Friday, October 02, 2009
Pittsburgh's State of Siege
Suppressiing Dissent With High-Priced Cop Toys James S. Henry
Pittsburgh's State of Siege
You didn't hear much about it from any major US news organizations, but there was a very disturbing case of gratuitous police-led violence and intimidation at the G20 Summit in Pittsburgh on September 23rd-25th, 2009. Perhaps the only consolation is that it allowed those of us who were there to get a close look at some of the disturbing "brave new world: technologies for anti-democratic crowd control. These were initially developed by the US military to fight terrorists on the high seas and abroad, in places like Afghanistan, Somalia, and Iraq, but are now coming home to roost. Indeed, ironically enough, this is one of the few remaining global growth industries where the US is still the undisputed world leader, as we'll see below.
One local newspaper account described the events at the Pittsburgh G20 as a "clash" between the police, protesters, and college students.
Indeed, a handful of storefronts were reportedly broken on Thursday September 24 by a few unknown vandals.
However, based on our own visit to the summit, interviews with several students and other eye witnesses, and a careful review of the significant amount of video footage that is available online, the only real "clash" that occurred in Pittsburgh on September 23-25, 2009, was between lawless policing and the Bill of Rights.
The most aggressive large-scale policing abuses occurred from 9 pm to 11:30 pm on Friday September 25th near Schenley Park, in the middle of the University of Pittsburgh campus. This was miles away from the downtown area where the G20 had met, and, in any case, it was hours after the G20 had ended.
This particular case of aggressive policing -- "Hammer and Anvil," as the operation was described on police scanners -- was clearly not just a matter of a few "bad apples."
Rather, it appears to have been part of a willful, highly-organized, one-sided, rather high-tech experiment or training exercise in very aggressive crowd control by nothing less than a really scary uniformed mob.
New York police sometimes describe their firemen counterparts, tongue in cheek, as "robbers with boots." In this case we have no hesitation at all in describing this uniformed mob in Pittsburgh as "assailants with badges."
Their actions resulted in the unlawful suppression of the civil rights of hundreds of otherwise-peaceful students who were just "hanging out with their friends on a Friday night in Oakland," or attending a free jazz/blues concert in Schenley Park.
Essentially they got trapped in a cyclone of conflicting and inconsistent police directives to "leave the area." The result was nearly 200 arrests, gassings, beatings, and the deployment of dogs and rubber bullets against dozens of innocent people.
In addition to the students, this aggressive policing also assaulted the civil rights of a small number of relatively-peaceful protesters and quite a few ordinary Pittsburgh residents, most of whom were as innocent as bystanders can possibly be these days.
Why did this occur? In addition to whatever top-down "experiment" or training action was being conducted there appears to have been an extraordinary amojnt of pent-up police frustration and anger. For example, one student overheard a policeman piling out of a rented Budget van near Schenley Park around 9:50 PM Friday.
The officer was heard to exclaim, "Time to kick some ass!"
This is disturbing, but perhaps not all that surprising. After all, thousands of police had basically stood around for days in riot gear, sweltering in the "Indian Summer" heat, dealing with the tensions associated with potential terrorist attacks as well as all the hassles of managing large-scale protest marches, even if peaceful.There was also the inevitable tensions of social class and culture among police, Guardsman, and college students.
On the other hand, precisely because such tensions are so predictable, those in direct command or higher political office, and, indeed University officials, should have acted forcefully to corral them.
JOIN THE CLUB
All this means that Pittsburgh has unfortunately now joined the growing list of cities around the world that have experienced such serious conflicts -- mainly in connection with economic summits or national political conventions.
The list of summit frays includes this summer's G-8 in Italy, last Spring's G20 in London, the September '08 RNC in Minneapolis, the '04 RNC in New York City, Miami's Free Trade Area of the Americas Summit (11/03),
Quebec (4/01), Naples (3/01), Montreal (10/00),
Prague 9/00), Washington D.C. (4/00), the November '99 WTO
"Battle in Seattle," the J18 in London (6/99), Madrid (10/1994), and Berlin (9/88).
President Obama had originally selected Pittsburgh for the G20 because he hoped to showcase its recovery since the 1980s, especially in the last few years, under a Democratic Mayor, in a Democratic state that he barely carried in the 2008 Presidential contest.
In seeking to explain such events, therefore, it alway helps to keep a firm eye on the question -- whose interests did really this serve?
In retrospect, the failure of these leaders to control the police at the G20 has created a serious blemish on the city's reputation for good government. It may have also to some extent undermined Obama’s relations with college students and other activists who worked so hard for his election in this key state. And it certainly did not help the reputation of the Democratic Party in Pittsburgh or Pensylvania at large.
To journalists like me who happened to have been in Beijing in May 1989, during the buildup to the June 4th massacre in Tiananmen Square, Pittsburgh also bears an interesting resemblance. The analogy may sound a little strained, but bear with me.
(1) As in Beijing, there was a very large deputized police force from all over the country. These included over 1000 police "volunteers" (out of 4000 total police and 2500 National Guardsmen) who were ported in just for the G20.
According to the conventional wisdom, not being from the same community is likely to reduce your inhibitions when it comes to macing and kicking the crap out of unarmed, defenseless young people.
The guest policeman also included several hundred police who were under the command of Miami Police Chief John F. Timoney, pioneer of the infamous "Miami model"
for suppressing protest that was first deployed at the Miami Free Trade Area of the Americas Conference in November 2003. (Here’s the Miami model checklist, most of which was repeated in Pittsburgh.)
As one writer has observed, Timoney, who also served as Police Chief in Philadelphia, "(L)iterally transformed the city into a police state war zone with tanks,
blockades and “non-lethal” (but severely damaging) artillery."
(2) As in Beijing, In Pittsburgh there were no identifying badges on officers' uniforms, and they also refused to provide any identifying personal information in response to questions. Several photographers also complained about receiving threats and actual damage to their cameras.
(3) As in Beijing, there was simply no direct contest between the power of the security forces once they mobilized, and those of the unarmed students. The only kind of victory that the students could possibly have one in both cases was a moral one -- by essentially sacrificing their bodies and their rights to a tidal wave of repression.
Indeed, the "clash" theory of these events looks even odder once we take into account the fact that on Friday night in Pittsburgh, for example, unarmed students and protesters faced hundreds of police in full riot gear, armed for bear with equipped muzzled attack dogs, gas, smoke canisters, rubber bullets, bean-bag shotguns, pepper pellets, long-range pepper spray, at least four UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters (courtesty of New York Governor Patterson and his National Guard's 3-142nd Assault Helicopter Battalion unit), plus several brand new "acoustic cannons" (see below). There were also probably dozens of undercover agents provocateurs -- at least three of whom were actually "outed" by the students.
The police were also actively monitoring student communications on web sites like Twitter.
From this angle, a key difference with Bejing in 1989 was that the Chinese authorities felt genuinely threatened by the growth of student power and the democracy movement, and feared being ousted,from power. and were therefore able to justify their brutality as part of a zero-sum game. In the case of Pittsburgh, whatever police violence occurred was entirely gratuitous.
"I hereby declare this to be an unlawful assembly. I order all those assembled to immediately disburse. You must leave the immediate vicinity. If you remain in this immediate vicinity, you will be in violation of the Pennsylvania crimes code, no matter what your purpose is. You must leave. If you do not disburse, you may be arrested and/or subject to other police action. Other police action may include actual physical removal, the use of riot control agents, and/or less lethal munitions, which could risk of injury to those who remain."
The fact is that this warning was itself completely unlawful. Putting on the NYCLU lawyer's hat for a moment, absent a "clear and present danger" to the public peace, these threats violated the First Amendment's explicit recognition of right to "peacefully assemble.”
In effect, the fact is that the police and National Guard in Pittsburgh temporarily seized control over public streets, parks, and other public spaces, and exercised it arbitrarily. By the time the victims of these outrageous civil rights infringements have their day in court, the damage will have been long since done.
GLOBAL COP TOYS Police behavior at all these global summits has evolved over time into a rather high-tech affair that would make Iranian crowd control experts turn bright green with envy. For example, last week's G20 featured one of the largest US deployments ever against civilian demonstrators of "LRADS," or acoustic cannons. These sophisticated "phase array" device s emit a targeted 30-degree beam of 100+decibel sound that is effective up to several hundred yards, and is potentially very harmful to the human ear. Manufactured by San Diego's tiny American Technology Corporation (NASDQ: ATCO), the $37,500 so-call "500X" version of the sound cannon that was used in Pittsburg was developed at the behest of the US military, reportedly in response to the USS Cole incident in 2000, to help the Navy repel hostile forces at sea. The Pittsburgh units were apparently purchased by local sheriffs' departments across the country with the help of recent grants from the US Department of Homeland Security. Officially the grants have been justtified in the name of improving communications with the public, by permitting clearer voice channels (!), but that's a cover story -- the true purpose is crowd control. ( Roll tape: LRAD-500X_SDCo_Sheriff1). Other recent ATCO customers include the US Army (for "force protection" in Iraq and Afghanistan), and the US Navy and the navies of Japan and Singapore, for communicating with potentially-hostile vessels at sea. In 2008 ATCO flogged its wares at the biannual China Police Forum, Asia's largest mart for police security equipment. Obviously China would make a terrific reference customer, since it is one of the global front-runners in the brutal suppression of mass dissent. Until recently the most widely-publicized use of LRADS had been against Somali pirates. The devices have also been deployed against "insurgents" by the US military in Fallujah, by the increasingly-unpopular, anything-but-democratic regime of Mikhail Saakashvili in the Republic of Georgia, and by New York City at the RNC in 2005. Just two weeks before the Pittsburgh G20, they turned up in San Diego, where the Sheriff's Department provoked controversy by stationing them near a Congressional town hall forum -- just in case. This growing use of LRADs for domestic crowd control in the US is worrisome, not only because it is a potent anti-civil liberties weapon, because -- just like tasers, rubber bullets, OC gas, and other so-called "non-lethal but actually just "less lethal" weapons" -- they can cause serious injuries to ears, and perhaps even provoke strokes. In the last decade the non-lethal weapons arena has exploded, and the US appears to be far ahead, assisted by ample R&D grants and purchase contracts from organizations like the Department of Justice's "National Institute of Justice," DHS's multi-billion dollar Homeland Security Grant Program, the U.S Coast Guard, and the Security Advanced Research Projects Agency, and DOD's Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate (JNLWD) Program. The industry has also been aided by key contractors like ATCO, spearheaded by legendary engineer, inventor, and entrepreneur "Woody" Norris; and Penn State's Advanced Research Lab -- home of the Institute for Emerging Defense Technologies. NIJ also works closely with police organizations like PERF, and international organizations like the UK's Home Office Scientific Development Branch. In the first instance, the development of such non-lethal technologies is usually justified by their potential for providing an alternative to heavier weaponry, thereby reducing civilian casualties in combat situations. The fact that the US military now has at least 750 military bases around the world, and has also recently been playing an important "military policing" role in countries like Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan, underscored DOD's rationale for these technologies. The problem is that just as in the case of the LRAD, once developed, it is very difficult to wall such technologies out of the US, or restrict them to "pro-civilian/pro-democratic" uses, like providing clearer amplification for outdoor announcements. Even aside from their technical merits, the competitive nature of the global law enforcement equipment industry virtually insures that every tin-horn US sheriff, as well as every Chinese party boss in Urumqi, will soon have access to these very latest tools in the arsenal for suppressing dissent. The ultimate irony, of course, is that the first generation of all these powerful new free speech suppressors have all been developed, not by authoritarian China, Iran, Burma or North Korea, but by US, ostensibly still the leader of the "Free World." TOYS IN THE PIPELINE So what's in store for those who are on the front lines of popular dissent?
We assume that some of the juiciest details are classified. But even a cursory review of public sources reveals that the following new crowd-control technologies may soon be
coming to an economic summit near you.
(See this recent UK review for more details.). ▣
"Area Denial Systems." This is a powerful new "directed-energy" device that generates a precise, targeted beam of "millimeter waves," producing an "intolerable heating sensation on an adversary's skin."
Under development by the US military since at least the late 1980s, this class of "non-lethal" weapons is now close to field deployment. Its key advantage over LRADs is that it has about ten times the range. Raytheon is already supplying its "Silent Guardian" version of the system to the US Army.
The next step required to bring this product to the police market will be to make it smaller and more mobile. According to this week's
a new highly-portable, battery-powered version of the system, called the
will soon become available -- though it has yet to show that demonstrate conclusively that it is within the bounds of the
UN Binding Protocol on Laser Weapons.
▣ New Riot-Control Chemicals and Delivery Systems. Subject to the dicey question of whether these new "calmative," drug-like agents are outside the boundaries of the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (to which the US and 187 other countries are signatories), these would not irritate their targets, unlike pepper spray or tear gas, but calm them down. ▣ Glue Guns. If all else fails, UK's Home Office reports that another approach to "less- lethal" crowd control weaponry is also making progress -- a gigantic glue gun that sprays at least some 30 feet, bemingling its target audience in one huge adhesive dissident-ball. Apparently still unsolved is the question of precisely what becomes of all those who are stuck together, or how the police avoid becoming entangled with them. But undoubtedly millions of pounds are being devoted to solving these issues even as we speak. SUMMARY I went to Pittsburgh last week on behalf of Tax Justice Network, a global NGO that is concerned about the harmful impacts that tax havens and dodgy behavior by First World banks, MNCs, lawyers, and accountants are having, especially on developing countries. I was under no illusion that the reforms we were rather politely advocating would quickly be adopted, but at least we'd say our piece, if anyone cared to listen. I came away with the depressing sense that the G20 summit, like its many predecessors, was never intended to be a listening post for independent, outside opinions. But even worse, it had actually become, in practice, an excuse for the criminalization of dissent in capital cities all over the globe, even in those that are nominally the most free, by way of the vast new security measures that it requires and subsidizes,and the repressive tactics that it legitimized. In this day and age, of course, we are told that almost any amount of security is too little. And this heightened sense of insecurity is certainly not aided by having the world's top 20 leaders regularly shuffling from pitstop to pitstop, trying to conduct the world’s business from a traveling roadshow. But I was struck by just how unnecessary, senseless, and counterproductive almost all of the repressive policing tactics deployed in Pittsburgh really were -- how they ran roughshod over many of our most precious freedoms, freedoms that we are supposedly trying to protect. And to what a degree whatever “terrorists” there are out there have already won, by succeeding in creating a society that is really is often ruled by fear instead of justice, by force instead of discourse. ***
Rather than, say, simply allowing the overwhelmingly non-violent demonstrators and students at that peaceful Friday night blues concert to have their say, instead some 200 people were arrested and scores were gassed, clubbed, rubber-bulleted, and imprinted with galling memories that will last a lifetime. The City of Pittsburgh and its residents will certainly be fighting criminal cases and civil rights law suits for years to come. I supposed we are meant to be consoled by the fact that, as the New York Times chose to emphasize this week, things are much more repressive in Guinea.
So perhaps it is time to establish a permanent location for all these global summits. Perhaps one of the Caribbean tax havens, like Antigua or St. Kitts, would do -- journalists always like the sun, and after TJN gets done with them, these havens are going to need to find a new calling anyway!
TOYS IN THE PIPELINE
▣ New Riot-Control Chemicals and Delivery Systems.
Friday, September 05, 2008
NARRATIVES, NOT IDEAS McCain's Contradictory, Fearful Vision of the Next Four Years James S. Henry
Outside the Republican convention hall, Twin City cops and National Guardsmen in full-scale battle gear were arresting credentialed journalists like Amy Goodman and pepper-spraying peaceful demonstrators -- though you didn't hear much about that from the respectable TV commentators who were safe inside, battling balloon drops.
Inside the hall, we were treated to an odd combination of "Naughty Librarian" Gov. Sarah Palin, John McCain trying for the nth time to appear natural while reading the teleprompter and bashing his own party, and 2380 raucous Republican delegates -- 1.5 percent black, 5 percent Hispanic, 32 percent female, 80 percent over 50, and nearly 100 percent over-fed -- trying to appear jubilant, grinding to the heavy-metal rhythms that someone in the RNC hierarchy must have thought were a cool idea.
We also had yet another recapitulation of the Arizona Senator's horrific five years in a POW camp, after being shot down on his 23rd mission over Hanoi back in 1967.
Indeed, if McCain somehow manages to win this election, he will have no one more to thank than Nguyen Van Dai, the 68-year old retired Vietnamese colonel who actually launched the SAM missile that downed McCain's A-4 Skyhawk on October 27, 1967.
In any case, after watching the Republican Convention from mind-numbing start to finish, it is now crystal clear that, apart from McCain's 41-year-old combat narrative -- supplemented by the less familiar narrative about Palin's decade-long battle to combine procreation, small-time government, and the Assembly of God's "Plan for Alaska" -- the Republican Party has become the equivalent of the US housing industry.
It is intellectually bankrupt, with almost no new ideas. As former Reagan speech writer Peggy Noonan correctly put it, "They went for this, excuse me, political bullshit about narratives."
Worse than that, the Republican Party has also turned its back on many of its old favorite best ideas and brand values -- for example, "small government," "balanced budgets," "non-intervention," "environmental protection," and "the US Constitution."
Palin's first 15-minutes of fame temporarily blinded many commentators to this basic fact. But even the most faithful die-hard Republican strategists now agree that, apart from the novelty of her Bat Mitsvah, this abbreviated convention was a gigantic, expensive messaging mess -- and, on balance, a gift to the hapless Democrats -- who are otherwise still fully capable of losing this race, even with a full-scale political and economic gale at their backs.
We'll explore the numerous contradictions in McCain's program below.
(c) SubmergingMarkets, 2008
I. CHANGE WE CAN BELIEVE IN?
Obviously McCain is trying to jump on the "party of change" bandwagon. This is hardly a strategic insight, given overwhelming popular discontent with the "country's direction" and Obama's success with this theme.
On the level of practical policies, however, it is a little late.
Indeed, it has really been McCain's policy team that has been doing most of the "changing."
>For example, McCain has adopted the idea, which he once opposed, of extending Bush's tax cuts for corporations and the rich -- the $10 trillion long-run cost of which is even larger than th $7 trillion that Bush's cost.
Even if we abolish all future Congressional "earmarks," this scheme would cause the US deficit to soar even higher than its record $500 billion current level.
If we have learned anything from the last eight years, it is that such tax cuts don't pay for themselves or reduce government spending; they just produce larger government deficits.
>McCain's gone completely quiet on the constitutional issues of torture, closing Guantanamo, and illegal surveillance.
extent so has Obama. But these were supposed to be the kind of "vintage
maverick" issues where McCain spoke truth to power.
>He's got nothing to offer on the deepening economic recession or the national housing crisis, beyond more of the same.
His close friend former Senator Phil Gramm has resigned as Co-Chair of the campaign, but he is still likely to be named McCain's Secretary of the Treasury.
Yet he is a leading banking industry shill and an opponent of tougher regulation, whose efforts helped contribute to the lax lending policies that have produced the joint housing/banking crisis.
> McCain's ideas about privatizing education, health insurance, Medicare and Social Security are all warmed- over versions of the same proposals the Republicans have tried and failed to implement for over a decade, despite their control of Congress for much of this period.
Especially with the new, probably Democratic-controlled House and Senate, these proposals will be dead on arrival. We will not have "change," but four more years of stasis.
Regardless what one thinks of them, these two tactics would both take years to have any impact.
Even if they could overcome the substantial state and federal regulatory obstacles in their way, they would not produce any additional energy for at least 10 to 12 years.
In contrast, conservation and alternative energy sources like wind and solar produce benefits very quickly.
> McCain has nothing interesting to say about a whole host of pressing international economic issues, including the faltering WTO round, addressing global poverty, and reviving the global Kyoto accords on the environment.
>On the question of Iraq, McCain still opposes the idea of a definite timetable for withdrawal, which even the Iraqi Government now supports.
> On the questions of Iran and Georgia, McCain has sounded even more aggressive than VP Cheney, who wisely did not even bother to attend his own Party's convention.
At least since Barry Goldwater, the Republican Party simply can't get enough of portraying itself as "outside the Beltway," the underdog from the hinterland, and the victim of some vast liberal media conspiracy.
A visitor from another planet might be surprised to learn that the Republican Party has actually won the White House 9 out of 16 times since 1948. And John McCain, in particular, has been a member of Congress since 1982.
Furthermore, it also controlled the US House of Representatives from 1996 to 2006, and the US Senate from 2000 to the present, with enough seats to prevent any Democratic initiatives. It has of course controlled the White House from 2000 to the present. Along the way, it has also taken control of the US Supreme Court and the leadership of key "independent" federal agencies, like the Federal Reserve.
The Republican Party has also recently compiled a record number of convictions for illegal lobbying activities -- indeed, shortly before McCain was deliver his acceptance, the legendary White House intimate Jack Abramoff was receiving a four-year jail sentence for corruption and bribery.
The only "change" we can be sure of will come when -- as now appears likely -- the Republican Party loses control of all these institutions this November.
III. A BIPARTISAN MAVERICK?
The night before his own address to the convention, his own VP candidate could not have been more partisan in her feral attacks on Obama.
Indeed, just by nominating this hard-right, anti-choice, anti-gay, anti-environment, anti-libertarian for VP despite her self-evident lack of credentials, rather than choosing any number of more talented, moderate Republican women (or men), McCain has clearly helped to polarize the national debate.
This puts paid to all the rhetoric about bipartisanship in his acceptance speech.
IV. OPPOSED TO BIG BROTHER?
It seems that Mitch should stick to pillaging troubled companies, his forte. Is he really not aware that it is the Bush Administration that has been conducting illegal wiretaps and e-mail surveillance on millions of Americans during the last six years?
V. NATIONAL SECURITY EXPERIENCE? WHERE'S OSAMA?
To listen to McCain, Bush, Giuliani, Romney, and Co., our visitor from another planet would probably conclude not only that 9/11 did not happen on the Republican Party's watch, but also that the Iraq War was eminently justified -- indeed, in candidate Palin's memorable words, it is "a task from God".
According to the rhetoric at the Republican convention, the war against Osama Bin Laden and the Taleban in Afghanistan and Pakistan (remember them? the original perpetrators of 9/11?) must also be going so well that we can:
(1) Afford not to mention Osama or Afghanistan at all;
(2) Afford to extend NATO to Georgia and the Ukraine, right on Russia's borders;
(3) Afford to call Iran "the biggest supporter of state terrorism," and threaten it with military force!
When it comes to national security, Republicans do have this praiseworthy tendency to recall over and over again great moments of courage and honor that occurred long ago -- say 41 years ago.
But when it comes to all the shameful events that have happened on their own watch in just the last eight years, they become forgetful.
In my experience, Republicans are systematically incapable of apologizing for anything, even when they are grossly in the wrong. Indeed, that is a pretty good litmus test for a Republican.
>Lest we forget, Osama bin Laden, still safely ensconced in Pakistan (our putative ally), was the author of 9/11. Next week we'll commemorate the 7th anniversary of that date -- why has he not been brought to justice in seven years?
> Lest we forget, it was the Bush Administration -- especially Condi Rice and George Tenet -- that ignored numerous signals that allowed 9/11 to happen.
> Lest we forget, Mayor Giuliani was the genius who located the World Trade Center's emergency command post right across from the Twin Towers with a diesel fuel tank (even though they'd been an obvious target since at least 1993), ordered the cheap Motorola radios for NYC first- responders, and recommended the mobbed-up former Police Commissioner Bernard B. Kerik to be head of the Department of Homeland Security.
>Lest we forget, it was the Bush Administration -- with the so-called "maverick/military expert" John McCain toeing the party line, unlike Obama -- that took us to war in Iraq on a pack of lies.
Bremer's very first decision was to disband the Iraqi Army -- alienating all those thousands of Sunnis who have recently become our best friends in the "Awakening," and setting the stage for Al Qaeda's first real entry into the country -- on US coat-tails!
THE IRAQ/ AFGHAN CONUNDRUM
Rather than talking about responsibility for the original fiasco, the Republicans want to focus on claiming credit for what transpired after the event.
In the case of 9/11, they took credit for managing the crisis after the attack, ignoring their utter mismanagement before.
In the case of Iraq, they are even more cynical: McCain and the Republicans like to take credit for the progress since January 2007, ignoring the nearly four years of disastrous management after the March 2003 invasion.
In this spirit, McCain also likes to talk about the "surge" a lot, which he claims is a big success.
The surge was not his idea, but he takes credit for having supported it ever since General Petraeus and President Bush first introduced it in early 2007.
Obama, he says, opposed it, preferring a timetable that would have "lost the war."
In fact Obama has never insisted on such any such timetable.
He did, however, courageously oppose entering Iraq in the first place, which would have made the surge unnecessary.
In retrospect, Obama's fundamental political and military judgment looks pretty astute, compared with "experienced" McCain.
If Obama had been in charge, we might have saved $2 trillion and thousands of young lives.
He still actually believes, like George W. Bush, that the US made a terrible mistake by withdrawing from Vietnam in 1973!
True, if we'd followed Obama's course, Saddam & Co. might still be in power, just like Kim Jong Il or Robert Mugabe or the tyrants in Burma (and China!)
But Saddam would not have any more "weapons of mass destruction" than he ever had. Under the pressures of continued isolation, backed by the UN, his own people might have overthrown him, or he might have died of a heart attack. We can never say.
What is clear is that the main reason that the surge has "worked" is that we are now working closely with many of Saddam's former supporters among the Sunni "Awakening," who have turned on al Qaeda.
The Sunnis have "awakened" partly just because we finally decided to pay them, and partly because they got sick of being ordered around by these fanatical extremists -- who'd never taken root in Iraq before the US invaded the country, outraged the local population, and created a seedbed for insurgency.
It is also because many Shiites have wisely decided that the fastest way to get the US out of Iraq is to quiet down, supporting the Maliki government, probably with the backing of Iran.
Ironically, for someone so concerned about Iran's supposed threat to the region, McCain does not acknowledge the fact that the Iraq invasion, and the continued US presence there, have only strengthened Iran's hand.
So it is as misleading for McCain and the Republicans to take credit for the surge as it is for them to take credit for fighting the (very incomplete) war against al Qaeda and the Taleban in Afghanistan, in the wake of 9/11.
Once again, however, if you have no original ideas or solutions of your own, it is tempting to concentrate on telling stories about the past.
(c) SubmergingMarkets, 2008
Sunday, February 26, 2006
ANOTHER CONJUGAL DICTATORSHIP? Twenty Years Later, Near-Martial Law Returns to the Philippines James S. Henry
The bad news has arrived in bulk. First, the search for more than 1050 victims of the recent Leyte mudslide has been called off without any progress.
Second, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has seen fit to declare a state of emergency -- 20 years to the day after "People's Power"/ EDSA I brought an end to the Marcos dictatorship on February 25, 1986.
Officially, Madame Arroyo attributed her "Proclamation 1017" -- an open-ended declaration of a "national emergency" -- to the supposedly imminent but actually rather vague threat of a coup, purportedly organized by a cabal of dissident officers, politicians and professors -- in alliance, she claimed, with the Communist Party of the Philippines (!).
Technically, this was not a full-fledged declaration of martial law. But for those on the ground the distinction is theoretical. At Arroyo's direction, the police moved quickly to round up (without warrants) at least three Congressmen, a university professor, 25 protestors at an anti-Arroyo rally, and a half dozen senior miltary and police officers -- including a West Point graduate and and a former Chief of the National Police. All permits for political rallies were cancelled. A leading opposition newspaper was raided.
Meanwhile, Arroyo produced no hard evidence that any members of this disparate group had done anything more serious than join former Presidents Corazon Aquino and Fidel Ramos in calling for her to resign.
Even if there had been a coup attempt in the offing, that could have been dealt with under existing laws -- as Aquino did with at least seven coup attempts during her years in office, without requiring emergency powers.
In this respect, to long-time Philippines observers, Arroyo's declaration is reminiscent of President Ferdinand Marcos' 1972 "Proclamation 1081." That was also justified by a fairy tale -- a bogus assassination attempt against Defense Minister Juan Enrile that, years later, turned out to have been a theatrical production by his own security guards.
Left unchecked, those demands might well have culminated in a huge "People Power" rally this weekend, demanding her resignation.
This popular movement is not based on a disgruntled cabal, much less on some left- or right-wing plot.
Rather, it is based on widespread, rational disgust with President Arroyo's dismal performance since taking office in 2001.
- Despite rising levels of economic growth -- 3-6 percent per year since 2002 -- the Philippines "oligarchy" remains firmly in control, less than 10 percent of the population perceives that its economic situation has improved under Arroyo, and more than 71 percent of the population now considers itself poor.
- In yet another striking parallel to the "conjugal dictatorship" of Ferdinand and Imelda, Arroyo's own husband Mike has been forced to live in exile because of his involvement in several gambling and corruption scandals.
- Arroyo is widely believed to have stolen more than 1 million votes in the May 2004 Presidential election, a charge that was only strenghtened by the embarrassing "Gloriagate" tapes. Her position has only been preserved by virtue of her party's dominance in Congress, and her control over the 15-member Philippines Supreme Court, which she has managed to pack with 9 appointments.
Even before the state of emergency, President Arroyo's popularity rating had fallen below that of any of the last four Presidents -- including Joseph Estrada, who was ousted by popular demand at EDSA II in January 2001. Indeed, by January 2006, "net satifaction" with Arroyo (% satisfied minus % dissatisfied) had reached -30%, a record low. And well over half of the population simply want her to resign -- ala Marcos and Estrada.
In this situation, one might have hoped that the Bush II Administration would have followed in the footseps of Reagan/ Bush I, circa 1985-86, and strongly "suggested" to Madame Arroyo that she "do the right thing" and board a plane to Hawaii -- not just for the sake of democracy, but also for the sake of the US' long-term relationship with the Philippines people.
Unfortunately, this kind of intervention is unlikely, at least for the moment.
- President Bush is much more concerned about the Philippines' contribution to the "war on terror" than its domestic problems. Arroyo has been very accomodating on the "terror war" front.
- Indeed, throughout Southeast Asia, Bush and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld have also been turning the other cheek to mis-democracy -- resuming arms sales to Indonesia's horrific military, indulging the Prime Minister of Thailand in his offshore companies, and so forth. Arroyo is just another example.
- Arroyo has also carefully cultivated key US interest groups. She's Bill Clinton's former classmate at Georgetown, who still looks him up on trips to New York. She's also an outspoken fan of neoliberal policies, who has good relations with US companies, Congress, and, indeed, President Bush.
- Unlike 1986 and 2001, the opposition has no clear leader that would be acceptable to the US.
- President Bush may well sympathize with an unpopular President whose electoral legitimacy is questionable, and who also repeatedly violates the Constitution and hides behind the skirts of a hand-picked Supreme Court and Congress.
In sum, from Manila, Bangkok, Egypt, the West Bank, and Iran, to Palm Beach County, Haiti, Caracas, Peru, Colombia, and Bolivia, the US Government only finds "people power" as desirable as the results that it produces. The people of the Philippines should not expect any help from GMA's cronies in Washington.
BEYOND "PEOPLE POWER"?
So to rid themselves of this new usurper, Filipinos will have to depend on yet another round of Manila popular democracy -- perhaps this time in the face of even more repression.
Are they up to it?
Some pundits have recently concluded that, having been through EDSA I and II without achieving very much, and now more economically beleaguered, Filipinos no longer have much stomach for mass resistance.
Indeed, according to one fall 2005 poll, in hindsight, just 36 percent of the population supports EDSA I, 10 percent supports EDSA II, and 42 percent believe that doing nothing would have been preferrable.
On the other hand, 6 out 10 Filipinos still reject martial law as the way to solve the country's problems, while at least 58 percent are willing to support another round of mass demonstrations if President Arroyo is clearly shown to have "cheated in the elections" -- e.g., to have violated the law.
Proclaiming a bogus state of emergency and violating civil rights en masse without a "clear and present danger" should surely cross that threshold.
Furthermore, while everyone now recalls "People Power" as a mass movement, in fact i only 7 percent -- 20 percent in Manila -- of Filipinos over the age of 18 actively participated in it. That is far below the proportion that now says it is still prepared to demonstrate against Presidential illegality.
As usual in revolutionary situations, however, everything comes down to leadership and initiative -- plus a hefty dose of sheer fortuity. The importance of political entrepreneurship is often underestimated by revolutionaries. However, given such decisive opposition leadership, and its ability to avoid being crushed by GMA's supporters, her newborn "conjugal dictatorshp" could well be headed for history's dustbin. She has just made, as they say, "A mistake the size of her life."
(C) JSH, SUBMERGING MARKETS, 2006. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Friday, November 04, 2005
"LIBBYGATE" Why Scooter Will Skate... James S. Henry
Irving Lewis Libby, Jr. was finally arraigned this week, after the Special Prosecutor Patrick "Bulldog" Fitzgerald's two-year investigation. It's always nice to see warmongers twisting in the wind, but what have we really learned from all of this?
Unfortunately, the five-count federal indictment of Vice President Dick Cheney's 55-year old Chief of Staff did not actually reveal who outed CIA spookette Valerie Pflame.
But at least we do now know "Scooter's" real first name and the origins of his cute little boys' school handle.
Before Big Media's attention was deflected back to bird flu and another contentious Supreme Court nomination, the indictment also produced much speculation about whether Libby would cop a plea; whether "Official A" -- Karl Rove -- or even the Veep himself might eventually be charged; and how long the judicial torments suffered by Libby, Tom Delay, Jack Abramoff, and other inner-circle Republicans will persist.
For a few moments, it also appeared that Patrick "Bulldog" Fitzgerald might finally get down to a few of the really important issues:
- (1) To what extent did the White House, the Pentagon, its operatives, and its allies in the media and foreign governments conspire to orchestrate the fraudulent case for the Iraq War -- as opposed to just being victims of "faulty intelligence?" (E.g., "Tenet made me do it.")
- (2) How often were "house journalists" like Judith Miller, Tim Russert, and Bob Novak -- whose principle skill is trading various kinds of favors with officials in high places -- used as distribution channels for the Administration's agitprop?
- (3) If they didn't learn Valerie Plame's identity from Libby or Rove, from whom did they learn it?
- (4) What special interests - energy companies, defense contractors, and several Middle East countries, would-be countries, and religious/ ethnic factions -- helped weave the cobweb of distortions and lies that got us into this War, and have kept us in it long after even Brent Scowcoft and William Odom agree that it is a monumental US strategic blunder?
- (5) What was the role of these same interests in insuring that so many leading Democrats have been completely supine on the War? And what other wars do they have in store for our sons and daughters?
Alas, the case against Libby & Co. is unlikely to ever reach these issues. This is not because of Fitzgerald's investigation, which was ably led by FBI agent Jack Eckenrode, known and admired as a straight shooter by this author since 1987. Rather, it is because, as argued below, Scooter Libby will almost certainly escape scot-free... just like his oldest client, Mark Rich, who's recently been implicated in paying bribes to Saddam Hussein -- post-pardon. For the incredible story, read on......
THE LIBBY CASE
At first glance, Fitzgerald's 22-page indictment seems like a good start. While perjury and obstruction of justice charges can be tough to prove, Fitzgeral's case looks straightforward. It also has the extra-added attraction of compelling this particular crop of journalists to bite a hand that has fed them handsomely.
Fitzgerald displayed a palpable sense of relief that he'd been spared having to prosecute violations of the complex 1982 Intelligence Identities Protection Act, the original basis for his investigation.
That statute would have required him to show not only that officials like Libby and Rove who had security clearances had willfully exposed the identity of a true"covert" agent, but also that these same officials had learned the agent's identity from official sources.
By turning the case into a perjury charge, Fitzgerald avoided having to convince a jury that Pflame was still a covert agent when her identity was disclosed. That wasn't going to be a slam dunk, given that she'd been driving herself to Langley every day, and that she was at least partly responsible for the decision to send her own husband, former Ambassador Joe Wilson IV, on the uranium fact-finding mission to Niger in February 2002.
There also appears to have been an organized campaign to punish Pflame and her husband, with several officials leaking her identity to multiple journalists at once, and folks like the curious friend of both Lt. Colonel Larry Franklin and Judith Miller, Israeli Embassy "political counselor" Naor Gilon, also in the loop. It will be far easier to for Fitzgerald to prove how Libby learned Plame's identity than to prove that any particular journalist learned it only from him.
Considering the strength of the case, Fitzgerald's unbroken track record of convictions, and the 30-year sentence that Libby might theoretically face if he doesn't cooperate, many pundits now expect him to "roll over" and testify against the Veep or Rove.
However, the poker-faced Libby has showed no signs of knuckling under. indeed, he has expressed confidence that “(A)t the end of this process I will be completely and totally exonerated.” His attorney has indicated that Libby wants a jury trial "to clear his name."
Is this just typical defendant braggadocio? Or does this savvy member of the Bush Administration's inner circle, who also held key posts under Reagan, Bush I, and Clinton, spent 16 years as a litigator and partner at leading DC and Philadelphia law firms, and personally represented big-time felons, know something that the pundits do not?
While Fitzgerald has a solid case, Libby -- like his client Marc David (Reich) Rich, the fugitive from 48 felony counts who was pardoned by President Clinton in January 2001, and the six senior officials and convicted felons who were pardoned by President George H.W. Bush in December 1992 -- has a trump card.
He already knows that he will never do a single minute of jail time.
The simple, if inelegant, reason is this: Scooter Libby knows far too much, and not just about "Pflameburn."
Given his background and experience, Libby might well be in a position to bring down the entire Bush Administration on any number of matters, from secret detention centers and CIA "wet jobs" to missing funds in Iraq to Halliburton's no-bid contracts to the hyping of the case for the war. He might also have a few interesting things to say about the shenanigans of the Clinton, Bush I, and Reagan Administrations.
Absent divine intervention, therefore, the fix is in. Libby's gameplan is already clear: he will insist on a jury trial, and will try to delay that as long as possible -- perhaps up to a year, as his counsel recently indicated. That trial will commence during the fall of 2006 -- not before the November 2006 Congressional elections, if Libby has his way. The trial itself will last at least 3-6 months, and there is always a chance that Libby not be convicted. Even if he is, the appeals would take us well into 2008, Bush's last year in office. So even if Libby is convicted, he'll receive a Presidential pardon with minimal jail time.
From this angle, it was indeed ironic to learn late last week, just as Scooter was about to be indicted, that his 20-year client Marc Rich had been named by Paul Volcker as a leading provider of bribes to Saddam Hussein in the UN Oil-For-Food (OFF) scandal -- for the most part AFTER his January 2001 pardon by President Clinton.
Furthermore, it also turned out that several other key OFF beneficiaries and Saddam bribers also had close ties to both Rich and to Halliburton, the Veep's old firm -- including Mikhail Fridman's Alfa Group, Switzerland's Glencore, and US-based oil companies like Bayoil and Coastal Petroleum.
The striking thing is how bi-partisan most of these corporate kleptocrats have been.
For example, while Halliburton is closely identified with the Republican Party, Coastal's Oscar Wyatt, Jr., now also under federal indictment, has been a heavy life-long contributor to the Democratic Party.
Rich's ex-wife Denise, operating out of her New York City condo and her high-hedged mansion in Southampton, greased the skids for her husband's pardon by contributing over $1 million, becoming one of the largest fundraisers for Bill Clinton's new Presidential library.
Alfa Group's Ukrainian-born Mikhail Fridman maintains close ties not only with President Putin and certain leading Moscow mobsters, but also with the Council on Foreign Relations, where Alfa has recently become a leading contributor.
And when Marc Rich pursued his Presidential pardon, his main legal gun wasn't Scooter, but Jack Quinn, the Arnold & Porter senior partner who had served as Al Gore's Chief of Staff in the early 1990s.
When we finally sweep clean these Augean stables, we will have to employ a very large, non-partisan broom indeed.
(c) SubmergingMarkets, 2005
Saturday, July 02, 2005
TIME'S ARROW A Media Conglomerate's Fateful Decision to Undermine Investigative Journalism James S. Henry
It was disappointing, but not really surprising, that Norman Pearlstine, Time Inc.'s Editor-in-Chief since 1995, decided last week to comply with a federal subpoena and turn over documents to the federal government that will probably burn one of his own leading journalist's sources.
As discussed below, this spineless decision was a cardinal sin against investigative journalism and the First Amendment.
But it was entirely in keeping with Time Warner's long-standing passivity and obsequiousness toward the powers-that-be.
It also reflects this media conglomerate's increasingly entangled interests with governments and corporations around the world. Thank goodness that Matt Cooper wasn't working for Time's China subsidiary!
There is, however, one ray of light in Pearlstine's otherwise cowardly, inexcusable decision. We may finally get to learn the identity of the White House felon who leaked Valerie Plame's CIA relationship to the press. Already there's been some very interesting speculation....!
For the past year, some marketing genius at
AOL Time Warner -- now just Time Warner Inc. ("Twinkie," as journos know it, or TWX, as it is known to its hapless stockholders) -- has been sending us free copies of its "weekly news magazine," Time Magazine.
Even though Twinkie's stock price has been dropping more or less continuously since 1999, I am delighted that it can still afford this kind of largess. It is, after all, "the world's largest media company."
Personally, I've always enjoyed the covers and that pretentious "Person of the Year" award -- which really should still be called "Man of the Year," since they've only honored 2 women, Queen Elizabeth and Corazon Aquino, (plus 1 black and 4 Asians) since 1927. (Peter Ueberroth and Jeff Bezos, but not Nelson Mandela? FDR three times, and Truman, Ike, LBJ, Nixon, Bill Clinton, Dubya, Stalin, Deng Xiaoping, Gorbachev, and Churchill twice each? Does anyone there enjoy sucking up to power, or what?
And who WILL it be this year? The deceased Pope? The new Pope? Justice O'Connor? Bono? Abu Musab al-Zarqawi?)
Anyway, apart from all that, I almost never actually read the damn thing -- at least not since 1973, when Skip (Henry Louis) Gates and I shared an apartment in London, and he was interning for Time. It seemed like a comradely thing to do for a brother.
In general, Time Magazine, and TWINK's myriad other publications -- People, Sports Illustrated, Yachting, Wedding & Home, Popular Science, Marie Claire, Ski, Family Circle, and over 130 others -- may be helpful and even informative for people who have regular day jobs.
But they have simply never been noted for cutting-edge investigative journalism.
On the rare occasions when they try to do it, as in CNN/Time's infamous Tailwind investigation in 1998, they usually get caught in their own knickers.
To borrow from a few leading Time Inc. titles, they're really more comfortable keeping things Real Simple, providing Entertainment Weekly, and making a lot of Money, or perhaps even a Fortune -- unless you are a hapless TWX investor.
Of course TWINK's other media properties -- especially CNN and HBO -- have contributed some valuable reporting over the years. But "Chicken Noodle Network," in particular, has been under increasing pressure from rivals like Fox to do more info-tainment and be more gung-ho.
Recently they've also had big fish to fry with the Pentagon, given the increasing importance of embedded journalism and satellite feeds in all sorts of new Third World war zones.
None of this has been especially encouraging to crusading Edward R. Murrow-style journalism.
In this case, the Time Magazine journalist whose sources were burned, Matthew Cooper, has been fighting this subpoena through the courts for 18 months. He and New York Times' reporter Judith Miller had both refused to reveal their sources to a federal grand jury that is investigating the Valerie Plame case, and had appealed their subpoenaes all the way to the US Supreme Court. After the court ruled against them in late June, Pearlstine reached his own verdict.
Pearlstine denied that he was influenced at all by the risk that TWX might be subjected to a $1,000 per day fine, much less the even more costly possibility that defiance of the subpoena might jeopardize last year's settlement with the US Department of Justice. Under that settlement, the DOJ filed a criminal complaint against AOL TW for certain misconduct under securities laws, but agreed not to prosecute, so long as the company cooperated fully with the terms of the settlement.
Instead, Pearlstine simply asserted that since the US Supreme Court has decided the matter, he has no option but to comply with the subpoena.
To their credit, The New York Times, Judith Miller, and Matt Cooper, as well as -- we hope -- most other journalists and publishers -- all see it differently.
- They understand that investigative journalists simply cannot do their jobs -- and by extension, the First Amendment can't be effective -- if they are not able and willing to protect their sources.
- They understand that source confidentiality is a long-standing common law tradition which has already been recognized in statutes enacted by 45 states.
- They understand that the so-called trade-off between grand jury access to confidential sources and journalists' rights is no trade-off at all -- since without confidential sources, none of the information sought would even exist in the first place.
- They understand that in individual cases, journalists who have agreed to protect their sources may have a moral obligation that may indeed, depending on the facts of the case, transcend the legal duty to help prosecute a specific crime.
In short, Pearlstine's short-sighted stance, if emulated by other news-gathering organizations, could pose a real challenge to hard-hitting investigative journalism -- at least to any that is still being done inside media conglomerates like TWX, Disney, and Viacom.
They have so many interests at stake in their dealings with the government and their fellow corporate giants that they simply lack the will to do vigorous investigative reporting.
The good news is that while these corporate giants atrophy, a whole new generation of spunky alternative sources for news and investigative reporting are springing up.
Unlike some media conglomerates, we protect our sources -- and there are no corporate hirelings who might "balance the interests at stake" and say otherwise.
Like Matt Cooper, they may be willing to keep promises to their sources themselves.
But how can they ever be sure now, if push comes to shove, that the commitments they've made to their sources will be respected by the myriad of senior editors and other corporate executives above them?
AND THE LEAKER IS....?
Meanwhile, speculation continues to build about who the White House source or sources might be who leaked Valerie Plame's status as a CIA operative to the press last year -- reportedly out of pique at her husband's anti-Bush stance. The latest rumor on the street is that it is Karl Rove.
If true, some might say -- well, source confidentiality be damned! What could be more satisfying that to see this bloated blow-hard take a few laps in the federal pen for perjuring himself before a grand jury?
After all, should a confidential sources rule that is primarily intended to protect whistle-blowers really be extended to a government leaker who's gone on the offense, trying to punish political enemies while hiding behind confidentiality? Some in the journalism community have indeed argued not.
However, from our standpoint, one person's "offensive leaker" is another's "whistleblower" -- that's not an easy line to draw.
Far better that we protect the right of journalists to honor their commitments to confidential sources of all kinds -- except perhaps in the "hard cases" where human lives are clearly at risk. Unless Dubya is a threat to Karl, presumably that's not the situation here.
(c) SubmergingMarkets, 2005