• "God invented war so Americans could learn geography" -- Mark Twain.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Germ of Tyranny

On the tenth "anniversary" of the Invasion of Iraq, the media is aslosh with the usual postgnostications about the mistakes made and the lessons learned from the disaster the United States inflicted on Iraq. 

Meanwhile, the detainees in "Camp Delta" at Guantánamo continue to starve themselves to death in protest against their continued and indefinite confinement.  Needless to say, those that have lost too much weight for official comfort are on "internal feeds," as camp spokesmen refer to force-feeding. As everyone outside of official Washington knows, solitary confinement and force-feeding are both forms of torture so that, in a brutal parody of Wall Street practices, torture is compounded on torture.  

Equally needless to say, the kindergarden that passes for an American press is incapable of seeing the lesson  to be learned from the very fundamentals of the so-called War on Terrorism.  Simple questions are beneath its sophistications.

Why are these people being held?  Virtually none of them have had a trial much less been convicted of anything. One would think that 12 years' detention without trial was something minimally civilised governments did not do.

The official answer to the simple question is that the detainees are enemy combatants.  With an air of insulted, incredulity, proponents of the detentions rhetorically ask whether anyone in their right mind would demand trials for prisoners of war. 

If one counters that the detainees are not enemy soldiers, the rejoinder is that "terrorism" is a different kind of war in which the "enemy" is unseen, amorphous and chameleon.  Not wanting anyone to pause and ponder the implications in the concept of an "unseen enemy," the official apology rushes on to assure us that, in compliance with Supreme Court decisions, the detainees are afforded a"minimal due process" hearing at which a determination is made by the detaining authority that the detainee is in fact a de facto enemy combatant.  What more could one ask for?

One might ask for some minimum due process which is grounded in the ancient maxim of Roman law: nemo iudex in causam suam.  

The reason uniformed enemy combatants can be detained without trial is that a determination has been made by the enemy government itself that people wearing its uniforms are doing its belligerent bidding.  It is as simple as that. No hearing is required because the enemy himself has declared himself to be an enemy. The determination of enemy status is valid because it is not made by the authority making the detention.  The act of detention and its justification are, in this sense, independent of one another.  

The case is totally different when there is no enemy government or country which has declared war and with whom we are thereby engaged in hostilities.  In that case, the identification and determination as to who is an enemy is an entirely unilateral act by the capturing party.  There is absolutely no independent check or verification of the issue.  One and the same party has effected the capture and has asserted the justification for the capture.  And, of course, since the assertion is that the person so detained is "an enemy combatant" there is no need for trial. This is the very elemental essence of tyranny.

What other image is there of a tyrant than the ruler whose ipse dixit declares someone to be an enemy and throws him into black hole to rot without more?  When asked why prisoner X languishes in an iron mask the self-serving answer is that "it has been determined" he is an enemy. 

But it has not been "determined" in any independent way either by an independent judiciary or by any other government. The detention is arbitrary precisely because it validates itself. Under the rule of law, the measure of law determines the justification for an act. In tyranny, the act is the justification.  

The heap of legal cotton-picking which has attended the Guantánamo detentions has obscured the true seed of tyranny under the fluff.  International law has long drawn a distinction between "lawful and unlawful" combatants. (Ex Parte Quirin (1942) 317 U.S. 1) The former are member of "opposing military forces" -- i.e., they wear uniforms.  The latter are those "who without uniform comes secretly through the lines for the purpose of waging war by destruction of life or property." (Ibid) Lawful combatants are "entitled" to the status of "prisoners of war" whereas illegal combatants are "subject to trial and punishment by military tribunals." (Ibid.)

Prisoners of war are combatants who have simply been temporarily removed from the chessboard of war.  As such, they are "entitled" to a long list of amenities and to military respect.  Illegal combatants, on the other hand, may be locked up and punished, provided they have been tried and convicted.  What has occurred at Guantanamo is a monstrous perversion of law whereby alleged "prisoners of war" are incarcerated as criminals without trial.  

But this perversion, as bad as it is, hides the deeper more fundamental germ of tyranny.  Once it is accepted that the act of designating and detaining a person as an enemy is its own justification, there is no reason to exempt citizens. Why not?  Because by "becoming" enemies they "forfeit" the rights of citizenship.  The logic is impeccable once the false premise of auto-justification is granted. It is in this way that tyrannies always end up consuming the people who beget and tolerate them.

What is occurring in Guantanamo is a brutal, barbaric monstrosity hiding under the sophisms of tyranny.  Americans will pay the price... and sooner rather than later.  "My dear Caligula, Rome deserves you!!!"

Monday, March 18, 2013

March 15th - A Date to Remember

15 March 2013 will go down in history as the date the Nation State ceased to exist; for it was on that date that the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and the Eurozone finance ministers imposed a direct capitation on ordinary saving accounts in Cypriot Banks. 

The story is simple.  The Government of Cyprus applied for a € 10 billion bailout loan from Eurozone banks.  As with any loan, the banks wanted collateral.  Large reserves of natural gas have been found in Cypriot territorial waters and the Government of Cyprus pledged one third of the income-stream from gas to secure the loans.  The banks were not interested.  They insisted on an immediate and direct one-time "tax" on all deposits held in Cypriot banks.  The Government caved. Under the plan, savings accounts under  € 100,000 are to be debited three percent and savings over that amount will be debited 12.5 percent.  The seizure went into effect overnight with accounts and withdrawals being frozen in the required amounts.

Reaction around the world was swift, stunned and critical.  Conservative comment decried the blow to investor confidence. Left-liberal comment lamented the blow to pensioners and working class depositors.  All agreed that what had taken place was state-sanctioned robbery.

State-sanctioned?  Barely.  The Government of Cyprus has ceased to exist except as an enforcer for the shadowy godfathers of international finance.  Tony-the-Greek would be a better name for the erstwhile sovereign state.

In truth, the loss of sovereign control is nothing very new.  As far back as 1994, Le Monde Diplomatique warned that nation states were loosing control over their economies and were being reduced to mere agencies which could do little more than react to international corporate behemoths. (See Une Capitalisme Hors de Control -Les Chantiers de la Démolition Sociale par Serge Halimi Le Monde Diplomatique (July 1994).)  But there is always a point at which a change in degree results in a change of kind.  That point was reached last Friday.

Under the nation-state system, the collective assets, energies and enterprise of a people are represented by a government which is the official embodiment of national sovereignty.   Of course, there has never been any question that foreign banks and foreign governments could exercise indirect control over a nation's domestic policies.  The entire premise of the IMF is that it can make loans on such terms and conditions which will indirectly require the government to adjust its monetary, economic and social policies  -- usually to the detriment of ordinary people.  But even when governments were "doing the IMF's bidding," they retained sovereign control. 

An example of retained control was Argentina's 2005 repudiation of its international debt.  Argentina was being rolled (literally) by the IMF and the U.S. Treasury which had got the country into a cycle of debt refinance at higher and higher interest rates with each come-around of the carousel.  Finally, President Kirchner blew the whistle on the scam and offered the banks their choice between two high-and-tight haircuts.  (Amusing Account of the Incident)  [1]

In actual fact, Argentina did not "repudiate" its debt so much as it renegotiated its loans on terms which allowed it to implement domestic economic policies which stimulated growth and were more favourable to the country's overall welfare.  It had acted in parens patriae  -- as parent for the nation, doing its best vis a vis outsiders for its own people.

In short, there is a formalistic but nonetheless important difference between a government which raises taxes, diminishes benefits or otherwise adjusts policies in order to obtain and/or repay a loan and a government which becomes a mere transparency for takings by foreign entities who, under but the thinnest of tissues, reach directly into citizens' pockets to rifle change.  In the former case, a government itself is the borrower and its treasury is the collateral. It  still retains ultimate control over its own house, even if that control is influenced from outside.  In the latter case, the nation no longer  controls natural or corporate persons within its operating system,  rather global corporations use subsidiary states as mere user-interfaces for their direct plunder and control of citizens.  That is why the German newspaper, Handelsblatt, wrote that "Cyprus sets a precedent."  The precedent is that national governments no longer count. 

The year 2013 will be as significant as 476 A.D. when the last western Roman Emperor was replaced by the Goth chieftain, Odoacer.  For 100 years, the western half of the Roman Empire had been ruled, in actual fact, by various Barbarian chieftains, acting in the name of the Roman Emperor. The "abdication" of Romulus Augustulus, did not substantially change anything.  But the cat was out of the bag and it could no longer be said that the empire called "Rome" existed.  Consciousness had been forever altered.

Day by day, governments around the world are increasingly like the later Roman emperors, tending chickens in their palace gardens and stupidly putting their ring to whatever is placed before their noses by the real rulers of the world. Last week, even the pretence of sovereignty was dispensed with.  It is a matter of short time before national sovereignty becomes a distant memory at which point it will be impossible to commit treason.


[1] http://noelmaurer.typepad.com/aab/2008/05/the-barber-of-b.html


Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Obama's Poisoned Condolence

On the occasion of Hugo Chavez's death, President Obama's condolences are a stunning example of his country's imperialist hypocrisy and arrogance. "At this challenging time of President Hugo Chávez's passing,"  Obama said, "the United States reaffirms its support for the Venezuelan people and its interest in developing a constructive relationship with the Venezuelan government. As Venezuela begins a new chapter in its history, the US remains committed to policies that promote democratic principles, the rule of law and respect for human rights."

Most stunning in this poisoned condolence is the absence of any recognition of Chavez's role in bringing a measure of structural relief to the masses of Venezuela's poor. If the streets of Caracas are filled with mourners it is only because Chavez brought them the food, the housing, the medical care, the educational opportunities and the employment denied to them since the country's founding. 

Chavez's socialistic reforms were far from perfect or complete but they were leaps forward from what had been.  But not a word of this in Obama's condolence.  Why not?  Because Obama and the regime he leads couldn't give a shit.  People talk about what is important to them and if they don't talk about something it is because it is either shameful or not important.

We say "regime" because, in truth, Obama is not the head of a country but of a global apparatus that uses countries for its own selfish and destructive ends.  He is simply the Chief Toady of a gaggle of official toadies who scurry, palaver and machinate on behalf of hedge funds, banks and global corporations.  Their vision for the world is a two-tier society comprised of Owners and their retainers of managers, technocrats and thugs, insulated from and lording over masses of desperate worker-drones and still greater masses of people left to be starved and stepped over.

To put it simply, Obama's vision of America in the future is of what Venezuela used to be.  Of course, neither he nor the corporate mudia want to acknowledge that Chavez put the lie to their regime. And of course, the rest of what Obama says is a stinking lie. 

For those who might not see it, let us provide a translation.

"The United States reaffirms its support for the Venezuelan people..."  Translation:  "We don't recognise the political legitimacy of the government in power." Normally, nation states deal government to government.  By drawing a distinction between the government and the people it represents, Obama sought to by-pass and marginalise the former.

"... and its interest in developing a constructive relationship with the Venezuelan government."  Translation: "The United States is ready to re-model Venezuela's government." Obama's self-evident platitude has to be read in light of what preceded and what follows.  All governments seek to develop "constructive" relationships with others. The fact that Obama restated the obvious was an implicit assertion that such a relationship does not exist at present, which is why Obama avowed support for the people of Venezuela and stands ready to bring about change in  "As Venezuela begins a new chapter in its history...." 

And what kind of change might that be?  

"The US remains committed to policies that promote democratic principles, the rule of law and respect for human rights."  Translation: the United States remains committed to free-trade on terms beneficial to  the U.S. corporatocracy and to laws which protect their property rights and economic privileges.

When a creature like Obama or Clinton use the word "democracy" they are referring to the America's long standing policy of creating "zones of democratic freedom" -- a diplomatic term of art meaning a country or region subserviently coupled to American economic interests and adhering to such political and juridical norms as will protect and promote those interests.  Simply put, "zones of democratic freedom" are to the United States what "client states" and "colonnae" were to Rome.

Of course the pax americana is drecked out in the happy-talk of Jeffersonian Liberalism.  "Respect for human rights" means "respect for free speech" which in turns effectively means "respect for the power of corporate media to flood the airwaves with its mono-culture of thought."  Oh yes, and being very liberal,  every poor, hungry, descalzado, on the street has just as much right as anyone else to speak his mind; but in a liberal democratic society it is not for government to insure that everyone's voice gets an equal airing; that would be interference.  

Chavez saw through this despicable charade and how U.S. dominated corporate media were pursuing a regime of infotainment aimed at turning Venezuelans (as they have turned Americans) into self-alienated, acquiescent morons.  The historical narrative these media pursue is, of course, the one that most justifies their past and benefits their future.  The cultural ideal held up by this media, of course, promotes their economic interests and political entrenchment. 

Ten years ago, while in Oaxaca, Mexico, we saw a stunning example of how this  propaganda works.  Oaxaca is a state with a high concentration of Mixtec and Zapotec indians who, as a rule, have copper coloured skin and vaguely oriental features. But hanging in the clothing sections of Walmarts, Sears and other outposts of American consumer goods and junk, were big posters of skinny, white, pouting, Calvin Klein French boys and girls to match.  What kind of message does this convey to a young Mixtec, other than: you should aspire to what you can never be?

This is what I mean by "self-alienation" and what Chavez and Che and others on the Ibero-American left refer to as U.S. cultural imperialism.   Global capitalism carries with it a global culture that serves its interests and ipso facto represses the true popular interests of others.  It has already destroyed Mexico.  Why not Venezuela.

Obama has made clear the extent to which the United States is prepared to "constructively" go.  It was obvious as of last year that Chavez was not long for this world, and that an "opportunity for change" would soon open up in Venezuela.  So what did Obama say?  He "warned" that the United States would not tolerate Iranian interference in South America.

Seriously, Iran needed to be reminded of the Monroe Doctrine?  Struggling as it is under a U.S. and Israeli engineered economic blockade, Iran is hardly in a position to invade the Americas.  But as a member of the oil producing block with some independent technological expertise of her own, Iran is in a position to help form and to strengthen regional retaining walls against U.S. and  Western European domination.  Obama's warning was a signal to Iran, to back off from  America's upcoming opportunity to develop a "(re)constructed relationship" with Venezuela. 

While the Venezuelan people mourn, the drones in Albrecht's Cave are hammering overtime.  Ahh, the allure of the ring!


Monday, March 4, 2013

The 1% and the 25%

A report over the weekend in the New York Times, described how pay-day lenders were circumventing New York's "strict" usury laws by charging up to 800% interest and, with bank connivance, repeatedly debiting a borrower's overdrawn checking account thereby running up over-draft fees in hundreds and even thousands of dollars to the banks' delight.

New York's "strict" anti-usury laws limited interest to 25%. 


There was a time when most states in the Union limited interest to 6 or 7 percent.  The California Constitution limited it to 10 percent per annum; ancient Roman law to 12 percent yearly.

There was a time when virtually every religion considered the charging of any interest to be morally wrong.  Jews were forbidden to charge interest among themselves.  Christianity denied the Sacraments to anyone who charged interest to anyone.  Most people regarded usury as repugnant.  Said Cato

"And what do you think of usury?" — "What do you think of murder?"

And it is a form of murder, as much as it was murder to force concentration camp inmates to work for under 1000 calories a day.    Usury is the equivalent of a starvation wage.

It is the generally accepted view that government borrowing at rates in excess of 7 percent is unsustainable in the long run.  In other words, when a government is forced to pay more than 7 percent interest will be unable to to meet its domestic obligations and the country will go into starvation mode or, as it is called these days, "austerity".

If 7 percent interest is unsustainable for a sovereign state, how in the world is 20 percent sustainable by a working stiff?  It isn't.  It is a prescription for homelessness and starvation.  Cato was right: usury is murder.

The point here is not to provide a comprehensive analysis of interest, opportunity costs, usury and the various calculations of debt to income or gross domestic product. The basic fact is that credit has become an essential lubricant to world economies and charging for the borrowed use of money is regarded as an equally necessary aspect of credit.  In a complex global finance-economy, the types of interest, their modes of calculation and their short or long term sustainability are subject to hundreds of permutations.

But the fact also remains, that over the historical long term, interest rates in excess of 7 to 12 percent have been regarded as usurious because they are not sustainable, even when regarded in isolation and without regard to a borrower's other costs of living and obligations. 

New York's "strict" usury law of 25% already allows for the progressive extermination of the working class. Charges of 800% and overdraft penalties at equivalent rates are murder. This is the blood that feeds the 1%