Friday, May 13, 2011

New Worldwide War Authority?

They have to be kidding. Congress is about to vote on worldwide war authority. This was long on the Bush administration's wish list. Now, a few top congressional insiders see an opportunity to sneak it in to a "must pass" piece of legislation: the Defense Authorization bill.

This expanded war authority would give the president — any president — the power to use military force, whenever and however he or she sees fit. It would essentially declare a worldwide war without end.

It is shocking that Congress is entertaining such legislation at a time when many are looking to see an end to escalating conflict and abuses of power in the name of fighting terrorism.

Tell your representative to oppose any new and expanded war authority that would give the president unfettered powers to involve the United States in more military conflicts without any checks or balances.

This new legislation could commit the United States to a worldwide war without clear enemies, without any geographical boundaries, and without any boundary relating to time or specific objective to be achieved.

Unlike the legislation that authorized the Afghanistan War and the pursuit of Osama bin Laden, the proposed new and expanded authorization to go to war does not require a specific threat of harm to the United States.

With the bill moving through the House this week and a potential vote later this month, we must make our opposition known today. Tell Congress that a blank check on war isn't just unnecessary — it's truly dangerous.

This greater war authority first surfaced when George Bush was president. With your help, we opposed it then. And we're opposing the more expansive version of it circulating in Congress right now — because no president should have the power to single-handedly commit America to war without any checks or balances.

The time is now to restore respect for the Constitution. We must put an end to the notion that we can't be safe without sacrificing our freedom.

Don't let Congress give the executive branch a virtual blank check when it comes to committing our country to armed conflict. Oppose the new worldwide war authority.

Thank you for standing with us.


Laura W. Murphy
Director, ACLU Washington Legislative Offic

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Obama Employs Bush Administration Tactic, Blocks Photos

On Wednesday, Obama said he “would try to block the court-ordered release of photos showing U.S. troops abusing prisoners.” The release, which was to be the result of a Freedom of Information Act request made by the ACLU, had been reasonable in the final weeks of April, but today, Obama chose to come out against the release.
According to the Associated Press, “out of concern [that] the pictures would "further inflame anti-American opinion" and endanger U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan” Obama planned to block them.
Obama intends to block the release of the photos because they may negatively impact American empire and American military adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq. Gen. Ray Odierno, a prime architect of “the surge” in Iraq, and Gen. David Petraeus influenced Obama’s decision after informing the administration that they were afraid the photos will “cost American lives.”
Obama suggested that the “photos had already served their purpose in investigations of "a small number of individuals” and "the individuals who were involved have been identified, and appropriate actions have been taken."
Also, Obama made the argument that "these photos that were requested in this case are not particularly sensational, especially when compared to the painful images that we remember from Abu Ghraib."

When choosing to make a “mockery” out of his “promise of transparency and accountability” (as one member of the ACLU put it), Obama is fine with contending that if information requested does not show something worse than said previous atrocity or does not show that something more inhumane happened the information should not be released.

Even if the information would give further credence to the argument that the Bush Administration tortured (which many in the corporate news media are still reluctant to outright accept as they continue to cling to the “enhanced interrogation technique” euphemism when discussing “torture”), the fact that it does not top the brutality of a batch of previous photos means that the ACLU’s FOIA request should not be fulfilled. 

The ACLU released a response to Obama’s decision, which was written by Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU:

The Obama administration's adoption of the stonewalling tactics and opaque policies of the Bush administration flies in the face of the president's stated desire to restore the rule of law, to revive our moral standing in the world and to lead a transparent government. This decision is particularly disturbing given the Justice Department's failure to initiate a criminal investigation of torture crimes under the Bush administration.

"It is true that these photos would be disturbing; the day we are no longer disturbed by such repugnant acts would be a sad one. In America, every fact and document gets known – whether now or years from now. And when these photos do see the light of day, the outrage will focus not only on the commission of torture by the Bush administration but on the Obama administration's complicity in covering them up. Any outrage related to these photos should be due not to their release but to the very crimes depicted in them. Only by looking squarely in the mirror, acknowledging the crimes of the past and achieving accountability can we move forward and ensure that these atrocities are not repeated. 
"If the Obama administration continues down this path, it will betray not only its promises to the American people, but its commitment to this nation's most fundamental principles. President Obama has said we should turn the page, but we cannot do that until we fully learn how this nation veered down the path of criminality and immorality, who allowed that to happen and whose lives were mutilated as a result. Releasing these photos – as painful as it might be – is a critical step toward that accounting. The American people deserve no less." 

Obama said of the Freedom of Information Act in a January 21 memo, “The government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears.”
But, on matters of American empire or “state secrets,” the administration is as bad as Bush if not worse.
Robert Gibbs’ press briefing on the reversal shows just how poor a case the administration has for keeping these photos from being released:
 QUESTION: Can you go over the sequence of events that led to this thought process? Because, on April 24th, when the Pentagon was explaining its decision to release the photos, it said that -- the spokesman said that there was a feeling that the case had pretty much run its course. 
GIBBS: Uh-huh. 
QUESTION: And now you’re saying that the president feels that there’s a strong argument to be made... 
GIBBS: Because the argument that the president has asked his legal team to make is not an argument that the previous legal team made in that case. They argued a couple of different things, including, a law enforcement exception. And the judge ruled that, to seek a law enforcement exception, you have to -- you have to disclose the name of the person that would be -- that harm would be derived for in seeking that exception. This is a different argument that the president thinks is compelling. 
QUESTION: Well, when did he decide that it was important to make that argument? Did one of the lawyers come to him and say... 
GIBBS: No. He came to the lawyers. 
QUESTION: And when did all that... 
GIBBS: That was a meeting that was held last week in the Oval Office. 
QUESTION: Robert, if that was such a compelling case, why was that not weighed in April then? Because it seems like -- was there a failure here at the White House in the first go-round in April to fully weigh the national security implications? 
GIBBS: The argument that the president seeks to make is one that hasn’t been made before. The -- I’m not going to get into blame for this or that. Understanding that there was significant legal momentum in these cases prior to the president entering into office, we are now at a point where it is likely that some stay will be asked to prevent the release of these photos. And I believe the date -- I think we have until June 8th to appeal -- to seek review of those decisions by the Second Circuit. 
QUESTION: But on April 24th, you also said, quote, “The Department of Justice decided, based on the ruling, the court ruling, is that it was, quote, hopeless to appeal.” 
GIBBS: Right. QUESTION: Now you’re saying it’s not hopeless. GIBBS: Well, based on the argument that -- yes, I said that it was hopeless based on the argument that was made during the course of the original FOIA lawsuit, the appeal, the three-judge ruling, and the decision to decline the full circuit to make that -- to make those determinations. The president isn’t -- what I’m saying to you, Ed, is the president isn’t going back to remake the argument that has been made. The president is going -- has asked his legal team to go back and make a new argument based on national security. 
QUESTION: This new argument -- if you’re saying, basically, that this could put troops in further harm’s way in Iraq and Afghanistan, Former Vice President Cheney, General Hayden, others have made the same argument about releasing the so-called torture memos. Do you have any regrets about putting those memos out? They’ve made the same argument about them? 
GIBBS: No. Well, I’ll use the example I’ve used on this before, Ed. You didn’t begin to report on enhanced interrogation techniques at the release of the OLC memos, did you? 
GIBBS: OK. The -- I’m saying... 
QUESTION: (Inaudible) 
GIBBS: Hold on. I’m also sensing that the graphic that CNN uses to denote what happens when somebody gets waterboarded wasn’t likely developed based on reading memos that were released three weeks ago. The existence of enhanced interrogation techniques were noted by the former administration in speeches that they gave. You read about the enhanced interrogation techniques in autobiographies written by members of that former administration. The notion... 
QUESTION: The graphics would not also be based on any prisoner photos you might release because we already know that people were abused in prisons. So why not put them out there? 
GIBBS: I’m not sure that you’d do a graphic of a photo. 
QUESTION: No. A graphic of someone being abused. We’ve all seen Abu Ghraib photos, and you were saying about the photos back in April, lack, it’s already exhausted and, essentially, these photos are going to come out anyway. 
GIBBS: Based on the previous legal argument, yes. The previous legal argument denoted that the case had been lost. There’s a new legal argument that’s being made. My sense is, Ed, why do you do a graphic on CNN? 
QUESTION: We’re trying to show people -- explain to people... 
GIBBS: OK. The president believes that the existence of the photos themselves does not actually add to the understanding that detainee abuse happened, was investigated, that actions were taken by those that did, indeed, or might have undertaken potential abuse of detainees. And those cases were all dating back to finishing in 2004.
GIBBS: The president doesn’t believe the release of a photo surrounding that investigation does the anything to illuminate the existence of that investigation, only to provide some portion of sensationality. 
QUESTION: Robert, is that really his role to decide whether or not it illuminates? That’s not the president of the United States’ role to decide, well, this is information will illuminate for the people, and this information isn’t. 
GIBBS: No, the -- the -- the role of the president in this situation is as commander-in-chief. And if he determines that, through the release of these photos, that they pose a threat to those that serve to protect our freedom in Iraq and Afghanistan through the illumination of whatever, he can make a determination to ask his legal team to go back to court and make a legal argument that he doesn’t believe was made and provides the most salient case and most important points for not releasing these photos. 
Those determinations are, indeed, made by this president and -- and -- and are being made. 
QUESTION: The Bush administration has obviously made the argument that releasing these specific photographs will endanger troops, and they did so in the way that you described, with -- with seeking the FOIA exemption for law enforcement personnel. 
GIBBS: Right.
QUESTION: The specific avenue that your -- that your legal team’s going to go, you’re not sure if it’s going to be going back to the district court or... 
GIBBS: I don’t know the -- I’ll check with -- put that -- we’ll check with -- with those guys specifically. I think, in some ways, they’re looking at whether it is to go to a lower court or to go to the Supreme Court. 
QUESTION: And then just to follow up on the new argument, so are there specific -- is there specific case law arguments that the president knows that exist that were not used? Because it’s -- I find it hard to believe that the Bush administration didn’t turn under every rock to try to find an argument to do this. 
GIBBS: Well, the president doesn’t believe that was the case. And the president, after reviewing the case, believes that -- that we have a compelling argument. [emphasis added]
Already reluctant to have the Justice Department enforce the rule of law and hold investigations and prosecutions for torture and crimes against humanity, how do arguments that the president can decide what illuminates a situation and what doesn’t, that the president didn’t misjudge the national security implications of the photos, and that the press doesn’t need these photos to report on treatment of detainees help the administration at all? 
Of course, the press needs these photos to be released so they can cover the issue of torture and war crimes, which were part of Bush Administration policy. What else is going to motivate them to cover the issue? Ethics and morals? 
This reversal is just one event in a series of events that have occurred in relation to state secrets, accountability, and transparency since Obama was inaugurated.

Obama’s vow “to open government more than ever” was sharply contradictedby his Justice Department which chose to “defend Bush administration decisions to keep secret many documents about domestic wiretapping, data collection on travelers and U.S. citizens, and interrogation of suspected terrorists.” 

In March, the Obama administration continued a tradition of the Bush Administration and, citing state-secrets privileges, they, like the Bush Administration, continued to stall a suit brought by the al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, which claimed that the government illegally wiretapped and violated the charity’s right to due process and freedom of speech because the government thought the charity was funding terrorism. 

The Justice Department defended torture memo author John Yoo and Attorney General Eric Holder defended the decision claiming that it was in “the best interest of the United State.” 

To mark Obama’s 100days in office, Sen. Russ Feingold released a “report card” on “actions to restore the rule of law.” Obama’s actions on state secrets earned him the worst grades.

Feingold cited the fact that Obama had “invoked the state secrets privilege in three cases in the first 100 days -- Al Haramain Islamic Foundation v. Obama, Mohammed v. Jeppesen Dataplan, and Jewel v. NSA” and had not taken a position on the State Secrets Protection Act. 

Obama “issued an immediate halt to the military commission proceedings for prosecuting detainees and filed a request in Federal District Court in Washington to stay habeas corpus proceedings there.” But, most recently, the administration is seriously considering reviving military commissions for prosecuting Guantanamo detainees. 

Even worse, Obama is considering “indefinite detention” for Guantanamoprisoners. 

Now, Larisa Alexandrovna has compiled an article that suggests the “Obama Justice Department is continuing to cover up Bush-Era crimes.”
The decision to hold back the photos is another blow to freedom and democracy that follows a plethora of blows which have occurred in this decade.

The logic that these photos will create terrorism is patently false. It’s not the photos of torture that kill our soldiers, but the fact that the U.S. military and CIA tortures or tortured that creates or created terrorism.

We as a people must seriously consider how this decision to hide photos reflects our society’s values and how it shows our unwillingness to demand accountability and the enforcement of the rule of law.

What does the Obama Administration really want? The American people and its military forces to be safe from “terrorism” or the American people to stop demanding that the Obama Administration investigate and prosecute Bush Administration officials for torture and crimes against humanity?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


Billionaire Charles Koch pledged $1.5 million to Florida State University’s economics department three years ago with the stipulation that his staff would screen the faculty hired for a program on “political economy and free enterprise.” The St. Petersburg Times has cried foul, and rightfully so. We’re talking about a public university here. Billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch continue to leverage wealth from Koch Industries, the second-largest privately held company in America, to wage war on government regulation, public benefits and labor rights. —KDG
St. Petersburg Times:
Traditionally, university donors have little official input into choosing the person who fills a chair they’ve funded. The power of university faculty and officials to choose professors without outside interference is considered a hallmark of academic freedom.
Under the agreement with the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, however, faculty only retain the illusion of control. The contract specifies that an advisory committee appointed by Koch decides which candidates should be considered. The foundation can also withdraw its funding if it’s not happy with the faculty’s choice or if the hires don’t meet “objectives” set by Koch during annual evaluations.
David W. Rasmussen, dean of the College of Social Sciences, defended the deal, initiated by an FSU graduate working for Koch. During the first round of hiring in 2009, Koch rejected nearly 60 percent of the faculty’s suggestions but ultimately agreed on two candidates. Although the deal was signed in 2008 with little public controversy, the issue revived last week when two FSU professors—one retired, one active—criticized the contract in the Tallahassee Democrat as an affront to academic freedom.

Monday, May 9, 2011

The illogic of the torture debate

*****Please Follow Glenn Greenwald at the Salon

The killing of Osama bin Laden has, as The New York Times notes, reignited the debate over "brutal interrogations" -- by which it's meant that Republicans are now attempting to exploit the emotions generated by the killing to retroactively justify the torture regime they implemented. The factual assertions on which this attempt is based -- that waterboarding and other "harsh interrogation methods" produced evidence crucial to locating bin Laden -- are dubious in the extreme, for reasons Andrew Sullivan and Marcy Wheeler document. So fictitious are these claims that even Donald Rumsfeld has repudiated them.

But even if it were the case that valuable information were obtained during or after the use of torture, what would it prove? Nobody has ever argued that brutality will never produce truthful answers. It is sometimes the case that if you torture someone long and mercilessly enough, they will tell you something you want to know. Nobody has ever denied that. In terms of the tactical aspect of the torture debate, the point has always been -- as a consensus of interrogations professionals has repeatedly said -- that there are far more effective ways to extract the truth from someone than by torturing it out of them. The fact that one can point to an instance where torture produced the desired answer proves nothing about whether there were more effective ways of obtaining it.

This highlights what has long been a glaring fallacy in many debates over War on Terror policies: that Information X was obtained after using Policy A does not prove that Policy A was necessary or effective. That's just basic logic. This fallacy asserted itself constantly in the debate over warrantless surveillance. Proponents of the Bush NSA program would point to some piece of intelligence allegedly obtained during warrantless eavesdropping as proof that the illegal program was necessary and effective; obviously, though, that fact said nothing about whether the same information would also have been discovered through legal eavesdropping, i.e., eavesdropping approved in advance by the FISA court (and indeed, legal eavesdropping [like legal interrogation tactics] is typically more effective than the illegal version because, by necessity, it is far more focused on actual suspected Terrorism plots; warrantless eavesdropping entails the unconstrained power to listen in on any communications the Government wants without having to establish its connection to Terrorism). But in all cases, the fact that some piece of intelligence was obtained by some lawless Bush/Cheney War on Terror policy (whether it be torture or warrantless eavesdropping) proves nothing about whether that policy was effective or necessary.

And those causal issues are, of course, entirely independent of the legal and moral questions shunted to the side by this reignited "debate." There are many actions that the U.S. could take that would advance its interests that are nonetheless obviously wrong on moral and legal grounds. When Donald Trump recently suggested that we should simply take Libya's oil and that of any other country which we successfully invade and occupy, that suggestion prompted widespread mockery. That was the reaction despite the fact that stealing other countries' oil would in fact produce substantial benefits for the U.S. and advance our interests: it would help to lower gas prices, reduce our dependence on hostile oil-producing nations, and avoid having to degrade our own environment in order to drill domestically. Trump's proposal is morally reprehensible and flagrantly lawless despite how many benefits it would produce; therefore, no person of even minimal decency would embrace it no matter how many benefits it produces.

Exactly the same is true for the torture techniques used by the Bush administration and once again being heralded by its followers (and implicitly glorified by media stars who keep suggesting that they enabled bin Laden's detection). It makes no difference whether it extracted usable intelligence. Criminal, morally depraved acts don't become retroactively justified by pointing to the bounty they produced.

* * * * *

It was striking to note in yesterday's New York Times the obituary of Moshe Landau, the Israeli judge who presided over the 1961 war crimes trial of Adolf Eichmann. It's a reminder that when even the most heinous Nazi war criminals were hunted down by the Israelis, they weren't shot in the head and then dumped into the ocean, but rather were apprehended, tried in a court of law, confronted with the evidence against them for all the world to see, and then punished in accordance with due process. The same was done to leading Nazis found by Allied powers and tried at Nuremberg. It's true that those trials took place after the war was over, but whether Al Qaeda should be treated as active warriors or mere criminals was once one of the few ostensible differences between the two parties on the question of Terrorism.

Speaking of which: I know that very few people have even a slight interest in the unexciting, party-pooping question of whether our glorious killing comported with legal principles, but for those who do, both The Guardian and Der Spiegel have good discussions of that issue.

UPDATE:  Donald Rumsfeld repudiated one of the very few honest moments in his public career by reversing himself, now claiming that "enhanced interrogation" did indeed play a "critically important role" in the U.S.'s ability to find bin Laden.  CIA Director Leon Panetta today said that it is an "open question" whether waterboarding produced important intelligence in finding bin Laden.  There's clearly an attempt underway by the political (and media) class to rehabilitate the Bush torture regime, which is why it is more important than ever to make clear that torture is never justifiable no matter what it produces.

McDonald's Chicken McNuggets CONTAIN NASTY CHEMICALS

Noam Chomsky: Israel and Palestine

The Koch Brothers

What You Need to Know About the Financiers of the Radical Right

It’s Good to Be a Koch

Robert Greenwald of Brave New Films wonders why the Koch brothers, with $42 billion and seven homes, are attacking the most vulnerable Americans.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Global capitalism and 21st century fascism

The global economic crisis and the attack on immigrant rights are bound together in a web of 21st century fascism.

The crisis of global capitalism is unprecedented, given its magnitude, its global reach, the extent of ecological degradation and social deterioration, and the scale of the means of violence. We truly face a crisis of humanity. The stakes have never been higher; our very survival is at risk. We have entered into a period of great upheavals and uncertainties, of momentous changes, fraught with dangers - if also opportunities. 

I want to discuss here the crisis of global capitalism and the notion of distinct political responses to the crisis, with a focus on the far-right response and the danger of what I refer to as 21st century fascism, particularly in the United States.

Facing the crisis calls for an analysis of the capitalist system, which has undergone restructuring and transformation in recent decades. The current moment involves a qualitatively new transnational or global phase of world capitalism that can be traced back to the 1970s, and is characterised by the rise of truly transnational capital and a transnational capitalist class, or TCC. Transnational capital has been able to break free of nation-state constraints to accumulation beyond the previous epoch, and with it, to shift the correlation of class and social forces worldwide sharply in its favour - and to undercut the strength of popular and working class movements around the world, in the wake of the global rebellions of the 1960s and the 1970s.

Emergent transnational capital underwent a major expansion in the 1980s and 1990s, involving hyper-accumulation through new technologies such as computers and informatics, through neo-liberal policies, and through new modalities of mobilising and exploiting the global labour force - including a massive new round of primitive accumulation, uprooting, and displacing hundreds of millions of people - especially in the third world countryside, who have become internal and transnational migrants.

We face a system that is now much more integrated, and dominant groups that have accumulated an extraordinary amount of transnational power and control over global resources and institutions.

Militarized accumulation, financial speculation - and the sacking of public budgets

By the late 1990s, the system entered into chronic crisis. Sharp social polarisation and escalating inequality helped generate a deep crisis of over-accumulation. The extreme concentration of the planet's wealth in the hands of the few and the accelerated impoverishment, and dispossession of the majority, even forced participants in the 2011 World Economic Forum's annual meeting in Davos to acknowledge that the gap between the rich and the poor worldwide is "the most serious challenge in the world" and is "raising the spectre of worldwide instability and civil wars."

Global inequalities and the impoverishment of broad majorities mean that transnational capitals cannot find productive outlets to unload the enormous amounts of surplus it has accumulated. By the 21st century, the TCC turned to several mechanisms to sustain global accumulation, or profit making, in the face of this crisis.

One is militarised accumulation; waging wars and interventions that unleash cycles of destruction and reconstruction and generate enormous profits for an ever-expanding military-prison-industrial-security-financial complex. We are now living in a global war economy that goes well beyond such "hot wars" in Iraq or Afghanistan.

For instance, the war on immigrants in the United States and elsewhere, and more generally, repression of social movements and vulnerable populations, is an accumulation strategy independent of any political objectives. This war on immigrants is extremely profitable for transnational corporations. In the United States, the private immigrant prison-industrial complex is a boom industry. Undocumented immigrants constitute the fastest growing sector of the US prison population and are detained in private detention centres and deported by private companies contracted out by the US state.

It is no surprise that William Andrews, the CEO of the Corrections Corporation of America, or CCA - the largest private US contractor for immigrant detention centres - declared in 2008 that: "The demand for our facilities and services could be adversely affected by the relaxation of enforcement efforts … or through decriminalisation [of immigrants]." Nor is it any surprise that CCA and other corporations have financed the spate of neo-fascist anti-immigrant legislation in Arizona and other US states.

A second mechanism is the raiding and sacking of public budgets. Transnational capital uses its financial power to take control of state finances and to impose further austerity on the working majority, resulting in ever greater social inequality and hardship. The TCC has used its structural power to accelerate the dismantling of what remains of the social wage and welfare states.

And a third is frenzied worldwide financial speculation - turning the global economy into a giant casino. The TCC has unloaded billions of dollars into speculation in the housing market, the food, energy and other global commodities markets, in bond markets worldwide (that is, public budgets and state finances), and into every imaginable "derivative", ranging from hedge funds to swaps, futures markets, collateralised debt obligations, asset pyramiding, and ponzi schemes. The 2008 collapse of the global financial system was merely the straw that broke the camel's back.

This is not a cyclical but a structural crisis - a restructuring crisis, such as we had in the 1970s, and before that, in the 1930s - that has the potential to become a systemic crisis, depending on how social agents respond to the crisis and on a host of unknown contingencies. A restructuring crisis means that the only way out of crisis is to restructure the system, whereas a systemic crisis is one in which only a change in the system itself will resolve the crisis. Times of crisis are times of rapid social change, when collective agency and contingency come into play more than in times of equilibrium in a system.

Responses to the crisis and Obama's Weimar republic in the United States

In the face of crisis there appear to be distinct responses from states and social and political forces. Three stand out: global reformism; resurgent of popular and leftist struggles from below; far-right and 21st century fascism. There appears to be, above all, a political polarisation worldwide between the left and the right, both of which are insurgent forces.

A neo-fascist insurgency is quite apparent in the United States. This insurgency can be traced back several decades, to the far-right mobilisation that began in the wake of the crisis of hegemony brought about by the mass struggles of the 1960s and the 1970s, especially the Black and Chicano liberation struggles and other militant movements by third world people, counter-cultural currents, and militant working class struggles. 
Neo-fascist forces re-organised during the years of the George W Bush government. But my story here starts with Obama's election.

The Obama project from the start was an effort by dominant groups to re-establish hegemony in the wake of its deterioration during the Bush years (which also involved the rise of a mass immigrant rights movement). Obama's election was a challenge to the system at the cultural and ideological level, and has shaken up the racial/ethnic foundations upon which the US republic has always rested. However, the Obama project was never intended to challenge the socio-economic order; to the contrary; it sought to preserve and strengthen that order by reconstituting hegemony, conducting a passive revolution against mass discontent and spreading popular resistance that began to percolate in the final years of the Bush presidency.

The Italian socialist Antonio Gramsci developed the concept of passive revolution to refer to efforts by dominant groups to bring about mild change from above in order to undercut mobilisation from below for more far-reaching transformation. Integral to passive revolution is the co-option of leadership from below; its integration into the dominant project. Dominant forces in Egypt, Tunisia, and elsewhere in the Middle East and North America are attempting to carry out such a passive revolution. With regard to the immigrant rights movement in the United States - one of the most vibrant social movements in that country -moderate/mainstream Latino establishment leaders were brought into the Obama and Democratic Party fold – a classic case of passive revolution - while the mass immigrant base suffers intensified state repression.

Obama's campaign tapped into and helped expand mass mobilisation and popular aspirations for change not seen in many years in the United States. The Obama project co-opted that brewing storm from below, channelled it into the electoral campaign, and then betrayed those aspirations, as the Democratic Party effectively demobilized the insurgency from below with more passive revolution.

In this sense, the Obama project weakened the popular and left response from below to the crisis, which opened space for the right-wing response to the crisis - for a project of 21st century fascism - to become insurgent. Obama's administration appears in this way as a Weimar republic. Although the social democrats were in power during the Weimar republic of Germany in the 1920s and early 1930s, they did not pursue a leftist response to the crisis, but rather side-lined the militant trade unions, communists and socialists, and progressively pandered to capital and the right before turning over power to the Nazis in 1933.

21st century fascism in the United States

I don't use the term fascism lightly. There are some key features of a 21st century fascism I identify here:
  1. The fusion of transnational capital with reactionary political power
    This fusion had been developing  during the Bush years and would likely have deepened under a McCain-Palin White House. In the meantime, such neo-fascist movements as the Tea Party as well as neo-fascist legislation such as Arizona's anti-immigrant law, SB1070, have been broadly financed by corporate capital. Three sectors of transnational capital in particular stand out as prone to seek fascist political arrangements to facilitate accumulation: speculative financial capital, the military-industrial-security complex, and the extractive and energy (particularly petroleum) sector.
  2. Militarization and extreme masculinisationAs militarised accumulation has intensified the Pentagon budget, increasing 91 per cent in real terms in the past 12 years, the top military brass has become increasingly politicised and involved in policy making.
  3. A scapegoat which serves to displace and redirect social tensions and contradictions In this case, immigrants and Muslims in particular. The Southern Poverty Law Centre recently reported that "three strands of the radical right - hate groups, nativist extremist groups, and patriot organisations - increased from 1,753 groups in 2009 to 2,145 in 2010, a 22 per cent rise, that followed a 2008-9 increase of 40 per cent."

    A 2010 Department of Homeland Security report observed that "right wing extremists may be gaining new recruits by playing on the fears about several emergency issues. The economic downturn and the election of the first African American president present unique drivers for right wing radicalisation and recruitment." The report concluded: "Over the past five years, various right wing extremists, including militia and white supremacists, have adopted the immigration issue as a call to action, rallying point, and recruitment tool."
  4. A mass social base In this case, such a social base is being organised among sectors of the white working class that historically enjoyed racial caste privilege and that have been experiencing displacement and experiencing rapid downward mobility as neo-liberalism comes to the US - while they are losing the security and stability they enjoyed in the previous Fordist-Keynesian epoch of national capitalism.
  5. A fanatical millennial ideology involving race/culture supremacy embracing an idealised and mythical past, and a racist mobilisation against scapegoats
    The ideology of 21st century fascism often rests on irrationality - a promise to deliver security and restore stability is emotive, not rational.  21st century fascism is a project that does not - and need not - distinguish between the truth and the lie.
  6. A charismatic leadership Such a leadership has so far been largely missing in the United States, although figures such as Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck appear as archetypes.
The mortal circuit of accumulation-exploitation-exclusion

One new structural dimension of 21st century global capitalism is the dramatic expansion of the global superfluous population - that portion marginalised and locked out of productive participation in the capitalist economy and constituting some 1/3rd of humanity. The need to assure the social control of this mass of humanity living in a planet of slums gives a powerful impetus to neo-fascist projects and facilitates the transition from social welfare to social control - otherwise known as "police states". This system becomes ever more violent.

Theoretically stated - under the conditions of capitalist globalisation - the state's contradictory functions of accumulation and legitimation cannot both be met. The economic crisis intensifies the problem of legitimation for dominant groups so that accumulation crises, such as the present one, generate social conflicts and appear as spiraling political crises. In essence, the state's ability to function as a "factor of cohesion" within the social order breaks down to the extent that capitalist globalisation and the logic of accumulation or commodification penetrates every aspect of life, so that "cohesion" requires more and more social control.

Displacement and exclusion has accelerated since 2008. The system has abandoned broad sectors of humanity, who are caught in a deadly circuit of accumulation-exploitation-exclusion. The system does not even attempt to incorporate this surplus population, but rather tries to isolate and neutralise its real or potential rebellion, criminalising the poor and the dispossessed, with tendencies towards genocide in some cases.

As the state abandons efforts to secure legitimacy among broad swathes of the population that have been relegated to surplus - or super-exploited - labour, it resorts to a host of mechanisms of coercive exclusion: mass incarceration and prison-industrial complexes, pervasive policing, manipulation of space in new ways, highly repressive anti-immigrant legislation, and ideological campaigns aimed at seduction and passivity through petty consumption and fantasy.

A 21st fascism would not look like 20th century fascism. Among other things, the ability of dominant groups to control and manipulate space and to exercise an unprecedented control over the mass media, the means of communication and the production of symbolic images and messages, means that repression can be more selective (as we see in Mexico or Colombia, for example), and also organised juridically so that mass "legal" incarceration takes the place of concentration camps. Moreover, the ability of economic power to determine electoral outcomes allows for 21st century fascism to emerge without a necessary rupture in electoral cycles and a constitutional order.

The United States cannot be characterised at this time as fascist. Nonetheless, all of the conditions and the processes are present and percolating, and the social and political forces behind such a project are mobilising rapidly. More generally, images in recent years of what such a political project would involve spanned the Israeli invasion of Gaza and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians, to the scapegoating and criminalisation of immigrant workers and the Tea Party movement in the United States, genocide in the Congo, the US/United Nations occupation of Haiti, the spread of neo-Nazis and skinheads in Europe, and the intensified Indian repression in occupied Kashmir.

The counterweight to 21st century fascism must be a coordinated fight-back by the global working class. The only real solution to the crisis of global capitalism is a massive redistribution of wealth and power - downward towards the poor majority of humanity. And the only way such redistribution can come about is through mass transnational struggle from below.

William I. Robinson a professor of sociology and global studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara.