Street art in Ukraine

Street art in Ukraine by artist ALEXANDER GREBENYUK. Photo by Les Z'arts de la Street

Street art in Ukraine
Photo by Les Z’arts de la Street.


Wall Street’s Business Model Really Is Fraud

Bernie’s Right: 

Profiting off of the less-fortunate is in Wall Street’s DNA.

I’ve said if the big banks don’t play by the rules, I will break them up.”
Hillary Clinton

Our nation’s largest and most powerful banks have repeatedly engaged in widespread fraud, causing both individual suffering and a recession that millions of Americans are still living through today.

They continued to commit the same frauds after the American people rescued them, and after they promised to stop as part of some major settlement agreements. There’s no reason to believe they’ve stopped today, and every reason to believe they haven’t.

Fraud is an essential part of Wall Street’s DNA. A 2015 survey, commissioned by law firm Labaton Sucharow, found that a deeply immoral culture had taken root among British and American bankers.

The survey showed that bankers’ ethical behavior is bad and getting worse. The percentage of bankers who believed their own colleagues had engaged in illegal or unethical behavior has nearly doubled since 2012. More than one-third of those earning $500,000 or more annually said they had first-hand knowledge of wrongdoing in the workplace.

It also showed that financial institutions seem to condone, encourage, and protect illegal behavior. The survey found that “nearly one-third of respondents (32 percent) believe compensation structures or bonus plans in place at their company could incentivize employees to compromise ethics or violate the law.” And it found “a proliferation of secrecy policies and agreements that attempt to silence reports of wrongdoing …”

William Dudley, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, said in 2013 that there was an “important problem evident within some large financial institutions—the apparent lack of respect for law, regulation and the public trust,” adding: “There is evidence of deep-seated cultural and ethical failures …”

Which gets us to Bernie Sanders’ often-repeated refrain that “the business model of Wall Street is fraud.” A “business model” is a plan for making money. Is fraud really an essential part of the way Wall Street banks make money?

When it comes to retail banking—serving ordinary customers—they’ve already all but admitted it. After Congress moved to restrain some of the banks’ cheating and overcharging, a JPMorgan Chase executive said that customers with less than $100,000 in investments and assets would no longer be “profitable” for the megabank.

That’s tantamount to confessing that they need to bilk ordinary customers—by doing things like hiding overdraft charges, making checks bounce by manipulating the order in which they’re cashed, and charging excessive ATM fees—in order to make money as a consumer bank.

But that’s not the only line of business where banks commit fraud. The major offenses committed by our largest banks include “price fixing, bid rigging, market manipulation, money laundering, document forgery, lying to investors, sanctions-evading, and tax dodging.”

Wall Street has now paid more than $200 billion in fines and settlements for fraudulent activity. This almost unimaginable sum can be broken down into slightly more digestible (though still enormous) portions by looking at the amounts paid by individual banks.

As of last October, Bank of America had paid more than $77 billion to settle fraud charges. Citigroup, the megabank created with bipartisan cooperation from Republican Senator Phil Gramm and Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin (who later became the bank’s chief executive), had paid nearly $20 billion.

(Newly released papers from the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission show that the Commission voted to refer Rubin to the Justice Department for investigation, but there is no evidence that any action was taken.)

JPMorgan Chase, the bank that was once held up by pundits and politicians as the model of a well-run financial institution, paid more than $30 billion in fines and settlements over four years.

A new book entitled “JPMadoff” explores the bank’s relationship with the infamous Bernie Madoff, as well as its other ethical failures. Its authors listed many of JPMorgan Chase’s frauds in a letter to the US Department of Labor. Those offenses, along with the ones documented in a 2013 investors’ report, include:

Violations of the Bank Secrecy Act; money laundering for drug cartels; violations of sanction orders against Cuba, Iran, Sudan, and former Liberian strongman Charles Taylor; misrepresentations of CDOs and mortgage-backed securities; violations of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act; fraudulent sale of unregistered securities; auto financing deceptions; violations of state and federal ERISA laws; filing of unverified affidavits for credit card debt collections; energy market manipulation (which is also what Enron did); bribery of state officials in Alabama; fraudulent sales of derivatives to the city of Milan, Italy; and obstruction of justice (including refusing to release of documents in the Madoff case).

That’s quite a rap sheet—and its not a complete one.

As for Madoff, the authors found that JPMorgan Chase failed to report his suspicious (but profitable) activities for two decades. As Lawrence Kotlikoff of Forbes Magazine notes, the bank “had an obligation to know its customer (Madoff) and to report suspicious activity to the federal government. Yet, the Bank said nothing to United States authorities until after Madoff confessed and was arrested … And, surprise, surprise, no one at JPMC has been criminally prosecuted.”

Adds Kotlikoff: “The shareholders have effectively been hit by huge fines for the crimes of some of JPMC’s officers. But these officers didn’t even have to disgorge their bonuses.”

If the purpose of Wall Street’s “business model” is to help bank executives get rich without personal risk or penalty, there is no question that fraud is at its heart. Senior bankers at our too-big-to-fail institutions have made a lot of money from fraudulent activities, but other people always seem to pay when those activities come to light. The American people bail them out, and bank shareholders pay the fines.

And let’s be clear: the evidence for bank fraud is overwhelming. Bank executives would not have paid $204 billion to settle fraud charges if it was not. (In fact, it would have been a violation of their fiduciary responsibility to shareholders to do so.) These fines and settlements were usually great deals for the banks, which is why their stock prices often rose after they were announced.

It’s true that banks operate in many lines of business (too many, in fact, which is why we need a 21st-century version of the Glass-Steagall Act) and that not all of those lines depend on fraud. But banking is a competitive business run by competitive people. Fraud isn’t just a sideline. It gives bankers a much-needed edge.

Play by the rules? For bankers, Rule #1 is “win at any cost.” As long as they can commit fraud without suffering personal consequences, fraud will be the business model for Wall Street.

Richard (RJ) Eskow is a blogger and writer, a former Wall Street executive, a consultant, and a former musician.

Eye in the Sky: The liberal war on terror

By Joanne Laurier
31 March 2016

Directed by Gavin Hood; screenplay by Guy Hibbert

Eye in the Sky is a political-military thriller in which British and American officials weigh the consequences of a drone strike in Nairobi, Kenya. Directed by South African-born filmmaker Gavin Hood (Tsotsi, 2005, Rendition, 2007), it is a fast-paced movie resting, unfortunately, on a grossly manufactured and unlikely set of circumstances.

The film’s central character is Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren), a fierce British military intelligence officer, who has been tracking a radicalized UK female citizen and her husband, both leading members of Al-Shabaab, a Somali jihadist group. From a military base in southern England, Powell identifies, via a US drone camera feed, these top Islamist figures arriving in Nairobi and being transported to a compound in a poor, crowded neighborhood patrolled by armed rebels.

Helen Mirren in Eye in the Sky

When a cyborg beetle—a small surveillance device controlled by a Kenyan intelligence unit—relays imagery of the terrorists preparing a suicide bombing mission, Powell wants to upgrade the order from “capture” to “kill.”

Despite her eagerness to call for a missile strike, she must seek permission from her superior Lieutenant General Frank Benson (Alan Rickman in his final screen performance), who is observing from London in a room with various government ministers and legal advisors. The British foreign secretary (Iain Glen) is attending an arms trade fair in Singapore.

Meanwhile, at a US Air Force base in Nevada, two young American drone pilots, who are concerned about collateral damage from such a strike, wait apprehensively for Powell’s decision. Both the US secretary of state, who is in Beijing playing ping-pong with Chinese officials, and a US government legal consultant are amenable (to say the least) to destroying the “targets,” despite the presence of one US and two British citizens.

The major obstacle is an adorable Kenyan child, Alia (Aisha Takow), selling bread near the targeted house. From Singapore, the foreign secretary observes that should the suicide bombers be allowed to kill scores of people, it would be a public relations gain for England, but if the military were to wipe out the compound, injuring or killing the youngster—especially if the video of the action were to be released by a WikiLeaks-type outfit—it would be a public relations disaster.

Nonetheless, more ruthless heads prevail …

In Eye in the Sky, talented actors (and producers such as Colin Firth) lend weight to a movie that is reasonably well-constructed on its own terms. However, the problem is precisely those “terms,” that is, primarily the legitimacy of the “war on terror.” So, such performance skills serve for the most part to sugar-coat a big lie.

The false presentation of reality involves important plot contrivances. The filmmakers early on remove the possibility of capturing the apparent suicide bombers. Why? There are only a handful of them and they are taking their time making videos and loading their vests with explosives. There is no reason why this should be any more than a Kenyan police matter.

Instead, an atmosphere of hysteria is concocted in line with the scare-tactic scenarios used by proponents of the “war on terror” for the last 15 years or so. In 2005, for example, the ultra-right columnist Charles Krauthammer, writing in the Weekly Standard, set out the following circumstances, in order to justify torture: “A terrorist has planted a nuclear bomb in New York City. It will go off in one hour. A million people will die. You capture the terrorist. He knows where it is. He’s not talking. … If you have the slightest belief that hanging this man by his thumbs will get you the information to save a million people, are you permitted to do it? … Not only is it permissible to hang this miscreant by his thumbs. It is a moral duty.”

This is all a fantasy. No such circumstance has ever arisen, nor will it. This is the argument of those itching for authoritarian rule and the power to dispose of political opponents by the most brutal means.

Eye in the Sky, of course, does not see itself in that light. However, its central motif is nearly as bogus. Such pumped-up dramatic situations serve to shut down the brain and activate the nervous system along Pavlovian lines. Furthermore, the insertion of a beautiful, innocent Kenyan girl increases the ante. There is an odor of manipulation on every side here. (Andrew Niccol’sGood Kill, although flawed, is a far more scathing film about drone warfare.)

The central questions never broached nor presumably considered by the filmmakers are: Who are these terrorists and where do they come from? What are the social conditions in Kenya and East Africa as a whole? What is the history of the region? What are the British and American military and intelligence doing there? In Eye in the Sky, there is no history and no explanation.

First of all, it should be noted that in every major terrorist attack thus far, it has emerged that the jihadist elements had ties to the Western powers and their security forces at one time or another, or were manipulated or under close observation by those security forces.

Al-Shabaab came into being in Somalia in 2006 and has been formally aligned with Al Qaeda since 2012. The organization’s ranks are filled with impoverished youth and led by operatives with ties to US-backed Arab regimes.

In addition, the Kenyan government has proven a loyal partner in Washington’s drive to maintain its grip over the Horn of Africa. The region is at the center of the new colonial scramble for Africa, where the criminals are returning to the scene of their crimes. And the bloodiest of the old colonial masters in East Africa, from the end of the 19th century, was the British ruling class, whose suppression of the Mau Mau rebellion in the 1950s was the one of the most notorious models of imperialist counterinsurgency, on a par with the savage wars in Vietnam and Algeria.

According to Caroline Elkins in Britain’s Gulag: The Brutal End of Empire in Kenya, the British colonial government detained vast numbers of people in camps or confined them in villages ringed with barbed wire. “From 1952 until the end of the war in 1960 tens of thousands of detainees—and possibly a hundred thousand or more—died from the combined effects of exhaustion, disease, starvation and systemic physical brutality.”

How is it possible for a director—from South Africa, no less—to treat seriously a significant political crisis in a former colonial country without reference to this recent history? How could Hood—with a straight face—possibly portray a panoply of British officials as behaving in the most sensitive, even-handed manner toward the Kenyan people?

Eye in the Sky

Almost inevitably, given this degree of intellectual surrender, the filmmakers end up adopting the viewpoint of the powers that be, the US and UK political establishment, the principal source of global terrorism.

The filmmakers offer certain oppositional gestures. They may not be insincere gestures, but they are weak. Eye in the Sky contains a lengthy debate about the rights and wrongs of killing or maiming Alia. (This seems fantastical given the level of destruction perpetrated by the Western powers in the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa.) Moreover, the various higher-up government officials in both the US and Britain are not portrayed in an attractive light, while the novice drone pilots are represented as having a conscience. (What does ring true is the apprehension the decision-makers feel about the possibility of the exposure of their war crimes, which Hood, however, tends to alchemize into humanitarianism.) The final images are presumably meant to be disturbing, as is Col. Powell’s relentlessness. But this is really not much.

In an interview, the director asserts that “the questions that Guy’s [Guy Hibbert’s] script has beautifully raised are supported by the fact that he’s not reaching for an argument—these are the arguments and discussions that are happening among policy makers, lawyers, the military, human rights organizations … I hope it brings what seems like a mysterious subject to the general population, and we de-mystify it.”

This is simply not true. The difficulty is that the filmmakers are so at one with global bourgeois-liberal public opinion that they accept as their starting point an entire series of pernicious assumptions that shape and warmly envelop Eye in the Sky from its first moment to its last.

The political economy of endless austerity


By Nick Beams
31 March 2016

The report of Britain’s Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR), published earlier this month on the eve of Chancellor George Osborne’s latest budget, casts a revealing light on the economic driving forces behind the Cameron government’s austerity agenda and the support for this program by the Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour Party.

It helps to make clear why, some eight years after the eruption of the global financial crisis in 2008, the attacks on the working class in Britain and internationally are continuing, and why they will deepen in the future, notwithstanding any economic growth.

Productivity, which measures the level of output per worker, the report stated, has consistently failed to increase, amid predictions that it would turn around. There had been hopeful signs in 2015, but this “appears to have been another false dawn,” according to OBR Chairman Robert Chote.

“With the period of weak productivity growth post-crisis continuing to lengthen,” the report noted, “we have placed more weight on that as a reliable guide to future prospects.” The implications of that assessment were spelled out by Chote. “Economic developments have disappointed relative to expectations and the outlook for the economy and public finance looks materially weaker,” he said.

This means that with the economy continuing to stagnate—the OBR estimates the British economy will expand at the rate of 2.1 percent this year, compared to a rate of 2.75 percent before the economic crisis—public spending on health, pensions and social services will be further cut on the grounds that the resources are simply not available.

The implications for wages are no less significant. According to one estimate, average wages will not return to their previous peak reached at least until 2020-21, that is, some 12 years after the financial crisis.

Chote said the overall situation was characterised by “economic growth losing momentum through 2015, despite the boost from lower oil prices.”

In a comment on the OBR assessment, Financial Times columnist Martin Wolf said the outlook for productivity was the “most important economic uncertainty affecting the economic prospects of the British people.”

Drawing out the long-term trends, he continued: “In its latest forecast, the OBR expects UK productivity levels to be 6.2 percent lower in 2020 than it had hoped in June 2010 and 2.5 percent lower than it had hoped in March 2014. But the biggest downgrades of all are relative to the pre-crisis optimism: the OBR’s latest forecast for potential output is 15 percent below the Treasury’s March 2008 forecast. Similar downgrades have occurred to the official US forecasts.”

And it is not just in the US. The trends outlined in the OBR assessment of the British economy apply across the board—in Europe, Japan and countries such as Australia. They are also present in China, where a consistent feature of recent economic development has been that investment and infrastructure spending is not bringing the overall boost to the economy that it once did.

In making an assessment of these trends and their economic and political implications, it is necessary to puncture the mystifications in which the workings of the capitalist economy are shrouded.

The basis of these mystifications is that economic trends are not the product of a definite social and economic order—private ownership of the means of production and finance and production for private profit—but are the consequence of “natural” economic developments. Hence the position is advanced by government leaders, supported by a myriad of economic pundits, analysts and commentators, that lower productivity necessarily means public spending on social services must be slashed because there are simply no resources to sustain it. Belts must be tightened even further, pensions and allowances further reduced and education cut because there is no money available.

Of course, these assertions are immediately contradicted by the fact that billions of dollars are made available for spending on the military and the provision of seemingly unlimited supplies of cash from the central banks to prop up the activities of the very banks and finance houses whose profit-seeking speculation gave rise to the crisis in the first place.

But this is only the beginning of the story, not the end. While it is implemented by governments, central banks and financial authorities, the political economy of endless austerity is rooted in the very foundations of the capitalist economy itself.

The capitalist mode of production is not some “natural” economic order—mankind did not descend from the trees onto the plains of Africa and divide into wage workers, factory owners and bankers. It is a historically developed socioeconomic order based on the private ownership of the means of production and the drive for the accumulation of profit, the key measure of which is the rate of profit. That rate is determined by the relationship of the total mass of profits to the total capital outlaid to secure it.

Taking a broad view of the capitalist economy as a whole, rather than considering individual firms, the rate of profit is conditioned by two factors. First, it is determined by the division of national income as a whole—between profits on the one hand, and wages and payments on social services, which represent a deduction from the wealth that would otherwise be available to the owners of capital, on the other.

The second key factor is the relationship between the capital laid out on new plants and equipment and the national income that this generates as a result of the increase in the productive forces. An increase in productivity signifies that a given amount of investment generates a greater amount of output per worker, thereby increasing national income.

However, such investment is determined not by social need, but by the drive for profit. If profit rates are trending down, then new investment will be cut back, and productivity—measured by the output per worker—will tend to decrease and the economy will stagnate or contract.

This has been the consistent trend in all the major economies since 2008, with the result that in Europe, for example, investment rates are as much as 25 percent below their pre-crisis trend. Consequently, productivity rates have been trending ever further downwards, with the result that investment is reduced still further. A vicious circle has set in. Lower profit rates lead to cuts in investment, lowering productivity increases and reducing the rate of profit still further.

As a result, corporations, instead of reinvesting the profits they accumulate, use their available cash for speculative activities in financial markets, drawing on the ultra-cheap money provided by central banks for mergers and acquisitions, share buybacks and investment in the property market. While such parasitism boosts the bottom line of the individual firm, it leads to further stagnation in the real economy as a whole.

Herein lies the reason for the relentless drive to austerity. Under conditions where the very operation of the profit system leads to cuts in investment, and the real economy stagnates or even contracts, capitalist governments insist that “there is no money” for social services. “The country must learn to live within its means” is their endless mantra.

But once the mystifications are torn way, the real processes are revealed. The rate of profit, as we noted earlier, is determined by two factors: the increase in national income generated by investment and the division of that income between the owners of capital and the producers of that wealth, the working class.

Under conditions where investment is being slashed, and consequently the growth of productivity, and therefore national income, tends to decline, profit rates can be sustained and increased only by boosting the proportion of national income flowing to the corporations and finance houses—a result that is achieved through the imposition of ever-increasing impoverishment on the mass of the working population.

This endless austerity is not a “natural” development. It is the result of the relentless logic of the profit system that, by its very functioning, produces fabulous wealth at one pole and poverty and misery at the other.

It cannot be broken through appeals for “reform,” for it is rooted in the very foundations of the capitalist economy, but only by “the expropriation of the expropriators,” as Marx insisted—that is, the ending of the private ownership of the means of production and finance, the institution of public ownership under democratic control and the establishment of a planned socialist economy based on human need.

The U.S. has terrorized Cuba for over 50 years

— Fidel Castro is right to be wary of Obama’s claims

Since the 1959 revolution the U.S. has invaded Cuba, tried assassinations, imposed an embargo & harbored terrorists

The U.S. has terrorized Cuba for over 50 years — Fidel Castro is right to be wary of Obama's claims

Barack Obama, Fidel Castro (Credit: Reuters/Carlos Barria/AP/Alex Castro)

“We don’t need the empire to give us anything,” asserted revolutionary leader Fidel Castro in a recent article criticizing President Obama in the wake of his trip to Cuba.

Obama made history this month as the first standing U.S. president to visit the neighboring island nation in 88 years.

The president was applauded for a speech in which he described Cuba as “family,” and called for easing tensions between the countries.

“It is time, now, for us to leave the past behind,” Obama insisted. The former Cuban president scoffed at the idea.

“I suppose all of us were at risk of a heart attack upon hearing these words from the President of the United States,” Castro wrote in “Brother Obama,” an open letter published in the Cuban state newspaper Granma.

He continued, listing acts of U.S. aggression against Cuba: “After a ruthless blockade that has lasted almost 60 years, and what about those who have died in the mercenary attacks on Cuban ships and ports, an airliner full of passengers blown up in midair, mercenary invasions, multiple acts of violence and coercion?”

Pundits portrayed Castro’s comments as a sign of supposed ill will and ingratitude. But an objective look at the history shows that his response was not only wholly justified; it was frankly quite mild.

For the crimes — and there is no question that they are crimes — the U.S. has repeatedly and continuously committed against its sovereign neighbor over the past five decades include:

  • a violent invasion that left hundreds dead
  • more than 600 assassination attempts
  • myriad covert campaigns dedicated to fomenting “hunger, desperation and overthrow of government”
  • the unilateral imposition of a suffocating embargo
  • and the harboring of CIA-trained admitted terrorists who murdered Cuban civilians in hopes of toppling the socialist state.

Since the 1959 revolution that overthrow the brutal right-wing regime of U.S.-backed Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista, the U.S. has pursued policies in and against Cuba that can only, according to any consistent definition of the term, be described as terrorism. This is precisely what world-renowned scholar and foreign policy analyst Noam Chomsky has called U.S. actions in the country: a “terrorist campaign” and a decades-long “murderous terrorist war.”

Even former government functionaries have admitted as much. Writing in the New York Times in 1978, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and historian Garry Willsdetailed the U.S.’s “campaign of terror and sabotage directed against Castro.” Wills was reviewing the research of illustrious historian Arthur Schlesinger, who worked closely with and advised both John and Robert Kennedy and described the U.S.’s strategy as an attempt to unleash “the terrors of the earth” on post-revolutionary Cuba.

As Wills put it in the U.S. newspaper of record almost four decades ago:

‘The C.I.A. findings are important in a biography of Robert Kennedy, because Mr. Schlesinger recognizes that the Attorney General, after the Bay of Pigs, became the principal cheerleader for Operation Mongoose, the campaign of terror and sabotage directed at Castro. Mr. Kennedy’s own notes of a White House meeting on Nov. 4, 1961, present his determination: “My idea is to stir things up on island with espionage, sabotage, gender disorder, run & operated by Cubans themselves with every group but Batistaites & Communists. Do not know if we will be successful in overthrowing Castro but we have nothing to lose in my estimate.”

‘Two months later, Mr. Kennedy met with the C.I.A. organizers of Mongoose and told them their work was “top priority,” that “no time, money, effort – or manpower – be spared.” Chemicals to incapacitate sugar workers were discussed, and the encouragement of “gangster elements” in Cuba. When an opportunity for reassessment arose, Mr. Kennedy wrote: “I am in favor of pushing ahead rather than taking any step back.” Mr. Schlesinger concludes that Mr. Kennedy wanted Mongoose to unleash “the terrors of the earth” on Cuba because “Castro was high on his list of emotions.” Like others, Mr. Schlesinger can find no direct evidence that Mr. Kennedy knew of the assassination plots against Castro. But the C.I.A. was being urged to acts of secret war that involved killing; it probably felt authorized by what Mr. Schlesinger calls “a driven sense in the administration that someone ought to be doing something to make life difficult for Castro.”‘

Cuba and the Castros are frequently demonized in the U.S., but the actual history of American policy in the country is rarely discussed.

While describing U.S. policy in Cuba as a “murderous terrorist war” in the preface to the 2015 edition of his book “Year 501: The Conquest Continues,” Chomsky also added, “Whatever one thinks of Obama, he cannot be accused of ignorance of the history that he is erasing in this performance.”

The distinguished American dissident was referring to a different speech by the president, but his remarks are just as pertinent in this case. Obama effectively erased the brutal history of U.S. imperialism in Cuba in his rosy call “for us to leave the past behind.” A brief look at this history helps one understand just where El Comandante is coming from.


Until 1959, Cuba was a virtual colony of the U.S., having previously been seized from colonial Spain in the 1898 Spanish-American War.

Before the revolution, right-wing American-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista worked hand-in-hand with wealthy landowners and multinational corporations that exploited Cuba’s plentiful natural resources, particularly its sugar plantations, while violently clamping down on the labor movement and brutally repressing dissent.

Batista’s U.S.-backed regime killed and tortured thousands of people. He also fostered a strong relationship with the American mafia. (The film “The Godfather Part II” cleverly depicts this criminal friendship in a scene in which mafiosos and corporate oligarchs slice up a cake with Cuba on it and merrily gobble it up.)

When Fidel Castro and Ernesto “Che” Guevara launched a guerilla uprising against the Batista dictatorship, they quickly gained the support of Cuban workers and peasants, who feared the repressive regime and who lived in extreme poverty while a small corporate elite got richer and richer.

On Jan. 1, 1959, the 26th of July Movement led by Castro overthrow Cuba’s dictatorship and established a socialist government. In post-revolutionary Cuba, resources were nationalized on behalf of the whole population, and the island wrestled itself out of the chokehold American corporate power had held it in for decades.

Despite claims to the contrary, Cuba did not ally itself with the Soviet Union until a few years after the revolution, at which point the U.S. had already tried to undermine its popular newly independent government.


Today, against the will of 99 percent of the international community, the U.S. maintains a strict embargo on Cuba. For 24 years, the vast majority of U.N. nations (191 of 193 in 2015) have voted against the unilateral U.S. trade ban.

This embargo — which Cuba and other Latin American countries commonly refer to as a blockade — was first imposed on Cuba not, as is often claimed, in 1962 in response to Castro’s alignment with the USSR, but rather in 1960.

Why did the U.S. impose an embargo on Cuba in the first place? In the words of a State Department official, “to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.”

In an April 1960 memo titled “The Decline and Fall of Castro,” Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs Lester Mallory admitted that the “majority of Cubans support Castro” and that there “is no effective political opposition.” He therefore concluded that the “only foreseeable means of alienating internal support is through disenchantment and disaffection based on economic dissatisfaction and hardship.”

The State Department official insisted that “every possible means should be undertaken promptly to weaken the economic life of Cuba.” In order to engage in such economic sabotage, Secretary Mallory said the U.S. government, while being “as adroit and inconspicuous as possible,” should make “the greatest inroads in denying money and supplies to Cuba, to decrease monetary and real wages, to bring about hunger, desperation and overthrow of government.”

“The principal item in our economic quiver would be flexible authority in the sugar legislation,” he proposed — that is to say, an embargo on sugar.

“All other avenues should likewise be explored,” he added.

Although the U.S. would later try to justify its unilateral imposition of an embargo on a sovereign neighbor with Cold War fearmongering, President Dwight D. Eisenhower in fact prevented sugar, oil, and weapons from being traded with Cuba just after the revolution, before Castro allied with the Soviets.

The fact that the embargo continues still to this day, 25 years after the fall of the USSR, demonstrates just how dishonest the excuse is.

Violence and covert operations

While setting the stage for the ongoing sabotage of the Cuban economy, Eisenhower also began organizing paramilitary forces with plans to directly, and violently, overthrow the new Cuban government.

Just months after entering office, in April 1961, President John F. Kennedy oversaw the U.S.’s invasion of its sovereign neighbor, resorting to violence in hopes of taming post-revolutionary Cuba. In the assault, known popularly as the Bay of Pigs, at least 176 Cuban soldiers were killed. Historians say hundreds and perhaps thousands more Cubans died, were wounded or went missing.

The Kennedy administration’s Operation Mongoose was devoted to using covert action to overthrow the Cuban government. More than 50 years later, the campaign continued in spirit, if not in name.

A decade ago, British news outlet Channel 4 created a documentary called “638 Ways to Kill Castro.” The 2006 film details how, over a period of 45 years, the CIA tried to murder Fidel Castro hundreds of times.

According to Fabian Escalante, the former head of Cuba’s secret service, the Cuban government foiled 638 assassination attempts on Castro by 2006. Some of the ideas the CIA came up with were truly outlandish, including the use of poison pills, toxic cigars, exploding mollusks and even a fungus-infected diving suit.

Since then, the U.S. has orchestrated numerous other campaigns in hopes of overthrowing Cuba’s socialist government. These policies have continued under the Obama administration as well, even after Fidel Castro retired in 2006 and was replaced by current President Raúl Castro.

In 2014, it was revealed that the U.S. had created a fake Cuban version of Twitter called ZunZuneo in hopes of stirring up unrest and toppling the Cuban government.

Later that same year, another U.S. sabotage plot was uncovered: USAID, the American agency ostensibly devoted to administering foreign aid, had recruited Cuban hip-hop artists to spread anti-government propaganda.

Yet this is not even the worst of it. Likely the most egregious U.S. policy toward Cuba is the fact that, still today, the country leading the “War on Terror” continues to provide refuge to anti-Castro terrorists.

Harboring terrorists

Scholar Peter Kornbluh, the director of the National Security Archive and an expert on U.S. policy in Latin America, has described anti-Castro militant Luis Posada Carriles as “one of the most dangerous terrorists in recent history.” Yet the admitted terrorist lives in Miama, Florida today.

After the Cuban Revolution, Posada Carriles fled to the U.S., where he has remained on and off since. He participated in the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, and then became a CIA agent. Subsequently, he carried out numerous anti-Castro bombings, often targeting civilians. While he was carrying out these terrorist attacks, Posada Carriles maintained ties with the CIA.

He has admitted involvement in numerous terrorist attacks, and has been convicted of several crimes in Panama and Venezuela.

When Posada Carriles was released from a U.S. jail in 2007, the Department of Justicerequested that the court not allow him to go free, stating he was “an admitted mastermind of terrorist plots and attacks.”

Posada Carriles has also long been accused of having ties to the 1976 bombing of the Cubana airlines flight 455, which killed 73 civilians, although he denied involvement in this particular attack.

Government documents declassified by scholars show that the CIA had concrete intelligence about the planned terrorist attack before it took place. A CIA source heard Posada Carriles say before the bombing, “We are going to hit a Cuban airliner.” At the time of the attack, the accused terrorist was in touch with CIA and FBI agents in Venezuela.

Fellow anti-Castro militant and alleged terrorist Orlando Bosch was additionally accused of being involved in the bombing of the Cuban flight, although Bosch also denied involvement.

Together, Posada Carriles and Bosch created the Coordination of United Revolutionary Organizations, which the FBI has classified as “an anti-Castro terrorist umbrella organization.”

Former Bush-era Attorney General Richard Thornburgh called Bosch “an unreformed terrorist.” When the accused terrorist died in 2011, he was living in Miami.

“You remember there was something called the Bush Doctrine — Bush II: A country that harbors terrorists is the same as the terrorists themselves,” Chomsky said in a 2015 interview. “That’s for others, not for us. We harbor them and also support their activities.”

Understandable skepticism

In short, in light of this history, Fidel Castro’s wariness of Obama’s claims that the U.S. is interested in rapprochement is completely understandable.

Although Cuba is a small country — smaller than many U.S. states — the Cuban Revolution was among the most important moments in the long 20th century. This is because, despite its size, Cuba freed itself from U.S. hegemony in Latin America and declared independence in Uncle Sam’s own backyard.

Are there critiques to be made of the Cuban government? Certainly — as is the case with any government. But the notion that Cuba has a uniquely stained human rights record — or that its human rights record and putative lack of democracy is the reason the U.S. is so adamant on undermining Cuba, not its independent, anti-imperialist socialism — is particularly ludicrous when compared to the blood-soaked records of draconian U.S. allies like the extremist, theocratic absolute monarchy in Saudi Arabia (where a young man arrested at a pro-democracy protest as a teen is slated to be beheaded and crucified, and where women lack basic rights) or the repressive military dictatorship in Egypt (where the regime massacred more than 800 people in one day for the crime of protesting the U.S.-backed coup that toppled Egyptians’ first democratically elected government).

True, Cuba does not have a perfect human rights record — and it might also be mentioned that the worst human rights violations on the island happen to take place at the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, where the U.S. has indefinitely detained hundreds of people without due process, and used extreme forms of psychological and physical torture.

The sudden concern with Cuba’s human rights record is particularly fascinating considering many of the pundits bringing it up themselves simultaneously support a slew of unsavory U.S. policies like torture or indiscriminate bombing.

But this is beside the point. The history of U.S. policy in Cuba can only be encapsulated in one word: terrorism. And Castro has every reason to be suspicious of the notion that the superpower that has tried to violently overthrow his government for decades now suddenly wants to be friends.

Ben Norton is a politics staff writer at Salon. You can find him on Twitter at@BenjaminNorton.

Newly-released email details complicity of Obama’s EPA in Flint poisoning

By James Brewer
30 March 2016

Federal authorities from the Obama administration’s Environmental Protection Agency engaged in what can only be described as a criminal conspiracy to conceal the dire health threat to residents of Flint, Michigan from its toxic water supply. While the Democrats and much of the news media have attempted to foist the blame solely on the state’s Republican governor, new evidence shows that the EPA functioned as an accomplice in the poisoning of city residents and its cover-up.

In a just-released June 25, 2015 internal email, US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 5 water expert Miguel Del Toral described the situation in Flint as “bordering on criminal neglect” after he discovered high levels of lead in tap water and efforts of state officials to conceal it from the public. Del Toral sent the message to his superior, EPA Section Chief of Ground Water and Drinking Water Rita Bair, the day after submitting a detailed interim report warning of high lead in Flint water.

Miguel Del Toral

Del Toral reported that city officials had not treated the city’s water supply with anticorrosive phosphates for more than a year after switching the city supply to the highly polluted Flint River. The refusal to treat the water—a violation of the federal Clean Water Act—resulted in the leaching of neurotoxins such as lead and copper from the city’s antiquated pipes into the water delivered to the city’s homes, schools and workplaces.

Del Toral’s report included detailed results from his sampling and an explanation of why previous testing by city water staff showed much lower levels of contamination. Under the direction of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ), Flint water department employees took the samples after doing a “pre-flush” of the water from household taps—a method designed to give a distorted and deliberately lower lead content.

In an effort to dissuade him from pursuing the issue, Bair questioned Del Toral’s assertion that high lead levels were pervasive throughout the city. Del Toral responded angrily, “The widespread high lead is my judgment based on a couple of decades working with lead issues and I stand by it despite the limited data set from Flint. A simple application of scientific principles to the circumstances in Flint along with the limited data are enough to know that there is a problem there. They have had no corrosion control treatment in place for over a year now and they have lead service lines. It’s just basic chemistry on lead solubility. You will have high lead leaching into the water where you are doing nothing to mitigate that. We don’t need to drop a bowling ball off every building in town to know that it will fall to the ground in all of these places.”

After saying “City of Flint is flushing away the evidence before measuring it,” Del Toral wrote, “there is zero chance or close to zero chance that you will ever capture any of the high lead.” He then added, “I understand that this is not a comfortable situation, but the State is complicit in this and the public has a right to know what they are doing because it is their children that are being harmed. At a MINIMUM, the City should be warning residents about the high lead, not hiding it telling them that there is no lead in the water. To me that borders on criminal neglect. The only people that question the science are the ones that have a vested interest in not finding lead. When we look, we find it. When they look, they either don’t find it or if they find it, they dismiss it as the resident’s plumbing or use some other fabricated reason.”

The Flint water treatment plant

The email not only provides prima facie evidence that the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) and local agencies were breaking the law and concealing the truth from residents. It proves that the EPA, the federal agency charged with enforcing safe drinking water standards, was just as responsible for a crime that has led to the deaths of least 10 residents and which has done permanent damage to thousands of children and other residents.

In the same email, Del Toral condemns the EPA. “I am really getting tired of the bad actors being defended, the bad actions being ignored, and people trying to do the right thing are constantly being subjected to intense scrutiny as if we were doing something wrong. It’s all of this ‘don’t find anything bad’ crap at EPA that is the reason I desperately want to leave. I am not happy to find bad things. It is completely stressful because it means children are being damaged and I have to put up with all of the political crap, but where these problems exist I will not ignore them. I truly, truly hate working here. EPA is a cesspool.”

His superiors at the EPA quashed Del Toral’s interim report. Susan Hedman, Region 5 administrator, who has since been forced to resign, told Flint Mayor Dayne Walling that she was sorry it was ever written and in its form, would never see the light of day.

The atmosphere Del Toral describes in the EPA is not simply the product of bureaucratic indifference by this or that functionary. It is an expression of the decades of deregulation and defunding by both the Democrats and Republicans, which have transformed the character of these governmental agencies that once exercised at least a modicum of oversight over the rapacious activities of big business.

These bodies, from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), set up in 1927 to monitor quality and prices of food products and pharmaceuticals; the Securities and Exchange Commission, (1934), to oversee and regulate the financial operations of banks, the stock market and investment banks; the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), (1958), to regulate practices and prices of commercial airlines; the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the EPA, both set up in 1970, and the Mine Safety and Health Administration MSHA, (1977), all fall under the executive branch of government, i.e., under the President.

Over the last four decades, successive governments from Reagan to Obama have slashed funding to these agencies and promoted “free-market” policies that have eviscerated any real check on the relentless drive for profits at the expense of the health, safety and living standards of working people. In many cases, former corporate executives or bought-and-sold trade union officials have been put in charge of “regulating” such operations, leading to the predictable spread of disease, occupational deaths and, of course, the reckless speculation that led to the 2008 financial crash.

Other studies, including by Virginia Tech Professor Marc Edwards, have pointed to the role of the EPA in covering up the poisoning of water in Washington, DC and other cities. For its part, the Obama administration has reduced funding for water infrastructure and lead testing for children. This is part of an overall slashing of critical spending by both big-business parties, including a 75 percent reduction in water infrastructure in real terms since the 1970s. Meanwhile trillions have been squandered on bank bailouts, corporate tax cuts and endless wars.

In the late 1960s, when Flint was thriving as GM’s industrial powerhouse and had a population of over 200,000, the Detroit water system built a 72-inch pipeline and a brand-new water treatment facility near Lake Huron to bring treated Great Lakes water some 70 miles inland to supply the city. It was engineered with enough capacity to deliver all the water the city would need based on its continued expansion. For 45 years, this pipeline was Flint’s water source.

How then, did the EPA—the body tasked with safe water enforcement—allow the city of Flint to 1) disconnect from this proven source of clean water on the promise that a new pipeline to be built six miles to the north would deliver raw, untreated lake water when completed in late 2016 to Flint’s 130-year-old and largely mothballed treatment plant; and 2) in the interim, use the Flint River as the main water source, which was known to be polluted and corrosive; then 3) allow the water to be pumped into the city’s system with no corrosion control?

The Obama-appointed Administrator of the EPA, Gina McCarthy, stubbornly testified before Congress on March 17 that the EPA had nothing to do with the Flint catastrophe. Her first visit to Flint was a public relations event to “rebuild trust” on February 2 where she put forward the official line that the MDEQ alone was responsible for the Flint poisoning. When a World Socialist Web Site reporter posed the question that the quashing of Miguel Del Toral’s June report made the EPA just as responsible, she denied that the EPA suppressed him.

The email makes clear that Del Toral sought to sound the alarm after he discovered the situation. Rather than immediately informing the public and holding state and city officials accountable for brazenly breaking the law, the Obama administration’s EPA joined in the criminal conspiracy.