Fact-Free Zone

by Dmitry Orlov

Club Orlov (July 21 2014)

The fog of war that has been hovering over eastern Ukraine has now spread to the shores of the Potomac, and from there has inundated every pore of western body politic. The party line is that pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine have shot down Malaysia Airlines flight MH-17, using a surface-to-air missile provided by Russia, with Russia’s support and complicity. The response is to push for tougher sanctions against Russian companies and Mr Putin’s entourage. None of this is based on fact. To start with, it isn’t known that MH-17 was brought down by a surface-to-air missile; it could have been an air-to-air missile, a bomb on board, a mechanical failure, or the same (or different) mysterious force that brought down MH-370 earlier this year. Mysteries abound, and yet western media knows it’s Mr Putin’s fault.

Step through the looking glass over to Russia, and you hear a completely different story: the plane was shot down by the Ukrainians in order to frame the rebels and Russia in an attempt to pull NATO into the conflict. Here, we have numerous supporting “facts”, at varying levels of truthiness. But I have no way to independently verify any of them, and so instead I will organize what has been known into a pattern, and let you decide for yourself which story (if any) you should believe.

When trying to catch a criminal, a standard method is to look at means, motive and opportunity. Was the criminal physically capable of committing the act? Did the criminal have a good reason for committing it? Did the criminal get a chance to do it? One more criterion is often quite helpful: does the crime fit the perpetrator’s known modus operandi? Let’s give this method a try.


Did the rebels have the means to shoot down the plane? They have no military aviation and no functioning airport (the one near Donetsk is out of commission and occupied by Ukrainian troops). They have shoulder-fired missiles, which can take out helicopters and planes flying at low altitude, but are useless against airliners flying at cruising altitude. They also have a “Buk” air defense unit (one truck’s worth of it) which they took from the Ukrainians as a trophy, but it’s said to be non-operational. A rocket from this unit could have shot down MH-17, but only if it were integrated with a radar system, which the rebels did not have.

Did the Ukrainians have the means? They had five “Buk” units active in the area on that day, integrated with a radar system which was also active that day. (Deploying an air defense system against an enemy that does not have any aviation seems a bit strange.) According to a report from a Spanish air traffic controller who was working in Kiev (and has since been dismissed, along with other foreign air traffic controllers) MH-17 was followed by two SU-25 jet fighters. According to a Russian expert on “Buk” systems, the damage to the fuselage visible on photographs of the crash site could not have been from a “Buk” surface-to-air missile, but could have been caused by an air-to-air missile fired by a SU-25.

Did the Russians have the means? Of course they did. Never underestimate the Russians.


The rebels had absolutely no reason to want to shoot down that plane. This leaves open the possibility that they shot it down by mistake, but that’s not a motive, and if that is what happened, then this is not a crime but an accident, because a crime is an intentional act.

On the other hand, the Ukrainians had a really good motive for shooting it down. This part takes a little more explaining.

You see, the Ukrainians have been doing everything they can to pull Russia into the conflict, in order to then pull NATO into it as well, because their chance of victory while acting alone is nil. To this end, they have been shelling civilian targets relentlessly, causing many dead and wounded, in the hopes that Russian troops would pour across the border to defend them. This failed to happen; instead, the Ukrainians have succeeded in precipitating a refugee crisis that has produced something like half a million refugees seeking asylum in Russia. This has had an effect opposite of the intended. Whereas previously the rebels’ recruitment activities were somewhat hampered by a wait-and-see attitude on the part of the population, now they have seen all they need to see and are ready to fight. Also, the Russian population inside Russia itself has found the stories of the refugees sufficiently compelling to open their wallets, so that now the rebels are drawing healthy salaries and have good kit and a steady stream of supplies. They are highly motivated to fight and to win, with a steady rah-rah of support coming from across the border in Russia, while the Ukrainian forces they face consist of underfed, untrained, badly armed recruits being goaded into battle by Right Sector thugs. Their recent battle plan was to directly attack the population centers in Donetsk and Lugansk while cutting the rebels off from the Russian border. One column managed to break through to the defunct Donetsk airport, where it has been kettled every since (it is currently trying to break out in the direction of Donetsk). The troops massed along the Russian border got kettled there and decimated, with quite a few Ukrainian soldiers walking across the border sans weapons seeking food, shelter and medical treatment.

So much for Ukrainian military strategy. But the other thing to note is that time is not on the Ukrainians’ side. First, a bit of background. Ukraine has always been a rather lopsided country. There are the Russian provinces in the east, which had coal, industry, good farmland, and lots of trade with Russia proper. They used to be Russia proper until Lenin lumped them into Ukraine, in an effort to improve it. And then there is western Ukraine, which, with the possible exception of Kiev, could never earn its keep. In terms of economic and social development, it resembles an African nation. Since its independence, Ukraine had subsisted through trade with Russia and through transfer payments from (Russian-speaking) Ukrainian citizens working in Russia. Because of fighting in the east, trade with Russia has been disrupted. Ukraine has been cut off from Russian natural gas supplies due to nonpayment; as a result, more and more Ukrainian cities no longer supply hot water, and come winter, there will be no heat. The economy is in freefall. The Ukrainian government received some funds from the IMF, but these are being squandered on the failing military campaign. The association agreement which Ukraine signed with the EU remains a dead letter because Ukraine does not make anything that the EU wants, and Ukraine has no money with which to buy anything the EU makes. So much for Ukrainian economic strategy.

And so, from the Ukrainian government’s perspective, shooting down an airliner and blaming it on Putin (which is something that western governments and media are only too happy to do) probably seemed like a good ploy.

What about Russia? Well, the Russian government’s chief concern is with avoiding becoming drawn into the conflict. The basic Russian strategy is, as I put it a couple of months ago, to let Ukraine stew in its own juices until the meat falls off the bone, and this strategy is working just fine.

It is important to draw a difference between the Russian state (Putin, the Kremlin, et cetera) and the Russian people. According to Russian law, any Russian-speaking person born on the territory of the USSR has an automatic right to a Russian citizenship, so the people of eastern Ukraine are by default Russian citizens. It is a fine line between providing support to your fellow-Russians across the border as a people and being drawn into an international conflict as a nation, and the Russian government has been rather careful to preserve this distinction. Thus, the Russian government was very highly motivated to prevent this incident.


For the rebels, the opportunity amounted to looking up and seeing a plane. If, at that moment, they made the split-second decision to shoot it down using one of the “Buk” rockets (provided they had one ready to go) without radar support they could have only fired that rocket in “pursuit mode”, where the rocket flies to where the plane is, not to where the plane will be, and it is rather uncertain whether the rocket would have caught up with the jet before running out of fuel.

On the other hand, the Ukrainians gave themselves the opportunity by having Dnepropetrovsk ATC (air traffic control) redirect the flight over the conflict zone, where they deployed their “Buk” systems.

I have trouble imagining a scenario in which Russian air defense forces would have been presented with an opportunity to shoot down MH-17.

Modus Operandi

Although some criminals commit just one crime (and sometimes even get away with it), typically a life of crime follows a pattern. What is the pattern behind shooting down MH-17? It is to kill civilians for political gain. What has the Ukrainian government been doing, for quite some time now, in shelling apartment buildings, schools and hospitals in the east of the country? Killing civilians, of course. And why have they been doing it? For a political reason: to attempt to draw the Russian military into the conflict, in order to then appeal to NATO for help. This is part of a larger plan on the part of the US to use Ukraine as a wedge between Russia and the EU, to deprive the EU of Russian natural gas supplies and make it even more dependent on the US.


My effort here is to present you with a better framework for analyzing these events than you might find elsewhere, but I hope that you uncover your own “facts” (to the extent that facts can be said to exist on the internet) and draw your own conclusions.

But I would like to point out a few things.

First, I often encounter a certain attitude among Americans. They may absolutely hate the evil clowns in Washington who are ruining their lives, but when looking at the world, they suddenly decide that every other government is equally bad, that theirs is not so bad after all, and since the Ukrainians are suddenly our friends (or so says John Kerry) then they are not so bad either. Don’t make such assumptions. Look for evidence. To me it indicates that your government is run by evil clowns; other governments – not so much.

Second, citizens of the European Union shouldn’t think that it is only the dark-skinned people in faraway places like Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and so on that get killed in the various wars instigated by the US. Continue outsourcing your foreign policy to the evil clowns of Washington (and the spineless jellies in Brussels) and you too will get killed.

Lastly, we already know who the criminals are in this case: they are the western politicians and journalists. Airliners fall out of the sky with some regularity. This is tragic, but not unexpected, and is not necessarily the result of a crime. The real crime is in exploiting this tragedy in order to smear and insult an entire people. Don’t worry, the people in question are too wise to respond to such ridiculous provocations. But the reputations of western journalists who have been covering this tragic event have already gone up in smoke. All of western media is now about as good as Pravda was back in the Soviet days – good for wiping your ass with, that is. It’s a sad day for anyone who cares about the truth but can only understand English.

Update: I spoke too soon. Robert Parry has come out with an excellent write-up on the situation: http://consortiumnews.com/2014/07/20/what-did-us-spy-satellites-see-in-ukraine/


Categories: Uncategorized

New World Disorder

Emerging Division Between East and West Threatens to Plunge the Globe into Chaos

by Michael Snyder

Economic Collapse (July 21 2014)

In general, over the last several decades the world has experienced an unprecedented era of peace and prosperity.  The opening up of relations with China and the “end of the Cold War” resulted in an extended period of cooperation between east and west that was truly unique in the annals of history.  But now things are shifting.  The civil war in Ukraine and the crash of MH17 have created an enormous amount of tension between the United States and Russia, and many analysts believe that relations between the two superpowers are now even worse than they were during the end of the Cold War era.  In addition, the indictment of five PLA officers for cyber espionage and sharp disagreements over China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea (among other issues) have caused US relations with China to dip to their lowest point since at least 1989.  So could the emerging division between the east and the west ultimately plunge us into a period of global chaos?  And what would that mean for the world economy?

For as long as most Americans can remember, the US dollar and the US financial system have been overwhelmingly dominant.  But now the powers of the east appear to be determined to break this monopoly.  Four of the BRICS nations (China, Russia, India and Brazil) are on the list of the top ten biggest economies on the planet, and they are starting to make moves to become much less dependent on the US-centered financial system of the western world.  For example, just last week the BRICS nations established two new institutions which are intended to be alternatives to the World Bank and the IMF …


So in their summit, from July 14 to 16, the five BRICS announced two major initiatives aimed squarely at increasing their power in global finance. They announced the launch of the New Development Bank, headquartered in Shanghai, that will offer financing for development projects in the emerging world. The bank will act as an alternative to the Washington, DC-based World Bank. The BRICS also formed what they’re calling a Contingent Reserve Arrangement, a series of currency agreements which can be utilized to help them smooth over financial imbalances with the rest of the world. That’s something the IMF does now.

Clearly, the idea is to create institutions and processes to supplement – and perhaps eventually supplant – the functions of those managed by US and Europe. And they would be resources that they could control on their own, without the annoying conditions that the World Bank and the IMF always slap on their loans and assistance.



This comes at a time when both China and Russia are seeking to emphasize their own currencies and move away from using the US dollar so much.

Even in the western media, it is being admitted that China’s yuan is “a growing force in global finance”, and according to CNBC the use of Chinese currency in international trade is growing very rapidly …



Of the German companies profiled, 23 percent are using the renminbi to settle trades, up from nine percent last year, while usage in Hong Kong rose to 58 percent from fifty percent and to seventeen percent from nine percent in the US.

Usage of the renminbi among French companies – a new addition to this year’s list – was high at 26 percent.



And of course Russia has been actively pursuing a “de-dollarization strategy” for months now.  Each new round of economic sanctions pushes Russia even further in the direction of independence from the US dollar, and Gazprom has been working hard to get large customers to switch from paying for natural gas in dollars to paying for natural gas in euros and other currencies.  For much more on this, please see my previous article entitled “Russia Is Doing It – Russia Is Actually Abandoning The Dollar”.

At this point, it seems clear that Russia plans to permanently decouple from the US economy and the US financial system.  Just today we learned that Vladimir Putin plans to make Russia less dependent on US companies such as IBM and Microsoft, and any future rounds of sanctions are likely to cause even more damage to US firms that do business in Russia.

But potentially much more troubling for the US economy is the startling deterioration in the relationship between the Obama administration and China.  Some analysts are even describing this as “a tipping point” …



One day, the United States indicts five PLA officers for cybercrimes; the next, the United States claims victory in WTO disputes over car tariffs and rare earth minerals. All this is happening while the United States promises enduring support for Asian allies, and it has moved openly to challenge the legitimacy of Chinese territorial claims in the South China Sea. Meanwhile, China is busy creating facts on the ground and water. Last month, a $1 billion Chinese oil rig set up operations in territorial waters claimed by Vietnam. In the East China Sea, Chinese SU-27 fighter jets have come within 100 feet of Japanese surveillance aircraft.

This was all capped at the recent Shangri-La Asian Security dialogue in Singapore (Asia’s annual defense-ministers meeting): Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel bluntly described China’s behavior as “destabilizing, unilateral actions”. The PLA deputy chief of staff, Lieutenant General Wang Guanzhong, accused the United States of “hegemonism”.

The mood has soured, more than the usual ups and downs of big-power relationships. The question now is not whether a “new type of relationship” is in the offing, but rather, whether US-Chinese relations have reached a tipping point.



Most Americans could not care less about what China is doing in the South China Sea, but to the Chinese this is a very, very big deal.  In fact, China just sent a surveillance vessel to Hawaii as a bit of payback for what they regard as US “provocations” in the region.

In the old days, China would have probably never have done such a thing.  But China is gaining confidence as the gap between the US military and the Chinese military rapidly closes …



Away from the Chinese military’s expanding capabilities in cyberspace and electronic warfare, Beijing is growing the size and reach of its naval fleet, advancing its air force and testing a host of new missiles, the Pentagon said Thursday.

An annual report to Congress on China’s evolving military capability concluded that the modernization was being driven in part by growing territorial disputes in the East and South China seas, as well as by Beijing’s desire to expand its presence and influence abroad.



In fact, the Chinese military has grown so powerful that we are now seeing headlines such as this one in The Week: “China thinks it can defeat America in battle”.

And the Russian military has made tremendous strides as well. Putin has been working hard to modernize the Russian nuclear arsenal, the Russians now have a “fifth generation” fighter jet that is supposedly far superior to the F-22 Raptor, and they have nuclear submarines that are so incredibly quiet that the US Navy refers to them as “black holes”.

If Russia and China stay united, they are more than capable of providing a counterbalance to US power around the globe.

But even if military conflict is not in our immediate future, the breakdown in relations between east and west could still have a dramatic impact on the global economy.

Over the years, the US and China have developed a highly symbiotic relationship that fuels a tremendous amount of economic activity all over the planet.  Each year, we buy hundreds of billions of dollars of products from the Chinese.  Just imagine what our stores would look like if we took everything that was “made in China” out of them.  And after we send them giant piles of our money, we beg the Chinese to lend it back to us at ultra-low interest rates.  This arrangement has allowed China to become extremely wealthy and it has allowed Americans to enjoy a massively inflated standard of living fueled by ever increasing amounts of debt.

So what happens if this relationship starts breaking down?

Without a doubt, it could potentially lead to global chaos.

So keep a close eye on this emerging division between the east and the west.  It could end up being far more important than most Americans would ever dare to imagine.

Links: The original version of this article, at the URL below, contains links to further information not included here.


Categories: Uncategorized

Dodge the Draft!

by James Marcus

Harper’s Magazine Easy Chair (March 2014)

Ever since the last draft was ended, in 1973, a small but devoted chorus of pundits, legislators, and retired military men have been stumping for its return. These are not wild-eyed boosters of the New American Century, itching to occupy every square inch of the Middle East and beyond. No, we’re talking about moderates like the Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank, who recently argued that mandatory service could help fix the dysfunctional US Congress. Or the journalist Thomas E Ricks, who said the all-volunteer force (AVF) “has made it all too easy for our nation to go to war”. Or Representative Charles B Rangel of New York, who last year brought the Universal National Service Act to the House floor for the fifth time in a decade.

None of these men is arguing that a draft would improve the quality of the fighting force, and their proposals haven’t been endorsed by the military. The appeal, ultimately, isn’t to battlefield necessity but to a kind of social engineering. Conscription, in their view, would rebuild our spindly national character, whose muscle tone has melted away since the end of the Vietnam War. It would bridge the economic, regional, and racial gaps in a sorely divided nation. It would restore a sense of sacrifice and meanwhile stock the US Congress with the sort of sagacious veterans who would never, ever shut down the entire government in a fit of pique. {1}

The pro-draft pundits have also seized on an appealing paradox: conscription as an antiwar measure. The idea is that veterans in the legislative branch will not only run the country with greater discipline but also be sufficiently sobered by their experience to avoid military adventurism in the first place. Add to that the prospect of their children – and everybody else’s – swelling the ranks for our next ground campaign, and you have the democratic equivalent of a mass hostage situation. Barring a Martian invasion or a crack Chinese expeditionary force wading ashore at La Jolla, we might never go to war again.

Andrew J Bacevich, a historian (and contributor to this magazine) who served in both Vietnam and the Persian Gulf before retiring from the Army as a colonel, in 1992, calls this the “skin-in-the-game argument”. The profound disconnect between the armed forces and the civilian establishment “allows the military to be abused, or used recklessly”, he told me.


If you and I had our sons or daughters serving and likely to be sent into harm’s way, we would exercise greater caution. And we’d be writing letters to our congressmen saying, ‘You damn well think twice before sending my boy to fight in the Syrian civil war’. There’s something to that argument.


Indeed, there is something to all of them – which doesn’t change the fact that few Americans would greet a renewed draft with open arms. On the contrary: press-ganging the nation’s youth into the armed forces has frequently met with resistance, and sometimes with the sort of explosive unrest that makes the urban uprisings of the Sixties look like pep rallies.

The Revolutionary War was waged by local militias and a volunteer army, and despite George Washington’s frazzled requests for more troops, the Continental Congress had no intention of wrecking the fragile American state by imposing a national draft. The next time the issue arose, during the War of 1812, a fuming Daniel Webster questioned the government’s right to “take children from their parents, and compel them to fight the battles of any war”. (Webster was particularly opposed to the invasion of what was then, for one brief shining moment, the Evil Empire: Canada.)

Not until the Civil War did America roll out its first national draft. The Confederacy instituted conscription more than a year before the Union – a decision at odds with its purported struggle against tyrannical federalism – but the South was short of men and understandably wary of asking its large population of slaves to fight for, you know, slavery. The Union followed suit with the Enrollment Act of 1863, which allowed potential recruits to buy their way out of service for $300.

In spite of this provision – or more likely because of it, since that sizable sum was out of reach for most – the draft touched off some of the most ferocious rioting in US history. There were violent protests in Boston, Newark, Hartford, Albany. The worst, however, were in New York City, where one observer reported an endless procession of “men and women and even little children armed with brickbats, stones, pokers, shovels and tongs, coal-scuttles, and even tin pans and bits of iron”. The mob destroyed draft offices, churches, homes, railroad tracks, and telegraph lines. They marched on the headquarters of the New York Times – where the sight of three Gatling guns manned by the newspaper’s staff led to a temporary retreat – and tried to burn the mayor’s residence to the ground before six regiments of federal soldiers arrived to restore the peace.

World War One was different. Sold to the public as a struggle for civilization itself, it roused little such resistance. Having learned from the Civil War riots, the government offered no buyout option for the wealthy – all able men would serve, regardless of social station. (George Creel, Woodrow Wilson’s Public Relations wizard, also anticipated some of the current arguments for the draft by promising that it would revitalize “the heart, liver, and kidneys of America”.) As for World War Two, it, too, was presented as a Manichaean clash between good and evil – and, once the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, a defensive conflict to boot. The Times could keep its Gatling guns in storage.

With Vietnam, however, the insurrectionary days of 1863 seemed to be upon us again. Here was a war increasingly resented by the civilian population. About 210,000 Americans were charged with evading the Vietnam-era draft – a small number, you might argue, given the 2.7 million who actually saw combat during that period. But by the early Seventies, the conflict was inflaming regional, racial, and class divisions across the country. And resistance had begun to creep into the military as well, where it took the form of foot-dragging, insubordination, and ultimately a small epidemic of soldiers fragging their commanding officers. By the time Defense Secretary Melvin Laird announced the end of conscription, in 1973, there was not a peep of protest from the armed forces, who remained spooked by the memory of this slow-motion mutiny for a generation or more. They endorsed the AVF and never looked back, confident they could raise enough volunteers, especially for post-Cold War police actions that would require a smaller footprint and, with a restive public back home, a rapid exit.

Fort Hamilton, whose garrison helped squelch Manhattan’s draft riots during the Civil War, is located at the southern edge of Brooklyn: its vintage artillery pieces are trained defiantly on the piers of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, as if an enemy army were about to storm down the off-ramps. The base is still active, and in December I went there to meet Lieutenant Colonel Michael Stinnett, who commands New York City’s Army Recruiting Battalion. An agreeable ex-Californian with a silvery buzz cut, he oversees twenty recruiting centers, pushing each one to meet a quota of eight to ten enlistments per month.

At first that struck me as a modest target – only 2,400 recruits per year from the nation’s largest city. But as Stinnett readily acknowledged, the Army itself is shrinking: from 570,000 soldiers in 2006, during the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to 558,000 in 2012. By 2017, that number is supposed to drop to 490,000.

I asked Stinnett whether he was worried that, as the economy makes at least a wobbly recovery, recruiters will have a harder time scraping up suitable candidates. “It’s not so much the economy”, he said, “but getting qualified applicants who have graduated high school and have no crimes or other problems on their records. And obesity! Those are our challenges.” He conceded that standards had dropped six or seven years ago, when the Army began admitting an alarming number of recruits on what are called moral, medical, and criminal waivers. With the AVF under tremendous pressure, convictions for manslaughter, vehicular homicide, robbery, assault, and statutory rape were no longer the disqualifying events they once had been. “We took everybody”, Stinnett said. Facing media scrutiny, the Army cut back drastically on misconduct waivers, discouraging what had become a steady trickle of felons.

Is the pared-down fighting force a response to modern warfare, which favors agility and technological prowess over massed medieval armies on the battlefield, or is it simply the result of a budgetary squeeze? Stinnett’s tactful answer: “Both”. And would conscription lead to a better fighting force? The AVF is better, was Stinnett’s conclusion, as long as the geopolitical situation remains stable and the volunteers keep volunteering.

Which they do, even in today’s slightly less enfeebled economy. To demonstrate, Stinnett ushered me into a compact car with a camouflage-clad sergeant at the wheel, and we drove to the recruiting center on East 149th Street in the South Bronx. The neighboring stores – Dental Plaza, Best Beauty, Spike’s Discounts – were doing plenty of business, but so was the Army.

There were recruits lined up inside and ARMY STRONG pamphlets scattered about. The desk where I sat had a scale model of a Bradley Fighting Vehicle parked atop a hardcover copy of General Hugh Shelton’s Without Hesitation: The Odyssey of an American Warrior (2010). On one wall was a large poster for Call of Duty: Ghosts, the latest installment of a first-person-shooter saga that must have steered more enlistees into the armed forces than any government ad campaign.

While Stinnett conferred with his recruiting sergeants, I spoke to a succession of aspiring soldiers. They were male and female, black and white and Latino – one had arrived from Ghana just a few weeks earlier. Of course the rich are still largely absent, and women form only fifteen percent of the total force, but on the most basic level the AVF reflects the demography of the nation. (As Bacevich put it: “The Michael Moore argument, which says that the dregs of society are somehow shanghaied into joining the Marine Corps, is bullshit”.)

Almost all the recruits I met viewed the military as an economic opportunity: they were already pondering post-Army careers as doctors, police officers, and mechanical engineers. What impressed me, though, was the persistent patriotism on display. “I want to wear the uniform”, Alexis Frank told me, fiddling with a gold earring in the shape of a crucifix. “This is not a perfect country”, said Jerry Mansfield IV, whose previous attempt at service was interrupted when he returned home after his initial training and was shot in the stomach during an altercation in the street. “But this is what I know, this is what I love, and it don’t get no better”. They weren’t cynical, and they weren’t concerned about whatever foreign-policy machinations might send them overseas to kill similarly earnest recruits on the other side. They were there to serve, in sufficient numbers for a modern military force, and the decision to do so was their own.

Representative Rangel has been at this a long time. On January 7 2003, as it was becoming clear we would go to war, he introduced the Universal National Service Act (HR 163), which proposed to “provide for the common defense by requiring that all young persons in the United States, including women, perform a period of military service or a period of civilian service in furtherance of the national defense and homeland security”. The bill was bottled up in committee for nearly two years, then brought to the floor in October 2004, where it was trounced by a vote of 402-2. Even Rangel himself voted against it – protesting, he says, the way HR 163 was shoved directly onto the floor without any provision for debate. {2}

Yet he didn’t surrender. Rangel followed up last year with a nearly identical bill, HR 748, which has now been dropped into the black hole of the Subcommittee on Military Personnel. When he discusses the issue, as he did with me during a lively telephonic monologue shortly after the New Year, he touches effortlessly on nearly every argument for the draft. “I want to show that everybody has some skin in this game”, he told me, “and that we’re not just talking about other people’s kids in Congress, we’re talking about our own families”. There’s the social-cohesion angle: “I am saying that everyone should have to make a commitment to national service”. There is the hope that a cunningly crafted bill will hobble executive overreach by triggering an automatic draft every time the president even contemplates going to war. Rangel also suggested that the military was less enamored of the AVF than they were willing to let on, a clairvoyant assessment I hadn’t heard from other fans of conscription.

Like the others, though, Rangel seemed resigned to the fact that the draft is a nonstarter in any practical sense. He even described HR 748 as a “sleeper bill” – something that might emerge from legislative limbo in the event of a really, really big crisis. But if that’s the idea, why not propose a more narrowly focused bill to address just such a military emergency? And if you want to repair the American social fabric by means of peacetime national service, why not fashion a freestanding, mandatory domestic Peace Corps rather than bolting it onto the bugaboo of conscription? Finally, if you want to improve the quality of Congress, there’s a quicker, saner way to achieve that without hustling a multitude of unwilling soldiers into uniform. Just vote the current bunch out of office.


{1} It is true that Congress now has the lowest proportion of veterans since the Second World War: only nineteen percent have served, compared with a high of 77 percent in 1977. But that year, just as the fraction of vets hit its peak, Congress still shut down the government – not once, but three times.

{2} The two votes in favor were cast by the Pennsylvania Democrat John Murtha, who in Rangel’s words was “pissed off” by the procedural trickery, and by the California Democrat Pete Stark, the only avowed atheist in Congress at the time and so staunch a pacifist that he had peace symbols printed on all the checks issued by the bank he owned.


(c) 2014 Harper’s Magazine

Categories: Uncategorized

The Education Delusion

by Dmitry Orlov

Club Orlov (July 14 2014)    

[Guest post by Makeda.]

Recently I have run across a number of articles in American newspapers which emphasize the importance of higher education and reassure us that there is no crisis with the way it is being financed. The fact that such articles are written by PhDs speaks to some of the unfortunate aspects of the problem. I am probably being too kind in assuming that the authors of these articles are deluded; I could just as easily accuse them of being high-ups in a massive Ponzi scheme.

The Washington Post published recently published an article by Donald Heller, an academic and a dean, who asserted that the $1.2 trillion-plus in student loans, with a fifteen percent default rate, is no big deal. Now, even social scientists are supposed to understand that correlation does not equal causality, while some facts he mentioned, such as the fact that college grads are more often employed than high school grads or drop outs, may just indicate that they have more active personalities, not that college allowed them to learn some special skill that made them better baristas. A college degree may or may not pay off over a lifetime, but the debt will certainly come due. While $29,000 (which Heller asserted was an average debt for undergraduate training) may seem like pocket change to an overpaid college administrator, it translates into the inability to afford food or rent for many a college-educated debt slave. Not to be outdone, the New York Times published an article about the “education debate” in which David Leonhart, a journalist of some acclaim and accomplishment, offered what many commenters saw as an advertorial for the higher education industry.

It is interesting to think about how our country produces so many educated fools. Education has been democratized to some extent, and standards have fallen. Today a high school diploma is available to students who can barely read. Mediocre students tend to funnel towards the humanities or social sciences, where mediocrity has become a form of high art. Under the tutelage of professors in these fields who are at best mediocre and at worst ignorant or fraudsters, a new generation of academics is being minted right now. Professors and students alike tend to hide behind large words and awkward turns of phrase.

In science, we use precise terminology to describe specific, observable phenomena. The constant discovery of new organisms, organelles and organic compounds necessitates an ever-expanding vocabulary. Academics in certain other disciplines seem to use highly specific jargon to disguise their lack of new ideas or even the absence of any sort of logic. I do some academic editing, so I know this situation has come full circle – to the point where students of the humanities are unaware that it is only their disciplines that are engaged in the use of specious language to obscure simple concepts. When explaining to one graduate student how he could not make certain assertions about traumatic brain injury based on current science, he told me he didn’t need to understand biology or neuroscience to write about them, he only needed to “understand the discourse”. His liberal arts training, that kind so often claimed to open minds, clearly had the opposite effect: it closed his to reality.

Perhaps this has made him happier? After all, reality can be a pain, so why not just ignore it and engage in “discourse”. Here’s a sample:


The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure. It has marked a shift from a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power …


wrote Judith Butler, who happens to be one of the top philosophers of our day. Do you have any idea what she means? Does she? Exactly! But don’t worry; nobody will ever ask her, or you, to act on it in any meaningful way. All that can be expected of you is that you drink it in, partially digest it, and regurgitate it.

When the physicist Sokal purposely published an article in a prestigious journal for the humanities, which he later revealed to be absolute nonsense, it should have been treated a polite wake up call for the humanities to get rid of the obfuscating mumbo- jumbo and post-modernist blather that clouds so much academic work in these disciplines. Unfortunately, little has changed, and increasing numbers of academics continue to publish works with tenuous connections to reality in ever-less-read journals and books. It is now not unheard of for an academic text to have a publishing run of under 100 books, but even 100 books might be generous given the complete lack of relevance to anything at all of the topics some academics choose to investigate.

When and where the subjects and methods of inquiry are of little relevance, the personalities involved in academia become even more central to their success. Much in the same way that no man would pick a trophy wife based on her ability to solve differential equations rather than on her appearance and demeanor, academia today tends to select for people of little intellectual ability, but with personality traits that are seen as most fitting for academic departments. These traits include embrace of the obligatory optimism of the privileged, which automatically translates into enthusiasm for evangelizing education in the face of pitiful realities.

The list of pitiful realities is too long to include here, but I will highlight just one: the number of people with graduate degrees who rely on food stamps is growing every year. While some might argue the financial consequences of the latest downturn for some uneducated folks have been as dire, this is not a relevant comparison. Hardly anyone who could get a graduate degree would contemplate working as a hamburger flipper instead. The relevant comparison would be with people who invested their time to train for specific trades. A union electrician or carpenter, a construction supervisor, a scrap metal dealer or a plumber usually achieves a six-figure income without incurring any significant educational debt, yet there are plenty of linguists, historians, lawyers and even medical doctors who can only dream of being so lucky.

Academic career paths conform to the same shape as many vaunted professions: it is a pyramid, with little room at the top. Anyone who tells you that upward mobility and advancement are likely outcomes of obtaining higher education is suffering for some sort of vision or logic problem, for it is easy to see that most people will be stuck somewhere near the bottom of the pyramid. The opposite argument – that one progresses through the pyramid – flies in the face of reality. Do you know of any workplaces in America that need more managers than actual workers? Most of us by definition will be humble workers trying to eke out a living in the face of ever-increasing demands and the bizarre whims of ever-richer managers who will be at best indifferent to our fate.

In my own field the apex of the pyramid is now reaching into the stratosphere. A mere two decades ago the Boston Globe chided a doctor working as a hospital administrator over his generous salary. The doctor made about $300,000 a year while nurses at the hospital he managed made $30,000 a year. Today such numbers seem quaint. Many nurses lost to retirement and attrition have been replaced with an army of “techs” who make nine or ten dollars an hour without benefits, while healthcare administrators are paid salaries in the millions. Many high level administrators don’t even possess the credential of being a medical doctor, nurse or scientist; after all, why would our managers ever get their hands dirty with the actual real painful work of medicine when they can manage it from oak-paneled board rooms?

Defenders of academia claim that a similar process has taken place within American universities, and that an evil class of administrators has taken over their precious collective body. To the extent such a process has happened, it may have been due to the weaknesses of the academy and academics. Ironically the liberal arts are not intellectual enough. The average cafe in the Middle East often has more honest conversation about ideas and social realities going on than many graduate departments of the humanities in the US. Ask some average, practical-minded Americans how they feel about academics, and they will admit that these emperors have no clothes. At best, academia is seen as providing a refuge for people who can’t cope with the real world – a sort of collection of mental institutions and halfway houses for the intellectually differently abled, if you will. The question is, as a society with so many poor people, increasing numbers of them direct products of academia, should we continue to support these academic institutions by entrusting our children to their care? Shouldn’t the real intellectuals (should any still exist) be the first to publicly question the validity of this arrangement? Where are the great minds of the day, and why won’t they speak about this loudly and publicly? Instead, the pages of this nation’s papers which have been crowded with nonsense by half-wits claiming that more and more debt-enabled education will make this a stronger nation.


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When the US Welched on Its NATO Promise

The Ukraine crisis owes its roots to a deal America made and broke with the recently deceased Soviet foreign minister

by Ray McGovern

Information Clearing House (July 17 2014)

Absent from US media encomia for recently deceased former Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze is any mention of the historic deal he reached with his US counterpart James Baker in 1990 ensuring that the Soviet empire would collapse “with a whimper, not a bang” (Mr Baker’s words).

Mr Baker keeps repeating that the Cold War “could not have ended peacefully without Shevardnadze”. But he and others are silent on the quid pro quo. The quid was Moscow’s agreement to swallow the bitter pill of a reunited Germany in NATO; the quo was a US promise not to “leapfrog” NATO over Germany farther East. Washington welched on the deal.

It began to unravel in October 1996 during the last weeks of President Bill Clinton’s campaign for re-election. Mr Clinton bragged that he would welcome Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic into NATO, explaining, “America truly is the world’s indispensable nation” (and, sotto voce, can do what it wants).

Those three countries joined NATO in 1999, and by April 2009, nine more became members, bringing the post-Cold War additions to twelve -  equal to the number of the original twelve NATO states. The additional nine included the former Baltic Republics that had been part of the USSR, but not Ukraine. NATO intentions, however, were made clear at its summit in Bucharest in April 2008, which formally declared, “Georgia and Ukraine will be in NATO”.

Even hawkish former American national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski now concedes, “It is reasonable for Russia to feel uncomfortable about the prospect” of Ukraine in NATO. And that is the nub of today’s crisis there -  not the “chauvinistic fanaticism” Mr Brzezinski attributes to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The foundering of the unique opportunity in 1990 to create a lasting peace in what President George H W Bush called a “Europe whole and free” was a tragedy. The expansion of NATO to the east -  especially the decision to bring in Georgia and Ukraine -  led, among other things, to Georgian-Russian hostilities in August 2008 and now to the current violence in Ukraine.

The fact that the Shevardnadze-Baker agreement was not recorded in an official document has helped revisionists to create alternative history, but there is compelling evidence testifying to Washington’s reneging on key oral commitments to Moscow.

Then-US Ambassador to the USSR Jack Matlock, who took part in both the Bush-Gorbachev early-December 1989 summit in Malta and the Shevardnadze-Baker discussions in early February 1990, told me, “The language used was absolute, and the entire negotiation was in the framework of a general agreement that there would be no use of force by the Soviets and no ‘taking advantage’ by the US … I don’t see how anybody could view the subsequent expansion of NATO as anything but ‘taking advantage’, particularly since, by then, Russia was hardly a credible threat”.

On February 10 1990, German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher told Shevardnadze, “For us, one thing is certain: NATO will not expand to the east”. Melvin Goodman, co-author of The Wars of Eduard Shevardnadze (1997), has told me that, during an interview of Shevardnadze in March 1994, the former foreign minister said Mr Baker had assured him that NATO “would not jump over” East Germany for new members.

Three months after the overthrow of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych and installation of a pro-Western government in Kiev, Russian President Vladimir Putin complained: “But tomorrow Ukraine might become a NATO member, and the day after tomorrow missile defense units of NATO could be deployed in this country”.

Mr Putin keeps coming back specifically to “missile defense” in NATO countries -  or adjacent waters. On April 17, he said the issue is “probably even more important than NATO’s eastward expansion. Incidentally, our decision on Crimea was partially prompted by this logic: If we don’t do anything, Ukraine will be drawn into NATO …  and NATO ships would dock in Sevastopol”.

President Putin added: “If these systems are deployed closer to our borders, our ground-based strategic missiles will be within their striking range”. Even Mr Brzezinski might agree that “it is reasonable for Russia to feel uncomfortable” about NATO ships docking in Crimea. Among the chief reasons: The current version of the missile defense plan includes ship-borne systems.

In his book, Duty (2014), former Defense Secretary Robert Gates notes that the Russians consider the latest plan even worse than earlier ones because it might eventually have capabilities against Russian ICBMs. He added dismissively, “Making the Russians happy wasn’t exactly on my to-do list”.


Ray McGovern was a CIA analyst for 27 years, serving as chief of the Soviet Foreign Policy Branch and then deputy national intelligence officer for Western Europe. Now retired, he co-founded Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) in January 2003.

(c) 2014 Baltimore Sun


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Nineteen Reasons Latin Americans Come to the US …

… that Have Nothing to Do with the American Dream

by Roque Planas

The Huffington Post (updated June 24 2014)

The conventional wisdom says that most Latin American migrants who come to the United States are looking for a better life, inspired by the “American Dream”. And it’s hard to deny that there’s a lot of truth in that.

But there’s another side to the story – people leave Latin America because life there can be very hard. Poverty, political instability and recurring financial crises often conspire to make Latin American life more challenging than in the US, a wealthy country with lots of job opportunities.

Living on the northern side of the US-Mexico border, it’s easy to view Latin America as another world, isolated from the United States. But the truth is that the US government has historically made life in Latin America harder by overthrowing democratically elected governments, financing atrocities and pushing trade policies that undermine Latin American industries, dealing blows to local economies. Perhaps instead of building walls, the United States should focus on being a better neighbor.

Here are nineteen ways the US government has helped spur immigration by making life harder in Latin America.

1. Took over almost half of Mexico

In 1846, shortly after the annexation of Texas, President James Polk ordered US troops into disputed lands, precipitating a war against Mexico. The war ended with the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848. This is what Chicano activists mean when they say “the border crossed them”. Today, 33.5 million people of Mexican origin live in the United States.

2. Colonized Puerto Rico in 1898

The United States invaded Puerto Rico in 1898 during the Spanish American War and has retained control of the island ever since. More people of Puerto Rican descent currently live in the United States than on the island.

3. Took over Cuba, put a naval base there, and only left when the new government allowed them the right to intervene at will

And yet somehow, US politicians viewed themselves as liberators. Later US administrations would use the naval base to jail suspected terrorists and hold them indefinitely without trial, also submitting them to torture tactics, according to Human Rights Watch.

4. Invaded and occupied Cuba two more times

Because once wasn’t good enough, the United States invaded and occupied Cuba again in 1906 and once more in 1912. It retained the legal authority to intervene in Cuba’s affairs until the 1933 Sergeant’s Revolt overthrew US-backed dictator Gerardo Machado.

5. Invaded Nicaragua and occupied the country for two decades

The United States invaded Nicaragua in 1912 and occupied the country until 1933. Shortly after the US forces left, Anastasio Somoza took over, launching a decades-long dynastic dictatorship with US support.

6. Invaded Haiti and occupied the country for nearly twenty years

Woodrow Wilson ordered the Marines to invade and occupy Haiti in 1915 after the assassination of the Haitian president. The troops didn’t leave until 1934.

7. Invaded the Dominican Republic in 1916

Mainly to collect debts, the United States invaded the Dominican Republic in 1916. The occupation lasted eight years.

8. Overthrew Guatemala’s elected government in 1954

At the behest of United Fruit Company, a US corporation with extensive holdings in Central America, the CIA helped engineer the overthrow of the Guatemalan government in 1954, ushering in decades of civil war that resulted in the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives.

9. Organized the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961

The CIA organized and financed a group of anti-Fidel Castro exiles in an ill-fated attempt to overthrow the revolutionary government. The botched invasion ended in disaster and Castro declared himself a “Marxist-Leninist” eight months later.

10. Supported the overthrow of a democratically elected government in Brazil

The administration of Lyndon B Johnson assisted the overthrow of the democratically elected Brazilian government in 1964. The resulting military dictatorship, which tortured thousands of opponents and “disappeared” hundreds, ruled the country until 1985.

11. Helped overthrow Chile’s elected government in 1973

General Augusto Pinochet, with the support of the Nixon administration, overthrew the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende, ushering in decades of violent dictatorship.

12. Backed a military dictatorship in Argentina that killed 30,000 people

When the military overthrew the Argentine government and installed a dictatorship in 1976, the Gerald Ford administration responded by offering its wholehearted support and financial assistance. The dictatorship lasted until 1983.

13. Paid a failed rebel army to overthrow the Nicaraguan government

When the leftwing Sandinista government rose to power in Nicaragua, it did not please Washington. In 1979, the United States began years of financing the “Contras”, a rightwing group responsible for committing atrocities and smuggling drugs into the United States with the Reagan administration’s knowledge.

14. Invaded Haiti Again In 1994

One invasion wasn’t good enough. The US military returned in 1994.

15. Fomented a rebellion in Panama in order to build a canal

The Theodore Roosevelt administration helped a group of Panamanian nationalists break away from Colombia, after that country’s Senate rejected the terms of a deal to allow the US to use its territory there to build a canal. After Panama broke away, the new country ceded permanent control of the canal zone to the US government, which finally returned it in 1999, after years of protests.

16. Backed the Salvadoran military as it committed atrocities in the 1980s

El Salvador’s military committed atrocities throughout the 1980s with US funding, including – but not limited to – raping nuns, assassinating priests and killing hundreds of children in a single massacre at the village of El Mozote.

17. Refuses to control the flow of weapons into Mexico

Mexican authorities seized almost 70,000 weapons of US origin from 2007 to 2011. In 2004, the US Congress declined to renew a ten-year ban on the sale of assault weapons. They quickly became the guns of choice for Mexican drug cartels.

18. Helped create today’s drug cartels

The US funded the Guatemalan military during the 1960s and 1970s anti-insurgency war, despite awareness of widespread human rights violations. Among the recipients of US military funding and training were the Kaibiles, a special force unit responsible for several massacres. Former Kaibiles have joined the ranks of the Zetas drug cartel.

19. Pushes trade policies that lead to unemployment

One of the things that prompted millions of low-wage workers to abandon Mexico over the last two decades was the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994. With NAFTA, cheap imports, particularly agricultural products, flooded the Mexican market, leaving farmers and other low-skilled workers without jobs. NAFTA is just one manifestation of free trade policies pushed in Washington that often have adverse effects in Latin American countries. Former US President Bill Clinton acknowledged as much after Haiti’s devastating 2010 earthquake, saying that opening up the Haitian market to cheap US rice “may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked … I had to live everyday with the consequences of the loss of capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people because of what I did, nobody else”.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misstated that the Nixon administration supported the Argentine military dictatorship in 1976. In fact, it was the Gerald Ford administration.


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Honduras and the US Border

Bleedback of a US Imperial Wound

by John Grant

This Can’t Be Happening! (July 13 2014)

In Spanish, the word hondura means “depth; profundity”. The related word hondo means “deep, low; bottom”. Hondon means “dell, glen, deep hole”. An example given in my dictionary is meterse en honduras, “to go beyond one’s depth”.

I imagine some gold-seeking Spanish conquistador in the 16th century passing through the isthmus and, with a bit of cruel wit, calling the place where he stood The Hole. Sort of like when I was in the Army, Fort Hood, Texas, was known as “the asshole of the world”. In Honduras, my imaginary conquistador no doubt left a lieutenant with troops enough to turn the residents into slaves before he moved his entourage on to the more appealing Costa Rica.

Honduras is the saddest basket case in the Western Hemisphere, and the behemoth to the north has done everything in its power to keep poor Honduras in the basket case category. Technically, Honduras is a sovereign nation; but in reality it is a vassal state of the United States. Maybe more like a flea-ridden junkyard dog resigned to being kicked.

In 1935, two-time Medal of Honor winner and retired Marine General Smedley Butler famously wrote this in an essay for the socialist magazine Common Sense:


I spent 33 years and four months in active military service, and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism … I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903 … Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.


It’s an old story and a well-known one in Latin America. One of the highlights was the infamous 1954 CIA-led coup in Guatemala that overthrew an elected reform movement and institutionalized what became one of the most bloody, nefarious military regimes in western hemisphere history. Of course, there’s Chile 1971. A decade later, Ronald Reagan used poor Honduras to mount an illegal war against its neighbor, Nicaragua. During this period, Honduras was ruled by a US proconsul, Ambassador John Negroponte, a man I’m sure has a forked tongue. The little nation was jokingly referred to as Aircraft Carrier Honduras.

The poor, members of trade unions and anyone opposed to US military occupation of Honduras were treated as hostile, subversive forces. Groups not aligned with the US-occupation were closed down; leaders were disappeared and murdered. In 1984, with five other Americans, I visited Honduras to speak with labor leaders about state violence. We were quickly put on the subversive list, arrested and deported.

After the US Contra War, the aircraft carrier reverted again to its basket case status. By 2009, it had elected a left-of-center president who spoke of reform. In the early morning hours of June 28 2009, President Manuel Zelaya was arrested by military troops and flown to Costa Rica. The Obama administration used an updated forked tongue approach and first declared the coup illegal, then did everything in its power to facilitate the newly established government, which, naturally, was good for certain industries. Since any protection they might have had under a reform regime had been lifted, the left and the poor were now even more at the mercy of corrupt military and police violence.

As far as most comfortable North Americans were concerned the story out of Honduras was just a case of politics in a place described as a hole. It’s sad people in places like Honduras are doomed to suffer. Plus, it’s true, the Zelaya government had cozied up to Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. Honduras had joined ALBA, the leftist Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas. These links were broken and the United States took the opportunity to immediately establish a host of small special-ops military bases in Honduras to prosecute its Drug War. No doubt something out of a contingency file. Honduras was now more and more being used by the drug cartels as a transshipment point. The coup meant it was a war zone again. Not exactly an aircraft carrier; maybe just a pack of trained junkyard dogs this time.

It was the same old story for the poor of Honduras. Feeble efforts at reform were crushed by unaccountable strongmen with guns, and a US-friendly, pro-business smiling face was installed as the new president. As might be expected in such a dark predatorial swampland, existing violent gangs flourished even better after the coup. Any fool could see that top-down violence was an acceptable arbiter of societal order, so it followed by natural logic that gang violence was the way to respond from the bottom-up. Unregulated, profit-making, capitalistic enterprise was facilitated at the top, while free enterprise was deemed illegal at the bottom when the product to be marketed was marijuana and cocaine. In a moral sinkhole like this, the poor and those seeking to work hard to rise into a middle class are caught between police violence and gang violence.

Plutocrats and Criminals

Nils Gilman, a social scientist at the University of California and co-editor of the academic journal Humanity, wrote an essay in the May issue of The American Interest called “The Twin Insurgency”. He nicely explains the sort of sovereignty train wreck that is Honduras. These twin insurgencies began in the 1970s, he suggests, when “social modernists states were increasingly failing to deliver on their promises”. Into the 1980s, with the growth of globalism, economic inequality grew as an empowered plutocratic class was on the rise and the political right was in its ascendancy.

“By the turn of the millennium, even elements of the Left had come to doubt whether states could be relied on to effectively and disinterestedly promote the public interest”, Gilman writes.

Here, he introduces his idea of twin insurgencies that both feed off the declining modernist state. At the top, there’s the plutocratic insurgency, made up of capitalists and financial manipulators who “see themselves as ‘the deserving winners of a tough worldwide competition’ and regard efforts to make them pay for public goods as little more than organized theft”. As they distance themselves from the public-oriented functions of the state, these plutocrats take full advantage of the state’s tax-based legal system, courts and the police to secure their rights and properties.

At the bottom, there’s the criminal insurgency”, which includes drug cartels and other “de facto political actors”. The insurgency at the top is noted for its gated communities attitude, while the insurgency at the bottom assumes a leadership role in “feral ‘no-go zones’ “.

“What both plutocratic and criminal insurgents desire”, Gilman writes, “is for the social modernist state to remain intact except insofar as it impinges on them”. (Italics in the original.)

This idea of insurgencies from the top and the bottom certainly applies to the political world of 2014 in the United States. Think the Koch Brothers and war profiteers on one side and gangs and a huge criminal underclass in and out of prison on the other. In a place like Honduras where there is no middle class and no working modern state, it’s nothing but the struggle between the two insurgencies. Society becomes divided between gated communities and feral no-go zones – with nothing in between. “The ultimate losers in all this”, Gilman writes, “[are] the people who play by the rules”. For a Honduran, it’s either accept loser status “or join one of the two insurgences”.

Many Honduran parents accept the risks in order to save their kids; they scrounge together money to send them to the US border. Three years ago, 6,800 children were detained at the border; today the figure is 90,000. Twenty-five percent of them are from Honduras. The UN High Commission for Refugees interviewed 104 of these children, and 58% said they left due to violence.

De-Militarize the US/Mexican Border

In a recent New York Times essay called “The Children of the Drug Wars” {1}, Sonia Nazario, author of Enriques Journey: The Story of a Boy’s Dangerous Odyssey to Reunite With His Mother (2006), describes the case of 90,000 Central American kids fleeing over the US/Mexico border as a “refugee crisis”, not an immigration crisis. It’s critical how the story is framed. For example, plutocrat-friendly Republicans love to represent it as a military problem and an Obama problem. But it’s not even a Bush problem. It’s a problem rooted in history, and it’s a history in which the US has played such an instrumental role that it owes a degree of attention to the problem. Sending down more guns and troops or building more, bigger fences is not the answer.

Honduras is ground zero when it comes to the ascendancy of Gilman’s dueling armed insurgencies preying especially on children.

Fourteen-year-old Carlos Baquedano Sanchez tells Narzario he knows how dangerous a trip to the US border can be; but he’s also aware of the dangers of staying in his village. He knows a man who lost both legs falling off a Mexican train on the way to the US border. He also knows eight people who have been murdered; he witnessed three of those murders.

“I want to avoid drugs and death”, he told Nazario. “The government can’t pull up its pants and help people. My country has lost its way.”

Henry Carias Aguilar, a pastor in a poor village, put it this way: “You never call the cops. The cops themselves will retaliate and kill you.”

The right wants the US government to increase the militarization of the border. “Secure the border” and “Send in the National Guard” have become their mantra. It’s not to catch terrorists, but to snatch up refugee children before anyone in El Norte can be moved by their stories.

Instead of more weapons and more prison cells, for a change US policy should help bolster the citizen-protecting features of the Honduran state. We could look at it as an experiment. The right-wing president of Colombia asked President Obama to close down the US Drug War in Latin America and begin to deal with the demand problem here at home. A reasonable legalization program is not far fetched; it would be a great start. It would help weaken the criminal insurgency Nils Gilman talks about.

But that leaves the plutocrats, and the Obama spine is not as stiff as that of the wheelchair-bound FDR. It may take a woman with a spine like Elizabeth Warren.

The point is to really help Honduras get out of its hole, and in the process make the border more human. If left to the forces of US militarism, the border crisis can only get much worse and much more dangerous.


{1} http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/13/opinion/sunday/a-refugee-crisis-not-an-immigration-crisis.html?partner=rss&emc=rss&_r=0


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