Friday, July 23, 2010

The Valedictorian speaks out against schooling

Comment: The following speech was delivered by top of the class student Erica Goldson during the graduation ceremony at Coxsackie-Athens High School on June 25, 2010

Here I stand

There is a story of a young, but earnest Zen student who approached his teacher, and asked the Master, "If I work very hard and diligently, how long will it take for me to find Zen? The Master thought about this, then replied, "Ten years . ." 
The student then said, "But what if I work very, very hard and really apply myself to learn fast -- How long then?" Replied the Master, "Well, twenty years." "But, if I really, really work at it, how long then?" asked the student. "Thirty years," replied the Master. "But, I do not understand," said the disappointed student. "At each time that I say I will work harder, you say it will take me longer. Why do you say that?" 
Replied the Master, "When you have one eye on the goal, you only have one eye on the path."

This is the dilemma I've faced within the American education system. We are so focused on a goal, whether it be passing a test, or graduating as first in the class. However, in this way, we do not really learn. We do whatever it takes to achieve our original objective.

Some of you may be thinking, "Well, if you pass a test, or become valedictorian, didn't you learn something? Well, yes, you learned something, but not all that you could have. Perhaps, you only learned how to memorize names, places, and dates to later on forget in order to clear your mind for the next test. School is not all that it can be. Right now, it is a place for most people to determine that their goal is to get out as soon as possible.

I am now accomplishing that goal. I am graduating. I should look at this as a positive experience, especially being at the top of my class. However, in retrospect, I cannot say that I am any more intelligent than my peers. I can attest that I am only the best at doing what I am told and working the system. Yet, here I stand, and I am supposed to be proud that I have completed this period of indoctrination. I will leave in the fall to go on to the next phase expected of me, in order to receive a paper document that certifies that I am capable of work. But I contest that I am a human being, a thinker, an adventurer - not a worker. A worker is someone who is trapped within repetition - a slave of the system set up before him. But now, I have successfully shown that I was the best slave. I did what I was told to the extreme. While others sat in class and doodled to later become great artists, I sat in class to take notes and become a great test-taker. While others would come to class without their homework done because they were reading about an interest of theirs, I never missed an assignment. While others were creating music and writing lyrics, I decided to do extra credit, even though I never needed it. So, I wonder, why did I even want this position? Sure, I earned it, but what will come of it? When I leave educational institutionalism, will I be successful or forever lost? I have no clue about what I want to do with my life; I have no interests because I saw every subject of study as work, and I excelled at every subject just for the purpose of excelling, not learning. And quite frankly, now I'm scared.

John Taylor Gatto, a retired school teacher and activist critical of compulsory schooling, asserts, "We could encourage the best qualities of youthfulness - curiosity, adventure, resilience, the capacity for surprising insight simply by being more flexible about time, texts, and tests, by introducing kids into truly competent adults, and by giving each student what autonomy he or she needs in order to take a risk every now and then. But we don't do that." Between these cinderblock walls, we are all expected to be the same. We are trained to ace every standardized test, and those who deviate and see light through a different lens are worthless to the scheme of public education, and therefore viewed with contempt.

H. L. Mencken wrote in The American Mercury for April 1924 that the aim of public education is not "to fill the young of the species with knowledge and awaken their intelligence. ... Nothing could be further from the truth. The aim ... is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality. That is its aim in the United States."

Comment: The full passage reads: "The aim of public education is not to spread enlightenment at all; it is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to down dissent and originality. That is its aim in the United States, whatever pretensions of politicians, pedagogues other such mountebanks, and that is its aim everywhere else."

To illustrate this idea, doesn't it perturb you to learn about the idea of "critical thinking." Is there really such a thing as "uncritically thinking?" To think is to process information in order to form an opinion. But if we are not critical when processing this information, are we really thinking? Or are we mindlessly accepting other opinions as truth?

This was happening to me, and if it wasn't for the rare occurrence of an avant-garde tenth grade English teacher, Donna Bryan, who allowed me to open my mind and ask questions before accepting textbook doctrine, I would have been doomed. I am now enlightened, but my mind still feels disabled. I must retrain myself and constantly remember how insane this ostensibly sane place really is.

And now here I am in a world guided by fear, a world suppressing the uniqueness that lies inside each of us, a world where we can either acquiesce to the inhuman nonsense of corporatism and materialism or insist on change. We are not enlivened by an educational system that clandestinely sets us up for jobs that could be automated, for work that need not be done, for enslavement without fervency for meaningful achievement. We have no choices in life when money is our motivational force. Our motivational force ought to be passion, but this is lost from the moment we step into a system that trains us, rather than inspires us.

We are more than robotic bookshelves, conditioned to blurt out facts we were taught in school. We are all very special, every human on this planet is so special, so aren't we all deserving of something better, of using our minds for innovation, rather than memorization, for creativity, rather than futile activity, for rumination rather than stagnation? We are not here to get a degree, to then get a job, so we can consume industry-approved placation after placation. There is more, and more still.

The saddest part is that the majority of students don't have the opportunity to reflect as I did. The majority of students are put through the same brainwashing techniques in order to create a complacent labor force working in the interests of large corporations and secretive government, and worst of all, they are completely unaware of it. I will never be able to turn back these 18 years. I can't run away to another country with an education system meant to enlighten rather than condition. This part of my life is over, and I want to make sure that no other child will have his or her potential suppressed by powers meant to exploit and control. We are human beings. We are thinkers, dreamers, explorers, artists, writers, engineers. We are anything we want to be - but only if we have an educational system that supports us rather than holds us down. A tree can grow, but only if its roots are given a healthy foundation.

For those of you out there that must continue to sit in desks and yield to the authoritarian ideologies of instructors, do not be disheartened. You still have the opportunity to stand up, ask questions, be critical, and create your own perspective. Demand a setting that will provide you with intellectual capabilities that allow you to expand your mind instead of directing it. Demand that you be interested in class. Demand that the excuse, "You have to learn this for the test" is not good enough for you. Education is an excellent tool, if used properly, but focus more on learning rather than getting good grades.

For those of you that work within the system that I am condemning, I do not mean to insult; I intend to motivate. You have the power to change the incompetencies of this system. I know that you did not become a teacher or administrator to see your students bored. You cannot accept the authority of the governing bodies that tell you what to teach, how to teach it, and that you will be punished if you do not comply. Our potential is at stake.

For those of you that are now leaving this establishment, I say, do not forget what went on in these classrooms. Do not abandon those that come after you. We are the new future and we are not going to let tradition stand. We will break down the walls of corruption to let a garden of knowledge grow throughout America. Once educated properly, we will have the power to do anything, and best of all, we will only use that power for good, for we will be cultivated and wise. We will not accept anything at face value. We will ask questions, and we will demand truth.

So, here I stand. I am not standing here as valedictorian by myself. I was molded by my environment, by all of my peers who are sitting here watching me. I couldn't have accomplished this without all of you. It was all of you who truly made me the person I am today. It was all of you who were my competition, yet my backbone. In that way, we are all valedictorians.

I am now supposed to say farewell to this institution, those who maintain it, and those who stand with me and behind me, but I hope this farewell is more of a "see you later" when we are all working together to rear a pedagogic movement. But first, let's go get those pieces of paper that tell us that we're smart enough to do so!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

UN Chief Dilly-Dallying on Panel to Probe Israeli Killings?

Thalif Deen,
July 22, 2010

When the Security Council condemned the killings by Israeli military forces of nine Turkish civilians on a flotilla of ships carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza last May, it also released a presidential statement "taking note" of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s proposal for an international investigation of the incident.

But nearly two months later there are no signs of the proposed "prompt, impartial, credible and transparent investigation."

After an earlier devastating three-week Israeli military offensive against Gaza in late 2008 — which left more than 1,400 people dead and over 5,000 injured — the Human Rights Council in Geneva appointed a three member fact- finding mission, led by Judge Richard Goldstone.

That panel submitted a blistering report accusing both Israel and Hamas of committing war crimes.

Norman Finkelstein, a scholar and political scientist, told IPS that after publication of the Goldstone report, Israeli leaders complained that the report was making it difficult for Israel to launch another war.

"Unfortunately, Ban Ki-moon did not implement the recommendations of the Goldstone report [to pursue war crimes charges], but instead has prolonged the proceedings," he added. "Now he is procrastinating on the formation of a committee to investigate Israeli crimes on the Mavi Marmara [the Turkish ship attacked by Israeli military forces]."

The outcome is easily foreseeable, said Finkelstein, author of several books, including This Time We Went Too Far: Truth and Consequences of the Gaza Invasion.

Israel is now preparing for an attack on Lebanon, he warned. "It will be an assault next to which previous ones pale by comparison. And it is because Ban Ki-moon has been delinquent in his responsibilities that Israel will be able to launch this monstrous attack," he predicted.

When the death and destruction come in Lebanon, Ban should be held culpable, said Finkelstein.

"The secretary-general is obviously under pressure from the United States and other Western states not to conduct an international probe unless he has the concurrence of Israel," says one diplomatic source.

"If the Israelis do agree," he told IPS, "which I very much doubt, it will be a watered down investigation, not a ‘full investigation’ the Security Council agreed on."

Last month an Israeli-appointed self-investigating panel absolved the military forces of any criminality in the flotilla attack.

Richard Falk, professor of international law emeritus at Princeton University, told IPS: "It seems abundantly clear the Government of Israel is hostile to international criticisms, or to any effort to assess contested Israeli behavior by way of a U.N. initiative."

Falk said Israel refused to cooperate with the Goldstone fact-finding mission, and then defamed Goldstone and repudiated the report once released — despite scrupulous efforts to produce a balanced assessment of alleged violations of humanitarian law by both Israelis and Palestinians.

"The failure so far by Ban Ki Moon to appoint forthwith such an investigative panel contrasts with the response to a similar call in relation to investigate allegations of Sri Lanka’s criminality in suppressing the Tamil insurgency," said Falk, currently U.N. special rapporteur for the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

"It should be obvious that only an international panel has any prospect of achieving a comprehensive, objective, and credible assessment of the flotilla incident, which directly involves a highly contested use of Israeli state power to attack a humanitarian mission on international waters," he added.

Asked if the secretary-general is still awaiting "permission" from Israel before naming the panel of inquiry, U.N. spokesperson Martin Nesirky told reporters Monday that Ban is very actively pursuing his proposal. "As you know, he has met [Israeli] Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu and has spoken to him on the telephone. He has also spoken to the Foreign Minister of Turkey, [Ahmet] Davutoglu, about this matter. So he is pursuing this very vigorously, and clearly, he does want to push ahead with it. But, as we’ve also mentioned on a number of occasions, you do need those key elements in place before you can actually make it happen," said Nesirky.

Asked who is responsible for the foot-dragging, Turkey or Israel, he said: "Look, it’s not a question of foot dragging; it is a question of making sure that everybody is on the same page, to mix a metaphor."

"It’s not for me to characterize the positions of other countries, or of member states; they can do that themselves," Nesirky said. "All I would say is that the secretary-general is in frequent contact with the parties concerned, and would hope to have a positive response so that he can then push ahead with this commission sooner rather than later."

Naseer H. Aruri, chancellor professor (Emeritus) at the University of Massachusetts in Dartmouth, told IPS the proposed international commission "may never see the light of day if recent experience is to prove valid".

In October last year, Israel, the U.S. and western allies succeeded in "postponing" indefinitely the referral of the Goldstone report on the Israeli onslaught on Gaza to the U.N. Human Rights Council for discussion, he said.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that, behind the scenes, Palestinian officials had faced threats that Israel would retaliate by inflicting enormous damage on the beleaguered Palestinian economy.

The same accusations would have been launched against the Palestinian Authority had it not agreed to postpone the discussion of the Goldstone report in the U.N. Human Rights Council.

The flagrant violations of international law by Israel’s armed forces against civilians resulted in similar policy responses from U.S. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. "Both excused Israel, shielded Israel from international scrutiny, and permitted Israel to once again get away with impunity," said Aruri.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Made in China


The U.S. no longer makes stuff. In their wisdom, America’s politicians, academics and corporate leaders willingly relinquished our manufacturing base to the Third World. Our trade deficit remains huge, we’re trillions of dollars in debt, our infrastructure (roads, bridges, ports, aqueducts) is begging for repair, and our states and municipalities are going broke.

We’re fighting two expensive wars which, with each passing day, seem to make less and less sense to the public; the gap between rich and poor is widening; our health care system (even with the tepid reforms set to take effect in 2014) is spiraling out of control; and our public education system—once a source of national pride—is scandalously under-performing.

Pharmaceuticals remain one our few growth industries, but much of that growth is fueled by drug companies inventing new diseases (shyness, excessive blinking, etc.) so they can sell us remedies for them. Currently, they’re trying to convince American women that their natural sex drives are dysfunctional, hoping to create a market for female Viagra.

If these are our deficiencies, then what are our strengths? In what categories does America lead the world? Two areas immediately come to mind: childhood obesity and prison incarceration. Addressing our burgeoning jail population, Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) made this observation, “Either we are home to the most evil people on earth, or we are doing something very counterproductive.”

We also lead the world in drug use, lawsuits, graffiti, TV evangelists, junk food, gun ownership, cosmetic surgery, teenage pregnancies, energy consumption, and credit card debt.

Now let us consider China. The Chinese government’s response to the recent strikes in the auto manufacturing industry came as a surprise to veteran observers, particularly those with images of Tiananmen Square still fresh in their heads. Uncharacteristically, the government did not crack down when workers at Foshan Fengfu Autoparts, a Honda parts supplier in Guangdong province, went on strike in June, demanding higher wages.

Instead, the Chinese government stood back and watched. The government stood back and watched even as the dominoes fell, as Foshan Fengfu strike-fever spread throughout the factories of southern China’s manufacturing heartland, with tens of thousands of workers rising up and insisting on higher wages.

Liu Shanying, an analyst at Beijing’s Institute of Political Science, sees the government’s tolerance as significant. According to Shanying, China is looking to promote higher wages not only to close the gap between the rich and poor (which Beijing sees as a potential threat to the Communist Party), but to provide citizens with more cash to spend on domestic products.

Beijing wants Chinese workers to be able to afford more Chinese goods, reminiscent of Henry Ford’s innovative notion of providing workers with wages high enough to afford the Model Ts they were building.

“If incomes won’t go up, how can domestic demand be boosted?” Shanying asks. “Strikes for better pay are very much in line with the big trend of Chinese economic development.” Apparently, staggering, runaway credit card debt doesn’t strike them as a suitable “cure.”

Compare the Chinese view to the knee-jerk, anti-union sentiment found in the U.S. Instead of acknowledging the obvious advantages of a thriving middle-class—and recognizing organized labor’s role in sustaining that middle-class—there’s a scabrous, mean-spirited movement in this country, led by the Republican Party and corporate America, to attack unions.

Instead of rejoicing in the fact that firemen, policemen, teachers and other public employees are still earning enough to contribute to the economy, people are clamoring to cut their wages and benefits, looking to gut the public employee unions just as they gutted the UAW and the Steelworkers.

Our embrace of short-term fixes and our near pathological worship of the stock market—coupled with a quasi-libertarian, every-man-for-himself mentality—have clearly hurt us. When you assault the middle-class, you risk destroying the one constituency capable of maintaining the long-term viability of a robust economy.

The decline in union membership coincides with the decline of the economy. They are interconnected. Without the safety net of union wages, fewer people are able to afford domestic goods and services. The Chinese have figured that out. In fact, they were probably contemplating the United States when they did the math.

Departing U.N. official calls Ban's leadership 'deplorable' in 50-page memo

By Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 20, 2010; A14

UNITED NATIONS -- The outgoing chief of a U.N. office charged with combating corruption at the United Nations has issued a stinging rebuke of Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, accusing him of undermining her efforts and leading the global institution into an era of decline, according to a confidential end-of-assignment report.

The memo by Inga-Britt Ahlenius, a Swedish auditor who stepped down Friday as undersecretary general of the Office of Internal Oversight Services, represents an extraordinary personal attack on Ban from a senior U.N. official. The memo also marks a challenge to Ban's studiously cultivated image as a champion of accountability.

Shortly after taking office in 2007, Ban committed himself to restoring the United Nations' reputation, which had been sullied by revelations of corruption in the agency's oil-for-food program in Iraq.

But Ahlenius says that, rather than being an advocate for accountability, Ban, along with his top advisers, has systematically sought to undercut the independence of her office, initially by trying to set up a competing investigations unit under his control and then by thwarting her efforts to hire her own staff.

"Your actions are not only deplorable, but seriously reprehensible. . . . Your action is without precedent and in my opinion seriously embarrassing for yourself," Ahlenius wrote in the 50-page memo to Ban, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post. "I regret to say that the secretariat now is in a process of decay."

Ban's top advisers said that Ahlenius's memo constituted a deeply unbalanced account of their differences and that her criticism of Ban's stewardship of the United Nations was patently unfair.

"A look at his record shows that Secretary General Ban has provided genuine visionary leadership on important issues from climate change to development to women's empowerment. He has promoted the cause of gender balance in general as well as within the organization. He has led from the front on important political issues from Gaza to Haiti to Sudan," Ban's chief of staff, Vijay Nambiar, wrote in a response.

"It is regrettable to note," Nambiar added, "that many pertinent facts were overlooked or misrepresented" in Ahlenius's memo.

The departure of Ahlenius, 72, coincides with a period of crisis in the United Nations' internal investigations division. During the past two years, the world body has shed some of its top investigators. It has also failed to fill dozens of vacancies, including that of the chief of the investigations division in the Office of Internal Oversight Services. That post has been vacant since 2006, leaving a void in the United Nations' ability to police itself, diplomats say.

"We are disappointed with the recent performance of [the U.N.'s] investigations division," said Mark Kornblau, spokesman for the U.S. mission to the United Nations. "The coming change in . . . leadership is an opportunity to bring about a significant improvement in its performance to increase oversight and transparency throughout the organization."

The U.N. General Assembly established the Office of Internal Oversight Services in 1994 to conduct management audits of the United Nations' principal departments and to conduct investigations into corruption and misconduct. The founding resolution granted the office "operational independence" but placed it under the authority of the secretary general and made it dependent on the U.N. departments it policed for much of its funding and administrative support.

The dispute between Ahlenius and Ban has underscored some of the resulting tensions and exposed a protracted and acrimonious struggle for power over the course of U.N. investigations.

While Ahlenius cited Ban's move to set up a new investigations unit as a sign that he was seeking to undermine her independence, Nambiar said that it was intended to strengthen the United Nations' ability to fight corruption.

Ahlenius also clashed with Ban over her efforts to hire a former federal prosecutor, Robert Appleton, who headed the U.N. Procurement Task Force, a temporary white-collar crime unit that carried out aggressive investigations into corruption in U.N. peacekeeping missions from 2006 to last year. The unit's investigations led to an unprecedented number of misconduct findings by U.N. officials and prompted federal probes into corruption.

Ban's advisers said they blocked Appleton's appointment on the grounds that female candidates had not been properly considered and said that the final selection should have been made by Ban, not Ahlenius.

"The secretary general fully recognizes the operational independence of OIOS," Nambiar said. But that, he said, "does not excuse her from applying the standard rules of recruitment."

Saturday, July 17, 2010

All the Shah’s Men

Stephen Kinzer

Reviewer: Martyn Drakard

Why the talk about attacking Iran, asks Stephen Kinzer in “All the Shah’s Men.” (Kinzer recently published A Thousand Hills, an account of post-genocide Rwanda and an interview with Paul Kagame).

Well, current political thinking is that Iran must not be allowed to become a nuclear power;
it is a threat to Israel;
it’s the centre of an emerging “Shiite crescent” that could destabilize the Middle East;
Iran supports radical groups in nearby countries (think of Hezbollah, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad);
it is helping kill US soldiers in Iraq;
it has ordered terror attacks in foreign countries, and its people are oppressed and need Western governments to liberate them.

Isn’t the real reason that no country ever acts in Iran without thinking about the huge oil reserves?

Kinzer argues that the idea of bombing Iran into democracy sounds increasingly absurd after what has happened in Iraq.

In Iran’s case, there is a special irony: Iranians know, as many Westerners do not, that democracy was taking root in Iran when the US intervened in 1953.

That was the year the CIA staged their first overthrow of a foreign government, and deposed Mohammad Mossadegh, who had served as prime minister for 26 months, had respected basic freedoms, and during his years of subsequent “imprisonment” had carried out humanitarian projects, and had even featured as Time magazine’s “man of the year” in 1951; and thereby the US lost the respect of a people who till then had been their friends.
Matters reached the peak with the ayatollahs after 1979 when the violent anti-Americanism puzzled and shocked Americans who’d not known about the CIA’s Operation Ajax nearly 30 years before.

The US political class, says Kinzer, never recovered from the blow of losing the Shah, and the humiliation of the hostage crisis that followed, and until Obama’s overtures, seemed intent on taking long-delayed revenge.
Meanwhile, Iran has gotten stronger than ever, with a freer hand to repress civil society in the name of national security.

Is it reasonable, he asks, to expect Iran to abandon its nuclear programme as long as its main regional adversary, Israel, is nuclear-armed?

Besides, in the 1970’s the US actually proposed a nuclear programme to Iran when the Shah was still in power.
So, why not now?
Can Iranians be blamed for suspecting that the Western powers want to turn their country into something between an ally and a vassal, building bases on its soil, extracting its oil and controlling its marketing and production and standing by as world cartel companies keep much of the profits?

Isn’t Iran another example of a country with a glorious past - Cyrus, Xerxes and Darius, and the poets and thinkers over the centuries who have made immeasurable contributions to world culture - that has become a pawn in international geo-politics, to be pushed around by the super-power of the day?
Kinzer aptly prefaces the book with the words of Harry Truman: There’s nothing new in the world except the history you don’t know.

Pearl Harbor

A president faced an economic depression that wouldn't go away, and a deeply disgruntled electorate. Not for the first or last time, the option of entering a war seemed politically appealing. How badly did FDR want a war and to what lengths was he willing to go to get one? The questions have vexed historians for many decades.

Pearl Harbor: The Seeds and Fruits of Infamy by Percy Greaves, Jr. (1906-1984), published for the first time in 2010, blows the top off a 70-year cover-up, reporting for the first time on long-suppressed interviews, documents, and corroborated evidence.

The first section (the seeds) provides a detailed history of pre-war U.S.-Japan relations, thoroughly documenting the sources of rising tension. The second section (the fruits) shows that the attack on December 7, 1941 was neither unexpected nor unprovoked. Nor was it the reason that Franklin Roosevelt declared a war that resulted in massive human slaughter. Instead, in exhaustive detail, this book establishes that Pearl Harbor was permitted as a public relations measure to rally the public, shifting the blame from the White House, where it belonged, to the men on the ground who were unprepared for the attack.

For 70 years, Greaves's documents have been the primary source of revisionist scholarship on Pearl Harbor. These documents were prepared under his leadership as main counsel for the Republican minority on the Joint Congressional Committee that investigated Pearl Harbor from 1945 to 1946.

More than any other person, he was qualified to speak on this subject. He possessed encyclopedic knowledge and had access to research available to no one else. He conducted in-person, detailed, comprehensive interviews with all the main players at Pearl Harbor and many people in the security apparatus. The contents of these interviews are further corroborated by military records.

However, for many reasons, the documents were not published. He continued to work on this book for many years before his death in 1984. At that point, his wife Bettina Bien Greaves took up the project. The result is absolutely astonishing.

Much of Greaves’s research has never appeared in print—effectively suppressed for 70 years. Even the censored minority report did not include it all. But at long last, the fullness of this report is revealed. The result is this monumental book, completed and edited by Bettina Greaves and published by the Mises Institute. Pearl Harbor is a 937-page indictment of the Roosevelt administration, one that finally and devastatingly rips the lid off a case that has been shrouded in mystery for generations.

Because of the astonishing source material and thoroughness of the argument, Robert Stinnett, the leading authority on the topic and the author of Day of Deceit, calls Greaves's book "explosive!"

Indeed, it is. The author writes in a guarded tone, carefully backing up every statement with massive evidence, provided in a level of depth never before seen. The prevailing consensus is that the fault for Pearl Harbor attack belongs to General Walter Short and Admiral Husband Kimmel, while the major political and military figures in Washington should be completely exonerated.

Greaves turns this conventional wisdom on its head. "It is now apparent also that the president himself, even before the attack, had intended to order the U.S. armed forces to make a pre-emptive strike against the Japanese in the southwest Pacific in order to assist the British in southeast Asia. But the Japanese 'jumped the gun' on him by bombing Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941."

Greaves's conclusion is dramatic: "It must be said also that the evidence revealed in the course of the several investigations leads to the conclusion that the ultimate responsibility for the catastrophe inflicted on the U.S. Fleet at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, must rest on the shoulders of President Roosevelt.... It was thanks to Roosevelt’s decisions and actions that an unwarned, ill-equipped, and poorly prepared Fleet remained stationed far from the shores of the continental United States, at a base recognized by his military advisers as indefensible and vulnerable to attack.... Thus the attack on Pearl Harbor became FDR’s excuse, not his reason, for calling for the United States’s entry into World War II."

Greaves provides comprehensive coverage here on the history of U.S. and Japanese relations, the actions of the Roosevelt administration, the attack and the response on the ground, the investigations and cover-ups that began almost immediately and continue to this day. Today the "back-door-to-the-war" theory has become mainstream historiography, even if those who admit it say that the lies were necessary for the good of the country. That is a difficult opinion to maintain in the face of the fullness of the evidence against FDR.

It is a remarkable fact that Greaves, who later became a close confidant of Mises himself throughout the 1950s and 1960s, and who is known mainly for his monetary work, has left us an amazing revelation 70 years after the fact and 26 years after his own death. It is proof that the wheels of justice can grind slowly but also very finely.

“Percy Greaves was chief of the minority (Republican) research staff of the (1945-1946) Joint Congressional Committee to Investigate the Pearl Harbor Attack. He attended all its hearings, interviewed many Army, Navy, and Washington principals involved in the attack and in the investigations. He researched diplomatic documents, studied reports and accounts of the event published during the years that followed. This book is not about the attack itself. It is about never before presented pre-attack and post-attack events, from the Washington point of view. Without name-calling, innuendo, or slander, Greaves simply presents the pertinent, significant and relevant facts which led the Japanese to attack and the political administration to want to cover-up its involvement.” - Bettina Bien Greaves

Friday, July 9, 2010

The General and the Bomber

July 9 - 11, 2010

"They Don't See Children; They Don't See Anybody"


Both took center stage in America recently. The audiences hung on the general’s every word, and dismissed every word of the “blood thirsty” bomber. Yet it was New York Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad, and not General David H. Petraeus, who confronted America with reality. The four-star general’s polished uniform, chest full of war medals, and reassuring tone led his eager Senate confirmation hearing committee members, and hailing mainstream media, to remain happily oblivious to the reality of America’s war crimes. Conversely, the bomber spoke truth to America about its transgressions, which, if not ended, will lead people like him to continue “attacking the U.S.”

“One has to understand where I’m coming from,” the bomber said, in explaining why he put a bomb in the center of Times Square at 6:30 p.m. on a Saturday night in May—to create a maximum number of deaths and injuries and destruction. A repeatedly interrupting Federal District Court Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum tried to discredit where he was “coming from.” “You wanted to injure a lot of people?,” she asked. He said that he saw himself as “a Muslim soldier,” and that “United States and NATO forces had attacked Muslim lands.” “But not the people who were walking in Times Square that night,” she countered. And with judicial emphasis, she added, “Did you look around to see who they were?” “Well, the people select the government; we consider them all the same,” he said. She interrupted with, “Including the children?,” intending to expose his inhumanity.

The bomber turned Judge Cedarbaum’s question around to expose the inhuman reality of US foreign policy: “Well, the drone hits Afghanistan and Iraq,” he said. “They don’t see children; they don’t see anybody. They kill women, children. They kill everybody,” he continued. “It’s a war. And in war, they kill people. They’re killing all Muslims.” (“A Guilty Plea In Plot to Bomb Times Square,” By BenjaminWeiser, The New York Times, June 22, 2010)

United States “terrorism experts” have tried to dismiss the bomber’s reality. They reportedly say that “his responses to [Judge] Cedarbaum’s questions, on topics including his family and his educational background, highlighted . . . the danger of so-called homegrown militants, who evolve from seemingly benign backgrounds to become intoxicated by international extremist groups.” (“N.Y. bomb defendant pleads guilty,” By Tina Susman, Los Angeles Times, June 21, 2010) The so-called “terrorism experts” themselves are assumed to “evolve from . . . benign” American “backgrounds,” and have themselves become “intoxicated” by internal ethnocentric propaganda that glorifies American exceptionalism and rightness, which renders them oblivious to the reality of so-called “extremist groups.” The “terrorism experts’” job is to justify U.S. imperialism by discrediting “extremists” who dare to oppose “the greatest nation in the world.”

The bomber and his reality are difficult to dismiss. Mainstream media reports themselves describe his testimony before Judge Cedarbaum as “straightforward,” “clear, matter-of-fact,” “ polite but firm,”—and quote him as saying that he himself had “a wife and two beautiful kids,” His warning needs to be heard and heeded: “Until the hour the U.S. pulls its forces from Iraq and Afghanistan, and stops drone strikes in Somalia and Yemen and in Pakistan and stops the occupation of Muslim lands, and stops killing the Muslims, and stops reporting the Muslims to its government, we will be attacking U.S. [italics added], and I plead guilty to that.” (The New York Times, June 22, 2010)

Where the bomber is “coming from” puts the boot of terrorism on America’s foot. “I am part of the answer to the U.S. terrorizing the Muslim nations and the Muslim people,” he said, “and, on behalf of that, I’m avenging the attacks.” He put his finger on American foreign policy’s soft immoral underbelly: “Living in the United States, the Americans only care about their own people, but they don’t care about people elsewhere in the world when they die. Similarly,” he continued, “in the Gaza Strip, somebody has to go and live with the family whose house is bulldozed by the Israeli bulldozer.” (“Excerpts of statements made by Times Square bombing suspect Faisal Shahzad,” The Associated Press, Los Angeles Times, June 21, 2010)

United States foreign policy has resulted in the deaths and injuries and displacement and hardship of millions of human beings, “including the children”—in our name! Well over a million Iraqi civilians have been killed in the Bush administration’s pre-emptive, falsely-based, illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq. A deadly civil war between the Shiites and the Sunnis, triggered by the criminal war, is still raging. Some four million Iraqi citizens have been uprooted. The country’s life-sustaining infrastructure has been and still is decimated.

“Including the children?” Especially the children. Reports have revealed that the U.S.’s criminal war has produced “an estimated 740,000 widows in Iraq,” whose “presence on city streets begging for food or as potential recruits by insurgents [italics added] has become a vexing symbol of the breakdown of Iraq’s self-sufficiency.” (“Study: Iraqi widows struggle in new roles as breadwinners,” Baghdad, Iraq,, Mar. 7, 2009; “Iraq’s War Widows Face Dire Need with Little Aid,” By Timothy Williams, The New York Times, Feb. 22, 2009)

A similar story, one that includes the children, continues to unfold in Afghanistan and Pakistan. United States military drones and bombers’ air strikes have indiscriminately killed children and women and other civilian villagers—at their weddings, in their homes, and in their centers of thoroughfare. These war crimes are repeatedly covered up by the U. S. military, until the truth is finally uncovered—that the people killed were not “Taliban” and “insurgents”, as the U.S. military command declared, but civilians. (See Alberts, “First the Torture of Truth, Counterpunch, June 10, 2009) Their relatives may then be reimbursed “$2,000 for family members killed and $1,000 for those injured.” (The Boston Globe May 13, 2009) The amounts reveal just how little value and meaning Afghan lives have for their American “protectors,” and how much faith there is in the American dollar to cover imperialistic tracks and buy off grief and anger.

Now new United States military “rules of engagement” have been created supposedly to protect civilians—as their deaths and injuries obviously undermine U.S. attempts to “win the minds and hearts” of the Afghanistan people. Most Afghan “minds and hearts” do not want any foreign military boots on their soil for one minute never mind nine years. And most reject the corrupt U.S.-installed government of President Hamid Karzai.

In Pakistan, there is more Iraqi-like United States foreign policy handiwork. In addition to the deadly indiscriminate drone strikes, the U.S.- pressured Pakistani military’s assaults against Taliban havens have created some three million internal refugees, especially children. A Boston Globe feature, called “Children in Pakistan,” began, “According to Pakistani authorities and the UN, at least 3 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) have now been registered as a result of the recent fighting and on-going military operations against the Taliban in Pakistan’s Swat, Buner, and Lower Dir districts.” The story continues, “Refugee families are often made up of only women and children, the older men staying behind to care for their homes and crops.” The story’s bottom line: “UN humanitarian chief John Holmes issued a desperate appeal for hundreds of millions of dollars to help those who have fled the war, warning that the U.N. can only sustain its current aid efforts for one month.” (June 10, 2009)

The United States military is now preparing a campaign to invade Kandahar, the spiritual home of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and drive the insurgents out. The reported aim is “to expand security throughout Kandahar,” and introduce “Western development aid and Afghan government services to win the loyalty of local Afghans.” (“McChrystal: Kandahar Campaign Slows as Taliban Ramps Up Intimidation,” By David Wood, Chief Military Correspondent,, June 10, 2010) It would appear that countless more civilians will be killed and injured and uprooted and their life-sustaining substance destroyed in this latest U.S. attempt to “win minds and hearts” by force—rather than discovering and being guided by what is on those minds and in those hearts.

The bomber also stated the importance of putting oneself in the shoes of a family in the Gaza Strip, “whose home is bulldozed by the Israeli bulldozer.” United States-armed and –backed Israel is reported to have killed some 1400 Palestinians, “including several hundred children,” and “damaged or destroyed more than 20,000 houses” in its 23-day indiscriminate bombardment of the Gaza Strip in December of 2008. The report specifically includes the children: “The long history of Israeli assaults on Gaza, and the two-and-a-half-year-long blockade of the territory after Hamas took power, has exacted a toll on almost every aspect of children’s lives: schooling, leisure time, what they eat, what they wear, how they see the future.” (“Childhood in ruins,” by Harriet Sherwood, foreign editor,, Dec. 17, 2009)

Almost 1.5 million people living in the Gaza Strip are imprisoned by Israel’s brutal illegal economic blockade, including 750,000 children. The Institute for Middle East Understanding reports that “10 percent of the children under five are stunted,” that “more than 10 percent of children are chronically malnourished, according to the World Health Organization,” and that “61 percent of households face food insecurity, defined as inadequate physical, social or economic access to food, and rely on assistance from aid agencies.” (“Humanitarian Crisis in the Gaza Strip, shtml, June 2, 22010)

The Palestinians in the West Bank see their homes and land continually taken by predatory Israeli settlement policies. The result is the gradual shrinking of a viable two-state solution for the Palestinian people. The criminality of Israel, violating the Golden Rule by doing unto the Palestinian people what was done to their own Jewish ancestors—in the name of security, and with the blessing of our United States government.

“Including the children?” Where are the mass graves of over 500,000 Iraqi children, under the age of five, who died as a result of the United States-controlled UN- imposed complete economic sanctions against Iraq from 1991 to 1998? In an August 12, 1999 report called, “Iraq surveys show ‘humanitarian emergency,’’ UNICEF Executive Director Carol “Bellamy noted that if the substantial reduction in child mortality throughout Iraq during the 1980s had continued through the 1990s, there would have been half a million fewer deaths of children under five in the country as a whole during the eight year period 1991 to 1998.” (

Who should we listen to? The general or the bomber? The general promises to be America’s deliverer: to save America, not from its sins, but from recognizing them, which recognition is the necessary condition for repentance and reparations. Newly selected as U.S. commander in Afghanistan, the general promises victory: “We are in this to win,” he said at “the ceremony, at NATO headquarters in central Kabul . . . dressed in camouflage fatigues.” (“Petraeus Takes Command of Afghan War, Pleading Effort ‘to Win,’” By Dexter Filkins, The New York Times, July 5, 2010)

The New York Times would have us listen to the general. The Times heralded the general as being victorious in Iraq, in a story called, “Petraeus Is Now Taking Control of a ‘Tougher Fight,’” which began by asserting that his 2007 surge of 30,000 more U.S. troops “helped pull Iraq back from the brink of catastrophe.” (By Alissa J. Rubin and Dexter Filkins, June 23, 2010) The general’s numerous war medals represent U.S. imperialism not victory. And certain of his campaign war medals represent the deaths and injuries of countless Iraqi civilians, including children. The catastrophe is the Iraqi war itself!

The general told the Senate confirmation hearing committee, “I want to assure the mothers and fathers of those fighting in Afghanistan that I see a moral imperative [italics added] to bring all assets to bear to protect our men and women in uniform.” (“Petraeus Says He’ll Review Curbs on U.S. Strikes and Artillery in Afghanistan,” By Elisabeth Bumiller, The New York Times, June 30, 2010) He was confirmed by the full Senate 99-0. His “moral imperative” reinforced his listeners’ willed obliviousness to the immorality of the unjust U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The general demonstrated the power to camouflage U.S. war crimes as a “moral imperative.”

The real moral imperative is for American mothers and fathers to stop losing their sons and daughters to the immoral wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The real moral imperative is about American mothers and fathers, and their sons and daughters, having jobs and security here, rather than seeing their nation’s resources and loved ones sacrificed on the corporate and political altars of those for whom war is profitable and power-maintaining. The Obama administration’s selection of the general to “win” immoral wars is as protective of us Americans as the government’s (Republicans and Democrats) demonstrated inability to protect our country from BP’s greed and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Jesus taught, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” (Luke 6: 31) This universally proclaimed Golden Rule, on which justice and peace depend, requires self-awareness and awareness of other people’s reality.

The general and the bomber. One reveals reality. The other camouflages it.

Rev. William E. Alberts, Ph.D. is a hospital chaplain and a diplomate in the College of Pastoral Supervision and Psychotherapy. Both a Unitarian Universalist and a United Methodist minister, he has written research reports, essays and articles on racism, war, politics and religion. He can be reached at

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Seoul Can Defend Itself

Doug Bandow


Any normal country would be embarrassed. South Korea has the world’s thirteenth-largest economy, is a member of the G-20 and has pretensions of being a global power. But the government of the Republic of Korea just reaffirmed its helpless dependence on the American military.

Has no one in Seoul any shame?

South Korea has about forty times the GDP and twice the population of the North. On broad measures of military power, the matchup mimics the relative strengths of the United States and Mexico. The world would react with derision if Washington begged other nations for military assistance. Yet the ROK remains dependent on an American security guarantee and troop deployments.

That’s not all, however. Since the Korean War, the U.S. military retains operational control (OPCON) of both militaries in any renewed conflict. The policy made sense sixty years ago. The ROK was a national wreck, with ill-trained troops and uncertain officers. An aggressive and disagreeable semi-dictator continually threatened to start new wars and continue old ones. Both nations benefited from American military control.

That was decades ago, however. The ROK has become a leading industrial state and developed a stable democracy. Seoul has raced past its northern antagonist economically, established relations with its old Cold War nemeses China and Russia, and staked a place among the world’s top powers.

It is fully capable of defending itself. And it certainly is capable of controlling its own troops in any war.

OPCON long has been an irritant to South Korean nationalists. Only in 1994 was peacetime operational control passed back to the ROK. In 2007 the two governments agreed that wartime OPCON would go to Seoul in 2012, allowing a five-year transition.

The decision was roundly criticized, especially by South Koreans who worried that Washington might feel less inclined to subsidize the ROK’s defense if U.S. troops could end up under Seoul’s command. But America’s military commitment grows out of the mutual-defense treaty, not OPCON. If South Koreans perceive that commitment to be unsure, it is because the security environment has changed dramatically since the treaty was inked in 1953.

Since foreign policy should retain at least a vague connection to global realities, a change in America’s security guarantee is long overdue. The threats facing the South and the South’s capabilities in responding are far different than they once were. Seoul’s National Intelligence Service reportedly has admitted that even without U.S. support, the South’s military is stronger than that of the North. Continuing dependency makes no sense.

But the relevance of the security guarantee is irrelevant to OPCON. Even if the alliance still made geopolitical sense, American command control would not.

The more substantive yet more curious criticism was that the South Korean military wasn’t ready. It makes one wonder what the ROK armed forces have been up to all these years. Even given five years to prepare for the transfer, the South would still be helpless. What is wrong in Seoul?

In fact, the issue is not capability. Larry Niksch, formerly of the Congressional Research Service, noted at a conference earlier this year:

Since the [Combined Forces Command] was formed in the late 1970s, U.S. and South Korean military personnel have worked side-by-side—physically side-by-side—in all of the operations of the command. It is difficult to believe that the South Korean command has not achieved a high level of preparedness over this 30-year period.
What apparently drove the delay in OPCON transfer was symbolism. After the apparent sinking by North Korea of the South Korean corvette, the Cheonan, in March and consequent deterioration in bilateral relations, there is much talk about shoring up deterrence. After ROK President Lee Myung-bak met with President Barack Obama at the G-20 Summit in Toronto the former explained that the delay “reflects the current security condition on the Korean peninsula and will strengthen the alliance of the two nations.”

Although it’s not certain what Pyongyang thinks about any particular U.S. or South Korean policy, emphasizing ROK helplessness probably is not a good way of deterring the North. Presumably Kim Jong-il and his generals can discern the difference between the presence of numerous well-trained and well-equipped soldiers in the South and a shift in command arrangements which in no way affects the number of those boots on the ground. If deterrence is the issue, then Seoul should embark upon a major military build-up.

Indeed, what the Lee government really needs to do is fund the modernization initiatives already planned. Seoul’s Defense Reform 2020 has fallen several years behind schedule. If the ROK does not feel confident about defending itself, it should take action. The proposed 7 percent increase in military spending for next year should be just the start.

For instance, South Korea’s navy is bigger and presumably better than that of the North, yet it proved vulnerable to what was probably a North Korean mini-sub. Defenders of the alliance continue to point to Pyongyang’s quantitative advantages in troops, armor and artillery: if the numbers matter so much, the South should match or exceed them. Fears also have been expressed about the possibility of a swift North Korean capture of the Seoul-Inchon area despite many allied advantages. If the North’s forces have any hope of achieving such a success, then it is the responsibility of the Lee government to do whatever is necessary to prevent such an operation. In contrast, delaying the OPCON transfer does not make South Korea any more secure.

The ROK has much to be proud of. It arose out of colonial repression and military destruction. The transition was long and difficult, but the South now numbers among the world’s most successful and important nations.

Yet South Korea remains a defense-welfare client, unaccountably dependent on America. No doubt, Seoul finds it hard to give up U.S. defense subsidies. Yet it is irresponsible for the Lee government to promote global military ambitions while leaving its own forces ill-prepared to defend the nation. And it is embarrassing for that same government to announce that the ROK is not even capable of commanding its own forces in wartime.

Whether or not the ROK is willing to change, Washington should take the lead. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently declared in Seoul: “We will stand with you in this difficult hour and we will stand with you always.” If that means be a friend, then fine. If that means defend the South, it makes no sense.

The American government is broke. The national debt exceeds $13 trillion. The administration predicts at least $10 trillion in new debt over the next decade. The deficit this year alone is $1.6 trillion. A host of U.S. government agencies are running up more debts that Washington will have to cover: Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation and more. Then there are Social Security and Medicare, which currently have a combined unfunded liability of $107 trillion.

Transferring OPCON was an important start, but only a start. For good reason Americans don’t like to leave their soldiers under foreign command. In this case, the 28,500 personnel on station should come home as the ROK takes over responsibility for its own defense. And there’s no need for American troops to go back to manpower-rich South Korea in any conflict.

Alliances shouldn’t be forever. Instead, they should respond to particular threats in particular geopolitical environments. The era that spawned the U.S.-ROK alliance is long past. South Koreans should take over responsibility for their own defense.

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. A former special assistant to Ronald Reagan, he is the author of Tripwire: Korea and U.S. Foreign Policy in a Changed World (Cato) and co-author of The Korean Conundrum: America’s Troubled Relations with North and South Korea (Palgrave/Macmillan).

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Why I Don't Love America

Why I Don't Love America
Some Thoughts on "Patriotism" Written on July 4th

July 4 2010

Most important thought: I'm sick and tired of this thing called "patriotism".
The Japanese pilots who bombed Pearl Harbor were being patriotic. The German people who supported Hitler and his conquests were being patriotic, fighting for the Fatherland. All the Latin American military dictators who overthrew democratically-elected governments and routinely tortured people were being patriotic — saving their beloved country from "communism".
General Augusto Pinochet of Chile, mass murderer and torturer: "I would like to be remembered as a man who served his country."

P.W. Botha, former president of apartheid South Africa: "I am not going to repent. I am not going to ask for favours. What I did, I did for my country."
Pol Pot, mass murderer of Cambodia: "I want you to know that everything I did, I did for my country."

Tony Blair, former British prime minister, defending his role in the murder of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis: "I did what I thought was right for our country."

At the end of World War II, the United States gave moral lectures to their German prisoners and to the German people on the inadmissibility of pleading that their participation in the holocaust was in obedience to their legitimate government. To prove to them how legally and morally inadmissable this defense was, the World War II allies hanged the leading examples of such patriotic loyalty.

I was once asked after a talk: "Do you love America?" I answered: "No". After pausing for a few seconds to let that sink in amidst several nervous giggles in the audience, I continued with: "I don't love any country. I'm a citizen of the world. I love certain principles, like human rights, civil liberties, democracy, an economy which puts people before profits."

I don't make much of a distinction between patriotism and nationalism. Some people equate patriotism with allegiance to one's country and government or the noble principles they supposedly stand for, while defining nationalism as sentiments of ethno-national superiority. However defined, in practice the psychological and behavioral manifestations of nationalism and patriotism are not easily distinguishable, indeed feeding upon each other.

Howard Zinn called nationalism "a set of beliefs taught to each generation in which the Motherland or the Fatherland is an object of veneration and becomes a burning cause for which one becomes willing to kill the children of other Motherlands or Fatherlands. ... Patriotism is used to create the illusion of a common interest that everybody in the country has."

Strong feelings of patriotism lie near the surface in the great majority of Americans. They're buried deeper in the more "liberal" and "sophisticated", but are almost always reachable, and ignitable.

Alexis de Tocqueville, the mid-19th century French historian, commented about his long stay in the United States: "It is impossible to conceive a more troublesome or more garrulous patriotism; it wearies even those who are disposed to respect it."

George Bush Sr., pardoning former Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger and five others in connection with the Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages scandal, said: "First, the common denominator of their motivation — whether their actions were right or wrong — was patriotism."

What a primitive underbelly there is to this rational society. The US is the most patriotic, as well as the most religious, country of the so-called developed world. The entire American patriotism thing may be best understood as the biggest case of mass hysteria in history, whereby the crowd adores its own power as troopers of the world's only superpower, a substitute for the lack of power in the rest of their lives. Patriotism, like religion, meets people's need for something greater to which their individual lives can be anchored.

So this last July 4, my dear fellow Americans, some of you raised your fists and yelled: "U! S! A! ... U! S! A!". And you paraded with your flags and your images of the Statue of Liberty. But do you know that the sculptor copied his mother's face for the statue, a domineering and intolerant woman who had forbidden another child to marry a Jew?

"Patriotism," Dr. Samuel Johnson famously said, "is the last refuge of a scoundrel." American writer Ambrose Bierce begged to differ — It is, he said, the first.

"Pledges of allegiance are marks of totalitarian states, not democracies," says David Kertzer, a Brown University anthropologist who specializes in political rituals. "I can't think of a single democracy except the United States that has a pledge of allegiance." Or, he might have added, that insists that its politicians display their patriotism by wearing a flag pin. Hitler criticized German Jews and Communists for their internationalism and lack of national patriotism, demanding that "true patriots" publicly vow and display their allegiance to the fatherland. In reaction to this, postwar Germany has made a conscious and strong effort to minimize public displays of patriotism.

Oddly enough, the American Pledge of Allegiance was written by Francis Bellamy, a founding member, in 1889, of the Society of Christian Socialists, a group of Protestant ministers who asserted that "the teachings of Jesus Christ lead directly to some form or forms of socialism." Tell that to the next Teaparty ignoramus who angrily accuses President Obama of being a "socialist".

"To me, it seems a dreadful indignity to have a soul controlled by geography." — George Santayana, American educator and philosopher

The Cold War is over. Long live the Cold War

I recently attended a showing of Oliver Stone's new documentary film, "South of the Border", which concerns seven present-day government leaders of Latin America -– in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina, Paraguay, Cuba and Brazil — who are not in love with US foreign policy. After the film there was a discussion panel in the theatre, consisting of Stone, the two writers of the film (Tariq Ali and Mark Weisbrot) and Cynthia Arnson, Director of the Latin American Program of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, in Washington; the discussion was moderated by Neal Conan of National Public Radio.

It perhaps was not meant to be a "debate", but it quickly became that, with Arnson leading the "anti-communist" faction, supported somewhat by Conan's questions and more vociferously by a segment of the audience which took sides loudly via applause and cries of approval or displeasure. Twenty years post-Cold War, anti-communism still runs deep in the American soul and psyche. Candid criticism of US foreign policy and/or capitalism is sufficient to consign a foreign government or leader to the In the post-film discussion, Stone replied to a charge of the film being biased by stating that the US media is generally so slanted against the governments in question that his film is an attempt to strike a needed balance. Indeed, it must be asked: How many of the 1400 American daily newspapers or the numerous television stations even occasionally report on Washington's continually ongoing attempts to subvert the governments in question or present the programs and policies of their leaders in a positive light? Particularly Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and Evo Morales of Bolivia, the two main focuses of the film; not forgetting of course that American journalists accuse Cuba of violating human rights first thing upon their awakening each morning.

While we no longer hear about the "international communist conspiracy", American foreign policy remains profoundly unchanged. It turns out that whatever Washington officials and diplomats at the time thought they were doing, the Cold War revisionists have been vindicated; it was not about containing something called "communism"; it was about American supremacy, expansion and economic interests.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Return of Stuart Levey, Father of the North Korean Atomic Bomb

July 2 -5, 2010

Chinese Blowback From Iran Sanctions?
Stuart Levey, "father" of the North Korean atomic bomb, is back, and with him is the threat that the United States will deploy the most feared and dangerous weapon in its diplomatic arsenal - sanctions against foreign corporations and foreign banks - to advance its Iran and North Korea policies.
Levey, director of the US Treasury Department's Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence (OTFI), returned to the spotlight with the announcement of US add-on Iran sanctions in the wake of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) Resolution 1929. China has a considerable amount of experience with Levey, mostly negative, and will be observing his actions on Iran and North Korea with a good deal of wary curiosity.
With the exception of Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Levey is the highest-ranking George W Bush administration holdover in the Barack Obama administration. The retention of the architect of financial sanctions against North Korea was a signal that Obama was much enamored of them as the "smart power" alternative to military force as a coercive instrument of American policy. Hopefully, the results for the US this time will not be as dire as North Korea's rush to the atomic bomb occasioned by the sanctions campaign of the Bush administration.
Certainly, the US dollar is still king and the threat of ostracization from the US financial system is a real and significant worry ... but not necessarily for America's enemies. North Korea and Iran have already been cut off from the US financial system. The real threat is to America's allies and "strategic competitors", such as China, who do not toe the line in a satisfactory fashion.
Sanctioning of third-country financial corporations has a dismal history under the Bush administration. The Obama administration appears to be taking steps to avoid duplicating the mistakes of its predecessor but, given the inherent contradictions of sanctions, may nevertheless be doomed to repeat them.
OTFI first emerged after 9/11 as an extension of the Treasury Department's money-laundering investigative activities, traditionally concentrated on drug trafficking, to terrorism.
Its terrorism-related efforts were largely ineffective. In contrast to the gigantic transnational rivers of cash needed to sustain the booming drug trade, the tiny amounts of money needed to finance conspiratorial terrorist activity such as al-Qaeda's were a drop in the international ocean of financial transfers, virtually impossible to detect except in hindsight.
Nevertheless, OTFI exploited the anti-terrorism powers given to it and evolved into an important instrument of American foreign policy under the Bush administration.
OTFI received new powers under Section 311 of the Patriot Act - penned by Democrat John Kerry - which gave the Treasury Department the power to sanction foreign financial institutions that were insufficiently transparent and cooperative in matters of tracking terrorist financing by cutting them off from the US financial system.
The Bush administration welcomed OTFI's expanded mandate and powers, since it gave the executive branch a powerful and arbitrary instrument of unilateral power beyond international challenge or congressional oversight. On the basis of its internal investigations and with the justification of protecting the US financial system from terrorist infiltration, the Treasury Department could ban designated foreign banks from transacting business with US financial institutions.
Wielding - and abusing - this power proved an irresistible temptation to the Bush administration in its campaign against the two members of the "axis of evil" - Iran and North Korea - that survived after the military overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq.
OTFI, under Levey, enthusiastically and unapologetically deployed the threat of financial sanctions.
Significantly, its targets were not Iranian and North Korean banks - which were already barred from dealings with US corporations under US law. Instead, the genuine object of OTFI's threats were the financial institutions of American allies - allies that, for reasons of principle, greed or strategic necessity, had not seen fit to impose the same national sanctions on Tehran and Pyongyang that had been imposed by the United States.
During the second Bush administration, the peripatetic Levey roamed the globe, chivvying the huge European financial institutions but also venturing into backwaters like Mongolia and Bulgaria to threaten local banks that dared take Iranian and North Korean deposits and offer the two pariahs access to the international financial system.
In one significant instance, the Treasury Department moved beyond threats to actually institute sanctions against a targeted bank. This was the case of Banco Delta Asia - BDA - a small bank in Macau that accepted North Korean deposits.
In September 2005, alleging that BDA was laundering North Korean counterfeit money, the department announced it was investigating BDA as a "bank of money laundering concern".
There was a prompt run on the bank, the Macau authorities took BDA over, and $24 million or so in North Korea-related funds in 51 accounts were frozen at American insistence. That represented the highwater mark of America's success in quarantining BDA.
There were several worrying consequences.
First, and most importantly, North Korea withdrew from the six-party talks in fury, abandoned its nuclear haggling with the United States, and detonated its first atomic bomb on October 9, 2006. Despite revisionist attempts to decouple BDA from the bomb, Levey's paternity of the Nork nuke is pretty much indisputable.
Secondly, America's image as an honest broker impartially protecting the integrity of the dollar-based international financial system was seriously tarnished.
In the past, the Treasury Department's efforts to combat counterfeiting and stem the oceans of cash sloshing through the world's drug economy were universally respected. However, by unleashing OTFI on Iran and North Korea, the Bush administration had made the fateful decision to "weaponize" financial enforcement, using it to advance nontransparent, unilateral geostrategic goals far removed from the department's genuine mission.
In order to justify a unilateral financial assault on North Korea, the Bush administration hitched its star to the "Supernote" counterfeiting allegation to redefine the North Korea problem as an attack on the US dollar rather than a multilateral security issue in North Asia. As far as US allies and interlocutors - especially China - were concerned, the OTFI initiative signified Washington's effort to seize control of the North Korea dossier and pre-empt their input.
In the realm of international law, it was also a worrying case of de facto extra-territoriality - applying US jurisdiction to foreign corporations operating in foreign countries. The fact that OTFI money-laundering sanctions were completely non-transparent applications of US executive branch rules, by which the accused party could not even appear, let alone mount a defense, certainly contributed to the OTFI's intimidating aura, but also fueled international fear and resentment.
US laziness in making its case - though largely unchallenged by the media with the exception of McClatchy's Kevin Hall - did not enhance international confidence in OTFI's ability to wield this considerable power responsibly.
A convincing explanation was never offered for how the tottering North Korean state was able to import the only press capable of printing US banknotes, develop the highly specialized papermaking technology, either duplicate or acquire from Switzerland the necessary optically variable inks, or track the US currency through 19 design changes, in order to produce a mere $45 million worth of Supernotes over 10 years. [1]
The United States accused BDA of laundering Supernotes, ignoring the inconvenient fact that BDA sent all of its cash deposits for independent inspection by Hong Kong & Shanghai Bank (HSBC) before sending them off the Federal Reserve for credit - and no counterfeits had been detected since 1994.
So OTFI became associated with American unilateralism, the back-door assertion of extra-territorial jurisdiction, and shoddy procedures: essentially, an abuse of America's privileged position at the center of the financial world.
Third, even after the North Korean test had sidelined American advocates of confrontation and the six-party talks were set to resume, the Treasury Department blocked the remittance of the North Korean funds at BDA - the key confidence-building measure negotiated by Christopher Hill - by issuing a scorched-earth ruling formalizing the complete cutoff of BDA from the US banking system. On the dubious pretext that its unilateral administrative ruling against BDA could not be undone without violating US laws, the Treasury Department blocked the remittance for another excruciating eight weeks. Finally, the State Department, after futile and humiliating public contacts with several US and international banks that refused to handle the funds because of the threat of Treasury sanctions, arranged the remittance via the US Federal Reserve and a Russian bank.
The realization that Levey, whether or not he was acting in collusion with diehards of the Dick Cheney stripe to sabotage the resumption of the six-party talks, could defy the executive branch virtually openly, was undoubtedly a sobering reminder to the Bush administration that unilateral, unchecked power can cut both ways.
The final, and strategically most significant, fallout of the BDA affair was that it showed China's leadership how far the United States was prepared to go to attack core Chinese interests in pursuit of its foreign policy goals. The BDA sanction was, openly and avowedly, designed to intimidate China with the threat of being cut off from the US financial system.
The China aspect extended beyond the fact that BDA was in Macau - a Chinese jurisdiction - and was run by Stanley Au, a local businessman with close ties to Beijing who was a delegate to the China People's Consultative Congress.
David Asher, the brash architect of the hardline North Korea policy, testified before Congress in 2007 that BDA was a case of "killing the chicken to scare the monkeys".
“Banco Delta was a symbolic target. We were trying to kill the chicken to scare the monkeys. And the monkeys were big Chinese banks doing business in North Korea... and we’re not talking about tens of millions [of dollars], we’re talking hundreds of millions.” [2]
To a certain extent, Asher's public testimony may have been vainglorious. Certainly, one objective of the attacks on North Korea's bank dealings was to harass South Korea. Under the conciliatory regime of Kim Dae-jung, Seoul was funneling billions of dollars in Sunshine Policy payments to Pyongyang through Hong Kong or Macau banks. With proper timing and selection of target, the Treasury Department could have frozen billions of dollars of South-to-North cash and put a serious crimp in Kim Dae-jung's dollar diplomacy as well as Kim Jung-il's bank account.
However, China treated the BDA matters as a matter of its core interests, angrily summoning Treasury functionaries to Beijing for protracted negotiations during the convoluted remittance crisis. It learned, to its dismay, that the Treasury Department was unwilling to grant the People's Bank of China a waiver to allow it to handle the BDA funds and get the six-party Talks - the crown jewel in Beijing's efforts to claim recognition for its central role in regional diplomacy - restarted.
Given this baggage, and OTFI's rather dismal record of failure and insubordination on BDA, it is interesting that the Obama administration kept Levey in his post after it took office.
The administration's infatuation with smart power applied through multi-lateral initiatives is well-known, and financial sanctions are viewed as a critical force multiplier allowing America to recruit and lead a global coalition by virtue of its central role in the international financial system.
Retaining Levey to execute that policy may be a matter of tactics: reminding China that the loose cannon that threatened to bombard China's central bank in 2006 is still available and ready for action.
Same pit bull; new minder?
When the UN Security Council approved Iran sanctions and the spotlight moved to national sanctions, the Obama administration's first act was to appoint the State Department's Robert Einhorn as a "sanctions czar" for Iran and North Korea, charged with coordination of the implementation of a sanctions regime that included other countries' national as well as UN sanctions, and as the US government made clear:
Mr Einhorn will direct US efforts to ensure full and effective implementation of all UN Security Council resolutions related to Iran, including most recently UNSCR 1929. He will lead US efforts with partners and allies around the world to strengthen multilateral and national measures to impede Iranian proliferation activities. [3]
This was construed as reassurance to hardliners that the State Department - supposedly a nest of sanctions-averse, diplomacy-centric appeasers - was completely on board vis-a-vis an aggressive sanctions push.
However, Einhorn's appointment would also reassure wary governments and corporations overseas that the integrated sanctions program was under professional, unified, and presidential management, and there would be no duplication of the insubordinate, and uncontrolled foreign policy by proxy conducted through OTFI under the pretext of enforcing US domestic money-laundering rules.
China should not derive too much consolation from the evolution of US sanctions policy beyond the cowboy years of the Bush administration.
What China should be concerned with is that the Obama administration has devoted considerably more effort than the Bush administration in establishing a solid strategic, legal, and diplomatic foundation for sustained and successful third-country sanctions.
The key flaw of sanctions is that, unless they are universal, somebody ends up eating everybody else's lunch.
Even as the UN resolution on the fourth round of Iran sanctions wound its way uncertainly through the Security Council, it was an open secret that China would water down the UN resolution.
The stated solution was follow-on national sanctions that, if not "crippling" as desired by Israel, would hit Iran where it hurt - in the energy sector. The perceived flaw to that solution would be that China would honor the UN resolution, impose no follow-on national sanctions, and scoop up Iran contracts while the US and Europe stood on the sidelines.
National and EU sanctions are useless if all they do is drive Iran - and its energy investments, petroleum products, and import/export and financial dealings - further into China's arms, as Glenn Kessler reported for the Washington Post:
US and European officials acknowledge that the administration's gambit faces uncertainties.
China, for instance, could swoop into Iran to replace Western investors. "China is the elephant in the room," one diplomat said, but the hope is that China will face political pressure not to appear to profit from an international pullout. Officials also say China cannot replicate some of the technologies and products produced in Europe. [4]
Both Russia and China have insisted that, in return for their support of the UN resolution, they received assurances that follow-on national sanctions by the US and Europe would not damage their energy and economic interests.
However, the obsessively forward-thinking Obama administration would certainly have a plan for addressing the underlying weakness of a massive geostrategic effort that has consumed the energies of the US administration for the last six months.
Perhaps the White House gave Russia and China the desired assurances with the caveat (perhaps implied or unspoken) that, if Iran's behavior didn't change, then promises to lay off Russian and Chinese interests would have to be honored, as they say, "in the breach".
The enabling US legislation on Iran sanctions - H.R. 2194, the Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability, and Divestment Act of 2010 - will arrive on Obama's desk by early July and provide ample justification for imposing third country sanctions, whether in sorrow or in anger. [5]
Its key feature, as announced after a meeting between Senate and House leaders resolved outstanding differences between two versions of the legislation: third country sanctions.
The proposed bill, announced in a joint statement by Representative Howard Berman (D-Calif.) and Senator Christopher Dodd, would bar non-US financial institutions dealing with Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) or targeted Iranian banks from also doing business with the US banking sector. The bill would also penalize firms selling gasoline to Iran through restrictions on their US bank transactions, property transfers and foreign exchange in the United States.
"The act presents foreign banks doing business with blacklisted Iranian entities a stark choice - cease your activities or be denied critical access to America's financial system," an outline of the bill states, adding that it would address problematic moves taken by international branches of US financial institutions. [6]
US reporting has emphasized the expansion of third-party sanctions to the IRGC and gasoline trade; previous, though largely unenforced demands to sanction large foreign investments in Iran's energy sector apparently remain on the books.
Obama made a show of asking for explicit waivers for "cooperating countries", understood to be Russia and China, in return for their support on the UN resolution, as a show of good faith. He didn't get the blanket waivers, but he is perhaps not unhappy that he didn't. He will be able to grant one-year exemptions for individual corporations, albeit with a "name and shame" requirement to put the recipients on the public record.
Therefore, if China is excessively forward in exploiting opportunities in Iran, the familiar weapon of financial sanctions against its banks can be deployed, with the potential range from limited sanctions in clear cases of footsie with the IRGC to broad-brush sanctions affecting China's strategic investments in Iranian oil and gas.
So the stage is set for third-party sanctions round two, or the return of Levey.
But in this case, the US will not be sneaking unilateral third-country sanctions under the pretext of domestic anti-money laundering rules.
The Obama administration has established an international legal basis for national sanctions with the UN resolution and will soon have a domestic basis with the congressional legislation. Beyond establishing a sound legal basis, it has indicated that the sanctions will be carefully and rationally imposed under the direction of the White House and State Department and has persuaded many of the key European countries to jump aboard the sanctions boat.
As European and EU sanctions are imposed, they will institutionalize a shared US and the EU interest in preventing China and Russia from profiting overly from the economic and strategic vacuum created by the increased sanctions.
Beyond the Obama administration's manifest geopolitical cleverness, however, there is the question of what greater goal will be served by a global full-court press on Iran sanctions.
Will Iran's behavior change? Or will imposition of third-party sanctions merely deepen the existing divisions between China and the United States? And, unexpectedly, will the Obama administration's determination to reassert America's geopolitical supremacy lead to exactly the opposite result?
One of the ironic sidelights to the BDA affair was that, even after Banco Delta Asia was suffering full ostracization from the US financial system under Patriot Act 311, it still was able to continue to operate under the receivership of the Macanese financial authorities and even turn a modest profit in its local market.
It's a big world out there, and it is inexorably drifting away from dollar dominance.
Middle Eastern states attempting to avoid the long reach of US financial sanctions have frequently agitated for a shift from the US dollar to the euro as the currency of account for energy sales. Conspiracy theorists point to Saddam Hussein's announcement that he would seek to denominate his oil exports in euros as the provocative act that galvanized the Bush administration in its determination to prosecute the Iraq invasion.
With the EU largely lined up on the US side of the fence now, the focus is shifting from the euro as an alternative to China.
Considerable interest (and dismay) was occasioned by a suggestion by the head of the People's Bank of China in 2009 that the IMF's Special Drawing Rights (SDR) international reserve, which derives its valuation based on a basket of currencies including but not absolutely dominated by the dollar, might be adopted as the international currency of account.
Meanwhile, China is quietly expanding the international role of the yuan, also known as the renminbi (RMB).
The Hong Kong Trade & Development Council summarized China's RMB strategy as follows:
The RMB’s internationalization will likely follow a three-stage process (i.e. when it is used in pricing and settlement of trade and financial transactions; use as an international investment vehicle; and use as an international reserve currency), especially after the demand for RMB has hit certain critical mass in external trade and financial transactions. [7]
The first stage - trade settlement - is under way under a pilot program allowing enterprises in five Chinese cities to conduct RMB-based transactions with Hong Kong and the ASEAN nations.
Bank of China announced it holds 100 international accounts that settle trade in RMB (including a new account in Peru), with a transaction volume of 9 billion yuan (US$2.7 billion) over in the first nine months of the program. Standard Chartered Bank and Hong Kong & Shanghai Bank are both offering RMB commercial services. [8]
In a classic case of "don't ask what you wish for - you might get it", a by-product of American insistence that the yuan appreciate will be increased interest in transacting yuan-denominated business by nations that wish to avoid the financial risk of having to conduct their business using a devaluing dollar.
China likes the program, too, because it reduces the domestic fiscal and financial burden of buying up its exporters' US dollars with yuan and then sterilizing the inflationary consequences with sales of government bonds.
That's another less-than-ideal outcome for the United States, which relies on China's need to recycle its massive dollar holdings to absorb America's sizable sales of sovereign debt.
It may be a long time - or probably never - before China takes on the US role of provider of the global reserve currency.
However, it may not be too soon before the yuan is a legitimate international currency and a viable haven for states wishing to insulate themselves from the consequences of US fiscal, economic, and strategic policies (while leaving the US with the intolerable burden of managing the liquidity needs of the rest of the world's economy as it grows and its own share shrinks).
Even with US financial sanctions integrated into a largely consensual, legal, and multi-lateral effort, when it comes to the bottom line the US is still exploiting its financial clout to advance US geopolitical goals.
Looking into the long term, will the application of financial sanctions in the service of US policy objectives simply accelerate the disintermediation of the US dollar and displacement of the US from the center of the financial universe?
For US ambitions and interests, that might be an outcome worse than an Iranian atomic bomb.
Peter Lee is a business man who has spent thirty years observing, analyzing, and writing on Asian affairs. Lee can be reached at peterrlee-2000@yahoo.
A version of this article appeared in Asia Times.
1. US counterfeiting charges against N. Korea based on shaky evidence, McClatchy, Jan 10, 2008.
2. David Asher’s Dead End, China Matters, Apr 28, 2007.
3. Robert J. Einhorn to Serve as U.S. Coordinator for Iran and North Korea Sanctions, United States Mission, Jun 10, 2010.
4. US, Europe target Iran investment, trade, Washington Post, June 18, 2010.
5. Dodd, Berman Statement on Iran Sanctions Conference Report Agreement, Committee on Foreign Affairs, US House of Representative, June 21, 2010.
6. Lawmakers Agree on Iran Sanctions Bill, NTI, Jun 22, 2010.
7. The Pilot RMB Trade Settlement Scheme and RMB Internationalisation, HKTDC, May 29, 2009.
8. BOC: Cross-border trade RMB settlement accounts top 100, Trading Markets, Apr 21, 2010.

The War That’s Not a War

Rep. Ron Paul,
July 03, 2010

Statement in the House by Rep. Ron Paul of Texas on funding the war in Afghanistan.

In January 1991, we went to war in the Middle East against Saddam Hussein, Iraq’s dictator who was our ally during the Iran-Iraq war. A border dispute between Kuwait and Iraq broke out after our State Department gave a green light to Hussein’s invasion.
After Iraq’s successful invasion of Kuwait, we reacted with gusto and have been militarily involved in the entire region 6,000 miles from our shores ever since. This has included Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. After 20 years of killing and a couple trillion dollars wasted, not only does the fighting continue with no end in sight, but our leaders threaten to spread our bombs of benevolence on Iran.
For most Americans, we are at war, at war against a tactic called terrorism, not a country. This allows our military to go any place in the world without limits as to time or place. But how can we be at war? Congress has not declared war, as required by the Constitution, that is true. But our Presidents have, and Congress and the people have not objected. Congress obediently provides all the money requested for the war.
People are dying. Bombs are dropped. Our soldiers are shot at and killed. Our soldiers wear a uniform; our enemies do not. They are not part of any government. They have no planes, no tanks, no ships, no missiles, and no modern technology. What kind of a war is this anyway, if it really is one? If it was a real war, we would have won it by now. Our stated goal since 9/11 has been to destroy al Qaeda.
Was al Qaeda in Iraq? Not under Saddam Hussein. Our leaders lied us into invading Iraq and deceived us into occupying Afghanistan. There is still really no al Qaeda in Iraq and only 100 or so in Afghanistan, and yet there is no end in sight to the war. Could there have been other reasons for this war that is not a war? A military victory in Afghanistan is illusive. Does anyone really know who we are fighting and why?
Why has the war not ended? Nine years, and it continues to spread. Some claim it is to keep America safe, that our soldiers are fighting and dying for our freedom, defending our Constitution. Are we being lied to in order to keep us in this spreading war, just as we were lied to in the 1960s to keep us in Vietnam?
We own the Iraq Government, as we do Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, we are fighting the Taliban, those dangerous people with guns defending their homeland. Once they were called the Mujahideen, our old allies, along with bin Laden, in the fight to oust the Soviets from Afghanistan in the 1980s. In that effort, our CIA funded radical jihad against that nasty foreign occupier, the Russians. What gratitude. Those same people now resent our benevolent occupation, with a little violence thrown in.
The resistance to our presence grows as our perseverance wanes. Our people are waking up, but our officials refuse to recognize the longer we stay, the greater is the support for those dedicated to the principle that Afghanistan is for Afghans who resent all foreign occupation.
The harder we fight a war that is not a war, the weaker we get and the stronger becomes our enemy. When an enemy without weapons can respect an army of great strength, the most powerful of all history, one should ask, who has the moral high ground?
Military failure in Afghanistan is to be our destiny. Changing generals without changing our policies or our policymakers perpetuates our agony and delays the inevitable.
This is not a war that our generals have been trained for. Nation building, police work, social engineering is never a job for foreign occupiers and never an appropriate job for soldiers trained to win wars.
A military victory is no longer even a stated goal of our military leaders or our politicians, as they know that type of victory is impossible.
The sad story is, this war is against ourselves, our values, our Constitution, our financial well-being and common sense. And at the rate we’re going, it’s going to end badly.
What we need are honest leaders with character and a new foreign policy.