You are browsing the archive for Government.

Engelhardt: Supersizing Secrecy

8:43 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

The Visible Government
How the U.S. Intelligence Community Came Out of the Shadows
By Tom Engelhardt

Overhead view of National Security Agency HQ

Headquarters of the National Security Agency. The intelligence infrastructure of the USA has grown larger and more visible than ever.

Weren’t those the greatest of days if you were in the American spy game?  Governments went down in Guatemala and Iran thanks to you.  In distant Indonesia, Laos, and Vietnam, what a role you played!  And even that botch-up of an invasion in Cuba was nothing to sneeze at.  In those days, unfortunately, you — particularly those of you in the CIA — didn’t get the credit you deserved.

You had to live privately with your successes.  Sometimes, as with the Bay of Pigs, the failures came back to haunt you (so, in the case of Iran, would your “success,” though so many years later), but you couldn’t with pride talk publicly about what you, in your secret world, had done, or see instant movies and TV shows about your triumphs.  You couldn’t launch a “covert” air war that was reported on, generally positively, almost every week, or bask in the pleasure of having your director claim publicly that it was “the only game in town.”  You couldn’t, that is, come out of what were then called “the shadows,” and soak up the glow of attention, be hailed as a hero, join Americans in watching some (fantasy) version of your efforts weekly on television, or get the credit for anything.

Nothing like that was possible — not at least until well after two journalists, David Wise and Thomas B. Ross, shined a bright light into those shadows, called you part of an “invisible government,” and outed you in ways that you found deeply discomforting.

Their book with that startling title, The Invisible Government, was published in 1964 and it was groundbreaking, shadow-removing, illuminating.  It caused a fuss from its very first paragraph, which was then a shockeroo: “There are two governments in the United States today. One is visible. The other is invisible.”

I mean, what did Americans know at the time about an invisible government even the president didn’t control that was lodged deep inside the government they had elected?

Wise and Ross continued:

The first is the government that citizens read about in their newspapers and children study about in their civics books. The second is the interlocking, hidden machinery that carries out the policies of the United States in the Cold War.  This second, invisible government gathers intelligence, conducts espionage, and plans and executes secret operations all over the globe.

The Invisible Government came out just as what became known as “the Sixties” really began, a moment when lights were suddenly being shone into many previously shadowy American corners. I was then 20 years old and sometime in those years I read their book with a suitable sense of dread, just as I had read those civics books in high school in which Martians landed on Main Street in some “typical” American town to be lectured on our way of life and amazed by our Constitution, not to speak of those fabulous governmental checks and balances instituted by the Founding Fathers, and other glories of democracy.

I wasn’t alone reading The Invisible Government either.  It was a bestseller and CIA Director John McCone reportedly read the manuscript, which he had secretly obtained from publisher Random House.  He demanded deletions.  When the publisher refused, he considered buying up the full first printing.  In the end, he evidently tried to arrange for some bad reviews instead.

Time Machines and Shadow Worlds

Read the rest of this entry →

Christian Parenti: Big Storms Require Big Government

7:31 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

A BIG Storm! (photo: indieflickr, flickr)

A BIG Storm! (photo: indieflickr, flickr)

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

At some basic level, climate change shouldn’t be hard to grasp.  Fossil-fuel burning — the essence of our civilization since the industrial revolution — dumps prodigious amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere.  As it happens, 2010 was another banner year for carbon dioxide production; the 5.9% rise in CO2 emissions was the “biggest jump ever recorded.” That greenhouse gas, in turn, traps heat and so warms the planet.  The results are clear enough for anyone to see.  Nine of the 10 warmest years on record have occurred since 2000.  Last year was the ninth warmest on record, despite an expected cooling effect from a strong La Niña temperature pattern in the Pacific Ocean.

More heat means more turbulence, which means more extreme weather events, which have clearly been on the rise — more wetness, more droughts, fiercer storms.  In that category, 2011 was definitely a year for the record books, with an unprecedented 14 weather events that each caused $1 billion or more in damage.  More extreme weather means more human misery, relatively predictable globally, but reasonably unexpected when it actually hits locally.

The urge not to believe that we are despoiling our own planet has meant that we’ve been slow to develop alternate energy sources, but not slow to grow economically.  What that means, of course, is that the search only intensifies for more fossil fuels, ever tougher to get as time goes on and ever “dirtier” (in greenhouse gas terms) to produce.

It’s the definition of a nasty feedback loop, made worse because the changing planet is itself setting off other phenomena that only increase the warming trend.  Arctic sea ice, now melting at prodigious rates, reflects the sun’s heat back into the atmosphere.  Less ice, in other words, isn’t just a sign of the planet getting hotter, but a factor in heating up the planet.  In addition, the more iceless the oceans, the more their waters absorb carbon emissions, which only puts further pressure on many of the life forms living in them.  Similarly, the melting of the permafrost in the northern reaches of the planet, which contains vast frozen reservoirs of another greenhouse gas, methane, might — no one is yet sure — sooner or later release enormous amounts of methane into the atmosphere, only increasing the overheating effect.  It’s creepy.  It’s happening.  And Ma Nature really doesn’t give a damn whether we’re in denial or not. Read the rest of this entry →

Tomgram: Mike Davis, The Coming Economic Disaster

8:49 am in Uncategorized by Tom Engelhardt

This story originally appeared at TomDispatch.com

When it comes to the Murdoch scandal, where everyone’s having such a rollicking good time, it hasn’t been particularly hard for reporters, pundits, and commentators to connect a few dots, even across an ocean.  Yes, you can find actual experts claiming in print and online that what’s happening to Murdoch & Co. in England might affect the American part of his imperial media conglomerate, and that it’s even possible the whole structure of his world could be on a collision course with itself and hell.

When it comes to something larger and far less enjoyable though, like the global economy, you would be hard-pressed to find a similar connecting of the dots.  China’s economy soars on one side of the planet (though with a multitude of half-hidden problems), while that country continues to outpace all others when it comes to holding U.S. debt. On the other side of the same planet, from Greece and Ireland to Spain and Italy, Europe shudders and fears run wild.  Meanwhile, back in the U.S., the president and Congress have headed the economy merrily for the nearest cliff, while money is lacking even to keep court systems running in some parts of the country.

On all of this there is much reporting, much opining, many fears expressed, numerous teeth gnashed.  Yet even when such pieces sit near each other on the same page or follow each other on the TV news, they are, with rare exceptions, treated as if they were remarkably separate problems, remarkably separate crises.  And those long-distant days of the 1990s, when it was said everywhere that “globalization” was weaving our world into a single, vast economic mechanism, are now mere memory pieces.

And yet, what goes up…

Don’t even say it!  Call it blindness, denial, what you will, but economically speaking, dots everywhere are almost religiously not connected, and so the thought that the global system itself might fail (as systems sometimes do) never quite manages to arise.  Thank heavens, then, for Mike Davis, TomDispatch regular and author of Planet of Slums (and other books too numerous to mention), a man who has never seen a set of dots he didn’t care to connect.  So take a break from denial for the following… (To catch Timothy MacBain’s latest TomCast audio interview in which Davis discusses a possible Chinese real estate crash and other perils of the global economic system, click here, or download it to your iPod here.) Tom

*****

Crash Club
What Happens When Three Sputtering Economies Collide?

By Mike Davis

When my old gang and I were 14 or 15 years old, many centuries ago, we yearned for immortality in the fiery wreck of a bitchin’ ’40 Ford or ’57 Chevy.  Our J.K. Rowling was Henry Felsen, the ex-Marine who wrote the bestselling masterpieces Hot Rod (1950), Street Rod (1953), and Crash Club (1958).

Officially, his books — highly praised by the National Safety Council — were deterrents, meant to scare my generation straight with huge dollops of teenage gore.  In fact, he was our asphalt Homer, exalting doomed teenage heroes and inviting us to emulate their legend.

One of his books ends with an apocalyptic collision at a crossroads that more or less wipes out the entire graduating class of a small Iowa town.  We loved this passage so much that we used to read it aloud to each other.

It’s hard not to think of the great Felsen, who died in 1995, while browsing the business pages these days. There, after all, are the Tea Party Republicans, accelerator punched to the floor, grinning like demons as they approach Deadman’s Curve.  (John Boehner and David Brooks, in the back seat, are of course screaming in fear.)

The Felsen analogy seems even stronger when you leave local turf for a global view.  From the air, where those Iowa cornstalks don’t conceal the pattern of blind convergence, the world economic situation looks distinctly like a crash waiting to happen.  From three directions, the United States, the European Union, and China are blindly speeding toward the same intersection.  The question is: Will anyone survive to attend the prom?

Shaking the Three Pillars of McWorld

Let me reprise the obvious, but seldom discussed. Even if debt-limit doomsday is averted, Obama has already hocked the farm and sold the kids. With breathtaking contempt for the liberal wing of his own party, he’s offered to put the sacrosanct remnant of the New Deal safety net on the auction bloc to appease a hypothetical “center” and win reelection at any price.  (Dick Nixon, old socialist, where are you now that we need you?)

As a result, like the Phoenicians in the Bible, we’ll sacrifice our children (and their schoolteachers) to Moloch, now called Deficit.  The bloodbath in the public sector, together with an abrupt shutoff of unemployment benefits, will negatively multiply through the demand side of the economy until joblessness is in teenage digits and Lady Gaga is singing “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?”

Lest we forget, we also live in a globalized economy where Americans are consumers of the last resort and the dollar is still the safe haven for the planet’s hoarded surplus value.  The new recession that the Republicans are engineering with such impunity will instantly put into doubt all three pillars of McWorld, each already shakier than generally imagined: American consumption, European stability, and Chinese growth.

Across the Atlantic, the European Union is demonstrating that it is exclusively a union of big banks and mega-creditors, grimly determined to make the Greeks sell off the Parthenon and the Irish emigrate to Australia.  One doesn’t have to be a Keynesian to know that, should this happen, the winds will only blow colder thereafter.  (If German jobs have so far been saved, it is only because China and the other BRICs — Brazil, Russia, and India — have been buying so many machine tools and Mercedes.)

Boardwalk Empire Times 160

China, of course, now props up the world, but the question is: For how much longer?  Officially, the People’s Republic of China is in the midst of an epochal transition from an export-based to a consumer-based economy.  The ultimate goal of which is not only to turn the average Chinese into a suburban motorist, but also to break the perverse dependency that ties that country’s growth to an American trade deficit Beijing must, in turn, finance in order to keep the Yuan from appreciating.

Unfortunately for the Chinese, and possibly the world, that country’s planned consumer boom is quickly morphing into a dangerous real-estate bubble.  China has caught the Dubai virus and now every city there with more than one million inhabitants (at least 160 at last count) aspires to brand itself with a Rem Koolhaas skyscraper or a destination mega-mall.  The result has been an orgy of over-construction.

Despite the reassuring image of omniscient Beijing mandarins in cool control of the financial system, China actually seems to be functioning more like 160 iterations of Boardwalk Empire, where big city political bosses and allied private developers are able to forge their own backdoor deals with giant state banks.

In effect, a shadow banking system has arisen with big banks moving loans off their balance sheets into phony trust companies and thus evading official caps on total lending. Last week, Moody’s Business Service reported that the Chinese banking system was concealing one-half-trillion dollars in problematic loans, mainly for municipal vanity projects.  Another rating service warned that non-performing loans could constitute as much as 30% of bank portfolios.

Real-estate speculation, meanwhile, is vacuuming up domestic savings as urban families, faced with soaring home values, rush to invest in property before they are priced out of the market.  (Sound familiar?)  According to Business Week, residential housing investment now accounts for 9% of the gross domestic product, up from only 3.4% in 2003.

So, will Chengdu become the next Orlando and China Construction Bank the next Lehman Brothers?  Odd, the credulity of so many otherwise conservative pundits, who have bought into the idea that the Chinese Communist leadership has discovered the law of perpetual motion, creating a market economy immune to business cycles or speculative manias.

If China has a hard landing, it will also break the bones of leading suppliers like Brazil, Indonesia, and Australia.  Japan, already mired in recession after triple mega-disasters, is acutely sensitive to further shocks from its principal markets.  And the Arab Spring may turn to winter if new governments cannot grow employment or contain the inflation of food prices.

As the three great economic blocs accelerate toward synchronized depression, I find that I’m no longer as thrilled as I was at 14 by the prospect of a classic Felsen ending — all tangled metal and young bodies.

Mike Davis teaches in the Creative Writing Program at the University of California, Riverside.  He is the author of Planet of Slums, among many other works.  He’s currently writing a book about employment, global warming, and urban reconstruction for Metropolitan Books.  To listen to Timothy MacBain’s latest TomCast audio interview in which Davis discusses a possible Chinese real estate crash and other perils of the global economic system, click here, or download it to your iPod here.

Copyright 2011 Mike Davis

[Note for Readers: A sample passage from Henry Felsen’s 1950 novel Hot Rod:

"The crushed pile of twisted metal that had once been My-Son-Ralph's Chevy was on its back in the ditch, its wheels up like paws of a dead dog. Two of the wheels were smashed, and two were turning slowly. Something that looked like a limp, ripped-open bag of laundry hung halfway out of a rear window. That was Marge.

"The motor of Ralph's car had been driven back through the frame of the car, and its weight had made a fatal spear of the steering column. Somewhere in the mashed tangle of metal, wood and torn upholstery was Ralph. And deeper yet in the pile of mangled steel, wedged in between jagged sheet steel on one side, and red hot metal on the other, was what had been the shapely black head and dainty face of LaVerne.

"Walt's car had spun around after being hit, and had rolled over and along the highway. It had left a trail of shattered glass, metal, and dark, motionless shapes that had been broken open like paper bags before they rolled to a stop. These had been Walt's laughing passengers. Pinned inside his wrecked car, beyond knowing that battery acid ran in his eyes, lay Walt Thomas. Somehow the lower half of his body had been twisted completely around, and hung by a shred of skin."]