Newsvandal

Drones and the Dream of a New Genie

Posted on | March 5, 2014 | No Comments

The defense industry dreams of genies.

That’s because it is really hard to get the genie back into bottle after you let it loose.

Really, the only option after releasing a genie is to invent new, expensive ways to combat it. And that’s been the story of America’s persistent gift to posterity—the “nuclear genie.”

Just ask the people who refuse to return to the site of America’s most notorious above-ground nuclear test—the bombing of Bikini Atoll on March 1, 1954. That hydrogen bomb, codenamed “Shrimp,” remains the largest bomb ever tested by the United States. It’s also known as a “thermonuclear weapon” because it uses high temperatures to trigger four cascading stages, each magnifying the power of the explosion. It was an “advance” on the run-of-the-mill atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And it was a response to the Soviet Union’s emerging atomic weapon program, which was, in turn, a response to America’s pioneering effort to weaponize the atom.

In fact, six years after the H-bomb spread nuclear fallout onto nearby islands and their inhabitants like radioactive snow, the Soviets kicked it up a notch by testing “Tsar Bomba”—the biggest bomb ever to explode in the history of mankind. It was 1,400 times the combined power of those dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The nuclear arms race was on. And companies like General Electric, Westinghouse and Boeing ran it. The folks at Boeing had such a great sense of humor that, in 1957, they actually named a nuclear-tipped air-to-air missile system “The Genie.”

Between 1945 and 1998, seven nations unleashed 2,053 nuclear explosions. North Korea joined the party in 2006. Israel remains a silent partner in the perpetual race. All are on the same treadmill.

But that’s the nature of war-based economies. They depend upon running in arms races. Once the starting gun is fired, science and technology and huge amounts of tax revenue are marshaled into a hamster wheel-like sprint to stay ahead of everyone else. It is a perpetual machine unlike any other. And it’s a machine that’s becoming more and more automated, autonomous and pervasive with the advent of drones.

The Army’s new search for “anti-drone” technology is the logical next step in what is sure to be a long-lived and highly profitable new arms race for the 21st Century. According to the website Defense Systems, the Army has “issued a sources sought notice for information that can help in developing an affordable Counter Unmanned Aerial System (CUAS).”

Why? Because, as the solicitation notes, “U.S. forces will be increasingly threatened by reconnaissance and armed unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in the near and far future.”

Near and far?

Perhaps that’s why the Washington, D.C. region is quite literally the only region in the U.S. with any economic confidence. In the most recent Gallup survey, the Beltway scored a +19. The second highest was Massachusetts at -1.

All of this exuberance is quite rational given the fact that America’s unchallenged drone supremacy, and its unique ability to use them with an unparalleled impunity, may finally be coming to an end. The flying killer robots might even come home to roost. So, the Pentagon will pay handsomely to find new and exciting ways to shoot ’em out of the sky.

It’s the nuclear arms race all over again.

China has developed its first stealth drone and, according to a story in International Business Times, owns the “most extensive fleet among the few countries that operate them.” Like the U.S. Army, China is also looking for ways to address the other guy’s drones. The People’s Liberation Army is currently seeking countermeasures and counter-surveillance to U.S. surveillance flights over China by long-range Global Hawk drones, which originate out of Guam.

Now that the genie is out, the cash is rolling in. A recent report by the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) predicted a sharp rise in use of drones for warfare, a rise facilitated by a drop in operating costs. The report also said China is driving a regional spike in military spending. Is that a response to America’s Pacific Pivot? Or America’s gargantuan defense budget? Or drones flying from Guam?

For now, the U.S. has the technological lead, an already-entrenched political lobby for drones on Capitol Hill and a new, 25-year long roadmap from the Pentagon charting out the future of all kinds of flying robots—from self-sufficient killer robots that “take the ‘man’ out of unmanned,” all the way to Northrop Grumman’s 757-sized surveillance drone that, as Wired reported, “offers a 360-degree view at a radius of over 2,000 nautical miles.” The Navy has ordered 68 of those babies.

And Russia is right there, doing its best to keep up with the Droneses. Not only does Russia have a fleet of approximately 500 drones, it has 43 different types of drones. It’s even working on a 20-ton flying behemoth that is the “Tsar Bomba” of flying killer robots. Additionally, the Russian Defense ministry recently announced a $9 billion drone program, expanding on deals it already has with drone-makers in Israel and the United Arab Emirates.

Yes, you read that correctly. The United Arab Emirates.

But the U.A.E. isn’t the only new player in the widening world of drones. Even Facebook sees the long-term wisdom of investing in drones. The rumored buyout of Titan Aerospace and its solar-powered mega-drone—which can stay aloft for up to five years—could one day deliver internet access to earthbound customers.

Like Tang and microwaves ovens, the consumer and private drone markets are the so-called “spin-offs” that supposedly justify the costly, taxpayer-funded race. In the case of Titan’s solar-powered drone, the scarier idea is that the technology will be spun back into the military, the CIA or the NSA to keep their surveillance drones in a perpetual spying sortie that fills the skies indefinitely.

Like all arms races throughout history, the drone race will also end in a stalemate. Billions will be spent by Congress. Billions will be made by the defense industry. But until the next new weapons system comes along to replace drones as the genie du jour, drones will continue to make one thing all war economies cannot live without—an endless supply of enemies.

Can America Afford To Bring Home The Employee Army?

Posted on | February 26, 2014 | 13 Comments

What happens when a war ends and an army comes home?

It’s been a vexing problem for centuries.

After completing the long Reconquista of the Iberian Peninsula in the 15th Century, a newly-united Spain turned its attention and its Conquistadors toward the New World.

At the end of the Civil War, the Re-United States shifted its victorious army westward, quickly making the American Indian the Civil War’s biggest loser.

Now the United States faces the problem once again.

The question is whether the Pentagon’s planned reduction of the Army to “pre-World War II levels” will be met with post-World War II solutions, or post-Vietnam-like problems?

The issue now, unlike with those wars, is that America’s army is a “professional” army. Since the post-Vietnam reboot of the Reagan years, military service has become a jobs program, a wide-ranging technical school and training program, and a de facto safety valve for the poor, the working poor and for immigrants seeking a path to citizenship. And for some in the middle class it’s been their only chance of ever affording college.

The “Be All You Can Be” military of the 1980s—along with the “One Weekend a Month” National Guard and Reserves—matched Reagan’s Cold War calculations, but it also met a more subtle desire by a chastened Pentagon to transform the military into a professional army, with economic motivations filling the patriotic void left by the catastrophe of Vietnam.

The Vietnam demobilization was a disaster for many vets who struggled with drug abuse, PTSD, homelessness and, even to this day, a high suicide rate. The inability to absorb scarred and disillusioned draftees during the economically stagnant 1970s was in stark contrast to the overwhelming success of the G.I. Bill and the “go-go” manufacturing economy of the 1950s, which quickly and effectively assimilated a large standing army into comfortable civilian employment.

The assimilation is staggering—active duty forces dropped from the wartime high of 12 million in 1945 to roughly 1.5 million by 1947. A combination of conscription and volunteerism sustained U.S. troop levels thereafter, meeting the increased needs of the Korean War and various Cold War deployments until the burning of draft cards and widespread protests challenged the system.

The Vietnam backlash led to the functional end of the draft and the marketing of military service as a career development program.

As a bonus, this re-branding of service created a new pro-military constituency within the body politic. Like defense contractors’ use of civilian manufacturing jobs to secure congressional support, the new “employee army” offered enlistees a rational economic benefit beyond patriotism. It also gave the economy some help along the way, providing an injection of good old fashioned socialism under the guise of patriotic duty.

While many high school grads accumulated massive, inescapable debts as college students, the all-volunteer military offered a way out of the economic dead-ends created by the unleashing of Wall Street’s financial wizards, the end of manufacturing and the outsourcing of, it seemed, just about everything.

Military service mitigated the effects of Reaganomics in the 1980s, offered an alternative to the free trade and tech-bubble economy of the 1990s and, with a rapid post-9/11 ramp up, created an economic safety net for the faux economy of the new century. Americans were asked to support the troops while employing the troops actually helped to support America’s hollow economy.

Although these Army personnel cuts come at a time when Wall Street enjoys record highs and policymakers talk about “The Recovery” as if it’s an actual thing, Americans remain unconvinced that the rising tide is lifting their boats. Gallup’s latest poll shows unemployment atop their list of concerns, with the “economy in general” a close second. Americans want and need jobs, and not just the type of jobs that will benefit from a rise in the minimum wage.

For those scheduled to leave military service in the near term, they will find themselves in a wage-depressed, job-scarce economy. For those who planned on using the military “safety valve” as a way out of a stagnant future, the Pentagon is curtailing one of the only employment and job-training programs available to the poor, the working poor and the dwindling middle class.

Some called it the “poverty draft”—meaning that the poor had few options other than military service. Military recruiters called it “easy cash,” reaping illicit signing bonuses in what’s become a huge kickback scandal reaching up the chain of command. But none dare call it what it often is—a safety net for those who might otherwise fall through the cracks.

Just think what the Great Recession could’ve been like if America didn’t have over 540,000 people in the Army or a total of 1.4 million in uniform, all earning paychecks, getting healthcare and removed from the harrowing competition of a severely depressed job market?

And what would happen if even a quarter of the 1,387,638 active duty military serving in 2013 tried to get jobs in an economy of $19 billion companies with only 55 employees, bank tellers who depend on public assistance to scrape by and Americans who are one missed paycheck away from disaster?

Maybe the answer is coming, or maybe the answer is that the army isn’t really coming home. Rather, it’s just pursuing some cost-cutting measures designed to lower overhead and increase profitability.

The rise of flying killer robots, warfare by algorithm and a wide array of high-tech options to low-tech boots on the ground all give the Pentagon an easy way to reduce personnel costs without curtailing its global appetite for destruction. On the surface it looks like an incremental step away from empire. But it’s really a corporate-style move to cut the one thing all executives like to cut most—the cost of labor.

In addition to trimming the Army down to around 440,000, other cost-cutting measures include:

  • a one-year salary freeze for most officers
  • a meager one-percent pay raise for military personnel
  • “slowing of growth” in the tax-free housing allowance
  • a $1.4 billion subsidy cut to military commissaries
  • a rise in health insurance deductibles and co-pays for some retirees and active service family members

Of course, there is nothing here about closing down the Pentagon’s world-wide network of lush golf courses, freezing the F-35 program until rampant cost overruns can be stopped or cutting the actual defense budget. In fact, the White House is plotting a rise in spending for 2016. In light of Secretary Hagel’s plan, these cuts really amount to a windfall for the Military-Industrial makers of high-tech weaponry by shifting cost savings into new, profitable weapons systems.

Meanwhile, active duty enlistees are increasingly reliant upon on food stamps. Last year, military families redeemed $104 million worth of taxpayer-supplied food stamps at those subsidized commissaries the Pentagon wants to trim. That’s up from nearly $25 million in 2007. But it’s still a drop in the bucket compared to the 44 million Americans who rely on those same food stamps, but don’t have access to subsidized commissaries.

So, like civilian workers, military personnel face a daunting future of stagnant wages and declining benefits. If they do come home, the one part of the economy that can absorb them is the growing police state—which receives excess military hardware doled out by the Pentagon, and the flourishing prison system—which leads the world in incarceration. Perhaps out of work soldiers can leverage their training to get jobs guarding the 700,000 veterans currently imprisoned in America.

If so, they’d be closing the “circle of professionalism” that began as a response to Vietnam, but also typified an ongoing unwillingness to invest in the civilian economy like America did at the end of World War II.

Step Right Up and See Boeing’s Amazing Shrinking Tax Rate!

Posted on | February 21, 2014 | No Comments

Last year, government contracting behemoth Boeing paid an effective tax rate of -1.4%.

Yes, you read that correctly—negative 1.4%.

According to a new report from the Center for Effective Government, one of America’s biggest corporations, with profits ranging from $1.6 to $5.9 billion over the last five years, found ways to whittle down its effective tax rate so much that it became, in effect, a source of revenue as they reaped a whopping $82 million tax refund on $5.9 billion in profits.

And this isn’t new.

As Scott Klinger at CFC points out, “Over the last six years, Boeing has reported $26.4 billion in pre-tax profits to its shareholders, while claiming a total of $105 million in refunds from the IRS [for] an effective tax rate of -0.4 percent.”

But wait, there’s more!

Boeing is also the second largest federal contractor. Last year, the aerospace, aircraft and military hardware giant captured 4.4% of the federal contracting pie, which accounted for just over one-third of all of Boeing’s sales!

The grand total?

Public servants in the White House, the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill redistributed $20,182,591,732 of taxpayer wealth to the patriots populating the plush boardrooms of a 36-story skyscraper in downtown Chicago.

With that type of reliable, tax-free income, you’d imagine that Boeing’s corporate headquarters might just be one of the happiest places on earth. But the denizens of Boeing—like CEO W. James McNerney, Jr., who pulled in $27.5 million in 2012—are not sitting alone in the cornered market of defense-related spending. They and their cohorts who sit atop a great federal contracting pyramid scheme—Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, SAIC, Raytheon and General Dynamics—are in no small part why the Washington, D.C. region is the reigning champion in economic confidence.

In fact, Gallup’s tracking survey found that D.C. is the only place in America with any economic confidence at all. Of the fifty states, every one of them has a confidence score mired in the negative. But D.C. scored an astonishing +19 in the most recent tally. In case you hadn’t noticed, the D.C. real estate market shrugged off the Great Recession of 2008 and, beginning in March of 2009, it has registered positive growth each and every year since.

As the Wall Street Journal declared in 2013, the nation’s capital is “a boomtown!”

Unlike Boeing, companies like the aforementioned Northrop Grumman and SAIC, along with uber-luxury carmaker Bentley, have decided to move their headquarters into the region and, therefore, closer to the cutting of the contracting pie.

And that pie is getting bigger.

According to Stephen Fuller, an economist at George Mason University, “…annual government spending on federal contractors in the D.C. metro area increased from $12.6 billion in 1990 to $29.3 billion in 2000, and to $82.5 billion in 2010. And 70% of the $82.5 billion was for technology services.”

The spike from 2000 to 2010 is staggering and, not coincidentally, concurrent with the coming of the Global War on Terror, the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security and the growth of the NSA-Spying Complex. Since 9/11, the iron reliability of defense and national security-related spending has drawn profit-seeking companies into the D.C. area like moths to an eternal flame.

It has also enriched elected officials—the Representatives in this so-called “representative government” who are charged with the duty of serving the public interest. Infamous examples like Halliburton, Blackwater, the Rendon Group and the hilariously-named “Custer Battles” are exactly what we’d expect to come out of the revolving doors at the Department of Defense and the Pentagon.

After all, there’s no business like war business.

Rather, it’s the cronyism and job security system of self-serving public servants in Congress that strips away—almost irrevocably—the veneer of democracy or the sense that voting even matters. The defense industry is among the most generous when it comes to lobbying, campaign donations and financial glad-handing. The list of top defense dole-meisters features the usual suspects: Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman and, of course, Boeing.

Predictably, Boeing has invested $1.09 million in the current election cycle. Those contributions have been split fairly evenly—with 42% going to Democrats and 58% going to Republicans. It’s always good business to hedge your bets. In the 2012 election cycle, Boeing topped out at $2.829 billion, giving 46% to Dems and 54% to the GOP. When you consider the $20 billion in government contracts and the tax loopholes, exemptions and incentives that allowed them to turn “the highest corporate tax rate in the world” into a negative tax rate, that’s some serious ROI (return on investment).

If Boeing has designs on the top spot, it will really have to step up its game. That’s because Lockheed Martin—the grand champion of revenue development—not only spends like a drunken sailor in a friendly port, it does so with the same sort of discrimination as lonely seaman. In 2012, Lockheed famously gave campaign contributions to 90% of the House membership. That’s 386 of 435 “Representatives” getting a taste of Lockheed’s magnanimity. And they gave “donations” to 24 of 25 members of the House Armed Services Subcommittee charged with “oversight” responsibilities for the F-22 fighter. The average gift of their patriotism came to $6,130.

Overall, the defense industry lavished $27,647,731 on the 2012 election and has made a $10,056,494 down payment on the coming 2014 election. Not coincidentally, many of the contractors teeming around the NSA-Spying Complex also give big and it was duly noted that members of Congress are far more likely to vote in favor of the NSA and against spying limits if they just so happened to receive financial contributions from companies with a vested interest.

It should also come as no surprise that long-time defense contractors like Lockheed Martin have branched out into the very “technology services” that economist Stephen Fuller says accounts for 70% of the $82.5 billion spent in 2010 on contracting in D.C. area.

No doubt, this effusive government spending turns into jobs and that’s a big reason why D.C. is so darn confident. Since the inception of the Cold War, the defense budget has often been used as a de facto jobs program—a rising tide of “military Keynesianism” that lifts just enough boats to keep the whole enterprise from sinking.

But the wealth isn’t spreading around like it used to, and years of defense-related “tax and spread” sacrosanctity have finally worn thin on a war-weary population. When compared to the stagnant or declining wages most Americans earn, and the taxes most working Americans pay, the patriotic mantra that “we’re all in this together” is belied by Boeing’s $27.5 million CEO compensation package and the “effective” tax rate his corporation has transformed into an “ineffective” tax rate.

And now that money is speech, the only people who truly have a voice once the election is over are those corporate persons whose spending changes their clout from a dim whisper to a resounding scream. That voice is why the defense budget is slated to rise once again in 2016.

Don’t fret, though. Even though your voice is unlikely to be heard above the din of D.C.’s cash machines, at least you know someone working as a contractor in the NSA’s version of cyberspace can and will hear you scream.

God’s Plan For Climate Change

Posted on | February 20, 2014 | 8 Comments

Secretary of State John Kerry declared climate change “a threat to national security” and likened it to a “weapon of mass destruction, perhaps the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction.”

His declaration during a speech in Jakarta, Indonesia came on the heels of President Obama’s visit to drought-stricken California to deliver both aid and pointed remarks on the need to make climate change a political priority.

At least one senator—Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI)—thinks Congress is getting closer to taking some action on carbon-limiting fees and regulations. But his is a “contrarian view” stoked by pending EPA regulations on coal-fired plants and, perhaps, the demonstrable link in other nations between the increasingly bad weather that people experience and their growing trepidation about a changing climate they may not fully understand.

Could droughts, heatwaves, superstorms and, for good measure, a polar vortex or two finally force a real change in U.S. policy?

Not if God’s Plan gets in the way.

That’s the dirty little secret sustaining the Holy Trinity of big oil, natural gas and “clean” coal. They preserve their grip on both U.S. policymaking and those swollen wads of taxpayer-amplified profits by greasing the palms of political roundheels who, more often than not, are elected by a political base built on the Evangelicals and various mega-churchgoers who dominate gerrymandered districts, act as gatekeepers in primary elections and protest loudly over Biblically-bereft school curricula.

The “protest loudly” part is important because Big Carbon and their coterie of concubines cannot endure without some reliable public acquiescence or, even more alarming, the mechanical recalcitrance of their political base, even in the face mounting evidence. That sort of recalcitrance in the face of evidence is contrary to the practice of science, but almost requisite for adherence to creationism, climate denialism or the idea that our destinies are made manifest by the will of the Almighty.

According to a 2011 Baylor University study, seventy-three percent of Americans believe that God has a plan for everyone. And the more strongly they believe in God’s Plan, the more likely they are to see government overreach in the affairs of Americans. As Christianity Today pointed out, this distaste for government’s role in human affairs “…diminishes as belief in God’s plan wanes.”

It’s a simple juxtaposition—God’s preset course for history trumps any scheme concocted by humans. And any human-centered efforts that deny the Almighty’s heavy hand in the writing of history are, at best, apocryphal and, at worst, heretical.

In the case of the environment and climate change, human impact on something as big as the whole of God’s creation is, in and of itself, a dubious proposition. This makes human-centered explanations of climate change or the sixth mass extinction not only incidental, but even self-aggrandizing. It also fosters a willingness to accept the otherwise unacceptable, and this willingness is predicated on one simple turn of phrase—it’s all part of God’s plan.

Climate is part of God’s Plan.

Extinction is part of God’s Plan.

In fact, the end of the world is part of God’s Plan.

And because it nullifies Genesis—the alpha that sets up Armageddon’s omega—the science of evolution remains the biggest challenge to the veracity of that plan. If evolution is right, then Genesis is wrong. If Genesis is wrong, then God is either a liar or superfluous. And if we are not created in God’s image or living out God’s script for our lives, then humans are not quite as special and unique as we’d like to think.

For that thirty-three percent of Americans who, according to the most recent Pew poll, refuse to accept anything but Genesis, the stakes couldn’t be higher. Without God’s Plan, humans alone have to shoulder the burden of responsibility for turning a once quite real Eden into sweltering Hell on earth.

That’s why almost a century after the sad circus of the Scopes “Monkey Trial” and over one and a half centuries after Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species was first published, the obvious fact of evolution remains a relentless, if completely mind-boggling, controversy for a group of devout Americans who inadvertently, subconsciously or intentionally abet the greed and avarice of Big Carbon.

Maybe it is just a coincidence that two primary fronts in the war on evolution are Texas and Louisiana. They just so happen to be two of America’s most oil-centric states and, therefore, most prolific producers of carbon. Both states are also steeped in fundamentalism. Texas may or may not be the shiny Buckle on America’s Bible Belt, but there is little doubt its political class is awash in oil dollars and its environment tainted by the toxic consequences of fracking. Louisiana is not only in the midst of a $60 billion oil, gas and refining boom, it’s also the home of duck-hunting Bible experts and it’s a national leader in vouchers that allow parents to steer their children away from perilous “humanism” and into “classrooms” featuring anything but the basics of science.

Not coincidentally, America’s kids are perennial laggards in math and science education and too many of America’s adults lack a general knowledge of basic scientific facts. This works hand in glove with Big Carbon’s use of the Big Tobacco playbook for dealing with troubling scientific evidence. When in doubt, create doubt—but call it “scientific” doubt.

This doubt reflex dominated a flaccid debate on Meet the Press between tenacious science educator Bill Nye and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), vice-chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. Ms. Blackburn, a red-blooded social conservative from Tennessee’s 7th District, benefits from an almost Pavlovian voting pattern that has seen her and her GOP predecessor win anywhere from sixty-six to one-hundred percent of the vote over the last seven elections. In the last year, she’s raised $38,000 from the oil and gas industry and she scooped up over $93,000 for her 2012 campaign. She practically has a Minnie Pearl-style price-tag dangling off of her hat.

So, it made perfect sense that she dismissed the scientific consensus about climate change even as another polar blast was inundating the East Coast. The indefatigable Nye, fresh off his debate with creation science promoter Ken Ham, implored Blackburn to “…really look at the facts. You are our leader. We need you to change things, not deny what’s happening.”

But denial is her bread and butter. She, like so many others who use the specious specter of doubt to cloud complicated scientific issues, basically runs interference for the geologists, chemists, engineers and corporate captains who profit from the oil and gas industry, but should know better.

Science and religion can and do work together, even if not for the greater good. A brand new survey by Rice University found that nearly fifty percent of Evangelicals “…believe that science and religion can work together and support one another.”

Alas, they do.

This marriage of convenience works together to deny inconvenient truths about the real and lasting damage Americans are causing each and every day. It’s a match made in heaven, like God and mammon.

America and France Rekindle Their Foreign Affair

Posted on | February 13, 2014 | 2 Comments

It’s official—America has finally forgiven France.

This is big news, particularly after such a messy break-up over America’s infatuation with remaking the Middle East. That fixation on Iraq turned into an international affair when France spurned America’s proposition and then-President Jacques Chirac refused to get sucked into a morally and legally sticky ménage à trois with George W. Bush and Tony Blair.

Despite the infamous French appetite for such things, they didn’t join the aptly-named “Coalition of the Willing.” It seems that the French weren’t willing get screwed by America’s clumsy, juvenile power-play.

But hell hath no fury like an imperialist scorned.

In 2003, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice’s succinctly stated the administration’s policy towards the unwilling—”Punish France, ignore Germany, forgive Russia.” That petty policy quickly became a series of petty punishments. The U.S. “downgraded its participation” in a French air show. It excluded France—officially a NATO member—from some NATO military exercises. French scientists were barred from meetings on Galileo, the European satellite program, and the U.S. blocked selection of France’s leading nuclear institute as the site of a cutting-edge nuclear fusion experiment called the International Tokamak Experimental Reactor (ITER).

The coup de grâce, though, came from those patriot actors in Congress. If you really want to hurt the French, you gotta go after their food, right? So, on March 11, 2003, Rep. Bob Ney of Ohio and Rep. Walter B. Jones, Jr. of North Carolina drew a line in the menu. Upon their direction, both French Fries and French Toast were re-christened as “Freedom Fries” and “Freedom Toast.” And it became a national sensation, with hash jockeys, greasy spooners and burger flippers across the country marching lock-step toward a menu that better reflected their values.

This national outpouring of righteous indignation even reached into condom dispensers in truckstop bathrooms, where patriotic fornicators could purchase “Freedom Ticklers.” Seriously. Freedom Ticklers. The best part of “the “Ticklers-formerly-known as French” was that the package depicted the Statue of Liberty, which was made in France and given to America as a gift. It’s a little irony that was probably lost on the target audience.

But now that’s all in the past. Congress eventually put the French back into their fries and, according to a new Gallup poll, Americans have decided to pull out the Barry White records and kiss and make-up with the apple of Thomas Jefferson’s eye. Although Americans’ favorability toward France plummeted from 79% just after 9/11 to a staggering 34% in March of 2003, it has finally recovered to the historical norm established throughout the 1990s. It took 11 years to recover, but now 78% of Americans sing “Je t’aime” when asked what they think about the French.

To seal the deal, President Obama invited an actual French Socialist—President Hollande—over to the White House for fancy dinner, some drinks and little dancing and then…who knows?

The two leaders were moonstruck enough to plan a big date between NASA and the French National Center of Space Studies (CNES). America and France have decided to go to Mars together. Sure, some will see a nefarious subtext in a European Socialist and President Obama agreeing to go to the “Red Planet,” but this scientific cooperation should put to rest any a lingering resentment over the petty punishments ordered by the Bush Administration.

President Hollande returned the favor by publicly putting to bed his government’s concerns in the wake of the Snowden-NSA spying revelations. “Mutual trust has been restored,” said Hollande, and he reaffirmed his commitment to work together with the U.S. to fight terrorism. And this is where the United States and the French are really getting into bed together—increasingly cooperating around Africa to quell insurgencies, fight jihadists and counter militants.

When French President Sarkozy walked back into to NATO’s military command some 40 years after Charles de Gaulle walked away, it began a synchronization of French and American interests in Africa and the Middle East. The French joined in on the toppling of Libya. The Americans provided material support for French efforts in Mali. And France has charged hard on Iran’s nuclear program and the crisis in Syria, while Germany and even Britain took a far more measured approach to these issues and toward the region.

But the real focus of this renewed relationship is Africa. The U.S. has a “rapid reaction” force based in Spain and a brigade based in Germany solely concerned with Africa. Although there was some talk about folding AFRICOM—the Pentagon’s specific command for the continent—into another command structure, the increasing cooperation with France, U.S. training missions around Sub-Saharan Africa and continuing drone strikes in and around the Horn of Africa portend more U.S. involvement on the continent.

Although it doesn’t break through the American news bubble, there is a new scramble for Africa currently underway. China is investing heavily around the continent, hungry for raw materials, rare earth metals and, it seems likely, the increasing number of oil and gas reserves being discovered from North Africa on down to Uganda and Kenya.

Countering Chinese influence is easier when you’ve got an “in,” and the new bosom-buddy relationship between Obama and Hollande reflects the fact that France is a crucial player in Africa. In fact, French is an official language in 28 African countries. That’s a huge advantage, one that is not lost on American policymakers. American airlift support for French military involvement in the mess that is the Central African Republic reflects the tacit quid pro quo that usually leads two major powers to get into bed with each other.

Back at home, Americans can relax and enjoy their French fries without regret and without the bitter jingoism that choked off a natural alliance between two revolutionary nations. But the French had better beware, because—like any good roll in the hay—the relationship goes both ways. While the French is back in America’s fries, it turns out that the all-American hamburger is taking over menus in Paris. A report in Le Monde—in turn, cited by the Christian Science Monitor—delivered the bad news: “In 2000, only one of every nine sandwiches sold was a hamburger. Today it is one of every two.”

Oh là là, France! The menu changed while you were not looking. And if you are not careful, this new closeness with America’s “national interests” could end up screwing you in the end. If nothing else, Uncle Sam will be sure to wear a Freedom Tickler.

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