The Ever-Curiouser MH-17 Case

Exclusive: The shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine has served as a potent propaganda club against Russia but the U.S. government is hiding key evidence that could solve the mystery, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

The curious mystery surrounding the shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, gets more curious and more curious as the U.S. government and Dutch investigators balk at giving straightforward answers to the simplest of questions even when asked by the families of the victims.

Adding to the mystery Dutch investigators have indicated that the Dutch Safety Board did not request radar information from the United States, even though Secretary of State John Kerry indicated just three days after the crash that the U.S. government possessed data that pinpointed the location of the suspected missile launch that allegedly downed the airliner, killing all 298 people onboard.

Although Kerry claimed that the U.S. government knew the location almost immediately, Dutch investigators now say they hope to identify the spot sometime “in the second half of the year,” meaning that something as basic as the missile-launch site might remain unknown to the public more than two years after the tragedy.

The families of the Dutch victims, including the father of a Dutch-American citizen, have been pressing for an explanation about the slow pace of the investigation and the apparent failure to obtain relevant data from the U.S. and other governments.

I spent time with the family members in early February at the Dutch parliament in The Hague as opposition parliamentarians, led by Christian Democrat Pieter Omtzigt, unsuccessfully sought answers from the government about the absence of radar data and other basic facts.

When answers have been provided to the families and the public, they are often hard to understand, as if to obfuscate what information the investigation possesses or doesn’t possess. For instance, when I asked the U.S. State Department whether the U.S. government had supplied the Dutch with radar data and satellite images, I received the following response, attributable to “a State Department spokesperson”: “While I won’t go into the details of our law enforcement cooperation in the investigation, I would note that Dutch officials said March 8 that all information asked of the United States has been shared.”

I wrote back thanking the spokesperson for the response, but adding: “I must say it seems unnecessarily fuzzy. Why can’t you just say that the U.S. government has provided the radar data cited by Secretary Kerry immediately after the tragedy? Or the U.S. government has provided satellite imagery before and after the shootdown? Why the indirect and imprecise phrasing? …

“I’ve spent time with the Dutch families of the victims, including the father of a U.S.-Dutch citizen, and I can tell you that they are quite disturbed by what they regard as double-talk and stalling. I would like to tell them that my government has provided all relevant data in a cooperative and timely fashion. But all I get is this indirect and imprecise word-smithing.”

The State Department spokesperson wrote back, “I understand your questions, and also the importance of the view of these families so devastated by this tragedy. However, I am going to have to leave our comments as below.”

Propaganda Value

This lack of transparency, of course, has a propaganda value since it leaves in place the widespread public impression that ethnic Russian rebels and Russian President Vladimir Putin were responsible for the 298 deaths, a rush to judgment that Secretary Kerry and other senior U.S. officials (and the Western news media) encouraged in July 2014.

Once that impression took hold there has been little interest in Official Washington to clarify the mystery especially as evidence has emerged implicating elements of the Ukrainian military. For instance, Dutch intelligence has reported (and U.S. intelligence has implicitly confirmed) that the only operational Buk anti-aircraft missile systems in eastern Ukraine on July 17, 2014, were under the control of the Ukrainian military.

In a Dutch report released last October, the Netherlands’ Military Intelligence and Security Service (MIVD) reported that the only anti-aircraft weapons in eastern Ukraine capable of bringing down MH-17 at 33,000 feet belonged to the Ukrainian government.

MIVD made that assessment in the context of explaining why commercial aircraft continued to fly over the eastern Ukrainian battle zone in summer 2014. MIVD said that based on “state secret” information, it was known that Ukraine possessed some older but “powerful anti-aircraft systems” and “a number of these systems were located in the eastern part of the country.”

The intelligence agency added that the rebels lacked that capability: “Prior to the crash, the MIVD knew that, in addition to light aircraft artillery, the Separatists also possessed short-range portable air defence systems (man-portable air-defence systems; MANPADS) and that they possibly possessed short-range vehicle-borne air-defence systems. Both types of systems are considered surface-to-air missiles (SAMs). Due to their limited range they do not constitute a danger to civil aviation at cruising altitude.”

One could infer a similar finding by reading a U.S. “Government Assessment” released by the Director of National Intelligence on July 22, 2014, five days after the crash, seeking to cast suspicion on the ethnic Russian rebels and Putin by noting military equipment that Moscow had provided the rebels. But most tellingly the list did not include Buk anti-aircraft missiles. In other words, in the context of trying to blame the rebels and Putin, U.S. intelligence could not put an operational Buk system in the rebels’ hands.

So, perhaps the most logical suspicion would be that the Ukrainian military, then engaged in an offensive in the east and fearing a possible Russian invasion, moved its Buk missile systems up to the front and an undisciplined crew fired a missile at a suspected Russian aircraft, bringing down MH-17 by accident.

That was essentially what I was told by a source who had been briefed by U.S. intelligence analysts in July and August 2014. [See, for instance, Consortiumnews.com’s “Flight 17 Shoot-Down Scenario Shifts” and “The Danger of an MH-17 Cold Case.”]

But Ukraine is a principal participant in the Dutch-led Joint Investigation Team (JIT), which has been probing the MH-17 case, and thus the investigation suffers from a possible conflict of interest since Ukraine would prefer that the world’s public perception of the MH-17 case continue to blame Putin. Under the JIT’s terms, any of the five key participants (The Netherlands, Ukraine, Australia, Belgium and Malaysia) can block release of information.

The interest in keeping Putin on the propaganda defensive is shared by the Obama administration which used the furor over the MH-17 deaths to spur the European Union into imposing economic sanctions on Russia.

In contrast, clearing the Russians and blaming the Ukrainians would destroy a carefully constructed propaganda narrative which has stuck black hats on Putin and the ethnic Russian rebels and white hats on the U.S.-backed government of Ukraine, which seized power after a putsch that overthrew elected pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych on Feb. 22, 2014.

Accusations against Russia have also been fanned by propaganda outlets, such as the British-based Bellingcat site, which has collaborated with Western mainstream media to continue pointing the finger of blame at Moscow and Putin – as the Dutch investigators drag their heels and refuse to divulge any information that would clarify the case.

Letter to the Families

Perhaps the most detailed – although still hazy – status report on the investigation came in a recent letter from JIT chief prosecutor Fred Westerbeke to the Dutch family members. The letter acknowledged that the investigators lacked “primary raw radar images” which could have revealed a missile or a military aircraft in the vicinity of MH-17.

Ukrainian authorities said all their primary radar facilities were shut down for maintenance and only secondary radar, which would show commercial aircraft, was available. Russian officials have said their radar data suggest that a Ukrainian warplane might have fired on MH-17 with an air-to-air missile, a possibility that is difficult to rule out without examining primary radar which has so far not been available. Primary radar data also might have picked up a ground-fired missile, Westerbeke wrote.

“Raw primary radar data could provide information on the rocket trajectory,” Westerbeke’s letter said. “The JIT does not have that information yet. JIT has questioned a member of the Ukrainian air traffic control and a Ukrainian radar specialist. They explained why no primary radar images were saved in Ukraine.” Westerbeke said investigators are also asking Russia about its data.

Westerbeke added that the JIT had “no video or film of the launch or the trajectory of the rocket.” Nor, he said, do the investigators have satellite photos of the rocket launch.

“The clouds on the part of the day of the downing of MH17 prevented usable pictures of the launch site from being available,” he wrote. “There are pictures from just before and just after July 17th and they are an asset in the investigation.” According to intelligence sources, the satellite photos show several Ukrainian military Buk missile systems in the area.

Why the investigation’s data is so uncertain has become a secondary mystery in the MH-17 whodunit. During an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on July 20, 2014, three days after the crash, Secretary Kerry declared, “we picked up the imagery of this launch. We know the trajectory. We know where it came from. We know the timing. And it was exactly at the time that this aircraft disappeared from the radar.”

But this U.S. data has never been made public. In the letter, Westerbeke wrote, “The American authorities have data, that come from their own secret services, which could provide information on the trajectory of the rocket. This information was shared in secret with the [Dutch] MIVD.” Westerbeke added that the information may be made available as proof in a criminal case as an “amtsbericht” or “official statement.”

Yet, despite the U.S. data, Westerbeke said the location of the launch site remains uncertain. Last October, the Dutch Safety Board placed the likely firing location within a 320-square-kilometer area that covered territory both under government and rebel control. (The safety board did not seek to identify which side fired the fateful missile.)

By contrast, Almaz-Antey, the Russian arms manufacturer of the Buk systems, conducted its own experiments to determine the likely firing location and placed it in a much smaller area near the village of Zaroshchenskoye, about 20 kilometers west of the Dutch Safety Board’s zone and in an area under Ukrainian government control.

Westerbeke wrote, “Raw primary radar data and the American secret information are only two sources of information for the determination of the launch site. There is more. JIT collects evidence on the basis of telephone taps, locations of telephones, pictures, witness statements and technical calculations of the trajectory of the rocket. The calculations are made by the national air and space laboratory on the basis of the location of MH17, the damage pattern on the wreckage and the special characteristics of the rockets. JIT does extra research on top of the [Dutch Safety Board] research. On the basis of these sources, JIT gets ever more clarity on the exact launch site. In the second half of the year we expect exact results.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. government continues to stonewall a request from Thomas J. Schansman, the father of Quinn Schansman, the only American citizen to die aboard MH-17, to Secretary Kerry to release the U.S. data that Kerry has publicly cited.

Quinn Schansman, who had dual U.S.-Dutch citizenship, boarded MH-17 along with 297 other people for a flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur on July 17, 2014. The 19-year-old was planning to join his family for a vacation in Indonesia.

In a letter to Kerry dated Jan. 5, 2016, Thomas J. Schansman noted Kerry’s remarks at a press conference on Aug. 12, 2014, when the Secretary of State said about the Buk anti-aircraft missile suspected of downing the plane: “We saw the take-off. We saw the trajectory. We saw the hit. We saw this aeroplane disappear from the radar screens. So there is really no mystery about where it came from and where these weapons have come from.”

Although U.S. consular officials in the Netherlands indicated that Kerry would respond personally to the request, Schansman told me this week that he had not yet received a reply from Kerry.

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




Trump and a Clash of Values

Donald Trump’s harsh rhetoric, including threats against Muslims for their religious affiliation, has prompted clashes at his rallies and raised freedom of speech issues, writes Nat Parry.

By Nat Parry

Election 2016 has taken a turn into territory unfamiliar and perhaps mildly terrifying to many Americans, potentially heading down a dark road characterized by political violence and what social scientists call “authoritarian aggression,” defined by retired Professor of Psychology Robert Altemeyer as “a general aggressiveness directed against deviants, outgroups, and other people that are perceived to be targets according to established authorities.”

The divisive rhetoric of Republican frontrunner Donald Trump, who has called for a complete ban on Muslims entering the United States – not to mention his penchant for calling Mexican immigrants “rapists” and “criminals” and referring to African-Americans as “the blacks” – is having predictable effects, with protesters growing increasingly vocal in countering this bigotry, culminating last week in the cancellation of a planned rally in Chicago.

Hundreds of anti-Trump protesters gained access to an event scheduled for Friday night at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) and rather than face this hostile crowd, Trump decided to “postpone” the event.

“Mr. Trump just arrived in Chicago, and after meeting with law enforcement, has determined that for the safety of all of the tens of thousands of people that have gathered in and around the arena, tonight’s rally will be postponed to another date,” a campaign spokesperson announced half an hour after the rally was slated to begin.

Following this announcement, chaos ensued in the arena, with protesters breaking into cheers and chanting slogans such as “we stopped Trump.” A number of fistfights between protesters and Trump supporters also reportedly broke out.

The protest had been announced in advance on a Facebook page called “Stop Trump – Chicago,” listing several reasons for organizing against the billionaire’s presence at UIC.

“Trump has called for the complete and total shutdown of all Muslims entering the United States,” the organizers pointed out. Further, he has “generalized the entire Mexican immigrant community as criminals and rapists,” and “calls for the mass deportation of 11 million adults and children alike regardless of how long they have lived in the United States.”

The organizers also noted Trump’s public advocacy of war crimes including torture, murdering the families of suspected terrorists, and indiscriminate bombing of countries in the Middle East. Also, according to organizers, Trump’s “nativist, nationalist, and fascist stances parallel the most evil leaders this world has seen such as Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini.”

With these grievances in mind, the protesters wanted “to show Donald Trump that his bigotry and racism is not welcome here,” a message that seemed to be conveyed. Considering the protest’s success in disrupting the event, the tactic was certainly effective in this regard, but the effect that the protest had in allegedly curtailing freedom of speech and assembly is seemingly weighing heavily on some people’s minds.

Following the cancellation of the Chicago event, commentators have claimed that the protesters violated the First Amendment rights of Trump and his supporters.

“Even the most ardent anti-Trump among us should lament that a political speech was canceled due to fears of violence,” bemoaned First Amendment attorney Marc Randazza. “Standing up for the rights of those who would not do it for us is perhaps the noblest expression of a commitment to liberty.”

Similarly, Megyn Kelly – who has publicly sparred with Trump over misogynist comments he has made – regretted that “His First Amendment free speech rights have been shut down.” Trump also weighed in, of course, claiming that “Our First Amendment rights have been violated.”

But the irony of Trump and his sympathizers complaining about First Amendment violations should not be lost on anyone. Trump himself has trampled First Amendment principles, including those protecting freedom of religion and the press, and can hardly be considered a victim here.

Among the real estate mogul’s more controversial comments was one that he made back in September which seemed to indicate that he would be open to looking at ways to get rid of all the 3.3 million Muslims currently living in the United States.

At a town hall event in New Hampshire, a Trump supporter asked the candidate a meandering question about “a problem in this country … called Muslims.” After mentioning something about terrorist training camps that Muslims are allegedly operating in the United States, the man asked, “When can we get rid of them?”

“We’re going to be looking at a lot of different things,” Trump said. “A lot of people are saying that, and a lot of people are saying that bad things are happening out there. We’re going to be looking at that and plenty of other things.”

When later asked to explain these remarks, Trump failed to retract them or even to clarify them in any meaningful way, issuing a statement that implied that the real issue is not discrimination against Muslims but an alleged war that is being waged against Christianity.

“The bigger issue is that Obama is waging a war against Christians,” the statement said without any indication of what this war against Christians might entail. (Perhaps it was a reference to the bogus “War on Christmas” controversy? Trump has said, “If I’m president, you’re going to see ‘Merry Christmas’ in department stores, believe me.”) “Christians need support in this country,” the statement continued. “Their religious liberty is at stake.”

So, after just insinuating that he would be looking at ways to purge the United States of millions of practicing Muslims, Trump then flipped the issue on its head and claimed that it is somehow the Christians who are under threat and “need support.”

Of course, the very notion that there are “a lot of different things” that should be “looked at” to “get rid of” Muslims in the U.S. flies in the face of the very first clause of the First Amendment, which clearly states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The open anti-Muslim bigotry espoused by Trump and his supporters is a direct challenge to this core constitutional principle.

Other clauses of the First Amendment, including the protection of a free press, have also been openly challenged by Trump, who has pledged to “open up our libel laws, so when [newspapers] write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money.”

“When The New York Times writes a hit piece which is a total disgrace or when The Washington Post, which is there for other reasons, writes a hit piece, we can sue them and win money instead of having no chance of winning because they’re totally protected,” he said last month. “We’re going to open up libel laws,” he continued, “and we’re going to have people sue you like you’ve never got sued before.”

There is also some irony in this threat, since Trump has enjoyed some of the most extensive media coverage of a presidential candidate in recent memory. There isn’t a day that goes by that Trump doesn’t seem to be dominating the headlines and claiming an inordinate amount of airtime on the broadcast news. And this observation is not just a matter of perception – the data backs it up.

Late last year a broadcast analysis by the Tyndall Report found that Trump accounted for 43 percent of all GOP coverage on network news in 2015. Trump dominated the campaign coverage on ABC, NBC and CBS evening news broadcasts, accounting for nearly double the number of minutes as Hillary Clinton, and more than three times as much as Jeb Bush.

Between January and November 2015, according to Tyndall’s data, Trump’s campaign was covered for 234 minutes on the three newscasts, compared to just ten minutes for Bernie Sanders. And this data doesn’t even count all of Trump’s appearances on weekday morning programs and Sunday morning talk shows, which would increase his airtime exponentially.

In short, there is probably no human being alive who currently has greater access to the media and a bigger megaphone than “The Donald” – with the possible exception of President Obama or Pope Francis. And while not all of this coverage might be considered positive, there is good reason to believe that even the “negative” coverage is generally orchestrated by Trump and his surrogates.

Back in 1987, Trump wrote in his book “The Art of the Deal” that he had essentially figured out how to play the media to his advantage by being “a little outrageous.”

“One thing I’ve learned about the press is that they’re always hungry for a good story, and the more sensational the better,” he wrote. “If you are a little different, or a little outrageous, or if you do things that are bold or controversial, the press is going to write about you.”

This seems to be the same playbook that he is using today, issuing outrageous statements and whipping his crowds up into a hateful frenzy, increasingly leading to physical violence being perpetrated against demonstrators, meanwhile dominating the news cycle day after day. And then of course when people challenge him on it and manage to shut down one of his rallies, he is the first one to claim victimhood and cry out about freedom of speech.

While freedom of speech is of course vital to democracy and should generally be considered sacrosanct in a free and pluralistic society, it also would be fair to say at this point that Trump has had more than his fair share of “free speech” in recent months, and if people continue to challenge his divisive rhetoric through disruptive protests at his rallies, it should hardly be considered a tragedy – especially considering that much of his own speech openly disparages First Amendment principles of freedom of religion and of the press.

Nat Parry is the co-author of Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush.




Neocons Red-Faced Over ‘Red Line’

Exclusive: Official Washington’s neocons love to condemn President Obama for not enforcing his “red line” after a sarin attack in Syria in 2013, even though one neocon now admits that U.S. intelligence lacked the proof, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic has penned an opus on President Barack Obama’s foreign policy which starts with a long segment dissecting Obama’s supposed failure to enforce his “red line” against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad using sarin gas to kill hundreds of civilians outside Damascus on Aug. 21, 2013. For Official Washington’s foreign-policy elite, Obama’s flinching from a bombing campaign against Assad was a historical inflection point for which Obama deserves hearty condemnation.

But if you read far enough into this story of Obama’s “feckless” behavior, you encounter a curious admission from Goldberg: that U.S. intelligence was unsure whether Assad was responsible for the attack.

As Goldberg writes, “Obama was … unsettled by a surprise visit early in the week from James Clapper, his director of national intelligence, who interrupted the President’s Daily Brief, the threat report Obama receives each morning from Clapper’s analysts, to make clear that the intelligence on Syria’s use of sarin gas, while robust, was not a ‘slam dunk.’

“He chose the term carefully. Clapper, the chief of an intelligence community traumatized by its failures in the run-up to the Iraq War, was not going to overpromise, in the manner of the onetime CIA director George Tenet, who famously guaranteed George W. Bush a ‘slam dunk’ in Iraq.”

What I was told by intelligence sources at the time was that the evidence against Assad was anything but a slam dunk. It was not even “robust,” as Goldberg insists. There were serious doubts among intelligence professionals about many of the “certainties” that Official Washington’s neocon-dominated foreign policy establishment had quickly accepted as true about the sarin attack, blaming Assad.

In the face of that “group think,” Clapper surely did not want to go too much against the grain – he’s far too timid a bureaucrat for that – but his analysts were balking at once again being pushed into justifying another hasty war.

This resistance from the U.S. intelligence community should have been easy to spot, except that the neocons were whipping Official Washington into another war stampede. They saw the sarin attack as the catalyst for another “regime change,” so the last thing they wanted was a sober analysis of the evidence. They wanted a “group think” to take hold and to bait a reluctant Obama into action by portraying him as a wimp if he didn’t start bombing right away.

Rush to War

The neocon strategy almost worked. Across Official Washington and the mainstream U.S. news media, there was a classic rush to judgment. However, when Secretary of State John Kerry made a bellicose case for war on Aug. 30, 2013, and released a supporting “government assessment,” what was most remarkable to me was that there was not a shred of verifiable evidence implicating Assad.

Indeed, it made little sense that Assad would have launched a sarin attack when United Nations inspectors had just arrived in Damascus to examine suspected chemical weapons cases that Assad was blaming on jihadist rebels.

The fact that Kerry had to rely on a new confection, called a “government assessment” prepared by political operatives rather than the traditional “intelligence assessment” expressing the consensus judgment of the 16 intelligence agencies, was a further tip-off that the U.S. intelligence community was not onboard. After Kerry’s speech, I reported on the startling lack of evidence in the “dodgy dossier.”

So, on Aug. 31, 2013, when Obama began to back away from the rush to war, the President deserved praise for showing reasonable caution. After all, what sense would it make to punish the Syrian government for launching a sarin attack if, in reality, the atrocity was carried out by someone else, in this case, one of the radical jihadist groups trying to trick the U.S. government into intervening in the war on their side?

It’s now clear that if Obama had launched a major bombing campaign against the Syrian military, he might have inadvertently cleared a path for Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front or the Islamic State to seize control of Damascus, touching off an even more devastating human catastrophe. But “regime change” in Syria was a neocon obsession, even if it carried the risk of terrorist groups gaining control of a major Middle Eastern nation.

In the weeks and months after the sarin attack, the case against Assad continued to crumble. The U.N. inspectors recovered only one rocket carrying sarin and it was incapable of traveling the distance that would have indicated that it was fired by the Syrian military. Then, investigative reporter Seymour Hersh reported in 2014 that intelligence officials had traced the attack to radical jihadists in apparent collaboration with Turkish intelligence. More recently, I’ve been told that U.S. intelligence now agrees with Hersh’s reporting.

In other words, Clapper’s recognition that there was no “slam dunk” case implicating Assad has been vindicated by subsequent evidence. But Official Washington’s foreign-policy elite simply can’t accept these findings, instead maintaining the myth that Assad flouted Obama’s “red line” and that Obama lost his nerve and thus undermined U.S. “credibility.” This myth is so beloved among neocons and their liberal-interventionist allies that it can’t be surrendered regardless of its lack of evidentiary support.

After all, admitting that another neocon “group think” was dangerously misguided – after the Iraq War WMD fiasco – might finally topple some of these self-important pundits from their endowed think-tank chairs. Americans might finally recognize that these pompous know-it-alls are really just vacuous know-nothings.

So, instead of an article praising Obama for his realism and restraint – for demanding hard evidence before launching another U.S. war in the Middle East – we get Jeffrey Goldberg’s opus analyzing why Obama chickened out on the “red line” and how that failure has impaired U.S. foreign policy.

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).




Two Corrupt Establishments

Exclusive: The insurgent campaigns of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have staggered Official Washington’s twin corrupt establishments on the Republican and Democratic sides, but what happens next, asks Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

The United States is led by two corrupt establishments, one Democratic and one Republican, both deeply dependent on special-interest money, both sharing a similar perspective on world affairs, and both disdainful toward the American people who are treated as objects to be manipulated, not citizens to be respected.

There are, of course, differences. The Democrats are more liberal on social policy and favor a somewhat larger role of government in addressing the nation’s domestic problems. The Republicans embrace Ronald Reagan’s motto, “government is the problem,” except when they want the government to intervene on “moral” issues such as gay marriage and abortion.

But these two corrupt establishments are intertwined when it comes to important issues of trade, economics and foreign policy. Both are true believers in neo-liberal “free trade”; both coddle Wall Street (albeit seeking slightly different levels of regulation); and both favor interventionist foreign policies (only varying modestly in how the wars are sold to the public).

Because the two establishments have a chokehold on the mainstream media, they escape any meaningful accountability when they are wrong. Thus, their corruption is not just defined by the billions of special-interest dollars that they take in but in their deviations from the real world. The two establishments have created a fantasyland that all the Important People treat as real.

Which is why it has been somewhat amusing to watch establishment pundits pontificate about what must be done in their make-believe world – stopping “Russian aggression,” establishing “safe zones” in Syria, and fawning over noble “allies” like Saudi Arabia and Turkey – while growing legions of Americans have begun to see through these transparent fictions.

Though the candidacies of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have many flaws, there is still something encouraging about Americans listening to some of straight talk from both Trump and Sanders – and to watch the flailing reactions of their establishment rivals.

While it’s true Trump has made comments that are offensive and stupid, he also has dished out some truths that the GOP establishment simply won’t abide, such as noting President George W. Bush’s failure to protect the country from the 9/11 attacks and Bush’s deceptive case for invading Iraq. Trump’s rivals were flummoxed by his audacity, sputtering about his apostasy, but rank-and-file Republicans were up to handling the truth.

Trump violated another Republican taboo when he advocated that the U.S. government take an evenhanded position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and even told pro-Israeli donors that they could not buy his support with donations. By contrast, other Republicans, such as Sen. Marco Rubio, were groveling for the handouts and advocating a U.S. foreign policy that could have been written by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Trump’s Israel heresy brought the Republican foreign-policy elite, the likes of William Kristol and other neoconservatives, to full battle stations. Kristol’s fellow co-founder of the neocon Project for the New American Century, Robert Kagan, was so apoplectic over Trump’s progress toward the GOP nomination that he announced that he would vote for Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Clinton’s Struggles

Clinton, however, has had her own struggles toward the nomination. Though her imposing war chest and machine-driven sense of inevitability scared off several potential big-name rivals, she has had her hands full with Sen. Bernie Sanders, a 74-year-old “democratic socialist” from Vermont. Sanders pulled off a stunning upset on Tuesday by narrowly winning Michigan.

While Sanders has largely finessed foreign policy issues – beyond noting that he opposed the Iraq War and Clinton voted for it – Sanders apparently found a winning issue in Michigan when he emphasized his rejection of trade deals while Clinton has mostly supported them. The same issue has worked well for Trump as he lambastes U.S. establishment leaders for negotiating bad deals.

What is notable about the “free trade” issue is that it has long been a consensus position of both the Republican and Democratic establishments. For years, anyone who questioned these deals was mocked as a know-nothing or a protectionist. All the smart money was on “free trade,” a signature issue of both the Bushes and the Clintons, praised by editorialists from The Wall Street Journal through The New York Times.

The fact that “free trade” – over the past two decades – has become a major factor in hollowing out of the middle class, especially across the industrial heartland of Middle America, was of little concern to the financial and other elites concentrated on the coasts. At election time, those “loser” Americans could be kept in line with appeals to social issues and patriotism, even as many faced borderline poverty, growing heroin addiction rates and shorter life spans.

Despite that suffering, the twin Republican/Democratic establishments romped merrily along. The GOP elite called for evermore tax cuts to benefit the rich; demanded “reform” of Social Security and Medicare, meaning reductions in benefits; and proposed more military spending on more interventions overseas. The Democrats were only slightly less unrealistic, negotiating a new trade deal with Asia and seeking a new Cold War with Russia.

Early in Campaign 2016, the expectations were that Republican voters would again get behind an establishment candidate like former Florida Jeb Bush or Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, while the Democrats would get in line behind Hillary Clinton’s coronation march.

TV pundits declared that there was no way that Donald Trump could win the GOP race, that his high early poll numbers would fade like a summer romance. Bernie Sanders was laughed at as a fringe “issue” candidate. But then something unexpected happened.

On the Republican side, blue-collar whites finally recognized how the GOP establishment had played them for suckers; they weren’t going to take it anymore. On the Democratic side, young voters, in particular, recognized how they had been dealt an extremely bad hand, stuck with massive student debt and unappealing job prospects.

So, on the GOP side, disaffected blue-collar whites rallied to Trump’s self-financed campaign and to his promises to renegotiate the trade deals and shut down illegal immigration; on the Democratic side, young voters joined Sanders’s call for a “political revolution.”

The two corrupt establishments were staggered. Yet, whether the populist anti-establishment insurrections can continue moving forward remains in doubt.

On the Democratic side, Clinton’s candidacy appears to have been saved because African-American voters know her better than Sanders and associate her with President Barack Obama. They’ve given her key support, especially in Southern states, but the Michigan result suggests that Clinton may have to delay her long-expected “pivot to the center” a bit longer.

On the Republican side, Trump’s brash style has driven many establishment favorites out of the race and has put Rubio on the ropes. If Rubio is knocked out – and if Ohio Gov. John Kasich remains an also-ran – then the establishment’s only alternative would be Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, a thoroughly disliked figure in the U.S. Senate. It’s become increasingly plausible that Trump could win the Republican nomination.

What a Trump victory would mean for the Republican Party is hard to assess. Is it even possible for the GOP establishment with its laissez-faire orthodoxy of tax cuts for the rich and trickle-down economics for everyone else to reconcile with Trump’s populist agenda of protecting Social Security and demanding revamped trade deals to restore American manufacturing?

Further, what would the neocons do? They now control the Republican Party’s foreign policy apparatus, which is tied to unconditional support for Israel and interventionism against Israel’s perceived enemies, from Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, to Iran, to Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Would they join Kagan in backing Hillary Clinton and trusting that she would be a reliable vessel for neocon desires?

And, if Clinton prevails against Sanders and does become the neocon “vessel,” where might the growing ranks of Democratic and Independent non-interventionists go? Will some side with Trump despite his ugly remarks about Mexicans and Muslims? Or will they reject both major parties, either voting for a third party or staying home?

Whatever happens, Official Washington’s twin corrupt establishments have been dealt an unexpected and potentially lasting punch.

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).




Neocons Sulk over Iran Nuke Deal

Official Washington’s neocons, who wanted so much to “bomb-bomb-bomb” Iran, are now sulking as the nuclear agreement isn’t producing the horrors that they predicted, as ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar notes.

By Paul R. Pillar

One of the arguments recited most frequently by those wanting to keep Iran ostracized in perpetuity — so frequently that it has achieved the status of cliché — has been that the partial sanctions relief provided for in the agreement to limit Iran’s nuclear program would lead to increased “nefarious” and “destabilizing” behavior by Iran in the Middle East because it would have more financial resources for such activity.

(The public discourse about Iran is surely responsible for one of the biggest increases in usage of the adjective nefarious.)

It is easy to see why those determined to defeat the agreement came to rely so heavily on this argument (while ignoring the fact that the sanctions to be relieved were always intended to help induce Iranian concessions on nuclear matters, which they did). Much of the other rhetoric that the anti-agreement forces voiced, about centrifuges and uranium stockpiles and breakout times and the like, concerned subjects on which it was clear, upon even the most casual reflection, that the agreement was superior to the alternative of not having the agreement.

So opponents clung tenaciously to the notion of sanctions relief not only making bad behavior more financially feasible but also automatically leading to such behavior. Still hoping either to sabotage the agreement or at least to limit any rapprochement with Iran, the opponents continue to cling to that argument.

The argument was never valid, for multiple reasons. The supposedly “destabilizing” Iranian regional policies actually have been reactive to what others have been doing much more than destabilizing. The amount of money said to be involved in the sanctions relief gets routinely overstated. Most of the funds that had been frozen are already committed to settling accounts elsewhere rather than being available for any new endeavors in the Middle East.

Political imperatives will require the regime to give overwhelming priority, in using whatever resources are left, to repairing domestic economic damage and shortfalls, not running up new bills overseas. Most important, the argument rests on the fallacy that Iranian regional policy is determined by how many rials the Iranian regime has in its bank account, rather than by the political, diplomatic, and security considerations that normally lead a regime to conclude that a particular activity beyond its borders either is or is not in its interests.

The argument assumes that senior Iranian policymakers routinely call in the finance minister and central bank governor and ask, “How much money do we have this month for nefarious behavior in the Middle East?” and then proceed to max out their account by indulging in such behavior. No other regime operates that way, and there is no reason to believe the Iranian regime does either.

If the argument were at all valid, then we should have expected to see a decrease in costly Iranian regional activity when the sanctions were imposed in the first place, and perhaps a further decrease when oil prices plunged. After all, if the Iranians did not ratchet down their activity when their financial resources went down, there is no reason to expect them to ratchet the activity up when resources increase.

But no one has painted such a picture of decreased Iranian activity because there simply is not evidence for such a correlation between financial resources and regional activism. The pro-ostracism, anti-agreement forces certainly have not painted such a picture, which, however logically necessary it is for their argument about increasing nefarious behavior, would go against the thrust of most of the other negative things those forces routinely voice about Iran. (Logical consistency across their many arguments was never a strong point of the anti-agreement forces.)

Now the nuclear agreement is in force, and we can look for any evidence of changes in Iranian regional activity. What certainly should count as significant evidence is the recent report that Iran is withdrawing from Syria a significant portion of the Revolutionary Guard Corps forces that it had deployed there. That’s right: this is Iranian regional activity — violent activity, involving combat — that is going down, not up.

Surely those observers who can be expected to be watching like a hawk whatever Iran is doing in the region would have noticed. It’s not as if the report was confined to inconspicuous places. The report first appeared on Israeli television and was replayed in other Israeli news outlets.

The Israeli report, according to which Iran is withdrawing all of a 2,500-strong fighting force while leaving 700 military advisers in Syria, is consistent with a brief comment by Secretary of State John Kerry in a Congressional hearing less than two weeks ago that Iran had withdrawn a “significant number” of its Revolutionary Guard Corps troops from Syria. But from the people who have said so much about financial windfalls from sanctions relief and how that would lead to Iran doing more destabilizing things in the region, we get no comment. Radio silence.

It is easy to imagine what we would be hearing right now from our friends at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, the Israel Project, and other prominent anti-agreement, pro-ostracism voices if the report had instead been about an increase in Iranian troops in Syria. It would be shouted from the rooftops that this was strong evidence that the much-warned-about, post-agreement surge in nefarious Iranian behavior was under way.

Those determined to keep shining a negative light on Iran have not had a good fortnight. Besides the reporting about the withdrawal from Syria, there was the strong showing by moderate supporters of President Hassan Rouhani in the Iranian elections. Typical of the way the pro-ostracism people are couching the news right now is an opinion piece by Dennis Ross titled “Why the Nuclear Deal Hasn’t Softened Iran’s Hard-Line Policies.”

Most of the piece rehearses familiar facts about the shortcomings of the Iranian electoral system and the internal influence that hardline elements exert through certain institutions that they control. As far as external Iranian behavior is concerned, there is an all-too-familiar reliance on catchphrases, firmly in the “nefarious and destabilizing” tradition, that are thrown at the reader as if we should take them for granted, with no effort to match them with any evidence of what Iran actually is or is not doing.

Ross’s piece refers, for example, to “continued regional aggression” by Iran. My dictionary defines aggression as “an unprovoked attack or invasion.” You know — such as Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, or the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. Where’s the Iranian aggression?

Then there is reference to Iran “employing terror” and “using the Shiite militias to subvert and coerce its neighbors.” In Syria, what Iranian forces and their Hezbollah allies have been doing is helping to prop up the incumbent regime after it came under an armed revolt, with terrorist groups prominent among the opposition.

In Iraq, Iranian forces and Shiite militias also have been supporting the incumbent regime and opposing ISIS — which puts them on the same side of that conflict as the United States. Ross says we should “make the Iranians pay a high price for bad behaviors” while offering them a way out that rejects their “demand” for “regional dominance,” and he suggests that pressure could work in the same way it did with the nuclear negotiations.

But it strains one’s imagination to think of any way such a vague bill of particulars, so divorced from what is actually transpiring on the ground, ever could be translated into a meaningful demand at a negotiating table, let alone a clause in a negotiated agreement. It’s just a recipe for punishment in perpetuity, no matter what Iran does.

And what does Ross say about the new development concerning the withdrawal of Iranian forces from Syria? Not a word.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)




Sleepwalking Toward Catastrophe

Because the mainstream U.S. media remains neocon-dominated, there has been little rational debate about the risks of stumbling into nuclear war with Russia, as James W Carden writes.

By James W Carden

One question that the no-doubt intrepid debate moderators of the forthcoming Republican and Democratic debates might bestir themselves to ask the remaining candidates is: Given the fact that the U.S. and Russia are now circling one another on the Black Sea, in Ukraine, and in the skies over Syria, it is possible that policymakers are not completely alive to the risks inherent in such maneuverings?

The question is well worth asking since the world balance in 2016 is not only dangerous, it carries risks far in excess to the last time the great powers accidentally stumbled, into catastrophe. After all, unlike in the summer of 1914, today, all the great world powers have nuclear weapons. A brief consideration of The Great War reveals startling parallels with the situation that obtains today.

In the days immediately following the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand no one could have imagined what was ahead – and this points to a lesson that is still very relevant today: that in international affairs the intentions of other nation-states are essentially unknowable. As such, the pre-war status quo collapsed under the weight of that uncertainty.

What followed stands as a vivid example of what the political scientist Robert Jervis has called “the security dilemma.” This posits that when a state undertakes measures to increase its security, those measures will inevitably be seen as offensive rather than defensive by other states, who will then take counter-measures to increase their own security, and so on. In other words, so-called “defensive” weapons are not seen as “defensive” in the eyes of the states against which they are aimed.

As the eminent scholar of Europe, Professor David Calleo, has written, the Germans didn’t see themselves as aggressors. “The Imperial Germans,” he writes, “maintained they were waging war for defensive purposes, they were protecting their national unity from the wrath of the French who were determined to undo it.” The Entente Powers saw things differently.

It is also instructive to note the way democratic societies behaved in the run-up to the First World War. Today, well-funded and influential think tanks endlessly promote the idea that the U.S. ought to engage in a crusade to promote democracy abroad because “democracies don’t fight each other.” Yet the Great War puts the lie to that assertion, especially when you consider that the voting franchise in Germany was more inclusive than America’s at the time.

Democratic peace theory also purposefully ignores one of democracy’s principal problems: that when it comes to war, its citizens are prone to fall prey to a mob mentality. And a mob mentality and a war fever is exactly what gripped the democracies in Europe in the run-up to the Great War.

In an editorial published a week before hostilities broke out, The Nation magazine reported that: “In Vienna, in Paris, in Berlin, in St Petersburg, there were signs of acute mania affecting large bodies of people. Mob psychology often shows itself in discouraging and alarming forms, but is never so repulsive and appalling as when it is seen in great crowds shouting for war. Lest we forget indeed – about nothing does the mob forget so quickly as about war.”

The editorial went on to conclude: “If one looked only at these surface manifestations, one would be tempted to conclude that Europe was about to become a gigantic madhouse.”

Professor Calleo recounts that after Chancellor of Germany, Bethmann-Hollweg, was deposed, he wrote that he too saw the role of public opinion as “the crucial element – how else to explain the senseless and impassioned zeal which allowed countries like Italy, Rumania, and even America not originally involved in the war, no rest until they too had immersed themselves in the bloodbath?”

Today’s rush, likewise senseless and impassioned, to restart the Cold War is largely a product of the mutual admiration society that has sprung up between the Pentagon, hawkish administration officials, and their unscrupulous admirers in the media.

The propaganda churned out by Washington’s ‘military-media—think tank complex’ would have been all too familiar to the poets Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, both of whom served on the front lines of the Great War in France.

Owen’s poem “Dulce et Decorum est” was written at the front in 1917 and describes the death of a fellow soldier who had been gassed by the Germans. In the poem’s final stanza, Owen directly addresses a civilian war propagandist back in England, telling him that if he had seen first-hand the horrors of war:

“My friend, you would not tell with such high zest

To children ardent for some desperate glory,

The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori

It is sweet and right to die for your country”

Owen was killed at the front a week before the Armistice was signed. His friend Sassoon survived. Unlike Owen, Sassoon lived a long life and produced some of the best known anti-war literature of the day.

At the front he produced what may be his most memorable offering, Suicide in the Trenches, in which he too castigated the hearty band of war propagandists cheering from the sidelines:

“You smug faced cowards with kindling eye

Who cheer as soldier lads march by

Sneak home and pray you’ll never know

The Hell where youth and laughter go”

One can’t help but wonder what Owen and Sassoon might have made of the legions of armchair generals and assorted foreign policy hangers-on who make up the ever expanding ranks of the New Cold Warriors in Washington today.

James W Carden is a contributing writer for The Nation and editor of The American Committee for East-West Accord’s eastwestaccord.com. He previously served as an advisor on Russia to the Special Representative for Global Inter-governmental Affairs at the U.S. State Department. [This article is adapted from a lecture given to students at the Moscow State University in February.]




A Campaign Sinking to New Lows

The Republican presidential campaign has reached new lows for crassness, but Michael Winship sees something more sinister lurking in the ugliness.

By Michael Winship

For a politician or a journalist, there was a time when citing the classics — as long as it wasn’t done in a pedantic or pompous manner — was a mark of wisdom and experience. If a candidate or reporter does it today, there’s a good chance they’ll be trolled and ridiculed for high-handed pretension. Cue Donald Trump shouting, “Loser!”

But in April 1968, there stood presidential candidate Bobby Kennedy, speaking to an inner city crowd at the corner of 17th and Broadway in Indianapolis. He had just told them the horrific news that Martin Luther King, Jr., had been assassinated. People fell to the ground in shock and despair, others angrily shouted for violence and revenge.

Kennedy calmed the spectators. He spoke — without notes — for nearly five minutes. “What we need in the United States is not division,” he said. “What we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love, and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.”

He quoted Aeschylus, the poet and dramatist of ancient Greece:

Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget

falls drop by drop upon the heart,

until, in our own despair,

against our will,

comes wisdom

through the awful grace of God.

Kennedy concluded, “Let’s dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world. Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer for our country and for our people.” That night, Indianapolis was one of the American cities that did not erupt in bullets and bloodshed.

Fast-forward to 2016. If, as the saying goes, campaigning is poetry and governing is prose, this year’s GOP presidential race has degenerated into a cheesy, dirty limerick. There’s Donald Trump insulting the size of Marco Rubio’s mouth and ears, and Rubio making fun of Trump’s spray tan and small hands. Not exactly the age of Aeschylus, is it?

And here’s Trump’s on-again, off-again, tepid dismissal of former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke’s support for him. On Friday: “David Duke endorsed me? OK, all right, I disavow, OK?”

Two days later: “Just so you understand, I don’t know anything about David Duke, OK? … I don’t know anything about what you’re even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists. So I don’t know. I don’t know — did he endorse me, or what’s going on? Because I know nothing about David Duke; I know nothing about white supremacists.”

Hard to imagine Trump pulling this off on a street corner before an angry black crowd in Indianapolis. (And remember it’s coming from a man who knows damn well who David Duke is; back in 2000, Trump said he abandoned a possible run for president on the Reform Party ticket in part because one of its members was “a Klansman, Mr. Duke.”)

It’s all enough to make you book the next boat to Nova Scotia. As Evan Osnos writes in the current New Yorker, “There may be no better measure of the depravity of this campaign season than the realization that it’s not clear whether Trump’s overt appreciation for fascism, and his sustained salute to American racists, will have a positive or negative effect on his campaign.”

Then this, from hardworking journalist Lee Fang at The Intercept: “Les Moonves, the chief executive of CBS, celebrated Donald Trump’s candidacy for the second time on Monday, calling it ‘good for us economically.’ Moonves… described the ‘circus’ of a presidential campaign and the flow of political advertising dollars, and stated that it ‘may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS, that’s all I got to say.’

“‘So what can I say? The money’s rolling in, this is fun,’ Moonves continued, observing that the debates had attracted record audiences. The CBS media executive also riffed briefly about the type of campaign advertising spending produced by such a negative presidential campaign. ‘They’re not even talking about issues. They’re throwing bombs at each other and I think the advertising reflects that.’

“Moonves added, ‘I’ve never seen anything like this and this is going to be a very good year for us. … It’s a terrible thing to say, but bring it on, Donald, go ahead, keep going.’”

Of course, this is not the first time that Moonves has made comments like this; in 2012 he famously said, “Super PACs may be bad for America, but they’re very good for CBS.” And Lee Fang points out that in February Moonves told investors, “Looking ahead, the 2016 presidential election is right around the corner, and, thank God, the rancor has already begun.”

This disintegration of public discourse, egged on by 24/7 news cycle and the media’s lust for cash and the provocative sound-bite, is nothing to cheer about. And of course in Moonves’s case, there is a perverse irony that as head of CBS he runs a company once praised as the Tiffany Network that, among other pursuits of quality, usually valued the integrity and truth telling of its news division above almighty profit or the pinheaded perspective of a bullying charlatan.

It was that network’s Edward R. Murrow who in 1954 took on Joe McCarthy, a troglodytic demagogue not unlike Donald Trump, when few were willing to speak up and warn the republic of imminent peril.

When Murrow went on the air and faced down the spittle-flecked allegations of Sen. Joseph McCarthy, who had ruined lives and careers with false charges of treason, he turned the tables on McCarthy, who in one of his rants had quoted Cassius in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, “Upon what meat does this, our Caesar, feed?”

Murrow responded, “And upon what meat doth Senator McCarthy feed? Two of the staples of his diet are the investigation, protected by immunity, and the half-truth.”

Then, at the end of his broadcast Murrow said, “The actions of the junior senator from Wisconsin have caused alarm and dismay amongst our allies abroad, and given considerable comfort to our enemies. And whose fault is that? Not really his. He didn’t create this situation of fear; he merely exploited it — and rather successfully.” Sound like anyone we know?

Murrow quoted a line from Cassius that came just before the quote McCarthy had chosen: “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”

Point that out to Donald Trump or one of his more fervent supporters and maybe you’ll be on the receiving end of one of the candidate’s own classical rejoinders – a sneer accompanied by a punch in the face.

Michael Winship is the Emmy Award-winning senior writer of Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com, and a former senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos. Follow him on Twitter at @MichaelWinship. (This story originally appeared at http://billmoyers.com/story/when-the-poetry-of-campaigning-becomes-a-cheesy-dirty-limerick/]




Clinton Stalls on Goldman Sachs Speeches

Exclusive: Hillary Clinton has judged that she can wait out public calls for her to release the transcripts of speeches to Goldman Sachs, which earned her $675,000 in 2013, since she expects to soon wrap up the Democratic presidential nomination, as Chelsea Gilmour describes.

By Chelsea Gilmour

One of Bernie Sander’s standard attack lines against Hillary Clinton has been to call attention to the hundreds of thousands of dollars in paid-speaking fees and donations that Clinton has received from Wall Street during her career, including $675,000 for three paid speeches to Goldman Sachs (at $225,000 a pop) after she left the State Department in 2013.

Sanders has even taken to keeping track of how long it’s been since Clinton vowed to release the transcripts but hasn’t. Clinton now claims that she is being held to a different standard than other candidates and will release the speech transcripts only when others do the same, “if everybody does it, and that includes Republicans.”

Sanders has responded by noting that he has given no paid speeches to Wall Street banks and thus has no such transcripts to release. So, Clinton’s campaign continues to scramble, trying to shield her from the impression that she is too cozy with Wall Street while expecting that she will soon lock up the Democratic presidential nomination and make Sanders’s criticism moot.

The backlash Clinton has received over the three Goldman Sachs speeches and her ties to Wall Street has, however, forced Clinton to confront an issue which has dogged her campaign from the outset: Namely, that she is an Establishment candidate with close personal and political ties to Wall Street and Big Business, which compromises her objectivity and accountability as a candidate “for the people,” rather than for the corporations.

During a debate in New Hampshire, Clinton claimed Sanders’ innuendo amounted to a “very artful smear.” Clinton’s press secretary Brian Fallon called it “character assassination by insinuation,” by implying that Clinton would not be tough on Wall Street because she has financially benefited from them in the past.

So far, Clinton has responded to these criticisms rather unconvincingly.  Under intense pressure to release the transcripts of the Goldman Sachs speeches, she has said she would “look into it,” though the Wall Street Journal has reported that Mrs. Clinton has the sole right to distribute the transcripts, with Politico asserting, “One thing that is clear is that Clinton could release the Goldman transcripts unilaterally if she chose to do so.”

Political Damage

The real danger in releasing the transcripts is the potential political fodder it would provide Clinton’s opponents, who might seek to use the transcripts as proof that Clinton is in the pocket of, not only Goldman Sachs, but Wall Street as a whole.

But the negative insinuations are already there, as Politico related in the story of an unnamed source who attended one of Clinton’s Goldman Sachs speeches in Arizona. The source related the tone and content of Clinton’s speech that day as a “rah-rah speech,” where Clinton came off sounding more like a “Goldman Sachs managing director.”

Politico reported, “‘It was pretty glowing about us,’” one person who watched the event said. “‘It’s so far from what she sounds like as a candidate now.’”

The Wall Street Journal summarized the speeches as such: “She didn’t often talk about the financial crisis, but when she did, she almost always struck an amicable tone, according to these people.

“In some cases, she thanked the audience for what they had done for the country, the people said. One attendee said the warmth with which Mrs. Clinton greeted guests bordered on ‘gushy.’ …

“She spoke sympathetically about the financial industry, according to an attendee. Asked about the poisoned national mood toward Wall Street, Mrs. Clinton didn’t single out bankers or any other group for causing the 2008 financial crisis.”

So far, Clinton seems to have judged that the damage from continuing to hide the transcripts is preferable to the backlash she might experience if she released them.

According to Politico, “The person who saw Clinton’s Arizona remarks to Goldman said they thought there was no chance the campaign would ever release them.

“It would bury her against Sanders,” this person said. “It really makes her look like an ally of the firm.” 

In that case, releasing the transcripts could serve a severe blow to her campaign. Sanders’ campaign would waste no time capitalizing on the opportunity to call-out Clinton as a friend of Wall Street.

Republicans candidates could jump on the attack-train, too, although this would be a bit like the Right holding up a mirror to itself, since every Republican candidate except Trump has been the beneficiary of Wall Street’s financial “generosity.” (And Trump is arguable. Although he may not receive direct donations from Big Banks & Business, he is certainly an “Established” member of that social circle, so there are questions to be raised of political influence.)

Whose Side Are You On?

Regardless, as it becomes clear that this campaign is breaking down to “Establishment” vs. “Anti-Establishment” candidates, Clinton’s ties to her Wall Street and Beltway-Insider past are harming her ability to cultivate broad support amongst a population of voters resentful of Wall Street’s insidious influence over Washington.

So what is Clinton saying about all this? Not much. And what she has said has not diminished suspicions that she would be soft on Wall Street, if elected.

Besides vague promises to “look into releasing” her speech transcripts, Clinton has defended her acceptance of the speaking fees in even vaguer terms. Anderson Cooper pressed her at a town hall meeting in New Hampshire, asking, “But did you have to be paid $675,000 [for three speeches to Goldman Sachs]?” Clinton responded to hearty laughter from the crowd, “Well, I don’t know. That’s what they offered.”

She continued, saying she didn’t feel the fees represent a conflict of interest since she came back to run for public office, because she had not yet committed to running. She said further, “Anybody who knows me, who thinks that they can influence me, name anything they’ve influenced me on, just name one thing. I’m out here every day saying, I’m gonna shut them down, I’m going after them, I’m going to jail them if they should be jailed, I’m going to break them up. I mean, they’re not giving me very much money now, I can tell you that much. Fine with me. I’m proud to have 90 percent of my donations from small donors and 60 percent, the highest ever, from women, which I’m really, really proud of.”

Cooper pushed, “So, just to be clear, that’s not something you regret, those three speeches?”

“No, I don’t, because I don’t feel that I paid any price for it and I’m very clear about what I will do and they’re on notice,” Clinton asserted.

Clinton has pushed back in other ways, too. For instance, during a New Hampshire debate, Clinton called out what she saw as hypocrisy from Sanders’s campaign: “Senator Sanders took about $200,000 from Wall Street firms. Not directly, but through the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. There was nothing wrong with that. It hasn’t changed his view! Well, it didn’t change my view or my vote either!”

A Flip-Flop

But not everyone is buying it. In an often-cited incident, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, described in 2004 how Hillary Clinton flip-flopped on a credit-card company-sponsored bankruptcy bill under pressure as a New York Senator.

According to Warren, in the late-1990s, then-President Bill Clinton was pursuing signing into law a bankruptcy bill which had been presented to Congress and written by the credit card companies. President Clinton was eager to sign the bill, in order to further promote his free-trade, neoliberal economic policies.

However, after a meeting between Warren and then-First Lady Hillary Clinton, in which Warren explained how the bill would have disproportionately hurt single mothers, Hillary vowed, “Professor Warren, we’ve got to stop that awful bill.” Indeed, Hillary returned to the White House and convinced the President to veto the bill as one of his last acts in office.

But then, once Hillary became Senator for New York, the bill was reintroduced to Congress and she voted in favor of it. Warren explains, “As Senator Clinton, the pressures are very different. It’s a well-financed industry. A lot of people don’t realize that the industry that gave the most money to Washington over the past few years was not the oil industry, was not pharmaceuticals, it was consumer credit products. Those are the people, the credit card companies, [who] have been giving money and they have influence. … [Hillary Clinton] has taken money from the groups and more to the point, she worries about them as a constituency.”

And what about her claim that 90 percent of her donations come from small donors? According to 24/7 Wall Street, which conducted an investigation into each candidate’s net worth, “While 69% of Sanders’ campaign contributions have come from small individual donations, … only 17% of Clinton’s contributions have come from small individual donations.”

Another interesting development from this hubbub about Clinton’s ties to Wall Street has to do with whom Clinton would appoint as Treasury Secretary, if elected. Sanders’s reference during the Jan. 17 debate to the two Goldman Sachs executives who became Treasury Secretaries may have spurred Clinton to address the issue.

At that debate Sanders said, “Goldman Sachs, paying a five billion dollar fine, gives this country in recent history a Republican Secretary of Treasury, a Democratic Secretary of Treasury.”

Sanders’s comment referenced the appointment of Robert Rubin, former Goldman Sachs executive, to the position of Treasury Secretary by Bill Clinton after Rubin opened doors to Wall Street donors during Clinton’s first Presidential bid.

Rubin was instrumental in crafting “an economic policy — known as Rubinomics — that was applauded by Wall Street but viewed critically by many on the left. When then-first lady Hillary Clinton decided to run for the Senate in New York in 2000, she turned to Rubin and Altman to introduce her to key players on Wall Street,” reported the Washington Post.

Who to Name?

Hillary Clinton addressed the Treasury Secretary issue on “Meet the Press,” saying, “You have to have a Treasury Secretary who understands the economy … I think there are a lot more places where one can and should look for such a Treasury Secretary.”

If Clinton were to make a clear promise not to appoint someone from Wall Street as Treasury Secretary, she could quell some voters’ fears. But to be sure, this was not such a promise. The Treasury Secretary issue may also have been identified by the Clinton campaign as an opportunity to strike back at Sanders for what Clinton perceives as his political naivety.

Bloomberg News reported, “On the show, Clinton said Sanders has been less aggressive than she in pursuing abuses in the financial industry, adding that her rival’s critique of the banking system and its role in the economy is simplistic.”

But there is another issue regarding paid speeches that has yet to be fully addressed by the media, which may prove to be a further thorn in Hillary’s side. That is the question of Bill Clinton and the “two-for-one” aspect of the Clinton’s political machine.

An article by the Wall Street Journal relates how Hillary Clinton, while Secretary of State in 2009, helped Swiss bank USB with its IRS woes. “Total donations by UBS to the Clinton Foundation grew from less than $60,000 through 2008 to a cumulative total of about $600,000 by the end of 2014, according to the foundation and the bank.

“The bank also joined the Clinton Foundation to launch entrepreneurship and inner-city loan programs, through which it lent $32 million. And it paid former president Bill Clinton $1.5 million to participate in a series of question-and-answer sessions with UBS Wealth Management Chief Executive Bob McCann, making UBS his biggest single corporate source of speech income disclosed since he left the White House.”

While this still does not prove a direct link between favors by Hillary and payments received, it further blurs the line of where the Clintons’ political activities stop and their personal ventures start.

Earlier in the campaign, I wrote an article analyzing the sum of Hillary’s paid speeches during the 14-month interim between Clinton leaving the State Department and before announcing her candidacy for President. That interim spanned January 2014 through March 2015, and resulted in Hillary making 53 paid speeches to the tune of $11.8 million dollars in fees, all while it was widely believed that Clinton would run again for President in 2016. That analysis, however, did not include the $675,000 from Goldman Sachs, as those speeches were delivered in 2013, meaning they occurred before the time period for which she was obligated to publicly disclose her income.

Bill Clinton’s Speeches

Further investigation of Hillary Clinton’s financial disclosure form shows at least 16 speeches made by Bill Clinton to banks or other financial service industry companies during that 14-month period.

Besides three speeches to USB Wealth Management totaling $675,000 (the same amount Hillary received for her Goldman speeches, by the way), Bill also gave paid speeches to: Bank of America ($500,000), SCIP Capital Management ($250,000), Deutsche Bank AG ($270,000 + $280,000 to Hillary for her October 7, 2014 speech), Veritas Capital Fund Management ($250,000), Apollo Management Holdings ($250,000), Texas-China Business Council ($265,000), Affiliated Managers Group ($225,000), Experian ($225,000), Insurance Accounting and Systems Association ($225,000), Centerview Partners ($225,000), Jefferies ($225,000), Citadel ($250,000), and Thomas Lloyd Global Assets Management (Schweiz) ($200,000 via satellite).

That means that Bill Clinton was paid $4,035,000 by the financial sector for 16 appearances over the course of 14 months. Keep in mind, those 14 months represent the interregnum between when Hillary Clinton left State Department and before she officially announced her candidacy (but it was widely speculated she would run).

Regardless of whether Hillary believes (or will admit) that her fees from the financial industry have influenced her polices or not, the fact that campaign finance law requires her to disclose her spouse’s income should be a guiding indication of what the rest of us already know: that payments made to one’s spouse or close family members can equally represent a conflict of interest, just as if the candidate had been paid directly.

An incisive article by Walter Russell Mead explains how the Clintons have worked this system to build the first “postmodern political machine.”

“The Clintons stand where money, influence, and celebrity form a nexus. When Hillary Clinton was running the State Department and Bill Clinton was shaking down contributors to the Foundation, the donors knew, or thought they knew, what they were getting. Now that Hillary is running for President, the donors have an even better idea of what good things might come to them — or what problems and complications could develop if they cut the Clintons off.”

Mead calls it “honest graft,” quoting Tammany Hall’s George Washington Plunkett. “The cash comes from donations and speaking fees. When the husband of the Secretary of State or potential next President calls about a special charity project, most people, even if they happen to be CEOs of major companies or senior government officials, take the call. More than that, there will be times when government and corporate officials will reach out and make the call themselves, rather than waiting passively to hear that the Clinton machine has an ask. The donor proposition is rock solid. … What donors buy, or think they are buying, is influence and face time with two of the most powerful people in the world and their political machine[.]”

One parting thought: Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, from the same Goldman Sachs who paid Hillary $675,000 for three speeches and produced Bill Clinton’s Treasury Secretary, has said Bernie Sanders’ critique of Wall Street “has the potential to be a dangerous moment, not just for Wall Street, not just for the people who are particularly targeted, but for anybody who is a little bit out of line.”

 

Chelsea Gilmour is assistant editor of Consortiumnews.com.




Creating Russia/China Bogeymen

Relying on the most unreliable propaganda, Washington’s foreign policy establishment is seeking massive new military spending to counter Russian and Chinese “aggression” — when a more sober analysis would show these “threats” to be wildly exaggerated, as Gilbert Doctorow explains.

By Gilbert Doctorow

Where Russia is concerned – and now also China – one can count on Foreign Affairs magazine to feature articles presenting the bogeymen in a form that the U.S. security and international affairs establishment prefers, irrespective of whether this particular bogeyman has any basis in real-life facts.

These renditions are preferred because they support policy recommendations – and in particular, defense appropriations – which the establishment wants to see approved by the White House and by Congress.

I do not mean to suggest that all articles fit this generalization because occasionally dissenting views are allowed some space, especially if they are badly argued. But the great majority does fit this mold and the American people are the big losers by this disservice because the public, including the expert community, is deprived of objective examinations of these very important and powerful countries.

In turn, these distorted analyses actually can turn these countries into existential threats to the United States by provoking dangerous reactions to American policy even when Russia or China had no aggressive intent in the first place.

Because of this imbalance within elite policy circles, there is a cluelessness within the U.S. media and among the popular pundits who are given air time and print pages. Because they tend to repeat what the elite “experts” have been writing, the fault for any clash is blamed on the supposedly volatile Russians and enigmatic Chinese. The fuller context is always missing.

If the initial U.S. actions were mentioned or analyzed, the reaction from the Russians and the Chinese would be better understood and might even be modified or forestalled. But instead the reaction is taken as a starting point and then a policy recommendation is developed to neutralize the Russian or Chinese response, thus opening a new action-reaction cycle rather than resolving the existing one. In this way, tensions are escalated to the breaking point, which in our still nuclear age is not very smart and looks more like a death wish.

Whatever the future holds for Russia, the featured specialists in the field also seek to instill in us the certainty that the outcome can only be threatening to world security. Either Russia is getting too strong and thus aggressive and dangerous as it flexes its muscles – or Russia is imploding and therefore behaving aggressively, dangerously and unpredictably to distract the populace by xenophobic nationalism. The guiding editorial line of Foreign Affairs – in order to paint Russia in the most frightening tones – is heads I win, tails you lose.

(For purposes of this essay, I have chosen Foreign Affairs as a marker for the broad spectrum of U.S. expert publications in international affairs because the magazine has the greatest circulation in its class. But the sins of the magazine’s editor Gideon Rose are not his alone, to be sure.)

Collapsing Russia?

A month ago, Foreign Affairs published yet another dispatch on the pending ruination of Russia submitted by a repeat offender, Professor Alexander J. Motyl of Rutgers University and Columbia’s Harriman Institute. The purple prose title, for which we may surely thank the coy FA editors, is “Lights Out for the Putin Regime. The Coming Russian Collapse.

Ever since the onset of the Ukrainian confrontation over Crimea and the Donbass in 2014, Motyl has been riding the whitewater flow of events in the region, his mood alternating between euphoria and deep depression according to the prospects for the heroic Maidan regime at any given moment.

It appears, strangely, that he is now once again celebrating the imminent demise of the Russian government at the very time when the numbers on the Ukraine’s economy have hit rock bottom – along with the confidence in Kiev shared by the International Monetary Fund and the European Union. The absurdity of Motyl’s essay was well exposed by an article in Russia Insider by staff writer and editor Riley Waggaman.

Perhaps to show off a new horse in its stable, Foreign Affairs has just published an article about the threat from Russia predicated on its weakness written by a Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security, Robert D. Kaplan. His “Eurasia’s Coming Anarchy” has the single merit of extending the theory to explain the parallel threat from China, with the subtitle, “The Risks of Chinese and Russian Weakness.”

This ambitious attempt to take out two eagles with a single pebble assembles as many trite assumptions about the subject countries as the author could scoop up and dump in one place. Kaplan then surrounds the banalities and fallacies with argumentation that does not stand a test of logic.

Kaplan’s article opens with a couple of unexceptional assertions. One is that we are witnessing a historical turning point: “for the first time since the Berlin Wall fell, the United States finds itself in a competition among great powers.” The realization that China and Russia represent “great powers” in itself suggests we are dealing with a more realistic author when compared to President Barack Obama and his dismissal of Russia as a “regional power” just two years ago.

Kaplan’s second factual starting point — namely that both countries are experiencing “steadily worsening” economies and “economic turmoil” — also is reasonable. However, from this point on, Kaplan loses his grip on reality.

We are told that the leaders of China and Russia are no doubt suffering “from a profound sense of insecurity, as their homelands have long been surrounded by enemies, with flatlands open to invaders.” Yes, but that’s true of most nations, including many leading European states, and is far less relevant in an age of intercontinental ballistic missiles when similar “insecurity” can be felt by leaders even in countries surrounded mostly by water.

Kaplan then adds that both countries “are finding it harder to exert control over their … immense territories, with potential rebellions brewing in their far-flung regions.” This dubious assertion leads straight into his argument that the “prospect of quasi anarchy in two economically struggling giants” is worrisome.

Here is where the oft-repeated neoconservative reasoning emerges: domestic problems in autocratic regimes translate into belligerence and nationalism. The same charges have been brought in the past by historians and political scientists against all kinds of regimes experiencing hard times, but today’s conventional wisdom is that democratic nations like the United States have robust governance, whereas the authoritarian or autocratic regimes are fragile and more in need of artificial manipulation of public opinion to stay in power.

Moreover, we are told that aggression coming out of strength is easy for other states to interpret whereas aggression coming out of weakness can result in “daring, reactive, and impulsive behavior, which is much harder to forecast and counter.” How convenient that this formulation fits perfectly the description of Russian President Vladimir Putin by nearly all the U.S. media. No doubt it will be soon applied to President Xi and his associates.

But is Kaplan’s supposition true? Much of the international aggression that we have seen in recent decades has come from supposedly strong democratic nations, including the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq (along with Great Britain and other members of the “coalition of the willing”) in 2003 and the U.S.-European “regime change” in Libya in 2011. Weren’t those military invasions “daring” and “impulsive”? Clearly, they weren’t sober and thought-through.

So, as Kaplan reveals his selective approach to reality, the reader is forewarned. Kaplan has no objective grasp of reality and will say whatever he deems useful to bring us to his prescribed conclusion.

Unsubstantiated Untruths

About Russia under Putin, Kaplan offers a sampling from the wild and unproven accusations that litter the popular press. The Russian president’s goal has been clear: “to restore the old empire,” though this has been done not with troops but by building “a Pharaonic network of energy pipelines,” by helping politicians in neighboring countries, by intelligence operations and by getting control of local media.

Apart from those “Pharaonic” pipelines, the toolkit ascribed to Putin rather closely resembles the modus operandi of the American Empire (or for that matter, many other past and present world powers and even regional powers). U.S. officials boast endlessly of America’s “soft power” or what former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calls “smart power,” a U.S. toolkit that also includes the machinations of the National Endowment for Democracy and similar U.S.-funded groups; financial and economic strangulation of recalcitrant countries; and deployment of the U.S. Navy and American troops when the other techniques don’t succeed. (Just ask countries in Latin America for details.)

Yet, American foreign policy “experts” like Kaplan operate with an extraordinarily myopic view of the world, finding U.S. application of power “good” and anything even remotely similar from an adversary “bad.”

According to Kaplan’s version of events, Putin turned from subterfuge to military force only recently when his domestic economy began to fail. Thus, in Kaplan’s analysis, there were Russian interventions in Georgia in 2008, in Crimea in 2014, and in Syria in 2015 – while he ignores the unique circumstances attached to each incident.

With his broad brush, Kaplan avoided explaining what preceded these alleged “aggressions.” Rather than explaining the roles of other countries – Georgia in attacking South Ossetia, the U.S. supporting a violent coup in Ukraine (and the Crimeans voting overwhelming to join Russia), and Saudi Arabia and other Sunni powers fueling an armed jihadist rebellion in Syria – Kaplan presents the interventions as occurring in a vacuum, explained only by the aggressive motives of a diseased regime in Moscow.

So, for instance, the intervention in support of Syria’s government was “to restore Moscow’s position in the Levant – and to buy leverage with the EU by influencing the flow of refugees to Europe.”

Kaplan also charts Russian “aggression” against an economic crisis associated with falling energy and raw material prices on world markets and Western sanctions. In this thinking, Russia has nothing to sell the world outside of military equipment because its rulers “never built civil institutions or a truly free market.” And for good measure, Kaplan reminds us that “the corrupt, gangster led economy of Russia today exhibits eerie similarities to the old Soviet one.”

To keep this failing state together in the face of severe internal problems, Putin uses foreign policy and “nurses historical grudges concerning Russia’s place in the world,” Kaplan insists. In this Putin is creative, calculating and “even deceptively conciliatory at moments.” Hence, Putin’s current claims to help the West fight the Islamic State.

But Kaplan argues all of this will ultimately be to no avail since the regime is brittle and overly centralized. Kaplan predicts a possible coup against Putin such as toppled Khrushchev in 1964. Or Russia may simply break up in the midst of chaos, as happened after the 1917 revolutions. The North Caucasus, Siberia and the Far East may loosen their ties. This could end in a “Yugoslavia lite.” Then the global jihadist movement would move in.

Alternatively Kaplan presents us with the scenario of the Russian bear attacking Baltic states, a scary dream sequence that is popular at the moment among the NATO general staff. In this scenario, Europe is disunited, NATO is weak, Russia has been sowing discord with its Nord Stream 2 project, European will is being undermined by right-wing and left-wing nationalist movements which were spawned by slow economic growth.

I have cited above many but not all of what passes for nuggets of insight about Russia and Europe in Kaplan’s essay. In fact, the building blocks of his essay are off-the-shelf distortions and propaganda that have little or no basis in reality if one pauses to inspect each one separately. Simply put, the author does not know what he is talking about.

Policy Recommendations

In the case of Kaplan, the pre-selected policy recommendation which he peddles is rather innocent and will disappoint those looking for adventure. It is that the United States should exercise caution in dealing with Beijing and Moscow: the “first task should be to avoid needlessly provoking these extremely sensitive and domestically declining powers.”

At the end of the essay, he puts this in more prescriptive language: “Although congressional firebrands seem not to realize it, the United States gains nothing from baiting nervous regimes worried about losing face at home.” He urges against entertaining any aspirations of fomenting regime change, suggesting that building democracy should be left to the Russians themselves.

Nevertheless, Kaplan then makes recommendations that could clearly be read by the Russians as foreshadowing military or political intervention. He falls back on Teddy Roosevelt’s famous maxim “Speak softly and carry a big stick,” meaning stepped-up appropriations for the U.S. military. Specific recommendations include adding more submarines to the U.S. naval presence in the Baltic Sea, increasing the numbers of U.S. military personnel in front line NATO states on the eastern reaches of the alliance (as Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has just requested), and generally raising the Defense Department budget to restore ground troop strength levels.

This validation of “inside the box” policy will surely go down well with the generals and admirals. Whether it will avoid stirring up the Russians or ensure greater American security is an entirely different matter.

To be fair, we should be thankful that the author of this ignorant essay has more instinct for survival and common sense than a great many other experts who populate the pages of our international relations journals. Many of them are lusting for a “regime change” project in Moscow, learning nothing from the failures in Iraq, Libya and elsewhere and apparently assuming that the U.S. can simply dictate who the new rulers of Russia will be.

Yet, Kaplan relies on the very same building blocks of argumentation that are very often used to justify more provocative policies, such as stationing permanent rather than rotating NATO forces at Russian borders or stepped-up information warfare and financing of opposition groups within Russia.

The problem with painting a propagandized image of Russia to suit policy recommendations rather than actually studying the Russian reality and then designing rational policy is that the former approach ignores risks and threats that may actually exist in relations with the subject country.

These U.S. “experts” may position themselves well for job promotions within the foreign policy establishment or for getting published in prestigious publications like Foreign Affairs but they are blinding the American public to the real opportunities and dangers in relations with other nuclear powers.

There are, in this case and most others, two sides to the argument. And, from the Russian side, many actions by the United States and NATO have a threatening appearance, including the expansion of NATO up to Russia’s borders and recent U.S. nuclear policies.

Over the past quarter century, one of the most provocative moves was the U.S. withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002, prompting the Kremlin to adopt counter measures that do indeed present existential threats to the American homeland. However, such real threats are not publicly discussed because to do so would require placing blame on U.S. officials. It is a preferred storyline to simply portray all the dangers as emanating from Moscow and Beijing.

 

Doctorow is the European Coordinator, American Committee for East West Accord, Ltd. His latest book Does Russia Have a Future?(August 2015) is available in paperback and e-book from Amazon.com and affiliated websites. For donations to support the European activities of ACEWA, write to eastwestaccord@gmail.com © Gilbert Doctorow, 2016




Clinton Still Hides Her Speeches

After serving as Secretary of State and before starting her run for President, Hillary Clinton amassed millions of dollars in speaking fees from big banks and corporate interests with business before the federal government – and she won’t say what she said, as Marjorie Cohn points out.

By Marjorie Cohn

Hillary Clinton refuses to make public the transcripts of her speeches to big banks, three of which were worth a total of $675,000 to Goldman Sachs. She says she would release the transcripts “if everybody does it, and that includes Republicans.” After all, she complained, “Why is there one standard for me, and not for everybody else?”

As the New York Times editorial board pointed out, “The only different standard here is the one Mrs. Clinton set for herself, by personally earning $11 million in 2014 and the first quarter of 2015 for 51 speeches to banks and other groups and industries.”

Hillary Clinton is not running in the primaries against Republicans, who, the Times noted, “make no bones about their commitment to Wall Street deregulation and tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.” She is running against Bernie Sanders, “a decades-long critic of Wall Street excess who is hardly a hot ticket on the industry speaking circuit,” according to the Times.

Why do voters need to know what Hillary told the banks? Because it was Wall Street that was responsible for the 2008 recession, making life worse for most Americans. We need to know what, if anything, she promised these behemoths. There is an old saying: I Scratch Your Back, You Scratch Mine.

Clinton has several super PACs, which have recently donated $25 million to her campaign, $15 million of which came from Wall Street. Big banks and large contributors don’t give their money away for nothing. They expect that their interests will be well served by those to whom they donate.

Clinton recently attended an expensive fundraiser at Franklin Square Capital, a hedge fund that gives big bucks to the fracking industry. Two weeks later, her campaign announced her continuing support for the production of natural gas, which comes from fracking.

Sanders opposes fracking. He said, “Just as I believe you can’t take on Wall Street while taking their money, I don’t believe you can take on climate change effectively while taking money from those who would profit off the destruction of the planet.”

Bernie’s “Political Revolution”

Sanders has no super PACs. His campaign has received 4 million individual contributions, that average $27 each. Perhaps Rupert Murdoch multiplied that amount by $100 in setting $2,700 a head as the entrance fee for Clinton’s latest campaign gala?

Sanders has called for a “political revolution” that “takes on the fossil fuel billionaires, accelerates our transition to clean energy, and finally puts people before the profits of polluters.” He would retrain workers in the fossil fuel industries for clean energy jobs.

Sanders reminds us that the top one-tenth of 1 percent owns nearly as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent, and 99 percent of all new income goes to the top 1 percent. Unlike Clinton, he says healthcare is a right – not a privilege – and college and university tuition should be free.

Sanders and Congressman John Conyers introduced legislation to allocate $5.5 billion to states and communities to create employment programs for African-American youth. They say, “instead of putting military style equipment into police departments . . . we [should] start investing in jobs for the young people there who desperately need them.”

How will we pay for all that? “If we cut military spending and corporate welfare, we would have more than enough money to meet America’s needs,” Sanders wrote in his 1997 book, Outsider in the House. “This nation currently spends $260 billion a year on defense, even though the Cold War is over,” not counting “$30 billion spent annually on intelligence or the $20 billion in defense-related expenditures hidden away in our federal spending on energy,” he added.

Today, with all the wars our government is prosecuting, that figure is nearly $600 billion.

Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and former president of the National Lawyers Guild. Her most recent book is Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues. Follow her on twitter at @marjoriecohn.