Check out the new review: Epstein’s Pancake, the thrilling novel by Bjarne Rostaing, gives readers an incredibly realistic window into the world of espionage, political machinations, whistleblowing, and international conspiracy...
By now everyone knows who Helen Mirren is. She’s won all the awards, she’s convincing as a cop or a queen, and she’s always been hot. Her exotic roots – Russian nobility and Romani on one side, solid English working class on the other – produced a presence with great range that sticks to the emotional ribs, reliably excellent.
Over time Mirren has achieved an eminence that allows her great freedom, and she pretty much owns Eye in the Sky, a thriller driven by several potent and omnipresent realities: armed drones, establishment decision-makers stepping on themselves, and the 21st century power woman. That’s Mirren as Col. Katherine Powell, driven by the death of a colleague murdered by a terrorist group.
Her counterpoint is a room full of those decision-makers, including at least one lawyer and a cabinet minister. They debate and dither while Mirren/Powell manipulates, and the camera darts around the globe, Nairobi to Nevada to Pearl Harbor to London. Under director Gavin Hood it becomes a frenzied dystopian arrhythmic mental chase. Everyone is focused on what’s happening inside a suicide-bomber house as Powell grinds forward and the hesitant senior deciders weigh the political risk in their big rich room full of power.
It’s a simple decision and it needs to be quick: so far Powell has been an observe/capture mission. Under extreme time pressure and imminent danger of multiple same-day suicide bombings, does it become a strike-and-kill? The eye in the sky is an armed drone ready to strike, and collateral damage becomes a critical issue, embodied in a child who will be injured or die in a strike. Like the film’s tempo, this is cranked up to overkill, but it opens space for Somali actor Barkhad Abdi (of Captain Phillips), whose humane bearing and sensibility reveal the limitations of the robotic acting that the film’s tempo forces on the other actors. Abdi takes time to be subtle, the film breathes deeper, and his interlude with the child is a relief, humanizing the film and easing the pressure with his slower, stronger personal rhythm. Where Powell become her mission, he does not.
Powell is not overly concerned with the child, but very concerned with those suicide bombers arming up in a back room of the house, which is already under limited interior surveillance. This surveillance evolves and becomes near-total, a little nightmare world, all cameras – tiny bird and insect observation-drones that extend the paranoia. There is no privacy or escape for the zealots in the house, or for anyone reporting to Powell, and she does quietly brutal things to her assistants to move things toward a strike. When she bullies a black subordinate into giving her false collateral damage numbers that will doom the child, she is logic incarnate.
Where the senior people in the room are divided and hesitant, Powell is steady and unflinching, businesslike and persistent – a shrewd colonel who bends rules to overcome a more human general. Mirren can be charming and sexy at seventy, but in this film she’s a bitch on wheels. Her style and purpose are thought-provoking because nonpolitical, and distinctly not a product of what used to be called Women’s Lib, lacking its concern with ethics and correctness. Col. Powell’s professionalism is not especially gender-specific and has no sugar coating – more Margaret Thatcher than Hillary Clinton.
I was reminded of Joby Warrick’s current books on the near east and ISIS, which present us with something we don’t want to know – a third world view of drones, hovering quietly, faintly audible, always spying, waiting for orders to strike. But where Warrick’s knowledge and humanity are deep, Eye in the Sky is often strident, driven by the director’s urgent tempo. It makes clear how technology and push-button warfare typify our approach to diplomatic problems, and how that has made us hated in those countries where we go with the military option – most often the convenient and inexpensive drone.
Where does the unsentimental businesslike Col Powell come from? Mirren isn’t making it up as she goes along. Rather she’s the calm deliberate embodiment of an idea, that has nothing to do with Gloria Steinem et al. Before that wave was a very influential post-WW2 thinker and widely read novelist whose approach had more in common with Kissinger: Ayn Rand. Thatcher was the shiny tip of the free enterprise iceberg, but the hardened thinking that frees Col. Powell from humane concerns is pure Rand.
Ayn Rand was a White Russian escapee from communism, a prominent and persuasive best-selling author, much in favor of untrammeled capitalism. She was a bold if simplistic thinker who thought of altruism as a mistake and a weakness. A social Darwinist of great energy, prescribed amphetamines by her doctor for several critical creative years, Rand rolled hard and fast, gathering a clique of intelligent followers around her, directing their thinking and lives by the force of her personality. The young Alan Greenspan, her lover for a considerable period, was her most illustrious graduate, but she influenced many bright and innocent younger followers in her circle. Millions of readers likewise, many of them everyday people, educated middle-class commuters on trains, along with less educated ones on subways. Over the years endless numbers of successful people have credited Rand for freeing them of hesitation and doubt. Born a Jew, Rand was an avowed atheist for whom Judeo-Christian thinking and conventions were a waste of time and mind, and a thoughtful humane Christian like Jimmy Carter would be beside the point. Reagan was post-Rand, a man for whom Onward Christian Soldiers would be a theme – the new post-Rand Christian, for whom profit, power and God got along well.
I didn’t picture Mirren’s Col. Powell thinking much about God any more than did Rand. No time for it – this is a film about time constraints, a point rammed into every orifice by the directing. Powell becomes a mission creature, there to do a job, not to be diverted. None of the virtuous liberal PC/NGO thinking that persisted in “Women’s Lib” is present in her, but Rand’s hard-nose businesslike drive is of her essence. If director Hood had put more faith in Mirren and less in the speed-and-tension style this would be a deeper and less obvious film but Mirren is a master, and any performance is worth watching.
Bjarne Rostaing will read from his new novel, Epstein’s Pancake, a finalist in the 10th Annual National Indie Excellence Awards, and recount his personal experience of growing up in the American Communist Party at the Bluestockings Bookstore, 172 Allen Street, New York NY 10002, tel. 212-777-6028 on Sunday, September 11 from 7:00 – 9:00PM.
The dust has cleared, we have a damaged Supreme Court, and the canonization of celebrity Justice Antonin "Nino" Scalia is official. His greatness is accepted by all sectors of the political spectrum and the media, which would probably have amused him. He might joke about how many friends he acquired by dying. His death put talking heads and politicians of all types under a spell, and they scrupulously avoided even the suggestion of any reservations, fearful of the man even in death and mindful of his powerful living allies. His host at the time of his death was the brilliant but fatally compromised John Poindexter of Iran-contra fame, pardoned by his partner in that crime, Bush 41.
But yes, Nino was a decent law-abiding and friendly man who meant no harm. No one seems to have disliked him much. Good men may do great harm though, and do it with a sense of virtue that distracts criticism and seems to lend righteous substance to their actions. Scalia did this: toppling the voting rights act (2013), opened the way to disenfranchise the poor, a serious attack on something taken for granted for many decades. Conflating the rights of men with those of corporations (Citizens United) was a profound incursion on common sense, going against a long tradition of keeping unlimited money out of politics, and we’re seeing the results as billionaires like Adelson and the Kochs pour money into politics in hopes of buying the presidency. Which is do-able now under the law.
Scalia is generally agreed to have been a lawyer’s lawyer, a strict, effective logic-chopper who specialized in the Constitution as he understood it. An “originalist,” and a clever writer who larded his work with misleading contemporary references that suggested he was in touch with profound cultural changes he ignored in his decisions. He did not grapple very hard with “the history,” as doctors say – what has happened since his favorite document was written. Nor is he very concerned with the effects of his decisions on the nation. And he scrupulously avoided the inconsistencies of the document, many of which existed to enable its acceptance by the states. The Second Amendment is ambiguous, and is responsible for our-of-control small-arms industry. The treatment of slavery is cowardly: is a slave a person or a thing? Never mind, getting Virginia to sign on was the immediate problem.
Neither was Scalia sufficiently concerned with the effects of his decisions on living human beings. He apparently could not imagine awkward specifics such as (for example) the likely existence of a penniless teenage girl and her unwanted child. He was above that, unmoved, breaking eggs as needed to produce his originalist omelet. The on-the-ground reality is simple, though: when the Constitution was written, the family was a solid institution, and greater population was desirable for obvious reasons – much land, few people, few labor-saving devices, plenty of work to go around. Children were needed. Today those children would find no jobs, and of course there is the undiscussed problem of a crowded planet with too many people. The Chinese solution horrified many, but the one-child family probably saved China. For a practicing Roman Catholic this is a difficult and sensitive point. Scalia believed, and expected us to believe, that his personal life and beliefs did not interfere with his legal judgment. This is how logic-choppers think, but not how human beings behave, as a fellow Justice observed.
Similarly, the preservation of our precarious democracy in this century was not an obvious pressing concern to Scalia. Secure himself, he seems not to have considered how fragile our democracy has become, with political parties disintegrating as populists rise from nowhere and money floods the political process. Citizens United conflates corporations with flesh and blood human beings, pours billions into a political process already controlled by multinational corporate lobbies, and drives good people out of politics because they cannot raise the price of admission without selling out.
This issue of unlimited political money is not complicated: it creates a kind of Gresham’s law of politics. Gresham states that “bad” money (paper printed with no backing) drives out the good (gold, silver and copper coins, or paper currency backed by these metals.) With Citizens United we have a Gresham’s law of politics, in which the bad candidates (bought and paid for) drive out the good (those of talent and integrity who will not be owned.) The primaries made this very plain: one very rich candidate with media skills who could pay his own way, and one running a unique campaign based on populist appeal and small live-citizen contributions. But the rest are dependent on rich backers, to whom they are indebted. Mrs. Clinton’s protestations notwithstanding, there is a quid pro quo when large sums change hands in politics, and anyone out of his or her teens who doubts this has not attained adulthood.
Not much can be said for Scalia’s sense of that this money issue, or the crisis it created. Citizens United finalized a disaster against which decent politicians were fighting a rear-guard action going back to the 19th century. For many decades the election of 1896 rather than the Civil War was regarded as the fundamental dividing line in our history because of McKinley’s close alignment with the financial establishment. Money became an open issue, followed by Teddy Roosevelt’s anti-trust crusade, and the battle continued into modern times as Congress struggled to keep itself clean. The Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA) of 1971 required candidates to disclose sources of campaign contributions and campaign expenditures, and the 1974 amendments placed limits on contributions by individuals, also creating the Federal Election Commission (FEC). The problem was ongoing, and in 2002 the McCain-Feingold Act updated resistance to further incursions. The problem was obvious enough that a Republican and a Democrat worked together to solve it.
This and earlier legislation established precedent which Scalia ignored. It has been said that to deny Congress the power to safeguard against the improper use of money to influence the election results is to deny to the nation the power of self-protection. Roosevelt’s crusade and those Acts of Congress were the voice of the people, a tradition developed over generations and reflected in these Acts. Scalia ignored all that, and found a clever “originalist” position in which the Constitution was contorted to be at odds with the survival of the people’s democracy that had given him so much. Neither of the Roosevelts had a fraction of his knowledge and precision, but they had wisdom, knew history, and respected the will of the people. As the Brits used to say, sometimes the law is an ass. Lincoln had the courage to suspend habeas corpus when the existence of the Union hung in the balance. These Presidents were men of a stature that transcends purely legal thinking and judgment.
Nino was a tough cookie, ambitious in a position where ambition is inappropriate and dangerous. In his early days on the Court, he was notoriously aggressive and dominating, and very disturbing to some of his most distinguished colleagues, who saw him as a careerist, determined to make his mark. He changed his approach, made his mark, and will be part a significant part of the national dialog far into the future. That dialog inevitably will raise the issue of just how absolute the Constitution can be in a world the founding fathers did not envision.
Finally, though, just how absolutely sacred is the Constitution? That’s one question Scalia would never consider. The other is how valid his perfectly argued positions are in terms of enabling the government to function as intended. Eventually someone will dare to observe that the British, from whom we adopted so much, do not even have a written constitution, and somehow manage to have elections not massively dominated by money. Watching their legislative process and comparing it to ours isn’t something many Americans have time for, but ours has been up a blind alley since SCOTUS appointed a president at the turn of the century. Nino was too busy perfecting his arguments to look up from his work.
Just heard that my new thriller Epstein's Pancake was a Finalist in the 10th Annual Indie Excellence Award in the Political Thriller Category!
Ed Snowden and Henry David Thoreau have little in common other than
WASPdom. Snowden is from a respectable middle class family, many of whose
members worked for the government, and he happens to have a gift for
computers and electronic information. Nothing to raise suspicion, and it
was natural for him to work for the CIA, which he did for a time. Thoreau
was a different animal, a “Boston Brahmin,” of the New England aristocracy,
a dominant elite full of independent thinkers of impeccable roots going
back to colonial times. The Adamses, Emerson, Hawthorne, William and Henry
James, Melville, and Oliver Wendell Holmes (who coined the term) were
Snowden held tech jobs, Thoreau went off to live in the woods and think. He
was a theorist, opinionated, lacking finesse. Not a hands-on guy or a
leader in his set, but strong in his views. He wrote Walden, and then he
came up with the notion of civil disobedience, a wild and crazy idea that
when government creates a stench that your conscience can’t abide, it’s
appropriate to be “disobedient,” and if possible, “stop the machine,” by
which he meant the government. The idea had legs, and he became the patron
saint of whistleblowers.
Snowden is a loner, too, like many techs, and very expert on information
systems. He bypassed college degrees but was eminently employable, and
smart enough to be trained by the government as a Certified Ethical
Hacker (CEH), an ambiguous and controversial government qualification. He was
always civil, and became extremely disobedient. In his world he will be remembered
as a heroic practitioner of what Thoreau wrote about in his Boston cocoon,
though also a traitor by traditional definition.
Coming from a responsible family with government connections may have
protected him from close CIA scrutiny and allowed him what must have been a
very high security clearance. He needed to roam freely to solve the
problems he was assigned. With his gifts and background, he would always
find work, and therein lies a tale of corporate complacency. Though his
online views were no secret and should have raised eyebrows, no one paid
attention. Good employee, good manners, good family. Good manners does not
mean no balls, as patriotic barflies tend to think.
After CIA, Snowden ended working for Booz Allen Hamilton, a company rarely
referenced in popular media. Booz Allen are consultants in technology,
defense and intelligence, and a big player ($5-6 billion yearly) in our
increasingly privatized intelligence community. Privatization is a strong
current trend that has spawned a profitable industry, and congress sees it
as a good thing, reducing the size of the government; but privatization has
its problems. There’s Snowden, and there were Halliburton’s electrocution
showers, and Blackwater, which existed in a convenient legal limbo that
allowed them break their own rules. Accountability is vague with these
consulting companies, and no significant heads rolled in these cases.
Privatization can arguably reduce government size, but basically it’s all
about the bottom line, which means bean counters and cost-cutting. There’s
big money in the game, and bean counters are influential. At Booz Allen
they saved money by shortcutting Snowden’s vetting.
Snowden was no trained spy, and didn’t bother to cover his tracks, but this
went unnoticed. Long story short, Booz Allen apparently had no idea who he
was, though he was open about himself and his views on the internet,
including his sexual and donut preferences. Posting as the TheTrueHOOHA
he sounds sophomoric and independent, a classic high end unpredictable
young tech. But he could solve problems others could not, and perhaps
because he’d been accepted by CIA, Booz Allen accepted him and gave him
access to graze in fields of absolutely top secret information, revealing,
among other things, how the government routinely penetrates our private
The media excoriate and extol Snowden, but Booz Allen remains under the
radar, not held accountable, and they continue to get enormous contracts.
Why? They are huge (over five to six billion annual revenue), the
government is their only employer, and they are extremely well connected.
They also kiss the Clinton ring, donating money to the Clinton Global
Initiative, a part of the their Foundation. They also have some very
influential employees: James Woolsey, former CIA Director has worked for
them, as have current National Intelligence Director James Clapper and
similar figures. Like Halliburton and other giant privatizers, they often
work on no-bid contracts. In any case, no heads rolled after Snowden’s
revelations, and it was business as usual.
Private contractors now supply at least half of our specialized troops and
intelligence personnel. This surprising fact becomes comprehensible as part
of the privatization trend, which has significant added value: it blurs
accountability. Blackwater broke the rules they worked under in Iraq,
initiating fire fights and shooting civilians very indiscriminately, and
there were no consequences other than a name change. P. W. Singer
author of Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry notes that these companies operate in over fifty countries. Their use was implemented quickly because
consultant/contractor status allowed them to do things that would be
illegal for government employees. Singer estimates that in the 1990s there
were 50 military personnel for every 1 contractor; now the ratio is less
than 10 to 1.
Intelligence was on the same path. Robert Grenier, CIA station chief in
Islamabad, Pakistan, and subsequently in charge of the CTC (Counter
Terrorism Center), says that more than half the personnel who worked under
him at CTC were private contractors. “They were coming in, and they were
all over the place," Grenier said, and he was comfortable with it. Tim
Shorrock, who wrote the definitive book, Spies for Hire, obtained and published an
unclassified document from the Office of the Director of National
Intelligence showing that 70 percent of the US intelligence budget was
spent on private contractors. Blackwater and Snowden make it obvious that
legality and accountability are issues that won’t go away, but neither will
they be discussed openly in significant venues, because both employer and
contractor like the status quo, and it’s not difficult to wave the flag and
demonize the messenger in the name of Homeland Security. Silencing and/or
destroying whistleblowers is a routine procedure.
Thoreau was a bit of a crank, but civil disobedience is a powerful idea,
the ethical core that justifies whistleblowers to themselves. They lead a
hellish life once they commit. If they report on security matters, their
employment is made uncomfortable. Legally outgunned by the government, they
often lose their jobs, then friends and family, Finding another job becomes
almost impossible, income declines or disappears, and legal fees mount. It’s a
very slippery slope, and getting your life back is an impossible dream.
The inevitable question about Snowden is whether he did more harm or good.
It’s very doubtful that we’d ever have known about PRISM (and the access to
our phone records, etc.) without him. Obviously he broke the law, but as
Thoreau suggested, civil disobedience is at times a moral obligation. In
his bucolic Walden world he wouldn’t have been concerned with having his
life ripped apart. The Brahmins were very secure.
WHERE did Sanders and Trump come from? Their populist armies exploded from nowhere and made them national figures overnight. Except for raw energy they looked totally different. Trump’s base was mainly disenfranchised white males from the right, and Sanders' youthful gang of progressives looked as optimistic and innocent as Occupy Wall Street. Neither man was politically connected or ever governed, but they were the story of the primaries, two underdogs tapping into a hard grim dissatisfaction with 21st century America, a place where you can’t afford an education that used to be almost free, or get a decent job once you have it. Alexander Hamilton once said “The people, sir, are a great beast.” The beast was finally awake and angry.
The rage of that great beast is what the Trump and Sanders people have in common, and change is what they want, right and left, a need so urgent that both accept that it was worth the risk to break out. Rearranging the deck chairs on our Titanic debt-ridden economy wasn’t working, and both groups were in revolt against globalism. Specifically they wanted out of those massive trade deals, which they saw as working for special interests and against the common good. Say what you will about Trump, he knows a good deal from a screwing. Sanders gets that too: he’s an idealist, but he's also a tough, smart Brooklyn Jew.
The heat was on and the most basic issues were finally out in the open: do we prioritize expensive foreign adventures like Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Ukraine and the “Asia Pivot,” or do we deal with domestic emergencies, starting with job loss, a reduced-income service economy, immigration, and our collapsing third world infrastructure. Do we need bridges and trains? Is the presence of lead in tap water from forty-something states a legitimate priority? It’s not just Flint, Michigan, it’s nationwide.
Lobbies have controlled spending for decades. The arms, oil, and technology industries are aggressively global for obvious reasons, starting with cheap labor. But polls, e-letters to editors and the Trump-Sanders revolt make it clear that Americans are tired of endless wars that siphon taxes off to corporations like Halliburton, Blackwater and Booz Allen, Snowden’s employer, which failed to vet him but continues its lucrative relationship with the government (about $6 billion yearly). Driven by these rich, long-entrenched lobbies, “Washington” has continued Bush-Cheney-Obama-Clinton foreign policies, which prioritize for-profit wars over domestic spending.
Then came the primaries, and it blew up in their faces. Money was disappearing for wage-earners and going into weapons; it’s definitely not food stamps. Behind the macro-economic decisions that have offshored entire industries are the realities of international trade and finance, which the hands-on Trump probably understands better than any elected politician. It’s clear from his remarks about China. There’s no “Asia Pivot” military bluster; his view is that of a dead-serious businessman. He’s concerned about the crippling advantages China derives from currency manipulation, and he absolutely wants to get rid of TPP and the horse it rode in on — votes controlled by those lobbies.
“The one thing Sanders and I agree on is ending these trade deals.”
This gut issue is lost in nonsense like his Scottish golf course rant, “disgusting” bathroom breaks, the Great Wall and Megan Kelly’s menstrual cycle. But populist rage from right and left is ongoing. It wants real change, and people who think Trump can’t make inroads on the Sanders vote reckon without that. They know there will be no change with Clinton, a Democrat allied with neocons who can’t accept a $15 minimum wage, which qualifies her as a false-flag Republican for most Sanders people,.
Case in point: When neocon intellectual/writer Robert Kagan endorses a Democrat (Clinton), it’s worth an asterisk: his wife is Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, who staged the Ukraine coup on behalf of billionaires like George Soros who were invested there. Nuland then installed US citizens as finance minister and senior executive in the natural gas monopoly, destroyed a decent relationship with Russia and ultimately created an ethnic civil war. The whole thing was about money.
Follow the money goes back to Watergate, when an anonymous source met with Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein (a.k.a. Woodstein), young Washington Post reporters assigned to a break-in story that ended with Nixon’s resignation. They met in a parking garage, and he didn’t say much – just enough clues to redirect their thinking, and a theme: Follow the money. Woodstein called him Deep Throat, and this earthy nickname quickly entered American folk lore. Woodstein clammed up like pros, and not until 2003 did we learn that Deep Throat was former FBI Associate Director Mark Felt. Civil Disobedience by a bold and honorable man deposed a corrupt president, and bipartisan congress cleaned up his mess.
Deep Throat was right as rain. It’s a near-absolute political law that when money passes hands, there is a quid pro quo, and this is one law that will never be repealed. Purchased congressional votes are the means by which the lobbies are strangling our political process, and little has changed since the seventies, when upstanding citizens in suits would exchange paper bags full of hundred dollar bills on park benches.
STRANGELY BELIEVE IT!
Secretary Clinton would have us believe she is above this law – that she is not influenced by financial contributions, and certainly isn’t in the establishment pocket. Perish the thought! She’s denied it often enough, and people have mostly given her a pass, if not their trust. That’s not easy to do if you look at the numbers. The Clinton income is enormous, complex and covert, far beyond the ken of corporate journalists.
And there is no transparency. The speaking fees are newsworthy but minor; it’s the big money in the Foundation that matters. There’s so much of it that Wikipedia has grouped contributors by size for clarity, and the list is endless. Powerful and connected to a wide range of liberal and conservative interests, the Clintons’ domestic funding (Blackwater et al) needs scrutiny by experts. Sanders didn’t have them, but Trump will. But contributions by entities like “Friends of Saudi Arabia” (Wasabi fundamentalists known to fund ISIS) are even more troubling, because the Clintons can deliver. Mrs. Clinton was a very aggressive Secretary of State whose interests aligned with those of the war industry, and led to our unsuccessful mid-east manipulations. As the only candidate who favored the Iraq invasion ($3 trillion US, give or take) it was predictable that she would push the Libyan action. Nuland’s Ukraine coup on behalf of Soros and other billionaires was ignored by major US media but no surprise to the EU.
You won’t hear about it on TV, but print media are aware of the issue. The Wall Street Journal noted that foreign donors are prohibited by law from contributing to political candidates in the U.S., but many are major long-term contributors to the Clinton Foundation. A subsequent Washington Post inquiry found that certain donations by foreign governments to the Clinton Foundation continued at the same level they had before her tenure as Secretary of State, which was legal but indicative. Last year Reuters nailed the Clinton Foundation for failing to publish a complete donor list (which it had committed to do), and had also failed to let the State Department review all its donations from foreign governments, another commitment. Late in 2015 the Department of State issued a subpoena to the Foundation focused on "documents about the charity's projects that may have required approval from federal government during Hillary Clinton's term as Secretary of State." These critiques by respected sources have been running parallel with the borderline-legal hanky panky, but are ignored by non-print media which reflect the corporate agenda of their owners.
What is really damning is that Clinton’s policies and initiatives actions align so closely with the interests of her financial backers, as does her stance as a Democrat for whom a living minimum wage is unacceptable, which is normally a Republican position. For specifics on donors, Clinton Cash is a good source. Not a perfect book, but Peter Schweizer calls b.s. on her claim of independence, and he’s not bluffing:
"We see a pattern of financial transactions involving the Clintons that occurred contemporaneous with favorable U.S. policy decisions benefiting those providing the funds" is not inaccurate. Most significantly, she routinely backed the trade agreements challenged by Sanders and Trump. They are the status quo, and favor corporations, her backers, for whom Sanders and Trump were obvious threats.
Sanders is gone, swept away by the Clinton/Wasserman-Schultz machine, but Trump is still there sounding wild as ever, kicking and screaming and owning the media. He knows his words make little difference if he can manage the transition to candidate mode, and this is beginning to happen since he hired a pro to run his campaign. He is talking policy in a different way, following the money and focusing on Clinton’s established positions. He’s still behind, and his campaign is close to broke, but he’s clever, and he knows how to put words together with effect. He’s also having fun with her husband’s 1992 mantra, It’s the economy, stupid, which is more to the point now than it was at the time. And he’s getting specific about Chinese currency manipulation and those trade deals that sent entire industries abroad, which he describes as “total betrayal.”
Trump the man is a classic bore, a prissy man who finds normal bodily functions “disgusting,” and an arrogant chauvinist. An embarrassment of a human being – his racism is un-American and horrific, and his Wall is as ridiculous as deporting some twelve million Mexicans, most of them lured here by agribusiness, most of them decent people who behave better than the crazed in-your-face wing of his base.
But Trump understands money in a way that lawyers like the Clintons never will. We need that badly, because maxing out your credit and printing endless amounts of money can’t go on forever. That destroyed Germany and gave us Adolf Hitler. For the Clintons, big money is still a novelty, a kind of collectible you get under the table, on which you charge a fee for future services. For Trump, a classic capitalist, money is something you take any way you can within the law. Anyone with a little history knows that.
They also know that after you’ve made your filthy pile, you reinstate yourself as a human being and become respected in a whole new way by endowing libraries like Carnegie, or bringing up a useful decent family like the Rockefellers, or getting your son elected president, like Joe Kennedy. It’s our hard luck that Trump can’t imagine anyone but himself in that role. But on the plus side, he isn’t talking war or “American Exceptionalism,” and he does have that adult understanding of money.
Do we really want to know what happened in Iraq and the middle east? Joby Warrick’s handle on that is solid and troubling. He is of a rare breed, a very well informed investigative journalist who can write. As it happens, he’s writing about the hottest, most avoided and most propagandized subject of the day, ISIS/ISIL/DAESH. He is very clear that deposing Saddam Hussein split the fragile stability of Sunni and Shia coexistence and led to the Islamic State.
Warrick’s resume is replete with a pair of Pulitzers and other awards, and his information is so deep and current that I assumed an Intelligence background. But it’s the Washington Post who developed this remarkable writer, with an assist by Bob Woodward.
There are two hot-button books. The Triple Agent (2013) is a personal and professional biography of a mild-mannered Jordanian physician who was radicalized via the internet, became a influential presence there, and was recruited by the Mukharabat, Jordan’s very respected intelligence agency. Then to be exploited by them and CIA, which did not work out well. In fact it blew up in the face of both agencies as few operations ever do, ending with his death and that of many key high level Western intelligence personnel. Part of that group were two influential women carving careers out of the stubborn male espionage culture, a sub-plot he explores in some detail.
Sent to a likely death in Afghanistan, the inexperienced idealistic doctor survives and makes contact with the enemy – first Taliban and then Al Qaeda, at the highest level. How this backfires is a tale straight out of John Le Carré, and Warrick’s ability to make “personnel” into people is remarkable. The book begins with an endless list of names the reader doesn’t really need to know, but picks up speed and focus as we enter the modest world of a bookish, undistinguished, well-intended doctor whose hobby is the internet.
Black Flags (2016) is a horse from a different garage, a cause-and-effect book that connects the embarrassing dots that corporate media avoid. It’s as good as it gets with Radical Islam, a knowledgeable, detailed and readable account of how ISIS came about, understandable by any intelligent civilian with half an education and an open mind.
Warrick is clear on the influence of our war lobby and our preference for military solutions to irritating situations, and how the disaster occurred because of breaking many rules, and he doesn’t mince words. ISIS could not exist without our destruction of Iraq and subsequent failure to deal with the consequences. The resulting chaos exacerbated Sunni-Shia friction, ending in confrontation and civil war, a pattern repeated in Libya and then Ukraine, following the Nuland coup.
Warrick the writer brings a humane sense of people and events that is unique in this genre, and he has the gift of making someone clear and recognizable without wasting words. His kind-hearted, well-intended doctor is as real as the Mukharabat agent who recruits him, a capable interesting man whose life and career have been bent out of shape by the fact that he is of Royal blood.
Bottom line, Warrick understands the Muslim world in a very un-American way. His Muslims are human, listening to endless whispered buzz of drones above their primitive villages day and night, then subject to a massive revenge onslaught following the disaster, which changed the rules. Warrick lets the reader in on what that must be like for civilians – like being black in a city full of unpredictable cops with super-weapons.
Clear and detailed as his general information is, with few inaccuracies, Warrick also brings a human reality that transcends race, geography, politics and prejudice. He presents good people who aspire to decency, and his sanctimonious thugs are brutal and greedy as they act out their dreams of power and revenge. The CIA review of his work is revealing, but does not attempt to deny the value of his books.
Presidential aspirants got a wonderful opportunity to kiss the AIPAC ring at their Policy Conference, and did so expertly. It’s not as easy as it might seem, and groveling may be necessary, as with Lord Trump’s backing away from the ridiculous idea of neutrality in Palestinian-Israeli negotiations. There is also the issue of how wet the kiss should be, how long, how passionate and how ridiculous.
The one thing that is absolutely unacceptable is to ignore the AIPAC Policy Conference, and this is what Bernie Sanders did. The fact that he’s Jewish makes it all the more stupefying. Just keep campaigning? Is he mad? Has he lost his mind up there in the Vermont boonies?
But that’s what he did, and from this sea of tranquility rose a huge gaseous bubble no one wants to talk about because of the smell. Being myself a resident of Hymietown as Jesse Jackson named it, I know lots of Jews, and I know that a lot of them aren’t crazy about AIPAC, the settlements, dual-citizenship, Bibi, or that in-the-Presidential-face address to congress a while back. They know there’s a not so silent majority of the non-chosen that questions how much money should be pumped into that thriving economy, and some of these natives are getting restless. That is more than significant.
It’s not easy to say who kissed the ring best. These are our cream-of-the-crop politicians, and on any given day, any of them could win. Hillary was the professional, touching all bases, reminding us of her record at length. Inspiring she was not, but reassuring to the max. Kasich, whose foreign policy is even more bellicose than required, spoke with more juice, and probably upped his rating. But it was the Senator from Texas who reminded us why he is both a debating champion and a committed Christian of the new school. He drove home with passionate, scholarly excellence his commitment to Israel. It was impressive, and for once I believed he meant what he said.
But that Bernie – what was it in Sanders that enabled him to ignore this ring-kissing? Some sense that Netanyahu represents an arrogance that can’t be ignored (or succeed long-term)? Some sense that all the rockets those nut-job Arabs fire and all the random stabbings are meaningless? An intuition that Israel has just lost too much support from the UN and the world generally, and from non-religious Americans in particular? That dual-citizenship is a two edged sword?
Whatever – Bernie no kissa da ring. Thissa Bernie, he’sa been right a few times an’ he still there. Maybe take a look. He’s no Muslim, Bernie Sanders – he’s a Brooklyn Jew with his feet on the ground. And his level of honesty is pretty appalling in a serious presidential candidate.
Appealing too, especially this year.
There are times when you stand up to be counted, and the Sanders campaign is creating them. Leading up to Super Tuesday, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz’s godawful corrupt fawning worship of Mrs. Clinton had been raising a stench equal to that rising from the Other Party. Fear and stupidity vie in Schultz, along with ineptitude, tone-deaf blindness and other limitations. Gross clumsy unfairness most of all. Clinton owns Schultz and neither cares who knows about it. Major media (Morning Ho, for example) manage to look the other way with clenched nostrils.
Through all this we have heard nothing from the sainted Elizabeth Warren, whose silence is eloquent but not golden. Massachusetts is her state, and was a pivotal one for Sanders, who would have taken it with her help Warren now looks like, and probably is, simply another calculating politician covering he behind. If there was greatness in her, she would have already joined Sanders, and become potentially a decisive running mate, providing a kind of leadership she does not have the guts for. If there were integrity in her she would be speaking on his behalf. But she is a de facto sister in arms with the least talented most sold-out woman in national politics, deeply allied with financial interests Warren professes to detest. A machine politician. When Clinton denies the quid pro quo that goes with huge sums of money she insults our intelligence and forces Warren’s hand. She also opens the door for Donald Trump, who is richer, smarter, tougher and much more confident than she. Worst of all, his character and principles are no more questionable than hers.
Enter – or rather, exit – the remarkable Tulsi Gabbard. It was e.e. cummings in I Sing of Olaf Glad and Big who wrote “there is some shit I will not eat,” a great line of American English and totally appropriate in this context. Gabbard had had enough.
Who is she, this former #2 of the DNC? She hails from Hawaii and is a true 21st century American hybrid, Euro-Samoan by blood, with committed Roman Catholics in the family, and a practicing Hindu herself. She was home-schooled, spent a couple of years in a girls-only Philippine missionary school and lives in the real world – she holds a degree in Business Administration and is an Army reserve Major who fought and lost friends in Iraq. She’s also very politically incorrect on LGBT matters (nobody’s perfect), and like most Hindus, has a serious outspoken attitude about with Muslims, which delights Fox News and which she may outgrow. She’s endorsed by, among others, the Sierra Club, Emily’s List and VoteVets.
What does Tulsi Gabbard do in congress, and what does she stand for? She’s an active member of the Armed Services and Foreign Affairs Committees, and one of the few with any real hands on experience. She embodies the anti-Clinton/Wassermann-Schultz spirit, which puts her on a formidable enemies list. (She was warned by everyone and had the courage to act anyway.) Basically, she wants to fix the mess that we’ve become with our foolish foreign policy, imploded political process and collapsing third-world infrastructure.
Perhaps most important, she really understands the lack of judgment in the Bush/Clinton interventionist foreign policy and wants an end to squandering lives and treasure on stupid wars. She’s been to those foreign places and seen the hate for us. And by putting her future on the line, she’s proved that she is a likely running mate for Sanders, capable of drawing the women’s vote now that Elizabeth Warren has gone into hiding.