Tuesday, November 27, 2012

US Coup dÉtat

From tarpley.net this wild eyed but exquisitely argued essay on the subject of a possible, narrowly averted coup orchestrated by US generals against the president. It may sound fantastic and unbelievable but it makes for excellent thought provoking reading. It also explains the apparently absurd resignation due to an improbable sex scandal of minor import.

Sometimes, generals purge politicians. In 1648, during the English Civil War, Colonel Pride and his troops removed those members of the Long Parliament who opposed military domination; the puppets who remained were called the Rump Parliament.

This year, a cabal of generals evidently believed it could secure the White House for Mitt Romney by staging the Benghazi incident and using it as the signal for a cold coup under cover of elections -- probably including computer-generated election fraud -- to bring down Obama. They guessed wrong.

Politicians sometimes purge generals. When the French Secret Army Organization (OAS) staged a putsch in Algiers in April 1961 to prevent the independence of Algeria, President de Gaulle had to round up and jail a number of generals and other officers. The Obama administration and its establishment controllers appear to be ousting a number of intelligence and military officials who took part in illegal operations to replace Obama with Romney. These sackings are being presented to the public under the guise of soap opera sexual infractions or expense account padding, in the hope of hiding some real mechanisms of power from the popular gaze. The outgoing US military cabal favors the extension of colonial wars, like those in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as an attack on Iran. Good riddance.

General Petraeus: Neocon Who Sought War with Iran

The most spectacular example is the fall of General David Petraeus, the CIA director, and one of the leading US advocates of an early war with Iran. The heads of several other rogue figures are rolling. The result is one of those rare moments when parts of the rogue network or invisible government can be observed by those who have enough knowledge to understand what they are seeing. But the firings have only scratched the surface.

The Romney backers were made up of neocons, Bush holdovers, and members of the Mormon Mafia in the intelligence community -- a relatively narrow base. The Obama supporters were the Brzezinski-Nye soft power group and military opposed to the Iran war. The neocons and reactionary Mormons wanted to restore aggressive war and wholesale bombing as the preferred option for US foreign policy. Although they love drones and assassinations, they want to keep significant US conventional forces in the Middle East.

The pro-Obama group wants to avoid large conventional commitments. They want to rely on cyber-warfare, drones, assassinations, bombing, raids by special forces, and economic warfare in the form of trade sanctions and technology embargoes. When they want to destroy a country like Syria, they do not favor direct US invasion or bombing, but rather seek to use proxies like Turkey and the al-Qaeda patsy network to get the double benefit of weakening both ally and enemy. Above all, they love color revolutions and soft-power subversion.

Benghazi, September 11: CIA assets kill US envoy while CIA team is ordered to stand down and other CIA assets fail to intervene

The Benghazi consulate was prevalently a CIA post, with significant military capabilities. Ambassador Stevens had strong CIA connections and served as a liaison with the al-Qaeda-linked terrorists of the Benghazi-Derna-Tobruk corridor, whom the CIA is using for the attack on Syria. His last conversation with a Turkish diplomat was evidently a discussion on this topic.

Stevens and others thought they had nothing to fear because their relations with the Islamist fighters were so cordial. The attack that killed Stevens was carried out by forces under the control of Sufiyan Qumu (also Kumu or Gumu), who had been held in Guantanamo for several years and released as a CIA asset for the overthrow of Gaddafi. A significant group of CIA paramilitaries stationed nearby was ordered to stand down by the CIA command structure.

Another CIA asset, the February 17 Martyrs Brigade, which had in the summer of 2011 assassinated General Younes in order to help the CIA operative General Hifter to take control of the rebel army, had contracted to provide additional security, but also did not intervene. General Petraeus went to the movies that night. On September 14, Petraeus told the House Intelligence committee that the Benghazi incident had been spontaneous, a demonstration gone violent.

This is the line which Susan Rice mouthed on television in mid-September. (She should be fired for other reasons.) The Obama administration was in any case eager to hide the fact that it had turned Libya over to al-Qaeda. The goal of Benghazi was an early October surprise to Carterize Obama, and the CIA was commanded by Petraeus.

Petraeus arrived at the CIA on September 6, 2011. Within a month, a new provocation was launched against Iran in the form of absurd accusations that members of the Quds Force were plotting to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to Washington, DC. Intelligence community conduit David Ignatius wrote at the time that a big reason the implausible plot story gained credibility was the “fact the CIA [meaning Petraeus] and other intelligence agencies gathered information corroborating the informants’ juicy allegations” implicating the Quds Force and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps.

In reality, the patsies involved came from the Drug Enforcement Administration and/or the Mujaheddin e-Khalq (MEK), an anti-Iranian terrorist force maintained by the US in Iraq. The MEK has now been rewarded by being removed from the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations. (David Ignatius, “Those Keystone Iranians: Why Such a Crude at Assassination Plot?, Washington Post, October 12, 2011) The goal of the operation was to abort possible diplomatic solutions to tensions between NATO and Iran.

In Washington, the neocon Petraeus was always considered as General Betray-US, Bush’s warlord and the key front man for the Iraq surge. He was the darling of the civilian chickenhawk neocons, who saw in him a presidential vehicle to return to power after the debacles in Afghanistan and Iraq. Petraeus’ neocon sherpas were Frederick Kagan and Max Boot, who also helped him to refurbish his image concerning Israel. Obama was always afraid that Petraeus would run for president, and when Romney took the nomination, feared that Petraeus might be a candidate for vice president.

Like General George Marshall on the evening of December 6, 1941 -- who stayed conveniently out of the loop under various pretexts because he wanted the Pearl Harbor attack to occur as a means of damaging President Roosevelt -- Petraeus was at the movies during the Benghazi attack, attending a private screening at the Canadian Embassy of the movie Argo with Ben Afflek, which deals with a 1979 covert CIA operation in Tehran.

The Night of the Long Knives

The hatred of key members of the US officer corps for Obama was illustrated through the comments of Petraeus’ friend, the warmonger General Stanley McChrystal, who was ousted in June 2010. In addition to Petraeus, the following officers are also either sacked or the object of scandals or investigations:

Marine General John R. Allen is in trouble. Currently the commander of US forces in Afghanistan, Allen had been slated to take over from Admiral Stavridis as NATO Supreme Commander, but Obama has now put this nomination on hold. Allen is accused of having an improper relationship with the Tampa, Florida hostess and socialite Jill Kelley, originally of the Lebanese Khawam family. Mrs. Kelley had insinuated herself into the social circle of generals at McDill Air Force Base, the location of the US Central command. Allen and Petraeus both wrote letters to a judge supporting Kelley’s twin sister in a child custody fight. According to some accounts, Allen sent either 30,000 pages or 30,000 e-mails to Kelly over a few years. Allen denies wrongdoing, but the handwriting is on the wall.

General Carter Ham, commander of US Africom, whose area of responsibility includes Libya, manifestly failed to send forces to stop the attack on the Benghazi consulate and CIA post. Panetta announced on October 18 that Ham was being replaced. The official line is that Ham decided to retire of his own volition. There were many days of confusion in Washington about his leaving.

Admiral James G. Stavridis, the outgoing NATO Supreme Commander, has been officially reprimanded by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus for lavish spending on his personal lifestyle, including a junket to a wine dinner in France. He will soon leave his post.

General William E. “Kip” Ward, who commanded US Africom from October 2007 to March 2011, presided over the preparation and launching of the attack on Libya. On the surface, Ward is accused of spending several hundred thousand dollars of government money and resources on family members, luxury junkets, and flights. He had been under investigation for a year and a half, but it was announced on November 13 that he would be fined $82,000 and demoted from full general to lieutenant general, reducing his pension.

Lieutenant General Patrick J. O’Reilly, the Director of the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency, has also been reprimanded by the Defense Department’s Inspector General for intimidating and humiliating subordinates, thus creating a work environment characterized by one subordinate as “management by blowtorch and pliers.” (Washington Post, November 15, 2012) O’Reilly is being ousted from his post before the conclusion of the usual four year tenure, and demoted to major general. His departure was deplored on the floor of Congress by Representative Mo Brooks of Alabama, a reactionary and racist Republican.

Rear Admiral Chuck Gaouette was the commander of the USS Stennis carrier battle group, currently stationed in the Arabian Sea, near Iran and other possible targets for aggression and/or Gulf of Tonkin provocations. Gaouette is currently being investigated for “inappropriate leadership judgment” while on station in the Middle East.

Brigadier General Jeffrey Sinclair, second in command of the 82nd Airborne Division stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, and a key man for Afghanistan logistics, is accused of raping and having an adulterous affair with a female captain he had gotten transferred to his command. The prosecution has already sabotaged its own case, raising the chances that the case will be thrown out of court, while charges of pornography and alcoholism on duty may have been invented, pointing once again to a political motive. Press accounts feature Sinclair’s assertion, “I’m a general. I’ll do whatever the [expletive] I want.”

Commander Joseph E. Darlak, commanding officer of the frigate USS Vandegrifft and two other senior officers having been removed after a drunken orgy during a visit to the port of Vladivostok, Russia. Details are sketchy, but the goal of the escapade might well have been a provocation against the Putin government. According to one account, over 20 top naval officers have been fired during 2012.

Christopher E. Kubasik was fired as president and Chief Operating Officer of Lockheed Martin Corp., the top US defense contractor in 2008 and 2009. Lockheed Chairman Rob Stevens had allegedly requested an ethics investigation, which revealed a sexual affair with a subordinate. Lockheed’s electronic warfare and cyber warfare capabilities are formidable.

Naturally, it is impossible to know at this time how many of these cases are actually based on the reasons stated, and how many actually involve complicity with operations targeting the White House.

On the Thursday after the presidential vote, Defense Secretary Panetta ordered Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Martin Dempsey, an ally of Obama, to conduct a wide-ranging review of misconduct by senior military officers. The general public is supposed to think that this review will be mainly concerned with wrongdoing such as adultery, sexual harassment, embezzlement, and the like. But the reality is most likely a purge of officers associated with the pro-Romney coup machinations of September-October 2012.

With all these figures removed, it is likely to be more difficult for Israel’s Netanyahu to launch his war against Iran in the way that had been planned. He has therefore fallen back on the option of starting a smaller war in Gaza as a means of stabilizing the US-UK-Israel war party while other options are sought. The rogue network, now a wounded beast, must be counted doubly dangerous.

The Mata Haris

Mata Hari’s method was to seduce French generals and send their secrets to Berlin. The cover story for Petraeus’ ouster involves his affair with Paula Broadwell, who fraternized extensively with the general in Afghanistan while she was preparing a fawning campaign biography of the general entitled All In: The Education of General David Petraeus -- not to be confused with Flaubert’s L’Education sentimentale. Broadwell is a lieutenant colonel of military intelligence with a background at the Joint Special Operations Command and, according to some accounts, a knowledge of Arabic.

She says she has a top secret security clearance “and then some.” She has hobnobbed at the Obama White House and with Karl Rove. By all indications, and whether she knew it or not, she was deployed to embroil Petraeus with a view to bringing him down, and she succeeded. When the dalliance became known to the FBI and thence leaked to GOP Congressmen Reichert and Cantor, Petraeus was told he had to resign by intelligence czar James Clapper, a creature of Obama.

Jill Kelley and her twin sister Natalie Khawam are also redolent of the intelligence community. Their focus was evidently to lead both Petraeus and Allen onto the flypaper.

The Rogue Network Down but Not Out

The US rogue network has been exceptionally active since the attacks of September 11, 2001 in which the rogues were heavily implicated. In the spring of 2007, Vice President Dick Cheney argued unsuccessfully for an attack on Syria on behalf of the rogue network whose spokesman he was. In August-September 2007, a B-52 bomber loaded with six nuclear cruise missiles was in effect hijacked by the rogue network -- taken out of legal US command -- and flown from North Dakota to Louisiana, presumably on its way to a bombing mission in the Middle East. The B-52 was stopped at Barksdale AFB in Louisiana. Months later, Defense Secretary Robert Gates fired Secretary of the Air Force Michael W. Wynne and Air Force Chief of Staff T. Michael Moseley for poor management of nuclear weapons. A special board under James R. Schlesinger studied nuclear safety, and doubtless also whom to fire. For knowledgeable observers, a window into the rogue network had been opened.

On Christmas Day, 2009, the Nigerian underwear bomber Mutallab attempted to blow up a passenger airliner in the skies over Detroit. During the first week of January, Richard Wolffe of MSNBC reported that the Obama White House had concluded that certain federal officials had acted to prevent Mutallab’s operation from being shut down because they wanted to damage the Obama administration. Still later, Undersecretary of State Patrick Kennedy told a House committee that the State Department had wanted to revoke Mutallab’s visa, but had been prevented from doing so by another (unnamed) federal agency, under the pretext that the Nigerian suicide bomber was being tailed. The Obama administration cravenly backed off further public investigation of this incident, allowing the rogue network to strike again in Benghazi. (All these events are described on Tarpley.net

ORCA: Why the Pro-Romney Vote Fraud Did Not Materialize

The purge of so many Romney supporters from the intelligence community and from the military may explain why the expected computer-generated Republican election fraud failed to materialize in the expected dimensions in so many states. Tagg Romney and his associates, many of them investors in Bain Capital, had notoriously bought control of voting machines in almost a score of states, including Ohio. What frustrated the design to steal the election? Perhaps this operation was disrupted and aborted by investigations conveniently timed and targeting some of the main pro-Romney intelligence and military figures in the rogue network.

The answer may also be related to the apparent failure of ORCA, Romney’s data-mining and data management operation, which was supposed to help GOP volunteers get out the vote, but which may have possessed additional and more sinister dimensions. But, as David Gewirtz of ZDNet wrote on November 13, ORCA “got harpooned. ORCA beached. It flopped. It died in the sun. It failed oh-so-bad.” And with it failed the hope of Romney’s backers that they could seize the White House.

The current scandals are extraordinary because they cast light on the rogue network or invisible government of the United States, a topic which is usually strictly taboo for the mass media. For this reason, David Ignatius of the Washington Post, considered close to the intelligence community, is already a warning that it is time to call a halt. Sunlight, Ignatius warns, can be “toxic under the wrong circumstances.”

“For a reminder of why it’s dangerous, take a look at The Crucible and the Lessons of History,” Ignatius concludes. (David Ignatius, “A Modern Witch Hunt,” Washington Post, November 18, 2012) In other words, time to stop the purges before they threaten to engulf the entire rogue network and thus the entire establishment. Patriotic citizens and those who want peace, by contrast, must hope that the revelations go on and on.


Born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, 1946, Dr. Webster Griffin Tarpley is a philosopher of history who seeks to provide the programs and strategies needed to overcome the current world crisis. As an activist historian he first became widely known for his book George Bush: The Unauthorized Biography (1992), a masterpiece of research which is still a must read. AB Princeton 1966, summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa; Fulbright Scholar at University of Turin, Italy; MA in humanities from Skidmore College; and Ph.D. in early modern history from the Catholic University of America with emphasis on the role of Venice in the origins of the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). During 2008, he warned of the dangers of an Obama presidency controlled by Wall Street with Obama: The Postmodern Coup, The Making of a Manchurian Candidate and Barack H. Obama: The Unauthorized Biography. His interest in economics is reflected in Surviving the Cataclysm: Your Guide Through the Worst Financial Crisis in Human History Against Oligarchy. His books have appeared in Japanese, German, Italian, French, and Spanish. More articles by Dr. Webster Griffin at Tarpley.net

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Lower Standard Of Living For All

It would be easy for me to dismiss Obama supporters as mentally defective but for one inconvenient fact: my mother, sharp as a tack at 92, voted for him. Also my sister, a San Francisco attorney who is no slouch in the brains department. I’m not sure where my brother, a municipal employee, stands, but neither am I eager to find out. There is no bridging the political gap between us, and so we simply avoid discussing politics. The same goes for old friends, although newer ones are another matter. One of them walked out on our dinner together in a huff when an innocuous remark I’d made about Abe Lincoln evidently bruised his self-righteously liberal, morally perfect heart . Good riddance. It is far better friends than he that I am worried about. Will they draw the line when I let slip my support for the right to bear arms, even concealed? A few of my wife’s closest friends are unmitigated liberals, and it’s unclear how much longer we’ll be able to tiptoe around the political rough edges when we get together socially.

The truce with my siblings and mother has held, but not without strain. When the latter referred to the eminently decent Mitt Romney as “a jerk,” I returned fire with an over-the-top fusillade of anti-Obama invective. That was a month ago, and we haven’t talked about the election since even though the nation has been wallowing for nearly five years in an officially undeclared, if not to say brazenly-lied-about, state of recession. Romney voters will have to stifle the hubris, though, since there is no way he would have been able to reverse the country’s inexorable slide into economic darkness. To be fair, I should state that Obama is no more culpable for the abysmal state of the economy than Bill Clinton was praiseworthy for its resurgence during his presidency. He got lucky, is all, while Obama inherited a disaster two generations in the making. Economic cycles are far bigger than the presidency, and this one is going to take its ruinous course no matter who is in the White House.

Dating Game’s Top ‘No-No’

In the meantime, the political gap between liberals and conservatives can only continue to widen. And to grow uglier. This unfortunate trend was underscored by a recent Wall Street Journal story that focused on dating services. It seems the matchmaking business has declined in recent years because clients seeking mates are increasingly putting political compatibility at the top of their lists. “In this neck-and-neck, ideologically fraught election season, politically active singles won’t cross party lines,” the Journal noted. “The result is a dating desert populated by reds and blues who refuse to make purple.” So much for romance these days. Time was when smoking, drinking, religion, education level and physical attractiveness were the main concerns of men and women looking for love; now, apparently, a date-seeker’s political views trumps them all.

Until a crisis equal to the Great Depression arrives, liberals and conservatives are unlikely to bury the hatchet. For voters on either side of the divide, the stakes in this election will not seem to have been exaggerated; for they involve nothing less than a fight for the nation’s economic well-being – nay, for its very soul. Over the next four years, and probably long thereafter, moral and financial jeopardy will confront each of us in ways that seem likely to widen political divisions. Putting aside the wild card of Iran, one of the most difficult issues we face will entail putting public employees’ pension and health care benefits on a sound financial basis. The unions will claim, correctly, that there is no legal precedent for denying workers benefits that were promised them when they were hired. Their employers will claim, also correctly, that the money simply isn’t there. But anyone who thinks the Federal Government will be able to “solve” this problem simply by printing money is in for a rude awakening.

The financial liability is in fact so large that attempting to monetize it would be tantamount to hyperinflating. If, say, the Government were to offer lump-sum settlements averaging $150,000, the money could conceivably be worthless on delivery, since the actual disbursement of digital cash would be taken as a sign by the rest of us that Uncle Sam was on the hook for everyone’s financial needs. If the Government were instead to assume responsibility for years of scheduled payments in “real” dollars, taxpayers would eventually riot in the streets. No matter how you work the numbers, there is no easy way out, at least not using monetary shenanigans. The very clear implication is that the “solution” will come in the form of a dramatically lowered standard of living for most Americans.

Pensions Too Big to Bail Out

What is the dollar amount of the unfunded liability? Many hundreds of trillions of dollars, according to some published estimates. Consider that a bankrupt Flint, Michigan, under the direction of a conservator, has cut its budget to the bone to effect annual savings of around $10 million. But the long-term structural shortfall imposed by Flint’s retirement promises is on the order of $600 million dollars over the next 25 years. Of course, Detroit’s long-term problems are orders of magnitude larger, and New York City’s vastly larger still — too big, in the aggregate, for even the U.S. Government to fix. Or rather, pretend to fix, since that’s all that the would-be fixers have been doing all along. Yes, the bailout has been a fraud – a con-game made easier by the fact that most of the bailout “money” has gone to sustain the illusion that the assets of our biggest banks net out to a positive number. But there can be no such shell game when it comes time to send out pension and healthcare checks after the coffers of states and cities have gone empty. Paying for the lives of retired workers will require coughing up real dollars each and every month, not virtual ones such as are posted as “reserves” by the banks. And that’s why it will be impossible for the Federal Government to pretend, as it has with the banks, that the bailout is other than a charade.

Under the circumstances, hostility can only grow between liberals and conservatives, haves and have-nots, public and private workers, taxpayers and recipients. We wish Mr. Obama luck, but he’ll have his hands full merely trying to keep blood from running in the streets, never mind returning America to prosperity.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Holland's Disaster

From The Automatic Earth  by Raul Ilargi Meijer, a Dutchman himself, this appreciation for the spiralling disaster that is Europe. Things will get worse, he says before they will get better, and Holland so far a strong economy will unravel just as badly as will the economies of Greece and Spain and Ireland..
Here's what may be a useful angle to explain to people what is happening in Europe right now, and what's yet to come. It's not about Greece, which shoved another "Deal" through its besieged parliament this week, a deal that itself is also still under siege. It's not about Spain either, which managed to borrow a few billon more, enough to stay alive till Christmas, but sees its bond yields enter the land of ugly (yawn) again.
We all know the stories of the eurozone periphery by now, we've read a thousand chapters. And the core likes it that way, since this keeps us from looking its way. The situation allows for Germany, France and Holland to sit pretty and pretend they're doing fine. They're not.
Some ugly numbers have come out of Germany lately. We’ll get back to that later. More interesting is the report that German Finance Minister Schaeuble has asked a "wise men" committee to draw up a picture of what's really happening with France economically, a picture that should serve as a counterweight to the portrait French President Hollande paints, and which Germany no longer has confidence in.
However, the more poignant sign of what's to come in Europe emanates from Holland.
Earlier this year, a right-leaning minority coalition government threw in the towel. On September 12, new elections ended with two large parties: the right-wing liberals and the left-wing labor party. Which then decided to form a coalition together. And did so at record speed. The two party leaders couldn't stop talking about how great their counterparties were performing in the very secretive negotiations for their coalition agreement.
Then last week the agreement was published. Confusion ensued. Everyone tried to figure out what the numbers behind the agreement were, but nobody could. When the new coalition government was installed on Monday, all anyone had was questions.
First, there was a plan to make health care premiums income dependent. The richer pay more, the poorer less, fair enough to an extent. But when it came out that the richer would see their premiums quadruple, the right wing was up in arms against its own guy. A week later, the whole plan has been shelved.
Second, there were questions about what would be the overall financial consequences of the coalition agreement. Apparently, the initial reaction of the new government was that that could not be known until it had been operating for a while, like a few years or so. Nice, when you get to think about it. A TV network asked for the numbers underlying the plans, but was told to take a hike. It went to court to get them, but the judge ruled there's a minimum term of one month for this.
Anyway, a too rapidly built plan in which too much was left to chance. In other words: just another building block that fits in perfectly with all the others the house of Europe consist of. The kind that, if it doesn’t work out, is just as easily replaced with the next one (how many times has Germany said: no more money for Greece?!). It's reminiscent of a line mostly attributed to Groucho: "These are my principles. If you don't like them, I have others."
But that's still not the point I wanted to make, it's just the introduction. Something else came to light during the first few messed up days of that coalition government. Of course the coalition partners didn't volunteer the information, but - respectable - third parties that did do the math with what little they had to go on came up with some surprising findings. Which give a us a good idea of where Holland is headed. And if Holland is, so is the rest of the European core.
The third party numbers that were initially reported spoke of 10-20-30% declines (I saw one 60% quote) in purchasing power for large parts of the Dutch population over the next 4 years due to the new coalition agreement. Not only would this be austerity on steroids, it's also so far away from anybody's world view in Holland that it hardly even registers. Which is probably a large part of the reason it's so easy for the coalition partners to say it's not true at all. In their response, however, they gave up a lot of the ever so happy people picture. And that could prove fatal.
The government in an impromptu official reply to third party numbers said that "only" one in six Dutch(wo)men will lose "only" 5-10% in purchasing power. Bad enough, you would think. But they of course inevitably underplay the numbers; they're like the EU claiming GDP will rise in 2013, habitual liars who can't help themselves. Good news sells, whether it's true or not.
In view of the everlasting propensity for good news and neverending drive towards sunny predictions that fuel politics as we know it across the board, we can already state with absolute certainty that the situation will work out to be much worse than a government, any government, would predict. There's not a bookmaker on the planet who would accept odds against that principle.
Instead of the one in six losing 5-10% of purchasing power, what we'll see develop is that at least one in three will lose at least 10-20%. By then you have a sharply shrinking GDP and not even a thought of paying for anyone else's debt. And maybe we should thank the Dutch government for admitting what they have; none of their peers have to date. Sure, the Greek and Spanish governments have, but only after the troika - the outside world - ran a big sharp dagger across their throats. What Holland showed us is different in more than one way: There was no outside pressure, no daggers, and they weren't really paying attention, since they were too pre-occupied with the mental boost of new found power.
Still, in doing what they did, they gave away the future of the European core, and the European periphery with it, a future in which the core bailing out the rest will be a forgotten past that no-one can quite imagine anymore. Once again, we return to "the center cannot hold". Only this time it's out in the open. Consider yourself forewarned and act accordingly. Why don't you.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Funding and The Arts

How Raw Capitalism Is Devouring American Culture

The publishing industry is teetering again as Random House and Penguin plan to merge. It's time for a government policy to protect the arts


Around the same time a devastating hurricane smashed and flooded its way up the East Coast, leaving millions homeless or without power, another storm collided into a professional subculture based in New York City. While the second storm is only metaphoric, the transformation of publishing could have far-reaching consequences not only for those who work on Union Square, but for readers and writers across the English-speaking world.

As with Hurricane Sandy, it will take a little while to discern the long-term consequences of the Penguin and Random House merger, the news of which was somewhat obscured by the storm and the election. But the short-term impact is not pretty — and it follows other recent bad news from the books world. The Free Press, known primarily for smart, contentious nonfiction from Emile Durkheim and Francis Fukuyama but also the publisher of Aravind Adiga’s best-selling Indian novel “The White Tiger,” just collapsed. Several well-regarded editors are now out of jobs as the imprint is merged into Simon & Schuster.

The Penguin and Random House merger would join two of the largest and most successful publishers in English. It’s likely to be completed late next year, and the new company will control more than a quarter of the global book trade. The number of major publishing houses will go from six to five, with credible predictions that it could easily go down to three. (Some in publishing note grimly that the publishers chose to announce this on Monday, Oct. 29, a day when the storm – which saw many editors and agents stranded at friends’ and relatives’ houses, without phone connections or power — would make meaningful news coverage almost impossible.)

The get-big-or-go-home strategy may allow bulked-up publishers to stand up to Amazon, which has become the industry’s Goliath. “The book publishing industry is starting to get smaller in order to get stronger,” the New York Times judged.

Lke a lot of publishing folks, Jonathan Galassi, publisher and president of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, doesn’t know quite how to read all this. But it’s significant: “Publishing is going through a sea change,” he tells Salon. “It’s going to be different when it comes out.” Whatever else is happening, “It feels like a contraction to me.”

The likely CEO of the combined publisher, Markus Dohle, sent a cheery note to agents, authors and booksellers. “For us, separately and in partnership, it is and always will be about the books. Your books,” he wrote. And he told the Times that the merger will not lead to the shuttering of imprints; there was no talk of “redundant” employees. “The idea of this company is to combine the small company culture and the small company feeling on the creative and content side with the richest and most enhanced access to services on the corporate side.”
That, after all, is what they always say.

But the implications are larger. If you work in, say, journalism, or the music business, you’ve seen this kind of thing before: the erosion and then collapse of an industry, often after mergers and acquisitions announced with buzzwords – “synergy”! – or reassurances that new ownership means that nothing significant will change because, after all, we really value the kind of work you people do. Will publishing continue to slide, gradually, or will it fall apart, like newspapers – which have lost approximately a third of their staffs since the recession and seen advertising revenue sink to 1953 levels — and record labels – where annual sales of the top-10 albums have gone from over 60 million to about 20 million in roughly a decade. Members of the creative class have been here, and it hasn’t worked out real well for them.

“It’s really painful,” says Ira Silverberg, a veteran editor (Grove/Atlantic, Serpent’s Tail) and agent (Sterling Lord Literistic) now serving as director of literature for the National Endowment for the Arts. ”I’m sure I’ll have tons of former colleagues looking for work, and they won’t find it. Regardless of what [executives] say, it’s going to be a smaller business.”
* * *

Publishing has seen various kinds of corporate mergers and acquistions going back three or four decades, as independent or family-owned companies have been absorbed by corporate masters. Random House, the largest and perhaps most prestigious American publisher, was bought in 1998 by the German company Bertelsmann. Things have been reasonably quiet since then.
So why is this larger shift happening now?

It’s no secret that the recession and slow-growth economy – and the long-standing flattening of middle-class wages that predates it – has bled nearly all cultural entities and venues. The process can be cumulative: Every time an independent bookstore closes, it makes things a little more difficult for publishers; when a chain, like Borders — which helped put those bookstores out of business — itself tanks, it makes things a lot harder.

But the biggest issue is digital technology – e-books, Amazon, Kindles — which has put downward pressure on author advances, which now stand, by some estimates, at about half of what they were just four years ago. The digital revolution has effectively marginalized traditional publishers, as the center of financial gravity shifts from Manhattan to Silicon Valley and Seattle. “Like record labels, publishers have become arms suppliers in the cold war between technology companies,” Robert Levine writes in his 2011 book “Free Ride,” about the Internet’s damage to the culture business.

These developments all come just a few months after the Department of Justice decision that ruled in favor of Amazon and against five publishers and Apple, whom it accused of colluding to fix prices for e-books. On the surface, this ruling keeps prices lower. But as media watcher David Carr wrote in the New York Times after the April ruling, there’s a high cost paid for the low prices. The DoJ, he argues, went after the wrong monopoly, since Amazon controls somewhere between 60 and 80 percent of the e-book market (and controlled roughly 90 percent in 2010). “That’s the modern equivalent of taking on Standard Oil,” he wrote, “but breaking up Ed’s Gas ’N’ Groceries on Route 19 instead.”

Blocking the publishers from setting prices seems, at first, like a victory for the customer.
“But pull back a few thousand feet,” Carr writes, “and take a broader look at the interests of consumers. From the very beginning and with increasingly regularity, Amazon has used its market power to bully and dictate. It leaned on the Independent Publishers Group in recent months for better terms and when those negotiations didn’t work out, Amazon simply removed the company’s almost 5,000 e-books from its virtual shelves. The Seattle Times just published a series with examples of how Amazon uses its scale not only to keep its prices low, but also to keep its competitors at bay.”
So these signs of publishing contraction, coming so soon after the DoJ judgment, are a bit like the wholesale defeat of anti-corporate candidates arriving right after the Supreme Court’s pro-corporate Citizens United decision.

Some think the Penguin/Random merger is necessary to allow old-line print publishers to stand up to Amazon: If the enormous online retailer, with revenues of about $48 billion last year, has the atom bomb, the other players need to band together and build their own arsenal. Since their previous efforts were judged to be collusion, maybe a merger is the only option left. “Maybe it’s more an alliance than a consolidation,” Galassi says. “They could gain heft in negotiations.”
More tangibly, these publishers racked up significant legal fees fighting a losing battle against the Seattle behemoth; two are still fighting. (Insiders say that Simon & Schuster’s tussle with Amazon contributed to the of loss of Free Press.) In a business with a small profit margin, that money has to come from somewhere. Why not out of the hides of employees?
* * *
But publishing – after all — is just full of a bunch of English majors in overpriced suits taking three martini lunches, right? And in a day in which self-publishing is the rage — and the rhetorical war on gatekeepers, experts and other supposed “elitists” increases — what, really, does a publisher do?
“I firmly believe in the role of the gatekeeper,” says Silverberg, who adds that we’re in a cultural and technological shift that leaves us with several things happening at once. “Readers are picking up self-published work and saying, ‘That’s it!’ Editors are going through a pile of manuscripts sent by agents and saying, ‘That’s it!’ There’s a simultaneity.”

Generally, publishers do three things. They serve as banks for writers – offering advances in exchange for the promise of a copyrighted creative work. They aggregate services – offering editing, printing and distribution, book design, marketing and publicity, and so on, all at once. And they mitigate risk.

Of these things, says “Free Ride” author Levine, a former Billboard executive editor now living in Berlin, the most important is spreading risk. “For all the talk about new models, nobody has found a way to identify winners and losers,” he says. “You have to do a mix – you place a number of bets.”
And as with albums, most books lose money. The hits – especially the mega-sellers like the Harry Potter books or “Fifty Shades of Grey” – pay for a lot of others, if the author advances were not too enormous. (Skeptics wonder whether Random House’s $3.5 million advance for “Girls” creator Lena Dunham’s memoir will even pay for itself, and muse about how that money could have been spread among, say, 10 or 20 writers.) “The only thing you make a lot of money with is a surprise hit,” Levine says. “And there are not that many surprises.”

If you put your book in the hands of a traditional publisher, you keep only a small portion of what the book makes. But if it loses money, which is likely, it’s not your mortgage or grocery bill that goes up in smoke – the publisher eats it, and tries again with another book, by you or somebody else. And if they get the math right, they end up making a small profit overall. (The odds on any given book making money are not good; the traditional publishing wisdom is that seven out of 10 lose money.)
Publishers are not unique in this – the culture business in general is built around the probability of failure. “’The Avengers’ didn’t have to make enough money to be profitable; it had to pay for the money Disney lost on ‘John Carter’,” Levine says. “‘Game of Thrones’ has to make back the money HBO lost on ‘John From Cincinnati.’ ” (Digital pirates, unlike producers, don’t have to take these risks – they only duplicate and rip off the popular stuff.)

On the creative side, perhaps the most important thing a publisher does is edit a book. And whatever the trouble with publishers, there are plenty of well-regarded editors left at the major houses. Galassi at FSG, Gerald Howard at Doubleday Books, Alice Mayhew at Simon and Schuster, Bob Weil at Norton, and Ann Godoff at Penguin (who was fired when Bertelsmann swallowed Random House in ‘98 and could now go before a firing squad of bean counters again) all have at least cult followings among those who know the business.

The editor, Silverberg says, is the irreplaceable part of the traditional publishing equation. He mentions in particular Galassi’s editing of Denis Johnson, Jonathan Franzen and Michael Cunningham over the years. “They work with the writer to make the best possible book. We can’t afford to lose editors. Editor as arbiter, editor as teacher, editor as collaborator. It’s hard to sit in that room by yourself. Writers lose perspective; editors can bring perspective.”

One of the key roles of an editor, Galassi himself says, is to find little-known writers whose work deserves to be put between covers, and moved from obscurity writing short stories or articles into a cultural conversation. “Do writers want to spend their time marketing themselves, or writing their books? There’s no dearth of need for publishers.”

One publishing veteran who asked not to be named says the official voices will announce how essential editors are. “They’ll all proclaim, ‘The editors are the jewels in the crown …’ “ The stronger they insist on it, the faster the editors’ execution will come.
* * *
This could all lead to a silver lining for some parties: Lean, mean presses with focused missions – Graywolf, Seven Stories, Milkweed, New Directions – could do OK as publishing shrinks and six majors becomes three. “Poetry, translation, literary,” Silverberg says of the kind of boutique presses that could thrive. “They know their audiences better than they ever have.”

As wonderful as these presses are, they tend to give very small or nonexistent advances. Much of their funds come from philanthropy, the NEA and state or local arts agencies, and that money rises or falls with political leadership, tax codes and other variables.

And while self-publishing has brought some good work out along with a lot of bad, there is little to no money at the front end. (We tend to hear about the rare exception of runaway success, not the hundreds of thousands of self-published books per year that go nowhere or lose their authors money.) For the independently wealthy, those who married well, or businessmen writing valiantly on the secrets of their success, these are real options. As with much of the Internet-driven transformation of the creative class, authors hoping to make a middle-class living with a modest advance will increasingly be out of luck.

One thing that could have made this story end differently is if the United States had a significant cultural policy. We have a trade policy – we protect industries we value – and we have an anti-trust policy designed to protect consumers. We have arts and humanities endowments that assist institutions. But our cultural policy is mostly to let culture fend for itself in the open market. It works great, but sometimes it doesn’t.

Many counties in Europe have cultural policies, Levine points out. Germany has a thriving book business – with many independent bookstores and a rich mix of publishers – because the government forbids price discounts in most cases.

“If you’re a minister of culture,” Levine says, “it’s your job to further culture. It’s seen as something government should do. If you left it all to the market, almost no one would write anything in Swedish … because it’s such a small market.”

In the U.S., though, we’re accustomed to our culture – Hollywood movies, for instance – dominating, and our language serving as the world’s lingua franca: We never had to find a way to assist and preserve our culture on the world stage the way smaller nations did. (European nations developed various kinds of protections for their musical and arts “heritage” as American pop culture conquered the world in the postwar years.) So now we find ourselves with four of our six big publishers owned by European corporations. (One of the two “American” companies is essentially owned by a rogue Australian.) And with a deal between a German corporation (Bertelsmann) and a British one (Pearson, which owns Penguin) potentially rewriting American publishing.

State-steered culture probably goes against the American spirit, especially in these days of market fundamentalism. “I think we’re beyond cultural policy at this point,” the NEA’s Silverberg says, “because capitalism trumped it. There’s not even a battle to be fought there.”

Some suspect that publishers will instead find a way to make the digital revolution work for them. “I find it strange that more publishers have not decided to sell e-books directly to their readers,” says a longtime editor who asked to remain anonymous. “The publishing industry is so locked into its past, into the way it’s worked for a century and a half. It’s not in their DNA to sell directly. But some nervy publisher is going to take this up in the not-so-distant future.”

A shrunken publishing world could dampen the auctions that drive mid-list authors’ advances from the basement to reasonable levels. Those same limits, optimists hope, could also hold down unreasonable excesses, like the multimillion-dollar advances for celebrity memoirs, which are taking up more and more space in the field.

But at this point, publishing folk just don’t know. They’re jolted – even the ones whose apartments aren’t flooded. In a year or so, many of them may be bartending or getting real estate licenses or moving back in with their parents like other downsized members of the creative class. (Note to publishing’s rank and file: Pick up Louis Uchitelle’s “The Disposable American,” and try to get the phrase “to pursue other interests” taken out of your official farewell letter.) Or maybe the creative destruction will be minimal for now.

“It’s such early days,” says Silverberg. “It’s five or 10 years until we’ll know what the industry is going to be.”

Scott Timberg is a former Los Angeles Times arts and culture writer who has also contributed to the New York Times, GQ and other publications. He is the co-editor of the book "The Misread City: New Literary Los Angeles." He blogs at scott-timberg.blogspot.com/.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Conservative Reflections

From the BBC World News website:

Mitt Romney concedes

In the aftermath of defeat against a vulnerable president, an inquest is under way in the "Grand Old Party".

Surveying the smoking rubble of the Republican Party's election hopes, the right-wing talk radio giant Rush Limbaugh made a declaration.

"Conservatism, in my humble opinion, did not lose last night. It's just very difficult to beat Santa Claus."

Read those two sentences carefully, for they tell you a lot about the massive psychological problem the Republicans face - and why it will be extraordinarily difficult and painful for them to deal with reality.

On his popular radio show, the highly influential Limbaugh explained in detail how the election results prove that the American people have become weak-minded, jelly-spined degenerates.

Why, they even allowed themselves to be bought off by a welfare-state liberal Democrat who promised them the moon!

Though it is hard to see how one builds a successful democratic political movement around blaming the demos for its collective stupidity and bad character, one must concede that Limbaugh may be right.

Rush Limbaugh Limbaugh had said Romney would win

That is, it is always possible that the people of any given polity could have become so corrupted by greed, sloth, spite, or by all manner of vice, that its judgment fails. Boobs and knaves win elections all the time; sages and gentlemen lose.

Democracy means only that the people are sovereign; it does not mean that they are infallible.

Limbaugh's analysis will surely find many sympathetic ears on the American right.

The problem, obviously, is this self-serving conclusion frees us conservatives from having to examine critically our own principles, arguments, and strategies.

However grounded in reality, self-righteousness rarely leads to clear thinking about the way out of a slough of despond.

Compounding the problem is the Limbavian dogma, widely shared on the ideological right - Conservatism cannot fail, it can only be failed.

It is interesting to contemplate how conservatism, or Limbaugh's version of it, can ever fail?

“Start Quote

Limbaugh and millions of grassroots conservative militants approach politics as if it were a dogmatic religion”
End Quote

If conservative candidates or conservative policies are rejected by voters, or conservative government shipwrecks itself with bad policy or plain incompetence, (case in point: the disastrous Bush administration) - well, isn't that a pretty clear sign of failure?

It is far easier to dismiss voters as fools and unsuccessful GOP candidates as wretched sinners unworthy of conservatism.

It was only yesterday, it seems, that frustrated American liberals salved their wounds after electoral thrashings by convincing themselves that voters were too bigoted or stupid to know what was good for them.

Back then, it was so clear to conservatives how misguided and self-defeating the liberal pity-party was.

Along those lines, I'm old enough to remember when American conservatives snickered at delusional campus Marxists who believed communism - holy and immaculate! - had not failed, it had simply never been properly tried.

Roman Catholicism holds a doctrine declaring the Church to be the "spotless bride of Christ". To be sure, Catholics recognise that this is a theological claim, not an empirical one.

Limbaugh and millions of grassroots conservative militants approach politics as if it were a dogmatic religion. For them, conservatism is the Spotless Bride of Ronald Reagan and nothing about it can be falsified.

If voters reject the religion of conservatism, it's because they are too sinful to see and embrace the truth.

That, or particular conservative politicians and strategists lack faith. Activist American conservatism has a name for such slackers and heretics: RINO, which means "Republican In Name Only".

To be denounced as a RINO by the likes of Limbaugh is to be identified as a snivelling outcast who, if it were possible, would have deceived the elect into soul-destroying compromise with liberals.

Disappointed Republicans

To treat politics as if it were a kind of religion is to make a category error. It is also to lose touch with reality.

An extreme example. During the French Revolution, Robespierre, who was no Christian but who did have a fanatical religious temperament, conceived of politics as a high-pitched pageant of purification.

As he saw it, the Revolution was eternally threatened by enemies - none more deadly than the wicked artificers he might have deigned Revolutionaries In Name Only.

That business did not end well for anybody. Granted, the Republican Party is not facing its own version of The Terror.

The point is simply that imputing politics with moral grandiosity and quasi-religious fervour makes deviation from ideology an extremely risky proposition.

Several more moderate Republicans lost their political lives to hard-right Tea Party primary challengers, who later proved too radical to win in Tuesday's general election.

"I went to bed last night thinking we've lost the country," said Limbaugh, on the day after. "I don't know how else you look at this."

So a plain-vanilla Republican like Mitt Romney losing a close election to Barack Obama amounts to the Conservative Apocalypse? Good grief. Where does this pants-wetting hysteria end?

The true-believing conservative grassroots and leaders like Limbaugh have constructed a perfect system of epistemic closure.

Under their framework, there is no need to rethink what conservatism means or how conservatives behave in light of new facts or changing circumstances.

Mitt Romney   Romney was never loved by parts of the party

And how circumstances have changed! Eight years ago, same-sex marriage was toxic at the polls. This year, voters in three states - Maryland, Maine, and Washington - legalised it.

What's more, the "McGovern Coalition" - the melange of white liberals, college students, young adults, racial minorities, and labour - upon which Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern built his catastrophic 1972 campaign, has now become the majority.

In the wake of Obama's triumph, political professionals of both the left and the right credit this trend, and warn that it is unlikely to reverse itself.

The demographic tide, which includes a dramatic waning of religious faith among younger Americans, is coming in too fast.

The Republican Party is becoming a perversely rigid sect, more concerned with being militantly correct than being pragmatic and successful. With each passing election cycle, their purity will become the purity of the desert.

There are many American liberals who counsel conservatives that all would come right for us again if only we would jettison our principles and become liberals.

No, thanks. Conservatives must be conservative, but we must also recognize that conservatism is not an ideology, but a way of approaching the world, the chief virtue of which is prudence.

As the great modern conservative Edmund Burke taught, the act of governing - indeed, "every human benefit and enjoyment" - requires compromise.

The talk-radio Jacobins and the suburban sans culottes may not like that kind of treacherous talk, but it is the essence of the conservative political temperament.

Burke once observed that "a state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation."

He might have said the same thing about the Republican Party. Then again, the old boy was probably a RINO.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Spreading European Problems.

From the website Testosterone Pit this discussion of  France's turn to suffer economic indignity, uncertainty and impending failure. 

Germany's Fear And Desperation Leak Out

A hullabaloo erupted between France and Germany that both governments are trying to silence to death. According to unnamed sources of Zeit Online and Reuters, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble broached an unprecedented topic with the members of Germany’s Council of Economic Experts on Wednesday when they presented their Annual Report. In its 49-year history of advising German governments, the Council has never delved into policy proposals for other countries. And yet, Schäuble asked them: Could they produce a reform concept for the troubled French economy?
The French, who are currently engaged in national soul-searching and navel-gazing to halt their declining “competitiveness,” were not amused. The office of President Francois Hollande wrapped itself in silence. Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault brushed it off. The German Ministry of Finance declined to comment on “unofficial discussions.” Council Chairman Wolfgang Franz backpedalled: “That’s largely misinformation,” he said. “An order for a Special Report is not even in the most distant sight.” He figured that the French government “wouldn’t tolerate something like that.”
Nevertheless, he said, the government is highly interested in reform ideas that would make the monetary union more stable. And it is in this context that the Council would “think about France” in December. After which they would talk again with Schäuble, he said.
But the Council is already “increasingly worried” about the economic developments in France, 
admitted Council member Lars Feld when he presented the Annual Report to Schäuble. “The largest problem isn’t Greece anymore, or Spain or Italy, but France because France has done nothing to rebuild its competitiveness and is even heading in the opposite direction.” He didn’t mince words. “France needs labor market reforms,” hesaid. “It is the country among Eurozone countries that works the least each year; so how do you expect any results from that?”
The problems are piling up in France. While central government spending—56% of the economy!—is expected to remain relatively constant and provide some stability, the private sector is deteriorating with breathtaking speed. Every day, new evidence seeps out.
On Friday, it was an Insee poll of CEOs in the manufacturing sector. They’re cutting investments in plant and equipment in the second half. In 2013, they would reduce their investments by an additional 2%—though in the previous poll in July, they’d planned onincreasing their investments by 5%. A harsh reversal [one that has been playing out for months; read...  Worse than the Infamous Lehman September: France’s Private Sector Gets Kicked off a Cliff].
Then the Bank of France released an estimate for fourth quarter GDP: it would shrink by 0.1%. For the third quarter, it also estimated a decline of 0.1%. If these figures are confirmed, France entered a recession in July. Five quarters in a row of total stagnation,a first in France’s post-war history!
The Germans are concerned. France bought €101 billion of German goods in 2011, or 10% of total exports. But German exports fell 2.5% in September, and exports to the Eurozone crashed 9.1%. Germany has been through this before. Its economy lives and dies by its exports [The Noose Tightens on Germany’s “Success Recipe”].
Schäuble must feel the pressure. But fear of a dip in exports to France might not be enough for him to risk a diplomatic confrontation with his most important neighbor. He certainly wouldn’t want to stir up, without good reason, even more accusations of meddling and Teutonic arrogance. So why this unusual request?
Fear and desperation within the government about a much greater threat. The credit markets, which are currently sleeping through the French private-sector fiasco, might wake up someday—as Greece found out, it can happen suddenly—and demand much higher yields. Even if still digestible for France, it would likely throw Spain over the edge, and Italy would follow. Or the markets might walk away from France entirely.
France is too big to bail out. If the debt crisis suddenly arrived in Paris, only all-out, no-holds-barred, unrestricted bond-buying operations by the ECB could save the euro. But it would violate even the last pretense of treaty-based limitations, and would in the process debase the euro. While this might please some countries, including France, it would enrage German voters who might take out their anger on Chancellor Angela Merkel and her government. And that strikes terror into their hearts.
Alas, she still has big plans. On Wednesday, she addressed the European Parliament, the only democratically elected European institution—by design, an emasculated one. There, she laid out her ideas on how to bring European nations together to where their budgets and other national prerogatives would become part of her “domestic policy.” And she’d be on top of the heap.

Monday, November 12, 2012

President Obama And Secrecy

From the website Nieman Reports  at Harvard University this consideration of the Obama Presidency and secrecy in a supposedly open society.

It's a particularly challenging time for American national security reporting, with the press and public increasingly in the dark about important defense, intelligence and counterterrorism issues.

The post-post-9/11 period finds the U.S. aggressively experimenting with two new highly disruptive forms of combat—drone strikes and cyberattacks—for which our leaders appear to be making up the rules, in secret, as they go along.

Troubling legal and moral issues left behind by the previous administration remain unresolved. Far from reversing the Bush-Cheney executive power grab, President Barack Obama is taking it to new extremes by unilaterally approving indefinite detention of foreign prisoners and covert targeted killings of terror suspects, even when they are American citizens.

There is little to none of the judicial and legislative oversight Obama had promised, so the executive branch's most controversial methods of violence and control remain solely in the hands of the president—possibly about to be passed along to a leader with less restraint.

More than a decade after it started, we still have no clue how much the government is listening in on us or reading our e-mail, despite the obvious Fourth Amendment issues.

And the government's response to this unprecedented secrecy is a war on leaks.

No Help From High Places

After past periods of executive excess, the Fourth Estate was certainly more robust and arguably more persistent, but it also found natural allies in the other branches of government—particularly Congress. By contrast, over the summer of 2012, the publication of a minimal amount of new information regarding drones, cyberwarfare and targeted killings incited bipartisan agreement on Capitol Hill—not to conduct hearings into what had been revealed, but to demand criminal investigations into the leaking.

That's how Congress has been ever since the terrorist attacks 11 years ago. "We never got our post 9/11 Church Committee," said Steven Aftergood, director of the Federation of American Scientists's Project on Government Secrecy, referring to a special investigative Senate committee that held hearings on widespread intelligence abuses after the Watergate scandal. "What we've got instead is the intelligence oversight committee drafting legislation to penalize leaks."

In the interim, the White House has been plenty busy using the draconian Espionage Act of 1917 to pursue leakers. Despite his talk about openness, Obama has taken the unprecedented step of filing espionage charges against six officials accused of leaking information to journalists—more than all previous administrations combined.

And James R. Clapper, Jr., the director of national intelligence, recently directed that employees under his command be hooked up to lie detectors and questioned about their contacts with journalists and about unauthorized leaks to the media.

Whatever restraint existed inside the executive branch seems to have been overwhelmed by a national security apparatus that has swollen to enormous proportions since 9/11. "There has been no similar strengthening of bureaucracy protecting civil liberties and transparency," noted New Yorker writer Jane Mayer. "When the national security community is militating for leak investigations, there is much less pushback than pre-9/11."

Abramson's Concern

Mainstream media leaders are critical of the government's aggressive posture, which they see as threatening First Amendment rights. At the annual conference of Investigative Reporters and Editors in June, New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson made the case that the very leaks that seemed to inflame officials the most were also the most essential.

"Cyberwarfare is a new battlefield, where there are no agreements regulating the use of malware viruses," she said. "So doesn't the public need the information to evaluate this new kind of battle, especially when it's waged in its name? Furthermore, when the existence of drone and cyber attacks are widely known but officially classified, informed public discussion of critical questions is really stifled."

There are in fact so many obvious, unanswered questions about both of these new weapons of warfare, most notably: What happens when other people use them on us, saying we set the precedent for their use? In the case of drones, does their use require a declaration of war or at least an authorization of the use of force? And how many civilians are they killing?

Abramson warned that "the chilling effect of leak prosecutions threatens to rob the public of vital information," as sources fear legal retribution and reporters fear being subpoenaed and possibly even prosecuted themselves.

"Several reporters who have covered national security in Washington for decades tell me that the environment has never been tougher or information harder to dislodge," Abramson said. "One Times reporter told me the environment in Washington has never been more hostile to reporting."
Thomas Drake, a former National Security Agency executive, is one of six people the Obama administration charged under the Espionage Act. Photo by Timothy Jacobsen/The Associated Press.

The Drake Effect

One of the Obama administration's early attempts to prosecute whistleblowers for espionage ended in defeat and disgrace. Prosecutors had filed 10 felony charges against Thomas Drake, a National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower who allegedly provided classified information about mismanagement at the NSA to a Baltimore Sun reporter. But days before the trial was to start, the government dropped the charges and settled for Drake pleading guilty to a misdemeanor. The judge called Drake's four-year persecution by the government "unconscionable" and said that it goes against "the very root of what this country was founded on against general warrants of the British."

But Aftergood said the Drake case had a profound effect on the intelligence community nonetheless. "I think there's a new level of paranoia within government about unauthorized contacts with the press," he said. "In every significant sense, the government won, because it demonstrated the price of nonconformity."

Drake agreed. "It was very clear that they wanted to send the most chilling of messages, and that chilling message has been received," he said. Among former colleagues, Drake said, "there are those who will not talk to reporters—and we're not even talking leaking, we're just talking talking."

Ron Suskind, one of a handful of journalists who did exceptional national security reporting during the Bush era—particularly in his 2006 book "The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America's Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11"—argues that the government's strategies to prevent leaking have suddenly become much more aggressive and effective. "It's making it more difficult to get that information the public truly needs to know," he said.

The increased dependence on e-mail and the government's enhanced surveillance abilities are also a factor, Suskind said. "In the old days, you could call someone up on their kitchen phone. You were pretty much OK unless [FBI director J. Edgar] Hoover knew which line to tap. Now you have to be extra careful."

And Suskind said that the fear of getting caught is now heightened because so many intelligence officials are counting on entering the hugely lucrative world of intelligence contracting once they leave public service.

Before 9/11, the private intelligence/national security complex just "didn't have that kind of money," Suskind said. But now, it provides "the soft cushion that awaits almost every official inside government with a security clearance."

The Government View

Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd rejected the media narrative of a government assault on the press. "The media obviously is an interested party—or a biased party—in these matters," he said.

"Whenever the Justice Department conducts an investigation relating to leaks of classified information to the media, it seeks to strike the proper balance between the important function of the press and law enforcement and national security imperatives," Boyd said.

But, he insisted: "When classified information is improperly disclosed to the media by a person who has no authority to disclose it, that's illegal."

Boyd also denied that whistleblowers are being targeted. "On some of the cases, it's clear that the officials that we've accused are not blowing the whistle on anything," he said.

The six people the Obama administration has charged under the Espionage Act are Drake, who was definitely a whistleblower; Bradley Manning, the U.S. Army private accused of leaking thousands of documents to the website Wikileaks; John Kiriakou, a former CIA officer who spoke out about torture and is charged with allegedly disclosing the names of CIA officers and their role in interrogations to reporters; Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA officer charged with leaking information about a botched plot against the Iranian government to The New York Times; Stephen Kim, a former U.S. State Department foreign policy analyst charged with disclosing information about North Korea's nuclear program to a Fox News reporter; and Shamai Leibowitz, a former FBI linguist convicted in May 2010 of disclosing wiretaps of the Israeli Embassy in Washington to a blogger.

Fighting Secrecy

What's as dangerous as the dearth of "unauthorized" leaks is the prevalence of the "authorized" kind. During the Bush years in particular, highly selective leaks from the vice president's office regularly spread consequential and misleading national security information, through the conduit of devoted reporters.

After vice presidential aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby was found guilty of perjury and obstruction of justice related to the leak of Valerie Plame's identity as a covert CIA operative, Mark Feldstein, a journalism professor at George Washington University, told the New York Times that the journalists involved were "not fearless advocates … but supplicants, willing and even eager to be manipulated."

Suskind said he thinks there need to be more reporters on the national security beat. "We are having trouble mustering the muscle, the bodies, to get the goods," he said.

And they need to be tougher. Walter Pincus, the veteran national security reporter at The Washington Post, said modern news organizations are so eager to be seen as evenhanded that crusading journalism is frowned upon. "The industry has been mau-maued," Pincus concluded. "We've been neutered."

In the Spring 2008 issue of Nieman Reports, investigative reporter Ted Gup suggested that news organizations dedicate a beat to secrecy. Now, in order to create a cycle of repeated disclosures and sustained public interest in drones and cyberwarfare, perhaps reporters should be put on that beat full time.

Suskind said there would be a payoff from major national security revelations beyond the obvious public service. "The big disclosures still drive the global news cycle," he said. And if news organizations are trying to differentiate themselves in the new media climate, well, "this is the way they get to prove their case that they're still valuable … that they're indispensable."

Dan Froomkin, who previously was deputy editor for NiemanWatchdog.org, writes about watchdog journalism for Nieman Reports. He is senior Washington correspondent for The Huffington Post.