Dec 142016
 

By James Petras99GetSmart

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Introduction

In recent times, and probably since the establishment of universal voting, presidents-elect have systematically violated or broken their promises to their supporters.

This essay begins with the campaign promises of the outgoing President Barack Obama and the President-Elect Donald Trump. We will then examine the reasons why rhetorical populist, peaceful and democratic promises always accompany campaigns and are immediately followed by the victor appointing cabinet members who are committed to elite-driven, militarist and authoritarian policies – so far from the expectations of the voters.

Obama: Style and Substance

Barack Obama, like all demagogues, promised American voters that he would end the US military occupation of Iraq, close the Guantanamo Bay concentration camp, end torture and secrecy, defend civil liberties, protect mortgage holders swindled by Wall Street bankers, introduce a real health care reform and develop a path to citizenship for undocumented migrant workers and their families.

Above all, Obama promoted the notion that he was ‘the historic African-American President’ tasked with fulfilling the promises of the civil rights revolution. Obama spoke to civil and human rights activists, promising an end to racial violence and inequality. He promised to end state intrusion and violation of individual freedoms.

The ‘Historic Black President’: Unprecedented Number of Broken Promises

All Presidents, to a greater or lesser degree, have broken electoral pledges. But, far and away, President Barack Obama broke more and bigger promises over his two terms than any of his predecessors. His administration was one of making and then immediately revising and reversing promises to his supporters. Every one of his promises for social reform, health care and foreign policy based on diplomacy and respect merely served as a prelude to imposing new and more regressive policies and launching more wars.

The record is clear: Over the eight years of his presidency, Obama degraded the expectations of every popular constituency that he courted and won during the campaigns. Black Americans voted for Obama 10 to 1 during both campaigns! Despite the overwhelming support form African Americans, income inequalities between white and black workers increased, deadly police violence against Afro-Americans increased, and white vigilante assaults, including the torching of Afro-American churches, multiplied. Non-violent African-American drug offenders (dealers and users) were incarcerated at a rate far exceeding their white counterparts, while the giant pharmaceutical corporate elites and the doctors prescribing highly addictive narcotics and fueling the opioid addiction epidemic counted their mushrooming profits with total impunity.

Obama pursued seven wars and scores of violent covert operations, exceeding his predecessor, President George Bush, Jr. His wars led to the greatest combined numbers of dispossessed, wounded and murdered Africans, Arabs, South Asians and Eastern Europeans in world history.

Obama transferred $2 trillion dollars from the US Treasury to bail two dozen Wall Street banks, which then continued to foreclose on the homes of 3 million working class households – contrary to his campaign rhetoric.

Leading multi-national corporations successfully hid over $2 trillion dollars of profits in overseas tax havens. The President occasionally mouthed some ‘lollipop rhetorical criticism’ against the big corporate tax evaders while continuing to tax the over-worked working people – whose living standards steadily declined.

Militarists infected the entire Obama administration to an extent not seen since the warmongers Harry Truman and Winston Churchill cynically launched the Cold War.

Obama pursued a policy of encircling Russia with US and NATO military bases stationed from the new US’ Baltic satellites to the Balkans, from the Mediterranean to the Caucuses.

The Obama regime financed the violent putsches and bloody attempts at ‘regime change’ in Ukraine, Syria, Somalia, Libya, Honduras and Yemen – with devastating result to millions of displaced and destitute people. No other warlord, past or present, can match the Obama regime in sowing misery and mayhem.

Obama: Speaks in Tongues

Obama, ever the chameleon, spoke in different accents and cadences to different audiences: To the young, he jived with rappers, hoopsters, baseball stars and stage and screen celebrities. To black church ladies, this Honolulu-born and bred graduate of the elite Punahou academy and Harvard Law School, would adopt a southern Baptist drawl – completely foreign to the speech of his mother and grandmother. When he turned to his sophisticated white Chicago groomers and supporters in the finance sector, he reverted to speaking with a deep well-modulated gravitas.

His language was full of euphemisms: the famous ‘pivot to Asia’ meant an aggressive and dangerous maritime and aerial encirclement of China, with the aim of crippling Asia’s greatest economy.

While he spoke of ‘environmental protections and workers’ rights’, he pushed for a Trans-Pacific Trade Agreement giving multi-national corporations the power to gut labor rights and environmental regulations.

The Obama regime had loudly promised to protect Native-American access to their traditional water and land, as well as cultural, community and religious sites. In practice, he protected the big oil and gas pipelines projects infringing on native lands with brutal militarized police and private mercenary guards, beating and jailing social justice activists and threatening journalists.

Obama has strengthened the enforcement of existing police state surveillance operations despite their violations of constitutional freedoms and he imposed an extension of police state rule, especially against ‘whistle-blowers’. With one of the most secretive administrations in history, Obama has prosecuted, destroyed and imprisoned more heroic public servants – for the ‘crime’ of exposing state crimes to the citizenry. He actively flaunted Federal laws guaranteeing the protection of ‘whistle-blowers’ and has sent a chill throughout the public sector – demoralizing the best of our public servants.

Donald Trump: Electoral Promises and Post-Election Betrayals

Intent on surpassing the broken promises of President Obama, President-Elect Trump quickly reversed his rhetorical campaign promise to ‘drain the swamp’ of Washington and embraced his ‘sworn enemies’ with the fervor of a veteran courtesan. Traditional Republican politicians, business people and Wall Streeters, initially opposed to ‘The Donald’, have all jumped on the bandwagon and into Trump’s open arms.

Trump broke his main campaign promises to the electorate. Announcing he would not ‘jail’ Hillary Clinton for her activities concerning the Clinton Foundation while in office, Trump instead praised her courage and integrity. Upon his election, Trump even pandered to the former President Bill ‘Oval Office sex scandal’ Clinton. While Trump may have a change of heart regarding the sleaze and crimes of the Clintons, his mass supporters have not.

Trump openly praised Hillary Clinton in exchange for her initial decision not to challenge his election victory and ‘transition’. However her use of surrogate Green Party candidate Jill Stein to challenge the election count and the CIA/Democratic Party’s accusations of Russian-Trump-FBI collusion in influencing the campaign may force him to review his decision as the makings of a palace coup-d’etat seem to emerge from ‘the swamp’.

His ongoing private business dealings, which he promised to renounce, have continued – to the consternation of his loyal activist base.

Trump has sent mixed signals with his choices for senior cabinet officials: He broke his promises on economic, diplomatic and foreign policy by appointing or considering several mainstream Republicans for major positions, including a vocal critic for UN Representative. Mainstream Republicans were contemptuous of Trumps mass electoral support base. Nevertheless, Trump has appointed business CEO’s who were more market-oriented and less militaristic than the typical Republican and Democratic establishment politicians.

He also kept his his campaign promise to protect US commerce and industry, by favoring a trade-oriented policy with Russia. He wants to negotiate more advantageous trade agreements with the Chinese president. He has announced his appointment of Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, a very concrete move toward ending the sanctions against Russia, which have shut American businesses and energy giants out of that huge market.

Trump has appealed directly to the ‘Israel-Firster’ crowd, vowing to ‘tear up’ the nuclear agreement with Iran, which was so unpopular with militant American and Israeli Jews. Despite calling it the ‘worst agreement in US history’, he appears to have given ‘the nod’ to the big oil and gas interests who are happily signing multi-billion dollar deals with Tehran and to the aerospace giant Boeing to sell a new fleet of passenger jets to Iran.

Electoral demagoguery is not just an Obama affliction. Broken promises are ‘stock and trade’ for all Democratic and Republican Presidents. Deceit and phony populist language are standard fare because these are what capitalist democracy demands of its political representatives.

The Structural Basis of Capitalist Democracy

Under capitalist democracies, Presidents put on the appearance of ‘talking to real folks’ while skillfully working for the biggest capitalists and bankers.

When ‘capitalist democracy’ is under threat and discredited, the search for populist demagogues kicks in. While activists for peace and social justice were organizing huge masses of demonstrators against the banks during the ‘Occupy Wall Street Movement’, the Wall Streeters trotted out America’s “First Black President” to divert the anger of bankrupted mortgage holders, con the white students, fool Latino voters, charm the Black church-ladies and lead them all into the corrupt embrace of the Democratic Party.

When the economy forced millions of people into low-paying dead-end jobs and declining living standards, when globalization impoverished local small and middle business people and shop keepers, a loud mouth billionaire casino king appears on the scene to bark phony populist rhetoric denouncing Madame Secretary Hillary Clinton for her most carnal ties with Wall Street. And he gets elected President of the United States!.

In other words, when capitalism is in crisis the demagogues ‘come out of the woodwork’.

Flamboyant capitalist demagogues replace the normal deceitful standard bearers of corrupt electoral politics. Obama and Trump’s demagoguery won-out over Hillary Clinton’s and Mitt Romney’s boring speech-makers. No matter how outlandish their lies, Hillary and Mitt could not grab the voters’ imagination.

Capitalist democracies have become more fragile as economic crises become entrenched and recoveries are brief and weak. The frequent rise of presidential demagogues, from Obama to Trump, reflects the capitalist elites’ refusal to share any productivity gains with the workers or to pay taxes on overseas/imperial profits and thus lessen the tax burden on wage-earners, or to invest in a productive economy employing well-paid workers rather than engaging in speculation.

‘Capitalist democracy’ can no long deceive the voters. Half of eligible voters abstain from a process that does not reflect their interests. And half of the actual voters reject traditional politicians. To retain any veneer of electoral legitimacy and enable the capitalists to continue their rule, demagogues have to replace the ‘damaged goods’ politicians who have prostituted themselves too openly and too often.

Over eighty percent of voters know that their votes have no impact on political decisions regarding war and peace, domestic inequalities and income distribution – real issues.

Capitalism can no longer reproduce itself through a faux electoral machine. Were it not for the predictable emergence of novelties, like ‘America’s First Black’ Obama or the ‘Shock-Jock’ celebrity Trump to occupy the White House on waves of mass protest votes, tens of millions of absentee and discontented voters might fill the streets, boot out the phony union bosses who ‘speak for’ only 7% of wage earners, and reject the two political parties united ‘at the hip’ in their service to the elite one percent.

Conclusion

Let us imagine that the capitalist demagogues finally lose their mass appeal in the face of repeated broken promises. Let us assume there will be a temporary return to bland, reliable, everyday political hucksters, as this so-called cycle of ‘outsiders’ gets played out. The mass discontent will not go away. As the economic crisis and inequalities grow, extra-parliamentary public outbursts will are inevitable. With them, fear and uncertainty among bankers, speculators and billionaire electronic gadget makers will set in. The much ballyhooed ‘silicon architecture’ will crumble like sandcastles. The capitalist class may have to turn from ballots to bullets. At that point, can they entrust their wealth and status in the hands of thousands of soldiers and police ordered to gun down and round up millions of their fellow American workers? Or are they dreaming of robots…?

James Petras is author of  The End of the Republic and the Delusion of EmpireExtractive Imperialism in the Americas: Capitalism’s New Frontier (with Henry Veltmeyer), and The Politics of Empire: The US, Israel and the Middle EastRead other articles by James, or visit James’s website.

Oct 192016
 

By James Petras99GetSmart

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During most of the past two decades Washington has aggressively launched military and economic wars against at least nine countries, either directly or through its military aid to regional allies and proxies. US air and ground troops have bombed or invaded Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, and Lebanon.

More recently Washington has escalated its global economic war against major economic rivals as well as against weaker countries. The US no longer confines its aggressive impulses to peripheral economic countries in the Middle East, Latin America and Southern Asia: It has declared trade wars against world powers in Asia, Eastern and Central Europe and the Gulf states.

The targets of the US economic aggression include economic powerhouses like Russia, China, Germany, Iran and Saudi Arabia, as well as Syria, Yemen, Venezuela, Cuba, and the Donbas region of Ukraine.

There is an increasingly thinner distinction between military and economic warfare, as the US has frequently moved from one to the other, particularly when economic aggression has not resulted in ‘regime change’ – as in the case of the sanctions campaign against Iraq leading up to the devastating invasion and destruction.

In this essay, we propose to examine the strategies and tactics underlying Washington’s economic warfare, their successes and failures, and the political and economic consequences to target nations and to world stability.

Washington’s Economic Warfare and Global Power

The US has used different tactical weapons as it pursues its economic campaigns against targeted adversaries and even against its long-time allies.

Two supposed allies, Germany and Saudi Arabia, have been attacked by the Obama Administration and US Congress via ‘legal’ manipulations aimed at their financial systems and overseas holdings. This level of aggression against sovereign powers is remarkable and reckless. In 2016 the US Justice Department slapped a $14 billion dollar penalty on Germany’s leading international bank, Deutsche Bank, throwing the German stock market into chaos, driving the bank’s shares down 40% and destabilizing Germany’s financial system. This unprecedented attack on an ally’s major bank was in direct retaliation for Germany’s support of the European Commission’s $13 billion tax levy against the US-tax evading Apple Corporation for its notorious financial shenanigans in Ireland. German political and business leaders immediately dismissed Washington’s legalistic rhetoric for what it was: the Obama Administration’s retaliation in order to protect America’s tax evading and money laundering multinationals.

The chairman of the German parliament’s economic committee stated that the gross US attempt to extort Deutsche Bank had all the elements of an economic war. He noted that Washington had a “long tradition of using every available opportunity to wage what amounted to a trade war if it benefits their own economy” and the “extortionate damages claim” against Deutsche Bank were a punitive example. US economic sanctions against some of Germany’s major trade partners, like Russia, China and Iran, constitute another tactic to undermine Germany’s huge export economy. Ironically, Germany is still considered “a valued ally” when it comes to the US wars against Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, which have driven millions of refugees to Europe creating havoc with Germany’s political, economic and social system and threatening to overthrow the government of ‘ally’ Angela Merkel.

The US Congress launched an economic-judicial war against its closest ally in the Gulf region when it approved legislation granting US victims of Islamist terrorism, especially related to the attacks on September 11, 2001 the right to sue the government of Saudi Arabia and seize its overseas assets. This included the Kingdom’s immense ‘sovereign funds’ and constitutes an arbitrary and blatant violation of Saudi sovereignty. This opens the Pandora’s Box of economic warfare by allowing victims to sue any government for sponsoring terrorism, including the United States! Saudi leaders immediately reacted by threatening to withdraw billions of dollars of assets in US Treasuries and investments.

The US economic sanctions against Russia are designed to strengthen its stranglehold on the economies of Europe which rely on trade with Russia. These have especially weakened German and Polish trade relations with Russia, a major market for German industrial exports and Polish agriculture products. Originally, the US-imposed economic sanctions against Moscow were supposed to harm Russian consumers, provoke political unrest and lead to ‘regime change’. In reality, the unrest it provoked has been mainly among European exporters, whose contracts with Russia were shredded and billions of Euros were lost. Furthermore, the political and diplomatic climate between Europe and Russia has deteriorated while Washington has ‘pivoted’ toward a more militaristic approach.

Results in Asia have been even more questionable: Washington’s economic campaign against China has moved awkwardly in two directions: Prejudicial trade deals with Asian-Pacific countries and a growing US military encirclement of China’s maritime trade routes.

The Obama regime dispatched Treasury Secretary Jack Lew to promote the Trans- Pacific Partnership (TPP) among a dozen regional governments, which would blatantly exclude China, Asia’s largest economic power. In a slap to the outgoing Obama Administration, the US Congress rejected his showpiece economic weapon against China, the TPP.

Meanwhile, Obama ‘encouraged’ his erstwhile ‘allies’ in the Philippines and Vietnam to sue China for maritime violations over the disputed ‘Spratly Islands’ before the Permanent Court of Arbitration. Japan and Australia signed military pacts and base agreements with the Pentagon aimed at disrupting China’s trade routes. Obama’s so-called ‘Pivot to Asia’ is a transparent campaign to block China from its markets and trading partners in Southeast Asia and Pacific countries of Latin American. Washington’s flagrant economic warfare resulted in slapping harsh import tariffs on Chinese industrial exports, especially steel and tires. The US also sent a ‘beefed up’ air and sea armada for ‘joint exercises’ along China’s regional trade routes and its access to critical Persian Gulf oil, setting off a ‘war of tension’.

In response to Washington’s ham-fisted aggression, the Chinese government deftly rolled out the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) with over fifty countries eagerly signing on for lucrative trade and investment deals with Beijing. The AIIB’s startling success does not bode well for Obama’s ‘Pivot to Pacific Hegemony’.

The so-called US-EU-Iran accord did not end Washington’s trade war against Tehran. Despite Iran’s agreement to dismantle its peaceful uranium enrichment and nuclear research programs, Washington has blocked investors and tried to undermine trade relations, while still holding billions of dollars of Iranian state assets, frozen since the overthrow of the Shah in 1979. Nevertheless, a German trade mission signed on a three billion trade agreement with Iran in early October 2016 and called on the US to fulfill its side of the agreement with Tehran – so far to no avail.

The US stands alone in sending its nuclear naval armada to the Persian Gulf and threatens commercial relations. Even the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the longstanding enemy of the Iranian Islamic Republic, has agreed to a cooperative oil production arrangement at a recent OPEC meeting.

Washington’s declaration of economic warfare against two of its most strategic powerful allies, Germany and Saudi Arabia and three rising competitor world powers, has eroded US economic competitiveness, undermined its access to lucrative markets and increased its reliance on aggressive military strategies over diplomacy.

What is striking and perplexing about Washington’s style of economic warfare is how costly this has been for the US economy and for US allies, with so little concrete benefit.

US oil companies have lost billions in joint exploitation deals with Russia because of Obama’s sanctions. US bankers, agro-exporters, high-tech companies are missing out on lucrative sales just to ‘punish’ Russia over the incredibly corrupt and bankrupt US coup regime in Ukraine.

US multi-national corporations, especially those involved in Pacific Coast transport and shipyards, Silicon Valley high tech industry and Washington State’s agro-export producers are threatened by the US trade agreements that exclude China.

Iran’s billion dollar market is looking for everything from commercial airplanes to mining machinery. Huge trade deals have has been lost to US companies because Obama continues to impose de facto sanctions. Meanwhile, European and Asian competitors are signing contracts.

Despite Washington’s dependence on German technical knowhow and Saudi petro-dollar investments as key to its global ambitions, Obama’s irrational policies continue to undermine US trade.

Washington has engaged in economic warfare against ‘lesser economic powers’ that nevertheless play significant political roles in their regions. The US retains the economic boycott of Cuba; it wages economic aggression against Venezuela and imposes economic sanctions against Syria, Yemen and the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine. While these countries are not costly in terms of economic loss to US business interests, they exercise significant political and ideological influence in their regions, which undermine US ambitions.

Conclusion

Washington’s resort to economic warfare complements its military fueled empire building.

But economic and military warfare are losing propositions. While the US may extract a few billion dollars from Deutsch Bank, it will have lost much more in long-term, large-scale relations with German industrialists, politicians and financiers. This is critical because Germany plays the key role in shaping economic policy in the European Union. The practice of US multi-national corporations seeking off-shore tax havens in the EU may come to a grinding halt when the European Commission finishes its current investigations. The Germans may not be too sympathetic to their American competitors.

Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has not only collapsed, it has compelled China to open new avenues for trade and cooperation with Asian-Pacific nations – exactly the opposite of its original goal of isolating Beijing. China’s Asia Infrastructure and Investment Bank (AIIB) has attracted 4 time more participants than Washington’s TPP and massive infrastructure projects are being financed to further bind ASEAN countries to China. China’s economic growth at 6.7% more than three times that of the US at 2%. Worse, for the Obama Administration, Washington has alienated its historically most reliable allies, as China, deepens economic ties and cooperation agreements with Thailand, Philippines, Pakistan, Cambodia and Laos.

Iran, despite US sanctions, is gaining markets and trade with Germany, Russia, China and the EU.

The Saudi-US conflict has yet to play-out, but any escalation of law suits against the kingdom will result in the flight of hundreds of billions of investment dollars from the US.

In effect, Obama’s campaign of economic warfare may lead to the infinitely more costly military warfare and the massive loss of jobs and profits for the US economy. Washington is increasingly isolated. The only allies supporting its campaign of economic sanctions are second and third rate powers, like Poland and current corrupt parasites in Ukraine. As long as the Poles and Ukrainians can ‘mooch’ off of the IMF and grab EU and US ‘loans’, they will cheerlead Obama’s charge against Russia. Israel, as long as it can gobble up an additional $38 billion dollars in ‘aid’ from Washington, remains the biggest advocate for war against Iran.

Washington spends billions of US tax-payer dollars on its military bases in Japan, Philippines and Australia to maintain its hegemony in the Asia-Pacific region. Its allies, though, are salivating at the prospect for greater trade and infrastructure investment deals with China.

Economic warfare doesn’t work for the Washington because the US economy cannot compete, especially when it attacks its own allies and traditional partners. Its regional allies are keen to join the ‘forbidden’ markets and share in major investment projects funded by China. Asian leaders increasingly view Washington, with its ‘pivot to militarism’ as politically unreliable, unstable and dangerous. After the Philippine government economic mission to China, expect more to ‘jump ship’.

Economic warfare against declared adversaries can only succeed if the US is committed to free trade with its allies, ends punitive sanctions and stops pushing for exclusive trade treaties that undermine its allies’ economies. Furthermore, Washington should stop catering to the whims of special domestic interests. Absent these changes, its losing campaign of economic warfare can only turn into military warfare – a prospect devastating to the US economy and to world peace.

James Petras is author of  The End of the Republic and the Delusion of EmpireExtractive Imperialism in the Americas: Capitalism’s New Frontier (with Henry Veltmeyer), and The Politics of Empire: The US, Israel and the Middle EastRead other articles by James, or visit James’s website.

Jun 082014
 

By William Blum, 99GetSmart

Edward Snowden

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Is Edward Snowden a radical? The dictionary defines a radical as “an advocate of political and social revolution”, the adjective form being “favoring or resulting in extreme or revolutionary changes”. That doesn’t sound like Snowden as far as what has been publicly revealed. In common usage, the term “radical” usually connotes someone or something that goes beyond the generally accepted boundaries of socio-political thought and policies; often used by the Left simply to denote more extreme than, or to the left of, a “liberal”.

In his hour-long interview on NBC, May 28, in Moscow, Snowden never expressed, or even implied, any thought – radical or otherwise – about United States foreign policy or the capitalist economic system under which we live, the two standard areas around which many political discussions in the US revolve. In fact, after reading a great deal by and about Snowden this past year, I have no idea what his views actually are about these matters. To be sure, in the context of the NBC interview, capitalism was not at all relevant, but US foreign policy certainly was.

Snowden was not asked any direct questions about foreign policy, but if I had been in his position I could not have replied to several of the questions without bringing it up. More than once the interview touched upon the question of whether the former NSA contractor’s actions had caused “harm to the United States”. Snowden said that he’s been asking the entire past year to be presented with evidence of such harm and has so far received nothing. I, on the other hand, as a radical, would have used the opportunity to educate the world-wide audience about how the American empire is the greatest threat to the world’s peace, prosperity, and environment; that anything to slow down the monster is to be desired; and that throwing a wrench into NSA’s surveillance gears is eminently worthwhile toward this end; thus, “harm” indeed should be the goal, not something to apologize for.

Edward added that the NSA has been unfairly “demonized” and that the agency is composed of “good people”. I don’t know what to make of this.

When the war on terrorism was discussed in the interview, and the question of whether Snowden’s actions had hurt that effort, he failed to take the opportunity to point out the obvious and absolutely essential fact – that US foreign policy, by its very nature, regularly and routinely creates anti-American terrorists.

When asked what he’d say to President Obama if given a private meeting, Snowden had no response at all to make. I, on the other hand, would say to Mr. Obama: “Mr. President, in your time in office you’ve waged war against seven countries – Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Libya and Syria. This makes me wonder something. With all due respect, sir: What is wrong with you?”

A radical – one genuine and committed – would not let such a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity pass by unused. Contrary to what his fierce critics at home may believe, Edward Snowden is not seriously at war with America, its government or its society. Does he have a real understanding, analysis, or criticism of capitalism or US foreign policy? Does he think about what people could be like under a better social system? Is he, I wonder, even anti-imperialist?

And he certainly is not a conspiracy theorist, or at least keeps it well hidden. He was asked about 9-11 and replied:

The 9/11 commission … when they looked at all the classified intelligence from all the different intelligence agencies, they found that we had all of the information we needed … to detect this plot. We actually had records of the phone calls from the United States and out. The CIA knew who these guys were. The problem was not that we weren’t collecting information, it wasn’t that we didn’t have enough dots, it wasn’t that we didn’t have a haystack, it was that we did not understand the haystack that we had.

Whereas I might have pointed out that the Bush administration may have ignored the information because they wanted something bad – perhaps of unknown badness – to happen in order to give them the justification for all manner of foreign and domestic oppression they wished to carry out. And did. (This scenario of course excludes the other common supposition, that it was an “inside job”, in which case collecting information on the perpetrators would not have been relevant.)

The entire segment concerning 9/11 was left out of the television broadcast of the interview, although some part of it was shown later during a discussion. This kind of omission is of course the sort of thing that feeds conspiracy theorists.

All of the above notwithstanding, I must make it clear that I have great admiration for the young Mr. Snowden, for what he did and for how he expresses himself. He may not be a radical, but he is a hero. His moral courage, nerve, composure, and technical genius are magnificent. I’m sure the NBC interview won him great respect and a large number of new supporters. I, in Edward’s place, would be even more hated by Americans than he is, even if I furthered the radicalization of more of them than he has. However, I of course would never have been invited onto mainstream American television for a long interview in prime time. (Not counting my solitary 15 minutes of fame in 2006 courtesy of Osama bin Laden; a gigantic fluke happening.)

Apropos Snowden’s courage and integrity, it appears that something very important has not been emphasized in media reports: In the interview, he took the Russian government to task for a new law requiring bloggers to register – the same government which holds his very fate in their hands.

Who is more exceptional: The United States or Russia?

I was going to write a commentary about President Obama’s speech to the graduating class at the US Military Academy (West Point) on May 28. When he speaks to a military audience the president is usually at his most nationalistic, jingoist, militaristic, and American-exceptionalist – wall-to-wall platitudes. But this talk was simply TOO nationalistic, jingoist, militaristic, and American-exceptionalist. (“I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being.”) To go through it line by line in order to make my usual wise-ass remarks, would have been just too painful. However, if you’re in a masochistic mood and wish to read it, it can be found here.

Instead I offer you part of a commentary from Mr. Jan Oberg, Danish director of the Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research in Lund, Sweden:

What is conspicuously lacking in the President’s West Point speech?

  1. Any reasonably accurate appraisal of the world and the role of other nations.
  2. A sense of humility and respect for allies and other countries in this world.
  3. Every element of a grand strategy for America for its foreign and security policy and some kind of vision of what a better world would look like. This speech with all its tired, self-aggrandising rhetoric is a thin cover-up for the fact that there is no such vision or overall strategy.
  4. Some little hint of reforms of existing institutions or new thinking about globalisation and global democratic decision-making.
  5. Ideas and initiatives – stretched-out hands – to help the world move towards conflict-resolution in crisis areas such as Ukraine, Syria, Libya, China-Japan and Iran. Not a trace of creativity.

Ironically, on May 30 the Wall Street Journal published a long essay by Leon Aron, a Russia scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute in Washington. The essay took Russian president Vladimir Putin to task for claiming that Russia is exceptional. The piece was headed:

“Why Putin Says Russia Is Exceptional”

“Such claims have often heralded aggression abroad and harsh crackdowns at home.”

It states: “To Mr. Putin, in short, Russia was exceptional because it was emphatically not like the modern West – or not, in any event, like his caricature of a corrupt, morally benighted Europe and U.S. This was a bad omen, presaging the foreign policy gambits against Ukraine that now have the whole world guessing about Mr. Putin’s intentions.”

So the Wall Street Journal has no difficulty in ascertaining that a particular world leader sees his country as “exceptional”. And that such a perception can lead that leader or his country to engage in aggression abroad and crackdowns at home. The particular world leader so harshly judged in this manner by the Wall Street Journal is named Vladimir Putin, not Barack Obama. There’s a word for this kind of analysis – It’s called hypocrisy.

“Hypocrisy is anything whatever may deceive the cleverest and most penetrating man, but the least wide-awake of children recognizes it, and is revolted by it, however ingeniously it may be disguised.” – Leo Nikolaevich Tolstoi, (1828-1910) Russian writer

Is hypocrisy a moral failing or a failing of the intellect?

The New Cold War is getting to look more and more like the old one, wherein neither side allows the other to get away with any propaganda point. Just compare any American television network to the Russian station broadcast in the United States – RT (formerly Russia Today). The contrast in coverage of the same news events is remarkable, and the stations attack and make fun of each other by name.

Another, even more important, feature to note is that in Cold War I the United States usually had to consider what the Soviet reaction would be to a planned American intervention in the Third World. This often served as a brake to one extent or another on Washington’s imperial adventures. Thus it was that only weeks after the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, the United States bombed and invaded Panama, inflicting thousands of casualties and widespread destruction, for the flimsiest – bordering on the non-existent – of reasons. 1 The hostile Russian reaction to Washington’s clear involvement in the overthrow of the Ukrainian government in February of this year, followed by Washington’s significant irritation and defensiveness toward the Russian reaction, indicates that this Cold War brake may have a chance of returning. And for this we should be grateful.

After the “communist threat” had disappeared and the foreign policy of the United States continued absolutely unchanged, it meant that the Cold War revisionists had been vindicated – the conflict had not been about containing an evil called “communism”; it had been about American expansion, imperialism and capitalism. If the collapse of the Soviet Union did not result in any reduction in the American military budget, but rather was followed by large increases, it meant that the Cold War – from Washington’s perspective – had not been motivated by a fear of the Russians, but purely by ideology.

Lest we forget: Our present leaders can derive inspiration from other great American leaders.

White House tape recordings, April 25, 1972:

President Nixon: How many did we kill in Laos?

National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger: In the Laotian thing, we killed about ten, fifteen [thousand] …

Nixon: See, the attack in the North [Vietnam] that we have in mind … power plants, whatever’s left – POL [petroleum], the docks … And, I still think we ought to take the dikes out now. Will that drown people?

Kissinger: About two hundred thousand people.

Nixon: No, no, no … I’d rather use the nuclear bomb. Have you got that, Henry?

Kissinger: That, I think, would just be too much.

Nixon: The nuclear bomb, does that bother you? … I just want you to think big, Henry, for Christsakes.

May 2, 1972:

Nixon: America is not defeated. We must not lose in Vietnam. … The surgical operation theory is all right, but I want that place bombed to smithereens. If we draw the sword, we’re gonna bomb those bastards all over the place. Let it fly, let it fly.

“Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business.” – Michael Ledeen, former Defense Department consultant and holder of the Freedom Chair at the American Enterprise Institute 2

Help needed from a computer expert

This has been driving me crazy for a very long time. My printer doesn’t print the document I ask it to print, but instead prints something totally unrelated. But what it prints is always something I’ve had some contact with, like an email I received or a document I read online, which I may or may not have saved on my hard drive, mostly not. It’s genuinely weird.

Now, before I print anything, I close all other windows in my word processor (Word Perfect/Windows 7); I go offline; I specify printing only the current page, no multiple page commands. Yet, the printer usually still finds some document online and prints it.

At one point I cleared out all the printer caches, and that helped for a short while, but then the problem came back though the caches were empty.

I spoke to the printer manufacturer, HP, and they said it can’t be the fault of the printer because the printer only prints what the computer tells it to print.

It must be the CIA or NSA. Help!

Notes

  1. William Blum, Killing Hope, chapter 50
  2. Jonah Goldberg, “Baghdad Delenda Est, Part Two”National Review, April 23, 2002
Feb 062013
 

 

DRINKING WITH MÉLENCHON

“O my God / am I here all alone?”

Iddhis Bing

Jean-Luc Mélenchon

Jean-Luc Mélenchon

I want to tell you a story. Yes, I know, 99GetSmart is not exactly a story teller’s site – although we could debate that – but I am going to tell it because it illumines a few dark corners that can not only bear the light, but that could be useful to those who are engaged in airing and publicizing what Ed Dorn once called Heavy Business in the White World, while attempting to aide those who are on the receiving end of the World’s Big Stick.

If I do that, I have to pass up the chance to talk about the untold juicy morsels that flew across the desk in the last few days, viz., in cash-strapped, austeritarian Spain, where the priest’s favorite altar boy, Mariano Rajoy, is in power, it has just now been discovered that party of which he is the head, the Partido Popular, keeps two set of organizational books, and in the second and more compelling one, they have parked 22 million Euros in a Swiss bank account. For what purpose? This seems to me worth investigating for any number of reasons (how it got out, the persons involved, how badly it will damage the PP, etc.) Maybe the Partido Popular is just planning ahead and when Austerity collapses, as it inevitably will, the upper echelons will flee to Switzerland and retire on their savings. Plus there is news from Greece, where Blackwater, the security firm close to the Bush mafia, will now be protecting the Greek parliament from the rabble.

But instead I am going to tell you a story, a bit of old news, because I think it reveals a little bit about the current state of things. It’s just too damn good to pass up.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon is a French politician, a long-time Socialist close to François Mitterand, who eventually split with the Socialist Party because he could not tolerate their drift towards the center, and formed the Front de Gauche. The F de G ran seriously for the first time in 2012’s presidential race and then in the legislative elections in June. Mélenchon ended up doing very poorly, scoring 11.4% of the vote (in contrast to Marine le Pen’s 17.3%) for a variety of reasons that if you try to explain it, becomes a kind of Rohrsach Test of your feelings about French politics: it was his first national campaign, the party was new, everyone was sick of Sarkozy so they coalesced around the one candidate who offended almost no one and had a chance to win, François Hollande, and who did. There are many other possibilities, none of which explain the dreaded Le Pen’s 17% share of the electorate.

You could argue that a large swath of the French electorate might say that Mélenchon, his quick verbal repartee and aggressive, unashamed leftwing take on issues appeals to them but they would never actually go into the voting booth and pull the lever for the man.

Now I read what Mélenchon writes and have published a translation of an interview with the man, and I find him smart, energetic, straight-on – even when, during the course of an interview it looks like his eyes are about to pop out of his head. Does he wake up angry in the morning? Is that a problem for you? Maybe we need a few more angry people around. The man engages with individuals when he meets them, he is committed to social revolution (yes, he dares to use the word from time to time), and he has provided the best ongoing criticism of Hollande’s presidency over the last six months. The French elect a monarch and give him five years to prove he deserves the kingdom. If not, off with his head. Mélenchon keeps the blade sharp.

OK, since I am not a Protestant and believe neither in purity of motive nor even in the desirability of a pure outcome, I find the following story vastly instructive and even infuriating – but not for the reasons you think. Revealing, certainly, because it tells us a little bit about our current politicians and about us.

It’s a true story, I have it direct from the horse’s mouth, that is to say, one of the participants – the man who found himself with Melénchon’s hands aimed at his throat. The story had a little play in the French press but never a whisper of it among the English speakers so, you read it here first. The photojournalist is Guillaume Binet and the journalist who accompanied him is Marion Mourgue. The story is old and it’s still good.

My friend works in politics, knows Mélenchon, has photographed and spoken with him on several occasions. And he also knows that Mélenchon had, in 2010, characterized the UMP politico and then-Minister of the Interior Brice Hortefeux in the following words: “C’est sa tête qui est un terrain vague, à cet homme-là. Il n’y a rien dedans: des mauvaises herbes, des pensées névrosées, la peur de l’étranger, la haine de tout le monde. Pour dire autant de bêtises et s’y prendre aussi mal.”

To wit: “The man’s head is a vacant lot. There’s nothing inside it except weeds, neurotic thoughts, fear of foreigners, hatred for everyone. Just talking about it is bad for you.”

Strasbourg. The European Parliament building, the 26th of October. 1:30 in the afternoon, after a vote on the budget. Binet is passing through with Mourgue and in crossing the ground floor, takes a short cut through the bar.

And there at the bar, sharing a glass of champagne with none other than Brice Hortefeux on a beautiful autumn day in Strasbourg, is Jean-Luc Mélenchon. The only customers at that hour.

Binet walks on. He does not take out his camera, he does not play the paparazzi, he does not do anything more than gently poke his friend in the ribs with his elbow.

This is an interesting scene. From my own, limited point of view, I’m not sure I want politicians to talk to each other. Every time they communicate it’s a conspiracy against the people. Maybe they should be kept in isolation, or some sort of public pillory. Of course, I also believe in the moderate application of the guillotine for pols. (Every other week?) But there’s no law against talking.

And what happens next? Mélenchon charges my friend, who let it be observed, enjoys a rather strong height advantage over Jean-Luc, as well being twenty years younger. But – ah, champagne, the great equalizer. Mélenchon decides to go for broke and screaming that he knows this piece of shit journalist is going to make a story out of the fact that he, the one and only Jean-Luc Mélenchon, is drinking with a prominent right wing pol in the Parliament bar. He charges Binet, yelling “Mais racontez-le donc, hein ! Jean-Luc Mélenchon et Brice Hortefeux qui discutent ensemble, ah ça vous plaît, hein, ça vous amuse !” (“Go ahead and tell the story, so what! Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Brice Hortefeux talking together, you really like it, ha! You think it’s amusing!”) Clearly, Mélenchon shares my opinion of what happens when politicians get together for a chat.

He gets his hands up around my friend’s neck and maybe he starts to squeeze but Mr. Vacant Lot Hortefeux comes to the rescue and slipping his arms around Mélenchon, pulls him off. Upshot? A brief media flurry and for the next several months Mélenchon regards the photo-journalist – who did not do his job, that is to say, took no photos before, during or after, they did not tweet the incident – with a withering contempt and a refusal to talk.

A rich scene, no? Maybe not Shakespeare but still compelling. In a perverse way I admire Mélenchon for being so explicit about his relation to the press, for making the point irrefutably clear that the press and the politicians have completely different interests. If M. makes it to the Palais Elysée one day, maybe he’ll put a boxing ring in the back yard.

I told this story last night to a mixed crowd of French and Americans and the response was, stupefaction on the part of the Americans, who hardly know who Mélenchon is and disbelief on the part of the French – that takes some doing. A few denied that it was even possible. “Never! Mélenchon hates Hortefuex, he would never drink champagne with him….!” Hence, this scene, which can be viewed from so many angles, becomes the Rohrsach test mentioned earlier.

I want to argue that this incident, based on your knowledge of Melénchon and your partiality or aversion to left-wing politics, reveals your regard for politicians as a class.

Because that is what they are – a class with a specific function. In the U.S. it is obligatory to believe in a politician, to believe that this or that self-motivated hustler is going to fix things. He is going to change things – even when it is obvious that the politician, as a member of a class, has absolutely no interest in the vague wave of change that he constantly alludes to in his speeches. His goal, if he has one, is to readjust the status quo ever so slightly in favor of his pals. But that doesn’t stop large numbers of people from falling in love with a politician, and the true believer stays in love after all evidence of infidelity is in. One stays in love with a politician after they have betrayed – by necessity – everything they said to get elected, and go on betraying until their last day in office. (I can’t help but remember Clinton’s pardon of Marc Rich on his very last day as president. But that boyo offers such rich, copious evidence of betrayal, one hardly knows where to begin.) Reagan, Clinton, Obama – recent American history offers such splendid examples of betrayal. The great advantage possessed by the Bush dynasty is that they never betrayed anyone – they simply and brazenly acted on the interests of their monied class, and never apologized for it.

This is the moment when you, dear reader, leap out of your chair and accuse me of being a cynic. Maybe you even hurl your glass at me – because I have dared to tell you that most love is not love, and in any case, the mere act of believing in a politician of whatever stripe is tantamount to asking to be betrayed.  Don’t worry, you’re in good company. Most journalists make the same mistake, and are, in effect, in one camp or another. Melénchon knew this – he simply chose the wrong target, and made an enemy when he didn’t have to. Which may help explain his 11.4% of the vote.

Politicians occupy a very small portion of the political bandwidth, and the untiring obsession with what they are doing or saying obscures a simple fact: their power derives, not wholly but substantially, from the people from whom they stole it. If people really and truly stopped waiting for politicians to deliver a fraction of what they say they will… the jig would be up. The obsession with politicians makes it endlessly easy for us to avoid looking closely at what the people are doing and making a critique of that. It is the blind trance of our love affair, the demise of a republic.

Meanwhile, Greece, whose government is as close to a protection racket as can be imagined, has just announced a deal with the notorious American firm Blackwater, to provide “security” – from the people. Drones will in all likelihood be patrolling the skies over the Parthenon very soon. But if the Greeks stopped paying attention to their governors, if they stopped waiting to see how Syriza does in the next election, if they decided to take back a bit of the power they have so recklessly given away… ?

None of which should be construed as that lowly seconal, advice, to the Greek people but taken for exactly what it is: the description of a predicament. Criticism never solves anything. It isn’t meant to. It’s meant to break the silence about an intolerable situation. That’s enough, but it will have a tough time with Americans, who want instant solutions to intractable problems. And meanwhile half of Paris dreams of living in New York and the world pines for American solutions that after 200 years have yet to arrive.

The politicians have their hands around all of our throats, while we, ever patient, persist in believing that this is their tortured form of love, and if we just wait awhile, they will come to their senses and set things aright. Who is the cynic in this equation?

Iddhis Bing