Appeal to General Dempsey | Consortiumnews

MEMORANDUM FOR: General Martin Dempsey, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff

FROM: Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity [1]

SUBJECT: Syria and Our Oath to Defend the Constitution

Dear Gen. Dempsey:

Summary:  We refer to your acknowledgment, in your letter of July 19 to Sen. Carl Levin on Syria, that a “decision to use force is not one that any of us takes lightly. It is no less than an act of war.” It appears that the President may order such an act of war without proper Congressional authorization.

As seasoned intelligence and military professionals solemnly sworn to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, we have long been aware that – from private to general – it is one’s duty not to obey an illegal order. If such were given, the honorable thing would be to resign, rather than be complicit.

Who knows if this appeal (h/t SST) will strike a spark. The trend these retired intelligence professionals are trying to bring to an end is long-standing and backed by powerful interests. Nevertheless, its issuance alone is a critical marker of how deep the disaffection runs.

It’s true too that for once, a touch of optimism may be in order. Public opinion is strongly against any further military actions in the Middle East. The Obama administration’s unseemly rush to judgement and action also leaves them very exposed. The question of why there’s no time for proper evaluation of the evidence and open discussion of the potential consequences isn’t an easy one to avoid. And then there’s the UK Parliament which on Thursday took the radical step of voting against any British participation in punitive actions in Syria.

The imperial presidency that’s become the regrettable norm in recent decades may at last have tactically overreached. Continue reading

Punishing the innocent: Syria and the politics of symbolism

Simply bombing Damascus or Aleppo to assuage the conscience of the West that they ‘did something’ seems like the worst form of symbolic politics.

It’s not the only sensible thing Matthew Fitzpatrick had to say in an article at The Drum today.

He also argued the appropriate forum for judging (and, should the verdict be guilty, punishing) a war crime such as gassing one’s own people is the International Criminal Court.

It seems to me he’s blindingly right. Any other approach is not only wrong (and dangerous) in terms of process and precedent, but punishes the wrong people. However carefully planned and executed, military strikes would inevitably add to the woes of Syria’s long-suffering population. The argument “but how can we not respond to this terrible crime” therefore falls over at the first hurdle. First do no harm is sometimes a decent rule of thumb in international affairs as well.

In any case, punitive strikes would be action in a vacuum. Continue reading

Lukacs on Eisenhower and Churchill

Eisenhower cops a drubbing from John Lukacs in “Churchill: Visionary. Statesman. Historian.”

The disagreements between Churchill and Eisenhower at the end of the Second World War are fairly well known. Not so their later ones during the most intense stage of the Cold War.

This is regrettable, for there is a drastic symmetry between these two periods. In 1944-1945 Eisenhower opposed Churchill’s strategic advocacies, which he regarded as controversial and dangerously anti-Russian. Eight years later Eisenhower’s view of the world had become the very opposite: he regarded Churchill’s proposals as controversial and dangerously pro-Russian.

In both cases, Lukacs puts this down to an intensely political streak in Eisenhower.

But there was much more than military prudence in Eisenhower’s calculations. In 1945 he was in complete conformity with what he saw as the prevalent climate of opinion in Washington – as he would be, in 1952 and after, in complete conformity with a different climate of opinion in Washington then.

Lukacs has read (many times, I imagine) the entire Churchill-Eisenhower correspondence before reaching these conclusions. That doesn’t mean there isn’t room to disagree, but taken together with his encyclopaedic knowledge of Churchill and the Second World War, his views aren’t to be lightly dismissed.

He is scathing on the Dulles brothers, Continue reading

Conspiracy to commit journalism | Pressthink

Investigative journalism and the secret state are natural enemies. Even with an enlightened government and relatively untroubled times, their relationship will be uneasy at best.

Today, they’re in a state of undeclared war. Surveillance states and most of their fellow travellers are in too deep to pull back voluntarily. Some will be uneasy about how far things have gone but changing one’s mind is never a comfortable business, particularly if it has to be done in public.

Those opposed to overly intrusive and secret surveillance need to figure out the best ways to increase that uneasiness and offer palatable means for players to defect. The playing field needs to once again be tilted towards openness as the primary operating principle. To do that, unearthing secrets, valuable though it may be, is not enough.

It’s exactly these issues that Jay Rosen takes up in this recent piece at Pressthink.

A conspiracy to commit journalism has to operate in the open. Its methods go beyond investigation, careful editing, truth and accuracy, telling a good story that brings complex issues home. There is inescapably a political element. Release-the-information coalitions can only form around broadly shared goals. People who disagree on other things are likely to agree on the need for sunlight. Continue reading


A recent Reuters article (“After disaster, the deadliest part of Japan’s nuclear clean-up”) proved something of a rabbit hole. Having ventured down into this unfamiliar terrain, new tunnels kept opening up.

The 2011 earthquake and tsunami left 400 tons of “highly irradiated spent fuel” more or less hanging in the sky 30 metres up in Reactor Building No 4. Its roof, and much else, was pulverised by a hydrogen explosion so there’s no containment structure left. Only desperate efforts in the immediate aftermath when all power sources were knocked out kept the pool in which the fuel rods are stored covered with water.

It wasn’t alone in suffering severe damage. Reactor Nos 1, 2 and 3 (which were all online when disaster struck) are now in permanent shutdown with their reactor cores largely or entirely melted down and sitting in intensely hot lumps at the bottom of their containment chambers. Vast quantities of water keep their temperature within tolerable bounds but much of it is leaking into the groundwater and, eventually, the Pacific.

What sets No 4 apart is three things. First, it has far more spent fuel in its cooling pond then any of the others because for maintenance purposes the entire fuel contents of its reactor had been transferred to the pond only four months previously. Second, because of that transfer, some 550 of the 1231 used fuel rod assemblies were much more radioactive than normal. And, finally, the building itself is structurally unsound. Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) have done some shoring up, but it wouldn’t take too much of a shake to crack it, or maybe even tip it over.

D-Day for TEPCO’s plan to move this spent fuel to a safer location is nigh. Since the infrastructure to handle spent fuel was destroyed, they’ve had to recreate that capacity from scratch. Handling fuel rod assemblies is a delicate business and no one can know if they’ll succeed. The plan is to start in November and finish within a year. It’s just one (particularly important) piece of the winddown of Fukushima, estimated by a spokesman “to take about 40 years and cost $11 billion.” The total cost for Japan may range up to $100 billion.

There were some alarming scenarios raised in the article.

No one knows how bad it can get, but independent consultants Mycle Schneider and Antony Froggatt said recently in their World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2013: “Full release from the Unit-4 spent fuel pool, without any containment or control, could cause by far the most serious radiological disaster to date.”

And Arnie Gunderson talked about a few ways that sort of release could happen. Continue reading

Project Loon | Wired

The people in Pike County were witnessing a test of Project Loon, a breathtakingly ambitious plan to bring the Internet to a huge swath of as-yet-unconnected humanity—via thousands of solar-powered, high-pressure balloons floating some 60,000 feet above Earth.

Project Loon is another big idea out of the Google skunkworks, known as Google X. It’s a place where truly off the wall ideas get taken seriously.

DeVaul [now head of Project Loon] joined X’s small Rapid Evaluation team, whose assignment was to triage concepts, mercilessly separating the so-crazy-they-just-might-work ideas from the just plain crazy ones. “They are mentally plastic in their ability to see the world differently,” says Astro Teller, who runs the X lab.

Loon was quickly labelled “so crazy it might just work”. Over the last two years, DeVaul and his rapidly expanding team have taken the whole thing from the earliest almost home handyman stage (using “four latex balloons – bought online for about $100 each – [and] helium purchased from a welding supplier) to the brink of a full on trial with 300 balloons girdling the world in the 40° south latitudes.

It’s an astonishing story. Stuff like this shouldn’t really be able to happen. After all, people with visionary ideas generally don’t have pots of money to seriously tackle moon shots. Continue reading

Money demand and free banking

Although it’s unlikely to excite anyone outside the tiny fraternity of monetary “trainspotters”, I can’t not mention Detlev Schlichter’s latest piece at The Cobden Centre. It’s a sweetly crafted (and much needed) response to various lines of argument run by some free bankers.

Put simply, free banking means letting banks run under the same laws as any other business, without special benefits or constraints. No central bank, no lender of last resort, no official deposit insurance, no bank regulators, in fact no government involvement in money or banking whatsoever. Radical, for sure, particularly after a century of central banks, fiat currencies, escalating crises and (lately) visceral disdain for bankers. Mainstream economists, if they think about the idea at all, are appalled at the very notion. It’s definitely the 100 to 1 nag in the banking stakes.

Free bankers believe that under such conditions the market would choose some form of “inelastic, inflexible, apolitical money as the basis of the financial system.” Usually that means gold. They also believe competitive pressures, together with the sobering discipline of operating without a safety net, would produce a surprisingly conservative result. It’s far from an unfounded belief; there’s quite a bit of supportive historical evidence from various countries and times.

Like me, Schlichter sees free banking as the best alternative in this imperfect world, not only in terms of banking but also in the flow on effects to everything else. So his argument isn’t with the principle but with certain claims about its operations and their supposed benefits:

The free bankers are correct to point to real-life frictions in the process of satisfying a changed money demand via an adjustment of nominal prices. The process is neither smooth nor instant, but then almost no market process is in reality. Their explanation that a rise in money demand will lead to a drop in money velocity and that this will, on the margin and under normal conditions, encourage additional FRB [fractional reserve banking]and thus an expansion of bank-produced money also strikes me as correct. Yet, the free bankers fail, in my view, to show convincingly why this process would be faster and smoother than the adjustment of nominal prices, and in particular, why the extra bank credit that also comes into existence through FRB would not generate the problems that the Austrian School under Mises has explained extensively.

For anyone still interested (hello . . . hello??), read on here.

P.S. If you’re really interested in money, credit, financial systems and so on, it might be worth paying a visit to my other site, which deals with little else.