Thursday, December 9, 2010

Civil Liberties: The Erosion of the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

by Paul C. Wright
 

The civil liberties of U.S. citizens, their Fourth Amendment rights in particular, are being eroded at a rapid pace. The pretext for the destruction of Americans’ civil liberties is the “global war on terror,” which – according to all three branches of government – requires that Americans surrender their liberties for security and protection from foreign and domestic threats. The nine-year erosion of civil liberties has been spearheaded by federal agencies, but individual states of the U.S.A. are now following in the federal government’s wake as local law enforcement agencies are increasingly becoming a tool of state authority and state security rather than performing functions as civil service agencies designed to protect and serve citizens. The trend will soon lead to a new framework for law enforcement activities. Without a reversal of this trend, law enforcement will soon exist primarily to protect the interests of government.

The Fourth Amendment, enacted in 1791, is designed to protect both individual and property rights by recognizing and affirming that that citizens are endowed with the right to be free from tyrannical government intervention in their personal lives. It respects the individual and requires law enforcement to be subservient to individual rights by barring law enforcement from conducting unreasonable searches and seizures. Further, it clearly states that search warrants that enable the government to enter a person’s property and seize property pursuant to a criminal investigation must be based on probable cause [1] not the mere discretion or desire of law enforcement agencies to assume an entitlement to conduct a search for the mere fact that they hold police power. This amendment is rooted in 17th century English law designed to prevent the King from exercising unchecked authority over landowners, and it is what has separated the United States from totalitarian nations in the 19th and 20th centuries. Under U.S. law, the doctrine of probable cause was eventually expanded to include all citizens from the intrusive police powers of the state.

At the federal level the USA PATRIOT Act, passed soon after the events of September 11, 2001, is the keystone of America’s new security state apparatus. The law originally required third party holders of private personal information to turn that information over to federal authorities upon request. This meant that doctors, libraries, bookstores, universities, and internet service providers [2] would have to provide the government with information on the actions, purchases, health, or activity of private citizens without anything more than a demand from federal authorities. Moreover, secret searches of personal residences and other property could be conducted without notice to the owner that such a search has ever occurred. [3] This expansion of federal power was a clear and unambiguous violation of the Fourth Amendment and fortunately portions of the PATRIOT Act, including its “sneak and peek” provision, were struck down as unconstitutional violations of the Fourth Amendment. This did not, however, prevent the federal government from continuing to press for the ability to obtain private information or conduct secret searches by other means under the guise of national security. Efforts to mine data and track citizens’ activities are ongoing as are efforts to undermine court authority to review the application of these police powers.

One of law enforcement’s newest tools is the GPS tracking device, and recent court decisions have said that police can enter your property and place a tracking device on your vehicle without showing probable cause or obtaining a warrant. One of the most visible cases is United States of America v. Juan Pineda-Moreno. [4] In this case, DEA agents snuck onto Pineda-Moreno’s property at night and attached a tracking device to his car which was parked in his driveway. The agents, who suspected Pineda-Moreno of drug trafficking, did not demonstrate probable cause nor obtain a warrant from a court to attach the device. They merely decided they had the right and the power to do so without judicial oversight. They tracked Pineda-Moreno’s movements for a four month period until the tracking devices eventually led them to a suspected marijuana grow site. Pinedo-Moreno was then arrested.

Traditionally, one of the keys to whether or not law enforcement is violating a citizen’s rights under the Fourth Amendment relates to whether or not the person’s property to be searched is on public or private property. Historically, one’s driveway is considered private property, part of a person’s “curtilage,” and therefore subject to the protections of the Fourth Amendment. Curtilage is defined as “the area to which extends the intimate activity associated with the ‘sanctity of a man’s home and privacies of life,’ and therefore has been considered part of the home itself for Fourth Amendment purposes.” [5] Clearly, a person’s driveway is a part of their curtilage, and the government in the case even conceded the point that Pineda-Moreno’s driveway is in fact curtilage. The court disregarded the concession as well as the concept of private property and ownership and decided that it was not curtilage. The court stated that one’s driveway is “semi-private” unless enclosed or blocked with a barrier or other feature. The fact that Pineda-Moreno had a “No Trespassing” sign posted on his property was inconsequential. The court went even farther in saying that one has no reasonable expectation of privacy to the undercarriage or exterior of their car – which is where the GPS device was placed.

Pineda-Moreno’s petition to have the full Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals hear his case was denied, leaving a new definition of curtilage and privacy rights in place. In a blistering dissenting opinion, Chief Judge Kozinski, a former citizen of communist Romania, blasted the court for destroying a fundamental American civil right, stating that “[t]he very rich will still be able to protect their privacy with the aid of electric gates, tall fences, security booths, remote cameras, motion sensors and roving patrols, but the vast majority of the 60 million people living in the Ninth Circuit will see their privacy materially diminished by the panel’s ruling. . . . Yet poor people are entitled to privacy, even if they can’t afford all the gadgets of the wealthy for ensuring it.” [6] Kozinski closed his dissenting opinion by warning that there “is something creepy and un-American about such clandestine and underhanded behavior. To those of us who have lived under a totalitarian regime, there is an eerie feeling of déjà vu. We are taking a giant leap into the unknown, and the consequences for ourselves and our children may be dire and irreversible. Some day, soon, we may wake up and find we’re living in Oceania.” [7]

Since the ruling, other agencies have used the ruling to justify aggressive police activities. The FBI, in Santa Clara, California conducted a warrantless tracking of a young community college student and computer salesman’s car by placing a tracking device on it - as in the Pineda-Moreno case. Yasir Afifif, who was emotionally devastated by the operation that targeted him, noticed the tracking device hanging from his car when a mechanic at an oil changing station brought it to his attention. [8] The day after the mechanic removed the strange device from the car, FBI agents showed up at Afifi’s apartment door demanding the return of the device.

These are just two examples of many surrounding the proliferation of GPS tracking devices and the erosion of the Fourth Amendment protections historically granted to U.S. citizens. Police powers are supplanting Constitutional rights all across the United States and a number of lawsuits challenging the violation of rights are being heard in courts across the country. While some states have followed the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, courts in other jurisdictions like Massachusetts and Washington D.C. have not. The variance of rulings from state to federal jurisdictions has set the stage for an eventual U.S. Supreme Court decision on the matter. The Supreme Court decision, if it falls on the side of law enforcement, will effectively rewrite the Constitution and forever change the interface between police power, individual liberty, and private property.

The issues of unlawful search and seizure and invasion of privacy have become extremely urgent matters, particularly with respect to recent scandals involving Transportation Security Administration (TSA) agents’ application of radiation body scanners and aggressive frisking techniques at the many of the nation’s airports. A groundswell of grass roots opposition is lashing back against the technology and TSA techniques, and many lawsuits have been filed challenging the implementation of procedures that target every American citizen as a prospective threat.

The direct and heavy application of government police power in a manner that challenges Constitutional limits on power is a trend that will continue until the courts resolve the limits of power this new age. The coming court decisions promise to alter the American legal landscape for decades to come.

Paul C. Wright is an attorney, business consultant, and legal researcher who has practiced both military and civil law. His legal practice areas have included criminal, international, corporate, and consumer law.

Notes

[1] See “U.S. Constitution: Fourth Amendment, Search and Seizure,” Findlaw.com, “The concept of ‘probable cause’ is central to the meaning of the warrant clause. Neither the Fourth Amendment nor the federal statutory provisions relevant to the area define ''probable cause; ‘the definition is entirely a judicial construct. An applicant for a warrant must present to the magistrate facts sufficient to enable the officer himself to make a determination of probable cause. ‘In determining what is probable cause . . . [w]e are concerned only with the question whether the affiant had reasonable grounds at the time of his affidavit . . . for the belief that the law was being violated on the premises to be searched; and if the apparent facts set out in the affidavit are such that a reasonably discreet and prudent man would be led to believe that there was a commission of the offense charged, there is probable cause justifying the issuance of a warrant.’ http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/data/constitution/amendment04/02.html

[2] ACLU, “Surveillance under the USA PATRIOT Act,” April, 2003, http://www.aclu.org/national-security/surveillance-under-usa-patriot-act

[3] Ibid.

[4] No. 08-30385, D.C. No. 1:07-CR-30036-PA OPINION; motion for rehearing en banc denied, 591 F.3d 1212, 1214-15 (9th Cir. 2010).

[5] Oliver v. United States , 466 U.S. 170, 180.

[6] Op. Cit. Footnote 4.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Elias, Paul, “FBI’s warrantless GPS tracker on car becomes privacy issue; judge cites Orwell’s ‘1984,’” Cleveland.com, October 17, 2010, http://www.cleveland.com/nation/index.ssf/2010/10/fbis_warrantless_gps_tracker_o.html

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Truth, Lies and the Price of Distraction

Redirecting the attention of a fickle and dissatisfied public is nothing new in the history of politics. From the bread and circus days of the Roman Empire through the media driven diversions of 21st century America, the masses have always been corralled from the serious to the trivial when it suited those in power to do so.
Americans, who watch on average more than 30 hours of television per week, often know more details about reality shows, Hollywood scandals and sports statistics than they know of world affairs and the activities of their own government. Coupled with radio and television hosts who whip up fervor for or against one cause or another, the ability of the public to sift through information determines the quality and behavior of their political leadership.
Nevertheless, in order to make a meaningful contribution toward the so-called democratic process, there must be a willingness and ability to think against the grain. In other words, to resist “group think,” a condition that fosters conformity for fear of social disapproval, those who demand truth and accountability often clash with those whose ideas are defined and popularized by media.
For instance, after 9/11, through Bush administration assertions that saturated the airwaves for months, the American public was led to believe that if not stopped, Saddam Hussein would arm terrorists with weapons of mass destruction.  While the public for the most part bought into this argument, those opposing such allegations were labeled unpatriotic as voices of restraint were drowned out by those for war.
However, in the midst of this debate, a sizable portion of the American public was distracted not only through patriotic zeal, but also from a media that exploited the inconsequential. According to Nielsen ratings, only weeks before the start of the Iraq War, top programs on basic cable television, for 18 to 49-year-olds, included WWE wrestling and two MTV reality shows: The Osbournes and The Real World.
An example that American viewing habits had been focused on the trivial and the frivolous during a time of international crisis, the American electorate permitted unwise policymakers to act with impunity.  Leading not only to the deaths of American soldiers, but also to the death and displacement of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians, a misinformed American public allowed for a war of which the long-term effects remain to be seen. 
Today, with an economy in shambles, high unemployment and a falling dollar, conservatives were reelected to solve the very problems they helped to create. As a deeper economic crisis looms on the horizon and the potential for additional conflict spreads, it is doubtful the incoming Congress will offer better ideas or solutions than what have already been suggested or tried.
       In the meantime, while America attempts to reduce its footprint in Iraq, there is no end in sight to the fighting in Afghanistan. As Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan remain global hotspots for covert intervention, military options regarding Iran and North Korea remain on the table threatening to spark another world war. 
While these realities continue to unfold, sport and play remains high on the list of American priorities. As knowledge of the trivial and inconsequential dominates that of the serious and substantive, it is not hard to see that America is in a state of disrepair. If the future belongs to those who have mastered the disciplines of a high civilization and America’s grasp of such disciplines is waning, then it is safe to conclude that America may very well lose her place, not only as a technological innovator, but also as the leader of the so-called free world.
Like the fall of other great nations and empires before, corruption is contributing to the decline of the American people. As “greed, the lust for power and inordinate self-interest” guides the thinking of policymakers, one of their most effective tools of influence remains the corporate mass media.
While the consequences may not show immediately, there is a high price to pay for failing to hold government accountable. A public more concerned with entertainment than with reality allows the interests of the few to be served over the interests of the many.
In light of this fact, media consumers have a responsibility to be not only intelligent, but also wise as they learn to distinguish what is or isn’t in their best interests. As critical thinking and thoughtful analysis competes with entertainment oriented programming, America’s distracted citizenry, while influenced by propaganda, invests too much of its time in the world of make-believe. Now is the occasion for reassessing priorities in order to mitigate the rude awakening that is surely coming.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

When Politics Fails, From Whence Cometh Our Help?

by William P. Muhammad

The resounding defeat recently meted out against House Democrats should serve as a wake-up call for those who found solace in the election of America’s first Black president.  While the Democratic victories of 2008 brought with them campaign promises for transparency and reform, carrying them into practice has proven difficult leaving many voters disappointed, disaffected and cynical.  
Two years into the Obama administration, commitments to bipartisanship have been counter-productive as unemployment, corporate influence and the mainstreaming of White nationalism occupied much of the national dialogue. Essentially driven by the masters of the Tea Party movement, the 2010 elections have revealed more than just a legislative shift from Democratic to Republican rule.
The conservative sweep that unseated many incumbents on the local, state and federal levels, exposed to light not only the hatred simmering behind the façade of civil discourse, but it also identified new scapegoats for America’s anger. As fear and insecurity were openly exploited for political purposes, discussion over public and private policies leading to the weak economy and high unemployment rates were quietly ignored.
With incoming Republican leadership now calling for a smaller federal government, support for states’ rights is increasing as both tax and spending cuts threaten to undermine the social safety net.  While it should be clear that an attempt to replay the policies of the pre-Depression Era is currently underway, mounting pressure to deregulate markets and promote so-called laissez-faire capitalism may bring with it either gridlock and presidential vetoes or legislative compromises at the expense of the poor and middle class.
In light of these possibilities, it is important to note that since the end of the Civil War, Blacks have traditionally looked to the federal government for the safeguarding and preservation of rights. In recent history, the right to collective bargaining, the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act and Affirmative Action have all rested upon federal enforcement of laws designed to protect so-called minorities and workers.
However, when the new Congress is seated in January, conservatives have made clear their intention to “eliminate big government.” Perhaps a code phrase for austerity measures and other funding reductions that will ultimately harm those made vulnerable by a poor economy, among other things, Republicans are poised to cut entitlement programs, education spending and raise the Social Security retirement age.
Ultimately meaning the Black community will once again get the short end of the stick, the country’s conservative climate virtually guarantees there will be little, if any, relief coming from either the executive or legislative branches of government. As increasingly difficult times lie ahead, a rude awakening awaits those who fail to prepare for the days of lean, which in many cases have already come.
Since waiting on the political process has failed to work out the problems of Black people, unity and the pooling of resources appear to be the only realistic option for a meaningful change. As the so-called achievement gap between Blacks and Whites continues to widen, will the development of a “permanent underclass” remain an acceptable reality in national politics?
With hundreds of billions in consumer dollars passing through the hands of Black Americans each year, harnessing 5 to 10 percent for recirculation could work wonders in solving urban and rural problems. Although the time for action has almost run out, it is not too late to join with those who are working to rebuild the Black community.  
Overcoming jealousy, envy and above all ignorance of self and others is without doubt the most pressing issue facing Black institutions today. With the social and political climate the country has now entered, those who would foment division and enmity, at the expense of Black unity, identify themselves more as part of the problem than part of the solution.
However, in order to facilitate the necessary action that allows for operational unity, Black leaders, teachers and the faith community must embrace certain universal principles.   As religious traditions constitute the foundation of many Black communities, religious leadership in particular has a duty and responsibility to teach trust, understanding and the love of self and kind.
If we fail to organize and work together for common cause, then we will have doomed the masses to repeat what we have suffered for generations. Through the exercise of our God given talents, there is no excuse for not preparing a future for ourselves, our families and our people. With self-preservation being the first law of nature, if we don’t act to save ourselves no one else will. Now is the time to stand up and accept the challenge to change.

Friday, October 22, 2010

America’s fear of a Black Body Politic

by William P. Muhammad

In the raucous nature of national debate, the exclusion of racial and ethnic issues from mainstream discussion appears driven by fear. More often than not, those directing America’s political discourse dismiss Black grievances through either active opposition or passive denial.  In light of this fact, it is difficult, if not impossible, to solve America’s racial gap without a strong commitment to Black unity, economic self-sufficiency and independence oriented goals.
    Regarding history’s unpleasant truths, among the worst to be found is the legacy of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Undoubtedly ranking high as one of America’s original sins, to this day, questions abound over what to do about its lingering effects.  Although formally abolished in the United States by 1865 (except as punishment for crime), the psychology American slavery produced, among Blacks and Whites alike, is perhaps one of the most obstructive roadblocks to solving issues of race today.  
For instance, when examining the poverty and social dysfunction running rampant in so many of America’s urban and rural settings, left out of the equation is the sophisticated opposition that has undermined Black efforts to produce viable solutions. Historically speaking, while social integration was the official means for addressing racial discrimination and exclusion, it likewise discouraged the building of an economic infrastructure, which led to the draining of wealth, political capital and brain power from Black communities throughout the United States.     
              Nevertheless, while some resisted this tendency and openly worked to build independent   economic and political systems, fears of an autonomous Black polity led those claiming to be allies, some in Black leadership and the government itself to destabilize such progress as a means to manage the so-called  “negro problem.” As the concept of total integration replaced the idea of economic and political independence, the lack of a national vision eventually led to apathy, disunity and the community dysfunction we witness today.
For years, American mythology advanced an institutionalized caricature of Black people as the boogeyman. In popular culture, images of the savage or buffoon reinforced mindsets of fear and contempt as the Black male was made an object for scorn and ridicule. Through overtly racist films such as W.D. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation and symbolically racist films such as Merian C. Cooper’s King Kong, the myth of “the White man’s burden” was sold as fact as Blacks labored under the weight of prejudice, oppression and misrepresentation.
Psychologically speaking, famed psychiatrist, Dr. Frances Cress Welsing, whose research identified fear of “genetic annihilation” as the root cause for white racism, postulated that white supremacy was a survival mechanism among those who constitute a global minority. As fear appears to have dictated the nature of White opposition to Black liberation, “preventing the rise of a Black messiah” appears to have been the primary focus and objective of the social engineers and policy-makers.     
With the crisis of Black men filling prisons cells faster than college dormitories, it is clear that the policies of the last 46 years have failed to deliver to the masses the fruits of the Promised Land. Furthermore, as out of wedlock births coupled with high unemployment rates imply a vicious cycle of poverty and dependence, the need for a radical change of thinking is more than self-evident.
Although the effort to depict strong Black leadership as subversive is designed to prevent the emergence autonomous views, questions must be asked as to whether or not society truly desires a solution for Black suffering.  From the time of slavery through today, advocates for freedom, justice and equality have labored under an imposed yet false premise that to struggle for Black people is to struggle against America. While nothing could be further from the truth, it is this suggestion that drives hatred and animosity against those who offer meaningful solutions in times of uncertainty and confusion. 
In the meantime, as society’s upper tier continues to play upon the fear and ignorance of White people, many Black leaders have been maneuvered into a compromise position that hampers their willingness and ability to speak and act freely. As many Black organizations are dependent upon grants and philanthropic dollars, they have become more reactive than proactive regarding programs and solutions to poverty, injustice and the lack of representation.
 With all that has been said, Black leadership is in the valley of decision with paths leading either to freedom or to social, economic and political death. While amalgamation with other interests and causes may weaken organizational aim and purpose, seeking resolution in areas of difference should not mean the wholesale dismissal of self-interests for the sake of inclusion.
In America, other racial and ethnic groups have prospered by pooling their resources and advancing their own unique agendas. Affording them leverage for the good of themselves, their families and their people, this has allowed relative newcomers to build institutions, vibrant communities and enter into international trade and commerce. Creating respect, jobs and opportunity, the “do-for-self” model, that proved effective for Black people once before, must now be reexamined and implemented to save a community that is clearly in distress.

Friday, August 20, 2010

U.S. Military Intervention in Africa: The New Blueprint for Global Domination

by Paul C. Wright


The United States’ intervention in Africa is driven by America’s desire to secure valuable natural resources and political influence that will ensure the longevity of America’s capitalist system, military industrial complex, and global economic superiority – achieved through the financial and physical control of raw material exports. While America’s prosperity may be waning due to a number of current factors, policy makers are bent on trying to preserve America’s global domination and will pursue policy objectives regardless of the downturn in the economy at large.

The U.S. has a long history of foreign intervention and long ago perfected the art of gaining access to other countries’ natural, human, and capital resource markets through the use of foreign trade policy initiatives, international law, diplomacy, and, when all else fails, military intervention. Typically and historically, diplomatic efforts have largely been sufficient for the U.S. to establish itself as a player in other nations’ politics and economies. While U.S. intervention in Africa is nothing new, the way the U.S. is going about the intervention features a new method that is being implemented across the globe.

The U.S. has followed a great deal of its diplomatic interventions with the establishment of extensive networks of foreign military posts - designed to influence other nations and protect what are defined as U.S. strategic national interests. This global reach is evidenced by an extensive network of over 737 military installations [1] all around the globe, from Ecuador to Uzbekistan, Colombia to Korea. The model for successfully accessing these nations and their critical financial and commodities markets is changing, however, particularly as it relates to renewed intervention in Africa. The new intervention is directly linked to two factors: the fast paced and heated battle with rivals China and Russia over their access to key natural resources, and the U.S.’ declining ability to manage a bloated international network of overseas military outposts.

I. Resources Rivalry

Access to natural resources – particularly oil and rare earth elements - is critical for the U.S. to remain a dominant industrial and military power, especially since the U.S. has experienced a decline in natural resource production while China’s production and foreign access to strategic materials has only increased. A sustained increase in oil imports has been underway since domestic U.S. oil production peaked in the 1970s, with oil imports surpassing domestic production in the early 1990s. Strategic metals, such as the titanium used in military aircraft, and rare earth elements used in missile guidance systems are increasingly produced by China or under the control of Chinese companies. The issue is of such importance that 2009 saw the creation of the annual Strategic Metals Conference, a forum designed to address concerns related to US access to metals with important industrial and military uses. The second annual conference, held in Cleveland, Ohio in January 2010, saw dozens of engineers and military personnel express heightened concern over China’s near monopoly over rare earth metals. [2] China controls around 95% of the world’s rare earth output and has decided to restrict the export of these metals, leaving international consumers short by approximately 20,000 tons in 2010. [3]

China’s rapidly developing economy, recently over taking Japan as the world’s second largest, continues to log nine to ten percent annual growth in Gross Domestic Product, and is fueled by a rapidly growing middle class as well as new export markets around the world. The demand for raw materials has led to new policy initiatives in which Africa has taken center stage for Chinese investment. China has gained access to Africa by, in large part, offering favorable aid packages to several nations which include loans, debt forgiveness, and job training. [4] In contrast to Western aid packages, Chinese aid has few if any strings attached.

China’s platform for developing trade with and providing aid to Africa was of such importance that in October 2000, the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) was launched. Fifty African nations participate in the forum which serves as the foundation for building bridges of economic trade as well as political and cultural exchange. [5] The forum, and indeed China’s Africa strategy as a whole, has been so successful that Africans view China as an equal partner in trade and development, validating the politically and culturally significant “South-South” economic alliance that the FOCAC maintains is at the foundation of its engagement with Africa. This plays on the historical disparities that Western powers created and exploited in their former “North-South” colonial relationships with Africa and has been a key factor in developing strong bonds and a highly favorable opinion of China among Africans. Survey data indicates that most Africans share the view of Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade when he says:

“China’s approach to our needs is simply better adapted than the slow and sometimes patronizing post-colonial approach of European investors, donor organizations and nongovernmental organizations. In fact, the Chinese model for stimulating rapid economic development has much to teach Africa. With direct aid, credit lines and reasonable contracts, China has helped African nations build infrastructure projects in record time—bridges, roads, schools, hospitals, dams, legislative buildings, stadiums and airports. In many African nations, including Senegal, improvements in infrastructure have played important roles in stimulating economic growth.”

“It is a telling sign of the post-colonial mindset that some donor organizations in the West dismiss the trade agreements between Chinese banks and African states that produce these vital improvements—as though Africa was naive enough to just offload its precious natural resources at bargain prices to obtain a commitment for another stadium or state house.” [6]

In fact, opinion polls clearly reveal that Africans see Chinese influence as being far more positive than U.S. influence. [7] China has clearly gained a substantive advantage in working with dozens of African nations as U.S. influence continues to wane.

Russia has also taken a renewed interest in Africa, reminiscent to some in the U.S. media as a revision of the Soviet Union’s Africa Strategy in which the Soviet Union created numerous “Soviet Treaties of Friendship and Cooperation” as a counterweight to Western capitalism and institutions like the United States Agency for International Development. [8] Russian President Medvedev, and Prime Minister Putin have been making their rounds in Africa with “legions of Russian businessmen, targeting diamonds, oil, gas, and uranium” and have been establishing commodities production agreements with several nations. [9] Putin’s push to restore Russia’s international stature, power, and prestige has led Russia to purchase in excess of $5 billion of African assets between 2000 and 2007. [10] Russia’s investments in and trade with Africa are quite small when compared with both the U.S. and China. Still, Russia has made an increase in trade and the acquisition of African raw materials a geostrategic imperative.

Chinese and Russian influence is quickly spreading and is seen in many cases as a viable and preferable alternative to the Western model which, particularly considering Africa’s colonial past, is seen to attach unfavorable conditions to aid and development that are designed to enrich the West at the expense of the people of Africa. Africans have in effect identified what sociologist Johan Galtung considers to be a “disharmony of interests” that the U.S. is trying to manage through new diplomatic efforts. The U.S. continues to lose influence in Africa to China and Russia, both of which are increasing their influence at a steady clip, and continues to be branded as imperialist in the eyes of Africans. The U.S. is well aware that it needs to improve its image in Africa in order to realize its strategic goals.

II. The Weight of Empire

While there is no reliable data on the precise cost of maintaining the United States’ network of over 700 military bases, it is estimated that the cost is $250 billion per year. [11] This is 38% of the entire disclosed 2010 budget for the Department of Defense of $663.7 billion. The cost includes facilities, staff, weapons, munitions, equipment, food, fuel, water, and everything else required to operate military installations.

In 2004, then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld stated that the U.S global military presence had to change and adapt to the post-cold war world. The post-cold war world did not require large garrisons of heavy armor throughout the European theater – garrisons stocked with enough soldiers and armament to challenge the massive Soviet military and Warsaw Pact nations on the borders of Eastern and Western Europe. The new military would be lighter, faster, rely more on light infantry and special-forces, and would used to fight multiple smaller scale wars across the globe in what was branded as an eternal Global War on Terror (GWOT). In Rumsfeld’s opinion, the U.S. would save up to $6 billion of its annual operating budget by closing (or realigning) 100 to 150 foreign and domestic bases [12] and save $12 billion by closing 200 to 300 bases. [13] Clearly, the cost of maintaining America’s legions was central to the Rumsfeld’s transformation initiative and to the U.S. military’s new role.

This military transformation would reduce the number of heavy garrisons abroad and would increasingly rely on pre-positioned war materials managed by smaller staffs at foreign military installations. These military installations would be available for a massive influx of U.S. troops if needed. Bilateral treaties and Status of Forces Agreements created by the Department of Defense and host nations would ensure that these installations would be available, to the extent required, to the American military and would ensure that the American military could operate freely with few constraints on its activities, legal or otherwise.

In the case of Camp Lemonier in Djibouti, a key military outpost and strategically important piece of real-estate in the Horn of Africa, precisely where the Red Sea meets the Gulf of Aden, the United States government entered into an agreement [14] with the government of Djibouti that has several striking features:

· U.S. military personnel have diplomatic immunity

· The United States has sole jurisdiction over the criminal acts of its personnel

· U.S. personnel may carry arms in the Republic of Djibouti

· The U.S. may import any materials and equipment it requires into the Republic of Djibouti

· No claims may be brought against the U.S. for damage to property or loss of life

· Aircraft, vessels, and vehicles may enter, exit, and move freely throughout the Republic of Djibouti.

Such an agreement allows the U.S. to maintain a small permanent presence in Djibouti, but staff and stock up with as many military personnel and weapons as it deems fit for any particular operation inside or outside of Africa as needed. Additionally, the agreement gives the U.S. the flexibility it wants to operate freely without interference from or liability to the people and government of Djibouti.

III. The New Model - AFRICOM

With all of the concern over U.S. access to key natural resources, it is hardly a surprise that United States conceived of and finally launched United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) in 2007. The unveiling AFRICOM was done under the auspices of bringing peace, security, democracy, and economic growth to Africans. The altruistic rationale for the creation of a new military command was belied by the fact that from the start it was acknowledged that AFRICOM was a “combatant” command created in response to Africa’s growing strategic importance to the United States; namely, “the size of its population, its natural resource wealth, its potential". [15]

Africans were aware of U.S. described strategic national interests in their oil and gas fields, and raw materials long before most Americans were had any idea that renewed intervention in Africa was being planned. In November 2002, the U.S. based Corporate Council on Africa held a conference on African oil and gas in Houston, Texas. The conference, sponsored by ExxonMobil and ChevronTexaco among others, was opened by United States Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, Walter Kansteiner. Mr. Kansteiner previously stated that, “African oil is of strategic national interest to us and it will increase and become more important as we go forward,” while on a visit to Nigeria. [16] In fact, President Fradique de Menezes of Sao Tome and Principe said at that time that he had reached agreement with the United States for establishment of a U.S. naval base there, the purpose of which was to safeguard U.S. oil interests. [17] The U.S. Navy has in fact proceeded with its basing plans in Sao Tome and recently reported on its activities in that nation on its website in July, 2010. [18] Since the establishment of AFRICOM, numerous training exercises have been carried out in Africa by U.S. military forces, and basing agreements have been worked out with several African partners across the continent – even in the face of strong dissent from the citizens of several countries. The U.S. has been able to create these relationships through the careful structuring of its operations, size and make-up of its staff, and public relations efforts.

The structuring of AFRICOM was a critical component in making AFRICOM palatable to Africans. After several nations objected to the presence of a physical headquarters in Africa, AFRICOM’s commander, General William E. Ward, went on record several times to say that a physical command presence was not needed in Africa (even though the U.S. initially did try quite hard but unconvincingly to establish a permanent headquarters there). The command is currently based in Stuttgart, Germany, and will remain there for the foreseeable future, mainly in deference to African objections.

AFRICOM’s size was also an important factor. It has no large garrisons, no sizeable staff beyond the headquarters in Germany and the small number of forces and civilian support personnel based at Camp Lemonier in Djibouti as part of Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA), and no large armory to sustain division or brigade sized operations. The small size and staff of U.S. basing operations like CJTF-HOA is the new model for U.S. foreign intervention. Instead of large garrisons, the U.S. has is created a series of Forward Operating Locations (FOLs). FOLs are “smaller, cheaper, and can thus be more plentiful. In short, the FOL can lie in wait with a low carrying cost until a crisis arrives, at which point it can be quickly expanded to rise to whatever the occasion demands.” [19] Arrangements have been made with several countries, north, south, east, and west, including Gabon, Kenya, Mali, Morocco, Tunisia, Namibia, Sao Tome, Senegal, Uganda, Ethiopia, and Zambia. [20]

AFRICOM’s staffing structure is a military-civilian hybrid for two reasons: to convey the message that the combatant command does not have an exclusive military purpose, and to gain influence over African nations’ domestic and foreign policies. AFRICOM has a civilian deputy commander and a large civilian staff, in part made up of U.S. State Department personnel. These civilian personnel include foreign policy advisors from the U.S. Bureau of African Affairs, humanitarian assistance advisors from the U.S. Agency for International Development, as well as advisors from the U.S. Department of Treasury and the Department of Homeland Security. [21] Africa’s burgeoning relationships with China are seen as undermining Western “efforts to bolster good governance, improve respect for human rights, and reduce corruption,” [22] hence the need for civilian subject matter expertise to help the Africans manage their civil affairs and security.

U.S. officials have long been cognizant of African hostility to any efforts that could be perceived as neo-colonialist and imperialist. A number of missteps to rectify were (and continue to be) identified as the new command took shape. Several contradictory statements were made with respect to AFRICOM’s role, whether with respect to terrorism, natural resources, China, or the militarization of the continent. Even the timing of the command’s creation was criticized, it being created during a dramatically deteriorating time of war in Iraq. The actions of the U.S. government sent “mixed signals” [23] and fueled anti-Americanism among the citizens that would eventually become unwilling hosts of American forces. To overcome poor public relations, the command built several activities into the structure of AFRICOM, to include the building of schools in poor villages, air and sea port construction projects, the distribution of medicine and textbooks to children, military-to-military training programs, and legal operational support. Military personnel have also taken a more deferential tone in speaking about the way AFRICOM interfaces with African nations. Vice Admiral Robert T. Moeller explained: “We do not lead or create policy . . . . Our programs are designed to respond to what our African partners have asked us to do.” [24]

Public relations efforts have been of such importance to the military, the U.S. Army War College published a research paper in March 2008, entitled “Combating African Questions about the Legitimacy of AFRICOM”. The paper expressed Africa’s strategic importance to the United States, yet offense that the creation of AFRICOM prompted a “hostile” response from African leaders. [25] It urged the U.S. to learn more about African institutions and to engage them rather than ignore them. It also advocated that U.S. personnel gain a stronger understanding of Africa’s colonial past while pushing for African nations to become more multilateral in working towards a common goal. It called for the increased use of “soft power that could be leverage by the U.S. Department of State in winning the public relations fight for Africa. [26]

AFRICOM has certainly run into a number of roadblocks but it appears that the new command will flourish as a result of intensive diplomatic and public relations efforts by the United States government. The structure and domestic operations of AFRICOM also makes it more palatable to African leaders who can more easily claim that they have a harmony rather than a disharmony of interests with the U.S. while the U.S. is building roads, training military forces, and passing out textbooks to children. A leaner, smaller, less intrusive, and more culturally engaged network of military outposts is America’s new blueprint for foreign intervention and global domination.

Paul C. Wright is an attorney, business consultant, and legal researcher who has practiced both military and civil law. His legal practice areas have included criminal, international, insurance, and consumer law.

Notes

[1] Johnson, Chalmers, “737 U.S. Military Bases = Global Empire,” Global Research , March 21, 2009. Mr. Johnson continues: “The Pentagon continues to omit from its accounts most of the $5 billion worth of military and espionage installations in Britain, which have long been conveniently disguised as Royal Air Force bases. If there were an honest count, the actual size of our military empire would probably top 1,000 different bases overseas, but no one -- possibly not even the Pentagon -- knows the exact number for sure.”
http://www.globalresearch.ca/index.php?context=va&aid=12824

[2] Schoenberger, Robert, “Developing a U.S. supply of strategic metals is on the agenda at Cleveland Conference, The Plain Dealer , February 1, 2010,
http://www.cleveland.com/business/index.ssf/2010/02/developing_a_us_supply_of_stra.html

[3] Zhang, Yajun, Vincent, Lee, and Jung-Ah, Lee, “China Dangles Rare-Earth Resources to Investors, The Wall Street Journal , August 16, 2010,
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB20001424052748703321004575427050544485366.html

[4] In Angola, for example, China secured future oil production rights by offering $2 billion in loans “for Chinese companies to build railroads, schools, roads, hospitals, bridges, and offices; lay a fiber-optic netword; and train Angolan telecommunications workers.” Hanson, Stephanie, “China, Africa, and Oil,” Council on Foreign Relations , June 6, 2008,
http://www.cfr.org/publication/9557/china_africa_and_oil.html

[5] Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, http://www.focac.org/eng/

[6] Cooke, Jennifer G., “China’s Soft Power in Africa and its Implications for the United States,” p.31,
http://csis.org/files/media/csis/pubs/090310_chinesesoftpower__chap3.pdf

[7] Ibid, p. 41

[8] Cohen, Ariel, “Russia’s New Scramble for Africa – Moscow tries to rebuild its sphere of influence on the African continent,” The Wall Street Journal , July 2, 2009,
http://online.wsj.com/article/NA_WSJ_PUB:SB124639219666775441.html

[9] Ibid

[10] Matthews, Owen, “Racing for New Riches – Russian and Chinese investors are battling for African resources to fuel their growing empires,” Newsweek , November 8, 2007,
http://www.newsweek.com/2007/11/08/racing-for-new-riches.html

[11] Feffer, John, “How Much Does the U.S. Empire Cost?” Huffington Post , July 14, 2009,
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-feffer/how-much-does-the-us-empi_b_231903.html

[12] Colonel Schwalbe, Stephen, “Overseas Military Base Closures,” Air & Space Power Journal , January 4, 2005,
http://www.airpower.maxwell.af.mil/airchronicles/cc/schwalbe2.html

[13] Vine, David, “Too Many Overseas Bases,” Foreign Policy In Focus , February 25, 2009,
http://www.fpif.org/articles/too_many_overseas_bases

[14] “Agreement Between The Government Of The United States Of America And The Government Of The Republic Of Djibouti On Access To And Use Of Facilities In The Republic Of Djibouti,” February 19, 2003,
http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/97620.pdf

[15] See remarks of Ms. Theresa M. Whelan, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (DASD) for African Affairs, “Foreign Press Center Briefing on U.S. To Establish New U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM),” US Fed News Service, Including US State News , Washington D.C., Feb 9, 2007. Ms. Whelan foreshadowed the structure of national vertical integration into the AFRICOM framework by stating that “AFRICOM isn’t going to be used to protect natural resources in Africa. To the extent that AFRICOM through its interaction with other African countries and through whatever help we can provide in terms of developing their capacities to promote security in their own country and in the region, if they will be able to protect their natural resources more effectively, then that will be a good thing.”

[16] Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi, “Touting West African Oil In The U.S.,” Modern Ghana , November 10, 2002,
http://www.modernghana.com/news/27789/1/touting-west-african-oil-in-the-us.html

[17] Ibid. See also, “US naval base to protect Sao Tome oil,” BBC News , August 22, 2002, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/2210571.stm in which President Menendez revealed the new model for U.S. military outposts abroad. He stated, "It is not really a military base on our territory, but rather a support port for aircraft, warships and patrol ships so that they can come to this port and stay for some time."

[18] Kennon, Yan, “NMCB 7 Detail Deploys to Sao Tome in Support of Exercise West Africa Training Cruise,” Navy.mil , July 27, 2010,
http://www.navy.mil/search/display.asp?story_id=54908

[19] Fillingham, Zachary, “U.S. military bases: a global footprint,” Geopolitical Monitor , December 9, 2009,
http://www.geopoliticalmonitor.com/us-military-bases-a-global-footprint-1/

[20] Volman, Daniel, “Why America wants military HQ in Africa,” New African , London: January 2008, Iss. 469 (ProQuest)

[21] Schaefer, Brett D. and Eaglen, Mackenzie M., “U.S. Africa Command: Challenges and Opportunities,” Backgrounder , The Heritage Foundation, p.4, November 19, 2008

[22] Ibid, p.7

[23] Stevenson, Jonathon, “The U.S. Navy: Into Africa,” Naval War College Review , Washington: Winter 2009, Vol 62, Iss.1 (ProQuest)

[24] “AFRICOM Helps Nations Build Secure Future,” US Fed News Service, Including US State News , Washington D.C., Apr 9, 2010

[25] Dr. Putman, Diana B., “Combating African Questions about the Legitimacy of AFRICOM,” U.S. Army War College , March 19, 2008, pp. 1-2

[26] Ibid, p. 21

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Thinking beyond the intellectual plantation

by William P. Muhammad


Then the Lord said to him, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions (Bible Genesis 15: 13-14).”

With the recent release of the Nation of Islam’s new book, “The Secret Relationship between Blacks and Jews, volume 2,” there has been a renewed effort among Jewish organizations, right wing conservatives and Blacks who have not yet read the book, to once again condemn the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan.

In order to deflect attention from its central thesis, and to avoid a much needed and straightforward dialogue on race relations, those attacking Minister Farrakhan, by means of straw man argument, seem more interested in avoiding exposure than they are with examining historical facts. Citing Jewish scholars, historical records and other non anti-Semitic sources, the book exposes myths, names individuals and identifies institutions that took part in the economic oppression of Blacks in the Jim Crow South.

Releasing this scholarly work to demonstrate and prove that Black economic development has been consistently undermined since the Emancipation Proclamation, it appears that for fear of moral or legal obligations, the anger and defensiveness coming from Jewish organizations, and their conservative allies, is based more upon a sense of denial than upon any genuine claims of Antisemitism or so-called reverse racism.

Establishing the basis of legitimate grievance, “The Secret Relationship between Blacks and Jews, volume 2” is intended to spur discussion and to lay the perimeters for a proper dialogue regarding many decades of economic exploitation. While Blacks had absolutely nothing to do with Jewish suffering, either in Europe or in America, it is indeed unfortunate that those victimized by their European brethren would now minimize the significance of their own documented roles in the historical suffering of Black people.

There is an anecdote that says when an adversary runs out of an intelligent argument, he will resort to name calling. Under a long and blistering campaign of unjust charges and personal attacks, the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan has never returned evil for evil. His stance on principle has been consistently resolute and uncompromising and, regardless of whom or what, he has always spoken truth to power when others feared to stand up and speak for themselves.

Today, in order to break the mold of an economically unjust relationship, and to honestly address the current impasse between Blacks and Jews, there must be willingness among Jewish advocacy and interest groups to acknowledge an historical wrong. Regarding Black leadership, there must also be the courage to stand on actual facts, and without fear of material loss or censure, to lay out the case for repairing the damage 400 years of slavery and undeserved suffering has caused.

In order to enable and empower an economy worthy of 40 million Black people, it is important to know what was in order to decipher and correct what is and what could be. For that to happen, it is first necessary to realize the significance of the nearly one trillion dollars Black consumers spend annually, and how this wealth could be leveraged beyond civil rights concerns and requests for corporate philanthropy.

Regarding the economic agendas of those who, in large part, built their wealth from Black consumer dollars, the evolution of a consuming culture into a producing culture would constitute a “game changer.” If business is a form of warfare and business systems are the basis of American economics, then the current condition of the Black community, when described in terms of winners and losers, is self-evident.

In terms of simple finance, if one takes the time to notice, it is clear the Black consumer is the golden goose that lays the golden eggs. However, through unfocused spending and the inefficient use of hard earned dollars, the potential leverage Black Americans have failed to command has empowered others more than we have empowered ourselves. As a result, we are poor when we are actually rich and we are weak although we are actually strong.

When the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan coined the phrase: “politics without economics is symbol without substance,” the collective spending power of Black people in America was more than 400 billion dollars per year. Now, with nearly one trillion dollars passing through our hands annually, we still find ourselves on a 21st century “economic” plantation where poverty, want and dependency remain the order of the day.

As fear, ignorance and outside control prevented our forefathers from leaving the plantations of the post-slavery South, fear, ignorance and outside control is discouraging our willingness and ability to build an economy worthy of our numbers today. As other racial and ethnic groups build their communities, and see doing so the duty of a free and independent people, the descendants of enslaved Africans continue to lag behind.

Although the reasons are for the most part well documented, the time is long overdue for a straightforward dialogue that no longer skirts the issue. Prolonging a paradigm whose time has come to an end will not solve the unwarranted servant-master relationship. Let us review history with honesty, work to repair the damage injustice has caused and leave the plantation behind us once and for all.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Echoes of Dred Scott in the Oscar Grant verdict

by William P. Muhammad

“It is difficult at this day to realize the state of public opinion in regard to that unfortunate race which prevailed in the civilized and enlightened portions of the world at the time of the Declaration of Independence, and when the Constitution of the United States was framed and adopted; but the public history of every European nation displays it in a manner too plain to be mistaken. They had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations, and so far unfit that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” (Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, in writing for the Supreme Court’s majority opinion regarding Dred Scott v. Sandford,1857).

The recent verdict against a former Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police officer, in a Los Angeles courtroom, has once again revealed the uneven application of justice concerning the killing of unarmed Black youth at the hands of White law enforcement personnel.

Found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the death of 22-year-old Oscar Grant, on New Year’s Day 2009, Johannes Mehserle claimed to have confused his .40 caliber service weapon for his “non-lethal” Taser when shooting Mr. Grant in the back. While dozens of witnesses and cell phone video confirmed the victim was no threat to himself or to others, Mehserle, who claimed to be fearful of the young man’s alleged movements, killed Mr. Grant as he laid face-down, subdued by police officers, on an Oakland train station platform.

Subsequently desiring a “fair trial” for the former officer, the State of California agreed to a change of venue from Oakland to Los Angeles, where, after a short deliberation, a slap on the wrist verdict angered many, sparking street demonstrations and calls for additional federal charges. Raising serious questions not only about the value of Black life in a so-called post-racial America, but also whether or not juries are capable of rendering fair decisions in racially charged police on civilian homicide cases, the Grant verdict nevertheless echoes the majority opinion of the Supreme Court’s infamous 1857 Dred Scott decision.

Enshrined by Chief Justice Taney’s court that Blacks “had no rights which the white man was bound to respect,” it appears that 153 years after that legal opinion was given, the same remains true regarding police violence against unarmed Black people. While the Scott case codified the denial of citizenship rights to both free and enslaved Blacks, what today’s Grant case has in common with the former Scott decision is a specific and callous disregard for the lives of Black people in the American legal system.

While it is interesting to note that the Scott case has never been overruled by the Supreme Court itself, the portion regarding citizenship was overturned through the passage of the 14th Amendment in 1868. With questions of citizenship having then been resolved, the unresolved portions of the Dred Scott decision remain alive and well in many United States courtrooms to this very day. Prejudiced juries, police misconduct and latent racism in the criminal justice system all bear witness to this fact and, as reflected by the Oscar Grant shooting, the law is watered down for some while made stricter for others.

As the family and supporters of Oscar Grant continue to press for justice, the last hope for legal redress lies with lawsuits and perhaps charges of civil rights violations brought against the former officer in question. While these actions will never bring the life of Mr. Grant back to his loved ones, a proper expression of justice may see to it that society will never again tolerate the cold-blooded killing of unarmed and subdued civilians at the hands of law enforcement.

Nevertheless, embedded in the US legal system, from the very beginning of the American republic, the kernel of racism that poisoned the foundation of American juris prudence continues to lurk behind the façade of “equal justice under the law.” While the Civil Rights movements of the 1950s and 60s helped to put laws on the books to address inequality on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin, these codes focused more upon public accommodations, voting rights and public access than with biases inherent to the legal system itself.

The Dred Scott decision established that the rights of Black people were subordinate to those of whites, and the Oscar Grant verdict proved that this is still the case. However, as pressure mounts for the federal government to look into what many now see as a miscarriage of justice, how many more Oscar Grants will there be in the Black community as increasingly militarized police forces continue to excuse what they call “justifiable homicide?”