Saturday, December 17, 2011

Beware the False Flag!

(As the build-up for a war with Iran continues and US Troops withdraw from the pointless war in Iraq, let us look at another past effort that was fabricated to enter the nation into war. The Gulf of Tonkin incident propelled the US into the Viet Nam War. Declassified NSA documents revealed what most have suspected for the past 45 years--the Gulf of Tonkin incident was a false flag attack, devised to gain support for going to war in Viet Nam.--jef)

NSA Documents proved the Gulf of Tonkin Incident was Faked; There was No Second Attack on US Ships

Washington, D.C., 1 December 2005 - The largest U.S. intelligence agency, the National Security Agency, today declassified over 140 formerly top secret documents -- histories, chronologies, signals intelligence [SIGINT] reports, and oral history interviews -- on the August 1964 Gulf of Tonkin incident. Included in the release is a controversial article by Agency historian Robert J. Hanyok on SIGINT and the Tonkin Gulf which confirms what historians have long argued: that there was no second attack on U.S. ships in Tonkin on August 4, 1964. According to National Security Archive research fellow John Prados, "the American people have long deserved to know the full truth about the Gulf of Tonkin incident.

The National Security Agency is to be commended for releasing this piece of the puzzle.

The parallels between the faulty intelligence on Tonkin Gulf and the manipulated intelligence used to justify the Iraq War make it all the more worthwhile to re-examine the events of August 1964 in light of new evidence." Last year, Prados edited a National Security Archive briefing book which published for the first time some of the key intercepts from the Gulf of Tonkin crisis.

The National Security Agency has long resisted the declassification of material on the Gulf of Tonkin incident, despite efforts by Senate Foreign Relations Committee staffer Carl Marcy (who had prepared a staff study on the August 4 incident); former Deputy Director Louis Tordella, and John Prados to push for declassification of key documents. Today's release is largely due to the perseverance of FOIA requester Matthew M. Aid, who requested the Hanyok study in April 2004 and brought the issue to the attention of The New York Times when he learned that senior National Security Agency officials were trying to block release of the documents. New York Times reporter Scott Shane wrote that higher-level officials at the NSA were "fearful that [declassification] might prompt uncomfortable comparisons with the flawed intelligence used to justify the war in Iraq." The glaring light of publicity encouraged the Agency's leaders finally to approve declassification of the documents.

Hanyok's article, "Skunks, Bogies, Silent Hounds, and the Flying Fish: The Gulf of Tonkin Mystery, 2-4 August 1964," originally published in the National Security Agency's classified journal Cryptologic Quarterly in early 2001, provides a comprehensive SIGINT-based account "of what happened in the Gulf of Tonkin." Using this evidence, Hanyok argues that the SIGINT confirms that North Vietnamese torpedo boats attacked a U.S. destroyer, the USS Maddox, on August 2, 1964, although under questionable circumstances. The SIGINT also shows, according to Hanyok, that a second attack, on August 4, 1964, by North Vietnamese torpedo boats on U.S. ships, did not occur despite claims to the contrary by the Johnson administration. President Johnson and Secretary of Defense McNamara treated Agency SIGINT reports as vital evidence of a second attack and used this claim to support retaliatory air strikes and to buttress the administration's request for a Congressional resolution that would give the White House freedom of action in Vietnam.

Hanyok further argues that Agency officials had "mishandled" SIGINT concerning the events of August 4 and provided top level officials with "skewed" intelligence supporting claims of an August 4 attack. "The overwhelming body of reports, if used, would have told the story that no attack occurred." Key pieces of evidence are missing from the Agency's archives, such as the original decrypted Vietnamese text of a document that played an important role in the White House's case. Hanyok has not found a "smoking gun" to demonstrate a cover-up but believes that the evidence suggests "an active effort to make SIGINT fit the claim of what happened during the evening of 4 August in the Gulf of Tonkin."

Senior officials at the Agency, the Pentagon, and the White House were none the wiser about the gaps in the intelligence. Hanyok's conclusions have sparked controversy among old Agency hands but his research confirms the insight of journalist I.F. Stone, who questioned the second attack only weeks after the events. Hanyok's article is part of a larger study on the National Security Agency and the Vietnam War, "Spartans in Darkness," which is the subject of a pending FOIA request by the National Security Archive.

TIME Magazine's Person of the Year: The Protester

(OMG, I've never been a person of the year, before!--jef)

Naturally this has the right wingers over at Fox terribly upset with everyone from the crew at Fox & Friends, to Megyn Kelly and her guest Chris Plante and Eric Bolling during their show that filled Glenn Beck's former time slot, The Five going on the attack and using the opportunity to call the protesters every name in the book.

It was nice seeing Jesse LaGreca (on the Ed Schultz Show on MSNBC) have another opportunity to push back against the media narrative we've seen from the likes of Fox and their protection of the richest among us and to weigh in on what he thought the exposure from Time Magazine might mean for the movement and how they've managed to change the narrative in the country for the most part where income disparity is now a part of our national conversation. ~ Crooks & Liars


The Protester
Wednesday, Dec. 14, 2011

Once upon a time, when major news events were chronicled strictly by professionals and printed on paper or transmitted through the air by the few for the masses, protesters were prime makers of history. Back then, when citizen multitudes took to the streets without weapons to declare themselves opposed, it was the very definition of news — vivid, important, often consequential. In the 1960s in America they marched for civil rights and against the Vietnam War; in the '70s, they rose up in Iran and Portugal; in the '80s, they spoke out against nuclear weapons in the U.S. and Europe, against Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, against communist tyranny in Tiananmen Square and Eastern Europe. Protest was the natural continuation of politics by other means.

And then came the End of History, summed up by Francis Fukuyama's influential 1989 essay declaring that mankind had arrived at the "end point of ... ideological evolution" in globally triumphant "Western liberalism." The two decades beginning in 1991 witnessed the greatest rise in living standards that the world has ever known. Credit was easy, complacency and apathy were rife, and street protests looked like pointless emotional sideshows — obsolete, quaint, the equivalent of cavalry to mid-20th-century war. The rare large demonstrations in the rich world seemed ineffectual and irrelevant.

There were a few exceptions, like the protests that, along with sanctions, helped end apartheid in South Africa in 1994. But for young people, radical critiques and protests against the system were mostly confined to pop-culture fantasy: Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" was a song on a platinum-selling album, Rage Against the Machine was a platinum-selling band, and the beloved brave rebels fighting the all-encompassing global oppressors were just a bunch of characters in The Matrix.

"Massive and effective street protest" was a global oxymoron until — suddenly, shockingly — starting exactly a year ago, it became the defining trope of our times. And the protester once again became a maker of history.

Prelude to the Revolutions

It began in Tunisia, where the dictator's power grabbing and high living crossed a line of shamelessness, and a commonplace bit of government callousness against an ordinary citizen — a 26-year-old street vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi — became the final straw. Bouazizi lived in the charmless Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid, 125 miles south of Tunis. On a Friday morning almost exactly a year ago, he set out for work, selling produce from a cart. Police had hassled Bouazizi routinely for years, his family says, fining him, making him jump through bureaucratic hoops. On Dec. 17, 2010, a cop started giving him grief yet again. She confiscated his scale and allegedly slapped him. He walked straight to the provincial-capital building to complain and got no response. At the gate, he drenched himself in paint thinner and lit a match.

"My son set himself on fire for dignity," Mannoubia Bouazizi told me when I visited her.

"In Tunisia," added her 16-year-old daughter Basma, "dignity is more important than bread."

In Egypt the incitements were a preposterously fraudulent 2010 national election and, as in Tunisia, a not uncommon act of unforgivable brutality by security agents. In the U.S., three acute and overlapping money crises — tanked economy, systemic financial recklessness, gigantic public debt — along with ongoing revelations of double dealing by banks, new state laws making certain public-employee-union demands illegal and the refusal of Congress to consider even slightly higher taxes on the very highest incomes mobilized Occupy Wall Street and its millions of supporters. In Russia it was the realization that another six (or 12) years of Vladimir Putin might not lead to greater prosperity and democratic normality.

In Sidi Bouzid and Tunis, in Alexandria and Cairo; in Arab cities and towns across the 6,000 miles from the Persian Gulf to the Atlantic Ocean; in Madrid and Athens and London and Tel Aviv; in Mexico and India and Chile, where citizens mobilized against crime and corruption; in New York and Moscow and dozens of other U.S. and Russian cities, the loathing and anger at governments and their cronies became uncontainable and fed on itself.

The stakes are very different in different places. In North America and most of Europe, there are no dictators, and dissidents don't get tortured. Any day that Tunisians, Egyptians or Syrians occupy streets and squares, they know that some of them might be beaten or shot, not just pepper-sprayed or flex-cuffed. The protesters in the Middle East and North Africa are literally dying to get political systems that roughly resemble the ones that seem intolerably undemocratic to protesters in Madrid, Athens, London and New York City. "I think other parts of the world," says Frank Castro, 53, a Teamster who drives a cement mixer for a living and helped occupy Oakland, Calif., "have more balls than we do."

In Egypt and Tunisia, I talked with revolutionaries who were M.B.A.s, physicians and filmmakers as well as the young daughters of a provincial olive picker and a supergeeky 29-year-old Muslim Brotherhood member carrying a Tigger notebook. The Occupy movement in the U.S. was set in motion by a couple of magazine editors — a 69-year-old Canadian, a 29-year-old African American — and a 50-year-old anthropologist, but airline pilots and grandmas and shop clerks and dishwashers have been part of the throngs.

It's remarkable how much the protest vanguards share. Everywhere they are disproportionately young, middle class and educated. Almost all the protests this year began as independent affairs, without much encouragement from or endorsement by existing political parties or opposition bigwigs. All over the world, the protesters of 2011 share a belief that their countries' political systems and economies have grown dysfunctional and corrupt — sham democracies rigged to favor the rich and powerful and prevent significant change. They are fervent small-d democrats. Two decades after the final failure and abandonment of communism, they believe they're experiencing the failure of hell-bent megascaled crony hypercapitalism and pine for some third way, a new social contract.

During the bubble years, perhaps, there was enough money trickling down to keep them happyish, but now the unending financial crisis and economic stagnation make them feel like suckers. This year, instead of plugging in the headphones, entering an Internet-induced fugue state and quietly giving in to hopelessness, they used the Internet to find one another and take to the streets to insist on fairness and (in the Arab world) freedom.

All over the world they are criticized by old-schoolers for lacking prefab ideological consistency, which the protesters in turn see as a feature rather than a bug. Miral Brinjy, a 27-year-old blogger and TV-news producer who grew up in Saudi Arabia and arrived in Tahrir Square on the first day of protests 11 months ago, doesn't presume to have a precise picture of the new Egyptian government and society she envisions, but as she told me in Cairo last month, "I know what I don't want."

In each place, discontent that had been simmering for years got turned up to a boil. There were foreshadowings. In the U.S., the Obama campaign was in part a feel-good protest movement that galvanized young people, and then its shocking success and the Wall Street bailout produced an angry and shockingly successful populist protest movement in the Tea Party, which has far outlasted its expected shelf life. In 2009, after the regime in Tehran denied the antiregime election results, millions of Iranians, especially young ones, protested for weeks. The Web and social media were key tactical tools in all three instances. But they seemed at the time to be one-offs, not prefaces to an epochal turn of history's wheel.

The Iranian regime's suppression of the Green Revolution must have reassured the dictators and monarchs in the Arab Middle East and North Africa and, you'd think, dispirited would-be democratic freedom fighters in those countries. The global spread of liberty hit a plateau a dozen years earlier, according to the international monitoring organization Freedom House. And the Middle East and North Africa remained the world's tyranny belt: at the end of 2010, Freedom House declared three-fourths of the Arab countries "not free" — including Tunisia and Egypt. In Arab countries, the prosperity of the past decade — Egypt's economy grew by 5% and more, even during the recession — was not widely shared; rising expectations that go unfulfilled are sociology's classic explanation for protest. For a critical mass of people from Cairo to Madrid to Oakland, prospects for personal success — for the good life at the End of History that they'd been promised — suddenly looked very grim. They were fed up, and the frustration and anger exploded after the regimes overreached.

In short, 2011 was unlike any year since 1989 — but more extraordinary, more global, more democratic, since in '89 the regime disintegrations were all the result of a single disintegration at headquarters, one big switch pulled in Moscow that cut off the power throughout the system. So 2011 was unlike any year since 1968 — but more consequential because more protesters have more skin in the game. Their protests weren't part of a countercultural pageant, as in '68, and rapidly morphed into full-fledged rebellions, bringing down regimes and immediately changing the course of history. It was, in other words, unlike anything in any of our lifetimes, probably unlike any year since 1848, when one street protest in Paris blossomed into a three-day revolution that turned a monarchy into a republican democracy and then — within weeks, thanks in part to new technologies (telegraphy, railroads, rotary printing presses) — inspired an unstoppable cascade of protest and insurrection in Munich, Berlin, Vienna, Milan, Venice and dozens of other places across Europe, as well as a huge peaceful demonstration of democratic solidarity in New York that marched down Broadway and occupied a public park a few blocks north of Wall Street. How perfect that the German word Zeitgeist was transplanted into English in that unprecedented, uncanny year of insurrection.

During the battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954, just as the French colonialists were about to lose to the communist revolutionaries and leave Indochina, President Dwight Eisenhower held a news conference. "You have a row of dominoes set up," he said, positing Vietnam as the domino between fallen China and North Korea and the rest of Asia. "You knock over the first one, and what will happen to the last one is the certainty that it will go over very quickly." But in 1975, after the communists won in Vietnam and Cambodia, no other countries followed, and the domino theory of contagious national-liberation movements was discredited forever.

Forever, until now. This is how the dominoes fell in 2011 — and these are some of the people who pushed them.

The Year of Protests

The fire didn't kill Mohamed Bouazizi right away. Passersby doused the flames and took him to the hospital. He was still alive, barely.

That afternoon, other produce sellers and townspeople joined the Bouazizis in protest outside the governorate. A cousin posted a video of the demonstration. Word spread thanks to al-Jazeera and the Internet — a third of all Tunisians use the Internet, and three-quarters of those have Facebook accounts — inspiring protests in other towns and cities. After Bouazizi died on Jan. 4, the protests reached a critical mass, and more than a dozen protesters around the country were killed by police. "I'd watch TV," Basma Bouazizi told me, "and say, 'God, the Tunisian people have woken up!' "

Spontaneous protests? In 2011? In an Arab police state? Heroic, hopeless, doomed. Three weeks in, the nearly universal presumption about the protests' implications was summed up in the Economist's first report: "Tunisia's troubles are unlikely to unseat the 74-year-old president or even to jolt his model of autocracy."

Lina Ben Mhenni, 28, a linguistics teacher at Tunis University, had been blogging for a few years about Tunisian censorship and election rigging under the name "A Tunisian Girl." She went to the town of Regueb, 25 miles from Sidi Bouzid, to photograph a young protester who had been shot dead and uploaded the image. "On that day I lost my fear completely," she says. "I was ready for anything, even death." By the end of the week, she was back in Tunis, protesting outside the old white stucco casbah that served as the seat of government. So was Hilme al-Manahe, 23, an unemployed baker. His mother, Sayda al-Manahe, says Bouazizi's self-immolation had galvanized Hilme. "He used to say, 'This poor man — I can understand why he did that. He just wanted to earn a living. His story is like my story, which is like my friend's story.'"

"I would tell him," Sayda says, "Be quiet, sit down, and don't even think about getting involved in this." But on Jan. 13 he went to the demonstration in Tunis. He had just recorded a friend with his cell phone when a bullet, presumably fired by a police sniper, pierced his heart.

The next morning, Majdi Calboussi, a middle-class 29-year-old software developer and antiregime blogger, was there recording the protests and the police with his BlackBerry. "People started to say, 'Ben Ali, dégage' " ("Get out, Ben Ali"). He uploaded his video to Twitter, and it got half a million views in a day. Hours later, President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali flew to exile in Saudi Arabia. After just four weeks, the protesters had won. And the next domino was struck.

Among all the Egyptians I met, there is absolute agreement about one thing: Tunisia was the spark of their revolution. "It wouldn't have happened without them," says Shady el-Ghazali Harb, a 32-year-old surgeon who was one of 13 main leaders in Tahrir Square. The lessons of Tunisia weren't just inspirational; they were practical. "This was like a user's manual in how to topple a regime peacefully," says Wael Nawara, 50, a Web entrepreneur and longtime opposition political activist. In January, Tunisians "sent us a lot of information," says Ahmed Maher, a Cairo civil engineer and one of Egypt's most prominent activists, "like use vinegar and onion" — near one's face, for the tear gas — "and how to stop a tank. They sent us this advice, and we used it."

The Egyptians had their own Mohamed Bouazizi: an underemployed middle-class 28-year-old named Khaled Said. One day last year, after apparently hacking a police officer's cell phone and lifting a video of officers displaying drugs and stacks of cash, he was arrested and beaten to death. Wael Ghonim, then a 29-year-old Google executive, created a Facebook page called We Are All Khaled Said to memorialize him. It went viral, and in January, Ghonim returned from Dubai to Egypt to help plan a protest set for Jan. 25: a "day of rage" in Tahrir Square. Maher and other activists were invited to collaborate. They met online and face to face to work out the details. Brinjy told me she "was terrified. I thought we'd try but run away if necessary. Then we ran into huge crowds heading to Tahrir, and I knew it was going to be big."

"From the start I thought it would succeed," 29-year-old filmmaker Mohammed Ramadan says. "In my whole life I'd never seen protests like that. Girls! Some wore hijabs, some didn't, Christians, Muslims — I'd never seen that." The Muslim Brotherhood hadn't endorsed the protest, but Khaled Tantawy, a 34-year-old Brotherhood apparatchik, came anyway. He also was struck by the diversity. "I saw all these different and surprising kinds of people protesting and thought, Wow, this can happen."

That night it happened. "The surprise," according to Mohamed el-Beltagy, a member of the Brotherhood who went to Tahrir unofficially, "was that there was a new generation who could break the fear barrier. At midnight, when the [police's] violent clearing of the square happened and the protesters didn't run away and go home, I knew it was a revolution."

The regime's violent response surprised no one. As in Tunisia, when the crackdown escalated — from tear gas to rubber bullets to real bullets, to Ghonim's detention for the duration, to a nationwide shutdown of Internet connections, to armed camel riders rampaging through Tahrir — so did the number of protesters in Cairo and all over the country. At least 4.5 million Egyptians protested during those three weeks — in other words, 8% of the population over 14.

Hisham Kassem, a prominent 52-year-old independent journalist and publisher, had never been part of a street protest before. He is bracingly clear-eyed, a stiff-necked curmudgeon. On Jan. 28 he was teargassed and, he told me, still sounding amazed 10 months later, threw rocks at police. "I saw people shot next to me." When he returned on "the day of the camel attack, it was war — I almost got mauled to death by the thugs." And another day when he arrived at Tahrir, "This kid asked for my ID: 'Whose side are you on?' I said, 'What the hell do you mean?' " But then and there on the edge of Liberation Square, he had an epiphany: he may have been a longtime pro-democracy VIP, but this was now democracy. "I felt a strange acceptance," he says. "I didn't begrudge them."

By then the army had announced, "Your armed forces, who are aware of the legitimacy of your demands ... will not resort to use of force." President Hosni Mubarak was finished — "Please go," a Tahrir protest sign urged, "because I want to take a shower" — but it took 11 more days for Mubarak to pass through denial, anger, bargaining and presumably depression to arrive at the acceptance stage. "The day Mubarak stepped down," says Abdo Kassem, 25, an unemployed Cairene who'd never been politically active until he followed the Facebook protest instructions last January, "I was crying. For me, that was like bringing down a fake god."

Millions protest. Armies stand down. Dictators leave. Impossible fantasies two months earlier — now they were coming true. The "days of rage" meme and democratic dream had achieved breathtaking momentum, spreading not just to the softer monarchical dictatorships — Jordan, Bahrain, Morocco — but also to Yemen, Algeria and the hardcore police states Syria and Libya.

In the spring, they spread to Europe. On May 15, tens of thousands marched to Madrid's Puerta del Sol plaza, along with tens of thousands more in dozens of other cities, united by slogans like "We are not goods in the hands of politicians and bankers." They were frustrated by unemployment, a lack of opportunity and politics headed nowhere. They called themselves Los Indignados, the Outraged.

Spain's one-day march turned into a months-long self-governing encampment — one of the new defining characteristics of 2011's brand of communal resistance. Throughout the country, about 6 million out of a population of 46 million participated in Indignados protests. Among those in Madrid was Olmo Gálvez, 31, an Internet entrepreneur just back from three years working in China and new to politics. He'd helped set up social-media networks for the protest. "It was marvelous to see people become the actors in their own lives," he says. "You could watch them breaking out of their passivity."

Ten days after the Madrid protests began, the contagion spread to Greece. George Anastasopoulos, 36, has a Ph.D. in sociology but earns his living as a DJ. "That first Sunday when we saw 100,000 people show up, we were overwhelmed," he says of the Athenians' camp in Syntagma Square, in sight of Parliament. "And then the second Sunday, 500,000 people showed up. That enthused us so much, and we started dreaming really big."

"Our protests," says Christina Lardikou, a 31-year-old Athenian who works in fashion, "all started from the Indignados." But they drew from other inspirations too. Among the chants in the birthplace of democracy last spring were "Yes we can!" And Anastasopoulos has kept a banner reading "Let freedom ring" — that is, a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. quoting "My Country 'Tis of Thee."

The Greek protests continued for more than a month, until just about the time 150 young Israeli protesters started pitching tents in the median of Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv. The grievance package was familiar: good jobs too scarce, cost of living too high, politicians corrupt, only the well-connected rich getting richer. Soon there were 100 such encampments all over Israel, in working-class towns as well as yuppievilles. For a finale in early September, an estimated 400,000 of the country's 7.7 million citizens marched, chanting, "The people demand social justice!" When the Egyptian revolutionary leader el-Ghazali Harb told me how pleased he was that Tahrir Square had inspired copycat protests all over the world, I asked if his pride extended to Israel. He laughed and said, "I will say we were happy about that as well."

In early August, after police in London shot and killed a young black man they were arresting, riots broke out all over England. Naturally, the rioters' instantly resorting to violence attracted little sympathy. Yet a new, three-month study by the Guardian and the London School of Economics concluded that these rioters were also protesters, motivated by anger about poverty, unemployment and inequality as well as overaggressive policing.

Back in Madrid, the protesters recognized the diminishing returns of this protest phase and started to decamp. By July, Gálvez says, they heard that Occupy Wall Street was going to happen. Online, the Indignados started explaining to the Americans how it's done.

Since 1989 the earnest, zany little bimonthly Adbusters — "an ad-free international magazine for activists fighting to change the way information flows and meaning is produced in our society" — had been preaching to its choir. In July the editors ran a full-page photo-illustration of a barefoot ballerina posed atop Wall Street's Charging Bull statue — in the background were gas-masked insurgents in a tear-gas fog — along with four lines of copy: "What is our one demand? #occupywallstreet September 17th. Bring tent." Adbusters also sent out an e-mail — "America needs its own Tahrir" — and on Independence Day urged on its smallish cadre of Twitter followers:
"Dear Americans, this July 4th dream of insurrection against corporate rule."

If you tweet it, they will come.

At the end of July, in an office in New York's financial district, the proto-Occupiers met with some veterans of the protests in Spain, Greece and North Africa. To figure out what "Occupy Wall Street" might mean, they reconvened two days later at a come-one-come-all meeting — outdoors, for hours, in a park near that charging bronze bull, amid the thousands of unwitting passersby on an ordinary Wall Street workday.

David Graeber, 50, a prominent anthropology scholar and soft-spoken pro-anarchism activist, showed up. Some standard leftists were pushing for a standard rally making a standard demand — no cutbacks in government social spending. Slowly but surely, Graeber and a pal, 32-year-old Greek émigré artist Georgia Sagri, nudged the group to a fresh vision: a long-term encampment in a public space, an improvised democratic protest village without preappointed leaders, committed to a general critique — the U.S. economy is broken, politics is corrupted by big money — but with no immediate call for specific legislative or executive action. It was also Graeber, a lifelong hater of corporate smoke and mirrors, who coined the movement's ingenious slogan, "We are the 99%."

Until late September, 99% of New Yorkers had never heard of Zuccotti Park, a privately owned public plaza tucked between the Federal Reserve Bank and the World Trade Center site. On the last Saturday of the summer — sunny, mid-60s, perfect — a couple thousand people showed up, a hundred slept overnight, and the occupation was on. It seemed as though the world would little note nor long remember it. On the third day, the first arrests — of protesters wearing Guy Fawkes masks in violation of an antique New York anti-insurrection statute — got scant attention.

It was through my Twitter feed that I started noticing that something was going on in my city. The following weekend, I watched the YouTube video of a New York police deputy inspector casually pepper-spraying some random female protesters. A few days later, my 24-year-old nephew, Daniel Thorson, e-mailed from his small town in western New York: he was coming down to occupy Wall Street, and could he stay with us in Brooklyn?

At Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Daniel was a philosophy major, lived in a frat house, volunteered for the Obama campaign and co-founded his campus's chapter of the nonpartisan Americans for Informed Democracy. Since graduating, he's held various minimum-wage and unpaid jobs and has grown deeply disappointed by how little the Obama Administration has been able to accomplish. In September he was stunned by the breadth and depth of the chatter on his Twitter and Facebook feeds about Occupy Wall Street and decided he wanted to be part of it.

As soon as he arrived at Zuccotti Park, he went to the information desk. "It was staffed by someone who wasn't very articulate," he told me, "who wasn't the face of what I thought this should be." He offered to pitch in and thus became a member of the information working group. He helped guide the general assemblies, OWS's daily town meetings, reveling in the process of debating and deciding. To me it sounded like being a facilitator at a corporate management retreat — except outdoors, with everyone voting by means of kooky hand signals and making sure the anarchists are heard. Even if I were a 24-year-old idealist, I told Daniel, I would have zero patience for the process. He'd get annoyed from time to time by "craziness, by a sense of entitlement, anger, resentment," he said. "But there are jerks in every organization, no matter how 'pure' the organization."

After my wife and I kicked him out of our house — three weeks seemed like a fulfillment of avuncular duty — Daniel slept at the park most nights. At around 1 a.m. on the final night of the encampment in November, he was at a friend's apartment when he got a text message — police en route, eviction imminent. He rushed downtown, but new police barricades kept him and other protesters a block away up Broadway. They were ordered to scram, most of them refused, the pepper spray came out, and the police announced they'd be arrested if they didn't leave the sidewalk. Daniel spent 38 hours in custody, charged with resisting arrest, disorderly conduct and obstructing governmental administration.

I found out about his arrest and release — via e-mail and a Facebook status update — in Cairo, as I walked through Tahrir Square during the first of the recent, huge anti-junta protests. My interpreter, a young Jordanian immigrant to Egypt, was excited about Occupy Wall Street. "It's going viral," he said. "I know it's now like in 80 countries."

And in cities all over the U.S., of course, with all kinds of people protesting. Among the thousands occupying Oakland was Arthur Chen, 60, a family-practice physician. For him, "the expression of outrage was very on target with our current economic crisis and the way it's impacting the 99%," especially his low-income and uninsured patients. During his first day occupying Oakland, Chen remembers, "one of the announcers said, 'You're going to hear some things that you may totally disagree with.' I chuckled, and then I thought, 'This generation really is about inclusiveness and transparency.' It was very moving."

In Cairo, meanwhile, there was Ahmed Harara, 31, a dentist who lost sight in both eyes to rubber bullets in Tahrir on two separate occasions — in January and November, when he returned for the anti-junta protests. What was the most memorable day of his whole annus mirabilis cum horribilis? "Actually," he said, "there are two days — the 28th of January here in Egypt and the day when Americans occupied Wall Street. Because here in Egypt, we raised the slogan of social justice, and I see that Americans need it and did that too."

The Beginning of History
Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very heaven!—Oh!
In which the meagre, stale, forbidding
Of custom, law, and statute, took at once
The attraction of a country in romance!

—William Wordsworth, "The French Revolution as It Appeared to Enthusiasts at Its Commencement"

Aftermaths are never as splendid as uprisings. Solidarity has a short half-life. Democracy is messy and hard, and votes may not go your way. Freedom doesn't appear all at once. Just off Tahrir, when a couple of us were taking pictures of a graffiti about a blogger the army had imprisoned, a scowling secret policeman appeared and waved us away. We were unwanted tourists at the revolution.

Globalization and going viral have been the catchphrases of the networked 21st century. But until now the former has mainly referred to a fluid worldwide economy managed by important people, and the latter has mostly meant cute-animal videos and songs by nobodies. This year, do-it-yourself democratic politics became globalized, and real live protest went massively viral. But as they've rejuvenated and enlarged the idea of democracy, the protesters, and the rest of us, are discovering that democracy is difficult and sometimes a little scary. Because deciding what you don't want is a lot easier than deciding and implementing what you do want, and once everybody has a say, everybody has a say. No one knows how the revolutions will play out: A bumpy road to stable democracy, as in America two centuries ago? Radicals' taking over, as in France just after the bliss and very heaven? Or quick counterrevolution, as in France 60 years later? The mostly liberal, secular young people who made the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt last winter have been subordinated, if not sidelined, by better-disciplined political organizations. And they all agree it's partly their own fault, a function of naiveté about the realities of democratic politics.

"The only good thing Mubarak did," activist Mahmoud Adel Elhetta told me, "was unite us." Mahmoud Salem, 30, who blogs and tweets under the name Sandmonkey — and who has an American B.A. and M.B.A. and works in business development for clients like Coca-Cola — told me he "had the hubris of youth. It was utopia that immediately descended into chaos." He lost his election for a parliamentary seat representing a wealthy Cairo district two weeks ago. "We failed," says el-Ghazali Harb, the surgeon-revolutionary. "What made the revolution happen is the youth. We handed it back to the seniors. We didn't trust ourselves."

In both Egypt and Tunisia, the freely elected new parliaments will be dominated by Islamists — sweet-talking moderates who secularists worry won't stay that way. But as Tantawy of the Muslim Brotherhood told me, "It's not just liberals vs. the Brotherhood now. The Islamists disagree among themselves." To me, the mainstream Islamist parties in Egypt and Tunisia don't appear much more fanatically religious than, say, Pat Robertson–esque Evangelicals in the U.S., and unlike the Republican hard-liners, they sound committed to a national consensus that includes secular liberals. "Democracy is a new culture, and we have to get used to it," says Abdelhamid Jlassi, a Tunisian Islamist leader who spent 17 years as a political prisoner. "Now we have to get used to being hit by eggs."

And the secular revolutionaries remain hopeful that they will not turn out to have been useful idiots to new oppressors. Shadi Taha is a U.S.-educated civil engineer and major liberal Egyptian party official who's running for parliament on a coalition slate with Muslim Brothers. "I don't agree with some of their things," he told me, "but in the 1980s, before they got into politics, they were as crazy as the Salafis" — the fundamentalists who are winning a quarter of the current parliamentary vote. He thinks democratic politics has an inherently moderating effect. Even Tunis University professor Dalenda Largueche, a feminist who could barely contain her horror at ascendant Islamism when we spoke, can eke out some hope. "They want to change Tunisia according to their vision," she says, "but Tunisia will change them." The secularists have a founding-fathers-and-mothers faith in freedom and democracy that is stirring: there's no going back to tyranny, they're sure. "In the end," Wael Nawara says, "things will turn out all right, because the relationship between people and authority in Egypt has changed forever. People discovered that they can change and stop authority from going too far. That self-discovery changes everything. They learned they can replace a ruler. That's the revolution."

Yet there is, for now, a self-sabotaging catch-22 operating among protesters all over the world. All the protests have been against systemic status quos. That has been their great strength. "If it was politicians who had led the movement," Jlassi says of the Tunisian revolution, "it wouldn't have succeeded, whereas the youths, who were unaffiliated, could appeal to everyone." But because even free politics can be inherently unclean, the youth and other liberals don't yet have the stomach for democratic hardball. Will the moral high ground keep working for them? It would be pretty to think so. U.S. Occupiers lack faith in the occupant of the Oval Office and aren't entirely thrilled with their labor-union allies, and the indie generations' need for absolute consensus can devolve into a feckless Bartlebyism — passive resistance, preferring not to.

Ditto in Europe and the Arab countries. In Tunisia, says Lina Ben Mhenni, "we didn't complete the revolution. We got rid of the dictator. Maybe the mistake that we made was that most of us rejected the idea of entering political life." Absent dictatorships to overthrow, idealistic purity can carry a high political price, and if you leave the dull but essential business of governing to the squares and grownups, you lose.

On the other hand, one of the unequivocal generational virtues of these movements has been their use of the Internet and social media. Two years ago, scholars Nicholas Christakis (Harvard) and James Fowler (University of California, San Diego) published Connected, a groundbreaking study of social networks, which they summarize as "how your friends' friends' friends affect everything you feel, think and do." The protests of the past 12 months look like a spectacular worldwide confirmation of those findings.

Calling the Arab uprisings Facebook and YouTube and Twitter revolutions is not, it turns out, just glib, wishful American overstatement. In the Middle East and North Africa, in Spain and Greece and New York, social media and smart phones did not replace face-to-face social bonds and confrontation but helped enable and turbocharge them, allowing protesters to mobilize more nimbly and communicate with one another and the wider world more effectively than ever before. And in police states with high Internet penetration — Ben Ali's Tunisia, Mubarak's Egypt, Bashar Assad's Syria — a critical mass of cell-phone video recorders plus YouTube plus Facebook plus Twitter really did become an indigenous free press. Throughout the Middle East and North Africa, new media and blogger are now quasi synonyms for protest and protester.

And then there was the Arab Spring's other essential, not-quite-as-new media form — independent 24-hour TV news. When I asked the Islamist Jlassi why the revolution had not happened a decade earlier in Tunisia, he instantly answered, "Al-Jazeera and the Internet were the differences, especially al-Jazeera — everybody watches TV."

So America's great 21st century contribution to fomenting freedom abroad was not imposing it militarily but enabling it technologically, as an epiphenomenon of globalization. And for a second act, globalization returned the favor, turning democratic uprisings in developing countries into inspirational exports for the rich world. "We were on the receiving side," Egyptian presidential candidate Amr Moussa told me, "and now we are on the sending side. We have contributed to this global movement for change. There's a new spirit. The grassroots are revolting — young people on Wall Street and young people in Europe."

Ever since modern republican democracy was invented, astonishing protests and uprisings have spiked and spread once every half-century or so: the revolutions in America and France and Haiti; the revolutions of 1848; the revolutions of the 1910s (Russia, Germany, Ireland, Turkey, Egypt, Mexico); the postwar wave of worldwide revolt (the movements toward decolonization, Cuba, Hungary, American civil rights, countercultural militancy in America and Europe). It happens almost like clockwork, yet each time people are freshly shocked and bedoozled. So here we are again. History isn't a very precise guide to how long it might persist this time. In 1848 the revolutionary moment was explosive but lasted only a year, extinguished by both dictatorial and democratic counterrevolutions. The revolutionary dream hatched around 1960, however, was still powerfully contagious a decade later.

The nonleader leaders of Occupy are using the winter to build an organization and enlist new protesters for the next phase. They have shifted the national conversation. As Politico recently reported, the Nexis news-media database now registers almost 500 mentions of "inequality" each week; the week before Occupy Wall Street started, there were only 91. But what would count, a few years hence, as success? According to gung-ho Adbusters editors Kalle Lasn and Micah White, it's already "the greatest social-justice movement to emerge in the United States since the civil rights era." Yet it took a decade to get from the Montgomery bus boycott to the federal civil rights acts, which were just the end of the beginning.

The wisest Occupiers understand that these are very early days. But as long as government in Washington — like government in Europe — remains paralyzed, I don't see the Occupiers and Indignados giving up or losing traction or protest ceasing to be the defining political mode. After all, the Tea Party protests subsided only after Tea Partyers achieved real power in 2010 by becoming the tail wagging the Republican Party dog. When radical populist movements achieve big-time momentum and attention, they don't tend to stand down until they get some satisfaction.

Protesters are ready to rumble in Egypt and Tunisia if democracy and freedom seem too compromised. Emboldened protesters may yet sweep away regimes in places like Jordan and Yemen. In Libya, a bloody revolution, assisted by NATO, brought down the 42-year-old regime of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. The protorevolution is still under way in Syria, where thousands of protesters have been killed.

And in Russia, the recipe for surprising protest circa 2011 — pseudodemocratic-regime overreach, high Internet use, robust new media and suddenly galvanized middle-class youth — is being baked and served. On Dec. 5, after Putin's party, United Russia, did badly in parliamentary elections despite apparent ballot-box stuffing, more than 5,000 Muscovites gathered to chant, "Russia without Putin!" and called for his arrest. It was the largest Russian antiregime protest of the 21st century — and just as in Tunis and Madrid and New York City, nobody saw it coming.

These Russian protesters are a new breed, not just nostalgic old communist grandmas or bullyboy nationalists but yuppies, students, the best and brightest. "So this is what they look like," said Oleg Orlov, the 58-year-old head of Russia's main human-rights organization, as he scanned the square at Chistye Prudy the night of Dec. 5. "I've never seen them at rallies before, at least not in such enormous numbers. It's incredible."

Alexei Navalny, the blogger who coined a new United Russia moniker — "the party of crooks and thieves" — addressed the protesters. "They can laugh and call us microbloggers. They can call us the hamsters of the Internet. Fine. I am an Internet hamster. But I know they are afraid of us." The protesters cheered. And then 300 of them and Navalny were arrested. The next night in Triumfalnaya Square, protesters returned, and 600 were arrested. A Putin spokesman declared that "unsanctioned demonstrations must be stopped."

On Dec. 10, five days after the first protest, tens of thousands gathered in Moscow in the largest demonstration since just after the fall of communism. There were simultaneous protests in dozens of other cities all over Russia. A letter written by Navalny from his Moscow jail cell was read to the crowd. "It's impossible to beat and arrest hundreds of thousands, millions. We are not cattle or slaves. We have voices and votes, and we have the power to uphold them." An even bigger protest is scheduled for Dec. 24.

They are protesting corruption and the lack of real freedom and true democracy. Because Russia, like most of the world, has not quite totally arrived at the end of history.

Ron Paul: Greatest Danger With Iran is We'll Overreact and Get Into Another 'Useless War' Like Iraq

(...but he's crazy! Yeah, right...he's the only anti-war candidate from either party in a nation of warmongers, so he MUST be crazy...--jef)

from the LA Times

Ron Paul did it again. The libertarian-minded Republican separated himself from the pack of candidates at tonight's debate by urging restraint in response to a possible Iranian nuclear threat, saying the U.S. can ill afford a repeat of its now-concluded war in Iraq.
Paul said there was "no U.N. evidence" that Iran is developing a nuclear weapons program, calling claims to the contrary "war propaganda."
"To me the greatest danger is that we will have a president that will overreact, and we will soon bomb Iran," he said. "We ought to really sit back and think, not jump the gun and believe that we are going to be attacked. That's how we got into that useless war in Iraq and lost so much."
Paul said it "makes more sense" to directly engage with Iran diplomatically. And he even praised President Obama for "wisely backing off on sanctions" against Iran, which he called overreaching.
"We have 12,000 diplomats in our services. We ought to use a little bit of diplomacy once in a while."

VIPR: America's new federal goon squad?

The 20th Century socialist thugocracies of Europe were infested with the likes of vicious Gestapo, Stasi and KGB secret police organs. (Yes, they were all de facto variations of socialism no matter that they called themselves Nazi, communist, fascist, or Glorious People's Republic.)

The Transportation Security Administration has taken a giant step towards mutating itself into America's first truly statist/socialist/fascist federal goon squad: VIPR.

Stupid even by acronym-obsessed federalcrat standards, the Fifties-motorcycle-gang-sounding VIPR stands for Visible Intermodal Prevention and Response, something only a career bureau slug could dream up.

It's no longer enough for TSA agents to stand in airports and simply grope and irradiate women with breast cancer, children in strollers and old men in wheelchairs. Now they have to take their fake "security" act on the road to bus stations and railroad depots and truck weigh stations and…

…and an interstate off ramp roadblock near you?

Why not? Who's going to stop them from treating every motorist in the privacy of their own vehicles as potential terror perps?

What's next, bashing down our doors so they can cop a feel?

One person who isn't playing sitting duck for these Intermodal Mobsters is James Wilson, Policy Research Director at

"As illustrated in Tennessee this week," Wilson writes in the organization's emailed Downsizer Dispatch Newsletter, "VIPR deploys TSA agents and works with local law enforcement to stop and search people who are doing nothing suspicious."

Wilson is asking everyone to do what he has already done: "I told Congress to get the TSA out of our lives by abolishing it."

He wants everyone to swamp their "representatives" in DC with angry emails.

You can begin with his hardwired message that reads, "Please abolish the TSA, and permit airlines to provide their own security plans," continue writing your own message, and then send it to your congresscrat right from the DownsizeDC website using their "Educate the Powerful System."

After showing up at the Super Bowl, searching students going to their prom, arresting a man for a small amount of marijuana, deporting three teenagers at a trolley stop after apprehending them on their way to school, Wilson accuses the TSA-turned-VIPR with an ugly, ulterior motive: "This tells me the TSA's purpose is not to protect us from terrorism, but to be deployed as a national police force to enforce federal laws."

VIPR: Vulgar Imperial Police Rabble.

Talks on anti-piracy bill adjourn until 2012

By Stephen C. Webster - RAW News
Friday, December 16, 2011

Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), the Republican behind a controversial piece of legislation that would shut down any website accused of copyright infringement, abruptly adjourned a marathon session of the House Judiciary Committee on Friday as it was considering marking up the bill.

After roughly 14 hours of debate spanning two days, Smith accepted the proposal of Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), an opponent of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), who asked the chairman for more time and at least two more hearings so the committee could better understand some of the more technical aspects of the legislation.

The deal came after Chaffetz attempted to amend the bill to delay a provision that would strike websites from the Internet’s central domain naming system (DNS) — a proposal that critics have specifically targeted for fundamentally breaking the structure of the Internet.

When Chaffetz offered to set his amendment aside if Smith would agree to hold hearings on how the rule would affect classified and civilian cyber-security, the chairman agreed.

Although it’s not exactly a victory for opponents of SOPA, it does buy them a little extra time to lobby members of Congress. The next House Judiciary Committee hearing on the anti-piracy legislation will not take place until sometime early next year.

Louisiana warns of brain-eating parasite in tap water

By Stephen C. Webster - RAW News
Friday, December 16, 2011

Officials in Louisiana warned this week that a brain-eating parasite known as Naegleria fowleri might survive in some of the state’s tap water, cautioning that if residents use the common cold remedy known as a neti pot, they should thoroughly boil their water first.
Neti pots work by injecting a hot water/salt solution into users’ sinuses, flushing out mucus and clearing the nasal passages. Although Naegleria fowleri is most commonly found in pond water, lakes and rivers, officials said that two people in Mississippi recently fell victim to to the amoeba, seemingly after they used tap water in their neti pots. The two male victims, both killed by their infection, were ages 20 and 51.

The link between Naegleria fowleri and tap water should not be cause for alarm, officials told a reporter for

“If you are irrigating, flushing or rinsing your sinuses, for example, by using a Neti pot, use distilled, sterile or previously boiled water to make up the irrigation solution,” Louisiana epidemiologist Dr. Raoult Ratard said in a statement to reporters. “Tap water is safe for drinking but not for irrigating your nose.”

The microscopic creature is not capable of doing any harm to people if the water is consumed as intended: instead, it only activates if it manages to get deep into the sinuses of its victim.

Naegleria fowleri infects people by entering the body through the nose,” the Centers for Disease Control explained. “This typically occurs when people go swimming or diving in warm freshwater places, like lakes and rivers. In very rare instances, Naegleria infections may also occur when contaminated water from other sources (such as inadequately chlorinated swimming pool water or heated tap water <47°C) enters the nose. Once the ameba enters the brain, it causes a usually fatal infection called primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM)."

Whether or not the two victims actually contracted the amoeba through tap water was still under investigation, but officials issued the warning anyway out of concern for public safety.

Don't Any of You Corporations Pay Your Taxes?

It gets tiring to hear the complaints about the allegedly excessive corporate federal tax burden in the U.S., and the need for CEOs to move their offices to more tax-friendly countries. It's just as bad within the states, where budget-strapped governments are forced to make tax concessions to keep big companies from slinking across the border to save a few million dollars. My home state of Illinois is a present-day example. Facing one of the highest budget deficits in the nation, and barely able to keep vital public services functioning, we were forced to give a tax break of $85 million per year to the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME), whose profit margin over the past three years is higher than any of the top 100 companies in the nation.

A tax break to the most profitable U.S. company. Absurd. Especially since CME has prospered for over 100 years with the help of Chicago's people, location, and infrastructure. But we don't hear the facts in the mainstream media. Instead, we're reminded of the importance of retaining our job-producing big firms, even though they haven't been producing many jobs.

It's clear that our largest corporations have been avoiding federal taxes. A study by Pay Up Now revealed that the top 100 U.S. corporations paid 12.2% from 2008 to 2010, barely a third of the maximum rate.

Now comes a new study by Citizens for Tax Justice that shows tax avoidance at the state level. The CTJ study, which evaluated 265 large companies, determined that an average of 3% was paid in state taxes, less than half the average state tax rate of 6.2%. The ten states with 10 or more companies in the study all collected between 2.5% and 3.55%: Ohio, Texas, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Minnesota, Virginia, California, North Carolina, and New York. Pay Up Now provides the detail for all states represented by four or more companies.
CTJ notes that "these 265 companies avoided a total of $42.7 billion in state corporate income taxes over the three years."

To be fair, some major corporations are paying their responsible share of taxes, such as those, in the case of federal taxes, that are part of the medical and pharmacy service industries. Ironically, one of the responsible state-tax-paying corporations is CME. Although maybe there's no irony involved here. Just good old business sense. If the other guy isn't paying, then why should I?

This clamor to avoid taxes is happening at a time when corporations are enjoying record profits. And at a time when corporate income tax as a share of GDP is just ONE-THIRD of the share of GDP in the 1960s.

You corporations have benefited from a half-century of public research, infrastructure, and technological innovation. So pay for it.

Obama's "Mission Accomplished"?

Troops and Prisons Move, Wars and Torture Never Ends

Most Americans--68 percent--oppose the war against Iraq, according to a November 2011 CNN poll. So it's smart politics for President Obama to take credit for withdrawing U.S. troops.

As it often is, the Associated Press' coverage was slyly subversive: "This, in essence, is Obama's mission accomplished: Getting out of Iraq as promised under solid enough circumstances and making sure to remind voters that he did what he said."

Obama's 2008 campaign began by speaking out against the war in Iraq. (Aggression in Afghanistan, on the other hand, was not only desirable but ought to be expanded.) However, actions never matched his words. On vote after vote in the U.S. Senate Obama supported the war. Every time.

As president, Obama has claimed credit for a December 2011 withdrawal deadline negotiated by his predecessor George W. Bush--a timeline he wanted to protract. If the Iraqi government hadn't refused to extend immunity from prosecution to U.S. forces, this month's withdrawal would not have happened.

"Today I can report that, as promised, the rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of the year. After nearly nine years, America's war in Iraq will be over," Obama bragged reporters on October 24th.

The UK Guardian noted: "But he had already announced this earlier this year, and the real significance today was in the failure of Obama, in spite of the cost to the U.S. in dollars and deaths, to persuade the Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki to allow one or more American bases to be kept in the country."

Obama's talk-no-walk approach to foreign policy is also on display on Guantánamo, the torture camp set up by the Bush Administration where thousands of Afghans and other Muslim men, including children, were imprisoned and tormented without evidence of wrongdoing. Only 171 prisoners remain there today, held under appalling conditions.

Yet the "war on terror" mentality remains in full force.

Obama ordered the construction and expansion of a new concentration camp at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan to house thousands of new and current inmates in the U.S. torture system. Now The New York Times has discovered that the Obama Administration has developed "the other Guantánamo, an archipelago of federal prisons that stretches across the country, hidden away on back roads" inside the United States. Hundreds of Muslim men have been imprisoned by means of the thinnest veneer of legality.

"An aggressive prosecution strategy, aimed at prevention as much as punishment, has sent away scores of people. They serve long sentences, often in restrictive, Muslim-majority units, under intensive monitoring by prison officers. Their world is spare," announced the paper.

Aware that "his" war against Afghanistan isn't much more popular among voters than the occupation of Iraq, Obama set a 2014 for withdrawal from the Central Asian state several years ago.

Dexter Filkins called it "the forever war": a post-9/11 syndrome that drives the United States to shoot and bomb the citizens of Muslim nations without end. You can't end a forever war. What if you had to sit down and get serious about taking care of the problems faced by regular, boring, American people?

And so Obama is having his ambassador to Afghanistan, Ryan Crocker, release trial balloons about staying past 2014…forever, in so many words.

Talking to reporters, Crocker said that the U.S. would stay longer if the Karzai regime--its handpicked puppet--asked them to. "They [the Afghans] would have to ask for it," he said. "I could certainly see us saying, 'Yeah, makes sense.'"

Vampires can't come inside unless they're invited.

The Iraq War, at least, seems to be coming to an end. According to the Pentagon, there will only be 150 U.S. troops in Iraq next year--those who guard the embassy in Baghdad.

Sort of.

Just shy of 10,000 "contractors"--the heavily-armed mercenaries who became known for randomly shooting civilians from attack helicopters--will remain in Iraq as "support personnel" for the State Department.

As they say, war is an addiction. If we wanted to, we could quit any time.

Any time. Really.

Do We Need Health Insurance?

Do Americans need health insurance? The short answer is no — at least not in the form it currently exists in America.

It is true that in many wealthy countries private insurance companies are used in the financing of universal health care systems. But they are nothing like American companies. They are regulated public utilities and are told by their governments who to insure, what to cover and how much and when to pay. Most are prohibited from making a profit and are required to pay any willing provider. Not exactly the American model.

The purpose of health care financing systems should be — and is in all other wealthy countries — to facilitate the delivery of health care services, to protect individuals and families against huge medical care expenses and to avoid breaking the national bank while they do so. But in America, our private insurance system actually interferes with the delivery of health care and is rapidly becoming too expensive.

Last month I argued for adopting a universal health care system on moral, ethical and economic grounds. It is not only more humane but cheaper to cover everybody. We have moved in fits and starts toward that goal since the enactment of Medicare in 1965.

The recent federal health reform law took a few steps forward. But we are now taking a couple steps back, especially in Maine. Last week Gov. Paul LePage proposed disqualifying 65,000 beneficiaries of MaineCare. Earlier this year, the Legislature enacted PL90 that rolls back regulations intended to spread the financial risks of illness and improve access to health care for those most in need of it.

A little history may be informative. Private employment-based health insurance in America was not a planned system, but grew out of World War II wage and price controls. It was one of the few ways employers could attract and retain employees in a tight labor market. The spread of these benefits received a boost when the federal government exempted them from federal taxes.

Private health insurance was dominated by nonprofit Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans until about 1990. That changed when Blue Cross plans across the country began to convert to for-profit status, arguing that it would improve their efficiency. Maine Blue Cross made that transition in 2000 when it changed from a company whose mission was facilitating health care to one whose mission was maximizing shareholder wealth.

The business model of for-profit insurance companies is pretty simple. The creation of wealth for shareholders, including many of their executives, depends upon profitability. To maximize profitability they must charge premiums as high as the market will bear, offer skimpy policies that limit coverage, impose high deductibles and minimize what they must pay out for the services they do cover.

Maximizing premiums, imposing high deductibles and limiting the scope of coverage are pretty straightforward. Minimizing payouts for services they do cover is a little more complicated. Four techniques are used.

First companies try to avoid insuring people likely to require health care, such as those with a history of illness or who are elderly or in dangerous occupations.

Second, they dispute the need for health care that is recommended or has already been provided to their customers by micromanaging the decisions of doctors and patients and denying as many claims as they can. This is a very expensive and contentious process that often damages the quality of care.

Third, they bargain down the prices health care providers charge as much as possible, shifting costs to other payers. This has created the curious and uniquely American situation where uninsured people pay the highest prices for health care products and services.

Fourth, many companies try to find a reason to retroactively dump sick customers who have filed claims by asserting that they have failed to accurately state their health care history, therefore defrauding the insurance company.

These people end up on public insurance or on the roles of the uninsured. This practice, called “rescission,” is particularly unfair but nevertheless appears to have become widespread. It has been banned by the new federal health care reform act.

What is the problem with this picture? It is not that for-profit insurance companies are failing in their mission. In fact, they are doing a very good job of exactly what their mission demands, maximizing the wealth of shareholders. The problem is that their mission fundamentally conflicts with the mission of a decent health care system.

What can we do to fix this problem? The obvious first step — but not the last — is to replace for-profit insurance companies. They are like a camel entered into the Kentucky Derby. No matter how much it is trained, how hard it tries, how hard it is whipped or who the jockey is, it never wins. It just wasn’t designed for the job.

Although insurance companies could play a role in a redesigned system by becoming public utilities, that is not the most efficient way to finance a system that includes everybody. For example, private insurance companies are currently fighting the new federal health care law’s requirement that they keep their overhead below 20 percent. Medicare, financed through publicly mandated premiums and taxes, spends less than 5 percent on overhead and interferes with health care decisions much less than private carriers.

Maybe it’s time to replace that camel with a racehorse. While we’re at it, why not go for a thoroughbred? An improved Medicare-like system for all could provide better coverage while spending less. What’s not to like about that?

Dante’s Divine Comedy: Banksters Edition

Sixty Minutes’ December 11, 2011 interview of President Obama included a claim by Obama that, unfortunately, did not lead the interviewer to ask the obvious, essential follow-up questions.
“I can tell you, just from 40,000 feet, that some of the most damaging behavior on Wall Street, in some cases, some of the least ethical behavior on Wall Street, wasn't illegal.”
Obama did not explain what Wall Street behavior he found least ethical or what unethical Wall Street actions he believed was not illegal. It would have done the world (and Obama) a great service had he been asked these questions. He would not have given a coherent answer because his thinking on these issues has never been coherent. If he had to explain his position he, and the public, would recognize it was indefensible. I offer the following scale of unethical banker behavior related to fraudulent mortgages and mortgage paper (principally collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) ) that is illegal and deserved punishment. I write to prompt the rigorous analytical discussion that is essential to expose and end Obama and Bush’s “Presidential Amnesty for Contributors” (PAC) doctrine. The financial industry is the leading campaign contributor to both parties and those contributions come overwhelmingly from the wealthiest officers – the one-tenth of one percent that thrives by being parasites on the 99 percent.

I have explained at length in my blogs and articles why:
  • Only fraudulent home lenders made liar’s loans 
  • Liar’s loans were endemically fraudulent 
  • Lenders and their agents put the lies in liar’s loans 
  • Appraisal fraud was endemic and led by lenders and their agents 
  • Liar’s loans could only be sold through fraudulent reps and warranties 
  • CDOs “backed” by liar’s loans were inherently fraudulent 
  • CDOs backed by liar’s loans could only be sold through fraudulent reps and warranties 
  • Liar’s loans hyper-inflated the bubble 
  • Liar’s loans became roughly one-third of mortgage originations by 2006
Each of these frauds is a conventional fraud that could be prosecuted under existing laws. Hundreds of lenders and over a hundred thousand loan brokers were “accounting control frauds” specializing largely in making fraudulent liar’s loans. My prior work explains control fraud, why accounting is the “weapon on choice” for fraudulent financial firms, and why liar’s loans were superior “ammunition” for committing massive accounting fraud. These accounting control frauds caused greater direct financial losses than any other crime epidemic in history. They also drove the financial crisis that produced the Great Recession and cost millions of Americans their jobs.

In considering my scale of unethical conduct it is important to keep in mind that it is highly likely that anyone that causes very large numbers of people to lose their homes will cause multiple suicides and indirect deaths that arise from the greater vulnerability of the homeless and the blue collar crime effects of destroying neighborhoods inherent to widespread foreclosures. I ignore for this purpose the fact that the fraudulent loans caused the bubble to hyper-inflate and drove the financial crisis that caused millions of people to lose their jobs. The financial accounting control frauds are the weapons of mass destruction of wealth, employment, and happiness. I also ignore the fact that the frauds described here made the perpetrators wealthy. My scale, therefore, systematically and dramatically understates the perpetrators’ moral turpitude. I have also excluded the massive foreclosure frauds from my scale because they did not cause the underlying crisis. When Obama reveals the bankers actions he claims to be legal but highly unethical readers should keep my conscious understatement of the moral depravity of the illegal acts by bankers that drove this crisis in mind when they compare the relative ethical failings.

As a criminologist, I do not favor sentencing criminals to the fates they richly deserve. I would never torture prisoners or place them at risk of assault, rape, or psychological trauma. I do not believe that extremely longer terms of imprisonment are desirable except in rare circumstances. As a lawyer and a criminologist I emphasize that any sentence should come only after a conviction in a trial providing due process protections or a guilty plea. My scale provides a label for the comparative moral depravity of the perpetrator, the deserved punishment (which when vicious is not the far more humane one I would actually impose), and a brief description of the specific frauds that are characteristic of this level of immorality and the number of perpetrators falling in each category. My inspiration was Dante’s circles of hell as described in his Divine Comedy.

The Scale of Ethical Depravity by the Frauds that Drove the Ongoing Crisis
Level 10: Septic tank scum
Eternal Hell: these banksters deserve a physical hell of infinite torment and duration
 Officers that directed control frauds that involved making predatory loans to more than 10,000 homeowners who lost their homes as the result of the frauds. Predatory loans in this context mean deliberately seeking out the elderly or minorities for such loans because they were easier to con into taking loans they could not repay – at a premium yield (interest rate). Dozens of CEOs fall in this category.

Level 9: Pond scum
Time in Hell:  These banksters deserve a term in hell
Officers that directed control frauds that led to more than 10,000 homeowners losing their homes.  Hundreds of CEOs fall in this category.

Level 8:  Generic scum
Gitmo:  Hell’s starkest suburb
Officers that directed control frauds that led to more than 1,000 homeowners losing their homes.  Thousands of CEOs fall in this category.

Level 7:  Dante’s deserved denizens
Supermax:   No view, and no way out
The professionals that aided and abetted the overall control frauds by inflating appraisals, giving “clean” audit opinions to fraudulent financial statements, “AAA” ratings to toxic waste, and accommodating legal opinions to the frauds.  Thousands of professionals fall in this category.

Level 6:  Aspiring to great wealth through fraud
Alcatraz:  Great view, but no way out
The senior lieutenants of the control frauds who committed the frauds that caused more than 10,000 homeowners to lose their homes.  Thousands of senior officers fall in this category.

Level 5:  A large cog in a smaller fraud
Generic Hardcore Prison:  A life of boredom and the almost total loss of freedom
The senior lieutenants of the control frauds who committed the frauds that caused more than 1,000 homeowners to lose their homes.   Thousands of senior officers fall in this category.

Level 4:  The banksters who cost us our money instead of our homes – Goldman Sachs & friends
Generic Prison:  A life of boredom and a severe loss of freedom
The officers that led the control frauds who targeted their customers for the purchase of more than $10 million in fraudulent product.  Dozens of officers fall in this category.

Level 3:  The banksters’ senior lieutenants who cost us our money instead of our homes
Prisons designed for serious, but less physically dangerous felons
The senior officers of the control frauds who targeted their customers for the purchase of more than $10 million in fraudulent product.  Scores of senior officers fall in this category.

Level 2:  Banksters who defrauded other bankers (who were willing to be defrauded)
Privatized prisons:  Let them enjoy the consequences of their odes to privatization
The largest control frauds sold tens of billions of dollars of fraudulent loans to each other through fraudulent “reps and warranties.”  The kicker here, as Charles Calomiris has emphasized, is that the control frauds on both sides of the transactions knew that they were engaged in a mutual fraud.  Hundreds of senior officers fall in this category.

Level 1:  Small fraudulent fry
Catch and release:  Convict them and put them on probation if they cooperate with the investigations
The small fry are the loan officers, loan broker employees, and borrowers who knowingly participated in making fraudulent mortgage loans.  Over 100,000 individuals fall in this category.

We Need to End the PAC Doctrine
To date, Bush and Obama have prosecuted none of the mortgage frauds in the top nine levels. I urge reporters to ask him to explain three things about his statements to 60 Minutes.
  • Why are there no prosecutions of the felons that drove the crisis and occupy the nine worst rungs of unethical and destructive acts?
  • Explain the five unethical acts by elite financial institutions that you consider the most destructive and least ethical – but which you believe to be legal. How do you rank the degree of unethical conduct and destruction in those acts?
  • What specific statutory provisions did you propose to make those five unethical acts illegal? As enacted, which provisions of the Dodd-Frank Act made those five unethical acts illegal? Who has been prosecuted for those formerly legal but seriously unethical and destructive acts that were made illegal by the Dodd-Frank Act?
Reporters will have to be persistent in coordinating their follow-up questions to get Obama to provide direct answers to these questions.

I request that private citizens write President Obama to ask him to provide specific, written answers to these three questions. I will be proposing a series of questions that I will urge citizens to demand answers to because it is clear that the regular media will rarely ask demanding questions of elite politicians or bankers. It is up to us to hold them accountable and end the doctrine of Presidential Amnesty for Contributors.

The Wal-martization of America Redux

How the Relentless Drive for Cheap Stuff Undermines Our Economy, Bankrupts Our Soul, and Pillages the Planet
If you want to know why the middle class disappeared and where they went, look no further than your local Wal-mart.  People walked in for the low prices, and walked out with a pile of cheap stuff, but in a figurative sense, they left their wages, jobs, and dignity on the cutting room floor of the House of Cheap.

Welcome to the logical end point of Reagonomics.  Welcome to Ayan Rand’s nightmare vision of morality, where we know the price of everything but the value of nothing; where predatory behavior is celebrated and the notion of community is blasphemy. 

In his excellent documentary, Wal-mart: The High Cost of Low Price, Robert Greenwald carefully documents how Wal-mart’s giant box stores lower wages across the entire retail sector, impose high social and economic costs on the states and communities in which they operate, and destroy local businesses.

Yet the low prices – which come at such a high cost – are irresistible to American consumers.  Wal-mart has virtually cornered the retail market and amassed astounding wealth in the process.

But it’s not just Wal-mart.  Big box stores now rule across the board in the US retail economy in everything from electronics to pet supplies. And it’s not just retail. The entire US economy is now organized around the notion that getting us cheap stuff – the more the better – is the sine qua non of economic policy.

There was a time when corporations understood that paying their employees a living wage had economic and societal benefits.  Henry Ford famously said he wanted his employees to be able to afford to buy the cars they made and launched six decades of prosperity.

The labor movement helped create a social and economic compact in which workers shared the wealth they generated.  When workers had enough money to consume, they stimulated economic growth.  When production was as important as consumption, the economy flourished, the common worker had dignity, and the means of production were valued.

But that compact has been sacrificed at the Alter of the Cheap, and we no longer produce, we merely consume.

Our main economic activity has become the ceaseless churning and manipulating of the vast capital the old system produced.  No value is added, some is skimmed off by the uber rich with each churning.  It’s a colossal, self-limiting, Ponzi scheme.

The rich and the corporations have no allegiance to the US or its workers, and so they take the fruits of their skimming and either sit on it, or invest it overseas, where the cheapest goods can be made.

Job creators?  Sure.  But not good jobs, and not here.

When they’ve skimmed all they can from the US consumer, they’ll focus on the emerging middle class in China, India and elsewhere, leaving us to sit among the decaying detritus of cheap stuff we can no longer afford, searching in vain for the happiness we thought we were buying.

It’s a sprint to the bottom.  Lower wages; dangerous working conditions; more pollution; greater liquidation of natural capital; more global warming; less happiness.

Globalization – the handmaiden of Cheap at All Costs – is celebrated as a solution, when it is the problem.  And even astute economists seem unable to realize that when another country’s comparative advantage is based on environmental crimes, low pay, and inhuman conditions, then comparative advantage doesn’t operate the way it’s presented in textbooks and abstract econometric models.

Globalization has enabled corporations to leave the old economic compact based on equitably shared wealth behind. For example, in the US, CEO pay is once again soaring, while the average wage earner hasn't kept up with inflation.

Just as Wal-mart has driven down wages throughout the retail sector, the Doctrine of Cheap has driven down wages for the developed nations, and it will cap them at unjust levels in the developing world.

And the dirty little secret hiding behind the globalization façade is the devastating affect it is having on the environment.

For example, this week, Bejing suffered from air pollution so severe, that the airport was shut down.  It’s easy to ignore this kind of environmental insult when it’s “over there.” But the carbon and soot and filth generated in China ultimately reaches us.

At the scale of human economic activity we’ve reached, we suffer the environmental consequences of our purchases no matter how cheaply or how far away they are made.  In a world were humans have become a global force of nature, “there” is “here.”  Climate change is exhibit A in how insults to our commons affect us all.

But the dirtiest little secret of all, is that we – the 99% -- enable this race to the bottom.  Our addiction to cheap stuff and our desire for more, more, more is the fuel that feeds this destructive Ponzi scheme.

But there is good news here, too.  If we are the enablers of the Wal-martization of America, we have the power to change course.


We are the marketplace, and we decide who wins and who loses by where we park our money, what we invest in, what we choose to buy and who we choose to buy it from.
Think about it.  We purchase about $80 billion dollars worth of stuff a day, not including what we spend on our homes, cars and normal household bills.

We hold a total of $17.5 trillion in retirement funds – the single biggest source of money the big banks, Wall Street, fat cats, and assorted other speculators use to play their very own version of hi-risk Texas hold ‘em.

The real power in our economic and political system resides with us, the 99%, if we have but the wit, wisdom and courage to seize it.

Let’s occupy the whole damn marketplace.  Let’s vote with our dollars and our values.  That’s an election they can’t buy.

The Fight to End Corporate Personhood Heats Up