Saturday, December 29, 2012


This site, Shadowed Forest, has been rehosted on Wordpress. Please join me there.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Algerian Warning

Ignored by the West at its peril, dismissed as a unique case of both Islamist and regime viciousness, Algeria can also be viewed as a warning to the comfortable West of things to come: Algeria the neo-liberal showcase.

Algeria and the U.S. are two sides of the neo-liberal coin: the rich exist on a foundation of exploitation. While perhaps true as far as it goes, that static perspective conceals a more threatening reality: Algeria is the end point of neo-liberalism, the U.S. in the 1970s the beginning. While certainly morally troubling, for Americans in the 1970s, that might have imparted a somewhat reassuring message, but after 2008, U.S. citizens find themselves in a rather less encouraging position, visibly further down the road in the direction of Algeria. With millions out of work and more millions out of their homes while financial criminals receive taxpayer bailouts and a “stay out of jail free” card, with a health care system designed for profit rather than public health, with wages declining even as job security and job benefits are evaporating, Americans are beginning to see in the distance the impoverishment of society for the enrichment of the rich that constitutes the only system any living Algerian has ever known.

Algeria neither produces nor invests, living off resource exports, Lyes Akram tells us, with the profits going everywhere except to the people, one might add. With neither rule of law nor political institutions that protect the people, “the situation could not be more dangerous.”

l’Algérie est probablement le seul pays au monde dont l’économie est compréhensible aux enfants de 5 ou 6  ans. Deux axes. On ne produit quasiment rien et on n’investit pas. On importe presque tout et on exporte nos ressources qui sont surtout épuisables. En outre, la rente n’offre pas une vie décente au Algériens, à cause des rapines effrénées et de la corruption débridée. Même si les Algériens voulaient, pour des raisons déraisonnables, oublier l’illégitimité du régime, lui pardonner ses crimes passés et présents, il n’est nullement dans leur droit de permettre des crimes à l’encontre des générations futures. Puisque à l’évidence, la politique économique du régime, c’est l’assassinat de l’économie et la dilapidation irréversibles des ressources.Défaillance totale, ruine de l’économie, destruction du système éducatif, décomposition de la société, mais aussi, rappelle Hocine Aït-Ahmed, « Cinquante ans après la proclamation de l’indépendance nationale, nous voici face aux mêmes absences : Absence d’un Etat de droit, absence de vie politique, absence de constitution digne de ce nom, absence d’institutions légitimes capables de protéger le peuple autant que le pays des abus et d’assurer son droit à vivre dans la liberté et la dignité ». La situation du pays est on ne peut plus dangereuse.

While the Algerian author does not appear to have been thinking about Americans, for us to dismiss the plight of Algerians as irrelevant to the future of U.S. society would be a dangerous delusion. Algeria and America are inexorably bound by our thirst for their oil and the ease with which the Algerian military/intelligence dictatorship (that is the polite description; some Algerians would choose the word “voyoucratie” [thugocracy]) sell the line that only they stand between us and the barbaric hordes of fundamentalist Islam/middle class democracy. (What difference, after all, is there between revolutionary violence and true democracy from the perspective of a repressive and kleptocratic elite? Either way, if you are Pinochet or Somoza, you lose your privileges.)

With the social contract defined by the New Deal now being shredded--e.g., by the breaking of public worker contracts (in Wisconsin) and retirement contracts (throughout the U.S.), the conspiracy theory that the elite might intentionally impoverish the U.S. population—defining it as “superfluous”—just as the population of Algeria has, since 1992, been defined as superfluous, is beginning to appear a bit less crazy. Perhaps it is time we reevaluated the post-colonial experience of Algerians.

The Ugly Truth about Algeria

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Israel Radicalizes U.S. Politics

Clearly, a war against Iran would be bad news, but even if war is avoided, the crisis atmosphere being generated by Israeli politicians is causing severe long-term damage to the national security of all involved states – the U.S., Israel, and Iran.

Many observers have warned that a US war with Iran would be a disaster far worse than the US occupation of Iraq. Americans need to remember the lessons of the Iraq war: we did not win. Whether or not the U.S. was defeated outright in its attempt to conquer and occupy Iraq may be argued; the ultimate outcome will not be known for years. But U.S. forces were pretty clearly booted out. All those monster bases designed to project U.S. military force throughout the region are now in the hands of Iraqis, are they not? And those Iraqis are leaning pretty publicly to the side of Tehran, are they not? Aside from a handful of much richer corporate CEOs, what American would call that “victory?” Iran is a much harder target than Iraq, likely requiring far more blood and treasure. Clearly, Israel's efforts to provoke impressionable US politicians into attacking Iran constitute a clear and present danger to US national security.

But even if no war occurs, the US will still have suffered grievous harm from Israeli behavior. Regardless of whether or not Israel actually wants a war against Iran, its politicians are generating dangerous war fever in the US and are thus radicalizing US politics. The minimal result of this is the strengthening of short-sighted, violence-prone extremists in the U.S., provoking global instability and an accident-prone U.S. foreign policy. Almost certainly, this militarization of foreign policy will be accompanied by bigger, more centralized, more elitist domestic government. The second result of war fever is the long-term strengthening of the military-industrial complex and the concomitant weakening of US diplomacy. The third result, flowing from the first two, is that US foreign policy is constrained, and, as US flexibility decreases, the US will become weaker, less able to deal with the complex international challenges it faces. Decision-makers under the pressure of public war fever will plan less carefully, consider a narrower range of options, and will inevitably find violent options easier to choose for short-term political reasons even if those options are understood to offer little chance of long-term success. Finally, as should be obvious, this whole process will, as it strengthens those US political circles favoring militarism, weaken US democracy and undermine US civil liberties for war fever and democracy are bitter enemies.

The actual dynamics of these changes provoked by war fever are even more complicated and ominous than the above enumeration suggests, for they interact, generating positive mutual feedback loops: i.e., the longer politics are radicalized, the greater the gap between any real justification for war and the degree of war fever. War fever becomes less and less a response to reality, more and more a result of the internal dynamics of political behavior: war becomes justified by war fever. The more politics are radicalized, the weaker become politicians advocating cautious, reasoned evaluation of policy choices and the stronger become politicians willing to exploit tension for personal gain, which instantly translates into the personal gain of the leaders of the military-industrial complex. As this process continues, those CEOs, in turn, do not only get richer but interfere in politics, turning into advocates of the wars from which they benefit. Few will be the citizens who point out the obvious conflict of interest. The stronger the extremist coalition becomes, the more international tensions will rise for other countries will react to the rising U.S. challenge, either by arming and preparing to resist or, as is evidenced by the behavior of elites from Pakistan to Paraguay, by cooperating with U.S. elites against the interests of their own people, thereby provoking popular resistance, which in turn will lead to violence that will be cited by U.S. extremists as “proof” that a foreign policy based on war is required and as justification for curbing the domestic U.S. civil liberties that are frequently the primary target of extremist U.S.politicians in the first place. Expansionist Israeli politicians crying wolf about regional adversaries as a cover for their plans to colonize the West Bank provide, in turn, marvelous cover for rich Americans who want to transfer the funds of social service programs into their own pockets. The new partnership between the Israeli right wing and the U.S. super-rich stands on a foundation of solid gold.

The nuclear argument, not to mention the far more fundamental general strategic argument, between Iran, the U.S., and Israel, has many facets. Regardless of one's opinion of the alleged Iranian nuclear threat, regardless of one's opinion of the quality of Iranian governance, regardless of one's opinion of Iran's political challenge to U.S. regional supremacy, the tactics being pursued by Israeli politicians are causing profound long-term harm to U.S., and Israeli, national security and are poisoning the political culture of both countries as well. 

In sum, even if no war with Iran occurs and even if the feared Iranian nuclear challenge evaporates in the noonday sun, Israel will have caused severe long-term harm to US national security and to US political culture by its waving of the bloody flag. The endless public crisis atmosphere being generated by Israeli politicians does not help protect Israel; it hobbles Israeli and American decision-makers, who cannot completely insulate themselves from public emotions. It also strengthens radicals in Iran because public war fevers are contagious. Right-wing, violence-prone politicians willing to exploit public fears for private advantage on all sides are strengthened; moderates are made to appear disloyal; decision-makers get tunnel vision; CEOs of military-industrial corporations and extremist politicians profit while the long-term security of all diminishes.

Thanks, Israel. With friends like you...

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Israeli Settler Terror: It's Official

If Netanyahu's political allies in the West Bank are committing terrorism, the U.S. may still defend Israeli security, but why is it cooperating with the Netanyahu regime?

In a major step toward an honest public evaluation of Israel, the State Department has finally recognized the existence of organized violence against Palestinian residents by the (illegal*) Israeli settlers as "terrorism."
One may sneer that the State Department was the last organization on earth to realize this, but that would be to miss the significance of the event.

Washington tightly ties its foreign policy to the Netanyahu regime despite the fact that illegal encroachment on Palestinian territory by Israelis is at the core of Netanyahu's whole approach to governing Israel. For Washington officially to recognize that the settlers Israel is supporting include terrorists shines an embarrassingly bright light on the contradiction between Washington's claim that it opposes terrorism and its alliance with Israel.

Admittedly, the State Department report went to great lengths to bury the admission, beginning the Israeli section by characterizing Israel as a "resolute counterterrorism partner," even though the characterization of behavior by political allies of Netanyahu as "terrorism" would seem to contradict that assessment. In addition, the report depicted settler terrorism as isolated acts rather than anything like a steady campaign. Moreover, Washington has yet to come to grips with the degree to which the Israeli army and police (and therefore the Netanyahu regime as well) support not just the theft of land from Palestinians for illegal Israeli settlers but also the specific acts of terror that they commit as well. Nevertheless, State's recognition that it is indeed "terror" would seem to make it only a matter of time before the issue of Tel Aviv's attitude toward that terror also surfaces, and that will in turn put further cracks in the edifice of  the U.S.-Israeli alliance...unless Tel Aviv can bring itself to crack down on the very domestic terrorists whose votes Israeli politicians so covet.
* Yes, illegal:

A report by the Israeli human rights organisation, Peace Now, listed the many ways Israeli governments have been using to confiscate Palestinian land. It stated that over the years, Israel has been using various legal and bureaucratic procedures to confiscate Palestinian land and use it for building colonies. These included “seizure for military purposes; declaration of state lands; seizure of absentee property”; and “confiscation for public needs and initial registration.” This way, “Israel has managed to take over about 50 per cent of the land in the West Bank.”...

A comprehensive report by the Israeli human rights organisation, BeitSelem, concluded that the colonisation policy created in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is a regime based on discrimination “reminiscent of ... the Apartheid regime in South Africa.” [American Task Force.]

Friday, August 17, 2012

Tools of the Rich

The citizens of the U.S. are shortchanging themselves by allowing the super-rich to define taboos in order to prevent society from considering fundamental reforms that might preserve our democracy, enhance our security, and improve our the expense of constraining the ability of the super-rich to amass more wealth.

Politics in the U.S.—at the level of policy-making—has a degree of rigidity, narrow-mindedness, and short-sightedness that causes enormous harm to the security and quality of life of Americans.  These constraints are self-imposed; more precisely, they are intentionally imposed by the elite to constrain the voters from exercising their full legal democratic rights of popular oversight. Accepted without a second thought, these unstated and unreasoned taboos prevent Americans from taking full advantage of their vast natural and intellectual resources. The result is a set of interlocked policies that needlessly undermine American security and worsen the general quality of life in American society. 

Taboos obstructing honest evaluation of fundamental policy choices prevent American society from moving effectively in new and desperately needed directions. The American system is based on open debate to find answers to complex problems. That is the best system yet discovered for resolving national problems, but it only works when society faces its options honestly. New directions do exist for addressing this set of challenges, but the roads will only be found if we are
willing to look for them.

these fundamental policy choices—precisely the ones meriting the most meticulous public debate—are typically the public policy decisions made with the least care, the least debate, the least thought. The results include a foreign policy based on military force even when force intensifies hostility; health care as a business rather than a right; environmental policy favoring consumption now rather than preservation for future generations; and an economic policy that has been enriching the super-rich by impoverishing the rest since the Reagan era.

Sure, everyone talks about health care and foreign policy and economics and the environment, but look at content of the debates: it focuses on details. Should we, perhaps, modify the degree of Wall Street regulation a bit (while still leaving the main offenders in business)? Should we, perhaps, talk to international adversaries (in order to get them to do what we previously used the threat of violence to achieve)? Should we, perhaps, add a few soldiers in uniform to your Muslim country of choice or should we use mercenary forces out of uniform (but without altering our goal of suppressing dissent)? Should we, perhaps, pass a new environmental protection law (but without holding corporate executives criminally responsible for their cheating on the laws already passed)? Should we, perhaps, add a sliver of the disadvantaged to the rolls of those favored with health insurance (but surely without endangering the massive profits of the health care industry)?

The basic questions that address fundamental direction are seldom voiced. They are taboo. 

·          A foreign policy of true compromise with reformist Islam is a taboo subject.
·          A health care policy that rejects socialism for the health care industry and institutes socialism for the disadvantaged is a taboo subject.
·          An environmental policy that punishes corporate polluters and preserves the environment (allowing economic functions only within those constraints) is a taboo subject (the recent New York Times expose of corporations polluting the nation’s drinking water notwithstanding).
·          A financial system that puts society first, employing capital only as a tool for the common good by constraining exploitation and stimulating responsible productivity is a taboo subject.

Americans do have certain cultural/political advantages. Perhaps the greatest is the consensus that those who break taboos are not killed, so, yes, I can voice these complaints in safety, something I would not be able to do in, say, China, Saudi Arabia, or Iran. While I am grateful for this, it does not invalidate my argument. Taboos work more subtly in the U.S.: those who violate them may speak; they are simply ignored. In terms of having influence, if you challenge taboos, you will be cut out of the debate, will no longer be heard, will effectively no longer exist except as an official non-person, an “…ist,” as in “racist, socialist, leftist.” In (we imagine) highly stable, albeit tenuous, Neolithic times, banishment of those who broke village taboos by speaking out may have enhanced group survival; in the contemporary rapidly evolving world, by precluding flexibility, observing taboos invites disaster.

U.S. has an historic power advantage over its adversaries (even after a decade of behaving like a rogue elephant), the best higher education establishment on earth (albeit a very weak primary and secondary education system), and enormous resources. These advantages give American society an incredibly fruitful array of options. That is, Americans have the collective power to do an unimagined range of different things...if they can open their minds sufficiently to imagine taking new directions toward a fundamentally more just and effective society. Whatever the route to a perfect society, we will never find it (or even succeed in treading water in today's volatile world) if we censor ourselves from discussing the basic options about the fundamental direction of public policy.

These taboos do not arise by chance. Examine these taboos and you will see that each prevents discussion of an issue captured by the super-rich. We cannot discuss the fundamental militarist posture of U.S. foreign policy because that would call into question the war profiteering of arms manufacturing corporations. We cannot discuss the relationship between global overheating and energy policy because that would call into question government favoritism toward Big Energy (in turn of course not unrelated to a foreign policy based on force and collaboration with repressive third world regimes). We cannot discuss the idea of health care as a right because that would not just imperil the wealth of Big Pharma but would start a chain reaction undermining the whole concept of putting the incomes of the corporate elite ahead of the common welfare. We cannot discuss the relative merits of a financial system for the purpose of accumulating capital in private hands vs. a financial system for the social good because that would bring down the whole class system in which Americans sadly do not realize they exist…because the strengthening class system is the greatest taboo of all.  Debate is the foundation of democracy; taboos are tools of the ruling class.

The most recent example of how taboos cripple open debate of fundamental social issues is Romney’s blatant effort to reinforce the insidious taboo against discussing class in American society. The reason for this taboo is clear: as long as we are forbidden from mentioning “class” (except to deny the relevance of the concept for our uniquely perfect system), we cannot even ask if class distinctions are getting worse or if the tax code is biased in favor of the upper class or if the upper class (which cannot, by definition, even exist in the U.S.) might possibly be destroying our democracy. And obviously the taboo on discussing classes also conveniently prevents us from seeing the class war that the rich have been fighting with great success against American society for the past generation.

To avoid all such potentially embarrassing discussion, Romney is accusing Obama of running a campaign based on “hatred.” It is way beyond curious that Romney could so neatly have stuffed his foot in his mouth by raising the issue of politicians who run campaigns based on "hatred" just as he decides to put the most mean-spirited man in Washington a heartbeat away from the Presidency.

Romney has handed Obama his response on a silver platter: "Yes," he should say, "this campaign is about hatred." Depriving the most unfortunate while bailing out financial criminals and engorging an obese Pentagon with grossly overpriced weapons designed to defeat an empire that is only visible when Uncle Sam looks in the mirror can go by no better name than "hatred."

Hatred has its uses, and what Americans should hate includes: immoral politicians on the take from the rich to deprive the man in the street just to make the rich richer; big corporations demanding welfare for themselves while denying decent wages to their own employees; financial criminals on Wall St. taking bailouts while designing schemes to defraud homeowners and investors; hypocritical politicians claiming that fleecing the poor to enrich the rich is "patriotism;" war profiteers making $25 million a year who take their corporate headquarters overseas to avoid paying U.S. taxes on the profits they made fighting wars harmful to U.S. national security...wars for which they campaigned.

And so, ironically, I reach agreement with financial fat cat Romney. "Yes, sir. You are right. This election is about hatred." And Obama needs to find the backbone to face the divide between the radical right-wing Republicans (unfortunately, the only breed of Republican still standing) and the American people. 
It has come to this: there is no longer room for compromise. Our house cannot stand 99.9% slave, 0.1% free. We are at war--the people vs. the super-rich, democracy vs. a class system. Those who equivocate and respect taboos are lackeys of the super-rich. Obama needs to decide which side he is on…or Americans need to vote for the Green Party.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Romney Dares Refer to 'Hatred'?!?

Romney has accused Obama of campaigning on "hatred." Now that he has brought up that particular topic...

It is way beyond curious that Romney could so neatly have stuffed his foot in his mouth by raising the issue of politicians who run campaigns based on "hatred" just as he decides to put the most mean-spirited man in Washington  a heartbeat away from the Presidency.

Obama's response is handed him on a silver platter: "Yes," he should say, "this campaign is about hatred." Depriving the most unfortunate while bailing out financial criminals and engorging an obese Pentagon with grossly overpriced weapons designed to defeat an empire that is only visible when Uncle Sam looks in the mirror can go by no better name than "hatred."

Here's what I hate: immoral politicians on the take from the rich to deprive the man in the street just to make the rich richer; big corporations demanding welfare for themselves while denying decent wages to their own employees; financial criminals on Wall St. taking bailouts while designing schemes to defraud homeowners and investors; hypocritical politicians claiming that fleecing the poor to enrich the rich is "patriotism;" war profiteers making $25 million a year who take their corporate headquarters overseas to avoid paying U.S. taxes on the profits they made fighting wars harmful to U.S. national security...for which they campaigned.

And so, ironically, I reach agreement with financial fat cat Romney. "Yes, sir. You are right. This election is about hatred." And Obama needs to find the backbone to face the divide between the radical right-wing Republicans (unfortunately, the only breed of Republicans still standing) and the American people. It has come to this: there is no longer room for compromise. Our house can no longer stand 99.9% slave, 0.1% free. We are at war - the people vs. the super-rich. Obama needs to decide which side he is on.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Peruvian Protests Against Mining Pollution Expand

As the tense stand-off between Peru’s Humala Administration and the population of Cajamarca over central government support for gold mining against the wishes of the residents, protests over misbehavior by international corporations in Peru is spreading.

On August 6, protesters in Yungay province, Anchash region began taking action against a mining operation that is polluting Huascaran National Park with cyanide, with the local leader complaining that the Humala Administration has shown “no interest.”

This is not the first problem in the Anchash region this year with pollution by mining corporations. A pattern of central government cooperation with international corporations at the expense of local residents is becoming steadily clearer, and the predictable result is rising instability as the population struggles to be heard."

Points to Watch:

Policy Process Fairness

To make effective policy and to understand what game policy-makers are playing, process must be distinguished from policy. If the policy is a search for peace, but the process is seen by the adversary as intentionally designed to put them at a disadvantage, the result is likely to be violence.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Neo-liberal Crisis Threatens Peru

Crisis threatens Peru, with presumed populist Humala taking a corporatist stand. Rhetoric is hardening on both sides, and no one appears able to define the struggle between the rural poor and international gold mining interests in a positive-sum manner.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Democracy or War?

Attitude toward democracy and war seem critical factors in the evolution of the U.S., judging from four core trends currently evident: rising corporate control, rising corruption, rising elite preference for war over negotiation, and the strengthening of class divisions. (Part I of this series on the future prospects of the U.S. discussed the four trends.)

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

From American Dream to American Illusion

Rising government acceptance of corporate corruption, intensifying corporate control over politics, rising preference in Washington for a foreign policy based on force rather than diplomacy, and accentuation of class divisions with rising inequality in the U.S. constitute a shift in direction away from the post-WWII growth of the middle class and democracy. The decline in the prospects of the average American have been so slow that most seem unconscious of the change, but in the space of one generation, the American Dream has been transformed into the American Illusion. 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Sovereignty Imposes Responsibility

Sovereignty, Washington has informed the world, comes with responsibilities. Sounds good so far, but I have yet to hear Washington enumerate the responsibilities that come with its own sovereignty. Presumably the list would include the responsibility to attack every bad guy it wants to attack anywhere on the planet regardless of the attitude of the local population and regardless of whether or not that guy has actually been proven, by any standard, to be “bad,” and regardless of whether or not that guy has directed his “bad” behavior at the U.S. Presumably, the responsibilities of U.S. sovereignty do not include attacking corporate criminals who despoil the earth or allied politicians who foment war. The list of responsibilities adherent to the sovereignty of other states is of course different.

The Enemy of Society

U.S. society remains, despite war and recession, sufficiently comfortable and deluded so that it refuses to face up to the harm it is suffering from allowing its pro-business/anti-people system to continue to exist. It is not necessary to eliminate business, which is a useful tool, but when that tool is transformed by a misguided elite into an idol existing not to benefit society but for its own sake, then the fundamental shape and values of society are warped, and the tool becomes a weapon employed by rich CEOs to plunder the wealth of everyone else. The solution is to create institutions that serve, not exploit.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Venezuela: Victim or Target?

Washington, Bogota, and Caracas agree that the cocaine that used to be exported from Colombia to the U.S. is now being exported from Venezuela to the U.S. A decade of U.S. arms and money has apparently just moved the drug gangs’ headquarters to a neighboring piece of jungle. MSM rhetoric has a profound anti-Venezuelan bias. As Washington appears to be shifting its focus from the Mideast to Latin America, will Venezuela be treated as victim or target?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Class War in America

The super-rich have launched a class war against the people of the U.S., a war that, for most of our politically naive population, was revealed only with the Financial Crisis of 2008, yet the super-rich continue to gain ground. An extraordinarily clear statement describing how this class war against America is being fought was given in testimony before Congress on July 10, 2012 by Dennis Kelleher, President and CEO of Better Markets, Inc. His statement is invaluable in outlining concisely what occurred and forecasting in detail the likely consequences of a continued failure of Washington to start representing the interests of, not corporations and the super-rich, but the American people. Every word is worth reading. What follows is just the outline.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Globalizing Paraguay

After decades of oppression, a reformist president was finally elected in Paraguay, only to be suddenly impeached last month. In the ensuing five weeks, Paraguay has rushed to open the country to the U.S. military and controversial U.S. corporations.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Meaning of Being 'Pro-Business'

Words, these days, lack straightforward meanings, but the meanings are nevertheless there, and you can understand the meanings if you try. Consider the loaded phrase "pro-business."

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Superfluous People

Washington is run by and for rich businessmen. When politicians brag about being "pro-business," they really mean favoring rich executives, not the millions of workers who form the productive core of business. From this attitude flows an essentially predatory foreign policy; what we should all have learned from the Financial Crisis of 2008 and the reaction of Washington (under both major parties) to that crisis is that a business-friendly elite of the rich will, in the end, have the same attitude toward the people of U.S. society as it does toward the struggling poor everywhere else.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Enemies of Capitalism

Does our capitalism system have enemies? You bet it does…but they are not who you think.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Designing a Peace Government

The U.S. and most other countries have political structures with a subtle and dangerous bias toward war, a design that counterintuitively encourages leaders to launch wars. Political systems so designed are irrational and urgently need reform.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Circumstances Cause Behavior

To figure out what makes a foreign regime tick, take a look at the circumstances in which it exists.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Whadda Ya Mean, a War on Islam?

Emma Sky is talking, and every American interested in the position of the U.S. in the world should be listening very carefully.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


The famous letter sent by Cheney and others to the White House late in Clinton’s presidency advocating a global “take charge” foreign policy made quite clear the kind of America the neo-cons wanted and for a decade they got it: violence amazingly profitable for a handful of CEOs, vast losses of U.S. blood and treasure, and a string of Muslim societies trashed and radicalized. What kind of America equivocating Obama wants still remains a mystery, and his Iran policy does little to solve that mystery.

Monday, July 9, 2012


Washington has deployed even more military forces against Iran and intensified its economic war against Iran, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard generals have launched a rhetorical broadside against Washington, and Israel has again threatened to commit aggression against Iran.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Three Stooges Diplomacy

Washington has deployed even more military forces against Iran and intensified its economic war against Iran, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard generals have launched a rhetorical broadside against Washington, and Israel has again threatened to commit aggression against Iran. 

Monday, July 2, 2012

Cyberwar Is not a Game; It's War

The evidently casual attitude of Washington decision-makers notwithstanding, drone attacks and cyberwar are not games, despite using joy sticks and software; they are war.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Koch Brothers

As democracy activist Joel Francis said, it's "'We the People', Not 'We the Corporations'." The Koch Brothers prefer to work in secret and did not have the courage to accept Mr. Francis' debate challenge. They are cordially invited to defend themselves by commenting below.

Background: Dark Money

Bankers Take Welfare, Let America Rot

Whether the bankers who so crippled the American economy end up being punished for their irresponsibility or not, the harm they caused is worsening, not improving, and we are setting ourselves up for a real collapse the next time around. Perhaps the key battle won by those of the super-rich who survived 2008 was the decision by Washington to "save the system" by saving the bankers at the expense of throwing away the victimized homeowners, leaving unanswered the question, "Why would bankers holding millions of mortgages want all that property in foreclosure and rotting away?"

Sunday, June 17, 2012

U.S. - Pakistani Negotiations Missing the Key Issues

Washington and Islamabad are doing their respective societies a huge disservice by focusing in their bilateral negotiations on superficial issues such as transit fees for NATO military supplies rather than the core strategic disagreement on which the U.S.-Pakistani relationship is cracking apart. Collapse of the relationship is not inevitable: common ground exists, if the policy-makers can only open their minds to new ways of doing business.

Pakistani-U.S. relations are being sucked into a whirlpool of recriminations over relatively superficial issues, to the harm of both societies. Each side may speak of its own feelings; I will tell you as an American that Americans are angry. Pakistanis say, correctly, that Washington is behaving like a bully. Americans say that Pakistan is playing an immoral double game by working secretly with violent fundamentalists in order to gain influence over Afghanistan.

Each side needs to compromise, but to reach a compromise, each side needs to understand and address the concerns of the other. Pakistan must learn to live with India. Neither the U.S. nor Pakistan should see Afghanistan as a prospective colony. The Pakistani security services need to accept that provoking violent fundamentalism is a bad long-term bet: it scares the U.S. into extremist violence of its own, it harms Afghan society, and it undermines the hopes of all Pakistanis for security and democracy. If Islamabad wants Washington to listen, then Islamabad needs to make a crystal clear argument showing why its support for some radical Afghan factions will not lead to a terrorist attack on the U.S. mainland or a Pakistani-Indian war. That is the rock on which the U.S.-Pakistani alliance is foundering.

Collapse of the relationship is not inevitable: common ground exists, if the policy-makers can only open their minds to new ways of doing business. For Washington, the new way of doing business must be a willingness to move behind the self-defeating focus on military solutions to the radical Islamic political challenge. Frankly, given the problems in Muslim societies across the globe, a bit of political radicalism is the seasoning needed to cook a good political stew. (The same could be said for the U.S., but that is a very different story.) For Islamabad, the new way of doing business is an historic settlement with New Delhi that will free Pakistanis to move beyond the garrison state toward real democracy based on peace with its neighbors. This new approach must include accepting an independent Afghanistan as well as either allowing Waziristan to leave Pakistan or offering Waziristan and the rest of the border regions full participation in Pakistani society and the Pakistani political-economic system with all the implications for autonomy, tax benefits, security, justice, and respect for minority cultural concerns.

Some Americans protest that it is naive to relinquish drone attacks; the dangerously short-sighted mood in the U.S. is to label all Pakistanis as "the enemy." I suspect the mood in Pakistan is a mirror-image tendency to see all Americans as "the enemy." I reject these generalizations and instead see as truly naive the assumption that violence is the answer. The enemy is neither "Americans" nor "Pakistanis" but those who choose violence to resolve conflict. The key to a successful dialogue lies not in the details but in focusing on finding a positive-sum compromise that makes the U.S. feel safe, identifies a relatively inclusive political outcome for most if not all Afghan factions, and minimizes Pakistani-Indian proxy conflict in Afghanistan. 

At least, that's the perspective of one American who finds himself equally frustrated with the negotiating positions of each side. I would be most interested in hearing Pakistani perspectives.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Do Drones Harm the U.S.?

Is state violence an effective counter to insurgent violence? A choice exists.

Taliban abuses make it easy for shallow thinkers to condone anti-extremist abuses – respond to an attack on aid workers or schoolgirls with a drone attack on a funeral, an eye for an eye, law of the jungle. But how do such tactical responses offer society a choice? Abuse from insurgents is countered by abuse from authorities, with the extremism of one justifying and stimulating extremism of the other. Ambitious leaders on both sides win, while society loses.

The important point for Americans struggling to figure out how to respond is that when our reactions promote the extremism we are fighting against, then it is not just Pakistani society that loses but American society as well. The whole world political and moral climate is degraded, promoting conditions that poison civil society, undermine democracy, and facilitate the rise of cowboys, fundamentalists, and general intolerance. Every abusive act further alienates and radicalizes innocent bystanders and thus further empowers the lovers of violence.

Even when it is determined that killing someone is required, it must be kept clearly in mind that the killing is not a goal but a means and should not be done if that means does not lead to the goal. The goal is a smoothly functioning civil society, and our common enemy is those who oppose the creation of such civil societies. A smoothly functioning civil society may not flow automatically from democracy, but democracy, physical and economic security for all citizens, and education together are pretty much the best foundation pillars to hold up a smoothly functioning civil society that mankind has yet been able to construct.

From this perspective, the common interest of American and Pakistani society [not, to be sure, of decision-makers who focus on strategic issues to the exclusion of all else and, for example, aid the Haqqani Network to gain influence in Afghanistan at India’s expense] is clear and the question flowing from that common interest is not a military one but a political one: “How do we create a functioning society?” Once that simple question is asked, it instantly becomes obvious how ridiculous it is to answer: “by remotely bombing groups of unidentified adult males or anyone who attends a funeral for anyone who was bombed.” Since the Taliban is not attacking the U.S., it is not clear that the U.S. should be doing anything at all, but if, upon contemplation, Americans decide that it is appropriate to make some effort to influence events in Pakistan, then the goal should be the positive one of helping Pakistani society to function better, precisely the outcome most beneficial to the long-term interests of the American public.

Now we have the basis for a useful conversation with Pakistani officials about day-to-day tactics. When the Taliban threatens to murder a social worker who “operates hundreds of ambulances and shelters for women, children and the destitute,” it is clear that Americans who want a vibrant, secure, and free civil society in the U.S. have common cause with Pakistanis struggling for the same goal in Pakistan. It should also be clear that drone attacks are at best an extremely poor and most likely a highly counterproductive route to that common goal.

Some Pakistanis understand this:

The Taliban are pursuing an ‘anti-state struggle’ and Pakistan must take this threat seriously before it causes an irreparable damage to the country, NWFP government’s Peace Envoy Afrasiab Khattak said on Tuesday. “They (Taliban) want to defeat the state and their success starts where the state fails.” [New Age Islam 9/20/2008.]

The problem is that those Pakistanis and Americans who understand their common interest have great difficulty holding a dialogue about how to pursue that common interest. The remark of the NWFP peace envoy, above, points to a way forward: focusing on U.S.-Pakistani cooperative actions to build an effect state. Effective police action followed by open trials under an honest court system will be an important long-term component of such an effort. Killing alleged enemies, much less killing unidentified people, will become more counter-productive the longer it occurs. The argument that the threat is immediate so we cannot wait for long-term solutions is clearly invalidated by the now obvious failure of violence to eliminate an insurgent threat that has been spreading for a decade in violence-ridden Pakistan.

This leaves concerned citizens and policy-makers in both the US and Pakistan with the following question:

Who are the potential Pakistani allies of Americans struggling to defeat violent extremists and what set of tactics might be accepted by each national group as in its own best interests?

A Supplementary Approach from the Afghan Theater

In the context of a primary focus on building civil society and extending the writ of effective, supportive governance in Pakistan, offering inclusion to Taliban personnel willing to renounce violence offers a supplementary approach:

Pursuing high-level reconciliation with the Taliban senior leadership as a unified, singular organization will fail to achieve the grand bargain that the U.S. and Afghans seek; that is, an agreement to renounce al-Qaeda, respect the Afghan constitution and cease insurgent operations targeting Afghan government officials and security forces. Recognizing that the Taliban is a diverse movement where significant internal divisions and mistrust abound, reconciliation efforts should instead be pursued as a means to divide and weaken the cohesion of the movement’s senior leadership cadre. However, before such efforts can achieve their desired intent, U.S. and Afghan forces must develop a sophisticated understanding of the differences among the factions and their leaders, and identify, encourage and protect those who want to reconcile. The purpose of these efforts is not only to support the primary aim of reconciliation, but also to fracture the Taliban operationally and thereby limit Pakistan’s leverage over the Afghan state.[Understand War 6/13/2012.]

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Undeclared War Undermines U.S. Democracy

Escalating “executive war”—war by the Imperial Presidency without Congressional authorization or oversight—against Iran and Pakistan is alienating foreign friends, radicalizing foreign adversaries, undermining U.S. democracy, and setting American society up for blowback.

What under Bush-Cheney neocons was touted as a war against anti-U.S. terrorists has now become a war against Muslim political activists who may not have any intent of attacking the U.S. and may not even be fighting against their own governments. They may simply be innocent bystanders who fit profiles used to excuse murder, in the case of drone attacks that kill unidentified individuals, or industrial disaster, in the case of cyberwar sabotage. And that cyberwar sabotage, whose computer code weapons have already gone viral and spread out of control around the world, could strike anywhere, including back in the U.S. Cyber chickens are flying home to roost. The Obama wars take distinct forms depending on the country – economic and technological against Iran (supplementing a highly public economic war and a terrorist campaign murdering nuclear scientists that may in the future be tied definitively to the White House), drone bombing against Pakistan—but appear to fit a consistent pattern of violating Constitutional requirements that Congress approve war and provide oversight.

As Congressman Dennis Kucinich, the leading Congressional advocate of a tempered and rational foreign policy, warned in his recent letter to President Obama demanding an accounting for his unauthorized use of drones:
The fact that they are conducted with complete impunity and with no accountability threatens to set a dangerous precedent that could unravel the very laws and international standards the U.S. helped to create.  Even the most ardent supporter of the current President should consider the precedent created by granting the President the power to circumvent the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. [Kucinich Leads Congress in Demanding Accountasb ility and Transparency for Drone Strikes,” Kucinich. House.Gov 5/31/12.] 
Kucinich also warned in his letter that targeting “ terrorist suspects whose identity does not need to be known goes further than what Congress authorized when it passed the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) after the attacks of September 11th (9/11). As you know, the AUMF only authorized the use of force against those responsible for the attacks of 9/11 and those who harbored them, not against individuals whose identity is unknown, but that merely fit a certain profile of suspected terrorist activity.

Both the drone attacks and the cyberwar have been cloaked in a relatively transparent security blanket that has long since ceased fooling anyone but that continues to obstruct the due process of law in the U.S. that rests on the ability of the system of government to hold powerful officials accountable for their actions. Obama Administration leaked formed the basis of a recent New York Times piece by David Sanger detailing the Obama Administration’s complicity in the cyberwar attack on Iran. Thus does Obama continue one of the worst abuses of the neo-con era – the attempts by the White House to position itself above the law.

The Christian Science Monitor bluntly spelled out one of the blowback routes of this new global threat:
the possibility that such attacks could provide a digital copy of the cyberweapon to rogue nations or that hacktivists could reverse-engineer the weapon for use against the power grid or other key US infrastructure.
Officially revealing the U.S. policy of attacking foreigners in their home countries with drones, White House Counterterrorism adviser John Brennan, as quoted in Washington Post 4/30/12, stated:
...let me say it as simply as I can. Yes, in full accordance with the law — and in order to prevent terrorist attacks on the United States and to save American lives — the United States government conducts targeted strikes against specific al-Qaeda terrorists, sometimes using remotely piloted aircraft, often referred to publicly as drones.
The anti-Iranian cyberwar remained mired in controversy, with both the Obama Administration and Israel’s Mossad seemingly competing for credit, oblivious to the strong possibility that both will be condemned by history for opening wide this new Pandora’s Box. Washington may not have invented cyberwar, but it certainly is making few efforts to delay the arrival of a new, nasty world in which low-cost, highly dangerous cyberwar will ravage global societies.

Obama’s private wars violate two of the most fundamental principles of democracy. First, although now utterly obvious as the result of White House statements, they were when determined and implementing totally defiant of the need for transparency in government, being implemented without Congressional authorization and behind the backs of the American people. Second, in their lack of Congressional oversight, they violate the equally critical democratic requirement of rule of law by establishing a precedent of arbitrary and unauthorized Presidential action. Once the President acquires the “right” in practice, if not in law, to make private war, what power is denied him? To argue that the President cannot personally authorize war except when it is fought via the Internet or drones makes a mockery of democracy.