Thursday, August 4, 2011

Which Comes First: The Next Great Depression Or World War III?

Which Comes First: The Next Great Depression Or World War III?

At an interview with bloggers and online reporters on Thursday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi(D-Calif.) insisted that there was a "very strong relationship" between House and Senate Democrats and that each caucus understood "why we are Democrats ...See all stories on this topic »

Being outside of Washington I don't get invited to all the cool confabs, but apparently I missed Nancy Pelosi saying that Democrats won't lose hostage situations again. The theme of the meeting was reluctance to re-hash or second guess debt ceiling ...See all stories on this topic »

That means the most important players will be the four people picking the 12 lawmakers who'll be conducting those talks: Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) in the House, and Majority Leader Harry Reid ...See all stories on this topic »

The immediate impact of the "debt deal" was bad enough: painful cuts without any tax increases for the wealthy. But Phase Two could be much worse--unless we push back hard. A new undemocratic "Super Committee" is charged with finding $1.5 trillion in savings – from cuts in Social Security, Medicare and other entitlements and/or in increased revenues. If a majority agrees, the proposals will be "fast tracked" to passage in Congress—without our elected representatives able to amend their plans. The Super Committee will consist of 6 Republicans and 6 Democrats, with the leaders of the two parties in each house of Congress each choosing three. We need fighters on that panel. There are leaders in Congress who have fought on their behalf.

Sen. Bernie Sanders led the fight for a fair compromise — a 50-50 split between spending cuts and tax increases on the wealthy in any deficit reduction deal.

We said it first last week. Now, everyone is catching on: it’s (past) time for Congress and the Administration to pivot to a jobs agenda. While there are already pretty clear indications from recent polls that voters may forgive the gamesmanship on the debt ceiling, they are unlikely to forgive stubbornly high unemployment and the complete lack of attention from our elected leaders to the economic concerns of American families.

But the jobs pivot is not off to a good start. Congress will not resume business until September. The White House offers up “small ball” proposals, defends its record on jobs, and promptly announces a domestic terrorism initiative.

White House spokesman Jay Carney says the President does not need to pivot to jobs because it has been his focus all along. I must have missed that. 

There’s a difference between talking about jobs, which the President has certainly done, and showing leadership on a jobs agenda, which has been sorely lacking.

It’s now clearer than ever that we need to make the August heat even more uncomfortable for our elected leaders. “Show me the jobs” must replace the anger two years ago over health care and spending. A focus on jobs, after all, is the top priority of voters on the right, in the center, and to the left.

But we don’t need more of the same. Tax cuts directed towards outsourcers or Wall Street won’t help. Nor, quite honestly, will free trade agreements, which Congress looks set to pass when it returns. Even the rosiest scenarios for free trade agreements show they create 70,000 jobs over a long time horizon. (By comparison, if every American spent $64 more a year on American-made goods, we would create 200,000 jobs.)

What should Washington do on jobs? Focus on manufacturing. It offers the most value-added for the rest of the economy. And, as new polling shows, it’s also wildly popular with American across the board: Democrats and Republicans, all regions, and even a lot of overlap between Tea Party supporters and union households.

Here’s a jobs agenda that everyone (except the regime in Beijing) should be able to get behind:

1. Invest in infrastructure through a deficit-neutral program of at least $500 for long-term, high-value projects. Create a National Infrastructure Bank to leverage financing for critical projects of national significance.

2. Reshape the tax code to provide more incentives for domestic production and inward investment, such as those for clean energy manufacturing and investments in plant and equipment.

3. Provide a level playing field for American workers and businesses by penalizing China’s currency manipulation and launching (or ramping up) targeted trade cases to counter intellectual property theft, state-owned enterprises, subsidies, and rare-earth mineral restrictions.

4. Reshape our educational system to provide more vocational education opportunities to high school students and a seamless transition to technical school to create a talented pool of young manufacturing workers.

5. Apply Buy America requirements to more federal procurement, which would support 33 percent more manufacturing jobs per dollar of taxpayer investment.

6. Reform the research and development tax credit to provide a bonus to firms that commercialize their innovation in America.

Taken together, these steps would provide America with a solid foundation for economic growth and job creation. Congress and the Administration, please act on them. Your own jobs may be at stake.

As bad as the economic data are right now, Americans feel even worse. They think the next generation is worse off than we are. They believe America has lost its lead to China. Those are visceral feelings that are difficult to change unless Washington adopts a new vision. 

Do our leaders want to be remembered for governing over America’s economic decline, or do they want to lead an economic rebirth of our nation? I hope they feel the August heat.

It's Zombie Time In Washington
Sydney Morning Herald
EVEN before Emanuel Cleaver, the Democratic congressman from Missouri, called the debt deal "a sugar-coated Satan sandwich" and Nancy Pelosi tossed in a side of Satan fries, the whiff of sulphur was rising from the Capitol. The gory Gothic melodrama on ...See all stories on this topic »

I must admit, I thought the Fed’s smoke and mirrors show would have blow up in their face by now. Alas, I underestimated their suicidal audacity and ability to completely rig large sections of the market. And the Plunge Protection Team has been working overtime. However, it is still just a matter of time before reality / gravity catches up with them. The only thing they have done by prolonging the charade is insure an even bigger collapse than we would have had.
So when is the market going to hit the wall and crash? Here’s an excellent new post from Charles Hugh Smith attempting to answer this quadrillion dollar question: …

Somewhere on this planet an American commando is carrying out a mission.  Now, say that 70 times and you’re done… for the day.  Without the knowledge of the American public, a secret force within the U.S. military is undertaking operations in a majority of the world’s countries.  This new Pentagon power elite is waging a global war whose size and scope has never been revealed, until now.

After a U.S. Navy SEAL put a bullet in Osama bin Laden’s chest and another in his head, one of the most secretive black-ops units in the American military suddenly found its mission in the public spotlight.  It was atypical.  

While it’s well known that U.S. Special Operations forces are deployed in the war zones of Afghanistan and Iraq, and it’s increasingly apparent that such units operate in murkier conflict zones like Yemen and Somalia, the full extent of their worldwide war has remained deeply in the shadows.

Last year, Karen DeYoung and Greg Jaffe of the Washington Post reported that U.S. Special Operations forces were deployed in 75 countries, up from 60 at the end of the Bush presidency.  By the end of this year, U.S. Special Operations Command spokesman Colonel Tim Nye told me, that number will likely reach 120.  “We do a lot of traveling — a lot more than Afghanistan or Iraq,” he said recently.  This global presence — in about 60% of the world’s nations and far larger than previously acknowledged — provides striking new evidence of a rising clandestine Pentagon power elite waging a secret war in all corners of the world.

The Rise of the Military’s Secret Military

Born of a failed 1980 raid to rescue American hostages in Iran, in which eight U.S. service members died, U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) was established in 1987.  Having spent the post-Vietnam years distrusted and starved for money by the regular military, special operations forces suddenly had a single home, a stable budget, and a four-star commander as their advocate.  Since then, SOCOM has grown into a combined force of startling proportions.  Made up of units from all the service branches, including the Army’s “Green Berets” and Rangers, Navy SEALs, Air Force Air Commandos, and Marine Corps Special Operations teams, in addition to specialized helicopter crews, boat teams, civil affairs personnel, para-rescuemen, and even battlefield air-traffic controllers and special operations weathermen, SOCOM carries out the United States’ most specialized and secret missions.  These include assassinations, counterterrorist raids, long-range reconnaissance, intelligence analysis, foreign troop training, and weapons of mass destruction counter-proliferation operations.

One of its key components is the Joint Special Operations Command, or JSOC, a clandestine sub-command whose primary mission is tracking and killing suspected terrorists.  Reporting to the president and acting under his authority, JSOC maintains a global hit list that includes American citizens.  It has been operating an extra-legal “kill/capture” campaign that John Nagl, a past counterinsurgency adviser to four-star general and soon-to-be CIA Director David Petraeus, calls “an almost industrial-scale counterterrorism killing machine.”

This assassination program has been carried out by commando units like the Navy SEALs and the Army’s Delta Force as well as via drone strikes as part of covert wars in which the CIA is also involved in countries like Somalia, Pakistan, and Yemen.  In addition, the command operates a network of secret prisons, perhaps as many as 20 black sites in Afghanistan alone, used for interrogating high-value targets

Growth Industry

From a force of about 37,000 in the early 1990s, Special Operations Command personnel have grown to almost 60,000, about a third of whom are career members of SOCOM; the rest have other military occupational specialties, but periodically cycle through the command.  Growth has been exponential since September 11, 2001, as SOCOM’s baseline budget almost tripled from $2.3 billion to $6.3 billion.  If you add in funding for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it has actually more than quadrupled to $9.8 billion in these years.  Not surprisingly, the number of its personnel deployed abroad has also jumped four-fold.  Further increases, and expanded operations, are on the horizon.

Lieutenant General Dennis Hejlik, the former head of the Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command — the last of the service branches to be incorporated into SOCOM in 2006 — indicated, for instance, that he foresees a doubling of his former unit of 2,600.  “I see them as a force someday of about 5,000, like equivalent to the number of SEALs that we have on the battlefield. Between [5,000] and 6,000,” he said at a June breakfast with defense reporters in Washington.  Long-term plans already call for the force to increase by 1,000.   
During his recent Senate confirmation hearings, Navy Vice Admiral William McRaven, the incoming SOCOM chief and outgoing head of JSOC (which he commanded during the bin Laden raid) endorsed a steady manpower growth rate of 3% to 5% a year, while also making a pitch for even more resources, including additional drones and the construction of new special operations facilities.

A former SEAL who still sometimes accompanies troops into the field, McRaven expressed a belief that, as conventional forces are drawn down in Afghanistan, special ops troops will take on an ever greater role.  Iraq, he added, would benefit if elite U.S forces continued to conduct missions there past the December 2011 deadline for a total American troop withdrawal.  He also assured the Senate Armed Services Committee that “as a former JSOC commander, I can tell you we were looking very hard at Yemen and at Somalia.”

During a speech at the National Defense Industrial Association’s annual Special Operations and Low-intensity Conflict Symposium earlier this year, Navy Admiral Eric Olson, the outgoing chief of Special Operations Command, pointed to a composite satellite image of the world at night.  Before September 11, 2001, the lit portions of the planet — mostly the industrialized nations of the global north — were considered the key areas. “But the world changed over the last decade,” he said.  “Our strategic focus has shifted largely to the south… certainly within the special operations community, as we deal with the emerging threats from the places where the lights aren’t.” 

To that end, Olson launched “Project Lawrence,” an effort to increase cultural proficiencies — like advanced language training and better knowledge of local history and customs — for overseas operations.  The program is, of course, named after the British officer, Thomas Edward Lawrence (better known as “Lawrence of Arabia”), who teamed up with Arab fighters to wage a guerrilla war in the Middle East during World War I.  Mentioning Afghanistan, Pakistan, Mali, and Indonesia, Olson added that SOCOM now needed “Lawrences of Wherever.”

While Olson made reference to only 51 countries of top concern to SOCOM, Col. Nye told me that on any given day, Special Operations forces are deployed in approximately 70 nations around the world.  All of them, he hastened to add, at the request of the host government.  According to testimony by Olson before the House Armed Services Committee earlier this year, approximately 85% of special operations troops deployed overseas are in 20 countries in the CENTCOM area of operations in the Greater Middle East: Afghanistan, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, and Yemen.  The others are scattered across the globe from South America to Southeast Asia, some in small numbers, others as larger contingents. 

Special Operations Command won’t disclose exactly which countries its forces operate in.  “We’re obviously going to have some places where it’s not advantageous for us to list where we’re at,” says Nye.  “Not all host nations want it known, for whatever reasons they have — it may be internal, it may be regional.” 

But it’s no secret (or at least a poorly kept one) that so-called black special operations troops, like the SEALs and Delta Force, are conducting kill/capture missions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and Yemen, while “white” forces like the Green Berets and Rangers are training indigenous partners as part of a worldwide secret war against al-Qaeda and other militant groups. In the Philippines, for instance, the U.S. spends $50 million a year on a 600-person contingent of Army Special Operations forces, Navy Seals, Air Force special operators, and others that carries out counterterrorist operations with Filipino allies against insurgent groups like Jemaah Islamiyah and Abu Sayyaf.

Last year, as an analysis of SOCOM documents, open-source Pentagon information, and a database of Special Operations missions compiled by investigative journalist Tara McKelvey (for the Medill School of Journalism’s National Security Journalism Initiative) reveals, America’s most elite troops carried out joint-training exercises in Belize, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Germany, Indonesia, Mali, Norway, Panama, and Poland.  So far in 2011, similar training missions have been conducted in the Dominican Republic, Jordan, Romania, Senegal, South Korea, and Thailand, among other nations.  In reality, Nye told me, training actually went on in almost every nation where Special Operations forces are deployed.  “Of the 120 countries we visit by the end of the year, I would say the vast majority are training exercises in one fashion or another.  They would be classified as training exercises.”

The Pentagon’s Power Elite

Once the neglected stepchildren of the military establishment, Special Operations forces have been growing exponentially not just in size and budget, but also in power and influence.  Since 2002, SOCOM has been authorized to create its own Joint Task Forces — like Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines — a prerogative normally limited to larger combatant commands like CENTCOM.  This year, without much fanfare, SOCOM also established its own Joint Acquisition Task Force, a cadre of equipment designers and acquisition specialists.

With control over budgeting, training, and equipping its force, powers usually reserved for departments (like the Department of the Army or the Department of the Navy), dedicated dollars in every Defense Department budget, and influential advocates in Congress, SOCOM is by now an exceptionally powerful player at the Pentagon.  With real clout, it can win bureaucratic battles, purchase cutting-edge technology, and pursue fringe research like electronically beaming messages into people’s heads or developing stealth-like cloaking technologies for ground troops.  Since 2001, SOCOM’s prime contracts awarded to small businesses — those that generally produce specialty equipment and weapons — have jumped six-fold.

Headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida, but operating out of theater commands spread out around the globe, including Hawaii, Germany, and South Korea, and active in the majority of countries on the planet, Special Operations Command is now a force unto itself.  As outgoing SOCOM chief Olson put it earlier this year, SOCOM “is a microcosm of the Department of Defense, with ground, air, and maritime components, a global presence, and authorities and responsibilities that mirror the Military Departments, Military Services, and Defense Agencies.” 

Tasked to coordinate all Pentagon planning against global terrorism networks and, as a result, closely connected to other government agencies, foreign militaries, and intelligence services, and armed with a vast inventory of stealthy helicopters, manned fixed-wing aircraft, heavily-armed drones, high-tech guns-a-go-go speedboats, specialized Humvees and Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, or MRAPs, as well as other state-of-the-art gear (with more on the way), SOCOM represents something new in the military.  Whereas the late scholar of militarism Chalmers Johnson used to refer to the CIA as “the president’s private army,” today JSOC performs that role, acting as the chief executive’s private assassination squad, and its parent, SOCOM, functions as a new Pentagon power-elite, a secret military within the military possessing domestic power and global reach. 

In 120 countries across the globe, troops from Special Operations Command carry out their secret war of high-profile assassinations, low-level targeted killings, capture/kidnap operations, kick-down-the-door night raids, joint operations with foreign forces, and training missions with indigenous partners as part of a shadowy conflict unknown to most Americans.  Once “special” for being small, lean, outsider outfits, today they are special for their power, access, influence, and aura.

That aura now benefits from a well-honed public relations campaign which helps them project a superhuman image at home and abroad, even while many of their actual activities remain in the ever-widening shadows.  Typical of the vision they are pushing was this statement from Admiral Olson: “I am convinced that the forces… are the most culturally attuned partners, the most lethal hunter-killers, and most responsive, agile, innovative, and efficiently effective advisors, trainers, problem-solvers, and warriors that any nation has to offer.”

Recently at the Aspen Institute’s Security Forum, Olson offered up similarly gilded comments and some misleading information, too, claiming that U.S. Special Operations forces were operating in just 65 countries and engaged in combat in only two of them.  When asked about drone strikes in Pakistan, he reportedly replied, “Are you talking about unattributed explosions?” 

What he did let slip, however, was telling.  He noted, for instance, that black operations like the bin Laden mission, with commandos conducting heliborne night raids, were now exceptionally common.  A dozen or so are conducted every night, he said.  Perhaps most illuminating, however, was an offhand remark about the size of SOCOM.  Right now, he emphasized, U.S. Special Operations forces were approximately as large as Canada’s entire active duty military.  In fact, the force is larger than the active duty militaries of many of the nations where America’s elite troops now operate each year, and it’s only set to grow larger. 

Americans have yet to grapple with what it means to have a “special” force this large, this active, and this secret — and they are unlikely to begin to do so until more information is available.  It just won’t be coming from Olson or his troops.  “Our access [to foreign countries] depends on our ability to not talk about it,” he said in response to questions about SOCOM’s secrecy. 

When missions are subject to scrutiny like the bin Laden raid, he said, the elite troops object.  The military’s secret military, said Olson, wants “to get back into the shadows and do what they came in to do.”

- Nick Turse is a historian, essayist, and investigative journalist. The associate editor of and a new senior editor at, his latest book is The Case for Withdrawal from Afghanistan (Verso Books). This article was a collaboration between and

The American Rebellion Has Begun – Now Is The Time (Resistance Video Roundup & Call To Action)

Since Reagan, Republicans have been on a “starve the beast” campaign – by which they mean eviscerate the government by taking away as much revenue as they can.

Starving the beast has been the biggest bait and switch con game that has ever been perpetrated on the American people.  And the most tragic. "Well, if past is prologue, welcome to the next Great Depression." (photo of mother and children during the Great Depression in Elm Grove, California by Dorothea Lange)

As Paul Krugman pointed out, Republicans offered popular tax cuts so that they could later cut popular government programs “as a necessity.”  Oh, we’d love to continue providing low cost, effective medical care under Medicare, but you see, the country just can’t afford it … Of course we can’t. 

Starve the Beast was coupled with a clever campaign to make government appear to be a collection of bumbling bureaucrats who wasted tax money for pure pleasure.  Long after it became politically impossible to stereotype racial and ethnic groups (with the possible exceptions of Muslims) it was – and is – quite acceptable to characterize government workers as shiftless, lazy and incompetent.

As a result, once the Republicans succeeded in cutting government revenue to the bone and beyond, it became impossible to raise taxes – who wants to give any more of their hard earned money to a bunch of lazy bureaucrats? 

Never mind that most big government programs are far more efficient than their private sector equivalents.  That’s a mere fact.  Can’t let that get in the way of starving the beast.

Bait and switch.  Divide and Conquer.

So, after starting with a surplus in 2000, Republicans used two wars, two rounds of tax cuts, and a giant giveaway to big Pharma, to get the country racking up debt like a drunken sailor. 

Along comes the Bush recession, and the debt accelerates, and the Republicans declare the debt to be an “emergency” and right on schedule immediately attack popular programs like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, Student loans –and virtually anything that doesn’t help the uber rich or the corporations suddenly must be cut if we are to stay solvent.

Never mind that cutting Social Security to balance the budget is like attacking the mailman because your car doesn’t work.  It has nothing to do with the budget – but again, that’s a mere fact.  When you’re drowning the beast, facts don’t matter. 

So OK.  The beast is drowned. Keynes is dead.  Now what?

Well, if past is prologue, welcome to the next Great Depression. 
See, the dirty little secret is that we never had a debt “crisis.”  We had a jobs crisis. 

While Republicans were arguing about the faux “crisis” and the press and Obama joined them, we got a series of disturbing economic signals. 

Consumer confidence was down, manufacturing was off, May and June’s job numbers were pathetic. In fact, if not for a hiring binge by McDonald’s there would have been a net job loss in May. That’s something to hang your hat on: McDonalds accounted for what little job growth there was.  What’s next, America gets saved by an uptick in Wall Mart greeters? 

Look. This whole drown the beast strategy has been nothing more than a stealth tactic for instituting an extremist version of a laissez faire, market uber-alles policy designed by and for the Plutocracy.

The rest of us?  Not so much.

Income and wealth inequality in the US has been increasing rapidly since Reagan,  (with a slight break under Clinton). In terms of income inequality, the US now ranks about the same as Ivory Coast, Uganda and Cameroon – countries not exactly noted for being prosperous, equitable and just societies.

News flash for all the debt mongers, Tea Partiers and other assorted ignoramuses. You can’t run a consumer-based economy when the vast majority of consumers don’t have enough money to buy anything.  After all, Paris Hilton can only buy so many yachts; Corporate CEOs can only purchase so many jetliners – even with their special jet tax credits; and Wall Street traders can only buy so many Bugattis.  But middle and working class Americans need to spend their money on food, lodging, and other necessities.  

Here’s the dirty little secret: Republicans want the economy to fail.  They want Obama to fail, and they don’t care who gets hurt in the process.  They want these things, because the beast is in the bathtub and they can almost taste its demise. 

The pieces are in place for the Plutocrats final victory … an industry friendly Supreme Court; a Democratic Party that is either in collusion with the plutocrats, or so cowardly as to be neutered; a press that reports outlandish lies and objective facts as if they were equivalent; and a public that is dazed and confused and convinced the government is their enemy.

But government isn’t the enemy.  Laissez faire economic policies are. Every time we’ve tried them, they've produced profound income inequalities and the severe economic downturns that inevitably follow.

With private industry sitting on top of some $2 trillion in profits, exporting jobs, and shutting down plants, only government spending stood between us and an economic Armageddon. 

Now, nothing does.

So, congratulations, America.  You’ve finally gotten big bad gubmint off your back.

Enjoy The Coming Great Depression.

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