Friday, December 31, 2010

Khodorkovsky's Trip to the Slammer


Vladimir Putin summed it up best when he said, "A thief should sit in jail." Right on. It doesn't matter if he is the richest man in the country or not. If he's done the crime, he's got to do the time. It's that simple.

On Wednesday, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former head of Yukos Oil was sentenced to 14 years in prison for embezzling and money laundering. Heads of state, human rights organisations, business leaders, and the entire western media have all protested on Khodorkovsky's behalf, but to no avail. Khodorkovsky will stay in prison where he belongs. Justice has prevailed.

Khodorkovsky's problems began when he challenged an informal agreement with the Kremlin not to intervene in Russian politics. But the oil oligarch thought Putin was weak, so he strengthened his contacts in Washington and dumped money into parliamentary elections. He unwisely assumed that he could defy Putin and extend his tentacles into politics following the model of corporate control he saw in the United States, where the courts, the congress, the White House and the media are all in the pocket of big business. Only he misjudged Putin and ended up in the hoosegow.

According to the Wall Street Journal:

"Mr. Khodorkovsky was arrested on a rented jet in Siberia Oct. 23, 2003, flown to Moscow and jailed on charges of fraud and tax evasion. Just over a year later, Yukos's main subsidiary had been sold at auction to a little-known Russian company that later sold it to the state oil company, OAO Rosneft.

Investors, who watched the market value of Yukos plunge from $40 billion to next to nothing in a matter of months, proved to have short memories. By the summer of 2006, they were lining up to buy stock in Rosneft's initial public offering. The company's main asset had belonged to Yukos."

And, according to Wikipedia:

"Khodorkovsky was charged with acting illegally in the privatisation process of the former state-owned mining and fertiliser company Apatit......In addition, prosecutors conducted an extensive investigation into Yukos for offences that went beyond the financial and tax-related charges. Reportedly there were three cases of murder and one of attempted murder linked to Yukos, if not Khodorkovsky himself....."

When a deep-pocket Robber Barron is charged with a crime, everyone comes to their aid, including "the Italian Parliament, the German Bundestag, and the U.S. House of Representatives". But Khodorkovsky is guilty. The Russian court got it right. The rest is just propaganda.

The portrayal of Khodorkovsky as an "innocent victim of a justice system run amok" borders on the ridiculous. Take a look at this comical article in the Economist ominously titled "The Trial, Part Two". Here's an excerpt:

"The transformation of Mr Khodorkovsky from a ruthless oligarch, operating in a virtually lawless climate, into a political prisoner and freedom fighter is one of the more intriguing tales in post-communist Russia....In this narrow sense, indeed, the imprisoned Mr Khodorkovsky might be compared to the exiled Andrei Sakharov in the 1980s. Both Mr Khodorkovsky and Sakharov, an eminent nuclear physicist, chose a thorny path. And both of these one-time political prisoners then, in effect, took their persecutors and jailers hostage. Just as Mikhail Gorbachev's talk of perestroika, opening up and new thinking, rang hollow until the moment when he allowed Sakharov to come home, so any talk by the Kremlin of the rule of law or about modernisation will be puffery so long as Mr Khodorkovsky remains in jail." (The Economist)

So now the cutthroat scamster Khodorkovsky is Andrei Sakharov? One might think that the Economist would worry that such claptrap would damage its credibility, but apparently not. Apparently, nothing matters quite as much as springing their felonious friends from prison.

The Obama administration has also interceded on Khodorkovsky's behalf even before the verdict was delivered. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said that the US was troubled by "what appears to be an abusive use of the legal system for improper ends".

"The apparent selective application of the law to these individuals undermines Russia's reputation as a country committed to deepening the rule of law."

Gibbs failed to note how many crooked CEOs or CFOs of major Wall Street firms have been investigated, indicted, prosecuted, arrested, tried, or convicted?

So far, that number is zero. So much for the Obama administration's commitment to the rule of law.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also put in her two-cents saying that a conviction would have a "negative impact on Russia's reputation."

Right. This is the same Hillary Clinton who has thrown her support behind the Patriot Act, the intrusive/illegal TSA "pat downs", the limitless detention of terror suspects, increased surveillance of US citizens, and the de facto repeal of habeas corpus.

Clinton's credibility on civil liberties is zilch.

Imagine what it would be like to live in a country where the rich had to play by the same rules as everyone else? Presumably, one would have to move to Russia. There is no expectation of justice in the US today. None.

Khodorkovsky was convicted because he's a crook and because the Russian justice system is less corrupt than the one in the US. His incarceration is a victory for the people who want to see the law applied fairly regardless of how rich someone is.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

State Lawlessness on the Rampage


The year 2011 will bring Americans a larger and more intrusive police state, more unemployment and home foreclosures, no economic recovery, more disregard by the US government of US law, international law, the Constitution, and truth, more suspicion and distrust from allies, more hostility from the rest of the world, and new heights of media sycophancy.

2011 is shaping up as a brutal year for American democracy. The Republican Party has degenerated into a party of Brownshirts, and voter frustrations with the worsening economic crisis and military occupations gone awry are likely to bring Republicans to power in 2012. With them would come their doctrines of executive primacy over Congress, the judiciary, law, and the Constitution and America’s rightful hegemony over the world.

If not already obvious, 2010 has made clear that the US government does not care a whit for the opinions of citizens. The TSA is unequivocal that it will reach no accommodation with Americans other than the violations of their persons that it imposes by its unaccountable power. As for public opposition to war, the Associated Press reported on December 16 that “Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the U.S. can’t let public opinion sway its commitment to Afghanistan.” Gates stated bluntly what has been known for some time: the idea is passe that government in a democracy serves the will of the people. If this quaint notion is still found in civics books, it will soon be edited out.

In Gag Rule, a masterful account of the suppression of dissent and the stifling of democracy, Lewis H. Lapham writes that candor is a necessary virtue if democracies are to survive their follies and crimes. But where in America today can candor be found? Certainly not in the councils of government. Attorney General John Ashcroft complained of candor-mongers to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Americans who insist on speaking their minds, Ashcroft declared, “scare people with phantoms of lost liberty,” “aid terrorists,” diminish our resolve,” and “give ammunition to America’s enemies.”

As the Department of Justice (sic) sees it, when the ACLU defends habeas corpus it is defending the ability of terrorists to blow up Americans, and when the ACLU defends the First Amendment it is defending exposures of the lies and deceptions that are the necessary scaffolding for the government’s pretense that it is doing God’s will while Satan speaks through the voices of dissent.

Neither is candor a trait in which the American media finds comfort. The neoconservative press functions as propaganda ministry for hegemonic American empire, and the “liberal” New York Times serves the same master. It was the New York Times that gave credence to the Bush regime’s lies about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, and it was the New York Times that guaranteed Bush’s re-election by spiking the story that Bush was committing felonies by spying on Americans without obtaining warrants. Conservatives rant about the “liberal media” as if it were a vast subversive force, but they owe their beloved wars and coverups of the Bush regimes’ crimes to the New York Times.

With truth the declared enemy of the fantasy world in which the government, media, and public reside, the nation has turned on whistleblowers. Bradley Manning, who allegedly provided the media with the video made by US troops of their wanton, fun-filled slaughter of newsmen and civilians, has been abused in solitary confinement for six months. Murdering civilians is a war crime, and as General Peter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at the National Press Club on February 17, 2006, “It is the absolute responsibility of everybody in uniform to disobey an order that is either illegal or immoral” and to make such orders known. If Manning is the source of the leak, he has been wrongfully imprisoned for meeting his military responsibility. The media have yet to make the point that the person who reported the crime, not the persons who committed it, is the one who has been imprisoned, and without a trial.

The lawlessness of the US government, which has been creeping up on us for decades, broke into a full gallop in the years of the Bush/Cheney/Obama regimes. Today the government operates above the law, yet maintains that it is a democracy bringing the same to Muslims by force of arms, only briefly being sidetracked by sponsoring a military coup against democracy in Honduras and attempting to overthrow the democratic government in Venezuela.

As 2011 dawns, public discourse in America has the country primed for a fascist dictatorship.The situation will be worse by 2012. The most uncomfortable truth that emerges from the WikiLeaks saga is that American public discourse consists of cries for revenge against those who tell us truths. The vicious mendacity of the US government knows no restraint. Whether or not international law can save Julian Assange from the clutches of the Americans or death by a government black ops unit, both executive and legislative branches are working assiduously to establish the National Security State as the highest value and truth as its greatest enemy.

America’s future is the world of Winston Smith.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

U.S. Savage Imperialism

The U.S. Empire, the Mideast, and the world, part I

December 2010

By Noam Chomsky

Noam Chomsky's ZSpace Page

From a talk by Noam Chomsky, June 2010


It's tempting to go back to the beginning. The beginning goes pretty far back, but it is useful to think about some aspects of American history that bear directly on current U.S. policy in the Middle East. The U.S. is a pretty unusual country in many ways. It's maybe the only country in the world that was founded as an empire. It was an infant empire—as George Washington called it—and the founding fathers had broad aspirations. The most libertarian of them, Thomas Jefferson, thought that this infant empire should spread and become what he called the "nest" from which the entire continent would be colonized. That would get rid of the "Red," the Indians as they'd be driven away or exterminated. The Blacks would be sent back to Africa when we don't need them anymore and the Latins will be eliminated by a superior race.

Conquest of the National Territory

It was a very racist country all the way through its history, not just anti-black. That was Jefferson's image and the others more or less agreed with it. So it's a settler colonialist society. Settler colonialism is far and away the worst kind of imperialism, the most savage kind because it requires eliminating the indigenous population. That's not unrelated, I think, to the kind of reflexive U.S. support for Israel—which is also a settler colonial society. Its policies resonate with a sense of American history. It's kind of reliving it. It goes beyond that because the early settlers in the U.S. were religious fundamentalists who regarded themselves as the children of Israel, following the divine commandment to settle the promised land and slaughter the Amalekites and so on and so forth. That's right around here, the early settlers in Massachusetts.

All this was done with the utmost benevolence. So, for example, Massachusetts (the Mayflower and all that business) was given its Charter by the King of England in 1629. The Charter commissioned the settlers to save the native population from the misery of paganism. And, in fact, if you look at the great seal of the Bay Colony of Massachusetts, it depicts an Indian holding an arrow pointed down in a sign of peace. And out of his mouth is a scroll on which is written: "Come over and help us." That's one of the first examples of what's called humanitarian intervention today. And it's typical of other cases up to the present. The Indians were pleading with the colonists to come over and help them and the colonists were benevolently following the divine command to come over and help them. It turned out we were helping by exterminating them.

That was considered rather puzzling. Around the 1820s, one Supreme Court justice wrote about it. He says it's kind of strange that, despite all our benevolence and love for the Indians, they are withering and dispersing like the "leaves of autumn." And how could this be? He said, the divine will of providence is "beyond human comprehension." It's just God's will. We can't hope to understand it. This conception—it's called Providentialism—that we are always following God's will goes right up to the present moment. Whatever we're doing, we're following God's will. It's an extremely religious country, off the spectrum in religious belief. A very large percentage of the population—I don't remember the numbers, but it's quite high—believes in the literal word of the Bible and part of that means supporting everything that Israel does because God promised the promised land to Israel. So we have to support them.

These same people—a substantial core of solid support for anything Israel does—also happen to be the most extreme anti-Semites in the world. They make Hitler look pretty mild. They are looking forward to the near total annihilation of the Jews after Armageddon. There's a whole long story about this, which is believed, literally, in high places—probably people like Reagan, George W. Bush, and others. It ties in with the kind of settler colonial history of Christian Zionism—which long preceded Jewish Zionism and is much stronger. It provides a solid base of reflexive support for whatever Israel happens to be doing.

The conquest of the national territory was a pretty ugly affair. It was recognized by some of the more honest figures like John Quincy Adams who was the great grand strategist of expansionism—the theorist of Manifest Destiny and so on. In his later years, long after his own horrifying crimes were in the past, he did lament what he called the fate of that "hapless race of native Americans, which we are exterminating with such merciless and perfidious cruelty." He said that's one of the sins that the Lord is going to punish us for. Still waiting for that.

His doctrines are highly praised right to the present. There's a major scholarly book by John Lewis Gaddis, a leading American historian, on the roots of the Bush doctrine. Gaddis correctly, plausibly, describes the Bush doctrine as a direct descendent of John Quincy Adams's grand strategy. He says, it's a concept that runs right through American history. He praises it; thinks it's the right conception—that we have to protect our security, that expansion is the path to security and that you can't really have security until you control everything. So we have to expand, not just over the hemisphere, but over the world. That's the Bush doctrine.

By WWII, without going into the details, though the U.S. had long been by far the richest country in the world, it was playing a kind of secondary role in world affairs. The main actor in world affairs was the British—even the French had a more global reach. WWII changed all that. American planners during WWII, Roosevelt's planners, understood very well from the beginning of the war that it was going to end with the U.S. in a position of overwhelming power.

As the war went on and the Russians ground down the Germans and pretty much won the European war, it was understood that the U.S. would be even more dominant. And they laid careful plans for what the post-war world would look like. The United States would have total control over a region that would include the Western Hemisphere, the Far East, the former British Empire, and as much of Eurasia as possible, including, crucially, its commercial and industrial core—Western Europe. That's the minimum. The maximum was the whole world and, of course, we need that for security. Within this region, the U.S. would have unquestioned control and would limit any effort at sovereignty by others.

The U.S. ended the war in a position of dominance and security that had no remote counterpart in history. It had half the world's wealth, it controlled the whole hemisphere, the opposite sides of both oceans. It wasn't total. The Russians were there and some things were still not under control, but it was remarkably expansive. Right at the center of it was the Middle East.

One of President Roosevelt's long-time, high-level advisers, Adolf A. Berle, a leading liberal, pointed out that control of Middle East oil would yield substantial control of the world—and that doctrine remains. It's a doctrine that's operative right at this moment and that remains a leading theme of policy.

After World War II

For a long time during the Cold War years, policies were invariably justified by the threat of the Russians. It was mostly an invented threat. The Russians ran their own smaller empire with a similar pretext, threat of the Americans. These clouds were lifted after the collapse of the Soviet Union. For those who want to understand American foreign policy, an obvious place to look is what happened after the Soviet Union disappeared. That's the natural place to look and it follows almost automatically that nobody looks at it. It's scarcely discussed in the scholarly literature though it's obviously where you'd look to find out what the Cold War was about. In fact, if you actually do look, you get very clear answers. The president at the time was George Bush I. Immediately after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, there was a new National Security Strategy, a defense budget, and so on. They make very interesting reading. The basic message is: nothing is going to change except pretexts. So we still need, they said, a huge military force, not to defend ourselves against the Russian hordes because they're gone, but because of what they called the "technological sophistication" of third world powers. Now, if you're a well trained, educated person who came from Harvard and so on, you're not supposed to laugh when you hear that. And nobody laughed. In fact, I don't think anybody ever reported it. So, they said, we have to protect ourselves from the technological sophistication of third world powers and we have to maintain what they called the "defense industrial base"—a euphemism for high tech industry, which mostly came out of the state sector (computers, the Internet, and so on), under the pretext of defense.

With regard to the Middle East, they said, we must maintain our intervention forces, most of them aimed at the Middle East. Then comes an interesting phrase. We have to maintain the intervention forces aimed at the Middle East where the major threats to our interests "could not be laid at the Kremlin's door." In other words, sorry folks, we've been lying to you for 50 years, but now that pretext is gone, we'll tell you the truth. The problem in the Middle East is and has been what's called radical nationalism. Radical just means independent. It's a term that means "doesn't follow orders." The radical nationalism can be of any kind. Iran's a good case.

The Threat of Radical Nationalism

So in 1953, the Iranian threat was secular nationalism. After 1978, it's religious nationalism. In 1953, it was taken care of by overthrowing the parliamentary regime and installing a dictator who was highly praised. It wasn't a secret. The New York Times, for example, had an editorial praising the overthrow of the government as an "object lesson" to small countries that "go berserk" with radical nationalism and seek to control their own resources. This will be an object lesson to them: don't try any of that nonsense, certainly not in an area we need for control of the world. That was 1953.

Since the overthrow of the U.S.-imposed tyrant in 1979, Iran has been constantly under U.S. attack—without a stop. First, Carter tried to reverse the overthrow of the Shah immediately by trying to instigate a military coup. That didn't work. The Israelis—in effect the ambassador, as there'd been close relations between Israel and Iran under the Shah, although theoretically no formal relations—advised that if we could find military officers who were willing to shoot down 10,000 people in the streets, we could restore the Shah. Zbigniew Brzezinski, Carter's National Security advisor, had pretty much the same advice. That didn't quite work. Right away, the U.S. turned for support to Saddam Hussein in his invasion of Iran—which was no small affair. Hundreds of thousands of Iranians were slaughtered. The people who are now running the country are veterans of that war and deep in their consciousness is the understanding that the whole world is against them—the Russians, the Americans were all supporting Saddam Hussein and the effort to overthrow the new Islamic state.

It was no small thing. The U.S. support for Saddam Hussein was extreme. Saddam's crimes—like the Anfal genocide, the massacre of the Kurds—were just denied. The Reagan administration denied them or blamed them on Iran. Iraq was even given a very rare privilege. It's the only country other than Israel which has been granted the privilege of attacking a U.S. naval vessel and getting away with complete impunity. In the Israeli case, it was the Liberty in 1967. In Iraq's case it was the USS Stark in1987—a naval vessel which was part of the U.S. fleet protecting Iraqi shipments from Iran during the war. They attacked the ship using French missiles, killed a few dozen sailors, and got a slight tap on the wrist, but nothing beyond that.

U.S. support was so strong that they basically won the war for Iraq. After the war was over, U.S. support for Iraq continued. In 1989, George Bush I invited Iraqi nuclear engineers to the U.S. for advanced training in nuclear weapons development. It's one of those little things that gets hushed up because a couple of months later Saddam became a bad boy. He disobeyed orders. Right after that came harsh sanctions and so on, right up till today.

The Iranian Threat

Coming up to today, in the foreign policy literature and general commentary what you commonly read is that the major policy problem for the U.S. has been and remains the threat of Iran. What exactly is the threat of Iran? Actually, we have an authoritative answer to that. It came out a couple of months ago in submissions to Congress by the DOD and US intelligence. They report to Congress every year on the global security situation. The latest reports, in April, of course have a section on Iran—the major threat. It's important reading. What they say is, whatever the Iranian threat is, it's not a military threat. They say that Iranian military spending is quite low, even by regional standards, and as compared with the U.S., of course, it's invisible—probably less than 2 percent of our military spending. Furthermore, they say that Iranian military doctrine is geared toward defense of the national territory, designed to slow down an invasion sufficiently so it will be possible for diplomacy to begin to operate. That's their military doctrine. They say it's possible that Iran is thinking about nuclear weapons. They don't go beyond that, but they say, if they were to develop nuclear weapons, it would be as part of Iran's deterrence strategy in an effort to prevent an attack, which is not a remote contingency. The most massive military power in history—namely us—which has been extremely hostile to them, is occupying two countries on their borders and is openly threatening them with attack, as is its Israeli client.

That's the military side of the Iranian threat as reported in Military Balance. Nevertheless, they say, Iran's a major threat because it's attempting to expand its influence in neighboring countries. It's called destabilization. They're carrying out destabilization in neighboring countries by trying to expand their influence and that's a problem for the U.S. because the U.S. is trying to bring about stability. When the U.S. invades another country, it's to bring about stability—a technical term in the international relations literature that means obedience to U.S. orders. So when we invade Iraq and Afghanistan, that's to create stability. If the Iranians try to extend their influence, at least to neighboring countries, that's destabilizing. This is built in to scholarly and other doctrine. It's even possible to say without ridicule, as was done by the liberal commentator and former editor of Foreign Affairs, James Chase, that the U.S. had to destabilize Chile under Allende to bring about stability, namely obedience to U.S. orders.

What's Terrorism?

The second threat of Iran is its support for terrorism. What's terrorism? Two examples of Iran's support for terrorism are offered. One is its support for Hezbollah in Lebanon, the other its support for Hamas in Palestine. Whatever you think of Hezbollah and Hamas—maybe you think they're the worst thing in the world—what exactly is considered their terrorism? Well, the "terrorism" of Hezbollah is actually celebrated in Lebanon every year on May 25, Lebanon's national holiday commemorating the expulsion of Israeli invaders from Lebanese territory in 2000. Hezbollah resistance and guerilla warfare finally forced Israel to withdraw from Southern Lebanon, which Israel had been occupying for 22 years in violation of Security Council orders, with plenty of terror and violence and torture.

So Israel finally left and that's Lebanese Liberation Day. That's what's considered the main core of Hezbollah terrorism. It's the way it's described. Actually, in Israel it's even described as aggression. You can read the Israeli press these days where high level figures now argue that it was a mistake to withdraw from South Lebanon because that permits Iran to pursue its "aggression" against Israel, which it had been carrying out until 2000 by supporting the resistance to Israeli occupation. That's considered aggression against Israel. They follow U.S. principles, as we say the same thing. That's Hezbollah. There are other acts you could criticize, but that's the core of Hezbollah terrorism.

Another Hezbollah crime is that the Hezbollah-based coalition handily won the latest parliamentary vote, though because of the sectarian system of assigning seats, they did not receive the majority. That led Thomas Friedman to shed tears of joy, as he explained, over the marvels of free elections, in which U.S. President Obama defeated Iranian President Ahmadinejad in Lebanon. Others joined in this celebration. The actual voting record was never reported, to my knowledge.

What about Hamas? Hamas became a serious threat—a serious terrorist organization—in January 2006 when Palestinians committed a really serious crime. That was the date of the first free election in any country in the Arab world and the Palestinians voted the wrong way. That's unacceptable to the U.S. Immediately, without a blink of an eye, the U.S. and Israel turned very publically towards punishing the Palestinians for that crime. You can read in the New York Times, in parallel columns, right afterwards—one of them talking about our love for democracy and so on and right alongside it, our plans to punish the Palestinians for the way they voted in the January election. No sense of conflict.

There'd been plenty of punishment of the Palestinians before the election, but it escalated afterwards—Israel went so far as to cut off the flow of water to the arid Gaza Strip. By June, Israel had fired about 7,700 rockets at Gaza and all sorts of other things. All of that's called defense against terrorism. Then, the U.S. and Israel, with cooperation from the Palestinian Authority, tried to carry out a military coup to overthrow the elected government. They were beaten back and Hamas took control. After that, Hamas became one of the world's leading terrorist forces. There's plenty of criticisms you can make of them—the way they treat their own population, for example—but Hamas terrorism is a little hard to establish. The current claim is that their terrorism consists of rockets from Gaza that hit Israel's border cities. That was the justification given for Operation Cast Lead (the U.S./Israeli invasion of December 2008) and also for the Israeli attack on the flotilla last June in international waters where nine people were murdered.

It's only in a deeply indoctrinated country that you can hear that and not laugh in ridicule. Putting aside the comparison between Qassam rockets and the terrorism that the U.S. and Israel are constantly carrying out, the argument has absolutely no credibility for a simple reason: Israel and the U.S. know exactly how to stop the rockets—by peaceful means. In June 2008, Israel agreed to a ceasefire with Hamas. Israel didn't really live up to it—they were supposed to open the borders and they didn't—but Hamas did live up to it. You can look it up on the official Israeli website or listen to their official spokesperson, Mark Regev, and they agree that during the ceasefire there wasn't a single Hamas rocket fired.

Israel broke the ceasefire in November 2008 when it invaded Gaza and killed half a dozen Hamas activists. Then there was some rocket fire and far greater attacks from Israel. A number of people were killed—all Palestinians. Hamas offered to renew the ceasefire. The Israeli cabinet considered it and rejected it, preferring to use violence. A couple of days later came the U.S./Israel attack on Gaza.

In the U.S. and the West generally, it is taken for granted, even by human rights groups and the Goldstone report, that Israel had the right to force and self-defense. There were criticisms that the attack was disproportionate, but they're a secondary matter as Israel had absolutely no right to use force in the first place. You have no justification for the use of force unless you've exhausted peaceful means. In this case, the U.S. and Israel had not just not exhausted them, they had refused even to try peaceful means, which they had every reason to believe would succeed. The concession that Israel had a right to attack is just an amazing gift.

In any case, according to the DOD and U.S. intelligence, Iran's efforts to extend its influence, as well as its support for Hezbollah and Hamas, are what constitute, for the U.S. and its allies, the Iranian threat.


Noam Chomsky is Professor of Linguistics (Emeritus) at MIT and author of dozens of books on U.S. foreign policy.

The Victimhood of the Powerful:

Saturday, December 18, 2010

How much surplus did the US have when Clinton left office?

How much surplus did the US have when Clinton left office?

U.S. National
Will the national debt push us over the falls? Find out.

Read more:

Clinton ran deficits throught all 8 years of his term, and one can go to the US Treasury Department and looking through the history of the total outstanding debt throught Clintons term. (

Every year Clinton was in office, the total national debt continued to climb.

How Clinton managed to claim a surplus was that while the general operating budgets ran deficits but Clinton borrowed from numerous off budget funds to make the on budget fund a surplus.

For example, in 2000, Clinton claimed a $230B surplus, but Clinton borrowed
$152.3B from Social Security
$30.9B from Civil Service Retirement Fund
$18.5B from Federal Supplementary Medical insurance Trust Fund
$15.0B from Federal Hospital Insurance Trust Fund
$9.0B from the Federal Unemployment Trust Fund
$8.2B from Military Retirement Fund
$3.8B from Transportation Trust Funds
$1.8B from Employee Life Insurance & Retirement fund
$7.0B from others

Total borrowed from off budget funds $246.5B, meaning that his $230B surplus is actually a $16.5B deficit.
($246.5B borrowed - $230B claimed surplus = $16.5B actual deficit).

If there is ever a true surplus, then the national debt will go down.

Read more:

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Naked emperor hails sex by surprise

By Pepe Escobar

Information has never been so free. Even in authoritarian countries information networks are helping people discover new facts and making governments more accountable.
- US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, January 21, 2010

Julian Assange, unfortunately, got it wrong. He should have tried to make it to the Tora Bora - the rugged mountains in Afghanistan and the best place to escape the emperor's fury, as former al-Qaeda icons Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri can abundantly attest. OK, no broadband; but at least no danger of sex tricks, apart from a brush-off with a rock face.

World public opinion has not failed to notice the spectacular crossover between WikiLeaks founder Assange's bizarre Swedish sex saga charges and the emperor's (and his minion's) fury. This

is stuff to blow Monty Python's Life of Brian out of the park. To the delight of those "democrats" who want to take him down - or out - Assange, now firmly established as a global underground icon, will spend his next days at London's Wandsworth prison, which The Guardian has quaintly depicted as "a beautiful example of Victorian prison architecture". Pentagon supremo Defense Secretary Robert Gates said this is "good news". What is good for the Pentagon simply can't be good for the rest of the world.

The plot thickens. The post-arrest Assange thriller will clarify everything one needs to know about the state of Western democracy as embodied by three of its supposed icons - Britain, Sweden and the United States. Imagine if the roller-coaster narrative so far - including a manhunt merging into a Burn the Witch! (pirate) hysterics among the establishment - was taking place in China, Russia or, ayatollahs forbid, Iran.

The emperor - and his minions - can hardly wait to return to business as usual, as in an ocean of hypocrisy never contaminated by the hardcore mud-wrestling match which WikiLeaks reveals to be the real "making of diplomacy". The moment the self-satisfied Democratic West - this happy-ever-after end of history - faces a totally new, and radical, transgression, its response is to try to turn the concept of freedom of information upside down. The emperor is disgusted: Who are these "criminals" - WikiLeaks - who dare to steal what we say we are?

Sex, lies and no videotape
As Mark Stephens, Assange's London attorney, had told AOL News this past weekend, Swedish prosecutors want Assange "not for allegations of rape, as previously reported", but for something called "sex by surprise", which Stephens said "involves a fine of 5,000 kronor or about $715". Stephens added, "We don't even know what 'sex by surprise' even means, and they haven't told us."

"Sex by surprise" is legally considered an offense only in Sweden. Anywhere else - including the US and the United Kingdom - quite a few women are rushing to clarify that if it really means what the definition implies, they more than welcome it.

Four charges are involved in the Assange thriller; one "Miss A", 31, a blonde, feminist, social democrat whom once wrote a treatise on how to take revenge against men, poses as victim of "unlawful coercion"; then sex with a malfunctioning condom; then "deliberate molestation"; and finally there's "sex by surprise" with one "Miss W", 27, an art photographer and avowed Assange groupie.

"Miss A" must have enjoyed the mess around, because even after the broken condom the first time, they were seen together the day after. And it was "Miss W" herself who invited Assange to her apartment - even paying for his train ticket. During the trip, Assange seems to have preferred his computer to her company - as the dejected groupie told police. Sex ensued, anyway - with no condom.

Supposing this is the real story, Assange too could have grounds for prosecuting; the resourceful groupie should have handed him both the train ticket and the condom. One thing at least is quite clear; gone are the days of free, independent and much-envied Swedish girls, now obviously replaced by guided-missile prudes.

It gets "girlish". The two women eventually get together to gossip - and realize they had something in common; sharing a bed with Assange. That's when "Miss W" suddenly became supremely troubled regarding her "unprotected sex" and decided to go to the police with "Miss A". The first prosecutor - a woman - issued an arrest warrant for "rape and molestation". She was overruled the day after by another female prosecutor. Then the current prosecutor - also a woman - reopened the investigation, claiming she had "new information".

Top journalist John Pilger, who along with legendary filmmaker Ken Loach and others offered to stand surety for Assange in the London court for over $280,000 (bail was denied), went straight to the point; "The charges against him in Sweden are absurd and were judged as absurd by the chief prosecutor there when she threw the whole thing out until a senior political figure intervened." Outside the Westminster court, Pilger summed it all up; "Sweden should be ashamed."

Whether this "senior political figure" has some shady Central Intelligence Agency-style designs is open to speculation. But the most absurd thing is that "Miss A" herself told a Swedish tabloid that she never wanted Assange to be charged with rape. Maybe she should tell that to the new prosecutor. Moreover, Assange's lawyer Stephens has said many times that his client remained in Sweden for 40 days offering to meet the accusing prosecutor to tell his version of the events.

European-wide laws list 32 violations - rape is one of them - that authorize extradition. Britain is just executing a request from Sweden. European lawyers stress Assange's best chance is now to accept extradition and face whatever justice rolls on in Sweden.

Freedom riders
The "sex by surprise" gambit could not be more convenient for a "Western democratic" system viciously attempting to shut down WikiLeaks at all costs.

Assange begins the op-ed he penned for The Australian this Tuesday with a bang: "In 1958, a young Rupert Murdoch, then owner and editor of Adelaide's the News, wrote: 'In the race between secrecy and truth, it seems inevitable that truth will always win'."

Now compare with what US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wrote in a Foreign Policy article in early 2010:
On their own, new technologies do not take sides in the struggle for freedom and progress. But the United States does. We stand for a single Internet where all of humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas. And we recognize that the world's information infrastructure will become what we and others make of it. This challenge may be new, but our responsibility to help ensure the free exchange of ideas goes back to the birth of our republic. The words of the first amendment to the constitution [guaranteeing freedom of speech] are carved in 50 tons of Tennessee marble on the front of this building. And every generation of Americans has worked to protect the values etched in that stone.
What the record is actually showing is that Clinton - unlike Assange and the young Murdoch - is being buried by 50 tons of Tennessee marble. "Free exchange of ideas?" By now, the military dictatorship in Myanmar, the Uzbekistan's President Islam Karimov, the array of US-friendly autocrats/dictators in the Middle East, and the leadership in Beijing are all saying to themselves that it's cool to go after a website, their provider, their donation mechanism - and target foreigners without a warrant - simply because they don't like what the site is saying. The emperor has proclaimed: it's my way or the (non-information) highway.

WikiLeaks cables suggest - once again - that Saudi Arabians are the ATMs for everyone from al-Qaeda to Taliban factions. But from Amazon and eBay to PayPal, Visa and Mastercard, everyone bends over to the furious emperor who wants to shut down a website for good.

The US government doesn't even register that Spain may want to extradite George "Dubya" Bush for war crimes; but all stops will be pulled, and maybe even laws bent, to get an Assange extradition (for the record: that's impossible under current US espionage laws). And this from a government that in nine years was incapable of finding the "terrorists" who, according to the official narrative, actually killed over 3,000 people.

"Sex by surprise" and its derived dodgy charges may eventually keep Assange in jail. Yet this won't kill the messenger - not to mention the message. It's all over the net, via BitTorrent - and it's totally viral (mirrored in 748 sites already, and counting). Moreover, two, three, a million Assanges will spring up. And they will have learned their lesson: if you want to show the emperor is naked, you've got to be as careful with your sex partners as you are with your sources.

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. His new book, just out, is Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009).

He may be reached at

Monday, December 6, 2010

Happy as a Hangman

Happy as a Hangman
by Chris Hedges

Innocence, as defined by law, makes us complicit with the crimes of the state. To do nothing, to be judged by the state as an innocent, is to be guilty. It is to sanction, through passivity and obedience, the array of crimes carried out by the state.

To be innocent in America means we passively permit offshore penal colonies where we torture human beings, some of whom are children. To be innocent in America is to acquiesce to the relentless corporate destruction of the ecosystem that sustains the human species. To be innocent in America is to permit the continued theft of hundreds of billions of dollars from the state by Wall Street swindlers and speculators. To be innocent in America is to stand by as insurance and pharmaceutical companies, in the name of profit, condemn ill people, including children, to die. To be innocent in America is refusing to resist wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that are not only illegal under international law but responsible for the murder of hundreds of thousands of people. This is the odd age we live in. Innocence is complicity.

The steady impoverishment and misery inflicted by the corporate state on the working class and increasingly the middle class has a terrible logic. It consolidates corporate centers of power. It weakens us morally and politically. The fraud and violence committed by the corporate state become secondary as we scramble to feed our families, find a job and pay our bills and mortgages. Those who cling to insecure, poorly paid jobs and who struggle with crippling credit card debt, those who are mired in long-term unemployment and who know that huge medical bills would bankrupt them, those who owe more on their houses than they are worth and who fear the future, become frightened and timid. They seek only to survive. They accept the pathetic scraps tossed to them by the corporate elite. The internal and external corporate abuse accelerates as we become every day more pliant.

Our corrupt legal system, perverting the concept that “all men are created equal,” has radically redefined civic society. Citizens, regardless of their status or misfortune, are now treated with the same studied indifference by the state. They have been transformed from citizens to commodities whose worth is determined solely by the market and whose value is measured by their social and economic functions. The rich, therefore, are rewarded by the state with tax cuts because they are rich. It is their function to monopolize wealth and invest. The poor are supposed to be poor. The poor should not be a drain on the resources of the state or the oligarchic elite. Equality, in this new legal paradigm, means we are all treated alike, no matter what our circumstances. This new interpretation of equality, under which the poor are abandoned and the powerful are unchecked, has demolished the system of regulations, legal restraints and services that once protected the underclass from wealthy and corporate predators.

The creation of a permanent, insecure and frightened underclass is the most effective weapon to thwart rebellion and resistance as our economy worsens. Huge pools of unemployed and underemployed blunt labor organizing, since any job, no matter how menial, is zealously coveted. As state and federal social welfare programs, especially in education, are gutted, we create a wider and wider gulf between the resources available to the tiny elite and the deprivation and suffering visited on our permanent underclass. Access to education, for example, is now largely defined by class. The middle class, taking on huge debt, desperately flees to private institutions to make sure their children have a chance to enter the managerial ranks of the corporate elite. And this is the idea. Public education, which, when it functions, gives opportunities to all citizens, hinders a system of corporate neofeudalism. Corporations are advancing, with Barack Obama’s assistance, charter schools and educational services that are stripped down and designed to train classes for their appropriate vocations, which, if you’re poor means a future in the service sector. The eradication of teachers’ unions, under way in states such as New Jersey, is a vital component in the dismantling of public education. Corporations know that good systems of public education are a hindrance to a rigid caste system. In corporate America everyone will be kept in his or her place.

The beating down of workers, exacerbated by the prospect that unemployment benefits will not be renewed for millions of Americans and that public sector unions will soon be broken, has transformed those in the working class from full members of society, able to participate in its debates, the economy and governance, into terrified people in fragmented pools preoccupied with the struggle of private existence. Those who are economically broken usually cease to be concerned with civic virtues. They will, history has demonstrated, serve any system, no matter how evil, and do anything for a salary, job security and the protection of their families.

There will be sectors of the society that, as the situation worsens, attempt to rebel. But the state can rely on a huge number of people who, for work and meager benefits, will transform themselves into willing executioners. The reconfiguration of American society into a corporate oligarchy is conditioning tens of millions not only to passively accept state and corporate crimes, but to actively participate in the mechanisms that ensure their own enslavement.

“Each time society, through unemployment, frustrates the small man in his normal functioning and normal self-respect,” Hannah Arendt wrote in her 1945 essay “Organized Guilt and Universal Responsibility,” “it trains him for that last stage in which he will willingly undertake any function, even that of hangman.”

Organs of state repression do not rely so much on fanatics and sadists as ordinary citizens who are desperate, who need a job, who are willing to obey. Arendt relates a story of a Jew who is released from Buchenwald. The freed Jew encountered, among the SS men who gave him certificates of release, a former schoolmate, whom he did not address but stared at. The SS guard spontaneously explained to his former friend: “You must understand, I have five years of unemployment behind me. They can do anything they want with me.”

Arendt also quotes an interview with a camp official at Majdanek. The camp official concedes that he has assisted in the gassing and burying of people alive. But when he is asked, “Do you know the Russians will hang you?” he bursts into tears. “Why should they? What have I done?” he says.

I can imagine, should the rule of law ever one day be applied to the insurance companies responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans denied medical care, that there will be the same confused response from insurance executives. What is frightening in collapsing societies is not only the killers, sadists, murderers and psychopaths who rise up out of the moral swamp to take power, but the huge numbers of ordinary people who become complicit in state crimes. I saw this during the war in El Salvador and the war in Bosnia. It is easy to understand a demented enemy. It is puzzling to understand a rational and normal one. True evil, as Goethe understood, is not always palpable. It is “to render invisible another human consciousness.”

Alexander Solzhenitsyn in his book “The Gulag Archipelago” writes about a close friend who served with him in World War II. Solzhenitsyn’s defiance of the Communist regime after the war saw him sent to the Soviet gulags. His friend, loyal to the state, was sent there as an interrogator. Solzhenitsyn was forced to articulate a painful truth. The mass of those who serve systems of terrible oppression and state crime are not evil. They are weak.

“If only there were vile people ... committing evil deeds, and if it were only necessary to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them,” Solzhenitsyn wrote. “But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

The expansions of public and private organs of state security, from Homeland Security to the mercenary forces we are building in Iraq and Afghanistan, to the burgeoning internal intelligence organizations, exist because these “ordinary” citizens, many of whom are caring fathers and mothers, husbands and wives, sons and daughters, have confused conformity to the state with innocence. Family values are used, especially by the Christian right, as the exclusive definition of public morality. Politicians, including President Obama, who betray the working class, wage doomed imperial wars, abandon families to home foreclosures and bank repossessions, and refuse to restore habeas corpus, are morally “good” because they are loyal husbands and fathers. Infidelity, instead of corporate murder, becomes in this absurd moral reasoning the highest and most unforgivable offense.

The bureaucrats who maintain these repressive state organs, who prosecute the illegal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or who maintain corporate structures that perpetuate human suffering, can define themselves as good—as innocent—as long as they are seen as traditional family men and women who are compliant to the laws of the state. And this redefinition of civic engagement permits us to suspend moral judgment and finally common sense. Do your job. Do not ask questions. Do not think. If these bureaucrats were challenged for the crimes they are complicit in committing, including the steady dismantling of the democratic state, they would react with the same disbelief as the camp guard at Majdanek.

Those who serve as functionaries within corporations such as Goldman Sachs or ExxonMobil and carry out crimes ask of their masters that they be exempted from personal responsibility for the acts they commit. They serve corporate structures that kill, but, as Arendt notes, the corporate employee “does not regard himself as a murderer because he has not done it out of inclination but in his professional capacity.” At home the corporate man or woman is meek. He or she has no proclivity to violence, although the corporate systems they serve by day pollute, impoverish, maim and kill.

Those who do not carry out acts of rebellion, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, are guilty of solidifying and perpetuating these crimes. Those who do not act delude themselves into believing they are innocent. They are not.