Shaping the Vietnam Narrative


Scene from the Vietnam War

Scene from the Vietnam War

Controlling the narrative is a key tool for propagandists who realize that how people understand a foreign conflict goes a long way toward determining their support or opposition. So, the U.S. government’s sanitizing of the Vietnam War is not just about history, but the present, as Marjorie Cohn writes.

By Marjorie Cohn

For many years after the Vietnam War, we enjoyed the “Vietnam syndrome,” in which U.S. presidents hesitated to launch substantial military attacks on other countries. They feared intense opposition akin to the powerful movement that helped bring an end to the war in Vietnam. But in 1991, at the end of the Gulf War, George H.W. Bush declared, “By God, we’ve kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all!”

With George W. Bush’s wars on Iraq and Afghanistan, and Barack Obama’s drone wars in seven Muslim-majority countries and his escalating wars in Iraq and Syria, we have apparently moved beyond the Vietnam syndrome. By planting disinformation in the public realm, the government has built support for its recent wars, as it did with Vietnam.

Now the Pentagon is planning to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War by launching a $30 million program to rewrite and sanitize its history. Replete with a fancy interactive website, the effort is aimed at teaching schoolchildren a revisionist history of the war. The program is focused on honoring our service members who fought in Vietnam. But conspicuously absent from the website is a description of the antiwar movement, at the heart of which was the GI movement.

Thousands of GIs participated in the antiwar movement. Many felt betrayed by their government. They established coffee houses and underground newspapers where they shared information about resistance. During the course of the war, more than 500,000 soldiers deserted. The strength of the rebellion of ground troops caused the military to shift to an air war.

Ultimately, the war claimed the lives of 58,000 Americans. Untold numbers were wounded and returned with post-traumatic stress disorder. In an astounding statistic, more Vietnam veterans have committed suicide than were killed in the war.

Millions of Americans, many of us students on college campuses, marched, demonstrated, spoke out, sang and protested against the war. Thousands were arrested and some, at Kent State and Jackson State, were killed. The military draft and images of dead Vietnamese galvanized the movement.

On Nov. 15, 1969, in what was the largest protest demonstration in Washington, DC, at that time, 250,000 people marched on the nation’s capital, demanding an end to the war. Yet the Pentagon’s website merely refers to it as a “massive protest.”

But Americans weren’t the only ones dying. Between 2 and 3 million Indochinese – in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia – were killed. War crimes – such as the My Lai massacre – were common. In 1968, U.S. soldiers slaughtered 500 unarmed old men, women and children in the Vietnamese village of My Lai. Yet the Pentagon website refers only to the “My Lai Incident,” despite the fact that it is customarily referred to as a massacre.

One of the most shameful legacies of the Vietnam War is the U.S. military’s use of the deadly defoliant Agent Orange/dioxin. The military sprayed it unsparingly over much of Vietnam’s land. An estimated 3 million Vietnamese still suffer the effects of those deadly chemical defoliants. Tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers were also affected. It has caused birth defects in hundreds of thousands of children, both in Vietnam and the United States. It is currently affecting the second and third generations of people directly exposed to Agent Orange decades ago.

Certain cancers, diabetes, and spina bifida and other serious birth defects can be traced to Agent Orange exposure. In addition, the chemicals destroyed much of the natural environment of Vietnam; the soil in many “hot spots” near former U.S. army bases remains contaminated.

In the Paris Peace Accords signed in 1973, the Nixon administration pledged to contribute $3 billion toward healing the wounds of war and the post-war reconstruction of Vietnam. That promise remains unfulfilled.

Despite the continuing damage and injury wrought by Agent Orange, the Pentagon website makes scant mention of “Operation Ranch Hand.” It says that from 1961 to 1971, the U.S. sprayed 18 million gallons of chemicals over 20 percent of South Vietnam’s jungles and 36 percent of its mangrove forests. But the website does not cite the devastating effects of that spraying.

The incomplete history contained on the Pentagon website stirred more than 500 veterans of the U.S. peace movement during the Vietnam era to sign a petition to Lt. Gen. Claude M. “Mick” Kicklighter. It asks that the official program “include viewpoints, speakers and educational materials that represent a full and fair reflection of the issues which divided our country during the war in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.”

The petition cites the “many thousands of veterans” who opposed the war, the “draft refusals of many thousands of young Americans,” the “millions who exercised their rights as American citizens by marching, praying, organizing moratoriums, writing letters to Congress,” and “those who were tried by our government for civil disobedience or who died in protests.”

And, the petition says, “very importantly, we cannot forget the millions of victims of the war, both military and civilian, who died in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, nor those who perished or were hurt in its aftermath by land mines, unexploded ordnance, Agent Orange and refugee flight.”

Antiwar activists who signed the petition include Tom Hayden and Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg. “All of us remember that the Pentagon got us into this war in Vietnam with its version of the truth,” Hayden said in an interview with The New York Times. “If you conduct a war, you shouldn’t be in charge of narrating it,” he added.

Veterans for Peace (VFP) is organizing an alternative commemoration of the Vietnam War. “One of the biggest concerns for us,” VFP executive director Michael McPhearson told the Times, “is that if a full narrative is not remembered, the government will use the narrative it creates to continue to conduct wars around the world – as a propaganda tool.”

Indeed, just as Lyndon B. Johnson used the manufactured Tonkin Gulf incident as a pretext to escalate the Vietnam War, George W. Bush relied on mythical weapons of mass destruction to justify his war on Iraq, and the “war on terror” to justify his invasion of Afghanistan. And Obama justifies his drone wars by citing national security considerations, even though he creates more enemies of the United States as he kills thousands of civilians.

ISIS and Khorasan (which no one in Syria heard of until about three weeks ago) are the new enemies Obama is using to justify his wars in Iraq and Syria, although he admits they pose no imminent threat to the United States. The Vietnam syndrome has been replaced by the “Permanent War.”

It is no cliché that those who ignore history are bound to repeat it. Unless we are provided an honest accounting of the disgraceful history of the U.S. war on Vietnam, we will be ill equipped to protest the current and future wars conducted in our name.

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The torture secrets are coming


It would be completely backwards to suppress images of government misconduct on the grounds that they are too powerful to be disclosed when it is often disclosure, accountability, and ensuing reforms that prevent misconduct from recurring.

It would be completely backwards to suppress images of government misconduct on the grounds that they are too powerful to be disclosed when it is often disclosure, accountability, and ensuing reforms that prevent misconduct from recurring.

Once you’ve seen the Abu Ghraib photos, they’re not easily forgotten.

The hooded man, the electrodes, the naked bodies piled upon each other, and the grinning soldier with a thumbs up. The images are the stuff of nightmares. They’re also incontrovertible evidence that our government engaged in torture, and their publication sparked a national conversation that helped end the Bush administration’s torture program.

Nevertheless, the Obama administration is still fighting to keep the full truth about torture – including photos the public hasn’t yet seen – from the American people. But recently the courts and the Senate have been pushing back, resisting the government’s claims that it can’t reveal its torture secrets. As a result, those secrets may finally be dragged into the light.

The government is holding back as many as 2,100 never-released images from Abu Ghraib and other detention centers overseas. The ACLU first sued for their release 10 years ago, and in August, District Court Judge Alvin Hellerstein ruled that the government must publish the photos unless it can defend withholding them on an individualized basis.

Tomorrow the government will appear in court and tell Judge Hellerstein and the ACLU what it plans to do.

The government based its suppression on a 2009 statute, enacted after the ACLU won the release of the images in the trial and appeals courts, that permits the secretary of defense to withhold an image for up to three years if the secretary certifies that its release would endanger Americans. In 2012, then Defense Secretary Leon Panetta issued a half-page certification for the entire collection, of more than 2,000 images.

“Standing alone,” Judge Hellerstein wrote in his August ruling, Mr. Panetta’s certification is “insufficient.” The government must prove that the secretary reviewed each photo by itself and “show why” the publication of each image risked national security.

The American people are entitled to know what took place in U.S. detention centers. And it would be completely backwards to suppress images of government misconduct on the grounds that they are too powerful to be disclosed when it is often disclosure, accountability, and ensuing reforms that prevent misconduct from recurring.

These principles aren’t just about righting the historical record; they have practical applications to this day. Just this month, another federal judge ordered the unsealing of 32 videos of force feeding and cell extractions at Guantánamo Bay. These videos form part of the basis of Syrian detainee Abu Wa’el Dhiab’s challenge to the force feeding practices the government inflicts on him today, practices that have been condemned internationally and which constitute cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, possibly even torture.

Judge Gladys Kessler rejected the government’s justifications for keeping the videos from the public as “unacceptably vague, speculative…or just plain implausible.” Citing an earlier opinion by Judge Hellerstein in the ACLU case, Judge Kessler dismissed the government’s argument that the videos could be used as propaganda by Al Qaeda. Last week, she granted the government’s request for a 30-day reprieve while it decides whether to appeal her orders.

Outside of the courts, the Senate Intelligence Committee is also signaling that it, too, has had enough of the administration’s efforts to conceal the truth about torture from the public. The committee voted six months ago to release the summary, findings, and conclusions of its landmark study on the CIA’s torture program. Now the committee is pushing back against the administration’s efforts to black out so much of the summary to make it unreadable. The ACLU has separately sued the CIA for the full Senate report, the CIA’s response, and a contemporaneous internal review ordered by then CIA Director Leon Panetta. The CIA must “process” the summary, CIA response, and Panetta review by October 29, which means the agency will be required to justify any withholdings or produce the three reports.

With the courts and the Senate holding the line, we may soon know more than ever – not only about our past – but also about our present abusive practices. Only then can we truly move forward, and not backward.

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New video shows US airdropped weapons in hands of ISIL terrorists


A new video has emerged from northern Syria showing the weapons the US says is sending to Kurdish forces end up in the hands of the ISIL terrorists.

The video shows masked insurgents inspecting the military equipment which was airdropped in areas controlled by ISIL near the Syrian border city of Kobani.

The supplies include several boxes of hand grenades and RPGs, as parachutes used for the airdrops were clearly visible on the ground in the video.

The US Central Command said on Sunday it has airdropped weapons and ammunition, and medical supplies for the Kurdish forces defending Kobani.

It said the airdrops, which have been provided by Kurdish authorities in Iraq, were “intended to enable continued resistance against ISIL’s attempts to overtake Kobani.”

The US and its allies also say they are carrying out airstrikes against the Takfiris in Syria and Iraq in order to curb their advances in the region. The air raids have so far failed to halt the insurgents’ military gains.

The ISIL advance in the region has forced tens of thousands of Syrian Kurds to flee into Turkey.

Turkey continues to block any delivery of military, medical or humanitarian assistance into Kobani where the ISIL terrorists are feared to be aiming at massive bloodletting.

This comes as the US and its Arab allies have been backing ISIL as a tool to put more pressure on Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. The group has committed heinous crimes in Syria and Iraq.

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My Lai Was Not An ‘Incident’: Seeking Full Disclosure on Vietnam


Language is telling; so are facts. With the approach of the “full panoply of Orwellian forgetfulness” that is a 13-year, $65 million commemoration of the Vietnam War by the same people who started it, it’s nigh on impossible to reconcile Obama’s “valor of a generation that served with honor fighting heroically to protect the ideals we hold dear as Americans” with the savage years many “remember, with painful acuity, as other than glorious” – years of lies, loss, rage, trauma, protests and the deaths of millions of innocents. Seeking to “speak truth to power,” Veterans For Peace are rejecting an official narrative they say sanitizes and mythologizes an unconscionable war – and likely helps legitimize further such wars – by organizing their own Peace and Justice Commemoration as part of a larger Full Disclosure Campaign. Its goal is to “truly examine what happened during those tragic and tumultuous years,” and use those lessons to prevent them from happening again.

From the start, many have questioned what longtime activist Tom Hayden calls the “staggering” idea of a commemoration orchestrated by the Department of Defense. Citing the Pentagon’s questionable “version of the truth” that for so long sustained an immoral war, he convincingly argues that, “If you conduct a war, you shouldn’t be in charge of narrating it.” Almost everything about the project, from its website full of glossy pictures of smiling veterans to its very language – its mission to “assist a grateful nation” in thanking veterans, Obama’s thinking “with solemn reverence upon the valor of a generation,” its initial labelling of the massacre of 500 women, children and older men at My Lai an “incident” – bears out the notion that the project’s goal is largely “an ex post factojustification of the war,” or to rewrite history in order to repeat it with as little opposition as possible.

In a petition for revisions that sparked their decision to hold their own commemoration, over 500 veterans and activists argued for “an honest remembrance of what actually went on in Viet Nam.” They seek recognition for the “many thousands of veterans” who opposed or came to oppose the war, who refused the draft, went to jail, left the country, marched in protests; for the millions who marched, prayed, organized; for the military establishment that for years lied, propagandized, made deadly mistakes, and lied again; for the thousands of hapless soldiers thrown into a war of choice who suffered, died, anguished and then came home broken, traumatized and often abandoned – startlingly, more Vietnam veterans subsequently died by suicide than in battle; for the millions of Vietnamese civilians killed, maimed, poisoned, traumatized, driven from their homes, crippled by land mines, their children later disfigured by Agent Orange; for the rage and regret felt by so many Americans towards the war’s lies and losses that a new term was created to express their weariness – the Vietnam Syndrome.

To right those wrongs and expose those truths, Veterans For Peace are now looking forstories, ideas, articles and photos for their own commemoration. ”It is incumbent on us not to cede the war’s memory to those who have little interest in an honest accounting, and who want to justify further acts of military adventurism,” they argue. The war, they insist, is a cautionary tale: “What are the consequences of trying to control the fate of a people from afar with little understanding or interest in their history and culture…or their human desires?  What are the consequences of dehumanized ideologies used to justify wars of aggression?  To honor the Viet Nam generation and to inform current and future generations, we should make every effort to pass on a critical and honest history of the war.”

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Resisting Columbus Day by taking over his statue

By Frank Lara

With military jets and bombers screaming across the skies of San Francisco, the 12 foot bronze statue of Columbus in the world famous Coit Tower aptly looked with pride towards his legacy of invasion and colonization. This weekend S.F. made national headlines for two reasons. One was the yearly Fleet Week event, an event where the U.S. Navy puts on a spectacle of its war planes which bring terror to other parts of the world. Two, there was also the nationally-covered controversy of white “bros” who seemed to be channeling Columbus himself when they sought to occupy a community park in the Mission.

These events set the backdrop for the take over of the offensively large Columbus statue in San


Francisco. Several activist of the Mexican solidarity group Yo Soy 132 Bay Area and the Party for Socialism and Liberation decided to commemorate a date recognized throughout Latin America as the “Day of the Original Peoples” or the “Day of Indigenous Resistance.”

The action was a success, which drew a lot of support from tourists visiting the site with many foreigners shocked that such as statute would still exist in San Francisco. As an activist stated to people who asked what the protest was about, “We don’t want the day to pass without highlighting all the struggles that people are still waging to this day .


A placard in the action which correctly tied the legacy of yesterday’s colonization to today’s imperialism read “The sailing ships of yesterday are the multinationals of today.”

From the resistance in the Mission against evictions and gentrification, to the Native people’s struggle in the U.S. which looks to put an end to racists’ exploitation of their heritage and fighting to end the destruction of the environment, to the students in Mexico massacred by their government, to the children in Central America whose


future is at risk thanks to the oppressive imperialist policies of the U.S., to the world struggle in Palestine, the Middle East and Africa which resist to put an end to the colonial projects, we say: “Respect Existence or Expect Resistance! When the peoples are oppressed, there will always be resistance!”

Happy Indigenous People’s Day! Down with Columbus!

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Global Justice or World Domination


Global Research


History is a teacher of life, says the old proverb. Hence, it should be regarded as a part of life and the future, not only a part of the past.

We recall that the drive for redrawing the borders was one of the key objectives of aggressors in the First World War. The revision of history and results of the First and Second World Wars could prove to be but a front for the revision of borders.

The Great War began following the Austro-Hungarian ultimatum, one that everyone clearly knew that Serbia could not have possibly accepted. At the end of that same, 20th century, Serbia (the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia) was given A similar ultimatum by NATO in Rambouillet, also one that obviously could not be accepted. The request contained therein was: either accepting unconditional occupation of the entire country, or having war. NATO aggression against Serbia (the FRY) of 1999 was the turning point in global relations, marking the transition from the relative peace and a sort of observance of the UN system, towards the global interventionism and violation of the basic principles of the international relations. Many intellectuals, including the speakers at this Conference, believe that this has triggered the Third World War.

The post-2008 period is marked by a serious global economic crisis. The military spending in the world is heading to reach two trillion US dollars. Step by step, the world has entered a new spiral of arms race. Are we going to respond to it by launching initiatives and activating mechanisms to put it to an end, or are we, just like on the eve of the World War I, going to let this race throw all of us once again into the chasm of disaster?

A short period of global partnership is being replaced by an increasing global distrust. Is there any readiness to seek just compromises in resolving outstanding problems and revert to general interests of the humanity, as embodied in peace and progress for all peoples and nations?

The narrow circles of the privileged ones are amassing enormous wealth. In a stark contrast, misery, poverty, illnesses, extremism and terrorism are on the rise. How can we possibly seek to develop and spread human and civilization values and rights against the backdrop of such misery, poverty, illnesses, extremism and terrorism? Do we realize the danger entailed by the boiling social discontent? Are we ready to concede that the previously applied methods of combating international terrorism exclusively by military force, have instead been actually powering its further strengthening and dissemination?

The poverty suffered by a major share of human kind is not a mere result of the growing population, but rather an outcome of the increasing iniquity in distribution of assets, within the system that defends the privileges of the rich and prevents development of the poor. The roads to both First and Second World Wars were paved by egotism, denial of equality, and trampling the interest of other nations. The ball is in our court. Shall we continue to speak up and fight for a just international order, or shall we assert that the era of liberal capitalism aggression is not the right moment for such an action? Are we aware that external and forcible imposition of internal systems in target countries, pursuant to the “one-for-all” model, gradually emerges as the foundation of global domination, interventionism, and neo-fascism?

The question at hand is, do we opt for the global domination of exceptional ones, or for the multi-polarity and a democratic world order of all equal sovereign nations?

What is left out of the UN’s and the OSCE’s functions of preventive action and peaceful resolution of disputes? Should we, really, consent that the policies of force and of double standards have become legitimate or we should oppose it and struggle for civilization of peace, dignity and freedom for all? There is growing evidence that we have entered the age of hybrid democracy and ersatz civic values and human rights. Institutions of democratic state became the service of the most powerful corporations possessing military-industrial and financial capital.

Although the institutional formations persevere, an even the new ones are being created in the international domain, the true power is steadily shifting into the narrow and usually informal groups, councils or commissions directly influenced by such military-industrial and financial capital. Issues of war or peace are rarely discussed in parliamentary proceedings; at best, they are being decided in a summary procedure.

Democratic public debates on vital issues have definitely become a rarity.

The tangible aspect of militarization is expressed in rapid growth in numbers of foreign bases, especially on the European soil. Presently, Europe hosts more foreign military bases that at the peak of the Cold War. Why? After the USA Military base Bond-steel, erected in Kosovo and Metohija in 1999, there mushroomed four more USA bases in Bulgaria, additional four in Romania, and so on. Pre-1999 existing bases are being upgraded, either by anti-missile shields, or by new facilities for revolving rapid-response task forces. All are creeping closer to the borders of Russia. We are witnessing a new edition of the old, almost forgotten doctrine, “Drang nach Osten”. In parallel, the media, including even in countries of the oldest democratic traditions, are having increasingly less freedom.

Is it possible to maintain THIS unipolar world and privileges by inciting wars, fratricidal conflicts, coups, or colored revolutions?

On the eve of the First World War, it was obvious that certain countries were rapidly arming, and, in parallel, that their appetites for territories and resources were growing. The true meaning of these trends was played down. This illusion was, alas, paid dearly, in millions of human lives. The ”September Program”, authored by that-time German Chancellor von Bethmann-Hollweg, dated 9 September 1914, one hundred years ago, openly stated German territorial pretensions aimed at neighbors, customs union in the form of an expanded market, and “German colonial Africa”, as considered by Franz Fischer, a prominent German historian. Hollweg’s “September Program” had a clearly invading, expansionist character. Hollweg’s plan triggers various reminiscences, such as this one:

In April 2000, ten months after the end of NATO’s armed aggression against Serbia (the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia), Bratislava hosted a summit of heads of governments and states, and ministers of foreign affairs and of defense of that-time candidate states for joining NATO, and senior public officials of the USA. At this Summit, the American representatives presented their plan for rearranging the relations in Europe. Willy Wimmer, Germanys State Secretary in the Ministry of Defense, and at that time Vice-President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, who was present at the Summit, wrote about this “April Plan”:

“European legal order is an obstacle for implementation of NATO plans. For this purpose is much more convenient to also apply American legal order in Europe. During the expansion (towards the East, added by Z.J.), it is necessary to reinstate the same spatial situation between the Baltic Sea and Anatolia (in Turkey, added by Z.J.), as existed at the heyday of the Roman Empire expansion. This is why Poland has to be encircled from the north and the south by democratic states as neighbors. Romania and Bulgaria have to ensure land connection to Turkey, whereas Serbia has to be permanently excluded from the European development. North of Poland, a complete control over the Sanct Petersburg access to the Baltic Sea must be ensured.” (Published in: Actual Issues of Foreign Policy, the Belgrade Forum for the World of Equals, Belgrade, 2006, pages 73-77).

Almost imperceptibly, the war marketing evolved into a new discipline. It seems that we got accustomed to that “science” very quickly and underestimating the risks. At present, even the non-professionals can easily recognize the pattern of preparing, propagating, and justifying all kinds of aggressions and instigating civil wars. The process comprises these steps: choosing the target; demonizing its legitimate leadership via the media; promises of democracy and fast “better life” that serve to disorientate the public; funding and, as necessary, arming the “pro-democratic” opposition; intensification of destabilizing actions of the NGOs; staging massacres/poisoning by chemical warfare/humanitarian disasters, i.e.: event brands like “Markale” in Sarajevo, “Racak” in Kosovo and Metohija, “Majdan” in Kiev; then follows instigating civil wars or armed aggression; toppling legitimate authorities; installing “pro-democratic” opposition in power; and, finally, assuming the target country’s natural and economic resources by the corporations and even by individuals from administrations of the aggressor countries by the so-called transition, also known as the predatory privatizations.

One of disturbing contemporary phenomena is a very extensive interpretation of the notion of national interests. The USA was the first to appropriate the right to proclaim its national interests in practical terms, in any corner of the Planet, and to defend them by armed force. European partners followed suite. Particular attention provoke statements of Joachim Gauck, President of Germany, that Germany must be ready to defend its national interests abroad by force, if needed. State sovereignty over its natural resources is derogated. Brzezinski and Albright openly claim that natural resources in Siberia cannot belong to Russia only, but rather to the so-called international community! The claims for redistribution of natural wealth of the planet are clearly articulated. Here, one may recall the consequences the humanity suffered owing to German ambitions for redistribution of colonies in the run-up to the World War I.

Back in 1914, that-time aggressors solely relied on brute force. Austro-Hungary sought to halt its declining power and decreasing control over other nations’ territories, whereas Germany wanted to effect its burgeoning economic and military might by invading neighbors’ territories, and by imposing its control over the Berlin-Bagdad route and, eventually, over the entire Europe and Africa. The lessons from World War I show that reliance on force exclusively, coupled with arrogance and disregard for the rights and interests of other nations are not advantage but rather a major weakness.

Another great danger for the contemporary world stems from the presence of power centers which believe they are destined to govern the word, and entrusted with this mission by providence. They hold anyone else in the planet to be handicapped and obliged to do as told and obey directives of the “exceptional ones. Such centers do not recognize profound changes bringing new distribution of global power. They apply the logic of uni-polar world order not recognizing that this concept is gone and that the history cannot be stopped.

Therefore, having regard to the lessons of history, we may conclude, that it is not the time to seek privileges and domination by force; it is in the interest of humanity to accommodate to the new multi-polar reality, to accept righteous compromises and work for peace.


[i] Address at the International Conference “World War I – Messages to Humanity”
Belgrade, 17 September 2014

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ISIS Video: America’s Air Dropped Weapons Now in Our Hands


In a new video, ISIS shows American-made weapons it says were intended for the Kurds but actually were air dropped into territory they control.
At least one bundle of U.S. weapons airdropped in Syria appears to have fallen into the hands of ISIS, a dangerous misfire in the American mission to speed aid to Kurdish forces making their stand in Kobani.An ISIS-associated YouTube account posted a new video online Tuesday entitled, “Weapons and munitions dropped by American planes and landed in the areas controlled by the Islamic State in Kobani.” The video was also posted on the Twitter account of “a3maq news,” which acts as an unofficial media arm of ISIS. The outfit has previously posted videos of ISIS fighters firing American made Howitzer cannons and seizing marijuana fields in Syria.

ISIS had broadly advertised its acquisition of a broad range of U.S.-made weapons during its rampage across Iraq. ISIS videos have showed its fighters driving U.S. tanks, MRAPs, Humvees. There are unconfirmed reports ISIS has stolen three fighter planes from Iraqi bases it conquered.

The authenticity of this latest video could not be independently confirmed, but the ISIS fighters in the video are in possession of a rich bounty of American hand grenades, rounds for small rockets, and other supplies that they will surely turn around and use on the Kurdish forces they are fighting in and around the Turkish border city.

Video screenshot

On Monday, White House Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said the U.S. government was confident that the emergency airdropped supplies for the Kurdish forces near Kobani were falling into the right hands.

“We feel very confident that, when we air drop support as we did into Kobani… we’ve been able to hit the target in terms of reaching the people we want to reach,” Rhodes told CNN. “What I can assure people is that, when we are delivering aid now, we focus it on the people we want to receive that assistance. Those are civilians in need. Those are forces that we’re aligned with in the fight against ISIL [the government’s preferred acronym for ISIS], and we take precautions to make sure that it’s not falling into the wrong hands.”

Rhodes was responding to questions about a Monday report in The Daily Beast that U.S. humanitarian aid was flowing into ISIS controlled areas near Kobani by truck. That aid was mostly food and medical supplies, not the kind of lethal weapons in the new ISIS video.

Senior administration officials said Sunday that three American planes dropped a total of 27 bundles near Kobani and more U.S. air drops could come as part of the joint U.S.-Iraqi effort to aid Kurdish fighters in the Kobani area. The supplies were provided by Kurdish authorities, the official said.

In the new footage, the weapons appear to be U.S. made. There have also been at least 135 air strikes against ISIS in the area, according to the State Department.

The airstrikes and air drops appear to be having an impact. The Daily Beast’s Jamie Dettmer, reporting from the Syrian border, said the morale in Kobani has shifted in the last 24 hours. But ISIS continues to hold major swaths of territory in and around Kobani, despite widespread media reports to the contrary. And the civilians there are suffering, badly.

“I think what this represents is the President recognizes this is going to be a long-term campaign against ISIL; and that we need to look for whatever opportunity we can find to degrade that enemy and to support those who are fighting against ISIL on the ground,” a senior administration official told reporters.

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Wake Up America: Police Gone Wild: Domestic Terrorist Edition ”VIDEO”


2014 Full Documentary


Published on Oct 3, 2014

My original video upload was taken down by youtube under the guise of “copyright infringement” but then later reinstated after I proved my use of the material was legal.


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Obama’s “Stupid Shit”: Now He’s Bombing Syria



Returning from his trip to Asia last April, Barack Obama told reporters aboard Air Force One that the guiding principle of his foreign policy is “don’t do stupid shit.”

Really?  Since Day One he has been doing nothing but.

Future historians will debate how much of this Obama did on his own initiative.  At the very least, he is culpable for opting for continuity, not change.

The dead weight of the past is, of course, a powerful constraint.  But it is not all-powerful.  An audacious leader with the political capital Obama once enjoyed could have gone up against it, and done a lot better.

Instead, Obama chose to work with, rather than clean up, the messes his predecessors had let drop –the mother lode left by Bill Clinton, and the still standing remains of earlier administrations, extending back to even before the days of Henry Kissinger.

And then there was the torrent let loose after 9/11.

This was mainly George Bush and Dick Cheney’s doing, but, for the past six years, it has been Obama’s too.   His first and now second term might as well have been Bush and Cheney’s third and fourth.  Obama also added a few wrinkles of his own; new guys do that.

So far, though, his contributions have been minimal compared to theirs.  Nevertheless, it will fall to Obama, not his predecessors, to reap the havoc they sowed.

So much for the principle “if you break it, you own it.”   Bush and Cheney no longer own their wars; Obama does.

He continued their domestic policies too, especially their assaults on basic rights and liberties.  In some areas – going after investigative reporters, for example, and shielding banksters from prosecution – his administration has been even worse.

But Obama’s foreign policy is in a class by itself.

That it would come to this was plain from the day he announced that Hillary Clinton, the doyenne of stupid shit, would be his Secretary of State.  It didn’t get any better either when we finally got to see the back of her – most likely, only temporarily.

In her place, Obama let loose the likes of John Kerry, Susan Rice and Samantha Power.    They have given Clinton’s inchoate but vaguely neoconservative foreign policy a “humanitarian” patina, making it, if anything, even more pernicious.

“Don’t do stupid shit?”   Obama’s actual principle has been just the opposite.

Had he been a one term President, future generations would probably think first, when his name is mentioned, of that moment in September 2009 when Joe Wilson, an otherwise unremarkable South Carolina Tea Party Republican, shouted out “you lie,” while Obama was addressing a joint session of Congress.

Although the evidence had yet to pour in, Wilson’s outburst was enough on track to mark a revealing contrast with the familiar fable about George Washington and the cherry tree.  Their juxtaposition says something about the moral trajectory of American politics.

But now in his second term, Obama has ratcheted up America’s involvement in the Syrian civil war.  He will therefore more likely be remembered for the stupid shit he did in foreign affairs  – in Syria especially.

*  *  *

In the months preceding Obama’s declaration of principle aboard Air Force One, he actually seemed to be getting better.

Perhaps it was his chronic irresolution shining through.  But at least he did back off from getting the United States more directly involved in Syria.

And though Russia and China were still in his crosshairs, Obama did cause American provocations to taper off.  Perhaps he realized the likely consequences of his meddling in Ukraine, and what he saw frightened him.

An optimist might even have supposed that his intent that day in April was to signal a change of course – towards common sense.

With midterm elections just months away, and the American public sick of endless wars, that would have made sense.  But it didn’t happen.  Change course, he did; but not in a good way.

Was Hillary Clinton’s needling responsible?  In a vain effort to differentiate her foreign policy from Obama’s, she faulted his – i.e. her – timidity in dealing with foreign governments, implying that, when she is fully in charge, she will be even more reckless.  One shudders to think what she has in mind.

As if to preempt her, Obama then took off up shit’s creek, leaving the proverbial paddle at home.  But why would he think it opportune to out-macho Hillary?  The plain fact that there is no good answer is revealing.

In any case, while continuing his on-going wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and who knows where else, the Nobel laureate set about on a course in Iraq and Syria that the words “stupid shit” hardly begin to describe.

Ratcheting up the war in Iraq that he had taken credit for winding down is the least of it.

The bigger problem is that he brought Syria into the fold, after all.  He should have known better – not long ago, he did know better — and yet he did it anyway.

There was no “shock and awe” this time, and very little fanfare.  No doubt, his team concluded that it is too close to the November elections for that.  They decided instead to proceed by small increments, Vietnam-style.

That shock and awe is a stupid way to start a Middle Eastern war was conclusively demonstrated in Iraq eleven years ago.  But the way Kennedy and Johnson deployed in Vietnam, death by a thousand escalations, is stupidity on stilts.

There is probably no one in the Pentagon – probably no minimally informed observer anywhere – who thinks that Obama’s bombs will do the Islamic State (IS) in.  Everybody agrees that even to make a start on that, those “boots on the ground” that we have lately been hearing so much about are indispensible.

The boots will come from somewhere where labor is cheap, but where will the soldiers who wear them come from?

This is a complicated question inasmuch as the several constituents of “the coalition of the willing” that Team Obama has cobbled together have different, sometimes incompatible, objectives.

Turkey, for example, is wary of empowering Kurdish militias.  But then who else can Obama get to do the dirty work for him – not that Syrian Kurds, joined by Iraqi Kurds, could do it all in any case.

The plain fact is that there are no proxy armies, adequate to the task, at hand.

Therefore, expect American troops to be on their way again soon.  No matter how often he denies it, Obama knows that this will happen.

He ought to know too that events will then spin out of control, compounding the mess already there many times over.

The state system established by the British and the French after World War I has few virtues, but at least it helped secure regional stability.  It will probably be a casualty of this latest American adventure.

And as regional instability increases, it will be harder to keep the Middle East’s only nuclear power out of the fray, especially inasmuch as Israel is also the Middle East’s most bellicose state and the conflict now goes right up to its borders.

The widespread view there — that the whole world is against them and that they have nothing to lose by throwing their American-sustained and American-enabled weight around — is fast becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Israeli intransigence and brutality are only part of the problem.  Western public opinion is also, finally, taking notice of the injustices Palestinians suffer at Israel’s hands.  In just the past few weeks, Sweden recognized the state of Palestine, and the British parliament passed a (non-binding) resolution to that effect!

Does Obama really want to introduce Israel into his wars in Syria and Iraq?  That would be like throwing a super-flammable liquid into an already raging fire.

And, for that matter, does he really want to encourage the recruitment of yet more “terrorists” — more young men and women willing, even eager, to die as martyrs – by intensifying the murder and mayhem in Syria and Iraq?

It sure looks like he does.  Or is he just not thinking?

* * *

It is natural to assume that people do what they do for a reason; typically, a compelling reason.

And for as long as economics has been a recognized discipline, economists have found it useful – and explanatory – to suppose that economic agents adapt means to ends in the most efficient way possible, given the constraints they face; in other words, that they are rational and therefore that their reasons are rationally compelling.

On some philosophically important accounts, rationality involves more than this, but, on all accounts, it involves at least this much.

Nowadays, means-ends rationality figures in explanations of a wide array of non-economic human activities.  In academic political science, the idea is almost axiomatic.

Needless to say, even the most ardent defenders of rational choice explanations know that people are not always rational.   Rationality often fails; in the extreme, it can fail completely — people sometimes go berserk.

But not, we like to think, in politics; when we reflect on that sphere of human life, the  berserk hypothesis is ruled out.  Instead, rationality is imputed to the people whose behavior one is trying to make sense of, even when it is hard to imagine what they could possibly be thinking.

The working assumption is that there are always reasons, putative justifications, for what people do.  The reasons may be, and often are, defective; people in politics, as elsewhere, can be just plain nuts.  But, even when they are, their actions make sense in light of what their reasons are.

The more powerful a political figure is, the harder this assumption is to dislodge.  It is as if people suppose that the incumbents of political offices must be clever to have gotten where they are, and that the people who land at the top must be very clever indeed.

Of course, everyone knows that there are many ways to come out on top.  Nearly all of them involve brute luck; many of them involve being to the manor born.  People seldom make it on their wits alone.

But there is a will to believe that political leaders know what they are doing, even when an abundance of evidence suggests that they do not.   It is a comforting assumption.  No one wants clueless dullards running the show, especially when means of violence capable of destroying the world a thousand times over are involved.

And so, the belief persists — no matter how stupid or inept or both the people calling the shots actually are.

This is why there is now a frantic search on for explanations for Obama’s latest move into Syria.  No one wants to think that he and his advisors aren’t acting for reasons that they, at least, somehow find compelling.

* * *

Proposed explanations fall into three categories: those that take what Obama and his people say at face value, those that blame forces trying to undo his presidency or otherwise to lead the country astray for political or commercial gain, and those that discern a geopolitical objective behind Obama’s flagrant lapse of common sense.

The word the administration has put out, and that corporate media have bought into, is that the United States had to revive the Iraq War and then to extend it into Syria because there was no other way to fight “terrorism.”

In their view, the IS is the problem; or rather ISIS or ISIL is.  The Obama administration and Hillary Clinton call it by one or another of its older, discarded names because, they say, it is neither Islamic nor a state.

No doubt, Muslims around the world await the judgments of these learned scholars with rapt anticipation.   If only for the sake of consistency, they ought also to declare that Torquemada wasn’t really a Catholic, and that, whatever else Netanyahu may be, he is certainly not a Jew.

However it is called, the IS is currently ensconced in Syria as well as Iraq, and is scoring impressive military victories in both countries.  Because it is zealous, barbaric, and militarily adept, it poses an unprecedented danger.  It must therefore be attacked, degraded and, as far as possible, obliterated.  QED.

George W. Bush would have had America do the job all by itself, if need be.  Obama took pains, like Bush the father, to cobble together a coalition of the willing – though, in this case, it is far from clear how helpful any of the partners he has brought in will be.

On the other hand, Obama didn’t bother even to ask for authorization from any competent international body, or from the United States Congress.   Evidently, with allies in name only signing on for their own reasons, he thinks that he can do without it.  Bombs away!

That this bombing campaign of his is therefore manifestly illegal under international law is of no consequence.  Just as only the little people need obey the law in the Age of Obama – banksters, for example, are exempt and so are most polluters — international law only applies when and where the United States wants it to apply.

This may be reprehensible, but, in view of how awful the IS is, the administration’s there-is-no-alternative rationale for bombing Syria does make sense; or rather it would, but for the plain fact, confirmed countless times, that, in the real world, fighting terrorism militarily, the way America does, makes for more terrorists and terrorism, not less.

Wiser leaders than ours would have realized this even before the evidence began to accumulate.  When the United States, or any foreign power, invades another country and occupies it, there is bound to be resistance.

In most cases, this will not involve army-to-army combat.

Typically, the resistance has no army at all.  Its only resort, therefore, is to launch a protracted and “asymmetrical” war of attrition, a guerilla war – waged not with a view to doing the impossible, defeating the occupier’s forces outright, but to inflicting costs on the occupying power.

This can go on for as long as need be — until war weariness in the aggressors’ home country forces the hostilities to end.  In Afghanistan, it has been going on for nearly fourteen years.

When an occupation is also an intervention into an on-going civil war, it is inevitable that civilian populations and infrastructure will suffer even more egregiously than otherwise, and that terror will become a more than usually commonplace instrument of war.

Add religious zealotry to the mix and the situation becomes more harrowing by orders of magnitude.  Martyrs to a transcendent cause are far more willing than ordinary soldiers – especially, the economic conscripts America puts in harm’s way — to take casualties and to inflict them.

The United States has been fostering militant Islamism ever since Jimmy Carter and Zbigniew Brzezinski decided that it would be a good idea to get the Soviet Union bogged down in Afghanistan.  And at least since the first Bush’s Iraq War in 1991, American military interventions in historically Muslim regions have been stirring the pot.

The process continued on from there; it has finally come to a head with the IS’s conquests of large swathes of Syria and Iraq.

In this sense, the IS was made in the USA.  It is a product of the never-ending violence the United States unleashed in Afghanistan and throughout the Middle East, especially in Iraq and now in Syria as well.

The IS is inspired by and effectively funded by reactionary forces in the Arabian Peninsula.  Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states are longstanding American allies.  Their ruling elites owe their wealth and their very survival to Uncle Sam.  In this sense, indirectly too, the US made the IS what it is today.

American support for those reactionary Gulf regimes has only grown in the post-9/11 period.  No matter that it was mainly Saudis, not Afghanis and certainly not Iraqis or Syrians, who were involved in 9/11.  The attacks that day unleashed the spirit of revenge – somebody had to pay, even if the actual perpetrators were too important to the empire to be the ones.

Obama knows this.  He may have continued the policies of his predecessors but, unlike them, he inhabits the real world, not the world neoconservatives imagine.

What, then, could he be thinking?

In explaining political behavior, it is always hazardous to make inferences to the best explanation.  Down that road “conspiracy theories” lie.   Of course, some conspiracy theories are true, or partly true.   Most often, though, they are not.

In this case, the best explanation that can be inferred from the available evidence is that Obama et. al. do not want what they call “terrorism” to end; more likely, they want it to continue.

They are certainly doing their level best to augment the supply of ready and willing terrorists.  This is about the only thing, other than death and destruction, that bombing Syria will achieve.

A conspiracy theorist could even identify a motive: that, consistent with his dedication to serving corporate America, Obama wants to keep America’s perpetual war regime flourishing.

It is wise, though, to resist this way of thinking.  It gives Obama and his underlings too                                                                         much credit; they are not that clever.  And there is a more likely explanation available: that Team Obama is in over its head, and is mindlessly flailing about.  Obama and the others may not have gone berserk, but they are hovering close to the line.

* * *

Another possibility is that there are political reasons that Obama and his advisors find compelling, even if they risk disaster by doing so.

There are other examples of this phenomenon: for instance, the administration is courting, indeed inviting, ecological catastrophes by refusing to challenge defenders of the status quo.  Corporate America is the main culprit.   But workers concerned about jobs also keep the government from doing the right thing.

The Obama administration’s lackadaisical attitude towards providing retraining and jobs for workers made worse off because of urgently needed environmental regulations speaks volumes about how willing Obama and his fellow Democrats are to take the line of least resistance – no matter how damaging the consequences.

This penchant of theirs explains Obama’s ceaseless quest for “bipartisanship.”  It almost always fails because Republicans won’t play along.

Apologists for Obama have made a fetish out of this state of affairs.  Their standard excuse is that, no matter how awful this or that Obama misdeed is, Republicans made him do it.

This excuse is so widely invoked that even Obama’s critics, trying desperately to discern a method to his madness, have taken it on board.  Their idea is that but for Republican pressure, the bombers would still be in their hangars, and America would still be less engaged in Syria than it now is.

A less flattering variant of this search for a rationale has it that Obama opportunistically follows public opinion, and is therefore overly susceptible to being influenced by corporate public relations operatives and corporate media.  In other words, the media made him do it.

These views are exaggerated at best.  Obama does let Republicans shape the political agenda; all Democrats do.  But even the GOP’s most militaristic stalwarts didn’t force Obama to embark on this latest phase of the so-called war on terror.

Obama won two elections by rejecting – or rather appearing to reject – Republican warmongering.

And although the case for the media’s untrammeled venality is beyond dispute, the idea that their hyping the IS threat caused Obama to let loose with his bombers strains credulity.  Even if they had the power, which they don’t, they don’t have a plausible incentive.

The claim that media jump at the opportunity to stir up war fever because wars sell papers – or, these days, ads on websites — has been strained at least since the William Randolph Hearst – Citizen Kane era.

Corporate media outlets don’t need to incite overseas wars, especially not unwinnable ones, to peddle their wares.  For that, they have Clooney weddings and Kardashians.

And even if there were money to be made by selling a new bombing campaign in Iraq and Syria, the media are too mindless to think of it, much less to pull it off.   They just go with whatever the political figures they report on say and do.  They are shamefully complicit, but they don’t instigate; they follow.

On the other hand, the IS is able to shape events, not just reflect them.  It knows how to push America’s buttons.

It knows, for example, that beheadings spark fear, loathing and outrage, and that drones, bombs, depleted uranium, and liquid phosphorus do not.  Why?  Because Americans are crazy?  Because they have no sense of proportion?  Maybe.  But, whatever the reason, politicians pick up on this, and the media dutifully follow along.

We are bombing Syria now not because media tycoons want us to or because it somehow benefits their bottom line.  We are doing it because this is what the IS wants us to do.   The IS wants America back in the quagmire; and it knows how to get America’s Commander-in-Chief to bend to its will.

The evidence might even suggest to a conspiracy theorist who cannot imagine that religious fanatics could be smart enough to figure it out on their own, that they have been consulting with Brzezinski or someone similarly devious.

It is certain, in any case, that there is no political advantage, even in the short run, in going down the route Obama has taken.

He wrested the nomination away from Hillary Clinton in 2008 because he could present himself as an opponent of the war in Iraq while she could not.  Unlike her, he had never voted to authorize it, and, ironically, he had once called it “dumb.”

Moreover, at least part of the reason why Obama beat Mitt Romney in 2012 is that he seemed, finally, to be ending that dumb war.   Why would he think that a complete about face would be politically beneficial now?

Obama surely knows that the American public is war weary; and if he forgets, he has plenty of handlers around to remind him.

So what, then, if John McCain and Lindsey Graham do their saber rattling routine, and if a few pundits echo their rants?  In the very recent past, Obama resisted similar pressures; he could easily do so again.

The impending midterm elections can hardly be the cause.  Now that Obama has crossed the line, McCain and Graham are saying that his moves against the IS are too timid to accomplish much of anything.  They may be right.  People who actually know a thing or two about military matters seem, without exception, to agree.

Why then is Obama pulling his punches?   The only plausible explanation is that he fears the political consequences of punching even as much as he already has; he fears that voters will punish Democrats on this account.

If that is not his reason, the only alternative is to concede that he has no reason at all.

It looks increasingly like this is the case.

* * *

The idea that Republicans or media moguls are making him do it is, if anything, even more of a non-starter than the idea that terror can be fought by visiting death and destruction upon Syria and Iraq.  A plausible geopolitical explanation is similarly unlikely.

To be sure, the United States has a history of turning on formerly friendly dictators in the region – Saddam Hussein is the most conspicuous example, Hosni Mubarak is another.  Now that Bashar al-Assad is damaged goods, American planners would no doubt like to replace him too with a more biddable strongman.

Among other things, this would tighten America’s control over world oil supplies by making the semi-feudal rulers of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States more secure – more invulnerable to popular insurgencies and to pressure from regional powers like Turkey and Iran.

And because America is currently on the lookout for ways to stick it to Russia, Obama has yet another reason to opt now for “regime change” in Syria.   Since Assad is more or less an ally of Vladimir Putin’s, going after him makes sense on that account.

Replacing Assad with someone more compliant would also harm two of America’s – and Israel’s — longstanding enemies in the region, Iran and Hezbollah.

Therefore, one might think that Obama decided to bomb Syria in order to overthrow its government.  This is plausible; for several years now, replacing Assad has been one of America’s stated goals.

But for Obama to justify his bombing campaign against IS targets in Syria and Iraq on these grounds, he would have to abandon either his opposition to the Syrian government or the light of reason itself.

No matter how one tries to square the circle, the facts remain: the IS is by far the greatest threat to Assad’s rule today, and his government, along with Iran and Hezbollah, are America’s best, indeed only, hope for defeating the IS militarily.

Therefore, to degrade the IS’s military capabilities is to strengthen Assad’s hold over Syria, and vice versa.

Attacking the IS to undo Assad therefore makes no sense.  The irrationality is blatant, the policy incoherent.  The Turks know this; it is why, despite their membership in the collation of the willing and despite Obama’s entreaties, they are still holding back.  Why  can’t the Obama administration figure it out?

Obama has to face up to this problem soon, because he cannot remain in denial about the efficacy of his bombs and drones for long.

Over the next few weeks, Obama could well find it impossible to hold off sending in American troops without Assad’s help – and Hezbollah’s and Iran’s too.  With midterm elections just a few weeks off, this is not a happy place for him to be.

And so, we are left with only one conclusion: that unless Obama’s aim really is to keep the war on terror going indefinitely, there is no way to account for what he has lately been doing.  There are no reasons that can justify it.  It doesn’t make sense.

“Don’t do stupid shit” is good advice.  Too bad Obama doesn’t follow it, and worse still that, in defying his own dictum, he goes to such irrational extremes.

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The World’s Richest Man Tries to Defend Income Inequality: Trickle-Down Bill Gates-Style



review of French economist Thomas Piketty’s best-selling book “Capital in the 21st Century” by the world’s richest man is too delicious to ignore. The main takeaway from Piketty’s book, of course, is that we need to worry about the growing concentration of capital, in which people like Microsoft co-founder turned megaphilanthropist Bill Gates and his children will control the bulk of society’s wealth. Gates, however, doesn’t quite see it this way.

From his evidence, he actually has a good case. If the issue is the superrich passing their wealth to their children, who will become the next generation’s superrich, he is right to point out that the biographies of the Fortune 400 — the richest 400 Americans — don’t seem to support this concern. We find many people like Gates, who started life as the merely wealthy (his father was a prosperous corporate lawyer), who parlayed their advantages in life into enormous fortunes. The ones who inherited their vast wealth are the exception, not the rule.

Gates tells readers of his plans to give away the bulk of his fortune. His children will have to get by with the advantages that accrue to the children of the ultrarich, along with whatever fraction of his estate he opts to give them. That will undoubtedly ensure that Gates’ kids enjoy a far more comfortable life than the bottom 99 percent can expect, but it likely will not guarantee a place among the Fortune 400.

As he points out, many of his fellow billionaires feel the same way about passing on their wealth. This means that we may not need to fear the perpetuation of great fortunes through generations as Piketty warns.

However, this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t fear rising inequality. Gates gives us a textbook example of the problems. While he is undoubtedly smart and hardworking, the key to his incredible wealth was the decision by the Justice Department largely to ignore antitrust law. Gates used classic anti-competitive practices to gain and protect a near monopoly in the market for personal computer operating systems.

When the Justice Department finally brought suit in 1998, Bill Gates and the Microsoft team were so arrogant and dishonest that they managed to turn the presiding judge, an appointee of President Ronald Reagan, into an enemy. An appellate court later removed him from the case for bias.

While Gates wants us to believe that his software innovations were a great service to the world, most users of his software would probably not agree. His efforts to corner the market may have made him rich, but they slowed down the process of software development.

Bill Gates further defends wealth inequality by pointing out his philanthropy. Interestingly, the philanthropy that he says makes the situation better could actually make it worse.

Unfortunately, he is not the only one who got rich largely at the expense of the economy and society. The Fortune 400 is full of Wall Street investment bankers who make their money by trading a few minutes or milliseconds ahead of everyone else. This means that they pocket profits that otherwise might have gone to long-term investors. And of course, the Wall Street gang also includes those who made money on the mortgage-backed securities that nearly destroyed the world economy in 2008.

The fortune of the Walton family — Walmart’s largest shareholders and heirs to the wealth the company created — came in large part from being able to hire supercheap labor both in the United States and the rest of the world. Suppose that we had full employment policies that gave people a choice of jobs or that workers’ right to unionize was taken more seriously by legislators and courts. It’s unlikely that many workers would have then opted for low pay and few benefits as a Walmart “associate.”

And then there is Jeff Bezos, who made Amazon into one of the largest companies in the world in large part by avoiding state sales taxes.

To be sure, there are people in the Fortune 400 who had great innovations that provided a genuine service to humanity, but they are the exception. As the old saying goes, behind every great fortune lies a great crime.

Gates further defends wealth inequality by pointing out his philanthropy. Interestingly, the philanthropy that he says makes the situation better could actually make it worse.

Take patent monopolies, one of the largest distortions in the market today. Each year they redistribute hundreds of billions of dollars upward while making lifesaving drugs very expensive. (Think of the hepatitis C drug Sovaldi, which is being sold for $84,000 for a 12-week course of treatment. The generic version sells for $900.)

A program officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation once told me in unambiguous terms that people there don’t talk about patents. When I expressed surprise, she explained the reason was the nature of its founder’s fortune.

Bill Gates may do much to make drugs available to the developing world. But if his foundation obstructs the development of more efficient mechanisms than patents for financing drug research, he may well end up making the situation worse rather than better. After all, it’s nice that he is making it easier for poor people to get expensive drugs, but the real problem is that the drugs are expensive in the first place. That would not be the case without patent protection.

While philanthropy may prevent the direct inheritance of most multibillion-dollar fortunes, the charitable giving of billionaires is unlikely to go to efforts that could undermine the basis of their wealth or their peers’. We may not need to fear that the next generations’ Fortune 400 will all be descendants of this generation’s billionaires, but we do have to fear that the rules will continue to be rigged so that this group and its lackeys in the 1 percent continue to control the bulk of the country’s wealth. That is not a pretty picture, even if it is not the nightmare Piketty warns of.

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