Friday, May 18, 2012

Austerions Invasion





Venture Capitalist Nick Hanauer Says Rich People DON'T Create Jobs

Where are the Missing Five Million Workers?


by Laura Flanders

"Where have all the workers gone?" David Wessel of the Wall St. Journal wondered about the labor force this week:

“In the past two years, the number of people in the U.S. who are older than 16 (and not in the military or prison) has grown by 5.4 million. The number of people working or looking for work hasn't grown at all.”

So, where have all the workers gone? Have they retired, suspended their labors temporarily, or are they languishing on public assistance? Asks Wessel.

There are some other possibilities. Since the crash of 2008 there’s no question that millions of Americans have indeed stopped looking for a job. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not working. Look around, it’s much more likely that the officially “unemployed” are busy, doing their best to make ends meet in whatever ways they can. Sex-work, drugs and crime spring to mind, but the underground or “shadow” economy includes all sorts of off-the-books toil. From baby-sitting, bartering, mending, kitchen-garden farming, and selling goods in a yard sale, all sorts of people -- from the tamale seller on your corner, to the dancer who teachers yoga – are all contributing to the underground economy along with  “employed” who pay them for their wares.

The “underground” is always with us. For better and often for worse, it’s how marginalized populations tend to survive —often not very well. (Think of the old, the young, the formerly incarcerated, or foreign.)

In recessions – surprise, surprise– “irregular” employment grows. Consider recent stories from Greece, about wageless public “workers” swopping skills, and trading food for teaching.

Austrian economist, Friedrich Schneider, an expert in underground economies, has documentd a surge in shadow economy activity in 2009 and ’10 in Europe. University of Wisconsin-Madison economist Edgar Feige has been doing his best to follow what’s happened here.

Tracking the gap between reported and unreported income in the US since 1940, Feige finds:



Measuring unreported data is not easy, but from Feige’s graph one thing is clear: there’s as much unreported income swirling around the US today as there was in WWII under rationing, and that number’s not going down with any speed.

Unreported income matters to the IRS because those “unreported” dollars are lost revenue for the taxman. (In 2001, the Internal Revenue Service estimates it was losing $345 billion in tax revenue. In 2009, according to Feige, that estimate could be approaching $600 billion.)

A shrinking workforce matters to policy makers too, as Wessel explains:

"Figuring out how many of those now on the job-market sidelines are likely to come back onto the field matters to gauging the current state of the economy, to fashioning the right remedy for the sluggish recovery and to evaluating prospects for economic growth, which hinge, in part, on an expanding labor force."

Getting a more accurate picture of our economy matters for another reason too. For one thing, ever since Adam Smith, we (at least we in the West) have been taught there is one set of rules, and one viable economy: the “end of history” economy of jobs and wages, profits and losses, and round the world trading on the stock market.  The reality is, as farmer/science writer Sharon Astyk put it recently, what “the economy” is not the only economy.

“Let us remind ourselves that the informal economy is, in fact, the larger part of the world's total economy. When you add in the domestic and household economy of the world's households, the subsistence economy, the barter economy, the volunteer economy, the "under the table" economy, the criminal economy and a few other smaller players, you get something that adds up to 3/4 of the world's total economic activity. The formal economy - the territory of professional and paid work, of tax statements and GDP - is only 1/4 of the world's total economic activity.”

Looking ahead at our employment and energy future, it’s not at all clear what the economy will look like in years to come. With fewer dirty satanic mills to labor in, regular Joe and Jane workers are going to have find income that doesn’t depend on them transmuting into celebrities or high-rolling mobsters of high finance. What are they going to do? For those who believe that stocks and bonds and 9-5 jobs are the only economy there is, the pictures dire.

For others, there’s a world of possibility ahead. Gar Alperovitz and his colleagues at the Democracy Collaborative are about to launch a series on the upsurge of thinking that’s currently happening about different ways in which people might support themselves and restructure the political and economy. They point to the exploding interest in “new economy” conferences and the array of real-world experiments, from solar-powered businesses to worker-owned cooperatives and state-owned banks.

“History dramatizes the implacable power of the existing institutions—until, somehow, that power gives way to the force of social movements. Most of those in the 'New Economy' movement understand the challenge as both immediate and long term: how to put an end to the most egregious social and economically destructive practices in the near term; how to lay foundations for a possible transformation in the longer term.” Writes Alperovitz in the first of five articles.

Could it be that the old economy is losing its grip, not only on our lives, but also on our ideas? There is much – much – more to come.

Iran War Hawks in Congress in Some Disarray after Rejection

 
by Jim Lobe 
 
 
WASHINGTON - Hopes by Iran war hawks here to get the U.S. Congress to wield the threat of a U.S. military attack on the Islamic Republic on the eve of next week's critical negotiations on Tehran's nuclear program appear to have fallen unexpectedly short.

While the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly Thursday to reject "any U.S. policy that would rely on efforts to contain a nuclear weapons-capable Iran", a key co-sponsor of the resolution emphatically denied that the measure was intended to authorize the use of military force and asserted that Tehran would have to test a warhead before it could be considered "nuclear weapons capable".

At the same time, the House leadership was poised to accept an amendment to the otherwise hawkish 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that declares explicitly "that nothing in this Act shall be construed as authorizing the use of force against Iran." The NDAA, as amended, is expected to clear the House Friday.

Meanwhile, on the other side of Capitol Hill, a tough new sanctions bill that was supposed to sail through the Senate Thursday was blocked by some Republicans who said it was insufficiently hawkish.

Sen. Lindsay Graham, one of several influential Republicans who have long urged Washington to prepare for war with Iran, angrily denounced the absence of any reference to possible U.S. military action if Iran fails to abandon its nuclear program.

"These sanctions are great. I hope they will change Iranian behavior. They haven't yet, and I don't think they ever will," he declared. "I want more on the table."

The Congressional debate comes less than a week before Iran is scheduled to meet in Baghdad with the United States and the other members of the so-called "P5+1" countries - Britain, France, China, Russia, and Germany - for a second round of talks on the future of its nuclear program.

Both sides were upbeat coming out of the first round of talks in Istanbul last month. And subsequent contacts, notably between the deputy Iranian negotiator, Ali Bagheri, and his counterpart from the European Union, Helga Schmid, have reportedly encouraged all parties that some important confidence-building measures could be agreed, at least in principle, in Baghdad.

Moreover, the defeat of former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose government reportedly was the most antagonistic toward Iran of the P5+1, in this month's elections and his replacement with Francois Hollande, who immediately sent former prime minister Michel Rochard to Tehran, has bolstered hopes that progress can be made when negotiations resume May 23.

Specifically, U.S. diplomats hope that Iran will agree to some portion of a "menu" of steps it can take to build confidence, the most ambitious of which would be to freeze its enrichment of uranium to 20 percent and ship out its existing stockpile of 20-percent enriched uranium in return for fuel rods that can be used for its Tehran Research Reactor (TRR).

Washington also hopes Tehran would agree to suspend operations or close its Fordow enrichment facility which is buried under a mountain near Qom, and ratify the Additional Protocol of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. That would permit much more-intrusive monitoring by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of Iran's nuclear facilities or other facilities, such as the Parchim military base, where some Western intelligence agencies suspect nuclear-related work may be taking place.

Among the range of carrots that may be offered are formal recognition that Iran has the right to continue uranium enrichment up to five percent; a cap or delay on any further sanctions - some of which the EU is scheduled to impose next month - on its increasingly distressed economy; and the easing or eventual lifting of some sanctions.

The government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which has repeatedly threatened to unilaterally attack Iran's nuclear facilities, has long expressed strong reservations about any negotiations with Tehran that would permit it to continue any enrichment.

In an interview with CNN Thursday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who is meeting with top officials here this week, said any deal must require Tehran to "stop enriching uranium, to 20 percent, or even three to five percent, and to take all the enriched uranium out of the country." Virtually all Iran experts here, however, believe that Tehran will never agree to stop all enrichment.

Nonetheless, Israel enjoys considerable influence in Washington through powerful lobby groups, most importantly the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) which appears to have pushed hard for Congress to take up the pending legislation this week in advance of the Baghdad talks.

Over the past six years, AIPAC has played a central role in pushing lawmakers to increase military aid to Israel, impose ever-tougher sanctions against Iran, and, most recently, wield the threat of U.S. military action.

The latter was precisely the original intent of the House resolution approved by a margin of 401-11 Thursday. Not only did the resolution reject any future containment policy toward a "nuclear weapons- capable Iran; but it also declared it a "vital national interest" - code for justifying military action - "to prevent the Government of Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability".

Such a stance is distinctly more hawkish than that of the Obama administration which has made a distinction between nuclear weapons capability - a status which many experts believe Iran has already attained - and actual possession of a nuclear weapon.

Unlike the Israeli government, the Obama administration has indicated that it will consider military action only if Iran actually develops a bomb, a much higher threshold than a "capability".

In any event, the resolution approved Thursday failed to define "capability", leaving it to its chief Democratic co-sponsor and the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Howard Berman, to fill the gap, which, to the surprise of many close observers, he did in a way that actually raised the threshold for military action higher than the administration's.

"Nuclear weapons capability? (It takes) three elements defined by the Director of National Intelligence: fissile material production, one; design weaponization and testing of a warhead, two; and a delivery vehicle," he said, speaking from prepared notes during debate on the measure Tuesday. "To be nuclear capable, you have to master all three elements."

"While Iran has a delivery system, they have not yet mastered – but they are making progress on – steps one and two. And if one day, when they master all the elements, and they kick out the inspectors, and they shut off the (IAEA's) cameras, I consider them nuclear capable," he said after repeatedly denying that the measure was meant to authorize military action.

Calls and emails regarding AIPAC's reaction to Berman's remarks were not returned, although the organization "applaud(ed)" the resolution's approval in a release.

Meanwhile, Iran hawks suffered a second setback when the managers of the NDAA bill accepted a bipartisan amendment stating explicitly that nothing in the bill "shall be construed as authorizing the use of force against Iran."

The entire bill, which, among other things, includes provisions calling for stepped-up military operations and planning in the Gulf area, will be up for a final vote Friday after a number of amendments, including one calling for the appointment of a special envoy for Iran, are considered.

At the same time, another major sanctions bill that would punish foreign companies that provide Iran with communications or riot- control technology that could be used to suppress dissent and that urged new sanctions against foreign insurance companies active in Iran, extend existing sanctions to all Iranian banks, among other measures, was at least temporarily derailed by Graham and other Republicans who wanted to include language alluding to the possible use of military force to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapons.

The Democratic majority leader, Sen. Harry Reid, had agreed to incorporate a provision asserting that the bill could not be construed as a basis for military action at the insistence of Republican Sen. Rand Paul who had single-handedly stalled passage of the sanctions bill in March by insisting on the inclusion of such a provision.

Congress Votes for More War in Afghanistan despite Public Majority Against It

Congresswoman Lee Discussing Her Amendment to End the War in Afghanistan:



Christian Science Moniter: House reauthorizes Afghan conflict in bipartisan vote
The vote came as the House considered a $642 billion defense budget for next year, debating more than 140 amendments to the far-reaching legislation. Final passage of the measure was expected Friday.
Rather than a speedy withdrawal from Afghanistan, the spending blueprint calls for keeping a sizable number of U.S. combat troops in the country. The bill cites significant uncertainty in Afghanistan about U.S. military support and says that to reduce the uncertainty and promote stability the president should "maintain a force of at least 68,000 troops through Dec. 31, 2014, unless fewer forces can achieve United States objectives."
The United States currently has 88,000 troops there. President Barack Obama envisions a final withdrawal of U.S. combat troops in 2014. Earlier this month, he signed an agreement with Afghan President Hamid Karzai on the role of America forces in counterterrorism and training of the Afghan military. The president insisted that the U.S. combat role was winding down.
*  *  *
The Hill: Three other amendments were rejected earlier in the day by voice vote
Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), prohibits the Joint Special Operations Command from conducting drone strikes against targets whose identity is not known or is based solely on patterns of behavior the target (aka "signature" strikes).

Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), terminates the F-35B aircraft program and would direct the funds authorized for such to procure an additional number of F/A-18E/F aircraft and to deficit reduction.

Rep. Michael Quigley (D-Ill.), eliminates funds made available for the procurement of the V-22 Osprey aircraft and would direct the funds authorized for such to deficit reduction.

US Congress Endorses 'Indefinite Detention' Policy

Friday, May 18, 2012 by Common Dreams
House Fails To Pass Amendment Scaling Back NDAA Indefinite Detention Provisions
 
The US House of Representatives this morning endorsed the policy of indefinite detention without trial of terrorist suspects, including US citizens seized on American soil, by failing to pass an amendment that would halt the practice.

 The final vote to defeat the amendment -- part of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) -- was 182 - 237.

“Congress today rejected a chance to start to clean up the mess that it made last year with the NDAA indefinite detention provisions,” said Christopher Anders, ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel in response to the vote. “No president should ever have the power to order the military to imprison civilians located far from any battlefield. By rejecting this amendment, the House of Representatives failed in their sworn duty to uphold the Constitution and the rule of law.”

*  *  *

Agence France-Presse: House backs indefinite definition policy

The measure, backed by an odd coalition of liberal Democrats and some Tea Party-backed Republican conservatives, had sought to ensure that suspected terrorists detained in the United States be charged with crimes and tried in federal courts.
The amendment, which went down by a 182-238 vote, was among the most controversial of 142 amendments under consideration as part of a huge military spending bill that provides $642.5 billion to the Defense Department and other related agencies for the coming fiscal year.
Sponsors Adam Smith, the top Democrat in the House Armed Services Committee, and Republican Justin Amash argued that the rights to a charge and trial are protected by the US Constitution, even for non-American terror suspects if they are caught in the United States.
The Smith-Amash amendment aimed to strike a clause in last year’s Defense Authorization act that allowed for the indefinite detention without trial.
“Leaving these powers on the books is not only a dangerous threat to our civil liberties, but also undermines one of our strongest assets in trying suspected terrorists: (federal) courts and domestic law enforcement,” Smith and Amash said in an opinion piece in Friday’s Politico newspaper.
*  *  *
ACLU: House Fails To Pass Amendment Scaling Back NDAA Indefinite Detention Provisions
Today’s amendment, introduced by lead sponsors Reps. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and Justin Amash (R-Mich.), was offered on this year’s NDAA. It was supported by a broad coalition of groups, which ranged from the ACLU to the Gun Owners of America to the United Methodist Church.
The vote for the Smith-Amash amendment was bipartisan, with 19 Republican members backing the amendment.
“Congress today rejected a chance to start to clean up the mess that it made last year with the NDAA indefinite detention provisions,” said Christopher Anders, ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel. “No president should ever have the power to order the military to imprison civilians located far from any battlefield. By rejecting this amendment, the House of Representatives failed in their sworn duty to uphold the Constitution and the rule of law.”
The coalition letter in support of the Smith-Amash amendment is here: www.aclu.org/national-security/coalition-memo-house-urging-yes-vote-smithamash-amendment-fy2012-national-defense

Organic Watergate: Report Reveals USDA's Cozy Relationship with Corporate Agribusinesses in 'Organics'

  

Today, the Cornucopia Institute released a report titled The Organic Watergate, revealing widespread corruption in the USDA's organic food monitoring panel -- the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB).

The NOSB is supposed to monitor any synthetic ingredient used in organic farming or food production, to "assure that it is not a threat to human health or the environment"; however, as the report reveals, the USDA has been "stacking" the review panel with agribusiness executives who have "increasingly facilitated the use of questionable synthetic additives and even dangerous chemicals in organic foods."

The report charges the USDA with "violations of federal law, ignoring congressional intent, that has created a climate of regulatory abuse and corporate exploitation."

In one instance a large Dutch-based multinational conglomerate, Royal DSM N.V./Martek Biosciences, partnered with the nation's largest dairy processor, Dean Foods, to approve synthetic additives for use in infant formula, dairy and other products. The additives derive from genetically mutated vegetation and are processed with petrochemical solvents; yet, they were easily passed as 'organic' by the corporate interest stacked panel.

The report highlights countless instances such as this, stretching over the past three US administrations.

"I wish I was making this up, but one of the newest contractors to fulfill this review function is The Organic Center, the nonprofit offshoot of the Organic Trade Association, an agribusiness lobby group,” said Mark A. Kastel, Codirector of The Cornucopia Institute. "This is the proverbial fox watching the organic chicken coop."

"We implore consumers not to reject organics because a handful of corporations have acted recklessly and the USDA has failed to do their legally mandated job. Organic farmers, and their ethical processing partners, need your support now more than ever," Kastel added. "And health conscious families deserve authentic organic food."

* * *

The Cornucopia Institute: The Organic Watergate: Advocates Condemn Corruption and USDA's Cozy Relationship with Corporate Agribusinesses in Organics
The nation's leading organic farming watchdog, The Cornucopia Institute, is challenging what it calls a "conspiracy" between corporate agribusiness interests and the USDA that has increasingly facilitated the use of questionable synthetic additives and even dangerous chemicals in organic foods. In its new white paper, The Organic Watergate, Cornucopia details violations of federal law, ignoring congressional intent, that has created a climate of regulatory abuse and corporate exploitation. [...]
The Cornucopia report charges the USDA with "stacking" the NOSB with agribusiness executives that all too often have "sold out" the interests of organic farmers and consumers.
"The organic community came together and actually asked the government, in order to maintain a level playing field and organic integrity, to regulate our industry," said Mark A. Kastel, Codirector of The Cornucopia Institute. "How many other industries have ever asked the federal government for tough regulations and enforcement?"
In order to placate concerns of federal involvement in the nascent organic industry, Congress specifically earmarked the majority of the 15 seats on the NOSB for farmers, consumers, scientists and environmentalists as a way to balance the power of commercial interests involved in organic food manufacturing, marketing and retail sales. [...]
"We have seen the USDA, in the past, appoint an executive from General Mills, as an example, to a consumer slot on the board. This gross scoffing at the law Congress passed as a safeguard against corporate domination needs to end right now," Kastel said. "We expected better from the Obama administration. Either the USDA will immediately remediate this problem or we will defend the organic law in federal court."
Cornucopia’s white paper documents the long-term abuse of congressional intent, by stacking the board with agribusiness operatives, an illegal practice that has stretched over the past three administrations.
Another request in Cornucopia's letter to Secretary Vilsack was to reform the selection of independent scientists reviewing synthetics in organics, stating that the industry needs an impartial board and the board needs truly impartial expert advisors. [...]
The Cornucopia Institute is collecting signed proxies, downloadable from their website’s home page, asking organic industry stakeholders, including farmers and consumers, to sign the proxy and join in the demand that the USDA operate the organic program legally.

Too Big to Jail

by RUSSELL MOKHIBER
 
Brandon Garrett has pulled together a database of all the deferred and non prosecution agreements and plea agreements since 2001. And he’s sliced and diced them.

And now he’s writing a book for Harvard University Press about what he’s finding.

The working title?

Too Big to Jail: How Prosecutors Take On Corporations.

Garrett is a Professor at the University of Virginia Law School.

Garrett wonders, for example, why the Justice Department secures guilty pleas for environmental crimes while getting primarily deferred and non prosecution agreements in Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) cases.

“There is nothing inherent in environmental crimes that requires guilty pleas and FCPA that requires deferred prosecution agreements, right?”

“No, if anything they are kind of similar,” Garrett said in an interview last week.

“For environmental cases – are customers going to stop buying the products of a company that makes plastics or steel because their factory was out of compliance with the Clean Water Act or the Clean Air Act? Customers may not know.”

“It may not hurt the company’s reputation so that it will be the death knell.”

“And we know that there have been companies convicted multiple times, seemingly without significant effect.”

“But the same might be true of foreign bribery. When Siemens was convicted for bribery around the globe, did that affect whether someone bought a Siemens coffee maker or not? Probably not. It might cause a government to have doubts when walking into negotiations for a major contract.”

“The difference in the way FCPA and environmental cases are handled just has to do with different divisions at Main Justice that are handling those cases and how they have developed their own practices over the years.”

And Garrett is troubled by the wording and details of the deferred and non prosecution agreements.

“The fines are sometimes not particularly impressive at all,” Garrett says. “There are many agreements with no fines.”

“And if the purpose of these agreements is to not necessarily impose the most severe penalty or fine to a corporation, but to instead trade off of that to insure compliance, to rehabilitate the company – I’m not convinced that rehabilitation is being taken seriously enough either.”

“The bargain reflected in these agreements may not be strong enough. Some of these agreements have pretty detailed terms about what compliance is supposed to look like going forward, but in plenty of them, it is quite vague.”

“Some of these agreements impose monitors, but even there, the duties of the monitors are left somewhat vague.”

“And we have no idea what the monitors are doing – or even who the monitors are in many cases.”

“So, it’s pretty hard to tell from the outside whether these agreements are performing or not.”
Do we get access to monitor reports?

“No one has ever seen monitor reports, except for a prologue that was released in one case, but that was really more of an extended press release,” he says.

“My understanding is that in most of the cases, the company retains the monitor. The agreement typically says that the monitor reports are to remain confidential, that they will be disclosed to prosecutors and maybe regulators, but to no one else.”

“And there may be portions of those reports dealing with employment matters and the like that shouldn’t be public.”

“But the public should know more about what the companies have done and what has happened.”

“When the deferred prosecution agreement is entered, there is a lot of detailed information describing the nature of the alleged crimes – what employers did, what employees did, maybe without naming them – describing the pattern of criminal behavior, what was the breakdown in corporate governance that permitted it to happen.”

“And then identifying, sometimes specifically, what needed to be done to repair the company.”
“And you would think that there could be a similar report at the end of the agreement – maybe not every monitor’s quarterly report – but some detailed accounting of – this is where things stand now – two or three years after the agreement was entered into.”

Garrett says corporate crime cases differ from street crime cases in fundamental ways.

“One of the many ways corporations are not like regular criminal defendants is that in regular criminal cases, prosecutors and police have access to some of the best information about what really happened,” Garrett said.“In violent crimes that I have been looking at, you worry about Brady violations, you wonder whether prosecutors and police are doing a good investigation and getting accurate evidence.”

“But it all gets flipped around in these corporate cases, where the corporation may have the best information about what really happened. They all have access to e-mails and documents, to any interviews their own lawyers did investigating it.”

“And the cases can be incredibly complicated with millions and millions of documents. They are incredibly difficult cases for prosecutors to bring. If you have conduct that occurred around the globe, can the FBI really take on the job of sorting through it all or trying to get a hold of millions of documents distributed around the globe?”

“Both the corporations and the executives can afford brilliant top lawyers.”

“In regular criminal cases, it is the defendant that may find out later – what evidence did the police gather? When the police are investigating the crime scene, there might not even be a defendant who has a lawyer. There might be a suspect later.”

“It is all reversed in corporate cases. In some ways, you have to applaud prosecutors for taking more of these on. And you can understand why they need to negotiate these agreements. Without the cooperation of the companies, they might not easily get access to those documents and records to find out what happened.”

“It’s not a surprise that in the hardest cases to bring, in these antitrust cases where there is a cartel, they need special tools like the leniency program to crack that nut and encourage defection, encourage corporation-on-corporation snitching.”

“What you see is that prosecutors are able to bring more and more of these cases in areas where they can leverage their admittedly sometimes thin resources to produce more self-reporting and cooperation.”

“How are they supposed to find out about ocean dumping at sea? The statute has whistleblower provisions to encourage shipmates to come forward, take pictures on their cell phones and get a share of the fine.”

“And prosecutors offer companies similar rewards. They can say – we can offer you significant leniency if you come forward, self-report and cooperate – give us the documents and help us prosecute individual employees that committed wrongs.”

“If we really are going to take these difficult cases more seriously, it’s going to be a question of resources.”

“You would think those resources should flow to the prosecutors working on these cases, since they are, after all, bringing in significant fines and money.”

“I would like to learn more about the degree to which some of that can be sent back to the people doing these cases – so they have the resources to get more agents working on future cases.”

No Freedoms to Hate Us For Anymore

by MISSY BEATTIE
 
Remember that they (the evil ones) hate our freedoms.

Remember, too, that in the aftermath of 9/11, the war criminals told us this repeatedly.  Here’s an example from George W. Bush:
They hate what they see right here in this chamber: a democratically elected government. Their leaders are self-appointed. They hate our freedoms: our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.
And another:
We must be strong and we must be decisive. We must stop the evil ones, so our children and grandchildren can know peace and security and freedom in the greatest nation on the face of the Earth… We know we’re one people; we know we’re one country. We’re united from coast to coast by a determination and a firm resolve to see that right prevails.
Remember, too, that this freedom, inspiring all that hatred, is enshrined in the Constitution:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Remember that the words “freedom” and “evil ones” also are enshrined in the language of corporate media “stars” and politicians.

Recall the words Barack Obama spoke during his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech:
The service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform has promoted peace and prosperity from Germany to Korea, and enabled democracy to take hold in places like the Balkans.  We have borne this burden not because we seek to impose our will.  We have done so out of enlightened self-interest — because we seek a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if others’ children and grandchildren can live in freedom and prosperity.
There’s the word “freedom” again. But in this paragraph, it refers to providing liberty to those whose countries we invade and occupy because we “seek” whatever (?) good transpires from granting “freedom and prosperity” to others.

Now, make note that the United States has departments and legislation to protect freedom to prevent the evil ones from inflicting harm. Here’s a list:
Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
Transportation Security Administration (TSA)
Total Information Awareness (TIA)
Patriot Act
Military Commissions Act
Homegrown Terrorism Act
House Resolution 347
National Defense Authorization Act
And think about the NATO Summit in Chicago—May 20th and 21st.   But first read an article by John LaForge for a stomach-lurching look at NATO’s “mission accomplishments”.

I just took a break from writing this, checked my mail, and read the following from Free Press:
Whether you’re a credentialed journalist, a protester or a bystander  with a smartphone, you are guaranteed freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of access to information.  Your right to document public events must also be protected.
Unfortunately, not everyone sees it this way. Conflicts are escalating between those trying to bear witness on one side and local police and government officials on the other.  All too often, the First Amendment is caught in the middle.
As protests and election-year events unfold in 2012, we must guard these rights and protect the networks that help us voice our political beliefs. Our First Amendment right to record must extend to everyone.
But Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has put his official boot on this prerogative (the freedom for which the evil ones hate us) with certain ordinances that will remain in force after the summit:
  • Authorization for the Mayor to purchase and deploy surveillance cameras throughout the city, without any type of oversight.
  • Restrictions on public activity, including amplified sound and morning gatherings.
  • Restrictions on parades, including the requirement to purchase an insurance policy worth $1 million and to register every sign or banner that will be held by more than one person.
  • The power to deputize many different types of law enforcement personnel other than the Chicago Police Department.

After 9/11, fear and loss-of-liberty threats became a perfect petri dish for the corporatocracy and a miasma of secrecy, surveillance, intimidation, punitive measures, and endless war.

Pay close attention to the “Police Forces” section in the Wikipedia piece.  Along with this and all of the above, the truth about this freedom-hating propaganda strobe lights the impoverishment of loss. So many of the hallowed freedoms have been eliminated by the real enemies—Wall Street criminals and their puppets who reside in US government positions of “leadership.”

If “they” attacked us only because they hated our freedoms, there’s nothing to hate anymore.

The True Costs of Bank Crises

by ROB URIE
 
In March 2010 Andrew Haldane, Executive Director for Financial Stability at the Bank of England, estimated that the financial crisis that began in 2008 will ultimately cost the world economy between $60 trillion and $200 trillion in lost production (link). The methods he used to reach his conclusions require a number of assumptions, but so would any effort at assessing the broader damage. And to his point, counting the cost of bank crises in terms of costs to the banks alone substantially misrepresents the economic harm that recurrent crises cause.

When J.P. Morgan announced last week that it had lost $2 billion from derivatives transactions gone awry, later revised to $3 billion and rising, the mainstream press reiterated the framing that this is a cost to be borne by the bank and that it indicates what the rest of us might be expected to contribute if another banking crisis erupts. The implication is that future crises are possible, ignoring that we are collectively still paying for the last crisis. And again, to Mr. Haldane’s point, the costs to Wall Street are nearly irrelevant when considering the total costs of banking crises.

This all proceeds from the premise that the broader economic order, of which the banks are a part, is a viable form of economic organization. Given that the current order is radically environmentally unsustainable, it is tempting to imagine that the lost production that Mr. Haldane is counting as a cost of the financial crisis has a silver lining in slowed environmental degradation. Additionally, any careful look at the business of banking finds degrees of predation inversely related to social power—even when they aren’t blowing themselves up, most of the world would be better off without predator banks.

This establishes a paradox—the existing economic (and political) order isn’t working. But, as political leaders on the right and what passes for the left these days claim, failing to sustain it would entail massive human costs in terms of unemployment, bankruptcy, poverty, divorce, suicide and the dissolution of our public institutions. Ironically, add increasing environmental destruction to this list and it well describes current conditions under the existing order.

Apparently the best that defenders can offer is that things could be a lot worse.

To point to the obvious, even Mr. Haldane’s lower cost estimate of $60 trillion isn’t being borne by the banks. The banks couldn’t pay this if they were forced to—it is more money than they will collectively earn in profits over coming decades. And it isn’t being borne by the large corporations that are earning the highest rate of profits in history. It is in fact a negative, an unmet promise made to the rest of us by the proponents of capitalism over recent decades. Through the prism of social struggle it appears as an absence, not as a more straightforwardly actionable misappropriation. But then, what is the ultimate difference?

Jamie Dimon, J.P. Morgan’s CEO, offered that the bank’s loss reflected a failure of risk models. But the bank’s risk models are necessarily narrowly delineated—what model could propose that transactions that could cost the broader economy $60 trillion if they go wrong balance out in favor of the transactions? Such risk models carry the implicit premise of heads, the banks win; tails, the rest of us lose. Practically speaking, these trades, when they work, are simply a method of converting a rigged game into cash. The assets being traded, reportedly a basket of credit default swaps, are un-funded insurance policies; accounting fictions that when aggregated guarantee bailouts—every bank requires that every other bank meet its obligations or the whole system collapses.

For all of the money that the banks have been allowed to create and pay out to the purported rocket scientists who build their risk models, the particular model under discussion in J.P. Morgan’s case (VAR, value-at-risk) is a work of rare idiocy. The question that it attempts to answer is: how badly can things go for one day, week, month etc. assuming (1) no other banks run into similar problems and (2) everything goes back to normal in the next period. What makes use of this model so questionable is that both of these assumptions are behind every spectacular financial collapse in modern history that didn’t involve outright theft (e.g. Ponzi schemes).

Ultimately the particulars of J.P. Morgan’s losses are so much noise.
What they point to is an economic system designed to self-destruct.
Add increasing environmental degradation in the face of global warming to structural financial fragility and what capitalism appears to have created is a full-blown suicide machine. And to invert Mr. Haldane’s premise—the $60 trillion in lost production (minimum) was never going to go to us anyway. The trajectory since the 1970s had it going to corporate executives, bankers and machines (automation).

The challenge for reformers and re-regulators is that the system is the problem.

Companies pollute because they individually prosper while we collectively pay the costs. Banks take risks that are internally rational while they are systemically catastrophic. Environmental and financial crises cannot be solved with capitalism intact. In fact, when global warming and bank crises are considered, there is little evidence that capitalism ever produced any profits net of externalized costs. And the consolidation of wealth that capitalism produces undermines all attempts at remediation. Capitalism itself is a suicide machine.

What made J.P. Morgan’s loss news is the recognition that the financial crisis hasn’t been resolved. And again, this crisis isn’t from without. It is endemic to the system we are being told we must save. As Mr. Haldane has it, even if the crisis had been resolved, we would still collectively be out more than $60 trillion anyway. And the only way toward those trillions is through increasing environmental catastrophe. By appearances, the current order is in the process of imploding of its own weight. And while dislocations create fear, they also create openings for other possible futures.

American Empire and the Future

by PAUL L. ATWOOD
 
 
The Great Recession is the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression and, like the aftermath of Katrina, or the BP calamity, or the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, is a man-made disaster. Many signs point to worse tidings. Many of us who live in this the most advanced capitalist country are indoctrinated at an early age to believe our system is by far the most efficient and best ever created, especially if we are affluent and live well. We tend to believe it obeyed the laws of evolution toward ever higher form, more or less as we imagine the human species itself. We go to lengths to ignore the fact that our system began as the brainchild of a minority that imposed its will by brute force against others who had good reason to oppose it. It is impossible to separate our republican form of government from our economic system. As former Secretary of State John Hay put matters as far back as the 19th Century: “This is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people no longer. It is government of corporations by corporations.”  It has been the case since the American Revolution, and remains the case, that the American government has been owned and operated by the financial and corporate elites and government policies, and most definitely foreign policy, are largely their agendas set out for their interests. Bankers and immense industrial corporations largely run the global show, backed by the Executive, Congress and the Supreme Court, America’s gargantuan military power and the connivance of corporate media.
 
As a culture we deliberately ignore the brutal genesis of American capitalism, feeding ourselves Disney fantasies about religious freedom etc. The origin of the modern American corporation is to be found in the Plymouth and Virginia companies. Childish mythologies aside, these were established as profit-making entities and to make their claim upon the so-called New World these new enterprises required systematic plunder of lands and resources from natives, and their virtual annihilation in the original colonies, ethnic cleansing, cheap white labor in the form of indentured servitude, and ultimately the importation of African slaves. The American capitalist system was therefore premised at its outset by murder and de facto aggression, and human bondage, the very sins for which we condemn others today. Many of our early American heroes were slaveholders and war mongers par excellence.

Some of us are old enough to remember when we condemned the communists for their “slave societies,” believing that our own slavery was somehow an aberration instead of the absolute prerequisite to establish today’s American way of life. Our system’s continued success still requires these critical factors. We still have slaves but now we don’t have to see them. They toil on plantations, mines and factories hidden away in far continents, victims of centuries of western plunder, today camouflaged  as “globalism.” We employ terms like “neo-colonialism” but pretend this term does not apply to us. What else was Cuba before Castro but an American satrapy? What else South Vietnam, South Korea, Dominican Republic, Iran before 1979, Philippines, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and many others?  Why else has the US invaded Iraq and Afghanistan but to try to secure the world’s remaining second largest deposit of oil and to acquire oil and natural gas from Central Asia in the very backyards of our rivals China and Russia? As Edward Said asked, “if the principal product of Iraq were broccoli would the U.S. be in Iraq?”

Victims of our wars are dismissed under the Orwellian rubric of “collateral damage” committed accidently in the “fog of war.” While our government now goes to some lengths to ensure that the worst of such crimes are committed by proxies wherever possible, when all else fails we send in our own armed forces. As reports from Iraq and now Afghanistan and Pakistan and Yemen and Somalia show daily, our pilotless predators wreak a terrible slaughter on civilians. Our Army and Marine Corps do not exist to protect and defend our shores but to enter other nations and force them to our will.

We Americans hide from such uncomfortable facts largely by ignoring them, believing the lies we are told, or by fantasizing that we are a new chosen people, or the redeemers of a benighted world.  We have constructed a mass delusion that our way of life represents the most advanced civilization in human existence despite the fact that its perpetuation has required the deaths quite literally of many millions as it took shape, the wholesale violation of the very values we claim, and the destruction of the very resources and environment that made the “American way of life” possible in the first place.

Any trust in this system is really a kind of fundamentalism; many want to believe that all of this was ordered on high, perhaps encoded in our genes at the very dawn of humanity, its inevitability impressed in the Book of Time.

As in all fundamentalist faiths we have created a set of myths about why we go to war and these myths center on the falsehood that we do so to protect and defend noble values, and principles, and our superior way of life; never for the reasons others wage war, such as lebensraum, or to seize resources, or to prevent others from exercising their ‘right’ to self-determination should that impede our “interests.”

In American public culture enemies have always been presented as aggressors against an intrinsically peace loving people who take up the sword only, ONLY, because our antagonists have left us no alternative. Thus, it is always the other who bears the opprobrium for anything the US has done in the name of national “defense.” Think, say, of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or the carpet bombing of South Vietnam, or the more recent destruction of Fallujah where white phosphorus, a chemical  banned under international law, and depleted uranium was used on civilians to awful effect causing a plague of cancers. All of these were brought on by the iniquities of our enemies, or so we claim… 

Yet not a single war in American history has at bottom NOT been one of choice. And we never go to war against any nation capable of wreaking havoc on us. No, we ravage only those who lie helpless before us.  The American way of war has been hailed culturally as “exceptional” and humane and just and necessary for the defense of profound human values and ideals, and thus a model for the rest of humanity…but the truth stands naked in the neo-colonies.

This has been especially true since the US assumed ownership of the Western capitalist system in 1945 and has used armed violence against many nations, either overtly or covertly, to expand it to the entire world, thereby building new roads so to speak, all leading to our New Rome.

In these almost innumerable wars, interventions, covert ops, assassinations etc. since the end of World War II the US has killed millions in places too numerous to list here, all of course in the name of progress and humanity.

The American empire that most Americans are persuaded does NOT exist began as an outpost of British imperialism, and now occupies the dominant position among the nations of our planet. One of the American goals of WWII was to knock Britain from its perch… to play Rome to Britain’s Athens as it were. Today American armed forces are in at least 170 of the 192 nations comprising the United Nations, and American ships, aircraft and satellites are deployed to every corner of the terrasphere, stratosphere, ionosphere, and outer space. The reach of American empire is a quantum leap in power beyond anything ever seen on planet earth.

Empire by definition is one core nation living at the expense of many others. Clearly, in terms of the distribution of wealth and resources, mal-distributed as they are domestically, most roads today lead to the United States.  Yet a “perfect storm” of merging crises is gathering force that has every possibility to undo the American imperial project and, indeed, prove catastrophic for human civilization across the globe.

Empire, and the American neo-empire today, has always relied at bottom on armed force and that in turn has always been dependent on advantages in the technology of war. Since at least the turn of the 19th Century, when the emergence of modern capitalism fostered the Industrial Revolution, military and economic advantage has required access to ever greater quantities of energy. To a significant extent both World Wars were global imperial competitions for the control of oil. Until 1945 the US was self-sufficient in energy but used so much petroleum supplying its war machine and those of the United Kingdom and Soviet Union, that in order to maintain our enormously bloated way of life we became dependent on oil in other nations.

Since then the American armed juggernaut has been deployed often, if not primarily, to protect access to petroleum in other people’s countries, to fuel our army, navy and air force, to safeguard the trading routes and shipping lanes to transport the black gold, all for the benefit of American living standards.

Our swollen way life is inconceivable without oil, and other hydrocarbons. Yet, the absolute reliance on the substances is slowly but indisputably poisoning and suffocating the very systems they enabled to arise, and the day draws near when the Age of Oil will end because of declining reserves and increasing costs.

Consider Peak Oil. A concerned geologist at Columbia named Hubbert began to worry about how long oil would last and he predicted that American production would peak about 1973. He was correct. Since 1859 the US has used half of its oil and now the other half will be consumed in the next 50 years, though it will undoubtedly be so expensive well before that many will have to choose between heat and food. He also predicted global oil production to peak about now and most analysts agree that his prediction is correct.

Americans have always relied upon ingenuity and technological fixes to solve problems but in this case the likelihood that hydrogen, biofuels, solar or cold fusion will ever replace petroleum and natural gas is slim. The U.S. is the Saudi Arabia of coal but reverting to that fuel will entail other collateral damage. Some, like James Lovelock, argue that nuclear power could save the advanced nations from total collapse but opposition to that is widespread especially after the events in Japan last spring.

Thus, intensifying competition for access to fossil energy reserves is inexorably leading to increasing armed conflict, and, ironically, the armies in conflict will not be capable of combat without the very energy they are fighting to protect, thereby hastening the disappearance of this energy source, and therefore exacerbating the very problems that in truth cannot be resolved by war. A case in point is the fact that American and NATO forces in Afghanistan now consume a million gallons of fuel per day!

The release of carbon and other byproducts of burning coal, oil, and gas has altered the world’s ocean and atmospheric systems, while the industrial processes have also ravaged landscapes, rivers, overturned settled ways of life, and polluted cities. The net result is increasingly catastrophic climate change, just as climate scientists have predicted, leading to intensifying social problems like drought, floods, famine, increased disease, and the mass migration of populations. All of these are sure to lead, in turn, to more armed violence globally, and will unless a massive shift in consciousness takes place with an equal commitment to change.

While there are numerous Cassandra voices prophesying these outcomes the real issue before us is whether we have the will to see and take the necessary action before it is too late.
President Obama was elected primarily on the basis of his promise to end the war in Iraq. Is anyone fooled by his withdrawal that is not a withdrawal? And what of the uncounted but very numerous cohorts of “contractors,” like Blackwater/Xe, many of whom are highly paid former Special Forces operatives with “trigger time” who will employ their martial skills while remaining in Iraq? These privatized troops cost far more than the pay scale for regular troops.

For what other purpose will these mercenaries remain than to ensure that this long coveted, yet incipient neo-colony remains in the American orbit and provides its only natural resource?
One of the first measures undertaken by the Bush Administration was to create a National Energy Policy Development Group headed by the chief spokesman of the oil industry, one Richard Cheney. No access to their records or discussions has ever been allowed but their actions surely indicate that the energy chief executives are mightily aware of Peak Oil. Their policy? Not conservation; no crash program of alternative energy sources, no commitment to work with the international community for peaceful solution. NO! The policy is clearly to invade other countries and seize their energy reserves and/or the means to transport them. For all President Obama’s rhetoric there really is no Plan B.

The U.S.-NATO induced civil war in Libya has been won by rebels opposed to the ousted and now departed Gaddaffi. The rationale provided by the United Nations and Obama was that a “no fly zone’ was necessary to prevent the slaughter of Libyan civilians and that would be the limit of American intervention. The 7-month long bombardment of Libya’s cities resulted in a massive humanitarian catastrophe, the very outcome the intervention was supposed to prevent.

It is clear that even before this intervention was  announced to the public the U.S already had CIA and Special Forces operatives on the ground in Eastern Libya. The intelligence analysis institute STRATFOR  published a map of foreign oil concessions in Libya. The vast bulk are in Eastern Libya, now  liberated from Gaddaffi’s grasp and soon to be made more profitably available to Western energy conglomerates. As South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham put it nakedly “Let’s get in on the ground. There is a lot of money to be made in the future in Libya. 
Lot of oil to be produced. Let’s get on the ground and help the Libyan people establish a democracy and a functioning economy based on free market principles.” The “humanitarian” pretext stands naked in its hypocrisy. No such intervention has been deemed necessary in Bahrain or Yemen, or conspicuously, Saudi Arabia where repressive governments have killed numerous civilians demonstrating against those governments for the obvious reasons that these countries’ dictatorships cooperate with the American agenda in the region.

President Obama was elected on the strength of his opposition to the War in Iraq and his promise to end it. Yet in his recent speech declaring the Iraq War at an end he asserted that the original purpose was to disarm terrorists, the false claim made by his predecessor. Thus Obama has adopted the very narrative of the Bush deceptions. Bear in mind that Obama has always been in the camp of that section of the elite who saw the invasion as a blow to a very specific international order that would weaken the American position and overall agenda in the world.

Read his speeches made as a senator before his candidacy. He feared the real American agenda to keep consuming the lion’s share of vital global resources was endangered by Bush’s cowboy tactics, and could lead to conflict with people who could do real damage, like Russia and China. His actions as president show he is not morally opposed to bombing and killing barefoot civilians who employ donkeys or camels as their mode of transport. That has continued unabated at his command. He claims to lose sleep over the deaths of American troops. At first he said that he was serious about withdrawing from Afghanistan in July of 2011. Then the date has been moved up to 2014, now it is 2024. At best Obama seems the captive of the real government behind the scenes.

If you’ve never heard of Col. Fletcher Prouty that would not be an accident. He testified before the United States Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities, otherwise known as the Church Committee during the mid-1970s that revealed, among other things, the CIA’s assassination squads and its secret alliance with the Mafia. He blew minds with his description of the Secret Government behind the scenes. Prouty was a distinguished career military officer who in the last third of his career was deeply involved in the so-called intelligence community. He was go-between for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and the CIA, and he reminds us that the CIA emerged directly from Wall Street at its birth in 1947. Prouty was a consummate insider who spilled the beans. At the time his remarkable book The Secret Team was deep-sixed by the very secret team he revealed. It has recently been re-published by a small press and is available.  Read it and learn how our government’s foreign policy is really shaped and by whom and for what. As Prouty shows, this intelligence, military, and “national security” network is really a combine of  those entities known popularly as High Finance, the Military Industrial Complex,  and Big Media.

Prouty emphasizes that this secret government behind the scenes is not a tiny cabal comprised of the Illuminati or Tri-lateral Commission or Bilderbergers, or Council on Foreign Relations though they do play roles. Rather, each faction of the Financial-Military-Industrial- Intelligence-Congressional-Media Complex has self-interests, large-scale benefits, and its future existence to protect. No one is initiated into these agencies unless vetted very carefully, and that would be especially true of party nominations for president. While disputes arise between factions and can be intense, on rock bottom interests, like access to energy reserves and control of resources and markets, and on maintaining the dollar as the world reserve currency, each collaborates with the others in symbiotic and synergistic relationships. The clearest example is the war (Iraq and Afghanistan, and Pakistan, Iran, Somalia, Yemen, Libya and Venezuela are essentially the same war!). Virtually all factions of the Secret Government support it, if for somewhat different reasons.

An example is the recent revelation that the Federal Reserve Bank printed 40 billion dollars and sent it to Iraq in 2003 where most of it promptly disappeared. This action clearly indicates that the nation’s chief bankers were part of the broad conspiracy among the behind-the-scene elites to invade Iraq, for conspiracy it was since Iraq had nothing to do with the events of 9-11, as the Bush Administration claimed. Masquerading as a government agency the Fed is really the nerve center of a consortium of the nation’s largest and most important banks. Fed officials acted in secrecy as always. Why they acted as they did should be thoroughly analyzed and revealed.

This Secret Team has certainly never served the people, though it claims to do so as our national defense team (against enemies it creates!). For at least the last century its members have come to believe the president is its servant and most definitely not the other way around. As even ultra-conservative spokesman George Will said publically on a Sunday talk show: America has always been ruled by its aristocracy. It has never been about democracy but about which section of the elite will rule at any given time. Or as Noam Chomsky avers: There is only one political party, the Corporate party, with two separate wings.

Of course this Secret Government’s chieftains, no matter their past history, believe themselves to be omniscient and infallible. To take just the current crisis, the CIA itself fostered the rise of Islamic extremism during the Cold War because it believed this force would obstruct communism and prevent Arab and Muslim nationalism from achieving independence of western control, especially over oil. The CIA actually fostered Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran as the strategic answer to Iranian communists; as well as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt to thwart Nasserism, or Arab nationalism; and the mujahideen in Afghanistan who morphed into the Taliban and al Qaeda. As the CIA itself said the eruption of Islamic militancy in opposition to the hand that fed it was “Blowback” of the first magnitude. When the Carter Administration national security chief, and current background adviser to Obama, Zbigniew Brzezinski, armed the Mujahideen in 1988 in order precisely to draw in Soviet troops, Brzezinski infamously declared: “That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it?… I wrote to President Carter: ‘We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam War’…What is more important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?”

Stirred up Moslems indeed!

President Obama said clearly during his campaign that he would focus on Afghanistan in order to prevent the return of the Taliban and al Qaeda, thereby enhance American national security, and ensure that another 9-11 could never be planned and orchestrated from that country. We know now of a serious split between al Qaeda and the Taliban prior to 9-11 because of the latter’s fear of American retaliation. We know, also, that the Taliban have no desire to attack the United States itself, only those Americans on Afghan soil. American actions are clearly destabilizing Pakistan, thereby portending a far greater threat in terms of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. So what is the United States REALLY seeking to accomplish in Afghanistan? Again, the claim of a “humane” intent is preposterous. American actions in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, especially attacks by pilotless drones that kill numerous civilian by-standers, do more for Al Qaeda’s and the Taliban’s recruiting than anything done by themselves.

If Bob Woodward’s recent book, Obama’s War, is to be believed the president desires to withdraw from Afghanistan but is being thwarted at every turn by the military, the CIA and even Hillary Clinton. I’m sure that Obama, having been cultivated and financed by major financial corporations still wishes to gain American access to the energy reserves of central Asia but the issue is whether that goal will be utterly compromised by policies based on raw force. It appears that the devotees of military solution are winning that argument but it is a doomed prospect and one that is fraught with danger.

When the Red Army finally left Afghanistan in the early 90s that tragic place descended into civil war while the US washed its bloody hands and walked away. Even so, as the Taliban came to dominate and as it committed terrible atrocities like public beheadings, and stonings of women, the CIA, Enron, and Unocal continued to negotiate with these extremists for a pipeline to carry oil and natural gas through Afghanistan to Pakistan and the Indian Ocean. If the Taliban were to regain power over all of Afghanistan and offer a guarantee for the pipeline, I’m quite sure the US would crawl right back into bed with them no matter their brutality with no shame and excuses aplenty for public consumption, just as was the case in the 1990s. But given the damage wrought by US armed intervention today a deal with the Taliban is probably all but impossible, and the US will never be able to impose its own  puppet able to guarantee the original US goal.

The real issue facing the so-called “advanced” nations and now China, India and the Asian tigers is that cheap oil is running out. Extracting oil will become ever more difficult and expensive and at some future point will be so costly that it will cause essentially a collapse of globalism with real depression here in the US. The fact that oil commerce is denominated in dollars while the value of the dollar steadily declines also presages a future in which the dollar may be toppled as the world currency, thus leading to widespread inflation and certain critical shortages of basics.

Widespread suffering will be endemic, unless an alternative source of energy is found able to sustain our way of life. But that is extremely unlikely. Coal and natural gas can compensate to some degree but since our luxurious and wasteful way of life is based on oil and since we see our many profligate luxuries as necessities, the industries that support them will fail, and that will lead to mass unemployment, cold winters indoors and the absence of air-conditioning in summer, not to mention starvation in what we like to think of as the “backward” nations, and hunger here since our supermarket cornucopia requires hydrocarbon for fertilizers and pesticides. Miracle cures like bio-fuels and hydrogen are wishful thinking. Nuclear power could maintain the electrical grid but the recent meltdown in Japan may make that hope insurmountable despite Obama’s continuing support for a nuclear renaissance.  Green technologies are unlikely to fill the void on time to avert the falling economic and political dominoes, if ever.

The US government’s real energy policy up to now has been to support energy corporations to exploit oil as usual and gain control over such reservoirs still existing. Congress is the creature of oil and other hydrocarbon corporations and their financiers…largely to protect their profit margins, and there is no plan for the day when the Age of Oil ends with a crash. Again natural gas and coal can maintain some of the richer nations at a much lower standard of living but this will result in widespread social upheaval leading to more international tension…not to mention an intensification of global warming

American foreign policy is premised today on garnering as much control over shrinking energy resources as possible…and to protect this access strategically. The various military commands are deployed primarily for this reason. Note that a new military command with responsibility for Africa has been created. The opportunity to create new military bases for AFRICOM is one of the prime reasons the U.S. is now in Libya. Note the recent incursion of American “advisors’ into Uganda and Sudan. Nigeria now provides a third of American needs, and Angola and other smaller nations have reservoirs that are targets for U.S. control. Obviously our attempt to gain control of the lion’s share of Middle East oil and especially of oil and natural gas in the Caspian and Central Asian regions will bring us into serious conflict with those nations that see these as their back yard – namely China and Russia and India and Pakistan. Imagine our response if China were to inject 150,000 troops into Mexico, the number two supplier of our domestic needs, or Venezuela, with the clear intention of siphoning these reserves to themselves?

Al Qaeda does not constitute an “existential threat” to the US and most real terrorist threats can be dealt with by police methods as the last decade has shown. It is well known in Washington but not among the public that the Taliban told al Qaeda not to attack the US from Afghanistan before 9-11. The fact that al Qaeda did so created a break between the two groups. The Afghan Taliban itself cannot threaten the US, and has never declared any intention to do so. But when Americans kill Muslims in Muslim lands we do far more to create terrorists than anything al Qaeda could do on its own. Meanwhile, attacks on Pakistan have promoted a separate Pakistani Taliban, and that faction has vowed to wreak vengeance on America, though its capacity to do so remains limited. The Pakistani Taliban, coupled with American air assaults, could destabilize Pakistan, and perhaps foster a takeover by Islamic fundamentalist junior officers. Recall that Pakistan possesses nuclear weapons.

Meanwhile, the public is frightened and off balance and paying through the nose for endless deployments. None of this four trillion dollar war (as Nobel economist Joseph Stiglitz, and Harvard professor Linda Bilmes now estimate) has been paid. Our children, and grandchildren, if they are lucky to have a future worthy of the name, will spend their working lives paying off these debts at jobs that won’t reflect degrees in higher education.  Meanwhile, the various elements of the secret team are currently reaping the benefits of deficit spending and the national debt and they feel sure that eventually the real price will be paid by those who sacrifice their lives and by taxpayers forced ever more into bankruptcy, foreclosure and unemployment.

The current wars will fail to achieve their goals. Premised as they are on lies they are in fact crimes against the peoples of the region, crimes intended to take advantage of their weaknesses and reward American energy and financial corporations and secondarily we citizens of the empire who insist on maintaining a failing way of life. It is the same ancient game of beggar our neighbors to advantage ourselves. In neither Iraq nor Afghanistan will the US achieve control of shrinking energy reserves for essentially the same reason it could not control Vietnam, the very war waged upon their peoples ostensibly to “liberate” them recruits more opponents. Moreover, the attempt to do so will result ever more tensions with the Muslim world and the other nations that need energy too.

In other words, the global climate is heating up in more ways than one. The conditions for another global war are present, and let us not ignore the fact that the last one was waged with toys compared to the present.

President Obama has said that he wants to see a “nuclear free Middle East. That would require the nuclear disarmament of Israel. Yet Obama goes along with the pretense of all his predecessors and refuses to acknowledge that Israel has these Weapons of Mass Destruction. If, indeed Iran is building nuclear weapons why wouldn’t it given the fear of Israel’s, or of America’s in the Persian Gulf, of Russia’s to the north, of Pakistan’s to the east? A world in which some nations declare their entitlement to such horrific weapons is a world in which many others tremble and come to reason that their only protection lies in possessing such themselves.

As international tensions rise over shrinking resources, and the ravages of climate change, the more likely a hair trigger mentality will arise. Hiroshima was the handwriting on the wall. As these demonic weapons increase sooner or later they will be used.

That is, unless the American people force our policies toward sanity, and come to focus on what our rhetoric has claimed we stand for all along.

Congressman Barney Frank has stated that the current economic crisis could be resolved by simply reducing the size and mission of the military. To be sure, the U.S. could defend itself against any existential threat with a tenth of our current military budget,. But the real threats perceived by elites are to their control of resources and markets. Such a redirection of resources could ameliorate economic crisis significantly but only for a time. The issue still remains the energy future, especially depletion and the effects of discharging hydrocarbon effluents into the atmosphere in the first place, and the growing likelihood of spreading violence. By all measures the American government and the public appear intent to hang on to our way of life no matter the consequences. That way of life is inherently profligate and unsustainable. We have altered the climate to the extent that ravaging events like the recent floods in Pakistan, vast forest fires in Russia, Hurricane Katrina, water shortages, and desertification are mere warnings. The worse all such conditions become the more social and political instability with severe danger of armed violence.

Our policies in the future must center on a crash program of conservation of energy, even if this means draconian limits imposed by law such as smaller more fuel efficient vehicles, and heating devices, and restrictions on air-conditioning and banning plastic containers etc. Both the nuclear power and coal industries are ramping up pressure since they know that natural gas, which at present provides most electricity, is also depleting and we need to educate people to be aware of what will happen without secure electricity. Simultaneously we need a Manhattan Project “cubed” and focused on alternative energy. Above all the crying need is for international cooperation in conservation, for cooperation into research into alternative energy sources, and mutual disarmament treaties and agreements to avoid conflict over shrinking resources. The alternative is the worsening probability of a third global war. Yet at present we have only Plan A: Armed intervention.

Alternatives can occur ONLY if the public awakens to the coming storm. We cannot depend on the corporate media to educate us; they are allied with their major clients, not the public, and they are deliberately withholding bad news for fear of stampeding the stock markets into panic. We must get the word out ourselves and make it clear that we will not accept or cooperate with business as usual from Congress or the presidency. That will have to mean more militancy throughout this nation than seen since the 1960s, or really even the 1930s.  Unfortunately I fear this will require even deeper crisis before we begin to awaken to the danger ahead.

Bibliography  

Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed, Behind the War on Terror: Western Secret Strategy and the Struggle for Iraq (New Society Publishers, 2003) Following the U.S. declaration of a “war on terror,” Washington hawks were quick to label Iraq part of an “axis of evil.” After a tense build-up, in March 2003 the United States and Britain invaded Iraq, purportedly to protect Western publics from weapons of mass destruction (WMD). But was this the real reason, or simply a convenient pretext to veil a covert agenda? Ahmed shows that economic considerations prompted US-UK to invade Iraq. The US has become vulnerable to energy shocks with domestic production unable to cope with increasing demand. This has led to occasional blackouts in places like California. Prior to Iraq war America’s oil inventories fell to the lowest level since 1975 with the country on the verge of drawing oil from ‘Strategic Petroleum Reserve.’ Iraq under Saddam Hussein was becoming what author says a ‘ swing producer.’ In other words he was turning oil tap on and off whenever Baghdad felt that such a policy was suiting its interests. Hussein even contemplated removing Iraqi oil from the market for extended periods of time which would have sent crude oil prices soaring.

Robert Dreyfuss, Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam (NY, Metropolitan Books, 2006)       In an effort to thwart the spread of communism, the U.S. has supported–even organized and funded–Islamic fundamentalist groups, a policy that has come back to haunt post-cold war geopolitics. Drawing on archival sources and interviews with policymakers and foreign-service officials, Dreyfuss traces this ultimately misguided approach from support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in the 1950s, the Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran, the ultra-orthodox Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia, and Hamas and Hezbollah to jihads in Afghanistan and Osama bin Laden. Fearful of the appeal of communism, the U.S. saw the rise of a religious Right as a counterbalance. Despite the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the declared U.S. war on terrorism in Iraq, Dreyfuss notes continued U.S. support for Iraq’s Islamic Right. He cites parallels between the cultural forces that have promoted the religious Right in the U.S and the Middle East and notes that support from wealthy donors, the emergence of powerful figures, and politically convenient alliances have contributed to Middle Eastern hostilities toward the U.S. 

William Engdahl, A Century of War: Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order  (London, Pluto Press, 2004) This book is a gripping account of the murky world of the international oil industry and its role in world politics. Scandals about oil are familiar to most of us. From George W. Bush’s election victory to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, US politics and oil enjoy a controversially close relationship. The US economy relies upon the cheap and unlimited supply of this single fuel. William Engdahl takes the reader through a history of the oil industry’s grip on the world economy. His revelations are startling.

Zbigniew Brzezinski The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy And Its Geostrategic Imperatives (NY, Basic Books, 1998)            President Carter’s former National Security Adviser, and now an informal adviser to President Obama, bragged that he had drawn the Soviets into their debacle in Afghanistan: ”What is most important to the history of the world? Some stirred up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the Cold War?” As his title indicates the fate of nations and their peoples are relegated to game theory. If America is to play the game of geo-strategic chess who are the pawns? 

Richard Heinberg, The Party’s Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies (New Society Publishers, 2005)        The world is about to run out of cheap oil and change dramatically. Within the next few years, global production will peak. Thereafter, even if industrial societies begin to switch to alternative energy sources, they will have less net energy each year to do all the work essential to the survival of complex societies. We are entering a new era, as different from the industrial era as the latter was from medieval times… Heinberg places this momentous transition in historical context, showing how industrialism arose from the harnessing of fossil fuels, how competition to control access to oil shaped the geopolitics of the twentieth century and how contention for dwindling energy resources in the twenty-first century will lead to resource wars in the Middle East, Central Asia and South America…he also recommends a “managed collapse” that might make way for a slower-paced, low-energy, sustainable society in the future. 

Michael Klare, Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet (NY, Holt, 2009)  Looking at the “new international energy order,” author and journalist Klare (Resource Wars) finds America’s “sole superpower” status falling to the increasing influence of “petro-superpowers” like Russia and “Chindia.” Klare identifies and analyzes the major players as well as the playing field, positing armed conflict and environmental disaster in the balance. Currently in the lead is emerging energy superpower Russia, which has gained “immense geopolitical influence” selling oil and natural gas to Europe and Asia; the rapidly-developing economies of China and India follow. Klare also warns of the danger of a new cold-war environment.

James Howard Kunstler, The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of Oil  etc. (NY, Grove Press, 2005)  It used to be thought that only environmentalists and paranoids warned about the world running out of oil and the future it could bring: crashing economies, resource wars, social breakdown, agony at the pump…Americas dependence on oil is too pervasive to undo quickly…meanwhile we’ll have our hands full dealing with soaring temperatures, rising sea levels and mega-droughts brought on by global climate change. (The Washington Post).

James Lovelock, The Vanishing Face of Gaia: A Final Warning (New York, Basic Books, 2010)  Presents evidence of a dire future for our planet. The controversial originator of Gaia theory (which views Earth as a self-regulating, evolving system made of organisms, the surface, the ocean and the atmosphere with the goal always to be as favorable for contemporary life as possible) proposes an even more inconvenient truth than Al Gore’s. The eminent 91-year-old British scientist challenges the scientific consensus of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It is too late to reverse global warming, he says, and we must accept that Earth is moving inexorably into a long-term “hot state.” Most humans will die off, and we must prepare havens. He points out that sea levels are rising significantly faster than models predicted. Lovelock advocates solar thermal and nuclear power as the best substitutes for burning fossil fuels, and he suggests emergency global geo-engineering projects that might cool the planet. But Lovelock also avows today’s ecological efforts are futile. This is a somber prophecy written with an authority that cannot be dismissed.

L. Fletcher Prouty, The Secret Team: The CIA and Its Allies in Control of the United States and the World (Skyhorse Publishing 2008)       A retired colonel of the U.S. Air Force, served as the chief of special operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Kennedy years. He was directly in charge of the global system designed to provide military support for the clandestine activities of the CIA. Prouty’s CIA exposĂ©, was first published in the 1970s, but virtually all copies of the book disappeared upon distribution, purchased en masse by shady “private buyers.” Certainly Prouty’s amazing allegations—that the U-2 Crisis of 1960 was fixed to sabotage Eisenhower-Khrushchev talks, and that President Kennedy was assassinated to keep the U.S., and its defense budget, in Vietnam—cannot have pleased the CIA.

Michael Ruppert, Confronting Collapse: The Crisis of Energy and Money in a Post Peak Oil World (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2009)           Ruppert confronts the stark realities of a world of declining oil production, poses vital questions of our complex oil-dependent supply chains and challenges us-people and politician alike-to build a sustainable world with what remains of our resources.
Julian Darley, Author, High Noon for Natural Gas, Founder of Post Carbon Institute 

Michael J. Sullivan, American Adventurism Abroad: Invasions, Interventions, and Regime Changes Since 1945 (Wiley Blackwell, 2007).
Traces US foreign policy from the late 1940s through the past six years of America’s ‘war on terror,’ and examines the impact of its repeated militaristic meddling into developing nations. Intended as a reference tool for undergraduates the author estimates that at least 7.1 million human beings have died as a direct result of these U.S. operations, most of them civilians.