Saturday, August 1, 2015

French Contradict Kerry, Economy Update, South China Sea Tensions, Planned Parenthood Update


4_jpgBy Greg Hunter’s USAWatchdog.com
The deeper Congress digs into the deal to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions, the worse the deal seems. When Secretary of State John Kerry, the key negotiator for the US in this deal, was asked about the secret side deals in Congress this week, he said he “did not have access to them.” What? You do not have access to details of a deal you negotiated? Kerry also says this deal must be passed by Congress, otherwise, he says, “our friends in this effort will desert us.” Now, details come out from a top French diplomat, who was also in on the negotiations, and he contradicts Kerry. French Senior diplomatic advisor Jacques Audibert has told Congress that if the deal is voted down, that eventually, they“could get a better deal.” When Kerry was asked about continued chants of “Death to America” in Iran, Kerry said he knew of “no plan to actually destroy us.”  
Meanwhile, the Iranians are saying, once again, that the Obama Administration is misleading Americans about the deal in order to “calm opponents in the Congress and Zionist lobbies.”  Congress has 60 days to vote yes or no on this deal. There is no doubt the majority, and that includes some Democrats, are going to vote no. The only question is can Congress override a veto by President Obama?
In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia’s reaction to the deal is to ask for more patriot missiles. It is reported that the Kingdom is requesting 600 new Patriot missile helicopters. It is estimated that this deal alone is worth $5 billion, and sources say many more allies in the Middle East are seeking arms because of this deal. My prediction has been and remains that this deal will ramp up an arms race and speed up the war prospects in the Middle East.
Things are also heating up in the South China Sea as China claims the US is ‘militarizing’ the South China Sea. It is reportedly angered by US flights and patrols in waters it claims as its own. A Chinese defense spokesman said he wondered if the US wanted “nothing better than chaos.”
The spin doctors have revised the GDP in the first and second quarters. First quarter revised up to 6% after originally being negative, and now, the second quarter is revised up to 2.3%. Who knows how the more that 7% decline in new home sales were accounted for? According to Shadowstats.com, there was also the steep second quarter decline in durable goods. Economist John Williams says it’s the steepest since the 2008 economic collapse. So, is the Fed going to raise rates or not this September? I think we are getting to the real fork in the road, and that is if they raise rates, they collapse the markets. If they don’t, then the Fed and the dollar loses credibility and we still get a collapse, just a little later on. My friend Gregory Mannarino of TradersChoice.net tells me he thinks there is a plan to destroy the middle class because that’s where all the wealth is. In the end, there will be a two tier system consisting of the wealthy and all the rest of us. Mannarino contends when you are poor, you are easier to control.
USA Today finally responded to my asking why the allegations of Planned Parenthood were not covered much in their operation. They told me “USA Today has in fact covered the controversial video and claims made against Planned Parenthood” and sent me 11 links to their website. One of those links was an Op-Ed piece, so that does not count as reporting. Six of the ten were done in the last three days, and none of the stories they sent me appeared in the Gannett flagship enterprise USA Today newspaper. On the USA Today website, you had to search for any story on allegations of Planned Parenthood selling baby body parts. (Planned Parenthood continues to say it has done nothing wrong.) There were more than 40 other stories highlighted on their home “News” page when I looked. Front and center was the story about “Cecil the lion,” but the alleged misconduct and gruesome details about a federally funded institution selling baby body parts did not rate as high as the murder of a lion in Africa. This is too stupid to be stupid, and in my estimation, this story is being buried because it makes their far left liberal buddies they identify with look like medical Mengele monsters.
Join Greg Hunter as he talks about these stories and more in the Weekly News Wrap-Up.

Friday, July 31, 2015

What Is Holding Back Home Sales?


You Cannot Afford a $250,000 Home with a $50,000 Household Income!



By mybudget360.com
People are still surprised why new home sales remain anemic and new home building is simply not materializing.  The latest Census data shows that the typical new home sold for $281,000.  At the same time we also realize that your typical U.S. household is making about $50,000 per year.  The reason home sales remain weak is because the vast majority of Americans simply cannot afford to purchase homes!  The minority category of Millennials that are doing well are coming from rich parents – the data backs this up.  You really don’t need a Ph.D. in Physics to figure this out but a household making $50,000 a year simply cannot afford a $281,000 home!  Let us be generous and look at the figures for a home costing $250,000. We’ll provide you a full household budget so you can see the numbers at work.
You cannot afford a $250,000 home with a $50,000 household income
The banking sector has followed down a path of low interest rates trying to revive sales in homes, cars, and consumer spending in other areas. Low interest rates are tied to mortgage rates and the lower the rate, the more a household can afford even if incomes are stagnant.  Instead of realizing that the standard of living is becoming compressed, banks are trying to get consumers deeper into debt with low interest rate magic.  The biggest debt taken on by most households is mortgage debt.
It might be helpful to note that the homeownership rate has plunged in the last decade.  Home prices are up primarily for a couple of reasons – low inventory and investor demand.  The typical traditional buyer is simply not to be found.  Millennials are now in the perfect home buying age range yet many are unable to buy because they are stuck with student debt and low wage jobs.
Let us assume our typical U.S. household is looking to buy a new home in Texas.  We’ll even be generous and assume no student debt and no car payments.
Let us break down the numbers here:
budget for texas home buying
The most important line item is net income.  This is how much the household has to spend on expenses per month.  We find that the $50,000 a year household has $3,407 per month to spend on expenses.  Texas has no state income tax so we are in a very favorable climate.
So we ran the numbers here very carefully.  When you usually read articles online about what you can afford they rarely provide you a hypothetical budget.  But this is how people live.  This is where the rubber meets the road.  And this is why half of the country is living paycheck to paycheck.
So let us now move on to the biggest line item, the housing expense.  We are assuming this household purchases a $250,000 home with $25,000 down (10 percent).  This is reasonable given the price of new homes:
median price for a new home
The typical new home in the U.S. now costs $281,000.  We’ll go with $250,000 here.  The total principal, interest, insurance, and taxes per month will run at $1,574.  This is the monthly payment here.  Also keep in mind that the $25,000 down payment is hard to come up with for many families.
We are being extremely low with our monthly gas bill at $25, electric bill of $50, and using low speed DSL at $38.99.  We are also assuming this household is using basic pre-paid cell phones.  Again, the point here is to show this family is not living the high life.
We are assuming this is a married couple and will pay $350 per month in health insurance (for two healthy adults).  Groceries are at $500 per month.  I think this is a middle of the road approach here.  Cost conscious but not extravagant.  We’re also assuming this couple has no car payment (many Americans carry two car payments per month).  We are budgeting $150 for gas per month and this assumes this couple is close to their work.
We’ll allocate $20 for work lunch (they are brown bagging it), $40 for household items, $25 for household maintenance (this is low), and $100 for entertainment.  Personal care of $25 per month for haircuts, and $50 for one annual vacation (save up to $600 per year).  We assume they want to save a bit for retirement so they are putting away $150 per month into an IRA.  They stash away $250 per month for an unforeseen emergency.  And $125 for random items (say the engine goes out in the car).
The end result?  This couple is running a deficit of $155 per month and they are being more frugal than most Americans here.  No wonder why credit card debt is growing once again.  Throw in a kid here and the numbers get thrown fully out of whack (i.e., child care could eat up $600 to $1200 per month depending on where you live).  So in short, there is no way a household making $50,000 a year will be able to afford a $250,000 home.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Anti-Capitalists Ignore the Fundamental Problems of Socialism


  • demonstration
By Jonathan Newman and originally published at mises.org
Anti-market and pro-socialist rhetoric is surging in headlines (see alsoherehere, and here) and popping up more and more on social media feeds. Much of the time, these opponents of markets can’t tell the difference between state-sponsored organizations like the International Monetary Fund and actual markets. But, that doesn’t matter because the articles and memes are often populist and vaguely worded — intentionally framed in such a way to easily deflect uninformed attacks and honest descriptions of what they are actually saying. In the end, they can all be boiled down to one message: socialism works and is better than capitalism.
While most of it comes from the Left, the Right is not innocent, since the Right appears to be primarily concerned with promoting its own version of populism, which apparently does not involve a defense of markets. “Build bigger walls at the border,” for example, is not a sufficient response to “All profits are evil!”
Instead of stooping to this level or simply resorting to “Read Mises!” (a more fitting response), we must show, yet again, that socialism — even under well-meaning political leaders — is impossible and leads to disastrous consequences.

The Necessity of Profits, Prices, and Entrepreneurs

Socialism is the collective ownership (i.e., a state monopoly) of the means of production. It calls for the abolition of private ownership of factors of production. Wages and profits are two parts of the same pie, and socialism says the profit slice should be zero.
The inherent theoretical problems of socialism all emanate from its definition, and not the particulars of its application. However, the supporters of socialism define “collective,” as no exchange of the factors of production. And without exchange, there can be no prices, and without prices there is no way to measure the costs of production.
In an unhampered market economy, the prices of the factors of production are determined by their aid in producing things that consumers want. They tend to earn their marginal product, and because every laborer has some comparative advantage, there is a slice of pie for everybody.
If technological changes make certain factors more productive, or if education and training makes a laborer more productive, their prices or wages may be bid up to their new, higher marginal product. An entrepreneur would not like to hire or buy any factor at a price that exceeds its marginal product because the entrepreneur would then incur losses.
Entrepreneurial losses are more important than many realize. They aren’t just hits to the entrepreneur’s bottom line. Losses show that on the market, the resources used to produce something were more highly valued than what they were producing. Losses show that wealth has been destroyed.
Profits give the opposite signal. They represent economic growth and wealth creation. A profitable line of production is one in which the stuff that goes into producing some consumer good costs less than what consumers are willing to pay for the consumer good.
As such, profits and losses are more than just important incentives, or cover in a conspiratorial capitalist class system; they are the only way to know that wealth is being created instead of destroyed in any line of production.
Under socialism, there is a single owner that does not bid factors away from some lines of production and toward others. Nobody is able to say, with any shred of certainty, that a particular tool or machine or factory could be used to produce something else in a more effective way. Nobody knows what to produce or how much to produce. It’s economic chaos.

Without Markets, We Can’t Know What or How to Produce

Profits and losses guide and correct entrepreneurs in the process of producing things they expect consumers will demand. Without this information, including the costs of production specifically, entrepreneurs cannot engage in economic calculation, the estimation of the difference between future revenues and the costs of production necessary to gain those future revenues.
Laborers are put to work in areas where they don’t have a comparative advantage. Farmers are sent to factories, and tailors are sent to the mines. Workers are in the wrong lines of production and have the wrong tools. Every morning, the economy looks like Robert Murphy’s capital rearranging gnomes just ransacked it.
The Polish film Brunet Will Call lampooned situations like this throughout the movie, with consumer and capital goods in the most unlikely places. A butcher pulls an automobile’s clutch cable out of his freezer, and gives it to the main character, who pays for it with information on the whereabouts of a double buggy for someone’s newborn twins (at the flower shop, obviously).
So the failure of socialism is not conditional on the culture, time, or place of the victims. Socialism is flawed at its core: the “collective” ownership of the means of production. As such, there is no way to enact a functioning, growth-inducing version of socialism anywhere. In practice, however, the theoretical problems of socialism give way to civil unrest, which is met with state force and results in a death toll higher than any official war ever fought.
Without profit motives to produce, quotas must be put in place. With quotas, even in the cases where workers don’t lie about their production, chaos still reigns. For example, if a nail production quota is based on the number of nails, workers produce a lot of tiny, unusable nails. A nail quota based on weight would encourage workers to produce massive, but still unusable nails — a situation lampooned by this cartoon in Krokodil during the 1960s.
Endless queues stretched across the USSR, filled with people looking for shoes even though shoe production in the USSR exceeded that of the US. The problem was all the shoes were too small, because shoe production was measured by number, with no regard for the sizes or designs consumers demand.

The Wake of Socialism

Some cases are funny; others are not. About seven million people died of starvation in the USSR just in 1932–33 (middle-of-the-road estimate based on manipulated data). The authors of The Black Book of Communism (1999) estimate the deaths of close to 100 million people are attributable to communist and socialist regimes. That’s more than 200 times the number of US deaths in WWII (and a case could be made that their deaths are attributable to socialism, too).
Even today, in Cuba, the average wage is about $20 a month. In North Korea civilians are routinely rounded up by the dozens for public execution for the crime of watching South Korean TV smuggled into the country.
When people are hungry and unhappy, the state cannot survive if the people know others are better off. The state uses propaganda, misinformation, and censorship to make an already captive citizenry even more confused and submissive.
So count me surprised to hear fresh calls for socialism in 2015 — if the strong economic calculation argument and astronomical death toll haven’t turned the Left off of socialism, I don’t know what will. The idea is both bankrupt and deadly in both theory and practice.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The American Nightmare: The Tyranny of the Criminal Justice System



By John W. Whitehead and originally published at rutherford.org

How can the life of such a man
Be in the palm of some fool’s hand?
To see him obviously framed
Couldn’t help but make me feel ashamed to live in a land
Where justice is a game.—Bob Dylan, “Hurricane
Justice in America is not all it’s cracked up to be.
Just ask Jeffrey Deskovic, who spent 16 years in prison for a rape and murder he did not commit. Despite the fact that Deskovic’s DNA did not match what was found at the murder scene, he was singled out by police as a suspect because he wept at the victim’s funeral (he was 16 years old at the time), then badgered over the course of two months into confessing his guilt. He was eventually paid $6.5 million in reparation.
James Bain spent 35 years in prison for the kidnapping and rape of a 9-year-old boy, but he too was innocent of the crime. Despite the fact that the prosecutor’s case was flimsy—it hinged on the similarity of Bain’s first name to the rapist’s, Bain’s ownership of a red motorcycle, and a misidentification of Bain in a lineup by a hysterical 9-year-old boy—Bain was sentenced to life in prison. He was finally freed after DNA testing proved his innocence, and was paid $1.7 million.
Mark Weiner got off relatively easy when you compare his experience to the thousands of individuals who are spending lifetimes behind bars for crimes they did not commit.
Weiner was wrongfully arrested, convicted, and jailed for more than two years for a crime he too did not commit. In his case, a young woman claimed Weiner had abducted her, knocked her out and then sent taunting text messages to her boyfriend about his plans to rape her. Despite the fact that cell phone signals, eyewitness accounts and expert testimony indicated the young woman had fabricated the entire incident, the prosecutor and judge repeatedly rejected any evidence contradicting the woman’s far-fetched account, sentencing Weiner to eight more years in jail. Weiner was only released after his accuser was caught selling cocaine to undercover cops.
In the meantime, Weiner lost his job, his home, and his savings, and time with his wife and young son. As Slate reporter journalist Dahlia Lithwick warned, “If anyone suggests that the fact that Mark Weiner was released this week means ‘the system works,’ I fear that I will have to punch him in the neck. Because at every single turn, the system that should have worked to consider proof of Weiner’s innocence failed him.”
The system that should have worked didn’t, because the system is broken, almost beyond repair.
In courtroom thrillers like 12 Angry Men and To Kill a Mockingbird, justice is served in the end because someone—whether it’s Juror #8 or Atticus Finch—chooses to stand on principle and challenge wrongdoing, and truth wins.
Unfortunately, in the real world, justice is harder to come by, fairness is almost unheard of, and truth rarely wins.
On paper, you may be innocent until proven guilty, but in actuality, you’ve already been tried, found guilty and convicted by police officers, prosecutors and judges long before you ever appear in a courtroom.
Chronic injustice has turned the American dream into a nightmare.
At every step along the way, whether it’s encounters with the police, dealings with prosecutors, hearings in court before judges and juries, or jail terms in one of the nation’s many prisons, the system is riddled with corruption, abuse and an appalling disregard for the rights of the citizenry.
Due process rights afforded to a person accused of a crime—the right to remain silent, the right to be informed of the charges against you, the right to representation by counsel, the right to a fair trial, the right to a speedy trial, the right to prove your innocence with witnesses and evidence, the right to a reasonable bail, the right to not languish in jail before being tried, the right to confront your accusers, etc.—mean nothing when the government is allowed to sidestep those safeguards against abuse whenever convenient.
It’s telling that while President Obama said all the right things about the broken state of our criminal justice system—that we jail too many Americans for nonviolent crimes (we make up 5 percent of the world’s population, but our prison population constitutes nearly 25% of the world’s prisoners), that we spend more money on incarceration than any other nation ($80 billion a year), that we sentence people for longer jail terms than their crimes merit, that our criminal justice system is far from color-blind, that the nation’s school-to-prison pipeline is contributing to overcrowded jails, and that we need to focus on rehabilitation of criminals rather than retribution—he failed to own up to the government’s major role in contributing to this injustice in America.
Indeed, while Obama placed the responsibility for reform squarely in the hands of prosecutors, judges and police, he failed to acknowledge that they bear the burden of our failed justice system, along with the legislatures and corporations who have worked with them to create an environment that is hostile to the rights of the accused.
In such a climate, we are all the accused, the guilty and the suspect.
As I document in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we’re operating in a new paradigm where the citizenry are presumed guilty and treated as suspects, our movements tracked, our communications monitored, our property seized and searched, our bodily integrity disregarded, and our inalienable rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” rendered insignificant when measured against the government’s priorities.
Every American is now in jeopardy of being targeted and punished for a crime he did not commit thanks to an overabundance of arcane laws. Making matters worse, by allowing government agents to operate above the law, immune from wrongdoing, we have created a situation in which the law is one-sided and top-down, used as a hammer to oppress the populace, while useless in protecting us against government abuse.
Add to the mix a profit-driven system of incarceration in which state and federal governments agree to keep the jails full in exchange for having private corporations run the prisons, and you will find the only word to describe such a state of abject corruption is “evil.” 
How else do you explain a system that allows police officers to shoot first and ask questions later, without any real consequences for their misdeeds? Despite the initial outcry over the shootings of unarmed individuals in Ferguson and Baltimore, the pace of police shootings has yet to slow. In fact, close to 400 people were shot and killed by police nationwide in the first half of 2015, almost two shootings a day. Those are just the shootings that were tracked. Of those killed, almost 1 in 6 were either unarmed or carried a toy gun.
For those who survive an encounter with the police only to end up on the inside of a jail cell, waiting for a “fair and speedy trial,” it’s often a long wait. Consider that 60 percent of the people in the nation’s jails have yet to be convicted of a crime. There are 2.3 million people in jails or prisons in America. Those who can’t afford bail, “some of them innocent, most of them nonviolent and a vast majority of them impoverished,” will spend about four months in jail before they even get a trial.
Not even that promised “day in court” is a guarantee that justice will be served.
As Judge Alex Kozinski of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals points out, there are an endless number of factors that can render an innocent man or woman a criminal and caged for life: unreliable eyewitnesses, fallible forensic evidence, flawed memories, coerced confessions, harsh interrogation tactics, uninformed jurors, prosecutorial misconduct, falsified evidence, and overly harsh sentences, to name just a few.
In early 2015, the Justice Department and FBI “formally acknowledged that nearly every examiner in an elite FBI forensic unit gave flawed testimony in almost all trials in which they offered evidence against criminal defendants over more than a two-decade period…. The admissions mark a watershed in one of the country’s largest forensic scandals, highlighting the failure of the nation’s courts for decades to keep bogus scientific information from juries, legal analysts said.”
“How do rogue forensic scientists and other bad cops thrive in our criminal justice system?” asks Judge Kozinski. “The simple answer is that some prosecutors turn a blind eye to such misconduct because they’re more interested in gaining a conviction than achieving a just result.”
The power of prosecutors is not to be underestimated.
Increasingly, when we talk about innocent people being jailed for crimes they did not commit, the prosecutor plays a critical role in bringing about that injustice. As The Washington Post reports, “Prosecutors win 95 percent of their cases, 90 percent of them without ever having to go to trial…. Are American prosecutors that much better? No… it is because of the plea bargain, a system of bullying and intimidation by government lawyers for which they ‘would be disbarred in most other serious countries….’”
This phenomenon of innocent people pleading guilty makes a mockery of everything the criminal justice system is supposed to stand for: fairness, equality and justice. As Judge Jed S. Rakoff concludes, “our criminal justice system is almost exclusively a system of plea bargaining, negotiated behind closed doors and with no judicial oversight. The outcome is very largely determined by the prosecutor alone.”
It’s estimated that between 2 and 8 percent of convicted felons who have agreed to a prosecutor’s plea bargain (remember, there are 2.3 million prisoners in America) are in prison for crimes they did not commit.
Clearly, the Coalition for Public Safety was right when it concluded, “You don’t need to be a criminal to have your life destroyed by the U.S. criminal justice system.”
It wasn’t always this way. As Judge Rakoff recounts, the Founding Fathers envisioned a criminal justice system in which the critical element “was the jury trial, which served not only as a truth-seeking mechanism and a means of achieving fairness, but also as a shield against tyranny.”
That shield against tyranny has long since been shattered, leaving Americans vulnerable to the cruelties, vanities, errors, ambitions and greed of the government and its partners in crime.
There is not enough money in the world to make reparation to those whose lives have been disrupted by wrongful convictions.
Over the past quarter century, more than 1500 Americans have been released from prison after being cleared of crimes they did not commit. These are the fortunate ones. For every exonerated convict who is able to prove his innocence after 10, 20 or 30 years behind bars, Judge Kozinski estimates there may be dozens who are innocent but cannot prove it, lacking access to lawyers, evidence, money and avenues of appeal.
For those who have yet to fully experience the injustice of the American system of justice, it’s only a matter of time.
America no longer operates under a system of justice characterized by due process, an assumption of innocence, probable cause, and clear prohibitions on government overreach and police abuse. Instead, our courts of justice have been transformed into courts of order, advocating for the government’s interests, rather than championing the rights of the citizenry, as enshrined in the Constitution.
Without courts willing to uphold the Constitution’s provisions when government officials disregard them, and a citizenry knowledgeable enough to be outraged when those provisions are undermined, the Constitution provides little protection against the police state.
In other words, in this age of hollow justice, courts of order, and government-sanctioned tyranny, the Constitution is no safeguard against government wrongdoing such as SWAT team raids, domestic surveillance, police shootings of unarmed citizens, indefinite detentions, asset forfeitures, prosecutorial misconduct and the like.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Seeking War to the End of the World

By Robert Parry and originally published at consortiumnews.com
If the neoconservatives have their way again, U.S. ground troops will reoccupy Iraq, the U.S. military will take out Syria’s secular government (likely helping Al Qaeda and the Islamic State take over), and the U.S. Congress will not only kill the Iran nuclear deal but follow that with a massive increase in military spending.
Like spraying lighter fluid on a roaring barbecue, the neocons also want a military escalation in Ukraine to burn the ethnic Russians out of the east, and the neocons dream of spreading the blaze to Moscow with the goal of forcing Russian President Vladimir Putin from the Kremlin. In other words, more and more fires of Imperial “regime change” abroad even as the last embers of the American Republic die at home.
Prominent neocon intellectual Robert Kagan. (Photo credit: Mariusz Kubik, http://www.mariuszkubik.pl)
Prominent neocon intellectual Robert Kagan. (Photo credit: Mariusz Kubik, http://www.mariuszkubik.pl)
Much of this “strategy” is personified by a single Washington power couple: arch-neocon Robert Kagan, a co-founder of the Project for the New American Century and an early advocate of the Iraq War, and his wife, Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, who engineered last year’s coup in Ukraine that started a nasty civil war and created a confrontation between nuclear-armed United States and Russia.
Kagan, who cut his teeth as a propaganda specialist in support of the Reagan administration’s brutal Central American policies in the 1980s, is now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a contributing columnist to The Washington Post’s neocon-dominated opinion pages.
On Friday, Kagan’s column baited the Republican Party to do more than just object to President Barack Obama’s Iranian nuclear deal. Kagan called for an all-out commitment to neoconservative goals, including military escalations in the Middle East, belligerence toward Russia and casting aside fiscal discipline in favor of funneling tens of billions of new dollars to the Pentagon.
Kagan also showed how the neocons’ world view remains the conventional wisdom of Official Washington despite their disastrous Iraq War. The neocon narrative gets repeated over and over in the mainstream media no matter how delusional it is.
For instance, a sane person might trace the origins of the bloodthirsty Islamic State back to President George W. Bush’s neocon-inspired Iraq War when this hyper-violent Sunni movement began as “Al Qaeda in Iraq” blowing up Shiite mosques and instigating sectarian bloodshed. It later expanded into Syria where Sunni militants were seeking the ouster of a secular regime led by Alawites, a Shiite offshoot. Though changing its name to the Islamic State, the movement continued with its trademark brutality.
But Kagan doesn’t acknowledge that he and his fellow neocons bear any responsibility for this head-chopping phenomenon. In his neocon narrative, the Islamic State gets blamed on Iran and Syria, even though those governments are leading much of the resistance to the Islamic State and its former colleagues in Al Qaeda, which in Syria backs a separate terrorist organization, the Nusra Front.
But here is how Kagan explains the situation to the Smart People of Official Washington: “Critics of the recent nuclear deal struck between Iran and the United States are entirely right to point out the serious challenge that will now be posed by the Islamic republic. It is an aspiring hegemon in an important region of the world.
“It is deeply engaged in a region-wide war that encompasses Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, the Gulf States and the Palestinian territories. It subsidizes the murderous but collapsing regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, and therefore bears primary responsibility for the growing strength of the Islamic State and other radical jihadist forces in that country and in neighboring Iraq, where it is simultaneously expanding its influence and inflaming sectarian violence.”
The Real Hegemon
While ranting about “Iranian hegemony,” Kagan called for direct military intervention by the world’s true hegemonic power, the United States. He wants the U.S. military to weigh in against Iran on the side of two far more militarily advanced regional powers, Israel and Saudi Arabia, whose combined weapons spending dwarfs Iran’s and includes – with Israel – a sophisticated nuclear arsenal.
Yet reality has never had much relationship to neocon ideology. Kagan continued: “Any serious strategy aimed at resisting Iranian hegemony has also required confronting Iran on the several fronts of the Middle East battlefield. In Syria, it has required a determined policy to remove Assad by force, using U.S. air power to provide cover for civilians and create a safe zone for Syrians willing to fight.
“In Iraq, it has required using American forces to push back and destroy the forces of the Islamic State so that we would not have to rely, de facto, on Iranian power to do the job. Overall, it has required a greater U.S. military commitment to the region, a reversal of both the perceived and the real withdrawal of American power.
“And therefore it has required a reversal of the downward trend in U.S. defense spending, especially the undoing of the sequestration of defense funds, which has made it harder for the military even to think about addressing these challenges, should it be called upon to do so. So the question for Republicans who are rightly warning of the danger posed by Iran is: What have they done to make it possible for the United States to begin to have any strategy for responding?”
In Kagan’s call for war and more war, we’re seeing, again, the consequence of failing to hold neocons accountable after they pushed the country into the illegal and catastrophic Iraq War by selling lies about weapons of mass destruction and telling tales about how easy it would be.
Instead of facing a purge that should have followed the Iraq calamity, the neocons consolidated their power, holding onto key jobs in U.S. foreign policy, ensconcing themselves in influential think tanks, and remaining the go-to experts for mainstream media coverage. Being wrong about Iraq has almost become a badge of honor in the upside-down world of Official Washington.
But we need to unpack the truckload of sophistry that Kagan is peddling. First, it is simply crazy to talk about “Iranian hegemony.” That was part of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rhetoric before the U.S. Congress on March 3 about Iran “gobbling up” nations – and it has now become a neocon-driven litany, but it is no more real just because it gets repeated endlessly.
For instance, take the Iraq case. It has a Shiite-led government not because Iran invaded Iraq, but because the United States did. After the U.S. military ousted Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein, the United States stood up a new government dominated by Shiites who, in turn, sought friendly relations with their co-religionists in Iran, which is entirely understandable and represents no aggression by Iran. Then, after the Islamic State’s dramatic military gains across Iraq last summer, the Iraqi government turned to Iran for military assistance, also no surprise.
Back to Iraq
However, leaving aside Kagan’s delusional hyperbole about Iran, look at what he’s proposing. He wants to return a sizable U.S. occupation force to Iraq, apparently caring little about the U.S. soldiers who were rotated multiple times into the war zone where almost 4,500 died (along with hundreds of thousands of Iraqis). Having promoted Iraq War I and having paid no price, Kagan now wants to give us Iraq War II.
But that’s not enough. Kagan wants the U.S. military to intervene to make sure the secular government of Syria is overthrown, even though the almost certain winners would be Sunni extremists from the Islamic State or Al Qaeda’s Nusra Front. Such a victory could lead to genocides against Syria’s Christians, Alawites, Shiites and other minorities. At that point, there would be tremendous pressure for a full-scale U.S. invasion and occupation of Syria, too.
That may be why Kagan wants to throw tens of billions of dollar more into the military-industrial complex, although the true price tag for Kagan’s new wars would likely run into the trillions of dollars. Yet, Kagan still isn’t satisfied. He wants even more military spending to confront “growing Chinese power, an aggressive Russia and an increasingly hegemonic Iran.”
In his conclusion, Kagan mocks the Republicans for not backing up their tough talk: “So, yes, by all means, rail about the [Iran] deal. We all look forward to the hours of floor speeches and campaign speeches that lie ahead. But it will be hard to take Republican criticisms seriously unless they start doing the things that are in their power to do to begin to address the challenge.”
Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland during a press conference at the U.S. Embassy in Kiev, Ukraine, on Feb. 7, 2014. (U.S. State Department photo)
Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland during a press conference at the U.S. Embassy in Kiev, Ukraine, on Feb. 7, 2014. (U.S. State Department photo)
While it’s true that Kagan is now “just” a neocon ideologue – albeit one with important platforms to present his views – his wife Assistant Secretary of State Nuland shares his foreign policy views and even edits many of his articles. As she told The New York Times last year, “nothing goes out of the house that I don’t think is worthy of his talents. Let’s put it that way.” [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Obama’s True Foreign Policy ‘Weakness.’”]
But Nuland is a foreign policy force of her own, considered by some in Washington to be the up-and-coming “star” at the State Department. By organizing the “regime change” in Ukraine – with the violent overthrow of democratically elected President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014 – Nuland also earned her spurs as an accomplished neocon.
Nuland has even outdone her husband, who may get “credit” for the Iraq War and the resulting chaos, but Nuland did him one better, instigating Cold War II and reviving hostilities between nuclear-armed Russia and the United States. After all, that’s where the really big money will go – toward modernizing nuclear arsenals and ordering top-of-the-line strategic weaponry.
A Family Business
There’s also a family-business aspect to these wars and confrontations, since the Kagans collectively serve not just to start conflicts but to profit from grateful military contractors who kick back a share of the money to the think tanks that employ the Kagans.
For instance, Robert’s brother Frederick works at the American Enterprise Institute, which has long benefited from the largesse of the Military-Industrial Complex, and his wife Kimberly runs her own think tank called the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).
Gen. David Petraeus posing before the U.S. Capitol with Kimberly Kagan, founder and president of the Institute for the Study of War. (Photo credit: ISW’s 2011 Annual Report)
Gen. David Petraeus posing before the U.S. Capitol with Kimberly Kagan, founder and president of the Institute for the Study of War. (Photo credit: ISW’s 2011 Annual Report)
According to ISW’s annual reports, its original supporters were mostly right-wing foundations, such as the Smith-Richardson Foundation and the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, but it was later backed by a host of national security contractors, including major ones like General Dynamics, Northrop Grumman and CACI, as well as lesser-known firms such as DynCorp International, which provided training for Afghan police, and Palantir, a technology company founded with the backing of the CIA’s venture-capital arm, In-Q-Tel. Palantir supplied software to U.S. military intelligence in Afghanistan.
Since its founding in 2007, ISW has focused mostly on wars in the Middle East, especially Iraq and Afghanistan, including closely cooperating with Gen. David Petraeus when he commanded U.S. forces in those countries. However, more recently, ISW has begun reporting extensively on the civil war in Ukraine. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Neocons Guided Petraeus on Afghan War.”]
So, to understand the enduring influence of the neocons – and the Kagan clan, in particular – you have to appreciate the money connections between the business of war and the business of selling war. When the military contractors do well, the think tanks that advocate for heightened global tensions do well, too.
And, it doesn’t hurt to have friends and family inside the government making sure that policymakers do their part to give war a chance — and to give peace the old heave-ho.