Sunday, August 27, 2017

McCoy on the CIA


McCoy is a Yalie who not especially surprisingly got involved with the intelligence services. Skull and Bones is at Yale and the bright and well connected often join forces to become what has lately come to be called "the deep state." McCoy is not well-connected but as can be seen from his beautiful writing, he is obviously very bright. This combination has often led to some scathing outsider critiques and McCoy's here is a doozy.

I have two comments on his expose:
  • McCoy is appropriately outraged that during the Vietnam War, the CIA moved so much heroin into South Vietnam that an estimated 34% of USA forces became regular users. Well yes, wartime profiteering in hard drugs probably doesn't have a lot of support. But I had a neighbor in St. Paul who was one of those users. He was a poor farm kid from northwest Minnesota who had managed to get a degree in French from a St. Paul college. The army turned him into a translator who was assigned to get information from captured Viet Cong. The guys doing the actual interrogation were South Vietnamese army but he was in the room when the torture took place. He never really recovered from that experience and halfway through his tour, the army realized their mistake and reassigned him to Saigon where he spent the rest of his time making sure the hookers with USA clients got their regular shots. This wasn't much of an improvement as he became witness to another wartime-related form of human degradation. Soon he was consuming the readily available heroin. His favorite method involved a regular cigarette that had been soaked in a heroin bath and dried. He reported that the advantage was that he could consume his drugs in the presence of his commanding officers and no one seemed to notice because they looked and smelled like normal cigarettes. In his opinion, heroin was the only reason he survived Vietnam without going insane and committing suicide. So strange as it may sound, getting smack to USA troops may have been one of the more virtuous acts in CIA history.
  • McCoy has done us all a serious service by telling us what some of our taxpayer money has been spent on. On the other hand, one can only wonder at what might have become of such a talented person if he hadn't wasted his life chasing the bad guys. It is MUCH better than being one of the bad guys, of course, but in the end it is still just mostly Leisure Class silliness.

The CIA and Me: How I Learned Not to Love Big Brother

ALFRED W. MCCOY, AUGUST 25, 2017

In the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks, Washington pursued its elusive enemies across the landscapes of Asia and Africa, thanks in part to a massive expansion of its intelligence infrastructure, particularly of the emerging technologies for digital surveillance, agile drones, and biometric identification. In 2010, almost a decade into this secret war with its voracious appetite for information, the Washington Post reported that the national security state had swelled into a �fourth branch� of the federal government � with 854,000 vetted officials, 263 security organizations, and over 3,000 intelligence units, issuing 50,000 special reports every year.

Though stunning, these statistics only skimmed the visible surface of what had become history�s largest and most lethal clandestine apparatus. According to classified documents that Edward Snowden leaked in 2013, the nation�s 16 intelligence agencies alone had 107,035 employees and a combined �black budget� of $52.6 billion, the equivalent of 10% percent of the vast defense budget.

By sweeping the skies and probing the worldwide web�s undersea cables, the National Security Agency (NSA) could surgically penetrate the confidential communications of just about any leader on the planet, while simultaneously sweeping up billions of ordinary messages. For its classified missions, the CIA had access to the Pentagon�s Special Operations Command, with 69,000 elite troops (Rangers, SEALs, Air Commandos) and their agile arsenal. In addition to this formidable paramilitary capacity, the CIA operated 30 Predator and Reaper drones responsible for more than 3,000 deaths in Pakistan and Yemen.

While Americans practiced a collective form of duck and cover as the Department of Homeland Security�s colored alerts pulsed nervously from yellow to red, few paused to ask the hard question: Was all this security really directed solely at enemies beyond our borders? After half a century of domestic security abuses � from the �red scare� of the 1920s through the FBI�s illegal harassment of antiwar protesters in the 1960s and 1970s � could we really be confident that there wasn�t a hidden cost to all these secret measures right here at home? Maybe, just maybe, all this security wasn�t really so benign when it came to us.

From my own personal experience over the past half-century, and my family�s history over three generations, I�ve found out in the most personal way possible that there�s a real cost to entrusting our civil liberties to the discretion of secret agencies. Let me share just a few of my own �war� stories to explain how I�ve been forced to keep learning and relearning this uncomfortable lesson the hard way.

On the Heroin Trail

After finishing college in the late 1960s, I decided to pursue a Ph.D. in Japanese history and was pleasantly surprised when Yale Graduate School admitted me with a full fellowship. But the Ivy League in those days was no ivory tower. During my first year at Yale, the Justice Department indicted Black Panther leader Bobby Seale for a local murder and the May Day protests that filled the New Haven green also shut the campus for a week. Almost simultaneously, President Nixon ordered the invasion of Cambodia and student protests closed hundreds of campuses across America for the rest of the semester.

In the midst of all this tumult, the focus of my studies shifted from Japan to Southeast Asia, and from the past to the war in Vietnam. Yes, that war. So what did I do about the draft? During my first semester at Yale, on December 1, 1969, to be precise, the Selective Service cut up the calendar for a lottery. The first 100 birthdays picked were certain to be drafted, but any dates above 200 were likely exempt. My birthday, June 8th, was the very last date drawn, not number 365 but 366 (don�t forget leap year) � the only lottery I have ever won, except for a Sunbeam electric frying pan in a high school raffle. Through a convoluted moral calculus typical of the 1960s, I decided that my draft exemption, although acquired by sheer luck, demanded that I devote myself, above all else, to thinking about, writing about, and working to end the Vietnam War.

During those campus protests over Cambodia in the spring of 1970, our small group of graduate students in Southeast Asian history at Yale realized that the U.S. strategic predicament in Indochina would soon require an invasion of Laos to cut the flow of enemy supplies into South Vietnam. So, while protests over Cambodia swept campuses nationwide, we were huddled inside the library, preparing for the next invasion by editing a book of essays on Laos for the publisher Harper & Row. A few months after that book appeared, one of the company�s junior editors, Elizabeth Jakab, intrigued by an account we had included about that country�s opium crop, telephoned from New York to ask if I could research and write a �quickie� paperback about the history behind the heroin epidemic then infecting the U.S. Army in Vietnam.

I promptly started the research at my student carrel in the Gothic tower that is Yale�s Sterling Library, tracking old colonial reports about the Southeast Asian opium trade that ended suddenly in the 1950s, just as the story got interesting. So, quite tentatively at first, I stepped outside the library to do a few interviews and soon found myself following an investigative trail that circled the globe. First, I traveled across America for meetings with retired CIA operatives. Then I crossed the Pacific to Hong Kong to study drug syndicates, courtesy of that colony�s police drug squad. Next, I went south to Saigon, then the capital of South Vietnam, to investigate the heroin traffic that was targeting the GIs, and on into the mountains of Laos to observe CIA alliances with opium warlords and the hill-tribe militias that grew the opium poppy. Finally, I flew from Singapore to Paris for interviews with retired French intelligence officers about their opium trafficking during the first Indochina War of the 1950s.

The drug traffic that supplied heroin for the U.S. troops fighting in South Vietnam was not, I discovered, exclusively the work of criminals. Once the opium left tribal poppy fields in Laos, the traffic required official complicity at every level. The helicopters of Air America, the airline the CIA then ran, carried raw opium out of the villages of its hill-tribe allies. The commander of the Royal Lao Army, a close American collaborator, operated the world�s largest heroin lab and was so oblivious to the implications of the traffic that he opened his opium ledgers for my inspection. Several of Saigon�s top generals were complicit in the drug�s distribution to U.S. soldiers. By 1971, this web of collusion ensured that heroin, according to a later White House survey of a thousand veterans, would be �commonly used� by 34% of American troops in South Vietnam.

None of this had been covered in my college history seminars. I had no models for researching an uncharted netherworld of crime and covert operations. After stepping off the plane in Saigon, body slammed by the tropical heat, I found myself in a sprawling foreign city of four million, lost in a swarm of snarling motorcycles and a maze of nameless streets, without contacts or a clue about how to probe these secrets. Every day on the heroin trail confronted me with new challenges � where to look, what to look for, and, above all, how to ask hard questions.

Reading all that history had, however, taught me something I didn�t know I knew. Instead of confronting my sources with questions about sensitive current events, I started with the French colonial past when the opium trade was still legal, gradually uncovering the underlying, unchanging logistics of drug production. As I followed this historical trail into the present, when the traffic became illegal and dangerously controversial, I began to use pieces from this past to assemble the present puzzle, until the names of contemporary dealers fell into place. In short, I had crafted a historical method that would prove, over the next 40 years of my career, surprisingly useful in analyzing a diverse array of foreign policy controversies � CIA alliances with drug lords, the agency�s propagation of psychological torture, and our spreading state surveillance.

The CIA Makes Its Entrance in My Life

Those months on the road, meeting gangsters and warlords in isolated places, offered only one bit of real danger. While hiking in the mountains of Laos, interviewing Hmong farmers about their opium shipments on CIA helicopters, I was descending a steep slope when a burst of bullets ripped the ground at my feet. I had walked into an ambush by agency mercenaries.

While the five Hmong militia escorts whom the local village headman had prudently provided laid down a covering fire, my Australian photographer John Everingham and I flattened ourselves in the elephant grass and crawled through the mud to safety. Without those armed escorts, my research would have been at an end and so would I. After that ambush failed, a CIA paramilitary officer summoned me to a mountaintop meeting where he threatened to murder my Lao interpreter unless I ended my research. After winning assurances from the U.S. embassy that my interpreter would not be harmed, I decided to ignore that warning and keep going.

Six months and 30,000 miles later, I returned to New Haven. My investigation of CIA alliances with drug lords had taught me more than I could have imagined about the covert aspects of U.S. global power. Settling into my attic apartment for an academic year of writing, I was confident that I knew more than enough for a book on this unconventional topic. But my education, it turned out, was just beginning.

Within weeks, a massive, middle-aged guy in a suit interrupted my scholarly isolation. He appeared at my front door and identified himself as Tom Tripodi, senior agent for the Bureau of Narcotics, which later became the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). His agency, he confessed during a second visit, was worried about my writing and he had been sent to investigate. He needed something to tell his superiors. Tom was a guy you could trust. So I showed him a few draft pages of my book. He disappeared into the living room for a while and came back saying, �Pretty good stuff. You got your ducks in a row.� But there were some things, he added, that weren�t quite right, some things he could help me fix.

Tom was my first reader. Later, I would hand him whole chapters and he would sit in a rocking chair, shirt sleeves rolled up, revolver in his shoulder holster, sipping coffee, scribbling corrections in the margins, and telling fabulous stories � like the time Jersey Mafia boss �Bayonne Joe� Zicarelli tried to buy a thousand rifles from a local gun store to overthrow Fidel Castro. Or when some CIA covert warrior came home for a vacation and had to be escorted everywhere so he didn�t kill somebody in a supermarket aisle.

Best of all, there was the one about how the Bureau of Narcotics caught French intelligence protecting the Corsican syndicates smuggling heroin into New York City. Some of his stories, usually unacknowledged, would appear in my book, The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia. These conversations with an undercover operative, who had trained Cuban exiles for the CIA in Florida and later investigated Mafia heroin syndicates for the DEA in Sicily, were akin to an advanced seminar, a master class in covert operations.

In the summer of 1972, with the book at press, I went to Washington to testify before Congress. As I was making the rounds of congressional offices on Capitol Hill, my editor rang unexpectedly and summoned me to New York for a meeting with the president and vice president of Harper & Row, my book�s publisher. Ushered into a plush suite of offices overlooking the spires of St. Patrick�s Cathedral, I listened to those executives tell me that Cord Meyer, Jr., the CIA�s deputy director for covert operations, had called on their company�s president emeritus, Cass Canfield, Sr. The visit was no accident, for Canfield, according to an authoritative history, �enjoyed prolific links to the world of intelligence, both as a former psychological warfare officer and as a close personal friend of Allen Dulles,� the ex-head of the CIA. Meyer denounced my book as a threat to national security. He asked Canfield, also an old friend, to quietly suppress it.

I was in serious trouble. Not only was Meyer a senior CIA official but he also had impeccable social connections and covert assets in every corner of American intellectual life. After graduating from Yale in 1942, he served with the marines in the Pacific, writing eloquent war dispatches published in the Atlantic Monthly. He later worked with the U.S. delegation drafting the U.N. charter. Personally recruited by spymaster Allen Dulles, Meyer joined the CIA in 1951 and was soon running its International Organizations Division, which, in the words of that same history, �constituted the greatest single concentration of covert political and propaganda activities of the by now octopus-like CIA,� including �Operation Mockingbird� that planted disinformation in major U.S. newspapers meant to aid agency operations. Informed sources told me that the CIA still had assets inside every major New York publisher and it already had every page of my manuscript.

As the child of a wealthy New York family, Cord Meyer moved in elite social circles, meeting and marrying Mary Pinchot, the niece of Gifford Pinchot, founder of the U.S. Forestry Service and a former governor of Pennsylvania. Pinchot was a breathtaking beauty who later became President Kennedy�s mistress, making dozens of secret visits to the White House. When she was found shot dead along the banks of a canal in Washington in 1964, the head of CIA counterintelligence, James Jesus Angleton, another Yale alumnus, broke into her home in an unsuccessful attempt to secure her diary. Mary�s sister Toni and her husband, Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, later found the diary and gave it to Angleton for destruction by the agency. To this day, her unsolved murder remains a subject of mystery and controversy.

Cord Meyer was also in the Social Register of New York�s fine families along with my publisher, Cass Canfield, which added a dash of social cachet to the pressure to suppress my book. By the time he walked into Harper & Row�s office in that summer of 1972, two decades of CIA service had changed Meyer (according to that same authoritative history) from a liberal idealist into �a relentless, implacable advocate for his own ideas,� driven by �a paranoiac distrust of everyone who didn�t agree with him� and a manner that was �histrionic and even bellicose.� An unpublished 26-year-old graduate student versus the master of CIA media manipulation. It was hardly a fair fight. I began to fear my book would never appear.

To his credit, Canfield refused Meyer�s request to suppress the book. But he did allow the agency a chance to review the manuscript prior to publication. Instead of waiting quietly for the CIA�s critique, I contacted Seymour Hersh, then an investigative reporter for the New York Times. The same day the CIA courier arrived from Langley to collect my manuscript, Hersh swept through Harper & Row�s offices like a tropical storm, pelting hapless executives with incessant, unsettling questions. The next day, his expos� of the CIA�s attempt at censorship appeared on the paper�s front page. Other national media organizations followed his lead. Faced with a barrage of negative coverage, the CIA gave Harper & Row a critique full of unconvincing denials. The book was published unaltered.

My Life as an Open Book for the Agency

I had learned another important lesson: the Constitution�s protection of press freedom could check even the world�s most powerful espionage agency. Cord Meyer reportedly learned the same lesson. According to his obituary in the Washington Post, �It was assumed that Mr. Meyer would eventually advance� to head CIA covert operations, �but the public disclosure about the book deal� apparently dampened his prospects.� He was instead exiled to London and eased into early retirement.

Meyer and his colleagues were not, however, used to losing. Defeated in the public arena, the CIA retreated to the shadows and retaliated by tugging at every thread in the threadbare life of a graduate student. Over the next few months, federal officials from the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare turned up at Yale to investigate my graduate fellowship. The Internal Revenue Service audited my poverty-level income. The FBI tapped my New Haven telephone (something I learned years later from a class-action lawsuit).

In August 1972, at the height of the controversy over the book, FBI agents told the bureau�s director that they had �conducted [an] investigation concerning McCoy,� searching the files they had compiled on me for the past two years and interviewing numerous �sources whose identities are concealed [who] have furnished reliable information in the past� � thereby producing an 11-page report detailing my birth, education, and campus antiwar activities.

A college classmate I hadn�t seen in four years, who served in military intelligence, magically appeared at my side in the book section of the Yale Co-op, seemingly eager to resume our relationship. The same week that a laudatory review of my book appeared on the front page of the New York Times Book Review, an extraordinary achievement for any historian, Yale�s History Department placed me on academic probation. Unless I could somehow do a year�s worth of overdue work in a single semester, I faced dismissal.

In those days, the ties between the CIA and Yale were wide and deep. The campus residential colleges screened students, including future CIA Director Porter Goss, for possible careers in espionage. Alumni like Cord Meyer and James Angleton held senior slots at the agency. Had I not had a faculty adviser visiting from Germany, the distinguished scholar Bernhard Dahm who was a stranger to this covert nexus, that probation would likely have become expulsion, ending my academic career and destroying my credibility.

During those difficult days, New York Congressman Ogden Reid, a ranking member of the House Foreign Relations Committee, telephoned to say that he was sending staff investigators to Laos to look into the opium situation. Amid this controversy, a CIA helicopter landed near the village where I had escaped that ambush and flew the Hmong headman who had helped my research to an agency airstrip. There, a CIA interrogator made it clear that he had better deny what he had said to me about the opium. Fearing, as he later told my photographer, that �they will send a helicopter to arrest me, or� soldiers to shoot me,� the Hmong headman did just that.

At a personal level, I was discovering just how deep the country�s intelligence agencies could reach, even in a democracy, leaving no part of my life untouched: my publisher, my university, my sources, my taxes, my phone, and even my friends.

Although I had won the first battle of this war with a media blitz, the CIA was winning the longer bureaucratic struggle. By silencing my sources and denying any culpability, its officials convinced Congress that it was innocent of any direct complicity in the Indochina drug trade. During Senate hearings into CIA assassinations by the famed Church Committee three years later, Congress accepted the agency�s assurance that none of its operatives had been directly involved in heroin trafficking (an allegation I had never actually made). The committee�s report did confirm the core of my critique, however, finding that �the CIA is particularly vulnerable to criticism� over indigenous assets in Laos �of considerable importance to the Agency,� including �people who either were known to be, or were suspected of being, involved in narcotics trafficking.� But the senators did not press the CIA for any resolution or reform of what its own inspector general had called the �particular dilemma� posed by those alliances with drug lords � the key aspect, in my view, of its complicity in the traffic.

During the mid-1970s, as the flow of drugs into the United States slowed and the number of addicts declined, the heroin problem receded into the inner cities and the media moved on to new sensations. Unfortunately, Congress had forfeited an opportunity to check the CIA and correct its way of waging covert wars. In less than 10 years, the problem of the CIA�s tactical alliances with drug traffickers to support its far-flung covert wars was back with a vengeance.

During the 1980s, as the crack-cocaine epidemic swept America�s cities, the agency, as its own Inspector General later reported, allied itself with the largest drug smuggler in the Caribbean, using his port facilities to ship arms to the Contra guerrillas fighting in Nicaragua and protecting him from any prosecution for five years. Simultaneously on the other side of the planet in Afghanistan, mujahedeen guerrillas imposed an opium tax on farmers to fund their fight against the Soviet occupation and, with the CIA�s tacit consent, operated heroin labs along the Pakistani border to supply international markets. By the mid-1980s, Afghanistan�s opium harvest had grown 10-fold and was providing 60% of the heroin for America�s addicts and as much as 90% in New York City.

Almost by accident, I had launched my academic career by doing something a bit different. Embedded within that study of drug trafficking was an analytical approach that would take me, almost unwittingly, on a lifelong exploration of U.S. global hegemony in its many manifestations, including diplomatic alliances, CIA interventions, developing military technology, recourse to torture, and global surveillance. Step by step, topic by topic, decade after decade, I would slowly accumulate sufficient understanding of the parts to try to assemble the whole. In writing my new book, In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power, I drew on this research to assess the overall character of U.S. global power and the forces that might contribute to its perpetuation or decline.

In the process, I slowly came to see a striking continuity and coherence in Washington�s century-long rise to global dominion. CIA torture techniques emerged at the start of the Cold War in the 1950s; much of its futuristic robotic aerospace technology had its first trial in the Vietnam War of the 1960s; and, above all, Washington�s reliance on surveillance first appeared in the colonial Philippines around 1900 and soon became an essential though essentially illegal tool for the FBI�s repression of domestic dissent that continued through the 1970s.

Surveillance Today

In the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks, I dusted off that historical method, and used it to explore the origins and character of domestic surveillance inside the United States.

After occupying the Philippines in 1898, the U.S. Army, facing a difficult pacification campaign in a restive land, discovered the power of systematic surveillance to crush the resistance of the country�s political elite. Then, during World War I, the Army�s �father of military intelligence,� the dour General Ralph Van Deman, who had learned his trade in the Philippines, drew upon his years pacifying those islands to mobilize a legion of 1,700 soldiers and 350,000 citizen-vigilantes for an intense surveillance program against suspected enemy spies among German-Americans, including my own grandfather. In studying Military Intelligence files at the National Archives, I found �suspicious� letters purloined from my grandfather�s army locker. In fact, his mother had been writing him in her native German about such subversive subjects as knitting him socks for guard duty.

In the 1950s, Hoover�s FBI agents tapped thousands of phones without warrants and kept suspected subversives under close surveillance, including my mother�s cousin Gerard Piel, an anti-nuclear activist and the publisher of Scientific American magazine. During the Vietnam War, the bureau expanded its activities with an amazing array of spiteful, often illegal, intrigues in a bid to cripple the antiwar movement with pervasive surveillance of the sort seen in my own FBI file.

Memory of the FBI�s illegal surveillance programs was largely washed away after the Vietnam War thanks to Congressional reforms that required judicial warrants for all government wiretaps. The terror attacks of September 2001, however, gave the National Security Agency the leeway to launch renewed surveillance on a previously unimaginable scale. Writing for TomDispatch in 2009, I observed that coercive methods first tested in the Middle East were being repatriated and might lay the groundwork for �a domestic surveillance state.� Sophisticated biometric and cyber techniques forged in the war zones of Afghanistan and Iraq had made a �digital surveillance state a reality� and so were fundamentally changing the character of American democracy.

Four years later, Edward Snowden�s leak of secret NSA documents revealed that, after a century-long gestation period, a U.S. digital surveillance state had finally arrived. In the age of the Internet, the NSA could monitor tens of millions of private lives worldwide, including American ones, via a few hundred computerized probes into the global grid of fiber-optic cables.

And then, as if to remind me in the most personal way possible of our new reality, four years ago, I found myself the target yet again of an IRS audit, of TSA body searches at national airports, and � as I discovered when the line went dead � a tap on my office telephone at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Why? Maybe it was my current writing on sensitive topics like CIA torture and NSA surveillance, or maybe my name popped up from some old database of suspected subversives left over from the 1970s. Whatever the explanation, it was a reasonable reminder that, if my own family�s experience across three generations is in any way representative, state surveillance has been an integral part of American political life far longer than we might imagine.

At the cost of personal privacy, Washington�s worldwide web of surveillance has now become a weapon of exceptional power in a bid to extend U.S. global hegemony deeper into the twenty-first century. Yet it�s worth remembering that sooner or later what we do overseas always seems to come home to haunt us, just as the CIA and crew have haunted me this last half-century. When we learn to love Big Brother, the world becomes a more, not less, dangerous place. more

Monday, August 21, 2017

The total triumph of the idiot classes


The absolute WORST feature of Identity Politics is that it trivializes everything. There are BIG problems like climate change, the fact that folks with schoolyard bully mentalities have access to doomsday weapons, the general collapse of the biosphere, and the reality that the global economy is being run by sociopathic lunatics. Yet there are those who believe that I should be most concerned about the sort of statuary found in obscure parks in mainly the Old South. Now I understand that this sort of symbolic posturing is about all most people can muster as a public gesture. And I know it is WAY beyond the abilities of your typical mainstream journalist to write about anything more complex or important than transgender bathrooms. But sooner or later, we must address the big problems or humanity will cease to exist on the third rock from the sun.

Perhaps the best example of a culture run by excessively trivial dimwits is the current outbreak of Russia-bashing. To listen to these cretins, we are supposed to hate the Russians because they annexed Crimea after the anti-Russian coup in the Ukraine. The Crimeans, who have considered themselves part of Russia since Catherine the Great, wanted to rejoin Russia so badly that their vote to become part of the Russian Federation was well over 90%. Crimea was also Russian by virtue of a LOT of spilled blood. Between the Nazi invasion, the siege of Sevastopol, its surrender and the pitched battles to recapture it, the Red Army and civilians, mostly Russian, lost over 500,000 in the battles for Crimea during the Great Patriotic War. That's more than the totals for all of WW II for the French, British, and USA combined. The idea that Russia was going to give up Crimea over a chickenshit coup in Kiev is beyond preposterous. Yet Crimea is reason #1 given for the current round of Russia-bashing.

The de-Putin-Nazification of America

C.J. Hopkins in The Unz Review:, August 12, 2017

Sometime circa late July, as the hundreds of thousands of de facto vassals that cater to the needs of New York City�s simulated aristocracy were navigating the sweltering hell that subway system has recently become, approximately one hundred miles to the east, deep in the heart of Resistance territory, where villas rent for up to a million a month, members of the notorious Bridgehampton Cell of the Neoliberal Liberation Army were gathered in one of their luxury safehouses, vetting the latest leading candidate for the coveted position of �resistance leader."

California Senator Kamala Harris, multimillionaire woman of the people, and friend of rapacious banks like OneWest, must have impressed the Bridgehampton Cell, because their comrades in corporate-owned media immediately launched a propaganda campaign to get the word out to the American people (who�ve been suffering under occupation for going on the last seven months) that the Senator and her affluent backers represent their last best hope of overthrowing the Trumpian Reich and saving the world from the Putin-Nazis.

For those unfamiliar with the Putin-Nazis, it�s an official term I recently made up to describe, not just the Russian Federation, and Vladimir Putin and his inner circle, but also the maleficent global alliance of Russian hackers, Russian propagandists, Russian diplomats, Russian businesspersons, persons married to Russian persons, persons with Russian-sounding names, neo-Nazis, alt-right geeks, Goldman Sachs guys, Sandernistas, Corbynistas, former coal miners, hillbilly oxycodone addicts, socialists, anarchists, Black Lives Matterists, the ghost of George Carlin, the ACLU, and anyone who has ever retweeted Wikileaks or didn�t vote for Hillary Clinton.

As I�m sure you�ll recall, the Putin-Nazis originally materialized out of thin air around the time that Clinton was managing to lose the US presidential election to a repulsive, jabbering, narcissistic clown with absolutely no political experience, who the mainstream media had been assuring the world for months was the Second Coming of Hitler. Given that it was virtually impossible for Clinton to lose to such a noxious buffoon, the only rational explanation was that the Russians had somehow �hacked� the election, or �interfered with,� or �influenced� the election. They had done this by getting their hands on a batch of internal Democratic Party emails, passing them on to Putin-Nazi Propaganda Minister Julian Assange, who published them on the Internet, where they were read by former Obama-voters, who were so completely shocked by their contents that they decided not to vote for Clinton, as they had obviously been intending to do, until their minds got �interfered with.�

The rest, as they say, is history. On January 20, despite the fact that everyone knew that the entire Trump family were Putin-Nazi �sleeper� agents, and that the man himself was the Glorious Leader of an underground army of neo-Nazis numbering in the tens of hundreds that was threatening the very fabric of democracy by circulating cartoon frogs on the Internet, Donald J. Trump was sworn in as President, and the Trumpian Reich officially began.

Fortunately, Americans are not a bunch of Camembert-slurping surrender monkeys. Although the ruling establishment was bound by law to allow a neo-fascist dictator who was clearly working for a hostile foreign power to move his circus into the White House, they were hardly going to sit idly by and watch as he transformed America into some sort of neo-nationalist dystopia where grade-school children would be forced to learn Russian, Hitler-salute the confederate flag, and whatever other Russo-Nazi horrors he and Bannon had in mind. Before Trump could even order the removal of every likeness of Martin Luther King from the D.C. metropolitan area, the Democratic Party, patriotic Republicans, the Intelligence Community, the corporate-owned media, and, of course, just millions of Good Americans launched a grassroots resistance movement to remove him from office by any means necessary.

Seven months later, here we are, with a Special Counsel and a D.C. grand jury, who will certainly be able to find something on Trump, or at least ensure that he spends the rest of his term denying the stream of allegations, rumors, and leaks that will flow therefrom. Which means it�s time to start getting ready for the day when our national nightmare is over, and Kamala Harris (or whichever loyal figurehead the ruling classes ultimately choose) marches through Washington like Charles de Gaulle, presumably with the Obamas and Clintons in tow, after which the USA can continue to bomb, occupy, sanction, and otherwise destabilize various other countries, allow its banks to debt-enslave its citizens, maintain a brutal, militarized police force, and everything else it�s doing at the moment, but in a normal, liberal, non-fascist manner, and Stephen Colbert can get back to comedy.

Now, to pull this off, the Resistance is going to need to deal with these Putin-Nazis, specifically the Putin-Nazis on the Left, who are already tweeting �fake news� tweets impugning the character of Senator Harris (who happens to be black, and a woman, by the way � not that that has anything to do with anything, of course), and reminding Americans how they got bamboozled by Obama�s Hope-and-Change routine. These people need to be de-Putin-Nazified, and they need to be de-Putin-Nazified immediately. The last thing the Resistance needs at this point is to go through all the trouble of regime-changing Trump, only to have Americans elect some other non-vetted, narcissistic billionaire who thinks it might be fun to run for president.

This de-Putin-Nazification Program is going to involve a concerted effort on the part of the entire neoliberal establishment to stigmatize anyone who voted for Trump, or who didn�t vote for Hillary Clinton, or who questions the integrity of Kamala Harris (who, as I may have already mentioned, is black), as a bug-eyed, Sieg-heiling Putin-Nazi. These people are going to need to be shamed, guilt-tripped, and otherwise emotionally manipulated into keeping their Putin-Nazi mouths shut. This isn�t going to work on your actual fascists, but it will work on nearly everyone else, or at least on those Obama voters who didn�t turn out for Hillary Clinton, and those bitter white Bernie Bros who voted for Trump as personal �fuck you� to the Democratic Party.

See, odd as this is going to sound, the majority of your Putin-Nazis don�t see themselves as Putin-Nazis. They see themselves, well, as just regular Americans who have lost all faith in the electoral system, and who believe they are living in a sham republic controlled by global corporations and obscenely wealthy individuals who couldn�t care less about them and their families, and whose only allegiance is to a transnational class of corporatist leeches like themselves. Still, despite their cynical beliefs, most of these folks are not particularly fond of being likened to Nazis, or racists, or xenophobes, or useful idiots. So this is exactly what the Resistance is doing, and intends to keep doing for the next few years (i.e., calling their detractors bad names, basically), so that any anti-corporatist dissent that they can�t get Google to make disappear with an �anti-fake news algorithm� can be stigmatized as racist, misogynist, or some other variation of �deplorable.�

Now, they need our help to make this work (yes, even CounterPunch readers can contribute to this vital effort). Don�t worry about the Russia hysteria. The corporate-owned media will take care of that. You want to focus on the fascism aspect, and the racism, misogyny, and xenophobia stuff, which is always the best way to silence other leftists. Here are a few simple things you can do.

(1) Exaggerate the neo-fascist threat! You can do this on Twitter and Facebook endlessly. Forget about the fact that the number of actual fascists in America is ridiculously small, and that odds of some sort of fascist takeover of the US government are infinitesimal. Convince your friends and Twitter followers that the fascists are on the verge of launching a national fascist revolution. Tweet about their �leaders� as if they were actual players on the national political stage, and not just a handful of pathetic creeps parading around in their Hitler hairdos for two or three hundred other such creeps. The point here is to help the Resistance keep folks� attention focused on �the fascists,� and the racists, misogynists, xenophobes, et al., and not on the global capitalist elites and the vast transnational corporations that currently control most Western governments.

(2) Hammer the identity politics! Do not miss an opportunity to call out anyone who accidentally writes, speaks, or otherwise disseminates a word or phrase that oppresses anyone, or that displays any type of unacknowledged privilege. Not only will this help the Resistance keep folks divided into an ever-increasing number of powerless little sub-groups that pose no threat to the corporatist ruling classes, it will feel really good to self-righteously hector anyone whose values are different from yours, especially members of the working classes who couldn�t afford to go to university and learn about intersectionality, and so on. These folks are virtually fascists anyway. What difference does it make if you alienate them?

(3) Now, this one is absolutely crucial. Keep comparing Trump to Hitler! If you don�t have time for the other two, at least you can help the Resistance with this one. See, it�s really important that folks believe that Trump is not just a random bozo who rode a wave of populist anger and distrust of the Democrats into the White House, and who is now in the process of being neutralized by the people who actually run the country. He needs to be seen as a powerful dictator, who at any moment is liable to start � well, you know, killing the Jews, or something. Plus, this dovetails with the other two points. Exaggerating the fascist threat works much better when you have a powerful Hitler figure you can wag your finger at. And, given that Trump is actually a bigot, and a misogynist pig, and a xenophobe (or at least he plays one on TV), you can have a field day with the identity politics. So go hard on the Hitler stuff, and any kind of German references you can think of. Spell his name �Drumpf,� or call him �Herr Trump,� or put a little Hitler-mustache on him. Don�t worry about getting chastised by any intersectionalist purity freaks. These kinds of slurs are perfectly acceptable, because, as every Good American knows, the Germans are, and will always be, Nazis.

These are just a few ideas to get started with. I�m sure you can think up some more on your own. The main thing is to steer well clear of any kind of political analysis that reminds folks about that corporatocracy, or how much it costs to get elected to office, and where the majority of that money comes from, and thus how irrelevant electoral politics is.

Oh, and keep an eye out for those Putin-Nazis! You never know where they�re going to turn up, and I�d hate to see your mind get �interfered with.� more

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Neoliberalism�the catastrophic idea that won the day despite being wrong about everything


1973 turned out to be the major economic watershed year for most people alive today. Because that was the year that the pro-growth assumptions of the Keynesians were run out of town.  I was in college when it happened. It was a college known for its Keynesian perspective. The head of the economics department, one Walter Heller, had been JFK's top economic advisor and liked to brag that he taught the principles of Keynes to the President of the USA. In fact, almost anyone who ever had Heller for a class, or had even just met him professionally, had heard this boast. I actually enjoyed his JFK stories because he told them to illustrate the point that even "mere" politicians could understand a set of ideas that had a well-deserved reputation for being difficult.

The University of Minnesota had been "Keynesian" since Alvin Hansen became a full professor in 1923. Actually, calling Hansen a Keynesian is more than a little bit misleading. The USA midwest had only recently been settled so there was a constant stream of political agitation for an economics that represented the world views of people who were attempting to claw a civilization out of some very empty places. Hansen grew up in Viborg South Dakota among people who were attempting to grow row crops and other agricultural pursuits on grassland that had never been plowed. For such people, economic plans that emphasized development were the only ones that would possibly interest them. He studied these ideas under Richard Ely and John Commons at the University of Wisconsin�another new and developing state. So Hansen already was a believer in pro-growth economics long before Keynes ever published his General Theory in 1936.

That Hansen was obviously a "Keynesian" before he ever heard of the man was not unique to him. Marriner Eccles, hands down the best central banker the USA has ever had, was "accused" of being a Keynesian because of his guidance of the Fed during the Roosevelt years. No less a figure than Ken Galbraith called Eccles the most important Keynesian in the land. And yet Eccles claimed to his dying day that he had never read Keynes. For men like Hansen and the Mormon from Utah Eccles, calling them Keynesians was merely a label used by lazy academics and journalists who weren't about to go to the trouble of understanding why folks from frontier settlements might have independently developed pro-growth economic ideas.

Below is a Guardian article that explains how the feudal / imperialist economics came roaring back when the Keynesians faltered in 1973. Their story is about the battle of ideas between Keynes and Friedrich Hayek. My story is that the Keynesians lost because by 1973 their profession had far too many Leisure Class hacks (like Paul Samuelson) and far too few giants like Hansen and Eccles who understood the importance of the Producer Classes and their interests (no matter how they were labeled).

I have written about Hansen and the USA "Keynesians" before:

Wednesday, June 3, 2015
Frances Perkins and the fight for decent working conditions


Sunday, November 6, 2011
Waking up to the relentless idiocy of neoliberalism

Neoliberalism: the idea that swallowed the world

The word has become a rhetorical weapon, but it properly names the reigning ideology of our era � one that venerates the logic of the market and strips away the things that make us human.

Stephen Metcalf, 18 August 2017

Last summer, researchers at the International Monetary Fund settled a long and bitter debate over �neoliberalism�: they admitted it exists. Three senior economists at the IMF, an organisation not known for its incaution, published a paper questioning the benefits of neoliberalism. In so doing, they helped put to rest the idea that the word is nothing more than a political slur, or a term without any analytic power. The paper gently called out a �neoliberal agenda� for pushing deregulation on economies around the world, for forcing open national markets to trade and capital, and for demanding that governments shrink themselves via austerity or privatisation. The authors cited statistical evidence for the spread of neoliberal policies since 1980, and their correlation with anaemic growth, boom-and-bust cycles and inequality.

Neoliberalism is an old term, dating back to the 1930s, but it has been revived as a way of describing our current politics � or more precisely, the range of thought allowed by our politics. In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, it was a way of assigning responsibility for the debacle, not to a political party per se, but to an establishment that had conceded its authority to the market. For the Democrats in the US and Labour in the UK, this concession was depicted as a grotesque betrayal of principle. Bill Clinton and Tony Blair, it was said, had abandoned the left�s traditional commitments, especially to workers, in favour of a global financial elite and the self-serving policies that enriched them; and in doing so, had enabled a sickening rise in inequality.

Over the past few years, as debates have turned uglier, the word has become a rhetorical weapon, a way for anyone left of centre to incriminate those even an inch to their right. (No wonder centrists say it�s a meaningless insult: they�re the ones most meaningfully insulted by it.) But �neoliberalism� is more than a gratifyingly righteous jibe. It is also, in its way, a pair of eyeglasses.

Peer through the lens of neoliberalism and you see more clearly how the political thinkers most admired by Thatcher and Reagan helped shape the ideal of society as a kind of universal market (and not, for example, a polis, a civil sphere or a kind of family) and of human beings as profit-and-loss calculators (and not bearers of grace, or of inalienable rights and duties). Of course the goal was to weaken the welfare state and any commitment to full employment, and � always � to cut taxes and deregulate. But �neoliberalism� indicates something more than a standard rightwing wish list. It was a way of reordering social reality, and of rethinking our status as individuals.


Still peering through the lens, you see how, no less than the welfare state, the free market is a human invention. You see how pervasively we are now urged to think of ourselves as proprietors of our own talents and initiative, how glibly we are told to compete and adapt. You see the extent to which a language formerly confined to chalkboard simplifications describing commodity markets (competition, perfect information, rational behaviour) has been applied to all of society, until it has invaded the grit of our personal lives, and how the attitude of the salesman has become enmeshed in all modes of self-expression.

In short, �neoliberalism� is not simply a name for pro-market policies, or for the compromises with finance capitalism made by failing social democratic parties. It is a name for a premise that, quietly, has come to regulate all we practise and believe: that competition is the only legitimate organising principle for human activity.

No sooner had neoliberalism been certified as real, and no sooner had it made clear the universal hypocrisy of the market, than the populists and authoritarians came to power. In the US, Hillary Clinton, the neoliberal arch-villain, lost � and to a man who knew just enough to pretend he hated free trade. So are the eyeglasses now useless? Can they do anything to help us understand what is broken about British and American politics? Against the forces of global integration, national identity is being reasserted, and in the crudest possible terms. What could the militant parochialism of Brexit Britain and Trumpist America have to do with neoliberal rationality? What possible connection is there between the president � a freewheeling boob � and the bloodless paragon of efficiency known as the free market?

It isn�t only that the free market produces a tiny cadre of winners and an enormous army of losers � and the losers, looking for revenge, have turned to Brexit and Trump. There was, from the beginning, an inevitable relationship between the utopian ideal of the free market and the dystopian present in which we find ourselves; between the market as unique discloser of value and guardian of liberty, and our current descent into post-truth and illiberalism.

Moving the stale debate about neoliberalism forward begins, I think, with taking seriously the measure of its cumulative effect on all of us, regardless of affiliation. And this requires returning to its origins, which have nothing to do with Bill or Hillary Clinton. There once was a group of people who did call themselves neoliberals, and did so proudly, and their ambition was a total revolution in thought. The most prominent among them, Friedrich Hayek, did not think he was staking out a position on the political spectrum, or making excuses for the fatuous rich, or tinkering along the edges of microeconomics.

He thought he was solving the problem of modernity: the problem of objective knowledge. For Hayek, the market didn�t just facilitate trade in goods and services; it revealed truth. How did his ambition collapse into its opposite � the mind-bending possibility that, thanks to our thoughtless veneration of the free market, truth might be driven from public life altogether?

When the idea occurred to Friedrich Hayek in 1936, he knew, with the conviction of a �sudden illumination�, that he had struck upon something new. �How can the combination of fragments of knowledge existing in different minds,� he wrote, �bring about results which, if they were to be brought about deliberately, would require a knowledge on the part of the directing mind which no single person can possess?�

This was not a technical point about interest rates or deflationary slumps. This was not a reactionary polemic against collectivism or the welfare state. This was a way of birthing a new world. To his mounting excitement, Hayek understood that the market could be thought of as a kind of mind.

Adam Smith�s �invisible hand� had already given us the modern conception of the market: as an autonomous sphere of human activity and therefore, potentially, a valid object of scientific knowledge. But Smith was, until the end of his life, an 18th-century moralist. He thought the market could be justified only in light of individual virtue, and he was anxious that a society governed by nothing but transactional self-interest was no society at all. Neoliberalism is Adam Smith without the anxiety.

That Hayek is considered the grandfather of neoliberalism � a style of thought that reduces everything to economics � is a little ironic given that he was such a mediocre economist. He was just a young, obscure Viennese technocrat when he was recruited to the London School of Economics to compete with, or possibly even dim, the rising star of John Maynard Keynes at Cambridge.

The plan backfired, and Hayek lost out to Keynes in a rout. Keynes�s General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, published in 1936, was greeted as a masterpiece. It dominated the public discussion, especially among young English economists in training, for whom the brilliant, dashing, socially connected Keynes was a beau id�al. By the end of the second world war, many prominent free-marketers had come around to Keynes�s way of thinking, conceding that government might play a role in managing a modern economy. The initial excitement over Hayek had dissipated. His peculiar notion that doing nothing could cure an economic depression had been discredited in theory and practice. He later admitted that he wished his work criticising Keynes would simply be forgotten.

Hayek cut a silly figure: a tall, erect, thickly accented professor in high-cut tweed, insisting on the formal �Von Hayek� but cruelly nicknamed �Mr Fluctooations� behind his back. In 1936, he was an academic without a portfolio and with no obvious future. Yet we now live in Hayek�s world, as we once lived in Keynes�s. Lawrence Summers, the Clinton adviser and former president of Harvard University, has said that Hayek�s conception of the price system as a mind is �as penetrating and original an idea as microeconomics produced in the 20th century� and �the single most important thing to learn from an economics course today�. This undersells it. Keynes did not make or predict the cold war, but his thinking wended its way into every aspect of the cold-war world; so too has Hayek�s thinking woven itself into every aspect of the post-1989 world.

Hayek�s was a total worldview: a way of structuring all reality on the model of economic competition. He begins by assuming that nearly all (if not all) human activity is a form of economic calculation, and so can be assimilated to the master concepts of wealth, value, exchange, cost � and especially price. Prices are a means of allocating scarce resources efficiently, according to need and utility, as governed by supply and demand. For the price system to function efficiently, markets must be free and competitive. Ever since Smith imagined the economy as an autonomous sphere, the possibility existed that the market might not just be one piece of society, but society as a whole. Within such a society, men and women need only follow their own self-interest and compete for scarce rewards. Through competition, �it becomes possible�, as the sociologist Will Davies has written, �to discern who and what is valuable�.

What any person acquainted with history sees as the necessary bulwarks against tyranny and exploitation � a thriving middle class and civil sphere; free institutions; universal suffrage; freedom of conscience, congregation, religion and press; a basic recognition that the individual is a bearer of dignity � held no special place in Hayek�s thought. Hayek built into neoliberalism the assumption that the market provides all necessary protection against the one real political danger: totalitarianism. To prevent this, the state need only keep the market free.

This last is what makes neoliberalism �neo�. It is a crucial modification of the older belief in a free market and a minimal state, known as �classical liberalism�. In classical liberalism, merchants simply asked the state to �leave us alone� � to laissez-nous faire. Neoliberalism recognised that the state must be active in the organisation of a market economy. The conditions allowing for a free market must be won politically, and the state must be re-engineered to support the free market on an ongoing basis.

That isn�t all: every aspect of democratic politics, from the choices of voters to the decisions of politicians, must be submitted to a purely economic analysis. The lawmaker is obliged to leave well enough alone � to not distort the natural actions of the marketplace � and so, ideally, the state provides a fixed, neutral, universal legal framework within which market forces operate spontaneously. The conscious direction of government is never preferable to the �automatic mechanism of adjustment� � ie the price system, which is not only efficient but maximises liberty, or the opportunity for men and women to make free choices about their own lives.

As Keynes jetted between London and Washington, creating the postwar order, Hayek sat pouting in Cambridge. He had been sent there during the wartime evacuations; and he complained that he was surrounded by �foreigners� and �no lack of orientals of all kinds� and �Europeans of practically all nationalities, but very few of real intelligence�.

Stuck in England, without influence or respect, Hayek had only his idea to console him; an idea so grand it would one day dissolve the ground beneath the feet of Keynes and every other intellectual. Left to its own devices, the price system functions as a kind of mind. And not just any mind, but an omniscient one: the market computes what individuals cannot grasp. Reaching out to him as an intellectual comrade-in-arms, the American journalist Walter Lippmann wrote to Hayek, saying: �No human mind has ever understood the whole scheme of a society � At best a mind can understand its own version of the scheme, something much thinner, which bears to reality some such relation as a silhouette to a man.�

It is a grand epistemological claim � that the market is a way of knowing, one that radically exceeds the capacity of any individual mind. Such a market is less a human contrivance, to be manipulated like any other, than a force to be studied and placated. Economics ceases to be a technique � as Keynes believed it to be � for achieving desirable social ends, such as growth or stable money. The only social end is the maintenance of the market itself. In its omniscience, the market constitutes the only legitimate form of knowledge, next to which all other modes of reflection are partial, in both senses of the word: they comprehend only a fragment of a whole and they plead on behalf of a special interest. Individually, our values are personal ones, or mere opinions; collectively, the market converts them into prices, or objective facts.

After washing out at LSE, Hayek never held a permanent appointment that was not paid for by corporate sponsors. Even his conservative colleagues at the University of Chicago � the global epicentre of libertarian dissent in the 1950s � regarded Hayek as a reactionary mouthpiece, a �stock rightwing man� with a �stock rightwing sponsor�, as one put it. As late as 1972, a friend could visit Hayek, now in Salzburg, only to find an elderly man prostrate with self-pity, believing his life�s work was in vain. No one cared what he had written!

There had, however, been hopeful signs: Hayek was Barry Goldwater�s favourite political philosopher and was said to be Ronald Reagan�s, too. Then there was Margaret Thatcher. To anyone who would listen, Thatcher lionised Hayek, promising to bring together his free-market philosophy with a revival of Victorian values: family, community, hard work.

Hayek met privately with Thatcher in 1975, at the very moment that she, having been named leader of the opposition in the UK, was preparing to bring his Big Idea off the shelf and into history. They huddled for 30 minutes on Lord North Street in London, at the Institute for Economic Affairs. Afterwards, Thatcher�s staff anxiously asked Hayek what he had thought. What could he say? For the first time in 40 years, power was mirroring back to Friedrich von Hayek his own cherished self-image, a man who might vanquish Keynes and remake the world.

He replied: �She�s so beautiful.�

Hayek�s Big Idea isn�t much of an idea � until you supersize it. Organic, spontaneous, elegant processes that, like a million fingers on a Ouija board, coordinate to create outcomes that are otherwise unplanned. Applied to an actual market � one for pork bellies or corn futures � this description is little more than a truism. It can be expanded to describe how various markets, in commodities and labour and even money itself, form that part of a society known as �the economy�. This is less banal, but still inconsequential; a Keynesian accepts this description happily. But what if we bump it up one more step? What if we reconceive all of society as a kind of market?

The more Hayek�s idea expands, the more reactionary it gets, the more it hides behind its pretence of scientific neutrality � and the more it allows economics to link up with the major intellectual trend of the west since the 17th century. The rise of modern science generated a problem: if the world is universally obedient to natural laws, what does it mean to be human? Is a human being simply an object in the world, like any other? There appears to be no way to assimilate the subjective, interior human experience into nature as science conceives it � as something objective whose rules we discover by observation.

Everything about the postwar political culture lay in favour of John Maynard Keynes, and an expanded role for the state in managing the economy. But everything about the postwar academic culture lay in favour of Hayek�s Big Idea. Before the war, even the most rightwing economist thought of the market as a means to a limited end, to the efficient allocation of scarce resources. From the time of Adam Smith in the mid-1700s, and up to that of the founding members of the Chicago school in the postwar years, it was commonplace to believe that the ultimate ends of society and of life, were established in the non-economic sphere.

On this view, questions of value are resolved politically and democratically, not economically � through moral reflection and public deliberation. The classic modern expression of this belief is found in a 1922 essay called Ethics and the Economic Interpretation by Frank Knight, who arrived at Chicago two decades before Hayek. �The rational economic criticism of values gives results repugnant to common sense,� Knight wrote. �Economic man is the selfish, ruthless object of moral condemnation.�

Economists had struggled for 200 years with the question of how to place the values on which an otherwise commercial society is organised beyond mere self-interest and calculation. Knight, along with his colleagues Henry Simons and Jacob Viner, were holdouts against Franklin D Roosevelt and the market interventions of the New Deal, and they established the University of Chicago as the intellectually rigorous home of free-market economics that it remains to this day. However, Simons, Viner and Knight all started their careers before the unrivalled prestige of atomic physicists drew enormous sums of money into the university system and kicked off a postwar vogue for �hard� science. They did not worship equations or models, and they worried about non-scientific questions. Most explicitly, they worried about questions of value, where value was absolutely distinct from price.

It is not just that Simons, Viner and Knight were less dogmatic than Hayek, or more willing to pardon the state for taxing and spending. It is not the case that Hayek was their intellectual superior. But they acknowledged as a first principle that society was not the same thing as the market, and that price was not the same thing as value. This set them up to be swallowed whole by history.

It was Hayek who showed us how to get from the hopeless condition of human partiality to the majestic objectivity of science. Hayek�s Big Idea acts as the missing link between our subjective human nature, and nature itself. In so doing, it puts any value that cannot be expressed as a price � as the verdict of a market � on an equally unsure footing, as nothing more than opinion, preference, folklore or superstition.

More than anyone, even Hayek himself, it was the great postwar Chicago economist Milton Friedman who helped convert governments and politicians to the power of Hayek�s Big Idea. But first he broke with two centuries of precedent and declared that economics is �in principle independent of any particular ethical position or normative judgments� and is �an �objective� science, in precisely the same sense as any of the physical sciences�. Values of the old, mental, normative kind were defective, they were �differences about which men can ultimately only fight�. There is the market, in other words, and there is relativism.

Markets may be human facsimiles of natural systems, and like the universe itself, they may be authorless and valueless. But the application of Hayek�s Big Idea to every aspect of our lives negates what is most distinctive about us. That is, it assigns what is most human about human beings � our minds and our volition � to algorithms and markets, leaving us to mimic, zombie-like, the shrunken idealisations of economic models. Supersizing Hayek�s idea and radically upgrading the price system into a kind of social omniscience means radically downgrading the importance of our individual capacity to reason � our ability to provide and evaluate justifications for our actions and beliefs.

As a result, the public sphere � the space where we offer up reasons, and contest the reasons of others � ceases to be a space for deliberation, and becomes a market in clicks, likes and retweets. The internet is personal preference magnified by algorithm; a pseudo-public space that echoes the voice already inside our head. Rather than a space of debate in which we make our way, as a society, toward consensus, now there is a mutual-affirmation apparatus banally referred to as a �marketplace of ideas�. What looks like something public and lucid is only an extension of our own pre-existing opinions, prejudices and beliefs, while the authority of institutions and experts has been displaced by the aggregative logic of big data. When we access the world through a search engine, its results are ranked, as the founder of Google puts it, �recursively� � by an infinity of individual users functioning as a market, continuously and in real time.

The awesome utilities of digital technology aside, an earlier and more humanist tradition, which was dominant for centuries, had always distinguished between our tastes and preferences � the desires that find expression in the market � and our capacity for reflection on those preferences, which allows us to form and express values.

�A taste is almost defined as a preference about which you do not argue,� the philosopher and economist Albert O Hirschman once wrote. �A taste about which you argue, with others or yourself, ceases ipso facto being a taste � it turns into a value.�

Hirschman drew a distinction between that part of one�s self that is a consumer, and that part of one�s self that is a supplier of reasons. The market reflects what Hirschman called the preferences that are �revealed by agents as they buy goods and services�. But, as he puts it, men and women also �have the ability to step back from their �revealed� wants, volition and preferences, to ask themselves whether they really want these wants and prefer these preferences�. We fashion our selves and identities on the basis of this capacity for reflection. The use of one�s individual reflective powers is reason; the collective use of these reflective powers is public reason; the use of public reason to make law and policy is democracy. When we provide reasons for our actions and beliefs, we bring ourselves into being: individually and collectively, we decide who and what we are.

According to the logic of Hayek�s Big Idea, these expressions of human subjectivity are meaningless without ratification by the market � as Friedman said, they are nothing but relativism, each as good as any other. When the only objective truth is determined by the market, all other values have the status of mere opinions; everything else is relativist hot air. But Friedman�s �relativism� is a charge that can be thrown at any claim based on human reason. It is a nonsense insult, as all humanistic pursuits are �relative� in a way the sciences are not. They are relative to the (private) condition of having a mind, and the (public) need to reason and understand even when we can�t expect scientific proof. When our debates are no longer resolved by deliberation over reasons, then the whimsies of power will determine the outcome.

This is where the triumph of neoliberalism meets the political nightmare we are living through now. �You had one job,� the old joke goes, and Hayek�s grand project, as originally conceived in 30s and 40s, was explicitly designed to prevent a backslide into political chaos and fascism. But the Big Idea was always this abomination waiting to happen. It was, from the beginning, pregnant with the thing it was said to protect against. Society reconceived as a giant market leads to a public life lost to bickering over mere opinions; until the public turns, finally, in frustration to a strongman as a last resort for solving its otherwise intractable problems.

In 1989, an American reporter knocked on the 90-year-old Hayek�s door. He was living in Freiburg, West Germany, in a third-floor apartment in a stucco house on Urachstrasse. The two men sat in a sunroom whose windows looked out on the mountains, and Hayek, who was recovering from pneumonia, pulled a blanket over his legs as they spoke.

This was no longer the man who had once wallowed in his own defeat at the hands of Keynes. Thatcher had just written to Hayek in a tone of millennial triumph. None of what she and Reagan had accomplished �would have been possible without the values and beliefs to set us on the right road and provide the right sense of direction�. Hayek was now cheerful on his own account, and optimistic about the future of capitalism. As the journalist wrote, �In particular, Hayek sees a greater appreciation for the market among the younger generation. Today unemployed youth in Algiers and Rangoon riot not for centrally planned welfare state but for opportunity: the freedom to buy and sell � jeans, cars, whatever � at whatever prices the market will bear.�

Thirty years on, and it can fairly be said that Hayek�s victory is unrivalled. We live in a paradise built by his Big Idea. The more closely the world can be made to resemble an ideal market governed only by perfect competition, the more law-like and �scientific� human behaviour, in the aggregate, becomes. Every day we ourselves � no one has to tell us to anymore! � strive to become more perfectly like scattered, discrete, anonymous buyers and sellers; and every day we treat the residual desire to be something more than a consumer as nostalgia, or elitism.

How statistics lost their power � and why we should fear what comes next

What began as a new form of intellectual authority, rooted in a devoutly apolitical worldview, nudged easily into an ultra-reactionary politics. What can�t be quantified must not be real, says the economist, and how do you measure the benefits of the core faiths of the enlightenment � namely, critical reasoning, personal autonomy and democratic self-government? When we abandoned, for its embarrassing residue of subjectivity, reason as a form of truth, and made science the sole arbiter of both the real and the true, we created a void that pseudo-science was happy to fill.

The authority of the professor, the reformer, the legislator or the jurist does not derive from the market, but from humanistic values such as public spiritedness, conscience or the longing for justice. Long before the Trump administration started demeaning them, such figures had been drained of salience by an explanatory scheme that can�t explain them. Surely there is a connection between their growing irrelevance and the election of Trump, a creature of pure whim, a man without the principles or conviction to make for a coherent self. A man without a mind, who represents the total absence of reason, is running the world; or at least ruining it. As a Manhattan real estate wiseguy, though, Trump, hey � he knows what he knows: that his sins have yet to be punished in the marketplace. more

Friday, August 18, 2017

A German (DW) update on climate change


Climate change is a BIG issue around here�not that you would know it from the paucity of reporting on the subject. My excuse is that there is more than enough evidence of climate change�and far too little on the subjects of how we got to this place where almost everything everyone does only adds to the problem. Turns out that the technological problems caused by the total domination of fire-based economies is almost trivial compared to the cultural expressions that support them. So much so that any suggestion that the world must move to fire-free societies is greeted as the most radical form of madness imaginable�even though such an assertion is utterly true.

But since not a lot is getting accomplished towards this necessary goal, we still need reminders of how serious the problems caused by a warming planet really are, and that ignoring these problems will not make them go away. This little reminder from DW must do for today. After all, we simply must get back to the "serious" problem of where we site monuments to Confederate War "heroes." (NOT)

Climate change is real - and is getting worse

DW Brigitte Osterath (ibr) 11.08.2017

Last year has broken climate records: It has been the warmest year since records began and extreme weather events have increased around the world. Two recent reports confirm, once again, that climate change is happening.

The results of the annual checkup on our planet do not bring good news. On average, 2016 was even warmer than 2015 - previously the warmest year. These are the findings of the State of the Climate, published on today by the American Meteorological Society.

In the 298-page report, the United States National Ocean and Atmospheric Authority (NOAA) compiled climate data from hundreds of research groups from all over the world.

"The increase in CO2 concentration was the largest in the nearly six-decade observational record," NOAA wrote.

It amounted in average to 402.9 parts per million (ppm) - 3.5 ppm more than in 2015. For the first time, the limit of 400 ppm has been exceeded.

Unfortunate new records

Last year, the temperature of the Earth's surface was on average 0.45 to 0.56 degrees Celsius higher than the average temperature from the 1981 to 2010, which was used for comparison.

Together with global warming, El Ni�o caused catastrophic droughts in Central America, Brazil, Southern Africa, India and North Australia - while at the same time bringing heavy rains to the Pacific Northwest in the United States, Southeast China and parts of South America.

Tropical cyclones - that is, cyclones in the Indian Ocean and the Southern Pacific - have also become more common. In 2016, there were a total of 93 cyclones, including the cyclone Winston in the Fiji Islands in February. The average for the years 1981 to 2010 was 82 cyclones.

By 2016, global sea levels have risen 82 millimeters above 1993 levels (established as the zero line). Over the past two decades, sea levels have increased by an average of 3.4 millimeters per year.

The Antarctic experienced its warmest year, with two degrees above the average temperatures. On March 24, the sea ice spread over 5.61 million square miles (14.54 million square kilometers), 7.2 percent less than the average. However, it was still at the same level as in 2015 - but the sea ice in the Antarctic has further decreased compared to 2015.

The data show that the year 2016 was "very extreme and it is a cause for concern," Jessica Blunden, climate scientist at the NOAA, said in the report.

Climate change also affects US

US President Donald Trump does not tire of announcing that he does not believe in climate change, and he has set himself to undoing Barack Obama's environmental policy, which had recently focused on the fight against climate change.

So some US media were excited to report on a draft government report that concludes that the US is already experiencing climate change.

The Climate Science Special Report - compiled by NASA and NOAA, among 13 other federal agencies - is part of a national climate report Congress requests every four years. The final draft has been online since January. By August 18, the US government will have to sign off on it - including Trump himself.

"Evidence for a changing climate abounds, from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans," the report reads.

The study has examined all US regions - and researchers have reached the conclusion they all are affected by climate change. According to the report, the volume of precipitation has increased by about 4 percent since the beginning of the 20th century.

Parts of the West, Southwest and Southeast in the US are drying out - while the Midwest is becoming wetter. The surface temperatures in Alaska have risen alarmingly - twice as fast as the world average, the researchers found.

However, researchers were not in agreement regarding a 2011 heat wave in Texas.

Some conclude that local weather phenomena, together with a strong La Ni�a, were the cause of high temperatures in Texas. Others contend that climate change makes such extreme temperatures in Texas 20 times more likely.

But all researchers agree: Through all the symptoms of climate change our planet is currently experiencing, the common denominator is that humans are to blame. more

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Donald Trump confronts the War Party


David Stockman is the sort that can easily inspire conflicting emotions. He is obviously very bright�he was the boy wonder head of Reagan's Office of Management and Budget who soon got into trouble by pointing out that Reagan's budget numbers were, at best, a hoax. Worse he explained it all to William Greider who wrote up the story in the Atlantic. As history so often reminds us, telling the truth is a hazardous occupation and Stockman's venture into honesty quickly transformed him from Rising Republican Star into a political pariah overnight.

While brazen honesty is an admirable and often amusing trait, it does not transform Stockman into a political genius. While his analysis is often excellent, it is usually colored by the same neoliberal assumptions that have led both major political parties (and most of the world) dangerously astray. So when he gets things wrong, he does so in boringly predictable ways.

But being a neoliberal on economics does not necessarily make someone a warmongering neoconservative�it certainly does not in the case of one David Stockman. In the following he writes about what he believes motivates the attempted establishment coup against the constitutionally elected government currently under way in Washington.

Impeaching Trump is going to be a lot harder than impeaching Bill Clinton for a sex scandal�mostly because both houses of congress are controlled by the Republicans. While not all Republicans are Trump supporters, all can remember how easily he dispatched the field in his run to the White House. Voting to impeach Trump would anger a wide slice of their political base and since elections are often won with slim margins, few wish to find out just how angry their base would get.

And yet the war on the Trump administration continues in spite of its seeming futility. Many, myself included, wonder why anyone would bother trying to remove this man from office. So the following explanation offered by David Stockman�that Trump's real "crime" is that he has threatened the War Party (a powerful group that has mostly gotten its way along with the lion's share of the state's wealth since at least 1916) actually makes a lot of sense.

The Tweet That Is Shaking the War Party

by David Stockman, July 31, 2017

Most of the Donald�s tweets amount to street brawling with his political enemies, but occasionally one of them slices through Imperial Washington�s sanctimonious cant. Indeed, Monday evening�s 140 characters of solid cut right to the bone:
The Amazon Washington Post fabricated the facts on my ending massive, dangerous, and wasteful payments to Syrian rebels fighting Assad�..
Needless to say, we are referencing not the dig at the empire of Bezos, but the characterization of Washington�s anti-Assad policy as "massive, dangerous and wasteful".

No stouter blow to the neocon/Deep State "regime change" folly has ever been issued by an elected public official. Yet there it is � the self-composed words of the man in the Oval Office. It makes you even want to buy some Twitter stock!

Predictably, the chief proponent of illegal, covert, cowardly attacks on foreign governments via proxies, mercenaries, drones and special forces, Senator McWar of Arizona, fairly leapt out of his hospital bed to denounce the President�s action:

�If these reports are true, the administration is playing right into the hands of Vladimir Putin.�

That�s just plain pathetic because the issue is the gross stupidity and massive harm that has been done by McCain�s personally inspired and directed war on Assad � not Putin and not Russia�s historic role as an ally of the Syrian regime.

Since 2011, Senator McCain has been to the region countless times. There he has made it his business to strut about in the manner of an imperial proconsul � advising, organizing and directing a CIA recruited, trained and supplied army of rebels dedicated to the overthrow of Syria�s constitutionally legitimate government.

At length, several billions were spent on training and arms, thereby turning a fleeting popular uprising against the despotic Assad regime during the 2011 "Arab spring" into the most vicious, destructive civil war of modern times, if ever. That is, without the massive outside assistance of Washington, Saudi Arabia and the emirates, the Syrian uprising would have been snuffed out as fast as it was in Egypt and Bahrain by dictators which had Washington�s approval and arms.

As it has happened, however, Syria�s great historic cities of Aleppo and Damascus have been virtually destroyed � along with its lesser towns and villages and nearly the entirety of its economy. There are 400,000 dead and 11 million internal and external refugees from an original population of hardly 18 million. The human toll of death, displacement, disease and disorder which has been inflicted on this hapless land staggers the imagination.

Yet at bottom this crime against humanity � there is no other word for it � is not mainly Assad�s or Putin�s doing. It can be properly described as "McCain�s War" in the manner in which (Congressman) Charlie Wilson�s War in Afghanistan during the 1980�s created the monster which became Osama bin Laden�s al-Qaeda.

Even the fact that the butchers of ISIS were able to establish a temporary foothold in the Sunni villages and towns of the Upper Euphrates portion of Syria is the direct doing of McCain, Lindsay Graham and their War Party confederates in the Congress and the national security apparatus. That�s because Syria�s air force and army would have stopped ISIS cold when it invaded in 2014 if it had not been weakened and beleaguered by Washington�s oppositions armies.

But why did Washington launch McCain�s War in the first place?

The government of Syria has never, ever done harm to the American homeland. It has no military capacity to attack anything much beyond its own borders � including Israel, which could dispatch Assad�s aging air force without breaking a sweat.

Moreover, even if a purely sectarian civil war in this strategically irrelevant land was any of Imperial Washington�s business, which it isn�t, Senator McCain and his War Party confederates have been on the wrong side from the get-go. The Assad regime going back to the 1970 was Arab Baathist � a form of nationalistic and anti-colonial socialism that was secular and inclusive in its religious orientation.

Indeed, as representatives of the minority Alawite tribes (15% of the population, at best), the Assad regime was based on Syria�s non-Sunni Arab minorities � including Christians, Druze, Kurds, Jews, Yazidis, Turkomans, and sundry others. Never once did the Assad�s seek to impose religious conformity � to say nothing of the harsh regime of Sharia Law and medieval religious observance demanded by the Sunni jihadists.

The point is, the Syrian opposition recruited by Washington for McCain�s War exploited the grievances of ordinary Sunni citizens, but it was led by radical jihadist military commanders. Washington�s endless charade of "vetting" these opposition fighters to ensure that aid only went to "moderates" was a sick joke.

Such moderates as existed were mainly opportunistic politicians who operated far from the battle in Turkish safe havens � or even from temporary residences in the beltway. It is a proven fact that most of the weapons supplied by the CIA and the gulf states were either sold to the Nusra Front and other jihadist factions or ended up in their hands when the CIA�s "moderate" trainees defected to the radicals.

So the question recurs. Why did Washington embark on this tremendous, pointless folly?

The answer is straight forward. Washington has become an Imperial City populated by a permanent class of sunshine patriots and self-appointed global field marshals like Senator McCain, who do the bidding of the military/industrial complex and its far-flung Warfare State apparatus.

That is, they identify and demonize the enemies and villains that are needed to keep the money flowing into the Empire�s $700 billion budget. In this case, Assad drew the short straw because as a member of the greater Shiite confession in the Islamic world he was naturally allied with the Shiite regime of Iran.

In part 2 we will take up the real reason for McCain�s War in Syria. It was a proxy war and a provocation designed to prosecute the real neocon target � the endlessly vilified Shiite regime in Tehran.

Part 2

Syria was never meant to be a real country. Its borders were scratched on a map in 1916 by Messrs. Picot and Sykes of the French and British foreign office, respectively, and was an old-fashioned exercise in dividing the spoils of war amidst the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. It was most definitely not a product of what in the present era Imperial Washington is pleased to call �nation-building�.

The short history of the next hundred years is that Syria never worked as a nation because the straight lines traced to the map by the Sykes-Picot ruler encompassed an immense gaggle of ethnic and sectarian peoples, tribes and regions that could not get along and had no common bonds of nationality. The polyglot of Sunni and Alawite (Shiite) Arabs, Sunni Kurds, Druse, Christians, Jews, Yazidis, Turkmen, and sundry more were kept intact under the unitary state in Damascus only due to a succession of strongmen and generals who took turns ruling the gaggle by bribe and sword.

At length, Syria became a pawn in the cold war when the anti-communism obsessed Dulles brothers decided to stiff Colonel Nasser of Egypt for not sharing their Christian zeal against the godless rulers of the Kremlin. The latter then offered to build the Aswan Dam when Washington canned the funding.

That led, in turn, to the short-lived Egypt-Syria merger, a failed CIA coup in Damascus and the eventual permanent alliance of Hafez Assad (Bashar�s father) with the Soviets after he consolidated power in the early 1970s.

Whether Washington�s animosity to the Syrian regime owing to its choice of cold-war patrons ever made any difference to the security and safety of the American people is surely debatable, but when the cold war ended so should have the debate. Whatever happened in the polyglot of Syria thereafter had absolutely no bearing on the security of the American homeland � including indirectly via its nearby ally in Israel.

That is, once the cold war was over and the Soviet Union descended into economic and military senescence after 1991, the Israelis had overwhelming military superiority over Damascus, and needed no help from Washington. But that pregnant opportunity for Washington to put Syria out of sight and out of mind entirely was killed in the cradle at nearly the moment it arose.

In a word, the Washington War Party desperately needed an enemy once the Soviet Union was no more � in order to justify the massive girth of its global empire and the vastly elevated spending levels for conventional war-making (600 ship Navy, new tanks and fighters, airlift and cruise missiles etc.) that Ronald Reagan had unfortunately set in place. So the neocons in the administration of Bush the Elder seized on the Iranians.

Needless to say, with memories of the prolonged hostage crisis in Tehran of a decade earlier still fresh in the memories of the American public, it was easy for Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, et al. to vilify Tehran as the seat of an America-hating Islamist theocracy. But so doing, they put America on the wrong side of the 1300-year old Sunni/Shiite divide.

That�s because the minor sliver of Islam motivated by fanatical jihadism and the duty to eradicate nonbelievers and apostates is rooted in the Wahhabi branch of the Sunni confession and is domiciled in Arabia, not the Shiite communities on its periphery. The latter are spread in a crescent arcing from Iran through lower Iraq and extending to the Alawite and Shiite communities of Syria and southern Lebanon � including the territories dominated by Lebanon�s largest political party (Hezbollah).

The 40 years prior to 1991 had given the Iranians plenty of cause to despise Washington, beginning with the CIA-sponsored coup against the democratically elected Mosaddeq in 1953. That move, in turn, paved the way for the rapacious and brutal regime of the Shah until 1978 when he was overthrown by a massive uprising of the Iranian people led by Shiite clerics.

But to add insult to injury, the Reagan White House effected a "tilt" to Saddam Hussein after he invaded Iran in September 1980, and provided the satellite based tracking services that enabled Saddam�s horrific chemical attacks on Iranian troops in the field, many of them barely armed teenagers.

So Tehran had valid reasons for its rhetorical assaults on Washington, but there was no symmetry to it. That is, Washington had no honest beef against Tehran, and no dog in the Sunni-Shiite fight.

The only fig leaf of justification we�ve ever heard is that the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983 by local Shiite militants was allegedly aided by the Iranians. But your editor sat on the national security council at the time and recalls vividly that Ronald Reagan�s decision was not to take the fight to Tehran, but to question why the Marines needed to be in harms� way in the first place and to "reposition" them quickly to the safety of a Naval aircraft carrier deep in the Mediterranean

In any event, the Iranians elected a moderate President in 1988, and Rafsanjani did seek rapprochement with Washington � even helping to free some American hostages in Lebanon as a good will gesture to the incoming George HW Bush Administration.

But it was for naught once Cheney and his neocon henchman piled into the equation. The military-industrial complex needed an enemy and Cheney & Co. saw to it that the Shiite regime in Tehran became just that.

And that get�s us to our Part 1 thesis about McCain�s War in Syria and its prototype in Charlie Wilson�s War in Afghanistan during the 1980s. In fact, the latter wasn�t just a model; it was the proximate cause.

That is, Wilson�s War via the covert CIA training and arming of the Mujahedeen and the recruitment of Sunni Arab fighters from Saudi Arabia and other Sunni tribes ultimately gifted the world with al-Qaeda, but even then it took the feckless Imperial arm of Washington to complete the nightmare.

Bin-Laden was actually celebrated as a hero in the West until 1991. Thereupon history flowed around a hinge point marked by the demise of the Soviet Union on one side and George HW Bush�s utterly pointless war against Saddam Hussein in February 1991 on the other.

In this case Washington�s pretext for intervention was a petty squabble over directional drilling in the Rumaila oil field which straddled the border of Kuwait and Iraq. But there wasn�t an iota of homeland security at issue in that tiff between opulent Emir of Kuwait and the bombastic dictator from Baghdad.

In fact, Kuwait wasn�t even a real country; it was (and still is) essentially a large bank account with its own oilfield that had been scratched on a map by the British in 1913 as part of its maneuvering for hegemony in the Persian Gulf region.

Likewise, Iraq was also the product of the infamous Sykes-Picot straight-edged ruler of 1916, but the world price of oil would not have changed in the longer run by a single cent � whether Kuwait remained independent or was incorporated as the 19th province of the arbitrary but serviceable state of Baathist Iraq.

Beyond the false case of oil economics was the even more ridiculous underlying proposition that the oilfield boundary in dispute � which had been haggled out in an Arab League meeting in 1960 � implicated the safety and security of American citizens in Lincoln NE and Springfield MA.

No it didn�t � not in the slightest. But what did dramatically implicate their security was George HW Bush�s peevish insistence that Saddam be given a good, hard spanking, which resulted in 500,000 pairs of "crusader" boots on the sacred soil of Arabia.

Right there bin-Laden swiveled on a dime and launched his demented crusade to rid the "land of the holy shrines" of the American occupation. Right there the mujahedeen became al-Qaeda, modern jihadi terrorism was born and the catastrophe of 9/11 and all that followed was set in motion.

Yes, it took the even greater folly of Bush the Younger to actually light the fuse with his insensible and idiotic "shock and awe" demolition of Iraq after March 2003. But that did open the gates of Hell � even if the actual agents were the mujahedeen fighters and their followers and assigns who assembled in (Sunni) Anbar province after it was laid to waste by the Pentagon.

In a word, Bush and his neocon warriors destroyed the serviceable state of Iraq and the tenuous Sunni/Shiite/Kurd modus vivendi that Saddam had enforced with the spoils of the oilfields and the superiority of his arms. In that context the idea that the government in Baghdad represented a nation and fielded an Iraqi national army was a sheer fairy tale.

What Bush and Obama left behind was a vengeful, incompetent, corrupt sectarian government backed by sundry Shiite militia. To spend $25 billion � as Washington did � training and arming a ghost nation was an act of incomparable folly.

It guaranteed a hot war between the Sunni and Shiite, and that the billions of state of the art weapons Washington left behind for the self-defense of the nation it hadn�t built would fall into the hands of the Sunni terrorists.

At length, they did. The crucible of Anbar gave rise to ISIS and the tens of thousands of Humvees, tanks, heavy artillery pieces and millions of light weapons bivouacked in Mosul fell into its hands when the Shiite militias fled from Iraq�s second city and predominately Sunni enclave in June 2014.

And then McCain�s proxy War in Syria against the Iranians did its part. That is, the Sunni villages and towns of the Euphrates Valley had always been the most tenuous components of the Assads� system of rule.

But when the McCain/CIA rebel armies badly impaired Assad�s military and economic capacity to pacify his country in the normal middle eastern manner of repression, a giant power vacuum was created into which ISIS rushed and from which the Islamic caliphate was born.

In a word, Wilson�s War begat Sunni jihadism; HW Bush�s war turned it against America; Dubya�s War opened the gates of Hell in Anbar province; and McCain�s War enabled the destruction of the Syrian state and the rise of a medievalist chamber of butchery and demented Sharia extremism in Raqqa, Mosul and the hapless Sunni lands in between.

At last, however, this chain of imperial pretense and insanity has been broken with a 140 character Tweet.

Bravo, Donald!

By sending the War Party into a paroxysm of denunciation and self-righteous indignation Trump actually provoked the Deep State into spilling the beans.

To wit, its neocon megaphone at the Washington Post, David Ignatius, penned an unhinged column immediately after Trump�s tweet about ending "massive, dangerous, and wasteful payments to Syrian rebels fighting Assad", lamenting that the US hadn�t given jihadist "rebels" antiaircraft missiles!

But in a full bore eruption of outrage, Ignatius also revealed new information based on a quote from an official with initimate knowledge of the CIA program:

Run from secret operations centers in Turkey and Jordan, the program pumped many hundreds of millions of dollars to many dozens of militia groups. One knowledgeable official estimates that the CIA-backed fighters may have killed or wounded 100,000 Syrian soldiers and their allies over the past four years.

Whether that was an exaggeration or proximate expression of the truth doesn�t really matter. It means Imperial Washington has been carrying on a world-scale war in Syria with not even the pretense of a Gulf of Tonkin Resolution or authorization for the use of force as in Iraq in 2003.

So that�s McCain�s War. Eleven million refugees, a destroyed country, 400,000 civilians dead and a decimated army of a nation that poses a zero threat to the American homeland. And all for the purpose of hazing the rulers of Tehran who never did have a program to get a nuke, according to Washington�s own 17-agency NIEs (national intelligence estimates); and gave it up anyway with ironclad mechanisms for international enforcement.

We have no idea where this will lead, but by the day it increasingly looks as if McCain�s War is indeed being shutdown.

We can only hope for a respite to the folly, and that the Donald keeps on tweeting exactly this sort of madman�s stab at rationality. more

Climate Grief

Below is a pretty good description of what the author calls "climate grief"�the crushing realization that everything at all lovely...