Friday, November 22, 2013

John F. Kennedy: Requiescat in Pace

The very word 'secrecy' is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths, and to secret proceedings. 
The success of our leadership is dependent upon ... a clearer recognition of the virtues of freedom as well as the evils of tyranny.
-- JFK

President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed exactly 50 years ago today. The coverage of this anniversary in the media has been fairly incessant. There is nonetheless more to say because, first, the coverage has focused on the photogenic qualities of the president and his wife and has neglected matters of substance. Secondly, as has been argued here, the CIA and major news outlets such as the New York Times continue to mislead the American people about the circumstances of Kennedy’s death -- more on that later.

Kennedy’s time in the White House was brief, but he nonetheless accomplished a great deal in that short time. Among other things, he brought the controversial program known as Medicare close to passage. He averted what could have been a catastrophic military disaster during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He lent his support to the burgeoning civil rights movement. Still, it is safe to say that Kennedy is remembered not as much for what he achieved as what he represented. And what he represented was an alternative to the kind of politics embodied by Richard Nixon.

Nixon had been Kennedy’s opponent in the 1960 presidential campaign. Nixon had been an avid McCarthy supporter at the height of the anti-communist hysteria of the 1950s. Nixon maintained a consistently bellicose attitude toward the Soviet Union, and supported illegal and provocative operations by U.S. spy planes in Soviet territory. 

Kennedy was more moderate on each of these issues, going so far as to suggest areas in which the U.S. and Soviet Union could cooperate. One may reasonably conjecture that when Kennedy spoke out against communism, he did so because no political figure at the time could do otherwise and remain viable. Indeed, the historical record shows that Kennedy had to strenuously fight the perception of being “soft” on communism. 

Example of anti-Kennedy sentiment
One point of contrast between Nixon and Kennedy bears particular attention: The two leaders had very different assessments of Cuba. Prior to the revolution, the country had been ruled by a brutal dictator by the name of Batista. When visiting Batista's Cuba in 1957, Nixon was apparently blind to the suffering of the Cuban people and said that he was pleased to be in a land that “shares with us the same democratic ideals of peace, freedom, and the dignity of man (see The Arrogance of Power by Anthony Summers).” 

In Nixon’s eyes and in the eyes of many conservatives, as long as Batista remained staunchly anti-Communist and pro-business, he was a friend to the United States (source).
Batista has been a tyrant. There were no elections. He did as he pleased.
The rich on the island did well as long as they ensured that they ‘rewarded’ Batista. However, little if anything was done for the poor. Batista allowed Cuba to become a playground for America’s rich. Just fifty miles from Florida, rich Americans would fly out to Havana to gamble and to enjoy the good life. Nothing could have been in more stark contrast to the lives of poverty led by the Cuban poor.
 On July 26th 1953, a small group opposed to Batista attacked a barrack’s in Santiago. The attack, led by Fidel Castro, was a failure but Batista responded with his infamous ’10 for 1’ order – that the local military commander had to shoot ten civilians for every one soldier killed (source).
Kennedy did not turn a blind eye to the oppressive nature of Batista’s regime. He understood that that United States had made no effort to aid the Cuban people. Instead, the U.S. policy consisted of bolstering Batista’s regime by supplying him with weapons. In an October 6, 1960 speech, he candidly stated that the U.S. had “refused to help Cuba meet its desperate need for economic progress. In 1953 the average Cuban family had an income of $6 a week. Fifteen to twenty percent of the labor force was chronically unemployed.” He added, “Only a third of the homes in the island even had running water, and in the years which preceded the Castro revolution this abysmal standard of living was driven still lower as population expansion out-distanced economic growth (source).”

Anti-Batista Protest

Although he had a more balanced view of Cuban politics than Nixon, Kennedy nonetheless acquiesced to a plan, developed during the preceding Eisenhower administration, to arm rebels in an effort to overthrow the Castro regime. The Cuba plan was a replay of an earlier, successful CIA operation in Guatemala that had been directed by Allen Dulles. The CIA had declared (falsely) that Guatemalan president Arbenz was a communist sympathizer and covertly hired several hundred mercenaries to conduct a coup d’état in that country. 

The role of Eisenhower in CIA operations abroad is a fascinating story in itself. Eisenhower did not agree with the CIA’s action – and particularly, disagreed with Operation Mockingbird, an ongoing strategy of applying propaganda and covert military actions in foreign nations to promote regime change and policies favorable to U.S. business interests. Apparently, however, Eisenhower had limited power to restrain the CIA. 

Dwight Eisenhower became concerned about CIA covert activities and in 1956 appointed David Bruce as a member of the President's Board of Consultants on Foreign Intelligence Activities (PBCFIA). Eisenhower asked Bruce to write a report on the CIA. It was presented to Eisenhower on 20th December, 1956. Bruce argued that the CIA's covert actions were “responsible in great measure for stirring up the turmoil and raising the doubts about us that exists in many countries in the world today.” Bruce was also highly critical of Mockingbird. He argued: “what right have we to go barging around in other countries buying newspapers and handling money to opposition parties or supporting a candidate for this, that, or the other office (source).”
Three days before leaving office, Eisenhower warned the American people: “We must never let the weight of this combination [between the military and private industrial interests] endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together (source).”

Eisenhower delivering the 'military industrial complex' speech.

Eisenhower was keenly aware of the fact that the private economic interests of the business community were short-sighted. These short-sighted goals would always be at odds with decisions that affect America’s long term political and economic stability. “As we peer into society's future, we -- you and I, and our government -- must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering, for our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow (source).”

When Dulles planned to act in Cuba, he met with,

the Vice President for Latin America of Standard Oil of New Jersey, the Chairman of the Cuban-American Sugar Company, the President of the American Sugar Domino Refining Company, the President of the American & Foreign Power Company, the Chairman of the Freeport Sulphur Company, and representatives from Texaco, International Telephone and Telegraph, and other American companies with business interests in Cuba. The tenor of the conversation was that it was time for the U.S. to get off dead center and take some direct action against Castro (source).
This indicates very clearly that Dulles was highly attentive to the needs of American business interests in Latin America. Of course, the linking of business interests and foreign policy was at that time nothing new. President McKinley waged the Spanish American War in 1898 on behalf of business interests and secured Cuba’s independence from Spain. During the 1960 campaign, Kennedy likened Nixon’s foreign policy to that of McKinley.

The plan of arming mercenaries did not succeed in Cuba as it had in Guatemala. Castro thwarted the attack, remained in power, and the United States was publicly called to account for this illegal action. Dulles had known that the plan was likely to fail, but incorrectly believed that Kennedy would order U.S. military intervention in Cuba in the event that the mercenaries failed. After the incident, Kennedy demanded that Dulles resign as director of the CIA (source). He also expressed the wish to “to splinter the CIA into a thousand pieces and scatter it to the winds (source).”

In September of 1963, the CIA had been following the activities of Lee Harvey Oswald. Tape recordings were made of Oswald’s phone calls. We do not know what the recordings contained because, hours after Oswald assassinated Kennedy, the tapes were destroyed by the CIA (source). Researchers also believe that still-sealed CIA records will show that Oswald was in contact with George Joannides, a CIA agent and deputy director of psychological warfare in Miami, a CIA agent whose job was to discredit pro-Castro movements, and apparently hired Oswald to infiltrate pro-Castro groups (source).

In November of 1963, the CIA assassinated South Vietnamese leader Ngo Dinh Diem. The corrupt tyrant, through his outrages, had been turning Vietnamese public opinion against the U.S. supported government and in favor of the communists. Kennedy had authorized the assassination, but was later shocked by the brutality with which it was carried out. 

On November 22, 1963, the day when Kennedy lost his life, the CIA was attempting to deliver a poisoned pen to Castro in the hope that he would use it (source). The agency was then, and is perhaps today, on a murder spree. 

The Warren Commission, which had been appointed to investigate the Kennedy assassination, was aware of the fact that the CIA had covered up its activities involving Oswald; moreover, CIA leadership falsely claimed that it had not been in contact with Oswald. However, this was never mentioned it in their report. And, it is worth noting, Allen Dulles was a member of that commission.
A second investigation was led by the United States Congress. The House Select Committee on Assassinations found that it was very likely that two gunmen had been involved in Kennedy’s assassination and that the CIA had withheld information regarding its involvement in Cuba from the Warren Commission (source). These are not the conclusions of tin-hat conspiracy theorists. These are the findings of the U.S. Congress. And when major news outlets such as the New York Times continue to this day to promulgate the story that Oswald acted alone, it is not fulfilling its responsibility to provide accurate reportage. 

The relationship between the CIA and the mainstream news outlets was another revelation that came from the investigations into the Kennedy assassination. Frank Church reported that, “In examining the CIA’s past and present use of the U.S. media, the Committee finds two reasons for concern. The first is the potential, inherent in covert media operations, for manipulating or incidentally misleading the American public. The second is the damage to the credibility and independence of a free press which may be caused by covert relationships with the U.S. journalists and media organizations (source).”

Let us remember John F. Kennedy for the speech he didn’t give. It was the speech he’d prepared for November 22. The text reads, in part:

Ignorance and misinformation can handicap the progress of a city or a company, but they can, if allowed to prevail in foreign policy, handicap this country's security. In a world of complex and continuing problems, in a world full of frustrations and irritations, America's leadership must be guided by the lights of learning and reason -- or else those who confuse rhetoric with reality and the plausible with the possible will gain the popular ascendancy with their seemingly swift and simple solutions to every world problem.
... The strength [of this nation] will never be used in pursuit of aggressive ambitions -- it will always be used in pursuit of peace. It will never be used to promote provocations -- it will always be used to promote the peaceful settlement of disputes.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Expect More or Settle for Less

The New Independent Whig has consistently spoken out against the mischievous notion that the American voter ought to be content with voting for the “lesser of two evils.” If the Founders had shared this view, they would have been content to wait patiently for British tyranny to mend itself, and the world would have never seen the bold experiment in democracy that is the United States of America.
Judas in 2016?

Instead of the slogan “accept the lesser of two evils,” we propose a different slogan: expect more or settle for less. This is to say, that if we as Americans do not have a minimum set of standards by which we judge the fitness of political leaders, our leaders will continually disappoint us, and the ghost of British tyranny will rise from its grave and crush our hard-won liberties. 

As it stands, the American people have remained complacent as corrupt political leaders have frittered away America’s economic prosperity, placed the interests of a small clique of bankers over the interests of the American people, thrown millions into lasting unemployment, rendered uncertain our earnest efforts to provide for our own retirement, and gutted the Bill of Rights. The American people have been rendered unknowing, fearful, and servile. Rather than demand a seat at the table, the American people are content to feast on the scraps that have been left behind.

The New Independent Whig proposes the following as minimum standards by which politicians ought to be judged, before we consent to vote for them. These standards reflect the beliefs shared by a substantial majority of Americans, based on the results of opinion polls. The list is by no means exhaustive, but it is a modest beginning.

Public Financing of Elections

The majority of Americans are unhappy with the Citizens United decision, which has opened the floodgates for nearly unlimited campaign contributions by private interests. Contributions by anonymous private interests have increased by 384% since Citizens United was decided. Opposition to this travesty of law runs 4 to 1 (source). The only decisive response to this frontal assault on democracy is to enact laws requiring that elections be publicly financed (source, source, source). By “public financing” we mean the absolute prohibition of campaign contributions by private interests, in favor of a means of financing elections using public funds. 

Public financing restores the meaning of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution which holds that every American is entitled to equal protection under the law. Under the current regime, monied interests are allowed to choose the candidates who rise to national prominence, and the voter is forced to choose among candidates that have been hand-picked by these monied interests.

As it stands, 

The cost of running campaigns for elected office is skyrocketing. The average winning U.S. Senate race in 2006 cost nearly $10 million and the average winning House race that year cost $1.3 million. The decisions about who runs and who wins in our democracy increasingly come down to big money and special interests, not regular voters.

With the corrupting role that big money has on politics brought to light in recent Congressional scandals – and the regular passage of pork-barrel spending projects – the need for reform is increasingly clear. Special interests and wealthy donors have an inordinate amount of influence on politicians through campaign contributions, which undermines voters’ trust in how Congress works and can lead to manipulation of public policy – often against the interests of the public (source).

Strict Enforcement of the RICO Act

The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act authorizes criminal penalties against any organization that exists in order to facilitate violation of certain state and federal laws. Once the public financing of elections has become the law of the land, RICO enforcement can be applied to political parties that accept bribes and campaign contributions from private interests. Other laws covered under the RICO Act are bank fraud, slavery, and peonage.

Bank Fraud

Bank Fraud and its penalties are as follows: “Whoever knowingly executes, or attempts to execute, a scheme or artifice— (1) to defraud a financial institution; or (2) to obtain any of the moneys, funds, credits, assets, securities, or other property owned by, or under the custody or control of, a financial institution, by means of false or fraudulent pretenses, representations, or promises; shall be fined not more than $1,000,000 or imprisoned not more than 30 years, or both (source).”
Nov 12 (Reuters) - The federal judge who oversaw the recent civil fraud trial against Bank of America Corp. criticized the U.S. Department of Justice on Tuesday for failing to prosecute high-level executives over the financial crisis.
U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff of Manhattan said while companies have been prosecuted for causing the 2007-2009 financial meltdown, Wall Street executives have escaped justice.
“The failure of the government to bring to justice those responsible for such a massive fraud speaks greatly to weaknesses in our prosecutorial system that need to be addressed,” Rakoff said (source).
Bank of America is guilty of defrauding Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac because its employees knowingly sold shoddy mortgage products these agencies. Judge Rakoff implores that future prosecutions shift from fining incorporations and instead imprison individual employees from the top levels of corrupt corporations. 

Slavery and Peonage
Slavery (forced and uncompensated labor) is expressly prohibited under the 13th Amendment of the United States Constitution. Constitutional protections apply first and foremost to citizens and residents of the United States. So there is some question of whether multinational corporations that facilitate slavery overseas are in violation of the Constitution. This issue is addressed in an article by Tobias Wolff in the Columbia Law Review

Wolff, a legal scholar, asserts that the 13th Amendment “forbids the deliberate incorporation of slave labor into American industry” and that the “knowing use of slave labor by U.S. based entities in their foreign operations constitutes the presence of 'slavery' within the United States.” 

He supports this assertion by reviewing the case law. He notes that the 13th Amendment prohibits an American from owning a slave, and that the 13th amendment prohibits U.S. entities from engaging in the business of supporting slavery, even in foreign jurisdictions. Ergo, American corporations operating overseas must not give direct or indirect support to the practice of slavery. And, by extension, the American worker must not be forced to compete for wages against slave laborers. 

Our editorial position is that Mr. Wolff’s assessment is correct, and that organizations are liable under the RICO Act if they facilitate the practice of slavery anywhere in the world. Countries with a high prevalence of slave labor include Mauritania, Haiti, Pakistan, and India. China has the most slaves of any nation on earth, with an estimated 14 million people in bondage (source). 

Mr. Wolff’s assessment also applies to peonage. According to existing federal law, “Whoever holds or returns any person to a condition of peonage ... shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both.” If a worker dies as a result of his or her peonage, the criminal penalties increase accordingly (source). 

Peonage is defined as “a condition of enforced servitude by which the servitor is compelled to labor against his will in liquidation of some debt or obligation, either real or pretended.” United States corporations that do business in China are, in numerous instances, employing workers who are, according to the standards of U.S. federal law, peons (source).


In this post, we have highlighted certain principles which, we believe, can be endorsed by a majority of Americans regardless of his or her political party loyalties. The 2016 presidential election campaign is not far off, and we beg the reader to reject any candidate who does not support the public financing of elections, and who does not support the enforcement of existing laws concerning bank fraud, slavery, and peonage. The New Independent Whig is not supported by advertising but by a passion for democracy. Please share this article with friends.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

On the Wisdom and Folly of Libertarian Philosophy

The phrase positional ideology refers to any set of beliefs that is shaped by opposition to some other set of beliefs. In the United States, and much to the detriment of meaningful and productive political discourse, mainstream political thinking is determined by simple binary oppositions:

Big Government vs. Small Government
Nationalism vs. Internationalism
Free Markets vs. Regulated Markets
Urban Values vs. Rural Values

Liberals are inclined to believe that the government is valuable in defending the people against the predations of large corporations. As such, even when they see the government moving against the people, they believe that the solution consists of expanding government. They passionately support men such as Barack Obama. Because he is of humble origins, says the right words, and belongs to the Democratic Party, liberals see a champion of the people where there is nothing but a Wall Street golem.

Conservatives view successful businesses as edifying examples of the opportunities available to a self-made man in a free-market economy. Thus, they laud people like Steve Jobs and Sam Walton, who were born into modest circumstances and became wealthy. Even when these self-made men poison government with campaign bribes and ship American jobs overseas, conservatives admire and vote for their ilk. The most recent example is Mitt Romney, a child of inherited wealth and vulture capitalist. Conservatives believe that success in business (no matter how venal and anti-democratic the business) is a qualification for public office. 

The Wisdom of the Libertarians

Many libertarians or “free-market populists” wish to “smash the alliance of K Street, Wall Street, and Pennsylvania Avenue” and to “end the incestuous relationship between big government and big business.” They wish to “close the revolving door and tear down the political privileges that accrue to the wealthy and powerful (source).” Many libertarians (source) understand the perils of imperialism, crony capitalism, and the practice deceptively referred to as “free trade.”

The Folly of the Libertarians

Although some libertarians are aptly described as free-market populists, some libertarians fall onto the far right end of the political spectrum. Their brains have been addled by exposure to the grotesque views of Ayn Rand. Until they distance themselves from her crypto-fascist ideology, they will remain alienated from conservatives and liberals alike who might otherwise find common cause with them. 

Who is John Galt?
And libertarians on the far left likewise recuse themselves from an honest, respectful, and constructive discussion of political reform by espousing the views of Noam Chomsky. Chomsky is constrained by the sacrosanct premises of his own political philosophy and can see no good in the American political system, even if it means sympathizing with the perpetrators of 9-11. This brings to mind an apocryphal story about Karl Marx, in which the communist philosopher opined that the best way to deal with petit-bourgeois intellectuals is by beating them with a stick.

Redeeming Libertarian Wisdom

According to Rand’s philosophy, human beings are either producers or parasites. According to Chomsky’s equally cynical philosophy, human beings are either victimizers or victims. The sources of this either/or thinking are not mysterious. Worries about the future and a sense of grievance, when inflamed by anxiety, hostility and egoism, will excite the reptilian mind and cause human beings to think in terms of “us versus them.” But politics ought to be pragmatic, and as satisfying as it is to create villains or assign blame, these are backward-looking pursuits. What is needed is a political philosophy that unites rather than divides. 

Mohandas Gandhi has left us with a unifying political philosophy that is as relevant today as it was in his day. Gandhi lived in India at a time when it was under British colonial rule. India was a de facto oligarchy in which a wealthy few subjugated millions of hard-working men and women with the sole aim of swelling their already vast riches. The people of India were forbidden to produce salt for their own consumption, and the only legal means of coming by salt was to purchase the item from the British, and pay the British tax on salt. 

In one of his early acts of peaceful rebellion, Gandhi marched with a small band of followers for over 200 miles to the sea, where he and his followers would make their own salt. Stopping along the way to speak at small villages, the number of people who followed him on his march swelled into the thousands. Satyagraha – mass civil disobedience – became one of his signature achievements.

A second powerful idea of Gandhi’s was Swadeshi.  “The word Swadeshi derives from Sanskrit and is a conjunction of two Sanskrit words. Swa means 'self' or 'own' and Desh means 'country,' so Swadesh would be 'own country', and Swadeshi, the adjectival form, would mean 'of one’s own country,' but could be loosely translated ... as 'self-sufficiency (source).'” It is a concept not so far removed from what is meant by patriotism.

Swadeshi is that spirit in us which restricts us to the use and service of our immediate surroundings to the exclusion of the more remote. Thus ... In the domain of politics I should make use of the indigenous institutions and serve them by curing them of their proved defects. In that of economics I should use only things that are produced by my immediate neighbours and serve those industries by making them efficient and complete where they might be found wanting.”
As applied to the American political order, Swadeshi implies reverence for the United States Constitution, coupled with the desire to improve and revitalize it. As applied to the American economic situation, Swadeshi implies that American consumers ought to be judicious in their purchasing decisions, and where possible, ensure that the money spent supports the livelihoods of their neighbors. 

The reader may recognize a seeming resemblance between the idea of Swadeshi and contemporary “green consumerism” or “localism.” However, the resemblance is only superficial. Items such as garlic that used to be grown in the United States are now sourced from China, thanks to United Natural Foods Incorporated, a multinational distributor whose clients include Whole Foods (source). Whole Foods’ CEO, John Mackey, is known for espousing Randian crypto-fascism, being complicit in forced labor and child labor (source), and for making the claim that global warming is actually a good thing (source). But I digress.

Swadeshi also addresses the role of intellectuals in the political life of a country. According to this principle, it is not enough for intellectuals to take a stand about localism or green consumerism. It is not enough for intellectuals to dig a little deeper and reveal frauds such as Whole Foods. What is required is that intellectuals look inward, and recognize their own elitism, and learn how to talk to ordinary Americans. In the following quote, Gandhi reflected on his British education and his struggle to speak to ordinary people in a way that is compelling to them:

We have laboured under a terrible handicap owing to an almost fatal departure from the Swadeshi spirit. We, the educated classes, have received our education through a foreign tongue. We have, therefore, not reacted upon the masses. We want to represent the masses, but we fail. They recognize us not much more than they recognize the English officers. Their hearts are an open book to neither. Their aspirations are not ours. Hence there is a break. And you witness not, in reality, failure to organize but want of correspondence between the representatives and the represented (source).
Gandhi unquestionably overcame this perceived handicap, but would not have done so if he hadn’t recognized and grappled with the issue. To aspire to Swadeshi, one must practice self-criticism, humility and a willingness to respect and listen to people whose educational attainment, values, and life experiences differ from one’s own. The intellectual who espouses the principle of Swadeshi accepts that it is his or her responsibility to represent the people. This means that one must not hector the people, mock their naiveté, or view them as adversaries.