Category Archives: History

In memory, Emmett Till (July 25, 1941 – August 28, 1955):

 

U.S. Came Close To Unleashing Nuclear Chaos in Vietnam

Fallout_shelterNHK Newsroom Tokyo, has broken a story about the United States’ operation of a secret experimental nuclear reactor in South Vietnam during the war. By itself this revelation is big enough news, but it turns out there is more, much more. According to the story, which includes an interview with a mission participant, in the waning days of the war Henry Kissinger, then Secretary of State, ordered the site dismantled in a frantic attempt to keep the technology out of communist hands. Here is the big news: in the event of failure, Kissinger allegedly ordered that the radioactive core be blown up as a last-ditch measure!

Watch: NHK Report – Vietnam War Nuclear Mission

The Man With The Movie Camera (1929)

Frequently included in top ten lists of greatest films of all-time. Directed by Soviet director Dziga Vertov, the film is famous for its range of cinematic techniques — double exposure, fast motion, slow motion, freeze frames, jump cuts, split screens, close-ups, tracking shots, footage played backwards, stop motion animations — many of which appear here first. In 2014 Sight and Sound named it the top documentary film ever made. Watch it here:

Chamber of Commerce – The Wages of Sin

Skull MoneyElections are just around the corner again and one thing is certain– we’ll be hearing plenty from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. After all it has a cozy, some might even call it incestuous, relationship with every mainstream media outlet. Big money buys big access and the Chamber is one of the biggest spenders on the planet. In fact it is the largest lobbying group in the U.S., spending more money than any other organization on a yearly basis. It is also one of the most conservative.

The Chamber of Commerce was founded in 1912 by Taft as a firewall against what was seen by business interests as an increasingly powerful federal government (remembering Teddy Roosevelt’s trust-busting administration) and a surging labor movement (Eugene Debs’ Socialist Party won 6 percent in the 1912 election). From the beginning the Chamber’s raison d’etre was to undermine organized labor. It schemed in concert with another extreme anti-union outfit called the National Association of Manufacturers, which opposed efforts to expand workers’ compensation and ban child labor. They were quite successful (with an assist from politicians and police who dutifully ginned-up the Red Scare in 1919), leading to previously unparalleled business prosperity in the roaring 20s. But the party came at the expense of the working classes, the fortunes were made by speculators, corporation owners and bankers, not by those who produced and bought goods. We all know how that ended, with the stock market crash and the Great Depression.  

Unfazed after helping run the country aground, the Chamber then tried to block the rescue boats from entering the harbor. It despised the New Deal, accusing Franklin Roosevelt of attempting to ‘Sovietize’ America, lobbying heavily against the president’s entire legislative package. Later, with the onset of war in Europe, these folks were so wrapped in ideological hatred for FDR that, incredibly, they opposed the Lend-Lease program, designed to supply the allies with critical material to fight the Germans (and which ultimately made their business constituents millions). Here is a question worth asking: had it not been for the devastation of U.S. industry in the Depression, and had not so many of the nation’s factories been laying fallow, would the Chamber and its allies have allowed FDR to so easily transition the industrial base to create the “arsenal of democracy” to fight and win WWII?

In the 1940s, as the nation’s economy recovered, so did the Chamber of Commerce. In 1947 it was instrumental in passing the anti-labor Taft-Hartley Act, the first major blow in the fight to emasculate a newly emboldened organized labor. In addition, the Chamber established itself as a permanent source of funds for America’s Cold Warriors. In the 1950s, learning from earlier successes, the Chamber was instrumental in bringing us the second Red Scare by lending critical financial and political support to Senator Joe McCarthy’s witch hunt to root out communists in the trade unions, schools and government, ruining countless innocent careers and lives in the process; in the 1960s it lobbied, unsuccessfully, for the killing of Medicare; in the 1980s it campaigned against regulations on nuclear plants and mine safety rules. The list goes on, and on, ad infinitum (ad nauseam). But that’s the price of doing business, right?

Throughout its existence the Chamber of Commerce has consistently fought against healthcare reform, unionization, living wages, workplace safety, progressive taxation, progressive education and environmental action. In the fight against global warming poll after poll shows that a large majority of Americans believe the climate science, they understand that the planet has never faced a bigger challenge, but nearly all attempts at remedial action have been completely blocked in Washington, and the U.S. Chamber is a major reason why. It has lobbied against every effort to cut carbon emissions, most recently celebrating a SCOTUS decision allowing coal plants to continue to foul the air with mercury. Enormous amounts of Chamber of Commerce electoral contributions go to climate change deniers. The NAFTA and TPP trade deals, bad news for American workers and the environment, were practically authored by Chamber lobbyists.

One agenda where the Chamber of Commerce has failed miserably at home in recent decades has been in its effort to support big tobacco. But has that stopped these assassins? Nope, the Chamber continues to see no evil in killing people for profit, it has just pointed its death-ray at new targets:

U.S. Chamber of Commerce Works Globally to Fight Anti-Smoking Measures

So next election season, when I see those campaign ads sponsored by the innocuous sounding Chamber of Commerce, it will be my tipoff to vote for the other candidate. Easy!

You can bet the farm it won’t be bankrolling Bernie Sanders….

Related: How the Chamber of Commerce Established Libertarianism and Milton Freidman

Remembering the Anti-Apartheid Movement in the East Bay

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It was  thirty years ago, May 1985, when Bishop Tutu spoke so eloquently at the Greek Theater, I was there. When students took over Sproul Plaza, leading to UC Berkeley’s divestment of $1.7 billion from South Africa, I was there. When Nelson Mandela came to the Oakland Coliseum in 1990 to thank us after decades in South African jails, I was there. Divestment movements and boycotts can and do work.

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Lost San Francisco: Embarcadero and Central Freeways

As a result of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake the city lost two iconic freeways– the Embarcadero freeway, aka California route 480,  ran along the eastern edge of the city from Broadway to the Bay Bridge; the Central Freeway still exists but has changed significantly since the earthquake, with the northern extension that ran beyond Fell street up to Turk demolished shortly after the quake. Further extensive modifications since have produced a very different structure and route. Here is what they used to look like (note that the folks on the Embarcadero trip have KALX on the radio):

Embarcadero Freeway:

Central Freeway:

Drive Around SF in 1955 (nothing about the Embarcadero or Central, just fun to watch):

 

Forward Into The Past: Utah Governor Signs Bill Allowing Firing Squad

BatistaFireSquadA notable philosopher once wrote: “all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice… the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.”

The tragedy: occurred in November 1915 when labor organizer and songwriter Joe Hill was convicted on uncorroborated circumstantial evidence and executed by a Utah firing squad. Hill’s case, appearing to be clearly rigged against him, became a national cause célèbre, with many personalities of the day weighing-in on his behalf. President Woodrow Wilson even tried to intervene to stay the execution. But in the grand tradition of states rights Utah would have none of it. After all, the after-party was set and invitations already printed. For his part, Joe Hill had already come to the conclusion (correctly as it turned out) that he was more valuable to the labor movement dead than alive. In a last letter to labor leader “Big Bill” Haywood, Hill asked to be buried across the state line, indicating that he wouldn’t want to be caught dead in Utah.  His last word, shouted while standing blindfolded, was “Fire!”  

The farce: who better to relay the story than America’s most trusted purveyors of farce, Fox News?:

Watch Fox and Friends Report

Let’s bring the execution process into the 21st century. Why not just put the prisoner’s name on the Military’s High Value Target (HVT) hit list and send a drone to kill him one day while out exercising in the prison yard?

Listen to Ohio State’s own rebel songwriter Phil Ochs sing “The Ballad of Joe Hill”:

SOUTHCOM chief: Sequestration will bring ‘defeat’

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From MilitaryTimes.com March 12.2015:

The offensive launched by defense leaders against the automatic budget cuts known as sequestration continued Thursday, with the four-star chief of U.S. Southern Command predicting “defeat” in his missions if the budget trims go into effect later this year….Read entire article

In response to the article the following:

ParallelNarratives: This is the same tired line used by our proxies against us for decades– Rhee, Diem, Thieu, Karzai etc…”If you don’t continue to escalate $$ and weapons we’ll fall like a house of cards.” Basically extortion. Our generals haven’t learned (or have just plain ignored) many lessons over the years from these wars, but they have grasped, and in fact have embraced, this one.

Some may counter that ultimately Congress and the President drive the agenda, it’s their call on what we do and how we do it. And the General’s complaint in the article is merely a reflection back at national leadership – if  you want to bid at Christie’s then you have to pay the price, and sequestration will cause failure, just laying out the facts….

In theory of course this is true. It’s supposedly a hallmark of our democracy, civilian control of the military. Congress and the Executive do have the ability to drill down into the most minute matters of how the military operates. And yes they can fire military leadership (Truman for example) and they can make changes to the very fundamentals about how the military operates (Goldwater-Nichols for example). And by doing so they are reflecting the will of the government over the desires of the armed forces. According to the theory it’s the politicians who set the foreign and military policy and the Generals just dutifully carry out orders. And they can’t do that unless they get what they need/want. After all, they are the experts in war craft, right?

In practice the lines aren’t quite so tidy, in fact it doesn’t take a conspiracy theorist to state that the fix is in for the military elites….

Korea: There is a strong argument that the military desperately needed the Korean War after years of reduced funding, especially in Asia, in the post war period. When the North Koreans crossed the 38th Parallel the elites were presented with an opportunity to revive the Pacific force, and escalate funding for it to massive levels. And maybe, they might even get a chance to invade China and resurrect their beloved Chiang.

They got the funding, but the second part of the equation was shattered in the passes and along the roads of the snow covered mountains of North Korea when repeated warnings by Mao to turn back were ignored, primarily on the advice of MacArthur. Truman was forced to fire MacArthur. But only after he lost the nerve to stop him at Pyongyang, leading to a major military and political disaster at the Yalu. Even with that Truman backed down to MacArthur’s flagrant disregard for his leadership for a period of time after the debacle. It wasn’t until Mac’s public rhetoric about invading (and possibly nuking) China became unbearable for his standing as Commander in Chief that Truman took the ultimate action. But one can easily argue that MacArthur’s actions had a greater influence than did Truman’s on the outcome of not only that war, but also on escalating the Cold War and the resultant decades of massive funding for the military industrial complex.

Indochina/Vietnam: FDR had made it clear via the Atlantic Charter and comments at Yalta that he in no way supported France’s claim to Vietnam after the war, but alas he died a year too soon and a green Truman was led by his fervent anti-Communist advisors, civilian and military, to support the French reconquest in Indochina. The chickens came home to roost at Dien Bien Phu in 1954.

At the time, the US Joint Chief Chairman Admiral Radford was advocating for operation Vulture, which had a nuclear component, to save the French and inject the US in to the war. Thankfully that was indirectly stopped by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, at the behest of his deputy Anthony Eden, because Congress would not go along without British support. Eisenhower was largely on board with Radford and was disappointed in the outcome. This can be extrapolated by the fact that he sent Dulles on a whirlwind world tour to try to pressure the British to sign-on, and to drum up support from other nations for American intervention. This set the stage for American involvement in Vietnam.

It was Eisenhower (the most famous former General in the world) who began the doomed relationship with South Vietnam by helping bring Diem to power at Geneva, then by assisting him in holding power in his first major challenge against his rivals in Saigon in 1955. The primary American surrogate in the drama was Air Force officer Edward Lansdale. There was steady flow of American money and military expertise to Vietnam thereafter.

In the early 1960s, it was generals Maxwell Taylor (also a Chairman of the Joint Chiefs) and Earl Wheeler (another Chairman of the Joint Chiefs) who made the early pushes for escalation of US involvement in Vietnam. Kennedy, and LBJ after him, could not abandon Vietnam to the Communists, that would have been political suicide. So the military and their right wing benefactors had them by the balls. Clearly the Americans, civilian and military alike, had not learned much from the French experience. As Bernard Fall famously said: “The Americans are dreaming different dreams than the French, but they walk in the same footsteps.” And of course, there was a massive funding escalation in it for the military.

Goldwater-Nichols basically increased substantially the powers of the Joint Chiefs Chairman, thus concentrating power in one person. As we have seen already maybe not such a good idea. MacArthur and Radford were itching for a fight with the ChiComs and both were ready to use nukes to that end. Taylor and Wheeler were vocal cheerleaders for what turned out to be America’s greatest political and military failure. And to add insult to injury, it was Colin Powell, a former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, who led the famous dog and pony show on WMDs to legitimize the invasion of Iraq…

So it’s not so cut and dried as firing rogues and shifting the concentrations of power to “reflect the will of the government over the desires of the armed forces.” It’s a much closer thing than that. Whether overt, covert or implicit, the military establishment has a great deal of influence over national agenda setting. And they have strong incentive to keep the $$ pouring in. Remember what happened when Truman fired MacArthur, some say it’s the closest the country ever came to a military coup in the aftermath. Don’t think every president since doesn’t know it.

Further Reading: Truth Stranger Than Strangelove

Note: almost invariably it’s the nation’s establishment news media outlets that provide some of the best cover for these double dealings. The New York Times was one of the most vocal advocates for the Iraq War and its current ISIS coverage frequently refers to the existential threat it somehow poses. This Op-Ed piece appeared at the Washington Post yesterday :

War With Iran Is Probably Our Best Option

NBC has a portion of it’s website devoted to “ISIS Terror” that keeps a count of the number of stories in the archive boldly displayed on the header. The tally stands at 788 stories at this writing. Here’s a new story introducing chemical weapons use for the first time:

ISIS Used Chemical Weapons in Suicide Attack, Kurds Say

And lets not forget the CIA:

CIA Director Calls Fight Against ISIL Long-Term Struggle

This just in:

US To Abandon Plan For Troop Reduction In Afghanistan

Doesn’t sound like they are bracing for big budget cuts. Maybe they know something we don’t? The best line from this article: “military officials want to maintain troops in order to protect America’s investment” I bet they do. America’s investment in them.

Notice how this announcement comes on a Saturday night, outside of the prime news cycle. Are we to believe that they didn’t know this during the week? But you can be sure they have mobilized the army of TV Generals, who are likely waiting at their phones right now, eager to accept those last minute requests to appear on the Sunday talk shows.