Archive for the ‘U.S.A.’ Category

What’s Wrong with America?

June 9, 2015

americandecline6915

The world’s one-time sole surviving superpower is in decline. And what ails the U.S. can be seen through the experience of ordinary people—those who personify the existential rationale for “democracy.”

Three recent stories in the news nicely sum it up: the world’s one-time sole surviving superpower is in decline.  The cause is a sickness.  It’s not a disease of the skin, to coin a phrase.  No, we’re talking about a disease of the heart – the heart and soul, that is, of a society.

There’s no better way to get to the core of what ails U.S. America than through the experience of ordinary people – in other words, the very individuals who personify the existential rationale for “democracy” – the Greek word “demos” means populace or the common people.  In theory, RaDonna Kuekelhan and her sister, Cathy O’Mara, who live in a small town in southeast Kansas, are just the kind of people who stand to benefit the most from a democratic form of government, or even an indirect democracy in which people like RaDonna and Cathy vote for other people to represent them in a rule-making body called a legislature.  But, as RaDonna and millions of others in U.S. America are discovering, the deep and widening gulf between theory and practice is not only bad for working-class folks, but also potentially fatal.

Hyperbole, you say?  Left-wing propaganda?  Fear-mongering?   If you think so you probably haven’t read the story (“Life and Death in Brownback’s Kansas”) featured in the June 2 issue of The Nation magazine.  It’s hard reading because RaDonna is dying.  What makes it even harder is that it didn’t have to be that way.  The reason it happened goes to the core of what’s wrong with Kansas – and the country that has forsaken people like RaDonna.

Exactly what kind of people are RaDonna and her sister?  RaDonna is “a stout, white-haired 59-year-old who’s proudly willful, and she has cheated death twice before.” RaDonna lost her job at Emerson Electric making motors for small appliances, when the factory shut down.  She had worked there for two decades.

When RaDonna’s job was taken away, she lost her health insurance.  During that time she also battled cancer, a battle that entailed 35 rounds of radiation and, of course, a great deal of mental agony, to say nothing of the physical suffering.

The cancer returned in 2010, which just happened to be the same year President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act (ACA) into law.  It was RaDonna’s salvation – almost.

What happened to RaDonna assumes a human form:  Governor Sam Brownback and a Jurassic-Republican juggernaut otherwise known the Kansas legislature.  The context reads like the predicate to a parable:

In 2010, as RaDonna grew ill, 16 percent of Americans had no coverage; in Montgomery County, RaDonna’s home, the uninsured rate was nearly 22 percent. Few of these people qualified for Medicaid, the national program designed to insure poor people, because Kansas has…one of the more restrictive programs in the country…working parents couldn’t earn more than…$5,859 a year for a family of three.  Childless adults like RaDonna didn’t qualify no matter how little they took home.

But then came the Affordable Care Act (ACA), “which promised a massive nationwide expansion of Medicaid.”

States were asked to open…[health insurance exchanges] to all adults earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or just about $27,000 a year for a family of three. In return, Washington would pay the full costs of new enrollees through 2016 and 90 percent from 2020 forward. It would be hard to overstate the magnitude of this change. It was arguably the largest expansion of an anti-poverty program since Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, when Medicaid was created—and it could very well have saved RaDonna’s life.

When in 2011 Sam Brownback, having fought Medicaid expansion, gave the federal grant money ($31.5 million) his financially distressed state had gotten for health care reform back to Washington (!), he was reacting to reactionaries in his own party and serving notice of his intent not to implement the ACA on his watch.

In 2012, the Supreme Court opened the door for states to refuse set up health insurance exchanges – in other words, not to play nicely.  Roughly two-dozen red states are opting out of the ACA.  Kansas is one of them.

There’s no point in questioning the Governor’s motives:  he bears no ill will toward RaDonna or any other fellow Kansans facing a similar fate.  He’s just doing his job as he sees fit.  But by refusing to set up a state health exchange he unwittingly signed RaDonna’s death warrant.

And that, Virginia, is what we call tragedy.

It so happens that about the same time as the “Life and Death” story appeared, a prominent journalist named Thomas B. Edsall published a piecein the New York Times posing this simple but elegant question:  How Do We Get More People to Have Good Lives?

The search for an answer begins, not surprisingly, with education policy and the role of education in fostering a society conducive to success for the greatest possible number. “It has been widely recognized,” Edsall observes, “that the premium on cognitive skills stems from the shift to a knowledge-based economy driven by the decline in manufacturing employment, the growth of the technology and financial sectors, and labor recruitment from a global talent pool.”

The “decline in manufacturing employment” and “labor recruitment from a global talent pool” (a euphemism for off-shoring, outsourcing, and the trend toward replacing human factory workers with robots) explains what happened to RaDonna’s job – and her health insurance.

What is the root cause of the desperate straits so many decent, hard-working people like RaDonna Kuekelhan face?  Edsall cites several empirical studies that find a close correlation between income levels and educational achievement manifested in “high order” cognitive skills necessary to compete and succeed in today’s job market.  This is a not a problem “we can expect even the best teachers to single-handedly remediate. Whatever you think of the educational reform movement — in its charter-school form or its district-takeover form — the forces contributing to contemporary class stratification are beyond the reach of the classroom alone.”

The most recent New York Times/CBS poll finds that most people (nearly 60 percent) want government to work harder to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor:  “Only one-third of Republicans supported a more active government role, versus eight in 10 of Democrats.”  Another finding is more surprising: “Far from a strictly partisan issue, inequality looms large in the minds of almost half of Republicans and two-thirds of independents, suggesting that it will outlive the presidential primary contests and become a central theme in next year’s general election campaign.”  Meanwhile, people who think the system is rigged in favor of the rich now outnumber people who believe everyone has a fair chance in today’s economy (17 percent fewer than in early 2014).

Taken together, these three stories point to the symptoms of what’s causing this nation’s decline.  Unemployment, outsourcing and offshoring, gross economic inequality, low wages, random benefits, weak unions, rising health care costs, and a badly torn social safety net.  The causes are complex but surely the corrupting effects of unlimited campaign contributions, corporate control of the mainstream media, and massive lobbying efforts in Washington are a big part of The Problem.

Time alone will tell whether or not the illness is fatal, but there is no question that what’s the matter with Kansas is also what’s ailing the nation.

Ex-intel officials: Pentagon report proves US complicity in ISIS — INSURGE intelligence — Medium

June 8, 2015

General News 6/8/2015 at 09:53:19

By Nafeez Ahmed (about the author) Permalink (Page 1 of 3 pages)
Related Topic(s): Coleen Rowley; Daniel Ellsberg; Intelligence Agencies; Isis; Thomas Drake, Add Tags Add to My Group(s)
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From youtube.com/watch?v=VcJFm1zaC0w: from ISIS propaganda video
from ISIS propaganda video
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This story is published by INSURGE INTELLIGENCE, a new crowd-funded investigative journalism project.
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According to leading American and British intelligence experts, a declassified Pentagon report confirms that the West accelerated support to extremist rebels in Syria, despite knowing full well the strategy would pave the way for the emergence of the ‘Islamic State’ (ISIS).

The experts who have spoken out include renowned government whistleblowers such as the Pentagon’s Daniel Ellsberg, the NSA’s Thomas Drake, and the FBI’s Coleen Rowley, among others.

Their remarks demonstrate the fraudulent nature of claims by two other former officials, the CIA’s Michael Morell and the NSA’s John Schindler, both of whom attempt to absolve the Obama administration of responsibility for the policy failures exposed by the DIA documents.

Foreseeing ISIS
As I reported on May 22nd, the US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) document obtained by Judicial Watch under Freedom of Information confirms that the US intelligence community foresaw the rise of ISIS three years ago, as a direct consequence of the support to extremist rebels in Syria.

The August 2012 ‘Information Intelligence Report’ (IIR) reveals that the overwhelming core of the Syrian insurgency at that time was dominated by a range of Islamist militant groups, including al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). It warned that the “supporting powers” to the insurgency”–“identified in the document as the West, Gulf states, and Turkey”–“wanted to see the emergence of a “Salafist Principality” in eastern Syria to “isolate” the Assad regime.

The document also provided an extraordinarily prescient prediction that such an Islamist quasi-statelet, backed by the region’s Sunni states, would amplify the risk of the declaration of an “Islamic State” across Iraq and Syria. The DIA report even anticipated the fall of Mosul and Ramadi.

Divide and rule
Last week, legendary whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, the former career Pentagon officer and US military analyst who leaked Pentagon papers exposing White House lies about the Vietnam War, described my Insurge report on the DIA document as “a very important story.”

 

From commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Daniel_Ellsberg_(15802061252).jpg: Daniel Ellsberg
Daniel Ellsberg
(image by Wikipedia (commons.wikimedia.org)) License DMCA
Daniel Ellsberg, the former US military analyst who leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971, revealing how the US public had been misled about the Vietnam War.
In an extensive podcast interview, he said that the DIA document provided compelling evidence that the West’s Syria strategy created ISIS. The DIA, he said, “in 2012, was asserting that Western powers were supporting extremist Islamic groups in Syria that were opposing Assad”

“They were not only as they claimed supporting moderate groups, who were losing members to the more extremist groups, but that they were directly supporting the extremist groups. And they were predicting that this support would result in an Islamic State organization, an ISIS or ISIL” They were encouraging it, regarding it as a positive development, because it was anti-Assad, Assad being supported by Russia, but also interestingly China” and Iran” So we have China, Russia and Iran backing Assad, and the US, starting out saying Assad must go” What he [Nafeez Ahmed] is talking about, the DIA report, is extremely significant. It fits into a general framework that I’m aware of, and sounds plausible to me.”
Ellsberg also noted that “it’s pretty well known” in the intelligence community that Saudi Arabia sponsors Islamist terrorists to this day:

“It’s kind of a deal that the Saudis will support various Islamic extremists, all around the world, and the deal is that they [extremists] will not try to overthrow the corrupt, alcohol-drinking clique in Saudi Arabia.”
Ellsberg, who was a former senior analyst at RAND Corp, also agreed with the relevance of a 2008 US Army-commissioned RAND report, quoted in my Insurge story, and also examined in-depth for Middle East Eye.

The US Army-funded RAND report advocated a range of policy scenarios for the Middle East, including a “divide and rule” strategy to play off Sunni and Shi’a factions against each other, which Ellsberg describes as “standard imperial policy” for the US.

The RAND report even confirmed (p. 113) that its “divide and rule” strategy was already being executed in Iraq at the time:

“Today in Iraq such a strategy is being used a tactical level, as the United States now forms temporary alliances with nationalist insurgent groups that it had been fighting for four years” providing carrots in the form of weapons and cash. In the past, these nationalists have cooperated with al-Qaeda against US forces.”
The confirmed activation of this divide-and-rule strategy perhaps explains why the self-defeating US approach in Syria is fanning the flames of both sides: simultaneously allying with states like Turkey who have continued to covertly sponsor ISIS, while working with Assad through the Russians to fight ISIS. Ellsberg added:

“As Assad is the main opponent of ISIS, we are covertly coordinating our airstrikes against ISIS with Assad. So are we against Assad, or not? It’s ambivalent” I think that Obama and everybody around him is clear that they do not any longer as they’ve been saying want Assad to leave power. I don’t believe that that is their intention anymore, as they believe anyone who succeeds Assad would be far worse.”
If true, Ellsberg’s analysis exposes the deep-rooted hypocrisy of the previous campaign against Assad, the current campaign against ISIS, and why both appear destined for failure.

Frankenstein script

Coleen Rowley, retired FBI Special Agent described my report on the DIA document as “excellent.”

From commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Coleen_rowley_1785.JPG: Coleen Rowley
Coleen Rowley
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Former FBI Special Agent Coleen Rowley testified before the Senate and 9/11 Commission on how FBI Head Quarters in Washington DC had sabotaged investigations that could have uncovered the 9/11 plot
Rowley, who was selected as TIME ‘Person of the Year’ in 2002 after revealing how pre-9/11 intelligence was ignored by superiors at the FBI, said of the document:

“It’s like the mad power-hungry doctor who created Frankenstein, only to have his monster turn against him. It’s hard to feel sorry when the insane doctor gets his due. But in our case, that script is constantly repeating. The quest for ‘full spectrum dominance’ and blindness of exceptionalism seems to mean we are doomed to keep repeating the ‘Charlie Wilson’s Frankenstein War’ script” The various neocon warmongers and military industrial complex, most of them inept Peter Principles, just don’t care.”
Also commenting on the declassified Pentagon report, former NSA senior executive Thomas Drake”–“the whistleblower who inspired Edward Snowden”–“condemned “the West’s role in ISIS and threat of ‘violent extremists’, justifying surveillance and libercide at home.”
Thomas Drake, former NSA senior executive, who leaked information in 2006 about the NSA’s corrupt and dysfunction Trailblazer project.
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Wedge strategy
Alastair Crooke, a former senior MI6 officer who spent three decades at the agency, said yesterday that the DIA document provides clear corroboration that the US was covertly pursuing a strategy to drive an extremist Salafi “wedge” between Iran and its Arab allies.

From youtube.com/watch?v=HdOSTlw1mYg: Talking to Islamists Workshop – Alistair Crooke .Talking to Islamists: An Overdue Task or an Exercise in Appeasement?. A public lecture by Alistair Crooke – Founder and Co-Director of Conflicts Forum.
Talking to Islamists Workshop – Alistair Crooke .Talking to Islamists: An Overdue Task or an Exercise in Appeasement?. A public lecture by Alistair Crooke – Founder and Co-Director of Conflicts Forum.
(image by YouTube) License DMCA
Alistair Crooke worked for MI6 for three decades at a senior level, specialising in the politics of the Muslim world. He went on to advise the EU on Middle East foreign policy, and is currently founding director of the Conflicts Forum in Beirut.
The strategy was, Crooke confirms, standard thinking in the Western intelligence establishment for about a decade.

“The idea of breaking up the large Arab states into ethnic or sectarian enclaves is an old Ben Gurion ‘canard,’ and splitting Iraq along sectarian lines has been Vice President Biden’s recipe since the Iraq war,” wrote Crooke, who had coordinated British assistance to the Afghan mujahideen in the 1980s. After his long MI6 stint, he became Middle East advisor to the European Union’s foreign policy chief (1997–2003).

“But the idea of driving a Sunni ‘wedge’ into the landline linking Iran to Syria and to Hezbollah in Lebanon became established Western group think in the wake of the 2006 war, in which Israel failed to de-fang Hezbollah,” continued Crooke. “The response to 2006, it seemed to Western powers, was to cut off Hezbollah from its sources of weapons supply from Iran”

“” In short, the DIA assessment indicates that the ‘wedge’ concept was being given new life by the desire to pressure Assad in the wake of the 2011 insurgency launched against the Syrian state. ‘Supporting powers’ effectively wanted to inject hydraulic fracturing fluid into eastern Syria (radical Salafists) in order to fracture the bridge between Iran and its Arab allies, even at the cost of this ‘fracking’ opening fissures right down inside Iraq to Ramadi. (Intelligence assessments purpose is to provide ‘a view'”–“not to describe or prescribe policy. But it is clear that the DIA reports’ ‘warnings’ were widely circulated and would have been meshed into the policy consideration.)
“But this ‘view’ has exactly come about. It is fact. One might conclude then that in the policy debate, the notion of isolating Hezbollah from Iran, and of weakening and pressurizing President Assad, simply trumped the common sense judgment that when you pump highly toxic and dangerous fracturing substances into geological formations, you can never entirely know or control the consequences” So, when the GCC demanded a ‘price’ for any Iran deal (i.e. massing ‘fracking’ forces close to Aleppo), the pass had been already partially been sold by the US by 2012, when it did not object to what the ‘supporting powers’ wanted.”
Intel shills
Crooke’s analysis of the DIA report shows that it is irrelevant whether or not “the West” should be included in the “supporting powers” described by the report as specifically wanting a “Salafist Principality” in eastern Syria. Either way, the report groups “the West, Gulf countries and Turkey” as supporting the Syrian insurgency together”–“highlighting that the Gulf states and Turkey operated in alliance with the US, Britain, and other Western powers.

The observations of intelligence experts Ellsberg, Rowley, and Drake add further weight to Crooke’s analysis. They come in addition to comments I had previously received on the DIA document from former MI5 counter-terrorism officer, Annie Machon, and former counter-terrorism intelligence officer, Charles Shoebridge.

The comments undermine the recent claims ofdisgraced US national security commentator, John Schindler, a retired NSA intelligence officer, to the effect that the August 2012 DIA report is “almost incomprehensible,” “so heavily redacted that its difficult to say much meaningful about it,” “Nothing special here, not one bit,” “routine,” “a single data point,” and so on.

Schindler cites the DIA’s use of ‘Curveball'”–“the Iraqi informant who fabricated claims about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD)”–“as evidence of the agency’s “less than stellar reputation.” But this misrepresents the fact noted by the CIA’s Valerie Plame Wilson that “it was widely known [in the intelligence community] that CURVEBALL was not a credible source and that there were serious problems with his reporting.”

As I’ve documented elsewhere, the WMD threat mythology was not the outcome of an ‘intelligence failure’, as Schindler and his ilk like to claim, but a consequence of the corruption and politicization of intelligence under the influence of dubious vested interests.

Also contrary to Schindler’s misinformation, an IIR provides raw intelligence data from human sources (HUMINT), not simply rumour, gossip or opinion. Before wider distribution, the IIR is vetted to determine whether it is worthy of dissemination to the intelligence community. IIRs then provide a source basis for evaluation, interpretation, analysis and integration with other information.

Far from justifying the dismissal of the relevance of the declassified DIA documents, this shows that urgent questions must be asked:

What happened to this raw intelligence data, described by six US UK intelligence experts as providing damning confirmation of how Western strategy led to the rise of ISIS?

And why did it not lead to a change in policy, despite DIA analysts’ clear warning of the outgrowth of an ISIS-entity from Western allies’ desire to see a ‘Salafist Principality’ in the region”–“a warning which was, in hindsight, quite accurate?

Are intel critics traitors?
Schindler previously characterized NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden as a traitor and “pawn” of America’s adversaries.”

He now declares that those who cite the DIA report as proof the intelligence community “knew more about the rise of the Islamic State than they let on” are at best “fools; at worst, they’re deceivers who have lied to the American people.”

On the contrary, six decorated former senior US and British intelligence officials, many with direct experience of IIRs and their function, agree that the DIA report provides significant insight into the kind of intelligence available to the US intelligence community at the time.

Yet for Schindler, it seems, Ellsberg, Drake, Rowley, Crooke, Machon and Shoebridge are all, effectively, traitors simply for lending their expertise to public understanding of the newly declassified documents.

As Marcy Wheeler points out in Salon, the large corpus of secret DIA documents obtained by Judicial Watch demonstrates, at the least, that:

“The Intelligence Community (IC) knew that AQI had ties to the rebels in Syria; they knew our Gulf and Turkish allies were happy to strengthen Islamic extremists in a bid to oust Assad; and CIA officers in Benghazi (at a minimum) watched as our allies armed rebels using weapons from Libya. And the IC knew that a surging AQI might lead to the collapse of Iraq. That’s not the same thing as creating ISIS. But it does amount to doing little or nothing while our allies had a hand in creating ISIS. All of which ought to raise real questions about why we’re still allied with countries willfully empowering terrorist groups then, and how seriously they plan to fight those terrorist groups now. Because while the CIA may not have deliberately created ISIS, it sure seems to have watched impassively as our allies helped to do so.”
However, Wheeler overlooks that the reliance on foreign allies is a standard proxy war strategy”–“as Ellsberg explained in his interview”–“used by the covert operations arm of the US government to guarantee ‘plausible deniability.’

 

As I noted in my Middle East Eye analysis of the DIA document, there is extensive evidence against which to contextualize the DIA report’s assertions. This evidence shows that the CIA did not merely watch “impassively” as the Gulf states and Turkey supported violent extremists in Syria, but actively supervised, facilitated and accelerated this policy.

The August 2012 DIA document further corroborates this by repeatedly pointing out that the support to the Syrian insurgency from its allies was itself backed by “the West””–“despite awareness of their intent to establish an extremist Salafi political entity.

While the DIA document was, indeed, just one data-point, analyzing it in context with the other DIA reports along with incontrovertible facts in the public record, establishes that the Pentagon was complicit in its allies’ support of Islamist terrorists, despite recognizing this could create an “Islamic State” in Iraq and Syria.

These revelations show that the real traitors are not the courageous whistleblowers who sacrifice everything to speak out on behalf of the public interest, but shameless shills like Schindler and Morell who willfully sanitize a dysfunctional and dangerous ‘national security’ system from legitimate public scrutiny.

This exclusive is being released for free in the public interest, and was enabled by crowdfunding. I’d like to thank my amazing community of patrons for their support, which gave me the opportunity to work on this in-depth investigation. If you appreciated this story, please support independent, investigative journalism for the global commons via Patreon.com, where you can donate as much or as little as you like.

 

http://www.nafeez.blogspot.com

Dr Nafeez Ahmed is an investigative journalist, bestselling author and international security scholar. A former Guardian writer, he writes the ‘System Shift’ column for VICE’s Motherboard, and is also a columnist for Middle East Eye. He is the winner of a 2015 Project Censored Award for Outstanding Investigative Journalism for his Guardian work.

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Tomgram: Engelhardt, Going for Broke in Ponzi Scheme America

June 3, 2015

General News 6/2/2015 at 10:08:21

By Tom Engelhardt (about the author) Permalink
Related Topic(s): Education; Graduation; Jobs Finding Them; PATRONS; Ponzi Scheme; Student Debt, Add Tags Add to My Group(s)
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From flickr.com/photos/110402963@N02/15601597778/: The Graduates
The Graduates. What are we celebrating?
(image by Game of EPL5 & LUMIX G20/F1.7) License DMCA

[Note to TomDispatch Readers: I’ve long had a weakness for commencement addresses, or at least for what they might be rather than what they usually are, which is why, I suppose, I’ve written them relatively regularly myself. Since no actual college or graduating class has ever asked me to give such a speech, I’ve addressed the graduates of 2014 and other years from what I’ve called “the campus of my mind.” This year, given the increasing strangeness of our American world and the rising debt under which college students labor, I couldn’t resist doing so again. Tom]
This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

You’ve Been Scammed!
Kept Politicians and Demobilized Americans in a System Without a Name
By Tom Engelhardt

It couldn’t be a sunnier, more beautiful day to exit your lives — or enter them — depending on how you care to look at it. After all, here you are four years later in your graduation togs with your parents looking on, waiting to celebrate. The question is: Celebrate what exactly?

 

In possibly the last graduation speech of 2015, I know I should begin by praising your grit, your essential character, your determination to get this far. But today, it’s money, not character, that’s on my mind. For so many of you, I suspect, your education has been a classic scam and you’re not even attending a “for profit” college — an institution of higher learning, that is, officially set up to take you for a ride.

Maybe this is the moment, then, to begin your actual education by looking back and asking yourself what you should really have learned on this campus and what you should expect in the scams — I mean, years — to come. Many of you — those whose parents didn’t have money — undoubtedly entered these stately grounds four years ago in relatively straitened circumstances. In an America in which corporate profits have risen impressively, it’s been springtime for billionaires, but when it comes to ordinary Americans, wages have been relatively stagnant, jobs (the good ones, anyway) generally in flight, and times not exactly of the best. Here was a figure that recently caught my eye, speaking of the world you’re about to step into: in 2014, the average CEO received 373 times the compensation of the average worker. Three and a half decades ago, that number was a significant but not awe-inspiring 42 times.

Still, you probably arrived here eager and not yet in debt. Today, we know that the class that preceded you was the most indebted in the history of higher education, and you’ll surely break that “record.” And no wonder, with college tuitions still rising wildly (up 1,120% since 1978). Judging by last year’s numbers, about 70% of you had to take out loans simply to make it through here, to educate yourself. That figure was a more modest 45% two decades ago. On average, you will have rung up least $33,000 in debt and for some of you the numbers will be much higher. That, by the way, is more than double what it was those same two decades ago.
We have some sense of how this kind of debt plays out in the years to come and the news isn’t good. Those of you with major school debts will be weighed down in all sorts of ways. You’ll find yourselves using your credit cards more than graduates without such debt. You’ll be less likely to buy a home in the future. A few decades from now, you’ll have accumulated significantly less wealth than your unindebted peers. In other words, a striking percentage of you will leave this campus in the kind of financial hole that — given the job market of 2015 — you may have a problem making your way out of.
For those who took a foreign language in your college years, in translation you’ve paid stunning sums you didn’t have to leave yourself, like any foreclosed property, underwater. Worse yet, for those of you who dream of being future doctors, lawyers, financial wizards, architects, or English professors (if there are any of those anymore), that’s only the beginning. You’ll still have to pay exorbitantly for years of graduate school or professional training, which means ever more debt to come.

Does this really sound like an education to you or does it sound more like a Ponzi scheme, like you’ve been scammed?

Do I understand how all this works? No. I’m no expert on the subject. What anyone should be able to see, however, is that the promise of higher education has, in this century, sunk low indeed and that what your generation has been learning how to endure while still in school is a form of peonage. I’d binge drink, too, under the circumstances!

Nobody feels good when they’ve been scammed, but at least you’re not alone on this great campus in needing to reassess what higher education means. Many of your teachers turned out to be untenured part-timers, getting pitiful salaries. They, too, were being scammed. And even some of their esteemed tenured colleagues (as I know from friends of mine) are remarkably deep in the Ponzi pits. It turns out that, as government money flowing onto campus has dried up, the pressure on some of those eminent professors, particularly in graduate programs, to essentially raise their own salaries has only been rising — a very highbrow version of peonage. They increasingly need patrons, which generally means “friendly” corporations. Talk about a scam!

Demobilizing You

Many of you undoubtedly think that your education is now over and it’s time to enter the “real world.” I have news for you: you’ve been in that world for the last four years, hence the debt you’re dragging around behind you. So, on a day when the sun’s in your eyes and it couldn’t be more apparent that the world’s not what you’ve been told it was, maybe you should apply the principles of the scam artist to the world you’re about to enter. Unless you do so, you’ll simply be scammed again in the next phase of your life.

Like the rest of us, presidents and politicians of every stripe have regularly told you that you belong to the one “indispensible” nation on the planet, a country “exceptional” in every way. As a college-educated American, you’ve similarly been assured of how important you’ll be to that exceptional land.

Get over it. You’re going to find yourself living in an ever greyer, grimmer country — if you don’t believe me, check out the government’s unwillingness to fund essential infrastructure maintenance — to which you will be remarkably irrelevant. And if the political elite, the plutocratic class, and the national security state have anything to do with it, in the future you’ll become ever more so. In other words, you are to be relegated to the sidelines of what now passes for American life.

Behind this reality, there’s a history. Since the Vietnam era, the urge to demobilize Americans, to put them out to pasture, to stop them from interfering in the running of “their” country has only grown stronger. When it comes to the military, for instance, the draft was sent to the trash bin of history in 1973 and most Americans were long ago demobilized by the arrival of an “all volunteer” force. So, today, you have no obligation whatsoever to be part of that military, to serve in what is no longer, in the traditional sense, a citizen’s army.

If that military isn’t really yours, the wars it’s been fighting since the dawn of the twenty-first century haven’t been your wars either, nor — despite the responsibility the Constitution reserves to Congress for declaring war — have they been that body’s. Congress still has to pony up sums so extravagant for what’s charmingly called “defense” that the military budgets of the next seven countries combined don’t equal them. It has, however, little genuine say about what wars are fought. Even when, as with the Islamic State, it is offered the modest opportunity to pass a new authorization for a war already long underway, its representatives, like most Americans, now prefer to remain on the sidelines. In the meantime, the White House runs its own drone assassination campaigns via the CIA without anyone else’s say-so, while secretive paramilitaries and a secret military — the Special Operations forces — cocooned inside the larger military and growing like mad have changed the face of American war and it’s none of your business.

Your role in all this is modest indeed: to pay as little attention as you want, endlessly thank the troops for their “service” when you run across them at airports or elsewhere, and leave it at that. Of course, given the sums, verging on a trillion dollars a year, that “we” now put into the U.S. military and related national security outfits, and given our endless wars, conflicts, raids, and secret operations, that military does at least provide some job opportunities, though it has its own version of job flight — to so-called private contractors (once known as “mercenaries”).

And if you think it’s only the military from which you’ve been demobilized, think again. In these last years, so much of what the American government does has been swallowed up in a blanket of heavily enforced secrecy and fierce prosecutions of whistleblowers. An expanding national security state, accountable neither to you nor to the legal system, has proven eager indeed to surveil your life, but not be seen by you. In growing realms, that is, what once would have been called “the people’s business” is no longer your business.

Your role, such as it is, is to get out of the way of the real players. As with the military, so with that national security state: Americans are to thank its officials and operatives for their service and otherwise, for their own “safety,” remain blissfully ignorant of whatever “their” government does, unless that government chooses to tell them about it.

The Corruption Sweepstakes

It hardly needs to be said that this isn’t the normal definition of a working democracy or, for that matter, of citizenship. Other than casting a vote every now and then, you are to know next to nothing about what your government does in your name. And speaking of that vote, you’re being sidelined there, too, and buried in an avalanche of money. Admittedly, in the media campaign season that now goes on non-stop from one election to the next, sooner or later you can still enter a polling place, if you care to, and cast your ballot. Otherwise step aside. These days, the first primary season or “Koch primary” is no longer for voters at all. Instead, prospective candidates audition for the blessings and cash of plutocrats.

Just how the vast sums of money flooding into American politics do their dirty work may not matter that much. Specific contributions from the .01%, enacting their version of trickle-down politics, may not even elect specific candidates. What matters most is the deluge itself. These days in the American political system, money quite literally talks (especially on TV). Via ads, it screams. In the 2016 election season in which an unprecedented $10 billion is expected to be spent and just about every candidate will need his or her “sugar daddies,” the politicians will begin to resemble you; that is, they will find themselves dragging around previously unheard of debts to various plutocrats, industries, and deep pockets of every sort for the rest of their careers.

Take just two recent examples of the new politics of money. As the New York Times reported recently, Florida Senator Marco Rubio has been supported by a single billionaire auto dealer, Norman Braman, for his entire political career. Braman hired him as a lawyer, hired his wife as a consultant to a family foundation, financed his legislative agenda, helped cover his salary at a local college, helped him right his personal finances and deal with his debt load, and is now about to put millions of dollars into his presidential campaign. Rubio, as the article indicates, has returned the favor. Though no one would write such a thing, this makes the senator quite literally a “kept” candidate. Other plutocrats like the Koch brothers and their network of investors, reputedly ready to drop almost a billion dollars into the 2016 campaign, have been more profligate in spreading around their support and favors.

Now, jump across the political aisle and consider Hillary Clinton. As the Washington Post reported recently, she received a payment from eBay of $315,000 for a 20-minute talk at a “summit” that tech company sponsored on women in the workplace. Over the last 16 months, in fact, she and her husband have raked in more than $25 million for such talks. Hillary’s speeches pulled in $3.2 million from the tech sector alone, which she’s now pursuing for more direct contributions to her presidential campaign. “Less than two months [after the eBay summit],” the Post added, “Clinton was feted at the San Francisco Bay-area home of eBay chief executive John Donahoe and his wife, Eileen, for one of the first fundraisers supporting Clinton’s newly announced presidential campaign.”

Say no more, right? I mean, it’s obvious that no one pays such sums for words (of all things!), not without ulterior motives. No deal has to have been made. No direct or even indirect exchange of promises is necessary. On the face of it, there is a word for such fees, as for Rubio’s relationship with Braman, as for the investor primaries of the new election season, as for so much else that involves “dark money” and goes to the heart of the present political process. It’s just not a word normally used about our politicians or our system, not by polite pundits and journalists. If we were in Kabul or Baghdad, not Washington or Los Angeles, we would know just what that word was and we wouldn’t hesitate to use it: corruption.

The Un-Kept Americans

We are, it seems, enmeshed in a new hybrid system, which fits the Constitution, the classic tripartite separation of powers, and the idea of democracy increasingly poorly. We have neither an adequate name for it, nor an adequate language to describe it. I’m talking here about the “real world” in which, at least in the old-fashioned American sense, you will no longer be a “citizen” of a functioning “democracy.”

As that system, awash in plutocratic contributions to politics and taxpayer contributions to the military-industrial-homeland-security complex, morphs into something else, so will you, whether you realize it or not. Though never thought of as such, your debt is part of the same system. A society that programmatically trains its young into debt and calls that “higher education” is as corrupt as a wealthy country that won’t rebuild its own infrastructure. Talk about the hollowing out of America: you are it. No matter how substantial you may be in private, you are being impersonally emptied in what passes for the real world.

If Marco Rubio and Hillary Clinton are kept politicians, then you are un-kept Americans. You are the ones that no one felt it worth giving money to, only taking money from.

Being on the sidelines, it turns out, is an expensive affair. The question is: What are you going to do so that you aren’t there, and in debt, forever?

Of course, there’s a simple answer to this question. Think of it as the Rubio Solution. You could each try to find your own billionaire. But given the numbers involved and what you don’t have to offer in return, that seems an unlikely option. Or, if you don’t want the version of higher education you experienced to morph into the rest of your lives, you — your generation, that is — could decide to stop thanking others for their “service” and leave those sidelines.

They’re counting on you not to serve. They assume that you’ll just stay where you are and take it, while they fleece the rest of us. If instead you were to start thinking about how to head for the actual playing fields of America, I guarantee one thing: you’d screw them up royally.

As you form into your processional now to exit this campus, let me just add: don’t underestimate the surprises the future has in store for all of us. The people who sidelined you aren’t half as good at what they do as they think they are. In so many ways, in fact, they’re a crew of bumblers. They have no more purchase on what the future holds than you do.

You’ve proved in these years that you can get by despite lousy odds. You’ve lived a life to which no one (other than perhaps your hard-pressed parents) has made a contribution. You’re readier than you imagine to take our future into your hands and make something of it. You’re ready to become actual citizens of a future democracy. Go for broke!

Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He is a fellow of the Nation Institute and runs TomDispatch.com. His latest book is Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World. This graduation speech was given only on the campus of his mind.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Nick Turse’s Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa, and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2015 Tom Engelhardt

Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute’s Tomdispatch.com (“a regular antidote to the mainstream media”), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch Interviews (more…)

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Big Lie: America Doesn’t Have #1 Richest Middle-Class in the World: We’re Ranked 27th!

May 17, 2015

ECONOMY

America is the richest country on Earth. We have the most millionaires, the most billionaires—and an increasingly poor middle-class.

By Les Leopold / AlterNet

June 18, 2013

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America is the richest country on Earth. We have the most millionaires, the most billionaires, and our wealthiest citizens have garnered more of the planet’s riches than any other group in the world. We even have hedge fund managers who make in one hour as much as the average family makes in 21 years!

This opulence is supposed to trickle down to the rest of us, improving the lives of everyday Americans. At least that’s what free-market cheerleaders repeatedly promise us.

Unfortunately, it’s a lie, one of the biggest ever perpetrated on the American people.

Our middle class is falling further and further behind in comparison to the rest of the world. We keep hearing that America is number one. Well, when it comes to middle-class wealth, we’re number 27.

The most telling comparative measurement is median wealth (per adult). It describes the amount of wealth accumulated by the person precisely in the middle of the wealth distribution—50 percent of the adult population has more wealth, while 50 percent has less. You can’t get more middle than that.

Wealth is measured by the total sum of all our assets (homes, bank accounts, stocks, bonds etc.) minus our liabilities (outstanding loans and other debts). It the best indicator we have for individual and family prosperity. While the never-ending accumulation of wealth may be wrecking the planet, wealth also provides basic security, especially in a country like ours with such skimpy social programs. Wealth allows us to survive periods of economic turmoil. Wealth allows our children to go to college without incurring crippling debts, or to get help for the down payment on their first homes. As Billie Holiday sings, “God bless the child that’s got his own.”

Well, it’s a sad song. As the chart below shows, there are 26 other countries with a median wealth higher than ours (and the relative reduction of U.S. median wealth has done nothing to make our economy more sustainable).
Why?

Here’s a starter list:

  • We don’t have real universal healthcare. We pay more and still have poorer health outcomes than all other industrialized countries. Should a serious illness strike, we also can become impoverished.
  • Weak labor laws undermine unions and give large corporations more power to keep wages and benefits down. Unions now represent less than 7 percent of all private sector workers, the lowest ever recorded.
  • Our minimum wage is pathetic, especially in comparison to other developed nations. (We’re # 13.) Nobody can live decently on $7.25 an hour. Our poverty-level minimum wage puts downward pressure on the wages of all working people. And while we secure important victories for a few unpaid sick days, most other developed nations provide a month of guaranteed paid vacations as well as many paid sick days.
  • Wall Street is out of control. Once deregulation started 30 years ago, money has gushed to the top as Wall Street was free to find more and more unethical ways to fleece us.
  • Higher education puts our kids into debt. In most other countries higher education is practically tuition-free. Indebted students are not likely to accumulate wealth anytime soon.
  • It’s hard to improve your station in life if you’re in prison, often due to drug-related charges that don’t even exist in other developed nations. In fact, we have the largest prison population in the entire world, and we have the highest percentage of minorities imprisoned. “In major cities across the country, 80% of young African Americans now have criminal records” (from Michelle Alexander’s 2010 book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness).
  • Our tax structures favor the rich and their corporations that no longer pay their fair share. They move money to foreign tax havens, they create and use tax loopholes, and they fight to make sure the source of most of their wealth—capital gains—is taxed at low rates. Meanwhile the rest of us are pressed to make up the difference or suffer deteriorating public services.
  • The wealthy dominate politics. Nowhere else in the developed world are the rich and their corporations able to buy elections with such impunity.
  • Big Money dominates the media. The real story about how we’re getting ripped off is hidden in a blizzard of BS that comes from all the major media outlets…brought to you by….
  • America encourages globalization of production so that workers here are in constant competition with the lower-wage workers all over the world as well as with highly automated techonologies.

Is there one cause of the middle-class collapse that rises above all others?

Yes. The International Labor organization produced a remarkable study (Global Wage Report 2012-13) that sorts out the causes of why wages have remained stagnant while elite incomes have soared. The report compares key causal explanations like declining bargaining power of unions, porous social safety nets, globalization, new technologies and financialization.

Guess which one had the biggest impact on the growing split between the 1 percent and the 99 percent?

Financialization!

What is that? Economist Gerald Epstein offers us a working definition:

“Financialization means the increasing role of financial motives, financial markets, financial actors and financial institutions in the operation of the domestic and international economies.”

This includes such trends as:

  • The corporate change during the 1980s to make shareholder value the ultimate goal.
  • The deregulation of Wall Street that allowed for the creation of a vast array of new financial instruments for gambling.
  • Allowing private equity firm to buy companies, load them up with debt, extract enormous returns, and then kiss them goodbye.
  • The growth of hedge funds that suck productive wealth out of the economy.
  • The myriad of barely regulated world financial markets that finance the globalization of production, combined with so-called “free trade” agreements.
  • The increased share of all corporate profits that go to the financial sector.
  • The ever increasing size of too-big-to-fail banks.
  • The fact that many of our best students rush to Wall Street instead of careers in science, medicine or education.

In short, financialization is when making money from money becomes more important that providing real goods and services. Here’s a chart that says it all. Once we unleashed Wall Street, their salaries shot up, while everyone else’s stood still.

Do we still know how to fight!

The carefully researched ILO study provides further proof that Occupy Wall Street was right on the money. OWS succeeded (temporarily), in large part, because it tapped into the deep reservoir of anger toward Wall Street felt by people all over the world. We all know the financiers are screwing us.

Then why didn’t OWS turn into a sustained, mass movement to take on Wall Street?

One reason it didn’t grow was that the rest of us stood back in deference to the original protestors instead of making the movement our own. As a result, we didn’t build a larger movement with the structures needed to take on our financial oligarchs. And until we figure out how to do just that, our nation’s wealth will continue to be siphoned away.

Our hope, I believe, lies in the young people who are engaged each day in fighting for the basic human rights for all manner of working people—temp workers, immigrants, unionized, non-union, gays, lesbians, transgender—as well as those who are fighting to save the planet from environmental destruction. It’s all connected.

At some point these deeply committed activists also will understand that financialization both here and abroad stands in the way of justice and puts our planet at risk. When they see the beast clearly, I am confident they will figure out how to slay it.

The sooner, the better.

Les Leopold is the director of the Labor Institute. His most recent book is How to Make a Million Dollars an Hour: Why Hedge Funds Get Away with Siphoning off America’s Wealth (Wiley, 2013).

US Empire: American Exceptionalism Is No Shining City On a Hill

May 17, 2015

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The concept of American exceptionalism is as old as the United States, and it implies that the country has a qualitative difference from other nations. This notion of being special gives Americans the sense that playing a lead role in world affair is part of their natural historic calling. However there is nothing historically exceptional about this: the Roman empire also viewed itself as a system superior to other nations and, more recently, so did the British and the French empires.

On the topic of American exceptionalism, which he often called “Americanism”, Seymour Martin Lipset noted that “America’s ideology can be described in five words: liberty, egalitarism, individualism, populism and laissez-faire. The revolutionary ideology, which became American creed, is liberalism in its eighteenth and nineteenth-century meaning. It departed from conservatism Toryism, statist communitarianism, mercantilism and noblesse-oblige dominant in monarchical state-church formed cultures.” Naturally identifying America’s system as a unique ideology, just like calling its successful colonial war against Britain a revolution, is a fallacy. For one, America was never based on social equality, as rigid class distinctions always remained through US history.

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In reality, the US has never broken from European social models. American exceptionalism implies a sense of superiority, just like in the case of the British empire, the French empire and the Roman empire. In such imperialist systems, class inequality was never challenged and, as matter of fact, served as cornerstone of the imperial structure. In American history, the only exception to this system based on social inequality was during the post World War II era of the economic “miracle”. The period from 1945 to the mid 1970s was characterized by major economic growth, an absence of big economic downturns, and a much higher level of social mobility on a massive scale. This time frame saw a tremendous expansion of higher education: from 2.5 million people to 12 million going to colleges and universities, and this education explosion, naturally, fostered this upward mobility where the American dream became possible for the middle class.

Regardless of real domestic social progress made in the United States after the birth of the empire in 1945, for the proponents of American exceptionalism — this includes the entire political class — the myth of the US being defined as a “shining city on a hill” has always been a rationale to justify the pursuit of imperialism. For example, when President Barack Obama addressed the nation to justify the US military intervention in Libya, he said that “America is different”, as if the US has a special role in history as a force for good. In a speech on US foreign policy, at West Point on May 28, 2014, Obama bluntly stated: “In fact, by most measures, America has rarely been stronger relative to the rest of the world. Those who argue otherwise — who suggest that America is in decline or has seen its global leadership slip away are misreading history. Our military has no peer”. I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being.”

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In his book, Democracy In America, Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville was lyrical in his propaganda-like adulation of American exceptionalism, defining it almost as divine providence. “When the earth was given to men by the Creator, the earth was inexhaustible. But men were weak and ignorant, and when they had learned to take advantage of the treasures which it contained, they already covered its surface and were soon obliged to earn by the sword an asylum for repose and freedom. Just then North America was discovered, as if it had been kept in reserve by the Deity and had risen from beneath the waters of the deluge”, wrote de Tocqueville.

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This notion, originated by the French author, and amplified ever since, which defined the US as the “divine gift” of a moral and virtuous land, is a cruel fairy tale. It is mainly convenient to ease up America’s profound guilt. After all, the brutal birth of this nation took place under the curse of two cardinal sins: the theft of Native American lands after committing a genocide of their population; and the hideous crime of slavery, with slaves building an immense wealth for the few, in a new feudal system, with their sweat, tears and blood.

_________

Comment: The U.S. is at the top of the pyramidal tomb plummeting to mass extinction with global warming, nuclear holocaust, etc., ” devil’s gift.”

 
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Gilbert Mercier is the Editor in Chief of News Junkie Post and one of its co-founders. Mercier is a French journalist, photojournalist and filmmaker — writer/concept writer, director, producer and art director — based in the United States since 1983. In the early 1980″s Mercier hosted and produced (more…)

NYTimes: Conservative Economics and Income Inequality Are Literally Killing Us.

May 5, 2015

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Reprinted from http://www.dailykos.com by Dartagnan

Thirty-five years ago, babies born in the U.S. had an infant mortality rate equal to Germany. Today, American babies die at twice the rate of those in Germany.

Thirty-five years ago, the U.S. ranked 13th in life expectancy for girls among the 34 recognized industrial societies. Today we are ranked 29th out of those same 34 countries.

We have the highest teenage birth rate among the industrialized world.

One out of every four children in this country lives with a single parent, the highest rate by far in the industrialized world.

Our incarceration rate is triple what it was four decades ago, with an incarceration rate five times that of other wealthy democracies.

Economists from the University of Chicago, MIT and the University of Southern California conducted research to find out why our children die at a rate exponentially higher than European kids. Their conclusion? Staggering rates of income disparity, all stemming directly from the 1980’s, the Era of Ronald Reagan and the beginning of the resurgence of the conservative movement.

“On nearly all indicators of mortality, survival and life expectancy, the United States ranks at or near the bottom among high-income countries,” says a report on the nation’s health by the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine.
What’s most shocking about these statistics is not how unhealthy they show Americans to be, compared with citizens of countries that spend much less on health care and have much less sophisticated medical technology. What is most perplexing is how stunningly fast the United States has lost ground.

 

The statistics above are taken from this article by Eduardo Porter in today’s New York Times. As Porter states, “Pick almost any measure of social health and cohesion over the last four decades or so, and you will find that the United States took a wrong turn along the way.” But as his analysis shows, it wasn’t just lower wages caused by globalization and technological advancement that led to this dismal state of affairs (although those certainly played a part), but the unique failure of our U.S. government to respond to these developments:

[B]laming globalization and technological progress for the stagnation of the middle class and the precipitous decline in our collective health is too easy. Jobs were lost and wages got stuck in many developed countries.
What set the United States apart — what made the damage inflicted upon American society so intense — was the nature of its response. Government support for Americans in the bottom half turned out to be too meager to hold society together.

From the time most of us have even had a political memory we have had to listen to conservative ideology spewed at us, telling us that the U.S. was living in a “welfare state,” that “handouts” to the poor were sapping our productivity and harming the “spirit” of the country. That if we only unleashed the power of Big Business through fostering “entrepreneurship” while cutting programs designed to support the rest of us, the nation would “regain” its stature and create vast sums of wealth for all of our citizens, with corporate profits leading us back to a mythical promised land. That shrinking government programs while cutting taxes for the richest would put wealth back into all our pockets and improve the quality of our lives. This was the dominant narrative in the 1980’s, it was swallowed nearly whole and regurgitated by Bill Clinton in the 1990’s, and reached its apotheosis in the 2000’s prior to the Economic Crash presided over by George W. Bush and the same tax-cutting, supply-side ilk who sold it to us from the start, often in the guise of “deficit reduction.” It is the same narrative that continues to paralyze our government’s ability to respond to our citizens needs, now mutated into what we know as the “Tea Party.”

Now this narrative has borne itself out to be nothing but a staggering lie. The reality is that beyond a meager Social Security and Medicare for the aged, both creations of Democratic Administrations, and with the constant demonization and derogation of Labor and Unions, there was not much at all to break the fall of ordinary Americans when trends like globalization appeared over the horizon:

A more compelling explanation is that when globalization struck at the jobs on which 20th-century America had built its middle class, the United States discovered that it did not, in fact, have much of a welfare state to speak of. The threadbare safety net tore under the strain.
Call it a failure of solidarity. American institutions, built from hostility toward collective solutions, couldn’t hold society together when the economic underpinning of full employment at a decent wage gave in.

 
“Hostility toward collective solutions” is polite terminology for “greed.”

 

From flickr.com/photos/43207463@N06/8359685240/: True Blue

From flickr.com/photos/43207463@N06/8359685240/: True Blue
True Blue
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In searching for solutions, Porter weighs the benefits of education, but rightly concludes that the way education is structured in this country today it actually exacerbates inequality. One need only to examine the income levels of those victimized by the latest collapse of for-profit colleges, left clutching their near-worthless degrees, to understand why. He also points to attempts by Senator Elizabeth Warren and others to generate enthusiasm for lifting the payroll cap on Social Security to expand benefits for the elderly. But caring for the elderly is ultimately not our biggest problem. Ultimately the changes necessary to reverse the criminal damage already wreaked on us by the American Right and its malignant, self-serving ideology must be solved at the ballot box.

The challenge America faces is not simply a matter of equity. The bloated incarceration rates and rock-bottom life expectancy, the unraveling families and the stagnant college graduation rates amount to an existential threat to the nation’s future.
That is, perhaps, the best reason for hope. The silver lining in these dismal, if abstract, statistics, is that they portend such a dysfunctional future that our broken political system might finally be forced to come together to prevent it.

So this election is not just “our time.” It may be the only time.

 

 

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Let’s Give Up Insanity and Try a Sane Approach in Dealing with the World

May 5, 2015

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Since 9/11 the US government has spent more than 1.5 trillion dollars on the War on Terror. Fourteen nations have been bombed or attacked by the US military, and we are no safer today than we were one day prior to 9/11. As a matter of fact, we are probably less safe with the world being torn apart by US bombs and the spreading of anarchy throughout the Middle East, yet the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again with the same results.

We have an insane policy of bloodletting and killing, thinking this will make the problem go away, but as any rational person knows the more people you kill the more enemies you create. Every time you kill someone with a drone bomb, you create 10 new enemies. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the onetime commander of all coalition forces in Afghanistan, created the phrase “Insurgent Math” when he rightfully pointed out “for every innocent person you kill, you create 10 new enemies.” Every rational person would probably agree with McChrystal’s assessment, but the US government doesn’t, and we continue to make the same mistakes of killing innocents and thinking we can “kill our way to victory”. The big question is; are we really as stupid as we seem by repeating a fruitless useless policy, or are the decision makers bright enough to realize that their policy only insures constant warfare, which just might be the game plan. Sound silly? Then think about a different policy, and the result, if we tried a sane approach to dealing with the world’s nations.

Let us assume that intelligent folk realized you cannot kill your way to victory and embarked on a completely different policy to fight the war on terror. What if the US government set aside 1.5 trillion dollars, the conservative estimate of our spending in the war on terror so far, and decided to build schools instead? Think about it. What if we built one hundred thousand schools in Afghanistan after 9/11? Do you think the Taliban would have the same kind of public support from Afghanis?

What if instead of spending 1.5 trillion on bombs and making war while killing well over 1 million people, we helped build infrastructure instead. Do you really think they would “hate us for our freedom”, probably the most asinine statement ever made by any US President, and try to kill us? Yes folks we have killed over one million people since 9/11, and using McChrystal’s accurate ratio, we have created over 10 million enemies since 9/11. This is insanity.

We bombed Libya for seven months, saying it was necessary for “humanitarian” reasons, another classically stupid expression which mainstream media, the mouthpiece of the US government, readily accepted and used,without pointing out the total absurdity of bombing people for humanitarian reasons.

 
What would have happened, if instead of bombing Libya for 7 months and turning it into a failed state with chaos and anarchy resulting, which led to the emergence of ultra-extremist groups who now threaten the world with violence, we decided to use some of the 1.5 trillion dollars to build 5,000 hospitals in Libya? Do you think they would still “hate us for our freedom”, and would want to kill us?

What if instead of encouraging Saudi Arabia to bomb Yemen, and supplying them with target information and the weapons used to bomb Yemen into oblivion, we used some of the 1.5 trillion to irrigate land so they did not have to import all their food. Would they hate us as they do now for using drones to kill innocent people in their country, for supporting brutal dictators in their country, for giving those dictators the weapons to keep Yemenis “in their place”, and for supporting Saudi Arabia’s massive bombing of their country?

And finally, we are able to find the money to “bomb” groups in Syria, but cannot find the money to help feed and supply the people of Syria, in one biggest humanitarian crises in the world. We continue our insane policy of using drones in Pakistan, which is causing anti-American hatred in one of the largest nations on the planet and armed with nuclear weapons, while China quietly agreed to build a gas pipeline that will link Iran with energy starved Pakistan. The gas pipeline will cost about $2 billion and China has agreed to pay for 85% of the project and it is to be called “the Peace Pipeline”.

We kill; they build.

Let’s try sanity for a change.

 

Joe Clifford lives in Rhode Island and has written a regular column for an online newspaper and has contributed many articles to various RI newspapers. His articles deal almost exclusively with American Foreign policy but ventures into other (more…)

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Decline and Fall of the United States

April 22, 2015

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I just went to New York and back in a day to tape the premier episode of a new Sunday political talk show that will begin airing in some weeks on Al Jazeera. It was a debate on war, and I took the abolish-it position. So, look forward to an alternative to the normal Sunday political viewing. Here’s something I wrote prior to the taping:

The Decline and Fall of the United States

Here’s text and video from my recent event in Baltimore:

And the Slow Parade of Fears

And text and video from my recent event in Detroit (in two parts):

War: It’s Human Nature only if Collective Suicide is Natural

Peace: More Normal and Wonderful Than We Think

More recent work:

David Swanson Discusses Wikileaks Sony/State Department Claims on RT International

Getting the Cure Right for a Sick Democracy

I Just Asked Erik Prince To Stop Bribing Politicians

Blackwater Employees to Prison Today, Their Boss Honored Guest at UVA Wednesday

Talk Nation Radio: Karen Dolan on the Criminalization of Poverty

Talk Nation Radio: Sheila Carapico: Stop the Saudi (and U.S.) War on Yemen

Drone Victims Take Germany to Court for Abetting U.S. Murders

Oh Hell, Hillary

To End Government Spying, Stop Buying Stuff

Locals Protest, Sabotage U.S. Navy Base Construction in Desert in Sicily

The Video That Could Indict the Pentagon for Murder

Talk Nation Radio: NYU Students on Hiring a War Criminal to Teach Human Rights Law

Lower Drinking Age, Raise Killing Age

Check out the progress at WorldBeyondWar.org:

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Noam Chomsky: The Major Crime of This Millennium Is the US Invasion of Iraq

April 21, 2015

Prof. Noam Chomsky, linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist and activist. (photo: Va Shiva)
Prof. Noam Chomsky, linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist and activist. (photo: Va Shiva)

By RT

20 April 15

 

ajor American media organizations diligently parrot what US officials want the public to know about global affairs, historian Noam Chomsky told RT. To US leaders, any news outlet that “does not repeat the US propaganda system is intolerable,” he said.

The culpability of the West – namely the United States – for world affairs, such as the Ukrainian conflict or tensions with Iran, is another idea that is not permissible in leading American media, Chomsky said, adding that world opinion does not matter when that opinion counters US strategy.

“The West means the United States and everyone else that goes along,” he said.“What’s called the international community in the United States is the United States and anyone who happens to be going along with it. Take, say, for example, the question of Iran’s right to carry out its current nuclear policies, whatever they are. The standard line is that the international community objects to this. Who is the international community? What the United States determines it to be.”

He added that, “any reader of [George] Orwell would be perfectly familiar with this. But it continues virtually without comment.”

Chomsky’s remarks came this week just before a congressional hearing that was officially titled ‘Confronting Russia’s Weaponization of Information.’ Of the meeting, House Foreign Affairs Committee chair Ed Royce said, “The Russian media is now dividing societies abroad and, in fact, weaponizing information.”

The social philosopher and MIT professor said, “if there were any imaginable possibility of honesty,” Rep. Royce could be talking about the American media. He pointed to a recent New York Times story that discussed reasons not to trust Iran amid the tentative agreement between Tehran and Washington, along with other major global powers, over the former’s nuclear ambitions.

“The most interesting one is the charge that Iran is destabilizing the Middle East because it’s supporting militias which have killed American soldiers in Iraq,” Chomsky told RT’s Alexey Yaroshevsky.

“That’s kind of as if, in 1943, the Nazi press had criticized England because it was destabilizing Europe for supporting partisans who were killing German soldiers. In other words, the assumption is, when the United States invades, it kills a couple hundred thousand people, destroys the country, elicits sectarian conflicts that are now tearing Iraq and the region apart, that’s stabilization. If someone resists that tact, that’s destabilization.”

Chomsky also related American media propaganda to recent moves by US President Barack Obama to reach out to Cuba, which the US has long considered a state sponsor of terror while instituting a harsh embargo regime. Chomsky said top American media outlets go to great lengths to pit Cuba — and not the US — as the isolated party in the Western Hemisphere.

“The facts are very clear. This is a free and open society, so we have access to internal documents at an extraordinary level. You can’t claim you don’t know. It’s not like a totalitarian state where there are no records. We know what happened. The Kennedy administration launched a very serious terrorist war against Cuba. It was one of the factors that led to the missile crisis. It was a war that was planned to lead to an invasion in October 1962, which Cuba and Russia presumably knew about. It’s now assumed by scholarship that that’s one of the reasons for the placement of the missiles. That war went on for years. No mention of it is permissible [in the US]. The only thing you can mention is that there were some attempts to assassinate [Fidel] Castro. And those can be written off as ridiculous CIA shenanigans. But the terrorist war itself was very serious.”

Obama has changed course on Cuban policy not for reasons pursuant to freedom or democracy, as is peddled in the US media, Chomsky said.

“There is no noble gesture, just Obama’s recognition that the United States is practically being thrown out of the hemisphere because of its isolation on this topic,” he added. “But you can’t discuss that [in the US]. It’s all public information, nothing secret, all available in public documents, but undiscussable. Like the idea — and you can’t contemplate the idea — that when the US invades another country and the other resists, it’s not the resistors who are committing the crime, it’s the invaders.”

As for international law, Chomsky said it “can work up to the point where the great powers permit it.” Beyond that, it is meaningless. Thus, is international law an illusion if the US picks and chooses — while exempting itself — from what is enforced?

“To say that [international law is] dead implies it was ever alive. Has it ever been alive?” he said, citing US stonewalling of the world court’s demand in the 1980s that the US halt its war on Nicaragua and provide extensive reparations for damage done.

“International law cannot be enforced against great powers,” he said. “There’s no enforcement mechanism. Take a look at the International Criminal Court, who has investigated and sentenced African leaders who the US doesn’t like. The major crime of this millennium, certainly, is the US invasion of Iraq. Could that be brought to the international court? I mean, it’s beyond inconceivable.”

Chomsky said the so-called American Dream and US democracy are in “very serious decline,” as social mobility is among the worst among the richest nations. He added that, formally, the US retains a democratic veneer, but actual manifestations of democracy are dwindling.

“Basically, most of the population is disenfranchised,” he said, referring to public polling. “Their representatives pay no attention to their opinion. That’s roughly the lowest three-quarters on the bottom of the income scale. Move up the scale, you get a little more influence. At the top, essentially policy is made. That’s plutocracy, not democracy.”

 

Khamenei: US Invented Nuclear Myth; Iran Will Never Invade Another Country

April 21, 2015
Published on
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Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran, has said once again that his nation has no desire for a nuclear weapon and would never preemptively invade or attack a foreign nation. (Photo: AP file)

The clerical leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, gave a speech on Sunday in which he urged that Iran maintain its military readiness in order to fend off any hostile invasion or attack. But, he said, “Iran has never invaded a country and never will.” He also called US charges that Iran is seeking a nuclear weapon a “myth” and “propaganda.”

Whatever else is wrong with the Islamic Republic of Iran, you have to admit that it is refreshing for a country’s leader to make such a pledge. No American politician could even run for election on such a platform, of “no conventional military attack on another country.” American politicians are always talking about keeping all options open or ‘on the table’, by which they mean that Washington might at any moment take it into its head suddenly to go to aggressive war against another country, even though that country had not attacked the US. The illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003 was only the most recent and dramatic such attack.

Iran has a small military budget, about $10 bn., on the order of that of Norway or Singapore. It has no air force to speak of. The US military budget is roughly 80 times that of Iran.

Khamenei said that Iran has a no first strike policy and is no danger to its immediate neighbors (Pakistan, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Turkey, Iraq, and Kuwait), much less to countries further away (he may be referring to Israel and Yemen).

What about Khamenei’s claim that Iran hasn’t invaded another country? He probably meant the the Islamic Republic has launched no wars of aggression since its founding in 1979. This is true. In 1980 Iraq invaded Iran. Iran fought the invaders to a standstill and ultimately made peace, making no effort to occupy Iraqi territory.

Iran did invade Herat in Afghanistan in the 1850s, but Iranians argue that Herat had long been part of the Iranian empire and so Iran was just recovering what was theirs. Before that, Iran invaded Iraq in 1785 and took Basra. So it has been a long time.

Critics of Iran will complain that it does support Hizbullah and the al-Assad regime in Syria and the Houthis in Yemen. This is true, though the latter has been exaggerated. But offering an ally strategic advice or logistical help on demand is different from invading with tanks.

Those who only read the US press on Iran’s civilian nuclear enrichment program may be surprised to see Khamenei deny that Iran wants a nuclear bomb. But he has been saying this all along. He said in 2006 of US criticisms of his country:

“Their other issue is [their assertion] that Iran seeks [a] nuclear bomb. It is an irrelevant and wrong statement, it is a sheer lie. We do not need a nuclear bomb. We do not have any objectives or aspirations for which we will need to use a nuclear bomb. We consider using nuclear weapons against Islamic rules. We have announced this openly. We think imposing the costs of building and maintaining nuclear weapons on our nation is unnecessary. Building such weapons and their maintenance are costly. By no means we deem it right to impose these costs on the people. We do not need those weapons. Unlike the Americans who want to rule the world with force, we do not claim to control the world and therefore do not need a nuclear bomb.”

Khamenei has repeated this stance numerous times, but the US media can’t seem to hear him say it. He considers nuclear bombs to be against Islamic law, since they kill large numbers of innocent non-combatants, including women and children, when deployed. Of course, he could be lying. But that is sort of like the Pope maintaining a condom factory in the basement of the Vatican. You have to ask yourself, why ban something religiously that you intend to promote in actuality? If the contradiction became known, it would damage the religious leader’s credibility.

According to the BBC Monitoring translation of Khamenei.ir , Khamenei said:

“Iran not “a threat” to any country

The Islamic Republic is not a threat to any country. We have never been a threat even to our neighbours, let alone to distant countries. Our contemporary history clearly shows this. Even when some of our neighbours treated us not in a neighbourly manner, we showed restraint. Iran has never invaded a country and never will. The fake myth of nuclear weapons has been devised by America and then Europe and some other bootlickers in order to portray the Islamic Republic as a threat.”

Khamenei went on to point out that it is the USA that has illegally launched wars of aggression in the Middle East, along with Israel. Iran, he said, never has.

I think he was pointing to Iraq when he said, “Even in some cases it has graciously forgiven the bad attitude of its neighbours. Insecurity is coming from the direction of unleashed powers which take over everywhere.”

As for Yemen, while Iran stands accused of giving military aid to the rebel Houthi movement, that charge is not easy to prove. It seems unlikely that the Houthis needed Iran to launch their protest movement. It is Saudi Arabia and its allies, including the USA, who have launched an attack on the Houthis even though they did not attack Saudi Arabia. Khamenei in his speech said that Iran is merely helping countries that have been attacked.

Today, these heartbreaking events are happening in Yemen and the Americans support the tyrant. The West supports the tyrant. Insecurity is coming from their direction. It is them who make countries unsafe, and make the environment insecure for people to live in. It is them who bring insecurity. The Islamic Republic of Iran considers security as the biggest divine gift both for itself and others and stands up for its security and defends it.”

h/t to BBC Monitoring for translations.

 

Juan Cole teaches Middle Eastern and South Asian history at the University of Michigan. His new book, The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation Is Changing the Middle East (Simon and Schuster), will officially be published July 1st. He is also the author of Engaging the Muslim World and Napoleon’s Egypt: Invading the Middle East (both Palgrave Macmillan). He has appeared widely on television, radio and on op-ed pages as a commentator on Middle East affairs, and has a regular column at Salon.com. He has written, edited, or translated 14 books and has authored 60 journal articles. His weblog on the contemporary Middle East is Informed Comment.

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