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Changing the culture by changing the focus

April 14, 2015 1 comment

I have been the head admin of the Facebook page Shit Troop Supporters Say since its founding a year ago today. I have a lot to reflect on. It has been an interesting year.

Occasionally I think it is mean picking on troop supporters. Calling out the average flag-waving support-muh-troops guy for not using logic or knowing history is like making fun of a five-year-old for not understanding quantum physics. (And of course some troop supporters do know those things, so it is best not to stereotype.) But then I remember five-year-olds aren’t the ones beating the drums of war, encouraging murder without trial and torture without evidence. They don’t support the police no matter what they do and then claim to believe in freedom. They don’t tell people they don’t deserve to live somewhere because those people were from the wrong part of the world and didn’t pay the fees, and then tell themselves they believe in freedom for all people. Neither do 5-year-olds refuse to learn the history of the regions and conflicts they are so sure someone needs to bomb. People who have taught millions of 5-year-olds to share and play nicely with each other are willing to lend their unconditional support for actions that cost them thousands of dollars and kill thousands of people who posed no harm to anyone.

Calling out the politicians, meanwhile, which is what troop supporters and liberals (not necessarily mutually exclusive categories, of course) tend to suggest, is a good catharsis but not much of a plan for change. I think focusing on politicians might merely reinforce the status quo. Voters often say they don’t trust any politicians, but when election day comes they nonetheless feel it necessary to cast their vote for someone they don’t trust. There are good reasons you can’t trust politicians and they are mostly related to the requirements for winning in politics.

People who say we just need to change politicians but not blame soldiers for signing up seem to have this fantasy of politicians who will not send the troops into harm’s way on principle. But politicians do not have principles. They have tools and they have enemies. Signing up to carry out their orders requires you to understand that.
One group that does not seem to receive enough focus might be those the politicians work for. It’s not you, by the way. They are much richer than you. The people at the top of the business world are the ones really benefiting. So why do people always talk about politicians? Because voting and complaining about politicians is a brilliant way to let the masses let off steam and keep their eyes on the wrong people, like yelling at a poster on your wall.

So Shit Troop Supporters Say looks at how the elite benefit, but we also look at what troop supporters say. Why? Because as a huge and assertive part of the population, troop supporters are the people unquestioningly believing, reproducing and thus legitimizing or making true the beliefs that keep the wars going. That means a big part of the culture is based on a nationalist-warrior mythos that leads to all kinds of unnecessary violence.

But some people are listening and thinking. And some people already know and trust you. To those people who are actually listening you can show the long history of nationalist myths and racism in the US (or wherever you are from) and their legacies. You can show them the history of propaganda in the US, starting from World War One. You can show them how many statements made to sell wars have been misleading or outright lies, or how little truth the newspapers told about what was going on. You can show them how large groups of people can protect themselves by mutual aid rather than hoping hierarchical militaries will do it. If you can discredit the troop-supporter and war-supporter message by reaching those who might listen, especially people you know, you can change the culture.

But we can’t get there with the wrong approach. You don’t impress people by being arrogant, you don’t pull people in by being pushy and you make others turn their ears off when you insult someone. And most people are either not listening or not easily convinced. The latter need to hear the message clearly and repeatedly and the former are not worth your time. The only reason I would argue with the people you can’t reach is because others are listening, and then would only stick to the facts. I fear we lose many opportunities to communicate by simply using the wrong tone.

At any rate, I consider exposing the ignorance of support for war an important endeavour, one that requires research and patience and a little humour. I hope you will continue to support me!

Warlords

February 26, 2014 Leave a comment

“Anarchy is no guarantee that some people won’t kill, injure, kidnap, defraud or steal from others. Government is a guarantee that some will.” – Gustave de Molinari

The warning that, after the removal of government, gangs and warlords would take is not an argument for government; it is an argument against government. Government is not different from warlords. It is the result of the institutionalization of warlords as the formal rulers of a given territory. This argument might confuse some people, so allow me to explain.

Max Weber defined the state as that organisation with a monopoly on the legitimate use of force within a given (national) territory. “Legitimate” here merely means legal, as actual legitimacy is ultimately in the eye of the beholder. That is why Albert Jay Nock countered Weber by saying the state “claims and exercises a monopoly of crime” over its territory. (Statism is the belief that this monopoly of crime is good or necessary.) David S. D’Amato explains its effect: “the state’s principal manner of acting is to make peaceful interactions crimes while protecting the institutional crime of ruling class elites.”

After all, what does the state do? It steals, but it calls its theft taxation. It kidnaps, but calls kidnapping arrest. It counterfeits, but refers to state counterfeiting as monetary policy. It commits murder on a wide scale, but prefers terms such as war and execution. The state claims to act to protect person and property, but paradoxically aggresses against person and property. It claims to protect freedom while taking it away. It claims to aid the less fortunate when in fact it benefits the powerful at the expense of everyone else. If I go to another country to kill people I do not know, I am a murderer. When the military does it, it is fighting terrorism and promoting democracy. This sleight of hand and clouding of truth is how the state manufactures legitimacy. From a historical perspective, the purpose of the state is and has always been the same. Franz Oppenheimer explains.

The State, completely in its genesis, essentially and almost completely during the first stages of its existence, is a social institution, forced by a victorious group of men on a defeated group, with the sole purpose of regulating the dominion of the victorious group over the vanquished, and securing itself against revolt from within and attacks from abroad. Teleologically, this dominion had no other purpose than the economic exploitation of the vanquished by the victors. No primitive state known to history originated in any other manner.

The warlords have already taken over. That is the problem.

two warlords

two warlords

At this point, those with some understanding of history point out such is the way of the world: states and empires constantly expand their power and attempt to conquer us all. But again, this claim is not an argument in favour of government. It is an admission that a monopoly on crime is wrong. Vocal opposition on moral grounds to states and empires can lead to resistance and revolution. If people understand why the state, the concentration of power and the monopoly on crime, are unnecessary and wrong, they can fight it. They can find ways to avoid paying taxes, avoid conscription and arrest, set up systems of mutual aid to become independent, and counteract the lies of the schools and the media.

Countries can still be invaded if the states do not comply with the empire of their time. A military is no guarantee of security. However, the difference between a state society and a free society is resistance is considered legitimate and necessary in the latter. Those who believe in freedom believe in the right to defend oneself against all oppressors by any means necessary without having to put on a uniform. Freedom must be defended by decentralised forces. People will need to fight the power or they will neither achieve nor maintain their freedom for long. But it is possible, and it is worth it.

Finally, we often run up against the claim that domination, hierarchy and elitism are part of our nature, which is why formalizing them is accepting the inevitable. It is unsurprising that we should hear this claim so often. Everyone in our society with a few years of schooling claims to understand human nature, and invokes it whenever defending the status quo. However, in my experience, most such claims reflect the thinking of the immediate world around the speaker. In other words, we believe what we have experienced reflects the whole range of human possibility. Looking more carefully through history, psychology and anthropology, however, we can find innumerable counter-examples. One need look no further than the history of the highland people of Southeast Asia (Zomia) for people who have consciously avoided domination and hierarchy for centuries. My question to those who cite human nature as an excuse for domination is, should we not be allowed to resist and defend ourselves? Should we give up and submit to those who desire power over us? Yes, we would need numbers. Yes, we would need time. But if you recognise that warlordism and violence are wrong, why would you not support us? We should unite to fight all forms of warlords and replace them with freedom.

Freedom to say “fuck the troops”

September 21, 2012 8 comments

I do not say “fuck the troops”. It seems pointlessly hateful. I am not against “the troops” but the system that sends them to war and brings them back wounded if at all, and forces everyone to pay them for the dubious privilege of dying for the state. But I do believe the freedom to express such opinions should be valued. Facebook has removed a page called “Fuck the Troops” under pressure. Its action demonstrates society’s contempt for freedom of speech.

A new page of the same name sprouted in its place within the past 24 hours, and it has already been subject to the same venomous insults and threats as the old one. The “Support the Troops” people have returned in full force, replete with swearing and non sequiturs. They claim to value freedom but express their willingness to force others to stop talking or leave the country. They are convinced US soldiers have fought for freedom, but have no evidence of a causal link between whatever freedoms Americans have left and war. (In fact, wars are inevitably an opportunity for the state to expand and take away liberties.) They claim today’s wars are necessary to protect American lives, when they make not only troop deaths but the risk of terrorism rise. More importantly, they betray the very principle they purport to believe in–freedom–by telling others to shut up or risk violence.

Diversity of opinions is healthy, especially on issues of such moral implications. Uniformity of opinion benefits the ruling class so that it can be seen to appeal to it (as, for instance, when a politician gets photographed standing next to a group of soldiers in Afghanistan and his poll numbers rise the next day). The state thus spreads the idea soldiers are heroes through the school system and by honouring them for whatever reason, creating heroes when necessary. It is part of its efforts to spread nationalism, which helps support wars in the name of the nation. But open minds and intellectual honesty are essential for addressing social problems. The arguments of the Fuck the Troops page, along with the equally-provocative “Soldiers are not heroes. They are tools of war.” and “The Troops are Welfare Whores” are the troops should not be venerated as they are. People should listen to them.

In less complex, tribal societies, soldiers are defenders. They train in order to protect their people from aggression. It makes sense for us to respect, admire and support them. But modern nation states do not have such soldiers. War conducted by advanced democracies such as the US, the UK and Israel has nothing to do with defense and everything to do with expanding the state into new areas of the world. Soldiers have become the agents of this imperial conquest. We live in a world of information, where the truth about war (such as US Army Special Forces veteran Stan Goff’s admonition to young people considering a career such as his) is available. The modern soldier, whom I believe is a victim of war, nonetheless has the ability to reconsider working for the military. Removing the social pride that comes from enlisting and replacing it with a stigma could mean more refusal to go to war.

At any rate, at stake in this conflict is freedom of speech. Believing in freedom means tolerating those with different opinions, and taking comfort in the knowledge that if the truth prevails, they will be proven wrong. Telling those who disagree with you to shut up, leave the country or die means you do not believe in freedom.

Propaganda

June 8, 2012 Leave a comment
‎”If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.” – Malcolm X

“When a well-packaged web of lies has been sold gradually to the masses over generations, the truth will seem utterly preposterous and its speaker a raving lunatic.” – Dresden James

“If we choose, we can live in a world of comforting illusion.” – Noam Chomsky

Many people live in a world of comforting illusion. They harbour the impression they are in charge of their democracy; they think the police protect their rights from bad guys; they think the military defends their freedom from foreigners; they do not want to challenge their own ideas; and they are convinced they are thinking for themselves. They are offered these illusions on a silver plate from every corner: governments, corporations, religious leaders and mainstream media. The collective term for the lies we choose to wrap ourselves in—or get caught up in—is propaganda.

The word “propaganda” is a widely used and potentially libelous term, so it requires definition up front. For the purpose of this post, propaganda refers to all lies and misleading images the government, corporations and the media tell you in order to control you. As you can imagine, there is plenty of it out there.

Among people who read non-mainstream newspapers, much has been made of a recent bill working its way through Congress, which Barack will probably threaten to veto again and will sign anyway, making psychological operations, meaning secretive propaganda, legal for use by the government within the US. It should frighten everyone, of course, that what was once used for war on third-world populations is soon going to be the norm for US citizens. But I wonder how much this bill will change what has been the norm for so long.

Because governments take as much of your money as you are willing to put up with, they can afford large “communications” teams. They use them to shape your views on their policies, to make you support their policies for all of their reasons. (Find some examples here.)

But most people realise that the government lies. The real key to understanding how the ideology of statism is disseminated is to listen to intellectuals. Public intellectuals are the ones who come up with the ideas that the people end up taking for granted. Originally, it was the clergy that rationalised the state, and got its share of public revenues in return. Now, the state enlists experts to sell its ideas in the media, and why those experts debate what kind of sanctions or bombs to use against Iran and none of them suggest leaving Iran alone. It pays for public education, giving public-school teachers a stake in the status quo. It subsidises professors to sell its ideas to the best and brightest, which is why few ever teach anarchist philosophy or Austrian economics in school. The apologists for the state are rewarded with jobs, prestige and high positions in the planning of the state. It co-opts the people with the intellectual power in society to spread propaganda.

Propaganda, in its broadest conception, creates what Antonio Gramsci called hegemony. The various elements of society influence our consciousness, but the ruling class has the most influence. Since government requires not simply coercion but also some degree of consent, the ruling class projects an image of what the world is, turning what it wants us to believe into “common sense”. It is common sense that we need to be governed, for instance, and that democracy means the people are in charge. I studied government for years before I realised that it was based on the threat of violence, rather than consent and collective decision making. Hegemony is the pervasive belief in this common sense conception of the world that enables the ruling class to acquire the consent of the governed. The masses accept the morality, customs and rules handed down to them. Only by learning to think beyond the supposed universal truths imposed on their consciousness can the people shatter the illusions and break free of the ruling class.

Consider the national-security narrative we are exposed to over our lifetimes. We are all Americans/British/Chinese/Turkish. When one of us is under attack by foreigners, all of us are under attack. When foreigners attack or threaten to attack us, it is justified to attack them. When attacking them, whatever needs to happen to subdue them is justified. If innocents get killed, that’s the price of it. It is right to take huge amounts of money to build up militaries to enable these things. We are entirely moral in doing all these things, and if you disagree, you hate our country. We take all these things for granted, but why? This and other accepted wisdom is part of the hegemony.

Think of the images associated with this paradigm. Take the photo opportunity. Politicians love going to Afghanistan to get a photo with the troops. It makes their poll numbers rise. Do you think they add that to their calculations when they decide whether or not to prolong the war? But people have been told they are citizens, these are their representatives and their representatives’ visiting soldiers they sent to Afghanistan for a few minutes on their world tour helps those soldiers. As long as they believe all that, the politicians have their mandate for war. A magician will tell you his job is about what the eye sees: illusion, not truth. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

Take David Cameron’s posing with protesters in Tahrir Square in February 2011. All people who yearn for freedom were there in spirit with the protesters. What the shiny smiles hid was the fact that David had just come from touring other restive Arab states with a delegation of British arms dealers. But people do not see beyond the photo op, and are led to believe their government supports freedom.

Terrorism is massively overblownEveryone is a potential terrorist now. We are programmed to be afraid. How does the use of the word “terrorism” affect us? When we are told that the people killed were terrorists, we are given the opportunity to presume the good guys, the soldiers, are killing the bad guys. Our consciences are assuaged, and the killing can continue. The word militant, for instance, really means anyone who was killed by the US military, such as 16-year-old Abdelrahman al Awlaki. Did more than a handful of people speak out against it?

Could they use another word that would give it a different meaning? Why didn’t they use that word? Why do we undergo ‘liberation’ or ‘intervention’ instead of invasion? Why do we kill “militants” instead of people? Does it change how we think about the thing? When detention and torture without trial are labeled “extraordinary rendition”, most people turn away in boredom. The most despicable acts are cloaked in jargon and made mundane. Do not worry about it: we don’t torture men, women or children; only insurgents, terrorists and the Taliban.

Like most subjects related to government, there is a double standard at work with propaganda. Surely a society that believed in basic freedoms would not criminalise speech. It grants us the freedom to be wrong and to lie, as long as we do not violate the non-aggression principle. The government is wrong (as when it said Iraq had weapons of mass destruction). The government lies (as when…well, all the time). It suffers no consequences when caught. Citizens, however, do. Muslims, the new enemy, are targeted in the US all the time for spreading “terrorist propaganda” by speaking out in favour of anti-US-empire terrorism. The US Department of Justice arrested Jubair Ahmad for uploading a video to Youtube that the DOJ considered “material support” for terrorists. He might be locked up indefinitely. The FBI called what he posted propaganda. One wonders how much of what the FBI says is not.

But who is the real terrorist? Anarchists frequently point out the hypocrisy of the state in its justification of everything it does as criminal (and immoral) for everyone else. In the words of Stefan Molyneux,

I can’t go next door and threaten my neighbour with force in order to get him to pay for my child’s education, but the government can through property rights and the educational system. I can’t find some guy in my neighbourhood who’s smoking some herb that I find objectionable, lock him up in some basement and then call myself an armed warrior for justice through the War on Drugs. I can’t print money based on nothing and use it as legitimate currency; the government can. And I can’t create debt that other people have to pay without any choice in the matter. That’s called fraud. But for the government it’s called deficit financing and it goes to future generations. So government, by definition, is that social entity which legalises whatever is criminal for everyone else in the population…. Law is an opinion with a gun.

(Stefan forgot to mention that invasion and occupation are called democracy promotion and nation building, but then he was in an interview, so we can forgive him.)

Yes, words matter. We are flooded with words like “national security”. Those two words have been used to justify everything from aggressive (sorry, “preventive”) war to secret meetings between politicians and lobby groups. The UK government told the world Afghanistan’s Helmand province is vital to British national security, presumably for the same reasons Guam is to that of the US. The term is ambiguous, because it is used for every priority of the ruling class. It is used so often as to be meaningless.

It is used to glorify military service, along with words like “sacrifice”, “duty” and “honour”. Militaries market themselves to the populaces that support them by various channels. The US military has been in bed with Hollywood for decades. The Pentagon provides moviemakers with real aircraft, tanks and soldiers for all manner of movies, in return for a favourable image. It has created an exciting, video game-like perception of what it does, instead of the reality of raining fire on villages in distant parts of the world to kill one person deemed a “high-value target”.

It is not only in security matters that the state lies. It misinforms and distorts the truth at every turn. Take, for instance, how it has skewed employment figures (in this, an election year) by quietly removing 1.2m unemployed people from the list and celebrating it as a win. People can believe the economy is picking up, even though they see no evidence of it, and will vote for the incumbent, even though Barack has made things worse.

But the state is not the only source of propaganda. Any medium that produces disinformation, lies, coverups, or deliberately misleading images and words is propaganda. The media have been lying to us about war for a hundred years. (Lots of examples here.) Look at the way some of the most popular media soften up the language of the war for Afghanistan. While Afghans protested the repeated killing and descration of their friends and family, media like the New York Times said they were protesting the burning of Qurans only. “Armed with rocks, bricks, pistols and wooden sticks, protesters angry over the burning of Korans at the largest American base in Afghanistan this week took to the streets in demonstrations in a half-dozen provinces on Wednesday that left at least seven dead and many more injured.” Not only were the protesters “armed”; as As’ad AbuKhalil observed, “notice that there is no killer in the phrasing.” People reading do not have to blame the killers—perhaps protesting killed the people. They portrayed the protests as irrational acts of outrage, just anger over a book.  Glenn Greenwald gives an apt analogy:

[J]ust imagine what would happen if a Muslim army invaded the U.S., violently occupied the country for more than a decade, in the process continuously killing American children and innocent adults, and then, outside of a prison camp it maintained where thousands of Americans were detained for years without charges and tortured, that Muslim army burned American flags — or a stack of bibles — in a garbage dump. Might we see some extremely angry protests breaking out from Americans against them? Would American pundits be denouncing those protesters as blinkered, primitive fanatics?

There is no reason to trust the New York Times or the Washington Post. Their kowtowing to power in the run up to Operation Iraqi Freedom should have put them out of business and led their heads to hang in shame. Both papers issued apologies (here and here)—over a year too late—and no one in the newsrooms suffered any consequences. Why would we pay attention to them at all anymore?

Various estimates of the real death toll of that war have come out in the hundreds of thousands; the number may have reached a million. But mainstream media outlets do not report a million. They report low-end estimates of tens of thousands, sometimes adding the words “at least”. Regardless, people are more affected emotionally when shown a human face and story. Which Iraqi humans did the media choose to profile? The insurgents. All the more reason to dig in one’s heels and keep fighting.

The mainstream media benefit from the status quo and often end up the lapdogs of the powerful. Even when one TV station appears relatively right wing or left wing, that simply means they will defend a different party when it takes power. However, the task before the media is to give us the information we need  in order to understand and question power, not to serve it. All corporations receive legal protection and indirect subsidy; in addition, the media that pander best to the powerful get access to top officials for interviews and sources. Media types socialise with government types. Instead of holding them to account through investigative journalism, many of them accept what the government says without question. They also need to fill in blanks due to deadlines, and may embellish or simply quote an official to complete their stories. Those poor people who cannot turn off their televisions are exposed to news that makes them think crime, terrorism and diseases are everywhere. They see one police drama after another, drinking in the image of the heroic cops catching gang leaders and stopping terrorists.

When all these things are taken together, they become our narrative, what we believe without questioning. It does not benefit us to leave this situation unquestioned; it only benefits the ruling class.

A fixation on the news is not conducive to understanding. Most news media focus on what is happening now. What is happening is a consequence of what has happened before. However, it is easy to forget or not know about what happened before. How many Americans understand the causes of any of the wars their rulers start? Or of 9/11? How many understand why Iran might want to build a nuclear weapon? We do not ask “why?” enough.

I have heard both Al Jazeera and Russia Today called propaganda. Perhaps that is because the angles from which they view the news and the people they interview are less commonly found in the more mainstream news outlets. To close one’s mind by calling something propaganda without having considered it is not wise. The reason we can safely call government communications propaganda is that they are consistently proved to be so. Critical thinkers consider various viewpoints. And in contrast to the records of the mainstream US media, the foreigners have more credibility.

Then there is Fox News. Wait. It’s too easy. (You may want to watch Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism for a look at how Fox has erased the line between journalism and propaganda.) Suffice to say, studies indicate Fox News viewers are less well informed than anyone else who watches television. Whatever Fox News says, I object to attacks on Fox from people who believe what they hear on CNN, MSNBC or other corporate news stations. Do you really believe any one of these channels consistently tells the truth? That they do not try to influence your point of view and subtly manipulate you? Why should we trust this source? Do they know what they are talking about? Why would they tell us what they are telling us? Might they have an ulterior motive? Can we speculate what that might be? Why do we only have the choices we are presented with? Why is it only either intervene militarily in Syria or let genocide take place? Why, why, why? We need to consider why they show what they show and what we are missing that they do not show.

When I am asked which news source I think is most reliable, I reply “none”. Take a look at the sources for this blog: they are from a variety of people and media. (However, I sometimes repeat some I perceive to be informed or wise. I must admit, I am more likely to believe Democracy Now than Fox News.) To truly understand a phenomenon is to know it from various perspectives. To understand a news story, it helps to read various accounts and ask ourselves several questions about what we read.

Without having witnessed an event ourselves, we do not know what happened. Every source has its own reasons to manipulate the facts, though probably not all do all the time. The best we can do is listen to varying accounts, consider carefully each one’s possible motives and assume we cannot be sure about any of them. The worst we can do is listen to accounts that do not vary significantly, pretend each source confirms the other and accept the information as given. At a more fundamental level, we need to question the entire hegemony and move away from thinking the world is as we are told it is.

Egypt’s elections and the end of Tahrir

May 24, 2012 Leave a comment

There is a lesson behind this picture. It is a disappointing tale but it must be told. This picture is from Tahrir (“Liberation”) Square in Cairo. The Egyptians who took down the Mubarak regime should be proud of themselves. Yes, they scored a victory for freedom. Yes, they did so by uniting. And most importantly, they showed the world that through uniting to face common problems, we can do anything.

However, the Egyptian Revolution took an unhappy turn. Since Mubarak resigned, what has happened? Hundreds have been killed and far more beaten, shot at and arrested for nothing. Who killed and attacked the people? Who did it before the Revolution? It is not the military. The military is one part of the state. Telling the military to move aside means asking a different set of rulers, still with different priorities from yours, to govern you. It is not one part of the state that represses. It is the state as a whole.

The state is not a humanitarian organisation. It is not a way for people to work together to get things done. And it does not represent the people. It is an institution that forces everyone to comply with the mandates of a few very powerful people who have their own interests at heart. If something needs to be done, why would you want these people to do it for you?

The state comprises far more people than a few elected “representatives”. It means the military, the heads of which will remain influential, rich and unaccountable, powerful businesspeople, police, bureaucrats and everyone who is connected to those in power. Those who have the power to initiate force, to use violence on others, will use it to protect their interests against those who want their freedom. That is true everywhere. Most Egyptians know the state has amassed power and wealth over the past 30 years but seem to think they have tamed it. But you cannot tame the state. You can only injure it temporarily.

Today is election day in Egypt. The electoral contest has divided Egyptians in every way that electoral politics always divides people: by opinion. People are attacked by others who insist that their party and their candidate is the right one to impose his will on 80m people. The greatest tragedy is that Egyptians have been so deeply indoctrinated by thousands of years of despotic rule that they believe the incoming president needs to be “a strong man”: a man who will force everyone to do everything he says. His subjects will have to hope he wants and knows how to get the best for everyone else. Well, it is possible. But it has not happened very often.

Egyptians threaten to protest again—a “second revolution”—if things do not go as they believe it should. But they are fooling themselves. The past 8 months or more have already shown that Egyptians, like everyone else, will be divided by those in power. Those who voted for whoever becomes president will stand by him, and will tell everyone else why they were right. It is simple psychology: if I voted for him, he must be good. I suggest Egyptians put aside their unhealthy craving for big government and consider life without it.

As I said elsewhere, freedom for Egyptians is still possible. Everything the government does you can do yourselves. It means taking responsibility for your community and working together, rather than hoping the state will come along to fix your problems. Here is one idea. Instead of relying on police for security, why not organise neighrbourhood groups that agree to protect each other? If you live in a reasonably wealthy community, you can pay people. When you pay people and can stop paying them if you want, you become their customers, and they do what you want or they lose your money. The government is not like that, because you have to pay. The police are not accountable to you but to their bosses, the politicians. If you do not have the money to pay for people to protect you, you probably need protection from the police more than any other groups. All that is required is some agreement, organisation and cooperation. Together you can solve your own problems in ways that the state will never do for you. That is what free people do.

I know you and your peers can think of other ideas. Remember the Revolution. Unite in the face of repression.

The strongest police state in history: We are all terrorists now

December 20, 2011 5 comments

In case they are unaware of the laws some people are imposing on them, Americans should be furious about the latest legal grab at their last freedoms. A new law, cunningly woven into the annual defense appropriations bill and passed overwhelmingly, enables the US military to apprehend you anywhere in the world and detain you indefinitely. This law gives the strongest military the world has ever seen total power over you. You may want to reread that last sentence. It is true. The provisions target US citizens, giving every one of them the rights of a suspected terrorist with no recourse. As Guantanamo Bay prison has demonstrated, citizens of other countries had no rights to begin with. Therefore, due to its habit of picking up citizens of other countries, the US government can now wield its power over anyone in the world. That means you. They can detain you indefinitely without charge if they say you are a suspect. And no one will be punished if you are innocent (except you). No one will be held accountable, no matter what happens. This law is perhaps the most frightening in a long line of legal takeovers of your freedom.

Did I say this will be the strongest police state in history? Surely not, you say? Well, the totalitarian states have been strong, but they have rarely had the opportunity to catch people outside the state’s borders. And they did not have military bases all around the world. Remember, it is the trillion-dollar, million-man military that is now authorised to detain anyone anywhere for any length of time.

How did our liberties slip away? Anthony Gregory explains.

Ten years of the war on terror, decades of the war on drugs, and a century of growing government power in general, particularly in the presidency and various police authorities, have perhaps desensitized Americans to what is at stake here. As the proverbial frogs in the pot of water, we are accustomed to rising temperatures and so do not notice when our flesh begins to boil. Yet when the Senate overwhelmingly accepts the principle that the military should displace civilian courts even for citizens captured on American soil, it has adopted a standard of justice remarkably tyrannical even compared to America’s very rocky history.

A hundred years of encroaching control over our minds and bodies plus one spectacular terrorist attack and freedom somehow seems like a luxury to Americans who do not realise they are frogs.

Needless to say, these laws are unconstitutional, like so many other laws that a small minority of the people who swore to uphold the constitution tried to stop. The Bill of Rights, a wonderful idea in its time, lies in tatters. (See here for the history of the gutting of the constitution and limiting of Americans’ freedoms over the past decade.) Now that the government has such power and employs it every day, there is no reason to believe it will hold back. The tired, old canard that, if you just keep your head down and do not commit any crimes, you will be fine, is clearly untrue. Even if this bill had not passed, the US government (though of course not just the US one) can already spy on you from anywhere in the world by listening to your phone calls and reading your emails; has drones circling the skies in the US and all around the world, looking for anything anyone with any power at all deems “suspicious”; can lock you up and torture you in one of its many prisons (and not just ones you have heard of), as it already has with Bradley Manning and foreign journalists (Barack may be even worse than Bush with regard to torture); and can assassinate you without due process. Thus, as any informed libertarian already knew, these despicable practices have been going on for some time. The powerful are merely trying to make them easier.

Continuing the War on Terror will do that. The bill says that suspects will be held only until the end of hostilities. So, as Jon Stewart says, when terror surrenders, you’ll be free to go. For those who do not understand statist war, you must know that war is the health of the state, and the state exists to take your freedom. The more war, the more power the state has; the more power the state has, the less freedom you have. That is a consistent pattern in history. The War on Terror is not so much a war as a series of military operations designed to expand US government power everywhere it can, but the effect is the same. To stir up instability in Central Asia, secure supplies of natural resources and keep restive people down are its goals. This law will help win that war for the powerful.

War creates terrorists, as occupied people facing brutality from foreign powers have peaceful modes of resistance taken away from them. If terrorism is on the rise, blame the dictators and warmongers. (Oh, and when there is not enough terrorism and the hype dies down, the FBI will still arrest people for it.) Likewise, if crime is indeed rising in the US, it could be because of the fallout from the financial crash, which was of course the fault of the elites, and it could be because the criminalisation of and atrocious crackdown on drugs despite all logic incentivises the formation of gangs. Wars, whether on terrorism, drugs or the poor, create the conditions that politicians can use to justify accumulating ever more power. To think that the government exists to keep you safe is now obviously a myth.

But it is not just the Department of Defense that has been amassing power. The police and the courts have always been the tools of the elite, but are now conducting a war on liberty in the US. If you think I am exaggerating, please see my post on police here. Here is a preview. A man was recently sentenced to 75 years in jail for filming police. (Here is that link again.) The law, the police, the courts all tear society apart and destroy lives by criminalising victimless acts and subjecting innocent people to endless captivity. With its multiple layers of security apparatus, from the police to the FBI to the CIA to the DEA to Homeland Security to the military, not to mention the help of friendly governments around the world, the US federal government has enormous resources for violence at its disposal. It has already targeted Antiwar.com, Greenpeace and PETA under the pretext of investigating terrorism; who will be next? (Find more incredible facts about how the US is becoming a giant prison here.)

The main reason the government wants all this power (inasmuch as power is not an end in itself for many of the people involved, and aside from the large amounts of money politicians make from prison and related lobbies) is that dissent against government and the elites is growing. (Find a more developed argument here.) The protests that have gone global since Tunisia’s Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire to protest corruption and repression have threatened the elites’ position and they are not happy. Most recently, we have seen unnecessary brutality against people demonstrating peacefully at Occupy sites around the world. The photos of tear gas sprayed casually into the faces of the young and old; the arrests of thousands of people for nothing. Democracy or dictatorship, state brutality is everywhere. The elites are sending a message: do not question authority or you will be punished. The only cure for this disease that I know of is to disobey their command. I would like to see more people to join in occupations until this unjust, parasitic institution crumbles to dust.

The lion’s share of the blame for this state of affairs goes to the psychopaths and fools (these are not insults; they are reality) who have been running the US for so long. The US federal government has trillions of dollars that it forced out of the pockets of millions of people. Think how many wars, how many full-body scanners, how many drones, soldiers, police, jails, surveillance systems, tons of tear gas and pepper spray it can buy with that money. And that means that the money it takes from people is used to oppress them. The government does not obey its own laws, so we should not, either. Laws are nothing more than institutionalised control over people, arbitrary interpretations of morality and handouts to lobby groups at the barrel of a gun.

But while most of the blame belongs with the state who forcibly takes everyone’s freedom away, Americans have let their government get away with it all. Ignorant people who do not understand government, war, terrorism and crime continue to believe the government looks out for their best interest. Most of them have not demanded change, content to amble slowly along some meaningless path with their heads down and their fingers in their ears. Others are so scared of crime, terrorism and illness that they gladly give the government as much power as it wants. Sure, we are subject to humiliation whenever we get on an airplane; sure, the US has the biggest prison population in the world; sure, the upper 1% owns a third of the nation’s wealth; and sure, my neighbours are losing their homes; but at least we live in the land of the free and the home of the brave. Not anymore, you don’t. The most dangerous thing is to believe we are free when we are not. It is impossible to escape from a jail we do not realise we are in.

Secrecy

October 7, 2011 Leave a comment

Secrecy makes for thrilling movies but unaccountable government. The unimpeded exercise of power requires that those over whom power is exerted do not know the truth. If they want to be our masters, there is some information they must control first. They want you to believe they are good people who win wars for freedom, that their policies make everything better, that they are uncorruptible supermen, and the more information we have, the more clearly we can see this is a lie. Free flowing information is the only safeguard against tyranny. We only ever find out about these secrets thanks to a few intrepid reporters and brave whistleblowers. The scandals keep coming, from the Pentagon Papers to Watergate to Iran-Contra and now Bradley Manning, who is being held in solitary confinement without charge under order of a president who came into office promising transparency.

Why do you think they do not want you to know what they are doing? Ostensibly, during wartime at least (which has become all the time), it is to prevent the enemy from finding out the secrets that could compromise national security. But who is the government’s enemy? Anyone who disagrees with their policies. That is why governments around the world have conducted a war on journalists. If journalists are being killed and arrested, how will we have any protection against propaganda?

There is no reason governments have to keep what they do secret from you except to maintain power. Not only does power corrupt but it is proportionally more dangerous when we are uninformed. When people’s backs are turned, power becomes a major force of corruption, and the powerful can do whatever they want.

Governments control trillions of dollars of money they stole from taxpayers, and creates trillions more in fiat money, which acts as a tax that lowers the value of the money everyone already has. What do they do with that money? Over the past few years, the New York Fed has quietly bailed out large banks all over the world to the tune of about $16t. We never knew about it until an audit of the Fed took place this year. This type of secret remains secret because its revelation could mean serious anger on the streets. This is not a call for more and better auditing. It is a call for the elimination of one group’s ability to extort money through taxes and give it to the already-privileged.

Here are some more things that we were not allowed to know about. Former senior US National Security Agency official Thomas Andrews Drake blew the whistle on his agency’s violation of the fourth amendment with the billion-dollar Trailblazer intelligence-gathering project. Of course, like Bradley Manning, like Daniel Ellsberg 40 years ago, Drake was prosecuted. American soldiers nearly got away with killing Afghan civilians for fun because their crimes were covered up. The death of football player Pat Tillman in Iraq was also covered up, originally said to have occurred “in the line of devastating enemy fire”, until it was revealed that he was killed by friendly fire. Were people actually surprised that a government covered up an unpopular event? The entire war, like all wars, was a lie. Why believe anything the government ever says?

Then there are the Wikileaks files. When the document dump began, one heard many voices speaking vaguely in support of Wikileaks, but I wondered if they had an understanding of what it all meant. Here is why everyone who is not in the government should support Wikileaks and its spinoffs.

Governments are self-important. They believe that their knowledge is superior to that of us little people, that they are wiser and in a position to decide for the rest of us. As such, they are right to take our money, impose their will on us, regulate every aspect of our lives and send us overseas to kill people who had the misfortune of being born in the wrong country. They need secrecy because if other people had the same knowledge, they would learn how poorly government policies actually function, despite the authorities’ supposedly superior wisdom. Now governments are being exposed, and people are finding out.

Statists from all corners have attacked Wikileaks with such cliched accusations as exposing troops to danger. (Viz. Iran-Contra criminal Oliver North: “This is an act of terrorism.“) However, they would presumably be in less danger if they had remained at Fort Worth. If anyone has put them in danger, it is those who voted for and approved of sending them overseas in the first place, and those who lie to keep them there. Naturally, having enemies requires secrecy; but since the enemies are just contrived, all the secrecy had accomplished was to eliminate accountability for the liars who had claimed otherwise.

Joel Hirst of the Council on Foreign Relations attempted to put things in perspective.

For those who applaud Mr. Assange and his particular version of cyber-terrorism, I would ask them how they feel about the rupture of other codes established to govern our relations in society. How would they like to see reports of treatment for their male-pattern baldness in downloadable format; or the details of their divorce settlements in an online database — displayed in vivid technicolor across the worldwide web. While this information may appear benign, and may be explained by cyber-thieves as an attempt to increase transparency, it will likely be viewed by the victims as damagingly intrusive. This is also true in the world of international diplomacy.

Unfortunately, Mr Hirst has missed the point. The treatment of my male-pattern baldness is purely a private matter. The actions and beliefs of influential public servants and the disastrous results of wars fought with our money by our friends in our names are not. To those who attacked Wikileaks and the act of whistleblowing, let me make clear the position you took. You are in favour of covering up and hiding from the public

-the repeated urging of the despotic (and with relation to the US government, influential) House of Saud and other Middle Eastern governments to start a war between the US and Iran;

-the US’s ally Saudi Arabia’s funding of al Qaeda, the Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba;

-the detention of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay prison for no reason (see here and here);

-the extent of the corruption of the Afghan government, which US, Canadian and other foreign taxpayers are funding;

-the intentional killing of reporters by helicopter in Iraq;

-an accurate picture of the disastrous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, including the extent of civilian casualties, such as the shooting in the head of Iraqi children and other things that should have the people who funded them up in arms;

-and perhaps most disturbing of all, that US government contractor DynCorp threw a party at which children were prostituted (see also here), meaning that US taxpayers paid for sex with minors.

But Wikileaks is just one anti-secrecy activist group. Any whistleblowers who uncover the secrets that keep us from realising how corrupt our masters are deserve praise and protection. Instead, they get called terrorists and get imprisoned. (Governments will do anything to pinch these guys, from trumped-up rape charges on Julian Assange to God knows what Bradley Manning is charged with. Why? Because powerful people want to cover up their sins and protect their interests and will break the constitution to do so. Strong, accountable government? Don’t make me laugh.

Does the leaking of confidential documents erode public trust in government? It is now clear that there was no basis for such trust to begin with. Wikileaks has exposed not only the loose tongues of a few diplomats but the bankruptcy of statist arguments for secrecy. Wikileaks brought us, in stark relief, a more accurate picture of government wheeling and dealing than we were getting from the mass media; or as Slavoj Žižek notes, the Wikileaks document dump revealed that the emperor truly had no clothes.

Another whistleblower I like is BlogDelNarco.com. Mexican media outlets are highly concentrated, and as such they are in bed with the government. They tend not to report the gruesome but highly informative images from the Mexican drug war. But a fearless blogger is feeding the huge market for the truth.

The pundits at the top of the security apparatus of the US government spent countless hours devising contingency plans for every possible step the Soviet Union could have made. An air of paranoia and groupthink has influenced most national security decisions made in Washington since WW2, which is why the central planners of the US military believed first in the “bomber gap”, that the USSR had far more bombers than the US did (when it didn’t), and then the “missile gap”, that the USSR had vast quantities of nuclear missiles that it could deploy preemptively to knock out US capabilities (when it didn’t).

They spent billions on intelligence services and did not predict the detonation of a Soviet atom bomb; the Korean War and China’s entry into it; the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion; the size and determination of the Viet Cong; the fall of the Soviet Union; the breakup of Yugoslavia; of course 9/11, (though admittedly there is a mountain of evidence they knew something was going to happen and did nothing); the Arab world’s reaction to the invasion of Iraq (though that one may have been outsourced to the think tanks); and several intelligence agencies told the world Saddam Hussein had a whole bunch of missiles that did not exist. Sure, it is not fair to expect anyone to predict such black swans. But then, what are intelligence agencies for?

Perhaps they are to make work for spies. An enormous quantity of intelligence has been gathered since 9/11. Because of its sheer volume, only 10% of it has even been analysed. The spies are a bureaucracy and as such, they are an entrenched pressure group. In his excellent book The Limits of Power, Andrew Bacevich explains the role of national security services (eg. the CIA). “Over the course of their existence, these entities have done far more harm than good…. [I]nstitutions nominally subordinate to executive authority pursue their own agendas, and will privilege their own purposes over whoever happens to occupy the White House.” Presidents frequently disregard what the security agencies tell them. But they tell the public the security apparatus is necessary because it provides legitimacy for “political arrangements that are a source of status, influence and considerable wealth.”

In the end, government secrecy is little more than immunity for the mafia that poses as your superiors. There is no reason why government knowledge is better than yours, or why governments should impose their will on you. Now that ordinary people have the chance, thanks to anonymous whistleblowers and Wikileaks, to spy on their governments, they may have a better idea of how secrecy destroys accountability. If democrats truly want accountable government, they should embrace Wikileaks. The good news is that most governments have mostly lost their monopoly on information. The Wikileaks dumps, the spread of cell phone cameras and attacks by anonymous hackers have seen to that. Embrace openness and deny the government its monopoly on information.