A growing number of opposition groups in Syria are getting increased weapons and ammunition supplies from the US Air Force to tackle Islamic State, according to US media reports citing the country’s military.
The weapons are intended for opposition forces closing in on IS’s self-proclaimed capital Raqqa in Syria, USA Today reports.
The “expanded” airdrops are “helping ground forces take the offensive to [the Islamic State] and efforts to retake Raqqa,” Gen. Carlton Everhart, commander of the US Air Mobility Command, is quoted by the news outlet.
Currently, the Syrian Democratic Force (SDF) – an alliance of various militias, mainly formed by Kurdish fighters – is continuing its push to retake territories around Raqqa. SDF is among key opposition forces being backed by the US-led international coalition in Syria.
The weapons supplies “are absolutely essential” for the irregular forces fighting on the ground, the US Air Force spokesman in Baghdad Col. John Dorrian claimed, according to USA Today.
Meanwhile, Everhart reportedly claimed that the US military is being extremely precise while delivering arms and equipment to the opposition in Syria. “We’ll get it within 10 or 15 meters of the mark,” he said.
The US-led coalition has been repeatedly conducting military airdrops for the opposition groups in Syria. However, such missions have not always gone according to plan.
Back in October 2014, a weapons airdrop by the US Air Force apparently ended up in the hands of IS terrorists, who released a video claiming to have seized the cache of arms. The weapons had been intened for the Kurdish forces battling jihadists who were besieging the Syrian town of Kobane at the time.
Pentagon spokesman Col. Steven Warren later said that two bundles of weapons have been lost. While one of them was destroyed by an air strike, another “went astray and probably fell into enemy hands.”
“There is always going to be some margin of error in these types of operations,” Warren added.
In December last year, US President Barack Obama granted a waiver for some of the restrictions on the delivery of military aid to “foreign forces, irregular forces, groups, or individuals,” if those groups are supporting the US’s alleged counter-terrorism efforts in Syria.
Reacting to the decision, Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the move could result in some of the weapons getting into the hands of terrorists.
Such an occurence would pose “a serious threat not only for the region, but the entire world,” he warned.
On December 9, 2016 US Democratic lawmaker Tulsi Gabbard introduced the Stop Arming Terrorists Act bill. She alleged that the CIA in fact supplied arms to the opposition, some of whom cooperated with terrorists including al-Qaeda. “This madness must end,” she urged.
Since becoming the US Commander-in-Chief in 2008, Barack Obama charted a thinly veiled anti-Russia course that many failed to anticipate or appreciate due to the media-generated hype of “hope and change” that accompanied his rise to power.
Few modern leaders have entered the world stage with more fanfare than Barack Hussein Obama. After George W. Bush’s eight-year War on Terror tour, many were ready to believe America’s first black president would throw the US juggernaut into reverse. Indeed, so mesmerized was the global village with Obama, who never brokered so much as a used car deal, it nominated him for a Nobel Peace Prize after less than two weeks in office.
To understand the source of our enchantment, we have to rewind to January 2007, shortly before Obama’s meteoric rise: The relationship between the US and Russia had just entered severe turbulence as the Bush administration, top heavy with vicious neocons, announced it would drop a missile defense shield in Eastern Europe, with missile silos in Poland and a radar station in the Czech Republic. The system, Washington explained, was to guard Europe from a rogue missile strike, ostensibly from Iran, despite the fact that such a reckless move on the part of Tehran would have meant quick US-assisted suicide.
Moscow was not fooled. This was made clear on February 12, 2007 when Vladimir Putin delivered his now famous speech at the Munich Security Conference. The Russian leader warned the stony-faced delegates assembled there: “Plans to expand certain elements of the anti-missile defense system to Europe cannot help but disturb us. Who needs the next step of what would be, in this case, an inevitable arms race? I deeply doubt that Europeans themselves do.”
Putin went on to slam the American “hyperpower” and its well-trained NATO attack dog for pursuing a “world of one master, one sovereign” that will spark an “inevitable arms race.”
Putin’s reality check came about three decades too late to break Europe’s heavy American chains, thereby proving the ‘Stockholm syndrome’ – the curious psychological condition when hostages develop a helpless attachment to their captors – can affect entire nations and even continents as well.
Suffice it to recall, later in Obama’s presidency, Europe’s muted reaction when an idealistic young American, Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor turned whistleblower, handed over thousands of classified documents detailing a US surveillance program that spanned the entire planet. Even Angela Merkel’s private cell phone was considered fair game. Yet the astonishing revelations did little to dampen Europe’s commitment to the Obama administration’s policies.
But all that was in the future. In the meantime, the world held its breath at the abyss, placing its faith in the “hope and change” snake oil an Illinois Senator named Barack Obama was peddling via teleprompter to a war-weary world that was increasingly willing to believe just about anything.
Obama’s ‘Reset’ snow job
When Barack Obama emerged victorious in America’s 2008 game of thrones, there was a promising break in the storm clouds. Experts consulted their battered almanacs and predicted brighter days ahead in the US-Russia relationship. Unfortunately, the geopolitical weathermen got it wrong. Tragically wrong. And it all began with an innocuous sounding plan – the US-Russia “reset” – rolled out by the seemingly well-intentioned Obama administration.
In March 2009, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met in Geneva, where Clinton presented her counterpart with a cute “reset” button to signal in the much-anticipated dawn in bilateral relations. Although the largely symbolic gesture made for a great photo-op, the reset moment was beset with glitches from the very start.
Much to the apparent embarrassment of the attendees, the US State Department had misspelled the word ‘reset’ on the thingamajig in the Russian version; instead of “reset” it spelled – ominously and even prophetically – “overload.”
Lavrov and Clinton laughed off the technicality, cracked a few jokes, and pressed the plunger, thereby committing both sides to a tragic farce. Lavrov could not have predicted such a backfire, however, since it was difficult to expect nothing less than miracles from the affable black guy from Hawaii who spoke so eloquently about ridding the planet of nuclear weapons, heralding in an age of world peace, and all that.
In any case, Moscow had no other choice but to believe him.
A few months later, when Obama announced he was going to “shelve” the missile defense plans of his hawkish predecessor, it appeared the US leader was truly the real deal. The belligerent Bush years, it now appeared, was nothing but an historic anomaly, a forlorn figure in the rear-view mirror; America had conquered its aggressive neocon alter-ego after all.
Those happy sentiments lasted for about as long as it took to read that line. Yes, Obama would “shelve” Bush’s ambitious missile defense plans, but, with a sleight of hand and a lot of flip-flop, the deceptive Democrat unveiled his own jazzy surround system – the sea-based Aegis SM-3 interceptors and forward-based radar, which turned out to be – surprise, surprise – every bit as lethal as the Bush variant.
The Obama administration, however, apparently forgot that while the rest of the world played checkers, the Russians preferred chess. Robert Gates, then defense minister, acknowledged as much when he noted, “the Russians quickly concluded that the Obama plan was even worse from their perspective, as it eventually might have capabilities that could be used against Russian intercontinental missiles,” the Washington Post reported.
This admission blew the cover off of Obama’s greatest deception, the US-Russia reset hoax. So now the question was no longer: Would the United States shelve the missile defense system? But rather: Would it cooperate with Russia on the system, thus sparing Eastern Europe another arms race?
The answer to that question should have been obvious. After months of wild goose chases around negotiating tables, Moscow understood that the Obama administration was simply bluffing in order to buy time.
In November 2011, then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev announced the formal end of missile defense talks (and the implicit beginning of an arms race). In fact, the Obama administration – the very same nice people who introduced the reset idea – refused to even provide written assurances that the system would not pose a threat to Russia’s ballistic missile force, thereby upsetting the regional strategic apple cart.
Medvedev said Russia would, among other immediate errands, deploy Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad, equip Russia’s strategic ballistic missiles with advanced warheads that are impervious to the missile defense system, and deploy offensive weapon systems able to “take out any part of the US missile defense system in Europe.”
If any of these moves on the part of Russia could be considered “aggressive,” Washington had nobody but itself to blame.
Yet, the US has talked up the mythical threat of “Russian aggression” among its NATO client states to such a feverish pitch that these governments could not refute the groundless charges without appearing to be disloyal to Washington. In other words, NATO members are not allies of the United States by mutual consent, but rather allies by arm-twisting compulsion.
This brings us to the most dangerous part of the Obama administration’s double-dealing: Moscow itself is beginning to feel threatened by what it views – and rightly, I believe – to be American aggression on anabolic steroids.
Here is what Putin had to say about the US missile defense system, which has just gone live in Romania: “They say [the missile systems] are part of their defense capability, and are not offensive, that these systems are aimed at protecting them from aggression. It’s not true,” the Russian leader said. The “great danger” is that the launchers can be used to fire US Tomahawk missiles “in a matter of hours,” Putin said.
Meanwhile, technological advances will only make the system increasingly more versatile and powerful. And exactly where the magic tipping point is, when the ‘defense’ system shifts the global strategic balance, nobody can say with certainty. Putin acknowledged this, saying “technologies are developing, and we know around what year the Americans will get a new missile, which will have a range not of 500 kilometers, but 1,000, and then even more – and from that moment they will start threatening our nuclear capability.”
This deadly threat to Russia’s national security – a threat the United States would never accept if the situation were reversed – naturally places those nations hosting the US missile defense system square in Russia’s cross-hairs. It also makes it highly unlikely that Moscow will concede to further nuclear missile cuts. Only a fool would take a dagger over a sword while his opponent reaches for a bigger shield.
Indeed, not only did the double-dealing on the missile defense system trigger another arms race, it has threatened the New START Treaty – a nuclear arms reduction agreement signed into force by Medvedev and Obama on April 8, 2010 in Prague.
Here is where the deceitful nature of Obama’s ‘reset’ is clearly revealed: At the very same time the United States was building for itself a mighty shield in Eastern Europe, capable of neutralizing Russian ballistic missiles, it was also working to have Russia dramatically reduce its nuclear ‘sword’ through New START. Obviously, the United States can’t have it both ways, but that doesn’t mean it won’t stop trying.
It is interesting to note that US President-elect Donald Trump has just suggested that he would consider the possibility of ending the sanctions regime against Russia in return for “dramatically reducing” nuclear weapons.
“They have sanctions on Russia — let’s see if we can make some good deals with Russia. For one thing, I think nuclear weapons should be way down and reduced very substantially,” Trump told The Independent.
Trump may be many things, but a fool he is not. So he must certainly understand that those weapons are Russia’s only viable protection against the US missile defense, which, as we’ve said, could turn offensive in a matter of minutes. Moscow, it would appear, is hardly in a position to negotiate on these weapons.
What price reset?
The full implications of Barack Obama’s pure deception over the missile defense system proved that the so-called “reset” – or “overload” – had been nothing but a ploy, a smoke and mirrors diversionary tactic, in the hope of lulling Russia into believing that Washington was sincere about turning a new page in US-Russia relations. It was not.
A heavy footnote that needs mentioning is that the key architect of the US-Russia reset was Michael McFaul, whose research, according to his own webpage, focused on “Russian electoral trends, post-communist regime change, and American foreign policy.”
Little surprise, then, that Moscow expressed serious reservations when Obama broke with diplomatic protocol and named the non-career academic – the esteemed doctor of regime change, thank you very much – as US Ambassador to Russia in January 2012.
Would it surprise anyone that US diplomats have engaged in espionage in Russia and actively participated in the rallies staged by Russian opposition forces, as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov revealed this week.
“In addition to spying, US Embassy diplomats have repeatedly been seen taking part in the rallies of opposition, anti-government forces, unauthorized rallies, including times when they wore disguise. Do the math yourselves,” Lavrov stated.
Clearly, the reset was doomed to failure from the start, not because of any lack of will, but rather because the Obama administration was committed to it never succeeding in the first place.
Fast forward to 2016, and it is no coincidence that we see more than just the US missile defense system on Russia’s border. The New Year is barely underway and already we have dozens of US tanks, equipment and thousands of US soldiers fanning out across Poland and the Baltic States for what promises to be a continuous rotation of American military force – exactly the sort of provocation US planners need to keep the entire region believing in the myth of “Russian aggression” and NATO members cracking open their wallets to buy up more US-made military hardware.
So where is that promise of cooperation Barack Obama made to Russia when he first entered office? It’s in that same state of limbo where other famous Obama promises – like shuttering Guantanamo Bay detention facility and working to bring about global peace – are located: neither here nor there. A big part of the explanation is that the neocons are still calling the shots in Washington.
Meanwhile, the US mainstream media continues to serve up heavy helpings of fake news with regards to Russia, like this opening line from The Spectator, which says it all: “Is the Russian president really crazy enough to launch a new wave of invasions, or is it all a clever bluff?”
The intelligent, well-informed reader would immediately ask: “What Russian invasions?” After all, the only time Russia initiated a military operation against a sovereign state was in August 2008 after Georgian forces invaded Tskhinval, the capital of South Ossetia, killing 12 Russian peacekeepers that had been stationed there.
Although the Western media absolved then Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili of any wrongdoing at the time, an independent European investigation quietly concluded a year later that Georgia was indeed responsible for the instigating the five-day conflict.
Who could have predicted eight years ago that Barack Obama, the ‘peace president,’ would turn out to be many times more belligerent than the ‘war president’ George W. Bush?
The warring peace president
As Obama’s final year winds down, some incredible statistics are beginning to emerge that show how militaristic the United States has become under Obama.
“From Albania to Uruguay, Algeria to Uzbekistan, America’s most elite forces – Navy SEALs and Army Green Berets among them – were deployed to 138 countries in 2016,” according to figures supplied to TomDispatch by US Special Operations Command. That figure is a surge of 130 percent since the gung-ho days of the Bush administration.
In the very same year, the Obama administration dropped an estimated 26,171 bombs, with most of them falling on the people of Syria and Iraq. US bombs also hit targets in Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, and Pakistan. That’s seven Muslim countries by the way.
Reset or not, there is no way Russia would have just sat back and watched as the Obama administration storm-trooped its way through the Middle East and beyond.
Considering these truly disturbing figures, it is clear that the US military – and its commander-in-chief – was out of control, drunk on absolute power, and wreaking mayhem around a punch-drunk planet for the past eight years. The data also goes far at explaining Washington’s marked hostility to Russian efforts to lend its military assistance in Syria against the terrorists of Islamic State. Although it was largely due to Russia’s air campaign that places like Aleppo and Palmyra were eventually liberated, today the Obama administration pretends Russia did nothing of significance in Syria.
On the weekend, Ash soon-to-be-relieved-of-his-imperial-command Carter, US Defense Secretary, actually had the gall to say that Russia forces have achieved “virtually nothing” in Syria. Nothing that could have been considered treacherous, he could have added.
The irony of the comment is so heavy it practically drips off the page: When Russia remained on the sidelines of the Ukrainian civil war, refusing to get involved in the affairs of its neighbor, it was falsely accused in Western media of actually invading that country. On the other hand, when Russia was invited to enter the territory of Syria by its president to fight against Islamic State, which it did with stunning results, it was said by Washington to have “contributed nothing” to the Syrian efforts.
All things considered, the reasons are obvious why the US-Russia reset never worked from the beginning. It was predetermined to fail from the outset because America – due to its supreme arrogance and exceptionalism – believes it has no need of allies or partnerships.
That conceit is the fatal flaw of every dying empire.
Robert Bridge, an American writer and journalist based in Moscow, Russia, is the author of the book on corporate power, “Midnight in the American Empire”, released in 2013.
We live in dangerous times, where the behavior espoused by Obama and Clinton has been extremely dangerous, says former British ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray.
Russian hackers have found themselves at the center of yet another controversy, thus helping to fuel the latest round Russophobia.
A Russian-language version of a new, highly-anticipated episode of Sherlock was leaked online before its first official airing, leading to all sorts of conspiracies.
The BBC, which owns the rights to show Sherlock, says it will carry out a full investigation of the incident.
RT: What do you think of the claim that Russia keeps a dossier on key British MPs?
Craig Murray: It seems to me unlikely. Of course there are spies – all countries more or less have spies. Russia has spies, America has spies, Britain has spies. I suppose these people have to do something to justify their salaries and the enormous cost of their organization. There is a certain amount of nonsense that goes on. But I really don’t think that Russia spends a great deal of its time keeping dossiers on British politicians with incriminating photographs and that sort of thing. I think it is a very 1950’s idea.
RT: Like in the hacking scandal, no real evidence has been put forward. Is it now acceptable to just forget about evidence?
CM: It seems quite remarkable the number of claims that we’ve seen. The so-called hacking scandal, then the wider claims from that absolutely unbelievable dossier apparently compiled by Christopher Steele about meetings where people can prove they were nowhere near the meeting; about people being sacked who weren’t sacked, and all kinds of absolutely fact-free nonsense, which the media then claims as unverifiable.
Actually, it was very verifiable – you could easily verify it wasn’t true. And now we have this stuff. I think anti-Russian stories using a secret source are going to be with us for some time. You’ve got to remember that the military and the security services have to justify their enormous budgets, and that is what this is all about.
RT: Is the worst of the hacking hysteria over now, do you think?
CM: Well, this is going to have to calm down though now, because eventually people will have to admit there is no evidence on this whatsoever, and in fact it didn’t happen. But the lack of evidence seems no barrier at all to the hysteria continuing. This sort of wave of Russophobic hysteria is something which we experienced once or twice during the Cold War at this kind of level, which I really believed the world had got over. And it is extremely sad to see it coming again when that is backed up by massive troop movements and tanks wheeling around, churning up fields all over the Europe. We live in dangerous times, where the behavior espoused by Obama and Clinton has been extremely dangerous.
President Obama has decided to send 300 US Marines back into Afghanistan’s Helmand Province – the first time in three years that the US military has been sent into that conflict zone.
Almost all of Helmand’s districts, except for the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, are either heavily embattled or fully controlled by the Taliban. The province is the leading opium producer in the country.
Despite all the promises to withdraw, 8,400 US troops will remain in Afghanistan as the president leaves office on January 20. If the US pulls out, the Afghan government will hardly be able to hold power.
American forces have been engaged in combat action there for over 15 years – the longest war waged by the United States – without end to hostilities in sight.
Around 200 NATO soldiers, mainly Italians, have also been deployed to Afghanistan’s volatile western province of Farah after attempts by Taliban fighters in recent months to overrun its capital city.
About a third of the country – more territory than at any time since 2001 – is either under insurgent control or in risk of coming under it. The Taliban forces have challenged Afghan security forces for a number of key cities in 2016. With fighting under way in 24 of the 34 provinces, the government’s ability to control the country is questioned.
Last December, General John Nicholson, the chief US and NATO commander in Afghanistan, said the government directly controls about 64 percent of the population of 30 million, down slightly from 68 percent earlier in 2016.
According to Robert Grenier who served as CIA’s top counter-terrorism official and was the station chief in Islamabad, Pakistan, from 1999 to 2002, there are significant parts of the country, particularly in the south and the east, where it seems inevitable that the Taliban will further consolidate their control. The Afghan forces had more than 15,000 casualties in the first eight months of 2016, including more than 5,500 deaths.
The administration in Kabul lacks unity while the clout of regional leaders and warlords is growing. The UN says 7 million people in Afghanistan need aid. 2.2 million of them suffer from malnutrition. Poverty and unemployment prompt young Afghans to join extremist groups.
After the Russian forces in Syria struck the oil infrastructure under the control of Islamic State (IS), the issue of controlling heroin routes in Afghanistan became even more important for the group. According to the Russian Federal Drug Control Service (FSKN), the IS militants make $1 billion a year from Afghan heroin. The possibility of alliance between the Taliban and IS is a real nightmare.
Afghan officials have approached Russia asking it to resume cooperation. Its representatives believe that the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) has a role to play in managing the crisis in the country. NATO officials have also made statements in support of resuming Russia-NATO cooperation in Afghanistan. The cooperation was suspended after Crimea became part of the Russian Federation in 2014.
Moscow allowed land transit though its territory of non-military freight from NATO and non-NATO ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) countries. NATO used the transit center near Ulyanovsk. The parties implemented a program of common training for the prevention of drug trade in Central Asia.
Russia sold military equipment and ammunition to support the NATO operations in Afghanistan. For instance, in 2010 NATO bought 31 Russian Mi-17 helicopters to refurbish them for the Afghan army.
Against the background of ballyhoo raised in the United States regarding the “threat” coming from Moscow, Washington has partially lifted sanctions against Russian cooperation with Afghanistan on helicopter maintenance. It was not the only time. The US has broken its own sanctions regime allowing the acquisition of Russian technology for its space program.
The Afghan government badly needs more Russian helicopters to repel Taliban and IS attacks. In 2016, it formally asked the Russian government to start the deliveries.
If Russia delivers its aviation equipment to Afghanistan, it will need to train Afghan personnel. Formally, that’s what US and NATO are doing in Afghanistan now- they are in the country on advising and training missions. In fact, it will mean the resumption of cooperation while carrying out the same mission.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has recently expressed concern over the situation in Afghanistan and called for taking urgent steps to tackle the problem. The instability in that country spreads to Central Asia posing a direct threat to Russia’s security. Roughly, 2,000 militants operating in the Afghan northern provinces come from the countries of the post-Soviet space.
There is a growing risk of extremist attacks on the states allied with Moscow. Fighters with combat experience received in Syria have already been spotted in the Uzbek Fergana Valley. The infiltration of Islamic State (IS) into Afghanistan threatens the Russian North Caucasus and the Volga region. Besides, Afghan heroin kills 25,000 Russians annually.
Afghanistan is a burning issue – a problem that only an international effort can solve. This is an issue of common interest for Russia and the Alliance. The situation in the country could be discussed within the framework of Russia-NATO Council. On January 4, the Russian Foreign Ministry made a very important statement saying Russia was ready to restore the relations with NATO. Afghanistan could become a starting point on the way of rebuilding the broken relationship.
Once an assumption of benevolent leadership is made the tendency has been to interpret subsequent acts in benevolent terms. When George W. Bush was president this took the form of his supporters believing that Saddam Hussein brought down the Twin Towers, that Iraq had an ongoing WMD program and that the role of America was to ‘free’ the world of tyrants. All evidence to the contrary was taken as either fraudulent or partisan bickering.
The theory amongst bourgeois liberals in the early-mid 2000s was that this trait was peculiar to the more evangelically inclined supporters of national Republicans who had been swayed by the culture wars. The arrogance of the conceit is likely due in part to class difference, in part to conflation of education with intelligence (class difference) and in part to identitarian politics that well serve the powers that be. A question to ask then is: who benefits from political divisions?
The assumption precludes legitimate critique. Those doing the criticizing have to be in some sense enemies of benevolence (goes the logic). But what if the critiques derive from differences in circumstances and lived experience? This is most certainly the case when national policies like trade agreements benefit one group to the detriment of another. Who, besides economists, would give credence to an abstract benefit when their own life is being destroyed?
Whether Democrats like the idea or not, Donald Trump’s election is a result of Barack Obama’s eight years in office. Mr. Obama’s policies benefited the rich a lot, the liberal class a bit and the other 90% of the population not that much. His benevolence was not very evenly distributed. In fact, his neoliberal tendencies hurt a lot of people. And all it takes is one visit to the doctor to learn the difference between health insurance and health care.
History Shits the Bed
By the fall of 2011 the streets of Manhattan were filled once again with twenty-somethings carrying shopping bags holding as much bounty as they could carry. The cranes used to build luxury condos that had been stopped in mid-motion in 2009 were back to work. Stock and house prices were rebounding and conspicuous consumption amongst the newly revived banker and executive classes was back in the news. Pockets of economic recovery could be found around the country.
Barack Obama had saved the economy from a second Great Depression went the story-line. Obama Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner was featured as a savior in glowing posters on the New York subway. The economic statistics were of economic recovery at rates of change not seen in recent history, if from levels of economic catastrophe. There was some ‘clean-up’ to be done around the edges, but America had been pulled back from the abyss.
The liberal class gave wide berth to the newly homeless who were beginning to fill certain blocks and streets. The poverty rate kept rising, even in New York, but that was because people didn’t have the skills employers were demanding assured the economists. Foreclosures continued to drive millions of families from their homes, but the Obama administration was doing what it could with ‘foreclosure relief’ programs that ‘foamed the runway’ with the lives of ordinary citizens for the benefit of Wall Street.
By 2012 bourgeois chatter had it that anyone who wanted a job could find one. Amongst the liberal elite in New York, this was largely true. But in the suburbs the distance between those hanging on and those who weren’t was growing. Foreclosure maps told a story of ongoing crisis. The clean and safe mini-estates that had been the call of the suburbs turned into prisons for the newly unemployed whose houses were worth so little that they could no longer sell them to search for employment.
But the suburbs were still relatively wealthy, if on a case-by-case basis, compared to the urban and rural neighborhoods targeted by the banks with predatory loans. Large and demographically concentrated neighborhoods, mostly poor neighborhoods of color, were partially or wholly abandoned by people who couldn’t pay their mortgages. And the banks were fine with ‘zombie’ foreclosures because they were off the hook for maintaining them and paying taxes.
If you’re poor in America you are on your own when the shit hits the fan. Kids, children, who were eight years old in 2008 are sixteen or seventeen years old now. Some I know have been able to pull their lives together after being homeless for a few years. Lots more are still sleeping in cars and trying to piece together enough work to eat. In 2017. Necessity has made them resourceful. Otherwise, they’re a lot like the rest of us.
With only superficial irony, many of the really poor kids have cell phones— a luxury, right? Did you ever try to find a job without an address or a phone number? How about apply for SNAP (food stamps)? Many of the vagrancy laws that supported Jim Crow are still on the books. If the cops want to put you in jail, they can. In America most of the ways of contending outside of corporate life are illegal. To end the suspense, this isn’t an accident.
Liberals, Meet the Deplorables
I’ve had long conversations with people who voted for Donald Trump— displaced manufacturing workers mostly who are in various stages of rebuilding their lives or watching them fall apart. Unlike the ‘deplorables’ of liberal infamy, they are basically decent people who want their lives back. For those displaced before the onset of the Great Recession, the stories have been of slow decline from well-paying jobs to hourly work or quasi-professional jobs that are still, in 2017, being diminished.
Those cut loose after 2008 saw rapid spirals down. One career mechanical engineer saw the company he had worked for for fifteen years bought out by a private equity firm in 2009. He was fired along with everyone he worked with when production was moved overseas. The workers filed a class action lawsuit to recover their pensions taken in the buyout. His wife left him the same week his house was foreclosed on. Right now he’s pumping gas at a highway rest stop to make ends meet.
Democrat ‘trade’ agreements combined with consequence-free bailouts for Wall Street place national Democrats and displaced workers and the poor on opposite sides of a vicious class war. The dominant refrain I’ve heard from the displaced across racial lines is ‘we need a fucking revolution.’ Before the DNC settled the issue in Hillary Clinton’s favor, I made my pitch for Bernie Sanders. The overwhelming pushback was: the Democrats are the Party of Wall Street and free trade agreements. The mechanical engineer knew that Bernie was toast months before I did.
Everyone Has Five Houses, Don’t They?
Democrat support for the rich and connected creates an odd dynamic for the bourgeois liberals pushing the ‘resist Trump’ movement. Whatever Democrats might say about Republican ‘obstruction,’ Barack Obama had eight years in which to enact the national Democrats’ agenda. From the perspective of those left behind— and a lot of people were, do you give four or eight more years to the people who left you behind or do you try something else?
The displaced workers I’ve met tended to know more about the Democrats’ actual policies than Democrats do, possibly because they’ve lived them. Even after Hillary Clinton lost the election Barack Obama was still pushing the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) to ‘secure his legacy.’ And lest you be unaware, the TPP isn’t a trade deal per se— even Democrat loyalist and erstwhile economist Paul Krugman agrees that it isn’t. Its purpose is to give multi-national corporations more control over our lives.
For example, it would give coal extraction companies the right to sue for lost profits from the EPA’s rule that American utilities must switch from burning coal to less polluting fuels— one of Barack Obama’s ‘signature’ environmental achievements. This would require utility customers, taxpayers or both to pay for the coal not burned and the replacement fuel, a state of affairs that would quickly force a reversal of the EPA policy. So, is Mr. Obama an environmentalist or not?
The mechanism for doing this, the ISDS (Investor-State Dispute Settlement) provision, is a key part of the TPP. It works by allowing corporations to sue civil governments to recover lost profits when they enact laws to regulate environmental destruction or public health. And a big difference is that Donald Trump’s cabinet can be removed from office whereas the TPP is a civil doomsday device that is nearly impossible to undo once passed. Mr. Obama’s supporters know this, right?
A Bailout by Any Other Name Smells Just as Bad
Economists love the phrase ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions.’ Their neo-Victorian point is that nature chooses the winners and losers in a market economy. As with the premise of benevolent leadership (above), the premise of benevolent system (capitalism) requires a kind of backward induction where all outcomes are interpreted and explained in terms of the benevolence of the system.
By continuing and extending the George W. Bush administration’s bailouts of Wall Street and the auto industry Barack Obama is credited by his supporters with staving-off a ‘second Great Depression.’ Dean Baker has done yeomen’s work debunking this nonsense. On the auto industry front, Mr. Obama maintained the tiered wage structure that left new auto workers earning near-poverty wages while auto executives were back to multi-million dollar bonuses in short order. Thanks Barack.
The bailouts of Wall Street had more moving parts. For those with an interest, Milton Friedman (bear with me) and Charles Kindleberger provide histories of the Great Depression from differing perspectives. Long story short, many of the structural problems that exacerbated the impact of bank failures in the Great Depression were resolved by FDR with bank reforms. Government sponsored deposit insurance alone provided a back-stop in 2008 that didn’t exist when FDR entered office.
Sweden undertook a smaller and less complicated nationalization of its banking system in the rolling Scandinavian banking crises of the late 1980s – early 1990s. It led to full recovery of the Swedish economy in quick order. In 2009 the idea of nationalization was put forward and quickly disposed of on ideological grounds by the Obama administration. FDR had proved that banks do just fine as heavily regulated quasi-utilities. But as Timothy Geithner put it: ‘America doesn’t do nationalization.’
As Matt Taibbi reported at the time, the ‘bailouts’ were a feeding frenzy amongst connected insiders where relatives of bankers (link above); hedge fund and private equity managers were given hundreds of millions of dollars in low interest loans that only had to be repaid if those that received them felt like it (non-recourse). As I explained here and the Bank of England explains here, global central banks acted to revive the prices of assets held by Wall Street and the global rich under the manufactured delusion that ‘we all benefit’ when the rich are made richer.
Had Wall Street been nationalized when Barack Obama had the chance the driving force of global environmental catastrophe, militarism, the concentration of wealth and recurrent economic crises could have been put toward serving the public interest. But Mr. Obama was ideologically opposed to doing so. This is something Mr. Obama’s supporters still don’t get— Mr. Obama is ideologically committed to neoliberalism. By late 2016 he was still pushing the neoliberal program with the TPP.
The argument that the Obama administration saved the U.S. from a second Great Depression is complete and utter bullshit. Moreover, Mr. Obama oversaw the most corrupt redistribution of national wealth in human history with the bailouts. Lest this seem hyperbolic, go back a reread Matt Taibbi’s reporting from 2009 and 2010 (link above). For people who were paying attention in the early years of the Obama administration, the contention that Donald Trump and his incoming administration are corrupt by comparison confuses method with substance.
Try a Little Tenderness
A good way to put the charge of a ‘deplorable’ class to the test would be to resolve the economic issues that are the basis for legitimate criticism and then see where this leaves us. Barack Obama had eight years to do so. He spent the first four arguing for austerity while he gave hundreds of millions of dollars in free money to connected insiders. He spent the second four arguing that the economy was healed and that what we need is more trade agreements.
Anyone with an interest can travel outside of the bourgeois ghettoes of Manhattan, Washington and Silicon Valley to see how the rest of the country is living. Fifty years of neoliberalism have left much of the country an economic wasteland. Across the Northeast banks and private equity firms are selling houses that were emptied eight years ago and have been hidden from sight since then. Their displaced occupants are paying rent they can’t afford and are but one paycheck away from ruin. Don’t take my word for it, see for yourselves.
The U.S. is currently nearing a full-blown political crisis. Liberals are being played by Democrat Party insiders and deep-state operatives. The ignorance of history required to believe that the CIA, FBI and NSA are benevolent entities that speak the truth is breathtaking. Furthermore, if Democrats want to contend that Wall Street’s and Exxon-Mobil’s interests are benign but Russia’s aren’t (where is the evidence?), what possible problem could they have with Donald Trump’s Cabinet?
The half of the electorate that voted for Donald Trump can rightly ask Democrats where they’ve been for the last eight years. (I voted Green but would have preferred a radical Left Party to vote for). Russia didn’t force Barack Obama to be an austerity loving, neoliberal tool. When millions of people are tossed onto an economic garbage heap, it’s politics 101 to expect a response. And before you call the response ugly, take a look at what was done to those who were tossed away. How ugly was that? How ugly would it be if it was done to you?
Rob Urie is an artist and political economist. His book Zen Economics is published by CounterPunch Books.
As the eight-year term of America’s first black President draws to a close, the media are already in the process of myth-making. There’s room for an honest autopsy of a man who promised a new kind of world, and delivered merely warmed-over soundbites and a few fake tears.
“With Barack Obama’s exit the US is losing a saint.” writes Simon Jenkins in the Guardian, whilst Ann Perkins praises his “grace, decency and defence of democracy”. Lola Okolosie rhapsodises on his legacy of “warmth, love, resilience”.
Already the storyline is set – Obama was a good man, who tried to do great things, but was undone by a Republican senate, and his own “sharp intelligence”.
These people, as much as anybody, reflect the cognitive dissonance of the modern press. “Liberals”, to use their own tortured self-descriptor, now assign the roles of good guy and bad guy based purely on aesthetics, convenience and fuel for their vanity. Actions and consequences are immaterial.
For the sake of balance, here is a list of Saint Obama’s unique achievements:
- Obama is the first President in American history to be at war for every single day of an 8 year presidency.
- Obama has carried out 10x more drone strikes than Bush ever did. Every Tuesday a military aide presents Obama with a “kill list”, and the “decent, gracious” Obama picks a few names off a list…and kills them. And their families. And their neighbours. These illegal acts of state-sanctioned murder have killed hundreds of civilians in 5 different countries in 2016 alone. The only reason that number isn’t higher, is that the Obama administration re-classified all males over 18 as combatants, regardless of occupation.
- After declaring he wanted to build a “nuclear free world”, Obama committed to spending $1 TRILLION dollars on rebuilding America’s nuclear weapons.
- Under Obama, the NSA et al. were able to spy on, essentially, the whole world. When this was revealed, not a single intelligence officer or government official was prosecuted. Instead…
- Obama’s administration declared a “war on whistleblowers”, enacting new laws and initiating what they call the “Insider Threat Program”. Manning was prosecuted, Snowden sent into exile and Assange was set-up, discredited and (they hoped) extradited. It has never been more dangerous to be a government whistle-blower, than under Barack Obama
- In terms of foreign policy, despite his press-created and non-sensical reputation as a non-interventionist, American Special Forces are currently operating in over 70% of the world’s 138 countries. The great lie is that, where Bush was a warmonger, Obama has sought to avoid conflict. The truth is that Obama, in the grand tradition of the CIA and American Imperial power, has simply turned all America’s wars into covert wars.
- Before Obama came into office, Libya was the richest and most developed nation in Africa. It is now a hell-hole. Destroyed by war, hollowed-out by corruption. The “liberal” press allow him to agonise over this as his “greatest mistake”, and then gently pardon him for his good intentions. The truth is that Libya was not a mistake, or a misjudgment, or an unforeseen consequence. Libya is exactly what America wanted it to become. A failed state where everything is for sale, a base to pour illegal CIA weapons south into Africa and east into the ME. When war is your economy, chaos is good for business. When secrecy is your weapon, anarchy is ammunition. Libya went according to plan. A brutal plan that killed 100,000s and destroyed the lives of millions more. Libya, like Iraq, is a neocon success story. Syria on the other hand…
- Syria, probably the word that will follow Obama out of office as “Iraq” did his predecessor, is a total failure. Both of stated intent and covert goals. Where the press will mourn Obama’s “indecisive nature” and wish he’d “used his big stick”, the real story is one of evil incompetence, so great that it would be almost comical… if it hadn’t destroyed an ancient seat of civilisation and killed 100,000s of people. Syria (along with Libya, Iraq, Somalia, Iran and Sudan) was on the list of the 7 countries America intended to destroy, famously “leaked” by General Wesley Clark. After the fall of Libya, Syria was (essentially) surrounded by American military on all sides. Iraq, Israel, Turkey and America operating out of Libya could pour “freedom fighters” into Syria to bring down “the regime”. When that didn’t work they deployed the trusty “WMD” method, to demand “humanitarian intervention”… the Russians saw that off. Then “ISIS” was created by the CIA, as al-Qaida were before them, and their manufactured barbarism was used as a pretext for invasion. The Russians, again, saw to it that this would not happen.
- Perhaps in the hope of distracting Russia from the ME, or perhaps merely as a short-sighted punitive measure, the Obama administration’s next foreign policy target was Ukraine. Victoria Nuland’s own voice proves how much that “color revolution” was an American creation. Ukraine is broke, even more broke than it was, its people starve and freeze through the winter. The new “democratic government” has shelled 10,000 people to death in the East of the country…. using American weapons.
- In Yemen, the poorest country in the ME is being bombed to shreds by the richest…. again, using American (and British) weapons. Obama’s “defense of democracy” doesn’t extend to criticising, or even discussing, the abhorrent Human Rights record of America’s Saudi Arabian allies, and in an act of brazen hypocrisy, even supported their chairing of the Human Rights Council of the UN.
This is the world Saint Obama has created. Guantanamo is still open, and terrorist “suspects” are still held there without trial or charge (they are probably still tortured). Other “suspects” can be simply declared guilty, and unilaterally executed… anywhere in the world. The NSA and CIA are illegally monitoring the communications of half the world. If any other leader in the world claimed even 1% of this power, they would be decried as “autocratic”, and their country denounced as a “pariah state”.
The Middle-East is ablaze from Libya to Afghanistan, and from Yemen to Turkey. Relations with Russia are as precarious as at any time since WWII, thanks to America’s efforts to break Russia economically and shatter their global influence. There is no sign that America intends to back-down (see the recent red-scare style hysteria in the American press). Likewise America has positioned itself to have a massive conflict with China in the South China Sea. Obama is, in terms of influence, nothing more than a used-car salesman. His job is not to create policy, but to sell neocon ideas to the general public, but his lack of agency cannot excuse his lack of vision or morals. Under Obama’s notional leadership the world has moved to the very brink of self-immolation in the name of protecting American hegemony. Domestically America still crumbles.
He had a nice smile, and a good turn of phrase. He was witty, and cool, and looked good in a suit… but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t just more of the same. He could say the right things, and sound like he meant them, but he was still a monster. As he moves out to pasture, the press will try to spit-shine Obama’s tarnished halo, to try to convince us that he was a good man at heart and that, as politicians go, we can’t do any better.
But yes, we can.
The American government is ending some economic sanctions against Sudan as a reward for Khartoum’s closer ties with the West and Saudi Arabia, an African American journalist in Detroit says.
“The Sudanese government has shifted its foreign policy more towards Saudi Arabia,” said Abayomi Azikiwe, editor at the Pan-African News Wire.
“This is reflected in their participation in the war against Yemen… also they’ve broken diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Azikiwe said in a phone interview with Press TV on Friday.
“So I think this is a reward for Sudan in regard to moving closer to the West,” he added.
Obama signed an executive order on Friday to ease but not eliminate some trade and investment sanctions against Khartoum, arguing that the East African country has shown “a marked reduction in offensive military activity, culminating in a pledge to maintain a cessation of hostilities in conflict areas.”
The outgoing president expressed determination that the situation which led the US to impose and continue the 20-year-old sanctions had changed in light of Sudan’s “positive actions” over the last six months.
Sudan has been under US sanctions since 1997. Washington accuses Khartoum of supporting terrorist groups, and it has blacklisted the country as a state sponsor of terrorism since 1993.
The US has accused Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir of war crimes related to the conflict-torn Darfur region.
Violence broke out in Darfur in 2003 when ethnic minority rebels rose against the long-time ruler, accusing Bashir’s Arab-dominated government of marginalizing the region.
US President Barack Obama has declared the continuation of his country’s national emergency against Iran, claiming that despite full commitment to its nuclear deal with the six world powers, the Islamic Republic still poses “an unusual and extraordinary threat” to America.
The outgoing president informed Congress of his decision in a letter on Friday, saying that the national emergency, which was declared on March 15, 1995, “is to continue in effect beyond March 15, 2017.”
The National Emergencies Act requires the president to extend a national emergency within 90 days of its anniversary date, before it is automatically terminated.
Obama admitted in his letter that Iran had delivered on its commitments pursuant to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), a landmark nuclear deal that was struck between Iran and the P5+1 group of countries — the US, the UK, France, China, Russia, and Germany — on July 14, 2015.
Under the landmark deal, which entered into force on January 16 last year, Iran undertook to put restrictions on its nuclear program in exchange for the removal of nuclear-related sanctions imposed against the country.
“Since Implementation Day, the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) has repeatedly verified, and the Secretary of State [John Kerry] has confirmed, that Iran continues to meet its nuclear commitments pursuant to the JCPOA,” Obama said in his notice.
“However, irrespective of the JCPOA, which continues to ensure that Iran’s nuclear program is and remains exclusively peaceful, certain actions and policies of the Government of Iran continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States,” the outgoing president added.
In November, Obama extended a separate national emergency against Iran, which was originally declared by former US President Jimmy Carter on November 14, 1979.
He also extended the state of emergency with respect to Libya, Ukraine, Zimbabwe, Cuba and Venezuela.
A state of emergency gives the US president special powers, including the ability to seize property, summon the National Guard and hire and fire military officers at will.
The state of emergency also forms the basis for most US sanctions against other countries.
In his farewell address, President Obama bluntly laid down a challenge – “If anyone can put together a plan that is demonstrably better than the improvements we’ve made to our health care system – that covers as many people at less cost – I will publicly support it.”
There is such a plan. Not only does it cover as many people as Obamacare, it covers everyone. And at less cost than Obamacare.
Everybody in. Nobody out.
And Obama did publicly support it. Before he turned against it.
That plan was put together more than fifty years ago – it’s called single payer.
And we as a country implemented it for people of a certain age – it’s called Medicare.
The single payer Medicare for All bill has been languishing in Congress for decades – it’s called HR 676.
It will again be introduced into the new Congress sometime over the next couple of weeks.
And before Obama was against single payer, Obama was for it.
In 2003, as a state Senator in Illinois, Obama publicly supported single payer.
“I happen to be a proponent of a single payer universal health care program,” Obama said at the time. “I see no reason why the United States of America, the wealthiest country in the history of the world, spending 14 percent of its Gross National Product on health care cannot provide basic health insurance to everybody. And that’s what Jim is talking about when he says everybody in, nobody out. A single payer health care plan, a universal health care plan. And that’s what I’d like to see. But as all of you know, we may not get there immediately. Because first we have to take back the White House, we have to take back the Senate, and we have to take back the House.”
Which of course the Democrats did.
And then Obama let the insurance industry write Obamacare and push single payer off the table.
Russell Mokhiber is the editor of the Corporate Crime Reporter..
A raw and sometimes darkly comic survey of America’s treacherous political terrain
By John Chuckman | Aletho News | January 12, 2017
The books about The Wizard of Oz were written as satire on American politics, but Hollywood, in its inimitable way, turned them into a song-and-dance picture for children. Still, one scene in the film has a sense of the author’s intent. That scene is when Dorothy, in Emerald City, approaches a closet-like structure, which, as it happens, is the Wizard’s control booth for sounds and smoke and lights, his special effects for intimidating visitors and impressing them with non-existent power.
The entrance curtain happens to be open, so Dorothy sees a modest man busily pulling levers and pushing buttons and speaking into a microphone which alters his voice into a great booming one, echoing like a great organ in a cathedral. When the man realizes that he is being watched, he makes a last effort and booms out words along the lines of “Pay no attention to the man in the booth.” Of course, the jig is up, and we all understand there is no wizard.
What better allegory for events in Washington today could there be? We have booming noises and smoke and glaring lights, and it all comes from a rather sad little – little in the sense of failed – man with about two weeks left to sit at his big desk and pretend that he is a great and powerful wizard. Except, when you are President, as this man is, you can never be observed in your control booth and you have your stunts and booming claims seconded by a chorus of flacks, hangers-on, and political appointees, presumably lending a semblance of authenticity and substance.
What the controversy engendered by “the Russians did it” has achieved is almost the opposite to what was intended. Dubious claims and pretend evidence have caused lights to shine brightly over what is a blanketing fabric of dishonesty in America’s establishment. The fabric covers everything from foreign affairs and the military to the details of domestic affairs. It is immense, complex, and carefully constructed covering, and those who created it have very little tolerance for any of it being scrutinized under spotlights. Achieving this scrutiny may be regarded as Obama’s final act of failure.
Whether it is “the Russians hacked the DNC” or “America has been bombing ISIS in Syria” or “the Russians threaten Eastern Europe” or “the Russians committed atrocities in Aleppo” or “Russia shot down Flight MH-17,” the same tiresome actors making the same unsupported claims have for eight years expected that just their inflated job titles should intimidate us into believing them. Proof? Who needs that? Would I lie to you about such matters? Once you start something foolish as Obama has done, and it is widely understood as being foolish, you only weaken your authority over all the other less-obviously dubious claims you have been making. The fabric of lies becomes weakened, and that is one of Obama’s small, but unintended, achievements now.
Even as I write these words, the first big wave of the Obama-Clinton unsupported claims, unsupported, that is, except by hack appointees like James Clapper, is receding. The world quickly reached a verdict of “nonsense.” But a second wave now laps up with an equally unsupported claim that the Russians have a compromising dossier on Donald Trump, an attempt to plant the idea that Russia will have direct influence over Trump’s policies. This malicious effort at “poisoning the well” for a political successor, brings to mind the time, some years back, when the ugliest of clutch of Israeli settlers, those who swaggered around Gaza behind barbed wire enclosed-compounds, full of attitude and always toting light machine guns while under the malevolent guard of Israeli soldiers, decided to leave their hopeless situation. They quite literally poisoned the water wells they had used before strutting away. I cannot imagine a much shabbier act. But here is Obama and his appointees doing much the same thing, effectively hacking away at what little democracy America has left out of sheer maliciousness.
I don’t mean to say that such gross lying began with Obama. The wizard’s control booth for smoke and lights and thundering sounds was not invented by him. There was nothing but eight years of lies from the weird triumvirate presidency of Cheney-Rumsfeld-Bush and from the corrupt and often-inept Clinton government. Lies are what big countries or organizations do when their activities will not stand up to public scrutiny. When countries secretly play dirty tricks, when they kill, and when they apply mafia-like pressure on allies and international organizations to do as they are told, they simply lie about all of it, always. Such activity has characterized America for a very long time. How can it be otherwise when you try to control the planet?
It’s just that eight years ago, we had some reason to believe Obama would be different, at least a little different, but he is not. He is just as shabby, murderous, and deceitful as his immediate predecessors, sometimes even more so. He has been at war somewhere every single day of his eight years. He has bombed seven countries. In his last year alone, he is said to have dropped over 26,000 bombs. Literally hundreds of thousands have died at the hands of the Peace Prize winner with the big boyish smile. I’ve often asked myself what it is that motivates Obama, and I don’t know. Sometimes he seems to fit the well-known pattern of the charming, smiling psychopath who secretly likes to kill.
Sometimes he just seems weak and, yes, cowardly, someone who has allowed the brass and big suits around those conference tables to run roughshod over him, leaving him with nothing but the pretense of authority. This could explain what is a remarkable sense of arrogance observed at times when he is around outsiders as a kind of psychological reflex to his living in his job under constant bullying. After all, Bush’s whole presidency was a pretense: he pretended to be president, and Cheney and Rumsfeld – the precise quality of men who, had they lived in 1930s’ Germany would have been seen happily “working towards the Führer” as they used to say – deferentially allowed him to do so as they ran everything. Bush was the first president to prove America doesn’t even need a president except to sign documents, much like the formal requirement for a witness’s signature on a legal document.
We know, too, that Bush was as close to a moron as ever held the office, because we watched his insipid face and listened to his inability to articulate a clear sentence for eight years. Sometimes, we do see glimmers of something similar from Obama, statements and behaviors that would not be expected from someone of forceful intelligence – the unsupported Russian hacking accusations being one, but also such matters as his foolish public dismissal of Russia, the only country which can literally obliterate the United States, as a great power – only with Obama we don’t see Bush’s Alfred E. Neuman look, we see a serious, stiff mien and a tone and posture of arrogance. A well-practiced cover-up behavior for inadequacies?
I don’t know, and it really does not matter. He has been a terrible president in every important respect, but he maintains a fair number of supporters who I guess are impressed with the big boyish smile, although that is seen far less often now, the baritone voice, and perhaps the sheer, unprecedented fact of a black man standing in his position. There’s no accounting for taste or popularity, as we see in every corner of contemporary celebrity culture, and American politics absolutely has an important element of celebrity culture, just as it loves to use celebrities as endorsements. Think of the last days of Hillary Clinton’s tired campaign when she had, yes, Beyoncé and Jay Z appearing in Ohio. It is hard to imagine what political or economic or social information that pair of pop celebrities had to offer voters, and it was reported by some that they were quietly paid millions for some minutes of effort to help swing the state with razzle-dazzle. After all, this was the Hillary Campaign, a glorious travelling circus that is estimated to have burned through $1.2 billion.
Many do expect something different from Trump, and we can hope their expectations are well-founded. His entire path to the presidency does show some unorthodox attitudes and methods – unorthodox, that is, by the claustrophobic standards and practices of that center of world empire, Washington, not unorthodox in some wider sense – and they show a very tough and driven man. It is simply a fact that anyone missing the last quality cannot function effectively as President in 21st-century America. The general environment in Washington, without the least exaggeration, may be compared to the proverbial snake pit or to scenes from the last days of Roman Empire.
That is why, for example, Bernie Sanders is such a hopeless hope. The man conducted an impressive crusade, displaying considerable skills, yet he just folded in the end, leaving his enthusiastic followers in limbo and giving up to Hillary Clinton who represented almost everything he opposed and who stood before him as someone who had just clearly cheated him out of the nomination through a whole range of cheats, ploys and gimmicks. Yet, he just accepted her and even did some campaigning for her.
Such a personality offers zero promise in face-to-faces with Pentagon generals, CIA Big Suits, mega-corporation presidents, and some foreign leaders who are closer to Mafiosi than politicians. What do you expect out of a little place like Vermont? It’s lovely. I’ve spent time there. But it resembles a great deal something from a backlot set for “Lassie Come Home” or “Anne of Green Gables.” I know, I know, Bernie originally came from hard-bitten New York, but the operative word there is “came.” Whatever his reasons for seeking bucolic, low-stress bliss, they do not make him material for presiding over Washington’s Chamber of Horrors.
Many Americans themselves, including both liberals and conservatives, are well aware of the dishonesty of their government, if only in a vague sense, but they know the task of doing anything about it is just too overwhelming and difficult to consider. After all, peasants on a 17th century estate hardly dared dream of changing the “natural order” in which they lived. And ordinary Americans work extremely hard to raise their families, and a great many of them do not work at all. They do not command great resources for all the costs and activities of a crusade. The general human condition in Western countries has not changed quite so much as some like to imagine over a few centuries of enlightenment and progress. A huge number of Americans count only for brief moments when their ballots are sought with sound-bites and vacuous ads. Afterwards, the establishment goes on just as before, ignoring them and getting back to the business of lying.
The papers people read – and, thanks to the spreading, corrosive effects of American imperialism, I include other Western countries, not just the United States – and the broadcasts to which they listen are uniform in discouraging any truly fresh way of looking at things and in suppressing the hope that arrangements can be much different. They universally avoid telling the truth where government prefers that they don’t. The idea of independent and principled journalism is something you only find in brochures for journalism schools or in Hollywood films.
The two major American political parties – together forming a duopoly of political power little different in overall its effect from the kind of monopoly power American authorities like to disparage in other, “less free” places – certainly do not provide much room for fresh voices or new initiatives. Over long periods, they can actually be quite stifling, much like high officials in a church concerning accepted truth and doctrine. The parties are totally dominated by money – money that can only come in the volumes required for marketing, advertising, polls, make-up artists, wardrobe consultants, facilities of every kind, publicity, and travel expenses from extremely wealthy people and special interests who are not the least interested in any significant change to a very cozy and comfortable situation.
The dominance of the Clintons in the Democratic Party through their money connections has been an arrangement to defend the status quo. It was a clever construction. The Clintons got to be center stage, play-acting as liberals and agents of change, in exchange for the kind of money which absolutely guaranteed that they never for a moment could forgot that they were just playing parts, not really doing anything of consequence. Bill Clinton’s record as President is interchangeable, remarkably so, with what might have been expected from a traditional Republican. Hillary’s record as Secretary of State made her promise for the future, if anything, far more extreme in the same direction, and especially when it came to serving special interests and waging bloody war. The woman wore $11,000 Armani suits regularly and commanded $300,000 a pop plus expenses and comforts (right down to a standard demand for a certain bottled water to be supplied) for a long series of tedious speeches on America’s military given to investment bankers, and she made private jokes about people dying, as we know she said of Julian Assange, “Couldn’t we just drone him or something?” Or there was her appalling joke about the murder of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, a man who had been a good leader to his people, “We came, we saw, he died! Ha, ha, ha!”
The Democratic Party, given its distant past, especially the now all-but-forgotten legacy of Franklin Roosevelt, is the one from which an outsider viewing America, with no close knowledge of it, might reasonably have expected to find some prospect for change. But that seems a naïve hope if you understand who are the interests keeping the wheels of the organization turning.
The Democratic Party has become completely an establishment party, and one that literally morphed into the War Party along the way. Today, it offers a menu of the lightest possible offerings of social interest – the political equivalent of a platter of Ladies’ Tearoom sandwiches and dainties served by waiters in white gloves – just to differentiate itself from the Republicans and to make Americans of any degree of genuine liberal sentiment feel a little more comfortable. Since there aren’t a great number of the latter left in America by all appearances, the offerings can indeed be extremely modest.
Of course, these menu offerings consist of suggestions, attitudes, and slogans, not hard proposals for change, real change, in anything. The Democrats’ recent history of political behavior much resembles what mega-corporations do when they stick an image of a pink bow on their product packaging for a while and run a few, likely tax-deductible, ads promising purchasers that they will be helping in the fight against breast cancer by buying the brand. Imagine a package of Marlboros with a pink bow printed on it, and you get the picture.
Nothing better represents this modern Democratic leitmotif than Hillary Clinton’s long record of sound-bite concerns on many topics accompanied by a record of no actual effort spent on doing anything beyond getting elected. She started her last campaign saying every woman who is a rape victim deserved to be believed – something surely many young women and sympathetic men found re-assuring – yet she herself had dismissed privately, out-of-hand, for years a platoon of women pointing to her own predatory husband with the same charge.
Again, her displeasure with the Electoral College – echoed recently after her defeat – was first declared back in 2000, when George Bush won with a popular minority, but there is no record of her doing any work towards amending that outdated and anti-democratic provision of the Constitution, as during her eight years as a Senator. No, that would be a huge task to undertake, and political rewards are greater for sound-bites than they are for actual slogging hard work on anything most people do not even understand. Captains on the bridge with their gold braid and brass buttons on immaculate uniforms get noticed, not the sweating engineers actually running the ship down in the boiler room.
Make no mistake, the Democrats are bedrock establishment today, a party defending mostly backward views of the world and of American society. They are nothing more than the political Coke to the Republican’s Pepsi, or vice versa. And all the endorsements and advertising in the world do not change the reality of two sugary, dyed, fizzy drinks, indistinguishable in taste to many. Eight years of Obama – a man whose first campaign saw him sometimes wearing sandals and eschewing a totemic, imperialistic American flag pin on his lapel and intoning to cheering crowds, “Yes, we can” – proved that beyond all doubt.
Political figures like Ralph Nader or Bernie Sanders or Jill Stein are pretty close to irrelevant in the steaming boiler room of real American politics. Ideas are virtually never an issue in American elections. Neither is improving government’s service to citizens, from education to healthcare. Neither is the proper financing and budgeting of government. Neither is a reduction to insane military and security spending. How can it be otherwise in this “pounding fist” of an imperial society? All such American politicians tend to remind one of some naïve political science professor lecturing a rapt first-year audience of undergraduates excited about being out of high school and entering “the real world.”
This is the center of a world empire. It maintains a gigantic military which virtually never stops fighting wars, none of them having anything to do with defense. It has created an intelligence monstrosity which makes old outfits like the Stazi seem almost quaint, and it spies on everyone. Indeed, it maintains seventeen national security establishments, as though you can never have too much of a good thing. And some of these guys, too, are engaged full-time in forms of covert war, from fomenting trouble in other lands and interfering in elections to overthrowing governments.
Barack Obama is not one of those marginal American politicians, having gained the leadership of one of the two great parties, and yet in eight years he changed almost nothing worth changing. Whether the plight of whistleblowers in America or the third-world conditions prevailing in American cities where many of his fellow black people survive in squalor. He did nothing to reform a financial system that gave the world a collapse from which it still has not recovered. He did virtually nothing about the nation’s rotting schools or rotting infrastructure. He whined about guns but never acted in a serious way on the huge problem of police who shoot people dead on the nation’s streets, more than 1,100 of them last year alone
Yet he signed, time after time, record legislation for squandering money on the military and Big Intelligence. Under his command, the Pentagon literally burned pallet-load shipments of cash on bad programs such as the failed F-35 fighter, a new super-aircraft carrier that doesn’t work, a new type of littoral combat ship that doesn’t work, and a new Zumwalt-class destroyer that has proven an embarrassment. And there are the hugely expensive and highly intrusive NSA Supercomputer Data Centers. This is not a record of which to be proud, and it is about as far from liberal or progressive as you can go.
And, of course, this “liberal,” as so many insist still on calling him, ended by killing more people than any dictator or demagogue of this generation on earth you care to name, several hundred thousand of them in his eight years. And he found new ways to kill, too, as by creating the world’s first industrial-scale extrajudicial killing operation. Here he signs off on “kill lists,” placed in his Oval Office in-box, to murder people he has never seen, people who enjoy no legal rights or protections. His signed orders are carried out by uniformed thugs working at computer screens in secure basements where they proceed to play computer games with real live humans as their targets, again killing or maiming people they have never seen.
If you ever have wondered where all the enabling workers came from in places like Stalin’s Gulag or Hitler’s concentration camps, well, here is your answer. American itself produces platoons of such people. You could find them working at Guantanamo and in the far-flung string of secret torture facilities the CIA ran for years, and you could find them in places like Fallujah or Samarra or Abu Ghraib, at the CIA’s basement game arcade killing centers, and even all over the streets of America dressed as police who shoot unarmed people every day, sometimes in the back.
Obama has told more lies than anyone could possibly count while conducting so much killing and destruction, and he has done so unblinkingly. If you have ever noticed, government officials doing shameful and illegal things do tend to lie about what it is they are doing. And when Obama wasn’t telling lies, he made secrecy and lack of transparency hallmarks of his administration. He is said to feel very harshly towards whistle-blowers and leakers. He ends his grubby term of office with baseless, self-serving public accusations comparable in every way to those of Senator Joe McCarthy of the early 1950s.
McCarthy, a Republican, was also someone the establishment quietly supported for a time. He served their purposes, until he started weaving dangerously on the road, much like a drunken driver. He departed from the accepted script and began hurling accusations everywhere, and not just accusations about “commies” in the State Department, a place the establishment of the time hated. He came to relish accusing some targets of being sexual perverts, and he attacked new target after new target, threatening the ability of government even to function. For those who don’t know, J. Edgar Hoover, perpetual director of the FBI and an early supporter of McCarthy, was gay and a cross-dresser in private.
Of course, the establishment doesn’t have to worry about the embarrassing excesses of Obama and pompous appointees like James Clapper, as they finally did about those of McCarthy, because this pair of vicious clowns faithfully did just as they were supposed to do, and they are now headed for the exit doors. But they do have to worry about Trump, a man who already has expressed intelligent skepticism over the offerings of Big Intelligence as well as intelligent skepticism about the shameful and immense waste of the Pentagon. Importantly, he has asked why the entire Mideast is on fire and why Russia should be viewed as an enemy. And that is why the likes of Obama and Clapper have taken on a last-minute, rearguard destructive operation on behalf of those fearful of change.
It is certain that Joseph McCarthy’s rise to power could not have happened without important silent support, and his fall, after pretty much disgracing himself, allowed members of the establishment to congratulate themselves in public over protecting America from such demagoguery. All of this, from beginning to end, was complete hypocrisy, the very kind of hypocrisy we have screaming at us today from Washington. A similar claque of powerful people today congratulates themselves on efforts to interfere with the proper and peaceful transition of power to a man they’ve arbitrarily labelled a demagogue.
America’s mainline press has supported the claque by painting Trump as a dangerous demagogue, and I think it is largely over their resentment for his literally hi-jacking a very tired, almost worn-out, Republican Party – which resembled a becalmed antique sailing ship going nowhere – and promising to power it off in new directions. Of course, those loyal to the Clinton-Obama War Party greedily join in the accusations against Trump, seemingly completely innocent or even unaware of behavior ranging from insider plots to steal Hillary’s nomination from a contender to killing a third of a million people in Syria and who knows how many in Libya.
Also, they literally hate the prospect that the War Party, which they have faithfully supported for years, may be crumbling. And, who knows, even the possible further prospect of its demise after recent events revealed it to the public as a mafia-like operation with little respect for democratic process or principles of any kind? Stranger things in politics have happened, and political parties are no more guaranteed eternal life than the crowds at American revival meetings who raise their arms in child-like fantasy towards some huckster-preacher banging the Bible at the podium.
You must always remember, America’s press, which loves to congratulate itself regularly on its journalistic principles, is a mature and in some ways declining industry which is owned, through consolidations, by a very small number of corporate interests who completely support the Neocon Wars and a highly aggressive American foreign policy which puts American corporate interests first, everywhere, and reduces foreign governments, such as those in Europe or Japan, to American satrapies. The dominant views of America’s establishment are not enlightened, not democratic, not open-minded. They are “me-first” and keep competitors abroad under your thumb.
The subject of the Neocon Wars raises the related issue of the Israel Lobby’s influence in American politics. These destructive wars and an associated hyper-aggressive American foreign policy reflect this influence. The term “Neocon” refers to a coterie of influential people in Washington over the last fifteen years or so, people who have openly advocated for a highly aggressive policy of asserting American global dominance, always including a subsidiary aim, expressed with the euphemism, “the birth of a new Middle East.” Eliminating any independent-mindedness in the countries of the Mideast and assuring Israel’s complete imperialistic dominance over the region are the primary goals of the wars and interventions which have cost about two million lives and immense destruction over the Bush-Obama era. The extent of much of this holocaust is allowed to remain hidden from the public by our obliging corporate press, and efforts at explaining the causes has been a great throbbing engine for the production of lies.
But what is the long-term sense of assuring total dominance by eight million people, many of them immigrants, over hundreds of millions of others with centuries of history in the region? Eight million people who have no relationship or common history or culture and views with the great masses over which they are to dominate? An essentially European, urban people who share only a religion – and many of them not even that since Israel has a high proportion of non-believers – with the ancient Hebrews who once lived there? Even that number of eight million is deceptive since it includes over a million Arabs who are accidentally, and not with full equality, technical citizens of Israel.
These terrible Neocon Wars are, in addition, largely responsible for two devastating developments in our time. The first is huge movements of terrified refugees into Europe, millions of them, causing immense difficulties and putting great stress on the very foundations of the EU.
The second is the phenomenon we call international terror, which in fact is a side effect of the Neocon Wars. A huge amount of weaponry has been scattered around in the region by supporters of the American policy. Then, large numbers of mercenaries and rootless, violent people have been deliberately recruited, paid, and supplied to assist in carrying out America’s policy, as in Libya and Syria. Finally, there are large numbers of angry young men now who seek revenge for what has been done to their homes and families. It is a witches’ brew our press deliberately confuses by calling it international terror while constantly promoting the idea of Arabs and Muslims being undependable, unstable, and backward people, a concept welcomed and supported by the residents of the American crusader fortress we call Israel. The entire effort has been a guaranteed formula for instability and human misery.
In reality, what we call international terror is largely the “blowback” of American policies which themselves amount to state terror. Israel, of course, finds comfort in headlines in the West about “international terror” since the fear of that notion helps Americans and Europeans feel a bit more bonded to the fears Israel has always felt in its position as a colony planted by violence in an alien region. Many Israelis undoubtedly feel about their millions of neighbors much the way the Old South’s planters used to feel about the large number of inhabitants in the slave quarters as they went to bed each night with pistols and daggers kept under their pillows. Fear of rebellion was constant and worked like a poisonous substance in the Old South society, even though there was only one rebellion, a small one too, that ever happened. That endless unease explains why Old South society was well known for its inclination to violence, as in the infamous “code of the Old South.” Doesn’t Israel have much the same reputation?
America’s assistance and policies keep a garrison state not only going but growing, growing through the regular seizure of their neighbors’ property, a terrible practice which successive American governments fear addressing. Why? I think the Israel Lobby’s extremely well-organized efforts in American politics explain that. Support Israel, almost unconditionally, and you will receive large campaign donations and positive press coverage (remembering, it is a much-consolidated American press owned by quite a small number of companies). Criticize Israel and your opponents will get the donations and you will get negative press coverage. This has been an on-going pattern since the days when Harry Truman first agreed to recognize Israel, against his private best judgment, at a time when he felt vulnerable because his own re-election was quite uncertain.
While in the short term this massive bloodshed and destruction may be reassuring for Israel, having pretty much everything around it flattened, over the long term I do not see how this can be anything but destabilizing.
Destabilizing just as is the $38 billion, ten-year military-assistance agreement Obama just extended to Israel, a country perfectly able to pay for its own defense. This amount vastly exceeds what the United States gives any other country, even far larger ones in far greater economic need. The amount represents an increase of more than a quarter over the previous decade’s assistance agreement. And Obama gave it without a single condition imposed on Israel at a time when Israel’s government is constantly violating laws, rights, and international norms and agreements. I can’t think of any other place on earth where it is regarded as just fine suddenly to march out and seize someone else’s farms or homes. You cannot build a sound future society for yourself that way, quite apart from the injustice and misery inflicted on others.
Yet, the press often gives the impression that Obama is no friend to Israel. It is well-known that Obama and Netanyahu personally dislike each other intensely, and Netanyahu has gone out of his way to demean or embarrass Obama several times. So, does the immense size of this military-assistance agreement reflect the influence of the Israel Lobby? I think it does, and it all points again to Obama’s total inability in office to fight for anything worth fighting for, such as conditions at least placed on a criminal government being handed a vast fortune, something approaching $500 each year for each citizen of Israel, almost a national basic personal income, if you will, supplied by America.
It is often asserted that the term “Israel Lobby” indicates prejudice, but saying that is just a form of reverse-prejudice, another version of the worn-threadbare accusation that if you criticize Israel, you are, ipso-facto, anti-Semitic. Indeed, this false idea has become as common as rain, and Israel has made considerable diplomatic efforts through the years, with some success, in Europe and in North America to have criticism of Israel criminalized in one fashion or another.
Two distinguished American scholars – John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government – wrote a serious book on the subject of the Israel Lobby, establishing the fact and of its existence beyond question. Others, too, have contributed to understanding the phenomenon.
And we also see, from time to time, events which bring the reality forcefully home. Israeli diplomats in London were just caught on video discussing bringing down British MPs regarded as unfriendly to Israel. Well, talk about direct interference in the internal affairs and elections of others! Newt Gingrich, when last running for his party’s presidential nomination, went around making speeches about how there really was no such thing as a Palestinian after receiving the best part of $20 million dollars in campaign donations from a very wealthy and avid supporter of Israel. Freshmen American Congressmen after an election are routinely “offered” – I put that in quotes because it is not an offer to be declined without political consequences – paid holidays to Israel for indoctrination. Recently, the New York Times confirmed the discovery that all of its stories concerning Israel are routinely passed by the official Israeli Censor before being published. Hillary’s most massive contributors over the years are members in good standing of the Lobby.
One of the most predictable and bordering-on-absurd regular happenings in Washington around this subject is Senator Lindsey Graham suddenly leaping to his feet at any mention of Israel which has even a hint of less-than-fulsome praise or at any proposal to give a less-than-lordly hand-out and going into paroxysms. I’ve asked myself why that would be. Why should Senator Graham, who represents Baptists in South Carolina, choose the role of political pit bull on guard for Israel? Why should he care so intensely and constantly about Israel? Well, I spent a short time reading about him and looking at photos, and I couldn’t help being struck by the distinct possibility of Senator Graham’s being gay.
Of course, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being gay, unless you happen to represent South Carolina, surely one of the more backward and least tolerant states in the Union. My guess, and it is only a guess, is that Senator Graham was caught, years ago, in a “honey trap” by Mossad, and he has been given to understand that compromising photos exist. Today, he is a tireless defender of all things Israeli. It is hard to explain such sustained motivation otherwise. Exactly the same kind of thing happened to the FBI’s J. Edgar Hoover early in his career. The Mafia is said to have had compromising photos of him and a male lover, and that old bull dog-faced lawman eventually became notorious for not pursuing the Mafia, allowing it decades of comfortable growth after the repeal of Prohibition.
He always chased instead almost non-existent Communists, keeping the Communist party of America’s ranks packed with undercover FBI Agents and its coffers filled with their expensed donations so that it kept the appearance of something formidable when it wasn’t and served to justify constant FBI budget increases. It might be called the “self-fulfilling prophecy” approach to spying, much like the CIA’s approach to its annual Soviet estimates during the Cold War. The estimates were always wildly inflated, and the CIA always got the budget increases it sought. Security service empires have a way of growing exponentially regardless of the threat level. They share with the military the almost magical ability to be always discovering dire new needs for their services.
The whole set of matters concerning Israel forms a huge indigestible mass at the very center of American politics. Clearly, it is better in every way to halt the Neocon wars. Clearly, also, it is better to force Israel to make peace and define its still undefined borders by accepting the status quo of 1967. Clearly, it is better to have a stable, peaceful region with good long-term relations with the United states. But, these things are easier said than done, and precisely because of the Israel Lobby which always defends Israel, even when it pursues destructive policies and goals, as it so frequently does.
A lot of people hope Trump will halt the stupid wars, and a lot of people, recognizing his political history of being an upstart without a lifetime’s obligations to the usual political crowd, think he may be in a good position to do something important in the Mideast. There is ambiguity here though, owing to some references about moving America’s embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, a non-starter for peace, if ever there was one, but the references are also quite possibly a deal-maker lure, for there can be little doubt that Jerusalem will be the capital of both Israel and Palestine in the end.
At least, ending the wars is the sine qua non of anything to be called progress. It is also part of a needed de-escalation in America’s current hyper-aggressive global posture. If you want a better domestic economy, there are few better places to start than paring back the unbelievable waste of great masses of ships and planes and tanks rumbling around everywhere and creating nothing of economic value. Nothing is more wasteful and destructive than maintaining such a military establishment. No one better knows how to waste money than the military with its every movement of a truck or plane costing immensely more than the same act in the civilian economy and none of the movements producing any worthwhile good or service. And the nonsense of keeping Europe and Russia as near-enemies rather than flourishing economic partners only impoverishes everyone.
But it is not sound economic thinking or a sensible approach to world affairs which has governed America’s use of its military for years. It is indulgent, uncaring pride, the arrogance of a wealthy establishment which does what it does simply because it can. It is a formidable barrier against progress which is not going to just fade away. And Trump’s political base, while clearly excluding Neocons, does include the belly-over-the-belt types who, perhaps unthinkingly, like to see Old Glory waving everywhere. So, there is a big set of difficulties for him to work through, and it is not at all clear how he can do so.
The establishment’s waste and arrogance and paying-no-attention to ordinary people really are what motivated a lot of Americans to vote for Trump, especially when the other choice was the very embodiment of those arrogant qualities, annoyingly and patronizingly taking a moment, here and there, to nibble a piece of fried chicken with the folks in some obscure diner. Good photo-op. Americans very much feel they have a national government which behaves more as an occupying power than as a legitimate institution to serve them. And the fact that it spends so much time and money and credibility on trying to control the planet does have a tendency to influence its resources and its very attitudes at home. After all, they are occupied with earth-shattering matters abroad, and you, well, you just don’t count in the scheme of things.
But politics never provides complete change, as some naïve political thinkers like to believe. America remains a huge imperial power essentially run by wealthy people for the interests of wealthy people, and that is not going to change any time soon, but that does not preclude some changes in the way things have been conducted because not all wealthy people see their interests as being identical, and wealthy people making decisions do sometimes make very bad ones. Never mind how the Pentagon and CIA, under Obama and Bush, have stomped their heels into the necks of countless thousands of innocents and wrecked whole societies, just look on the home front at the shabby way corporate giants can behave.
We have Amazon’s Jeff Bezos buying the Washington Post and turning it into a more complete propaganda factory than ever, publishing, for example, a scurrilous, libelous list of Internet sites said to be under Russian influence, a list obtained from an “anonymous source” which almost certainly just happen to reside in Langley, Virginia. We have Facebook’s shuffling, t-shirted multi-billionaire appointing himself American Guru of Truth and Fakery in the News. This from the founder of one of the most fake-filled sites on the Internet, notorious previously for fake reader “likes” which affect advertising rates, but, more importantly, an outfit which ceaselessly censors and spies on its users, sucking information from them like a Dyson whirlwind vacuum cleaner to sell to marketers and send along to the security services. Recently, when I use my Google bookmark link for Russia’s Sputnik (formerly, RIA Novosti, The Voice of Russia ), an informative and entertaining site I have checked for years, Google frequently inserts a warning page telling me that it is dangerous to proceed, a page which includes a button marked “Back to Safety,” as though I were approaching a phishing or pornographic site. This from the company that started years ago with a motto, “Do no harm,” but, of course, today Google is a vest-pocket affiliate of CIA, an outfit which does almost nothing but harm. And look at the way Microsoft introduced Windows 10, including violations of fundamental conventions on the Internet such as a pop-up “install” box whose “dismiss command” did precisely the opposite when the “x” was selected, or the way another giant, Apple, has treated some of its customers, including things like “bricking” their costly phones if any effort is made to change or repair anything.
It is simply about the arrogance of power, a phrase the late Senator Fulbright wrote years ago to describe America’s murderous and pointless crusade in Vietnam.
Politics can shake-up a few institutions which need shaking-up, expose a few rotten actors and send them packing, turn around a few dangerous policy paths, and it can grant the people at large a sense of some new possibilities. Sometimes, and this may be one of those times. But the fanatical wing of Trump supporters, especially those on the “alt-right” are almost certain to be disappointed when he does not re-create America the way “accepting Christ” is supposed to re-create a sinner.
Trump seems a man of enough independent-mindedness and independent wealth and seasoned toughness of personality to withstand the assaults he will face from the establishment in Washington. Actually, I shouldn’t say “will” because he is facing waves of them before he even takes the oath, and he is doing admirably well at handling them. There is a claque of very rich and influential people who are not going to disappear into the woodwork despite losing control now. However, he is himself a rich man with a rich man’s interests, and he is not likely to lose his sense of direction in a wave of patriotic fervor which some Americans confuse with religion. He will have done as much as any candidate could if he ends the killing and the mindless interference in the affairs of others and creates some programs which bring jobs to large numbers of now-hopeless Americans. He actually does have a chance at genuine political greatness, but I would not bet the farm on it.
From ancient Hebrew folklore, the dybbuk is a demonic spirit that inhabits a person’s body and soul in order to get what it wants. American foreign policy is endlessly driven to search and destroy imaginary demons: Noriega, Milosevic, Saddam, Ho, Tojo, Nasser, Gaddafi, Lumumba, Castro, Osama, Yanukovych, and a host of others in its hit parade. Obama wouldn’t be fulfilling his duty as warmonger-in-chief if he didn’t submit at least one new person to the pantheon of evil nogoodniks. He found his dybbuk in Vladimir Putin.
Apparently, the Democrats and their partners within the Republican cabal, particularly McCain and Graham, believe that Mr. Putin qualifies as an evil spirit, a super dybbuk, who controls the destiny of American politics – and even the Vermont electrical grid. Anyone who questions this is simply possessed, which obviously includes the soon-to-be White House zombie, Mr. Trump. Playing on the old Western trope of the untamed Russian Bear, Obama has titled the Putin conspiracy Grizzly Steppe. In his last remaining days in office, the American president is hoping to create dramatic memorabilia, such as his expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats just before Christmas, to fill what would otherwise be a rather vacant Obama Library.
Unfortunately for the Cold Warriors, the Kremlin dybbuk responded by simply laughing it off as not worth responding in kind. Focused on his legacy obsession, Obama’s sour grapes is not only about his limited achievements and his party shamelessly losing the election to a crude, narcissistic, and inexperienced child-like politician but also about his loss of face in the Middle East conflict, where the Russians are scoring military and diplomatic points left and right. It’s also about Obama’s last ditch efforts to dispossess Trump of any legitimate power, employing well-tested Cold War propaganda tactics to try to break up any Republican policy consensus.
What is the basis on which liberals insist on depicting the Russians in such dark conspiratorial terms? First, the Cold Warriors assert that Russia is an aggressor, citing its alleged “invasion” of South Ossetia in 2008. On December 26, 2016, Dan Lamothe, a Washington Post national security reporter, and formerly an embedded journalist in Afghanistan, told viewers on C-Span that Russia is an imperialist state. His evidence? He claims that Russia “invaded” Georgia in 2008. Even the New York Times, a reliable echo chamber of the State Department, had to admit on November 6, 2008 that its earlier report (August 8, 2008) that Russia initiated the conflict in that autonomous region was false. There has since been a broad understanding among informed reporters, though not Mr. Lamothe, that it was the president of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, who attacked South Ossetia and the Russian peacekeepers who were stationed there to prevent Georgian attacks on nearby Russian towns. Russia chased out the invaders and left South Ossetia with its autonomous status intact.
The leading German weekly, Der Spiegel, reported at the time that, according to the EU investigative mission head, Heidi Tagliavini, “It was Georgia which triggered off the war when it attacked [the South Ossetian capital] Tskhinvali.” Following the Georgian invasion, the pro-US Saakashvili increasingly came under internal criticism for corruption and authoritarianism and fled Georgia in 2013 while under criminal investigation. With the backing of Ukraine’s president, Petro (“Porky”) Poroshenko, Saakashvili briefly served as a failed governor of Odessa. Meanwhile, Georgia has stripped him of his citizenship.
The second broadly cited “evidence” of Putin’s imperialist behavior is the allegation that Russia “invaded” Crimea in 2014. This is another distortion, stripped of historical context, that typically ignores the referendum that Crimea held to separate from Ukraine and rejoin Russia, of which it had been a part for hundreds of years before Khrushchev gifted it to a Ukraine that was then part of the USSR. The circumstances of that secession vote was that it occurred in the aftermath of the US-supported coup earlier in the year that illegally and unconstitutionally deposed Viktor Yanukovych from the presidency and forced him to flee for his life. This began a series of reprisals by the coup regime against the ethnic Russian population, pushed by its neo-Nazi faction – reminiscent of the Bandera fascist movement in World War II that assisted the German military in the murder of millions of Ukraine’s Russians, Jews, Gypsies, and Poles. The March 2014 irredentist vote in favor of reunification with Russia won with overwhelming 97% support, with an 83% turnout. The Obama administration and its legions in the mainstream media, which condemned the “annexation” of Crimea, failed to explain how it was significantly different from the Kosovo secession that the US supported following the massive US and NATO bombardment of Serbia that ended its control over the province. Selective perception indeed.
The Cold Warriors didn’t stop there in outing the dybbuk. The clever demon, they insist, acted as chief opposition researcher for the Trump campaign. Everyone from Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, Robby Mook, to Obama and Clinton herself, along with their pet media pundits and their yes men (and women) in the CIA, backed the claim that “Russian state actors,” working under orders from no less than the dybbuk himself, hacked Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta emails in order to elect Donald Trump. Putin’s response was that if America’s elections could be so easily manipulated, it must be a banana republic. The Russian hacking story originated with “research” done by a group of private consulting firms attached to the Democratic Party. To date, neither the CIA nor the Obama administration has revealed any real evidence of Russian state involvement in the alleged hacking, nor have the mainstream media. The media’s lapse in not insisting on evidential confirmation raises the question of who are the real hacks?
The MSM won’t let go of the hacking story. Here is a sample of their headlines:
+ New York Times– Spy Agency Consensus Grows that Russia Hacked D.N.C.
+ New York Times – S. Says Russia Directed Hacks to Influence Elections
+ NBC News – Why Experts Are Sure Russia Hacked the DNC Emails
+ Washington Post – Russian Government Hackers Penetrated DNC, Stole Opposition Research on Trump
+ Washington Post – Russian Operation Hacked a Vermont Utility
On the last story, the Post later printed a brief retraction that first appeared within the reprinted original story itself, as if it were maybe a retraction and maybe not. MSM fake news is the new normal. Evgeny Morozov has written: “Democracy may or may not be drowning in fake news, but it’s definitely drowning in elite hypocrisy.”
What happened to the contents of the leaked emails? One of the significant revelations is that Clinton knew while secretary of state (she said so in one of her emails) that the Saudis and Qataris were funding ISIS, and yet she subsequently took millions from them for her personal foundation, which is an extraordinary act of corruption that would be tolerated in few countries that purport to be democratic. She also diverted millions of dollars she raised, supposedly for the benefit of Democratic state parties, to her own campaign. The leaks also showed that the DNC had sabotaged the Bernie Sanders campaign and were planning to further undermine his candidacy by labeling him an “atheist.” The Democrats and the MSM managed to bury these issues with a kill the messenger tactic and blocked the possibility of a serious party house cleaning. Blame the dybbuk.
One of the few politicians unwilling to join the anti-Putin chorus is Donald Trump, making him a prime target of the corporate mainstream media, which have abandoned all pretense of respect for the “canons of journalism.” The exaggerated efforts at depicting Trump as a puppet of Putin (the former “diplomat” Madeleine Albright used the term “useful idiot”) are laughable. But despite lacking any credible evidence, the thesis that Russia conspired to get Trump elected finds almost no resistance in the MSM or in academia. More recently, the press and later the official US intelligence report has launched a jeremiad against the Russian media, particularly RT (Russia Today) for its dissemination of “fake news” (confession: I’ve appeared on its English language TV news reports as a commentator multiple times), aimed at undermining the legitimacy of the democratic system in America. Hillary Clinton made much of the fact that Trump gave an interview on RT, but she neglected to point out that the program was hosted by long-time liberal and talk show pillar of CNN, Larry King. She also made the extremely graceless and undiplomatic comparison of Putin to Hitler, an insult not only to the Russian president but to the memory of the 27 million Russians who died in the ultimate defeat of Naziism.
The implication of these attacks is that Donald Trump is a fifth columnist president. On the other hand, Benjamin Netanyahu (another dybbuk), who openly campaigned for Mitt Romney in 2012 and met with both party candidates on the eve of the final 2016 presidential debate, is off the MSM hook on foreign political interference. And the patriotism of Republicans who brought the apartheider to speak in Congress without the benefit of a White House invitation is also not questioned. Moreover, as the Guardian’s Owen Jones notes, Americans should know something about election meddling “because they’ve been doing it for years.” Among America’s many clients, the Russian autocrat Boris Yeltsin was a beneficiary of US election intervention in the 1990s (with Bill Clinton’s strong support), funding him and supplying a team of American election consultants to get him elected, by hook and by crook, in 1996. Russia’s current prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, at the time a close associate of Yeltsin, admitted that the election outcome was rigged against the real winner, Communist Party leader, Gennady Zyuganov.
All of this renewed Cold War anti-Russia hysteria can be seen to have core purposes. Most conspicuous is the devastating defeat of the Democratic Party in the 2016 elections, losing the White House and failing to take either the House or Senate, but also leaving Republicans fully in charge of 33 state legislatures and, over the past 4 election cycles, net gains of some 1,000 legislative seats, which makes Obama’s legacy look pretty shabby. The Democrats, from Obama on down, have refused to radically rethink their party’s institutional character and instead put failed leader Nancy Pelosi back in charge of the House minority and the Wall Street favorite, Charles Schumer, as head of the Senate Democrats. Strategically, American neocons, including the Clintons, see Russia as obstructing US global ambitions and demand nothing less than Russian obedience to Pax Americana. Third, the mainstream corporate media, especially the Washington Post, owned by the viscerally anti-Trump tycoon, Jeff Bezos, have hitched their wagons to an aggressive US foreign policy and the patronage of global Fortune 500 companies, including the petroleum and defense industries.
Before demanding a Trump exorcism of the dybbuk’s influence, one needs to ask, with a view to recent history, whether Russia is the aggressor that the establishment is making it out to be. Are Russian forces lined up along the US border, north and south, the way NATO is poised for direct intervention with bases across Russia’s “near abroad”? Which country has a history of arming the most repressive, jihadi-supporting states in the Middle East (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar), military dictatorships across Latin America and Asia, apartheid in South Africa and Israel, and regime change across eastern Europe? Which country has starved Cuba of basic necessities for 56 years out of revenge for instituting a socialist government that has won the support of nearly all of Latin America? According to William Blum, since 1945 “the US has attempted to overthrow more than fifty governments, most of which were democratically elected, and grossly interfered in democratic elections in at least thirty countries.”
Are the CIA claims about the Russian takeover of the American election to be believed, the same CIA that lied about WMDs in Iraq (Obama’s intelligence chief, James Clapper, being one of the fabricators of this, among his many official lies) and that country’s import of aluminum tubes for making nuclear centrifuges, Saddam’s involvement in 9/11 and his support for terrorism, Iraq’s alleged purchase of yellowcake uranium powder from Niger, the black site detention and torture chambers set up around the world for kidnapped Arabs and other alleged “terrorists,” Abu Ghraib, and a much longer list of lies and cover-ups serving US imperialism over its 70-year history? Why would political elites and the MSM assume, without seeing a shred of evidence, that the “Company” is telling the truth about the Russia “threat”?
The answer lies in the real objectives of US foreign policy, which are really quite obvious. The new Cold War serves US hegemonic interests in the Middle East, including the elimination of Assad, and in NATO-fortified eastern Europe, and its efforts to neuter Russia as an independent state. Its motives, however, are cloaked, as they always have been, in fake news about Russia, about Syria, and every other state that has pursued either non-alignment or active resistance to US domination. What the naïve believed to be an “information society” has actually matured into a propaganda society, adapting to the informational mode of production to create new platforms and techniques of public perception management. The latest effort in this direction is the Obama administration’s creation of the Orwellian-sounding Global Engagement Center, housed in the State Department, yet another propaganda apparatus (remember Rumsfeld’s bizarre-sounding “Office of Strategic Influence”?) designed to offset the real news in the world media that are critical of US militarist and regime change policies, including RT and Press TV.
Cyber security specialist John McAfee has publicly disputed the Russian hacking claims, arguing that anyone who leaves fingerprints on a hack that tracks him/her as “Russian” isn’t Russian: “if it looks like the Russians did it, then I can guarantee you it was not the Russians.” It should be plain enough that the real hack job is the one that the Democrats, including Obama, used against the Russians to refocus the story away from the party’s and Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy, election manipulations, and self-aggrandizing personal politics.
What the US government should be concerned about is the global perception, based on 2014 Gallup polling, that the United States is regarded as the greatest threat to world peace. The only way this perception will be altered is when the US disembarks from its unipolarism, imperialism, warmongering ambitions and dybbuk-hunting excuses for its foreign and domestic failures as a supposed democratic state. We can only hope that the highly unpredictable Trump tweetocracy keeps the warmongers in their harbors and steers the US in a less aggressive pattern of international behavior that avoids demonizing world leaders who challenge US global hegemony.
Gerald Sussman is a Professor in the Toulan School of Urban Studies and Planning at Portland State University. He is the author of Branding Democracy: US Regime Change in Post-Soviet Eastern Europe.
If we told you this child was covered in blood would you dare to tell us we were lying?
On December 26 the UK Independent revealed that five people had been arrested in Egypt for faking footage of civilian suffering in east Aleppo. The Indy commented:
Five people in Port Said allegedly making fake videos purporting to show the wreckage of air strikes in the Syrian city of Aleppo have been arrested, the Egyptian Interior Ministry has said.
The videographer, his assistants and the parents of two children who appear in the footage were detained after police managed to trail the would-be camera crew to a building site awaiting demolition, a statement on Monday said.
The team reportedly admitted they had planned to distribute their work on social media, pretending it showed scenes of the injured and destruction in Aleppo, the embattled northern Syrian city which has just fallen back under government control after four years of fighting between the regime and Sunni rebels.
The footage in question was widely discussed in non-western outlets. According to Sputnik :
According to the Ministry, the police witnessed the shooting process, which was taking place near the vestiges of a building destroyed as illegal under the decision of the local authorities. A girl standing in a white dress covered in “blood” that later proved to be paint drew attention of a police officer driving by. The girl held a teddy bear covered in the same “blood” and had her arm “bandaged”.
The images are indeed excruciatingly amateurish. The “blood” is too clearly paint. The teddy bear is mawkish overkill. The location too clearly a building site or something similar.
It couldn’t fool us for a moment. Could it?
But more on that later.
Fakery is, of course, a very zeitgeisty issue, because “fake news” has been discovered by the corporate media. The EU is very worried about it apparently. Germany is so concerned it’s setting up a “specialist centre” to combat all the untrue things being said by people like us.
That’s a “specialist centre” you understand – not (and we have to make this very clear) a Ministry of Enlightenment & Propaganda, or anything at all resembling anything Goebbels may have created back in the bad old days. Goebbels was just doing propaganda. Merkel is doing truth. Big diff there.
Curious that the state and corporate media’s new dread of fake news doesn’t extend to self-policing or questioning the news feeds issued by their own patrons is it not?
No, of course it isn’t. And anyone who is surprised has really not been paying attention. Endless promo reels of official-narrative-endorsement is now a majority of mass media output, and not just on news outlets but in movies and fiction. Since Obama took office and the “Left” stopped even pretending to offer a reality check, an entirely fake recent history has been created, and a degree of estrangement from truth exists within the heart of our media and intelligentsia not seen since the days of Stalinism. The entirety of the class that traditionally offers limited critique of the power structure is now subsumed in a cultist and delusional thinking that makes them the slaves and endorsers of that power structure.
Meryl Streep’s speech at the Golden Globes embodies this institutional malaise perfectly. Listen to it and despair. In her rictus-smiling circle the war criminals Obama and Clinton are angels of peace and progress, the foreign wars and dronings aren’t happening, the murders and brutalisation aren’t happening, the dangerous persecution of Russia and concomitant risk of nuclear war isn’t happening, the fragmentation of American society through poverty isn’t happening. In her circle only Trump is happening; the single threat to the Progressive Utopia they believe they are inhabiting.
The Hollywood and media elites really believe this and view those of us who don’t as dangerous heretics who need to be controlled. Screaming “fake news” at any fact they can’t bear to believe is just Donald Sutherland pointing and howling in the closing shot of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
In recent weeks the sense of desperate fantasy is increasing exponentially as this cultist belief system is colliding more and more forcibly with the evidence for its own falseness. The “news” is now little more than a roll-out of sketchy dreamscapes, so poorly developed and internally inconsistent they collapse at the slightest interrogation only to be replaced by more of the same. Official “reality” is becoming no more than a thin mesh of words designed to remain cohesive for the lifetime of a hashtag.
The solution to the crumbling of their credibility is to up the pace. Just keep the rollout fast and furious so your audience has no time to question or adjust. Look over here… sad pictures of sad people in some place of strategic importance to neocon interests. Look over there … horrifying images of the latest “terror attack!” Look this way… nasty people being mean to nice people. That’s dreadful, right? Share it. Deplore it. Be shocked. Be upset. Look at the pain. Look at the blood. LOOK AT THE BLOOD!
When the entire fabric of our official reality is based on lies… why should we assume the blood is always true?
Let’s take another look at this picture:
Suppose instead of being presented to us as a proven and clumsy fake this image had been in the Indy or on our Facebook feed as a genuine example of child-suffering? How would that red paint look then? And even if we felt a tinge of doubt about that, how many of us would have the courage/crassness to see this on FB and comment “nah – that’s not blood, kid’s just an actor”?
And how would we react to anyone who did have that courage/crassness?
I wonder how many times a day we unwittingly or inattentively endorse some sort of fakery? If the image presented to us appeals to our sense of justice or just seems too heartbreaking to question we’ll probably look no further, share it, add an outraged comment and pass it on. We’ve just been manipulated and won’t even know.
In a fake narrative fake blood might be better than real blood because it can appear wherever you want it to and be wiped away without consequence when its fifteen minutes are over. Disasters and death that can be manufactured in a make-up trailer might be a better option than the real thing, with no inconvenient victims hating and suing you.
Can we assume every image of a bleeding and dusty child is the real deal simply because the Indy didn’t tell us otherwise? And if we refuse to volunteer that act of faith, what do we do?