August 20th, 2014
by Surly1, Doomstead Diner
Last week several horsemen of the apocalypse decamped, suitable booted and spurred, for a ride through the end stages of post-industrial "civilization." Certainly War, Pestilence and Death each hoisted themselves atop their respective steeds and heralded their news in different quarters, all against a continuing backdrop of climate change and the accompanying chorus of denials from monied interests.
And then there is Ferguson, the doom gift that keeps on giving, in the words of Reverse Engineer. Such was the week that it took two weeks to write this column. I began last week with a handful of stories and a surly attitude, and found that I couldn't complete the column, such did events outstrip the narrative. Weirdnesses began to peek around corners, demanding revisions. Given that a creative project is not so much completed as abandoned, I'm abandoning this overwritten SOB right here.
For those who studiously assume the posture of a head in the sand regarding our national security state and the militarization of local police, events in Ferguson, Missouri this week should have roused even you from your torpor. Or would have, were anybody actually able to learn from events. As anyone not living in a cave knows by now, apparently a police officer shot and killed an unarmed 18-year-old. Michael Brown was black, his assailant white.
Anyone who lived through the 60s and 70s will be able to predict a community's response to the sort of outrage, but this time the institutional response looks very different. And in Ferguson, the balaclava is pulled back to reveal the snarling face of the weaponized, militarized, national security state in full priapic fury.
By now, thousands of words (and podcasts) have been dumped upon the landfill that passes for public consciousness, by people writing from the safety of armchairs. It will take time to sift through the evidence. The autopsy reveals Brown was shot six times, with two in the head. Cue the riots. And, as if it were the 60s again, Nixon sends in the National Guard. Cue the riots. Security footage is released that seems to demonstrate that Brown was a thug. Cue the riots.
Obama is sending Eric Holder to Missouri, along with a gaggle of his Best Minds, doubtless to bring the sword of justice to bear, as it was, against the scions of Wall Street and their financial improprieties. (What, you missed that?)
There is little difference in the appearance of the helmeted, militarized, camo - clad forces occupying Ferguson from troops in Afghanistan or Iraq. Intimidation being precisely the point.
Their uniform would be mistaken for a soldier's if it weren't for their "Police" patches. They wear green tops, and pants fashioned after the U.S. Marine Corps MARPAT camouflage pattern. And they stand in front of a massive uparmored truck called a Bearcat, similar in look to a mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle, or as the troops who rode in them call it, the MRAP. When did this become OK? When did "protect and serve" turn into "us versus them"? "Why do these cops need MARPAT camo pants again," I asked on Twitter this morning. One of the most interesting responses came from a follower who says he served in the Army's 82nd Airborne Division: "We rolled lighter than that in an actual warzone."
A war zone, indeed. The FAA banned flights of low-flying aircraft, the better to keep out news photography teams and their troublesome "evidence."
The scene is tense, but the presence of what looks like a military force doesn't seem to be helping."Bring it. You fucking animals, bring it," one police officer was caught on video telling protesters. In Ferguson and beyond, it seems that some police officers have shed the blue uniform and have put on the uniform and gear of the military, bringing the attitude along with it.If there's one thing I learned in Afghanistan, it's this: You can't win a person's heart and mind when you are pointing a rifle at his or her chest.
The words of Gen. William Westmoreland reverberates at about this time: "when you've got them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow."
One of the issues being addressed here is the provision of military hardware to local constabularies. This bit of purposeless and unnecessary largesse is conducted by the Defense Logistics Agency, or DLA. This group apparently transfers excess military hardware to localities. And local cops, fattened by the proceeds from asset forfeiture laws, simply don't know how to say no, particularly when the guys in the next county got an MRAP or an LRAD of their own. Who wants to look weak?
Good question to ask is, who is paying for all this boodle? You already know the answer. The activities of DLA are made possible by a bloated, out-of-control procurement system that buys far more equipment than even the Empire's military can possibly use. Reform of the procurement process is one of those "third rail" topics that will end your promising congressional career if you bring it up. Much like criticism of the Zionist apartheid state in that regard; too hot to handle. And the lucky beneficiaries of this bundle of taxpayer funded largesse? The large weapons manufacturers, of course, the people with their thumbs on the scales of American foreign-policy, and, as Ferguson clearly shows, American domestic policy as well.
In the face of the worst outbreak ever on the African continent, Ebola panic hit the US when several sufferers were shipped to the US mainland for treatment. Usually hard-to-nonpluss New Yawkers became unglued as an incipient public health emergency was sent air freight live and direct to our shores. As Gwynn Guilford said in Quartz:
If your Twitter feed is anything like mine, news that Ebola might have turned up in Manhattan is freaking out a lot of Americans. "Helpful" bits of commentary include as that it's "deadly uncurable," has a 90% fatality rate, and causes "a hemorrhagic fever that eventually leads to a complete bleed-out." Today's news merely amplifies the anxiety that's been building since word got out that two Americans infected with Ebola have been moved to US hospitals for treatment.
And as if on cue, prominent US right-wingers, such as one D. Trump of said Manhattan, fanned the flames of fear:
Thus, we have Donald Trump freaking out about having Ebola patients brought to the United States for treatment; Rush Limbaugh suggesting that bringing these patients to the US has something to do with the "Democrat agenda"; conservative doctor Ben Carson worrying that a container of Ebola-contaminated urine or vomit will "get disseminated out into the public"; and Republican Rep. Todd Rokita implying that immigrant children arriving from Central America might have Ebola.
While the Ebola outbreak is significant, some perspective is useful. Worldwide, Ebola has killed ~2500 souls. Influenza has killed millions. Also Ebola is not that easy to catch - it isn't an airborne infection, regardless of what some irresponsible pundits have said - and any country with half-decent health infrastructure can easily isolate patients and stop the disease from spreading. A primary reason it has traveled so easily in Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea is that their health infrastructure is truly bad. Running out of rubber gloves and dumping corpses along river banks are simply not first world problems. Yet.
And for more perspective, from Quartz:
Scott Z. Burns, who wrote the screenplay for Contagion, notes that Americans tend to freak out about "the monster we can see"-in this case, that would mean the gruesome images of Ebola victims bleeding from their faces-while ignoring more familiar but no less deadly risks. He has a point; thanks to the anti-vaccine movement, measles cases in the US have surged nearly fourfold since last year.
Or the above-mentioned influenza, which WILL kill you. Yet for all that, on Saturday we had the specter of a mob looting an Ebola center in West Point, Liberia, stealing contaminated equipment, bloodstained mattresses and sheets, according to the Associated Press. An estimated 37 patients fled during the raid, 20 of whom have returned with 17 patients still missing, per AP. A sobering thought to keep in mind is that, from Monrovia, the disease can take a plane anywhere in the world. And apparently India is already preparing; The Delhi airport has already set up a facility for people with suspected cases of Ebola. This one bears watching.
What makes ISIL the worst.
"Simply put, ISIL is an unholy combination of al-Qaeda, the Khmer Rouge, and the Nazis," writes Bobby Ghosh, and the minorities in its sights in Kurdistan are at risk of genuine, old-fashioned genocide. For those of us inured to the obeisance and compliance of the usual stenographers to power, one reads this with the usual caverats, grains of salt tossed to the four winds. Cue the Reichstag fire, the Maine, the rape of Belgium, the atrocities against Kuwaiti infants, the Gulf of Tonkin...
HOUNDS OF HELL
Yet the Islamic State demands a second look, if for no reason than their tweets. And lest we chalk ISIL up to a social media marketing effort whose effectiveness is abetted and amplified by the national security state, there is this troubling matter of how much real estate they occupied almost overnight at the expense of the hapless Maliki regime. Apparently Iraqi soldiers threw down their weapons and stripped off their unis at the approach of the Sunni army. Haven't we seen this movie before?
President Droney McDrone authorized "humanitarian" bombing of ISIL sites and airdrops of food and water to an embattled Yazidi minority. So much for nation-building. Could have rebuilt Detroit for what we spent in Iraq, but then Halliburton and KBR, etc. wouldn't have fattened on no-bid contracts.
The fact that ISIS could arise seemingly out of nowhere speaks to the incompetence of our intelligence establishment, which seems to be spending most of its resources sifting through Americans' personal communications for naked selfies from hot girls to trade.
But to return to Bobby Ghosh, who takes the threat seriously:
For sheer, brutal efficiency, ISIL is several steps above Hamas, Hezbollah, Boko Haram or even the Taliban. The closest analog I can think of is the Khmer Rouge, the Cambodian movement that killed more than two million people in the mid-1970s. There was a reminder of those horrors this week, when two top Khmer Rouge leaders were finally sentenced for their crimes. In their remorseless advance through eastern Syria and northern Iraq, ISIL's fighters have demonstrated the same iron will and discipline that Khmer Rouge deployed against the Cambodian army and the Cambodian people. In territory Al-Baghdadi controls, he uses the same tactics of intimidation and public punishment that Pol Pot used to cow his fellow Cambodians.In its appetite for genocide, ISIL seems to borrow from Adolf Hitler's Nazis. It, too, has identified for extermination entire categories of people. Its fighters have systematically rounded up groups of "unbelievers"-and remember, that can mean anybody, including their fellow Sunnis-and slaughtered them in a manner Heinrich Himmler would have approved of. If the disturbing photographs (and be warned, they are very disturbing) in this Washington Post story were in grainy black-and-white, they could have come from a Nazi death camp. And online videos of these mass killings clearly show the zealous glee with which the executioners go about the work. That, then, is the nature of the monster on which the US is finally turning its guns. It will not die easily.
Those who ISIL has already crucified or beheaded will probably not agree that this is an NSA-sponsored propaganda effort. It appears that in spite of the sheer fecklessness and state-sponsored waste of the surveillance state, there really are people who want us all dead. But who are they? This from a French site, who claims that the nominal "caliph," al-Baghdadi, is a Mossad mole (if you visit the site, turn on Google translate):
[The] real name Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is " Simon Elliott", father and Jewish mother. The so-called "Elliott" was recruited by Israel's Mossad for one year during which he was trained in espionage and in the field to conduct a destructive strategy of Arab and Islamic societies. This information was attributed to Edward Snowden and published by newspapers and other sites Web: the leader of the "Islamic State" Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, has cooperated with the United States Secret Service, British and Israelis to create an organization capable of attracting terrorist extremists around the world in one place.
MH 17 Down The Memory Hole
As we are putting the finishing touches on this article, the spectacle that was Malasian airlines flight MH 17 recedes from the news cycles. As the wreckage was still smoldering, official Washington and Eurozone apparatchiks were declaring, without fear of contradiction, that Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine had downed the plane with a surface to air missile, making Vlad the Impaler and mother Russia ultimately responsible. Bad, bad Russia.
But the evidence to date is not supported this theory. Indeed, where is the evidence? A mighty surveillance state with the ability to sift through every private communication such that the NSA contractors entrusted with enforcing "national security" are able to amass a collection of naked selfies to trade like baseball cards, is not able to produce undeniable photographic, radar, and satellite evidence of what really happened eastern Ukraine on that day?
Are we supposed to believe that our intelligence apparatus is this incompetent? If not, can we get an accounting for several trillion dollars?
Flight MH- 17's black boxes were supposed to be analyzed in London. Have you heard the report of what the impartial British government learned from its examination? Me neither. In the always dependable Washington's Blog, Eric Zuesse made a compelling argument:
Only idiots would trust Britain to interpret these black boxes to determine what and who brought down that plane. But, fortunately, the physical evidence lying on the ground at the site in Ukraine was photographed very quickly by locals there and uploaded to the Internet sometimes before any fighters and any governments were able to tamper with anything; and there happened to be one modest-looking item found at the site that tells a remarkably complete and entirely credible and convincing account of how this plane came down.
Photographic evidence that remains show the fragments of the cockpit that impact wounds consistent with 30 mm machine gun fire entering the cockpit. Zuesse again:
On July 30th, the retired Lufthansa pilot and published historian Peter Haisenko issued his "Shocking Analysis of the 'Shooting Down' of Malaysian MH17," in which an extremely close-in photo of the most important piece of physical evidence regarding this event is shown - it's the side-panel on the left-hand side of the cockpit directly where the downed plane's pilot was seated - and this photo shocked me, too.Here, first, is that side-panel shown inserted back onto its airliner, so that you can see precisely what and where this piece of the wreckage was on the plane. You will immediately notice the big gaping hole that had been shot through the side-panel where the pilot sits - in other words, targeting directly at the plane's pilot.This is incredibly precise targeting, of a specific person, and not merely of the far larger body of an airliner. A ground-based missile-shot fired from 33,000 feet below cannot achieve that gaping hole precisely where the pilot sits. A fighter jet plane that's escorting the airliner into the conflict-zone can.
Reports indicate that the cockpit and fuselage had been sawed in half and many pieces removed before international inspection teams arrived. In fact, last week the Dutch inspection team left in disgust, unable to see or inspect much of the crash site. And you have to go to the World Socialist website to find this particular piece of information, which in this country might as well be a state secret:
A Thursday article in the New Straits Times, Malaysia's flagship English-language newspaper, charged the US- and European-backed Ukrainian regime in Kiev with shooting down Malaysian Airlines flight MH 17 in east Ukraine last month. Given the tightly controlled character of the Malaysian media, it appears that the accusation that Kiev shot down MH17 has the imprimatur of the Malaysian state.The US and European media have buried this remarkable report, which refutes the wave of allegations planted by the CIA in international media claiming that Russian president Vladimir Putin was responsible for the destruction of MH17, without presenting any evidence to back up this charge.The New Straits Times article began, "Intelligence analysts in the United States have already concluded that Malaysia flight MH17 was shot down by an air-to-air missile, and that the Ukrainian government had had something to do with it. This corroborates an emerging theory postulated by local investigators that the Boeing 777-200 was crippled by an air-to-air missile and finished off with cannon fire from a jet that had been shadowing it as it plummeted to earth."
This conclusion is, of course, at sharp variance with the intentions of our foreign-policy establishment and its war munitions paymasters to foment war with Russia. Journalist Pepe Escobar has written effectively about that here. Of course, our best people in London are still on the case prying open the secrets of that black box. Stay tuned.
Summer Soap Opera
August is typically the time for family vacations, the song of the cicadas, campfires and sweet summer corn. Congress typically goes on its richly deserved vacation, thus keeping the wallets of average Americans safe for another five weeks. Typically a slow news time. But in the Commonwealth of Virginia, God save it, not this year.
Maureen McDonnell and Robert Mcdonnell
We have the spectacle of the corruption trial of indicted and disgraced former Virginia Governor Transvaginal Ultrasound (Robert McDonnell) and his former cheerleader wife, Maureen. (And for those just joining this overheated screed, the epithet "transvaginal ultrasound" is applied to this former state servant in perpetuity, in tribute to the war on women, specifically on women's reproductive health that he and his personal Iago, former Atty. Gen. Ken Cuccinelli, waged on Virginia women several years ago. In some circles, especially my own, this ruse was to redirect the energy of activists away from the real agenda, the privatization of state assets and to enablement of uranium mining in Virginia.)
In the aftermath of the 2012 presidential elections, a highly placed McCain aide was supposed to have described the Palins as a gaggle of "Wasilla hillbillies looting Neiman Marcuses from coast to coast" on the campaign credit card. When considering the McDonnells, or should I say the Ultrasounds, think "Palins East." And as revealed by the federal prosecution's case, there is is a breathtaking series of interlocking scams and grifts, particularly in obtaining cash and "favors" from one Jonny Williams that would make La Palin herself blush with envy. (If you would like to follow the actual reporting of this trial, it is done in exemplary fashion by Bill Sizemore and Joanna Kimberlin of our local paper, who have filed stories here, here, here, and here.)
Suffice it to say that Mr. Williams owned a dietary supplement company, and conferred favors upon the first couple in order to gain access and exposure for his products. Or so the prosecution alleges. Gifts and favors included payment for a daughter's wedding reception, use of a Ferrari, long stays in a Smith Mountain Lake vacation home, and numerous "loans" and gifts, including a Rolex watch that Maureen admired and requested for her husband.
Maureen's chief of staff, who quit on her, described her as a "nutbag," thus making La Palin look a paragon of decorum.
Here's what the defense alleges: that the formerly loving first couple were in fact estranged, and that Maureen sought most of these favors by herself without the knowledge of her ostensibly too-busy-to-pay-attention husband. The defense team has concocted a remarkable bit of legal theater for the consumption us in the cheap seats. The former family values candidate is revealed as a man only too willing to do anything, including throw his wife under the proverbial bus, to salvage and resuscitate his dead in the water political career. Maureen is supposed to take the fall for the busy, busy guv.
He enters the courtroom all smiles and waves; she enters, gray-headed and head bowed, the better to portray shame. The Guv is seated facing the jury; she sits sideways, head bowed. The narrative the defense is portraying is that the couple was so estranged that they could not have colluded in the extraction of favors from Williams.
Recent testimony, from the current mayor of Virginia Beach and president of a local bank, reveals that in the refinancing of loans for properties in Sandbridge, the Ultrasounds neglected to disclose some of these loans. Apparently that's a felony. Whoopsie...As I said, you need to read the reporting yourself to keep track of the many ins and outs.
Several questions remain: how did they manage to seat a jury for this trial in one day? Between them, the Ultrasounds have a team of 20 lawyers, the best of whom bill at over $750 per hour. Who's paying for this? If the Ultrasounds are so financially strapped as they testify, it certainly can't be them. The so-called legal defense fund only has $250K, and simple arithmetic reveals that will soon run dry.
And did Gov. Transvaginal Ultrasound and his wife get the idea that vitamin supplements might be a good and remunerative idea from his mentor and patron, Pat Robertson? You may recall that in between fleecing elderly widows out of their last quarter and standing up charitable African healthcare efforts in order to provide cover for air shipment of African blood diamonds back to the states, Robertson had a hand in a vitamin business himself. A cursory search with the Google shows no connection between Star Scientific, Jonny Williams, and Pat Robertson's vitamin company, called Kalo Vita. Yet one wonders...
It says here that when all is said and done, the Gov walks. The primary modifier for the phrase "Virginia ethics laws" is "lax." All the Gov's crackerjack defense team needs to do is create reasonable doubt in the minds of the hastily seated jury, a low bar. Look for former Gov. Transvaginal Ultrasound to head the Republican Party as its presidential candidate in 2024, accompanied by a sleek new spouse.
And Maureen? There are no laws prohibiting a spouse or relative from profiting from a husband's (or father's) public office in Virginia. Craven? Yes? Shameless? Undoubtedly. But BAU in Virginia. The defense presents its case this week.