Friday, July 19, 2013

Why the U.S. Executive Branch Is a Clear and Present Danger to Our Democracy

By Fred Branfman

Congress, judiciary and the mass media no longer provide constitutionally mandated checks and balances; they are largely extensions of Executive power.

Some brief extracts here, but the whole article is worth reading.

Edward Snowden's revelations have illuminated the most critical political issue facing America today: how an authoritarian U.S. Executive Branch which has focused on war abroad for the last 50 years now devotes increasing resources to surveillance, information management, and population control at home, posing a far greater threat to Americans' liberties than any conceivable foreign foe...

Although those who suggest the U.S. Executive Branch is subverting democracy are often maligned as radicals, alarmists, unpatriotic, or worse, it was one of America's most respected generals and popular presidents who first brought this issue to public attention 52 years ago.

On January 17, 1961, Dwight David Eisenhower famously warned that the "conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual -- is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence by the military industrial complex. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes."

The man who embodied patriotism itself warned us that our liberties were threatened at home by the "military-industrial complex" which we call here the U.S. Executive Branch, meaning the powerful Executive agencies and private corporations which lobby for and benefit from Executive funding, and have today morphed into one entity of mutual self-interest operating behind a wall of secrecy...

Given their decades-long record of misleading the American public about life-and-death issues, from the Tonkin Gulf to Iraq's fictional weapons of mass destruction, it is naive to give Executive officials the benefit of the doubt when they respond to charges of abuses. 

It is only logical to assume they are lying unless they provide evidence to the contrary. This is why they need to be sworn in and indicted for perjury when they lie to Congress.

The Pentagon Papers is the gold standard for understanding how Executive officials think since they have rarely written down their inner thoughts since. The Pentagon Papers reveal that Executive Branch leaders were not only indifferent to Vietnamese life, they were even willing to betray American youth for their own political ends. 

While the Johnson administration publicly claimed it was sending U.S. troops to help the people of Vietnam, Deputy Defense Secretary John McNaughton described U.S. Executive Branch objectives as "70% to avoid a humiliating U.S. defeat. 20% to keep SVN (South Vietnam) from Chinese hands. 10% to permit the people of SVN to enjoy a better, freer way of life."

And while Robert McNamara was publicly claiming the U.S. never killed civilians, he privately wrote that "the picture of the world's greatest superpower killing or seriously injuring 1000 noncombatants a week, while trying to pound a tiny backward nation into submission (might) produce a costly distortion in the American national consciousness and in the world image of the United States."

McNamara did not express concern about his mass murder. He focused only on keeping it secret from the world and the American citizens he claimed to represent.

Daniel Ellsberg, in Secrets, tells of accompanying McNamara on a plane trip from Saigon to Washington, during which McNamara privately stated "we've put more than a hundred thousand more troops into the country over the last year and there's been no improvement. Things aren't any better at all. That means the underlying situation is reallyworse!" 

But when McNamara deplaned he told a crowd of reporters:

"Gentlemen, I've just come back from Vietnam, and I'm glad to be able to tell you that we're showing great progress in every dimension of our effort. I'm very encouraged by everything I've seen and heard on my trip." (2)

Such countless lies betrayed a generation of American youth. Many volunteered to fight in Vietnam because they idealistically believed their leaders' public statements that the U.S. goal was to help the Vietnamese people. Others were forced to fight and die as their leaders concealed from them that they knew their strategy wasn't working. 

And U.S. Executive Branch leaders' lawless mass murder of the innocent fatally divided their nation at home, creating deep fissures which continue until today. Had Americans simply been told the truth by their leaders, had U.S. leaders said in public what they wrote in private, the war might well have ended years earlier, and thousands of American lives and tens of billions of dollars would have been saved.

As the Executive Branch now extends its operations in the U.S., its bureaucratic interests are similarly opposed to those of the American people. 

Huge sums given to the Pentagon, CIA and NSA diverts money from the public's top economic needs: investment in infrastructure, education and a high tech manufacturing base. And so the Executive must wage constant disinformation campaigns offering relief from exaggerated fear, false accomplishments and, above all, operations to defeat criticism...

...the U.S. military spends $4.7 billion a year to employ 27,000 "information operation specialists"—the equivalent of the army's largest division—as well as private P.R. firms. (5) Yes, a whole division of troops is deployed not to fight the "enemy," but to manipulate the American public.
The other Executive agencies—the CIA, NSA, FBI, Departments of Homeland Security, State and Defense—spend billions more to convince Americans to fund them. 

Every day Executive Agencies send out countless messages on an hourly basis, through briefings of journalists, press releases, press conferences, congressional testimony, appearances on radio and TV, etc., designed to build public support for its activities...

It is clear that anyone who genuinely cares about America's core values, not to mention its people, has no choice but to oppose the threat to democracy posed by the U.S. Executive Branch. 

The issue is not simply opposing any particular Executive injustice. It is recognizing that the Executive Branch itself is an antidemocratic, authoritarian institution which does not represent either the interests or values of the American people...

Fred Branfman's writing has been published in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Harper’s, and many other publications. He is the author of Voices From the Plain of Jars, and can be reached at

No comments: