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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Yemeni Front in the War on Terror By John Leonard

The Yemeni Front in the War on Terror
By John Leonard
It is difficult to decide which thought is more disturbing regarding the recent terror attack on Northwest Flight 253: that terrorist Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab nearly succeeded, or the reaction by U.S. officials in the aftermath of the attempted bombing. Janet Napolitano's ridiculous claim that everything went according to plan was retracted, revised, and extended. President Obama regarded the matter as serious enough to warrant interrupting his vacation twice, the second time calling it a "catastrophic breach" of security procedures and admitting to a "systemic failure."

But Time writer Bobby Ghosh found one anonymous counterterrorism official who said, "It's too early to say whether this guy was a lone, self-motivated terrorist or part of a larger plot. We obviously have to assume the worst, and investigate this thing down to the smallest details."

Gosh, Bobby, where did you find this nameless (and clueless) clown to interview? No wonder he wanted to remain anonymous. As Ghosh points out later in the same article, Abdulmutallab admitted having links to al-Qaeda and said that the plot originated in Yemen. Yet it's too early to tell if Abdulmutallab was part of a larger plot...and your source is supposed to be a counterterrorism expert?

An al-Qaeda spokesman has since claimed responsibility for the attack, declaring that it failed only due to a "technical fault." This spokesman boasted that "the Nigerian brother broke all security barriers for his operation, dispelling the great myth of American intelligence."

The al-Qaeda statement is tough to dispute, considering the fact that Abdulmutallab supposedly boarded the flight in Amsterdam without even a passport, aided by mysterious, sharply dressed man who spoke to gate attendants on the terrorist's behalf. A pair of attorneys who showed their boarding pass to confirm their presence on the flight claimed that the strange benefactor told gate officials, "He's [Abdulmutallab] from Sudan and we do this all the time."

And that was good enough to get a terrorist on one of our airplanes?

If this "counterterrorism expert" was any good at his job, he could connect the same dots we are about to -- and he would have done it prior to the incident, not afterward. Obvious warning signs were present immediately prior to this latest terror attack.


Yemen first drew attention for terrorist activities with the attack on the USS Cole in 2000 that killed seventeen American sailors. The country's government is so weak that it pardoned and released Jamal al-Badawi, the mastermind of the attack originally sentenced to death, after he declared allegiance to Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

Yemen has been designated "the international jihadi's destination of choice" in an article by Simon Tisdall in the U.K. Guardian, who speculated that "blowing up an American airliner over US soil by al-Qaeda operatives based in Yemen is the western intelligence community's worst nightmare come true."

Tisdall reasoned that Yemen and Somalia are terrorist havens because of their weak central governments that are "prey to warring factions that have no love of the west." Recent events seem to underscore his points with chilling clarity.

Timeline Prior to the Attack on Flight 253

While the multiple terror test-runs were being conducted on domestic American flights in an apparent attempt to probe and soften airline security, the following events took place.

August 28, 2009 - Saudi deputy minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef survived a bombing attack in which the terrorist wore PETN sewn into his underwear and exploded the device using a detonator with a chemical fuse. The terrorist on Flight 253 also acquired his device "in Yemen along with instructions as to when it should be used."

According to CNN National Security Analyst Peter Bergen, "A senior U.S. counterterrorism official says it is rare for PETN to be used in a terror attack. The method of concealment, the use of PETN and the origin of the bomb -- Yemen -- make the Prince Nayef assassination attempt and the Northwest plot an almost perfect match."

Mid-December, 2009 - Yemeni security forces struck in Arhab and Sana in the Abyan province, killing a number of suspected militants with links to al-Qaeda. Al-Jazeera claimed 40 of the 64 people killed in the attacks were innocent women and children, and the U.S. is blamed, although the local government was apparently responsible for the raids.

December 21, 2009 - Hakim Almasmari wrote at editorial in the Yemen Post claiming that ninety percent of those killed in the Abyan attacks were innocent "locals, children, and women." He ended his piece by saying:

I believed that it this shows failure for the government as it allowed Al-Qaeda to have a training camp there in the first place. No success comes when innocent people die.

As a political commentator, publisher, and editor-in-chief of the Yemen Post, Mr. Almasmari has considerable influence in Yemeni politics. His accusations that the Yemeni government indiscriminately killed innocent Yemeni civilians should not be taken lightly. Even if the claims are false, they resonate with others.

December 24, 2009 - Mohammed bin Sallam wrote an inflammatory column published in the Yemen Times that included statements such as this, attributed to Mohammed Allaw of HOOD (considered an acronym of "National Organization for Defending Human Rights and Freedom" for some bizarre reason):

We suffer from living in a country that is ruled by a government which does not respect its citizens' lives. It exists to destroy its citizens with American airplanes, like what happened in Abyan.

Later in his piece, bin Sallam provocatively wrote that "the protestors included members of Al-Qaeda who announced in the public protest that their war is against the USA and not the Yemeni army." Footage on Al-Jazeera showed escaped al-Qaeda leader Abdullah Ahmad al-Raimi (wanted by the Yemen government) lurking in a crowd of protestors in the village of al-Majanah, where the military strikes against suspected al-Qaeda camps took place the previous week. According to bin Sallam, the Yemeni Minister of the Interior "confirmed it has information that Al Qaeda in Lawder in Abyan governorate is planning to take revenge for the attack."

We didn't have to wait very long.

December 25, 2009 - Flight 253 is nearly blown up by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who claimed he was trained, armed, and tasked by Al-Qaeda operatives based in Yemen.

What Next?

Yemeni security forces struck al-Qaeda strongholds, and America got blamed for it. Shortly thereafter, we were attacked. Multiple terror test-runs probed airline security immediately prior to the real attack. One ominous report from a family on Flight 253 claimed that a strange man "videotaped the entire flight, including the attempted detonation. He sat up and videotaped the entire thing, very calmly. We do know the FBI is looking for him intensely. Since then, we've heard nothing of it." Was he making an al-Qaeda training film?

The U.K. paper The Sun published an article claiming that Abdulmutallab bragged to FBI agents that twenty-five British-born Muslims are training in secret terror camps in Yemen for more attacks on airlines, hoping to kill tens of thousands of people. Given the lax security that led to the near-tragedy on Flight 253, it would seem only a matter of time before one succeeds.

El-Al, the national airline of Israel and the prime target for terrorists and hijackers around the world, has the best record of thwarting these attempts. Why don't we learn from them? Profiling must be a tool in their defensive arsenal. Otherwise, CAIR would not have rushed to condemn profiling, as spokesman Ibrahim Cooper was quick to say:

While everyone supports robust airline security measures, racial and religious profiling are in fact counterproductive and can lead to a climate of insecurity and fear.

Really? Is that why CAIR backed the flying imams on U.S. Airways Flight 300 and claimed victory when the lawsuit settled in their favor? Deliberate, organized behavior by the imams alarmed other passengers and the flight crew in a manner that any sane passenger would have considered threatening. We are all tired of witnessing the shenanigans of groups of Muslim men acting provocatively in a post-9/11 world.

The Yemeni breeding ground for future terrorists needs to be aggressively neutralized, whether or not it is politically correct to do so.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

We Need 140,000 New Jobs A Month To Keep Unemployment From Going Higher

We Need 140,000 New Jobs A Month To Keep Unemployment From Going Higher

Americans Are Unemployed Because They Don't Have Any Skills

Americans Are Unemployed Because They Don't Have Any Skills
from Clusterstock by Vincent Fernando

Many argue that America should go back to manufacturing products, 'like it used to', forgetting that American manufacturing output has actually kept growing over the last two decades even though manufacturing employment has shrunk.

Thus they argue that more Americans should be working in manufacturing, rather than other things, as if this would be a solution to unemployment.

Some even romanticize the day when an unskilled laborer could earn a high middle class salary.

The Economist's Free Exchange blog issues an extensive take-down of this entire line of thinking.

Free Exchange: [Emphasis added] Consider the employment question first. Mr Scheiber writes about the importance of manufacturing jobs, saying:

The beauty of manufacturing is that wages and productivity aren't necessarily tied to education level. A person with a high school diploma (or less) can make a middle-class living in the manufacturing sector.

But there's a big problem here. Mr Scheiber wants a sector that pays high wages for unskilled work to increase its share of American employment. That doesn't add up. Employers have a major incentive to either shift those jobs to places where labour costs are low or to eliminate those jobs via automation. Mr Scheiber writes as if the decline of manufacturing employment is a tragedy because low-skilled manufacturing workers could earn a high wage, but in fact manufacturing employment has declined precisely because low-skilled workers were earning high wages. It's odd to imagine that wages could diverge from productivity over the long-term; that's simply not sustainable.


The trouble is not that the manufacturing sector is shrinking. It is that America is struggling to produce enough skilled workers. Bringing back manufacturing jobs won't fix that.

Thinking of wages as prices helps understand both why unemployment happens and how it can be solved. If there's a romanticized utopia of the American 1950's it's probably because A) it's exaggerated and B) was unsustainable. You can't expect to earn 10x more money than most people in the world with manual labor in a factory. If it happened in the past, it was good timing and luck, not the norm.

At the same time if you're wondering where new employment is needed, then look no further than the jobs which pay the most. Their high salaries scream labor shortage, or more precisely skilled labor shortage. There are tons of high paying careers in the U.S., which by their high salaries signal that they are undersupplied and need more people.

This doesn't mean that struggling Americans shouldn't be helped. It just means they should be helped in the right direction. To do otherwise is to create even worse unemployment problems in the future.

Read the extensive Free Exchange article here.

Hard to Explain Away This Attack By Jonathan F. Keiler

Hard to Explain Away This Attack
By Jonathan F. Keiler
Besides the fact itself, a bright spot can be found in Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's arrest (in addition to the fact that his attempt to destroy Northwest Airlines Flight 253 failed, thanks in part to the brave and quick action of some passengers and crew). This is the opportunity to again rebut the canard that such terrorism is motivated by anti-Islamic discrimination or the desperate poor. Following the 9/11 attacks, committed mostly by an assortment of reasonably well-educated bourgeois Arab Islamists acting on direct orders from al-Qaeda, this tired leftist trope was beaten back. Like some of the 9/11 terrorists, Abdulmutalleb is a man of wealth and privilege, and he appears to have acted directly for an al-Qaeda offshoot in Yemen.

Still, high-minded, silly, and dangerous misconceptions are the lifeblood of the liberal left, so they cannot be kept down forever. As the details of the 2001 attacks increasingly faded from the public consciousness, the discredited ideas and practices that invited the attack in the first place resurfaced, most notable among them the refusal to identify committed Islamists as the chief security threat to the nation.

In the past year, the new administration has aided and abetted this process. That the Obama administration embodies this retrenchment is evident from policy (outreach to Dar al Islam), law (Khalid Sheik Mohammad's federal trial), diction ("man-caused disasters" instead of "terrorism"), and body language (genuflecting before an Arab potentate). Almost reflexively, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano refused to connect the attack on Flight 253 to al-Qaeda.

Two relatively recent attacks prior to the assault on Flight 253 energized the liberal effort to divert attention from the Islamist motive: the terrorist assault on Mumbai and the mass murder at Fort Hood.

In the case of the Mumbai attacks, the liberal case is made in the otherwise excellent HBO film "Terror in Mumbai." The documentary recounts the attacks in part by using audiotape of actual real-time conversations between the terrorists and their handlers in Pakistan. If there is a protagonist of the piece, it is Azam Amir Kasab the sole surviving terrorist. It is Kasab's infamous image wielding an AK-47 in the Mumbai rail station. He's the ideal liberal terrorist poster boy: a poor and unsophisticated young man whose father supposedly "sold" him to the terrorist organization Lashkar-e-Taiba.

The message was not lost on the rest of the liberal media. In a lengthy piece, Washington Post reviewer Tom Shales managed to praise the program up and down without once noting that the terrorists were Muslim. Several weeks later, Shales' colleague Richard Cohen wrote a laudatory op-ed about the documentary, comparing the Mumbai terrorists to robots brainwashed by their handlers. He went on to claim that they were no more Islamists than German Ordnungs Polizei (who committed brutal mass killings in the Holocaust) were "hardened Nazis." Well, okay.

Enter Major Nidal Hasan, perpetrator of the Fort Hood massacre. Is there an excuse that the liberal media and the Obama administration have not offered to distance Hasan from an Islamist motive in the attack? Post-traumatic stress: check. Never mind that Hasan spent almost his entire military career in Bethesda, Maryland, a posh suburb where the biggest problem is finding parking for dinner. Anti-Muslim hostility: check. Ignore that his colleagues and commanders bent over backward to accommodate his traitorous ravings without taking action against him. Must be evidence of reaction-formation -- you know, doing the opposite of what you feel. Hasan, an ace psychiatrist, must have known this.

It will be a lot harder to explain Abdulmutallab away. The scion of a prominent and wealthy Nigerian family, he seems not to have wanted for much, materially or socially. By all indications Abdulmutallab was well-off, cosmopolitan, and well-educated. His family appears to be concerned and solicitous. When Abdulmutallab disappeared to begin his martyrdom training, his father contacted the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria out of concern for his son, who'd become obsessed with Islam.

Nor is Abdulmutallab a so-called lone wolf, supposedly acting out of anger and despair. Rather, he appears to be exactly what al Qaeda likes best: a dedicated, cold-blooded operative, ready to kill and be killed in the name of Islam.

It is certainly true that terrorists, like all people, act from a variety of motives. Israeli authorities have found that many actual and would-be suicide bombers are marginal members of society or pressured socially, not unlike Azam Amir Kasab. But the idea of Islamic martyrdom supports it all, just as societal anti-Semitism underpinned the Holocaust.

Islam is an egalitarian religion. Its main concern is submission to God. From caliph to serf, everybody is a slave to God, be he a Nigerian aristocrat, a Pakistani peasant, or a Palestinian-American psychiatrist. Yes, terrorists come in all sizes, colors, and types. But one thing radical Islamic terrorists have in common is that they are Islamic. Hopefully, the case of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab will make that harder to ignore.

The Left's Blind Eye to the Obvious By Jack Cashill

The Left's Blind Eye to the Obvious
By Jack Cashill
The approach of the new year might be an appropriate time to summarize what I have learned in researching the several books and articles that I have written this decade. That I came to own -- or even break -- many of the stories involved, although satisfying to me, should appall any ordinary citizen.

These stories were too big for a responsible media to miss. They became mine as a result of what I call the "ABETTO Syndrome." For at least the last generation, the left in general, and the media in particular, have been turning A Blind Eye To The Obvious -- ABETTO. Here are some nuggets the media chose not to notice. These are all thoroughly and inarguably documented.

* More than half of those incinerated during Janet Reno's tank attack at Waco on April 19, 1993 were ethnic minorities -- 39 out of 74, to be precise. Six of them were Hispanic, six of Asian descent, and a full 27 of them black, ages six to sixty-one. They did not commit suicide.
* About a third of the Jonestown dead did not commit suicide either. Three-year-olds typically don't know how. Authorities dumped the bodies of more than 250 of these children, most of them black, into a mass grave in Oakland's Evergreen Cemetery. There they lie to this day, unsung and unmourned because they serve no useful political purpose.
* They serve no purpose because their killer, James Jones, was a self-professed "communist" in deep with a slew of leading Democrats -- George Moscone, Harvey Milk, Willie Brown, Jerry Brown, and even Rosalynn Carter and Walter Mondale. Moscone appointed Jones to the Human Rights Commission and then to the chairmanship of the city's Housing Authority.
* All witnesses who saw Timothy McVeigh on the morning the Murrah Building blew up saw him with a short, swarthy fellow. According to the Washington Post, a judge detained McVeigh without bail "after listening to four hours of testimony from FBI special agent John Hersley in which he described eyewitness accounts of a yellow Mercury with McVeigh and another man inside speeding away from a parking lot near the federal building."
* Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick, the so-called "field commander" of the Oklahoma City task force, played an even more aggressive role managing the TWA Flight 800 investigation a year later. The Clintons appear to have rewarded her for her steely performance with the vice-chairmanship of Fannie Mae, a job for which she had no known credentials.
* Six years and about $25.6 million in salary and bonuses later, Gorelick responded to the call of duty once more and took one of five Democratic seats on the 9-11 commission.
* By the FBI's own count, no fewer than 270 eyewitnesses gave formal reports to the FBI describing a red-tipped object with a smoky contrail striking TWA Flight 800. About a hundred witnesses tracked the object from the surface. Astonishingly, the New York Times would interview none of them.
* Four weeks after the disaster, the Times' Don Van Natta would report, "Now that investigators say they think the center fuel tank did not explode, they say the only good explanations remaining are that a bomb or a missile brought down the plane."
* Likely under White House pressure, and without any new evidence, the FBI immediately shifted its storyline away from a missile to a bomb, and a month later, from a bomb to a mechanical failure. The Times reporter who got the call to document both shifts was Andy Revkin, the same reporter at the center of the Climategate scandal.
* Bizarrely, Richard Clarke, Clinton's anti-terror czar who knew next to nothing about aircraft technology, claimed to have discovered the official cause of the TWA 800 crash months, if not years, before the NTSB did.
* Clinton Commerce Secretary Ron Brown was dispatched on his fatal plane flight that same election year, 1996, for no more noble a purpose than to broker a sweetheart deal between the neo-fascist president of Croatia and the Enron Corporation.
* The Air Force concluded that the controlled descent of Brown's USAF plane into a Croatian mountainside was "inexplicable." The maintenance chief responsible for the airport's navigation system showed up with a bullet hole in his chest the day before his Air Force interview.
* Brown's fatal head injury struck the forensic photographer and attending pathologist as having the size and shape of a gunshot wound. He was nonetheless buried (over the protest of the pathologists) without an autopsy. The photographer and three Armed Service pathologists would sacrifice their careers going public with their discontent. The major media reported close to none of this.
* As the Nation of Islam plotted to kill "heretic" Malcolm X, Malcolm's wife Betty Shabazz approached the one person with the clout to dissuade Malcolm's fellow Muslims. "You see what you're doing to my husband, don't you?" she pleaded. Muhammad Ali blew her off, saying, "I'm not doing anything to him." Malcolm was gunned down shortly thereafter.
* If a young Ali jeopardized his liberal chic by betraying Malcolm X, a reformed Ali risked it again when he publicly supported Ronald Reagan and even attended the Republican National Convention. Who would have guessed?
* Alex Haley plagiarized his Pulitzer Prize-winning non-fiction bestseller, Roots, from a book written by white novelist Harold Courlander, who sued Haley for damages. Midway through the trial, the judge threatened to charge a dissembling Haley with perjury unless he settled, which he did for big bucks.
* Sorry, Virginia, but there was no Kunta Kinte. Writing in the Village Voice, literary detective Philip Nobile would call Roots "one of the great literary hoaxes of modern times."
* Speaking of the literary hoaxes, not a single one of the scores of mainstream book editors who reviewed Christopher Andersen's Barack and Michelle: Portrait of an American Marriage chose to notice Andersen's most newsworthy revelation: "In the end, [Bill] Ayers's contribution to Barack's Dreams From My Father would be significant -- so much so that the book's language, oddly specific references, literary devices, and themes would bear a jarring similarity to Ayers's own writing."

For the more explosive of these stories -- the death of Ron Brown, the destruction of TWA Flight 800, the Ayers' involvement in Obama's Dreams -- I made every effort to alert the mainstream media. I talked in person to many reporters and producers, including a few household names, and offered to share what I had gathered. To a person, they did not want to know.

I believe I was the first reporter even to request the USAF's twenty-two-volume report on the death of Ron Brown -- this despite the fact that the New York Times lost a reporter in the crash. It was in the report that I learned about the Enron connection. Even after the Enron scandal broke, no one wanted to know about Enron's role in Brown's fatal mission.

One last nugget. When questioned by the Air Force, U.S. Ambassador to Croatia Peter Galbraith observed that Zdenka Gast, the liaison between Enron and Croatia, had been scheduled to fly with Brown but thought better of it.

Said Galbraith, "There were problems in-in-in concluding this deal where they wanted to sign a letter of intent, and so, rather than...than go on the Brown trip, she stayed with the Inron [sic] people to do the final negotiations."

"We've been looking for her," volunteered Air Force Capt. John Cairney. The Air Force was apparently not allowed to look too hard. Investigators conducted 148 witness interviews, but Gast's was not among them. A few years later, they could have found her at a White House wedding reception.

A Croatian language magazine named Gloria featured a photo of three smiling women at the reception, all linked arm in arm. In the middle is Zdenka, an attractive, full-figured redhead. On her left is the bride, Alexis Herman, who dispatched Brown on his fatal trip. On her right is none other than Hillary Clinton. Only forty people were in attendance, including Bill and Hillary Clinton, Al and Tipper Gore, and "several governors and senators."

I found this interesting. Plagued as they were by the ABETTO syndrome, the bright lights of the mainstream media failed to share my interest.

If only there were a vaccine.

How not to solve a financial crisis By Edward Harrison

How not to solve a financial crisis

By Edward Harrison

“2010: Foreseeable and Unforeseeable Risks ~ The Room For Policy Error is Enormous”

“2010: Foreseeable and Unforeseeable Risks ~ The Room For Policy Error is Enormous”

Posted: 28 Dec 2009 11:27 PM PST

Arab Dictatorships Take 4 of Top 5 Spots in Purchase of US Weapons and Services

Arab Dictatorships Take 4 of Top 5 Spots in Purchase of US Weapons and Services

Terrorism Is a Cost of Empire by Jacob G. Hornberger

Terrorism Is a Cost of Empire by Jacob G. Hornberger

One Day We'll All Be Terrorists by Chris Hedges

One Day We'll All Be Terrorists by Chris Hedges

Obama, Tell Me How This Ends by Andrew J. Bacevich

Obama, Tell Me How This Ends
by Andrew J. Bacevich

Monday, December 28, 2009

Well, That Sure Sucked Good Riddance to the Devil's Decade By DAVID MICHAEL GREEN

Well, That Sure Sucked
Good Riddance to the Devil's Decade


As I understand it, certain pundits are struggling with finding an appropriate name for the decade now mercifully coming to an end.

What’s the problem, I wonder? Are their word processor dictionaries redacted of all four-letter words? I mean, I could think of a few dandies, right of the top of my head.

Short of the 1860s or 1930s, this was perhaps the most disastrous decade in American history, and it deserves a good goddamed label to celebrate that fine achievement.

More on that below. Meanwhile, whatever the appropriate term, it’s important to keep things in perspective. I think the most crucial notion to understand about our time – and perhaps the only way to make sense of it – is to see it as the point where the process of imperial decline shifted into third gear. That explains a lot. I like to think that even Americans wouldn’t be capable of the sick stupidity we’ve witnessed over these harrowing years without the effects of rapid altitude decline and the loss of cabin pressure that the ship of state has been experiencing during this era.

Perhaps I’m too generous toward a people who don’t deserve a lot of that sentiment, either because of their diminished intelligence, generosity, compassion, sophistication or all of the above. I imagine that would be the feeling on the streets of, say, Fallujah, where the attitude might well be confined to a lovely blend of schadenfreude and indifference, were it not for the fact that the paroxysms of the flailing elephant send so many fruit stands flying as the mortally wounded beast goes careening down the main street of the global village, toward inevitable defeat in its struggle with unforgiving gravity.

America probably must come down to earth again, its abortive ‘century’ of world dominance having anyhow been artificially fabricated from a toxic combination of circumstance and theft right from the beginning. I can even say that’s not necessarily a bad thing. But it is, of course, all relative to what replaces Pax Americana. Anyone who assumes that it can only get better on the international front isn’t thinking real clearly or real historically. Indeed, in all fairness, the US may well have run the most benign and least imperial empire in history – though not for lack of trying by the likes of, say, Paul Wolfowitz or John Bolton.

Thus it may well be that the next big thing is even less pretty. Watching the Chinese government in action at home, where they are unfettered, doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in what a Pax Sinica would bring once they are also unfettered abroad. If the same cats who brought us Tiananmen Square and Tibet are next gonna be seeking planetary domination, for once in my life I may actually come to appreciate the value of nuclear weapons...

But I digress. As I was saying before those proverbially inscrutable Asian aspiring hegemons so rudely interrupted me, the fall of American global dominance was only ever a matter of time in the coming. What is most lamentable, however, is the way in which we’ve handled that transition, and most especially, the degree to which we’ve exacerbated it. In short, it didn’t have to be like this. If the post-war French and the British represent two rather caricatured but nevertheless illuminative models of how to grapple with the end of empire, we have unfortunately elected to adopt the violent and undignified Gaulist approach. We even went with a actual full-scale replication of the draining Vietnam experience. At this rate, we’ll be invading Algeria next. Heck, maybe that’s just what Bush meant to do, but he pushed the wrong button, mixing up, as he was wont to do, those Islamic countries whose names start with the letter ‘A’ (watch out Albania!).

Probably we’ll just settle for repeating the French experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, instead of actually attacking Algeria. What seems more assured is that we will replicate the catastrophic domestic meltdowns France experienced in 1958 and 1968, as the lunacies of reactionary politics and the realities of tectonic change met on the French battlefield, and the state nearly took on the role of the slaughtered innocent civilian bystander, or what the military nowadays likes to call collateral damage.

If that happens, few will bear more responsibility than Barack Obama, who in less than a year’s time has managed to revive a comatose Republican Party that – like Jimi Hendrix, was dying from asphyxiation of its own vomit – whilst simultaneously flushing away the good will that he and his own party enjoyed down into the overflowing sewers of failed American presidencies. Miraculously, he even managed to do all of this without any serious ‘mistake’, epic blunder, or fresh crisis on his watch. About the lamest positive act Obama did all year was the decidedly inartful and astonishingly unnecessary comment he made about the Cambridge, Massachusetts Police Department. If all you’re counting is the proactive mistakes made, Obama had fewer in a year than many presidents do in a typical week.

On the other hand, if you include blown opportunities into the mix, perhaps only Herbert Hoover can equal this president’s record. If you look at what he didn’t do, in short, it’s hard to imagine a more prolific record of non-achievement. Does he know this? Sometimes – especially when I watched his Afghanistan speech about getting in so that we could turn right around and get back out – I wondered if it could be possible that he has taken it as his task to quietly and heroically direct the managed decline of the American empire, even at the cost of his own presidency.

That, of course, is pretty hard to imagine, but more to the point it is really unnecessary to do it this way, anyhow. We can be a lot better than that, even if decline is inevitable. (And it may not be, at least in an absolute sense. Relative decline cannot be escaped, however, if for no other reasons than that China has other plans. As does India, Europe and Latin America.) A forward-thinking set of politics could really advance the nation and its economy in a hugely positive way, if only the accretionary shackles of predatory rentier pretend-capitalism could be busted off, freeing American society to realize its potential.

To choose but the most proximate example, we could have had real healthcare reform, I believe, if Obama had fought for it like George W. Bush or Lyndon Johnson fought for their respective legislative agendas. To see what I mean, think of Bush hawking the manifestly idiotic idea of invading Iraq. When he first began his marketing campaign for the war, most Americans wanted no more part of that imperial folly than they were hankering for a good dose of the clap. But Bush and his people were as relentless as they were ubiquitous, and in a few months time they turned public opinion, managing to get about two-thirds of the country lined up behind their plans for a most excellent adventure in Mesopotamia. Obama, on the other hand, is possessed of rhetorical skills that drive someone like W – who couldn’t have conjugated his way (in English!) out of tenth grade, even after his grandpa paid for the new school gymnasium – nearly apoplectic just thinking about them. And yet the bloodless current inhabitant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue can’t be bothered to work up either a passion or a sweat to sell his policy wares. Or is it that he just realizes, as so many progressives now have, that what he’s selling just isn’t worth getting excited about?

These two presidencies really do illustrate all too nicely the pathos that is twenty-first century America. Consider their respective situations, and what each did with those circumstances. Bush came into office after marketing himself as a moderate, after one of the most contentious election meltdowns in American history, with a Congress almost exactly evenly divided (and the Senate soon to fall into the hands of the Democrats), with no particular crisis going on short of a mild recession, and with really no mandate of any sort, apart from hopefully not acting as ill-suited and unprepared for the job as he seemed to be during the campaign (no worries there, though – Cheney and Rumsfeld and Powell would be keeping him on the right path – remember?). So what does he do under these circumstances? He adopts a radical regressive agenda. He polarizes the country. He lets loose a marketing campaign of epic intensity, he hammers Congress, he aggrandizes to himself probably more unilateral power than any president in history. And he gets virtually everything he wants. If you can hold your nose long enough to get past the results of his policies, it’s quite an amazing story of boldness and presidential success, made all the more remarkable because of how astonishingly bad his ideas were for the country, and how transparent that fact was even at the time. This guy was selling melted poisonous ice-cubes to Eskimos in wintertime, and he not only made the sale, he got them to want the purchase.

Obama, on the other hand, is dealt almost the opposite hand when he comes to office. He is elected in a clear and compelling victory. He gets a Congress with his party controlling both houses by lopsided 60-40 margins. He receives a clear mandate for change, and he is backed by a stunning outpouring of goodwill, both at home and abroad. He’s got crises that everyone agrees need some serious tending to. In short, you could hardly come up with a better set of circumstances for presidential success if you sat down and created them yourself. So what does he do with this gift? Again, the opposite of Bush. He demands nothing. He fights for nothing. He negotiates with everyone, including those who have zero intention of voting for a bill that he is nevertheless allowing them to dilute, and those (generally the same folks) explicitly trying to ruin his presidency.

And what does he have to show for it? More looting of the public fisc by the already fantastically wealthy. Policies that would be heartily applauded by the far right if enacted by Bush and a Republican Congress. But, since they aren’t, he is hated by those same people anyhow. And, as an extra added bonus, he’s managed to alienate millions of progressives and young first-time enthusiasts in the political system who rallied to his cause – thinking it was their cause – in 2008. This is an astonishing act of cynicism for the history books, and one which will come back to haunt both Obama and his party in a huge way. For which I, personally, am delighted.

However, Obama’s abuse of real people who really care about their country, and who for precisely that reason rolled up their sleeves and worked their butts off to get him into the White House, will also have grave repercussions for what’s left of the republic – and those consequences I do happen to care about. There is huge anger out there, huge antipathy to politics as usual, and huge reluctance to get fooled again. The situation is ripe, the moment pregnant. My guess is the next stop is some form of radical demagoguery (can you say “Palin”?), perhaps followed by a complete abandonment altogether of the two-century-plus American experiment in democracy, when the demagoguery tanks even worse than Obama. Yep, the guy who just won the Nobel Prize could be the guy who unravels democracy in America. Of course, he’s had a tremendous amount of help, so we can’t give him all the blame. But more and more he looks to me like James Buchanan, the man widely considered the worst president in American history. And why? Because the fifteenth president continued practicing politics as usual as crisis for the republic loomed large. As a result of trying to please everyone, Buchanan pleased no one, lost popularity, had a one-term presidency, split the Democratic Party, and stood by as the country plunged toward civil war. Why does that sound a bit too frighteningly familiar to anyone besides me?

America has been ‘blessed’ in the twenty-first century with two presidents who are fine exemplars of their parties. One stood for the absolute worst tendencies in American politics, but knew his convictions and would take no prisoners fighting to win at all costs (especially somebody else’s costs). The other seems to have no ideational tendencies of particular note whatsoever, and would certainly not be so rude as to break decorum in any way, even for purposes of advocating for something that might actually improve the condition of the country. I mean, what would people think?

Seeing this talented African-American president benefit so much from the struggles of prior generations of progressives, and from the massive outpouring of goodwill from those who need deliverance and wanted to believe his rhetoric of hope – only for him to win election and then muster the full weight of the oligarchy-sponsored American government to stand on their throats, choking off the life of the country and the planet – well, that’s a fitting end to this particular sorry decade.

It began, equally fittingly, with the Enron debacle, which demonstrated emphatically the nature of a society that has come to worship above all else a greed so rapacious that alleged people could even contemplate tripping electrical system blackouts for an entire region of the country, just to make an extra buck. So what did we do about that? How about institutionalize it as a full-blown system of governance, and choose for president a guy who was up to his faux cowboy belt-buckle in the Enronics of Kenny Boy Lay, one of his biggest contributors?

Well, of course, ‘choose’ isn’t quite the right term, is it? Shortly thereafter came Bush vs. Gore, when the United States Supreme Court jettisoned any and every pretense of dispassionate apolitical jurisprudence in favor of a judicial-led regressive coup so blatant that it actually issued an order halting the counting of the votes. You know your democracy is toast when masses don’t assemble in the streets over that one. Iranians do. We, on the other hand, just wanted it all to be over.

The new president, as stripped of a mandate as he was of a conscience, immediately proceeded to begin dismantling wholesale the bipartisan foreign and domestic pillars of the post-war Pax Americana system, many of which had even survived the Reagan years. Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty? Gone. International Criminal Court? Gutted. Kyoto? Abandoned. Transatlantic alliance? That was ‘Old Europe’. Massive tax cut for the already fantastically wealthy, leaving gaping revenue gaps in its place? You betcha. Let’s not forget. This was already a radical presidency on September 10, 2001.

Then, of course, the next day came. As the events of that day came into focus, my first thought was for the poor people in those buildings. But I must confess that my second thought was that having this occur on the Bush administration’s watch could only mean much ugliness around the corner. I felt a bit guilty for thinking about politics at the time, but I must say in retrospect: Check. Got that one right.

There is much evidence to suggest that the politically correct conspiracy theory about 9/11 – that is, the conventional story – has both some gaping holes and some holy lies in it. But even if we leave aside the horrifying implications of that thought, the idea that a president who was minimally criminally negligent on terrorism policy could benefit so much for so long from this tragedy is yet another reminder of how bad the decade was.

Then came Afghanistan, which shortly thereafter became one of the myriad casualties of Iraq. There are no words for this. There is no meaningful difference – in law, morality, politics, culture or civilization – between Saddam’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait and Bush’s 2003 invasion of Iraq. The only divergence between the two acts of pure aggression is that when the hegemon does it, there’s no one around to block or punish the crime. Although I must say, in the longer term, the gods of karma have gotten better on that score – notwithstanding the fact that Bush and Cheney and the rest of the cowardly crew who ordered up this outrage have so far escaped more or less untouched.

History will also record this as the decade when the evidence for global warming became so compelling that even George Bush endorsed it. And then we did nothing. If this country was a drunkard spouse who was bringing a hailstorm of destruction down on the family, you’d toss the creep out on the street and get a divorce. We haven’t. And, really, when you think about it – why should we? There are plenty of other planets out there to choose from once we wreck this one, aren’t there?

Of course there are myriad further tales of woe to be told. After all, this was the decade in which the thirty year assault of radical regressivism came to full fruition, and was there for people to observe in all its glory. The damages have been incalculable, and I haven’t even gotten to Sarah Palin yet.

If there was one bright spot, it was the seeming recognition by the American public that this full glory of regressive politics was a fairly horrifying prospect to behold, once stripped by a sufficient dose of reality immersion to reveal the truth behind the marketing slogans. Americans seemed to finally come to their senses just a bit, and decide that the thirteenth century was best left in the history books, after all.

But then along came Barack Obama to provide the fitting end to it all. Crushing any sense of possible recovery or redemption (and even his own presidency) on the altar of perpetual obedience to corporate predation, he has now made the decade complete in every way. Not only has he abandoned any meaningful solutions for the multiple crises he inherited, he has absolved by silence the folks who produced those very catastrophes. No, strike that. He has more than absolved them, he has revivified them.

If there is any bright spot in the whole affair, it is that conditions are fertile for potentially big change in this country. But, then, this is America, a place where a corporate milquetoast like Harry Reid defines the supposed left, and is considered some sort of Bolshevik revolutionary. Or worse, I should say that it is an increasingly desperate, collapsing empire America, where the chances that such big change could be really ugly are lots higher than not. Really, pushed off its fat ass toward one political pole or another, do you see this country careening more toward twenty-first century Sweden, or 18th century Prussia? And when you look at the actors and energies out there working hard to move the nation in one direction or the other, just who seems to have the horses today? (Hint: The Tea Partyers are not progressives in this particular tableau. Perhaps in Germany circa 1933, but not in the America of 2009.)

So let’s just hunker down for the new year, hope for the best, and call this one “The Devil’s Decade”, eh? Chalk it up to the red guy with the tail and pitchfork. Maybe we’ll do better next time, but so far in the twenty-first century the score stands at: Satan, one; Humanity, zero.

Of course, I don’t really believe in the Devil. Or in angels, or saints or miracles, or any of the other human-made dramatis personae and sundry religious claptrap that get us into so much trouble.

No, I don’t really think there is a dude running around out there who is the Devil.

Whole countries, on the other hand...?

Well, now. That’s another matter entirely.

David Michael Green is a professor of political science at Hofstra University in New York. He is delighted to receive readers' reactions to his articles (, but regrets that time constraints do not always allow him to respond. More of his work can be found at his website,

Blowback on Flight 253? Eyes on Yemen By GARY LEUPP

Blowback on Flight 253?
Eyes on Yemen


The Christmas-day airline bombing attempt by Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab is generating renewed attention to Yemen as a base of international terrorism. Even if the young man’s so far uncorroborated story about visiting Yemen and obtaining explosive chemicals turns out to be fantasy, al-Qaeda in Yemen and the Sana’a government’s response to it (including air strikes on “al-Qaeda strongholds” December 17 and 24, supposedly killing 60 militants) are now front page news.

Yemen is depicted by the New York Times as “an unstable state with multiple security challenges and an uncertain commitment to battle extremists who see their main enemies in the West” causing “trepidation” to U.S. officials. According to Middle East News Yemen’s national security chief Mohamed al-Anisi has stated that his forces were cooperating with Washington on attacks against alleged al-Qaeda camps in the south of the country. (A secessionist movement there, unrelated to al-Qaeda, particularly limits the power of the state.)

The most recent strike in Abyan province was intended, among other things, to kill Anwar al-Awlaki, the U.S.-born cleric who reportedly corresponded by e-mail with Fort Hood gunman Major Nidal Malik Hasan and praised him afterwards on his website. But friends and relatives say al-Awlaki, whom U.S. officials state is a ranking al-Qaeda operative, is alive and well.
“It is thought that the airstrike also killed Naser Abdel-Karim al-Wahishi, the leader of al-Qaeda’s operations in Saudi Arabia,” according to the Times Online. It also seems to have killed some children, producing a large rally at which al-Qaeda members spoke openly. This al-Jazeera news clip shows the scene.

The Times reports that while “Yemen has always been a breeding ground for anti-western sentiment…a few years ago a grouping of hardline Muslim insurgents in Yemen, said to be responsible for the attacks on the USS Cole in 2000 and the kidnap and deaths of western tourists two years earlier, appeared to have burnt itself out after a government crackdown. However, earlier this year a group calling itself Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) emerged in Yemen. It combined jihadists from Saudi Arabia with homegrown activists and has been responsible for, or has influenced, multiple attacks in the Middle East and further afield.”

This suggests that Yemeni government actions taken at the behest of the U.S. have produced an al-Qaeda that wasn’t there before. There’s nothing like aerial bombing or missile strikes to produce radical hatred and anger, on which al-Qaeda thrives.

Al-Qaeda is as much a concept as an organization and seems designed to encourage copy-cat organizations, like the “Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia” once headed by the mysterious Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and perhaps the defunct Ansar al-Islam in Iraqi Kurdestan. They don’t need to have contact with a central headquarters, Osama bin Laden or al-Qaeda number two leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. Bin Laden has long since realized that by striking the U.S. in 2001 he unleashed a U.S. response entirely in keeping with the country’s history of violence and racism, likely to draw more Muslim resentment, weaken U.S. security and validate his project among millions of people.

We all know that the attack on Iraq based on lies not only elicited global outrage (not just among Muslims) but created al-Zarqawi’s al-Qaeda. It made al-Zarqawi, who had actually had differences with al-Qaeda, jump on board and proclaim himself at the service of bin Laden. Such news must have come as a deep pleasure to the fugitive leader far away in his cave. While the U.S. has been able to drive a wedge between the Sunni militants opposing it and al-Qaeda, by exploiting popular resentment at the latter’s heavy-handed puritanism and buying off the former, it is embroiled in an unpopular war that has killed off 4371 soldiers.

It is enmeshed in a second unpopular war now more punishing than the first. Afghanistan has been a brilliant success story for bin Laden. His allies the Taliban are resurgent, claiming to control 80% of the country, and their spin-off Tehreek al-Islam in Pakistan is producing headaches for the secular state.

In that context AQAP has appeared to challenge the Yemeni regime, exploit ethnic divisions in the country, provoke bloody U.S. reaction that will in turn provoke the anger seen in the al-Jezeera video. The cycle of violence is the whole point: use the Americans’ proclivity for force to split the world into Muslims on the one hand and pro-U.S. forces on the other. This is the al-Qaeda strategy for the revival of the Caliphate and destruction of the nation responsible for so much Muslim suffering.

(As many have observed, the anger could be diminished by reduced support for Israel and its occupation of Palestinian land, but Obama has shown how little stomach he has for a public quarrel with the Israelis.)

Consider the post-9/11 history of U.S. relations with Yemen. President Ali Abdullah Saleh, ordered to be “for us or against us” complied with a U.S. demand and sent government sent forces to al-Hosun village December 18, 2001 to attempt the capture of suspected al-Qaeda member Mohammad Hamdi al-Ahdal and twenty others. The effort was a disaster; 18 government troops were killed by local forces, and four villagers were killed, but no al-Qaeda forces were captured or eliminated.

The U.S. then demanded that Yemen accept 200 U.S. trainers for the Yemeni Army, whose deployment was announced January 3, 2002. Dick Cheney after meeting Saleh in March stated that they were going in response to a request from Yemen’s government. But on April 11 Saleh told al-Jazeera: “As for the American anti-terror security experts and technical equipment, it is not we who requested them. It is the U.S. government that said ‘prove your genuineness and let the experts in’ so we let them in.”

Meanwhile the U.S. ambassador was acting like a colonial administrator, making more demands. Just days before Cheney’s talk with Saleh the ruling General People's Congress (GPC) accused U.S. ambassador Edmond Hull of “interfering” in domestic affairs and threatened to expel him. “Since he was appointed (September 2001), ambassador Edmond Hull has behaved like a high commissioner, not like a diplomat in a country which is opposed to any form of interference” by a foreign state, said the Al-Mithaq weekly.

“Edmund Hull adopts a very haughty behaviour, far-removed from his diplomatic duties, when he speaks to certain Yemeni officials,” the newspaper added. Al-Mithaq urged Hull to “respect Yemen in order not to become persona non grata.”

He might have added, and in order not to become a recruiter for al-Qaeda. A group called the “Sympathizers of Al-Qaeda” popped up, seemingly spontaneously in April 2002 and began to carry out its bombing attacks that had abated a few years ago. But al-Qaeda in a certain form is back with a vengeance. Many of its militants are from Saudi Arabia and there are reports of Central Asians being sent to Yemen, but they have to work with local sympathizers. What creates more sympathizers than killing children with missiles?

Eight years after Bush-Cheney demanded and received Yemeni cooperation in the “War on Terror” Yemen and neighboring Somalia are becoming the hub of al-Qaeda. Something’s not working.

Or rather, things are working pretty fine for bin Laden and his cause.

Has Obama been a success despite suspicions of crony capitalism?

Has Obama been a success despite suspicions of crony capitalism?

Posted: 27 Dec 2009 09:13 PM PST

By Edward Harrison of Credit Writedowns. I hope this is a good subject to discuss in light of the recent Obama Administration machinations regarding Fannie and Freddie, Big Pharma, and Healthcare.

Before the Christmas break, I wrote a post to tie together my thoughts on why I have found the Obama economic program so unsatisfying despite some obvious success in stabilizing the economy. This first part framed the status quo as an unequal division of spoils that has become more and more unequal due to kleptocracy aka looting.

In this post, I want to talk about Obama’s economic policies in the context of what I perceive as a crony capitalism which is now endemic in Washington. As I see it, Americans are angry because the economy is still quite fragile and the personal financial situation for many ordinary Americans is still quite dire. Yet, the so-called fat cats seem more pigs eating at the trough of government largesse. This juxtaposition is galling and undermines any success that the Obama Administration has achieved.

Sellout, bamboozler, or ingénue?

The question is this:

* Did President Obama sell out (i.e. he was a good guy but has been corrupted in short order) or;
* Did Obama find out he couldn’t change the status quo so easily (i.e. he was a good guy who was naive about the President’s real power) or;
* Did the President simply bamboozle us (i.e. he was a bad guy who tricked the electorate with his silver tongue)?

I will assert that this question is irrelevant as it ascribes intent when we should be looking either at motive or outcome. If you do look at motive and outcome, you will see why I will focus more on government’s allowing a purge of malinvestment and less on government’s stimulating aggregate demand going forward.

The Obama Way

First, as to intent, Ross Douthat has an interesting piece in the New York Times. He contends that Barack Obama is a knee-jerk liberal who believes in working within institutions for change. According to Douthat, that makes him Obama an odd bird who seems a Machiavellian willing to cut any deal juxtaposed with the soaring rhetoric of fairly ideological big government liberalism.

The part I found most interesting is this:

Between the stimulus package, the pending health care bill and a new raft of financial regulations, Obama will soon be able to claim more major legislative accomplishments than any Democrat since Lyndon Johnson.

I think Obama could make those claims as well. I was going to write about this in January 2010 after Obama’s first year anniversary and after healthcare had passed. But now seems a good time to reflect on this: How many President’s can point to the record of accomplishments he can (prevented depression, stabilized finance, saved auto industry, overhauled healthcare). You may not like his methods. You may not like his results. You may not like him. But, President Obama has actually been quite productive – far more productive in his first year than Bush, Clinton or Bush II.

But, despite this productivity, the President’s poll numbers are falling. He is not benefitting from any of his so-called successes. Clearly, he is doing something wrong. Is it messaging, process, outcomes – what gives?

This is where Douthat is right on the mark when he says in his article:

The assumption that a compromised victory is better than no victory at all can produce phony achievements — like last week’s “global agreement” on climate change — and bloated, ugly legislation. And using cynical means to progressive ends (think of the pork-laden stimulus bill or the frantic vote-buying that preceded this week’s Senate health care votes) tends to confirm independent voters’ worst fears about liberal government: that it’s a racket rigged to benefit privileged insiders and a corrupt marketplace floated by our tax dollars.

The gulf between Obama’s rhetoric and his actions is quite large and that leaves independents who voted for him quite dissatisfied.

Obama’s Intent

People do want to focus on the ‘why?’ They want to know why there is such a large gap between what the President says and what he does. After the November elections, I wrote the politics of economics, saying:

What experimenters here have shown is that there is a real human need to explain. Things happen for a reason, don’t they? Why did the stock market rally? Why did Harry do that? Why didn’t we do something to stop this? Why did I vote for that guy back then, when I now don’t like him as much?

To the degree there is an explanation void, it will be filled. The question is: filled with what?

Confirmation bias and the psychology of politics

In politics, how the void gets filled has much to do with philosophical/political predisposition and one’s world view.

This is a mistake. If you want to know why someone does something, it is better to use preponderance of evidence, the burden of proof used in civil trials, as a measure.

Preponderance of the evidence, also known as balance of probabilities is the standard required in most civil cases. The standard is met if the proposition is more likely to be true than not true. Effectively, the standard is satisfied if there is greater than 50 percent chance that the proposition is true. Lord Denning, in Miller v. Minister of Pensions, described it simply as "more probable than not." Until 1970, this was also the standard used in juvenile court in the United States.

As with many issues we discuss, I have started to view this through the lens of intent and motive. In a court of law, intent is the primary difference between manslaughter and murder. In the court of public opinion, a politician who intentionally violates public trust for a hidden agenda is ‘evil,’ but one who does so unintentionally is ‘misguided.’ In general, we like to ascribe intent because it makes it easier to denigrate or glorify the person in question.

Crony Capitalism

This is where cronyism enters the picture. There is a rather large body of evidence demonstrating that the Bush and Obama Administrations have favored large banks in an unseemly way. The same is true for the Congress and other big business insiders like Big Pharma, the Defense Industry and Health Insurance companies.

Witness these posts from the last month alone:

* The less optimistic view of Treasury’s handling of the crisis – Nov 2009
* Healthcare insurance industry insider: “We win” – Dec 2009
* Why is Barney Frank allowing lobbyists to gut financial reform? – Dec 2009
* Bank lobbying e-mail: Quid Pro Quo to kill mortgage modification bill – Dec 2009
* Obama and the Fat Cat bankers – Dec 2009
* U.S. forfeiting billions in future taxes to let Citi repay TARP – Dec 2009
* Gasparino: No woodshed for the fat cats, just a lovefest – Dec 2009
* The phony Senate health care reform bill – Dec 2009
* On releasing Citi from TARP and banking by accounting subterfuge – Dec 2009
* Blodget: Obama suffers because “taxpayer always finishes last” –Dec 2009

I could provide you with a far longer list of posts from the January to April period when the Citi and BofA bailouts were conducted and the alphabet soup of liquidity programs began which Bank of America and Citi were prepared to game.

I said in March it’s the writedowns, stupid. When accounting rules were formally changed to reflect the de-facto accounting policies favoring banks, I knew the big banks were on easy street and The Fake Recovery had begun. So, by April, I said Wells profit forecast is a clear bullish sign.

Don’t even get me started on the stress tests. They were a sham from the start and were merely a means of recapitalizing the banks via inflated equity valuations. They were neither tests nor stressful, as Bill Black has demonstrated.

More recently, posts by Yves Smith and Bruce Krasting confirmed my long-held suspicions that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would be used as a nationalization of America’s mortgage problems via a back door bailout of banks.

The evidence, therefore, tends to demonstrate that we have witnessed an orchestrated campaign by the Bush and Obama Administrations to recapitalize too big to fail institutions by hook or by crook, bypassing Congressional approval if necessary. And when it comes to healthcare, both Congress and the White House have bent over backwards to keep the lobbyists onside. As I see it, our government has favored special interests in the past year of Obama’s tenure to our detriment.

Political legacy

Personally, I don’t buy the line that Obama is a liberal. I consider him more a corporatist (i.e someone who coddles big business). But, from a political perspective, it’s not really relevant, is it? What difference does it make whether President Obama is a liberal sellout as Matt Taibbi claims or a pragmatic corporatist, if the outcome for the electorate is largely the same? Forget about intent. Focus on actions.

As an aside, I should point out the logic likely employed by Geithner et al in bailing out the banks. I gave voice to this last month in the wildly optimistic view of Treasury’s handling of the crisis. Noam Schreiber takes this one better in the New Republic. If you still want a why – this is as good as any:

There’s an interesting back-and-forth between Dan Gross and Tim Geithner in Newsweek’s year-end interview issue:

GROSS: There have been, and continue to be, calls for you to go. How do you deal with those?

GEITHNER: I spent most of my professional life in this building. Watching the politics of the things we did in the past financial crises in Mexico and Asia had a powerful effect on me. The surveys were 9-to-1 against almost everything that helped contain the damage. And I watched exceptionally capable people just get killed in the court of public opinion as they defended those policies on the Hill. This is a necessary part of the office, certainly in financial crises. I think this really says something important about the president, not about me. The test is whether you have people willing to do the things that are deeply unpopular, deeply hard to understand, knowing that they’re necessary to do and better than the alternatives. …

This is a theme I wrote about in my profile of Larry Summers earlier this year. I don’t think you can underestimate the extent to which the financial crises in Mexico and Asia were a formative experience for the Obama economic team–especially in shaping their thinking on the intersection of politics and economic policy.

In his memoir, then-Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin, who both men worked for at the time, summed up his views on the Mexican crisis by citing "the difficulties our political processes have in dealing effectively with issues that involve technical complexities, shorter-term cost to achieve longer-term gain, incomplete information and uncertain outcomes, opportunities for political advantage, and inadequate understanding." Obviously, these same difficulties made a big impression on Geithner and Summers, too. So they were more prepared than most for the political backlash this time around, even if the intensity may have surprised even them on occasion.

The recent Fannie-Freddie end run around Congress demonstrates Schreiber is right about the Asian and Tequila Crisis legacy - as do the TARP money stimulus slush fund and the earlier liquidity packages.

The problem for Obama politically is this:

At the same time, Obama doesn’t enjoy the kind of deep credibility with his base that both Reagan and Kennedy spent decades building. When Kennedy told liberals that a given compromise was the best they could get, they believed him. Whether the issue is health care or Afghanistan, Obama’s word doesn’t carry the same weight.

This leaves him walking a fine line. If Obama’s presidency succeeds, it will be a testament to what ideology tempered by institutionalism can accomplish. But his political approach leaves him in constant danger of losing center and left alike — of being dismissed by independents as another tax-and-spender, and disdained by liberals as a sellout.

Come 2011, I expect the perverse math of GDP reporting to spell a double dip recession. As the associated economic slowing will begin much earlier, expect to see the disdain for Obama that Douthat writes about exhibited at the polls in 2010.

See also “We’ll Be Judged on How We Dealt With the Things That Were Broken” from Slate to see how Tim Geithner feels things are going.


The Big Zero
Published: December 27, 2009

Maybe we knew, at some unconscious, instinctive level, that it would be an era best forgotten. Whatever the reason, we got through the first decade of the new millennium without ever agreeing on what to call it. The aughts? The naughties? Whatever. (Yes, I know that strictly speaking the millennium didn’t begin until 2001. Do we really care?)

But from an economic point of view, I’d suggest that we call the decade past the Big Zero. It was a decade in which nothing good happened, and none of the optimistic things we were supposed to believe turned out to be true.

It was a decade with basically zero job creation. O.K., the headline employment number for December 2009 will be slightly higher than that for December 1999, but only slightly. And private-sector employment has actually declined — the first decade on record in which that happened.

It was a decade with zero economic gains for the typical family. Actually, even at the height of the alleged “Bush boom,” in 2007, median household income adjusted for inflation was lower than it had been in 1999. And you know what happened next.

It was a decade of zero gains for homeowners, even if they bought early: right now housing prices, adjusted for inflation, are roughly back to where they were at the beginning of the decade. And for those who bought in the decade’s middle years — when all the serious people ridiculed warnings that housing prices made no sense, that we were in the middle of a gigantic bubble — well, I feel your pain. Almost a quarter of all mortgages in America, and 45 percent of mortgages in Florida, are underwater, with owners owing more than their houses are worth.

Last and least for most Americans — but a big deal for retirement accounts, not to mention the talking heads on financial TV — it was a decade of zero gains for stocks, even without taking inflation into account. Remember the excitement when the Dow first topped 10,000, and best-selling books like “Dow 36,000” predicted that the good times would just keep rolling? Well, that was back in 1999. Last week the market closed at 10,520.

So there was a whole lot of nothing going on in measures of economic progress or success. Funny how that happened.

For as the decade began, there was an overwhelming sense of economic triumphalism in America’s business and political establishments, a belief that we — more than anyone else in the world — knew what we were doing.

Let me quote from a speech that Lawrence Summers, then deputy Treasury secretary (and now the Obama administration’s top economist), gave in 1999. “If you ask why the American financial system succeeds,” he said, “at least my reading of the history would be that there is no innovation more important than that of generally accepted accounting principles: it means that every investor gets to see information presented on a comparable basis; that there is discipline on company managements in the way they report and monitor their activities.” And he went on to declare that there is “an ongoing process that really is what makes our capital market work and work as stably as it does.”

So here’s what Mr. Summers — and, to be fair, just about everyone in a policy-making position at the time — believed in 1999: America has honest corporate accounting; this lets investors make good decisions, and also forces management to behave responsibly; and the result is a stable, well-functioning financial system.

What percentage of all this turned out to be true? Zero.

What was truly impressive about the decade past, however, was our unwillingness, as a nation, to learn from our mistakes.

Even as the dot-com bubble deflated, credulous bankers and investors began inflating a new bubble in housing. Even after famous, admired companies like Enron and WorldCom were revealed to have been Potemkin corporations with facades built out of creative accounting, analysts and investors believed banks’ claims about their own financial strength and bought into the hype about investments they didn’t understand. Even after triggering a global economic collapse, and having to be rescued at taxpayers’ expense, bankers wasted no time going right back to the culture of giant bonuses and excessive leverage.

Then there are the politicians. Even now, it’s hard to get Democrats, President Obama included, to deliver a full-throated critique of the practices that got us into the mess we’re in. And as for the Republicans: now that their policies of tax cuts and deregulation have led us into an economic quagmire, their prescription for recovery is — tax cuts and deregulation.

So let’s bid a not at all fond farewell to the Big Zero — the decade in which we achieved nothing and learned nothing. Will the next decade be better? Stay tuned. Oh, and happy New Year.

2009: The Year Wall Street Bounced Back and Main Street Got Shafted

2009: The Year Wall Street Bounced Back and Main Street Got Shafted

In September 2008, as the worst of the financial crisis engulfed Wall Street, George W. Bush issued a warning: "This sucker could go down." Around the same time, as Congress hashed out a bailout bill, New Hampshire Sen. Judd Gregg, the leading Republican negotiator of the bill, warned that "if we do not do this, the trauma, the chaos and the disruption to everyday Americans' lives will be overwhelming, and that's a price we can't afford to risk paying."

In less than a year, Wall Street was back. The five largest remaining banks are today larger, their executives and traders richer, their strategies of placing large bets with other people's money no less bold than before the meltdown. The possibility of new regulations emanating from Congress has barely inhibited the Street's exuberance.

But if Wall Street is back on top, the everyday lives of large numbers of Americans continue to be subject to overwhelming trauma, chaos and disruption.

It is commonplace among policymakers to fervently and sincerely believe that Wall Street's financial health is not only a precondition for a prosperous real economy but that when the former thrives, the latter will necessarily follow. Few fictions of modern economic life are more assiduously defended than the central importance of the Street to the well-being of the rest of us, as has been proved in 2009.

Inhabitants of the real economy are dependent on the financial economy to borrow money. But their overwhelming reliance on Wall Street is a relatively recent phenomenon. Back when middle-class Americans earned enough to be able to save more of their incomes, they borrowed from one another, largely through local and regional banks. Small businesses also did.

It's easy to understand economic policymakers being seduced by the great flows of wealth created among Wall Streeters, from whom they invariably seek advice. One of the basic assumptions of capitalism is that anyone paid huge sums of money must be very smart.

But if 2009 has proved anything, it's that the bailout of Wall Street didn't trickle down to Main Street. Mortgage delinquencies continue to rise. Small businesses can't get credit. And people everywhere, it seems, are worried about losing their jobs. Wall Street is the only place where money is flowing and pay is escalating. Top executives and traders on the Street will soon be splitting about $25 billion in bonuses (despite Goldman Sachs' decision, made with an eye toward public relations, to defer bonuses for its 30 top players).

The real locus of the problem was never the financial economy to begin with, and the bailout of Wall Street was a sideshow. The real problem was on Main Street, in the real economy. Before the crash, much of America had fallen deeply into unsustainable debt because it had no other way to maintain its standard of living. That's because for so many years almost all the gains of economic growth had been going to a relatively small number of people at the top.

President Obama and his economic team have been telling Americans we'll have to save more in future years, spend less and borrow less from the rest of the world, especially from China. This is necessary and inevitable, they say, in order to "rebalance" global financial flows. China has saved too much and consumed too little, while we have done the reverse.

In truth, most Americans did not spend too much in recent years, relative to the increasing size of the overall American economy. They spent too much only in relation to their declining portion of its gains. Had their portion kept up -- had the people at the top of corporate America, Wall Street banks and hedge funds not taken a disproportionate share -- most Americans would not have felt the necessity to borrow so much.

The year 2009 will be remembered as the year when Main Street got hit hard. Don't expect 2010 to be much better -- that is, if you live in the real economy. The administration is telling Americans that jobs will return next year, and we'll be in a recovery. I hope they're right. But I doubt it. Too many Americans have lost their jobs, incomes, homes and savings. That means most of us won't have the purchasing power to buy nearly all the goods and services the economy is capable of producing. And without enough demand, the economy can't get out of the doldrums.

As long as income and wealth keep concentrating at the top, and the great divide between America's have-mores and have-lesses continues to widen, the Great Recession won't end -- at least not in the real economy.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Break the CIA in Two by Ray McGovern

Published on Tuesday, December 22, 2009 by

Break the CIA in Two

by Ray McGovern

After the CIA-led fiasco at the Bay of Pigs in April 1961, President John Kennedy was quoted as saying he wanted to "splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter it into the winds." I can understand his anger, but a thousand is probably too many.

Better is a Solomon solution; divide the CIA in two. That way we can throw out the bath water and keep the baby.

Covert action and analysis do not belong together in the same agency-never have, never will. That these two very different tasks were thrown together is an accident of history, one that it is high time to acknowledge and to fix.

The effects of this structural fault became clear to President Harry Truman as he watched the agency at work in its first decade and a half. He was aghast.

Like oil on water, covert action fouls the wellspring of objective analysis-the main task for which Truman and the Congress established the CIA in 1947. The operational tail started wagging the substantive tail almost right away. It has done so ever since-with very unfortunate consequences.

An accident of history? How so?

Covert action practitioners, many of whom showed great courage and imagination in the European and Far Eastern theaters of World War II arrived home wondering whether there was still a call for their expertise. With the Soviet Union taking over large chunks of Europe and the KGB plying its covert-action wares worldwide, the question answered itself; a counter capability was needed.

The big mistake was shoehorning it into an agency being created to fulfill an entirely different mission. As former CIA senior analyst Mel Goodman points out in his most recent book, Failure of Intelligence, there was uncertainty and confusion over where to place responsibility for this capability.

The term "covert action" is a euphemism covering the broad genus of dirty tricks, from overthrowing governments (we now blithely call that particular species "regime change") to open but nonattributable broadcasting into denied areas.

Secretary of Defense James Forrestal didn't want the Pentagon to be responsible for covert action in peacetime. And, to their credit, neither did senior leaders of the fledgling CIA. They were no neophytes, and could see that covert operations might easily end up tainting the intelligence product if one Director were responsible for the two incompatible activities.

The experience of the past 62 years has showed, time and time again, that their concern was well founded, as the covert action side has not only polluted substantive analysis but also expanded into high-tech warfare.


Trying to overthrow governments via covert action is one thing. Flying Predator drones with Hellfire missiles is quite another. There would be real hellfire on that from Harry Truman, were he still with us.

Even former CIA Director George Tenet of flexible conscience had second thoughts about the CIA assuming responsibility for flying the Predator and firing Hellfires. In his memoir, At the Center of the Storm, he writes that there was a "legitimate question about whether aircraft firing missiles...should be the function of the military or CIA." Resorting to the all-purpose catch-all (and excuse-all), Tenet adds, "But that was before 9/11."

Of equal importance is the kind of question to which Tenet normally paid little heed; namely, what would flying Predators do to CIA credibility.

Think about it for a minute. You are ordered and given funding to conduct Predator attacks on "suspected al-Qaeda bases" in Pakistan. (Our armed forces cannot do it since the Pentagon is not supposed to be striking countries with whom we are not at war.) You salute, find some contractors to help, and conduct those attacks.

The President then asks his CIA morning briefer about the effectiveness of the drone attacks, including the longer-term political as well as military effects. When the briefer checks with the substantive analysts watching Pakistan, he learns that the attacks are very effective-indeed, the very best recruitment tool Osama bin Laden and the Taliban could imagine. Jihadists are flocking to Pakistan and Afghanistan like moths to a light blub.

Problem. Do you think mealy-mouthed CIA Director Leon Panetta will have the courage to whisper that unwelcome finding to the President? Suppose Gen. David Petraeus or Gen. Stanley McChrystal found out.

No NIE on Af-Pak

The proof is in the pudding. Were not Panetta a self-described "creature of the Congress" (be wise, compromise), he would have long since ordered up a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on prospects for Afghanistan AND-far more important-Pakistan.

Would you believe that at this stage there is still no such NIE?

And the reason Panetta and his managers are keeping their heads way down is the same reason former CIA Director George Tenet for years shied away from doing an NIE on whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. The findings would smell like skunks at a picnic.

It was only after Sen. Bob Graham, then-Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, told the White House in September 2002, "No National Intelligence Estimate, no congressional vote on war with Iraq," that Tenet was ordered by the White House to commission an NIE with pre-ordained conclusions.

That NIE was to be completed in record time (less than three weeks), in order to emerge several weeks before the mid-term elections and it was to reflect the alarmist views expressed by Vice President Dick Cheney in a major speech on August 26, 2002.

In Tenet's memoir he admits that Cheney "went well beyond what our analysis could support." But never mind; Tenet and his lieutenants had become quite accomplished in cooking intelligence to order. And so they did.

Like Cheney's speech, the Estimate was wrong on every major count-deliberately so. At the conclusion of an exhaustive investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, Chair from 2007 to 2009, bemoaned the fact that the Bush/Cheney administration "presented intelligence as fact when in reality it was unsubstantiated, contradicted, or even non-existent."

Non-existent? You mean fabricated or forged? With the advent of the George W. Bush administration we had learned about "faith-based intelligence," but the mind boggles at the use of "non-existent" intelligence.

What Harry Would Did Say

For those of you who may have forgotten, today (Dec. 22nd) is the 46th anniversary of the most important op-ed of all the 381,659 written about the CIA since its founding. Do not feel bad if you missed it; the op-ed garnered little attention-either at the time or subsequently.

The draft came from Independence, Missouri and was published in the Washington Post early edition on Dec. 22, 1963. ( [1] ) The first and the last two sentences of Harry Truman's unusual contribution bear repeating:

"I think it has become necessary to take another look at the purpose and operations of our Central Intelligence Agency....

"We have grown up as a nation, respected for our free institutions and for our ability to maintain a free and open society. There is something about the way the CIA has been functioning that is casting a shadow over our historic position and I feel that we need to correct it."

Truman began by describing what he saw as CIA's raison d'être, emphasizing that a President needs "the most accurate and up-to-the-minute information on what is going on everywhere in the world, and particularly of the trends and developments in all the danger spots."

He stressed that he wanted to create a "special kind of an intelligence facility" charged with the collection of "all intelligence reports from every available source, and to have these reports reach me as President without 'treatment' or interpretations" by departments that have their own agendas.

A Warning

The "most important thing," he said, "was to guard against the chance of intelligence being used to influence or to lead the President into unwise decisions." It is a safe bet that Truman had uppermost in mind how senior CIA officials tried to mousetrap President John Kennedy into committing U.S. armed forces to attack Cuba, rather than to sit by and let Fidel Castro's troops kill or capture the rag-tag band of CIA-trained invaders at the Bay of Pigs in April 1961.

The operation was a disaster, pure and simple. Truman was no doubt aware of how Kennedy initially gave the go-ahead to a CIA plan that had been approved by President Dwight Eisenhower; how the new President belatedly saw the trap; and how he had the courage to face down the tricksters and then take responsibility for the consequences that came of having trusted them.

Still, Kennedy did not feel he could follow his instinct to "splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter it into the winds." Instead, he fired CIA Director Allen Dulles, a quintessential Establishment figure-something one does at one's peril. Allen Dulles later played a key role in selecting those who were allowed to testify before the Warren Commission on the JFK assassination, and in shaping its highly questionable findings. In JFK and the Unspeakable, author James Douglass adduces persuasive evidence that some of Dulles' old buddies were involved in the murder of President Kennedy.

It may be just coincidence that President Truman chose to publish his CIA op-ed exactly one month after Kennedy was killed, but it seems equally possible that he deliberately chose that first monthiversary.

"Disturbed" at CIA Operational Role

In his Dec. 22, 1963 op-ed, Truman addresses the structural fault alluded to above:

"For some time I have been disturbed by the way CIA has been diverted from its original assignment [collection, analysis, and reporting]. It has become an operational and at times a policy-making arm of the Government. This has led to trouble and may have compounded our difficulties in several explosive areas....

"Some of the complications and embarrassment I think we have experienced are in part attributable to the fact that this quiet intelligence arm of the President has been so removed from its intended role that it is being interpreted as a symbol of sinister and mysterious foreign intrigue..."

"The last thing we needed was for the CIA to be seized upon as something akin to a subverting influence in the affairs of other people."

Think Iran. In early 1963 when I began work at the CIA it had been almost a decade since the overthrow of the first democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran, Mohammed Mosaddeq in August 1953. The joint CIA and British intelligence "Operation Ajax" was cited proudly as a singularly successful covert action operation.

Just before electing Mosaddeq in 1951, the Iranian Parliament had nationalized Iran's oil industry, which until then had been controlled exclusively by the British government-controlled Anglo-Iranian Oil Company-Britain's largest overseas investment at the time.

Unfortunately for Britain, there were upstarts in Iran ("militants," in today's parlance) who made bold to think that Iranians should be able to profit from the vast oil reserves in Iran. Winston Churchill asked Truman to order the fledgling CIA to join the British service, MI-6, in arranging a coup. Truman said No. (I can imagine him saying, Hell, No!)

Truman's successor, Dwight Eisenhower, however, said Yes. And the coup that Eisenhower approved goes a long way toward explaining why the Iranians don't much like us. After throwing out Mosaddeq and bringing in the Shah, the Iranian people suffered untold horrors at the hands of SAVAK, the Shah's notorious secret police.

Every Iranian knew/knows that the CIA and MI-6 did what the British would call a "brilliant" job training SAVAK. Many students of Iran believe that it was SAVAK's widespread and widely known torture, as much as Ayatollah Khomeini's charisma, that brought revolution and dumped the Shah in 1979.

And the Oil?

And who got control of the oil? That seems always to be the question, doesn't it?

The Shah let the US and UK split 80 percent of control, with the rest going to French and Dutch interests. The Shah got 50 percent of the revenues. When the Shah and SAVAK became history, the new Iranian government took control of the oil. Today, there is scant applause among thinking people for the "singularly successful" U.S.-U.K.-sponsored coup in Iran.

The same goes for the CIA-run coup in Guatemala the following year. American media initially sold both operations as victories over leftist leaning governments vulnerable to Communist blandishments.

It was about really oil in Iran, as it was about land claimed by the United Fruit Company in Guatemala. But the kind of suffering in store for the people of both countries was the same.

Having learned from the British how this kind of thing is done, CIA operatives were ready to try out their newly acquired skills and succeeded in overthrowing the government or Jacobo Arbenz Guzman, who had been elected President in 1950 with 65 percent of the vote.

His offense was giving land to the peasants-unfarmed land that private corporations earlier had set aside for themselves. The United Fruit Company was allergic to real land reform in Guatemala and lobbied hard for Washington to remove Arbenz.

The Dulles brothers, Allen and John Foster, who happened to be shareholders of the United Fruit Company, took the line that Arbenz' actions smacked of "Communism." Then-CIA Director Allen Dulles stoked fears by describing Guatemala as a "Soviet beachhead in the Western hemisphere."

The overthrow of Arbenz in 1954 made Guatemala safe for United Fruit, but not for democracy. The coup ended a hopeful decade-long experiment with representative democracy known as the "Ten Years of Spring." The outcome's implications for democracy in Central American were immense.

Other examples could be adduced, but let us stop here with the two with which Harry Truman would have been most familiar-from a statecraft point of view. (I doubt that he held stock in either Big Oil or United Fruit.)

At the end of his op-ed, Truman puts his conclusion right out there with characteristic straightforwardness:

"I, therefore, would like to see the CIA be restored to its original assignment as the intelligence arm of the President...and that its operational duties be terminated or properly used elsewhere."

Media Un-Reaction

A blockbuster op-ed, no?

Well, no. Investigator Raymond Marcus is among those struck by the curious lack of response-one might say embargo-regarding Truman's Washington Post article. Marcus has written:

"According to my information, it was not carried in later editions that day, nor commented on editorially, nor picked up by any other major newspaper, or mentioned in any national radio or TV broadcast."

What are we to make of this? Was/is it the case, as former CIA Director William Colby is quoted as saying in a different connection, that the CIA "owns everyone of any significance in the major media?" Or at least that it did in the Sixties? How much truth lies beneath Colby's hyperbole?

Did the CIA and its White House patrons put out the word to squelch a former President's op-ed already published in an early edition of the Post? Or is there a simpler explanation. Do any of you readers perhaps know?

The tradecraft term of art for a "cooperating" journalist, businessperson, or academic is "agent of influence." Some housebroken journalists have previously worked for the CIA. Some take such scrupulous notes that they end up sounding dangerously close to their confidential government sources.

Think back, for example, to those vengeful days in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, and the macho approach being modeled by President Bush and aped down the line by CIA operatives and their "agents of influence."

CIA operative Gary Schroen told National Public Radio that, just days after 9/11, counterterrorism chief Cofer Black sent him to Afghanistan with orders to "Capture bin Laden, kill him, and bring his head back in a box on dry ice." As for other al Qaeda leaders, Black reportedly said, "I want their heads up on pikes."

This quaint tone-and language-reverberated among Bush-friendly pundits. One consummate insider, Washington Post veteran Jim Hoagland went a bit overboard in publishing a letter to President Bush on Oct. 31, 2001. It was no Halloween prank. Rather, Hoagland strongly endorsed what he termed the "wish" for "Osama bin Laden's head on a pike," which he claimed was the objective of Bush's "generals and diplomats."

At the same time, there are dangers in sharing too much information with pet insider/outsiders. In his open letter to Bush, Hoagland lifted the curtain on the actual neoconservative game plan by giving Bush the following ordering of priorities.

"The need to deal with Iraq's continuing accumulation of biological and chemical weapons and the technology to build a nuclear bomb can in no way be lessened by the demands of the Afghan campaign. You must conduct that campaign so that you can pivot quickly from it to end the threat Saddam Hussein's regime poses."

Thus, Hoagland surfaced the "pivot" plan three weeks before Donald Rumsfeld called Gen. Tommy Franks to tell him the President wanted him to shift focus to Iraq. Franks and his senor aides had been working on plans for attacks on Tora Bora where bin Laden was believed to be hiding, but attention, planning, and resources were abruptly diverted toward Iraq. And Osama bin Laden walked out of Tora Bora through the mountain passes to Pakistan, according to a recent Senate Foreign Relations Committee report.

The point here is that some media favorites are extremely well briefed partly because they are careful not bite the hands that feed them by criticizing the CIA. Still less are they inclined to point out basic structural faults-not to mention the crimes of recent years. So it is up to those of us who know something about intelligence and how structural faults, above-the-law mentality, and flexible consciences can spell disaster.

Split Up the Agency

Here's what should be done.

Expunge the one sentence in the National Security Act of 1947 that gives a President wide latitude to direct the CIA to perform "other such functions and duties related to intelligence." Make it crystal clear that the sense conveyed by that sentence, whether the sentence itself stays in or is deleted, cannot authorize activities that violate international or U.S. criminal law-crimes like kidnapping and torture.

"Other such functions and duties?" What was meant by this wording were activities additional to what President Truman describes in his op-ed as the "original assignment" of the CIA-a central place with access to all collection that enables analysts to advise the President with candor, without department "treatment" or interpretations, and not sparing him "unpleasant facts" so as not to "upset" him.

As Truman himself suggests, terminate "other such functions and duties" or put those operations elsewhere.

And imagine into existence different, effective ways to exercise oversight, not totally dependent on the highly politicized "overlook" committees of the Congress.

That done, there will still be a baby NOT to be thrown out with the bath water.

The good news is that there remains a core of analysts willing and able to seek truth and speak truth to power. This was shown in 2007, when Tom Fingar, a senior analyst with integrity and courage, led to conclusion a National Intelligence Estimate that helped prevent the attack that Dick Cheney, the neoconservatives, and Israel were planning on Iran.

That NIE assessed with high confidence that Iran had ceased working on the warhead-related part of its nuclear program in the fall of 2003-a judgment that holds to this day, however unpopular and unwelcome it may be among those who would have the President give Israel carte blanche to strike Iran's nuclear facilities.

That is the capability Truman wanted-the baby that must be rescued and reared. But the baby is still in danger.

With Tom Fingar now retired, the absence of an NIE on Afghanistan/Pakistan speaks volumes about the timidity that persists within the hierarchy of the CIA and the intelligence community. It boggles the mind that, amid all the assessment and reassessment prior to the President's decision to escalate by sending 30,000 more troops, no policy maker or congressional leader wanted to know what the 16 agencies of the intelligence community were thinking. Or did the White House make it clear to those interested that it would be better not to ask?

Gloom Avoidance

Gen. Petraeus and Gen. McChrystal are not interested in CIA analysis, just CIA drones (the aircraft). Sources inside the intelligence community tell us that they assess the prospects for success of the generals' approach as very low, but that this word does not seem to be getting to the President.

It is not entirely clear whether it is a case of Panetta being reluctant to relay to Obama the kind of "unpleasant facts" or "bad news" that Truman wanted the CIA to give him in a straightforward way, or that Obama himself has discouraged such truth seeking/telling lest the abysmal prognosis of the analysts leak and complicate his Faustian bargain with the top brass-and cause even more political damage in his dissatisfied Democratic "base."

As things get still worse in "Af-Pak"-and they will-it will be important for Obama to have a group of analysts able to give him an objective read on the quagmire into which his benighted policies have led, and how he might attempt to pull himself and U.S. troops out. Perhaps then he will ask.

So save that baby. Throw out the other one with the bathwater.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. During his 27-year career at the CIA, he worked for nine CIA directors, several of them at close remove. Primarily a substantive analyst and briefer, he nonetheless served in all four of CIA's main directorates and, during one of his postings abroad, helped manage a large covert action project. In January 2003, he co-founded Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

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