The American Bear

Sunshine/Lollipops

Financial Empire And The Global Debtors’ Prison | Jérôme E. Roos

Let there be no doubt about it: we live in the era of Financial Empire. Unlike the military conquests that drove the territorial expansions of the empires of old, contemporary Financial Empire consists not in the highly visible exercise of a Big Stick ideology (although military imperialism undoubtedly continues today), but rather takes the shape of an Invisible Hand. Where in the late 19th and early 20th centuries the logic of domination was driven by the instrumental power of imperial states, the Empire of the 21st century no longer needs any sticks to enforce the submission of sovereign states: through the global enforcement mechanisms of market discipline and IMF conditionality, the structural power of finance capital now ensures that all shall bow before the money markets.

In The Accumulation of Capital (1913), Rosa Luxemburg noted that, “though foreign loans are indispensable for the emancipation of rising capitalist states, they are yet the surest ties by which the old capitalist states maintain their influence, exercise financial control and exert pressure on the customs, foreign and commercial policy of the young capitalist states.” So great was this financial control that in the First Wave of Globalization, which ran from 1870 until the onset of WWI in 1914, defaulting countries faced a 40 percent chance of being invaded, subjected to gunboat diplomacy, or having foreign control imposed on their domestic finances under threat of a naval blockade. In a telling and ironic sign of the times, even the Hague Peace Conference of 1906 recognized the legitimacy of the use of force in settling sovereign debt disputes.

[…] Today, the imperial era of gunboat diplomacy may have come to an ignominious end, but the era of Financial Empire is still in full swing. What the ongoing European debt crisis confirms once more is that financial capitalism, once fully developed and globalized, has no need for debtors’ prisons, gunboat diplomacy or US marines to enforce debtor discipline. The iron bars of the debtors’ prison are replaced with the global flows of finance capital; the gunboats have long since made way for what Warren Buffet called the financial weapons of mass destruction; and the foreign administrators of tax and customs offices no longer wear military suits but carry IMF suitcases. Through its control over capital flows and its ability to withhold much-needed credit, the global bankers’ alliance (made up of the big banks and institutional investors, along with international financial institutions and the financial and monetary authorities of the dominant capitalist states) has obtained a form of structural power that allows it to discipline the behavior of indebted countries without having to resort to military coercion. It is this discipline enforced by global capital markets and financial institutions that forms the backbone of Financial Empire. [++]

Inside America's Dirty Wars | Excerpt from Jeremy Scahill's New Book

… At the White House, President Obama was faced with a decision—not of morality or legality, but of timing. He had already sentenced Anwar al-Awlaki to death without trial. A secret legal authorization had been prepared and internal administration critics sidelined or brought on board. All that remained to be sorted out was the day Awlaki would die. Obama, one of his advisers recalled, had “no qualms” about this kill. When the president was briefed on Awlaki’s location in Jawf and also told that children were in the house, he was explicit that he did not want to rule any options out. Awlaki was not to escape again. “Bring it to me and let me decide in the reality of the moment rather than in the abstract,” Obama told his advisers, according to author Daniel Klaidman. Although scores of US drone strikes had killed civilians in various countries around the globe, it was official policy to avoid such deaths if at all possible. “In this one instance,” an Obama confidant told Klaidman, “the president considered relaxing some of his collateral requirements.”

'There's No Turning Back': My Interview With a Hunted American Jihadist | Spencer Ackerman

Omar Hammami, the most prominent American jihadi left alive, probably should be running. When Hammami came to Somalia for jihad in 2006, he never anticipated that al-Qaida’s local affiliate would pledge to kill its former propaganda asset. And last month, the U.S. government put a $5 million bounty on the head of the 28-year-old Alabama native. These could be the last moments of Hammami’s life.

But Hammami tells Danger Room in an extremely rare and exclusive interview that he’s staying put. From an undisclosed location in Somalia, he grows vegetables, helps his wives around the house, and trolls his one-time colleagues in al-Shebab on Twitter, his newfound passion. As @abumamerican, he’s tweeting his ongoing jihad in 140-character installments, and is happy to debate it with U.S. national security professionals. Uniquely among jihadis, Hammami shoots the breeze with the people whose job it is to study and even hunt people like him.

That’s caused a cognitive and emotional dissonance within U.S. counterterrorism circles. Several openly say they like the charismatic Hammami, who’s quick with a joke and a touch of irony. Their Twitter interactions with him have led to a worry about his well-being, and a dim hope that maybe, just maybe, they can convince Hammami to give up a path that seems to promise a violent and imminent end. “It’s just a process of talking about what it is he believes and trying to understand it,” says J.M. Berger, Hammami’s main interlocutor, “and seeing if there’s an escape hatch for him from this life.”

That natural, human affection for Hammami risks obscuring something basic: Hammami isn’t looking for an escape hatch. He’s broken with al-Shebab, not jihad. “I believe in attacking u.s. Interests everywhere,” he tells me, through Twitter’s direct message function, the only means through which he consented to a week-long running interview. “No 2nd thoughts and no turning back.” Sentiments like that make it likely that Hammami will be the next American killed in a U.S. drone strike. [continue]

DOJ Urges Federal Court to Approve Sweetheart Deal with Drug-Tainted HSBC | Dissident Voice

In late January, Bloomberg News reported that US prosecutors have “asked a federal judge to sign off on HSBC Holdings Plc (HSBA)’s $1.9 billion [£1.2bn] settlement of charges it enabled drug cartels to launder millions of dollars in trafficking proceeds.”

Prosecutors justified the settlement on grounds that “it includes the largest-ever forfeiture in the prosecution of a bank and provides for monitoring to prevent future violations,” arguing that “strict conditions, and the unprecedented forfeiture and penalties imposed, serve as a significant deterrent against future similar conduct.”

Let’s get this sick joke straight: here’s a bank that laundered billions of dollars for Colombian and Mexican drug lords, admittedly amongst the most violent gangsters on earth (120,000 dead Mexicans and counting since 2006) and we’re supposed to take this deal seriously. Seriously? Remember, this an institution whose pretax 2012 profits will exceed $23.5 billion (£15.63bn) when earnings are reported next week and the best the US government can do is extract a promise to “do better”–next time.

That deal, a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) was cobbled together between the outgoing head of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Lanny A. Breuer and HSBC, Europe’s largest bank. At the urging of former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, no criminal charges were sought–or brought–against senior bank executives. [more]

Revealed: Stuxnet “beta’s” devious alternate attack on Iran nuke program | Ars Technica

Researchers have uncovered a never-before-seen version of Stuxnet. The discovery sheds new light on the evolution of the powerful cyberweapon that made history when it successfully sabotaged an Iranian uranium-enrichment facility in 2009.

Stuxnet 0.5 is the oldest known version of the computer worm and was in development no later than November of 2005, almost two years earlier than previously known, according to researchers from security firm Symantec. The earlier iteration, which was in the wild no later than November 2007, wielded an alternate attack strategy that disrupted Iran’s nuclear program by surreptitiously closing valves in that country’s Natanz uranium enrichment facility. Later versions scrapped that attack in favor of one that caused centrifuges to spin erratically. The timing and additional attack method are a testament to the technical sophistication and dedication of its developers, who reportedly developed Stuxnet under a covert operation sponsored by the US and Israeli governments. It was reportedly personally authorized by Presidents Bush and Obama.

Also significant, version 0.5 shows that its creators were some of the same developers who built Flame, the highly advanced espionage malware also known as Flamer that targeted sensitive Iranian computers. Although researchers from competing antivirus provider Kaspersky Lab previously discovered a small chunk of the Flame code in a later version of Stuxnet, the release unearthed by Symantec shows that the code sharing was once so broad that the two covert projects were inextricably linked.

“What we can conclude from this is that Stuxnet coders had access to Flamer source code, and they were originally using the Flamer source code for the Stuxnet project,” said Liam O’Murchu, manager of operations for Symantec Security Response. “With version 0.5 of Stuxnet, we can say that the developers had access to the exact same code. They were not just using shared components. They were using the exact same code to build the projects. And then, at some point, the development [of Stuxnet and Flame] went in two different directions.”

[…]

The 600K worth of code found in Stuxnet 0.5 is highly modular, just as it was in the 500K Stuxnet 1.0. The encryption algorithms, string objects, and logging functions in the earlier version are almost identical to those of Flame. In contrast, the later Stuxnet version largely eschewed the development conventions of Flame, as Stuxnet developers adhered more to the so-called tilded platform shared with Duqu, another piece of sophisticated espionage malware that targeted Middle Eastern computer systems.

Most significantly, the earlier Stuxnet version contained an alternate method of sabotaging Iran’s nuclear-enrichment process, the details of which had never been fully understood. It injected malicious code into the instructions sent to 417 series programmable logic controllers (PLCs) made by the German conglomerate Siemens. Natanz engineers used the PLCs to open and shut valves that fed Uranium hexafluoride, or UF6 gas, into centrifuge groupings. Stuxnet 0.5 closed specific valves prematurely, causing pressure to grow as much as five times higher than normal. Under those conditions, the gas would likely turn into a solid and destroy the centrifuges, possibly even the sensitive equipment used to develop them. [continue]

Will the Keystone XL Pipeline Go Down? | Michael Klare

Presidential decisions often turn out to be far less significant than imagined, but every now and then what a president decides actually determines how the world turns. Such is the case with the Keystone XL pipeline, which, if built, is slated to bring some of the “dirtiest,” carbon-rich oil on the planet from Alberta, Canada, to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast.  In the near future, President Obama is expected to give its construction a definitive thumbs up or thumbs down, and the decision he makes could prove far more important than anyone imagines.  It could determine the fate of the Canadian tar-sands industry and, with it, the future well-being of the planet. [continue]

[T]he ugly lynch mob now assembled against Brooklyn College and its academic event is all too familiar in the US when it comes to criticism of and activism against Israeli government policy. Indeed, in the US, there are few more efficient ways to have your reputation and career as a politician or academic destroyed than by saying something perceived as critical of Israel. This is not news. Ask Chas Freeman. Or Ocatavia Nasr. Or [Norman] Finkelstein. Or Juan Cole. Or Stephen Walt. Or Chuck Hagel. But this controversy has now significantly escalated in seriousness because numerous New York City elected officials have insinuated themselves into this debate by trying to dictate to the school’s professors what type of events they are and are not permitted to hold. Glenn Greenwald

From Dr.King to Barack Obama: The Nobel Peace Prize as Marker of liberalism’s Moral Bankruptcy | Ajamu Baraka

[…] While Dr. King believed that violence ultimately did not solve any problem and that war left “little more than a calamitous legacy of human suffering, political turmoil, and spiritual disillusionment,” Obama argues that war, the highest expression of violence and terror, is not only justified and necessary, he also told the gathered guests in Oslo that the U.S. had the right to act unilaterally to wage war.

Humanitarian intervention as a hallmark of the “new” neo-conservative hegemony in U.S. politics was also reflected in his speech: “I believe that force can be justified on humanitarian grounds, as it was in the Balkans, or in other places that have been scarred by war. Inaction tears at our conscience and can lead to more costly intervention later. That’s why all responsible nations must embrace the role that militaries with a clear mandate can play to keep the peace.”

Obama’s defenders argue that the difference in tone and substance between Dr. King’s speech and positions and those of Pres. Obama is due to the fact that Dr. King was a public figure and not tasked with the heavy responsibilities of governing, with all the complexities that entails. And they would be right. His position as “Commander-in-Chief” can easily explain why he was silent on the Israeli invasion of Gaza in 2008-09; boycotted the Durban follow-up process; continued and expanded the repressive domestic policies of the Bush era with the National Defense Authorization Act; signed-off on drone kills, including the killing of U.S. citizen Anwar Al-Awlaki and his sixteen-year-old son; supported the NATO war of opportunity on Libya and the current funding, arming and political legitimacy to radical Islamists in Syria. For these are the positions one takes when one is the head of a desperate and declining hegemon committed to using subversion, deception, repression and direct military violence to maintain its global empire and, by extension, the collective colonialist interests of the white West.

These positions have been espoused by an opportunist politician who is in the service of global white supremacy. What cannot be easily explained, however, is how the vast majority of African Americans have been taken along this ride to neo-conservatism. And not just African Americans – the whole liberal establishment, from human rights activists who give political cover for the arrogant and racist assumptions contained in the doctrines of “humanitarian intervention” and the “right to protect,” to the business labor unions, anti-war activists, women’s organizations, civil rights groups, media – most pathetically personified by MSNBC – all of these groups have suffered a moral and political collapse that has allowed “normal” politics in the U.S. to be moved to the border of right-wing fascism.

The collapse is not just represented in U.S. politics. The events in Newtown, Connecticut and in other towns across the U.S. have confirmed, despite the diversionary discussion of gun control, that there is something sick at the core of American culture. Can you really dismiss the culture of violence thesis when the majority of Americans still support the death penalty, 70 percent of American liberals support drone strikes that clearly kill innocent people, and an overwhelming majority of the people supported Israel’s murderous assault on Gaza? [continue]

War on terror forever | Pepe Escobar

And the winner of the Oscar for Best Sequel of 2013 goes to… The Global War on Terror (GWOT), a Pentagon production. Abandon all hope those who thought the whole thing was over with the cinematographic snuffing out of “Geronimo”, aka Osama bin Laden, further reduced to a fleeting cameo in the torture-enabling flick Zero Dark Thirty.

It’s now official - coming from the mouth of the lion, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey, and duly posted at the AFRICOM site, the Pentagon’s weaponized African branch. Exit “historical” al-Qaeda, holed up somewhere in the Waziristans, in the Pakistani tribal areas; enter al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). In Dempsey’s words, AQIM “is a threat not only to the country of Mali, but the region, and if… left unaddressed, could in fact become a global threat.”

With Mali now elevated to the status of a “threat” to the whole world, GWOT is proven to be really open-ended. The Pentagon doesn’t do irony; when, in the early 2000s, armchair warriors coined the expression “The Long War”, they really meant it.

Even under President Obama 2.0’s “leading from behind” doctrine, the Pentagon is unmistakably gunning for war in Mali - and not only of the shadow variety. General Carter Ham, AFRICOM’s commander, already operates under the assumption Islamists in Mali will “attack American interests”.

Thus, the first 100 US military “advisers” are being sent to Niger, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Togo and Ghana - the six member-nations of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) that will compose an African army tasked (by the United Nations) to reconquer (invade?) the parts of Mali under the Islamist sway of AQIM, its splinter group MUJAO and the Ansar ed-Dine militia. This African mini-army, of course, is paid for by the West.

Students of the Vietnam War will be the first to note that sending “advisers” was the first step of the subsequent quagmire. And on a definitely un-Pentagonese ironic aside, the US over these past few years did train Malian troops. A lot of them duly deserted. As for the lavishly, Fort Benning-trained Captain Amadou Haya Sanogo, not only did he lead a military coup against an elected Mali government but also created the conditions for the rise of the Islamists.

Nobody, though, is paying attention. [must read]

Judge Clears Federal Officials of Wrongdoing in Harsh Confinement of Muslims Immediately After 9/11 | The Dissenter

A federal judge dismissed complaints in a lawsuit alleging former Justice Department officials violated the rights of Arab or Muslim immigrants in the immediate months after the September 11th terrorist attacks. The lawsuit, brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights, sought to hold the officials accountable for subjecting the immigrants to harsh confinement on the basis of their race, national origin and religion. Still, the judge allowed claims of violations against prison staff to proceed.

[…] The decision by the judge is remarkable in two respects: (1) again, federal officials have escaped accountability for torture and abuse and (2) the judge is at least allowing some of the claims of violations to move forward and there is the potential that the men could win their case.

MDC officers apparently claimed if any remedy was awarded to the men it would “adversely impact” national security. The judge considered this to be completely unfounded:

“Intuition suggests the opposite,” the judge wrote. “If an American jury finds that federal officers deprived detainees of the Koran and Halal food, refused to tell them the correct time of day, and banged on their cell doors while screaming profanities and anti-Muslim epithets, all for the specific purpose of interfering with their exercise of their Muslim faith, one would think our national security interests would only be enhanced if the world knew that those officers were held liable for the damages they caused.”

While the judge did not let the 9/11 terrorist attacks themselves excuse some of the rights violations, he did find this might have impacted how the law enforcement officers believed incorrectly or correctly that their actions were lawful. The judge found 9/11 justified violating the rights of the men to make phone calls and contact persons outside the detention facility. That is troubling because punitive actions by prison officers should not be permitted when there is absolutely no evidence to support the suspicion that detainees have terrorism ties or committed crimes that warrant keeping them imprisoned. (If they’ve violated immigration laws and should be deported, then deport them. Don’t keep them detained incommunicado for an indefinite period of time.)

Overall, the decision lets those who served in high-ranking positions off the hook (again). It does, however, leave open the possibility of some semblance of justice. The ruling does note the seven men are bringing this on behalf of others who were rounded up in a similar manner. What happened in the immediate aftermath to people who were completely innocent was appalling. Since courts have not been open to awarding damages for torture and abuse and have shown complete deference to national security interests since 9/11, that is something that should give the men a bit of hope. [READ]

For half a century we have been arguing about ‘the Vietnam War.’ Is it possible that we didn’t know what we were talking about? After all that has been written (some 30,000 books and counting), it scarcely seems possible, but such, it turns out, has literally been the case. Now, in Kill Anything that Moves, Nick Turse has for the first time put together a comprehensive picture, written with mastery and dignity, of what American forces actually were doing in Vietnam. The findings disclose an almost unspeakable truth. Meticulously piecing together newly released classified information, court-martial records, Pentagon reports, and firsthand interviews in Vietnam and the United States, as well as contemporaneous press accounts and secondary literature, Turse discovers that episodes of devastation, murder, massacre, rape, and torture once considered isolated atrocities were in fact the norm, adding up to a continuous stream of atrocity, unfolding, year after year, throughout that country.

Jonathan Schell, Seeing the Reality of the Vietnam War, 50 Years Late | TomDispatch

(I’ve been generally bowled over by the response to Kill Anything that Moves but this is particularly special.  Schell’s reporting from Vietnam was incomparable!) (via nickturse)

Western Intervention in the Great Lakes (Part 1) | New Left Project

When most Westerners think of Western involvement in the Congo, they probably think in terms of humanitarian assistance or atrocity prevention. I hope, in the limited space provided, to give a more layered overview of Western involvement that reveals the dynamic character of both sets of actors.

To begin, it’s important to see Western involvement in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in its historical context. That history begins with Portuguese explorers in the fifteenth century and the subsequent devastation of the Kongo Kingdom by the slave trade; continues with the peculiar personal ownership of the vast region by the Belgian king in the nineteenth century; and still affects the country today as a result of Belgian colonial policies in the twentieth century.

From the era of European imperialism onward, the economy was bifurcated. Africans were not allowed to participate in the official economy of the colonial state, so any economic activity they engaged in was ‘unofficial’ or ‘informal’. These economic networks continued to function and evolve after independence. [continue]