Friday, April 1, 2016

US deploying additional armored brigades to Russian border

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The United States Army in Europe plans to significantly bolster its military presence in Eastern Europe, US European Command officials said on Wednesday.
By February 2017, the US military plans to maintain a “permanent footprint” of three combat brigades stationed on the continent. The deployments will include 250 combat vehicles, including tanks, armored personnel carriers, Bradley and Paladin Fighting Vehicles, howitzers and thousands of troops.
The 4,200-strong rotation, positioned along NATO’s border with Russia, including deployments in Bulgaria, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland and Romania, will come in addition to 62,000 US personnel already stationed in Europe.
“This is a big step in enhancing the Army’s rotational presence and increasing their combat equipment in Europe,” US General Philip Breedlove said.
“This Army implementation plan continues to demonstrate our strong and balanced approach to reassuring our NATO Allies and Partners in the wake of an aggressive Russia in Eastern Europe and elsewhere,” he said.
America’s regional partners will host “a more frequent presence of an armored brigade with more modernized equipment in their countries,” Breedlove said.
In comments Tuesday, General Breedlove called for NATO to prepare for aerial combat against Russian planes over the Baltic states. “I think that the alliance does need to be ready for the air defense mission,” he said. “Air policing and air defense are meant for two different situations. The Baltic air policing is a peacetime mission.”
The latest moves to expand the US military footprint in the East were authorized by the Obama White House in February, as part of the 2016-2017 European Reassurance Initiative (ERI).
This year’s ERI allocates $3.4 billion to finance the US presence in Eastern Europe, an increase of some 400 percent above the ERI budget for the previous year.
The huge increase in funding is the latest escalation of the US war preparations that have transformed Central and Eastern Europe into a virtual armed camp in the two years since the 2014 US-orchestrated coup in Ukraine.
During this period, the US steadily extended its basing arrangements and political commitments through the post-Soviet sphere.
Beginning in April 2014, the US deployed expeditionary forces of some 600 troops to all three of the Baltic states. In September 2014, President Obama affirmed that the US commitment to the defense of Estonia is “unbreakable,” “unwavering” and “eternal.” Last February, NATO announced plans to double its combat units stationed in Eastern Europe, including the establishment of six command centers dispersed throughout the region.
Together with these deployments, the latest wave of US military assets dispatched to Eastern Europe is designed to allow US forces to engage in large-scale war with Russia, US Undersecretary of Defense Robert Work said Wednesday. “There will be a division’s worth of stuff to fight if something happens,” he told the Wall Street Journal.
“If push came to shove, they’d be able to come together as a cohesive unit that has trained together, with all their organic equipment, and fight. That’s a lot better than what we have right now,” Work said.
“There will be American equipment and people in each of these countries,” US General Ben Hodges told the Journal.
The new US deployments will be equipped with a “full kit” of the military’s most advanced weaponry and gear, US officials say. Pentagon spokeswoman Laura Seal boasted Tuesday that the additional forces will place “the most modern and capable equipment in the hands of US armored units who will train continuously in Europe.”
Russian forces are already prepared to counter the “confrontational patterns” followed by the US and NATO, Russia’s Permanent Representative to NATO Alexander Grushko said in response to the US military announcements.
Moscow will take “all the military measures we consider necessary in order to counterbalance this reinforced presence,” Grushko said.
“Certainly, we’ll respond totally asymmetrically,” Grushko said.
The anti-Russian drive is being accelerated by the role of NATO’s Eastern European and Baltic members, which seek to use the growing US-Russian confrontation to militarize their own societies and repress dissent under conditions of deepening social crisis.
In an interview with the Washington Post, Polish President Andrzej Duda denounced Russia and called for “a significantly increased presence of US troops on our territory. Duda called for NATO to “strengthen its defensive potential in this part of Europe to such a degree as to make it absolutely clear that it does not pay off to launch an attack against any member state. Only the increased presence of NATO in Central and Eastern Europe can ensure real deterrence,” he said.
The Polish president is set to discuss a range of joint security projects with US leaders while attending the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington this week.
Duda’s rhetoric aside, the military preparations of the US and its allies are anything but defensive in nature.
In reality, the US and NATO forces massing on Russia’s border are part of preparations for a range of military and covert-intelligence operations directed against pro-Russian political factions and against the Putin government itself, aimed at destabilizing and overthrowing pro-Russian governments using the “hybrid warfare” methods employed by the Western powers during the 2014 coup in Ukraine and the 2011 US-backed insurgency in Syria.

Japan’s security laws: Another milestone in the drive to world war

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Japan’s new military legislation comes into force today, allowing the country’s armed forces, under the guise of “collective self-defence,” to fully participate in wars abroad for the first time since the end of World War II. The implementation of the laws is a major step in the revival of Japanese militarism, which has been encouraged by Washington as part of its “pivot to Asia” and preparations for war with China.
The legislation is in flagrant breach of the Japanese Constitution, which, under Article 7, renounces war forever and affirms that land, sea and air forces will never be maintained.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last month dismissed the advice of legal experts that the legislation was unconstitutional, declaring that the constitution, not the new laws, had to be changed. Abe is pressing for an end to all restraints on the military and the transformation of Japan into a “normal nation”—that is, one that can aggressively pursue its economic and strategic interests by armed force.
Since coming to power in 2012, the right-wing Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) government has boosted military spending, concentrated war powers in a US-style National Security Council and refashioned military planning to focus on conflict with China. As part of its “island defence” strategy, Japan is building up military forces on its southern island chain adjacent to the Chinese mainland. On Monday, a new radar station became operational on the island of Yoniguna, just 150 kilometres from disputed islets in the East China Sea known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.
The entire Japanese political establishment, not just the LDP, is responsible for the extreme tensions over the Senkakus. The previous government, headed by the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), provoked widespread Chinese protests in September 2012 by “nationalising” or buying the uninhabited rocky outcrops from their private owner. Abe has refused to countenance any negotiations with China over the future of the islands.
In 2014, US President Barack Obama upped the ante by declaring that the US-Japan Security Treaty covered the Senkakus. This was tantamount to committing the US to intervene militarily in support of Japan should war break out between it and China over the islets. Hundreds of dangerous encounters took place last year, as Japan mobilised fighter jets and coast guard vessels to challenge Chinese “intrusions,” heightening the risk that a mistake or miscalculation could lead to conflict.
The implementation of Japan’s “collective self-defence” laws is another milestone in the drive to war being fuelled by the global breakdown of capitalism. Japanese imperialism is presently operating under the patronage of the United States, but it is an alliance of convenience. Japan and the US have already fought one war in the Pacific that cost the lives of millions to determine which power would dominate Asia, and the two could come to blows again.
The remilitarisation of Japan underscores the warnings made by the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI) in its February 18 statement Socialism and the Fight against War” that the world is being drawn once again into a catastrophic global conflict. Behind the backs of their populations, capitalist governments are gearing up for war and becoming increasingly bellicose.
“As in the years that preceded the outbreak of World War I in 1914 and World War II in 1939,” the statement declares, “political leaders and military planners are approaching the conclusion that a war between major powers is not a remote possibility, but, rather, highly probable and, perhaps, even inevitable. At a certain point, such military fatalism becomes a significant contributing factor to the outbreak of war.”
As is today the case in Germany, the road to war is being prepared in Japan with a reactionary campaign to revise history and whitewash the monstrous crimes of Japanese imperialism in the 1930s and 1940s. Abe, whose maternal grandfather Nobusuke Kishi was part of the wartime Japanese cabinet, speaks for broad sections of the ruling elite who justify Japan’s role in World War II as a struggle to free Asia from Western colonialism. Abe appointees have dismissed the wartime sexual slavery of hundreds of thousands of “comfort women” by the Japanese military and downplayed or denied such atrocities as the Rape of Nanjing, in which up to 300,000 Chinese civilians and prisoners were slaughtered.
The government is whipping up Japanese patriotism and a climate of fear over the Chinese “threat” so as to justify rearmament. At the same time, it is seeking to project mounting social tensions outward against a foreign enemy. A quarter century of slump has been compounded by the failure of so-called Abenomics to revive the Japanese economy. Wages remain at the level they were two decades ago, and many young people are condemned to a future of unemployment or low-paid casual work. This week, the Financial Times reported that large numbers of elderly people are committing petty crimes in order to get themselves jailed because they cannot survive on their meagre pensions.
The same crisis of global capitalism that is fuelling the drive to war is giving fresh impetus to socialist revolution. Opposition to war and militarism is deeply embedded in the Japanese working class, which suffered not only the police-state rule of the wartime militarist regime in Tokyo, but also the murderous US bombing raids. The Japanese people remain the only population to have experienced the horrors of nuclear incineration in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Some of the largest anti-war protests in Japanese history took place last year as the Abe government rammed its military laws through the parliament. At their height, the demonstrations swelled to 120,000 in Tokyo, with smaller protests in hundreds of other cities and towns. That anti-war sentiment, however, remained trapped within the parliamentary framework, as the Japanese Communist Party and various pseudo-left organisations have subordinated the protests to the capitalist Democratic Party of Japan, which has no fundamental disagreement with the military legislation.
Workers and youth in Japan, like their counterparts around the world, can halt the slide towards world war only through the construction of an international anti-war movement of the working class. The spread of war can be ended only by abolishing the social order that is its root cause—capitalism, with its archaic nation-state system. We urge our readers in Japan and throughout Asia to take up the struggle to build this anti-war movement.

In Syria, militias armed by the Pentagon fight those armed by the CIA

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Syrian militias armed by different parts of the U.S. war machine have begun to fight each other on the plains between the besieged city of Aleppo and the Turkish border, highlighting how little control U.S. intelligence officers and military planners have over the groups they have financed and trained in the bitter five-year-old civil war.
The fighting has intensified over the last two months, as CIA-armed units and Pentagon-armed ones have repeatedly shot at each other while maneuvering through contested territory on the northern outskirts of Aleppo, U.S. officials and rebel leaders have confirmed.
In mid-February, a CIA-armed militia called Fursan al Haq, or Knights of Righteousness, was run out of the town of Marea, about 20 miles north of Aleppo, by Pentagon-backed Syrian Democratic Forces moving in from Kurdish-controlled areas to the east.
“Any faction that attacks us, regardless from where it gets its support, we will fight it,” Maj. Fares Bayoush, a leader of Fursan al Haq, said in an interview.
Rebel fighters described similar clashes in the town of Azaz, a key transit point for fighters and supplies between Aleppo and the Turkish border, and on March 3 in the Aleppo neighborhood of Sheikh Maqsud.
The attacks by one U.S.-backed group against another come amid continued heavy fighting in Syria and illustrate the difficulty facing U.S. efforts to coordinate among dozens of armed groups that are trying to overthrow the government of President Bashar Assad, fight the Islamic State militant group and battle one another all at the same time.
“It is an enormous challenge,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, who described the clashes between U.S.-supported groups as “a fairly new phenomenon.”
“It is part of the three-dimensional chess that is the Syrian battlefield,” he said.
The area in northern Syria around Aleppo, the country's second-largest city, features not only a war between the Assad government and its opponents, but also periodic battles against Islamic State militants, who control much of eastern Syria and also some territory to the northwest of the city, and long-standing tensions among the ethnic groups that inhabit the area, Arabs, Kurds and Turkmen.
“This is a complicated, multi-sided war where our options are severely limited,” said a U.S. official, who wasn't authorized to speak publicly on the matter. “We know we need a partner on the ground. We can't defeat ISIL without that part of the equation, so we keep trying to forge those relationships.” ISIL is an acronym for Islamic State.
President Obama this month authorized a new Pentagon plan to train and arm Syrian rebel fighters, relaunching a program that was suspended in the fall after a string of embarrassing setbacks which included recruits being ambushed and handing over much of their U.S.-issued ammunition and trucks to an Al Qaeda affiliate.
Amid the setbacks, the Pentagon late last year deployed about 50 special operations forces to Kurdish-held areas in northeastern Syria to better coordinate with local militias and help ensure U.S.-backed rebel groups aren't fighting one another. But such skirmishes have become routine.
Last year, the Pentagon helped create a new military coalition, the Syrian Democratic Forces. The goal was to arm the group and prepare it to take territory away from the Islamic State in eastern Syria and to provide information for U.S. airstrikes.
The group is dominated by Kurdish outfits known as People's Protection Units or YPG. A few Arab units have joined the force in order to prevent it from looking like an invading Kurdish army, and it has received air-drops of weapons and supplies and assistance from U.S. Special Forces.
Gen. Joseph Votel, now commander of U.S. Special Operations Command and the incoming head of Central Command, said this month that about 80% of the fighters in the Syrian Democratic Forces were Kurdish. The U.S. backing for a heavily Kurdish armed force has been a point of tension with the Turkish government, which has a long history of crushing Kurdish rebellions and doesn't want to see Kurdish units control more of its southern border.
The CIA, meanwhile, has its own operations center inside Turkey from which it has been directing aid to rebel groups in Syria, providing them with TOW antitank missiles from Saudi Arabian weapons stockpiles.
While the Pentagon's actions are part of an overt effort by the U.S. and its allies against Islamic State, the CIA's backing of militias is part of a separate covert U.S. effort aimed at keeping pressure on the Assad government in hopes of prodding the Syrian leader to the negotiating table.
At first, the two different sets of fighters were primarily operating in widely separated areas of Syria — the Pentagon-backed Syrian Democratic Forces in the northeastern part of the country and the CIA-backed groups farther west. But over the last several months, Russian airstrikes against anti-Assad fighters in northwestern Syria have weakened them. That created an opening which allowed the Kurdish-led groups to expand their zone of control to the outskirts of Aleppo, bringing them into more frequent conflict with the CIA-backed outfits.
“Fighting over territory in Aleppo demonstrates how difficult it is for the U.S. to manage these really localized and in some cases entrenched conflicts,” said Nicholas A. Heras, an expert on the Syrian civil war at the Center for a New American Security, a think tank in Washington. “Preventing clashes is one of the constant topics in the joint operations room with Turkey.”
Over the course of the Syrian civil war, the town of Marea has been on the front line of Islamic State's attempts to advance across Aleppo province toward the rest of northern Syria.
On Feb. 18, the Syrian Democratic Forces attacked the town. A fighter with the Suqour Al-Jabal brigade, a group with links to the CIA, said intelligence officers of the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State know their group has clashed with the Pentagon-trained militias.
“The MOM knows we fight them,” he said, referring to the joint operations center in southern Turkey, using an abbreviation for its name in Turkish, Musterek Operasyon Merkezi. “We'll fight all who aim to divide Syria or harm its people.” The fighter spoke on condition of anonymity.
Marea is home to many of the original Islamist fighters who took up arms against Assad during the Arab Spring in 2011. It has long been a crucial way station for supplies and fighters coming from Turkey into Aleppo.
“Attempts by Syrian Democratic Forces to take Marea was a great betrayal and was viewed as a further example of a Kurdish conspiracy to force them from Arab and Turkmen lands,” Heras said.
The clashes brought the U.S. and Turkish officials to “loggerheads,” he added. After diplomatic pressure from the U.S., the militia withdrew to the outskirts of the town as a sign of good faith, he said.
But continued fighting among different U.S.-backed groups may be inevitable, experts on the region said.
“Once they cross the border into Syria, you lose a substantial amount of control or ability to control their actions,” Jeffrey White, a former Defense Intelligence Agency official, said in a telephone interview. “You certainly have the potential for it becoming a larger problem as people fight for territory and control of the northern border area in Aleppo.”

The Savage Vision Driving a Terror-Ridden World

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The atrocities in Brussels -- and they are horrific, criminal atrocities -- are not occurring in a vacuum. They are not springing from some unfathomable abyss of motiveless malevolence. They are a response, in kind, to the atrocious violence being committed by Western powers on a regular basis in many countries around the world. And just as there is no justification for the acts of carnage in Brussels (and Paris and Turkey and elsewhere), there is likewise no justification for the much larger and more murderous acts of carnage being carried out by the most powerful and prosperous nations on earth, day after day, year after year.
The Western powers know this. For many years, their own intelligence agencies -- in study after study  -- have confirmed that the leading cause of violent "radicalization" among a small number of Muslims is the violent Western intervention in Muslim lands. These interventions are carried out for the purpose of securing the economic and political domination of Western interests over lands rich with energy resources, as well as their strategic surroundings. That they have not even the slightest connection to "liberating" people from religious or political persecution, or making the world "safer," is glaringly transparent. They are about domination, pure and simple.
Indeed, this point is scarcely disputed, although champions of domination claim it is a good thing. For decades, one has heard the argument from American exceptionalists that "if we don't do it" -- that is, if we don't dominate the world militarily and economically -- "then somebody else will." The implication, of course, is that such a "somebody else" will be far worse than our own divinely blessed, goodhearted selves.
There is a fiercely primitive worldview underlying this philosophy (which is held almost universally across the American political spectrum, and in those countries who cling to the coattails of American dominance). It says that violent domination is the only reality in human affairs: one must dominate, or be dominated. One must eat or be eaten. One must kill or be killed. There is no alternative. If "we" don't dominate -- by force if necessary, doing "whatever it takes" -- then it is a given that some other power will do so. Domination and power are all that exists; the only question is how they are distributed, and who controls that distribution. And there is no price too high to pay in order to gain -- or maintain -- that control.
You can see how this primitive belief plays out in domestic politics too. More and more, politics across the Western democracies (and other nations as well) are revolving around the question of who should dominate in a society -- or more specifically, who feels their domination over society is being threatened. This dynamic is driving nationalist movements across the board. In the United States, it is expressed in the panic and dismay felt by an increasing number of white people -- especially but by no means exclusively white males -- that their "natural" domination of American society is slipping away. They want to "take our country back," or else they'll be overwhelmed -- dominated -- by a flood of unworthy others: African-Americans, Mexicans, Muslims, homosexuals, women, etc. This self-pitying fear has been rife in right-wing discourse for decades, and has now burst into the open, and into the mainstream, with the likely nomination of Donald Trump as presidential candidate of a major party.  
Again, the dynamic of domination is key: since nothing exists outside this dynamic, since there is no other way, then one group MUST dominate the others. The idea of equal citizens working, living, and sharing together is a fantasy in this worldview. If blacks or immigrants or women or gays are perceived to have gained a small share in the national life, then that share must have been "taken" from the dominant group. And since, in this view, domination is the goal of all groups, since it is the organizing principle of human life, then those upstart groups are not just seeking a fair share of society's bounty and freedoms and opportunities; no, they are actually aiming to subjugate the dominant group. In this extremely limited worldview, life is always a zero-sum game. To give someone else more opportunity means less for yourself, and your kind. The freer someone else is, the less free you are. There is only so much to go around. You will find more sophisticated and empathetic worldviews on grade-school playgrounds, or in wolf packs.
And so we come to the foreign policies of Western nations today. They are all, without exception, built on the goal of securing effective control (in whatever form) of economic and strategic resources for the benefit of their own power structures. Again, it is beyond dispute that these policies do not involve trying to make the world a better, safer place so that their own citizens might pursue their lives in peace. These policies manifestly do not involve trying to achieve "security" for their own people. Those who advance these policies knowingly and deliberately accept the fact that they will invariably cause destruction abroad and "blowback" at home. They know and accept that these policies will destabilize the world, that they will radicalize some of those who suffer from them, that they will lead to less security at home, that they will drain public treasuries and leave their own people to sink in broken communities with decaying infrastructure, mounting debt, shrinking opportunities, bleak futures and despairing lives.
They know all of this is true -- not only because they can see it happening with their own eyes, as we all can, but also because their own experts tell them, time and time again, that this is so. But they accept all this as the price that must be paid to advance and maintain their dominance. In the words of Madeline Albright, when she was confronted with the fact that the US/UK sanctions on Iraq had at that time killed at least 500,000 children, our leaders believe this price "is worth it."
In private, they no doubt tell themselves that it is the domination of their good and "special" nation, or the domination of the worthy "values" of "Western civilization" that they are trying to secure with their policies, by doing "whatever it takes." But in practice, of course, the chief beneficiaries of these policies are invariably the ruling classes of the nations involved. This has become much more brazenly evident in recent years, as the conditions and prospects of even the middle classes are so clearly deteriorating. There is little room left to pretend that the "rising tide" of militarized hyper-capitalism is "lifting all boats" when even those who once benefitted from expanding opportunity (in the post-war boom) are now sinking. (The poor, of course, have almost always been invisible.)
The people in Brussels -- like the people in Paris, and like the far greater multitude of victims in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, etc -- are, yes, "reaping the whirlwind" of Western foreign policy. The criminals who carried out the most recent attacks have adopted the mindset of our Western elites, who teach the world, day after day, that the destruction of innocent lives is an acceptable price to pay in order to achieve your objectives. You can and must do "whatever it takes" -- even if whatever it takes is, say, the death of half a million innocent children. Or a war of aggression that leaves a million innocent people dead. Or drone-bombing a wedding party. Or sending missiles into a hospital. Or sitting in the Oval Office -- your Peace Prize gleaming on the mantelpiece -- while you tick off the names of victims on your weekly "Kill List."
We wonder how these terrorists can commit such barbarous atrocities as we see in Brussels -- even while most of us happily countenance, even celebrate, far more extensive and continuous atrocities committed by our leaders in pursuit of domination. Then we pretend that the former has no connection to the latter. Yet the targets of these foreign policies live through a hundred Brussels attacks, a dozen 9/11s every year. We teach violence to the world -- brutal destruction of individual lives, of societies and communities, of entire nations -- yet are shocked when the world responds in kind.
I will say it again: there is absolutely no justification for the murder of innocent people such as we saw in Brussels today. None. But crimes of equal horror -- killing innocent people, disrupting the lives of millions of others, and filling them with fear -- are being carried out, routinely, and on a much larger scale, by the leaders of our Western nations and their allies. This too is equally unjustifiable, and is worthy of the same level of rejection and outrage we rightly apply to the Brussels atrocity.

Obama’s pivot to Latin America

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“It takes courage for a society to address uncomfortable truths about the darker parts of its past. Confronting crimes committed by our own leaders… is essential to moving forward to building a peaceful and prosperous future in a country that respects the rights of all of its citizens.”
These were the words of President Barack Obama in praise of Mauricio Macri, Argentina’s new right-wing president, spoken at a ceremony held in Buenos Aires on March 24, the 40th anniversary of the military coup that brought to power the murderous US-backed dictatorship of Gen. Jorge Videla.
Obama could just as well have been speaking of the crimes committed by the United States against the people of Argentina and the rest of Latin America. But as the remainder of his remarks, aimed at covering up Washington’s crimes, made clear, his policies are directed not at building a society based on peace, prosperity and basic rights, but on defending the wealth and power of a rapacious capitalist oligarchy.
In his brief visit to the Parque de la Memoria in Buenos Aires, dedicated to the 30,000 Argentine workers, students and leftists who were murdered and “disappeared” under the junta, Obama was surrounded by a small army of Secret Service agents, watched over by snipers and helicopters, and kept a safe distance from the hundreds of thousands of Argentine workers and youth who took to the streets to mark the day. He was accompanied by Macri, whose basic policies are in continuity with those of the bygone junta.
What were the “uncomfortable truths” and “darker… past” Obama chose to confront in terms of Washington’s own role in the bloody events in Argentina? US officials, he said, had failed to “live up to the ideals that we stand for” and had been “slow to speak out for human rights.”
It is hard to imagine more mealymouthed and dishonest words from an American president.
If Washington was “slow to speak out for human rights” in Argentina in the 1970s it was because its political, military and intelligence officials were too busy preparing, directing and supporting both the 1976 coup and what followed—repression so savage that it amounted to a form of political genocide.
The generals who formed the fascistic junta in Argentina, like their counterparts who led military coups in Brazil, Uruguay and Chile during the same period, had been trained at the US military’s School of the Americas, then based in Panama. They were advised by large US military missions and CIA stations. The Pentagon and CIA provided direct training in the art of mass repression and the techniques of torture, which were practiced on over 100,000 Argentines.
The highest officials within the US government knew and approved of the mass repression. Previously secret State Department documents record an exchange between US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and his assistant secretary of state for Latin America, William Rogers, just two days before Videla seized power. Rogers told Kissinger to expect “a good deal of blood in Argentina before too long.” The incoming junta, he said, was “going to have to come down not only on the terrorists but on the dissidents of trade unions and their parties.” Kissinger’s reply was to order full US support for the dictatorship.
It was not only the State Department, the CIA and the military that backed the coup and the subsequent bloodbath, but also the US corporations operating in Argentina. Companies like Ford Motors fingered militant workers to be killed by the security forces and allowed the junta’s secret police to set up clandestine detention and torture centers inside their plants.
No doubt, Obama would dismiss these events as ancient history, having nothing to do with the new “human rights” regime in Washington. Asked about the US role in backing the dictatorship, he told a press conference in Buenos Aires that he wasn’t interested in discussing “every activity of the United States in Latin America over the last hundred years.”
Far from having to discuss the distant past, Obama could, to start with, speak of the crimes of his own administration. In 2009, his administration backed a coup that ousted the elected president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya, and brought in a government that has presided over the systematic murder of its opponents. And what of the regimes in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, key pillars of US policy in the Middle East and prime purchasers of American military hardware? The Egyptian regime of General Sisi has carried out mass detentions, torture and murder on a scale rivaling that of the Latin American dictatorships of 40 years ago, while the House of Saud beheads its critics.
In any event, the central purpose of Obama’s trip to Argentina was not to extol “human rights,” but to support the political and economic agenda of Macri, Argentina’s multimillionaire businessman-turned president, who was inaugurated last December.
Washington is banking on Macri’s ascent initiating a “turn to the right” in Latin America, as one government after another that was part of what was previously described as a “turn to the left” is thrown into deep crisis by the collapse of the commodities and emerging markets boom. The US is determined to exploit these crises to further its own increasingly belligerent confrontation with China, which has eclipsed the United States as South America’s leading trading partner.
The US president’s trip to Cuba and Argentina is a political manifestation of what leading Pentagon strategists have described as a “pivot to Latin America,” aimed at preventing US imperialism’s chief global rival from securing strategic advantage in what Washington has long regarded as its “own backyard.”
Obama praised Macri for having “moved rapidly on so many of the reforms that he promised.” What are the “reforms” that the US president finds so attractive?
Macri has presided over mass layoffs that are wiping out at least 50,000 jobs in the public sector and destroying another 75,000 in the private sector. He has scrapped currency controls, leading to a sudden 30 percent devaluation of the peso and a drastic cut in real wages for Argentine workers.
He has begun to implement sweeping cutbacks in education and health care, while scrapping electricity subsidies, leading to a 300 percent rate hike.
Meanwhile, he has slashed taxes affecting Argentina’s big landowners, a key constituency of the political right, and reached a multibillion-dollar deal with Wall Street “vulture” hedge funds, which will reap 10 to 15 times their original investment in defaulted Argentine debt they scooped up for pennies on the dollar.
Along with a sharp turn toward the strategic orbit of US imperialism in Latin America, Macri is pursuing a vast transfer of wealth from the masses of Argentine workers to the country’s ruling oligarchy and that of the United States. In its broad outlines, this is the same economic agenda the Videla dictatorship pursued by means of mass murder and torture. Macri has utilized a series of emergency decrees to impose his right-wing policies, although he has also counted on the backing of a section of the Peronists and the corporatist union bureaucracy.
Should Macri’s attacks on living standards provoke mass upheavals by Argentine workers, one can be certain the Argentine government will revive earlier methods of repression, and Barack Obama will quickly shed his pretense of concern for human rights.

Corporate Debt Defaults Explode To Catastrophic Levels Not Seen Since The Last Financial Crisis

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If a new financial crisis had already begun, we would expect to see corporate debt defaults skyrocket, and that is precisely what is happening.  As you will see below, corporate defaults are currently at the highest level that we have seen since 2009.  A wave of bankruptcies is sweeping the energy industry, but it isn’t just the energy industry that is in trouble.  In fact, the average credit rating for U.S. corporations is now lower than it was at any point during the last recession.  This is yet another sign that we are in the early chapters of a major league economic crisis.  Yesterday I talked about how 23.2 percent of all Americans in their prime working years do not have a job right now, but today I am going to focus on the employers.  Big corporate giants all over America are in deep, deep financial trouble, and this is going to result in a tremendous wave of layoffs in the coming months.
We should rejoice that U.S. stocks have rebounded a bit in the short-term, but the euphoria in the markets is not doing anything to stop the wave of corporate defaults that is starting to hit Wall Street like a freight train.  Zero Hedge is reporting that we have not seen this many corporate defaults since the extremely painful year of 2009…
While many were looking forward to the weekend in last week’s holiday-shortened week for some overdue downtime, the CEOs of five, mostly energy, companies had nothing but bad news for their employees and shareholders: they had no choice but to throw in the towel and file for bankruptcy.
And, as Bloomberg reports, with last week’s five defaults, the 2016 to date total is now 31, the highest since 2009 when there were 42 company defaults, according to Standard & Poor’s. Four of the defaults in the week ended March 23 were by U.S. issuers including UCI Holdings Ltd. and Peabody Energy Corp., the credit rating company said.
And by all indications, what we have seen so far is just the beginning.  According to Wolf Richter, the average rating on U.S. corporate debt is already lower than it was at any point during the last financial crisis…
Credit rating agencies, such as Standard & Poor’s, are not known for early warnings. They’re mired in conflicts of interest and reluctant to cut ratings for fear of losing clients. When they finally do warn, it’s late and it’s feeble, and the problem is already here and it’s big.
So Standard & Poor’s, via a report by S&P Capital IQ, just warned about US corporate borrowers’ average credit rating, which at “BB,” and thus in junk territory, hit a record low, even “below the average we recorded in the aftermath of the 2008-2009 credit crisis.”
What all of this tells us is that we are in the early stages of an absolutely epic financial meltdown.
Meanwhile, we continue to get more indications that the real economy is slowing down significantly.  According to the Atlanta Fed, U.S. GDP growth for the first quarter is now expected to come in at just 0.6 percent, and Moody’s Analytics is projecting a similar number…
First-quarter growth is now tracking at just 0.9 percent, after new data showed surprising weakness in consumer spending and a wider-than-expected trade gap.
According to the CNBC/Moody’s Analytics rapid update, economists now see the sluggish growth pace based on already reported data, down from 1.4 percent last week.
Of course if the government was actually using honest numbers, people wouldn’t be talking about the potential start of a new recession.  Instead, they would be talking about the deepening of a recession that never ended.
We are in the terminal phase of the greatest debt bubble the world has ever experienced.  For decades, the United States has been running up government debt, corporate debt and consumer debt.  Our trade deficits have been bigger than anything the world has ever seen before, and our massively inflated standard of living was funded by an ever increasing pile of IOUs.  I love how Doug Noland described this in his recent piece
With U.S. officials turning their backs on financial excesses, Bubble Dynamics and unrelenting Current Account Deficits, I expected the world to lose its appetite for U.S. financial claims. After all, how long should the world be expected to trade real goods and services for endless U.S. IOUs?
As it turned out, rather than acting to discipline the profligate U.S. Credit system, the world acquiesced to Bubble Dynamics. No one was willing to be left behind. Along the way it was learned that large reserves of U.S. financial assets were integral to booming financial inflows and attendant domestic investment and growth. The U.S. has now run persistently large Current Account Deficits for going on 25 years.
Seemingly the entire globe is now trapped in a regime of unprecedented monetary and fiscal stimulus required to levitate a world with unmatched debt and economic imbalances. History has seen nothing comparable. And I would strongly argue that the consequences of Bubbles become much more problematic over time. The longer excesses persist the deeper the structural impairment.
As this bubble bursts, we are going to endure a period of adjustment unlike anything America has ever known before.  I talk about the pain coming to America in my new book entitled “The Rapture Verdict” which is currently the #1 new release in Christian eschatology on Amazon.com.  To be honest, I don’t know if any of us really understands the horror that is coming to this nation in the years ahead.  None of us have ever experienced anything similar to it, so we don’t really have a frame of reference to imagine what it will be like.
This spike in corporate debt defaults is a major league red flag.  Since the last financial crisis, our big corporations went on a massive debt binge, and now they are starting to pay the price.
We never seem to learn from the errors of the past.  Instead of learning our lessons the last time around, we just went out and made even bigger mistakes.
I am afraid that history is going to judge us rather harshly.
Those that are waiting for the next great financial crisis to begin can quit waiting, because it is already happening right in front of our eyes.
If you believe that the temporary rebound of U.S. stocks is somehow going to change the trajectory of where things are heading, you are going to end up deeply, deeply disappointed.