate over what his lasting legacy will be, and what happens next for Venezuela, buzzing in newsrooms and all over the internet.

Hugo Chavez was a social reformer, outspoken and with unashamedly revolutionary intent; his frequently stated ambition being nothing less than to inspire the downtrodden and oppressed of Latin America and beyond with his own brand of Bolivarian “participatory socialism”. To those ends, Chavez had immediately set about nationalising the Venezuelan oil industry, and then redirecting the huge profits to fund social projects both at home and abroad. Poverty levels in Venezuela were soon halved, and extreme poverty reduced by more than two thirds. Chavez also opened up education for the poorest in society and brought in a system of universal free healthcare.

That his programme of reforms has gradually improved the standard of living for the vast majority of Venezuelans is now acknowledged even by his fiercest critics, and so during last year’s election campaign, which he again won comfortably, the main opposition parties did not even challenge his social programme – their criticisms being reserved for his failures in other ways. That his policies have not allowed the Venezuelan economy to flourish as it should have (which seems odd given that Venezuela has actually maintained growth even throughout these troubled economic times), that inflation levels are unacceptably high (which is perhaps true although inflation is only a little higher now than during the period immediately prior to his presidency), and that Venezuela is suffering from a breakdown in law and order. This last charge is perhaps the most warranted, with Chavez unquestionably paying too little attention to the vital issue of ensuring law and order, but even here his supporters will fairly claim that the escalation in violent crime is to some extent a direct consequence of drug trafficking from neighbouring Colombia.

Incidentally, you can find a useful breakdown of all the statistics here.

Of course, the most serious charge levelled against Chavez is that his government has systematically turned a blind-eye or actually encouraged the violation of the human rights of his opponents. Human rights abuses that mostly seem to have come in the form of threats and intimidation, but which also include use of blacklists, other forms of exclusion, and in a few cases, even false imprisonment. This is obviously not acceptable. That said, it is sadly the truth that nearly every government on earth can also be charged with comparable abuses and more often than not with tactics that are very much more brutal again.

In Venezuela, unlike in America and the fifty and more states (including the UK) that have helped them out with “extraordinary rendition”1, torture and kidnapping are not sanctioned. In Venezuela, there is no equivalent to Guantánamo or the many “black sites” where inmates are indefinitely detained without charge. And if you still imagine that America, to return once more to the self-proclaimed home of freedom, has no political prisoners of its own then you evidently fail to take into account what has recently happened to John Kiriakou and Bradley Manning. In reminding readers of all this, it is not my intention to make excuses for Chavez and his government, but simply to put the charges against him into a more honest context.

Overall, it is surely fair to say that Chavez not only fundamentally altered the course of his home nation, with a dramatic shift away from the imposed neo-liberalism of his predecessors and the new emphasis placed on social justice, but alongside the popular success of those policies, he also more directly helped to establish other socialistic leaders across the whole of Latin America. In other words, it was Chavez above all others who spearheaded the Latin American Spring (not that it is ever called this of course) – the beginnings of a social and economic revolution that has been sweeping an entire continent for more than a decade, bringing with it a desperately needed power shift away from the oligarchs and the interests of their neo-imperialist associates. An upheaval, which being against the interests of the ruling establishment in the West (their own puppets having been vanquished), and by virtue of remaining fundamentally peaceful, has been consistently overlooked and misrepresented.

In short then, Chavez steadily won the political debate in South America, and not only in the barrios of Caracas, but also more widely, and this is the reason why millions to have taken to the streets to mourn his loss. A devout Catholic, Chavez was not a saint and he certainly was not infallible, but neither was he a tyrant or a dictator. He was a shrewd politician and more rarely and importantly, an uncommonly reliable one – a politician who actually abided by his own manifesto promises. A national leader who encouraged the previously disenfranchised to become actively involved in the democratic process of change and someone who engendered real hope in a people trying to transform their own future for the better.

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Also last Tuesday, a trial began in Argentina that is set to reveal new details about how six Latin American countries coordinated with each other in the 1970s and 1980s to eliminate political dissidents. The campaign known as Operation Condor had involved military dictatorships in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay. It was launched by the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, but evidence shows how both the CIA and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger were complicit from its outset. The objective of Operation Condor has a familiar ring: it was to track down, kidnap and kill people they labelled as subversives and terrorists — leftist activists, union leaders, students, priests, journalists, guerrilla fighters and their families.

On Thursday [March 7th] Democracy Now! spoke with John Dinges, a professor at the Columbia School of Journalism and the author of “The Condor Years: How Pinochet and his Allies Brought Terrorism to Three Continents”, who explained the significance of the latest hearings:

Well, there have been several trials, and this goes back to when Pinochet was arrested in London in 1998. That unleashed an avalanche of evidence that went across Europe and led to trials in many places—Rome, Paris, Argentina, Chile—but all of them much smaller than this one. This one has 25 people accused. Unfortunately—or fortunately, who knows?—many of the people who were involved in this have already died, they’re getting old, of the top leaders. But this is 25 Argentinians and one Uruguayan, all of whom were in military positions, all of whom were involved directly with the actions of Operation Condor.

This is historic in the sense that we’re going to hear from 500 witnesses. And really, in the Latin American legal system, it’s unusual. It’s really only coming to the fore now that you hear witnesses, as opposed to just seeing them give their testimony to judges in a closed room, and then later on people like me might go and read those testimonies, but really it doesn’t become public. This is all public. And apparently, a lot of it is being videotaped. So this is—this is the first time that the general public is going to hear the details of this horrible, horrible list of atrocities that killed so many people.

The United States, in this period, the 1970s, was a major sponsor of the military dictatorships that had overthrown some democracies, some faltering civilian governments, [and] whatever it was, the result [of the overthrow] was governments, like Videla, like Pinochet, like Banzer in Bolivia, who were killing their citizens with impunity. The United States knew about the mass killing. We had this kind of schizophrenic, Machiavellian attitude toward it. We really don’t want these communists to be taking over governments, and we fear that democracy is leading to communist governments. Indeed, a leftist government led by Salvador Allende installed a democratically elected, civilian and revolutionary government in Chile, and that’s why—and Pinochet overthrew that government. The United States was deathly fearful that this would spread in Latin America, and so supported the coming of dictatorships.

Click here to read the full transcript or to watch the interview on the Democracy Now! website.

In April 2002, Chavez had himself narrowly survived an American-backed coup, and a 2003 documentary entitled The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (Spanish: La revolución no será transmitida) provides a fascinating insight and behind the scenes account of the attempted overthrow. Irish filmmakers Kim Bartley and Donnacha Ó Briain, who had been given direct access to Chavez with the intention only of making a fly-on-the-wall biography, suddenly finding themselves trapped in the midst of quite extraordinary political turmoil. Three days which changed the course of Venezuelan history:

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Chávez: Inside the Coup (as the documentary is also known) first aired on RTÉ1 on 18th February 2003, as an installment of the Irish channel’s True Lives documentary series. It was later broadcast on BBC2 on 16th October 2003, as part of the channel’s Storyville documentary strand, and repeated on BBC4 on 18th November 2003.

The October broadcast by the BBC had caused considerable furore, the corporation receiving 4,000 e-mails demanding that Storyville‘s commissioning editor, Nick Fraser, should be sacked. And these attacks could hardly have come at a worse time. Already under the spotlight of the Hutton Inquiry, which had been set up ostensibly to investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of David Kelly, although as it turned out Lord Hutton was actually more intent on censuring the BBC. Blaming the messenger for accurately leaking the truth about the “sexed up” intelligence dossiers used justify the invasion of Iraq, rather than the government and security services who had conspired to fabricate those lies. For the BBC to re-screen Bartley and Ó Briain’s film just a month later must therefore have taken considerable courage.

Meanwhile, the claims made by those critical of the film were taken up by Ofcom, who eventually ruled in September 2006 that it had not upheld the complaints. A subsequent appeal in November was also dismissed by Ofcom, validating the BBC’s original decision to air the documentary.

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Additional:

In an article from March 5th for Vice Magazine and also posted up on his own website, Greg Palast asks:

Despite Bush’s providing intelligence, funds and even a note of congratulations to the crew who kidnapped Chavez (we’ll get there), Hugo remained in office, reelected and wildly popular.

But why the Bush regime’s hate, hate, HATE of the President of Venezuela?

The answer, of course, is the obvious one:

Reverend Pat [Robertson] wasn’t coy about the answer: It’s the oil.

“This is a dangerous enemy to our South controlling a huge pool of oil.”

A really BIG pool of oil. Indeed, according to Guy Caruso, former chief of oil intelligence for the CIA, Venezuela hold a recoverable reserve of 1.36 trillion barrels, that is, a whole lot more than Saudi Arabia.

If we didn’t kill Chavez, we’d have to do an “Iraq” on his nation. So the Reverend suggests,

“We don’t need another $200 billion war… It’s a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with.”

A short (about 25 mins) made for BBC television film based on Palast’s own encounters with Chavez, his kidnappers and his would-be assassins is also available as a FREE download.

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1A groundbreaking document published by the Open Society Foundation, on Tuesday shows that 54 countries, a quarter of the world’s nations, cooperated with the CIA’s extraordinary rendition programme.” Taken from an article entitled “Extraordinary Rendition: Israel, Russia and France ‘Surprisingly’ Not on List” written by Jessica Elgot, published by Huffington Post (UK) on February 5, 2013. http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2013/02/05/extraordinary-rendition_n_2622079.html

A full list of all 54 countries is published beneath the same article.

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Filed under analysis & opinion, Argentina, did you see?, Greg Palast, Latin America, neo-liberalism, obituary, Venezuela

the Chicago School is dangerously wrong: I’m with Michael Hudson

On Thursday’s episode of the Keiser Report [March 8th], Max Keiser spoke with Dr. Michael Hudson from the University of Missouri, Kansas City. Hudson explained how neo-liberal economic theories have become dominant simply by virtue of the fact that they fail to accommodate any antithetical viewpoint:

We’re the unspeakable ones. We’re the people that liberals like [Paul] Krugman won’t talk about. We’re the people that the University of Chicago – in the magazines that it’s put its editors in – will not permit discussion. So basically the free-marketers are censors; they don’t believe in a free market of ideas. They believe in what they did in Chile. Remember, the first thing the Chicago Boys did in Chile was close down every economics department in the country except the one they controlled…

Hudson also explained to Keiser, how these ideas, which are most associated with Milton Friedman and the University of Chicago (more thoughts on Friedman are provided in an appended article at the bottom of this post), have quite literally inverted the original free market thinking of its founders Adam Smith and J.S. Mill:

The idea of ‘free market’ to classical economics was to bring prices in line with the actual technologically necessary costs of production… Monopolies were either to be regulated to keep their prices in line with the actual costs – like America regulates the bills that electrical utilities can charge – or, that most monopolies would be, as in Europe, kept in the public domain and operated as public utilities. And if there was something basic like education, or roads, these should be provided freely in order to minimise the economy’s cost of production, and make it more competitive. This was the whole philosophy of the industrial revolution, and it was the ‘free market’ idea that the Classical economists had. […]

But [the modern] idea of a ‘free market’ was free for predators. Free for monopolists. Free for landlords to gouge whatever rents they could get, and to free themselves from taxation, so that the government had to tax labour and to tax industry. And the result is that the American economy today under the so-called ‘free market’ has such a high cost of living, and a high cost of production, that labour can’t compete internationally. That’s why America’s balance of trade has moved so far into deficit.

So ‘free market’ is what is killing the American economy and it’s not free at all… not the kind of ‘free market’ that Adam Smith talked about.

You can read more about Michael Hudson’s economic thinking along with the views of his fellows at the University of Missouri-Kansas City (including an insider perspective from former financial regulator William Black) at the ‘new economic perspectives’ blog http://www.neweconomicperspectives.org/.

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Milton Friedman was professor at the University of Chicago. There he helped to found the acclaimed Chicago School of Economics – a group that produced a number of Nobel Prize winners. Friedman himself received the Nobel Prize for Economics in 1976, whilst The Economist once described him as “the most influential economist of the second-half of the twentieth century.”1

It was the economic ideology formulated and promulgated by Friedman and his Chicago School, with its emphasis on market deregulation and free trade, that exercised such great influence during the eighties with the ‘hands off’ economic policies of Reagan and Thatcher. Indeed the legacy of those years has persisted throughout the administrations led by Major, then Blair and Brown, and now Cameron and Clegg (Quelle différence?), and today’s political consensus offers little alternative but the full acceptance of Friedman’s old deal, with economic differences between New Labour and Conservative being merely a matter of degrees. Friedman seems to have won, for the time being at least. So what exactly is the rationale behind his winning formula?

Broadly he came to his theories from two angles. Firstly, he distanced himself from the sorts of social reformers who saw state control as a necessary element of modern civilisation. Regarding welfare legislation, such as minimum wage laws as self-defeating (because they would supposedly prevent those without skills from finding gainful employment), he was equally dismissive of the meddling trade unions, and sought ultimately to banish all social security programmes.

Whereas previously, economists like Keynes, and also Adam Smith, had got themselves all tangled up on what sorts of policies were better or worse for the general welfare, Friedman carefully side-stepped such messy complications. As far as Friedman was concerned, government is mostly a stifling and wasteful inconvenience (which, in fairness, is all too often the case). But here Friedman goes to extremes: left to its own devices, he says, all government must undoubtedly veer toward some form of tyranny. The best thing then is to clip its wings completely. Instead of government making decisions, the people should be left to choose for themselves. But how? Well, by forcing government to give way to the market.

Secondly, and in common with many cool-headed intellectuals, Friedman regarded human beings with a deeply felt suspicion. “Mankind is selfish and greedy,” he said in a television interview. But when asked by the interviewer whether in admitting this, he’s not inadvertently making a good case for more control rather than less, he quickly dismissed such Hobbesian objections, replying: “Therefore, we have to put power into the hands of other selfish and greedy men.”2 It’s an odd and revealing answer for one who purported to be a liberal rather than a conservative, and who always wrapped himself in the flag of Freedom.

So here is Milton Friedman, the high evangelist of a radical lassez-faire “limited government”, fast talking and slick, and preaching ever less intervention, less regulation, and less central control. Less is more. Less interference makes more profits, and more profits equates with more goods, and goods are of course, by definition, good.

Work hard, make money: this was the heart of his doctrine – and leave it to the individual to make all the right choices. Trying to do good with “other people’s money” is simply fallacy – Friedman liked the term “other people’s money” (though nowadays he’d almost undoubtedly say “taxpayer’s money”; same difference):

“If I want to do good with other people’s money I’d first have to take it away from them. That means that the welfare state philosophy of doing good with other people’s money, at its very bottom, is a philosophy of violence and coercion. It’s against freedom, because I have to use force to get the money.” [about 11:30 min into part 1]

Phew, it certainly sounds bad when you put it like that. All that collecting of taxes and then divvying the money out for housing, schools, hospitals and caring for the old folk, sure is some serious violation of our inalienable human rights. Friedman, characteristically, takes such reasoning to its logical and ultimate extremes. Indeed, he is actually prepared to estimate just how many people might reasonably be done-away-with to ensure that we remain free from the sorts of deplorable ‘violence and coersion’ that are all too familiar when it comes to tax collection:

“But let’s look at that a little farther,” he says,”Suppose that five percent of the elderly would not be able to provide for themselves. Does it make sense to impose a programme on a hundred percent of the people in order to do something about five percent? Does that really make sense? You see, that’s the great defect in this line of thinking – ” [about 1:30 min into part 2]

Although why stop at five percent, when it makes economic sense to sacrifice a few more of the useless-eaters…

As for the new role of economists themselves, and with the tricky problem of people dismissed, their attention can be properly focused on complex theories of monetary policy: intricate models of how money and the markets function in and by themselves. Here is enough to be getting on with, says Friedman, and the new economists agree. Why? No doubt in part, because it grants them a legitimacy that previously only attached to the expertise of the scientist. It offers an intellectual purity.

But how can anyone objectively divorce economics from society (even if they would choose to), and draw such clear divisions between money and its effects on people? Economics, if it is a science (and there are extremely good grounds for saying that it isn’t), might conceivably be a science like psychology, but it can never be anything like, say, physics. The reason being that money is inherently a people thing; a human construct, bearing only a superficial resemblance to other kinds of natural phenomenon, which it most definitely isn’t. Nor are markets freely-floating entities immune to all human frailty, but composed of analysts and traders: people who are driven at least as much by fear as by good reason. Constantly jittery; every now and then ‘the markets’ totally crap their pants. Yet Friedman desperately wants to cut all this out of his equation, whilst insisting that all other economists eventually join him in his perfect economic bubble.

And following Friedman’s prescription has led us to a perfect economic bubble. A debt bubble that has swollen to such an extent that it currently exceeds the value of everything else on earth.3 We should not be surprised. This is what’s likely to happen when you entirely decouple economics from social needs. When money becomes the main ‘product’ in the world. When high frequency trading involving the use of computer algorithms forces commodity and share prices to rise and fall in fractions of second, whilst outside in the real world nothing about those commodities or businesses has altered in anyway – the values being driven instead by feedback loops of speculation. When markets are also rigged by insider knowledge – an anathema to the ‘free market’ and yet, thanks to deregulation, easier than ever. And when ‘the markets’ in themselves are bloated by the never-ending creation of ‘financial products’, quite apart from any judgment of how all these new paper contracts might blight the real economy. No value judgments are allowed. No distinction between profits earned from the supply of real goods and services as opposed to profits made by profiteers and financial predation. Money making more and more money being an inherent good.

In truth, Friedman was never really a liberal, but a libertarian of sorts (and saying this does a disservice to the better half of libertarianism). The neo-con intellectual apologist Francis Fukuyama is another libertarian of a similar sort, and Fukuyama undoubtedly derives a great deal from Friedman. Liberty, in the eyes of both men, is inextricably tied to the freedom to buy and sell. Indeed, Friedman once claimed that: “underlying most arguments against the free market is a lack of belief in freedom itself.”4

In defence of this extremist position, Friedman has often pointed to history. History, he tells us, has long been constructed along collectivist principles, which is indeed the normal state of humankind. The trouble is that collectivism doesn’t work, and so, although the system of minimal collective intervention may appear, at least on the surface, to be crueller and more selfish, the results it yields are for the betterment of most, if not all. We should judge much better by the consequences rather than from the objectives, he always insisted, looking at the ends rather than the means. Okay then let’s do just that. And let’s be fair here, and judge Friedman on the basis of his most acclaimed success.

On September 11th of 1973 the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende was overthrown by a CIA backed military coup and replaced by a junta government led by Augusto Pinochet. What immediately followed is common knowledge. Imprisonment of political opponents, torture, and the “disappearance” of thousands of innocent victims. The record of atrocities committed by the Pinochet regime is well documented. But perhaps what is less well remembered is the parallel economic measures imposed by the so-called Chicago Boys during Pinochet’s reign of terror.

Sweeping deregulatory reforms that involved the abolition of the minimum wage, the removal of food subsidies, the suppression of trade union activity, and the privatisation of just about everything in sight. The pension system, the banks and assets of state-ownership, all greedily seized and sold off. This kind of “shock treatment”, as Friedman unflinchingly referred to it, resulted in a real wage drop of more than forty percent, a doubling in levels of poverty, and a staggering one in five of the working population (a five-fold increase within a decade) forced into desperate unemployment and left to fend for themselves .5 Yet Friedman regarded all of this as merely the price of success, and described the transformation from Allende’s democratic socialism to Pinochet’s hard-line, totalitarian capitalism as “the miracle of Chile”. Individual suffering was simply a small price for Friedman’s greater ‘liberty’, and back in 1975, in the discussion with Heffner, he staked out that position too, albeit a little clumsily:

“I want people to take thought about their condition and to recognize that the maintenance of a free society is a very difficult and complicated thing. And it requires a self-denying ordinance of the most extreme kind. It requires a willingness to put up with temporary evils on the basis of the subtle and sophisticated understanding that if you step in to try to do them [do what? the temporary evils?], you not only may make them – [hesitation as he corrects himself] – to do something about them – you not only may make them worse, but you will spread your tentacles and get bad results elsewhere.” [about 6:00 min into part 2]

Milton Friedman spread his own tentacles pretty much everywhere, and the world has long been poisoned by his ‘free market’ phoney liberalism. Friedman’s Chicago School branch of economics having not merely served as justification for the continued exploitation of workers, but also, and by virtue of its mantra for deregulation, encouraged the rampant, cancerous growth of a crony capitalist elite. Fundamentalist ‘free market’ thinking isn’t just cruel, it has been calamitous. Milton Friedman, its high priest, was so very dangerously wrong.

1 From an article entitled “Milton Friedman, a giant among economists” published November 23rd, 2006, The Economist.

2 All otherwise uncredited quotes in this section have been drawn from an interview with Richard D. Heffner, broadcast on Sunday December 7th, 1975 as part of the TV series “Open Mind” , produced by WPIX, Channel 11, New York, in cooperation with Saturday Review (based on a transcription found at http://www.theopenmind.tv/tom/searcharchive_episode_transcript.asp?id=494).

Friedman’s full answer to Heffner’s question is this: “Therefore, we have to put power into the hands of other selfish and greedy men. Now I want to apologize for what I said. The great bulk of mankind. There are always conspicuous exceptions, not everybody. And also for each person there is an exception. People are selfish and greedy in one aspect of their activity. They are unselfish and generous in another.” [about 8:00 min into part 2]

3 The underlying cause of the current crisis is the worldwide trade in “derivatives”. It is currently estimated that in the order of a quadrillion US dollars (yes, that’s with a qu-) has been staked on derivations of various kinds. We can compare this with the entire world GDP which turns out to be a mere 60 trillion US dollars [According to IMF economic database for October 2010, World GDP is $61,963.429 billion (US dollars)]. One quadrillion being more than twenty times larger. Or we might compare it against the estimated monetary wealth of the whole world: about $75 trillion in real estate, and a further $100 trillion in world stock and bonds. So one quadrillion is a number exceeding even the absolute monetary value of the entire world! Warren Buffett once described derivatives as “financial weapons of mass destruction”, and he should know because he trades in them.

4 “A major source of objection to a free economy is precisely that it … gives people what they want instead of what a particular group thinks they ought to want. Underlying most arguments against the free market is a lack of belief in freedom itself.” Taken from chapter 1 of “The Relation Between Economic Freedom and Political Freedom“, 2002 edition, page 15.

5 From 1973-83 unemployment rose from 4.3% to a staggering 22%, whilst by all measures, the average worker was worse off in 1989 than in 1970, labor’s share of national income having fallen from 52.3 to 30.7 percent. Statistics courtesy of James Petras and Fernando Ignacio Leiva with Henry Veltmeyer, from “Democracy and Poverty in Chile: The Limits to Electoral Politics“, Boulder: Westview Press, 1994.

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Filed under analysis & opinion, Britain, Chile, financial derivatives, Max Keiser, neo-liberalism, USA

12 steps to tyranny — the state of America under Obama

In April 2007, Naomi Wolf published an article in the Guardian entitled: “Fascist America, in 10 Easy Steps”.1

Her article began:

If you look at history, you can see that there is essentially a blueprint for turning an open society into a dictatorship. That blueprint has been used again and again in more and less bloody, more and less terrifying ways.

But it is always effective. It is very difficult and arduous to create and sustain a democracy – but history shows that closing one down is much simpler. You simply have to be willing to take the 10 steps.

As difficult as this is to contemplate, it is clear, if you are willing to look, that each of these 10 steps has already been initiated today in the United States by the Bush administration.

Click here to read Naomi Wolf’s full article

Of course, we no longer have the spectre of a Bush administration, and barely a year had elapsed after the publication of Naomi Wolf’s wake-up call, before the election of Barack Hussein Obama meant we should worry no longer.

Obama, with his offers of “change we can believe in”, and mantra of “hope” and “progress”. Surely, he would undo the damage of the Bush years. Surely those 10 steps that Wolf outlined would begin to be retraced. However, with the tenth anniversary of the events of 9/11 fast approaching, has anything really changed?

Let me begin from Wolf’s own analytical breakdown of the Bush Years, applying her same criteria to Obama’s term in office, point by point, before considering what, if any, new threats we may now be facing.

1 Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy

After we were hit on September 11 2001, we were in a state of national shock. Less than six weeks later, on October 26 2001, the USA Patriot Act was passed by a Congress that had little chance to debate it; many said that they scarcely had time to read it. We were told we were now on a “war footing”; we were in a “global war” against a “global caliphate” intending to “wipe out civilisation”.

We still live in a world deformed by the events of 9/11. John Ashcroft’s so-called Patriot Act still stands, and on February 27th 2010, Obama signed a one-year extension of the act.

The three sections of the Patriot Act that Obama agreed to extend included:

  • Authorize court-approved roving wiretaps that permit surveillance on multiple phones.
  • Permit surveillance against a so-called lone wolf, which is a non-US citizen engaged in terrorism who many not be part of a recognized terrorist group.
  • Allow court approved seizure of records and property in anti-terrorism operations2

Then, on May 26th, 2011, just minutes before another deadline, Obama approved a further four-year extension of the Patriot Act powers, maintaining provisions for roving wiretaps, searches of business records and conducting surveillance of “lone wolves”.3

Where Bush played up the threat from Al Qaeda, according to Obama, the bigger threat is now from “lone wolves”. So whereas the Bush administration justified civil rights infringements on the grounds that it needed to protect America from Al Qaeda, Obama is saying that America’s most wanted are no longer external enemies, but those with altogether more domestic grievances, and with a very different agenda than Holy Jihad. In making this claim he has widened the net, and set the stage for even tighter restrictions on the civil liberties.
2 Create a gulag

Once you have got everyone scared, the next step is to create a prison system outside the rule of law (as Bush put it, he wanted the American detention centre at Guantánamo Bay to be situated in legal “outer space”) – where torture takes place.

At first, the people who are sent there are seen by citizens as outsiders: troublemakers, spies, “enemies of the people” or “criminals”. Initially, citizens tend to support the secret prison system; it makes them feel safer and they do not identify with the prisoners. But soon enough, civil society leaders – opposition members, labour activists, clergy and journalists – are arrested and sent there as well.

In spite of Obama’s election pledge, Guantánamo remains open. But Guantánamo is, in any case, just one of many secret (or at least out-of-sight) US detention centres still operating around the world. There is, thankfully, less talk of the need for torture. Torture is almost a dirty word again. The Obama administration prefers to talk of “enhanced interrogation” and “debriefing”. But does anyone seriously believe that torture (by whatever name it chooses to call itself) is no longer sanctioned at Guantánamo and in those other darker corners.

Undoubtedly, the most high-profile case of the Obama years involves the detention of alleged wikileaks source Bradley Manning, who has been held for over a year in the Quantico marine base in Virginia awaiting court-martial in what have been described as “degrading and inhumane conditions”:

Under the terms of his detention, he is kept in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day, checked every five minutes under a so-called “prevention of injury order” and stripped naked at night apart from a smock.4

However, and as Mehdi Hasan writing for the Guardian in April of this year points out, the case of Bradley Manning represents only the tip of the iceberg:

[But] it wasn’t a Republican Congress that forced [Obama], for instance, to double the size of the Bagram facility – where human rights groups have documented torture and deaths – and deny prisoners the right to challenge their detention. He did that on his own. Bagram is Obama’s Guantánamo.5

More recently, Jeremy Scahill has also shone light on CIA operations at secret sites in Somalia:

Meanwhile, Obama has consistently refused to allow the prosecution of those who openly called for and approved the use of torture, and has thus failed to draw a necessary line under the crimes of the previous administration.6

3 Develop a thug caste

When leaders who seek what I call a “fascist shift” want to close down an open society, they send paramilitary groups of scary young men out to terrorise citizens. The Blackshirts roamed the Italian countryside beating up communists; the Brownshirts staged violent rallies throughout Germany. This paramilitary force is especially important in a democracy: you need citizens to fear thug violence and so you need thugs who are free from prosecution.

The years following 9/11 have proved a bonanza for America’s security contractors, with the Bush administration outsourcing areas of work that traditionally fell to the US military. In the process, contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars have been issued for security work by mercenaries at home and abroad.

It’s hard to get precise numbers here due to the covert nature of many US operations, but it seems that the Obama administration has actually increased the use of “military contractors”. For instance, by June 2009, although the number of military contractors in Iraq was reduced, in Afghanistan, it rose to almost 74,000, far outnumbering the roughly 58,000 U.S. soldiers on the ground at that point.7 Under Obama, the use of mercenaries has also spilled over into neighbouring Pakistan.8 In March 2011, there were more contractors in Afghanistan and Iraq than “uniformed personnel”.9

4 Set up an internal surveillance system

In Mussolini’s Italy, in Nazi Germany, in communist East Germany, in communist China – in every closed society – secret police spy on ordinary people and encourage neighbours to spy on neighbours. The Stasi needed to keep only a minority of East Germans under surveillance to convince a majority that they themselves were being watched.

In 2005 and 2006, when James Risen and Eric Lichtblau wrote in the New York Times about a secret state programme to wiretap citizens’ phones, read their emails and follow international financial transactions, it became clear to ordinary Americans that they, too, could be under state scrutiny.

In closed societies, this surveillance is cast as being about “national security”; the true function is to keep citizens docile and inhibit their activism and dissent.

So that was Naomi Wolf in September 2007, and here is Charlie Savage reporting for The New York Times in June 2011:

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is giving significant new powers to its roughly 14,000 agents, allowing them more leeway to search databases, go through household trash or use surveillance teams to scrutinize the lives of people who have attracted their attention.

The F.B.I. soon plans to issue a new edition of its manual, called the Domestic Investigations and Operations Guide, according to an official who has worked on the draft document and several others who have been briefed on its contents.

The article continues:

Some of the most notable changes apply to the lowest category of investigations, called an “assessment.” The category, created in December 2008, allows agents to look into people and organizations “proactively” and without firm evidence for suspecting criminal or terrorist activity.10

More generally, as National Journal correspondent, Shane Harris, explained to Democracy Now! in February 2010, spying on US citizens has actually become easier under the Obama administration’s national security strategy:

Click here to read the full transcript of the interview.
5 Harass citizens’ groups

The fifth thing you do is related to step four – you infiltrate and harass citizens’ groups. It can be trivial: a church in Pasadena, whose minister preached that Jesus was in favour of peace, found itself being investigated by the Internal Revenue Service, while churches that got Republicans out to vote, which is equally illegal under US tax law, have been left alone.

Other harassment is more serious: the American Civil Liberties Union reports that thousands of ordinary American anti-war, environmental and other groups have been infiltrated by agents: a secret Pentagon database includes more than four dozen peaceful anti-war meetings, rallies or marches by American citizens in its category of 1,500 “suspicious incidents”.

The equally secret Counterintelligence Field Activity (Cifa) agency of the Department of Defense has been gathering information about domestic organisations engaged in peaceful political activities: Cifa is supposed to track “potential terrorist threats” as it watches ordinary US citizen activists. A little-noticed new law has redefined activism such as animal rights protests as “terrorism”. So the definition of “terrorist” slowly expands to include the opposition.

And again, here is Charlie Savage from the same article of June 2011:

The new manual will also remove a limitation on the use of surveillance squads, which are trained to surreptitiously follow targets. Under current rules, the squads can be used only once during an assessment, but the new rules will allow agents to use them repeatedly. Ms. Caproni said restrictions on the duration of physical surveillance would still apply, and argued that because of limited resources, supervisors would use the squads only rarely during such a low-level investigation.

The revisions also clarify what constitutes “undisclosed participation” in an organization by an F.B.I. agent or informant, which is subject to special rules — most of which have not been made public. The new manual says an agent or an informant may surreptitiously attend up to five meetings of a group before those rules would apply — unless the goal is to join the group, in which case the rules apply immediately.

Click here to read the full article.

6 Engage in arbitrary detention and release

This scares people. It is a kind of cat-and-mouse game. Nicholas D Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, the investigative reporters who wrote China Wakes: the Struggle for the Soul of a Rising Power, describe pro-democracy activists in China, such as Wei Jingsheng, being arrested and released many times. In a closing or closed society there is a “list” of dissidents and opposition leaders: you are targeted in this way once you are on the list, and it is hard to get off the list.

In 2004, America’s Transportation Security Administration [TSA] confirmed that it had a list of passengers who were targeted for security searches or worse if they tried to fly. People who have found themselves on the list? Two middle-aged women peace activists in San Francisco; liberal Senator Edward Kennedy; a member of Venezuela’s government – after Venezuela’s president had criticised Bush; and thousands of ordinary US citizens. […]

It is a standard practice of fascist societies that once you are on the list, you can’t get off.

About a year after Obama took office, in January 2010, the “watch” and “no-fly” lists were expanded to “improve our watchlisting system as well as our ability to thwart future attempts to carry out terrorist attacks”.11

There are videos all over youtube which show how searches conducted by TSA contractors are in direct violation of the fourth amendment. Even children are now subjected to routine harassment. Here, for example, a distraught mother watches as her six-year-old girl is searched, presumably for explosives, by TSA ‘officers’:

7 Target key individuals

Threaten civil servants, artists and academics with job loss if they don’t toe the line. Mussolini went after the rectors of state universities who did not conform to the fascist line; so did Joseph Goebbels, who purged academics who were not pro-Nazi; so did Chile’s Augusto Pinochet; so does the Chinese communist Politburo in punishing pro-democracy students and professors.

Academe is a tinderbox of activism, so those seeking a fascist shift punish academics and students with professional loss if they do not “coordinate”, in Goebbels’ term, ideologically. Since civil servants are the sector of society most vulnerable to being fired by a given regime, they are also a group that fascists typically “coordinate” early on: the Reich Law for the Re-establishment of a Professional Civil Service was passed on April 7 1933.

Perhaps the most high-profile case since Obama took office has been attempts to prosecute National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Thomas Drake. According to The New Yorker, the Obama administration has used the Espionage Act of 1917 to press criminal charges in a total of five alleged instances of national security leaks—more such prosecutions than have occurred in all previous administrations combined.12

Democracy Now! spoke to former Justice Department whistleblower, Jesselyn Radack, about the case of Thomas Drake in May 2011:

Click here to read the full transcript of the interview.

In June 2011, on the eve of the trial, the whole case against Thomas Drake was dropped:

Days before his trial was set to begin, former National Security Agency manager and accused leaker Thomas A. Drake accepted a plea deal from the government Thursday that drops the charges in his indictment, absolves him of mishandling classified information and calls for no prison time.

In exchange, Drake, who was facing 35 years in prison if convicted of violating the Espionage Act, will plead guilty to a misdemeanor of exceeding authorized use of a computer. He will pay no fine, and the maximum probation time he can serve will be capped at one year.13

8 Control the press

Over time in closing societies, real news is supplanted by fake news and false documents. […]
You won’t have a shutdown of news in modern America – it is not possible. But you can have, as Frank Rich and Sidney Blumenthal have pointed out, a steady stream of lies polluting the news well. What you already have is a White House directing a stream of false information that is so relentless that it is increasingly hard to sort out truth from untruth.

In a fascist system, it’s not the lies that count but the muddying. When citizens can’t tell real news from fake, they give up their demands for accountability bit by bit.

“Who cares what the media says about anything? They are bought and paid for a thousand times over. They couldn’t tell the truth if they could find it.” So said Gore Vidal in October 2006.14

Five years on, and the mainstream media is no less bridled; the same small corporate cartel, that is bent on privileging the special interests of a few powerful owners and sponsors, maintains its dominance. And although, in the meantime, the challenge from independent voices has been steadily on the rise via the internet, it is in precisely these areas of the “new media” where controls are now being brought in.

But applying restrictions requires justification, and so these latest attacks against freedom of speech are couched as a necessary response to what the government deems, and thus what the public is encouraged to believe, to be a threat. The following extract is taken directly from the wikipedia entry on Cass Sunstein, who, in September 2009, was appointed as Obama’s Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (the original footnotes to references are preserved)15:

[Cass] Sunstein co-authored a 2008 paper with Adrian Vermeule, titled “Conspiracy Theories,” dealing with the risks and possible government responses to false conspiracy theories resulting from “cascades” of faulty information within groups that may ultimately lead to violence. In this article they wrote, “The existence of both domestic and foreign conspiracy theories, we suggest, is no trivial matter, posing real risks to the government’s antiterrorism policies, whatever the latter may be.” They go on to propose that, “the best response consists in cognitive infiltration of extremist groups”,[22] where they suggest, among other tactics, “Government agents (and their allies) might enter chat rooms, online social networks, or even real-space groups and attempt to undermine percolating conspiracy theories by raising doubts about their factual premises, causal logic or implications for political action.”[22] They refer, several times, to groups that promote the view that the US Government was responsible or complicit in the September 11 attacks as “extremist groups.”

Sunstein and Vermeule also analyze the practice of recruiting “nongovernmental officials”; they suggest that “government can supply these independent experts with information and perhaps prod them into action from behind the scenes,” further warning that “too close a connection will be self-defeating if it is exposed.”[22] Sunstein and Vermeule argue that the practice of enlisting non-government officials, “might ensure that credible independent experts offer the rebuttal, rather than government officials themselves. There is a tradeoff between credibility and control, however. The price of credibility is that government cannot be seen to control the independent experts.” This position has been criticized by some commentators,[23][24] who argue that it would violate prohibitions on government propaganda aimed at domestic citizens.[25] Sunstein and Vermeule’s proposed infiltrations have also been met by sharply critical scholarly critiques.[26][27]

So which is the greater threat, a few people with alternative views and accounts, or the kinds of subversion of (or even outright clampdown on) free speech proposed, and now being put into effect by Cass Sunstein?

Simply being out of step with the official line is now enough to get you categorised as an “extremist”, and so a distinction that was once reserved for those who threatened the use of violent overthrow, is now directed against anyone who merely disagrees.

9 Dissent equals treason

Cast dissent as “treason” and criticism as “espionage’. Every closing society does this, just as it elaborates laws that increasingly criminalise certain kinds of speech and expand the definition of “spy” and “traitor”.

wrote Wolf back in 2007, and as we have seen the Obama administration has used the Espionage Act of 1917 on more occasions than any other administration.

There is also the continuation of the “Threat Fusion Centers” created under Bush, which been found guilty of targeting, amongst other groups, anti-war activists:

In late February[2009], the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) criticized a leaked intelligence bulletin from the North Central Texas Fusion System asking law enforcement officers to report on the activities of Islamic and anti-war lobbying groups, specifically the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the International Action Center (IAC). CAIR is a national Muslim advocacy group, while IAC is an American activist organization that opposes all U.S. military intervention overseas.16

Wolf’s analysis continues:

And here is where the circle closes: most Americans do not realise that since September of last year – when Congress wrongly, foolishly, passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006 – the president has the power to call any US citizen an “enemy combatant”. He has the power to define what “enemy combatant” means. The president can also delegate to anyone he chooses in the executive branch the right to define “enemy combatant” any way he or she wants and then seize Americans accordingly.

Even if you or I are American citizens, even if we turn out to be completely innocent of what he has accused us of doing, he has the power to have us seized as we are changing planes at Newark tomorrow, or have us taken with a knock on the door; ship you or me to a navy brig; and keep you or me in isolation, possibly for months, while awaiting trial. (Prolonged isolation, as psychiatrists know, triggers psychosis in otherwise mentally healthy prisoners. That is why Stalin’s gulag had an isolation cell, like Guantánamo’s, in every satellite prison. Camp 6, the newest, most brutal facility at Guantánamo, is all isolation cells.)

We US citizens will get a trial eventually – for now. But legal rights activists at the Center for Constitutional Rights say that the Bush administration is trying increasingly aggressively to find ways to get around giving even US citizens fair trials. “Enemy combatant” is a status offence – it is not even something you have to have done.

In 2009, the Military Commissions Act was amended to “remove some of its worst violations of due process”, but, according to a press release from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), “the legislation still falls far short of the requirements imposed by the Constitution and Geneva Conventions.”17:

[The Military Commissions Act of 2009 ] continues to apply the military commissions to a much broader group of individuals than should be tried before them under the United States’ legal obligations, it does not completely bar all coerced testimony as required by the Constitution and does not even prohibit military commission trials of children.

Click here to read the full ACLU press release.

After legal challenges and pressure from federal judges, in March 2009, the Obama administration “jettisoned the Bush-era term ‘enemy combatant’ but maintained a broad right to detain those who provide ‘substantial’ assistance to al-Qaeda and its associates around the globe.” A report from the Washington Post continues:

Many human rights groups expressed dismay yesterday that the administration had not made a more radical change in tactics and policies.

Tom Parker, Amnesty International advocacy director for terrorism, counterterrorism and human rights, said, “It’s symbolically significant that he’s dropped the term ‘enemy combatant,’ but the power to detain individuals within the ‘indefinite detention without charge’ paradigm remains substantially intact.”

The legal filing is the latest signal that Obama’s team is not radically departing from many of the terrorism-related legal policies of the previous administration.18

Click here to read the full article.
10 Suspend the rule of law

The John Warner Defense Authorization Act of 2007 gave the president new powers over the national guard. This means that in a national emergency – which the president now has enhanced powers to declare – he can send Michigan’s militia to enforce a state of emergency that he has declared in Oregon, over the objections of the state’s governor and its citizens. […]

Critics see this as a clear violation of the Posse Comitatus Act – which was meant to restrain the federal government from using the military for domestic law enforcement. The Democratic senator Patrick Leahy says the bill encourages a president to declare federal martial law. It also violates the very reason the founders set up our system of government as they did: having seen citizens bullied by a monarch’s soldiers, the founders were terrified of exactly this kind of concentration of militias’ power over American people in the hands of an oppressive executive or faction.

Section 1076, which allowed the President to declare a public emergency and station the military anywhere in America and take control of state-based National Guard units without the consent of the governor or local authorities, was repealed in 2008. But then, on January 11th 2010 “in order to strengthen the partnership between federal and state governments in protecting the nation against all manner of threats, including terrorism and natural disasters,” President Obama signed an Executive Order, which established a body of ten state governors directly appointed by Obama to work to help advance the “synchronization and integration of State and Federal military activities in the United States” (see item (d) from section 2).

So does this open the door again for US troops to be brought in to control civil unrest in the aftermath of a national emergency? Well, the US Patriot Act is still in operation, which means that the US remains in a state of emergency.

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Obama then has not substantially moved away from the policies he inherited from Bush. Nearly everything that Bush & co put into place following the 9/11 attacks remains in place, and so if Wolf is right, then America is just as close to tyranny as it was before his election. But actually there are reasons to belief that the situation is even worse, and that brings me to steps 11 and 12.

11 Collapse of the economy

Wolf wrote her article in April 2007. But it was only later, and in the wake of the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers in September 2008, when the seriousness of the current banking crisis first became apparent to most people. The response of the Bush administration was the shameless and underhand Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) which was signed into law on October 3rd 2008.19 But we should also remember that the whole TARP, which came in two stages, involved a total banker bailout of $700 billion, and the second half of this money was cleared by Obama’s incoming administration.20

Bailing out the “troubled assets” hasn’t worked and never could. It was intended to save the bankers, or at least prop them up a while longer, but following the TARP and then quantitative easing QE1 followed by QE2, America, along with the rest of the developed world, is still heading towards outright financial meltdown. As Alan Greenspan correctly pointed out at the time of all the hoo-hah about raising the debt ceiling, there is no danger of a debt default because the US can always print more money. But how much more is needed? And how long before QE3 or even QE4? If they print enough then America faces the prospect of hyperinflation, and of course hyperinflation was precisely the final straw that collapsed the Weimar Republic and allowed Hitler to come to power. The lesson from history is a stark one.

12 Rule by a Super Congress

Another piece of the fallout of last month’s raising of the debt ceiling fiasco, was the largely unreported establishment of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction. This new “Super Congress” which consists of twelve members of Congress, evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, with Obama retaining an overall right to veto, is mandated to make proposals to reduce the federal budget deficit by a total of at least $1.5 trillion over 10 years. In the event that Congress then refuses to pass those proposals, “a trigger mechanism” will enact $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts:

This “Super Congress” of twelve will recommend cuts that will basically go unchallenged. They must make their recommendations by Thanksgiving, then the congress must have up or down votes with no changes. A simple yes or no vote to enact new law with vast implications on the lives of every American. That this group will be appointed and not elected is bad enough, but if their cuts hopefully done with a scalpel are not voted in, there will be a trigger that takes effect and makes even more draconian cuts, most likely with a butcher knife or ax.21

So an unelected committee eager to dish out some more “austerity” is now determining America’s economic future, and thus, by extension, forcing decisions in every area of governance. Why bother having coups when you can take control so sneakily?

Going back to Naomi Wolf, she writes:

Of course, the United States is not vulnerable to the violent, total closing-down of the system that followed Mussolini’s march on Rome or Hitler’s roundup of political prisoners. Our democratic habits are too resilient, and our military and judiciary too independent, for any kind of scenario like that.

Rather, as other critics are noting, our experiment in democracy could be closed down by a process of erosion.

It is a mistake to think that early in a fascist shift you see the profile of barbed wire against the sky. In the early days, things look normal on the surface; peasants were celebrating harvest festivals in Calabria in 1922; people were shopping and going to the movies in Berlin in 1931. Early on, as WH Auden put it, the horror is always elsewhere – while someone is being tortured, children are skating, ships are sailing: “dogs go on with their doggy life … How everything turns away/ Quite leisurely from the disaster.”

All of this is absolutely right, of course, and unfortunately under Obama the ‘process of erosion’ that began after 9/11 has continued; and, perhaps more importantly, it has become normalised. Bush was an obvious tyrant, whereas Obama is more the persuader. And the big difference between Bush and Obama has really been style, with Obama, by virtue of being far the more stylish, also arguably the more dangerous. In any case, the stage remains set for whoever comes to power next, because as Wolf put it in 2007:

What if, in a year and a half, there is another attack — say, God forbid, a dirty bomb? The executive can declare a state of emergency. History shows that any leader, of any party, will be tempted to maintain emergency powers after the crisis has passed. With the gutting of traditional checks and balances, we are no less endangered by a President Hillary than by a President Giuliani — because any executive will be tempted to enforce his or her will through edict rather than the arduous, uncertain process of democratic negotiation and compromise.

*

In 2008, Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stein produced a documentary film based on Naomi Wolf’s book “The End of America: A Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot”, on which her 2007 Guardian article had been based. Released on DVD and online in October 2008, the film offers a chilling warning of the dangers that America still faces. As Naomi Wolf concluded in her 2007 article:

We need to look at history and face the “what ifs”. For if we keep going down this road, the “end of America” could come for each of us in a different way, at a different moment; each of us might have a different moment when we feel forced to look back and think: that is how it was before – and this is the way it is now.

“The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands … is the definition of tyranny,” wrote James Madison. We still have the choice to stop going down this road; we can stand our ground and fight for our nation, and take up the banner the founders asked us to carry.

1 “Fascist America, in 10 Easy Steps” by Naomi Wolf, published in the Guardian on April 24, 2007.

From Hitler to Pinochet and beyond, history shows there are certain steps that any would-be dictator must take to destroy constitutional freedoms. And, argues Naomi Wolf, George Bush and his administration seem to be taking them all

http://www.guardian.co.uk/usa/story/0,,2064157,00.html

2 Taken from an article entitled: “President Obama Signs One-Year Extension of Patriot Act”, by Julie Kent, published on February 28, 2010 in Cleveland Leader. http://www.clevelandleader.com/node/13183

3 “Obama, in Europe, signs Patriot Act extension” published on May 27, 2011 from msnbc.

Minutes before a midnight deadline, President Barack Obama signed into law a four-year extension of post-Sept. 11 powers to search records and conduct roving wiretaps in pursuit of terrorists.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/43180202/ns/us_news-security/t/obama-europe-signs-patriot-act-extension/#.Tk6Wk10neaI

4 Taken from an article entitled: “Bradley Manning; top US legal scholars voice outrage at ‘torture’” by Ed Pilkington, published on April 10, 2011 in the Guardian.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/apr/10/bradley-manning-legal-scholars-letter

5 Taken from an article entitled, “Forget Sarah Palin and Donald Trump: Obama needs a challenge from the left”, written by Mehdi Hasan, published on May 11, 2011 in the Guardian.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2011/may/11/barack-obama-primaries-palin-trump

6 “Despite overwhelming evidence that senior Bush administration officials approved illegal interrogation methods involving torture and other ill-treatment, the Obama administration has yet to pursue prosecutions of any high-level officials or to establish a commission of inquiry.” from Human Rights Watch, World Report 2011, p. 624

7 According to an article entitled: “Afghanistan Contractors Outnumber Troops” by August Cole, published August 22, 2009 in The Wall Street Journal. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB125089638739950599.html

8 For more information read Jeremy Scahill’s article entitled “The Secret US War in Pakistan”, published December 7, 2009 in The Nation. http://www.thenation.com/article/secret-us-war-pakistan

9 According to a Congressional Research Service report entitled “Department of Defense Contractors in Afghanistan and Iraq: Background and Analysis” by Moshe Schwartz & Joyprada Swain, published May 13, 2011:

10  From an article entitled “F.B.I Agents Get Leeway to Push Privacy Bounds” by Charlie Savage, published June 12, 2011 in The New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/13/us/13fbi.html?_r=1

11  See BBC News article “US steps up flight security lists”, published January 5, 2010. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/americas/8440591.stm

12  See the New Yorker article “The Secret Sharer: is Thomas Drake an enemy of the state?” by Jane Mayer, published on May 23, 2011. http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/05/23/110523fa_fact_mayer

13  See the Washington Post article “Ex-NSA official Thomas Drake to plead guilty to misdemeanor”, by Ellen Nakashima, published June 9, 2011. http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/national-security/ex-nsa-manager-has-reportedly-twice-rejected-plea-bargains-in-espionage-act-case/2011/06/09/AG89ZHNH_story.html

14  Taken from an interview he gave at the Texas Book Festival on October 29th, 2006. In response to a question about the government cover-up surrounding the September 11th attacks and the indifference of the media response.

15  Taken from the section entitled: “’Conspiracy Theories’ and government infiltration” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cass_Sunstein#.22Conspiracy_Theories.22_and_government_infiltration

16  From an article entitled, “Fusion Centers Under Fire in Texas and New Mexico”, written by Matthew Harwood from March 9, 2009.

http://www.securitymanagement.com/news/fusion-centers-under-fire-texas-and-new-mexico-005314

17 “While this bill contains substantial improvements to the current military commissions, the system remains fatally flawed and contrary to basic principles of American justice. While the bill takes positive steps by restricting coerced and hearsay evidence and providing greater defense counsel resources, it still falls short of providing the due process required by the Constitution. The military commissions were created to circumvent the Constitution and result in quick convictions, not to achieve real justice.

“Because of their tainted history, these proceedings, if carried on in any form, would continue to be stigmatized as unfair and inadequate, would be plagued by delay and controversy and would keep alive the terrible legacy of Guantánamo. As long as we are using anything but our time-tested federal court system, the military commissions will remain a second class system of justice.”

From American Civil Liberties Press Release of October 8, 2009.

http://www.aclu.org/national-security/house-passes-changes-guantanamo-military-commissions

18  From an article entitled, “U.S. Retires ‘Enemy Combatant,’ Keeps Broad Right to Detain, by Del Quentin Wilber and Peter Finn, published on March 14, 2009 in the Washington Post.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/03/13/AR2009031302371.html

19  “The man charged with monitoring the $700 billion financial rescue has launched more than a dozen investigations into possible misuse of the money, according to a report sent to Congress today.

“In findings that are not likely to soothe agitated taxpayers who are wondering what return they are getting from the bailouts, Neil Barofsky — Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, known as TARP — said billions of taxpayer dollars are vulnerable to fraud, waste and abuse.

“Barofsky — who detailed the bailout fund perils in a 250-page tome [pdf] — said that the criminal probes are looking into possible public corruption, stock, tax, and corporate fraud, insider trading and mortgage fraud. There would be no details on the targets, according to the report, ‘until public action is taken.'”

From an article entitled, “TARP Fraud Probes Begin” written by Elizabeth Olson, from April 21st 2009.

http://www.portfolio.com/views/blogs/daily-brief/2009/04/21/tarp-fraud-probes-begin/

20  “In a decisive and hard-fought victory for President-elect Barack Obama, the Senate cleared the way today for Obama’s incoming administration to spend the second $350 billion of the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

“A measure to block the funds was voted down 42 to 52 after an intense lobbying campaign by the Obama economic team and by Obama himself.

“Just hours before the vote, Obama economic adviser Larry Summers wrote a letter promising the Senate that the Obama administration would take specific steps to ensure the money is spent more responsibly and with more transparency than the Bush Administration spent the first $350 billion in TARP cash.”

Taken from an article entitled, “Obama Wins $350B Senate TARP Vote”, written by Jonathan Karl on January 15, 2009 for ABC World News.

http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/Economy/story?id=6654133&page=1

21 From an article entitled, “The Super Congress We Did Not Elect” written by R.W. Sanders, published on August 2, 2011 by The Huffington Post.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rw-sanders/the-super-congress-we-did_b_914635.html

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