Conversation of the day

Transcript of Telephone Conversation Between President Nixon and Secretary of State Kissinger (17 Oct. 1973):

Kissinger: Have you seen The New York Times blasting the Nobel Prize?
Nixon: Why have the blasted it?
Kissinger: Because they can’t bear the thought the war in Vietnam has ended.
Nixon: That’s amusing.
Kissinger: They should call it the war prize. All the liberals all screaming their heads off.
Nixon: Really?
Kissinger: George Ball.
Nixon: Why is he screaming?
Kissinger: He just made a snide comment.
Nixon: What—that the war is not over—or what?
Kissinger: That the Nobel Prize Committee has a sense of humor.
Nixon: Uh-huh.
Kissinger: They can’t bear the thought—you know, Mr. President, when they said the detente didn’t work. They never say the detente enabled us to settle the Vietnam war because that is the thing they cannot bear—with honor.
Nixon: Yeah, that’s right. When we stick to the honor—that’s the last straw.
Kissinger: Yeah.
Nixon: All right.

Source: Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969–1976, Volume XXV, Arab-Israeli Crisis and War, 1973, p. 559.

Collective punishment against the people of Libya

Recent evidence suggests that the UN sanctions regime against Libya is hindering the ability of the Gaddafi regime to import necessary humanitarian goods such as food and medicine in addition to the fuel necessary for running basic utilities. There are also reports that the NATO alliance has bombed a food warehouse, a clinic and water systems. These developments come months after one high ranking military officer in the campaign called for “up[ping] the ante” on Gaddafi by targeting more of Libya’s infrastructure. It is worth noting that despite the often stated humanitarian intentions, there is a long precedent of the “international community” utilizing collective punishment against civilian populations who are perceived as supporting targeted regimes.

According to a UN assembled fact-finding team, the capital city of Tripoli contained “pockets of vulnerability where people need urgent humanitarian assistance” (UN OCHA, 25 Jul. 2011). Medical goods such as vaccines are running perilously low and food prices are amidst concern about the “unsustainable food supply chain for the public distribution systems, especially as Ramadan approaches and the conflict persists.” Shortages of fuel have created long lines at gas stations and even shut some down as “Libyan oil experts warned that fuel stocks could run out in two weeks.” The cost of public transportation has tripled, thus causing hardship among those who depend on it for access to basic services such as medical care. Residents of Tripoli are also going through significant cuts in their electricity. While there is still access to potable water, the precariousness of the situation described makes one wonder how much longer even this provision will last.

Earlier this month, it was reported that the UN was considering easing the sanctions against the Libyan government in order to allow the purchase of food and medicine with government assets.

Although some essential goods could be imported under the current sanctions regime, they cannot be paid for because Libyan assets abroad are frozen and foreign banks are refusing to do business with Libyan entities. Diplomats said Tripoli’s current quarterly order for vaccines is being held up because Dutch bank ABN-AMRO will not accept a Bank of Libya credit note, for fear of running foul of sanctions or risking a public backlash. Aside from emergency supplies imported by the UN and non-governmental groups, the last major delivery of medicines to Libya was in January (AFP, 8 Jul. 2011).

Prior to the 2011 unrest the government of Libya spent around $2 billion a year on medicine. The sanctions are undoubtedly wrecking havoc on Libya’s health care system. As the AFP notes: “aside from emergency supplies imported by the UN and non-governmental groups, the last major delivery of medicines to Libya was in January.”

Of particular concern is the deterioration of the Great Manmade River (more background info here), a massive irrigation project that supplies the country with 70% if its water needs. According to the AFP:

[The Great Manmade River] could be crippled by the lack of spare parts and chemicals. So far UN agencies have supplied some basic components, but officials said the state-of-the-art facility is struggling to keep reservoirs at a level that can provide a sustainable supply. If the project were to fail, agencies fear a massive humanitarian emergency.

There is much reason to suspect that the collective punishment of the Libyans who remain under Gaddafi’s control is an intentional strategy. For starters, there is a clear precedent for such tactics.  As I have written previously:

The US military and diplomatic establishment understands that pressuring civilians is a common tactic to force capitulation. Whether a war is fought against a sovereign nation-state or an armed insurgency, civilian populations living under the control of enemy forces are commonly viewed as either potential fighters or passive supporters of belligerency.
[...]
The most obvious example of this would be the 1991 Gulf War and subsequent UN sanctions regime against Iraq. During the initial conflict in 1991, the US military destroyed Iraq’s electric, industrial, and transit capabilities to the point that a UN fact-finding mission declared that:

Nothing that we had seen or read had quite prepared us for the particular form of devastation which has now befallen the country. The recent conflict has wrought near-apocalyptic results upon the economic infrastructure of what had been, until January 1991, a rather highly urbanized and mechanized society. Now, most means of modern life support have been destroyed or rendered tenuous. Iraq has, for some time to come, been relegated to a pre-industrial age, but with all the disabilities of post-industrial dependency on an intensive use of energy and technology.

An article in the Washington Post at the time made it clear that the US fully intended to inflict suffering on Iraqi civilians. It quoted a senior Air Force officer justifying this by suggesting that Iraqi civilians bore some responsibility for Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait: “The definition of innocents gets to be a little bit unclear. They do live there, and ultimately the people have some control over what goes on in their country.”

Today, we have a more recent example of such sentiment being expressed by military brass:

Senior officers who served in NATO’s previous air war, fought in 1999 to protect the population of Kosovo from Serbian forces, said the campaign over Libya drew on lessons learned then. Gen. John P. Jumper, who commanded United States Air Force units in Europe during the Kosovo campaign, recalled that allied “air power was getting its paper graded on the number of tanks killed” — even though taking out armored vehicles one by one was never going to halt “ethnic cleansing.”

So NATO began to hit high-profile institutional targets in Belgrade, the Serbian capital, instead of forces in the field. Although they were legitimate military targets, General Jumper said, destroying them also had the effect of undermining popular support for the Serbian leader, Slobodan Milosevic.

“It was when we went in and began to disturb important and symbolic sites in Belgrade, and began to bring to a halt the middle-class life in Belgrade, that Milosevic’s own people began to turn on him,” General Jumper said (NY Times, 26 Apr. 2011).

In mid-May, UK Armed Forces chief Gen. Sir David Richards said in an interview that:

“The military campaign to date has been a significant success for Nato and our Arab allies, but we need to do more. If we do not up the ante now there is a risk that the conflict could result in Gaddafi clinging to power. [...] At present Nato is not attacking infrastructure targets in Libya. But if we want to increase the pressure on Gaddafi’s regime then we need to give serious consideration to increasing the range of targets we can hit” (Sunday Telegraph, 14 May 2011).

There have been sporadic reports of NATO bombing civilian infrastructure. In late April there were assertions from Libyan media outlets that nine people were killed in the bombing of Gaddafi’s home town of Sirte. Among the dead were “employees of the state water utility who were working during the attack” (Reuters, 22 Apr. 2011). According to a World Socialist Web Site (25 Apr. 2011) article from the same time period: “the Libyan news agency reported [...] that NATO aircraft bombed water supply and sewage systems in the Gaddafi-held towns of al-Khums and Sirte.” Just this past week, Libyan officials accused NATO of bombing a food warehouse and medical clinic in Zlitan, a town east of Tripoli (IPS/Al-Jazeera, 26 Jul. 2011).

According to the CIA World Factbook, Libya had the highest life expectancy in continental Africa at the beginning of 2011. Despite the corruption, nepotism and forays into neo-liberalism the Gaddafi regime has engaged in as of late, his government’s role in utilizing its massive oil wealth for the good of his people cannot be doubted. That, in addition to his “resource nationalism,” is why the West always found him so threatening. Any oil profit spent on developing third world infrastructure and enriching the lives of third world inhabitants is considered wasteful by the current global order.

The sociopathy of Thomas L. Friedman: A compendium

The fact that no two major countries have done to war since they both got McDonald’s is partly due to economic integration, but it is also due to the presence of American power and America’s willingness to use that power against those who would threaten the system of globalization–from Iraq to North Korea. The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist. [...] McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the US Air Force F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technologies to flourish is called the US Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps. And these fighting forces and institutions are paid for by American taxpayer dollars.

With Saddam rattled, now is the time to really rattle his cage: Turn up the volume on Radio Free Iraq to extra loud and call for his ouster 24 hours a day: ”All Saddam, all the time.” Take steps to have Saddam declared a war criminal by the U.N. Blow up a different power station in Iraq every week, so no one knows when the lights will go off or who’s in charge. Offer a reward for removing Saddam from office. Use every provocation by Saddam to blow up another Iraqi general’s home.

But if NATO’s only strength is that it can bomb forever, then it has to get every ounce out of that. Let’s at least have a real air war. The idea that people are still holding rock concerts in Belgrade, or going out for Sunday merry-go-round rides, while their fellow Serbs are ”cleansing” Kosovo, is outrageous. It should be lights out in Belgrade: every power grid, water pipe, bridge, road and war-related factory has to be targeted.

Like it or not, we are at war with the Serbian nation (the Serbs certainly think so), and the stakes have to be very clear: Every week you ravage Kosovo is another decade we will set your country back by pulverizing you. You want 1950? We can do 1950. You want 1389? We can do 1389 too.

I was a critic of Rumsfeld before, but there’s one thing … that I do like about Rumsfeld. He’s just a little bit crazy, OK? He’s just a little bit crazy, and in this kind of war, they always count on being able to out-crazy us, and I’m glad we got some guy on our bench that our quarterback — who’s just a little bit crazy, not totally, but you never know what that guy’s going to do, and I say that’s my guy.

I think [the invasion of Iraq] was unquestionably worth doing, Charlie. I think that, looking back, I now certainly feel I understand more what the war was about [...] We needed to go over there basically, and take out a very big stick, right in the heart of that world, and burst that bubble. [...] And what they needed to see was American boys and girls going from house to house, from Basra to Baghdad, and basically saying: which part of this sentence do you understand? [...] Well, Suck. On. This. That, Charlie, was what this war was about. We could have hit Saudi Arabia. It was part of that bubble. Could have hit Pakistan. We hit Iraq because we could. That’s the real truth.

Maybe this neighborhood is just beyond transformation. That will become clear in the next few months as we see just what kind of minority the Sunnis in Iraq intend to be. If they come around, a decent outcome in Iraq is still possible, and we should stay to help build it. If they won’t, then we are wasting our time. We should arm the Shiites and Kurds and leave the Sunnis of Iraq to reap the wind.

Israel’s counterstrategy was to use its Air Force to pummel Hezbollah and, while not directly targeting the Lebanese civilians with whom Hezbollah was intertwined, to inflict substantial property damage and collateral casualties on Lebanon at large. It was not pretty, but it was logical. Israel basically said that when dealing with a nonstate actor, Hezbollah, nested among civilians, the only long-term source of deterrence was to exact enough pain on the civilians — the families and employers of the militants — to restrain Hezbollah in the future.

Israel’s military was not focused on the morning after the war in Lebanon — when Hezbollah declared victory and the Israeli press declared defeat. It was focused on the morning after the morning after, when all the real business happens in the Middle East. That’s when Lebanese civilians, in anguish, said to Hezbollah: “What were you thinking? Look what destruction you have visited on your own community! For what? For whom?”
[...]
In Gaza, I still can’t tell if Israel is trying to eradicate Hamas or trying to “educate” Hamas, by inflicting a heavy death toll on Hamas militants and heavy pain on the Gaza population. If it is out to destroy Hamas, casualties will be horrific and the aftermath could be Somalia-like chaos. If it is out to educate Hamas, Israel may have achieved its aims. Now its focus, and the Obama team’s focus, should be on creating a clear choice for Hamas for the world to see: Are you about destroying Israel or building Gaza?

ALEC documents expose support of authoritarian, anti-competitive legislation

The release of ALEC supported “model” legislation has not only exposed the expanded reach of the conservative movement in state governments, it also displays an utter disregard for their supposed principles of “small government” in favor of large business interests. The group has:

Other considerably un-libertarian bills include a “Resolution in Support of the USA PATRIOT Act” and a “Resolution on Fourteenth Amendment.”

ATF “gunwalking” tied to FBI/DEA informants and possible CIA covert ops

Bill Conroy, Narco News (10 Jul. 2011):

The acting head of ATF (the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) has seemingly blown the cover of both DEA and FBI informant operations in order to spare his own neck and to deflect blame away from a badly flawed operation undertaken by his own agency.

In doing so, ATF Acting Director Kenneth Melson has also left open the door to the house of mirrors that always comes into play when U.S. interests intersect with foreign affairs.

The operation that has put Melson in the hot seat before Congress is known as Fast and Furious, which was launched in October 2009 as an offshoot of Project Gunrunner — ATF’s larger effort to stem the flow of illegal weapons into Mexico

However, Fast and Furious actually undermined the goal of Project Gunrunner by allowing some 2,000 or more firearms illegally purchased in the U.S. to “walk” (or be smuggled under ATF’s watch) across the border in a supposed effort by the federal law enforcement agency to target the kingpins behind Mexico’s narco-gun-running enterprises, ATF whistleblowers contend.

Two of the guns linked to the Fast and Furious operation allegedly were found at the murder scene of Border Patrol agent Brian Terry, who was shot to death by Mexican border marauders in Arizona late last year. The whistleblower revelations about Fast and Furious have since sparked Congressional inquiries.

In a letter sent on July 5 to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, two Republican members of Congress from the committees probing Fast and Furious made startling allegations in the wake of what they say was an interview of ATF’s Melson conducted by “both Republican and and Democratic staff.”
[...]
What the letter from Issa and Grassley is alleging, simply put, is that multiple U.S. agencies were employing as informants and assets members of Mexican drug organizations who were responsible for importing into their nation thousands of weapons from the U.S., leading to more than 40,000 homicides in Mexico’s drug war since late 2006.

The letter, by its wording, makes clear that the complicit U.S. agencies include FBI and DEA, but it also seems to make clear that “other agencies” might also be involved in the game. And also part of this game was ATF, which, via Fast and Furious, was allowing thousands of guns to be smuggled across the U.S. border into Mexico as part of a supposed plan to identify “higher-ups” in Mexican drug organizations who were responsible for the illegal weapons trade. And, as it turns out, those responsible, in some cases, were the very individuals being employed as informants and assets by other U.S. agencies.

And in a strange twist of fate, one of the “higher-ups” in the Mexican narco-trafficking world, who recently claimed to be a U.S. government informant, is now pending trial in federal court in Chicago.

Jesus Vicente Zambada Niebla, is the son of Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada Garcia — one of the purported top leaders of the Sinaloa drug-trafficking organization — a leading Mexican-based importer of weapons and exporter of drugs. Zambada Niebla was arrested in Mexico in March 2009 and last February extradited to the United States to stand trial on narco-trafficking-related charges.
[...]
Zambada Niebla also claims be an asset of the U.S. government. His allegation is laid out in a two-page court pleading filed in late March with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago. The pleading asserts that Zambada Niebla was working with “public authority” “on behalf of the U.S. Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”); and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”); and the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”).
[...]
Zambada Niebla also is linked to alleged Sinaloa organization money-launderer Pedro Alfonso Alatorre Damy via a Gulfstream II jet (tail number N987SA) that crashed in Mexico in late 2007 with some four tons of cocaine onboard.

That aircraft was allegedly purchased with Sinaloa organization drug money laundered through Alatorre Damy’s casa de cambio business and a U.S. bank. And that same aircraft was reportedly suspected of being used previously as part of the CIA’s “terrorist” rendition program, according to media reports and an investigation spearheaded by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.

In addition, the Gulfstream II was purchased less than two weeks before it crashed in Mexico by a duo that included a U.S. government operative who allegedly had done past contract work for a variety of US law enforcement and intelligence agencies, according to a known CIA asset (Baruch Vega) who is identified as such in public court records. The four tons of cocaine onboard of the Gulfstream II at the time of its crash landing, according Vega, were purchased in Colombia via a syndicate that included a Colombian narco-trafficker named Nelson Urrego, who, according to Panamanian press reports and Vega, is a U.S. government (CIA) asset.

[For more more details on the Gulfstream II story and connections, read Narco News’s past coverage at this link.]

And now, one of the top players in the Sinaloa drug organization, who, according to the U.S. government, managed logistics for the criminal organization — a job that entailed overseeing the purchase of aircraft for drug smuggling activities, as well as weapons for enforcement activities — now claims to have been actively cooperating with several U.S. law enforcement agencies since at least 2004.
[...]
When it comes to prime intelligence targets, they don’t come much better than the leaders of Mexican drug organizations, who have their tentacles planted deep inside Latin American governments due to the corrupt reach of the drug trade. So it is not unreasonable to suspect that part of the reason that ATF’s Fast and Furious makes no sense in terms of a law enforcement operation is because it wasn’t one at all.

In fact, it may well have been co-opted and trumped by a covert U.S. intelligence agency operation, such as one run by CIA, that is shielded even from most members of Congress — possibly even the White House, if it was launched under a prior administration and parts of it have since run off the tracks on their own.

As the former CIA counterintelligence officer said: “Is there deviation [from the norm, in terms of CIA operations]? Yes. Stuff happens, but that’s because there was deviation; but it’s not authorized.”

The plot has thickened, significantly so.

All part of the plan

Leo Panitch, Interview with The Real News (14 Dec. 2010):

Capitalist globalization has essentially been about capital moving around the globe to land on the backs of newly created working classes around the world–in China, in India, in Brazil, in Ireland. And they’ve been able to get those workers at lower rates of pay. It’s inevitable that the effect of this will be to bring down the rates of pay in the advanced capitalist countries, where through a century of struggles and trade unionization and all the advantages of just being where the strongest capital was located originally, workers were able to raise their standard of living using democratic rights of trade unionism and the right to vote and working-class parties etc. to win higher wages. The effect of what’s going on through globalization now is to drive down, equalize wages everywhere. Now, it’s going to take a very long time (it won’t be easy to do–these are very different cultures) before the wages of a worker in Massachusetts is going to be equal to the wages of workers in Bangladesh. That ain’t about to happen tomorrow. But the trends and the pressures in that direction are there. And what–when you hear that the solution ought to be that China increasingly sells its products, or that GM sells its products to Chinese workers, involves an assumption that Chinese wage workers will be able to lift their wages up and engage in the same kind of race for a standard of living as we’ve had in North America, as if that was ecologically possible, while Canadian and American wages correspondingly fall. That’s the logic of the situation we’re in. And unless we get out of this, we’re in a competitive race to a much, much lower standard of living

Michael Hudson, Interview with The Real News (16 Dec. 2010):

When the government runs into debt, it has to borrow off the banks. They want to scale down government debt in order to scale down government taxes. So it’s part of a one-two punch against the economy, basically. To the deficit commission, a depression is the solution to the problem, not a problem. That’s what they’re trying to bring about, because you need a depression if you’re going to lower wages by 20 percent.
[...]
They have the illusion that if you pay labor less, somehow you’re going to make the economy more competitive, and the economy can earn its way out of debts–meaning their employers, the banks and the companies–and make more profits and pay more bonuses and stock options, and somehow their constituency, Wall Street and the corporate economy, will become richer if they can only impoverish the economy.

Joshua Holland, AlterNet (28 Mar. 2011):

Earlier this month, House Republicans laid out a perverse plan to lower working Americans’ wages, supposedly in a bid to get employers to hire more of them (PDF). One would be hard-pressed to find a better example of the “race to the bottom.”as Tim Fernholz and Jim Tankersley wrote in the National Journal, the GOP report “makes the party’s … case that fiscal consolidation (read: spending cuts) can spur immediate economic growth and reduce unemployment.”The paper calls for cuts that are “large, credible, and politically difficult to reverse once made,” and offers a typical conservative fantasy about shuttering entire federal agencies. But topping the list of what should be on the Republicans’ chopping block is “decreasing the number and compensation of government workers,” which the staffers say will spur job creation because “a smaller government workforce increases the available supply of educated, skilled workers for private firms, thus lowering labor costs.”

“Labor costs,” of course mean “wages” – Americans’ paychecks. So, a central plank in the GOP’s economic recovery plan is to flood the market with yet more unemployed people in order to drive wages (which have stagnated for an extended period) further down.

Investors Business Daily (2 Jun. 2011):

Over the past decade, real private-sector wage growth has scraped bottom at 4%, just below the 5% increase from 1929 to 1939, government data show.

To put that in perspective, since the Great Depression, 10-year gains in real private wages had always exceeded 25% with one exception: the period ended in 1982-83, when the jobless rate spiked above 10% and wage gains briefly decelerated to 16%.

Northeastern University Center for Labor Market Studies (May 2011):

Between the second quarter of 2009 and the fourth quarter of 2010, real national income in the U.S. increased by $528 billion. Pre-tax corporate profits by themselves had increased by $464 billion while aggregate real wages and salaries rose by only $7 billion or only .1%. Over this six quarter period, corporate profits captured 88% of the growth in real national income while aggregate wages and salaries accounted for only slightly more than 1% of the growth in real national income. The extraordinarily high share of national income (88%) received by corporate profits was by far the highest in the past five recoveries from national recessions.

This may not be a news flash to most people reading this, but I’ll state it anyway: the US business and financial establishment has everything to gain by inflicting poverty and destitution on the American populace. Higher unemployment means less bargaining power for workers. Less bargaining power for workers means lower wages. Lower wages means higher profits.

Some people have wondered why more business establishment figures are not clamoring for more stimulus and public works projects since they would have much to benefit from the increase in demand and the infrastructural improvements. The fact of matter is the Owners see much more opportunity for profit created by the pauperization of American workers and the plundering of public assets. A stimulus would improve our infrastructure and decrease unemployment. A well-maintained infrastructure is less likely to be privatized and utilized for profit instead of the public good. An adequately employed and taken care of workforce is less likely to be underpaid, exploited and abused. All of this would mean a smaller piece of the pie for both Wall Street and the big industrialists.

The current system has enabled a small, elite class that literally thrives off of human misery to create human misery. That’s really all there is to it.

Cory Maye to go free. Will John Hawkins apologise?

Quick hit from the memory hole (emphasis mine):

After 10 years of incarceration, and seven years after a jury sentenced him to die, 30-year-old Cory Maye will soon be going home. Mississippi Circuit Court Judge Prentiss Harrell signed a plea agreement Friday morning in which Maye pled guilty to manslaughter for the 2001 death of Prentiss, Mississippi, police officer Ron Jones, Jr.

Per the agreement, Harrell then sentenced Maye to 10 years in prison, time he has now already served. Maye will be taken to Rankin County, Mississippi, for processing and some procedural work. He is expected to be released within days.

Radley Balko, Huffington Post (1 Jul. 2010)

What it all comes down to is that the cops had a warrant, identified themselves as police officers twice, and then Maye deliberately and knowingly chose to shoot one of them to death. For that crime, Maye deserves the needle, the noose, or the chair — not sympathy.

John Hawkins, Right Wing News (15 Dec. 2005)