The Fog Machine of War

From The New York Times:

Chelsea Manning on the U.S. Military and Media Freedom

By Chelsea Manning
June 14, 2014

FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. — WHEN I chose to disclose classified information in 2010, I did so out of a love for my country and a sense of duty to others. I’m now serving a sentence of 35 years in prison for these unauthorized disclosures. I understand that my actions violated the law.

However, the concerns that motivated me have not been resolved. As Iraq erupts in civil war and America again contemplates intervention, that unfinished business should give new urgency to the question of how the United States military controlled the media coverage of its long involvement there and in Afghanistan. I believe that the current limits on press freedom and excessive government secrecy make it impossible for Americans to grasp fully what is happening in the wars we finance.

If you were following the news during the March 2010 elections in Iraq, you might remember that the American press was flooded with stories declaring the elections a success, complete with upbeat anecdotes and photographs of Iraqi women proudly displaying their ink-stained fingers. The subtext was that United States military operations had succeeded in creating a stable and democratic Iraq.

Those of us stationed there were acutely aware of a more complicated reality.

Military and diplomatic reports coming across my desk detailed a brutal crackdown against political dissidents by the Iraqi Ministry of Interior and federal police, on behalf of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. Detainees were often tortured, or even killed.

Early that year, I received orders to investigate 15 individuals whom the federal police had arrested on suspicion of printing “anti-Iraqi literature.” I learned that these individuals had absolutely no ties to terrorism; they were publishing a scholarly critique of Mr. Maliki’s administration. I forwarded this finding to the officer in command in eastern Baghdad. He responded that he didn’t need this information; instead, I should assist the federal police in locating more “anti-Iraqi” print shops.

I was shocked by our military’s complicity in the corruption of that election. Yet these deeply troubling details flew under the American media’s radar.

It was not the first (or the last) time I felt compelled to question the way we conducted our mission in Iraq. We intelligence analysts, and the officers to whom we reported, had access to a comprehensive overview of the war that few others had. How could top-level decision makers say that the American public, or even Congress, supported the conflict when they didn’t have half the story?

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The right’s despicable class war: Why they paint the poor as anti-American

From Salon:

For wingnuts like David Brat, bashing poor people as unethical is just one more arrow in their bullying quiver

Friday, Jun 13, 2014

The old adage about sticks and stones may finally apply more soundly to the rich than the poor. According to a new paper released by Ann Cammett of the CUNY School of Law, the way metaphor is deployed in public policy discourse regarding poor parents can powerfully shape public perception of both assistance programs and the people they serve.

In her essay, Cammett argues that the metaphorical context for major cuts to public assistance programs almost always precedes the actual cuts: that is, before pragmatic political reasoning is applied to weigh out the usefulness or efficacy of welfare programs, particular metaphors, many of them racialized, soak discourse regarding them. The most infamous examples Cammett provides are the notorious “Welfare Queen” metaphor popularized during the Reaganite 1980s, and the “Deadbeat Dad” trope pushed almost in tandem. The net effect of the insistence of the right wing on the usage of these metaphors was to make punitive cuts to assistance programs appear urgent and necessary by cementing an image of their beneficiaries as morally corrupt, perverse and malevolent.

Unfortunately, examples of this brand of toxic discourse are not difficult to locate in our society. And because the right is constantly pushing new angles to snip away at social insurance, they’re also constantly busy shaping new metaphorical categories that undermine policy aimed at solidifying a social safety net. For David Brat, the upstart who recently displaced Eric Cantor in Virginia’s 7th District congressional race, that category is about non-Christian bullies. In his essay “God and Advanced Mammon – Can Theological Types Handle Usury and Capitalism?” he writes:

We now have rights to health care, welfare programs, retirement benefits, thirteen years of education, and unemployment benefits. And there is not an item you can think of that is not regulated by the Federal Government. These positive rights bring benefits to many, but the new wrinkle is that someone else must pay for the benefits that are received. We have continually voted to force some to pay for the benefits of others. That is likely the key issue and the key line in this essay, and the one line that animates our current conversation on capitalism. A key line in ethics has been crossed… First, let me ask you as an individual a question. Are you willing to force someone you know to pay for the benefits for one of your neighbors? Will you force them? Very few Christians I know are willing to say “yes” to this question.

There are a number of subtle moves at work in Brat’s analysis, and all of them work toward consolidating an image of a welfare recipient whose moral character is simultaneously un-Christian and anti-American. In his vision, the poor are at the very least complicit in programs of force that he claims violate basic (one presumes Christian) ethical principles; in his hypothetical question posed to readers, he intends to set readers as opposed to the poor who receive welfare. The reader is intended to participate in Brat’s narrative: yes, I am a virtuous Christian, and therefore I would never force someone to pay taxes toward the support of the poor. In doing so, the poor are the non-virtuous, non-Christian, unethical persons participating in such systems of force.

If Cammett’s view of the effect of metaphors like “Welfare Queens” and “Deadbeat Dads” is even remotely accurate, then it’s not difficult to imagine what the destructive impact of Brat’s brand of metaphor could be. The ambiently amoral characteristics of the Welfare Queen and Deadbeat Dad draw their power to maliciously smear welfare recipients from the otherness of their implicit racial markers, but Brat’s notion of the poor takes this process one step further. Along with dog-whistlish racial suggestion and strong charges of unethical participation in brutal systems of force, he calls upon Christians – who comprise 70 percent of the nation – to view the poor as separate from Christian virtue as well.

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How All of Us Are Helping Build a Participatory Totalitarianism

From Alternet:

We are not passive objects of the surveillance state. We are active subjects of our own YouTube channels.

By John Feffer
June 5, 2014

According to the Chinese zodiac, the heavens circle around every 12 years. The Year of the Snake, the creature that sheds its skin to emerge anew, marks a time of great transformation. Indeed, for the last quarter century, the world has experienced three profound shifts at 12-year intervals, beginning with the Year of the Snake in 1989.

On June 4, 1989, on one side of the globe, Poles were participating in their first semi-free elections in more than 40 years, which—though few suspected at the time—sounded the death knell for Communism in East-Central Europe. Meanwhile, on the same day on the other side of the globe, the Chinese government was cracking down on the Tiananmen Square protests and ensuring that Communism would continue there as an official ideology for at least another 25 years.

Twelve years later, the Year of the Snake returned, and the ground shifted radically beneath our feet once again. This time, the 9/11 attacks brought the two sides of the world together as both China and Poland threw their weight behind the U.S.-led war on terror. Poland, presided over by a former Communist who’d embraced market reforms, even went so far as to host one of the “black sites” that the Bush administration set up to interrogate suspects gathered up through extraordinary rendition. China, presided over by a current Communist who’d also embraced market reforms, used the opportunity of 9/11 to ramp up operations against  separatists in Xinjiang and secure  “unprecedented” counter-terrorism information sharing with the United States.

And then last year, the Year of the Snake came around again, and this time it was Edward Snowden who caused a seismic shift in our understanding of everyday reality. We thought that we’d seen through the efforts of the Communist state to control our minds and the efforts of the corporate state to control our desires. But it turned out that we really didn’t know the full extent to which intelligence services and corporate entities had invaded our private spaces. Nor had we understood our own complicity in this brave new world. It wasn’t just states like Warsaw and Beijing that had joined forces with Washington against non-state actors. We had all become informers under this new regime, whether we liked it or not.

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US may blacklist Thailand after prawn trade slavery revelations

From The Guardian UK:

Threat of sanctions unless Bangkok can sort its human trafficking trade, as Guardian investigation shows migrants enslaved on boats working in shrimp supply chain

in Washington, in Bangkok and
The Guardian, Wednesday 11 June 2014

The US is considering downgrading Thailand on a human trafficking blacklist, following revelations in the Guardian that slaves are being used in the production of prawns sold in leading American, British and European supermarkets.

Washington will directly address allegations of human trafficking in Thailand’s trade in prawns – known in the US as shrimp – in an imminent report that could result in economic sanctions against Bangkok. The state department has confirmed it intends to review the country’s response to abuses such as migrants being bought by shipowners and forced to work as slaves for years at sea without pay.

The review, expected in the middle of this month, could result in Thailand being downgraded to the lowest level in a US system that ranks 188 nations according to their willingness and efforts to combat slavery and human trafficking. A relegation to tier three could trigger economic sanctions and loss of development aid, although such punishments can be waived under certain national security considerations.

“We are aware of the Guardian investigation,” said Luis CdeBaca, Washington’s Ambassador-at-Large for monitoring and combatting trafficking in persons, in a statement.

“We are currently finalising the 2014 Trafficking in Persons report, which will be released later this month, and will include an overview of human trafficking in Thailand and the Thai government’s efforts to address human trafficking.”

The annual Trafficking in Persons (TiP) report is considered to be the gold standard in global anti-trafficking efforts. Last year Thailand narrowly escaped relegation for the third year running and was told it would face an automatic downgrade this year if significant progress was not made to address issues of slavery and trafficking within its borders by the end of the year.

Last year, for the third year running, Thailand narrowly escaped relegation and was told it would face an automatic downgrade this year if significant progress was not made to address issues of slavery and trafficking within its borders by the end of the year.

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