40 Years Later, Will the End Games in Iraq and Afghanistan Follow the Vietnam Playbook?
If our wars in the Greater Middle East ever end, it’s a pretty safe bet that they will end badly — and it won’t be the first time. The “fall of Saigon” in 1975 was the quintessential bitter end to a war. Oddly enough, however, we’ve since found ways to re-imagine that denouement which miraculously transformed a failed and brutal war of American aggression into a tragic humanitarian rescue mission. Our most popular Vietnam end-stories bury the long, ghastly history that preceded the “fall,” while managing to absolve us of our primary responsibility for creating the disaster. Think of them as silver-lining tributes to good intentions and last-ditch heroism that may come in handy in the years ahead.
The trick, it turned out, was to separate the final act from the rest of the play. To be sure, the ending in Vietnam was not a happy one, at least not for many Americans and their South Vietnamese allies. This week we mark the 40th anniversary of those final days of the war. We will once again surely see the searing images of terrified refugees, desperate evacuations, and final defeat. But even that grim tale offers a lesson to those who will someday memorialize our present round of disastrous wars: toss out the historical background and you can recast any U.S. mission as a flawed but honorable, if not noble, effort by good-guy rescuers to save innocents from the rampaging forces of aggression. In the Vietnamese case, of course, the rescue was so incomplete and the defeat so total that many Americans concluded their country had “abandoned” its cause and “betrayed” its allies. By focusing on the gloomy conclusion, however, you could at least stop dwelling on the far more incriminating tale of the war’s origins and expansion, and the ruthless way the U.S. waged it.
Here’s another way to feel better about America’s role in starting and fighting bad wars: make sure U.S. troops leave the stage for a decent interval before the final debacle. That way, in the last act, they can swoop back in with a new and less objectionable mission. Instead of once again waging brutal counterinsurgencies on behalf of despised governments, American troops can concentrate on a humanitarian effort most war-weary citizens and soldiers would welcome: evacuation and escape.
Phony Endings and Actual Ones
An American president announces an honorable end to our longest war. The last U.S. troops are headed for home. Media executives shut down their war zone bureaus. The faraway country where the war took place, once a synonym for slaughter, disappears from TV screens and public consciousness. Attention shifts to home-front scandals and sensations. So it was in the United States in 1973 and 1974, years when most Americans mistakenly believed that the Vietnam War was over.
In many ways, eerily enough, this could be a story from our own time. After all, a few years ago, we had reason to hope that our seemingly endless wars — this time in distant Iraq and Afghanistan — were finally over or soon would be. In December 2011, in front of U.S. troops at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, President Obama proclaimed an end to the American war in Iraq. “We’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable, and self-reliant Iraq,” he said proudly. “This is an extraordinary achievement.” In a similar fashion, last December the president announced that in Afghanistan “the longest war in American history is coming to a responsible conclusion.”
If only. Instead, warfare, strife, and suffering of every kind continue in both countries, while spreading across ever more of the Greater Middle East. American troops are still dying in Afghanistan and in Iraq the U.S. military is back, once again bombing and advising, this time against the Islamic State (or Daesh), an extremist spin-off from its predecessor al-Qaeda in Iraq, an organization that only came to life well after (and in reaction to) the U.S. invasion and occupation of that country. It now seems likely that the nightmare of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, which began decades ago, will simply drag on with no end in sight.
The Vietnam War, long as it was, did finally come to a decisive conclusion. When Vietnam screamed back into the headlines in early 1975, 14 North Vietnamese divisions were racing toward Saigon, virtually unopposed. Tens of thousands of South Vietnamese troops (shades of the Iraqi army in 2014) were stripping off their military uniforms, abandoning their American equipment, and fleeing. With the massive U.S. military presence gone, what had once been a brutal stalemate was now a rout, stunning evidence that “nation-building” by the U.S. military in South Vietnam had utterly failed (as it would in the twenty-first century in Iraq and Afghanistan).
On April 30, 1975, a Communist tank crashed through the gates of Independence Palace in the southern capital of Saigon, a dramatic and triumphant conclusion to a 30-year-long Vietnamese struggle to achieve national independence and reunification. The blood-soaked American effort to construct a permanent non-Communist nation called South Vietnam ended in humiliating defeat.
It’s hard now to imagine such a climactic conclusion in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unlike Vietnam, where the Communists successfully tapped a deep vein of nationalist and revolutionary fervor throughout the country, in neither Iraq nor Afghanistan has any faction, party, or government had such success or the kind of appeal that might lead it to gain full and uncontested control of the country. Yet in Iraq, there have at least been a series of mass evacuations and displacements reminiscent of the final days in Vietnam. In fact, the region, including Syria, is now engulfed in a refugee crisis of staggering proportions with millions seeking sanctuary across national boundaries and millions more homeless and displaced internally.
Last August, U.S. forces returned to Iraq (as in Vietnam four decades earlier) on the basis of a “humanitarian” mission. Some 40,000 Iraqis of the Yazidi sect, threatened with slaughter, had been stranded on Mount Sinjar in northern Iraq surrounded by Islamic State militants. While most of the Yazidi were, in fact, successfully evacuated by Kurdish fighters via ground trails, small groups were flown out on helicopters by the Iraqi military with U.S. help. When one of those choppers went down wounding many of its passengers but killing only the pilot, General Majid Ahmed Saadi, New York Times reporter Alissa Rubin, injured in the crash, praised his heroism. Before his death, he had told her that the evacuation missions were “the most important thing he had done in his life, the most significant thing he had done in his 35 years of flying.”
In this way, a tortured history inconceivable without the American invasion of 2003 and almost a decade of excesses, including the torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib, as well as counterinsurgency warfare, finally produced a heroic tale of American humanitarian intervention to rescue victims of murderous extremists. The model for that kind of story had been well established in 1975.
Stripping the Fall of Saigon of Historical Context
Defeat in Vietnam might have been the occasion for a full-scale reckoning on the entire horrific war, but we preferred stories that sought to salvage some faith in American virtue amid the wreckage. For the most riveting recent example, we need look no further than Rory Kennedy’s 2014 Academy Award-nominated documentary Last Days in Vietnam. The film focuses on a handful of Americans and a few Vietnamese who, in defiance of orders, helped expedite and expand a belated and inadequate evacuation of South Vietnamese who had hitched their lives to the American cause.
The film’s cast of humanitarian heroes felt obligated to carry out their ad hoc rescue missions because the U.S. ambassador in Saigon, Graham Martin, refused to believe that defeat was inevitable. Whenever aides begged him to initiate an evacuation, he responded with comments like, “It’s not so bleak. I won’t have this negative talk.” Only when North Vietnamese tanks reached the outskirts of Saigon did he order the grandiloquently titled Operation Frequent Wind — the helicopter evacuation of the city — to begin.
By that time, Army Captain Stuart Herrington and others like him had already led secret “black ops” missions to help South Vietnamese army officers and their families get aboard outgoing aircraft and ships. Prior to the official evacuation, the U.S. government explicitly forbade the evacuation of South Vietnamese military personnel who were under orders to remain in the country and continue fighting. But, as Herrington puts it in the film, “sometimes there’s an issue not of legal and illegal, but right and wrong.” Although the war itself failed to provide U.S. troops with a compelling moral cause, Last Days in Vietnam produces one. The film’s heroic rescuers are willing to risk their careers for the just cause of evacuating their allies.
The drama and danger are amped up by the film’s insistence that all Vietnamese linked to the Americans were in mortal peril. Several of the witnesses invoke the specter of a Communist “bloodbath,” a staple of pro-war propaganda since the 1960s. (President Richard Nixon, for instance, once warned that the Communists would massacre civilians “by the millions” if the U.S. pulled out.) Herrington refers to the South Vietnamese officers he helped evacuate as “dead men walking.” Another of the American rescuers, Paul Jacobs, used his Navy ship without authorization to escort dozens of South Vietnamese vessels, crammed with some 30,000 people, to the Philippines. Had he ordered the ships back to Vietnam, he claims in the film, the Communists “woulda killed ‘em all.”
The Communist victors were certainly not merciful. They imprisoned hundreds of thousands of people in “re-education camps” and subjected them to brutal treatment. The predicted bloodbath, however, was a figment of the American imagination. No program of systematic execution of significant numbers of people who had collaborated with the Americans ever happened.
Following another script that first emerged in U.S. wartime propaganda, the film implies that South Vietnam was vehemently anti-communist. To illustrate, we are shown a map in which North Vietnamese red ink floods ever downward over an all-white South — as if the war were a Communist invasion instead of a countrywide struggle that began in the South in opposition to an American-backed government.
Had the South been uniformly and fervently anti-Communist, the war might well have had a different outcome, but the Saigon regime was vulnerable primarily because many southern Vietnamese fought tooth and nail to defeat it and many others were unwilling to put their lives on the line to defend it. In truth, significant parts of the South had been “red” since the 1940s. The U.S. blocked reunification elections in 1956 exactly because it feared that southerners might vote in Communist leader Ho Chi Minh as president. Put another way, the U.S. betrayed the people of Vietnam and their right to self-determination not by pulling out of the country, but by going in.
Last Days in Vietnam may be the best silver-lining story of the fall of Saigon ever told, but it is by no means the first. Well before the end of April 1975, when crowds of terrified Vietnamese surrounded the U.S. embassy in Saigon begging for admission or trying to scale its fences, the media was on the lookout for feel-good stories that might take some of the sting out of the unremitting tableaus of fear and failure.
They thought they found just the thing in Operation Babylift. A month before ordering the final evacuation of Vietnam, Ambassador Martin approved an airlift of thousands of South Vietnamese orphans to the United States where they were to be adopted by Americans. Although he stubbornly refused to accept that the end was near, he hoped the sight of all those children embraced by their new American parents might move Congress to allocate additional funds to support the crumbling South Vietnamese government.
Commenting on Operation Babylift, pro-war political scientist Lucien Pye said, “We want to know we’re still good, we’re still decent.” It did not go as planned. The first plane full of children and aid workers crashed and 138 of its passengers died. And while thousands of children did eventually make it to the U.S., a significant portion of them were not orphans. In war-ravaged South Vietnam some parents placed their children in orphanages for protection, fully intending to reclaim them in safer times. Critics claimed the operation was tantamount to kidnapping.
Nor did Operation Babylift move Congress to send additional aid, which was hardly surprising since virtually no one in the United States wanted to continue to fight the war. Indeed, the most prevalent emotion was stunned resignation. But there did remain a pervasive need to salvage some sense of national virtue as the house of cards collapsed and the story of those “babies,” no matter how tarnished, nonetheless proved helpful in the process.
Putting the Fall of Saigon Back in Context
For most Vietnamese — in the South as well as the North — the end was not a time of fear and flight, but joy and relief. Finally, the much-reviled, American-backed government in Saigon had been overthrown and the country reunited. After three decades of turmoil and war, peace had come at last. The South was not united in accepting the Communist victory as an unambiguous “liberation,” but there did remain broad and bitter revulsion over the wreckage the Americans had brought to their land.
Indeed, throughout the South and particularly in the countryside, most people viewed the Americans not as saviors but as destroyers. And with good reason. The U.S. military dropped four million tons of bombs on South Vietnam, the very land it claimed to be saving, making it by far the most bombed country in history. Much of that bombing was indiscriminate. Though policymakers blathered on about the necessity of “winning the hearts and minds” of the Vietnamese, the ruthlessness of their war-making drove many southerners into the arms of the Viet Cong, the local revolutionaries. It wasn’t Communist hordes from the North that such Vietnamese feared, but the Americans and their South Vietnamese military allies.
The many refugees who fled Vietnam at war’s end and after, ultimately a million or more of them, not only lost a war, they lost their home, and their traumatic experiences are not to be minimized. Yet we should also remember the suffering of the far greater number of South Vietnamese who were driven off their land by U.S. wartime policies. Because many southern peasants supported the Communist-led insurgency with food, shelter, intelligence, and recruits, the U.S. military decided that it had to deprive the Viet Cong of its rural base. What followed was a long series of forced relocations designed to remove peasants en masse from their lands and relocate them to places where they could more easily be controlled and indoctrinated.
The most conservative estimate of internal refugees created by such policies (with anodyne names like the “strategic hamlet program” or “Operation Cedar Falls”) is 5 million, but the real figure may have been 10 million or more in a country of less than 20 million. Keep in mind that, in these years, the U.S. military listed “refugees generated” — that is, Vietnamese purposely forced off their lands — as a metric of “progress,” a sign of declining support for the enemy.
Our vivid collective memories are of Vietnamese refugees fleeing their homeland at war’s end. Gone is any broad awareness of how the U.S. burned down, plowed under, or bombed into oblivion thousands of Vietnamese villages, and herded survivors into refugee camps. The destroyed villages were then declared “free fire zones” where Americans claimed the right to kill anything that moved.
In 1967, Jim Soular was a flight chief on a gigantic Chinook helicopter. One of his main missions was the forced relocation of Vietnamese peasants. Here’s the sort of memory that you won’t find in Miss Saigon, Last Days in Vietnam, or much of anything else that purports to let us know about the war that ended in 1975. This is not the sort of thing you’re likely to see much of this week in any 40th anniversary media musings.
“On one mission where we were depopulating a village we packed about sixty people into my Chinook. They’d never been near this kind of machine and were really scared but they had people forcing them in with M-16s. Even at that time I felt within myself that the forced dislocation of these people was a real tragedy. I never flew refugees back in. It was always out. Quite often they would find their own way back into those free-fire zones. We didn’t understand that their ancestors were buried there, that it was very important to their culture and religion to be with their ancestors. They had no say in what was happening. I could see the terror in their faces. They were defecating and urinating and completely freaked out. It was horrible. Everything I’d been raised to believe in was contrary to what I saw in Vietnam. We might have learned so much from them instead of learning nothing and doing so much damage.”
What Will We Forget If Baghdad “Falls”?
The time may come, if it hasn’t already, when many of us will forget, Vietnam-style, that our leaders sent us to war in Iraq falsely claiming that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction he intended to use against us; that he had a “sinister nexus” with the al-Qaeda terrorists who attacked on 9/11; that the war would essentially pay for itself; that it would be over in “weeks rather than months”; that the Iraqis would greet us as liberators; or that we would build an Iraqi democracy that would be a model for the entire region. And will we also forget that in the process nearly 4,500 Americans were killed along with perhaps 500,000 Iraqis, that millions of Iraqis were displaced from their homes into internal exile or forced from the country itself, and that by almost every measure civil society has failed to return to pre-war levels of stability and security?
The picture is no less grim in Afghanistan. What silver linings can possibly emerge from our endless wars? If history is any guide, I’m sure we’ll think of something.
Christian Appy, professor of history at the University of Massachusetts, is the author of three books about the Vietnam War, including the just-published American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and Our National Identity (Viking).
Copyright 2015 Christian Appy
What Happened to $1.3 Billion of Taxpayer Money Sent Directly to U.S. Military Officers in Afghanistan? Pentagon won’t Say
The Department of Defense (DOD) refuses to detail what it did with $1.3 billion that was supposed to be used on urgent humanitarian and reconstruction projects.
A report (pdf) from Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) John Sopko pointed out that $2.26 billion had been put into the Commander’s Emergency Response Program (CERP). That funding is meant to be used primarily for small projects estimated to cost less than $500,000 involving such issues as transportation, electricity and education. This year, most of the money will be used for condolence payments when civilians are killed or injured or property is damaged by U.S. forces and to increase security for communities that happen to be located near active U.S. military bases.
However, according to the SIGAR report, the Defense Department is given “broad authority to spend CERP funds notwithstanding other provisions of law. As a result, projects supported by CERP funds are not bound by procurement laws or the Federal Acquisition Regulation.”
The Army’s official guidance on CERP projects is “CERP is a quick and effective method that provides an immediate, positive impact on the local population while other larger reconstruction projects are still getting off the ground. The keys to project selection are: Execute quickly; Employ many people from the local population; Benefit the local population; Be highly visible.”
But the SIGAR report said “DOD could only provide financial information relating to the disbursement of funds for CERP projects totaling $890 million (40%) of the approximately $2.2 billion in obligated funds at that time.” The other $1.3 billion of the CERP money that has been sent to Afghanistan has been spent on projects classified as “unknown.”
What’s worse is that according to the Pentagon’s response to the report, some of the money went to war-fighting instead of helping Afghan civilians. “Although the report is technically accurate, it did not discuss the Counter Insurgency (COIN) strategies in relationship to CERP. In addition, the 20 users [sic] of CERP funds, it was also used as a tool for COIN. CERP funds were, and continue to be used to build goodwill between the people of Iraq and/or Afghanistan and the United States in an effort to gain their support in fighting the insurgency. In many cases CERP’s main effort was the COIN aspect verse the actual project being procured.”
So, from the part of that statement that makes any sense, it would appear that the money was siphoned off from approved uses and into counter insurgency, which is not among the 20 approved uses for CERP funds.
To Learn More:
Pentagon Can’t Account for $1 Billion in Afghan Reconstruction Aid (by James Rosen, McClatchy )
Department of Defense Commander’s Emergency Response Program (CERP): Priorities and Spending in Afghanistan for Fiscal Years 2004-2014 (Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction) (pdf)
Commander’s Emergency Response Program (Center for Army Lessons Learned)
After 6 Years, Obama’s Pentagon Suddenly Declares Details of Afghanistan War “Classified” (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov )
U.S. Wasted $7.6 Billion to Fight Poppy Cultivation in Afghanistan…Which is Now at an All-Time High (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov )
U.S. Wasted $34 Million Pushing Soybeans on Afghanistan (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov )
Pentagon Leads PR Campaign to Counter Critical Inspector General Reports on Afghanistan (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Danny Biederman, AllGov )
Harsh Inspector General Report Says 0 of 16 Afghan Agencies can be Trusted with U.S. Aid (by Noel Brinkerhoff and Danny Biederman, AllGov )
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif says Israel is the main impediment to the universality of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and the single violator of the accord.
“Unfortunately, Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons and its refusal to engage with the international community has become the greatest impediment to the universality of this treaty,” Zarif told Press TV correspondent in New York upon the arrival of Iran’s delegation of nuclear negotiators in the city to attend the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the NPT.
Israel is widely believed to be the sole possessor of a nuclear arsenal in the Middle East with up to 400 undeclared nuclear warheads. Tel Aviv has rejected global calls to join the NPT and does not allow international inspectors to observe its controversial nuclear program.
“Israel is the single most violator of this international regime (NPT) which is the requirement of the international community,” Zarif stressed.
The top Iranian diplomat further underlined the need for the establishment of a nukes-free zone in the Middle East.
“Since [the] 1970s, the General Assembly of the United Nations has been calling for the establishment of a nuclear weapons free zone in the Middle East, he said.
He underlined that the call for such a nuclear-free zone is not something new.
“In 1995, when the NPT was renewed, there was a declaration on the need for the universality of the NPT as well as the need for the establishment of the nuclear weapons free zone in the Middle East. This request, or requirement and demand of the international community and member states of the NPT was again repeated in 2010 in the last review conference,” Zarif said.
“One of the most important issues in the NPT review process is to look into ways and means of bringing about universality and bring about the Israeli compliance with NPT,” he added.
He also elaborated on the function of the NPT, stressing that the treaty “rests on three pillars: nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation and the peaceful use of nuclear energy.”
He also said that the issue of Israeli compliance with the NPT will top the agenda in the 2015 Review Conference.
Zarif further noted that he will probably have a meeting with US Secretary of State John Kerry on the sidelines of the event during which the will discuss the issues surrounding negotiations on Iran’ nuclear program. The meeting will be the first time since the groundbreaking talks on Iran’s nuclear program in the Swiss city of Lausanne earlier in the month.
The top Iranian diplomat said he will also hold separate meetings with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and some foreign ministers of the P5+1– the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain, and Germany, engaged in talks with Iran over its nuclear program.
Zarif also said that he will make a speech on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement countries as Iran is the movement’s current chair. The countries of the Non-Aligned Movement represent nearly two-thirds of the United Nations members and contain 55 percent of the world population.
He further stressed that he will also sit for talks with foreign ministers of the countries in the region to discuss the ongoing crisis in Syria, Iraq, and especially in Yemen.
The NPT review conference, slated to be held from April 27 to May 22 at the UN headquarters, will address issues such as nuclear disarmament, nuclear non-proliferation, safeguards measures and the peaceful use of nuclear energy.
A recent article by Jorge Elbaum, the former executive director of DAIA (Delegation for Argentine Jewish Associations), the principle Argentine Jewish umbrella groups, published in the Buenos Aires daily Pagina 12, provides a detailed account of the damaging links between the State of Israel, US Wall Street speculators, and local Argentine Zionists in government and out. Elbaum describes how their efforts have been specifically directed toward destabilizing the incumbent center-left government of President Cristina Fernandez, while securing exorbitant profits for a Zionist Wall Street speculator, Paul Singer of Elliott Management as well as undermining a joint Iranian-Argentine investigation of the 1994 terrorist bombing of the Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires.
Elbaum’s article was written in response to the death of Alberto Nisman, a Zionist zealot and chief government prosecutor in the terrorist bombing investigation for over 20 years.
The serious issues raised by the political use and gross manipulation of the horrors of the bombing of the Argentine Jewish Community Center shows how Tel Aviv (and its political assets in Argentina and the US) further Israeli power in the Middle East, in particular, by isolating and demonizing Iran. This is important at two critical levels, which this article seeks to highlight.
First of all, Israel attempted to sidetrack the Argentine investigation, by involving some of its powerful Wall Street assets and influential pro-Israel lobbies (the Anti-Defamation League and AIPAC among others). Their purpose was to fabricate ‘evidence’ in order to implicate Iran in the crime and to manipulate their influential assets in Argentina, especially in this case, chief prosecutor Nisman and many of the leaders of DAIA, to accuse the Argentine government of complicity in an ‘Iranian cover-up’.
The second issue, raised by Israel’s intervention in Argentina’s investigation into the bombing, has wider and deeper implications: How Israel promotes its foreign policy objectives in various countries by grooming and manipulating local influential Jewish officials and community organizations. This furthers Tel Aviv’s goal of regional hegemony and territorial aggrandizement. In other words, Israeli political reach extends far beyond the Middle East and goes ‘global’, operating without any consideration of the dangers it inflicts on Jews in the ‘target countries’. To this end, Israel has been creating a worldwide network of Jews, which calls into question their loyalty to the polity of their home countries where they have resided for generations.
The nefarious impact, which Israel’s intervention has on the sovereignty of its ‘target countries’, presents a danger to innocent and loyal Jewish citizens who are not acting as agents of Tel Aviv.
For these reasons it is important to critically analyze the specific characteristics of Israel’s dangerous meddling in Argentina.
The Crisis of the Argentine Justice System: Unsolved Terrorist Crimes and Israeli Intervention
After the anti-Semitic bombing of the Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires, the Argentine judicial and legal system seriously bungled the investigation, despite collaboration from the US FBI and Israel’s Mossad. Argentina’s then President Carlos Menem was an ardent neo-liberal, unconditional backer of US foreign policy and strong supporter of Israel. His regime was still heavily infested with high-ranking police, military, and intelligence officials deeply implicated in the seven-year bloody military dictatorship (1976-83) during which 30,000 Argentine citizens were murdered. Among the victims of this ‘dirty war’ were hundreds of Argentine Jews, activists, intellectuals and militants who were tortured and murdered to the anti-Semitic taunts of their military and police assassins. During this same horrific ‘pogrom’ of Argentina’s committed Jewish activists, the state of Israel managed to sell tens of millions of dollars in arms to the junta, breaking a US-EU boycott. Notoriously, the conservative leaders of the DAIA and AMIA (Argentine-Israel Mutual Association) failed to defend the lives of Jewish activists and militants. After attending meetings with the junta, many conservative Jewish leaders would dismiss the concerns of the families of the disappeared and tortured Argentine Jews, saying: ‘They must have done something…’
The bungled investigation into the 1994 bombing included the arrest of right-wing police officials who were later released and the mysterious loss of vital forensic evidence. Accusations against various foreign regimes and organizations shifted according to the political needs of the US and Israel: First, the Lebanese group, Hezbollah, Israel’s main military adversary during its bloody occupation of southern Lebanon in 1990’s was touted as the responsible party. A few years later, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, prior to the Israeli-backed US invasion of Iraq; then the Palestinians were trotted out, followed by Syria’s Baathist intelligence forces. After the total destruction of Iraq by the US ‘coalition’ and the decline of influential Arab states in the Middle East, the Israelis have settled on Iran as the ‘prime suspect’, coinciding with Tehran’s rise of as a regional power – challenging Israeli and US hegemony.
With the 2001 collapse of Argentina’s version of a kleptocratic, neo-liberal, pro-US bootlicking regime, and in the midst of a dire economic depression, there was a popular upheaval and the subsequent election of President Kirchner bringing a new center-left government to power.
The new government, defaulting on its murderous foreign debt, oversaw Argentina’s economic recovery and a vast increase in social spending which stabilized capitalism. Kirchner also promoted greater independence in foreign policy and sought to enhance Buenos Aires relations with Israel by re-opening the investigation into the bombing and retaining Alberto Nisman, as chief prosecutor.
Nisman, the Mossad, and the US Embassy Connection
In his article, ‘Vultures, Nisman, DAIA: The Money Route’ (Pagina 12, 4/18/15), Jorge Elbaum, points out that chief prosecutor, Alberto Nisman, opened a secret bank account in New York. As Elbaum told prominent figures in Argentina’s Jewish community, Nisman’s campaign to discredit the government’s joint investigatory commission with Iran and demonize the Argentine government was financed, at least in part, by New York’s vulture fund head, Paul Singer, who stood to make hundreds of millions in profit. According to documents, cited by Elbaum, US embassy personnel and leading US Zionist organizations, including the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, led by Mark Dubowitz, as well as Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, fed Nisman fabricated ‘evidence’ and corrected numerous substantive and grammatical flaws in his report purporting to ‘demonstrate’ Argentine’s cover-up of the Iran’s role in the 1994 bombing. However, forensic and legal experts in Argentina have determined that Nisman’s claims lack any legal basis or credibility.
The entire ‘Operation Nisman’ appears to have been orchestrated by Israel with the goal of isolating Iran via fabricated evidence supposed to ‘prove’ its role in the 1994 bombing. The recruitment of Nisman, as a key Israeli operative, was central to Israel’s strategy of using the DAIA and other Argentine – Jewish organizations to attack the Argentine-Iran memo of understanding regarding the investigation of the bombing. Israel pushed US-Zionist organizations to intensify their intervention into Argentine politics via their networks with Argentine-Jewish organizations. The vulture-fund speculator, Paul Singer, who had bought defaulted Argentine debt for ‘pennies on the dollar’, was demanding full payment through sympathetic New York courts. He had funded a special speculators’ task force on Argentina joining forces with Israel, US Zionist organizations and Alberto Nisman in order to manipulate Argentina’s investigation and secure a bountiful return. Nisman thus became a ‘key tool’ to Israel’s regional military strategy toward Iran, to New York speculator Singer’s strategy to grab a billion dollar windfall and to the Argentine right wing’s campaign to destabilize the center-left government of Kirschner-Fernandez.
By acting mainly in the interest of Israel and US Zionists, Nisman sacrificed the Argentine-Jewish community’s desire for a serious, truthful investigation into the bombing leading to identification and conviction of the perpetrators. Moreover, Nisman compromised himself by being a tool for Israel’s foreign policy against the interest of the Argentine government, which he was sworn to serve, and endangered the status of the Argentine Jewish community among Argentines in general by raising questions about their loyalty to their home country.
Fortunately, Argentina has sophisticated, prominent Jewish leaders who see themselves as Argentine citizens first and foremost, including leaders like Foreign Secretary Hector Timmerman who proposed the joint investigation with Iran as well as the former DAIA Executive Director Jorge Elbaum who has played a major role in denouncing Israel’s intervention in Argentine politics. It is citizens, like Elbaum, who have exposed the Israeli government’s role in recruiting and manipulating local leading Argentine-Jews to serve Tel Aviv’s foreign policy interests.
This is in stark contrast to the United States where no major American-Jewish leader has dared to denounce the role of leading Zionist organizations as Israel’s conduit. Furthermore, unlike Argentina, where a sector of the liberal press (Pagina 12) has published critical accounts of Nisman’s fabrications and Israel’s destabilization campaign, newspapers in the US, like the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Post, have continued to present Nisman’s discredited report as a serious investigation by a courageous, ‘martyred’ prosecutor. The US media continues to portray the entire Argentine judicial system as corrupt and argue that Nisman’s death must have been a state-orchestrated crime. The US public has never been presented with the fact that the leading critics of Nisman’s report and his own behavior were prominent Argentine Jews and that Argentina’s foreign minister, Hector Timmerman, organized the Argentine-Iran commission.
That Israel was willing to derail any serious the investigation into the 1994 bombing, which killed and maimed scores of Argentine Jews, in order to further its campaign against Iran, demonstrates the extent to which the self-styled ‘Jewish State’ is willing to sacrifice the interests and security of world Jewry to further its narrow military agenda.
Equally egregious is the way in which Tel Aviv recruits overseas Jews to serve Israel’s interests against that of their own countries, turning them into a ‘fifth column’, operating inside and outside of their governments. That Israeli intelligence has been exposed and denounced in the case of Nisman, has not forestalled nor prevented Israel from continuing this long-standing, practice of dangerous meddling. This is especially evident in the ‘Israel-first behavior’ of leading Jewish American organizations and political leaders who have pledged their total allegiance to Netanyahu’s war agenda against Iran an bought the US Congress to scuttle the peace accord.
It merits repetition: Israel’s widespread practice of recruiting Jewish citizens and officials of other countries to serve as vehicles of Israeli policies has the potential to foment a new and possibly violent backlash, once the greater population has been made aware of such treasonous activities. In this regard, Israel does not represent a bastion of security for world Jewry, but a cynical, manipulative and deadly threat. Perhaps that is Israel’s ultimate strategy – create a backlash of generalized anger against overseas Jews and precipitate massive flight to Israel from countries like Argentina, while the few who remain can be better manipulated to serve Tel Aviv.
A few days ago, on April 23, a crowd of several hundred Argentine Jews met to repudiate the arrogant claims of the established leaders of the DAIA and the AMIA that they represent ‘all Argentine Jews”. This overflow crowd in the auditorium of the telephone workers union proposed to create a ‘collective and democratic space, based on links of solidarity over and above commercial connections.’ The Jewish community in the US would be wise to pay close attention to Argentina’s example.
Long Beach, CA– On Thursday afternoon, April 23, at 2:45 pm, the life of 19-year-old Hector Morejon was tragically stolen. He was shot and killed after someone called the police to report a man trespassing in an abandoned building and spray painting.
Morejon was inside the vacant apartment building close to his home with four friends when police arrived and saw him standing by a wall through a broken window.
Likely alarmed by the police arriving and pointing to warn his friends, the teenager reportedly turned towards the window, bent his knees and extended his arm “as if pointing an object which the officer perceived was a gun.”
The police then fired an “unknown” number of bullets at Morejon and arrested the four people he was with for trespassing. No weapons were found at the scene.
According to a video made by a witness, after the teen was shot, he climbed out the window in a desperate attempt to have his life saved by the monster who had just fatally injured him.
“He was saying, ‘my stomach… my stomach…’ and the cop said, ‘so what?’” the witness explained.
The witness also stated that Morejon was allowed to bleed to death, despite paramedics being only a block and a half away from the scene.
His mother, Lucia Morejon, heard the shots and commotion echo from the alley behind her home and when she went outside to investigate what was going on she saw swarms of police, and her teenage son in an ambulance.
“When he saw her, he propped himself partially up and cried to her, “Mommy, Mommy, please come, please come!” She walked towards the ambulance, identified herself as his mother, expecting to ride with him to the hospital, but was pushed back by a man in a blue uniform. She asked what happened and was told that no one knew.” R. Samuel Paz, the lawyer representing the Morejon family wrote in a statement.
When his mother arrived at the hospital, she was not permitted to see her son until he was dead.
After taking this young life, the police went on the offensive, as usual, assassinating the character of their victim and claiming that the graffiti was gang related. There has been no indication that it was, and his family insists that he was a sweet teenager who had no gang affiliation.
She is requesting that people join her to demand justice and accountability from the Long Beach Police and that the U.S. Department of Justice investigate the killing of her son and release the name of the officer who killed him.
You can contact the Long Beach Police Department here.
The department claims that they are investigating the shooting. The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office is also conducting a separate investigation, which is customary in all officer-involved shootings, the LA Times reported.
Just over a year before killing Morejon– at 2:45 pm on April 27, 2014, the Long Beach Police executed a fleeing man on a beach in a horrifying scene that was caught on camera. The man had allegedly shoplifted from a Target store and attempted to flee his vehicle as he was gunned down from behind.
2:45 pm seems to be a very deadly time with the Long Beach PD.
The man exits the vehicle around the 1:50-minute mark:
Guaranteed profits—at any price
Last Tuesday, President Barack Obama told beltway bullhorn Chris Matthews that Senator Elizabeth Warren was “wrong” about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the largest trade deal in American history, linking United States and Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam in a pervasive and binding treaty. The president was referring to Warren’s claim that the trade treaty will license corporations to sue governments, and her contention that this was, to put it mildly, a bad idea.
Warren isn’t wrong, Obama is. And he knows it. The entire TPP, as understood, is based on a single overarching idea: that regulation must not hinder profiteering. This is a fundamentally anti-democratic concept that—if implemented—would effectively eliminate the power of a demos to make its own law. The final authority on any law’s validity would rest elsewhere, beyond the reach of popular sovereignty. From the TPP point-of-view, democracy is just another barrier to trade, and the corporate forces behind the draft treaty are intent on removing that barrier. Simple as that.
That’s why the entire deal has been negotiated in conclave, deliberately beyond the public purview, since the president and his trade representatives know that exposing the deal to the unforgiving light of popular scrutiny would doom it to failure. That’s why the president, like his mentor President Clinton, has lobbied hard for Trade Promotion Authority, or Fast Track, which reduces the Congressional role in the passage of the bill to a ‘yea’ or ‘nay.’
Cracks have begun to show in the formidable cloak behind which the deal has been structured. A coalition of advocacy groups advanced on the U.S. Trade Representatives office this week. Wikileaks has obtained and released chapters from the draft document. Senator Harry Reid declared his position on Fast Track as “… not only no, but hell no.” Warren has proved to be a persistent thorn in the side of White House efforts to smooth over troubling issues with the deal. But the monied interests that rule the beltway have all pressed for passage. And as a Fast Track draft makes its way through Congress, stakes are high. The TPP is, in the apt estimation of political activist Jim Hightower, a “corporate coup d’état.”
Not for the first time, the president and his Republican enemies are yoked by the bipartisan appeal of privilege against this faltering fence of protest. The marriage of convenience was described in last Friday’s sub-head to a New York Times article on TPP: “G.O.P. Is Allied With President Against His Own Party.”
All The Usual Suspects
Who else supports the TPP? Aside from this odd confection of neoliberals, the corporations that rule the beltway feverishly back the TPP. From the leak of Sony digital data we learn that it and its media peers have enthusiastically pressed for the passage of the deal. Sony is joined by major agricultural beneficiaries (Monsanto), mining companies like Infinito Gold, currently suing Costa Rica to keep an ecology-harming mine pit active, as well as pharmaceutical coalitions negotiating stiff intellectual property rights unpopular even in Congress, and various other technology and consumer goods groups. And don’t forget nicotine kingpins like Philip Morris.
Obama reinforces the corporate line: “We have the opportunity to open even more new markets to goods and services backed by three proud words: Made in America.” Perhaps he isn’t aware that our leading export is the workforce that once took pride in that moniker. We’ve exported five million manufacturing jobs since 1994, largely thanks to NAFTA, the model on which the TPP is built. The TPP will only continue that sad trend. The only jobs not being offshored are the ones that can’t be: bartenders and waitresses and health care assistants. That’s the Obama economy: a surfeit of low-wage service jobs filled by debt-saddled degree holders. As Paul Craig Roberts argued in The Failure of Laissez Faire Capitalism, between 2007 and 2014, some eight million students would graduate from American universities and likely seek jobs in the United States. A mere one million degree-requiring jobs would await them. The irony of Obama’s statement is that the TPP would actually move to strip the use of labels like, “Buy American,” since they unduly advocate for local goods.
In truth, the authors of the treaty already know all this. The bill concedes as much, with Democrats building in some throwaway provisions of unspecified aid to workers whose jobs have been offshored, and a tax credit to ostensibly help those ex-workers purchase health insurance. Cold comfort for the jobless, as they are exhorted by the gutless paladins of globalization to ‘toughen up’ and deal with the harsh realities of a globalized economy. As neoliberal stooge Thomas Friedman has said, companies in the glorious global marketplace never hire before they ask, “Can this person add value every hour, every day — more than a worker in India, a robot or a computer?” Of course, the answer is invariably no, so the job goes to Bangladesh or a robot. No moral equation ever enters the picture. Just market discipline for the vulnerable and ingenious efforts by a captive state to shelter capital from the market dynamics it would force on others.
The Investment Chapter
Despite Obama’s disingenuous clichés about “… fully enforceable protections for workers’ rights, the environment and a free and open Internet,” the trade deal makes it clear that labor law and environmental law are both barriers to profitability. We know this thanks to Wikileaks, which once again proved its inestimable value by acquiring and releasing another chapter from the cloak-and-dagger negotiations. This time it was the investment chapter, in which so much of the treaty’s raison d’etre is expressed.
As Public Citizen points out in its lengthy analysis of the chapter, any domestic policy that infringes on an investor’s “right” to a regulatory framework that conforms to their “expectations,” is grounds for a suit. Namely, the suit may be pressed to “the extent to which the government action interferes with distinct, reasonable investment-backed expectations.”
Here’s what the TPP says about such legislation as it relates to investor expectations:
For greater certainty, whether an investor’s investment-backed expectations are reasonable depends, to the extent relevant, on factors such as whether the government provided the investor with binding written assurances and the nature and extent of governmental regulation or the potential for government regulation in the relevant sector.
Try putting that tax on financial transactions. Forget it. Barrier to a reasonable return. Don’t believe it? Just read the TPP investment protocols that would ban capital controls, which is what a financial tax is considered to be by TPP proponents. Try passing that environmental legislation. Not a chance. Hindrance to maximum shareholder value. Just ask Germany how it felt when a Swiss company sued it for shutting down its nuclear industry after Fukushima. Try enacting that youth safety law banning tobacco advertising. Sorry. Needless barrier to profits. Just ask Australia, which is being sued by Philip Morris for trying to protect kids from tar and nicotine.
Public Citizen has tabulated that, “The TPP would newly empower about 9,000 foreign-owned firms in the United States to launch ISDS cases against the U.S. government, while empowering more than 18,000 additional U.S.-owned firms to launch ISDS cases against other signatory governments.” It found that “foreign investors launched at least 50 ISDS claims each year from 2011 through 2013, and another 42 claims in 2014.” If these numbers seem small, recall that for a crucial piece of labor legislation to be struck down, only one firm need win in arbitration in order to financially hamstring a government and set a precedent that would likely ice the reformist urge of future legislatures.
As noted earlier, the text also appears to suggest to ban the practice of promoting domestic goods over foreign—another hurdle to shareholder value. This would effectively prohibit a country from implementing an import-substitution economy without threat of being sued. Governments would be relieved of tools, like tariffs, historically used to protect fledgling native industries. This is exactly what IMF prescriptions often produce—agricultural reforms, for instance, that wipe out native crop production and substitute for it the production of, say, cheap Arabica coffee beans, for export to the global north. Meanwhile, that producer nation must then accept costly IMF lending regimes to pay to import food it might have grown itself.
Of course, it is rarely mentioned that protectionism is how the United States and Britain both built their industrial economies. Or that removing competitor market protections is how they’ve exploited developing economies ever since. The TPP would effectively lock in globalization. It’s a wedge that forces markets open to foreign trade—the textual equivalent of Commodore Perry sailing his gunships into Tokyo Harbor.
The bill’s backers point to language in which natural resources, human and animal life, and public welfare are all dutifully addressed in the document. The leaked chapter explicitly says that it is not intended to prevent laws relating to these core concerns from being implemented. So then, what’s the problem? The problem is that these tepid inclusions lack the teeth of sanctions or punitive fines. They are mere rhetorical asides designed to help corporate Democrats rationalize their support of the TPP. If lawmakers really cared about the public welfare, they’d move to strip the treaty of its various qualifiers that privilege trade over domestic law. By all means, implement your labor protection, but just ensure “… that such measures are not applied in an arbitrary or unjustifiable manner, or do not constitute a disguised restriction on international trade or investment.”
If lawmakers cared about national sovereignty, they wouldn’t outsource dispute settlement to unelected arbitration panels, more fittingly referred to as, “tribunals.” (Think of scrofulous democracy hunched in the dock, peppered with unanswerable legalese by a corporate lawyer, a surreal twist on the Nuremberg Trials.) Just have a glance at Section B of the investment chapter. Suits will be handled using the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) model, itself predicated on the tribunal precedent. And in the event a government lost a suit or settled one, legal costs would be picked up by taxpayers, having been fleeced by an unelected committee whose laws it has no recourse to challenge.
Perhaps investor protections like ISDS were once intended to encourage cross-border investment by affording companies a modicum of reassurance that their investments would be safeguarded by international trade law. But the ISDS has been used for far more than that. The ISDS tribunals have a lovely track record of success (first implemented in a treaty between Germany and Pakistan in 1959). Here’s Public Citizen:
Under U.S. “free trade” agreements (FTAs) alone, foreign firms have already pocketed more than $440 million in taxpayer money via investor-state cases. This includes cases against natural resource policies, environmental protections, health and safety measures and more. ISDS tribunals have ordered more than $3.6 billion in compensation to investors under all U.S. FTAs and Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs). More than $38 billion remains in pending ISDS claims under these pacts, nearly all of which relate to environmental, energy, financial regulation, public health, land use and transportation policies.
New Era, New Priorities
Now the ISDS is a chisel being used to destroy the regulatory function of governments. All of this is being negotiated by corporate trade representatives and their government lackeys, which appear to have no qualms about the deleterious effects the TPP will have on the general population. But then the corporations these suits represent have long since discarded any sense of patriotic duty to their native nation-states, and with it any obligation to regulate their activities to protect vulnerable citizenries. That loyalty has been replaced by a pitiless commitment to profits. In America, there may have been a time when “what was good for Ford was good for America,” as memorably put by Henry Ford. But not anymore. Now what’s good for shareholders is good for Ford. This was best articulated a couple of years ago by former Exxon CEO Lee Raymond, who bluntly reminded an interviewer, “I’m not a U.S. company, and I don’t make decisions based on what’s good for the U.S.” Those decisions usually include offshoring, liberalizing the labor market, practicing labor arbitrage, relocating production to “business friendly climates” with lax regulatory structures, the most vulpine forms of tax evasion, and so on—all practices that ultimately harm the American worker.
Apple says it feels no obligation to solve America’s problems nor, one would assume, any gratitude to the U.S. taxpayer for funding essential research that Apple brilliantly combined in the iPod and iPhone. Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich finally admits corporations don’t want Americans to make higher wages. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce encourages shipping American jobs abroad. World Bank chiefs point to the economic logic of sending toxic waste to developing nations. Wherever you look, there seems to be little if any concern for citizenry.
The Financial Times refers to ISDS as, “investor protection.” But what it really is, is a profitability guarantee, a legal bulwark against democracy expressed as regulation. Forgive me for thinking that navigating a fluid legislative environment was a standard investment risk. Evidently the champions of free trade can’t be bothered to practice it. Still the White House croons that it has our best interests at heart. If that were true, it would release the full text, launch public charettes to debate its finer points, or perhaps just stage a referendum asking the American people to forfeit their hard-won sovereignty. No such thing will ever happen, of course. As it turns out, democracy is the price of corporate plunder. After all, the greatest risk of all is that the mob might vote the wrong way. And, as the language of the TPP makes explicitly obvious, there are some risks that should be avoided at all costs.
Jason Hirthler can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Richard Cordray (former Attorney General of Ohio), the head of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPG) and Gary Gensler (a former disaster under Bill Clinton and Goldman Sachs) have been the two great appointments by President Obama in the field of finance. Obama’s other appointments at Treasury, the financial regulatory agencies, and the (non) prosecutors who are supposed to specialize in financial prosecutions have been nightmarishly bad.
Gensler was another Rubinite from Goldman Sachs who, under Bill Clinton, helped destroy Brooksley Born’s effort to protect the nation from the financial derivatives that blew up AIG and much of the financial world through passage of the infamous Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000. As Obama’s appointee to chair the Commodity Futures Trade Commission (CFTC), however, Gensler justly earned praise for attempting to restore effective regulation. Gensler was a grave disappointment to Obama’s administration, which thought it was sending a reliably pro-finance Rubinite to run a fairly obscure agency he had helped emasculate. When Gensler showed a spine Obama refused to reappoint him and replaced Gensler with Timothy G. Massad, a Timothy Geithner minion noted for his pro-industry views. Massad’s claim to fame was being one of the principal unprincipled architects of the failed homeowner relief programs. As I pointed out in my first Bill Moyers interview, failing (for the right political reasons) proves you are a reliable “team player” and gets you promoted in Washington, D.C. As Geithner found out, succeeding gets you your walking papers. Jesse Eisinger, as his norm, wrote a great piece about Massad when Obama nominated him in November 2013. An alternative view can be found in the American Banker, which gave prominently space to an op ed praising Massad’s nomination written by the head of a firm that trains CFTC staff.
Massad’s tenure represents a regulatory retreat at the CFTC, but in fairness, as bad as Obama is on financial regulation the Republicans are vastly worse. They are trying to force the wholesale repeal the Dodd-Frank protections on financial derivatives and they have waged an unholy war on the CFTC’s budget to try to make it impossible for the agency to protect the public. The GOP also fought hard to prevent Cordray’s appointment because they (more precisely, their donors), rightly, feared his integrity and skills.
One might think that Obama, and Democratic Party candidates for the presidential nomination would be campaigning on the issue of Republicans being in the pocket of the industry and trying to recreate Bush’s anti-regulatory “Wrecking Crew” (as Tom Frank aptly labeled it) that produced the financial crisis. But leaders of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) (aka “new Democrats,” which include both Clintons and Obama – by his own words) cannot bring themselves to channel their inner FDR and take on big finance. (The DLC is defunct as a formal organization, but its political leaders and pro-finance and anti-regulatory dogmas remain intact.) Big finance is the DLC’s financial base. Senator Bernie Sanders may run. If he does the Republican Party’s unholy war on regulation will be one of his primary issues.
Hillary Clinton’s Successful Gensler Gambit
The financial media is abuzz today with the leaked news that Hillary Clinton is hiring Gensler as a senior campaign staffer. From H. Clinton’s perspective, the media buzz was perfect. Bloomberg’s article bears this gushing one sentence summary: “Hillary Clinton will bring on one of Wall Street’s fiercest critics to oversee her campaign’s finances.” The article explains the politics.
“For Clinton, who has been fighting her left flank’s concern that she is too cozy with Wall Street, Gensler is a notable hire. He became known as someone with sharp elbows —even during his negotiations within the Obama administration—in his push for tighter regulation.”
In short, H. Clinton’s campaign got the ideal spin from what could have been a very hostile financial media. Hiring, and leaking, Gensler’s hire was a very smart political move.
Just One Little Catch
But here’s the catch. Gensler is being hired for a job that will take 150% of his available time given H. Clinton’s ability to raise money and the obscene rules that make modern campaign finance a sport in which both parties routinely devise “black box” funding devices to allow the wealthy to rule American politics secretly. This has two critical implications. Gensler will not be working to block the power of the secretive wealthy – he will be doing the opposite, at least 16 hours a day. It also means that he was not hired to advise H. Clinton on the crimes of Wall Street banksters and the vital need for vigorous regulation and prosecutions. Even if he had the desire to fill that role he will have no time to do so and he will be busy secretly catering to the needs of the wealthy and politically dominant criminal class.
Gensler Was No Godzilla When He Led the CFTC
Gensler’s stint at the CFTC is a nice story of redemption. He did try to be a vigorous regulator over great opposition from the industry, much of Congress (including many House Democrats), and Treasury. Gensler’s desire to be an effective regulator was unacceptable to Obama, who in another act of “revealed preferences” refused to reappoint Gensler.
But Gensler is not, remotely, “one of Wall Street’s fiercest critics.” Quick: memory association: what’s Gensler’s “fiercest” criticism of Wall Street? You came up blank, didn’t you? I checked the Wall Street Journal and did a more general web search. The WSJ was happy to see that Obama refused to reappoint him (the cover story is that Gensler did not want to serve another term) and it criticized him as harsh – but I could not find a story quoting any harsh denunciation of Wall Street by Gensler. Given that even life-long banking apologists like Geithner’s replacement as President of FRBNY now routinely refer to the corrupt culture of Wall Street, Geithner is not even one of the harsher critics of Wall Street within the none-too-critical Obama administration.
The “sharp elbows” claim is pure invention by Geithner’s worse than useless minions. Anyone who refused to brownnose the finance industry was considered far too aggressive by Geithner. Geithner and his team launched the same smear at Sheila Bair (FDIC chair) and Neil Barofsky (SIGTARP). We (the S&L regulators) were routinely referred to as “Nazis,” the “Gestapo,” and the “KGB.” The political, dirty tricks, and litigation attacks on us were far more severe and consequential because our actions were sending elites to prison and humiliating their political patrons who rushed to return campaign contributions from those we exposed as frauds.
Back in the S&L days under the team assembled by Federal Home Loan Bank Board Chairman Edwin Gray, the Reagan administration detested us precisely because Gensler (in his CFTC incarnation) would have been somewhere in the middle of the distribution of regulatory vigor. The comparison is conjectural because under Gray’s leadership, which generally became so supportive of regulatory vigor, and the tutelage of Joe Selby and Mike Patriarca (the Nation’s consensus choices as the most effective and vigorous financial regulators), Gensler might have developed into a far more effective regulator. Gensler’s mentor, Robert (“Bob”) Rubin, inflicted a severe impediment to regulatory effectiveness that Gensler had to struggle to try to overcome.
Ignore the media crush on Gensler’s appointment. As campaign CFO for H. Clinton his job is the care and feeding of the DLC’s financial base – the finance industry. H. Clinton’s Gensler gambit is smart politics, but if you think it means she is seeking progressive advice you are being played – successfully.
A good portion of the money that is supposed to be going to government retirees is being skimmed off by Wall Street as fees, much of them undisclosed, charged by private equity companies.
CEM Benchmarking, which compares costs for various public and private equity funds, says in a report (pdf) that “Less than one‐half of the very substantial [private equity] costs incurred by U.S. pension funds are currently being disclosed.” The difference can be as much as $60 million on a portfolio valued at $3 billion, CEM reported.
Private equity funds say they’re worth the fees they charge because they bring in better returns on investments. However, it’s difficult to verify this claim because long-term returns are mostly self-reported by the equity firms.
Of this country’s $3 trillion in public pension fund assets, roughly 9% ($270 billion) gets invested in private equity firms. The industry’s 2% management fee therefore pays the equity industry about $5.4 billion a year. But if CEM’s calculations apply uniformly, that could mean that in fact more than $10 billion a year, half of that in hidden fees, are being taken from retirees at the same time that governments are trying to cut benefits, according to the International Business Times.
One recent example of this is in New Jersey, where big fees for handling government pensions have gone to fund managers who supported Republican Governor Chris Christie’s election campaigns. In the five years since Christie took office, the International Business Times reported, fees have quadrupled at the same time Christie has said the funds don’t have enough money to pay all the benefits to which retirees are entitled. New Jersey pension trustees have announced an investigation of the funds.
“With billions of public worker and taxpayer dollars put at risk in the highest-cost, most opaque investment schemes ever devised by Wall Street for a decade now, investigations that hold Wall Street profiteers accountable are long, long overdue,” former Securities and Exchange Commission attorney Ted Siedle wrote in Forbes.
Other governments aren’t waiting around. Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, in the Philadelphia suburbs, has switched most of its retirement funds from private equity to low-fee stock index funds. California’s massive retirement system, CalPERS, announced last year that it would be divesting itself of hedge funds because of their high costs.
To Learn More:
Cities and States Paying Massive Secret Fees to Wall Street: Report (International Business Times )
Public Pension Fund Analysis (Private Equity Growth Capital Council) (pdf)
The Time Has Come for Standardized Total Cost for Private Equity (CEM Benchmarking) (pdf)
State Government Revenues Tops Expenditures Thanks to Pension Fund Investments (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov )
California Pensions to Dump $4-Billion Hedge Fund Investments (by Noel Brinkerhoff, Steve Straehley and Ken Broder, AllGov California )
“Vulture” Capitalists Strike Vulnerable Cities and Counties (by Matt Bewig, AllGov )
US Republican presidential hopefuls and some other GOP lawmakers were in the state of Nevada on Saturday to attract big donors for their campaign funding.
Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, Texas Governor Rick Perry, Senator Rob Portman (OH), Governor Mike Pence (IN), and Senator Lindsey Graham (SC), all Republicans, were in Las Vegas for the annual Republican Jewish Coalition’s spring meeting which began on Thursday.
The candidates wrapped up 3 days of lobbying for Israel to attract potentially billions of dollars in donations in the biggest gambling hub in the US.
They were there to win big donations from casino tycoons, most notably Zionist Sheldon Adelson who is the largest campaign donor in the US.
As far as the GOP contenders in Las Vegas are concerned, the fight to win Adelson’s support and others in Las Vegas is all about showing support and solidarity for Tel Aviv.
Former Texas Governor Rick Perry said, “Ignoring the lessons of history, our president aims to sign an agreement with… the Islamic Republic of Iran.”
“Sadly, the American friendship and alliance with Israel has never been more imperiled than it is right now today under this administration,” said Ted Cruz, one of the Republican presidential candidates.
About 800 members of the summit enthusiastically cheered the consecutive slaps on Obama and on a potential nuclear agreement with Iran and promises of loyalty to Tel Aviv.
In fact, Adelson was not there on Saturday, according to local media, because that’s when the session was open to the media.
It is reported that Adelson has a favorite candidate so far, and that’s Senator Marco Rubio who the tycoon “speaks to once every 2 weeks.”
Adelson spent almost $150 million in the last presidential election in 2012 and he is set to throw in millions of more dollars behind his favorite contender in 2016.
Adelson, a Jewish American and the country’s eighth-wealthiest person, has said that he will not invest in the 2016 elections based on personal loyalty but on a more strategic aim.
He is a prominent supporter of Israel’s Likud Party, which is currently headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He is also known for his anti-Iran rants.
During a speech at Yeshiva University in New York City in October 2014, Adelson said that the US should drop a nuclear bomb on Iran before beginning negotiations with Tehran over its nuclear program.
Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service has been spying for US intelligence agencies for years. Merkel’s Office should have been informed in 2008 about this practice, but the federal government has not undertaken any corresponding measures, a German magazine wrote.
It became known on Thursday the German Federal Intelligence Service (BND) overheard communications of European companies and politicians for the NSA, according to Deutsche Wirtschafts Nachrichten.
However, Merkel’s Office seems to have done nothing to stop these activities, though it was informed about US espionage attempts in 2008.
According to the available information, the NSA was trying to get information about the multinational arms companies EADS and Eurocopter. This was contrary to German interests, and the BND had rejected the requests at that time.
However, now it has become clear that the BND assisted the US National Security Agency (NSA) in spying on European targets over the last few years.
The revelation was perceived by many German politicians as “scandalous”. They demanded an end to such ‘collaboration’ with the US and argued that the chancellor’s office should probably have been aware of the spy agencies’ cooperation.
A man taking a stroll through his neighborhood was tackled and arrested by a Missouri police officer when he refused to identify himself, even though the cop did not have a reasonable suspicion that he was involved in a crime.
The incident took place in September in Breckenridge Hills, a municipality of St. Louis County with less than 5,000 residents, not too far from Ferguson.
But the video was not posted until Friday under the Youtube username, Chris Hoglan, with the following description:
I left for a walk at 12:17am on Sept. 4, 2014 and didn’t come home. I headed out on my own as I often do. My path crossed Officer Mathew Tyler Badge #272 of the Breckenridge Hills, Mo Police Department 20 minutes later. I was never told that I was suspected of any crime or given any reason as to why I was being detained. I asked many times if I was free to go and the end result was Officer Tyler #272 and Officer Allemann Badge #247 tackling me to the ground. I was then taken to jail and questioned. I never answered any questions and never gave them my ID through the entire 10 1/2hours I was held. I was searched and brought to the police station and questioned without being read my Miranda rights. I told them I was invoking my 5th amendment right too not answer any questions with legal representation and was still questioned. They ultimately charged me with “Police Interference”. It costs me a $500 bond to get out the next morning at 11am. I contacted my lawyer immediately and showed them the video. We requested a jury trial from Breckenridge Hills, Mo for the Police Interference charge and they dropped my charges. My attorneys and I met with the Chief of Breckenridge Hills, Mo on Feb. 5, 2015 in person and filed an Internal Affairs Complaint. We have been waiting for Breckenridge Hills to complete their internal investigation.
I have a full written statement that I typed out the next day with every detail I could remember. If anyone is interested in more details, private message me your email and I will send it your way.
Hoglan responded to a comment from PINAC, promising to send more details about the incident, which will be published when we get them. Hoglan also posted the video on Reddit, where it is being discussed.
Three months before this incident, the Breckenridge Hills City Council considered shutting down its local police department, allowing the neighboring St. Ann Police Department to take over because it would have cost the city $850,000 instead of $1.3 million.
But the city council voted against it because it “felt that an outside city would never be as concerned about Breckenridge Hills as are its own officers,” as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch explained.
But we can see now that was probably the wrong decision.
As the humanitarian crisis in Yemen worsens, the Obama administration seems less concerned about the plight of the desperate Yemeni people than the feelings of the Saudi royals who have spent the last month indiscriminately bombing a nearly defenseless Yemen, using high-tech U.S. jets and bombs to reportedly kill hundreds of civilians and damage its ancient cities.
On Friday, the Obama administration took credit for blocking nine Iranian ships from reaching Yemen with relief supplies, claiming that the ships may have carried weapons that the Yemenis could use in their civil war or to defend against Saudi attacks. President Barack Obama had dispatched a U.S. aircraft carrier fleet to the Yemeni coast to enforce an embargo that has helped the Saudis seal off the country from outside help.
A person closely involved with the Yemen crisis told me that the Iranian ships carried food and medicine, not weapons, but turned back to avoid the risk and humiliation of being boarded by the U.S. Navy. Meanwhile, Yemen, already one of the poorest countries in the Arab world, is facing shortages of basic supplies since the Saudis have cut off normal trade routes into Yemen.
Yet, despite the suffering of Yemen, the U.S. government appears more worried about the sensitivities of Saudi Arabia, one of the richest countries in the region. A Defense Department official, speaking anonymously, told the New York Times that it was “important that the Saudis know that we have an arm around their shoulders.”
Defense Department officials also acknowledged that they didn’t know what type of cargo was being transported aboard the Iranian ships, the Times reported. Though the Obama administration had touted the possibility that the Iranian ships carried weapons, the decision by Iran to avoid a confrontation may have reflected Tehran’s desire not to worsen relations with the United States and thus disrupt fragile negotiations over international guarantees to ensure that its nuclear program remains peaceful.
But the losers in this military/diplomatic maneuvering appear to be the Yemenis who, in effect, face a Saudi strategy of starving the country into submission with the help of the United States. While U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power built her public image as a “humanitarian interventionist” asserting a “responsibility to protect” vulnerable populations, she has said little about the Saudi role in Yemen’s humanitarian crisis.
In a statement on April 14, at the height of the Saudi bombing campaign, Power made no mention of the Saudi attacks or the hundreds of civilian dead from Saudi bombs supplied by the United States. She instead focused her denunciations on the Houthi rebels and former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh who have joined forces in a civil war that ousted sitting President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, who then fled to Saudi Arabia.
Power primarily blamed the Houthis, who “have intensified their military campaign, bombed Aden, and extended their offensive to Yemen’s south. These actions have caused widespread violence and instability that threaten the security and welfare of the Yemeni people, as well as the region’s security.”
Though the Saudi air force has bombed a number of cities including the ancient port city of Aden, Power ignored those attacks in her statement. But Power was not alone in her solicitousness toward the Saudis. On Friday, Secretary of State John Kerry even endorsed the Saudi bombing of Houthi targets in Yemen.
Who Are the Houthis?
The Houthis adhere to the Zaydi sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam but one that is considered relatively close to Sunni Islam and that peacefully co-existed with Sunni Islam for centuries. But the Houthis have been resisting what they regard as government persecution in recent decades.
As revealed in leaked U.S. government cables and documented by Human Rights Watch, Yemen’s government used U.S. military aid to support an all-out assault against the Houthis in 2009. HRW said Yemeni government forces indiscriminately shelled and bombed civilian areas, causing significant civilian casualties and violating the laws of war. This repression of the Houthis led to an escalation last fall which ended with the Houthi rebels, who allied themselves with army forces loyal to ex-President Saleh, capturing Sanaa and other major cities.
After these victories, in private contacts with American officials, the Houthis indicated their readiness to take the fight to Al-Qaeda’s Yemeni affiliate. However, since the Saudi airstrikes began a month ago, “Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula” has taken advantage of the limitations on Houthi rebel movements by grabbing more territory in the east and overrunning a prison that held a number of Al-Qaeda militants.
The Saudi royals have a complicated relationship with Al-Qaeda including some princes who are viewed as important financiers of the terror group. The Saudis also promote the same extremist interpretation of Sunni Islam, known as Wahhabism. Now, instead of concentrating on the terror threat from Al-Qaeda, the Saudis have sought to portray the Yemeni civil war as a proxy assault in Saudi Arabia’s backyard by Shiite-ruled Iran.
In that propaganda effort, the Saudis have been helped by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who has relied on the powerful Israel Lobby and his own rhetoric to divert the U.S. Congress from a focus on Al-Qaeda and its hyper-brutal spinoff, the Islamic State, to Iran, which both Saudi Arabia and Israel have designated their primary regional enemy.
In his March 3 speech to a joint session of Congress, Netanyahu cited Yemen as one of the Mideast countries that Iran has been “gobbling up.” Many regional experts, however, considered Netanyahu’s assertion ludicrous given the Houthis’ reputation for stubborn independence.
For instance, former CIA official Graham E. Fuller called the notion “that the Houthis represent the cutting edge of Iranian imperialism in Arabia – as trumpeted by the Saudis” a “myth.” He added:
“The Zaydi Shia, including the Houthis, over history have never had a lot to do with Iran. But as internal struggles within Yemen have gone on, some of the Houthis have more recently been happy to take Iranian coin and perhaps some weapons — just as so many others, both Sunni and Shia, are on the Saudi payroll. The Houthis furthermore hate al-Qaeda and hate the Islamic State.”
But the Obama administration remains sensitive to Israeli-Saudi criticism of its efforts to negotiate a peaceful settlement of the Iranian nuclear dispute. So, to demonstrate that the Americans are comforting the Saudi royals with “an arm around their shoulders,” the U.S. government is embracing the Saudi bombardment of a largely defenseless country and is turning back ships carrying relief supplies.
Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his latest book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).