Why Can’t the World’s Most Powerful Military Win Its Wars? This country needs to rethink war and reevaluate its place in the world.

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“This time, they think they have it right.”

So declared an Associated Press story reporting an upbeat assessment by this country’s top military officer at the end of a five-day visit to Afghanistan earlier this spring. Marine General Joseph Dunford Jr., chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was heading home from the war zone, the AP reporter wrote, “with a palpable sense of optimism” about the U.S.-supported war against Taliban and Islamic State fighters there.

Light at the end of the tunnel, perhaps?

The story didn’t say whether any of the reporters listening to General Dunford asked why it had taken more than 16 years for the world’s leading military power to come up with the “fundamentally different approach” that the general believes has put U.S. and Afghan forces on the path to success. (None of the changes he mentioned really sounded fundamental, either.) Still, it’s a question worth asking: If Americans are right in ceaselessly telling themselves that theirs is the most powerful country the world has ever seen and that their military is the “greatest fighting force ever,” as President Trump calls it, should it have been this hard and taken this long to find a way — if they really have — to defeat enemies whose war-making resources are a tiny fraction of ours?

As has happened often during our current conflicts, that piece of news from Afghanistan got me thinking about an earlier war that I witnessed first-hand as a correspondent for the Baltimore Sun during its final three years.

In Vietnam, as in subsequent American wars, the United States and its local allies had staggering advantages in all the conventional measures of military strength, yet failed to win. It makes me wonder: If U.S. political and military leaders and the American public remembered Vietnam more honestly, if painful truths hadn’t been cloaked in comforting mythologies, might this country have responded more intelligently and effectively to the violent challenges we’ve faced in the current century?

Consider, for example, the persistent story that America lost in Vietnam because U.S. troops fought with one hand tied behind their backs — because, that is, the politicians were “afraid to let them win,” as Ronald Reagan once put it. The implication is clear: we could and should have won that war by doing more of what we were already doing or keeping at it longer (and should do the same in other conflicts, if military force does not seem to be succeeding).

But did the United States really lose in Vietnam for lack of force?

Not Exactly a Limited War

Plenty of facts suggest otherwise. Take the amount of destructive power the U.S. employed. “Devastating conventional firepower unparalleled in military history,” a study by the Army’s logistics command called it, adding that, along with extraordinary tonnages of air and ground ordnance, American commanders fought with virtually no restrictions on mobility, equipment, or supplies: “The logistics scene was characterized by almost unlimited supply, remarkable high operational readiness rates as applied to equipment, a seemingly endless flow of ammunition and petroleum, and immunity for the most part from external fiscal restraints.”

Even to one who heard a bit of the gunfire from time to time, the statistics on U.S. firepower are mind-boggling. Pentagon records show that, for long periods, the American military and Saigon government forces fired ammunition at rates up to an astonishing 600 times higher than the enemy’s — 100,000 tons of ground munitions a month for all of 1969, for example, compared to just 150 tons from the Communist side. In 1974, with U.S. forces no longer directly engaged in combat and allied South Vietnamese commanders moaning nonstop about shortages caused by reductions in American military aid, Saigon’s forces still used 65 tons of ammunition for every ton fired by the enemy.

Those figures don’t include air ordnance, which would make the ratios even more grotesquely one-sided. Over the course of the war, U.S. aircraft dropped approximately twice as many tons of bombs on North Vietnam, South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia as combined Allied forces dropped on Germany and Japan in World War II.

In light of those numbers, the claim that America’s war in Vietnam was fought under undue restrictions is less than convincing. If U.S. troops couldn’t win — or leave our ally in a position to win — after fighting for seven years with an almost unimaginable edge in firepower, technology, and mobility, the much more logical conclusion is that U.S. military doctrine and Washington’s concept of military strength simply did not apply to that conflict.

And what about the doctrine that a later generation of U.S. soldiers took with them into Afghanistan and Iraq?

“Full spectrum dominance” was the watchword in a 2000 document, “Joint Vision 2020” (updated from a 1996 version), which the authors described as a “conceptual template” for the U.S. military’s evolution over the two decades to come. Its language was even more hubristic than that slogan suggests: “a force that is dominant across the full spectrum of military operations — persuasive in peace, decisive in war, preeminent in any form of conflict… prepared to win across the full range of military operations in any part of the world… [with the ability] to defeat any adversary and control any situation across the full range of military operations.”

Defeat any adversary? Control any situation?

Nine-tenths of the way to the year 2020, U.S. soldiers, with all of their firepower and technology, have not achieved anything close to total dominance on the battlefields where they have been engaged. They have not dominated poorly armed fighters. Or insurgents planting low-tech, low-costexplosive devices. Or local cops and officials whom we would like to stop shaking down citizens and undermining the public support we say is crucial for counterinsurgency warfare.

To put it bluntly, the experience of the last nearly 17 years makes “full spectrum dominance” sound like a delusional fantasy.

When the large-scale U.S. intervention in Vietnam began, the great triumph of World War II was just 20 years in the past. That war was the formative experience for the generation of senior officers who led the American military into Vietnam, so perhaps their arrogance was understandable. The inventors of full spectrum dominance and the commanders they influenced came along almost exactly the same number of years after Vietnam, which makes their illusion of omnipotence harder to understand.

At the other end of their respective wars, members of both groups insisted (and continue to insist) that the fault was not in their strategy or how they conducted it. Instead, they claim, they were denied success because the politicians limited them too much or made them stop too soon. There’s no way to prove or disprove counterfactual statements of that sort, but given the length of time they had to win those wars — twice as long (in Vietnam) or three times (in Iraq) or close to four times as many years (in Afghanistan) as it took to reach victory in World War II — that claim, like the one-hand-behind-the-back argument, has a very hollow ring to it.

Time to Revise Sun Tzu: Know Your Friend

If my computer’s search function is working properly, the words “ally,” “allied,” “host government,” and “local forces” appear nowhere in the “Joint Vision 2020” paper. That’s a telling omission. In Vietnam and our more recent wars, the weaknesses of Washington’s local partners — which U.S. officials have been stunningly reluctant to recognize — should be seen as the fundamental reason those wars have been so unsuccessful despite the overwhelming advantage in material resources that U.S. forces and their allies possessed.

There’s an implication here for the American approach to intelligence (in both the narrow and broad senses of the word). While rethinking what military power means, perhaps we should reconsider what intelligence means, too. In particular, it would be useful to revisit the classic premise — stated more than 2,500 years ago by the Chinese sage Sun Tzu — that the first goal of intelligence is to “know your enemy.” It certainly would have been helpful in the last half-century’s wars if American commanders had known their opponents better. In Vietnam and since, though, by far the most damaging intelligence failure wasn’t not knowing our enemies well enough, but not knowing our friends. Consistently in these wars, Americans have overestimated their local ally’s capabilities while remaining blind, whether purposely or not, to the grave weaknesses of those forces.In Vietnam, American weapons, dollars, and advice created a South Vietnamese army that, on paper, should have easily defended its country, as Americans told themselves it could. But U.S. money and material did not make that ally’s commanders effective or competent, or compensate for the inadequate leadership that was, in the end, the critical reason for South Vietnam’s defeat by a much poorer but more skillful, disciplined, and resourceful opponent.

A strong case can be made that the American-allied Saigon regime’s single most toxic weakness was pervasive corruption. It wasn’t just that corruption angered and alienated the South Vietnamese populace, including the regime’s own soldiers. That was damaging enough, but the greater damage was that corruption fatally undermined the ability of both the government and the army to do their jobs. A 1966 memorandum by a study group in the U.S. mission in Saigon made that point in sharp terms:

“There is a deadly correlation between corruption at high levels in an administrative system and the spread throughout the system of incompetence, as higher-ups encourage and promote corrupt subordinates, and protect them from the consequences of poor performance of duty or direct disobedience of orders. Such a system demoralizes and ‘selects out’ the able and the dedicated who do not play the game.”

An author of that paper and the principal drafter of the section on corruption was Frank Scotton, one of the longest-serving and most knowledgeable U.S. officials in Vietnam. Writing on that theme in his memoir, Uphill Battle, Scotton quoted a Vietnamese general who told him that “he could name many corrupt officers, but not a single one who was both corrupt and an effective commander.” That general was eventually fired for his criticisms of the regime and sent into exile.

The study group put a “marked reduction of corruption” first on its list of recommendations for necessary reforms in South Vietnam. But in my time there, beginning nearly six years after that memorandum was written, the South Vietnamese system I observed still perfectly matched Scotton’s description. Exactly as he had noted years earlier, the most honest and capable officers I met were also the most frustrated and demoralized. By the time I left in the final evacuation from a defeated South Vietnam nearly three years later, I was convinced that corruption was the single biggest reason the Saigon government had lost the war. Nothing I’ve learned since has changed my mind on that.

Return of the Ghost Soldiers

I don’t have the same firsthand knowledge of Iraq or Afghanistan. But even from afar, it’s hard not to hear history rhyming, if not repeating itself.

Occasionally, news from those wars comes with a shock of absolute recognition, as when it was revealed — after the Islamic State offensive in Iraq exploded in the fall of 2014 and city after city fell to relatively small groups of militants — that the American-trained Iraqi army’s real strength was far lower than its strength on paper. That was because as many as 50,000 of the troops on that army’s rosters — the equivalent of four full divisions — were “ghost soldiers,” men who did not actually exist or had deserted but were still being paid, with their commanders pocketing their salaries. The city of Mosul, for example, was ostensibly defended by 25,000 government troops when the Islamic State militants attacked. The actual number was less than half that many — in some units, an even smaller fraction. This, it should be noted, in a force that had received something like $25 billion in U.S. support in the decade after the 2003 invasion.

The same practice — along with the broader pattern of corruption that it exemplifies — has been evident in Afghanistan. In one contested province, officials acknowledged in 2016 that almost half the soldiers and police on government payrolls did not exist or were not present for duty — even though improving the effectiveness of Afghan security forces was supposed to be a top priority for the Americans offering training, advice, and funds.

The story in Vietnam, for all intents and purposes, was identical. In an army where every dollar of soldiers’ pay, as well as every weapon, vehicle, bullet, and pair of boots, was funded by U.S. aid, the Vietnamese had names for two variations of payroll padding: “ghost soldiers,” men who had been killed but whose deaths were not reported so that their commanders could keep collecting and pocketing their salaries; and “flower soldiers” (that is, ornamental ones) who stayed home with their families while kicking back their pay to their superiors. That meant South Vietnam’s real fighting strength was considerably less than official reports indicated. Routinely, battalions that nominally had 300 men had only half or a third of that number on hand — exactly as in the case of those Iraqi units filled with “ghost soldiers” that were defeated in Mosul.

The broader parallels between the army and government we supported in Vietnam and those we have backed in our twenty-first-century wars are also clear. In all of them, corruption and poor governance in general were rife and would prove crippling obstacles to achieving U.S. objectives. And in all of them, Americans were almost completely ineffective in doing anything about either problem.

As journalist Douglas Wissing wrote in his book Funding the Enemy, a massively researched report on far-reaching corruption in Afghanistan, instead of taking any meaningful action against corruption, the U.S. government for the most part “either ignored it or enabled it.” That conclusion is borne out, though phrased more diplomatically, in numerous reports by the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction. After describing one of many ways the Taliban were able to tap into American funds, Wissing noted that all the money they got their hands on was spent for weapons, motorcycles, and mobile phones; their religious scruples stopped them from keeping any of it for themselves. Mordantly but aptly, Wissing added, “at least the Taliban made honest use of the U.S. taxpayers’ cash.”

New Plays, Same Script

The world of 2018 is vastly different from the world of a half-century ago. Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq are very different countries, and the wars in each reflect different origins and circumstances. The U.S. military today bears almost no resemblance to the American force that fought in Vietnam. So comparisons are hardly simple. Still, the boiled-down narratives of those wars look strikingly similar: large-scale U.S. military forces with limitless firepower are sent to defeat a far more poorly armed enemy and spend years trying to do so; meanwhile, American aid officials dole out hefty amounts of money and advice intended to create a good government and a prosperous country, or at least good enough and prosperous enough so that most citizens will choose the side of the war we want them to support.

In the end, however, the goal the Americans fought to reach — a stable local regime that is able to effectively defend itself, legitimate in the eyes of its citizens, and friendly to U.S. interests — is not achieved. Eventually, after we stop trying to accomplish the mission ourselves, we assume we can help a client force reach the same objectives by teaching them how to fight essentially the same way we did, except with even slimmer resources (a lot fewer helicopters to lift out their wounded, for example, which their soldiers got accustomed to while the rich Americans were still there). Not surprisingly, that policy doesn’t work so well either.

It’s hard to fathom why those scenarios weren’t more quickly and widely seen as illusory, especially the second or third time around. In part, no doubt, it was a case of being lowered into water reaching the boiling point too slowly to realize what was happening. And Washington’s and the Pentagon’sthinking surely also reflected the sugar coating Americans tend to spray over painful memories — the Pentagon website commemorating the Vietnam Waris a prime example — to avoid remembering them accurately. Even so, after Vietnam you’d think military professionals and the rest of us wouldn’t have gone on as long as we did in subsequent conflicts without realizing that America’s very idea of war in these last decades needs reexamination and so do the stories U.S. commanders keep telling themselves, their superiors, and the rest of us about our accomplishments and our allies’ capabilities.

As is almost always the case, describing the problem is easier — much easier — than solving it. This one will take a big and wrenching change in deeply rooted structures and beliefs, and in personal and institutional perceptions of self-interest. (Can we really stop telling ourselves that the United States has the best military in the world?) We have already paid a monumental price for our faulty understanding of war and of the real world. Failing to learn those lessons, even at this late date, will only drive that price tragically higher.

By Arnold R. Isaacs / TomDispatch

Posted by The NON-Conformist

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Out of 26 Major Editorials on Trump’s Syria Strikes, Zero Opposed

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"Seven of the top 10 newspapers by circulation—USA Today, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, New York Post, Chicago Tribune, Newsday and Washington Post—supported the airstrikes." (Photo: Screenshot)

Image: Common Dreams via Dallas Morning News

The most influential paper in the country, the New York Times, has not opposed a single US war—from the Persian Gulf to Bosnia, to Kosovo to Iraq to Libya to the forever war on ISIS—in the past 30 years.

A survey by FAIR of the top 100 papers in the US by circulation found not a single editorial board opposed to Trump’s April 13 airstrikes on Syria. Twenty supported the strikes, while six were ambiguous as to whether or not the bombing was advisable. The remaining 74 issued no opinion about Trump’s latest escalation of the Syrian war.

The mid-market Toledo Blade (4/15/18) punched above its weight class and delivered the most bellicose and jingoistic editorial of them all with “The West Stands Up”

— Read on www.commondreams.org/views/2018/04/18/out-26-major-editorials-trumps-syria-strikes-zero-opposed

Posted by Libergirl

President Trump’s War Crime is Worse than the One He Accuses Assad of

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Photo by Graham C99 | CC BY 2.0

The single most importantthing that happened Friday night when the US military on President Trump’s orders launched a wave of over 100 cruise missiles against Syria was that once again the US violated the most profound international law of war: initiating a war of aggression against a nation that posed no threat, imminent or otherwise, to the US or its allies.
Called a “Crime against Peace,” this violation (whose perpetrators, under the precedent set in the Nuremberg Trials that followed World War II, can face capital punishment), is considered worse than any other war crime because, as US Nuremberg prosecutor Robert Jackson explained in his argument at the Nuremberg Trials of Nazi war criminals, a war of aggressionis “not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”
President Trump, during his televised White House announcement just after the launching of his bombing attack on Syria, said, “The purpose of our actions tonight is to establish a strong deterrent against the production, spread and use of chemical weapons…We are prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents.”
He was making the argument that the US, acting on its own authority without any sanction from the UN Security Council as required under international law, somehow had a duty to, on its own, punish Syria for its alleged violation of a Geneva Convention against the use of chemical weapons.
Putting aside for a moment the important question of whether the Syrian government actually did use chemical weapons in the Douma suburb of Damascus, which is in fact highly suspect, even if that country’s leader, Basher al Assad, did order the use of a banned chemical weapon, Assad’s crime would be far less serious than the crime Trump and the US perpetrated under international law.
Fortunately, it appears as if saner members of the largely crazy Trump administration — notably Secretary of Defense James Mattis, a retired four-star Marine general — prevailed over the neoconservative warmongering chicken hawk John Bolton, recently ensconcedin the ever-changing National Security Advisor spot, with the result that the much ballyhooed US cruise missile attack on Syria’s purported “chemical arms infrastructure” was limited to three sites.
More importantly, earlier talk of hitting “command-and-control” centers like government buildings in Damascus, or Syrian air bases — places where Russia had warned that it had its own military personnel and that could have provoked a Russia military response — was pushed aside and such targets were left off the hit list. That meant the risk, about which Mattis pointedly warned in recent days, of this US attack morphing uncontrollably into a war between the two nuclear superpowers operating in Syria, the US and Russia, was minimized.
Fortunately too, for the Syrian people in target areas of the US cruise missiles and the handful of missiles launched by America’s two willing “allies,” Britain and France (whose participation was meant to give a sheen of “multilateralism” to the crime), at least some reports including from Russia claim that up to two-thirds of the US missiles launched were knocked down or blown up in the air by Syrian anti-missile defenses.
So we aren’t facing the threat of a nuclear exchange, or a tense period in which US and Russian soldiers and airmen face each other with tense fingers on triggers in the midst of the Syrian conflict.
For now.
The question is what happens next.
First there needs to be a real investigation, official and by real journalists — the thing that should have happened beforeTrump jumped in with his blustery missile attack (as he Tweeted: “Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and “smart!”) — into whether there was a chemical attack at all on April 7 in the suburb of Douma, and if so, who was behind it.
The claim of an attack is being made by the so-called “White Hats,” a supposedly non-governmental medical aid organization backed and funded by the US and founded by a member of British intelligence which reportedly has links with the Al Nusra terrorist organization in Syria. The Syrian Red Crescent organization which is affiliated with the Red Cross and has a much better reputation as both an aid organization and as a non-partisan truly medical service, has not confirmed a chemical attack. Meanwhile, the Russian television service RT is reporting that the White Hats actually rushed into a Damascus hospital where victims of fighting in Gouda were being treated, and set off a panic among patients by shouting “chemicals, chemicals!” and dousing people with water, leading to the charge of a chemical attack. Russia is also claiming that British intelligence agents were behind the staging of the event.
Many critics are noting that, as in prior questionable cases of the Syrian government being accused of using bannedchemicalweapons, this one occurred not when the government was losing and in a desperate situation, but when it was close to winning control of an area and was really in the “mopping up” phase. Indeed, rebel fighters had already given up and were availing themselves of an evacuation agreement, boarding chartered buses to take them to a safer area in the north of Syria, when the alleged “attack” occurred. (Why one has to wonder, would Assad have launched a chemical attack in that situation, knowing it would provoke another US military response? It makes no sense.)
It is also suspicious that the UN had already ordered inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to go to the site of the alleged attack to look for evidence of chemical use, but the Trump administration couldn’t even wait the four days it would take them to get there to launch an attack — an attack that is bound to delay their arrival and make finding that evidence increasingly difficult and problematic.
It is also significant that the OPCW has been instructed only to search for evidence of chemical weapons use, not to determine blame for its use.
The danger of course, is that if the Syrian government has not been the perpetratorof this or earlier gas attacks, as some investigative reporters like Robert Sheer have claimed, those who would then likely be responsible — the anti-Assad rebel forces — could be encouraged by this attack and the one Trump launched last year after a similar questionable use of chemical weaons, to launch more such faked Syrian attacks, in hopes of luring the US deeper into the Syrian civil war quagmire.
Obviously, such concerns are not being even considered at the White House. Indeed, if this contrarian line of reasoning is correct, it would be more likely that the US and its allies, Britain and France, are involved in the planning of such “false flag” attacks on civilians.
The US media, are largely cheerleading this attack, with reporters asking for details about its success at hitting alleged targets of Syrian chemical weapons storage, manufacture and research, instead of demanding answers as to the attack’s legality. When the decision to launch the attacks is questioned at all, it is not its obvious violation of international law that is raised, but the far subordinate question of whether the president has the right to order such an attack on his own, without the prior approval of Congress. While that is certainly an important question for Americans to ask, given that there was and is no imminent threat of Syria attacking the US or US forces (which in any case are in Syria illegally), it would hardly be any better if Congress did declare war on Syria, since that too would be a war crime under international law.
Clearly we are now in a very dangerous period, with a president, unconstrained by a Congress controlled by his own party, at the same time facing grave and mounting legal threats to his presidency. He is clearly looking at ways to divert media attention from himself and his own criminal behavior and to get an increasingly restive public to rally ‘round the flag and around himself as “commander in chief” of a nation at war.

by Dave Lindorff/CounterPunch

Posted by The NON-Conformist

The War on the Post Office

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U.S. Postal Service truck. (Alexander Marks / Wikimedia)

The U.S. banking establishment has been at war with the post office since at least 1910, when the Postal Savings Bank Act established a public savings alternative to a private banking system that had crashed the economy in the Bank Panic of 1907. The American Bankers Association was quick to respond, forming a Special Committee on Postal Savings Legislation to block any extension of the new service. According to a September 2017 article in The Journal of Social History titled “ ‘Banks of the People’: The Life and Death of the U.S. Postal Savings System,” the banking fraternity would maintain its enmity toward the government savings bank for the next 50 years.

As far back as the late 19th century, support for postal savings had united a nationwide coalition of workers and farmers who believed that government policy should prioritize their welfare over private business interests. Advocates noted that most of the civilized nations of the world maintained postal savings banks, providing depositors with a safe haven against repeated financial panics and bank failures. Today, postal banks that are wholly or majority owned by government are still run successfully, not just in developing countries, but in France, Switzerland, Israel, Korea, India, New Zealand, Japan, China and other industrialized nations.

The U.S. Postal Savings System came into its own during the banking crisis of the early 1930s, when it became the national alternative to a private banking system that people could not trust. Demands increased to expand its services to include affordable loans. Alarmed bankers called it the “Postal Savings Menace” and warned that it could result in the destruction of the entire private banking system.

Rather than expanding the Postal Savings System, the response of President Franklin Roosevelt was to buttress the private banking system with public guarantees, including FDIC deposit insurance. That put private banks in the enviable position of being able to keep their profits while their losses were covered by the government. Deposit insurance, along with a statutory cap on the interest paid on postal savings, caused postal banking to lose its edge. In 1957, under President Eisenhower, the head of the government bureau responsible for the Postal Savings System called for its abolition, arguing that “it is desirable that the government withdraw from competitive private business at every point.” Legislation to liquidate the Postal Savings System was passed in 1966. One influential right-wing commentator, celebrating an ideological victory, said: “It is even conceivable that we might transfer post offices to private hands altogether.”

Targeted for Takedown

The push for privatization of the U.S. Postal Service has continued to the present. The USPS is the nation’s second-largest civilian employer after Walmart and has been successfully self-funded without taxpayer support throughout its long history, but it is currently struggling to stay afloat. This is not, as sometimes asserted, because it has been made obsolete by the internet. In fact, the post office has gotten more business from internet orders than it has lost to electronic email.

What has pushed the USPS into insolvency is an oppressive congressional mandate that was included almost as a footnote in the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act of 2006 (PAEA), which requires the USPS to prefund health care for its workers 75 years into the future. No other entity, public or private, has the burden of funding multiple generations of employees yet unborn. The prefunding mandate is so blatantly unreasonable as to raise suspicions that the nation’s largest publicly owned industry has been intentionally targeted for takedown.

What has saved the post office for the time being is the large increase in its package deliveries for Amazon and other internet sellers. But as The Nation notes in a February 2018 article by Jake Bittle titled “Postal-Service Workers Are Shouldering the Burden for Amazon,” this onslaught of new business is a mixed blessing. Postal workers welcome the work, but packages are much

harder to deliver than letters, and management has not stepped up its hiring to relieve the increased stress on carriers or upgraded their antiquated trucks. The USPS simply does not have the funds.

Bittle observes that for decades, Republicans have painted the USPS as a prime example of government inefficiency. But there is no reason for it to be struggling since it has successfully sustained itself with postal revenue for two centuries. What has fueled conservative arguments that it should be privatized is the manufactured crisis created by the PAEA. Unless that regulation can be repealed, the USPS may not survive without another source of funding, since Amazon is now expanding its own delivery service rather than continuing to rely on the post office. Postal banking could fill the gap, but the USPS has been hamstrung by the PAEA, which allows it to perform only postal services such as delivery of letters and packages and “other functions ancillary thereto,” including money orders, international transfers and gift cards.

Renewing the Postal Banking Push

Meanwhile, the need for postal banking is present and growing. According to the Campaign for Postal Banking, nearly 28 percent of U.S. households are underserved by traditional banks. Over 4 million workers without a bank account receive pay on a payroll card and spend $40-$50 per month on ATM fees just to access their pay. The average underserved household spends $2,412 annually—nearly 10 percent of gross income—in fees and interest for non-bank financial services. More than 30,000 post offices peppered across the country could service these needs.

The push to revive postal banking picked up after January 2014, when the USPS inspector general released a white paper making the case for postal banks and arguing that many financial services could be introduced without new congressional action. The cause was also taken up by Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, and polling showed that it had popular support.

In a January 2018 article in Slate, “Bank of America Just Reminded Us of Why We Need Postal Banking,” Jordan Weissman observes that Bank of America has now ended the free checking service on which lower-income depositors have long relied. He cites a Change.org petition protesting the move, which notes that Bank of America was one of the sole remaining brick-and-mortar banks offering free checking accounts to its customers. “Bank of America was known to care for both their high income and low-income customers,” said the petition. “That is what made Bank of America different.” But Weissman is more skeptical, writing:

What this news mostly shows is that we shouldn’t rely on for-profit financial institutions to provide basic, essential services to the needy. We should rely on the post office.

In spite of what some of its customers may have thought, Bank of America never cared very much about its poorer depositors. That’s because banks don’t care about people. They care about profits. And lower-middle class households who have trouble maintaining a minimum balance in a checking account are, by and large, not very profitable customers, unless they’re paying out the nose in overdraft fees.

Those modest accounts won’t be hugely profitable for the Postal Service either, but postal banking can be profitable through economies of scale and the elimination of profit-taking middlemen, as postal banks globally have demonstrated. The USPS could also act immediately to expand and enhance certain banking products and services within its existing mandate, without additional legislation. According to the Campaign for Postal Banking, these services include international and domestic money transfers, bill pay, general-purpose reloadable postal cards, check-cashing, ATMs, savings services and partnerships with government agencies to provide payments of government benefits and other services.

A more lucrative source of postal revenue was also suggested by the inspector general: The USPS could expand into retail lending for underserved sectors of the economy, replacing the usurious payday loans that can wipe out the paychecks of the underbanked. To critics who say that government cannot be trusted to run a lending business efficiently, advocates need only point to China. According to Peter Pham in a March 2018 article for Forbes titled “Who’s Winning the War for China’s Banking Sector?”:

One of the largest retail banks is the Postal Savings Bank of China. In 2016 retail banking accounted for 70 percent of this bank’s service package. Counting about 40,000 branches and servicing more than 500 million separate clients, the Postal Savings Bank’s asset quality is among the best. Moreover, it has significantly more growth potential than other Chinese retail banks.

Neither foreign banks nor private domestic retail banks can compete with this very successful Chinese banking giant, which is majority owned by the government. And that may be the real reason for the suppression of postal banking in the United States. Bankers continue to fear that postal banks could replace them with a public option—one that is safer, more efficient, more stable and more trusted than the private financial institutions that have repeatedly triggered panics and bank failures, with more predicted on the horizon.

By Ellen Brown/truthdig

Posted by The NON-Conformist

The Real Goal of “Russiagate” is to Prepare for Endless Austerity and War

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The Real Goal of “Russiagate” is to Prepare for Endless Austerity and War

“The ruling circles of the imperial superpower set out to destabilize and call into disrepute the government of the home country.”

Robert Mueller, the former head of the national political police (FBI), has indicted 13 Russian nationals for the crime of sowing “discord in the U.S. political system” and encouraging “U.S. minority groups not to vote in the 2016 U.S. presidential election or to vote for a third-party U.S. presidential candidate.” The defendants’ nationality makes their acts of political speech a crime, in Mueller’s legal view, but “at least 20 Americans” are embedded in the document as unindicted co-conspirators “ because they interacted in various ways with the Russian team’s activities during the 2016 presidential campaign.

These U.S. citizens “were just engaging in politics,” said independent journalist Marcy Wheeler, on Democracy Now! “They were putting together campaign events. They were engaging in online speech. That’s like, you know, the most sacred part of being an American citizen. And yet, they were unknowingly interacting with Russians….”

The Russians will never face trial in the U.S., and it is highly unlikely that the unindicted Americans will be criminally charged — but that is not the purpose of Mueller’s indictment. The political crime has been defined, for the broad purpose of repressing dissent in the United States. The witch hunt has found a legalistic vocabulary.

The New York Times’ in-house witch-hunting Negro, Charles Blow , has worked his mojo to the bone, fulminating against the dark forces that refused to support Hillary Clinton’ return to the White House. Mueller’s indictment is the charm Blow has been seeking to remove the hex of resistance to the established duopoly. Blow quotes Mueller’s document: “On or about October 16, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the Instagram account ‘Woke Blacks’ to post the following message: ‘Particular hype and hatred for Trump is misleading the people and forcing Blacks to vote Killary. We cannot resort to the lesser of two devils. Then we’d surely be better off without voting AT ALL.’”

“The political crime has been defined, for the broad purpose of repressing dissent in the United States.”

These are the Russians’ words, but the sentiment is not at all alien to the contemporary and historical Black political conversation. Yet, for Blow, it is heresy and devilment to urge Black people to vote for third parties, or to refrain from voting. There ought’a be a law against it! — or some string of words that can be made to sound like a law. “What happened in this election wasn’t just a political crime, it was specifically a racialized crime, and the black vote was a central target,” wrote Blow.

Blacks that refuse to forgive the Clintons for mass incarcerating and dehumanizing our people are guilty of Black voter suppression and deemed dupes of both Trump and the Kremlin. To prove that anti-Clinton Blacks are in league with foreign and domestic devils, Blow quotes a Trump operative who bragged that the Republican campaign reminded Black voters about Hillary Clinton’s “suggestion that some African-American males are ‘super predators,’” in order to discourage them from voting. Mueller’s legal framework requires that we forgive such trivial history as mass Black incarceration.

Black Bernie Sanders activists are co-conspirators, in Blow’s view: “Even after Clinton accepted the Democratic nomination, rapper Killer Mike, a prominent Bernie Sanders supporter and surrogate, was still promoting the position that ‘If you’re voting for Trump or Hillary Clinton, you’re voting for the same thing.’”

Which is true, in that both are corporate capitalist politicians and warmongering racists that don’t deserve the vote of any decent person. But, saying so can now be construed as giving “aid and comfort” to a foreign “enemy” – either directly to Putin or to his “surrogate,” Trump. It must be a crime, because “the Russians” were indicted for it, right? Mueller’s “law” spells it out: “In or around the latter half of 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators, through their personas, began to encourage U.S. minority groups not to vote in the 2016 U.S. presidential election or to vote for a third-party U.S. presidential candidate.”

“Blacks that refuse to forgive the Clintons for mass incarcerating and dehumanizing our people are guilty of Black voter suppression and deemed dupes of both Trump and the Kremlin.”

Funny thing, though: the Democrats refused to cite the Republicans’ systematic, mass suppression of Black voters through the Cross Check scheme which, as Margaret Kimberley points out in this week’s Freedom Rider, caused 400,000 heavily Black votes to disappear in Michigan. Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein called for a recount in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, and found that Black voter suppression was a major factor, particularly in Detroit. “We are seeing again this evidence in Michigan that communities of color are systematically disenfranchised through the machinery that constitutes really another form of electoral Jim Crow,” Stein told The Guardian . “It’s pretty staggering. Eighty-seven optical scanners [in Detroit] broke on election day.”

The Democratic Party reluctantly added its name to the recount petition, while at the same time claiming it had seen no “actionable evidence ” of grounds for challenging Trump’s victory. But that’s par for the course. The Democrats have never confronted the GOP’s blatant theft of elections through massive suppression of Black votes. They are bound, apparently, by a gentleman’s agreement among the two parties. John Lewis, the Black congressman from Atlanta who wears his voting rights credentials like a robe of glory, abides by that agreement. The first thing out of Lewis’ mouth after Trump was declared the winner, in November, was a denunciation of “the Russians” – but not Black voter suppression by Republicans.

“The Democrats have never confronted the GOP’s blatant theft of elections through massive suppression of Black votes.”

Roughly one year later, Jill Stein — who fought Black voter suppression harder than the Democrats — was targeted for investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee as a possible collaborator with the Russians .

The suppression of the franchise of their Black base is not considered “treason” or any kind of “high crime” by the Democratic Party, but the siphoning of Black votes away from the corporate duopoly, through voluntary non-voting or support of third parties, is cause to bring out the pitchforks.

Under the Mueller legal formula, there are many more potential co-conspirators. The highest political crimes are “sowing discord” and “spreading distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general” – for which one can theoretically go to prison, if you are a foreigner (Russian, not Israeli), or become an unindicted party to the charge, if American.

The Republicans, of course, have been sowing racial discord as a matter of policy ever since they adopted their “Southern Strategy” in 1968, and it’s been key to their success ever since. The United States is the nation that invented apartheid, and has served as a model for racists around the world. Racial discord is part of its DNA, and is the principal reason for the historical lack of a social contract and the weakness of the Left in this country. Corporate political hegemony would not exist in the U.S., were it not for the endemic nature of white supremacy in this society. The Russians have nothing to do with it — especially the Russian amateurs from St. Petersburg.

The suppression of the franchise of their Black base is not considered ‘treason’ or any kind of ‘high crime’ by the Democratic Party.”

The cabal has flipped the factual script. It was the Democrats and their allies in corporate media and the national security state that devised a calculated campaign to sow “discord” and “distrust towards the political system in general,” such as not seen in living memory. The initial goal was to depose or discipline the unpredictable, racist billionaire who in 2016 crushed the establishment leaders of the Republican Party — potentially destabilizing the duopoly system of corporate governance — rhetorically rejected the dogma of “free trade,” and spoke as if he would not maintain the momentum of his predecessor’s global military offensive. With the “intelligence community” on point, the political offensive could not help but take on the characteristics of a profoundly destabilizing regime change and psychological operations mission.

In other words, the ruling circles of the imperial superpower set out to destabilize and call into disrepute the sitting government of the home country. They have inflicted great trauma and anxiety among the public in the process, but thanks to the corporate media component of the cabal, most of the blame has accrued to the targets of the campaign: Trump, “the Russians” and those defamed as “dupes” and “co-conspirators” with the fictitious Putin-Trump axis.

It is quite evident that this campaign of self-inflicted chaos is a project of the global corporate class, manifesting elsewhere in the “West” in remarkably similar fashion, but with local characteristics. Russia is, thus, charged with attempting to subvert governments around the world through minions like the St. Petersburg outfit. Through their servants in the Democratic Party, the corporate media, and the intelligence agencies, multinational capital has used Trump’s election to inflict a kind of shock treatment on their domestic polities — a very dangerous gambit, especially in the United States, with its weak social contract and immense capacity for civil violence.

“With the ‘intelligence community’ on point, the political offensive could not help but take on the characteristics of a profoundly destabilizing regime change and psychological operations campaign.”

More dangerous, is the whipping up of war fever based on Russia’s non-existent aggressions (Ukraine, Syria) and fabricated ambitions (the demise of the “West”).

We can be confident in blaming this politically engineered horror on the dominate elements of the U.S. capitalist ruling class, since they could surely call the project to a halt if it were merely a “rogue” enterprise mounted by a small section of their class-mates. Capital is using Russiagate to inflict extreme shocks to the very political system they claim to be defending. The trauma is necessary, they believe, because capital has nothing to offer to the masses of people, and must therefore dramatically weaken or destroy the political mechanisms through which the people make demands on the rulers. They are preparing the landscape for a regime of permanent austerity and war, and plan to suppress all opposition on the Left. That’s why Black Agenda Report and a dozen other Left web sites were named and defamed as Russian fellow travelers and purveyors of “fake news” by the Washington Post, the plaything of the CIA-partnered oligarch, Jeff Bezos.

A lot has happened in the space of a little over a year. Based on Russiagate-era interpretations of “law” and civil propriety, free speech is in the political eye of the corporate owners of media. The shrinking of the digital world that is accessible to the Left is well underway, with no workable alternatives in sight.

The Russiagate express keeps on rolling, despite the fact there is still no evidence for the original contention, that “the Russians” and Vladimir Putin conspired to steal and reveal the emails of the Democratic National Committee, Hillary Clinton and John Podesta. Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General, emphasized that there is no evidence that any actual votes were altered or tampered with in the 2016 presidential election. No matter. The Democrats keep imagining other “Pearl Harbors” worthy of going to war over, because their project is to harden the political system for endless war and austerity.

By Glen Ford/BAR

Posted by The NON-ConformistR

War and Empire

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Intersectionality is a Hole. Afro-Pessimism is a Shovel. We Need to Stop Digging

Time to begin critically unpacking intersectionality and its nappy headed stepchild afro-pessimism

The US left has a fundamental problem, perhaps the root of most of its other problems. That fundamental problem is that the US left is not organized as or led by any class conscious or class oriented formations. Union membership is somewhere around 5% of the workforce, and major unions have long been captured by the Democratic party. So the US left is composed of the black activists in their boxes, the gender activists in theirs, the immigrants and their friends over here, Latinos over there, the environmentalists in their corners and the rest in their own zones, each and every one doggedly “centering” their own experience, and if we’re lucky “intersecting” now and then.

It’s a recipe for impotence and futility. But this is the US of A, we tell ourselves, where for some reason a class struggle oriented left has not emerged in any of our lifetimes. Adjusting to this toxic reality rather than taking the responsibility for changing it, US leftists have developed a self-deceiving and self-limiting language, a discourse that normalizes a kind of alternate universe in which class analysis is deprecated and discouraged and class struggle taken pretty much off the table. Intersectionality, and its nappy headed stepchild Afro-pessimism are prominent features of the stifling closet in which the US left has locked itself.

The word intersectionality was originally used by legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw in her discussion of a civil rights lawsuit filed by a black woman who alleged she’d been discriminated against as a black person AND as a woman. Absurdly the court rejected her claim, saying the plaintiff needed to choose whether she alleged discrimination on the basis of gender or of race, but not both. Crenshaw coined the term intersectionality to cover these instances of multiple and overlapping oppressions. As a legal theory it hasn’t gained a lot of traction. But in the worlds of politics and the nonprofit industrial complex intersectionality has become a pervasive buzzword.

In the worlds of politics and nonprofits intersectionality has become a sneaky substitute for the traditional left notion of solidarity developed in the process of ongoing collective struggle against the class enemy. Intersectionality doesn’t deny the existence of class struggle, it just rhetorically demotes it to something co-equal with the fights against ableism and ageism and speciesism, against white supremacy, against gender oppression, and a long elastic list of others. What’s sneaky about the substitution of intersectionality for solidarity is that intersectionality allows the unexamined smuggling in of multiple notions which directly undermine the development and the operation of solidarity. Intersectionality means everybody is obligated to put their own special interest, their own oppression first – although they don’t always say that because the contradiction would be too obvious. The applicable terms of art are that everybody gets to “center” their own oppression, and cooperate as “allies” if and when their interests “intersect.” What this yields is silliness like honchos who run the pink pussy hat marches telling Cindy Sheehan earlier this month that their womens’ movement can’t be bothered to oppose war and imperialism “…until all women are free,” and the advocates of this or that cause demanding constant, elaborate performative rituals of those who would qualify for “allyship.”

The nonprofit industrial complex, funded as it is by the one percent, loves, promotes and lavishly rewards intersectionality at every turn because it buries and negates class struggle. Intersectionality normalizes the notion that the left is and ought to be a bunch of impotent constituency groups squabbling about privilege and “allyship” as they compete for funding and careers, not the the force working to overthrow the established order and fight for the power to build a new world. Even Hillary Clinton uses the word now.

Afro-pessimism is a term coined by Dr. Frank Wilderson at UC Irvine, and a nappy headed stepchild of intersectionality. Afro-pessimism, to hear Wilderson tell it is the realization that black people have no natural allies anywhere, that we are born with ankle irons, whip marks on our backs, bulls eyes on our foreheads and nooses around our necks. Blackness, he says is “a condition of ontological death ,” and the dead have no allies, at least among the living. Wilderson is at least honest. He freely admits that afro-pessimism leads nowhere and offers no answers to any strategic or even tactical questions. Wilderson’s shtick is that of an old man throwing word grenades and he seems not to care much where or how they explode, as long as they do. Whatever works for him, I guess.

But in the context of a US left that just doesn’t DO class struggle Wilderson’s grenades are being picked up and thrown again and again, both by old heads who ought to know better, and by younger ones looking to fit in with what bills itself as the movement. The intersectionality that dominates the US left is a kind of poisoned atmosphere in which the purple prose of afro-pessimism fits and thrives, a place where the dishonest can pretend, and the unwary can believe it provides the answers that even Wilderson says it does not.

To be fair, some intersectional activists do pretend to embrace class struggle. Patrice Cullors one of the three ladies responsible for the #blacklivesmatter hashtag famously proclaimed herself and Alicia Garza were “trained Marxists.” One might imagine that a trained Marxist would look at US history and discerning that there are no leading class struggle organizations contending for power, try to figure out how to overcome the obstacles to their creation and successful operation.

But the embrace of intersectionality has led the US left in precisely the opposite direction. Intersectionality pretends that class struggle and overthrowing the capitalist order and fighting for power are impractical, impossible, non-pragmatic or just secondary to gender struggles, to the plight of immigrants, to the environment, or in the case of afro-pessimism, to those permanent ankle chains, whip marks and nooses around our necks. Intersectionality calls upon the left to adjust to powerlessness and our poisoned atmosphere, not to contend for the power to change it.

Intersectionality is a deep hole. Afro-pessimism is a shovel. The next thing we should do is stop digging.

By Bruce Dixon/BlackAgendaReport

Posted by The NON-Conformist

When the Constitution Was ‘At War With Itself,’ Frederick Douglass Fought on the Side of Freedom A new appreciation of the great abolitionist on the 200th anniversary of his birth.

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This month marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of one of the greatest figures in American history. Frederick Douglass was born into slavery in Talbot County, Maryland, sometime in February 1818. At the age of 20, he made his escape from bondage, traveling north to Philadelphia, New York City, and finally to New Bedford, Massachusetts, where he would earn his “first free dollar” on the dockyards loading ships. “I was now my own master,” he proclaimed, “a tremendous fact.” In 1839, Douglass spoke up for the first time at an abolitionist meeting. Six years later, he was an internationally acclaimed orator and the author of a celebrated autobiography. In less than a decade, he had established himself as one of the most singular and influential voices in the most pressing debate of his time: the debate over slavery.
Arguing about slavery was a combat sport in those days, both figuratively and literally, and the field was crowded with skilled combatants. Among them was John C. Calhoun, the legendary South Carolina statesman who proclaimed slavery to be a positive good, fully sanctioned by the letter and spirit of the U.S. Constitution. There was also the militant Boston abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison, who burned his copy of the Constitution, damning it as a pro-slavery “covenant with death and an agreement with hell.”
Douglass would face them both down. “Garrison sees in the Constitution precisely what John C. Calhoun sees there,” Douglass observed. He saw something different: “Interpreted as it ought to be interpreted, the Constitution is a glorious liberty document.”

At a time when the principles of the Declaration of Independence were under assault, Douglass waved the banner of classical liberalism, championing inalienable rights for all, regardless of race or sex. At a time when socialism was on the rise, Douglass preached the virtues of free labor and self-ownership in a market-based economy. At a time when state governments were violating the rights of the recently emancipated, Douglass professed the central importance of “the ballot-box, the jury-box, and the cartridge-box” in the fight against Jim Crow.
Douglass, the former slave who secretly taught himself how to read, would teach the American people a thing or two about the true meaning of the Constitution.
‘Wielded in Behalf of Emancipation’
On May 9, 1851, the leading lights of the abolitionist movement gathered in Rochester, New York, for the 18th annual meeting of the American Anti-Slavery Society. Among the items on the agenda was a resolution calling for the society to officially recommend several anti-slavery publications, including a small weekly called the Liberty Party Paper.
But William Lloyd Garrison, the powerful editor of The Liberator, one of abolitionism’s flagship publications, would have none of that. The Liberty Party Paper, Garrison complained, saw the Constitution as an antislavery document. That view was tantamount to heresy, as it clashed with Garrison’s famous judgment that the Constitution was a pro-slavery deal with the devil.
So a more congenial resolution was soon proposed: The American Anti-Slavery Society would only recommend those publications that toed the Garrisonian line.
It was at this point that Frederick Douglass stood up. For the previous 10 years, Douglass had been a friend, ally, even a disciple of Garrison’s. “Every week the Liberator came, and every week I made myself master of its contents,” Douglass later recalled. “I not only liked—I loved this paper, and its editor.”
But Douglass no longer loved what Garrison had to say about the Constitution. In fact, he now thought Garrison was dead wrong on the subject. What is more, Douglass decided that the time had come for him to say so in public. Douglass “felt honor bound to announce at once,” he explained to the assembled worthies, that the paper he edited, The North Star, “no longer possessed the requisite qualification for their official approval and commendation.” The Constitution, he told them, “should be wielded in behalf of emancipation.”
Those words went down about as well as might have been expected given the audience. There were howls of outrage, cries of censure. Garrison, for his part, accused Douglass of harboring ulterior (read: financial) motives. “There is roguery somewhere!” Garrison exclaimed. Douglass never quite forgave his old comrade for that.
In truth, Douglass agonized over his change of opinion. He came around gradually and only after much brooding. He forced himself “to re-think the whole subject,” he recalled, “and to study, with some care, not only the just and proper rules of legal interpretation, but the origin, design, nature, rights, powers, and duties of civil government, and also the relations which human beings sustain to it.”
Those studies began to produce fruit as early as 1849. Writing in The North Star on March 16 of that year, Douglass conceded that the Constitution “is not a proslavery instrument” when interpreted “standing alone, and construed only in the light of its letter.” The trouble came when he considered the pro-slavery “opinions of the men who framed and adopted it.” How to reconcile the text of the Constitution with the unwritten intentions of its framers?
A year later, on April 5, 1850, Douglass moved a little further away from the strict Garrisonian position. The Constitution is “at war with itself,” he now wrote. “Liberty and Slavery—opposite as Heaven and Hell—are both in the Constitution.” Both in the Constitution? The imperious Garrison would not like the sound of that. Furthermore, Douglass ventured, “if we adopt the preamble [to the Constitution], with Liberty and Justice, we must repudiate the enacting clauses, with Kidnapping and Slaveholding.”
By 1851, his mind was made up. Yes, the Constitution did contain certain oblique references to slavery, such as the notorious “three fifths” clause. But those references spoke only of “persons.” Neither the word slave nor the word slavery appear anywhere in the text. That textual absence, Douglass concluded, was a fatal weakness in the slaveholders’s position that must be exploited. “Take the Constitution according to its plain reading,” he insisted. “I defy the presentation of a single pro-slavery clause in it. On the other hand, it will be found to contain principles and purposes, entirely hostile to the existence of slavery.” Douglass would deploy those principles and purposes against the peculiar institution until it was finally destroyed.
‘All Men Are Created Equal’
There was also the Declaration of Independence to factor in. Was not the entire American system founded upon the “self-evident” truths that “all men are created equal” and endowed with “certain unalienable rights,” such as “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?” Did not that noble language vanquish the case for slavery?

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