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Monday, September 22, 2014

Hijacking of Democracies



Guest Post by Lorenzo Del Savio and Matteo Mameli
Truthout

Machiavelli wrote that when we are trying to understand politics and the history of human societies, much can be explained in terms of the eternal conflict between two fundamental desires. One is the desire of the grandi - that is, the super-rich and the super-powerful - to protect their wealth and power, and to accumulate more wealth and power. The other is the desire of ordinary citizens - that is, anyone who is not super-rich or super-powerful - to live in peace and freedom without being subjected to the predatory activities of the grandi. As stressed by John McCormick, Machiavelli thought that the predatory tendencies of oligarchs were the gravest threat to the liberty and well-being of ordinary people.

 Machiavelli was right. Many things have changed, but what was true then is still true today. Oligarchic appetites are an enormous threat to liberty and freedom. Machiavelli used his writings to try to convince those in power that oligarchic greed needed to be curbed; his critique of oligarchic domination has often been misunderstood.

 But who are the oligarchs today in our corporatized and financialized world? They are the super-rich and more generally those who command massive concentrations of wealth, even if they do not own it, or even if they own only a fraction of it, such as the individuals in charge of multinational corporations and financial firms.

In the past, the super-rich were often directly involved in government. They were princes and kings, senators and warlords - or held some other important office. Nowadays, this direct involvement is comparatively rare, especially in democratic regimes. Even so, the levers of political power are firmly in the hands of the oligarchs. In Jeffrey Winters' typology, contemporary democracies are classified as civil oligarchies. In order to emphasize their contradictory nature, we prefer to simply call them oligarchic democracies.

 Huge concentrations of wealth allow oligarchs to capture the electoral-representative institutions of contemporary democracies. The mechanisms of oligarchic capture vary from one country to another, but they are robust and entrenched in most, if not all, modern democracies. They include straightforwardly illegal forms of corruption, but also a variety of insidious mechanisms that are permitted by current legislation and are indeed typical of electoral-representative regimes. The following are the most notable mechanisms of oligarchic capture:
  1. Wealth easily translates into lobbying power and, thereby, into the ability to push the lawmaking process in directions that advantage the super-rich.
  2. Winning electoral campaigns has always been expensive and is becoming increasingly so. As a result, the support of super-rich individuals and corporations is becoming increasingly important. This makes it extremely unlikely that someone hostile to the interests of the super-rich can get elected. It also contributes to explaining why regulators (who are appointed by elected politicians) have strong ties to oligarchic groups.
  3. Elected politicians (and regulators) know that, when their term finishes, they can easily become well-paid consultants or advisors for big firms. This generates strong incentives for them to promote legislation and policies that favor the oligarchs.
  4. In the past, kings, princes and republics were often forced to do what was requested of them by the super-rich (often bankers) from whom they had borrowed money to finance their activities, such as building projects, starting wars, etc. Nowadays, the financial markets, and the financial giants that have disproportionate power in such markets, have a similar kind of power through the impact they have on the funding of sovereign debt. (Importantly, the financial giants also control the rating agencies, which issue credit ratings for sovereign borrowers.)
 The oligarchic grip on political power can be weak or strong. Thomas Piketty has recently argued that wealth and income inequality reached extremely high levels at the beginning of the 20th century and decreased in the mid-20th century as a result of World War I, the Great Depression and World War II. These events destroyed significant amounts of economic resources, and since such resources were concentrated in the hands of oligarchs, they were a significant setback for oligarchic power. The oligarchic hold on power was temporarily weakened. In electoral-representative democratic regimes, this resulted in policies that, at least to some extent, promoted the interests of ordinary citizens.

 By the end of the 1970s, about 30 years after the end of World War II, the oligarchs had recovered from the blow they had suffered. Wealth and income inequalities started to increase again and the electoral-representative institutions of democratic countries were quickly captured (or re-captured). The oligarchic grip on political power became tight again. This led to many policies that favored the interests of the super-rich (and corporations, and financial firms) and, in turn, led to the stagnation or the decline of living conditions for ordinary people. In the last 35 years many democratic countries have seen the introduction of legislation and policies resulting in:
  1. The privatization of basic services and publicly owned resources;
  2. The elimination of policies and benefits in support of the poorest part of the population;
  3. Forms of deregulation that have allowed many companies - including big polluters and financial firms that have made themselves "too big to fail" - to exploit public resources and to impose costs and risks on society (this is the so-called "privatization of profits and socialization of costs");
  4. Fiscal mechanisms that effectively reduce the tax burdens on the super-rich and on corporations;
  5. The limitation of people's ability to protest against unfair social, economic and labor conditions.
One worrying aspect of this trend is that globalization, new technologies and new, ultra-sophisticated financial tools have magnified the oligarchs' ability to extract resources from ordinary people, families and communities. They have also amplified the oligarchs' ability to extract resources from the planet on which we all live. Oligarchic domination is a cancer that is destroying both people's lives and the planet. Another worrying aspect of this trend is that, as a result of these enhanced extracting abilities, an increasing number of ordinary people find themselves effectively excluded from economic and political processes. Although, as Saskia Sassen notices, this phenomenon takes different shapes in different parts of the world, it is present in many countries. Moreover, it is in stark contrast to the drive toward economic and political inclusion that dominated the post-World War II world inhabited by weakened oligarchs.

The idea that huge economic inequalities, and thereby true democracy, are compatible with political equality is a myth. It is a myth that, obviously, the super-wealthy and big corporations find useful and convenient. And this is why they do all they can to spread such myths. Oligarchic democracy is not true democracy. Political equality and true democracy are at the moment only ideals toward which we need to strive. The political institutions and the policies underpinning and sustaining oligarchic power need to be dismantled or radically transformed. The more rich and powerful the oligarchs become, the stronger their ability becomes to accumulate and attract additional wealth and political power. That is why it is important to stop the spiral of growing inequality soon, before it is too late for democracy and for our planet.

Machiavelli's advice is that curbing the appetites of the super-rich and the super-powerful is essential in promoting and protecting the freedom and happiness of everyone.  

We should take heed to his advice.

Barbarism Versus Stupidism


Guest Post by Howard Kunstler via Kunstler.com,

In my lifetime, the USA has not blundered into a more incoherent, feckless, and unfavorable foreign policy quandary than we see today.

The US-led campaign to tilt Ukraine to Euroland and NATO — and away from the Russian-led Eurasian Customs Union — turned an “intelligence” fiasco into a strategic humiliation for the Obama White House. Notice that the story has vamoosed utterly from the American media headlines, even when the Russian Engineers’ Union issued a report last week asserting that the Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17 was most likely shot down by 30mm cannon fire from Ukrainian military aircraft. The USA State Department didn’t deign to refute it because doing so would have drawn attention to the fact that it was the only plausible explanation for what happened.

Likewise, the campaign to paint Vladimir Putin as Stalin-in-a-judo-robe never really reached take-off velocity, since by all appearances he was the most rational and cool-headed actor on the geopolitical stage, following logical and long-established national interests. If the West had just left Ukraine alone, and allowed it to join the Eurasian Customs Union, that basket-case nation would have been Russia’s economic ward. Now the US and the EU have to support it with billions in loans that will never be paid back. Meanwhile, our European allies have been snookered into a set of economic and financial sanctions against Russia that guarantees they’ll be starved for oil and gas supplies in the winter months ahead. Smooth move.

So, the reason that all this has vanished from the news media is that it’s game-over in Ukraine. We busted it up, and can do more with it, and pretty soon the rump Ukraine region run out of Kiev will go crawling back to Russia begging for a little heating fuel.

Does any tattoo-free American adult outside the Kardashian-NFL mass hypnosis matrix feel confident about the trajectory of US policy regarding the so-called Islamic State (ISIS, ISIL)? First, there is the astonishing humiliation that this ragtag band of psychopaths managed to undo ten years, 4,500 US battle deaths, and $1+ trillion worth of nation-building effort in Iraq in a matter of a few weeks this summer. The US public does not seem to have groked the damage to our honor, self-confidence, and international standing in this debacle.

So, now we’re going to just deal “death from above” on the Black Flaggers across that stretch of their captured territory that runs from Iraq into Syria — violating Syria’s sovereignty in the process, of course. My guess is that such an operation will inspire them to bring the action straight to Europe, the USA, and the grand prize, Saudi Arabia. The movement is too broad now, includes too many psychopaths from all over the world (Europe especially) who hold passports that will enable them to travel easily out of the Middle East and export mayhem wherever they want to bring it.

The USA is stuck within so many pathways of systems criticality in this fall of 2014, that is sure to be expressed in our own internal politics very soon. We’re all set up for a classic state of siege with the Pentagon militarizing every Podunk police department in the land, and one can easily imagine a single IS operation aimed at some soft American target shoving us into hysteria.

While all this is happening, of course, Wall Street and its hand-maidens rev up the engines of malinvestment and bid up false values of things that will do nothing to get us safely into the economy of real things that awaits us. That economy of real things I speak of does not include many of the comforts and conveniences we’re used to — mass motoring, national chain retail, air-conditioning for all, 24/7 electric service — but it’s where we’re going. As reality drags us kicking and screaming toward it, the likelihood of a domestic political convulsion increases. We’ll look back on these weirdly placid years after the 2008 train wreck with amazement. These are the rudderless years of no leadership, of cowardly dissimulating midgets. A people can only take so much of that.

Finance is the weakest link in the chain of systems that allows us to run the old economy. It’s the system most abstracted from reality and the most easily manipulated into ever-greater abstraction. Hence it’s the system most easily subject to fatal slippage. And all it takes to set off the slipping is a simple loss of faith.

The Huge Lawsuit That Could Take Down Common Core for Good

 Guest post from the Conservative Tribune

Gretchen Logue and Anne Gassel, anti-Common Core activists from the Missouri Coalition Against Common Core have joined together with Fred N.Saur, a former Republican candidate to file a lawsuit against Gov. Jay Nixon to stop taxpayer dollars from being used to fund the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.

The SBAC is one of two organizations responsible for creating tests that are aligned with the standards set forth in Common Core. This lawsuit could take it down, and “Common Core” with it, for good.
In the lawsuit, the group alleges that the SBAC is “an unconstitutional interstate compact that was not approved by Congress, in violation of the Compact Clause of the U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 3, Clause 10.” Logue and Gassel also accuse Gov. Nixon’s support and conduct in committing the state of Missouri to the adoption of Common Core standards of violating many state and federal statutes.
According to Breitbart, a petition for the lawsuit outlines several grievances they believe the Missouri state government is guilty of by participating in Common Core.

“…Since 2009, Governor Nixon and Commissioner Nicastro have engaged in a course of conduct that would have ceded Missouri’s sovereignty over educational policy within its borders to SBAC, an interstate consortium operating under the influence of federal regulators located in Washington, DC. Congress never sanctioned the interstate compact that created this consortium.

The Missouri legislature, responding to Missouri voters, largely repudiated the work of this consortium by enacting HB 1490 in 2014 by massive veto-proof margins. Notwithstanding this legislative action, Missouri is poised to contribute millions of dollars of taxpayer funds during Fiscal Year 2015 to support this illegal interstate compact……

Since 2009, Governor Nixon and Commissioner Nicastro have engaged in a course of conduct that would have ceded Missouri’s sovereignty over educational policy within its borders to SBAC, an interstate consortium operating under the influence of federal regulators located in Washington, DC. Congress never sanctioned the interstate compact that created this consortium.

The Missouri legislature, responding to Missouri voters, largely repudiated the work of this consortium by enacting HB 1490 in 2014 by massive veto-proof margins. Notwithstanding this legislative action, Missouri is poised to contribute millions of dollars of taxpayer funds during Fiscal Year 2015 to support this illegal interstate compact…”

The ultimate goal of the lawsuit is to wake up states to the reality that groups like SBAC, which have not been approved by Congress, have no legally binding authority and the groups are actually null and void.
This is fantastic.

Common Core standards are just another tool the government is using to further monopolize education for the government and get closer to creating a national curriculum.

Progressives want to strip parents from any authority over their children and brainwash them to be fully on board with the idea of being taken care of by the government, indoctrinating them with collectivist ideology.

Click here to see a list of 30 states that have declared war Common Core education standards.

Parents need to put maximum effort into opposing Common Core and push the federal government further out of education, allowing parents and local communities to have control over how schools are ran and what students are taught. Fortunately, a number of states have woken up to the reality of how horrible Common Core is and have already opted out of the standards. Hopefully more will follow suit.

Please share this article on Facebook and Twitter if you support this lawsuit against Common Core.




The Facts on How the West Created the Islamic State

 
Guest Post by NAFEEZ AHMED
 
Part 1 – OUR TERRORISTS

“This is an organisation that has an apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision which will eventually have to be defeated,” Gen Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Pentagon press conference in August.

Military action is necessary to halt the spread of the ISIS “cancer,” said President Obama. Yesterday he called for expanded airstrikes across Iraq and Syria, and new measures to arm and train Iraqi and Kurdish ground forces.

“The only way to defeat [IS] is to stand firm and to send a very straightforward message,” declared Prime Minister Cameron. “A country like ours will not be cowed by these barbaric killers.”

Missing from the chorus of outrage, however, has been any acknowledgement of the integral role of covert US and British regional military intelligence strategy in empowering and even directly sponsoring the very same virulent Islamist militants in Iraq, Syria and beyond, that went on to break away from al-Qaeda and form ‘ISIS’, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or now simply, the Islamic State (IS).

Since 2003, Anglo-American power has secretly and openly coordinated direct and indirect support for Islamist terrorist groups linked to al-Qaeda across the Middle East and North Africa. This ill-conceived patchwork geostrategy is a legacy of the persistent influence of neoconservative ideology, motivated by longstanding but often contradictory ambitions to dominate regional oil resources, defend an expansionist Israel, and in pursuit of these, re-draw the map of the Middle East.

Now despite Pentagon denials that there will be boots on the ground – and Obama’s insistence that this would not be another “Iraq war” – local Kurdish military and intelligence sources confirm that US and German special operations forces are already “on the ground here. They are helping to support us in the attack.” US airstrikes on ISIS positions and arms supplies to the Kurds have also been accompanied by British RAF reconnaissance flights over the region and UK weapons shipments to Kurdish peshmerga forces.

Divide and Rule in Iraq

“It’s not that we don’t want the Salafis to throw bombs,” said one US government defense consultant in 2007. “It’s who they throw them at – Hezbollah, Moqtada al-Sadr, Iran, and at the Syrians, if they continue to work with Hezbollah and Iran.”

Early during the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq, the US covertly supplied arms to al-Qaeda affiliated insurgents even while ostensibly supporting an emerging Shi’a-dominated administration.
Pakistani defense sources interviewed by Asia Times in February 2005 confirmed that insurgents described as “former Ba’ath party” loyalists – who were being recruited and trained by “al-Qaeda in Iraq” under the leadership of the late Abu Musab Zarqawi – were being supplied Pakistan-manufactured weapons by the US. The arms shipments included rifles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, ammunition, rockets and other light weaponry. These arms “could not be destined for the Iraqi security forces because US arms would be given to them”, a source told Syed Saleem Shahzad – the Times’ Pakistan bureau chief who, “known for his exposes of the Pakistani military” according to the New Yorker, was murdered in 2011. Rather, the US is playing a double-game to “head off” the threat of a “Shi’ite clergy-driven religious movement,” said the Pakistani defense source.

This was not the only way US strategy aided the rise of Zarqawi, a bin Laden mentee and brainchild of the extremist ideology that would later spawn ‘ISIS.’

According to a little-known November report for the US Joint Special Operations University (JSOU) and Strategic Studies Department, Dividing Our Enemies, post-invasion Iraq was “an interesting case study of fanning discontent among enemies, leading to ‘red-against-red’ [enemy-against-enemy] firefights.”
While counterinsurgency on the one hand requires US forces to “ameliorate harsh or deprived living conditions of the indigenous populations” to publicly win local hearts and minds, “the reverse side of this coin is one less discussed. It involves no effort to win over those caught in the crossfire of insurgent and counterinsurgent warfare, whether by bullet or broadcast. On the contrary, this underside of the counterinsurgency coin is calculated to exploit or create divisions among adversaries for the purpose of fomenting enemy-on-enemy deadly encounters.”

In other words, US forces will pursue public legitimacy through conventional social welfare while simultaneously delegitimising local enemies by escalating intra-insurgent violence, knowing full-well that doing so will in turn escalate the number of innocent civilians “caught in the crossfire.” The idea is that violence covertly calibrated by US special operations will not only weaken enemies through in-fighting but turn the population against them.

In this case, the ‘enemy’ consisted of jihadists, Ba’athists, and peaceful Sufis, who were in a majority but, like the militants, also opposed the US military presence and therefore needed to be influenced. The JSOU report referred to events in late 2004 in Fallujah where “US psychological warfare (PSYOP) specialists” undertook to “set insurgents battling insurgents.” This involved actually promoting Zarqawi’s ideology, ironically, to defeat it: “The PSYOP warriors crafted programs to exploit Zarqawi’s murderous activities – and to disseminate them through meetings, radio and television broadcasts, handouts, newspaper stories, political cartoons, and posters – thereby diminishing his folk-hero image,” and encouraging the different factions to pick each other off. “By tapping into the Fallujans’ revulsion and antagonism to the Zarqawi jihadis the Joint PSYOP Task Force did its ‘best to foster a rift between Sunni groups.’”
Yet as noted by Dahr Jamail, one of the few unembedded investigative reporters in Iraq after the war, the proliferation of propaganda linking the acceleration of suicide bombings to the persona of Zarqawi was not matched by meaningful evidence. His own search to substantiate the myriad claims attributing the insurgency to Zarqawi beyond anonymous US intelligence sources encountered only an “eerie blankness”.
The US military operation in Fallujah, largely justified on the claim that Zarqawi’s militant forces had occupied the city, used white phosphorous, cluster bombs, and indiscriminate air strikes to pulverise 36,000 of Fallujah’s 50,000 homes, killing nearly a thousand civilians, terrorising 300,000 inhabitants to flee, and culminating in a disproportionate increase in birth defects, cancer and infant mortality due to the devastating environmental consequences of the war.

To this day, Fallujah has suffered from being largely cut-off from wider Iraq, its infrastructure largely unworkable with water and sewage systems still in disrepair, and its citizens subject to sectarian discrimination and persecution by Iraqi government backed Shi’a militia and police. “Thousands of bereaved and homeless Falluja families have a new reason to hate the US and its allies,” observed The Guardian in 2005. Thus, did the US occupation plant the seeds from which Zarqawi’s legacy would coalesce into the Frankenstein monster that calls itself “the Islamic State.”

Bankrolling al-Qaeda in Syria

According to former French foreign minister Roland Dumas, Britain had planned covert action in Syria as early as 2009: “I was in England two years before the violence in Syria on other business,” he told French television: “I met with top British officials, who confessed to me that they were preparing something in Syria. This was in Britain not in America. Britain was preparing gunmen to invade Syria.”

Leaked emails from the private intelligence firm Stratfor, including notes from a meeting with Pentagon officials, confirmed that as of 2011, US and UK special forces training of Syrian opposition forces was well underway. The goal was to elicit the “collapse” of Assad’s regime “from within.”

Since then, the role of the Gulf states – namely Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and Jordan (as well as NATO member Turkey) – in officially and unofficially financing and coordinating the most virulent elements amongst Syria’s rebels under the tutelage of US military intelligence is no secret. Yet the conventional wisdom is that the funneling of support to Islamist extremists in the rebel movement affiliated to al-Qaeda has been a colossal and regrettable error.

The reality is very different. The empowerment of the Islamist factions within the ‘Free Syrian Army’ (FSA) was a foregone conclusion of the strategy.

In its drive to depose Col. Qaddafi in Libya, NATO had previously allied itself with rebels affiliated to the al-Qaeda faction, the Islamic Fighting Group. The resulting Libyan regime backed by the US was in turn liaising with FSA leaders in Istanbul to provide money and heavy weapons for the anti-Assad insurgency. The State Department even hired an al-Qaeda affiliated Libyan militia group to provide security for the US embassy in Benghazi – although they had links with the very people that attacked the embassy.
Last year, CNN confirmed that CIA officials operating secretly out of the Benghazi embassy were being forced to take extra polygraph tests to keep under wraps what US Congressman suspect was a covert operation “to move surface-to-air missiles out of Libya, through Turkey, and into the hands of Syrian rebels.”
With their command and control centre based in Istanbul, Turkey, military supplies from Saudi Arabia and Qatar in particular were transported by Turkish intelligence to the border for rebel acquisition. CIA operatives along with Israeli and Jordanian commandos were also training FSA rebels on the Jordanian-Syrian border with anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons. In addition, other reports show that British and French military were also involved in these secret training programmes. It appears that the same FSA rebels receiving this elite training went straight into ISIS – last month one ISIS commander, Abu Yusaf, said, “Many of the FSA people who the west has trained are actually joining us.”

The National thus confirmed the existence of another command and control centre in Amman, Jordan, “staffed by western and Arab military officials,” which “channels vehicles, sniper rifles, mortars, heavy machine guns, small arms and ammunition to Free Syrian Army units.” Rebel and opposition sources described the weapons bridge as “a well-run operation staffed by high-ranking military officials from 14 countries, including the US, European nations and Arabian Gulf states, the latter providing the bulk of materiel and financial support to rebel factions.”

The FSA sources interviewed by The National went to pains to deny that any al-Qaeda affiliated factions were involved in the control centre, or would receive any weapons support. But this is difficult to believe given that “Saudi and Qatari-supplied weapons” were being funneled through to the rebels via Amman, to their favoured factions.

Classified assessments of the military assistance supplied by US allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar obtained by the New York Times showed that “most of the arms shipped at the behest of Saudi Arabia and Qatar to supply Syrian rebel groups… are going to hardline Islamic jihadists, and not the more secular opposition groups that the West wants to bolster.”

Lest there be any doubt as to the extent to which all this covert military assistance coordinated by the US has gone to support al-Qaeda affiliated factions in the FSA, it is worth noting that earlier this year, the Israeli military intelligence website Debkafile – run by two veteran correspondents who covered the Middle East for 23 years for The Economist – reported that: “Turkey is giving Syrian rebel forces, including the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front, passage through its territory to attack the northwestern Syrian coastal area around Latakia.”

In August, Debkafile reported that “The US, Jordan and Israel are quietly backing the mixed bag of some 30 Syrian rebel factions”, some of which had just “seized control of the Syrian side of the Quneitra crossing, the only transit point between Israeli and Syrian Golan.” However, Debkafile noted, “al-Qaeda elements have permeated all those factions.” Israel has provided limited support to these rebels in the form of “medical care,” as well as “arms, intelligence and food…

“Israel acted as a member, along with the US and Jordan, of a support system for rebel groups fighting in southern Syria. Their efforts are coordinated through a war-room which the Pentagon established last year near Amman. The US, Jordanian and Israeli officers manning the facility determine in consultation which rebel factions are provided with reinforcements from the special training camps run for Syrian rebels in Jordan, and which will receive arms. All three governments understand perfectly that, notwithstanding all their precautions, some of their military assistance is bound to percolate to al-Qaeda’s Syrian arm, Jabhat Al-Nusra, which is fighting in rebel ranks. Neither Washington or Jerusalem or Amman would be comfortable in admitting they are arming al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front in southern Syria.”

This support also went to ISIS. Although the latter was originally founded in Iraq in October 2006, by 2013 the group had significantly expanded its operations in Syria working alongside al-Qaeda’s al-Nusra until February 2014, when ISIS was formally denounced by al-Qaeda. Even so, experts on the region’s Islamist groups point out that the alleged rift between al-Nusra and ISIS, while real, is not as fraught as one might hope, constituting a mere difference in tactics rather than fundamental ideology.

Officially, the US government’s financial support for the FSA goes through the Washington DC entity, the Syrian Support Group (SSG), Syrian Support Group (SSG) which was incorporated in April 2012. The SSG is licensed via the US Treasury Department to “export, re-export, sell, or supply to the Free Syrian Army (‘FSA’) financial, communications, logistical, and other services otherwise prohibited by Executive Order 13582 in order to support the FSA.”

In mid-2013, the Obama administration intensified its support to the rebels with a new classified executive order reversing its previous policy limiting US direct support to only nonlethal equipment. As before, the order would aim to supply weapons strictly to “moderate” forces in the FSA.
Except the government’s vetting procedures to block Islamist extremists from receiving US weapons have never worked.

A year later, Mother Jones found that the US government has “little oversight over whether US supplies are falling prey to corruption – or into the hands of extremists,” and relies “on too much good faith.” The US government keeps track of rebels receiving assistance purely through “handwritten receipts provided by rebel commanders in the field,” and the judgement of its allies. Countries supporting the rebels – the very same which have empowered al-Qaeda affiliated Islamists – “are doing audits of the delivery of lethal and nonlethal supplies.”

Thus, with the Gulf states still calling the shots on the ground, it is no surprise that by September last year, eleven prominent rebel groups distanced themselves from the ‘moderate’ opposition leadership and allied themselves with al-Qaeda.

By the SSG’s own conservative estimate, as much as 15% of rebel fighters are Islamists affiliated to al-Qaeda, either through the Jabhut al-Nusra faction, or its breakaway group ISIS. But privately, Pentagon officials estimate that “more than 50%” of the FSA is comprised of Islamist extremists, and according to rebel sources neither FSA chief Gen Salim Idris nor his senior aides engage in much vetting, decisions about which are made typically by local commanders.

Part 2 – THE LONG WAR

Follow the Money

Media reports following ISIS’ conquest of much of northern and central Iraq this summer have painted the group as the world’s most super-efficient, self-financed, terrorist organisation that has been able to consolidate itself exclusively through extensive looting of Iraq’s banks and funds from black market oil sales. Much of this narrative, however, has derived from dubious sources, and overlooked disturbing details.
One senior anonymous intelligence source told Guardian correspondent Martin Chulov, for instance, that over 160 computer flash sticks obtained from an ISIS hideout revealed information on ISIS’ finances that was completely new to the intelligence community.

“Before Mosul, their total cash and assets were $875m [£515m],” said the official on the funds obtained largely via “massive cashflows from the oilfields of eastern Syria, which it had commandeered in late 2012.” Afterwards, “with the money they robbed from banks and the value of the military supplies they looted, they could add another $1.5bn to that.” The thrust of the narrative coming from intelligence sources was simple: “They had done this all themselves. There was no state actor at all behind them, which we had long known. They don’t need one.”

“ISIS’ half-a-billion-dollar bank heist makes it world’s richest terror group,” claimed the Telegraph, adding that the figure did not include additional stolen gold bullion, and millions more grabbed from banks “across the region.”

This story of ISIS’ stupendous bank looting spree across Iraq made global headlines but turned out to be disinformation. Senior Iraqi officials and bankers confirmed that banks in Iraq, including Mosul where ISIS supposedly stole $430 million, had faced no assault, remain open, and are guarded by their own private security forces.

How did the story come about? One of its prime sources was Iraqi parliamentarian Ahmed Chalabi – the same man who under the wing of his ‘Iraqi National Congress’ peddled false intelligence about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction and ties to al-Qaeda.

In June, Chalabi met with the US ambassador to Iraq, Robert Beecroft, and Brett McGurk, the State Department’s deputy assistant secretary of state for Iraq and Iran. According to sources cited by Buzzfeed in June, Beecroft “has been meeting Chalabi for months and has dined at his mansion in Baghdad.”

Follow the Oil

But while ISIS has clearly obtained funding from donors in the Gulf states, many of its fighters having broken away from the more traditional al-Qaeda affiliated groups like Jabhut al-Nusra, it has also successfully leveraged its control over Syrian and Iraqi oil fields.

In January, the New York Times reported that “Islamist rebels and extremist groups have seized control of most of Syria’s oil and gas resources”, bolstering “the fortunes of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, and the Nusra Front, both of which are offshoots of al-Qaeda.” Al-Qaeda affiliated rebels had “seized control of the oil and gas fields scattered across the country’s north and east,” while more moderate “Western-backed rebel groups do not appear to be involved in the oil trade, in large part because they have not taken over any oil fields.”

Yet the west had directly aided these Islamist groups in their efforts to operationalise Syria’s oil fields. In April 2013, for instance, the Times noted that al-Qaeda rebels had taken over key regions of Syria: “Nusra’s hand is felt most strongly in Aleppo”, where the al-Qaeda affiliate had established in coordination with other rebel groups including ISIS  “a Shariah Commission” running “a police force and an Islamic court that hands down sentences that have included lashings.” Al-Qaeda fighters also “control the power plant and distribute flour to keep the city’s bakeries running.” Additionally, they “have seized government oil fields” in provinces of Deir al-Zour and Hasaka, and now make a “profit from the crude they produce.”

Lost in the fog of media hype was the disconcerting fact that these al-Qaeda rebel bread and oil operations in Aleppo, Deir al-Zour and Hasaka were directly and indirectly supported by the US and the European Union (EU). One account by the Washington Post for instance refers to a stealth mission in Aleppo “to deliver food and other aid to needy Syrians – all of it paid for by the US government,” including the supply of flour. “The bakery is fully supplied with flour paid for by the United States,” the Post continues, noting that local consumers, however, “credited Jabhat al-Nusra – a rebel group the United States has designated a terrorist organisation because of its ties to al-Qaeda – with providing flour to the region, though he admitted he wasn’t sure where it comes from.”

And in the same month that al-Qaeda’s control of Syria’s main oil regions in Deir al-Zour and Hasaka was confirmed, the EU voted to ease an oil embargo on Syria to allow oil to be sold on international markets from these very al-Qaeda controlled oil fields. European companies would be permitted to buy crude oil and petroleum products from these areas, although transactions would be approved by the Syrian National Coalition. Due to damaged infrastructure, oil would be trucked by road to Turkey where the nearest refineries are located.

“The logical conclusion from this craziness is that Europe will be funding al-Qaeda,” said Joshua Landis , a Syria expert at the University of Oklahoma.

Just two months later, a former senior staffer at the Syria Support Group in DC, David Falt, leaked internal SSG emails confirming that the group was “obsessed” with brokering “jackpot” oil deals on behalf of the FSA for Syria’s rebel-run oil regions. “The idea they could raise hundreds of millions from the sale of the oil came to dominate the work of the SSG to the point no real attention was paid to the nature of the conflict,” said Falt, referring in particular to SSG’s director Brian Neill Sayers, who before his SSG role worked with NATO’s Operations Division. Their aim was to raise money for the rebels by selling the rights to Syrian oil.

Tacit Complicity in IS Oil Smuggling

Even as al-Qaeda fighters increasingly decide to join up with IS, the ad hoc black market oil production and export infrastructure established by the Islamist groups in Syria has continued to function with, it seems, the tacit support of regional and western powers.

According to Ali Ediboglu, a Turkish MP for the border province of Hatay, IS is selling the bulk of its oil from regions in Syria and Mosul in Iraq through Turkey, with the tacit consent of Turkish authorities: “They have laid pipes from villages near the Turkish border at Hatay. Similar pipes exist also at [the Turkish border regions of] Kilis, Urfa and Gaziantep. They transfer the oil to Turkey and parlay it into cash. They take the oil from the refineries at zero cost. Using primitive means, they refine the oil in areas close to the Turkish border and then sell it via Turkey. This is worth $800 million.” He also noted that the extent of this and related operations indicates official Turkish complicity. “Fighters from Europe, Russia, Asian countries and Chechnya are going in large numbers both to Syria and Iraq, crossing from Turkish territory. There is information that at least 1,000 Turkish nationals are helping those foreign fighters sneak into Syria and Iraq to join ISIS. The National Intelligence Organization (MIT) is allegedly involved. None of this can be happening without MIT’s knowledge.”

Similarly, there is evidence that authorities in the Kurdish region of Iraq are also turning a blind eye to IS oil smuggling. In July, Iraqi officials said that IS had begun selling oil extracted from in the northern province of Salahuddin. One official pointed out that “the Kurdish peshmerga forces stopped the sale of oil at first, but later allowed tankers to transfer and sell oil.”

State of Law coalition MP Alia Nasseef also accused the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of secretly trading oil with IS: “What is happening shows the extent of the massive conspiracy against Iraq by Kurdish politicians… The [illegal] sale of Iraqi oil to ISIS or anyone else is something that would not surprise us.” Although Kurdish officials have roundly rejected these accusations, informed sources told the Arabic daily Asharq Al-Awsat that Iraqi crude captured by ISIS was “being sold to Kurdish traders in the border regions straddling Iraq, Iran and Syria, and was being shipped to Pakistan where it was being sold ‘for less than half its original price.’”

An official statement in August from Iraq’s Oil Ministry warned that any oil not sanctioned by Baghdad could include crude smuggled illegally from IS: “International purchasers [of crude oil] and other market participants should be aware that any oil exports made without the authorisation of the Ministry of Oil may contain crude oil originating from fields under the control of [ISIS].”

“Countries like Turkey have turned a blind eye to the practice” of IS oil smuggling, said Luay al-Khateeb, a fellow at the Brookings Doha Center, “and international pressure should be mounted to close down black markets in its southern region.” So far there has been no such pressure. Meanwhile, IS oil smuggling continues, with observers inside and outside Turkey noting that the Turkish government is tacitly allowing IS to flourish as it prefers the rebels to the Assad regime.

According to former Iraqi oil minister Isam al-Jalabi, “Turkey is the biggest winner from the Islamic State’s oil smuggling trade.” Both traders and oil firms are involved, he said, with the low prices allowing for “massive” profits for the countries facilitating the smuggling.

Buying ISIS Oil?

Early last month, a tanker carrying over a million barrels in crude oil from northern Iraq’s Kurdish region arrived at the Texas Gulf of Mexico. The oil had been refined in the Iraqi Kurdish region before being pumped through a new pipeline from the KRG area ending up at Ceyhan, Turkey, where it was then loaded onto the tanker for shipping to the US. Baghdad’s efforts to stop the oil sale on the basis of its having national jurisdiction were rebuffed by American courts.

In early September, the European Union’s ambassador to Iraq, Jana Hybášková, told the EU Foreign Affairs Committee that “several EU member states have bought oil from the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) terrorist organisation that has been brutally conquering large portions of Iraq and Syria,” according to Israel National News. She however “refused to divulge the names of the countries despite being asked numerous times.”

A third end-point for the KRG’s crude this summer, once again shipped via Turkey’s port of Ceyhan, was Israel’s southwestern port of Ashkelon. This is hardly news though. In May, Reuters revealed that Israeli and US oil refineries had been regularly purchasing and importing KRG’s disputed oil.

Meanwhile, as this triangle of covert oil shipments in which ISIS crude appears to be hopelessly entangled becomes more established, Turkey has increasingly demanded that the US pursue formal measures to lift obstacles to Kurdish oil sales to global markets. The KRG plans to export as much as 1 million barrels of oil a day by next year through its pipeline to Turkey.

Among the many oil and gas firms active in the KRG capital, Erbil, are ExxonMobil and Chevron. They are drilling in the region for oil under KRG contracts, though operations have been halted due to the crisis. No wonder Steve Coll writes in the New Yorker that Obama’s air strikes and arms supplies to the Kurds – notably not to Baghdad – effectively amount to “the defense of an undeclared Kurdish oil state whose sources of geopolitical appeal – as a long-term, non-Russian supplier of oil and gas to Europe, for example – are best not spoken of in polite or naïve company.” The Kurds are now busy working to “quadruple” their export capacity, while US policy has increasingly shifted toward permitting Kurdish exports – a development that would have major ramifications for Iraq’s national territorial integrity.
To be sure, as the offensive against IS ramps up, the Kurds are now selectively cracking down on IS smuggling efforts – but the measures are too little, too late.

A New Map

The Third Iraq War has begun. With it, longstanding neocon dreams to partition Iraq into three along ethnic and religious lines have been resurrected.

White House officials now estimate that the fight against the region’s ‘Islamic State’ will last years, and may outlive the Obama administration. But this ‘long war’ vision goes back to nebulous ideas formally presented by late RAND Corp analyst Laurent Muraweic before the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board at the invitation of then chairman Richard Perle. That presentation described Iraq as a “tactical pivot” by which to transform the wider Middle East.

Brian Whitaker, former Guardian Middle East editor, rightly noted that the Perle-RAND strategy drew inspiration from a 1996 paper published by the Israeli Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies, co-authored by Perle and other neocons who held top positions in the post-9/11 Bush administration.
The policy paper advocated a strategy that bears startling resemblance to the chaos unfolding in the wake of the expansion of the ‘Islamic State’ – Israel would “shape its strategic environment” by first securing the removal of Saddam Hussein. “Jordan and Turkey would form an axis along with Israel to weaken and ‘roll back’ Syria.” This axis would attempt to weaken the influence of Lebanon, Syria and Iran by “weaning” off their Shi’ite populations. To succeed, Israel would need to engender US support, which would be obtained by Benjamin Netanyahu formulating the strategy “in language familiar to the Americans by tapping into themes of American administrations during the cold war.”

The 2002 Perle-RAND plan was active in the Bush administration’s strategic thinking on Iraq shortly before the 2003 war. According to US private intelligence firm Stratfor, in late 2002, then vice-president Dick Cheney and deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz had co-authored a scheme under which central Sunni-majority Iraq would join with Jordan; the northern Kurdish regions would become an autonomous state; all becoming separate from the southern Shi’ite region.

The strategic advantages of an Iraq partition, Stratfor argued, focused on US control of oil:
“After eliminating Iraq as a sovereign state, there would be no fear that one day an anti-American government would come to power in Baghdad, as the capital would be in Amman [Jordan]. Current and potential US geopolitical foes Iran, Saudi Arabia and Syria would be isolated from each other, with big chunks of land between them under control of the pro-US forces.

“Equally important, Washington would be able to justify its long-term and heavy military presence in the region as necessary for the defense of a young new state asking for US protection – and to secure the stability of oil markets and supplies. That in turn would help the United States gain direct control of Iraqi oil and replace Saudi oil in case of conflict with Riyadh.”

The expansion of the ‘Islamic State’ has provided a pretext for the fundamental contours of this scenario to unfold, with the US and British looking to re-establish a long-term military presence in Iraq.
In 2006, Cheney’s successor, Joe Biden, also indicated his support for the ‘soft partition’ of Iraq along ethno-religious lines – a position which the co-author of the Biden-Iraq plan, Leslie Gelb of the Council on Foreign Relations, now argues is “the only solution” to the current crisis.

In 2008, the strategy re-surfaced – once again via RAND Corp – through a report funded by the US Army Training and Doctrine Command on how to prosecute the ‘long war.’ Among its strategies, one scenario advocated by the report was ‘Divide and Rule’ which would involve “exploiting fault lines between the various Salafi-jihadist groups to turn them against each other and dissipate their energy on internal conflicts.”
Simultaneously, the report suggested that the US could foster conflict between Salafi-jihadists and Shi’ite militants by “shoring up the traditional Sunni regimes… as a way of containing Iranian power and influence in the Middle East and Persian Gulf.”

One way or another, the plan is in motion. Last week, Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Leiberman told US secretary of state John Kerry: “Iraq is breaking up before our eyes and it would appear that the creation of an independent Kurdish state is a foregone conclusion.”

The rise of the ‘Islamic State’ is not just a direct consequence of this neocon vision, tied as it is to a dangerous covert operations strategy that has seen al-Qaeda linked terrorists as a tool to influence local populations – it has in turn offered a pretext for the launch of a new era of endless war, the spectre of a prolonged US-led military presence in the energy-rich Persian Gulf region, and a return to the dangerous imperial temptation to re-configure the wider regional order.

Dr. Nafeez Ahmed is a bestselling author, investigative journalist and international security scholar.  He has contributed to two major terrorism investigations in the US and UK, the 9/11 Commission and the 7/7 Coroner’s Inquest, and has advised the Royal Military Academy Sandhust, British Foreign Office and US State Department. He is a regular contributor to The Guardian where he writes about the geopolitics of interconnected environmental, energy and economic crises. He has also written for The Independent, Sydney Morning Herald, CounterPunch, The Age, The Scotsman, Foreign Policy, Prospect, New Statesman, Le Monde diplomatique, among many others. His just released new novel, ZERO POINT, predicted a new war in Iraq to put down an al-Qaeda insurgency. Follow him on Twitter @nafeezahmed and Facebook.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Sophisticated Slavery



Guest Post By Marco den Ouden

One of the by-products of the American Civil War was the abolition of slavery. Well, sort of!

The Civil War resulted in the elimination of formal slavery. However, it did not get rid of essential slavery. What does this mean? Let's go back to pre-Civil War America to find out.

The Southern U.S. states were not sophisticated slave states. Slaves were held as chattel. The plantation owner literally "owned" his slaves. They were his property. He kept them and cared for them just as he kept and cared for cattle and other domestic livestock. He housed them, fed them and clothed them, and, of course, he made them work for him. If they did not suit him, he sold them.

But suppose slavery was not abolished in the 19th Century, but rather it evolved into a more sophisticated system. How might it have changed? First a slave owner might have thought, "Hey, what if I can get the benefit of slave labor without the exorbitant cost of feeding, clothing and sheltering them?" Some slave owner may have taken the first path to sophistication by paying his slaves a nominal wage (less than it cost to keep them on the plantation) and told them, "I'm going to start paying you for your work but you must go and find your own food and shelter. You are free to go about your own business except that you must come to the plantation to work every day. After all, I still own you."

Other slave owners notice he's saving a bundle on costs and also adopt the practice. Soon the entire society has adopted this new mode of slavery.

The slaves have so much free time on their hands that some start moonlighting. While it's still nickel and dimes, the slave owners look the other way. But after a while they notice something quite unexpected. The slaves are not the stupid, backward people they thought they were. Some used their spare time to get educated and now earn as much, if not more, off the plantation as on.

A very sophisticated slave owner puts two and two together. "My slaves can generate more wealth on their own time than working for me," he reasons. "Why don't I give them complete freedom to choose their own line of work and develop wealth in their own way. Instead of having them work on the plantation, which would under-utilize their skills, I'll let them do what they are best suited for in the marketplace. I'll hire some poor white trash and slaves who can't find other work for the fields. And as for my slaves, they will give me 50% of all they earn. After all, I still own them."

If the slave owner is really sophisticated, he will notice that skills and aptitudes vary greatly among his slaves. The unskilled ones will not be able to survive on the small remuneration he pays for farm work. The original concept was to save on the costs of feeding, clothing, and sheltering his slaves by paying them and letting them fend for themselves. He decides that he will not demand any tribute from slaves who can do little besides farm work. He decides to graduate the tribute demanded according to how much the slave earns. The more they earn, the greater the percentage they pay to the slave owner. He carefully crafts the rates of tribute so the slaves still have an incentive to better themselves and earn more. He calls this sliding scale a "progressive" tribute system.

Soon other slave owners follow suit and the slave society reaches its ultimate level of sophistication. The slaves are formally free to do what they want to do. Formal slavery has been abolished. But essentially, they are still slaves. They must pay a tribute based on their earnings to their masters. The essence of slavery is working for the benefit of others rather than yourself, not by choice (as in supporting your family or giving to charity) but by force. To paraphrase Frederick Douglas, who escaped from slavery in 1838, a slave is someone who "toils so that another may reap the fruit."

The American Civil War resulted in the end of formal slavery. But it did not end essential slavery. In fact, over the years, essential slavery has expanded to include not just former slaves, but everyone. And everyone is a partial slave owner as well. We have, to paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, a system of slavery "of the people, by the people and for the people." The instrument of its implementation is the income tax!

Until we abolish coercive taxation, the forced taking of the fruits of the labor of those who have earned it for the benefit of those who have not, we will not have abolished the essence of slavery. Until we see the rise of another great emancipator who can educate the world to the evil of slavery down to its essential core, we will not be a truly free people!







Lifting The Fog Of Pretense


Guest Post  by James H Kunstler via Kunstler.com,

There are times when events are in charge, not personalities. The unseen forces that hold the affairs of nations and economies in equilibrium dissolve, particles fly out of the many centers, and things heat up toward criticality.

Glance in the rear-view mirror and say goodbye to the Era of Wishful Thinking.

This was the time when the USA was inspired by its Master Wish: to be able to keep driving to Wal-Mart forever. Looked at closely, the contemporary idea of Utopia was always a shabby package. On one side, all the pointless driving. For most Americans it was nothing like the TV advertising fantasy of a lone luxury car plying a coastal highway in low, golden light. More like being stuck near the junction of I-55 and I-90 in Chicago at rush hour in July in an overheating Dodge Grand Caravan with three screaming ADD kids whose smart phone batteries just died — plus your fiercely over-filled bladder and no empty Snapple bottle to resort to.

On the other side, there’s the Wal-Mart part: the unbelievable cornucopia of insanely cheap plastic goodies, like, somewhere in the 1990s America became one giant loading dock for nearly free stuff. Wasn’t that fun? Now, everybody has got the full rig, from the flatscreen to the salad shooter, but we’re tired of seeing Kim Kardashian’s booty, and nobody really liked salad, even when you could shoot the stuff into a bowl. The thrill is gone, and so is the paycheck that was your ticket to the orgy. It’s especially gloomy over in the food department, where the boxes of Lucky Charms are suddenly half the weight and twice the price. And that was going to be the family dinner! Must be Nature’s way of telling you it’s time for a new tattoo.

In this weird liminal time since the so-called Crash of 2008 leadership has depended on lies and subterfuges to prop up the illusion of resilience.

One biggie is the shale oil revolution, kind of a national parlor trick to wow the multitudes for a long enough moment to convince them that their troubles with the national energy supply are over. Even people paid to think were hosed on this one. Wait until they discover that the shale oil producers have never made a buck producing shale oil, only on the sale of leases and real estate to “greater fools” and creaming off the froth of the complex junk financing deals behind their exertions. Expect that mirage to dissipate in the next 24 months, perhaps sooner if the price of oil keeps sinking toward the sub $90-a-barrel level, where there’s no economically rational reason to bother drilling and fracking.

The lies, frauds, and cons run between the axis of Wall Street and Washington had two fatal consequences with still-lagging effects.

1) They destroyed the capacity for markets to establish the real price of anything - rendering markets useless.

2). They disabled capital formation to the degree that we might not have the money to rebuild an economy to replace the “financialized” matrix of rackets that currently pretends to function. A lot of observers like myself have been waiting for the moment when the fog of pretense lifts and exposes all the broken machinery within.

We may be so close now that you can smell it.

Change is in the air, literally, as we wake this still-summer morning with the thermometer so low you wish the furnace was prepped and ready to run. Much is in the air, too, where the news of events near and far provoke swirls of transformation in the disposition of people, nations, and affairs. Who would have guessed a few years ago how nervous Scotland would make the whole Western world? The sharpies at the Pentagon, and the White House, and the CIA may be waiting with indigestion and palpitations for the next ISIS decapitation video, but maybe you have to wonder instead which of five thousand shopping malls across this land will be visited by black-flagged desperados armed with automatic rifles and RPG’s.

Finally, there are the people themselves of this sclerotic polity: too dumb and distracted to help themselves, full of inchoate grievance and resentment, tending ever deeper into darkness. Welcome to the season of the witch in the Era of Bad Feeling. Somewhere “out there” there is a light of virtue waiting for us, but we are a long way from finding our way to it.