If it turns out that I sold my soul to the Antichrist, I’m pretty sure I know when it happened. For Him it was a homecoming of sorts, as guest of honor at a luncheon in Budapest. No one thought he was the Antichrist then. Back then he was the man who broke the Bank of England. The other guests wanted to hear about money but George Soros wanted to talk about societies, opening them up. Sounded fine to me, but all I cared about was picaresque adventures. My ambition, if that’s the word, was to surf the collapse of the Soviet empire in to Moscow. The work wasn’t hard and the system wasn’t hard to work. The gleeful Wild East anarchy drew in everybody’s favorite conspiracy chimeras in a sort of money-grubbing Walpurgisnacht.
Lord Rothschild held court at another dinner, in Vienna. He didn’t issue sinister capitalist marching orders. His main concern was to debunk persistent uncharitable gossip about the family patriarch’s bets on Waterloo in 1815. Lots of spooks, too, behind every tree. Somewhere in their dusty archives is a photo of a military aircraft, the West’s first sighting ever. That’s me there, putting on an imbecilic grin of tourist innocence. That’s my crotch blocking your view of a crucial detail of the engine nacelle. Oops. I was just doing a favor for a pal. I did good turns for them all, American or not, they’re all alike. Lots of backscratching, poop for you and me. State secrets got traded like baseball cards. That’s what happens when discredited hegemons expire and decompose: everyone can smell the stink.
The stink can gag a maggot now again but it is not polite to say so. Everyone in power is resolutely breathing through their mouth. Nothing I care about comes up in public discourse, except as grotesque funhouse-mirror distortions. No party represents me. Nobody cares what I think in the cabals that run the world. It’s not just me. Unless you’re actively engaged in influence peddling, abuse of function, or looting, you don’t count.
Our state rots and blackens inside with some deep gangrene. Our disgust is now a crime against the state. The only option is to euthanize this state, induce collapse. The Constitution’s gone. It’s not coming back. US institutions and protections bear no relation to the document that spawned them long ago.
The Congressional power of the purse is gone, washed away by trillions in government obligations unlawfully imposed by the bankers’ factotums at the Fed. The war powers of Congress? Our Commander in Chief holds them in contempt. He sentences Libya to war in backroom deals at the Security Council, then breaches the authorizing authority, toppling rulers and propping them up, destroying vital public services, and dismembering the country. The sole remaining power of the House is trading in influence, with leadership positions based on annual monetary goals for taking corporate graft. The Senate now serves only to avert public consideration of questions forbidden by the state. The Supreme Court is a cesspool of corruption and repressive caprice, with justices on the take debasing law to a tissue of absurdities.
If the Constitution is a dead letter, your Bill of Rights is a joke. The President has the power to kill citizens without charge or trial; to detain them arbitrarily for life; to torture them with impunity; to criminalize association, speech, and assembly; and to search persons or seize personal records and effects wholesale, on secret grounds. Torturer Brett Kavanagh preens in judicial robes, revoking the rule of law to hide his crimes. With corporate crime off limits, Federal law enforcement has degenerated into Israeli firms Narus and Verint conducting NKVD-style mass surveillance to blackmail and recruit informers.
Your vote gives this parasitic state a fishy sheen of popular consent but changes nothing. Aggression, repression and exaction proceed as privately agreed by agents of America’s proprietors. Two and only two parties coact to silence unauthorized expressions of the popular will. Electoral politics is pointless, sustained only by threats to vestigial state protections. Voters are driven down the party cattle chutes by attacks on their security in sickness or old age, or by fabricated threats to their livelihood or means – immigrants, socialists, unions, deficits, tax. Scripted competition for your futile vote chops up your rights and makes you fight the other faction for scraps.
But what’s the alternative? Reform proposals cluster at opposite poles of loony philosophy or scatter-shot technical adjustments. Corruption and repression outrun proposed reforms, but stronger responses are limited to wistful daydreams of resolute marches. A nation of dissidents gropes for overarching principles to focus its discontent.
A broader view shows that we are not alone in this. Our state is not the first state to go bad. States go off the rails all the time, and the world knows what to do. The international community has built and tested scaffolding to shore up rotten states and replace the ones that fail. The crucial principles needed to renew a state, painstakingly constructed by a line of thinkers from Rousseau to Kant and Mill and Rawls, have been codified and written into law. Our state bears duties. It is bound by obligations and commitments.
By international consensus, any sovereign state must meet world standards for governance. Our state is enmeshed in these standards abroad, and the international community continually confronts our government with its duties and derelictions. The US government defies the outside world with its armaments and wealth and populous heft. Advanced by weak and peaceful states, the standards are no threat. But if the US population took them up, these standards could demolish our criminal state. The American people would gain independent authority and institutional support for freedom, security, and peace.
Revolutions in the Moslem world coalesced around peoples’ demand for dignity, a term with objective legal meaning and accumulating case law under human rights compacts and the Convention Against Torture. Latin American democracy movements invoked self-determination, another fundamental principle of human rights treaty law. The words unfold to objective standards and concrete requirements. What Rousseau did for the French revolution, treaty law did for modern popular democracy movements: giving parallel government a clear source of legitimacy, uniting disparate groups with overarching principles, and mobilizing peoples in other oppressive states.
US government policy revolves around efforts to avoid the contagion of world standards. The state keeps Americans in the dark about its duties by a last-ditch campaign of suppression. Officials at home ward off legally binding instruments with glittering generalities stripped of content, such as liberty and freedom and justice. At the same time state officials fight to keep specific standards out of reach of the American people. Statist propaganda tars human rights law by association with foreign enemies such as demonized ‘dictators’ or ‘communist’ oppressors. Meticulously-nurtured folklore attacks the state’s obligations as an alien, despotic New World Order. Americans who apply universal standards for criminal aggression or willful killing “should have their head examined,” so our current President says. And what of Americans who cite evidence that our forces shot bin Laden when he had been rendered hors de combat by detention, at the President’s direction? What of Americans who question the legality of our classified assassination force? Let’s all examine their heads.
State indoctrination aims to keep us clinging to the toothless boilerplate of the Constitution. For all the good it does us in this sty of rancid institutions, we might as well be citing The Code of Hammurabi. Our Constitution, as interpreted by an out-of-control autocrat and nine sneering clowns, permits state terror and torture, enshrines corruption, and negates human rights.
So what’s our grievance, then, in fifty words or less? Our State is derelict in its duties. It has failed to meet its obligations and commitments. Our government doesn’t measure up. These are grounds for recourse to rebellion.
Duties, obligations and commitments: the world knows what that means. If Americans ever learn, the jig is up. The standards are written to be clear to everybody everywhere. They strip a failing state of its authority.
It’s not like waving signs in a tricorn hat. In this mode of discourse, claims of right must reference the authority by article and paragraph. Treaty law chapter and verse cuts the crap. Human rights bodies examine America’s state with a rigor never seen at home. Humanitarian law cuts through patriotic barbarity with X-Ray acuity. Just to know your rights is subversive. Citing state duties? That’s the next best thing to treason.
State secrets though they seem to be at home, the basic instruments are not hard to find:
– The UN Charter. Supreme law of the land by Article VI of the US Constitution. The Charter defines peace. Invoked by citizens, the Charter would subject our war machine to independent legal authority.
– The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Adopted by international consensus and binding on the US government as customary international law. The most-translated document on earth, the UDHR sets the standard of achievement for all states. It entitles Americans to know their rights through education. It specifies the duties of the state, including our right to the means of life. Invoked by citizens, it would loosen state controls that put our subsistence and our peace in the power of corporations.
– The Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR). Supreme law of the land. It provides objective standards for freedom from state repression. As binding treaty law it subjects our government to international review by independent experts. It defines democracy in terms that lay our corrupt elections bare. It expands our freedoms well beyond the Bill of Rights. Invoked by citizens, it requires compensation for government abuses.
– The Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR). The US is a signatory and must not act to defeat the object and purpose of the treaty. As binding treaty law it would hold government accountable for deficiencies in our living standards. The covenant defines self-determination to include environmental health; cultural integrity; and economic security including health, housing, livelihood, and education. Invoked by citizens, the covenant would hold our state to account for corporate predation such as mass illegal evictions, predatory denial of health care, adulteration and tainting of food, or usury and fraud in education.
– The Convention Against Torture (CAT). Supreme Law of the Land. Enforces the right to dignity with criminal penalties for inhuman or degrading treatment. Invoked by citizens, the Convention grants universal-jurisdiction legal redress for US government brutality.
– The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.  In force, with jurisdiction over US officials subject to Security Council referral. The US was briefly a signatory, but withdrew its signature and has failed to ratify the treaty. Invoked by citizens, the Rome Statute challenges the impunity of US officials for unlawful brutality and war.
Everything everyone wants is there. There’s an article for every public good bad states withhold. Democracy, that’s CCPR Article 25. Environmental stewardship, that’s CESCR Article 12(2b). Labor rights, that’s CESCR Article 8. Food security, that’s CESCR Article 11(2). Privacy – not just freedom from search and seizure but broader protection from personal attacks by the state – that’s CCPR Article 17. Religious freedom, that’s CCPR Article 27. Are your gun rights fundamental? CCPR Article 5(2) protects them.
There is seldom any question what these documents mean. The basic compacts are defined by an evolving body of explicit agreements and case law. Humanitarian law – the UN Charter and Rome Statute – builds on the Geneva Conventions, the Nuremberg Principles, and the laws of war. The core human rights instruments – the UDHR, CCPR, and CESCR – are applied by UN agencies and regional or national tribunals. Other documents bind the standards into unifying precepts. The Declaration on the Right to Development applies human rights and humanitarian law to formally subordinate the state to its peoples. The doctrine of Responsibility to Protect makes a state’s sovereignty contingent on human rights, humanitarian law, and inclusion. The Paris Principles specify the functions of a domestic human rights body.
But why wouldn’t these standards be ignored, as the Constitution is? The standards need teeth. To assert them takes push and pull: push by civil society from within states, and pull by principled blocs acting from outside. The documents are meant to work that way: they seem to summon all the foreign devils and possessing demons most feared by our state.
Civil society means Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs): voluntary nonprofit associations with a formal institutional existence, independent of public authorities and commercial entities, and not in pursuit of members’ commercial or professional interests. In some countries civil society includes the media, though not in the United States, where dominant media advance state doctrine (the New York Times and Washington Post,) partisan objectives (Fox News, for example,) or commercial interests of firms that own them (NBC and ABC, for example.) Civil society shames states. In an international order dictated by a domineering power, associations can accomplish things that subaltern governments cannot.
A civil-society coalition led 156 countries to ban landmine production and use. The coalition is applying the same approach to ban cluster munitions. The process that produced these treaties has become a promising approach for reforms that world powers might suppress. Private associations and like-minded governments are tackling small-arms proliferation both internationally and domestically – the Philippine Action Network on Small Arms is resisting the spread of gun culture there.
Each specialized disarmament campaign draws on the accumulated experience of the others. Campaigns amass evidence to shift the focus from gee-whiz military tricks to human suffering. In the seminal Montreux Meeting, the International Committee of the Red Cross brought military staff together with clearance experts, compelling recognition of the cost to noncombatants. Civil-society education and pressure is crucial, helping elective officials go over the generals’ heads with popular support. Civilian mutilées get a voice, personalizing facts that get suppressed in the ritual and argot of public military briefings. Campaigners can divert the state’s theater of threat from Why did they do it? to Where did they get that weapon? Weapons that are best at killing noncombatants come to light, and the focus subtly shifts from laundry lists of weapons to human security. The war machine feeds on enemies. These campaigns poison the war machine with victims.
The United Nations Association pushed for an international criminal court, assembled organizations worldwide when the idea gained momentum, and shaped the court’s statute with technical assistance. The European Forum for Restorative Justice is nudging criminal justice practice from punishment toward redress and restitution. Restorative justice has legal recognition in at least sixteen European countries and pilot projects in another dozen. It has spread to the anglophone world and even gained a furtive toehold in the United States. In France, civil society pressured parliament to convene the Quilès Commission to investigate the French government’s role in Rwandan genocide.
The World Social Forum is pure ferment, by design. It puts social justice activists and groups in contact worldwide. Like a funnel in reverse, the forums accentuate variety. Shoestring groups vie with established NGOs in a proliferating series of assemblies. It strengthens ties, that’s all – but ties may be the fundamental threat to statist domination.
One gauge of civil society’s importance is the US government’s hostility. At a UN Conference on Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons, the United States’ UN ambassador listed measures unacceptable to the US government. Among the short and comprehensive list: no promotion of NGO advocacy – not even by NGOs. The US opposed civil-society advocacy not just within the United States but internationally. Our government will withhold cooperation on all agreed measures to silence voices it can’t control. That is a testament to the power of NGOs. Domestic NGOs without international support are isolated and destroyed at home: bipartisan attacks on ACORN and Planned Parenthood fit a longstanding pattern of state conduct. The state tightened its grip on electoral politics by pushing the League of Women Voters aside for two-party debates with collusive rules.
NGOs are not our rulers’ only problem. The US government is increasingly beset by an axis that might be described as a rule-of-law bloc. Their name is Legion, you might say, for they are many. Americans are trained to see Iran as an outcast desperado among nations, terrorizing all decent people, dangerous, unreasoning, a cornered beast. So it’s jarring to come upon them presiding in elective honor over a bloc of nations comprising eighty per cent of all the people in the world. The bloc is called the G-77. Unlike US diplomats, “trained as warriors” to “take a situation up to the brink of having to call in the military,” Iran’s representative, a former UN envoy, mediated and listened. In a cheeky rejoinder to our quasi-official “clash of civilizations” slogan, Iran initiated a year of Dialogue Among Civilizations.
The majority’s secretariat resides, invisibly and inaudibly, to Americans, in New York. The majority – the overwhelming preponderance of mankind – is setting divergent interests aside so they can act in concert. And it isn’t just little poor powerless states: our chief creditor China is part of this bloc. Most of OPEC belongs to this bloc. The G-77 actually numbers 133 countries. If we mean it when we talk about democracy worldwide, Iran was the legitimate leader of the world as our state tore up the UN Charter to wage illegal war in Iraq. Nothing shows our rulers up as liars more than this: if they brought about democracy as promised, this majority would have its way.
So what do they want? The vox populi of the world has been echoing for more than a decade, since Nigeria conveyed the Declaration of the South to the democratic sandbox of the General Assembly. Of it we Americans heard not a peep – perhaps because the document was drawn up in Havana, in Cuba, that fearsome dagger pointed at the heart of Sloppy Joe’s Bar in Key West, the maddening fly that still stampedes our ruling class after fifty years.
What do they want? Compliance with the UN Charter. Human rights for all…
Let’s stop right there and examine this from the viewpoint of America, a state that routinely contravenes the UN Charter, most recently with the highest crime, illegal aggression in Iraq and Libya. Let’s consider such state duties from the viewpoint of a state like America that denies its citizens’ core civil and political rights with obstructive reservations in breach of treaty law, and with emergency powers exercised in breach of treaty law and the supreme law of the land. Let us look at obligations from the viewpoint of our state, which refuses to acknowledge economic, social, and cultural rights binding in customary international law. Clearly, the G-77’s demands for rule of law must be put aside as an unacceptable infringement on US state sovereignty. To put the people first is beyond the pale for our state.
The G-77 pledges transparent, effective and accountable governance. They seek democratic decision-making within and among states. This is an overt threat to a state like ours, in which two approved parties carry out policies opposed by overwhelming popular majorities and coercively suppress electoral participation by unauthorized groups. In a country like America, with its institutionalized trading in influence and abuse of function, transparency is foreign subversion.
In its Teheran Consensus the G-77 pledges tighter ties among the global south, ties that are to bind at all levels of society: not just among ruling elites in ferociously-guarded secrecy, as in America’s sphere, but among civil society institutions and associations of all sorts – even including the people at large.
With the public will effectively negated by meticulous state control of the electoral process, civil society is a destabilizing threat to our state. America prefers to channel all public participation through state-controlled parties. Our state is not comfortable when foreign countries encourage too much freedom of association, or presume to give it voice. A UN debate on civil society shows our state’s approach to free association. The US delegation proposed to restrict NGO participation to the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). ECOSOC has no role in the US because the US government refuses to ratify the core economic and social rights covenant. Our delegate also played the traditional American trick of attacking NGO outreach funding while reiterating US support.
Perhaps it’s hard for our government to sympathize with the G-77. Some of their concerns are poor man’s problems. The G-77 stands for eradication of hunger, illiteracy, disease, and poverty. No one of consequence suffers from those things here at home. The bloc stands for national self-determination against exploitative resource extraction. But if some of their concerns sound like special third-world pleading, others hit uncomfortably close to home. With brutal candor, the G-77 majority shreds American self-deception about shared indignities.
The world majority speaks candidly of disparities between rich and poor, and pledges to reverse them. Here at home inequality is handled by a committee of bankers, the Fed. The committee of bankers forces down interest rates, punishing powerless savers to prop up bankrupt banks. It pays public money for worthless bank assets, and permits falsified accounting to lure more of people’s savings into bankrupt banks. Bankers take the various subsidies home in annual bonuses that would be a lifetime endowment for any of this country’s poor. We call them unemployed, not poor. Ejected from housing, or poised in stores at midnight waiting for their food allowance to be disbursed, or letting their diseases go untreated, they are no less desperate than their African peers. African governments in the G-77 hold themselves to the standard of their peoples’ well-being. In America we are induced to fixate on an abstraction we call the economy, which is defined to exclude all the arrangements that take from the masses to gorge a tiny ruling class.
Perhaps it takes a wholly different civilization to make the obvious point that corporate profit maximization has nothing to do with decent jobs or human well-being. The G-77 outsiders watched a tiny minority rig the rules to free capital for unrestricted global movement while penning most labor into national markets. They are not surprised to see capital pit fragmented labor pools against each other to drive down wages and standards. However much your country has developed, this trap works equally well, and it’s as evident here as abroad. But it takes a fantasy culture like America to attribute the result of this purposive predation to lack of skills or discipline.
For a derelict state, our rulers have exceptional faith in merit. Someday, when time has obscured America’s pervasive misery, we might see the humor in our fawning idolatry of a fatuous Magoo who refracted every datum through the portentous doorstop novels of Ayn Rand. Or the slapstick devastation of Alan Greenspan falling for a giant Ponzi scheme, our objectivist superman gypped by hackneyed D.P. tricks from the old country, and in housing, of all things, that most petit-bourgeois of assets. We have come to accept people with all sorts of ridiculous occupations who manage to identify with that fictional titan of industry, John Galt – but Alan Greenspan might be the most bathetic case of all. For now, though, amid the widespread ruin of blameless lives, it is best to be grave.
The G-77 knows all about debt. It probably takes someone with the gimlet eye of the destitute to see the two faces of debt for what they are. For the victims, debt palliates a mendicant life and persists as a means of control. For the victimizers, debt, retooled as ‘leverage,’ upends economies and makes hostages of populations. It works the same way here and abroad, but only less-developed peoples see it clearly. We have our peons just as they do. We call them homeowners. They are all part of the same meek and compliant working class. The world’s majority likely casts an empathetic eye on our bustling “entrepreneurs” and “professional staff” chained to their treadmill of debt. For most, their subsistence depends strictly on fealty and obedience to their employers. A few of them will be anointed as intelligentsia, in Lenin’s contemptuous term, taught to revere the new ways imposed, and allowed to vaunt distinction and taste privilege, if they keep in line.
We Americans are the naive ones. Elsewhere in the world, they’ve seen it all before. Through bitter experience, the world’s majority is not surprised to see emergency relief aid turn into armed repression, summary execution, and detention camps. They would not be shocked to see the murderous militarized helping hand put out to Hurricane Katrina’s victims. As services and infrastructure suffer more neglect, more Americans will get to know the third-world treatment.
The G-77 majority wants more democracy in economic decision-making. The world at large sees the UN’s economic agencies pushed aside for weighted voting in the Bretton Woods Institutions. They see firms consolidating assets and power, and dominating institutions as well as markets. For the underdeveloped eighty per cent here at home, the analog is more assured and blatant. Financial institutions install cadres in the White House and bankroll agents in Congress. Administrations of both parties host closed-door industry conferences to dictate industrial policy. The vote is weighted by money at home and abroad. The franchise is increasingly restricted to the owners, of the country and of the world. However rich you think you are, you don’t own enough to have a vote: you’re not a corporate person but a human.
America’s majority is much like the world’s. For the placemen, the retainers of the dominant firms, the populace is part of les damnés de la terre, an object of pity, or scorn. At most they are a threat, if they articulate their interests, in which case they’re brutally put down. Here at home the masses cling to a derisory dream of advancement and parrot mottoes of merit and hard work. They strive against others of their caste, and most importantly, comply. Abroad, with no delusory hope of redress, the masses act in concert. Here and abroad, helpless or united, they are the same degraded class, the wretched of the earth.
The Biblical Legion of devils was actually Gadarene resistance to Roman rule. Walpurgisnacht is May Day’s eve. The peoples are the most feared of all demons. There is good reason why the wretched are les damnés de la terre – they’re a threat. It is dangerous to invoke demons. That is what treaty law does at home and abroad, with human rights and rule of law. And sometimes America’s possessing demons, the ACLU, mass in legions with foreign devils – even with Europe, once safely bottled up – to expose the crimes of our state to the public at large worldwide. The state wants the masses dispersed and unseen but now we’ve all been evoked. We’ll see if they can cast us out again with their patriotic spells.