Truthout Stories http://truth-out.org Tue, 23 Sep 2014 12:22:36 -0400 en-gb War, Whistleblowing and Independent Journalism Panel http://truth-out.org/news/item/26384-war-whistleblowing-and-independent-journalism-panel http://truth-out.org/news/item/26384-war-whistleblowing-and-independent-journalism-panel

Please check back later for the full transcript.

Panel Biographies:

Phil Donahue and the Donahue show have been honored with 20 Daytime Emmy Awards, including nine for Outstanding Host and a George Foster Peabody Broadcasting Journalism Award.

Kirk Wiebe is a former NSA Senior Intelligence Analyst and an NSA Whistleblower who worked with NSA for more than 32 years, and was awarded that Agency's second highest award, the Meritorious Civilian Service Award. He retired from NSA in October 2001 along with fellow NSA whistleblowers Bill Binney and Ed Loomis.

William Binney was the former technical director of the World Geopolitical and Military Analysis Reporting Group and a senior NSA cryptomathematician at the NSA. He worked there for over three decades, and retired after 9/11 as the agency began to implement domestic spying programs that he says are unconstitutional. He is also a whistleblower, having disclosed information to the Defense Department in 2002 about corruption, waste, fraud, and abuse in the agency related to the use of data collection and analysis program called Trailblazer.

Bill McKibben, a well known environmental author and activist, is the founder of 350.org, an international climate change campaign. 350.org is named for the safe level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, 350 parts per million. This October 24, Bill and 350.org are coordinating an International Day of Climate Action to call for a strong climate treaty that meets the 350 target.

Dr. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo received her BA degree from Barnard College/Columbia University and her doctorate degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). She is the author of No FEAR: A Whistleblower's Triumph over Corruption and Retaliation at the EPA.

Dr. Coleman-Adebayo was a Senior Policy Analyst in the Office of the Administrator at the US Environmental Protection Agency. She has held various academic positions as Adjunct Professor at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Studies and Visiting Scholar in the Department of African-American Studies at George Mason University.

On August 18, 2000, Dr. Coleman-Adebayo won an historic lawsuit against the EPA on the basis of race, sex, color discrimination, and a hostile work environment. She subsequently testified before Congress on two occasions. As a result, the Notification of Federal Employees Anti-discrimination and Retaliation Act [No FEAR] was introduced by Congressman F. James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee ( D-TX) and Senator John Warner (R- VA). Along with the No FEAR Coalition, she ushered the No FEAR Bill through Congress. President George W. Bush signed the No FEAR Act into law. Thousands of federal workers and their families have directly benefited from this law. She serves as a producer on the dramatic film: No FEAR!

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News Tue, 23 Sep 2014 11:39:53 -0400
Flood Wall Street: 100 Arrested at Sit-In Targeting Financial Giants' Role in Global Warming http://truth-out.org/news/item/26383-flood-wall-street-100-arrested-at-sit-in-targeting-financial-giants-role-in-global-warming http://truth-out.org/news/item/26383-flood-wall-street-100-arrested-at-sit-in-targeting-financial-giants-role-in-global-warming

One day after the largest climate march in history in New York City, protesters rallied near Wall Street on Monday to highlight the financial industry’s role in fueling industries responsible for the air pollution that is causing global warming and climate change. The action came ahead of the one-day United Nations Climate Summit today, where leaders from 125 countries will take part in the first high-level climate talks since Copenhagen nearly five years ago. Dubbed "Flood Wall Street," hundreds of protesters dressed in blue held a rowdy sit-in on Broadway just blocks from the U.S. Stock Exchange. The demonstrators occupied the street for more than eight hours until police used tear gas and began arresting some 100 people. Democracy Now! was in the streets to cover the action. Watch our video report to hear some of the voices of people in the demonstration.

Please check back later for full transcript.

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News Tue, 23 Sep 2014 11:33:16 -0400
Expanding US Strikes to ISIS in Syria, Has Obama Opened New Phase of "Perpetual War"? http://truth-out.org/news/item/26382-expanding-us-strikes-to-isis-in-syria-has-obama-opened-new-phase-of-perpetual-war http://truth-out.org/news/item/26382-expanding-us-strikes-to-isis-in-syria-has-obama-opened-new-phase-of-perpetual-war

The United States has launched airstrikes in Syria targeting the Islamic State, as well as members of a separate militant organization known as the Khorasan group. The Pentagon says U.S. forces launched 47 Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles from warships in the Red Sea and North Arabian Gulf. In addition, U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps fighters, bombers and drones took part in the airstrikes. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, at least 20 Islamic State fighters were killed in strikes that hit at least 50 targets in Raqqa and Deir al-Zor provinces in Syria’s east. The United States says Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had either participated or supported the strikes against the Islamic State, which has seized swaths of Syria and Iraq. The United States acted alone against the Khorasan group, saying it "took action to disrupt the imminent attack plotting against the United States and Western interests." The Syrian government claims the United States had informed it of the pending attacks hours before the strikes began. Meanwhile, the United States has expanded its bombing of Iraq, launching new strikes around Kirkuk. To discuss this development, we are joined by two guests: Vijay Prashad, professor of international studies at Trinity College who has written extensively about the Islamic State, and Medea Benjamin, co-founder of the peace group CodePink and author of Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control.

TRANSCRIPT:

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AARON MATÉ: The U.S. has launched airstrikes in Syria, targeting militants from the Islamic State as well as members of a separate group known as "the Khorasan group." The Pentagon says the U.S. fired 47 Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles launched from warships in the Red Sea and North Arabian Gulf. In addition, U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps fighters, bombers and drones took part in the airstrikes. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says at least 20 Islamic State fighters were killed in strikes that hit at least 50 targets in Raqqa and Deir al-Zor provinces in Syria’s east. U.S. Central Command says Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had either taken part or supported the strikes against the Islamic State, which has seized swaths of Syria and Iraq.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, the United States acted alone against Khorasan. In a statement, U.S. Central command said, quote, "The United States also took action to disrupt the imminent attack plotting against the United States and Western interests conducted by a network of seasoned al-Qaida veterans." The Syrian government said the United States had informed it of the pending attacks hours before the strikes began. The strikes west of Aleppo reportedly killed 50 fighters, as well as eight civilians, including three children.

Meanwhile, the United States has expanded its air war in Iraq by launching airstrikes in the Kirkuk region of Iraq. In a separate development, Israel shot down a Syrian fighter jet, accusing it of infiltrating into Israeli airspace. It’s the first such incident in at least a quarter of a century.

To talk more about the U.S.-led strikes in Syria, we’re joined by two guests: Vijay Prashad, professor of international studies at Trinity College, and Medea Benjamin is with us from Washington, D.C., just back from the Flood Wall Street protest in New York. She’s co-founder of CodePink.

Professor Vijay Prashad, talk about the significance of the U.S. striking Syria, and the other Arab countries supporting it, though it’s not exactly clear what role they played.

VIJAY PRASHAD: Well, it’s very significant that the United States has struck in Syria. Since August, there have been about 200 strikes in Iraq, but the United States had been reticent to come into the Syrian theater. So this is a very significant development. It’s also significant that there was an announcement that there was a coalition of countries, largely Gulf Arab states, but also Jordan. And Jordan was the first one to admit publicly that they were involved in some way in these strikes.

It’s also, I think, important to recognize that these strikes don’t really have any kind of international backing. There’s no U.N. resolution, nor is there any congressional approval. On the other hand, it does seem as if there was some coordination with the Assad government in Damascus, not only because the government in Damascus very quickly released a statement saying that there was a message sent to their ambassador in New York City about these strikes, but also, you might recall, that General Martin Dempsey, when he appeared before Congress, had talked about what he called the "formidable" air defense systems of Syria. And the fact that no air defense system from Syria had engaged any of the American planes or drones is indicative that there was some kind of coordination. So this is a very significant development.

The dust has not settled yet, so it’s extremely hard to know what the impact is going to be in terms of the complicated politics on the ground.

AARON MATÉ: And, Vijay, you have contacts inside Syria. What are you hearing so far about the scale of these strikes?

VIJAY PRASHAD: Well, it’s important to know that the first person to reveal the strikes was Abdulkader Hariri, who’s a young activist inside Raqqa. He revealed the strikes half an hour before the United States had talked about them. And Abdulkader, from the beginning, has been saying that these strikes are of an unbelievable intensity. You know, you have to imagine that somebody who’s lived in Raqqa over the course of the last three years, as it’s been in the midst of this very bloody and difficult war, immediately knew that the scale of this attack was far greater than anything he had experienced previously, and within seconds, he knew that the nature of the bombing could not be from the Assad government, could not be a war between the rebel groups, but it certainly had to be an American bombing. That means the scale must have been quite intense.

They also say that in Raqqa, the targets that were struck—for instance, the painted black building which ISIS had claimed as their headquarters—had all been emptied and that most of the ISIS leadership has moved into residential areas. So that’s one of the reasons why there was a very low death count in the major strikes on Raqqa. But a great deal of infrastructure in Raqqa city was destroyed and also on Tabqa airbase, which had been taken by ISIS just a month ago when they overran it and threw out the Syrian government forces.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Professor Prashad, this group called Khorasan and its leader, Muhsin al-Fadhli, can you explain what it is? It is what the U.S. is saying, citing, as the imminent threat to the United States, which would justify these attacks.

VIJAY PRASHAD: Well, it’s true that Muhsin al-Fadhli is quite a dangerous man. He’s in his early thirties. He’s a Kuwaiti national who, you know, like many of the core leadership of al-Qaeda, finds himself at all the important places at the correct time. He was in Afghanistan. He was in Yemen. He was in Chechnya. He was also the spokesperson for a small period of time of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was the founder of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Mr. al-Fadhli was also in Iran for a little time.

And it’s interesting that this group is called the Khorasan group. Khorasan is a region in the northwest of Iran and bordering into Afghanistan. So, apparently, this group, which I had heard about a few months ago, had based itself near Aleppo and had come into Syria to draw fighters from the Islamic State that they could use in operations abroad. The word also came that there were some people from Yemen who had joined them.

But, Amy, it’s very important to understand that this is all very shadowy. The intelligence on this is very vague. It’s certainly the case that there are people like Mr. al-Fadhli inside Syria, but it’s not clear exactly what the strikes in Aleppo targeted. They also hit Jabhat al-Nusra positions, which is the official al-Qaeda group inside Syria. So, things are still very unclear, but nonetheless, there has been a strike purportedly on the Khorasan training facilities west of Aleppo.

AARON MATÉ: And the context here of the Syrian civil war, are any of the groups, either the Assad regime or the other rebel forces who are opposed to Assad but also to ISIS—are either of them in position to take advantage of any strikes against ISIS by the U.S.?

VIJAY PRASHAD: Well, you know, it’s interesting, Aaron, that if you consider that the United States government has decided to strike in Syria, currently there is a siege of a major city called Kobane, which is on the Turkish border, where half a million people have taken refuge. Tens of thousands of people from Kobane have crossed into Turkey. And these are Kurds. So it’s quite something that Kurdish refugees have been allowed into Turkey. This city is on the verge of falling. The ISIS fighters that have surrounded it are using heavy artillery that they stole in Mosul. So it’s very striking that the United States didn’t actually, you know, attack their forward, hardened positions, instead took out symbolic targets inside Raqqa. So I’m not sure that this is actually going to change the situation on the ground in northern Syria directly. This seemed like a major attack against ISIS as a demonstration of American strength. If America was truly trying to change the balance of forces in northern Syria, it would have struck some of these forward positions of ISIS that are laying siege at this point against Kobane.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to bring in Medea Benjamin, the co-founder of CodePink. Medea, you’ve just come from the massive protests this weekend—Sunday, the People’s Climate March; yesterday, Flood Wall Street. You’re back in Washington, D.C. You’ve been protesting any suggestion there would be U.S. strikes. Well, now they’re happening on Syria. Your response?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, isn’t it sad, Amy, that the day that the world should be coming together to say, "How do we address the climate chaos that can really destroy our entire planet?" instead, the eyes will now be on the U.S. bombing campaign in Syria. And let’s remember that the climate crisis, the U.S. is so responsible for, so let’s think about the timing of it. Also thinking about the timing is that the U.S. and the Obama administration is doing a George Bush. It’s saying, "Now, we are coming together to say there’s a fait accompli," and that’s the bombing, "and you’re either with us or against us." Look at the coalition it brought together, among the most repressive governments in the Middle East—Bahrain, that’s been repressing its nonviolent, democratic uprising; the Saudis, who provide the financing and the recruits for so many of the extremists. This is the diplomatic success of John Kerry. Instead of coming to the U.N. to say that we have the world coming together to stop the recruiting and the financing and the buying of the oil that ISIS has, we have the accomplishment of having repressive Arab regimes joining us in bombing another Arab state.

AMY GOODMAN: What are the links, Medea, you see between war and climate change?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, we have been talking during this weekend about how oil is the basis of U.S. policy in the Middle East. Were it not for Iraq’s oil, the U.S. would have never invaded, would not be there to begin with. The military is the largest polluter. The oil companies are being protected by the U.S. military strength. We see the military-industrial-oil complex all together in this. And I think it’s so sad that when the world is crying out for solutions, both solutions to the climate crisis and nonviolent political solutions to the issue of extremists, what the Obama administration is giving us is a support for the oil monarchies, a support for U.S. oil companies and continued perpetual war.

AARON MATÉ: Medea, what would be a nonviolent political solution to the issue of the Islamic State?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, the Obama administration is supposed to have been working for a binding resolution that we should be hearing about by the Security Council, talking about cutting off the funding, cutting off the equipping of these extremist groups. That’s a positive thing. At the same time, the Obama administration has only given one week to the new government in Iraq to show that it is no longer a sectarian Shiite government that is suppressing Sunnis, but is actually going to be a government for all the people of Iraq. One week is certainly not enough to show that and to have the Sunnis peel away from ISIS. That takes time. There is no imminent threat to the United States right now. That is a lie. What the U.S. did is do this timing right at the time of the U.N. to have it be already an accomplished deal that they better get in on us with this or not. So, I think the political solutions have been put aside now for the military ones.

AMY GOODMAN: Medea, this Khorasan group and its leader, Muhsin al-Fadhli, who the Times writes in a piece from Saturday, saying, "according to the State Department, was so close to Bin Laden [that] he was among a small group of people who knew about the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks before they were launched." They’re saying the imminent threat is that they know that they’re focused on the West and some kinds of explosives that they want to use—not clear, suicide jackets, or what it is that they are talking about. Do you see this as a pretext to sort of fulfill the requirement for, quote, "imminent threat" for an attack like this?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: The U.S. has been searching for a justification for this attack. First it was to protect U.S. personnel inside Iraq. Then it was humanitarian. And now it’s an imminent threat of a new group that it was only Thursday that was being talked about. Our intelligence agencies have been saying that there is no imminent threat to the United States, so this is yet another justification. And indeed, if there is an imminent threat, the job of our government is to protect us here at home. By going overseas and bombing, we become more of a target of extremist groups.

AMY GOODMAN: Medea, you were organizing protest groups a year ago to pressure Congress to vote against the United States striking Syria. That’s Bashar al-Assad’s government. Now we hear that the U.S. government, at the very least, notified the Syrian government that they were going to attack in Syria, and clearly the Syrian government did not strike them, even as they attacked. What about this shift of U.S. alliances right now?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, it is totally unclear, as Vijay was saying, what the U.S. is doing. There are some reports that by targeting Khorasan, the U.S. will actually be strengthening other extremist groups, because they’re fighting internally with each other. There is absolutely no endgame to this. In fact, the endgame we see is one like Libya ,where it is a total failed state that is spreading extremism throughout the Middle East. So, there is no well-thought-out policy here. There is only a military mindset that is counterproductive, will lead to more extremism, the U.S. becoming more of a target. It’s totally wrong. And your audience, Amy, people who care about the future of this planet, should be getting out on the streets, calling their congresspeople, saying this was never discussed in the United States. There was never a vote by Congress to go to war. This is against the international law. You can’t bomb another country without a justification for it, which hasn’t been given. And so, we have to get out and oppose this.

AARON MATÉ: And, Vijay Prashad, these strikes in Syria coming after six weeks of U.S. bombings inside of Iraq, can you talk about what is happening there and the effect of these attacks on ISIS inside Iraq?

VIJAY PRASHAD: Well, ISIS inside Iraq, as you saw, from September onward, moved much of their heavy machinery into Syria. I mean, that’s been their strategy, is they’re not going to wait around for the bombing, you know, in the same way in Raqqa they had abandoned much of the central part of the city. And so, what the United states bombed in Raqqa were largely empty buildings. You know, they have been moving their heavy machinery around, their arms around. They are currently, as I said, attacking in northern Syria. So where the strikes happened were not exactly where their main fighting forces are right now based.

What’s striking to me is that—given that the U.N. is meeting this week, given that President Obama is going to actually chair the Security Council, it’s surprising that the United States hasn’t taken this opportunity to lean much more heavily on close U.S. allies—in fact, NATO member Turkey. You know, Turkey had said that it wouldn’t close its border, wouldn’t actually come in to help find other means to isolate ISIS, because it had hostages that ISIS was holding. Turkish hostages were being held in Iraq. Those hostages have been released. This would have been a perfect time to have leaned on Turkey to strengthen the border, cut off the ability of ISIS to draw on the outside world. But instead of doing any of these political things, the United States has gone in to bomb largely empty buildings in northern Syria.

AMY GOODMAN: And the significance, Professor Prashad, of the British prime minister, Cameron, meeting with the president of Iran, Rouhani, here in New York—that is his plan, the first time a British prime minister would meet with an Iranian leader since the Iranian Revolution—and the reports Sunday that the Saudi foreign minister met with his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, in New York, according to the Iranian news agency?

VIJAY PRASHAD: Frankly, I think that the real solution in the region is going to come from some kind of grand bargain between Iran and Saudi Arabia. These two countries have been at each other’s throats since 1979. They have opened the region to the entry of outside forces. You know, when these two countries decide that it is in their absolute self-interest to have some kind of grand bargain, we’re going to see a de-escalation in the region. So any kind of meeting of this sort is greatly welcomed. I would hope that the forces of peace would encourage more meetings with the Iranians, more meetings between the Iranians and the Saudis. If that doesn’t happen, this is just Band-Aid, this is just a lot of loud noise, but it’s not going to provide the kind of political solution needed in the region for the long term.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both for being with us, Vijay Prashad, professor of international studies at Trinity College, author of a number of books, including The Poorer Nations: A Possible History of the Global South, and Medea Benjamin, co-founder of CodePink. Her new book, Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control.

Also interesting to note, the networks hardly discussing the issue of climate today after the largest mass climate protest in history, but focusing on these strikes, and the people they’re bringing into the network studios very often those who got it wrong in 2003, 2002, in the preparations for the war in Iraq, who alleged weapons of mass destruction. Seeing people like Medea Benjamin on their networks is very rare, the peace activists who at that time got it right. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Aaron Maté. We’ll be back covering [Flood] Wall Street in a moment.

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News Tue, 23 Sep 2014 11:29:26 -0400
Who Wins in the Financial Casino? http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/26381-who-wins-in-the-financial-casino http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/26381-who-wins-in-the-financial-casino

I received a message last week from a savvy reader, a former McKinsey partner who has also done among other things significant pro-bono work with housing not-for-profits (as in he has more interest and experience in social justice issues than most people with his background). His query:

We both know that financialization has, among so many other things, turned large swaths of the capital markets into a casino

Here's my thought/question: is there a house?

The common wisdom is that the 'house wins' in casinos

In all likelihood, at least in the great financial crisis, the TBTF banks were the 'house'... yet, it's at least a bit different from a casino house because, absent the bailouts, those banks would not have won.

So, who or what was really the 'house'? Was it the Fed? Did the Fed actually 'win'?

Maybe the 'house' is the 1% .... or, more precisely, the .01%???

I have included this fetching image to give you the opportunity to formulate your own answer before scrolling down.

My reply:

The producers in finance: the managing directors and heads of trading desks at major banks, the more senior managers who are along for the ride, the hedgies, guys in private equity.

The "house" is individuals, not institutions. That is how looting works.

Remember, the question is not merely who wins from our current hypertrophied financial system, but who is set up to be the house, as in to win no matter what. The answer in this case is intrinsically linked to looting.

The concept of looting is so important that it pays to revisit the seminal 1993 George Akerlof and Paul Romer paper that set forth this concept. The key section (emphasis ours):

...an economic underground can come to life if firms have an incentive to go broke for profit at society's expense (to loot) instead of to go for broke (to gamble on success). Bankruptcy for profit will occur if poor accounting, lax regulation, or low penalties for abuse give owners an incentive to pay themselves more than their firms are worth and then default on their debt obligations. Bankruptcy for profit occurs most commonly when a government guarantees a firm's debt obligations. The most obvious such guarantee is deposit insurance, but governments also implicitly or explicitly guarantee the policies of insurance companies, the pension obligations of private firms, virtually all the obligations of large banks, student loans, mortgage finance of subsidized housing, and the general obligations of large or influential firms. . . .

Because net worth is typically a small fraction of total assets for the insured institutions, . . . bankruptcy for profit can easily become a more attractive strategy for the owners than maximizing true economic values. If so, the normal economics of maximizing economic value is replaced by the topsy-turvy economics of maximizing current extractable value, which tends to drive the firm's economic net worth deeply negative. Once owners have decided that they can extract more from a firm by maximizing their present take, any action that allows them to extract more currently will be attractive—even if it causes a large reduction in the true economic net worth of the firm).

The difference between the classic Akerlof/Romer notion of looting, where the owner ssyphoned off funds and left the company so fragile that eventual bankruptcy was almost inevitable, is that the evolution of Wall Street has produced a much broader class of individuals who are treated as if they have claims on profit streams. That puts them in a quasi-ownership position.

These "producers" are typically perceived to have enough control over a revenue stream as to have leverage over the institution. That includes anyone who runs a profit center (and remember, a profit center can be as small as one trader and a trading assistant), as well as individuals on the more-team-oriented investment banking side of the house that have strong enough client relationships that they could take some business with them (and perhaps other members of their team) if they left. As we explained in ECONNED:

In the financial services industry version of looting, we instead have firms where operational authority, is decentralized, vested in senior business managers, or "producers." As a result of industry evolution and perceived competitive pressures, these producers, as a result of formal incentives plus values held widely within the industry, focused solely on producing the maximum amount possible in the current bonus period. The formal and informal rewards system thus tallies exactly with the topsy-turvy scheme of "maximizing current extractable value."

This behavior in the past was positive, indeed highly productive, as long as it was contained and channeled via tough-minded oversight, meaning top management who could properly supervise the business. The main mechanisms are management reporting systems, risk management, and personal understanding of and involvement in day-to-day operations, plus external checks, such as regulations and criminal penalties. For a host of reasons, the balance of power has shifted entirely toward the forces that encourage looting. And because the damage that results cannot clearly be pinned on the top brass... it is difficult to ascertain from the outside whether the executives merely unwittingly enabled this process or were active perpetrators.

Notice this excessive extraction that led to business failure took place even though these firms had high levels of employee stock ownership. At Bear Stearns, members of the firm owned roughly one-third of the shares. At Lehman, they held nearly 30%, and the average managing director owned shares worth on average two times his annual take. Economic theory says that share ownership by employees and managers should lead them to produce the best long-term results for the enterprise. Yet those assumptions were shown to be flawed on Wall Street, as they were with Enron, in which 62% of the 401(k) assets were invested in Enron stock, and senior management also had significant share ownership.

Just as we have seen in Corporate America, using equity to align the interests of managers and shareholders has produced the converse of what the theorists expected, a pathological fixation on short-term results. On Wall Street, where the business model and rewards systems already had an intrinsic propensity to emphasize the quick kill, widespread employee ownership was an ineffective counter at best and more likely served to reinforce the fixation on current performance, irrespective of the true cost of achieving it.

The very worst feature of looting version 2.0 is that it has created doomsday machines. In the old construct, the CEO fraudsters would drain a business, let it fail, and move on. The fact of bankruptcy assured that the trail of wreckage would catch up with them sooner or later. But here, the firms, due to their perceived systemic importance, are not being permitted to fail. So there are no postmortems, in particular criminal investigations, to determine to what extent fraud, as opposed to mere greed and rampant stupidity, led to what would otherwise have been their end.

Now mind you, these producers aren't the Ayn Randian rugged individualists that they often envision themselves to be. Their success depends on institutional infrastructure: concentrated capital and information flows, access to cheap leverage, risk control systems, a back office, etc. Quite a few successful Goldman traders have flopped when trying to launch their own hedge fund. John Meriwether, a storied Salomon trader, has presided over a series of hedge fund failures in his later life, the most spectacular being LTCM. Former Goldman CEO Jon Corzine is another high profile example of a supposedly successful trader and trading manager who came a cropper when given more degrees of freedom at MF Global than at his former home.

But while these individuals' ability to succeed on a stand-alone basis or in different type of firm is subject to question, they nevertheless hold their employers hostage. If they decamp to a competitor, they not only take some (or a lot) of their revenues with them, but they can damage the ability to be competitive in closely aligned businesses. Senior people cannot be replaced quickly and each unit's activity is so specialized that employees from other area can't pinch hit for the recently departed producer or team. And if the loss is significant enough, competitors will poach on other business units, which in a worse case scenario can put a firm in a downspiral.

And the worst is given the present structure of these firms, there is no simple way to curb the leverage these staffers have over their employers. Again from ECONNED:

On paper, capital markets enterprises look like a great opportunity. The firms that are at the nexus of global money flows participate in a very high level of transactions. Enough of them are in complex products or not deeply liquid markets so as to allow firms to find ways to uncover, in many cases create, and capture profit opportunities. New, typically sophisticated products often provide particularly juicy returns to the intermediary. And in theory, clever, adaptive, narrowly skilled staff can stay enough ahead of the game so that the amount captured off this huge transaction flow is handsome.

Once again, however, the real world deviates in important respects from the fantasy. Why? This business model is also a managerial nightmare.

We have a paradox: "success" and profitability in the investment banking context entails giving broad discretion to individuals with highly specialized know-how. But the businesses have outgrown the ability to monitor and manage these specialists effectively. The high frequency, meaningful stakes, and large absolute number of decisions made at the operational level, the geographic span of these firms, and the often imperfectly understood interconnections among business risks make effective supervision well-nigh impossible.

What is intriguing about the ex-McKinsey partner's question is that even after reading extensively about the crisis, he was unable to see the true locus of power in the financial services industry. Yet the answer is obvious to anyone who has worked in or closely with major capital markets firms.

And the conundrum we have outlined means the people who call for prosecutions of individuals are exactly right. Punishing firms is ineffective. Firms are fluid; key players can and often do move around. And the culpability for bad practices typically resides both at the producer level (the manager immediately responsible for the unit in which the bad conduct took place) and more senior management (which typically benefits directly from any ill-gotten profits, in terms of their compensation levels, and needs to be held responsible, even if they were simply derelict in duty, as opposed to actively complicit).

When the SEC was respected and feared, back in the stone ages of the 1970s, the capital markets delivered far better value for society as a whole than they do now. But even though financial services industry looters are the big winners in the capital markets casino, many members of the 0.1% have been along for the ride. Until some of the uber-rich join the great unwashed as victims of financial services industry looting, the house has nothing to worry about.

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Opinion Tue, 23 Sep 2014 11:24:31 -0400
Are Head Injuries the Bridge Between the NFL Playing Field and Domestic Violence? http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/26380-are-head-injuries-the-bridge-between-the-nfl-playing-field-and-domestic-violence http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/26380-are-head-injuries-the-bridge-between-the-nfl-playing-field-and-domestic-violence

There is an unspoken question lurking behind the NFL domestic violence cover-up saga that has emerged over the last month. It is whether the brutality of the game, particularly head injuries, plays a role in the prevalence of players committing acts of violence against women. The NFL has a vested interest in not having this discussion. On head injuries, as the title of the award-winning book said so clearly, it remains "a league of denial." If, in the name of public relations, the owners won't have a discussion about the connection between their sport and horrific post-concussive syndromes like ALS and early-onset dementia, are they really going to talk about links between head injuries and domestic violence? The sports media are largely in denial about this topic as well, as there was not one question in Roger Goodell's instantly infamous Friday press conference about whether the league would investigate whether brain injuries could be the bridge between the violence at work and the violence at home.

Yet many domestic violence advocates are also—understandably—not thrilled with this line of discussion. Partner abuse occurs in all walks of life, all professions and among all income groups, and post-concussive syndromes are almost always not a part of those stories. Additionally, to blame it on concussions seems to be excusing domestic violence and denying the fact that NFL players have agency and choice before becoming abusers. This resistance is very understandable. But attempting to explore and explain the shockingly high rates of domestic violence in the NFL is not the same as excusing it.

So is there a connection? As my friend Ruth, who is a DV counselor, says, "When it comes to domestic violence, it is extremely difficult to generalize across the board, in the NFL or otherwise." In other words, every case is distinct, reflecting the interpersonal relationships of the parties involved. But there are factors that appear to show themselves in the football cases with alarming regularity. Some of these factors are high rates of stress, a culture of entitlement for sports stars that predates their life in the NFL, and an inability to turn off the violence of the game once the pads are off. This is when we see the most toxic part of the sport's hyper-masculinist culture poison the relationships between the men who play the game—as well as the men who own teams—and the women in their lives. But among many players, this question of the role of head injuries still lingers in the background.

Dan Diamond over at Forbes is one of the few journalists I have seen explore these links in detail. In one piece, he cites a "disturbing new report" that shows "3 in 10 NFL players suffer from at least moderate brain disease." Diamond then details many examples of former players who were found in their autopsies to have the repetitive post-concussive syndromes known as CTE, and were also arrested at some point or another for domestic violence. He writes:

The key issue is whether suffering repeated head trauma lowers a person's self-control. And while many pro football players haven't been diagnosed with concussions in the NFL, nearly all of them have been playing football since they were young and suffered repetitive, frequent blows that can add up over time. And researchers know that those concussions can change a person. Even a pillar of the community.

This connects anecdotally with much of my own research. Over the last two months, I have spoken with three different women whose husbands are or were NFL players. All three are domestic violence survivors. In one case, the marriage was mended and endures to this day. In one case, it ended in divorce. In one case it ended with the suicide of the player in question. Yet that is where the differences ended. The similarities were stunning. In all three cases, the violence was precipitated either by migraine headaches or self-medicating—drugs or alcohol—to manage migraines. In all three cases, the survivors spoke about their NFL husbands becoming disoriented or light-sensitive, easily frustrated and quick to anger in ways that did not exist earlier in the relationship. In all three cases, they spoke about bizarre looks on their husbands' faces when they committed the abuse, from a chillingly peaceful calm to quizzical smiles. Whatever the look, they spoke of being in the presence of someone they "did not recognize."

I also spoke with Matt Chaney, a former college football player and author of the book Spiral of Denial: Muscle Doping in American Football, about whether he believed there was a causal link between concussions and domestic violencw. He e-mailed me back the following. "I can't speak as medical authority on any link but as a journalist and academic who's read and filed tens of thousand documents on football hazards from violence to drugs, and one who's interviewed a thousand people, along with being a former college player who has knowledge of countless athletes and their relationships, I believe football brain injuries lead many players to violence they wouldn't otherwise have committed, ranging from domestic cases to random acts.... I think brain injuries, after studying the topic as we all have in recent years, now explains much about the perplexing cases of violence and other irrational behavior among football players I've known. And while I thought I abhorred street fighting, before college football, I found myself nearly involved with or nearly instigating such trouble on more than one occasion while I was in full-contact activity, fall and spring practices, banging my head. If I didn't have headache after a college contact session, I didn't think I'd done anything."

This question, of course, has profound implications well beyond the sport. It is about the choice families make whether to let their children play tackle football. It is about the health and safety of women in relationships with NFL players, and whether recognizing warning signs of CTE can create opportunities for intervention before abuse takes place. It is about the degree to which the league's very violence bears some complicity in their abuse. This is a difficult question, one Roger Goodell is loathe to discuss. That is exactly why we need to keep asking it.

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Opinion Tue, 23 Sep 2014 11:01:48 -0400
The Joys of Abolishing Debt http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/26379-the-joys-of-abolishing-debt http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/26379-the-joys-of-abolishing-debt

For the last two years I have worked as a volunteer debt abolisher for Rolling Jubilee, which just announced the the abolition of nearly $4 million of student debt. It's a nice addition to the nearly $15 million of medical debt we have erased since November 2012 when the campaign launched.

Earlier this month, the Rolling Jubilee team posted 2,761 letters in the mail. "Jubilant Greetings! We are writing to you with good news," the letters began. "We just got rid of some of your Everest College debt....You no longer owe the balance of the particular debt. It is gone, a gift with no strings attached."

The Rolling Jubilee began when a group of us learned that people's debts — think credit card bills, pay day loans, utilities bills, medical bills and school tuition debts — are widely available on a shady and largely unregulated secondary market for pennies on the dollar.

Here's how it works: a bank or a hospital might sell a portfolio of unpaid accounts to a debt broker or a debt collector for a fraction of the official worth. That means a collector who calls on the phone trying to get you to pay him for a $1,000 trip to the emergency room may have only paid $50 to purchase your account.

Perhaps not surprising, given our roots in the Occupy movement, we found this unconscionable. Why should someone profit off another's misfortune? What if we bought these cheap debts and, instead of collecting on them, made them disappear?

We decided to do just that. And with approximately $600,000 of crowdfunded donations, we've been able to abolish nearly $20 million of debt.

The Rolling Jubilee is premised on the argument that no one should be forced into debt for basic needs like healthcare and education — services that are freely and publicly provided in many developed countries. Thus, we would argue that all student loans are, in a sense, illegitimate. (The average class of 2014 graduate has to repay $33,000 in debt, and more than one in 10 are defaulting on their loans.) But we also believe any student debt owed to Everest College, a subsidiary of Corinthian Colleges Inc., is especially odious and should not be repaid.

This week the the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau (CFPB) announced a $500 million lawsuit against Corinthian, a corporation they have been investigating, as have various state attorneys general. Corinthian is charged with running a "predatory lending scheme."

For-profit schools are notorious for preying on students from disadvantaged backgrounds and spending more on advertising and marketing than on teaching. For example, according to the CFPB, Corinthian paid other companies to temporarily hire graduates in order to inflate job placement statistics and tricked students into taking out private loans from the school itself.

"Part of the tragedy here is that most students who attend the Corinthian company schools come from disadvantaged backgrounds, and many are the first in their families to go to college," a CFPB official said. "For these students, Corinthian too often turned the American dream of higher education into an ongoing nightmare of financial despair." (A spokesman for Corinthian has disputed the claims made by the CFPB.)

Through our work with the Rolling Jubilee we have heard from dozens of people who were scammed by Everest (or "Mt. Everest of Debt," as some students call it) into precisely such a nightmare, including disabled individuals who were promised services and aid that didn't exist. Some of the people whose debts we erased have come forward and spoken to the media, like 32-year-old Levia Welch, who recounted being lured by false promises of a high-paying career, and 24-year-old Courtney Brown, who spoke about her inability to get certified as a dental assistant.

At the moment, current and former students of Corinthian Colleges feel isolated and powerless, forced month after month to make payments on unfair loans while working minimum wage jobs no better than the ones they could get before enrolling. Some, like Everest graduate Ben Lopez, sacrificed mightily to get through school, at one point living in his car while attending classes. Now he's so ashamed of his degree he has taken it off his resume. But the over $60,000 of debt he incurred to attend will not so easily vanish. Student loans, unlike most other kinds of debt, cannot be discharged in bankruptcy — they will haunt you to the grave.

After nearly two years of dedicated effort, the Rolling Jubilee is winding down, partly because we know we can't buy and abolish everyone's debt. But we can help people organize and fight for what's right, and that is why we have launched a new organization called The Debt Collective. In the case of Everest and Corinthian our demand is simple: instead of propping up for-profit predators the Department of Education needs to use its power to protect students, discharging their debts and providing access to free education. Rolling Jubilee's all-volunteer group of debt abolishers has already shown that it is possible to do what's right.

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Opinion Tue, 23 Sep 2014 10:37:12 -0400
The Paths We Refuse http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/26378-the-paths-we-refuse http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/26378-the-paths-we-refuse

(Book Cover: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group)(Book Cover: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group)The latest media offering from the best-selling authors of Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, award-winning, married journalist couple Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, is a book that comes out today called A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity. Press materials from publisher Alfred A. Knopf herald a first edition of 200,000 copies, and rights for translated editions in European, English and Asian languages have already been sold. The story will also be shown on PBS as a film, in January 2015. Still, it's a modest print run for the follow-up to the book we are given to believe started a movement, a book that, according to the Half The Sky Movement website, "is essential reading for every global citizen," of which who knows how many of the earth's 7.3 billion people count themselves. A Path Appears is clearly just a small part of a very large project, likely to encompass even more social media platforms, online video games, educational initiatives, in-person events and appearances, international screenings, small start-up companies, good-sized aid organizations, mega corporations, and entire villages, towns and cities throughout the developing world and here in the United States.

(Book Cover: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group)(Book Cover: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group)Truthout readers like you made this story possible. Show your support for independent news and make a tax-deductible donation today!

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof and investment-banker wife Sheryl WuDunn, the Pulitzer Prize-winning team that brought you Half the Sky, return with a new book. A Path Appears brings their fight to end oppression and advocate for humanitarian causes stateside, but who benefits?

The latest media offering from the best-selling authors of Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, award-winning, married journalist couple Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, is a book that comes out today called A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity. Press materials from publisher Alfred A. Knopf herald a first edition of 200,000 copies, and rights for translated editions in European, English and Asian languages have already been sold. The story will also be shown on PBS as a film, in January 2015. Still, it's a modest print run for the follow-up to the book we are given to believe started a movement, a book that, according to the Half The Sky Movement website, "is essential reading for every global citizen," of which who knows how many of the earth's 7.3 billion people count themselves. A Path Appears is clearly just a small part of a very large project, likely to encompass even more social media platforms, online video games, educational initiatives, in-person events and appearances, international screenings, small start-up companies, good-sized aid organizations, mega corporations, and entire villages, towns and cities throughout the developing world and here in the United States.

Millions of dollars will change hands in the name of this book, possibly billions. In fact its goal, when boiled down, is to convince the reader to spend as much money as possible. For A Path Appears aims to bring the global struggle against poverty first presented in Half the Sky back home, the main difference in the new book being that the authors aren't highlighting international NGOs aiding women's productive capabilities; they're showcasing NGOs and nonprofits in the United States - and sometimes for-profit companies - with the hope of inspiring financial donations.

While policy changes will result from the wide dissemination of their Gladwellian-level take on social ills, systemic shifts are not Kristof and WuDunn's intention.

Seem strange? It is. For despite the inclusion of buzzwords "transformation," "oppression" and "opportunity," the aim is not to end global power imbalances, nor their most damaging effects, such as corruption, violence against women, incarceration or economic inequality. There is no magic-bullet solution to such ills, the authors state repeatedly. This may be true, but it is notable that many of the scattershot solutions proposed in their text prop up systems that perpetrate all of the above forms of oppression, a tendency that can be found in previous workfrom the couple as well. (The most famous of these instances, Kristof's steadfast support for recently discredited anti-sex trafficking crusader Somaly Mam in his New York Times column as well as the book and film Half the Sky, goes unacknowledged, possibly because he's upheld her story to justify crossing clear ethical and legal boundaries. In 2004, he purchased two "sex slaves" of his own, in violation of Cambodian law and possible violation on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and, alongside Mam, locked up many more sex workers in brothel raids on the dime of the garment companies they were then trained to work in.) In view of the authors' oeuvre, the dismissal of magic bullets reads a bit as a lesson half-learned.

While policy changes will result from the wide dissemination of their Gladwellian-level take on social ills, systemic shifts are not Kristof and WuDunn's intention. No, their hopes are more modest, as indicated by the code word "opportunity" in both books' subtitles. They seek opportunities. But for whom? In seeming response, the authors pose the thesis of their work: "efforts at altruism have a mixed record of success at helping others, but they have an almost perfect record of helping ourselves."

Putting the self back in selflessness is absurd, of course, and one wonders for whom they are writing, and who does benefit from such a calculated, narcissistic pitch for altruism. Plus, Kristof and WuDunn hold themselves up, repeatedly, as models of altruistic behavior: Soto what, exactly, are they helping themselves?

***

The 350-page book is framed by the story of Rachel Beckwith, a young Seattleite who wanted to raise $300 for her 9th birthday to give to an organization that digs wells in developing countries. She only raised two-thirds of that, unfortunately, and then died after a car accident. A tragedy.

Charity: water, which touts fiscal transparency to raise money for clean drinking water projects around the globe, has been praised for its ability to turn such heart-wrenching tales into popular and financial success. The NGO raised a total of $93 million with these methods in its first five years - over a third of that in 2012 alone, nearly $1.3 million of which came from the Beckwith campaign.

It was enough money, Kristof and WuDunn write, "to provide clean water for 37,000 people." The wording is vague - it doesn't say that 37,000 people reliably receive clean drinking water due to the Beckwith campaign - and comes directly from charity: water's own press materials (in which Kristof's NYT-published support for the organization also appears). Given the myriad of things that could go wrong with well building or maintenance in any developing nation, and the lag it would take for the New York City office to hear about and correct them, the outcomes from donations can be hard to pin down despite charity: water's hopes for transparency.

They position their work not so much as "journalism" as "raising awareness," a project that, like charity: water, amounts to a branding campaign.

Efforts toward greater assurance are in place. Since this reporter first looked into the organization in January 2013, a spokesperson tells me that charity: water has implemented Pipeline, a job-training program that gives local mechanics the resources to keep wells functioning. The NGO was also awarded a $5 million Google grant in 2012 to create tech to ensure that the home office in New York City is alerted when wells fail, and installations are currently being implemented around the globe. What the charity: water spokesperson can tell me with certainty via email is that they have completed a total of 2,275 water projects in Tigray, Ethiopia, to which the Beckwith funds contributed. And another 1,410 projects there are in the works.

Commendable actions, to be sure. Yet of greater concern to clean water advocates is that charity: water supports no policy initiatives to ensure improved or sustainable public water access through local governments. The underlying conditions that lead to economic inequity and resource scarcity, therefore, stay firmly in place, ensuring that vital resources continue to be meted out on a case-by-case basis, at charity: water's - or their local partners' - discretion. "You could almost imagine us a Kayak.com or an Expedia," CEO Scott Harrison told The New York Times in August 2013. Indeed the use of local partners, while aiding on-the-ground expertise in distant regions, makes accountability and true transparency in project implementation impossible. This may be a minor problem for reporters seeking to confirm the efficacy of charity: water's work, since locals may never have heard of the NGO. But it is a more significant problem for many donors if the local organization uses their funds for activities that have nothing to do with water. If money from birthday campaigns is used to convert Buddhists or Muslims to Christianity prior to well building, for example, advocates for religious freedom would likely prefer to know. ("Through our water projects, we are often able to share the Gospel with people who don't know Christ," charity: water partner Samaritan's Purse explains.)

It's murky, this charity: water. Kristof and WuDunn don't settle the sediments, either, noting none of the above criticisms. Their book tends to rally support for organizations, in fact, instead of report on them. Details, however, sometimes get lost.

In the section on charity: water, the authors describe one Tekloini Assefa as the head of "an Ethiopian well-drilling organization." In fact, Assefa is the executive director of the Relief Society of Tigray (REST), the on-the-ground charity: water partner, and his first name's Teklewoini - an oversight the authors may have caught if they had asked him about water issues in Ethiopia, or if they had sought any information besides charity: water press materials, where the error seems to originate. (This reporter alerted charity: water to the error on September 16, so it may soon be corrected.)

These seem like minor things - to overlook criticisms, to misspell names - and they are easy to explain away. But effective humanitarian work, like journalism, can only be founded on small details, relayed accurately and completely.

***

If it looks bad for two Pulitzer Prize winners to get an international subject's name wrong - particularly when one of the reporters has been steadily criticized for misreporting on issues in Africa - it's downright unseemly to rely exclusively on an organization for information about its effectiveness. The authors don't see it that way, however, for they position their work not so much as "journalism" as "raising awareness," a project that, like charity: water, amounts to a branding campaign.

In support of this aim, the authors quote a conspicuously unnamed "leading expert on global health" in chapter two, who ponders the best use of a hypothetical, million-dollar donation. "I would take that money and spend it on a big public advertising campaign and a lobbying campaign to raise more money," they transcribe approvingly. "I bet with $1 million I could raise $100 million for the cause."

Rise up, they demand! Embrace efficiency and eliminate the pesky "non" from your nonprofit status!

Such logic is the product of a sadly limited political imagination, one bred on too many conversations between Bono, Angelina Jolie and the CEOs of multinationals about the needs of the poor. (The first two have blurbed the book, alongside Bill and Melinda Gates, Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, and, strangely, Anne Rice.) For in addition to replicating and deepening the economic inequity that underlies most forms of oppression, urging charitable endeavors to focus on the accrual of money erases the original legal and cultural distinction between for-profit and not-for-profit businesses. Many nowadays embrace the erasure as a survival mechanism, a way of staying afloat in an increasingly privatized world. But not too long ago, many more understood that eliminating the distinction between the nonprofit and for-profit realms primarily serves the shareholders of the latter.

Oh, but this kind of thinking is stuck in "the eighteenth century pre-industrial economy," the authors warn in chapter 11, and it's impeding progress. "The tendency in the humanitarian world has been to see corporations as part of the problem," they write. Nonprofits would do much better to implement, immediately, "businesslike steps that would allow them to scale up and modernize." Rise up, they demand! Embrace efficiency and eliminate the pesky "non" from your nonprofit status!

Prior to the authors' claims, in fact, there is a magic-bullet solution presented in Kristof and WuDunn's latest, and it is the public-private partnership. Its logic shines through not only the constant stumping for specific (and named) entrepreneurial brand initiatives, of which several examples fill out each chapter, but even in described relationships between individuals. The authors might write of "how parents invest in their children," for example, or quote an economist in support of early childhood education programs, who suggests we can "close disparities and prevent achievement gaps [or] remediate" them later, but "either way, we are going to pay." One starving boy, afflicted with debilitating illness, merits the gut-wrenching description (albeit perhaps for the wrong reasons): "you look at him and want to reach for your wallet." (This last reads particularly odd; I've watched enough Nick Kristof on video to surmise that his own tendencies rush to hugging more often than not.)

But does this "good" - however "real" - offset the carbon footprint of the constant imports, the disruption to local diet and ecosystems and costs to families in need? Or perhaps the "real" benefit here is to shareholders, who enjoyed record sales topping 20 billion euros in 2012 "due to [the company's] expansions outside Europe."

The ideology that equates cash flow with value builds on itself. In support for whatever they believe altruism to be, the authors note in chapter 13 that it increases profits. "Nearly one-third of customers want to increase purchases from companies that are socially responsible," they write. Along the dichotomy of need, the logic extends in the opposite direction, too, for not only should companies engage in humanitarian issues to make a buck, so too should the individuals served. Kristof and WuDunn applaud the successful Malawi businesswoman in chapter three, for example, who plans to use her earnings to buy the first television set in her village. Instead of sharing the resource with her neighbors, however - nurturing community as a benefit of personal success - she plans to charge folks. "If there's a soccer match or something," the authors proudly quote, "anybody who comes in my house to watch will have to pay." It's an awkward inclusion, although fits right in with other asides the authors make regarding appropriate spending of earned income (liquor is out, something men are described as favoring, and child-focused spending is in) and how it is come by. (Sex, for example, cannot be work, for in chapter 10 we learn that "even when a woman is now selling sex consensually, she often entered the sex trade involuntarily, typically as a minor." These claims are not backed up with reliable, or any, data.)

Over the last 20 years, even nonprofits have begun to embrace the for-profit mindset. It's commonly heard now that 501(c)(3)'s suffer from a lack of business savvy. Many that survived the economic recession have hired business consultants, raised wages for staff and developed benefits packages. They've spent money for on-message web design, built boards with or hired CEOs and developed long-term strategies. Gone are the days when nonprofits sought to work themselves out of a job; nowadays one can happily strive toward a long and healthy career addressing wage inequality. With benefits.

All good news for the Half the Sky Movement: "Nonprofits will accomplish far more if they can bring for-profit corporations with them into battle," Kristof and WuDunn argue. And while I'd never wish to suggest that for-profits aren't capable of decreasing their own negative impact on the world, a hypocrisy lies hidden in this approach.

Despite the ".org" website, the nonprofit language ("take action"; "movement"), and the issue-based approach, this "organization" does not have 501(c)(3) status. It is merely a website, an advertising platform for their own brand and the not-for-profits they cover in the articles, books, films and games that comprise it, as well as a seemingly random listing of other companies that somehow support their work.

Take one company named in A Path Appears, a company that "is doing real good with yogurt in Bangladesh," the authors write. The statement follows descriptions of the local disinterest in the foodstuff, the utter lack of native, milk-giving cows, the need to import sweetener, flavors and the micronutrients added to the substance to address the specific needs and wants of Bangladeshi kids, several failed marketing campaigns, and the high cost of the end product for impoverished families. The "real good" seems to be that the company has created a handful of jobs for local women, and therefore is making enough money to continue the experiment. But does this "good" - however "real" - offset the carbon footprint of the constant imports, the disruption to local diet and ecosystems and costs to families in need? Or perhaps the "real" benefit here is to shareholders, who enjoyed record sales topping 20 billion euros in 2012 "due to [the company's] expansions outside Europe."

In clear indication of the exact variety of good being done, a press release for the company that Kristof and WuDunn applaud for humanitarian efforts concludes, "We must make every effort to pursue lasting expansion in these markets." Their profit margin, after all, relies on it.

***

Kristof and WuDunn aren't technically in the marketing game. But if you've followed the Half the Sky Movement over the last couple years, you may be surprised to read that they're not really in the charity game either. For despite the ".org" website, the nonprofit language ("take action"; "movement"), and the issue-based approach, this "organization" does not have 501(c)(3) status. It is merely a website, an advertising platform for their own brand and the not-for-profits they cover in the articles, books, films and games that comprise it, as well as a seemingly random listing of other companies that somehow support their work.

From the every-other-page refrain on the significance of maternity to the consistent reminder of women's superior bookkeeping abilities and commendable disinterest in liquor, the middle-aged, upper middle-class North American female homemaker is practically enshrined in these pages. If a reader requires a less charitable means of contributing to social good, for example, the authors suggest they "simply join a country club."

Quickly, commerce overtakes other messaging, and what the Half the Sky Movement advocates for or against gets confused in the hubbub. The "Movement" page, for example, claims the listed entities are united "across platforms to ignite the change needed to put an end to the oppression of women and girls worldwide." The text then names several small-scale consumables - the book, a link to the Instagram account, classroom curriculum - before ending with a heavy-hitting list of media, entertainment and marketing companies. One agency, Blue State Digital, counts among its PR successes the 2008 Obama presidential campaign, Vogue magazine, Ford and Google; another, Chermayeff & Geismar, designs logos and materials for clients like Mobil, Chase Bank and Hearst. What any of these entities have done or are doing to eradicate gender-based oppression remains unclear. In fact, most of the companies seem focused on advancing men and the businesses they run.

What we do know about the Half the Sky Movement is that it is definitely not a not-for-profit. In chapter 19 of A Path Appears, the couple tellsus that they "have deliberately not started our own foundation or aid group to gather contributions for causes we believe in. Instead, we point readers and viewers to the many existing ones doing great work." Their expressed ire about the not-for-profit model would seem to corroborate.

Except there is a nonprofit arm, called the Force Film Foundation, "the official 501(c)3 of the Half the Sky Movement," as described here and confirmed by variousdonors. This foundation has, in the past, operated as an "aid group to gather contributions for causes [the authors] believe in." As the nonprofit side of Show of Force, the production team behind the PBS version of Half the Sky (as well as other cause-focused films; they are represented by the Creative Artists Agency), the Force Film Foundation has contributed substantially to the Half the Sky Movement.

And vice versa. For as it turns out, however unseemly the authors may find it, nonprofit status still provides essential support for cultural production. In 2012, the year Half the Sky aired on PBS, Force Film Foundation received $2.2 million in donations, according to tax records - a ninefold increase over the 2011 budget - nearly $2.1 million of which was designated for Kristof and WuDunn's project. Donation figures for A Path Appears have not yet been made public.

***

A Path Appears is not a book for businesspeople; however, they may be partial to its logic. It's also not a self-help book. (Although nuggets like "There are few more selfish pleasures than altruism," from the introduction, may confuse.) In fact, considering the modest run of the first edition - compared to the estimated 1.4 million who watched Half the Sky when it first aired on PBS, and the 500,000 more who played the Half the Sky Facebook game withinthe first month of its launch - one wonders why they wrote it at all. Particularly since every entity mentioned already has an entrepreneurial outlet and web presence, and most individuals their own TED talks.

But A Path Appears holds central importance in the Half the Sky Movement, because the audience for whom it is written - as Half the Sky itself pointed out - has been historically disadvantaged on the world stage, continues to be slighted economically and is prone to unpaid care work. Women are the audience for Kristof and WuDunn's latest, as they were for the last, particularly those in book clubs, with disposable incomes, and who have kids in school and who might therefore suggest it be added to the school's curriculum. Upper-middle-class North American women, in other words, who feel disenfranchised by gender-based discrimination themselves but may not have the vocabulary to articulate it. (Having written a book that competes with Half the Sky on school curriculums, I've met many of these women. They are delightful. My concern here is not with what they choose to do with their time, but with the calculated way they are being galvanized to advance an agenda that may not correspond with their own interests. Check, for example, the logic they are asked to accept in this blog post headline from the book's website.)

This audience is never profiled outright, but alluded to constantly. From the every-other-page refrain on the significance of maternity to the consistent reminder of women's superior bookkeeping abilities and commendable disinterest in liquor, the middle-aged, upper middle-class North American female homemaker is practically enshrined in these pages. If a reader requires a less charitable means of contributing to social good, for example, the authors suggest they "simply join a country club."

Reminder: Those for whom it is simple to join a country club are a very select group of people. These are people more likely to identify, say, with the observers in a scientific experiment than with the rats. Such experiments are described, fairly frequently, in A Path Appears. More often than not they are used to explain the behavior of people in poverty - the books' subjects - in impartial terms, presumably because the intended audience has no personal experience with economic hardship. Sometimes, as in this excerpt published in the Times, the scientific experiments involve actual rats, here used to explain the antisocial behavior of a friend of the couples' daughter. Addressing social ills via laboratory findings has certainly been done in other books to helpful effect, but considering the multiple means through which these authors dehumanize their subjects and strip them of autonomy, the association of folks in poverty with rats may strike readers as alarming.

At other times, the associations are more fun, if equally improvable. In chapter six, "Who Grabs the Marshmallow," the authors use Walter Mischel's famous test to advocate for programs that promote self-control and goal-setting in young people. In Mischel's original experiment, they state, "children who delayed eating the marshmallow did much better as teenagers and earned significantly higher SAT scores than those who gave up and chomped on it."

Kristof and WuDunn call the operating principal at work "grit" - the ability to delay gratification for a larger reward - but Mischel himself found the experiment much more complicated. So did his test subjects.

"Factors like poverty play a huge role in how kids decide to handle the challenge of the experiment. If you've grown up in a situation of scarcity, it's probably a very smart thing to take what's in front of you when you can get it," artist and researcher Nina Katchadourian told me. You've probably seen her "Lavatory Self-Portraits in the Flemish Style," photographs taken in airplane bathrooms that are on constant, viral, social media rotation. Recently she's been studying the marshmallow test. She also remembers taking it.

"In my own experience as a 4-year-old," she said, "I was focused much more on figuring out how reliable I thought the grown-ups were. Would the experimenter really return with the reward I had been promised? It turns out there have been many studies that also look at how trust affects the child's ability - and decision - to wait or not wait."

Kristof and WuDunn's assertion of "grit" as the determining factor in future success, in other words, is not proven by the marshmallow test, despite the easy magic-bullet solution this characterization provides. The experiment can also be read, plainly and simply, as a test for the larger social factors that limit success, such as poverty and lack of security. The kid who waits on the marshmallow might just be used to getting marshmallows. Of course she or he will receive more opportunities in life than a child who's rarely handed anything at all.

***

A Path Appears is a book for those who are used to being given marshmallows, although it does nothing to ensure that others in need receive them, too. For many of the solutions proposed - the organizations Kristof and WuDunn suggest readers support - tread in streams fed by charity: water. What they claim to get done might happen, yes, but what else happens along the way is never acknowledged. And in some cases, as in public-private partnerships, the auxiliary effect of profit-minded, anti-poverty work directly undermines the cause at hand.

A bait-and-switch happens, but it's unclear who perpetrates it. It is only clear who benefits. Kristof and WuDunn, as earnest and engaged as they are in these issues, fail to follow through on the mandates of journalism that would allow the perpetrator of the bait-and-switch to be revealed.

Still, the project of the Half the Sky Movement is to ensure this book will become a bestseller. The couples' previous attempts to cure social ills abroad have gone over fairly well in this country, even though large swaths of Half the Sky have been revealed as factually inaccurate.

But remember that teaching "grit" won't end global income inequality. Neither, for that matter, will an extremely innovative kind of yogurt or a well-planned, clean-water birthday campaign. Global income inequality could end, but its elimination won't happen through the bolstering of in-place, profit-minded organizations with half an eye (or more) on their own bottom lines. It will come through the close examination of the real causes, effects and perpetrators of all forms of oppression.

Including Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.

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Opinion Tue, 23 Sep 2014 11:45:13 -0400
Obama's New Jobs Plan Helps Veterans and the Environment http://truth-out.org/news/item/26377-obama-s-new-jobs-plan-helps-veterans-and-the-environment http://truth-out.org/news/item/26377-obama-s-new-jobs-plan-helps-veterans-and-the-environment

2014.9.23.solar.MainInstallation of photovoltaic solar panels on a roof. (Photo via Shutterstock)Now here's a plan that makes sense: the Obama administration has revealed a new jobs initiative that teaches Americans how to install solar energy panels. Better still, the initiative will specifically target veterans, who often have trouble finding careers back at home. Helping the environment and veterans to support themselves? Talk about killing two birds with one stone!

The White House's program, called the SunShot Initiative's Solar Instructor Training Network, has already undergone a successful testing period on a smaller scale. In its early stages, the program has certified about 1,000 instructors, with the goal of training at least 50,000 new solar employees by the end of the decade.

The booming industry has already become a prime source of jobs in the country – nearly 150,000 Americans had full-time, solar energy-related jobs as of 2013. Given the country's plans to shift toward solar power more aggressively, the number of people with these careers will also need to increase dramatically.

Though the program is not exclusive to military members, the Obama administration is taking steps to ensure that veterans have easy access to this training. To start, the SunShot program will be unveiled at military bases in order to explicitly target Americans who need a new trade after completing their military service.

"Service members in this pilot program will learn how to size and install solar panels, connect electricity to the grid, and interpret and comply with local building codes," announced Dan Utech, an aid to Obama on energy and climate change. "This intensive training will prepare them for careers in the solar industry as installers, sales representatives, system inspectors, and other solar-related occupations.

To ensure that the veterans receive not only the training, but also well-paying jobs, SunPower, Vivint Solar and SolarCity, three of the nation's most prominent solar companies, have vowed to interview candidates who have completed the SunShot program.

In a lot of ways, Obama's hands are tied when it comes to addressing climate change since Congress is unwilling to pass useful legislation. However, this jobs plan is a way of circumventing Congress altogether with the power he does have in order to do something positive for the country.

This jobs plan isn't the only solar initiative currently in the works. Additionally, the Agricultural Department has allotted $70 million to cover new solar projects specifically in farming communities.

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News Tue, 23 Sep 2014 10:24:11 -0400
Europe Is Learning the Wrong Lessons http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/26376-europe-is-learning-the-wrong-lessons http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/26376-europe-is-learning-the-wrong-lessons

A grocery store in Felcsut, Hungary, earlier this year. Viktor Orban, Hungary’s prime minister, said in July that the country should consider building a “new illiberal state” like China or Russia. (Photo: Akos Stiller for The New York Times)A grocery store in Felcsut, Hungary, earlier this year. Viktor Orban, Hungary's prime minister, said in July that the country should consider building a "new illiberal state" like China or Russia. (Photo: Akos Stiller for The New York Times)

The Financial Times recently published a pretty decent article on the emerging doctrine of "Draghinomics," which looks a lot like Blanchardnomics, which looks a lot like Krugmanomics - hey, we all studied macroeconomics at M.I.T. in the mid-1970s.

But I was struck by this bit: "One other senior eurozone official attending the Italian forum which gathers together policy makers, business people and academics said: 'Structural reforms are key. Those countries that have made these efforts are performing better: Ireland, Spain and Portugal. Italy and France should think a little bit about this.' "

Yep, Spain offers a useful lesson for France (see the chart).

2014.9.23.Krugman.ChartFor those of us not part of the structural reform cult, the story of Spain is this: The country experienced a full-scale depression when its housing bubble burst. This depression has led to a gradual, painful "internal devaluation" as labor costs have come down, making Spain more competitive with the rest of Europe. As a result, Spain is finally starting a slight recovery, with its growth rate in recent quarters (but only in recent quarters) higher than that of France.

To see this as a triumph of structural reform requires preconceptions so strong it's hard to see why you would even bother looking at data.

Replaying the 1930s

When the 2008 economic crisis struck, anyone who knew even a little history had nightmares about a replay of the 1930s - not just the depth of the Depression, but the downward political spiral into dictatorship and war.

But this time was different: The banking crisis was contained, the plunge in output and employment leveled out, and modern Europe's democratic political culture proved more resilient than that of the interwar years. All clear!

Or maybe not. In terms of the economics, an effective crisis response was followed by a wrongheaded turn to austerity and, in Europe, a combination of bad monetary policy with a currency system that in some ways is turning out to be worse than the gold standard. The result is that while the first few years of this crisis were far better than the 1930s, at this point Europe's economic performance is actually worse than it was in 1935.

And the political scene is eroding. One European nation, Hungary, has already reached the point where its leader is openly declaring his intention to end liberal democracy; thanks to austerity, extremist parties are gaining ground in elections, with Sweden (which squandered its early success) the latest shocker; and, of course, separatist movements are scaring everyone.

We're still nowhere near the 1930s politically. But you do start to wonder whether self-congratulation over the political handling of Depression 2.0 will eventually look as foolish as the economic optimism of a few years ago.

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Opinion Tue, 23 Sep 2014 10:41:32 -0400
Apocalypse Now, Iraq Edition: Fighting in Iraq Until Hell Freezes Over http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/26375-apocalypse-now-iraq-edition-fighting-in-iraq-until-hell-freezes-over http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/26375-apocalypse-now-iraq-edition-fighting-in-iraq-until-hell-freezes-over

2014.9.23.TomDispatch.Main (Image: Jared Rodriguez / t r u t h o u t; Adapted: The U.S. Army, cobalt123)I wanted to offer a wry chuckle before we headed into the heavy stuff about Iraq, so I tried to start this article with a suitably ironic formulation. You know, a déjà-vu-all-over-again kinda thing. I even thought about telling you how, in 2011, I contacted a noted author to blurb my book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, and he presciently declined, saying sardonically, “So you're gonna be the one to write the last book on failure in Iraq?”

I couldn't do any of that. As someone who cares deeply about this country, I find it beyond belief that Washington has again plunged into the swamp of the Sunni-Shia mess in Iraq. A young soldier now deployed as one of the 1,600 non-boots-on-the-ground there might have been eight years old when the 2003 invasion took place. He probably had to ask his dad about it.  After all, less than three years ago, when dad finally came home with his head “held high,” President Obama assured Americans that “we’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq.” So what happened in the blink of an eye?

The Sons of Iraq

Sometimes, when I turn on the TV these days, the sense of seeing once again places in Iraq I'd been overwhelms me. After 22 years as a diplomat with the Department of State, I spent 12 long months in Iraq in 2009-2010 as part of the American occupation. My role was to lead two teams in “reconstructing” the nation. In practice, that meant paying for schools that would never be completed, setting up pastry shops on streets without water or electricity, and conducting endless propaganda events on Washington-generated themes of the week (“small business,” “women's empowerment,” “democracy building.”)

We even organized awkward soccer matches, where American taxpayer money was used to coerce reluctant Sunni teams into facing off against hesitant Shia ones in hopes that, somehow, the chaos created by the American invasion could be ameliorated on the playing field. In an afternoon, we definitively failed to reconcile the millennium-old Sunni-Shia divide we had sparked into ethnic-cleansing-style life in 2003-2004, even if the score was carefully stage managed into a tie by the 82nd Airborne soldiers with whom I worked.

In 2006, the U.S. brokered the ascension to power of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shia politician handpicked to unite Iraq. A bright, shining lie of a plan soon followed. Applying vast amounts of money, Washington’s emissaries created the Sahwa, or Sons of Iraq, a loose grouping of Sunnis anointed as “moderates” who agreed to temporarily stop killing in return for a promised place at the table in the New(er) Iraq. The “political space” for this was to be created by a massive escalation of the American military effort, which gained a particularly marketable name: the surge.

I was charged with meeting the Sahwa leaders in my area. My job back then was to try to persuade them to stay on board just a little longer, even as they came to realize that they'd been had. Maliki’s Shia government in Baghdad, which was already ignoring American entreaties to be inclusive, was hell-bent on ensuring that there would be no Sunni “sons” in its Iraq.

False alliances and double-crosses were not unfamiliar to the Sunni warlords I engaged with. Often, our talk -- over endless tiny glasses of sweet, sweet tea stirred with white-hot metal spoons -- shifted from the Shia and the Americans to their great-grandfathers' struggle against the British. Revenge unfolds over generations, they assured me, and memories are long in the Middle East, they warned.

When I left in 2010, the year before the American military finally departed, the truth on the ground should have been clear enough to anyone with the vision to take it in. Iraq had already been tacitly divided into feuding state-lets controlled by Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds. The Baghdad government had turned into a typical, gleeful third-world kleptocracy fueled by American money, but with a particularly nasty twist: they were also a group of autocrats dedicated to persecuting, marginalizing, degrading, and perhaps one day destroying the country’s Sunni minority.

U.S. influence was fading fast, leaving the State Department, a small military contingent, various spooks, and contractors hidden behind the walls of the billion-dollar embassy (the largest in the world!) that had been built in a moment of imperial hubris. The foreign power with the most influence over events was by then Iran, the country the Bush administration had once been determined to take down alongside Saddam Hussein as part of the Axis of Evil.

The Grandsons of Iraq

The staggering costs of all this -- $25 billion to train the Iraqi Army, $60 billion for the reconstruction-that-wasn’t, $2 trillion for the overall war, almost 4,500 Americans dead and more than 32,000 wounded, and an Iraqi death toll of more than190,000 (though some estimates go as high as a million) -- can now be measured against the results. The nine-year attempt to create an American client state in Iraq failed, tragically and completely. The proof of that is on today's front pages.

According to the crudest possible calculation, we spent blood and got no oil. Instead, America's war of terror resulted in the dissolution of a Middle Eastern post-Cold War stasis that, curiously enough, had been held together by Iraq’s previous autocratic ruler Saddam Hussein. We released a hornet’s nest of Islamic fervor, sectarianism, fundamentalism, and pan-nationalism. Islamic terror groups grew stronger and more diffuse by the year. That horrible lightning over the Middle East that’s left American foreign policy in such an ugly glare will last into our grandchildren's days. There should have been so many futures. Now, there will be so few as the dead accumulate in the ruins of our hubris. That is all that we won.

Under a new president, elected in 2008 in part on his promise to end American military involvement in Iraq, Washington’s strategy morphed into the more media-palatable mantra of “no boots on the ground.” Instead, backed by aggressive intel and the “surgical” application of drone strikes and other kinds of air power, U.S. covert ops were to link up with the “moderate” elements in Islamic governments or among the rebels opposing them -- depending on whether Washington was opting to support a thug government or thug fighters.

The results? Chaos in Libya, highlighted by the flow of advanced weaponry from the arsenals of the dead autocrat Muammar Gaddafi across the Middle East and significant parts of Africa, chaos in Yemen, chaos in Syria, chaos in Somalia, chaos in Kenya, chaos in South Sudan, and, of course, chaos in Iraq.

And then came the Islamic State (IS) and the new “caliphate,” the child born of a neglectful occupation and an autocratic Shia government out to put the Sunnis in their place once and for all. And suddenly we were heading back into Iraq. What, in August 2014, was initially promoted as a limited humanitarian effort to save the Yazidis, a small religious sect that no one in Washington or anywhere else in this country had previously heard of, quickly morphed into those 1,600 American troops back on the ground in Iraq and American planes in the skies from Kurdistan in the north to south of Baghdad. The Yazidis were either abandoned, or saved, or just not needed anymore. Who knows and who, by then, cared?  They had, after all, served their purpose handsomely as the casus belli of this war. Their agony at least had a horrific reality, unlike the supposed attack in the Gulf of Tonkin that propelled a widening war in Vietnam in 1964 or the nonexistent Iraqi WMDs that were the excuse for the invasion of 2003.

The newest Iraq war features Special Operations “trainers,” air strikes against IS fighters using American weapons abandoned by the Iraqi Army (now evidently to be resupplied by Washington), U.S. aircraft taking to the skies from inside Iraq as well as a carrier in the Persian Gulf and possibly elsewhere, and an air war across the border into Syria.

It Takes a Lot of Turning Points To Go In a Circle

The truth on the ground these days is tragically familiar: an Iraq even more divided into feuding state-lets; a Baghdad government kleptocracy about to be reinvigorated by free-flowing American money; and a new Shia prime minister being issued the same 2003-2011 to-do list by Washington: mollify the Sunnis, unify Iraq, and make it snappy. The State Department still stays hidden behind the walls of that billion-dollar embassy. More money will be spent to train the collapsed Iraqi military. Iran remains the foreign power with the most influence over events.

One odd difference should be noted, however: in the last Iraq war, the Iranians sponsored and directed attacks by Shia militias against American occupation forces (and me); now, its special operatives and combat advisors fight side-by-side with those same Shia militias under the cover of American air power. You want real boots on the ground? Iranian forces are already there. It’s certainly an example of how politics makes strange bedfellows, but also of what happens when you assemble your “strategy” on the run.

Obama hardly can be blamed for all of this, but he’s done his part to make it worse -- and worse it will surely get as his administration once again assumes ownership of the Sunni-Shia fight. The “new” unity plan that will fail follows the pattern of the one that did fail in 2007: use American military force to create a political space for “reconciliation” between once-burned, twice-shy Sunnis and a compromise Shia government that American money tries to nudge into an agreement against Iran's wishes. Perhaps whatever new Sunni organization is pasted together, however briefly, by American representatives should be called the Grandsons of Iraq.

Just to add to the general eeriness factor, the key people in charge of putting Washington’s plans into effect are distinctly familiar faces. Brett McGurk, who served in key Iraq policy positions throughout the Bush and Obama administrations, is again the point man as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iraq and Iran. McGurk was once called the “Maliki whisperer” for his closeness to the former prime minister. The current American ambassador, Robert Stephen Beecroft, was deputy chief of mission, the number two at the Baghdad embassy, back in 2011. Diplomatically, another faux coalition of the (remarkably un)willing is being assembled. And the pundits demanding war in a feverish hysteria in Washington are all familiar names, mostly leftovers from the glory days of the 2003 invasion.

Lloyd Austin, the general overseeing America’s new military effort, oversaw the 2011 retreat. General John Allen, brought out of military retirement to coordinate the new war in the region -- he had recently been a civilian advisor to Secretary of State John Kerry -- was deputy commander in Iraq's Anbar province during the surge. Also on the U.S. side, the mercenary security contractors are back, even as President Obama cites, without a hint of irony, the ancient 2002 congressional authorization to invade Iraq he opposed as candidate Obama as one of his legal justifications for this year's war. The Iranians, too, have the same military commander on the ground in Iraq, Qassem Suleimani, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps's Quds Force. Small world. Suleimani also helps direct Hezbollah operations inside Syria.

Even the aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf launching air strikes, the USS George H.W. Bush, is fittingly named after the president who first got us deep into Iraq almost a quarter century ago. Just consider that for a moment: we have been in Iraq so long that we now have an aircraft carrier named after the president who launched the adventure.

On a 36-month schedule for “destroying” ISIS, the president is already ceding his war to the next president, as was done to him by George W. Bush. That next president may well be Hillary Clinton, who was secretary of state as Iraq War 2.0 sputtered to its conclusion. Notably, it was her husband whose administration kept the original Iraq War of 1990-1991 alive via no-fly zones and sanctions. Call that a pedigree of sorts when it comes to fighting in Iraq until hell freezes over.

If there is a summary lesson here, perhaps it’s that there is evidently no hole that can't be dug deeper. How could it be more obvious, after more than two decades of empty declarations of victory in Iraq, that genuine "success," however defined, is impossible? The only way to win is not to play. Otherwise, you’re just a sucker at the geopolitical equivalent of a carnival ringtoss game with a fist full of quarters to trade for a cheap stuffed animal.

Apocalypse Then -- And Now

America’s wars in the Middle East exist in a hallucinatory space where reality is of little import, so if you think you heard all this before, between 2003 and 2010, you did. But for those of us of a certain age, the echoes go back much further. I recently joined a discussion on Dutch television where former Republican Congressman Pete Hoekstra made a telling slip of the tongue. As we spoke about ISIS, Hoekstra insisted that the U.S. needed to deny them “sanctuary in Cambodia.” He quickly corrected himself to say “Syria,” but the point was made.

We've been here before, as the failures of American policy and strategy in Vietnam metastasized into war in Cambodia and Laos to deny sanctuary to North Vietnamese forces. As with ISIS, we were told that they were barbarians who sought to impose an evil philosophy across an entire region. They, too, famously needed to be fought “over there” to prevent them from attacking us here. We didn't say “the Homeland” back then, but you get the picture.

As the similarities with Vietnam are telling, so is the difference. When the reality of America's failure in Vietnam finally became so clear that there was no one left to lie to, America's war there ended and the troops came home. They never went back. America is now fighting the Iraq War for the third time, somehow madly expecting different results, while guaranteeing only failure. To paraphrase a young John Kerry, himself back from Vietnam, who'll be the last to die for that endless mistake? It seems as if it will be many years before we know.

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Opinion Tue, 23 Sep 2014 10:04:00 -0400