Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Kill Anything That Moves

Like many Americans, my real political education began with my opposition to the Vietnam War in the early 1960s, progressing from readings to joining anti-war groups to public demonstrations, draft board sit-ins and so on. But even all the reading and involvement and civil disobedience did not prepare me for what Nick Turse has discovered and laid out in his new book, Kill Anything That Moves (Holt 2013.) The title phrase comes from actual testimony Turse found, specifically that of medic Jamie Henry, who, referring to a search-and-destroy operation in the Tet counteroffensive, quoted what his company captain, Donald Reh, told Lieutenant Johnny Mack when the latter asked Reh what to do with the 19 civilians his troops had rounded up:

“The Captain asked him if he remembered the Op [operations] Order that had come down from higher that morning which was to kill anything that moves. The Captain repeated the order. He said that higher said to kill anything that moves.”(126)
The order was, of course, followed (about which more later.) This is the pattern that Turse found repeated everywhere in the war. Gooks or slopes or slants (all racist names for Vietnamese) were not people; they were, no matter how they appeared outwardly, all the enemy, all VC or Vietcong. If they remained in a village instead of fleeing to a refugee camp, and especially if they tried to run from soldiers, they were to be killed. Period. The statistics Turse cites at the outset confirm this: the Vietnam government itself estimated 2 million civilians dead. If multiplied by Gunter Loewy’s multiplier of 2.65 wounded for every one killed, that means 5.3 million civilians wounded, for a total of 7.3 million casualties out of a population of 19 million. The United States tried and still tries to call such civilian casualties “collateral damage,” as if they were accidental. Turse disagrees, and writes a massively documented book to prove that it was U.S. policy to kill civilians, and that such intentional killing constituted massive war crimes.

            The main documents Turse uses to make his case came from an accidental find at the National Archives, the files of the Vietnam War Crimes Working Group (activists never heard of such a group at the time.) This was a group the Pentagon formed in the aftermath of the inflammatory publicity about the My Lai massacre (500 civilians murdered), hoping to prevent further such incidents, or at least pretend that it was working to prevent them. The files include over 300 allegations of “massacres, murders, rapes, torture, assaults, mutilations and other atrocities substantiated by army investigators, including 500 allegations that weren’t proven at the time.” Turse also interviewed numerous whistleblowers, like Jamie Henry, and many Vietnamese victims of atrocities who managed to survive, most of them maimed either physically or spiritually. He ends up with a story of massacre after massacre, with innocent civilians being bombed from high-flying B-52 bombers, or strafed by napalm spewing jets or blasted by helicopters or pounded by huge naval guns firing shells as big as a Volkswagen or simply gunned down by American soldiers following their orders to “kill anything that moves.” And this is the burden of Turse’s book: the massacre of an entire country was not an accident; rather, it was the product of a theory of war that sociologist James William Gibson calls “technowar”—a philosophy best embodied in the person of U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. Technowar combined “American technological and economic prowess with sophisticated managerial capacities” to produce a war machine “functioning as smoothly and predictably as an assembly line.” One of the products of that ‘assembly line’ approach was to imagine a “crossover point”—the moment when American soldiers would be killing more enemies than their Vietnamese opponents could replace—an idea that would lead directly to the huge emphasis on “body count,” the number of killed Vietnamese. Also related was the notion that since the United States was fighting a guerilla war against an enemy that could easily melt back into its jungle villages, the solution was to deprive the guerillas of their civilian and jungle cover. How? Simple: either kill or force most villagers to move into refugee camps or cities (Saigon tripled in size during the war), and reduce their tropical homeland to desert by using napalm and white phosphorus and toxic defoliants like Agent Orange that would not only get rid of the jungle cover but also destroy the lush paddy fields of rice that had made Vietnam before the war a net exporter of rice, and soon made it a net importer.

One soldier, Richard Brummett of A Troop, 1st Squadron, 1st Regimental Cavalry illustrated this philosophy in a letter he sent to then-Defense Secretary Melvin Laird:

            [my unit] did perform on a regular basis, random murder, rape and pillage upon the Vietnamese civilians in Quang Tin Province…with the full knowledge, consent and participation of our Troop Commander, a Captain David Roessler…
            These incidents included random shelling of villages with 90mm white phosphorus rounds, machine gunning of civilians who had the misfortune to be near when we hit a mine, torture of prisoners, destroying of food and livestock of villagers if we deemed they had an excess, and numerous burnings of villages for no apparent reason. (97)

Another more specific account came from the aforementioned medic, Jamie Henry. Henry was a member of Company B in the 35th Infantry engaged in what came to be known as the Tet counteroffensive—wherein the U.S. military vowed to prove that it was unfazed by the Tet offensive that nearly brought the U.S. military to its knees. The savagery unleashed in response destroyed much of the country, including many of the cities like Hue where the Vietnamese guerillas had triumphed. Henry’s unit, working in Quang Nam province in the north, was part of this Tet counteroffensive. Having lost five men earlier, the unit entered a hamlet so small it had no name, seeking revenge. Instead of the enemy, however, they found only a few villagers. Some of the soldiers killed livestock (a common tactic, to deprive villagers of their food, and thus force them to cities or refugee camps), while others dragged a teenaged girl into a hut for the usual gang rape. Others rounded up 19 villagers (by now including the girl who had been raped) and it was then that Henry heard his captain repeating the Op Order mentioned above—to kill anything that moved. As Henry described it, four or five of the soldiers surrounded the terrified squatting villagers, and

“opened fire and shot them. There was a lot of flesh and blood going around because the velocity of an M-16 at that close range does a lot of damage.” (126)
Henry added that this was not an isolated incident; by the end of his tour, he knew of “at least 50 civilians executed by our company and with as little provocation as on [the day of the massacre], not in the heat of battle or from air strikes—deliberate murder.”

            Jamie Henry tried to speak up about what he’d seen, but he was advised that if he did so while still in Vietnam, he’d be likely to get a bullet in his back. So he waited till he got home, went to the Judge Advocate General in Fort Hood, Texas, but was advised, again, to be silent because otherwise he’d be made to be quiet or even disappear. Even the anti-war magazine Ramparts, though it wrote up his story, refrained from publishing it; only Scanlon’s Monthly, in Spring 1970, published it, but it made hardly a ripple. Army investigators did take a 10-page statement from Jamie Henry, but it disappeared like many others. Only the Winter Soldier Investigation of January 1971 finally gave Jamie Henry a forum, and at that event he made clear what Nick Turse asserts again and again: “the executions are the direct result of a policy. It’s the policy that is important” (239). And that policy, as reporter Jonathan Schell noted about Quang Ngai province which he found to be nearly totally destroyed, was summed up simply: the war was a battle against the South Vietnamese people.

            The question we keep wanting to ask is: how could American boys do such things? In answer, Turse cites the training they received, emphasizing the singular purpose of their mission: to kill, kill, kill (I remember the slogan from my basic training: “What’s the motto of the bayonet? Kill, Kill, Kill”). The dehumanization of Vietnamese people cited earlier facilitates this, especially among 19-year-olds. While there were the Jamie Henrys and others who found the killing of innocents repugnant and criminal, there were others who actually found it fun. This is documented by perhaps the most shocking violations Turse found: numerous accounts of American troops actually making a game out of killing. One American medic, seeing two boys dead near a road,

“found out they’d been hit by an American military truck and that there was this kind of game going on in which, supposedly, guys were driving through town gambling over who could hit a kid. They had some disgusting name for it, something like “gook hockey.” I think they were driving deuce-and-a-halfs—big-ass trucks. The NCO who ordered me to clean the bodies could have cared less. (157)
To help explain such behavior Turse refers to the fancy new military technologies young soldiers are equipped with, encouraging in them the firing of weapons for the “simple thrill of it—what the historian Charles Appy calls the ‘hedonism of destruction.” This starts with the M-16 rifle every soldier carried (and which, not coincidentally, is the model for the Bushmaster Rifle so favored by our local gun aficionados, including Newtown killer Adam Lanza). The M-16 can fire “up to 700 rounds a minute and tear off a limb at a hundred yards.” So light and play-like is the M-16 that it came to be known, among soldiers, as the “Mattel Toy.” Other troop toys included Vietnamese ears strung around soldiers’ necks, and “kill albums”— photo albums kept by troops showing pictures of severed heads, or “lots of heads, arranged in a row, with a burning cigarette in each of the mouths, eyes open”(162).

            Of course, the main point of Turse’s book is that it was not just out-of-control 19-year-olds who bear the burden of guilt. Generals were the ones giving the orders, and when the general was someone like Julian Ewell, who in 1968 was given command of the 9th Infantry Division responsible for “clearing” the Mekong Delta (perhaps the richest agricultural expanse in the world), the murder and mayhem could and did reach epic proportions. Known as the “Butcher of the Delta,” Ewell was obsessed with the infamous “body count.” His chief of Staff, Colonel Ira Hunt, was equally obsessed. Together, they beat and browbeat the commanders under them to fatten the body count by any means necessary. Turse quotes Ewell in one rant to his commanders:

“What the fuck are you people doing down here, sitting on your ass? The rest of the brigades are coming up with a fine body count…If you can’t get out there and beat ‘em out of the bushes, then I’ll relieve you and get somebody down here who will.” (206).
Turse also cites Navy Admiral Robert Salzer’s contention that Ewell was “psychologically unbalanced…you could almost see the saliva dripping out of the corners of his mouth”(207). The insanity showed up in hordes of dead civilians—all, as always and everywhere, counted as enemies, “dead VC.” Before Ewell took over, the 9th Infantry Division had a ratio of about eight VC dead for every American killed in large unit operations, which was slightly higher than average. Then came Speedy Express, Ewell’s name for his operation in the Delta, tragically given an even greater mandate by politics (Pres. Johnson had re-started the Paris peace talks, and the Pentagon wanted to bring the Mekong Delta under Saigon’s control before any peace could break out, and so ordered Ewell and others to pound the Delta even more savagely than before.) With this added sanction from above, the kill ratio for Speedy Express kept leaping to ever more astounding levels, peaking in March of 1969 with a 134 to 1 ratio: that is, 134 “enemy” kills for every American death. Ewell became, of course, the darling of the officer corps, even in spite of the complaints that continued to mount against him. One Concerned Sergeant (later revealed by Turse as George Lewis) wrote a letter to General Westmoreland, the Supreme commander in Vietnam:

            Sir, the 9th Division did nothing to prevent the killing, and by pushing the body [count] so hard, we were “told” to kill many times more Vietnamese than at My Lay [My Lai], and a very few per cents of them did we know were enemy…
            In case you don’t think I mean lots of Vietnamese got killed this way, I can give you some idea how many. A battalion would kill maybe 15 to 20 a day. With 4 battalions in the Brigade that would be maybe 40 to 50 a day or 1200 to 1500 a month, easy. (One battalion claimed almost 1000 body counts one month!) If I am only 10% right, and believe me its lots more, then I am trying to tell you about 120-150 murders, or a My Lay each month for over a year.
Of course his letter was buried, the excuse being that an anonymous letter could be legally discounted. Instead, My Lai was easily turned into a “singular case” of one bad apple in a generally noble barrel, thus obviating any more concern about war crimes. And General Ewell and his chief of staff were commissioned by the Army to write a book about their glorious campaign, for the edification of future military commanders. Called Sharpening the Combat Edge, it completely whitewashed the history of the Mekong Delta massacres, claiming that their mass killing methods had actually “unbrutalized” the war.

            This is the fate of war criminals in the American military. While hard-hitting reports, like that of Kevin Buckley of Newsweek, are truncated and sanitized for public consumption, the books of war criminals and psychopaths are admired as models for the future ‘civilized’ conduct of war. Sadly, Nick Turse’s book has appeared too late to compel war crimes trials—which should have happened years ago when the criminals were still alive. All that we have now is Turse’s chilling documentation indicating, once more, why there are, in fact, millions of people in the world who consider the United States of America a rogue nation, an empire of advanced killing machines manned by smooth-faced killers all too ready and eager to use them.

Lawrence DiStasi

Benghazi Perspectives

Benghazi is a vague memory from my youth
British fought Italians and Germans in the sand
But the waning tide of Empire hid the truth
For war is more than marching to a band
Say twelve hundred Brits beneath the dust
And even more in cotton, steel and rust
Now Empire is but a dream gone by
Though yet we plant new flags
As new players fly and die
As new fires consume new rags
More die, more cry and still more die

In my childhood memories of WW II, the struggle for the port of Benghazi and the surrounding sands came forth as I read Dave Dawson novels printed on that brittle yellow pulp paper of the 40s.  Dave Dawson in Libya was the third in the long series of adventure novels by R. Sydney Bowen.  I was seven or eight years old but an avid reader during an amazing time.  I now look back and realize that all the dramatic action was not only part of a grand war against imperialism, but an attempt to hold back the waves of independence that crashed across that Benghazi beach and hundreds of other beaches, hills, valleys, cities and towns across an occupied region controlled only weakly by precedent and the memory of Empire.  Of the1200 Brits buried near Benghazi, some were from British India, which, in 1947 gained independence through Mahatma Gandhi.  Others were from Australia that gained independence in a more peaceful process.  Benghazi was occupied by Italy as a colony through most of the 1930s. Italy improved the infrastructure while imprisoning about 125,000 Libyans in the process of a brief Mussolini Empire.  Even in ancient times, Benghazi saw uprisings and revolution against the tyrants of the time.  Recently, we have different players, but the games are still the same and death comes easily in the Cyrenaica that has never been serene.  Libya has been colonized by a variety of invaders from the east, west and north for more than 3,000 years.  That was my first perspective of Benghazi.

But Libya and Benghazi are not the only sources of tension and death and neither is armed revolution.  On September 11-12, 2012, four Americans including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens were killed at the diplomatic mission in Benghazi.  Islamic militants have been blamed for the attack.  There is nothing terribly new with that attribution.  Within the past few days, Pope Francis has canonized for 813 Italians from Otranto (southern Italy) who were beheaded by Islamic militants in 1480 for failing to renounce Christianity.  Had the AK-47 and rocket propelled grenade been available in 1480, religious extremists might have used them.  Extremists do that.  Not all revolutions succeed, either.  The bloody uprising in Syria may yet be crushed and, if even they win, there is no guarantee that they will not be just as bloody in repressing non-converts to their way of thinking whether because of religious or political thought.  The uprising in Egypt did succeed, but the jury is still out on the outcome being favorable to freedom. The death toll was high, but the victor was most probably Muslim religious extremism.  Don’t book a vacation to Egypt yet, and remember that DENIAL is more than a river in Egypt.  It could mean your life.

Let us look beyond Libya where four Americans were killed.  Recently, in West, Texas, 14 were killed and hundreds injured in a fertilizer plant explosion involving ammonium nitrate.  While working with anhydrous ammonia is inherently dangerous, the factory had 1,000 times the permitted volume of ammonium nitrate on site.  That is the same explosive material that Timothy McVeigh used to blow up the federal building in Oklahoma City.  Safety?  The fertilizer plant was last inspected in 2006 and fined $2600 for violations.  Now, let me think.  After being cited for safety in 2006, it took over 6 years to re-inspect?  This is a state inspection requirement in a state where regulation is scoffed at because it hinders business.  Explosions hinder life as well as business.  An EMT had a pipe bomb and makings at his home.  Was this domestic terrorism or a corporate failure to safeguard labor?  Both?  Where is the outrage, as FOX might say?   San Bruno, CA saw a horrific explosion of a natural gas pipeline that killed 8 and injured over a hundred.  PG&E was unable to demonstrate it had tested the line or that the line was at the proper pressure.  Further, PG&E had been essentially taking money in rate set-asides for maintaining pipelines and had replaced a pipeline along the San Andreas fault, but had not replaced the multi-sized and poorly welded pipe in and near San Bruno.  The inspection was completed in January 2011. The explosion occurred in September 2010.  Shoddy materials and workmanship saved PG&E money, but cost lives and pain for scores.  San Bruno 8 Benghazi 4. 

The recent Patriots Day Boston Marathon bombing killed 3 and wounded over 200 men, women and children.  Yes, that was terrorism. The BP Gulf explosion and oil spill killed 11 men and despoiled waters with over 200 million gallons of life snuffing crude.  This ruined the ecosystem and the lives of thousands who depend on those waters for their livelihood and health and no terrorism was involved.  Here, the “personhood” of corporations was able to avoid jail or full responsibility.  BP, Halliburton and others were able to escape personal liability.  They saved money by failing to follow safety rules.  Is this simply business risk or did the 11 dead deserve more respect before an “accident?”  On September 11, 2001, nearly 3,000 were killed by religious extremists in NYC, the Pentagon and the woods of Pennsylvania despite multiple warnings of threats from skyjackers who were in the US given to President Bush.  Where is the outrage for not investigating the warnings before the deaths?  If we are outraged for not being ready for the Behghazi four, should we not have been at least as outraged for failing the 3,000 killed when we had intelligence about as accurate (with more warnings) than for Benghazi? workplaces?  9/11 Skyjacking 3,000 Benghazi 4. 

President Reagan for whom virtually every park and building in our nation is named, sent Marines to Beirut, Lebanon, but in 1983, 241 were killed in their barracks by a terrorist truck bomb.  Nobody raced to condemn Reagan for neglect of 241 and yet we are flooded with shrill screams for the 4 in Benghazi.  Is there any regard for scope or is merely this a political game?  Most recently, we have witnessed the collapse of an industrial building in the Rana Plaza in Dhaka Bangladesh.  Over 1,100 women were killed as a sacrifice for cheap clothing for Benetton of Italy and about 30 US retailers like Wal-Mart.  Those women earned an average of 24 cents per hour, less than half the rate earned by garment workers in nearby Pakistan who earn 52 cents per hour or Vietnam at 53 cents per hour.  Were these women so expendable and cheap that we risked their lives to make a few extra dollars for corporations that have no liability for their brutal demise?  Where was due diligence to protect life and limb and why was it less important than profit margin?  We see record profits in corporate America while simultaneously seeing a decline of wages, safety and security for ordinary persons who work for a living by their heads and hands instead of investing.  Are rags worth more than life?  Wal-Mart has since refused to sign a safety pact.  Dhaka1127 Benghazi 4.

The critical questions are these:  If we value life, then why do we ignore the failures to protect life and limb?  Even for Benghazi, does the political value of an incident outweigh the value of the lives of those at risk? Is it more important to consider cost or value?  Our corporations, like our politicians, know the cost of things.  Corporations know the cost of making a shirt or a skirt, but do they know the value of the lives in that production and, if they do, why is life so cheap?  Our politicians know the cost of sending diplomats and soldiers into harm’s way. We hear cries for smaller and cheaper government.  Do they know the value of the human lives in the process?  If we were to furlough everybody in government and reduce all wages, who would buy the cheaper goods we can now get by sacrificing women and men at the altar of the dollar?  What’s the difference in murder by terrorist or murder by neglect for the families or the dead?  Does it matter that you were the target of religious intolerance or the target of endless profit?  Does it matter if you were the object of cheaper government and Sequestration or only a powerless worker? The past thirty years has seen the simultaneous decline of protective labor unions, wages, industrial safety, peace and general prosperity while seeing record wars and profits on Wall Street.  Empire lives.  People die.  Benghazi is but a symptom of misplaced priorities.  We must protect our people and yet we fail and invoke freedom. Death is not freedom except in some "next world" thought.  If reasonable regulation and enforcement is tyranny, then what is the death caused by neglect of valid intelligence or by the profit motive?  There must be a name for it.  Benghazi has become a partisan rallying cry for political gamesmanship.  We need to rally for the people.  We need to rally for organizations that protect people.  We need to rally for good jobs and not the exchange of human life for profit.  We are smarter than that.  We can sustain profits and human life.  We can put politics aside long enough to set priorities that makes “rags to riches” a slogan for hope instead of hype to promote rags FOR riches.  We can protect our people by being less involved in foreign entanglements and more committed to our people at home and in the workplace and in school before more die and more cry.

George Giacoppe
15 May 2013

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Fake Peace, Fake Process

With the Israeli military again in the headlines, having once more attacked a country, Syria, without a shred of provocation, it is perhaps useful to go over the so-called ‘peace process’ that Israel and the United States keep bringing up to cover their crimes. We are told again and again that Israel is willing to talk peace, but “can’t find a real partner for talks”—i.e., one that will grant Israel’s “right to exist.” We are told repeatedly that the Obama administration wants to be an “honest broker for peace” between Israelis and Palestinians, but can’t find partners willing to make necessary compromises. And so, where Presidents Carter and Clinton and others were able to make apparent progress, neither Obama nor Bush nor Reagan have been able to advance the process, though all have made reassuring sounds about their intention to broker a peace that will result in a Palestinian state.

            Rashid Khalidi’s latest book, Brokers of Deceit: How the U.S. Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East, puts all this in perspective. For what Khalidi—a professor of modern Arab studies at Columbia—shows us is that far from being impartial brokers working to reach a just peace, successive administrations in Washington could more accurately be described as ‘Israel’s Lawyers.’  They have been so openly partisan, so eager to please their Israeli clients, so craven in their obedience to whatever Israeli leaders have dictated to them as terms, that they have undermined rather than advanced the cause of peace. Moreover, while many Americans who have thought about the problem posit that it is the Israel lobby and groups like AIPAC that drive America’s middle East policy, Khalidi points out that American strategic interests in the middle East, particularly with respect to Arab oil-producing despotisms, are the policy drivers because the U.S. pays little or no price for its bias in favor of Israel. Though the Arab public rages about this American favoritism, the monarchies that rule places like Saudi Arabia and Jordan and Bahrain, keep their people so suppressed that Washington can safely ignore the people themselves. As we saw when Hamas won, openly and democratically, the right to represent the Palestinians, the thing Washington fears most is Arab democracy. Despots who keep their people controlled suit America just fine.

            To make his point, Khalidi focuses on three “peace episodes” of recent years: the Camp David Accords of 1978 and their aftermath; the Madrid-Washington negotiations of 1991-93 leading to the Oslo Accords; and Obama’s efforts since his election. All three have, of course, failed to bring peace or result in a Palestinian state. Indeed, Khalidi points out in meticulous detail that the chief aim of Israeli leaders has always been to prevent the formation of a Palestinian state. Even acknowledging that there is a Palestinian people has been written out of agreements like those President Carter was forced to sign at Camp David. In a January 22, 1978 side letter to Menachem Begin five days after the Accords were signed, Carter agreed that,

            wherever the expressions “Palestinians” or “Palestinian people” occurred in the text, they “are being and will be construed and understood by you as ‘Palestinian Arabs.’” This was a term of art among those Israelis who denied that the Palestinians were a people. (6)

Khalidi explains that this denial of Palestinians as a people goes all the way back to the Balfour Declaration of 1917 (the foundational document allowing for Jews to have a homeland in Palestine) “which never mentioned the Palestinians by name.” The same kind of linguistic sleight of hand was already incorporated into the Camp David Accords which establish a “Self Governing Authority” for the inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza, giving them “full autonomy” over themselves, but not over the land. The land, that is, was to “remain under full Israeli control.” This was consistent with the Israeli, and especially the right-wing Likud Party’s concept of Eretz Israel, which said that “The right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel is eternal.”

            Understanding this basic principle—at first hidden in the secret Carter letter—is crucial to understanding all the so-called peace efforts that follow. For if there is no Palestinian people (Prime Minister Golda Meir specifically stated, in 1969, that “There was no such thing as Palestinians….It was not as though there was a Palestinian people in Palestine considering itself as a Palestinian people and we came and threw them out and took their country away from them. They did not exist.” 9), then talk of a Palestinian state is arrant nonsense, a smokescreen. This is why the representative of the Palestinian people, the PLO, with Yasser Arafat as its leader, was completely excluded from the Camp David talks. A people that is not a people cannot even be thought of as having a government, and besides, the PLO were terrorists (until, that is, it became convenient for the U.S. and Israel to consider the Palestinian authority the sole representative of the Palestinians, instead of Hamas, which has now become the “terrorists.”) Then, to make things even clearer, Khalidi cites a 1982 CIA memo (Reagan was now president) that went as follows:

            “Begin asserts that the C[amp] D[avid] A[ccords] rule out the emergence of a Palestinian state. In Begin’s view, the agreements ‘guarantee that under no condition’ can a Palestinian state be created. In practice Begin effectively rules out any exercise of Palestinian self-determination except one that continues Israel’s preeminent position in the West Bank.” (19)

Khalidi comments that this was not only the position of Prime Minister Menachem Begin, but “the enduring position of every Israeli government since.” So, while there has been an almost endless procession of American “negotiators” seeking to find a peace agreement between Israel and Palestine resulting in a secure state for each, this has all been a ruse, a way to drag out so-called peace talks endlessly, endlessly giving Palestinians and the world the illusion that a Palestinian state was right around the corner (as soon as knotty little problems like “facts on the ground” could be ironed out). In reality,

            the Palestinians would be restricted to talking about and eventually living under the extremely low ceiling of Begin’s scheme for “autonomy” for the people, but not the land, all the while continuing to suffer under a regime of continued occupation. (37)

That 45-year occupation, by the way, illegal under international law, and allowing the Israelis to arrest and imprison and assassinate Palestinians with impunity, establish “facts on the ground” such as hundreds of illegal settlements that split the alleged territory of future Palestine into impossible “bantustans,” and undermine the now-acceptable PLO government by leaving no doubt who is in charge, continues, illegally, to this day.

            Skipping the Oslo Accords of 1993, which, according to Khalidi, only made things worse for Palestinians, we come to Barack Obama. Initially thought to offer the Palestinians their best hope for peace and a state for themselves, Obama has instead become more and more subservient to the demands of Israeli prime ministers and their American proxies. Most importantly, he has accepted the “central element of Israeli’s self-presentation: that the state of Israel and the Israeli people, indeed the entire Jewish people, are in a state of perpetual existential danger”(74). In this regard, yet a new rhetorical term has been added to emphasize this “existential threat”: “lawfare.” The term means what it sounds like: Israel’s enemies using the law, mainly international law, to conduct war against Israel by calling attention to Israeli violations of International Law! To rabid supporters of Israel, this is an illegitimate tactic, comparable to the related tactic of “delegitimization” of Israel (which points out that the blockade of the Gaza Strip, or the use of phosphorus shells against civilians, or detention without trial, or Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories, are in fact illegal according to International Law.) There are several pro-Israeli websites that monitor such “illegitimate” legal tactics against ‘existentially-threatened’ Israel. No matter. Israel has never had anything to worry about from Obama, or his emissaries like ex-senator George Mitchell (whom Israeli supporters called “biased” due to his Lebanese descent). Mitchell’s mission was quickly sabotaged by Dennis Ross, Obama’s special assistant for the Middle East. Ross undermined Mitchell at every opportunity, finally triumphing over him by offering Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu outrageous guarantees (F-35 jets, a US veto of a planned UN Security Council resolution on Palestinian statehood if it came up, and long term security guarantees in case of an overall peace settlement) in return for a 3-month settlement freeze. But even the U.S.’s added promise never to ask for such a freeze on illegal settlements again didn’t work: Netanyahu haughtily refused.

            The Mitchell effort essentially ended U.S. peace attempts. All that is left is an Israel that dictates U.S. policy whenever it wishes to, and receives in return absurd validations of its every crime and violation of international law—including its recent unprovoked bombing of Syria. The response has become almost pro-forma: ‘Israel has a right to defend itself.’ Against what? Against whom? Against any perceived threat that it defines as a threat, regardless of the evidence?

            As of now, in other words, there is no Palestinian peace process, just as there has never been a “Palestinian people” as far as Israel is concerned. And with the excision and destruction of the names (the 1992 proposal stated that the peace talks deal only with the people, not the territories, referring to both as “the Arab inhabitants of Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza District), comes the excision and destruction of the people themselves. That is essentially what the United States has brokered with its so-called “peace process:” the slow destruction of a people and their culture, the slow expropriation of their land and property and any hope they might ever have entertained for justice. And all of it has taken place in broad daylight, in full view of the entire international community that makes comforting noises about peace and justice and the right of self-determination.

Lawrence DiStasi

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Penny Pritzker: Obama's Payoff to his Masters

I have written in the past about Class Traitors, especially those in the Bush Administration. Luminaries like Condoleeza Rice, Alberto Gonazalez, Colin Powell and John Yoo accepted positions in an infamous administration and, because of their origins among the “people,” provided cover for the mandarin class Bush represented. I also pointed out that this is a common practice, bearing many similarities to what slave masters did in the ante-bellum South when they promoted some of their slaves to work in the massa’s house. Having a slave impose order and punishment on the field slaves made the necessary control go down better. The same operates in government. Having Colin Powell or Condoleeza Rice justify the invasion of Iraq made the operation less susceptible to the accusation that it was a ‘white man’s war of exploitation.’

Now, in light of his payoff nomination of Penny Pritzker to be Secretary of Commerce, we are beginning to see that Barack Obama has been another example of this practice. Far from being a representative of the exploited classes—a champion of workers and the poor and the millions who lost their homes and much else in the economic collapse caused by Wall Street banksters—Obama has revealed that he has really been representing the wealthy, exploitative classes all along. This is why not a single banker has been slapped with a penalty for the fraud committed in the financial collapse. This is why virtually every initiative of Obama’s, including his heralded health care reform, has been designed to enrich corporations and the wealthy, rather than help the poor or middle classes as advertised.

In order to understand this, we have to know who Penny Pritzker is, and how she got to be one of the wealthiest women, or men, in America (worth $1.8 billion). According to muckraking journalist Greg Palast, Pritzker met Obama when Barack was a state legislator from Chicago’s South Side, with little or no power. But she saw a fitting candidate for higher office, and promoted him to her Lake Shore friends. They apparently liked him too, and before long, Obama was a U.S. Senator, and then a presidential candidate, with Penny Pritzker as his finance chair. She raised nearly a billion dollars for the “candidate of the people,” along the way introducing him to Robert Rubin, CEO of Citibank and former Secretary of the Treasury under President Clinton, who in turn “opened the doors of Wall Street” to the candidate. In return, of course, Obama was persuaded to nominate Rubin’s protégés, Larry Summers and Tim Geithner to the top economic posts in his administration. (See Greg Palast, Billionaires and Ballot Bandits, Seven Stories Press: 2012.)

Obama also had plans to nominate his friend Penny as Commerce Secretary in 2008, unfazed by her role in the original sub-prime scandal at her Superior Bank of Chicago. But the firestorm of opposition this raised—with the sub-prime fiasco of 2007 still fresh in everyone’s minds—persuaded him to settle on another Commerce Secretary. That Superior Bank scandal, though, was a doozy. According to Dennis Bernstein, host of KPFA’s Flashpoints (in a May 3 piece on <> , originally written Feb. 28, 2008), it was Penny Pritzker, along with associates at Merrill Lynch (to sell securitized bonds based on subprime loans) who virtually invented the sub-prime scams. First, she and her family—billionaire heirs of the Hyatt chain of hotels and nursing homes—in 1988 bought the failed Lyons Savings Bank for the bargain-basement price of $42.5 million. Aided by $645 million in tax credits from the government, these richest of the rich only had to come up with $1 million in cash, even getting their deposits insured by FSLIC. Then, under Penny’s leadership, Superior Bank concentrated its dealings on sub-prime lending, mainly on home mortgages, acquiring Alliance Funding as a wholesale mortgage business as well. According to Bert Ely, the bank then engaged in all kinds of shady practices, paying “its owners huge dividends and providing them favorable loans and other financial deals deemed illegal by federal investigators.” Their borrowers, by contrast, mostly low-income and minority buyers, were lured in and exploited through “predatory lending techniques, including exorbitant fees, inadequate disclosure and high interest rates.” By 2001, Superior Bank had collapsed, one of the largest failures of its kind ever, and a failure “directly attributable to the Bank’s Board of Directors and executives ignoring sound management principles,” according to FDIC Inspector General Gaston Gianni Jr. in his 2002 report. Penny Pritzker, as owner and board chair, was actually named in a RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) class action suit brought for 1,400 depositors who had lost over $50 million in savings. She was also fined $460 million for the predatory, racist practices of her bank.

This is the woman Barack Obama has just named to be Commerce Secretary.

Nor does her lurid past end there. While she was on the board of the Hyatt Corporation, she was regularly attacked by the AFL-CIO for violations in the areas of worker safety, discouraging union membership, and laying off regular workers to replace them with cheaper employees. This would seem to make her an inveterate enemy of unions—including the unions that were assiduously courted to help elect Barack Obama. The teachers’ unions have also taken her to task for favoring the closing of Chicago public schools and promoting charter schools instead, as well as for using her influence to get taxes on her family mansion in the Lincoln Park Area slashed, tax money that funds public schools. When she resigned from the Chicago Board of Education after hearing of her Commerce announcement, the head of the Chicago’s Teachers Union said, “good riddance.”

President Obama and his team have apparently concluded that Americans have forgotten about the sub-prime disaster of 2007 and that it is now safe to pay off his moneyed master, Penny Pritzker. No doubt the sub-prime queen has let him know, in no uncertain terms, that she expects this as part of the bargain they made to put him in the White House. It is always thus. The Massa doesn’t promote the slave to a position of power without getting his/her due, with interest. All the signs point to a quick confirmation, since the Republicans appear to be delighted with the prospect that one of their own will be running Commerce. If retired banking consultant and researcher Tim Anderson has his way, though, the confirmation may not be a slam dunk. As he noted in a recent CBS interview,

“What has not been focused on until now is what was Penny's role in the subprime mortgage meltdown. It was the Pritzkers who got investment-grade ratings on subprime debt. It was the Pritzkers who were into subprime lending long before Wells Fargo, Countrywide and Washington Mutual. They were in the forefront of the subprime fiasco, but they have never been held accountable.”

Wouldn’t it be something if someone—someone prominent and probably gloating over her apparent escape from justice and imminent rise to unprecedented power and renown—were finally held accountable?

Whether or not such an unlikely turnabout comes to pass, one thing is certain: Barack Obama has lost all the credibility he might still, in some circles, retain. His attempt at a payoff has made perfectly obvious who his real masters have always been. He has also made absolutely clear that there no longer exists a political party or a politician in these United States who hasn’t long been bought and paid for, and placed on a very short, and very unforgiving leash.

Lawrence DiStasi