Wednesday, November 4, 2015

(Making Americans Poor On Purpose)  Neocon House Speaker Paul Ryan Slides It In (Bern Baby Bern!)   Saudi Prince Busted? Yeah, Right.   (Kickbacks, Conflicts and Darkness - Oh My!:  Welcome to Your “Modern” Stock Market)  U.S. Special Forces Across Globe?  (Farewell, Michael Meacher)  WI Corruption Run Amuck

(P.S. - I think it's nice that MSNBC has come out with the penultimate reason to never pay any attention to them again.)

Anyone who's survived without felony conviction a few terms as a senator, governor or congressperson, has an expensive enough haircut, and has never once said anything interesting will likely be judged a potentially "serious" candidate.

If you're wondering why no Mozarts or Einsteins ever end up running for president in America, but an endless succession of blockheads like Rick Perry are sold to us on the cover of Time magazine as contenders, it's because of this absurd prerequisite.

Ultimately, what we're looking for is someone who's enough of a morally flexible gasbag to get over with the money people, and then also charming enough on some politically irrelevant level to attract voters. ("I'm a war hero, and Sharon Stone's cousin" was Chris Rock's take on acceptable presidential self-salesmanship).

Bernie Sanders bluntly fails the Rick Perry test. In fact he pretty much defines what it means to fail that test. It isn't just that he doesn't kiss babies or comb his hair or "deftly evade answers." He's also unapologetically described himself as a socialist, which makes him a giant bespectacled block of Kryptonite for Beltway donors and mainstream journalists alike.

Have you seen the studies about how many white people in the lower classes are choosing suicide lately? And how this is written off as the reactions of stoopid poor people who just won't take care of themselves and get insurance and proper health care?

Our woman Sardonicky sticks it to them.

And US.

Another economist, from Harvard, is quoted as sniffing that he'd always just assumed that these drug deaths were just "blips on the radar," and  that "everyone's" health is improving, just as the "economy" is supposedly improving. Actually, the new study shows that by "everyone," the experts mean those of a higher educational and socioeconomic status, who can afford to see a doctor because they have actual jobs paying a living wage. The premature death effect was largely confined to people with a high school education or less. In that group, death rates rose by 22 percent, while they actually fell for those with a college education.
It's the class war, stupid. It's the wealth inequality, geniuses. It's the corporate media propaganda telling us that new Speaker of the House Paul Ryan is a "moderate" who will join with Democrats to soberly, responsibly and wonkishly cut what remains of the social safety net out from under millions of struggling, suffering Americans. It's Social Darwinism newly illustrated on a spreadsheet. It's the continued, deliberate culling of the American herd. 
This silent epidemic of sadism within the political class has been going on for decades now. That the new findings of premature death are about white people probably accounts for much of the elite shock, since the death rates among blacks and Latinos are still higher than those of even the poorest whites. They simply have reached something of a plateau of pain, while whites are rapidly playing catch-up in their trek to the misery mountaintop.

It's telling that the Deaton-Case study didn't delve into the correlation between the higher death rates of poor whites with residence in states opting out of Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. Liberal pundits are very fond of blaming higher mortality and morbidity among whites in red states on Republican governors and legislatures refusing to join in the expansion, even though it is initially being paid for by federal funds.

Therefore, a Harvard study last year showing that as many as 17,000 people will needlessly die every year in states opting out of Medicaid expansion was met by a group shrug by liberal experts, who pointed to GOP nihilism rather than the despair and hardship of the individuals affected by the lousy economy as the cause. If only more people could access the rare doctor willing to accept those paltry Medicaid fees, the conventional wisdom went, people would be alive and well and happy.

The new study turns that supposition right on its head. Poor people are dying way too young in all 50 states, Medicaid or no Medicaid, Obamacare or no Obamacare. While official Census Bureau figures show that in one in six people exist below the official poverty threshhold, the reality is much worse when you consider that more than half of us don't have enough savings to cover a $1,000 medical co-pay or a $500 car repair. 
And we are all supposed to be surprised that a person would rather self-medicate with cheap heroin or a six-pack than log on to the website and be faced with rate hikes as high as 40 percent a year. Pay up, or else the IRS will charge you a penalty. Your pain is their gain.

It is obvious is that more and more people have been forced to treat their pain with opioids and booze because they can't afford a surgeon or a dentist. The authors of the study are still unsure what came first: the pain, or the substance abuse.  And they do not purport to find a link between the death rate and the financial crisis.

But an earlier study on the increasing fatal use of painkillers by white women squarely blames the plutocracy-spawned financial meltdown for premature deaths of poor and working class females . . . .
Between 2007 and 2013, median wealth dropped a shocking 40 percent, leaving the poorest half with negative wealth (because of debt), and about 100 plutocratic families owning as much wealth as the bottom 60 percent of Americans combined.  The wealth gap is now the highest ever recorded.
And the experts still have the chutzpah to call themselves "startled" that half a million desperate white people (a probably too-low figure, in my opinion) are killing themselves at rates comparable to those during the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 90s. Methinks they had better rethink their definitions of the American Empire, and American Exceptionalism.
We'd also be wise to define Chronic Despair as a public health emergency. The pathology of the plutocrats is trickling down like a ton of Ebola and killing people right in their tracks.

Read the entire essay here

And also read her below:

Democracy Upside Down

It's not surprising that in its obituary of Sheldon Wolin, who died last week, the "New York Times" studiously avoided any mention of the term for which this political philosopher is most famous: inverted totalitarianism. Instead, the obit's headline misleadingly and somewhat crankily blared that Wolin was an expert on "the limits of popular democracy."

So it was all the more eerily prescient that in an interview with Chris Hedges last year, Wolin observed that it is essentially verboten for the media-political complex to openly declare that American democracy has been kicked upside the head, resulting in the creation of the Total Capitalistic State. Speaking such a truth might give the plutocratic ruling class a bad case of agita, even if it's mentioned in the obituary of the man who made educating the public about this inconvenient truth his life's work.

Wolin was talking about the capture of private media and public institutions by unfettered capital long before Bernie Sanders started running for president, of course. And given that such plain-speaking from within the political establishment is as rare as a snowball in hell, whether Bernie does in fact have a chance in hell of winning the Democratic nomination has been rendered moot. He is changing the dialogue. He is mentioning the S word, (socialism) and the world has not come to an end. That is quite a revolutionary breakthrough in the historic scheme of things.

The recent rise of Bernie Sanders is comparable to the rise of Theodore Roosevelt's Bull Moose Party in the early 20th century. TR failed to win the presidency under that populist banner, but the rhetoric still became part of the conversation. Wall Street was put on notice. And by the time the market crashed in 1929, the populist stage was set for Cousin Franklin's New Deal.
. . . Unlike Nazism, Stalinism and fascism, inverted totalitarianism in the United States is "a system driven not by an individual ruler, but by abstract totalizing powers, one that succeeds by encouraging political disengagement rather than mass mobilization, that relies more on 'private' media than on public agencies to disseminate propaganda reinforcing the official version of events."

Here's looking at you, "New York Times," from your boosting corporate political candidates, to your boosting preemptive wars of aggression, to bowdlerizing the message of one (of) your harshest, most accurate critics in the obituary that you just deigned to write about him. 

"Managed democracy" is the definition of inverted totalitarianism. American democracy is largely contained within the now-permanent electoral process. We are invited to give our opinions on candidates and wedge issues rather than upon substantive issues. We're invited to rail against Ben Carson's snake oil and Marco Rubio's sordid finances instead of the things, like medical care and paychecks, that affect us personally. We're invited to equate voting for a pre-selected candidate with legitimating that candidate.

Not another pretty story.

Not even a good story.

Allowing the government to loot everything in sight is one sign of a Third World nation. Another is letting the Ruling Elite assassinate the President. There are others:  Deteriorating infrastructure, poor schools, rampant violations of civil liberties, police brutality and declining wages come to mind.
Elizabeth Warren before she was a Senator was a law school professor. She did a series of lectures on how Americans declined in wealth since 1970. She has no idea how Wall Street accomplished this.She is vaguely aware that Wall Street is robbing us blind. Catherine Austin Fitts, a former Housing Commissioner, told Greg Hunter that they stole $40 trillion from us and that they will steal tens of trillions more.
. . . Putin has revealed the truth to the world. The US is backing Al Qaeda and ISIS. The US has been seen many times dropping supplies to ISIS in Syria and Iraq. We have been bombing the troops in Iraq fighting ISIS. The next step towards accepting the truth is that 911 was not done by Al Qaeda. 

The Fifty-Year Plan To Make Americans Poor

Read the entire essay at the link above for one answer as to what has been going on since the Revolting Reaganistas.

It can't be true, of course. It's too cruel (and almost too obviously pointed to be believed).

But it makes a powerful argument for what we've been viewing as mayhem at a great distance.

And concerning the coming mayhem considerably close up . . .

Neocon House Speaker Paul Ryan

October 31st, 2015
by Stephen Lendman
Ryan awakened Thursday morning one step away from succeeding John Boehner as House speaker - ousted by a palace coup. He wasn’t conservative enough for hardline Republicans.
As expected, House members elected Ryan as his successor, receiving 236 votes, a comfortable margin of victory - winning in the Republican dominated body after Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy withdrew his candidacy and Ryan bested Rep. Daniel Webster (unrelated to the 19th century statesman/politician by the same name) decisively - by a 200 - 43 margin among Republican members alone.
The position is second in line to the presidency if its incumbent dies, is incapacitated, resigns or gets removed by impeachment.
Ryan’s ascendency lurches Washington further to the right. His neocon credentials are scary. He wants more spending for wars and militarism, less for social programs. More on the latter below.
He rants about ‘keeping America strong,” supports its heavy intervention hand anywhere it wishes, serving US interests at the expense of all others.
In 2012, he was Mitt Romney’s running mate. His “Path to Prosperity:  A Blueprint for American Renewal” at the time prioritized gutting vital social programs millions of Americans rely on.
He wants Medicare and Social Security privatized en route to ending them altogether - Medicaid, food stamps, and other social programs gutted.
He supports Americans having anything they want as long as they pay for it, mindless of unaffordability issues for half of US households, living in poverty or bordering it.
Social Security and Medicare are bedrock social programs - funded by worker/employer payroll tax deductions, federal insurance programs, not entitlements, contractually obligating Washington to pay benefits to eligible recipients.
Ryan and likeminded Republican and Democrat neocons infesting Congress want these vital programs ended - to assure unrestricted military spending as well as sustained handouts to Wall Street and other corporate favorites.
In 2011, he proposed eliminating Medicare altogether. It passed the House but not the Senate. He wants America’s wealth handed exclusively to monied interests already with too much - ordinary people left on their own out of luck, accelerating the "thirdworldization" process, a deplorable race to the bottom.
His ideal society is no fit place to live in, his “Path to Prosperity” returning America to 19th century harshness if implemented.
He believes everything government does, business does better, so let it operate unrestrained by regulatory controls. He represents America’s 1% at the expense of its great majority.
He’s one of them, his estimated net worth at between $4.5 and $7.4 million. He supports socialism for the rich, law of the jungle for ordinary folks.
As House speaker, he has enormous power, especially with strong neocon support. Expect him to take full advantage at the expense of millions of disadvantaged households deserving better, no matter who succeeds Obama in 2017.
America is a fascist police state, a belligerent nation waging endless wars of aggression. Every Republican and Democrat presidential aspirant supports an ideologically over-the-top agenda - risking global war for power and profit. Don’t let their rhetoric on the stump fool you.
(Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at

His new book as editor and contributor is titled "Flashpoint in Ukraine:  How the US Drive for Hegemony Risks World War III".
Visit his blog site at
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Half of 25-Year-Olds Live with Parents, 1 Million College Students ‘Sugar Babies’, 31% of Adjunct Profs in Poverty:  Demanding Obvious Economic Solutions Yet???

by Carl Herman

Kickbacks, Conflicts and Darkness:  Welcome to Your “Modern” Stock Market

New York Stock Exchange
New York Stock Exchange
By Pam Martens and Russ Martens
October 29, 2015

Chances are pretty high that among the daily lexicon of most Americans, you are not going to hear the words “maker-taker.” And yet, outside of the debate about preventing Wall Street’s too-big-to-fail banks to create another epic taxpayer bailout in the future, the maker-taker debate is one of the hottest on Wall Street. On Tuesday of this week, the glacially-slow to respond Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) held a full day hearing on the “maker-taker” model and other stock market structure dysfunctions.

In simple terms, maker-taker is another wealth extraction tool used by Wall Street firms to pick the public’s pocket in the name of stock market liquidity. In more complex terms, brokers servicing retail clients and institutions (like those managing your pension money) are incentivized to send their customers’ stock limit orders to trading venues that will pay them a rebate (on the premise that they are “making” liquidity) while traders who trade on those limit orders are charged a fee (on the premise they are “taking” liquidity). Thus the maker-taker model.

Finance Professor Larry Harris, of the USC Marshall School of Business, told the SEC panel on Tuesday that “fees charged to access standing limit orders are essentially kickbacks that exchanges charge people who want to trade with their clients who offer limit orders. In any other context, collecting such fees would constitute a felony. Although legal in the security markets, they are impediments to fair and orderly markets. They need to go away.”

Broker-dealers who process retail customer stock orders as an “agent” for the customer have a duty under the law to route stock orders to the venue which will provide best execution to their customer, not to the venue that will give the broker-dealer the biggest rebate. Professor Harris told the SEC panel that the maker-taker model undermines the agency role of broker-dealers, because “Customers whose standing limit orders were routed to maker-taker trading systems were worse off because their orders did not trade as quickly as they would have traded had they been posted at traditional exchanges.”

Tragically, most of the traditional stock exchanges, as well as most of the dark pools that proliferate across Wall Street, are today using the maker-taker model.

The maker-taker pricing model typically means a charge of $0.003 per share to take liquidity (30 cents per 100 shares) while paying a rebate of $0.002 per share to post limit orders (20 cents per 100 shares). The trading venue keeps the difference, or 10 cents per 100 shares. On billions of shares traded, that’s real money. And it’s not going back to the customer.

In a Spring 2014 paper published in the "Virginia Law & Business Review," Stanislav Dolgopolov argued that the maker-taker model may also pose stock market manipulation issues. The title of the article is:  “The Maker-Taker Pricing Model and Its Impact on the Securities Market Structure: A Can of Worms for Securities Fraud?” Dolgopolov writes:

“Aside from agency trading, which raises concerns about the duty of best execution, another relevant issue is market manipulation — chiefly in the context of principal trading. Of course, MTPM [Maker-Taker Pricing Model] influences a wide variety of trading strategies, given HFT’s [High Frequency Trading] razor-thin profit margins, and it is important to consider whether this financial innovation has created any trading strategies falling under market manipulation. One key impact of MTPM is the emergence of ‘rebate arbitrage’— also sometimes called ‘rebate harvesting’—aimed to generate profits primarily from collecting liquidity rebates… Furthermore, rebate arbitrage may be enhanced by the usage of rebate-oriented order types, such as ‘add liquidity only’ or ‘post only.’ ”

Despite multiple Congressional hearings since author Michael Lewis published his 2014 book Flash Boys, and went on "60 Minutes" to state that the U.S. stock market is rigged, the SEC has done essentially nothing to correct these and many other abuses in today’s stock market structure. Traditional stock exchanges, that are supposed to be self-regulatory bodies, are still charging enormous fees to allow high-frequency trading firms to co-locate their computers next to the stock exchange computers to gain a speed advantage. The stock exchanges are still selling a faster direct feed of trade data to those who can afford the steep price. Discount brokers are still selling their own customers’ stock orders to dark pools run by some of the biggest Wall Street banks in an unseemly system known as “payment for order flow,” a practice used by Bernie Madoff and which raises serious questions as to whether the broker is routing orders for best execution for the customer or greatest profit advantage to itself.

On June 17 of last year, prior to his retirement, Senator Carl Levin convened a hearing on the stock market’s structure. The title of the hearing was “Conflicts of Interest, Investor Loss of Confidence, and High Speed Trading in U.S. Markets.” Since that hearing, the market suffered another wipe-out of stock limit orders on August 24 when the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged 1089 points in the first few minutes of trading, taking out limit orders at the lows on the day in many cases. The market then recovered much of those losses to close the day with a loss of 588 points on the Dow.

A similar wealth destruction occurred to the little guy on May 6, 2010, the date of the infamous “Flash Crash,” when the Dow plunged 998 points and then closed the day with a loss of just 348 points. In a speech on September 7, 2010 at the Economic Club of New York, Mary Schapiro, then SEC Chair, told the audience the following:

“A staggering total of more than $2 billion in individual investor stop loss orders is estimated to have been triggered during the half hour between 2:30 and 3 p.m. on May 6. As a hypothetical illustration, if each of those orders were executed at a very conservative estimate of 10 per cent less than the closing price, then those individual investors suffered losses of more than $200 million compared to the closing price on that day.”

What will it take for Congress and regulators to stop this serial fleecing of Americans by Wall Street?

Editor’s Note: Stanislav Dolgopolov, author of the article “The Maker-Taker Pricing Model and Its Impact on the Securities Market Structure:  A Can of Worms for Securities Fraud?” referenced above, has kindly written us to clarify his views for our readers. He writes as follows:

“My conclusion was that rebate arbitrage (or at least its prevailing forms) is unlikely to constitute market manipulation. While rebate arbitrage may have little value and just boost volume, it typically does not fit the legal definition of market manipulation, which is quite narrow. The essence of market manipulation is in producing artificial price movements in order to profit from them, and rebate arbitrage actually works better in stable market conditions (i.e., essentially buying and selling at the same price and collecting rebates on both sides/riding one-tick movements but not necessarily causing them). That being said, I did note in the paper that ‘The inadequacy of disclosure for the expanding universe of order types has been noted specifically in connection with [the maker-taker pricing model]…’ and ‘If certain HFT trading strategies [shaped by maker-taker arrangements] are based on the discrepancy between the actual functioning of an order type and its formal documentation, using [the federal antifraud prohibition] should be an option.’ ”

Why Are US Special Forces Operations Expanding Across the Globe?

By Nick Turse, "In These Times"
31 October 15
This year alone, U.S. Special Operations forces have been deployed to a record-shattering 147 countries—75% of the nations on the planet.

hey’re some of the best soldiers in the world: highly trained, well equipped, and experts in weapons, intelligence gathering, and battlefield medicine. They study foreign cultures and learn local languages. They’re smart, skillful, wear some very iconic headgear, and their 12-member teams are “capable of conducting the full spectrum of special operations, from building indigenous security forces to identifying and targeting threats to U.S. national interests.” 

They’re also quite successful. At least they think so.

“In the last decade, Green Berets have deployed into 135 of the 195 recognized countries in the world. Successes in Afghanistan, Iraq, Trans-Sahel Africa, the Philippines, the Andean Ridge, the Caribbean, and Central America have resulted in an increasing demand for [Special Forces] around the globe,” reads a statement on the website of U.S. Army Special Forces Command.

The Army’s Green Berets are among the best known of America’s elite forces, but they’re hardly alone. Navy SEALs, Air Force Air Commandos, Army Rangers, Marine Corps Raiders, as well as civil affairs personnel, logisticians, administrators, analysts, and planners, among others, make up U.S. Special Operations forces (SOF). They are the men and women who carry out America’s most difficult and secret military missions. Since 9/11, U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) has grown in every conceivable way from funding and personnel to global reach and deployments. In 2015, according to Special Operations Command spokesman Ken McGraw, U.S. Special Operations forces deployed to a record-shattering 147 countries — 75% of the nations on the planet, which represents a jump of 145% since the waning days of the Bush administration. On any day of the year, in fact, America’s most elite troops can be found in 70 to 90 nations.

There is, of course, a certain logic to imagining that the increasing global sweep of these deployments is a sign of success. After all, why would you expand your operations into ever-more nations if they weren’t successful? So I decided to pursue that record of “success” with a few experts on the subject.

I started by asking Sean Naylor, a man who knows America’s most elite troops as few do and the author of Relentless Strike:  The Secret History of Joint Special Operations Command, about the claims made by Army Special Forces Command. He responded with a hearty laugh. “I’m going to give whoever wrote that the benefit of the doubt that they were referring to successes that Army Special Forces were at least perceived to have achieved in those countries rather than the overall U.S. military effort,” he says. As he points out, the first post-9/11 months may represent the zenith of success for those troops. The initial operations in the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 — out largely by U.S. Special Forces, the CIA, and the Afghan Northern Alliance, backed by U.S. airpower—were “probably the high point” in the history of unconventional warfare by Green Berets, according to Naylor. As for the years that followed? “There were all sorts of mistakes, one could argue, that were made after that.” He is, however, quick to point out that “the vast majority of the decisions [about operations and the war, in general] were not being made by Army Special Forces soldiers.”

For Linda Robinson, author of One Hundred Victories:  Special Ops and the Future of American Warfare, the high number of deployments is likely a mistake in itself. “Being in 70 countries… may not be the best use of SOF,” she told me. Robinson, a senior international policy analyst at the Rand Corporation, advocates for a “more thoughtful and focused approach to the employment of SOF,” citing enduring missions in Colombia and the Philippines as the most successful special ops training efforts in recent years. “It might be better to say ‘Let’s not sprinkle around the SOF guys like fairy dust.’ Let’s instead focus on where we think we can have a success… If you want more successes, maybe you need to start reining in how many places you’re trying to cover.”

Most of the special ops deployments in those 147 countries are the type Robinson expresses skepticism about—short-term training missions by “white” operators like Green Berets (as opposed to the “black ops” man-hunting missions by the elite of the elite that captivate Hollywood and video gamers). Between 2012 and 2014, for example, Special Operations forces carried out 500 Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET) missions in as many as 67 countries, practicing everything from combat casualty care and marksmanship to small unit tactics and desert warfare alongside local forces. And JCETs only scratch the surface when it comes to special ops missions to train proxies and allies. Special Operations forces, in fact, conduct a variety of training efforts globally.

A recent $500 million program, run by Green Berets, to train a Syrian force of more than 15,000 over several years, for instance, crashed and burned in a very public way, yielding just four or five fighters in the field before being abandoned. This particular failure followed much larger, far more expensive attempts to train the Afghan and Iraqi security forces in which Special Operations troops played a smaller yet still critical role. The results of these efforts recently prompted "TomDispatch" regular and retired Army colonel Andrew Bacevich to write that Washington should now assume “when it comes to organizing, training, equipping, and motivating foreign armies, that the United States is essentially clueless.”

The elite warriors of the warrior elite

In addition to training, another core role of Special Operations forces is direct action — counterterror missions like low-profile drone assassinations and kill/capture raids by muscled-up, high-octane operators. The exploits of the men — and they are mostly men (and mostly Caucasian ones at that) — behind these operations are chronicled in Naylor’s epic history of Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), the secret counterterrorism organization that includes the military’s most elite and shadowy units like the Navy’s SEAL Team 6 and the Army’s Delta Force. A compendium of more than a decade of derring-do from Afghanistan to Iraq, Somalia to Syria, "Relentless Strike" paints a portrait of a highly-trained, well-funded, hard-charging counterterror force with global reach. Naylor calls it the “perfect hammer,” but notes the obvious risk that “successive administrations would continue to view too many national security problems as nails.”

When I ask Naylor about what JSOC has ultimately achieved for the country in the Obama years, I get the impression that he doesn’t find my question particularly easy to answer. He points to hostage rescues, like the high profile effort to save “Captain Phillips” of the Maersk Alabama after the cargo ship was hijacked by Somali pirates, and asserts that such missions might “inhibit others from seizing Americans.” One wonders, of course, if similar high-profile failed missions since then, including the SEAL raid that ended in the deaths of hostages Luke Somers, an American photojournalist, and Pierre Korkie, a South African teacher, as well as the unsuccessful attempt to rescue the late aid worker Kayla Mueller, might then have just the opposite effect.

“Afghanistan, you’ve got another fairly devilish strategic problem there,” Naylor says and offers up a question of his own: “You have to ask what would have happened if al-Qaeda in Iraq had not been knocked back on its heels by Joint Special Operations Command between 2005 and 2010?” Naylor calls attention to JSOC’s special abilities to menace terror groups, keeping them unsteady through relentless intelligence gathering, raiding, and man-hunting. “It leaves them less time to take the offensive, to plan missions, and to plot operations against the United States and its allies,” he explains. “Now that doesn’t mean that the use of JSOC is a substitute for a strategy… It’s a tool in a policymaker’s toolkit.”

Indeed. If what JSOC can do is bump off and capture individuals and pressure such groups but not decisively roll up militant networks, despite years of anti-terror whack-a-mole efforts, it sounds like a recipe for spending endless lives and endless funds on endless war. “It's not my place as a reporter to opine as to whether the present situations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Yemen were ‘worth’ the cost in blood and treasure borne by U.S. Special Operations forces,” Naylor tells me in a follow-up email. “Given the effects that JSOC achieved in Iraq (Uday and Qusay Hussein killed, Saddam Hussein captured, [al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab] Zarqawi killed, al-Qaeda in Iraq eviscerated), it's hard to say that JSOC did not have an impact on that nation's recent history.”

Impacts, of course, are one thing, successes another. Special Operations Command, in fact, hedges its bets by claiming that it can only be as successful as the global commands under which its troops operate in each area of the world, including European Command, Pacific Command, Africa Command, Southern Command, Northern Command, and Central Command or CENTCOM, the geographic combatant command that oversees operations in the Greater Middle East. “We support the Geographic Combatant Commanders (GCCs)—if they are successful, we are successful; if they fail, we fail,” says SOCOM’s website.

With this in mind, it’s helpful to return to Naylor’s question: What if al-Qaeda in Iraq, which flowered in the years after the U.S. invasion, had never been targeted by JSOC as part of a man-hunting operation going after its foreign fighters, financiers, and military leaders? Given that the even more brutal Islamic State (IS) grew out of that targeted terror group, that IS was fueled in many ways, say experts, both by U.S. actions and inaction, that its leader’s rise was bolstered by U.S. operations, that “U.S. training helped mold” another of its chiefs, and that a U.S. prison served as its “boot camp,” and given that the Islamic State now holds a significant swath of Iraq, was JSOC’s campaign against its predecessor a net positive or a negative? Were special ops efforts in Iraq (and therefore in CENTCOM’s area of operations) — JSOC’s post-9/11 showcase counterterror campaign — a success or a failure?

Naylor notes that JSOC’s failure to completely destroy al-Qaeda in Iraq allowed IS to grow and eventually sweep “across northern Iraq in 2014, seizing town after town from which JSOC and other U.S. forces had evicted al-Qaeda in Iraq at great cost several years earlier.” This, in turn, led to the rushing of special ops advisers back into the country to aid the fight against the Islamic State, as well as to that program to train anti-Islamic State Syrian fighters that foundered and then imploded. By this spring, JSOC operators were not only back in Iraq and also on the ground in Syria, but they were soon conducting drone campaigns in both of those tottering nations.

This special ops merry-go-round in Iraq is just the latest in a long series of fiascos, large and small, to bedevil America’s elite troops.  Over the years, in that country, in Afghanistan, and elsewhere, special operators have regularly been involved in all manner of mishaps, embroiled in various scandals, and implicated in numerous atrocities. Recently, for instance, members of the Special Operations forces have come under scrutiny for an air strike on a Médecins Sans Frontières hospital in Afghanistan that killed at least 22 patients and staff, for an alliance with “unsavory partners” in the Central African Republic, for the ineffective and abusive Afghan police they trained and supervised, and for a shady deal to provide SEALs with untraceable silencers that turned out to be junk, according to prosecutors.

Winners and losers

JSOC was born of failure, a phoenix rising from the ashes of Operation Eagle Claw, the humiliating attempt to rescue 53 American hostages from the U.S. Embassy in Iran in 1980 that ended, instead, in the deaths of eight U.S. personnel. Today, the elite force trades on an aura of success in the shadows. Its missions are the stuff of modern myths.

In his advance praise for Naylor’s book, one cable news analyst called JSOC’s operators “the finest warriors who ever went into combat.” Even accepting this — with apologies to the Mongols, the Varangian Guard, Persia’s Immortals, and the Ten Thousand of Xenophon’s "Anabasis" — questions remain:  Have these “warriors” actually been successful beyond budget battles and the box office? Is exceptional tactical prowess enough? Are battlefield triumphs and the ability to batter terror networks through relentless raiding the same as victory? Such questions bring to mind an exchange that Army colonel Harry Summers, who served in Vietnam, had with a North Vietnamese counterpart in 1975. “You know, you never defeated us on the battlefield,” Summers told him. After pausing to ponder the comment, Colonel Tu replied, “That may be so. But it is also irrelevant.”

So what of those Green Berets who deployed to 135 countries in the last decade? And what of the Special Operations forces sent to 147 countries in 2015? And what about those Geographic Combatant Commanders across the globe who have hosted all those special operators?

I put it to Vietnam veteran Andrew Bacevich, author of Breach of Trust:  How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country. “As far back as Vietnam,” he tells me, “the United States military has tended to confuse inputs with outcomes. Effort, as measured by operations conducted, bomb tonnage dropped, or bodies counted, is taken as evidence of progress made. Today, tallying up the number of countries in which Special Operations forces are present repeats this error. There is no doubt that U.S. Special Operations forces are hard at it in lots of different places. It does not follow that they are thereby actually accomplishing anything meaningful.”

9/11 Consensus Panel Mourns the Loss of Honorary Panel Member the Rt. Hon. Michael Meacher, British Member of Parliament

On October 22, 2015
October 22, 2015 — It was with considerable sadness that the 9/11 Consensus Panel learned of the brief illness and passing of one of its most respected Honorary Members, British Labour Member of Parliament, the Rt. Hon. Michael Meacher, who joined the Panel in September, 2011.
Mr. Meacher died on October 21 at age 75, after having served as MP for Oldham West and Royton for 45 years. He was one of 36 Labour MP’s to nominate Jeremy Corbyn as a candidate in the Labour leadership election this year.

The BBC obituary reported an outpouring of tributes for this decent, hard-working man of unusual integrity.

Mr. Meacher was openly critical of the US failure to prevent 9/11, which, as he told "The Guardian" in September, 2003, “offered an extremely convenient context” for military action in Afghanistan and Iraq – actions which had clearly been planned before 9/11.

In his first 9/11 book, The New Pearl Harbor, Dr. David Ray Griffin (co-founder of the 9/11 Consensus Panel) devoted several pages to the controversy sparked by Meacher in 2003.

Dr. Griffin and Mr. Meacher met in 2005 when they were both being interviewed for a TV program, and between tapings they had “a brief but very friendly conversation.”

In May 2005, Meacher introduced a motion on climate change into Parliament, calling upon the government to commit to yearly CO2 emission reductions of 3%.

We at the Consensus Panel offer our condolences to the many people in Great Britain and the world who will miss the active, intelligent, and constructive participation of this long-serving elder statesman.

Scott Walker and the Kochs Make Wisconsin Corruption-Friendly

By Justin Miller, "The American Prospect"

31 October 15

He may no longer be seeking national office, but three new state bills aim to entrench the power of the Wisconsin governor and his big-money allies.
ow that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has abandoned his presidential bid, he and a network of powerful conservative allies with close ties to the Koch Brothers are exacting what critics say is blatant political vengeance on his in-state critics, by targeting the laws that have effectively deterred or punished political corruption.

Last week, Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled Assembly passed three bills that together would completely gut existing campaign-finance laws, blunt prosecutors’ ability to investigate political corruption, and turn the state’s elections and ethics board into a partisan-controlled paper tiger. Two of the bills are now before the Republican-controlled Senate, while the third has already been signed by Walker.

Good-government advocates can’t seem to overstate the impact these bills could have on a state that’s long been a beacon of government transparency and strong campaign-finance laws. “I think the implications, long-term, could be even more horrendous than [Act 10—the bill that gutted state workers’ collective bargaining rights],” says Peter Barca, a long-time Wisconsin politician and current Democratic state assembly member, calling the past week the worst he’s experienced in any legislative body.

Advocates for open government fear the changes may be too “inside baseball” to rouse public anger—at least until scandals beset state government. “It’s a recipe for political corruption. Even worse, the public won’t know about it,” says Brendan Fischer, general counsel at the Center for Media and Democracy. “There’s unlimited opportunities for corruption as a result for these bills and limited opportunities for the public to keep tabs.”

“It’s very strategic and very shrewd,” says Jay Heck, executive director of Common Cause Wisconsin. “Ever since Act 10, there’s been this synergy between the Koch Brothers and Americans for Prosperity with the legislative Republicans and Scott Walker. It’s part of the broader agenda — one they know is an agenda that doesn’t resonate with any people’s lives. They want to get away with it quickly.” 

The legislative push is an attempt by Republicans to codify a controversial Wisconsin State Supreme Court decision, which involved an investigation into Scott Walker’s 2012 campaign to oppose an effort to recall him. The ongoing investigation into allegations of illegal coordination between Walker’s 2012 campaign and outside conservative advocacy groups was abruptly halted this July — at the apogee of Walker’s presidential campaign — by the court. The justices ruled not only that the instances of coordination were legal, but also that all evidence in the case was to be destroyed. It’s worth noting that justices who signed on to the decision were elected with millions in spending from the same outside groups that were at the heart of the case. Court critics had demanded that at least two conservative justices who had received campaign support from groups like the Wisconsin Club for Growth (suspected of illegal coordination with Walker) recuse themselves. They didn’t—and voted to stop the investigation.

So what exactly is in these pieces of legislation? While they are three separate laws, together they could create a less accountable, less transparent, and more corruptible state government.

Breaking Up a “Gold Standard”

Unlike the Federal Elections Commission and many state agencies, Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board (GAB) is a nonpartisan body made up of six appointed retired judges charged with enforcing the state’s ethics, lobbying, campaign-finance, and election law.

The board was formed in 2007 with bipartisan support after nine Wisconsin legislators and staffers—Democrat and Republican alike—were found guilty of using taxpayer funds for political campaigns. The state assembly speaker was sentenced to 15 months in prison.

In election law circles, the system is held up as a gold standard for ensuring integrity in the political process—especially because of the independent funding mechanism for corruption investigations, which works as a firewall from political agendas.

Critics think Republicans are targeting the GAB partly because it authorized the probing form of investigation known as “John Doe” into Walker and his staffers. Republicans—echoed by a succession of conservative editorials from The Wall Street Journal—have sought to cast the board as a partner to the prosecutors who went on a “political witch hunt” of Republicans. They contended that the investigation was based on a false interpretation of campaign coordination law.

The bill to repeal the GAB would replace the retired judges with partisan appointees, create separate entities for ethics and elections, and give the legislature the authority to cut off investigative funding if it sees fit.

Republican Assembly Member Joe Sanfelippo penned an op-ed last month saying that the GAB should operate more like the FEC. “If it works for the Federal Election Commission, there’s no reason it won’t for Wisconsin as well,” he wrote. The problem is that it doesn’t work for the FEC. The commission’s chairperson has said that due to crippling partisan gridlock (by law, it has three Democratic and three Republican commissioners), the FEC can’t enforce federal campaign-finance laws. As the Campaign Legal Center’s Larry Noble told the "Wisconsin State Journal," "It's like setting up a disaster-relief agency and saying you're going to use the FEMA handling of Hurricane Katrina as your model."

According to Common Cause’s Heck, some Republican state senators who helped implement the GAB back in 2007 and who are still in office are reportedly pushing to allow retired judges to stay on the board. Their numbers are small, however, and it remains to be seen if they will be enough to force an amendment.

Welcoming Unlimited Dark Money

In one of the most expansive deregulations of existing campaign-finance law, the state assembly also passed a bill Wednesday that guts existing regulations, ushers in an even larger windfall of dark money than Citizens United, and removes certain campaign coordination rules that previously served as a firewall between candidate and super-PAC campaigns.

The bill would create a loophole for political groups to skirt traditional disclosure regulations of “express advocacy,” so long as more than 50 percent of total spending doesn’t go to such activity. Experts say that the loophole, which would be one of the most lax in the country, would allow groups to flood the airwaves with un-attributable attack ads. And with this bill, campaigns and “issue advocacy” groups are free to work together.

As Fischer explains, under the bill the Assembly passed, a campaign could set up a shadow campaign committee that could take donations from corporations, foreigners, and those trying to avoid public scrutiny without having to disclose who is contributing. All the while, the official campaign and shadow group could legally coordinate on campaign strategy.

Additionally, the bill removes the requirement that direct contributors to candidates specify their employer, which helps illuminate which industries are supporting which politicians. Unlimited contributions to political parties and legislative leaders would be allowed, as well.

John Doe No More

Rather than using a grand jury system, since statehood, Wisconsin has used a “John Doe” investigation process, which allows prosecutors to covertly investigate wrongdoing by questioning unnamed suspects before a judge.  The process was used to bring down politicians for corruption back in 2006, as well as for the campaign coordination investigation into Scott Walker. “John Doe” has been in Republicans’ political crosshairs since the Walker investigation and they have long been working to portray it as purely a means for partisan attacks—despite the fact that Republican prosecutors were leading the investigation into Walker’s campaign.  

This bill has passed both the assembly and senate and was signed into law by Walker on Friday, effectively ending “John Doe” political corruption investigations in the state.

Taken together, these three bills mark a wholesale dismantling of good-government policies, likely turning Wisconsin into a political Wild West. If all are enacted, outside groups would be able to dump untraceable money into elections. The campaign-finance laws that remain on the books would be lightly enforced, if at all, as the new agencies become mired in FEC-style partisan gridlock. The ability to effectively investigate instances of corruption would be curtailed—with the legislature vested with the power to cut off the funding for such investigations.

The Koch Connection

The spate of anti-reform legislation comes at a moment of electoral peril for the state’s Republican Party. “Walker has never been weaker and the fractures between the two (Republican-controlled) houses are more pronounced than ever,” says Common Cause’s Jay Heck. “This is sort of a last attempt to tie all the factions together.”

Walker’s lackluster candidacy for president appears to have hurt his support back home. A recent survey puts his disapproval rating at 60 percent, 10 percentage points higher than when he pushed through Act 10 in 2011. But, as last week’s legislative victories showed, he can still rely on the Republican legislature and his loyal band of conservative groups to offer up support—particularly when that support gives the GOP’s big-money backers more sway in state elections.

Indeed, those big-money backers are the prime movers of these measures. As the Center for Media and Democracy’s Fischer has thoroughly documented, these government “deforms” are central to the agenda of the Koch Brothers and their deeply entrenched Wisconsin political infrastructure. The only group that was lobbying in support of the disintegration of the state’s Government Accountability Board was the brothers’ Americans for Prosperity (AFP), which also spent $10 million in support of Scott Walker during his recall election.

Similarly, the sole lobbying proponent of the push for new campaign-finance deregulation is Wisconsin Right to Life, which is run by a former AFP state operative. In a statement to the Prospect, the group said “We are glad the Wisconsin State Legislature is addressing the fact that Chp. 11, our state's current campaign finance law, is unconstitutional as it stands."

Along with AFP, Wisconsin Family Action, a group that seeks to advance “Judeo-Christian values in Wisconsin by strengthening, preserving and promoting marriage, family, life and liberty,” and was implicated in the recent John Doe investigation, lobbied to do away with that very prosecution tool. Intertwined with these organizations is the Wisconsin Alliance for Reform, a recently formed group that has been running radio spots backing the legislation, and has clear ties to AFP, ALEC, and prominent conservative state politicians.

Political Blowback?

Will this brazen agenda of political “deform” lead to the kind of public pushback that arose in opposition to Act 10?  Deregulating campaign finance and breaking up the GAB are hardly policy priorities for the average Wisconsin voter. In fact, there’s plenty of evidence to show that Wisconsinites — and Americans more broadly — want to get money out of politics. In Wisconsin, 61 cities and counties, representing 42 percent of state residents, have passed resolutions in support of overturning Citizens United. Across the country, 84 percent of Americans think money has too much influence in politics and 75 percent believe there needs to be fundamental changes to the campaign-finance system.

Good-government advocates were heartened a few weeks ago, when there was substantial public rancor after Scott Walker and State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos attempted to include a last-minute provision in the budget bill that would have gutted the state’s open records law.

“A lot of work needs to be done to educate voters about what [this new legislation] actually does,” says Fischer. “There’s a lot of misinformation coming from supporters. But as the public grows more aware about what this bill actually does in promoting secrecy, they will grow outraged.”

However, there’s little opportunity to challenge these laws. Experts don’t see much room to stage a legal challenge in the courts and a ballot measure to repeal the laws would first have to be approved by the legislature. Both the state’s 2010 redistricting and the impending flow of more secret money make a Democratic takeover of either chamber in 2016 highly unlikely.

Strategically, this legislation works to help entrench Republican power in a competitive state, and will likely leave state Democrats looking beyond the next redistricting, rather than to 2016, for a new political opening.

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