Occupy Protests, Imperialism, and Silence: Haven’t We Seen this Before?

Sunday in Oakland and yesterday in DC, protesters clashed with the police. In DC, they stood their ground and refused to move even though they were ordered to vacate the park. In Oakland, protestors moved to occupy a community center.  Even as they were being accused of breaking in, Oakland protesters challenged that assumption, insisting that the door was open. Whatever the details of the case, what an amazing tale this is, when the “people” are accused of trespassing by sitting in a public building. After all, it’s not called the “Mayor’s private palace”; it is called a “community center”—which means that it belongs to those that CH claims to represent: the people.  And yet, the police and the mayor Jean Quan, one of the founders of Asian American studies at UC Berkeley and who used to talk the good talk until her viability was threatened– believe that it is their just work to defend the 5% rather than the 95%, to arrest those who are less than “respectable,” namely because they did not take advantage of their positions in large financial institutions to bilk billions of dollars from pension funds and union savings plans. In fact, Mayor Quan now wants Occupy to disown the Oakland movement, while Oakland City Councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente accuses the Oakland protestors of domestic terrorism. What does it say about the moment in which we live that “respectable” citizens are those who steal regularly and legally by making the laws conform to their greed, while those who attempt to live by the rule of law that is laid down upon them by the–1%, the 2%, the 5%–are viewed as “domestic terrorists,”–as if they have violated the sanctity of private individuals rather than challenged the offices and institutions of the status quo?

Authoritarianism is hardly spontaneous. It’s set in motion by a series of events that have been in place way before the vivid moment when one realizes that one is living in the midst of complete surveillance, autocratic power, and the arbitrariness that enables one to be labeled a “terrorist.” The series of laws that I’ve discussed repeatedly–The USA Patriot Act, the 2006 Expansion of FISA which gives immunity to the telecomm industry for turning over private customer phone records, the 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, the 1996 Immigration Reform Act, the 2006 Military Commissions Act which clarified lawful from unlawful enemy combatants (!), and the latest, but certainly not the last, the NDAA which codifies the 2005 AUMF’s expansion of Presidential powers, giving the President to search for, detain, and yes–kill anyone, including US citizens–on suspicion of terrorism without ever having to show evidence–these have landed us in this surreal, but not unprecedented, moment: One can be named a terrorist for expressing—not a physical violence to one’s neighbors, friends, and countrymen—but a verbal violence—a dissent in the face of a state that demands immediate compliance.  In fact, the White House has said just this to OWS protestors: Anger is an indication of terrorist impulses. And Oakland Council Member Ignacio De La Fuente agreed.

Dissent is the worst form of threat that a disintegrating democracy must face: it must deal not only with the absence of obedience, but the vivid presence of contempt shown to it by person after person after person. None of these persons individually has the power to face down the state by herself; but when she in concert with her classmates, colleagues, friends, and neighbors realizes that the state has demanded all of a person—not only their physical obedience but their psychic commitment as well—then we know two things: 1. We are in the midst of a political vacuum in which the only power that will survive is one that will brook no bars to its existence. And the converse: 2. We will not be allowed to protest without severe damage to our physical and psychic presence.

In the midst of the struggle over power, as we’ve seen over centuries, one thing appears to be constant: Authoritarianism demands a long period of imperialism. And imperialism requires the consolidation of the political interests of the ruling class at home in order to buttress the force of invasions and imperialism abroad.  I am left wondering why the “Left” is as uninterested as it is in our overseas military pursuits during this, an election, year. Why the silence over the raw claim to aggression as evidenced in President Obama’s SOTU speech? A friend suggested that it was because “the Left is confused or uninterested in matters of national security.” I’m unwilling to believe that the Left is confused, but I’m also having trouble believing that the left is uninterested.

But then I read this:  In 1902, J.A. Hobson, an English liberal historian and economist, ruminated on the silence over the imperial battles that the English government was advancing, in India, all over the African continent, and elsewhere.

Although the new Imperialism had been bad business for the nation, it has been good business for certain classes and certain trades within the nation. The vast expenditure on armaments, the costly wars, the grave risks and embarrassments of foreign policy, the checks upon political and social reforms within Great Britain, though fraught with great injury to the nation, have served well the present business interests of certain industries and professions.
 
It is idle to meddle with politics unless we clearly recognize this central fact and understand what these sectional interests are which are the enemies of national safety and the commonwealth. We must put aside the merely sentimental diagnosis which explains wars or other national blunders by outbursts of patriotic animosity or errors of statecrafts.  (Hobson, Imperialism: A Study, 1902, 46-7)
 

Yesterday’s column by Glenn Greenwald, on the lies told by Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta about the power to assassinate US citizens, was nothing short of miraculous in its expression. It comes at a moment when the “Left” is high about the leaps it is making in combatting class warfare and authoritarianism through Occupy Movements, but remains silent on the one of the most terrifying threats to the liberties of dissenters, and even more terrifying to dissenters who are poor, dark, and unruly in their appearance, sexuality, gender and race.  This is not specifically a moment in which the lives of Muslim men is threatened: that threat has been vividly with us for at least a decade.  This is a moment when the lives of other dissenters will no longer be accommodated: Manning, Assange, Aafia Siddiqui, and yes–Dorli Rainey, veterans like Scott Olsen, and your college-going children and outraged next-door neighbors.

Unfortunately, Greenwald is as effective as if he were shouting at the ocean to turn back the tide, it seems, when he points to the repeated lies enunciated by the Administration in defense of its increasing grabs to central authority: to stalk, to frame, engage in surveillance, to declare who is a terrorist sans evidence, and ultimately, to kill in the name of national security:

But this is one of the towering, unanswerable hypocrisies of Democratic Party politics (Greenwald’s link). The very same faction that pretended for years to be so distraught by Bush’s mere eavesdropping on and detention of accused Terrorists without due process is now perfectly content to have their own President kill accused Terrorists without due process, even when those targeted are their fellow citizens: obviously a far more Draconian and permanent abuse than eavesdropping or detention (identically, the very same faction that objected to Bush’s radical whole-world-is-a-Battlefield theory now must embrace exactly that theory to justify how someone riding in a car, or sitting at home, or sleeping in his bed, in a country where no war is declared, is “on a battlefield” at the time the CIA ends his life).

Here is one of the most remarkable segments of CBS’ Scott Pelley’s interview with the Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta (I can’t get it to embed but you can click on the link).

http://cnettv.cnet.com/av/video/cbsnews/atlantis2/cbsnews_player_embed.swf

Check out this statement by Panetta (even non-analytic philosophers like me get the tautologies):

…[i]f someone is a citizen of the United States and is a terrorist who wants to attack our people, and kill Americans, in my book that person is a terrorist. And the reality is that under our laws that person is a terrorist. And we’re required under a process of law to be able to justify that despite the fact that this person may be a citizen, he is first and foremost a terrorist who threatens our people. And for that reason, we can establish a legal basis by which we can go after that person…Why? Because their goal is to kill our people…
 
 

As puzzling to me has been the simultaneous consolidation of progressives in outrage at the true parasites of capitalism and the silence of protest, indignance, or similar outrage at the blatant falsehoods articulated by the members of a Democratic administration such as Panetta, who insists that the assassination of Muslim men who are deemed “terrorists” is a cogent example of due process. As Panetta responded to journalist Scott Pelley’s repeated questioning about the lack of due process, about the absence of evidence for the charges of terrorism that were leveled against US citizen Anwar Al-Awlaki and several others: Due process is seen in the execution of the “legal” power that the President has in assassinating those who are terrorists.

 
 

Compare this moment today to the one Hobson describes in 1902:

 
Indeed, it has become a commonplace of history how Governments use national animosities, foreign wars and the glamour of empire-making, in order to bemuse the popular mind and divert rising sentiment against domestic abuses. The vested interests, which, on our analysis, are shown to be chief prompters of an imperialist policy, play for a double stake, seeking their private commercial and financial gains at the expense the peril of the commonwealth.  They at the same time protect their economic and political supremacy at home against movements of popular reform. (Hobson, 1902, 142)
 
 

The threat of the Occupy movements dovetail with the threat of the dissenters against Imperialism, assassinations, indefinite detention, and brute aggression in the face of disobedience to authoritarianism. It may be coincidental that NDAA was passed in the fall, in the wake of a very energetic and visible presence of a cross-section of protestors. NDAA may not in fact expand much in the way of powers that the AUMF didn’t already do. But it is interesting that the need for a renewed military budget (ostensibly what some analysts of NDAA tell us the bill is really about) can be justified in the face of explicit clauses that enable the possibility of holding citizens who “support” enemy groups and opens up the possibility of detaining US Citizens indefinitely as potential terrorists. As usual, the question about how to challenge this arises– when the right to a lawyer and habeas have been eliminated–through the USA PATRIOT Act and by practice and Court opinions for the last decade.

 

And so, as Occupy activist Maria Lewis points out,

…[T]he idea that reclaiming vacant abandoned buildings is terrorism is very retelling of the city’s priorities and of what the city—what the Oakland Police Department serves and protects. They are more interested in protecting abandoned private property than they are the people. And the idea that opening up a social center is terrorism is very telling of the narrative of the police state.

Very telling, indeed.

Guest Post: Robert Prasch, “The Economics of the SOTU”

Here is another guest column by economist Robert E. Prasch that translates several of the issues that President Obama raised during his SOTU the other night. It’s a clear, comprehensible, and calm discussion of manufacturing and jobs; taxes and offshoring of jobs; education and technology; and the banks and the bailouts.

 The Economics of the State of the Union Speech

By

Robert E. Prasch

President Obama was correct to focus the substantive parts of his speech on the economy.  Undoubtedly he is aware that his re-election prospects depend greatly upon the public’s satisfaction with the economy.  Since the Second World War, only Ronald Reagan has been reelected with the unemployment rate over 7% (it was 7.4% in November 1984, down from 10.8% two years earlier).  Thus far, at 8.4%, the current rate is off its highs, but those who have given up searching for work are responsible for too much of this “success.”  With his fairly modest stimulus plan largely over, banks sitting on money they won’t lend, consumers still overly indebted, and Europe in too much disarray to provide much of a market, there is some doubt about who will provide the spending necessary to drive a recovery.  Obama knows this, his advisors know this, his campaign people know this, and so do many of the people who heard or read his speech.

This, then, was the reason that the State of the Union Speech emphasized economics and economic policy.  However, to be candid, even if the President had free rein to enact a perfect economic policy tomorrow morning, the lags between action and result are such that it would probably not have much impact before Election Day.  To an important degree, the President has already (or not) set in motion the policies that will (or will not) set the economic conditions upon which he will ask to be re-elected.  If this were the only issue on hand this fall, he would likely be in trouble.  The race seems to be the Republicans to lose, but they appear to be up to the task.

But, that said, what can — or should — we make of the President’s assessment of his performance and the new programs he proposed?  In the interests of brevity, I will address four broad areas of the speech.

(1) Manufacturing Jobs in America.  The President made much of his “rescue” of the American automobile industry.  This was and remains an important industry and he was correct to bail it out.  However, one should be skeptical of the claim that these firms failed as a consequence of inefficiency and high labor costs.  On the contrary, their problems were not all that different from the banks.  General Motors, for example, was heavily dependent upon relatively short-term financing that ceased to be available when credit markets dried up as the financial crisis unfolded.  Worse, when people experience or anticipate a decline in income, they tend to postpone the purchase of “consumer durables” such as cars.  Unsurprisingly, this is exactly what occurred during the financial crisis and car sales duly plummeted.  By contrast, Ford Motor Company had the foresight to negotiate and pay for a substantial line of credit in 2006.  Its customers also disappeared with the onset of the crisis, and the firm reported losses of $2.7 billion in 2007 and $14.1 billion in 2008.  But its line of credit enabled it to survive.  GM and Chrysler failed.  But let us note that the ultimate cause of this failure was poor planning on the part of the front office.  Of course, following a time-honored script, labor was blamed and the Obama Administration forced the unions to reopen settled contracts and agree to large givebacks before signing off on government assistance.  You might recall that when the banks that actually caused the crisis needed massive federal support, Lawrence Summers explained to a shocked public that this aid would be granted without asking anything of senior management “because contracts are sacred.”  Summers did not elaborate, but it would appear that some contracts are more sacred than others.

(2) Taxes and the Offshoring of Jobs.  Undoubtedly this part of the speech played well.  But it was largely symbolic or meaningless.  A few exceptions aside, American corporations no longer pay enough in taxes for comparative rates to constitute the “make or break” element of the decision as to where to locate their production.  More important is the structure of “free trade” agreements, which are really agreements concerning the treatment of overseas investment, intellectual copyright, and financial flows.  During the 2008 primaries candidate Obama suggested that he would renegotiate a number of these proposals including NAFTA, but the campaign was soon forced to admit that had no intention of doing any such thing.  In fact, Obama is as passionate as George W. Bush and Bill Clinton in his support of these agreements.  This explains why he spent the early fall orchestrating the passage of three free trade agreements negotiated by George W. Bush (not exactly what one might call “hope and change”).

In Tuesday’s speech, the President had the audacity to suggest that these trade agreements would be net creators of jobs.  Ten minutes reflection and access to Google should be adequate to refute such a claim.  Before we start, let us recall that international trade that is balanced will only change the variety of goods available and the types of jobs we have.  To have more or better paying jobs requires a trade surplus.  Now, the chances of the U.S. running a trade surplus with South Korea over the next several years is very remote.  For one thing, the Koreans understand the link between their trade balance and the level of employment, and can be counted upon to protect their current surplus.  We, of course, will only attend to the interests of the financial sector, big agriculture, and the rentier interests behind TRIPS (trade-related intellectual property).  But, what of Columbia and Panama?  We have a trade deficit with Columbia that is likely much larger than the official tally as it does not account for the most valuable product traded — cocaine.  As to Panama, one might begin by reflecting on the fact that their Gross Domestic Product is larger than Vermont’s but smaller than Rhode Island’s.  Even if we were to run a trade surplus with Panama worth 20% of its GDP every year, it would (a) be hard for them to finance and thereby difficult to sustain over time, would (b) not amount to much anyway, and would (c) certainly not make a dent in our current economic doldrums.

(3) Education and Technology.  Classical and Neoclassical economists are known for their nostrum claiming that “supply creates its own demand.”  John Maynard Keynes famously taught us that when the economy is operating at less than full capacity the opposite is true.  Under such conditions “demand creates its own supply.”  Conservatives, of course, never liked Keynesian economics and for that reason have continued to champion “supply side economics” (For a criticism of this theory, read http://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/05/07-7).  Unfortunately, the Democrats have long championed their own notion of “supply side economics” and this is “education.”  While education is a wonderful thing in itself, and well worthy of public expenditure, Democrats are strangely committed to the demonstrably false belief that the problem of mass unemployment in the wake of a financial crisis is a mismatch or absence of skills.  This is simply untrue.  The millions who are currently unemployed are not a hopeless rabble lacking ability.  Far from it.  Americans who have become unemployed and underemployed in the course of this recession are generally a well-educated and talented group.  Moreover, even before the recession, about 30% of college graduates were working in positions that did not require a college degree.  Worse, for over a decade it has been well-known that American engineers are leaving their profession in disturbingly large numbers – suggesting that the supply of engineers has been persistently larger than the demand.  The problem, then, is not on the “supply side” of talented young people; it is on the “demand side.”  The United States simply does not demand a lot of talented young people in engineering, math, and the sciences.  This is, of course, in keeping with the fact that we have become something of a “casino economy” that has become dependent upon serial financial bubbles to spur employment while remaining unable (or unwilling) to develop a sustained capacity to build things that people here and abroad would actually like to buy.  The point is that an economy that grows at a brisk rate on the basis of sound innovation and production would require lots of talent, and profit-seeking firms would be willing to train that talent on the job.  Naturally, CEOs and Human Resources departments are always and everywhere anxious to have the government or employees shoulder the costs of training, but in periods of rapid growth and labor shortages they will be happy to pick up the tab – let us remember that the “Rosie the Riveters” that the President referred to in his speech learned their skills on the job.

(4) The Banks, Bailouts, and Financial Fraud.  The President claims that the nation will “never again” bail out large financial institutions.  To be blunt, this is very premature as many of the most important rules associated with the Dodd-Frank Act have yet to be written.  Moreover, even after this occurs, it will be unlikely to work as the core problem – the overarching economic and political influence of the largest of the Too Big To Fail banks has not been checked and the resolution authority supposed put in place simply isn’t credible.  President Obama and Timothy Geithner did have a marvelous opportunity in 2009 to do what all thinking adults understood had to be done – break up these large, inefficient, and terribly insolvent institutions.  Instead, they worked tirelessly to protect them both at that time and throughout the negotiations leading up to the signing of Dodd-Frank.  Jamie Dimon and his 1% friends should be very thankful for this stoic service.  Former OMB director Peter Orzag has already left the government to collect his portion of gratitude from Citibank, and it has just been announced that Geithner will soon be leaving government “service,” no doubt to settle into very green pastures at a major banking institution that he helped deregulate under Bill Clinton, bailed out when he was at the Fed, and protected from being broken up or substantially reregulated while with Obama.  He has been a true and valiant servant of the plutocracy and they owe him a very nice sinecure.

But, let us revisit the claim made in the speech.  No more bailouts?  The irony is that the Fed is continuing its ongoing bailouts even as the speech was being presented.  This can be affirmed with a glimpse at the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet.  Its enormous size, as they themselves explain, is a direct reflection of its ongoing, if indirect, bailout policy.  Large sums of next to free cash are being placed with the banks every business day.

Recently, Mitt Romney casually referred to the ongoing accounting games that allowed the banks to continue marking the failed loans on their books as if they were worth their full face-value.  Romney suggested that it was past time for the banks to recognize their losses and write down the value of these assets.  For once, he is correct.  Of course, such recognition would immediately being into question the capital adequacy of several of the nation’s largest banks, and return the public’s attention to questions concerning their solvency when the banks revisit the Fed or the Treasury for more bailout funds.  CEOs know that this would then induce more awkward questions around bonus time.  In sum, since it is an election year do not expect the Congress, the Fed, or the administration to reestablish anything like sound accounting practices, to say nothing of transparency, at our nation’s largest banks.

Finally, before closing, we should all applaud the beginnings of Obama’s commitment to investigate and actually penalize the fraud at the heart of the crisis.  But, one wants to know, why did we have to wait for three years after the election of “hope and change”?  Why was this not pursued soon after the new administration took office?  On September 17, 2004, more than three years before Obama took office, the F.B.I. publicly presented a report claiming that there was “an epidemic” of fraud in the mortgage industry, so it is very difficult to believe that the administration is only now discovering the existence of a problem.  So again, why now?  Is it because the administration is anxious to head off the more substantial investigations that have been initiated by the Attorney Generals of California, New York, and Nevada?  Let us hope that this is not the motive underlying this extremely belated proposal, but the timing induces one to wonder …

The State of the Union Speech 2012: Not My Reality

Before President Obama got elected, I used to look forward to hearing his comments and soundbites, even though I knew his politics were more neoliberal than liberal. I relished the fact that his comments tended to reflect a reality that dovetailed with mine, and rued that once he entered through that fence (wall?) that bordered the White House, his words would no longer reflect a reality that seemed familiar. Seems to happen to every person who enters the WH, whether as POTUS or as staffer.

And every year, well-before President Obama was elected, I would make it a point to be in a movie theater or in a cafe with no access to internet, so that I could enjoy the evening in which POTUS would deliver his State of the Union speech. Listening to POTUS speeches during the Clinton Presidency had always sent me reaching for the cough drops to soothe my outrage-ridden throat.  But this year, in my new-found vocation as a blogger, I decided to listen to the speech and take it seriously. Tweeting about it certainly makes the time go faster, as I discovered last night, and it is cathartic, since it allows me to remind myself of the fact that the POTUS’ speech diverges from my reality kind of like Disney’s Cinderella diverges from Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In.  President Obama is hardly unusual in this: every POTUS’ speech in my coming-of-age lifetime has diverged from any recognizable reality.

And so, I listened to the President boast about having assassinated Osama Bin Laden, having defended the Homeland from the illegal immigrants (“more boots on the border than ever before”) and still-looming terrorist threats, promise that every option regarding disarming Iran of nuclear weapons was on the table (patriotism as masculinity), insist that making government “leaner and meaner” would give people flexibility to help themselves (what part of massive unemployment and starvation did he not understand?), promise to work with Republicans to “reform entitlement,” pretend that he didn’t hand out bailouts to the banks by insisting that we not do that in the next term, promise to “open up” (eviscerate) 75% land for more natural resources and energy, insist that schools be able to reward the best teachers–not so bad until you hear the kicker: fire teachers who are “bad” (and will decisions about competence be made like decisions about the guilt of suspected terrorists? (Can you say “union-busting” and returning to the free market to “allow the best to rise”? Sounds a bit Ayn Randish to me), and ultimately, point to the “dangers and darkness” of the War on Terror lurking at our borders (dangers that have enabled the murder of hundreds of thousands of innocents), Michelle Obama and Jill Biden’s military employment program–135,000!!–for returning soldiers (with which skills, dare I ask? And these jobs aren’t provided. There are some folks that the Bidens talked to who have indicated interest in providing jobs in return for tax credits. Hardly a done deal), the increased expenditures for VA programs (and will these cover the extensive psychiatric and rehabilitative serves that veterans will need?).

This year, I opted for Scotch instead of cough drops. Then I listened to the proud defense of jingoism, which is apparently different from racism, according to Tim Wise:

And we will safeguard America’s own security against those who threaten our citizens, our friends, and our interests

And the salute to raw aggression:

All that mattered that day was the mission. No one thought about politics. No one thought about themselves. One of the young men involved in the raid later told me that he didn’t deserve credit for the mission. It only succeeded, he said, because every single member of that unit did their job — the pilot who landed the helicopter that spun out of control; the translator who kept others from entering the compound; the troops who separated the women and children from the fight; the SEALs who charged up the stairs.

And what a brilliant and liberal note POTUS ended on: The proudest moment: Winning the War on Terror, amounted to sending Navy Seals in to kill a foreign nationals, some time later, US citizens without due process. And his proudest possession from that trip, the flag that the Navy Seals took in with them? Otherwise known as the souvenir of the end of due process. And “No one thought about politics, no one thought about themselves…

More than that, the mission only succeeded because every member of that unit trusted each other – because you can’t charge up those stairs, into darkness and danger, unless you know that there’s someone behind you, watching your back.
 

And a bit later:

 
Those of us who’ve been sent here to serve can learn from the service of our troops. When you put on that uniform, it doesn’t matter if you’re black or white; Asian or Latino; conservative or liberal; rich or poor; gay or straight. When you’re marching into battle, you look out for the person next to you, or the mission fails. When you’re in the thick of the fight, you rise or fall as one unit, serving one Nation, leaving no one behind.
 

I wonder how the family and community who loved Danny Chen feel. You remember Danny Chen. He was the US Army Private who was beaten to death and the victim of racist bullying by the others who were supposed to be watching his back. But maybe it’s different in the Navy Seals: everyone watches each other’s back there.

More Scotch.  And I drank myself through the Mitch Daniels speech, which unlike Rachel Maddow, I liked quite a lot (I didn’t agree with any of it), but it sounded like a true-red Republican speech about fiscal conservatism, fighting terror, and making cuts in the social safety net (kind of like President Obama promising “reform of entitlement program.” See Sen. Bernie Sanders’ comments below). Familiar, conventional, pedestrian. Conservative. Republicanish. Not Neanderthal. But Conservative. Like Republicans who are not completely insane sound.

In between the MSNBC commentators, the WH paraded their gorgeous spokeswomen, Valerie Jarrett and Cecilia Munoz (remember when she defended the massive number of deportations under Obama?) to promote for the POTUS. I know, I know. They’re shilling for the Prez. It’s an election year. I got it. But please, let’s not pretend that we’re listening to speeches that are more than remotely connected to facts, Rachel, Chris, and Ed.  When I listened to the commentators, I remembered why I refuse to watch TV during the SOTU speech annually. I often feel existentially and politically alienated in this country, but when I watched “Ed” (I don’t even know what his last name is) practically xxxxx xx xx xxxxx (is that rude to say? Sorry.) get very excited about the brilliance of Obama’s speech, and his insistence about how we “needed to pull together,” how Obama rightfully pointed out that we all need to fight terror in order to preserve our freedom and how uncontroversial his point is, I wanted to lose myself in Scotch shot #y+1 and fall asleep dreaming about a feminist Ryan Gosling.

These are liberals talking? According to a friend who knows my politics intimately, “Ed” is a much more progressive “liberal” than many of the talking heads on TV. Um, ok. Then, clearly, I’m not liberal. The “pride” at which liberals took in their POTUS in defending jingoistic policies, insist that xenophobia was an apt position for progressives to cheer, and insist that his “jobs program,” which is still inchoate, (though for reasons different from those mouthed by the Republicans) was chilling.

Patriotism (and I can never type this word anymore without instinctively  putting it in all-caps, since the only context in which I discuss Patriotism is the USA PATRIOT Act), is defined through the suppressing of evidence of Muslim detainees, as denying due process to foreign nationals, undocumented migrants, and suspected terrorists alike—and now with the passage of NDAA—to all US citizens who reside in the US or abroad), moving to suppress the UK in their attempt to obtain evidence regarding claims of former British nationals that they were tortured under United States captivity, attempts to prosecute innumerable US officials under the 1917 Espionage Act, the promise to drill away for more oil…

Bernie Sanders refreshed my belief in sanity again, when he pointed to Obama’s insistence that he worked closely with the Republicans to “reform entitlement programs.” And as Sen. Sanders pointed out, he was going to be candid and translate what O meant by “working with Republicans”” He was going to cut Social Security and Medicare. Um, duh.

But at least he promised us jobs. And he saved the automobile industry. Economics post on the SOTU coming soon.

More later. I need to drown my alienation in more Scotch or, failing that, in ice cream. Definitely not my reality.

Guest Post: Race, Conservatism and Economic Panic

The intense interest that folks have taken in this blog for the last few weeks has convinced me that people want to hear from a variety of progressive voices. To that end, today’s post is by economist Marcellus Andrews,* from whose writing I always learn and whose critical voice gives me hope.  Here are his thoughts on the economic future of US society during this year of the presidential election.

Race, Conservatism and Economic Panic

Marcellus Andrews
Department of Economics, Barnard College

The Republican presidential primary has been an entertaining, if ultimately baffling carnival from the perspective of an economist.  What we are witnessing is the collapse of conservatism as the governing principle of public life in the United States. It is collapsing under the pressure of economic panic – the collapse of the housing market, high and sustained long-term unemployment, falling real wages for most American workers, and the greatest degree of economic inequality in a century, among others.  This panic — born of the self-destruction of the Reagan program that led directly to the Lesser Depression of 2007-2009 and its aftermath has inspired the return of the racist and xenophobic politics of the 1990’s associated with the Republican capture of Congress [Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz has provided a superb, if depressing, analysis of how the Reagan program led directly to the crisis in a number of places, including his regular column, Unconventional Economic Wisdom].  Newt Gingrich’s heated rhetoric  about Obama as the “food stamp” president are the sullen insults of a failed political movement that has disgraced itself and ruined the nation.  Though Gingrich, with Bill Clinton’s help, ended “welfare as we know it” in the 1990’s, the political reflex of blaming the black and poor for the nation’s woes is always a sure way to win the votes of a portion of the Republican electorate, as demonstrated this past weekend in the South Carolina primary.

The collapse of the Reagan program means that the older white population of the US, which owns most of the nation’s wealth and forms the core of the Republican Party, has benefited from policies that threaten to cripple the American future.  But rather than think seriously about how to rebuild middle class capitalism in America – albeit along conservative lines – the Right has opted to double down on Reaganism and revisit all the old racist rants. Thomas Byrne Edsall’s reporting on the racial conflicts at the heart of conservative economic policy in his books Chain Reaction: The Impact of Race, Rights and Taxes on American Politics and most recently The Age of Austerity: How Scarcity Will Remake American Politics demonstrate why this nasty but frequently unacknowledged fight over the racial distribution of income, wealth and opportunity across color lines could prevent the reform of American capitalism.  Edsall’s deep point – that all modern economic policy invariably involves the redistribution of economic resources and opportunity across color lines – is the key to understanding the otherwise irrational political economy of contemporary conservatism.

The next model of middle class American capitalism requires conservatives to abandon the quest to restore the Old White Republic as population trends transform the US into a genuine “rainbow” society without a racial majority. The people of this country know that the era of small government not only led to the financial crisis and crash, but that the government rescue of finance proves, beyond any doubt, the utility and necessity for a large role for very big and intrusive government on modern economic life.  Logic and evidence suggest that the important debate we face in this country is not whether the state should play a big role in economic life but what that role should be, for whose benefit, at what cost to whom.

The answer to that question is really very clear: government should pursue policies that maximize the economic wellbeing of the working majority by combining regulation, smart and progressive taxation and well thought through investments in the health, education and development of the citizens to promote genuine equal opportunity for all.  The substantive fight between left and right in this country should be over the nature of the mixed economy, not over whether we need a mixed economy.  What types of taxes do we need and how much should the total tax take rise to reduce our debt, pay for better schools, fixing our infrastructure and financing guaranteed health care for all?  How do we share the burden of higher taxes and changing priorities in ways that are both fair and efficient?  What is the balance between the needs of the young and the old in an economy that has save and invest more while consuming and borrowing less, all the while becoming smarter and fairer?

The American middle class has been and always will be the end point of government social engineering that insures that economic opportunity is available to all on the basis of effort and ambition, without regard to a family’s wealth, race, ethnicity, region or religion. Most middle class Americans are nowhere near rich enough to detach themselves from public goods or the many subtle middle class subsidies that form the basis of our odd welfare state.   Mass homeownership, the opportunity to attend college and guaranteed retirement benefits are all the result of government social engineering.  The entitlements so zealously and rightly defended by older whites against budget cuts – Social Security and Medicare – are financed by young workers who pay for the health care and retirement benefits of retirees.  Economic arithmetic tells us that the only way these benefits can exist is if workers produce so much that they can satisfy their own needs as consumers and parents while paying taxes for themselves and their children to attend good schools, buy homes, rely on decent roads and bridges, and pay the retirement benefits of their aging parents.

Basic arithmetic puts modern conservatism in a terrible bind given its racial commitments.  The Census Bureau estimates that the majority of children born in the United States from now on are more likely to be raised in black, Latino or Asian or interracial families than non-Latino white families.  In time, these children will be the talent pool from which the future labor force and military will emerge. The strategy of inequality  — low taxes, big budget deficits, a strangled and incompetent public sector — will insure that American workers are poorly educated, that the nation’s infrastructure remains broken and therefore that the nation’s intellectual and economic prowess as well as its productivity and competitiveness slips relative to the rest of the world. The pretense that our nation can restore its long-term economic health by savage cuts in education, public investment and the health of the young is economic folly. If the modern Right gets its way, the ever more diverse American labor force will be deprived of the skills and tools to join the ranks of the world’s most productive workers making the US an ever less prosperous and competent society.

Where is the rationalist business class that sees the need to repair the American economy and the social fabric in ways that extend markets and opportunity across all lines?  Where is the conservative reformer who sees the need to quietly engineer a divorce between racism and conservatism in favor of a robust, post-racial capitalism? Of course, those among us who hope for a just and decent society will work for a post-capitalist as well as post-racial society, but one would want practical business people to see that their alliance with racial conservatives is a losing proposition.



*Marcellus Andrews teaches economics at Barnard College, Columbia University, and is the author of The Political Economy of Hope and Fear. Andrews’ current book projects include Realism, Violence and Economic Order: Economic Analysis and the Problem of Justice and Economic Policy and the Decent Society.

Where is Their Refuge in This World?

Once they had left their homeland they remained homeless, once they had left their state they became stateless; once they had been deprived of their human rights they were rightless, the scum of the earth.” Hannah Arendt, Origins of Totalitarianism (1951), ch. 9.

I’m still troubled by many (white and non-white) progressives’ diffidence over U.S. foreign policy.  Besides some of the principled and humbling speeches of Dr. King this week, I reread selections from Hannah Arendt’s masterpiece, Origins of Totalitarianism (Origins), published in 1951. Arendt, a philosopher and a journalist, fled to France from Germany in 1933.  In France, besides working to assist other Jewish refugees, she was imprisoned in a concentration camp. Eventually, with the help of friends, she escaped. She made her way to the United States, where she taught at the New School and the University of Chicago. You may have read her series of searing critical articles on the trial of Adolph Eichmann, published in the New Yorker in 1961 (eventually published as a collection under the title, Eichmann in Jerusalem).

Origins is a sobering analysis that tries to make sense of how hundreds of thousands of Jews and other minorities could have gone from being seemingly secure in their political status as members of a nation to being—first—homeless, then stateless, then rightless.  As usual, I come back to Chapter 9, which is entitled, “The End of the Nation-State and the Declaration of the Rights of Man.”  Did I mention that Ch. 9 is brilliant? Please go read it.

“The soldier during the war is deprived of his right to life, the criminal of his right to freedom, all citizens during an emergency of their right to the pursuit of happiness, but nobody would ever claim that in any of these instances a loss of human rights has taken place.”

I disagree with Arendt about what citizens lose “during times of emergency.”  I don’t think it’s simply the “pursuit of happiness,” a la Alexis de Tocqueville. I agree with Katha Pollitt that civil rights (24:10)—the right to sit at a lunch counter, to be waited on, to vote, to move about without fear of assault, without fear of violence or rape, the right to reproductive health–are unconditionally important.

But I want to make two points here:

1. The right to sit at a lunch counter, to vote, to move about without fear of violence can’t be enjoyed when one is under aerial bombardment or being shot by soldiers. Or dead.

2. Civil rights are national rights, but they are not exclusively national rights. They are not merely rights based on membership.  Rather, they are human rights that should belong to every human being, regardless of nationality, that should be enforceable through the state.

These rights must be extended to migrants and residents living in the US, regardless of political status: the right to water, the right to schooling, the right to medical care, the right to walk down the street without fear of assault or racial profiling or being arrested. But the right to know why I am being arrested, being detained—the right to know the evidence against me, the right to a lawyer, the right to a trial based on Constitutional—aren’t these really human rights protections (Look at how similar these rights are to those listed in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights)?

I think Arendt wanted to distinguish the loss of civil rights from the loss of those rights that get to the heart of what it means to be human. We see something of this in the epigraph above and in the quotation below:

The first loss which the rightless suffered was the loss of their homes, and this meant the loss of the entire social texture into which they were born and in which they established for themselves a distinct place in the world…[t]he second loss…was the loss of government protection, and this did not imply just the loss of legal status in their own, but in all countries…By itself the loss of government protection is no more unprecedented than the loss of a home…The more the number of rightless people increased, the greater became the temptation to pay less attention to the deeds of the persecuting government than to the status of the persecuted.

Her words seem so urgent as I think about the indifference of US nationals to the continuation of war under the current Administration. This isn’t just jingoistic foreign policy, as anti-racist activist Tim Wise suggests. We can’t make a qualitative distinction between racism at home versus racist actions internationally. Wars—on terror, on Iraqi and Pakistani civilians, on the bodies of Muslim men (through torture, indefinite detention, solitary confinement), on MEMSA* families– is an assault, a violation of, the homes, the communities, the culture, the livelihood of millions of civilians. The loss of a physical home is mirrored by the existential loss of home.

Where is my refuge, my sanctuary, in this world?  Many of us asked as we felt that existential loss of home on September 11, 2001. We were devastated by the complete rupture in our sense of safety, the deep rent in our communities’ sense of permanence.

The women and men and children on whom we are waging war are asking that same question. The men and women migrants–in detention centers around the US for the simple crime of wanting to sustain their lives and families—ask that same question:  Where is my refuge in this world?  MEMSA’s, who are beaten, tortured, in detention centers around the country, ask that same question: Where is my sanctuary in this world?  Lakhmar Boumedienne, an Algerian relief worker detained in Guantanamo for 7 years before being released, wonders the same thing: where is my refuge in this world, where I did nothing wrong except commit the crime of being Muslim?

The right to live—for US citizens or nationals, for Pakistani, Iraqi, Afghan nationals is not—should not be–dispensable. Ditto Iran. The right to live a life free of terror, free of aerial bombardment, should be indispensable. The ability of children to grow up without fear of drone attacks, without fear of soldiers shooting: is this not a right?

Equally indispensable are the rights to one’s home, one’s culture, one’s social world, one’s status as a political being.  Should it not be an indispensable right to be recognized as a human being with dignity?  For Arendt, this could occur only when people were recognized in their political dimensions: as citizens of a nation. But without those political protections, human beings are seen, as Arendt says, as the scum of the earth.

It is not just US foreign policy that deprives human beings of these rights. Our domestic policies, including the NDAA, deprives us of these rights. Anti-immigrant laws in Arizona, Alabama, Georgia deprive us of these rights even when NO crimes have been committed: right to live without fear of arrest. The right to live with privacy. The right to water and electricity.  The right to hospital care. The right not to be detained. The right to live within our communities. If the world can recognize that these are human rights, why can’t we here in the US?

Why are we not outraged when our own President approves these violations of human dignity?  A few years ago, Judith Butler, a philosopher who has been critical of US policies over the last decade, asked why certain lives are more grievable than others. She points out that we have very few images, frames, stories to associate with the deaths of Iraqi or Palestinian (and, I might add, Pakistani) children. Is it because, as she suggests, their lives are “unreal?”  “If violence is done against those who are unreal, then, from the perspective of violence, it fails to injure or negate those whose lives are already negated.” (Precarious Life, ch. 2)

Are the lives of brown men, women, and children abroad unreal? Already negated? Can they be worth less than the lives of US nationals?  I wonder if this is why the victims of the War on Terror seem so negligible that there is no urge to have our politicians, pundits, progressives, political organizations, race-advocacy organizations insist on bringing those lives to the forefront for discussion?  Would Dr. King approve of our prioritizing the status quo of our privilege (and yes, I mean mine and yours)—black, white, brown—over the lives of children who don’t live here? Over the lives of men and women who don’t live here? Can we—as progressives and liberals and feminists and anti-racists—be that inhumane as we think about our political future as a society?

Where is their refuge in this world? Where is our refuge in this world?

______________________

*Muslim/Middle Eastern/South Asian

Progressives, Truth-telling, and Human Rights Issues

Revised version:

Thanks to Glenn Greenwald’s mentions of my Jan. 6 post on this site, and thanks to the readers who stopped by, as well as to those who left comments.  After watching the Greenwald-Pollitt bloggingheads clip that aired yesterday, my concerns from that post remain. I want to respond to a couple of points:

First, Greenwald asks for Pollitt’s response (19:24; Pollitt’s answer at 22:10) to my argument that the war on terror viscerally impacts men and women of color and their children. In fact, I argue that it has eviscerated significant segments of the Iraqi civilian population, the reproductive systems of women, and Afghan population, as well as citizens and foreign nationals who are Muslim/Middle Eastern/South Asian (MEMSA) in the United States. I insisted these were not insignificant side issues, and that progressives and Democrats have the privilege of not having to be affected by them.

Pollitt’s response: “If she is right, then Black people and people of color would be voting for Ron Paul in droves. Are they?” She clarifies that she said that “Leftish women and people of color” were silent, not that every person was silent. Fair enough to the second point. But to her first response—she assumes the very thing that is under question, namely whether folks –white or non-white—should vote for Paul.  I can be right without African-Americans or Latino Americans or other citizens of color deciding to vote for Ron Paul.  In fact, Ron Paul’s candidacy is a moot issue, and even if it weren’t, I do not  want to suggest that folks should vote for Ron Paul. What I would like, however, is to engage in some serious truth-telling of the variety that Arthur Brisbane and NYT might want to pursue one day:

President Obama didn’t offer a racist presidential campaign in 2008. But he did promise to expand the number of troops he sent to Afghanistan; he was on record as being against gay marriage; against the constitutional protections of privacy (signing up for the renewal of FISA while on the campaign trail, giving telecomm corporations immunity for collaborating with the government); in favor of the 2006 renewal of the USA Patriot Act (which he renewed again last year); in favor of the death penalty (although he wanted to reform it); in favor of immigration reform (on the order of a guest worker system), and in favor of closing Guantanamo (briefly creating the impression that he wanted to extend civilian trials to detainees), and in favor of the protection of reproductive rights–a promise that he’s broken.

Once in office, President Obama continued to send US troops to decimate Iraq and Afghanistan, even with a Democratic majority in the House and Senate until the mid-term elections. That is not a compromise; it is an assertive, decisive uncompromising action.  This Administration, the Department of Homeland Security worked actively to promote to deport nearly 400,000 migrants from the US annually for the past three years.* The claim that he is a feminist or liberal does not ring true when we examine the current President’s refusal to make the “morning after” pill available over the counter, or when we look at the abortion restrictions in the 2010 healthcare bill. The Healthcare program that was endorsed and passed under the current Administration is a spin-off of the Romney health-care plan in Massachusetts, and which includes a penalty against those citizens who are poor but not too poor.  These are not feminist acts. These are not anti-racist acts. These are not liberal acts.

I’m not sure that Pollitt understood the basis of my comments in my Jan. 6 post. My frustration emerged from what appears to be an accepted distinction between the rights of US nationals and those of “international Others.” Those Others include foreign nationals in our midst (from Gitmo detainees, the tortured, and undocumented migrants) and international populations who’ve been the victims of US-led wars. Not only does there appear to be divergence, but among progressives, there seems to be a prioritization of the rights of US nationals at the expense of international Others.

The war on terror, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (where we still have 15,000 “contractors”/troops), should be on every single feminist and liberal and progressive table where politics are being discussed (e.g., Democratic fundraisers, Occupy movements across the country, etc.).  The question of due process for US citizens (white, African American, Latinos or other populations), but also for foreign nationals are crucial—whether they are or aren’t MEMSA’s.

Civil protections such as due process, habeas corpus, the right to a trial, right against warrantless search and seizure, are not only political safeguards: they are protections for folks who are vulnerable to violence or exploitation. When such states or organizations can act against vulnerable populations (whether US minority communities or Muslim foreign nationals) by removing these, then the extinguishing of civil protections becomes a human rights issue—regardless of national borders.  If so, then we have moral—not just political—but moral obligations to international populations. Greenwald, describes a similar mandate from Martin Luther King’s 1967 “Beyond Vietnam” speech:

King notably added another reason why he felt compelled to prioritize issues of war: “another burden of responsibility was placed upon me in 1964; and I cannot forget that the Nobel Prize for Peace was also a commission.” As he put it: “ This is a calling that takes me beyond national allegiances.” (my emphasis) If only that award were similarly understood today. His essential point was that nothing good could possibly happen in America so long as it continued on its path of warfare and bombing and invading foreign countries, and it was therefore necessary to prioritize protests against the war on at least equal footing with every other issue.

Like Martin Luther King in 1967, I don’t think we can trade in the human rights of foreign nationals for the rights of US nationals (and lucky for us, under the current Administration, we don’t really have to make this choice anymore)—not without a seriously blighted conscience about the fates into which we force international Muslim populations.  I’m going to end this post with a quote from Hannah Arendt, one of my favorite philosophers, but I will talk about this division in a new post tomorrow.

Once they had left their homeland they remained homeless, once they had left their state they became stateless; once they had been deprived of their human rights they were rightless, the scum of the earth.” Hannah Arendt, Origins of Totalitarianism (1951), ch. 9.

*The earlier version of this post incorrectly reported 46,000 deportations of migrants. In fact, 46k represents the number of parental deportations of migrants who had US born children, from the six month period of Jan-June 2011, according to Seth Wessler, who reported the original story in Colorlines.

The Power of Arrogance: the US and the Terrorism Card

Besides marking the 10th anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo Bay, Wednesday was notable for the murder of an Iranian nuclear scientist, Mustafa Ahmadi-Roshan.  The NYT reported that, “The campaign, which experts believe is being carried out mainly by Israel, apparently claimed its latest victim on Wednesday when a bomb killed a 32-year-old nuclear scientist in Tehran’s morning rush hour.”

“Mainly by Israel.” Who else would help Israel…but the US, its closest ally?  Before I go on, just want to note here that the NYT reported it, which means that it is a fact that Israel (and a good probability that the US) murdered an Iranian national.  Why?  Because if the NYT is reporting it, it must have been confirmed by US and Israeli government officials.  We know that the NYT’s model of reportage, despite their claims to publish All the News That is Fit to Print, is more Pravda than Colorlines. We also know the NYT reports only what the US state approves for reporting (remember this? Scroll down to paragraph #9).

[NB: Here is a terrific sardonic analysis by Jay Rosen which I read after writing this post, which refers to a query of NYT readers by its Public Blog editor about whether the media should prioritize truth-telling! And here I worried that readers would decide I was a conspiracy theorist. I can’t even make this stuff up.]

Glenn Greenwald asks why, when a Saudi official is targeted for murder by Iranian agents, the US denounces that action as terrorism, but when the US and Israel are found to have collaborated on murdering an Iranian nuclear scientist, it’s called a covert or a targeted killing by most major media outlets.  Greenwald offered ample evidence of the double standards of the mainstream media (MSM) by pointing to clips from ABC News, AP, CNN, Washington Post, Council of Foreign Relations, and the US’ very own office of obfuscation, the Department of Justice, all of whom point to Iran’s actions in terms of terrorism, but find the Israeli/US hit to be merely a covert or targeted killing.

Why the double standard? The obvious, if too simple, answer is because the US has shifted from being an “superpower” to an Empire. And we know that Empires call the shots when they please, as they please, and how they please. And as importantly, Empires can choose which strategy they want to take: Shall “we” engage in direct brute violence and just kill folks en masse and openly (such as the German genocide of the Herero Tribe in Namibia)? Or should “we” codify our violence through the rule of law (such as the British massacre in Jallianwalla Bagh in 1919), and insist that it follows from the word of God, of Nature, or from an obvious consensus of “right-thinking” peoples in our midst at home and internationally?

Of course, Empires don’t have to choose. That is, after all, what it means to be an Empire. I mean, if Empires chose strategies, that might indicate that they were worried about public perceptions, backlash, or reprimands from other superpowers. As in the instances of Guantanamo, renditions, the National Security Entry –Exit System (NSEERS) (used to round up thousands of Muslim men residing in the states after 9/11), material support statutes which can retroactively name former allies as terrorists or terrorist organizations (PKK), the creation of enemy combatants, warrantless wiretapping, pre-emptive and indefinite detention of foreign nationals (and now, of US nationals)–ALL of these can be done under the aegis of the Rule of Law, while also engaging in overt and direct violence without a direct mandate, approval or review from Congress or the Courts.  We see this charade in the decision to attack Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, the assassination of Terrorist #1 Osama Bin Laden, the assassination of Terrorist #2, US national Anwar Al-Awlaki (see the absolute absence of evidence of Awlaki’s terrorist credentials even in response to repeated questioning by ABC News’ Jake Tapper. Tune in at 2:24), and the assassination of Roshan.  Now we hear increasing murmurs of an impending attack on Iran.

Again, I know it’s too trite and obvious to reiterate that these actions are all being done in the name of fighting the “War Against Terror,” but let me do so anyway.  I don’t think Greenwald goes far enough when he says,

the fact that Terrorism has no fixed meaning does not mean it is inconsequential. The opposite is true. Terrorism is one of the most consequential words in our political lexicon. The term designates Supreme, Unmitigated Evil. Once someone is successfully branded a Terrorist, it means that anything and everything can and should be done to them without constraints.

The advantage of being an Empire is that we codify the terms we like to use in ways that can be deployed against dissenters, agitators, or racial threats. And that’s precisely the beauty of the seeming ambiguity of the word “Terrorist.”

The most recent definition of “terrorism” according to US Code, Title 18, § 2331, states that

 
‘international terrorism’ means activities that involve violent acts or acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State, or that would be a criminal violation if committed within the jurisdiction of the United States or of any State

and

“appear to be intended to intimidate or coerce” civilian populations, influence government policies, affect government conduct, or “occur primarily outside the territorial jurisdiction of the United States, or transcend national boundaries in terms of the means by which they are accomplished, the persons they appear intended to intimidate or coerce, or the locale in which their perpetrators operate or seek asylum.”

If we substitute “Iran” for the United States in the above definition, it seems fairly easy to apply this definition to the assassination of Mustafa Ahmadi-Roshan. The definition of terrorism as a federal crime, as expressed a decade ago in the 2001 USA PATRIOT Act, was even less artful. Among other things, a terrorist act included injury or death of US nationals outside US boundaries (Sec 808). This definition might have repositioned the murder of Al-Awlaki in a starkly different light. Coincidentally, the PATRIOT Act doesn’t discuss the killing of US nationals outside the confines of the US….by the US.

Legal exegesis is probably best left to (progressive) lawyers, which I am not, and it’s fairly boring outside of a classroom or courtroom, so I’ll stop. But it seems that the definition of terrorism is a little less ambiguous than Greenwald suggests. As we have come to learn especially vividly in the last year, it’s not a terrorist act if a foreign national is murdered, and especially not if the US is doing the murdering.

In many ways, the Patriot Act is not “new” law. Its path was paved by any number of older laws, such as the the 1917 Espionage Act, Executive Order 9066 (signed by Pres. Roosevelt to authorize the internment of migrants and citizens of Japanese descent), 1978 FISA (defanged in 2008), and 1996 Anti-terrorist Act. The ability to circumvent judicial review for “aliens” is also found in various laws over the last decade and before. That circumvention was, again, paved by numerous older laws. See Daniel Kantstroom’s brilliant book, Deportation Nation, for a comprehensive, if turgid, list and discussion of laws that manage, regulated, and criminalized non-“Americans” since the late 1700’s. Nothing new, perhaps.

Still the Patriot Act, at least for those of us born in the last 50 years, felt like a game-changer in terms of highlighting ways to circumvent Constitutional safeguards under the auspices of “fighting” terror. “Terror” became the legalized name for newly visible racial threats (like Muslims, Arabs, Middle Easterners, South Asians), and of course, we know that the echo chamber called the MSM is very useful in furthering the State’s purposes by helping disseminate its propaganda with images, fear-mongering, heightened hysteria-turned cultural-status quo.

Now, let’s be clear: the notion of racial threats have been long associated with some US populations of color; the legalized names for long-standing racial threats (mostly African American men and women) have been articulated along the lines of violent offenders, murderers, rapists, drug addicts, prostitutes, etc.  So, the notion of constitutional reliability has never been a solid concept for the US black population. Today, the reliability of Constitutional rights evaporates for many more folks, some of whom previously depended on being able to slip into the “good” minority category (Legal scholar Karen Engle has an old but great piece on this).

Another (interesting?) point: the racial threat of terror has been conjoined with the threat of the undocumented. It’s not uncoincidental that the war on migrants has revved up within the discourse of the War on Terror. So, while terror was re-instituted in a legal definition in 2001, the war on the undocumented also dovetails with it through the language of “defending the Homeland” (Seriously? We’re resorting to Nazi terminology?), “our” borders, along with the usual nationalist trash about defending our liberty and way of life, etc. As is always the case with fear-mongering, the law eventually becomes invisible, expressed instead through popular and cultural discourses.

Greenwald’s point remains: Terror is an ambiguous term, but its use is anything but ambiguous: it’s a tool of the US Empire and its allies, deployed against those who go against the mainstream national grain either through their express actions (dissent or protest) or through their racial presence.

It is, as I’ve mentioned before, an Empire State of mind. The state’s response to the Occupy protests around the country stunned many people who had accepted the US line that violence is justly and exclusively directed against those who threaten our way of life. They were surprised to see the authoritarian hand of the state brought out in response to their middle-class college- or  law-school-going children, their professional-class neighbors, and even their grandparents. The passage of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), perhaps coincidentally, now legalizes the arrest of those same college students, professionals, and grandparents without cause. The arrest of your sweet liberal neighbors has been facilitated by the Patriot Act, but also by the expansions of FISA and the widespread collaboration of the telecommunication companies. Revolt, protest, dissent (whether by challenging the banks or by insistently living as an undocumented migrant in order to achieve…what?…political, economic, religious, sexual, security): these have been long-standing terrorist acts, but typically associated with visible racial threats. When your financially secure children, friends, neighbors are being targeted, that should be an important clue that those that the US Empire deems “terrorists” may be scapegoats or targets in a larger ideological struggle over the hearts and minds of Americans.  These random murders and promiscuous state violence are the consequence of unchecked arrogance couple with unrestrained power.

What’s the antidote to Empire? Unchecked arrogance–in the form of uninhibited state power–requires critical scrutiny, oversight and strict (i.e. not Bush-like) judicial accountability. If we have a state that insists that it knows best regardless of public outrage, then it’s time to jump off the righteous “war on terror” bandwagon.