S/SW blog philosophy -

I credit favorite writers and public opinion makers.

A lifelong Democrat, my comments on Congress, the judiciary and the presidency are regular features.

My observations and commentary are on people and events in politics that affect the USA or the rest of the world, and stand for the interests of peace, security and justice.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

War and Profit in a High Tech World

Oligarchy is what we are dealing with. It is more and more clear that the definition is a fit. It is a logical explanation for what has happened to the United States under the current administration. To quote from Merriam-Webster:
1: government by the few
2: a government in which a small group exercises control especially for corrupt and selfish purposes; also : a group exercising such control
Pairing the wars in the Middle East and certain influential sectors of the U.S. economy (information technology and energy), produces the perfect opportunity for war profiteering and erosion of citizen civil liberties when conflated with the so-called war on terror. Today's post is a re-examination to current U.S. trends reinforcing my earlier diagnosis of oligarchy as the root of the problem. (See list of earlier posts below). Quoting from my "Ranting and Raving on Business*" post in April of 2006:
When I pretend that I just arrived on earth in a space ship, this is what I see. Corporations, business interests, multinationals run the world. Big business owns too high a share of media outlets in the U.S. The business lobby has far too much influence over the legislative and executive branches of government. The development of a global economy has cost many American jobs. Business interests have been irresponsible with the environment. Tax cuts for the rich have become the hallmark of the current administration. It makes me want to get back in my space ship and leave."
"Defense and war contracting system out of control" -- I was reminded of this in an e-mail from fellow blogger "betmo," who was "cleaning out her inbox." To quote from her enclosure,"Ending War for Profit," by Katrina Vanden Heuvel:
. . . CEO pay is a symptom of a much broader problem - one that will only be addressed if we recognize that the entire defense and war contracting system is out of control.

“Companies like Halliburton/KBR and Blackwater are only the tip of the iceberg,” Anderson says. “We now have contractors conducting intelligence background checks, processing Freedom of Information Act Requests, writing the President’s daily brief, helping run prisons like Abu Ghraib, etc.”

After years of almost zero oversight, these broader questions are finally being examined - at least to a degree . . . It is a systemic problem for a democracy to link corporate profits and war-making, and it has metastasized as this war has been increasingly privatized (there are now more contractors than soldiers in Iraq). Good small-d democrats need to keep watch on current legislation, hold our representatives accountable and and demand that they take bolder action to bring this system to an end.
Another powerful female writer, Naomi Wolf, proposes an even stronger diagnosis than oligarchy, fascism. Peace Garden posted about her new book titled, "The End of America." The blogger includes a video appearance by Wolf and a quote from Alternet:
. . . provocative new book "The End of America" which talks about the parallels between the Bush Administration's tactics and those of fascist dictatorships of the last century.

The same language, images, manipulation that would-be despots have used in the past to break down existing democracies are being employed now. From Italy in the 1920s, Germany in the 1930s, and on and on, Wolf finds that all these despots do that same things. Mussolini created the blueprint, Hitler followed suit, Stalin studied Hitler and these methods just get passed down to the next generation of dictators throughout the world. Wolf has summarized their method is ten points:

1. Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy
2. Create a gulag
3. Develop a thug caste
4. Set up an internal surveillance system
5. Harass citizens' groups
6. Engage in arbitrary detention and release
7. Target key individuals
8. Control the press
9. Dissent equals treason
10. Suspend the rule of law

Wolf argues that all of these methods are underway in the United States right now.
"Fascistic" was also the word used by another of my very favorite bloggers, "cscs" at TPMCafe on 11/5/07. To quote from his "Privatized Spies:"
There's something creepy and fascistic seeping through John Ashcroft's NYT op/ed today.

. . . Throughout this whole warrantless wiretapping business, one area that I don't think has been explored enough is the way our government is relying on corporations to do their spy work. We see it here with AT&T's "communities of interest" programming code. And it's that same scent of fascism we smell when we see Blackwater SUVs roaming the streets of New Orleans.

Speaking of that scent, the best line of this whole article defending immunity for telecommunications companies -- Ashcroft repeatedly calls the idea of taking them to court, "unfair" -- was this, at the end:

"John Ashcroft was the United States attorney general from 2001 to 2005. He now heads a consulting firm that has telecommunications companies as clients."

Of course.

Thank goodness for the information we are gathering these days about how tangled the so-called war on terror, oligarchy and Fourth Amendment privacy rights have become. A crucial piece of the puzzle was contained in a very important post November 2, also at TPMCafe. Titled, National Security Mission Creeps: Forget Terrorists, Feds Want Hackers, the post reveals the apparent motivation behind the government's demands for customer telephone records that began even before 9/11/01. In Clemons' quote of a Shane Harris National Journal story the government's actions are very revealing. To quote Clemons:
Now, Shane Harris of National Journal has a huge story on the interaction between telecom firm Qwest and the National Security Agency in which the alleged reasons for the government wanting access to massive call records was not to chase down terrorists but to look for individual and foreign government computer network hackers.

. . . This is even more indication of the Orwellian realities that the Bush administration has foisted on America. I was talking to some conservative Republicans from Oklahoma, Nevada and Nebraska the other day -- and they are deeply ashamed of Bush and the fact that this happened under their own party's watch.
There is no reason why in cases of national security that the NSA could not have secured warrants for their requests from Qwest and other firms. They are engaging in Soviet style impunity.
The constitutional rights to privacy is a matter closely related to oligarchy in the Bush administration. Hat tip to Maud Newton for this -- The Register reports that there is "No email privacy rights under Constitution, US gov claims." To quote from the story:
On October 8, 2007, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati granted the government's request for a full-panel hearing in United States v. Warshak case centering on the right of privacy for stored electronic communications. At issue is whether the procedure whereby the government can subpoena stored copies of your email - similar to the way they could simply subpoena any physical mail sitting on your desk - is unconstitutionally broad.

This appears to be more than a mere argument in support of the constitutionality of a Congressional email privacy and access scheme. It represents what may be the fundamental governmental position on Constitutional email and electronic privacy - that there isn't any. What is important in this case is not the ultimate resolution of that narrow issue, but the position that the United States government is taking on the entire issue of electronic privacy. That position, if accepted, may mean that the government can read anybody's email at any time without a warrant.
In conclusion there is the Yahoo! China story. It belongs in this post because of the very ironic nature of this corporation's trouble with Congress. Over and over Congress has neglected its responsibility to uphold American civil liberties in the face of a wide variety of breaches of the law by the administration. When telecoms were asked to help spy on Americans, Quest refused but most other companies went along. Congress will probably grant them immunity from prosecution or lawsuit for that. But Members seemed outraged yesterday at Yahoo! for not protecting a Chinese dissident's privacy. Where are they when WE need them?! I quote from Yahoo's coverage of their own story:
A US congressional panel on Tuesday rejected Yahoo's defense for not providing full information over the jailing of a Chinese "cyber dissident," accusing the Internet giant of "negligent" and "deceptive" behavior.

Michael Callahan, Yahoo's executive vice president and general counsel, had apologized in a letter to the House of Representatives committee on foreign affairs, citing a misunderstanding for the incomplete information.

Tom Lantos, the panel's chairman, sharply rebuked Yahoo Tuesday for not providing full information in a congressional probe into the American company's role in landing Chinese journalist Shi Tao behind bars.

"Yahoo claims that this is just one big misunderstanding. Let me be clear -- this was no misunderstanding. This was inexcusably negligent behavior at best, and deliberately deceptive behavior at worst," Lantos said, according to a draft of his opening statement for a congressional hearing on the case Tuesday.

Previous S/SW posts on the subject of "oligarchy:"
  1. Independence Day round-up - 7/4/07
  2. Independence at risk - 7/4/06
  3. *Ranting and raving on business - 4/4/06
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