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Trans-Pacific Partnership (“TPP”)

How Obama Traded Away His Legacy

by Lori Wallach & Murshed Zaheed

http://www.huffingtonpost.com (December 28 2016)

Donald Trump is preparing to wipe President Barack Obama’s legacy from existence. The Affordable Care Act, Dodd-Frank and protections for the environment and immigrants all are set to disappear in no part small part thanks to President Obama himself and his relentless advocacy for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (“TPP”) right through Election Day.

And President Obama still won’t face the sorry truth, this week declaring that he would have beaten Trump if he had been the candidate. After years of siding with corporate America to pass various job-killing trade deals over the opposition of congressional Democrats, he announced that it was “nonsense” that anyone should have the view that “Democrats have somehow abandoned the white working class”.

Yet in fact, post-election polling and exit polls confirm that Trump flipped decisive states because he connected with voters’ fury about job-killing trade deals.

Trump’s omnipresent attacks on “rigged” trade deals resonated with communities devastated by mass job offshoring. Polling shows that Americans viewed President Obama’s TPP as a corporate power grab that would cost more jobs, lower wages and raise medicine prices.

Trump won Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania by 23,000, 11,000 and 68,000 votes, respectively. The number of people in those states certified as having lost jobs to trade since the North American Free Trade Agreement, or Nafta, is 78,331, 159,252 and 182,017 under just one government program that captures a fraction of trade-related job loss.

Meanwhile, President Obama’s closing argument for Clinton at a Michigan rally the day before the election was to “continue this journey of progress”, effectively promising a third term of an Obama presidency that had spent the past two years prioritizing the implementation of a trade deal despised not only by working class Midwesterners, but the entire Democratic Party base. At the Michigan event President Obama also declared that the “trade war” Trump was threatening by renegotiating Nafta, imposing tariffs on vehicles made in Mexico by Detroit’s automakers and opposing the TPP would hurt the economy.

This followed scores of Obama administration events and op-eds touting the benefits of the TPP in swing states during critical stages of the campaign, despite pleas by Democratic congressional candidates and party strategists to desist.

Was it coincidence that Clinton lost the western Wisconsin counties along the Mississippi River, which have historically always voted Democratic? Or did Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s October 12 event there to release a TPP-promoting report have unintended consequences?

Did US Trade Representative Michael Froman’s prominent October 19 Philadelphia Inquirer TPP op-ed contribute to flipping eastern Pennsylvania counties that voted twice for President Obama?

Support for the TPP signaled to those whose lives have been turned upside down by the trade policies of the past 25 years that the Democratic Party did not care about them. That message was conveyed repeatedly to the administration and Clinton campaign by union officials who heard it from their angry members.

The fury was reasonable. Bill Clinton promised American workers that hundreds of thousands of jobs would be created by the 1994 Nafta and the 2000 grant to China of US Permanent Normal Trade Relations. Instead, a flood of new imports transformed a small trade surplus with Mexico before Nafta to a $115 billion deficit today. The deficit with China reached $376 billion in 2015 – the largest annual trade deficit in recorded history.

Hundreds of thousands of American manufacturing jobs were destroyed. Those workers joined the pool of Americans without college degrees – 69 percent of us – competing for lower wage service sector jobs. This pushed down wages and fueled an increase in income inequality not seen since the late nineteenth-century “robber baron” era.

Trump’s win was foreshadowed in 1994 when Democrats lost control of the House for the first time in four decades as working-class voters enraged about Nafta abandoned the party.

But in the arc of the Democratic betrayal of working people on trade, more damning was President Obama’s flip-flop. He campaigned in 2008 against George W Bush’s US-Korea Free Trade Agreement, engaged in a primary battle to be more anti-Nafta than Hillary Clinton and John Edwards and initially put the TPP on ice in 2009.

He then proceeded to push the South Korea deal after modest tweaks, claiming it would create 70,000 new American jobs. By early 2016, the US trade deficit with South Korea had doubled as exports dropped and imports soared. This trade deficit increase equated to about 100,000 more US jobs lost, plugging the import/export data into the formula the administration used to predict job gains.

And then, although the damaging Korean deal was literally the template for the TPP, Obama proceeded to make it the capstone of his administration. The pro-TPP campaign was more vigorous than any other previous Obama initiative.

The deal was dead before Election Day, having never gained majority support in Congress during the ten months after President Obama signed it.

But President Obama’s election-year obsession with the TPP sent a message to American workers that was deadly to Hillary Clinton’s campaign as it elevated Trump to the White House and ultimately damaged – if not destroyed – the president’s own legacy.

_____

Murshed Zaheed is Political Director and Vice President of CREDO. Lori Wallach is Director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lori-wallach/tpp-how-obama-traded-away_b_13872926.html

Categories: Uncategorized

Trump’s Coming Confrontation with China

by Peter Symonds

World Socialist Web Site, wsws.org (January 07 2017)

US President-elect Donald Trump is preparing to dramatically intensify Washington’s confrontation with Beijing across the board – diplomatically, economically and militarily – through reckless measures that risk trade war and war. His bellicose economic threats against China during the election campaign have been followed by a series of provocative tweets that have exacerbated tensions with Beijing over some of the world’s most dangerous flashpoints – Taiwan, the Korean Peninsula and the South China Sea.

Trump’s belligerent anti-China stance is bound up with the intense conflict within the US state apparatus and political establishment over the future direction of foreign and military policy. After suffering debacles in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan, the question raging in ruling circles is how to use America’s residual military might to ensure its global hegemony, and against which of its major rivals – Russia or China?

One faction is exploiting unsubstantiated allegations that Russian hacking influenced the outcome of the presidential election in Trump’s favour to greatly inflate the threat posed by Moscow and undermine the president-elect. Trump, however, speaks for a layer of the corporate, political and military elites who regard China’s rise to the world’s second largest economy as a greater danger to US interests.

As he prepared to meet with top US intelligence officials yesterday, Trump once again played down allegations of Russian hacking and instead shifted the focus to China. “China, relatively recently, hacked twenty million government names”, he told The New York Times, referring to the alleged breach of the US Office of Personnel Management computers two years ago. “How come nobody even talks about that? This is a political witchhunt.”

Despite the intensity of the infighting, the divisions are tactical. Trump’s “America First” jingoism makes clear that his administration will tolerate no challenge to US power from any rivals, including Russia.

Trump has already signaled his intention, on his first day in office, to end US involvement in the Trans Pacific Partnership (“TPP”) – the principal economic weapon of the Obama administration’s “pivot to Asia” aimed at subordinating China to US interests. The purpose of tearing up the TPP, however, is to make way for far more aggressive trade measures. Trump has threatened to brand China as a currency manipulator and to impose tariffs of up to 45 percent on Chinese goods.

Trump has appointed a gang of anti-China hawks and economic nationalists to implement trade policy, including Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Robert Lighthizer as US Trade Secretary and Peter Navarro to head a new National Trade Council in the White House. Current US Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker told the Financial Times yesterday that senior Chinese officials have told her that Beijing would retaliate against US tariffs. She warned there was “a fine line between being tough and a trade war”.

Trump’s trade war threats are a desperate attempt to reverse America’s economic decline. Ideologues like Ross, Navarro and Lighthizer accuse China of trading unfairly and stealing US jobs. China’s share of global goods exports has increased three-fold since it joined the World Trade Organisation (“WTO”) in 2001, while the US share has declined by thirty percent. This dramatic shift, however, is driven by China’s emergence as the world’s largest manufacturing hub, above all for global transnationals, including many of America’s largest corporations.

While accusing Beijing of breaking trade rules, Trump is prepared to initiate punitive action against China, whether it conforms with the WTO framework or not. The eruption of trade war between the US and China would reverberate throughout the global economy, drawing in other countries with a stake in China and impacting severely on world trade. No longer having the economic muscle to lay down the international trade rules, the US has already begun a dramatic military build-up in Asia to assert its dominance, even if that leads to war with China.

Trump and his advisors have not criticised the objective of Obama’s “pivot” but rather its ineffectiveness. They advocate more aggressive methods. Trump has pledged to expand the US army by 90,000 personnel and the navy by forty ships to 350. The naval expansion is above all aimed against China, with Trump advisor Rudy Giuliani boasting in November: “At 350, China can’t match us in the Pacific”.

Trump has already made clear that North Korea will be at the top of the foreign policy agenda. Earlier this week, he responded to an announcement by North Korea that it was preparing to test an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching continental America by flatly declaring: “It won’t happen”. He followed it with a second tweet criticising China for its failure to “help with North Korea” – in other words, to economically bully Pyongyang to meet US demands to dismantle its nuclear arsenal. By threatening unspecified action against North Korea, Trump is also putting Pyongyang’s only ally, China, on notice.

More fundamentally, Trump has threatened to tear up the entire basis for US-Chinese relations since 1979 – the One China policy under which Washington recognised Beijing as the sole, legitimate ruler of all China, including Taiwan. He incensed the Chinese regime when he took a phone call from Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen last month – the first direct contact between US and Taiwanese leaders for nearly four decades.

As he declared that he would not feel bound by the One China policy, Trump lashed out at Beijing not only over trade and North Korea, but also for “building a massive fortress in the middle of the South China Sea, which they shouldn’t be doing”. His remark signals that he will confront China more aggressively in the South China Sea, where the Obama administration has already risked naval clashes by sending US warships into territorial waters claimed by China on so-called freedom of navigation operations.

If there were any doubt that he is preparing for war, Trump’s tweet prior to Christmas that the US must “greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear [weapons] capacity” is a chilling warning of his reckless and militarist intentions. The logic of the trade war that Trump and his advisors advocate is the inexorable slide toward war between nuclear-armed powers. The only social force capable of halting the drive to war is the international working class, unified on the basis of a socialist perspective to put an end to the social order that gives rise to war – capitalism and its outmoded division of the world into rival nation states.

Copyright (c) 1998-2017 World Socialist Web Site – All rights reserved

https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2017/01/07/pers-j07.html

Categories: Uncategorized

The Trump Bubble

by Mike Whitney

CounterPunch (January 06 2017)

Donald Trump has a plan for dealing with the stock market bubble. Make it bigger.

Before the election candidate Trump blasted Federal Reserve (“Fed”) chairman Janet Yellen for keeping interest rates too low for too long to keep the economy humming along while Obama was still in office. The president elect accused Yellen of being politically motivated suggesting that the Fed’s policies had put the country at risk of another stock market Crash like 2008.

“If rates go up, you’re going to see something that’s not pretty”, Trump told Fox News in an interview in September. “It’s all a big bubble”.

Yellen of course denied Trump’s claims saying, “We do not discuss politics at our meetings, and we do not take politics into account in our decisions”.

As we shall see later in this article, Yellen was lying about the political role the Fed plays in setting policy, in fact, last week’s Federal Open Market Committee (“FOMC”) statement clearly establishes the Fed as basically a political institution that implements an agenda that serves a very small group of powerful constituents, the one percent. If serving the interests of one group over all of the others is not politics, then what is it?

The problem we have with Trump is not his critique of the market or the Fed. The problem is his remedy which can be sussed out by reviewing his economic plan. Trump wants to slash personal and corporate taxes in order to put more money into the economy to increase business investment, boost hiring, and rev up growth. Regrettably, his tax plan achieves none of these.

First of all, slashing taxes for the wealthy does not boost growth. We know that. It doesn’t work. Period. Check out this blurb from an article on CNBC:

 

 

A study from the Congressional Research Service (“CRS”) – the non-partisan research office for Congress – shows that “there is little evidence over the past 65 years that tax cuts for the highest earners are associated with savings, investment or productivity growth”.

In fact, the study found that higher tax rates for the wealthy are statistically associated with higher levels of growth …

The CRS study looked at tax rates and economic growth since 1945. The top tax rate in 1945 was above ninety percent, and fell to seventy percent in the 1960s and to a low of 28 percent in 1986.

The top current rate is 35 percent. The tax rate for capital gains was 25 percent in the 1940s and 1950s, then went up to 35 percent in the 1970s, before coming down to fifteen percent today – the lowest rate in more than 65 years.

Lowering these rates for the wealthy, the study found, isn’t aligned with significant improvement in any of the areas it examined …

There is one part of the economy, however, that is changed by tax cuts for the rich: inequality …

The share of total income going to the top 0.1 percent hovered around four percent during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, then rose to twelve percent by the mid-2000s. During this period, the average tax rate paid by the 0.1 percent fell from more than forty percent to below 25 percent. {1}

 

 

Trump’s tax plan will increase inequality by making the rich richer. He wants to reduce the top tax rate from 39.6% to 33% which means that people “making $3.7 million or more in a year, would receive $1 million in annual tax savings”. (USA Today) The plan is bad for the economy, bad for the deficits and bad for working people who will see more aggressive attacks on Social Security to make up for the losses in revenue.

Second, the huge tax break Trump intends to award to the tax dodging corporations that stash their money overseas will not be used to fire up growth or invest in future business ventures, but to issue more dividends to shareholders or increase stock buybacks that pump up stock prices. There’s a great article at the Intercept website that sums it up perfectly. Here’s a short excerpt:

 

 

The official line from US-based multinational corporations is that if they get a huge tax break, they’ll bring home the trillions of dollars in profits they’ve stashed overseas and use it to hire tons of Americans.

But now that Donald Trump’s election means it might really happen, corporate executives are telling Wall Street analysts what they’ll actually use that money for: enriching their shareholders and buying other companies.

The Intercept’s examination of dozens of earnings calls and investor conference talks since Trump won the presidential election finds that many executives are telling analysts at large banks that they are eager to take the money to increase dividends and stock buybacks as well as snap up competitors. They demonstrate considerably less if any enthusiasm for going on a domestic hiring spree …

“The wealthy are going to create tremendous jobs. They’re going to expand their companies”, Trump asserted during the first presidential debate. “They’re going to bring $2.5 trillion back from overseas, … to be put to use on the inner cities and lots of other things, and it would be beautiful.” During the third debate he promised that “We’re going to start hiring people, we’re going to bring the $2.5 trillion that’s offshore back into the country. We are going to start the engine rolling again. {2}

Trump knows his so called “tax holiday” scam is a bunch of baloney. Why would companies expand their operations, hire more workers, and generate more product when consumer demand is still in the crapper seven years after the Great Recession?

They’re not going to do that. They’re going to do exactly what their shareholders expect them to do, pursue those areas of investment that promise the best possible return. In this case that means stock buybacks, the financial engineering swindle that’s going to add another $2 trillion to equities valuations and send Trump’s “bubble” to the moon.

The people who believe that Trump is going to defend the “little guy” against the special interests, corporate lobbyists and elitist oligarchy who run this country are going to be pretty disappointed. Behind his widely-ballyhooed public relations campaign aimed at convincing his backers that he’s determined to keep the jobs in the US, Trump is working all the levers to ensure the big money keeps flowing in the same direction it has been for the last thirty years. Upwards.

As for Yellen, last week’s FOMC statement made it crystal clear that if Trump makes any attempt to veer from the predatory, neoliberal course she’s charted, he will be quickly slapped down with higher interest rates. Check out her comments from the post-statement press conference:

 

 

We’re operating under a cloud of uncertainty at the moment … Some participants noted that if the labor market appeared to be tightening significantly more than expected, it might become necessary to adjust the Committee’s communications about the expected path of the federal funds rate, consistent with the possibility that a less gradual pace of increases would become appropriate.

 

 

In other words, if wages finally manage to break-free from their seven years of flatlining stagnation due to an unforeseen surge in growth, the Fed will immediately extinguish that improvement by raising rates and reducing the level of economic activity. Yellen’s statement simply confirms the Fed’s anti-worker bias.

Which is why we say the Fed is basically a political institution.

Links:

{1} http://www.cnbc.com/id/49059989

{2} https://theintercept.com/2017/01/05/corporations-prepare-to-gorge-on-tax-cuts-trump-claims-will-create-jobs/

_____

Mike Whitney lives in Washington state. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (2012). Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He can be reached at fergiewhitney@msn.com.

More articles by Mike Whitney: http://www.counterpunch.org/author/mike-whitney/

http://www.counterpunch.org/2017/01/06/the-trump-bubble-3/

Categories: Uncategorized

How Obama Traded Away His Legacy

by Gaius Publius

https://downwithtyranny.blogspot.co.uk (January 04 2017)

I’m about to say the obvious, but with so many dots getting connected in this post-election, pre-Trump interregnum, I want to connect just these two and let the obvious sink in.

Obama’s push for TPP not only cost Clinton the election (among other factors, of course), it very likely cost Obama his legacy – all of it.

Barack Obama has a number of what his supporters call “legacy achievements” – meant positively (I would add a number of inverse-legacy achievements as well) – but chief among them, first in the list, is always the Affordable Care Act (“ACA” or “Obamacare”). Whatever its demerits, and they are many, it did accomplish a narrow task – providing medical insurance, in some form, to millions of Americans who didn’t have it before.

That legacy achievement is about to be stripped away, all because Donald Trump, with a fully Republican Congress behind him, has been elected president.

And what caused that Republican takeover of the White House? Again, many factors, but chief among them, in my estimation and in the estimation of a number of writers, is Obama’s relentless push to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership (“TPP”) even as Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton was running to inhabit, in effect, Obama’s third term – and even as both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders achieved or nearly achieved unpredicted upsets running against “free” trade economics.

Let that sink in, because it’s not going to be said in too many public Democratic places. Obama’s relentless push to pass TPP in part cost Clinton the election and in full will cost Obama his signature (“legacy”) accomplishment.

Again, you won’t hear many Democrats say this, because the “free” trade wing of the Democratic Party is still in charge (of the Party, not the country). And that wing, which includes almost all Clinton supporters in the Party – including Tim Kaine, her choice for vice-president, and including Tom Perez, Obama’s “not Keith Ellison” choice for Democratic National Committee (“DNC”) chair – is still in favor of job-killing trade deals. This intra-party dynamic, I predict, will keep them out of power for a generation, unless the Obama-Clinton wing is ousted from party leadership in something like the next six months. That’s possible, of course, but it doesn’t seem likely to happen.

(And before you say, or hear, that Perez was forced to support TPP because, as Secretary of Labor, his boss supported it, consider that Perez didn’t feel as compelled to support his boss’s position on the recent UN condemnation of Israeli settlements.)

Supporting my contention is this, written by Lori Wallach, head of Global Trade Watch at Public Citizen, and Murshed Zaheed, political director of CREDO Action. The whole piece is worth a read; they nail it.

 

 

TPP: How Obama Traded Away His Legacy

Donald Trump is preparing to wipe President Barack Obama’s legacy from existence. The Affordable Care Act, Dodd-Frank and protections for the environment and immigrants all are set to disappear in no part small part thanks to President Obama himself and his relentless advocacy for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (“TPP”) right through Election Day.

And President Obama still won’t face the sorry truth, this week declaring that he would have beaten Trump if he had been the candidate. After years of siding with corporate America to pass various job-killing trade deals over the opposition of congressional Democrats, he announced that it was “nonsense” that anyone should have the view that “Democrats have somehow abandoned the white working class.”

Yet in fact, post-election polling and exit polls confirm that Trump flipped decisive states because he connected with voters’ fury about job-killing trade deals.

Trump’s omnipresent attacks on “rigged” trade deals resonated with communities devastated by mass job offshoring. Polling shows that Americans viewed President Obama’s TPP as a corporate power grab that would cost more jobs, lower wages and raise medicine prices.

Trump won Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania by 23,000, 11,000 and 68,000 votes, respectively. The number of people in those states certified as having lost jobs to trade since the North American Free Trade Agreement, or Nafta, is 78,331, 159,252 and 182,017 under just one government program that captures a fraction of trade-related job loss.

 

 

Notice the mention of Nafta above. People have long memories when it comes to Nafta, especially people out of work. Nafta is almost iconic for “Democrat-sponsored job-killing trade deal”.

About my comment that Clinton was running for “Obama’s third term”:

 

 

Meanwhile, President Obama’s closing argument for Clinton at a Michigan rally the day before the election was to “continue this journey of progress”, effectively promising a third term of an Obama presidency that had spent the past two years prioritizing the implementation of a trade deal despised not only by working class Midwesterners, but the entire Democratic Party base.

 

 

That clearly didn’t sit well with Rust Belt voters.

My own thought about the election, one of them anyway, is this: Voters didn’t just vote for “change” in some vague dissatisfied way. Many voters specifically repudiated “Clintonism” – Democratic Party-sponsored neoliberalism – when they voted last November. Evidence for that is this – Clinton’s very high unpopularity, which cannot simply be chalked up to 1990s era right-wing smears. Too many younger voters, for whom the 1990s occurred in the time of Alexander the Great (or at least Ronald Reagan), repudiated her candidacy as well, especially during the primary.

Why Did Obama Risk His Legacy for TPP?

To answer that, one must connect different dots. Here’s two of them, via The New York Times:

 

 

With High-Profile Help, Obama Plots Life After Presidency

… The dinner in the private upstairs dining room of the White House went so late that Reid Hoffman, the LinkedIn billionaire, finally suggested around midnight that President Obama might like to go to bed.

“Feel free to kick us out”, Mr Hoffman recalled telling the president.

But Mr Obama was just getting started. “I’ll kick you out when it’s time”, he replied. He then lingered with his wife, Michelle, and their thirteen guests – among them the novelist Toni Morrison, the hedge fund manager Marc Lasry and the Silicon Valley venture capitalist John Doerr – well past two am.

Mr Obama “seemed incredibly relaxed”, said another guest, the writer Malcolm Gladwell. He recalled how the group, which also included the actress Eva Longoria and Vinod Khosla, a founder of Sun Microsystems, tossed out ideas about what Mr Obama should do after he leaves the White House.

Publicly, Mr Obama betrays little urgency about his future. Privately, he is preparing for his post-presidency with the same fierce discipline and fund-raising ambition that characterized the 2008 campaign that got him to the White House.

The long-running dinner this past February is part of a methodical effort taking place inside and outside the White House as the president, first lady and a cadre of top aides map out a post-presidential infrastructure and endowment they estimate could cost as much as $1 billion. The president’s aides did not ask any of the guests for library contributions after the dinner, but a number of those at the table could be donors in the future.

The $1 billion – double what George W Bush raised for his library and its various programs – would be used for what one adviser called a “digital-first” presidential library loaded with modern technologies, and to establish a foundation with a worldwide reach …

… Including construction costs, Mr Obama’s associates set a goal of raising at least $800 million – enough money, they say, to avoid never-ending fund-raising. One top adviser said that $800 million was a floor rather than a ceiling.

 

 
There are many more high-dollar names in the article, including these:

 

 

So far, Mr Obama has raised just over $5.4 million from twelve donors, with gifts ranging from $100,000 to $1 million. Michael J Sacks, a Chicago businessman, gave $666,666. Fred Eychaner, the founder of Chicago-based Newsweb Corporation, which owns community newspapers and radio stations, donated $1 million. Mark T Gallogly, a private equity executive, and James H Simons, a technology entrepreneur, each contributed $340,000 to a foundation set up to oversee development of the library.

 

 

Those two dots, of course, are Obama’s post-electoral plans and its price. So, did Barack Obama push so hard for TPP in order to feather Hillary Clinton’s electoral nest, the Democratic Party’s electoral nest … or his own post-electoral future?

As a one-time mayor of Chicago, Hizzoner himself, used to say, “Youth wants to know”. And so do the rest of us, though the answer seems fairly (as I said in this essay’s first sentence) obvious. Hillary Clinton is off to a post-electoral retirement in semi-disgrace; the Democratic Party seems doomed to wander the wilderness for a good long time; and Obama … he sails into a well-financed, almost golden, future sunset.

https://downwithtyranny.blogspot.co.uk/2017/01/how-obama-traded-away-his-legacy.html

Categories: Uncategorized

Inquiry Points Toward a Pentagon Plot

… to Subvert Obama’s Syria Policy

by Gareth Porter

Truthdig (January 05 2017)

Airstrikes by the United States and its allies against two Syrian army positions September 17th killed at least 62 Syrian troops and wounded dozens more {1}. The attack was quickly treated as a non-story by the US news media; US Central Command (“CENTCOM”) claimed the strikes were carried out in the mistaken belief that Islamic State forces were being targeted, and the story disappeared.

The circumstances surrounding the attack, however, suggested it may have been deliberate, its purpose being to sabotage President Obama’s policy of coordinating with Russia against Islamic State and Nusra Front forces in Syria as part of a US-Russian cease-fire agreement.

Normally the US military can cover up illegal operations and mistakes with a pro forma military investigation that publicly clears those responsible. But the air attack on Syrian troops also involved three foreign allies in the anti-Islamic State campaign named Operation Inherent Resolve: the United Kingdom, Denmark and Australia. So, the Pentagon had to agree to bring a general from one of those allies into the investigation as a co-author of the report. Consequently, the summary of the investigation released by CENTCOM on November 29th reveals far more than the Pentagon and CENTCOM brass would have desired {2}.

Thanks to that heavily redacted report, we now have detailed evidence that the commander of CENTCOM’s Air Force component attacked the Syrian army deliberately.

The Motives Behind a Pentagon Scheme

Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter and the military establishment had a compelling motive in the attack of September 17th – namely, interest in maintaining the narrative of a “new Cold War” with Russia, which is crucial to supporting and expanding the budgets of their institutions. When negotiations on a comprehensive cease-fire agreement with Russia, including provisions for US-Russian cooperation on air operations against Islamic State and Nusra Front, appeared to gain traction last spring, the Pentagon began making leaks to the news media about its opposition to the Obama policy. Those receiving the leaks included neoconservative hawk Josh Rogin, who had just become a columnist at The Washington Post {3}.

After Secretary of State John Kerry struck an agreement Sept. 9 that contained a provision to set up a Joint Integration Center (“JIC#) for US-Russian cooperation in targeting, the Pentagon sought to reverse it. Carter grilled Kerry for hours in an effort to force him to retreat from that provision, according to The New York Times {4}.

Lobbying against the JIC continued the following week after Obama approved the full agreement. When the commander of the Central Command’s Air Force component, Leiutenant General. Jeffrey L Harrigan, was asked about the JIC at a press briefing September 13th, he seemed to suggest that opponents of the provision were still hoping to avoid cooperating with the Russians on targeting. He told reporters that his readiness to join such a joint operation was “going to depend on what the plan ends up being”.

But the Pentagon also had another motive for hitting Syrian troops in Deir Ezzor. On June 16th, Russian planes attacked a remote outpost of a CIA-supported armed group, called the New Syrian Army, in Deir Ezzor province near the confluence of Iraq, Syria and Jordan. The Pentagon demanded an explanation for the attack but never got it.

For senior leaders of the Pentagon and others in the military, a strike against Syrian army positions in Deir Ezzor would not only offer the prospect of avoiding the threat of cooperating with Russia militarily, it would also be payback for what many believed was a Russian poke in the US eye.

The Evidence in the Investigation Report

On September 16th, General Harrigan, who also headed the Combined Air Operations Center (“CAOC”) at al-Udeid airbase in Qatar, set in motion the planning for the attack on the two Syrian army positions. The process began, according to the investigation report, on September 16th, when Harrigan’s command identified two fighting positions near the Deir Ezzor airport as belonging to Islamic State, based on drone images showing that the personnel there were not wearing uniform military garb and, supposedly, displayed no flags.

But, as a former intelligence analyst told me, that was not a legitimate basis for a positive identification of the sites as Islamic State-controlled because Syrian army troops in the field frequently wear a wide range of uniforms and civilian clothing.

The report contains the incriminating revelation that the authorities at CAOC had plenty of intelligence warning that its identification was flat wrong. Before the strike, the regional station of the Distributed Common Ground System, which is the Air Force’s primary intelligence organ for interpreting data from aerial surveillance, contested the original identification of the units, sending its own assessment that they could not possibly be Islamic State. Another pre-strike intelligence report, moreover, pointed to what appeared to be a flag at one of the two sites. And a map of the area that was available to intelligence analysts at CAOC clearly showed that the sites were occupied by the Syrian army. Harrigan and his command apparently claimed, implausibly, that they were unaware of any of this information.

Further evidence that Harrigan meant to strike Syrian army targets was the haste with which the strike was carried out, the day after the initial intelligence assessment was made. The investigation summary acknowledges that the decision to go ahead with a strike so soon after the target had been initially assessed was a violation of Air Force regulations.

It had started out as a “deliberate target development” process – one that did not require an immediate decision and could therefore allow for a more careful analysis of intelligence. That was because the targets were clearly fixed ground positions, so there was no need for an immediate strike. Nevertheless, the decision was made to change it to a “dynamic targeting process”, normally reserved for situations in which the target is moving, to justify an immediate strike on September 17th.

No one in Harrigan’s command, including the commander himself, would acknowledge having made that decision. That would have been a tacit admission that the attack was far more than an innocent mistake.

The Deir Ezzor strike appears to have been timed to provoke a breakdown of the cease-fire before the JIC could be formed, which was originally to be after seven days of effective truce – meaning September 19th. Obama added a requirement for the completion of humanitarian shipments from the Turkish border, but the opponents of the JIC could not count on the Syrian government continuing to hold up the truck convoys. That meant that Harrigan would need to move urgently to carry out the strike.

Perhaps the single most damaging piece of evidence that the strike was knowingly targeting Syrian army bases is the fact that Harrigan’s command sent the Russians very specific misleading information on the targets of the operation. It informed its Russian contact under the deconfliction agreement that the two targets were nine kilometers south of Deir Ezzor airfield, but in fact they were only three and six kilometers away, respectively, according to the summary. Accurate information about the locations would have set off alarm bells among the Russians, because they would have known immediately that Syrian army bases were being targeted, as the US co-author of the investigation report, General Richard Coe, acknowledged to reporters.

“Who is in Charge in Washington?”

General Harrigan’s strike worked like a charm in terms of the interests of those behind it. The hope of provoking a Syrian-Russian decision to end the cease-fire and thus the plan for the JIC was apparently based on the assumption that it would be perceived by both Russians and Syrians as evidence that Obama was not in control of US policy and therefore could not be trusted as a partner in managing the conflict. That assumption proved correct. When Russia’s ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, spoke to reporters at a press briefing outside a UN Security Council emergency meeting on the US attack on Syrian troops, he asked rhetorically, “Who is in charge in Washington? The White House or the Pentagon?”

Seemingly no longer convinced that Obama was in control of his own military in Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin pulled the plug on his US strategy. Two days after the attacks, Syria announced, with obvious Russian support, that the cease-fire was no longer in effect.

The political-diplomatic consequences for Syrians and for the United States, however, were severe. The Russian and Syrian air forces began a campaign of heavy airstrikes in Aleppo that became the single focus of media attention on Syria. In mid-December, Secretary of State Kerry recalled in an interview with The Boston Globe that he had had an agreement with the Russians that would have given the United States “a veto over their flights …” He lamented that “you’d have a different situation there now if we’d been able to do that”.

But it didn’t happen, Kerry noted, because “we had people in our government who were bitterly opposed to doing that”. What he didn’t say was that those people had the power and the audacity to frustrate the will of the president of the United States.

Links:

{1} http://www.centcom.mil/MEDIA/PRESS-RELEASES/Press-Release-View/Article/947839/coalition-halts-airstrike-in-progress-against-possible-syrian-military-position/

{2} http://www.centcom.mil/Portals/6/media/REDACTED_FINAL_XSUM_Memorandum__29_Nov_16___CLEAR.pdf

{3} https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/global-opinions/obama-proposes-new-military-partnership-with-russia-in-syria/2016/06/29/8e8b2e2a-3e3f-11e6-80bc-d06711fd2125_story.html?utm_term=.a805f4ec0d1a

{4} http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/14/world/middleeast/syria-john-kerry.html

_____

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of the newly published Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare (2014).

(c) 2017 Truthdig, LLC. All rights reserved.

http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/report_points_to_a_pentagon_plot_to_subvert_obamas_syria_policy_20170105/

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Trump Aims to Cut …

… the Neocon Deep State off at the Knees

by Charles Hugh-Smith

OfTwoMinds (January 05 2017)

The Neocon-Neoliberals must be fired and put out to pasture before they do any more harm.

I have long held that America’s Deep State – the unelected National Security State often referred to as the Shadow Government – is not a unified monolith but a deeply divided ecosystem in which the dominant Neocon-Neoliberal Oligarchy is being challenged by elements which view the Neocon-Neoliberal agenda as a threat to national security and the interests of the United States.

I call these anti-Neocon-Neoliberal elements the progressive Deep State.

If you want a working definition of the Neocon-Neoliberal Deep State, Hillary Clinton’s quip – we came, we saw, he died – is a good summary: a bullying, arrogance-soaked state-within-a-state pursuing an agenda of ceaseless intervention while operating a global Murder, Inc, supremely confident that no one in the elected government can touch them.

Until Trump unexpectedly wrenched the presidency from the Neocon’s candidate. The Neocon Deep State’s response was to manufacture a mass-media hysteria that Russia had wrongfully deprived the Neocon’s candidate (Hillary Clinton) of what was rightfully hers: the presidency. (The Neocons operate their own version of the divine right of Political Nobility.)

The Neocon-Neoliberals’ strategy was to delegitimize Trump’s victory by ascribing it to “Russian Hacking”, a claim that remains entirely unsubstantiated. Now that this grasping-at-straws Hail Mary coup attempt by a politicized CIA and its corporate media mouthpiece has failed, the Neocon Deep State is about to find out the Progressive Deep State finally has a president who is willing and able to cut the Neocon-Neoliberals off at the knees.

Trump Is Working on a Plan to Restructure, Pare Back the CIA and America’s Top Spy Agency {1}

If you want documented evidence of this split in the Deep State – sorry, it doesn’t work that way. Nobody in the higher echelons of the Deep State is going to leak anything about the low-intensity war being waged because the one thing everyone agrees on is the Deep State’s dirty laundry must be kept private.

As a result, the split is visible only by carefully reading between the lines, by examining who is being placed in positions of control in the Trump Administration, and reading the tea leaves of who is “retiring” (that is, being fired) or quitting, which agencies are suddenly being reorganized, and the appearance of dissenting views in journals that serve as public conduits for Deep State narratives.

I have also long held that Wall Street’s political dominance is part and parcel of the Neocon-Neoliberal ideology, and the progressive elements in the Deep State also want to (finally) limit the power of the big banks and the rest of the Wall Street crowd. {2}

The split in the Deep State is a reflection of the profound political disunity that is occurring in the US In other words, it isn’t just disunity in the masses or the political elites – it’s a division in all levels of our society.

The cause is not difficult to discern: the concentration of wealth and political power in the hands of the few is generating levels of inequality that threaten democracy, the social order and the vitality of the economy:

As someone who has studied the Deep State for forty years, I find it ironic that so many self-identified “progressives” do not understand that the US military is now the Progressive element and it’s the civilian leadership – the Neocon-Neoliberals – who are responsible for leading the nation into quagmires and handing the keys to the chicken coop to the wolves of Wall Street.

When military leaders such as Eric Shinseki questioned the Neocon’s insane “strategy” in Iraq – essentially a civilian fantasy of magical-thinking – the Neocons quickly cashiered him (Shinseki was a wounded combat veteran of Vietnam who rose through the ranks – the exact opposite of the coddled never-get-my-hands-dirty Elites in the civilian Neocon-Neoliberal leadership.)

To the degree that the US has become a Third World Oligarchy owned and controlled by a financial-political Elite, then the US military is one of the few national institutions that hasn’t been corrupted by top-down politicization and worship of Wall Street.

Shinseki et al did not amass a fortune from Wall Street like Bill and Hillary Clinton. The simple dictum – follow the money – maps the lay of the land rather neatly.

The Neocon-Neoliberals have run the nation into the ground. They must be fired and put out to pasture before they do any more harm. That includes the fake “Progressives” and the fake “Conservatives” alike who have enriched themselves within the Neocon-Neoliberal Oligarchy.

If you are surprised that the Democratic Party, the CIA and Wall Street are all hugging each other in the same cozy Neocon-Neoliberal Oligarchic embrace, you shouldn’t be. Open your eyes. {3}

Links:

{1} http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2017-01-04/trump-working-plan-restructure-pare-back-cia-and-americas-top-spy-agency

{2} http://www.oftwominds.com/blogmar14/disunity-deep-state3-14.html

{3} http://www.oftwominds.com/blogaug16/deep-state-hillary8-16.html

http://charleshughsmith.blogspot.com/2017/01/trump-aims-to-cut-neocon-deep-state-off.html

Categories: Uncategorized

Any Way You Calculate it …

… Income Inequality is Getting Worse

by Pete Dolack

CounterPunch (December 30 2016)

A flurry of new reports have provided yet more data demonstrating that inequality is getting worse. All right, this does not qualify as a shock. But it really isn’t your imagination.

The economic crisis, nearly a decade on now, has been global in scope – working people most everywhere continue to suffer while the one percent are doing just fine. One measure of this is wages. A newly released report {1} by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (“OECD”) finds that median wages in the OECD’s 35 member countries are still below where they were in 2007. For the bottom ten percent of wage earners, the news is worse; wages for this bottom decile have declined 3.6 percent since 2007. But wages have risen for the top ten percent.

The report on wage inequality by the OECD, the club of the world’s advanced capitalist countries and a few of the biggest developing countries, also found that inequality has increased in most of those countries. No part of the world has been immune. The report, “Income inequality remains high in the face of weak recovery”, states:

 

 

The crisis has not only heavily affected the number of jobs but also their quality … Even in countries where labour market slack has been re-absorbed, low-quality jobs and high disparities among workers in terms of work contracts or job security weigh heavily on low-earning households and contribute to maintaining high levels of income inequality. Wages have stalled in most countries, including those that were largely spared by the recession (for example, Japan) and fallen in those hard hit (e.g. Greece, Portugal, Spain, and the United Kingdom). {2}

 

 

Chile and Mexico are the most unequal countries among the OECD members, followed by the United States, as measured by the gini coefficient. Iceland, Norway and Denmark are the least unequal. (The gini coefficient, the standard statistical measure of income distribution, is equal to zero if everybody has the same income and to one if a single person takes all income.) To put that scale into some tangible form, Iceland’s gini coefficient is 0.24 and Chile’s is 0.46.

Global Inequality Worse than any Country’s

The world’s most unequal country {3} is South Africa at 0.65. Calculating this scale on a global basis gives a better idea of the scale of inequality but is a difficult statistic to find. One measure, as calculated for a United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization paper {4}, estimates the world gini coefficient in 2005 was 0.68, significantly higher than in the nineteenth century but a bit lower than it had been in 1981. That’s higher than South Africa. The Economist, crunching data from several sources, estimates a global gini coefficient of 0.65 in 2008, a very slight dip from the 1980s peak.

Global inequality has very likely worsened since but no more recent statistics appear to be available.

Rising inequality has been particularly acute in the global center of world capitalism, the United States, and a quick examination of trends there are useful as capitalists elsewhere seek to emulate the new US gilded age. Those at the top of the pyramid are grabbing ever more. The Economist reports:

 

 

Including capital gains, the share of national income going to the richest one percent of Americans has doubled since 1980, from ten percent to twenty percent, roughly where it was a century ago. Even more striking, the share going to the top 0.01% – some 16,000 families with an average income of $24 million – has quadrupled, from just over one percent to almost five percent. That is a bigger slice of the national pie than the top 0.01% received 100 years ago.

Another new study, by economists Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman {6}, found that the average pre-tax income of the bottom fifty percent of US adults is flat since 1980 in inflation-adjusted dollars – and this includes government transfers, other public spending and the value of job-derived fringe benefits – and thus the share of national income going to the bottom half of United Statesians declined to twelve percent in 2014 from twenty percent in 1980. The top one percent, meanwhile, hauled in twenty percent of income in 2014. Another way of looking at this inequality, the authors write, is that the top one percent of US adults earned on average 81 times more than an adult in the bottom fifty percent. This ratio was 27 times in 1980.

The Top of the Pyramid Does Well Around the World

To zero in on the tip of the pyramid, the US Internal Revenue Service released a report this month on the 400 tax returns showing the highest incomes reported to it. Those 400 taxpayers reported an aggregate income of $127 billion in 2014 – a fourfold increase in inflation-adjusted dollars since 1980. Those 400 taxpayers by themselves accounted for six percent of all interest income and eleven percent of all capital gains (profits from financial assets such as stocks and bonds). To put that in perspective, 149 million tax returns were filed in the US in 2014. Stock-market bubbles and other forms of financial speculation truly are the province of the super-wealthy.

In Canada, Statistics Canada reports that, in 2013, the top one percent grabbed 10.3 percent of income; the average Canadian in this grouping received $450,000 that year. In Britain, the top one percent have doubled their income since 2005, collectively adding another GBP 250 billion to their wealth. Meanwhile, a fifth of Britons live below the poverty line and life expectancy in some areas is lower than in many developing countries, The Independent reports. Australian inequality has not yet reached the above levels, but is getting wider – the percentage of total Australian income grabbed by the top 0.1 percent there has more than doubled since 1980.

Again, nothing here is going to make you fall off your chair in shock. The question becomes: What will we do about all this? This is the internally logical result of the development of capitalism – the upward distribution of income as exploitation accelerates through work speedups, layoffs, movement of production to low-wage havens and the panoply of deregulatory measures resulting from corporate capture of governments.

So-called “free trade” agreements, with their use of clauses enabling multi-national corporations to use secret private tribunals controlled by their lawyers to overturn laws they don’t like, are an exemplary example of the processes used to ratchet up inequality, even if but one of many manifestations. Capital is international and our resistance to it must be international as well. The rise of far right and even fascist movements across Europe and in the United States, decked in the cloaks of nationalism and fake populism, is all the more dangerous because the scapegoating that is always front and center in such movements deflects attention from the real problems.

If the beginning of the end of capitalism is upon us – admittedly something that none of us can yet be certain of – then the need to build movements that can move societies toward a better world is all the more a necessity. Even if the final decay of capitalism has arrived, that decay is likely to unfold over decades unless a global Left movement, uniting the variety of social and environmental movements and struggles across borders, can speed up the process. The only alternative is for inequality to get worse and the repression necessary to impose that inequality to get still more severe.

Links:

{1} http://www.oecd.org/social/OECD2016-Income-Inequality-Update.pdf

{2} http://www.oecd.org/social/OECD2016-Income-Inequality-Update.pdf#2

{3} https://systemicdisorder.wordpress.com/2015/08/18/marikana-massacre-anniversary/

{4} ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/012/ak968e/ak968e00.pdf#2

{5} http://www.economist.com/node/21564414

{6} http://gabriel-zucman.eu/files/PSZ2016.pdf

http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/12/30/any-way-you-calculate-it-income-inequality-is-getting-worse/

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