Friday, December 6, 2013

What Would Nelson Mandela Have Done About the NSA?

Nelson Mandela on the eve of his 90th birthday in Johannesburg in May 2008

If Mandela was U.S. President - would he have allowed the NSA to metastasize to what it is now? Hardly!

As the world mourns the death of Nelson Mandela, many tributes will be paid, and achievements recalled. As on Rachel Maddow last night, most of us will finally be brought up to speed on a nation's history we may not have known: that of the South African Apartheid Security state - dedicated to protect the Afrikaner from any contact with those viewed to the next thing to terrorists.

A few of us, mainly in the realm of deep politics, will recall Mandela's signature role as a freedom fighter and how he was persecuted by the S.A. national security state. Working as a lawyer, Mandela was repeatedly arrested for seditious activities and, with the ANC (African National Congress)    leadership, and was initially  unsuccessfully prosecuted in the Treason Trial from 1956 to 1961. Although initially committed to non-violent protest, he co-founded the militant Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) in 1961 in association with the South African Communist Party, leading a sabotage campaign against the apartheid government. In 1962 he was arrested, convicted of conspiracy to overthrow the government, and sentenced to life imprisonment in the Rivonia Trial.

This is important to learn because in order for us to parse an "alternative history" - say if in some parallel universe Mandela had somehow become President of the U.S. instead of Obama (back in 2008). Then asking: What would he have done with the National Security State with which he'd been saddled - given his background, not as a "constitutional law professor" but an actual freedom fighter?

We know the following already about Mr. Mandela - which many of his latter day idolizers seem to have forgotten:

1. Mandela was a political activist and agitator. He did not shy away from controversy and he did not seek — or obtain — universal approval. Before and after his release from prison, he embraced an unabashedly progressive and provocative platform.

2. Mandela blasted the Iraq War and American imperialism. Mandela called Bush "a president who has no foresight, who cannot think properly," and accused him of "wanting to plunge the world into a holocaust" by going to war in Iraq. "All that [Mr. Bush] wants is Iraqi oil," he said.  He also saw the Iraq War as a greater problem of American imperialism around the world. "If there is a country that has committed unspeakable atrocities in the world, it is the United States of America. They don't care," he said.

3. Mandela called freedom from poverty a "fundamental human right." Mandela considered poverty one of the greatest evils in the world, and spoke out against inequality everywhere. "Massive poverty and obscene inequality are such terrible scourges of our times — times in which the world boasts breathtaking advances in science, technology, industry and wealth accumulation — that they have to rank alongside slavery and apartheid as social evils," he said. He considered ending poverty a basic human duty: "Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life," he said. "While poverty persists, there is no true freedom."

4. Mandela criticized the "War on Terror" and the labeling of individuals as "terrorists"  without due process. On the U.S. terrorist watch list until 2008 himself, Mandela was an outspoken critic of President George W. Bush's war on terror. He warned against rushing to label terrorists without due process. While forcefully calling for Osama bin Laden to be brought to justice, Mandela remarked, "The labeling of Osama bin Laden as the terrorist responsible for those acts before he had been tried and convicted could also be seen as undermining some of the basic tenets of the rule of law."

5. Mandela embraced some of America's biggest political enemies. Mandela incited shock and anger in many American communities for refusing to denounce Cuban dictator Fidel Castro or Libyan Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, who had lent their support to Mandela against South African apartheid. "One of the mistakes the Western world makes is to think that their enemies should be our enemies," he explained to an American TV audience. "We have our own struggle." He added that those leaders "are placing resources at our disposal to win the struggle." He also called the controversial Palestinian Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat "a comrade in arms."

6. Mandela was a die-hard supporter of labor unions. Mandela visited the Detroit auto workers union when touring the U.S., immediately claiming kinship with them. "Sisters and brothers, friends and comrades, the man who is speaking is not a stranger here," he said. "The man who is speaking is a member of the UAW. I am your flesh and blood."

(Source: ThinkProgress and the Center for American Progress Action )

Let's assume then, for the sake of argument, the parallel universe would also feature a U.S. of A. that had undergone 9/11, and also had a Bush Jr. who started wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  However, by some anomaly Nelson Mandela - under different constitutional election laws- became President of the U.S. But this Mandela was Nelson after just being released from Robben Island - so was still in full possession of his faculties at age 72, as opposed to age 90 (in 2008).

The first thing Mandela would certainly have done is pulled all troops out of both Afghanistan and Iraq - especially after just being awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in that parallel cosmos. There is no way, especially after an economic crash such as occurred in 2008, he'd have been able to justify squandering hundreds of billions a year on military adventures while tens of millions lost jobs, children went to bed hungry for lack of enough food, and genuine domestic security unraveled.  The next thing he'd have done is to cut back national security funding that the Bushies had fueled by using "terrorism" as a bogeyman to scare citizens into nodding compliance with surrendering civil liberties.

In particular, he'd have been flabbergasted to find out about the COG (continuity of government) program which under the Bushites  equated political dissent with treason. To him, this would have been contrary to everything he stood for, fought for in his homeland.   He'd have been further infuriated on learning of the "Main Core' program - especially after learning the Fourth Amendment and all others in the Bill of Rights. He'd have pulled back after seeing that:

"without a warrant all the following can be collected: the e-mail addresses you send to and receive from, and the subject lines of those messages; the phone numbers you dial, the numbers that dial in to your line, and the durations of the calls; the Internet sites you visit and the keywords in your Web searches; the destinations of the airline tickets you buy; the amounts and locations of your ATM withdrawals; and the goods and services you purchase on credit cards. All of this information is archived on government supercomputers and, according to sources, also fed into the Main Core database."

The final straw for Mandela would have been learning that up to the time he entered office,  8 million Americans were listed in Main Core as potentially suspect.

And: "In the event of a national emergency, these people could be subject to everything from heightened surveillance and tracking to direct questioning and possibly even detention.”

With recollections of the South African national security state, demanding papers for everyone's travel and assembling massive file data bases on ANC members, families, Nelson would have disassembled COG in a heartbeat. In the next step, he'd have issued an executive order to disband Main Core and the other nefarious additions under the "Patriot Act". It is not beyond possibility he'd have attempted to derail or repeal the Patriot Act itself. At the very least when it was learned how the Bushies used warrantless searches under certain provisions of the Act, he'd have vigorously sought to have them overturned - or at least have vetoed any new "law" passed by a cowed congress, say that reverse-legalized them.

In this parallel universe neither PRISM or XKeyscore would have materialized.  Nor would the mass spying on our allies, which Nelson would have viewed as disreputable and unworthy of a superpower that embraced - or claimed to - principles of liberty.  Finally, the recent revelation about 5 billion cell phone calls a day being compiled would never have been disclosed by an Edward Snowden - indeed it is doubtful there'd have been an Edward Snowden - given Mandela wouldn't have let the agency hire millions of private  sub-contractors.

According to the latest NSA hijinks:

"The spy agency is said to be tracking the movements of “at least hundreds of millions of devices” in what amounts to a staggeringly powerful surveillance tool. It means the NSA can, through mobile phones, track individuals anywhere they travel – including into private homes – or retrace previously traveled journeys.

The data can also be used to study patterns of behaviour to reveal personal information and relationships between different users."

 Again, being conscious at the most personal level of what personal liberty means Nelson Mandela,  as U.S. President , would never have countenanced such an unimaginable violation of it worldwide, and would have done all in his power to ensure the national security state never attained such power after being elected.

In the parallel universe of December, 2013, Mandela would still have died - but it would have been out of office, and the America for which he served as a steward would have seen greater prosperity by not squandering blood and treasure on unwinnable "wars". That money instead would have been available domestically - to serve the people's needs - as opposed to the warmonger, national security state.

Would the scourge of Neoliberalism still exist in this parallel universe?

Undoubtedly! But given Mandela's background, he'd have wanted no part of it. He knew that no autonomous, "free" markets existed, and that so long as huge corporations dominated and exploited mergers,  markets would tend to be coercive.  As a man of the People, Mandela would know he couldn't also be a Neoliberal or remotely acknowledge "business as the rightful ruler of the country".

Any country!

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