Sunday, June 27, 2010

It's Time to Join a Gang

By Gonzala Lira

This past Monday, June 14, 2010, the Unites States Supreme Court let stand without comment or dissent the Second Circuit Appeals Court decision to dismiss Maher Arar's suit against the U.S. Government. (Arar v. Ashcroft, No. 09-923)

Mr. Arar was illegally detained by U.S. officials while in transit back to his home in Canada, and then handed over to Syrian intelligence officials using “extraordinary rendition”. The Syrians kept Arar for ten months, interrogating him using torture, and finally releasing him when they concluded that Mr. Arar was neither a terrorist, nor in possession of any relevant intelligence.

Once free, Mr. Arar sued both the Canadian government (which peripherally assisted in his kidnapping and torture) and the U.S. government. The Canadian government issued him an unequivocal apology, and $10 million Canadian in compensation.

Mr. Arar did not get any similar justice from the U.S. government, though. The Second Circuit Appeals Court quashed his suit by stating that Congress had not authorized such suits as Mr. Arar’s. (!)

By letting stand the Appeals Court decision to quash the suit Mr. Arar brought against the U.S. Government, the Supreme Court effectively ruled that the Government cannot be held accountable by private citizens for its actions. The Government can do as it pleases to any individual—including assassinating one of its own citizens—and there is no legal remedy.

Now let's compare how the U.S. Government dealt with BP, regarding the oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico: President Obama met with BP officials, and as a product of that meeting, BP promised to set up a “compensation fund” of $20 billion over the next two years.

Note how this was agreed to outside of the ordinary judicial process. There was no suit. Neither did this agreement follow the law. It was simply a deal the White House made with BP. A Republican politician is receiving a lot of grief over having characterised the meeting and subsequent deal as a “shake down” of BP by the Government. This politician is being censured because apparently he sided with BP, the party responsible for the oil spill disaster—clearly the guy is an idiot.

Be that as it may, the politician’s characterization is in fact accurate: The Government did “shake down” BP for the money, in a manner no different from a street gang shaking down a neighborhood grocery store.

In the Arar case, one of the Government’s arguments in favor of quashing the case was that the suit would bring under scrutiny “the motives and sincerity of the United States officials who concluded that petitioner [Mr. Arar] could be removed to Syria.” In other words, the Government was deploying its full weight and power to protect the individuals who had actually ordered Mr. Arar’s detention and deportation to Syria.

Similarly, in the “compensation agreement” whereby BP acquiesced to pay $20 billion, the company as a whole was acting to protect the executives and personnel responsible for the oil spill disaster. (I have yet to read the actual deal memo, but I wouldn't be surprised to learn that, as part of the deal, the Government agrees not to prosecute any BP executive or personnel, either in criminal or civil court. This is pure supposition on my part—but it ought to be the first thing scrutinized once the actual deal memo comes out.)

As a third example, during the financial crisis, when AIG, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were all bailed out, none of the executives actually responsible for the firms being in the position that they were in were indicted or punished in any way. The corporations assumed the responsibility of the individuals who had made the bad decisions.

As a fourth example, the unions, in both the public sector and the private. GM’s unions forced the company to assume pension and health care liabilities which any actuarian would have realized would eventually bring about GM’s bankruptcy—which of course is exactly what happened. Teacher's unions across the U.S. refuse to implement basic competency tests on their members, threatening to strike if such tests are imposed, even going so far as to protect not merely incompetent teachers, but pedophiles—and these are the people who are supposed to be educating America’s youth.

A fifth example: The U.S. military. Soldiers routinely violate human rights of Iraqis and Afghans, in the most despicable, egregious manner imaginable. Yet they get away with it, the military going out of its way to protect its soldiers, under the rationale that to prosecute gross human rights violations would “erode the morale of the troops”. In the Abu Ghraib torture scandal, a half-dozen non-commissioned officers were jailed—but apart from a lone Lieutenant Colonel being tried and acquitted of a couple of minor charges, no officer was tried, and none jailed.

All of this underscores the same problems we are having throughout our society in the Industrialized West: Corporate entities, be they corporations, unions, the military, or the government, act lawlessly—anarchically—trampling the individual without hesitation, yet coming to accomodations between one corporate entity and another.

In other words, our society has become a neighborhood where street-gangs—corporate entitites—battle one another for position. Even the Government is just another street gang.

People allied with a particular corporate entity have rights and the full protection of the corporate entity to which they belong, much as street gangs are fiercely loyal to their individual members. The higher up in the corporate entities’ hierarchy—CEO, General, President—the more untouchable he or she is.

However, unaffiliated members—such as Mr. Arar, such as myself—have no such protection. Neither do they have recourse to the courts, as the Arar case proves. Courts and the so-called “justice system” are busy policing individuals. Individuals’ rights are more curtailed and restricted than ever before. But corporate entities are freer than ever before.

In such a lawless neighborhood, what can an individual do? Obvious: Join a gang—any gang.

Read the rest here.


  1. excellent... found your article on freedoms phoenix. well put!

  2. "Join a gang..." sadly this is exactly what human nature requires. Lira (Italian monetary unit?) explains the purpose of his website:

    "I think that that's part of the reason our society is in such turmoil—the public intellectuals are too fearful of pissing off the mob or pissing off the oligarchs to say what has to be said. They're too afraid of losing their perks or positions.

    Since I'm no one in academia, and since I don't depend on the mob for my living—since no oligarch hires me to sell their point of view, and since I'm an expert in nothing—I have the opportunity to say what I really think."

    Yet "the mob" isn't the problem its the "average Joe", the "everyman" who quite rationally believes that might makes right is realty. And so when Arar's human rights are violated, "everyman" understands it is Arar's fault for not being in a more powerful gang. The gang is the solution, it always has been.

    But Lira doesn't yet believe that because he keeps on writing. Perhaps we should call him Lira, Man from La Mancha.

  3. I think this article is excellent.

    Gang mentality has been, is, and will continue to be a defining characteristic of human society, but it looks like we're making increasingly good progress to securing the rights of all individuals, and vastly diminishing the power of many "gangs" that on the whole are harmful to humanity.

    Testament to this is the fact that there even are individuals who are (mostly) unaffiliated and completely free to speak their minds to a potentially large audience.

    Certainly we're doing a lot better than most societies throughout history.

  4. While your other examples may be true, I question them because your facts are demonstrably wrong on the BP Oil Spill Compensation Fund. According to Legal Planet, the 1990 Oil Pollution Act (sec. 1005(a)), passed after the Exxon-Valdez incident, requires the responsible company to establish a process for "the payment or settlement of claims for interim, short-term damages" that might encompass an escrow and independent decision-makers.

    This strikes me as a piece authored by someone who is taking these news stories at face value and only has a cursory understanding of the full amalgam of facts. And he or she is hoping his audience does the same.