27 May 2016

Ignoring the Past is Good for the MICC’s Business


Why We Should Not Question the Decision to Drop the Atomic Bombs on Japan

With the passage of time, the decision to drop the atomic bombs on Hiroshima (a uranium bomb) and Nagasaki (a plutonium bomb) in August of 1945 has become more controversial among historians but not in the public mind.  Was the destruction of these two low priority targets necessary to end the war with the Japan?

In 1945 and thereafter, beginning with the Truman Administration, politicians and milcrats convinced the public that bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki ended the war quickly and thereby saved American and Japanese lives.  Against the background of the brutality and racism of the Pacific War — and especially the just completed battles of Okinawa and Iwo Jima, and the overwhelming psychological effects of the Kamikazes — this justification was easy to believe by those troops designated for the invasion of Japan* as well as by a public anxious to end the war. And this belief has lingered thru the years, largely unquestioned.   But the story of the decision to drop the bomb is far more complicated than this simple argument suggests.  

One of the world’s leading historians of Truman's decision to drop the bomb, Gar Alperovitz, recently sat down with journalist Andrew Cockburn to discuss these complexities (attached below).

The question addressed by Alperovitz and Cockburn is more than a idle historical curiosity.  Alperovitz hints as much in the last pregnant paragraph of his interview.  President Obama’s administration is planting the seed money for an across-the-board-modernization of nuclear weapons, delivery systems, and support systems that will cost at least a trillion dollars (more likely $2-3 trillion, IMO) over the next 15-30 years.  While its details are shrouded in secrecy, public information is oozing out (e.g. see this link).  Present information now suggests this program includes: a new ballistic missile launching submarine; a new strategic bomber; a new land based intercontinental missile; a new air launched cruise missile; modernization of and adding precision guidance to the B-61 “dial-a-yield gravity bomb; modernization of strategic ballistic missile warheads; upgrades to the sea launched ballistic missiles; a massive upgrade to the surveillance, reconnaissance,  command, control, and communications systems needed to manage nuclear warfighting; continuation and upgrades to ballistic missile defense systems (rationale: gotta have a “shield" to protect the aforementioned “swords”); modernization of the nuclear weapons laboratory infrastructure; and the increasingly demanding problem of nuclear weapons facilities cleanup (e.g. Hanford).  

This bow wave will unfold in the highly evolved nature of the domestic politics driving defense spending -- i.e., the domestic operations of the Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex (MICC) -- as I described in The Domestic Roots of Perpetual War.  History shows the golden cornucopia of this nuc "bow wave” of programs will quickly evolve into an unstoppable tsunami of front loaded and politically engineered contracts and subcontracts that will grow over time to overwhelm and paralyze future Presidents and Congresses for the next 20-30 years.*** 

The only way such a modernization program can be justified is to concoct some kind of 21st Century nuclear warfighting scenario and to use the rubric of a new Cold War against a nuclear armed competitor — read Russia or China or both — to terrorize the public into paying the bill.  

Which brings us back to the logic of bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Attached beneath the end notes is Cockburn's** short but incisive interview with Alperovitz.

————
* It is hard to overestimate the immediate and lasting appeal of the government’s line to people of all political persuasions: One of my dearest friends, for example, was an anti-tank gunner in the 95th Infantry Division during WWII.  While in Germany in 1945, he was notified that he would be redeploying to the Pacific for the invasion of Japan.  My friend was an extreme liberal with a WWII enlisted GI's contempt for the conduct of war; he believed the military leadership was incompetent; and that carried over to his vehement opposition to the Viet Nam War.  But 50 years later he still vociferously defended the decision to drop the atomic bombs.  His reasoning was simple and heartfelt and honest: he had enough of fighting the Germans and wanted to go home and be done with the madness.

** Caveat: Andrew Cockburn is a close friend of 35 years, so I am biased. 

***  This kind of budget time bomb has happened at least twice before in the non-nuclear part of the defense budget: The first began when the Nixon-Ford Administration planted the seeds of defense budget hysteria by starting a bow wave of new modernization programs, financed in the short term by readiness and force structure reductions in early-to-mid 1970s.  These reductions led to budget pressures that exploded in the late 1970s and 1980s when President Carter began growing the defense budget and President Reagan accelerated that growth.  The game repeated itself in the late 1980s thru the mid-1990s, when Presidents Bush and Clinton planted the seeds for future budget growth, that would metastasize in the late 1990s. That bow wave was subsequently power boosted and masked somewhat by hysteria accompanying 9-11, but it used the same formula of cutting readiness and force structure in the short term to finance the planting of the bow wave of modernization programs.  And now, history is repeating itself for a third time.  This can be seen in the spate of recent hysterical and misbegotten reports (e.g., typical example) about how the relatively modest budget cutbacks from 2010 in the Pentagon’s "base budget" have caused today’s modernization crises, readiness shortfalls, etc.  Now add the full scale nuclear tsunami to this limited description of the Obama bow wave and the pressure to grow future budgets justified by a new cold war will become unstoppable.


Unjust Cause
Historian Gar Alperovitz on the decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki
By Andrew Cockburn, Harpers, 25 May 2016
President Obama is about to visit the Japanese city of Hiroshima, where on August 6, 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb that killed 140,000 people. Earlier this month, Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes wrote on Medium.com that “the President will shine a spotlight on the tremendous and devastating human toll of war.” But the White House has also made clear that the president has no intention of apologizing. Seventy years after World War II, it seems the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki are still a matter for evasion, justified by U.S. officials as the only way to end the war and save American lives. If Obama sticks to this script, his speech won’t amount to much more than Donald Rumsfeld’s “stuff happens.” To fill in Obama’s preannounced omissions, I turned to the historian Gar Alperovitz. His 1995 book The Decision to Use the Atomic Bomb and the Architecture of An American Myth is the most definitive account we are likely to see of why Hiroshima was destroyed, and how an official history justifying that decision was subsequently crafted and promulgated by the national security establishment. As he explained, the bomb not only failed to save Americans lives, it might actually have caused the needless deaths of thousands of U.S. servicemen.
Let’s start with the basic question: was it necessary to drop the bomb on Hiroshima in order to compel Japanese surrender and thereby save American lives?                      
Absolutely not. At least, every bit of evidence we have strongly indicates not only that it was unnecessary, but that it was known at the time to be unnecessary. That was the opinion of top intelligence officials and top military leaders. There was intelligence, beginning in April of 1945 and reaffirmed month after month right up to the Hiroshima bombing, that the war would end when the Russians entered [and that] the Japanese would surrender so long as the emperor was retained, at least in an honorary role. The U.S. military had already decided [it wanted] to keep the emperor because they wanted to use him after the war to control Japan.
Virtually all the major military figures are now on record publicly, most of them almost immediately after the war, which is kind of amazing when you think about it, saying the bombing was totally unnecessary. Eisenhower said it on a number of occasions. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs said it—that was Admiral Leahy, who was also chief of staff to the president. Curtis LeMay, who was in charge of the conventional bombing of Japan, [also said it]. They’re all public statements. It’s remarkable that the top military leaders would go public, challenging the president’s decision within weeks after the war, some within months. Really, when you even think about it, can you imagine it today? It’s almost impossible to think of it.
Had the United States ever wanted the Russians to come in?  ... continued

21 May 2016

Is Nazism a One-of-a-Kind Historical Curiosity?


In the attached essay, Uri Avnery raises the specter of mutant Nazism emerging in Israel.  Avnery is no lightweight.  Going strong at the age of 92, Avnery was a child in Germany when the Nazis were taking over.  He and his family emigrated to Palestine in 1933.  
Today, Avnery (bio) is Israel’s most respected peace advocate; he is also a prolific writer, a former member of the Knesset, a hero of the 1948 War, and before that a member of the Irgun terrorist organization (from which he resigned in disillusionment over the Irgun’s murderous tactics in 1942).  First and foremost, he is an Israeli patriot.
If a man with this kind of background can see a variant of the scourge that destroyed Germany as an emergent possibility for Israel, how can one say another variation is not a possibility for the United States, given the parlous state of contemporary domestic American politics and militarization of American foreign policy and the accompanying permanent war economy?
Avnery’s essay is worthy of careful study and contemplation.

I Was There 
Uri Avnery, May 21, 2016
"PLEASE DON'T write about Ya'ir Golan!" a friend begged me, “Anything a leftist like you writes will only harm him!"
So I abstained for some weeks. But I can't keep quiet any longer.
General Ya'ir Golan, the deputy Chief of Staff of the Israeli army, made a speech on Holocaust Memorial Day. Wearing his uniform, he read a prepared, well-considered text that triggered an uproar which has not yet died down.
Dozens of articles have been published in its wake, some condemning him, some lauding him. Seems that nobody could stay indifferent.
The main sentence was: "If there is something that frightens me about the memories of the Holocaust, it is the knowledge of the awful processes which happened in Europe in general, and in Germany in particular, 70, 80, 90 years ago, and finding traces of them here in our midst, today, in 2016."
All hell broke loose. What!!! Traces of Nazism in Israel? A resemblance between what the Nazis did to us with what we are doing to the Palestinians?
90 years ago was 1926, one of the last years of the German republic. 80 years ago was 1936, three years after the Nazis came to power. 70 years ago was 1946, on the morrow of Hitler's suicide and the end of the Nazi Reich.
I FEEL compelled to write about the general's speech after all, because I was there.
As a child I was an eye-witness to the last years of the Weimar Republic (so called because its constitution was shaped in Weimar, the town of Goethe and Schiller). As a politically alert boy I witnessed the Nazi Machtergreifung ("taking power") and the first half a year of Nazi rule.
I know what Golan was speaking about. Though we belong to two different generations, we share the same background. Both our families come from small towns in Western Germany. His father and I must have had a lot in common.
There is a strict moral commandment in Israel: nothing can be compared to the Holocaust. The Holocaust is unique. It happened to us, the Jews, because we are unique. (Religious Jews would add: "Because God has chosen us".)
I have broken this commandment. Just before Golan was born, I published (in Hebrew) a book called "The Swastika", in which I recounted my childhood memories and tried to draw conclusions from them. It was on the eve of the Eichmann trial, and I was shocked by the lack of knowledge about the Nazi era among young Israelis then.
My book did not deal with the Holocaust, which took place when I was already living in Palestine, but with a question which troubled me throughout the years, and even today: how could it happen that Germany, perhaps the most cultured nation on earth at the time, the homeland of Goethe, Beethoven and Kant, could democratically elect a raving psychopath like Adolf Hitler as its leader?
The last chapter of the book was entitled "It Can Happen Here!" The title was drawn from a book by the American novelist Sinclair Lewis, called ironically "It Can't Happen Here", in which he described a Nazi take-over of the United States.
In this chapter I discussed the possibility of a Jewish Nazi-like party coming to power in Israel. My conclusion was that a Nazi party can come to power in any country on earth, if the conditions are right. Yes, in Israel, too.
The book was largely ignored by the Israeli public, which at the time was overwhelmed by the storm of emotions evoked by the terrible disclosures of the Eichmann trial.
Now comes General Golan, an esteemed professional soldier, and says the same thing.
And not as an improvised remark, but on an official occasion, wearing his general's uniform, reading from a prepared, well thought-out text.
The storm broke out, and has not passed yet.
ISRAELIS HAVE a self-protective habit: when confronted with inconvenient truths, they evade its essence and deal with a secondary, unimportant aspect. Of all the dozens and dozens of reactions in the written press, on TV and on political platforms, almost none confronted the general's painful contention.
No, the furious debate that broke out concerns the questions: Is a high-ranking army officer allowed to voice an opinion about matters that concern the civilian establishment? And do so in army uniform? On an official occasion?
Should an army officer keep quiet about his political convictions? Or voice them only in closed sessions - "in relevant forums", as a furious Binyamin Netanyahu phrased it?
General Golan enjoys a very high degree of respect in the army. As Deputy Chief of Staff he was until now almost certainly a candidate for Chief of Staff, when the incumbent leaves the office after the customary four years.
The fulfillment of this dream shared by every General Staff officer is now very remote. In practice, Golan has sacrificed his further advancement in order to utter his warning and giving it the widest possible resonance.
One can only respect such courage. I have never met General Golan, I believe, and I don't know his political views. But I admire his act.
(Somehow I recall an article published by the British magazine Punch before World War I, when a group of junior army officers issued a statement opposing the government's policy in Ireland. The magazine said that while disapproving the opinion expressed by the mutinous officers, it took pride in the fact that such youthful officers were ready to sacrifice their careers for their convictions.)
THE NAZI march to power started in 1929, when a terrible world-wide economic crisis hit Germany. A tiny, ridiculous far-right party suddenly became a political force to be reckoned with. From there it took them four years to become the largest party in the country and to take over power (though it still needed a coalition).
I was there when it happened, a boy in a family in which politics became the main topic at the dinner table. I saw how the republic broke down, gradually, slowly, step by step. I saw our family friends hoisting the swastika flag. I saw my high-school teacher raising his arm when entering the class and saying "Heil Hitler" for the first time (and then reassuring me in private that nothing had changed.)
I was the only Jew in the entire gymnasium (high school.) When the hundreds of boys – all taller than I – raised their arms to sing the Nazi anthem, and I did not, they threatened to break my bones if it happened again. A few days later we left Germany for good.
General Golan was accused of comparing Israel to Nazi Germany. Nothing of the sort. A careful reading of his text shows that he compared developments in Israel to the events that led to the disintegration of the Weimar Republic. And that is a valid comparison.
Things happening in Israel, especially since the last election, bear a frightening similarity to those events. True, the process is quite different. German fascism arose from the humiliation of surrender in World War I, the occupation of the Ruhr by France and Belgium from 1923-25, the terrible economic crisis of 1929, the misery of millions of unemployed. Israel is victorious in its frequent military actions, we live comfortable lives. The dangers threatening us are of a quite different nature. They stem from our victories, not from our defeats.
Indeed, the differences between Israel today and Germany then are far greater than the similarities. But those similarities do exist, and the general was right to point them out.
The discrimination against the Palestinians in practically all spheres of life can be compared to the treatment of the Jews in the first phase of Nazi Germany. (The oppression of the Palestinians in the occupied territories resembles more the treatment of the Czechs in the "protectorate" after the Munich betrayal.)
The rain of racist bills in the Knesset, those already adopted and those in the works, strongly resembles the laws adopted by the Reichstag in the early days of the Nazi regime. Some rabbis call for a boycott of Arab shops. Like then. The call "Death to the Arabs" ("Judah verrecke"?) is regularly heard at soccer matches. A member of parliament has called for the separation between Jewish and Arab newborns in hospital. A Chief Rabbi has declared that Goyim (non-Jews) were created by God to serve the Jews. Our Ministers of Education and Culture are busy subduing the schools, theater and arts to the extreme rightist line, something known in German as Gleichschaltung. The Supreme Court, the pride of Israel, is being relentlessly attacked by the Minister of Justice. The Gaza Strip is a huge ghetto.
Of course, no one in their right mind would even remotely compare Netanyahu to the Fuehrer, but there are political parties here which do emit a strong fascist smell. The political riffraff peopling the present Netanyahu government could easily have found their place in the first Nazi government.
One of the main slogans of our present government is to replace the "old elite", considered too liberal, with a new one. One of the main Nazi slogans was to replace "das System".
BY THE WAY, when the Nazis came to power, almost all high-ranking officers of the German army were staunch anti-Nazis. They were even considering a putsch against Hitler . Their political leader was summarily executed a year later, when Hitler liquidated his opponents in his own party. We are told that General Golan is now protected by a personal bodyguard, something that has never happened to a general in the annals of Israel.
The general did not mention the occupation and the settlements, which are under army rule. But he did mention the episode which occurred shortly before he gave this speech, and which is still shaking Israel now: in occupied Hebron, under army rule, a soldier saw a seriously wounded Palestinian lying helplessly on the ground, approached him and killed him with a shot to the head. The victim had tried to attack some soldiers with a knife, but did not constitute a threat to anyone any more. This was a clear contravention of army standing orders, and the soldier has been hauled before a court martial.
A cry went up around the country: the soldier is a hero! He should be decorated! Netanyahu called his father to assure him of his support. Avigdor Lieberman entered the crowded courtroom in order to express his solidarity with the soldier. A few days later Netanyahu appointed Lieberman as Minister of Defense, the second most important office in Israel.
Before that, General Golan received robust support both from the Minister of Defense, Moshe Ya'alon, and the Chief of Staff, Gadi Eisenkot. Probably this was the immediate reason for the kicking out of Ya'alon and the appointment of Lieberman in his place. It resembled a putsch.
It seems that Golan is not only a courageous officer, but a prophet, too. The inclusion of Lieberman's party in the government coalition confirms Golan's blackest fears. This is another fatal blow to the Israeli democracy.

Am I condemned to witness the same process for the second time in my life?

13 May 2016

Donald Trump’s Unsurprising Surprise


Exclusive: Donald Trump’s ascension to the Republican presidential nomination was predictable, paved by years of right-wing fear-mongering and dissemination of anti-knowledge, says former GOP congressional staffer Mike Lofgren.
By Mike Lofgren, Consortium News, May 12, 2016
{Additional background information describing Mike's important corpus of work can be found at this link}
A lot of pundits have egg on their faces. Nate Cohn recently issued a mea culpa in the New York Times confessing his underestimation of Donald Trump. The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank has even had to make good on his bet that he would literally eat his words if the real estate mogul were nominated.
As late as September 2015, esteemed numbers whiz Nate Silver was telling us that Trump had a 5 percent chance of winning the Republican nomination. Déjà vu: as with the awful consequences of invading Iraq or selling no-documentation mortgages to indigent homebuyers, most of our designated experts didn’t see it coming.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump in an MSNBC interview.
My experience with GOP politics was a bit more up-close and personal than that of most pundits. For 28 years, I worked on Capitol Hill as a Republican staffer. The 2008 selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as vice presidential candidate was embarrassing enough to me, but once the congressional GOP appeared eager to drive the country into a debt default in 2011, I decided to leave and become a political independent.
By that point it seemed plausible to me that Trump – or someone similar – was likely if not inevitable. Although conservative ideologues denounce him for being doctrinally impure, he is the logical culmination of deeper psychological trends both in the party and the broader American culture that I have observed over the years.
Since the demise of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987, the Conservative Media-Entertainment Complex – Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, and all the rest – has poisoned the well of civic engagement with rancor, scapegoating and pessimism about the state of the nation. These self-styled super-patriots seem to get a thrill from talking down the country, and if you add up all the groups they condemn, their targets probably constitute a majority of the U.S. population.
This cultural pessimism was an ingredient in the makeup of fascist movements during the Twentieth Century: enemies are at our borders; the deadliest enemy is within; the nation will collapse if we don’t purge subversive elements.
As film maker Jen Senko has documented, a steady diet of Fox News alarmism can make viewers angry, paranoid and irrational. With that kind of conditioning, is it any wonder that many Republicans are susceptible to Trump’s description of the world’s foremost economic and military power – us – as “weak” and “pathetic?”
Deliberate Obstruction
A related cause of Trump’s rise is the GOP’s political strategy, which only deepens the pessimism that Republican media have fanned. Gridlock, filibusters, government shutdowns, playing chicken with the debt limit: they all reinforce the belief that the country is ungovernable.
A senior Republican Capitol Hill staffer once explained to me – approvingly – that it was a conscious strategy to create gridlock and lower the public approval of Congress. These alleged worshippers of the Constitution would cripple and discredit the branch of government that is the first and arguably premier institution listed in that document.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky.
Republicans have attempted to repeal Obamacare 62 times, but for the last six years we have been waiting in vain for the Republican health care plan to replace it. When they do not have undisputed control of government (and we have seen the fiscal and human disasters unleashed when they have dominated Kansas, Louisiana, and Michigan), the GOP is determined to seize up the gears.
Abraham Lincoln’s accusation against the antebellum slavocracy applies: “Your purpose, then, plainly stated, is that you will destroy the Government . . . You will rule or ruin in all events.”
If this is the new politics-as-usual, who can blame people for supporting an imperious outsider who promises to break the deadlock by knocking heads together? Trumpism was brewed in the kitchen of Mitch McConnell, the senator who vowed to derail Obama’s presidency.
I have written before about the GOP’s contribution to anti-knowledge in our society. As Nineteenth-Century humorist Josh Billings put it, “The trouble with people is not that they don’t know, but that they know so much that ain’t so.”
Despite three decades of evidence that tax cuts do not pay for themselves, Republican politicians hew to that line with dogmatic persistence. A couple of millennia of history ought to have taught us that invasions of the Middle East are not likely to go well, but the GOP was gung-ho about Iraq and questioned the patriotism of skeptics.
Many in the Republican base believe with a faith that transcends evidence that Obamacare authorizes death panels just as Obama himself is Kenyan born. Under those circumstances, why should it surprise us when Trump promises $12 trillion in tax cuts while eliminating the $19-trillion national debt in eight years, or claims that Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the Kennedy assassination?
Anti-knowledge is virulent in the GOP, but it is a problem in the larger society as well. A study by the journal Science polled on public attitudes about evolution in the United States, 32 European countries, Turkey and Japan; the only country where acceptance of evolution was lower than in ours was Islamic Turkey. States like Louisiana mandate that public schools teach the bogus “controversy” about evolution.
This epistemic closure, whereby facts are a matter of political opinion, threatens not only the country’s future scientific preeminence, but our ability to have rational discussions about public policy. Trump’s rise is a fire bell in the night warning us of a dangerous cultural development.
Fear and Authoritarianism
For the past 15 years, the people who constitute our bipartisan elite consensus – politicians, generals, media personalities, think-tank experts – have been dinning into our heads the message that we must be very afraid of terrorism, despite the fact that we are more likely to die slipping in the bathtub than in a terrorist attack. It has worked.
Voters in the Republican primary in South Carolina, where Trump won in a walk, declared terrorism their foremost concern, eclipsing a low-wage economy, deteriorating living standards leading to an increase in the death rate of GOP voters’ core demographic, and the most expensive and least available health care in the developed world.
Talk-radio host Rush Limbaugh
The fear that our elite consensus fostered has awakened the latent authoritarianism and paranoia that lurk in all too many ordinary people. This dynamic explains why Trump’s candidacy took off like a moon rocket in November and December of 2015, the period of the terrorist attack in Paris and the murders in San Bernardino.
Government officials and the media whipped up a mood in the country that approached hysteria; Trump deftly exploited it. By being the only politician brazen enough to openly advocate torture – not merely to gain information (a dubious claim), but to inflict pain for its own sake – he tapped into the revenge fantasies of millions of Americans who have been fed a steady diet of fear since 9/11.
We have deluded ourselves that the United States could be a “normal” country while waging a seemingly endless war on terror. We have likewise believed we could carry on with one of our political parties behaving like an apocalyptic cult, along with our public discourse being polluted by bogus “facts” amplified by ferociously partisan media.
Donald Trump is merely a symptom, not the cause, of these troubling cultural markers. His political ascent, then, is really no surprise, as I sensed when I said “goodbye to all that” on Capitol Hill five years ago.

Mike Lofgren is a former congressional staff member who served on both the House and Senate budget committees. His latest book, The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government, appeared in January 2016.

27 April 2016

Is Money a Critical Strategic Node in the War on Terror?


One of the more bizarre strategies in the Global War on Terror is the bombing of ISIS money depots in Syria in conjunction with using the “soft" power of the international financial system to interdict the money flowing to terrorists around the world.  
As Andrew Cockburn notes below, Colin Powell summed up what has become a whacky strategic obsession by saying, “money is the oxygen of terrorism."  In airpower lexicon, money is a critical strategic node for the terrorists, just as airpower theorists believed that the ball bearing works in Schweinfurt were a strategic critical node sustaining Germany’s war effort in WWII.  The ball bearing bombing theory of collapsing German military power turned out to be flawed in practice for a variety of reasons, but at least the ball bearing factories, if not the stockpiles, could be located.  
Where are the money nodes and what happens if you block or stifle the flow of the oxygen?
As the Panama banking caper points out, money is the most easily hidden, easily moved, and most fungible commodity ever invented.  Ascertaining the strategic effects of bombing money depots is about as reliable as a swami’s predictions from a ouija board.  Moreover, in the real world, interdicting money flows, as Cockburn explains below, is a blunt unfocused weapon of mass punishment that blindly impoverishes innocent people, thereby blowing back to create more fertile conditions for the breeding of new terrorists.  
Moreover, as Mike Lofgren — the author of the important book, The Deep State: The Fall of the Constitution and the Rise of a Shadow Government — pointed out to me, the idea of precision financial attack on ISIS’s money depots and money flows is simply subset of policy that has been occurring mainly since 9/11. The larger policy of financially sanctioning countries’ governments goes back at least 60 years (against North Korea), and it has never worked. Cuba is a poster child for this policy: if a resource poor island immediately adjacent to the US could not be “defeated” in over 50 years by sanctions, how will they work against Middle Eastern terrorists, especially those who specialize in living off the enemy?

The real oxygen of terrorism lies in the breeding ground of impoverished political, economic and unfair social conditions, as the Lebanese author Rami Koury, among others, have repeatedly argued.
I urge you to read Cockburn’s important and well-researched report “A Policy of Hypocrisy,” attached herewith.

HEART OF EMPIRE — April 26, 2016, 5:07 pm
A Policy of Hypocrisy
Trump wants to cut off Mexicans’ money? That’s what the Obama Administration already does to Somalis.
By Andrew Cockburn, Harpers
In April, Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump revealed to voters his plan to compel Mexico to pay for the construction of a wall on the southern border of the United States: he’d regulate wire transfers so that people living in America couldn’t send money to their Mexican relatives—a practice, Trump argued, that costs the country’s economy $24 billion every year. Upon hearing this plan, Barack Obama was poised and ready to set Trump right. “The notion that we’re going to track every Western Union bit of money that’s being sent to Mexico—good luck with that,” he told reporters at the White House this month. Such a sage observation certainly highlights the intellectual gulf between the crass billionaire and our professorial chief executive; but were Trump better informed, he could point out that the Obama Administration is itself already in the remittance-blocking business.
Trump could point to Somalis in the United States who are restricted from sending money to relatives and friends in desperate need. “Somalia is still recovering from the 2011 drought yet is currently experiencing another catastrophe,” Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison, thousands of whose constituents send money home, told me. “Current restrictions have capped the amount of money Somali-Americans can send and have made remitting money more expensive. Oftentimes these funds are the sole source of income for their families in Somalia. I’d say it’s a pretty big issue. In fact, it can be life or death.”
Two-fifths of Somalis depend on money from the vast diaspora scattered across the globe by decades of war and famine—money that accounts for as much as 45 percent of the country’s GDP. Despite ongoing civic disruption, Somalia has a remarkably efficient communications system that should make it easy for expatriates to send money to relatives. Thanks to mostly Somali-owned Money Transfer Offices, which move funds through banks in the United States and the Gulf, even remote areas of the country have speedy access to financial support. This becomes especially important in times of famine, when those who can normally sustain themselves are in urgent need.
None of this is to the taste of the vast U.S. government apparatus erected since 9/11 to detect and choke off the movement of any money that might benefit terrorists. … continued.

26 April 2016

Pentagon Gong Show


Popinjay Military

It should be clear that the Global War on Terror (GWOT) launched by George W. Bush and perpetuated by Barack Obama is a bust.  It is now the longest war in US history; it is now the second most expensive war in US history; and there is no light at the end of the tunnel.  
Yet despite the GWOT’s astronomical cost, forces deployed and combat tempos are minuscule when compared the those of the far lower cost Viet Nam War.  Nevertheless, the top uniformed and civilian officials in the Pentagon are whining to Congress that these tepid tempos have created a looming readiness crisis. They assert the relatively small cutbacks in the future growth implied by the budget caps of Budget Control Act of 2011 to what is by far the largest defense budget in the world is now the “gravest strategic danger” facing the United States!
A logical person, living in a sane world, would think that the GWOT, its high cost, its clearly broken nature, and the huge size of the defense budget would be major issues in the 2016 Presidential election.  But the presidential candidates and the mainstream media, like the Pentagon, are silent on this surreal travesty.  Indeed, the pathologies of the Military - Industrial - Congressional Complex (MICC) are as much off limits in contemporary political discourse as is foul language is at holy communion. 
In part, that is due to the fact that lots of people and a substantial part of our nation’s economy are benefitting — i.e., the are becoming rich and powerful — from living off the MICC’s degenerating status quo. One metric of this obscene transfer wealth can be seen in the proliferation of MICC-related “McMansions” in and around Versailles on the Potomac.  Sustaining the money flow through the MICC requires ornaments of success to compensate for and distract attention from its glittering if depressing reality.  The proliferation of American flags in politicians lapels and on car bumpers, suggesting uncritical patriotism and triumphalism, is one example.  Fantasies dressed up in powerpoint briefings about ever emerging technical revolutions, implying the future will be different from the past, are yet other examples of how ornaments prop up a dysfunctional reality in contemporary discourse.  
My long time friend and partner in crime, James P. Stevenson, has just written an essay analyzing yet another, little examined set of visual aids propping up the surrealism of the MICC.  His subject is the proliferation of glittering “been there, done that” decorations now adorning the chests our senior military officers.  
Jim proves his point (1) by making an elegantly simple comparison of the gongs adorning the chests of today’s generals to those that adorned the chests of the World War II generals — a war which historians may remember as our last “successful” war (thanks in large part to the enormous contributions of the Soviet Union) and (2) by showing how today’s gong show highlights individual careerism and vanity while degrading the recognition of heroism and self sacrifice.  
To be sure, as Jim is at pains to point out, gong proliferation did not begin with the GWOT, but it has grown over time.  But I would add, like the MICC (and the MICC’s McMansions), which also evolved slowly and insensibly over time, gong proliferation, especially in the highest ranks, metastasized during the GWOT. 
Attached herewith is Stevenson’s handiwork — think of it as yet another metaphor for the Defense Death Spiral and yet another canary in the coal mine warning us of decay within.

It’s Hard to Tell War Heroes From Paper-Pushers When Everybody Gets So Many Dumb Ribbons
Time to reform the Pentagon’s award system
by JAMES PERRY STEVENSON, War is Boring, 25 April 2016
There has been a jarring addition to U.S. military uniforms since the end of World War II. Seventy years ago, high-ranking officers wore relatively few ribbons or medalsand awards for valor were rare. Go back farther to the Civil War, and it was common for officers to not wear military decorations at all.
But for the modern officer, it’s now possible to perform one’s duties without being a hero and still have a chest full of ribbons that are indecipherable to all but the most dedicated students of phaleristics.
Most of all, the typical 21st-century American general is a walking wall of multi-colored “great job” ribbons, none of which are awards for valor.
The ribbons have spread so widely that it has become difficult to differentiate heroes from bedecked bureaucrats, assignment-junkies and dedicated self-improvement typeswhich, I suppose, is partly the point.
U.S. Army photos
The bureaucrats who added the great-job ribbons have ensured that some of these ribbons rank higher than do most medals for actual, individual acts of heroism.
That obviously reflects misplaced priorities within the U.S. military’s value-system. But that isn’t to say we should take away the officers’ ribbons.
No, there’s a better wayone that would visually differentiate awards for valor and heroism from the clutter of ribbons for “great job,” “been there” and “done that.”
The American military acknowledges the commendable and selfless efforts of its soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen in two distinct wayspromotions and medals.
The difference between a ribbon and a medal is merely technical. A ribbon is worn on the everyday uniform, while medals are reserved for formal occasions. They both refer to the same award.
Traditionally, the military rewards jobs-well-done with better or faster promotions. For officers, the addition of gold braid on their sleeves or a change in silver insignia represents an easy-to-discern promotion in rank.
In cases where no promotion takes place, a new, more responsible assignmentsuch as becoming a commanding officer of a ship or aircraft squadronis a clear indication of an officer’s continuous good work.
Acts of valor, on the other hand, are usually brief eventssometimes instantaneousbut of course are still worthy of note. Awarding ribbons are the usual way the military offers this notice.
The military also assigns precedence among various ribbons by placing them in an order of importance, with the most important residing at the top of a uniform’s area for ribbons, and the least important living at the bottom.
A full chest of ribbons usually contains the four typesone each for for valor, for a job well-done, for stating where and when the wearer served, andfinallyribbons representing an individual’s professional self-improvement.
It gets more complicated. The military also awards “dual-use” ribbons that can indicate heroism with a quarter-inch “V” attachment. The Army and Air Force call the “V” the “V Device” and the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard call it the “Combat V.”
Without the V, the ribbon stands for “extraordinary” or “meritorious” conduct. And this varies between service branches. The same medal can mean different things depending on the service that issues it.
Yes, this is complicated. Thanks for bearing with me.
At the beginning of World War II, the big three awards for valor and heroismthe Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross and the Silver Starwere known to most military personnel and even to many civilians.
But with the growth of military bureaucracy, manned by more and more careerists whose fingers have pulled more paper than triggers, the military developed a mindset that these silent warriors, working behind the lines, needed some recognition. The rear-echelon types began issuing themselves ribbons simply for being good administrators.
As a result, it’s gotten really hard to discern a hero from a bureaucrat. Plus there’s the visual pollution of dozens of ribbons adorning one uniform. Furthermore, ribbon-proliferation dilutes the importance of any particular award. Any one medal doesn’t mean a whole lot when everyone’s got lots and lots of them.
The following series, depicting four sets of ribbons, shows the evolution of medals for heroism competing with great-job ribbons.
The top seven ribbons the U.S. Army awarded at the beginning of World War IIfive ribbons for heroism, one for a great job, and one for being woundedare depicted here in priority order. The Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, the Distinguished Service Medal (a great-job medal), the Silver Star Medal, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Soldier’s Medal for non-combat heroism and the Purple Heart.
The only addition for heroism in the U.S. Army by the end of 1945 was the Bronze Star Medal with the V Device.
The medals the Army added for heroism after the 1950s are the Air Medal, the Joint Service Commendation Medal and the Army Commendation Medal, all of which offer the opportunity to attach the V Device, converting the ribbon from great-job award to an award for heroism.
Heroism medals have to compete visually with great-job medals as well as ones for “been there” and “done that.” If we were to limit visual clutter to only the addition of great-job ribbons, you begin to see the problem.

Hero medals now compete with great-job ribbons added since the end of World War II (in red) and great-job ribbons added before and during World War II (in green). In both cases, hero ribbons compete for precedence.
In some cases, great-job ribbons outrank awards for heroism. Furthermore, the qualifications are such that only those at the top of the military hierarchy are in a position to receive them.
Take the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, which outranks the Silver Star, the third-highest medal for heroism. According to the Defense Department, the DDSM is only awarded to “members whose direct and individual contribution to national security or national defense are recognized as being so exceptional in scope and value as to be equivalent to contribution associated with positions encompassing broader responsibilities.”
But isn’t that what high-ranking generals and admirals are supposed to do? Awarding generals and admirals a medal for “encompassing broader responsibilities” after also giving them four stars is the functional equivalent of a participation award.
Not that many service members would even recognize the great-job ribbons. The author’s recent unscientific survey of a group of U.S. Air Force enlisted airmen illustrates the effect of ribbon-clutter. None of the five airmen could name or recognize any valor-based ribbon aside from the Medal of Honor.
“We have trouble keeping up with the ribbons they keep awarding us, so when we see someone else’s medals, we usually try to see what ribbons we might have in common,” one airman said.
That airman has been in the Air Force for just under four years and yet he had been awarded seven ribbons. For a comparison, Army generals Dwight D. Eisenhower and Henry “Hap” Arnold each received only 10 American ribbons during their entire military careersculminating, of course, with World War II.

The ribbons received by an Air Force airman after four years is close to reaching the number of American ribbons two American generals, Eisenhower and Arnold, received after over 30 or 40 years respectively in the U.S. Army.
American ribbons awarded to Gen. Henry “Hap” Arnold, Chief of Staff of the Army Air Forces and fourth in seniority behind Gens. George Marshall, Douglas MacArthur and Dwight Eisenhower
Now contrast the number of ribbons Army general Omar Bradley received by the end of World War II to the ribbons awarded to Gen. David Petraeus after his 37-year career in the U.S. Army that ended in 2011.
Gen. David Petraeus’ medals.
Seven of Petraeus’s 11 personal decorations were created after 1970, so if he wore only those medals available during World War II, he would have just four medals and only one for heroismthe Bronze Star Medal with V Device.
Gen. Omar Bradley’s medals.
The others are part of the visual pollution problem. Bradley’s medals were all awarded by the end of World War II, including the Silver Star, the third-highest medal for heroism.
The addition of been-there and done-that ribbons added to Petraeus’s personal decorations, resulting in a display not unlike that of a Latin American potentate. Petraeus’ look differs from Bradley’s more conservative appearance.
This is not to diminish the importance of great-job medals. Indeed, they are an important function of personal military decorations. Rewarding great work is an appropriate application of military medals, particularly for younger service members.
It’s possible that great work can have an even greater benefit to the military and the country than an individual’s heroic acts. An excellent example is illustrated by the efforts of the late Air Force colonel John R. Boyd.
Five years after Boyd received his first Legion of Merit as a 32-year old Air Force captaina virtually unheard-of feat, as the Legion of Merit is often referred to as a “colonel’s medal”he received another Legion of Merit because he “developed the energy-maneuverability concept,” which helps pilots and designers to compare one airplane against another in a quantitative way.
In layman’s terms, his methods permitted pilots to see where an enemy airplane has advantages and disadvantages in the air.
Boyd took his energy-maneuverability concepts to Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War and briefed pilots on how to use the concepts to avoid getting hit by surface-to-air missiles.
While waiting for a friend at the Miramar Naval Air Station Officer’s Club, I struck up a conversation with an officer sitting next to me at the bar. Noticing his gold wings and ribbons, indicating he’d been to Vietnam, I asked him if he’d ever heard of John Boyd.
“You bet,” he said.
“What do you know about him?” I asked.
“He came over to ’Nam to brief us on how to use his energy-maneuverability to evade SAMs.”
“What did you think of his briefing?”
“My wingman thought he was full of crap. I didn’t. Only one of us is here talking to you.”
Boyd ultimately was awarded four Legions of Merit. The cumulative effect of his efforts most likely saved more lives than any singular heroic act. However, if Boyd were alive today, I believe he would agree that individual acts of heroism should be at the head of the line.
U.S. Army master sergeant Leroy Petry receives a Medal of Honor from Pres. Barack Obama in 2011. Petry saved the lives of several fellow soldiers in Afghanistan in 2008, losing a hand in the process. U.S. Army photo
Here then is a better way to make valorous awards stand outand in such a way that even civilians will know they’re looking at a warrior who has risked his or her life to save others.
Currently, the regulations call for unit citationsribbons awarded to a group rather than to an individualto be displayed on the right side of the uniform from the wearer’s perspective, the side opposite of where ribbons are normally worn. Although unit citations are important, deference should be given to the individual hero.
Looking at the picture of Petraeus, it’s not immediately obvious that he was awarded the Bronze Star Medal with a V Device, a medal for heroism. But if it were on the right side where unit citations currently reside all alone, it would be clear to anyone that he’d been awarded a ribbon for heroism.
Ranking great-job medals higher in precedence than those for heroism also indicates a misunderstanding of human natureand a miscalculation of valueon the part of the military bureaucracy
It is often less-expensive enlisted personnel who find themselves in hazardous conditions and who are likely to encounterto put it obliquelythe opportunity to demonstrate valor. Awarding a two-star general at the Pentagon the third-highest military ribbon for creativity with his pen and ranking such action greater than, say, a combat soldier saving someone during a firefight, is plain wrong.
Becoming a one-star general or admiral should be reward in and of itself. And rising from one star to four should require no further adulation.
As Napoleon famously observed, humans are motivated by the possibility of being acknowledged for having done more than was expected of them. Our own Medal of Honor, awarded for acts “above and beyond the call of duty,” acknowledges this. Congress was concerned enough about the dilution of the Medal of Honor that, over the decades, lawmakers have passed several laws making it a crime to falsely wear the United States’ highest award … or even claim to have won it.
A U.S. court of appeals effectively endorsed those laws in early 2016. “We conclude that the government … has a ‘substantial countervailing objective’ of avoiding dilution of ‘the country’s recognition of [the award recipient’s] sacrifice in the form of military honors,’” the court wrote.
But an unintentional dilution of medals for valor, honor and sacrifice is exactly what has happened due to the proliferation of ribbons. To honor our true heroes, we should isolate their ribbons for the sake of visual clarity. Put ’em on the wearer’s right.

That won’t totally solve the ribbon-clutter problem. But it’s a start.