Bye Bye Birdie

I got into Mad Men a couple of years ago and would occasionally get wound up about it. Like I'd come up with how Don should responded to Hilton during his pitch ("How do you say 'oxygen' on the moon? Hilton.") and how someone should have used Don's Hershey's breakdown to show how they could get at every aspect of the public mind. 

I love that Emily, my partner and the person who introduced me to Mad Men, thinks that Don got out in the end. His smile in the final scene was like his smile in the elevator when he tricked Roger into hiring him. He railed to his "niece" about people who believe in something, in "Jesus". Still some ambiguity; actually seemed to feel emotion, but -- obvious question -- to what end? The ultimate purpose of feeling is to sell stuff -- you're born alone and you die alone, and Don never forgets that. He walked out of that meeting about the everyman, went out to find him and when he did, hugged him. The first episode was him in a bar, having a feeling about the joy of smoking, but unable to turn it into copy, ultimately coming up with "It's toasted" -- which was actually decades older -- big tobacco would come to the "smoking is fun" pitch later. 

Contrast in the last episode, he's now cutting edge, commodifying someone else's dissent, which he'd started doing in his New York Times letter. In the end, there's an element of "jokes on you for caring about this bs" -- just as there was at the end of the Sopranos. Everyone in the end is married to work -- Don (while trippin), Peggy (Stan as work anchor), Joan (work at home), Pete (while flying the world), and even Roger -- trying to get as close to married as he can to his work man crush, Don.

Challenging Morell's Claims on Iraq WMDs and Torture



On Monday, I questioned former acting CIA director Michael Morell about the lies leading up to the Iraq war and their relation to torture. (See below for video and transcript.)

He's been making the rounds on talk shows and started the talk today by speaking about the alleged "failures" of the "pre-war Iraq intelligence," echoing a frequent mantra. The claim is that somehow the Bush administration and others didn't engage in propaganda and deceit to sell the Iraq war, but rather, were themselves victims of bad intelligence. 

So I cited a claim by the Bush administration made during the run up to the Iraq war that was provably false before the war. On September 7, 2002, Bush held a news conference with then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Bush claimed there was an International Atomic Energy Agency report that claimed Iraq was "six months away from developing a weapon. I don’t know what more evidence we need." 

John R. MacArthur, author of Second Front: Censorship and Propaganda in the Gulf War, highlighted -- at the time -- that, when questioned, "the IAEA responded that not only was there no new report, ‘there’s never been a report’ asserting that Iraq was six months away from constructing a nuclear weapon."

When I confronted Morell -- who was Bush's briefer -- about Bush's statement he took no responsibility at all. "So, you know you have to ask him. You have to ask him," Morell said. 

I found it so laughable that he would say this instead of directly responding to the false statement that my initial reaction was not to bother following up on this. If he's not going take any responsibility for Bush's false public claims, what's the point? I'd rather expect that if I were able to corner Bush and ask him enough follow up questions, he'd probably excuse his false statements by saying that's what his briefers told him; so they'd be hide behind each other. However, Morell also said "The only thing I can tell you is what we were telling them at the time." It would certainly be worth while to ask him what he was telling Bush about this -- or claims he was. 

I then asked Morell about the Shaykh al-Libi case. Contrary to the depiction in movies like "Zero Dark Thirty" -- which Morell had a hand in -- that torture is used to get the bad guys, the al-Libi case shows that torture is used to get false but useful information. That is, al-Libi was tortured him into "confessing" that Iraq was working with al-Qaeda. 

Morrel gave a lengthy objection to my use of the word "torture," then he challenged the notion that it was done at the U.S. government's behest, questioning what evidence I had for that. The moderator cut off the discussion at this point. 

Marcy Wheeler succinctly notes about his response here: "1) He doesn't deal with torture that exceeded and/or preceded DOJ guidelines. 2) Which al-Libi's torture did 3) that he doesn't actually deny al-Libi was tortured 4) which is interesting because he got the same treatment as Abu Zubaydah." 

Al-Libi was captured by the U.S. in Afghanistan and turned over to the Egyptians by the CIA and then tortured into saying what the U.S. government wanted him to say -- that Iraq was tied to al-Qaeda -- his "confession" was featured in Colin Powell's speech to the UN just before the Iraq invasion. (See my "'Both Sides' Are Wrong: Torture Did Work -- to Produce Lies for War.") 

But it's totally out of bounds for me to suggest that his torture was at the U.S. government's behest, it merely provided him to the Egyptians and benefited from his "confession" to start a gigantic war based on "evidence" that the Bush administration is merely the victim of -- or so Morell would have us believe. 

There's been a fair amount said about "if we knew now what we knew then" about Iraq. I've tried to debunk the notion that we didn't know the Bush administration was falsifying, propagandizing and lying to start the Iraq war at the time. And many, including myself, did real time debunking. See: "White House Claims: A Pattern of Deceit" "U.S. Credibility Problems" "Tough Questions for Bush on Iraq Tonight."

But we should consider this question in one respect: Given what we know now, why are people like Mr. Morell being taken the least bit seriously and why are they not being prosecuted? 

One other line of defense by Morell bares comment -- and one that few take exception to. When I questioned him about the Bush falsifications for war, part of his response was a say that such statements were made during the Clinton administration. Which is true. The Clinton administration did lie about Iraq, including WMDs and many politicos -- not just Jeb Bush -- continue to fabricate the record. That in no way defends what the Bush administration did. It merely highlights that establishment Democrats like those in the Clinton administration and others who voted to "authorize" the Iraq invasion are also culpable. 

Just because both Bushes and Clintons say something doesn't mean it's not a lie, merely that it's a particularly destructive one. 

Former CIA analyst and presidential briefer Ray McGovern wrote a pair of relevant pieces, one recently ("The Phony ‘Bad Intel’ Defense on Iraq") and another, from 2011 ("Rise of Another CIA Yes Man") on Morell when he was acting CIA director. 


Transcript: 

41:00
SAM HUSSEINI: Sam Husseini with IPA. Just to sort of get a baseline here. You were a briefer for George Bush for 9/11 and after 9/11.

MICHAEL MORELL: I was President Bush's first intelligence briefer, so I briefed him kind of the entire calendar year of 2001. Yes.

SAM HUSSEINI: You're not acknowledging that the Bush administration falsified information on Iraqi WMDs and other aspects in the build up to the Iraq war.
 
MICHAEL MORELL: I'm not acknowledging it because it's not true. It is a great myth. It is a great myth that the Bush White House or hard-liners in the Bush administration pushed the Central Intelligence Agency, pushed the U.S. intelligence community and every other intelligence service in the world that looked at this issue to believe that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. All they have to do is tell you this, that the CIA believed that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction programs long before George Bush ever came to office. We were telling Bill Clinton that. 

SAM HUSSEINI: One would not be following Iraq to say the Clinton administration never falsified information on Iraq as well. So for example when Bush --

MICHAEL MORELL: I'm just not with you on the falsification, but go ahead.

SAM HUSSEINI: Yeah, well I'm putting evidence if I could.

MICHAEL MORELL: Okay.

SAM HUSSEINI: So in September 2002, when he was at a news conference with Tony Blair, and this is just one example. That there was an IAEA report saying that Iraq was "six months away from developing a weapon. I don't know how much more evidence we need." And then IAEA says there is no such report -- that was just an honest mistake?

MICHAEL MORELL: So, you know you have to ask him. You have to ask him. The only thing I can tell you --

SAM HUSSEINI: -- You were the briefer. --

MICHAEL MORELL: The only thing I can tell you is what we were telling them at the time. Okay? That's the only thing I can tell you.

SAM HUSSEINI: So you, among other things, in your time of the CIA had a role in "Zero Dark Thirty," which in effect glorifies the use of torture to gain "intelligence." I want to ask you about a different case and that's the case of Shaykh al-Libi, who all evidence indicates, was tortured by the Egyptian authorities at our behest.

MICHAEL MORELL: So, so --

SAM HUSSEINI: If I might -- you can say whatever you want. You can say whatever you want. You're interrupting me, I'm not interrupting you. --

MICHAEL MORELL: -- But your premise is wrong.

SAM HUSSEINI: And you can say that if you like. Who was tortured in order to say that Iraq and Al Qaeda were related. This is actually in the latest Senate report on torture, among other places. Contrary to the mythology that torture breeds good intelligence -- or that it's immoral -- it actually breeds intentionally useful but false information. Why not?

MICHAEL MORELL: Okay, so I'm going to go back to your first comment about CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques, which you call torture. Which I want to challenge that premise right off the bat. When the Central Intelligence Agency used enhanced interrogation techniques to get information from Al Qaeda detainees, the Justice Department of United States of America on multiple occasions said it was legal, said it wasn't torture. Okay, so for you to call it torture is you calling my officers torturers. And the Justice Department of United States of America said they were not. So I'm going to defend my officers to my last breath in people calling them torturers. Number two, I'm going to challenge your premise that the Egyptians tortured al-Libi at our behest, at our behest. Not true. We never asked the Egyptians to torture al-Libi. What is your evidence for that?

SAM HUSSEINI: Well --

HOST: Let him give you that evidence off-line. We have other people who want to ask questions.

Questioning Post Master General Donahoe on Sell off of Buildings and Financial Services


On January 6, I questioned then-outgoing Post Master General Patrick Donahoe about the sell off of Post Offices as well as proposals that the Post Office offer more non-bank financial services. The AP wrote about the exchange in "Departing postmaster general slams banking duties proposal."

Donahoe claimed in our exchange: "I am fanatical about our old buildings." Which Gray Brechin, founder and project scholar of the Living New Deal Project at UC Berkeley: "I love that Donahoe said that he is 'fanatical about ourold buildings' while he is flogging them wholesale." See: "Is Sen. Feinstein Profiting From the Fire Sale of the Public’s Property and Art?

When pressed about the Post Office's Inspector recommendation that the Post Office increase the financial services it provides, Donahoe was dismissive: "Let me define the inspector general presentation. This is a three page paper that said that $89 billion is made in the area of same day loans. A postal service should be able to get 10 percent, of which would be worth $8.9 billion. There is no other research. That's it. Read it." In fact, the Inspector General released a 27-page white paper in January 2014 titled: "Providing Non-Bank Financial Services for the Underserved." See PDF

Donahoe also claimed: "We don't know anything about banking... We don't know anything about that." Ira Dember of Commonomics responded: "This from a guy who taxpayers have been paying more than $36,000 a month (not a typo) to know what is going on in his own organization.

"Fact is, U.S. Post Offices have been offering financial services for 150 years -- since 1864, when the first U.S. postal money order was issued as a safer way to help ordinary folks move cash around.

"Postal clerks sell about 95 million money orders a year, in amounts up to $1,000. (The USPS has a remarkable 70 percent market share.) These clerks also cash U.S. government checks, including IRS refund checks. They issue international money orders in amounts up to $700, good in 30 countries. And they handle instant cash transfers of up to $500, electronically, to 10 countries. In 2011 alone, the value of money orders issued by U.S. postal clerks topped $22 billion."

Transcript: 

POST MASTER GENERAL DONAHOE: "There is a very bright future out there. You can't limit yourself with what you're doing now. You got to keep it wide. You got to keep it flexible. And that's why we are asking for flexibility of product pricing going into the future." 

SAM HUSSEINI: "You talk about expanding and that you haven't cut back, but you have been criticized for precisely doing that. The office inspector general has recommended pilot projects for non-bank financial services. Ralph Nader has excoriated you for not following up on Ruth Goldman's -- the Postal Regulatory Commission chairperson -- put out two dozen recommendations for not apparently following up on them. How many of those have you followed up on? On the other side, selling off post offices. You have the Living New Deal project called "Bank Heist with No Cop on the Beat" in the open that these historic places with new deal architecture and art are being sold off to real estate companies. How do you respond to that?"

DONAHOE: "Sure. I think again the key thing to any success stories is to work within their core. We don't know anything about banking. I mean we would be perfectly interested in talking to somebody that comes in that would like to use the facility to accept a deposit, but to set a bank system from one bank to lend money to another bank. We don't know anything about that."

HUSSEINI: "You don't know anything about groceries either." [He had talked about getting groceries to people earlier.]

DONAHOE: "We know a lot about delivery. We're the best delivery company in this world. That's what we know. We know more about delivery than anybody. We know how to get things to a person's house. We know how to get where ever they live, we know how to get groceries stocked fresh and cold and we know how to do that. That's where our core is; it's in delivery. From our selling perspective, we don't need that. We have buildings in many of these places. As people move away to pay bills online and that's smart. It's free. It's convenient. Without $14.5 billion a year coming into the offers in terms of bill payment in the man [sic] vs. bill payment, you got to make some tough decisions. 

"If you knew a lot about me, you would know that I am fanatical about our old buildings. I spent a lot of money in this postal service over the years to maintain, update, and to keep a lot of our old facilities. When you have one building across the street from another, you have to make tough decisions. And in many cases, what we have been able to do is to take those buildings to sell them off to people who have been able to re-employ them and reuse them in a public manner. The Berkeley office would have been a great sale. They were proposing to put in a hardware store, a coffee shop, and a couple of other things. Maintaining an old post office when we have something right up the street makes no sense, and that's what you have to do when you're going forward. That's the whole idea of short sidedness [sic] vs. the long approach. We certainly, again, take our role and responsibility [noise] that our role is delivery. Our role is retail. Again, from the retail perspective, we've invited many people to come in and we are starting to work with them. We are using our retail and delivery as ways to expand our business in the future. To step into more inquiries especially whenever you go out into this competitive world today. Money is one thing, but grey matter and the ability to concentrate on doing more than three or four things really good in any company, we are hard pressed."

HUSSEINI: "So you've basically rejected the recommendations of the inspector general and the postal regulatory commission."

DONAHOE: "Let me define the inspector general presentation. This is a three page paper that said that $89 billion is made in the area of same day loans. A postal service should be able to get 10 percent, of which would be worth $8.9 billion. There is no other research. That's it. Read it." In fact, the Inspector General released a 27-page white paper in January 2014 titled: "Providing Non-Bank Financial Services for the Underserved." See PDF

Audio: 

Schumer claimed Iraq had WMDs

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): "Saddam Hussein is an evil man, a dictator who oppresses his people and flouts the mandate of the international community. While this behavior is reprehensible, it is Hussein's vigorous pursuit of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons, and his present and potential future support for terrorist acts and organizations, that make him a terrible danger to the people to the United States." (Sen. Schumer, Congressional Record, S.10302, 10/10/02) [Source]

Did the Greeks Just Re-Invent Democracy?

It's often noted that the Greeks invented Democracy -- that it's in fact a word of Greek origin, from dēmos "the people" and -kratia "power, rule."

Too often, as anyone who has lived in a modern "democracy" for any length of time can attest, it becomes apparent that the people don't rule. 

They are ruled over and managed, appeased and manipulated by various interests, typically monied interests. 

A primary way this is done is divide and conquer. Elites in effect end up sicking "the people" on each other on issues that are marginal to most elites. School prayer. Gay marriage, etc. What pundits sometimes call "wedge issues."

Now, in Greece, the left wing anti-austerity Syriza party won 149 of 300 seats in the Greek parliament, just short of a majority needed to form a government. So, they teamed up with the anti-austerity right wing Independent Greeks party so together they have the majority needed.  

Some may snark at this, but it's a childish thing to do. There are certainly differences between Syriza and Independent Greeks -- and they don't seem to be pretending otherwise -- but to team up with someone you disagree to achieve something you both want can be a very mature thing to do. 

What they have done is a version of a voting strategy I've been advocating: VotePact.org. Here's the idea: Instead of disenchanted Democrats and disenchanted Republicans continuing to back the establishments of their parties -- which then becoming ever more controlled in real terms by corporate interests -- that the voters pair up and back candidates and policies they truly believe in. 

That seems to be what's happening in Greece. Principled progressives there could continue voting for the pro-austerity liberals and conscientious conservatives could continue voting for establishment right wingers doing the bidding of big European banks instead of watching out for the Greek public. 

The Greeks, by joining together from the left and right, have befittingly cut the Gregorian Knot that ties up voters and turns them into prisoners of the political parties that are supposed to serve them. 

Now, of course a parliamentary system is different than our system. There, the politicians who are willing to buck the establishment can more easily form alliances. But in the U.S. -- if the people will it enough -- you can make a VotePact with your political mirror image. Instead of you being compelled to vote for an establishment Democrat and them continuing to vote for an establishment Republican they don't really believe in, you can both vote for independent and third party candidates nearer to your heart. 

As in Greece, there will obviously be disagreements, but they will be more likely to be worked out by the people, not managed and manipulated by the monied interests. 

And then the people may stand a chance at ruling -- and fulfilling the meaning of "Democracy."

Sam Husseini is founder of the website VotePact.org

Sources of "Saudi Legitimacy"

Many are voicing surprise at the comments of IMF head Christine Lagarde following the death of the Saudi monarch: "He was a great leader. He implemented lots of reforms, at home, and in a very discreet way, he was a great advocate for woman. It was very gradual, appropriately so probably for the country, but I discussed that issue with him several times and he was a strong believer." After a reporter expressed surprise that a woman would say that, Lagarde added: "Very often, Saudi Arabia is portrayed as a place where women do not play quite the same role." The last sentence hasn't been seriously scrutinized, but it should be. "Quite the same role" is a remarkable way to describe a country that has a system of male guardianship.

This would seem to be another example of the emptiness -- even on the most limited basis -- of a shallow diversity that seeks to put a woman or African American in a prominent position while maintaining incredibly oppressive power dynamics. 

And that's how her statements should be seen: The source is not some random woman. It was the head of the IMF, an international financial institution purported to aid global development but is frequently criticized as doing the bidding of the rich and powerful -- such as the major U.S. and European banks. And, like a good managing director, Lagarde is probably on the lookout for more funding for the IMF -- it's not straightforward to find out how much the Saudis have already ponied up. 

Back in 2011, when the Arab uprisings were in their seemingly promising first year I vigorously questioned Saudi Amb. Turki about the legitimacy of the Saudi regime and in his response he indicated part of their "legitimacy" was money given to international organizations, of which the IMF is one. 

I forcefully questioned Saudi legitimacy because I could see what was happening in 2011: The uprisings were taking root -- and deforming to into violent proxy wars -- in secular states (Libya and Syria), which were at times somewhat critical of the U.S. establishment -- while the pro-U.S. establishment regimes, largely monarchies like Saudi Arabia, were getting let off the hook. Those repressive monarchies would therefore be able to mold events in the formerly secular states and the future of the region. Democracy, equality and the voice of the people would hardly be on their list of goals. 

So, when he came to the National Press Club, I asked Turki what the legitimacy of the Saudi regime was. I was immediately suspended from the Press Club for my actions, though that was receded by the Club's Ethics Committee some ten days later. I was very gratified to have received support from a good number of people during my suspension, but one unfortunate aspect of the suspension is that it drew attention away from what Turki said in our exchange.

His first line of defense to my questioning the legitimacy of the regime was this: "I don't need to justify my country's legitimacy. We're participants in all of the international organizations and we contribute to the welfare of people through aid program not just directly from Saudi Arabia but through all the international agencies that are working throughout the world to provide help and support for people."

I thus wrote at the time: "Turki's response that Saudi Arabia gets legitimacy because of its aid programs is an interesting notion. Is he arguing that by giving aid to other countries and to international organizations that the Saudi regime has somehow purchased legitimacy, and perhaps immunity from criticism, that it would otherwise not have received? This is worth journalists and independent organizations pursuing."

I suspect that that's exactly what we're seeing manifested in Lagarde's comments. Some have noted aspects of the collusion between international financial institutions like the IMF and the Saudis, see for example, Adam Hanieh's piece "Egypt's Orderly Transition? International Aid and the Rush to Structural Adjustment." Too often in poor countries around the world, the form of "development" that's funded is a collusion between what the IMF wants and what states like Saudi Arabia want. Not exactly a prescription for fostering meaningful democratic development. But an excellent example of backscratching between elites. Really, a manifestation of Husseini's first law of politics: the powers collude and the people get screwed (and not in a good way). 

The relativistic part of Lagarade's comment -- "appropriately so probably for the country" -- also echoed Turki: "After how many years since the establishment of the United States did women get to vote in the United States? Does that mean that before they got the vote that United States was an illegitimate country?" Indeed, my questioning of Turki was cut off when I tried to follow up with "So are you saying that Arabs are inherently backward?" -- that they should be 100 years behind U.S.? Though perhaps the most amusing part of Turki's comments about women were not in response to me, but the obsequious question that followed mine -- asked by a worshiping female -- where he refers to a "colleague" being "a woman as you can see." 

The initial media wave of calling "King Abdullah" -- why exactly should a reasonable person actually use such absurd titles without scare quotes? -- a "reformer" has brought on some minimal backlash. But it's largely constrained to domestic issues. 

The geopolitical threats to democracy and peace are even more daunting -- and full of myth. Saudi Arabia has been a center of counter-revolution and worse in Arab countries. The Tunisian dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia, as did the Yemeni dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh for a time. The Saudi regime reportedly tried to prevent the Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak from stepping down. Saudi Arabia moved into Bahrain to stop a democratic uprising there. But much of its power is more indirect -- for example, through a sizable media infrastructure that highlighted uprisings in secular republics and ignored democratic moves in monarchies. 

All this has totally deformed the Arab uprisings the last four years, leading to horrific civil wars and the prospect of wider wars -- and it was foreseeable, which is why I and others sought to challenge it from the beginning. 

On the U.S.-Saudi relationship, now, the Harvard Political Review tells us: "The partnership was straightforward: Saudi Arabia provided special access to oil for the United States, and in return the superpower developed military installations across Saudi Arabia to advance mutual security goals." In fact, it was not about "access" to oil as Noam Chomsky has noted, but about control of oil, as well as investment in Western banks, not in real regional or global development. As Eqbal Ahmed was fond of asking: How did the wealth of the Mideast get separated from the people of the region? 

The Saudi regime paved the way for the U.S.'s wars against Iraq and elsewhere, postured as helping the Palestinians while in a tacit alliance with the equally hyper-hypocritical Israelis. Saudi regime fosters violent al-Qaeda type violent extremism and facilitates its violent U.S. mirror image. 

In the 1950s and 60s, the U.S. backed the Saudis to undermine Egypt's Nasser and slay the prospect of pan-Arabism. Robert Dreyfuss has written: "Choosing Saudi Arabia over Nasser’s Egypt was probably the single biggest mistake the United States has ever made in the Middle East." Though "mistake" is probably wrong -- it has benefited elites tremendously at the expense of people in Arab countries, the U.S. and around the world. 

Some liberals love making much of the Bush-Saudi connection, which is true enough, but the Saudi-U.S. bond was forged by the great liberal FDR

Shortly after World War I, the British Foreign Secretary "Lord" Curzon spelled out British aims: "Arab façade ruled and administered under British guidance and controlled by a native Mohammedan and, as far as possible, by an Arab staff."

So, similarly to Lagarde's comments, how could any person awake to global dynamics be surprised by the sorrow from elites in the U.S. or that the British flag should be at half-mast with the passing of so useful a native? 

Kathy Kelly is Going to Prison! The Children Are Safe!!!

Finally some good news. The notorious criminal mastermind Kathy Kelly is going to prison. The children are safe. We can walk the streets again without fear of her continued reign of terror upon us all. The government is finally doing what it needs to do to protect us from people like this Kelly person. 

She's been arrested multiple times -- this last one for the crime of trying to deliver a loaf of bread to a military commander of an air force base in Missouri so she could break bread with him and talk to him about stopping his troops from killing people with drones in Afghanistan. She got this idea of "breaking bread" with him from our enemies in Afghanistan she regularly meets with. 

Fortunately, our government has seen through her ploy. On Human Rights Day, she was sentenced to three months in jail. She's finally going to do her time. The prosecution told the Judge Matt Whitworth “Ms. Kelly needs to be rehabilitated" and the judge paged through a four page summary of past convictions for similar actions in the name of "Peace" and agreed that she hadn’t yet learned not to break the law. How can we tolerate such recidivism? 

Judge Whitworth properly noted there are 100 other ways she could have made her voice known without resorting to such extremes as baking and attempting to talk to military commanders about their killing of innocents thousands of miles away with deadly flying robots. After all, our form of government is so responsive to calls to conscience. Earlier this week, it looked as though she might not have to go to prison yet since the incarceration system in the Land of the Free is so stuffed to the gills that they could hardly find a cell for her. But the Bureau of Prisons thankfully came through to help teach this Kelly woman the error of her ways. 

...Seriously I just got a note from Kathy, which CounterPunch and Commondreams have just posted.