Posts filed under ‘Politics’

Is the new boss the old boss?

I am mourning the impending loss of Dubya. Who will I rant and rave about now that he’s set to swoop from office? As we know, Bush has been ripping to shreds civil liberties and expanding Presidential powers at the expense of citizens over the last 8 years in the name of the War on Terror. And he’s been usurping Legislative powers and disturbing the balance of powers. Frankly, I continue to be amazed the US Constitution is still standing. If you need a refresher course on the crimes of Bush and his croneys, go here.

I’ve said in previous posts that I’ve been watching Obama carefully. I’m still not won over by him. I worry about anyone who refers to himself as “an instrument of God’s will” coming to power. But my spirits were uplifted when he was on the campaign trail I’ll admit that. Here was someone I thought could usher in “change”. And at least he could string a sentence together unlike Bush.

I did a post recently that looked at whether there is a cult of personality going on around Obama and asking what exactly is Universal Voluntary Public Service? Given the popularity of Obama, I expected to be slammed for this post. Nothing, nada, zippo. No comments left. No fiery emails. I can draw some conclusions from this:

  • I have no readers or very few readers.
  • No-one cares what I have to say and can’t be bothered leaving a comment. Possible!
  • You are waiting (just like I am) to see how the Obama Administration works out

In the interests of saving face, I’ll go with the final option. But today, I want to have a look at some of the criticism that is already being levelled at Obama and why. Mainly, it concerns his backsliding on promises he made on the campaign trail. I guess we need some sympathy for the guy. He’s always struck me as being like an eager, idealistic puppy. And when you’re like that and campaigning for The Prize, you believe you can change things. But when you start getting daily security and briefing reports that tell you the economy is toast, that the US is toast, that the climate is toast – well, guess you may have to renege on some of those promises.

However, the list is getting big. Let’s have a look.

  • he vowed to tax the obscene profits of oil companies.  That ‘aint happening now as he’s reversed his pledge to tax the pants off them.
  • he said that he would withdraw US troops from Iraq but seems he’s gone a bit soft on this pledge. He is saying that there will be a responsible withdrawal over 16 months (but only if advised that this is a safe withdrawal timeframe), yet up to 55,000 troops will be left behind (for training and logistical support). And I don’t hold out much hope for a withdrawal given that Hillary Clinton will be Secretary of State (and voted for war in Iraq) and Robert Gates continues on as defense secretary. And Obama’s talking about sending more troops to Afghanistan.
  • he is a supporter of “clean coal” (how the heck is coal ever clean?) – not something we need when we’re facing climate change and really should be finding alternative energy sources.
  • and where are the Liberal Democrats in his Cabinet? I’m still looking.

But here’s the thing that really has me worried. At a time when Federal funding for scientific research has taken a battering, Obama made an election pledge to double Federal funding for basic research in the sciences; he promised to strengthen maths and science education; and work to increase the number of science and engineering graduates. Obama has already made some smart appointments, showing that he is supportive of science: Harvard physicist, John Holdren, as Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy; and Steven Chu, a Nobel prizewinner, to the Department of Energy.

So why choose a Creationist to deliver the religious ritual at your Inauguration? Obama has asked Rick Warren, a pretty extremist, celebrity pastor who wrote the bestseller The Purpose Driven Life, to deliver the invocation on January 20. This is what Warren stands for:

  • he opposes gay marriage (so I guess Hope and Change is not about accepting diversity) and has compared homosexuality to pedophilia.
  • he does not believe in Evolution. In fact, his grasp of science and paleontology is a bit suspect for he states that “The Bible’s picture is that dinosaurs and man lived together on the earth”. Obviously, he’s from the scientific creationism school of thought, which believes a literal interpretation of the Bible is scientifically demonstrable. But the fossil record shows that humans appeared on Earth millions of years after Dino dinosaurs went kaput. Scientific creationists apparently believe that human and dinosaur footprints have appeared side by side, ergo man and Dino lived happily together on this planet. Given that Obama has pledged to promote and support science, I must say inviting an extreme creationist to deliver the invocation is an odd choice and smacks of the continuing influence of the religious right.
  • worse: Warren has compared abortion to the Holocaust. So I guess he is equating women who have abortions with Nazis. He also believes that Jews will burn in Hell.

I have no issue with Obama picking a Christian minister to deliver the blessing stuff. But I would have thought a Christian leader who represented what Obama seems to stand for (ie progress, change, moderation, inclusion) would have been a better choice and sent a better signal. The Prez-elect is saying that he holds views that are contrary to Warren’s on gay rights and abortion. And that “During the course of the entire inaugural festivities, there are going to be a wide range of viewpoints that are presented. And that’s how it should be, because that’s what America is about. That’s part of the magic of this country is that we are diverse and noisy and opinionated”. Mmmm…you would think that Obama of all people might be sensitive enough to understand what it means to be discriminated against and would take a stand against discrimination in all its forms. So I’m thinking that choosing Warren to pray over the POTUS is a dumb start to the new Administration given its historical significance.

You can read more detailed concerns about Obama here, here, here and here.

January 2, 2009 at 2:00 am 5 comments

Ringing in 2009

I said in a previous post that I don’t like uneven numbers, so already I’m not liking the sound of 2009. Normally, I don’t offer up my own predictions – basically, I’d be worried that one year later, when my predictions turned out to be oh so ridiculous, I’d have serious egg-on-face. But I’ve been reading heaps on the global economy and other stuff, so I’m going to outline what I think 2009 might bring us based on all my readings and thinking. Leave a comment if you have other thoughts.

1. Re-invent yourself as a Chief Financial Officer. This would be have to be the dream job of the moment. With the GFHF (global financial hissy fit), employees are being shown the door and companies are literally vanishing overnight. Organisations left standing require a magician to navigate them through economic hell – the CFO!  Organisations will do some internal reckoning and look at their exposure. Pity I suck so badly at finance.

2.  We’ll all be in economic hell along with the CFO.  Obama’s stimulus package (or as I believe it’s now called, Economic Recovery Plan) and the Rudd Government’s attempts to kick-start flagging economies seem to assume that this is all that’s needed. The spending that sustained us all over the last few years was based on the housing bubble, which has well and truly burst. Before that, it was the tech bubble.  So unless a new bubble comes along, I’m not sure how things will recover once the Recovery Plans run out of steam. What will be the basis of a post-GFHF economy? Manufacturing? Real Estate? Financial industry? How do you build a sustainable economy without bubbles and Government “recovery plans”? All the devastating forces are still ripping into the economy – housing slump, decrease in consumer confidence and the hedge funds and banks I reckon are still to reveal exactly what they’ve been up to (so probably more bailouts will be required, further burdening the taxpayer). And I don’t see how leaders like PM Rudd are going to really help the situation with the Christmas hand-out, telling us to spend up big. It’s the consumerist, American-style capitalist model that got us into the GFHF situation in the first place. A rethink of this model needs to take place pronto.

I reckon 2009 will see formal admission by the IMF that the global economy is in Recession. Despite Obama and the atmosphere of hope around his Administration, I don’t think he’ll be able to overcome rising unemployment in the US and a deepening Recession in that country throughout 2009. I wouldn’t be surprised if some US States declare themselves “bankrupt”. Let’s just hope we don’t see signs of hyperinflation.

Banks will screw you and me. Consumer credit will be restricted and if you’re late with a payment, watch out, they will hit you with penalties at high interest rates. But Governments will probably increasingly take direct control of banks.

I also think that employers could get nasty. Knowing that people are fretting about keeping their jobs, wages could be cut and more demands made on staff to “do more with less” – leading to worker stress and gloomy moods.

3.  There will be a trend towards living a simpler life. Yep, I know that many people have been calling for a return to a less materialistic world for some time. But I think 2009 will see a conscious shift towards making your own stuff, doing with less voluntarily. The GFHF has scared the bejesus out of us. Anyone under the age of 80 years has no memory of what it’s like to live through a Depression. But we’ve all heard the stories. As a result, I think we’ll start to re-examine our lives with a view towards having less personal debt and going back to basics – like lay-bys, eating at home more, less reliance on outside entertainment and so on. Heck, even I am looking to invest in a sewing machine to make my own clothes (and I’ve never been known for my sewing abilities). I want more control over what materials I can choose. I want clothes that aren’t “Made in China”, poorly made and destined to fall apart within a season.

We will no longer sit back and accept that CEOs get paid exorbitant salaries and bonuses. We will not suffer fools – greedy bankers and financial advisors. We will return to saving and investing wisely and seeking long-term financial security not just short-term profits. We will need to reflect and adapt because a very different GFHF world awaits us.

4.  Because of the ongoing economic uncertainty and people worrying about jobs and losing homes, I think we’ll see an increase in civil unrest.  There could be a rekindling of socialist ideals.

5.  There will be some industries or professions you’d like to be in because they will see an increase in popularity. During the Great Depression, people went to the cinema to relieve anxiety. Women still bought lipsticks and cosmetics to make them feel better. So I reckon the entertainment and cosmetics industries will thrive.

6.  We’ll expect more from our politicians. Instead of party bickering, we will be looking for strong leadership to guide us through 2009. Hopefully, this will start with Obama. We will expect increased cooperation between political parties and on the international stage as Governments and politicians collaboratively address economic issues.

7. Politically, Afghanistan will start to haunt Obama. There will be further strife between India and Pakistan. I think we’ll see a rise in trade protectionism. So for example, already you see Russia raising tariffs on autos to prop up its ailing car production industry (mmmm….wonder if there will be a call for the return of Communism there?). The EU is busy accusing the US of taking a more protectionist stance on trade. I think that increased protectionism will be a huge threat to the global economy in 2009 because it will lead to a collapse in global trading.

8.  The global climate is stuffed and continues to be stuffed. 2009 will see more wild weather patterns. I think it will be chaotic and all at a rate faster than predicted.  We’ll have to take ourselves off the snooze alarm but it might be way too late to get serious about climate change. I think we’ll start to see the first skirmishes over resources.  I was reading recently about a worldwide shortage of seed. For example, soybean seed has been in short supply and alfalfa seed supply is tight. We’ve already seen food riots breaking out in Morocco, Yemen, Mexico, Guinea, Mauritania, Senegal and Uzbekistan. And of course farmers are probably going to face a tough time getting credit to buy seeds. This will all get worse in 2009 leading to food shortages and skirmishes affecting the stability of regimes.

World food security is measured by grain inventories and the really bad news is that only 50 days of grain inventories are available, compared with 115 days in 2000. This is the lowest amount of available grain reserves since 1960.

I’m not sure there’s much to look forward to actually, particularly in the UK. But I also think it is a temporary situation. We will ride it out and come out the other side okay, maybe in 2010 or 2011. But we’ll be in a very different post-GFHF world that will require us to adjust, adapt and learn to focus less on ourselves. We’ll realise that in our global environment, everything is connected and that a crisis here or a skirmish there can have a ripple effect and ultimately impact you and me.  I have left out the prediction that there will be disappointment with Obama in 2009 as that’s a separate post.

What are your predictions based on what’s going on in your country or what you see going on around the world?

December 31, 2008 at 2:00 am Leave a comment

Youth and Greek tragedy

The MacArthur Foundation published a report recently on the so-called Digital Natives (young people who have grown up with digital technology and media). Over three years, researchers conducted an ethnographic study. They interviewed over 800 young people and their parents (in the US); they spent 5000 hours observing teens on sites such as MySpace, Facebook, YouTube and other networked communities; and conducted diary studies to find out how young people engaged with digital media. I don’t think the results are surprising but perhaps put into context recent events in Athens, which I’ve been monitoring with interest.

The study identified two distinct categories of youth engagement with digital and social media – friendship-driven and interest-driven. Friendship-driven is all about socialising with your friends on Facebook or making new friends. Interest-driven involves seeking out information online that goes beyond the interests of a person’s peer group or extends what is learnt at school. So it’s self-directed and peer-based learning.

But consider this excerpt from the report:

Through participation in social network sites such as MySpace, Facebook, and Bebo (among others) as well as instant and text messaging, young people are constructing new social norms and forms of media literacy in networked public culture that reflect the enhanced role of media in their lives.”

In other words, participation in the public space of social networks is a precondition for participation in the public spaces of adulthood – politics, commerce, adult relationships and so on.  Personal and amateur media like blogs, mashups, podcasts, videos and  fansubbing not only allow for self-expression and creativity, they prepare today’s youth for more active civic engagement. Armed with pretty sophisticated literacy and technical skills, young people are in a position to take centre stage in political life. Because they are deeply engaged in friendship-driven and interest-driven online activities, they are exposed to far more complex information structures, which leads to them taking on the roles of journalists, authors, distributors, political and social commentators and artists.

It’s the roles of political activist, political commentator and citizen journalist that I think were seen very clearly in the recent riots in Athens, Greece. While 500 journalists were holed up in a hotel in Athens contemplating the crisis in professional reporting due to the rise of citizen journalism, the city was witnessing riots and protests organised mainly by young people who had gathered together via Twitter, Facebook and other social media. The urban violence erupted following the shooting of a teenage boy by a policeman on December 6th. We saw similar youth mobilisation in Egypt in April when disaffected youth rounded up 80,000 supporters via Facebook to protest rising food prices. And of course, citizen reporters were on the spot taking shots from their camera phone during the London bombings.

But with this empowerment comes the responsibility to be accurate. Initial reports seemed to suggest that the teenager was shot in cold-blood, whereas the coroner’s report showed that a warning shot the policeman said he’d aimed into the air had ricocheted and caused the tragedy. However, a witness to the shooting captured the incident on her mobile phone and it does not appear to show the policeman and his colleagues being threatened or attacked by the teenager (who allegedly hurled a petrol bomb).

Alternet is right in commenting:

It is a dangerous world, indeed, when citizen reporters are completely trusted, both by the media institutions that incorporate them and by the audience who consume that information. The role of the mature news organization, one should think, is to filter real news from pseudo news, rather than treating all content as equal.…In an age when serious journalism is on the retreat …… and the world is awash with rumors and misinformation, one cannot help but think that the much touted “Information Age” is not what it’s cracked up to be.”

Indeed, the Athens riots (and violence in other Greek cities) is probably a boiling over of far deeper issues – anger with the Conservative Government’s economic policies; a chasm between rich and poor; corruption and scandals; strikes; a dismal job market.

So whilst the MacArthur Foundation report speaks of empowerment of youth and social mores that emerge from social networks, digital media extends this empowerment to politics and citizen journalism. But rather than cause the demise of professional reporting, how can amateur and professional reporting live side by side and honour the rigours of professional journalism?

Image credit:

December 20, 2008 at 4:13 am 2 comments

The President of Hope and Change?

Well, I’ll probably be slammed for this post since everyone seems to think Obama is going to save the world. I’ve been contemplating Obama for some time. Frankly, I’m not won over by him. I admit he’s a great orator with shades of Martin Luther King and JFK. The fact that he’s only been a Senator for two nanoseconds has me a tad nervous but I can live with it. He was the preferable candidate especially when you consider that Sarah Palin could have become Prez if McCain had been elected and carked it in office. And of course it is a magnificent shift in American psychology to elect the first Afro-American Prez. This is probably the first sign of the growing demographic shift in the US with minorities predicted to be in the majority by 2050. And how tremendous that Obama will be inaugurated within sight of where slave pens used to be. America has grown up.

But once Obama trounced Hillary, I became concerned about a cult of personality surrounding Obama. Paul Krugman (American economist and intellectual) in February 2008, writing in the NY Times, said: “I’m not the first to point out that the Obama campaign seems dangerously close to becoming a cult of personality” and hero worship. Obama’s supporters have been referred to as glassy-eyed cult members with one writer saying that “Obamaphilia has gotten creepy” and that “He’s a politician so soft and safe, Oprah likes him. There’s talk about his charisma and good looks, but I know a nerd when I see one”. Other more slamming critiques refer to Obama as a “vacuous opportunist“.

Leaving aside whether there’s a cult of personality going on, what I find more serious is the admission in The Washington Post that there was press bias towards Obama (now there’s a surprise!). There were 58 negative items about McCain compared to 32 items about Obama. Stories and photos about Obama outnumbered those on McCain.

So I have been sitting back and waiting for some signs of how Obama will be different from Bush. We are all breathing a sigh of relief that Bush is wafting off into the sunset. But I posed the question some time ago: what will the new Prez do with the increased powers Bush usurped for himself? A primary question for me is what Obama will do about the expanded surveillance powers under the FISA Act, which has resulted in illegal snooping, prying and surveillance of US citizens and eavesdropping on international communications without a specific court order.

Well, I’m not given much comfort when I hear John Brennan, who heads up Obama’s intelligence-transition team, is quoted as saying Obama is unlikely to radically overhaul Bush’s intelligence policies. Okay we know he will give up the most controversial policy – Gitmo – finally putting an end to the US being implicated in torture, sorry “interrogation”. But Obama did in fact vote for the FISA Amendments Act on July 14 2008, reversing his original position and breaking with the Democratic Party’s base. Sounding a lot like Bush, he said:

“Given the grave threats that we face, our national security agencies must have the capability to gather intelligence and track down terrorists before they strike..”.

In casting his vote, Obama supported giving telecommunications companies immunity against civil damages as a result of any lawsuits challenging the illegal and unconstitutional dragnet of surveillance ushered in by FISA. Perhaps Obama and his campaign handlers suffered temporary amnesia because in 2007 the Obama camp issued this statement:

“To be clear: Barack will support a filibuster of any bill that includes retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies.

Obviously, we have to wait and see what Prez Obama actually does under FISA once in office. He has said: “There is also little doubt that the Bush Administration, with the cooperation of major telecommunications companies, has abused that authority and undermined the Constitution by intercepting the communications of innocent Americans without their knowledge or the required court orders.”

But added that he gives a “firm pledge that as President, I will carefully monitor the program, review the report by the Inspectors General, and work with the Congress to take any additional steps I deem necessary to protect the lives – and the liberty – of the American people.” It’s the “I deem necessary” bit that has me a bit nervous. This is sort of like “trust me, leave it to me, I will know best”. Yep, well look what Bush did.

Back to John Brennan. He recently said his team will “be looking at existing executive orders, then making sure from Jan. 20 on there’s going to be appropriate executive branch oversight of intelligence functions”. And Executive oversight is exactly what Bush did – concentrated the power into the hands of the Prez.  What about Congressional and Judicial oversight?

Another aspect to Obama that I’m curious about – and the jury is still out on this one – is this business about a national civilian security force. I haven’t seen much written about this. Probably because something he said in a July 2 speech in Colorado Springs apparently disappeared from official transcripts. Obama said:

We cannot continue to rely on our military in order to achieve the national security objectives we’ve set. We’ve got to have a civilian national security force that’s just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded.”

Apparently, the Wall Street Journal and the Denver Post carried the full transcript but I’ve searched in vain. What exactly did Obama mean by a powerful civilian national security force? He’s not referring to the Peace Corps because that is not a national security force. Mmmm…don’t think the US Constitution would allow for a domestic army Mr Prez-Elect.

I have found references to a “giant police force” and comments that Obama wants to take control of youth like Hitler did with his paramilitary brown shirts brigade. Surfacing the old chestnut of Marxism, Rep. Paul Broun said:

“That’s exactly what Hitler did in Nazi Germany and it’s exactly what the Soviet Union did. When he’s proposing to have a national security force that’s answering to him, that is as strong as the U.S. military, he’s showing me signs of being Marxist.”

Okay, don’t think we need to go this far. But Obama has not articulated what he means by a “civilian national security force” so we are left to fill in the blanks. Is it referring to Obama’s strong support for community organisation and volunteerism? During his campaign, he often referred to Universal Voluntary Public Service (UVPS). Under UVPS, all Americans will be required to perform one year of public service between the ages of 18 to 30. The “volunteers” will be placed in Government service or with an NGO and will be required to attend training workshop and three retreats (or bootcamps as I’ve seen it referred to). While serving their time in the project, volunteers earn a monthly income of up to $1,800, paid health and childcare. Sounds good?

I guess it depends on how the programme is wielded. Nothing is ever really voluntary and universal. What if a young person does not wish to participate? Will they eventually be denied a specific job or College graduation?  One blog refers to UVPS in this manner:

“The ideal behind the Universal Voluntary Public Service program is to guide as many youth as possible to jobs either in the government or with socially progressive NGOs. This program is really a draft forcing our youth into one year of progressive brainwashing and reprogramming”.

Obviously, we have to wait to see what the UVPS is all about but people voluntarily working for the common good was a part of the Communist Manifesto. There’s been a lot of talk about whether Obama is or was a socialist. To be honest, I don’t care. I just think that quite a few questions could and should have been asked by voters and the media but these were largely runover by the Obama steamroller.

I am very hopeful he will bring the change that is needed to the world, don’t get me wrong. But because he has “come from nowhere”, I think it is only prudent to probe and ask questions because we don’t want a replay of the Bush years. Let’s just hope he wasn’t swept into office due to public anger against Bush and the Republican agenda.

December 1, 2008 at 2:00 am Leave a comment

End of the world as we know it

Well, I have to admit I’m in a bit of a dark, brooding mood right now. The ongoing financial hissy fit, emerging social problems and the horror of the terrorist attack in Mumbai have all converged to leave me a bit desperate about the future. Then along came a report I should have left alone!

I pity Prez-elect Obama. He will be inheriting, well…a mess. If he had taken office four years ago, the future might have looked rosier. Every four years, the National Intelligence Council releases a report called the Global Trends Review. The 2004 report confidently stated that the world would witness continued US dominance. But the latest report is full of doom and gloom and a less prominent US in world affairs.

I’m sure that Obama has been reading Global Trends 2025 with his head in his hands. The report is subtitled A Transformed World and herein lies the doom and gloom bit. What a dramatic and sobering shift in four short years.  Here are some tidbits:

  • new kids on the block – Brazil, Russia, India and China – are emerging economies that will grow at America’s expense. The traditional Western alliances will weaken and more countries may be attracted to China’s alternative development model.
  • and here’s something we’re already seeing: “The State’s role in the economy may be gaining more appeal throughout the world”.
  • the power of non-state actors like religious groups, criminal networks, tribes and businesses will increase.
  • the unprecedented shift in relative wealth and economic power from West to East now under way will continue.
  • the US will be less dominant.
  • shortages of fuel, food and water will spark conflicts.
  • growth of the Muslim population in Europe to 20-30 million with accompanying potential sources of conflict.
  • potential emergence of a global pandemic – a virulent human respiratory illness – with tension and conflict as nations struggle to control the movement of populations across borders (I really think this is a very high probability).
  • Warfare in 2025 will be characterised by several strategic trends – the increasing importance of information; the adoption of irregular warfare tactics; the rise of non-military tactics such as cyber, economic and information-based forms of conflict.

The report has a number of very interesting global fictionalised scenarios such as The World Without The West and BRIC’s bust up. I suggest you get a strong cup of coffee (or a bottle of vodka), curl up and read the report. I found it fascinating albeit it left me in a pretty dark mood!

November 29, 2008 at 2:00 am 1 comment

End of the world as we know it?

I’ve been seeing a lot of “this is the death of capitalism” dire warnings as a result of the global financial hissy fit. I’m not sure this is a useful statement frankly. Perhaps it’s more the death of Thatcherite-Reaganite neo-liberalism. What we might be seeing is the birth of a new world order. So I found this article in the Guardian extremely interesting. Sales of Das Kapital are soaring as people mutter that the Marxian analysis of Capitalism was right after all. Apparently, Marx is hot in eastern Germany and he’s hit the bestseller lists again. I must admit to flicking through my copy over the last few weeks.

43% of former East Germans say they want socialism rather than capitalism. Let’s face it: they’ve had a rough trot since the Berlin Wall crumbled what with high unemployment and reunification issues. Stories are being gleaned with one former East Berliner saying:

“We read about the ‘horrors of capitalism’ in school. They really got that right. Karl Marx was spot on. I had a pretty good life before the Wall fell. No one worried about money because money didn’t really matter. You had a job even if you didn’t want one. The communist idea wasn’t all that bad.”

Even Nicolas Sarkozy has been snapped leafing through the writings of Marx. So are we heading towards new socialism? The article makes the very salient point that it is the free-market model that is snuffing it, not capitalism itself. So we don’t need to call each other Comrade just yet. What we’ve seen is the flagrant abuse of capitalism by greedy bankers, CEOs and..let’s be honest…we have all been complicit in the whole mess – wanting the McMansion, The Brands, bigger and better salaries. Unbridled capitalism has led to shockers like this – AIG‘s top dogs off on a partridge hunt at an English country Manor, spending $US86,000 at the same time the US Feds were bailing AIG out with taxpayer money and whilst Mom and Dad citizen were suffering through the humiliation of homes being repossessed. They wore tweed jackets, shot at poor defenseless birds and scoffed the finest of wines. One of AIG’s top executives had the gall to say: “The recession will go on until about 2011 – but the shooting was great today and we are relaxing fine”. Pity Dick Cheney wasn’t on this hunt. He might have missed his aim and shot at this idiot executive.

What we are seeing (I hope) is an end to the unethical, greed is good, morally repugnant, “hands off, don’t regulate us” free-market capitalism. To be replaced by what? Since the implosion of Communism and the erosion of the welfare-state, what model remains standing on the Left? People still believe in the natural right to own property and the right to trade property, ergo Capitalism will not die. Capitalism has been tarnished by the 25 years or so of Thatcherite-Reaganite neo-liberalism (not to mention the stupidity of George W). It’s been abused by shadowy bankers, arrogance and hubris. It’s been battered by the house of cards that were subprime mortgages. But it will remain standing.

The challenge will be for capitalism to attain a human face. To cater for the less-wealthy in society, provide education, housing and a working health system.

November 6, 2008 at 2:00 am Leave a comment

Hasta la vista Dubya!

Eight long years I’ve waited for this day! Finally, the winds of change will sweep through the mirky, shadowy corridors of the White House and Dubya will waft off into the sunset – going down in history as the worst of all US Presidents and leaving in his wake an America that is less respected. What will today bring? Prez Obama or Prez McCain? Will either represent true change? Will either willingly give up some of the powers that Dubya has usurped for himself?

Whoever is elected today has enormous powers to shape the post-meltdown world. I am hoping that there aren’t any nasty surprises coming our way. Did you read the article by Robert F. Kennedy Jr and Greg Palast in Rolling Stone about the GOP’s campaign to deter new voters and vanish Democratic voters off voting lists?

On Super Tuesday (February 5) one in nine Democrats who went to cast their ballots in New Mexico found…poof..their names had vanished off the voting roll (and this included the supervisor of elections in Las Vegas – imagine his surprise!). In Las Vegas, nearly 20% of the county’s Democratic voters were missing off the voting list. Republican “operatives” are using new Federal legislation to disenfranchise Democrats. I guess we’ll find out very soon whether this disreputable nationwide campaign is enough to knock out Obama’s chances of being Prez.

With the United States being a superpower embroiled in a not-so-elegant decline, this Prez election is perhaps the most important in US history. Bogged down in the Iraq quagmire; arrogantly ignoring international law and order; engaging in torture; turning their backs on global warming – the next US Prez will have a staggering To Do list:

  • Commander-in-Chief of the largest war-time force deployed since the Vietnam War – what to do about the Iraq War?
  • an incredibly stuffed economy, teetering on the edge of the abyss
  • he’ll need to formulate a new Regulatory structure that reigns in the free-market model
  • regaining the respect of the world
  • doing something about climate change

A brave man who takes on this job!

Image credits: Reuters and CNN.

November 4, 2008 at 2:00 am 1 comment

Posse Comitatus

If you’re an avid reader of the ThinkingShift blog, you would know what Posse Comitatus means. And you might even be concerned that an active-duty military unit is within the borders of the United States. If you have no clue about what I’m talking about, then go here and here.

I’ve been surprised (or maybe not!) by the lack of coverage over the battering of Posse Comitatus and I’ve been waiting to see what the American Civil Liberties Union (great watchdog that they are!) would do about it. Well, they’ve come out slugging by filing a request under the US Freedom of Information Act with the Departments of Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security. It demands an explanation for the decision to deploy a permanent active-duty unit within the borders of the United States. Let’s recall, this is an active-duty unit not a bunch of retired generals relaxing during a bit of R&R. I have been amazed, speechless, aghast (add any other term you like) over the fact that America effectively has a standing army that potentially disturbs the balance of powers because what we have here is the military with an increasing role in domestic surveillance.

You need to read my previous two posts to gain a full understanding of the seriousness of this situation. But the ACLU is asking for some serious stuff:

  • disclosure of any records relating to the decision to deploy the unit
  • any documents relating to the purpose of the unit eg functions, surveillance activities, duties and the unit’s relationship to existing civilian agencies or the National Guard

In my previous posts, I asked where the unit was actually located. Now we know: Fort Stewart, Georgia. Fort Stewart is the home of the US Army 3rd Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team, which is the unit now deployed within US borders.  The unit is called the Chemical, Biological, Radiological/Nuclear, and Explosive (CBRNE) Consequence Management Response Force or CCMRF (pronounced, strangely enough, “sea-smurf”) – sinister sounding if you ask me.

So I had a look at Fort Stewart’s website to see what I could find out. The latest issue of their newsletter, Frontline, was full of news about valour being recognised; the career counsellor of the week; a seafood fest; an article on General Patton; Halloween safety tips (what the?); Marine Television TV Guide (mmm….must check that out to see if they’re showing my favourite show, Inspector Rex!). But I didn’t find news that would inform the public about what the permanent unit’s duties are. But in their September 11 issue, I found this:

“The 1st Brigade Combat Team (of the 3rd Infantry) is currently conducting a mission readiness exercise for its new homeland mission. The Raider Brigade was selected to be part of a joint service task force responsible for providing support to the designated lead federal agency in the event of a Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, High-yield Consequence Management Response Force, or CCMRF. Representatives from U.S. Northern Command at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo.; U.S. Army North at Fort Sam Houston, Texas; and Joint Task Force Civil Support at Fort Monroe, Va., will be present for the exercise at Evans Army Airfield until Sept. 18, the first time these agencies will have an active-duty brigade committed to the CCMRF team as its primary mission. The subordinate battalions are scheduled to conduct individual preparatory training for the mission during the exercise and throughout the month of September as well”.

Clearly, Prez Bush is expecting some serious stuff happening in the US soon – civil unrest or catastrophes that may involve nuclear weapons. The CCMRF is a fully trained and experienced unit that has spent the last 35 months in Iraq patrolling in “full battle rattle” (as the Army Times put it). They are well used to confronting an enemy in a theatre of war. They weren’t hanging around painting their nails! The situation in Iraq is pretty overstretched so why bring back home a combat unit a little over one month before the Prez elections (they were deployed on October 1st). Should Obama lose the unloseable election, are authorities concerned about civil unrest from the Afro-American community? The CCMRF’s brief is to provide support to civilian authorities. What are the Americans not being told here? Is this the militarisation of civil agencies? So many questions need to be asked.

I nosed around some more and found this bit in the Air Force Times back in June 2008: not one but three CCMRF’s were slated to return to the US, each unit having 4,500 troops. My cunning maths ability tells me this would be 13,500 troops within US borders. CCMRF 1 is clearly the unit deployed on October 1. CCMRF 2 is expected to be fully operational by the start of fiscal 2010, with CCMRF 3 ready by the start of fiscal 2011, according to the article. So…..what authorities are describing as an innocent bunch of military personnel ready to come to US citizens’ aid in the event of a catastrophe is really a purposely staged standing army? The National Guard provides help to citizens after man-made or natural disasters, so why bring in the sea-smurfs?

I found the CCMRF Consequence Management Handbook, an annexure of which is “Standing Rules for the use of Force”. There is a very scary image on page 129 entitled Continuum of Force Levels that shows what level of force the sea-smurfs can use. There are 5 broad categories and they don’t require movement from one level to the next in sequential order. So the 5th level is Lethal Combative and the CCMRF appropriate response would be Cause Death/Serious Injury.  Download the pdf version of the Handbook and check it out. I’m wondering why this continuum is necessary – unless of course US authorities are expecting something serious in the near future like civil unrest due to the financial meltdown or Obama losing the Prez elections.

I’m smelling a huge rat here. Critics of this suss mission point to a General Accounting Office study in 2003, which found that domestic security missions put a strain on a military stretched thin by the Iraq war and that a unit’s readiness for combat is reduced if the members have to take time out to respond to an emergency at home. Gene Healy, a vice president of the conservative think-tank Cato Institute, quipped that the US military “is not a Swiss Army knife,” ready to fight the Taliban one week, respond to a hurricane the next and put down a major political protest the third week.

Back to the ACLU: here’s hoping that can surface what’s really going on. As they say: “We have a right to know why the government has made the unprecedented decision to implement the CCMRF program, and the true threat it poses to our civil liberties”.

October 28, 2008 at 2:00 am 3 comments

Wake up America!

I blogged the other day about the death of Posse Comitatus and how the US Army 3rd Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team returned to the US and as of October 1st is effectively a standing army within US borders. We’re talking around 4,000 troops. If you missed this post, I urge you to read it.

I’ve been investigating further. Mainly, because I simply cannot believe the audacity of Bush and his gang. The US Prez can now command an army. Something Posse Comitatus was designed to stop happening. Now, a Vietnam veteran, a retired US Air Force Colonel no less is on record as saying that Bush should be impeached for striking down Posse Comitatus.

I have not been able to find out where exactly the brigade has been deployed within the US. But wherever they are, their weaponry includes both lethal and non-lethal weapons and they will have access to tanks. The brigade has been named the chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or high-yield explosive Consequence Management Response Force. The acronym, CCMRF, pronounced “sea-smurf”, is now used for this brigade, which spent 35 of the last 60 months in Iraq in a combat zone. I’ve also heard them referred to as The Raiders. Apparently, they have been very good at suppressing resistance in the city of Ramadi, Iraq.

Now, if this bunch of troops has been brought back to the US (as the official mantra says) for some R&R and be part of an on-call Federal response to natural disasters or emergencies, why the need for heavy artillery? This is not a bunch of boy scouts being deployed – it’s a unit experienced in fierce combat and trained to kill. Unless of course you are expecting a mass civilian meltdown to accompany the financial meltdown. If the economic crisis becomes grave, then people may not be able to get money out of an ATM. Civil unrest ensues and an army is needed to subdue the populace.

The really scary bit is that the Sea Smurfs are not answerable to Congress. They are at Bush’s command. The Vietnam veteran calling for Bush’s impeachment painted this scenario:

  • if Bush commanded the brigade to arrest Congress, they would have to obey
  • the brigade could arrest any voters (because the Act that killed off Posse Comitatus, HR 5122, loosely defines “insurgents” and “insurrection”. So a bunch of voters putting up a mild protest could be arrested and hauled off)
  • if Bush directs the brigade to kill US citizens, they would have to obey (and if they refused, they would be treated as deserters and face up to 5 years’ imprisonment)

Did I fail Politics at University? Since when does “democracy” equate with having troops in the streets armed with lethal and non-lethal weapons and at the disposal of a President? Have the Americans lost what was once so dear to them – their fear and loathing of standing armies? British troops in colonial America was the very thing they stood up against.

There are some serious questions that need to be asked:

  • under what circumstances exactly could the Sea Smurfs be ordered to act against US citizens?
  • what would constitute unruliness, insurgency, unrest? Would a bunch of peaceful protesters hanging around a building with a few pathetic placards and chanting a protest slogan be defined as “insurgents”?
  • what are the rules of engagement?
  • how would a “public emergency” be defined exactly?
  • what weaponry will the Sea Smurfs have at their command? How will the weaponry be used?
  • why has the US Army been given what is (let’s be honest here) law enforcement duties?
  • and if it came to the crunch, would US troops REALLY act against their own citizens?

Wake up Americans! This is surely not a path you wish to go down – a military state replacing a democracy.  Am I the only one worrying about this? I’ve only seen a few other bloggers talk about this but that’s about it.

Image credit. Inteldaily

October 14, 2008 at 2:00 am 4 comments

Be afraid America!

Looks like Bush and his gang are up to their old tricks again. But this is potentially more worrying than any invasion of privacy if you ask me. The US Army is returning to the Homeland from Iraq. Alas, not all the troops just the 3rd Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team (BCT), which has spent 35 months in Iraq patrolling here, there and everywhere.

They are not returning home for some R&R. Nope. They are returning home to….wait for it…..carry out homeland patrols in the US. What the? Yep. From October 1, for 12 months, the BCT will be under the day-to-day command of US Army North. So what I hear you say?

Well, let’s dig deeper. According to the Army Times:

“..this new mission marks the first time an active unit has been given a dedicated assignment to NorthCom, a joint command established in 2002 to provide command and control for federal homeland defense efforts and coordinate defense support of civil authorities.”

Note that last bit “coordinate defense support of civil authorities”. The article goes on:

“….they’ll learn new skills, use some of the ones they acquired in the war zone and more than likely will not be shot at while doing any of it. They may be called upon to help with civil unrest and crowd control or to deal with potentially horrific scenarios such as massive poisoning and chaos in response to a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or high-yield explosive, or CBRNE, attack.”

Great to see they’ll be learning new skills but what civil unrest and crowd control are they expecting to be handling??? Do Bush and his croneys know something we don’t (although suspect) – that the meltdown of the financial system will plunge the US into Depression and the country will face riots and civil tension?

Let’s get something straight – we are talking about a standing Army inside US borders. Now obviously Bush is once again giving the finger to the Rule of Law or he’s suffering amnesia. The US has a piece of legislation called The Posse Comitatus Act. This Act was passed after the American Civil War and expressly prohibits the deployment of the US military within US borders. There are exceptions to this – the Coast Guard is exempted and military personnel can be deployed on an emergency basis, such as in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Other than this, Posse Comitatus was expressly designed to limit the powers of the US Federal Government in using the military for law enforcement. Posse Comitatus is one of the keys to democracy ensuring the US Prez cannot command an Army at will.

Have I missed a major emergency in the US? Has there been another Hurricane Katrina? If there is no emergency that would call for the military to intervene, then what on earth is a standing army doing in the US for the next 12 months?

Actually, I’m too hasty. It’s not just for 12 months. The Army Times goes on to say that after the BCT completes its mission “… expectations are that another, as yet unnamed, active-duty brigade will take over and that the mission will be a permanent one”.  See the penultimate word? Permanent!

After reading the article, I had to pick myself up off the floor. And then I rushed to do some research. How had Bush overturned Posse Comitatus? Seems on October 17, 2006, Bush swept away Posse Comitatus when he signed HR 5122 The John Warner Defense Authorization Act of 2006 (wasn’t this John Warner dude married to Elizabeth Taylor once?).

This Act allows the Prez to override State and local authorities to station troops anywhere within the borders of that grand old dame, the US of A. In other words, declare Martial Law. Jettison Democracy. Of course, Bush would argue that HR 5122 is a direct response to Hurricane Katrina, allowing more effective coordination in the wake of natural disasters. But if we read s333(A) of the Act it says:

“…restore public order and enforce the laws of the United States when, as a result of a natural disaster, epidemic, or other serious public health emergency, terrorist attack or incident…”

Ah, so here we have it. HR 5122 is not about coping with natural disasters, it’s about broadening Bush’s powers by sneaking in that old chestnut “terrorist attack or incident”.

I am literally counting the days, hours and seconds until Bush departs the White House. But as I blogged about in a previous post, will Prez Obama or Prez McCain willingly give up expanded powers, particularly one that allows a President to act as a military dictator (for if you read HR 5122, that is what it comes to – the death of Posse Comitatus as a safeguard of democracy and the power to mobilise US troops within the US to put down any State or local act of insurrection, violence, civil unrest, unlawful combination, conspiracy and so on).

Where’s the valium??!!  RIP US Democracy.

October 4, 2008 at 1:33 am 2 comments

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