Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Obama Issues Threats To Russia And NATO

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The Obama regime has issued simultaneous threats to the enemy it is making out of Russia and to its European NATO allies on which Washington is relying to support sanctions on Russia. This cannot end well.
As even Americans living in a controlled media environment are aware, Europeans, South Americans, and Chinese are infuriated that the National Stasi Agency is spying on their communications. NSA’s affront to legality, the US Constitution, and international diplomatic norms is unprecedented. Yet, the spying continues, while Congress sits sucking its thumb and betraying its oath to defend the Constitution of the United States.
In Washington mumbo-jumbo from the executive branch about “national security” suffices to negate statutory law and Constitutional requirements. Western Europe, seeing that the White House, Congress and the Federal Courts are impotent and unable to rein-in the Stasi Police State, has decided to create a European communication system that excludes US companies in order to protect the privacy of European citizens and government communications from the Washington Stasi.
The Obama regime, desperate that no individual and no country escape its spy net, denounced Western Europe’s intention to protect the privacy of its communications as “a violation of trade laws.”
Obama’s US Trade Representative, who has been negotiating secret “trade agreements” in Europe and Asia that give US corporations immunity to the laws of all countries that sign the agreements, has threatened WTO penalties if Europe’s communications network excludes the US companies that serve as spies for NSA. Washington in all its arrogance has told its most necessary allies that if you don’t let us spy on you, we will use WTO to penalize you.
So there you have it. The rest of the world now has the best possible reason to exit the WTO and to avoid the Trans-Pacific and Trans-Atlantic “trade agreements.” The agreements are not about trade. The purpose of these “trade agreements” is to establish the hegemony of Washington and US corporations over other countries.
In an arrogant demonstration of Washington’s power over Europe, the US Trade Representative warned Washington’s NATO allies: “US Trade Representative will be carefully monitoring the development of any such proposals” to create a separate European communication network. http://rt.com/news/us-europe-nsa-snowden-549/
Washington is relying on the Chancellor of Germany, the President of France, and the Prime Minister of the UK to place service to Washington above their countries’ communications privacy.
It has dawned on the Russian government that being a part of the American dollar system means that Russia is open to being looted by Western banks and corporations or by individuals financed by them, that the ruble is vulnerable to being driven down by speculators in the foreign exchange market and by capital outflows, and that dependence on the American international payments system exposes Russia to arbitrary sanctions imposed by the “exceptional and indispensable country.”
Why it took the Russian government so long to realize that the dollar payments system puts countries under Washington’s thumb is puzzling. Perhaps the answer is the success of US Cold War propaganda. Cold war propaganda portrayed America as the shining light, the great observer of human rights, opponent of torture, upholder of liberty, defender of the downtrodden, lover of peace, and benefactor of the world. This image survived even as the US government prevented the rise of any representative governments in Latin America and while Washington has bombed half a dozen countries into rubble.
Russians emerging from communism naturally aligned with the propaganda image of “American freedom.” That the US and Europe were also corrupt and also had blood on their hands was overlooked. During the years of anti-Soviet propaganda, Washington was murdering European women and children and blaming communists. The truth came out when President of Italy Francesco Cossiga publicly revealed Operation Gladio, a false flag terrorist scheme run by the CIA and Italian Intelligence during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s that targeted European women and children with bombs in order to blame the communists and thereby prevent European communist parties from making electoral gains. This is one of the most well-known false flag events in history, having resulted in extraordinary confessions by Italian intelligence.
Now that the Russian government understands that Russia must depart the dollar system in order to protect Russian sovereignty, President Putin has entered into barter/ruble oil deals with China and Iran. However, Washington objects to Russia abandoning the dollar international payment system. Zero Hedge, a more reliable news source than the US print and TV media, reports that Washington has conveyed to both Russia and Iran that a non-dollar oil deal would trigger US sanctions.http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2014-04-04/us-threatens-russia-sanctions-over-petrodollar-busting-deal
Washington’s objection to the Russian/Iranian deal made it clear to all governments that Washington uses the dollar-based international payments system as a means of control. Why should countries accept an international payments system that infringes their sovereignty? What would happen if instead of passively accepting the dollar as the means of international payment, countries simply left the dollar system? The value of the dollar would fall and so would Washington’s power. Without the power that the dollar’s role as world reserve currency gives the US to pay its bills by printing money, the US could not maintain its aggressive military posture or its payoffs to foreign governments to do its bidding.
Washington would be just another failed empire, whose population can barely make ends meet, while the One Percent who comprise the mega-rich compete with 200-foot yachts and $750,000 fountain pens. The aristocracy and the serfs. That is what America has already become. A throwback to the feudal era.
It is only a matter of time before it is universally recognized that the US is a failed state. Let’s pray this recognition occurs before the arrogant inhabitants of Washington blow up the world in pursuit of hegemony over others.
Washington’s provocative military moves against Russia are reckless and dangerous. The buildup of NATO air, ground, and naval forces on Russia’s borders in violation of the 1997 NATO-Russian treaty and the Montreux Convention naturally strike the Russian government as suspicious, especially as the buildups are justified on the basis of lies that Russia is about to invade Poland, the Baltic States, and Moldova in addition to Ukraine.
These lies are transparent. The Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has asked NATO for an explanation, stating: “We are not only expecting answers, but answers that will be based fully on respect for the rules we agreed on.” http://rt.com/news/lavrov-ukraine-nato-convention-069/
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Washington’s puppet installed as NATO figurehead who is no more in charge of NATO than I am, responded in a way guaranteed to raise Russian anxieties. Rasmussen dismissed the Russian Foreign Minister’s request for explanation as “propaganda and disinformation.”
Clearly, what we are experiencing are rising tensions caused by Washington and NATO. These tensions are in addition to the tensions arising from Washington’s coup in Ukraine. These reckless and dangerous actions have destroyed the Russian government’s trust in the West and are moving the world toward war.
Little did the protesters in Kiev, called into the streets by Washington’s NGOs, realize that their foolishness was setting the world on a path to armageddon.

Another Fraudulent Jobs Report

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The March payroll jobs report released April 4 claims 192,000 new private sector jobs.
Here is what John Williams has to say about the claim:
“The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) deliberately publishes its seasonally-adjusted historical payroll-employment and household-survey (unemployment) data so that the numbers are neither consistent nor comparable with current headline reporting.  The upside revisions to the January and February monthly jobs gains, and the relatively strong March payroll showing, reflected nothing more than concealed, favorable shifts in underlying seasonal factors, hidden by the lack of consistent BLS reporting.  In like manner, consistent month-to-month changes in the unemployment rate or labor force simply are not knowable, because the BLS cloaks the consistent and comparable numbers.”
Here is what Dave Kranzler has to say: “the employment report is probably the most deceptively fraudulent report produced by the Government.”
As I have pointed out for a decade, the “New Economy” jobs that we were promised in exchange for our manufacturing jobs and tradable professional service jobs that were offshored have never shown up. The transnational corporations and their hired shills among economists lied to us. Not even a jobs report as deceptive and fraudulent as the BLS payroll jobs report can hide the fact that Congress, the White House, and the American people have sat sucking their thumbs while corporations maximized profits for the one percent at the expense of everyone else in the United States.
Let’s look at where the alleged jobs are. The BLS jobs report says that 28,400 jobs were created in March in wholesale and retail sales. March is the month that Macy’s, Sears, JC Penny, Staples, Radio Shack, Office Depot, and other retailers announced combined closings of several thousand stores, but more retail clerks were hired.
The BLS payroll jobs report claims 57,000 jobs in “professional and business services.” Are these jobs for lawyers, accountants, architects, engineers, and managers? No. The combined new jobs for these middle class professional skills totaled 10,400. Employment services accounted for 42,000 of the jobs in “professional and business services” of which temporary help accounted for 28,500.
“Education and health services” accounted for 34,000 jobs or which ambulatory and home health care services accounted for 28,000 of the jobs.
The other old standby, waitresses and bartenders, accounted for 30,400 jobs. The number of Americans dependent on food stamps who cannot afford to go out to eat or to purchase a six-pack of beer has almost doubled, but the demand for restaurant meals and bar drinks keeps rising.
There you have it. This is America’s “New Economy.” If the jobs exist at all, they consist of lowly paid, largely part-time employment that fails to produce enough income to prevent the food stamp rolls from doubling.
Without growth in consumer income, there is no growth in aggregate consumer demand. Offshoring jobs also offshores the income associated with the jobs, resulting in the decline in the domestic consumer market. The US transnational corporations, pursuing profits in the short-run, are destroying their long-run consumer base. The transnational corporations are also destroying the outlook for US universities, as it makes no sense to incur large student loan debt when job prospects are poor. The corporations are also destroying US leadership in innovation as US corporations increasingly become marketeers of foreign-made goods and services.
As I predicted in 2004, the US will have a third world work force in 20 years.
The unemployment figures are as deceptive as the employment figures. The headline
unemployment rate of 6.7% does not include discouraged workers. When discouraged
workers are included among the unemployed, the US rate of unemployment is 3.4 times higher than the announced rate.
How many times has John Williams written his report? How many times have I written this article? Yet the government continues to issue false reports, and the presstitute financial media continues to ask no questions.
The US, once a land of opportunity, has been transformed into an aristocratic economy in which income and wealth are concentrated at the very top. The highly skewed concentration at the top is the result of jobs offshoring, which transformed Americans’ salaries and wages into bonuses for executives and capital gains for owners, and financial deregulation, which produced financial collapse and the Federal Reserve’s bailout of “banks too big too fail.” The trillions of dollars of new money created by the Federal Reserve has produced massive inflation of stock prices, making owners even richer.
Sooner or later the dollar’s value will suffer as a result of the massive creation of new dollars. When that occurs, the import-dependent American population will suffer a traumatic drop in living standards. The main cost of the bank bailout has yet to hit.
As I write I cannot think of one thing in the entire areas of foreign and domestic policy that the US government has told the truth about in the 21st century. Just as Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction, Iran has no nukes, Assad did not use chemical weapons, and Putin did not invade and annex Crimea, the jobs numbers are fraudulent, the unemployment rate is deceptive, the inflation measures are understated, and the GDP growth rate is overstated. Americans live in a matrix of total lies.
What can Americans do? Elections are pointless. Presidents, Senators, and US Representatives represent the interest groups that provide their campaign funds, not the voters. In two decisions, the Republican Supreme Court has made it legal for corporations to purchase the government. Those who own the government will decide what it does, not those who vote.
All Americans can do is to accept the serfdom imposed on them or take to the streets and stay in the streets despite being clubbed, tasered, arrested, and shot by the police, who protect the power structure, not the public.
In America, nothing is done for the public. But everything is done to the public.

IMF report: No end to economic breakdown

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Almost six years after the eruption of the global financial crisis, the International Monetary Fund has effectively ruled out any return to the economic growth rates that preceded September 2008.

Two major chapters of the IMF’s World Economic Outlook, published for the spring meetings to be held in Washington at the end of this week, provide a gloomy assessment of the state of the world economy. In the advanced economies, investment is falling as a proportion of gross domestic product (GDP), while in the “emerging markets,” there is no prospect for growth rates to return to pre-2007 levels.

The IMF notes that real interest rates have been declining since the 1980s and are “now in slightly negative territory.” But this has failed to boost productive investment. On the contrary, what it calls “scars” from the global financial crisis “have resulted in a sharp and persistent decline in investment in advanced economies.” Between 2008 and 2013, there was a two-and-a-half percentage point decline in the investment to GDP ratio in these countries. The report adds that ratios “in many advanced economies are unlikely to recover to pre-crisis levels in the next five years.”

This conclusion is of immense significance given the critical role of investment in the functioning of the capitalist economy. In what are deemed “normal” conditions, investment—the expansion of productive capacity—is the key driving force of capitalist economic growth. Undertaken in anticipation of future profits, investment creates new demand in labour markets and the markets for machinery, raw materials and the means of production in general. This, in turn, creates further demand and expanded profit opportunities, stimulating additional investment, thereby setting in motion a virtuous economic circle.

But if investment stagnates or declines, the circle turns vicious. This is what is now taking place.

As the IMF puts it: “An important concern is the possibility of a prolonged period of very low growth (‘secular stagnation’) in advanced economies, especially if new shocks were to hit these economies or if policies do not address crisis legacies as expected.”

The IMF writes gloomily that “the evidence … suggests that a full reversal of the downward investment shift in advanced economies is unlikely.” In other words, there is no prospect for a genuine economic recovery at any time in the foreseeable future.

The situation is no better in the “emerging markets,” once touted as the new basis for global capitalist expansion. According to the IMF: “The recent slowdown in emerging market and developing economies has caused much angst in policy circles.”

While these economies rebounded much more strongly in 2009–2010 than the advanced economies, growth decelerated thereafter and “is now significantly below levels recorded before the global financial crisis.”

During the period of rebound, talk of “decoupling” was all the vogue. But emerging markets and developing economies have proved to be highly sensitive to economic trends in the rest of the world.

The IMF found that of the two percentage point decline in emerging market growth rates since 2012, China accounted for half a percentage point, other external factors accounted for one-and-a-quarter percentage points, and other, mainly internal, factors accounted for only a quarter of a percentage point.

These economies are “likely to face a more complex and challenging growth environment than in the period before the global financial crisis, when most external factors were supportive of such growth,” the report states.

If interest rates in the US rise, even by only small amounts, then, as the financial turbulence in the summer of 2013 and at the beginning of this year showed, “emerging markets will suffer.” They will also be adversely affected by a slower growth rate in China.

This week’s IMF meetings have been preceded by warnings from the organisation’s managing director, Christine Lagarde, that the world faces “years of low and sub-par growth” unless countries come together to undertake the “right kind of policy measures.” But six years into the global breakdown, there is no clear indication of what those “right policies” might be—beyond deeper attacks on the conditions and social rights of the working class.

In the United States, Lagarde noted, job-creation is “not at potential.” With the latest figures indicating that US payrolls rose by only 192,000 in March, the numbers “could be and they should be higher,” Lagarde said. That they were not was due to uncertainty, a lack of confidence and “the fact that a lot of companies are investing into themselves more than actually investing into capacity and job-creation.”

Lagarde was referring to the fact that major US corporations are using their profits not to finance increased productive capacity, but to buy back shares and inflate stock prices to boost the fortunes of the financial elites.

Figures from the Commerce Department show that US corporate profits are at their highest levels in at least 85 years, while employee wages are sliding. The Commerce Department said that in 2013, wages accounted for 42.5 percent of the economy, down from 42.6 percent in 2012 and lower than in any year previously recorded.

Comparing the situation in 2013 with that in 2006, an article in the New York Times noted that after adjustment for inflation, corporate profits had increased by 28 percent, before taxes. But with taxes down by 21 percent, corporate after-tax profits increased by 36 percent over the past seven years. However, as the IMF figures show, this money is being used not to finance economic expansion, but to increase the incomes of the ultra-wealthy.

Together with the quantitative easing program of the Federal Reserve, which has made available trillions of dollars to the financial elites, the increasingly parasitic character of the US economy has boosted American and global stock markets.

Last week, the American S&P 500 index reached an all-time high, while the All World Index of equity markets compiled by the Financial Times reached its highest level since the end of 2007.

The IMF chief, who generally reflects the views of US finance capital, wants the program of quantitative easing (the printing of money by central banks to purchase securities from banks) extended into Europe. Last week, on the eve of a policy meeting of the European Central Bank (ECB), she called for the ECB to do more to stave off the threat of deflation.

Lagarde’s call came in the wake of figures showing that European prices rose at an annual rate of just 0.5 percent in March, with prices actually falling by 0.2 percent in Spain. This is well below the ECB’s target rate of 2 percent inflation. The concern over what Lagarde has called the “ogre of deflation” arises from the possibility of a deflationary spiral, such as that experienced in Japan, increasing the real debt burden of banks and other financial institutions.

Following the ECB meeting, the central bank’s president, Mario Draghi, said the bank’s governing council was “unanimous” in its commitment to looking at new policy initiatives, including purchases of financial assets. “There was a discussion about QE [quantitative easing], it wasn’t neglected,” he told reporters.

But in a sarcastic aside, he thanked the IMF for being “extremely generous in its suggestions” to him about monetary policy, far more than it is with the Fed. Lagarde shot back that the IMF also made recommendations to the Fed. “We do say what we have to say when we think it’s appropriate to say it,” she said, adding that the IMF had “for a long time taken the view that the ECB should be addressing the issue of inflation.”

The verbal shots fired across the Atlantic point to the growth of tensions between the major economic blocs as the capitalist breakdown continues. Unable to advance any solution to a series of mounting economic problems, the ruling elites do, however, agree on fundamental issues: that the interests of the banks and financial oligarchs must be defended, whatever the cost, and the working class must be made to pay for the crisis that their actions have triggered.

Honesty Itself Is Being Criminalized in America's Corrupt Courts

Honesty Itself Is Being Criminalized in America's Corrupt Courts

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Matt Taibbi’s The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap [3] is a book about what happens in American courtrooms. Immigrants are deported for traffic violations. Lawyers retained by relatively honest billionaires to defend themselves against attacks from more classically psychotic billionaires are treated by judges with a contempt typically reserved for telemarketers. Wrongful termination lawsuits filed by corporate whistleblowers are thrown out. Bail gets set just high enough to feed prison contractors hordes of accused loiterers, and just low enough to ensure bail bondsmen won’t take the business. Day after day, megabanks win the legal authority to repossess the car or house or bank account of this or that alleged debtor on the basis of her failure to show up in court to answer a summons she never received, because in lieu of actually delivering that summons, the megabank paid some bucket shop four dollars to produce a signed affidavit swearing one of its employees had physically delivered it, while in fact depositing it and thousands like it in a dumpster, a technique known in the business as “sewer service.”

And day after day, five o’ clock rolls around and thousands of alleged jaywalkers, obstructors of pedestrian traffic and open-container possessors are instructed to show up again next month because the arresting officer was too preoccupied with nabbing fresh loiterers to show up to court that day, or because there are simply too many defendants—50,000 marijuana possession cases, 80,000 disorderly conduct cases and 140,000 open container cases a year in New York City alone. Cases rarely go to trial: Innocent 99 percenters admit guilt, and guilty financial crime syndicates shell out millions for the privilege of admitting nothing.

I visited one such courtroom myself last July, after $100 parking tickets started appearing on my car window every other night or so, for the alleged infraction of “failure to secure D.C. tags.” I collected 11 before I finally found a free day to haul myself into a courtroom to explain: My car was not registered in D.C. because I didn’t live in D.C.; I just happened to work at a restaurant in D.C. that closed after the metro stopped running.

“Why did you allow so many tickets to accumulate before disputing them?” the judge wanted to know.

“Well, I had work, and since ticketing people for failure to register their cars in states in which they do not actually reside seemed to clearly be an illegal racket I wanted to contest in person,” I said.

“What you refer to as an illegal racket,” he replied, “is the broadly recognized power of the state to tax its citizens.”

Taibbi never quite articulates this, but virtually all the judges presiding over the bureaucratic atrocities described in the book seem to view themselves fundamentally as tax collectors. “Get your wallets ready! We take Visa and MasterCard!” one judge ghoulishly announces before a room filled with public urinators and sidewalk bicyclists. Another upholds California’s subjection of food-stamp applicants to terrifying unannounced searches by the welfare-fraud Gestapo on the grounds that the public “interest in ensuring the aid provided from tax dollars reaches its proper and intended recipients” trumps the Fourth Amendment. Undocumented immigrants in particular are viewed as what one lawyer calls “walking ATM machines”; one single mom in Los Angeles named Natividad Felix finally catches a “break” when a judge reduces her $1,700 fine for driving without a license to $500—plus 170 hours of community service.

In 2011, one federal judge, writing in the Michigan Bar Journal, described [4] the decline of the American judiciary into a modern version of the Roman Empire “tax farming” bureaucracy, wherein judges have been “appointed [as] revenue agents” charged with extracting state funds “from people in no position to complain”—all so legislators across the nation can eternally and “speciously pledge no new taxes.” But why do so few judges reject this degradation of the profession?

Taibbi doesn’t really explore how the administration of justice came to be so thoroughly dominated by individuals whose apparent absence of any basic concept of the word makes Judge Judy  [5]look like Louis Brandeis [6]. This mystery is at once the strength and the ultimate limitation of The Divide. He spends upwards of 10 pages documenting the hell into which the (already miserable) life of Natividad descended during the three months in which, on top of her evening job as a cook at a homeless shelter, she woke up at 5 a.m. every morning to ferry her six children to school before cleaning toilets as part of her court-mandated community service. After that account, no one really has the patience to hear out the nameless judge’s side of the story, and I frankly don’t give a damn.

But in failing to interrogate judicial cowardice, Taibbi neglects to actually nail what he’s hitting upon. For better and worse, the term “neoliberalism” makes no appearance in The Divide, enabling Taibbi to exhaustively chronicle the grotesque hypocrisies he sees without examining the tyrannical Mother Hypocrisy governing all this miscarriage of justice.

Taibbi misses the fact that the criminalization of poverty he finds so maddening is just a subset of a broader criminalization of honesty itself. If that sounds hyperbolic, ask yourself what the First Amendment has done for “truth” lately. We all know how effectively it has been deployed to protect shadowy right-wing propagandists and catastrophically mendacious securities- ratings agencies, but somehow the free speech rights of whistleblowers are invariably trumped by the higher legal protections afforded to intellectual property, trade secrets, non-disclosure agreements and national security.

At this point, even the least conspiracy-minded observer understands that this metamorphosis happened neither by accident nor overnight. For more than six decades now, the Chicago-based cognitive coup plotters who came up with the market fundamentalism we generally know as mainstream macroeconomics have been painstakingly inculcating legal rhetoric and practice with the same theories. The preeminent legal scholars of our time have written shelves full of books advancing the arguments that, inter alia: free markets make corporate monopolies impossible, insider trading makes markets freer, the gravest threat plaguing the American justice system is good intentions, etc.

Together, these ideas comprise the “law and economics” movement, a subsidiary of the cognitive dissonance dissemination racket that is neoliberalism: the fuzzy notion that “the market” is always right and that anyone who claims otherwise is just jealous. Social justice is a “mirage,” neoliberalism’s founding father Friedrich Hayek declared in Law, Legislation and Liberty, fully aware that the modifier “social” was both legally and practically meaningless.

Thus, law and economics scholars formally advise justice administrators, often in the context of cushy junkets, to grapple with the system's essential duplicity via such concepts as the “Coase theorem”—so named after the late University of Chicago law professor and Nobel laureate Ronald H. Coase—whose essential postulate can basically be summarized as “if Plaintiff A has his act together sufficiently to sue Corporate Malefactor B, Plaintiff A can negotiate a more ‘efficient’ compromise with Corporate Malefactor B behind closed doors without involving a jury.”

And so when a bank loots billions of dollars from the bank it’s acquiring, the judge accepts the argument that the theft merely reflected a change in market forces around the deal. And when a kung fu instructor [7] and a founder of a major hedge fund hear the same tip about an upcoming deal and illegally load up on stock, the Securities and Exchange Commission charges the kung fu instructor with insider trading  [8]and fires the enforcement officer [7] whose investigation of the hedge fund kingpin begins to point to the then-CEO of Morgan Stanley.

And when an earnest young computer programmer decides to leak a cache of surveillance data in the name of patriotism [9], he stays alive thanks in part to a curious decision to cede control of much of the information to a media venture, First Look Media [10], financed exclusively by the billionaire Pierre Omidyar, the founding chairman of eBay. EBay, in turn, owns Paypal, the company that worked with the Justice Department to prosecute programmers [11] who crashed its servers in 2010 in retaliation for its decision to cut off Wikileaks’ PayPal accounts.

First Look just poached Matt Taibbi away from Rolling Stone [12]. I hope this is a good thing. I know the almighty market could give two shits what I think.

[1] http://www.inthesetimes.com/
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/moe-tkacik
[3] http://www.amazon.com/The-Divide-American-Injustice-Wealth/dp/081299342X
[4] http://www.michbar.org/journal/pdf/pdf4article1810.pdf
[5] http://www.judgejudy.com/
[6] http://www.brandeis.edu/legacyfund/bio.html
[7] http://www.counterpunch.org/2011/09/12/shut-down-the-sec/
[8] http://www.nytimes.com/2002/07/30/business/2-men-are-accused-of-insider-trading.html
[9] http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/21461-obamas-nsa-speech-makes-orwellian-surveillance-patriotic
[10] http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/17/business/media/snowden-journalists-new-venture-to-be-bankrolled-by-ebay-founder.html?_r=0
[11] http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2013/10/29/prosecutors-put-paypal14andinternetprotestontrial.html
[12] http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/blogs/taibblog/thank-you-rolling-stone-20140220

Putin and Flight 370 Are Mere Distractions—America's Foreign Policy Has Been Hijacked

'No, Virginia. Flight 370 was not commandeered by aliens. And Vladimir Putin is not Joseph Stalin's younger brother.'

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Isn’t there something strangely reassuring when your eyeballs are gripped by a “mystery [4]” on the news that has no greater meaning and yet sweeps all else away?  This, of course, is the essence of the ongoing tale of the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.  Except to the relatives of those on board, it never really mattered what happened in the cockpit that day. To the extent that the plane’s disappearance was solvable, the mystery could only end in one of two ways: it landed somewhere (somehow unnoticed, a deep unlikelihood) or it crashed somewhere, probably in an ocean. End of story. It was, however, a tale with thrilling upsides when it came to filling airtime, especially on cable news. The fact that there was no there there allowed for the raising of every possible disappearance trope [5] -- from Star Trekkian black holes to the Bermuda Triangle to Muslim terrorists -- and it had the added benefit of instantly evoking a popular TV show [6].  It was a formula too good to waste, and wasted it wasn’t.

The same has been true of the story that, in the U.S., came to vie with it for the top news spot: the devastating mudslide in Washington State. An act of nature, sweeping out of nowhere, buries part of a tiny community, leaving an unknown but possibly large number of people dead.  Was anyone still alive under all that mud?  (Such potential “miracles [7]” are like manna from heaven for the TV news.)  How many died?  These questions mattered locally and to desperate relatives of those who had disappeared, but otherwise had little import.  Yes, unbridled growth, lack of attention [8] to expected disasters, and even possibly climate change [9] were topics that might have been attached to the mudslide horror.  As a gruesome incident, it could have stood in for a lot, but in the end it stood in for nothing except itself and that was undoubtedly its abiding appeal.

Both stories had the added benefit (for TV) of an endless stream of distraught relatives: teary or weeping or stoic or angry faces in desperately tight close-ups making heartfelt pleas for more information.  For the media, it was like the weather before climate change came along.

In response, just about anything else that could pass for news was swept aside. Given a media that normally rushes heedlessly from one potential 24/7 story to another, this was striking. In the case of Flight 370, for instance, on the 21st day after its disappearance, it still led NBC’s Nightly News with Brian Williams (with the mudslide, one week after it happened, the number two story).

In those weeks, only one other story broke their stranglehold on the news.  It was the seemingly critical question of what in the world was going on in Ukraine.  There was the Russian military move into the Crimea, the referendum on that peninsula, its annexation, the alarm of the U.S. and the European Union, the imposition of (modest) sanctions, and various warnings of a Russian military build-up and possible invasion of eastern Ukraine.  Unlike the other two stories, it seemed consequential enough.  And yet in some eerie way, it, too, came to resemble them.  It was as if with the news on Ukraine we were being sucked back into another era -- that of the superpower-run twentieth century.

The question that seemed to loom was this: Are we in a new (i.e., the old) Cold War? It was so front and center that it sent opinion pollsters scrambling and they promptly discovered that half [10] of all Americans thought we were -- itself less a testament to American opinion than to the overwhelming media narrative that we were indeed living through the Cold War redux [11].

Was the Soviet Union being raised from the dead?  Think of this as the Flight 370 of global political coverage.  It had everything a story needed: people in the square; a foreign leader who glowered just like a movie villain should and, for once in the twenty-first century, wasn’t a U.S. president or vice president; and fears of Russian troops entering the rest of Ukraine, with Lithuania, Estonia, or some other former satellite [12] of the Soviet Union next in line [13]. Where would it end?  How could Vladimir Putin’s juggernaut be stopped?
As a story, it was a time warp miracle all its own.  After so many years, an American president was denouncing not al-Qaeda, or the Taliban, or the Iraqis, or the Iranians, but the Russians. Once again, as in the good old bad old days, U.S. officials could decry the tyranny [14] of a major state and its dangers to the globe with a straight face. There was finally a black-and-white tale of international morality in which Americans could denounce an invasion. It had the comfy familiarity of an old-fashioned script, one whose ending everybody already knew. It implied that the world was once again easy to grasp, that everything was finally back in order -- the good guys and the bad guys, East and West, freedom and tyranny.

As an old script, it had all the fearsome charms of familiarity. While signaling danger, it actually helped tame a world that otherwise looked unsettling indeed.

As it happens, however, Soviet armies will never again threaten to plunge through the Fulda Gap [15]. The Warsaw Pact [16] is long gone, never to be revived, and Germany will remain a united powerhouse, not a divided land.  Argue as you will about whether the Russians or Putin are “evil,” one thing is certain, there is no “empire [17]” to go with it.  President Obama was on the mark recently when he referred to Putin’s Russia as a “regional power [18]” and not a superpower at all.  Not even close.  If anything, it’s a country that, thanks to NATO, the U.S., and the European Union, already had its back to the wall, with its former “satellites” long ago stripped away, and Ukraine looking like it was about to go, too.  (After all, an American diplomat, talking tough [19], was secretly recorded seemingly sorting out [20] a future Ukrainian government with the local American ambassador!)

Russia may not even quite be a regional powerhouse.  Its economy is shaky [21] and, unlike the Soviet Union, it is now largely an oil and gas state [22] and, worse yet, its energy reserves are expected to be in decline [23] in future decades.

A Planet for the Taking

So, no, Virginia, Flight 370 was not commandeered by aliens and Vladimir Putin is not Joseph Stalin’s [24] younger brother. The U.S. is not in a new Cold War, its troops do not stand in any danger of going toe-to-toe with Russian invaders, and a two-superpower world is dead and buried, but so, it seems, is a one superpower world [25].  History is a powerful tool, but sometimes when lost stories and old scripts dominate the headlines, it’s worth asking whether, behind the scrim of the familiar and the empty, there might not lurk an unnerving world, a new age that no one cares to focus on.

As with a magician, sometimes you have to look where he isn’t pointing to catch sight of reality.  With that in mind, I’d like to nominate British journalist Patrick Cockburn for a prize.  In the midst of the recent headlines, in the most important article no one noticed [26], he pointed out something genuinely unnerving about our world.

Yes, we’re all aware that the U.S. invasion of Iraq didn’t exactly work out as planned and that Afghanistan has been a nearly 13-year disaster, even though the U.S. faced the most ragtag of minority insurgencies in both places.  What, however, about the monumental struggle that used to be called the Global War on Terror? After all, we got Osama bin Laden [27]. It took a while, but SEAL Team 6 shot him down in his hideout in Pakistan. And for years, thanks to the CIA’s drone assassination campaigns in the Pakistani tribal borderlands, Yemen, and Somalia (as well as a full scale hunter-killer operation [28] in Iraq while we were still occupying that country), we’ve been told that endless key [29] al-Qaeda “lieutenants [30]” have been sent to their deaths and that al-Qaeda in Afghanistan has been reduced to 50-100 members [31].

Yet Cockburn concludes: “Twelve years after the ‘war on terror’ was launched it has visibly failed and al-Qaeda-type jihadis, once confined to a few camps in Afghanistan, today rule whole provinces in the heart of the Middle East.”  Look across that region today and from Pakistan to Libya, you see the rise, not the fall, of jihadis of every type.  In Syria and parts of Iraq, groups that have associated themselves with al-Qaeda now have a controlling military presence in territories the size of, as Cockburn points out, Great Britain.  He calls al-Qaeda’s recent rise as the jihadi brand name of choice and the failure of the U.S. campaign against it “perhaps the most extraordinary development of the 21st century.”  And that, unlike the claims we've been hearing at the top of the news for weeks now, might not be an exaggeration.

Looked at another way, despite what had just happened to the Pentagon and those towers in New York, on September 12, 2001, the globe’s “sole superpower” had remarkably few enemies [32].  Small numbers of jihadis scattered mostly in the backlands of the planet and centered in an impoverished, decimated country -- Afghanistan -- with the most retro regime on Earth.  There were, in addition, three rickety “rogue states” (North Korea, Iraq, and Iran) singled out for enemy status but incapable of harming the U.S., and that was that.

The world, as Dick Cheney & Co. took for granted [33], looked ready to be dominated by the only (angry) hyperpower left after centuries of imperial rivalry.  The U.S. military, its technological capability unrivaled by any state or possible grouping of states, was to be let loose [34] to bring the Greater Middle East to heel in a decisive way.  Between that regular military and para-militarizing intelligence agencies, the planet was to be scoured of enemies, the “swamp drained [35]” in up to 60 countries [36].  The result would be a Pax Americana in the Middle East, and perhaps even globally, into the distant future.  It was to be legendary.  And no method -- not torture, abuse, kidnapping, the creation of “black sites,” detention without charges, assassination, the creation of secret law, or surveillance on a previously unimaginable scale -- was to be left out of the toolkit used to birth this new all-American planet.  The “gloves [37]” were to be taken off in a big way.

Thirteen years later, those plans, those dreams are down the drain. The Greater Middle East is in chaos. The U.S. seems incapable of intervening in a meaningful way just about anywhere on Earth despite the fact that its military remains unchallenged on a global level.  It’s little short of mind-blowing.  And it couldn’t have been more unexpected for those in power in Washington and perhaps for Americans generally. This is perhaps why, despite changing American attitudes on interventions [38] and future involvement [39] abroad, it’s been so hard to take in, so little focused upon here -- even in the bogus, politicized discussions [40] of American “strength” and “weakness [41]” which circle around the latest Russian events, as they had previously around the crises in Iran and Syria.

Somehow, with what in any age would have seemed like a classic winning hand, Washington never put a card on that “table [42]” (on which all “options [43]” were always being kept open [44]) that wasn’t trumped. Events in Ukraine and the Crimea seem to be part of this.

The Chinese had an evocative phrase for times of dynastic collapse: “chaos under heaven.”  Moments when it seems as if the planet itself is shifting on its axis don’t come often, but they may indeed feel like chaos under heaven -- an increasingly apt phrase for a world in which no country seems to exert much control, tensions are rising in hard to identify ways, and the very climate [45], the very habitability of the planet is increasingly at risk [46].

When The Losers Are The Winners

Even in a losing game, there are usually winners.  One of the conundrums of this particular moment, however, is that the winners in our American world are exactly those who have repeatedly been playing the losing hands.  Their reward for one self-defined disaster after another has been yet more money, yet wider areas of everyday life to control, and yet more power [47].  No matter how inept they may prove as imperial players on a world stage, they can essentially do no wrong domestically when it comes to embedding themselves ever more deeply in our lives in the name of our "security" and our "safety."  It’s a remarkable tale.  Legendary, one might almost say.  As the power of American power to accomplish seemingly anything fades, the power of the national security state only grows.

It’s true that, in the wake of the Edward Snowden revelations, the managers of our secret state have had to pull back in a few areas -- especially the gathering and holding of phone metadata for the complete U.S. population.  But the significance of this is easy to exaggerate.  It’s worth remembering that in the wake of the Watergate era, the last time we went through a round of “reforms” of an out-of-control secret world, the national security state somehow ended up with its own secret court system and secret body of law [48] to which all citizens became accountable even though they could know nothing about it.  Four decades later, in a situation in which that secret state is so much stronger, such reforms may once again turn out only to enhance its power [49].

It’s true as well that the CIA has had to pull back on some of the methods it used to such disastrous effect after 9/11, in particular closing those "black sites [50]" it set up (though some may still exist, possibly in Somalia [51] and perhaps on U.S. naval ships [52]) and on the use of torture. Nonetheless, the recent spectacle of the Agency’s attack on Senator Dianne Feinstein and the staff of the Senate Intelligence Committee over a still-secret 6,300 page critical report on its Bush-era torture and black site programs should be instructive.  After all, Feinstein has made her reputation, in part, as the senator from the national security state.  She has typicallysupported [53] the NSA’s secret programs as well as those of other intelligence outfits, straight down the line. There has perhaps been no one more sympathetic among Democratic representatives in Congress.

On a single issue, a single set of programs by a single agency, however, she chose to differ and offer genuine criticism. You might think that, under the circumstances, she would still be handled by the secret state with kid gloves.  Instead, the CIA referred [54] her committee staff to the Justice Department for possible crimes, while she was attacked [55] as if she were the Great Satan and finally driven to the Senate floor to denounce [56] the CIA for potential criminal acts and infringing the Constitution. Even the president [57] didn’t come to her aid.

Think of this as a reasonable yardstick for measuring the real power relations between Washington’s official overseers and those who are supposed to be overseen.

Think of the overseen as now negotiating from a position of significant strength the details of their future benefits package.  And we can count on one thing: whatever changes are made, they will be largely cosmetic.  The many parts of America’s growing shadow government [47] -- secret law, secret surveillance, secret power, and the secret state -- are here to stay.

From the 9/11 attacks on, that secret state and the militarized world of Washington that goes with it have shown themselves, even by their own standards, woefully incapable of handling a new and puzzling world.  Their actions have repeatedly undermined the usual sort of imperial control, instead facilitating spreading chaos [58].  Post-9/11, they have had a remarkable knack for creating not just blowback -- the CIA term of tradecraft that scholar Chalmers Johnson put into [59] our vocabulary -- but something for which we have no word.  Think of it perhaps as just the “blow” part of that term.

The orderliness of secret power in Washington and chaos under heaven, the growth of a police state and a planet run riot, turn out to be two sides of the same coin.  If you want a news story that will glue eyes, then think of it this way: on September 12, 2001, the national security state entered the cockpit of (to modernize a phrase) the plane of state, hijacked it, and steered it directly for the Bermuda Triangle -- and here was the strangest thing of all: no one even noticed.

[1] http://www.tomdispatch.com/
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/tom-engelhardt
[3] http://tomdispatch.us2.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=6cb39ff0b1f670c349f828c73&id=1e41682ade
[4] http://abcnews.go.com/WNT/video/mystery-flight-370-us-helping-investigation-23121894
[5] http://thedailyshow.cc.com/full-episodes/wi0xs9/march-24--2014---arianna-huffington
[6] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lost_%28TV_series%29
[7] http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2023266670_mudslidesundayxml.html
[8] http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/30/opinion/sunday/egan-at-home-when-the-earth-moves.html
[9] http://www.climatestorytellers.org/stories/subhankar-banerjee-climate-impasse-appetite-substitutes/
[10] http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2014/03/27/poll-half-of-americans-see-another-cold-war-coming/
[11] http://www.npr.org/2014/03/19/291475105/tumult-in-crimea-has-some-fearing-a-cold-war-redux
[12] http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/03/23/putin-s-dream-of-empire-doesn-t-stop-at-crimea-or-even-ukraine.html
[13] http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Peace/2014/03/18/Putin-four-invasions
[14] https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2014/03/28/us-takes-break-condemning-tyranny-celebrate-obamas-visit-saudi-arabia/
[15] http://articles.latimes.com/1987-03-01/news/mn-6926_1_fulda-gap
[16] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marwan-bishara/the-cold-war-is-not-back_b_5035522.html
[17] http://voicesofdemocracy.umd.edu/reagan-evil-empire-speech-text/
[18] http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/26/world/europe/hague-summit-focuses-on-preventing-trafficking-of-nuclear-materials.html
[19] http://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2014/feb/07/eu-us-diplomat-victoria-nuland-phonecall-leaked-video
[20] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-26079957
[21] http://www.cnbc.com/id/101529541
[22] http://www.eia.gov/countries/cab.cfm?fips=rs
[23] http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-12-13/russia-at-risk-from-dwindling-oil-reserves-european-bank-says.html
[24] http://www.politico.com/blogs/politico-live/2014/03/rogers-putin-wakes-up-thinking-of-stalin-185567.html
[25] http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175813/tomgram%3A_engelhardt%2C_a_new_world_order/
[26] http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/alqaida-the-second-act-9195455.html
[27] http://www.tomdispatch.com/archive/175388/engelhardt_Osama_dead_and_alive
[28] http://www.nationaljournal.com/magazine/mcchrystal-a-warrior-undone-20100626
[29] http://articles.latimes.com/2011/jun/05/world/la-fg-pakistan-qaeda-leader-20110605
[30] http://www.ndtv.com/article/world/us-confident-of-killing-top-al-qaeda-strategist-227775
[31] http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2010/06/cia-at-most-50100-al-qaeda-in-afghanistan/
[32] http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175191/tomgram%3A_turse_and_engelhardt,_shooting_gnats_with_a_machine_gun/
[33] http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175336/tomgram%3A_engelhardt,_war_is_a_drug/
[34] http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/101850/engelhardt_bush%27s_faith
[35] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/1357781/US-asks-Nato-for-help-in-draining-the-swamp-of-global-terrorism.html
[36] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/1547561.stm
[37] http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/63903/
[38] http://www.gallup.com/poll/167471/americans-view-afghanistan-war-mistake.aspx
[39] http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/07/world/americans-skeptical-of-involvement-in-foreign-conflicts-poll-finds.html
[40] http://www.cbsnews.com/news/ukraine-crisis-republicans-say-weak-obama-policy-encouraged-russia-to-invade/
[41] http://www.businessweek.com/news/2014-03-27/putin-saw-obama-weakness-in-cut-of-his-jib-republican-says
[42] http://washington.cbslocal.com/2013/03/20/obama-all-options-are-on-the-table-with-iran/
[43] http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2014/03/john-kerry-all-options-on-the-table-to-hold-russia-accountable-in-ukraine/
[44] http://www.usatoday.com/story/theoval/2013/05/29/obama-syria-pentagon-daily-beast/2368669/
[45] http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/mar/31/climate-change-threat-food-security-humankind
[46] http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175825/tomgram%3A_michael_klare%2C_shooting_up_on_big_energy/
[47] http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175809/tomgram:_engelhardt,_thug_state_u.s.a.
[48] http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/07/us/in-secret-court-vastly-broadens-powers-of-nsa.html
[49] http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/mar/29/surveillance-reform-whats-not-in-new-nsa-laws
[50] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2009/jan/23/secret-prisons-closure-obama-cia
[51] http://www.thenation.com/article/161936/cias-secret-sites-somalia
[52] http://www.npr.org/blogs/parallels/2013/10/07/230096048/heres-why-the-navy-is-holding-a-terror-suspect-at-sea
[53] http://articles.latimes.com/2014/feb/19/news/la-pn-feinstein-nsa-foreign-policy-20140219
[54] http://www.thewire.com/politics/2014/03/feinstein-rails-against-cia-intimidation-defining-moment-oversight/359047/
[55] http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/12/us/cia-accused-of-illegally-searching-computers-used-by-senate-committee.html
[56] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/11/dianne-feinstein-cia-senate-statement-full-text
[57] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/12/obama-feinstein-cia-dispute-distance
[58] http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175714/nick_turse_blowback_central
[59] http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175578/best_of_tomdispatch%3A_chalmers_johnson,_the_cia_and_a_blowback_world/

US Supreme Court strikes down limits on political contributions

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The United States Supreme Court on Wednesday struck down a key provision of the 1974 Federal Election Campaign Act, a post-Watergate law that limits the aggregate amount one person can donate to federal political campaigns during each two-year election cycle.

Chief Justice John Roberts authored McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, joined by Associate Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy and Samuel Alito, overturning the 1976 decision in Buckley v. Valeo that upheld the same provision. The ruling, which goes into effect before the end of the month, removes the $123,000 limit in time for wealthy donors to pour hundreds of millions into the 2014 midterm elections.

Associate Justice Clarence Thomas provided the necessary fifth vote for striking down the law, writing separately to emphasize his view that all restraints on campaign finance should be eliminated.

In issuing its ruling, the Supreme Court reversed a federal district court that had upheld Buckley v. Valeo and ruled against the plaintiffs.

The case was staged by the Republican National Committee, Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, and a wealthy Alabama donor, Shaun McCutcheon. It was widely anticipated that the right-wing majority on the court would use the case to expand its efforts to remove all legal hindrances to oligarchic rule in America.

In 2010, the same five justices decided Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, striking down another provision of federal election law and ruling that for-profit corporations are “persons” with free-speech rights to donate money to the supposedly “independent” committees, so-called “super PACs,” that finance advertisements promoting or opposing candidates for public office.

In 2011, the same five justices struck down an Arizona law that provided matching funds to candidates who run against better financed opponents, claiming that the state’s effort to “level the playing field” interfered with the free speech rights of those making donations.

Last summer, the same five justices gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1964, freeing state and local officials in historically discriminatory jurisdictions throughout the United States from “preclearance” rules, effectively giving them unfettered power to dilute votes through gerrymandering and suppress voting altogether, through voter ID laws, limits on early voting and similar measures.

What is particularly striking in yesterday’s ruling is Roberts’ open defense of oligarchy, the concentration of political power in the hands of the super-rich. Roberts rests his ruling on a false analogy between political contributions by wealthy donors and core political activities that should be protected by the free speech clause of the First Amendment to the US Constitution. In the process, he dismisses all concerns over bribes channeled to elected officials under the guise of campaign contributions and the ability of the financial and corporate elite to massively influence elections and further vitiate whatever remains of their democratic content.

“Many people,” according to Roberts, “would be delighted to see fewer television commercials touting a candidate’s accomplishments or disparaging an opponent’s character. Money in politics may at times seem repugnant to some, but so too does much of what the First Amendment vigorously protects. If the First Amendment protects flag burning, funeral protests, and Nazi parades—despite the profound offense such spectacles cause—it surely protects political campaign speech despite popular opposition.”

Freedom of expression, especially political dissent, is a core democratic right. What most people find “repugnant” about large campaign contributions, however, is not the resulting plethora of political advertisements that saturate commercial television and radio during election cycles, as disgusting as that may be. What people find repugnant is the ever growing political influence of the very wealthy over elected officials—in a political system supposedly built on the core democratic principle of “one person, one vote.”

The Supreme Court ruled in 1976 that preventing super-rich donors from buying undue political influence through campaign contributions justified aggregate contribution limits under the rubric of combating “the appearance of corruption.” Now, however, that rationale has been declared an infringement of the big donors’ rights to “free speech.”

In McCutcheon, for the first time, the Supreme Court announced that campaign contribution limits must be targeted directly to “‘quid pro quo’ corruption,” which Roberts describes as “a direct exchange of an official act for money,” in other words, open bribery.

Embracing the interests of the oligarchs, who seek a government “of the rich, by the rich and for the rich,” Roberts added: “We have said that government regulation may not target the general gratitude a candidate may feel toward those who support him or his allies, or the political access such support may afford.” Spelling out his defense of de facto rule by the rich in even more blunt language, Roberts continued, “The possibility that an individual who spends large sums may garner ‘influence over or access to’ elected officials or political parties” cannot justify limitations on campaign contributions.

Summing up, Roberts wrote that “the concept that government may restrict the speech of some elements of our society”—that is, limit campaign contributions—“in order to enhance the relative voice of others”—meaning the vast majority of people, who do not have hundreds of thousands of dollars to pour into political campaigns every year in exchange for “gratitude” and “political access”—“is wholly foreign to the First Amendment.”

Associate Justice Stephen Breyer’s dissent, joined by the other three moderates, Associate Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, reflects a growing concern among elements in the ruling class over the implications of the unprecedented concentration of wealth and the political influence of the small minority that controls it.

“Where enough money calls the tune, the general public will not be heard,” Breyer wrote. That “can lead the public to believe that its efforts to communicate with its representatives or to help sway public opinion have little purpose. And a cynical public can lose interest in political participation altogether,” he added.

Breyer refers to “political participation” within the two-party capitalist system. His reference to a “cynical public” reflects a wider concern that certain layers of the working population will draw revolutionary conclusions from their lack of political influence within the decaying institutions of bourgeois democracy.

Roberts’ opinion leaves standing the “base limit” on what an individual can contribute to a specific campaign or political committee, currently $2,600 per candidate per election. In fact, the complaint in McCutcheon was crafted to leave that aspect of campaign finance law out of the controversy.

There is nothing about Roberts’ reasoning, however, and the Supreme Court’s broad endorsement of the “right” of the wealthy to purchase “gratitude” and “access” through political contributions to elected officials and candidates, that does not apply equally to striking down base limits as well.

CIA torture and the threat of dictatorship

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Only one conclusion can be drawn from the report published in the Washington Post Tuesday giving grisly details of CIA torture of prisoners and systematic lying by government officials to cover it up: the US ruling elite as a whole is guilty of war crimes for which it must be held accountable.

The Post report, based on leaks from unnamed “US officials,” describes the findings of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s investigation into the operation of CIA “black sites”—the secret prisons in Afghanistan, Poland, Romania, Thailand and other countries where prisoners were held for “interrogation,” i.e., waterboarding, sleep deprivation, beatings, stress positions, induced hypothermia and other forms of torture.

The article provides only a brief extract of the material compiled in the massive committee report, which the CIA has been fighting for more than a year to suppress. On Thursday, the Senate committee is expected to vote to seek the declassification and publication of a 400-page executive summary.

The bulk of the report, which runs to 6,300 pages, is never to be made public, according to both Democrats and Republicans on the Senate panel. The Post article describes its text as divided into three volumes, one giving a full chronology of the secret interrogations, a second contrasting what CIA officials said about the program with what they knew was really happening, and a third giving a detailed accounting of nearly all of the roughly 100 prisoners held at “black sites” between 2002 and 2006.

According to a McClatchy News Service follow-up to the Post report, more than half of the 100 prisoners were subjected to some form of torture, and as many as five died during interrogation. These included Gul Rahman, who died of hypothermia after being doused with freezing water and then left in a cold cell with only a scrap of clothing, and Manadal al Jamadi, who died after his head was wrapped in a plastic bag and he was hung on a wall crucifixion-style.

What the report describes is not “excess” or the actions of “rogue” individuals, but a systematic, organized, fully authorized program, endorsed by President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. The cover-up, in turn, continues to this day, with the active involvement of the Obama administration, implicating top officials up to and including the president. Directly involved is CIA Director John Brennan—a former top aide in the Obama White House and official in the Bush administration.

After initial reports of the torture program began to surface, despite the best efforts of the American media to cover it up, the Bush administration officially declared it over. The prisoners in CIA cells were transferred either to Guantanamo or to the prisons and torture chambers of their countries of origin (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, etc.).

Obama ordered an end to waterboarding and other forms of torture in 2009, while blocking any prosecution of the agents and officials responsible for the torture program. This was part of a shift in tactics against suspected Islamist militants, from detention and interrogation to extermination by drone-fired missile.

All these methods of state brutality and murder are illegal under international law and the Geneva Conventions, as well as in violation of the US Constitution and laws prohibiting torture and assassination. These are not blemishes on an otherwise healthy military-intelligence apparatus, but the products of a depraved and deeply criminal American ruling class.

The Washington political establishment consists largely of those who have ordered murder and torture, those who facilitate, enable and cover up for murder and torture, and those who draft legal rationales and media apologias for the first two groups.

Overseeing this entire political apparatus is an intelligence agency that operates outside any legal constraint, a fact revealed by the systematic efforts of the CIA to block the release of the torture report. The agency went so far as to spy on the Senate Intelligence Committee itself, as revealed by committee chair Dianne Feinstein last month. Speaking on the floor of the Senate, Feinstein accused the agency of violating “the separation-of-powers principle embodied in the United State Constitution.” She further accused the CIA of violating “the Fourth Amendment, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, as well as Executive Order 12333, which prohibits the CIA from conducting domestic searches or surveillance.”

Feinstein went on to charge the CIA with attempting to intimidate her committee and override the principle of congressional oversight of the executive branch—implicitly accusing the CIA of attacking the constitutional foundations of the United States.

Feinstein is not a principled opponent of the crimes of the intelligence apparatus. She is among the most adamant defenders of the illegal surveillance of telecommunications and the Internet by the National Security Agency, as exposed by Edward Snowden. She has refused to elaborate on her criticism of the CIA since her Senate speech and collaborates closely with both the intelligence agencies and the Obama White House.

No different are the liberal “critics” of the NSA program within the Democratic Party, such as senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall, who sit on the Intelligence Committee. Both hailed the cosmetic changes to the NSA collection of telephone metadata announced last week by the Obama administration. They are concerned not that these police state methods threaten democratic rights, but that the Snowden exposures are generating a powerful and growing opposition from the American people.

No section of the American ruling elite will lift a finger to defend democratic rights. That is because their own class interests are at stake. The fundamental driving force of the police-state buildup is the colossal growth of social inequality. In the final analysis, a relative handful of multi-millionaires and billionaires can maintain their wealth and privileged position against the masses only through methods of political dictatorship and state repression.

Among the revelations contained in the Senate report is the fact that the CIA repeatedly lied about the results of the torture, falsely claiming that it produced information that prevented terrorist attacks. What then, is the real motivation behind the torture programs? It is the establishment of a system of illegal repression directed at all opposition to the policies of the American ruling class—above all, within the United States itself.

The defense of democratic rights, in the United States and every other country, depends on the political mobilization of the working class, the most powerful social force.