Archive for October 2012
“I never once considered co-operation and never would. It is against everything I believe in. On my right arm I have a tattoo reading ‘strive to survive causing least suffering possible.’ This is something I live by every single day and will continue to live by whether I am in a cage or not.” Leah Lynn-Plante was referring to the cage should would be locked in at the Federal Detention Center Sea Tac in Seattle.
On October 11th, Plante had been remanded to a federal prison for refusing to cooperate with a grand jury investigation. In grand jury investigations the accused Fifth Amendment right to remain silent is null. Plante had been subpoenaed to testify about political activists in the region, a group federal investigators have identified as “anarchists”. Salon reporter Natasha Lennard, wrote in July that the federal grand jury subpoenas were issued by the FBI and Joint Terrorism Task Force. The two agencies were investigating “violent crime” that occurred at Seattle’s May Day protests. Although it is believed that the investigations pertain to “property damage” related to May Day. The FBI and Joint Terrorism Task Force conducted raids of activists homes and squats in Olympia, Seattle and Portland after receiving no-knock warrants. As Lennard reported, the searches targeted computers, black clothing, phones and “anarchist literature”.
Plante’s incarceration follows a disturbing trend of federal agencies jailing political activists. Jared Chase, Brent Betterly and Brian Jacob Church, three of thousands of activists who attended the Anti-NATO protests in Chicago on May 19th were arrested and are now facing charges relating to terrorism, conspiracy to commit terrorism and possession of explosives.
“The individuals we charged are not peaceful protesters, they are domestic terrorists,” Attorney General Anita Alvarez said of the defendants. Officials of the Chicago Police Department began investigating the three “self-described anarchists” in early May. According to prosecutors the defendants had plans to construct a pipe bomb, possessed three Molotov cocktails and had plans to purchase assault rifles. Prosecutors say they found maps listing escape routes throughout the city for a planned attack on police stations. But the defendants lawyers are circumspect.
The National Lawyers Guild voiced their concerns that the arrest was a ploy to intimidate protesters, and send a chilling message to activists as if to say these are the consequences for demonstrating: arrest, grand jury testimony, federal prison. The lawyers guild considered the arrests a case of entrapment and stated that the plans were the work of an informant while the materials for the explosives were provided by an undercover agent.
In a statement to the Tribune, Occupy Chicago activist Natalie Wahlberg said, “The charges are utterly ridiculous. CPD [Chicago police department] doesn’t know the difference between home beer-making supplies and Molotov cocktails.” The defendants lawyer said the “bomb materials” were part of a brewing kit.
The climate of intimidation and fear resonates across the country. Law enforcement agencies have a vast repertoire of counterterrorism instruments at their disposal. Surveillance devices, datamining technologies and legal tools that have been critical for identifying foreign terrorists and uncovering their plots are now being routinely utilized against “domestic terrorists” like Plante, Chase, abetterly and Church.
As early as 2002 massive surveillance campaigns, were being conducted on American citizens involved in peaceful protests. An ACLU investigation revealed the extent to which the Denver Police cooperated with other local police departments, the FBI and the Joint Terrorism Task Force to build 3,200 files on 209 protesters. Members of Amnesty International, Quaker Organizations and individual activists were horrified to discover that personal information including their names, addresses, telephone numbers, vehicle registrations in addition to descriptions of what they were doing at a series of protests had been added to the “spy files,” the name given to the files the police held on activists.Denver Mayor Wellington Web who sided with civil rights organizations in the aftermath stated he was unaware of his police department’s activities. This is an “overly broad interpretation of established policies for intelligence gathering and the reporting on organizations that do not pose a threat,” Weber stated at a press release.
Nearly a decade after the spy files scandal, eleven years after Bush declared war against terrorists and a year and half since Bin Laden was killed America continues to wage a war on terrorism. The dynamics of that war are different today. The enemy’s face is increasingly that of a U.S citizen. While drone strikes, special ops teams and foreign intelligence agencies are still hunting the phantom al-quedaDirector, another war is being waged from within national borders.
Robert S. Mueller III of the F.B.I., offers a profile of the war on terrorism’s internal targets. “Our highest domestic terrorism priorities” are catching and prosecuting “those who commit crime and terrorism in the name of animal rights or environmental issues.” The intelligence agencies have also expended countless resources to investigate what the FBI calls “black separatists” in a 2011 domestic terrorism training course.
Leah Lynn-Plante was incarcerated for her refusal to inform the federal grand jury about the activities of the Northwest activists, political activists who have been labeled by intelligence agencies black separatists. Daniel McGowan, the Earth Liberation Front activist sentenced to 7 years in federal prison on arson and conspiracy charges also highlights the FBI’s domestic priorities. Their incarcerations like the three activists jailed in Chicago demonstrates the kind of people intelligence agencies are targeting. Author and journalist Will Potter spoke about who the FBI’s practices in an interview with The Dissenter’s Kevin Gosztola : “the history of the FBI—Its existence has been about targeting. We see from the top levels of government the targeting of the environmental rights movement, targeting anarchists as terrorists, surveillance of the Occupy Wall Street movement.”
What “domestic terrorists” targeted by America’s intelligence agencies have in common is that they are political activists. They have rallied for social justice, shut down traffic, camped out in public and in extreme cases damaged property. Criminalizing political activists for challenging the structures of authority and power is a tactic commonly used in politically repressive states. From the domestic spying programs to the secret judicial procedures of the federal grand jury, political activists in America are discovering that they are not only dissenters but terrorists.
And the president is…Hugo Chavez!
The fierce leader of Venezuela has been derided as a “populist dictator”, “drug-trafficker” and “tyrant”. Coverage of Venezuela’s recent elections have cast Chavez in a similar light. Outgoing World Bank President Robert Zoellick taunted, “Chavez’s days are numbered”. Barclay’s was prematurely overcome with joy calling the elections for center-right candidate Henrique Capriles. According to the western media the economy of Venezuela has been teetering on the brink of collapse for over a decade. Sound-bite after sound-bite someone is railing that Chavez is an enemy of freedom, a supporter of rogue states and a reckless squanderer of oil wealth.
Despite the notion propagated by the West and onanistic corporate elites that they would finally see Chavez displaced in a “too close to call” election, the reality is Chavez won by a substantial margin, 11 percent and for obvious reasons.
Before we go any further lets debunk once and for all that Chavez rigged the election. Venezuela boasts the reputation for having one of the fairest electoral systems. Canadian based Foundation for Democratic Advancement ranked Venezuelan elections number 1 in fairness (http://venezuelanalysis.com/news/6336). The International Elections Report released by the Carter Center for Peace also found Venezuelan elections to be among the fairest in the world. Capriles himself conceded that the elections were “clean”. Although he lamented that Chavez’s state resources put him at an unfair advantage. Nevertheless there was no Palm Beach County “butterfly ballot controversy” going on here.
The Chavez story you don’t hear in the western press is that of a transformational leader who took a defiant stand against western imperial forces and turned the tides for a country that suffered immensely under the neoliberal policies dictated by the Washington Consensus.
Since Chavez first came to office in 1998 he has cut poverty in half in his country and deep poverty by over 70 percent. Nationalizing the oil industry was a boon that redistributed wealth to a perennial underclass. Revenue from oil sales were used to establish an expansive health care system that today provides millions with health care for the first time. Many patients are treated by world class Cuban doctors who have come to practice in Venezuela under an initiative Chavez spearheaded. College enrollment has more than doubled. Voters re-elected the President on Monday because they have experienced substantial improvements in their lives since he was chosen as leader 16 years ago.
This election invigorates the progressive wave rolling across the Latin world. Chavez, like the other leftist leaders in his hemisphere, have pulled their countries from economic stagnation, political instability and at times, war. No wonder why his popularity shined through at the polls. Chavez is among a group of Latin American presidents that have garnered overwhelming support for challenging neoliberal orthodoxy and implementing social programs that saved millions from poverty. NY Times reporter Mark Wesbrot published this list of popularly elected leaders:
“Rafael Correa, who was reelected president of Ecuador by a wide margin in 2009; the enormously popular Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil, who was reelected in 2006 and then successfully campaigned for his former chief of staff, now President Dilma Rousseff, in 2010; Evo Morales, Bolvia’s first indigenous president, who was reelected in 2009; José Mujica, who succeeded his predecessor from the same political alliance in Uruguay — the Frente Amplio — in 2009; Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who succeeded her husband, the late Néstor Kirchner, winning the 2011 Argentine presidential election by a solid margin.”
Less than a decade ago the Bush administration sought to oust Chavez for good. In a secretly backed coup, America threw its weight behind businessman Pedro Carmona. Carmona was installed. But the coup was reversed within 48 hours restoring Chavez to power. Washington’s ambitions to prop up a leader running on deregulation, privatization and hacking social programs (the typical conditions of securing US financed loans) would never materialize. Chavez bounced back bedeviling the Bush administration. Salivating foreign investors and oil tycoons lost their shot at bonanza in the resource-rich country.
Venezuela is not without it’s problems. Rampant crime plagues neighborhoods. Many complain of a lack of law enforcement. Inflation roils the economy. Poor infrastructure is also a long term economic issue that the country will have to confront.
Yet Venezuela’s economy has been growing for two and half years uninterrupted. Oil exports bring in soaring revenues. “The country has a sizeable trade surplus. Its public debt is relatively low, and so is its debt-service burden. It has plenty of room to borrow foreign currency and can borrow domestically as well at low or negative real interest.” Compared to anemic growth in the US and the financial crisises threatening the Europe, Venezeula is in outstanding shape.
In addition to economic growth Venezuela’s political influence has spread throughout the region. A financing partnership has been forged with China, priming the country for steady investment. Washington continues to isolate Venezeula, thus isolating itself from a hemisphere weary of America’s interests.The Obama administration has shown no signs of considering Chavez as anything but anathema. The threat that Chavez represents to western hegemony is real.
Lula da Silva was asked what Chavez’s re-election would mean for the country: “A victory for Chávez is not just a victory for the people of Venezuela but also a victory for all the people of Latin America … this victory will strike another blow against imperialism.”
Don’t be surprised when you hear about the other Chavez, a Chavez with pointy horns as American global influence continues to wane.
The twitter-sphere reflects public opinion. Instant response to political events whether they are they are unfolding at a presidential debate, in the streets at Occupy, in Tahir square, Benghazi wherever demonstrates the public hive evaluating the world in real time. If organized and filtered in the right way a serious analysis of public opinion could occur, an analysis I suspect that might empirically demonstrate the gulf between public opinion and state policy.
According to Twitter, the presidential debate in Colorado on Wednesday night generated a maelstrom of more than 10 million messages in less than two hours, making it the most tweeted-about event in U.S. political history, and one of the most tweeted-about events ever — close to the record set during the Super Bowl. Obviously Twitter is probably happy about that, and you could argue that those kinds of numbers show that large numbers of people were at least paying attention to the debate, for better or worse. But is the kind of instantaneous commentary and snap judgement that the social network specializes in a good fit with the political process, or does it just turn it into a sideshow?
In the past, any truly public analysis of the performance of the candidates had to wait until the event was over, when the usual political operatives and pundits like former…
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Romney’s callus admission “my job is not to worry about those people”, referring the 47 percent of government dependent victims who don’t pay income taxes echoes the tone of the Few at another series of private meetings held nearly 230 years ago.
During the Consitutional Convention 73 delegates selected by their state governments convened in Philadelphia. It was May 1787 when this well educated group of landholders, attorneys, plantation owners, merchants and securities speculators first gathered to draft the principles that would found a nation. That vision incarnated in the U.S. Constitution and garnished by lofty ideals was in actuality “constituted as to protect the minority of the opulent against the majority.” James Madison reasoned before his fellow delegates that a popular government could become the vehicle for the landless masses to appropriate the property of the rich. This would lead to an agrarian revolution threatening the long term commercial and political interests of the nation.
Hoping to establish a government less susceptible to the “turbulent and changing” masses, the Few delegates steered the convention to adopt a system more formidable against populist forces. This political force, the Few contended, was comprised of people who “seldom judge or determine right.”Alexander Hamilton was among the Few who lobbied for the protection of the venal interests of the propertied classes. Rebuking Jefferson’s appeal to the people and his faith in their “good sense…and the honesty of their leaders”, Hamilton ripped the 18th century equivalent to Romeny’s 47 percent gaffe, “Your people sir, is a beast”. Yet a major difference exists between these two contemptuous remarks about the majority of America (yesterday’s farmers and today’s lower income earners), the existence of electronic recording devices and the instantaneous worldwide spread of news, even if it comes from behind closed doors.
Romney’s private fundraiser in Boca Raton last month draws light on the shadow cast across society by elitists. The utter disregard and contempt with which elitists like Romney and his well-heeled supporters regard the masses is glaring. “I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives”, Romney continued before the Few referring to Hamilton’s distrustful and Madison’s slothful people.
At the secret meeting in Boca Raton there was no room for the Many. No Jeffersons were present. In fact the Many are excluded from such meetings by design. Admittance is too costly for this beastly social body. If you can’t afford your plate your shoulders aren’t worthy of being brushed to begin with. Yet attendance at such events, the breakfasts, luncheons and dinners where the money-access-power meetings unfold is where your voice is heard and your will is absorbed into the political agenda of the ruling elites. Whether you were vying for laws that would enhance the security of your property or protect your rights to own those tending your fields; whether you are pushing for approval of constructing a pipeline or having policies written to guarentee your tax break, a closed meeting cordoned off from the Many is required to elect representatives who run counter to the public interest. Insulating decision making in this fashion allows people like Romney to be considered for office let alone get elected by the 5 to 10 percent of the population that is “thoughtful” enough to vote against “the other, the mass of the people”. Capturing all the brazen statements and spiteful remarks in the world won’t change this. But recognizing that good sense and honest leadership may seems a starting point for a conversation open to the public.