All posts by natyliesb

Postcard from Krasnodar

Thoroughfare for pedestrians in downtown Krasnodar

Thoroughfare for pedestrians in downtown Krasnodar

I have to say that Krasnodar really blew me away since there was such a gap between my expectations and what I actually encountered there. I expected a sleepy agricultural town in the Black Sea region; however, what I saw was a vibrant city with some very civic-minded people taking the initiative to resolve problems in their communities and get local government to be responsive to the needs and desires of the residents.

 

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Yalta, Then and Now

From commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Churchill_and_Roosevelt_Yalta.jpg: File:Churchill and Roosevelt Yalta.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
File:Churchill and Roosevelt Yalta.jpg – Wikimedia Commons
(image by commons.wikimedia.org) License DMCA

The small airport at Simferopol had already been renovated as everything was clean and freshly painted. We made our way out into the night, which wasn’t the plan. Our original flight had been cancelled so we had to wait for another flight and got in five hours later than expected.

The overpowering stench of old cigarette smoke nearly suffocated me when we got into the taxi — a major contrast to Moscow where, as a result of the government’s anti-smoking campaign of the last few years, there weren’t that many smokers and those who were around had to do the deed outside.

As I rolled down the window for some relief, Sharon exchanged pleasantries with our driver — where we were from, etc. I asked her to ask him in Russian what he thought of Crimea’s reunification with Russia. He summed up, in broken English, what many people I talked to over the next couple of days would say: “Historically and ethnically, we are Russian, so it’s better to be with Russia than Ukraine.” But he also acknowledged that there were still plenty of problems that needed to be addressed and that it would take time; but under the leadership of Russia, they now had hope.

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Postcard from Moscow

St. Basil's Cathedral, Red Square, Moscow
St. Basil’s Cathedral, Red Square, Moscow; photo by Natylie S. Baldwin
My travel mate, who has been going in and out of Russia since the Soviet days in 1983 and lives part-time in St. Petersburg, commented how the taxi lane outside of the main airport in Moscow had in previous years been madness, with a glut of unofficial taxi drivers mixed in with the official ones.  Competition over potential customers would sometimes result in fistfights.
However, there was no sign of such anarchy when we rolled our luggage out into a surprisingly bright sunny day after spending approximately 15 hours crammed onto three airplanes.  Only official taxi drivers were seen dotting the lane as regulation of the business has now kicked in.  Our driver deftly wheeled us around the city to our hotel — and I say deftly because it looked like driving in Moscow would be pretty stressful.
A good stretch of highway near the airport had road signs in English beneath the Russian.  We made our way past a combination of new, colorful high-rise apartment buildings, dreary square apartments from the late Soviet era, and modern Russian commercial outlets.  One couldn’t go far without seeing a good number of western and Japanese companies as well:  BMW, Mercedes, Toyota, McDonald’s, Levi’s, Michelin, and TGIFridays.
Parks and greenbelts could be seen throughout the city.  At one point, we passed a lovely blue pedestrian bridge.  I began to notice the mix of old blue and white buses that ran with cables attached and those that looked very much like modern buses one would see in the San Francisco Bay Area; only the image of the distinctive onion dome cathedrals painted on the side would remind you that you are in Russia.  Most of the vehicles on the road were German or Japanese with a smattering of Lada’s here and there.  As a first-time visitor, I was struck by the fact that, in many ways, this large bustling city looked like any major American metropolis.
One amusing distinction was the street-sweeping trucks that mingled with the regular traffic, spraying blasts of water onto the roads as they went.  Other motorists could get a free partial car wash during their commute.
The streets are clean but the smell of gasoline was pungent in the air.  Evidence of ongoing road and building improvements was visible everywhere in the form of workers, their affiliated machinery and scaffolds.
On our second day, we toured Red Square and saw the onion-domed cathedrals in their glory of gold and pastel colors.  The enchanting hues of St. Basil’s Cathedral evoked the surreal feeling that I had been deposited into the middle of a children’s story book.
We also passed by the squat building below the Kremlin Wall that contains Lenin’s Tomb where people can view the Bolshevik leader’s embalmed remains — a preservation process that was so sophisticated it is said that he appears to simply be sleeping.  It wasn’t open on the day we were there, however.
On the other side of the square is the world-famous GUM shopping complex.  We stopped at an outdoor restaurant and had coffee before meeting up with a Russian executive who works for a major American corporation in Moscow.  (I’ll be writing more about that later).
GUM Shopping Complex, Red Square, Moscow; photo by Natylie S. Baldwin
GUM Shopping Complex, Red Square, Moscow; photo by Natylie S. Baldwin
Getting to Red Square and back from our hotel prompted us to take the Metro, which puts the BART system in the San Francisco Bay Area to shame in terms of interior design.  I was inside three stations and all were designed somewhat differently, but all of them had features of classical beauty, such as Roman arches, chandelier lighting, and lovely tiling on the walls.
Across the street from our hotel is the Soviet Exhibition of Economic Achievements, a major Stalin-era project that consists of elements of beauty, kitsch and creepiness all at once.  There are large ponderous buildings in what some describe as a Neo-Babylonian style, replicas of rockets and airplanes, and a carnival ferris wheel that is brilliantly lit up and turns at night.  Next to that is the Gagarin Monument, honoring the first Russian cosmonaut in space, Yuri Gagarin.  Further down in the opposite direction is the monument honoring the Soviet workers — a man and woman side by side, reaching up and out in triumph.  And in front of the hotel is a statue of Charles DeGaul, the independent French leader who eschewed NATO membership and called for a Europe stretching from Lisbon to Vladivistok (in Eastern Russia).
Monument to the Soviet Worker, Moscow, Russia;  photo by Natylie S. Baldwin
Monument to the Soviet Worker, Moscow, Russia; photo by Natylie S. Baldwin
I was sad to leave Moscow but looked forward to the next stops on our itinerary:  Simferopol and Yalta in Crimea.

 

Citizen to Citizen Diplomacy in Russia: Americans Interview Andrei Kortunov

Moscow July, 2011 - Wikipedia
Moscow July, 2011 – Wikipedia
Note: As part of the citizen-to-citizen diplomacy group, consisting of 20 Americans and led by CCI’s Sharon Tennison, that traveled to Russia in June of this year, a discussion was conducted with Andrei Kortunov, Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) and President of the New Eurasia Foundation (FNE). Below, Sharon provides an introduction to the interview, which can be viewed at the link that follows.
-Natylie

On June 2, 2015 we 20 American travelers split into groups of four and traveled by metros or taxis with student guides to different parts of Moscow. Our videographer Mel Van Dusen, Merlin Miller, organizer of a new political party from Tennessee, Charles Heberle, retired military who worked at the Pentagon and NATO and I went to see an old acquaintance with whom I’d kept up for over 30 years.

Back in 1984 a group of us got an appointment to Moscow’s U.S.-Canada Institute, a quite prestigious ‘think tank’ that was considered the most liberal in the Soviet Union. To our surprise a quite young, blonde-haired young man introduced himself as Andrei Kortunov. He was decades younger than others in this prestigious institute. Obviously bright and comfortable in his position, he seemed warmly predisposed to all things American unlike others we had met. Andrei was interested in getting to discuss issues off and on with citizen diplomats from the U.S. During the Gorbachev and Yeltsin years I watched his career take him to positions of responsibility wherein he remained the same logical, open, helpful personality he exhibited from the beginning.

Today Andrei is the Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) and the President of the New Eurasia Foundation (FNE). He is still as down to earth, modest and as hesitant-to-be-sharp as was the fair-haired young man we met at around age 20. One thing noted this time, he seems weary now from dealing with the heavy issues of his position—-yet is as always the consummate gentleman. Mel pushed him with questions that finally brought out his feelings on a number of issues related to the US-Russia relationship.

Come along with us and meet Andrei. Opening scenes include the recently built pedestrian walkway over structures in downtown Moscow. We finally arrived at the new building that houses RIAC. Upon entering we passed through a gallery of magnificent paintings of 19th century Russian leaders. The environment was quite classical. Further into the building we navigated rooms of books, publications, researchers and on into Andrei’s office. This video segment was over an hour and was edited down to 13 minutes.

We hope this brief clip gives you insight into the thinking of most Russians in Andrei’s age group today. He is now somewhere around 50 years old.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YAItu-Lpf3Qa

 

Citizen to Citizen Diplomacy Trip to Russia: Video of Red Square

 

Red Square, Moscow By Stavanen, Flickr
Note: In June of this year, Sharon Tennison, founder of The Center for Citizen Initiatives (CCI), took a group of approximately 20 Americans on a citizen-to-citizen diplomacy tour of Russia. Sharon provides an introduction to the 13-minute video of the high points of the group’s tour from Moscow airport to Red Square.
-Natylie

 

This first Youtube shows Moscow where we landed. It spans our first nine actual hours on ground, during which over two hours of video was shot––and the footage has been reduced to this 13-minute impression of Russia’s largest city.  Mel Van Dusen, our pro bono videographer, was seeing Russia for the first time.  He is the editor and voiceover for the series (with a little assistance from me). In addition he spent two months (pro bono) sifting through 60 hours of footage to provide a glimpse into today’s Russia.

In the video Mel’s refers to our “bus” and our “guides,” but they aren’t official buses with guides.  A Moscow friend of many years, Olga Gorbik, hired a private bus to get us and our luggage from the airport into the city. Olga is not a guide but did share knowledge of her home city on the way to the hotel. Upon arrival, another Russian friend of 30 years, Galina Nicolopolis (married a Greek years ago), met us and assisted me to get the group to simultaneous meetings across Moscow thereafter.  She too has never been a guide but was a terrific helper. Then I knew of students who also assisted us while in Moscow. Our group traveled “off the grid” so to speak, with Russian friends and CCI alums helping us experience their cities and meet local people.

There is no voice-over for Red Square so I will give you a few pointers.

After landing and going through Moscow on metro, we are seen walking up toward Red Square where a “look alike” for President Putin tried to entice us to take a photo, then into the massive Square. In past decades, there were ominous parades of gigantic missiles, tanks, military forces and armaments of all types which we saw on American TV. When I first visited Red Square in 1983 it was formidable. There were narrow designated areas where we could walk, we needed permission to take a photo––the area seemed immense and somber. Times have changed! Paul McCartney and numerous rock groups have since held concerts in this very spot.  Today it’s Moscow’s central square, clowns show up, elderly protesters wave signs and banners, bicyclists carefully maneuver the cobblestones. There were no policemen or security to be seen.  I noted that there were very few foreigners compared to previous years––this footage shows ordinary Russian youth and parents milling around with their children.

Entering the Square note on the left, the lovely Russian Orthodox Church, the Kazan Cathedral.  Stalin ordered this church destroyed in 1936––a communist building was put in its place.  In the 1990s shortly after the fall of communism, the Cathedral was precisely rebuilt using its original architectural plans and the same hues of a pale pinkish/orange and green.

On the left still and next to Kazan Cathedral, is the huge GUM shopping center. In 1983 it was a massive run-down structure which sold women’s corsets, galoshes, sink stoppers, etc.  Today GUM has captured high-end trade from over the  world and sells costly fur coats, designer clothing, jewels and watches. Oligarchs and business magnates who come and go through the capital city stop here for their luxuries.

Mel’s camera swings to the right to capture the thousand-year-old Kremlin Wall––the first walls and guard towers were built in 1156. With time, it has become this perfectly kept huge circular wall with numerous entrances, clocks and bell towers.  Behind the red brick, one sees the yellow official buildings of the Russian government, the seat of power.  There are two major churches within the walls, the Assumption and the Annunciation Cathedrals. Fabulous art work can be seen therein.

Next Mel catches St Basil’s Cathedral in the far end of Red Square, then moves to the right to Lenin’s Tomb ( some construction going on in front of it).  This low, squat building was erected by Stalin and is quite different from the architecture of other buildings––and yes, Lenin’s body is still in residence. They keep debating what to do with it, but so far it remains.

Then we see the majestic St. Basils up close showing the remarkable design and craftsmanship of this world famous church which holds services only once a year––but it stands daily as a reminder of the elegance of Russian artistry and the role of orthodoxy across Russia.

Lastly, outside Red Square, a spacious white pavilion area has been recently built with eateries tucked away in various corners — we enjoyed a great dinner before catching the metro and getting back at our hotel to crash. Three decades ago, I could have never imagined that Moscow and Red Square would have transformed into this casual and fun environment.

9/11/06: Russia Dedicates Memorial to 9/11 Victims

To the Struggle Against World Terrorism: A Monument Created by Zurab Tsereteli

Teardrop Memorial
(Sculptor, Zurab Tsereteli)   DMCA

I wonder how many Americans know about the monument that was created by a renowned Russian sculptor, Zurab Tsereteli, and dedicated as a gift in 2006 by the Russian government in honor of the victims of 9/11. The mainstream western media does not seem to have provided much coverage of the event, if any at all.

Tsereteli’s inspiration for creating the memorial is described as follows:

The artist, Zurab Tsereteli, was in his home in Moscow on the morning of September 11th. The television was on as he was getting ready for work and Zurab, like the rest of the world, was glued to coverage of the attacks on the Twin Towers. He watched the towers collapse on TV and was moved to tears.

That day, he went to work at the Academy of Art driving on a route that takes him past the American Embassy. People were gathered outside the embassy gates to pay sympathies, to be together, and to mourn. He saw a mass of crying people and decided to use the image of a tear in a memorial.

He set to work that day on a proper and appropriate form through which to express his feelings over the attack. He went through many various sketches and ‘forms’ (all of which are chronicled in the yellow book) until finally deciding on the current monument’s form.

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“Deal or War”: Is Doomed Dollar Really Behind Obama’s Iran Warning?

By Finian Cunningham

What could really be behind Obama’s dire warning of “deal or war” is another scenario — the collapse of the US dollar, and with that the implosion of the US economy. Speaking in New York on August 11, US Secretary of State John Kerry made the candid admission that failure to seal the nuclear deal could result in the US dollar losing its status as the top international reserve currency.

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Reprinted from RT

From youtube.com/watch?v=QCEops-pybI: Austria: Iran nuclear talks in Vienna
US President Barack Obama has given an extraordinary ultimatum to the Republican-controlled Congress, arguing that they must not block the nuclear accord with Iran. It’s either “deal or war,” he says.

In a televised nationwide address on August 5, Obama said: “Congressional rejection of this deal leaves any US administration that is absolutely committed to preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon with one option: another war in the Middle East. I say this not to be provocative. I am stating a fact.”

The American Congress is due to vote on whether to accept the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action signed July 14 between Iran and the P5+1 group of world powers — the US, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China. Republicans are openly vowing to reject the JCPOA, along with hawkish Democrats such as Senator Chuck Schumer. Opposition within the Congress may even be enough to override a presidential veto to push through the nuclear accord.

In his drastic prediction of war, one might assume that Obama is referring to Israel launching a preemptive military strike on Iran with the backing of US Republicans. Or that he is insinuating that Iran will walk from self-imposed restraints on its nuclear program to build a bomb, thus triggering a war.

But what could really be behind Obama’s dire warning of “deal or war” is another scenario — the collapse of the US dollar, and with that the implosion of the US economy.

That scenario was hinted at this week by US Secretary of State John Kerry. Speaking in New York on August 11, Kerry made the candid admission that failure to seal the nuclear deal could result in the US dollar losing its status as the top international reserve currency.

“If we turn around and nix the deal and then tell [US allies], ‘You’re going to have to obey our rules and sanctions anyway,’ that is a recipe, very quickly for the American dollar to cease to be the reserve currency of the world.”

In other words, what really concerns the Obama administration is that the sanctions regime it has crafted on Iran — and has compelled other nations to abide by over the past decade — will be finished. And Iran will be open for business with the European Union, as well as China and Russia.

It is significant that within days of signing the Geneva accord, Germany, France, Italy and other EU governments hastened to Tehran to begin lining up lucrative investment opportunities in Iran’s prodigious oil and gas industries. China and Russia are equally well-placed and more than willing to resume trading partnerships with Iran. Russia has signed major deals to expand Iran’s nuclear energy industry.

American writer Paul Craig Roberts said that the US-led sanctions on Iran and also against Russia have generated a lot of frustration and resentment among Washington’s European allies.

“US sanctions against Iran and Russia have cost businesses in other countries a lot of money,” Roberts told this author.

“Propaganda about the Iranian nuke threat and Russian threat is what caused other countries to cooperate with the sanctions. If a deal worked out over much time by the US, Russia, China, UK, France and Germany is blocked, other countries are likely to cease cooperating with US sanctions.”

Roberts added that if Washington were to scuttle the nuclear accord with Iran, and then demand a return to the erstwhile sanctions regime, the other international players will repudiate the American diktat.

“At that point, I think much of the world would have had enough of the US use of the international payments system to dictate to others, and they would cease transacting in dollars.”

The US dollar would henceforth lose its status as the key global reserve currency for the conduct of international trade and financial transactions.

Former World Bank analyst Peter Koenig says that if the nuclear accord unravels, Iran will be free to trade its oil and gas — worth trillions of dollars — in bilateral currency deals with the EU, Japan, India, South Korea, China and Russia, in much the same way that China and Russia and other members of the BRICS nations have already begun to do so.

That outcome will further undermine the US dollar. It will gradually become redundant as a mechanism of international payment.

From flickr.com/photos/68751915@N05/6355318323/: US Dollars

Koenig argues that this implicit threat to the dollar is the real, unspoken cause for anxiety in Washington. The long-running dispute with Iran, he contends, was never about alleged weapons of mass destruction. Rather, the real motive was for Washington to preserve the dollar’s unique global standing.

“The US-led standoff with Iran has nothing to do with nuclear weapons,” says Koenig. The issue is: will Iran eventually sell its huge reserves of hydrocarbons in other currencies than the dollar, as they intended to do in 2007 with an Iranian Oil Bourse? That is what instigated the American-contrived fake nuclear issue in the first place.”

This is not just about Iran. It is about other major world economies moving away from holding the US dollar as a means of doing business. If the US unilaterally scuppers the international nuclear accord, Washington will no longer be able to enforce its financial hegemony, which the sanctions regime on Iran has underpinned.

Many analysts have long wondered at how the US dollar has managed to defy economic laws, given that its preeminence as the world’s reserve currency is no longer merited by the fundamentals of the US economy. Massive indebtedness, chronic unemployment, loss of manufacturing base, trade and budget deficits are just some of the key markers, despite official claims of “recovery.”

As Paul Craig Roberts commented, the dollar’s value has only been maintained because up to now the rest of the world needs the greenback to do business with. That dependency has allowed the US Federal Reserve to keep printing banknotes in quantities that are in no way commensurate with the American economy’s decrepit condition.

“If the dollar lost the reserve currency status, US power would decline,” says Roberts. “Washington’s financial hegemony, such as the ability to impose sanctions, would vanish, and Washington would no longer be able to pay its bills by printing money. Moreover, the loss of reserve currency status would mean a drop in the demand for dollars and a drop in willingness to hold them. Therefore, the dollar’s exchange value would fall, and rising prices of imports would import inflation into the US economy.”

Doug Casey, a top American investment analyst, last week warned that the woeful state of the US economy means that the dollar is teetering on the brink of a long-overdue crash. “You’re going to see very high levels of inflation. It’s going to be quite catastrophic,” says Casey.

He added that the crash will also presage a collapse in the American banking system which is carrying trillions of dollars of toxic debt derivatives, at levels much greater than when the system crashed in 2007-08.

The picture he painted isn’t pretty: “Now, when interest rates inevitably go up from these artificially suppressed levels where they are now, the bond market is going to collapse, the stock market is going to collapse, and with it, the real estate market is going to collapse. Pension funds are going to be wiped out” This is a very bad situation. The US is digging itself in deeper and deeper,” said Casey, who added the telling question:“Then what’s going to happen?”

President Obama’s grim warning of “deal or war” seems to provide an answer. Faced with economic implosion on an epic scale, the US may be counting on war as its other option.

Submitters Bio:

Author and journalist. Finian Cunningham has written extensively on international affairs, with articles published in several languages. He is a Master’s graduate in Agricultural Chemistry and worked as a scientific editor for the Royal Society of Chemistry, Cambridge, England, before pursuing a career in newspaper journalism. He is also a musician and songwriter. For nearly 20 years, he worked as an editor and writer in major news media organisations, including The Mirror, Irish Times and Independent.

 

From OpEd News

The Case for Enlightened Isolationism

From flickr.com/photos/38908037@N02/6851720302/: Chicago Anti-War Protest

Isolationism rests on the assumption that no region of the world outside of the Western Hemisphere is of vital strategic importance to the United States. Isolationists do not argue that America has no interests in the wider world, just that they are not important enough to justify deploying military force to defend them. They are fully in favor of engaging with the rest of the world economically as well as diplomatically, but they view all foreign wars as unnecessary.
-John Mearsheimer, from America Unhinged

Although renowned political scientist John Mearsheimer does not consider himself to be an isolationist – a term which has acquired a negative connotation since WWII – his definition is illuminating as much for clarifying what the term does not mean as for what it does.  As Mearsheimer makes plain, isolationism does not constitute a lack of constructive engagement with the outside world, but a judicious engagement that eschews military action outside of defending the homeland.

At a time when Washington is experiencing the hubris of imperial overreach and the prospect of the eventual collapse that history shows is the inevitable endgame of all empires, it is time for concerned Americans across the political spectrum to begin to seriously consider what a new paradigm and policy platform representing sanity might look like.

It is in the US’s long term interests (as well as the rest of the world’s) to have stability.  The bare minimum for stability is a lack of war.  As science writer John Horgan concluded in his book The End of War in which he undertook a scientific analysis of war via the study of history, anthropology, psychology and sociology, the old adage about justice being a prerequisite for peace is wrong.  It is peace that is necessary for justice to take root.  The violent, chaotic and wasteful conditions of modern war are not conducive to the pursuit of justice or human development.

Most Americans do not share the Neoliberal, Neoconservative, or Responsibility to Protect club’s messianic vision of an America that needs to recreate the world to fit some bastardized idea of  imperial “democracy” that requires a Year Zero program to destroy the social, cultural and political foundations of target countries (see Iraq, Libya, and Syria).

The restoration of our democratic republic and the revitalization of our economy and society are intimately connected to pulling out of the militarist/imperialist projects that are killing our country, along with the casualties it is responsible for around the world.

It has been recently estimated by physician’s groups that deaths in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan from the US War on Terror (USWOT) are 1.3 million at the conservative end.

The predictable blowback from friends and family members of those decapitated and blown apart by drone strikes and indiscriminate bombings, as well as shootings by soldiers whose psyches have been warped by immersion in the hellhole of counter-insurgency wars that are unwinnable, should give all Americans serious pause in terms of rational problem-solving toward the goal of increasing the conditions for peace and stability.

The casualties from the physicians’ groups does not even count the thousands dead in the Libyan civil war, precipitated by the US/NATO toppling of the Qadaffi government – a stable, secular government that had attained the highest standard of living in all of Africa – or our attempts to similarly support nihilistic jihadists who want to topple the Assad regime in Syria and the killing frenzy that has resulted in that country.

Other historians and political scientists, going further back in the American Empire’s reign, have estimated 20 – 30 million people have perished as a result of Washington’s covert operations and overt military interventions that have occurred almost continuously since 1945.

Take a moment to let that really sink in.  Each of those 20 to 30 million was a living, breathing person who – like you and me – had hopes, dreams, fears and other people who loved them.

With this track record, is it any wonder that the world views the US as the biggest threat to world peace by a wide margin?

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State Capitalism on Behalf of Militarism

From flickr.com/photos/79854445@N06/13892793691/: Boeing Wake of Destruction

 

There is much debate on what the nature of the Soviet Union’s economy actually was.  It is agreed by many that it wasn’t in reality a true socialist or even a communist system.  Some, like Seymour Melman and Jack Matlock, argue that it was something closer to a state run capitalist system with a vanguard political party controlling it.

 

What is hard to argue with is the fact that what constituted a huge part of the Soviet economy in terms of input of resources – and, ironically, what it has had in common with the U.S. economy – was a sprawling and wasteful military-industrial complex guaranteed by the state to enable an arms race.

 

The Military-Industrial Complex in the United States

 

In 1864, President Lincoln expressed profound concern over the rise of corporations resulting from the Civil War and what it portended for the political and economic future of the country.

 

Advancement in industrialization led to more mechanized and phenomenally more destructive warfare in the 20th century, with the outcomes increasingly dependent upon material production and technology.

 

In World War I, military officers still played a critical role in the decisions to wage war which were based on previous strategies that were soon rendered outmoded due to a lack of technological expertise and inability to manage the more complicated industrial economics crucial to sustaining modern warfare.  Thus, for expediency, government allowed responsibility for the war economy to be transferred from the Army to private industrialists who controlled the terms of war organization and procurement through the War Industries Board (WIB), a body comprised primarily of corporate executives and bankers.

 

Once this arrangement was established it was difficult to put the proverbial genie back in the bottle.  Many of the major anti-competitive trusts running the war economy through the WIB had long desired a relationship with the state that would facilitate public subsidy of their interests.  The war effort had proven a convenient means to this end.

 

Between 1918 and 1941, formal patronage was fostered between the War Department and Big Business for the first time outside the context of an actual war.  Drawing on the WIB model, the War Production Board instituted favorable tax and profit standards for major industrialists who again dictated policies within their own economic sectors during World War II, usurping substantial decision-making from state actors.

 

Since 1945, the power, reach and ambition of multinational corporations have expanded, including encroachment into areas traditionally considered part of the public interest and outside of its domain.

 

More sophisticated, diversified and structured than historical mercenaries, Private Military Firms (PMF’s) have proliferated since the collapse of the Cold War.  These companies have participated in conflicts from the civil war in Sierra Leone to the Balkans conflict.  They played an increasing role in the Iraq war, with Blackwater (now Academi) being the most controversial with the September 2007 killing of 17 civilians and the wounding of 20 more in Nisour Square in Baghdad.  Just prior to those killings, a high level manager of the company reportedly issued a death threat to a State Department official who was in Iraq investigating the company’s practices.

 

A 2014 report issued by Remote Control Project in Britain found that the US Special Operations Command is outsourcing sensitive activities like flying drones, target acquisition oversight, communications, prisoner interrogations, translation of captured material and information management.  The report raises concerns due to the challenges that remote warfare has in terms of accountability and oversight.  The concern is compounded by the fact that the Obama administration has not decreased war and militarism but has increasingly reorganized it to be under the auspices of covert and special operations with a presence in nearly 70 percent of the world’s nations at 134, up from around 60 nations at the end of the Bush II era.   Funding for the Special Operations Command has risen from $2.3 billion in 2001 to a total of $10.4 billion in 2013.

 

In an investigative report on Obama’s covert-special ops policy, Nick Turse detailed the administration’s militaristic foreign policy:

 

Although elected in 2008 by many who saw him as an antiwar candidate, President Obama has proved to be a decidedly hawkish commander-in-chief….While the Obama administration oversaw a US withdrawal from Iraq  (negotiated by his predecessor), as well as a drawdown of US forces in Afghanistan (after a major military surge in that country), the president has presided over a ramping up of the US military presence in Africa, a reinvigoration of efforts in Latin America, and tough talk about a rebalancing or “pivot to Asia”….The White House has also overseen an exponential expansion of America’s drone war.  While President Bush launched 51 such strikes, President Obama has presided over 330….Last year, alone, the US also engaged in combat operations in Afghanistan, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen.  Recent revelations from National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden have [also] demonstrated the tremendous breadth and global reach of US electronic surveillance during the Obama years.

 

An article in The Daily Beast revealed that many employees of these contractors expect new opportunities with Obama’s long-term plan to fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria without “boots on the ground” by following his established pattern of using covert players to obscure the extent of U.S. involvement:  “One U.S. military contractor working in Iraq who asked not to be named said, ‘I can tell you the contractor-expat community is abuzz thinking this will lead to more work. We expect a much larger footprint than he is showing right now.’”

Then there are the more mundane support services for both overt and covert military operations provided by firms like KBR which provide ice delivery, trash disposal and portable toilet maintenance, among other services.  These contractors and their sub-contractors, like Najilaa Catering Services International, have often performed poorly or committed outright fraud.  But that usually doesn’t stop them from continuing to procure contracts with the US government.

 

Najilaa, for instance, had been under fire for non-payment of bills and fraud in both Iraq and Kuwait prior to being signed on to provide food preparation services to USAID in Iraq in February of 2010.  KBR has been plagued with continuing allegations of overcharging and poor service for more than 10 years.  In 2011, KBR was hit with an $85 million verdict for exposing members of the Oregon Army National Guard to toxic chemicals while serving in Iraq.

 

This kind of fraud and waste, however, is not unique to these relatively small players.   It is indeed rampant among the top 5 defense contractors:  Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrup Grumann, General Dynamics, and Raytheon, with 3 of these 5 also occupying the top slots in federal contractor misconduct.

 

According to the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), Lockheed Martin has more contracts with the federal government than any other company.  It also has the most misconduct violations, ranging from age discrimination to contract fraud and unfair business practices, totaling over $600 million in fines, penalties and settlements.

 

A June 2011 POGO press release states that Boeing overcharged the Army millions in spare helicopter parts, such as $1,678.61 “for a plastic roller assembly that could have been purchased for $7.71 internally from the Department of Defense’s own supplies.”  Boeing is ranked second in instances of contractor misconduct.

 

These kinds of antics have no effect on these companies’ status as government contractors.   The fact that the top 5 defense contractors  named above were among the top 6 defense industry contributors to federal political candidates and parties in the 2014 election cycle undoubtedly plays a major role.

 

Furthermore, this kind of waste has been largely built into the system of Pentagon contracting over the years in the form of cost-plus practices in the negotiation process.   As the late Seymour Melman, an analyst who specialized in the workings of the military-industrial complex, detailed in his writings, the practice of cost-plus or cost-maximizing defense contracts, in which an agreed upon profit margin was simply added on to the previous cost of producing the product or service, had cropped up during WWII and was institutionalized during Robert McNamara’s tenure as Defense Secretary during the Vietnam War.  Not only did this practice result in increasingly inflated price tags for the tax payer, it also discouraged quality control and increases in productivity, and encouraged labor unions in the affected industries to partner with management to the detriment of their own interests.  Moreover, the practice bled over into other sectors of the government, such as health care contracts, and even into the private sector.

 

This cost-maximization, combined with the frequency of no bidding and the companies’ generous campaign contributions, makes these kinds of problems all too pervasive and easy to predict.

 

When more and more private corporations have entered the market with a profit motive in favor of military conflict, incentives to overcharge taxpayers built into the system, and legalized bribery that passes for campaign financing, what are the chances for a conversion from a war economy to a peaceful, civilian economy as the end of the Cold War provided an opportunity for?

 

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