Friday, December 03, 2010

Cracks in the wilderness of mirrors By Pepe Escobar

The temptation to see WikiLeaks as a neo-Baudelairean artificial paradise - the marriage of libertarian anarchism and cyber-knowledge - could not be more seductive. Now no more than 40 people are helping founder Julian Assange, plus 800 from the outside. 

All this with a 200,000 euro (US$264,000) annual budget - and a nomad home base. WikiLeaks spokesperson Kristinn Hrafnsson maintains that this is still a "gateway for whistleblowers", where sources are unidentified and even unknown. You can get a whistleblower to show the emperor has no clothes with just 200,000 euros - just as someone, be him Osama bin Laden or not, could usher the real "new world order" in on 9/11 with $500,000. 

Daniel Ellsberg, who broke the Pentagon Papers in 1971, sees Assange as a hero. For vast swathes of the United States establishment, he is now public enemy number one - an unlikely echo of bin Laden. He may be now in southeast England, contactable by Scotland Yard, and about to be arrested at any minute courtesy of an Interpol mandate based on his being wanted in Sweden. Canadian scholar Marshall McLuhan may be doing the twist in his media tomb; if the media are the message, when you can't eliminate the message why not eliminate the media? 

The book of sand 
Let's examine Assange's crime. Here he is, in his own words, in "State and Terrorist Conspiracies":
To radically shift regime behavior we must think clearly and boldly for if we have learned anything, it is that regimes do not want to be changed. We must think beyond those who have gone before us, and discover technological changes that embolden us with ways to act in which our forebears could not. Firstly we must understand what aspect of government or neo-corporatist behavior we wish to change or remove. Secondly we must develop a way of thinking about this behavior that is strong enough to carry us through the mire of politically distorted language, and into a position of clarity. Finally we must use these insights to inspire within us and others a course of ennobling, and effective action.
So Assange understands WikiLeaks as an anti-virus that should guide our navigation across the distortion of political language. If language is a virus from outer space, as William Naked Lunch Burroughs put it, WikiLeaks should be the antidote. Assange basically believes that the (cumulative) revelation of secrets will lead to the production of no future secrets. It's an anarchic/romantic/utopian vision. 

It's vital to remember that Assange configures the US essentially as a huge authoritarian conspiracy. American political activist Noam Chomsky would say the same thing (and they wouldn't want to arrest him for it). The difference is that Assange deploys a combat strategy: he aims to corrode the ability of the system to conspire. That's where the metaphor of the computer network fits in. Assange wants to fight the power of the system, treating it as a computer choking in the desert sands. Were he alive, it would be smashing to see the great Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges penning a short story about this. 

On top of writing his own "Book of Sand", Assange is also counter-attacking the Pentagon's counter-insurgency doctrine. He's not in "tracking-the-Taliban-and taking-them-out" mode. This is just a detail. If the conspiracy is an electronic network - let's say, the (foreign policy) Matrix - what he wants is to strike at its cognitive ability by debasing the quality of the information. 

Here intervenes another crucial element. The ability of the conspiracy to deceive everyone through massive propaganda is equivalent to the conspiracy's penchant for deceiving itself through its own propaganda. 

That's how we get to the Assange strategy of deploying a tsunami of leaks as a key actor/vector in the informational landscape. And that takes us to another crucial point: it doesn't matter whether these leaks are new, gossip or wishful thinking (as long as they are authentic). The - very ambitious - mother idea is to undermine the system of information and thus "force the computer to crash", making the conspiracy turn against itself in self-defense. WikiLeaks believes we can only destroy a conspiracy by rendering it hallucinatory and paranoid in relation to itself. 

All this also takes us farther into crucial territory. The bulk of the cablegate-inspired global-talk-show tsunami has totally missed the point. Once again, it doesn't matter that most cables are gossip - trashy tabloid stuff. See it as Assange's way of illustrating how the conspiracy works. He is not interested in journalistic scoops (as much as his media partners, from the Guardian to Der Spiegel may be); what he wants is to strangle the nodes that make the conspiracy possible - to render the system "dumb and dumber". 

No doubt cablegate shows how the US State Department seems to be in dumb-and-dumber territory - not even creative enough to do their own versions of "pimp my cable". This is already an extraordinary victory for an organization different from anything we have seen so far, which is doing things that journalists do or should be doing, and then some. And there will be more, on a major bank's secrets (probably Bank of America), on China's secrets, on Russia's secrets. 

Mirror, mirror on the net 
The US government and most of corporate media predictably rolled out their defense mechanism, as in "there's nothing new in these cables". Some might have suspected that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had ordered American diplomats to spy on their colleagues at the United Nations. Another thing entirely is to have an official cable confirmation. If UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was not such a wimp, he would be throwing a monumental diplomatic fit by now. 

And then, at the same time, the US government and virtually the whole establishment - from neo-conservatives to Obama-light practitioners - want to pull out all stops to delete WikiLeaks or, even take out Assange, as George W Bush wanted to do with bin Laden. Grizzly nutjob Sarah Palin says Assange is worse than al-Qaeda. Such hysteria lead an Atlanta radio station to ask listeners whether Assange should be executed or imprisoned (no third option; execution won). Redneck Baptist priest Mike Huckabee, who might have been the Republican contender for president in 2008 and is now a talk-show fixture, goes for execution as well. 

Who to believe? These freaks, or two frustrated US federal investigators who told the Los Angeles Times that if WikiLeaks had been active in 2001, it would have prevented 9/11? 

French philosophers avid to escape their own irrelevancy foment conspiracy theories, lamenting that WikiLeaks gives the media unprecedented powers; other blame the Internet ogre for gobbling up journalists. That's the beauty of the leaks - this is the stuff conspiracies are made of. 

Under this framework it is very enlightening to listen to what eminent Cold Warrior Zbigniew Brzezinski has to say. He told the US Public Broadcasting Service that cablegate is "seeded" with "surprisingly pointed" information, and that "seeding" is too easy to accomplish. 

Example: those cables saying that the Chinese are inclined to cooperate with the US in view of a possible Korean unification under the aegis of South Korea (I debunk this in my previous article, See TheNaked Emperor, Asia Times Online, December 1, 2010). 

Dr Zbig says that WikiLeaks may have been manipulated by intelligence services with "very specific objectives". They could be, as he hints, internal US elements who want to embarass the Barack Obama administration. But he also suspects "foreign elements". In this case, the first on the list would be none other than the state of Israel. 

As conspiracy theories go, this one is a cracker; could WikiLeaks be the head of a real invisible "snake" - a massive Israeli disinformation campaign? Evidence would include cables seriously compromising the US-Turkey relationship; the cumulative cables painting a picture of a Sunni Arab-wide consensus for attacking Iran; and the fact that the cables reveal nothing that demonstrates how Israel has jeopardized US interests in the Middle East over and over again. 

In an interview with American talk show host Larry King, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin went Dr Zbig and said this was in fact a manipulation - the cables as a deliberate plot to discredit Russia (this was before Russia clinched the 2018 World Cup; now everyone is drowning in torrents of Stoli and no one gives a damn about cables anymore). Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said virtually the same thing regarding Iran. 

And then there's the conspiracy that didn't happen: how come the Pentagon, for all its ultra-high-tech savvy ways, has not been willing, or able, to completely shut down WikiLeaks? 

There's thunderous chatter everywhere on WikiLeaks' "motives" for releasing these cables. We just need to go back to Assange's thinking to realize there's no "motive". The intellectual void and political autism of America's diplomats is self-evident; they can only "understand" the Other: the world in terms of good guys and bad guys. The great French-Swiss film director Jean-Luc Godard is 80 this Friday. How fresh if he would shoot a remake of Made in USA, now featuring the perplexity of the system as it contemplates its reflection in a giant, digital mirror. 

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. His new book, just out, is Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009). 

He may be reached at


The artillery shelling of Yeong Peong Island in the Yellow Sea off the coast f Korea is an almost inevitable result of policies putting U.S. interests, as perceived by U.S. leadership, ahead of the welfare of the Korean people.

VFP believes the U.S. should stop flexing its military muscle in the Far East and adopt a more realistic, peaceful approach to healing the wounds of that ancient war in Korea. It would mean the abandonment of a long-standing policy of isolating sanctions and military provocation against one side in a civil conflict which began over 65 years ago.  

After WWII,  the U.S. occupied the southern portion of Korea and colluded with the Soviet Union in arbitrarily partitioning that country.  The U.S., through the use of the Japanese-trained National Police in the South, maintained in power the hated Koreans who had collaborated with the Japanese during their 36-year occupation and inflicted upon them a president who had been living in exile in the U.S. for many years. This was done in spite of opposition from a substantial portion of Koreans. 

Whole villages were destroyed and over 100,000 lives were lost in the South before the civil war exploded further into hostilities at the 38th parallel. Many Koreans from the South fled North and North Koreans fled South. Many became guerrillas in the South in opposition to the US puppet government. Isolation of the North was the inevitable result of these initial US military policies.

The current crisis is the natural outcome of the US policy of marginalizing North Korea with sanctions, threatening her with military exercises in disputed waters near her shores, and a broken promise of aid in the form of a light water nuclear reactor offered way back in the time of President Clinton.

If the US does not change its policies, the Korean people will continue to be divided and more distrust will result that could result in a major war. A new report claims the US is considering the reintroduction of nuclear weapons that had previously been removed from the peninsula.

The United States  and China must re-design its  policies in the Far East; policies that will accept the fact that the Korean people should be free of outside interference so they may  decide their nation’s future themselves, to their own and the world’s great advantage.

Relinquishing the US government’s hegemonic claims on that entire region is more likely to result in peace than persisting in using the only tool left in the US kit; the military option. Relying on force will only invite more violence and the eventual denial of access to resources and markets in that part of the world.

The situation is exacerbated by reports of a struggle for leadership in the North. VFP suggests caution regarding these reports because no evidence has been offered to substantiate them and they may be calculated to divert attention away from the actions of the South and the US that either led to or contributed to the current crises.

The US government has achieved what it wanted from the beginning; the establishment of a wholly defensive North Korea that is required to rely on its own military, which diverts resources needed to develop the civilian economy to the extent of completely impoverishing its citizens.

The cost of the US military presence in South Korea and the support the US provides the South Korean military is contributing to our own economic hardships in America. If Korea was to unite peacefully, the US government’s stated reason for having a military presence in South Korea would disappear and the Koreans would be left to resolve their own affairs without U.S. interference. Both nations could then put more effort into their respective economies to the benefit of hundreds of millions of people.

Contributors: Woody Powell, Sandy Kelson, Peter Shaw

The founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, answers readers' questions about the release of more than 250,000 US diplomatic cables

Julian Assange answers your questions

The founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, answers readers' questions about the release of more than 250,000 US diplomatic cables

Julian Assange, WikiLeaks founder
Julian Assange, WikiLeaks founder. Photograph: Carmen Valino for the Guardian
I'll start the ball rolling with a question. You're an Australian passport holder - would you want return to your own country or is this now out of the question due to potentially being arrested on arrival for releasing cables relating to Australian diplomats and polices?

Julian Assange small Julian Assange:
I am an Australian citizen and I miss my country a great deal. However, during the last weeks the Australian prime minister, Julia Gillard, and the attorney general, Robert McClelland, have made it clear that not only is my return is impossible but that they are actively working to assist the United States government in its attacks on myself and our people. This brings into question what does it mean to be an Australian citizen - does that mean anything at all? Or are we all to be treated like David Hicks at the first possible opportunity merely so that Australian politicians and diplomats can be invited to the best US embassy cocktail parties.
How do you think you have changed world affairs?
And if you call all the attention you've been given-credit ... shouldn't the mole or source receive a word of praise from you?

Julian Assange small Julian Assange:
For the past four years one of our goals has been to lionise the source who take the real risks in nearly every journalistic disclosure and without whose efforts, journalists would be nothing. If indeed it is the case, as alleged by the Pentagon, that the young soldier - Bradley Manning - is behind some of our recent disclosures, then he is without doubt an unparalleled hero.
Have you released, or will you release, cables (either in the last few days or with the Afghan and Iraq war logs) with the names of Afghan informants or anything else like so?
Are you willing to censor (sorry for using the term) any names that you feel might land people in danger from reprisals??
By the way, I think history will absolve you. Well done!!!

Julian Assange small Julian Assange:
WikiLeaks has a four-year publishing history. During that time there has been no credible allegation, even by organisations like the Pentagon that even a single person has come to harm as a result of our activities. This is despite much-attempted manipulation and spin trying to lead people to a counter-factual conclusion. We do not expect any change in this regard.
The State Dept is mulling over the issue of whether you are a journalist or not. Are you a journalist? As far as delivering information that someone [anyone] does not want seen is concerned, does it matter if you are a 'journalist' or not?

Julian Assange small Julian Assange:
I coauthored my first nonfiction book by the time I was 25. I have been involved in nonfiction documentaries, newspapers, TV and internet since that time. However, it is not necessary to debate whether I am a journalist, or how our people mysteriously are alleged to cease to be journalists when they start writing for our organisaiton. Although I still write, research and investigate my role is primarily that of a publisher and editor-in-chief who organises and directs other journalists.
Mr Assange,
have there ever been documents forwarded to you which deal with the topic of UFOs or extraterrestrials?

Julian Assange small Julian Assange:
Many weirdos email us about UFOs or how they discovered that they were the anti-christ whilst talking with their ex-wife at a garden party over a pot-plant. However, as yet they have not satisfied two of our publishing rules.
1) that the documents not be self-authored;
2) that they be original.
However, it is worth noting that in yet-to-be-published parts of the cablegate archive there are indeed references to UFOs.
What happened to all the other documents that were on Wikileaks prior to these series of "megaleaks"? Will you put them back online at some stage ("technical difficulties" permitting)?

Julian Assange small Julian Assange:
Many of these are still available at and the rest will be returning as soon as we can find a moment to do address the engineering complexities. Since April of this year our timetable has not been our own, rather it has been one that has centred on the moves of abusive elements of the United States government against us. But rest assured I am deeply unhappy that the three-and-a-half years of my work and others is not easily available or searchable by the general public.
Have you expected this level of impact all over the world? Do you fear for your security?

Julian Assange small Julian Assange:
I always believed that WikiLeaks as a concept would perform a global role and to some degree it was clear that is was doing that as far back as 2007 when it changed the result of the Kenyan general election. I thought it would take two years instead of four to be recognised by others as having this important role, so we are still a little behind schedule and have much more work to do. The threats against our lives are a matter of public record, however, we are taking the appropriate precautions to the degree that we are able when dealing with a super power.
I am a former British diplomat. In the course of my former duties I helped to coordinate multilateral action against a brutal regime in the Balkans, impose sanctions on a renegade state threatening ethnic cleansing, and negotiate a debt relief programme for an impoverished nation. None of this would have been possible without the security and secrecy of diplomatic correspondence, and the protection of that correspondence from publication under the laws of the UK and many other liberal and democratic states. An embassy which cannot securely offer advice or pass messages back to London is an embassy which cannot operate. Diplomacy cannot operate without discretion and the
protection of sources. This applies to the UK and the UN as much as the US.
In publishing this massive volume of correspondence, Wikileaks is not highlighting specific cases of wrongdoing but undermining the entire process of diplomacy. If you can publish US cables then you can publish UK telegrams and UN emails.
My question to you is: why should we not hold you personally responsible when next an international crisis goes unresolved because diplomats cannot function.

Julian Assange small Julian Assange:
If you trim the vast editorial letter to the singular question actually asked, I would be happy to give it my attention.
Mr Assange,
Can you explain the censorship of identities as XXXXX's in the revealed cables? Some critical identities are left as is, whereas some are XXXXX'd. Some cables are partially revealed. Who can make such critical decisons, but the US gov't? As far as we know your request for such help was rejected by the State department. Also is there an order in the release of cable or are they randomly selected?
Thank you.

Julian Assange small Julian Assange:
The cables we have release correspond to stories released by our main stream media partners and ourselves. They have been redacted by the journalists working on the stories, as these people must know the material well in order to write about it. The redactions are then reviewed by at least one other journalist or editor, and we review samples supplied by the other organisations to make sure the process is working.
Annoying as it may be, the DDoS seems to be good publicity (if anything, it adds to your credibility). So is getting kicked out of AWS. Do you agree with this statement? Were you planning for it?
Thank you for doing what you are doing.

Julian Assange small Julian Assange:
Since 2007 we have been deliberately placing some of our servers in jurisdictions that we suspected suffered a free speech deficit inorder to separate rhetoric from reality. Amazon was one of these cases.
You started something that nobody can stop. The Beginning of a New World. Remember, that community is behind you and support you (from Slovakia).
Do you have leaks on ACTA?

Julian Assange small Julian Assange:
Yes, we have leaks on the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, a trojan horse trade agreement designed from the very beginning to satisfy big players in the US copyright and patent industries. In fact, it was WikiLeaks that first drew ACTA to the public's attention - with a leak.
Tom Flanagan, a [former] senior adviser to Canadian Prime Minister recently stated "I think Assange should be assassinated ... I think Obama should put out a contract ... I wouldn't feel unhappy if Assange does disappear."
How do you feel about this?

Julian Assange small Julian Assange:
It is correct that Mr. Flanagan and the others seriously making these statements should be charged with incitement to commit murder.
Julian, why do you think it was necessary to "give Wikileaks a face"? Don't you think it would be better if the organization was anonymous?
This whole debate has become very personal and reduced on you - "Julian Assange leaked documents", "Julian Assange is a terrorist", "Julian Assange alledgedly raped a woman", "Julian Assange should be assassinated", "Live Q&A qith Julian Assange" etc. Nobody talks about Wikileaks as an organization anymore. Many people don't even realize that there are other people behind Wikileaks, too.
And this, in my opinion, makes Wikileaks vulnerable because this enables your opponents to argue ad hominem. If they convince the public that you're an evil, woman-raping terrorist, then Wikileaks' credibility will be gone. Also, with due respect for all that you've done, I think it's unfair to all the other brave, hard working people behind Wikileaks, that you get so much credit.

Julian Assange small Julian Assange:
This is an interesting question. I originally tried hard for the organisation to have no face, because I wanted egos to play no part in our activities. This followed the tradition of the French anonymous pure mathematians, who wrote under the collective allonym, "The Bourbaki". However this quickly led to tremendous distracting curiosity about who and random individuals claiming to represent us. In the end, someone must be responsible to the public and only a leadership that is willing to be publicly courageous can genuinely suggest that sources take risks for the greater good. In that process, I have become the lightening rod. I get undue attacks on every aspect of my life, but then I also get undue credit as some kind of balancing force.
Western governments lay claim to moral authority in part from having legal guarantees for a free press.
Threats of legal sanction against Wikileaks and yourself seem to weaken this claim.
(What press needs to be protected except that which is unpopular to the State? If being state-sanctioned is the test for being a media organization, and therefore able to claim rights to press freedom, the situation appears to be the same in authoritarian regimes and the west.)
Do you agree that western governments risk losing moral authority by
attacking Wikileaks?
Do you believe western goverments have any moral authority to begin with?
Tim Burgi
Vancouver, Canada

Julian Assange small Julian Assange:
The west has fiscalised its basic power relationships through a web of contracts, loans, shareholdings, bank holdings and so on. In such an environment it is easy for speech to be "free" because a change in political will rarely leads to any change in these basic instruments. Western speech, as something that rarely has any effect on power, is, like badgers and birds, free. In states like China, there is pervasive censorship, because speech still has power and power is scared of it. We should always look at censorship as an economic signal that reveals the potential power of speech in that jurisdiction. The attacks against us by the US point to a great hope, speech powerful enough to break the fiscal blockade.
Is the game that you are caught up in winnable? Technically, can you keep playing hide and seek with the powers that be when services and service providers are directly or indirectly under government control or vulnerable to pressure - like Amazon?
Also, if you get "taken out" - and that could be technical, not necessarily physical - what are the alternatives for your cache of material?
Is there a 'second line' of activists in place that would continue the campaign?
Is your material 'dispersed' so that taking out one cache would not necessarily mean the end of the game?

Julian Assange small Julian Assange:
The Cable Gate archive has been spread, along with significant material from the US and other countries to over 100,000 people in encrypted form. If something happens to us, the key parts will be released automatically. Further, the Cable Gate archives is in the hands of multiple news organisations. History will win. The world will be elevated to a better place. Will we survive? That depends on you.
logo2 That's it every one, thanks for all your questions and comments. Julian Assange is sorry that he can't answer every question but he has tried to cover as much territory as possible. Thanks for your patience with our earlier technical difficulties.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Y En Eso llegó Fidel (And Then Fidel Arrived)

Aquí pensaban seguir,
ganando el ciento por ciento,
con casas de apartamentos,
y echar al pueblo a sufrir.
Y seguir de modo cruel
contra el pueblo conspirando,
para seguirlo explotando... y en eso llegó Fidel!

Y se acabó la diversión:
llegó el Comandante y mandó a parar!

Aquí pensaban seguir,
tragando y tragando tierra,
sin sospechar que en la Sierra
se alumbraba el porvenir.
Y seguir de modo cruel
la costumbre del delito:
hacer de Cuba un garito... y en eso llegó Fidel!

Y se acabó la diversión:
llegó el Comandante y mandó a parar!

Aquí pensaban seguir
diciendo que los cuatreros,
forajidos, bandoleros,
asolaban al país.
Y seguir de modo cruel
con la infamia por escudo,
difamando a los barbudos... y en eso llegó Fidel!

Y se acabó la diversión:
llegó el Comandante y mandó a parar!

Aquí pensaban seguir,
jugando a la democracia
y el pueblo, que en su desgracia,
se acabara de morir.
Y seguir de modo cruel,
sin cuidarse ni la forma,
con el robo como norma... y en eso llegó Fidel!

Y se acabó la diversión:
llegó el Comandante y mandó a parar!


Here, they thought that they would continue,
earning one hundred percent,
with apartment houses,
and to make the people to suffer.
And they wanted to continue in a cruel way,
conspiring against the people,
and to continue exploiting them ... and then Fidel arrived!

The fun times are over:
The Commander arrived and told them to stop!

Here, they thought that they would continue,
swallowing and swallowing dirt,
without suspecting that in the Sierra
a new future was dawning.
And they wanted to continue in a cruel way,
the custom of the crime:
to turn Cuba into a gambling den ... and then Fidel arrived!

The fun times are over:
The Commander arrived and told them to stop!

Here, they thought that they would continue,
saying that the thieves,
outlaws, bandits,
ravaged the country.
And they wanted to continue in a cruel way,
with infamy as a shield,
defaming the bearded ones ... and then Fidel arrived!

The fun times are over:
The Commander arrived and told them to stop!

Here they thought that they would continue,
playing their democracy games,
And the people, in their misfortune,
would soon die.
And they wanted to continue in a cruel way,
without care as to how it was done,
robbery was the norm... and then Fidel arrived!

The fun times are over:
The Commander arrived and told them to stop!

Posted by Cuba Journal at 12/01/2010 08:18:00 PM 0 comments

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

THE ROVING EYE - The naked emperor By Pepe Escobar

President Bush: Frank, please consider filling a post I'm creating. It may mean long hours and dangerous nights, surrounded by some of the scummiest elements in our society. 

Frank: You want me to be in your cabinet? 
- The Naked Gun 2 Ω, starring Leslie Nielsen 

Whatever the spin, the fact is that 1.6 gigabytes of text files on a memory stick spanning 251,287 leaked United States State Department cables from more than 250 embassies and consulates are not exactly bound to provoke "a political meltdown" - as German magazine Der Spiegel has put it - concerning the foreign policy of the world's declining hyperpower. 

Behind the multiple, hypocritical layers of spin served to the frantic 24/7 news cycle, politics is mostly a tacky reality show. And that's what the latest WikiLeaks show graphically lays bare. A Muammar Gaddafi that applies botox and just can't get enough of his sexy Ukrainian nurse belongs to the realm of Big Brother. 

Although it would all make for great TV, it's hardly a scoop that for US diplomats Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad is "Hitler", Afghan President Hamid Karzai is "paranoid", French President Nicolas Sarkozy is an "emperor with no clothes", "vain and feckless" Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is fond of "wild parties", German Chancellor Angela Merkel is "rarely creative", Russian President Dmitry Medvedev "plays Robin to [Prime Minister Vladimir] Putin's Batman" or North Korea's Dear Leader Kim Jong-il is a "flabby old chap" suffering from "physical and psychological trauma". 

But to believe, as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton does, that these disclosures constitute "an attack not only on American foreign policy interests but on the international community"; or that WikiLeaks, as President Barack Obama has put it, committed a serious crime, is to display nothing but tacky imperial arrogance. As if the world didn't have the right to gorge itself on the kind of political junk food served to a few consumers inside the Washington palaces of power. 

Clinton must have sensed that the overall sentiment after reading these cables is of a Washington suffering a nervous breakdown worthy of an Almodovar flick. For instance, a key US ally such as Berlusconi, defined as "vainglorious", "indifferent to the fate of Europe" and dangerously close to Putin, of which he seems to be "the spokesperson", can be regarded as a threat equal to Ahmadinejad. How paranoid can you get? The US Embassy in Moscow, by the way, describes Putin as an "alpha-dog" ruling over a Russia that is virtually "a Mafia state"; cynics would say this also applied to former vice president Dick Cheney during the George "Dubya" Bush era. 

Anyone with an IQ superior to 75 might have suspected by now that US diplomats spy on their United Nations colleagues (under Clinton's orders); that Washington conducted a bazaar to force small countries to accept Guantanamo inmates; that the Pakistani military/intelligence establishment is intertwined with the Taliban; or that paragon of democracy and human rights Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz urged the US to attack Iran. 

Fear of Shi'ite Iran after all is the rule among that gaggle of unpopular Sunni Arab autocrats/dictators constantly harping and begging for the US to sell them the weapons that keep them in power. 

But things do get more serious when we have the US ambassador to Turkey saying Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is "a fundamentalist. He hates us religiously" and his hatred is spreading; that is a blatant lie. 

Or when Pentagon supremo Robert Gates tells Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini that Iran was not supplying weapons for the Taliban - in fact nullifying a massive Pentagon-orchestrated suspension-of-disbelief campaign that lasted for months. 

There's no evidence to prove that Beijing's collective leadership was the real power behind the cyber-attacks against Google. And when former South Korean vice foreign minister Chun Yung-woo told the US ambassador in Seoul that new generation of Chinese party leaders no longer regarded North Korea as a useful ally, how much of it is purely self-serving wishful thinking? After all, Chun is now the national security adviser to South Korea's president. 

Context is key in all these disclosures - around 220 so far. The diplomats or low-level functionaries speaking through these cables are essentially telling the State Department what it wants to hear, or bluffing their way into what has been already set in policy stone in Washington; the amount of independent, critical analysis is virtually zero. 

On with the show 

A much juicier perspective is to consider that from now on, most concerned global citizens will believe virtually nothing hurled at them during those cosmically boring diplomatic/government/military press conferences and photo ops. 

The leaked cables prove that Europe - never impervious to self-ridicule - was already being marginalized during the Bush era, and more so now with Obama concentrating on Asia-Pacific. As for the bulk of what has been leaked so far, especially on Iran and the movers and shakers in the Persian Gulf, it is barely disguised US/Israeli propaganda. 

Not accidentally, many a global headline is beating the same drum along the lines of "Israel greets WikiLeaks cables as vindication of its Iran policy". An overall assessment of the leaked cables reveals that as much as Israel and the powerful US Israel lobby worked overtime to bring about the invasion and destruction of Iraq, it is doubling the bet to do exactly the same regarding Iran. Attention should be paid to a cable warning that "elegant and seductive" Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "never keeps his promises". As in: no halt to settlements in the West Bank, and let's bomb, bomb Iran. 

The Wiki reality show will go on for weeks as new gossip is dumped online. At least the show once again proves that the real information is on the Internet - not on global corporate media; and global citizens should make the best use of it to unmask, and ridicule, power. 

It's salutary to learn that the emperor, in secret, bad-mouths his friends and sycophants as much as his enemies. And also to learn that the emperor is no friend of democratized information. But now that the emperor is indeed naked, we should all celebrate these cable-writers, friends, enemies and sycophants for bringing us this priceless reality show - a sort of extended The Naked Gun. Pity the late, great Leslie Nielsen won't be able to join us. 

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007) and RedZone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge. His new book, just out, is Obamadoes Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009). 

He may be reached at 

The National Security State Cops a Feel - Taking Off the Gloves (and Then Everything Else)

By Tom Engelhardt

It’s finally coming into focus, and it’s not even a difficult equation to grasp.  It goes like this: take a country in the grips of an expanding national security state and sooner or later your “safety” will mean your humiliation, your degradation.  And by the way, it will mean the degradation of your country, too.
Just ask Rolando Negrin, a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screener who passed through one of those new “whole body image” scanners last May as part of his training for airport security.  His co-workers claimed to have gotten a look at his “junk” and mocked him mercilessly, evidently repeatedly asking, “What size are you?” and referring to him as “little angry man.”  In the end, calling it “psychological torture,” he insisted that he snapped, which in his case meant that he went after a co-worker, baton first, demanding an apology.

Consider that a little parable about just how low this country has sunk, how psychologically insecure we’ve become while supposedly guarding ourselves against global danger.  There is no question that, at the height of Cold War hysteria, when superpower nuclear arsenals were out of this world and the planet seemed a hair-trigger from destruction, big and small penises were in play, symbolically speaking.  Only now, however, facing a ragtag set of fanatics and terrorists -- not a mighty nation but a puny crew -- are those penises perfectly real and, potentially, completely humiliating.

Failed Bombs Do the Job

We live, it seems, in a national security “homeland” of little angry bureaucrats who couldn’t be happier to define what “safety” means for you and big self-satisfied officials who can duck the application of those safety methods.  Your government can now come up with any wacky solution to American “security” and you’ll pay the price.  One guy brings a failed shoe bomb on an airplane, and you’re suddenly in your socks.  Word has it that bombs can be mixed from liquids in airplane bathrooms, and there go your bottled drinks.  A youthful idiot flies toward Detroit with an ill-constructed bomb in his underwear, and suddenly they’re taking naked scans of you or threatening to grope your junk.

Two bombs don’t go off in the cargo holds of two planes and all of a sudden sending things around the world threatens to become more problematic and expensive.  Each time, the price of “safety” rises and some set of lucky corporations, along with the lobbyists and politicians that support them, get a windfall.  In each case, the terror tactic (at least in the normal sense) failed; in each case, the already draconian standards for our security were ratcheted up, while yet more money was poured into new technology and human reinforcements, which may, in the end, cause more disruption than any successful terror attack.

Directly or indirectly, you pay for the screeners and scanners and a labyrinthine intelligence bureaucracy that officially wields an $80 billion budget, and all the lobbyists and shysters and pitchmen who accompany our burgeoning homeland-security complex.  And by the way, no one’s the slightest bit nice about it either, which isn’t surprising since it’s a national security state we’re talking about, which means its mentality is punitive.  It wants to lock you down, quietly and with full acquiescence if possible.  Offer some trouble, though, or step out of line, and you'll be hit with a $10,000 fine or maybe put in cuffs.  It’s all for your safety, and fortunately they have a set of the most inept terror plots in history to prove their point.

By now, who hasn’t written about the airport “porno-scans,” the crotch gropes and breast jobs, the “don’t touch my junk” uproar, the growing lines, and the exceedingly modest protests on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, not to speak of the indignity of it all?

Totally been there, completely done that; totally written about, fully read.  Shouldn’t we move on?

Taking Off the Gloves (and Then Everything Else)

And yet there are a few dots that still need to be connected.  After all, since the beginning of George W. Bush’s second term, Americans have been remarkably quiet when it comes to the national security disasters being perpetuated in their name.  America’s wars, its soaring Pentagon budgets, its billion-dollar military bases, its giant new citadels still called embassies but actually regional command centers, its ever-escalating CIA drone war along the Pakistani tribal borderlands, the ever-expanding surveillance at home, and the incessant “night raids” and home razings thousands of miles away in Afghanistan, not to speak of Washington’s stimulus-package spending in its war zones have caused no more than the mildest ripple of protest, much less genuine indignation, in this country in years.

American “safety” has, in every case, trumped outrage.  Now, for the first time in years, the oppressiveness of a national security state bent on locking down American life has actually gotten to some Americans.  No flags are yet flying over mass protests with “Don’t Scan on Me” emblazoned on them.  Still, the idea that air travel may now mean a choice between a spritz of radiation and a sorta naked snapshot or -- thrilling option B -- having some overworked, overaggressive TSA agent grope you has caused outrage, at least among a minority of Americans, amid administration confusion.  (If you want evidence that Hillary Clinton is considering a run for president in 2012, check out what she had to say about her lack of eagerness to be patted down at the airport.)
Local authorities have threatened to bring sexual battery charges against TSA agents who step over the line in pat-downs.  Some legislators are denouncing the TSA’s new security plans.  Ron Paul has introduced the American Travel Dignity Act.  And good for them all.

But here’s the thing: in our deluded state, Americans don’t tend to connect what we’re doing to others abroad and what we’re doing to ourselves at home.  We refuse to see that the trillion or more dollars that continue to go into the Pentagon, the U.S. Intelligence Community, and the national security state yearly, as well as the stalemated or losing wars Washington insists on fighting in distant lands, have anything to do with the near collapse of the American economy, job-devastation at home, or any of the other disasters of our American age.

As a result, those porno-scanners and enhanced pat-downs are indignities without a cause -- except, of course, for those terrorists who keep launching their bizarre plots to take down our planes.  And yet whatever inconvenience, embarrassment, or humiliation you suffer in an airport shouldn’t be thought of as something the terrorists have done to us.  It’s what the American national security state that we’ve quietly accepted demands of its subjects, based on the idea that no degree of danger from a terrorist attack, however infinitesimal, is acceptable. (When it comes to genuine safety, anything close to that principle is absent from other aspects of American life where -- from eating to driving, to drinking, to working -- genuine danger exists and genuine damage is regularly done.)

We now live not just with all the usual fears that life has to offer, but in something like a United States of Fear.

So think of it as an irony that, when George W. Bush and his cronies decided to sally forth and smite the Greater Middle East, they exulted that they were finally “taking the gloves off.”  And so they were: aggressive war, torture, abuse, secret imprisonment, souped-up surveillance, slaughter, drone wars, there was no end to it.  When those gloves came off, other people suffered first.  But wasn’t it predictable -- since unsuccessful wars have a nasty habit of coming home -- that, in the end, other things would come off, and sooner or later they would be on you: your hat, your shoes, your belt, your clothes, and of course, your job, your world?

And don’t for a second think that it’s going to end here.  What happens when the first terrorist with a suppository bomb is found aboard one of our planes?  After all, such weapons already exist.  In the meantime, the imposition of more draconian safety and security methods is, of course, being considered for buses, trains, and boats.  Can trucks, taxis, cars, and bikes be far behind?  After all, once begun, there can, by definition, be no end to the search for perfect security.

You Wanna Be Safer?  Really?

You must have a friend who’s extremely critical of everyone else but utterly opaque when it comes to himself.  Well, that’s this country, too.

Here’s a singular fact to absorb: we now know that a bunch of Yemeni al-Qaeda adherents have a far better hit on just who we are, psychologically speaking, and what makes us tick than we do.  Imagine that.  They have a more accurate profile of us than our leading intelligence profilers undoubtedly do of them.

Recently, they released an online magazine laying out just how much the two U.S.-bound cargo-bay bombs that caused panic cost them: a mere $4,200 and the efforts of “less than six brothers” over three months.  They even gave their plot a name, Operation Hemorrhage (and what they imagined hemorrhaging, it seems, was not American blood, but treasure).

Now, they're laughing at us for claiming the operation failed because -- thanks reportedly to a tip from Saudi intelligence -- those bombs didn’t go off.  “This supposedly ‘foiled plot,’” they wrote, “will without a doubt cost America and other Western countries billions of dollars in new security measures. That is what we call leverage.”

They are, they claim, planning to use the "security phobia that is sweeping America” not to cause major casualties, but to blow a hole in the U.S. economy.  "We knew that cargo planes are staffed by only a pilot and a co-pilot, so our objective was not to cause maximum casualties but to cause maximum losses to the American economy" via the multi-billion-dollar U.S. freight industry.

This is a new definition of asymmetrical warfare.  The terrorists never have to strike an actual target.  It’s not even incumbent upon them to build a bomb that works.  Just about anything will do.  To be successful, they just have to repeatedly send things in our direction, inciting the expectable Pavlovian reaction from the U.S. national security state, causing it to further tighten its grip (grope?) at yet greater taxpayer expense.

In a sense, both the American national security state and al-Qaeda are building their strength and prestige as our lives grow more constrained and our treasure vanishes.

So you wanna be safer?  I mean, actually safer?  Here’s a simple formula for beginning to improve American safety and security at every level.  End our trillion dollar wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; set our military to defending our own borders (and no, projecting power abroad does not normally qualify as a defense of the United States); begin to shut down our global empire of bases; stop building grotesque embassy-citadels abroad (one even has a decorative moat, for god’s sake!); end our overseas war stimulus packages and bring some of that money home.  In short, stop going out of our way to tick off foreigners and then pouring our treasure into an American war machine intent on pursuing a generational global war against them.

Of course, the U.S. national security state has quite a different formula for engendering safety in America: fight the Afghan War until hell freezes over; keep the odd base or two in Iraq; dig into the Persian Gulf region; send U.S. Special Operations troops into any country where a terrorist might possibly lurk; and make sure the drones aren’t far behind.  In other words, reinforce our war state by ensuring that we’re eternally in a state of war, and then scare the hell out of Americans by repeatedly insisting that we’re in imminent danger, that shoe, underwear, and someday butt bombers will destroy our country, our lives, and our civilization.  Insist that a single percent of risk is 1% too much when it comes to terror and American lives, and then demand that those who feel otherwise be dealt with punitively, if they won’t shut up.

It’s a formula for leaving you naked in airports, while increasing the oppressive power of the state.  And here’s the dirty, little, distinctly Orwellian secret: the national security state can’t do without those Yemeni terrorists (and vice versa), as well as our homegrown variety.  All of them profit from a world of war.  You don’t -- and on that score, what happens in an airport line should be the least of your worries.
The national security state is eager to cop a feel.  As long as Americans don’t grasp the connections between our war state and our “safety,” things will only get worse and, in the end, our world will genuinely be in danger.

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project, runs the Nation Institute's  His latest book is The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s (Haymarket Books). You can catch him discussing war American-style and that book in a Timothy MacBain TomCast video by clicking here.
Copyright 2010 Tom Engelhardt

Monday, November 29, 2010

Brazil's Street War Not For Resale Abroad - by Pepe Escobar

As much as their attention may be focused on the stinging cold-war battle being fought by the two Koreas, Pentagon analysts have got to be paying close attention to what's going on in the steamy slums of Rio de Janeiro. After all, this is revealing itself to be an unprecedented tropical remix of the Pentagon's long - infinite - war applied to global urban poverty.

First, let's take a look at the chronology. A week ago, two major Rio narco-trafficking gangs - the Red Command and Friends of Friends - launched a series of urban terror attacks, burning cars and buses and hitting police stations; the whole thing was orchestrated by some of their leaders locked up in an out-of-state maximum-security prison, basically in reaction to a 2008 government program that so far has established police pacification units (UPPs) in 13 of Rio's 1,000 favelas (shanty towns).
Unlike in previous instances, the Rio police response was swift - maximum force in the streets. Then the federal highway patrol stepped up its operations, the central government sent marines and then army units, and the federal police also got into the fray. An essential measure has been to transfer gang leaders to an even more remote maximum-security facility near the Amazon rainforest, 3,500 kilometers from Rio.

Last Thursday, a 200-strong contingent of the no-nonsense Special Operations Batallion (BOPE) - a sort of Brazilian SWAT - took the Vila Cruzeiro slum, while at least 300 hardcore hoodlums left on foot and on motorbikes for the nearby, sprawling, hilly Alemao shanty-town complex, as big as 10 Rio neighborhoods, with a population of 400,000.

Police/military units started surrounding the complex - while a deadline given for the narco-traffickers to "surrender with arms in the air by sunset" expired on Friday (those few who did were convinced by their families and by Christian priests). Finally, on Sunday morning, came the go-ahead to swarm into the Alemao, which was conquered in less than two hours by 2,600 police and soldiers, using tanks and marine-corps armed personnel carriers, and supported by helicopters. 

In a distant echo of American surges in Pashtun lands, BOPE specialists have realistically admitted that they have encountered far less resistance over the hills than expected. They are now firmly established literally at the top of a hill - with a strategic view of all surrounding areas; a Brazilian flag is now flying on the spot, symbolizing the state retaking what until now was lawless territory. 

At least 200 narco-traffickers may still be hiding in family homes, keeping civilians as human shields. The police/military have vowed to search each of the 30,000 homes in the slum complex - with each team assigned its own perimeter. An immense amount of drugs - including at least 40 tons of hash and 200 kilos of cocaine - and loads of weapons have been seized, with lots more to come. 

Tropical COIN

Pentagon analysts will immediately recognize this as no-holds-barred MOUT - Military Operations on Urbanized Terrain - territory. And experts at the Santa Monica-based Rand Corporation - which helped to set the strategy for the Vietnam war in the 1960s - may mistake this shanty-town complex in Rio for a "liberated zone in urban shanty towns" when it was in fact, until now, a deserted-by-state-power zone. Anyway, the Rand gang would obviously be thinking about Baghdad's Sadr City, where Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army made life hell for the American occupier. (No wonder Sadr City's squalid main boulevard was called Vietnam Street.) 

Most of all, US military strategists won't fail to recognize that what has just taken place in Rio illustrates what the Journal of the Army War College "prophesized" years ago; that "the future of warfare lies in the streets, sewers, high-rise buildings and sprawl of houses that form the broken cities of the world". 

Quite a few police/military specialists in Rio are in fact stressing that this is a never-before-seen urban operation, not even in Iraq (and certainly not in Gaza, where an occupying army may use the same tactics against a cowed, slum-style population). Some Brazilian army units may have used their experience as part of the United Nations peacekeeping force in Haiti - but still they never had to clear a slum in Port-au-Prince. 

The takeover of the Vila Cruzeiro slum and the Alemao slum complex also rank as classic David Petraeus-style counter-insurgency (COIN) - as in "take, clear, hold and build". "Take" has been fast as lightning; "clear" may take days if not weeks; "hold" has been solemnly promised by state and federal authorities; but "build" is a much more complex and long-term proposition. 

There are reasons to believe that this COIN Brazilian-style might work where the American version was not exactly successful in either Baghdad or the Sunni triangle or in southern Afghanistan. The swift, massive, coordinated show of force did destabilize organized crime; the element of surprise was key. Moreover, perhaps for the first time ever in Rio, this police/military invasion of a slum was not regarded as the action of an occupying army - but as the state affirming its will and empowering law-abiding citizens.

The sight of tanks in the streets finally sold the whole operation to a tired, jaded public - not only the society at large, but especially the slum dwellers themselves. And the sight of once powerful drug lords scurrying around like cockroaches demystified their power. Thus the Mao Zedong "fish among the sea" element deserted the narco-traffickers; unlike the Taliban in Pashtun lands they simply could not count on local popular support, or at least the Mafia-style "law of silence" they imposed. Even the narco-traffickers' own families advised them to surrender (those who didn't may be trying to escape through the sewage system). 

The background 

It took the Brazilian state at least four decades to muster the necessary political will for this massive offensive, coupled with ample police/military coordination and widespread support of public opinion, to rout what is one of the three top Rio narco-gangs. 

But this is only the beginning. 

The nexus between crime and politics in Brazil for a long time intertwined police, the judiciary, the executive, the legislature, private enterprise and criminals around the same rackets. It's what has been described as "the Brazilian delinquent state". Ringleaders - including mayors, senators, judges, police and district attorneys - made much more serious money than, for instance, the favela-based drug rings. 

This process started during the 1960s military dictatorships in Latin America, which stimulated an organized crime boom by creating the institutional framework for criminal freedom. Under Cold War logic - courtesy of the Pentagon - the priority of the dictatorships was internal repression. "Micro-criminality" was deemed irrelevant. The result of at least two decades of negligence was catastrophic. Police were left with no investigative capacity. 

Social anarchy, unstable governments and an absurdly high concentration of wealth were the hallmarks of the neo-liberal, post-dictatorship era. Crime flourished not only in Brazil but all across South America, with Colombia setting up powerful, regional mafias. In Italy, the legendary Mani Pulite (Clean Hands) operation became the paradigm for the repression of mafia activities under the framework of a democracy. In Brazil, as usual, things were and remain much more complicated. 

The military dictatorship ended in 1984; that was the same year that a hurricane of blow started sweeping through sensuous, tropical Rio - that is, Brazilian/Colombian narco-traffickers unloading pure cocaine at ridiculous prices into an incipient consumer market. The explosion of demand led to the consolidation of a group called Red Command, extremely powerful in the Rio favelas and associated with Colombian and Paraguayan narcotraficantes

Then in the 1990s, globalization turbo-charged a remix with special effects - courtesy of the Italian and Russian mafias, which for their part diversified into kidnappings and weapons trafficking. In Colombia, the fragmentation of drug cartels led to a proliferation of smaller groups, much harder to detect. And the same happened in Brazil. The Red Command gang, for instance, gave birth to a splinter group. 

Now, with Brazil collectively engaged in a major drive to become an essential global player, there seems to be a consensus that the time is right to start tackling the big picture. It will be a long and winding road, full of treacherous, slum-dwelling alleyways, before the 2014 Football World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympic Games - where Rio will be the superstar. So cleaning up is a must. 

This does not mean just sending in the tanks to take over a slum. What comes afterwards is the real test; to purge the penal system of abysmal corruption; to change legislation which in many ways protects criminals; to better patrol the country's borders to minimize the non-stop flow of drugs and weapons; to pay more decent salaries for police officers; to try to break the connections between those hoodlums in the favelas and "invisible" higher-ups; to invest in infrastructure and services for poor people; to stop stigmatizing them just because they are poor; to invest heavily in education. Meanwhile, a touch of MOUT will do no harm. But - Pentagon be warned - only because this is no foreign occupation army.

He may be reached at 

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The 234-Year Old Virgin

by David Macaray / November 26th, 2010

An old joke: An Oxford professor meets a former student and asks what he’s been up to.  The student tells him he’s working on his doctoral thesis, whose topic is the survival of the class system in the U.S.  The prof expresses surprise. “I didn’t think there was a class system in the U.S.,” he says. “Nobody does,” the student replies.  “That’s how it survives.”

Not only has the so-called “trickle-down” theory of economics been revealed to be a cruel hoax, but most of the good industrial jobs have left the country, the middle-class has been eviscerated, the wealthiest Americans (even in the wake of the recession) have quintupled their net worth, and polls show that upwards of 70-percent of the American public feel the country is “headed in the wrong direction.”

No jobs, no prospects, no leverage, no short-term solutions, no long-term plans, no big ideas to save us.  While the bottom four-fifths struggle to stay zafloat, and the upper one-fifth cautiously tread water, the top one-percent continue to accumulate wealth at a staggering rate.

Thanks to the global engine, there are now hundreds of billionaires.  Oligarchies, “client-state” capitalism, wanton deregulation, CEOs earning monster salaries, corporations receiving taxpayer welfare, and half the U.S. Congress boasting of being millionaires.  Meanwhile, personal debt in the U.S. continues to soar, one in ten people are out of work, and food stamp usage sets new records every month.

Yet even with near-record unemployment, the Department of Commerce reported this week that U.S. companies just had their best quarter… ever.  Businesses recorded profits at an annual rate of $1.66 trillion in the third quarter, which is the highest rate (in non-inflation-adjusted figures) since the government began keeping records, over 60 years ago.  Shrinking incomes, fewer jobs… but bigger corporate profits.  Not a good sign.

Yet when you broach the dreaded subject of “class warfare” you get blank stares.  When you try to demonstrate, through reams of charts and graphs and statistics, that the system is largely rigged to accommodate the wealthy and powerful — and that we face a genuine Us vs. Them dilemma — people back away.

It’s puzzling.  Why is there so stubborn a conviction that class distinctions don’t exist?  Could it be fueled by something as basic as old-fashioned Yankee optimism?  Could it be a form of whistling in the dark — combating fear and despair by denying that things are as bad as they seem?  Or could it be the unfortunate product of self-delusion and vanity….of no one wishing to be labeled “working class”?

Whatever the reason, it goes way beyond the arithmetic.  Reminding people that the super rich are not only dedicated to hanging on to what they have but committed to accumulating more — and constantly trolling for additional ways to game the system — doesn’t elicit much more than a stifled yawn.  No one gets spooked.  “That’s always been true,” they grumble.

But what does spook them is the suggestion that this dynamic has become institutionalized.  What does spook them is the notion that the deadly trifecta of greed, globalization, and collusion between government and business has more or less rendered the American Dream unattainable for a large segment of the population, and that the country’s best days are clearly behind it.  This is where people balk.

Years ago on the former CNN panel show, The Capital Gang, there was a segment where paleoconservative Robert Novak was arguing over tax rates with the show’s resident “liberals,” journalists Mark Shields and Al Hunt.  After the usual bickering,  Novak dropped his bombshell.  He bluntly accused Shields and Hunt of trying to “foment class warfare.”

Panic ensued.  Instead of defiantly answering in the affirmative (“Hell, yes, we’re talking class warfare!!”), these two guys practically fell over themselves in protest, vehemently denying the accusation.  They reacted as if Novak had accused them of high treason.  It was pathetic.

In former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich’s excellent memoir, Locked in the Cabinet, there’s an account of Lloyd Bentsen, Clinton’s Treasury Secretary, making a similar reference.  In reply to Reich’s observation that the wage gap was widening precipitously, Bentsen says, “Look, Bob, we shouldn’t do social engineering through the tax code.  There’s no reason to declare class warfare.”

While the rich obviously don’t want us rocking the boat, the disparity has become so alarming, even billionaire investor Warren Buffet broke ranks and acknowledged that the Bush-era tax cuts should be allowed to expire.  Said Buffet, “If anything, the wealthiest Americans should pay even more in taxes.”

Buffet’s sacrilege aside, as long as those three catch-phrases — class warfare, social engineering, and redistribution of wealth — continue to provoke Pavlovian responses from Republicans and Democrats alike, the super rich have nothing to worry about.