Washington has threatened “not to sign” a final nuclear agreement with Tehran unless the Iranian government gives access to its possible military dimension-related sites and nuclear scientists.
“If we don’t get the assurances we need on the access to possible military dimension-related sites or activities, that’s going to be a problem for us,” State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said in Washington on Wednesday.
“We and Iran have agreed that we will undertake a process to address possible military dimensions (of past nuclear work), and part of that includes access,” Harf said. “Under the Additional Protocol … which Iran will implement and has said they will implement as part of this deal, the IAEA does get access.”
“If we cannot agree in the final instance to something that meets our bottom line for what we need in terms of access, we’re not going to sign a final deal. And that’s just something we’ve been very, very clear about,” she added.
The remarks were made after Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei said that Iran would not allow inspection of its military sites.
Iran says the United States is making fresh demands in the nuclear negotiations.
“They are making new comments in the negotiations. Regarding the inspections, we have said that we will not allow foreigners to carry out inspections of any military sites,” Ayatollah Khamenei said on Wednesday.
“The enemies should know that the Iranian nation and officials will, by no means, give in to excessive demands and bullying,” the Leader underlined.
The US and its negotiating partners reached a framework nuclear agreement with Iran in Switzerland on April 2.
Tehran and the P5+1 group – the US, Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany – are currently working to draw up a final accord by the end of June.
Iran has repeatedly stressed that it will not allow inspections of its military facilities and insists that the nuclear deal must only include nuclear issues.
“Iran will brook no excessive demands. The agreed parameters are those confirmed by the two sides in Lausanne and these parameters need to be stipulated in a written agreement by Iran and the P5+1,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said earlier this month.
In a decree, issued by his office, the US president said that “global economic conditions, increased oil production by certain countries, and the level of (oil) spare capacity” had allowed him to take the decision.
Saudi Arabia, a key US ally in the Middle East, has ramped up production leading to a crash in crude prices.
“I determine … that there is a sufficient supply of petroleum and petroleum products from countries other than Iran to permit a significant reduction in the volume of petroleum and petroleum products purchased from Iran by or through foreign financial institutions,” Obama said in his statement.
The statement also referred to a US measure which forbids transactions with Iran.
Under the measure, foreign companies are cut off from the US financial system and face sanctions if they engage in transactions with Iran’s financial institutions.
However, a preliminary agreement reached in Nov. 2013 allows Iran to sell around 1 million barrels per day of crude oil.
The US restrictions fly in the face of that agreement under which no new sanctions should be imposed on the Islamic Republic.
Washington contends the agreement does not include renewal of the previous restrictions.
The US and five other countries are currently discussing a possible final agreement with Iran by the end of June.
Iran says any deal should envisage immediate removal of all sanctions, with the US saying they should be lifted gradually.
US investigative journalist Seymour Hersh says President Barack Obama’s narrative of the killing of former al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was false.
In an article published on the London Review of Books website on Sunday, Hersh wrote that high-level lying “remains the modus operandi of US policy, along with secret prisons, drone attacks, Special Forces night raids, bypassing the chain of command, and cutting out those who might say no.”
Citing a retired senior US intelligence official, the journalist explained that how the killing of bin Laden was the “high point of Obama’s first term, and a major factor in his re-election.”
“The White House still maintains that the mission was an all-American affair, and that the senior generals of Pakistan’s army and Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) were not told of the raid in advance. This is false, as are many other elements of the Obama administration’s account,” Hersh said.
“The most blatant lie was that Pakistan’s two most senior military leaders — General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, chief of the army staff, and General Ahmed Shuja Pasha, director general of the ISI — were never informed of the US mission. This remains the White House position despite an array of reports that have raised questions,” Hersh wrote.
He also said bin Laden had been a prisoner of the Inter-Services Intelligence agency at the Abbottabad compound since 2006.
“Kayani and Pasha knew of the raid in advance and had made sure that the two helicopters delivering the Seals to Abbottabad could cross Pakistani airspace without triggering any alarms… that the CIA did not learn of bin Laden’s whereabouts by tracking his couriers, as the White House has claimed since May 2011, but from a former senior Pakistani intelligence officer who betrayed the secret in return for much of the $25 million reward offered by the US, and that, while Obama did order the raid and the Seal team did carry it out, many other aspects of the administration’s account were false,” according to the journalist.
Washington announced on May 2, 2011 that bin Laden was killed by US forces in his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.
A number of media reports later said the US government was moving to hide files about the US military’s suspected raid on Osama bin Laden.
The lack of transparency over bin Laden’s death has cast further doubt over the announcement.
Regarding President Obama’s announcement of the raid to Americans, Hersh said, “Obama’s speech was put together in a rush.”
He also said the White House refused to respond to his requests for comment.
Reprieve | May 8, 2015
The Obama Administration today told a US appeal court that it had no right to challenge the wholesale suppression of video evidence of prisoner abuse at Guantánamo Bay.
Lawyers for the Administration insisted that every single frame of video evidence – no matter how disturbing or unlawful- must remain an unchallengeable secret, beyond the review of judges or the public right of access.
The Administration further defended its absolute right to classify any information wrongfully — such as, hypothetically, censoring the Gettysburg address.
The federal hearing in Dhiab v Obama relates to a challenge by Guantánamo’s hunger strikers, whereby prisoners’ lawyers presented classified footage of a prisoner being violently removed from his cell and force-fed by the military authorities. On June 20, 2014, 16 media organizations sought the public release of the videos on First Amendment grounds. On October 3, Judge Gladys Kessler ordered the footage to be released, with appropriate redactions on national security grounds.
In defiance of this order, the Obama Administration failed to redact the tapes – a prerequisite to any release – and instead chose to appeal Judge Kessler’s decision.
In oral arguments today, the Administration defended its decision not to commence redactions, insisting that the judiciary must defer entirely to the executive on secrecy, and that not a single frame of the videos should ever be released to the public.
In response to the hypothetical question of whether a judge could challenge the manifestly wrongful classification of the text of the Gettysburg Address, the Administration replied that the judge could not — the court must simply trust the reasoning of the executive.
Reprieve argued that the Obama Administration was attempting to strip courts of the right to review their own records for a First Amendment public right of access, thereby eroding the separation of powers underpinning the US constitutional system.
Reprieve attorney Alka Pradhan said: “The Obama Administration made an audacious power grab today, insisting that no judge can ever review the executive’s addiction to hiding wrongdoing through secrecy. It is disturbing that such a tyrannical argument can be made by a former constitutional law professor. Today, it is the abuse of Guantanamo prisoners that is being wrongfully suppressed. Tomorrow, who knows?”
Before the dust has had a chance to settle on the report detailing the American Psychologists Association’s complicity in the CIA torture program, the psychologist found to have violated the ethics code now appears to be helping the FBI do the same thing.
In late April, a 60-page report entitled ‘All the President’s Psychologists’ pointed to Susan Brandon as the White House architect behind the policies regulating the legality of an interrogator’s actions – something that goes against the APA’s own rulebook, which prohibits psychologists from making such judgments.
The document alleges the APA’s close coordination with the White House, the CIA and the Department of Defense on the formulation of a legal policy that would exempt the interrogators from prosecution, following a scandal involving allegation of torture at Iraq’s notorious Abu Ghraib prison. “Susan Brandon … played a central role in the development of the 2005 [Psychological Ethics and National Security] policy,” the report alleges – the second inquiry investigating the medical role in the practice.
“What we see is associations. And the associations with the apparent supervisor of [James] Mitchell and [Bruce] Jessen at each step of the process over a period of three years,” the report said then, in reference to the two masterminds of the CIA torture program, whom Brandon was allegedly in contact with in 2003, as evident from a string of emails.
Brandon’s complete role in the program is at this point unknown, but one particular email she was included on focuses on the pair “doing special things to special people in special places.”
“The issue here is not about what she thinks about torture; the issue is about what she did in the past to knowingly or unknowingly create a legal heat shield for the president using the ethics of the APA. That’s the issue. This is not a question of torture. It’s a question of alleged corruption,” says the report’s co-author and program director at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, Nathaniel Raymond, according to the Huffington Post.
Now Brandon is advising the FBI’s High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group – essentially the Obama’s administration continuation of the CIA program regarded as having crossed the line. She is tasked with research into determining whether a crime has been committed in the course of an interrogation.
The FBI has not officially commented on the claims yet. Journalists might not get a reply from Brandon anytime soon, as she’s still an HIG adviser and is not expected to break protocol – the association has a policy of operating in secrecy, according to fellow member Mark Fallon.
The initial reason for the government’s acceptance of the CIA torture program hinged, in part, on the presence of psychologists and their expertise acting as a check, as is evident from a 2005 Justice Department document.
The reason the APA had to be called in was apparently due to the CIA’s own psychologists’ refusal to sign off on the memo, claiming that the proposed assessments simply strayed outside of medical professionals’ competence.
As a result, Brandon’s Psychological Ethics and National Security policy became the document that could be “seen as opening the door for psychologists to fulfil a function that [CIA Office of Medical Services] health professionals were resisting,” according to the report.
Brandon’s own language went in a separate direction from the CIA doctors’, effectively paving the way for a psychologist’s role in judging the harm and effectiveness of an interrogation.
The APA has denied the report’s findings. Its own review of the complicity in the Bush-era program is ongoing.
Brandon’s role as one of the HIG’s top specialists is now under scrutiny, but she has defenders as well. Fallon, for one, has since said that Brandon “is a research scientist who was helping craft language, from what I can read in those emails, that might in fact be totally appropriate.”
“[Was] it a witting collaboration, or is it an unwitting person within the government who’s a research scientist looking to ensure that we’re at least learning lessons? I just could not conceive that she would ever do anything that would support degrading and inhumane treatment,” he added.
The Wall Street Connection (1992 to 2016)
[This piece has been adapted and updated by Nomi Prins from chapters 18 and 19 of her book All the Presidents’ Bankers: The Hidden Alliances that Drive American Power, just out in paperback (Nation Books).]
The past, especially the political past, doesn’t just provide clues to the present. In the realm of the presidency and Wall Street, it provides an ongoing pathway for political-financial relationships and policies that remain a threat to the American economy going forward.
When Hillary Clinton video-announced her bid for the Oval Office, she claimed she wanted to be a “champion” for the American people. Since then, she has attempted to recast herself as a populist and distance herself from some of the policies of her husband. But Bill Clinton did not become president without sharing the friendships, associations, and ideologies of the elite banking sect, nor will Hillary Clinton. Such relationships run too deep and are too longstanding.
To grasp the dangers that the Big Six banks (JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley) presently pose to the financial stability of our nation and the world, you need to understand their history in Washington, starting with the Clinton years of the 1990s. Alliances established then (not exclusively with Democrats, since bankers are bipartisan by nature) enabled these firms to become as politically powerful as they are today and to exert that power over an unprecedented amount of capital. Rest assured of one thing: their past and present CEOs will prove as critical in backing a Hillary Clinton presidency as they were in enabling her husband’s years in office.
In return, today’s titans of finance and their hordes of lobbyists, more than half of whom held prior positions in the government, exact certain requirements from Washington. They need to know that a safety net or bailout will always be available in times of emergency and that the regulatory road will be open to whatever practices they deem most profitable.
Whatever her populist pitch may be in the 2016 campaign — and she will have one — note that, in all these years, Hillary Clinton has not publicly condemned Wall Street or any individual Wall Street leader. Though she may, in the heat of that campaign, raise the bad-apples or bad-situation explanation for Wall Street’s role in the financial crisis of 2007-2008, rest assured that she will not point fingers at her friends. She will not chastise the people that pay her hundreds of thousands of dollars a pop to speak or the ones that have long shared the social circles in which she and her husband move. She is an undeniable component of the Clinton political-financial legacy that came to national fruition more than 23 years ago, which is why looking back at the history of the first Clinton presidency is likely to tell you so much about the shape and character of the possible second one.
The 1992 Election and the Rise of Bill Clinton
Challenging President George H.W. Bush, who was seeking a second term, Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton announced he would seek the 1992 Democratic nomination for the presidency on October 2, 1991. The upcoming presidential election would not, however, turn out to alter the path of mergers or White House support for deregulation that was already in play one iota.
First, though, Clinton needed money. A consummate fundraiser in his home state, he cleverly amassed backing and established early alliances with Wall Street. One of his key supporters would later change American banking forever. As Clinton put it, he received “invaluable early support” from Ken Brody, a Goldman Sachs executive seeking to delve into Democratic politics. Brody took Clinton “to a dinner with high-powered New York businesspeople, including Bob Rubin, whose tightly reasoned arguments for a new economic policy,” Clinton later wrote, “made a lasting impression on me.”
The battle for the White House kicked into high gear the following fall. William Schreyer, chairman and CEO of Merrill Lynch, showed his support for Bush by giving the maximum personal contribution to his campaign committee permitted by law: $1,000. But he wanted to do more. So when one of Bush’s fundraisers solicited him to contribute to the Republican National Committee’s nonfederal, or “soft money,” account, Schreyer made a $100,000 donation.
The bankers’ alliances remained divided among the candidates at first, as they considered which man would be best for their own power trajectories, but their donations were plentiful: mortgage and broker company contributions were $1.2 million; 46% to the GOP and 54% to the Democrats. Commercial banks poured in $14.8 million to the 1992 campaigns at a near 50-50 split.
Clinton, like every good Democrat, campaigned publicly against the bankers: “It’s time to end the greed that consumed Wall Street and ruined our S&Ls [Savings and Loans] in the last decade,” he said. But equally, he had no qualms about taking money from the financial sector. In the early months of his campaign, BusinessWeek estimated that he received $2 million of his initial $8.5 million in contributions from New York, under the care of Ken Brody.
“If I had a Ken Brody working for me in every state, I’d be like the Maytag man with nothing to do,” said Rahm Emanuel, who ran Clinton’s nationwide fundraising committee and later became Barack Obama’s chief of staff. Wealthy donors and prospective fundraisers were invited to a select series of intimate meetings with Clinton at the plush Manhattan office of the prestigious private equity firm Blackstone.
Robert Rubin Comes to Washington
Clinton knew that embracing the bankers would help him get things done in Washington, and what he wanted to get done dovetailed nicely with their desires anyway. To facilitate his policies and maintain ties to Wall Street, he selected a man who had been instrumental to his campaign, Robert Rubin, as his economic adviser.
In 1980, Rubin had landed on Goldman Sachs’ management committee alongside fellow Democrat Jon Corzine. A decade later, Rubin and Stephen Friedman were appointed cochairmen of Goldman Sachs. Rubin’s political aspirations met an appropriate opportunity when Clinton captured the White House.
On January 25, 1993, Clinton appointed him as assistant to the president for economic policy. Shortly thereafter, the president created a unique role for his comrade, head of the newly created National Economic Council. “I asked Bob Rubin to take on a new job,” Clinton later wrote, “coordinating economic policy in the White House as Chairman of the National Economic Council, which would operate in much the same way the National Security Council did, bringing all the relevant agencies together to formulate and implement policy… [I]f he could balance all of [Goldman Sachs’] egos and interests, he had a good chance to succeed with the job.” (Ten years later, President George W. Bush gave the same position to Rubin’s old partner, Friedman.)
Back at Goldman, Jon Corzine, co-head of fixed income, and Henry Paulson, co-head of investment banking, were ascending through the ranks. They became co-CEOs when Friedman retired at the end of 1994.
Those two men were the perfect bipartisan duo. Corzine was a staunch Democrat serving on the International Capital Markets Advisory Committee of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York (from 1989 to 1999). He would co-chair a presidential commission for Clinton on capital budgeting between 1997 and 1999, while serving in a key role on the Borrowing Advisory Committee of the Treasury Department. Paulson was a well connected Republican and Harvard graduate who had served on the White House Domestic Council as staff assistant to the president in the Nixon administration.
Bankers Forge Ahead
By May 1995, Rubin was impatiently warning Congress that the Glass-Steagall Act could “conceivably impede safety and soundness by limiting revenue diversification.” Banking deregulation was then inching through Congress. As they had during the previous Bush administration, both the House and Senate Banking Committees had approved separate versions of legislation to repeal Glass-Steagall, the 1933 Act passed by the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt that had separated deposit-taking and lending or “commercial” bank activities from speculative or “investment bank” activities, such as securities creation and trading. Conference negotiations had fallen apart, though, and the effort was stalled.
By 1996, however, other industries, representing core clients of the banking sector, were already being deregulated. On February 8, 1996, Clinton signed the Telecom Act, which killed many independent and smaller broadcasting companies by opening a national market for “cross-ownership.” The result was mass mergers in that sector advised by banks.
Deregulation of companies that could transport energy across state lines came next. Before such deregulation, state commissions had regulated companies that owned power plants and transmission lines, which worked together to distribute power. Afterward, these could be divided and effectively traded without uniform regulation or responsibility to regional customers. This would lead to blackouts in California and a slew of energy derivatives, as well as trades at firms such as Enron that used the energy business as a front for fraudulent deals.
The number of mergers and stock and debt issuances ballooned on the back of all the deregulation that eliminated barriers that had kept companies separated. As industries consolidated, they also ramped up their complex transactions and special purpose vehicles (off-balance-sheet, offshore constructions tailored by the banking community to hide the true nature of their debts and shield their profits from taxes). Bankers kicked into overdrive to generate fees and create related deals. Many of these blew up in the early 2000s in a spate of scandals and bankruptcies, causing an earlier millennium recession.
Meanwhile, though, bankers plowed ahead with their advisory services, speculative enterprises, and deregulation pursuits. President Clinton and his team would soon provide them an epic gift, all in the name of U.S. global power and competitiveness. Robert Rubin would steer the White House ship to that goal.
On February 12, 1999, Rubin found a fresh angle to argue on behalf of banking deregulation. He addressed the House Committee on Banking and Financial Services, claiming that, “the problem U.S. financial services firms face abroad is more one of access than lack of competitiveness.”
He was referring to the European banks’ increasing control of distribution channels into the European institutional and retail client base. Unlike U.S. commercial banks, European banks had no restrictions keeping them from buying and teaming up with U.S. or other securities firms and investment banks to create or distribute their products. He did not appear concerned about the destruction caused by sizeable financial bets throughout Europe. The international competitiveness argument allowed him to focus the committee on what needed to be done domestically in the banking sector to remain competitive.
Rubin stressed the necessity of HR 665, the Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999, or the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, that was officially introduced on February 10, 1999. He said it took “fundamental actions to modernize our financial system by repealing the Glass-Steagall Act prohibitions on banks affiliating with securities firms and repealing the Bank Holding Company Act prohibitions on insurance underwriting.”
The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act Marches Forward
On February 24, 1999, in more testimony before the Senate Banking Committee, Rubin pushed for fewer prohibitions on bank affiliates that wanted to perform the same functions as their larger bank holding company, once the different types of financial firms could legally merge. That minor distinction would enable subsidiaries to place all sorts of bets and house all sorts of junk under the false premise that they had the same capital beneath them as their parent. The idea that a subsidiary’s problems can’t taint or destroy the host, or bank holding company, or create “catastrophic” risk, is a myth perpetuated by bankers and political enablers that continues to this day.
Rubin had no qualms with mega-consolidations across multiple service lines. His real problems were those of his banker friends, which lay with the financial modernization bill’s “prohibition on the use of subsidiaries by larger banks.” The bankers wanted the right to establish off-book subsidiaries where they could hide risks, and profits, as needed.
Again, Rubin decided to use the notion of remaining competitive with foreign banks to make his point. This technicality was “unacceptable to the administration,” he said, not least because “foreign banks underwrite and deal in securities through subsidiaries in the United States, and U.S. banks [already] conduct securities and merchant banking activities abroad through so-called Edge subsidiaries.” Rubin got his way. These off-book, risky, and barely regulated subsidiaries would be at the forefront of the 2008 financial crisis.
On March 1, 1999, Senator Phil Gramm released a final draft of the Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999 and scheduled committee consideration for March 4th. A bevy of excited financial titans who were close to Clinton, including Travelers CEO Sandy Weill, Bank of America CEO, Hugh McColl, and American Express CEO Harvey Golub, called for “swift congressional action.”
The Quintessential Revolving-Door Man
The stock market continued its meteoric rise in anticipation of a banker-friendly conclusion to the legislation that would deregulate their industry. Rising consumer confidence reflected the nation’s fondness for the markets and lack of empathy with the rest of the world’s economic plight. On March 29, 1999, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed above 10,000 for the first time. Six weeks later, on May 6th, the Financial Services Modernization Act passed the Senate. It legalized, after the fact, the merger that created the nation’s biggest bank. Citigroup, the marriage of Citibank and Travelers, had been finalized the previous October.
It was not until that point that one of Glass-Steagall’s main assassins decided to leave Washington. Six days after the bill passed the Senate, on May 12, 1999, Robert Rubin abruptly announced his resignation. As Clinton wrote, “I believed he had been the best and most important treasury secretary since Alexander Hamilton… He had played a decisive role in our efforts to restore economic growth and spread its benefits to more Americans.”
Clinton named Larry Summers to succeed Rubin. Two weeks later, BusinessWeek reported signs of trouble in merger paradise — in the form of a growing rift between John Reed, the former Chairman of Citibank, and Sandy Weill at the new Citigroup. As Reed said, “Co-CEOs are hard.” Perhaps to patch their rift, or simply to take advantage of a political opportunity, the two men enlisted a third person to join their relationship — none other than Robert Rubin.
Rubin’s resignation from Treasury became effective on July 2nd. At that time, he announced, “This almost six and a half years has been all-consuming, and I think it is time for me to go home to New York and to do whatever I’m going to do next.” Rubin became chairman of Citigroup’s executive committee and a member of the newly created “office of the chairman.” His initial annual compensation package was worth around $40 million. It was more than worth the “hit” he took when he left Goldman for the Treasury post.
Three days after the conference committee endorsed the Gramm-Leach-Bliley bill, Rubin assumed his Citigroup position, joining the institution destined to dominate the financial industry. That very same day, Reed and Weill issued a joint statement praising Washington for “liberating our financial companies from an antiquated regulatory structure,” stating that “this legislation will unleash the creativity of our industry and ensure our global competitiveness.”
On November 4th, the Senate approved the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act by a vote of 90 to 8. (The House voted 362–57 in favor.) Critics famously referred to it as the Citigroup Authorization Act.
Mirth abounded in Clinton’s White House. “Today Congress voted to update the rules that have governed financial services since the Great Depression and replace them with a system for the twenty-first century,” Summers said. “This historic legislation will better enable American companies to compete in the new economy.”
But the happiness was misguided. Deregulating the banking industry might have helped the titans of Wall Street but not people on Main Street. The Clinton era epitomized the vast difference between appearance and reality, spin and actuality. As the decade drew to a close, Clinton basked in the glow of a lofty stock market, a budget surplus, and the passage of this key banking “modernization.” It would be revealed in the 2000s that many corporate profits of the 1990s were based on inflated evaluations, manipulation, and fraud. When Clinton left office, the gap between rich and poor was greater than it had been in 1992, and yet the Democrats heralded him as some sort of prosperity hero.
When he resigned in 1997, Robert Reich, Clinton’s labor secretary, said, “America is prospering, but the prosperity is not being widely shared, certainly not as widely shared as it once was… We have made progress in growing the economy. But growing together again must be our central goal in the future.” Instead, the growth of wealth inequality in the United States accelerated, as the men yielding the most financial power wielded it with increasingly less culpability or restriction. By 2015, that wealth or prosperity gap would stand near historic highs.
The power of the bankers increased dramatically in the wake of the repeal of Glass-Steagall. The Clinton administration had rendered twenty-first-century banking practices similar to those of the pre-1929 crash. But worse. “Modernizing” meant utilizing government-backed depositors’ funds as collateral for the creation and distribution of all types of complex securities and derivatives whose proliferation would be increasingly quick and dangerous.
Eviscerating Glass-Steagall allowed big banks to compete against Europe and also enabled them to go on a rampage: more acquisitions, greater speculation, and more risky products. The big banks used their bloated balance sheets to engage in more complex activity, while counting on customer deposits and loans as capital chips on the global betting table. Bankers used hefty trading profits and wealth to increase lobbying funds and campaign donations, creating an endless circle of influence and mutual reinforcement of boundary-less speculation, endorsed by the White House.
Deposits could be used to garner larger windfalls, just as cheap labor and commodities in developing countries were used to formulate more expensive goods for profit in the upper echelons of the global financial hierarchy. Energy and telecoms proved especially fertile ground for the investment banking fee business (and later for fraud, extensive lawsuits, and bankruptcies). Deregulation greased the wheels of complex financial instruments such as collateralized debt obligations, junk bonds, toxic assets, and unregulated derivatives.
The Glass-Steagall repeal led to unfettered derivatives growth and unstable balance sheets at commercial banks that merged with investment banks and at investment banks that preferred to remain solo but engaged in dodgier practices to remain “competitive.” In conjunction with the tight political-financial alignment and associated collaboration that began with Bush and increased under Clinton, bankers channeled the 1920s, only with more power over an immense and growing pile of global financial assets and increasingly “open” markets. In the process, accountability would evaporate.
Every bank accelerated its hunt for acquisitions and deposits to amass global influence while creating, trading, and distributing increasingly convoluted securities and derivatives. These practices would foster the kind of shaky, interconnected, and opaque financial environment that provided the backdrop and conditions leading up to the financial meltdown of 2008.
The Realities of 2016
Hillary Clinton is, of course, not her husband. But her access to his past banker alliances, amplified by the ones that she has formed herself, makes her more of a friend than an adversary to the banking industry. In her brief 2008 candidacy, all four of the New York-based Big Six banks ranked among her top 10 corporate donors. They have also contributed to the Clinton Foundation. She needs them to win, just as both Barack Obama and Bill Clinton did.
No matter what spin is used for campaigning purposes, the idea that a critical distance can be maintained between the White House and Wall Street is naïve given the multiple channels of money and favors that flow between the two. It is even more improbable, given the history of connections that Hillary Clinton has established through her associations with key bank leaders in the early 1990s, during her time as a senator from New York, and given their contributions to the Clinton foundation while she was secretary of state. At some level, the situation couldn’t be less complicated: her path aligns with that of the country’s most powerful bankers. If she becomes president, that will remain the case.
Nomi Prins is the author of six books, a speaker, and a distinguished senior fellow at the non-partisan public policy institute Demos. Her most recent book, All the Presidents’ Bankers: The Hidden Alliances that Drive American Power (Nation Books) has just been released in paperback and this piece is adapted and updated from it. She is a former Wall Street executive.
Copyright 2015 Nomi Prins
Body Counts, Drones, and “Collateral Damage” (aka “Bug Splat”)
In the twenty-first-century world of drone warfare, one question with two aspects reigns supreme: Who counts?
In Washington, the answers are the same: We don’t count and they don’t count.
The Obama administration has adamantly refused to count. Not a body. In fact, for a long time, American officials associated with Washington’s drone assassination campaigns and “signature strikes” in the backlands of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Yemen claimed that there were no bodies to count, that the CIA’s drones were so carefully handled and so “precise” that they never produced an unmeant corpse — not a child, not a parent, not a wedding party. Nada.
When it came to “collateral damage,” there was no need to count because there was nothing to tote up or, at worst, such civilian casualties were “in the single digits.” That this was balderdash, that often when those drones unleashed their Hellfire missiles they were unsure who exactly was being targeted, that civilians were dying in relatively countable numbers — and that others were indeed counting them — mattered little, at least in this country until recently. Drone war was, after all, innovative and, as presented by two administrations, quite miraculous. In 2009, CIA Director Leon Panetta called it “the only game in town” when it came to al-Qaeda. And what a game it was. It needed no math, no metrics. As the Vietnam War had proved, counting was for losers — other than the usual media reports that so many “militants” had died in a strike or that some al-Qaeda “lieutenant” or “leader” had gone down for the count.
That era ended on April 23rd when President Obama entered the White House briefing room and apologized for the deaths of American aid worker Warren Weinstein and Italian aid worker Giovanni Lo Porto, two Western hostages of al-Qaeda. They had, the president confessed, been obliterated in a strike against a terrorist compound in Pakistan, though in his comments he managed not to mention the word “drone,” describing what happened vaguely as a “U.S. counterterrorism operation.” In other words, it turned out that the administration was capable of counting — at least to two.
And that brings us to the other meaning of “Who counts?” If you are an innocent American or Western civilian and a drone takes you out, you count. If you are an innocent Pakistani, Afghan, or Yemeni, you don’t. You didn’t count before the drone killed you and you don’t count as a corpse either. For you, no one apologizes, no one pays your relatives compensation for your unjust death, no one even acknowledges that you existed. This is modern American drone reality and the question of who counts and whom, if anyone, to count is part of the contested legacy of Washington’s never-ending war on terror.
A Brief History of the Body Count
Once upon a time, of course, enemy deaths were a badge of honor in war, but the American “body count,” which would become infamous in the Vietnam era, had always been a product of frustration, not pride. It originated in the early 1950s, in the “meat-grinder” days of the Korean War, after the fighting had bogged down in a grim stalemate and signs of victory were hard to come by. It reappeared relatively early in the Vietnam War years as American officials began searching for “metrics” that would somehow express victory in a country where taking territory in the traditional fashion meant little. As time went on, the brutality of that war increased, and the promised “light at the end of the tunnel” glowed ever more dimly, the metrics of victory only grew, and the pressure to produce that body count, which could be announced daily by U.S. press spokesmen to increasingly dubious journalists in Saigon did, too. Soon enough, those reporters began referring to the daily announcements of those figures as the “Five O’Clock Follies.”
On the ground, the pressure within the military to produce impressive body counts for those “Follies” resulted in what GIs called the “Mere Gook Rule.” (“If it’s dead and it’s Vietnamese, it’s VC [Viet Cong].”) And soon enough anything counted as a body. As William Calley, Jr., of My Lai massacre fame, testified, “At that time, everything went into a body count — VC, buffalo, pigs, cows. Something we did, you put it on your body count, sir… As long as it was high, that was all they wanted.”
When, however, victory proved illusory, that body count came to appear to ever more Americans on the home front like grim slaughter and a metric from hell. As a sign of success, increasingly detached from reality yet producing reality, it became a death-dealing Catch-22. As those bodies piled up and in the terminology of the times a “credibility gap” yawned between the metrics and reality, the body count became a symbol not just of a war of frustration, but of defeat itself. It came, especially after the news of the My Lai massacre finally broke in the U.S., to look both false and barbaric. Whose bodies were those anyway?
In the post-Vietnam era, not surprisingly, Washington would treat anything associated with the disaster that had been Vietnam as if it were radioactive. So when, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration’s top officials began planning their twenty-first-century wars in a state of exhilarated anticipation, they had no intention of reliving anything that reeked of Vietnam. There would be no body bags coming home in the glare of media attention, no body counts in the battle zones. They were ready to play an opposites game when it came to Vietnam. General Tommy Franks, who directed the Afghan invasion and then the one in Iraq, caught the mood perfectly in 2003 when he said, “We don’t do body counts.”
There would be no more “Five O’clock Follies,” not in wars in which victory was assured for “the greatest force for freedom in the history of the world” and “the finest fighting force that the world has ever known” (as presidents took to calling the U.S. military). And that remains official military policy today. Only recently, for instance, Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby responded to a journalist’s question about how many Islamic State fighters and civilians U.S. air power had recently killed in Washington’s latest war in Iraq this way: “First of all, we don’t have the ability to — to count every nose that we shwack [sic]. Number two, that’s not the goal. That’s not the goal… And we’re not getting into an issue of body counts. And that’s why I don’t have that number handy. I wouldn’t — I wouldn’t have asked my staff to give me that number before I came out here. It’s simply not a relevant figure.”
From 2003 to 2015, official policy on the body count has not reflected reality. The U.S. military has, in fact, continued to count bodies. For one thing, it kept and reported the numbers on America’s war dead, bodies that truly counted, though no one would have called the tallies a body count. For another, from beginning to end, the military has been secretly counting the dead on the other side as well, perhaps to privately convince themselves, Vietnam-style, that they were indeed winning in wars where a twenty-first-century version of the credibility gap appeared all too quickly and never left the scene. As David Axe has written, the military “proudly boasts of the totals in official documents that it never intends for public circulation.” He added, “The disconnect over wartime body counts reflects a yawning gap between the military’s public face and its private culture.”
To Count or Not to Count, That Is the Question
But here was the oddest thing: whatever the military might have been counting, the fact that it stopped counting in public didn’t stop the body count from happening. It turned out that there were others on this planet no less capable of counting dead bodies. In the end, the cast of characters producing the public metrics of this era simply changed and with it the purpose of the count. The newcomers had, you might say, different answers to both parts of the question: Who counts?
Over the last century, as “collateral damage” — the deaths of civilians, rather than combatants — has become ever more the essence of war, the importance of who is dying and in what numbers has only increased. When the U.S. military began refusing to make its body count part of a public celebration of its successes, civil society stepped in with a very different impulse: to shame, blame, and hold the military’s feet to the fire by revealing the deeper carnage of war itself and what it does to society, not just to the warriors.
While the previous counters had pretended that all bodies belonged to enemies, the new counters tried to make “collateral damage” the central issue of war. No matter what the researchers who have done such counts may say, most of them are, by their nature, critiques of war, American-style, and included in them were no longer just the bodies, civilian and military, found on the battlefield, but every body that could somehow be linked to a conflict or its fallout, its side effects, its afteraffects.
Think of this as a new numerology of defeat or disaster or slaughter or shame. In the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq, distinctly non-military outfits took up this counting or estimating process. In 2004 and 2006, the Lancet, a British medical journal, published studies based on scientific surveys of “excess Iraqi deaths” since the American invasion of 2003 and, in the first case, came up with an estimated 98,000 of them and in the second with 655,000 (a much-criticized figure); such studies by medical and other researchers have never stopped. More recent counts of such deaths have ranged from 500,000 in 2013 to one million or 5% of the Iraqi population this year.
The most famous enumeration of civilian casualties in Iraq, however, comes from the constantly upgraded tally — based on published media reports, hospital and morgue records, and the like — of Iraq Body Count, the independent website that bills itself as “the public record of violent deaths following the 2003 invasion of Iraq.” At this moment, its most up-to-date top estimate for civilian deaths since that invasion is 156,000 (211,000, including the deaths of combatants). And these figures are considered by the site and others as distinctly conservative, no more than what can be known about a subject of which much is, by necessity, unknown.
In Afghanistan, there has been less tallying, but the U.N. Mission there has kept a count of civilian casualties from the ongoing war and estimates the cumulative figure, since 2001, at 21,000 (though again, that is undoubtedly a conservative figure). However, when it comes to the American drone campaigns in Pakistan and Yemen, in particular, where the Obama administration has adamantly resisted the idea of significant civilian casualties, the civilian counters have been there under the most impressively difficult circumstances, sometimes with representatives on the ground in distant parts of Pakistan and elsewhere. In a world in which drone operators refer to the victims of their strikes as “bug splat” and top administration officials prefer to obliterate those “bugs” a second time by denying that their deaths even occurred, the attempt to give them back their names, ages, and sexes, to remind the world of what was most human about the dead of our new wars, should be considered a heroic task.
The London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, in particular, has done careful as well as dogged work tabulating drone casualties in Pakistan and Yemen, including counts and estimates of all those killed by drones, of civilians killed by drones, and of children killed by drones. It even has a project, “Naming the Dead,” that attempts to reattach names and other basic personal information — sometimes even photos — to the previously nameless dead (721 of them so far). The Long War Journal (a militarized exception to the rule when it comes to the counters of this era) has also kept a record of what it could dig up about drone deaths in Pakistan and Yemen, as has the New America Foundation on Pakistan. In 2012 the Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic studied the three sources of such counts and issued a report of its own.
Among the more fascinating reports, the human-rights group Reprieve recently considered claims to drone “precision” and surgical accuracy by doing its own analysis of the available data. It concluded that, in trying to target and assassinate 41 enemy figures in Pakistan and Yemen over the years, Washington’s drones had managed to kill 1,147 people without even killing all the figures actually targeted. (As Spencer Ackerman of the Guardian wrote, “The drones came for Ayman Zawahiri on 13 January 2006, hovering over a village in Pakistan called Damadola. Ten months later, they came again for the man who would become al-Qaida’s leader, this time in Bajaur. Eight years later, Zawahiri is still alive. Seventy-six children and 29 adults, according to reports after the two strikes, are not.”)
In other words, when it came to counting, civil society rode to the rescue, though the impact of the figures produced has remained limited indeed in this country. In some ways, the only body count of any sort that has made an impression here in recent years has been sniper Chris Kyle’s 160 confirmed Iraqi “kills” that played such a part in the publicity for the blockbuster movie American Sniper.
In his public apology for deaths that were clearly embarrassing to him, President Obama managed to fall back on a trope that has become ever more politically commonplace in these years. Even in the context of a situation in which two innocent hostages had been killed, he congratulated himself and all Americans for the exceptional nature of this country. “It is a cruel and bitter truth,” he said, “that in the fog of war generally and our fight against terrorists specifically, mistakes — sometimes deadly mistakes — can occur. But one of the things that sets America apart from many other nations, one of the things that makes us exceptional is our willingness to confront squarely our imperfections and to learn from our mistakes.”
Whatever our missteps, in other words, we Americans are exceptional killers in a world of ordinary ones. This attitude has infused Obama’s global assassination program and the White House “kill list” that goes with it and that the president has personally overseen. Pride in his killing agenda was evident in the decision to leak news of that list to the New York Times back in May 2012. And this version of American exceptionalism fits well with the exceptionalism of the drone itself — even if it is a weapon guaranteed to become less exceptional as it spreads to more countries (in part through recently green-lighted U.S. drone sales to allies).
On the rarest of occasions, Obama admitted in that White House briefing room, drone strikes even kill exceptional people (like us) who need to be attended to presidentially, whose deaths deserve apologies, whose lives are to be highlighted in special media accounts, and whose value is such that recompense is due to their families. In most of the places the drone goes, however, those it kills by mistake are, by definition, unexceptional. They deserve neither notice nor apology nor recompense. They count for nothing.
One thing makes the drone a unique weapon in the world of the uncounted dead on a planet where killing otherwise seems like a dime-a-dozen activity: its pilot, its “crew,” those who trigger the launch of its missiles are hundreds, even thousands of miles away from danger. Though we speak loosely about drone “warfare,” the way that machine functions bears little relation to war as it was once defined. Conceptually, the drone represents a one-way street of destruction. Because in its version of “warfare” only one side can be hurt, its “signature” is slaughter, not war, no matter how carefully it may be used. It is an executioner’s weapon.
In part because of that, it’s also a blowback weapon. Though it may surprise Americans, those to be slaughtered, the hunted, don’t take to the constant buzz of drones in their skies in a kindly fashion. They reportedly exhibit the symptoms of PTSD; they are resentful; they grasp the unfairness and injustice that lies behind the machine and its form of “warfare” and are unimpressed with the exceptionalism of the Americans using it. As a result, drones across the Greater Middle East have been the equivalent of recruitment posters for those who want revenge and so for extremist outfits everywhere.
Drones should be weapons of shame and yet, despite the recent round of criticism here in the wake of the hostage killings, their use is still widely supported in Washington and among the public. The justification for their use, whatever “legal” white papers the Obama administration has produced as cover, is simple enough: power. We send them across sovereign boundaries as we wish in search of those we want to kill because we can, because we are us.
So all praise to the few in our world who think it worth the bother to count those who count for nothing to us. They do matter.
One of the major barriers blocking U.S. President Barack Obama’s campaign for his mammoth international trade deals — the TTIP with Europe, and the TPP with Asia — is: other countries want the freedom to make up their own minds about the safety or dangerousness of the foods they allow to be sold within their borders.
The Obama Administration insists that no nation has that freedom. In fact, all participating nations would be removed from that responsibility and authority. The Obama trade deals propose to replace that national authority, and basic national sovereignty on these important matters, by decisions that would instead be made by international panels, whose members will be appointed by international corporations, which have their own profits at stake in these matters. Consumers and others will be ignored: they will not be represented in the proposed panels. Nor will any government be represented there. That soverignty will instead be transferred to the billionaire families who control and derive their income from these corporations.
On Friday, April 24th, Agence France Presse headlined “US Stresses Opposition to EU Opt-Out for GMO Imports,” and reported that, “The United States underscored Friday its opposition to a new European Union plan to allow member states to block genetically engineered imports after bilateral talks on a transatlantic free-trade pact.”
President Obama’s Trade Representative, Michael Froman, who is a Wall Street banker and a longtime close personal friend of the President, said on April 22nd that he was “very disappointed” that the EU wants to allow individual EU nations to “opt out” of automatic approval of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) that the international panels will approve to be marketed everywhere. Furthermore, Froman’s assistant said that the U.S. rejects “a proposal to allow EU member states to ban products deemed safe by Europe’s own scientists.” He was referring there to the half of scientific papers that find GMO foods to be safe. However, those papers were produced by companies that manufacture and market GMOs. The other half of the scientific papers on GMOs, the half that were produced independently of the GMO industry, have not found GMO foods to be safe — to the exact contrary. The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative ignores those papers.
On 8 July 2009, Agence France Presse headlined “Scientists Warn of Hazards of GMOs,” and reported that an article in the International Journal of Biological Science co-authored by world-leading scientists, reported that, “Agricultural GM companies and evaluation committees systematically overlook the side effects of GMOs and pesticides.” An accompanying study, “How Subchronic and Chronic Health Effects Can Be Neglected for GMOs, Pesticides or Chemicals,” found “a significant underestimation of the initial signs of diseases like cancer and diseases of the hormonal, immune, nervous and reproductive systems.”
The United States does not regulate GMO foods, because the patents are owned mostly by U.S. companies, and the U.S. Government doesn’t want to get in the way of their selling their patented products. Consequently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration takes any given GMO manufacturer’s word for the safety of its GMO products. U.S. President Obama wants to promote U.S. trade by convincing all other countries to sell GMO foods. His TTIP and TPP are supported by the GMO industry, which has approved their GMO foods and allowed their product-labels to not mention that some or all of the ingredients are genetically modified crops.
One of the major advantages of GMO crops is that they can survive the use of herbicides — weed-killers — that kill natural crops. (The GMO-seed manufacturer also markets the pesticide or herbicide; these are chemical companies, and GMOs are a complementary or synergistic product-line for them. For example, the leading herbicide “Roundup” is from Monsanto which produces the GMO seeds that tolerate it.) Another advantage is that the foods can stay longer as looking and smelling fresh, which also lowers the cost of production, and yet the consumer doesn’t even know that the food is actually stale — the food is competing against costlier-to-produce non-GMO foods and so driving them off the market by the lower price, which leaves more and more food-production dependent upon GMO makers such as Monsanto, DuPont, and Dow Chemical. The lower price is obvious; the lower quality is hidden. It’s race-to-the-bottom international ‘competition,’ in which the aristocracy reap all the winnings; the public get the losses.
A recent news report from independent food scientists was bannered “FDA Product Safety Declaration Misleads Nation—Again” and it contains references to many recent scientific papers that find GMO foods to be dangerous, and harmful to human health.
An international analysis, “A Comparative Evaluation of the Regulation of GM Crops” was published in 2013 in the scientific journal Environment International, and it concluded by saying that, “Regulatory bodies are not adequately assessing the risks of dsRNA-producing GM products. As a result, we recommend a process to properly assess the safety of dsRNA-producing GM organisms before they are released or commercialized.” The Obama Administration is trying to prevent that from happening; and their proposed TTIP and TPP international-trade treaties are crucial components of achieving this objective. In the United States, GMO-producers are granted the right to self-regulate, and this practice will become the standard worldwide practice if the TPP and TTIP become passed into law.
The U.S. Government is doing everything it can to spread to other nations the same deregulatory policies that American companies rely upon to market their products inside the United States. On Friday, April 25th, a key U.S. Senate Committee approved a “Trade Promotion Authority” bill to help rush through the U.S. Senate the approval of Mr. Froman’s TPP trade deal with Asian countries. For a summary of the regulatory practices around the world regarding GMO crops, see here. A discussion of the votes in the U.S. Senate on the measure that was proposed by Senator Bernie Sanders to allow individual states to establish their own regulations requiring the labeling or indication of whether or not particular food ingredients are GMOs (since the federal Government refuses to consider such a proposal), is here, and it shows that even some allegedly progressive U.S. Senators voted the GMO industry’s way on that bill to regulate it, which failed, on a vote of 71 to 27. One might call this the Monsanto Congress, because the U.S. House is even more conservative than the Senate. Of the 27 U.S. Senators who voted for the Sanders bill, 24 were Democrats, 2 were Independents, and 1 was Republican. 43 Republicans, and 28 Democrats voted against it. The Obama Administration had lobbied against the bill, in order to continue the GMO industry’s free reign over America’s food-supply.
When Barack Obama campaigned for the Presidency in 2008, he said, “Let folks know when their food is genetically modified, because Americans have a right to know what they’re buying.” But as soon as he won the Presidency “The new president filled key posts with Monsanto people, in federal agencies that wield tremendous force in food issues, the USDA and the FDA.” And whereas Republican news-organizations such as Fox ‘News’ criticized him as being a Muslim Marxist, he was actually implementing policies that continued those of the Republican George W. Bush Administration on this and on many other issues. Yet, no matter how far to the right Mr. Obama actually was, he was portrayed as a ‘leftist’ in Republican ’news’ media. And yet, still, even today, the vast majority of Democratic voters approve of his actions as President. They still believe his rhetoric, even though he has lied to them constantly and even filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the U.S. Supreme Court arguing that lying in politics must continue to remain unrestricted not only at the national level but also in each and every one of the states. Consequently, in the United States, there is no effective political opposition to the large international U.S. corporations. (And, under the Republican Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, corporations now have virtually unlimited freedom to use stockholders’ money to purchase politicians.)
Hillary Clinton is a big supporter of the GMO industry, and the response of liberals to that is to ask her to give them rhetoric they like on the matter, just as Obama had done when he was running for President in 2008. In other words: they will campaign for her to become President if she will only lie to them as Obama did to them. What liberals are demanding is rhetoric; but if they get it from her, then the industries that are funding her Presidential campaign won’t be worried, because she has a solid record of doing what her financial backers want her to do. As long as Americans don’t care when a politician has lied to them, lying to them will continue to be the way to win public office — especially considering that America’s international corporations now have been granted by the Republican U.S. Supreme Court a ‘free speech’ right to purchase the U.S. Government. And now that the Supreme Court has also ruled that political lies are a Constitutionally protected form of speech, those ads don’t even need to be true. If the American people don’t care about honesty, then they won’t have an honest government, because America’s corporations can then buy any U.S. Government they want — they’ll have total impunity if the U.S. public don’t even care about honesty in their government. There are no legal penalties for political lying; so, if there are also no political penalties for it, then the U.S. can only be ruled by lies and their liars. Should that be called “fascism”?
According to the generally progressive Democratic U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio (who, along with Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders is one of the Senate’s three leading opponents of Mr. Obama’s proposed international-trade treaties), President Obama has been lobbying Senators more insistently and more intensely on getting them to grant him “Fast Track Trade Promotion Authority” to ram these treaties through, than on any other single issue since Obama first became President in 2009. No issue, not even Obamacare nor any other, has been as important to Obama as is his getting signed into law the TPP and TTIP. It would certainly be the culmination of his Presidency if he succeeds. It would be his crowning achievement. He and his heirs will be amply rewarded if he succeeds; and that’s apparently what he really cares about. He has shown it by his actions as President, not by his rhetoric to voters. After all: Americans, it seems, don’t really care about honesty. All they really care about is rhetoric that pleases them. They merely want to be told what they want to hear.
Perhaps this is the reason why no progressive has entered the Democratic Presidential contest against Hillary Clinton. If the only realistic possibilities to become the next President are her and her Republican opponent (whomever he will turn out to be), then America will continue to be a de facto one-party State, and this will be the U.S. international-corporate party, in both of its factions or nominal varieties, controlling the U.S. Government. The only comprehensive scientific study that has yet been done finds that the U.S. has, in fact, already been ruled in this way for some time. (The history of how it came to be this way, starting gradually after the end of World War II, is the subject of my latest book.) Obama is merely implementing it more; he didn’t start it. He is implementing it more than even Republicans were able to do.
Obama wouldn’t have been able to do this if he didn’t come bearing the label ‘Democrat.’ And Hillary Clinton’s husband Bill was the key person to subordinate that Party to Wall Street. Hillary and Obama are following in his footsteps. Obama’s “Change” occurred actually when Bill Clinton became President in 1993. It simply hasn’t been much recognized until now. Today’s Democratic Party started when Bill became President. That’s when the one-party State, with the national Democrats playing the role of the ‘Good Cop’ to the national and local Republicans’ role of the ‘Bad Cop,’ in the eyes of the Democratic Party’s electoral base of deceived liberals, actually began to take over the U.S. Government, for the benefit of, and service to, America’s aristocracy.
This is why both Obama and Clinton are big supporters of essentially unregulated GMOs. It’s sort of like unregulated Wall Street: the profits get privatized, while the losses (poor health etc.) get socialized.
The national secular religion of this country consists of a cluster of rarely questioned premises, usually inculcated in childhood, comparable to the articles of a real religious creed.
The first proposition is the idea that we live in a “free” country, as symbolized by the Statue of Liberty idol that towers over New York City’s harbor. The system absolutely insists on this point, incessantly hammering it in. It’s its basic tenet. Indeed it’s presented as “self-evident.” You’re in this country, ergo, you are FREE.
It’s inflicted by osmosis. Every institution transmits it. Those who doubt it are encouraged to think they must be mentally ill. (Of course you’re free, you’re told. And so fortunate to be so! How can anyone question that?)
“Freedom” is emblazoned on our coinage and many state automobile licenses. It’s proclaimed each school day morning by tens of millions of otherwise innocent children obliged to recite religiously that they live in a nation “with liberty and justice for all.”
This particular component of the national creed is perhaps comparable to the opening article of the Apostles’ Creed, which alludes to belief in “God the Father Almighty.” Because belief in the U.S.A. as the global headquarters of “Freedom” is as central to what some call “Americanism” as monotheism is to Christianity.
The Pledge of Allegiance expresses the belief, not just in the goodness of “freedom” in itself, but in the idea that we actually live in a free country. (How often people protest, when someone criticizes their thoughts or behavior, “Well hey, it’s a free country!” And they usually truly believe this.)
“I’m proud to be an American,” country crooner Lee Greenwood boasts, “where at least I know I’m free.” He knows this, without any religious doubt. “Cause the flag still stands for freedom, and they can’t take that away.” (Whoever they are. Presumably people who “hate our freedoms” and are actively conspiring somewhere to invade and enslave us.)
Actually, I suspect that the people of Sweden or Denmark are freer than Lee Greenwood is, or imagines himself to be. But do they know they’re free, with the confidence he exudes?
The second article of the national creed is that the U.S. military (commonly referred to as “our troops”)–wherever and whenever they fight–fight for us, somehow, to “defend our freedoms.” Whenever you attend a ball game (as I do regularly in Fenway Park) you’re told that everyone in the stadium is proud to honor the “servicemen and servicewomen” present–the “heroes” who are “defending our freedoms” in Afghanistan, Iraq, or wherever. We’re expected to applaud them, even in liberal Boston, and indicate our gratitude for whatever it is they did. And if we read in the morning Boston Globe about these heroes killing civilians we should just put it out of mind.
The ball park MC never considers the possibility that there are Red Sox fans there just for the game, who do not see how U.S. troops’ actions in invaded countries defend their freedoms in any way, and who find this insertion of patriotic content into the program really annoying.
Still the crowd rises to its feet on demand, showing deference, accepting the adulation of the troops as a matter of faith. If you just sit there sullenly, refusing to participate, some drunken patriot might hassle you for your traitorous non-enthusiasm. So in this free country it’s best to just stand up to honor the troops and try to maintain your self-respect by being as nonchalant as possible.
Every cable news viewer has seen that endlessly repeated USAA Military Auto Insurance TV commercial, “Thank you Dad.”
“Thank you, Daddy, for defending our country,” says the cute little Latina girl, in one version.
“Thank you for your sacrifice, and thank you for your bravery,” says an African-American women, to her spouse perhaps.
“Thank you, colonel,” says the young white man to his former superior officer.
“Thank you, Daddy,” says the little black girl.
It’s a movingly multi-ethnic crowd, thanking Daddy for his martial valor. Trace Adkin’s “Till the Last Shot’s Fired” is in the background, urging us to “say a prayer for peace” even as the song glorifies the warrior and places priority on his (as opposed to his victims’) peace.
I’m in the fields of Vietnam,
the mountains of Afghanistan
and I’m still hopin’ waitin’
prayin’ I did not die in vain.
Say a prayer for peace for every fallen son.
Set our spirits free. Let me lay down my gun.
… We can’t come home until the last shot’s fired.
It doesn’t seem to make any difference to Adkins what the cause is, or how many people these soldiers killed. They’re heroes–just for doing the unquestionable right thing and firing that last shot (against whoever) as ordered.
The fact is, those who fought in Vietnam and Afghanistan did “die in vain.” Certainly their deaths produced no good for this world. But as suffering servants who sacrifice their lives as commanded, the U.S. military vets occupy the position of Christ in the secular religion. Just as in Christian theology, Jesus is God in human flesh, “our troops” are our (mythical) Freedom personified.
St. Paul writes in his Epistle to the Galatians, “For freedom Christ has set us free.” In the U.S. civic doctrine, the dead troops are the sacrifice necessary to keep us free.
The third proposition in the official state faith is that we live in a democracy, in which the people decide the nation’s fate through exercising their awesome right to vote. This, in the official civic belief system, is the equivalent of the Holy Spirit in Christianity.
Through the ritual of casting a ballot in the hallowed privacy of a voting booth, citizens fulfill their highest civic duty. One is supposed to stand there in that box, in solitude, but in intimate spiritual communication with the benevolent, all-embracing, fatherly state. One is supposed to be grateful to the state for the opportunity to enjoy the right to help determine the future, perhaps by choosing Jed Bush over Hillary Clinton. Or Hillary Clinton over Jed Bush.
One is supposed to leave that sacred space feeling pure and righteous, having performed the highest duty of citizenship. It’s not so important to vote for either one of the two of the viable corporate-sponsored parties (which are really like two factions of a single party, in a one-party dictatorship of the 1%). No. What’s important is to simply vote and, having participated, thereby voted for the system itself.
You’re supposed to leave the ballot box, proud to be an American, because at least you know you voted. You made a difference! You exercised your right. The only downside is that hereafter–whatever happens–you share responsibility. Because you, after all, elected your leaders, didn’t you?
So if you voted for a warmonger who attacks Iran, with hellish consequences, you’ll have to call the inevitable ensuing conflict “our” war, right? Rather than calling it “their” war–the war of the imperialists, from whom you might have appropriately dissociated yourself–just by politely declining the invitation to attend their unpleasant party and play their game.
Voting is fundamentally a statement of faith in the god of Freedom. And in the Christ-like qualities of the divinized warrior who, in this mythology, dies for your precious right to engage in this vapid ritual. Casting a vote in this “democracy” is rather like receiving Holy Communion in the presence of the Holy Spirit.
In the latter rite one reverentially receives and consumes the wine and wafer; in the U.S. civil rite one religiously casts the ballot and swallows the myth.
These three beliefs constitute the Holy Trinity of the national doctrine. They’re indeed all articles of faith, hardly based on reason. After all, how “free” is a country with the world’s highest incarceration rate, with over 700 in jail or prison out of every 100,000?
Almost 7 million adults in this country–nearly 3% of the adult population–are under what’s called “correctional supervision.” With 5% of the world’s population, this free country boasts fully one-quarter of the planetary prison population. 40% of these prisoners are African-American. There are more young black men in prison in this country than in college.
How can anyone speak with a straight face about “freedom” here?
“I wish I knew how it would feel to be free,” sang Nina Simone–quite heretically, in bold opposition to the state faith–in 1967, before fleeing the U.S. in 1970 and ultimately settling in France, which she (among other African-American and other exiles) found somewhat freer at that time.
How “free” are we now really–when all citizens are under electronic surveillance (at a level of sophistication that puts East Germany’s fabled Stasi to shame); while young men of color are routinely harassed by police, while police murders have–if only due to cell phone camera video exposure–become almost daily news stories; while government whistle-blowers are jailed for revealing such phenomena as state-sponsored torture?
And how do U.S. soldiers fight “for us” or “defend our freedoms” by invading countries in wars based on lies?
In my own state of Massachusetts there have been what I suppose can be termed some modest advances in freedom in recent times. (Sunday alcohol sales were allowed in 2004, gay marriage was legally recognized in 2004, marijuana possession was decriminalized in 2008). These changes have a meaningful impact on my community. But none of them had anything at all to do with U.S. troops’ actions abroad. And in fact the U.S. war (based on lies) in Iraq set women’s rights far back in that tortured, mutilated country.
The Democrats and Republicans pretend to have real differences with one another. (Rather like pro wrestlers pretend to truly despise one another before the big fight. It’s all for show.) But seriously: how democratic is a country in which two parties sharing a common faith in capitalist imperialism trade the presidency every so often–always vowing to effect change, even while nothing dramatically changes–while the one percent at the top of society (especially the cancerous tenth of that one percent) relentlessly increases its share of the national wealth?
The recent (2014) empirical study by Princeton professor Martin Gilens and Stanford professor Benjamin Page declares that the U.S. is not in fact a democracy but an oligarchy in which individuals and even mass-based interest groups cannot prevail over the tiny elite that makes decisions. “Average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence” on policy, they conclude. “Democracy” in this country is a joke.
The national secular creed also entails support for a foreign state which has nothing to do with U.S. freedom, and has not been a battlefield of U.S. blood sacrifice, but which does significantly impact the sacrament of voting. Whereas belief in the trinity of Freedom, Our Troops, and Voting is formally non-religious, this support is rooted deeply in religion.
I refer of course to the role of Israel in the national belief system.
Members of Congress have been known to cite Genesis 12:3, in the Old Testament, to explain their votes in favor of Israel under any circumstances whatsoever. This is the passage in which Yahweh (God) tells Abraham, “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse.” Just the other day Congressman Louis Gohmert (R-TX) declared, “There are many who have been aware of Scripture, and it has been a guide in our relations with Israel.” Enough said!
This sort of ass kissing is politically feasible in a country where, a recent poll showed, 55% of the population believes that God (the Maker of everything) gave what’s now the land of Israel to the Jews in perpetuity. It’s amazing. It would be amusing if the potential ramifications weren’t so horrifying.
President Obama and repeated Congressional resolutions refer to the U.S.’s “eternal support” for Israel. (Notice how such language is never applied to other countries. Despite the “special relationship” U.S. politicians never use such effusive language in referring to ties with the U.K. And recall how France, the U.S.’s oldest ally that gifted it the Statue of Liberty, was vilified as an “enemy” not so long ago–when it refused to support the war on Iraq, based, as that criminal war was, wholly on lies.)
This religious support for Israel in fact produces some amusement in Israel itself, where about a third of the Jewish population considers itself non-religious and takes those Bible fables with a grain of salt. But the support of Christian evangelicals is the key to the U.S.-Israeli relationship. Israeli prime ministers are received like rock stars at Christian events held in support of Israel. Christian Zionist organizations play a major role in the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the powerful lobby group that serves as a virtual agency of the Israel state.
In his May 2011 speech to Congress, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu received 29 standing ovations–including one when he declared, “Israel will not return to the indefensible boundaries of 1967.” Never mind that no country in the world recognizes Israel’s right to any land (on the West Bank, or in Gaza, Syria, or Lebanon) occupied during that “pre-emptive” war of aggression. Never mind that it is official U.S. policy to demand, along with the rest of the world, for Israel to withdraw to the 1967 borders. The bought-and-paid-for Congress rose to applaud Netanyahu’s insistence of the Jewish right to permanently annex more Arab land.
In his March 3, 2015 address to Congress, by invitation of the Republican leaders in the Senate, Netanyahu devoted all of his time to one topic: the G5+1 talks in Switzerland with Iran, and the need for the Congress to oppose any plans for President Obama’s State Department to sign onto any deal on Iran’s nuclear program. Again, incessant standing ovations!
Not surprising. Sen. Lindsey Graham, Republican from South Carolina and head of the Senate’s Foreign Appropriations Committee, had already told Netanyahu publicly that on Iran “Congress will follow your lead.” How to make sense of such fawning stupidity?
Netanyahu has direly predicted that Iran is close to the production of nuclear weapons since 1992, since before today’s college sophomores were born. He’s been a Chicken Little crying that the sky is falling–that Israel is in imminent, existential danger from Iranian nukes. He will not of course talk about Israel’s nuclear weapons, which the Jewish state has possessed since 1979, when it conducted a joint test with its close ally, the racist apartheid regime in South Africa. (In Israel it is a crime for anyone with knowledge about this to reveal what they know; the nuclear scientist Mordechai Vanunu spent 18 years in prison for revealing details about it to the British press.)
Israel is the only state in the Middle East with nuclear weapons. Its leaders think they have the right to have them, since (for some reason) Israel faces so much hostility from its refugee-flooded neighbors in this harsh world. And they decline to submit their nuclear facilities to UN inspection, while demanding that the world prevent Iran from developing any sort of nuclear program. Even a program like that which Brazil or Argentina might boast of, quite legally.
There is amazingly little discussion in this country of the actual history of the modern state of Israel. About how 33 of the UN ambassadors in 1947 (59% of the total at the time) voted for a plan to partition the British Mandate of Palestine that favored the Jewish immigrants over the 65% Arab majority, allotting the Zionist settlers over half the land.
They don’t realize how unrepresentative the UN was at that time, when half the world remained under colonial occupation.
They don’t know that in 1948 many prominent Jewish rabbis in the world opposed the formation of a specifically Jewish-Zionist state in Palestine.
They don’t realize how the entire Muslim world opposed the unfair partition; how major countries that were not majority Muslim (India, Greece, Cuba) voted against it; and how many others (China, Argentina, Ethiopia, Mexico, Yugoslavia, even the United Kingdom) abstained, feeling queasy about the deal and its potential blowback.
They don’t necessarily know that Zionists in the Irgun brown shirt paramilitary group along with the Stern Gang implemented a strategy of terror to produce mass panic and flight that produced 750,000 Palestinian Arab refugees between April 1948 and January 1949. They’ve never been told about the Deir Yassin massacre in April 1948.
They certainly don’t realize that many of these Palestinians may be the direct descendents of the Judeans of the Roman province where Jesus lived. It’s not like there was ever really a Diaspora in which the wicked Romans drove out all the Jews. They drove out some, while others remained. Of those who stayed, many became Christians over time and stopped self-identifying as Jewish. Later many converted to Islam. Meanwhile Judeans outside Judea, who numbered in millions even before the birth of Jesus, intermarried with others and for a couple centuries there was actually significant conversion to Judaism by gentiles in both the Roman and Parthian empires.
The Jewish Zionist community in contemporary Israel, which officially represents itself as a people who have “returned” to their ancestral land to which they have some sort of “birthright,” may in fact have less DNA in common with the Judeans of Jesus’ time than with modern European populations. The whole business of Abraham talking with the Supreme Being and being told his direct descendents would possess the Land of Israel forever (and so, who cares what happens to the Arabs?) is mythology. The “call of Abraham” is supposed to have occurred around 1000 years before there even was a written Hebrew language.
Christians in this country, who are prone to be much more literalistic in their reading of the Bible than those in Europe, tend to accept (as real historical phenomena) the story of Noah’s Ark, the bondage in Egypt and parting of the Red Sea. They believe that Moses was given the Law by God himself on Mount Sinai, and that during the conquest of Canaan, the walls of Jericho fell miraculously when the Hebrew “chosen people” blew their trumpets. They believe that the sun once remained stationary in the sky to give Joshua the upper hand in a battle for control of Jerusalem (Joshua 10:13).
The Israeli government and Israel Lobby which serves as its unlicensed agent (de facto exempt from U.S. legal oversight) knows that the U.S. public–largely brainwashed by the secular national religion and its own delusions about being itself a Chosen People inhabiting a Promised Land–is extremely receptive to Israel’s incessant religious pitch. They know that politicians competing for votes know they need to show maximum deference to Israel.
In his March 3 address to Congress, as his mesmerized audience sat imbibing his wisdom, Binyamin Netanyahu sermonized:
We’re an ancient people. In our nearly 4,000 years of history, many have tried repeatedly to destroy the Jewish people. Tomorrow night, on the Jewish holiday of Purim, we’ll read the Book of Esther. We’ll read of a powerful Persian viceroy named Haman, who plotted to destroy the Jewish people some 2,500 years ago. But a courageous Jewish woman, Queen Esther, exposed the plot and gave for the Jewish people the right to defend themselves against their enemies.
The plot was foiled. Our people were saved.
The legislators present rose to applaud this allusion to the Bible story, which immediately segued into the claim that “Today the Jewish people face another attempt by yet another Persian potentate to destroy us. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei spews the oldest hatred, the oldest hatred of anti-Semitism with the newest technology…”
The fact is, the story of Queen Esther is a myth. Set in the fifth century BCE but composed around the second century BCE, it describes a situation in which numerous Judeans reside in the city of Babylon in the Persian Empire. The exiles had in fact been permitted to leave by 530 BCE, and to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem, by the Achaemenid founder Cyrus the Great–a Persian (Iranian) who is actually identified in the Old Testament as “the Lord’s anointed one” (Isaiah: 45:1-7).
This validation as an “anointed one” was, by the way, an honor shared by no other non-Jew in the Bible. Not that you’d expect Netanyahu to point out the positive aspects of the very long relationship between Jews and Iran, which (as you know) has the largest Jewish population outside of Israel in the Middle East. The Jewish minority has representation in the Iranian parliament, and maintains synagogues, Hebrew schools and kosher restaurants. (If you don’t know these facts, thank the U.S. mainstream media.)
In the Book of Esther story, the Persian emperor Ahasuerus (commonly identified with Xerxes, a real person who ruled from 486 to 465 BCE and the fifth in the Achaemenid line) becomes dissatisfied with his current wife. He casts her aside unceremoniously and looks for a new spouse, choosing Esther, a Jew, who conceals her background. She finds favor with the ruler. However, her kinsman Mordecai offends Xerxes’ prime minister, Haman (to whom Netanyahu alluded in his speech) by refusing to bow down before him.
Haman learns that both the queen and Mordecai are Jews. Energized by petty pique, he organizes a plot to massacre all the Jews in the land and seize their property. He tells Xerxes there is a “certain unassimilated nation… throughout the provinces of your realm” whose laws so differ from those of other nations that “it is not in the king’s interest to tolerate them” (Esther 3:8-9). He persuades him to agree to an annihilation campaign.
Again, this is pure fantasy. It never happened. But in the story, a huge pogrom is planned, Mordecai heroically organizes mass prayer and resistance, and Queen Esther at the decisive moment reveals her identity as a Jew to the ruler, and defends her people. Xerxes, egged on by his spouse, has Haman hanged and gives the Jews license to exact revenge on their enemies. Indeed, according to this novelette, Jews during the Feast of Purim slaughter 75,000 Persians (Esther 9:15-16). (None of this is supported by contemporary Persian sources.)
Having observed that this is pure fiction, one can ask why Netanyahu wanted to use it last month in his fiction-riddled presentation to Congress. He must have known that anyone present with a little knowledge of Jewish-Iranian history might have asked: “Excuse me, but doesn’t the Esther story actually tell us that Jews have been in Persia (Iran) for 2,500 years, and that Persian rulers were regarded favorably by ancient Judeans as allies–even ‘God’s anointed’ rather than foes?”
And couldn’t one ask, “How did the Jewish Queen Esther ‘give the right’ to the Jews ‘to defend themselves against their enemies’?” The Jews were allowed to kill the 75,000 Persians in the story because the Persian ruler had given them the right. Netanyahu might not have read the text carefully. But one must suppose that even if he had, he wasn’t trying to give the U.S. audience a rigorous textual exegesis. He was presenting his Likud Party program of continued confrontation with Iran (as a supporter of Palestinian and Lebanese resistance movements) in biblical gift-wrap.
Just by citing an Old Testament work familiar to some Christians–such as those who dominate Congress–Netanyahu plugged into that chord of commonality that many adherents of the national civic religion like to reference when the trinity of Freedom, Holy War, and Voting alone doesn’t quite do the job.
When you’re a U.S. leader and need to get the people on board a new campaign for Mideast war, you can’t just say, “We’re free. But we have to fight to stay free. And we have to vote for the strongest, who will fight hardest for our freedom.” You also need to exploit the religious element and add, “We have to side with Israel, because God said, he would bless those who blessed it, and curse those who didn’t.”
Again, the first three articles in the national civic religion are actually irreligious; they don’t require belief in deities, souls, and afterlives. But the belief in Israel as the Promised Land of a certain bloodline, granted to it in perpetuity by a certain deity in conversations four millennia ago, is an explicitly religious conviction.
Unfortunately these four creedal myths–that we really enjoy freedom; that this countries wars are for freedom; that the act of voting really means “democracy;” and that the U.S. must always as a matter of principle back Israel–constitute a doctrinal whole.
You can presumably lose faith in the fourth while maintaining adherence to the first three, since the latter don’t involve specifically religious beliefs. But polls suggest that the majority of people in this country still accept all four points in the Creed. They would, in the event of an Israeli nuclear strike on Iran–while prizing their freedom, heroic military and parliamentary system–also applaud any Israeli actions in putative defense of the Jews’ “God-given” land.
Even if the Israelis were to deploy nuclear weapons, out of their known arsenal (which U.S. politicians, for some reason, never ever mention) against an Iran which has none, these people would bless rather than curse them. They would see in the action affirmations of “freedom,” heroic military action, and “democracy” alongside adherence to the unquestionable Word of God.
How can one possibly challenge the U.S. state religion–this nonsensical mass of concepts in the service of the 1% including an inordinate share of billionaire Iran-baiting Zionists? Six media corporations (GE, News-Corp, Disney, Viacom, Time Warner, and CBS) control the “news” consumed by the great majority of people in this country. They all promote the national belief system.
Freedom. Our troops. The beauty of the ballot box. God and Israel.
They all instruct their reporters, in the event of a Ferguson-style situation, to spin the story away from any radical critique of systemic police brutality victimizing the non-white poor. Of course they all uphold the freedom of the abused people to demonstrate (“peacefully”); they have to confirm the national creed that the people are somehow, basically, “free” under the existing system.
“Journalists” and talking heads from Lou Dobbs to Al Sharpton unite in urging the people to respond properly, responsibly to events that disturb them (whether it’s war, economic injustice, or police brutality) by registering to vote!
Off the streets and into the polling booth! To elect more Obamas, more saviors! (Even though–let me repeat–Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page have concluded empirically that in the U.S. your vote means very little.)
They all resist criticism of war, and investigative journalism before the next war-based-on-lies occurs. They all get critical as the U.S. enters a morass, and belatedly might even question the premises for a particular war. But they will always, culturally, uphold the warrior as the soul of the nation. Even after a war has itself been discredited, clearly exposed as based on lies, the warrior is upheld as a freedom fighter and social role model.
How to disabuse people of those doctrinal premises? How to persuade them to see Israel rationally–free of religious baggage–as a normal, oppressive settler-state surrounded by neighbors who are (most understandably) indignant about its aggressions since 1948?
It may well be impossible. State religions are hard to crack. Still, the petering out of state faiths in Europe and the collapse of State Shinto in Japan after 1945 suggest that the U.S. secular national religion might also eventually (as that old Persian expression goes) “fade from the page of time.”
I’m hopeful there will come a time when our youth–frustrated with job prospects and housing issues, fed up with police brutality, burdened with student debt, disgusted with wars based on lies, nauseated by the Stasi-like NSA surveillance of their private lives, shocked by the raw statistics showing how wealth is apportioned in this “free” country, disillusioned by their own engagement with the “American dream”–will rebel big time.
Understanding through experience that this is NOT a free country, and that humanity can do much, much better, they will observe matter-of-factly that U.S. military personnel deployed in imperialist wars are NOT heroes.
They will recognize that elections in this society are a ritual to legitimate the status quo, an ideological trap, not the best means to effect real change.
And they will realize that the mystical hold of Israel over the U.S. polity, which does not advantage the individual citizen at all, is rooted in a mythological misreading of the past.
In today’s world that interpretation of past reality necessarily dovetails with anti-Arab racism and ignorant Islamophobia. Senators and Congressmen will tell you quite frankly they’d be happy to “give” Israel the whole West Bank because the Bible tells them that “the Jews” should ultimately have it.
These fine Christian Zionists have no problem with Palestinian dislocation and disenfranchisement. But maybe their day is ending. The day of the U.S. state religion may be ending. The day that the Israeli prime minister citing biblical fairy tales can dictate U.S. policy in the Mideast may be ending as Bibi reaps the whirlwind of his Bible-thumping address to Congress.
A tsunami of disillusionment is, if not inevitable, at least very likely. It’s good to be disabused of illusions or delusions, religious, patriotic or both. May our youth shuffle off the Zionist coil, seeing it for what it is: the ideological prop for more war that has nothing to do with freedom.
Gary Leupp can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Guaranteed profits—at any price
Last Tuesday, President Barack Obama told beltway bullhorn Chris Matthews that Senator Elizabeth Warren was “wrong” about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the largest trade deal in American history, linking United States and Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam in a pervasive and binding treaty. The president was referring to Warren’s claim that the trade treaty will license corporations to sue governments, and her contention that this was, to put it mildly, a bad idea.
Warren isn’t wrong, Obama is. And he knows it. The entire TPP, as understood, is based on a single overarching idea: that regulation must not hinder profiteering. This is a fundamentally anti-democratic concept that—if implemented—would effectively eliminate the power of a demos to make its own law. The final authority on any law’s validity would rest elsewhere, beyond the reach of popular sovereignty. From the TPP point-of-view, democracy is just another barrier to trade, and the corporate forces behind the draft treaty are intent on removing that barrier. Simple as that.
That’s why the entire deal has been negotiated in conclave, deliberately beyond the public purview, since the president and his trade representatives know that exposing the deal to the unforgiving light of popular scrutiny would doom it to failure. That’s why the president, like his mentor President Clinton, has lobbied hard for Trade Promotion Authority, or Fast Track, which reduces the Congressional role in the passage of the bill to a ‘yea’ or ‘nay.’
Cracks have begun to show in the formidable cloak behind which the deal has been structured. A coalition of advocacy groups advanced on the U.S. Trade Representatives office this week. Wikileaks has obtained and released chapters from the draft document. Senator Harry Reid declared his position on Fast Track as “… not only no, but hell no.” Warren has proved to be a persistent thorn in the side of White House efforts to smooth over troubling issues with the deal. But the monied interests that rule the beltway have all pressed for passage. And as a Fast Track draft makes its way through Congress, stakes are high. The TPP is, in the apt estimation of political activist Jim Hightower, a “corporate coup d’état.”
Not for the first time, the president and his Republican enemies are yoked by the bipartisan appeal of privilege against this faltering fence of protest. The marriage of convenience was described in last Friday’s sub-head to a New York Times article on TPP: “G.O.P. Is Allied With President Against His Own Party.”
All The Usual Suspects
Who else supports the TPP? Aside from this odd confection of neoliberals, the corporations that rule the beltway feverishly back the TPP. From the leak of Sony digital data we learn that it and its media peers have enthusiastically pressed for the passage of the deal. Sony is joined by major agricultural beneficiaries (Monsanto), mining companies like Infinito Gold, currently suing Costa Rica to keep an ecology-harming mine pit active, as well as pharmaceutical coalitions negotiating stiff intellectual property rights unpopular even in Congress, and various other technology and consumer goods groups. And don’t forget nicotine kingpins like Philip Morris.
Obama reinforces the corporate line: “We have the opportunity to open even more new markets to goods and services backed by three proud words: Made in America.” Perhaps he isn’t aware that our leading export is the workforce that once took pride in that moniker. We’ve exported five million manufacturing jobs since 1994, largely thanks to NAFTA, the model on which the TPP is built. The TPP will only continue that sad trend. The only jobs not being offshored are the ones that can’t be: bartenders and waitresses and health care assistants. That’s the Obama economy: a surfeit of low-wage service jobs filled by debt-saddled degree holders. As Paul Craig Roberts argued in The Failure of Laissez Faire Capitalism, between 2007 and 2014, some eight million students would graduate from American universities and likely seek jobs in the United States. A mere one million degree-requiring jobs would await them. The irony of Obama’s statement is that the TPP would actually move to strip the use of labels like, “Buy American,” since they unduly advocate for local goods.
In truth, the authors of the treaty already know all this. The bill concedes as much, with Democrats building in some throwaway provisions of unspecified aid to workers whose jobs have been offshored, and a tax credit to ostensibly help those ex-workers purchase health insurance. Cold comfort for the jobless, as they are exhorted by the gutless paladins of globalization to ‘toughen up’ and deal with the harsh realities of a globalized economy. As neoliberal stooge Thomas Friedman has said, companies in the glorious global marketplace never hire before they ask, “Can this person add value every hour, every day — more than a worker in India, a robot or a computer?” Of course, the answer is invariably no, so the job goes to Bangladesh or a robot. No moral equation ever enters the picture. Just market discipline for the vulnerable and ingenious efforts by a captive state to shelter capital from the market dynamics it would force on others.
The Investment Chapter
Despite Obama’s disingenuous clichés about “… fully enforceable protections for workers’ rights, the environment and a free and open Internet,” the trade deal makes it clear that labor law and environmental law are both barriers to profitability. We know this thanks to Wikileaks, which once again proved its inestimable value by acquiring and releasing another chapter from the cloak-and-dagger negotiations. This time it was the investment chapter, in which so much of the treaty’s raison d’etre is expressed.
As Public Citizen points out in its lengthy analysis of the chapter, any domestic policy that infringes on an investor’s “right” to a regulatory framework that conforms to their “expectations,” is grounds for a suit. Namely, the suit may be pressed to “the extent to which the government action interferes with distinct, reasonable investment-backed expectations.”
Here’s what the TPP says about such legislation as it relates to investor expectations:
For greater certainty, whether an investor’s investment-backed expectations are reasonable depends, to the extent relevant, on factors such as whether the government provided the investor with binding written assurances and the nature and extent of governmental regulation or the potential for government regulation in the relevant sector.
Try putting that tax on financial transactions. Forget it. Barrier to a reasonable return. Don’t believe it? Just read the TPP investment protocols that would ban capital controls, which is what a financial tax is considered to be by TPP proponents. Try passing that environmental legislation. Not a chance. Hindrance to maximum shareholder value. Just ask Germany how it felt when a Swiss company sued it for shutting down its nuclear industry after Fukushima. Try enacting that youth safety law banning tobacco advertising. Sorry. Needless barrier to profits. Just ask Australia, which is being sued by Philip Morris for trying to protect kids from tar and nicotine.
Public Citizen has tabulated that, “The TPP would newly empower about 9,000 foreign-owned firms in the United States to launch ISDS cases against the U.S. government, while empowering more than 18,000 additional U.S.-owned firms to launch ISDS cases against other signatory governments.” It found that “foreign investors launched at least 50 ISDS claims each year from 2011 through 2013, and another 42 claims in 2014.” If these numbers seem small, recall that for a crucial piece of labor legislation to be struck down, only one firm need win in arbitration in order to financially hamstring a government and set a precedent that would likely ice the reformist urge of future legislatures.
As noted earlier, the text also appears to suggest to ban the practice of promoting domestic goods over foreign—another hurdle to shareholder value. This would effectively prohibit a country from implementing an import-substitution economy without threat of being sued. Governments would be relieved of tools, like tariffs, historically used to protect fledgling native industries. This is exactly what IMF prescriptions often produce—agricultural reforms, for instance, that wipe out native crop production and substitute for it the production of, say, cheap Arabica coffee beans, for export to the global north. Meanwhile, that producer nation must then accept costly IMF lending regimes to pay to import food it might have grown itself.
Of course, it is rarely mentioned that protectionism is how the United States and Britain both built their industrial economies. Or that removing competitor market protections is how they’ve exploited developing economies ever since. The TPP would effectively lock in globalization. It’s a wedge that forces markets open to foreign trade—the textual equivalent of Commodore Perry sailing his gunships into Tokyo Harbor.
The bill’s backers point to language in which natural resources, human and animal life, and public welfare are all dutifully addressed in the document. The leaked chapter explicitly says that it is not intended to prevent laws relating to these core concerns from being implemented. So then, what’s the problem? The problem is that these tepid inclusions lack the teeth of sanctions or punitive fines. They are mere rhetorical asides designed to help corporate Democrats rationalize their support of the TPP. If lawmakers really cared about the public welfare, they’d move to strip the treaty of its various qualifiers that privilege trade over domestic law. By all means, implement your labor protection, but just ensure “… that such measures are not applied in an arbitrary or unjustifiable manner, or do not constitute a disguised restriction on international trade or investment.”
If lawmakers cared about national sovereignty, they wouldn’t outsource dispute settlement to unelected arbitration panels, more fittingly referred to as, “tribunals.” (Think of scrofulous democracy hunched in the dock, peppered with unanswerable legalese by a corporate lawyer, a surreal twist on the Nuremberg Trials.) Just have a glance at Section B of the investment chapter. Suits will be handled using the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) model, itself predicated on the tribunal precedent. And in the event a government lost a suit or settled one, legal costs would be picked up by taxpayers, having been fleeced by an unelected committee whose laws it has no recourse to challenge.
Perhaps investor protections like ISDS were once intended to encourage cross-border investment by affording companies a modicum of reassurance that their investments would be safeguarded by international trade law. But the ISDS has been used for far more than that. The ISDS tribunals have a lovely track record of success (first implemented in a treaty between Germany and Pakistan in 1959). Here’s Public Citizen:
Under U.S. “free trade” agreements (FTAs) alone, foreign firms have already pocketed more than $440 million in taxpayer money via investor-state cases. This includes cases against natural resource policies, environmental protections, health and safety measures and more. ISDS tribunals have ordered more than $3.6 billion in compensation to investors under all U.S. FTAs and Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs). More than $38 billion remains in pending ISDS claims under these pacts, nearly all of which relate to environmental, energy, financial regulation, public health, land use and transportation policies.
New Era, New Priorities
Now the ISDS is a chisel being used to destroy the regulatory function of governments. All of this is being negotiated by corporate trade representatives and their government lackeys, which appear to have no qualms about the deleterious effects the TPP will have on the general population. But then the corporations these suits represent have long since discarded any sense of patriotic duty to their native nation-states, and with it any obligation to regulate their activities to protect vulnerable citizenries. That loyalty has been replaced by a pitiless commitment to profits. In America, there may have been a time when “what was good for Ford was good for America,” as memorably put by Henry Ford. But not anymore. Now what’s good for shareholders is good for Ford. This was best articulated a couple of years ago by former Exxon CEO Lee Raymond, who bluntly reminded an interviewer, “I’m not a U.S. company, and I don’t make decisions based on what’s good for the U.S.” Those decisions usually include offshoring, liberalizing the labor market, practicing labor arbitrage, relocating production to “business friendly climates” with lax regulatory structures, the most vulpine forms of tax evasion, and so on—all practices that ultimately harm the American worker.
Apple says it feels no obligation to solve America’s problems nor, one would assume, any gratitude to the U.S. taxpayer for funding essential research that Apple brilliantly combined in the iPod and iPhone. Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich finally admits corporations don’t want Americans to make higher wages. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce encourages shipping American jobs abroad. World Bank chiefs point to the economic logic of sending toxic waste to developing nations. Wherever you look, there seems to be little if any concern for citizenry.
The Financial Times refers to ISDS as, “investor protection.” But what it really is, is a profitability guarantee, a legal bulwark against democracy expressed as regulation. Forgive me for thinking that navigating a fluid legislative environment was a standard investment risk. Evidently the champions of free trade can’t be bothered to practice it. Still the White House croons that it has our best interests at heart. If that were true, it would release the full text, launch public charettes to debate its finer points, or perhaps just stage a referendum asking the American people to forfeit their hard-won sovereignty. No such thing will ever happen, of course. As it turns out, democracy is the price of corporate plunder. After all, the greatest risk of all is that the mob might vote the wrong way. And, as the language of the TPP makes explicitly obvious, there are some risks that should be avoided at all costs.
Jason Hirthler can be reached at: email@example.com.
Richard Cordray (former Attorney General of Ohio), the head of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPG) and Gary Gensler (a former disaster under Bill Clinton and Goldman Sachs) have been the two great appointments by President Obama in the field of finance. Obama’s other appointments at Treasury, the financial regulatory agencies, and the (non) prosecutors who are supposed to specialize in financial prosecutions have been nightmarishly bad.
Gensler was another Rubinite from Goldman Sachs who, under Bill Clinton, helped destroy Brooksley Born’s effort to protect the nation from the financial derivatives that blew up AIG and much of the financial world through passage of the infamous Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000. As Obama’s appointee to chair the Commodity Futures Trade Commission (CFTC), however, Gensler justly earned praise for attempting to restore effective regulation. Gensler was a grave disappointment to Obama’s administration, which thought it was sending a reliably pro-finance Rubinite to run a fairly obscure agency he had helped emasculate. When Gensler showed a spine Obama refused to reappoint him and replaced Gensler with Timothy G. Massad, a Timothy Geithner minion noted for his pro-industry views. Massad’s claim to fame was being one of the principal unprincipled architects of the failed homeowner relief programs. As I pointed out in my first Bill Moyers interview, failing (for the right political reasons) proves you are a reliable “team player” and gets you promoted in Washington, D.C. As Geithner found out, succeeding gets you your walking papers. Jesse Eisinger, as his norm, wrote a great piece about Massad when Obama nominated him in November 2013. An alternative view can be found in the American Banker, which gave prominently space to an op ed praising Massad’s nomination written by the head of a firm that trains CFTC staff.
Massad’s tenure represents a regulatory retreat at the CFTC, but in fairness, as bad as Obama is on financial regulation the Republicans are vastly worse. They are trying to force the wholesale repeal the Dodd-Frank protections on financial derivatives and they have waged an unholy war on the CFTC’s budget to try to make it impossible for the agency to protect the public. The GOP also fought hard to prevent Cordray’s appointment because they (more precisely, their donors), rightly, feared his integrity and skills.
One might think that Obama, and Democratic Party candidates for the presidential nomination would be campaigning on the issue of Republicans being in the pocket of the industry and trying to recreate Bush’s anti-regulatory “Wrecking Crew” (as Tom Frank aptly labeled it) that produced the financial crisis. But leaders of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) (aka “new Democrats,” which include both Clintons and Obama – by his own words) cannot bring themselves to channel their inner FDR and take on big finance. (The DLC is defunct as a formal organization, but its political leaders and pro-finance and anti-regulatory dogmas remain intact.) Big finance is the DLC’s financial base. Senator Bernie Sanders may run. If he does the Republican Party’s unholy war on regulation will be one of his primary issues.
Hillary Clinton’s Successful Gensler Gambit
The financial media is abuzz today with the leaked news that Hillary Clinton is hiring Gensler as a senior campaign staffer. From H. Clinton’s perspective, the media buzz was perfect. Bloomberg’s article bears this gushing one sentence summary: “Hillary Clinton will bring on one of Wall Street’s fiercest critics to oversee her campaign’s finances.” The article explains the politics.
“For Clinton, who has been fighting her left flank’s concern that she is too cozy with Wall Street, Gensler is a notable hire. He became known as someone with sharp elbows —even during his negotiations within the Obama administration—in his push for tighter regulation.”
In short, H. Clinton’s campaign got the ideal spin from what could have been a very hostile financial media. Hiring, and leaking, Gensler’s hire was a very smart political move.
Just One Little Catch
But here’s the catch. Gensler is being hired for a job that will take 150% of his available time given H. Clinton’s ability to raise money and the obscene rules that make modern campaign finance a sport in which both parties routinely devise “black box” funding devices to allow the wealthy to rule American politics secretly. This has two critical implications. Gensler will not be working to block the power of the secretive wealthy – he will be doing the opposite, at least 16 hours a day. It also means that he was not hired to advise H. Clinton on the crimes of Wall Street banksters and the vital need for vigorous regulation and prosecutions. Even if he had the desire to fill that role he will have no time to do so and he will be busy secretly catering to the needs of the wealthy and politically dominant criminal class.
Gensler Was No Godzilla When He Led the CFTC
Gensler’s stint at the CFTC is a nice story of redemption. He did try to be a vigorous regulator over great opposition from the industry, much of Congress (including many House Democrats), and Treasury. Gensler’s desire to be an effective regulator was unacceptable to Obama, who in another act of “revealed preferences” refused to reappoint Gensler.
But Gensler is not, remotely, “one of Wall Street’s fiercest critics.” Quick: memory association: what’s Gensler’s “fiercest” criticism of Wall Street? You came up blank, didn’t you? I checked the Wall Street Journal and did a more general web search. The WSJ was happy to see that Obama refused to reappoint him (the cover story is that Gensler did not want to serve another term) and it criticized him as harsh – but I could not find a story quoting any harsh denunciation of Wall Street by Gensler. Given that even life-long banking apologists like Geithner’s replacement as President of FRBNY now routinely refer to the corrupt culture of Wall Street, Geithner is not even one of the harsher critics of Wall Street within the none-too-critical Obama administration.
The “sharp elbows” claim is pure invention by Geithner’s worse than useless minions. Anyone who refused to brownnose the finance industry was considered far too aggressive by Geithner. Geithner and his team launched the same smear at Sheila Bair (FDIC chair) and Neil Barofsky (SIGTARP). We (the S&L regulators) were routinely referred to as “Nazis,” the “Gestapo,” and the “KGB.” The political, dirty tricks, and litigation attacks on us were far more severe and consequential because our actions were sending elites to prison and humiliating their political patrons who rushed to return campaign contributions from those we exposed as frauds.
Back in the S&L days under the team assembled by Federal Home Loan Bank Board Chairman Edwin Gray, the Reagan administration detested us precisely because Gensler (in his CFTC incarnation) would have been somewhere in the middle of the distribution of regulatory vigor. The comparison is conjectural because under Gray’s leadership, which generally became so supportive of regulatory vigor, and the tutelage of Joe Selby and Mike Patriarca (the Nation’s consensus choices as the most effective and vigorous financial regulators), Gensler might have developed into a far more effective regulator. Gensler’s mentor, Robert (“Bob”) Rubin, inflicted a severe impediment to regulatory effectiveness that Gensler had to struggle to try to overcome.
Ignore the media crush on Gensler’s appointment. As campaign CFO for H. Clinton his job is the care and feeding of the DLC’s financial base – the finance industry. H. Clinton’s Gensler gambit is smart politics, but if you think it means she is seeking progressive advice you are being played – successfully.
Press TV has conducted an interview with Peter Rushton, a historian and political commentator from London, and Lawrence J. Korb, a former US Assistant Secretary of Defense in Washington, to discuss Washington’s delivery of new F-35 fighter jets to Israel.
Rushton says the delivery of fighter jets truly shows that the policies of US President Barack Obama are totally in line with those of his predecessor, George W. Bush, adding the most worrying fact is that the White House continues its military deals with Tel Aviv despite the regime’s longstanding aggressive policies.
The analyst slammed the recent military deal with Israel, which is the sole possessor of nuclear arms in the Middle East, saying such an accord strips Washington of any means of leverage that could enable the US to contain Tel Aviv’s warmongering policies.
Meanwhile, Korb believes the US is selling the equipment to Israel only to bolster the regime’s deterrence power in the face of dangers in the region.