Skip to main content

Why are the billionaires always laughing?

Because they know the corporate media will never call bullshit on their bullshit.

Why are the billionaires laughing?

It’s easy to laugh when the corporate press treats you as a glorious success instead of the epitome of a broken social order. Billionaires laugh because they know the corporate media prefers to fawn over them rather than hold them to account.

Today, we ask you to support our nonprofit, independent journalism because we are not impressed by billionaires flying into space, their corporations despoiling our health and planet, or their vast fortunes safely concealed in tax havens across the globe. We are not laughing.

We are hard at work producing journalism for the common good. With our Fall Campaign underway, please support this mission today. We cannot do it without you.

Support Our Work -- Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Every donation—large or small—helps us bring you the news that matters.

President Obama in the Oval Office with Thomas E. Donilon, left, the national security adviser, and John O. Brennan, his top counterterrorism adviser. (Photo: Pete Souza/The White House)

Assassination, American-Style: James Bond or the Three Stooges?

Tom Engelhardt

 by TomDispatch

No one can claim that plotting assassination is new to Washington or that, in the past, American leaders and the CIA didn’t aim high: the Congo’s Patrice Lumumba, Cuba’s Fidel Castro, the Dominican Republic’s Rafael Trujillo. The difference was that, in those days, the idea of assassinating a foreign leader, or anyone abroad, had a certain element of the taboo attached to it. Whatever they knew, presidents preferred not to be officially involved. The phrase of the era was “plausible deniability.” Top officials, including presidents, might approve assassination plots, but they didn’t brag about them.

Even in the CIA, there was a certain reticence about embracing the act.  As Tim Weiner writes in his classic history of the Agency, Legacy of Ashes, “On December 11, 1959, having reached [the conclusion that his movement was communist], Richard Bissell sent Allen Dulles a memo suggesting that ‘thorough consideration be given to the elimination of Fidel Castro.’”  Bissell was the Agency’s deputy director of plans and Dulles its director.  Although it was an internal memo and “elimination” was already a euphemism, writes Weiner, “Dulles penciled in a crucial correction to the proposal.  He struck out elimination, a word tinged with more than a hint of murder.  He substituted removal from Cuba—and gave the go-ahead.”  And yes, “removal from Cuba” turned out to mean an almost endless string of convoluted, failed plots to murder Castro—via the Mafia, poison, even exploding cigars or sea shells.  It was, in the end, a performance worthy not of James Bond, but of the Three Stooges.

Jump four decades into a new century and assassination has come out of the closet.  It’s something presidents are proud of.  Barack Obama’s aides considered the news that the White House had a “kill list” a point of pride well worth leaking to the press.  Think of it as plausible undeniability in twenty-first-century Washington.  Key figures in the U.S. government now openly, publicly, discuss what the exact limits (and legal authority) might be for the assassination of American citizens and others abroad, and these arguments, even when they take place inside a government known for its fetishistic love of secrecy, soon become front-page news and no one even flinches.

If you need a reason for all this, blame it at least in part on the sexiness of technology.  The drone (or its equivalent) first arrived in American multiplexes as a baleful shadow of a horrific future, but when it finally made it into the light of day in our actual world, it turned out to have the glow and glamour of a new Apple product.  Think: an iPhone armed with Hellfire missiles.  Assassination was no longer a shameful act for the shadows, something from which presidents had to cringe.  It was cool.  And campaigns to assassinate-by-drone on a large scale, while covert, were not, in the old-fashioned sense, secret, not when the drone was a sentinel keeping Americans safe on a terror planet.

While quite capable of knocking off enemy figures—only recently, for instance, such a drone took out a key religious leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula—the killer drone turned out not to work at all as promised when it came to staunching terrorism or terror organizations.  In addition, thanks to the recent killing of two hostages, an American and an Italian, in an al-Qaeda compound in Pakistan, its unremitting "collateral damage" from so-called signature strikes, previously largely ignored here, has suddenly made the news in a big way.  In these years, the drone has, in fact, proven a terror promoter.  A new book, Kill Chain: The Rise of the High-Tech Assassins, by Andrew Cockburn, the Washington editor of Harper’s Magazine, lays out the rise of our latest technology of death in a way no one else has and in the process makes that point stunningly.  Kill Chain is, to my mind, an instant classic if you want to understand the new American century (such as it is).  Today, in “The Kingpin Strategy,” an original essay based on his book, Cockburn takes us back to the drug wars of the 1990s, opening a window on just why the drone is the modern age's blowback weapon, par excellence.


© 2021 TomDispatch.com

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

'It's Not Coming Out': Bernie Sanders Stands Firm on Medicare Expansion

"It's what the American people want and, after waiting over 50 years, what they are going to get."

Julia Conley ·


'When We Organize, We Win': Ocasio-Cortez Joins India Walton at Rally in Buffalo

The two progressives joined striking hospital workers on the picket line at Mercy Hospital after the early voting rally.

Julia Conley ·


Fatal Film Set Shooting Followed Outcry by Union Crew Members Over Safety Protocols

"When union members walk off a set about safety concerns, maybe 'hiring scabs' isn’t the solution you think it is."

Julia Conley ·


New Whistleblower Sparks Calls to 'Crack Down on Facebook and All Big Tech Companies'

Hours after another ex-employee filed a formal complaint, reporting broke on internal documents that show the tech giant's failure to address concerns about content related to the 2020 U.S. election.

Jessica Corbett ·


'Catastrophic and Irreparable Harm' to Wolves Averted as Wisconsin Judge Cancels Hunt

"We are heartened by this rare instance of reason and democracy prevailing in state wolf policy," said one conservation expert.

Brett Wilkins ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo