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Last September as the Snowden leaks continued to shed light on the shadowy operations of the NSA Obama pledged to charge a “high-level group of outside experts” to evaluate the NSA’s secret programs. Obama’s committee of outside experts includes Michael Morell (former deputy director of CIA), Richard Clarke (former National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection, and Counter-terrorism), and Cass Sunstein (Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs under Obama), three men who have worked in the highest levels of government and, only in the most double-speaky way, can be referred to as outside experts. Further more, the committee has been under the supervision of The Office of the National Director of Intelligence headed by James Clapper. Months before being charged with overseeing the NSA review committee Clapper got famous for his “unwittingly” remark when categorically denying the existence of the NSA’s mass surveillance programs before the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Considering the make-up of the committee and the fact that it has been under the direct supervision of the king of all intelligence/spy agencies it should come as no surprise that this committee of Washington insiders concluded that dismantling the programs would be impossible and has recommended, rather, that changes are made to the way the NSA carries out its spy programs, “though under broad new restraints”. How do you put restraints on a program like XKeyscore, a program that the NSA boasts captures “nearly everything a typical user does on the internet”? Do we change “nearly” to “not nearly as much as we captured before Snowden”? Seriously. Does bulk collecting of phone records suddenly become not bulk collecting because the NSA, under new legal restraints imposed by James Clapper and company, limits phone call interceptions to 120 billion calls per month instead of 124.8 billion? The committee’s recommendations, which have still not been officially released to the public because the review itself has been shrouded in secrecy, can be seen as nothing more than an attempt to mollify concerns over surveillance state sprawl and white wash NSA abuses.
For Obama, the important thing is “you know, to initiate some reforms that can give people more confidence”. So, like, as your constitutional lawyer President “I’ll be proposing some self-restraint on the N.S.A.”
Telling the public that the NSA can restrain itself is like telling a quantum theorist that entropy is containable.
Last week fast-food workers walked off the job in over a hundred cities across the country to demonstrate against exploitation and wage slavery in fast-food corporations. Thousands of participants organised to demand a $15 an hour living wage. The tide of indignation is rising. From Walmart to Caterpillar, from Macy’s to the top six fast-food chains public outrage over naked worker exploitation is mounting. Inequality in the United States has reached fever pitch.
I’ve collated data from a series of articles and public policy reports published over the last several months to paint a picture of a nation haunted by the spectre of a growing class divide.
According to the Social Security Administration nearly 40 percent of all workers in the country made less than $20,000 last year. This doesn’t include figures on benefits such as health insurance or pensions. That’s below the federal poverty threshold for a family of four and close to the line for a family of three. On average, these workers earned just $17,459.55.
The New York Times reported on The Economic Policy Institutes findings that the bottom 20 percent of American workers by income — 28 million workers — earn less than $9.89 an hour; “That translates to $20,570 a year for a full-time employee”. Between 2006 and 2012 these workers saw their income fall by 5 percent. The report also found that wages for workers at the 50th percentile — their median pay is $16.30 an hour — have also dipped, falling 3.4 percent, while pay for the top 10 percent rose 3 percent.
A glaring disconnect between the nation’s top corporate executives and their wage earning employees couldn’t be starker. While workers wages have flatlined, executive pay jumped 16 percent last year alone. Citing Equilar, an executive compensation analysis firm, The Times reported that top executives were raking in, on average, $15.1 Million.
The pay gap between CEOs and their employees working in Fast-Food is particularly staggering. Speaking on Democracy Now, Sarah Anderson, author of the new report “Fast Food CEOs Rake in Taxpayer-Subsidised Pay“, gives an inside peak into how the top six fast-food corporations are taking advantage of a perverse tax loophole, one that rewards fast-food CEOs for underpaying employees. The way this “loophole” works is that it allows companies to deduct unlimited amounts from their corporate income taxes to pay their executives. The stipulation that makes this a loophole rather than broad day light robbery is that the deductions only apply to performance pay – things like stock-options, and related bonuses that come out of the cauldron of financial wizardry. Through this corporate handout fast-food executives are able to obfuscate the real costs of production.
Anderson’s study reveals that over the past two years, the CEOs of the top six publicly held fast food chains – YUM Brands (KFC, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut), McDonalds, Wendy’s, Burger King, Dunkin Brands and Dominos – “pocketed more than $183 million in fully deductible ‘performance pay,’ lowering their companies’ IRS bills by an estimated $64 million.”
In syllogistic form it looks something like this: If companies pay their executives more, then they pay less in federal taxes. Companies pay their executives butt-loads more. Therefore tax-payers get reamed. Mind your P’s and Q’s!
Not only is this low-ball business model denying fast-food employees a living wage and affronting their dignity by setting their human value so low that affording basics like food, water, clothing and shelter is impossible without government support, a second-job or illicit income, this business model is externalising its labor expenses. One study conducted by University of California Berkeley found that more than half of frontline fast-food workers depend on at least one public assistance program costing tax-payers a whopping $7 billion annually. What it comes down to is that fast-food company profits are being mystified. The real costs of labor, distorted by government handouts fatter than fast-food itself, is hiding the hidden reality of tax-payer-subsidized profits. Regular costs of doing business are being transformed into plain profits that ascend directly to the top. While Wendy, Colonel Sanders, the Burger King and Ronald McDonald stiff their employees and pocket the spoils millions of Americans are paying them to do it.
The coals of antagonism are smoldering. The wages of working people have levelled down below the costs of their subsistence. At the same time executive pay has soared. Last weeks organised protests against mass exploitation didn’t pit industrial workers against a class of industrial elites. The economy of mass consumption swallowed that of mass production. What last weeks’ calls for dignity and fair living wages express, however, is a new iteration of class struggle. America stands divided and unequal. The spectre of class war is present. “We’ll be back”, protesters chanted as they exited a McDonalds in Times Square.
For the 22nd consecutive year the United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly voted to condemn the US embargo against Cuba. Such condemnations are hardly new. The EU has repeatedly called upon the World Trade Organisation to condemn the embargo. The American Association for World Health’s study of the embargo found that it has “dramatically harmed the health and nutrition of large numbers of ordinary citizens…has caused a significant rise in suffering-and even deaths-in Cuba.” Even the Judicial Commission of the notoriously subservient Organization of American States declared the embargo illegal.
In usual fashion the US defended its actions, justifying an embargo that has imposed harsh punishments on false pretexts since 1962. Speaking before the General Assembly Ronald Godard recited the official line:
The international community cannot be — cannot in good conscience ignore the ease and frequency with which the Cuban regime silences critics, disrupts peaceful assembly, impedes independent journalism and, despite positive reforms, continues to prevent some Cubans from leaving or returning to the island. The Cuban government continues its tactics of politically motivated detentions, harassment and police violence against Cuban citizens.
At a time when the US government is waging an all out war on journalism, prosecuting whistle blowers under archaic espionage laws, detaining political activists without charges, and using under-covers to infiltrate and disrupt groups of political dissidents (apparently this includes Superstorm Sandy first responders who, before any state or federal agency, began supplying relief to victims) claims like Godard’s are high comedy. Where politically motivated detentions are concerned perhaps we can recall the mass arrests of 1800 protesters at the 2004 Republican National Convention, the Pier 57 Guantanamo on the Hudson incident. As for police violence against American citizens? Stop and Frisk. Institutionalised racial profling. What about Jonathan Ferrell, gunned down three weeks ago by a white police officer after a woman called the police on him for knocking on her door at night? Ferrell had just been in a car accident up the street and according to reports was seeking help. How about Andy Lopez, the 13 year old boy shot in California last week when police officers mistook an air soft rifle for an assault rifle? Ferrell and Lopez are just two of the hundreds of unarmed black men shot to death by police every year. This of course does not constitute “harassment and police violence against…citizens.” At least not in the United States.
The United State’s interest in continued aggression against Cuba is best explained by US internal records. Many of these documents, available at the National Security Archive reveal that the United States could not have been less interested in the rights of cuban citizens. Noam Chomsky in Hegemony or Survival discusses the secret plans hatched as early as the Eisenhower Administration and carried out under Kennedy that sought to drag Cuba into a conflict that would justify American “retalitation”. While plotting the “covert means . . . to lure or provoke Castro, or an uncontrollable subordinate, into an overt hostile reaction against the United States; a reaction which would in turn create the justification for the US to not only retaliate but destroy Castro with speed, force and determination”, Robert Kennedy warned that a full-scale invasion of Cuba would “kill an awful lot of people, and we’re going to take an awful lot of heat on it.” The real crisis that ensued, the so called Cuban Missile Crisis was part of a carefully constructed scheme to undermine any challenge to US dominance; in the words of then CIA Director Allen Dulles in “America’s backyard”. Like Guatemala where a prolonged democratic struggle against the Old Order of Guatemalan dictatorships was crushed by the US installed authoritarian regime of Col. Carlos Castillo Armas, Cuba represented a threat to American hegemony.
The CIA’s 1961 warning that “the extensive influence of ‘Castroism’ is not a function of Cuban power. . . . Castro’s shadow looms large because social and economic conditions throughout Latin America invite opposition to ruling authority and encourage agitation for radical change,” is illustrative then, as it is today, of the American foreign policy establishment’s obsession with maintaining the privileges of ruling elites by securing the economic conditions required for plundering and profit.
When mouthpieces like Godard wax poetical about the United State’s concern for the political rights of cuban citizens a sober review of actual events make such words ring hollow.
Last Thursday White House Press Secretary Jay Carney denied that the United States had or would monitor German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s communications. He was pressed again the following day by journalist Nedra Pickler: “Has the United States monitored the chancellor’s phone calls in the past?’
Despite a spate of ongoing revelations that the NSA has been not only monitoring Merkel’s phone calls, but as Der Spiegal reported, has also been spying on diplomatic communications through its “Secret Collections Service”, Carney again denied the allegations:
Nedra, we are not going to comment publicly on every specified alleged intelligence activity. And as a matter of policy, we have made clear that the United States gathers foreign intelligence of the type gathered by all nations. As I mentioned yesterday, the president spoke with Chancellor Merkel, reassured her that the United States is not and will not monitor the chancellor’s communications.
According to documents released by Snowden the NSA describes the Secret Collections Service as “a small windowless room full of cables with a work station of “signal processing racks” containing dozens of plug-in units for “signal analysis.” When contacted by SPIEGAL the NSA declined to comment on the matter.
It’s important to remember that these reports are coming directly from internal NSA documents. It’s not as if the White House can continue to successfully discredit whistleblowers like Snowden in order to deflect attention away the secret inner-workings of power. What’s being reported on are the NSA’s very own words as recorded in secret documents, memos and presentations the world’s largest spy agency formerly had exclusive access to. With an estimated 50,000 plus documents related to NSA operations now in circulation the servile defenders of mass surveillance, The Party loyalists across the aisle, the starched fatigue wearing generals, the obsequious spokespersons of The Administration and the commander himself can do nothing more than recite Double Think. In other words Surveillance State officials are “to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies”. How else can they deny what they have themselves documented?
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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