The US Government’s Love of Foreign Dictatorships

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Lest anyone be tempted to believe that President Trump and other US interventionists are intervening in Venezuela because of some purported concern for the Venezuelan people, let’s examining just a few examples that will bring a dose of reality to the situation. This latest intervention is nothing more than another interventionist power play, one intended to replace one dictatorial regime with another.

Egypt comes to mind. It is ruled by one of the most brutal and tyrannical military dictatorships in the world. The US government loves it, supports it, and partners with it. There is no concern for the Egyptian citizenry, who have to suffer under this brutal tyranny and oppression.

Saudi Arabia also comes to mind. It too is a brutal and tyrannical dictatorship, also a murderous one. The US government loves it too, supports it, and partners with it. There is no concern for Saudi citizens who have to suffer under this brutal tyranny and oppression.

Historically, this has been the case as well. Some examples:

1. Iran under the Shah. In 1953, the US national-security establishment destroyed Iran’s experiment with democracy by ousting the democratically elected prime minister, Mohamad Mossadegh, from power and installed in his stead the Shah of Iran, one of the world’s most brutal tyrants. Even worse, they helped train his national-security establishment in the arts of torture, tyranny, and oppression. There was no concern for the well-being or liberty of the Iranian people. Even today, the US aim is to oust the current tyrannical regime and replace it with a pro-US tyrannical regime.

2. Guatemala. In 1954, the US national-security establishment ousted the democratically elected president from office and installed in his stead a succession of brutal military tyrants. The US-engineered coup threw the country into a 3-decade long civil war, which killed more than a million people. US officials couldn’t care less.

3. Cuba. In the 1950s, the US national-security establishment supported and partnered with a brutal, corrupt dictator named Fulgencio Batista, who himself partnered with the Mafia, the premier criminal organization in the world. There was never any concern for the Cuban populace, including the young girls who Batista’s goons were kidnapping and bringing to the Mafia’s casinos to serve as sexual perqs for high rollers. Ever since the Cuban people ousted Batista from power through a violent revolution and replaced him with Fidel Castro, the US national-security establishment has never ceased trying to get a subservient and compliant dictator back into power in Cuba.

4. Chile. In 1973, the US national-security establishment engineered the violent ouster of the democratically elected president of the country, Salvador Allende, and his replacement by one of the most tyrannical and corrupt military dictators in the world, Gen. Augusto Pinochet. Pinochet’s goons proceeded to round up, torture, rape, or murder tens of thousands of innocent people, including two Americans, with the full support of the US national-security establishment. There was never any concern for any of the victims, including the two Americans (Charles Horman and Frank Teruggi), on the part of US officials.

5. Iraq. In the 1980s, the US national-security establishment supported and partnered with Saddam Hussein, one of the world’s most brutal dictators, one who some US officials would refer to in the 1990s as a “new Adolf Hitler.” They were helping Saddam kill Iranians. Later, after US officials turned on their partner Saddam in the 1990s, they targeted Iraqi citizens with death and suffering through one of the most brutal sanctions systems in history as a way of hopefully getting rid of Saddam and replacing him with another US dictatorial partner. US Ambassador to the UN Madeleine Albright expressed the official mindset of US officials toward the Iraqi people by declaring that the deaths of half-a-million Iraqi children from the sanctions were “worth it.”

Make no mistake about it: the US interventionist mindset today toward Venezuela is no different. That mindset is reflected by two things: one, the infliction of US sanctions on Venezuela and, two, the official recognition of an alternative president, in the hope that these two actions will produce a violent revolution. The death toll from such a revolution, no matter how high, doesn’t matter to US officials. After all, the people who will be dying will be Venezuelans. Like with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Cuba, Chile, and so many others, the liberty and well-being of the citizenry is of no concern. All that matters is the ouster of an independent regime and its replacement with a new dictatorial regime that is eager and willing to be a partner and ally of the US government.

Reprinted with permission from Future of Freedom Foundation.

Venezuela in Flames

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There is a familiar smell about what is taking place vis-à-vis Venezuela. The official US government line is that the sanctions against the country and the decision to recognize the head of its national assembly Jose Guaido as interim president is based on a flawed election won by populist Nicholas Maduro last May. Guaido was reportedly promised US support for his soft coup by no less than Vice President Mike Pence in a phone call the night before he declared himself acting president while the American State Department is oddly proclaiming that it is intervening to support the Venezuelan constitution. Unfortunately for that argument, a quick perusal of the document itself does not seem to reveal an article empowering the United States to appoint the Venezuelan president.

Indeed, politics in Venezuela have long been particularly incendiary. There may or may not have been electoral fraud, regarding which little in the way of actual evidence has been presented, but the entire affair smacks of a pretext to initiate regime change in Caracas, an objective of the United States government ever since Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chavez was elected president in 1998.

The thuggish Chavez, a populist who set out with an agenda to dismantle the oligarchy that had been running Venezuela for decades, certainly wound up doing extreme damage to the country’s economy while also further polarizing the existing class and political divisions. Corrupt and venal, he was emphatically not a modern Simon Bolivar, the “Libertador” that he sought to model himself on, but his views might conceivably have moderated if he had not been subjected to relentless US pressure from the git-go, to include a successful coup that ousted him briefly in 2002. Chavez’s successor Maduro has been embroiled in a worsening crisis that his policies have exacerbated, with food shortages, massive unemployment, hyperinflation, political rioting and a regional refugee problem caused by the departure of possibly as many as three million Venezuelans.

One might observe that if supporting foreign constitutions against electoral fraud were actually a vital interest for the US Washington would be intervening in more than 100 countries. In this case, the Trump Administration is also declaring that it is intervening to restore democracy and liberate the Venezuelan people, but the reality on the ground is quite different. As the sanctions do not hurt the rulers of the country, nor the military which benefits greatly financially from the status quo and supports the leadership, all that occurs is the infliction of more pain on the ordinary people, who have no say in what occurs. It is similar to what is taking place vis-à-vis Iran. The expectation of ideologues like John Bolton and Mike Pompeo is that the people in both Iran and Venezuela will eventually rise up in revolt and depose their governments, replacing them with something more acceptable to the United States.

Ron Paul has observed that there is a certain irony that a White House which has for two years been “fighting charges that a foreign country meddled in the US elections would turn around and not only meddle in foreign elections but actually demand the right to name a foreign country’s president!” Dr. Paul also notes Trump’s appointment of “a convicted criminal Elliot Abrams as his point person to ‘restore democracy’ in Venezuela,” observing that “Abrams played a key role in the Iran-Contra affair and went on to be one of the chief architects of the disastrous US invasion of Iraq in 2003. His role in helping promote the horrible violence in Latin America in the 1980s should disqualify him from ever holding public office again.”

The argument that Washington is responding appropriately to the current developments in Venezuela is deeply flawed, in part because President Donald Trump has several times raised the issue of possible military intervention even before last May’s national election. Another more recent report linked to John Bolton suggests that there is a plan for dealing with Venezuela that appears to include the insertion of 5,000 US troops.

Attacks on Venezuela’s government and leader were common both under George W. Bush and Barack Obama and it is plausible to suggest that the CIA has been active engaged in subverting the country’s government for the past twenty years. Mike Pompeo, when still head of the Agency, spoke at an Aspen Institute security conference in July 2017, saying that he was “hopeful that there can be a transition in Venezuela and we the CIA is [sic] doing its best to understand the dynamic there.” Pompeo also said that Mexico and Colombia were also discussing with him options for “change” for Venezuela.

Pompeo’s comment was particularly interesting as CIA is not exactly an organization that seeks to “understand…dynamics.” One should assume that the CIA Station in Caracas is possibly half of the remaining forty or so diplomats and other officers assigned to the post. They would have been spending their time funding the opposition to Chavez and then Maduro, recruiting officers in the army and other security forces to make them coup-able, and paying journalists and other opinion makers both in Venezuela and in neighboring countries to write articles attacking the country’s regime. If Venezuela is experiencing a crisis, it is at least in part attributable to American covert action.

If the United States persists in a new dose of “regime change” in Latin America and gets away with it, advisers like Bolton and Pompeo will be empowered and will demand more of the same. In his UN speech earlier this week Pompeo warned that “…now it’s time for every other nation to pick a side. No more delays, no more games. Either you stand with the forces of freedom or you’re in league with Maduro and his mayhem.” It all sounds a bit like George W. Bush in 2001, and “success” as seen from the White House perspective could mean a reversal of the withdrawal from Syria and even more pressure on Iran, to name only two “hot spots.” That an American administration will once again see itself on steroids, as a global arbiter, the “leader of the free world,” is the real danger that comes with what is going on in Venezuela.

Reprinted with permission from Strategic Culture Foundation.

Fearmongering: Senate Chairman Warns ‘Prepare For WWIII With China’

At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing earlier this week, Committee Chair James Inhofe (R-OK) warned that dealing with China's activities in the South China Sea is like preparing for World War III. He complains that the US doesn't even know who its allies are any longer. He warned of a long, protracted struggle. The hearing witnesses consisted of three "experts" from two neoconservative think tanks - all funded by the military industrial complex. Unsurprisingly, they agreed with Inhofe about a long struggle. Profitable. Tune in to today's Liberty Report:

Duopoly Distemper: Media and Democrats Attack Schultz For Even Considering A Third Party Run

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The exploration of former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz of a possible third party candidacy has been welcomed by many who have long seen our dysfunctional politics as a result of the duopoly of power in the country in the hands to just two parties. People want change and that is highly unlikely to occur in our current system. That is precisely why Schultz has been met with a torrent of criticism by the media and Democrats for even suggesting a third party run. The spin is that he is handing the election to Donald Trump by splitting the anti-Trump ticket. However, this has been the same mantra for every third party candidate in my lifetime. The problem is that he could win and there is no danger that more threatens the establishment in Washington. So we are back to the same refrain — eagerly repeated by the media — that the country simply cannot handle more choice than the two offered by the party elites.

I do not know much about Schultz, though I have put his kids through college with a coffee addiction. He has studied the number of a third party run and thinks that it is possible. He may be right or wrong but it is the response from the political and media establishment that is so telling. The best indicator that he might be right is the outrage over his possible run.

Yet, every election in my lifetime I have heard (and felt) nothing but anger over having to constantly choose between the candidates approved by the Democratic and Republican primaries. Neither party reflects with majority of voters and the number of independents continue to rise.

We are routinely forced to choose between the lesser of two evils. The last election was an utter disgrace. The Democratic establishment wanted Hillary Clinton for its own purposes. It simply did not matter that Clinton was the most unpopular Democrat to run in the general election or that she was carrying a mile long chain of controversies and bad decisions. The same is true with Trump. Trump was elected as an anti-establishment (and non-Hillary) candidate but voters clearly wanted another choice. Yet, we are locked into whoever the two parties select from the extreme poles of our electorate.

I was raised in a staunchly Democratic family in Chicago and here is a suggestion for the Democratic Party. Spend less time trying to deny choices to the American voter and more time trying to select someone that people will support in their own right. Rather than repeating the same identity politics and “lesser of two evils” strategy, find someone who actually appeals to the majority of Americans as opposed to the most fringe elements of your own party. Schultz understands that. He has been selling things in crowded markets for his entire career. He did not do it by trying to convince McDonald’s coffee drinkers that their coffee was garbage or that Starbucks was the better choice of two bad cups of java. He did it by selling his coffee as a really good product and it is.

We have to stop being chumps. The barrage of criticism against Schultz and other third-party candidates is about power — not ours, theirs. Whatever Schultz may prove to be, he is at least a choice.

That is something we have really not had for a long time.

Reprinted with permission from JonathanTurley.org.

The 116th US Congress is preparing a new war against Syria, by Thierry Meyssan

We were wrong to think that the Syrians were out of danger after their victory over the jihadists. They are not. Israël and the United States have not abandoned their war objective of the destruction of state structures. They are preparing a new war, this time financial, in order to prevent the reconstruction of the country and condemn the Syrian people to rot in the ruins.

The Need for a Compelling Anti-Capitalist Narrative

There’s a scene in George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia where he describes how the communists propagandized the fascists during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s. Orwell was with a scruffy, makeshift band of fighters high in the Spanish Alps. Both the communists and fascists were dug into their trenches and a general stalemate had ensued. During the frigid mountain days, certain soldiers were tasked with communicating to the enemy. They would first position themselves in a safe place. Then using a megaphone would recite a prefabricated monologue about how the fascist soldiers were little more than pawns in the service of elite capital interests. They were the disposable implements of war, easily discarded once used. Orwell wrote that nearly everyone on the communist side assumed the efficacy of these communiques. The conscripted fascist, often a teenager and drafted against his will for a fight he had little knowledge of or interest in, would be sunk within a muddy trench, hungry, thirsty, tormented by the alpine freeze of high altitudes. How could the socialist message not appeal to him? Of particular value, Orwell noted, were the segments of the script that announced to the disgruntled fascists that the communist speaker was, at that very moment, consuming a delicious piece of warm, buttered toast. An absurd thing to say, and perhaps the brooding fascist understood how unlikely it was to be true, but the mere image of it, a slightly burnt half of toast slathered in golden melting butter, was enough to destabilize even the most stout-hearted soldier.

The Language of Transformation

The point being, to win “the fight for the minds of men,” as America’s great war propagandist George Creel put it, one must conjure charismatic images, weave imagistic tales, and produce a historical narrative that resonates with and unifies a vast disenfranchised public. Creel served under the Wilson administration and helped turn a pacifist citizenry into a bristling public angry at the fearsome “Hun” it had never actually encountered (not unlike the roving, rape-obsessed immigrants that hysterical Republicans have never encountered, even as they obsessively grease their rifles).

Despite the obvious need for compelling stories, how often do we read interviews or articles with committed leftists or socialists, even the venerable Noam Chomsky, for instance, reminding us in the driest of terms that voting is a mere five-second act that should be given no more attention than a quick, lesser-evil calculation before stepping into the voting booth. Rather, as various authors remind us, like humorless fathers admonishing a frivolous child, that only the hard, laborious, and thankless work of community organizing, conducted tirelessly between elections, will lead to real and lasting change. True as it may be, it is, as framed and presented, a cheerless and dispiriting prospect, a maxim that literally no one wants to hear or is wont to repeat.

What this deadpan delivery misses is how voting is the one event that truly captures the imagination of the public. It is the collective ritual that confirms for many Americans that we are privileged members of a rich and enlightened western democracy. That, despite our problems, we are yet at the forefront of history, participating in the march of human progress with a faith and purpose rivaled on by the Athenian demos and the arbiters of the Magna Carta. It forgets that for many it is a hallowed booth into which we step, where one’s choice is cloaked behind a dark curtain like some kind of secular confessional, and after making their confession, the cleansed citizenry wear bright stickers proclaiming to all and sundry that they did their civic duty.

Voting, perhaps, is the one communal political act which our atomized capitalist society permits us. It rests alongside holiday consumption sprees and sporting rituals as self-defining markers in the firmament of our national consciousness. It may be myth but it is an animating myth of our society. As such, it shouldn’t be discarded with such facile contempt. Rather, it ought to be mined for pointers on how to model a socialist myth that can be evangelized to a public in desperate need of new answers.

Story and Symbol

In Geoffrey Miller’s evolutionary psychology tour de force, The Mating Mind, in which he explores the idea that art and language evolved under sexual selection pressures (rather than by pressures of natural selection), he writes the following:

Imagine some young hominids huddling around a Pleistocene campfire, enjoying their newly evolved language ability. Two males get into an argument about the nature of the world, and start holding forth, displaying their ideologies.

The hominid named Carl proposes: “We are mortal, fallible primates who survive on this fickle savanna only because we cluster in these jealousy-ridden groups. Everywhere we have ever traveled is just a tiny, random corner of a vast continent on an unimaginably huge sphere spinning in a vacuum. There sphere has traveled billions and billions of times around a flaming ball of gas, which will eventually blow up to incinerate our empty, fossilized skulls. I have discovered several compelling lines of evidence in support of these hypotheses…”

The hominid named Candide interrupts: “No, I believe we are immortal spirits gifted with these beautiful bodies because the great god Wug chose us as his favorite creatures. Wug blessed us with this fertile paradise that provides just enough challenges to keep things interesting. Behind the moon, mystic nightingales sing our praises, some of us more than others. Above the azure dome of the sky the smiling sun warms our hearts. After we grow old and enjoy the babbling of our grandchildren, Wug will lift us from these bodies to join our friends to eat roasted gazelle and dance eternally. I think these things because Wug picked me to receive this special wisdom in a dream last night.”

Which ideology do you suppose would prove more sexually attractive? Will Carl’s truth-seeking genes–which may discover some rather ugly truths–out-compete Candide’s wonderful-story genes? The evidence of human history suggests that our ancestors were more like Candide than Carl. Most modern humans are naturally Candides. It usually takes years of watching BBC or PBS science documentaries to become as objective as Carl.

If this is so, is the left guilty of transforming itself into a brooding Carl, arms overflowing with manifestos and tomes, arguing apocalypse to a weary electorate that just wants some good news? Or, at the very least, a piece of escapism, an entertaining tale that removes them from their chronic worries for a couple of hours? Recently, teacher Bruce Lerro illustrated some of the themes he emphasizes in a class he teaches, “Brainwashing Propaganda and Rhetoric: Dark Psychology in the 20th Century”. The gist of his two-part series is that socialism has yet to grasp the theatrical side of human nature that is a requisite of movement building. He points to religion, nationalism, and sports as three fields which have successfully leveraged the tribal, ethnocentric, and ritualistic tendencies within human nature to promote their particular interests.

We know Hollywood and the defense industry often collaborate on films that reify the tropes of patriotic Americanism for each passing generation. We know from marketing that advertising that creates dramatic tension and that draws from the story arcs of conventional dramatic theory improve attention and likability. Metaphors are triggering devices for the senses, hence the durable appeal of the ‘shining city on a hill’ and the visual tropes of the American Dream.

The figure of the charismatic leader has lately done a number on the American imagination. If we are so addicted to facts, as the interminable and farcical Russiagate campaign has so many of us believing, then why is Barack Obama still revered as a peace candidate? A man who as Commander in Chief dropped 26,000 bombs in a single calendar year. Who bombed the Middle East for eight years with the implacable consistency of a religious rite. Who was at war in some fashion or another his entire presidency. Yet Obama was just last month handed the RFK Human Rights Ripple of Hope Award. The organization tweeted an image of the former president in a popular pose: impeccably dressed in an expensive suit of muted azure thread, his face is a portrait of composure and gentle optimism, as his eyes gaze placidly at some unnamable dream far and high and away from where he–and we–are. The gap between the man and the myth is abyssal. Yet one can recall the masterfully rendered illustrations of the young Obama gazing determinedly into the near distance, above bolded letterings of “HOPE” and “CHANGE”, and the flowing waves of the campaign logo.

The Need for a New Myth

All this to say that without a more stirring socialist vision, imbued with the symbols and ritual that instantiate human myth, we will continue to find our attempts to inspire revolution co-opted by monopoly capital, which tend to better stories than the left does. As Henry Giroux points out, “…the lack of mass resistance to [neoliberal] oppression signals more than apathy or indifference, it also suggests that we don’t have an informed and energizing vision of the world for which we want to struggle.” Are we fighting for socialism or against neoliberalism? Are we battling neoliberalism or capitalism itself? Are we after a New Deal or a new society? Is the enemy neoconservatism or the white supremacist? Are we fighting racism, sexism, imperialism, neoliberalism, or all of the above?

This messaging mayhem is not an issue for the establishment. Rather than issuing harsh systemic critiques, the establishment paints pictures. For liberal audiences, Democrats fulminate about Donald Trump as the living manifestation of evil and traffic in the language of tyranny and resistance. For white supremacists, Republicans rouse racist enmities with images of impoverished refugees moving steadily toward our borders, which take on a monstrous character in the minds of MAGA minions. For uncompromising patriots, the armed forces air commercials of heroic young men jumping from helicopters and landing crafts and running across smoke-filled landscapes “toward the sound of chaos.” For bootstrap conservatives, there are Reagan’s welfare queens arriving at the unemployment office in waxed Cadillacs. For humanitarian interventionists, there is Colin Powell’s imagery of a team of mad scientists zigzagging Mesopotamia in mobile weapons labs, or Tony Blair brandishing a dossier warning that a nuclear-tipped WMD could hit central London in just 45 minutes.

In a mediascape littered with symbols, calls for the head of corporate capitalism on a gilded platter are thus swept aside by an interdependent duopoly that thrives on facilitating corporate exploitation with one hand and teasing the inexhaustible well of mass credulity with the other. Belief is the dodgy virtue that venal duopolists deploy the most. Each election cycle is an exercise in peddling hope and fear in alternating cycles, like a trafficker controlling his prisoners by a devious alternation of drug and deprivation. The left has done well illustrating the monstrosities of corporate capital, and the need to colorfully adumbrate the crimes of the ruling class will always be crucial. But so too is the need to craft more compelling stories of a world without war and a land where health and education and work are rites of passage rather than a lifelong ordeal. Can the traditional bearers of bad tidings shape an electrifying vision of a socialist society? A companion narrative that finally replaces the extant portrait of collectivism as a bloodbath of mayhem and menace? The left’s chances for mass appeal likely depend on it. Even the Bolsheviks, who were scathing critics of socialist opportunism, let alone capitalists, headlined their 1917 revolution with the triple promise of, “Peace! Land! Bread!” The workers and the peasants knew exactly what they were fighting for.

Defying War and Defining Peace in Afghanistan

PPM members meet Afghan Peace Volunteers outside UK Embassy in Kabul (Photo: Dr. Hakim)

On January 27th, 2019, the Taliban and the U.S. government each publicly stated acceptance, in principle, of a draft framework for ongoing negotiations that could culminate in a peace deal to end a two-decade war in Afghanistan.

As we learn more about the negotiations, it’s important to remember others working toward dialogue and negotiation in Afghanistan. Troublingly, women’s rights leaders have not, thus far, been invited to the negotiating table. But several have braved potential persecution to assert the importance of including women in any framework aiming to create peace and respect human rights.

A young medical graduate student told me she was deprived of schooling during the Taliban era. “If government doesn’t protect women’s basic rights,” she said, “we could lose access to health care and education.”

“The war was started by men, the war will be ended by men,” an aide to Rula Ghani, the wife of President Ashraf Ghani, recently told a Reuters reporter. “But it’s the women and children who suffer the most and they have a right to define peace.” In 2018, the UN expressed alarm at the increased use of airstrikes by U.S. and Afghan forces which caused a rising death toll among women and children. In the run-up to the past week of negotiations and even during the negotiations, attacks and counter attacks between the warring parties killed dozens of civilians, including women and children. Both the Taliban and the U.S. seemed intent on showing strength and leverage by demonstrating their willingness to slaughter the innocent.

Another group not represented at the negotiating table is the “People’s Peace Movement,”  Beginning in May of 2018, they chose a path which pointedly eschews attacks, revenge or retaliation. Following deadly attacks in their home province of Helmand, initiators of this movement humbly walked, sometimes even barefoot, hundreds of miles, asking people to reject the entire institution of war. They’ve urged an end to revenge and retaliation and called on all warring parties to support a peace process. Their journeys throughout the country have become venues for informal hearings, allowing opportunity for people to collectively imagine abolishing war.

We in the U.S. have much to learn from Afghan women human rights advocates and the People’s Peace Movement regarding the futility of war.

Since 2001, and at a cost of 800 billion dollars, the U.S. military has caused irreparable and horrific losses in Afghanistan. Afghan civilians have endured invasion, occupation, aerial bombings, ground attacks, drone warfare, extensive surveillance, internal displacement, soaring refugee populations, environmental degradation and the practice of indefinite detention and torture. How would U.S. citizens bear up under even a fraction of this misery?

It stands to reason this litany of suffering would lead to increased insurgent resistance, to rising support for the Taliban, and to spiraling violence.

By late 2018, even a top military commander, Army General Scott Miller, told CNN the U.S. had no chance of a military victory in Afghanistan. He stated the fight will continue until there is a political settlement,

Danny Sjursen, an exceptionally honest Major General and author, wrote in December 2018 the only thing left for the U.S. military to do in Afghanistan was to lose.

Major General Sjursen was correct to concede inevitable U.S. military defeat in Afghanistan, but there is something more U.S. people can and should do. Namely, pay reparations for 17 years of suffering we’ve caused in Afghanistan. This is, as Professor Noam Chomsky once said, “what any civilized country would do.”

Some might counter the U.S. has already provided over $132 billion dollars for reconstruction in Afghanistan. But, did that sum make a significant difference in the lives of Afghan people impoverished by displacement and war? I think not.

Since 2008, John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction, has submitted quadrennial reports to the U.S. Congress detailing ways waste, embezzlement, fraud and abuse have consistently resulted in failed reconstruction efforts. Sopko and his teams of researchers and analysts offered a chance for people in the U.S. to see ourselves as we’re often seen by an increasingly cynical Afghan public. But we seldom even hear of the SIGAR reports. In fact, when President Trump heard of these watchdog reports during his first Cabinet meeting of 2019, he was infuriated and said they should be locked up!

It’s telling that SIGAR was preceded by SIGIR, (the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction) which filed similarly critical yet largely unnoticed reports.

U.S. citizens often regard their country as a civilized nation that goes to war against demonic tyrants. Dr. Martin Luther King held forth a different vision. He urged us to see the humanity of other so-called enemies, to ask how we’re seen by other people, and to thereby gain a needed understanding of our own weaknesses. If we could hear from other people menaced by militarism, including ours, if we could see how our wars have contributed to terrorism, corruption and authoritarianism that has turned the U.S. into a permanent warfare state, we might find the same courage that inspires brave people in Afghanistan to speak up and resist the all-encompassing tyranny of war.

We might find ourselves guided by an essential ethical question: how can we learn to live together without killing one another?  If we finally grasp the terrible and ever-increasing urgency of this lesson, then we might yearn to be trusted global neighbors who humbly pay reparations rather than righteously bankroll endless wars.

Kandahar (AFP Photo: Javed Tanveer)

Why Germany Leads in Renewables: It Has Its Own Green Bank

The Green New Deal endorsed by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and more than 40 other US Representatives has been criticized as imposing a too-heavy burden on the rich and upper-middle-class taxpayers who will have to pay for it, but taxing the rich is not what the Green New Deal resolution proposes. It says funding will come primarily from certain public agencies, including the Federal Reserve and “a new public bank or system of regional and specialized public banks.”

Funding through the Federal Reserve may be controversial, but establishing a national public infrastructure and development bank should be a no-brainer. The real question is why we don’t already have one, like China, Germany, and other countries that are running circles around us in infrastructure development. Many European, Asian and Latin American countries have their own national development banks, as well as belonging to bilateral or multinational development institutions that are jointly owned by multiple governments. Unlike the US Federal Reserve, which considers itself “independent” of government, national development banks are wholly owned by their governments and carry out public development policies.

China not only has its own China Infrastructure Bank but has established the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, which counts many Asian and Middle Eastern countries in its membership, including Australia, New Zealand, and Saudi Arabia. Both banks are helping to fund China’s trillion-dollar “One Belt One Road” infrastructure initiative. China is so far ahead of the United States in building infrastructure that Dan Slane, a former advisor on President Trump’s transition team, has warned, “If we don’t get our act together very soon, we should all be brushing up on our Mandarin.”

The leader in renewable energy, however, is Germany, called “the world’s first major renewable energy economy.” Germany has a public sector development bank called KfW (Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau or “Reconstruction Credit Institute”), which is even larger than the World Bank. Along with Germany’s non-profit Sparkassen banks, KfW has largely funded the country’s green energy revolution.

Unlike private commercial banks, KfW does not have to focus on maximizing short-term profits for its shareholders while turning a blind eye to external costs, including those imposed on the environment. The bank has been free to support the energy revolution by funding major investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency. Its fossil fuel investments are close to zero. One of the   key features of KFW, as with other development banks, is that much of its lending is driven in a strategic direction determined by the national government. Its key role in the green energy revolution has been played within a public policy framework under Germany’s renewable energy legislation, including policy measures that have made investment in renewables commercially attractive.

KfW is one of the world’s largest development banks, with assets as of December 2017 of $566.5 billion. Ironically, the initial funding for its capitalization came from the United States, through the Marshall Plan in 1948. Why didn’t we fund a similar bank for ourselves? Apparently because powerful Wall Street interests did not want the competition from a government-owned bank that could make below-market loans for infrastructure and development. Major US investors today prefer funding infrastructure through public-private partnerships, in which private partners can reap the profits while losses are imposed on local governments.

KfW and Germany’s Energy Revolution

Renewable energy in Germany is mainly based on wind, solar and biomass. Renewables generated 41% of the country’s electricity in 2017, up from just 6% in 2000; and public banks provided over 72% of the financing for this transition. In 2007-09, KfW funded all of Germany’s investment in Solar Photovoltaic. After that, Solar PV was introduced nationwide on a major scale. This is the sort of catalytic role that development banks can play, kickstarting a major structural transformation by funding and showcasing new technologies and sectors.

KfW is not only one of the biggest but has been ranked one of the two safest banks in the world. (The other is also a publicly-owned bank, the Zurich Cantonal Bank in Switzerland.) KfW sports triple-A ratings from all three major rating agencies, Fitch, Standard and Poor’s, and Moody’s. The bank benefits from these top ratings and from the statutory guarantee of the German government, which allow it to issue bonds on very favorable terms and therefore to lend on favorable terms, backing its loans with the bonds.

KfW does not work through public-private partnerships, and it does not trade in derivatives and other complex financial products. It relies on traditional lending and grants. The borrower is responsible for loan repayment. Private investors can participate, but not as shareholders or public-private partners. Rather, they can invest in “Green Bonds,” which are as safe and liquid as other government bonds and are prized for their green earmarking. The first “Green Bond – Made by KfW” was issued in 2014 with a volume of $1.7 billion and a maturity of five years. It was the largest Green Bond ever at the time of issuance and generated so much interest that the order book rapidly grew to $3.02 billion, although the bonds paid an annual coupon of only 0.375%. By 2017, the issue volume of KfW Green Bonds was $4.21 billion.

Investors benefit from the high credit and sustainability ratings of KfW, the liquidity of its bonds, and the opportunity to support climate and environmental protection. For large institutional investors with funds that exceed the government deposit insurance limit, Green Bonds are the equivalent of savings accounts, a safe place to park their money that provides a modest interest. Green Bonds also appeal to “socially responsible” investors, who have the assurance with these simple and transparent bonds that their money is going where they want it to. The bonds are financed by KfW from the proceeds of its loans, which are also in high demand due to their low interest rates; and the bank can offer these low rates because its triple-A ratings allow it to cheaply mobilize funds from capital markets, and because its public policy-oriented loans qualify it for targeted subsidies.

Roosevelt’s Development Bank: The Reconstruction Finance Corporation

KfW’s role in implementing government policy parallels that of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC) in funding the New Deal in the 1930s. At that time US banks were bankrupt and incapable of financing the country’s recovery. Roosevelt attempted to set up a system of 12 public “industrial banks” through the Federal Reserve, but the measure failed; so he made an end run around his opponents by using the RFC that had been set up earlier by President Hoover, expanding it to address the nation’s financing needs.

The RFC Act of 1932 provided the RFC with capital stock of $500 million and the authority to extend credit up to $1.5 billion (subsequently increased several times). With those resources, from 1932 to 1957 the RFC loaned or invested more than $40 billion. As with KfW’s loans, its funding source was the sale of bonds, mostly to the Treasury itself. Proceeds from the loans repaid the bonds, leaving the RFC with a net profit. The RFC financed roads, bridges, dams, post offices, universities, electrical power, mortgages, farms, and much more; and it funded all this while generating income for the government.

The RFC was so successful that it became America’s largest corporation and the world’s largest banking organization. Its success may have been its nemesis. Without the emergencies of depression and war, it was a too-powerful competitor of the private banking establishment; and in 1957, it was disbanded under President Eisenhower. The United States was left without a development bank, while Germany and other countries were hitting the ground running with theirs.

Today some US states have infrastructure and development banks, including California; but their reach is very small. One way they could be expanded to meet state infrastructure needs would be to turn them into depositories for state and municipal revenues. Rather than lending their capital directly in a revolving fund, this would allow them to leverage their capital into 10 times that sum in loans, as all depository banks are able to do. (See my earlier article here.)

The most profitable and efficient way for national and local governments to finance public infrastructure and development is with their own banks, as the impressive track records of KfW and other national development banks have shown. The RFC showed what could be done even by a country that was technically bankrupt, simply by mobilizing its own resources through a publicly-owned financial institution. We need to resurrect that public funding engine today, not only to address the national and global crises we are facing now but for the ongoing development the country needs in order to manifest its true potential.

This article was first published on Truthdig.com.

Mister Charlie Told Me So

Say what you will about the current zeitgeist, at least it’s often entertaining … albeit in a psychotic Charlie Manson kind of way. Last week, for example, when Russian Hitler ordered Russian-intelligence-asset Hitler to support a coup against Venezuelan Hitler (i.e., Russian Hitler’s South American ally) to distract attention from Smirkboy Hitler and his acne-faced army of MAGA hat-wearing Catholic high-school Hitler Youth. That was entertaining … or something.

This Russian Hitler-backed American Hitler against Russian Hitler-backed Venezuelan Hitler attempted non-military military coup was one of the silliest attempted coups in the history of silly attempted coups. Basically, what happened was, a person by the name of Juan Guaidó (who many Venezuelans had never even heard of) declared himself President of Venezuela. Seriously, he just came out one day and announced that he was in charge of the country. He called on the Venezuelan military to back him. The Venezuelan military did not back him. The Venezuelan military laughed in his face.

American Russian-intelligence-asset Hitler, who probably couldn’t find Venezuela on a map, nonetheless officially recognized Guaidó as the legitimate President of Venezuela, as did the majority of the Western corporate media, despite the fact that he had been elected by no one and did not have the backing of his country’s military (which, normally, when you’re staging a military coup, it’s kind of a good idea to have). The UK, France, Germany, Spain, and other members of the “international community” demanded that Venezuela hold new elections, or else they too will recognize Guaidó, or any other neoliberal puppet Russian-intelligence-asset Hitler decides is the President of Venezuela.

The anti-Russian-intelligence-asset-Hitler Resistance® in the United States suspended their imaginary guerrilla war against Russian-intelligence-asset Hitler in solidarity with the Venezuelan people, who are being brutally oppressed by Venezuelan Hitler, who is a close personal friend of Russian Hitler, and who they reelected president in the spring of last year (i.e., Venezuelan Hitler, not Russian Hitler) against the advice of American Hitler, the deep state goons that are trying to destroy him, and assorted transnational oil corporations like ExxonMobil, Chevron, and Equinor, not to mention all the global financial institutions which are eager to help the Guaidó government democratically restructure and privatize the country.

The weird thing is, Russian Hitler, who presumably ordered American Hitler to support this coup against Venezuelan Hitler, is now supporting Venezuelan Hitler. Which can only mean that this whole ridiculous attempted Hilter-on-Hitler coup thing is a ruse intended to distract our attention from MAGA hat-wearing Smirkboy Hitler and his Catholic high-school Hitler Youth army, who have clearly been “emboldened” by American Hitler to hunt down elderly Native Americans and attempt to literally smirk them to death.

That, or possibly Russian Hitler ordered Russian-intelligence-asset Hitler to orchestrate this coup against Venezuelan Hitler (which Russian Hitler had always intended to thwart) to distract attention from the latest explosive “bombshell” corporate media story about Washington sleazebag Roger Stone’s non-connection to Julian Assange, who American Hitler now wants to prosecute for helping to get him (i.e., American Hitler) elected president with those emails that Russian Hitler stole from Clinton’s campaign manager, and who, according to anonymous fictive sources is not a nice person and doesn’t smell too good (i.e., Assange, not Clinton’s campaign manager).

Or maybe Russian Hitler ordered Russian-intelligence-asset Hitler to back the coup against Venezuelan Hitler to distract our attention from Bernie Sanders, who apparently is also a Russian agent now, or an insidious Kremlin-Trump operation, or is working with Tulsi Gabbard to assemble an army of blood-drinking Hindu nationalists, genocidal Assadists, and American Nazis to help the Iranians (and the Russians, of course, and possibly also Jeremy Corbyn) frontally assault the State of Israel and drive the Jews into the sea!

If all that sounds completely insane and impossible to follow, that’s because it is. We have reached a stage in the War on Populism where the global capitalist ruling classes and their mouthpieces in the corporate media are no longer even trying to appear to make sense, or address people on any kind of rational level. Reading the so-called “serious” press and watching corporate television news is like having a bunch of paranoid psychotics tripping monkey balls on DMT jabbering strangely familiar-sounding contradictory nonsense at you … which, apart from its entertainment value, happens to be a standard technique cults use to scramble the minds of new members.

It’s a standard technique because it works.

It doesn’t have anything to do with intelligence. Intelligent people make excellent cult members, primarily because they are given to trying to make sense out of apparent nonsense, which professional cult leaders understand and count on. Listen to Charlie Manson “rapping.” What might appear to be free associative gibberish is actually a calculated effort to short-circuit rational thought in the listener and force them to try to piece together the bits of truth sprinkled into the nonsense. (Of course, it helps if you listen to Charlie ripped out of your gourd on acid, but sheer repetition also works, especially if the people doing it look a little more “normal” than Charlie.)

This mind-scrambling technique is what we are being subjected to, more or less around the clock, not by some Processean grifter, but by the so-called serious corporate media. The steps involved are relatively simple:

(1) authoritative person or persons jabbers irrational nonsense at us, and behaves as if the nonsense were a rational argument;

(2) our minds are faced with a choice – either accept the nonsense as a rational argument or challenge the authority of the authoritative person (which most of us are reluctant to do, because of negative social and financial consequences);

(3) having chosen to believe that the nonsense the authoritative person is spewing at us must somehow amount to a rational argument, our minds begin to struggle to make sense out of the nonsense, which allows the authoritative person to provide us with some simplistic narrative revealing the “truth” and invariably featuring some evil enemy (i.e., Russians, Jews, Body Thetans, etc.), which relieves the acute discomfort we are feeling.

In a cult (or, you know, a cult-like society), this process is repeated, over and over, and then reinforced by positive feedback from other members of the cult (or society). The process is designed to prevent us from ever achieving enough perceptual distance to accurately hear, and critically evaluate, the nonsense authoritative persons are feeding us. If we ever accidentally manage to do so, we are promptly serenaded by a chorus of voices shouting mind-numbing platitudes at us, and threatening us with ostracization, and so on. Over time, we learn to stop thinking critically and just trust whatever the authoritative persons we have surrendered our autonomy to are telling us. The official narratives of the cult (or society), no matter how irrational or totally psychotic, become our reality, or “just the way it is.”

This is why it is relatively easy to recognize this process at work in cults (or social groups) we don’t belong to, but very difficult to perceive in those we belong to. For example, if you’re a creature of the left, as I am, it’s entertaining (or maybe horrifying) to listen to people on the right babbling about caravans of Mexican terrorists that the International Conspiracy of Jews is paying to assault our borders, or kill-crazy lesbians who are getting pregnant and waiting to abort their full-term pregnancies just to spit in the faces of good pro-life Christians. But is that stuff really any more insane than believing Donald Trump is a Russian agent, or that the United States is on the brink of fascism, or that a Catholic teenager in a MAGA hat poses some existential threat to democracy, or any of the other hysterical nonsense the liberal corporate media have been disseminating?

If you seriously believe in any of that stuff, sorry, but I don’t know how to help you. I’m not a professional cult deprogrammer. Nor do I have any “truths” to offer you, except maybe beware of those who do. There are a lot of Mister Charlies out there, and they don’t all look like homicidal hippies with swastikas carved into their foreheads. Actually, most of them look … well, normal.