Police killings in America: The class issues

Joseph Kishore

Once again, a police officer has been let off without charges after killing an unarmed man on the streets of an American city.

The decision by a Staten Island grand jury not to indict New York City police officer Daniel Pantaleo for choking Eric Garner to death in July is another judicial travesty, coming only two weeks after a similar failure to indict the Ferguson, Missouri cop who shot Michael Brown.

In some ways, the exoneration of Pantaleo is even more egregious than the non-indictment of Darren Wilson. Garner was accosted for selling loose cigarettes. He was tackled to the ground for no reason, strangled with a chokehold long banned by the police department and pinned to the ground as he cried out repeatedly that he could not breathe. After he passed out, cops stood around for seven minutes before administering first aid.

The entire incident was captured on video, seen by millions of people around the world. The city’s medical examiner ruled the death a homicide. Yet there is to be no trial, no opportunity for the facts of the case to be considered by a jury and punishment meted out according to the law. Instead, as in Ferguson, a grand jury, in secret proceedings, guided by a prosecutor with close ties to the police, has decided not to indict.

The grand jury decision in the Garner case has produced a wave of outrage throughout the country. Thousands have poured into the streets in angry spontaneous protests that have blocked highways and filled streets in New York City, Chicago and other US cities.

Millions of people are asking themselves: If a police officer can strangle an unarmed man to death, with the entire incident recorded on tape, and still get off without even being charged for a crime, what is not permitted? The anger is entirely justified. It must be guided, however, by a clear and informed political understanding.

Obama’s high crimes and misdemeanors

Joseph Kishore & Barry Grey

Photo: Sen. Dianne Feinstein speaks to reporters after speaking about her oversight committee's problematic relationship with the CIA Tuesday. CIA Director John Brennan says his agency isn't trying to delay the panel's report on the U.S. interrogation program. (Getty Images)

The speech delivered Tuesday on the Senate floor by Senator Dianne Feinstein provides clear and direct evidence of crimes against the US Constitution and the democratic rights of the American people, implicating top officials of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the White House, up to and including the president. Feinstein’s allegations of CIA intimidation, obstruction and spying on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which she chairs, constitute “high crimes and misdemeanors,” the constitutional basis for impeachment.

Feinstein has longstanding and close ties to the intelligence agencies, which she has categorically defended throughout the months of exposures of illegal spying by the National Security Agency. Yet on Tuesday she gave an hour-long speech in which she charged the CIA with spying on and withholding documents from Congress as part of an attempted cover-up of the program of torture the agency carried out under President George W. Bush.

In the course of her remarks, she provided a detailed narrative of the CIA’s criminal actions, including the attempt by CIA Director John Brennan to intimidate the Senate Intelligence Committee and derail its investigation into the Bush-era crimes by accusing committee staffers of stealing classified documents and demanding that the Justice Department launch a criminal investigation. (Brennan, as director of counter-terrorism under Bush, is implicated in the torture program.)

The portrait that emerges is of an intelligence agency that operates outside of all legal constraints, rejects any genuine congressional oversight, and functions as a law unto itself.

The haste with which the US media has moved to bury Feinstein’s remarks—which it has generally ascribed to a mere “turf war” between the Senate and the CIA—is itself an indication of the fundamental nature of the crimes outlined by the senator and the complicity of the corporate-controlled media in those crimes.

Ukraine, the United States and international law

Joseph Kishore

A new imperialist carve-up of Eastern Europe and the slide toward World War III

Plans for a secession referendum in Ukraine’s Crimea region on Sunday are the focus of ramped-up attacks on Russia from the Obama administration and its European allies. Additional military forces are being shifted to the region and new threats of sanctions are being issued.

The US, Germany and Britain have denounced the referendum in the majority Russian-speaking autonomous republic as a violation of Ukraine national sovereignty and territorial integrity and a breach of international law. The US ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, said Monday that the US would not recognize the “so-called referendum.” He charged that “gangs of pro-Russian thugs” were patrolling the area and there was “an active campaign to stir division in Ukraine.”

Pyatt’s comments echoed those of Obama, who has declared that any referendum would “violate the Ukrainian constitution and violate international law,” and top officials in Britain and Germany. Following a meeting Sunday night between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron, a statement from Downing Street declared that the proposed referendum “would be illegal and that any attempt by Russia to legitimize the result would result in further consequences.” Cameron earlier declared Russian actions to be “in flagrant breach of international law.”

Such comments bring the level of lying and hypocrisy by the Western powers to new heights. Governments that feel in some way dependent on mobilizing a broader base of public support beyond the military-intelligence apparatus and narrow financial interests concern themselves with matters such as internal consistency and coherence. This is not the case with the supposed proponents of international law in London, Berlin and Washington. The United States has systematically violated the national sovereignty of Ukraine to unconstitutionally overthrow an elected government and install a far-right regime that includes neo-Nazis whose thugs served as the shock troops for the February 22 putsch.

US media escalates propaganda offensive on Ukraine

Joseph Kishore & David North

In the wake of the right-wing coup in Ukraine organized by the United States and the European powers, the American media is responding with a torrent of inflammatory war propaganda directed against Russia.

In the newspapers and on the airwaves, the demonization of Russia is unrelenting. The coverage of events follows a single simplistic story line. The actions of Russia are portrayed as the epitome of evil. Its president, Vladimir Putin, is the devil incarnate.

The historical background, the economic interests, the political context and the geo-strategic calculations that underlie Russia’s actions are ignored. No facts are allowed to get in the way of the programmed message. No lie is too absurd or ridiculous. The purpose of the propaganda campaign is not to convince public opinion, but to intimidate it.

Monday’s lead editorial (“Russia’s Aggression”) in the New York Times does not contain a trace of analysis. It consists entirely of denunciations, saber-rattling and limitless hypocrisy.

The Times begins by denouncing “Putin’s cynical and outrageous exploitation of the Ukrainian crisis to seize control of Crimea.” Reality is stood on its head. The United States supported right-wing and fascistic forces in Ukraine to bring about regime-change in a country on Russia’s border. These operations were exposed to the world in a telephone conversation leaked last month in which the US ambassador to Ukraine and the US assistant secretary of state discussed the composition of a new Washington-backed government. Of course, the Times makes no reference to this episode.

With breathtaking cynicism, the Times demands that Obama tell Putin that Russia “has stepped far outside the bounds of civilized behavior, and that this carries a steep price in international standing and in economic relations.”

Obama’s State of the Union address: an empty and reactionary charade

Joseph Kishore

Yes, we know, we know. - This is Obama’s 2013
State of the Union Address. But we still haven't
seen any change...It's the same old, same old.

US President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday was, perhaps even more than his previous addresses, a cynical and reactionary charade. Empty rhetoric was combined with a complete disconnect from the reality confronting millions of people and an assertion of executive power.

The thrust of the speech was a mixture of pro-business nostrums, militarist jingoism and a jumble of penny-ante proposals. The media’s attempt to promote the speech as a major address on inequality was a deliberate falsification aimed at drumming up interest among a generally indifferent and hostile population.

Instead it was a threadbare attempt to cover over the reality of the past year, a year in which the mask fell off a society riven by historically unprecedented levels of social inequality and mass poverty, overseen by a vast police-state spying apparatus, on the verge of another global war of incalculable consequences and presided over by the most right-wing administration in US history.

Obama himself spoke before the members of the US House of Representatives and the Senate, the majority of them millionaires, as a representative of the financial aristocracy and the military-intelligence apparatus.

He began by painting the US as a country undergoing a booming economic recovery, with “the lowest unemployment rate in over five years,” a “rebounding housing market” and a growing manufacturing sector.

Obama advisory committee whitewashes US spying programs

Joseph Kishore

A report released Wednesday by the Obama administration’s hand-picked presidential advisory panel on the National Security Agency’s (NSA) spying programs consists of minor reforms intended to preserve and legitimize the government’s illegal operations, while strengthening safeguards against leaks like those from whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The administration’s decision to expedite the public release of the report, which was presented to the president over the weekend, comes in the wake of a US federal court decision earlier this week that referred to one of the principal domestic spying programs as “almost Orwellian.” Judge Richard Leon said that the bulk collection of telephone records of almost all US citizens is an “indiscriminate” and “arbitrary” invasion of privacy rights. The program was initiated under the Bush administration and has been strongly defended by Obama.

While the report is being presented in the media as a call for major constraints on the National Security Agency (NSA), a core recommendation of the advisory panel is that this program should continue, if in a somewhat altered form. It calls for Congress to enact legislation to “end such storage [of telephone records] and transition to a system in which such meta-data is held privately for the government to query when necessary for national security purposes.” This transition should be carried out “as soon as reasonably possible.”

It suggests a “general rule” that any programs involving the government collection and storage of “mass, undigested, non-public personal information about individuals” should be “narrowly tailored to serve an important government interest.”

In other words, mass data collection in violation of Constitutional rights, including the telephone records program, should be carried out when possible by private companies working for the government, and the government should collect this information directly only when it is in its “interest” to do so.

Millions caught in cell phone tracking by US police agencies

Joseph Kishore

What is at issue is not whether this information is “useful” to police, but whether the mass collection of location data without a warrant is legal and constitutional.

With the support of the Obama administration, police agencies in the US receive detailed call and location records of Americans’ cell phone activity without a warrant, according to reports released yesterday. The information could be used to track the movements of individuals and quickly determine who is involved in protests or other political activity.

Cell phone information, which includes location data, is gathered by police in at least two different ways:

1. By obtaining cell phone “tower dumps” of data from major telecommunication companies;
2. By utilizing special mobile devices, known as Stingrays, that masquerade as a cell phone tower to intercept data in the surrounding area.

A report by the Washington Post was based on information revealed in a US Senate inquiry, while the USA Today and Gannett newspapers published a separate analysis based on public records.

The political implications of the NSA exposures

Joseph Kishore

Radomes are the most distinctive feature of the secretive base known
as RAF Menwith Hill, England. In the foreground, sheep(le).

The entire political system has been caught out in a massive conspiracy against the democratic rights of the people.

"The ability of the ruling class to maintain its stranglehold through its traditional ideological and political structures is breaking apart. The emergence of individuals like Snowden and Manning is itself a reflection of shifts taking place more broadly. Within broad sections of the population, what is emerging is disgust and hostility to the entire system—a pre-revolutionary sentiment."

Underlying the crisis that has erupted over the latest National Security Agency (NSA) revelations is a deep fear within the ruling elite over the political consequences of the continuing exposures of its global spying apparatus.

Top officials in the Obama administration have predictably waved the bloody shirt of 9/11 to justify the programs and denounce those who have exposed them, above all, former NSA contractor-turned whistleblower Edward Snowden. Their real concern is not that terrorists will know what the US government is doing, but that the American people and broad masses of people around the world are beginning to see what the US government is doing.

What remains of the political and ideological foundations of capitalist rule in the United States? Since the end of World War II, the American government has sought to present itself as the leader of the “free world,” the supposed champion of democratic rights and individual liberty.

It now stands exposed as the perpetrator of a global police state operation involving the illegal monitoring of the communications of hundreds of millions of people. With its vast data-bases, the American government has the ability to discover the social and political connections of virtually any individual. This negates the basic freedoms—speech, political assembly, privacy—laid down by the US Constitution and its Bill of Rights.

The global NSA spying scandal

Joseph Kishore

There is no constituency within the American political establishment or military-intelligence apparatus that retains any commitment to democratic rights. The mentality of a police state pervades official political circles, in the US and internationally.

Over the course of the past week, the Obama administration has been rocked by an escalating international diplomatic scandal sparked by a new series of leaks from Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor-turned whistleblower.

At the heart of the crisis is the exposure of an American intelligence apparatus that operates without any legal constraints, international or domestic. Thanks to these and previous revelations from Snowden, the world now has concrete evidence that the NSA sweeps up communications records—including telephone calls and emails—of hundreds of millions of people all over the world.

While European governments have shown little concern about NSA spying on their own populations—and, indeed, have collaborated with the US in this—reports that the NSA has been wiretapping German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s personal cell phone have produced warnings of a rupture in US-German relations. The monitoring began in 2002, when Merkel was still in the opposition as the chairperson of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU).

In national address, Obama presses ahead with war plans against Syria

Alex Lantier and Joseph Kishore

Behind the panoply of lies, the Obama administration, abetted by the entire political establishment and the media, wants a military solution. The discussion now about a UN resolution has perhaps temporarily delayed, but has in no way ended the threat of war.

President Barack Obama spoke on national television last night, presenting to the American people the latest diplomatic tack in his administration’s drive for war with Syria. His rambling 15-minute address notably did not ask Congress to authorize war. Rather, it sought to develop UN negotiations emerging from a Russian-Syrian offer to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons as a political framework for launching a war, in defiance of international law and mass popular opposition in the United States.

Without providing a scintilla of probative evidence, Obama repeated claims that the Syrian government of Bashar Al-Assad was responsible for a chemical weapons attack on August 21. Obama tried to bolster this assertion with various unsubstantiated assertions, combined with lurid images of the victims of the attack.

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