GOP Reaps What Was Sown

Since the 1960s, the Republican Party has sought out and corralled the angry white vote which was back-lashing against the civil rights movement and black progress. But now that disaffected base is turning on the wealthy GOP elites and no one should be surprised, writes Michael Winship.

By Michael Winship

Now, On May 21, 1946, less than a year after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, physicist Louis Slotin performed a dangerous experiment his colleagues at Los Alamos called “tickling the dragon’s tail.” He took two half-spheres of beryllium, each containing a plutonium core, and brought them together as close to critical mass as he could without triggering a nuclear chain reaction.

Slotin had done this before, keeping the two half-spheres apart with the blade of a screwdriver. But this time, the screwdriver slipped, the half-spheres made contact and there was a bright blue flash and a burst of heat. Slotin quickly separated the pieces but had absorbed a frightening amount of radiation.

“Well, that does it,” he said. Nine days later, Louis Slotin was dead at 35.

We tell this sad story as a cautionary tale although probably one told much too late to which the Republican Party nonetheless should pay heed. After years of tickling the dragon’s tail, flirting with the demagoguery of America’s right wing and egging on a growing rage within a core constituency of disaffected, working-class white Americans, the dragon has started to breathe fire, and the flames have spread in all directions. The result is the maddening success of raving nativist Donald Trump and to a lesser extent, Sen. Ted Cruz.

Establishment Republicans are shocked, shocked that such a thing is possible. Late last week, Washington Post columnist and former Dubya speechwriter Michael Gerson fell into the prose version of a dead faint. He wrote that, “Trump’s nomination would not be the temporary victory of one of the GOP’s ideological factions. It would involve the replacement of the humane ideal at the center of the party and its history. If Trump were the nominee, the GOP would cease to be.”

Humane ideal? Gerson seems to fantasize a Republican Party that hasn’t existed since Wendell Willkie ran against FDR in 1940.

Gerson’s op-ed was followed by an article in The New York Times headlined, “For Republicans, Mounting Fears of Lasting Split.” Patrick Healey and Jonathan Martin reported, “Rank-and-file conservatives, after decades of deferring to party elites, are trying to stage what is effectively a people’s coup by selecting a standard-bearer who is not the preferred candidate of wealthy donors and elected officials.”

They quoted Leo Martin, a 62-year-old New Hampshire machinist: “The Republican Party has never done anything for the working man like me, even though we’ve voted Republican for years. This election is the first in my life where we can change what it means to be a Republican.”

In the GOP’s rebuttal to President Obama’s State of the Union, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley tried to throw a cross block. “During anxious times,” she said, “it can be tempting to follow the siren call of the angriest voices. We must resist that temptation. Some people think that you have to be the loudest voice in the room to make a difference. That is just not true. Often, the best thing we can do is turn down the volume.”

Too little, too late (especially given the virulently racist response by some in social media to the Indian-American Haley’s speech, including, surprise, Breitbart and Ann Coulter).

Yet in his Post column, Gerson wrote, “Liberals who claim that Trumpism is the natural outgrowth, or logical conclusion, of conservatism or Republicanism are simply wrong.” But it’s Gerson and his chums who are in denial, refusing to see that their party has been sowing dragon’s teeth for decades.

Start with 1964 and Barry Goldwater’s “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice” (not to mention his opposition to the Civil Rights Act). Then careen through Richard Nixon’s embrace of “the silent majority” and his 1968 dog-whistle campaign slogan, “This time, vote like your whole world depended on it.”

Pause as Ronald Reagan opens his 1980 general election campaign at the Neshoba County Fair in Mississippi, just miles from the earthen dam where the bodies of civil rights organizers Goodman, Schwerner. and Chaney were found. Here’s George H.W. Bush and Willie Horton; and the Karl Rove-orchestrated whispering campaign on behalf of Dubya against John McCain in 2000, implying that McCain had fathered an illegitimate black child.

All of this and so much more have created the current Republican pickle. Add fear mongering that tramples reason and truth, the thoughtless pursuit of profit at the expense of factories and jobs, the slavish devotion to the hands that feed the party its campaign cash. Then stir in the desecration of checks and balances and the chronic dysfunction of government decried by those most responsible for it, in the manner of the fireman turned arsonist who strikes the match, then wrings his hands at the charred ruins he created.

This is not to say that Republicans invented inertia, corruption and dirty, race-baiting tricks, but you get the picture. GOP, you’ve really done it this time, tickled the tail once too often and now you’re paying the price, as are the rest of us. At risk is not just electoral defeat but the collapse of an already frail democracy. Here be dragons.

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 article originally appeared at http://billmoyers.com/story/gop-tickles-the-dragons-tail/]




Diplomatic Sanity Prevails with Iran

Before President Obama’s State of the Union Address, U.S. cable news blasted out bulletins about Iran seizing American sailors, as Obama’s critics blasted him. But the U.S. intrusion into Iranian waters was quickly explained and the sailors returned, a sign of diplomatic sanity, writes ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

Hardliners who, for their separate reasons in each of the countries where such hardliners live, are still determined to sabotage the agreement to restrict Iran’s nuclear program must have been salivating when they first heard on Tuesday that Iran had taken into custody two U.S. Navy patrol boats and their crews in the Persian Gulf.

This is just the sort of military incident that historically has upended detentes, spoiled diplomatic initiatives, and escalated into something much more than just an incident. Amid the recently heightened tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the potential for escalation of almost anything in the Persian Gulf may be higher than usual.

The hardliners are apt to see sabotage at this moment as especially attractive, coming shortly before the expected formal implementation of the nuclear agreement, an implementation made possible through completion by Iran of its obligations under the agreement.

Although some of the details of how the patrol boats got into this situation are still unclear, two central facts are undisputed. One, the U.S. boats entered Iranian territorial waters. Two, the entry was by accident, evidently for reasons having to do with failure of a navigation system or some other equipment problem.

The first fact was clear to both sides from the beginning; the second fact was accepted by the Iranians once they had a chance to question the U.S. crew about what the boats were doing.

To think about what is the proper response to such an incursion by the state whose waters have been intruded upon, imagine if a couple of Iranian naval craft had entered U.S. territorial waters. Of course the response would not be just to wish the Iranians calm seas and a prosperous voyage.

The United States would insist on questioning the Iranian crews until it was satisfied that it knew what was going on. (American hardliners probably would push for a more hostile response, but one hopes that in such a circumstance prudence would prevail among whoever was making decisions on the U.S. side.)

The Iranian response to this week’s incident in the Gulf was about as proper as one can imagine. After enough questioning for the Iranians to know what was going on, the U.S. crew and their boats were escorted safely back to their own fleet less than 24 hours after being detained. The only thing from which the ten U.S. sailors appear to have suffered during their few hours on Iranian soil (illustrated by a photograph of them lounging in stocking feet in a carpeted room) is boredom.

A spokesman for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard (whose naval forces were involved in handling the incident on the Iranian side) issued a public statement acknowledging that the intrusion by the U.S. boats into Iranian territorial waters was unintentional.

We don’t know how agreement-sabotaging American hardliners feel about this outcome, but for a while they tried to milk the incident anyway. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas, who last year wrote the infamous letter telling the Iranians that the United States should not be trusted to abide by international agreements it negotiates, was speaking on CNN about American “hostages” and about how the Iranians were using the incident to “embarrass” President Obama.

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, said “Iran is testing the boundaries of this administration’s resolve”,even though there isn’t a scintilla of evidence that Iran initiated anything regarding the incident or intended to test anything. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush tweeted, “Obama’s humiliatingly weak Iran policy is exposed again”,which sounds rather inappropriate, to put it mildly, given the release of the sailors and their boats shortly afterward.

One of the main conclusions to draw from the incident is what it says about high-level thinking and the balance of political forces on the Iranian side. We probably will never know exactly what was the interplay this week among the Rouhani government, hardliners in the Revolutionary Guard, and the supreme leader, but the bottom line was that cooperation prevailed over confrontation in dealing with the United States.

We have to assume, however, that the political balance inside Iran is still delicate and changeable, and that it may well change if the United States makes cooperation seem less attractive to Iran. If that were to happen, then the next naval incident in the Gulf may look less like the one this week and more like the one nine years ago in which 15 British sailors and marines who were operating in disputed territory along the Iran-Iraq border were held by Iran for two weeks.

Another conclusion concerns the value of the direct U.S.-Iranian diplomacy that was established with negotiation of the nuclear accord after so many years of not talking. In particular, the channel between Secretary of State John Kerry and Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, a channel greatly developed during the course of the nuclear negotiations, evidently was valuable in quickly and successfully resolving this week’s incident.

As Kerry himself stated, “That this issue was resolved peacefully and efficiently is a testament to the critical role diplomacy plays in keeping our country safe, secure, and strong.”

Kerry also said, “As a former sailor myself, I know the importance of naval presence around the world and the critical work being done by our Navy in the Gulf region.” He did not mention, but might have had in the back of his mind, that the U.S. craft involved in this incident were riverine patrol boats, as were the boats on which Kerry served in the Vietnam War. The incident was resolved so quickly that Mr. Kerry’s political foes did not have a chance to swift-boat him this time.

The hardline cause is nonetheless at least as much alive on the U.S. side as on the Iranian side. The sabotage attempts will continue, even if they involve statements that, like some of the statements from that direction about this week’s incident, bear little or no correspondence to what Iran actually is doing.

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.)




Chavismo’s Sturdy Legacy

Exclusive: Right-wing parties are staging a comeback in Latin America, with the most dramatic victory in Venezuela’s parliamentary elections. Yet, despite troubled leftist regimes facing weak economies and corruption charges, their social reforms have slashed poverty and appear safe for now, writes Andrés Cala.

By Andrés Cala

A string of recent electoral and political setbacks for Latin American leftist governments brought about by voter fatigue and an acute economic crisis is swinging the regional political pendulum in a revisionist direction with some analysts foreseeing a return to “free market” neoliberalism. But reversing a generation of social gains for the poor will not be easy or likely.

On Nov. 23, 2015, Argentineans elected center-right Mauricio Macri as president, replacing the 12-year Peronista regime led by Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. But the sharpest blow to the Left came in Venezuela on Dec. 6, when Chavismo, the most radical of the so-called Pink Tide regional movements, suffered its first electoral defeat in 16 years and a massive one at that when the opposition won an absolute majority in parliamentary elections.

In Brazil, the center-left regime that came to power in 2003 is fighting a recession and a string of corruption scandals that are raising popular and congressional pressures on President Dilma Rousseff to step down. Even Ecuador’s charismatic President Rafael Correa is facing increasing opposition, although like his ally, Bolivian President Evo Morales, he is not up for election in the near-term.

But these reversals do not mark the Pink Tide’s end, nor a return to the infamous neoliberal era of last century that deepened economic inequality and contributed to harsh political repression. Indeed, the decade-and-a-half pendulum swing to the left started slowing years ago and is now clearly moving in the opposite direction. But the new Latin American Right will be hesitant to reintroduce failed economic policies from the 1990s that ended up empowering the Left.

No doubt, the right-wing political movements will be more Wall Street friendly and challenge policies that have institutionally handicapped them, such as appointments to the courts and limits on press freedoms. But the Right lacks the political mandate to undo years of economic devolution from the old concentrations of wealth toward a more equitable sharing of the region’s riches. Social gains that have spread throughout the region, even into countries ruled by the Right such as Colombia, would be hard to take away, even if trends toward greater equality stall.

As for the Left, some setbacks can be blamed on its own mismanagement and corruption, which along with the global economic crisis and for Venezuela the drop in oil prices, fed popular discontent. The electoral reversals could prompt a needed period focused on correcting mistakes and regaining the confidence of the citizens.

Chavismo Legacy

The legacy of the populist Left movements in Latin America which started in Venezuela when Hugo Chávez came to power in 1999 and spread in other forms to Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, El Salvador and a few Caribbean countries is the improved welfare of millions of citizens who had been confronting some of the greatest inequality on earth.

Under populist reforms, poverty was more than halved and social services, namely education and health, improved vastly. The middle class in Latin America grew more than 50 percent since 2003, according to the World Bank, benefiting from a commodity-price boom and more equitable distribution of wealth.

Government institutions have become more stable and political violence which once made Latin America infamous for “disappearances” and “death squads” fell to historically low levels.

Geopolitically, the region grew more independent from U.S. dominance and wrestled back some control over its fiscal affairs. Even in countries that resisted the leftist ascent, such as Colombia, social investment reached historic highs.

But not all was good. Money was squandered on corruption and inefficient schemes sought by “client” groups. Authoritarianism and political polarization increased over the years. When oil and other commodity prices started falling, political capital also was drained away.

In the case of Venezuela, Chávez’s death in 2013 left behind a mismanaged economy that continued to sink under the government of his successor, the far-less charismatic Nicolás Maduro. The economy contracted around 10 percent in 2015, the biggest decline in the world; oil production and incomes tumbled; shortages of food and consumer goods became widespread; inflation soared into four digits; and foreign investment, even from close friends like China, evaporated.

Maduro was unable to assert his authority, even within Chavismo itself. While jailing opposition figures who were accused of coup plotting, he wavered in his timid efforts to reform the economy to alleviate the suffering of his own followers. While it’s true the country faced “an economic war” from internal and external opponents of its socialist policies, the fact remains that Chavismo was all but paralyzed.

Venezuela’s political stalemate also is far from over. Maduro is seeking to block the newly formed parliament, threatening an escalating institutional tit-for-tat that will deepen the crisis. The opposition too is seeking to undo the firm grip of Chavismo on the country’s institution. The standoff between Chavistas and the opposition is fluid and could worsen to eventually invite a coup from one of the sides.

But even in the context of extreme political polarization, social policies have not been threatened, and with ample Chavista support still among Venezuela’s poor and Maduro’s term running until 2019, the opposition will likely target macroeconomic policy and legal reforms as its first priorities.

In Argentina, Macri has shown his willingness to take on Peronismo, resorting to some of the same unilateral policies and bypassing Congress that he criticized Fernández for doing. His government will seek to access international financial markets that his predecessor shunned, and he has already removed some export taxes, foreign exchange controls, and moved to attract foreign capital. But again, there is no sign yet he will undo the social policy of Peronismo.

In regional powerhouse Brazil, Rousseff will more than likely survive the impeachment attempts by the opposition over corruption scandals involving some of her closest aides. In fact, her mentor and predecessor Lula da Silva has come to her rescue and is rumored to be planning a comeback for 2018.

But in no case are Brazil’s social policies at risk, a reality underlined by the fact that not even Rousseff has been able to introduce the kind of unpopular cuts in programs that some financial advisers say are needed to jumpstart the sputtering economy.

And, while not Chavista or populist, Uruguay and Chile have developed their own socialist strategies even while defending more “free-market” economic policies; Peru and Colombia, while even more market-friendly and governed by the Right, are using their economic growth, even amid the commodity slump, to integrate their largely impoverished populations more fully into their economies.

Still, times are tough for Latin America which saw the year ending with an economic contraction of 0.9 percent, a downturn particularly acute in South America as the Brazilian and Venezuelan economies tanked.

In 2016, the economy is expected to be flat regionally, but contract more than 2 percent in South America, according to the World Bank. Of the large economies, Colombia, Peru and Chile will fare better than Brazil and most notably Venezuela. Argentina will grow marginally.

The incoming right-wing leaders will have to deliver meaningful economic turnarounds, without hurting social policies, to convince citizens they are a better alternative to Chavistas, Peronistas, Lulistas and others on the Left.

The economic hardships could spark more instability in the region, especially if Chavismo implodes in Venezuela and the Right overplays its hand. But Latin America’s transformation over the past 15 years has created an opportunity for a more mature region to leave its violent past behind and to address its challenges through more peaceful political means.

Andrés Cala is an award-winning Colombian journalist, columnist and analyst specializing in geopolitics and energy. He is the lead author of America’s Blind Spot: Chávez, Energy, and US Security.




What Hillary Knew about Libya

Exclusive: In Official Washington’s propaganda world, the U.S. government and its “allies” are always standing for what’s right and good and the “enemies” are the epitome of evil doing the vilest things. But some emails to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton depicted a far different reality, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

To justify U.S. “regime changes,” the U.S. government has routinely spread rumors and made other dubious claims which even when later doubted or debunked are left in place indefinitely as corrosive propaganda, eating away at the image of various “enemies” and deforming public opinion.

Even though this discredited propaganda can have a long half-life continuing to contaminate the public’s ability to perceive reality for years President Barack Obama and his administration have shown no inclination to undertake a kind of HAZMAT clean-up of the polluted information environment that American citizens have been forced to live in.

A recent case in point was the emergence in the State Department’s New Year’s Eve release of more than 3,000 emails to and from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of evidence that two key propaganda themes used to advance violent “regime change” in Libya in 2011 may have originated with rebel-inspired rumors passed on by Clinton’s private adviser Sidney Blumenthal.

A March 27, 2011 email from Blumenthal reminded Clinton that “I communicated more than a week ago on this story, [Libyan leader Muammar] Qaddafi placing bodies to create PR stunts about supposed civilian casualties as a result of Allied bombing, though underlining it was a rumor. But now, as you know, [Defense Secretary] Robert Gates gives credence to it.”

Blumenthal’s email, which was slugged “Rumor: Q[addafi]’s rape policy,” then plunged ahead into his new rumor: “Sources now say, again rumor (that is, this information comes from the rebel side and is unconfirmed independently by Western intelligence), that Qaddafi has adopted a rape policy and has even distributed Viagra to troops. The incident at the Tripoli press conference involving a woman claiming to be raped is likely to be part of a much larger outrage. Will seek further confirmation.”

A month later, this bizarre Viagra-rape angle became part of a United Nations presentation by then U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice who brought up the Viagra charge in a debate about the evils of Muammar Gaddafi’s regime.

A U.N. diplomat at the closed session on April 28, 2011, told The Guardian that “It was during a discussion about whether there is moral equivalence between the Gaddafi forces and the rebels. She listed human rights abuses by Gaddafi’s forces, including snipers shooting children in the street and the Viagra story.”

On Blumenthal’s other propaganda point, it’s not clear where Defense Secretary Gates got the idea to accuse Gaddafi of “staging” scenes of U.S.-inflicted carnage, but Blumenthal’s email indicates that he was disseminating that rumor which might have been picked up by Gates, rather than independently confirmed by Gates. (It’s also true that the “staging” excuse has been used before when evidence emerges of U.S. bombs killing civilians.)

Media Self-Interest

Yet, regardless of the truth or falsity of such U.S. claims and counter-claims, the chance that someone inside Official Washington is going to review the lies and exaggerations used to rationalize a major U.S. foreign policy initiative in this case, the violent overthrow of the Gaddafi regime to, in effect, “clear” Gaddafi’s name is remote at best.

The few cases of the media debunking U.S. propaganda, such as exposing the made-up claims about Iraqi soldiers killing babies on incubators before the Persian Gulf War in 1990-91, are rare exceptions to the rule. Even rarer are cases when the U.S. government admits that it relied on false information, such as the intelligence community recanting its pre-invasion claims about Iraq hiding WMD stockpiles in 2002-03.

The much more common approach is to simply leave the decaying propaganda in place and move on to the next target of opportunity. There is little benefit for anyone to undertake the painstaking work of separating whatever slices of truth exist within the rot of lies and exaggerations that were used to justify some war.

The way mainstream journalism usually works in America is that a reporter who challenges U.S. government propaganda aimed at a foreign “enemy” is putting his or her career at risk. The reporter’s patriotism will be questioned amid suggestions that he or she is a “fill-in-the-blank-with-the-villain’s-name” apologist.

And since the reality whatever it is is usually fuzzy, there is almost never any vindication for a brave stance. So, the smart career play is to go along with the propaganda or stay silent.

A similar reality exists inside the U.S. government. Honest intelligence analysts can expect no rewards if they debunk one of these propaganda themes, especially after a number of important U.S. officials have gone out publicly and sold the falsehood to the people. Making the Secretary of State or the Defense Secretary or the President look bad is not a great career move.

France’s Designs

Plus, the propaganda themes, which stress American righteousness in standing up to foreign evil, are useful in obscuring the self-interested motives that often circle around a killing field like the one that Libya has become.

For instance, another Blumenthal memo to Clinton explained France’s political and pecuniary interests in toppling Gaddafi and thus thwarting his ambitious plans to use Libya’s oil wealth as a means of freeing parts of Africa from French domination.

In an April 2, 2011 email, Blumenthal informed Clinton that sources close to one of Gaddafi sons were reporting that “Qaddafi’s government holds 143 tons of gold, and a similar amount in silver” and the hoard had been moved from the Libyan Central Bank in Tripoli closer to the border with Niger and Chad.

“This gold was accumulated prior to the current rebellion and was intended to be used to establish a pan-African currency based on the Libyan golden Dinar. This plan was designed to provide the Francophone African Countries with an alternative to the French franc (CFA).”

Blumenthal then added that “According to knowledgeable individuals, this quantity of gold and silver is valued at more than $7 billion. French intelligence officers discovered this plan shortly after the current rebellion began, and this was one of the factors that influenced President Nicolas Sarkozy’s decision to commit France to the attack on Libya.”

The email added: “According to these individuals, Sarkozy’s plans are driven by the following issues: a. A desire to gain a greater share of Libya oil production, b. Increase French influence in North Africa, c. Improve his internal political situation in France, d. Provide the French military with an opportunity to reassert its position in the world, e. Address the concern of his advisors over Qaddafi’s long term plans to supplant France as the dominant power in Francophone Africa.”

In an earlier email, dated March 27, 2011, Blumenthal also discussed the French interests in the conflict, citing “knowledgeable individuals” who said that Sarkozy “is pressing to have France emerge from this crisis as the principal foreign ally of any new government that takes power.”

So do you think it would it be easier for the Obama administration to rally American support behind this “regime change” by explaining how the French wanted to steal Libya’s wealth and maintain French neocolonial influence over Africa or would Americans respond better to propaganda themes about Gaddafi passing out Viagra to his troops so they could rape more women while his snipers targeted innocent children? Bingo!

Seeing No Jihadists

In selling the Libyan policy to the American people, it was also important to downplay another part of the crisis: that Gaddafi was right when he warned of the danger from Islamic radicals, including Al Qaeda’s North African affiliate, operating in eastern Libya.

Gaddafi’s original military offensive was aimed at these groups, but the Obama administration’s propagandists twisted the issue into Gaddafi supposedly committing “genocide” against the people of eastern Libya, thus requiring a U.S.-led “responsibility to protect” or “R2P” mission.

However, in the emails to Clinton, Blumenthal conveyed the actual reality that these supposedly innocent anti-Gaddafi rebels in the east indeed included jihadist elements. He wrote: “Sarkozy is also concerned about continuing reports that radical/terrorist groups such as the Libyan Fighting Groups and Al Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) are infiltrating the NLC [the rebel’s National Transitional Council] and its military command.

“Accordingly, he [Sarkozy] asked [a] sociologist who has long established ties to Israel, Syria, and other nations in the Middle East, to use his contacts to determine the level of influence AQIM and other terrorist groups have inside of the NLC. Sarkozy also asked for reports setting out a clear picture of the role of the Muslim Brotherhood in the rebel leadership.”

Blumenthal added: “Senior European security officials caution that AQIM is watching developments in Libya, and elements of that organization have been in touch with tribes in the southeastern part of the country. These [European] officials are concerned that in a post-Qaddafi Libya, France and other western European countries must move quickly to ensure that the new government does not allow AQIM and others to set up small, semi-autonomous local entities, or ‘Caliphates’, in the oil and gas producing regions of southeastern Libya.”

In other words, the danger of Islamic terror groups exploiting the power vacuum that the Obama administration and its Western allies were creating inside Libya was well understood in March 2011, but the supposed “R2P” mission pressed ahead nevertheless.

The “R2P” advocates also turned a blind eye to evidence that black Africans working for Gaddafi’s government were being systematically rounded up and murdered. As Blumenthal reported to Clinton, “Speaking in strict confidence, one rebel commander stated that his troops continue to summarily execute all foreign mercenaries captured in the fighting.”

These so-called “mercenaries” were contractors from black Africa where many people viewed Gaddafi as a champion of the continent’s development, independent of the former Western imperial powers and the harsh demands of the International Monetary Fund. While some of these blacks were part of Gaddafi’s security structure, others were involved in construction projects.

Whatever their assignments, executing prisoners of war is a war crime and the image of U.S.-backed rebels singling out black Africans for execution turns the pretense of an “R2P” mission on its head or perhaps all those noble humanitarian arguments were just phony from the start.

As Brad Hoff of the Levant Report wrote, “historians of the 2011 NATO war in Libya will be sure to notice a few of the truly explosive confirmations contained in the new emails: admissions of rebel war crimes, special ops trainers inside Libya from nearly the start of protests, Al Qaeda embedded in the U.S. backed opposition, Western nations jockeying for access to Libyan oil, the nefarious origins of the absurd Viagra mass rape claim, and concern over Gaddafi’s gold and silver reserves threatening European currency.”

Reality’s Hard Sell

But it probably would have been a hard sell to the American people if the U.S. government explained the dark side of the “R2P” mission that it involved systematic executions of blacks and rapacious Western officials grasping for oil and gold as well as creating a vacuum for jihadists. Instead, it worked much better to promote wild rumors about Gaddafi’s perfidy.

It is in this way that U.S. citizens, the “We the People” who were supposed to be the nation’s sovereigns, are treated more like cattle herded to the slaughterhouse.

Some of us did try to warn the public about these risks. For instance, on March 25, 2011, days before Blumenthal’s emails, I described the hazard from the neocon “regime change” strategies in Libya and Syria, writing:

“In rallying U.S. support for these rebellions, the neocons risked repeating the mistake they made by pushing the U.S. invasion of Iraq. They succeeded in ousting Saddam Hussein, who had long been near the top of Israel’s enemies list, but the war also removed him as a bulwark against both Islamic extremists and Iranian influence in the Persian Gulf.

“By embracing these uprisings, the neocons invited unintended consequences, including further Islamic radicalization of the region and deepening anti-Americanism. Indeed, a rebel victory over Gaddafi risked putting extremists from an al-Qaeda affiliate in a powerful position inside Libya.

“The major U.S. news media aided the neocon cause by focusing on Gaddafi’s historic ties to terrorism, including the dubious charge that he was behind the Pan Am 103 bombing in 1988. There was little attention paid to his more recent role in combating the surge in al-Qaeda activity, especially in eastern Libya, the base of the revolt against him.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Neocons Regroup on Libyan War.”]

Though the 2011 concerns about Al Qaeda have since morphed into worries about its spinoff, the Islamic State, the larger point remains valid regarding Libya, which descended into the status of failed state after Gaddafi’s ouster and his brutal torture-murder on Oct. 20, 2011. Secretary Clinton greeted the news of Gaddafi’s demise with glee, exulting, “we came, we saw, he died” and then laughed. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Hillary Clinton’s Failed Libya Doctrine.”]

More than four years later, the Obama administration still struggles to piece together some order from the chaos in Libya, where Western governments have even abandoned their Tripoli embassies. Meanwhile, the Islamic State and other jihadist groups continue to expand their control of Libyan territory.

In Syria, President Bashar al-Assad has hung on despite continued efforts by the Obama administration and its regional Sunni allies to remove him. The four years of war waged mostly by jihadists armed and financed by Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Western powers have killed a quarter million people and made millions homeless, now spreading the Mideast’s disorders into Europe where the refugee crisis is dividing the European Union.

Of course, in the U.S. mainstream media, the Syrian deaths and destruction are blamed almost entirely on Assad, much as the conflict in Libya was blamed on Gaddafi and the U.S. invasion of Iraq was blamed on Saddam Hussein. In the world created by U.S. propaganda, it is always some other guy’s fault.

In the Syrian case, the major decaying propaganda theme that continues to contaminate public understanding of the crisis has been the accusation that Assad “gassed his own people” with sarin on Aug. 21, 2013. Although independent evidence has long been pointing in the direction of a rebel provocation, perhaps aided by Turkey, the old rotting propaganda is routinely dug up by neocons and their liberal interventionist sidekicks to justify why “Assad must go!” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “The Collapsing Syria-Sarin Case.“]

In the case of Libya, Blumenthal’s emails provide a useful window into what was actually happening behind the scenes and what Secretary of State Clinton knew.

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).




The Power of Exaggerated Fear

As the American middle class shrinks and citizens feel vulnerable and angry, politicians have found that exaggerating the dangers from some bogeyman “the Muslim terrorists are out to get you!” works wonders in distracting them from far more serious threats, as ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar describes.

By Paul R. Pillar

Journalists have noticed how much current political campaigns are trading on fear. As observed in a recent article in the Washington Post, “Most of the Republican presidential contenders and their allies are now waging campaigns focused on fear, bombarding voters with ominous television spots that warn of national security threats and amping up their alarming rhetoric on the stump.”

ISIS and foreign terrorism figure prominently in the bombardment. As a media tracker cited in the same article observes, such scare tactics usually don’t get relied on until late in an election campaign. (The famous “Daisy” ad that Lyndon Johnson’s campaign used to associate Barry Goldwater with nuclear war in 1964 aired only once, in September of that year.)

But in the current campaign, the GOP candidates are trying to outdo each other with the fear factor as a way of getting attention before the primaries have even started, and trying to use the scaring of people as “the fastest way to create an ad that resonates.”

There is a long history across many nations of fear-based demagoguery leading to extreme and sometimes disastrous political results. Even if that isn’t the result in this U.S. election year, even if the candidates using the scare candidates do not really believe their rhetoric, and even if any one of them, once in office, would try to take a less fearful and more measured approach to business, the rhetoric and the public fear that it stokes have consequences. They help to create a political milieu in which anyone in office will have to operate.

The rhetoric of fear promotes emotion rather than clear thinking as the prime shaper of public attitudes. It engages the amygdala rather than the cortex. That is not what makes for sound policy, or for the sort of political environment that supports sound policy.

The rhetoric exacerbates mass misperception of the seriousness of whatever is the rhetoric’s focus, with a loss of any accurate sense of proportion. Much of the speeches and the advertising would lead one to believe that the superpower that is the United States is existentially threatened by a foreign group such as ISIS, when in fact that is nowhere near the case.

The loss of proportion discourages sober consideration of the trade-offs inevitably involved in national security policy and encourages exaggerated swings of the pendulum in which fearful Americans accept compromises to their liberty and privacy that they will oppose once the fear subsides.

The loss of proportion also encourages lashing out in costly and dangerous ways, along the line of ads that link the San Bernardino shooters to a supposed need to use more military force against a group like ISIS in the Middle East, even though the only link in real life was a shooter’s invoking of the brand name of ISIS.

Disproportionate focus by the fear-mongers on the scary topics they choose leads to distortion of, or insufficient attention to, related issues. This has been happening to a large degree with the issue of gun control, which often gets portrayed as an alternative to combating terrorism, despite an incident such as the San Bernardino shooting, which was an instance of mass murder in the United States with firearms, and was not the work of a foreign terrorist group.

A similar process has been involved in the insufficient attention given to violent antigovernment groups in the United States, which have accounted for the major share of political violence committed within the United States over the past decade and are a growing problem.

Because bandwidth is limited with both public emotions and serious policy analysis, the focus on fear also crowds out attention to unrelated issues. For example, Sen. Marco Rubio says in one of his ads, “While ISIS is beheading people and burning them in cages, he [President Obama] says climate change is our greatest threat.” That’s right, Senator, it is; climate change is on track to cause far greater harm to Americans as well as to others than ISIS will ever be capable of doing.

Beyond the effects on domestic policy debate are the untoward effects overseas of the highly salient fear-inducing rhetoric. This includes accentuating perceptions of the United States as a threatening, Islamophobic power, along with foreign reactions to those perceptions that redound to the disadvantage of U.S. interests and the security of U.S. citizens.

Such perceptions and reactions are exactly what ISIS wants from the United States, as a tool for recruitment and a stimulus to more damage that might be inflicted independently but in its name inside the United States.

Traditionally the main worries about lingering ill effects of a political campaign concern specific campaign promises and commitments that the successful candidate carries with him or her into office and might work much less well as policy than as a campaign applause line. There certainly are good reasons to worry about that sort of problem with the current campaign, regarding both foreign policy and domestic matters such as the fiscal health of the country.

But we also should worry about the broader public mood and political milieu that represent the leftovers from the campaign and that even the most flip-flop-friendly politician may have difficulty changing once in office.

The fear-mongering about threats from abroad is the most significant such worry with this year’s campaign. We have seen this sort of thing before, but it is at least as bad this year as it has been in most elections in recent memory.

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.)




EU in Stress: the German-Polish Clash

The strains on Europe from neocon-devised policies of “regime change” in Syria and Ukraine are resurfacing historical divisions and reviving old animosities among European states, including a war of words between Angela Merkel’s Germany and Poland’s new right-wing government, as Gilbert Doctorow explains.

By Gilbert Doctorow

It may have been a foregone conclusion that Poland under the control of Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s Law and Justice Party because of its Euroskeptic and nationalist positions would quickly join Viktor Orban’s Hungary as a “bad boy” of the European Union.

In recent months, especially since the Law and Justice Party’s electoral victory last October, Poland has stood out as a leading naysayer to the E.U.’s calls for sharing the burden of receiving the wave of refugees arriving from Syria and the Middle East. Polish criticism of the open borders policy championed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been stinging.

For instance, before the election, Kaczynski raised alarms about the possibility that the Mideast refugees might carry diseases. “There are already signs of emergence of diseases that are highly dangerous and have not been seen in Europe for a long time: cholera on the Greek islands, dysentery in Vienna. There is also talk about other, even more severe diseases,” he said, though European health authorities have not reported any widespread outbreak of infectious diseases connected to the migrants.

Poland also has been quick to take a “we told you so” stand on the New Year’s Eve mass violence and sexual assaults allegedly perpetrated by youths from North Africa and the Middle East, including asylum seekers, outside the Cologne main train station in Germany. Polish media cited the five-day blackout in Germany on news about the New Year’s Eve violence to question the autonomy and social responsibility of German journalism.

There are other reasons behind Polish vehemence on the refugees. First, from the standpoint of its population, Poland is already overrun by refugees and economic immigrants from Ukraine, which has suffered from civil war and economic collapse since February 2014 when a violent putsch toppled the government of President Viktor Yanukovych and created a crisis with Russia.

Official statistics put the number of Ukrainian refugees in Poland at about 400,000, as of May 2015, but unofficial estimates are much higher, more than a million today. The Ukrainians are putting pressure on the local job market at a time when there is still a net outflow of ethnic Poles going abroad in search of work. Secondly, admitting Muslims runs directly against the new government’s stress on protecting and nurturing traditional Catholic religious values.

But Merkel’s allies are hitting back against Poland’s new leadership for its apparently anti-democratic actions to tighten government control over the public news media. A controversial new law allows the Polish government to appoint the directors of the public TV and radio services, as well as civil service directors.

This control of public media will be the subject of a European Commission examination into Poland’s possibly violating the E.U.’s Rule of Law provisions, scheduled for Jan. 13 in Brussels. The charges are being pressed by a German commissioner-designate, Guenther Oetttinger, who is taking charge of European Digital Economy and Society.

If a determination is made that Poland’s law violates Europe’s rules, the penalty could be to suspend Warsaw’s voting rights in the European Council. That would be particularly awkward because Poland’s own former premier, Donald Tusk, from what’s now the opposition party, happens to be the Council’s president.

To be sure, such an outcome would come only after a period of “supervision” during which Poland’s conduct of affairs would be subject to ongoing review by the Commission. But the notion of such European supervision raises hackles in Warsaw, as reported by the country’s leading daily newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza.

It also should be noted that suspension of Poland’s voting rights is unlikely given the vocal support for Poland now coming from Hungarian President Viktor Orban.  Resolutions in the E.U. institutions must pass unanimously, which Orban’s veto threatens.

The more likely penalty that Poland could face is a cutback in E.U. financial assistance to the great variety of Polish infrastructure projects now benefiting from the largesse of Brussels. Poland is, in fact, the single largest beneficiary. Any cutbacks could be made simply as an administrative matter.

Poland also was scolded by President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz, a German Social Democrat and thus representative of Merkel’s ruling coalition. He decried the new Polish government in Russophobic terms, meant to insult Poland’s leaders by comparing them to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In statements about Poland’s new press laws, quoted by the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper on Jan. 9, Schulz hurled the following grenade: “The Polish government treats its electoral victory as a mandate to subordinate the wellbeing of the state to the interests of the victorious party, including personnel. This is controlled democracy à la Putin, a dangerous Putinization (Putinisierung) of European politics.”

The underlying resentments and condescension expressed by Schulz’s remarks come from historically tense relations between Germany and Poland, even if those conflicts now play out not on battlefields but in the non-violent universe of European institutions in Brussels, a system that many Member States view as German-controlled.  Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission (from Luxembourg) and Donald Tusk, the ex-Polish premier at the Council, both owe their positions to the strong backing of Angela Merkel. And Schulz at the European Parliament comes from her coalition.

But the image of German hegemony in Europe is something that Berlin strongly rejects. On Monday, Merkel’s spokesman explained to journalists that the Chancellor hopes for continued good working relations with Poland and looks forward to the forthcoming visit to Berlin of Poland’s new prime minister. Any differences over policy are with the European Institutions, he said, where Germany is just one of 28 Member States.

Both founders of the 14-year-old Law and Justice Party, Jaroslaw KaczyÅ„ski and his brother Lech, the Polish president who died in a plane crash outside Smolensk in 2010, often vented publicly their bitter feelings towards Germany going back to World War II atrocities. Relations with Berlin were fraught under their administration last decade, and their party’s return to power in 2015 was based on campaign promises to free the Polish economy from foreign, meaning German, domination.

The net result of the growing public row may be to unravel one of the key foreign policy achievements of Merkel’s 10 years in power consolidating her country’s hold over Central Europe. It also has implications for the E.U.’s current anti-Russian stance and sanctions, all of which have depended on Germany’s explicit support for adventurous Polish-written policies to woo Ukraine at the expense of Russian interests.

The passions of the Old World also have spilled over to the United States, where Polish-Americans have taken a close interest in the contest of wills between Warsaw and Berlin and Brussels. One political association in New York, the Polish Patriotic Discussion Club, issued Open Letters to the presidents of the European Institutions, and to Dr. Oettinger, sounding the alarm over what they see as “interference in the matters of the Republic of Poland as a sovereign country.”

Gilbert 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, 2015




Surprised by Erratic Erdogan

In a volatile world, predictions are a risky business. But they are required in the intelligence community where analysts are called on not only to assess what happened but to anticipate what will happen, a process that ex-CIA official Graham E. Fuller continues as he assesses his last year’s accuracy.

By Graham E. Fuller

Prediction on Turkey: (I was considerably off base on this one)

2015 Prediction: President ErdoÄŸan in Turkey will find his influence beginning to crumble in 2015. After a brilliant prime-ministership for the first decade of AKP power, he has become mired in corruption charges and has lashed out in paranoid fashion against any and all who criticize or oppose his increasingly irrational, high-handed, and quixotic style of rule. He is in the process of damaging institutions and destroying his and his party’s legacy. I continue to have faith that Turkey’s broader institutions, however weakened by ErdoÄŸan, will nonetheless suffice to keep the country on a basically democratic and non-violent track until such time as ErdoÄŸan loses public confidence, which could be sooner rather than later.

2016 Assessment: Instead of politically declining as I believed he would, ErdoÄŸan went on to hold a plurality in the June 2015 elections, and, dissatisfied with that, quickly maneuvered to call for yet new elections in November in which he managed to win back enough of a majority to enable him to form a single-party government. I did not anticipate that.

In the process ErdoÄŸan increased intimidation of his opponents, and went on to arrest or detain large numbers of journalists, close down newspapers, and to manipulate and pressure the judiciary. He continues to act on the assumption that an electoral majority has given him carte blanche to rule arbitrarily with virtually no obligations of consultation with the rest of the political spectrum.

Most dangerously, after having done more to resolve the Kurdish situation than any other Turkish leader in the past decade, faced with an uncertain electorate this time he went on to create an atmosphere of insecurity in the country, and stepped up confrontation with the armed Kurdish movement inside Turkey (PKK); this policy of fear-mongering led to an increase in terrorist acts and stirred increased domestic anxiety that strengthened his party at the November polls.

ErdoÄŸan, meanwhile, still persists in following his ruinous and failing quest to overthrow the Assad government in Syria, even as both Washington and the European Union are retreating from that policy, finally coming to understand that a victory by opposition jihadi forces in Syria poses greater dangers than the continued rule of Assad.

In his zeal, ErdoÄŸan had been willing to indiscriminately support (directly or indirectly) all armed opposition against Assad, including elements of al-Qaeda and ISIS.

Russia’s arrival on the Syrian scene with military power proved to be a major turning point in the Syrian civil war. Moscow has used its air power to take on all armed opposition in a campaign that has essentially rescued the Assad regime.

In doing so, Russian President Vladimir Putin has left ErdoÄŸan’s strategy in tatters and dealt a major blow to Turkish influence on all fronts within Syria. In recently shooting down an errant Russian fighter aircraft on the Turkish border, ErdoÄŸan unleashed a sharp diplomatic and economic riposte from Russia in which he will inevitably emerge the loser.

Flailing around in desperation for alternative tactical measures, he has had to defer more to U.S. concerns (for the moment), even seeks a nominal rapprochement with Israel (to please Washington), and aligned himself with Saudi Arabia’s essentially meaningless new “counter-terrorist” coalition of 34 countries.

ErdoÄŸan’s relations with Iraq and Iran have seriously deteriorated. Thus, although ErdoÄŸan has managed to gain domination over the policies of the Turkish state, it has been marked by poor judgment and dangerous tactics. Mr.  ErdoÄŸan, you have reversed nearly all the successful foreign policy principles you innovated in your first ten years of office; would you go back to them please?

I’m going to go out on limb and say that ErdoÄŸan’s losing game will increasingly undermine his authority, but not his power, over the next year. When the Turkish electorate will decide that he is a danger to the country is unpredictable, but his party is not up for reelection until 2019. If he continues to seek to amass power and rule in arbitrary and quixotic fashion, the damage to Turkish institutions could be grave.

Internal tensions in Turkey will rise, demonstrations and movements against him will increase. He will not lose power, but growing autocracy and heavy-handed treatment of all opposition is rapidly destroying his legacy and guarantees Turkey a very tense year to come. At this point he is virtually without foreign allies, except perhaps Saudi Arabia and Qatar which may be able to provide some investment support, but little political support.

My 2015 Prediction on IranThe role of Iran as an actor in the region will grow. Despite all the hurdles, I feel optimistic about U.S. negotiations with Iran. Both parties desperately need success in this regard. Normalization is ludicrously long overdue and necessary to the regional order.  Furthermore, Iran and Turkey are the only two “real” governments in the region today with genuine governance based on some kind of popular legitimacy, for all their faults. Turkey is democratic, Iran semi-democratic (presidential and parliamentary elections are real, while not fully fair, but they really matter.) These two states espouse many of the aspirations of the people of the region in ways no Arab leader does. The Gulf will be forced to accommodate itself to the reality of a normalized Iran; the two sides have never really been to war, despite all the occasional bellicose noises that have emerge from them periodically over the past century. Iran is post-revolutionary power with a vision of a truly sovereign Middle East free of Western domination none of the Arab states truly are. Iran’s influence in the region will also grow in supporting growing regional challenges to Israel’s efforts to keep the Palestinians under permanent domination. 

My 2016 Assessment: U.S.-Iran relations indeed did take a stunning step forward this year with the signing of the international nuclear agreement with Iran under U.S. leadership, Obama’s virtually sole (but impressive) success in the Middle East arena in eight years.

Rear-guard actions are underway by hard-line conservatives in both the U.S. and Iran to destroy the agreement, their ideological fervor mirrors each other. Israel and its Israel-firster allies in the U.S. are equally committed to undermining the agreement.

My guess, however, is that these reactionary Iranian and American elements will not succeed in reversing the treaty, but they will set up lots of roadblocks complicating its implementation. There is still much room for military incidents in the Gulf, but as long as Obama is president such incidents will likely be handled with restraint. (There are no guarantees on this score with any next U.S. president.)

Saddest of all, opposition to the treaty essentially undermines the prospect of more serious (and potentially valuable) cooperation between the U.S. and Iran in other areas. Cooperation in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria will thus be harder to attain. But the treaty will hold and gradually take on greater significance and importance. It has already shifted the balance of power in the region in unpredictable directions.

The Gulf states led by Saudi Arabia of course loathe the return of Iran to a significant role in the region, but they will not publicly or explicitly oppose the treaty. In fact, they are condemned to live with it, as they have accommodated themselves countless times in the past to Gulf realities. (More on Saudi Arabia next time.)

The conservative establishment in Iran, while seeking the lifting of the sanctions, are determined to hold the line against any additional cooperation or warming of relations with the U.S., and to crack down against social and ideological looseness in Iran.

These efforts to maintain the status quo will continue, but in the end they are a losing game: the new political and economic emergence of Iran will inexorably begin to weaken the hard-liners and their control over the life of the nation. They indeed sense such trends, hence the struggle to freeze the internal scene. It’s not about nukes but about maintenance of conservative clerical domination of the nation.

Graham E. Fuller is a former senior CIA official, author of numerous books on the Muslim World; his latest book is Breaking Faith: A novel of espionage and an American’s crisis of conscience in Pakistan. (Amazon, Kindle) http://grahamefuller.com . [To read Part One, click here.]




A US Media Lost in Propaganda

There was once a time perhaps just a brief moment in time when American journalists were cynical and responsible enough to resist being jerked around by U.S. government propaganda, but that time has long since passed if it ever existed, a reality that William Blum describes.

By William Blum

Vulgar, crude, racist and ultra-sexist though he is, Donald Trump can still see how awful the American mainstream media is.

I think one of the main reasons for Donald Trump’s popularity is that he says what’s on his mind and he means what he says, something rather rare amongst American politicians, or politicians perhaps anywhere in the world. The American public is sick and tired of the phony, hypocritical answers given by office-holders of all kinds.

When I read that Trump had said that Sen. John McCain was not a hero because McCain had been captured in Vietnam, I had to pause for reflection. Wow! Next the man will be saying that not every American soldier who was in the military in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq was a shining hero worthy of constant media honor and adulation.

When Trump was interviewed by ABC-TV host George Stephanopoulos, former aide to President Bill Clinton, he was asked: “When you were pressed about [Russian president Vladimir Putin’s] killing of journalists, you said, ‘I think our country does plenty of killing too.’ What were you thinking about there? What killing sanctioned by the U.S. government is like killing journalists?”

Trump responded: “In all fairness to Putin, you’re saying he killed people. I haven’t seen that. I don’t know that he has. Have you been able to prove that? Do you know the names of the reporters that he’s killed? Because I’ve been you know, you’ve been hearing this, but I haven’t seen the name. Now, I think it would be despicable if that took place, but I haven’t seen any evidence that he killed anybody in terms of reporters.”

Or Trump could have given Stephanopoulos a veritable heart attack by declaring that the American military, in the course of its wars in recent decades, has been responsible for the deliberate deaths of many journalists. In Iraq, for example, there’s the Wikileaks 2007 video, exposed by Chelsea Manning, of the cold-blooded murder of two Reuters journalists; the 2003 U.S. air-to-surface missile attack on the offices of Al Jazeera in Baghdad that left three journalists dead and four wounded; and the American firing on Baghdad’s Hotel Palestine the same year that killed two foreign news cameramen.

It was during this exchange that Stephanopoulos allowed the following to pass his lips: “But what killing has the United States government done?”

Do the American TV networks not give any kind of intellectual test to their newscasters? Something at a fourth-grade level might improve matters.

Prominent MSNBC newscaster Joe Scarborough, interviewing Trump, was also baffled by Trump’s embrace of Putin, who had praised Trump as being “bright and talented.”. Putin, said Scarborough, was “also a person who kills journalists, political opponents, and invades countries. Obviously that would be a concern, would it not?”

Putin “invades countries” Well, now there even I would have been at a loss as to how to respond. Try as I might I don’t think I could have thought of any countries the United States has ever invaded. [Editor’s Note: Sarcasm aside, Blum has compiled comprehensive lists of U.S. invasions and interventions in his books, including Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II.]

To his credit, Trump responded: “I think our country does plenty of killing, also, Joe, so, you know. There’s a lot of stupidity going on in the world right now, Joe. A lot of killing going on. A lot of stupidity. And that’s the way it is.”

As to Putin killing political opponents, this too would normally go unchallenged in the American mainstream media. But earlier this year, I listed seven highly questionable deaths of opponents of the Ukraine government, a regime put in power by the United States, which is used as a club against Putin.  This of course was non-news in the American media.

So that’s what happens when the know-nothing American media meets up with a know-just-a-bit-more presidential candidate. Ain’t democracy wonderful?

Trump has also been criticized for saying that immediately after the 9/11 attacks, thousands of Middle Easterners were seen celebrating outdoors in New Jersey in sight of the attack location. An absurd remark, for which Trump has been rightfully vilified; but not as absurd as the U.S. mainstream media pretending that it had no idea what Trump could possibly be referring to in his mixed-up manner.

For there were in fact people seen in New Jersey apparently celebrating the planes crashing into the World Trade Center towers. But they were Israelis, which would explain all one needs to know about why the story wasn’t in the headlines and has since been “forgotten” or misremembered.

On the day of the 9/11 attacks, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was asked what the attacks would mean for U.S.-Israeli relations. His quick reply was: “It’s very good. Well, it’s not good, but it will generate immediate sympathy (for Israel).” There’s a lot on the Internet about these Israelis in New Jersey, who were held in police custody for months before being released. So here too mainstream newspersons do not know enough to enlighten their audience.

Russian Propaganda?

There is a Russian website [inosmi = foreign mass media] that translates propagandistic russophobic articles from the Western media into Russian and publishes them so that Russians can see with their own eyes how the Western media lies about them day after day.

There have been several articles lately based on polls that show that anti-Western sentiments are increasing in Russia, and blaming it on “Putin’s propaganda.” This is rather odd because who needs propaganda when the Russians can read the Western media themselves and see firsthand all the lies it puts forth about them and the demonizing of Putin.

There are several political-debate shows on Russian television where they invite Western journalists or politicians; on one there frequently is a really funny American journalist, Michael Bohm, who keeps regurgitating all the Western propaganda, arguing with his Russian counterparts.

It’s pretty surreal to watch him display the worst political stereotypes of Americans: arrogant, gullible, and ignorant. He stands there and lectures high-ranking Russian politicians, “explaining” to them the “real” Russian foreign policy, and the “real” intentions behind their actions, as opposed to anything they say. The man is shockingly irony-impaired. It is as funny to watch as it is sad and scary.

The above was written with the help of a woman who was raised in the Soviet Union and now lives in Washington. She and I have discussed U.S. foreign policy on many occasions. We are in very close agreement as to its destructiveness and absurdity.

Just as in the first Cold War, one of the basic problems is that Exceptional Americans have great difficulty in believing that Russians mean well. Apropos this, I’d like to recall the following written about the late George Kennan:

“Crossing Poland with the first US diplomatic mission to the Soviet Union in the winter of 1933, a young American diplomat named George Kennan was somewhat astonished to hear the Soviet escort, Foreign Minister Maxim Litvinov, reminisce about growing up in a village nearby, about the books he had read and his dreams as a small boy of being a librarian.

“We suddenly realized, or at least I did, that these people we were dealing with were human beings like ourselves,” Kennan wrote, “that they had been born somewhere, that they had their childhood ambitions as we had. It seemed for a brief moment we could break through and embrace these people.”

It hasn’t happened yet.

Kennan’s sudden realization brings George Orwell to mind: “We have now sunk to a depth at which the restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.”

 William Blum is an author, historian, and renowned critic of U.S. foreign policy. He is the author of Killing Hope: U.S. Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II and Rogue State: A Guide to the World’s Only Superpower, among others. [This article originally appeared at the Anti-Empire Report,  http://williamblum.org/ .]




How Debt Conquered America

Special Report: America presents itself to the world as “the land of the free” but for the vast majority it is a place of enslaving indebtedness, a reality for much of “the 99%” that has deep historical roots hidden or “lost” from our history, as Jada Thacker explains.

By Jada Thacker

Since its center-stage debut during the Occupy Wall Street movement, “the 99%” a term emblematic of extreme economic inequality confronting the vast majority   has become common place. The term was coined by sociology professor David Graeber, an Occupy leader and author of the encyclopedic Debt: The First 5,000 Years, published just as the Occupy movement captured headlines.

What Graeber’s monumental work did not emphasize specifically, and what most Americans still do not appreciate, is how debt was wielded as the weapon of choice to subjugate the 99% in the centuries before the Occupy protesters popularized the term. Like so many aspects of our Lost History, the legacy of debt has been airbrushed from our history texts, but not from our lives.

The original 99% in America did not occupy Wall Street in protest. They occupied the entire Western Hemisphere as original inhabitants of North and South America. After 20,000 years of Occupy Hemisphere, an Italian entrepreneur appeared, having pitched an investment opportunity to his financial backers in Spain.

Soon after Columbus launched his business enterprise on the pristine beaches of the New World, each native discovered there above the age of puberty was required to remit a “hawk’s bell’s worth” of gold dust to the Spaniards every two weeks. The hands of all those failing to do so were cut off and strung about their necks so that they bled to death, thus motivating the compliance of others.

Bartolome de las Casas, a contemporary slave-owning priest-turned-reformer, reported three million natives were exterminated by Spanish entrepreneurship in only 15 years. His population figures were guesstimates, but modern researchers confirm that 80 to 90% of the Taino people in the Hispaniola-Cuba region died within 30 years of Spanish contact, the majority from disease.

In the century following Hernan Cortés’s extreme “hostile takeover” of the admittedly brutal Aztec regime (1519-21) the native population of the entire region also declined by 90%. The same story generally followed the Spanish march across Central and South America.

Spanish conquistadors rationalized that their colonial business model, however brutal, was morally necessary: without religious conversion to the Church, pagan natives would have been condemned to an everlasting Christian hell. Ostensibly to save pagan souls, Spaniards destroyed pagan persons with the draconian encomienda system, in essence a debt-based protection racket.

The encomienda dated from the Roman occupation of Iberia (Spain), but had more recently metastasized from the practice of Christians exacting tribute from Muslims during the so-called Spanish Reconquista, which ended the year Columbus sailed. Under this medieval debt obligation, the native 99% were deemed to owe their labor and resources (not their land, which was expropriated by the Crown) to Spaniards in exchange for “protection” and religious education.

The system’s legitimacy in the New World depended upon the useful fiction that the native labor force was not composed of sentient human beings. Thus, it was not lawful to impose encomienda upon persons of mixed-race (mestizo) presumably because they had enough European blood to be considered human.

In practice, this debt-labor system devolved into slavery and butchery of the most brutal sort imaginable, as witnessed by de las Casas. Though the encomienda was eventually abolished, it was replaced only by the hacienda system.

Haciendas were Spanish plantations on which natives worked as landless peasants, who owed a share of their produce to the landowner for the privilege of living lives similar only to those of Southern plantation slaves in the U.S. a century or two hence.

Spanish mines were the scene of even worse atrocities. In The Open Veins of Latin America, Eduardo Galeano details the horrors: native mothers in the notorious Bolivian Potosi silver mine murdered their own children to save them from lives spent as slave troglodytes.

Although some Potosi miners were nominally “free” laborers, they worked under a debt-peonage system that forbade them to leave the mine while still indebted to employers who loaned them the tools of their trade. Not even death extinguished their debt: upon the death of the indebted miner, his family was required to repay the debt with their own perpetually-indebted labor.

The tragedy of the Spaniards’ devastation of untold millions of native lives was compounded by seven million African slaves who died during the process of their enslavement. Another 11 million died as New World slaves thereafter.

The Spanish exploitation of land and labor continued for over three centuries until the Bolivarian revolutions of the Nineteenth Century. But even afterward, the looting continued for another century to benefit domestic oligarchs and foreign businesses interests, including those of U.S. entrepreneurs.

Possibly the only other manmade disasters as irredeemable as the Spanish Conquest in terms of loss of life, destruction and theft of property, and impoverishment of culture were the Mongol invasions of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth centuries. The Mongols and the Spaniards each inflicted a human catastrophe fully comparable to that of a modern, region-wide thermonuclear war.

The North American Business Model

Unlike Spaniards, Anglo-American colonists brought their own working-class labor from Europe. While ethnic Spaniards remained at the apex of the Latin American economic pyramid, that pyramid in North America would be built largely from European ethnic stock. Conquered natives were to be wholly excluded from the structure.

While contemporary North Americans look back at the Spanish Conquest with self-righteous horror, most do not know the majority of the first English settlers were not even free persons, much less democrats. They were in fact expiration-dated slaves, known as indentured servants.

They commonly served 7 to 14 years of bondage to their masters before becoming free to pursue independent livelihoods. This was a cold comfort, indeed, for the 50% of them who died in bondage within five years of arriving in Virginia this according to American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia by the dean of American colonial history, Edmund S. Morgan.

Also disremembered is that the Jamestown colony was founded by a corporation, not by the Crown. The colony was owned by shareholders in the Virginia Company of London and was intended to be a profit-making venture for absentee investors. It never made a profit.

After 15 years of steady losses, Virginia’s corporate investors bailed out, abandoning the colonists to a cruel fate in a pestilential swamp amidst increasingly hostile natives. Jamestown’s masters and servants alike survived only because they were rescued by the Crown, which was less motivated by Christian mercy than by the tax it was collecting on each pound of the tobacco the colonists exported to England.

Thus a failed corporate start-up survived only as a successful government-sponsored oligarchy, which was economically dependent upon the export of addictive substances produced by indentured and slave labor. This was the debt-genesis of American-Anglo colonization, not smarmy fairy tales featuring Squanto or Pocahontas, or actor Ronald Reagan’s fantasized (and plagiarized) “shining city upon a hill.”

While the Spaniard’s ultimate goal was to command native labor from the economic apex, the Anglo-American empire would replace native labor with its own disadvantaged 99%. The ultimate goal of Anglo colonization was not intended so much to put the natives under the lash as to have rid of them altogether.

Trade deficits and slavery would answer their purpose quite nicely. By the 1670s New England Puritans were already rigging the wampum market at their trading posts in order to pressure the Wampanoag into ceding land thus in part precipitating the Narragansett War, King Philip’s War, the ensuing genocide of some natives, and the mass enslavement of others to be sold abroad.

As chronicled by Alan Gallay in The Indian Slave Trade: The Rise of the English Empire in the American South, 1670-1717, Carolina colonists concurrently sold Indian slaves to the God-fearing Puritans and trading others for African slaves at a 2:1 exchange rate while wielding trading-post debt against local Indians, precipitating the Yamasee War which proved to be a major disaster for natives and whites alike.

For half a century, the Carolina colonists’ export of tens of thousands of Indian slaves exceeded imports of black slaves. This was the origin of Southern plantation agriculture.

The institution of North American Indian slavery was necessarily based upon debt. English law forbade colonists from enslaving free persons, but it conceded that prisoners of war could be considered slaves. Because captives owed their lives to their captors, the latter could dispose of the debt as they saw fit, to include transferring the debt to a third party for goods and services.

 

The captive-to-slave pipeline was sanctioned by none other than John Locke, the renowned philosopher who directly inspired Jefferson’s composition of the Declaration of Independence, and who is often championed today by libertarians and no wonder! as an oracle of private property rights.

All along the westward frontier, American colonists continued to foreclose on natives’ land with debt machinations perhaps less overtly brutal, but far more devious than the Spanish encomienda: to remove the self-reliant 99% from their land, it was necessary first to remove their self-reliance.

Here is how President Thomas Jefferson explained the process to future president William Henry Harrison in 1803: “To promote this disposition to exchange lands [] we shall push our trading uses, and be glad to see the good and influential individuals among them run in debt, because we observe that when these debts get beyond what the individuals can pay, they become willing to lop them off by a cession of lands.

“As to their fear, we presume that our strength and their weakness is now so visible that they must see we have only to shut our hand to crush them, and that all our liberalities to them proceed from motives of pure humanity only. Should any tribe be foolhardy enough to take up the hatchet at any time, the seizing the whole country of that tribe, and driving them across the Mississippi, as the only condition of peace, would be an example to others, and a furtherance of our final consolidation.”

Debt more so than firepower, firewater, or even disease provided the economic weapon by which Anglo-Americans designed to privatize the Indians’ means of self-reliance. “How the West Was Won” in the “Land of the Free” was a saga of debt moving inexorably westward in what Jefferson called “our final consolidation.” He might well have said “final solution,” but he did not.

As debt expanded westward, desperate Anglo settlers believed the frontier land was “free for the taking” for those with the stamina to seize it. This belief ultimately proved illusory, as land “squatters” and homesteaders were evicted or forced into paid tenancy through debt or the legal maneuvering of wealthy land speculators.

George Washington secured the eviction of pioneer families from western Pennsylvania land he claimed to own in absentia, although those he forced from the land possessed a deed that pre-dated his own, as related in Joel Achenbach’s The Grand Idea: George Washington’s Potomac & the Race to the West.

On the other hand, Daniel Boone, famed for leading pioneers westward through the Cumberland Gap, died landless, all his land claims having been picked off by legal sharpshooters. Also landless, Davy Crockett died at the Alamo in an attempt to secure Texas acreage he never survived to claim.

The final illusion of free soil vaporized when in 1890 the United States census declared the American Frontier closed. Much of what was left had at any rate been monopolized by railroad, ranching, mining, and forestry corporations after the Dawes Act had privatized most of the natives’ “protected” reservation lands in 1887. For most white and black Americans, meanwhile, free tenancy homesteads had never materialized in the first place.

Debt vs. Self Reliance

Jefferson’s “final consolidation” was accomplished by a system he admitted offered debt with one hand but held a sword in the other. The estimated 3,000,000 families who lost their homes during the Great Recession that began in 2007 understand this principle intimately.

The debt system is in fact more powerful in the Twenty-first Century than ever before because the 99% are far less self-reliant now than ever before. To understand why this is so, we must first think seriously about the term “self-reliance.”

Although we may casually refer to someone as being self-reliant, such people do not actually exist. Human beings simply are not equipped to survive, much less prosper, strictly as self-reliant individuals. As infants and children we cannot survive without familial care, and as adults we cannot prosper without the cooperation and support of peers.

There has never been, and never will be, such a thing as a “self-made man.”

NativeAmericanTribesMap

On the other hand, the 99% was self-reliant the day before Columbus arrived. They possessed the means of production of the energy and food resources needed for their group’s long-term survival and biological propagation, all without significant contact with others. Had the culture of Columbus been equally self-reliant, he would never have needed to set sail.

Judged by modern standards, American native groups were intensely cooperative, extremely egalitarian, and inherently (if informally) democratic. Government as a coercive force did not exist in these groups as we know it today, though leadership and traditional mores were vital to group survival.

Similarly, the concepts of money and monetary debt were unknown, as was the concept of an economic “class” that reserved economic privileges or property to itself at the expense of all. Interpersonal behavior within native groups, by eyewitness accounts, was respectful and peaceful.

Behavior between native groups usually was not peaceful. Persistent low-level warfare was the norm. It could be brutal indeed, but rarely if ever rose to the scale of civilized “total war.”

Indeed, since a “warrior class” did not exist and could not be conscripted, native combatants were necessarily volunteers who otherwise were needed at home to help provide for their families. Consequently, the severity and duration of native warfare were limited as it is for all human groups everywhere to what society at large can economically afford.

Among the original 99%, all men mostly performed the same sort of occupational tasks. All women did the same. Both sexes had a common goal: food production and the reproduction and rearing of children. While all human groups must achieve these basic goals, civilized peoples do so within a complex hierarchical labor system, wherein some occupational tasks are considered more worthy than others and are compensated accordingly.

Civilized division of labor inevitably has metamorphosed into a hierarchy of economic classes, ultimately resulting in the private ownership of the means of production by the “haves” and the lack of private ownership by the “have-nots.” This was unknown in uncivilized native society.

Native land, for example, was not actually “owned” in the contemporary sense at all. Natives were acutely aware that they, themselves, were products of the land; for them, claiming ownership of the land would have made as much sense as children claiming ownership of parents.

This is not to say that natives were not territorial, for they were highly territorial. But their territoriality was not based upon legalistic titles of private property. Access to communally-held food resources not ownership of real estate was their sine qua non for sustainable survival.

What natives shared in common they defended in common. Having no economic hierarchy, no one in their society could control the food supply of others, simply because no individual could claim exclusive ownership of the collective means of food production. Abundant resources were therefore abundant for all; if scarce, they were scarce for all.

True enough, when the Europeans arrived, they found native societies everywhere in conflict with their neighbors, but nowhere did they find endemic poverty, famine, disease or social degeneracy. Indeed, it was the self-reliant natives who helped feed the first generation of starvation-prone English colonists both at Jamestown and at Plymouth.

Once private ownership clamped down upon the landscape, virtually nobody would control their own food supply without some form of indebtedness to another. But since the resource stock of self-reliant food production the land itself would remain in place, private monopolist-owners required an economic mechanism to keep what remained within their grasp forever out of reach of others.

The Hand That Gives

As self-reliant native societies were decimated by debt, disease, and sword, ownership of the previously un-owned land was usurped by the conquerors. But it was not to be usurped equally by all of them.

Economic-class domination was problematical in British North America, because the economic pyramid that supplanted the communal native system was composed largely by people in the same Anglo ethnic group. It is one thing to justify violent economic domination of those with a “foreign” language, culture, religious sensibility and physical appearance; it is quite another to justify overlord-ship of those virtually indistinguishable from oneself.

Nevertheless, class domination was a stark fact of life in Colonial America where the economic division between masters and servants was sharp and where all land titles originally flowed down from the Crown to a short list of royal favorites, sycophants and lackeys. After the Revolution, however, maintaining economic class domination proved especially tricky, eventually requiring the drafting of an “all-American” document for that specific purpose.

Yet the solution to the problem to elite domination of a supposed “republic” had been imported, disease-like, from the Old World. In the centuries preceding Columbus’s arrival, two critical economic developments had transpired in Europe: the rise of an economy based upon metallic currency and the de facto repeal of the Biblical prohibition on loaning currency at interest.

The upshot of these quiet revolutions was the replacement of the sovereign currency owned by kings and emperors by that of private currency owned by the new economic elite known as bankers. In Antiquity, currency was owed by subjects to the monarch as tax. This was the reason for Joseph and Mary’s celebrated journey to Bethlehem.

But by the time of Columbus (and continuing to the present day) currency was to be owed to private persons by the monarch, who borrowed from them at interest to finance wars to protect and defend monarchical control over the means of food production.

To be sure, government still levied taxes as in the days of Jesus, but the tax revenue was not exchanged directly to conduct war, but to repay principal and interest to bankers only too obliging to finance wars for personal gain.

Indeed, war and bank-indebted sovereigns are inseparable. The very first European bank to loan at interest was established during The Crusades by the Knights Templar; Spanish king Charles I squandered the vast majority of his conquistadors’ New World gold on paying crushing interest charges incurred during his long war in the Netherlands; King William’s War against France was made possible by the establishment in 1694 of the Bank of England, the world’s first central bank.

Wherever modern war exists, governments are indebted to bankers. This is what prompted a cash-strapped Napoleon to observe: “When a government is dependent upon bankers for money, they and not the leaders of the government control the situation, since the hand that gives is above the hand that takes. Money has no motherland; financiers are without patriotism and without decency; their sole object is gain.”

It is hardly coincidental that the first bank in North America was chartered to supply arms for the American Revolution, and the first central bank of the United States was chartered specifically to fund Revolutionary War debt. Although no banks had existed in British North America during the 174 years preceding the Declaration of Independence, America’s first commercial bank sprang forth in 1781, literally before the smoke had cleared from the American Revolution nearly a decade ahead of Constitutional government.

This fact alone suggests where real economic power had been vested, long before the words “We the People” ever went to press.

Unlike the days of Antiquity, wealth taken by force was not to be held by those who wielded the sword, but by those who financed the supply of swords. The means of North American food production, first expropriated under the banner of European imperial power, would be owned thereafter in Republican America as in monarchical Europe alike by new conquistadors called creditors.

Scarcity, Debt, and “Necessitous Men”  

Monopoly of the food supply of the 99% was accomplished by replacing self-reliance with debt bondage. The second step was to reserve private land ownership to particular individuals within the dominant class. This would be accomplished by imposing upon the land a wholly arbitrary number called a “price.”

The prime function of a monetary price was to render land unaffordable for all except a few creditor-entrepreneurs. Under the precious-metal-based system then in place, currency had been endemically scarce in North America, making this an easy task.

If American land so recently filched from its native inhabitants, then re-filched from its imperial British overlords were to be had by freedom-loving American common folk, it would be had on credit, and on the creditor’s terms. The fate of the Ohio land of the Old Northwest Territory provides a case in point.

In 1749, King George II granted Ohio land to a private corporation, the Ohio Land Company, whose shareholders included George Washington’s paternal uncles. Tellingly, the grant was bestowed 15 years before Britain actually established sovereignty over that land by winning the French and Indian War.

That war which became the first World War in all of human history was ignited, not incidentally, by George Washington himself when he ordered the murder of Indians and a French nobleman upon Ohio land Washington likely considered private property, possibly his own.

It would yet require the American Revolution, three more Indian Wars all under Washington’s presidential authority plus a good deal of diplomatic treachery, finally to “open” the land for Anglo settlement.

But its first owners were not to be hardy frontiersmen and their growing families. In the meantime, select government committees, again not incidentally, had priced the land out of reach of those most in need, so ownership fell into the hands of well-heeled real estate speculators, to include of course Washington, himself.

With the Ohio land grab as background, let us consider the principle of scarcity as it relates to trade. All trade is predicated upon exchanging something one possesses for something one would prefer to possess instead. If there were no such thing as scarcity that is, if all persons already possessed sufficient quantities of the stuff they need nobody would have the inclination to trade anything at all.

What, then, about debt?  No self-regarding person would voluntarily borrow currency at interest if they already possessed enough currency to exchange for the stuff they need to live. If this is so, then for creditors to profit by lending at interest, a single condition is always necessary: persons should not be allowed a sufficient quantity of currency to complete the desired exchange. When currency is scarcer than the goods for which it is to be exchanged, prospective buyers have only two legal options: do without, or borrow.

If the consequences of doing without (starvation or homelessness, for example) are sufficiently unacceptable, and if a creditor is available, then a debtor is certain to emerge. This emphatically does not imply that the debtor is always a willing party to a debt obligation.

Indeed, the entire logic of indebtedness implies the opposite. No rational entities businesses, governments, or individual persons put themselves into interest-bearing debt if they need not do so. Put simply: debtors are the needy who can no longer afford self-reliance.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt expressed this reality eloquently in 1944 when he declared to the nation, “Necessitous men are not free men.” He was mostly preaching to the choir. The American 99% had known this truth since indentured-servant pioneers had waded ashore at Jamestown in 1607 only to find upon their emancipation that all the valuable land had already been monopolized by the planter elite.

Having failed to learn the history debt played in the exploitation of the New World, modern Americans fail to perceive they have inherited the same debt-system foisted upon the natives by colonizing Europeans and later by American elites upon their own people. Consequently, we think of debt only as a contract made voluntarily between two consenting adults.

But in America today every newborn child is a predestined debtor, no matter what he or she will consent to in the future. Once the free land tenure of communal native societies was destroyed, it was never to return, not even for the progeny of the destroyers.

Debt-bondage today takes a more subtle form. If Americans are no longer debt-peons, forced to slave away on the landlord’s estate or starve, it is only because the landlords no longer care where we slave away. Landlords extract their monthly payments regardless. Today about 25% or more of the earnings of workers flows as rent to landlords or as debt payments to mortgagees.

Indeed, fully half of the debts held by commercial banks alone are tied to real estate. Nor do Americans conceive the staggering price tag affixed to land:  for example, economist Michael Hudson reports the dollar valuation of real estate in New York City alone is higher than that of the industrial plant of the entire nation.

As 2016 arrived, American households owed about $13.8 trillion in home mortgage debt, which effectively is a rent payment to the mortgagee who holds the title to the property. All persons without a mortgage must pay rent to a landlord. All persons without mortgages or landlords must still pay property taxes until death, at which time any unpaid taxes in an echo of the Potosi miners’ debt-peonage system must be paid by their indebted heirs.

Thus, the entire landmass of the Western Hemisphere, which for over 20,000 years had been the source of self-reliance for all its human inhabitants, remains hostage to the same debt system that seized it and which now extracts ransom from the 99% who would claim the least corner of it as home.

Debt vs. Dollars 

In Early America, the scarcity of precious-metal coinage (specie) was a perennial problem. So scarce was gold that the first coinage act passed by Congress in 1792 defined the U.S. dollar as “each to be the value of a Spanish milled dollar as the same is now current, and to contain four hundred and sixteen grains of standard silver.”

Thus the United States dollar was literally established on a “silver standard,” and it was Spanish silver at that! The now oft fetishized American “gold standard” for currency would not officially materialize until the Twentieth Century with the passage of the Gold Standard Act in 1900. It did not last long.

After only 33 years, the Gold Standard was abandoned by the Emergency Banking Act of 1933, which was passed to remedy what else? the scarcity of currency during the Great Depression. (All the world’s major currencies dropped the gold standard during this crisis.)

Subsequently, the gold standard never was reemployed domestically in the U.S. And even the dollar’s international convertibility to gold finally was declared extinct, courtesy of President Richard Nixon, in 1971.

It was appropriate for gold to tread the path of the dinosaur, for it had come to resemble one. Though it is evident that currency must be scarce to some degree in order to maintain its exchange-value purchasing power, all precious-metal-backed currencies suffer from their dinosaur-like tendency of becoming increasingly scarce.

As the volume of trade increases in a growing economy, any medium of exchange based upon a finite quantity of metal cannot keep pace. The result is a constant increase in the purchasing power of the metal-backed currency, which becomes ever-more scarce in proportion to the number of persons needing to possess it.

This, in turn, leads to “necessitous men” becoming debtors to those in possession of the metal sometimes to governments, sometimes to businessmen, but always to bankers.

Historically, American currency has usually consisted of a mish-mash of specie, paper money, and debt, often accompanied by copious reserves of flimflammery. Thus, purchasing power has always been based partially upon some form of debt obligation, not just gold or silver coin.

During the Colonial Era, “bills of exchange” essentially IOUs of transferrable debt served as currency for the wealthy and the merchant class. Later, “bills of credit,” un-backed fiat currency issued by the Continental Congress as paper money, financed the Revolution, along with some $60 million of private domestic lending.

Finally, under the National Banking Act of 1862, paper currency issued by national banks was backed by the amount of federal debt IOUs owned by the bank. This officially made the most popular medium of exchange broadly based upon national (war) debt. In addition, the government spent into existence Greenback fiat money, which was backed by nothing at all.

When in 1913 the Federal Reserve Bank (the Fed) began issuing Federal Reserve Notes, they were  at first redeemable either in gold or “lawful money,” but their redemption was soon cancelled by the Emergency Banking Act noted above. Since then, all “backed” currency has been withdrawn from circulation, leaving Federal Reserve Notes (dollar bills), exchangeable only for debt owned by the privately-owned Fed as the sole legal tender of the United States.

Although the gold standard is long gone, “necessitous men” remain. This is not happenstance.

This is the result of applying the mentality of gold-standard scarcity to the modern creation of financial debt, which is but the latest scheme by which the means of production of food that is, the vast landscape of North America is owned by the few and rented out to the rest at interest.

“Gold Bug” libertarians decry the absence of a federal statute defining the value of a U.S. dollar but they miss the point. No doubt the “value” of a dollar matters a great deal to those who hoard them by the billions; but dollar “value” is less a concern for the 99%, who are allowed to earn so few dollars they are forced to borrow them at interest from the hoarders.

As it applies to the 99%, our wages are the source of the currency we all must possess in order to live. But none of us actually controls how much currency we earn (or quite often how much of it we must spend); as a result, we do not control how much we may be forced to borrow.

Finally, we certainly do not control the conditions that will be imposed upon us if we must borrow (or whether we will be allowed to borrow at all). Put bluntly, the economic lives of wage earners are not in their own hands, but rest in the “hand that gives.”

We have only to be thankful we live in a “free country,” whatever in the world that is supposed to mean.

How the West Was Owed: Redux

In the years following the Revolution, some 90% of the American population subsisted as farmers. American women in the coming century would, on average, give birth to eight children who lived into adulthood. Accordingly, not only did population double every 30 years, the demand for additional farms more than trebled every generation.

Moreover, uninformed agricultural practices rapidly destroyed topsoil, sending “dirt poor” farmers streaming westward in search of land more fertile than their wives. As the frontier chased the setting sun, speculators and corporate agents raced ahead like locusts, devouring the landscape on the cheap, renting or re-selling at the price dictated by the demographics of desperation.

covered-wagons

When American school kids are taught about Conestoga wagon “prairie schooners” creaking along the Oregon Trail or the Oklahoma “Sooners” land grab or the California Gold Rush, they are encouraged to view these events as technicolor visions of  a unique American Opportunity unavailable to lesser mortals.

In truth, the 99% headed west simply because there was no place left for them to go. These economic refugees no doubt saw opportunity before them, but a great many of them must have perceived it the same way the many Third Class passengers on the Titanic viewed the opportunity offered by a lifeboat with an empty seat.

In 1893, historian Frederick Jackson Turner enunciated his famous “Frontier Thesis.” He claimed that the American Frontier experience had produced a unique form of democratic culture, increasingly more hostile to social and economic hierarchy as it spread from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The Frontier Thesis is a powerful idea, especially in its view of the frontier as an evolutionary process, which it was.

But Turner’s thesis perhaps unintentionally reinforced both the preexisting theocratic Puritanical creed of American Exceptionalism and the ordained racism of Manifest Destiny both of which were based upon a belief in the sanctity of Anglo-American economic domination of the New World.

For 40 years, Turner continued to proselytize his prototype of Hollywood Americanism as the rapidly industrializing United States rose to world-power status, and he became a celebrity doing so. Had Turner spent an hour or two of that time pondering the deeper implications of his own home mortgage, he might have discovered a more profound reality.

While the American frontier had indeed fundamentally and irrevocably revolutionized the economic relationship between human beings and their control of the North American landscape, the revolution was not achieved by abandoning European principles of social and economic hierarchy, but by transplanting them to the Western Hemisphere.

To view the conquest of North America as the triumphant flowering of democratic liberty and affluence over bestial savagery and abject poverty is so factually vacant, so morally and economically perverse, as to be considered hallucinatory.

Native people literally had no words to describe the cataclysm that had destroyed them. It was left to follow-on generations of “necessitous men” to learn the vocabulary of servitude needed to describe their economic lives.

Here is only a part of the terminology “necessitous men” needed to learn: poverty level, payday loans, food stamps, interest rate, surcharges, eviction, unemployment rates, lock-outs, foreclosure, bankruptcy, credit scores, down payment, damage deposits, credit limit, collection agency, mortgages, user fees, closing costs, title loans, bail outs, insolvency, title insurance, origination fee, installment plans, tax levy, deed restrictions, market crashes, illiquidity, non-sufficient funds, minimum payment due, late fees, lay-offs, property lien, pawn tickets, collateral, tax withholding, service fees, forfeiture, inflation, deflation, stagflation

Is this the vocabulary of free people?

As of January, 2016, Americans (government, business and individuals) owed an estimated $65,000,000,000,000 ($65 trillion) in total debt, with the average citizen’s share about $200,000. Of course, these are aggregate figures: many individuals and businesses owe more, many owe less, but everybody owes.

Now consider: the annual median income (mid-point, not the average) of American citizens is $29,000; that median family savings is below $9,000; and that the median price of a new home is over $294,000. Personal debt (not including national and business debt) per citizen is $54,000, or about twice the median income.

It does not require Napoleonic genius to grasp the fact that the “hand that gives” can load more debt onto the 99% than they can ever possibly repay. This is not a mistake or a “conspiracy”; it is simply a business plan. For every citizen’s $200,000 share of debt, some other entity or citizen expects to collect $200,000 plus interest. Will such a business plan succeed? Ask a Taino or a Wampanoag if you can find one handy.

There is an historical anecdote of a question posed long ago by a Cherokee. “White Brother,” he said, “when you first came to this land, there were no debts. There were no taxes. And our women did all the work. Do you expect me to believe you can make this situation better?”

The 99% should know the answer. And women still do most of the work.

Jada Thacker, Ed.D is a Vietnam veteran and author of Dissecting American History. He teaches U.S. History at a private institution in Texas. Contact: jadathacker@sbcglobal.net




Taking Aim at the Israeli Boycott

Mainstream U.S. presidential candidates are lining up behind Israel’s demand that the next “leader of the free world” take aim at Americans who express their contempt for Israel’s persecution of Palestinians through a boycott, as Lawrence Davidson describes.

By Lawrence Davidson

Most readers will know that the United States has served as the patron of Israel for decades. Why has it done so?

The commonly given reasons are suspect. It is not because the two countries have overlapping interests. The U.S. seeks stability in the Middle East (mostly by supporting dictators) and Israel is constantly making things unstable (mostly by practicing ethnic cleansing against Palestinians, illegally colonizing conquered lands and launching massive assaults against its neighbors).

Nor, as is often claimed, is the alliance based on “shared Western values.” The U.S. long ago outlawed racial, ethnic and religious discrimination in the public sphere. In Israel, religious-based discrimination is the law. The Zionist state’s values in this regard are the opposite of those of the United States.

So why is it that a project that seeks to pressure Israel to be more cognizant in foreign affairs of regional stability, and more democratic and egalitarian in domestic affairs, is now under fire by almost every presidential candidate standing for the 2016 election?

That project in dispute is BDS, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, promoted by civil society throughout the Western world. BDS is directed at Israel due to its illegal colonization of the Occupied Territories and its general apartheid-style discrimination against non-Jews in general and Palestinians in particular.

The Candidates and BDS

With but two exceptions, every presidential candidate in both parties is condemning the BDS Movement. Let’s start with the two exceptions.

The first exception is the Green Party candidate Jill Stein, who has taken the accurate position that “the United States has encouraged the worst tendencies of the Israeli government.” She has pledged to use both diplomatic and economic means to change Israeli behavior, behavior which she rightly believes is in contravention of international law and violates human rights.

The second exception is the Republican candidate Donald Trump, who recently told a meeting of Jewish Republicans that he didn’t think Israel is serious about peace and that they would have to make greater efforts to achieve it. When he was booed he just shrugged and told the crowd that he did not care if they supported him or not, “I don’t want your money.” Unfortunately, this appears to be the only policy area where Mr. Trump is reasonable.

Jill Stein gets absolutely no media coverage and Donald Trump gets too much. And neither is in the “mainstream” when it comes to American political reactions to BDS. However, the rest of the presidential candidates are. Here is what is coming out of the “mainstream”:

, Jeb Bush (Republican), Dec, 4, 2015: “On day one I will work with the next attorney general to stop the BDS movement in the United States, to use whatever resources that exist” to do so.

, Ted Cruz (Republican), May 28, 2015: “BDS is premised on a lie and it is anti-Semitism, plain and simple. And we need a president of the United States who will stand up and say if a university in this country boycotts the nation of Israel than that university will forfeit federal taxpayer dollars.”

, Marco Rubio (Republican), Dec. 3, 2015: “This [BDS] coalition of the radical left thinks it has discovered a clever, politically correct way to advocate Israel’s destruction. As president, I will call on university presidents, administrators, religious leaders, and professors to speak out with clarity and force on this issue. I will make clear that calling for the destruction of Israel is the same as calling for the death of Jews.”

Hillary Clinton (Democrat), July 2, 2015: In a letter to Haim Saban, who is a staunch supporter of the Zionist state and also among the biggest donors to the Democratic Party, she said, “I know you agree that we need to make countering BDS a priority, I am seeking your advice on how we can work together – across party lines and with a diverse array of voices – to fight back against further attempts to isolate and delegitimize Israel.”

Bernie Sanders (Democrat), Oct. 20, 2015: “Sanders’ fraught encounter with BDS supporters who challenged his defense of Israel at a town hall meeting in Cabot [Vermont] last year was captured on YouTube.” Sanders told them to “shut up.”

The Legitimacy of Boycott

This hostility to the tactic of boycott runs counter to both U.S. legal tradition and the country’s broader historical tradition.

For instance, advocating and practicing BDS can be seen as a constitutionally protected right. It certainly is more obviously protected by the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech than is the use of money to buy elections.

Thus, if Zionist lobbyists can use money to buy support for Israel, why can’t anti-Zionists use their free speech rights to challenge that support? It should be noted that, in this regard, most Americans of voting age think it is the Zionists, and not the anti-Zionists, who have gone too far.

According to a December 2015 Brookings Institute poll, 49 percent of Democratic voters and 25 percent of Republican voters think that Israel has too much influence with U.S. politicians. Those supporting BDS in the United States might give some thought as to how to use these numbers to uphold their cause.

Then there is the fact of well-established historical tradition. The war for American Independence was built upon a framework of boycott. In November 1767, England introduced the Townshend Acts, requiring the colonists to pay a tax on a large number of items. The reply to this was both a boycott of British goods by many colonial consumers which was eventually followed by a boycott on the importation of such goods on the part of colonial merchants.

Subsequently, Americans have used the tactic of boycott against:

, (1930s) Goods produced by Nazi Germany , (1960s and 1970s) California-grown grapes in support of the United Farm Workers , (1970s and 1980s) All aspects of the economy and cultural output of South Africa , (1980) The Moscow-hosted Olympics of 1980 , Myriad number of boycotts of various companies and products ranging from Nestle (baby formula) to Coca Cola. See the list given by the Ethical Consumer.

The reality is that the tactic of boycott has long been as American as the proverbial apple pie.

Apple pie not withstanding, the legal and historical legitimacy of boycott no longer has much impact on the attitudes of presidential candidates or, for that matter, members of Congress. Nor does the fact that the changes the BDS movement seeks to make in Israeli behavior would be to the benefit of U.S. interests in the Middle East.

Instead what the positions of the candidates seem to indicate is that there will be an almost certain attack on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, coming from the very highest levels of U.S. power, sometime soon after the 2016 elections.

How is it that such a contradiction between national interests and established tradition on the one hand, and imminent government policy on the other can exist? The answer is not difficult to come by. It is just a matter of fact that constitutional rights, historical tradition, and indeed the very interests of the nation, can be overridden by special interest demands.

The demands of what George Washington once called “combinations and associations” of “corrupted citizens” who would “betray or sacrifice the interests of their own country” in favor of those of some other “favorite nation.” It is exactly such demands that are now given priority by the politicians in Washington.

This form of corruption will go on as long as the general public does not seem to care that it is happening. And it is sadly clear that the BDS activists alone cannot overcome this indifference. Thus, the politicians can dismiss the Brookings Poll numbers mentioned above. They can shrug and say, So what?

As long as that majority does not express their opinion by actively demanding a change in the situation, as long as they are not successfully organized to do so, their opinion cannot compete with the millions of special interest dollars flowing into political campaigns.

In many ways our greatest enemy is our own indifference to the quiet erosion of important aspects of the democratic process. Allowing the attack on BDS only contributes to this disintegration of rights.

A combination of localness and ignorance sets us up for this feeling of indifference. However, in the end, there can be no excuse for not paying attention. One morning you will wake up to find that valued rights and traditions are no longer there for you.

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.