LOSING INTEREST

10 09 2011

Texas Governor Rick Perry recently lead a three-day prayer marathon, asking for God to make it rain on Texas.  God’s answer?  Tropical Storm Lee skipped the state, and even more wildfires have broken out.  No reports yet of any brimstone, but a volcanic eruption in Texas would put quite a cap on the summer disaster season, wouldn’t it?  Where are all the Evangelicals who have framed other natural disasters as God’s wrathful judgment on the sinners of New Orleans, New York,  or wherever?  If God is all-powerful and on their side, how come he’s burning up the home state of his self-proclaimed most devoted servant?  Do I blaspheme?

Speaking of God’s wrath, today is the tenth anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center.  I’m starting to suspect we will never know the real story of what happened, despite the many obvious contradictions and peculiar decisions contained in the official version.  For instance:  cell phones didn’t work on airplanes in 2001–how was someone allegedly on one of the hijacked flights able to make cell phone calls?  How could an airliner hit a building at ground level (the Pentagon), and disintegrate so thoroughly that virtually no trace of the airliner was left?  How could somebody with virtually no experience flying an airliner do such a good job of flying it so close to the ground?  Why was no attempt made to shoot the plane down before it hit?  And if, as some claim, it was a missile and not an airplane that hit the Pentagon, thus explaining the lack of debris, what happened to the missing airplane?

And that’s just the Pentagon–moving to the main event, in New York, we don’t know how a kerosene (aka jet fuel) fire could get hot enough to melt structural steel–there are videos that seem to show molten metal pouring out of the stricken floors of the World Trade Center, and plenty of eyewitness reports of molten metal in the collapsed ruins.  Why were the remains of the buildings hastily recycled, rather than carefully examined for evidence of why they collapsed?  Why were traces of high explosives found in World Trade Center structure samples that were independently analyzed?  Why did Building 7, which was not hit by an airplane, and contained the security camera records for the towers, collapse and burn hours after the main event?

On the other hand, if it was, as many allege, a controlled demolition, how could the enormous amount of material needed have been spirited into the building and put in place without attracting notice?  Such a task would require so many hands that it is hard to believe that everyone’s lips would remain sealed after ten years.

I haven’t even touched on the larger questions–who knew what, and when.  Perhaps that is why our government took such great care to seal Mr. Bin Laden’s lips and confiscate his records.  We may never know if the attack occurred without the knowledge of our government, or whether it occurred with the collusion or outright participation of our government.  After all, the neoconservative “Project for a New American Century” had, only the year before, proclaimed a need for “a new Pearl Harbor” to galvanize Americans into supporting a war that, they believed, would result in American dominance of the Middle East and its oil.  And Pearl Harbor, let us not forget, was an attack that upper echelons of U.S. intelligence may have known  about, and allowed to happen, in order to…galvanize Americans into supporting a war.  Maybe that’s what happened.  As I said, there’s a lot we just don’t know.

But, in a way, it doesn’t matter whether Dick Cheney was in on the 9-11 plot or not.   It doesn’t even matter that the country, or at least the media, has largely lost interest in these questions. What the attack really succeeded in doing was provoking a massive increase in U.S. government spending–and borrowing.  Our national debt nearly doubled during the Cheney administration, largely due to increased war and “homeland security” spending.  This was all part of a mindset that saw no need to regulate or rein in government spending on big business , or in any way question the basic assumption on which our economy runs:  economic growth is the ultimate good thing.

And that is where this country has run into trouble, because our commitment to unrestrained economic growth at any cost was bound to create a crash, sooner or later, and increased government spending and borrowing–not to mention private sector spending and borrowing, as in the consumer credit boom–just brought the contradictions to a head that much faster.

Here’s the key:  a financial system based on loaning money at interest presumes that the economy can somehow grow indefinitely.  There is no way to pay off an interest-bearing loan other than to somehow create more wealth than the original loan represents.  But oops!  That presumes infinite growth on this small and extremely finite–not to mention fragile–planet.

In the prescient climactic scene from the 1983 Monty Python movie “The Meaning of Life,” the Chairman of the Very Big Corporation of America says

… which brings us once again to the urgent realisation of just how much there is still left to own.

In 1983, it seemed that there was still a lot left to own, but, just a few years later, the field had narrowed considerably.  By the early 90’s, the planet’s material resources were pretty much accounted for or tapped out, and bankers started resorting to what you could call ‘creative financing”–Collateralized Debt Obligations, Collateralized Bond Obligations, and so forth, even a second generation of essentially artificial financial instruments based on CDO’s, etc., which catapulted high finance into a realm of such huge amounts of–ultimately–imaginary money that the only “collateral” for these abstract investment opportunities was more  abstract money, because there just wasn’t enough actual stuff to do the job.  The world of finance had run out of things to own, and yet  banksters made billions in a market that resembled nothing so much as an off-track betting parlor for an imaginary horse race.  They made enough money to buy the U.S. government, with the result that, when their schemes blew up in their faces, they were able to manipulate that government into bailing them out instead of prosecuting them for theft and fraud.

The rest of us are not so well-connected.  Debt also became overwhelming at the family/individual level, resulting in a flood of bankruptcies and foreclosures that has decimated the American middle class and shoved the poor even farther down the storm drain.  Oh, and did I mention that part of the corporate Ponzi scheme involved moving as much manufacturing out of the US as possible, to places where they wouldn’t have to pay their workers as well, or observe expensive environmental safeguards?

Here’s some numbers:   real wages for the average person have declined by about 14% since the early 1970’s, while the cost of living,  as measured by the consumer price index,  has risen by a factor of five.  The cost of living increase is partly due to price increases, but also  involves using television to hypnotize people into believing they need things that they do not, in fact, need, thus inflating demand.

A more concrete example:  the average home price in 1972 was $27.000.  Adjusted for inflation to 2007 prices, that’s about $134,000.  But, in 2007, the average home price in the U.S. was  around $300,000, and the median was in the neighborhood of $250,000.  So, for the average American, income–down 14%,  while the price for keeping a roof over our head is up nearly 100%.  That has opened up a big hole between our expectations and our ability to fulfill them, a hole known as a “debt trap.”  The total amount of individual debt in the U.S. is about 2.4 trillion dollars, about a third of it credit card debt, the rest mostly home and college loans.  In 2009, the average household debt was only about $16K, but the average household debt of households with credit card debt was $54K.  The good news is, both these figures were about half of what they had been a year earlier.

The bad news is that a fair amount of this debt disappeared when banks gave up on collecting it, because the debtors went bankrupt.  Foreclosure, of course, technically transfers the asset to the bank, but unoccupied, unsaleable homes have a funny tendency to lose value rather rapidly.  Too bad for the banks.  My heart bleeds.

The other bad news is that, since our economy is based on credit, the fact that people are borrowing and spending less is ‘bad for the economy.”

But the good news is, our unsustainable, growth-dependent economy needs to wither and die, to keep the planet from withering and dying.  I’m not too hung up in the “either/or” of this, because it looks like the planet is going to wither and die enough to shake the cancer of our civilization, and possibly our entire species.  As one who appreciates what is valuable in humanity–our self-awareness, our ability to understand large concepts, and our ability to be compassionate with each other–I hope it doesn’t come to that.  But unless several million mostly rich, white, mostly Americans ( who are overall somewhat deficient in self-awareness, understanding, and compassion) don’t get a clue pretty quick, it could, indeed, be curtains for us.  These are interesting times, indeed.

music:  Eliza Gilkyson, “2153





MINIPAX BULLETIN: EMMANUEL GOLDSTEIN DEAD! MILLIONS CHEER!

7 05 2011

This just in from MiniPax:  Immanuel Goldstein is dead!  Goldstein was tracked to his lair in Pakistan, where he was living under the alias “Osama Bin Laden,” and died in a firefight with Oceania’s crack special forces troops, who had infiltrated Pakistan without its government’s permission to carry out the raid and assassination.

With Goldstein/Bin Laden gone, who will now be the focus of our “two minute hates”?  It’s a dirty job, as they say, but somebody will have to do it, even if we have to create them out whole cloth.

And now we will never know to what extent the “Osama Bin Laden” we have been encouraged to hate and fear was, like Emmanuel Goldstein, a creation of our own “Ministry of Peace.”  After all, Bin Laden did start out as a hero, even portrayed (in a manner of speaking) as an American in Idrees Shah’s thrilling 1986 novel Kara Kush, which describes how, with American help, the Taliban rallied the people of Afghanistan to push out the Soviet invaders and crush corrupt Afghan warlords.

Times change, don’t they?  Now the US is the invader in Afghanistan, and such corrupt warlords as remain there are our friends and allies in our attempt to crush the Taliban, who have been concealing Osama Bin Laden.  Remember?  The U.S. invaded Afghanistan to find Bin Laden?  Or has that gone down the Ministry of Truth’s memory hole along with so much of the rest of recent history?

So, now that we’ve found, and killed, bin Laden, will Obama wind down the war against Osama?  Or, in true 1984 fashion, will our “war on terror” prove to be an “endless war,” with new attacks and demons arising to replace the enemies we have killed and the acts we have avenged?

With Bin Laden conveniently dead, there are many questions that conveniently will never be answered, especially since U.S. troops had free run of his headquarters and were able to preserve–or destroy–what they found there, as they saw fit.  Likewise, what they found will be released at the discretion of the Ministry of Truth, and so we can only assume that there is much we will never know.

Here’s a few of the things we will probably never know:

Was the “Reichstag Fire” element of the attack on the World Trade Center really a coincidence?  The attacks came at a point when the Bush administration’s incompetence was about to make it the laughingstock of America, and the world.  Suddenly, it was all Americans’ patriotic duty to take the Cheney/Bush junta seriously.  The attack, if Bin Laden had anything to do with it, saved Cheneybush’s ass, ensured the passage of the Patriot Act, and gave us a sinister, dark-skinned, sneaky adversary to unite against.  Did the junta know of the plot and allow it to proceed?  Did they foment it?  Did they carry it out, with no help from the alleged perpetrators at all?  Bin Laden will never tell us.

After we spent all those years looking for him in Afghanistan, what was he doing in Pakistan, in a well-appointed villa, not a cave in the hills, and just a few miles from a major Pakistani military base?   Did they know he was there all along?  After all, “the search for Bin Laden” was a bit of a cash cow for the Pakis, and no doubt they, who know poverty far better than most Americans do so far, wanted to milk that (and their Uncle Sam) for all it was worth.

Was Bin Laden really “killed in a firefight” or was he executed?  (Since writing this, our government has admitted that he was unarmed when he was killed.)  Given the changes and uncertainties of his relationship with the U.S. government, Bin Laden’s side of the story might be quite different from our government’s version.  Making sure he’s dead is a good way to avoid embarrassment.  To bring up another example, the U.S.  invaded Iraq because, Cheneybush said, they had “weapons of mass destruction.”   After all, the U.S. had shipped them over there in the 80’s to help Iraq fight Iran–Saddam and Rumsfeld were buddies, remember?–how were we to know he’d actually used most of them against the Iranians as promised, and then dropped the rest on the Kurds?   Better to take the guy into custody and hang him than to exile or imprison him and give him the chance to write a tell-all memoir.  And since that trial and execution were kinda messy, just make sure Bin Laden is dead from the get-go, OK?

Finally,did this really happen?  There is no independent verification.  The body was “buried at sea.”  A government that has asked us to believe everything from Pat Tillman‘s heroic death at the hands of the Taliban to the guilt of everybody in Guantanamo (not to mention Bradley Manning) without the necessity of a trial, just to cite the most recent, glaring few incidents, going all the way back to the Gulf of Tonkin “attack,” and beyond, now wants us to believe they killed Osama Bin Laden and disposed of  his body, trust them.  Uh-huh.

Bin Laden has been widely reviled as a man with “the blood of thousands of innocents on his hands.”  Those who trumpet this viewpoint generally ignore the fact that the U.S. government, in avenging the deaths of thousands, has caused the deaths of millions of innocent Iraqi civilians and thousands of innocent Afghan citizens.  When will the Navy’s “Seals” drop in on Bush’s Texas compound and Chaney’s undisclosed location and exact frontier justice?  And why have we singled out Bin Laden and Muamar Qadhafi for rough treatment while we ignore the national tragedies taking place in North Korea, Burma, Saudi Arabia, and Central Asia, and encourage the repression of democracy advocates in Bahrain, for just one example?

Emmanuel Goldstein–I mean, Osama Bin Laden, is dead, we are told.  His was a dirty job, but somebody had to do it, and somebody will step–or be forced–into his shoes, one way or another.   How else can we continue to have our beloved two-minute hates?

music:  Bob Dylan, “Masters of War”





MILLION-DOLLAR SOLDIERS AND MISPLACED PRIORITIES

12 09 2010

Nine years ago yesterday, something awful happened in downtown Manhattan.  Whether it was the work of a small, dedicated group of terrorists who slipped through our defenses or a “Reichstag fire” has still not been settled.  While I find it hard to believe that the World Trade Center caught fire so readily and collapsed so neatly and completely without skilled assistance (including a building that did not get hit by an airplane but did contain surveillance equipment that could have told us who-knows-what), I also find it hard to believe that, in this Wikileaks age, nobody who’s in on the secret has spilled any beans so far.  Maybe it really was done by Israeli intelligence operatives.  They are some mean, dedicated mofos.

Speaking of mean, dedicated mofos, let’s give a shout-out to the US Congress for failing to pass a bill that would provide funds to help the thousands of people who are still sick today because they inhaled WTC dust.  Kudos to Bush’s EPA secretary, Christie Whitman, who announced that it was safe to work in the rubble without protective equipment. Kudos to the “support our heroes” Republicans who wouldn’t support the bill because it was  financed by closing a corporate tax loophole, and kudos to the Democrats who hobbled the bill by proposing it in a form that required a 2/3 majority to pass.  What a wonderful government we have, yessir.

But that’s not what I’m here to talk about.  The rubble from the World Trade Center has been consigned to the dust bin of history, and is unlikely to ever be exhumed and examined, to the great relief of whoever is keeping whatever secrets there may be about this event.  In response to the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, because a bunch of Saudi Arabians allegedly attacked us, and the Afghans were allegedly giving them shelter, aid and comfort.

We never have found that pesky Bin Laden, in spite of all our vaunted high-tech surveillance and the presence of around 160,000 US soldiers, over 100,000 mercenaries, aka “private contractors,”  and the deputization of around 200,000 Afghans as soldiers and policemen–although, given the shoddy state of record keeping in Afghanistan, one of those deputies could very well be Ben Laden…but, I digress.  The country is relatively small, about 250,000 square miles, which means that there are nearly two foreign or Afghan soldiers per square mile of Afghanistan.  Many of those square miles are incredibly rugged, but others are flat as a pancake, with nowhere to hide. That should be enough “boots on the ground” to find whatever’s there, but Bin Laden, that former CIA asset, still eludes us, as do thousands of his supporters, aka a sizable percentage of the people of Afghanistan.  Yet another batch of mean, dedicated mofos.

So, the U.S. has sent 160,000 soldiers to one of the most isolated, primitive places in the world, and is trying to make it comfy for them.  When my father fought in World War II, he was issued  a blanket to sleep in and a tent to put his blanket in.  The war was nearly over before he got a real sleeping bag.  In Afghanistan, Uncle Sam is providing air conditioning for tents in the desert.  That’ll boost your expenses.  In fact, the war is costing the U.S. a million dollars per soldier per year.  This comes to about six thousand dollars a year for each of the approximately twenty-five million citizens of Afghanistan, whose per capita annual income is estimated to be about $800.  Gee…might they become a lot more peaceful and open minded if we withdrew our soldiers and instituted a guaranteed annual income of $1600 per person?  We’d save a lot of money, too, which we could really use over here, dontcha know?

Meanwhile,just south of Afghanistan, Pakistan is suffering from devastating flooding.  The immediate cause of this is an unusually strong monsoon, but what has made this worse is that Pakistan’s hills have been denuded by firewood seekers and grazing animals, so there is nothing to catch the water as it falls on barren hillsides and swells the country’s rivers.  Over 800 million dollars has been raised for Pakistan so far for immediate relief; more would be necessary to actually fix the deeper problem.  Eight hundred million sounds like a lot of money–but it’s the cost of maintaining just eight hundred of the 160,000 American soldiers in the region.  That’s one-half of one percent of the troops and the budget.  But we can’t spare it–gotta make Afghanistan safe for democracy, or oil pipelines and mineral exploitation in any case.  The US has kicked in the equivalent of just 150 soldiers from our Afghan expedition–a tenth of one percent.  That’s seven and a half dollars per displaced person in Pakistan.  Pakistanis are dying from malnutrition and bad water while U.S. soldiers eat steak and sleep in air-conditioned tents.  What is wrong with this picture?

US soldiers in Afghanistan are making enemies just by being there.  Scrimping on aid to Pakistan because we’re fighting a war in Afghanistan is making enemies by not being there.  In the Middle East, this contributes to the perception that the US would rather shoot Muslims than save them.  Here at home, where mass demonstrations against mosques are all the rage from Murfreesboro to Manhattan, Americans are likewise pouring gasoline on the fire of Muslim anger at our arrogance in imposing our secular/Christian, commercial way of life on them.  Some Muslims are indeed violent and misogynistic, but we lack the moral authority to inspire them out of those bad habits.  Not only are we pretty violent and sexist ourselves, but our secular, commercial, “Christian” culture is revoltingly shallow compared to theirs, in which spiritual considerations take precedence over commercialism.

“Secular/Christian”?  How can our way of life be both?  OK, this is the “deep green” part.  One of the changes in thinking that marked the emergence of Protestantism from Catholicism was that Protestants viewed a person’s path through life, whatever it might be, as, at least potentially, a “calling,” a spiritual enterprise, and identified material success in the world as a sign of spiritual success.  That is, if God loves you, He will make you rich.   Therefore, if you profess Christianity, and you’re wealthy, God must love you.  That is how secularism and Christianity can reinforce each other.  If you want to learn more about this, read Max Weber‘s “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.”  Weber was a prophet.

At a still deeper level, we are falling victim to good, old-fashioned Christian dualism–good and evil, Devil and God.  “We who are saved are good, those who are not saved are evil.”  If we are saved/good, any “evil” must be “out there–our own mind is pure because we are saved, so somebody else is the problem.  This has been a consistent theme through American history–some group has always been demonized, starting with the Native Americans, then witches, Quakers, Irish, Germans, Italians, Eastern Europeans, Negroes, Chinese,  Jews, labor organizers, Communists, hippies, gays.  Now it’s Islam’s turn.

Nor can we ignore the fact that the real villains in American history–the ruling class–have distracted the masses into these foolish prejudices to preserve their own power. And no, I am not just pointing to another “enemy out there.”  We are all deeply enmeshed with those who rule us.  It’s called “the American way of life,” and the sooner we admit that it is, in fact, negotiable, the easier it will be  not just on  us, but on the whole planet.

music:  Jackson Browne, “Soldier of Plenty





IS THE DOLLAR BUBBLE ABOUT TO POP?

11 09 2009

Well, here it is the eighth anniversary of 9-11, and we find that one of the levers used to push Van Jones out of the government was the fact that he signed a petition calling for a fuller investigation of what happened on that day.  It isn’t just that the Repugs attacked him for this, it’s that the mainstream of the Dimocratic Party dropped him like a hot potato–for expressing a question that, according to one poll, has been seriously considered by nearly a third of all “Democrats.”

I don’t pretend to know what happened, but there certainly are some questions I would like to have good answers for, like, how did a fire started by igniting kerosene, which burns at a temperature too low to melt or even weaken steel, how did a fire in a largely inflammable structure, get hot enough so that molten metal was observed pouring out of the impact zone and discovered still hot days later in the ruins, and why did the steel girders holding up the impacted floors shatter?  and, once those girders shattered, why did they collapse like a house of cards?  Shouldn’t they have been built  strong enough so the tops would have just fallen off and left the bottoms shaken, but standing?  And why, if this was not a controlled demolition, did the building fall so neatly into its own footprint?  And why did Building 7, which housed offices for the Secret Service and the CIA, and reportedly housed surveillance records for the main buildings, catch fire and collapse?  On the other hand, of course, I have to wonder, if the towers were demoed, how such a huge amount of explosives could have been placed in the them without anybody noticing–or telling?

But I want to use the rest of this show to talk about an even bigger hijacking and collapse–no, not the ecology, that’s REALLY the big one, but a the collapse of a structure we are all more or less trapped in, just the same–the collapse of the dollar.

So far, it’s just been rumblings and minor quakes, but the stage has been set for a change, and to my mind the only question is how fast and vast that change will be.

OK, some basics.  The U.S. dollar has been a  de facto world currency for the last sixty or seventy years, ever since the U.S. was the only large industrial country not devastated by the Second World War.  American financing rebuilt most of the planet, except for the Soviet bloc, and it was the rest of the world’s indebtedness to the U.S. that enabled this country to “lead the free world,” as so many politicians love to say….only, they weren’t the free world, they were in debt slavery  to us.

This started to change in the 1970’s, when U.S. oil production peaked, along with our manufacturing economy and the high-paying middle-class jobs it created.  Imported oil was just the beginning of the slide.  As companies took increasing advantage of the poverty of other countries to move manufacturing out of the U.S. and into first Mexico and Central America and then China, the U.S. manufacturing base eroded, and for some years this country’s chief export has been…money.

Now, there’s something very important to understand about the U.S. dollar, as well as many other world currencies: the only thing backing it up is the world’s belief that it is valuable.  It’s no longer backed by gold, the bills are no longer called “silver certificates.”  It’s what referred to as “fiat currency.”  “Fiat” is a Latin world meaning “let it be done,” as in, “because I say so.”

And so the U.S. went from being everybody’s rich Uncle Sam to being the country that owed money to the rest of the world–not just because we have been sending our money overseas and not getting it back, but because we have obtained the money we sent overseas by borrowing it from people overseas–at compound interest.

Compound interest is a very dangerous game to play.  First of all, it assumes that the borrower is going to be wealthier in the future than he is now.He has to be, or he cannot repay the loan–and compound interest insures that the amount owed will snowball if it is not repaid.  Meanwhile, here in the real world, we are coming up against serious warning signs, telling us we are not likely to be wealthier in the future.  We have gotten rich by looting the planet’s storehouse of fossil fuel, metals, and “renewable resources” such as its forests, topsoil, water,and ocean life.  We have seriously depleted all of these and show few signs of slowing down.  We will probably use up the last of the cheap fossil fuel fighting over the last water, somewhere.  But, I digress…

So, the U.S. already owed about 9 trillion dollars to the rest of the world, in 2007, before the financial crisis began.  Then, gosh, oops , suddenly the government needed about two or three trillion more to bail out those poor people in the Hamptons, swamped by an economic tsunami  (never mind that they helped set it off), and gosh, they are having to shell out more trillions for the delayed costs of the invasion of Iraq and the ongoing expenses of subduing those pesky ingrates in Afghanistan, and how are they going to get all these trillions?  Why, they’ll just print ’em up of course–never mind how that decreases the value of what we owe to all those other countries, who are starting to get upset.  Hey, it’s the Christian Bible that says, “thou shalt not commit adultery,” and here we are watering down what we owe them–it’s as if you promised five people you would bake them a pie, only made enough ingredients for three, but spread the crust and filling out over five pies…kinda.  Or you blew the ingredients full of air so it looked like five big pies,but they were mostly air…which is why they call what I think is about to happen in this country “Inflation.”  People do not like it when what looked like a nice pie turns out to be full of hot air.  George Bush’s “higher pie,” I guess…Nor did other countries like it when they noticed that, after using the International Monetary Fund to impose severe austerity measures when other countries’ economies went haywire, the U.S. applied quite different standards to its own financial crisis.  Can you say “coddle the perps,” boys and girls?

So now the rest of the world is starting to figure out how to quit lending to their woozy, pill-addicted, overweight Uncle, and what to do about all the money he owes them already–which, they are beginning to realize, is far more than he can ever repay.  What do you do when you discover you’ve been pinning your hopes on worthless IOUs?

Well, as they say, “people are starting to talk.”  A couple of different UN committees have suggested starting an international currency.  The Russians say, “hey, let’s just use Chinese currency.” The Chinese, who hold about two trillion in US IOUs, are saying they will start investing in other currencies–and that in order to get their economy going now that the U.S. can’t buy everything they make any more, they will have to stimulate domestic demand–which is where we run head-on into peak everything.

Even without being abandoned as a world currency, printing more dollars in response to the Wall Street holdup is going to make everything we import–which is just about everything but food, these days–much more expensive, from three different directions.  The first is that simple internal inflation will drive prices to higher numbers as the dollar becomes worth less..on its way to being worthless…..  The second is that this inflation, at an international level, will make things outside the U.S. more expensive to people inside the U.S.   (Been to Europe lately?) And the third is that, as raw materials grow scare, demand and speculation will drive prices up.  And, if the dollar don’t get no respect in the international marketplace any more, then other countries will be able to outbid us for those scarce materials, and we just won’t get none.  I think it’s this knowledge that makes all those corporate executives demand such high pay.  They know the end is nigh, but they believe they CAN take it with them.  So far, they are right.

It’s easy to talk about what would have been different if only, somehow, the Green Party had been calling the shots.  Where do you want to start in the game of “what if”?  A sane government would never have allowed an unregulated derivatives market, would never have allowed the kind of crazy growth in real estate development and prices that blew the bubble that allowed Americans to hock their homes and keep buying useless crap from China, would never have allowed corporate America to indoctrinate people into senseless consumption…but sane government, apparently, is not an option in America.  It’s all about influence and money.  I’m free to say what I believe as loud as I can, but corporate America is free to use a megaphone big enough to drown out me and the millions of people who  share my vision.

On 9-11-01,  four airliners full of people were hijacked.  On 9-11-09, we find that the whole country has been hijacked, and that all last year’s election did was change the chief hijacker.  He’s  more charming (to some of us, anyway), slicker than the last head hijacker–but I don’t think I want to go where I think he’s taking us.  The only good news is, most of us are likely to survive this crash–in some condition, for a while.  Let’s make the best of it, eh?

music:  Don Henley, “Everybody Knows





TRUTH IN STRANGE PLACES

6 08 2008

This month’s “Truth in Strange Places” award goes to….the Organic Consumers’ Association.

“What!?” you may ask.  “The TISP award usually goes to somebody from the dark side who spills the beans in spite of themselves.  What could a gang of goody-two-shoes like the OCA come up with to put themselves in such company?”

Well, it wasn’t their revelation that supposedly “organic” Chinese ginger is tainted with Aldicarb, a dangerous insecticide.  Hey, I always said “organic food from China” was an oxymoron, not to mention a whopping carbon footprint.

No, it was nothing food-related at all, although I suppose they fit the story in by deciding it was health-related.  I mean, Anthrax is a health issue, right?  It’s a disease, but it’s also a burning political issue, because, as OCA’s story pointed out, it’s looking more and more like the “Anthrax scare” that accompanied the Twin Towers bombing was created by the US government…not to mention the bombing itself. This from the Organic Consumers’ Association, of all people!  Here’s the words that won the award:

the majority of Americans do not believe the “official story” of what happened on 9/11, nor the official story from Bush & Cheney (echoed by McCain in 2001) behind the mysterious anthrax attacks which caused panic among the American public and pushed Congress to pass the fascist Patriot Act a few weeks after the 9/11 attacks in 2001. Isn’t it interesting that two high-ranking Democratic Senators (Daschle & Leahy) who were criticizing the Patriot Act in Congress at the time had deadly anthrax letters mailed to their offices?

OK, so now we know Al Queda or Saddam didn’t send the anthrax, that it was a genetically engineered “weaponized” strain from the US military’s Fort Detrick, MD facility. Who then are the real terrorists who obtained this heavily-guarded anthrax, weaponized it, and then mailed it to two liberal US Senators and Tom Brokaw’s office at NBC? First, the FBI said Army scientist Steven Hatfill did it, now they say, no, Army scientist Bruce Ivins did it, but Ivins then inconveniently (or conveniently) committed suicide. However another scientist who worked with Ivins at Fort Detrick said in today’s New York Times that Ivins couldn’t have weaponized the anthrax strain himself, transforming it into tiny nano-like particles that could be inhaled. Bruce Ivins was an expert on anthrax vaccines, not weaponizing anthrax, a highly specialized and complicated undertaking. As Keith Olbermann’s MSNBC piece on national TV suggested yesterday, this all looks like an “inside job.”

http://digg.com/lbv.php?id=7794188&ord=1

This all brings up other, even more troubling questions. If the Administration lied about the anthrax attacks, and the CIA & FBI helped cover this up, and are continuing to do so, then why should we believe their other rather preposterous stories about 9/11 (no prior warnings to Bush and Cheney, FAA didn’t properly notify the Air Force, no standard Air Force interceptions of hijacked planes, no anti-aircraft batteries guarding the Pentagon, physics-defying molten steel pouring out the side of one of the Twin Towers–aircraft fuel and building materials do not produce a hot enough fire to produce molten steel, molten steel filmed on national TV in sub-basement areas, and magical free falls and near-disintegration of three skyscrapers, one of which, WTC7, was not even hit by a plane)? How does this relate to Bush/Cheney/Congress lies about non-existent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, about Iraq links to our former Carter/Reagan/Bush operative in Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden? If these are all lies, then why did we attack Iraq and kill hundreds of thousands of people? Why did we pass the Patriot Act? Why are we occupying and making war on Afghanistan and allying ourselves with psychopathic warlords who are just as evil as the Taliban? Unfortunately the corporate mass media are not going to answer these questions. Nor will Barack Obama and the Democratic Party. Nor will MoveOn and the other middle of the road liberal and progressive groups who are afraid to look at the evidence and admit the scary truth: Bush and Cheney have created a near-fascist state. The Democrats are too scared or too compromised, or both, to stand up to Bush and Cheney and the rogue Shadow Government that has hijacked our democracy for the last 45 years. But here I’ll say it: America’s wave of terror in September 2001, including the anthrax attacks, was an Inside Job.

For real information, censored by the mass media, and unfortunately ignored by many progressive publications, you can look at well-documented books like The New Pearl Harbor by David Ray Griffin, or websites like http://www.911truth.org and 911blogger.org

And of course, now we have the official word from the FBI that Ivins was the sole person responsible for the anthrax attacks, and he has conveniently committed suicide, so I guess we’ll have to take their word for it, huh?

A lone actor.  Just like Sirhan Sirhan.  Just like Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan, who managed to slip nuclear secrets out of his heavily-guarded closely-scrutinized lab without the knowledge of his higher-ups.  Yeah, right.  A lone actor, now dead, like Timothy McVeigh, like James Earl Ray, like Jack Ruby and Lee Harvey Oswald, like five of the  airmen who were involved in the mysterious, highly unlikely “accidental” transfer of five (or was it six?) armed nuclear weapons from Minot, North Dakota to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, the primary Middle East staging ground.

But the point here is not these incidents themselves.  The point is that the belief that the government is not telling the truth has gone viral.  It is not the property of a few fringe crazies like me.  It is showing up in places you wouldn’t expect, like the Organic Consumers’ Association newsletter, and I think that’s very good news.  Distrust of the government has a life of its own and cannot be censored or brushed aside any more.  Sooner or later, its demands and questions will have to be met.  Sooner.  Not later.

music: James McMurtry, “Cheney’s Toy





LINGERING QUESTIONS

8 06 2008

I recently finished reading Edward Jay Epstein’s The Assassination Chroncles, subtitled Inquest, Counterplot, and Legend, and found the now-forty-some-year-old tale of Lee Harvey Oswald’s journey to the Texas Book Depository an interesting lesson.

One of the things that impressed me was Epstein’s level-headed, “just the facts, m’am” approach to this highly controversial subject.  I read a lot of speculative material about current events, and my warning lights tend to go on when a writer makes a string of increasingly less documented assertions and then jumps to conclusions about the international Zionist Conspiracy or the Heartless Lizards from Outer Space or whatever his (and it’s usually a “he”) pet bete noir may be.

Epstein does not engage in speculation, and is strongly critical of those who do, such as New Orleans DA Jim Garrison and film maker Oliver Stone, both of whom, he charges, have muddied up the waters by presenting sensationalized versions of the assassination, for no reason other than to benefit themselves.  The truth, as Epstein presents it, is strange enough, even if it’s not sufficiently spectacular and clear-cut enough to sell movies or get convictions.

The first ambiguity Epstein delineates is the question of who Lee Harvey Oswald–and his wife Marina–really were.  Epstein tells us the story of Oswald’s time in the Marine Corps, and his proximity to the U-2 spy plane program.  He points out the circumstances that indicate that Oswald may have given the Russians the information that enabled them to shoot down Gary Powers and effectively end the U-2 spying program–but he doesn’t come out and scream “OSWALD WAS A RUSSIAN SPY!!!”  He also points out inconsistencies in Marina Oswald’s story of how she grew up and how she met Lee, as well as troubling inconsistencies about her command of the English language, but again, he doesn’t get sensational about this.  “Just the facts, m’am.”

And, in a similar, level-headed tone he points out that the mission of the Warren Commission was not so much to find out the truth as it was to settle the public’s mind.  Was Oswald on the FBI’s payroll?  The Warren Commission didn’t investigate that–nor, lacking information, does Epstein spend much time on it, except to note that Oswald’s expenditures consistently did not match up with his apparent income–never by very much, but always just a little.  Was that because he was on the FBI’s payroll?  Or the KGB’s?  Or both?  We may never know.

The question of Oswald’s KGB connection raises another interesting ambiguity.  At the time of the Kennedy assassination, the CIA was holding a Soviet defector named Nosenko, trying to figure out if he was genuine or a Russian mole.  Nosenko said Oswald had no connection with the KGB, but there were so many inconsistencies in Nosenko’s overall presentation of himself that the CIA agents who spent nearly a year interrogating him were pretty well convinced that he was lying about that and a lot of other things.  They said as much in their report to their superiors….and were all reassigned and replaced by a crew of interrogators who quickly gave Nosenko a clean bill of health and helped him transition into American society.  The practice of changing the facts to fit the policy did not originate with the Bush administration.

About the ultimate questions–did Oswald do it, and was he alone?–Epstein remains level-headed.  He rejects the “gunmen on the grassy knoll” theory, but does point out that Oswald’s marksmanship record in the Marines was poor, while the shots that killed Kennedy and wounded John Connally were tricky ones to make.  Oswald had failed to hit Major General Edwin Walker, a far easier target, just a few months previously, and the Warren Commission never investigated the allegation of some witnesses that they saw two figures in the window of the Texas Book Depository at the time of the shooting.

Epstein’s analysis is an excellent example of clear thinking.  He concludes that it is possible that there were two gunmen, if one gunman, using Oswald’s rifle, shot Kennedy in the head and  wounded Connally, while the other gunman shot first and missed, then shot again and hit Kennedy in the back, and the investigation failed to recover that bullet.  On the other hand, it is also possible that just two shots were fired, and the shot that hit Kennedy in the back ricocheted and hit Connally.  The expert witnesses do not agree, and that’s all there is to it.  Ambiguity.

Ambiguity is also a key word in the assassination of Bobby Kennedy.  Shane O’Sullivan has recently produced a documentary movie that attempts to prove that Bobby was killed by CIA agents in retaliation for the US’s failure to fully back up the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba.  Of course there are people challenging his evidence, and people challenging their evidence, and so on.  To his credit, O’Sullivan is modifying his stance as the evidence shifts–but the central, unanswered questions still remain.

Another questionable assassination account from the sixties is the death of Martin Luther King.  Again, there is strong evidence that King was set up–removal of his usual security detail from the Memphis Police Department, a mysterious call asking to change his accommodations from a more secure room to the exposed balcony where he was shot–and an “official story” of a crazed lone gunman.  In either case, J. Edgar Hoover’s dislike for Rev. King is real, and a black mark on the government that allowed him to remain in such an influential position.

What, for me, ties these together, is the peculiar circumstance of three relatively progressive figureheads being taken out by “lone gunmen” in a short space of time–resulting in the decapitation of a movement that seemed poised to take America in a more open and liberal direction.  There was no wave of assassinations of conservative figures.  The CIA has a known track record of surreptitious interference with the internal politics of other countries…throw a dart at a map of Central and South America and you’ll probably come up with one.  So there is a certain logic in presuming that things in this country are not quite as they seem.

So, have the right wing and/or the CIA, etc. cooked up quite a menu of vendettas against progressives, or have they just fostered an atmosphere of violence that encourages unstable individuals to go do their wet work for them?  “Just the facts, m’am,” and the fact is that there is a long list of assasinations, each with a “perfectly logical” explanation of why it was not the work of a conspiracy.

Can you say, “9-11,” boys and girls?

music: Mike Scott and the Waterboys, “The Wind In the Wires





CRITIQUEING AL-QAEDA

3 04 2008

Whoever Bohadan Pilicinski is, he seems to have some familiarity with how covert ops work.  That said, it is surprising that he didn’t turn his highly critical viewpoint on the official explanations of the event; he notes that two of the hijackers rented a room from an FBI agent without either, apparently, spotting the other, and he seems to accept the idea that jet fuel (kerosene) could create a fire hot enough to melt steel, etc….hey, this is just one piece of the puzzle…

September 11 was a third-rate operation
By Bohdan Pilacinski


In late April of 2001, just five months before the September 11 attack date, Mohamed Atta was stopped for driving erratically late at night near Ft Lauderdale, Florida. By then, the pilots all had their licenses, final-phase planning must have been under way. Yet, here was Osama bin Laden’s field commander for the entire operation, driving a red Pontiac (though 15 years old), with Arabic stickers, and no driver’s license, or at least none he would show. 

Warned and lucky, Atta was told to show up for a court date, with a license, or a warrant would go out for his arrest. He got the license but failed to show. Ten weeks later, he was stopped for speeding, but unaccountably no computer coughed up a warrant. Now Florida has reciprocity; so at least in theory and for no good reason, the September 11 attack team functioned its last four months with an arrest warrant out for their leader in 50 states.

Having sorted out the contestants in their publicly touted “mastermind” of the month contest, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) released this disclosure of Khalid Sheik Mohammed, (so successfully water-boarded in Pakistan). Zacarias Moussaoui, who’d presumably attracted Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) attention by advising his flight instructor that he wasn’t much interested in take-offs and landings [1], hadn’t been a member of the 9/11 teams at all; he was being held in reserve. Why? Because he was a belligerent loud-mouth and hence a security risk. As he so proved.

Point is, any decent handler with minimal judgment and authority would have yanked Moussaoui out of the country within days of this assessment. But no, he was left scheming on his own, possibly with consequences for al-Qaeda more severe than we know … such as forcing the attack date.

No license, sloppy driving, even Arabic stickers; worse, an unbalanced agent working solo. These aren’t just lapses in the learning curve of an amateur operation; these are ludicrous standards for operational security in any clandestine organization.
In the orchestrated fear campaign pursuant to the attack, we were systematically inundated with extravagant claims for al-Qaeda’s potency, reach, cohesion, dedication, vision and Satanic focus. Dr No on petrodollars! Everything Vladimir Lenin could wish he’d had or been! Of course much of this has since – in the jargon of the financial press – been “subject to downward revision”; yet, to this day, insistence on al-Qaeda as a formerly monolithic, then metastasized, demon pathology of epic capacity for terror and evil, has been virtually obligatory throughout the US media: left, right and center. 

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