Archive for December, 2014
As we enter a new year, the United States is still entangled in Afghanistan, and as far from accomplishing any positive objectives as it always was.
President Obama’s declaration that the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan is over is as hollow as President George W. Bush’s declaration of “mission accomplished” in Iraq.
My guess is that President Obama is in the same situation as President Richard M. Nixon in regard to Vietnam. Nixon and Henry Kissinger realized the war was not winnable, but were unwilling to be the ones who admitted defeat. So the war went on.
As Lt. John Kerry said back then, “How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?”
Hat tip for the following links to Iraq Veterans Against the War and my e-mail pen pal Bill Harvey.
U.S. formally ends war in Afghanistan by Lynne O’Donnell for the Associated Press.
Signed agreement locks in ten more years of Afghan war by Sarah Lazare for Common Dreams.
1,000 paratroopers to deploy to Iraq by Michelle Tan in Army Times.
Police in New York City are conducting a job action by only enforcing the law when strictly necessary. They’ll ignore minor traffic violations, public drinking and drug possession by people not bothering anybody else. That is to say, they’ll do exactly what their critics want them to do.
Ironically, if they had been conducting such an action several months ago, Eric Garner would still be alive and there would be no showdown between the Police Benevolent Association and Mayor De Blasio.
A labor union job action, for those who’ve never been a union member, consists of “working to rule”—doing exactly what the job requires, no more and no less, without exercise of any judgment.
Years ago police job actions consisted of enforcing every law, no matter how trivial, without exercising any discretion. But what once was a form of harassment is now standard procedure in the poor neighborhoods of New York and many other cities.
I think New York City’s current police job action is a worthwhile, even if unintentional, social experiment. It will be interesting to see the results of minimum rather than maximum policing.
Hat tip to The Banality of Blue by B Psycho on Psychopolitik.
In his new book, PAY ANY PRICE: Greed, Power and Endless War, which I finished reading last week, James Risen revealed the mass of corruption, waste, incompetence and failure hidden behind the wall of secrecy around the CIA and the rest of the Homeland Security state.
The CIA and other secret agencies after 9/11 acquired enormous new powers of surveillance and control of ordinary American citizens. But this only worked in one direction. Ordinary American citizens had no knowledge of how their money was being wasted nor any way to hold culprits accountable.
The decision-makers did not have a plan in place to wage a “war on terror,” but they plunged ahead anyway.
The imperatives of government bureaucracy are such that if you have money and resources, you had better use them, usefully or not, or else some other government bureaucracy will claim them. Much of policy was shaped by the struggle for power and prestige.
One reason the CIA embraced torture was to expand its role in the war on terror. One reason the American Psychological Association changed its ethics code to allow cooperation with CIA interrogators was to improve the standing of psychologists at the expense of psychiatrists.
Two psychologists, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, who had been trainers for the Air Force on how to withstand torture if taken prisoner, received millions of dollars in grants to reverse engineer the program for CIA interrogators.
The problem, as is now well known, is that the training program was based on Communists techniques intended to elicit false confessions. It generated false statements about Saddam Hussein to justify the Iraq invasion, but, as the Senate torture report confirmed, it never produced useful information. I find it hard to believe that torture never produced any useful information, but multiple sources, not just Risen, say this is so.
While the CIA attempted to duplicate the mission of Special Operations troops, the Pentagon set up an intelligence operation to compete with the CIA. The Pentagon set up dummy corporations which became entangled with money launderers and arms smugglers in the Middle East.
The program was terminated, and Special Operations spokesman denied knowledge of the dummy corporations. An FBI investigation was begun and then called off. Risen uncovered many suspicious associations but no proof of wrongdoing. Probably nobody except those directly involved will know for sure.
Kellogg Brown Root, originally a Halliburton subsidiary, is a prime example of profiteering in Iraq. KBR was given a no-bid contract to supply troops in Iraq, a job which otherwise would have to be done by troops. This helped make it possible for the USA to go to war without a draft. But there was no oversight, either of quality or waste of money. Some 18 American troops died of electrocution blamed by faulty wiring installed by KBR.
Calling attention to problems through regular channels didn’t help. Risen told of loyal employees within the government who reported lawbreaking, graft and waste to higher authority, all going through proper channels, and were sidetracked and reprimanded for their pains.
There are individuals who have much to answer for, but the corruption that Risen described is systemic. It is the predictable result of what happens if you give people enormous authority and funding to use in secret, without meaningful accountability from above and without being subject to the law and Constitution.
The only people suffering legal consequences are the truth-tellers. Risen himself is being prosecuted by the government for refusing to reveal his sources of information for his previous book, State of War. His response, he wrote, is to go on writing.
The Government War Against Reporter James Risen by Norman Solomon and Marcy Wheeler for The Nation. [Added 12/30/14]
They seem never to have paused to consider what has value for them. They spend great effort and sometimes make great sacrifices for values that, fundamentally, meet no real needs of their own….
Not to arrive at a clear understanding of one’s own values is a tragic waste. You have missed the whole point of what life is for.
Jackie Chan is one of the most entertaining performers in movies today and one of the hardest working.
I think Fox News over the year has done more to stir up racial conflict than peaceful protesters ever have.
Americans are increasingly disillusioned with both Democrats and Republicans. That’s why only 36 percent of registered voters cast ballots this year—a drop of 22 percentage points from 2012.
The national turnout was the lowest in 70 years in spite of the fact that more money was spent in the campaign than in any off-year election in American history.
They explained in an article on Alternet how neither Democrats nor Republicans can represent the interests of working Americans because they are financed a tiny elite of wealth, and Americans are starting to catch on to this.
The Democrats rely instead on appeals to cultural liberalism, the grievances of women and minorities and memories of the New Deal. The Republicans rely on appeals to cultural conservatism and prejudice, a big turnout of upper-income voters and hindrances to voting by lower-income voters.
But neither party has a convincing program for dealing with globalization, financialization, de-industrialization and the erosion of good jobs.
Average Americans may not understand the subtleties of economic policy, but they understand what is happening to them. As John Dewey once wrote, you don’t have to be a shoemaker to know your shoes are a bad fit.
Burnham and Ferguson didn’t speculate as to what will happen if this goes on indefinitely. My own opinion is that the USA will experience an upheaval worse than the labor violence of the 1890s and 1930s.
The militarization of American police and NSA surveillance of ordinary Americans then will be used by government in league with corporations to protect the social order from the masses.
Radical change would not necessarily be change for the better. If there is a public uprising, it is likely to be led by someone like Huey Long or Joe McCarthy as by a great statesman. But I don’t see how things can go on as they are.
Here are key paragraphs of Burnham’s and Ferguson’s article.
Ground was broken officially yesterday for a Chinese-financed canal across Nicaragua which, if completed, would be longer, deeper and wider than the Panama Canal.
The $50 billion project is to be financed by a Hong Kong company, the Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Group, which is controlled by a Chinese billionaire named Wang Jing.
The groundbreaking was mainly symbolic. Engineering designs are scheduled to be submitted early next year and excavation to begin late next year. Completion is scheduled for 2019 or 2020.
Whether the project actually will be built is uncertain. There’s doubt as to whether Wang Jing, who is said to have made his fortune in telecommunications, is capable of financing and completing the project, and whether the Chinese government secretly stands behind him.
Many grass-roots Nicaraguans oppose the project, because it threatens Lake Nicaragua, the nation’s chief source of fresh water, and because it means taking the property of small farmers by eminent domain.
But if it is built, it would give China an important strategic foothold in the Western Hemisphere.
The United States spent more than $800 billion invading Iraq because of weapons of mass destruction that weren’t there and ties to Al Qaeda that didn’t exist. China’s financing of construction projects is a much more cost-effective way of projecting its power.
A Chinese Man, a $50 Billion Plan and a Canal to Reshape Nicaragua by Carrie Kahn for National Public Radio.
Nicaragua’s Rival to Panama Canal Set to Start Dec. 22 by Michael McDonald for Bloomberg News.
Nicaragua launches construction of inter-ocean canal by BBC News.
Nicaragua breaks ground on canal project by Al Jazeera.
China represents an economic challenge to American world power. The USA is trying to meet that challenge with a military response. It won’t work.
The United States builds military bases and deploys troops all over the world, while allowing public infrastructure and public services to decline. China is investing in its manufacturing industry, building infrastructure and expanding its trade to all corners of the world.
Pepe Escobar reported that China now has trains that deliver containerized freight from its Pacific Coast to Madrid. China plans a network of highways, railroad and oil and gas pipelines that will give it access to all of the interior of Asia and bring to the threshold of Europe and the Middle East.
American spending for military and covert operations drains our national strength. Chinese spending for construction builds up its national strength.
China has displaced the United States as the world’s largest economy. It has replaced the United States as the largest trading partner of Australia, India, many countries of Africa and Brazil, Chile and Venezuela. America.
The U.S. government tries to enforce its will on other countries by means of our military and economic clout. The Chinese government tries to win the friendship of other countries by means of construction projects, increased trade and befriending nations alienated from the USA.
The U.S. government is unequaled in history in its power to spread death and destruction. The Chinese government cannot and does not compete on that level. Instead it leverages its power to build—a power we Americans could duplicate if we so desired.
It is a grave mistake to put President Vladimir Putin or the leader of any nation with nuclear weapons into a situation in which they think they have nothing to lose.
I wrote a post Wednesday on the danger of nuclear war with Russia. Pepe Escobar pointed out that Russia has other means of Mutually Assured Destruction.
One would be to default on Russia’s debts, or even suspend payment on the debts, pending the end of the current emergency. This would threaten major banks in Western Europe that have extended credit to Russia.
Either of these things would hurt Russia as much as it hurts Russia’s enemies. Russia needs credit, and Russia needs foreign markets.
But if the country has been brought to the brink of collapse anyway, then its leaders have nothing left to lose by striking back.
Source: Business Insider.
I love charts and maps as a way of conveying information, but they’re no better than the sources of the underlying information. I think this chart, the chart in the previous post and almost any chart showing a trend running for a century or more are necessarily based on a certain amount of educated guesswork and a certain amount of comparisons of apples and oranges.
So please take the information in the charts I post not as certain facts, but as intelligent opinion.
That said, I think the chart above shows the progress that Russia has made in building itself into a strong nation, and the resiliency of the Russian people. Russians have gone through a lot worse than they’re going through now, and survived as a nation.
Source: Business Insider.
This chart, made by Goldman Sachs and reprinted by Business Insider, which I found on a Naked Capitalism link, shows the rise and fall and rise and (very probably) the impending fall of the price of oil on world markets.
It’s partly an example of the law of supply and demand in action. When the price of something goes up, people use less of it, look for ways to produce more of it, and invent substitutes for it, and eventually that brings the price back down again.
But I think it shows something else, and that is the end of easy-to-get oil. Hydraulic fracturing, deep water ocean drilling and Arctic drilling will increase the supply of oil over time, but oil will never be available as easily or as cheaply as from the historic oil fields in Texas and the Persian Gulf.
I don’t think oil will ever again be as cheap as it was during the years from 1880 to 1970—at least not for long. And that’s probably a good thing in the long run. So long as oil and other fossil fuels are cheap, we’ll keep on making new greenhouse gasses and burn up the planet.
Les Baugh of Colorado, who lost both his arms in an industrial accident more than 40 years ago, is able to control two prosthetic arms with his mind, and use them just like flesh-and-blood arms, thanks to technology developed by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. This is just the beginning of a new kind of great medical advances.
(Hat tip to Jack Clontz)
Matt Taibbi, who reports on Wall Street for the Rolling Stone, once lived in Moscow and wrote for an uninhibited English-language magazine called The eXile. A reader asked him for a Venn diagram comparing and contrasting the USA and Russia, and the chart abovew is what he came up with.
He also had this to say.
Back when I lived in Russia, I knew lots of reporters who really did risk their lives and had enemies who really did violently attempt to silence them.
I had one Russian reporter friend who wrote something about a bank connected to one of Yeltsin’s advisers, and two days later a thug in a ski mask literally jumped through his bedroom window and bopped him over the head with a crowbar.
I vaguely knew people like Anna Politkovskaya and Yuri Sheckochikhin, famed reporters who were literally murdered because of their work.
Even I had to skip Moscow once, after a certain mob-connected pimp had a bit of a sense of humor failure about a thing we’d published in the eXile.
But in America, nobody needs to silence journalists, particularly if you’re talking about just one journalist, and more particularly if it’s just one print journalist.
Ignoring such people is easier and way more effective. You just let the reporter throw whatever hissy-fit he/she has decided to throw, and five seconds later the main audience will be back porn-surfing and watching football and “Wives With Knives” and so on.
The notion of the dangerous dissident who so threatens the corrupt state that he or she must be physically eliminated is unfortunately an old-fashioned fantasy that no longer fits our sophisticated dystopia. Or anyway, even if such a person did exist, it would be someone with better sources than me.
Since stepping down as Governor of Florida in 2007, Jeb Bush has been working hard at getting richer.
His financial activities and ties make him a good candidate from the point of view of Wall Street, but may be a drawback from the standpoint of the general public.
Before he became Governor of Florida in 1999, he was a successful real estate developer. After eight years in office, he felt poor because his net worth had dwindled from $2 million to $1.3 million.
To rebuild his fortune, he joined corporate boards, advised corporate clients and, like Hillary Clinton, gave speeches at corporate events for lucrative fees.
Business Week reported that he started a holding company, Britton Hill Holdings, which has launched three investment funds, BH Global Aviation ($61 million), which is incorporated in Wales and supported largely by overseas investors; BH Logistics ($26 million), which is backed by a Chinese conglomerate; and a fund for investing in shale gas ($40 million). No doubt the Bush name gave him credibility with foreign investors.
Jeb Bush is no Mitt Romney. He hangs out with mere millionaires instead of billionaires. He is an entrepreneur, not a takeover specialist. He doesn’t have a record of aquiring existing companies and laying people off.
On the other hand he is part of the same world as Romney and Clinton. He was an adviser to Lehman Brothers on the verge of its collapse, and tried, unsuccessfully, to get Carlos Slim, the Mexican billionaire, to rescue Lehman. He was an adviser to Barclay’s bank (a position he resigned today), which was involved in interest rate rigging and other scandals.
He was on the board of two corporations that went bankrupt and the CEO of one of them was indicted for fraud.
With all of this, based on information from the articles linked below, I don’t see that he did anything illegal or unethical. The Republicans could do worse.
If Republicans nominate Jeb Bush for President, and Democrats nominate Hillary Clinton, it would be the best of both worlds for Wall Street.
I wouldn’t vote for him myself. He represents the upper 1 percent, and the country needs somebody who speaks for the 99 percent.
Jeb Bush Has a Mitt Romney Problem by Joshua Green for Bloomberg Politics.
Jeb Bush: The Forrest Gump of Financial Improprieties? by Yves Smith of Naked Capitalism.
Jeb Bush Was Only a Millionaire When He Left Office, But He Wanted to Be Rich by Philip Bump for The Atlantic Wire.
Jeb Bush’s wealth-building strategy could be problematic in 2016 White House bid by Phil Ammann for SaintPetersBlog.
Wall Street Republicans’ dark secret: Hillary Clinton in 2016 by Ben White and Maggie Haberman for Politico. Wall Street prefers Jeb Bush, but wouldn’t mind Hillary Clinton.
Tea Partiers Are Right: Jeb Bush Is a RINO by Matt Taibbi for Rolling Stone.