Archive for the 'Politics' Category

Macro Economics 101 From Bretton Woods to the Wall Street Minotaur to the Shock of 2008

Thursday, July 7th, 2016

And the Weak Suffer What they Must? Europe’s Crisis and America’s Economic Future, Yanis Varoufakis, 2016

White and Keynes at Bretton Woods keynes white battle bretton woods

Shortly after D day in 1944, the allies met at Bretton Woods to hammer out a post war global economic order. The American delegation was led by New Deal economist Harry Dexter White:

Bretton Woods offered White an opportunity to project the New Deal onto a global canvas. His brief for the Bretton Woods conference was nothing less than to design from scratch a stable, viable worldwide financial system for the postwar era.

But the New Deal stabilized capitalism in the US by instituting a broad range of political recycling mechanisms; among them the Federal Reserve, the FDIC Federal Deposit Insurance with the power to restructure failed banks, social security, even the military budget.

John Maynard Keynes attended the conference armed with a plan that would stabilize global capitalism for the long run by creating just such political recycling structures on a global scale. But White, who as a student had been heavily influence by Keynes, was charged to push through a very different and flawed system, totally dependent on America maintaining a global trade surplus and recycling that surplus to deficit nations at the will and whim of the American government. Thus was born the system wherein all other currencies would be tied to the dollar at fixed rates of exchange and the dollar would in turn be tied to gold at $35 an ounce.

By the late 1960′s, America’s trade surplus evaporated as Europe, led by Germany, and Japan started exporting more manufactured goods to the US than the US was exporting to them. This could not continue and in 1971 the Nixon administration, led by Paul Volcker, announced the Nixon Shock, dumping the gold standard and cutting all other currencies loose from the dollar.

volcker nixon shock

The moment men like Paul Volcker saw that political surplus recycling was beyond the American economy’s capacity, they brought the whole damned (Bretton Woods) system down- with the 1971 Nixon shock. For they understood the fallacy that Europe refuses to grasp: if you set up a free trade, free capital and single currency system without a political surplus recycling mechanism, you will end up with something like the 1920′s gold standard.

From the moment that Europe was discarded form America’s comforting postwar dollar zone, European elites struggled to re create the defunct dollar zone within Europe. Never having grasped the lessons that the New Dealers learned during the 1930s and 1940s, European officialdom repeated the same mistakes made during the 1920s, creating an ill designed gold standard like currency in the heart of Europe

It is dangerous error to believe that monetary and economic union can precede a political union or that it will act (in the words of the Werner report) “as a leaven for the evolvement of a political union which in the long run it will in any case be unable to do without. Cambridge economist Nicholas Kaldor 1971

France’s Francois Mitterrand and Britain’s Margaret Thatcher believed that the next big economic shock in Europe would force Europe into a political federation with the creation of political institutions capable of recycling surpluses just as the US has done in the 1930′s and 1940′s.

Francois Mitterrand and Margaret Thatcher mitterrand thatcher

Thatcher’s mistake was to assume that Mitterrand’s scheme would succeed. She failed to recognize, as Mitterrand had also failed, that is was not in the European Union’s DNA to carve a federation out of its monetary union’s troubles…Only inefficient, sweeping authoritarianism could emerge from its wooden underbelly.

So, unable to learn from history and unwilling to forget their petty agendas, Europe’s ruling class set out to re-create the gold standard, demonstrating a grandiose failure of perception of what they were doing. Keynes had described the gold standard as a “a dangerous and barbarous relic of a bygone era.” Little did he know that Europe would re-create it in the late 1990′s, thus replicating circumstances ripe for another Great Depression in the 2010′s; and economic crisis that ended up…preventing the very political union that was to have been its antidote.

Lacking a political surplus recycling mechanism, Europe’s monetary union meant that the weakest nations and their frailest citizens had to suffer a sharp contraction the moment Europe’s capitalism went into a spasm in response to financialization’s inescapable seizures. Mitterrand’s original hope (that a future global financial would force upon the euro zone a federal solution) offered any respite from the pitiless reality. By 2010, two years after the type of crisis Mitterrand had in mind, that hope had died out too.

Paul Volcker, now President of the New York Federal Reserve next brilliant move came during the Carter Administration with his little known Warwick speech in which he declared: “A controlled disintegration in the world economy is a legitimate objective for the 1980′s.” Here is what Volcker, about to become Federal Reserve Chairman had in mind:

Volcker’s Controlled Disintegration Paulvolcker warwick Prime Lending Rate

If America cannot recycle its surplus, having slipped into a deficit position back in the mid-1960′s, it must now recycle other people’s surpluses!
The trick for America to gain the power to recycle other countries’ surpluses in the 1980′s, Volcker believed, was to persuade foreign capitalists to voluntarily send their capital to Wall Street…The trick was to hit two usually contradictory targets at once: on the one hand push American interest rates through the roof while on the other, ensuring that Wall Street offered a more lucrative market for investors than its equivalent in London, Frankfurt, Tokyo, Paris, or anywhere else.

What do bankers do when such a tsunami of capital comes their way daily? When billions of dollars, net, run through their fingers every morning of each week? They find ways to make it breed on their behalf. Throughout the 1980′s the 1990′s and all the way to 2008, Wall Street took in the daily influx of foreign capital and, on its back, built mountains of derivative trades which, in time, acquired the property of private money.
Financialization, as we now call this process, was the critical byproduct of maintaining and enhancing US dominance on the back of increasing trade imbalances and in the interest of financing America’s ever-expanding twin deficits. It began as froth on top of the stream of profits flowing from Germany and Japan to Wall Street, once Volcker’s “controlled disintegration” of the world economy was taking effect. But soon the froth took over, usurping the underlying stream of actual values, turning finance into the driver and industry into the servant.

Reagan’s Massive Government Spending Program star wars

But things began to go awry after 1986 when American authorities decided to wind back their vacuum cleaner, limiting the rate at which US deficits grew. The recession in the early 1980′s, caused by Volcker’s sky high interest rates and Ronald Reagan’s early budget cuts, frightened the Reagan administration into action. Using the US military budget as its main instrument, Washington effected the most Keynesian macroeconomic expansion in America’s history… The president,who had won the 1980 election by preaching against public spending and in favor of shrinking the state, won reelection in 1984…on the basis of a massive public spending spree.

Undermining New Deal Regulations rubin summers

Enter Bill Clinton in 1993:

The Clinton administration, and especially Robert Rubin and Larry Summers in the National Economic Council and the US Treasury Department respectively, were busily working toward maintaining the Minotaur’s feeding frenzy. America’s deficits kept global capitalism effervescent, creating the illusion of a Great Moderation when underneath the surface, markets were increasingly addicted to America’s growing imbalances. If the American Minotaur’s frantic consumption of other people’s products and money were to end, markets take a hit, banks would go under, and the global economy might keel over. Precisely as it did in 2008.

Global Minotaur global minotaurwall street bull

As we have seen, the birth of America’s global Minotaur needed finance to be liberated so that the beast could do its work (supplying German, Japanese, Swedish, and later Chinese factories with sufficient demand) while also being nourished (by the profit of the German, Japanese, Swedish, and later Chinese factory owners), who sent them streaming into Wall Street.

The banker’s emancipation from their New Deal fetters was both a symptom and prerequisite for the new phase of American dominance. Who else but the bankers could facilitate the vast capital transfers, the perpetual tsunami of capital necessary to satiate American deficits that had to keep growing in order to maintain the illusion of what Ben Bernanke, one of Volcker’s successors, named the Great Moderation? Fair-weather recycling writ large, had taken over globally from the planned, political recycling that was the essence of the Bretton Woods system. Though this was never going to end well, it had the capacity to put the global economy on a spending spree that lasted three decades before crashing down in 2008.

During the same period, from the 1990s onward, Europe’s banks were copying the practices of the Anglo-sphere’s all-singing all-dancing financial sector, without having the safety net of a Federal Reserve, or a Bank of England, or even a Bank of Japan to catch them when the inevitable fall from grace occurred. The combination of the euro zone’s flimsy monetary architecture and the imperatives of Anglo-Saxon financialization, which infect the Parisian and Frankfurt banks under the noses of Brussels and Frankfurt, produced a reliance on money markets that Europe’s monetary union could not withstand.

Of American Officials views, Varoufakis notes:

They know America no longer has the power to stabilize the world economy by itself. They understand that Europe’s policies are detrimental to America’s future. And they are frustrated that their European interlocutors are not only ignorant of simple macroeconomic laws, but, curiously that they are not even ashamed of their ignorance.

Ponzi Austerity austerity

The European monetary union’s reaction to the 2008 crisis was to create the mother of all Ponzi schemes Ponzi austerity:

These toxic transfers (of bank debt into taxpayer debt), effected in the name of European solidarity, led to a death dance of insolvent banks and bankrupt states, and couples that were sequentially marched off the cliff of competitive austerity. Deflation, ultra-low investment, social fragmentation and rising poverty ensured that large sections of proud European nations, most the weakest of their citizenry, were dragged into the contemporary equivalent of the Victorian poorhouse.

Allen Dulles, Pioneer to the dark side and faithful servant to the Ruling Class

Saturday, February 27th, 2016

The Devil’s Chessboard, Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America’s Secret Government, David Talbot, 2015

This book is a reminder that our government’s journey to the dark side did not begin with Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and W, or even with Henry Kissinger and Nixon. No its real roots go back to the OSS in WWII and to one man in particular, Allen Dulles.

kennedy duless

Any book dealing with Allen Dulles must also include his older brother John Foster Dulles. We will take Talbot’s nomenclature and use “Dulles” when referring to Allen, and “Foster” when referring to John Foster. There was also a brilliant younger sister Eleanor Dulles who was a lifelong diplomat and ambassador to Bonn Germany under Eisenhower. The Dulles clan were the children of a Presbyterian minister and Dulles sometimes referred to himself as the Calvinist.

Eleanor recalled a childhood incident summering on lake Ontario when Dulles was ten, Eleanor eight, and Nataline five. Nataline was playing with a rock when she fell into the lake. Eleanor screamed but Dulles, a strong swimmer, stood passively on the dock observing the struggling sister. He never moved but the mother, hearing Eleanor, ran from the house to rescue Nataline.

oss 55 and Carl Jung Agent 488 carl-jung

Dulles joined the OSS in WWII and assigned himself to serve in Bern Switzerland. His own wife Clover called Dulles the “shark” and she and Dulles’ long time mistress Mary Bancroft (they became close friends) sought counseling from Carl Jung in Switzerland. Jung observed in Dulles the disturbing mix of magnetism and ruthlessness common to dictators but Dulles had an impenetrable blankness making him hard to read. Other people, for Dulles, were either useful or nonexistent. Dulles was not capable of experiencing love. Only power was real to him. Dulles met Jung in 1943 and gave Jung an OSS spy number, Agent 488.

When Dulles’s brilliant only son Allen Jr., an Oxford graduate, failed to win affection or even attention from his father, he volunteered for the Korean War and was seriously brain damaged. Dulles subjected his son to CIA brain control researchers first with the notorious Dr. Wolff at Cornell and later with the equally notorious McGill University psychiatric facility. Clover finally intervened, moving Allen Jr. to a private institution in Switzerland where he remained until Dulles death. Allen Jr. was terrified of his father. Was Dulles a sociopath or a psychopath? Talbot never uses either term.

The Dulles brothers both worked at the Sullivan and Cromwell Wall Street Law Firm where Foster was the top executive. After WWI the firm developed a deep understanding of Swiss banking and played a central role in arranging German reparation contracts for leading German industrial firms like the cartels IG Farbin and Krupp steel. The brothers knew the key players in both Switzerland and Germany. It was no accident that Dulles positioned himself in Switzerland during WWII. For their entire lives, the Dulles brothers put their Sullivan and Cromwell clients and other American elite families like the Rockefellers, the Fords, the Carnegies, the Morgans ahead of the interests of their government. They remained throughout their lives faithful and trustworthy servants and stewards to those C Wright Mills referred to in his 1956 masterpiece as The Power Elite. Their class were almost exclusively ivy league educated WASPS belonging to the proper clubs.

C Wright Mills c wright mills

The men of the highest circles are not representative men; their high position is not a result of moral virtue; their fabulous success is not firmly connected with meritorious ability…They are not men shaped by nationally responsible parties that debate openly and clearly the issues this nation now so unintelligently confronts. They are not men held in responsible check by a plurality of volunteer associations which connect debating publics with the pinnacles of decision. Commanders of power unequaled in human history, they have succeeded within the American system of organized irresponsibility.

from The Power Elite

FDR was considered a traitor to their class because of his “radical New Deal” policies and they worked actively to ignore or undermine his policies. When FDR announced that only unconditional surrender would end WWII, Dulles acted treasonously to negotiate a truce with the fascists in Italy and attempted the same with the Nazis in Germany. He felt only existing right wing leaders in Italy and Germany would be able to withstand the encroachment of hated communism in both countries.

After FDR’s death in 1945, the Dulles brothers and their power elite set out to purge the government of all New Deal supporters. One of those recruited by Dulles for this purpose was Richard Nixon. Nixon was a Californian with Quaker roots and educated at Whittier College and Duke Law School. He applied to top law firms in New York in 1937 including Sullivan and Cromwell and received no offers (wrong class) an experience that left him bitter for the rest of his life. In 1945, naval officer Nixon was sorting through Nazi papers in an old torpedo factory in Alexandria when he found documents showing how the Dulles brothers laundered Nazi funds during the war. Nixon did what any patriotic military officer would do, he blackmailed Dulles. In return for his silence about the documents, Dulles would sponsor Nixon in the 1946 congressional race run against Jerry Voorhis, leader the the progressive caucus and one the the most powerful New Dealers in Congress. Dulles corporate friends supported Nixon lavishly and he won the election taking significant cash and a new car to Washington.

Alger Hiss hearings alger hiss

Nixon then went after New Dealer and FDR high ranking State Dept official Alger Hiss. Foster had just appointed Hiss to head the Carnegie endowment but Hiss had embarrassed Nixon in front of the HUAC and Nixon wanted revenge. Nixon discovered incriminating documents hidden in a pumpkin and Hiss career was finished. President Nixon later bragged to his staff how he had forged the documents.

truman dewey

The Dulles brothers expected to take over the State Department and CIA with the election of Dewey in 1948. When Truman won a surprising victory, Dulles had to look elsewhere. In 1949 Dulles founded an obscure intelligence outpost in the State Department meaninglessly named the Office of Policy Coordination. Dulles maneuvered Frank Wisner into position as OPC Chief and by 1952 OPC was operating 47 overseas stations and employed 3000 people. It specialized in the black arts of espionage sabotage, subversion, and assassination. Money for its operations came from Nazi loot that Dulles had access to. Many of its recruits were ex-Nazis. The OPC operated with no oversight or supervision. Few even knew it existed.

dulles eisenhower

In 1952 Foster went to London to convince Eisenhower, then head of NATO, to run for President. Foster simply bored Eisenhower and Churchill wickedly quipped, Dull, Duller, Dulles. Nevertheless Eisenhower ran and won and the Dulles era was launched in 1953. Dulles thought the HUAC was useful in the effort to purge New Deal government employee and he counted on Nixon to hold McCarthy in check. But no one could control McCarthy and he immediately attacked the Eisenhower administration starting with Foster’s State Department. Foster also felt cleaning New Dealers from his State Department was important and cooperated with the HUAC, even initiating purges of his own. State Department morale dropped to an all time low as countless careers were crushed. The US Information Service (USIS) was almost totally decimated and its libraries around the globe badly censored of material. Even the music of Aaron Copland (Appalachian Spring, Billie the Kid, etc.) was banned. When McCarthy turned to the tougher Dulles CIA the story was a little different. Dulles initially ignored or misplaced the HUAC subpoenas and when McCarthy refused to take the hint, Dulles went to McCarthy’s capital hill office to confront McCarthy with the extensive intimate dossier the CIA had assembled on McCarthy’s homosexual activities. McCarthy backed off the CIA and his ultimate downfall and Senate censure followed. McCarthy drank himself to death soon after.

The Dulles brothers sabotaged the government’s antitrust case against big oil’s Seven Sisters by having the case moved to Foster’s state department where it languished. Dulles organized the overthrow of the democratically elected Mossadegh’s government in Iran because they nationalized British oil production and cancelled a $650 million contract with Sullivan and Cromwell client Overseas Consultants. Eisenhower resisted efforts to overthrow the Iran government until the brothers convinced him that Iran’s oil was at risk of falling into communist hands. This new tactic worked magic with administrations for decades. Teddy’s grandson Kermit Roosevelt headed the coup efforts for the CIA and when the Shah ran away to Rome, Dulles went personally to escort him back to Iran and put him back on his Peacock throne. In 1954, CIAs Howard Hunt (of Bay of Pigs and Watergate fame) was sent to Guatemala to overthrow the legitimate Arbenz government because he had promised to redistribute unused United Fruit (another Sullivan and Cromwell client) lands to the people of Guatemala. United Fruit would have been compensated under the plan. Again Eisenhower bought into the fallacious threat of communist takeover argument. Then in 1956, CIA contractors picked up Columbia professor Jesus de Galindez who had written a 750 page dissertation critical of Dominican Republic dictator Trujillo, from the streets of Manhatten and flew him to the Dominican Republic where he was handed over to Trujillo who tortured and murdered the scholar. This is the first documented case of CIA Extraordinary Rendition.

This was the era of two revealing movies The Manchurian Candidate about mind control, and Dr. Strangelove.

CIA no match for Castro castro bay of pigs

After 8 years of continuous black ops, Dulles planned the ill fated Bay of Pigs invasion to overthrow Castro in Cuba that internal CIA assessments knew was doomed to failure. The CIA could never have successfully conducted an operation of this scale and against combat hardened well armed troops. Eisenhower amazingly approved the shoddy third rate plan scheduled to take place shortly after the inauguration of the new President JFK. Talbot says it was as if Eisenhower intentionally handed Kennedy a live grenade with the pin pulled. JFK, against the best advise of his team, kept Dulles and Hoover in their jobs upon assuming office but after the Bay of Pigs, for which Kennedy had to take full responsibility, Dulles career at the CIA was finished. Dulles, to the end of his life acted and was received by top CIA officials as if he still ran the agency. The CIA ran a black ops site near Williamsburg nicknamed the farm where Dulles kept an office til near his death in 1969.

Eisenhower had changed while in office. He no longer kept contact with his long time military friends but spent his spare time in the company of the power elite, most famously at Augusta National Golf Club. He embraced coups, assassinations, and other black ops as an inexpensive alternative to costly military action and also embraced massive nuclear retaliation as a reasonable response to soviet aggression. Kennedy promised a different future in this 1957 speech.

The most powerful single force in the world today is neither communism nor capitalism, neither the H-bomb nor the guided missile–it is man’s eternal desire to be free and independent. The great enemy of that tremendous force of freedom is called, for want of a more precise term, imperialism–and today that means Soviet imperisam and, whether we like it or not, and though they are not to be equated, Western imperialism…If we fail to meet the challenge of either Soviet or Western imperialism, then no amount of foreign aid, no aggrandizement of armaments, no new pacts or doctrines, or high-level conferences can prevent further setbacks to our course and to our security.

Congo President Patrice Lumumba lumumba lumumba stamp

Kennedy was a supporter of Patrice Lumumba, Congo’s first democratically elected leader following Belgium’s brutal colonial rule. In an act of incredible insubordination, Dulles went ahead with a CIA plan to kidnap Lumumba and hand him over to his enemies. Dulles was again acting on the wishes of Sullivan and Cromwell client firms with interests in the Congo. Lumumba was horribly tortured and killed but it was more than a month before Kennedy was told of his death.

Warren Commission Controlled by Dulles – Report Widely Discredited warren_report

Almost a third of this more than 600 page work is given to the assassination of the Kennedy brothers. This reader does not follow the research or theories of these events so is uncomfortable commenting on Talbot’s discussion. Talbot clearly believes JFK’s murder was a CIA, FBI, Secret Service conspiracy and a coup d’etat. He thinks RFK, an avid follower of all the research and writing on the JFK assassination did not support reopening the investigation because of the power of those responsible. RFK thought only if he were to occupy the white house would he be able to bring those responsible to justice. Talbot discusses the Jim Garrison New Orleans research which was the subject of Oliver Stone’s movie JFK . Federal agencies in Washington refused to provide documents to Garrison and others who were interested in further investigation like RFK were afraid to join Garrison’s efforts.

RFK’s assassination was eerily similar to that of his brother – problems with facts and evidence, fouled up investigations, and cover-ups. According to Talbot’s research both assassins had to be CIA patsies neither capable of executing anyone. Sirhan Sirhan may have even been drugged and pushed into place because he was totally incoherent at the time and later had no recall of events. During RFK’s assassination, fifteen shots were fired and the fatal shot came from the wrong direction, etc., etc. Dulles very cynically kept up a friendly exchange of letters with Teddy Kennedy after the RFK assassination, no doubt to assure himself that Teddy would not turn into the next big threat to investigate the assassinations.

De Gaulle at JFK’s funeral JFK funeral 1963

Talbot found an interesting quote published in France only in 2002 from Charles de Gaulle, who survived an attempted assassination in 1961 as dramatized in the movie Day of the Jackal.

America is in danger of upheavals. But you’ll see. All of them together will observe the law of silence. They will close ranks. They’ll do everything to stifle any scandal. They will throw Noah’s cloak over these shameful deeds. In order to not lose face in front of the whole world. In order not risk unleashing riots in the United States. In order to preserve the union and to avoid a new civil war. In order not to ask themselves questions. They don’t want to know. They don’t want to find out. They won’t allow themselves to find out.

The CIA’s Gray Ghost angelton
A minor character in the book is OSS spy James Jesus Angleton who met Dulles in Rome in WWII and remained Dulles life long acolyte. On his deathbed in 1987:

Fundamentally, the founding fathers of U.S. intelligence were liars. The better you lied and more you betrayed, the more likely you were to be promoted…Outside their duplicity, the only thing they had in common was a desire for absolute power. I did things that, in looking back on my life, I regret. But I was a part of it and loved being in it…Dulles, Helms, Wisner–these men were the “grand masters”. If you were in a room with them, you were in a room full of people you had to believe would deservedly end up in hell. I guess I will see them soon.

Kissinger, Circular man

Friday, November 20th, 2015

Kissinger’s Shadow: The Long Reach of America’s Most Controversial Statesman, Greg Grandin, 2015

Spengler

Grandin spends some time examining the influence of Oswald Spengler on Kissinger’s metaphysical beliefs:

Spengler wrote as if decline was inevitable, as if the cycle he described – in which each civilization experiences its spring, summer, autumn, winter – were as unavoidable as the spinning of the earth. Once societies pass their great creative stage and the logicians, rationalists, and bureaucrats arrive on the scene, there is no turning back. Having lost a sense of purpose, civilization lurch outward to find meaning. They get caught up in a series of disastrous wars, propelled forward to doom by history’s cosmic beat, power for power’s sake, blood for blood’s. Imperialism is the inevitable product, Kissinger wrote summing up The Decline of the West‘s argument, an outward thrust to hide the inner void. Kissinger acceped Spengler’s critique of past civilizations but rejects his determinism.

The lesson of the Korean War for Kissinger was that the threat of nuclear annihilation had rendered America powerless. Kissinger believed that Moscow had to be convinced that a major war with the United States which he called the only real deterring threat was a significant possibility. To make the threat credible Kissinger developed his mad man president notion which he deployed for both Nixon and Ford to demonstrate (with Cambodia as the victim) that the president was just crazy enough to launch such a major war. Reagan followed this example by invading tiny Granada after assuming office to establish his credentials as a legitimate mad man.

In order to “test” power – that is, in order to create one’s consciousness of power – one needed to be willing to act. And the best way to produce that willingness was to act..”inaction” has to be avoided so as to show that action is possible. Only action could overcome the systemic “incentive for inaction”. Only action could overcome the paralyzing fear (that is, nuclear escalation) that might result from such “action”. Only through “action” – including small wars in marginal areas like Vietnam – could America become vital again, could it produce the awareness by which it understands its power, breaks the impasse caused by an over reliance on nuclear technology, instills cohesion among allies, and reminds an increasingly ossified foreign policy bureaucracy of the purpose of American power.

“Power” is history’s starting and ending point, history’s “manifestation” and its “exclusive objective”. He had built his own perpetual motion machine; the purpose of American power was to create an awareness of American purpose. And since Kissinger held to an extremely plastic notion of reality, other concepts he was associated with, such as “interests”, were also pulled into the whirlpool of his reasoning; we can’t defend our interests until we know what our interests are and we can’t know our interests are until we defend them.


I know, Let’s Secretly Bomb Cambodia!
kissinger nixon

Into this crazy circular metaphysics, American foreign policy was sucked starting in 1969. With Obama’s endless war in more than a hundred countries we see the evidence of the ever growing whirlpool. Interestingly Kissinger uses Obama’s drone strikes as justification for his 1969-1973 secret bombing of Cambodia which was the start of this whirlpool and is the central theme of this book.

Vietnam, he said in 2010, was America’s first experience with limits in foreign policy, and it was something painful to accept. This is a disingenuous interpretation… Rather, the critics that most rankled Kissinger were those – protesters, Congress and former Harvard colleagues like Thomas Schelling – who told him that there were limits to what he could do to Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam…”I don’t see how it is possible to conduct foreign policy when there’s a systematic attempt to destroy both your threats and your incentives”.

Kissinger didn’t use his time in office to “instruct” citizens in political realism, as he had earlier define the responsibilities of statesmen. Rather, he helped adapt the imperial presidency to new times, based on an increasingly mobilized and polarized citizenry, more spectacular displays of power, more secrecy, and ever more widening justifications for ever more war.

Kissinger and Mao with much admired Zhou Enlai kissinger mao chou

With the autocratic Mao (Tse-tung) he could fantasize about what it would be like to conduct foreign policy and not be tormented by the press and Congress.

Mao and Kissinger shared a mutual appreciation of German metaphysics. Mao: Do you pay attention or not to one of the subjects of Hegel’s philosophy, that is the unity of opposites? Kissinger: Very much. I was much influenced by Hegel in my philosophical thinking…Mao: If it were not for Hegel and Feuerbach, there would not be Marxism,

kissinger bomb cambodia bomb map

But, as Nixon and Kissinger themselves put it, they used foreign policy to “break the back” of domestic opponents and “destroy the confidence of the American people in the American establishment. They had mixed results with the former but succeeded stunningly, with the latter. By the end of Kissinger’s tenure, all of the institutional pillars of society that previous administrations could rely on to uphold government legitimacy – the press, universities, the movie and music industries, churches, courts, and Congress – seemed to be pushing against it, creating that entrenched adversary culture that so worried conservative.

From the New Yorker in 1973:

There was the Kissinger who “established relations with China, improved our relations with Russia, and successfully completed the first phase of SALT – and for these achievements, most Americans are grateful.”…But then there was the Kissinger, who with Nixon, “planned the undisclosed bombing of Cambodia…initiated the unauthorized wiretapping of members of Kissinger’s staff and of newsmen in 1969…planned the invasion of Cambodia in 1970…planned the use of American air power to support the invasion of Laos in 1971…planned the mining and blockading of North Vietnamese harbors…planned the ‘Christmas bombing’ of North Vietnam – all this done in secrecy and without Congressional consent. While the President and the men of Watergate were, it now appears, undermining our democratic system of government in domestic affairs, the President and Henry Kissinger were undermining the system in foreign affairs.

In the years following the end of the Vietnam War, Kissinger, in one region after another, executed policies that helped doom his own grand strategy. Then, once he was out of office, he threw in with America’s new militarists, who were intent on tearing down Détente…By 1980, he was with them, sanctioning their jump-starting of the Cold War and their drive to retake the Third World…In a way, Kissinger did to the larger Third World what he did to Cambodia: he institutionalized a self-fulfilling logic of intervention.

What is certain is that individually, each of Kissinger’s Middle East initiatives – banking on deposits, inflating the shah, providing massive amounts of aid to security forces that tortured and terrorized citizens, pumping up the US defense industry with recycled petrodollars, which in turn spurred a Middle East arms race financed by high gas prices, emboldened Pakistan’s intelligence service, nurturing embryonic Islamic fundamentalism, playing Iran and the Kurds off Iraq, and then Iraq and Iran off the Kurds and committing Washington to defending Israel’s occupation of Arab lands – has been disastrous in the long run.

On a personal note: this blogger had a college friend who was a conscientious objector, a varsity wrestler, and a violinist with the University orchestra. He was assigned to teach English in Laos as his alternate service. In 1969-1970, he witnessed the B52′s and bombings as he sat on his porch playing his violin. When things got too dangerous, he left Laos, stopping briefly to visit us in Honolulu where we first learned of the secret bombing. He was later convicted of draft avoidance and sent to prison in Walla Walla.

A Cry for a new Socialiam

Thursday, July 23rd, 2015

Capitalism in the Age of Globalization, Samir Amin, 2014 (originally published in 1997)

amin

Samir Amin is a French-Egyptian Marxian economist. He lives in Dakar, Senegal. Amin’s primary focus in this work is this challenge:

The first (capitalism) wishes to fix evolution, more or less submitting it to the perspective of the unilateral action of capital. Socialism on the other hand permits one to see why this capitalist globalization remains truncated, generating, reproducing, and deepening global polarization step by step. The historical limit of capitalism is found exactly here: the polarized world that it creates is and will be more and more inhuman and explosive. Challenged by this enormity, socialism has a duty to propose an alternative vision of globalization, the means of achieving it in the true sense of the word and giving it a human and truly universalistic character. This is, in my opinion, the challenge.

socialism capitalism

Rejection of capitalism by turning to ethnicity and religious fundamentalism actually have become integrated into this brutal globalization and are made use of by it. They cannot be the answer to apocalyptic capitalism.

Capitalism today is sustained by the existence of five monopolies enumerated by Amin:
1. Technological Monopoly. This monopoly is sustained by huge state expenditures especially through military spending.
2. Financial Control of worldwide financial markets. With deregulation and the liberalization of rules governing finance, finance has become capital’s most global component. Past empires like the British maintained financial control through trade surpluses. The US attempts to maintain its dominance and the dollar as the global currency despite massive trade deficits. As a result, today’s financial system is extraordinarily fragile.
3. Monopolistic access to the planet’s natural resources. The reckless environmental dangers of this monopolistic exploitation are dangerous and increasingly obvious.
4. Media and Communications monopolies. These lead to a uniformity of culture and provide effective means for political exploitation. These monopolies are a primary source of the erosion of democratic practices.
5. Monopolies over weapons of mass destruction. The US monopoly of 1945 was held in check through the cold war but today the US again has an unacceptable monopoly that cannot be held in check through international democratic controls.

APTOPIX Bangladesh Building Collapse
Bangladesh Factory Collapse

Amin’s central focus is the evolving social contract between Capital and Labor. The early 20th Century saw the spread of Fordism by which Amin not only refers to mass industrial production but to the rise of labor organization and negotiated social contracts between capital and labor. The name is perhaps unfortunate given Henry Ford’s antipathy toward union organizing. By the end of WWII and up til about 1970, organized labor proved able to hold their own in upholding dignified social contracts with capital. Today, with capital able to physically relocate for tax and labor advantage, the social contracts enabling workers to enjoy a decent middle class living have evaporated to be replaced by a capital induced permanent state of unemployment or “surplus labor” as capital economists prefer to refer to it. Global capital uses subcontracting at the periphery to limit liability (from collapsing factories, indentured labor, environmental damage, etc.). Amin is not a numbers guy (in sharp contrast with French economist Piketty) but he does point out that modern finance is able to move capital around the globe at about 30 times the volume of trade. This has to exaggerate short term opportunism and instability as capital lurches from crisis to crisis.

Amin prefers to refer to the global economy as having a center and a periphery. This replaces the nomenclature of first, second, third, and forth worlds. As the global economy moves away from its center, the level of surplus labor increases until virtually the entire population is included in this category. This state of economic affairs makes modern capitalism inherently unstable lurching from crisis to crisis. Modern capital managers are trained in crisis management and little else. Capital has no long term objectives, vision, or dreams. It blindly lurches along putting out fires as best it can.

disasters

Amin equally decries the damage capital is doing to our environment seemingly without constraint or cost. The environmental damage, like “surplus labor” only intensifies as one moves from the center toward the periphery.

The US is the absolute center of destructive capitalism. There is potential for a second East Asian center of China, Japan, and the tigers. India is another potential regional center. The European EC has had some success in integrating markets and allowing some mobility of labor but capitalism intentionally created the EC with very weak central political structures including a weak central bank. The result is becoming a German dominated EC. Germany’s current project is the “Latin Americanization” of Eastern Europe under German control. Already the Czech Republic has become a German protectorate. The EC must strengthen central democratic institutions if it is not to fall apart or become totally dominated by Germany. Amin spends some time examining the failed example of the Bandung Project, the loose coalition of 29 non aligned nations (neither aligned with the US nor the Soviet Union). Formed at the Bandung Conference in 1955, this coalition represented more than half the world’s population.

A major objective of imperialism and colonization as controlled from the center was the Balkanization of Africa and the Middle East. Britain had the same objective in India but largely failed, only able to carve out the two Pakistans as they left India. This Balkanization makes it much more difficult to build regional solutions, whether in Eastern Europe, Africa, or the Middle East. All this leaves only the US-Canada as a continental region with the potential to do something about breaking up the five monopolies of capitalism.

Amin speculates that the IMF, the World Bank, and the GATT-WTO could potentially be reformed to serve to correct some of the extreme problems of global capital but today they serve the interests of global capital at the center and promote neoliberal objectives. Unless they are reformed they will continue to contribute and exaggerate the global economic crises and not abate those crises.

Amin decries the absence today to a towering intelligentsia like that of the enlightenment able to have a profound impact on thinking about new forms of social contract between capital and labor. Amin finds the academic apologists of capital with their non empirical talk of the magic and invisible markets risible and dangerous. Amin admires Marx’s analysis of the problem but finds Marx fell far short of suggesting organizational and political solutions to the problem. He refers to the Soviet revolutionary experience as “Sovietism” and the Chinese revolutionary experience as “Maoism”. He refuses to call either Communism. He believes there has to be a regional political organizational solution to the problem of capital and control over its five monopolies. Amin admits he doesn’t have the answer.

High Price of Investigative Journalism

Saturday, December 13th, 2014

Pay Any Price; Greed, Power, and Endless War, James Risen, 2014
Risen gives an eloquent rational for writing this book:

In 2009, when the new Obama administration continued the government’s legal campaign against me, I realized, in a very personal way, that the war on terror had become a bipartisan enterprise. America was now locked into an endless war and unintended consequences were spreading. And so my answer — both to the government’s long campaign against me and to this endless war — is this new book, Pay Any Price. Pay Any Price is my answer to how best to challenge the government’s draconian efforts to crack down on aggressive investigative reporting and suppress the truth in the name of endless war. My answer is to keep writing, because I believe that if journalists ever stop uncovering abuses of power, and ever stop publishing stories about those abuses, we will lose our democracy.

Paul Bremer, Mastermind of Chaos bremer

The book itself seems to have been written or at least published backward with the vaguest and weirdest stuff put first. In 2003 and 2004 $20 Billion in $100 bills was air lifted by military transport to Iraq. Serial numbers were not recorded and there was virtually no supervision or safeguards. Most of the money simply disappeared. Risen reports of one shipment of $1.6 Billion sent to a branch of the Iraq Central Bank in northern Iraq and stacked on the floor of the bank – not in a vault. The money vanished. When $1.6 Billion was reported found in a bunker in Lebanon, the US government couldn’t even be bothered to investigate under either W or Obama. Overall the US spent $63 Billion on the reconstruction of Iraq, most of it going to US contractors. Many is not most of the contracts were never completed and some were never even started.

Risen then turns to fraudsters of the war on terror, featuring Dennis Montgomery who used phantom-ware to decode secret Al Quaeda messages hidden in Al Jazerra broadcasts. His reports caused the grounding of international flights and a serious discussion of shooting down commercial airliners. When he approached the French government, their experts quickly exposed the hoax. The US government, having been duped, buried the incident under a mountain of top secret documents.

Flying Blues Brothers blues brothers

He features the Blue’s brothers who bought an unmanned aircraft subsidiary, General Atomics, for $50 million and now have a privately held near monopoly on US war drones.

warlung electrocution

He turns to to KBR the former subsidiary of Halliburton (Dick Cheney CEO), the military’s largest contractor. KBR built substandard housing for US troops using indentured third world untrained labor and with poor or nonexistent supervision and inspections. The result were showers that electrocuted soldiers. One mother persisted in finding out how her son died and then sued KBR. She won on appeal and the case has been appealed by KBR to the supreme court. Risen calls this section Too Big to Fail but it is really Too Big to Jail as with the banks who can’t even get prosecuted for massive drug money laundering activity. The shower electrocutions pail in comparison to the damage caused by KBR’s practice of burning trash (several hundreds of tons per day) in open pits using jet fuel. KBR burned anything including computers, batteries, and other electronics. This has led to the discovery of “war lung injury” this war’s equivalent of Agent Orange in Vietnam and Gulf War syndrome from exposure to uranium shells in the first Gulf war. Returning soldiers were found with titanium and unusual bio masses in their lungs as a result of exposure to the burning pits. The VA and DOD have gone to great lengths to cover up the problem and have failed to survey returning soldiers, provide diagnosis and care, or even to acknowledge a problem. One VA researcher Stephen Coughlin uncovered some suppressed studies and went to Congress with his findings. He was forced to resign under enormous pressure. One DOD official, Charles Smith, stood up to KBR when auditors pointed out a $1 Billion overcharge. He proposed opening bidding to other contractors. Smith was sidelined and soon retired.

taxi mitchell

Risen talks about the prison torture and abuse scandals and the “few bad apples” campaign by the government to scapegoat low level guards. When one prosecution failed, the government abandoned its efforts at scapegoating but the whole prison guard experience ruined many lives. Risen focuses on the the role of psychologists and the APA who gave cover to the torture program. The APA used the old NAZI argument that if the activity was legal (according to W administration legal justifications) it must be ethical. The DOD and VA are the largest employers of psychologists and their careers and livelihoods depend on giving the government what it wants. The legal rational is based on the military use of the techniques in training, particularly the SERE navy training. Risen shows what nonsense the use of torture is by presenting the navy SERE’s own PowerPoint presentation:

Why is torture the worst interrogation method?
Produces unreliable information
Negative world opinion
Subject to war crimes trials
Used as a tool for compliance

Brennan Defends Torture Dec 12, 2014 brennan

Yesterday, CIA director Brennan once again asserted that actionable intelligence was gained from the use of torture and it shouldn’t be banned outright. Utter nonsense as Diane Feinstein rebutted him point by point. Obama refuses to pursue war crimes prosecutions.

Haskell Free Library and Opera House Canadian Border Line haskell library

Risen turns to the cost of the endless war on ordinary American citizens. Most obvious are airports that today resemble high security prisons that visitors must transit if they want to fly. He features two small towns on the border, one in Vermont and one in Quebec that built an opera house spanning the border. The house, with its painted black line is the main tourist attraction of the towns. For generations residents have freely traveled back and forth across the border to shop and visit. Most residents didn’t even own passports since few travel abroad. All this changed after 9/11 when abusive homeland security outsiders started arriving in town. They build a fence and closed off all roads but one which is heavily guarded. Residents now require expensive passports and must endure abusive officials as they cross. When the local pharmacist was arrested for walking two blocks to pick up a pizza in Canada public outrage forced the reassignment of the homeland security official in charge. The draconian treatment eased but the fence and closed streets remain and passports are now required.

Diane Roark dianeroark.widea

Risen turns to the story closest to him, NSA warrant less surveillance and gives the best account yet of all the insiders who attempted to blow the whistle on the illegal activity. The efforts cost each of them their jobs and the government has ruined many lives. Featured here is the little known story of Diane Roark, a staffer for the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Her personal battle with NSA Director Michael Hayden dates from 2000 prior to 9/11 and the war on terror. It starts when NSA’s Bill Binney discovers that a part of the program he had worked on was being misused with the built in protections against spying on Americans removed. When his internal efforts to stop the activity failed, Binney reached out the Roark who immediately recognized the illegality of the collections. Roark quickly discovered her contacts inside the NSA and the house had been secretly informed of the program and none were objecting. When Roark contacted the Chief Judge of the FISA court Coleen Kollar Kotelly, Kotelly not only did not respond but she notified the Justice Department to inform them Roark was asking questions. Roark was forced to resign but this was not enough for Hayden who insisted on meeting Roark in person. Roark took notes and these are a summary:

General Michael Hayden Repeatedly Lies to Congress michaelhayden

I (Roark) pushed hard and repeatedly about why he had dropped the protections (for American Citizens). He avoided answering until finally he said again that they didn’t need them because they had the power.

Wyden Silenced by Classified Disclosures wyden

Roark was stunned by this answer. The rest of the conversation was equally shocking. Hayden believed that seeking authorization would shed unwanted light on the program. That “It is now among us.” I.E. the program is permanent and expanding. He told her he believed he would prevail if the program came before the supreme court and that he was considering leaking it to select Congress members to assure their silence. Among those silenced appears to be Oregon Senator Ron Wyden. Hayden was telling Roark all this to warn her to drop her efforts to oppose the program. Still, Roark took a chance and wrote a letter to Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist via hand delivery from Rehnquist’s daughter. Rehnquist never responded. The FBI sent a phalanx of officers to Roark’s Oregon home to seize all her files, computers, etc. Her lawyer advised her to ask for the affidavit in support of the search warrant and the FBI responded it was under seal and she couldn’t see it. That same day the FBI raided the homes of three other NSA whistle blowers. A few months later they raided the home of NSA whistle blower Thomas Drake. This time the supporting affidavit was later discovered to indicate the FBI was looking for evidence that Drake was the source of the leaks to reporters James Risen and Eric Lichtblau. The NYT repeatedly killed the NSA story for two years from 2004 til 2006 when they published it just weeks before the release of Risen’s book State of War. So much for the newspaper of record.

Risen comments that he fully understands why Edward Snowden felt compelled to leave the country before blowing the whistle on the NSA given the devastating personal experience of all previous NSA whistle blowers. In 2005 Risen reported on a botched harebrained CIA plan to give nuclear weapons blueprints to Iran. The government is still after Risen to reveal his source for this story and Risen faces jail time if he refuses to cooperate. The only way to go to jail in this country today is to be poor or to be an investigative reporter. Pretty sad.

Greenwald almost blows the biggest story of his life

Sunday, November 9th, 2014

No Place to Hide; Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State, Glenn Greenwald, 2014
This book seems to be a collection of five articles. For this reader, Part One, Ten Days in Hong Kong, is the most interesting.
On Dec 1 2012 (The first published article, featuring the FISA Verizon order appeared in the Guardian on June 5,2013, more than five months later.) Glenn Greenwald (GG) receives an email from “Cincinnatus” saying he has important documents to share but GG must first install PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) encryption on his computer. GG ignores the email. Three days later he receives another email from C asking him to confirm he received the first email. GG immediately says he got it and later that day he receives an email with detailed instructions for installing the encryption program. GG does nothing for seven weeks. He thinks encryption would be useful for his work so he emails C on Jan 28, 2013 saying he will get someone to help him install the encryption. GG still does nothing and C steps up his efforts, producing a ten minute video “PGP for Journalists” on how to install the program. GG does nothing.
PGP Public Key Encryption public-key-encryption-example

On April 18, GG flew to New York to give some talks. On landing GG receives an email from Laura Poitras (LP) the documentary filmmaker saying she needs to meet him in person the next time he is in New York. GG had written an article detailing all the times Poitras was detained at US airports and her equipment seized. After the article the harassment at the airports stopped. GG arranged to meet LP at a restaurant in Yonkers. She changed tables several times at the restaurant and told GG to remove the batteries from his cellphone. She then showed GG a couple of emails she received asking LP to work with GG. GG thinks the sender is real but they do nothing and GG returns to Brazil.

On May 11 GG receives an email from a technical expert he and LP had worked with in the past asking GG if he is ready to install the PGP encryption. He responded yes and was told to expect a Fedex package in Rio de Janeiro. The package was held in customs for a week enhancing the paranoia. The day after the package finally arrives, GG receives an email from LP saying they need urgently to talk but only via OTR chat. GG figures the source must have sent LP some documents. LP is far less a technophobe than GG so must have installed PGP. GG had used OTR in the past and now managed to install it and sign up for an account. LP tells GG they need to go to Hong Kong immediately to meet the source. GG thinks the source has to be guy in his late fifties with a thirty year career with the NSA living somewhere along the Washington beltway. Hong Kong makes no sense.

The source was getting upset with LP and GG delays and was discussing involving the Washington Post. That finally got GG into gear. The source agreed to chat over OTR and GG assured him he was committed to the story but he still can’t make sense of Hong Kong. LP had shared some PRISM material with the Washington Post and they responded with an army of lawyers and foot dragging, greatly worrying the source. GG asked to see some documents before he came to Hong Kong and the source patiently walked him keystroke at a time through the PGP installation process. GG was embarrassed by his lack of proficiency but the source assured him he had lots of free time then. Once installed, the source sent GG about 25 documents, the tip of the iceberg.

The documents convinced GG that he needed to go to Hong Kong immediately and that He would need major institutional support to get this material out. GG had been working at the Guardian for only nine months but had little contact with their editorial staff. GG immediately Skyped Janine Gibson British editor in chief of the US edition in New York gushing about the material. Gibson told GG to get off Skype immediately. GG flew to New York and agreed to meet LP in New York. GG arrived in NY May 31. GG and LP book a non stop flight from New York to Hong Kong but then Gibson drops that the Guardian insists on involving long time Guardian journalist Ewen MacAskill who will fly with them to Hong Kong. LP is furious and GG doesn’t know their minder MacAskill. LP was afraid a third person might freak the source but GG understood that the Guardian wanted a long time company man on the scene. LP relents but only if MacAskill stays away from the source until she and GG are ready to introduce him.

Snowden Journalists MacAskill, Greenwald, and Poitras MacAskill Greenwald and Poitras

LP insists that GG buy a new air gapped (never connected to the Internet) laptop before they leave. As they drive to the airport LP gives GG a tutorial on secure computer systems and hands him a thumb drive (with the full collection of documents). For the 16 hours of the flight GG can’t stop reading. He is amazed by the level of organization and pre thought put into the document archive. He immediately locates the FISA Verizon order that all domestic phone metadata records must be handed to the NSA.

We now enter the realm so well captured in the 1997 Norwegian movie Insomnia where the crime detective sent north of the Arctic Circle to the land of midnight sun finds he can’t sleep. GG doesn’t sleep for the next 10 days. When he is about to collapse, he pops a pill and drops off for a couple hours and is then back at work. Part of this is because constant communication with New York Guardian staff is necessary but mostly that he is too excited after chasing the NSA story for years, proof of the whole horrible reality and scope of their surveillance activities has fallen in his lap.
Snowden’s Hideaway MIRA mira room

GG wants to meet the source immediately but LP thinks that would look suspicious so they wait til tomorrow. The source gives LP elaborate spy trade-craft instructions of how and where to meet. GG is expecting a hideaway but instead they go to a Kowloon five star hotel. They are instructed to find a meeting room with an alligator (not real) on the floor where at a precise time they are to wait for exactly 2 minutes. If the source doesn’t appear they are to leave making sure they are not being tailed. Twenty minutes later they are to return to the alligator for exactly 2 more minutes. If the source does arrive they will recognize him carrying a Rubiks cube (GG laughs). GG is expecting an older very senior Washington bureaucrat and is shocked when a young kid (Snowden was 29 but looks younger in a tee shirt jeans and nerd glasses) shows up carrying a Rubiks cube. GG thinks this kid can’t possibly have had access to all those top secret documents. But they are now committed so follow Snowden to his room.

GG was once a practicing lawyer and treats the first meeting with Snowden as a legal deposition where the lawyer tries to trip up a witness forced to answer all questions. Snowden is calm, articulate, very organized and thoughtful and GG can’t find any holes in his amazing story. GG can’t contain his excitement. LP films the deposition. They plan the first release of articles and the time when Snowden wants to reveal himself as the whistle-blower.
NSA-Verizon-Surveillance

The first article will be the FISA Verizon order and the Guardian plans to tell the government ahead of publication as has become standard practice. Gibson calls the government the morning of planned publication and then total silence. At 3PM an army of White House, NSA and other officials call Gibson back. They want to meet in about a week to explain why the Guardian shouldn’t run the story, Gibson says they have until she hangs up to convince the Guardian. The government tries bullying and threats. They don’t work. Their reasons are totally lame and Gibson decides to publish. London and the lawyers agree. At 5:40 May 5, 2013 the story goes live. GG spends the rest of the day and night on the phone with interviews, then starts the next cycle for the PRISM story where nine internet providers are giving the NSA all their data.
Печать

The same cycle between the Guardian and government repeats but this time someone in government give lap dog Washington Post a heads up and they rush to post the story they have been holding without publication. GG reads the Post story and realizes they haven’t even asked the internet services for comment. The Guardian story which goes live 10 minutes after the Post’s includes denials from all nine providers that they were cooperating with the government. GG figures the providers and NSA can fight out their denials in public. GG suddenly remembers Cincinnatus and sends an email to thank him for suggesting the PGP program. Snowden immediately emails back you are welcome. GG has never connected Cincinnatus to Snowden. Several more articles follow.

Finally the time arrives to announce the identity of the leaker who the NSA has been unable to identify. LP wants to include a video of Snowden but can’t use the disjointed GG deposition. LP writes down a list of 20 questions and asks MacAskil, who everyone has come to trust, to read the questions while she films. The result is the 12 minute video we have all seen introducing us to Edward Snowden for the first time.

About the time of this release a Guardian lawyer is sent to Hong Kong who asks what is being done to protect Snowden once his identity is released. GG and LP and even Snowden seem to have given this little thought. As the last story began breaking an acquaintance of GG’s, who lives in Hong Kong, called GG pointing out that everyone would now be looking for Snowden in Hong Kong and asking if they didn’t need some qualified Hong Kong lawyers. He suggested two human rights specialists with good contacts in the Hong Kong government. The Guardian lawyer quickly vetted them via the Internet and decided they were good choices. GG agrees to meet and the friend tells him they are already in the Hotel lobby. When GG opens his door a swarm of reporters are waiting. They follow him into the elevator and GG finds still more reporters waiting in the lobby. He decides to give a short impromptu interview and within 15 minutes most reporter have left to file their stories.

GG was finally able to locate his friend and the lawyers. They suggested the lawyers accompany Snowden to a UN mission and from there to a safe house. But how to get Snowden out of his five star Hotel? Snowden is now ahead of them with a prepared disguise and he makes his way safely to an exit where the lawyers are waiting. So that is how the biggest story of GG’s life got told.

Also featuring is GGs Brazilian partner David Miranda who comes across as a wise, intuitive advisor without whom GG would be even more indecisive. It is Miranda that first concludes the source is for real. He advises GG to pressure the Guardian so the story gets out there. Later, he becomes a story himself when LP and GG decide to use him to courier Snowden material from Berlin, where LP lives to Rio de Janiero where GG lives. It never occurs to either that Miranda is in danger as he transits the London airport. Miranda is stopped, his possessions seized and he is threatened and bullied for nine full hours under a British terror provision. Under pressure from the Guardian and Brazilian diplomats, Miranda was released to continue his journey after the full nine hours allowed under this dangerous law. Miranda arrived in Brazil a returning hero, but very frightened. Presumably the British government (or the US) has the thumb drive he was carrying but GG doesn’t say.

Snowden prepared thumb drives for both LP and GG with all documents. He also prepared a separate thumb drive for the Guardian containing the documents pertaining to the British GCHQ activities. British authorities later descended on Guardian London offices demanding all Snowden documents. The Guardian refused but agreed to let the GCHQ supervise and observe the destruction of all computers at the Guardian. Before this happened, the GCHQ materials were forwarded to the New York Times where they must be sitting in limbo.

Snowden encrypted the documents and assured GG and LP that neither China nor Russia would have the capability to break the encryption. This reader assumes the US could break the encryption but only if they dedicated some super computers for several years to the effort. Even if the Miranda carried thumb drive is in either British or US hands, it is unlikely any attempt will be made to decrypt the material. It is likely that the NSA is still unaware of the full extent of the documents in the archive unless all are now located in the new Intercept archive.

One of the big lessons learned by GG in this adventure is the absolute necessity for investigative journalists to use encrypted communications. Their work will be impossible in the future without these tools. GG further advises all activists and any lawyer engaged with litigation against the government to encrypt all their communications. He uses the example of David Petraeus to illustrate how easy it is to destroy a career if unencrypted emails fall into the wrong hands.
nsa-yes-we-scan nsa cartoon

Part twoCollect it All” highlights documents emphasizing the worldwide and universal scope of NSA ambitions.

Part three makes a strong case for the harm that Surveillance causes in a democracy. His strongest point comes in his conclusion. The public sector operates in total darkness and secrecy and privacy while the private sector is subjected to total surveillance of their activities with no place to hide. Somehow our system has become completely inverted. Snowden had expected Obama to reign in the illegal abuses and held off his release until it was clear things were worse than before.
obama whistleblowers

Part Four is a discussion of the forth estate much of which (the corporate media) have become mere tools of the corporate state. GG was shocked that media personalities were at the forefront of attacks suggesting GG be prosecuted for his reporting. This is new. News organizations used to come immediately and strongly to the defense of journalists under Government attack. They no longer do this. The Obama administration has felt free to conduct open warfare against whistle blowers and their reporters who are trying to do investigative reporting as guaranteed in the Constitution. The Guardian’s own lawyers suggested GG should avoid returning to the US and repeatedly failed to get assurances from the US government that GG would not be arrested and prosecuted should he return.
David Gregory shocks Glenn Greenwald gregory arrest greenwald
David Gregory Calls for Greenwald to be Arrested for Snowden Reporting Live on Meet the Press.
Seymour Hersh (who broke the My Lai massacre and Abu Ghraib prison abuses stories) suggests that journalism would be greatly improved if about 900 corporate media types were to lose their jobs.

LP has now released her new documentary Citizenfour in a theatrical release. It will doubtless receive Academy Award nominations.

Climate Change and the Death of Capitalism

Thursday, November 6th, 2014

This Changes Everything; Capitalism vs the Climate, Naomi Klein, 2014
Naomi Klein in Vancouver BC. Photo taken by Jeff Chant Naomi Klein

This was supposed to be a book to give hope to those that want to transition from greenhouse emitting fossil fuel consuming that will make the Earth uninhabitable to a world of renewable and sustainable energy. Klein starts by discussing the many studies that show, not only is such a transition possible, but that it can be accomplished with existing technologies and can happen very quickly, well within the time frames necessary to avoid catastrophic climate change. Great, lets get going. In fact Denmark and Germany have transformed large parts of their energy sources to wind and solar more quickly then predicted, so quickly that existing German coal burning power plants are exporting their power to other countries. Unfortunately, the reader starts to feel like cartoon character Charlie Brown. Every time he gets ready to kick the football, Luci (Klein) yanks the ball away and the reader falls flat on his back.
charlie brown lucy football
Klein start with Genesis 1:18 written about 500 B.C.

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.

The entire Judea-Christian culture is based on the fundamental notion that the Earth and its resources were created especially for man and man is to rule over them and use them however he wishes without limit. Klein contrasts this to the typical indigenous native view that the Earth provides for all living things but man with his intelligence has a particular responsibility to care for the Earth and all living things in it. Guess which view dominates.
She then gives us a brief history of industrialization which started its unstoppable acceleration with James Watt’s invention of the steam engine in the 18th Century. Our burning of fossil fuels has been accelerating ever since. Most of the carbon in the atmosphere is the responsibility of the oldest large economies.

Klein returns to one of her favorite topics; neoliberalism (see The Shock Doctrine)

Indeed, the three pillars of the neoliberal age – privatization of the public sphere, deregulation of the corporate sector, and the lowering of income and corporate taxes, paid for with cuts to public spending – are each incompatible with many of the actions we must take to bring our emissions to safe levels.

We measure the success of our economies by the growth rate of the national GDP. A recent long term economic study by French economist Thomas Piketty shows that low GDP growth rates and low population growth has been the typical state of large economies from 1700 until 1914 (WWI) and he expects that in the 21st Century we will return to those stable states baring another major catastrophe like global climate change. But today’s capitalism puts enormous pressure on executives to grow grow grow. No wonder they will go to extreme means and measures to achieve this unnatural growth. This form of unsustainable expansive capitalism must change or the Earth will be uninhabitable.

The deregulating Clinton administration and his climate change alarmist VP Al Gore pioneered worldwide trade agreements starting with NAFTA and creating the WTO that have brought into existence a global economy based on industrial agriculture, the search for lowest labor costs, and massive increase in the need to transport the resulting products and food; in other words an explosive increase in fossil fuel consumption. These same trade agreements have been used effectively to block locally generated alternate energy projects. Clinton also introduced the cap and trade carbon system late in the Kyoto talks and Gore pushed the idea through. There is little evidence that cap and trade has done anything to reduce emissions but it has created a world wide derivatives market (think sub prime mortgages) where a company in India is paid a large sum to produce ozone destroying refrigerants banned in most countries. Figure that one out. Carbon credits and derivatives are an open invitation to game the system.

Where is the environmental movement? Big green sold out to the energy companies who use them in PR campaigns to make them appear to support alternate energy sources – but we need a “transition period”. Many of the biggest environmental groups receive most of their funding, some secretly, from big energy. The biggest, The Nature Conservatory, was given 2303 acres in southeast Texas by Mobil in 1995 to provide a preserve for the endangered Attwater prairie chicken. In 1999 the Conservatory put a gas well on the property. This was discovered and reported by the LA Times in 2002 forcing a promise not to drill again but the Conservatory put in an oil well in 2007. Big green – big carbon producer. By the way, the prairie chickens are all gone from the preserve. Guess they don’t like oil drilling. The Sierra Club (setting a few personal scandals aside), Greenpeace, and 350.org are exceptions to the sellout.

Attwater Prairie Chicken estimated 60 remain in the wild attwater prairie chicken

What do you do when your fortune and livelihood is dependent on producing a deadly product? Or you are a politician dependent on those producing that deadly product? You engage in magical thinking. Step 1 denial. The midterm election that swept Republicans into control of congress will assure that all environmental and energy committee positions will be filled with climate change deniers. Climate Denier James Inhofe new Senate Environment Chairman The alternative is that you are out of a job. Step 2 green billionaires will buy a solution. Richard Branson promised to use $3 Billion in profits from Virgin to develop alternate fuel sources. He also offered a $25 million prize for the inventor of a carbon sequestration system. Virgin flies more routes than ever, the $3 Billion never materialized and the prize has not been awarded. Brilliant PR campaign though. Gates, Pickens are others who have made some alternate energy noises, remain deeply invested in fossil fuel energy. Step 3 Bio engineer a solution (see Climate Engineering) This is the one where you put a sulphite shield in the stratosphere to simulate the cooling effects of a volcanic eruption. The effects on the climate worldwide are unknowable because you can’t experiment to try it. What is really scary is that Klein admits that if she was desperate enough she might be willing to try it.

Big energy needs to grow and to do so they need to resort to more extreme methods and to extract closer to those more able to fight them, for example attempts to frack natural gas in Ithaca, New York, home to Cornell University – Big mistake. Cornell is the originator of some of the best studies showing how dirty fracking is in the release of methane gas, pollution of water, and earthquakes.

Coal mining in Montana with plans to ship the coal to China ran into the Indian – Cowboy collation with local ranchers joining with native tribes to prevent the hauling of coal over beautiful but dangerous Highway 12, prevented the building of a special rail line and, so far the building of a big port somewhere in the Northwest. Big energy better stay away from the Northwest. Lummi Totem Kwel Hoy (We Draw the Line) traveled 1300 km to the Montana coal site. Kwel Hoy has been planted near Vancouver looking out at the Pacific.
Kwel Hoy at proposed coal port in Bellingham kwel hoy bellingham Kwel Hoy visits Seattle kwel hoy seattle

Klein is Canadian with a special interest and concern with the Alberta tar sands. She is on the board of directors of 350.org. Her big hopes here are that the pipelines needed to move the oil can be stopped (choke points like the Montana coal routes). Central to these efforts are native treaty rights and a series of recent court decisions upholding the native treaty rights. It seems, at least in Canada, that the native population never gave up their rights to much of Canada beyond the reservations but agreed to share the land. How to you share something that somebody else destroyed. The liabilities for the Canadian government are in the Trillions. But when natives asked the person responsible for Canada’s AAA credit rating how this rating can be maintained in face of this liability, the individual responded basically you and what army are going to enforce those reparations? Can the native treaties be used to stop the tar sands pipelines or coal routes? We don’t know.
Alberta Tar Sands before-after-en

Klein talks about the growing divestment movement and hopes it is joined by an equally robust reinvestment in alternative energy sources. What is clear is that most of the stock value of energy companies relies on energy reserves and that extraction and use of those reserves will make the Earth uninhabitable. You can deny the science maybe but Mother Nature is non negotiable. There is now a group of divestment investors whose primary rationale is that values dependent on unusable reserves are not real and energy stock prices must crash at some point. Energy companies won’t continue to be profitable and the window of opportunity is short to use energy profits for reinvestment in alternate energy.

So lets review our situation. The dominant world culture believes that the Earth was created for us to exploit. Capitalism must grow or perish. Globalism requires exploitation of the cheapest resources wherever they are found, prevents regulation of trade, and greatly expands energy needs. Big agriculture requires massive chemical inputs and massive transport and is unsustainable. The climate gets more extreme and unpredictable and climate disasters are vastly more expensive now. Worldwide, politicians are largely neoliberal favoring austerity measures to further their agenda and dependent on corporations for their survival. Courts are largely manned by pro corporate judges. The handful of billionaires that own half the world’s wealth are insensitive to other’s suffering to the point of allowing entire nations to be drowned in the rising seas believing their wealth will protect them from anything. Klein says you can buy an apartment in NYC where you can live underwater like in a submarine if necessary. I wonder what you eat in your submarine. Most of the world’s population won’t be able to grow food or have access to clean water.

Klein is clear that a broad based worldwide grass roots populist movement is the only thing that has a chance to change things. We know the alternative is possible. We just don’t know how to force the changes needed to get there.

Put another way, only mass social movements can save us now. Because we know where the current system, left unchecked, is headed. We also know, I would add, how that system will deal with the reality of serial climate-related disasters: with profiteering and escalating barbarism to segregate the losers from the winners. To arrive at that dystopia, all we need to do is keep barreling down the road we are on. The only remaining variable is whether some countervailing power will emerge to block the road, and simultaneously clear some alternate pathways to destinations that are safer. If that happens, well, it changes everything.

Hence the title of the book. Hope you feel better.

Prospects for Democratic Redistribution of Wealth

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Thomas Piketty, 2014

An important new work based on many years of meticulous research and made possible by improvements in research materials and methods. French economist Piketty decries economic thought in the past from Malthus to Marx to Kuznets (and this reader adds Milton Friedman of the Chicago School) who first arrived at their theories and conclusions and then sought evidence to support their pre-conceived conclusions. He equally decries modern mathematical economics for trying to reduce a complex and human subject to a few sterile and usually unhelpful formulas.

Honore’ de Balzac Balzac Jane Austen jane austen

Piketty was able to collect considerable data for the entire period from 1700 to the present. The most complete data are available for England and France for the entire period. The period from 1700-1914 was characterized by relative stability of the economies with national incomes growing at 0 to 1½% and with populations and inflation growing at about the same rate. Piketty’s primary focus in this work is the inequalities in individual incomes and wealth. He uses the novels of Jane Austen in England and Honore’ de Balzac in France to give a very specific sense of what it meant to be wealthy and how much income was necessary to live well. The novels are very specific giving numbers in Pounds and Francs so it was possible for readers up to 1914 to get an exact sense of the meaning of the character’s income and wealth and their consequent place in society.
Piketty’s first conclusion is that the relative stability of the period 1700-1914 is the typical state of the world’s economy barring major upsets such as occurred in the period form 1914-1945 and that we are heading into another period of similar stability in the twenty-first century, barring new major catastrophes. The reason that those living today who grew up after WWII and therefore lived through an unusual period of higher growth as the world economies recovered from the catastrophes of 1914-1945 have an expectation of growth that it has been their personal lifetime experience. The data indicates that long term the outlook is for low income growth, low population growth, and low inflation.

piketty capital vs growth

Piketty’s second conclusion is that individual wealth (capital) and its concentration grows over time because the return on capital exceeds the growth in output except in times of extreme catastrophes such as the period 1914-1945. Furthermore, wealthier individual’s or institution’s (like the Harvard $30+ billion endowment) return is higher than less wealthy individual’s or institution’s returns. This gives a long term trend toward an extreme concentration of wealth.
Piketty believes that messy and human democratic processes are the only viable means for societies to determine the proper role of government in society. For Piketty, public education, public health care, and aging security are minimum required functions of government. Public transportation and other infrastructure are also essential. These minimum public requirements cannot be privatized. Piketty specifically does not mention military defense security. To pay for these public functions, the government must raise money and they have a choice of taxation or debt to do so. Government debt requires repayment and so ultimately taxes must be raised to pay for government functions. Debt increases the cost of government, transfers the cost to a later time, and further enriches those wealthy enough to loan to the government. For all these reasons, Piketty believes that government debt must be limited. Big economies are very wealthy and Piketty finds no reason to worry that excessive government debt will transfer ownership to foreign sovereign funds or to any small number of wealthy individuals but excessive government debt is still undesirable and should be avoided. Talking about the recent Greek experiences with the large scale sale of public assets to private owners to reduce government debt levels, Piketty says that wealthy Greeks simply preferred this solution to paying more taxes which they could easily have done with little long term impact on their personal fortunes.

income-inequality-usa-13

Even before 1914 the Europeans were experimenting with progressive taxes on individual incomes and with estate taxes on the inheritance of wealth. In the ensuing period 1914-1945 extreme tax rates up to 90 percent were levied on incomes and estates. These taxes along with extreme inflation (1913-1950 France averaged 13% and Germany averaged 17%) along with direct confiscation of assets caused a great decrease in wealth and income and a great decrease in income and wealth inequality. Piketty says that the French Revolution did not decrease income and wealth inequality in France as much as is commonly believed and wealth quickly consolidated again immediately following the first violence of the revolution. While revolutions, wars, and economic depression all reduce income and wealth inequality optimistic Piketty believes these goals should be achievable by less catastrophic means. The solution to reduced inequality is progressive income and inheritance wealth taxation and Piketty argues that far less extreme rates of progressive taxation can achieve the desired end of reducing inequality if moderate progressive taxation is maintained consistently over the long term. In 2010 taxes as a percentage of national income were 55% in Sweden, 50% in France, 40% in Britain, and 30% in the US. Up til 1910 wealthy countries taxes seldom exceeded 10%.
In comparing Europe and the US today, Piketty finds the US by far the least economically (and socially) mobile society. Most great US Universities are private and their students almost all have wealthy parents. Education in the US is no longer a path to upward mobility. Even the public Universities in the US have skyrocketing costs putting them out of reach of all but the wealthiest families. Oddly, Piketty does not discuss students accumulating massive er-reputable debt to finance their own educations going into indentured servitude to banks or the US government. Most of the top jobs and highest incomes are then given to graduates of the elite universities. He talks about the philanthropic uses of great wealth such as that of the Gates Foundation, but he clearly would prefer the society as a whole make these philanthropic decisions rather than a single wealthy individual. These decisions are the proper role of democratic decision making.

income-inequality-usa-05

In 2010 the top 10% of the US working population got 58% of total income while in Europe the top 10% got 30%. In 2010 total wealth for the US top 10% was about 70% and for the top 1% was 35%. The top 10% of Europeans owned 90% of wealth in 1900 and that level dropped by 2010 to 60%. Piketty suspects that wealthy individuals and institutions hide one third or more of their actual income and capital. Judging by US Presidential candidate Romney, Piketty is probably underestimating the problem of hiding wealth from taxation.
Historically, Piketty notes that foreign ownership of capital was highest in France and Britain during the colonial period and dropped to negligible levels after WWII. He also notes that the capitalization of labor in the US slave south was a significant feature in US wealth up to the civil war. Capitalizing 40% of the total population of the US south meant that US slave owners were far wealthier than their European counterparts of the period. He notes, wryly, that Thomas Jefferson owned 600 slaves about which he held conflicting emotions.
Piketty is particularly sensitive to the lack of adequate data and record keeping which is essential to a fair and equitable tax system. Information on income and capital holdings must be made available automatically to the governments by banks and institutions and governments must freely share this information among themselves. Today there is a race to the bottom as countries compete with one another to offer lower tax rates on income and inheritance and some aggressively hide wealth held in their territories. Without a court order with proof of fraud or other illegality, Swiss banks will not release information on individual accounts held in Switzerland. Without the account information governments are hard pressed to bring evidence of illegality. There are many such places in the world. Too much of the world’s individual and institutional wealth is hidden in secret shelters which creates problems for researchers and governments alike. Piketty thinks it makes more sense to base taxes on the location of the wealth and income rather than the residence of the individual. Piketty notes with envy that larger economies like the US and China have an easier time setting and enforcing tax policy than the smaller European countries. He talks at some length about the Euro-zone. A central bank for the Euro was created but with little thought to its actual role and function. Piketty holds little hope for the Euro-zone unless a corresponding legislative body with real authority can be established.

wealth inequality

Piketty finishes with a discussion of economists’ treatment of the climate change crisis which is widely viewed as the next huge and looming economic catastrophe. Economists are arguing about the proper discount rate to apply to this catastrophe while the world’s governments seem unable to come up with any meaningful plans of action.
One of Piketty’s big contributions to the discussion of wealth and income inequality is his insistence that you cannot just look at the top 10% or even the top 1% but you must continue down to the .1% the .01% etc because of the extreme concentrations of wealth. He notes that inherited wealth is still dominant but that with the recent extreme inequalities in income and high savings rates of top earners it is now possible to build sizable fortunes within one’s lifetime. Piketty can find no rational economic justification for the extreme new top salaries but governments, unlike the war years when there were salary boards, does nothing to control runaway salary levels.
Despite all the evidence to the contrary, Piketty is optimistic that an international democratic consensus can be achieved with increased wealth and income transparency and reporting and with sensible tax policies that can slowly control and correct for income and wealth inequality.

Cuba and the end of Apartheid

Saturday, June 7th, 2014

Visions of Freedom, Havana, Washington, Pretoria and the struggle for Southern Africa, 1976-1991, Piero Gleijeses, 2013

This is a well researched history of Cuba’s involvement in Angola and the role of Cuba in the ending of South Africa’a apartheid rule. There has been so much distorted and wrong history of these events that Gleijeses felt compelled to spend years amassing documents and interviewing principals to tell the real story as best he can determine it.

Angola Founding Father Sam Nujoma Sam Nujoma

It begins with South Africa’s invasion of communist Angola in 1975 which led Cuba to send troops to Angola where they successfully drove the South Africans out of the country. The Cuban military was to remain in Angola until 1988 when they left as part of a four party settlement agreement between Cuba, Angola, South Africa, and the United States.

Namibian SWAPO slogans swapo

South Africa again attacked and destroyed a Namibian refugee camp at Cassinga in Angola. International outrage led ultimately to UN Resolution 435 which called for free elections in Namibia which South Africa occupied militarily and ruled through a puppet government. South Africa signed the resolution but knew it would lose a free election to SWAPO so refused to implement 435 til forced to do so in 1988.

Angola had its own civil war with the communist MPLA government fighting insurgent Jonas Savimbi’s UNITA. South Africa supported anti communist Savimbi militarily and economically. When Reagan became president, the US also began support of Savimbi. Savimbi spoke good English, was charismatic, and knew how to exploit anti communist sentiment. He had collaborated with Portugal in the colonial struggles and was a brutal and cruel terrorist. The Cubans made clear throughout their stay in Angola that they were there to stop South African incursions, not to help the government in its civil war.

UNITA Jonas Savimbi Jonas_Savimbi

The Soviets took a different view and helped plan and arm major MPLA offensives to destroy UNITA. The Soviets had no understanding of guerrilla warfare and wrongly believed that South Africa would stay out of their offensives. The first offensive was in 1985 and the MPLA lost about half its forces to South African artillery and air strikes. South Africa allowed the MPLA to retreat. The second disastrous attack was in 1987 and again MPLA lost many soldiers. This time South Africa pursued the MPLA with the intention of eliminating them altogether.

Cuba opposed both Soviet planned attacks but felt obligated to save the MPLA from South Africa. The counter offensive was planned by Fidel Castro himself in close consultation with his generals. Castro sent his best troops, MIG fighters, artillery and tanks and the latest Soviet anti aircraft weapons to Angola. This left him exposed at home but Gorbachev promised to send more weapons to Cuba.

Military Strategist Fidel in Angola castro angola

South Africa attempted to capture Cuito Cuanavale and the Cubans engaged them there. For the first time Cuba had air superiority and they prevailed. This time, Castro was determined to drive the South Africans out of Angola and developed a slow, careful, methodical campaign to achieve this objective. Reagan had set as his top priority in Africa to get the Cuban troops out of Angola. His diplomats, led by Chester Crocker, worked tirelessly trying to get the MPLA government to negotiate an agreement that would remove the Cubans but the Cubans were always excluded from these talks.

Reagan Crocker Discuss Angola crocker reagan

Once it was clear the Cubans were prevailing against the South Africans, American diplomats agreed to add Cuba to the negotiations. Cuba insisted that South Africa be added to the negotiations as well. Cuba had two non negotiable requirements; South Africa must implement UN Resolution 435 allowing free elections in Namibia; and South Africa must stop supporting Savimbi. After much posturing and bumbling, South Africa had to agree to the two conditions and to leave Angola. Cuba was in a position, not only to force South Africa out of Angola, but to attack South African bases in Namibia. Cuba agreed to leave Angola as part of the settlement in 1988. Free elections were held in Namibia and were won by SWAPO as expected. Free elections were also held in Angola and were won by MPLA. Savimbi refused to accept the results and US assistance was finally cut off for UNITA.

Fidel and Nelson castro mandela

Pretoria Freedom Park Monument freedom-park

Had these events happened only a year later when the Soviet system collapsed, Cuba would have been unable to force the removal of South Africa from Angola and force free elections in Angola and Namibia. Apartheid might still have ended under the pressure of an international boycott and sanctions but who knows if and when this would have happened. When Nelson Mandela visited Fidel Castro in 1991 he acknowledged that Cuba was centrally responsible for the fall of Apartheid in South Africa. The names of the 2000 Cubans who died in Angola are enshrined alongside those of the ANC on a monument in Pretoria’s Freedom Park South Africa today.

Rise of the President as Assassin

Friday, June 14th, 2013

The Way of the Knife, The CIA, A Secret Army, and a War at the ends of the Earth, Mark Mazzeti, 2013

Dirty Wars, the World is a Battlefield, Jeremy Scahill, 2013

Or How the ChickenHawks Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld institutionalized Presidential Assassinations

The political term Chickenhawk is defined in Wikipedia as:

Chickenhawk (also chicken hawk and chicken-hawk) is a political term used in the United States to describe a person who strongly supports war or other military action (i.e., a War Hawk), yet who actively avoided military service when of age.

The term indicates that the person in question is hypocritical for personally dodging a draft or otherwise shirking their duty to their country during a time of armed conflict while advocating that others do so. Generally, the implication is that chickenhawks lack the moral character to ask others to support, fight and perhaps die in an armed conflict. Those who avoid military service and continue to oppose armed aggression are not chickenhawks.

Chickenhawks 1980 and 2000

These two books explore how Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld , hereinafter referred to as CR, transformed the elite special forces (Navy Seals, Delta Forces, and Army Rangers) into the ultra secretive JSOC command, reporting directly to the President with a worldwide license to kill. CR largely insulated W from their decisions under the guise of denyability.

Prior to CR under W, these special forces were primarily famous for two disastrous actions, the aborted 1980 attempt to rescue the Iran hostages under Carter and the even more disastrous 1993 Black Hawk Down incident in Mogadishu Somalia under Clinton. The only group with a more disastrous history than the special forces was the CIA who Congress outlawed from initiating assassinations after the revelations of the Frank Church hearings in 1975. For more on CIA incompetence see Secrets in an Open Society.

A more minor enabling player in these books is the FBI with their proclivities to entrap innocent victims in their notorious sting operations. Two US citizen victims of drone assassinations were driven by previous FBI sting operations, Imam Anwar Awlaki was killed in September 2011 and Buffalo citizen Ahmed Hijazi (Kamal Derwish) was killed in November 2002 along with the alleged mastermind of the USS Cole attack, Abu Ali al Harithi. Awlaki was arrested twice in San Diego when FBI prostitute undercover agents approached him unsolicited. Hijazi was accused of being one of the Buffalo NY “Lackawanna Six” after his assassination. The FBI stings were instrumental in encouraging both men to leave their US homes for Yemen where they were assassinated. For more on FBI methods see Paranoid Ideologues.

The central theme of both books is how American policy in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, and elsewhere has actually led to an increase in American insecurity and how policy makers refused to see how their policies were counterproductive. In each case, America either invaded directly to destroy an existing regime, or had proxies (Christian Ethiopians invading Islamic Somalia) destroy the existing regime or undermined the regimes by totally disregarding the country’s sovereignty (Yemen and Pakistan). America always chose the wrong people to form new regimes and these US backed regimes always led to an increased presence of enemies of the US in the countries. For example, al Shabab, a Taliban like group in Somalia, has gone from a nonentity to a major force controlling more and more of Somalia. Unless American soldiers stay in Afghanistan, the Taliban will likely retake control of the country. Our good ally Pakistan likely welcomes this outcome. This universally disastrous foreign policy has cost hundreds of thousands of innocent lives and trillions of US taxpayer dollars. Enemies of the US have multiplied many fold. Yet none of these enemies pose an existential threat to the US, unlike the Soviet Union during the cold war. The disastrous policy of “war on terror” and “the world is a battlefield” is designed to continue forever.

Stanley McChrystal with Obama

CR authorized a secret JSOC facility camp in Iraq, NAMA under McChrystal, where JSOC personnel both captured and “interrogated” prisoners. NAMA was far worse than Abu Ghraib yet Americans were never told about it and its abuses. Tortured prisoners will say whatever the torturers want to hear, in this case WMD and al Queda. That the confessions were untrue didn’t matter to true ideologues CR. When a major insurgency erupted, CR kept insisting it was just a few “dead enders” from the Hussein Baathist era. De-Baathification had created hundreds of thousands of unemployed, trained soldiers, with unlimited weapons. There were plenty of groups willing to exploit these soldiers for their own purposes. A Jordanian terrorist claiming to be associated with al Queda, and working in Iraq, Zarqawi, started chopping off heads, giving CR “evidence” that Hussein had harbored terrorists. The evidence was that Zarqawi had traveled to Iraq for medical treatment once prior to the American invasion. Hussein probably never heard of Zarqawi.

Obama and Brennen Terror Tuesdays

Obama, upon taking office and to everyone’s surprise, kept W’s security team of Petraeus, McChrystal, McRaven, Gates, and Brennen. Early in Obama’s administration, Somali pirates mistakenly boarded an American flagship. They quickly realized their mistake and attempted to escape, taking the captain hostage. A battleship was ordered to the scene. Obama was informed that the planet’s best snipers (the JSOC ninjas) were only 45 minutes away from the battleship. Obama ordered them to the scene and when they reported they had clear shots at the pirates, Obama gave the order to kill. Three shots, three dead Somali pirates. Obama loved it and invited the ninjas involved (members of Navy Seal Team 6) to the White House. Thus was born the era of Obama as assassin in Chief.

Who snatched Leon Panetta’s Body?

Obama had appointed trusted ally Leon Panetta to head the CIA and under Obama the JSOC and CIA were to form a closer working relationship in their “targeted killing” program. This program has been expanded from the W era and has been largely successful in assassinating people on the kill lists although with countless innocent victims. Obama and Panetta announced the closing of the black sites (secret prisons), the end of torture interrogations, and the end of renditions, and then secretly continued all three.

The books recount discussions about the best way to kill a target, with an M16 or a drone strike. The drone strike is seen as more antiseptic but more difficult to confirm the kill. Occasionally, CIA operatives have been sent to strike sites to collect DNA samples and other evidence, but the strikes make such a mess that identification is difficult. Maybe the Ninjas should bring back the head after a kill. The reader is reminded of scenes from the movie “GoodFellas” and discussions among its psychotic characters. Kill or capture? If you capture you need a prison and you are expected to interrogate. Do you hold indefinitely or are you forced to try the “detainee“? Better to just kill the target and be done with it.

Obama condemns US citizen to death without due process >
Anwar’s 16 year old son Abdulrahman also killed by US drone

In the case of Anwar Awlaki, the intelligence community seems to have concluded that his speeches and blogs were protected free speech and they never got evidence, despite Obama’s false statements, that Awlaki was associated with al Queda or ever assisted any terrorist. This conclusion also included analysis of emails between Awlaki and Nidal Hasan the American soldier that killed 13 at Fort Hood Texas. Awlaki posted a blog after the killings supporting Hasan’s actions which may have been the breaking point for Obama. Awlaki was killed simply to silence him. Nothing more. two weeks later a US drone strike “accidentally” killed Awlaki’s son Abdulrahman. Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs comment: “Well I would suggest that he should have a more responsible father.” Unbelievable.

Petraeus sells Obama on Afghan “surge”

When McChrystal was put in charge of the Afghanistan “surge” other military commanders expected the worst and got it. McChrystal reproduced his Iraq operation on steroids. JSOC operators multiplied, black ops prisons like NAMA were created, and targeted killings skyrocketed. Like Iraq, there were virtually no al Queda operating inside Afghanistan. The targets this time were mid level Taliban but the ninjas couldn’t even tell the tribes apart, so the killing of innocents and allies multiplied. Hatred of Americans and sympathy if not support for the Taliban increased. One mistaken raid killed Daoud, an American trained regional head of intelligence, and members of his family. Realizing their mistake, the JSOC team refused to call medical assistance and starting digging their bullets out of the victims body while some were still alive. They died. The team was only able to recover only 17 of the 21 rounds fired in the raid. A dogged British journalist, Jerome Starkey, exposed the coverup and witnessed a scene where a fatigue wearing soldier with the name tag McRaven enacts a ritualistic sheep sacrifice in front of the family by way of apology. Starkey didn’t even know who McRaven was at the time. Another example of foreign policy gone terribly wrong.

Raymond Davis contractor with license to kill

Secret Wars is organized chronologically, jumping from Iraq to Afghanistan to Yemen to Somalia with Awlaki’s story threaded throughout. Toward the end, we finally get to Pakistan where things get really strange. Remember that the CIA and Pakistan’s ISI worked closely through the 1980′s to support the Afghan Mujahedin (see Ghost Wars) in their fight against the Soviet occupation and that Pakistan is a nuclear power. In January 2011 American Raymond Davis killed two Pakistanis at a busy intersection in Lahore. Davis’ rented Honda Civic was carrying enough arsenal to hold off a small army in addition to GPS, satellite communications, night vision equipment, multiple ids and cell phones, ATM cards, makeup and disguises and other trade craft. He would have made James Bond envious. The killed Pakistanis were ISI operatives who were following Davis and he shot them both through the windshield as only a trained assassin would have been able to do. He was in possession of sensitive photos of secret Pakistani military facilities including nuclear storage facilities. His cell phones showed he had made calls to both Tehrik-e-Taliban and Lahkar-e-Jhangvi Pakistani terror groups. Who was Davis working for? Was it the CIA, JSOC or someone we haven’t heard of? People at his obvious level of experience have level after level of cover stor. He was released after admission that he worked for the CIA but the reality is probably deeper. What was he doing at the secret military sites? It seems that the US government has secret plans to secure (i.e. steal) Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal in the event of a coup or other instability inside Pakistan. How wild is that? Why was he calling Pakistani terror groups?

Davis called for backup, calmly photographed the two Pakistani’s he killed, and fled the scene in his Honda. A backup Land Cruiser with false license plates rushed to assist Davis but ran over a motorcycle killing its driver. The Land Cruiser fled but Davis’ Honda was stopped by police two miles from the murders. ISI sent special forces to guard his prison cell and prevent a JSOC style rescue. Had Davis been put with the general prison population he would probably have had his throat slit. The backup team returned to the CIA-JSOC safe house, destroyed all their documents and equipment, and fled to the US Consulate where they were evacuated from the country before Pakistani officials could question them. They have not been identified.

The CIA had followed a courier to Osama bin Laden’s safe house five months prior to the Davis incident and were awaiting confirmation that Osama was there and assassination plans were readied when the Davis incident happened. The US needed to get Davis out of Pakistan before they could initiate the assassination of bin Laden. Thus the negotiations with Pakistan and the ISI took on an urgency it would not have otherwise had. Then the wife of one of the ISI murder victims committed suicide leaving a video statement blaming the US. Davis’s handlers apparently hid his true job from the white house and state department leading both to make embarrassing and false claims about Davis’s job. Afraid that Davis might start talking and needing to proceed with bin Laden’s assassination, top US military officials including Admiral Mullen and Petraeus met in Oman with their Pakistani counterparts in the military and ISI to hash out a solution. A very unusual Sharia court proceeding presented the families of the victims with $2.3 million and Davis was whisked out of the country on a CIA rendition plane.

William McRaven Mr. Cool

Six weeks later Osama bin Laden was assassinated in Abbottabad Pakistan. For bin Laden’s murder, the JSOC ninjas under CIA direction shot and killed bin Laden, brought the entire body to a ship, and buried it at sea. It was not deemed necessary to share confirmation with the American people. Before the mission the team discussed not shooting bin Laden in the head since the reason for sending a team on a dangerous mission 150 miles inside sovereign Pakistan to a house a mile away from a military academy was to confirm the kill.

Matt Bissonnette Seal Team 6 Member

The first team member to encounter a tall man in the house shot him three times in the head. The next team member shot the body multiple times in the chest. Matt Bissonnette’s job was to collect DNA samples (they had DNA from bin Laden’s sister) and when he cleaned off the face he was surprised how young the man was and that his beard was completely black. Bissonnette had surely seen every photo and video of bin Laden in existence yet he didn’t recognize the man in person. Bissonnette remembers thinking at the time that the American people don’t need to see this (the messed up face and head). Even if this is the reason photos were not released there is no security reason why the DNA test results should not have released to the public. Guns were found in the house but none were loaded. Anyone there could have been captured without a fight but the mission was assassination. Four men and one woman were killed in the raid. Others, including children, were injured. Immediately after the raid Brennan said that the team had been in a firefight (false) and that bin Laden had used women as a shield (false). The Obama administration said just trust us then lied about so many aspects of the mission that Bissonnette felt compelled to write his own account No Easy Day. He would not have been privy to the DNA test results. We should trust them that the DNA test results were a match?

Michael Furlong Michele Ballarin

The Way of the Knife includes a couple of characters (for comic relief?). Michael Furlong was an overweight long time government and military person who spoke in fast government-military speak that seemed to bedazzle whoever he met. He ran an operation where spyware was hidden in a cell phone game with information gathered and stored in an illegal database in the Czech Republic. Furlong showed up in Prague during sensitive negotiations over deploying a US missile defense system in the Czech Republic and US government officials had him thrown out the the country.
Michele Ballarin was a wealthy West Virginia Republican socialite who raised Lippizaner horses. She somehow inserted herself into Somali pirate ransom negotiations and pirates on one seized ship raised a sign asking specifically for her. She proposed setting up a food program for refugees in Somalia where she would collect intelligence about everyone who came to get aid that she could feed to US intelligence. The program was not approved.

Blackwater’s Eric Prince appears in both books with activities no less bizarre but certainly not comic. Prince is drawn to unsavory characters around the world like a magnet. He outfitted his own small ship with an incredible arsenal, helicopter, and small speed boats, and offered to escort ships through the Somali pirate area of operations for $200,000 a trip. This was his sanest venture. He lives in Abu Dhabi to be close to the action and avoid taxes.