Jun 25, 2010



Phil Jasner: Remembering the best of times with former NBA player Manute Bol

By Phil Jasner Philadelphia Daily News Sports Writer

SOME PEOPLE said Manute Bol was 7-6. Most said he was 7-7. All I know is that he was and always will be bigger than life.

The former 76ers center - a renowned freedom fighter for his native Sudan - died of kidney problems and a rare skin disease Saturday in Charlottesville, Va. He was reported to be 47.

And that's part of the magic, the charisma, the lore of the Dinka tribesman. Some of what we know about him is fact, some is legend, stories told through the years. There are times when it's virtually impossible to separate fact from legend, and all you can do is laugh. Which is what Bol always did. He would tell stories, set up pranks, be the subject of pranks, then laugh. Invariably, he would laugh with you.

I was in the old Salt Palace in Salt Lake City when Bol, then a Sixer, stepped in to jump center against Mark Eaton, the Utah Jazz' massive 7-4 center.

"Man, you are big," Eaton said.

"No mon," Bol said in that hard-to-describe twang of his. "You are big. I am just tall."

I was in the Sixers' locker room at Saint Joseph's, then the team's practice site, when Bol giddily picked up a colleague's briefcase and hung it from a water pipe along the ceiling, leaving it several inches out of my colleague's reach. I remember the look of anguish on my colleague's face, then the subsequent sigh of relief when a 6-10 teammate of Bol's stepped out of the shower and volunteered to help.

Jim Lynam, then a rookie head coach with the then-San Diego Clippers, tried to draft Bol in the second round in 1983. Don Feeley, a former coach at Sacred Heart, had been in Sudan working for the U.S. State Department and helping as an assistant with the Sudanese national team and had seen Bol.

"He said they kept telling him about the big guy from the bush," Lynam recalled. "He had never seen him. Then, one day, the door opened and in stepped what he said was 'the biggest guy he ever saw.' ''

The Clippers' management told Lynam they wouldn't "waste" a second-round pick on this guy. Lynam waited until the fifth round. But the NBA wouldn't allow the pick. The executives overseeing the draft had never heard of Manute Bol.

Bol's passport said he was 21, but somebody somewhere came up with information that the age was incorrect. And under Bol's passport photo, it said he was 5-7.

"He said, 'They took my picture when I was sitting down,' '' Lynam recalled.

Bol landed at an English language center at Case Western Reserve in Cleveland, played a year at Division II Bridgeport, spent a season in the United States Basketball League, then finally joined the then-Washington Bullets as a second-round pick in 1985.

"We were afraid for him, with his lack of weight [about 205 pounds]," then-Bullets assistant Fred Carter said. "Instead, he blocked shots with such ferocity that he had an advantage."

Carter also recalled that, because of Bol's height, in most hotel rooms he had to get on his knees to wash his face and brush his teeth. To sleep reasonably comfortably, Bol would place two single beds end-to-end. One year, at the Sixers' training camp in Lancaster, the team ordered a specially sized bed for him.

He bounced to the Golden State Warriors in 1988, then came to the Sixers in '90.

I wanted the first interview with him as a Sixer, and Frank Catapano, his New England-based agent, gave me a phone number in Egypt. My son insists that I located Bol in a hut; I just know that the phone line was scratchy and that Bol was difficult to understand from thousands of miles away. But I got what I wanted.

So what is fact and what is legend?

I have read that Bol was born in a village in a remote part of Sudan, where civil war had left millions dead. His grandfather, Bol Chol, was said to stand 7-10; he was also said to have been a powerful chieftan with 40 wives. Manute's father, Madute, was said to have been 6-8 and had seven wives and a large herd of cattle, a sign of wealth. When Manute joined his first basketball team, he was said to have walked 3 days from his village to take part.

When Manute married his second wife, he was said to have paid 150 cows for her. He reveled in telling NBA teammates and friends about how he had killed a lion with a spear.

"He was a unique guy," said Jeff Ruland, a teammate with the Bullets. "Like me, he had a great sense of humor. But he was also very caring. He would give you the shirt off his back. I got him as a rookie, and one night I took him to see an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie called 'Commando.' The rest of the season, he called me 'Commando.'

"He told me he had killed a lion with a spear, and I said, 'You probably killed it with one of your free throws.' We laughed a lot, but he had a lot of grief in his life, and he did a lot of good for his people."

He was a specialist in the NBA. He didn't have a lot of skill, but he could block and intimidate shots. He averaged five blocks as a rookie and, in the course of his career, once blocked 11 shots in a half, eight in a quarter. In a game against the Orlando Magic, he rejected four successive shots.

And, amazingly, he loved taking threes. He was an astounding 20-for-91 with the Warriors in '88-89, and playing for the Sixers in '92-93 knocked down six of 12 in the second half of a loss to the Phoenix Suns. He finished his career with 1,599 points, 2,647 rebounds and 2,086 blocks.

Bol would donate virtually all of his salary to the rebel movement in Sudan, and to feed the hungry there. He would make personal appearances, then donate his fee. He beat the Chicago Bears' legendary William "Refrigerator" Perry in a celebrity boxing bout. He signed a 1-day contract with a minor league hockey team in Indianapolis, even though he could not skate.

"He was a great person who enjoyed life," said Rick Mahorn, Bol's teammate with the Sixers. "He was proud of his heritage, very confident in his size. He enjoyed being with people who were honest and truthful. When he told me about killing the lion, I told him it must have already been an old, dead lion. But if he took it, he could dish it out as well."

I can remember days at St. Joe's when Charles Barkley or Mahorn would come rushing out of the locker room, a barefoot Bol chasing them, hurling his sneakers at them. I never really knew what went on to precipitate those scenes.

I do know that the first time he stepped into the shower room at St. Joe's, his teammates dubbed him with a nickname that I can't repeat here.

Ruland wondered about Bol's age.

"I always thought he put down a lower number so he could play more years," Ruland said. "For all I know, he could have been 70 when he died."

Mahorn viewed Bol's passing as "a sad moment."

"He was a good player, a good friend," Mahorn said. "And once you were his friend, you were always his friend. That's just how he was. Every moment with him was just fun, but he was a soldier, proud of who he was, trying to help everybody around him."

Jun 24, 2010



America Detached from War Bush’s Pilotless Dream, Smoking Drones, and Other Strange Tales from the Crypt By Tom Engelhardt

Admittedly, before George W. Bush had his fever dream, the U.S. had already put its first unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drone surveillance planes in the skies over Kosovo in the late 1990s. By November 2001, it had armed them with missiles and was flying them over Afghanistan.

In November 2002, a Predator drone would loose a Hellfire missile on a car in Yemen, a country with which we weren’t at war. Six suspected al-Qaeda members, including a suspect in the bombing of the destroyer the USS Cole would be turned into twisted metal and ash -- the first “targeted killings” of the American robotic era.

Just two months earlier, in September 2002, as the Bush administration was “introducing” its campaign to sell an invasion of Iraq to Congress and the American people, CIA Director George Tenet and Vice President Dick Cheney “trooped up to Capitol Hill” to brief four top Senate and House leaders on a hair-raising threat to the country. A “smoking gun” had been uncovered.

According to “new intelligence,” Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had in his possession unmanned aerial vehicles advanced enough to be armed with biological and chemical weaponry. Worse yet, these were capable -- so the CIA director and vice president claimed -- of spraying those weapons of mass destruction over cities on the east coast of the United States. It was just the sort of evil plan you might have expected from a man regularly compared to Adolf Hitler in our media, and the news evidently made an impression in Congress.

Democratic Senator Bill Nelson of Florida, for example, said that he voted for the administration's resolution authorizing force in Iraq because "I was told not only that [Saddam had weapons of mass destruction] and that he had the means to deliver them through unmanned aerial vehicles, but that he had the capability of transporting those UAVs outside of Iraq and threatening the homeland here in America, specifically by putting them on ships off the eastern seaboard."

In a speech in October 2002, President Bush then offered a version of this apocalyptic nightmare to the American public. Of course, like Saddam’s supposed ability to produce “mushroom clouds” over American cities, the Iraqi autocrat’s advanced UAVs (along with the ships needed to position them off the U.S. coast) were a feverish fantasy of the Bush era and would soon enough be forgotten. Instead, in the years to come, it would be American pilotless drones that would repeatedly attack Iraqi urban areas with Hellfire missiles and bombs.

In those years, our drones would also strike repeatedly in Afghanistan, and especially in the tribal borderlands of Pakistan, where in an escalating “secret” or “covert” war, which has been no secret to anyone, multiple drone attacks often occur weekly. They are now considered so much the norm that, with humdrum headlines slapped on (“U.S. missile strike kills 12 in NW Pakistan”), they barely make it out of summary articles about war developments in the American press.
And yet those robotic planes, with their young “pilots” (as well as the camera operators and intelligence analysts who make up a drone “crew”) sitting in front of consoles 7,000 miles away from where their missiles and bombs are landing, have become another kind of American fever dream. The drone is our latest wonder weapon and a bragging point in a set of wars where there has been little enough to brag about.

CIA director Leon Panetta has, for instance, called the Agency’s drones flying over Pakistan “the only game in town” when it comes to destroying al-Qaeda; a typically anonymous U.S. official in a Washington Post report claims of drone missile attacks, “We’re talking about precision unsurpassed in the history of warfare”; or as Gordon Johnson of the Pentagon's Joint Forces Command told author Peter Singer, speaking of the glories of drones: “They don't get hungry. They are not afraid. They don't forget their orders. They don't care if the guy next to them has been shot. Will they do a better job than humans? Yes.”

Seven thousand of them, the vast majority surveillance varieties, are reportedly already being operated by the military, and that’s before swarms of “mini-drones” come on line. Our American world is being redefined accordingly.

In February, Greg Jaffe of the Washington Post caught something of this process when he spent time with Colonel Eric Mathewson, perhaps the most experienced Air Force officer in drone operations and on the verge of retirement. Mathewson, reported Jaffe, was trying to come up with an appropriately new definition of battlefield “valor” -- a necessity for most combat award citations -- to fit our latest corps of pilots at their video consoles. “Valor to me is not risking your life," the colonel told the reporter. "Valor is doing what is right. Valor is about your motivations and the ends that you seek. It is doing what is right for the right reasons. That to me is valor."

Smoking Drones

These days, CIA and administration officials troop up to Capitol Hill to offer briefings to Congress on the miraculous value of pilotless drones: in disrupting al-Qaeda, destroying its leadership or driving it “deeper into hiding,” and taking out key figures in the Taliban. Indeed, what started as a 24/7 assassination campaign against al-Qaeda’s top leadership has already widened considerably. The “target set” has by now reportedly expanded to take in ever lower-level militants in the tribal borderlands. In other words, a drone assassination campaign is morphing into the first full-scale drone war (and, as in all wars from the air, civilians are dying in unknown numbers).

If the temperature is again rising in Washington when it comes to these weapons, this time it’s a fever of enthusiasm for the spectacular future of drones (which the Air Force has plotted out to the year 2047), of a time when single pilots should be able to handle multiple drones in operations in the skies over some embattled land, and of a far more distant moment when those drones should be able to handle themselves, flying, fighting, and making key decisions about just who to take out without a human being having to intervene.

When we possess such weaponry, it turns out, there’s nothing unnerving or disturbing, apocalyptic or dystopian about it. Today, in the American homeland, not a single smoking drone is in sight.

Now it's the United States whose UAVs are ever more powerfully weaponized. It's the U.S. which is developing a 22-ton tail-less drone 20 times larger than a Predator that can fly at Mach 7 and (theoretically) land on the pitching deck of an aircraft carrier. It's the Pentagon which is planning to increase the funding of drone development by 700% over the next decade.

Admittedly, there is a modest counter-narrative to all this enthusiasm for our robotic prowess, “precision,” and “valor.” It involves legal types like Philip Alston, the United Nations special representative on extrajudicial executions. He recently issued a 29-page report criticizing Washington’s “ever-expanding entitlement for itself to target individuals across the globe.” Unless limits are put on such claims, and especially on the CIA’s drone war over Pakistan, he suggests, soon enough a plethora of states will follow in America’s footprints, attacking people in other lands “labeled as terrorists by one group or another.”

Such mechanized, long-distance warfare, he also suggests, will breach what respect remains for the laws of war. “Because operators are based thousands of miles away from the battlefield,” he wrote, “and undertake operations entirely through computer screens and remote audio-feed, there is a risk of developing a 'PlayStation' mentality to killing.”

Similarly, the ACLU has filed a freedom of information lawsuit against the U.S. government, demanding that it “disclose the legal basis for its use of unmanned drones to conduct targeted killings overseas, as well as the ground rules regarding when, where, and against whom drone strikes can be authorized, and the number of civilian casualties they have caused.”

But pay no mind to all this. The arguments may be legally compelling, but not in Washington, which has mounted a half-hearted claim of legitimate “self-defense,” but senses that it’s already well past the point where legalities matter. The die is cast, the money committed. The momentum for drone war and yet more drone war is overwhelming.

It’s a done deal. Drone war is, and will be, us.

A Pilotless Military

If there are zeitgeist moments for products, movie stars, and even politicians, then such moments can exist for weaponry as well. The robotic drone is the Lady Gaga of this Pentagon moment.

It’s a moment that could, of course, be presented as an apocalyptic nightmare in the style of the Terminator movies (with the U.S. as the soul-crushing Skynet), or as a remarkable tale of how “networking technology is expanding a homefront that is increasingly relevant to day-to-day warfare” (as Christopher Drew recently put it in the New York Times). It could be described as the arrival of a dystopian fantasy world of one-way slaughter verging on entertainment, or as the coming of a generation of homegrown video warriors who work “in camouflage uniforms, complete with combat boots, on open floors, with four computer monitors on each desk... and coffee and Red Bull help[ing] them get through the 12-hour shifts.” It could be presented as the ultimate in cowardice -- the killing of people in a world you know nothing about from thousands of miles away -- or (as Col. Mathewson would prefer) a new form of valor.

The drones -- their use expanding exponentially, with ever newer generations on the drawing boards, and the planes even heading for “the homeland” -- could certainly be considered a demon spawn of modern warfare, or (as is generally the case in the U.S.) a remarkable example of American technological ingenuity, a problem-solver of the first order at a time when few American problems seem capable of solution. Thanks to our technological prowess, it’s claimed that we can now kill them, wherever they may be lurking, at absolutely no cost to ourselves, other than the odd malfunctioning drone. Not that even all CIA operatives involved in the drone wars agree with that one. Some of them understand perfectly well that there’s a price to be paid.

As it happens, the enthusiasm for drones is as much a fever dream as the one President Bush and his associates offered back in 2002, but it’s also distinctly us. In fact, drone warfare fits the America of 2010 tighter than a glove. With its consoles, chat rooms, and “single shooter” death machines, it certainly fits the skills of a generation raised on the computer, Facebook, and video games. That our valorous warriors, their day of battle done, can increasingly leave war behind and head home to the barbecue (or, given American life, the foreclosure) also fits an American mood of the moment.

The Air Force “detachments” that “manage” the drone war from places like Creech Air Force Base in Nevada are “detached” from war in a way that even an artillery unit significantly behind the battle lines or an American pilot in an F-16 over Afghanistan (who could, at least, experience engine failure) isn’t. If the drone presents the most extreme version thus far of the detachment of human beings from the battlefield (on only one side, of course) and so launches a basic redefinition of what war is all about, it also catches something important about the American way of war.

After all, while this country garrisons the world, invests its wealth in its military, and fights unending, unwinnable frontier wars and skirmishes, most Americans are remarkably detached from all this. If anything, since Vietnam when an increasingly rebellious citizens’ army proved disastrous for Washington’s global aims, such detachment has been the goal of American war-making.

As a start, with no draft and so no citizen’s army, war and the toll it takes is now the professional business of a tiny percentage of Americans (and their families). It occurs thousands of miles away and, in the Bush years, also became a heavily privatized, for-profit activity. As Pratap Chatterjee reported recently, “[E]very US soldier deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq is matched by at least one civilian working for a private company. All told, about 239,451 contractors work for the Pentagon in battle zones around the world.” And a majority of those contractors aren’t even U.S. citizens.

If drones have entered our world as media celebrities, they have done so largely without debate among that detached populace. In a sense, our wars abroad could be thought of as the equivalent of so many drones. We send our troops off and then go home for dinner and put them out of mind. The question is: Have we redefined our detachment as a new version of citizenly valor (and covered it over by a constant drumbeat of “support for our troops”)?

Under these circumstances, it’s hardly surprising that a “pilotless” force should, in turn, develop the sort of contempt for civilians that can be seen in the recent flap over the derogatory comments of Afghan war commander General Stanley McChrystal and his aides about Obama administration officials.

The Globalization of Death

Maybe what we need is the return of George W. Bush’s fever dream from the American oblivion in which it’s now interred. He was beyond wrong, of course, when it came to Saddam Hussein and Iraqi drones, but he wasn’t completely wrong about the dystopian Drone World to come. There are now reportedly more than 40 countries developing versions of those pilot-less planes. Earlier this year, the Iranians announced that they were starting up production lines for both armed and unarmed drones. Hezbollah used them against Israel in the 2006 summer war, years after Israel began pioneering their use in targeted killings of Palestinians.

Right now, in what still remains largely a post-Cold War arms race of one, the U.S. is racing to produce ever more advanced drones to fight our wars, with few competitors in sight. In the process, we’re also obliterating classic ideas of national sovereignty, and of who can be killed by whom under what circumstances. In the process, we may not just be obliterating enemies, but creating them wherever our drones buzz overhead and our missiles strike.

We are also creating the (il)legal framework for future war on a frontier where we won’t long be flying solo. And when the first Iranian, or Russian, or Chinese missile-armed drones start knocking off their chosen sets of "terrorists," we won’t like it one bit. When the first “suicide drones” appear, we’ll like it even less. And if drones with the ability to spray chemical or biological weapons finally do make the scene, we’ll be truly unnerved.

In the 1990s, we were said to be in an era of “globalization” which was widely hailed as good news. Now, the U.S. and its detached populace are pioneering a new era of killing that respects no boundaries, relies on the self-definitions of whoever owns the nearest drone, and establishes planetary free-fire zones. It’s a nasty combination, this globalization of death.

Tom Engelhardt, co-founder of the American Empire Project, runs the Nation Institute's TomDispatch.com. His latest book, just published, is The American Way of War: How Bush’s Wars Became Obama’s (Haymarket Books).

Copyright 2010 Tom Engelhardt

Jun 22, 2010


The original draft of the constitution of the United States of America put together by the eighteenth century gentlemen with large estates in that hall in Philadelphia stipulated that everyone was “endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights to life, liberty, and property.” On further consideration, however, the founding fathers decided that allowing the unwashed mob to own anything was a dangerous precedent and changed property to “the pursuit of happiness.” So we’re not allowed to own anything, especially, crucially in the case of women, our own bodies, but we’re graciously permitted to try and be happy. How can they bear to be so good to us?

The US government under Mr. Bush already declared some years ago “ownership of space” and since space contains the moon and stars and all the planets, indeed the entire universe, the egregious Mr. Bush must also be considered to own all of that. If God is found to exist, I guess He, or She, will be offered a post as official representative of the US buggermint until such time as whatever powers they are found to possess can be transferred to more suitable hands.

No wonder Ben Franklin refused to have anything to do with the deal hammered out in Philadelphia.

"In individuals, insanity is rare; but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule." F. Nietzsche

Happy Summer Solstice!

Jun 20, 2010



It couldn’t be worse, could it? In the Gulf, BP now claims to be retrieving 15,000 barrels of oil a day from the busted pipe 5,000 feet down. That’s three times the total amount of oil it claimed, bare weeks ago, was coming out of that pipe. A government panel of experts now suggests that the real figure could be up to 60,000 barrels or 2.5 million gallons a day, the equivalent of an Exxon Valdez spill every four days -- and some independent experts think the figure could actually be closer to 100,000 barrels a day.

In the meantime, we just learned from the Los Angeles Times that -- go figure -- the “primary responsibility for safety and other inspections” on the oil rig that blew in the Gulf “rested not with the U.S. government but with the Republic of the Marshall Islands,” and that those impoverished islands had outsourced their responsibilities to private companies. Go BP! We also learned that the relief wells sure to staunch the flow of oil by “early August” could take far longer, fail, or even make matters significantly worse; that BP cut every corner in the book to save money when drilling its well; and, oh, that evidently even the heavens are angry at the oil giant, since on Tuesday a lightning strike put its sole drill/retrieval ship in the Gulf out of action for hours, leaving all that oil pouring into the water unimpeded. However bad the bad news is, each new dawn it only seems to get worse, as does the “collateral damage,” whether to pelicans or the Gulf's beaches and wetlands.

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, that war equivalent of BP’s Gulf disaster, things are similarly trending downward at a startling pace as the news from there grows ever grimmer. The model American offensive in the southern town of Marja, declared a "success" in early May, has faltered badly and has been labeled by Afghan war commander General Stanley McChrystal a “bleeding ulcer”; the “government in a box” that he claimed the U.S. would merrily roll out after U.S. and Afghan troops decisively shoved the Taliban aside, is still in absentia, and the Taliban remain all too present; Afghan President Hamid Karzai now openly indicates that he thinks the Americans can’t win in his country and he’s planning accordingly; the much ballyhooed American “offensive” in Afghanistan’s second largest city, Kandahar, has once again been delayed; corruption increases; American and NATO death tolls grow worse by the month as support for the war in the U.S. sinks; the “collateral damage” only increases; and this week, in a piece in the New York Times, we were told things are so bad that a serious drawdown of forces in 2011 is considered unlikely. Go figure (again)!

And oh, the heavens are evidently not so happy with our Afghan operations either, since Centcom commander General David Petraeus fainted while under what one commentator called “withering” questioning about drawdown schedules for U.S. troops in a Senate hearing room Tuesday.

To make matters more complicated, as Nick Turse, TomDispatch regular and author of The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives, points out, America’s two distant disasters are not only out of control and seemingly unstaunchable, but more intimately connected than we might imagine. The American disaster in Afghanistan runs, in significant part, on BP-produced fuel, and government payments for that fuel are bolstering BP while it lives through its purgatory in the Gulf.

In addition, lest the American people learn the absolute worst, BP, evidently working hand-in-hand with the government, has put great effort into avoiding unnecessarily ugly photos, potentially negative stories, and unwanted information from the Gulf, by adopting methods of news control pioneered by the Pentagon in Iraq and Afghanistan. These include the “embedding” of reporters with government minders on public beaches, in the water, and in the air. It has even evidently become the norm in the Gulf now for officials to speak of reporters covering the scene as “media embeds.” In this way do our disparate disasters merge in corporate and government hands. Tom

Kick Ass or Buy Gas?

How Taxpayers Are Subsidizing BP’s Disaster Through the Pentagon By Nick Turse

Residents of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida are livid with BP in the wake of the massive, never-ending oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico -- and Barack Obama says they ought to be. But there’s one aspect of the BP story that most of those angry residents of the Gulf states aren’t aware of. And the president hasn’t had a thing to say about it.

Even as the tar balls hit Gulf beaches, their tax dollars are subsidizing BP and so far, President Obama has not shown the slightest indication that he plans to stop their flow into BP coffers, despite the recent call of Public Citizen, a watchdog group, to end the nation’s business dealings with company. In fact, the Department of Defense, which has a longstanding, multi-billion dollar business relationship with BP, tells TomDispatch that it has no plans to sever current business ties or curtail future contracts with the oil giant.

Talking Tough

In recent weeks, against a news backdrop of oil-soaked pelicans, President Obama has been talking tough. “We’ve ordered BP to pay economic injury claims, and we will make sure they deliver,” he announced on June 1st. Days later, he rebuked the oil giant for considering plans to pay out large dividends to shareholders and for spending tens of millions of dollars on an advertising campaign to repair the company’s tarnished image.

"My understanding is that BP had contracted for $50 million worth of TV advertising to manage their image in the course of this disaster," the president said. "Now, I don't have a problem with BP fulfilling its legal obligations. What I don't want to hear is that they're spending that kind of money on shareholders and spending that kind of money on TV advertising, [but] they're nickel-and-diming fishermen or small businesses here in the Gulf who are having a hard time."

As part of his ongoing attempt to deal with flak from critics who claim that his reaction to the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico has been far too measured and that his administration has mishandled its response to the disaster, Obama told NBC “Today Show” host Matt Lauer: "I don't sit around just talking to experts because this is a college seminar. We talk to these folks because they potentially have the best answers, so I know whose ass to kick.”

While the president has been on the verbal warpath, the U.S. military has -- with little notice -- continued to carry on a major business partnership with BP, despite the company’s disastrous environmental record.

Repeat Offenders

As an institution, the Pentagon runs on oil. Its jet fighters, bombers, tanks, Humvees, and other vehicles burn 75% of the fuel used by the Department of Defense. For example, B-52 bombers consume 47,000 gallons per mission, and when an F-16 fighter kicks in its afterburners, it burns through $300 worth of fuel a minute. In fact, according to an article in the April 2010 issue of Energy Source, the official newsletter of the Pentagon’s fuel-buying component, the DoD purchases three billion gallons of jet fuel per year.

Thanks to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Department of Defense has been consuming vast quantities of fuel. According to 2008 figures, for example, U.S. military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan used a staggering 90 million gallons per month. Given the base-building boom that preceded President Obama’s Afghan surge, the 2010 figures may be significantly higher.

In 2009, according to the Pentagon’s Defense Energy Support Center (DESC), the military spent $3.8 billion for 31.3 million barrels -- around 1.3 billion gallons -- of oil consumed at posts, camps, and bases overseas. Moreover, DESC’s bulk-fuels division, which purchases jet fuel and naval diesel fuel among other petroleum products, awarded $2.2 billion in contracts to support operations in Iraq and Afghanistan last year. Another $974 million was reportedly spent by the ground-fuels division, which awards contracts for diesel fuel, gasoline, and heating oil for ground operations, just for the war in Afghanistan in 2009.

The Pentagon’s foreign wars have left it particularly heavily dependent on oil services, energy, and petroleum companies. An analysis published at Foreign Policy in Focus found that, in 2005, 145 such companies had contracts with the Pentagon. That year, the Department of Defense paid out more than $1.5 billion to BP alone and a total of $8 billion taxpayer dollars, in total, to energy-related firms on what is a far-from-complete list of companies.

In 2009, according to the Defense Energy Support Center, the military awarded $22.5 billion in energy contracts. More than $16 billion of that went to purchasing bulk fuel. Some 10 top petroleum suppliers got the lion’s share, more than $11.5 billion, among them big names like Shell, Exxon Mobil and Valero. The largest contractor, however, was BP, which received more than $2.2 billion -- almost 12% of all petroleum-contract dollars awarded by the Pentagon for the year.

While one exceptionally powerful department of the federal government has been feeding money into BP (and other oil giants) with abandon, BP has consistently run afoul of U.S. government regulators from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). According to the Center for Public Integrity, “BP account[ed] for 97 percent of all flagrant violations found in the [oil] refining industry by government safety inspectors over the past three years.” Records obtained by the Center demonstrate that between June 2007 and February 2010, BP received a total of 862 citations, mostly for alleged violations of “OSHA’s process safety management standard, a sweeping rule governing everything from storage of flammable liquids to emergency shutdown systems.” Of these citations, 760 were considered “egregious willful,” which OSHA defines as a violation even more severe than those committed due to “plain indifference” or evidencing “intentional disregard for employee health and safety.” As a result, BP faces $90 million in penalties which the company is currently contesting.

Over those same years, BP received around $5.7 billion in federal contracts, according to official government data. In fact, the $2.2 billion the Pentagon paid to the oil giant in 2009 accounted for almost 16% of the company’s nearly $14 billion in annual profits.

This fiscal year, the U.S. military has already awarded the company more than $837 million, inking its latest deal with BP in March.

The Pentagon’s Green Revolution

In recent years, the gas-guzzling Pentagon has launched a major effort to invest in developing green technology -- or at least give the appearance of doing so -- with, at best, mixed results. As defense-tech writer Noah Shachtman has pointed out, the military is “now focusing on algal feedstock for biofuel and next-generation solar panels. One of the world's largest solar-power projects is planned for the Army's main training center, at Fort Irwin, Calif. Billions in stimulus money were spent to green military facilities.”

But efforts in the Bush years to develop "green" vehicles generally stalled, flopped, or barely got rolling. Under the Obama administration, more ambitious goals have been set, but tangible results are still lacking. Last year, the military’s contracts for renewable fuels derived from algae, according to DESC, added up to less than 22,000 gallons.

One major reason for this, Shachtman writes, is that “the current systems for delivering power and fuel to war zones are reliable, if inefficient and unsustainable. Military leaders,” he adds “don't want to jeopardize operations in Afghanistan or Iraq for something perceived as experimental or risky.” As a result, whatever solar panels it has installed or renewable jet fuel it has purchased, the Pentagon remains dependent on buying huge amounts of petroleum products from BP and other large energy corporations, and when it comes to war-making, any substantive reduction in oil dependence appears far off indeed.

Nonetheless, the Department of Defense has devoted significant resources to publicizing its green efforts. The commander-in-chief has even lent a hand. On March 31st, President Obama stood in front of a “green” F-18 Hornet fighter designed to run partly on bio-fuels and announced to the nation that he was proposing to open large new areas off the Atlantic coastline, the eastern Gulf of Mexico, and the north coast of Alaska to oil and natural gas drilling. Less than a month later, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico.

In the weeks since, despite Obama’s tough talk, his reported “anger and frustration,” and his efforts to identify the proper “ass to kick,” as well as the Pentagon’s much-touted green-energy initiative, the U.S. military continues, as Shachtman points out, to burn “22 gallons of diesel [fuel] per soldier per day in Afghanistan, at a cost of more than $100,000 a person annually.”

In other words, as a direct result of war-making in distant lands, taxpayer dollars, including those from Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, will continue to flow into BP coffers, even as more wildlife dies, more beaches are fouled, and more livelihoods are lost in the Gulf of Mexico.

Tough Talk and No Action

In a June 5th email message to supporters, paid for by Organizing for America, a project of the Democratic National Committee, President Obama again acknowledged the severity of the BP disaster and validated the anger it has unleashed. “This spill,” he declared, “has not just damaged livelihoods. It has upended whole communities. And the fury people feel is not just about the money they have lost. It is about the wrenching recognition that this time their lives may never be the same.”

“We have,” he continued, “...ordered BP to pay economic injury claims, and this week, the federal government sent BP a preliminary bill for $69 million to pay back American taxpayers for some of the costs of the response so far.”

Two days later, Tyson Slocum, the director of the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen’s energy program, sent a letter to Obama and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates asking them to go further. He urged them to suspend, and ultimately debar, BP and its subsidiaries from serving as defense contractors, to terminate six current federal contracts with the company, and prohibit BP and its subsidiaries from winning federal contracts for the next three years. He wrote:

"Given the company's willful transgression of U.S. laws, it can no longer be presumed that BP will responsibly perform its contractor responsibilities. The demonstrated disregard for the law means that there is good reason to doubt that the company will abide by its obligations under its Department of Defense contracts. Moreover, the company's repeated violation of environmental laws suggests an unacceptably high likelihood that BP will violate such laws in carrying out its contractual obligations. BP's aggregate record of wrongdoing -- including but not limited to causing the ongoing gusher in the Gulf of Mexico -- evidences a lack of business honesty that seriously and directly affects its ability to perform its contractual duties."

Public Citizen has yet to receive a response or any indication that the president or the defense secretary has read the letter, Slocum informed TomDispatch this week.

“I am not aware at this moment of any plans to curtail or cancel any DoD contracts that may exist at this time,” Department of Defense spokesperson Cheryl Irwin told TomDispatch. Irwin also stated that she knew of no plans to restrict the awarding of future contracts to BP.

The president has remained silent on the issue. Repeated requests by TomDispatch for comment from the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality went unanswered. In a statement to TomDispatch this week, however, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said it “is closely monitoring the investigations into the circumstances leading to the explosion and spill at the Deepwater Horizon facility. EPA will weigh its options under our debarment authority and take appropriate actions.” No time frame, however, has been set for any type of decision. “It is really premature to speculate on the Agency's actions,” an EPA official, who asked not to be named, told TomDispatch. “We're on hold pending the larger federal investigation.”

Yesterday, the White House and BP agreed that the oil giant would establish a $20 billion escrow account to compensate claims resulting from the Gulf Coast oil spill. "This should provide some assurance to small business owners that BP is going to meet its responsibilities," said President Obama following the announcement.
The message is clear. BP will be held accountable -- but only to a point, and not nearly in strong enough terms, says Public Citizen’s Slocum. The escrow account is “a no-brainer,” he told TomDispatch. “But that’s just related to the company’s obligations to pay for a mess it created,” he pointed out, likening the situation to an individual breaking the law. “If I commit a crime that causes damage, I don’t just pay restitution. I pay a punitive fine or I’m incarcerated. The question is: What is the version of incarceration for corporations?”

Slocum sees a 2007 guilty plea by BP Products North America for a felony violation of the Clean Air Act -- stemming from a 2005 explosion at a BP refinery in Texas that killed 15 workers -- as evidence that stronger sanctions are now warranted. The fine resulting from the Texas disaster was just a “blip on their balance sheet,” he says.

“You have to send a clear message to shareholders that committing felonies is not tolerated in the United States. And the way you do that is through some form of permanent sanctions.” Barring the company from government contracts, says Slocum, would be just such a step.

With anger boiling over in the Gulf, there seemingly could be no more egregious offender or more deserving “ass to kick” than BP’s. “I don’t know of any other oil companies operating in America that are currently on criminal probation,” says Slocum. “I don’t know any other oil companies that recently pled guilty to a felony. I don’t know any other oil companies that appear to have committed numerous acts of negligence that resulted in the largest industrial environmental disaster in American history. BP is an outlier, so it needs to be treated as an outlier.”

Somebody should tell the president. Again.

Nick Turse is the associate editor of TomDispatch.com. An award-winning journalist, his work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Nation, In These Times, and regularly at TomDispatch. He is the author of The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives (Metropolitan Books). His website is NickTurse.com.
Copyright 2010 Nick Turse

Jun 19, 2010



Ten Benefits of Expatriation, the Daily Reckoning Casey Research Team

Everybody has their own personal reasons for expatriating, but here are some of the benefits:

1) Freedom from the global US tax net. Taxing you no matter where you breathe on this earth is wanton American exceptionalism. What other nations don't dare do to their citizens, the US government doesn't think twice about. Once you renounce, it's your choice either to live the rest of your life free of any tax net, or to pick a place you want to be year-round and opt into the tax system (assuming it's not a tax-free jurisdiction). If you do, you'll at least know you have the freedom to walk away from it by simply moving elsewhere.

Taxes in the US are already high, and rates are set to increase across the board. To gain some perspective, it's clarifying to calculate the number of months per year you work for the government. How many months did it take to pay all the federal, state, and local income taxes, capital gains taxes, FICA taxes, property taxes, and AMT - plus the raft of permitting, licensing and accounting costs you incur over the course of a year? Add corporate taxes if you're a business owner. And don't forget the new 3.8% health care surcharge tax on all investment income, including dividends. Be honest and add it all up. You'll then have a decent idea of how much it costs you in time and money to be a US citizen every year. That cost will rise dramatically going forward.

Here's the take-away: The biggest guaranteed return on your capital that you'll ever have is investing your money free of taxes. Do some long-run compounding calculations with and without taxes to see what I mean. I'll wager John Templeton did.

2) Freedom from the death tax. Its political label is the "estate tax," but the fact is the tax is based solely on your demise. I used to think the death tax only applied to gains on assets that had not been taxed already. How naïve I was! It grabs half of all your assets, regardless of the fact that you've paid taxes on them.

If you have over a few million dollars net worth, your heirs will be writing a heart-stopping check to the IRS. They also may be forced to liquidate your assets to raise cash. This has happened to countless small businesses and family farms. And if you're a young, talented entrepreneur who goes on to earn substantial wealth over the course of your life, the death tax has you in its crosshairs too.

The death tax is 45% now and is scheduled to jump to 55% in 2011. Either way, the amount is staggering. Expatriation lifts the death tax burden from your children and other heirs.

3) Freedom from the US government's War on Solvency. Washington's crazed debt addiction is uncontrollable and endemic. US politicians have strapped an inconceivably large debt burden on the backs of their subjects. It pays to spend some time on www.usdebtclock.org. The multi- trillion dollar debt avalanche roars on, headed straight towards economic hell. After "Debt Per Taxpayer" and "Liability Per Citizen," check out "US Unfunded Liabilities" to see a number that's suited to astronomical calculations - not economics.

Don't be tricked into thinking this is a partisan issue. It's sobering to review the debt records of both Democratic and Republican administrations...to behold what politicians do when given trillions of dollars of other people's money. They spend it all - and then borrow trillions more! Of course, the burden of servicing that debt is on you, not them. Their six-figure salaries are guaranteed, along with their uber-perks and fully funded pension plans.

While often described as "the richest nation in the world," the reality is that the US is the most indebted nation, by a country mile. No other government comes close to matching the debt burden that has been dumped onto every taxpayer. The US government is rampantly incurring debt in your name, and you have no way to stop it or slow it down. Standing in free speech zones with protest signs didn't work when it came to war and crony bailouts, and it won't work for the debt burden either.

The one truly meaningful act you can take as an individual is to opt out. Unload the government's debt burden off your back. Don't let yourself or your family be a casualty of the government's War on Solvency.

4) Freedom from being treated like a "toxic citizen." When traveling abroad, being a US passport holder used to be a positive thing. Now it's an albatross. The New York Times article I cited earlier explains it plainly: Americans abroad are being treated like "toxic citizens." They're cut off from banking and other business and investing opportunities solely because of their US citizenship.

Typical currency controls don't permit you to take money out of a country. The US doesn't have that (yet). Instead, and this is quite clever, the government enacts laws and regulations that function as indirect currency controls. There are so many Patriot Act and other costly impositions forced on foreign banks that handle US customers that they're simply refusing to put up with the harassment. Here's the upshot: Your money isn't fenced in; it's fenced out.

If you seek firsthand evidence, visit a major banking center outside the US and try to open a bank account. Odds are you'll be turned away when the bank finds out you're a US citizen. Reports abound of US citizens' long-held accounts at foreign banks being summarily terminated. The US government has made its subjects, along with their money, persona non grata.

I've read that some foreign banks are now setting up, in essence, holding pens designed to handle US citizens who want to bank offshore. But, really, what's the point? You're burdened with having to file extra IRS paperwork, along with FBAR forms to the Treasury Department. And even if you don't file all the extra papers (not a smart move), new laws force foreign banks who accept US customers to report on you anyway. They are pressured to sign "information reporting agreements" to have US citizens as customers. Google "FATCA" and "qualified intermediary agreements" if you want details.

Now for the most extreme instance of liability. Being a US passport holder can mean life or death in the context of a terrorist attack. The US government's never-ending War on Terror makes the world more dangerous for Americans. After so many years of bombing and military occupation in the Middle East, how can the hundreds of thousands of civilians who've been maimed and killed by the US government NOT be the source of enduring resentment and blowback? Needless to say, the US passport is on the short list of ones you least want to have if somebody sticks a gun in your face and says, "Passport." Unfortunately, this has happened on more than one occasion, and it would be unreasonable to assume it won't happen in the future.

5) Freedom from the paperwork prison. Millions of Americans are plagued every year by days, sometimes weeks, of preparing tax documents and paying thousands of dollars to accountants to decipher the IRS tax code. There are, literally, hundreds of different IRS forms. The tornado of rules and regulations in the tax code fills roughly 70,000 pages. And then you have to save boxes and boxes of papers for years in fear of someday being audited and not being able to produce the demanded documents. If you're unfamiliar with audits, here's how they work: You're guilty of whatever the IRS claims, unless you prove yourself innocent. If that sounds preposterous, I encourage you to ask a tax lawyer. "Innocent until proven guilty" does not apply. Freedom from spending days of tedium on mind-numbing paperwork and thousands on accounting fees has been an absolute joy.

Highly recommended.


Ten Benefits of Expatriation, Part II the Daily Reckoning Casey Research Team
In yesterday's edition of The Daily Reckoning, Casey Research shared five of the 10 benefits of expatriation. Today, we share the second five:

1) Freedom to invest without tax distortions that encourage capital misallocation. The US tax system encourages misallocation of your investment capital. It obscures the act of buying and selling securities based on a rational assessment of their value. For instance, you end up not selling a security you otherwise would simply because you don't want to trigger taxes yet. Or you hold on longer than you might otherwise to get long-term capital gains treatment. Or you sell securities you normally would keep - for "tax loss harvesting."

Moreover, you're incented to give an artificial value premium to municipal bonds simply because they aren't taxed, despite their negative real return after inflation. And your assessment of real estate's value is warped too, by mortgage interest deductions and capital gains exemptions. The phrase "letting the tax tail wag the dog" encapsulates these distortions. Expatriation instantly liberates you from them.

2) Freedom from being crushed by the fiat currency landslide. If you pay attention to the world's major currencies, you'll notice they fluctuate, often dramatically, against each other. In a year's time, the price of an item can increase or decrease 20%, 30% - sometimes more - solely based on which currency you use to pay for it. The same item!

Regardless of the reason for the volatile swings in the value of currencies, there it is. Reality. So what's the risk for you? For one thing, you can have all your money in one currency, earn a positive investment return on paper (that you're taxed on), but actually lose purchasing power. Think about it this way. The US imports goods from all over the world. When the US dollar drops in value, it takes more of them to buy those goods. That makes you functionally poorer, no matter what your account statement says. It's that simple.

Every time the dollar drops, you get the short end of the stick. The value of your savings erodes. Your money is like ice cubes. The longer you wait to use them, the more they melt. According to the government's official "inflation calculator," the dollar has lost 95% of its purchasing power since 1913. See for yourself here.
When you're out of the global US tax net, you can freely diversify the currencies you own to protect your purchasing power from being diluted. If you do this as a US citizen and the dollar drops, you're taxed on the paper gains from those other currencies. In other words, you're taxed for simply preserving your purchasing power. And if you choose the monetary metal, gold, as a fiat currency hedge, you're taxed even more heavily. No matter what you do to try and preserve the purchasing power of your dollars, one way or another you're slowly being bled. That ends on the day you expatriate.

3) Freedom from the accountability for how the US government spends your money. I sleep much better knowing I no longer fund the military- industrial-banking complex. Anybody can get mugged, but every US taxpayer is a constant patsy for the political establishment. The rip- offs are so unthinkably big and endemic, there's nothing an individual can do to stop them.

If you step back and take an honest look, you'll see that the unfortunate state of affairs in America has resulted from the reign of both political parties. Don't fall for the divide-and-conquer strategy that politicians use to corral people into "red" and "blue" sports teams. Donkeys and elephants are sold as team mascots pretending to be in mortal conflict. In reality both parties work together to advance their agendas in lockstep...logrolling...and when necessary, one side "takes the hit" whenever the illusion of accountability is needed. The system depends on the delusion that people can "vote the bums out."

Meanwhile, every government failure becomes the pretext for more government growth. If you don't get distracted by the spectacle, it's impossible not to notice the pattern: Every political solution to any problem involves more regulation of your life and more taking of your money.

What are the consequences of this vicious cycle of growth through failure? Most Americans are familiar with the oft-chanted phrase, "We're #1!" Humor me for a minute and try this exercise. Mentally separate yourself from the government you're paying trillions of dollars to fund. Then, consider that the US is: #1 in government debt and deficits; #1 in unfunded liabilities, most importantly Medicare and Social Security; #1 in building and maintaining the biggest WMD stockpile in the world; #1 in weapon sales to foreign governments; #1 in bombs dropped and missiles fired on other nations; #1 in causing civilian casualties and property destruction; #1 in "defense" spending; #1 in lawyers per capita, with over 1.1 million total; #1 in law suits filed; #1 in political lobbyists, special interest groups and campaign donations; #1 in taxpayer bailouts of the politically connected "too big to fail" corporations; #1 in people imprisoned - "The United States has 4% of the world's population and 25% of the world's incarcerated population," according to Wikipedia.

I've avoided citing sources for these claims (save the last one) because I'm hoping you'll be moved to verify them for yourself. The process is eye-opening. If you fall for the political fallacy that "the government is the people," you end up with the faulty conclusion that America must be overrun by war-crazed, lawsuit-happy, debt-addicted criminals. How could anybody buy this after even a moment of clear thought? There's certainly no resemblance to the American people I know. These problems stem from the military-industrial-banking complex, the dark heart of the US political machine. Why continue being the stooge that supplies the money to run it?

Looking at the world with fresh, open eyes isn't easy. One of the great benefits of liberating yourself from the grip of the US political system is that the world becomes your oyster. You're free to embrace places that welcome individuals who seek to live peaceful and prosperous lives.

4) Freedom to radically increase your charitable giving. Individual liberty sparks our charitable instincts. If you care deeply about philanthropy, expatriation frees up vastly more of your capital to give away. Also, your philanthropic impulses are no longer distorted by the IRS. You can give to any charitable cause worldwide without being penalized if it's not anointed as a tax-deductible entity.

The human impulse to help another in need is older than any government. Your judgment about how to contribute your capital to best help others will forever be superior to that of bureaucrats. Expatriation opens up new possibilities for you to reach out and help others in need.

5) Freedom from the risk of getting trapped. Politicians don't like it when the people who pay their salaries, fund their pensions, and fuel their jets close their wallets and walk away. As the number of renunciations continues to rise, it inevitably will turn into a political hot-button. The media will set the stage for politicians to denounce renunciation, paving the way to make exercising the right more difficult and costly. Wealthy people who renounce will be called greedy and unpatriotic. "Turning their backs on their fellow Americans" will be the sound bite wielded by politicians to conjure up the demand to "do something." When that happens, I expect the exit tax to become dramatically worse. Instead of taxing unrealized gains at their regular rates, it may function more like the death tax. Add up everything you own - then cough up half. Otherwise sit down and shut up.

The other timing consideration is that getting a second passport is becoming more difficult, more lengthy and more costly. You need a second passport to expatriate, and countries are increasing the number of years it takes to gain citizenship. There are only two countries left in the world that have an economic citizenship program, which is by far the fastest way to get a second passport. If these two programs are pressured to fold, escaping the US political combine will take most people five or more years, instead of less than one. You can bet on this: No matter what happens, it won't get any easier.

Jun 9, 2010



Bilderberg 2010: Why the protesters are your very best friends. The people who are being detained, searched and questioned are not playing some game. They are deadly serious, and they are worried to death

Guerrilla journalists in Sitges, where the Bilderberg conference is being held. Photograph: Alex Amengual Photograph: Alex Amengual/guardian.co.uk

Ivan was alone on the roundabout. He had been left in charge of the banners while everyone else ate breakfast.

He slipped an empty bottle of red wine into a binliner and stretched. At his feet was a chalk-drawn pyramid showing the structure of society, the word "pueblo" at the bottom, and the tip pointing up the hill towards Bilderberg. It's a short pyramid today, maybe half a heavily-armed mile from Rockefeller down to Ivan.

Ivan's bed last night – is it had been the night before – was the scrub by the roadside. "It's not so cold in my bag," he said. "A lot of times I travel in the mountains – in the mountains, you can sleep anywhere."

A lone Catalonian in green trousers, he clutched a leaflet and stood in the Sitges sun as, up the hill, billionaires and finance ministers ate kiwifruit patisseries.

The shame, the awful poignancy of Bilderberg, is that, for much of the time, there are more delegates up the hill than there are protesters at the foot of it.

On that point, there's something I'd like you to do. I'd like you to extend a grateful thought, a prayer of thanks, an idle nod of acknowledgment – a something, an anything – towards Ivan and all the others who have come to Sitges to bear witness to Bilderberg 2010.

These people are on your side, they are fighting your corner. And if you don't think it's a corner that needs fighting, or if it's a corner you think is being fought by the people up the hill ... well, good luck to you.

I want you to know, though, that the people who are crawling around on pine needles with long lenses, trying to identify delegates (and doing pretty well, by the way), the people who are being detained, searched, questioned, then heading out again into the hills, the people who are sitting late into the night at the campsite bar, talking about distracted populations and central banks, are not lunatics.

They are your very best friends. They're not feeble-minded or playing some kind of game. They are deadly serious, and they are worried to death.

These people look at the state of the world and they pack a rucksack and sleep at the side of a roundabout.

The head of the IMF (and Bilderberger), Dominique Strauss-Kahn, looks at the world and declares: "Crisis is an opportunity." He sees the precarious global economy and floats the idea for "a new global currency issued by a global central bank".

Now, if you think that's a good idea – if you think yet more centralisation of debt (and interest payments), and more unelected financial control is a good thing – then good luck (what are you? The chairman of Barclays?)

We already have a world, says Daniel Estulin, the arch Bilderbotherer, "where unelected bodies like the IMF can tell sovereign nations like Greece what to do".

Estulin is here in Sitges, wearing the fanciest trousers I've seen in a long time.

He says the Bilderberg endgame is "one world company ltd". And the board of directors is sitting half a mile away.

And they're being watched. I can't say from where – I don't know where the guerilla camerafolk are out crawling today. And I can't ring them, because they've turned their mobiles off and taken out the sim cards so they can't be triangulated by the signal.

They're out getting sunstroke on your behalf, on my behalf. I'll publish some of their photos, and some of their spottings, tomorrow.

Later today, a bunch of Spanish activists are providing paella for everyone in a mountain restaurant. Some of us won't make it. Some of us will be under arrest, or lying in a ditch holding our breath until the footsteps pass.

One last time: if you think what they're doing is ridiculous, you're wrong. It's the fact they're having to do it at all that's absurd.

This morning, a policeman screeched up beside me as I went for a stroll and told me to take the recording device out of my pocket. I did. It was a bit of driftwood from the beach. Yesterday, I had my car searched (and was detained for 50 minutes while the Mossos d'Esquadra checked and rechecked my passport).

They asked me what was in the boot. I dug them out a T-shirt. The patrolman radioed the station and read out the slogan on the shirt in heavily accented English: "I went to Bilderberg 2010 and all I got was this lousy new world order." His partner asked me why I was laughing. I couldn't really explain.

BIlderberg is an absurdity. The secrecy is absurd. The lack of a relationship between the event and the mainstream media is absurd. Ivan standing alone by his roundabout bed is absurd. The paranoia of the participants is more than absurd – it's pathetic.

This year, most of the delegates were whisked into the hotel through an underground entrance, dodging the lenses, like a bunch of James Bond baddies, like a dieter creeping downstairs at midnight to eat chocolate cake from the fridge.

But the good news is that not everyone has dodged the cameras (John Elkann, the heir to Fiat, was spotted by the German blog Schall und Rauch looking particularly dapper this year). And the even better news – the very best news – is that the press seems, finally, to have woken up to Bilderberg.

We have had camera crews from Spanish TV and Spanish newspapers both local and national (Javier from El Mundo is currently up a tree with a camera). French journalists, Portuguese documentary makers and al-Jazeera are picking up the story. Russia Today has sent a film crew.

We've had articles in the Independent and the Times, and on the Today programme on Radio 4. Daniel Estulin has been doing interview after interview. He's getting quotes from inside the meeting. The veil of secrecy is looking decidedly tatty. It might be time to bin it.

And yet the veil of ignorance is still holding up pretty well. As Ivan says, handing me a leaflet from the Anwok collective, "it is difficult to talk about the Bilderberg agenda if people don't even know about the group".

I know what he means – I've spoken to countless news agencies and outlets in the last few weeks, and the most common response, from journalists, editors and commissioners, is: "I'm sorry, the Bilderberg what?"

But seriously, if you work on the foreign desk of a major news corporation and you're at the "Bilderberg what?" level of political awareness, you need to think about getting a different job. Take a sabbatical. Take up carpentry, or read a book.

It's like calling yourself a porn star and not knowing the reverse cowgirl. "The reverse what...?"

Get with the programme. Shimmy up a pine tree. Take a leaflet. Resign. You're not helping anyone.

Jun 5, 2010


If I lived in India, I should be certain that most dramatic events had some connection to Kashmir. The execution of the only survivor of the recent attacks on Mumbai is a fair example. (Is it true? How d’ye expect me to know? I don’t do crosswords, either. Whatever my intellectual activities may be, they take place at a more humble level.)

In much the same way, all Americans know that the CIA and the Pentagon, working together on behalf of the military/industrial complex, cause all political events. Their attitude to this obvious fact has nothing to do with its truth or falsity; it depends entirely on whether they are benefiting from it and in what way. Opinion is a sellable commodity like anything else.

The federal government report that expresses concern at the “cozy relations” between federal agencies and the institutions they are monitoring is performing a duty in stating the obvious. The “personnel,” i.e., people, you know two legs, two arms, and a head, move easily between the government and the institutions they “monitor,” collecting large checks each time they go through the revolving door. Having a lady from Wellpoint, a leading health insurance company, move to the government side to write Mr. Obama’s healthcare insurance bill for him is an example.

On Friday, June 4, 2010, the Dow Jones fell over three hundred points. Why? A barrel of worms appears. Well, it’s because of the weakness of the Euro, say our paid hacks, with Greece joined by Spain and now Hungary in admitting to being essentially bankrupt, or at least wildly over spent. Why should the problems of the Euro cause US shares to collapse? Particularly since the US is in the same fix if you look at debt as a proportion of GDP, and in a much worse state than Greece or Spain if you look at the sheer volume of debt? And overhanging everything, six hundred trillion dollars, a figure almost beyond imagining, of Credit Default Swaps – insurance against non payment of loans – being moved around between the banks. No answer.

Meanwhile, in the real world outside Kashmir and the US military/industrial complex, some tidal shifts are removing the landscape as surely as the island in the Bay of Bengal, a long disputed ownership problem, disappeared beneath the rising waters.

Climate change is reshaping our world, mother earth is stirring in her sleep and sometimes throwing off the bedclothes, and it seems clear we are no longer in control of anything. “Things are in the saddle and ride mankind,” said Walt Whitman, and the congressman will ensure the continued production of battleships in his home state, because if the few remaining workers with jobs lose them they will not vote for him, but his efforts are increasingly irrelevant. Whether the troops die in the floating coffins or elsewhere, die they will. In addition to nuclear weapons, many countries now have drones to do the killing, and we have put them all on automatic.

A black tide, under a pressure of seventy thousand pounds per square inch, is putting four million gallons of crude oil a day into the Gulf of Mexico, from where the Gulf Stream will carry it inexorably to the home of the company that caused the disaster. The relentless operation of divine justice? As you wish.

If you are looking for encouragement, the cancellation of flights due to the Iceland volcano reduced the amount of carbon put into the atmosphere by an amount much greater than that produced by the volcano. Some were unable to get their usual Kiwi fruit from New Zealand, of course. So it goes.

In other news, Burma, (Myanmar – you remember all that Aung San Suu Kyii stuff) has been trying to get nuclear weapons, probably through the good offices of North Korea, (No, not enrichment for industrial purposes as in the case of Iran, nuclear weapons, to blow things up.)

And the rumors circulating through the blogosphere for weeks that the US was behind the sinking of the South Korean ship, the Cheonan, which put the final nail in the coffin of Japan’s efforts to get the US marine base off Okinawa, have now appeared in a full article. (http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Korea/LF04Dg02.html) Admittedly by a North Korean spokesman, but better than nothing.

Jun 4, 2010


That President Obama has been paid more money by BP, the oil company responsible for the explosion and oil leak of April 23, 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico, than any other president creates no great confidence in his willingness to protect the land he technically presides over. The reins are in other hands, the hands of BP in this case. A pressure of seventy thousand pounds per square inch a mile below the floor of the Gulf where the oil is gushing at the rate of four million gallons a day creates little confidence in the ability of BP to do anything about it.

Babies born in Japan in 1945, at the end of the second world war, can hardly be blamed for anything Japan may have done during that war. Those who did it are all dead, and the babies are now aged sixty five, having lived all their lives in a conquered and occupied country, without any action committed by them to justify that, or any power to change it – the reins are in other hands. The hands belong to France, UK, US, the victors of world war two, who also control the UN security council, with the power to forbid any decision made by the rest of the world.

In “the land of the free” (note for the weaker brethren: this is the name that the United States of America has for itself) it is unacceptable to call the recent Gaza aid convoy, attacked by the Israelis in international waters with ten or so people killed, “relief,” or “humanitarian.” Only the term “Pro Palestinian” is allowed, and this is the description unanimously used by the “free press.” By decision of the UN security council only the Israeli government is qualified to carry out an investigation into that attack – the reins are in those, and only those, hands.

So control of the Gulf oil spill since April 23 has remained entirely in the hands of BP, who also have control of all statements about it, since they are the only people who know about oil drilling. Workers BP has hired to deal with the oil inexorably advancing to the Florida, Louisiana, and Texas coasts are paid about three thousand dollars a day, but their contract with BP forbids them to talk to the press. At $3,000 a day they can hardly refuse. Workers who wear masks are fired since this might create the impression the operation is dangerous to health. As indeed it is.

The paid minions of BP in the US congress (“Invest in America! Buy a congressman!”) are making great efforts to limit liability to seven hundred thousand dollars, from a daily profit of many billions, but the share price of BP has fallen by some thirty five per cent. After its Alaskan oil pipeline spill disaster, and the refinery fire disaster, both caused by ignoring safety regulations, maybe the company has an uncomfortable feeling that perhaps people will talk. By one of those ironic strokes of fate (BP stands for British Petroleum, and has its head quarters in London) the UK “…Daily Mail's main concern is that the drop in BP share prices will affect (some) people's pension plans.... Now that WOULD be terrible…” and the currents are carrying four million gallons a day by the Gulf Stream towards the western isles, “the islands of the blessed” in the ancient world, also known as the British Isles. (So there is a God, after all?)

Those are the hands that hold the reins of power. Charming.