Dec 1, 2013


Congratulations, American citizens, you are about to never hear about a plan from Commander Hanson, our best qualified climatology expert, to construct a workable economy out of the present shambles.

The Hanson plan [Yes, Virginia, the government can always create vast sums of cash, without even a pen stroke] is to pay to every citizen the sum of $1,000 [one thousand dollars] to put their finances back on a sound footing. The plan has remarks that warm the cockles of the heart, such as ‘Not even a cent of the money will go to the government…’

Since all government actions take place in great secrecy, there is no way to know what consideration the Hanson plan has received; deep frying the planet to protect corporation profits remains the only visible option.

See: Soil at

Oct 7, 2013

The next Wall Street crash

October 07, 2013 The Last Desperate Thrashings of a Dinosaur

Is Homeland Security Preparing for the Next Wall Street Collapse? by ELLEN BROWN

Reports are that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is engaged in a massive, covert military buildup. An article in the Associated Press in February confirmed an open purchase order by DHS for 1.6 billion rounds of ammunition. According to an op-ed in Forbes, that’s enough to sustain an Iraq-sized war for over twenty years. DHS has also acquired heavily armored tanks, which have been seen roaming the streets.

Evidently somebody in government is expecting some serious civil unrest. The question is, why?

Recently revealed statements by former UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown at the height of the banking crisis in October 2008 could give some insights into that question. An article on BBC News on September 21, 2013, drew from an explosive autobiography called Power Trip by Brown’s spin doctor Damian McBride, who said the prime minister was worried that law and order could collapse during the financial crisis. McBride quoted Brown as saying:

If the banks are shutting their doors, and the cash points aren’t working, and people go to Tesco [a grocery chain] and their cards aren’t being accepted, the whole thing will just explode.

If you can’t buy food or petrol or medicine for your kids, people will just start breaking the windows and helping themselves.

And as soon as people see that on TV, that’s the end, because everyone will think that’s OK now, that’s just what we all have to do. It’ll be anarchy. That’s what could happen tomorrow.

How to deal with that threat? Brown said, “We’d have to think: do we have curfews, do we put the Army on the streets, how do we get order back?”

McBride wrote in his book Power Trip, “It was extraordinary to see Gordon so totally gripped by the danger of what he was about to do, but equally convinced that decisive action had to be taken immediately.” He compared the threat to the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Fear of this threat was echoed in September 2008 by US Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson, who reportedly warned that the US government might have to resort to martial law if Wall Street were not bailed out from the credit collapse.

In both countries, martial law was avoided when their legislatures succumbed to pressure and bailed out the banks. But many pundits are saying that another collapse is imminent; and this time, governments may not be so willing to step up to the plate.

The Next Time WILL Be Different

What triggered the 2008 crisis was a run, not in the conventional banking system, but in the “shadow” banking system, a collection of non-bank financial intermediaries that provide services similar to traditional commercial banks but are unregulated. They include hedge funds, money market funds, credit investment funds, exchange-traded funds, private equity funds, securities broker dealers, securitization and finance companies. Investment banks and commercial banks may also conduct much of their business in the shadows of this unregulated system

The shadow financial casino has only grown larger since 2008; and in the next Lehman-style collapse, government bailouts may not be available. According to President Obama in his remarks on the Dodd-Frank Act on July 15, 2010, “Because of this reform, . . . there will be no more taxpayer funded bailouts – period.”

Governments in Europe are also shying away from further bailouts. The Financial Stability Board (FSB) in Switzerland has therefore required the systemically risky banks to devise “living wills” setting forth what they will do in the event of insolvency. The template established by the FSB requires them to “bail in” their creditors; and depositors, it turns out, are the largest class of bank creditor. (For fuller discussion, see my earlier article here.)

When depositors cannot access their bank accounts to get money for food for the kids, they could well start breaking store windows and helping themselves. Worse, they might plot to overthrow the financier-controlled government. Witness Greece, where increasing disillusionment with the ability of the government to rescue the citizens from the worst depression since 1929 has precipitated riots and threats of violent overthrow.

Fear of that result could explain the massive, government-authorized spying on American citizens, the domestic use of drones, and the elimination of due process and of “posse comitatus” (the federal law prohibiting the military from enforcing “law and order” on non-federal property). Constitutional protections are being thrown out the window in favor of protecting the elite class in power.

The Looming Debt Ceiling Crisis

The next crisis on the agenda appears to be the October 17th deadline for agreeing on a federal budget or risking default on the government’s loans. It may only be a coincidence, but two large-scale drills are scheduled to take place the same day, the “Great ShakeOut Earthquake Drill” and the “Quantum Dawn 2 Cyber Attack Bank Drill.” According to a Bloomberg news clip on the bank drill, the attacks being prepared for are from hackers, state-sponsored espionage, and organized crime (financial fraud). One interviewee stated, “You might experience that your online banking is down . . . . You might experience that you can’t log in.” It sounds like a dress rehearsal for the Great American Bail-in.

Ominous as all this is, it has a bright side. Bail-ins and martial law can be seen as the last desperate thrashings of a dinosaur. The exploitative financial scheme responsible for turning millions out of their jobs and their homes has reached the end of the line. Crisis in the current scheme means opportunity for those more sustainable solutions waiting in the wings.

Other countries faced with a collapse in their debt-based borrowed currencies have survived and thrived by issuing their own. When the dollar-pegged currency collapsed in Argentina in 2001, the national government returned to issuing its own pesos; municipal governments paid with “debt-canceling bonds” that circulated as currency; and neighborhoods traded with community currencies. After the German currency collapsed in the 1920s, the government turned the economy around in the 1930s by issuing “MEFO” bills that circulated as currency. When England ran out of gold in 1914, the government issued “Bradbury pounds” similar to the Greenbacks issued by Abraham Lincoln during the US Civil War.

Today our government could avoid the debt ceiling crisis by doing something similar: it could simply mint some trillion dollar coins and deposit them in an account. That alternative could be pursued by the Administration immediately, without going to Congress or changing the law, as discussed in my earlier article here. It need not be inflationary, since Congress could still spend only what it passed in its budget. And if Congress did expand its budget for infrastructure and job creation, that would actually be good for the economy, since hoarding cash and paying down loans have significantly shrunk the circulating money supply.

Peer-to-peer Trading and Public Banks

At the local level, we need to set up an alternative system that provides safety for depositors, funds small and medium-sized businesses, and serves the needs of the community.

Much progress has already been made on that front in the peer-to-peer economy. In a September 27th article titled “Peer-to-Peer Economy Thrives as Activists Vacate the System,” Eric Blair reports that the Occupy Movement is engaged in a peaceful revolution in which people are abandoning the established system in favor of a “sharing economy.” Trading occurs between individuals, without taxes, regulations or licenses, and in some cases without government-issued currency.

Peer-to-peer trading happens largely on the Internet, where customer reviews rather than regulation keep sellers honest. It started with eBay and Craigslist and has grown exponentially since. Bitcoin is a private currency outside the prying eyes of regulators. Software is being devised that circumvents NSA spying. Bank loans are being shunned in favor of crowdfunding. Local food co-ops are also a form of opting out of the corporate-government system.

Peer-to-peer trading works for local exchange, but we also need a way to protect our dollars, both public and private. We need dollars to pay at least some of our bills, and businesses need them to acquire raw materials. We also need a way to protect our public revenues, which are currently deposited and invested in Wall Street banks that have heavy derivatives exposure.

To meet those needs, we can set up publicly-owned banks on the model of the Bank of North Dakota, currently our only state-owned depository bank. The BND is mandated by law to receive all the state’s deposits and to serve the public interest. Ideally, every state would have one of these “mini-Feds.” Counties and cities could have them as well. For more information, see

Preparations for martial law have been reported for decades, and it hasn’t happened yet. Hopefully, we can sidestep that danger by moving into a saner, more sustainable system that makes military action against American citizens unnecessary.

Ellen Brown is an attorney, president of the Public Banking Institute, and author of twelve books, including the best-selling Web of Debt. In The Public Bank Solution, her latest book, she explores successful public banking models historically and globally. Her 200-plus blog articles are at

Sep 30, 2013

Dilip Hiro

Dilip Hiro, The Mystery of Washington's Waning Global Power Posted by Dilip Hiro at 3:53pm, September 29, 2013.

Among the curious spectacles of our moment, the strangeness of the Obama presidency hasn’t gotten its full due. After decades in which “the imperial presidency” was increasingly in the spotlight, after two terms of George W. Bush in which a literal cult of executive power -- or to use the term of that moment, “the unitary executive” -- took hold in the White House, and without any obvious diminution in the literal powers of the presidency, Barack Obama has managed to look like a bystander at his own funeral.

If I had to summarize these years, I would say that he entered the phone booth dressed as Superman and came out as Clark Kent. Today, TomDispatch regular Dilip Hiro, author most recently of the invaluable A Comprehensive Dictionary of the Middle East, points out that, as far as Obama’s foreign (and war) policy, it’s almost as if, when the American president speaks, no one in the Greater Middle East -- not even our closest allies or client states -- is listening. And true as it may be for that region, it seems, bizarrely enough, no less true in Washington where the president’s recent attempts to intervene in the Syrian civil war were rejected both by Congress (though without a final vote on the subject) and by the American people via opinion polls.

It should be puzzling just how little power the present executive is actually capable of wielding. He can go to the U.N. or Kansas City and make speeches (that themselves often enough implicitly cast him as a kind of interested observer of his own presidency), but nothing much that he says in Washington seems any longer to be seriously attended to. In the foreign policy arena, he is surrounded by a secretary of defense who ducks for cover, a secretary of state who wanders the world blowing off steam, and a national security advisor and U.N. ambassador who seem like blundering neophytes and whose basic ideological stance (in favor of American -- aka “humanitarian” -- interventions globally) has been rejected in this country by almost any constituency imaginable.

Unlike previous presidents, he evidently has no one -- no Brent Scowcroft, Jim Baker, or even Henry Kissinger -- capable of working the corridors of power skillfully or bringing a policy home.

Domestically, who ever heard of a presidency already into its second term that, according to just about all observers, has only one significant achievement -- Obamacare (whatever you think of it) -- and clearly hasn’t a hope in hell of getting a second one? Just as he’s done in Syria, Obama will now be watching relatively helplessly as Republicans in Congress threaten to shut the government down and not raise the debt ceiling -- and whatever happens, who expects him to be the key player in that onrushing spectacle? America’s waning power in the Greater Middle East is more than matched by Obama’s waned power in this country. In our lifetime, we’ve never seen a president -- not even the impeached Clinton -- so drained of power or influence. It’s a puzzle wrapped in an enigma swaddled by a pretzel. Go figure. Tom

A World in Which No One Is Listening to the Planet’s Sole Superpower The Greater Middle East’s Greatest Rebuff to Uncle Sam By Dilip Hiro

What if the sole superpower on the planet makes its will known -- repeatedly -- and finds that no one is listening? Barely a decade ago, that would have seemed like a conundrum from some fantasy Earth in an alternate dimension. Now, it is increasingly a plain description of political life on our globe, especially in the Greater Middle East.

In the future, the indecent haste with which Barack Obama sought cover under the umbrella unfurled by his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in the Syrian chemical weapons crisis will be viewed as a watershed moment when it comes to America’s waning power in that region. In the aptly named “arc of instability,” the lands from the Chinese border to northern Africa that President George W. Bush and his neocon acolytes dreamed of thoroughly pacifying, turmoil is on the rise. Ever fewer countries, allies, or enemies, are paying attention, much less kowtowing, to the once-formidable power of the world’s last superpower. The list of defiant figures -- from Egyptian generals to Saudi princes, Iraqi Shiite leaders to Israeli politicians -- is lengthening.

The signs of this loss of clout have been legion in recent years. In August 2011, for instance, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad ignored Obama’s unambiguous call for him “to step aside.” Nothing happened even after an unnamed senior administration official insisted, “We are certain Assad is on the way out.” As the saying goes, if wishes were horses, beggars would ride.

Similarly, in March 2010, Obama personally delivered a half-hour-long chewing out of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, a politician Washington installed in office, on the corruption and administrative ineptitude of his government. It was coupled with a warning that, if he failed to act, a cut in U.S. aid would follow. Instead, the next month the Obama administration gave him the red carpet treatment on a visit to Washington with scarcely a whisper about the graft and ill-governance that continues to this day.

In May 2009, during his meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Obama demanded a halt to the expansion of Jewish settlements on the West Bank and in occupied East Jerusalem. In the tussle that followed, the sole superpower lost out and settlement expansion continued.

These are among the many examples of America’s slumping authority in the Greater Middle East, a process well underway even before Obama entered the Oval Office in January 2009. It had, for years, been increasingly apparent that Washington’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, along with several lesser campaigns in the Global War on Terror, were doomed. In his inaugural address, Obama swore that the United States was now “ready to lead the world.” It was a prediction that would be proven disastrously wrong in the Greater Middle East.

Afghanistan and Pakistan

Invaded and occupied Afghanistan was to be the starting point for phase two in the triumphant singular supremacy of Uncle Sam. The first phase had ended in December 1991 with the titanic collapse of its partner in a MAD -- that is, mutually assured destruction -- world, the Soviet Union. A decade later, Washington was poised to banish assorted “terror” constellations from nearly 80 countries and to bring about regime change for the “Axis of Evil” (Iraq, Iran, and North Korea). Having defeated the “Evil Empire” of the Soviets, Washington couldn’t have felt more confident when it came to achieving this comparatively modest aim.

Priority was initially given to sometime ally and client state Pakistan, the main player in creating the Afghan Taliban in the 1990s. Much to the chagrin of policymakers in Washington, however, the rulers of Pakistan, military and civilian, turned out to be masters at squeezing the most out of the United States (which found itself inescapably dependent on their country to prosecute its Afghan war), while delivering the least in return.

Today, the crumbling economy of Pakistan is in such a dire state that its government can keep going only by receiving handouts from the U.S. and regular rollover loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Since the IMF arrangement is subject to Washington’s say-so, it seemed logical that the Obama administration could bend Islamabad to its diktats. Yet Pakistani leaders seldom let a chance pass to highlight American diplomatic impotence, if only to garner some respect from their own citizens, most of whom harbor an unfavorable view of the U.S.

A case in point has been the daredevil actions of Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, the founder-leader of the Lashkar-e Taiba (Army of the Pure, or LeT), listed as a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department and the United Nations following its involvement in the 2008 attacks in Mumbai, which killed 166 people, including six Americans. In April 2012, the State Department announced a $10 million reward for information leading to Saeed’s arrest and conviction. The bearded 62-year-old militant leader promptly called a press conference and declared, “I am here. America should give that reward money to me.”

He continues to operate from a fortified compound in Lahore, the capital of Punjab. “I move about like an ordinary person -- that’s my style,” he told the New York Times’s Declan Walsh in February. He addresses large rallies throughout the country and is a much sought-after guest on Pakistani TV. According to intelligence officials based in the country, the militants of his organization participate in attacks on NATO forces and Indian diplomatic facilities in Afghanistan.

In August, when Saeed led a widely publicized parade on the nation’s Independence Day, protected by local police, all that a spokeswoman at the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad could helplessly say was: “We remain concerned about the movements and activities of this person. We encourage the government of Pakistan to enforce sanctions against this person.”

Far more worrisome for Washington was the critical role that the al Qaeda-affiliated Pakistani Taliban, also listed as a terrorist organization by the State Department, played in determining the outcome of the country’s general election in May. It threatened to attack the public rallies and candidates of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) because its membership was open to non-Muslims. This tied the party’s hands in a predominantly rural society where, in the absence of reliable opinion polls, the size and frequency of public rallies is considered a crucial indicator of party strength. The outcome: a landslide victory by the opposition Pakistan Muslim League led by Nawaz Sharif, which drastically reduced the strength of the PPP in the National Assembly.

In mid-September, Prime Minister Sharif returned the favor by securing an all-party consensus in the National Assembly to negotiate peace with the Pakistani Taliban without conditions. Militant leaders then raised the stakes by insisting that his government first devise a policy to halt the ongoing U.S. drone campaign against them in the country’s tribal borderlands.

This compelled the Sharif government to announce that it would raise the issue of the American drone campaign at the United Nations General Assembly. Its move is likely to coincide with a report by Ben Emmerson, the UN special rapporteur on human rights and counterterrorism, on U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Somalia to be presented to the General Assembly in October. Emmerson has already described Washington’s drone campaign as a violation of Pakistan's sovereignty.

In addition, ignoring Washington’s reported disapproval, Sharif’s government has started releasing Afghan Taliban prisoners -- one of them “of high value” in the lexicon of the White House -- from its jails to facilitate what it calls “reconciliation” in Afghanistan. As yet, however, there is no sign that Mullah Muhammad Omar, the supreme leader of the Afghan Taliban (widely believed to be under surreptitious Pakistani protection), is ready to negotiate with the government of Karzai whom he regularly denounces as an American puppet.

In early August, in his annual Eid al Fitr (Festival of Breaking the Fast) message, Omar was unmistakably hawkish. “As to the deceiving drama under the name of elections 2014, our pious people will not tire themselves out, nor will they participate in it,” he said. He then called for continued struggle against U.S.-led NATO troops and their Afghan allies, and urged Kabul's security forces to direct their guns at foreign solders, government officials, and Afghans cooperating with the U.S.-led troops.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration has been pressuring Karzai to sign an agreement that, among other things, would allow the Pentagon to maintain a significant “footprint” in Afghanistan under the rubric of “training Afghan forces” after the withdrawal of U.S. and other NATO combat troops by December 2014. So far, despite his dependence on Washington for his political survival, Karzai has been playing hardball.

In this, Washington is heading down a familiar path. In Iraq, both the Bush and Obama administrations tried to reach an agreement with a government the U.S. had helped install to leave behind 10,000-20,000 military trainers and special operations troops. It failed when the pro-Tehran, Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki doggedly refused.

These days, despite the repeated U.S. complaints and requests, the Maliki government continues to allow Iranian arms to be sent overland and through its air space to the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad. In late August, during the Syrian chemical weapons crisis, Iraq even declared that it wouldn’t allow its airspace to be used for military strikes on Syria.

The Diminishing “Coalition of the Willing”

In a controversial New York Times op-ed on September 11th, Russian President Putin wrote of President Obama’s plan to launch a military strike against Damascus, “It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts has become commonplace for the United States... Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force, cobbling coalitions together under the slogan, ‘you’re either with us or against us.’”

Only days earlier, however, President Obama had failed to form a “coalition of the willing” on the Syrian issue at the G20 summit in St. Petersburg, managing to rally only 10 members. Those who opposed military strikes against Syria without a U.N. Security Council mandate included the five-strong BRICS powers -- Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa -- along with Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, and Argentina.

A week earlier, the British parliament defeated a motion to join a U.S.-led operation against Syria. With the British “poodle” slipping Washington’s leash -- an unprecedented act in recent memory -- Obama was lost.

In desperation, he turned to Congress, where, thousands of miles from the Greater Middle East, only a minority tuned in. Responding to the overwhelming sentiments of their constituents and opinion polls showing that remarkably few Americans believed an attack on Syria in national interest, the lawmakers started lining up to give Obama a resounding thumbs-down. It was only then, after an offhand remark by his Secretary of State John Kerry was taken up by Moscow, that Obama went on television and accepted the outlines of Putin’s proposed plan for Syria’s chemical weapons.

A Landmark Deal Underscores U.S. Decline

Undoubtedly, the Syrian deal struck in Geneva between Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov favored the Kremlin. It put any American attack firmly on the back burner. It brought the U.N. Security Council, earlier skirted by the Obama White House, center-stage as the primary agency to implement and supervise the deal. In the process, it underscored the continuing influence of Russia as a permanent member of the Council with a veto. Moscow also managed to spare the Assad regime the degradation of its military capabilities that would have resulted from the Pentagon’s strikes. In so doing, it enabled the Syrian leader to maintain the current battlefield superiority of his forces. Overall, the Syrian rebels and Washington were unmitigated losers.

Among other losers were Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Jordan. On the opposite side of the equation were Iran and the military rulers of Egypt, albeit for diametrically contrary reasons. For Tehran, a Syria governed by Assad, a member of the Alawi sub-sect within Shiite Islam, is a linchpin in the axis of resistance against Israel. For the generals in Cairo, the demon is the Muslim Brotherhood, whose Syrian branch is the foremost foe of Assad.

Having overthrown Muhammad Morsi, the first democratically elected ruler in Egypt’s long history, the generals are now busily attempting to eradicate the Brotherhood itself, the oldest political party in the region. Following their July 3rd coup, they were reassured when Obama, though perturbed by their actions, meticulously avoided using that word "coup," which would have resulted in a suspension of aid as mandated by the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act. In contrast, his administration did suspend aid to the African state of Mali in March 2012 when, in a bloodless coup, the military toppled democratically elected President Amadou Toure.

If Obama was having second thoughts on his Egyptian policy, “marathon phone calls” from Jerusalem evidently ensured that no significant action would be taken against the military junta.

Israel’s prime minister and foreign minister Benjamin Netanyahu, defense minister Moshe Yaalon, and national security adviser Yaakov Amidror engaged their American counterparts -- Kerry, Chuck Hagel, and Susan Rice -- in telephone conversations urging them not to freeze the $1.3 billion in military aid to the post-Morsi regime.

To the delight of the generals in Cairo, Israel’s lobbying continued unabated in Washington. Among others, Michael B. Oren, Israel’s ambassador in Washington, argued forcefully for an uninterrupted flow of U.S. aid. “Israel has been waging an almost desperate diplomatic battle in Washington,” wrote Alex Fishman, a leading Israeli columnist, in Yediot Aharonot on August 25. That was just 10 days after Egypt’s Interior Ministry troops had massacred nearly 1,000 Brotherhood supporters while clearing two protest sites in Cairo where pro-Morsi partisans had been staging peaceful open air sit-ins. Obama responded by saying, “Our traditional cooperation cannot continue as usual when civilians are being killed in the streets and rights are being rolled back.” But all he did was to cancel an upcoming annual joint military exercise with Egypt.

The evident impotence of Washington before yet another client state with an economy in freefall was highlighted by the revelation that since the ouster of Morsi, Secretary of Defense Hagel had 15 telephone conversations with Egyptian Defense Minister General Abdul Fattah el-Sisi, the coup leader, pleading with him to “change course” -- but in vain -- a repeat of Washington’s experience with Karzai, the Pakistani leaders, and Assad.

The threat that Washington might cut-off its military aid to Egypt was promptly countered by its long-standing ally in the region: Saudi Arabia. In a gesture of undisguised defiance of U.S. wishes, Saudi foreign minister Saud al Faisal pledged publicly that his country would fill any financial gaps left if the U.S. and the European Union withdrew aid to Cairo. With Riyadh’s budget surplus of $103 billion last year, his words carried weight.

Within a week of the coup in Cairo, the three oil-rich states of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates -- each dependent on the Pentagon for its external security -- poured $12 billion into the bankrupt Egyptian treasury. In this way, these autocratic monarchies encouraged the military junta to defy Washington’s pleas for a return to democracy.

Launching a blitz of jingoistic propaganda and pumping up Egyptian xenophobia, the generals have gone beyond thumbing their noses at Uncle Sam. They have even concocted wild theories about how Washington has colluded with the Muslim Brotherhood. These are now being assiduously peddled through the state-controlled media and its compliant private sector counterpart.

In late August, for instance, the state-owned newspaper, Al Ahram, citing “security sources,” published a sensational front-page story by its editor-in-chief Abdel Nasser Salama. It claimed the authorities had foiled a plot involving U.S. Ambassador Anne Patterson, Brotherhood leader Kharat El Shater (by then under arrest), “37 terrorists,” and 200 Gaza-based jihadists to infiltrate the Sinai Peninsula through clandestine tunnels between the two territories, and create chaos. This was to be a preamble to isolating Upper Egypt and declaring it independent of Cairo. In response, Ambassador Patterson did no more than send a note of protest to Salama. Such stories have become grist for the Egyptian rumor mill and are transforming fantasies into facts in the popular psyche.

At the turn of the century, who could have imagined that barely a decade later an official mouthpiece for an emergent military dictator in Egypt, a client state of Uncle Sam for a quarter of a century, would have the audacity to malign Washington in this way while its generous aid package continued to flow in uninterrupted? If you need a marker for the waning of American power in the Greater Middle East, look no further.

Dilip Hiro, a TomDispatch regular, has written 34 books, including After Empire: The Birth of a Multipolar World. His latest book is A Comprehensive Dictionary of the Middle East (Interlink Publishing Group).

Copyright 2013 Dilip Hiro

Sep 11, 2013

Making the world safe for Banksters

Making the World Safe for Banksters by ELLEN BROWN

In an August 2013 article titled “Larry Summers and the Secret ‘End-game’ Memo,” Greg Palast posted evidence of a secret late-1990s plan devised by Wall Street and U.S. Treasury officials to open banking to the lucrative derivatives business. To pull this off required the relaxation of banking regulations not just in the US but globally. The vehicle to be used was the Financial Services Agreement of the World Trade Organization.

The “end-game” would require not just coercing support among WTO members but taking down those countries refusing to join. Some key countries remained holdouts from the WTO, including Iraq, Libya, Iran and Syria. In these Islamic countries, banks are largely state-owned; and “usury” – charging rent for the “use” of money – is viewed as a sin, if not a crime. That puts them at odds with the Western model of rent extraction by private middlemen. Publicly-owned banks are also a threat to the mushrooming derivatives business, since governments with their own banks don’t need interest rate swaps, credit default swaps, or investment-grade ratings by private rating agencies in order to finance their operations.

Bank deregulation proceeded according to plan, and the government-sanctioned and -nurtured derivatives business mushroomed into a $700-plus trillion pyramid scheme. Highly leveraged, completely unregulated, and dangerously unsustainable, it collapsed in 2008 when investment bank Lehman Brothers went bankrupt, taking a large segment of the global economy with it. The countries that managed to escape were those sustained by public banking models outside the international banking net.

These countries were not all Islamic. Forty percent of banks globally are publicly-owned. They are largely in the BRIC countries—Brazil, Russia, India and China—which house forty percent of the global population. They also escaped the 2008 credit crisis, but they at least made a show of conforming to Western banking rules. This was not true of the “rogue” Islamic nations, where usury was forbidden by Islamic teaching. To make the world safe for usury, these rogue states had to be silenced by other means. Having failed to succumb to economic coercion, they wound up in the crosshairs of the powerful US military.

Here is some data in support of that thesis.

The End-game Memo

In his August 22nd article, Greg Palast posted a screenshot of a 1997 memo from Timothy Geithner, then Assistant Secretary of International Affairs under Robert Rubin, to Larry Summers, then Deputy Secretary of the Treasury. Geithner referred in the memo to the “end-game of WTO financial services negotiations” and urged Summers to touch base with the CEOs of Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, Bank of America, Citibank, and Chase Manhattan Bank, for whom private phone numbers were provided.

The game then in play was the deregulation of banks so that they could gamble in the lucrative new field of derivatives. To pull this off required, first, the repeal of Glass-Steagall, the 1933 Act that imposed a firewall between investment banking and depository banking in order to protect depositors’ funds from bank gambling. But the plan required more than just deregulating US banks. Banking controls had to be eliminated globally so that money would not flee to nations with safer banking laws. The “endgame” was to achieve this global deregulation through an obscure addendum to the international trade agreements policed by the World Trade Organization, called the Financial Services Agreement. Palast wrote:

Until the bankers began their play, the WTO agreements dealt simply with trade in goods–that is, my cars for your bananas. The new rules ginned-up by Summers and the banks would force all nations to accept trade in “bads” – toxic assets like financial derivatives.

Until the bankers’ re-draft of the FSA, each nation controlled and chartered the banks within their own borders. The new rules of the game would force every nation to open their markets to Citibank, JP Morgan and their derivatives “products.”

And all 156 nations in the WTO would have to smash down their own Glass-Steagall divisions between commercial savings banks and the investment banks that gamble with derivatives.

The job of turning the FSA into the bankers’ battering ram was given to Geithner, who was named Ambassador to the World Trade Organization.

WTO members were induced to sign the agreement by threatening their access to global markets if they refused; and they all did sign, except Brazil. Brazil was then threatened with an embargo; but its resistance paid off, since it alone among Western nations survived and thrived during the 2007-2009 crisis. As for the others:

The new FSA pulled the lid off the Pandora’s box of worldwide derivatives trade. Among the notorious transactions legalized: Goldman Sachs (where Treasury Secretary Rubin had been Co-Chairman) worked a secret euro-derivatives swap with Greece which, ultimately, destroyed that nation. Ecuador, its own banking sector de-regulated and demolished, exploded into riots. Argentina had to sell off its oil companies (to the Spanish) and water systems (to Enron) while its teachers hunted for food in garbage cans. Then, Bankers Gone Wild in the Eurozone dove head-first into derivatives pools without knowing how to swim–and the continent is now being sold off in tiny, cheap pieces to Germany.

The Holdouts

That was the fate of countries in the WTO, but Palast did not discuss those that were not in that organization at all, including Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Iran. These seven countries were named by U.S. General Wesley Clark (Ret.) in a 2007 “Democracy Now” interview as the new “rogue states” being targeted for take down after September 11, 2001. He said that about 10 days after 9-11, he was told by a general that the decision had been made to go to war with Iraq. Later, the same general said they planned to take out seven countries in five years: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Iran.

What did these countries have in common? Besides being Islamic, they were not members either of the WTO or of the Bank for International Settlements (BIS). That left them outside the long regulatory arm of the central bankers’ central bank in Switzerland. Other countries later identified as “rogue states” that were also not members of the BIS included North Korea, Cuba, and Afghanistan.

The body regulating banks today is called the Financial Stability Board (FSB), and it is housed in the BIS in Switzerland. In 2009, the heads of the G20 nations agreed to be bound by rules imposed by the FSB, ostensibly to prevent another global banking crisis. Its regulations are not merely advisory but are binding, and they can make or break not just banks but whole nations. This was first demonstrated in 1989, when the Basel I Accord raised capital requirements a mere 2%, from 6% to 8%. The result was to force a drastic reduction in lending by major Japanese banks, which were then the world’s largest and most powerful creditors. They were undercapitalized, however, relative to other banks. The Japanese economy sank along with its banks and has yet to fully recover.

Among other game-changing regulations in play under the FSB are Basel III and the new bail-in rules. Basel III is slated to impose crippling capital requirements on public, cooperative and community banks, coercing their sale to large multinational banks.

The “bail-in” template was first tested in Cyprus and follows regulations imposed by the FSB in 2011. Too-big-to-fail banks are required to draft “living wills” setting forth how they will avoid insolvency in the absence of government bailouts. The FSB solution is to “bail in” creditors – including depositors – turning deposits into bank stock, effectively confiscating them.

The Public Bank Alternative

Countries laboring under the yoke of an extractive private banking system are being forced into “structural adjustment” and austerity by their unrepayable debt. But some countries have managed to escape. In the Middle East, these are the targeted “rogue nations.” Their state-owned banks can issue the credit of the state on behalf of the state, leveraging public funds for public use without paying a massive tribute to private middlemen. Generous state funding allows them to provide generously for their people.

Like Libya and Iraq before they were embroiled in war, Syria provides free education at all levels and free medical care. It also provides subsidized housing for everyone (although some of this has been compromised by adoption of an IMF structural adjustment program in 2006 and the presence of about 2 million Iraqi and Palestinian refugees). Iran too provides nearly free higher education and primary health care.

Like Libya and Iraq before takedown, Syria and Iran have state-owned central banks that issue the national currency and are under government control. Whether these countries will succeed in maintaining their financial sovereignty in the face of enormous economic, political and military pressure remains to be seen.

As for Larry Summers, after proceeding through the revolving door to head Citigroup, he became State Senator Barack Obama’s key campaign benefactor. He played a key role in the banking deregulation that brought on the current crisis, causing millions of US citizens to lose their jobs and their homes. Yet Summers is President Obama’s first choice to replace Ben Bernanke as Federal Reserve Chairman. Why? He has proven he can manipulate the system to make the world safe for Wall Street; and in an upside-down world in which bankers rule, that seems to be the name of the game.

Ellen Brown is an attorney, president of the Public Banking Institute, and author of twelve books including the best-selling Web of Debt. In The Public Bank Solution, her latest book, she explores successful public banking models historically and globally. Her websites are,, and

Jul 7, 2013

'The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne' - Chaucer

"In my craft, or sullen art,
Exercised in the still night
When only the moon rages
And the lovers are abed,
With all their griefs in their arms,

I labour by singing light
Not for ambition, or bread,
Or the strut and trade of charms
On the ivory stages,
But for the common wages
Of their most secret heart.

Not for the proud man,
Apart from the raging moon,
I write on these spindrift pages,
Nor for the towering dead
With their nightingales and psalms,

But for the lovers,
Their arms round the griefs of the ages,
Who pay no praise, or wages,
Nor heed my craft, or art.'

Dylan Thomas

Jun 5, 2013

The Lightning Bolt of Compassion

A brief ‘Prayer that Spontaneously Fulfils All Wishes’ (Sampa Lhundrupma) byTerton Jalu Dorje (Do Khyentse)

O Guru Rinpoche, in your glory you embody Buddha, Dharma and Sangha,
Lama, Yidam and Khandro and all the Sugatas,
The sole refuge of beings who are without protection in this Dark Age.
Your compassion is as swift as lightning To treng Tsal
Maha Guru – wrathful Padma Heruka,
With fervent longing and devotion we pray to you:
Avert enemies, dons, obstructing forces, obstacle-makers, curses and spells,
Bring all negative forces, Gyalpo, Senmo and Jungpo demons under your subjugation
Grant your blessings so that all our wishes be spontaneously fulfilled.

May 20, 2013

Nama Amida Butsu

Always the silences push their searching
Whose eye the least star or flower is.
Always, locked and singing in the bone,
Shine the clean eyes of the tiger and the rose.
Stars only are driven through your hands.
The eyes of my people are always upon you.

How like a woman the earth is,
And how like a man the slim  green shoots,
How proud.
Without the breaking of the earth and water
There would be no shoots,
Without the breaking of the shoots, no earth,
But while they break, how the eyes of the tiger shine,
Lilies locked and singing in the bone.
The eyes of my people are always upon you.

The brilliant horses of the morning shake their clammy harness,
I see them  stamp their shining feet on the crystal floor of morning.
Bone, star, and lily locked and singing,
The armies of light hurl their lances on the green land.
The eyes of my people are always upon you.

Apr 18, 2013

News is bad for you

News is bad for you – and giving up reading it will make you happier. News is bad for your health. It leads to fear and aggression, and hinders your creativity and ability to think deeply. The solution? Stop consuming it altogether

The Guardian, Friday 12 April 2013 15.00 EDT

Out of the 10,000 news stories you may have read in the last 12 months, did even one allow you to make a better decision about a serious matter in your life, asks Rolf Dobelli.

In the past few decades, the fortunate among us have recognised the hazards of living with an overabundance of food (obesity, diabetes) and have started to change our diets. But most of us do not yet understand that news is to the mind what sugar is to the body. News is easy to digest. The media feeds us small bites of trivial matter, tidbits that don't really concern our lives and don't require thinking. That's why we experience almost no saturation. Unlike reading books and long magazine articles (which require thinking), we can swallow limitless quantities of news flashes, which are bright-coloured candies for the mind. Today, we have reached the same point in relation to information that we faced 20 years ago in regard to food. We are beginning to recognise how toxic news can be.

News misleads. Take the following event (borrowed from Nassim Taleb). A car drives over a bridge, and the bridge collapses. What does the news media focus on? The car. The person in the car. Where he came from. Where he planned to go. How he experienced the crash (if he survived). But that is all irrelevant. What's relevant? The structural stability of the bridge. That's the underlying risk that has been lurking, and could lurk in other bridges. But the car is flashy, it's dramatic, it's a person (non-abstract), and it's news that's cheap to produce. News leads us to walk around with the completely wrong risk map in our heads. So terrorism is over-rated. Chronic stress is under-rated. The collapse of Lehman Brothers is overrated. Fiscal irresponsibility is under-rated. Astronauts are over-rated. Nurses are under-rated.

We are not rational enough to be exposed to the press. Watching an airplane crash on television is going to change your attitude toward that risk, regardless of its real probability. If you think you can compensate with the strength of your own inner contemplation, you are wrong. Bankers and economists – who have powerful incentives to compensate for news-borne hazards – have shown that they cannot. The only solution: cut yourself off from news consumption entirely.

News is irrelevant. Out of the approximately 10,000 news stories you have read in the last 12 months, name one that – because you consumed it – allowed you to make a better decision about a serious matter affecting your life, your career or your business. The point is: the consumption of news is irrelevant to you. But people find it very difficult to recognise what's relevant. It's much easier to recognise what's new. The relevant versus the new is the fundamental battle of the current age. Media organisations want you to believe that news offers you some sort of a competitive advantage. Many fall for that. We get anxious when we're cut off from the flow of news. In reality, news consumption is a competitive disadvantage. The less news you consume, the bigger the advantage you have.

News has no explanatory power. News items are bubbles popping on the surface of a deeper world. Will accumulating facts help you understand the world? Sadly, no. The relationship is inverted. The important stories are non-stories: slow, powerful movements that develop below journalists' radar but have a transforming effect. The more "news factoids" you digest, the less of the big picture you will understand. If more information leads to higher economic success, we'd expect journalists to be at the top of the pyramid. That's not the case.

News is toxic to your body. It constantly triggers the limbic system. Panicky stories spur the release of cascades of glucocorticoid (cortisol). This deregulates your immune system and inhibits the release of growth hormones. In other words, your body finds itself in a state of chronic stress. High glucocorticoid levels cause impaired digestion, lack of growth (cell, hair, bone), nervousness and susceptibility to infections. The other potential side-effects include fear, aggression, tunnel-vision and desensitisation.

News increases cognitive errors. News feeds the mother of all cognitive errors: confirmation bias. In the words of Warren Buffett: "What the human being is best at doing is interpreting all new information so that their prior conclusions remain intact." News exacerbates this flaw. We become prone to overconfidence, take stupid risks and misjudge opportunities. It also exacerbates another cognitive error: the story bias. Our brains crave stories that "make sense" – even if they don't correspond to reality. Any journalist who writes, "The market moved because of X" or "the company went bankrupt because of Y" is an idiot. I am fed up with this cheap way of "explaining" the world.

News inhibits thinking. Thinking requires concentration. Concentration requires uninterrupted time. News pieces are specifically engineered to interrupt you. They are like viruses that steal attention for their own purposes. News makes us shallow thinkers. But it's worse than that. News severely affects memory. There are two types of memory. Long-range memory's capacity is nearly infinite, but working memory is limited to a certain amount of slippery data. The path from short-term to long-term memory is a choke-point in the brain, but anything you want to understand must pass through it. If this passageway is disrupted, nothing gets through. Because news disrupts concentration, it weakens comprehension. Online news has an even worse impact. In a 2001 study two scholars in Canada showed that comprehension declines as the number of hyperlinks in a document increases. Why? Because whenever a link appears, your brain has to at least make the choice not to click, which in itself is distracting. News is an intentional interruption system.

News works like a drug. As stories develop, we want to know how they continue. With hundreds of arbitrary storylines in our heads, this craving is increasingly compelling and hard to ignore. Scientists used to think that the dense connections formed among the 100 billion neurons inside our skulls were largely fixed by the time we reached adulthood. Today we know that this is not the case. Nerve cells routinely break old connections and form new ones. The more news we consume, the more we exercise the neural circuits devoted to skimming and multitasking while ignoring those used for reading deeply and thinking with profound focus. Most news consumers – even if they used to be avid book readers – have lost the ability to absorb lengthy articles or books. After four, five pages they get tired, their concentration vanishes, they become restless. It's not because they got older or their schedules became more onerous. It's because the physical structure of their brains has changed.

News wastes time. If you read the newspaper for 15 minutes each morning, then check the news for 15 minutes during lunch and 15 minutes before you go to bed, then add five minutes here and there when you're at work, then count distraction and refocusing time, you will lose at least half a day every week. Information is no longer a scarce commodity. But attention is. You are not that irresponsible with your money, reputation or health. Why give away your mind?

News makes us passive. News stories are overwhelmingly about things you cannot influence. The daily repetition of news about things we can't act upon makes us passive. It grinds us down until we adopt a worldview that is pessimistic, desensitised, sarcastic and fatalistic. The scientific term is "learned helplessness". It's a bit of a stretch, but I would not be surprised if news consumption, at least partially contributes to the widespread disease of depression.

News kills creativity. Finally, things we already know limit our creativity. This is one reason that mathematicians, novelists, composers and entrepreneurs often produce their most creative works at a young age. Their brains enjoy a wide, uninhabited space that emboldens them to come up with and pursue novel ideas. I don't know a single truly creative mind who is a news junkie – not a writer, not a composer, mathematician, physician, scientist, musician, designer, architect or painter. On the other hand, I know a bunch of viciously uncreative minds who consume news like drugs. If you want to come up with old solutions, read news. If you are looking for new solutions, don't.

Society needs journalism – but in a different way. Investigative journalism is always relevant. We need reporting that polices our institutions and uncovers truth. But important findings don't have to arrive in the form of news. Long journal articles and in-depth books are good, too.

I have now gone without news for four years, so I can see, feel and report the effects of this freedom first-hand: less disruption, less anxiety, deeper thinking, more time, more insights. It's not easy, but it's worth it.

This is an edited extract from an essay first published at The Art of Thinking Clearly: Better Thinking, Better Decisions by Rolf Dobelli is published by Sceptre, £9.99. Buy it for £7.99 at

Apr 11, 2013

Winner takes all

“Far from giving you a blueprint for your rise to the top, these routines will probably cause you to reconsider the whole idea of becoming CEO of a major communications conglomerate. For the most part, it sounds horrible. There is no respite at the top of the greasy pole, no finish line at the end of the rat race – it's just more of the same. What's the point of being rich and successful if you have to get up before dawn every day to answer 500 emails? There are so many other options open to you: wage slave, failed artist, cowboy plumber, petty thief, local weirdo. The money isn't good, but the hours are very attractive.” 

Guardian, 4/2/13

As demonstrated in the Cyprus situation, where the solution, of simply seizing everyone's bank accounts, in the national interest, of course, of course, has now been admitted to be the long planned blueprint for future action.  The British Chancellor of the Exchequer, (Finance Minister), is surely only one of many to be licking his lips at the prospect.

The main bludgeon being used is that Derivatives, (Bank gambles on future movements) and their associated Credit Default Swaps have super priority over all other creditors; they take what the banks demand as their cut (all of it) and all other creditors, (like the poor slobs who put their money in the bank) count as 'unsecured creditors' and get - you guessed it - nothing, except shares in the new bank.

The following is a short excerpt from a piece by Ellen Brown in CounterPunch of April 10, 2013 on possible alternative actions:

Putting the Brakes on the Wall Street End Game

Besides eliminating the super-priority of derivatives, here are some other ways to block the Wall Street asset grab:

(1) Restore the Glass-Steagall Act separating depository banking from investment banking. Support Marcy Kaptur’s H.R. 129.

(2) Break up the giant derivatives banks. Support Bernie Sanders’ “too big to jail” legislation.

(3) Alternatively, nationalize the TBTFs, as advised in the New York Times by Gar Alperovitz. If taxpayer bailouts to save the TBTFs are unacceptable, depositor bailouts are even more unacceptable.

(4) Make derivatives illegal, as they were between 1936 and 1982 under the Commodities Exchange Act. They can be unwound by simply netting them out, declaring them null and void. As noted by Paul Craig Roberts, “the only major effect of closing out or netting all the swaps (mostly over-the-counter contracts between counter-parties) would be to take $230 trillion of leveraged risk out of the financial system.”

(5) Support the Harkin-Whitehouse bill to impose a financial transactions tax on Wall Street trading. Among other uses, a tax on all trades might supplement the FDIC insurance fund to cover another derivatives disaster.

(5) Establish postal savings banks as government-guaranteed depositories for individual savings. Many countries have public savings banks, which became particularly popular after savings in private banks were wiped out in the banking crisis of the late 1990s.

(6) Establish publicly-owned banks to be depositories of public monies, following the lead of North Dakota, the only state to completely escape the 2008 banking crisis. North Dakota does not keep its revenues in Wall Street banks but deposits them in the state-owned Bank of North Dakota by law. The bank has a mandate to serve the public, and it does not gamble in derivatives.

Ellen Brown on Counterpunch, Winner Takes All, April 10, 2013

ELLEN BROWN is an attorney and president of the Public Banking Institute. In Web of Debt, her latest of eleven books, she shows how a private banking oligarchy has usurped the power to create money from the people themselves, and how we the people can get it back. Her websites are,, and

Mar 24, 2013

Angela Merkel - the view from Italy

Angela Merkel's desk is dominated by a portrait of Catherine II, the great German tsarina who began a written correspondence with Voltaire. Every now and then, even the German chancellor takes a break from economic relations and political advisors and gives herself some time to reflect. To this end, she occasionally brings together a few writers and academics, specialising in radically different disciplines and simply listens. Last summer, during one of these dinners, she was asked how long she would carry on demanding sacrifices from Greece. "As long as the bags under Papandreou's eyes are smaller than mine," she replied.

Regularly crowned the most powerful woman in the world in international surveys, Merkel is aware that, after her rapid ascent to become not only the first female chancellor, but also the youngest in German history, the euro crisis will be her most critical test. It is that which will determine whether Helmut Kohl's former pupil is worthy of a place in the history books, and whether or not it is adorned with flattering adjectives.

However, the future of the single currency also depends on whether Germany can maintain its leadership role in Europe. Inevitably, it has provoked distrust in the rest of the continent: in which the chancellor's costly dilly-dallying during the debt crisis, led to remarks about a third world war in the British press. Even the new stability agreement, which has been subject to rigorous German accounting, incites fears that Europe is strangling its own growth potential.

In 1990, it was Kohl who discovered the woman he called "the girl". Then a 36-year-old physics researcher, she had grown up behind the iron curtain, wore enormous skirts and sported the haircut of a medieval knight. Within a few months the chancellor had catapulted her to the top of federal politics. There, she soon showed herself to have a great capacity for diplomacy and to be an unusually fast learner. As the daughter of a protestant minister, she took advantage of the fact that parties such as the CDU/CSU were almost entirely dominated by men who underestimated her.

It is common knowledge that, on her road to victory, she even pushed aside her mentor in 2000, when she called upon the party – then crushed by allegations it had obtained illicit funds – to liberate itself from the "Father of Reunification". But from 2005, when she took over the top job, Merkel has shown herself capable of being at the helm of a country that, since its entry into the euro, has lost the only symbol of power granted to it since the second world war: the deutschmark.

The chancellor's habit of letting reason triumph over visionary impulses and Kohl-type breakaways is clear to see. It may possibly owe something to the after-effects of a motor problem in her legs, which forced her since childhood to plan the smallest of manoeuvres in advance. And, as she has herself declared, the experience of living under a communist dictatorship in East Germany has above all taught her to distrust everyone. This distrust, in turn, has fed into her proverbial caution and pragmatic approach towards European politics.

A positive side to this pragmatism is shown in her attitude towards the European Central Bank and its extraordinary transactions – which more orthodox Germans continue to brand a violation of the treaties. The chancellor, however, is well aware it continues to be the only bulwark against an escalation of the crisis.

And when Axel Weber, a candidate for the German presidency, unexpectedly withdrew from the contest in protest against the bank's new functions, Merkel backed the installation of the Italian Mario Draghi as its new head.

The accession of the other "super Mario" – Monti, in Italy, which has served to bring that country more closely into the fold – has proved something of a relief for Merkel. Even the former head of the EU's antitrust body recently admitted that Merkel's mission is to "make Italians more similar to Germans". Who knows if she will succeed. And, above all, who knows if the Germans will then like us more.