Monday, June 6, 2016

The Pentagon’s dark money: Billions of federal dollars are vanishing into thin air

It's not just that its books don't add up. The Department of Defense is actively disguising how it spends its funds

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Now you see it, now you don’t. Think of it as the Department of Defense’s version of the street con game, three-card monte, or maybe simply as the Pentagon shuffle.  In any case, the Pentagon’s budget is as close to a work of art as you’re likely to find in the U.S. government — if, that is, by work of art you mean scam.

The United States is on track to spend more than $600 billion on the military this year — more, that is, than was spent at the height of President Ronald Reagan’s Cold War military buildup, and more than the military budgets of at least the next seven nations in the world combined.  And keep in mind that that’s just a partial total.  As an analysis by the Straus Military Reform Project has shown, if we count related activities like homeland security, veterans’ affairs, nuclear warhead production at the Department of Energy, military aid to other countries, and interest on the military-related national debt, that figure reaches a cool $1 trillion.

The more that’s spent on “defense,” however, the less the Pentagon wants us to know about how those mountains of money are actually being used.  As the only major federal agency that can’t pass an audit, the Department of Defense (DoD) is the poster child for irresponsible budgeting.

It’s not just that its books don’t add up, however.  The DoD is taking active measures to disguise how it is spending the hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars it receives every year — from using the separate “war budget” as a slush fund to pay for pet projects that have nothing to do with fighting wars to keeping the cost of its new nuclear bomber a secret.  Add in dozens of other secret projects hidden in the department’s budget and the Pentagon’s poorly documented military aid programs, and it’s clear that the DoD believes it has something to hide.

Don’t for a moment imagine that the Pentagon’s growing list of secret programs and evasive budgetary maneuvers is accidental or simply a matter of sloppy bookkeeping.  Much of it is remarkably purposeful.  By keeping us in the dark about how it spends our money, the Pentagon has made it virtually impossible for anyone to hold it accountable for just about anything.  An entrenched bureaucracy is determined not to provide information that might be used to bring its sprawling budget — and so the institution itself — under control. That’s why budgetary deception has become such a standard operating procedure at the Department of Defense.

The audit problem is a case in point.  The Pentagon along with all other major federal agencies was first required to make its books auditable in the Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990.  More than 25 years later, there is no evidence to suggest that the Pentagon will ever be able to pass an audit.  In fact, the one limited instance in which success seemed to be within reach — an audit of a portion of the books of a single service, the Marine Corps — turned out, upon closer inspection, to be a case study in bureaucratic resistance.

In April 2014, when it appeared that the Corps had come back with a clean audit, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel was so elated that he held a special ceremony in the “Hall of Heroes” at the Pentagon. “It might seem a bit unusual to be in the Hall of Heroes to honor a bookkeeping accomplishment,” he acknowledged, “but damn, this is an accomplishment.”

In March 2015, however, that “accomplishment” vanished into thin air.  The Pentagon’s Office of Inspector General (OIG), which had overseen the work of Grant Thornton, the private firm that conducted the audit, denied that it had been successful (allegedly in response to “new information”).  In fact, in late 2013, as Reuters reported, auditors at the OIG had argued for months against green-lighting Grant Thornton’s work, believing that it was full of obvious holes.  They were, however, overruled by the deputy inspector general for auditing, who had what Reuters described as a “longstanding professional relationship” with the Grant Thornton executive supervising the audit.

The Pentagon and the firm deny that there was any conflict of interest, but the bottom line is clear enough: there was far more interest in promoting the idea that the Marine Corps could pass an audit than in seeing it actually do so, even if inconvenient facts had to be swept under the rug. This sort of behavior is hardly surprising once you consider all the benefits from an undisturbed status quo that accrue to Pentagon bureaucrats and cash-hungry contractors.

Without a reliable paper trail, there is no systematic way to track waste, fraud, and abuse in Pentagon contracting, or even to figure out how many contractors the Pentagon employs, though a conservative estimate puts the number at well over 600,000.  The result is easy money with minimal accountability.

How to Arm the Planet

In recent years, keeping tabs on how the Pentagon spends its money has grown even more difficult thanks to the “war budget” — known in Pentagonese as the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account — which has become a nearly bottomless pit for items that have nothing to do with fighting wars.  The use of the OCO as a slush fund began in earnest in the early years of the Bush administration’s war in Iraq and has continued ever since.  It’s hard to put a precise number on how much money has been slipped into that budget or taken out of it to pay for pet projects of every sort in the last decade-plus, but the total is certainly more than $100 billion and counting.

The Pentagon’s routine use of the war budget as a way to fund whatever it wants has set an example for a Congress that’s seldom seen a military project it wasn’t eager to pay for.  Only recently, for instance, the House Armed Services Committee chair, Texas Republican Congressman Mac Thornberry,proposed taking $18 billion from the war budget to cover items like an extra 11 F-35 combat aircraft and 14 F-18 fighter-bombers that the Pentagon hadn’t even asked for.

This was great news for Lockheed Martin, which needs a shot in the arm for its troubled F-35 program, already slated to be the most expensive weapons system in history, and for Boeing, which has been lobbying aggressively to keep its F-18 production line open in the face of declining orders from the Navy.  But it’s bad news for the troops because, as the Project on Government Oversight has demonstrated, the money used to pay for the unneeded planes will come at the expense of training and maintenance funds.

This is, by the way, the height of hypocrisy at a time when the House Armed Services Committee is routinely sending out hysterical missives about the country’s supposed lack of military readiness.  The money to adequately train military personnel and keep their equipment running is, in fact, there. Members of Congress like Thornberry would just have to stop raiding the operations budget to pay for big ticket weapons systems, while turning a blind eye to wasteful spending in other parts of the Pentagon budget.

Thornberry’s gambit may not carry the day, since both President Obama and Senate Armed Services Committee chair John McCain oppose it.  But as long as a separate war budget exists, the temptation to stuff it with unnecessary programs will persist as well.

Of course, that war budget is just part of the problem.  The Pentagon has so many budding programs tucked away in so many different lines of its budget that even its officials have a hard time keeping track of what’s actually going on.  As for the rest of us, we’re essentially in the dark.

Consider, for instance, the proliferation of military aid programs.  The  Security Assistance Monitor, a nonprofit that tracks such programs, has identified more than two dozen of them worth about $10 billion annually.  Combine them with similar programs tucked away in the State Department’s budget, and the U.S. is contributing to the arming and training of security forces in 180 countries.  (To put that mind-boggling total in perspective, there are at most 196 countries on the planet.)  Who could possibly keep track of such programs, no less what effect they may be having on the countries and militaries involved, or on the complex politics of, and conflicts in, various regions?

Best suggestion: don’t even think about it (which is exactly what the Pentagon and the military-industrial complex want you to do).  And no need for Congress to do so either.  After all, as Lora Lumpe and Jeremy Ravinsky of the Open Society Foundations noted earlier this year, the Pentagon is the only government agency providing foreign assistance that does not even have to submit to Congress an annual budget justification for what it does.  As a result, they write, “the public does not know how much the DoD is spending in a given country and why.”

Slush Funds Galore

If smokescreens and evasive maneuvers aren’t enough to hide the Pentagon’s actual priorities from the taxpaying public, there’s always secrecy.  The Secrecy Project at the Federation of American Scientists recently put the size of the intelligence portion of the national security state’s “black budget“ — its secret spending on everything from spying to developing high-tech weaponry — at more than $70 billion. That figure includes a wide variety of activities carried out through the CIA, the NSA, and other members of the intelligence community, but $16.8 billion of it was requested directly by the Department of Defense.  And that $70 billion is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to secret spending programs, since billions more in secret financing for the development and acquisition of new weapons systems has been squirreled away elsewhere.

The largest recent project to have its total costs shrouded in secrecy is the B-21, the Air Force’s new nuclear bomber. Air Force officials claim that they need to keep the cost secret lest potential enemies “connect the dots” and learn too much about the plane’s key characteristics.  In a letter to Senator McCain, an advocate of making the cost of the plane public, Ronald Walden of the Air Force’s Rapid Capabilities Office claimed that there was “a strong correlation between the cost of an air vehicle and its total weight.” This, he suggested, might make it “decisively easier” for potential opponents to guess its range and payload.

If such assessments sound ludicrous, it’s because they are.  As the histories of other major Pentagon acquisition programs have shown, the price of a system tells you just that — its price — and nothing more.  Otherwise, with its classic cost overruns, the F-35 would have a range beyond compare, possibly to Mars and back. Of course, the real rationale for keeping the full cost estimate for the B-21 secret is to avoid bad publicity.  Budget analyst Todd Harrison of the Center for Strategic and International Studies suggests that it’s an attempt to avoid “sticker shock” for a program that he estimates could cost more than $100 billion to develop and purchase.

The bomber, in turn, is just part of a planned $1 trillion splurge over the next three decades on a new generation of bombers, ballistic missile submarines, and ground-based nuclear missiles, part of an updating of the vast U.S. nuclear arsenal.  And keep this in mind: that trillion dollars is simply an initial estimate before the usual Pentagon cost overruns even begin to come into play.  Financially, the nuclear plan is going to hit taxpayer wallets particularly hard in the mid-2020s when a number of wildly expensive non-nuclear systems like the F-35 combat aircraft will also be hitting peak production.

Under the circumstances, it doesn’t take a genius to know that there’s only one way to avoid the budgetary equivalent of a 30-car pile up: increase the Pentagon’s already ample finances yet again.  Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense Brian McKeon was referring to the costs of building new nuclear delivery vehicles when he said that the administration was “wondering how the heck we’re going to pay for it, and probably thanking our lucky stars we won’t be here to answer the question.”  Of course, the rest of us will be stuck holding the bag when all those programs cloaked in secrecy suddenly come out of hiding and the bills come fully due.

At this point, you may not be shocked to learn that, in response to McKeon’s uncomfortable question, the Pentagon has come up with yet another budgetary gimmick.  It’s known as the “National Sea-Based Deterrence Fund,” or as Taxpayers for Common Sense more accurately labels it, “the Navy’s submarine slush fund.” The idea — a longstanding darling of the submarine lobby (and yes, Virginia, there is a submarine lobby in Washington) — is to set up a separate slush fund outside the Navy’s normal shipbuilding budget. That’s where the money for the new ballistic missile submarine program, currently slated to cost $139 billion for 12 subs, would go.

Establishing such a new slush fund would, in turn, finesse any direct budgetary competition between the submarine program and the new surface ships the Navy also wants, and so avoid a political battle that might end up substantially reducing the number of vessels the Navy is hoping to buy over the next 30 years.  Naturally, the money for the submarine fund will have to come from somewhere, either one of the other military services or that operations and maintenance budget so regularly raided to help pay for expensive weapons programs.

Not to be outmaneuvered, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James has now asked Congress to set up a “strategic deterrence fund” to pay for its two newest nuclear delivery vehicles, the planned bomber and a long-range nuclear-armed ballistic missile.  In theory, this would take pressure off other major Air Force projects like the F-35, but as with the submarine fund, it only adds up if a future president and a future Congress can be persuaded to jack up the Pentagon budget to make room for these and other weapons systems.

In the end, however the specifics work out, any “fund” for such weaponry will be just another case of smoke and mirrors, a way of kicking the nuclear funding crisis down the road in hopes of fatter budgets to come. Why make choices now when the Pentagon and the military services can bet on blackmailing a future Trump or Clinton administration and a future Congress into ponying up the extra billions of dollars needed to make their latest ill-conceived plans add up?

If your head is spinning after this brief tour of the Pentagon’s budget labyrinth, it should be. That’s just what the Pentagon wants its painfully complicated budget practices to do: leave Congress, any administration, and the public too confused and exhausted to actually hold it accountable for how our tax dollars are being spent. So far, they’re getting away with it.

Economic nationalism and the growing danger of war

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By every measure, the world economic and political situation is increasingly coming to resemble the 1930s—a decade marked by social devastation, economic conflicts and rising geo-political tensions that led to the explosion of war in 1939.

The global economy is moving further into “secular stagnation,” a term first coined in reference to the Great Depression to characterise a situation where global demand persistently falls below output, leading to glutted markets and “over production.”

Nearly eight years after the eruption of the global financial crisis, the euro zone economy remains mired in deflation and has only this year returned to the levels of output reached in 2007. The US has experienced the slowest “recovery” in the post-war period, while productivity is set to fall for the first time in more than three decades.

Japan, the world’s third largest economy, remains mired in low growth and deflation, while China, the second largest, is experiencing a marked slowdown, together with vast job losses and mounting concerns over its level of debt accumulation.

One of the most striking parallels with the conditions of the 1930s is the growth of economic nationalism and the rising trade war tensions as each of the major powers seeks to shove the effects of the global stagnation onto its rivals. The beggar-thy-neighbour policies of that earlier period produced devastating consequences as international trade contracted by more than 50 percent between 1929 and 1932, after which the world divided into currency and trade blocs leading up to World War II.

The intensifying struggle for markets is bringing the return of the kinds of measures that characterised the Great Depression, as seen in the decision by the US International Trade Commission (ITC), acting at the behest of US Steel, to launch an investigation into 40 Chinese companies, with a view to imposing increased tariffs.

As Professor Simon Evenett, the head of Global Trade Alert, an organisation that monitors protectionist measures, has warned, the ITC case should set off “alarm bells” and is a move towards a “nuclear option.” His words have more than a metaphorical or rhetorical significance: rather, they point to the inseparable connection between economic nationalism and outright military conflict.

Not only are old forms of protectionism being revived, new ones are being developed. Having virtually scuttled the Doha Round of multilateral trade talks under the World Trade Organisation last year, the US is pursuing its own nationalist agenda through the formation of exclusivist trade blocs under the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIV).

The TPP, which despite its name, excludes China, the world’s second largest economy. Washington’s objectives have been spelled out by President Barack Obama who declared it is aimed at ensuring that America, not China, writes the global rules of trade for the twenty-first century.

Beyond the present administration, the rising tide of US economic nationalism is expressed in the strident “America first” campaign of the presumptive Republican candidate Donald Trump and his pledge to “make America great again.”

Trump’s campaign, however, is only a particularly violent and crude manifestation of deep-rooted tendencies within the entire political establishment, including the trade union bureaucracy. Notably, the statement issued by US Steel welcoming the ITC decision to investigate Chinese companies, pointed to the support for its case from “our union brothers and sisters.”

It would be a great mistake to think that these tendencies are confined to the United States. The turn to economic nationalism is ever-more visible in the political establishment of every major capitalist power.

In Britain, both sides of the official campaign over Brexit—the referendum of June 23 which is to decide whether the UK leaves or remains in the European Union—are advancing their positions on the basis of what is best for the country’s national interests.

On the European continent, the German political establishment demands the imposition of ever-increasing austerity measures over the whole of Europe, and vehemently opposes any stimulus measures. It fears that such actions would weaken the position of German banks and financial interests in the face of increasing competition from their international rivals, particularly the US finance houses. At the same time it insists Germany cannot confine itself to Europe, but must play an increasing role on the global arena, not least by military means.

Likewise, the Japanese government of Shinzo Abe is seeking to push down the value of the yen in order to boost its exports in a contracting world market. At the same time it has all but scrapped the so-called pacifist post-war constitution as Japan seeks to play an increased military role in world affairs.

The inseparable connection between the rise of economic nationalism and military conflict was the subject of far-reaching analysis by the revolutionary and Marxist theorist Leon Trotsky of the objective conflicts, rooted in the very structure of the capitalist mode of production, that led to the outbreak of World War I.

Pointing to the downturn in the European economy in 1913, he noted that the productive forces had run up against the limits fixed for them by capitalist property and capitalist forms of appropriation.

“The market was split up, competition was brought to its intensest pitch, and henceforward capitalist countries could seek to eliminate one another from the market only by mechanical means,” Trotsky wrote. “It was not the war that put a stop to the development of productive forces in Europe, but rather the war itself arose from the impossibility of the productive forces to develop further in Europe under conditions of capitalist management.”

Today it is not only a question of the inability of the productive forces to further develop in Europe, but globally under the regime of private ownership and private profit in the framework of the world economy riven by national-state and great power divisions.

The very phenomenon of “overproduction” is the expression of these contradictions. There is not overproduction of steel, industrial and agricultural products—all of which confront glutted markets—in relation to human need. All that can be produced by the world’s working class, whether in China, Japan, the US, Europe and elsewhere, could be more than productively employed in a rationally-planned socialist global economy.

Such an economy, however, can only be realised through the overthrow of the capitalist profit and nation-state system, by means of the seizure of power by the working class. This is the foundation of the program of the International Committee of the Fourth International.

This strategy is, of course, dismissed by all the pseudo-lefts and short-sighted opportunists as “not practical,” “unrealisable” and so on. But what alternative do they have to offer? Nothing but the descent into war, with potential nuclear consequences, threatening the very future of civilisation itself.

Employment Lies

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June 3, 2016. Today the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that the US economy only created 38,000 new jobs in May and revised down by 59,000 jobs the previously reported gains in March and April.

Yet the BLS reported that the unemployment rate fell from 5.0 to 4.7 percent, a figure generally regarded as full employment.

The May jobs increase only covers a small fraction of the monthly growth in the labor force and, therefore, cannot account for the drop in unemployment.

Moreover, the BLS reported that the labor force participation rate fell by 0.2 percentage points, bringing the decline to 0.4 percentage points over the past two months. Normally, a strong labor market, such as one represented by a 4.7% unemployment rate, causes an increase in the labor force participation rate.

The question becomes: How real is the 4.7% rate of unemployment?

The answer is: Not at all.

The unemployment rate dropped because people unable to find jobs ceased looking and are no longer counted as being in the labor force. If you are unemployed but not considered part of the labor force, you are not included when unemployment is measured. The BLS says that in May there were 1.7 million Americans who “wanted and were available for work,” but “were not counted as unemployed because they had not searched for work in the 4 weeks preceding the survey.”

In other words, the unemployment rate is a useless measure of unemployment, just as the consumer price index no longer measures inflation. What were once useful statistical measures have been converted into good news propaganda.

Another inconsistency is the BLS report that, despite the low unemployment rate, in May almost another one-half million Americans were forced into part-time jobs as full-time employment was not available.

The average work week is no longer 40 hours. The shrinkage of the average work week to 34.4 hours (May) is another reason for declining real median family income. Assuming 3 weeks of vacation, a 34.4 hour work week is 274.4 hours less per year. At $20 per hour, for example, a 34.4 hour work week produces $5,488 less annual income than a 40 hour week.

The loss of annual income is greater for many. The average is a result of shorter and longer work weeks. The shorter work weeks that pull down the average are not full-time jobs and therefore do not receive health and pension benefits.

Just as Washington and the presstitute media lie about everything else, they lie about the economy.

The United States of America has been reduced to a House of Cards whose foundation is lies.

How long can it stand?

US economy adds fewest jobs in five years

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In another indication of a deepening slump in the US economy, the Labor Department reported yesterday that the US economy added only 38,000 jobs in May, the lowest monthly job growth since September 2010.

The report was released merely two days after US President Barack Obama declared in a speech in Elkhart, Indiana that the belief, widespread in the US population, that the economy is doing poorly is a “myth.”

“By almost every economic measure, America is better off,” Obama declared.

The latest figures sharply contradict such claims. Summarizing the findings of the report, Laura Rosner, an economist at BNP Paribas, told the Associated Press, “The shockingly low payrolls gain in May provides further evidence that the economy is showing clear signs of slowing.”

In addition to the dismal rate of payrolls growth, the Labor Department said a massive 459,000 people left the workforce last month. In other words, 12 times more people gave up looking for work than got a job last month. Simultaneously, the Labor Department reported the number of people working part-time, but who would prefer to have full-time work, increased by 468,000 in May.

The labor force participation rate decreased by 0.2 percentage points, after an earlier 0.2 percent decline in April, to a nearly four-decade low of 62.6 percent.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics also revised downward the figures for March and April, which overestimated job growth by a combined 59,000 jobs. Together, the number of jobs created each month between March and May was 116,000, a marked decline from last year’s monthly average of nearly 230,000.

According to the Labor Department, the construction sector lost 15,000 jobs last month, mining and logging industries lost 11,000 jobs and the manufacturing sector lost 10,000 jobs. As with previous months, the jobs added were centered in the low-wage service sector.

The past several quarters have shown slow economic growth in the US. Real gross domestic product (GDP) increased at an annual rate of just 0.8 percent in the first quarter of 2016, down from 1.4 percent in the fourth quarter of last year.

The Institute for Supply Management also released a report Friday that rated the US non-manufacturing index as falling to 52.9 from 55.7 in April.

Many major US department store chains, including Macy’s, Kohl’s, JCPenney and Nordstrom, reported sharp declines in sales and profits during the first quarter of 2016.

The Federal Reserve’s Open Market Committee, which sets monetary policy, meets again on June 14-15. Many had anticipated that the Fed would raise the benchmark federal funds rate, but May’s unexpectedly poor jobs report makes it more likely that the Fed will hold off on raising interest rates until at least its next meeting in late July.

The employment figures were released just days before the crucial California Democratic Primary. In recent weeks, Bernie Sanders has narrowed the gap with frontrunner Hillary Clinton, trailing by only one point among eligible voters in a Thursday Los Angeles Times poll.

Throughout the primary campaign, Clinton has upheld Obama’s legacy as President and maintained that she will continue his economic policies.

Even aside from the most recent jobs report, Obama’s claim that “almost every economic measure” has improved under his administration is a patent absurdity.

In reality, the US working class has experienced an unrelenting assault on its living standards over the past eight years. The so-called economic “recovery” under Obama has entailed the creation of part-time and poverty-wage jobs, the slashing of employee benefits, and a continuation of mass unemployment.

A report published earlier this year by Princeton University and the RAND Corporation found that all job growth in the US over the last decade was accounted for by the growth of “alternative work arrangements,” or people working as independent contractors, temps, through contract agencies or on-call. Such jobs usually entail minimal job security, health benefits and vacation days.

Between 2005 and 2015, the percentage of the workforce in such contingent arrangements rose from 10.1 percent to 15.8 percent, placing nearly one in six full-time workers in a contingent status. Of these contingent workers, a staggering 32 percent are forced to hold multiple jobs to make ends meet, due to the lack of job security and benefits.

The growth of poverty-wage employment, particularly for young people, has resulted in sweeping demographic changes. A Pew report released last week found that for the first time in 130 years, Americans aged 18-24 are more likely to be living at home than with a spouse or partner.

As a result of eight years of near-zero interest rates, bank bailouts, and “quantitative easing” money printing operations, the wealth of the US financial oligarchy has soared, and social inequality has widened dramatically. Under Obama, 95 percent of all income gains have gone to the richest 1 percent of society, while median household income has declined by thousands of dollars.

In one of the starkest indications of social distress, the death rate in the US increased last year for the first time since 2005, fueled by increases in the rate of death from Alzheimer’s, heart disease, drug overdoses and suicides.

These figures make clear that, far from being a “myth,” working people have seen an enormous reversal in their living standards during the Obama presidency. For all the declarations by Obama and the Democrats that things are better than ever, the vast and pervasive economic distress felt by millions of people is fueling the growth of political opposition, expressed in the ongoing popular support for the candidacy of Bernie Sanders, who claims to be a socialist, as well as the growth of social struggles by the working class, such as last month’s strike by nearly 39,000 communication workers at Verizon.

There is No U.S. War Against ISIS; Instead, Obama is Protecting His “Assets”

Two years ago, President Obama said he had no strategy to combat the Islamic State. The U.S. is still not waging war against ISIS or “jihadists of any brand in Syria.” The international iihadist network is a U.S. imperial asset. “The general aim of the Obama administration’s jihadist policy, now deeply in crisis, is to preserve the Islamic State as a fighting force for deployment under another brand name, under new top leadership.”

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The U.S. claim that it is waging a global “war on terror” is the biggest lie of the 21st century, a mega-fiction on the same historical scale of evil as Hitler’s claim that he was defending Germany from an assault by world Jewry, or that the trans-Atlantic slave trade was a Christianizing mission. In reality, the U.S. is the birth mother and chief nurturer of the global jihadist network – a truth recognized by most of the world’s people, including the 82 percent of Syrians that believe “the U.S. created the Islamic State.” (Even 62 percent of Syrians in Islamic State-controlled regions believe this to be true.)

Only “exceptionalism”-addled Americans and colonial-minded Europeans give Washington’s insane cover story the slightest credibility. However, it is dangerous in the extreme for any country to state the fact clearly: that it is the United States that has inflicted Islamic jihadist terror on the world. Once the charade has been abandoned; once there is no longer the international pretense that Washington is not the Mother Of All Terror, what kind of dialogue is possible with the crazed and desperate perpetrator? What do you do with a superpower criminal, once you have accused him of such unspeakable evil?

President Vladimir Putin came closest last November, after Russia unleashed a devastating bombing and missile campaign against the Islamic State’s industrial scale infrastructure in Syria – facilities and transportation systems that the U.S. had left virtually untouched since Obama’s phony declaration of war against ISIS in September of 2014. The Islamic State had operated a gigantic oil sales and delivery enterprise with impunity, right under the eyes of American bombers. “I’ve shown our colleagues photos taken from space and from aircraft which clearly demonstrate the scale of the illegal trade in oil and petroleum products,” said Putin. “The motorcade of refueling vehicles stretched for dozens of kilometers, so that from a height of 4,000 to 5,000 meters they stretch beyond the horizon.” Russian bombers destroyed hundreds of the oil tankers within a week, and cruise missiles launched from Russian ships on the Caspian Sea knocked out vital ISIS command-and-control sites.

Putin’s derision of U.S. military actions against ISIS shamed and embarrassed Barack Obama before the world – an affront that only a fellow nuclear superpower would dare. Yet, even the Russian president chose his words carefully, understanding that deployment of jihadists has become central to U.S. imperial policy, and cannot be directly confronted without risks that could be fatal to the planet. Simply put, Washington has no substitute for the jihadists, who have been a tool of U.S. policy since the last days of President Jimmy Carter’s administration.

That’s why, in August of 2014, President Obama admitted “We don’t have a strategy yet” to deal with ISIS. It had been thirteen years since 9/11, but none of the U.S./Saudi-sponsored jihadists had ever “gone off the reservation,” spitting on the hands that fed them, attacking the al-Qaida fighters (al-Nusra) that are the real force behind so-called “moderate” anti-Assad “rebels,” and threatening to overthrow the Saudi and other Persian Gulf monarchies. Obama had no strategy to combat ISIS, because the U.S. had no strategy to fight jihadists of any brand in Syria, since all the other terrorists worked for the U.S. and its allies.

Obama is still not waging a “war” against the Islamic State – certainly not on a superpower scale, and not nearly as vigorously as did the far smaller Russian forces before their partial withdrawal in March of this year. The New York Times last week published an article that was half apology, half critical of the U.S. air campaign in ISIS territory. The Americans blamed their lackadaisical air campaign on “poor intelligence,” “clumsy targeting,” “inexperienced planners,” “staffing shortages,” “internal rivalries” and – this from a nation that has caused the deaths of 20 to 30 million people since World War Two – “fear of causing civilian casualties.” However, the Pentagon now claims to have hit its stride, and is concentrating on blowing up the Islamic State’s money, targeting cash storage sites, resulting in reductions in salaries of about 50 percent for ISIS troops. The U.S. military says it has destroyed about 400 ISIS oil tankers. (The Russians claim to have destroyed a total of 2,000.)

As a counterpoint, the Times quoted David A. Deptula, a retired three-star Air Force general who planned air campaigns in Afghanistan in 2001 and in the Persian Gulf in 1991. He called the current U.S. air campaign against the Islamic State “symbolic” and “anemic when considered relative to previous operations.”

The U.S. has averaged 14.5 air strikes a day in the combined Syrian and Iraqi theaters of war, with a peak of 17 a day in April. That’s far lower than NATO’s 50 strikes a day against Libya in 2011, 85 strikes a day against Afghanistan in 2001, and 800 a day in Iraq in 2003. It’s way below Russia’s 55 Syrian strikes a day – 9,000 total strikes over a five and a half month period – by an air force a fraction of the size of the 750 U.S. aircraft stationed in the region (not counting planes on aircraft carriers, or cruise missiles).

The numbers tell the tale: the U.S. is not carrying on a serious “war” against ISIS troop formations, which remain aggressive, mobile and effective in Syria. The Pentagon’s claim that fear of inflicting civilian casualties should be dismissed outright, coming from an agency that has killed between 1.3 million and 2 million people since 9/11, according to a 2015 study by Physicians for Social Responsibility.

American excuses concerning “poor intelligence,” “clumsy targeting,” “inexperienced planners,” “staffing shortages,” and “internal rivalries” might even contain some kernels of truth, since one would expect gaps in gathering intelligence and targeting information on jihadists that were considered U.S. assets, not enemies. And, there is no question that “internal rivalries” do abound in the U.S. war machine, with CIA-sponsored jihadists attacking Pentagon-sponsored jihadists in Syria – the point being, the U.S. backs a wide range of jihadists that have conflicts with one another.

The U.S. plays up the killing of Islamic State “leaders” and the blowing up of money caches. This is consistent with what appears to be the general aim of the Obama administration’s jihadist policy, now deeply in crisis: to preserve the Islamic State as a fighting force for deployment under another brand name, under new top leadership. The Islamic State went “rogue,” by the Americans’ definition, when it began pursuing its own mission, two years ago. Even so, the U.S. mainly targeted top ISIS leaders for elimination, allowing the main body of fighters, estimated at around 30,000, to not only remain intact, but to be constantly resupplied and to carry on a vast oil business, mainly with NATO ally Turkey. (The U.S. has also been quite publicly protecting the al-Qaida affiliate in Syria, al-Nusra, from Russian bombing, despite U.S. co-sponsorship of a UN resolution calling for international war against al-Nusra.)

To a military man like retired general Deptula, this looks like a “symbolic” and “anemic” campaign. It’s actually a desperate effort to balance U.S. interests in preserving ISIS as a American military asset, while also maintaining the Mother Of All Lies, that the U.S. is engaged in a global war on terror, rather than acting as the headquarters of terror in world. To maintain that tattered fiction, at least in the bubble of the home country, requires the maintenance of a massive and constant psychological operations apparatus. It’s called the corporate news media.

The Increasingly Unstable United States

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We are used to thinking of instability in states as being located primarily in the global South. It is about those regions that pundits and politicians in the global North speak of “failed states” in which there are “civil wars.” Life is very uncertain for the inhabitants of these regions. There is massive displacement of populations and efforts to flee these regions to “safer” parts of the world. These safer parts are supposed to have more jobs and higher standards of living.

In particular, the United States has been seen as the migratory goal of a very large percentage of the world’s population. This was once largely true. In the period that ran roughly from 1945 to 1970, the United States was the hegemonic power in the world-system in which life was indeed better economically and socially for its inhabitants.

And while the frontiers for immigrants were not exactly open, those migrants who managed to arrive in one way or another were by and large content with what they regarded as their good fortune. And others from the countries of origin of the successful immigrants kept trying to follow in their footsteps. In this period, there was very little emigration from the United States other than on a temporary basis to take very well-paying employment as economic, political, or military mercenaries.

This golden era of U.S. dominance of the world-system began to come undone circa 1970 and has been unraveling ever since, and increasingly. What are the signs of this? There are many, some of them within the United States itself and some of them in changing attitudes of the rest of the world towards the United States.

In the United States, we are now living through a presidential campaign that almost everyone speaks of as unusual and transformational. There are a very large number of voters who have been mobilizing against the “Establishment,” many of them entering the voting process for the first time. In the Republican primary process, Donald J. Trump has built his search for the nomination precisely on riding the wave of such discontent, indeed by fanning the discontent. He seems to have succeeded, despite all the efforts of what might be thought of as “traditional” Republicans.

In the Democratic Party, the story is similar but not identical. A previously obscure Senator, Bernie Sanders, has been able to ride a discontent verbalized on a more left-wing rhetoric and, as of June 2016, has been conducting a very impressive campaign against the one-time supposedly unchallengeable candidature of Hillary Clinton. While it doesn’t seem he will get the nomination, he has forced Clinton (and the Democratic Party) much further left than seemed possible a few short months ago. And Sanders did this without ever having stood for election before as a Democrat.

But, you may think, all this will calm down, once the presidential election is decided, and “normal” centrist political judgments will prevail again. There are many who predict this. But what then will be the reaction of those who very vocally supported their candidates precisely because they were not advocating “normal” centrist policies? What if they are disillusioned with their current champions?

We need to look at another of the changes in the United States. The New York Times ran a long front-page article on May 23 about gun violence, which it called “unending but unheard.” The article was not about the well-reported massive gun shootings that we call massacres and that are considered shocking. Instead, the article pursues shootings that the police tend to call “incidents” and never get into newspapers. It describes one such incident in detail, and calls it “a snapshot of a different source of mass violence – one that erupts with such anesthetic regularity that it is rendered almost invisible, except to the mostly black victims, survivors and attackers.” And the numbers are going up.

As these “unending but unheard” deaths by violence go up, the possibility that they may go beyond the confines of Black ghettos to non-Black zones in which many of the disillusioned are located is not so far-fetched. After all, the disillusioned are right about one thing. Life in the United States is not as good as it once was. Trump has used as his slogan “make America great again.” The “again” refers to the golden era. And Sanders also seems to refer to a previously golden era in which jobs were not exported to the global South. Even Clinton now seems to look back at something lost.

And that is not to forget an even fiercer sort of violence – that propagated by a still very small band of deeply anti-state militias, who call themselves the Citizens for Constitutional Freedom (CCF). They are the ones that have been defying the government’s closure of some land for their cattle or indeed for their usage. The CCF people say the government has no rights and is acting unconstitutionally.

The problem is that both the federal and local governments are unsure what to do. They “negotiate” for fear that asserting their authority will not be popular. But when the negotiations fail, the government finally uses its force. This more extreme version of action may soon spread. It is not a question of moving to the right but of moving towards more violent protest, towards a civil war.

All this time, the United States has been truly losing its authority in the rest of the world. It is indeed no longer hegemonic. The protestors and their candidates have been noting this but consider it reversible, which it is not. The United States is now considered a weak and unsure global partner.

This is not merely the view of states that have strongly opposed U.S. policies in the past, such as Russia, China, and Iran. It has now become true of presumably close allies, such as Israel, Saudi Arabia, Great Britain, and Canada. On a worldwide scale, the feeling about the “reliability” of the U.S. in the geopolitical arena has moved from nearly 100% during the golden era to somewhere far, far lower. And it increases daily.

As it becomes less “safe” to live in the United States, look for a steady increase in emigration. It is not that other parts of the world are safe – just safer. It is not that the standard of living elsewhere is so high, but it has now become higher in many parts of the global North.

Not everyone can emigrate of course. There is a question of cost and a question of accessibility to other countries. Undoubtedly, the first group that may increase their emigration will be the most privileged sectors. But, as this comes to be noticed, the angers of the more middle-class “disillusioned” will grow. And growing, their reactions may take a more violent turn. And this more violent turn will feed back onto itself, increasing the angers.

Can nothing alleviate the attitudes about the transformation of the United States? If we were to stop trying to make America great again and start trying to make the world a better place for everyone, we could be part of the movement for “another world.” Changing the whole world would in fact transform the United States, but only if we stop longing to go back to a golden era, which was not so golden for most of the world.

After Empowering the 1% and Impoverishing Millions, IMF Admits Neoliberalism a Failure

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Last week a research wing of the International Monetary Fund came out with a report admitting that neoliberalism has been a failure. The report, entitled, “Neoliberalism: Oversold?” is hopefully a sign of the ideology’s death. They were only about 40 years late. As Naomi Klein tweeted about the report, “So all the billionaires it created are going to give back their money, right?”

Many of the report’s findings which strike to the core of the ideology echo what critics and victims of neoliberalism have been saying for decades.

“Instead of delivering growth,” the report explains that neoliberal policies of austerity and lowered regulation for capital movement have in fact “increased inequality.” This inequality “might itself undercut growth…” As a result, the report states that “policymakers should be more open to redistribution than they are.”

However, the report leaves out a few notable items on neoliberalism’s history and impact.

The IMF suggests neoliberalism has been a failure. But it has worked very well for the global 1%, which was always the IMF and World Bank’s intent. As Oxfam reported earlier this year, the wealthiest 1% in the world now has as much wealth as the rest of the planet’s population combined. (Similarly, investigative journalist Dawn Paley has proven in her book Drug War Capitalism that far from being a failure, the Drug War has been a huge success for Washington and multinational corporations.)

The IMF report cites Chile as a case study for neoliberalism, but never mentions once that the economic vision was applied in the country through the US-backed Augusto Pinochet dictatorship – a major omission which was no casual oversight on the part of the researchers. Across Latin America, neoliberalism and state terror typically went hand in hand.

The fearless Argentine journalist Rodolfo Walsh, in a 1977 Open Letter to the Argentine Military Junta, denounced the oppression of that regime, a dictatorship which orchestrated the murder and disappearance of over 30,000 people.

“These events, which stir the conscience of the civilized world, are not, however, the greatest suffering inflicted on the Argentinean people, nor the worst violation for human rights which you have committed,” Walsh wrote of the torture and killing. “It is in the economic policy of this government where one discovers not only the explanation for the crimes, but a greater atrocity which punishes millions of human beings through planned misery. . . . You only have to walk around greater Buenos Aires for a few hours to check the speed with which such a policy transforms the city into a ‘shantytown’ of ten million people.”

This “planned misery,” as Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine vividly demonstrates, was the neoliberal agenda the IMF has pushed for decades.

The day after Walsh mailed the letter to the Junta he was captured by the regime, killed, burned, and dumped into a river, one of neoliberalism’s millions of casualties.