Listen, your party is the “neo” kind of liberal

Why do the Democrats always disappoint their most loyal supporters? Thomas Frank’s excellent book helps explains the party’s betraying ways, says Lance Selfa.

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton at the Democratic convention

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton at the Democratic convention

THE NEW York Times headline on July 28 said it all: “After Lying Low, Deep-Pocketed Clinton Donors Return to the Fore.”

Nicholas Confessore and Amy Chozick’s article proceeded to document the myriad ways in which corporations, from the Wall Street firm Blackstone Group to for-profit college giant Apollo Education Group, peddled influence at fancy parties around Philadelphia during the Democratic National Convention.

Yes, that Democratic convention. The same one that featured dozens of speakers denouncing Wall Street and crushing student debt? Whose presidential nominee pledged to get big money out of elections?

Turns out that “it’s business as usual,” as Libby Watson of the Sunlight Foundation told the Times writers.

Author Thomas Frank wouldn’t be surprised by this latest glimpse of how the Democratic Party does business. His Listen, Liberal is an engaging and witty demolition of the party, especially its modern post-New Deal incarnation.

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THE DEMOCRATS don’t see it as a contradiction to issue election-year platitudes about supporting “working families” while courting millions from the “rocket scientist” financial engineers behind the Wall Street hedge funds or the self-styled “disrupters” who run for-profit educational corporations.


Thomas Frank, Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People?, Henry Holt and Co., 2016. 320 pages, $12.99. Find out more at

As the GEICO TV ad might say, “It’s what they do.”

To Frank, this provides much of the explanation for why the Obama presidency has been such a disappointment for those who believed in candidate Obama’s message of “hope and change” in 2008.

In 2008, the economy was melting down, taking free-market orthodoxy with it. The Democrats swept to power in Congress and the White House. If there was ever a time that the conditions were ripe for a bold reformist program–which would have been massively popular–this was it.

Yet it didn’t happen. Two years later, the Tea Party Republicans took back the House in the midterm elections, and the administration deepened its commitment to austerity and the search for a “grand bargain” for bipartisan support to cut Social Security and Medicare.

Frank rehearses the standard liberal excuses for Obama’s failures, quoting the president himself about how hard it is to get things done (“It’s hard to turn an ocean liner”). Frank then proceeds to knock these down, one by one.

He shows convincingly how, using only executive action, Obama could have unwound the Bush administration bailouts for the Wall Street bankers and pressed bankruptcy judges to reduce or wipe out the mortgage holders’ debt. At the very least, he could have refused to allow executives from the insurance giant AIG to collect their multimillion-dollar bonuses from the taxpayers’ dime.

Instead, Obama and his Treasury team of Ivy Leaguers on leave from Wall Street reassured the banksters that he was on their side. Frank reprises the critical scene from Ron Suskind’s 2010 book Confidence Men: A description of a high-level meeting that began with Obama warning Wall Street that “my administration is the only thing between you and pitchforks”–and ended with a relieved CEO telling Suskind that Obama “could have ordered us to do just about anything, and we would have rolled over. But he didn’t–he mostly wanted to help us out, to quell the mob.”

As Frank concludes:

Having put so much faith in his transformative potential, his followers need to come to terms with how non-transformative he has been. It wasn’t because the ocean liner would have been too hard to turn, or because those silly idealists were unrealistic; it was because [the administration] didn’t want to do those things.

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HOW DID the Democrats come to power amid the worst crisis since the Great Depression and basically operate according to the same-old-same-old model? In trying to explain this, Frank lands on an explanation that is inadequate–more on that below–despite the insights it offers.

To him, the Obama team, like Bill Clinton before him–and probably Hillary Clinton after–couldn’t conceive of a different course because they approached problems from their vantage point as wealthy, highly educated professionals.

Like the whiz kids on Wall Street or health care industry policy wonks, they appreciated complex solutions that balanced multiple interests while generally preserving the status quo. Think of Obamacare and the Dodd-Frank financial reform, whose enforcement regulations are still being written six years after its passage.

The roots of this worship of professional expertise and support for market-based policies, according to Frank, can be found in party operatives’ desire to build a new Democratic coalition to replace the New Deal coalition of the 1930s through the 1960s. From George McGovern’s early 1970s “new politics” to the Democratic Leadership Council’s “new Democrats” of the 1980s and 1990s, these figures sought to distance the party from organized labor in favor of the “new middle class” of credentialed professionals.

Voting statistics show that college graduates still tend to be Republican territory more than Democratic. But there’s little doubt that a middle-class ideology of “social liberalism and fiscal conservatism” reigns supreme in the Democratic Party today.

To show this in full bloom, Frank considers the state of Massachusetts and the city of Boston as exemplars. Both depend heavily on the “knowledge industries” of higher education, finance and health care. And both have been Democratic bastions for generations.

If the Democratic mayors of Boston and a Democratic-dominated statehouse hand out tax breaks to corporations, enact anti-labor pension “reforms,” and promote charter schools or amenities catering to middle-class professionals, it isn’t because Republicans forced them to. It’s because the Democrats actually believe this stuff, and profit from it.

In this “blue state model,” Frank writes:

Boston is the headquarters for two industries that are steadily bankrupting middle America: big learning and big medicine, both of them imposing costs that everyone else is basically required to pay and yet which increase at a pace far more rapid than wages or inflation. A thousand dollars a pill, thirty grand a semester: the debts that are gradually choking the life out of people where you live are what has made this city so very rich.

Left behind are places like Lynn, Massachusetts, a once thriving industrial town, now depopulated and deindustrialized–“engineered by Republicans and rationalized by Democrats,” Frank writes. Or Decatur, Illinois, which Frank revisits 20 years after he had reported on the “War Zone” labor battles that dramatized the death of the American dream for thousands of blue-collar unionized workers

In the mid-1990s, Frank writes:

Decatur was far away from Washington, and its problems made no impression that I could detect on Bill Clinton’s wise brain trust. The New Economy was dawning, creativity was triumphing, old industry was evaporating, and those fortunate enough to be among the ascendant were absolutely certain about the direction history was taking.

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AS WITH so much about the Democratic Party today, all this somehow works its way back to the Clintons.

Frank’s assessment of Bill Clinton’s two terms in office in the 1990s is a crucial antidote to the free-flowing Clinton nostalgia of 2016. Frank says that while he was writing the book:

I would periodically ask my liberal friends if they could recall the progressive laws he got passed, the high-minded policies he fought for–you know, the good things Bill Clinton got done while he was president. Why was it, I wondered, that we were supposed to think so highly of him– apart from his obvious personal affability, I mean? It proved difficult for my libs…

No one mentioned any great but hopeless Clintonian stands on principle; after all, this is the guy who once took a poll to decide where to go on vacation. His presidency was all about campaign donations, not personal bravery– he rented out the Lincoln Bedroom, for chrissake, and at the end of his time in office, he even appeared to sell a presidential pardon.

Frank concedes a few small positive efforts by Clinton: a small increase in taxes on the rich, a failed attempt at health care reform. But the biggest initiatives Clinton won were things that would have been considered Republican policies of an earlier era: the 1994 crime bill that put the “New Jim Crow” described by Michelle Alexander into overdrive; the destruction of the federal welfare system; free trade agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA); and various forms of financial deregulation.

Frank notes that Clinton was conducting backdoor negotiations with then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich on a scheme to privatize Social Security. That attempt collapsed during the impeachment battle connected to Clinton’s affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

Frank’s crucial point is this. It took a Democrat–one skilled in the double-talk of “feeling the pain” of ordinary people and bolstering those “who work hard and play by the rules”–to push through a wish list of conservative policies that not even Ronald Reagan could win. As Frank writes:

What distinguishes the political order we live under now is a consensus, at least in the political mainstream, on certain economic questions–and what made that consensus happen was the capitulation of the Democrats. Republicans could denounce big government all they wanted, but it took a Democrat to declare that “the era of big government is over” and to make it stick. This was Bill Clinton’s historic achievement. Under his direction, as I wrote back then, the opposition “ceased to oppose.”

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MUCH OF what Frank writes will sound very familiar to regular readers of Socialist Worker. But for liberals who might know Frank from his What’s the Matter with Kansas? or The Wrecking Crew, Listen, Liberal might feel like a bucket of cold water. Especially for those who might be “ready for Hillary” in 2016.

For my money, the entire book is worth the price of the chapter “Liberal Gilt,” where Frank skewers the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation and, by extension, what he calls the “liberal class’s virtue quest.”

At the center of this chapter is, of course, Hillary Clinton, whose public persona of “doing good” for “women and children” dissolves against a backdrop of her support for ending welfare in the 1990s and pushing poor women in developing countries into debt through “microcredit.”

As Secretary of State, Clinton marketed global entrepreneurship and the endless “war on terror” as crusades on behalf of women. Through “partnering” on these initiatives with the Clinton Foundation or the State Department, the likes of Walmart and Goldman Sachs can win praise for their social consciousness–or what Frank brilliantly describes as their “purchasing liberalism offsets”:

This is modern liberalism in action: an unregulated virtue-exchange in which representatives of one class of humanity ritually forgive the sins of another class, all of it convened and facilitated by a vast army of well-graduated American professionals, their reassuring expertise propped up by bogus social science, while the unfortunate objects of their high and noble compassion sink slowly back into a preindustrial state.

Frank weaves this analysis around an unforgettable eyewitness account of a Clinton Foundation celebration–held on the socialist holiday of International Women’s Day, no less! The event, at midtown Manhattan’s Best Buy (now Playstation) Theater, touted entrepreneurship for women in the global South. The Clintons, Melinda Gates, Hollywood stars, fashion magazine editors and Fortune 500 leaders came together for an afternoon of self-congratulation.

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YET FOR all that is spot-on in Frank’s critique of the Democrats, the book’s analysis is flawed on two interrelated points.

First, its theory of the Democrats as a party of educated professionals suffers from what might be called a crude class analysis.

When Marxists argue that the Democrats and Republicans are “capitalist” parties, we don’t mean that a cabal of capitalists acts as their puppet masters from behind the scenes. We mean that through various means–from political contributions to expert advice to control of the media–various capitalist interests assure that the mainstream political parties implement policies that allow the capitalist system to thrive and reproduce itself.

Scholars such as Thomas Ferguson and Joel Rogers have documented why we should understand shifts in the mainstream capitalist parties as shifts in blocs of capital rather than shifts in voting bases. Ferguson has even demonstrated how Obama’s support from Silicon Valley is linked to the administration’s care and nurturance of the surveillance state.

Frank doesn’t cite any of this analysis. Thus, in arguing that the Democrats’ current embrace of Silicon Valley neoliberalism is somehow a product of “well-graduated” Democrats’ fascination with “complexity,” “innovation” and “disruptive” app-driven services like Uber and AirBnB, Frank misses the close integration of the Democratic Party with the capitalist class.

The Democrats may have been capitalism’s B-Team over the last generation, but they’re not the Washington Generals, forever bested by the Harlem Globetrotters.

Second, understanding the Democrats as a party of Ivy League professionals–and not as one of the two big business parties in the U.S.–implies that it can be reclaimed as the “party of the people” or the party of the “working class,” as Frank believes it was in its New Deal heyday.

This characterization forgets that, in many ways, the Democrats were capitalism’s A-Team during that period. And if the Trumpization of the Republicans continues, the Democrats may end up as the first-stringers again. The 2016 Clinton campaign certainly hopes so.

Listen, Liberal is a great read for this election season. While Frank concludes that the state of affairs that brought us to Clinton against Trump “cannot go on,” he’s not sure where to go. Charting that course is a challenge the left faces today.

Stephen Fry signs off from ‘The Grid’ again

Wed 20 Apr 2016 2.47pm


Following a scathing departure from his four million Twitter followers regarding criticism of his BAFTA commentary in February, unelected UK and internet technology ambassador Stephen Fry has made an avowed departure from all social networks.

In a stinging 2,600+ word essay at, the 58-year-old comedian, presenter and raconteur compares an exit from mainstream social network channels such as YouTube, Twitter and Facebook to the heroic plight of the heroes of 1970s dystopian sci-fi movies such as Logan’s Run and Soylent Green; thereby comparing the pre-eminence of social media with those highly-telescoped visions of ruthless government authorities.

Likewise Fry regards flight from the social networks in the same light as ‘unplugging’ from the enemy artificial reality offered to a ‘sleeping’ populace in The Matrix:

‘Jacking out of the matrix would cast one as a hero of the kind of dystopian film that proved popular in the 70s, Logan’s Run, Zardoz, Soylent Green, Fahrenheit 451 … on the run from The Corporation, with the foot soldiers of The System hard on your heels. We really are starting to live in that kind of movie, mutatis mutandis, so surely it’s time to join the Rebels, the Outliers, the Others who live beyond the Wall and read forbidden books, sing forbidden songs and think forbidden thoughts in defiance of The One.’

The tech evangelist, first baptised into his ministry by early association with Apple’s products, turns his powers of persuasion 180 degrees in the piece, in a plea for ‘Generation Z’ to rebel against the matrix:

‘Who most wants you to stay on the grid? The advertisers. Your boss. Human Resources. The advertisers. Your parents (irony of ironies – once they distrusted it, now they need to tag you electronically, share your Facebook photos and message you to death). The advertisers. The government. Your local authority. Your school. Advertisers..
Well, if you’re young and have an ounce of pride, doesn’t that list say it all? So fuck you, I’m Going Off The Grid.

The essay grounds its argument in the current millennial fad for ‘retro’ and ‘legacy’ – abstract, unlived ideas for young people captivated by the spirit of nostalgia for the fax age – but Fry, part of the ‘blank generation’ that emerged after the conformity of the 1950s and before the conformity of the yuppie age, ascribes genuine merit to the pre-digital society, and fond regard for the early days of the internet and the computer revolution:

‘The digital Wild West may have been rough and lawless but folk were politer to strangers and knew their manners better than the ruthless, ambitious citizens who took over. The pioneer territory has now had its shitty streets and crooked boardwalks paved over. In place of saloons there are strip malls, fun fairs and multiplexes. The telegraph and train killed the stage coach and the pony express.’

The highly discursive piece provides a fairly comprehensive history of the internet, and an array of historical examples demonstrating Fry’s contention that the current social media giants will fall as mightily as they have risen in the last ten years:

‘And Facebook will be dust one day. Hard to imagine perhaps but obviously and happily true… For now, Facebook is of course all powerful and finds itself busy eating the internet (thereby preparing its own extinction) and of course parents are on it. That’s how crap it is.’

‘Off the Grid’ is a refreshing note of rebellion because of who wrote it, though that’s somewhat counterbalanced by Stephen Fry’s epic history of departure, and not just from the virtual world. His last major retirement from Twitter was in 2009, following a row with another Twitter user. Fry suffers, now quite publicly, from bipolar disorder.

So he may be back – it wouldn’t be the first time. But his current spirit of rebellion is worthy of celebration:

‘I live in a world without Facebook, and now without Twitter. I manage to survive too without Kiki, Snapchat, Viber, Telegram, Signal and the rest of them. I haven’t yet learned to cope without iMessage and SMS. I haven’t yet turned my back on email and the Cloud. I haven’t yet jacked out of the matrix and gone off the grid. Maybe I will pluck up the courage.’

Eye in the Sky: The liberal war on terror

By Joanne Laurier
31 March 2016

Directed by Gavin Hood; screenplay by Guy Hibbert

Eye in the Sky is a political-military thriller in which British and American officials weigh the consequences of a drone strike in Nairobi, Kenya. Directed by South African-born filmmaker Gavin Hood (Tsotsi, 2005, Rendition, 2007), it is a fast-paced movie resting, unfortunately, on a grossly manufactured and unlikely set of circumstances.

The film’s central character is Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren), a fierce British military intelligence officer, who has been tracking a radicalized UK female citizen and her husband, both leading members of Al-Shabaab, a Somali jihadist group. From a military base in southern England, Powell identifies, via a US drone camera feed, these top Islamist figures arriving in Nairobi and being transported to a compound in a poor, crowded neighborhood patrolled by armed rebels.

Helen Mirren in Eye in the Sky

When a cyborg beetle—a small surveillance device controlled by a Kenyan intelligence unit—relays imagery of the terrorists preparing a suicide bombing mission, Powell wants to upgrade the order from “capture” to “kill.”

Despite her eagerness to call for a missile strike, she must seek permission from her superior Lieutenant General Frank Benson (Alan Rickman in his final screen performance), who is observing from London in a room with various government ministers and legal advisors. The British foreign secretary (Iain Glen) is attending an arms trade fair in Singapore.

Meanwhile, at a US Air Force base in Nevada, two young American drone pilots, who are concerned about collateral damage from such a strike, wait apprehensively for Powell’s decision. Both the US secretary of state, who is in Beijing playing ping-pong with Chinese officials, and a US government legal consultant are amenable (to say the least) to destroying the “targets,” despite the presence of one US and two British citizens.

The major obstacle is an adorable Kenyan child, Alia (Aisha Takow), selling bread near the targeted house. From Singapore, the foreign secretary observes that should the suicide bombers be allowed to kill scores of people, it would be a public relations gain for England, but if the military were to wipe out the compound, injuring or killing the youngster—especially if the video of the action were to be released by a WikiLeaks-type outfit—it would be a public relations disaster.

Nonetheless, more ruthless heads prevail …

In Eye in the Sky, talented actors (and producers such as Colin Firth) lend weight to a movie that is reasonably well-constructed on its own terms. However, the problem is precisely those “terms,” that is, primarily the legitimacy of the “war on terror.” So, such performance skills serve for the most part to sugar-coat a big lie.

The false presentation of reality involves important plot contrivances. The filmmakers early on remove the possibility of capturing the apparent suicide bombers. Why? There are only a handful of them and they are taking their time making videos and loading their vests with explosives. There is no reason why this should be any more than a Kenyan police matter.

Instead, an atmosphere of hysteria is concocted in line with the scare-tactic scenarios used by proponents of the “war on terror” for the last 15 years or so. In 2005, for example, the ultra-right columnist Charles Krauthammer, writing in the Weekly Standard, set out the following circumstances, in order to justify torture: “A terrorist has planted a nuclear bomb in New York City. It will go off in one hour. A million people will die. You capture the terrorist. He knows where it is. He’s not talking. … If you have the slightest belief that hanging this man by his thumbs will get you the information to save a million people, are you permitted to do it? … Not only is it permissible to hang this miscreant by his thumbs. It is a moral duty.”

This is all a fantasy. No such circumstance has ever arisen, nor will it. This is the argument of those itching for authoritarian rule and the power to dispose of political opponents by the most brutal means.

Eye in the Sky, of course, does not see itself in that light. However, its central motif is nearly as bogus. Such pumped-up dramatic situations serve to shut down the brain and activate the nervous system along Pavlovian lines. Furthermore, the insertion of a beautiful, innocent Kenyan girl increases the ante. There is an odor of manipulation on every side here. (Andrew Niccol’sGood Kill, although flawed, is a far more scathing film about drone warfare.)

The central questions never broached nor presumably considered by the filmmakers are: Who are these terrorists and where do they come from? What are the social conditions in Kenya and East Africa as a whole? What is the history of the region? What are the British and American military and intelligence doing there? In Eye in the Sky, there is no history and no explanation.

First of all, it should be noted that in every major terrorist attack thus far, it has emerged that the jihadist elements had ties to the Western powers and their security forces at one time or another, or were manipulated or under close observation by those security forces.

Al-Shabaab came into being in Somalia in 2006 and has been formally aligned with Al Qaeda since 2012. The organization’s ranks are filled with impoverished youth and led by operatives with ties to US-backed Arab regimes.

In addition, the Kenyan government has proven a loyal partner in Washington’s drive to maintain its grip over the Horn of Africa. The region is at the center of the new colonial scramble for Africa, where the criminals are returning to the scene of their crimes. And the bloodiest of the old colonial masters in East Africa, from the end of the 19th century, was the British ruling class, whose suppression of the Mau Mau rebellion in the 1950s was the one of the most notorious models of imperialist counterinsurgency, on a par with the savage wars in Vietnam and Algeria.

According to Caroline Elkins in Britain’s Gulag: The Brutal End of Empire in Kenya, the British colonial government detained vast numbers of people in camps or confined them in villages ringed with barbed wire. “From 1952 until the end of the war in 1960 tens of thousands of detainees—and possibly a hundred thousand or more—died from the combined effects of exhaustion, disease, starvation and systemic physical brutality.”

How is it possible for a director—from South Africa, no less—to treat seriously a significant political crisis in a former colonial country without reference to this recent history? How could Hood—with a straight face—possibly portray a panoply of British officials as behaving in the most sensitive, even-handed manner toward the Kenyan people?

Eye in the Sky

Almost inevitably, given this degree of intellectual surrender, the filmmakers end up adopting the viewpoint of the powers that be, the US and UK political establishment, the principal source of global terrorism.

The filmmakers offer certain oppositional gestures. They may not be insincere gestures, but they are weak. Eye in the Sky contains a lengthy debate about the rights and wrongs of killing or maiming Alia. (This seems fantastical given the level of destruction perpetrated by the Western powers in the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa.) Moreover, the various higher-up government officials in both the US and Britain are not portrayed in an attractive light, while the novice drone pilots are represented as having a conscience. (What does ring true is the apprehension the decision-makers feel about the possibility of the exposure of their war crimes, which Hood, however, tends to alchemize into humanitarianism.) The final images are presumably meant to be disturbing, as is Col. Powell’s relentlessness. But this is really not much.

In an interview, the director asserts that “the questions that Guy’s [Guy Hibbert’s] script has beautifully raised are supported by the fact that he’s not reaching for an argument—these are the arguments and discussions that are happening among policy makers, lawyers, the military, human rights organizations … I hope it brings what seems like a mysterious subject to the general population, and we de-mystify it.”

This is simply not true. The difficulty is that the filmmakers are so at one with global bourgeois-liberal public opinion that they accept as their starting point an entire series of pernicious assumptions that shape and warmly envelop Eye in the Sky from its first moment to its last.

Obama backs attack on encrypted communication


By Evan Blake
14 March 2016

Speaking at the music, film and tech festival South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, Texas on Friday, US President Barack Obama delivered his most open comments yet backing the attack on encryption and the FBI’s ongoing lawsuit with Apple.

The high-profile legal case centers on the ability of the FBI, NSA and other state surveillance agencies to get “backdoor” access to encrypted cell phone data. On February 16, a California federal court judge granted a Justice Department request for an order requiring Apple to write new software that can bypass the iPhone’s security features.

While the FBI initially claimed that the software would be used solely to crack the phone of Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the attackers in last December’s mass shooting in San Bernardino, the aim is to set a precedent that would justify the wholesale nullification of encryption.

The development of anti-encryption technology will destroy one of the last remaining privacy protections for the global population, whose use spiked following the 2013 Edward Snowden revelations of mass NSA spying on the entire planet’s communications. Apple—one of the major collaborators in PRISM and other NSA spying programs—has argued that its compliance with the order will set an illegal and unconstitutional precedent for the government to unlock any individual’s phone.

Obama presented his views on privacy before an audience of roughly 2,100 technology executives and enthusiasts at the close of an interview with Evan Smith, the editor-in-chief of The Texas Tribune.

While posturing as impartial in the “privacy versus security debate,” Obama clearly expressed the dominant view held by state officials that the public has no right to privacy and that Apple and the other tech companies should fold in their dispute over encryption.

Throughout his comments, Obama sought to minimize the extreme demands being made by the FBI, which threaten to eliminate encryption capabilities. At various points, he loosely compared the cracking of digital encryption to such commonplace privacy infringements as the issuing of a home search warrant, airport security checks, tax collecting methods and road blocks for drunk driving tests, while moralizing against “fetishizing our phones above every other value.”

Obama began by falsely juxtaposing the FBI’s demand for anti-encryption software to a standard home search conducted with a warrant. He continued this specious line of reasoning by comparing encrypted cell phones to Swiss bank accounts, saying, “And the question we now have to ask is, if technologically, it is possible to make an impenetrable device or system where the encryption is so strong that there’s no key, there’s no door at all, then how do we apprehend the child pornographer? How do we solve or disrupt a terrorist plot? What mechanisms do we have available to even do simple things like tax enforcement? Because, if, in fact, you can’t crack that at all, government can’t get in, then everybody is walking around with a Swiss bank account in their pocket—right? So there has to be some concession to the need to be able to get into that information somehow.”

This is simply a statement that the government has to have access to all communications, rendering the purpose of encryption null and void.

Regarding the likelihood that this anti-encryption software could be used universally to unlock all encrypted cell phones, Obama feigned ignorance, declaring, “That is a technical question. I’m not a software engineer. It is, I think, technically true, but I think it can be overstated.”

Concluding his remarks, Obama postured as being “way on the civil liberties side of this thing,” before saying, “I anguish a lot over the decisions we make in terms of how to keep this country safe, and I am not interested in overthrowing the values that have made us an exceptional and great nation simply for expediency. But the dangers are real. Maintaining law and order and a civilized society is important. Protecting our kids is important. And so I would just caution against taking an absolutist perspective on this.”

In an effort to erode widespread suspicion of the security apparatus, Obama flatly lied about the significance of the Snowden revelations, declaring, “the Snowden issue vastly overstated the dangers to U.S. citizens in terms of spying, because the fact of the matter is, is that actually our intelligence agencies are pretty scrupulous about US persons, people on US soil. What those disclosures did identify were accesses overseas with respect to people who are not in this country. A lot of those have been fixed.”

With his remarks in Austin, Obama has sought to manipulate public opinion to enable Congress to enact long-planned legislation that will require technology companies to install “backdoors” to allow the government universal access to encrypted data. His administration declined to pursue such legislation last fall, but renewed it through the legal system and Congress in the wake of the San Bernardino attacks.

In his remarks, Obama noted that his administration has “engaged the tech community aggressively to help solve this problem.”

These comments represent a continuation of those made earlier this year to tech executives in Silicon Valley, at which Obama urged the tech leaders to “work together to combat terrorism and counter violent extremism online,” according to an official White House statement.

Pentagon deploying drone aircraft within the US


By Joseph Kishore
12 March 2016

A report released by the Department of Defense inspector general reveals that for nearly ten years, the US military has been coordinating the domestic use of drones with local officials and the National Guard. It has done so without any public accountability or reporting by the media.

The Pentagon report, prepared last month, was made public last week only after a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the Federation of American Scientists.

The inspector general report provides only a glimpse into the extensive use of the military within the borders of the United States. It refers to “less than 20” instances since 2006 when drones were requested by US agencies for use outside of military bases. It does not include a complete list of cases where drones were used, but instead provides nine examples occurring between 2011 and 2016.

While the report is accompanied by the usual reference to “protecting the American public’s civil liberties and privacy rights,” the use of drones (or unmanned aircraft systems, UAS) within the country is a serious warning. It is part of a broader expansion of domestic military activity over the past fifteen years and complements the much more extensive deployment of drone aircraft by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Several of the examples listed include large-scale training exercises that involve a simulated natural disaster. Such exercises provide an opportunity for the military to practice the coordination of its assets with local, state and federal civilian agencies.

The cases listed include Exercise Guardian Shield 2015. In this exercise, carried out last summer in Ohio, the Ohio Air National Guard, the FBI and state and local agencies simulated incidents throughout the state. Exercise Ardent Sentry 2011, another example listed in the report, was a nationwide exercise simulating an earthquake along the New Madrid Seismic Zone, which includes parts of Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, Mississippi and Tennessee. The exercise was overseen by the US Northern Command, set up in 2002 under the Bush administration as the first-ever command in charge of military activity within the United States.

Military drones were also reportedly deployed during several natural disasters, including flooding in the Mississippi River Valley at the beginning of this year and in South Carolina last October. Of the nine cases listed, six took place in the last 10 months, indicating a significant expansion of military drone use.

The use of drone aircraft is part of the integration of the military with domestic agencies (through a program known as Defense Support of Civil Authorities, or DSCA), under the authority of the US Northern Command. In 2006, then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld signed an interim order that, according to the inspector general report, “encourages the use of DoD [Department of Defense] UAS to support appropriate domestic mission sets.”

The current DSCA policy guidelines (adopted in 2012 under the Obama administration) contain extremely broad language calling for the military to respond to requests “from civil authorities for domestic emergencies, law enforcement support, and other domestic activities, or from qualifying entities for ‘special events.’”

The ground is being laid for a much broader use of military drones. A 2012 Department of Defense report to Congress identified 110 potential drone bases within the US and called for expanded military access to domestic airspace, ostensibly for the purpose of training individuals to meet the vast growth in “operational demand” abroad, i.e., the assassination program of the Obama administration in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and other countries.

The potential drone bases cited in the 2012 report were located in 39 different states throughout the country.

Since the US Northern Command was first established, the Pentagon, under the Bush and Obama administrations, has pushed for a reinterpretation of the Posse Comitatus Act, which prohibits the use of the military for domestic purposes. In 2008, the Pentagon established an “anti-terror” unit within the framework of the Northern Command composed of 20,000 regular Army troops that could be used within the US.

A Department of Justice “white paper” on drone assassination, leaked to the press in February 2013, outlined the Obama administration’s position that the White House has the authority to kill anyone, including US citizens, anywhere in the world without judicial process. In the spring of that year, Attorney General Eric Holder refused to rule out the possibility that the president could, under “extraordinary circumstances…authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States,” including by means of drone strikes.

Over the past several years, the Pentagon has carried out a series of domestic exercises simulating large-scale military operations. These include most significantly Operation Jade Helm, begun in July 2015 and involving drills in parts of California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, New Mexico and Texas.

The expanded use or simulated use of military forces within the country has coincided with the militarization of local police and the use of the National Guard to impose effective martial law in response to terrorist attacks or social protests, including the lockdown of Boston following the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, and the states of emergency in Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland during protests against police violence in 2014 and 2015.

Last June, FBI Director James Comey acknowledged that his agency had used drone surveillance aircraft to monitor the protests in both Ferguson and Baltimore. An Associated Press report prior to Comey’s testimony revealed that the FBI had conducted more than 100 flights in 11 states during a single month that year, employing shell companies to operate the aircraft.

The events in Ferguson and Baltimore revealed the essential purpose behind all of these measures. Utilizing the “war on terror” as a pretext, the White House and the Pentagon have worked systematically to expand the apparatus of surveillance and repression—military and police—to utilize the instruments of war ever more directly against social opposition within the United States.

New York police used military-grade cellphone surveillance equipment over 1,000 times


By Isaac Finn
25 February 2016

The New York Police Department (NYPD) has used a military grade cellphone surveillance device—known as a “StingRay”—over 1,000 times since 2008, according to documents obtained by the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) last November.

StingRays are briefcase-size machines that mimic cellphone towers and trick nearby cellphones into establishing a connection with it. The device can then be used to monitor communications from the phone and track the user’s whereabouts. Even when targeting a specific cellphone, a StingRay will gather information on other phones in the area.

Public discussion of the use of StingRays by local police departments has been limited due to a non-disclosure agreement between the FBI and the Harris Corporations, which manufactures the device. Under this agreement police departments—including the NYPD—are barred from referencing the use of StingRays, even when information gathered by the device is central to a prosecutor’s argument in a criminal case.

The NYCLU obtained documents last November about the NYPD’s use of StingRays as part of a Freedom of Information lawsuit, and received further information last week after appealing its initial lawsuit. This included a disclosure from the NYPD that it has used StringRays roughly 1,016 times between 2008 and May 2015.

Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the NYCLU, stated, “If carrying a cell phone means being exposed to military grade surveillance equipment, then the privacy of nearly all New Yorkers is at risk.”

The NYPD has become infamous for its extensive surveillance system, which has included spying on Muslim communities, its policy of stop-and-frisk that has allowed the department to establish electronic and analog databases of millions of predominantly minority working class youth, and most recently its Community Policing program based on cultivating a network of informants in working class neighborhoods.

New York police also have admitted to using ZBV vans equipped with x-ray technology, allowing officers to see through clothing and other light barriers without the individual being aware he or she is being scanned.

NYPD Commissioner William Bratton, an appointee of “progressive” Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio, stated last year that he would not talk about ZBVs, because, “It falls into the range of security and counterterrorism activity that we engage in.”

The de Blasio administration’s decision to routinely deploy military grade surveillance equipment—such as ZBVs and StingRays—without disclosing this information, exposes the mayor’s campaign promise to reform the NYPD as a pack of lies.

The NYPD also disclosed in the lawsuit that they had no written policy on using StingRays, but usually obtained a “pen register order” before using the device. The requirements for obtaining a pen register order are less demanding than the probable cause required for obtaining a warrant.

Mariko Hirose, the NYCLU lawyer that received the documents from the NYPD, explained to the New York Times, “The text of New York’s pen register law does not apply to StingRays, and for good reason. That law was intended only to authorize the use of the primitive devices of the past that capture outgoing and incoming phone numbers on a landline. We’re now living in a different technological reality.”

Last year, the Department of Justice shifted policies demanding that all use of StingRays, except in emergency circumstances, be required to obtain warrants. The FBI also is required to obtain warrants for the use of StingRays, though with an extremely broad definition of exceptions.

Both Federal and NYPD officials have made fraudulent claims that StingRays do not pickup bystander information, and are primarily used to track terrorists and violent criminals. Despite this, there have been multiple recorded cases of the NYPD using StingRays to track non-violent criminals, and at least one instance of the technology being used to locate a witness.

FBI Director James Comey admitted in testimony to the House Judiciary Committee last October that StingRays were placed in planes and used to monitor mass protests against police brutality in both Ferguson, Missouri and Baltimore, Maryland.

The US Marshalls revealed in response to a Freedom of Information Request filed by USA Today that it has deployed the technology to track 5,975 individuals over an unspecified period of time. According to USA Today a Baltimore Police detective testified last year that the police force had deployed its StingRay 4,300 times since 2007.

Based on a report by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), at least 60 law enforcement agencies in 23 states own StingRays. Many others may not be disclosing purchases of the device.

The New York State Police alone have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on StingRays and related equipment. In a separate Freedom of Information lawsuit last year, the NYCLU also uncovered that the Erie County Sheriffs office, in New York State, has used StingRays 47 times over the past four years, and only obtained a pen register order from a court once.

Ultimately, the wide-scale use of military grade surveillance equipment is part of police-state measures put in place to defend the wealthy elite from the working population. The ruling elite’s fear is particularly palpable in New York City, which is plagued by massive inequality and record-breaking homelessness.

Why the ‘Apple vs Govt’ Storyline Is a Fake Designed to Distract the Public

The backdoor is already in the IPhone.

Photo Credit: Bloomua /

The media is erupting over the FBI’s demand that Apple help it decrypt an iPhone belonging to Syed Rizwan Farook, one of the attackers involved in the assault in San Bernardino this past December. Originally Apple wanted the FBI to keep things on the down low, asking the Feds to present their application for access under seal. But for whatever reason the FBI decided to go public. Apple then put on a big show of resistance and now there are legislators threatening to change the law in favor of the FBI. Yet concealed amid this unfolding drama is a vital fact that very few outlets are paying attention to.

Tim Cook protests that Apple is being asked to create “a new version of the iPhone operating system.” This glib talking point distracts attention from the reality that there’s essentially a backdoor on every new iPhone that ships around the world: the ability to load and execute modified firmware without user intervention.

Ostensibly software patches were intended to fix bugs. But they can just as easily install code that compromises sensitive data. I repeat: without user intervention. Apple isn’t alone in this regard. Has anyone noticed that the auto-update feature deployed with certain versions of Windows 10 is impossible to turn off using existing user controls?

Update features, it would seem, are a bullseye for spies. And rightly so because they represent a novel way to quietly execute malicious software. This past September the Washington Post published a leaked memo from the White House which proposed that intelligence agencies leverage “provider-enabled remote access to encrypted devices through current update procedures.” Yep, the same update procedures that are marketed as helping to keep users safe. And it would appear that the spies are making progress. There’s news from Bloomberg of a secret memo that tasked spymasters with estimating the budgetary requirements needed to develop “encryption workarounds.”

And, finally, please notice throughout this whole ordeal how the Director of the NSA, unlike the vociferous FBI director, has been relatively silent. With a budget on the order of $10 billion at its disposal the NSA almost certainly has something equivalent to what the courts have asked Apple to create. The NSA probably doesn’t want to give its bypass tool to the FBI and blow its operational advantage. After all, the NSA is well versed in the art of firmware-level manipulation. Experts have opined that for a few million (a drop in the bucket for a spy outfit like the NSA or CIA) this capability could be implemented. NSA whistleblower William Binney tends to agree. When asked what users could do to protect themselves from the Deep State’s prying eyes Binney replied:

“Use smoke signals! With NSA’s budget of over $10bill a year, they have more resources to acquire your data than you can ever hope to defend against.

This has to be addressed in law and legislation. Call your local governmental representative and complain, otherwise, if you sit and do nothing… you are fucked!!!”

So while Apple manufactures the perception that it’s fighting for user privacy, keep in mind that the media’s Manichean narrative of “good vs. evil” doesn’t necessarily explain what’s transpiring. Despite cheerleading by Ed Snowden and others Apple is not the company that it would have us believe it is. Apple has along history of helping the government crack iPhones and security researchers have already unearthed any number of hidden services lurking below the iPhones surface.

The public record over the past several decades informs that ersatz public opposition often conceals private collusion. And Apple, dear reader, is no stranger when it comes to clandestine government programs. The sad truth is that government spies and corporate data hoarders assemble in the corridors of the American Deep State protected by a veil of official secrecy and sophisticated propaganda.

Bill Blunden is the author of several books, includingThe Rootkit Arsenal” andBehold a Pale Farce: Cyberwar, Threat Inflation, and the Malware-Industrial Complex.” He is the lead investigator at Below Gotham Labs.