Bill Totten's Weblog

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Why Democrats are afraid to raise taxes on the rich

Could it have something to do with the recent affection of hedge-fund managers for the Democratic Party?

by Robert Reich (October 25 2007)

New data from the Internal Revenue Service show that income inequality continues to widen. The wealthiest one percent of Americans earn more than 21 percent of all income. That's a postwar record. The bottom fifty percent of all Americans, when all their wages are combined, earn just 12.8 percent of the nation's income.

Considering the magnitude of challenges ahead for America, it seems only reasonable that taxes should rise on the wealthy. Taxing the super-rich is not about class envy, as conservatives charge. It's about the nation having enough money to pay for national defense and homeland security, good schools and a crumbling infrastructure, the upcoming costs of boomers' Social Security (the current surplus has masked the true extent of the current budget deficit, but it won't for much longer) and, hopefully, affordable national health insurance. Not to mention the trillion dollars or so it will take to fix the Alternative Minimum Tax, which is now starting to hit the middle class.

To some extent, the major Democratic candidates for president appear to agree. They are unanimous in their pledge to roll back the Bush tax cuts. That means that the wealthiest Americans, who are now taxed at a marginal rate of 35 percent, would go back to paying the 38 percent marginal rate they paid under Bill Clinton. So far, however, no Democrat has suggested that the nation should raise the marginal tax rate on the richest Americans above that 38 percent, as will probably be necessary if America is to avoid an economic meltdown in the years ahead.

The biggest emerging pay gap is actually within the top one percent of all earners. It's mainly a gap between corporate CEOs, on the one hand, and Wall Street financiers - hedge-fund managers, private-equity managers (think Mitt Romney) and investment bankers - on the other. According to a study by University of Chicago professors Steven Kaplan and Joshua Rauh, more than twice as many Wall Street financiers are in the top half of one percent of earners as are CEOs. The 25 highest-paid hedge-fund managers are earning more than the CEOs of the largest 500 companies in the Standard and Poor's 500 combined. While CEO pay is outrageous, hedge-fund and private-equity pay is way beyond outrageous. Several of these fund managers are taking home more than a billion dollars a year.

At the very least, you might think that Democrats would do something about the anomaly in the tax code that treats the earnings of private-equity and hedge-fund managers as capital gains rather than ordinary income, and thereby taxes them at fifteen percent - lower than the tax rate faced by many middle-class Americans. But Senate Democrats recently backed off a proposal to do just that. Why? It turns out that Democrats are getting more campaign contributions these days from hedge-fund and private-equity partners than Republicans are getting. In the run-up to the 2006 election, donations from hedge-fund employees were running better than 2-to-1 Democratic. The party doesn't want to bite the hands that feed.

If the rich and super-rich don't pay their fair share, the middle class will get socked with the bill. But the middle class can't possibly pay it. America's middle class is under intense financial pressure. Median wages and benefits, adjusted for inflation, have been going nowhere for thirty years; health costs are soaring (employers are quickly shifting co-payments, deductibles and premiums to their employees), fuel costs are out of sight, the prices of the houses occupied by the middle class are in the doldrums.

What's fair? I'd say a fifty percent marginal tax rate on the very rich, meaning those earning over $500,000 per year. I'd also suggest an annual wealth tax of one-half of one percent on the net worth of people holding more than $5 million in total assets. Can't be done, you say? Well, the highest marginal tax rate under Republican Dwight Eisenhower was 91 percent. It dropped under John Kennedy to the seventy percent range. You say the rich will leave the country rather than face a marginal tax of fifty percent? Let them, and take away their citizenship.

If the Democrats stand for anything, it's a fair allocation of the responsibility for paying the costs of maintaining this nation. So far, neither the Democratic candidates for president nor the Senate Democrats have shown much eagerness to advocate this fundamental principle. It seems the rich have bought them out.

Copyright ©2007 Salon Media Group, Inc.

Bill Totten


Clusterfuck Nation

by Jim Kunstler

Comment on current events by the author of
The Long Emergency (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2005) (October 29 2007)

When historians glance back at 2007 through the haze of their coal-fired stoves, they will mark this year as the onset of the Long Emergency - or whatever they choose to call the unraveling of industrial economies and the complex systems that constituted them. And if they retain any sense of humor - which is very likely since, as wise Sam Beckett once averred, nothing is funnier than unhappiness - they will chuckle at the assumptions that drove the doings and mental operations of those in charge back then (that is, now).

The price of oil is up 53 percent over a year ago, creeping up now toward the mid-$90-range. The news media is still AWOL on the subject. (The New York Times has nothing about it on today's front page.) The dollar is losing a penny a week against the Euro. In essence, the American standard of living is dropping like a sash weight. So far, a stunned public is stumbling into impoverishment drunk on Britney Spears video clips. If they ever do sober up, and get to a "... hey, wait a minute ..." moment when they recognize the gulf between reality and the story told by leaders in government, business, education, and the media, it is liable to be a very ugly moment in US history.

One of the stupidest assumptions made by the educated salient of adults these days is that we are guaranteed a smooth transition between the cancerous hypertrophy of our current economic environment and the harsher conditions that we are barreling toward. The university profs and the tech sector worker bees are still absolutely confident that some hypothetical "they" will "come up with" magical rescue remedies for running the Happy Motoring system without gasoline. My main message to lecture audiences these days is "... quit putting all your mental energy into propping up car dependency and turn your attention to other tasks such as walkable communities and reviving passenger rail ..." Inevitably, someone will then get up and propose that the transition to all-electric cars is nearly upon us, and we should stop worrying. As I said, these are the educated denizens of the colleges. Imagine what the nascar morons believe - that the ghost of Davey Crockett will leave a jug of liquefied "dark matter" under everyone's Christmas tree this year or next, guaranteed to keep the engines ringing until Elvis ushers in the Rapture.

The educated folks - that is, the ones subject to the grandiose story-lines of techno triumphalism taught in the universities - are sure that we'll either invent or organize our way out of the current predicament. A society that put men on the moon in 1969, the story goes, will ramp up another "Apollo Project" to keep things going here. One wonders, of course, what they mean by keeping things going. Even if it were hypothetically possible to keep all the cars running forever, would it be good thing to make suburban sprawl-building the basis of our economy - because that's the direct consequence of perpetually cheap energy. Has anyone noticed that the housing bubble and subsequent implosion is following the peak oil line exactly?

It's a bit harder to discern what the assumptions really are among leaders in the finance sector, since so much of their activity the past ten years has veered into sheer fraud. The story line that everyone is putting out - from the Fed chairman Bernanke to the CEOs of the Big Fundz - is that American finance is a python that has swallowed a few too many pigs, but if we jigger around interest rates a little bit more, and allow some more money to be lent out cheaply, the python will eventually digest the pigs and go slithering happily on its way along the jungle trail with a burp and a fart. From this vantage, one sees a rather different story: more like a gang of human grifters sweating through their Prada suits as it becomes increasingly impossible to conceal massive losses incurred through overt reckless misbehavior. My own guess is that a lot of these boyz will be in line for criminal prosecution before too long.

The political assumptions one hears are the most astoundingly naive and ridiculous, especially the ones that involve other countries and our relations with them. New York Times followers no doubt believe, along with Tom Friedman, that the global economy is now a permanent fixture of the human condition, and that soon it will transform itself into a colossal engine of "green" (that is, benign) commerce. Friedman and his followers tend to forget the second law of thermodynamics when spinning their fantasies of a world that can harmlessly manufacture and market an endless number of plastic salad shooters from one side of the planet to the other without incurring any losses to the health of said planet.

My own assumptions are somewhat different. I think we're likely to see a lot of nations scrambling for survival, initially manifesting in a contest for the world's dwindling supply of oil (and oil-like substances). For instance, when viewing the globe, few people consider that Japan currently imports 95 percent of its fossil fuel. Japan has been a "good boy" among nations since its episode of "acting out" in the mid-20th century and has enjoyed a long industrial prosperity since then. But what happens when there is not enough oil in the world to be allocated rationally by markets among the powerful nations? Will Japan just roll over and die? Will they shutter the Toyota factories and happily turn to placid tea ceremonies. I think Japan will freak out, and it's hard to predict exactly who will feel its wrath and how.

Similarly, Europe. Americans view Europe as a kind of theme park full of elderly cafe layabouts swaddled in cashmere as they enjoy demitasse cups in the outdoor cafes of their comfortable art-filled cities (some of them not long ago rebuilt from rubble). Europe has let America do its dirty work for it in the Middle East for the past decade while enjoying tanker-loads of oil coming up through the Suez Canal. Europe has only had to make a few lame gestures in defense of its oil supplies. But the North Sea oil fields, which for twenty years have hedged the leverage of OPEC, are crapping out at a very steep rate. Sooner or later Europe will freak out over oil, and geo-political flat-earthers will be shocked to see that all the nations of cafe layabouts can mobilize potent military forces. God knows whose side who will be on, exactly, when that happens, and where America will stand - if its own military is not so exhausted that it can even stand up.

Personally, I think the world will be growing a lot larger again, and less flat, and that eventually America will find itself isolated once again between two oceans - though incursions by desperate foreign armies in one way or another, is not out of the question as the great struggle for resource survival gets underway. In time, however, I think the current Great Nations of the world will lose their ability to project power in the ways we've been conditioned to think about it.

In the meantime, our own nation has become a society incapable of thinking, and the failure at all levels of rank, education, and privilege is impressive. If you listen to the people running for president - many of them overt clowns - you'd think that that all the comfortable furnishings of everyday life can continue with a few tweaks of the dials. They are cowards and it is possible that they perfectly represent a whole nation of cowards who deserve cowardly leadership. The danger, of course, is that when a non-cowardly leader finally does step forward in a desperate America, he will not shrink from pushing around a feckless people, or doing their thinking for them.

Bill Totten

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Road Well Travelled

Are we already shutting our minds to the consequences of climate change?

by George Monbiot

Published in the Guardian (October 30 2007)

A few weeks ago I read what I believe is the most important environmental book ever written. It is not Silent Spring, Small is Beautiful or even Walden. It contains no graphs, no tables, no facts, figures, warnings, predictions or even arguments. Nor does it carry a single dreary sentence, which, sadly, distinguishes it from most environmental literature. It is a novel, first published a year ago, and it will change the way you see the world.

Cormac McCarthy's book The Road considers what would happen if the world lost its biosphere, and the only living creatures were humans, hunting for food among the dead wood and soot. Some years before the action begins, the protagonist hears the last birds passing over, "their half-muted crankings miles above where they circled the earth as senselessly as insects trooping the rim of a bowl". {1} McCarthy makes no claim that this is likely to occur, but merely speculates about the consequences.

All pre-existing social codes soon collapse and are replaced with organised butchery, then chaotic, blundering horror. What else are the survivors to do?: the only remaining resource is human. It is hard to see how this could happen during humanity's time on earth, even by means of the nuclear winter McCarthy proposes. But his thought experiment exposes the one terrible fact to which our technological hubris blinds us: our dependence on biological production remains absolute. Civilisation is just a russeting on the skin of the biosphere, never immune from being rubbed against the sleeve of environmental change. Six weeks after finishing The Road, I remain haunted by it.

So when I read the UN's new report on the state of the planet over the weekend, my mind kept snagging on a handful of figures {2}. There were some bright spots - lead has been removed from petrol almost everywhere, sulphur emissions have been reduced in most rich nations - and plenty of gloom. But the issue that stopped me was production.

Crop production has improved over the past twenty years (from 1.8 tonnes per hectare in the 1980s to 2.5 tonnes today), but it has not kept up with population. "World cereal production per person peaked in the 1980s, and has since slowly decreased" {3}. There will be roughly nine billion people by 2050: feeding them and meeting the millennium development goal on hunger (halving the proportion of hungry people) would require a doubling of world food production {4}. Unless we cut waste, overeating, biofuels and the consumption of meat, total demand for cereal crops could rise to three times the current level {5}.

There are two limiting factors. One, mentioned only in passing in the report, is phosphate: it is not clear where future reserves might lie. The more immediate problem is water. "Meeting the Millennium Development Goal on hunger will require doubling of water use by crops by 2050" {6}. Where will it come from? "Water scarcity is already acute in many regions, and farming already takes the lion's share of water withdrawn from streams and groundwater" {7}. One-tenth of the world's major rivers no longer reach the sea all round the year {8}.

Buried on page 148, I found this statement. "If present trends continue, 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity by 2025, and two thirds of the world population could be subject to water stress". Wastage and deforestation are partly to blame, but the biggest cause of the coming droughts is climate change. Rainfall will decline most in the places in greatest need of water. So how, unless we engineer a sudden decline in carbon emissions, is the world to be fed? How, in many countries, will we prevent the social collapse that failure will cause?

The stone drops into the pond and a second later it is smooth again. You will turn the page and carry on with your life. Last week we learnt that climate change could eliminate half the world's species {9}; that 25 primate species are already slipping into extinction {10}; that biological repositories of carbon are beginning to release it, decades ahead of schedule {11}. But everyone is watching and waiting for everyone else to move. The unspoken universal thought is this: "if it were really so serious, surely someone would do something?"

On Saturday, for some light relief from the UN report (who says that environmentalists don't know how to make whoopee?), I went to a meeting of roads protesters in Birmingham. They had come from all over the country, and between them they were contesting eighteen new schemes: a fraction of the road projects the British government is now planning {12}. The improvements to the climate change bill that Hilary Benn, the environment secretary, anounced yesterday were welcome. But in every major energy sector - aviation, transport, power generation, house building, coal mining, oil exploration - the government is promoting policies that will increase emissions. How will it make the sixty per cent cut the bill enforces?

No one knows, but the probable answer is contained in the bill's great get-out clause: carbon trading {13}. If the government can't achieve a sixty per cent cut in the UK, it will pay other countries to do it on our behalf. But trading works only if the total global reduction we are trying to achieve is a small one. To prevent runaway climate change, we must cut the greater part - possibly almost all - of the world's current emissions. Most of the nations with which the UK will trade will have to make major cuts of their own, on top of those they sell to us. Before long we will have to buy our credits from Mars and Jupiter. The only certain means of preventing runaway climate change is to cut emissions here and now.

Who will persuade us to act? However strong the opposition parties' policies appear to be, they cannot be sustained unless the voters move behind them. We won't be prompted by the media. The BBC drops Planet Relief for fear of breaching its impartiality guidelines: heaven forbid that it should come out against mass death. But it broadcasts a programme - Top Gear - that puts a match to its guidelines every week, and now looks about as pertinent as the Black and White Minstrel Show. The schedules are crammed with shows urging us to travel further, drive faster, build bigger, buy more, yet none of them are deemed to offend the rules, which really means that they don't offend the interests of business or the pampered sensibilities of the Aga class. The media, driven by fear and advertising, is hopelessly biased towards the consumer economy and against the biosphere.

It seems to me that we are already pushing other people ahead of us down The Road. As the biosphere shrinks, McCarthy describes the collapse of the protagonist's core beliefs {14}. I sense that this might be happening already: that a hardening of interests, a shutting down of concern, is taking place among the people of the rich world. If this is true, we do not need to wait for the forests to burn or food supplies to shrivel before we decide that civilisation is in trouble.


1. Cormac McCarthy, 2007. The Road, page 55. Picador, London.

2. United Nations Environment Programme, 2007. Global Environment Outlook: GEO4.

3. ibid, page 86.

4. ibid, page 110.

5. ibid, page 110.

6. ibid, page 83.

7. ibid, page 110.

8. ibid, page 99.

9. Alok Jha, 24th October 2007. Warming could wipe out half of all species. The Guardian.

10. James Randerson, 26th October 2007. The edge of oblivion: conservationists name 25 primates about to disappear. The Guardian.

11. David Adam, 23rd October 2007. Carbon output rising faster than forecast, says study. The Guardian.
12. The organisation RoadBlock, which convened the conference, has lists of the government's new trunk road schemes.

13. HM Government, March 2007. Draft Climate Change Bill.

14. page 93.

Bill Totten

The Man Who Builds Hillaryworld

by Alexander Cockburn (October 20 / 21 2007)

The pollster and immensely influential tactical adviser at Hillary Clinton's elbow is Mark Penn. Penn's polling played a crucial role in Bill Clinton's recovery from the nadir of 1994, when he joined Team Clinton as part of the rescue party summoned by Hillary Clinton and headed by Dick Morris. Penn has been joined at the hip politically to Mrs Clinton ever since, as a prime adviser of her successful senate bid and now in her drive to capture the Democratic presidential nomination.

To find out what Penn and hence Mrs Clinton deems worthy of note about the state of he nation we can now turn to Penn's new book, Microtrends.*

Penn's America is a bright-eyed, mostly upbeat world. As he bowls along, Penn tosses market-researched stats and polling data like confetti and soon the reader is spattered with golly-gee micro-measurements: growing number of home knitters ("knitting is very hip"), decline of baseball fans, burgeoning vegan children, rise of women archers, longer best-selling books, more college-educated nannies, a surge in employees in the non-profit sector, more kids who are cross-dressers and who, Penn says brightly, "are triggering a large, new tolerance movement in schools and communities".

There are no Columbines in Mr Penn's index, no Goths intolerantly spraying the schoolyard with machine-gun fire. Why look on the dark side when Penn's researchers excavate the news that there are more left-handers, hence - Penn boldly claims - the probability of more da Vincis. Now that's a microtrend worth savoring! The factoid lies on the page, awaiting an entrepreneur and a business plan. Will some niche 'trep (teen entrepreneur - a microtrend) change the zipper seam on guys' pants, so lefties can unzip with their left hands. Will guys wear pants? Will there be any guys? Yes, says Penn, the long-term trend is towards more guys, hence more gays.

"Part of the reason I love this work", burbles Penn about his polling, "is that every day I find out some new aspiration, hope or concern people have, and I get to help my clients shape their products and messages based on these findings". What Penn never finds are the collective aspirations of groups of people who find the American corporate system intolerably unjust. Union people don't figure in his focus groups - at least as real workers as opposed to pasteboard constructs as such Soccer Moms or Nascar Dads. The people who find it easiest to contact Penn to communicate their aspirations, hopes and concerns are the people who can afford to meet his hefty bills, meaning the rich and the powerful, starting with Bill Gates and heading on through Silvio Berlusconi, the nuclear industry, Monsanto and other clients in need of image refreshment.

Penn also the CEO of Burson-Marsteller, (part of the British-based WPP Group), a public relations firm that in the course of its career has been retained to winch some sensationally grimy clients out of the mud, such Union Carbide after Bhopal, the Argentine military junta and Royal Dutch Shell after some very poor publicity in Nigeria.

"We live in a world with a deluge of choices" Penn exults, in a typical paean to modern times. "In some sense it's the triumph of the Starbucks economy over the Ford economy ... Starbucks is governed by the idea that people make choices - in their coffee, their milk, their sweetener". It's the way Bill Clinton used to burble on, using research briefs and polls concocted by Penn and Morris to persuade Americans that with Bill at the helm the nation would be on the cutting edge of innovative thinking and performance.

Actually, in terms of their respective products Fordism offered a lot more choices than Starbucks. In the mid-1950s, the options available to the purchaser of a Chevy Bel-Air 4-door sedan were infinite, from a rainbow of paint and fabric combinations including a paisley-pattern roof. The shapes and styles of the cars were prodigious in baroque variety. And the cars were often cheap. As for Starbucks, the company's basic signature is over-roasted beans and its core achievement is to have people fork over $3.50 for a cup of coffee. Starbucks is a predatory franchiser and its arrival in any town usually heralds the extinction of existing small cafes and diners. Its signage, across America and around the world through 13,000 outlets, advertises not Penn's "customized, personalized products" but unending repetition.

The trick of Microtrends is to offer an America shaped to match the sort of "non-divisive" political rhetoric favored by the Democratic Leadership Council, an outfit paid for by corporations and designed to purge the Democratic Party of any partiality to the cause of labor or the interests of the poor. The Clintons have always been the DLC's marquee attraction, and its outlook is Penn's. In the tapestry of Microtrends the spotlight is not on an awful health system with over forty million uninsured, but on DIYDs, Do-It-Yourself Doctors. Penn tells us "it's the biggest trend in American health care", spearheaded by women and the young and promoted by Penn and Burson-Marsteller, working diligently for the pharmaceutical companies whose products, freed from the trifling restraints of a doctor's prescription, will be at the disposal of the DIYDs in the chain stores. Thus do microtrends find their due place in the great scheme of things.


* Microtrends, The Small Forces Behind Tomorrow's Big Changes. By Mark J Penn with E Kinney Zalesne. Twelve Books. 426 pages.

Bill Totten

Monday, October 29, 2007

Plastics are Forever

by Suzanne Elston (May 22 2007)

Like a lot of Canadians, I divided my Victoria Day weekend between garden centres and dallying in our flower gardens at home. Aside from the perennials that we've inherited from our mother's and grandmother's gardens, up until now most of our flowers have been annuals. This year we decided to invest in expanding our perennial stock. At the end of the weekend, as I stood admiring our handiwork, I began wondering exactly how long each purchase would last. As I was cleaning up the leftover plastic pots and bags that remained, I got my answer. Seasons and flowers, even perennials, come and go, but plastic is forever.

My revelation comes on the heels of the Ontario government's announcement that it wants to reduce the number of plastic bags that consumers use by half over the next five years. If the voluntary program (launched through a partnership with the Recycling Council of Ontario, grocery and retail associations), doesn't work, then the province is promising everything from charging for bags to an outright ban.

And so they should. Many other jurisdictions have already placed everything from heavy tariffs to bans on plastic bags. Last month, Leaf Rapids, Manitoba, became the first municipality in Canada to enact a complete ban. Retailers who ignore the ban risk a fine of up to $1,000.

Ontarians, who currently use about seven million plastic bags per day, should be taking notice. Plastic bags, like all other plastic products, are made from oil, a non-renewable resource. The fact that we have created these single use carry-alls solely for the purpose of being thrown out is criminal. The use of plastic bags, packaging and wrapping should be banned, or at least heavily taxed. Packaging, most of which is plastic, makes up a whopping one-third of our waste stream.

Unfortunately, we can manufacture these plastic disposables so inexpensively that on the surface it appears to be cheaper to throw most of them away than it does to create systems to recycle them. The plastic items that we currently put in our blue boxes make up a small fraction of the total plastic waste that we discard every day. For example, the plastic plant pots that I threw out could have been reused many times over. Unfortunately, they aren't accepted in curbside recycling programs, and any garden centre that I've tried to return them to won't take them back. It's cheaper and faster to buy new ones.

At least for now. Scientists are just beginning to understand how truly permanent these temporary items are. Alan Weisman writes in The World Without Us, the long-term prognosis for plastics is simply that, long-term. With the exception of plastics that have been destroyed by burning, every bit of plastic that has been manufactured in the last fifty years remains somewhere in the environment.

"That half century's total production now surpasses one billion tons. It includes hundreds of different plastics, with untold permutations involving added plasticizers, opacifiers, colors, fillers, strengtheners, and light stabilizers", wrote Weisman. "The longevity of each can vary enormously. Thus far, none has disappeared. Researchers have attempted to find out how long it will take polyethylene to biodegrade by incubating a sample in a live bacteria culture. A year later, less than one percent was gone."

The tragedy, according to Weisman, is that contrary to popular belief, only a small fraction of the plastics that we discard end up in our landfills. Eventually, they are blown into streams and lakes where ultimately they end up in our seas and oceans. Charles Moore, founder of the Algita Marine Research Foundation, estimates that eighty percent of what's floating in our oceans originated on land, the majority of which is plastic. Something to think about the next time you go shopping.

Related Websites

Polymers are Forever, by Alan Weisman, is an abridged excerpt from his book The World Without Us, published by St Martin's Press (July 2007). The article is featured in the current (May / June) issue of Orion Magazine. This thoughtful, visually beautiful and commercial-free magazine is produced by the Orion Society. To read Weisman's (and other equally thought-provoking articles), join an online discussion group, or subscribe to the magazine, visit

For more information on the Recycling Council of Ontario, go to .

Bill Totten

Ecological Warfare

Iraq's Environmental Crisis

by Jeffrey St Clair and Joshua Frank (October 25 2007)

The ecological effects of war, like its horrific toll on human life, are exponential. When the Bush Administration and their Congressional allies sent our troops in to Iraq to topple Saddam's regime, they not only ordered these men and women to commit crimes against humanity, they also commanded them to perpetrate crimes against nature.

The first Gulf War had a horrific effect on the environment, as CNN reported in 1999, "Iraq was responsible for intentionally releasing some eleven million barrels of oil into the Arabian Gulf from January to May 1991, oiling more than 800 miles of Kuwaiti and Saudi Arabian coastline. The amount of oil released was categorized as twenty times larger than the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska and twice as large as the previous world record oil spill. The cost of cleanup has been estimated at more than $700 million".

During the build up to George W Bush's invasion of Iraq, Saddam loyalists promised to light oil fields afire, hoping to expose what they claimed were the US's underlying motives for attacking their country: oil. The US architects of the Iraq war surely knew this was a potential reality once they entered Baghdad in March of 2003. Hostilities in Kuwait resulted in the discharge of an estimated seven million barrels of oil, culminating in the world's largest oil spill in January of 1991. The United Nations later calculated that of Kuwait's 1,330 active oil wells, half had been set ablaze. The pungent fumes and smoke from those dark billowing flames spread for hundreds of miles and had horrible effects on human and environmental health. Saddam Hussein was rightly denounced as a ferocious villain for ordering his retreating troops to destroy Kuwaiti oil fields.

However, the United States military was also responsible for much of the environmental devastation of the first Gulf War. In the early 1990s the US drowned at least eighty crude oil ships to the bottom of the Persian Gulf, partly to uphold the UN's economic sanctions against Iraq. Vast crude oil slicks formed, killing an unknown quantity of aquatic life and sea birds while wrecking havoc on local fishing and tourist communities.

Months of bombing during the first Gulf War by US and British planes and cruise missiles also left behind an even more deadly and insidious legacy: tons of shell casings, bullets and bomb fragments laced with depleted uranium. In all, the US hit Iraqi targets with more than 970 radioactive bombs and missiles.

More than fifteen years later, the health consequences from this radioactive bombing campaign are beginning to come into focus. And they are dire. Iraqi physicians call it "the white death" -leukemia. Since 1990, the incident rate of leukemia in Iraq has grown by more than 600 percent. The situation was compounded by Iraq's forced isolation and the sadistic sanctions regime, once described by former UN secretary general Kofi Annan as "a humanitarian crisis", that made detection and treatment of the cancers all the more difficult.

Most of the leukemia and cancer victims aren't soldiers. They are civilians. Depleted uranium is a rather benign sounding name for uranium-238, the trace elements left behind when the fissionable material is extracted from uranium-235 for use in nuclear reactors and weapons. For decades, this waste was a radioactive nuisance, piling up at plutonium processing plants across the country. By the late 1980s there was nearly a billion tons of the material.

Then weapons designers at the Pentagon came up with a use for the tailings. They could be molded into bullets and bombs. The material was free and there was plenty at hand. Also uranium is a heavy metal, denser than lead. This makes it perfect for use in armor-penetrating weapons, designed to destroy tanks, armored-personnel carriers and bunkers.

When the tank-busting bombs explode, the depleted uranium oxidizes into microscopic fragments that float through the air like carcinogenic dust, carried on the desert winds for decades. The lethal bits when inhaled stick to the fibers of the lungs, and eventually begin to wreck havoc on the body in the form of tumors, hemorrhages, ravaged immune systems and leukemias.

It didn't take long for medical teams in the region to detect cancer clusters near the bomb sites. The leukemia rate in Sarajevo, pummeled by American bombs in 1996, tripled in five years following the bombings. But it's not just the Serbs who are ill and dying. NATO and UN peacekeepers in the region are also coming down with cancer.

The Pentagon has shuffled through a variety of rationales and excuses. First, the Defense Department shrugged off concerns about Depleted Uranium as wild conspiracy theories by peace activists, environmentalists and Iraqi propagandists. When the US's NATO allies demanded that the US disclose the chemical and metallic properties of its munitions, the Pentagon refused. Depleted uranium has a half-life of more than four billion years, approximately the age of the Earth. Thousand of acres of land in the Balkans, Kuwait and southern Iraq have been contaminated forever.

Speaking of DU and other war-related disasters, former chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix, prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, said the environmental consequences of the Iraq war could in fact be more ominous than the issue of war and peace itself. Despite this stark admission, the US made no public attempts to assess the environmental risks that the war would inflict.

Blix was right. On the second day of President Bush's invasion of Iraq it was reported by the New York Times and the BBC that Iraqi forces had set fire to several of the country's large oil wells. Five days later in the Rumaila oilfields, six dozen wellheads were set ablaze. The dense black smoke rose high in the southern sky of Iraq, fanning a clear signal that the US invasion had again ignited an environmental tragedy. Shortly after the initial invasion the United Nations Environment Program's (UNEP) satellite data showed that a significant amount of toxic smoke had been emitted from burning oils wells. This smoldering oil was laced with poisonous chemicals such as mercury, sulfur and furans, which can causes serious damage to human as well as ecosystem health.

According to Friends of the Earth, the fallout from burning oil debris, like that of the first Gulf War, has created a toxic sea surface that has affected the health of birds and marine life. One area that has been greatly impacted is the Sea of Oman, which connects the Arabian Sea to the Persian Gulf byway of the Strait of Hormuz. This waterway is one of the most productive marine habitats in the world. In fact the Global Environment Fund contends that this region "plays a significant role in sustaining the life cycle of marine turtle populations in the whole North-Western Indo Pacific region". Of the world's seven marine turtles, five are found in the Sea of Oman and four of those five are listed as "endangered" with the other listed as "threatened".

The future indeed looks bleak for the ecosystems and biodiversity of Iraq, but the consequences of the US military invasion will not only be confined to the war stricken country. The Gulf shores, according to BirdLife's Mike Evans, is "one of the top five sites in the world for wader birds, and a key refueling area for hundreds of thousands of migrating water birds". The UN Environment Program claims that 33 wetland areas in Iraq are of vital importance to the survival of various bird species. These wetlands, the UN claims, are also particularly vulnerable to pollution from munitions fallout as well as oil wells that have been sabotaged.

Mike Evans also maintains that the current Iraq war could destroy what's left of the Mesopotamian marshes on the lower Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Following the war of 1991 Saddam removed dissenters of his regime who had built homes in the marshes by digging large canals along the two rivers so that they would have access to their waters. Thousands of people were displaced. The communities ruined.

The construction of dams upstream on the once roaring Tigris and Euphrates has dried up more than ninety percent of the marshes and has led to extinction of several animals. Water buffalo, foxes, waterfowl and boar have disappeared. "What remains of the fragile marshes, and the 20,000 people who still live off them, will lie right in the path of forces heading towards Baghdad from the south", wrote Fred Pearce in the New Scientist prior to Bush's invasion in 2003. The true effect this war has had on these wetlands and its inhabitants is still not known.

The destruction of Iraqi's infrastructure has had substantial public health implications as well. Bombed out industrial plants and factories have polluted ground water. The damage to sewage-treatment plants, with reports that raw sewage formed massive pools of muck in the streets of Baghdad immediately after Bush's 'Shock and Awe' campaign, is also likely poisoning rivers as well as human life. Cases of typhoid among Iraqi citizens have risen tenfold since 1991, largely due to polluted drinking water.

That number has almost certainly increased more in the past few years following the ousting of Saddam. In fact during the 1990s, while Iraq was under sanctions, UN officials in Baghdad agreed that the root cause of child mortality and other health problems was no longer simply lack of food and medicine but the lack of clean water (freely available in all parts of the country prior to the first Gulf War) and of electrical power, which had predictable consequences for hospitals and water-pumping systems. Of the 21.9 percent of contracts vetoed as of mid-1999 by the UN's US-dominated sanctions committee, a high proportion were integral to the efforts to repair the failing water and sewage systems.

The real cumulative impact of US military action in Iraq, past and present, won't be known for years, perhaps decades, to come. Stopping this war now will not only save lives, it will also help to rescue what's left of Iraq's fragile environment.


Jeffrey St Clair is the author of Been Brown So Long It Looked Like Green to Me: the Politics of Nature and Grand Theft Pentagon (Common Courage Press, 2003). His newest book is End Times: the Death of the Fourth Estate (AK Press, 2007), co-written with Alexander Cockburn. This essay will appear in Born Under a Bad Sky, to be published in December. He can be reached at:

Joshua Frank is the co-editor of, and author of Left Out! How Liberals Helped Reelect George W Bush (Common Courage Press, 2005), and along with Jeffrey St Clair, the editor of the forthcoming Red State Rebels, to be published by AK Press in March 2008. He can be reached through his website,

Bill Totten

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Politics of "Appeevement"

Is There a Method to Bush's Middle East Madness?

by Rannie Amiri (October 22 2007)

Over the past several weeks, the United States has gone out of its way to offend, irk and otherwise provoke a select group of leaders and nations. Through a series of deliberate and calculated actions intended to purposefully estrange those most likely to succeed at diplomacy with Iran, its failure has been ordained and the stage for military action set. For those who think the upcoming war will be another Bush-Cheney folly (as they believe Iraq to be), the collusion of the Democrats in the process again belies that assumption.

The groundwork was laid in September, when the Senate overwhelmingly approved a resolution urging the State Department to designate Iran's Revolutionary Guard a "foreign terrorist organization" - the prerequisite term needed to justify the use of force and the first ever such characterization of a governmental entity.

The Iranian parliament responded similarly, labeling the CIA and US Army in kind for everything from use of atomic weapons in World War Two to the killing of civilians in Iraq [surprisingly omitted was mention of the CIA's role in orchestrating the 1953 coup of the democratically elected Iranian president, Mohammad Mosaddeq. This led to the installation of the Shah, whose rule was ruthlessly enforced by the Israeli-trained mercenaries of SAVAK, until the Iranian Revolution of 1979].

Defying all rational thought, Bush then had the audacity to certify the opposite of Saudi Arabia last week; calling it an "anti-terrorism ally cooperating with efforts to combat international terrorism" it allows the United States to allocate additional monies to the Kingdom.

Although purported Iranian support for Shia militant groups in Iraq may be nominally true, there can be no doubt of their desire to see a stable government run by fellow Shia Muslims succeed. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, has done its utmost to see it fail. The early stages of the post-Iraq conflict witnessed the influx of thousands of militants bent on exporting the radical Sunni version of Islam, inspired and funded by Saudi Arabia, into the country. Suicide bombings, mass marketplace carnage and destruction of religious shrines have been hallmarks of these religious extremists and Sunni Iraqi nationalist groups which Saudi Arabia likewise supports. As if to officially sanction such violence, Saudi clerics even issued a fatwa calling for the demolition of all the Shia holy shrines in Baghdad, Najaf and Karbala. This makes the above Senate resolution and presidential "certification" all the more extraordinary.

Quite artfully, the United States has also made sure a peaceful and reasoned solution to the Iranian nuclear question never takes place, primarily by alienating both Russia and China. For should they become so disillusioned with the United States that they veto further punitive measures leveled against Iran at the UN, they will have conveniently left Bush and the Democrats "no other alternative but ..." the use of force.

And indeed this has been the case. Russian President Vladimir Putin, recently completing a trip to Iran as part of the Caspian Sea Summit, is still seething at United States plans to install a missile defense system in Russia's backyard through placement of interceptor missiles in Poland and radar in the Czech Republic. This comes atop another American initiative to build an oil and gas pipeline through Caspian Sea countries yet bypass Russia.

To raise China's ire, Bush decided to hold a public meeting with the Dalai Lama - the first ever by a sitting US president - and award him the Congressional Gold Medal. This prompted the enraged Chinese to summon the US ambassador in Beijing for an explanation, further escalating tensions. But was this a genuine show support for the Dalai Lama or just a good opportunity to poke a finger in China's eye?

In the midst of worsening Russian and Sino-American relations, Congress decided to get into the act and rile the Turks by proposing a resolution calling the killing of 1.5 million Armenians during World War One under the Ottoman Empire an act of genocide. At the hint of it being brought up for a vote, Turkey recalled its ambassador to Washington and passed a parliamentary resolution the same day authorizing the incursion of Turkish forces into Iraq to combat the PKK. If it was possible to inflame the sensitivities of yet another country which might provide needed diplomatic leverage with Iran, the United States did well to take advantage of it.

So there you have it. The friend of a friend has been declared the enemy and the enemy of a friend a great ally. In a matter of weeks, the United States quite intentionally miffed the Russians, Chinese and Turks under the guise of defending Europe, upholding human rights and suddenly decrying an historical tragedy. This assures their cooperation on Iran will be made all the more difficult and gives the United States the pretext it needs to act unilaterally and likely, militarily. An ingenious, yet diabolical, plan.

Rannie Amiri is an independent commentator on the Arab and Islamic worlds. He may be reached at:

Bill Totten

Do We Already Have Our Pentagon Papers?

Bush's Pentagon Papers

The Urge to Confess

by Tom Engelhardt

Tom Dispatch (October 19 2007)

They can't help themselves. They want to confess.

How else to explain the torture memorandums that continue to flow out of the inner sancta of this administration, the most recent of which were evidently leaked to the New York Times. Those two, from the Alberto Gonzales Justice Department, were written in 2005 and recommitted the administration to the torture techniques it had been pushing for years. As the Times noted, the first of those memorandums, from February of that year, was "an expansive endorsement of the harshest interrogation techniques ever used by the Central Intelligence Agency". The second "secret opinion" was issued as Congress moved to outlaw "cruel, inhuman, and degrading" treatment (not that such acts weren't already against US and international law). It brazenly "declared that none of the CIA interrogation methods violated that standard"; and, the Times assured us, "the 2005 Justice Department opinions remain in effect, and their legal conclusions have been confirmed by several more recent memorandums".

All of these memorandums, in turn, were written years after John Yoo's infamous "torture memo" of August 2002 and a host of other grim documents on detention, torture, and interrogation had already been leaked to the public, along with graphic FBI emailed observations of torture and abuse at Guantanamo, those "screen savers" from Abu Ghraib, and so much other incriminating evidence. In other words, in early 2005 when that endorsement of "the harshest interrogation techniques" was being written, its authors could hardly have avoided knowing that it, too, would someday become part of the public record.

But, it seems, they couldn't help themselves. Torture, along with repetitious, pretzled "legal" justifications for doing so, were bones that administration officials - from the President, Vice President, and Secretary of Defense on down - just couldn't resist gnawing on again and again. So, what we're dealing with is an obsession, a fantasy of empowerment, utterly irrational in its intensity, that's gripped this administration. None of the predictable we're shocked! we're shocked! editorial responses to the Times latest revelations begin to account for this.

Torture as the Royal Road to Commander-in-Chief Power

So let's back up a moment and consider the nature of the torture controversy in these last years. In a sense, the Bush administration has confronted a strange policy conundrum. Its compulsive urge to possess the power to detain without oversight and to wield torture as a tool of interrogation has led it, however unexpectedly, into what can only be called a confessional stance. The result has been what it feared most: the creation of an exhausting, if not exhaustive, public record of the criminal inner thinking of the most secretive administration in our history.

Let's recall that, in the wake of the attacks of September 11 2001, the administration's top officials had an overpowering urge to "take the gloves off" (instructions sent from Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld's office directly to the Afghan battlefield), to "unshackle" the CIA. They were in a rush to release a commander-in-chief "unitary executive", untrammeled by the restrictions they associated with the fall of President Richard Nixon and with the Watergate era. They wanted to abrogate the Geneva Conventions (parts of which Alberto Gonzales, then White House Council and companion-in-arms to the President, declared "quaint" and "obsolete" in 2002). They were eager to develop their own categories of imprisonment that freed them from all legal constraints, as well as their own secret, offshore prison system in which their power would be total. All of this went to the heart of their sense of entitlement, their belief that such powers were their political birthright. The last thing they wanted to do was have this all happen in secret and with full deniability. Thus, Guantanamo.

That prison complex was to be the public face of their right to do anything. Perched on an American base in Cuba just beyond the reach of The Law - American-leased but not court-overseen soil - the new prison was to be the proud symbol of their expansive power. It was also to be the public face of a new, secret regime of punishment that would quickly spread around the world - into the torture chambers of despotic regimes in places like Egypt and Syria, onto American bases like the island fastness of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, onto US Navy and other ships floating in who knew which waters, into the former prisons of the old Soviet Empire, and into a growing network of American detention centers in Afghanistan and Iraq.

So, when those first shots of prisoners, in orange jumpsuits, manacled and blindfolded, entering Guantanamo were released, no one officially howled (though the grim, leaked shots of those prisoners being transported to Guantanamo were another matter). After all, they wanted the world to know just how powerful this administration was - powerful enough to redefine the terms of detention, imprisonment, and interrogation to the point of committing acts that traditionally were abhorred and ruled illegal by humanity and by US law (even if sometimes committed anyway).

Though certain administration officials undoubtedly believed that "harsh interrogation techniques" would produce reliable information, this can't account for the absolute fascination with torture that gripped them, as well as assorted pundits and talking heads (and then, through "24" and other TV shows and movies, Americans in general). In search of a world where they could do anything, they reached instinctively for torture as a symbol. After all, was there any more striking way to remove those "gloves" or "unshackle" a presidency? If you could stake a claim the right to torture, then you could stake a claim to do just about anything.

Think of it this way: If Freud believed that dreams were the royal road to the individual unconscious, then the top officials of the Bush administration believed torture to be the royal road to their ultimate dream of unconstrained power, what John Yoo in his "torture memo" referred to as "the Commander-in-Chief Power".

It was via Guantanamo that they meant to announce the arrival of this power on planet Earth. They were proud of it. And that prison complex was to function as their bragging rights. Their message was clear enough: In this world of ours, democracy would indeed run rampant and a vote of one would, in every case, be considered a majority.

The Crimes Are in the Definitions

This, then, was one form of confession - a much desired one. George W Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and their subordinates (with few exceptions) wished to affirm their position as directors of the planet's "sole superpower", intent as they were on creating a Pentagon-led Pax Americana abroad and a Rovian Pax Republicana at home. But there was another, seldom noted form of confession at work.
As if to fit their expansive sense of their own potential powers, it seems that these officials, and the corps of lawyers that accompanied them, had expansive, gnawing fears. Given this cast of characters, you can't talk about a collective "guilty conscience", but there was certainly an ongoing awareness that what they were doing contravened normal American and global standards of legality; that their acts, when it came to detention and torture, might be judged illegal; and that those who committed - or ordered - such acts might someday, somehow, actually be brought before a court of law to account for them. These fears, by the way, were usually pinned on low-level operatives and interrogators, who were indeed fearful of the obvious: that they had no legal leg to stand on when it came to kidnapping terror suspects, disappearing them, and subjecting them to a remarkably wide range of acts of torture and abuse, often in deadly combination over long periods of time.

Perhaps Bush's men (and women) feared that even a triumphantly successful commander-in-chief presidency might - a la the Pinochet regime in Chile - have its limits in time. Perhaps they simply sensed an essential contradiction that lay at the very heart of their position: The urge to take pride in their "accomplishments", to assert their powers, and to claim bragging rights for redefining what was legal could also be seen as the urge to confess (if matters took a wrong turn as, in the case of the Bush administration, they always have). And so, along with the pride, along with the kidnappings, the new-style imprisonment, the acts of torture (and, in some cases, murder), the pretzled documents began to pour out of the administration - each a tortured extremity of bizarre legalisms (as with Yoo's August 2002 document, which essentially managed to reposition torture as something that existed mainly in the mind of, and could only be defined by, the torturer himself); each was but another example of legalisms following upon and directed by desire. (Yoo himself was reportedly known by Attorney General John Ashcroft as Dr Yes, "for his seeming eagerness to give the White House whatever legal justifications it desired".) Each, in the end, might also be read as a confession of wrongdoing.

What made all this so strange was not just the "tortured" nature of the "torture memo" (just rejected by the new attorney general nominee as "worse than a sin, it was a mistake"), but the repetitious nature of these dismantling documents which, with the help of an army of leakers inside the government, have been making their way into public view for years. Or how about the strange situation of an American president, who has, in so many backhanded ways, admitted to being deeply involved in the issues of detainment and torture - as, for instance, in a February 7 2002 memorandum to his top officials in which he signed off on his power to "suspend [the] Geneva [Conventions] as between the United States and Afghanistan" (which he then declined to do "at this time") and his right to wipe out the Convention on the Treatment of Prisoners of War when it came to al-Qaeda and the Taliban. That document began with the following: "Our recent extensive discussions regarding the status of al Qaeda and Taliban detainees confirm ..."

"Our recent extensive discussions ..." You won't find that often in previous presidential documents about the abrogation of international and domestic law. It wasn't, of course, that the US had never imprisoned anyone abroad and certainly not that the US had never used torture abroad. Water-boarding, for instance, was first employed by US soldiers in the Philippine Insurrection at the dawn of the previous century; torture was widely used and taught by CIA and other American operatives in Vietnam in the 1960s and 1970s, as well as in Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s, and elsewhere. But American presidents didn't then see the bragging rights in such acts, any more than a previous American president would have sent his vice president to Capitol Hill to lobby openly for torture (however labeled). Past presidents held on to the considerable benefits of deniability (and perhaps the psychological benefits of not knowing too much themselves). They didn't regularly and repeatedly commit to paper their "extensive discussions" on distasteful and illegal subjects.

Nor did they get up in public, against all news, all reason (but based on the fantastic redefinitions of torture created to fulfill a presidential desire to use "harsh interrogation techniques") to deny repeatedly that their administrations ever tortured. Here is an exchange on the subject from Bush's most recent press conference:

"Q What's your definition of the word 'torture'?

"The President: Of what?

"Q The word 'torture'. What's your definition?

"The President: That's defined in US law, and we don't torture.

"Q Can you give me your version of it, sir?

"The President: Whatever the law says".

After a while, this, too, becomes a form of confession - that, among other things, the President has never rejected John Yoo's definition of torture in that 2002 memorandum. Combine that with the admission of "extensive discussions" on detention matters and, minimally, you have a President, who has proven himself deeply engaged in such subjects. A President who makes such no-torture claims repeatedly cannot also claim to be in the dark on the subject. In other words, you're already moving from the Clintonesque parsing of definitions ("It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is'") into unfathomable realms of presidential definitional darkness.

On the Record

Of course, plumbing the psychology of a single individual while in office - of a President or a Vice President - is a nearly impossible task. Plumbing the psychology of an administration? Who can do it? And yet, sometimes officials may essentially do it for you. They may leave bureaucratic clues everywhere and then, as if seized by an impulsion, return again and again to what can only be termed the scene of the crime. Documents they just couldn't not write. Acts they just couldn't not take. Think of these as the Freudian slips of officials under pressure. Think of them as small, repeated confessions granted under the interrogation of reality and history, under the fearful pressure of the future, and granted in the best way possible: willingly, without opposition, and not under torture.

Sometimes, it's just a matter of refocusing to see the documents, the statements, the acts for what they are. Such is the case with the torture memos that continue to emerge. Never has an administration - and hardly has a torturing regime anywhere - had so many of its secret documents aired while it was still in the act. Seldom has a ruling group made such an open case for its own crimes.

We're talking, of course, about the most secretive administration in American history - so secretive, in fact, that Congressional representatives considering classified portions of an intelligence bill, have to go to "a secret, secure room in the Capitol, turn in their Blackberrys and cellphones, and read the document without help from any staff members". Such briefings are given to Congressional representatives, but under ground rules in which "participants are prohibited from future discussions of the information - even if it is subsequently revealed in the media ..." So representatives who are briefed are also effectively prohibited from discussing what they have learned in Congress.

And yet, none of this mattered when it came to the administration establishing its own record of illegality - and exhibiting its own outsized fears of future prosecution. Let's just take one labor intensive - and exceedingly strange, if now largely forgotten - example of these fears in action. In 2002, a new tribunal, the International Criminal Court (ICC), was established in the Hague to prosecute individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. "[T]hen-Undersecretary of State John R Bolton nullified the US signature on the International Criminal Court treaty one month into President Bush's first term" and Congress subsequently passed the American Servicemembers' Protection Act which prohibited "certain types of military aid to countries that have signed on to the International Criminal Court but have not signed a separate accord with the United States, called an Article 98 agreement". The Bush administration, opposed to international "fora" of all sorts, then proceeded to go individually, repeatedly, and over years, to more than 100 countries, demanding that the representatives of each sign such an agreement "not to surrender American citizens to the international court without the consent of officials in Washington".

In other words, they put the sort of effort that might normally have gone into establishing an international agreement into threatening weak countries with the loss of US aid in order to give themselves - and of course those lower-level soldiers and operatives on whom so much is blamed - a free pass for crimes yet to be committed (but which they obviously felt they would commit). We're talking here about small, impoverished lands like Cambodia, still attempting to bring its own war criminals of the Pol Pot era to justice.

In the process of twisting arms, the administration suspended over $47 million in military aid "to 35 countries that ha[d] not signed deals to grant American soldiers immunity from prosecution for war crimes". In this attempt to get every country on the planet aboard the American "no war crimes prosecution" train before it left the station, you can sense once again the administration's obsessional intensity on this subject (especially since experts agreed that the realistic possibility of the ICC bringing Americans up on war crimes was essentially nil).

The Bush administration regularly reached for its dictionaries to redefine reality, even before it reached for its guns. It not only wrote its own rules and its own "law", but when problems nonetheless emerged from its secret world of detention and pain and wouldn't go away - at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and elsewhere - it proceeded to investigate itself with the expectable results. For Bush's officials, this should have seemed like a perfect way to maintain a no-fault system that would never reach up any chain of command. Indeed, as Mark Danner has commented, such practices plunged us into an age of "frozen scandals" in which, as with the latest torture memos, the shocked-shocked effect repeats itself but nothing follows. As he has written: "One of the most painful principles of our age is that scandals are doomed to be revealed - and to remain stinking there before us, unexcised, unpunished, unfinished".

How true. And yet, looked at another way, the administration - with outsized help from outraged government officials who knew crimes when they saw them and were willing to take chances to reveal them - has already created a remarkable record of its own criminal activity, which can now be purchased in any bookstore in the land.

Back in the early fall of 2004, when the first collection of such documents arrived in the bookstores, Mark Danner's Torture and Truth, America, Abu Ghraib, and the War on Terror (New York Review of Books, 2004), it was already more than 600 pages long. In early 2005, when Karen J Greenberg, executive director of the Center on Law and Security at the NYU School of Law, and Josh Dratel, the civilian defense attorney for Guantanamo detainee David Hicks, released their monumental The Torture Papers, The Road to Abu Ghraib (Cambridge University Press, 2005), another collection of secret memoranda, official investigations of Abu Ghraib, and the like, it was already an oversized book of more than 1,200 pages - a doorstopper large enough to keep a massive prison gate open. And, of course, even it couldn't hold all the documents. A later Greenberg book, The Torture Debate in America (Cambridge University Press, 2006), for instance, has military documents not included in the first volume.

Then, there were the two-years worth of FBI memos and emails about Guantanamo that the ACLU pried loose from the government and released on line, also in 2005. This material was damning indeed, including direct reports from FBI agents witnessing - and protesting as well as pointing fingers at - military interrogators at the prison, as in an August 2 2004 report that said: "On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water ... Most times they had urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18, 24 hours or more". Or a January 21 2004 email in which an FBI agent complained that the technique of a military interrogator impersonating an FBI agent "and all of those used in these scenarios, was approved by the DepSecDef", a reference to Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul D Wolfowitz.

Other paperback volumes have also been published that include selections from these and other documents like Crimes of War: Iraq by Richard Falk, Irene Gendzier, and Robert Jay Lifton (Nation Books, 2006) and In the Name of Democracy: American War Crimes in Iraq and Beyond (Metropolitan Books, 2005) by Jeremy Brecher, Jill Cutler, and Brendan Smith. If all of these documents, including the latest ones evidently in the hands of the New York Times, were collected, you would have a little library of volumes - all functionally confessional - for a future prosecutor. (And there are undoubtedly scads more documents where these came from, including perhaps a John Yoo "torture memo", rumored to exist, that preceded the August 2002 one.)

What an archive, then, is already available in our world. It's as if, to offer a Vietnam comparison, the contents of The Pentagon Papers (New York Times, 1971) had simply slipped out into the light of day, one by one, without a Daniel Ellsberg in sight, without anyone quite realizing it had happened.

The urge of any criminal regime - to ditch, burn, or destroy incriminating documents, or erase emails - has, in a sense, already been obviated. So much of the Bush/Cheney "record" is on the record. As Karen J Greenberg wrote, back in December 2006, "What more could a prosecutor want than a trail of implicit confessions, consistent with one another, increasingly brazen over time, and leading right into the Oval Office?"

Looking back on these last years, it turns out that the President, Vice President, their aides, and the other top officials of this administration were always in the confessional booth. There's no exit now.


Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's, is the co-founder of the American Empire Project. His book, The End of Victory Culture (University of Massachusetts Press), has just been thoroughly updated in a newly issued edition that deals with victory culture's crash-and-burn sequel in Iraq.

Copyright 2007 Tom Engelhardt

Bill Totten

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Superpower Trip

Plagued by narcissism and impatience, US foreign policy betrays all of the symptoms of Criminal Thinking.

by Jim Pittaway

The American Conservative (October 22 2007)

Our local newspaper recently printed comments from our esteemed senators, Max Baucus and Jon Tester. Responding to General Petraeus's report, both roundly denounced the hapless Iraqi government for, as Max put it, "failing to do what they need to do and that is stand on their own two feet". Tester chimed in with the requisite paean: "While our troops are performing magnificently, the Iraqi government is making no progress at all".

The political expediency of this formula is obvious, but the mindset it reveals could not be more disturbing. It's as if you set your neighbor's house on fire, loaned him your garden hose to put it out, then blamed him for the damage to the neighborhood when he was unable to put out the fire you started. In the work I do, which involves forensic status evaluations of criminal offenders, this "blame the victim" mentality is sadly familiar. It is an essential and characteristic piece of what we call Criminal Thinking.

Over the last decade, applying what we know about Criminal Thinking has been the single bright spot in the dreadful business of dealing with America's expanding criminal-offender population. Virtually all of our court and prison systems have implemented increasingly sophisticated programs to address the core beliefs that drive the truly recidivist portion of our offender population. Criminal Thinking programs have produced genuine breakthroughs in rehabilitating individuals by identifying, deconstructing, and then reconstructing their antisocial habits of mind. Perhaps more importantly, we have been able to do a much better job of screening the intractable predators who cannot change and deploying resources to keep them in "the system".

An overview of our understandings of Criminal Thinking is helpful in drawing important distinctions between healthy, ethically coherent traditions of American patriotism and the antisocial pathologies of our New Nationalism, to which the statements of our senators shamelessly pander. While applying concepts derived from individual psychology to social phenomena is tricky, the contrast between the antisocial nature of much of our current political discourse and the heritage of traditional American patriotism shows that this analytic framework is as predictive of grave consequences to societies as it is for individuals.

The unholy triad at the core of antisocial thinking is narcissism, impatience, and need for control. None of these are inherently bad. All of history's great leaders have been narcissistic; in combination with generosity of spirit, you get Lincoln; in combination with meanness of spirit, you get Henry VIII. When systems or persons are out of control, a need to control is legitimate. Impatience can be the enemy of lethargy and complacency, fatal for both people and societies. But combine the three, and you have a quintessentially predatory entity.

The narcissistic predator carries senses of special entitlement and deep grievance. He is never properly appreciated and is inevitably misunderstood. Entitlement comes with a set of rules for conduct that apply only to this individual. His victimization of others is always justified by his sense of grievance, animated by the pain of never being appreciated, and, because he will never be understood anyway, he can shroud his life in deceit. To the narcissistic personality, error and adverse consequences must be driven by faults and mistakes of others, unfair circumstances, inexplicable malice, unforeseen complications, and so on.

This is why the inherently narcissistic idea of American exceptionalism is such a two-edged sword. Harnessed to coherent ethics and healthy appraisals of ourselves and others, it becomes a challenge for us to do better and a vehicle for enhancing social cohesion among citizens. Combined with entitlement, impatience, and a need to control, it produces the Iraq War, Guantanamo, and thousands of little Abu Ghraib moments. Our sense of entitlement justifies inhabiting our own special moral and ethical universe, just like the antisocial, and because we are never properly appreciated or understood, we can perpetrate crimes against innocents and guilty alike and justify lying about them to ourselves and others, just like those folks who come through my office two or three times a week.

Another important feature of the criminal mind is the inability to foresee and to learn from consequences. Pro-social minds process consequences as a deterrent to the behaviors that brought them about; the antisocial, whose uniqueness confers a sense of immunity, is incapable of appreciating that consequences occur as the direct result of his actions. This is where systems of denial come into play, and the criminal thinker will confabulate endlessly to explain away consequences that, if properly processed, would threaten his sense of entitlement and control. Just as the alcoholic's DUI is never caused by the abuse of alcohol, the consequences of crime are never caused by the antisocial criminal's thinking or even his behavior.

Thus Senator Tester's further comment, "Refereeing a civil war in Iraq has distracted us from fighting a war in Afghanistan", is an excellent example of Criminal Thinking and its consequences. It lays blame on others and endorses the continuation of the very behaviors that created the problem in the first place. Unable to accept consequences, our political leaders, like recidivist criminals, are unable to make the crucial reassessment of thought and behavior necessary to avoid continuously bad outcomes. The old AA nostrum that the definition of insanity is engaging in the same behaviors and expecting different results sadly applies to our political leadership in both parties. Though he was elected specifically to make good-faith efforts to get us out of the mess in Iraq, Tester, embracing political expediency and an antisocial mindset, can only contribute to the worsening of our enormous problems.

A sense of this futility dawning among many Montanans undoubtedly weighs on his job approval rating which, when I last checked was 41 percent and dropping. This explains his dismayed former supporters, who simply cannot believe what he has become and are even more grieved that the mandate of the last election has come to nothing. But there's no reason for Jon Tester to worry. As long as he stays away from notorious crooks and keeps his eyes to the front in men's rooms, the high-powered marketers who handle him will engineer a campaign based on telling people how wonderful they are, how unfair the world is to them, and he'll be home free as long as - like the recidivist criminal - he never takes responsibility for anything.

Another salient characteristic of Criminal Thinking is the inability of the antisocial to register empathy. The skillful can mimic it in circumstances that do not directly affect them or when it may direct scrutiny away from them or their activities or when it may help them keep people confused about their nature or intent. A competent evaluator who understands Criminal Thinking can unravel this manipulative behavior by redirecting focus onto the actual victims of the predator to reveal the logical contortions that exclude empathetic response by this type of offender. A good example of empathetic displacement as a tactic would be how our ruling class is beside itself with empathy for the suffering people of Darfur, a situation where there is no reasonable theory of their responsibility and that, happily, they cannot be expected to do anything about.

To be fair, it is impossible for our elite to express genuine empathy in proportion to unspeakable hardship and relentless havoc visited upon the people of Iraq as a direct consequence of the American invasion. To acknowledge the horrific extent of what we have done to those very real people, their ancient society, and the world they inhabit would fly in the face of New Nationalism. That would open a dissenter to charges of undermining our troops, aiding terrorism, perhaps being labeled a "native-born enemy combatant", and all sorts of such nonsense that would amount to career suicide in our nationalistically fevered political environment.

Entitlement and lack of empathy are a bad enough combination, but it is the need to control others that makes this a truly dynamic criminal pathology. Disordered need to control not only breeds excess in the behavior of criminal offenders, it fosters delusions about the extent and possibilities of exercising control that distance the criminal mind even further from reality and drive progressively worse decision making. Our New Nationalism demands an unstinting endorsement of American omnipotence by public figures. Interestingly, the more evidence we get of the limits of American power, the more stridently our ability to control obscure behaviors by people in remote corners of the world must be proclaimed. This is as good an example as one can find of a maladaptive and pathological belief-system operating in denial of reason and possibility. Its link to bad decisions is obvious.

In this construct, any failure to control must necessarily be failure on the part of whoever was supposed to do the controlling; the core idea of America's potential to control everything can never be questioned. This logically absurd notion is an irreducible component of both the criminal personality and our New Nationalism. So like the habituated criminal, nationalist America does not have to accommodate society around us and instead must pursue ever more desperate measures to control things that cannot, and ought not, be controlled.

A real eye-rolling example of the futility of this thinking would be our belief that we have a right to control the education system in Pakistan. We don't like those madrassas any more than they like us. So we lean on the president of Pakistan to shut them down. If he did that, he would be history and Pakistan's nukes would soon be in the hands of the people running those madrassas, who resent us because we try to control them and think we are entitled to behave this way. This is the kind of progression of increasingly less desirable outcomes experienced by the Criminal-Thinking offender when he tries to take control of a situation, loses it, escalates, and winds up dead or in prison for crimes he never intended to commit when he started out. As long as he cannot self-regulate, and the criminal thinker cannot, he is doomed to play out to the end.

An important part of this sequence is the antisocial criminal's inability to recognize the personhood of any individual who might stand in the way of achieving his aims. His Parole Officer is an a--hole, his girlfriend's a skank, his boss is a moron. He applies negative labels to his victims to show that they all ask for it by not meeting his real or imagined needs and not submitting to his control. In thrall to the New Nationalism, the list of people and societies we view as legitimate is shrinking everyday. It has become normative to attempt to delegitimize not only our implacable enemies but any group or nation that might have the temerity to differ with Nationalist America. This is how the criminal thinker, in an escalating situation, is unable to see how his behaviors effect others and accomplishes nothing except to narrow his options, until the inevitable reckoning in the courtroom or the morgue, where he is finally and completely on his own.

That this is the fate of nations as well as individuals is an unarguable fact of history. We used to have leaders who not only thought and talked about, but actually believed in ideas like "malice toward none, and charity for all", "a decent regard for the opinions of mankind", and having "nothing to fear except fear itself". These powerful statements of militantly pro-social beliefs once defined American patriotism. From the moment the Founding Fathers looked at the Articles of Confederation, admitted they had made a mistake, and set out to fix it, right up to the civil-rights movement, the best of America has always been produced through taking our own inventory and fixing it. Self-control - not controlling others - is at the heart of American patriotic tradition.

But security to self-regulate, like decency, charity, and confidence, is a disposable commodity in an environment of total and perpetual war with implacable and fiendish enemies. These virtues have no use in a world that never understands us, conspires to deny us our entitlements, and resists our attempts to control, as our leaders tell us we must in order to survive. But all this fear and loathing obscures the fact that, just like the antisocial, Nationalist American leadership can mimic self-regulation and adaptation from time to time. But they don't want to do it, don't need to do it, and have sadly been incapable of doing it for some time now.

It's impossible not to draw comparisons to the belief systems of 20th-century nationalist Europe. Nothing says "entitlement" quite like the Master Race, and if the death camps aren't the apotheosis of impatience, I'd like to know what is. Invading all of your neighbors is clear evidence that your need to control is out of control. So we have Germany of the early 1940s, steeped in Criminal Thinking, led by its politicians and enthusiastically endorsed its people.

Now consider the very same Germany later in the decade. In the space of a handful of years, something changed profoundly. I would submit that this change was really very simple: When you're living in the rubble you've created, narcissism is difficult to sustain. When you have to engage in a daily struggle to survive, impatience is useless if not deadly. When you have been defeated so thoroughly that you lack both capability and will to resist those who beat you, you don't control anything. By 1950, those same German people and their leadership reverted to pro-social thinking in government. It has succeeded marvelously.

Today Germany plays well with others, which the narcissist cannot do. It advocates patience in the forums of which it is part. It leads the EU in the devolution of power to the regions, and when exercising control of others is necessary, it insists that it be shared. Additionally, and perhaps unsurprisingly, it is not into malice and does charity better than just about anyone. Germans' regard for the opinions of mankind borders on reverence; they are calm, stable, resilient. That should make us think. It may be that postwar Germans are better Americans than what we have become.

We should be mindful that Nazi Germany, too, convinced itself that it was hated and conspired against because of its virtue rather than its thuggery, just as we proclaim that we are hated because of our "freedom" rather than our disordered need to control and the excess it breeds. There's no evidence that the Nazi leadership thought of themselves as criminals, let alone intended to become the most notorious criminals in the history of the human race. They were just a bunch of thugs who, implementing a classically antisocial system of thought and behavior, found their options progressively narrowed, as all such criminal thinkers do, until they wound up with death camps, suicide, and a rubble-dwelling Volk. The antisocial nature of Nationalism is there in the historical record, written in the blood of millions, and available for all to contemplate. The only question is, are we too far down the road to turn around?

Jim Pittaway is a licensed psychotherapist. He resides and practices in Missoula, Montana.

Copyright © 2007 The American Conservative

Bill Totten

Growth and Empire

Size and Scope of Dirty Money Laundering by Big US Banks

by James Petras

From La Jornada (May 19 2001)

There is a consensus among US Congressional Investigators, former bankers and international banking experts that US and European banks launder between $500 billion and $1 trillion of dirty money annually, half of which is laundered by US banks alone.

As Senator Levin summarizes the record: "Estimates are that $500 billion to $1 trillion of international criminal proceeds are moved internationally and deposited into bank accounts annually. It is estimated half of that money comes to the United States."

Over the decade between $2.5 and $5 trillion criminal proceeds are laundered by US banks and circulate in the US financial circuits. Senator Levin's statement however, only covers criminal proceeds, according to US laws. It does not include illegal transfers and capital flows from corrupt political leaders, and tax evasion by overseas businesses. A leading US scholar who is an expert on international finance associated with the prestigious Brookings Institute estimates that "the flow of corrupt money out of developing (Third World) and transitional (ex-Communist) economies into Western coffers at $20 to $40 billion a year and the flow stemming from mis-priced trade at $80 billion a year or more. My lowest estimate is a $100 billion per year by these two means which we facilitated a trillion dollars in the decade, at least half to the United States. Including other elements of illegal flight capital would produce much higher figures." The Brookings expert did not include illegal shifts of real estate and securities titles, wire fraud, et cetera.

In other words an incomplete figure of dirty money (laundered criminal and corrupt money) flowing into US coffers during the 1990s amounted to $3 - $5.5 trillion. This is not the complete picture but it gives us a basis to estimate the significance of the "dirty money factor" in evaluating the US economy. In the first place, it is clear the combined laundered and dirty money flows cover part of the US deficit in its balance of merchandise trade which ranges in the hundreds of billions annually. As it stands, the US trade deficit is close to $300 billion. Without the "dirty money" the US economy external accounts would be totally unsustainable, living standards would plummet, the dollar would weaken, the available investment and loan capital would shrink and Washington would not be able to sustain its global empire. The importance of laundered money is forecast to increase. Former private banker Antonio Geraldi, in testimony before the Senate Subcommittee projects significant growth in US bank laundering. "The forecasters also predict the amounts laundered in the trillions of dollars and growing disproportionately to legitimate funds". The $500 billion of criminal and dirty money flowing into and through the major US banks far exceeds the net revenues of all the IT companies in the US, not to speak of their profits. These yearly inflows surpass all the net transfers by the major US oil producers, military industries and airplane manufacturers. The biggest US banks, Bank of America, J P Morgan, Chase Manhattan and particularly Citibank derive a high percentage of their banking profits from serving these criminal and dirty money accounts. The big US banks and key institutions sustain US global power via their money laundering and managing ofillegally obtained overseas funds.

US Banks and The Dirty Money Empire

Washington and the mass media have portrayed the US in the forefront of the struggle against narco trafficking, drug laundering and political corruption: the image is of clean white hands fighting dirty money from the Third world (or the ex-Communist countries). The truth is exactly the opposite. US banks have developed a highly elaborate set of policies for transferring illicit funds to the US, investing those funds in legitimate businesses or US government bonds and legitimating them. The US Congress has held numerous hearings, provided detailed exposés of the illicit practices of the banks, passed several laws and called for stiffer enforcement by any number of public regulators and private bankers. Yet the biggest banks continue their practices, the sums of dirty money grows exponentially, because both the State and the banks have neither the will nor the interest to put an end to the practices that provide high profits and buttress an otherwise fragile empire.

First thing to note about the money laundering business, whether criminal or corrupt, is that it is carried out by the most important banks in the USA. Secondly, the practices of bank officials involved in money laundering have the backing and encouragement of the highest levels of the banking institutions - these are not isolated cases by loose cannons. This is clear in the case of Citibank's laundering of Raul Salinas (brother of Mexico's ex-President) $200 million account. When Salinas was arrested and his large scale theft of government funds was exposed, his private bank manager at Citibank, Amy Elliott told her colleagues that "this goes in the very, very top of the corporation, this was known ... on the very top. We are little pawns in this whole thing" (page 35).

Citibank, the biggest money launderer, is the biggest bank in the US, with 180,000 employees world-wide operating in 100 countries, with $700 billion in known assets and over $100 billion in client assets in private bank (secret accounts) operating private banking offices in thirty countries, which is the largest global presence of any US private bank. It is important to clarify what is meant by "private bank".

Private Banking is a sector of a bank which caters to extremely wealthy clients ($1 million deposits and up). The big banks charge customers a fee for managing their assets and for providing the specialized services of the private banks. Private Bank services go beyond the routine banking services and include investment guidance, estate planning, tax assistance, off-shore accounts, and complicated schemes designed to secure the confidentiality of financial transactions. The attractiveness of the "Private Banks" (PB) for money laundering is that they sell secrecy to the dirty money clients. There are two methods that big Banks use to launder money: via private banks and via corresponding banking. PB routinely use code names for accounts, concentration accounts (concentration accounts co-mingles bank funds with client funds which cut off paper trails for billions of dollars of wire transfers) that disguise the movement of client funds, and offshore private investment corporations (PIC) located in countries with strict secrecy laws (Cayman Island, Bahamas, et cetera).

For example in the case of Raul Salinas, PB personnel at Citibank helped Salinas transfer $90 to $100 million out of Mexico in a manner that effectively disguised the funds' sources and destination thus breaking the funds' paper trail. In routine fashion, Citibank set up a dummy offshore corporation, provided Salinas with a secret code name, provided an alias for a third party intermediary who deposited the money in a Citibank account in Mexico and transferred the money in a concentration account to New York where it was then moved to Switzerland and London.

The PICs are designed by the big banks for the purpose of holding and hiding a person's assets. The nominal officers, trustees and shareholder of these shell corporations are themselves shell corporations controlled by the PB. The PIC then becomes the holder of the various bank and investment accounts and the ownership of the private bank clients is buried in the records of so-called jurisdiction such as the Cayman Islands. Private bankers of the big banks like Citibank keep pre-packaged PICs on the shelf awaiting activation when a private bank client wants one.The system works like Russian Matryoshka dolls, shells within shells within shells, which in the end can be impenetrable to a legal process.

The complicity of the state in big bank money laundering is evident when one reviews the historic record. Big bank money laundering has been investigated, audited, criticized and subject to legislation; the banks have written procedures to comply. Yet banks like Citibank and the other big ten banks ignore the procedures and laws and the government ignores the non-compliance. Over the last twenty years, big bank laundering of criminal funds and looted funds has increased geometrically, dwarfing in size and rates of profit the activities in the formal economy. Estimates by experts place the rate of return in the PB market between 20% and 25% annually. Congressional investigations revealed that Citibank provided "services" for four political swindlers moving $380 million: Raul Salinas - $80 to $100 million, Asif Ali Zardari (husband of former Prime Minister of Pakistan) in excess of $40 million, El Hadj Omar Bongo (dictator of Gabon since 1967) in excess of $130 million, Abacha sons of General Abacha ex-dictator of Nigeria - in excess of $110 million. In all cases Citibank violated all of its own procedures and government guidelines: there was no client profile (review of client background), determination of the source of the funds, nor of any violations of country laws from which the money accrued. On the contrary, the bank facilitated the outflow in its prepackaged format: shell corporations were established, code names were provided, funds were moved through concentration accounts, the funds were invested in legitimate businesses or in US bonds, et cetera. In none of these cases - or thousands of others - was due diligence practiced by the banks (under due diligence a private bank is obligated by law to take steps to ensure that it does not facilitate money laundering). In none of these cases were the top banking officials brought to court and tried. Even after arrest of their clients, Citibank continued to provide services, including the movement of funds to secret accounts and the provision of loans.

Correspondent Banks: The Second Track

The second and related route which the big banks use to launder hundreds of billions of dirty money is through "correspondent banking" (CB). CB is the provision of banking services by one bank to another bank. It is a highly profitable and significant sector of big banking. It enables overseas banks to conduct business and provide services for their customers - including drug dealers and others engaged in criminal activity - in jurisdictions like the US where the banks have no physical presence. A bank that is licensed in a foreign country and has no office in the United States for its customers attracts and retains wealthy criminal clients interested in laundering money in the US. Instead of exposing itself to US controls and incurring the high costs of locating in the US, the bank will open a correspondent account with an existing US bank. By establishing such a relationship, the foreign bank (called a respondent) and through it, its criminal customers, receive many or all of the services offered by the US big banks called the correspondent. Today, all the big US banks have established multiple correspondent relationships throughout the world so they may engage in international financial transactions for themselves and their clients in places where they do have a physical presence. Many of the largest US and European banks located in the financial centers of the world serve as correspondents for thousands of other banks. Most of the offshore banks laundering billions for criminal clients have accounts in the US. All the big banks specializing in international fund transfer are called money center banks, some of the biggest process up to $1 trillion in wire transfers a day. Through June 1999, the top five correspondent bank holding companies in the United States held correspondent account balances exceeding $17 billion; the total correspondent balances of the 75 largest US correspondent banks was $34.9 billion. For the billionaire criminals an important feature of correspondent relationships is that they provide access to international transfer systems - that facilitate the rapid transfer of funds across international boundaries and within countries. The most recent estimates (1998) are that sixty offshore jurisdictions around the world licensed about 4,000 offshore banks which control approximately $5 trillion in assets.

One of the major sources of impoverishment and crises in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Russia and the other countries of the ex-USSR and Eastern Europe, is the pillage of the economy and the hundreds of billions of dollars which are transferred out of the country via the corresponding banking system and the Private Banking system linked to the biggest banks in the US and Europe. Russia alone has seen over $200 billion illegally transferred in the course of the 1990s. The massive shifts of capital from these countries to the US and European banks has generated mass impoverishment and economic instability and crises. This in turn has created increased vulnerability to pressure from the IMF and World Bank to liberalize their banking and financial systems leading to further flight and deregulation which spawns greater corruption and overseas transfers via private banks as the Senate reports demonstrate.

The increasing polarization of the world is embedded in this organized system of criminal and corrupt financial transactions. While speculation and foreign debt payments play a role in undermining living standards in the crises regions, the multi-trillion dollar money laundering and bank servicing of corrupt officials is a much more significant factor, sustaining Western prosperity, US empire building and financial stability. The scale, scope and time frame of transfers and money laundering, the centrality of the biggest banking enterprises and the complicity of the governments, strongly suggests that the dynamics of growth and stagnation, empire and re-colonization are intimately related to a new form of capitalism built around pillage, criminality, corruption and complicity.

"This Goes Straight to the Top"

Bill Totten