Some Historical and Social Antecedents of Trumpistan

August 6, 2017 § 2 Comments

Dangerous Loyalty

Recently the media has noted a declining percentage of our neighbors who cling to their faith in the rectitude and promise of President Trump.  The number is estimated to be 35%.  I derive no comfort from these revelations for two reasons:  First, an even lower percntage of our neighbors express faith in the government of our country, the only institution with the power to limit the authority of the President to continue his discredited policies.  Second, in a population estimated to be 326,000,000, that means that 141,100,000 of our neighbors cling to their enthusiasm for President Trump.

These facts, to me, describe a country adrift, without effective guidance, in a perilous world.  Multinational corporations and the United States military complex seem to be the only sources of effective power, a circumstance I regard with anxiety.  It describes Germany in the 1930’s.  It describes Egypt and Turkey, both of which are sinking into the hands of  military-backed totalitarian governments.

Even our Supreme Court, the institution charged with the preservation of our Constitutional republic, appears to be in the hands of a majority who seek the ressurection of legal principles which opposed  Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal.  Justices like McReynolds and Field, in the 1920’s and ’30’s,  sought to superimpose on the Constitution the limitations of what they referred to as “Natural Law” which, in practice always coincided with and favored the interests of business corporations and thwarted the collective efforts of the people, acting through their government

The Nature of Mass Delusions

Dangerous nonsense thrives when one or more of the following is true:

First, there is widespread disparity of access to accurate and pertinent information.  For the first few centuries of life in our country, this disparity prevailed between the majority of our citizens who lived in generally isolated small villages and settlements and a minority who lived and did business in cities.  Our literature and folk lore is replete with stories of the “rube” from the country who is the victim of manipulation by a “city sliker”.  This phenomenon prevailed until the 1920’s when the automobile and the radio significantly erased this isolation.

Second, there is general access to many sources of information but no filter to insure its reliability.  Britebart and numerous similar sources offer carefully crafted misleading and false information equally accessible with CNN, CBS, NBC and BBC.  The Internet and the ubiquity of smart phones leave individuals no way to distinguish lies and baloney from truthful  information.

Third, significant disparity of knowledge between the originator of information and its consumer and target.  “Insider trading” and commercial advertising are  examples of this kind of trolling for suckers.

Fourth, the educational background and store of knowledge of the consumer of information determines his or her ability to evaluate and choose sources of information.

To summarize:  Our technology, a potential asset for the dissemination of knowledge, has, instead become a treacherous vehicle for demagogues to peddle their messages of hate, division and chaos and to undermine the fail-safe protections of our Constitution.

The Intellectual Ancestors of Trump

The self-absorbed  buffoon, supremely oblivious of his own stupidity and groossly unsuited for the task he has chosen, is a character famously protrayed by talented writers and playrights.

Don Quixote

The first great novel, Don Quixote de La Mancha, Cervantes’ two volume masterpiece, featured a hero who, after reading tales of dashing knights, fair maidens and thrilling exploits, failing to understand they were fictional, embarked on his own  quest for fame and fortune.  His efforts were, like our similarly self deluded President, fraught with a series of pratfalls and misadventures.

John Falstaff

A few decades earlier, Shakespeare enlivened four of his plays with the antics and absurd exagerations of John Falstaff, who, like Trump, shamelessly misrepresented his accomplishments, ignored his critics and never acknowledged his errors, regardless of how plainly they were perceived by others.

Elmner Gantry

Our own Nobel Prize winning novelist, Sinclair Lewis, immortalized a religious huckster who, again like Trump, transfixed large crowds with emotional performances, promising salvation and happiness to his listeners while offering them protection from threatened harm from their enemies, the devil, in Gantry’s tents personified as Democrats in Trump’s.

Major Hoople

For a few decades, beginning in the 1920’s, a couple of cartoonists, Gene Ahem and Bill Freyse,  entertained readers of the funny papers with the puffery and exaggerated exploits of Major Hoople in a comic strip named Our Boarding House.  The Major, who was a sargent in the Civil War, promoted himself with endless bragging about his bravery, just as Trump never tires of regaling listeners with accounts of his financial successes, artfully omitting mention of his bankruptcies and the legal settlements of suits brought by victims of his tortious misconduct and desperately refusing disclosure of his income tax returns.

Huey Long

Another example of an earlier model of the Trump was Huey Long, the rags to riches Louisiana politician who epitomized Edgar Lee Masters’ warning through one of his characters in Spoon River Anthology:  “Beware of the man who rises to power on one suspender.”  Long was a demogogue who, like Trump, built an empire with extravagant construction projects.  Less fortunate than Trump, Huey’s governorship was cut short by assassination.  Also, unlike Huey, Trump had a handsome inheritence, not one suspender, to assist his rise to power.  A novel about a character like Huey Long, also the basis for a movie, is All The Kings Men by Robert Penn Warren.  Despite the similarities, Warren has stoutly denied his novel was a roman à clef .

Extraordinary Popular Illisions and the Madness of Crowds

Just as the Trump character has several fictional and real identifiable ancetors,  his ability to mesmerize large numbers of people with his outsized promises of prosperity has similar historical examples.   Several of  these have been described in a fascinating book by Charles Mackay, Extraordinary Popular Illusions and the Madness of Crowds.  The book can be read online as a PDF file at https://vantagepointtrading.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/Charles_Mackay-Extraordinary_Popular_Delusions_and_the_Madness_of_Crowds.pdf

[Incidentally, according to Wikipedia, Bernard Baruch said that what he learned from reading this book,, prompted him to sell all his stock before the crash of 1929.]

The book invites skipping around among chapters listed in the table of contents.  Unfortunately I was unable to find any way to skip directly to a particular chapter, so scrolling is required.

This book was published in 1841.  I contains a well written account of about a dozen instances when greed motivated crowds of otherwise sane and sensible people to hand over their money to promoters of schemes so bizarre as to challenge the imagination.   The events occurred in the 17th and 18th centuries when education levels varied significantly according to class and communication technology was primitive by our standards, thus leaving ordinary people without any means of checking the accuracy of tales of foreign lands or in places inaccessible to the public, like laboratories, mines and business offices.

The circumstances were, as a result, ripe for promoting promises of wealth based on incomplete and sometimes deliberately false information.

Here are a couple of examples:  Tulipmania:  descibes the obsession of British citizens with tulip bulbs from Holland and the amazing marketing of different colors of tulips, leading speculators buy and sell popular species at inflated prices until the market collapsed, leaving a wreakage of lost fortunes.

The South Sea Bubble is a more famous example.  Tales of gold located in Peru and Mexico served as a basis for a partnership between the British government and some private investors in ventures promising great profits from access to those mines.  Shares were marketed in the project and crowds of English men and women risked fortunes competing for those shares, whose value inflated significantly until the scheme collapsed, leaving prominent members of Parliament and countles private citizens victimized and impoverished.  This occurred before limited liability laws protected investors to the extent they do now.  The consequences were, therefore, more catstrophic than they would be today..

The South Sea Bubble, like public confidence in the financial prowess of Trump, is an amazing exemple of publc gullibility because:  (a) At the time of the Bubble, Peru and Mexico were part of the empire of Spain and, hence, not available for exploitation by the British.  and (b) Trump’s claims of financial prowess depend entirely on the claims by him and his family, all made while vigorously opposing  efforts to enable public access to his income tax returns.

Conclusion

This morning I watched Fareed Zakaria’s program on CNN.  He is, for me, close to   Paul Krugman as a source of intelligent information about what is happening.  During his opening remarks he spoke of a new book by Mark Lilla, The Once and Future Liberal: After Identity Politics.  I have ordered a copy.

Lilla’s message is, according to Zakaria:  The Democratic Party needs to broaden its appeal beyond the issues of race, ethnicity and abortion.  He does not argue that these issues should be abandoned, but those who disagree, for example, with abortion rights should not be excluded from the appeal of the Party.  Lilla is a Catholic and is not a supporter of abortion rights but he regards himself as a liberal .

I am not making any judgment, obviously, because I haven’t read the book. I have, however, expressed before my frustration about the Democratic Party’s indifference to the rights of unions.

In that way, I feel like Lilla:  I find no comfortable place in political efforts which, in my opinion, fail because  they treat the working class as in need of education, deserving rebuke for their lack of enthusiasm for racial justice, and as a group  having limited relevance in this age of technological sophistication.  I attribute the loss of the recent election to these policies and to the fact that neither the Clinton nor the Obama administration paid any attention to the rights of working people.

Welfare programs and training school scholarship programs do not empower the beneficiaries.  We are suffering because the only empowered force is corporate wealth.  Hiring more experts in money raising and TV ad design is not going to solve our problem.Empowering the working class is the only weapon that will change the political dialogue.  That will take years and it’s way past time for the Democratic Party to awaken and begin the process.

In the meantime, I have enjoyed a few hours of placing our present embarrassment in the White House in some kind of historical and sociological context.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Revolutionary Democratic Party

April 7, 2016 § 2 Comments

The Democratic Party’s Fear of Change

Last February, I expressed my despair in an essay that viewed Bernie Sanders’s heroic  effort to convert the Democratic Party into a relevant organization as foredoomed.  His continued successes during the past six weeks have re-kindled some of my excitement but I still regard his chances of becoming the nominee of the Democratic Party as unlikely.  The Democratic Party’s past struggles with Communists in the 30’s, Dixiecrats in the 40’s and “Reagan Democrats” in the 70’s have prompted it to insure against fundamental change by adopting procedural barriers designed to limit change.

As a result, it is virtually impossible to make radical changes within the Party in its present form.

Can Violent Revolution Succeed?

I have spent some time considering the nature of the people whose lives inspired me.  Leon Trotsky, Mao, Emiliano Zapata, Poncho Villa, Patrick Pearse, Che, Malcolm X – I read about these men and their violent lives.  They acted out my anger and thrilled me with their reckless courage.  The poetry and the music that celebrated their efforts as well as the Abraham Lincoln Brigade and SNICK – these were the sources of the emotional part of my life during several decades of unsuccessful efforts as a political organizer and a few individual episodes of private law practice.  The key word in that sentence is “unsuccessful”.  I never turned any of my dreams into reality.   Like Bernie Sanders, I was often counseled to be “more realistic” and “practical” but, somehow, that advice was never seductive for me.

I never actually met any of the men who inspired me.  I did meet a few people  who had been involved in some of the exciting history in America in the 30’s.  I knew and was enthralled by a woman who was involved in some of the Trotsky-inspired efforts of the Communist Party.   Like thousands of others, her heart was broken when Stalin signed the Non-Aggression Pact with Hitler’s Germany.   I had a long chat with a man who rode a boxcar into Seattle to join an IWW strike there.  I became friends with Magdaleno Dimas, whose participation in the Farmworkers’ Strike in Starr County changed him from a violent man with a criminal past to an idealist willing to sacrifice himself on behalf of the campesinos who were trying to improve their lot through collective nonviolence.  Magdalena’s life ended tragically after he was arrested and jailed in Torreon after trying to make a marijuana deal to raise money to finance the Starr County huelga.

The Lessons of My Past

As I look back over the decades of my life, I see that those who actually sparked changes that changed the lives of thousands of people suffering the injustices of capitalistic greed and thievery were nonviolent people whose lives, while they were not typical of the society in which they lived, were only lawless in ways that were designed to invoke moral outrage and never in ways intended to physically injure anyone:  Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Ralph Yarborough, e.g..

My Proposal

If Bernie Sanders is not the nominee of the Democratic Party this year, I think he should continue to organize and speak in support of a new organization within the Democratic Party.  Its name should proclaim its allegiance to the Party, but it should also identify it as a haven for people who yearn for and demand fundamental change in the Party and the United States of America.  It should focus on a statement of goals and principles, not on a hierarchical  organizational structure.  It should make full use of technology to build a web of like-minded people in the U.S..   The designers should study Alcoholics Anonymous as a model.  It should be built around colleges and universities, but it should use the energy found there to expand into diverse neighborhoods.  It should avoid any alliance with any religion.  Anyone willing to conform their efforts to those consistent with the statement of goals and principles should be empowered to create local “study groups” or “action pods”.  An appropriate name would be the Bumble Bee Group and local groups could be organized around “Hives” and “Cells”.

Each cell should meet once a week or once a month.   Dues should be $2, payable at each meeting.  A treasurer should open a bank account and keep $1 to finance the Cell expenses (literature or rent for a meeting place); and $1 should be sent to a national office.   The national office should be limited to a skeleton staff authorized only to maintain orderly books of account.  A newsletter should be created and circulated to all Cells.

Those financially able to do so should be encouraged to support these efforts, but their contributions should not entitle them to any authority to dictate policy or procedure.  Contributors should be entitled to choose whether or not to be identifiable.  Contributions would not be tax deductible.

Anonymity should be optional but members should be encouraged to establish a digital connection to the National Office and to other Cells and Hives in a city or county.  All communication should be by email or iMessage.  Hacking would become a constant threat and some kind of security and password protection would have to be designed.

These groups should become active participants in the governance and affairs of the Democratic Party and members should become candidates for precinct chair positions and executive committee positions.  Democratic Party candidates should be supported if their goals and principles conformed to those of the Hives and Cells.

Conclusion

I offer this as an alternative to allowing the organizing done by Bernie Sanders to be wasted and embalmed in the dustbins of the Democratic Party.  Bill Clinton hobbled the Democratic Party with his Democratic Leadership Council.  Bernie offers a way to respond with an organization to make the Democratic Party an agent for change, not a permanent role as the lesser of two evils.

 

 

The Winners’ Choice

January 19, 2016 § 2 Comments

The Endorsements

Democrats are faced with a choice:  Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.  [I do not believe Martin O’Malley has a chance to be the nominee.  I will ignore him in the following discussion.]  I have discovered a resource online I believe provides significant information relevant to that choice.  I urge my readers to review carefully the information posted there.  Here is a link:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Endorsements_for_the_Democratic_Party_presidential_primaries,_2016#Hillary_Clinton

This site consists of 10 or 15 pages of tightly packed lists of people who have formally endorsed Hillary Clinton.  They are separated into labeled categories:  Former Presidents (one listed); Governors and former Governors; Senators and Congressmen; State Legislators; Local Officials; Members of the DNC; Celebrities; Actors; Musicians; Writers; . . . .  On and on and on and on….

This is a list of the status quo winners in all categories.  It is indeed an impressive list.  It obviously is the result of a major recruitment effort.

After you have been suitably impressed by Hillary’s supporters, you might be interested in Bernie Sanders’ list of endorsements.  It is sparse and brief.  Here is a link:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Endorsements_for_the_Democratic_Party_presidential_primaries,_2016#Bernie_Sanders

My Reaction to The Endorsements

I believe this information is important because it suggests a basis for choosing between these two candidates.  It seems obvious to me that those who have been winners in our present system of distributing and exercising political, social  and economic power probably have limited enthusiasm for making fundamental changes in those arrangements.  The terms “incrementalism” and “tweaking” seem appropriate to describe the policies they will likely find comfortable and satisfying.  So, if you share those ideas of what the Democratic Party should seek for the next four or eight years, Hillary is your logical choice.  If elected, she will become the “Tweaker in Chief”.

If, instead, you are dissatisfied with the status quo and want some significant changes in the balance or power between the powerful and the powerless – some re-defining of the proper role of government as a shield and a weapon against the impoverishment of workers and the enrichment of the rentier class – then you might be less impressed by the winners’ choices and might choose a candidate whose history and rhetoric is less attractive to the present winners.  Bernie may be a little hazy about guns, but his intentions about the status quo are crystal.  And the difference between him and Obama is that he will spend all his energy mobilizing the grass roots behind his policies.  The campaign will never end for Bernie.  His vision is of a movement, not a campaign tent show to be dismantled the day after election day.

But What About Electability?

I was born at night, but not last night.  I suffered through the debacles of McGovern, Dukakis and Mondale.  I have plenty of past political deals and compromises of which I am not proud.   So I understand that some honorable liberals are thinking, “Sure, I like Bernie and he’s right, but I’m afraid he can’t win.  Half a loaf is better than none.”  I suggest that this is a situation in which, as the stock market disclaimer goes:
“Past performance is no guarantee of future success.”  So, here is my pitch:

The previous failures occurred when two  powerful political forces were active:

One, racism was rampant and powerful.  Remember the GOP’s “Southern Strategy”?

Two, Democratic Party candidates were anti-war when wars were politically powerful issues.  The “Communist Menace” and “Viet Nam”.  Remember?

Today neither of those dogs will hunt.  We have elected a black president and the demographics of America have changed and are changing.  It is no longer smart politics to “play the race card”.

The only war politically relevant now is the war against ISIS.  Obama has done a good job waging that war and the recent experience with GW’s war in Iraq has cured the public’s gullability about sending American troops to war.  Also, “trickle down” economic policy has been tried and proved to be a fairy tale.  The white people over 40 who have had the “American Dream” snatched from them will be hard to convince that rewarding the rich will be helping the “job creators”.

This may be the “tipping point” we have been waiting for and Bernie Sanders may be the “tipper” whose time has come.

But What About All Those Hillary Endorsers?

So far as concerns the Wall Street tycoons who have endorsed Hillary, Bernie will never get their support if he is the nominee.  Most of the rest of those Hillary supporters, however, will fall in line, led by Hillary and Bill Clinton and Barak Obama, to support Bernie for president.  And if the GOP is suicidal enough to nominate Trump or Cruz, Bernie will look like the epitome of rationality to both Democrats and independents.

Conclusion

Well, that’s my argument.   If I turn out to be right, it may prove the old East Texas saying that “Even a blind hog finds an acorn sometimes.”  My record for picking winners is abysmal but maybe this is my year.

 

 

We’re. Not. Crazy.

May 29, 2015 § Leave a comment

Last Thursday evening I read three articles. two new and one old, that, for me, were like being in the woods at night, lost and lonely, stumbling over fallen tree branches, feeling fear that began in the pit of my stomach and ended in  my throat, then emerging on to a clearing where, a half mile away, a coal oil lamp cast a pale yellow glow from a window.  Sometimes the future and the past loom so dark that the friendly light of intelligent hope is more comforting than stimulating.

Bernie Sanders

One of the articles was a biographical character study of Bernie Sanders, the man with a distinctive accent and usually unkempt hair; the socialist candidate for the Democratic Party’s nomination to become president of the United States.  Here is a link:  Sanders .  It was easy for me to identify with him, not only because of his political beliefs but also because of his personal history.  He spent the early years of his adult life engaged in futile political efforts.  He wrote articles advocating policies that were generally ignored by his fellow citizens of Vermont.  He lost four statewide races, two for state senate and two for governor.  He was finally elected mayor of Burlington, his first job with a salary sufficient to finance a middle class life style.

I can identify with that history, although, instead of losing statewide races as a candidate, I worked on the staff of candidates who lost statewide races.  My record was 0-6.

I found the title for this essay in a vignette from Bernie’s early life.  When he was without a job, which was often, his friends took him in.   One was Richard Sugarman, who shared many of Bernie’s beliefs.  Every morning Bernie would greet his friend, not with “Good Morning”, but with “We’re.  Not.  Crazy.”

Albert Einstein’s Gentle Socialism

The Bernie Sanders article included an embedded link to a 1949 essay written by Albert Einstein entitled “Why Socialism”.  Here is a link:  Einstein  Like the Bernie Sanders story, Einstein’s essay was a beckoning lamplight seen from a dark place.    It is the only reasoned argument for abandoning capitalism I have read that did not assume violent revolution would be necessary.

Einstein, instead, describes a dichotomy of needs and influences that shape our lives:  The drive for individuality, what Abraham Maslow later called “self actualization”,  and an equally competitive identification with and support for the needs of society.  He contends that those different forces can be accommodated and acknowledged without sacrificing either one.  The secret is awareness of and respect for those forces in others and willingness to mobilize government’s power to support them.

This essay  captivated me.  Einstein acknowledges his limited background in social science but he insists that the same rigorous discipline required by physics and astronomy can be applied to social and economic issues.  He charmed me with evidence that he had studied Thorstein Veblen and relied on Veblen’s evolutionary analysis of our progress, or not,  from what Veblen called the “predatory phase” of human development.  Einstein contends that the democratic socialism he advocates would facilitate emerging from that “predatory phase” to one less brutal, more intelligent and more capable of satisfying our need for security and contentment.

Einstein also, having observed the results of the Russian Revolution and its aftermath, acknowledged the problem it poses.  Here is the somewhat sad and plaintiff penultimate  paragraph of his essay:

Nevertheless, it is necessary to remember that a planned economy is not yet socialism. A planned economy as such may be accompanied by the complete enslavement of the individual. The achievement of socialism requires the solution of some extremely difficult socio-political problems: how is it possible, in view of the far-reaching centralization of political and economic power, to prevent bureaucracy from becoming all-powerful and overweening? How can the rights of the individual be protected and therewith a democratic counterweight to the power of bureaucracy be assured?

How indeed.  I know the answer.  We have it in our hands.  It is our Constitution.  It may require an amendment or two but the concept has been left to us by our forefathers.  With two amendments and commitment to rigorous enforcement our Constitution would be an adequate response to Einstein’s question.

The two amendments?  First, “The words ‘person’ and “people’ in this Constitution apply to living natural persons.  They do not apply to any legally created entity.  Neither do they apply to a person not yet born.”  Second, “In this Constitution the protection of freedom of expression does not apply to the spending or investment of money.”

With those two amendments, our Constitution is, I believe, entirely adequate to prevent government bureaucracy from becoming a threat to individual freedom.  Political vigilance and common sense would be required and an independent federal judiciary would, as always, be essential but those requirements apply to any government scheme.   Soviet Russia had an admirable constitution but it was useless because the judiciary was powerless to enforce it and the police were allowed to ignore it.

Dean Baker’s Demolition of TTP

The third article that illuminated my dark feelings was a critical analysis of the arguments for the Trans Pacific Partnership by Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic Policy and Research, a Washington DC think tank.  I have expressed my own hostility toward this “Partnership” in a previous essay posted here.  Dean Baker adds authority and devastating contradictory data to support his identification of this proposal as a threat to the fair distribution of international trade benefits.  Here is link:  Baker 

The House of Representatives will vote on “fast tracking” this abomination within the next couple of weeks.  The Senate has failed to kill it.  We can only hope that the Democrats in the House will save Obama from being responsible for burdening our working class with this unjust agreement for the next two or three decades.  If he succeeds, he will join Bill Clinton on the list of presidents who betrayed the hope and promise that motivated those who voted for them.

Conclusion and a Personal Note

I feel I owe an apology for the emotional language in this effort.  I have been affected by the bombardment of hopelessness that has pelted me recently.  Netanyahu’s re-election followed by his empowering the most passionate politicians determined to convert Israel into a theocratic bully was a disappointment.  David Cameron’s Conservative Party wipe-out of the British Labour Party in the recent election was another.  The growing strength of ISIS and the apparent unwillingness of Iraq’s military forces to effectively oppose it is another.  The dismemberment of Syria accompanied by the threat of ISIS involvement there is another.

My real nightmare is the probable symbolic terrorist attack in the United States or a mass beheading of Americans broadcast in living color.  Other countries, Britain, Spain, Holland – bear such attacks and react with mourning and redoubled efforts at prevention.  In America our leaders choose endless war and thousands of needless deaths as the  appropriate response.  I’m sure ISIS is aware of this grotesque fact.  I fear they will use it to their advantage.

All this bad news comes at the beginning of what promises to be an extravaganza of hateful stupidity from a jackass choir of Republicans eager to compete for the allegiance of the lowest common denominator tranche of the American right wing.  And who will be our St. Jeanne d’Arc?  Why Hillary from the House of Clinton of course!  Her head is already bloody but unbowed and her baggage, packed in a truckload of trunks just waiting to be unpacked by reporters, political archivists and GOP flacks, follows her everywhere.  But, having spent a billion dollars, she may become our next president.  And if not, we will be led by Jeb the Timid or  Brash Young Rubio or, worst of all, by the union scalp hunter, the Bible thumper from Wisconsin, Scott “Bring ’em On” Walker.

I plan to stay sober for the next seventeen or eighteen months but only by many repetitions of the Serenity Prayer.

A Mind Meld, A Grok and a Couple of Reactions

September 27, 2013 § Leave a comment

My Lucy’s Football Complaint

In July and August I spent too much time reading, thinking and writing about my country’s policies and activities that were, to me, depressing and shameful.  During the Bush-Chaney-Rumsfeld-Yoo years I was angry but not depressed.  I was comforted by the hope that  their excessively wanton brutality would produce a commensurate degree of righteous reaction that would propel forward the forces of justice and decency.

When Barack Obama was elected I was thrilled.  I thought a man of conscience and intelligence would use the ingenious organizing ability that produced his victory to transform the Democratic Party into a political coalition that could dominate American politics for a generation.  He took office when the financial power brokers had been brought down by his predecessor.  They were coming to Washington, hat in hand, desperate to avoid an implosion.

I assumed , as  a student of history, he would recognize that he was in a position similar to Franklin D. Roosevelt, who became President when the policies of Herbert Hoover and the Republicans had capsized the American economy.  FDR used that crisis to change the relationship between capitalism and government and to brand Hoover and the Republicans for decades as the enemies of working class Americans.

Instead, Obama used the power of government to pay off the debts that profligate Wall Street bankers had incurred, restore the auto industry, and leave working class Americans without jobs or forced to accept deep pay cuts and menial work to avoid starvation.   Far from identifying and branding those responsible for the economic debacle, he made speeches and spoke at press conferences about “looking forward, not dwelling on the past.”

Obama and his team used government generosity to enable Wall Street bankers to recover quickly from the near bankruptcy of their casino.  The bonuses and multimillion dollar salaries have climbed to galactic heights.  This was done regardless of how politically unpopular it was.  No political price was regarded as too high to accomplish this feat.

That attitude was in sharp contrast to the cautious and timid attitude toward other politically difficult projects:  Changing labor laws to enable and encourage the resurrection of the labor movement was not even considered – much too difficult- now is not a good time-etc. etc. etc. .   Insisting on solving our health care problem by extending Medicare, one of the most popular government programs in the history of the United States, to all.  No, that might be branded as socialism –  not practical – would never pass in Congress.   Well then, if the insurance industry must be left to make useless profits from providing health care, how about a “public option” to place limits on how egregiously they can sabotage the distribution of health care?  “Well, we tried that, but couldn’t get enough votes.”

The one political strategy that was never considered:  Propose fair and just policies.  If they are not adopted, continue to insist on them.   Attack those who oppose them.  Praise and reward those who support them.   Never stop organizing and attacking.  Relentlessly target the leaders of the opposition.  Name them.  Take pains to distinguish them from those who are merely stupid, ambitious or both;  they may choose to abandon their opposition, especially if it appears likely to lose.

President Obama is a reasonable person.  I think his fatal flaw is his belief that proposing reasonable solutions to problems will win arguments.  As a trial lawyer, I shared that belief and, more often than not, I  found that juries were more likely to favor the litigant who presented a reasonable argument rather than one who relied on bombast and assaults on  the credibility and good faith of the opponent.  It didn’t always work, but my average was respectable.  I really had no choice.  Like Obama, I was never able to sell myself as a shouter, a bully or a fist-shaker.

Political contests, at least those in which I have been actively involved and the ones that have been waged in Washington for the past five years, are wars, not trials.  There are few rules and the rules that apply are routinely ignored. The folk description of them is that they are fought by people “down for money, marbles and chalk.”   Obama’s obsession about avoiding the stereotype of the “angry black man”, I think, led him to begin negotiations with ruthless and unprincipled demagogues with compromises that, if they were ever appropriate, should have followed, not preceded, a hard fight.  I think he brought a knife to a gun fight.

His soaring rhetorical claim that we live, not in blue states and red states, but in the UNITED STATES,  was a noble effort to moderate political conflicts.  He should have recognized, however, that it did not describe the kind of political viciousness that characterized the political arena of Washington D.C. in 2008 – 2013,

At my age, I am not naive about politicians.   No elected official has proved satisfactory to me.  Ralph Yarborough came close and my admiration for him more than compensated for every instance when he did such things as sponsoring James Latane “Soapy” Noel, his college room mate,  for appointment to a federal judgeship in Houston, who turned out to be an abysmal failure when Houston’s public school integration depended on his judgment.  Lyndon Johnson fought every effort to create a viable and dominant liberal Democratic Party in Texas.  Bill  Clinton’s “triangulation” cleverness spawned the Democratic leadership Council and NAFTA without any protection for the rights of workers, not to mention his enthusiastic embrace of of Wall Street deregulation. My experience with these men taught me, once again, that Democratic Party politicians can do just as much damage as Republican politicians.  Even Hubert Humphrey, after a lifetime of dedication to liberal ideals, ran for president wearing LBJ’s Vietnam warbonnet after claiming the nomination in Chicago during a police riot.

So, I have callouses on my backside from running full-tilt toward Lucy’s football during political football games.  That’s why Obama was so depressing.  I thought we had, at last, elected a steadfast Lucy.  Like they say, “There’s no fool like an old fool” Or, as I’ve often said, “like an Old Fart Lawyer.”

The Affordable Care Act

I am hopeful that the ACA will not be a “train wreck”, as predicted by its critics.  I am sure the GOP will do everything it can to sabotage it and call attention to every negative aspect of its implementation.  The fact that thousands of Americans die each year due to lack of health care makes the stakes too high for betting against it, a mere detail that will have no influence on those who want it to fail.  The only human life that concerns them is life in the womb.

Having said that, I believe the ACA is a solution that would have made sense in 1942, but is inappropriate in 2013.  When millions of men were withdrawn from the workforce to fight WWII, America was  in desperate need of manpower to produce the goods and services vital to the war effort as well as the sustenance of the civilian population.  Competition for workers was fierce.  Wage levels were frozen.  So, employers, primarily industrial employers, began offering health insurance as an inducement to attract and retain workers.

During the New Deal years, as a result of the Wagner Act,  many industrial workers were represented by unions.  So, a pattern of negotiated arrangements for job benefits was developed.  Neither employers nor unions wanted to create machinery for handling and adjusting claims, so a large health insurance industry was created to handle this new demand for health insurance.

If the ACA had been adopted then, it would have been a sensible legislative regulation of these new arrangements.  Dramatic changes have occurred since then.   Many of those industrial giants no longer exist.  The vitality of unions has disappeared in the face of changes in federal law and a failure of the Democratic Party to insist on protection of the rights of workers to organize for collective bargaining.  What we now have is a giant insurance industry, regulated lightly by state governments, and employers free to make choices regrading health insurance for their employees, usually free from any significant bargaining through unions.  The Employment Retirement Income Security Act, usually designated ERISA, does not require employers to make health insurance available to its employees,  It does include some requirements if the employer chooses to do so.  It does not, however, prescribe minimum levels of benefits which must be offered.

Another dramatic change occurred when Medicare was created to guarantee health care for those over the age of 65.  That law has become a model of government service and is wildly popular.  It proved that government can establish and implement a successful program providing health care to a large population, even a population of elderly people whose health care needs are well above those of the general population.  Choosing to leave health care in the hands of insurance companies instead of extending an already established model government program was dumb.

Having stated my now-irrelevant bitch, I acknowledge at least two positive developments resulting from the flawed process that produced the ACA.  First, the Republican Party has obsessively  and enthusiastically branded itself as opposed to the law.  That means that, when the law becomes effective, and millions of Americans discover that they have access to health insurance at prices they can afford, they will, perhaps, begin to question their loyalty to Republican politicians who tried to prevent it.  I am not sure about this.  American voters are notoriously willing to vote for politicians whose policies are harmful to them.  This masochistic stupidity is an endemic mental disability linked to American politics.

The second positive result is that Barack Obama has, finally, responded with some degree of anger and moral outrage to  the attacks on the ACA .  This morning, September 26, 2013, less than a week before the ACA becomes an active program affecting every American, after years of hysterical assaults by the GOP, thousands of hours of lies about the law, and a twenty-hour harangue by a Jackass Senator from (of course) Texas, our President, in a speech to a community college crowd in Maryland, displayed a little bit of outrage and struck back.  He didn’t name anybody.  He wouldn’t want to spoil the collegiality he enjoys as he works with his “friends across the aisle”.  But he did mention that the Republicans have been lying about the ACA.  That is a step forward.

Here is my hope:  Americans have now been promised health care.  The promise has been made by their government.  When the insurance industry allows its greed to interfere with providing that health care, the people will demand action from the government.  At some point it will become so obvious that even American voters will realize that health care for which government is responsible should be managed and administered by government.  The ACA will transition to Medicare.  As usual the question is:  How much pain will be necessary to energize the electorate to demand it?

A Mind Meld and a Grok

As stated, after reading about the NSA trashing of the 4th Amendment; the secret FISA court and its secret jurisprudence, I was angry and depressed.  The consensus seems to have been accepted that, given our modern technology, we are doomed to submit to government’s limitless access to our private lives, all in the name of protecting us from a constantly expanding array of terrorists in a state of boundless and endless martial law.

I followed that investigation by reading Jeremy Scahill’s book describing the government’s “global war on terror” in which the bombing of innocent civilians is accepted as collateral damage.  Bypassing the Bill of Rights and assassinating American citizens without warrant, indictment or trial is explained as an acceptable tactic in the  GWOT.  “Signature strikes”, firing missiles and dropping bombs on people based on the “life pattern” of some in their midst is said to be justified on the basis of the probability that terrorists will be killed.

These revelations about the policies of my President and my country depressed me.   After a few days, I tired of thinking about them.  One of my favorite bumper stickers states, “Reality is for People Who Can’t Handle Drugs and Alcohol”.  I am one of those people, so a bottle of Jack Daniels was not an option.

I remembered that, for most of my life, beginning in Elementary School, I was almost always in the middle of reading a novel.   That changed a few years ago and I began reading non-fiction.  I decided I needed a break from all this serious stuff.  I needed to escape.

Crime and Punishment

In 1997, my mother-in-law, whom I loved and admired, gave me a handsomely bound copy of “Crime and Punishment”, Fyodor Dostoevsky”s psychological novel.  It had lain unread on a bookshelf for sixteen years.  I chose it to begin my recovery.  Dostoevsky was a remarkable person.  He was a dissident in the 1850’s.  He was imprisoned and sentenced to death.  He and two other prisoners were taken to the prison yard, tied to stakes, a firing squad was assembled and the first two of three orders were given to carry out the sentence, when a messenger from the Tsar arrived breathlessly to announce that their death sentences had been commuted to terms of imprisonment in Siberia.

[Spoiler Alert.  I assume that most of you have read this classic, so this is probably unnecessary.  But, the following paragraphs will disclose the ending of the novel.]

Dostoevsky became a popular writer after surviving that term of imprisonment.  “Crime and Punishment” was published in 1861, when our civil war was beginning.  The main character, Rodion Roskolnikov, a young penniless lapsed student, uses an axe to kill an old lady who operates an amateur pawn business, as well as her mentally disabled sister who unexpectedly witnesses the murder.  The novel describes Roskolnikov’s struggle with his conscience and the fear that ultimately drives him to confess to his crime and accept imprisonment in Siberia.  The novel is actually two narratives.  One is in Roskolnikov’s head and the other one involves his family, his friends and a number of protagonists in the government’s criminal justice establishment.

The psychology is presented in terms of a philosophical conflict.   Roskolnikov initially tries to convince himself that he is a member of an intellectually superior group of people, whose talents entitle them to ignore  ordinary rules of conduct applicable to their inferiors.  He tries to analyze his crime as the just sacrifice of a couple of worthless women in order to enable him, a person of significant potential, to survive.  This hubris is a barrier that prevents him from having an intimate relationship with either his male friends or a young woman, Sonya, who falls in love with him.

The novel, set in St. Petersburg,  is an engaging description of a part of Russian society.  There are lengthy passages describing Roskolnikov’s thinking, similar to “stream of consciousness” narration, except that it is written in the third person rather than as a transcript of the thoughts going on in Roskolnikov’s head.

Reading the book had its desired effect.  For several hours I was in Russia, feeling the cold, tense as the main character edged closer and closer to a resolution of his inner conflict, while a parallel effort was going on as a smart law enforcement official came closer and closer to trapping him.

After his confession and banishment to Siberia, Sonya moves there to be with Roskolnikov.  Finally, after several years, he accepts her love, casts aside the  heartless intellectualism that kept him aloof and alone, accepts responsibility for the crime he committed and becomes an adult human being.

Lie Down in Darkness

Over fifty years ago, Larry Goodwyn gave me a priceless gift.  He told me about William Styron.  I read his first novel, Lie Down in Darkness when I was thirty-one or two.  As part of my recovery from too much reality, I re-read it.  It still blew me away.  The astonishing thing about it is that Styron wrote the book in two years at age twenty-two to twenty-three.  How he managed to acquire, at that young age,  the knowledge and insight to describe, in words  carefully crafted and filled with imagery, the musings, dreams and fears of a fifty-year-old woman and her twenty-year-old daughter, is beyond my understanding.  I don’t pretend to have that ability, but Styron’s descriptions have the feel of absolute authenticity.  As I re-read them, at age 82, having had lots more experience with lots more people of different ages, than Styron had time to have had when he wrote this novel, his descriptions were believable to me.

His writing was compared to Faulkner’s.  I don’t know about that.  To me, the tenderness and understanding of human fears and weaknesses he describes made me think of Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night .  After grabbing me and telling me a long story about death and loss and love and betrayal, Styron ends his novel with a penultimate section, forty-nine pages without a paragraph break, in which he transcribes the thoughts in young Peyton’s head.  Unlike Dostoevsky, Styron does not stand aside and write about what Peyton is thinking.   Peyton herself lets you into her head and allows you to think with her, feel with her, remember with her.

Grok and Mind Meld

A.E. Heinlen invented the term grok in his novel, Stranger in a Strange Land, a science fiction fantasy based on a Martian who visits Earth.  The visitor has the ability to relate to another person by communicating between his own and his or her minds.  The process is called groking.  It obviously enables a degree of intimacy otherwise impossible to achieve.  As I read Crime and Punishment, I realized that Dostoevsky was enabling me to relate to Roskolnikov’s mind,, rather than merely with his actions and statements.  It reminded me of Heinlen’s groking.

Styron, on the other hand, took me a step closer than Heinlen.  Throughout his novel, and especially in the 49-page internal monologue, he enabled Peyton and I to communicate through a mind meld, a Vulcan ability introduced to Earthlings by Spock, an officer in the Starship Enterprise, commanded by Captain Kirk.

I don’t intend to escape from reality permanently but I have decided to temper my dabbling in reality by vicariously experiencing  other people’s lives through the pages of well-written, or just moderately well-written (I’m not very discriminating when it comes to fiction) novels.

Bob

Bush’s Dumb War and Obama’s Global Track and Whack War

August 25, 2013 § Leave a comment

Summary

This essay will be my response to Jeremy Scahill,’s book, “Dirty Wars:  The World is a Battlefield”.   The book is a 528 page indictment of George W. Bush and Barack Obama for waging a “Global War on Terror” featuring military invasions of over a hundred countries; bombing raids based on generalized probability, rather than specific targeting of suspected “terrorists”; maintenance of secret prisons  where inmates  were interrogated and, during the Bush years routinely tortured; imprisonment for indefinite terms without access to courts or lawyers, and drone aircraft used for surveillance, missile and bombing attacks causing death and injury to thousands of civilians who had nothing to do with the bombing of New York in September, 2001.

The book is based on evidence scrupulously gathered and compiled by Scahill, an accomplished and courageous reporter.  The text is followed by 92 pages of notes, detailing the sources and interviews of countless people, warlords, former and active members of the military and CIA with personal knowledge of the events and practices described in the book, family members of victims of the raids, attacks and “snatch and grab” activities that filled the prisons scattered in remote locations in the Middle and Near East, as well as other reporters and analysts who shared their investigative efforts through published sources.  There is no doubt that Jeremy Scahill has an opinion and point of view concerning the subject matter of his book but, unlike the politicians and apologists who defend the practices he describes, Scahill states his opinions plainly, backs them with facts, and does not disguise them with artful words designed to deceive the reader.

Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld – The Dumb War

      The Dumb Designation of a Crime as a War

A group of criminals flew planes into two office towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington D.C..  They did so as part of a carefully planned conspiracy directed by Osama bin Laden, the al Qaeda leader and strategist.  Unfortunately for our country, and fortunately for militant Islamist groups around the world, the damage and harm done by the conspirators was enhanced because it happened when our government was in the hands of some ruthless and radical men who had been waiting impatiently for more than twenty years for an opportunity to reshape the rules that protect Americans from abusive government power.

In the 1970’s, Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon used the powers of the presidency to wage war in Vietnam and Cambodia without effective oversight by the Congress or the courts.   Because it involved thousands of young male conscripts, over 50,000 of whom died there, the pain of those losses, expressed by millions of outraged and grieving American mothers, forced Congress to take steps to limit presidential power to make war.

Bob Eckhardt, a brilliant Congressman from Texas, drafted the War Powers Act of 1973.  Congress enacted it.  Nixon vetoed it.  Congress overrode his veto and adopted it.  It was intended to require active Congressional involvement in decisions to wage wars.

By September, 2001, three developments had occurred that weakened the force of the 1973 law.  First, the draft was ended and the military was staffed with professional soldiers , so war threats no longer affected a broad cross-section of American families.  Second, the Reagan years had spawned a new and powerful group of GOP political leaders who were committed to restoring power to the presidency.  They were called “neo-conservatives”.  They preached the “exceptionalism” of America and appealed to a kind of jingoistic patriotism, a new iteration of the “Mainifest Destiny” of the 1840’s and 1850’s, a doctrine used to justify the relentless war on native Americans and wars against Mexico, the Philippines and Cuba.  Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld were early and enthusiastic neo-cons.  Third, the 1990-91 Gulf War against Iraq required only six months, had minimum loss of American life and was ended as a clear victory that enabled Americans to enjoy the overwhelming “shock and awe” inflicted on Saddam Hussein’s overrated army.

So, given these facts, the 9-ll bombing afforded Cheney, Rumsfeld and the compliant President Bush an opportunity to rid the presidency of the nettlesome restrictions imposed by the War Powers Act, as well as the Bill of Rights, the domestic and international laws against torture of prisoners, and the laws against assassinations imposed by Presidents Ford and Carter.  Cheney & Co. regarded all those measures, including the Constitution, as barriers to the proper exercise of presidential power.  Therefore, instead of proceeding to apprehend the criminals who designed and enabled the bombing, it was marketed according to an in-apposite metaphor: as an episode in the “Global War on Terror” perpetrated by “Islamoterrorists”.  It was compared to the December 7th bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Instead of taking advantage of the almost universal offers of assistance from other industrialized nations throughout the world, and tracking down Osama bin Laden and his co-conspirators, arresting them if possible and killing them if not, the Congress adopted an ambiguously worded hunting license to President Bush and turned him loose on the world and the United States Treasury.  The enemy was undefinable and the battlefield was boundless.   It was a war against a weapon:  any plan or device intended to terrorize people, and the enemy was anyone suspected of planning to use such a weapon and anyone suspected of helping anyone to obtain or use such a weapon against the United States.

This was without precedent in the history of the world.   Wars had been fought over territory,  over trade routes and advantages, over religious differences, over competing claims to sovereignty and political leadership positions.   No war had ever been fought over the use of a weapon.

A state of war is essentially a state of lawlessness.   Homicide, theft, malicious destruction of property, assault and battery are all legal if committed during a war on a battlefield against an enemy.  Modern weaponry has rendered the distinction between civilian and military targets meaningless because, when a bomb is dropped or a missile fired toward a suspected enemy , there is no practical way to insure that innocent persons will not suffer injury or death.  So, when an American president is given the right to use the most powerful military arsenal in the world against a undefinable enemy in an unlimited battlefield, all laws, including the Constitution, intended to protect against abusive power are nullified if they impose limits on waging that war.

There are so-called “laws of war” that impose humane limits on the brutality of armed conflict.  Even those weak limits were cast aside by an exquisite feat of sophistry:  The lawyers for the “Global War on Terror” [GWOT] claimed that the GWOT warriors were immune from prosecution because they were soldiers in a war, but their victims were not entitled to the protection of the “laws of war” because they were not actually soldiers.  They were “enemy combatants” who, like spies caught without uniforms, could be dealt with summarily.  The Supreme Court finally set some limits on this absurd argument, but still refused to accord GWOT prisoners the rights of prisoners accused of or convicted of crimes who are held without trial for indefinite terms of years.

     A Dumb Way to Wage a Dumb War

After Congress adopted the “Authorization for Use of Military Force”, the AUMF hunting license, Cheney and Rumsfeld decided to shroud their GWOT in a veil of secrecy that would avoid oversight by the legislative branch of government and First Amendment oversight in the form of public scrutiny.  The CIA was designed as the official agency for secret activity in foreign territory but, over the many years of its existence, the CIA adopted certain rules that limited its use of lethal force and prohibited it from engaging in the torture of prisoners.  Not only that, but the CIA operated according to an established system of oversight by Congress.  That attention to the Constitution’s system of “checks and balances” was unacceptable to the Bush GWOT team.

Rumsfeld solved this problem by using his job as Secretary of Defense to empower the Joint Special Operations Command [JSOC] to be the main force used to wage the GWOT.  The CIA was relegated to a support role.

JSOC  is seldom mentioned in the press.  Its activities are secret.   It was formed in response to the failed mission to rescue Iran hostages during the Carter administration.  Its members were highly trained men recruited from Navy SEALS, Army Rangers, Delta Force and other elite groups from different branches of the military establishment.  They are a “private army” subject to the command of the President.  JSOC was used to engineer the killing of Che Guevera, illegally supply the Contras with arms and support, and engage in various other covert operations in Latin America.  It was perfect for Rumsfeld’s purposes.

The sidelining of the CIA resulted in a turf war and several times both CIA and FBI officials protested the way Cheney and Rumsfeld conducted their GWOT, especially their use of secret prisons where prisoners were subjected to “enhanced interrogation”.

     The Killing of Abu al Harithi and Kamal Derwish aka Ahmed Hijazi   

On November 3, 2002, a JSOC team located Abu al Harithi in Marib, Yemen.  He was one of the people responsible for the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000.  The information was sent to the CIA headquarters in Langly, Virginia and to a CIA command center in Djibouti.  An armed drone was launched.  It located Harithi in a car driving through Marib.  A five-foot-long Hellfire missile was fired at the car, hitting it and killing Harithi and Ahmed Hijazi, an American Citizen born in Buffalo, New York.  Before moving to Yemen, Hijazi had been an “unindicted conspirator” in the prosecution of the “Lackawanna Six”, a group of men charged with supporting al Qaeda.  He was neither tried nor convicted of any crime.

Before the strike, CIA Director George Tenet told Ali Abdullah Saleh, the President of Yemen, that the killing would be kept secret so that Saleh would not be embarrassed for allowing US military operations in his country.  Soon afterward, however, an unnamed US source claimed credit for the killing and that was reported in the American press.  Saleh was “highly pissed”.  He had released the “cover story” that he and Tenet had agreed on:  that the car hit a land mine.  Ultimately, he was mollified with generous infusions of money and arms that enabled him to hold on to his tenuous grasp of power.

This was the first killing of an American citizen not on a battlefield since Gerald Ford banned political assassinations in 1976.  Amnesty International and the ACLU denounced it and called on the US government to “bring to justice” those responsible.   This  was  ignored.  The President and members of Congress expressed satisfaction that “terrorists” had been killed.

This was only the beginning.  A command center was established on the USS Mount Whitney, a ship sailing in the Gulf of Aden and around the Horn of Africa.  During the ensuing months JSOC offensives in Somalia, Yemen, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti were directed from it.

    Dumb Snipe Hunts

A snipe hunt is a mean trick typically played on a city kid by usually older kids raised in the country.  It is played at night.  The victim is told that he and the other kids are going on a snipe hunt.  He is told that a snipe is nocturnal animal who can be trapped in a gunny sack held open; that it is attracted by a light.  He is told that the small animal will not bite him and is good to eat.  He is then led into the woods, given a flashlight, told to hold open a gunny sack, to sit and wait for a snipe.  He is assured that the other  “hunters” will be at other locations similarly occupied.  After being left there for as long as the pranksters feel is sufficient, he is rescued and  teased about foolishly believing the phantom snipe story.  There are variations, but this is the core idea.

For several years, beginning in 2002, the President of the United States and his team of GWOT warriors and Iraq invaders engaged in not one, but two snipe  hunts:  The first was initiated by Rafid Ahmed  Alwan al Janabi, an engineering school dropout also known as Curveball, who told Bush’s eager listeners that he had personal knowledge that Saddam Hussein had “weapons of mass destruction”,  The second was  triggered by a Czech counterintelligence source who claimed that Mohamed Atta, one of the 9-11 hijackers, met in Prague in April, 2001, with Ahmad Samir al Ani, an Iraqi consulate.

Curveball proved to be a deranged con man who tried to score a green card from the willingly gullible Bush team by making up this story.  The Czech government, after an intelligent investigation, declared that there was no credible evidence to support the alleged Prague meeting.

Before these snipe hunts were exposed, Rumsfeld and his JSOC army imprisoned thousands of men and women and subjected them to horrific forms of torture in a doomed effort to extract from them information about the WMD’s and the al Qaeda connection with Saddam Hussein’s government.   Rumsfeld personally held weekly meetings to receive updates on the success of these efforts and sent memo after memo urging more and more severe methods to obtain the information he required.  He was like a hapless kid, crouching in the dark, waiting for a snipe that never came.  Disreputable lawyers like John Yoo were kept busy contriving new definitions of the word “torture” to protect Rumsfeld and his subordinates from criminal prosecution as war criminals.

[To be fair, it is true that Bill Cliinton and some members of both US and British intelligence forces began talking about Iraqi “weapons of mass destruction” before the advent of the Snipe Hunters.  The difference is that they did not launch a GWOT based on their suspicions.  And, most important, they listened to other, conflicting, opinions within the intelligence community.  When the USS Cole was attacked in October, 2000, President Clinton did not

“Cry ‘Havoc,’ and let slip the dogs of war;
That this foul deed shall smell above the earth
With carrion men, groaning for burial ”

That reaction awaited the Snipe Hunters.]

      The Dumb War Dictionary

In order to achieve their goals of unfettered power while avoiding criminal prosecution or impeachment, President Bush and his GWOT warriors had to re-define several words and phrases that affect the application of various US laws.  For example, American law distinguishes between “covert operations” and “clandestine operations”.  Covert operations are military incursions into other countries that are not only secret, but are also done in a way that the US Government can deny responsibility for them.  Covert operations require a presidential finding that must be shared with the House and Senate Intelligence Committees before the operation begins.  Those restrictions were imposed as a result of the Bay of Pigs fiasco and the Iran-Contra scandal.

Clandestine operations are secret military operations in foreign countries.  They do not require a presidential finding nor do they require the involvement of Congress.  Clandestine operations typically were used when invasions were planned.  In the language of the military “Standard Operating Procedure” they are referred to as “Preparing the Battlespace”.   For example, before D-day in WWII, clandestine operations were used to disrupt anticipated defensive actions by the German military.

Rumsfeld and his team viewed the entire ex-US world as a “battlespace” that could be “prepared” by JSOC operations.  He not only wanted to bypass Congressional oversight and the bother of a presidential finding, he also wanted the ability to launch these clandestine operations without wading through the Pentagon’s chain of command.  In other words, he wanted his own private army to send wherever he chose without having to account to anyone but himself and his hand-picked subordinates.   The fact that this had no resemblance to any reasonable interpretation of the terms and phrases upon which he was relying did not deter him.

He encountered opposition from Pentagon brass who rightly felt that they were being benched.  He also found himself in a running war with the FBI and the CIA who also felt that they were being relegated to supporting decisions and choices over which they had no control or influence.  Despite these problems, Rumsfeld, with the powerful backing of his friend and mentor Dick Chaney, had his way.  He became, in effect, a super general, able to invade, kill and destroy whoever and whatever he chose wherever he chose, so long as it was outside the United States.  He became the most powerful snipe hunter in the history of the world.

     Dumb War in Somalia:  A Debacle

Even before the GWOT began Somalia was a failed state:   a mostly rural territory larger than France with few resources, inhabited by desperately poor people surviving under the ad hoc rule of a network of war lords.  The CIA operated in Somalia through shifting alliances with some of the war lords.  Al Qaeda had a few agents there, but they were not a major force.  When the GWOT began in Somalia, the CIA used its client war lords as contractors, armed with US weapons, funded with US money and supported by US air power to stage raids in rural villages and kill suspected al Qaeda supporters and others who harbored or protected them.

Those raids were done with vicious brutality and the resulting resentment was focused on the American sponsors.  By 2004, news of the Iraq invasion and the abuses at Abu Graib convinced the Somali Muslim population that the US was waging war against Islam.  To halt, or at least moderate, the lawless chaos that prevailed, local Muslims organized a system of sharia courts to enforce order.  This system became known as Islamic Courts Union or ICU.

In a short time, the ICU grew strong enough to control a substantial part of Somalia and, at one point, controlled Mogadishu.  In response, JSOC and the CIA launched large scale bombing attacks on Somali villages where ICU was in control.  In addition, the US sponsored and supported an invasion of Somalia by Ethiopia, a neighboring country with which Somalia had gone to war in the 70’s and which had continued a hostile relationship since then, featuring periodic cross-border raids.

A full scale war ensued, with US air strikes supporting the invaders.  The ICU was finally vanquished, the war ended and the Ethiopian troops withdrew.

The Ethiopian invasion disrupted the ICU but  it also attracted large numbers of young men from other countries, who considered the conflict in Somalia to be an attack on Islam.  These men became easy recruits for al Qaeda and ultimately organized a new insurgency called al Shabab that became the most powerful and effective al Qaeda organization in East Africa.  In 2009, a report for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee concluded, “In many areas al-Shabab is the only organization that can provide basic social services, such as rudimentary health facilities, food distribution centers, and a basic justice system rooted in Islamic law.”

The influx of foreign fighters steadily increased and al Shabab gained control of more territory than any other al Qaeda group in history.  The dumb GWOT strategy, in a few years, had converted a failed state with little or no power to a territory similar to Afghanistan before 9-11, where al Qaeda could recruit and train its forces and expand its potential for harm to America.  In the process, it had furnished ready-made propaganda for al Qaeda to use throughout the world to encourage Muslims to hate America.

The Track and Whack War

     The Pirates’ Mistake

Three months after Barack Obama became the Commander-in-Chief, some Somali pirates made the mistake of waylaying and boarding an American ship off the Somali coast.  The crew resisted and one of the pirates was wounded.  Three of the pirates left the ship in a small boat, taking Captain Richard Phillips, an American, with them as a bargaining chip.  They headed for the Somali coast.  At Obama’s order, the USS Bainbridge was dispatched to the scene and arrived the next day.  On the third day, Captain Phillips tried to escape from the pirates, but was re-captured.  Two other US vessels joined the Bainbridge.  On the morning of the fourth day, Obama, after being advised that JSOC had a team of expert marksmen capable of dealing with the escaping pirates,  authorized the team to use lethal force to free the captain.  After the team was in place, Obama and some advisers questioned them about their ability to free Phillips.  “Would there be undue risk of harm to US troops?”  “Would there be collateral damage?”  “Do you have a clear shot?”  After receiving negative answers, Obama was asked, “Do I have permission to execute?”  Obama said “Yes you do.”  The voice at the other end of the line gave an order.  Then “Pop. Pop. Pop.”  Three pirates were dead and Captain Phillips was rescued.

Barack Obama had experienced the power of heading a powerful military force.  It undoubtedly impressed him with the efficiency and capability of a JSOC team.  Admiral William McRaven, the JSOC commander became a frequent White House visitor and established a close relationship with Obama.

     Obama’s GWOT  Army

Obama focused on killing Al Qeada and groups “associated” with Al Qaeda.  His primary weapon was JSOC, using intelligence supplied by the CIA.  His CIA Director, Leon Panetta, an old hand at handling political conflicts driven by outsized egos, effectively ended the turf wars between the FBI, the CIA and JSOC.  Obama soon had a smoothly working army which he began using to kill members and supporters of al Qaeda and “associated groups”, a shifting and imprecise designation of victims, the meaning of which changed in response to a constantly changing body of information.

Obama, in other words, while he ordered the ending of prisoner torture, continued, expanded and made more effective the “Global War on Terror” begun by the Bush neo-cons.  He used JSOC forces for raids on the ground, drones, missile armed helicopters and AC130 gunships for larger scale attacks.  [To appreciate the nature of the air attacks, do a Google search for “AC130”, look at some pictures and consider how those attacks were perceived by rural villagers in Yemen, Somalia, Kenya and other African countries.]

     Rendition and Interrogation

Ali Nabhan was one of the Al Qaeda leaders and planners of terrorist activities in East Africa.  He and Fazul Abdullah Mohammed were responsible for the bombing of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.  When Obama became President, both were still at large, regarded as HVT’s  (High Value Targets).  In July, 2009, Kenya security forces raided a home in Eastleigh, a slum district in Nairobi.  They arrested Ahmed Abdullah Hassan and took him to Somalia.   There, in the basement of Somalia’s National Security Agency,  he was interrogated by US Intelligence officials as well as by Somali interrogators.  He proved to have been a personal assistant to Nabhan and, in response to repeated interrogation by both US and Somali men, disclosed information that allowed a JSOC team, on September 14, 2009, to attack a convoy consisting of a Land Cruiser and several “technicals” (pickup trucks armed with machine guns).  All passengers in those vehicles were gunned down.  The American commandos landed and collected two of the bodies, one of whom was Saleh Ali Nabhan.

In April, 2009, CIA Director Panetta declared that the “CIA no longer operates detention facilities or black sites” and announced a “plan to decommission the remaining sites.”  Three months later, Hassan was interrogated by Americans in a secret prison basement.

     The Bombing of Majalah

On December 16, 2009, legal advisers from the State Department and the Pentagon and seventy-three other top national security officials were given a file of “baseball cards” containing the bios of three men in Yemen who were alleged to be leaders of AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula).  The JSOC commander, Admiral McRaven wanted immediate authority to kill all three.  The two legal advisers were given forty-five minutes to consider the request.  A teleconference was set up.  McRaven laid out the case for “kinetic action”, saying that one of the targets, Mohammed Saleh Mohammed Ali al Kazemi,  had been tracked to a training camp near the village of Majalah.   Capturing him had been ruled out and a JSOC cruise missile attack on the camp had been decided on.

The assembled group gave their permission for the strike.  A short time later, the Pentagon lawyer watched as a satellite beamed a real life image of Majaloah.  Figures moving around the village appeared to be the size of ants.  Then, in a massive flash, they were vaporized.  In the Pentagon, the satellite feed was known as “Kill TV”.

There was no training camp.  Scahill interviewed Bin Fareed, one of the most powerful citizens of Yemen, a leader of the Aulaq tribe and Anwar Awlaki’s uncle,  who visited the killing site the next day after the strike.  “When we went there, we could not believe our eyes.  I mean, if somebody had a weak heart, I think he would collapse.  You see goats and sheep all over, you see the heads of those who were killed here and there.  You see their bodies, you see children, I mean some of them, they were not hit immediately, but by the fire, they were burned, . . . .”  The man described efforts to bury the dead:  “Some of the meat we could not reach, even.  It was eaten by the birds.  They were all children, old women, all kinds of sheep and goats and cows. Unbelievable.”  “Why did they do this?  Why in the hell are they doing this?”  “There are no [weapons] stores, there is no field for training.  There is nobody, except a very poor tribe,one of the poorest tribes in the South.”

Scahill interviewed several survivors.  One of them was spared because he had gone on an errand to a neighboring village.  “People saw the smoke and felt the earth shake – they had never seen anything like it.  Most of the dead were women, children and the elderly.  Five pregnant women were killed.”

Scahill includes statements from other survivors, all similar descriptions of horror and slaughter.

      It Gets Worse

Abdulelah Haider Shaye was a journalist in Yemen who did not conform his reporting to the interests of either the Yemen government or the interests of the United States.  He was not allied with Al Qaeda and his stories were as critical of its activities and policies as those of the US and Yemen.  He was related by marriage to “. . a radical Islamic cleric,Abdul Majeed al Zindani, the founder of Iman University  and a US Treasury Department designated terrorist” [in Scahill’s words]  Because of this connection, Shaye was able to get information about Al Qaeda that probably would not have been otherwise available, but his stories were often critical of Zindani and were not subject to a charge of bias toward Al Qaeda.

Scahill wrote that Shaye “. . . had long been known as a brave, independent-minded journalist in Yemen. . ..”  He became a target for US retaliation when he began to write stories about Majalah.  Shaye went there and published pictures of pieces of cluster bombs and Tomahawk cruise missles with “Made in the United States” stamped on them.  Among the debris found and photographed by Shaye were pieces of BLU 97 A/B cluster bomblets described by Scahill as “[bombs] which explode into some two hundred sharp steel fragments that can spray more than four hundred feet away.  In essence, they are flying land mines capable of shredding human bodies.  The bomblets were also equipped with an incendiary material, burning zirconium, that set fire to flammable objects in the target area.  The missile used in the attack [on Majalah], a BGM-109D Tomahawk, can carry more than 160 cluster bombs.”

All of this information was spread around the world, on Al Jazeera as well as other news media.  It made obvious that the claim made after the strike:  That it was done by the Yemen government, was not true.  The Yemen government did not have the kind of missiles used.

Bin Fareed reacted to the Majalah bombing by organizing a massive meeting of almost 150 of Yemen’s tribal leaders.  Old feuds and inter-tribal hatred were put aside and a crowd estimated as between 50,000 and 70,000 tribesmen assembled at Majalah in cars, according  to Fareed, “as far as the eye could see.”  A huge tent was erected and plans were made for speeches expressing outrage toward the US and the Yemen government for the attack.

The night before the speeches were scheduled, a small group of strangers came to the tent.  They identified themselves as Al Qaeda agents and asked for permission to address the crowd.  Bin Fareed refused and told them they were “idiots” who would divert attention from the purpose of his organizing:  to oppose the lawless violence, not align with Al Qaeda’s equally violent policies.  The Al Qaeda men left but, the next morning one of them, standing atop a car, spoke to the crowd and identified himself with Al Qaeda.  His speech was televised and, despite Fareed’s effort, his rally was hijacked and branded as an Al Qaeda event.  He told  Scahill, with satisfaction that,  a few days later, all of the Al Qaeda agents were killed, probably because the US was able to track them based on their appearance at the rally.

Abdulelah Haider Shaye persisted in his investigative reporting of the Majalah attack.  He worked with Al Jazeera, ABC News and the Washington Post to expose the false tales offered by the Yemen and US governments, claiming that the attack was by Yemen military forces and that it destroyed an important Al Qeada training camp.  His reports also exposed the way Saleh, the Yemen president, used the Al Qeada threat to pry money and weapons from the US.

In July, 2010, seven months after the Majalah strike, Shaye was grabbed off the street by Yemeni intelligence agents, taken to a secret location and told that to stop criticizing the Yemen government.  They told him, “We will destroy your life if you keep on talking.”  His lawyer told Scahill he was convinced the kidnapping was done at the behest of the US government.

Shaye responded to the threats by going directly to Al Jazeera after being released to describe the event in a live telecast.  Saleh had set up a special court to prosecute journalists who were critical of him.   The head of a committee to protect journalists in the Middle East and North Africa happened to be in Yemen that night.  He interviewed Shaye and found him to be a competent and courageous reporter.

About that same time, major news media outlets in the US were being told by US intelligence officials to stop working with Shaye, that he was using the money they paid him to support Al Qaeda.  Scahill interviewed both Shaye and his friend Sharaf, a cartoonist who incurred the wrath of the Yemen government by publishing unflattering cartoons of Saleh.  He was convinced that neither of them were Al Qaeda agents.

On August 16, 2010, the end of Ramadan, Sharaf’s home was surrounded by armed soldiers.  He and Shaye were taken to jail, beaten and tortured for about thirty days.  Sharaf was released in exchange of his promise to stop drawing cartoons of Saleh.  Shaye refused to make any promises, so he was charged with a long list of crimes and, a month later, brought to trial in a cage located in the courtroom.   After the charges, accusing him of being an Al Qaeda agent among other crimes, were read aloud, he made a short speech to his fellow journalists, declaring that he was being persecuted for no reason except his exposure of the violent attacks on innocent citizens.  He said, “You notice in court how they have turned all my journalistic contributions into accusations.”  As security guards dragged him away, he yelled, “Yemen, this is a place where, when a young journalist becomes successful, he is viewed with suspicion.”   He was sentenced to five years in prison.

Human rights groups and reporters who attended the trial, denounced Shaye’s treatment and branded the trial “a joke”.  Gregory Johnson, the Yemen scholar at Princeton University, who had maintained steady communication with Shaye for years, told Scahill, “It is difficult to overestimate the importance of his work.  Without Shaye’s reports and interviews we would know much less about Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula that we do, and if one believes, as I do, that knowledge of the enemy is important to constructing a strategy to defeat them, then his arrest and continued detention has left a hole in our knowledge that has yet to be filled.”

A group of tribal leaders and some prominent Yemen sheikhs met with Saleh and urged him to release Shaye.  Saleh agreed.  A pardon was printed and Shaye was about to be released when Saleh received a call from President Obama.  Obama “expressed concern”  that Shaye was to be released before serving his sentence.  After the call, Saleh tore up the pardon and Shaye remains in prison.

     Horror at Gardez

Mohammed Daoud Sharabuddin was a policeman who headed the intelligence department in Paktia Province, Afghanistan.  He lived near Gardez, a town in that province.  On February 12, 2010, he, his family and some friends were celebrating the naming of his son, a ritual that occurs six days after birth.

About 3 a.m., the party was winding down when someone noticed that an outside light was not on.   One of the musicians saw lasers from the perimeter of the compound focused on the grounds.   He ran back inside and told Daoud that the Taliban  was attacking.  He said they were already on the roof.

Daoud and his fifteen-year-old son went outside and were killed by sniper fire.  The family inside began hearing the attackers speaking English and realized they were Americans.  Daoud’s brother tried to stop the attack.  He went outside and shouted, “We work for the government.  Look at our police vehicles.   You have wounded a police commander.”  Three women, family members ages thirty-seven, twenty-two and eighteen, tried to get him back inside.  All four were killed.  Seven people died.  The dead women were survived by sixteen children.

One of the survivors, Mohammed Sabir, one of Daoud’s brothers, saw his brother, his niTece and his sister-in-law killed.  At 7 a..m. stunned by the violence, he stood in a room filled with American soldiers while others searched the home.  His request to take the wounded to the hospital was ignored.  The soldiers told him they would care for them.   Finally, a helicopter came but, by that time, the wounded family members were dead.

Afghans customarily bind the heads and feet of the dead.  A scarf is put around the bottom of the chin to keep the mouth  from being open.   The survivors began trying to do this, but the soldiers handcuffed them and put the men and the women in separate rooms.  Scahill interviewed the survivors.  Several of the men told him that, after being handcuffed, they saw American soldiers using knives to dig bullets out of the corpses of the womens’ bodies.  When Scahill asked one of the men to confirm this, the man said, “Yes.”   “They were taking bullets from their bodies to remove the proof of their crime.”

Some of the male members of the family were taken into custody and interrogated for three days and nights.  They were still wearing clothes bloody from the killings.  They were accused of being Taliban members, although they told their interrogators that they had actually fought against the Taliban.

United Nations investigators issued a report that was never released.  It said that the Daoud family was subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment; that medical treatment was wrongfully delayed; that the survivors were made to stand outside in the cold for long periods of time.

The International Security Assistance Force issued a press release claiming that, while engaged in a routine operation, an ISAF team had made a “gruesome discovery”.   After being caught in a a “firefight” at the compound, they went inside and found three women who had been “bound” and “gagged” and then executed.  The ISAF team found them in an adjacent room”.   The release stated that eight men had been held for “further questioning”.   The press release stated, “ISAF continually works with our Afghan partners to fight criminals.”

The New York Times published the ISAF account.  A Times reporter, Rob Norland, spoke to the local police chief, who confirmed many of the details of the incident.  He stated that three women had been killed by Taliban militants and appeared to have deep cuts and puncture wounds, suggesting they had been stabbed.

A month after the attack, a British journalist, Jerome Starkey, began a serious investigation of the Gardez attack.  After interviewing witnesses and viewing other evidence, he concluded that it was a tragedy followed by a cover-up.  One of the most telling items was a video of the party, showing musicians playing and people dancing.  The  Taliban is notorious for banning musical instruments.  Starkey realized that the whole Taliban story was a lie.    When he interviewed the governor of the province where the attack occurred, he was told, “The operation was a mistake.”

The ISAF continued to insist on their bogus version but, when the Times of London published a long story written by Starkey, the cover-up began to unravel.  At first, ISAF pressured other journalists to attack Starkey’s credibility.  Then NATO claimed to have a tape recording in which Starkey made statements inconsistent with his story.  When he demanded access to the tape, NATO spokesmen admitted it did not exist.

Starkey published a follow-up story describing the grief and outrage of the Afghans about the Gardez attack.

In late March, 2010, Starkey got a phone call from NATO.  The caller told him that they were issuing a new press release changing their account of the attack.  The new version admitted that the Daoud family was not allied with the Taliban, that, while the men “showed hostile intent”, they did not fire on the ISAF forces; that the women were not “bound and gagged” as originally claimed.  NATO still denied that bullets had been dug out of the women’s bodies.  A later investigation by Afghan investigators confirmed that the bullets had, indeed, been removed by the soldiers.  Starkey published another story based on that investigation.

On April 8, 2010, a huge convoy of American armored cars and land cruisers, loaded with a large number of Afghan and American soldiers arrived at the Daoud compound.  Admiral McRaven stepped out of one of them.  A sheep was unloaded from one of the vehicles and three Afghan soldiers knelt by it in the courtyard of the compound.  Afghan law includes a doctrine named nanawate that requires that when a wrongdoer comes to ones home to ask forgiveness, he slaughters a sheep at the front door and the victim is bound to accept him and his apology.  As an Afghan mullah prayed, the soldiers prepared to kill the sheep.  Hajji Sharabuddin, the family elder, stopped them.  He recognized that honor required him to let the visitors into his home.  He insisted, over McRaven’s objections, that Starkey remain in the room.  His photographer took pictures of the event.  McRaven made a short speech.  He apologized and asked for “mercy” for him and his men for “this awful tragedy”.  The Afghan generals handed the family $30,000.

When Scahill spoke with Sharabuddin months later, he said he did not accept the apology.  He said, “Initially, we were thinking that Americans were the friends of Afghans, but now we think that Americans themselves are terrorists.  Americans ar our enemy.  They bring terror and destruction.  Americans not only destroyed my house, they destroyed my family.  The Americans unleashed  the Special Forces on us.  These Special Forces with the long beards, did cruel, criminal things.”

Scahill made FOIA requests for documents pertinent to the bullet removal issue.  His requests were denied.

     The Anwar Awlaki Story

A major part of Scahill’s book concerns the killing of Anwar Awlaki and his sixteen-year-old son.  I have written about this elsewhere so I won’t repeat it here.  [See “Lynch Law” and “Lynch Lay Two”]  Scahill’s book does, however, include one charming detail of which I was not aware.

The CIA accepted the assistance of a Danish citizen, Morton Storm, a lapsed Muslim who volunteered to become a double agent.  Storm is  a former biker gang member who became a devout Muslim and then, after a sudden epiphany, became an eager anti-Muslim.  During his devout Muslim stage, he was a fan of Alwar Awlaki’s YouTube Muslim ministry and established a friendly relationship with him via email.

Awlaki told Storm that, because he was in  exile to escape US surveillance and living away from his family, he pined for another wife who would accompany him on his frequent travels.  Storm agreed to look around for one.  He then went to a local office of the CIA and volunteered his services.

With the help of the CIA, Storm found a Croatian woman who was also a fan of Awlaki and was eager to become his wife.  A video was produced featuring her, expressing her admiration for Awlaki , proposing herself as his future wife.  He responded favorably and their wedding was arranged.

Since Awlaki had made plain the fact that their marriage would involve a lot of travel, the CIA provided her with a suitcase for her wardrobe  and equipped it, without her knowledge, of course, with a homing device that would be trackable.

She met and married Awlaki and Storm was paid $250,000 by the CIA for acting as the matchmaker.

Following their marriage, Awlaki transferred her clothes from the suitcase to a plastic bag, abandoned the suitcase and the CIA plan to blow up the bride and groom as well as anyone else who happened to be in the vicinity was thwarted.

Last Sunday night, 60 Minutes included a segment in which Storm,  who has produced a self-laudatory book, complained bitterly because, according to him, he was responsible for killing Awlaki and was denied the large reward that had been promised.  The CIA claimed that his information was not vital to locating and killing Awlaki, so they refused to pay him.  Perhaps they considered a quarter of a million dollars for a plot that did not succeed was enough.

     Signature Strikes 

Three days after becoming President, Obama signed executive orders “dismantling” the Bush torture and detention programs.  He declared that we would wage war against “violence and terrorism”,but would do so in a manner consistent with “our values and our ideals”.  The next day, CIA Director Michael Hayden told the President about drone strikes planned in Pakistan near the Afghan border.  Hayden described them as targeting “upper tier” Al Qaeda and Taliban” members.

On January 23, 2009, two Hellfire missiles hit two compounds in two small villages.  Hayden reported that the “upper tier” agents had not been hit, but that “at least five Al Qaeda militants” had been killed.  Obama replied, “Good.”

The next day, John Brennan, his chief anti-terrorism adviser, told the President that most of those killed were innocent civilians.  One strike killed between seven and fifteen people, almost all civilians.  The second strike hit the wrong house and  killed between five to eight civilians, some of whom were family members of the tribal elder, who was a member of a “pro-government peace committee”.

Obama summoned Hayden for a meeting.  Hayden explained that the targets were based on “signature” findings, based on “life patterns” rather than actual intelligence specifically identifying them as Al Qaeda or Taliban leaders or members.  The CIA had reported that they were “military age males” who were part of a large gathering in a region known to contain Al Qaeda or Taliban agents or were known to have had contacts with suspected militants.  After hearing the explanation, Obama agreed that strikes could be based on such evidence, but required that the CIA Director was to have the “final say” on them.

These meetings were followed by other meetings with members of the intelligence community and Obama was made aware of the way the drone program was structured.  During the next ten months, Obama authorized as many drone strikes as Bush had in the eight years of his presidency.

As I read descriptions of these “signature” strikes, something seemed familiar about them.   One night, while half asleep, it came to me.  This was the way the McCarthy and J. Edgar Hoover waged the war on communism in the United States in the 50’s and 60’s.  People were singled out based on their associations with others suspected of being communists.   If they attended meetings where ideas consistent with communism were discussed, they were targeted.  If they publicly opposed the methods of the anti-communists, they were targeted.

They weren’t killed, just jailed, ruined and black-listed.  But the method was the same.  We  weren’t at war with the USSR or with any communist country.   We had a war going on against an  loosely defined ideology named by those waging the war as “communism”.   Part of its appeal was based on fear.  In those days the fear was focused on being incinerated by an atomic bomb.  The GWOT war, also focused on an ideology, is based fear of another terror attack.

Those claimed to be communists, like those claimed to be agents of Al Qaeda or the Taliban, were not formally inducted into an organization.   Their names did not appear in official membership roles.  Their supposed adherence and approval of every objectionable idea of an ideology was presumed based on their “life pattern”.

This “life pattern” strategy used as a basis for drone strikes and lethal force should be familiar to us all.  The pity is that, when it is given a new name, we don’t recognize it.  Mayor Bloomberg’s “stop and frisk” program in New York, now the subject of conflict and public discussion, is another iteration of it.  It also bears a resemblance to the “articulable suspicion” used to justify the NSA’s surveillance programs’ focus on specific persons or groups.

It seems to me that the GWOT is being fought on bases similar to the old McCarthy/Hoover/ John Birch wars on communism and the other just cited examples,  except that Hellfire missiles and 500 pound bombs are more serious weapons than Congressional hearings and blacklists; Bloomberg’s police harassment; and NSA’s snooping.

Conclusion

I know this essay is too long.  I have touched on about ten percent of the material in Scahill’s book.  The examples I have discussed can give only a hint of the descriptions of mayhem and violence he describes, along with detailed accounts of the secrecy and deceit that characterize the efforts to conceal it.  It is not a  pleasant book but it reminds me of the importance of the First Amendment’s important protection of journalists like Jeremy Scahill, Jerome Starkey and Abdulelah Haider Shaye.

Bob

It’s Worse Than I Thought

May 1, 2013 § Leave a comment

Last year, in October, I posted some pessimistic comments about the drafting of Dodd-Frank regulations.  See The Details Devils.  Those regulations involve the jurisdiction of four different federal agencies.  They are necessary to implement Dodd-Frank’s purpose:  To limit the ability of Wall Street banks to wreak havoc on the economy by creating and marketing risky and deceptively complicated securities.  I cited three articles from the New York Times and Bloomberg News describing the bitter multi-agency struggles concerning the effort to separate investment banking from commercial banking, generally known as the Volker Rule.

Since then I have expressed my gloomy opinion that corporate capitalism seems to have overpowered the ability of our government to rein in its most destructive inclinations.  See Capitalism and Democracy – Symbiotic Conflict.

Today’s New York Times has a story about the struggle between government regulatory agencies and Wall Street banks concerning proposed Dodd-Frank regulations.  See story.

Lastweek I read a lengthy article in The Nation by Gary Rivlin, “How Wall Street De-Fanged Dodd-Frank“.   The author, a talented reporter, has described, in detail, how armies of lobbyists and lawyers, financed with unlimited money from Wall Street banks and a consortium of corporate organizations and trade associations, have overwhelmed both the officials charged with drafting and seeking adoption of Dodd-Frank regulations, and the members of congressional committees having oversight of those subjects.

The characters in this melodrama are interesting.  One member of the corporate wrecking team is Eugene Scalia, son of Supreme Court Justice Humpty-Dumpty Scalia.  His role is to file multiple law suits designed to embroil the regulatory drafting process in litigation for years and thereby thwart Congress’s effort to protect the American economy from a repetition of the 2008 financial debacle.  According to Rivlin’s article, he is succeeding swimmingly.

One of the associations funding and sponsoring the lobbyist members of the wrecking crew is our own Kenneth M Bentsen, former member of Congress and now head of the Securities Industry and Financial Marketing Association, nephew of Lloyd Bentsen.  We all remember Lloyd.  He’s the guy who waged a successful smear campaign against Senator Ralph Yarborough in 1970, later made an unsuccessful run for the presidency, then was rewarded by the Democratic Party with a nomination for Vice President and running mate with Walter Mondale; then, when that didn’t work out, was again rewarded by President Clinton, who appointed him Secretary of the Treasury.  Oh yeah, we remember him.  Looks like his nephew is carrying on the family tradition.

Why is it, that every time some absolutely putrid, disgraceful process takes place in Washington D.C., some Texas yahoo shows up in the middle of it?  When Ken Bentsen was a congressman, I thought he was a new generation of Bentsens; that maybe he was going to renounce the dark side.  Guess the money was just too good to pass up.

I won’t try to summarize Gary Rivilin’s article.  It is long but I urge you to read it.  If, as I have written, there is a war going on between democracy and capitalism, Wall Street banks possess the nuclear bombs.  They have already demonstrated that they are irresponsible and reckless custodians of those weapons.  We are still living with the resulting economic ruin. Dodd-Frank represents an effort to disarm them.  So far, the prospects don’t look promising.

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