Saturday, November 26, 2016

Off-Shore Pirates


A Coca Cola executive once told me that he had to throw an underling out of his office. Why? The guy attempted to ingratiate himself by proposing that Coke pump up the bottom line big-time with accounting practices that would locate profits off-shore, beyond the reach of the IRS. If your fondness for money exceeds your sense of civic responsibility, as say, in the case of our illegitimate president-elect, you would not throw this person out but rather promote them.

The New York Review of Books has a two-part examination (10/27, 11/10/16) by Alan Rusbridger of the whistleblower release of what have come to be called The Panama Papers. Investigative reporters Bastian Obermajer and Frederick Obermaier of the German newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung, were contacted by a disgruntled source somewhere deep in the off-shore world of a Panamanian law firm called Mossfon. The source was weary of seeing wealthy people getting away with outrageous behavior. He, or she, fed the reporters a massive trove of documents that exposed heads of states, oligarchs, defense contractors, mafia dons, gamblers, fraudsters, drug and arms dealers, prominent families and individuals to embarrassing disclosures about their tax avoidance schemes, money laundering, corporate shells etc; The power of this class (who else needs financial management experts?), being in the cat bird's seat when it comes to influencing legislation, means that much of what they did was perfectly legal. Russian President Putin was one of these and was quick to point out that it broke no laws. Also of note, several news organizations the whistleblower contacted were not interested, probably part of their knee-jerk shielding of the 1% who of course own the mainstream media. You want to keep your job you don't investigate the boss. As it turned out the cache was so overwhelming that the newspaper decided to share with an international investigative reporter organization. There's safety in numbers, at least in the nations that have constitutional protections.

The Whistleblower was quite accurate in his/her assessment. The tax burden, especially in the U.S., has shifted from corporations to workers since the 50s, with a vengeange starting with Reagan. Those who benefit least from government policies pay the most. Commerz Bank in Frankfurt, for example, received $18 billion in taxpayer subsidies during the financial meltdown yet routinely helped German clients avoid taxes. The preponderance of the Panama Papers concerns clients of just one firm, Mossfon, of Panama. We can assume other companies do similar financial management “services” for the wealthy, allowing them to avoid taxes, law enforcement and vengeful spouses. 52 of 54 African countries have used Mossfon. Over $500 billion has fled Africa, twice as much as its debt. In an accompanying 2,000 word “manifesto”, the leaker claimed their intent was to expose inequality and how the wealth management industry had abetted crime, drug dealing and fraud on a truly grand scale involving trillions of dollars.

The various experts cited in the article hold little hope for reform. As the new administration comes into power here we can be sure that this particular business-as-usual will procede unimpeded, probably with new vigor. They do suggest that transparency would help, maybe embarrassing businesses and individuals into paying their share. We have public lists of who owns property, why not of who possesses wealth? Taxing corporations based on where their sales occur is another measure that might recoup some of the lost revenue. If a corporations's sales are primarily in the U.S. its taxes shouldn't be based on sales in Bermuda. It isn't just some numbers short on a balance sheet. Governments can't adequately address inequality, poverty, disease and starvation when the needed funds are parked off-shore. Corporations occupy our government so there is little chance those goals would even arise and even less chance that corrective measures would see daylight. Since billionaires, again, own the media, there is little chance the public will even know of these shenanigans, as opposed to say, Brad Pitt's latest divorce.


Google (if you use Goodsearch instead of Google, a penny per search goes to your favorite non-profit) made $13 billion by shifting its profits to the low-tax haven of Bermuda. Apple funnels profits to the Cayman Islands to this same end, all perfectly legal. Apple however was hit with a $13 billion fine when the European Commission ruled that Ireland's low tax rate amounted to an illegal subsidy. Ireland was only one stop on a Byzantine money route Apple had designed to reduce tax obligations. The lack of regulation and secrecy off-shore is the draw and like the downward spiral of sweatshop wages and work conditions, banks are subject to competition. The client can just move on to whomever offers the least tax, regulation and the most secrecy. The Koch Brothers et al., and Trump-level wealth preaches non-regulation as if it were a sacred principle blessing us all but we know, when we remove the blinders, who the beneficiaries actually are. I mean beneficiary in the sense that any addict benefits from the object of their addiction though that addiction ultimately represents dysfunction. When the addiction creates immense suffering, comes time for an intervention. When the addiction is unsustainable and leads toward irreparable environmental damage and extinction, it is time for an alternative. The election of an unapologetic denier of reality suggests that it might be too late. Perhaps some other planet in the vast cosmos will succeed in evolving beyond greed and war.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Fiasco, The American Military Adventure in Iraq, Thomas Ricks


What first struck me about Thomas E Ricks’ book, Fiasco The American Military Adventure in Iraq 2003 to 2005, was the sheer number of establishment figures who opposed the war, many of whom predicted the general consequences, to include Isis. Bush the elder, General Colin Powell (despite his eventual disgraceful performance at the U.N.), General Schwarzkoph, Brent Scowcroft, and Marine General Anthony Zinne – who, addressing a gathering of the U.S. Naval Institute and the Marine Corps Association, mocked the premature victory declaration and strategy of the administration, comparing it to Vietnam and received a standing ovation from many in this hawkish audience.
Below the level of top generals and yes-men, the military tended to question the invasion on basically the same grounds as the peaceniks: force was a first rather than last resort; falsified justification – WMDs and Hussein’s ties to Al Queda. However, orders from the top demanded rhetorical conformity.
Our beloved media failed, as usual, to bring us these alternative views, preferring instead to build consensus behind the war: the highly rated Phil Donahue’s firing from MSNBC as the studio head did not want the network to be seen as anti-war; CNN’s sending an executive to oversee coverage in Atlanta who stated on Democracy Now, one of the few outlets not captured by war fever, that the dialogue is over, the decision has been made, time to fall in line. You can guess where Faux News fell on this issue.
I remember a million person march in NYC, and across the planet in even greater numbers, which got scant mainstream coverage. Since significant establishment figures were in opposition though, they brought more of that into the media than usual if only in the Sunday political forums.
As Chomsky has said, the range of opinion in the mainstream media reflects the range, and only that range, among the rulers. On the congressional front, Democrats, according to Ricks, were gun-shy since those who opposed Bush 1’s 1991 invasion did not fare well. That was certainly the case in Georgia, remember Wyche Fowler? Byrd was the lone senator to vote against the legislation that gave Bush his Gulf of Tonkin resolution.
But the book is less anti-war than, as its title implies, a critique of the project, especially the occupation. Which boils down to this: so arrogant were the designers of the folly, assuming Iraqis would welcome with open arms the invasion of their country and even happily pay for it, that they made virtually no plans to govern in the aftermath. The military saw the administration as amateurs ignoring their expertise and blundering blithely into a quagmire. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz outmaneuvered Secretary of State Powell and all comers until, up to their necks in quagmire they later attempted to wash their hands of it.
The military war colleges make a distinction between strategy and tactics, the former being the overall goals that guide the latter. The Beltway bandits wanted yes-men below them and Senior Commander General Sanchez accommodated them. His failure to focus beyond tactics contributed mightily to the occupation’s failure. World War II. tactics were used, despite the lessons learned in Vietnam about counter insurgency, the importance of winning the hearts and minds of the population.
Military tactics mostly ended up aiding the insurgency. By rounding up all males between 14 and 60 years, busting into their homes at 3:00 A.M., humiliating them before their families, damaging property, and marching them off to Abu Ghraib for torture sessions preceded by long internments, they served as very effective recruiters.
In his Doonesbury strip, Trudeau made his character Duke Viceroy of Iraq. It was close to the truth.
The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) made the disastrous decision to de-baathize the Iraqui army and police. This left thousands of armed and trained Iraquis unemployed, with quite predictable consequences. Especially in tandem with the brutal military treatment of Iraqui men. One diplomat, a former Special Forces officer lamented that the three counter-insurgency “fixes”, Police, Power (electricity) and Political Process were not a priority. He failed to convince his “superiors” to take this seriously. While lavish commodities and life style were shipped into the Green Zone, the greater Iraqui populace languished without the “fixes” – not to mention food.
When reading books by reporters for mainstream media I take into account the vetting process that ensures that employees for these institutions embrace the establishment viewpoint. Knowing that advancement there depends on continued assurances of the embrace, ever more strictly the closer to the top, it is wise to bring one’s critical faculties along for the read.


In this case, Washington Post writer Thomas Ricks goes easy on the Bush administration, leaving out of his critique the widely held conclusion among anti-war groups that 911 was a convenient and dishonest justification for an invasion of Iraq that was among the foremost yearnings of its quest for empire. Oil as motivation is also hardly mentioned. On the other hand Ricks describes the invasion of Iraq as one of the most profligate decisions made in the history of U.S. foreign policy.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Email Fisticuffs

  • Author's Note: This is an edited and expanded version of one of my posts in an email exchange with a... well, someone with whom I disagreed, who had been enthusiastically equating Islam with terrorism (the exchange for me was an attempt to build a bridge rather than yell across the chasm... predictably destined for the futility file for all I got back were loud insults):

This is where we agree, I think: we both oppose people who harm others, who want to dominate, deny liberty, lie to make themselves look good and others bad, deny people their rights under the constitution and the bill of rights and also our rights under the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, signed I think by all member nations (this latter item provoked immediate condemnation).


This is where we disagree, I think: the things that we agree on up there should be the focus, we should hold ALL citizens to those principles. It isn’t ALL Muslims who violate them and it isn’t ALL U.S. citizens who follow them. We need to go after those who violate those principles whether they are in Saudi Arabia or the U.S.
And by we, I don’t mean the U.S. I mean anyone on the planet who cares about those principles. And by “going after” I don’t mean with violence. I mean with law and persuasion, and patience for we ourselves are not so enlightened that we might not be violating the rights of others without being aware… and if we are patient and prepared to listen as well as speak we might be persuaded and change our behavior when we realize we are mistaken – if we expect it of others then we must expect it of ourselves.
I started out to itemize where we disagree, now I’m finally getting to it. The source of the malaise and economic insecurity felt across our culture is not illegal immigrants, nor “lazy minorities”, nor lack of prayer in the schools or the ten commandments displayed at city hall, nor a liberal press and government. It’s not even Isis. It is in the long struggle between democracy and tyranny, typified in this country by that portion of the wealthy class who pour resources into undermining democracy and favoring oligarchy. It can even be argued that Isis would not exist were it not for the policies that have grown out of the success of these oligarchs.
Were it not for so-called free trade agreements, NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), GATT (Global Agreement on Tarriff and Trade) etc; immigration from the south would not be so unmanageable. NAFTA favored U.S. subsidies to agriculture, driving small farmers in Mexico and Central America out of business. They then flocked to the cities to try to find jobs in the sweat shops, created by the same agreements, or took the more appealing option of getting to the U.S. (the belly of the beast) where sweatshop wages have not yet prevailed.
The oligarchic response is to instruct their media pundits (actually to hire select personnell based on their capacity to anticipate the correct line) to demonize these victims, blaming them for taking “our jobs.”
When in fact what has taken our jobs is the wholesale migration of once profitable industries abroad, seeking the greater profits of cheap labor and loose environmental regulations. This is a runaway situation where once started it becomes not only more profitable to relocate, but uncompetitive to stay. William Greider points out in his book, One World, Ready or Not, a strong country like the U.S. could take the lead and demand environmental and worker protection. Instead, it goes with the flow, downward and off-shore.
This brings us to another point of disagreement. One doesn’t have to approve to understand the capitalist’s reasons, profit after all is what they are by definition about. But why would agovernment betray its own people in this manner?
Government is by for and of the people, right? Well, wrong. It’s by, for, and of corporate and wealthy “citizens.” Given the way politicians are required to raise money for electoral campaigns, given who donates and supports or opposes their campaigns, and of course, who the elected then owe. Whose telephone calls do you suppose they return? The politically active portion of the 1%, by and large, according to Jane Mayer’s book, Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, are ideologically committed to ends that are far from democratic and basically reduce to the advancement, as they see it, of their interests, which basically reduces to money. The whole world as Third World to the oligarch for some reason beyond my psychology, seems to be the best of all worlds.
A completely ridiculous and modest proposal: why not put our great brains to work figuring out how we can divert the energy presently going into chasing money into creating a system that provides food, clothing, shelter, education and healthcare for all the inhabitants of the planet, in a way that doesn’t despoil the life system on which we all depend?
Outlandish as this proposal may seem, if we don’t make it our main priority, along with a commitment to non-violent resolution of conflict, then we will have war and with the kind of weapons available and developing, the planet and its people will perish in nuclear holocaust, if not directly then in the aftermath when the life-system breaks down, from radiation, nuclear winter and also from the pollutants that our life choices are more slowly but definitely disbursing – are we on the same page or are we still in different books?

Monday, September 12, 2016

Atheist Believers: A Religious/Existentialist Wedding


The meaning of the word God, in my congregation during my formative years, was conventional, literal biblical, bearded guy in the sky taking notes, who’s been naughty, who’s been nice. This got challenged, or should I say devastated, when I walked into a design class in art school conducted by Myron Kozman – think Richard Dawkins mischievously assailing received wisdom.
The standard response to information that conflicts with one’s point of view is either denial or point of view adjustment. My congregation, confronted with Professor Kozman, would have chosen, hands down, the denial. Migrating from Lutheranism to Bohemia made the paradigm adjustment choice feasible for me, still received wisdom I suppose but more thought out this time: Existentialism – Dylan’s line in “Visions of Joanna” sums it up, “We’re all sitting here stranded, doing our best to deny it.” As did Sartre and friend’s bleak take that there is no God, or s/he’s dead, no supernatural, a big NO to all that. Earth is a rock in space. Isolated individuals are subject to the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune, and the nets of chance… and especially there is indifference, if not hostility, from a lifeless backdrop and a ruthlessly competitive economic system mirroring Darwin’s fitness test.
Glimpses of an enlarged, more appealing perspective began to appear in the 60s, at least in the West, in the form of Eastern thought, Buddhism and Hinduism, delivered by Hesse, Huxley, Alan Watts, the Beats, LSD and The Beatles. But these remained occasional, not always consistent, hazy if intense glimpses untilEckhart Tolle’s books brought the various strands into sharp focus. Others may have arrived at this view before Tolle, and as clearly but I’m not aware of them (Huxley’s book Island comes close). And the point is the view, not who gets credit for it.
The three phases I’m describing, that I went through, could be thought to be incompatible, irreconcilably antagonistic, or they could be seen as paraphrasing each other, pointing at the same thing. The language of Christianity (or any other religion) could be metaphoric, standing for or pointing at a difficult to describe reality. Existentialism could be seen to be pointing directly at the reality itself. Both views must jettison some baggage to arrive at a happy marriage: Religion must recognize the Mythology of its language, dropping the literalist interpretation that renders it ludicrous; Existentialism must quit its pessimistic and arbitrary conclusion that reality is horrifying. When the marriage is consummated we are in the Great NOW where the barricade of mind chatter is set aside, leaving a non-narrative presence, a felt recognition of interconnection, of Oneness, with its healing component, the peace, as the preacher says, that passeth all understanding.
I once said to a friend that all the religions are saying the same thing, just different language. I could see him process this and hesitatingly agree. I added, “Even atheism.” which he clearly could not accept. I wasn’t even sure what I meant when I said it. Thinking it out I reached this explanation: the story of any religion, say the Jesus story, is designed to bring one to an awareness of being, an awareness where interconnection is self-evident. The story serves the same function as ritual, the church service, saying of the rosary or chanting. That makes the story not literal history but a parable or myth. But how could atheism serve this same function? Well theism is belief in god. The fundamentalist idea of God is certainly at odds with atheism for an atheist considers that notion wishful thinking or projection without foundation. But if we define the word God as the intelligence obviously characterizing reality, none but a fundamentalist, atheist or not, could disagree. We might prefer a different word for it but IT is self-evident. And then it’s not a stretch to note that discreet moments and entities come into and out of existence and so postulate a source out of which they come and to which they return, call it essence, expansive continuum…. or whatever words satisfy, even God. Thus we pronounce this couple, Existentialism and Religion, joined in, if not holy then wholly, matrimony.
Post Script:
What comes after life? Same thing that comes before life. What’s that? It can really only be felt but it can be pointed at with words. There is what some in the East call “The Ground of Being” out of which all of what we call existence emerges, appears and disappears, dust to dust, ashes to ashes… to the degree that we identify with fleeting physical reality, the illusion of temporality, fear of death will dominate. What is happening here is thoughts (identifying with illusion, seeing/thinking it passing, seeing/thinking it leading to personal pain and extinction) creating emotions, fear, feelings of vulnerability. When you still the mind’s ceaseless chattering you can feel interconnection, the ONEness of the great NOW which is your essence, out of which flows the illusion of passing, sequential time. Attempting to picture an afterlife is part of the wish to extend the illusion, part of the identification with form as opposed to essence. Essence can only really be felt. It can be thought, that is, words can point at it but to know it is to feel it. This has been called prayer, meditation, connection, heaven, oneness, peace, insight… words pointing at the felt interconnection, the eternal oneness of reality. The key is, when the mind is still, one’s essence can be felt and that is the ultimate reality, that is who you are, your real self. As Eckhart Tolle has it, “To feel and thus to know, that you are; and to abide in that deeply rooted state is enlightenment.”

Monday, August 15, 2016

Dark Money, Jane Mayer, a review



The Billionaire’s Club is a 28-page political cartoon that is my take on how power works in the U.S. The book portrays billionaires getting together at the club and initiating a new member into the fold. It was a device I used to talk about how the 1% have disproportionate influence on our democracy and so are obstacles to addressing the crisis we face. I didn’t think that the 1% conspiratorially met, save socially – they do run in the same circles – it’s just that their interests overlap and acting separately, supporting similar causes, political candidates etc; it is as-if they acted jointly. This is true.

Jane Mayer also shows in her book Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right that they actually have met and organized in significant numbers of rich guys, and even more significant numbers of dollars, to combat what they see as limitations on their “freedom.” They equate the word with less government and less taxes. The current leadership, the Koch brothers Charles and David, hold an annual gathering – a secretive conference aimed to gauge their success to-date and to plot further depradation. The first conference in the ’80s was lightly attended though it still jingled with heavy currency, but it didn’t take long to grow into a formidable gathering of old and new money.
The Koch’s come out of a John Birch Society-type ideology and their goal from the beginning was to shift the country to their fringe views. These include the libertarian mantra “less government” to such an extreme that in their utopia there would be no taxes, no government regulations, and the only survivor of the bill of rights would be the right to and protection of property. This I would venture is a politics of sociopathology. We haven’t gotten completely there yet, but they have created a significant shift that significantly erodes democracy. In one of the many prosecutions brought against the Kochs for their polluting, one worker testified that he was told not to worry about contamination, it’s cheaper to pay off a few cancer victims than to observe regulations. One of the biggest cases was scuttled by the Bush Administration’s replacing the chief prosecutor with someone more business friendly.
Mayer traces this anti-movement back through the Koch dynasty allied with other wealth including the Mellon-Scaife family in Pittsburgh, and even the early Rockefellers. It seems that when one accumulates a certain standing as measured by wealth, there comes an addiction commonly known as greed. Of course, the Koch conference attendees represent those who have been taken by this force. There may be others of this class who escape and spend their time in other pursuits. But these folks are serious sociopaths and given their resources, are a real threat to democracy.
I have wondered in print before, just what is so fearful to them about democracy? Is it the three Ps they might have to sacrifice – profits, privilege and power? Do they imagine themselves hung from the nearest telephone pole, pursued with pitchforks? One of the Mellons commented that when he had trouble sleeping he would count the rooms in his modest 60 room weekend retreat, instead of counting sheep as we lower elements have to content ourselves with. You can get used to that kind of privilege and convince yourself that you deserve it, are “entitled,” as Mitt Romney would have it about a different demographic.
It is worth noting that the Koch patriarch Fred Koch, traded with the Nazis, provided much-needed expertise on fueling Hitler’s diabolical war machine, and admired their system and that of Mussolini. He also provided similar service to Stalin though this he came to regret as he later embraced the religion of anti-communism. He wasn’t alone: the patriarch Prescott Bush also served the Nazis and came very close to prosecution for trading with the enemy. According to Michael Parenti some U.S.-owned corporate factories in Germany during WW II were on a no-bomb list, and those that were inadvertently bombed were given restitution after the war – not information we are likely to encounter in our mainstream media nor standard academic history.
Odd that these extremists were so alarmed about paying taxes, government regulations, and assistance to the needy. I suppose they longed for the good old days before the 1929 crash that caused great suffering to millions and eventually brought us Roosevelt and the New Deal.
The greed-force cannot envision “enough,” neither of money nor of control. This is a psychosis. One of the founding members of the Carthage Group, Andrew Mellon, was Treasury Secretary through the three administrations preceding Roosevelt. He worked diligently to cut taxes on the wealthy and roll back what meager progressive legislation existed in the ’20s. It wasn’t until 1913 that the U.S. instituted an income tax, and though he wasn’t successful in rolling that back, he was able to cut taxes for the 1%, both income and capital gains.
Roll-back, motivated by greed, is always justified by tame economists with lofty sounding theories, like trickle-down economics, where it is claimed, falsely, that cutting taxes on the rich will actually increase taxes collected, benefiting everyone. This errant argument gets rolled out periodically, with different names but the same old beneficiaries, promoted by for and of, the wealthy. The theory is bosom buddies with the NRA (National Rifle Association – appendage of the gun industry) adage that more guns make us safer.
A particular villain in this sad story creating a lot of damage is David Weyrich who made himself enthusiastically available in this lucrative endeavor to the boss men. He co-created the right wing think tank, The Heritage Foundation with Mellon providing much of the funding, buying them a nice ten story building across the street from the Supreme Court conveniently located near Senate office buildings and the capital.
Heritage is ostensibly a research center but the name hints at its values: I think a priori is a phrase describing research where you start with the desired conclusions and gather evidence to support it and ignore evidence that doesn’t. It is an indictment of mainstream media, which includes public TV and radio, that these propagandists were and are routinely consulted as “experts.”
Weyrich also co-founded with the repugnant Jerry Falwell, the Moral Majority. Another creation on his resume is ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) whose function is to write legislation favorable to business and get it passed by state legislators. One of their projects is to block or slow the development of solar. This effort is supplemented by the bribery system known as campaign contributions.
Part of the aim and effect of Weyrich’s work was to push already existing think tanks, such as Rand and Brookings who did actual research, to the Right by accusing them of the sin of “liberality.” Ever sensitive to funder perception these think tanks then hired conservatives for “balance.” Funny that in the “search for “truth,” balance requires that you bring in some liars.
Part I of Mayer’s book is titled, “Weaponizing Philanthropy: The War of Ideas, 1970 – 2008.” Future reviews will cover part 2, “Secret Sponsors: Covert Operations, 2009 – 2010,” and part 3, “Privatizing Politics: Total Combat, 2011 – 2014.” Part 1 covers billionaires extending their narrow, self-serving influence. People like the Kochs, Mellen-Scaife, Olin and the Bradleys, touching on the earlier wealthy conservatives Rockefeller, Bush and others.
Beach Head: John Olin noted industrial polluter created the Olin Foundation and used his money for several insidious but influential endeavors. His strategy evolved into stealth, where he created what he called beach heads in the law schools. He had his minions create a course innocuously called, Law and Economy, endowing Law Schools including Harvard, Yale and Cornel to incorporate it into their curriculum – the only important school to decline the money based on ethical concerns was the Law School of the UCLA. The course was based on the Libertarian theory that law and regulations should be subject not just to fairness but to considerations of their economic impact. Gee, if we quit polluting the river it will affect our bottom line.
Another project was the Federalist Society, eventually a 40,000-member association of right-leaning lawyers including Ed Meese, John Ashcroft, Dick Cheney and all four conservative supreme court justices. Olin also sponsored all expense-paid “seminars” for judges, junkets really to exotic locales where a morning indoctrination lecture left the day free for swimming, golf, etc. Not satisfied with merely attacking democracy while he was alive, Olin left $100 million to his foundation with the caveat that it must spend all the money before its trustees died to insure that liberals could never hijack it as he thought had happened to the Ford Foundation (Henry being that famous anti-semitic, Hitler admirer).
So these guys, truly the 1%, its activist wing anyway, set about to systematically and disproportionately impact our government and institutions in a way that favored them and went a long way toward dismantling democracy. They have always been about this project – especially so since The New Deal, but the last 40 years marks an acceleration and attempt to more fully consolidate their position as, what Chomsky calls, the Masters. The decimation of unions, the trade agreements and “globalization” that moved U.S. production and jobs overseas and largely account for the immigration crisis, and the massive transfer of wealth to them from the rest of us is testament to their success. The TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership) trade agreement down the pike offers us more of the same, including a transfer of national sovereignty to unelected and unaccountable corporate panels. A conservative Michigan legislature gave its governor the power to appoint overseers for troubled cities – overseers who can ignore and override elected officials and democracy. Flint is one result of that bargain and that is a model of what they seek for the whole planet. If we don’t resist we become Flint.
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  • Image: The feature illustration, The Spoils of War, is by the author © Tom Ferguson

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Pipe Dream: CIA as 1980s Crack Dealer


Gary Webb’s book, Dark Alliance, casts dark aspersions on the United States. In its historical and hysterical opposition to “leftist” thought it has routinely allied itself with criminals. Obvious examples are the regimes it supported in Cuba prior to the revolution, the Somoza regime in Nicaragua prior to “its” revolution, dictatorships in the Philippines, Vietnam and… it goes on and on (just read some Chomsky).
Politics of Heroin in Southeast AsiaAlfred McCoy in his book, The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia, documents U.S. alignment with heroine smuggling mafiosa where said mafia were allowed to import their product to the U.S. in exchange for union-busting and other undemocratic “services” by said thugs.
The U.S. brands third world resistance to oppressive and corrupt right wing governments as “left” to justify support of what they brazenly call “democratic forces”, even “freedom fighters” as Reagan called the Contras attacking Nicaragua, “Equivalent to our Founding Fathers” he said. The World Court disagreed, convicting the U.S. of terrorist acts against the country. Reagan also stated that the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, made up of U.S. citizens fighting the fascist takeover of democratic Spain in the 30s, “fought on the wrong side.”
The resistance is portrayed as violent and “godless” communism, a tried and true demonizing formula. In fact, what is usually going on is that ordinary citizens attempt to organize opposition to oppressive elite rule. The tiny minority of privileged landowners hire thugs, even death squads, to squelch this movement with terror. Lynchings in the U.S. south were no less terroristic than the death squads in El Salvador, both aimed to suppress dissent, to terrorize the population into silence, to maintain the status quo, rule of the elite.
Occupy has ingeniously given us a valuable, accessible term for that elite, the 1%. The U.S. government, representing that 1%, fears any society that might demonstrate a successful alternative to capitalism, all the more urgently if it’s a democratic one. People elsewhere, even here, might get ideas.
Henry Kissinger famously remarked that the issues in Chile were too important to be left to the people to decide. That is, democracy is fine rhetoric but when it threatens corporate/elite control the dogs must be unleashed. Thus the U.S. supported a vicious 1973 coup, replacing a vibrant democracy with a ruthless dictatorship. The result for Chilean society was thousands of murder victims and the economy sacrificed to the gods of the “free market.”
Shock Doctrine by Naomi KleinNaomi Klein nicely elucidates this pogrom, among others, in her book, Shock Doctrine. A footnote: one has to disassociate with the U.S., as in “The U.S. supports terrorist Contras.” since it is not the people carrying out these acts but the elite-captured government.
So with this background it is no surprise to find that CIA planes delivered weaponry to Central America “Freedom Fighters” – in the propaganda version of the phrase – and returned with drugs, the sales of which, some of which, went back into the terrorist project. Attendant protection of the dealers, some of whom considered themselves “patriots” doing their bit to return Nicaragua to elite rule, ensued, in the form of those arrested being let off for “national security” reasons, and investigations being dropped for the same reasons.
The fact that one hit of this product, crack, left its victims temporarily elated and, in short order, so depressed that they could think of nothing but getting more, mattered to the traffickers, the Contras, their right wing supporters in congress, the administration and CIA about as much as the innocent Contra victims in Nicaragua, and the death squad targets in El Salvador and elsewhere. In a word, none.
Even when a figure like Archbishop Romero was killed in El Salvador it seemed like the government saw it as a PR problem. The human rights president Carter continued arms shipments even as Romero pleaded with him to stop, just before he was permanently stopped. He was killed during a church service, a very public message delivered: question elite rule and you die. Jeanne Kilpatrick, Reagan’s U.N. Ambassador reminded us, falsely, that the church women, U.S. citizens, murdered by death squads, were “political activists,” as if that excused their execution and rape. Their “activism” consisted of attempting to help the poor.
Gary Webb was known for his dogged research and his editors at first supported him. Once they began breaking the story and were vilified by the rest of the major media they had second thoughts. Gary is quoted in one of his essays to say that he thought he lived in the land of the free press but realized that this illusion was maintained for him only because he had never done a story that exposed the workings behind the curtain until his Contra/CIA/Crack article.
Webb’s newspaper, the San Jose Mercury News, more or less retracted its story, caving to the mainstream smear. Webb was let go, published this book which shows substantiation of his charges in official sources such as Senate hearings, did investigative work in Sacramento until political shifts there left him jobless and in debt. His death was ruled a suicide, shot himself in the head – twice! Kind of unusual and certainly suspicious.
Wikipedia sums up his career claiming that his articles were well researched but peppered with errors, that his wife accepted that his death was suicide, a film was made of his life, also peppered with errors but well-received… hard to really know what happened, where this “peppering” comes from, but the preponderance of evidence, I suggest, based on the history mentioned in the first paragraphs above, would vindicate Gary’s work. He was treated like most whistle-blowers, since the rulers do not want their little projects, their anti-democratic endeavors revealed, with an organized, focused and pointed smear job.
This outlines the major thrust of the book and Webb’s subsequent fate but there are many interesting diversions and personalities in the text such as the “rags to riches” (to prison) story of a young, highly effective entrepreneur who served as the chief distributor for Contra cocaine smuggling. It is also intriguing to witness the massive documentation Webb gathered to support his thesis, the numerous interviews and cross-checking that built his case, a superstructure that unfortunately was then used as the scaffolding for his demise.
The writer was warned by several other writers who naively thought they could expose this kind of story and found, the very hard way, that in the land of the free, home of the brave, certain behavior, conflicting as it does with the pretty rhetoric in our “mission statement,” must remain hidden.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Democracy Now, Amy Goodman


Amy Goodman hosts a groundbreaking radio news show out of New York City, which is also videocast. She covers news from a non-corporate perspective, extolling what she calls Independent Media. She titled her latest book, Democracy Now, because she says it is the only way she can get her show’s name in the New York Times. If it becomes a best seller (which it has) they sort of have to list it. Otherwise, cover non-corporate news and you’re excluded from the corporate media. You’re not quite respectable. That’s a major part of her work, presenting stuff that is hidden, distorted or underplayed by the mainstream establishment.

The book documents the history of the show, co-hosted by Juan Gonzalez, a New York Post columnist and activist. It is co-written by her brother David and Denis Moynihan who she credits with getting the show videocast and distributed widely, now at 1400 TV and radio stations worldwide. I was very surprised to find it on my screen one morning in a small town motel in Ohio a few years back. Since the show is a news outlet its history is of the main stories happening since its inception in the mid 90s. The book gives a brief history also of the Pacifica Radio Network, on which it airs, and ventures beyond the timeline as in outlining the 1969 Stonewall Uprising when covering LGBTQ issues. And you can hardly discuss U.S. foreign policy without touching on Vietnam, Central America under Reagan and other samples of rogue Empire. Had Democracy Now been around in 1984 when the world court convicted the U.S. of terrorism for its attack on Nicaragua, more citizens might have known. The mainstream certainly didn’t deign to inform us.
Democracy Now by Amy Goodman with Contributors David Goodman and Denis Moynihan
Amy doesn’t always broadcast from her New York City studio. She was on-the-scene at the 1999 Battle of Seattle where elite World Trade Organization (WTO) meetings were disrupted. And in Minneopolis for the Republican convention where she was arrested, despite being press. Outrageous to learn that the city was indemnified from lawsuits for its illegal suppression of dissent by insurance paid for by Republican fat cats. She was there on the streets when a million people marched opposing the pending invasion of Iraq which you can be forgiven for not knowing about if you depend on the mainstream for information. She was knocked to the ground by U.S. supported Indonesian soldier’s rifle butts in East Timor, trying to protect demonstrators from lethal response and in Ferguson Missouri for the police riots. She was in Paris recently at the Climate Conference, reporting on police assaulting peaceful demonstrators and interviewing those excluded from the talks.
This is the critical issue of our time, climate change. The accord reached in Paris was so superior to past failures that it seemed like a triumph, that we’re finally addressing the issue. But a close look shows little enforcement mechanism for the voluntary carbon reduction goals and the numbers involved, even if achieved, still doom great masses to rising seas. Islanders and poverty-stricken areas of the world are gravely threatened but also any coastal city – think New York City, Miami, Houston… can a disturbance this great be accomodated by our civilization? Given the reluctance to act now when something can be done, one would be tempted to predict chaos when the consequences arrive – an event not as far into the future as we might wish. Scientists keep shortening that time-frame as they uncover ever more disturbing data. As Amy says, in media coverage in the U.S. climate deniers are given equal time. It is as if the flat earth society were given equal time in discussions of the planet’s form, for balance. Even Sarah Palin recognizes that 97% of scientists agree that climate change is real and homosapien plays a key causal role… she just doesn’t know what to do with that info since she is unwilling to give up her denial. Hey, 97%? that’s not significant!
Other issues covered by this inspiring history (the show is subtitled the War and Peace Report), is the hypocritical treatment of whistle blowers, contrasting the slap on the wrist given General Petraeus’ self-serving disclosures of classified information with the career and financial ruination, and criminalization directed at CIA agents who released damning information to fulfill their oath to defend the constitution. Then of course there’s the rabid hunt for Julian Assange and Edward Snowden and the imprisonment of Chelsea Manning. These are particularly enlightening: the perpetrators of murder are immune while the soldier with the courage to reveal the slaughter is imprisoned; the Constitution violators are honored (think Bush/Cheney/Wolfowitz etc;) while the whistle-blowers are smeared, hounded, fired or transferred to meaningless assignments. Similar to the condemnation of those who initially revealed U.S. torture while the torturer masters were protected. Something’s topsy-turvy here and that’s Democracy Now‘s job, to expose hypocrisy and corruption. Other issues include the prison industrial complex, the arms industry, gun safety, the death penalty debacle, unconscionable police killings, the confederate flag, the American Psychological Association’s enabling torture policies and more.
The Occupy Movement began (aside from its inspiration in Egypt) in lower Manhattan only blocks from theDemocracy Now studios. Democracy Now was there when the police, acting as protectors and defenders of the rulers rather than the people, shut it down – just as in the early union movement when the government sent troops to suppress striking workers, siding always with the Boss. Later Homeland Security coordinated, and Mayors cooperated, with nation-wide suppression of Occupy as it spread across the country. Democracy Nowconducted many interviews with figures routinely barred from the mainstream, substantial interviews with brilliant dissidents like Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, Cornel West and Arhundati Roy, interviews which demonstrate just why they’re banned from the mainstream. The 1% are obsessed with protecting their privilege and given their extreme wealth they can summon the apparatus of media and government to their service. They are fully aware and terrified of, so careful to obscure the fact that, as Arhundati Roy has said, “They are few, we are many.”