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Personal Reflections on the Crisis in America by Richard C. Cook

June 5, 2008

Personal Reflections on the Crisis in America by Richard C. Cook

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by Richard C. Cook
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WILLIAMSBURG, VA, June 4, 2008. I moved back to Williamsburg a year ago, after retiring from the federal government, in order to live [and] write at the home of my elderly mother. She resides near the Restored Area, a half-mile from the reconstructed colonial Capitol. At this site on May 15, 1776, the Second Virginia Convention voted 112-0 to instruct its delegates in Philadelphia to enter a motion for independence. If the U.S. was born in Philadelphia, it was conceived here.

My mother’s name is Marjorie Cook, and she is an 85-year old retired interpreter for Colonial Williamsburg. Also living in the house are my sister Sandy, an R.N., and her daughter Cathryn, about to graduate from high school.

My mother lives in the house that she and my father, Dick Cook, built in 1963, three years after we moved from Michigan. He was a chemist for Dow Chemical, which had opened a nearby textile processing plant along with Badische, a German company. Later my parents divorced, and he now lives in Newport News, about 20 miles away.

My mother’s house cost $21,000, is paid for, and she has no debt. While real estate assessments have gone up, the tax rate in Williamsburg is lower than in any of the surrounding communities. So it is a good place for an elderly person with a pension to live in a country where local governments routinely tax the elderly and the poor out of their homes.

Since childhood I had a passion for history, with many men in my family being involved in historic events. My father served with the Seabees on Attu Island in the Aleutians during World War II. My grandfather on my mother’s side was a sailor on the World War I troop transports traveling to and from France from the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Also during that war, my grandmother’s brother was a member of the Army Air Corps.

On my father’s side, my great-grandfather Hill acquired land by taking part in the Arapaho land rush of 1892 in Oklahoma’s Indian Territory. Back in the Civil War, my great-great grandfather William Forster, who’d landed at Ellis Island during the Irish potato famine, was a Union artillery sergeant. His unit was with General Grant at the surrender of General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Court House in 1865.

Education

My family voted Democratic going back to New Deal days. The fall after we moved to Williamsburg in 1960, I worked with a friend handing out literature on behalf of John F. Kennedy’s campaign. One night Bobby Kennedy came to Williamsburg to speak on behalf of his brother’s candidacy on the dimly-lit steps of the Williamsburg courthouse. He gave a fervent speech, without notes, saying it was time for a new era of achievement and optimism in America after the tensions of the Cold War.

When President Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963, I was a senior at James Blair High School. I wrote for the school newspaper, The Blarion, and worked weekends as a disk jockey for WBCI, the local radio station.

That Thursday afternoon, a teacher told me to go to the office to listen to the news coming in over the radio. I was numb with disbelief when I heard Kennedy was dead. At WBCI we played funeral music all weekend, along with the news bulletins. I was working when a listener called and said Lee Harvey Oswald had just been shot in the basement of the Dallas police headquarters. I ran to the news ticker, yanked the story, and read it on the air.

I wrote an editorial for the The Blarion, saying that the killing was a sign of a deranged society, with more troubles surely on the way. The U.S. military commitment in Vietnam was escalating, and by March 1965 we would have combat troops on the ground. The struggle for civil rights in the American South would also turn violent.

I was named “Most Likely to Succeed” and in September 1964 entered Yale University as a scholarship student. I was in the same freshman class as a young man named George W. Bush. But I had been shaken to my depths by the Kennedy assassination and had been affected by the turmoil in our home with my parents drifting apart.

At Yale I was more interested in reading existential writers like Albert Camus than attending classes on political science that were obviously intended to prepare us to become part of the American ruling elite. Scholarship students were required to wash dishes in the Yale dining halls, which I resented.

I read Mark Lane’s Rush to Judgment, which questioned the Warren Commission’s conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone gunman who shot Kennedy. One night a professor from the Yale Law School was speaking about the Warren Commission. When I brought up Lane’s objections to the “magic bullet” theory, the professor answered me with vehement contempt.

Years later I read a book by Professor Donald Gibson of the University of Pittsburg entitled The Kennedy Assassination Cover-Up. Gibson concluded that the cover-up was a project of figures in the Eastern establishment who pressured President Lyndon Johnson to hurry and form the high-level commission that Chief Justice Earl Warren would head. The commission tried to put to rest any suspicion that figures other than Oswald had been involved. According to Gibson, the leading institutional affiliations of the persons bringing the pressure to bear on Johnson were The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the Yale Law School.

I resigned from Yale after six weeks. Regrettably, George W. Bush and I would now be treading separate paths. I then attended the College of William and Mary in my hometown of Williamsburg for a semester until I left town and spent a few months traveling around the country by bus and hitchhiking, making side-trips to Canada and Peru. I ended up flat broke in a room at the Mapes Hotel in Reno, Nevada, where I wrote a postcard to the Dean of Students at William and Mary asking to be allowed to return.

Once I was back, I was admitted to the humanities honors program, studied relentlessly, wrote for the William and Mary Review, and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. I also took part in the 1969 March on Washington against the Vietnam War.

The most famous alumnus of William and Mary was Thomas Jefferson, whose “presence” played a key role in my becoming the person I am today. Jefferson abhorred war. In my opinion, he was the president who, more than any other, favored the right of hard-working ordinary people to a decent and prosperous life.

As President George Washington’s Secretary of State, Jefferson opposed Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton’s plan to put the finances of the new nation in the hands of the private financiers who bought stock in the First Bank of the United States. When Jefferson became president in 1800, he put a stop to the use of deficit financing to build a military establishment by his action in balancing the federal budget for eight consecutive years.

Jefferson has been vilified for trying to steer a course of neutrality during the endless wars between Britain and France, even though his policy of restraint lay the groundwork for a century of federal budget discipline, with the exception of the Civil War. Critics who would rather bestow praise on Hamilton, John Adams, and the Federalists in general as forerunners of today’s military imperial state find fault with Jefferson under such pretexts as his ownership of slaves, his relationship with Sally Hemmings, or his “vendettas” against Vice President Aaron Burr and Chief Justice John Marshall who presided over Burr’s 1807 trial for treason.

Today, back in Williamsburg, I can see even more clearly that Jefferson was one of the great men of history. He wrote in the Declaration of Independence the now-familiar words, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

This statement has never been surpassed as a summary of democratic principles or in expressing our God-given right to freedom, whether from governments, tyrants, or the brutal financial oppression we see everywhere in the world today emanating from global finance capitalism.

Ever since he wrote it, Jefferson’s formulation has resonated with those who love liberty, both for themselves and others, as has the clarity with which the Declaration of Independence expressed the right to choose our own form of government. Later Jefferson wrote, “I have no fear that the result of our experiment will be that men may be trusted to govern themselves without a master.” He also wrote, “Every generation needs a new revolution.”

I should point out that I never saw Jefferson’s ideals as promoting “license” vs. “liberty,” or as supporting the idea of viewing any action of government as ipso facto evil. Jefferson favored a limited government elected by “We the People” and served in positions of public responsibility for most of his life. He saw government as a servant of the public, not its master. He saw the human individual as God’s highest creation, not some social, economic, or governmental collective. He also knew that constructive government actions, such as the peaceable acquisition of the Louisiana Territory, promoted freedom, whereas policies based on warfare and violence destroyed it.

Going to Work in Washington

In 1970, at the height of the Vietnam War, I graduated from William and Mary and went to work for the U.S. Civil Service Commission in Washington, D.C. I was soon working on policy-level assignments, such as drafting a regulation that authorized federal agencies to pay for college-level courses for lower-graded employees. It was part of the federal upward mobility program.

After two years at the Commission, I resigned from the government and taught high school history, English, and phys. ed. at the Field School, a newly-founded private secondary school in northwest Washington. There I taught the children of such notables as Senator James Abourezk and Washington attorney Max Kampelman, later President Reagan’s arms negotiator.

After two years of teaching I returned to the U.S. Civil Service Commission where I was put in charge of conducting evaluations of Bureau of Training regional training centers. Just after I went back to work for the government, President Richard Nixon resigned from the presidency on August 8, 1974. On April 30, 1975 came the fall of Saigon, which ended the Vietnam War.

One time my wife and I were invited to a dinner at the home of Ray Borntraeger, a Bureau of Training manager with political connections, where the guest of honor was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, prime minister of Pakistan. Educated in the U.S. and Great Britain, Bhutto was determined to modernize Pakistan and acquire nuclear energy technology.

This was beyond what the Western powers would tolerate, and Bhutto was threatened by Henry Kissinger, who said, according to Bhutto’s autobiography, If I am Assassinated, “We can destabilize your government and make a horrible example out of you.” In 1977, Bhutto was overthrown by General Zia-ul-Haq, then tried and executed on trumped-up charges.

Borntraeger’s dinner party took place in the dining room of his modest middle-class home in Northern Virginia, where Bhutto captivated the guests with his quiet brilliance and piercing expressing. After his death, his daughter Benazir, also educated in the U.S., was twice prime minister of Pakistan. Her assassination on December 27, 2007, was excruciatingly painful to me, having once met her father. It was a family beset by tragedy.

In 1976, I transferred to the Food and Drug Administration, where I worked at their headquarters in Rockville, Maryland, as a policy analyst on the staff of Commissioner Donald Kennedy. From there I was brought into the Jimmy Carter White House as an aide to Esther Peterson, the president’s special assistant for consumer affairs.

The Carter White House and Monetary Reform

Once at the White House Office, I worked mainly on Executive Order 11280, signed by President Carter, which required each federal agency to establish a new consumer affairs program giving the public more opportunity to participate in federal decision-making and acquire information on governmental activities. Carter signed the order after the defeat by Congress of White House-proposed legislation for a Consumer Protection Agency.

While working for Esther Peterson at the Old Executive Office Building next to the White House West Wing, I discovered a remarkable series of essays from the 1920s by British writer A.O. Orage, editor of the New Age. Orage wrote about the ideas of a British engineer named C.H. Douglas, who had published a book entitled Economic Democracy in 1918.

Douglas was the founder of the Social Credit movement, which later became a political force in Great Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, but which never had an impact in the U.S. Douglas’s central idea was that in a modern industrial economy the need for a business firm to hold back some of its earnings for future investment meant there would always be a “gap” between the prices companies must charge for goods and services and the net purchasing power available to a nation’s population to purchase that output.

This gap, said Douglas, was the cause of economic recessions and depressions. He also pointed out that under existing political conditions, it’s the financiers of a nation who benefit, because they fill the gap between prices and purchasing power with bank lending at interest. This lending for consumption was apart from the ordinary types of financing which banks routinely extend to businesses as liquidity for day-to-day operations under what has traditionally been called the “real bills” doctrine.

The gap, Douglas said, was a primary cause of war, because another way to fill it, besides bank lending, is for a nation to maintain a positive trade balance. Since each nation has a need to maintain a trade advantage, they obviously end up fighting each other for markets as did Great Britain and Germany in World War I.

I immediately saw the applicability of Douglas’s ideas to the economic circumstances of the 1970s, where the “business cycle” of inflation, followed afterwards by recession, was recurring in a manner similar to the 1920s and 30s. What Douglas was explaining, I realized, was the “poverty in the midst of plenty” syndrome of modern economic life.

Douglas advocated filling the gap by monetizing what he saw as the de facto appreciation of the economy over time and issuing to citizens a periodic “National Dividend” that would supplement purchasing power with stipends paid by the government but without recourse to taxation or borrowing. It was “giving away money,” but for sound economic reasons and according to a measured calculation of value backed by actual industrial output.

Douglas’s analysis was brilliant and was clearly a pathway to real economic freedom. I saw that it was a National Dividend that could make Jefferson’s ideas of political democracy possible by making economic democracy a reality. It would result in the elusive “leisure dividend” that was supposed to have accompanied the modern industrial economy but never has. Later I discovered that this was the thinking behind the experiment on a smaller scale of the resource dividend enacted by the state of Alaska through the Alaska Permanent Fund established in 1976, amounting today to almost $2,000 per resident annually.

I also saw how the deficit spending notions of John Maynard Keynes were actually an attempt to eliminate Douglas’s “gap” through governmental rather than private sector debt but which in the end would be just as unfair and self-defeating. Later I learned that Keynes knew about Douglas’s ideas but had decided to propose a solution that would not appear so threatening to the financiers. It was “Keynesian economics” that would eventually lead to today’s un-payable U.S. national debt of almost $10 trillion and a foreign policy based on conquest to support worldwide trade and dollar hegemony.

Excited by what I was learning from my study of Douglas, I convened a meeting of friends and associates which we held in the Old Executive Office Building in the summer of 1980. But soon my early interest in monetary reform was overtaken by other events.

I was at the White House when Jimmy Carter was defeated by Ronald Reagan in the 1980 presidential election. It had been evident that Carter might lose the election because the Federal Reserve under Chairman Paul Volcker was raising interest rates to combat the inflation from the oil price shocks of the 1970s. Later I learned that Carter had not been told that the Federal Reserve would be taking this type of drastic action that led to the worst recession since the Great Depression.

Carter’s reelection campaign was also damaged by the drawn-out negotiations involving the release of 52 U.S. government employees from the takeover of our embassy in Tehran by Iranian revolutionaries. The negotiations dragged on through the fall of 1980. The release of the hostages finally took place six minutes after Ronald Reagan took the oath of office on January 20, 1981, leading to speculation that Reagan’s campaign operatives had meddled to cause delays in order to make Carter look inept.

I also remember how shocked we were when Reagan’s aides stole President Carter’s briefing book and used it to prep their candidate before the TV debates. What kind of people were these, we wondered? All things considered, it became clear that Carter’s second term had been stolen from him.

One aspect of Carter’s presidency with harmful long-term consequences was his abolishment of the U.S. Civil Service Commission and its replacement with the Office of Personnel Management within the Executive Office of the President. The emblem of the Commission had been the North Star, which symbolized the independence and integrity of a civil service based on merit rather than politics.

This idea was lost under Carter in order to make the career workforce more “responsive.” The Senior Executive Service was set up for similar purposes, with democracy the loser. Under the onerous bureaucratic system for admitting civil servants into the executive ranks and evaluating their performance, independent judgment has been virtually eliminated in favor of a rigid and heavily politicized top-down system of control.

Carter had been a member of the Trilateral Commission, which was set up by U.S. financier David Rockefeller with the help of Professor Zbigniew Brzezinski, a native of Poland. As we now know, the Trilateral Commission has the aim of promoting a world government of the financial and technical elite known later, in the words of President George H.W. Bush, as the “New World Order.” But Carter was evidently not cooperating fully enough, so, seemingly, found himself dumped.

Today, as a prolific author and head of the Carter Center in Atlanta, Georgia, he is a voice in the wilderness in promoting a just peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Carter had been working toward this goal since he hosted talks at Camp David in 1978 between Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin that led to the 1979 Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty.

“The Reagan Revolution”

After Ronald Reagan assumed the presidency, I worked for two years at the U.S. Office of Consumer Affairs, which was an extension of the White House consumer office. The president’s special assistant for consumer affairs was now Virginia Knauer, who had held the same office under President Richard Nixon, and for whom I wrote speeches and reports. We were afraid that with the Reagan cuts of the federal civilian budget our office would be abolished, but that didn’t happen.

Still, there wasn’t much to do any longer in the field of consumer affairs, so I spent a lot of my time at the Library of Congress reading whatever interested me. After two more years with the government, my wife Phyllis and I left town with our baby daughter to live and work on a small farm we had bought in Monroe County, West Virginia. But after running out of money, we sold the farm and returned to Washington, where I was offered a job at NASA as a resource analyst for the space shuttle program.

The Reagan presidency was a milestone in U.S. history, where the military-industrial complex, aided and abetted by figures within the Conservative Movement associated with such institutions as the Committee on the Present Danger and the Heritage Foundation, became the dominant power within the federal government. They had strong affiliations with the most conservative and outspoken elements within Israeli politics, such as the Likud Party. By now the arming of Israel had become one of the central tenets of U.S. foreign policy.

Reagan may have had his own ideas about restoring American greatness through conservative principles, but in my opinion he was a captive of forces he little understood. His willingness to acquiesce may have been facilitated by his near-assassination on March 30, 1981, by a young man named John Hinckley. It was later reported that Hinckley’s father and Vice President George H.W. Bush had a longstanding business and political relationship, though no connection between Bush and the attempted assassination has ever been proven.

Reagan had run his presidential campaign against big government but became the biggest Keynesian deficit spender in history. He looked good on camera but seemed to understand little of what went on behind the scenes in the course of his trillion-dollar military build-up, the launching of proxy wars against supposedly pro-communist forces in third world countries, the “Star Wars” weapons-in-space program, or the arms-for-hostages deal run out of the White House in connection with Iran and the Nicaraguan contras.

Showing early signs of dementia by the middle of his second term, Reagan’s daily calendar was arranged according to astrological prognostications, meanwhile the deregulation of the nation’s financial industry led to the merger-acquisition-junk bond mania that lay the groundwork for the financial meltdown of the 2000s.

On January 26, 1986, space shuttle Challenger blew up a minute after it was launched. At NASA I was an eye-witness to the Challenger disaster and cover-up, and I leaked documents to The New York Times proving NASA’s prior knowledge of the flaws on the solid rocket booster O-rings which failed and caused the tragedy. I was called to testify before the Rogers Commission but never returned to NASA. Instead, I transferred to the U.S. Treasury Department, where I worked for 21 years, starting with the final years of Reagan’s second term.

Though the Rogers Commission had denied it, I later discovered that the Reagan White House pressured NASA to launch Challenger against engineers’ recommendations so that Teacher-in-Space Christa McAuliffe would be aloft in time for his 1986 state-of-the-union speech. I also learned that NASA failed to fix the O-ring problem to avoid delaying shuttle flights that were to be launched with military payloads for the Air Force.

Reagan is lauded as the Great Communicator and is viewed by many as a virtual demi-god. The reason is not hard to see. Reagan’s “supply-side” tax cuts sharply reduced income tax rates for the wealthiest taxpayers, providing them with a bonanza that has powered their social and economic dominance ever since.

And he gave the military a free ride. Though it is rarely acknowledged, the backbone of support of the Republican Party since Reagan has been the military and their contractors. Because so many military facilities are in Southern states, there has been a seamless blend with the Republican Party’s “Southern strategy” dating from Nixon days. Reagan himself got a free ride from the press, as documented in Mark Hertsgaard’s 1988 book, On Bended Knee: The Press and the Reagan Presidency.

By the time George H.W. Bush became president in 1989, I had settled in at the U.S. Treasury Department’s Financial Management Service and was learning how the government’s payment, collections, and cash management systems worked. This was the start of large-scale electronic funds transfer in the U.S., with billions of dollars moving daily through the Federal Reserve System’s automated clearinghouse. The Federal Reserve, though owned by its member banks, acted as the federal government’s, “fiscal agent.”

“Cash management” meant that every night the Treasury Department deposited all its cash-on-hand in the Federal Reserve, for which it received interest payments. The banking system then used the money as part of its reserves to collateralize lending. This allowed a huge increase in the funds available for banks to lend, especially when private businesses started to do what Treasury was doing with overnight deposits.

Later these funds would become a source of the huge amounts of credit that banks would use in the 2000s to fuel the housing, commercial real estate, equity, hedge fund, and derivative bubbles. While these practices may have been “legal” in producing massive profits for the banking system, their effects have been catastrophic.

In 1990 I received the Cavallo Foundation Award for Moral Courage in Business and Government for my testimony before the Rogers Commission on the Challenger disaster. It was the nation’s premier recognition for whistleblowers. My supervisor at Treasury seemed embarrassed by my receiving the award but gave me the day off to attend the awards ceremony on Capitol Hill with my family.

From 1985 to 1991 the communist political system of the Soviet Union was collapsing, and the Soviet republics outside Russia were moving toward independence. In June 1991 Boris Yeltsin was elected president of the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic. The Soviet Union itself dissolved after a reactionary coup failed against the democratization movement led by Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. The collapse of the Soviet Union took Gorbachev with it, leaving Yeltsin and Russia standing alone.

Of course those who adulated President Ronald Reagan claimed then, as they do now, that he was the one responsible for “the fall of the Soviet Union.” I’d always had a great respect for the Russian people and its ancient, highly spiritual, culture. I had viewed the Communist revolution as an atrocity against Russia, not as an action taken by it. I had deeply imbibed Russian literature and viewed Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Pasternak, and Solzhenitsyn as among the greatest writers in world history.

In the same manner, I saw the revolt against the Soviet government as a spontaneous uprising that reaffirmed the traditional identity of Russia. It was a revolt by, for, and of the Russian people, just as the secession of the other Soviet republics was an expression of the will of those nations. For the followers of a right-wing militarist like Reagan to claim credit was to me an abomination.

Almost simultaneously with events in Russia came the first Iraq War, with that nation invading and occupying Kuwait in 1990 and President George H.W. Bush ordering U.S. ground forces into Iraq in early 1991. The war was over in a few weeks, with U.S. air power attacking and decimating retreating Iraqi soldiers.

By this time I was heartily sick of the Reagan/Bush administrations with their reliance on military force as the heart of U.S. foreign policy, the glorification of war that formed so much of presidential imagery, the collapse of our manufacturing economy during the recession of 1979-83 that was recurring during the Bush presidency, and the constant financial scandals that seemed to go hand-in-hand with Republican Party rule.

President Bill Clinton

I was not sorry when Bill Clinton won the 1992 presidential election, though he was not a progressive Democrat. Of course he might not have done so without Ross Perot’s convenient third party campaign that siphoned off the votes of many erstwhile Bush supporters.

The Clinton years were a relief, because a measure of prosperity had returned, and young people, including my older sons who were finishing college, could get jobs. It was done through a strong dollar which attracted enough foreign investment to produce the dot.com boom. There were abuses, of course. In some cases, entrepreneurs started new technology companies and simply absconded with investors’ cash.

I was very uneasy about the signing by Clinton of legislation for the North American Free Trade Agreement. I had seen the damage done to the U.S. manufacturing economy by the Federal Reserve interest rate policies of the 1980s. NAFTA seemed to promise more of the same. In fact it wrecked family farming in the U.S., as well as in Canada and Mexico, by allowing the undermining of local agriculture by the large agribusiness firms. In short, NAFTA became a disaster. Its dire impact on Mexico contributed strongly to the flood of illegal immigrants heading north.

During the 1990s I had the growing feeling that the public was never told the real reasons for events and decisions and that behind the scenes meetings were held and plans formulated which undermined rather than advanced democracy. This was before the time a few years off when so many commentators would be writing day-in-and-day-out about various “conspiracy theories.”

I had also learned through my experience with the Challenger disaster that the truth could never be found by listening to what was said by government officials, both the career bureaucrats and the ones we elected to represent us. This was because, in line with the ethos of the national security state, not only was critical information withheld as “classified,” the ones who possessed that information were trained professional liars.

This included senators, congressmen, and even presidents, not just spooks from the security agencies like the CIA, NSA, and Defense Intelligence Agency. An example of such lies was the fiction, maintained by Israeli and U.S. officials alike, that Israel was not a nuclear power, even though by the 1990s everyone knew that nation ranked behind only the U.S. and the Soviet Union/Russia in its nuclear arsenal.

Clinton started out looking like he had good intentions, though after his wife Hillary’s health care initiative failed and Republican Newt Gingrich took control of the House of Representatives from the Democrats in the 1994 off-year elections, he became much more tentative. The exception was a few social reforms such as extension of the Earned Income Credit for lower income taxpayers.

Later in his presidency Clinton resisted the efforts of the neocons associated with the Project for a New American Century, successors to the Conservative Movement under Reagan, to launch another war against Iraq, which may have been the factor that led to his impeachment. But he fully cooperated with the imperialists within the U.S. military-industrial complex and NATO in attacking Serbia.

Nothing could have been more confusing than the “Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian War” of 1991-95. The important fact to remember is that it was the policy of the West to prevent any reappearance of the former nation of Yugoslavia by demonizing the Slavic Serbs, thereby weakening Russian influence in the Balkans. The U.S. also tried to exert its influence in the nations that had broken away from the Soviet Union as part of a general policy of encirclement with respect to Russia.

There was also an interesting series of events during Clinton’s presidency that may have been linked with hidden purposes. The first was the 1992 assault on survivalist Randy Weaver and his family at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, by U.S. marshals and FBI agents. Weaver’s wife Vicki and one of their sons were shot and killed over dubious weapons charges.

The second took place in February-April, 1993, when 76 members of the Branch Davidian religious group, including their leader David Koresh, died in a fire when assaulted by federal officials at their compound near Waco, Texas.

Two years later, on April 19, 1995, a bomb in a Ryder truck blew up the Murrah Federal Office Building in Oklahoma City, claiming 168 lives. In the words of Wikipedia:

“Within days after the bombing, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols were both in custody for their roles in the bombing. Investigators determined that McVeigh and Nichols were sympathizers of an anti-government militia movement and that their motive was to avenge the government’s handling of the Waco and Ruby Ridge incidents.”

Later McVeigh was executed for his role. During the Waco and Oklahoma City events, Janet Reno was serving as attorney-general of the U.S. The net result of the three incidents was to discredit and render moribund much of the survivalist and armed citizen militia movements.

Clinton was a pro-business Democrat associated with the “centrist” Democratic Leadership Council. During his presidency millions more U.S. manufacturing jobs were outsourced to other nations. Clinton was supported by Wall Street and did nothing to stem the slide toward financier control and dominance of the U.S. economy.

At the end of his presidency the stock market had begun to crash, the dot.com mania was exposed as a bubble, and over $7 trillion in middle-class wealth evaporated. Clinton restructured federal financial reporting which helped him achieve a balanced budget during the last three years of his presidency, along with taxes on stock market capital gains. But by his last days in office, consumer purchasing power was collapsing.

The judgment of writers of history on Clinton has yet to be made, though his image was badly tarnished by the personal circumstances involving Monica Lewinsky that led to his impeachment and trial by the Senate, ending in acquittal. He sought to promote his own cause by publishing his voluminous memoirs, entitled My Life.

I spent the 1990s working hard at my job which was to write regulations, analyze Treasury financial and administrative systems, and set up automated training centers. By now my older sons were attending college—Nat at Dartmouth and Tim at Kenyon. I spent time at home with my younger children and become a neighborhood soccer coach and referee.

Darkness in America

The first decade of the new millennium—the 2000s—produced a catastrophe for the U.S. when the Supreme Court designated my former Yale classmate George W. Bush as president in December 2000.

Democrat Albert Gore had won the popular vote in the November election but was behind in electoral votes. The controversy centered on Florida, where the official tally showed Bush the winner by a narrow margin, but where the Court decided a complete recount might leave the nation with an undecided election for too long. It later turned out that many eligible Florida voters had been improperly excluded from voting by partisan state election officials. Gore’s presidency had been stolen in a fashion even more egregious than what had been done to Jimmy Carter in 1980.

Bush’s first major official action in mid-2001 was to turn Clinton’s $300 billion budget surplus into a $200 billion deficit by cutting taxes for the rich. Then came 9/11. On the morning of September 11, 2001, two separate aircraft crashed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City and a third into the Pentagon. A fourth aircraft was reported to have crashed in rural Pennsylvania. Altogether, 2,973 died.

I was in a two-day-a-week work-at-home program for Treasury and was at my home in rural Virginia where my wife Phyllis did her writing as a journalist for the local newspaper. We had the TV on, heard the reports of the first plane striking the World Trade Center, then saw the second live.

When I went to work the next day at our Treasury office near the Tidal Basin and Jefferson Memorial, colleagues told me they had heard the impact from across the Potomac River at the Pentagon and seen the black smoke rising. In New York, both the Twin Towers had collapsed pancake-style. Later that day, a smaller building in the World Trade Center complex—WTC 7—also collapsed.

That Friday I watched the memorial service at the Washington National Cathedral on TV where President George W. Bush spoke. His tone was so aggressive I felt World War III was about to start. Within a month, the U.S. attacked Afghanistan, the start of an invasion that supposedly was intended to root out the alleged mastermind behind the September 11 attacks, Osama bin Laden. He was, we were told, the head of Al Qaeda, the organization responsible for the atrocities.

On TV the news programs were constantly showing the same footage of hooded figures swinging on overhead bars at a supposed Al Qaeda training camp. By the end of October 2001, Congress had passed the first of two versions of the U.S.A. Patriot Act, a voluminous piece of legislation which, it turned out, no one who voted for it even read. It was an acronym for ‘Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001.’

9/11 changed my life. I realized that for the last decade, after I had put my Challenger papers away, carried out my rather boring work for Treasury, and engaged in family and personal pursuits, I had been slumbering while the world around us was undergoing disturbing changes. So I began to study. I read everything I could find that could explain 9/11, realizing as I went along, as did many others, that the official explanation of the events simply could not have happened that way.

Meanwhile, in December 2001, the Enron Corporation went bankrupt after its shares dropped in value from $90 to less than 50 cents. Enron was a “new type” of company that didn’t produce anything but sought to enrich itself by brokering energy supplies from privatized electrical utilities. CEO Kenneth Lay was a political crony of President George W. Bush. When Enron collapsed, thousands of employees and stockholders lost their life savings and pensions.

In 2003 the U.S. invaded Iraq, using off-the-shelf plans. It was obvious that George W. Bush had embarked on the military conquest and occupation of the Middle East and that the only nation supporting us, other than our perpetual ally Great Britain, was Israel. Again, 9/11 was the trigger, though the trumped-up story of Iraqi possession of weapons of mass destruction was the cover.

Just before the Iraq invasion the Bush administration had created a Department of Homeland Security whose name evoked images of Nazi Germany. Those of us at Treasury marveled at how the Department had been dismembered by the removal of the Bureau of Customs, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and the U.S. Secret Service for no evident reason.

It was clear that our nation was being taken over by a dark and alien force, for reasons that were not spoken, under the direction of people not known or named. The public actors were the triumvirate of President George W. Bush, his sneering Vice President Richard Cheney, and his fawning national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.

Washington, D.C., now became an armed camp. The police presence became markedly more visible, security was stepped up at all government buildings, and new regulations for government IDs and security clearances were announced. At our building on 14th Street, S.W., there were evacuation drills where “essential personnel” were guided to waiting vans for their hypothetical escape to emergency centers, but the remaining 95 percent of employees were directed to stand in a large athletic field across the street.

At our jobs we joked about building security, enumerating all the ways terrorists could sneak weapons past the bumbling rent-a-cops at the doorways. We were also given black “survival” bags containing water, a high-carb “nutrition bar,” a gas mask, etc., in case of a chemical attack, when we were to crouch in windowless rooms in the interior of the building. I had to tell several contractors working for me on a project that they were not eligible to receive survival bags, as they were not government employees.

Another characteristic event where much of the meaning seemed to lie beneath the surface was the federal response to the destruction wrought on the city of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina on August 29, 2005. The city had been left vulnerable through failure by the federal government to carry out adequate wetland management and restoration in the region and through insufficient investment in levee maintenance and repair. New Orleans was devastated when the hurricane, which was headed toward Texas, took a sudden right turn and made landfall east of the city.

It was the lower-income black citizens of New Orleans who absorbed the brunt of the catastrophe. The government’s response through the Federal Emergency Management Agency was pathetic. Today, as the city is being “rebuilt,” much of the displaced population is unable to return due to the high costs of renting or rebuilding and the lack of jobs and government support. While New Orleans may become a pricey resort and corporate playground, its centuries-old indigenous culture is dead.

I could write a book describing all I read about on the internet during the early to mid-1990s regarding the increasingly alarming conditions in the U.S. The one source of outside information that could not be eliminated at the office was the worldwide web which had to be kept open because so many government administrative systems were now running on internet browsers. One thing was certain—the United States I knew and loved—“the land of the free and the home of the brave”—was under deadly assault.

Monetary Reform and My Retirement

By now my long-dormant interest in monetary reform had also been reawakened. In 2003 I read The Lost Science of Money by Stephen Zarlenga, the director of the American Monetary Institute. I invited Zarlenga to speak at a meeting of Treasury employees that I arranged and began to talk with him about his plans to develop model monetary reform legislation under the heading of the American Monetary Act.

I was becoming part of the small but important monetary reform movement that had begun to emerge in the U.S. as people learned about the ravages of the debt-based monetary system. I began researching U.S. monetary history in greater depth and became especially interested in the use of Greenbacks during and after the Civil War. This was currency spent directly into circulation for payment of government obligations—in a manner similar to C.H. Douglas’s future concept of a National Dividend, without recourse to borrowing or taxation.

The Greenbacks were viewed by the population as having saved the Union during the Civil War and were a key component of the U.S. monetary system until the early 1900s. Unfortunately, the U.S. educational system today is so “dumbed-down” and so much under the control of bureaucratic, corporate, and financial interests, that most people know nothing at all about such key components of our history as the Greenbacks.

Another element of monetary reform I studied was the need for a modern federal infrastructure bank like the Reconstruction Finance Corporation used by the Roosevelt administration during the New Deal to rebuild the nation’s physical economy. Today, as during his lifetime, Roosevelt is blasted as being a socialist or even a communist, because he dared to use the powers of the presidency to pull the nation out of the Great Depression. But the ordinary people of the nation adored Roosevelt for providing them a livelihood when they had been abandoned by the bankers whose selfishness and greed had collapsed the currency and destroyed the purchasing power of the economy.

Under Roosevelt, schools, hospitals, farms, and factories were built through low-cost lending by the RFC. It is true that the nation did not achieve full employment until the wartime spending of World War II, but Roosevelt’s main flaw may have been that he did not go far enough in curbing the power of the financial elite. This allowed them to hang on until they could regain their control of the nation after the post-World War II prosperity ended in the 1960s and 1970s. Still, what Roosevelt accomplished was remarkable.

My interest in infrastructure banking led to a relationship with Dennis Kucinich, congressman from Cleveland, Ohio, and candidate for the Democratic Party nomination for president in 2004 and 2008. I first met Dennis in 2003 after I learned he had introduced legislation for a federal infrastructure bank. I visited him in his office and over the next four years gave him numerous briefings on economic and monetary history. This included an all day session in an apartment on Capitol Hill which he called “the best policy briefing I’ve ever heard.”

Also attending that briefing was his young wife Elizabeth, who had been my friend Steve Zarlenga’s assistant at the AMI in Chicago. She met Dennis on a visit with Steve to Washington when he stopped by the congressman’s office to leave a copy of The Lost Science of Money. I was invited to attend Dennis and Elizabeth’s wedding in Cleveland in August 2005 which took place on a grassy mall downtown with the reception next door in the rotunda of the Cleveland City Hall.

By this time my personal life had changed substantially when my wife and I separated. Now living on my own, I decided to pull out my old notes on the Challenger disaster and write the book I had always intended to produce about the tragedy. I wrote steadily from July 2005 to the end of the year. My agent from New York sold it to a publisher within a few weeks.

A publication date of January 2007 was set, which meant I would have to retire because I did not want to still be working for Treasury when a book so critical of the government came out. But by then I would have completed 32 years of service so was eligible for civil service retirement.

I retired on January 4, 2007. For the last time, carrying a cardboard box with my few personal possessions, I walked through the back entrance of the Treasury building near the 14th Street bridge. I emerged into the winter daylight feeling like a man who had just been released from prison. I had worked for Treasury agency for 21 years and 10 months.

My book appeared three weeks later. It was 503 pages in length, not counting the index, and was titled, Challenger Revealed: An Insider’s Account of How the Reagan Administration Caused the Greatest Tragedy of the Space Age. It was the publicity department at Avalon Books which added “How the Reagan Administration Caused” to the title in order to sound more sensational. But it also made the title sound more “in your face” by directing such pointed criticism at an American icon.

The mainstream media ignored the book, even though it did tell more about the actual causes of the disaster than any other book ever written. And the Challenger disaster was one of the most newsworthy events of the 20th century. Thus while a few reviewers gave it high marks—one called it “the most important spaceflight book of the last 20 years”—the weak public reception was a disappointment.

I gave a few book signings, then moved on to other matters—specifically a series of articles I began to write for the internet on economic policy and monetary reform during the months leading up to the financial crisis of 2007-8. While working for Treasury I had already written a series of articles on monetary reform which I published on the internet under the pen name “Gracchus.” I published one of these, entitled “A Declaration of Monetary Independence,” on July 4, 2003, on the website Rense.com. The article began:

“Few people realize that true fiat money spent directly into circulation by the government is the best, most democratic form of currency. The last such money used in the United States was the Greenbacks. The money today which is introduced into circulation by the Federal Reserve is not fiat money. Rather it is a kind of pseudo-money based on a debt pyramid which originates with the national debt.

“All men are created equal, and all men have an equal right to the utilization of money as a social medium of exchange. The greatest crime of our age is the domination and control of money by the private banking industry through the Federal Reserve. The disastrous condition of the U.S. economy today starts and ends with our monetary and fiscal system, as described in the following analysis. As nothing in this sphere can be understood without knowledge of history, the focal point of any meaningful study must be an impartial look at how things have gotten so bad over time. But there are positive elements too which can guide us to a solution.”

I then followed with a monetary history of the U.S., focusing on those periods when methods other than bank lending were used for entering currency into circulation. Of course since the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 had been passed by Congress, turning our monetary system over to the private bankers, there had been no other kind of money except for coinage which, due to inflation, scarcely retained any value.

I also published an article under the Gracchus by-line that was entitled “A New America.” The article outlined the struggle throughout American history between private banking interests and the forces of democracy. I pointed out that today in the 2000s the bankers possessed an ironclad rule over the U.S. economy.

An example of how this rule was maintained was through the current housing bubble, where home prices had inflated out of sight. When the bubble burst, I realized, millions would lose their homes to foreclosure. The root of the problem was the debt-based monetary system.

Another Gracchus article was a lengthy review of Zarlenga’s The Lost Science of Money, which I called, “The New Civic Revolution.” The title was derived from Thomas Jefferson’s campaign slogan from the election of 1800. It was that year when Jefferson overthrew the power of the monetary elite of Great Britain/New York/Europe who were taking control of the nation through their ownership of stock in the First Bank of the United States created by Alexander Hamilton.

Writing About the Present Crisis

Now, having retired, and living alone in College Park, Maryland, I was free to write and publish under my real name. My main internet outlet became the GlobalResearch.ca website which originated in Montreal, Canada. As I continued to write over the next year-and-a-half, my articles were republished on many other websites and sometimes in print magazines. They were thereby available around the world and occasionally were translated into other languages.

When my Challenger book had come out I published an article entitled “Militarization and the Moon-Mars Program: Another Wrong Turn In Space,” stating that:

“The way NASA has started its new moon-to-Mars exploration program, the October 2006 White House announcement of a new national space policy, and subsequent statements by the State Department raise grave concerns about whether a new push to militarize space has begun.”

Next came an article on “Time to Change America by Challenging Economic Fundamentals,” where I discussed Dennis Kucinich’s proposals for a Federal Infrastructure Modernization Bank and the possibility of a basic income guarantee for all citizens. The article concluded:

“What these…proposals have in common is that they show how a developed national economy can pull itself up by its own bootstraps through central control of monetary resources rather than relying on massive deficits or exploitation of other nations through trade. Such resources would be invested or spent for tangible goods and services, not for paper wealth like financial securities. The workers, salary earners, and businesses of the producing economy would be protected from financial bubbles. It’s the way the U.S. became an economic powerhouse in the first place.”

On February 23, 2007, I gave a speech in New York at the annual meeting of the U.S. Basic Income Guarantee Network entitled: “The Basic Income Guarantee and Monetary Reform: A Tale of Two Ideas.” The idea of a guaranteed income for all, regardless of means tests or employment, had been around for along time. During the 1960s, the time of President Johnson’s Great Society and the start of the War on Poverty, a number of proposals were made, including economist Milton Friedman’s suggestion for a negative income tax. But nothing was ever enacted.

Now in the 2000s, the idea of a basic income guarantee was still being advocated, though there was no chance of it’s being passed by Congress due to the enormous national debt, huge expenditures for the military, and the cost of entitlements like Medicare. Speaking to the group in New York, I argued that for a basic income to become reality, monetary reform must come first. I pointed specifically to C.H. Douglas’s ideas of a National Dividend.

I followed with a series of articles that described the theory of the National Dividend in greater detail, including “An Emergency Program of Monetary Reform in the United States.” Here I estimated that the gap between purchasing power and prices in the United States in 2006 amounted to over $3.5 trillion, or about $12,000 for each resident. I argued that this was the amount of money our people were forced unfairly to borrow from the banks because of the lack of a National Dividend that monetized the appreciation of the economy.

By this time I felt a need to provide more detail on my monetary reform ideas and how they applied to different aspects of the economy. I wrote articles on “Monetary Reform and How a National Monetary System Should Work,” “Notes on a Return to the Gold Standard”—I opposed it—“Credit as a Public Utility: The Key to Monetary Reform,” “Monetary Causes of the Immigration Crisis,” and “Poverty in America.” One of the main points I was trying to make was that the Federal Reserve System was nothing more than institutionalized usury.

I also pointed out that monetary reform was not socialism nor was it opposed to real entrepreneurial capitalism. The true capitalist, who may even be the executive in charge of a business, either as owner/proprietor or CEO, is damaged as much as are workers by the dominance of the credit controllers over the economy.

Such a person may have every intention of creating a successful business which produces and delivers a quality product to consumers and where he treats his employees in a fair and humane manner, paying them a wage or salary whereby they can support a family in decent living conditions.

But he can do none of these things well because of the constant pressure from the financial bosses to slash costs, produce short-term profits, reduce the size of his workforce, cut pensions and other benefits, shift operations abroad, and reduce quality by built-in obsolescence, poor product design, and other compromises.

His firm is probably heavily in debt, saddled with significant interest payments, carrying large overhead for R&D, insurance, and legal and accountants’ fees, subjected to government paperwork and regulations, and forced to borrow more just to support daily business operations. He is also at the mercy of inflated prices for materials and utilities when the banks are pumping up the economy and lower sales when they are letting the air out.

Add to this the fact that at any moment he may be bought out at disadvantageous terms by a marauding equity fund or be subjected to a hostile takeover through a leveraged buyout if his stock trades publicly, and his nightmare is complete. Thus our system is not really capitalism at all. It is what C.H. Douglas called “creditism,” where the power of the financiers is backed up by the might of government enforcement.

In this system, every aspect of life is reduced to how much you can pay per month to cover your debt. When this kind of calculation is at the forefront of the awareness of a majority of society, what kind of culture can be expected to result?

I had begun to receive e-mail from all over the world which showed an interest in my ideas, including messages from Social Credit advocates in the British Commonwealth nations. I was also receiving invitations to appear on internet radio interview shows.
In June 2007 the financial crisis leading to the current U.S. recession was starting. Even though a recession had not been officially declared, I pointed out that because money available to working people, defined by the Federal Reserve as M1, had been decreasing for a year, the economy where ordinary people lived and resided was already in trouble.

After prognostications of looming trouble appeared in the Washington Post, a publication which I characterized as “the newsletter of the financial elite,” I published an article entitled, “It’s Official: The Crash of the U.S. Economy Has Begun.” Within a few days it had received over 100,000 “hits.”

Two weeks later I moved to Williamsburg, Virginia, to live with my mother, sister, and niece, and continued writing from my former hometown. It was refreshing and invigorating to walk the streets of the old Virginia capital again.

On July 4, I attended the fireworks display in the Restored Area with 30,000 other people. A few days later I published an article on Dissident Voice entitled, “A Revolutionary Experience” about my experience back at this historic place that once was home. After enumerating the long list of economic problems facing the U.S. I wrote:

“Meanwhile, President George W. Bush and Vice President Richard Cheney took time out from prosecuting their Iraq War to visit the Williamsburg area in connection with the celebration of the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown. Queen Elizabeth II, monarch of our “coalition” partner in the Middle East, also paid a call.

“Last November, the American voters elected a Democratic majority to Congress to stop the war. Now the new Congress has continued the funding, including the largest U.S. embassy in the world which is being built in Baghdad. The U.S. military has built permanent bases in Iraq, where they have said they plan to stay as long as we’ve been in Korea — i.e., forever.

“In its funding legislation, Congress also stipulated that to retain our ‘assistance,’ the Iraqi government must pass a ‘hydrocarbon’ law. This would provide U.S. and British oil companies with privileged contracts to tap the country’s gigantic oil reserves.

“Bush’s rating in popularity polls now hovers around thirty percent. That of the new Democratic Congress is deservedly lower — twenty-five percent. Three-quarters of our population believe that America is going in the wrong direction.

“Some of it is the war, but much is economics. Debt among Americans is at an all-time high, and jobs continue to be outsourced to China and other low-wage nations. Middle-class income is in decline. The lack of health insurance is a national scandal. Commentators warn of a possible recession or worse.

“Also on the Fourth of July, the Washington Post reported that the individual managers of unregulated hedge funds which borrow huge sums from the banks to bet on the rise and fall of the economy are earning $1 billion a year. None of the leading candidates for either party for the 2008 presidential nominations seems to have good answers to any of these matters. But they are accepting huge sums of campaign contributions from the Wall Street high rollers.

“Back in Williamsburg the long hot summer has begun. Tomorrow is another day of tourists, actors on the streets pretending to be eighteenth century personalities, the slow creak of carriages, and the clip-clop of horses’ hooves.

“But maybe the spirit and energy of Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and George Washington still hover.

“Jefferson once said that, ‘Every generation needs a new revolution.’ Being in Williamsburg against the background of the ominous events elsewhere in the world makes me think that is not a bad idea. President Ronald Reagan had his revolution in the 1980s, when he deregulated the financial industry and set forth the Reagan Doctrine of permanent military engagement in third-world countries.

“Today a new American revolution is overdue — one on behalf of the ordinary people who are seeing their way of life disintegrate.”

I wrote more articles on the financial crisis in the summer and fall of 2007, including “The Crashing U.S. Economy Held Hostage,” “On Market Conditions in the Current Chaotic Environment,” and “Economic Crisis: The U.S. Political Leadership Has Failed.”

I also wrote several longer “thought” pieces, such as “The Morality of Economics: The Key Issue of the 20th Century” and “Market Fundamentalism and the Tyranny of Money.” Another was a tribute to the man I had come to consider the founder of serious thinking on economic democracy in a modern industrial nation: “C.H. Douglas: Pioneer of Monetary Reform.”

Toward the end of the year, the Republican and Democratic primaries for the 2008 presidential nominations were about to start. So I shifted focus to the political sphere, getting my feet wet with a new type of writing that was as much journalism as analysis. This included, “Economic Democracy and a Guide to the 2008 Presidential Election” and “The 2008 Presidential Election: A Revolution or a Bust?”

Meanwhile, a relationship with my readers from around the world was building, with dozens of e-mails arriving each week. Some wanted to share their personal experiences with troubled economic conditions, others passed on links to other articles on similar themes, while some sought personal financial advice. To the latter I could give only general answers and tended to advise people to be cautious in making major life decisions.

Other articles flowed from the headlines of the day: “The Fed’s Bailout: Whose Money Is It?”; “Financial Meltdown: U.S. Treasury Regulatory Reform Proposals are Hapless, Helpless, Hopeless”; and “Pope Benedict XVI’s Visit to Washington.”

Conspiracy?

Finally I arrived at the question I had tried to avoid but which readers were constantly asking about: Was the economic and monetary chaos due to some kind of conspiracy? And if so, was the conspiracy the one so many people speculated about—a plot by a handful of elitists to create a New World Order involving “one-world government,” etc.?

So my thinking turned in that direction, with my answer a qualified, “Yes.” During a six-week period from March to mid-May 2008, I published four articles on the conspiracy issue: “Is an International Financial Conspiracy Driving World Events?”; Crisis in Food Prices Threatens Worldwide Starvation: Is It Genocide?”; “Extraordinary Times, Intentional Collapse, and Takedown of the U.S.A.”; and “Has the Battle for America Begun?”

Many people, perhaps a majority, want to believe the best of their fellow man and give the other fellow the benefit of a doubt. There may be nothing wrong with this. It’s a prescription for living a happy and peaceful life—or is it?

Sooner or later, it seems, our illusions are shattered, our cocoon broken into, our sheltered existence turned upside down. Most people then have one of two reactions: fight or flight. Others may seek to look deeper for the hidden causes. Then events which have seemed so disruptive may become a path to greater self-knowledge.

When studying history, often the only possible way to explain events is through a conspiracy theory; i.e., where two or more persons—or nations—work behind the scenes to steer events in a particular direction, usually to their advantage.

For instance, we know a conspiracy existed for the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln and other high government officials by a cabal led by John Wilkes Booth in April 1864. We may not know the details of all those involved or what their respective motivations may have been, but we do know there was a conspiracy.

Often it takes a lot of effort for researchers to dig deep enough to ascertain whether a conspiracy really existed. Since the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 was passed, a great deal of information has surfaced to make it seem likely that persons connected with the international banking elite, such as Paul Warburg or J.P. Morgan, conspired to take over the U.S. financial system by creating a privately-owned and operated central bank.

With respect to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in November 1963, hundreds of books have been written, including many suspected to contain deliberate misinformation. Though much remains unknown, the existence of a conspiracy seems certain. Even the last official government body to examine the evidence, the House Select Committee on Assassinations, concluded in its cautiously-worded 1979 report that Kennedy “was probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy.”

In the world of warfare and covert intelligence operations almost everything that happens involves a conspiracy—that is, work done in secrecy to achieve a goal. The participants are sworn to silence and documents are destroyed or sealed. That is why some believe that warfare and democracy are inherently inimical to each other.

The discovery of conspiracies tends to follow the scientific method, which is basically a matter of “connecting the dots.” This is how police detective work is done. An event is observed, perhaps a crime. Data-gathering takes place. A hypothesis is formed and tested that seeks to explain the event. Judgment is then rendered, perhaps with a report containing recommendations, perhaps through a criminal or civil trial.

During the past century, with so many wars, revolutions, upheavals, advances in knowledge, technological change, development of powerful weapons, etc., to deprive oneself of the ability to formulate “conspiracy theories” would be to throw overboard a critical tool for analysis and understanding.

For example, why since the 1970s have so many U.S. government policies seemed to tilt in favor of Israel? This has included an enormous amount of foreign aid, the sale of weapons, looking the other way while Israel developed its nuclear arsenal, then, from 2003 to the present, sacrificing so much wealth and the lives of so many American soldiers in the attack on Iraq where Israel was clearly the chief geopolitical beneficiary.

Or, since the start of the disastrous recession of 1979, why have so many policies of the Federal Reserve and the federal government tended to damage U.S. heavy industry, such as steel and railroads, transfer U.S. manufacturing jobs overseas, reduce unionized employment, and lead to the erosion of our physical infrastructure? Who has been making these decisions and why?

Or in the area of public health, why is the U.S. standard of living now declining after decades of gains? Why are so many people without health insurance or enough food to stay healthy? Why is the life span of Americans less than in more than 20 other developed nations? Why do Americans spend so much on prescription medications? Why has federal law enforcement made few substantial gains against illegal drug use? Why has the CIA itself admitted to being involved in the illicit drug trade?

Can it be that in any of these cases, what has happened has been exactly what was intended?

Finally, was there a conspiracy to place George W. Bush in the office of the presidency of the United States in 2000 rather than Albert Gore? Did the U.S. government deliberately look the other way or even plan and participate in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001? Did the Bush administration work hand-in-hand with Alan Greenspan and the Federal Reserve in creating the housing bubble in order to keep the U.S. economy afloat while the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were being carried out? And is planning going on behind the scenes for the U.S. military to launch an attack on Iran before George W. Bush and Richard Cheney leave office?

I believe the answer to all these questions is “Yes.” Obviously these events have had or will have a significant impact on the lives of many U.S. citizens. Have they, or their representatives in Congress voted on any of these matters? Of course not. Are we then living in a republic such as the Founding Fathers envisioned? No way.

That is how I believe the issue of conspiracy theories should be addressed, through this type of painstaking assessment. The question remains of who is behind it all? Is there such a thing as the Illuminati, the Bilderbergers, or the Olympians? Do they work through the Royal Institute of International Affairs and Tavistock Institute in Great Britain and the Council on Foreign Relations and Trilateral Commission in the U.S.?

If these or similar groups are behind current events, what are they planning to do next? And can they be stopped? If so, how?

What Does the Future Hold?

My own opinion is that what we are seeing is the cumulative activity of an entity we might call the Anglo-American Empire, as discussed and defined by Professor Carroll Quigley in such books as The Anglo-American Establishment and Tragedy and Hope. I believe this conspiracy has been active in trying to exert control over what today is the United States at least since passage by the British Parliament of the Currency Act of 1764. The purpose of that act was to exert financial control over the American colonies by taking away their right to print their own currency. A depression followed that led to the Revolution.

Since then the empire has worked mainly through the banking system and has attempted to exert control over the U.S. through the First (1791-1811) and Second (1816-1836) Banks of the United States, the National Banking System (1863-1913), and the Federal Reserve System (1913-present). There were several strong U.S. presidents who saw what the banks were trying to do and worked to try to prevent it. These were primarily Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, Abraham Lincoln, James Garfield, William McKinley, Franklin Roosevelt, and John F. Kennedy. Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, and Kennedy were assassinated.

The goal of the British imperial planners, as expressed by Cecil Rhodes in his Will of 1877—“the ultimate recovery of the United States of America as an integral part of the British Empire”—has largely been accomplished. The U.S. and its youth became the “muscle” which won World Wars I and II and which, it appears, is now being groomed for World War III against Russia and China. In their essence, all three are petroleum wars fought by the U.S. on behalf of the financial controllers, overseen in turn by the old British/European nobility.

It has been apparent that the goal of this imperial establishment has been to work on both sides of the Atlantic to destroy the ability of the U.S. to perform as the world’s greatest industrial democracy and turn it into a forested wasteland, with population centers on the two coasts, while supplying the military personnel needed for foreign conquest. This is to be accomplished at the same time the population of the rest of the world is reduced by mass global starvation, a circumstance which is underway as this is being written. This phase of the plan—world population reduction—was laid out by the Club of Rome decades ago.

Tens of thousands of U.S. financiers, corporate executives, politicians, scholars, administrators, analysts, military officers, subversives, torturers, and the like work for the empire at varying levels of intention and consciousness. Many of these are dead to conscience. Many are criminals. Some still agonize over their compromised behavior. Some are monsters of evil and depravity.

But something has gone wrong with the plan. According to details provided by the most knowledgeable researchers, the scheduled destruction of the U.S. has not proceeded as it should have. The reason is that people have awakened to what is going on. They have done this mainly through the internet, which had originally been invented and implemented as the most advanced means ever devised of spying on the population.

The internet has become essential for business but is also the American samizdat, similar to the underground system of passing forbidden literature among the intellectuals of the former Soviet Union. Still, without the Constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech, the internet could easily be shut down for political discourse. It is being done in Canada today by the Canadian Human Rights Commission, which fishes the internet under the guise of prohibiting “hate speech.” One woman, for instance, was allegedly charged when she wrote on an internet chat room that homosexuals should not be allowed to adopt children.

The 2008 Presidential Election

As explained in my November 11, 2007, article, “Crisis in the U.S.: “Plan B”?”, it appeared that the empire had decided to allow the 2008 presidential election to proceed and replace George W. Bush with someone a little more mellow. I wrote that the decision appeared to have been made, “that the sway of the Bush/Cheney regime must end and that some semblance of normality should be restored, at least in appearance, by making Hillary Clinton the next President.”

As the primaries began in early January and continued through “Super Tuesday” on February 5, 2008, Senator John McCain emerged as the Republican nominee-designate. McCain had all the qualifications of an imperial candidate: a big name, an undeserved reputation as a “maverick,” no discernible principles except to fall in line for permanent worldwide warfare, total commitment to Israel, and association with no significant legislative initiatives that could render him controversial, etc. Initially he lacked the support of the Christian right but has been making up for lost time by uttering a variety of extremist statements, such as his call to keep a military force in Iraq for 100 years.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton enjoyed early front-runner status and the number one slot on Chris Matthews’ “Power Rankings” on his MSNBC show Hardball. Such highly qualified candidates as Chris Dodd, Bill Richardson, Joe Biden, and Dennis Kucinich were marginalized by the media and ended up dropping out. But a funny thing happened on the way to Hillary’s coronation. Illinois Senator Barack Obama was first out of the gate by winning the Iowa caucuses and later took the lead in the delegate count.

Of course Obama was already being groomed for some future role. Otherwise he never would have been allowed to speak so prominently at the 2004 Democratic Party convention. But it may just have been for him to become this generation’s showcased black politician.

Now, to everyone’s surprise, he seemed to be capturing the mood of the electorate who wanted CHANGE. At a minimum that seemed to mean someone who was not George W. Bush, but maybe it was more than that. So Obama turned Hillary’s claim to be the more experienced candidate into a negative by making her look like a Washington insider, and he was off to the races.

Somewhere along the way, however, Obama, the former Chicago street organizer, seemed to begin tilting toward the empire. He made a start when he renounced the support of Nation of Islam’s brilliant and influential leader Louis Farrakhan, then showed what I think was a lack of principle by dumping his former minister Jeremiah Wright. He rapidly distanced himself from Wright once the media turned on the heat over the pastor’s past sermons. Later, Obama and his wife Michelle resigned from the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago from which Wright had retired and where he had married the Obamas in 1992.

Obama has taken a number of occasions lately to key his rhetoric to the satisfaction of the Israel lobby and threaten force against Iran and Pakistan. He no longer says anything sympathetic about the plight of the Palestinians, as he sometimes did a year ago, though, according to published reports, his donations from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee are still only a third of Hillary’s.

The strangest thing about Obama, though, is his mythologizing about Osama Bin Laden and how it was a “strategic mistake” for the U.S. to attack Iraq rather than track down the supposed 9/11 mastermind in his mountainous lair in Central Asia.

We could speculate that both McCain and Hillary, from their reticence on the subject, know that Bin Laden’s role in 9/11 was a myth, as does George W. Bush, who appears to be aware he is lying whenever he speaks on the subject. Obama, by contrast, seems to speak with conviction when he says he plans to complete the job of using American military might to root out the great miscreant who is still hiding, he alleges, in the mountains of western Pakistani.

To me this seems like opportunistic cynicism by someone who may be pandering for power.

Obama is also on thin ice in his approach to relations with Russia. While he has avoided anti-Russian rhetoric more than either McCain or Clinton, he is being advised by Zbigniew Brzezinski, who advocates a hostile posture. Such a stance is exactly the opposite of what we should be doing. In fact we should be making an alliance with Russia, which under Vladimir Putin is no longer a communist nation but a democracy, despite the propaganda of the financier-controlled press.

Russia is also a highly spiritual nation, though its spirituality went underground for much of the 20th century. Today the Russian Orthodox Church is making a major resurgence. In a televised Christmas message on January 7, 2008, Putin said, “The Russian Orthodox Church contributes to the promotion of moral values in society. One should not completely draw a line between the culture and the church. Of course by law in our country the church is separate from the state. But in the soul and the history of our people it’s all together. It always has been and always will be.”

We should be looking to Russia as our friend and ally rather than our enemy. By seeking advice from imperial mastermind Brzezinski, who joined with David Rockefeller in the 1970s in forming the Trilateral Commission, Obama appears that he doesn’t seem to understand this at all. Someone needs to tell him that the most effective way possible for the U.S. to break away from its disastrous subservience to the Anglo-American Empire would be through a genuine alliance with the great continental land powers of the world, including Russia, China, and even Brazil.

Meanwhile, Obama’s economic prescriptions are anemic. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote they don’t come close to Hillary Clinton’s in terms of a progressive agenda. Still, the only substantive structural change either has proposed is Obama’s suggestion on his website for a federal infrastructure bank similar to the Dodd and Kucinich proposals. Obama has also spoken of the need to rebuild the economy “from the bottom up” and to “increase incomes.”

Obama is correct, but he has not identified the causes of the enormous overhang of individual, public, and corporate debt on the economy. He has not spoken of the need to get rid of the debt-based monetary system run by the Federal Reserve as has Republican candidate Ron Paul. He has failed to challenge the financial predators of Wall Street who have become the Democratic Party’s most dedicated contributors. And he has not recognized the fact that our producing economy has been wrecked by the free-market fundamentalism of the last generation and that enormous changes must be made to recover. To do so, of course, would require a clean break with the empire he seems to have been sucking up to as the price of success.

Some say that Obama is just getting his political ticket punched, or is trying not to upset the geopolitical applecart too much, and that when he becomes president he will abandon the campaign rhetoric and embrace the changes he claims to envision. But would Jefferson, Lincoln, Roosevelt, or JFK have made as many compromises ?

In the meantime, the forces of empire will be doing everything possible to sink their talons deeper into Obama’s backside. Wall Street donors will throw money at him. John McCain will continue to foment on the right to push Obama deeper into Israel’s camp, so that Obama may be forced to compromise himself further to preserve as much as he can of the Democratic Party’s traditional support among Jewish voters.

The strategy of the empire will be to assure that Obama, if elected, will continue to extend the Middle Eastern wars, as our military, with Israel and AIPAC leading the cheers, pushes deeper into the Asian heartland. It’s war, above all, the empire desires, because with peace, people come to their senses. With war, they can easily be controlled. And war is an immense source of profit, as are illicit drugs.

If he’s elected, Obama’s choice will be World War III or not. With it, America may die; with peace, we can rebuild our troubled land. I believe it’s as simple as that. The objective of the controllers may be to assure that by the time Obama is elected he has already made that choice the way they desire.

Spiritual Warfare?

As Thomas Paine said, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” We truly seem to be at a spiritual crossroads in the world today.

It’s really up to us. Is man a being with a soul destined to be free? Is he created in the image of God? Is it true, as Jesus said in speaking of every man and woman, that “I and my Father are one?” Or is a human being a piece of dirt, a thing to be used, abused, then thrown away, a slave to the biggest, baddest, meanest, most cunning and violent among us?”

We know how Thomas Jefferson and other great men and women from our past answered this question. How will we answer it?

And will it really take that many? Our nation was created by a handful of patriots. They say that three percent of the population fought the British. Perhaps it’s true, as the Bible says, that one good man can save a city.

Meanwhile, it’s the imperial controllers who are the real slaves, the ones most in bondage to materialism and fear. It’s said that in the old American South the suicide rate was higher among the masters than the slaves, because the slaves had religion, music, and knew how to work. The masters had only a whip.

Russia is also a nation that faced these issues. During the Middle Ages, that nation was repeatedly invaded by Mongols and other steppe dwellers from Asia who laid waste to the Orthodox culture, wiped out cities, massacred civilians, collected tribute, and carried off slaves. If you rebelled they killed you.

In The Third Rome: Holy Russia, Tsarism, and Orthodoxy, Dr. Matthew Raphael Johnson attributes the inner strength of the Russian people to their practice of hesychasm, or the inner prayer [of] the heart. This prayer was repeated as a spiritual practice in a way similar to the mental repetition of the Lord’s Prayer by some Western Christians.

Or maybe the answer lies in the Book of Job. Once Satan came to God after “walking up and down in the earth” and wagered he could break the spirit of Job, God’s dearest servant. God allowed Job to be tempted by misfortune, but only for a time. Today Satan proudly walks the earth, perhaps in a tailored suit, sometimes in robes of royalty, maybe even in preacher’s garb, tempting us to believe that this world of materialism is real and has power.

Our task may simply be to see it is not so.

Conclusion

I don’t know how long I will stay in Williamsburg before the wider world beckons again. One thing that has disappointed me has been the actions of those in charge of the College of William and Mary. Sometime after I graduated, the college acquired a president who decided to make it “the most prestigious small university in America.” They also named as successive chancellors two of the most infamous denizens of the Anglo-American Empire.

The first was Great Britain’s former prime minister, the “Queen of Privatization,” Margaret Thatcher. She was Ronald Reagan’s mentor in how to allow a national economy to be sacked by the financiers and later pressured George H.W. Bush to invade Iraq. One of her advisors was Victor Rothschild, the Third Baron Rothschild, who had bankrolled the creation of Israel in 1948.

After Thatcher came Henry Kissinger, Nixon’s National Security Adviser and Secretary of State, whose main function in office seemed to be to threaten, attack, and overthrow the governments of developing nations. 1989 alumnus Jerett Decker wrote:

“I am dismayed by the appointment of Henry Kissinger as chancellor. There is significant evidence that he was complicit in crimes in Chile in 1973, as well as other extra-legal acts throughout the world. The case against him grows stronger with each new tranche of government documents released to the public through declassification.

“As the full truth emerges, Kissinger is likely to be remembered in American history as a figure on par with Henry Wallace on the left (who visited the Soviet gulag at Magadan during the Stalin era and praised Stalin’s ‘humanitarianism’) or J. Edgar Hoover on the right (whose agents illegally bugged and blackmailed Martin Luther King and urged him to commit suicide).

“There is no gentle way to put it: the evidence suggests that Kissinger will be remembered as a criminal.”

At one point the William and Mary president set as an objective the achievement of Rhodes Scholar status for some of their students and succeeded. Two of its most notable graduates are TV comic Jon Stewart and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. But when I offered to come and speak to young writers in the English Department about my book Challenger Revealed, they didn’t answer my e-mails.

I’m afraid William and Mary has become an imperial hotbed. I can hear my own mentor Thomas Jefferson stirring in his grave!

But life goes on. In early May I attended my son Fred’s graduation at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, where he received a degree in engineering science and mechanics and where his sister Adele had also graduated. Fred will be staying to earn a master’s degree through a research fellowship in composite materials.

Over the years Fred and I have had many discussions of the role technology plays in today’s life. One thing we discussed was when the technology might become available to fuel cars with water by extracting and burning hydrogen. This would also make it possible to create small-scale electrical generators for home, business, or farm use that would free us from fossil fuels as well as from the electrical grid.

Fred had been one of the students attending class in Norris Hall on April 16, 2007, when a deranged shooter killed 32 people and wounded many others before taking his own life. Fred was one of those who jumped from a second storey window while a classroom door was being blocked by Professor Livriu Librescu, one of the teachers who died in the assault.

Fred suffered a minor ankle fracture from his fall. Later that year he ran in the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C., as part of a Virginia Tech team raising money for the April 16 benefit fund. This led to his decision to begin training for the Ironman Triathlon scheduled for November 2008 in Panama City, Florida. After his graduation he competed in a Half-Ironman in Orlando.

Fred says the athletic activity is playing a big part in his emotional recovery. He seems to have inherited his father’s predilection for getting mixed up in horrifying events.

Last week in Williamsburg we had a visit from a film crew from the Scottish Documentary Institute in Edinburgh headed by Swedish filmmaker Maja Borg and producer Sonja Henrici. They are shooting a feature-length documentary on worldwide economic reform entitled, Future for Sale. The crew shot footage of my elderly mother guiding Maja on a tour of the Restored Area, where she pointed out that Williamsburg once was a flourishing 18th century community without a single bank.

On a porch behind the Raleigh Tavern, then later in my mother’s dining room, they videoed Maja interviewing me about monetary reform. I focused on Douglas’s theory of the “gap” and how to fill it with a National Dividend.

I also pointed out the urgency of rebuilding our manufacturing and agricultural economy. I said this could be done if we had a correct definition of credit as the productive potential of the people of a nation instead of its being the private property of the banks.

Credit should be viewed as part of the public commons and viewed as a public utility like electricity, water, and clean air. I added that availability of credit should be a basic human right, a component of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Abuses of credit by the private banking industry, including leveraged investments for equity, hedge, commodity, and derivative funds, should be outlawed.

The previous week I had given four separate presentations at the “Building a New World” conference of the Prout World Assembly at Radford University in Radford, Virginia. I keynoted the session on “Fighting for Economic Democracy” and took part in panels on “The End of Empire,” “Monetary Reform,” and “No More Income Tax.” Also on-stage that weekend were such notables as Cindy Sheehan and David Swanson. At the conference I pointed out that the National Dividend could be used to rebuild local economies through revitalization of family farming and urban small business. Also present was Steven Shafarman, who advocates a similar type of dividend which he calls Citizens Dividends in his new book, Peaceful Positive Revolution.

At the conference I was able to announce that my new book entitled We Hold These Truths: The Hope of Monetary Reform will be published this fall by Tendril Press of Aurora, Colorado. I’m also starting a new website with my publicist and partner Susan Boskey. And I’ve been invited to Australia’s Sunshine Coast to give the keynote address next spring at the Heartfire Festival, a benefit for children harmed by war that will be sponsored by Avante Films.

This week I’m being interviewed on four different radio programs by Alex Jones, Kevin Barrett, Carol Brouillet, and the hosts of The Power Hour, Joyce Riley and Dave von Kleist. In these interviews I’m expressing my confidence that the worldwide monetary reform movement, as an expression of basic human decency, has an answer to many of the problems the world faces today. Within the United States, at least, and perhaps elsewhere, monetary reform will play a key part in the vast changes to come.

Copyright 2008 by Richard C. Cook

Richard C. Cook is a former U.S. federal government analyst, whose career included service with the U.S. Civil Service Commission, the Food and Drug Administration, the Carter White House, NASA, and the U.S. Treasury Department. His articles on economics, politics, and space policy have appeared on numerous websites. His book on monetary reform, entitled We Hold These Truths: The Hope of Monetary Reform, will be published soon by Tendril Press. He is also the author of Challenger Revealed: An Insider’s Account of How the Reagan Administration Caused the Greatest Tragedy of the Space Age, called by one reviewer, “the most important spaceflight book of the last twenty years. His Challenger website is at www.richardccook.com. A new economics website at www.RealSustainableLiving.com is upcoming with partner Susan Boskey, author of The Quality Life Plan: 7 Steps to Uncommon Financial Security. Susan’s website is at www.AlternativeFinancialNow.com. To get on their mailing list, for questions and comments, or to pre-purchase copies of Richard’s new book, please write EconomicSanity@gmail.com

Tomgram: Mark Engler, How to Rule the World After Bush

May 19, 2008

Tomgram: Mark Engler, How to Rule the World After Bush

A mere eight months to go until George W. Bush and Dick Cheney leave office — though, given the cast of characters, it could seem like a lifetime. Still, it’s a reasonable moment to begin to look back over the last years — and also toward the post-Bush era. What a crater we’ll have to climb out of by then!

My last post, “Kiss American Security Goodbye,” was meant to mark the beginning of what will, over the coming months, be a number of Bush legacy pieces at Tomdispatch. So consider that series officially inaugurated by Foreign Policy in Focus analyst Mark Engler, who has just authored a new book that couldn’t be more relevant to our looming moment of transition: How to Rule the World: The Coming Battle Over the Global Economy.

The question Engler is curious to have answered is this: If Bush-style “imperial globalization” is rejected in January, what will American ruling elites try to turn to — Clinton-style economic globalization? Certainly, as Engler points out, many in the business and financial communities are now rallying to the Democrats. After all, while John Edwards received the headlines this week for throwing his support behind Barack Obama, that presidential candidate also got the nod from three former Securities and Exchange Commission chairmen — William Donaldson, David Ruder, and Clinton appointee Arthur Levitt Jr. The campaign promptly “released a joint statement by the former SEC chiefs, as well as former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, that praised Obama’s ‘positive leadership and judgment’ on economic issues.”

The United States, however, is a very different creature than it was in the confident years when these men rode high. Now, the world is looking at things much differently. Let Engler explain… Tom

Globalizers, Neocons, or…?

The World After Bush
By Mark EnglerPicture January 20, 2009, the day George W. Bush has to vacate the Oval Office.

It’s easy enough to imagine a party marking this fine occasion, with antiwar protestors, civil libertarians, community leaders, environmentalists, health-care advocates, and trade unionists clinking glasses to toast the end of an unfortunate era. Even Americans not normally inclined to political life might be tempted to join the festivities, bringing their own bottles of bubbly to the party. Given that presidential job approval ratings have rarely broken 40% for two years and now remain obdurately around or below 30% — historic lows — it would not be surprising if this were a sizeable celebration.

More surprising, however, might be the number of people in the crowd drinking finer brands of champagne. Amid the populist gala, one might well spot figures of high standing in the corporate world, individuals who once would have looked forward to the reign of an MBA president but now believe that neocon bravado is no way to run an empire.

One of the more curious aspects of the Bush years is that the self-proclaimed “uniter” polarized not only American society, but also its business and political elites. These are the types who gather at the annual, ultra-exclusive World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland and have their assistants trade business cards for them. Yet, despite their sometime chumminess, these powerful few are now in disagreement over how American power should be shaped in the post-Bush era and increasing numbers of them are jumping ship when it comes to the course the Republicans have chosen to advance these last years. They are now engaged in a debate about how to rule the world.

Don’t think of this as some conspiratorial plot, but as a perfectly commonsensical debate over what policies are in the best interests of those who hire phalanxes of Washington lobbyists and fill the coffers of presidential and congressional campaigns. Many business leaders have fond memories of the “free trade” years of the Clinton administration, when CEO salaries soared and the global influence of multinational corporations surged. Rejecting neoconservative unilateralism, they want to see a renewed focus on American “soft power” and its instruments of economic control, such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), and World Trade Organization (WTO) — the multilateral institutions that formed what was known in international policy circles as “the Washington Consensus.” These corporate globalists are making a bid to control the direction of economic policy under a new Democratic administration.

There is little question that the majority of people on the planet — those who suffered under both the corporate globalization of the Clinton years and the imperial globalization of George W. Bush — deserve something better. However, it is far from certain that social justice advocates who want to encourage a more democratic approach to world affairs and global economic well-being will be able to sway a new administration. On the other hand, the damage inflicted by eight years of neocon rule and the challenges of an increasingly daunting geopolitical scene present a conundrum to the corporate globalizers: Is it even possible to go back to the way things were?

The Revolt of the Corporatists

Throughout their time in office, despite fulsome evidence of failure, George Bush and Dick Cheney have maintained a blithe self-confidence about their ability to successfully promote the interests of the United States, or at least those of their high-rolling “Pioneer”-class donors. Every so often, though, the public receives notice that loyalists are indeed scurrying to abandon the administration’s sinking ship of state. In October 2007, for instance, in a front-page story entitled “GOP Is Losing Grip On Core Business Vote,” the Wall Street Journal reported that the party could be facing a brand crisis as “[s]ome business leaders are drifting away from the party because of the war in Iraq, the growing federal debt and a conservative social agenda they don’t share.”

When it comes to corporate responses to the President’s Global War on Terror, we mostly hear about the likes of Halliburton and Blackwater — companies directly implicated in the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and with the mentality of looters. Such firms have done their best to score quick profits from the military machine. However, there was always a faction of realist, business-oriented Republicans who opposed the invasion from the start, in part because they believed it would negatively impact the U.S. economy. As the administration adventure in Iraq has descended into the morass, the ranks of corporate complainers have only grown.

The “free trade” elite have become particularly upset about the administration’s focus on go-it-alone nationalism and its disregard for multilateral means of securing influence. This belligerent approach to foreign affairs, they believe, has thwarted the advance of corporate globalization. In an April 2006 column in the Washington Post, globalist cheerleader Sebastian Mallaby laid blame for “why globalization has stalled” at the feet of the Bush administration. The White House, Mallaby charged, was unwilling to invest any political capital in the IMF, the World Bank, or the WTO. He wrote:

“Fifteen years ago, there were hopes that the end of Cold War splits would allow international institutions to acquire a new cohesion. But the great powers of today are simply not interested in creating a resilient multilateral system…. The United States remains the only plausible quarterback for the multilateral system. But the Bush administration has alienated too many players to lead the team effectively. Its strident foreign policy started out as an understandable response to the fecklessness of other powers. But unilateralism has tragically backfired, destroying whatever slim chance there might have been of a workable multilateral alternative.”

Frustrated by Bush’s failures, many in the business elite want to return to the softer empire of corporate globalization and, increasingly, they are looking to the Democrats to navigate this return. As a measure of this — the capitalist equivalent of voting with their feet — political analyst Kevin Phillips notes in his new book, Bad Money, that, in 2007, “[h]edge fund employees’ contributions to the Senate Democratic Campaign Committee outnumbered those to its Republican rival by roughly nine to one.”

This quiet revolt of the corporatists is already causing interesting reverberations on the campaign trail. The base of the Democratic Party has clearly rejected the “free trade” version of trickle-down economics, which has done far more to help those hedge-fund managers and private-jet-hopping executives than anyone further down the economic ladder. As a result, both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are running as opponents of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and of a newer bilateral trade deal with Colombia, a country in which organizing a union or vocally advocating for human rights can easily cost you your life. The tenor of the current campaign represents a significant shift from the 1990s, when top Democrats were constantly trying to establish their corporate bona fides and “triangulate” their way into conservative economic policy.

Still, both candidates are surrounded by business-friendly advisors whose views fit nicely within an older, pre-Bush administration paradigm of corporate globalization. The tension between the anti-NAFTA activists at the base of the Party and those in the campaign war rooms has resulted in some embarrassing gaffes during the primary contest.

For Hillary Clinton, the most notable involved one of her chief strategists, Mark Penn, a man with a long, nefarious record defending corporate abuses as a Washington lobbyist. As it turned out, Penn’s consulting firm received $300,000 in 2007 to support the “free trade” agreement with Colombia. Even as Clinton was proclaiming her heartfelt opposition to the deal and highlighting the “history of suppression and targeted killings of labor organizers” in that country, a key player in her campaign was charting strategy with Colombian government officials in order to get the pact passed.

The Obama campaign found itself in similar discomfort in February. While the candidate was running in the Ohio primary as an opponent of NAFTA, calling that trade deal a “mistake” that has harmed working people, his senior economic policy adviser, University of Chicago professor Austan Goolsbee, was meeting with Canadian government officials to explain, as a memo by the Canadians reported, that Obama’s charges were merely “political positioning.” Goolsbee quickly claimed that his position had been mischaracterized, but the incident naturally raised questions. Why, for example, had Goolsbee, senior economist to the Democratic Leadership Council, the leading organization on the corporate-friendly rightwing of the party, and a person praised as “a valuable source of free-trade advice over almost a decade,” been positioned to mold Obama’s economic stances in the first place?

If pressure from the base of the party lets up after the elections, it would hardly be surprising to see a victorious candidate revert to Bill Clinton’s corporate model for how to rule the world. However, a return to a pre-Bush-style of international politics may be easier dreamed than done.

The Neocon Paradox

To the chagrin of the “free trade” elite, the market fundamentalist ideas that have dominated international development thinking for at least the last 25 years are now under attack globally. This is largely because the economic prescriptions of deregulation, privatization, open markets, and cuts to social services so often made (and enforced) by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank have proven catastrophic.

In 2003, the United Nations’ Human Development Report (UNHDP) explained that 54 already poor countries had actually grown even poorer during the “free trade” era of the 1990s. The British Guardian summarized well the essence of this report:

“Taking issue with those who have argued that the ‘tough love’ policies of the past two decades have spawned the growth of a new global middle class, the report says the world became ever more divided between the super-rich and the desperately poor. The richest 1% of the world’s population (around 60 million) now receives as much income as the poorest 57%, while the income of the richest 25 million Americans is the equivalent of that of almost 2 billion of the world’s poorest people.”

Such findings led UNDP administrator Mark Malloch Brown, in a remarkably blunt statement, to call for a “guerilla assault on the Washington Consensus.”

In fact, in 2008, such an assault is already well under way — and Washington is in a far weaker position economically to deal with it. The countries burned by the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98, for instance, are now building up huge currency reserves so they never again have to come begging to the International Monetary Fund (and so suffer diktats from Washington) in times of crisis. Moreover, virtually the whole of Latin America is in revolt. Over 500 million people reside in that region, and over two-thirds of them now live under governments elected since 2000 on mandates to split with “free trade” economics, declare independence from Washington, and pursue policies that actually benefit the poor.

In late April, economist Mark Weisbrot noted that, with so many countries breaking free of its grasp, the IMF, which once dictated economic policy to strapped governments around the world, is now but a shadow of its former self. In the past four years, its loan portfolio has plummeted from $105 billion to less than $10 billion, the bulk of which now goes to just two countries, Turkey and Pakistan. This leaves the U.S. Treasury, which used the body to control foreign economies, with far less power than in past decades. “The IMF’s loss of influence,” Weisbrot writes, “is probably the most important change in the international financial system in more than half a century.”

It is a historic irony that Bush administration neocons, smitten with U.S. military power, itching to launch their wars in Central Asia and the Middle East, and eschewing multinational institutions, actually helped to foster a global situation in which U.S. influence is waning and countries are increasingly seeking independent paths. Back in 2005, British journalist George Monbiot dubbed this “the unacknowledged paradox in neocon thinking.” He wrote:

“They want to drag down the old, multilateral order and replace it with a new, U.S. one. What they fail to understand is that the ‘multilateral’ system is in fact a projection of U.S. unilateralism, cleverly packaged to grant other nations just enough slack to prevent them from fighting it. Like their opponents, the neocons fail to understand how well [Presidents] Roosevelt and Truman stitched up the international order. They are seeking to replace a hegemonic system that is enduring and effective with one that is untested and (because other nations must fight it) unstable.”

Battered by losing wars and economic crisis, the United States is now a superpower visibly on the skids. And yet, there is no guarantee that the coming era will produce a change for the better. In a world in which the value of the dollar is plummeting, oil is growing ever more scarce relative to demand, and foreign states are rising as rivals to American power, the possibility of either going ahead with the Bush/Cheney style of unilateralism or successfully returning to the “enduring and effective” multilateral corporatism of the 1990s may no longer exist. But the failure of these options will undoubtedly not be for lack of trying. Even with corporate globalization on the decline, multinational businesses will attempt to consolidate or expand their power. And even with the imperial model of globalization discredited, an overextended U.S. military may still try to hold on with violence.

The true Bush administration legacy may be to leave us in a world that is at once far more open to change and also far more dangerous. Such prospects should hardly discourage the long-awaited celebration in January. But they suggest that a new era of globalization battles — struggles to build a world order based neither on corporate influence, nor imperial might — will have only just begun.

Mark Engler, an analyst with Foreign Policy in Focus, is the author of How to Rule the World: The Coming Battle Over the Global Economy (just published by Nation Books). He can be reached via the website Democracy Uprising.

Copyright 2008 Mark Engler

Going Bankrupt

January 23, 2008

Going Bankrupt
Why the debt crisis is now the greatest threat to the American republic. Chalmers Johnson
January 22 , 2008

The military adventurers of the Bush administration have much in common with the corporate leaders of the defunct energy company Enron. Both groups of men thought that they were the “smartest guys in the room,” the title of Alex Gibney’s prize-winning film on what went wrong at Enron. The neoconservatives in the White House and the Pentagon outsmarted themselves. They failed even to address the problem of how to finance their schemes of imperialist wars and global domination.

As a result, going into 2008, the United States finds itself in the anomalous position of being unable to pay for its own elevated living standards or its wasteful, overly large military establishment. Its government no longer even attempts to reduce the ruinous expenses of maintaining huge standing armies, replacing the equipment that seven years of wars have destroyed or worn out, or preparing for a war in outer space against unknown adversaries. Instead, the Bush administration puts off these costs for future generations to pay—or repudiate. This utter fiscal irresponsibility has been disguised through many manipulative financial schemes (such as causing poorer countries to lend us unprecedented sums of money), but the time of reckoning is fast approaching.

There are three broad aspects to our debt crisis. First, in the current fiscal year (2008) we are spending insane amounts of money on “defense” projects that bear no relationship to the national security of the United States. Simultaneously, we are keeping the income tax burdens on the richest segments of the American population at strikingly low levels.

Second, we continue to believe that we can compensate for the accelerating erosion of our manufacturing base and our loss of jobs to foreign countries through massive military expenditures—so-called “military Keynesianism,” which I discuss in detail in my book Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic. By military Keynesianism, I mean the mistaken belief that public policies focused on frequent wars, huge expenditures on weapons and munitions, and large standing armies can indefinitely sustain a wealthy capitalist economy. The opposite is actually true.

Third, in our devotion to militarism (despite our limited resources), we are failing to invest in our social infrastructure and other requirements for the long-term health of our country. These are what economists call “opportunity costs,” things not done because we spent our money on something else. Our public education system has deteriorated alarmingly. We have failed to provide health care to all our citizens and neglected our responsibilities as the world’s number one polluter. Most important, we have lost our competitiveness as a manufacturer for civilian needs—an infinitely more efficient use of scarce resources than arms manufacturing. Let me discuss each of these.

The Current Fiscal Disaster

It is virtually impossible to overstate the profligacy of what our government spends on the military. The Department of Defense’s planned expenditures for fiscal year 2008 are larger than all other nations’ military budgets combined. The supplementary budget to pay for the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, not part of the official defense budget, is itself larger than the combined military budgets of Russia and China. Defense-related spending for fiscal 2008 will exceed $1 trillion for the first time in history. The United States has become the largest single salesman of arms and munitions to other nations on Earth. Leaving out of account President Bush’s two on-going wars, defense spending has doubled since the mid-1990s. The defense budget for fiscal 2008 is the largest since World War II.

Before we try to break down and analyze this gargantuan sum, there is one important caveat. Figures on defense spending are notoriously unreliable. The numbers released by the Congressional Reference Service and the Congressional Budget Office do not agree with each other. Robert Higgs, senior fellow for political economy at the Independent Institute, says: “A well-founded rule of thumb is to take the Pentagon’s (always well publicized) basic budget total and double it.” Even a cursory reading of newspaper articles about the Department of Defense will turn up major differences in statistics about its expenses. Some 30-40% of the defense budget is “black,” meaning that these sections contain hidden expenditures for classified projects. There is no possible way to know what they include or whether their total amounts are accurate.

There are many reasons for this budgetary sleight-of-hand—including a desire for secrecy on the part of the president, the secretary of defense, and the military-industrial complex—but the chief one is that members of Congress, who profit enormously from defense jobs and pork-barrel projects in their districts, have a political interest in supporting the Department of Defense. In 1996, in an attempt to bring accounting standards within the executive branch somewhat closer to those of the civilian economy, Congress passed the Federal Financial Management Improvement Act. It required all federal agencies to hire outside auditors to review their books and release the results to the public. Neither the Department of Defense, nor the Department of Homeland Security has ever complied. Congress has complained, but not penalized either department for ignoring the law. The result is that all numbers released by the Pentagon should be regarded as suspect.

In discussing the fiscal 2008 defense budget, as released to the press on February 7, 2007, I have been guided by two experienced and reliable analysts: William D. Hartung of the New America Foundation’s Arms and Security Initiative and Fred Kaplan, defense correspondent for Slate.org. They agree that the Department of Defense requested $481.4 billion for salaries, operations (except in Iraq and Afghanistan), and equipment. They also agree on a figure of $141.7 billion for the “supplemental” budget to fight the “global war on terrorism”—that is, the two on-going wars that the general public may think are actually covered by the basic Pentagon budget. The Department of Defense also asked for an extra $93.4 billion to pay for hitherto unmentioned war costs in the remainder of 2007 and, most creatively, an additional “allowance” (a new term in defense budget documents) of $50 billion to be charged to fiscal year 2009. This comes to a total spending request by the Department of Defense of $766.5 billion.

But there is much more. In an attempt to disguise the true size of the American military empire, the government has long hidden major military-related expenditures in departments other than Defense. For example, $23.4 billion for the Department of Energy goes toward developing and maintaining nuclear warheads; and $25.3 billion in the Department of State budget is spent on foreign military assistance (primarily for Israel, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, the United Arab Republic, Egypt, and Pakistan). Another $1.03 billion outside the official Department of Defense budget is now needed for recruitment and reenlistment incentives for the overstretched U.S. military itself, up from a mere $174 million in 2003, the year the war in Iraq began. The Department of Veterans Affairs currently gets at least $75.7 billion, 50% of which goes for the long-term care of the grievously injured among the at least 28,870 soldiers so far wounded in Iraq and another 1,708 in Afghanistan. The amount is universally derided as inadequate. Another $46.4 billion goes to the Department of Homeland Security.

Missing as well from this compilation is $1.9 billion to the Department of Justice for the paramilitary activities of the FBI; $38.5 billion to the Department of the Treasury for the Military Retirement Fund; $7.6 billion for the military-related activities of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration; and well over $200 billion in interest for past debt-financed defense outlays. This brings U.S. spending for its military establishment during the current fiscal year (2008), conservatively calculated, to at least $1.1 trillion.

Military Keynesianism

Such expenditures are not only morally obscene, they are fiscally unsustainable. Many neoconservatives and poorly informed patriotic Americans believe that, even though our defense budget is huge, we can afford it because we are the richest country on Earth. Unfortunately, that statement is no longer true. The world’s richest political entity, according to the CIA’s “World Factbook,” is the European Union. The EU’s 2006 GDP (gross domestic product—all goods and services produced domestically) was estimated to be slightly larger than that of the U.S. However, China’s 2006 GDP was only slightly smaller than that of the U.S., and Japan was the world’s fourth richest nation.

A more telling comparison that reveals just how much worse we’re doing can be found among the “current accounts” of various nations. The current account measures the net trade surplus or deficit of a country plus cross-border payments of interest, royalties, dividends, capital gains, foreign aid, and other income. For example, in order for Japan to manufacture anything, it must import all required raw materials. Even after this incredible expense is met, it still has an $88 billion per year trade surplus with the United States and enjoys the world’s second highest current account balance. (China is number one.) The United States, by contrast, is number 163—dead last on the list, worse than countries like Australia and the United Kingdom that also have large trade deficits. Its 2006 current account deficit was $811.5 billion; second worst was Spain at $106.4 billion. This is what is unsustainable.

It’s not just that our tastes for foreign goods, including imported oil, vastly exceed our ability to pay for them. We are financing them through massive borrowing. On November 7, 2007, the U.S. Treasury announced that the national debt had breached $9 trillion for the first time ever. This was just five weeks after Congress raised the so-called debt ceiling to $9.815 trillion. If you begin in 1789, at the moment the Constitution became the supreme law of the land, the debt accumulated by the federal government did not top $1 trillion until 1981. When George Bush became president in January 2001, it stood at approximately $5.7 trillion. Since then, it has increased by 45%. This huge debt can be largely explained by our defense expenditures in comparison with the rest of the world.

The world’s top 10 military spenders and the approximate amounts each country currently budgets for its military establishment are:

1. United States (FY08 budget), $623 billion
2. China (2004), $65 billion
3. Russia, $50 billion
4. France (2005), $45 billion
5. Japan (2007), $41.75 billion
6. Germany (2003), $35.1 billion
7. Italy (2003), $28.2 billion
8. South Korea (2003), $21.1 billion
9. India (2005 est.), $19 billion
10. Saudi Arabia (2005 est.), $18 billion

World total military expenditures (2004 est.), $1,100 billion
World total (minus the United States), $500 billion

Our excessive military expenditures did not occur over just a few short years or simply because of the Bush administration’s policies. They have been going on for a very long time in accordance with a superficially plausible ideology and have now become entrenched in our democratic political system where they are starting to wreak havoc. This ideology I call “military Keynesianism”—the determination to maintain a permanent war economy and to treat military output as an ordinary economic product, even though it makes no contribution to either production or consumption.

This ideology goes back to the first years of the Cold War. During the late 1940s, the U.S. was haunted by economic anxieties. The Great Depression of the 1930s had been overcome only by the war production boom of World War II. With peace and demobilization, there was a pervasive fear that the Depression would return. During 1949, alarmed by the Soviet Union’s detonation of an atomic bomb, the looming communist victory in the Chinese civil war, a domestic recession, and the lowering of the Iron Curtain around the USSR’s European satellites, the U.S. sought to draft basic strategy for the emerging cold war. The result was the militaristic National Security Council Report 68 (NSC-68) drafted under the supervision of Paul Nitze, then head of the Policy Planning Staff in the State Department. Dated April 14, 1950 and signed by President Harry S. Truman on September 30, 1950, it laid out the basic public economic policies that the United States pursues to the present day.

In its conclusions, NSC-68 asserted: “One of the most significant lessons of our World War II experience was that the American economy, when it operates at a level approaching full efficiency, can provide enormous resources for purposes other than civilian consumption while simultaneously providing a high standard of living.”

With this understanding, American strategists began to build up a massive munitions industry, both to counter the military might of the Soviet Union (which they consistently overstated) and also to maintain full employment as well as ward off a possible return of the Depression. The result was that, under Pentagon leadership, entire new industries were created to manufacture large aircraft, nuclear-powered submarines, nuclear warheads, intercontinental ballistic missiles, and surveillance and communications satellites. This led to what President Eisenhower warned against in his farewell address of February 6, 1961: “The conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience”—that is, the military-industrial complex.

By 1990, the value of the weapons, equipment, and factories devoted to the Department of Defense was 83% of the value of all plants and equipment in American manufacturing. From 1947 to 1990, the combined U.S. military budgets amounted to $8.7 trillion. Even though the Soviet Union no longer exists, U.S. reliance on military Keynesianism has, if anything, ratcheted up, thanks to the massive vested interests that have become entrenched around the military establishment. Over time, a commitment to both guns and butter has proven an unstable configuration. Military industries crowd out the civilian economy and lead to severe economic weaknesses. Devotion to military Keynesianism is, in fact, a form of slow economic suicide.

On May 1, 2007, the Center for Economic and Policy Research of Washington, D.C., released a study prepared by the global forecasting company Global Insight on the long-term economic impact of increased military spending. Guided by economist Dean Baker, this research showed that, after an initial demand stimulus, by about the sixth year the effect of increased military spending turns negative. Needless to say, the U.S. economy has had to cope with growing defense spending for more than 60 years. He found that, after 10 years of higher defense spending, there would be 464,000 fewer jobs than in a baseline scenario that involved lower defense spending.

Baker concluded:

“It is often believed that wars and military spending increases are good for the economy. In fact, most economic models show that military spending diverts resources from productive uses, such as consumption and investment, and ultimately slows economic growth and reduces employment.”

These are only some of the many deleterious effects of military Keynesianism.

Hollowing Out the American Economy

It was believed that the U.S. could afford both a massive military establishment and a high standard of living, and that it needed both to maintain full employment. But it did not work out that way. By the 1960s, it was becoming apparent that turning over the nation’s largest manufacturing enterprises to the Department of Defense and producing goods without any investment or consumption value was starting to crowd out civilian economic activities. The historian Thomas E. Woods, Jr., observes that, during the 1950s and 1960s, between one-third and two-thirds of all American research talent was siphoned off into the military sector. It is, of course, impossible to know what innovations never appeared as a result of this diversion of resources and brainpower into the service of the military, but it was during the 1960s that we first began to notice Japan was outpacing us in the design and quality of a range of consumer goods, including household electronics and automobiles.

Nuclear weapons furnish a striking illustration of these anomalies. Between the 1940s and 1996, the United States spent at least $5.8 trillion on the development, testing, and construction of nuclear bombs. By 1967, the peak year of its nuclear stockpile, the United States possessed some 32,500 deliverable atomic and hydrogen bombs, none of which, thankfully, was ever used. They perfectly illustrate the Keynesian principle that the government can provide make-work jobs to keep people employed. Nuclear weapons were not just America’s secret weapon, but also its secret economic weapon. As of 2006, we still had 9,960 of them. There is today no sane use for them, while the trillions spent on them could have been used to solve the problems of social security and health care, quality education and access to higher education for all, not to speak of the retention of highly skilled jobs within the American economy.

The pioneer in analyzing what has been lost as a result of military Keynesianism was the late Seymour Melman (1917-2004), a professor of industrial engineering and operations research at Columbia University. His 1970 book, Pentagon Capitalism: The Political Economy of War, was a prescient analysis of the unintended consequences of the American preoccupation with its armed forces and their weaponry since the onset of the Cold War. Melman wrote (pp. 2-3):

“From 1946 to 1969, the United States government spent over $1,000 billion on the military, more than half of this under the Kennedy and Johnson administrations—the period during which the [Pentagon-dominated] state management was established as a formal institution. This sum of staggering size (try to visualize a billion of something) does not express the cost of the military establishment to the nation as a whole. The true cost is measured by what has been foregone, by the accumulated deterioration in many facets of life by the inability to alleviate human wretchedness of long duration.”

In an important exegesis on Melman’s relevance to the current American economic situation, Thomas Woods writes:

“According to the U.S. Department of Defense, during the four decades from 1947 through 1987 it used (in 1982 dollars) $7.62 trillion in capital resources. In 1985, the Department of Commerce estimated the value of the nation’s plant and equipment, and infrastructure, at just over $7.29 trillion. In other words, the amount spent over that period could have doubled the American capital stock or modernized and replaced its existing stock.”

The fact that we did not modernize or replace our capital assets is one of the main reasons why, by the turn of the twenty-first century, our manufacturing base had all but evaporated. Machine tools—an industry on which Melman was an authority—are a particularly important symptom. In November 1968, a five-year inventory disclosed (p. 186) “that 64 percent of the metalworking machine tools used in U.S. industry were ten years old or older. The age of this industrial equipment (drills, lathes, etc.) marks the United States’ machine tool stock as the oldest among all major industrial nations, and it marks the continuation of a deterioration process that began with the end the Second World War. This deterioration at the base of the industrial system certifies to the continuous debilitating and depleting effect that the military use of capital and research and development talent has had on American industry.”

Nothing has been done in the period since 1968 to reverse these trends and it shows today in our massive imports of equipment—from medical machines like proton accelerators for radiological therapy (made primarily in Belgium, Germany, and Japan) to cars and trucks.

Our short tenure as the world’s “lone superpower” has come to an end. As Harvard economics professor Benjamin Friedman has written:

“Again and again it has always been the world’s leading lending country that has been the premier country in terms of political influence, diplomatic influence, and cultural influence. It’s no accident that we took over the role from the British at the same time that we took over… the job of being the world’s leading lending country. Today we are no longer the world’s leading lending country. In fact we are now the world’s biggest debtor country, and we are continuing to wield influence on the basis of military prowess alone.”

Some of the damage done can never be rectified. There are, however, some steps that this country urgently needs to take. These include reversing Bush’s 2001 and 2003 tax cuts for the wealthy, beginning to liquidate our global empire of over 800 military bases, cutting from the defense budget all projects that bear no relationship to the national security of the United States, and ceasing to use the defense budget as a Keynesian jobs program. If we do these things we have a chance of squeaking by. If we don’t, we face probable national insolvency and a long depression.

[Note: For those interested, click here to view a clip from a new film, “Chalmers Johnson on American Hegemony,” in Cinema Libre Studios’ Speaking Freely series in which he discusses “military Keynesianism” and imperial bankruptcy. For sources on global military spending, please see: (1) Global Security Organization, “World Wide Military Expenditures” as well as Glenn Greenwald, “The bipartisan consensus on U.S. military spending”; (2) Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, “Report: China biggest Asian military spender.”]

Chalmers Johnson is the author of Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic, just published in paperback. It is the final volume of his Blowback Trilogy, which also includes Blowback (2000) and The Sorrows of Empire (2004).

Missing Truth and Irony in Bin-Laden’s Critique of Capitalism

October 12, 2007
Missing Truth and Irony in Bin-Laden’s Critique of Capitalism
by Paul Street; October 12, 2007

Just because someone has a lot of blood and a criminal historical record on their hands, that doesn’t mean they can’t accurately identify some key facts of social and political reality.  Take Leon Trotsky.  He ordered the state murder of hundreds of revolutionary Soviet soldiers during and after the 1921 Kronstadt Rebellion (1)   He collaborated with Lenin in the rapid abolition of Soviet workers’ control and endorsed a plan of forced collectivization and “primitive socialist accumulation” that might well have out-Stalined Joseph Stalin himself.

He also penned brilliant analyses and critiques of Russian Tsarism, western capitalism-imperialism, Soviet bureaucracy and foreign policy, European politics, and German fascism.  As Isaac Deutscher noted, speaking of the last subject area, “like no one else, and much earlier than anyone,” Trotsky “grasped the destructive delirium with which National Socialism was to burst upon the world. His commentaries on the German situation, written between 1930 and 1933,…stand out as a cool, clinical analysis and forecast of the stupendous phenomenon of [fascist] social psychopathology and of its consequences”(2).

 

Another if much less intellectually impressive example is the neo-feudal and arch-patriarchal butcher Osama bin-Laden.  Contrary to the paranoid and dysfunctional fantasies of the 9/11 conspiracy crowd (1), bin-Laden really is the leading perpetrator behind the criminal jetliner attacks of September 2001. [The Popular Mechanics piece referenced does little to “prove” that bin Laden was behind the attacks.  Also note please that there are conflicting videos available of bin Laden both claiming the attacks and denying that he had anything to do with them.  Also keep in mind the CIA’s will and ability to manufacture fake “intelligence.”  Think for yourself.  – MJM]  I have nothing but contempt for his criminal actions and the extremist Islamic fundamentalism that has informed his bloody career from before he worked for the American Empire (against the Soviet Union) through his current position as that Empire’s supposed Public Enemy No.1. I also personally reject his faith in the existence of God (“Allah”) and his narcissistic belief that he can justify mass murder by reference to divine authority – a belief he shares with fellow fundamentalist, messianic, and mass-murderous son of petroleum wealth George W. Bush

 

At the same time, I’ve got to give bin-Laden some basic credit for out-performing the majority of the United States’ intelligentsia by mentioning some elementary facts of American, Western and world life and history during his September 7th (2007) video Address to the American People. By bin-Laden’s account, “talk of the rights of man and freedom are lies produced by the White House and its allies in Europe to deceive humans, take control of their destinies and subjugate them. Those with real power and influence” in the U.S., bin-Laden added, “are those with the most capital. And since the democratic system permits major corporations to back candidates, be they presidential or congressional, there shouldn’t be any cause for astonishment – and there isn’t any – in the Democrats’ failure to stop the war. And you’re the ones who have the saying which goes, ‘Money talks.’”

 

Bin-Laden noted that U.S. “democracy” had shown its powerlessness by “sacrificing soldiers and populations to achieve the interests of the major corporations. And with that,” he added, in a passage that crudely and clumsily speaks some rather basic truths U.S. journalists and intellectuals dare not publicly acknowledge for fear of offending their business class masters:

 

“it has become clear to all that [the corporations] are the real tyrannical terrorists. In fact, the life of all of mankind is in danger because of the global warming resulting to a large degree from the emissions of the factories of the major corporations, yet despite that, the representative of these corporations in the White House insists on not observing the Kyoto accord, with the knowledge that the statistics speaks of the death and displacement of the millions of human beings because of that, especially in Africa. This greatest of plagues and most dangerous of threats to the lives of humans is taking place in an accelerating fashion as the world is being dominated by the democratic system, which confirms its massive failure to protect humans and their interests from the greed and avarice of the major corporations and their representatives. And despite this brazen attack on the people, the leaders of the West – especially Bush, Blair Sarkozy and Brown – still talk about freedom and human rights with a flagrant disregard for the intellects of human beings. So is there a form of terrorism stronger, clearer and more dangerous than this? This is why I tell you: as you liberated yourselves before from the slavery of monks, kings, and feudalism, you should liberate yourselves from the deception, shackles and attrition of the capitalist system. If you were to ponder it well, you would find that in the end, it is a system harsher and fiercer than your systems in the Middle Ages. The capitalist system seeks to turn the entire world into a fiefdom of the major corporations under the label of ‘globalization’ in order to protect democracy.”

 

Dominant U.S. media immediately ridiculed bin-Laden’s Address for advancing supposedly preposterous notions about U.S. and Western politics and policy. As far as “mainstream” U.S. reporters and commentators were concerned, bin-Laden’s “ludicrous rant” against “the capitalist system” and its Frankenstein creations the corporations was proof that he was out of touch with reality.

 

Some talking and scribbling U.S. heads also felt compelled to comment on the absurdity of a supposed Islamist holy warrior seeming to “channel [atheist] Marxism” by denouncing the glorious “free market system.” 

 

But the real problem with bin-Laden’s criticism of U.S. and global capitalism and the giant corporate wealth concentrations that rule western “democracy” wasn’t that it was wrong or even all that bizarre. As is well known within and beyond the U.S. but unmentionable in dominant (so-called “mainstream”) corporate U.S. media, bin-Laden’s “rant” all- too accurately captured harsh American and global political-economic realities.

 

The U.S. is the “best democracy that money can [and did] buy.”  It’s political system really does confer wildly disproportionately political and policy influence on the United States’ heavily corporate-connected top 1 percent , which own half the nation’s wealth and an equivalent if not higher share of its politicians and policymakers. 

 

The United States’ corporate elite actually does undermine the Democratic Party’s ability and willingness to act in accord with the majority antiwar sentiment that bin-Laden noted.

 

Much of the nation’s corporate elite really is profiting hand over first from a militaristic and imperial foreign policy that imposes steep costs on the U.S. populace and especially on the nation’s working majority and lower classes, who lack the economic resources to meaningfully influence politicians in either of the nation’s two dominant corporate-imperial parties. 

 

Corporations like Boeing, Raytheon, Halliburton, Lockheed Martin, Exxon, General Dynamics, General Electric really are great “tyrannical terrorists” who regularly destroy lives and livable ecology (as with global warming), undermine democracy, generate poverty and concentrate wealth and power at home and abroad. 

 

The broad populace of the West really is largely enslaved to the cancerous and authoritarian nightmare that is the profit-addicted, privileged-serving, human and environment-assaulting capitalist system.

 

And that system really is “turn[ing] the entire world into a fiefdom of the major corporations under the label of ‘globalization’ in order to protect democracy.”

 

All of that and much more is all too tragically true, sad to say – something that is well understood by much if not most of the morally and politically cognizant human race.  And for what it’s worth, that understanding is deeply consistent with the world’s leading religious traditions (Islam included), all of which have always contained strong ethical objections to the savage wealth/class inequality, economic exploitation and narcissistic commercialism that lay at the dark heart of the deadly bourgeois mode of production, exchange, governance, and “life.”  

 

 

No, the real problem with bin-Laden’s critique of American capitalism is that his jetliner attacks drastically strengthened the power of U.S. military and other corporations by giving the arch-plutocrat Bush II a great pretext to consolidate and concentrate the wealth and power of the privileged few. Nine Eleven was a great opportunity for the U.S. state-capitalist elite on numerous levels.  The imperial “defense” corporations and the oil giants have enjoyed a remarkable wartime Profit Surge while Bush-Cheney have used the “war on terror” to invade Iraq and identify resistance to the Republicans’ arch-plutocratic agenda with a treasonous failure to “support the troops” and with opposition to National Security. 

 

Nine Eleven was a “disaster-capitalist” (4) windfall for bin-Laden’s “real tyrannical terrorists.” It was major blow to those struggling to advance social justice, democracy and economic equality within and beyond the U.S.

 

The other irony is that bin-Laden and other Islamic fundamentalists owe much of their power in the Middle East to the global march of western capitalism-imperialism. As Gilbert Achcar shows in his marvelous book The Clash of Barbarism: September 11 and the Making of the New World Disorder (New York: Monthly Review, 2002), the rise of militant, anti-Western Islamic fundamentalism is rooted in U.S. policies aimed at the control of Middle Eastern oil reserves and in Western-imposed global-capitalist (neoliberal) processes of class and public-sector disintegration.  These policies and processes have provided fertile recruiting ground for al Qaeda and its many imitators. Resentment abhors a vacuum and bin Laden et al. have garnered a membership windfall from the misery that negative (top down corporate and state-capitalist) globalization has imposed on Middle Eastern masses who – thanks in no small part to U.S. policy – no longer possess relevant secular and left-nationalist outlets for their democratic and social aspirations.   

 

On the crackpot American right, the usual vicious red-baiting voices of reaction took bin-Laden’s criticism of western capitalism and his positive references to Noam Chomsky (praised for “speaking sober words of advice prior to” the invasion of Iraq) to prove that the Western Left and bin-Laden “share the same ideology.”  Last we looked, however, neither Chomsky nor other leading western antiwar and anti-imperial voices have joined bin-Laden in calling for the conversion of the American masses to Islam. And bin-Laden has yet to embrace the causes of radical workers’ control, participatory democracy, or women’s rights.

 

The leading figure of the historical Western left Karl Marx was critical of religious faith but deeply attuned to the role of economic exploitation and capitalist alienation in making religion necessary to desperate masses the world over.  Capitalism, Marx and Frederick Engels noted in 1848 (in a passage that seems highly relevant more than a century and half later), “has put an end to all feudal, patriarchal, idyllic relations.  It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his ‘natural superiors,’ and left no other bond between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous ‘cash payment.’ It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervor, of chivalrous enthusiasm, of philistine sentimentalism, in the icy water of egotistical calculation.  It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom – Free Trade.  In one word, for exploitation, veiled by religious and political illusions, it has substituted naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation” (5). 

 

This passage from The Communist Manifesto provides some interesting context for understanding feudal bin-Laden’s problem with capitalism.  It also helps explain the success  bin-Laden and other Islamic fundamentalist have experienced recruiting followers in the Middle East, where western capitalism-imperialism has long ironically encouraged the persistence of “religious fervor” and “chivalrous enthusiasm” by undermining any and all Left-secular responses to the soulless march of exchange value, egotistical calculation, and socioeconomic dispossession and where the persistence of feudal and patriarchal regimes and values have long served the United States’ dominant interest in the region – the control of a single, super-strategic material of great of critical imperial relevance: Middle Eastern oil (6). 

 

Paul Street is a writer, speaker and activist based in Iowa City, IA and Chicago, IL.  He is the author of Empire and Inequality: America and the World Since 9/11 (Boulder, CO: Paradigm); Racial Oppression in the Global Metropolis (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007); and Segregated Schools: Educational Apartheid in Post-Civil Rights America (New York: Routledge, 2005. Paul can be reached at paulstreet99@yahoo.com.

 

 

 

Notes

 

1.    Paul Avrich, Kronsdadt 1921 (New York, 1970), pp. 144-145, 211; Isaac Deutscher, The Prophert Armed: Trotsky 1879-1921 (New York, 1954), pp. 511-512.

 

2.    Leon Trotsky, The Struggle Against German Fascism [New York: Pathfinder, 1970]).

 

3.    For a useful science- and fact-based antidote to 9/11 conspiracy theories, see Popular Mechanics, Debunking 9/11 Myths: Why Conspiracy Theories Can’t Stand Up to the Facts (New York: Hearst, 2006). 

 

4.    Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Age of Disaster Capitalism (New York: Metropolitan, 2007).

 

5.    Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The Communist Manifesto (New York: International Publishers, 1948 [1848]), p.11.

 

6.    As Gilbert Achcar noted in 1997, “of all the major geopolitical regions, the Arab world is the only one in which a relative [neoliberal] reduction of the state’s influence on the economy – inaugurated by Anwar Sadat in Egypt as long ago as the early 1970s – has not seen an accompanying reduction of its control over politics. It is also the only one where civil society has been unable to wrest political expression from bureaucratic and despotic state control…How are we to explain this Arab anomaly? And. More important, why is it so blatantly tolerated [really supported and protected, P.S.] by those same superpowers that preach democracy to the rest of the planet? Two basic factors explain this anomaly of Arab despotism.  The first is the curse of oil…The perpetuation, and in some cases installation, by the Western governments of premodern tribal dynasties in the oil states of the Arab peninsula contrasted strongly with colonialism’s project of overturning traditional structures in other parts of the world and setting up models emulating political modernity.  The ‘civilizing mission’ of the West in the establishment of state institutions did not extend to these countries.  On the contrary.  Here the project was to consolidate backwardness in order to guarantee unfettered exploitation of hydrocarbon resources by the imperial powers.” Gilbert Achcar, The Clash of Barbarisms: Sept 11 and the Making of the New world Disorder (New York: Monthly Review, 2002), p. 45. 

 

We Are in a Bad Fix

October 12, 2007

We Are in a Bad Fix

This is a planet in denial. While the existential question gets a red hot “apocalypse now” for an answer, our stock markets seem to have regained paradise lost.

We are witnessing nothing less than history’s first confluence of unsustainable “peaks.”

Perhaps, we are incapable of piecing them all, for when crude oil reached an all-time intra-day high of $84.10 per barrel on Sept 20, its entitlement to a front pager screamer was conceded to the tale of a few thousand empty — or emptying — American homes.

It was like the Butterfly Effect, with a twist. The flapping rooftops of confiscated homes were now whipping up an economic tsunami worldwide.

Here is how it works.

US mortgage lenders, voracious as ever for “more,” had extended loans to the default-income group, who, were in turn hit by bad economic management. Credit card issuers followed suit to bloat consumer fantasies, and banks tightened the noose with additional loans for cars, tuition and businesses.

In the world of finance, debt is ironically regarded as an “asset.” Think of the rock-solid house that can be repossessed in the event of a default.

Debts, with the outward promise of a steady cash flow, are regularly pooled, “securitized” and converted into a bewildering array of financial products along an upward chain, where, they are hawked off by fund managers to the global market

This money buys up commodities, stocks, and yes, more “securities and derivatives,” along with junk bonds and blue chips.

It was easy come, easy go, wherever the money takes you…a 24/7 electronic casino…a Las Vegas without borders.

London bankers were toasting to the dawn of “the haves and the have yachts” at cocktail parties where sauvé qui peut was the vintage.

One of the greatest scams in recent memory was unfolding, exposing a pyramid scheme of epic proportions.

When this reached the point of metastasis, stock markets began to collapse.

The bottom feeders could not pay up anymore. Even the middle class were finding it difficult to pass the buck upwards.

This is called a liquidity crisis, and it happens when the laws of gravity finally exert a pull on the cash flow.

Still the champagne flowed. Lip-smacking advertorials continued to gush over “securities,” “derivatives,” and “comprehensive financial suites,” set in a Jacuzzi lilting to Ponzi’s version of “money for nothing and chicks for free.”

The pyramids may come crashing down, but the missing capstones are free to roam, investing in gold here, financial products there and junk bonds everywhere.

To avert a panic run though, central banks worldwide pumped $400 billion to maintain liquidity’s equilibrium.

Stock markets were no longer in the bearish or bullish mode; rather they were cancroidal, allowing fund managers to sidewheel from one market to another in search of profits, suckers, and a subtle pullout before the big bang.

It was the dawn of the crab, of cancer in stock market terminology, if one was needed. Suspicions were mounting. European banks were facing insolvency.

For three days beginning Sept. 14, savers across the United Kingdom removed £2 billion ($4 billion) from Northern Rock, Britain’s fifth largest lender. The Bank of England had to step in to guarantee all deposits in all banks — a move with little or no precedence.

However, the banks were not convinced either. Inter-bank lending, which profitably cycled cash from one bank to another as demand dictated, was now deemed an inter-bank debt trap. Available cash was hoarded up.

The Bank of England’s cash auction of £10bn — at a rate of 6.75% over three-months — has been shunned for the third consecutive week.

Either the “have yachts” have sailed away, or banks may actually find it difficult to repay the Bank of England.

Worldwide, the full weight of the “asset-backed” collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) and structured investment vehicles (SIVs) may run into more than the $400 billion which central banks coughed up to keep the system afloat.

CDOs and SIVs are the sleek-sounding trillion-dollar apexes built on loans taken from simple homeowners.

Banks are still tallying what is real and redeemable, and what was created and whirling in thin air. Their best bet now is for a deux ex machina.

Bull in the China Shop

The biggest economic success story of our times was the product of Western consumerism. It created a real supply and demand situation, which forced the relocation of factories to the Third World of cheap labor.

China was the champion recipient. Demand for toys, screws, machinery, computers and cellphones could never ebb, whether it came leaded or unleaded. Beijing’s policymakers decided that the perennial flow of greenbacks demanded a domestic infrastructural revolution dictated by the export market — a first in history if there was one.

Factories, coal-fired plants, superhighways, skyscrapers were springing up at breakneck speed to fulfill the export craze. Excessive pollution and the plight of “unregistered” migrant workers from rural China mattered little.

What mattered were prestige, kickbacks and $1.2tr in hard currency-based reserves. It did not matter that China’s domestic consumption vis a vis its GDP was actually decreasing; it was more a matter of consumer opiates, of who was boss in the center of the universe.

It did not matter that Chinese cities were shrouded in toxic gray, where “only 1 percent of the country’s 560 million city dwellers breathe air considered safe by the European Union.”1

The Chinese may cough but the ‘days when the world caught a cold whenever Uncle Sam sneezed was over.” Or so it seemed.

Uncle Sam sneezed.

Global finance began hemorrhaging, and it had to be resuscitated through an intravenous flow of taxpayer money.

Western consumers finally realized that girths had to be tightened, and what to better way than to curb spending, and let a market correction take place in the import sector.

An entire supply chain leading to China’s factories are in danger of folding up. Mineral resources from Africa, semiconductor plants in Malaysia, raw textile products elsewhere, now face acute market uncertainty.

China is in a bad fix. However, this is not deterring factories from coming online next year to meet the projected “global demand.” If Western consumers are scaling down their purchases, Africans are not in a position to be the replacement buyers, and without a market, they will not be able to sell their raw products either.

In such circumstances, moods can shift. When “Beijing rolled out the red carpet for more than 40 African heads of state last November, billboards depicting Africans clad in leopard skin underwear, and an indigenous man from Papua New Guinea, plastered the city.”2 It is no wonder that China’s list of “allies” is getting shorter by the day.

Events in Myanmar are not proving helpful. China enjoys a near monopoly over Myanmar’s estimated 2.46 trillion cubic meters of gas and 3.2 billion barrels of crude oil. Beijing had plans to develop two parallel oil and gas pipelines stretching 2,380-km to link the deepwater port of Sittwe to Kunming, in the Chinese province of Yunnan. Upon completion, a good portion of Middle Eastern oil and gas is expected to bypass the Straits of Malacca.

The quid pro quo was arms supply and support at the UN for Myanmar’s military junta. Any new government now might negate all existing deals, and pull Yangon into the US orbit. This is a timely revolution from Washington’s perspective.

North Korea too is seeking rapprochement. There is enough operational space now to tackle Tehran, Damascus and the Hezbollah.

China can of course play the spoiler by providing arms to these regimes via a proxy. It is still a bad idea as the Israelis are just itching for war.

The IAF recently destroyed a Syrian installation that was purportedly an embryonic nuclear facility, but may well turn out to be a Kolchuga-type passive radar system, ideal for downing B2 stealth bombers. Coincidentally, the Russians have pledged to upgrade Syrian radar defenses after the attack.

If a wider conflagration breaks out in the Middle East, there will be no oil flowing from the Straits of Hormuz to China, either through Sitte, or through the Straits of Malacca.

The best option for Beijing will be to lock its oil and gas grid to the Russian Far East at a breakneck speed, and clean up some level of air pollution in time for the 2008 Olympics.

If an all-out war in the Middle East is our worst nightmare, think of the following unfolding crises…

The Peak Crises and its plural

Peak Oil: Fossil fuels, compressed and formed over aeons in subterranean geological layers are now releasing the telltale sibilant whispers of a punctured gas tank — low as it was on petrol in the first place. With crude oil hovering above $80 per barrel, the various subsidies built into national economies are bound to burst at the seams, and precipitate price increases for basic necessities.

There is however a unique solution — falling consumer demand worldwide. That would crimp industrial demand for fossil fuel. It is no wonder oil majors were reluctant to build new refineries when profits seemed guaranteed in the era of “peak oil.” This day would surely come!

Peak oil is also tied to the current dollar crises. With the US dollar dipping against other major currencies, crude oil should come cheaper for Washington.

Oil and other commodities are traded in dollars, and dollar-denominated assets outnumber assets weighed in other currencies. Beijing can dump its hundreds of billions in dollar reserves for euros, only to trade them back into dollars to buy crude oil, gold and other assets.

The dollar blackmail will not work, especially with the US Army entrenched in the oil-rich Middle East.

Doomsday theorists are however predicting another Great Depression ahead, where the value of the dollar may mean little in the event of a global financial meltdown.

If this occurs, a global depression will have to deal with the following phenomena that was absent in the 30s.

Peak Urbanization: More than half of the world’s population will live in urban areas in just… a few months, according to a United Nations Population Fund report. That translates to 3.3 billion people in an urban concentration camp of shantytowns and high-rise pigeonholes.

Children are growing up in a peculiarly boxed-in environment, removed from the soil that births their identity. They do not wake up to the sound of a crowing rooster, which is nature’s way of sowing repentance and a turning of mindsets outside the conventional thinking box.

They wake up to beastly clangor instead. It is either the alarm clock or the barking dog, installed as “pets” to yelp any perceived intruder during the morning rush hour. The urban jungle is an industrialized Ziggurat, which pecks out a hierarchy from childhood. The ones right at the bottom will be the ones shouldering more concrete, or the biggest debt burden.

Close human proximity also leads to petty competitiveness and conflict. That is why “civilization” is held at gunpoint; by the police, by the army and by “treaties.”

The urban life is delicate and vulnerable to all sorts of hazards, from plagues to a breakdown in the utilities, communications and transportation services. And political upheavals. A disaster will grind down traffic to a gridlock, far from the escapist countryside.

What if an energy warfare broke out? What if a global depression hits us? Can three billion people grow a patch of greens on their balconies?

When it comes to greens, the outlook is not at all verdant…

Peak Grain: Global grain stockpiles are down to their tightest levels in three decades after two years of unusual weather patterns. Heatwaves have wilted crops in the granaries of the world while floods and other environmental scourges have devastated some of the poorer “self-sustaining” regions.

Global wheat stockpiles will fall to a 34-year low by June 2008, according to the International Grains Council. U.S. stockpiles will fall to lowest level since 1951-52. Wheat futures in Chicago reached $9.3925 a bushel late September when major supplier Ukraine slashed exports.

The price of a bushel has more than doubled in the past year.

The bushel of woes includes rice, barley, soybeans, sorghum, oats and lentils as well, and they are all sagging under record prices. The grapes of wrath have gone on to stalk eggs, cheese, milk, meat and the a la carte menu.

There may come a point when the industrial food chain has little choice but to pass the rising costs to consumers in a dramatic fashion.

Creeping upticks in the price of milk and bread are turning Europeans livid. Milk is now dubbed as the “new white gold.”

It is not just bad weather to blame. Rising demand from China is pushing up prices, despite the fact that only half of its urban population has basic health insurance. Tragically, processed food re-exported through Beijing’s food chain is causing a global health nightmare.

But why pick on China? The current biodiesel craze is inducing farms to purpose-plant their crops for the profitable bioenergy industry, according to the Hamburg-based Oil World.

“It is high time to realise that the world community is approaching a food crisis in 2008 unless usage of agricultural products for biofuels is curbed or ideal weather conditions and sharply higher crop yields are achieved in 2008,” it added

Bad news gets worse.

Peak Water: There is not enough freshwater around to sustain the planet’s inland ecosystem and its human population. Rivers that help supply drinking water are laden with toxic industrial wastes. Population growth is already straining the capacities of water treatment plants worldwide while desalination plants remain the prerogative of wealthy nations. According to the Pacific Institute: “Over 1 billion people don’t have access to clean drinking water; more than 2 billion lack access to adequate sanitation; and millions die every year due to preventable water-related diseases. Water resources around the globe are threatened by climate change, misuse, and pollution.” It estimates that “over 34 million people might perish in the next 20 years from water-related disease — even if the United Nations ‘Millennium Development Goals,’ which aim to cut the proportion of those without safe access by half, are met.”3

Lots of water will be diverted to industries and agriculture, or the highest bidder as privatization of water supply gains currency. In some regions, the situation is so acute that water diversion in one country may precipitate conflict with a neighbor. As early as 1974, Iraq reportedly mobilized its army to target Syria’s al-Thawra dam on the Euphrates. Israel has cast its own eyes on Lebanon’s Litani River.

According to Former UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali: “The next war in the Near (Middle) East will not be about politics, but over water.”

If this watery grave is not enough, think of the next one…

Peak Fish: There is some fishy business going on in our oceans. Like oil and water, we are trawling deeper and deeper for our fish supplies. Such piscatorial adventures have led to a global decline in fish stocks. “Ecologists worry that entire fisheries will collapse as… ‘junk fish’ are used up.” Aquaculture, which substitutes marine catches to an extent, comes with its own environmental problems.4

The Times of London paints a similar gloomy scenario. According to some experts, 90% of fish around British waters “will disappear within 20 years” in the absence of an immediate intervention.

With 75% of fish stocks fully exploited, declining numbers across species worldwide hint at a collapse point by 2048, beyond which replenishment is not possible.

Peak Fish “comes at a time when their nutritional value is recognized more than ever.”

“World Health Organisation officials recommend a weekly intake of 200 to 300 grams of fish each week but today’s catches can only just meet this target. Since the 1950s an estimated 60 per cent of stocks in British waters have collapsed…”

The Times invokes the paradox that “measures proposed to limit fishing to a sustainable level will only place a cap on the nutritional flow for the coming decades.”5

The full circle

What began as sub-prime woes in the US housing sector may ripple into something we cannot yet imagine. Will there be a severe global recession, or worse? If wars are yet contained, bidding wars will yet emerge over wheat, water, fish, medicines and oil. What will the future hold in this ecology of crises?

Here is a refrain from the book of Hosea (4:3):

Because of this the land mourns,
and all who live in it waste away;
the beasts of the field and the birds of the air
and the fish of the sea are dying.

  1. As China Roars, Pollution Reaches Deadly Extremes, NYT, Aug 26, 2007.
  2. Beijing police round up and beat African expats Guardian, September 26, 2007.
  3. Global Water Crisis Pacific Institute.
  4. Water shortages will leave world in dire straits USA Today, 26th Jan 2003.
  5. Fish will vanish from British waters in 20 years, says author Times Online, Sept 15, 2007.

Mathew Maavak can be found online at www.maavak.net Read other articles by Mathew.

“Capitalism and Freedom” Unmasked by Stephen Lendman

October 4, 2007

“Capitalism and Freedom” Unmasked by Stephen Lendman

Dandelion Salad

by Stephen Lendman
Global Research, October 4, 2007

An era ended November 16, 2006 when economist Milton Friedman died. A torrent of eulogies followed. The Wall Street Journal mourned his loss with the same tribute he credulously used when Ronald Reagan died saying “few people in human history have contributed more to the achievement of human freedom.” Economist and former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers called him a hero and “The Great Liberator” in a New York Times op-ed; the UK Financial Times called him “the last of the great economists;” Terence Corcoran, editor of Canada’s National Post, mourned the “free markets” loss of “their last lion;” and Business Week magazine noted the “Death of a Giant” and praised his doctrine that “the best thing government can do is supply the economy with the money it needs and stand aside.”

Rarely had so much praise been given anyone so undeserving in light of the human wreckage his legacy left strewn everywhere. He believed government’s sole function is “to protect our freedom both from (outside) enemies….and from our fellow-citizens.” It’s to “preserve law and order (as well as) enforce private contracts, (safeguard private property and) foster competitive markets.” Everything else in public hands is socialism that for free-wheeling market fundamentalists like Friedman is blasphemy. He said markets work best unfettered of rules, regulations, onerous taxes, trade barriers, “entrenched interests” and human interference, and the best government is practically none at all as anything it can do private business does better. Democracy and a government of, by and for the people? Forget it.

He preached public wealth should be in private hands, accumulation of profits unrestrained, corporate taxes abolished, and social services curtailed or ended. He believed “economic freedom is an end to itself….and an indispensable means toward (achieving) political freedom.” He thought state laws requiring certain occupations be licensed (like doctors) a restriction of freedom. He opposed foreign aid, subsidies, import quotas and tariffs as well as drug laws he called a subsidy to organized crime (which it is as well as to CIA and money laundering international banks earning billions from it) and added “we have no right to use force….to prevent (someone) from committing suicide….drinking alcohol or taking drugs,” while saying nothing about major banks and CIA partnering for profit with drug lords.

He favored a constitutional amendment requiring Congress balance the budget because deficits “encourage political irresponsibility.” He claimed taxes were onerous and was “in favor of cutting (them) under any circumstances and for any excuse, for any reason, whenever possible….” and make corporations entirely exempt from them. He opposed the minimum wage, supported a flat tax favoring the rich, and believed everyone should have to buy his or her own medical insurance like any other product or service. Can’t afford it? Too bad. Get sick? Let the market heal you.

He opposed public education, supported school vouchers for privately-run ones, and believed marketplace competition improves performance even though voucher amounts are inadequate and mostly go to schools emphasizing religious education or training. Further, evidence shows teaching quality suffers in for-profit schools except in elitist ones. Most others stress cost-cutting and fewer services for bigger returns on investment.

He ignored the fact that Christian fundamentalist schools harm democracy and violate the constitutional separation of church and state. They also threaten public education’s future that’s been the bedrock of primary and secondary schooling throughout our history until Friedman first proposed vouchers in the 1980s as one of his core free choice objectives.

He was a vocal opponent of trade unions, claimed they were “of little importance (historically in advancing) worker (rights and gains) in the United States,” and ignored clear evidence to the contrary in spite of corrupted union officials who could and should have done more for their rank and file and still don’t. He also claimed “the gains that strong unions win for their members are primarily at the expense of other workers (and believing otherwise) is a fundamental source of misunderstanding.” It all came down to supply and demand for him – “the higher the price of anything, the less….people will….buy.”

Sounds reasonable up to the examples he gave: “Make labor of any kind more expensive and the number of jobs of that kind will be fewer. Make carpenters more expensive, and fewer houses….will be built (and the ones that are will) use materials and methods requiring less carpentry. Raise the wages of airline pilots (and) there will be fewer jobs for them (because) air travel will (cost more and) fewer people will fly.”

Bottom line for Friedman – high union wages harm everyone, including union members. They make consumer products and services more expensive, he believed, notwithstanding the fundamental law of pricing every marketing executive knows but Friedman ignored. It’s to charge what the market will bear, no more or less so, costs aside, prices reflect what buyers will pay, no more.

Friedman also opposed government-run Social Security that he called “The Biggest Ponzi Scheme on Earth” in an article with that title. He described the current system as “an unholy combination of two items: a flat-rate tax on earnings up to a maximum with no exemption and a benefit program that awards subsidies that have….no relation to need (forgetting it’s our most successful poverty-reducing program) but are based on (criteria like) marital status, longevity and recent earnings.”

He wanted it privatized, abhorred the “tyranny of the status quo,” and agreed with Barry Goldwater that it be voluntary which, of course, would kill it. He added it’s “hard to justify requiring 100% of the people to adopt a government-prescribed straitjacket to avoid encouraging a few (many millions, in fact) ‘lower-income individuals to make no provision for their old age deliberately (even though most cannot), knowing they would receive the means-tested amount.’ ” Addressing only eligible retirees, he ignored millions of others getting Social Security benefits. They include disabled workers and spouses and children of deceased, retired or disabled workers. They comprise around 37% of all recipients, are left out of Friedman’s calculation, and would get nothing under a privatized system.

For Friedman, we’re on our own, “free to choose,” but unequally matched against corporate giants and the privileged with their advantages. The rest of us are unequally endowed and governed by the principle, “To each according to what he and the instruments he owns produces,” in a savage world where economic freedom trumps all other kinds. This was right from Friedman’s 1962 laissez-faire manifesto, “Capitalism and Freedom,” that’s long on free market triumphalism and void on its effects on real people.

He opposed social or any market-interfering democracy, an egalitarian society, government providing essential services, workers free from bosses, citizens from dictatorship and countries from colonialism. Instead, he perversely promoted economic freedom as a be-all-and-end-all, limited government, and profit-making as the essence of democracy. He supported unfettered free markets with political debate confined to minor issues unrelated to the distribution of goods and services he wanted left to the free-wheeling marketplace.

This was Friedman’s best of all possible worlds with people in it no different than disposable commodities and government not obligated to fulfill its minimum constitutionally-mandated function as stated in the Preamble and Article I, Section 8. It’s that “The Congress shall have power to….provide….for (the) general welfare of the United States” – the so-called welfare clause Friedman believed conflicted with “capitalism and freedom” and our “freedom to choose” that ranked above the law of the land for him.

The School of Thought in the University of Chicago’s Economics Department

Friedman grew up in New York, got his BA at Rutgers, an MA at the University of Chicago, and his doctorate at Columbia. Surprisingly, he was a Keynesian early on, but Friedrich Hayek’s teachings changed him into a free market fundamentalist who’d become what the Economist called “the most influential economist of the second half of the 20th century (and) possibly all of it.” He returned to the University of Chicago Economics Department in 1946 and became its charismatic leader on a mission to revolutionize his profession and the world.

The doctrine was simple at its core – unfettered free market pure capitalism works best, and Friedman and his colleagues set out to prove it scientifically in a set of mathematical equations and computer models they developed. They promised that left on their own, markets are magical. They produce the right amount of products and services, at the right prices, by the right number of workers earning the right amount of wages to buy what’s produced. In short, a win-win for everyone….paradise. There was only one problem. It’s voodoo science, sounds good mathematically and doesn’t work. Friedman and his “Chicago Boys, however, believed it did but needed a real life “Chicago School state” to prove it.

He got many, called them models of free market magic, and justified repression believing ends justify means and free choice offered “more room for individual initiative….a private sphere of life (and a greater) chance (authoritarian regimes he supported would in the end make it possible) to return to a democratic society.” He countered his critics claiming “economic freedom is an essential requisite for political freedom” and that transitional pain was worth it for the free market paradise he promised would emerge. He and his mentor, Friedrich Hayek, called social democracy, collectivism, socialism and welfare state economics the “road to serfdom” producing “bondage and misery” and “coercion rather than freedom.”

It was pure baloney, but who could argue in the face of huge corporate backing, heavy funding and the dominant media in tow calling market fundamentalism the new orthodoxy and repression freedom. On the ground, it was different. The record of Chicago School fundamentalism is in the human wreckage it left everywhere.

The Human Toll of Chicago School Fundamentalism

Every nation Friedman’s ideology touched took pain, but it wasn’t the well-off who suffered, just ordinary working people targeted for profit in pursuit of “economic freedom.” Early on, his dogma was considered quirky, on the margins of mainstream economics, and out of step with the Keynesian post-war golden age of capitalism. It lasted until the 1970s when recession, stagflation and high unemployment changed everything. Keynesian economics was unfairly blamed, and Friedman got his chance to prove government intervention is the problem and unfettered free markets the solution. It was pure nonsense and about as scientific as alchemy, but long ago people thought that worked until they finally understood they couldn’t make gold out of lesser metals.

The First Test Case in Chile

Chile under Augusto Pinochet became Friedman’s first test case to prove what we now know is flimflam. The results were disastrous and Chileans to this day haven’t recovered from the September 11, 1973 coup d’etat and aftermath that ended the most vibrant democracy in the Americas and ushered in Friedman’s magic.

The playbook promised paradise but delivered the junta’s “Caravan of Death,” hyperinflation, the economy contracting 15%, wages cut, unemployment at 20%, labor unionism destroyed, social services gutted, severe poverty, ghostly factories and rotting infrastructure, out-of-control corruption and cronyism, a massive transfer of public resources to private hands, and a repressive military and secret police targeting dissenters with detention, torture and death. It was hell for Chileans but nirvana for the privileged and foreign investors reaping big profits from the masses they took it from. It was just the beginning with Friedman-style “shock treatment” on to the next target.

One of many was Bolivia with predictable results and Friedman unrepentant. Food subsidies were ended, social services gutted, price controls lifted, wages frozen, oil prices hiked 300%, deep government spending cuts imposed, unrestricted imports allowed, and state-owned companies downsized costing hundreds of thousands of jobs before privatizing them.

There was more. Real wages dropped 40%, poverty soared, but a privileged elite got rich. Public anger grew with repression the antidote. Tanks rolled in the streets against striking workers, and police targeted dissenters in union halls, a university and factories. “Freedom” for Friedman was hell for Bolivians. It would soon get worse.

The Tragedy of Post-Communist Russia

The Berlin Wall’s fall should have been a triumph but instead was tragic for Russia’s people. Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in March, 1985 with political and social change in mind but wasn’t around long enough to lead it. He liberalized the country, introduced elections, and favored a Scandinavian-style social democracy combining free market capitalism with strong social safety net protections. He envisioned “a socialist beacon for all mankind,” an egalitarian society, but never got the chance to build it.

When the Soviet Union dissolved, he was out, Boris Yeltsin became Russia’s president, he supported a corporatist state and adopted Chicago School fundamentalist “shock therapy” masquerading as “reform.” Its former apparatchiks cashed in big along with a new class of “nouveaux billionaires” (called “the oligarchs”) who strip-mined the country’s wealth and shipped it to offshore tax havens. For the Russian people, it was another story. They didn’t know what hit them in what was one of the greatest ever crimes by a government against its own people who still today are crushed by it. The toll was devastating and pandemic:

– 80% of Russian farmers bankrupt;

– about 70,000 state factories closed causing an epidemic of unemployment;

– 74 million Russians (half the population) impoverished; for 37 million of them conditions were desperate, and the country’s underclass remains permanent;

– alcohol, painkilling and hard drug used soared, and HIV/AIDS threatens to become epidemic with a 20-fold increase in infections since 1995; suicides also rose and violent crime as well more than fourfold; and

– Russia’s population is declining by around 700,000 a year; unfettered capitalism has already killed off 10% of it; it’s a startling condemnation of Chicago School orthodoxy and the man who triumphantly spread it in the name of freedom that’s fake, ferocious and fatal.

The Curse of Predatory Capitalism in South Africa

As in Russia, opportunity for progressive change became tragedy under neoliberal Washington Consensus policies far worse than apartheid repression. Nelson Mandela pledged to support black economic empowerment and seemed poised to lead it when ANC candidates swept the 1994 elections and he became president. Instead, political power came at the expense of economic surrender. The former white supremacist government and industrialists secured their wealth and privilege by keeping unfettered capitalism unchanged under harsh shock medicine rules.

It was unforgivable from a man like Mandela with charisma and political capital enough to have prevented it. Instead, he chose not to and brushed off later criticism saying “….for this country, privatization is the fundamental policy.” The toll on his people was horrific:

– double the number of people living in desperate poverty on less than $1 a day from two to four million;

– the unemployment rate doubling to 48% from 1991 – 2002;

– two million South Africans losing their homes while the government built only 1.8 million others;

– nearly one million South Africans evicted from farms in the first decade of ANC rule; as a result, shack dweller population grew by 50%, and in 2006, 25% of South Africans lived in them with no running water or electricity;

– the HIV/AIDS infection rate at about 20%, and the ANC government denies its severity and does little to alleviate it; it’s a major reason why average life expectancy in the country declined 13 years since 1990;

– 40% of schools with no electricity;

– 25% of people with no access to clean water and most with it can’t afford the cost;

– 60% of people with inadequate sanitation, and 40% no telephones.

Freedom for black South Africans came at a high price with political empowerment traded for economic apartheid and no relief in sight for the millions affected. It’s more evidence of Chicago School economics failure and the human wreckage it leaves everywhere.

Free Market Repression in Haiti

Haitians enjoyed a brief interregnum of freedom in the 1990s up to 2004 under Jean-Bertrand Aristide and Rene Preval in his first term. Haitians were only once earlier free when the first ever independent black republic was established January 1, 1804, but it didn’t last.

Freedom again was lost for one of the longest ever oppressed people anywhere. It ended February 29, 2004 when US Marines abducted Aristide, in a shocking middle of the night coup d’etat, and flew him against his will to the Central African Republic. Haiti is small, around three times the size of Los Angeles, with a population around eight million. It has some oil, natural gas and other mineral wealth, but it’s main value is its human resource that corporate giants want as an offshore cheap labor paradise for Wal-Mart’s “Always Low Prices.”

Under President Aristide and Preval in his first term in office, impressive social gains were achieved, but they’re are now lost in the wake of the 2004 coup. Haiti is once again a free market paradise with freedom sacrificed (despite an elected president) and real reforms gutted for the poorest people in the hemisphere:

– thousands of public sector workers were fired;

– many more thousands killed, jailed, disappeared or forced into hiding;

– many thousands of small businesses burned and destroyed as well as homes for large numbers of the poor;

– unemployment and underemployment rampant with up to two-thirds of workers without reliable jobs; destruction of the country’s rural economy an enormous problem with displaced poor people migrating to urban areas but finding no work;

– the lowest public sector employment in the region at less than .7%;

– education and health care greatly deteriorated and mostly provided by NGOs, including church-based ones;

– life expectancy at only 53 years; the death and infant mortality rates the highest in the western hemisphere;

– the World Bank places the country in its bottom rankings with its deficient sanitation systems, poor nutrition, high malnutrition, and inadequate health services;

– the country is the poorest in the hemisphere with 80% of its population living below the poverty line; it’s also the least developed with lack of infrastructure, severe deforestation and heavy soil erosion;

– half its population is “food insecure” and half of all children undersized from malnutrition;

– less than half the population with access to clean drinking water;

– the country ranks last in the hemisphere in health care spending with only 25 doctors and 11 nurses per 100,000 population and most rural areas having no access to health care;

– the highest HIV/AIDS incidence outside Africa;

– the World Bank estimates Haiti’s per capita income at under $450; the prevailing sweatshop wage is around 11 – 12 cents an hour; the official minimum wage is about $1.70 a day (with most Haitians getting less) with no benefits and inadequate help from weak unions;

– restructuring and privatizations, like what’s intended for the state-owned telecommunication company, Teleco, cost thousands of jobs from downsizings;

– human rights repression is severe under a UN paramilitary MINUSTAH occupation masquerading as peacekeepers; they were illegally sent for the first time ever to support and enforce a coup d’etat against a democratically elected president; political killings, kidnappings, disappearances, torture and unlawful arrests and incarcerations are common forms of repression so real Haitian democracy can’t emerge under its elected president, Rene Preval, in his second term; he’s impotent against the power of US-orchestrated plunder under Chicago School fundamentalist rules. Another Friedman legacy of failure, this one close to home.

Free Market Fundamentalist Destruction in Afghanistan

September 11 erased the familiar world, created mass disorientation and regression, and made anything possible under collective shock that didn’t take long to unfold. The “war on terror” was launched in a climate of fear with Afghanistan first targeted. It inaugurated a brave new post-9/11 world. Its horror continues. War rages, its ferocity intense, and no end is in sight for a people and nation journalist John Pilger describes as having been “abused and suffered more (with less help than any other) in living memory.”

War and conquest were planned well in advance with 9/11 the pretext to launch it. It was part of a grand strategic plan to control Central Asia’s vast oil and gas reserves, then on to the grand prize in the Middle East with Iraq its epicenter. It began October 7, 2001, continues, and has now intensified at an enormous cost to the Afghan people who’ve been torn by endless war and internal turmoil for over two decades. The toll is horrific and rising:

– half the population unemployed with no improvement in sight nor is any planned under fundamentalist market rules;

– half the population earning around $200 a year with those in the booming opium trade doing marginally better;

– poverty soared post-invasion, one-fourth or more of the population needs food aid, and regional famine risks remain;

– life expectancy is one of the lowest in the world at 44.5 years;

– the infant mortality is the highest in the world at 161 per 1000 births;

– one-fifth of children die before age five;

– an Afghan woman dies in childbirth every 30 minutes;

– an estimated 500,000 homeless are in Kabul alone including people living in collapsed and unsafe buildings;

– only one-fourth of the population has access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation;

– only one doctor is available per 6000 people and one nurse per 2500 people;

– 100 or more people are killed or wounded by unexploded ordnance each month and rising violence kills many more;

– children are kidnapped, sold into slavery or murdered for their organs bringing high prices in the “free market” where everything is for sale including body parts;

– less than 6% of Afghans have electricity only available sporadically;

– women’s literacy rate is about 19%, conditions for them are very harsh, they’re forced to beg on the streets or turn to prostitution to survive; many must remain veiled;

– schools are burned and teachers beheaded in front of their students;

– basic services don’t exist and essential ones like schools, health clinics and hospitals are in deplorable condition with no aid provided to improve them as all of it goes for profit;

– as in Iraq, occupying forces operate outside the law with impunity that includes the use of indiscriminate force, arbitrary arrests, indefinite detentions and free use of the harshest types of torture unreported in the mainstream;

– under military occupation, democracy in the country is pure fantasy; the puppet president is a caricature of a man and willing US stooge with no support or mandate outside Kabul;

– lawlessness is rampant, war raging, violence increasing, the drug harvest and trafficking uncontrolled, corruption massive, Sharia law reinstated, and life overall intolerable in this free market fundamentalist paradise.

The Epicenter of the “War on Terror” in Iraq for Market Fundamentalist “Freedom”

Iraq has the misfortune of lying at the heart of the oil rich MIddle East where two-thirds of proved reserves are located and the greatest potential amount of them untapped for lack of development. Its potential remained frozen in time the result of intervening wars since 1980, economic sanctions until 2003, and now occupation and conflict for the most sought after real estate on earth and a no-brainer why it was targeted.

At its core, the plan was simple – a bold new experiment to erase a nation and create a new one by invasion, occupation and reconstruction for pillage. It would transform the nation into a fully privatized free market paradise with blank check public funds for profit but none for Iraqis for essential needs, a sustainable economy or critical local infrastructure.

The record of unfettered capitalism is consistent. It leaves mass human wreckage everywhere. In Iraq, it turned a bold new experiment into a horrific disaster:

– an inferno of uncontrolled violence throughout the country with new British O.R.B. independent polling data estimating over 1.2 million Iraqi deaths since March, 2003 on top of about 1.5 million deaths from the Gulf war and economic sanctions in place until the current war; the true toll may be even higher with huge uncounted numbers of daily violent and non-violent deaths that one estimate by Gideon Polya places at 3.9 million from 1990 to the present; no one knows for sure;

– the International Rescue Committee and UNHCR estimating four million displaced Iraqis, including those internally displaced, with 40,000 additional Iraqis fleeing their homes each month; these figures may be conservative with true numbers much higher;

– a near-total breakdown of essential services like electricity, drinking water, sanitation, medical care, education, security and food for many;

– mass unemployment and extreme poverty in what was once “the cradle of civilization” now erased for profit;

– an overall humanitarian disaster of epic proportions that continues to worsen with a July Oxfam International and NCCI network of aid organizations report of other grim findings:

– eight million Iraqis needing emergency aid – one-third of the population;

– four million without enough food;

– 70% of Iraqis with no adequate water supply;

– 80% lack adequate sanitation;

– 28% of children malnourished;

– underweight baby births tripled;

– 92% of Iraqi children with learning problems due to fear; and

– a mass exodus of around 80% of doctors, nurses, teaching staff at schools and hospitals and other vitally needed professionals.

In addition, local Iraqi industry collapsed, kidnapping for ransom is a growth industry, the country is a wasteland, its nation creation project bankrupt, and Iraq today more closely resembles hell than “the cradle of civilization.”

Iraq above all other nations today is a ghoulish testimony to the myth of free market magic, but it’s even worse than that. It proves Friedmanomics a crime against humanity and the man who led it a Nobel prize-winning fraud whose legacy is failure. His real time record is so horrific, it’s unrevealed in the mainstream to suppress it.

It’s endless foreign wars, mass killing and destruction, detentions and torture, contempt for international law, and total disregard for human rights and social justice everywhere. At home, it’s just as bad short of open warfare:

– democracy is a fantasy in a corporatist state placing profits over people;

– the prison-industrial complex is a growth industry;

– social decay is increasing as well as real human need;

– social justice, civil liberties and human rights are non-starters;

– an unprecedented wealth disparity exists in a rigid class society with growing poverty in the richest country in the world that’s also the least caring;

– government is the most secret, intrusive and repressive in our history;

– the rule of law is null and void;

– a cesspool of uncontrolled corruption prevails with no accountability;

– a de facto one party state exists with no checks and balances or separation of powers and a president claiming “unitary executive” powers to do as he pleases and does with impunity;

– suppression of all dissenting ideas and thoughts;

– an out-of-control military-industrial complex bent on world dominance; and

– a mainstream media serving as national thought control police gatekeepers glorifying wars, defiling democracy and supporting imperial conquest and repression.

This is the legacy of the man The Economist called “the most influential economist of the second half of the 20th century (and) possibly all of it.” Once anointed, well funded and nurtured, he could never admit he was wrong or apologize to millions of victims who proved his ideology was hokum. Never have so many suffered so much to reveal the flimflam of one man and the movement he led until his death. That’s the dark side of “capitalism and freedom” unmasked that his torrent of eulogies left out.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sjlendman.blogspot.com.

Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to The Steve Lendman News and Information Hour on WWW.TheMicroEffect.com this Saturday at noon US central time but moving to Mondays at the same time October 8.

Stephen Lendman is a frequent contributor to Global Research. Global Research Articles by Stephen Lendman

 


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The Great Iraq Swindle

August 28, 2007

The Great Iraq Swindle

How Bush Allowed an Army of For-Profit Contractors to Invade the U.S. Treasury

By Rolling Stone Magazine
Issue 1034

08/27/07 “Rolling Stone” — Aug 23, 2007 — – How is it done? How do you screw the taxpayer for millions, get away with it and then ride off into the sunset with one middle finger extended, the other wrapped around a chilled martini? Ask Earnest O. Robbins — he knows all about being a successful contractor in Iraq.

You start off as a well-connected bureaucrat: in this case, as an Air Force civil engineer, a post from which Robbins was responsible for overseeing 70,000 servicemen and contractors, with an annual budget of $8 billion. You serve with distinction for thirty-four years, becoming such a military all-star that the Air Force frequently sends you to the Hill to testify before Congress — until one day in the summer of 2003, when you retire to take a job as an executive for Parsons, a private construction company looking to do work in Iraq.

Now you can finally move out of your dull government housing on Bolling Air Force Base and get your wife that dream home you’ve been promising her all these years. The place on Park Street in Dunn Loring, Virginia, looks pretty good — four bedrooms, fireplace, garage, 2,900 square feet, a nice starter home in a high-end neighborhood full of spooks, think-tankers and ex-apparatchiks moved on to the nest-egg phase of their faceless careers. On October 20th, 2003, you close the deal for $775,000 and start living that private-sector good life.

A few months later, in March 2004, your company magically wins a contract from the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq to design and build the Baghdad Police College, a facility that’s supposed to house and train at least 4,000 police recruits. But two years and $72 million later, you deliver not a functioning police academy but one of the great engineering clusterfucks of all time, a practically useless pile of rubble so badly constructed that its walls and ceilings are literally caked in shit and piss, a result of subpar plumbing in the upper floors.

You’ve done such a terrible job, in fact, that when auditors from the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction visit the college in the summer of 2006, their report sounds like something out of one of the Saw movies: “We witnessed a light fixture so full of diluted urine and feces that it would not operate,” they write, adding that “the urine was so pervasive that it had permanently stained the ceiling tiles” and that “during our visit, a substance dripped from the ceiling onto an assessment team member’s shirt.” The final report helpfully includes a photo of a sloppy brown splotch on the outstretched arm of the unlucky auditor.

When Congress gets wind of the fias­co, a few members on the House Oversight Committee demand a hearing. To placate them, your company decides to send you to the Hill — after all, you’re a former Air Force major general who used to oversee this kind of contracting operation for the government. So you take your twenty-minute ride in from the suburbs, sit down before the learned gentlemen of the committee and promptly get asked by an irritatingly eager Maryland congressman named Chris Van Hollen how you managed to spend $72 million on a pile of shit.

You blink. Fuck if you know. “I have some conjecture, but that’s all it would be” is your deadpan answer.

The room twitters in amazement. It’s hard not to applaud the balls of a man who walks into Congress short $72 million in taxpayer money and offers to guess where it all might have gone.

Next thing you know, the congressman is asking you about your company’s compensation. Touchy subject — you’ve got a “cost-plus” contract, which means you’re guaranteed a base-line profit of three percent of your total costs on the deal. The more you spend, the more you make — and you certainly spent a hell of a lot. But before this milk-faced congressman can even think about suggesting that you give these millions back, you’ve got to cut him off. “So you won’t voluntarily look at this,” Van Hollen is mumbling, “and say, given what has happened in this project . . . ”

“No, sir, I will not,” you snap.

“. . . ‘We will return the profits.’ . . .”

“No, sir, I will not,” you repeat.

Your testimony over, you wait out the rest of the hearing, go home, take a bath in one of your four bathrooms, jump into bed with the little woman. . . . A year later, Iraq is still in flames, and your president’s administration is safely focused on reclaiming $485 million in aid money from a bunch of toothless black survivors of Hurricane Katrina. But the house you bought for $775K is now ­assessed at $929,974, and you’re sure as hell not giving it back to anyone.

“Yeah, I don’t know what I expected him to say,” Van Hollen says now about the way Robbins responded to being asked to give the money back. “It just shows the contempt they have for us, for the taxpayer, for everything.”

Operation Iraqi Freedom, it turns out, was never a war against Saddam ­Hussein’s Iraq. It was an invasion of the federal budget, and no occupying force in history has ever been this efficient. George W. Bush’s war in the Mesopotamian desert was an experiment of sorts, a crude first take at his vision of a fully privatized American government. In Iraq the lines between essential government services and for-profit enterprises have been blurred to the point of absurdity — to the point where wounded soldiers have to pay retail prices for fresh underwear, where modern-day chattel are imported from the Third World at slave wages to peel the potatoes we once assigned to grunts in KP, where private companies are guaranteed huge profits no matter how badly they fuck things up.

And just maybe, reviewing this appalling history of invoicing orgies and million-dollar boondoggles, it’s not so far-fetched to think that this is the way someone up there would like things run all over — not just in Iraq but in Iowa, too, with the state police working for Corrections Corporation of America, and DHL with the contract to deliver every Christmas card. And why not? What the Bush administration has created in Iraq is a sort of paradise of perverted capitalism, where revenues are forcibly extracted from the customer by the state, and obscene profits are handed out not by the market but by an unaccountable government bureauc­racy. This is the triumphant culmination of two centuries of flawed white-people thinking, a preposterous mix of authoritarian socialism and laissez-faire profit­eering, with all the worst aspects of both ideologies rolled up into one pointless, supremely idiotic military adventure — American men and women dying by the thousands, so that Karl Marx and Adam Smith can blow each other in a Middle Eastern glory hole.

It was an awful idea, perhaps the worst America has ever tried on foreign soil. But if you were in on it, it was great work while it lasted. Since time immemorial, the distribution of government largesse had followed a staid, paper-laden procedure in which the federal government would post the details of a contract in periodicals like Commerce Business Daily or, more ­recently, on the FedBizOpps Web site. Competitive bids were solicited and contracts were awarded in accordance with the labyrinthine print of the U.S. Code, a straightforward system that worked well enough before the Bush years that, as one lawyer puts it, you could “count the number of cases of criminal fraud on the fingers of one hand.”

There were exceptions to the rule, of course — emergencies that required immediate awards, contracts where there was only one available source of materials or labor, classified deals that involved national security. What no one knew at the beginning of the war was that the Bush administration had essentially decided to treat the entire Iraqi theater as an exception to the rules. All you had to do was get to Iraq and the game was on.

But getting there wasn’t easy. To travel to Iraq, would-be contractors needed permission from the Bush administration, which was far from blind in its appraisal of applicants. In a much-ballyhooed example of favoritism, the White House originally installed a clown named Jim O’Beirne at the relevant evaluation desk in the Department of Defense. O’Beirne proved to be a classic Bush villain, a moron’s moron who judged applicants not on their Arabic skills or their relevant expertise but on their Republican bona fides; he sent a twenty-four-year-old who had never worked in finance to manage the reopening of the Iraqi stock exchange, and appointed a recent graduate of an evangelical university for home-schooled kids who had no accounting experience to manage Iraq’s $13 billion budget. James K. Haveman, who had served as Michigan’s community-health director under a GOP governor, was put in charge of rehabilitating Iraq’s health-care system and decided that what this war-ravaged, malnourished, sanitation-deficient country most urgently needed was . . . an anti-smoking campaign.

Town-selectmen types like Haveman weren’t the only people who got passes to enter Iraq in the first few years. The administration also greenlighted brash, modern-day forty-niners like Scott Custer and Mike Battles, a pair of ex-Army officers and bottom-rank Republican pols (Battles had run for Congress in Rhode Island and had been a Fox News commentator) who had decided to form a security company called Custer Battles and make it big in Iraq. “Battles knew some people from his congres­sional run, and that’s how they got there,” says Alan Grayson, an attorney who led a whistle-blower lawsuit against the pair for defrauding the government.

Before coming to Iraq, Custer Battles hadn’t done even a million dollars in business. The company’s own Web site brags that Battles had to borrow cab fare from Jordan to Iraq and arrived in Baghdad with less than $500 in his pocket. But he had good timing, arriving just as a security contract for Baghdad International Airport was being “put up” for bid. The company site raves that Custer spent “three sleepless nights” penning an offer that impressed the CPA enough to hand the partners $2 million in cash, which Battles promptly stuffed into a duffel bag and drove to deposit in a Lebanese bank.

Custer Battles had lucked into a sort of Willy Wonka’s paradise for contractors, where a small pool of Republican-friendly businessmen would basically hang around the Green Zone waiting for a contracting agency to come up with a work order. In the early days of the war, the idea of “competition” was a farce, with deals handed out so quickly that there was no possibility of making rational or fairly priced estimates. According to those familiar with the process, contracting agencies would request phony “bids” from several contractors, even though the winner had been picked in advance. “The losers would play ball because they knew that eventually it would be their turn to be the winner,” says Grayson.

To make such deals legal, someone in the military would simply sign a piece of paper invoking an exception. “I know one guy whose business was buying ­weapons on the black market for contractors,” says Pratap Chatterjee, a writer who has spent months in the Mideast researching a forthcoming book on Iraq contracts. “It’s illegal — but he got military people to sign papers allowing him to do it.”

The system not only had the advantage of eliminating red tape in a war zone, it also encouraged the “entrepreneurship” of patriots like Custer and Battles, who went from bumming cab fare to doing $100 million in government contracts practically overnight. And what business they did! The bid that Custer claimed to have spent “three sleepless nights” putting together was later described by Col. Richard Ballard, then the inspector general of the Army, as looking “like something that you and I would write over a bottle of vodka, complete with all the spelling and syntax errors and annexes to be filled in later.” The two simply “presented it the next day and then got awarded about a $15 million contract.”

The deal charged Custer Battles with the responsibility to perform airport ­security for civilian flights. But there were never any civilian flights into Baghdad’s airport during the life of their contract, so the CPA gave them a job managing an airport checkpoint, which they failed miserably. They were also given scads of money to buy expensive X-ray equipment and set up an advanced canine bomb-sniffing system, but they never bought the equipment. As for the dog, Ballard reported, “I eventually saw one dog. The dog did not appear to be a certified, trained dog.” When the dog was brought to the checkpoint, he added, it would lie down and “refuse to sniff the vehicles” — as outstanding a metaphor for U.S. contractor performance in Iraq as has yet been produced.

Like most contractors, Custer Battles was on a cost-plus arrangement, which means its profits were guaranteed to rise with its spending. But according to testimony by officials and former employees, the partners also charged the government millions by making out phony invoices to shell companies they controlled. In another stroke of genius, they found a bunch of abandoned Iraqi Airways forklifts on airport property, repainted them to disguise the company markings and billed them to U.S. tax­payers as new equipment. Every time they scratched their asses, they earned; there was so much money around for contractors, officials literally used $100,000 wads of cash as toys. “Yes — $100 bills in plastic wrap,” Frank Willis, a former CPA official, acknowledged in Senate testimony about Custer Battles. “We played football with the plastic-wrapped bricks for a little while.”

The Custer Battles show only ended when the pair left a spreadsheet behind after a meeting with CPA officials — a spreadsheet that scrupulously detailed the pair’s phony invoicing. “It was the worst case of fraud I’ve ever seen, hands down,” says Grayson. “But it’s also got to be the first instance in history of a defendant leaving behind a spreadsheet full of evidence of the crime.”

But even being the clumsiest war profit­eers of all time was not enough to bring swift justice upon the heads of Mr. Custer and Mr. Battles — and this is where the story of America’s reconstruction effort gets really interesting. The Bush administration not only refused to prosecute the pair — it actually tried to stop a lawsuit filed against the contractors by whistle-blowers hoping to recover the stolen money. The administration argued that Custer Battles could not be found guilty of defrauding the U.S. government because the CPA was not part of the U.S. government. When the lawsuit went forward despite the administration’s objections, Custer and Battles mounted a defense that recalled Nuremberg and Lt. Calley, arguing that they could not be guilty of theft since it was done with the government’s approval.

The jury disagreed, finding Custer Battles guilty of ripping off taxpayers. But the verdict was set aside by T.S. Ellis III, a federal judge who cited the administration’s “the CPA is not us” argument. The very fact that private contractors, aided by the government itself, could evade conviction for what even Ellis, a Reagan-appointed judge, called “significant” evidence of fraud, says everything you need to know about the true nature of the war we are fighting in Iraq. Is it ­really possible to bilk American taxpayers for repainted forklifts stolen from Iraqi Airways and claim that you were just following orders? It is, when your commander in chief is George W. Bush. font size=”3″>There isn’t a brazen, two -bit, purse-snatching money caper you can think of that didn’t happen at least 10,000 times with your tax dollars in Iraq. At the very outset of the occupation, when L. Paul Bremer was installed as head of the CPA, one of his first brilliant ideas for managing the country was to have $12 billion in cash flown into Baghdad on huge wooden pallets and stored in palaces and government buildings. To pay contractors, he’d have agents go to the various stashes — a pile of $200 million in one of Saddam’s former palaces was watched by a single soldier, who left the key to the vault in a backpack on his desk when he went out to lunch — withdraw the money, then crisscross the country to pay the bills. When desperate auditors later tried to trace the paths of the money, one agent could account for only $6,306,836 of some $23 million he’d withdrawn. Bremer’s office “acknowledged not having any supporting documentation” for $25 million given to a different agent. A ministry that claimed to have paid 8,206 guards was able to document payouts to only 602. An agent who was told by auditors that he still owed $1,878,870 magically produced exactly that amount, which, as the auditors dryly noted, “suggests that the agent had a reserve of cash.”

In short, some $8.8 billion of the $12 billion proved impossible to find. “Who in their right mind would send 360 tons of cash into a war zone?” asked Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Oversight Committee. “But that’s exactly what our government did.”

Because contractors were paid on cost-plus arrangements, they had a powerful incentive to spend to the hilt. The undisputed master of milking the system is KBR, the former Halliburton subsidiary so ubiquitous in Iraq that soldiers even encounter its customer-survey sheets in outhouses. The company has been exposed by whistle-blowers in numerous Senate hearings for everything from double-charging taxpayers for $617,000 worth of sodas to overcharging the government 600 percent for fuel shipments. When things went wrong, KBR simply scrapped expensive gear: The company dumped 50,000 pounds of nails in the desert because they were too short, and left the Army no choice but to set fire to a supply truck that had a flat tire. “They did not have the proper wrench to change the tire,” an Iraq vet named Richard Murphy told investigators, “so the decision was made to torch the truck.”

In perhaps the ultimate example of military capitalism, KBR reportedly ran convoys of empty trucks back and forth across the insurgent-laden desert, pointlessly risking the lives of soldiers and drivers so the company could charge the taxpayer for its phantom deliveries. Truckers for KBR, knowing full well that the trips were bullshit, derisively referred to their cargo as “sailboat fuel.”

In Fallujah, where the company was paid based on how many soldiers used the base rec center, KBR supervisors ordered employees to juke the head count by taking an hourly tally of every soldier in the facility. “They were counting the same soldier five, six, seven times,” says Linda Warren, a former postal worker who was employed by KBR in Fallujah. “I was even directed to count every empty bottle of water left behind in the facility as though they were troops who had been there.”

Yet for all the money KBR charged taxpayers for the rec center, it didn’t provide much in the way of services to the soldiers engaged in the heaviest fighting of the war. When Warren ordered a karaoke machine, the company gave her a cardboard box stuffed with jumbled-up electronic components. “We had to borrow laptops from the troops to set up a music night,” says Warren, who had a son serving in Fallujah at the time. “These boys needed R&R more than anything, but the company wouldn’t spend a dime.” (KBR refused requests for an interview, but has denied that it inflated troop counts or committed other wrongdoing in Iraq.)

One of the most dependable methods for burning taxpayer funds was simply to do nothing. After securing a contract in Iraq, companies would mobilize their teams, rush them into the war zone and then wait, citing the security situation or delayed paperwork — all the while charging the government for housing, meals and other expenses. Last year, a government audit of twelve major contracts awarded to KBR, Parsons and other companies found that idle time often accounted for more than half of a contract’s total costs. In one deal awarded to KBR, the company’s “indirect” administrative costs were $52.7 million, and its direct costs — the costs associated with the ­actual job — were only $13.4 million.

Companies jacked up the costs even higher by hiring out layers of subcontractors to do their work for them. In some cases, each subcontractor had its own cost-plus arrangement. “We called those ‘cascading contracts,’ ” says Rep. Van Hollen. “Each subcontractor piles on a lot of costs, and eventually they would snowball into a huge payout. It was a green light for waste.”

In March 2004, Parsons — the firm represented by Earnest O. Robbins — was given nearly $1 million to build a fire station in Ainkawa, a small Christian community in one of the safest parts of Iraq. Parsons subcontracted the design to a British company called TPS Consult and the construction to a California firm called Innovative Technical Solutions Inc. ITSI, in turn, hired an Iraqi outfit called Zozik to do the actual labor.

A year and a half later, government ­auditors visited the site and found that the fire station was less than half finished. What little had been built was marred by serious design flaws, including concrete columns so shoddily constructed that they were riddled with holes that looked like “honeycombing.” But getting the fuck-ups fixed proved problematic. The auditors “made a request that was sent to the Army Corps, which delivered it to Parsons, who then asked ITSI, which asked TPS Consult to check on the work done by Zozik,” writes Chatterjee, who describes the mess in his forthcoming book, Baghdad Bonanza. The multiple layers of subcontractors made it almost impossible to resolve the issue — and every day the delays dragged on meant more money for the companies.

Sometimes the government simply handed out money to companies it made up out of thin air. In 2006, the Army Corps of Engineers found itself unable to award contracts by the September deadline imposed by Congress, meaning it would have to “de-obligate” the money and return it to the government. Rather than suffer that awful fate, the corps obligated $362 million — spread out over ninety-six different contracts — to “Dummy Vendor.” In their report on the mess, auditors noted that money to nobody “does not constitute proper obligations.”

But even obligating money to no one was better than what sometimes happened in Iraq: handing out U.S. funds to the enemy. Since the beginning of the war, rumors have abounded about contractors paying protection money to insurgents to avoid attacks. No less an authority than Ahmed Chalabi, the head of the Iraqi National Congress, claimed that such payoffs are a “significant source” of income for Al Qaeda. Moreover, when things go missing in Iraq — like bricks of $100 bills, or weapons, or trucks — it is a fair assumption that some of the wayward booty ends up in the wrong hands. In July, a federal audit found that 190,000 weapons are missing in Iraq — nearly one out of every three arms supplied by the United States. “These weapons almost certainly ended up on the black market, where they are repurchased by insurgents,” says Chatterjee. font size=”3″>For all the creative ways that contractors came up with to waste, mismanage and steal public money in Iraq, the standard remained good old-fashioned fucking up. Take the case of the Basra Children’s Hospital, a much-ballyhooed “do-gooder” project championed by Laura Bush and Condi Rice. This was exactly the sort of grandstanding, self-serving, indulgent and ultimately useless project that tended to get the go-ahead under reconstruction. Like the expensive telephone-based disease-notification database approved for use in hospitals without telephones, or the natural-gas-powered electricity turbines green­lighted for installation in a country without ready sources of natural gas, the Basra Children’s Hospital was a state-of-the-art medical facility set to be built in a town without safe drinking water. “Why build a hospital for kids, when the kids have no clean water?” said Rep. Jim Kolbe, a Republican from Arizona.

Bechtel was given $50 million to build the hospital — but a year later, with the price tag soaring to $169 million, the company was pulled off the project without a single bed being ready for use. The government was unfazed: Bechtel, explained USAID spokesman David Snider, was “under a ‘term contract,’ which means their job is over when their money ends.”

Their job is over when their money ends. When I call Snider to clarify this amazing statement, he declines to discuss the matter further. But if you look over the history of the Iraqi reconstruction ­effort, you will find versions of this excuse every­where. When Custer Battles was caught delivering broken trucks to the Army, a military official says the company told him, “We were only told we had to deliver the trucks. The contract doesn’t say they had to work.”

Such excuses speak to a monstrous vacuum of patriotism; it would be hard to imagine contractors being so blithely disinterested in results during World War II, where every wasted dollar might mean another American boy dead from gangrene in the Ardennes. But the rampant waste of money and resources also suggests a widespread contempt for the ostensible “purpose” of our presence in Iraq. Asked to cast a vote for the war effort, contractors responded by swiping everything they could get their hands on — and the administration’s acquiescence in their thievery suggests that it, too, saw making a buck as the true mission of the war. Two witnesses scheduled to testify before Congress against Custer Battles ultimately declined not only because they had received death threats but because they, too, were contractors and feared that they would be shut out of future government deals. To repeat: Witnesses were afraid to testify in an effort to ­recover government funds because they feared reprisal from the government.

The Bush administration’s lack of interest in recovering stolen funds is one of the great scandals of the war. The White House has failed to litigate a single case against a contractor under the False Claims Act and has not sued anybody for breach of contract. It even declined to join in a lawsuit filed by whistle-blowers who are accusing KBR of improper invoicing in Fallujah. “For all the Bush administration claims to do in the war against terrorism,” Grayson said in congressional testimony, “it is a no-show in the war against war profiteers.” In nearly five years of some of the worst graft and looting in American history, the administration has recovered less than $6 million.

What’s more, when anyone in the government tried to question what contractors were up to with taxpayer money, they were immediately blackballed and treated like an enemy. Take the case of Bunnatine “Bunny” Greenhouse, an outspoken and energetic woman of sixty-three who served as the chief procurement executive for the Army Corps of Engineers. In her position, Greenhouse was responsible for signing off on sole-source contracts — those awarded without competitive bids and thus most prone to corruption. Long before Iraq, she had begun to notice favoritism in the awarding of contracts to KBR, which was careful to recruit executives who had served in the military. “That was why I joined the corps: to stop this kind of clubby contracting,” she says.

A few weeks before the Iraq War ­started, Greenhouse was asked to sign off on the contract to restore Iraqi oil. The deal, she noticed, was suspicious on a number of fronts. For one thing, the company that had designed the project, KBR, was the same company that was being awarded the contract — a highly unusual and improper situation. For another, the corps wanted to award a massive “emergency” contract to KBR with no competition for up to five years, which Greenhouse thought was crazy. Who ever heard of a five-year emergency? After auditing the deal, the Pentagon found that KBR had overcharged the government $61 million for fuel. “The abuse related to contracts awarded to KBR,” Greenhouse testified before the Senate, “represents the most blatant and improper contract abuse I have witnessed during the course of my professional career.”

And how did her superiors in the Pentagon respond to the wrongdoing highlighted by their own chief procurement officer? First they gave KBR a waiver for the overbilling, blaming the problem on an Iraqi subcontractor. Then they dealt with Greenhouse by demoting her and cutting her salary, citing a negative performance review. The retaliation sent a clear message to any would-be whistle-blowers. “It puts a chill on you,” Greenhouse says. “People are scared stiff.”

They were scared stiff in Iraq, too, and for good reason. When civilian employees complained about looting or other improprieties, contractors sometimes threatened to throw them outside the gates of their bases — a life-threatening situation for any American. Robert Isakson, a former FBI agent who worked for Custer Battles, says that when he refused to go along with one scam involving a dummy company in Lebanon, he was detained by company security guards, who seized his ID badge and barred him from the base in Baghdad. He eventually had to make a hazardous, Papillon-esque journey across hostile Iraq to Jordan just to survive. (Custer Battles denies the charge.)

James Garrison, who worked at a KBR ice plant in Al Asad, recalls an incident when Indian employees threatened to go on strike: “They pulled a bus up, got them in there and said, ‘We’ll ship you outside the front gate if you want to go on strike.’ ” Not surprisingly, the workers changed their mind about a work stoppage.

You know the old adage: You don’t pay a hooker to spend the night, you pay her to leave in the morning. That maxim also applies to civilian workers in Iraq. A soldier is a citizen with rights, a man to be treated with honor and respect as a protector of us all; if one loses a limb, you’ve got to take care of him, in theory for his whole life. But a mercenary is just another piece of equipment you can bill to the taxpayer: If one is hurt on the job, you can just throw it away and buy another one. Today there are more civilians working for private contractors in Iraq than there are troops on the ground. The totality of the thievery in Iraq is such that even the honor of patriotic service has been stolen — we’ve replaced soldiers and heroes with disposable commodities, men we ­expected to give us a big bang for a buck and to never call us again.

Russell Skoug, who worked as a refrigeration technician for a contractor called Wolfpack, found that out the hard way. These days Skoug is back home in Diboll, Texas, and he doesn’t move around much; he considers it a big accomplishment if he can make it to his mailbox and back once a day. “I’m doing a lot if I can do that much,” he says, laughing a little.

A year ago, on September 11th, Skoug was working for Wolfpack at a base in Heet, Iraq. It was a convoy day — trucks braved the trip in and out of the base every third day — and Skoug had a generator he needed to fix. So he agreed to make a run to Al Asad. “If I would’ve realized that it was September 11th, I never would’ve went out,” he says. It would turn out to be the last run he would ever make in Iraq.

An Air Force vet, Skoug had come to Iraq as a civilian to repair refrigeration units and air conditioners for a KBR subcontractor called LSI. But when he arrived, he discovered that LSI had hired him to fix Humvees. “I didn’t know jack-squat about Humvees,” he says. “I could maybe change the oil, that was it.” (Asked about Skoug’s additional assignment, KBR boasted: “Part of the reason for our success is our ability to employ individuals with multiple capabilities.”)

Working with him on his crew were two other refrigeration technicians, neither of whom knew anything about fixing Humvees. Since Skoug and most of his co-workers had worked for KBR in Afghanistan, they were familiar with cost-plus contracting. The buzz around the base was that cost-plus was the reason LSI was hiring air-conditioning guys to work on unfamiliar military equipment at a cost to the taxpayer of $80,000 a year. “They was doing the same thing as KBR: just filling the body count,” says Skoug.

Thanks to low troop ­levels, all the military repair guys had been pressed into service to fight the war, so Skoug was forced to sit in the military storeroom on the base and study vehicle manuals that, as a civilian, he wasn’t allowed to check out of the building. That was how America fought terrorism in Iraq: It hired civilian air-conditioning techs to fix Humvees using the instruction manual while the real Humvee repairmen, earning a third of what the helpless civilians were paid, drove around in circles outside the wire waiting to get blown up by insurgents.

After much pleading and cajoling, Skoug managed to convince LSI to let him repair some refrigeration units. But it turned out that the company didn’t have any tools for the job. “They gave me a screwdriver and a Leatherman, and that’s it,” he recalls. “We didn’t even have freon gauges.” When Skoug managed to scrounge and cannibalize parts to get the job done, he impressed the executives at Wolfpack enough to hire him away from LSI for $10,000 a month. The job required Skoug, who had been given no formal security training, to travel regularly on dangerous convoys between bases. Wolfpack issued him an armored vehicle, a Yugoslav-made AK-47 and a handgun, and wished him luck.

For nearly a year, Skoug did the job, trying at each stop to overcome the hostility that many troops felt for civilian contractors who surfed the Internet and played pool and watched movies all day for big dollars while soldiers carrying seventy-pound packs of gear labored in huts with broken air conditioning the civilian techs couldn’t be bothered to repair. “They’d have the easiest thing to fix, and they wouldn’t do it,” Skoug says. “They’d write that they’d fixed it or that they just needed a part and then just leave it.” At Haditha Dam, Skoug witnessed a near-brawl after some Marines, trying to get some sleep after returning from patrol, couldn’t get a group of “KBR dudes” to turn down the television in a common area late at night.

Toward the end of Skoug’s stay, insurgent activity in his area increased to the point where the soldiers leading his convoys would often drive only at night and without lights. Skoug and his co-workers asked Wolfpack to provide them with night-vision goggles that cost as little as $1,000 a pair, but the company refused. “Their attitude was, we don’t need ’em and we’re not buying ’em,” says Thomas Lane, a Wolfpack employee who served as Skoug’s security man on the night of September 11th.

On that evening, the soldiers leading the convoy refused to let Skoug drive his own vehicle back to Heet without night-vision goggles. So a soldier took Skoug’s car, and Skoug was forced to be a passenger in a military vehicle. “We start out the front gate, and I find out that the truck that I was in was the frickin’ lead truck,” he recalls. “And I’m going, ‘Oh, great.’ ”

The bomb went off about a half-hour later, ripping through the truck floor and destroying four inches of Skoug’s left femur. “The windshield looked like there was a film on it,” he says. “I find out later it was a film — it was blood and meat and stuff all over the windshield on the inside.” Skoug was loaded into the back of a Humvee, his legs hanging out, and evacuated to an Army hospital in Germany before being airlifted back to the States.

When Skoug arrived, it was his wife, Linda, who had to handle all his affairs. She was the one who arranged for an air ambulance to take him to Houston, where she had persuaded an orthopedic hospital to admit him as a patient. She had to do this because almost right from the start, Wolfpack washed its hands of Russell Skoug. The insurance policy he had been given turned out to be useless — the company denied all coverage, beginning with a $72,597 bill for his stay in the German hospital. Despite assurances from Wolfpack chief Mark Atwood that he would cover all Skoug’s expenses, neither he nor the insurance company would pay for the $16,000 trip in the air ambulance. Nobody paid for the operations Skoug had in Houston — as many as three a day, every day for a month. And nobody paid for his subsequent rehab stint in another Houston hospital — despite the fact that military law requires every company contracting with the government to fully insure all of its employees in the war zone.

Now that he’s out, sitting at home on his couch with only partial use of his left hand and left leg, Skoug has a stack of unpaid medical bills almost three inches tall. As he speaks, he keeps fidgeting. He apologizes, explaining that he can’t sit still for very long. Why? Because Skoug can no longer afford pain medication. “I take ibuprofen sometimes,” he says, “but basically I just grin and bear it.”

And here’s where this story turns into something perfectly symbolic of everything that the war in Iraq stands for, a window into the soul of for-profit contractors who not only left behind a breathtaking legacy of fraud, waste and corruption but, through their calculating, greed-fueled hijacking of this generation’s broadest and most far-reaching foreign-policy initiative, pushed America into previously unknown realms of moral insanity. When I contact Mark Atwood and ask him to explain how he could watch one of his best employees get blown up and crippled for life, and then cut him loose with debts totaling well over half a million dollars, Atwood, safe in his office in Kuwait City and contentedly suckling at the taxpayer teat, decides that answering this one question is just too much to ask of poor old him.

“Right now,” Atwood says, “I just want some peace.”

When Linda Skoug petitioned Atwood for help, he refused, pointing out that he had kept his now-useless employee on the payroll for four whole months before firing him. “After I have put forth to help you all out,” he wrote in an e-mail, “you are going to get on me for your husband not having insurance.” He even implied that Skoug had brought the accident upon himself by allowing the Army to place him at the head of the convoy: “He was not even suppose [sic] to be in the lead vehicle to begin with.”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the story of the Iraq War in a nutshell. In the history of balls, the world has never seen anything like the private contractors George W. Bush summoned to serve in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Collectively, they are the final, polished result of 231 years of natural selection in the crucible of American capitalism: a bureaucrat class capable of stealing the same dollar twice — once from the taxpayer and once from a veteran in a wheelchair.

The explanations that contractors offer for all the missing dollars, all the myriad ways they looted the treasury and screwed guys like Russell Skoug, rank among the most diabolical, shameless, tongue-twisting bullshit in history. Going back over the various congres­sional hearings and trying to decipher the corporate responses to the mountains of thefts and fuck-ups is a thrilling intellectual journey, not unlike tackling the Pharaonic hieroglyphs or the mating chatter of colobus monkeys. Standing before Congress, contractors and the officials who are supposed to monitor them say things like “As long as we have the undefinitized contract issue that we have . . . we will continue to see the same kinds of sustension rates” (translation: We can’t get back any of the fucking money) and “The need for to-fitnessization was viewed as voluntary, and that was inaccurate as the general counsel to the Army observed in a June opinion” (translation: The contractor wasn’t aware that he was required to keep costs down) and “If we don’t know where we’re trying to go and don’t have measures, then we won’t know how much longer it’s going to take us to get there” (translation: There never was a plan in place, other than to let contractors rip off every dollar they could).

According to the most reliable ­estimates, we have doled out more than $500 billion for the war, as well as $44 billion for the Iraqi reconstruction effort. And what did America’s contractors give us for that money? They built big steaming shit piles, set brand-new trucks on fire, drove back and forth across the desert for no reason at all and dumped bags of nails in ditches. For the most part, nobody at home cared, because war on some level is always a waste. But what happened in Iraq went beyond inefficiency, beyond fraud even. This was about the business of government being corrupted by the profit motive to such an extraordinary degree that now we all have to wonder how we will ever be able to depend on the state to do its job in the future. If catastrophic failure is worth billions, where’s the incentive to deliver success? There’s no profit in patriotism, no cost-plus angle on common decency. Sixty years after America liberated Europe, those are just words, and words don’t pay the bills.

King Hemp: Part 2: Battle Lines: Natural, Or Synthetic…Life, Or Death?

August 1, 2007

By Rand Clifford

7/31/07

Hemp is about life, renewal and future, power to The People…most everything America’s embedded fascist regime is not about. Government of, by and for corporations (CorpoGov) has us hogtied.

Corporate profits rule the priorities in a globalizing plutocracy (CorpoWorld) where the bottom line is…power to the bottom line. Corporate grip just keeps increasing, squeezing the life out of the biosphere—CorpoWorld truly is making a killing!

CorpoWorld lives by fossil energy, death and decay sucked and scoured from Earth’s burial grounds. Fossil fuels have already so poisoned the biosphere that canned tuna, healthy old protein standby, needs health warnings on the label. Banks of many rivers and lakes are sprinkled with signs reading: DO NOT EAT THE FISH! Common at others are diagrams detailing parts of fish where mercury, PCBs, dioxins, furans, lead and arsenic collect; anatomical maps posted to warn of where CorpoWorld’s toxic fingerprints are concentrating…. Mercury is the premier toxin, pervasive and potent, now piling up around the top of virtually every ocean food chain. The primary mercury dispensers are coal-fired power plants—China is building new ones as fast as they can, expecting to continue bringing another new plant on-line every few days…. And so it goes in the world of hidden costs keeping cheap imports “cheap”. So goes the biocidal foundation of “cheapness”. Nothing synthetic is cheap when all the real costs are accounted for.

Ironically, the most imminent threat to the biosphere has been set in motion by one of fossil fuel’s few “non-toxic” components. We keep pumping carbon dioxide sequestered from ancient atmospheres into our own atmosphere, where it retards infrared radiation from escaping into space—a life-supporting phenomenon in natural moderation, life-threatening in excess. Moderation, a weaker virtue of mankind, has been obliterated by CorpoWorld’s fundamental creed: More!

And of course, “Better”—remember DuPont’s slogan: “Better Things for Better Living…Through Chemistry”? Formerly DuPont Munitions, the world’s leading manufacturer of gunpowder and dynamite, DuPont Chemical wanted to change their image from “the powder people” to “peace-time manufacturer”. Launched in 1935, the slogan persisted until the 1980s, when “through chemistry” was dropped. Word had gotten out that many of the chemicals for better living were accumulating in the biosphere with deadly effects, such as dioxin from pulp mills. Then in 1999, DuPont’s slogan became, “The Miracles of Science”. Over the years, DuPont has gone from a company dealing explosive death and destruction…to one dealing slower death and destruction, accent on the insidious. In a different way, DuPont’s major role in robbing The People of hemp was no less insidious.

Back to the 1930s; DuPont held the patents for making plastics and synthetic fibers from petroleum, and patents for that environmentally-infamous sulfuric acid process for making paper from wood pulp. New machinery to unleash industrial hemp’s cornucopia of superior natural products suddenly made The King a serious threat to profits of the petroleum and timber industries—real Titans in terms of economic and political dominance. William Randolph Hearst had seen the looming threat of a modernized hemp industry deflating his paper-making empire, and had already conjured cannabis hemp into “marijuana”, a Mexican slang term (or the Americanized, confusing and even slightly spookier? “marihuana”). Rattling his newspaper chains, Hearst had for years terrorized Americans with horrors of the “evil weed from Mexico”…truly a Greatest Hit in the art of propaganda (a certain “Stairway to Heaven” for the weed with roots in Hell!) Most people were familiar with the benefits of hemp, and cannabis, and were totally blindsided when DuPont and Hearst and their henchmen diddled Congress into strangling America’s hemp industry in 1937 with the illegal Marijuana Tax Act. Tax laws are for raising revenue, not for molding behavior. But….

1937…a year of remarkable infamy—in its annual report to stockholders, the DuPont company gloated over “radical changes” regarding the federal government’s conversion of taxation authority into a tool for forcing acceptance of “sudden new ideas of industrial and social reorganization”. Whoa!…quite a malignancy here—the voice of CorpoWorld proclaiming that after massive farm foreclosures of the depression, farmers were inhibiting America’s industrial progress. They should move to industrial cities so farmland could be consolidated into huge agribusinesses controlled by corporations—along with all other means of industrial production. Farming should be primarily for food…. These biocidal design were taken further when DuPont’s president, Lammont DuPont, proclaimed: “Synthetic plastics find application in fabricating a wide variety of articles, many of which in the past were made from natural products. The chemist has aided in conserving natural resources by developing synthetic products to supplement or wholly replace natural products.” You got it, Lammont, a world of synthetics…mother lode patents, petroleum alchemy, pollution, extinction, poverty and disease, deforestation, global warming; fascism, globalization, perpetual wars for dwindling resources; corporate centralization of all means of production—even global food supply. Concentration of money, of power, of control—power to the corporations, slavery to The People. Conversion of largely rural, agricultural America into an urban, industrial nation. Landfills brimming with immortal waste leaching death into our living systems, forever…. Amen.

Such is CorpoWorld’s bleak picture for living beings dependent upon a healthy biosphere—bleakest for those whose ultimate champion has been the same for over 6,000 years. Cannabis Hemp, The King. Consider globalization—unfettered corporations preying upon cheap labor, cashing in the biosphere’s life-support systems, spreading poverty and environmental disaster in the grossest pageant of greed in history, all powered by enormous consumption of fossil energy and armed with any necessary coercion, including war. Hemp is the ultimate antidote for the biocidal plague of globalization.

Whereas globalization is powered by the toxic waste of ancient life, hemp is powered by the sun. Hemp is the premier solar energy machine, something we sure would like to invent if nature hadn’t beat us to it (if hemp could be patented!) Few plants grow faster, are easier to grow, are better for the soil, and none are more useful. Land that has produced hemp exclusively for twenty years is in no way degraded. And no plant even comes close to turning sunlight, carbon dioxide, nutrients and water into so many products. No other plant can actually empower entire regional economies, the antithesis of globalization. Farmers could return to the status they deserve, growing the world’s most valuable crop and selling it to local markets that sell it to local processors that sell their products to locally-owned businesses that sell to local citizens that work in the hemp industry. All the wealth stays where it belongs—with the people that produce it. This could all be happening across America right now, if not for CorpGov.

Nothing is more environmentally-friendly than hemp. Any region with a hemp economy would remain a healthy place with clean air and wells, and waters with edible fish…any region not already smudged with the fingerprints of CorpoWorld. Plus, one of the few realistic ways we might mitigate global warming is to start pulling carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Current CorpoWorld strategies are kind of like raiding the bar on the Titanic; lots of talk about reducing emissions, talks to make us feel better, temporarily, but such damage has been done. Rising temperatures have already sent many systems into positive feedback, as in Siberia, where melting permafrost is releasing greenhouse gases including methane in quantities that dwarf global releases of carbon from fossil fuels. Oceans are peaking out in their ability to absorb carbon. Forests, the planet’s lungs, are huge absorbers of carbon. But actual forests are getting rare fast, soon to disappear if we don’t shut down globalization. And proposed reductions in emissions translate directly into CorpoWorld profit reductions…let’s not hold our breath on that. Anyway, just this month, China actually passed the U.S. in carbon emissions to become the world’s leader. China doesn’t even want to talk about reductions in carbon emissions.

Vast fields of hemp could replace lung capacity lost to deforestation—the possibilities are limited only by our vision. Hemp gulps carbon dioxide like no other sink, and though biomass hemp fuels and other utilizations would return carbon to the atmosphere, it would be carbon taken from our atmosphere, not carbon from atmospheres of millions of years ago as is stored in fossil fuels.

Hemp will never be donated to The People, only seized. Anything that spreads wealth from the top, down through The People, will never be imposed from the top, only forced from below. So the question is not how good hemp is—one of hemp’s problems is that it sounds too good to be true. Well it is true, and until married to modern American technology we’ll never know the genuine potential of hemp. As is in more ways every day, our biggest problem is CorpoGov. Will We The People find the wisdom, coordination and motivation to take back what CorpoGov stole from us through lies and manipulation seventy years ago…lies and manipulation still robust today?

In Part 3: Getting hemp back, what are our chances?

Rand Clifford is a novelist and essayist living in Spokane, Washington, with his wife Mary Ann, and their Chesapeake Bay retriever, Mink. His novels CASTLING and TIMING are published by StarChief Press: http://www.starchiefpress.com

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Anarchy made easy by Rich

July 30, 2007

Anarchy made easy by Rich


Rich


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A young and clever George Orwell knew the significance of a beautiful idea. He left his wife and career in England to fight in the Spanish Civil War in December of 1936, siding with the Anarchists who opposed Hitler-backed Nationalist, Francisco Franco. The upsurge of fascism so frightened the fresh faced idealist that he was willing to die to end it. Orwell recognized the elegance of the Spanish Anarchists’ radically different way of administrating their affairs. As a result of the war, his affection for the new society was inverse to his disgust for totalitarianism, a position that informed his future classics Animal Farm and the prescient 1984.

A society like the Anarchist collectives had never before or since existed, an entirely autonomous community divested of centralized rule. But how would a modern Anarchist system operate? Could there be roads, bridges or sanitation? Who would defend the masses from oppression? If it were sustainable back then would it be more so today?

The Principles of Anarchy: An Introduction

An Anarchist is against all categories of authority. The most obvious being government, but in a free society corporations and organized religion would also be relinquished. Modified versions of Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, etc. would be acceptable as long as they were personal expressions of faith and not a component of a larger hierarchic structure such as the Catholic Church. These institutions constrict the freedom of their adherents. It is impossible to move unencumbered while under the thumb of any system which asserts control from aloft. Today’s dominant attitudes of helplessness and disenchantment can be linked to this cultural feature. People elect Representatives to govern while citizens play no direct part in legislation. As bureaucracies grow (because that’s what Capitalism does – it expands) they monopolize the lion’s share of wealth and power. It is the goal of Anarchism to bridge this chasm and place people in charge of themselves.

Under Anarchism all property serves as a public resource, therefore it is false to assume nothing is owned in Anarchistic communities. On the contrary, the public owns everything. This is why it is believed, as proprietors, individuals are more inclined to be dutiful stewards of what belongs to them. A timeless example of this principle in action can be taken from the book of Nehemiah. In it Nehemiah must rebuild the walls of Jerusalem after a vicious attack. He assigns laborers to work on restoring, not the sections of the wall farthest from where they live, but sections of the wall nearest to each worker, ensuring a quick and meritorious result.

The story of Nehemiah and the wall of Jerusalem illustrates the underpinnings of the Anarchist’s view of human nature. Everyone is an egotist at heart, selfish and individualistic. But most people are social animals as well capable of compassion and sympathetic toward sufferers. This is why the laborers Nehemiah placed in charge of the construction of the wall cooperated with each other. They wanted protection. Anarchist collectives would work for the same reason. The members of the collective value nourishment, social relationships and creative expression, and would enter into a social contract without the supervision of government. Unfortunately, there is one fatal flaw in this story. To any self-respecting Anarchist Nehemiah must go.

There’s no business like no business

From the perspective of the Anarchist, Capitalism degrades human potential when greed becomes the engine of society. Profits justify all beastly pursuits: theft, murder, deceit. The only unpardonable sin is losing money. Cities, for example, serve as a surplus of available labor for corporations. The design of a city centers around the needs of businesses, clustering employees and their families around factories, providing the employees with food, clothing and entertainment along with modes of control. The aim of Anarchists would be to abolish these inhibiting conditions.

After wresting authority away from their corporate handlers the workers would go on to erect “syndicates”. Each syndicate would be devoted to a specific aspect of production necessary for the continuance of the community. One syndicate would specialize in chairs another in toilets and another in ceiling fans and so on and so forth. The workers in a particular syndicate would have dominion over the policies in their workplace. Each worker has an equal vote in the direction of their co-operative. For the day-to-day decisions required to run a complex syndicate workers would divide the collective into administrative branches through popular vote. At this point it is up to an individual to persuade their fellow workers of their education and skills in order to be placed in the proper administrative branch.

In keeping with the spirit of self-management the community also deserves a say in how their syndicates operate. That is why all the syndicates would be owned by everyone in a commune. A collection of syndicates is called a confederation. Just how workers determine the best methods of how their syndicate produces, the members of the confederation decide what is produced and how much.

It is important to keep in mind that this is the formula of choice when it comes to any Anarchist commune. Hospitals, schools and the military are all organized in this fashion. The reason for this is simple. When a syndicate’s course is no longer navigated by the workers, but by a tiny elite, it reverts back into a corporation.

A worthy aside, the word “labor” has a different meaning in a free society. Within the current system people compliment machines in an assembly line mentality, but self-facilitating communes would use technology to eliminate dangerous, tedious and undesirable work. The result would be an abundance of leisure time with a few hours of intermittent labor resembling art more than drudgery. Those assembly lines would run themselves leaving the workers to decorate the products at the end. And even in cases like the construction of roads and bridges, the hazardous aspects will be automated and workers, free from bosses and arbitrary deadlines, will take pride in what they produce because it will be for their benefit.

When workers manage themselves it is unlikely they would pollute their streams and sky or maintain an unsafe working environment. Today’s corporations have made these practices apart of their culture. Consumption and competition animates Capitalism but in tomorrow’s society producers and consumers will be one in the same.

Welcome to the neighborhood

For all the praise in reference to “the people” it could be wrongfully assumed Anarchists romanticize the masses. Untrue. Anarchists make no illusions about the gullibility of massive groups of people. It is the multitude who allowed the minority, the wealthy oligarchy of policy-makers, to enslave them in the first place. The answer is to transform the majority into well-educated cells.

Communes are structured in exactly this way. While they will communicate with other communes it is important to reach a balance so as not to become bloated with a large population. When free people are taught outside the restrictions of a repressive society it is difficult to imagine this being a problem. Work in an Anarchist society is voluntary so if someone wants to leave a syndicate, or even a commune, he or she may. The end result being a vibrant culture in a constant state of flux.

But even with each individual expressing him or herself freely without the deterrence of laws a few basic needs will remain. Health care will be just as vital as ever. Hospitals would function in the same way as syndicates. The doctors and nurses would organize, split into administrative branches based on their training and abilities, and be available for public use at any time. Doctors would visit the homes of the handicapped and the elderly who cannot care for themselves. The treatment people receive under this system, it could be said, would be superior because they would be cared for as patients and not customers. Additionally, those who entered into the health care profession would not do so for material gain but because of their passion for the work.

Some criminal element could be expected to dwell inside any commune. Plenty of crime would have been extinguished after the socialization of a community’s resources. Still a fraction of criminals would linger. Prisons have never been a popular solution and embodies everything Anarchists abhor about authoritarian rule. Instead the treatment of a criminal would be based upon their specific crime. He or she may be ostracized from the commune through popular vote or, depending upon the crime, given an opportunity to observe the destructive effects they had on the community. Popular opinion also would be used to pressure an injurious individual. A court system, constructed by the people of the commune and served in by everyone via lottery, would determine the guilt or innocence of an individual as well as his or her punishment. For those who need to be removed from society altogether, such as rapists, child molesters and sociopaths, asylums would be built in order to treat the offender without harm to others.

As for protection, a police force could be built if a commune desired. However, it would not patrol neighborhoods in the traditional sense, instead it would be an on-call service, much like a fire department, for anyone who wished to utilize it. And just like any other syndicate in the commune, the people hold sway over the policies of the police force. So if somebody abuses his or her power they can be immediately dismissed.

Anarchy made easy?

Because there have been so few examples of functional Anarchist societies in history these suggestions cannot be seen as gospel truth. Many of these ideas are taken either from noteworthy Anarchist thinkers or from the Spanish Civil War where they were put into practice. Freedom requires massive amounts of education on a large scale. It took the people of Spain seventy years to prepare for their revolution all the while overcoming illiteracy and a civil war, but with the internet and relative peace (at least here in the United States) the conditions are markedly better to annunciate the message. Isn’t it time to start thinking like George Orwell and recognize the significance of this beautiful idea?