'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Enemy is at Home (Part 2) 

From today's New York Times:

President Obama delivered an impassioned defense of his administration’s anti-terrorism policies on Thursday, reiterating his determination to close the prison at the Guantánamo Bay naval base in Cuba in the face of growing Congressional pressure and declaring that America will remain strong if it stands by its basic precepts.

The president said that what has gone on at Guantánamo for the past seven years has demonstrated an unjust, haphazard “ad hoc approach” that has undermined rather than strengthened America’s safety, and that moving its most dangerous inmates to the United States is both practical and in keeping with the country’s cherished ideals.

Moreover, he said that transferring some Guantánamo detainees to highly secure prisons in the United States would in no way endanger American security.

Speaking at the National Archives, which houses the Constitution and other documents embodying America’s system of government and justice, the president promised to work with Congress to develop a safe and fair system for dealing with a particularly thorny problem: what to do with those Guantánamo detainees who, for one reason or another, cannot be prosecuted in civilian or military courts “yet who pose a clear danger to the American people” and therefore cannot simply be released.

“I want to be honest: this is the toughest issue we will face,” the president said, pledging to help devise “clear, defensible and lawful standards for those who fall in this category,” meaning former Taliban commanders, Al Qaeda-trained explosives experts, acolytes of Osama bin Laden and others whose hatred of America is deep and uncompromising.

Imprisoning people indefinitely without charging them is generally contrary to principles of American justice, a reality that the American Civil Liberties Union alluded to after the president’s speech.

“We welcome President Obama’s stated commitment to the Constitution, the rule of law and the unequivocal rejection of torture,” said Anthony Romero, the A.C.L.U.’s executive director. “But unlike the president, we believe that continuing with the failed military commissions and creating a new system of indefinite detention without charge is inconsistent with the values that he expressed so eloquently at the National Archives today.”

President Obama said that, despite the evil intentions of some Guantánamo detainees and the undeniable fact that Al Qaeda terrorists are determined to attack America again, United States citizens should not feel uneasy about a relatively small number of detainees being imprisoned in the American homeland. “As we make these decisions, bear in mind the following fact: nobody has ever escaped from one of our federal supermax prisons, which hold hundreds of convicted terrorists,” the president said. “As Senator Lindsey Graham said: ‘The idea that we cannot find a place to securely house 250-plus detainees within the United States is not rational.’”

Yet again, we are being subjected to the same fear mongering that resulted in the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and may well embroil us in Pakistan and Iran, the same fear mongering that is enabling transnational financial institutions to loot the federal treasury, the same fear mongering that is empowering these same institutions to preside over a restructuring of the US economy solely for the benefit of capital. As I said on Tuesday, we are living through an extraordinary concentration of power within the Pentagon, the intelligence services, the police and Wall Street.

Again, the question that we must perpetually ask ourselves is: Why? I have always been wary of conspiracy theories, theories that have certainly proliferated since 9/11 and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. Life is not sufficiently linear to support such theories, except in rare instances. And I generally find Occam's Razor persuasive: The simplest explanation for a phenomenon is most likely the correct explanation.

As to the detainee policy, the simple explanation is that the people want it. Undoubtedly, no elected Democrat wants to find themselves subjected to harsh negative ads, reminiscent of Willie Horton, in their next campaign. But the people don't want the current economic and fiscal policies. Just before the bailout came to a vote in Congress last fall, representatives received calls 100 to 1 against. The stimulus plan encountered unexpectedly strong opposition. And that suggests a motivation beyond political pragmatism.

There is already a movement afoot to exploit the global recession, and the enormous deficit spending required to combat it, as a justification for reducing Medicare and Social Security benefits. There is also a belief, held by economically intelligent people like former Federal Reserve chair Paul Volcker and Financial Times journalist Martin Wolf, that Americans are going to have to accept a significantly reduced standard of living going forward. Furthermore, there is a recognition that many of the jobs lost during this recession are never going to return, with many of these losses concentrated within manufacturing, retail, finance and housing. Blue collar males are suffering the most after decades of stagnant to declining income.

Oh, and did I forget to mention that our troops are still in Iraq, and that more troops have been sent to Afghanistan? One soldier was so stressed out about his combat duty in Iraq that he went postal and killed 5 of his buddies. Doesn't sound like a prognosis for domestic tranquillity does it? Given that intelligence officials are already anxious about dystopian visions related to climate change, limited water supplies and pandemic illnesses, how do you think they are responding to the current economic downturn?

Well, for now, they are saying this:

Despite the recent financial volatility—which could end up accelerating many ongoing trends—we do not believe that we are headed towards a complete breakdown of the international system—as occurred in 1914-1918 when an earlier phase of globalization came to a halt. But, the next 20 years of transition to a new system are fraught with risks.

So, the next 20 years of transition to a new system are fraught with risks. Interesting. First of all, the fact that US intelligence is selecting the turbulence of World War I and the subsequent emergence of the Bolsheviks as a point of comparison is pretty disquieting. Second, we know the primary characteristic of this anticipated new system: a more voracious form of neoliberalism that results in a transfer of even more wealth from wage labor to capital, transfers from one country to another as well as transfers within countries. In other words, both intrinsic and extrinsic. Lastly, we also know that such transfers within the context of marginal to non-existent economic growth are not likely to be well received. With such knowledge, as an intelligence official, what would you advise the government to do in expectation of these developments? Precisely what Obama is now doing? Go to the head of the class.

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