Archive for the ‘Abuse of Power’ Category

Airports, security culture and the new normal

November 1, 2018

Source: Philosophy Tube.  Hat tip to Alex Page.

At the dawning of the “war on terror”, the new airport security rules seemed shocking and unnatural.  Conservatives as well as liberals objected to them.  The “no-fly” lists—the idea that the government could ban people from traveling by air and not give a reason—seemed outrageous.

But I’ve ceased to think about this.   The video above—about the thoughts and experiences of a young Englishman flying from London to New York—reminds me of how abnormal our security state really is.

The other thing I get from the video is how the United States is spreading police-state thinking to other countries.  I was brought up to think of my country as a beacon of freedom and democracy, and I think that, in some ways and to some extent, it was.

But nowadays cruel and ruthless dictators can point to the U.S. example to justify torture, warrantless arrests, extrajudicial killings and military intervention.

The question asked by the video is, “When will security ever go back to normal?”  The present security culture has been in existence for 15 years.  It now seems normal to many of us, maybe most of us.   Until and unless we stop thinking of it as normal, it won’t change.

A growing China reboots totalitarianism

October 22, 2018

Source: Dissident.

My great fear during the Cold War was that the totalitarian USSR would outlast the democratic USA.  I was afraid that a dictatorship would be able to take a longer view than a democracy, and would be better able to prioritize military and diplomatic power.

The philosopher Bertrand Russell, for one, scoffed at these fears.  He said that a democracy would always be able to outlast a dictatorship because dictators insulate themselves from bad news, while, in a democracy, contested elections and a free press provide a reality check.  The fall of Communism in Europe in 1989-1991 appeared to prove him right.

Now the Chinese government has created a new and more effective totalitarianism.  It uses social media and other new techniques to control the population more effectively than Mao ever dreamed of—while keeping the old Communist police state as backup.

When China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, Western leaders hoped that as China made economic progress, it would become more liberal and democratic.

China has made enormous economic progress.  Hundreds of millions of Chinese have been raised from poverty.  China is a major manufacturing nation.

Economic historian Adam Tooze said Chinese economic expansion was the main force pulling the world out of recession after 2008 and today contributes as much to world economic growth as the USA and Europe put together.

The Chinese Belt and Road Initiative, aka the New Silk Road, involves investing more than $1 trillion over the next 10 years to create a railroad, highway, pipeline and electrical grid extending over the whole of the interior of Eurasia, creating an integrated economy centering on China.

But if there was a possibility that this would make China more liberal and democratic, President Xi Jinping has moved to head it off.  Since 2013, China has been cracking down not only on corruption, but also on human rights lawyers, religious believers and critics o the government.

Xi Jinping has abolished the term limits that bound his predecessors and encouraged a Mao-style cult of personality.  There are even Institutes for the Study of Xi Jinping Thought.

Social media in China are monitored, and the Chinese government is in the process of implementing a scheme by which every Chinese citizen will be given a social credit score, based on an algorithm that takes into account credit history and good citizenship, but also opinions and associations, which can determine access to education, health care, credit and even public transportation.  This is powerful, because there is no individual against whom you can protest or to whom you can appeal.

In Xinjiang, members of the native Muslim Uighur population can be sent to Mao-style reeducation camps for the least little thing, even wearing a beard.  Surveillance cameras using facial recognition technology are everywhere.

China’s leaders have found a way to harness capitalism to the service of a capitalist government—much as Lenin tried to do with his New Economic Policy in the 1920s, allowing limited private business but maintaining ultimate control.  Maybe the USSR would have become like today’s China if not for Stalin’s forced collectivization drives.

There is a possibility that much of the rest of the world may come to regard China as a better example to follow than the United States.  Unless things change, the Chinese totalitarian model may prevail not through subversion or military force, but by force of successful example and as a price of doing business with China.

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Patrisse Cullors’ Black Lives Matter memoir

October 14, 2018

Patrisse Khan-Cullors, an artist and activist from Los Angeles, was one of three black women who started the Black Lives Matter movement.   She co-wrote WHEN THEY CALL YOU A TERRORIST: a Black Lives Matter Memoir (2017) to tell what it’s like to grow up and live in a world in which black lives don’t seem to matter.

She wrote about her childhood and coming of age, about her mother struggling in multiple low-age jobs to allow her four children to survive, about her vocations as an activist and a performance artist, and about finding love as a Queer person who doesn’t recognize gender boundaries.

The over-riding theme of the book is surviving as a poor black person in an unforgiving society, in which employers, governmental institutions and especially the police were indifferent or hostile.

When she was nine, she saw her older brothers, Paul, 13, and Monte, 11 (her third sibling is baby sister Jasmine), set upon and humiliated by police for no reason.  All they were doing was hanging out with other boys, none over 14, in an alley because they had no playground or vacant lot or any place else to so.  Police screamed at them, forced them up against a wall and half-stripped them in public—just for being boys with nothing to do.

The same thing happened to her when she was 12 years old.  Police entered her classroom, handcuffed her, took her to the dean’s office and had her searched, just like her brothers, because somebody had reported she’d smoked marijuana.

Later she visited a rich white friend, whose brother was a drug dealer was a high school student who kept marijuana in garbage bags.  He said he never was stopped by police, and never feared police.

The main thing she had going for her were sympathetic and supportive teachers, in elementary school and in a social justice-oriented charter high school she was able to attend.

Every time she writes about something awful that happened to herself, her family or her friends, she refers to some news article or academic study that indicates it was not an isolated event, but part of a pattern.

Her older brother Monte, was actually called a terrorist.

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The right wing’s winning long-term strategy

October 11, 2018

Appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court is part of a disciplined long-term strategy by the American right wing to lock in its power for generations to come.

It means the rest of the corporate Republican power play—gerrymandering, voter suppression and virtually unlimited campaign spending—is unrepealable.

The Supreme Court has become a House of Lords—a legislature of last resort.  During my lifetime, it abolished school segregation, legalized abortion, legalized gay marriage, blocked campaign finance reform, and reshaped Obamacare.  It has a potential veto power over virtually anything Congress might do.

Progressive and Democratic leaders have no long-term strategy of their own for the Supreme Court or anything else.  Instead they merely react to events, often in ways that are obviously futile—asking the Electoral College to overturn the results of the 2016 election, hoping Russiagate will drive President Trump from office, planning to impeach Kavanaugh in the future.

Even if the Democratic leaders got a strategy and stuck to it, it could take 10 or 20 years or more to undo what the right-wing corporatist movement has accomplished.  It took decades for the corporate right to bring the United States to where it is today, and changing things back will not be done overnight—if ever.

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You could say there is “a vast right-wing conspiracy” except that it is not secret.  It has always been out in the open for anyone to see, if they care to look.  I wrote about this at length in a previous post.

The strategic corporate movement began with the Lewis Powell memo to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, in which the future Supreme Court justice argued that American business had to act strategically to protect its own position in society.

The result was the creation of a media, research and lobbying infrastructure, such Fox News, the Heritage Foundation and the American Legislative Exchange Council, which was tightly integrated with the corporate wing of the Republican Party.  The Federalist Society, founded in 1982, grooms reliably pro-corporate lawyers for judicial appointments.

It is true that there are many institutions with a built-in left-wing bias.  But the bias is unconscious and not a party line based on a planned, coordinated strategy.

The corporate movement crossed an ethical line with the REDMAP campaign.  In a targeted campaign, they gained control of both houses of 25 state legislatures in 2010, and proceeded to re-draw their congressional and state legislative districts so as to lock in a Republican majority.

At the same time they enacted laws making it more difficult for racial minorities to vote and canceling voter registrations, mainly of racial minorities, for bogus reasons.  The main obstacle to this strategy was the federal courts, which overruled the more obvious attempts to rig elections and disenfranchise voters.

Mitch McConnell (AP)

Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader since 2007, has removed this obstacle by his partisan and successful effort to give stack the judiciary in favor of the Republicans.

He made it his priority to hold up appointments to the federal bench when Barack Obama was President  and then to push through appointments after Donald Trump took office.

When the Republicans were out of power, they took advantage of the “blue slip” tradition, whereby Senators have the right to block a judicial appointment in their states.

They used procedural rules to slow down President Obama’s judicial appointments, creating a backlog of vacancies.

During the last year of the Obama administration, McConnell simply refused to permit consideration of Obama’s appointment of Merrick Garland, a moderately conservative but non-partisan judge.  There is no basis for such a refusal except partisanship.  It is an example of politics as a moral equivalent of war.

Now that Donald Trump is in the White House, judicial appointments go through quickly, and “blue slips” are a thing of the past.  Thanks to McConnell, the corporate movement has achieved its goal.

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U.S. rings Russia with bio-warfare labs

October 9, 2018

[Update 11/19/2018]  The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists published an article debunking these charges.  Click on The Russian disinformation attack that poses a biological danger to read it.  Somebody’s not telling the truth.

An investigative journalist, Dilyana Gaytanzhieva, has uncovered evidence of deadly tests of biological substances in a Pentagon-funded research laboratory in Tbilisi, Georgia.

The US Embassy to Tbilisi transports frozen human blood and pathogens as diplomatic cargo for a secret US military program. Internal documents, implicating US diplomats in the transportation of and experimenting on pathogens under diplomatic cover were leaked to me by Georgian insiders.

According to these documents, Pentagon scientists have been deployed to the Republic of Georgia and have been given diplomatic immunity to research deadly diseases and biting insects at the Lugar Center – the Pentagon biolaboratory in Georgia’s capital Tbilisi.

The work at the laboratory is part of a $2.1 billion program of the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency that operates in 25 countries, including the former Soviet republics of Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan as well as nations in the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Africa.

U.S. officials have said the research is aimed at promoting public health, and not on ways to spread disease to crops, animals and people.  If that is so, why is the research being done under a secret military program?

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Background on the Freddie Gray riots

August 24, 2018

Hat tip to Alex Page.

This video contains a lot of good information and clear thinking, presented in an engaging way.

How the West empowers Central Asian tyrants

August 8, 2018

The regime of Islam Karimov, who ruled the Central Asian nation of Uzbekistan from 1991 to 2016, once had a couple of dissidents boiled alive.  When the grandmother of one of them complained publicly, she was sentenced to six years in prison.

People under his rule could be jailed, tortured or killed for the slightest reason.  Police raped women at will.  His country’s chief export crop, cotton, was picked by forced labor.  Karimov’s family, especially his daughter Gulnara, and his cronies controlled the economy.

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But he was not a primitive tyrant ruling a backward country remote from the centers of civilization.  Rather he and his fellow Central Asian dictators were intimately connected with global finance and politics, and owed their power to those connections..

International banks helped Karimov and his family take their wealth out of the country and hide it.  Russian, American and Chinese governments completed for his favor, and turned a blind eye when his secret services reached out to capture and kill political opponents living abroad.

Corrupt Third World dictators that Western governments support are not mere puppets.  Empowering them means compromising and corrupting institutions that are supposedly based on the rule of law.

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I recently read two books about Central Asia – MURDER IN SAMARKAND: A British Ambassador’s Controversial Defiance of Tyranny in the War on Terror by Craig Murray (2006) and DICTATORS WITHOUT BORDERS: Power and Money in Central Asia by Alexander Cooley and John Heathersaw (2017).   I’ll first comment on Murray’s book, then on the other book.

Uzbekistan and the other Central Asian nations were part of the Soviet Union until it broke up.  Their governments were continuations of the former Communist governments.

Craig Murray was British ambassador to Uzbekistan from 2002 to 2004. His descriptions of life in Uzbekistan reminds me of accounts of the USSR in the 1930s

He was a colorful character—a drinker, a womanizer and a proud Scot who appeared in formal occasions in Highland dress complete with kilt.  But his physical and moral courage were indisputable.

He once found himself with a stalled car on a country road, alone except for his female interpreter, a female staff member and the widow of a murder victim.

A couple of roughnecks approached, and the widow whispered Murray that they were the murderers of her husband.  Murray pushed one of them in the chest, told them he was the British ambassador and to get out of his way.  He did.

He in theory was supposed to advocate for human rights laws that the British government had endorsed, but in reality, his superiors wanted him to go along with U.S. policy, which was to support Karimov as a valued supporter of the U.S. “war on terror” and interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Uzbekistan was part of the Northern Supply Route, by which U.S. forces in Afghanistan are supported by way of Russia and Central Asia, and it allowed a U.S. air based on its territory.

This mean that Murray was expected to overlook at lot, as he told a Guardian reporter at the time:

People come to me very often after being tortured.  Normally this includes homosexual and heterosexual rape of close relatives in front of the victim; rape with objects such as broken bottles; asphyxiation; pulling out of fingernails; smashing of limbs with blunt objects; and use of boiling liquids including complete immersion of the body.  This is not uncommon.  Thousands of people a year suffer from this torture at the hands of the authorities.

Source: The Guardian

He once interviewed an old professor about imprisoned Uzbek dissidents.  A short time later, the body of the professor’s 18-year-old grandson, bearing the marks of torture, was dumped on the professor’s doorstep.  That is the “murder in Samarkand” in the title.

The U.S. ambassador strongly opposed Murray’s meddling.  At the time was Uzbekistan was a destination for American “extraordinary rendition” of suspected terrorists.  The CIA set great store by information obtained by torture and so did the British government.

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The case for Julian Assange

July 25, 2018

The case for Julian Assange in a nutshell is that it should not be a crime to expose abuse of power by government.

The I Am WikiLeaks web site, established by the Courage Foundation, gives a more detailed account of Julian Assange’s life and work, and the various charges against him.  Courage has prepared  infographics that give the essence of Assange’s case.

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The rule of law and Julian Assange

July 25, 2018

The rule of law is a fundamental principle, at least as basic or maybe more basic than voting rights and freedom of the press.

This is part of our British heritage, going back to Magna Carta—the idea that nobody, not even the King, is above the law, and nobody, not even the humblest cottager, is below the protection of the law.

For us Americans, the rule of law was part of our Constitution even before we had a specific Bill of Rights.

The Constitution from the beginning has guaranteed the right of habeas corpus, which means the right of  arrested persons to be told what law they are accused of breaking, and forbid ex post facto laws, which declared things illegal after they were done, and bills of attainder, which declared certain persons outside the protection of the law.

I was shocked and disillusioned by how easily, after the 9/11 attacks, these fundamental principles were forgotten.

The Bush administration, the Obama administration and now the Trump administration claim the right to order the killing of anyone they deem a threat to the state, based on secret criteria and without accountability to anyone.

George W. Bush had a kill list.  Barack Obama called has a “disposition matrix”.  I don’t know what Trump calls it.  Most of us middle-class white Americans of have come to regard it as normal, possibly because we think only people with dark skins and Arab names will ever be on it.

I read a chilling article by Matt Taibbi about a journalist who figured out he is on the kill list, and is trying to get off it.  He doesn’t know what he is accused of nor how to appeal.

Julian Assange is in a situation in some ways similar to this journalist.  A grand jury has been meeting in Alexandria, Va., since 2010 to consider his case.  James Comey, when he was FBI director, and Attorney-General Jeff Sessions have said they intend to apprehend Assange.

Rep. Adam Schiff, ranking Democratic member of the House intelligence committee, has said he’s not interested in testimony from Assange until Assange is in custody.  Yet no charges against Assange have ever been announced.  If the grand jury has indicted him, those indictments are sealed.

Neither the US nor the UK government has been willing to say whether an extradition request is on file.

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In defense of Julian Assange

July 21, 2018

Suppose a government claimed the right to commit crimes, make those crimes state secrets and prosecute anyone who revealed them to the public.

Could you call such a government democratic?  Could you say its people enjoyed freedom of the press?

Yet that is what the U.S. government wants to do to Julian Assange.

Assange is the founder of Wikileaks, which makes it possible for whistle-blowers to reveal secret documents without their identity being traced.  Wikileaks publications revealed, among other things, the secret bibles of Scientology, censored videos of protests in Tibet, secret neo-Nazi passwords, offshore tax scams by Barclay’s bank, the inside story of the crashing of Iceland’s economy and texts of the secret Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations.

What got him into trouble was publication of information of crimes committed by the U.S. government, notably the killing of civilians in Iraq, and secret surveillance of the public by U.S. intelligence agencies.  That is why the U.S. government is determined to capture and imprison him.

The espionage laws are intended to punish those who give military secrets to a hostile foreign power.   In the case of Julian Assange, it is we, the people, who were given the secrets.  We are the supposed enemy.

A U.S. grand jury investigation of Assange has been ongoing since 2010.  It is widely believed that it has made sealed indictments against Assange.

He sought political asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2012 to avoid extradition to the United States.  Since March, the Ecuadorian government has cut him off from communicating with the outside world, except for his lawyers and Australian consular officials.

Reportedly the government is planning to expel him from the embassy, leaving him subject to arrest by British police and extradition to the USA.  There his likely fate will be imprisonment, probably for life, or execution.

What can be done to Assange can be done to anyone who reveals information the U.S. government wants kept secret.  Anyone who cares about freedom of the press, or their own freedom, should stand with Julian Assange.

LINKS

I Am WikiLeaks.

Ecuador Will Immediately Withdraw Asylum for Julian Assange and Hand Him Over to the UK. What Comes Next? by Glenn Greenwald for The Intercept.

Be Prepared to Shake the Earth If Julian Assange Is Arrested by Caitlin Johnstone.

Inside WikiLeaks: Working With the Publisher That Changed the World by Stefania Maurizi for Consortium News.  [Added 7/23/2018]

The War on Assange Is a War on Press Freedom by Chris Hedges for TruthDig.  [Added 7/23/2018]

The best way to retaliate against Russia

July 16, 2018

Robert Mueller’s latest indictment charges Russian covert agents with conspiring to reveal e-mails from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton’s campaign chair John Podesta.

These e-mails reveal embarrassing truthful information about Hillary Clinton’s ties to Wall Street and manipulation of the Democratic Party to thwart the candidacy of Bernie Sanders.

An appropriate way to retaliate is for the U.S. government and the American press to reveal embarrassing true information about Vladimir Putin and his government’s corruption and human rights violations.  It is certainly more focused and less dangerous than economic warfare or escalating a nuclear arms race.

The video above and links below indicate some things Putin doesn’t want discussed.  The video is from 2012.

I don’t think U.S. sanctions and the U.S.-backed military buildup on Russia’s borders will improve anything in Russia.  Rather they will make Russians think they need to rally behind their strong leader.

And if Putin were somehow to be struck by lightning, I don’t think his successor would be any better, either from the standpoint of honest government and human rights or from the standpoint of U.S. interests.

One of my mother’s favorite sayings was, “Two wrongs don’t make a right.”   The crimes of other countries’ leaders are not a justification for U.S. militarism and war.  I focus on my own country partly because the United States has more impact on the world, at least for now, than any other country, but mainly because the U.S. government is the one that I as an American citizen am responsible for.

LINKS

Vladimir Putin and Russian Human Rights Violations by David Satter for National Review.

Here are 10 critics of Vladimir Putin who died violently or in suspicious ways by David Filipov for The Washington Post.

Alexander Litvinenko: the man who solved his own murder by Luke Harding for The Guardian.

Who Killed Boris Nemtsov? by David Satter for National Review.

Putin and the Panama Papers, an interview with Alexey Navalny for Süddeustsche Zeitung.  An example of leaked information embarrassing to Vladimir Putin.

Central Asian migrants describe injustice, racism in Russia by Arman Kaliyev for Caravanserai

The Unsolved Mystery Behind the Apartment House Bombings That Brought Putin to Power by David Satter for National Review.

Finally We Know About the Moscow Bombings by Amy Knight for the New York Review of Books.

Seymour Hersh: a reporter of the old school

July 11, 2018

Seymour Hersh is the outstanding investigative reporter of his generation.  From the My Lai massacre to the Abu Ghraib torture center , he made a career of exposing things that the U.S. military and intelligence agencies didn’t want the American people to know.

His new memoir makes me feel I wasted my 40 years working on newspapers.  I never really got below the surface of things.  The world was a very different place than I thought it was.

He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1970 for his reporting of the My Lai massacre.  All he had to go on was a tip that a soldier at Fort Benning had been court-martialed for massacring Vietnamese civilians.  He systematically scanned microfilm records of the New York Times and found a short item inside the newspaper about a Lt. William Calley being court-martialed for the death of an unspecified number of Vietnamese civilians.

Later he was told the last name of Calley’s lawyer—Latimer.  With that to go on, he was able to locate George Latimer, a returned judge on the Military Court of Appeals now practicing law in Salt Lake City.   Latimer confirmed that he was defending Calley, but refused to help Hersh locate him.  He finally did by driving into Fort Benning and finding Calley for himself.

What Calley told Hersh was far worse than he suspected at the time, and far worse than I remember it.   The massacre was not something that happened in the heat of battle.   It was a systematic killing for more than 700 people, including women (after being raped) and babies.

In a follow-up, Hersh learned there was a soldier named Paul Meadlo in Calley’s unit who’d lost a foot to a land mine.  He told Calley that God had punished him for what he did, and would punish Calley, too.  All Hersh knew was the Meadlo lived somewhere in Indiana.  He called telephone information operators in Indiana until he found his man.

His first book, Chemical and Biological Warfare: America’s Hidden Arsenal, was published in 1968,   He reported that, among other things, there were some 3,300 accidents at Fort Detrick, Maryland, involving biological warfare research, resulting in the infection of more than 500 men and three known deaths, two from anthrax.

Fort Detrick’s experiments resulted in the deaths in experiments each year of 700,000 laboratory animals, ranging from guinea pigs to monkeys.

The Seventh Day Adventist Church supplied 1,400 conscientious objectors to Fort Detrick to do alternative service in the form of being exposed to airborne tularemia and other infectious diseases.  Hersh said that at least some of them had no idea what they had volunteered for or been exposed to.

I mention this because at the time, I was a reporter for the Hagerstown (Md.) Daily Mail, and Fort Detrick was within our circulation area.  I had no idea that any of this was going on, and I probably wouldn’t have believed it if I had been told.

Hersh uncovered the facts by first obtaining a Science magazine article that listed all of the U.S. military’s chemical-biological warfare centers in the United States, then obtaining the in-house newspapers for these centers.  The newspapers listed retirement parties for officers leaving the service, and Hersh sought them out to interview.   Enough of them were bothered by what they had seen to provide the information for Hersh’s articles and book.

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Jordan Peterson on the totalitarian temptation

June 25, 2018

One of Jordan Peterson’s core ideas is the human capacity for evil, and his great examples are the crimes of Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia and Communist China.

What’s notable about all three, he wrote, is not just the atrocities committed by the ruling party, but that the regimes were sustained by the consent of ordinary people.

Under certain circumstances, Peterson believes, almost all of us are potential secret police informers and concentration camp guards.

Alexandr Solzhenitsyn

His heroes are people such as Viktor Frankl, the Viennese psychiatrist who found a meaning in life to sustain him in a Nazi death camp; Vaclav Havel, who lived in truth despite his frequent imprisonments in Communist Czechoslovakia; and, above all, the great Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, who survived Soviet forced-labor camps and found a way to tell the world about them.

Havel condemned those who went along with the regime, such as the greengrocer who put up a sign saying “workers of the world, unite” because doing so is a path of least resistance.  Solzhenitsyn went so far as to blame himself for helping make the Gulag possible by failing to contract the Soviet regime’s lying propaganda.

So the choice is stark.  Either be willing to say “no,” no matter what the cost, or be a potential cog in a killing machine.

What is it today to which we need to say “no”?

It is whether to go along with unprovoked military aggression, assassinations, preventive detention, torture of suspects, warrantless surveillance and all the other practices of police states—all of which have come to be accepted as normal.

Ordinary Americans let themselves be led, step-by-step, to committing atrocities such as the My Lai massacre or the Abu Ghraib tortures.  Until more of us learn to say “no”, we will be just like ordinary Germans in the book Peterson discusses in the video above.

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Can the US bring about ‘regime change’ in Iran?

May 11, 2018

President Trump’s administration appears set to wage economic war against Iran in order to bring about “regime change.”

The pattern would be the economic war the U.S. government has waged against Venezuela, which has crashed that country’s economy and created desperate poverty.

Top members of the Trump administration have long been committed to overthrowing the Iranian government.  But they’re not going to get the American public and Congress to support war with Iran.

What’s left is covert warfare, subsidizing dissidents and rebels in Iran, and economic warfare, using U.S. financial power to punish businesses that do business with Iran.

Because most international trade is done in U.S. dollars, and because most transactions in dollars go through U.S. banks, the U.S. government is in a position to do great damage to businesses and business owners that displease it.

This comes at a price, though.  Each time the U.S. government forces foreign governments and businesses to sacrifice their own interest to do its bidding, it brings the day closer when foreigners unite to set up an alternative international financial system that doesn’t use the U.S. dollar or U.S. banks.   That is the ultimate goal of China, aided by Russia. (more…)

What matters more than Stormy Daniels

May 4, 2018

Jack Perry wrote in the Ghion Journal about why he doesn’t care about the Mueller investigation in general or the Stormy Daniels affair in particular.

This Mueller shindig is not going to do any of the following:

  1. Reverse the executive order from Trump taking food stamps away from the poor and disabled who can’t find a job.
  2. Remove the ability to use military force from Trump before it’s too late.
  3. Reverse the Trump tax cuts that have just forced the U.S. government to take out a massive loan to pay for them.

The Democrats have beaten this “It’s Mueller Time!” meme into the mud and, excuse me, but Mueller and the FBI do not run the United States. 

Where is this much-vaunted rule of law?!  The FBI is not one of the three branches of government!  No, they’re not the judicial branch, people!  That’s what the Supreme Court is!

And the chuckle merchants in the Congress have abdicated their own Congressional responsibility to stop this man and handed it over to the police!

Source: Ghion Journal.

‘Oceania had always been at war with Eurasia’

February 6, 2018

          Actually, as Winston well knew, it was only four years since Oceania had been at war with Eastasia and in alliance with Eurasia.  But there was merely a piece of furtive knowledge which he happened to possess because his memory was not sufficiently under control.
          Officially the change of partners had never happened.  Oceania was at war with Eurasia: therefore Oceania had always been at war with Eurasia.  The enemy of the moment always represented absolute evil, and it followed that any past or future agreement with him was impossible.
                          ==George Orwell, 1984

During the 2012 Presidential campaign, Gov. Mitt Romney was criticized and even ridiculed for calling Russia “our No. 1 geopolitical foe.”   President Obama said, “The 1980s are calling to ask for their foreign policy back because the Cold War’s been over for years.”

But now we’re told that Russia is waging war against the United States and always has been.   It’s a funny kind of war, though—more like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” than “Red Dawn.”

No Russian troops are massing on U.S. borders.   The Russian government makes no threat against the United States.

The claim is that the Russians—either the Russian government or certain individual Russians—are exercising a kind of mind control over Americans.   Russian agents allegedly denied Hillary Clinton her due share of the 2016 President vote and allegedly manipulated President Trump into being less anti-Russian than he should be.

But even if all the Russiagate charges are true, which I doubt, what the Russians have done is no different from what the old Soviet Union did, and what the United States continues to do down to this day.  During the time Vladimir Putin has been in office, it is the United States, not Russia, that has announced policies of “regime change” against countries that never threatened Americans.

It’s interesting that congressional Democrats, who say that President Trump is an insane clown, an ignoramus, a would-be fascist and a puppet of Vladimir Putin, have no interest in restricting presidential powers to wage war or bypass due process of law.   The only limit they’ve imposed is limitation of his authority to lift economic sanctions against Russia.

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The curse of Amazon

February 2, 2018

When I moved to Rochester, N.Y., in 1974, one of the attractions was the number of excellent individually-owned bookstores.   Later on the Borders bookstore chain opened a store here, and I was delighted at their huge selection of books.   The smaller new-book stores went out of business, one by one, but I accepted that s the price of progress.

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Borders was pushed aside by Barnes & Noble.   Now Barnes & Noble is losing sales and operating at a loss.  Unless something changes, local bookstores will be replaced by Amazon.

What’s wrong with that? you may ask.  Amazon provides low prices and excellent customer service.  What difference does the lack of a physical store make?

What’s wrong is that Amazon treats its employees like work animals or like machines.   I read an article today about how Amazon has patented wristbands for tracking what employees do with their hands, presumably so they don’t put something in the wrong bin or pause to scratch their noses.

Amazon hasn’t said when, whether or how the new system will be implemented, but employees already are subjected to an inhuman work pace that is determined and monitored by computer.

I don’t want to buy the lowest possible price if it comes at the price of human misery.   I’d hate to see a new Amazon facility in western New York.

Sometimes I give in and buy through Amazon.   This is wrong of me, because I’m helping to make its monopoly power more complete.   But in the total scheme of things, my decisions as a consumer make little difference.  It is the government’s responsibility, not mine, to enforce the anti-trust laws, and make and enforce decent labor standards.

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The meaning of North Korea’s “ghost ships”

January 22, 2018

Last year the wreckage of at least 104 North Korean fishing boats washed up on the shores of northern Japan.  The crews were either missing, or dead from starvation and exposure, or, in a few cases, only half-dead.

What happened was that they got so far from home that they did not have enough fuel to make it back home, and so died at sea.

Never before have so many derelict North Korea fishing boats been found.  No doubt this is but a fraction of the actual number of lost boats.

What this means is that North Koreans are so desperate for food that they will risk going out to sea in dangerous waters with inadequate fuel.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in an interview that this represents a triumph of American policy.  North Korea is really feeling the bite of American economic sanctions, he said.

Economic war can be as deadly as a shooting war, although it hardly ever brings about a change in regime.   If there comes a time when there is only one bowl of rice left in North Korea, it will be eaten by Kim Jong Un.  If there are only two bowls left, they will be shared by Kim and his bodyguard.

The U.S. has been waging war by means of economic sanctions long before Tillerson or President Donald Trump took office.  Economic sanctions against Saddam Hussein back in the 1990s resulted in the deaths of thousands of young Iraqi children want of medicine and proper nutrition.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said that the price was worth it.  To what end?  I can’t see anything good that the Iraq blockade accomplished for us Americans.  It did not remove Saddam Hussein from power.

The appeal of economic sanctions as a substitute for war is that it seems to be a safe way of waging war.  That is true only in the short run.   Generations later people in North Korea, Iraq, Venezuela and other countries will remember how their people suffered under the U.S. economic blockage.

During the First World War, Britain blockaded food imports into Germany.  The food blockade continued even after the German army surrendered, in order to make force the German government to agree to the Allies’ peace terms.  Many Germans grew up with stunted growth because they were born during the blockade.

I don’t say the food blockade was, in and of itself, the main reason for the rise of Hitler, but it surely contributed to the German hatred of the Allies and desire for revenge, which the Nazis exploited

I think in generations to come, there will be millions of people through the world with similar reasons for a desire for revenge against Americans.

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Sexual abuse more common than I like to admit

November 10, 2017

I can’t get my mind around the number of prominent people who have been credibly accused of rape and sexual abuse, including rape and sexual abuse of minors.  They seem to be in all walks of life and reflect the full spectrum political and religious beliefs.   The world is a very different place from what I want to believe it is.

Not everybody accused of sex crimes or sex abuse is guilty.   People have gone to prison or had their lives ruined on false sex charges.

I know many highly moral college professors and business executives make it a rule to never talk to a female student or subordinate behind closed doors or without a witness present.   I know of someone whose life was almost ruined by a false charge of sexual abuse.   I don’t discount the danger of hysteria and over-reaction.

But recent high-profile scandals—Roger Ailes, Bill Cosby, Roy Moore, Bill O’Reilly, Kevin Spacey, Leon Wieseltier, Harvey Weinstein—make it impossible to pretend that sexual abuse is rare or exceptional.

I am—or have been—part of the problem.   I turned a blind eye to evidence of Bill Clinton’s abuse of Paula Jones, Juanita Broaddrick and other women.   I wanted him to defeat the Republicans in the 1992 election, and so I just refused to think about what he had done.

Supporters of Donald Trump in last year’s election did the same thing as I did then.  It’s time to stop tolerating and making excuses for sexual abuse.

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Clinton was cheated in 2016, but not by Russians

November 3, 2017

Hillary Clinton was cheated out of her victory in 2016—not by Russians, but by Republicans.

Republican state governments changed the rules to make voting more difficult for categories of people likely to vote Democratic, and they purged thousands of legally-registered voters, mostly Democrats, from the voter registration rolls.

President Barack Obama and Attorney-Generals Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch had eight years to do something about this.

Yet they did little of nothing—that is, nothing that I know of, but I want to hedge the possibility that there was some minor effort I didn’t notice.

The Democratic Party had eight years to push back against this.  The Democrats could have started a grass-roots effort to get Democrats registered despite all barriers, and to reinstate voters who were illegally purged.  Yet they did little or nothing.

None of this is an excuse for what the Republicans did, of course, but the Republican motivation is clear.  Why weren’t Democratic leaders motivated to fight back?

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North Korea: totalitarianism in action

September 19, 2017

When I was young, I was haunted by the specter of totalitarianism—the idea of an all-powerful state that not only could regulate its subjects’ every action, but get inside their minds and convince them this was normal.

As a college student, I read Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism, Erich Fromm’s Escape from Freedom, Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer, Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon and George Orwell’s 1984 and most of his essays.

I thought the future held three great perils: (1) the collapse of civilization due to overpopulation and resource exhaustion, (2) the destruction of civilization through nuclear war and (3) the triumph of totalitarianism, as manifested in Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s USSR and Mao’s China.

None of these fears came true, although the first two are still very much with us.   As for totalitarianism, there are many cruel and bloody governments in the world, but they are not, in the strict definition of the word, totalitarian.   Totalitarianism exists in only one place—North Korea—where it has endured for 70 years.

I got an inside view of North Korea by reading WITHOUT YOU THERE IS NO US: My Time With the Sons of North Korea’s Elite by Suki Kim.   She is an American of Korean heritage who taught English for six months in 2011 at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUSH).

The title of the book is taken from an anthem the students sang at different times each day.    The “you” was Kim Jong-il, then the ruler of North Korea, and the “us” is everyone else in North Korea.

Suki Kim said the whole idea of individual thinking was alien to her students.   For example, they found it incredibly difficult to write a five-paragraph essay, because this involved stating an argument and then presenting evidence in support of the argument.   What they were accustomed to writing was unstructured praise of their country, their leaders and the official Juche ideology.

PUSH was founded and financed by evangelical Christians, many of Korean extraction, who agreed to build and staff a university at no cost to the North Korean government, and to refrain from proselytizing.   Presumably their hope was that they could subtly plant the seeds of Christianity and that they would be on the scene when and if North Korea ever granted religious freedom.

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Uzbekistan’s cotton picked by forced labor

September 15, 2017

Uzbekistan is the most populous country in Central Asia and a crossroads of China’s so-called New Silk Roads—railroads and pipelines uniting the heartland of Asia and Europe.

This Human Rights Watch documentary shows how the Uzbek government uses forced labor and child labor in its cotton fields.

Students, teachers, medical workers, other government employees, private sector employees and sometimes children were ordered into the fields to harvest cotton in 2015 and 2016, HRW reported; they also were forced to plant cotton and weed fields early in 2016.

The World Bank has invested $500 million in Uzbekistan’s cotton industry.   Supposedly it should withdraw the money if Uzbekistan uses child labor or forced labor, but HRW says this is not enforced.

The coming collapse of U.S. power

August 17, 2017

The United States is the world’s dominant superpower.   This is not sustainable.    I believe the collapse is likely to come suddenly, like the fall of the Soviet Union.

American geopolitical dominance is based on:

  1.  A world-wide network of military bases that give it the power to use military force in remote parts of the world.
  2.   Covert action agencies that work to subvert governments that resist U.S. power.
  3.   The dollar as the world’s medium of exchange, which gives the U.S. the power to control the world’s banking system.

The material basis for this dominance was U.S. industrial power, which once was supreme, but no longer is.

U.S. government is dominated by two factions with contradictory policies.   One is what I call the neoconservatives, who think the United States can make itself secure by crushing any nation that resists U.S. dominance.   The other is what I call the neoliberals, who think the United States can make itself prosperous by subordinating policy to the needs of U.S. corporations.

The problem is that executives of the largest U.S. corporations think of the world in global terms, not national terms.   They don’t regard themselves as responsible for maintaining U.S. geopolitical and military power.   Neoliberalism saps national economic strength that neoconservatives count on to support military intervention.

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Wealth, risk, and power

August 9, 2017

This is from a Twitter thread by Theresa Nielsen-Hayden.

1.  The rich don’t need federal health insurance. Their up-and-coming competitors, who aren’t rich yet, do: one major illness can wipe them out.

2.  The rich donor class hates social policies that make the non-rich braver and more enterprising. For example…

3.   Social Security, so a lifetime of hard work doesn’t end in misery.  Student financial aid, so that talent + hard work can = achievement.

4.  Bank regulation, so our careful savings and investments aren’t wrecked by irresponsible games the big-money guys play with each other.

5.  Health and safety regulations, because it shouldn’t be okay to maim or poison people who don’t have clout. And so forth.

6.  Us little guys shouldn’t have the nerve to start new businesses, develop new products, or go as far as our work and talent will take us.

7.  Poor whites are supposed to stay poor, and know in their bones that they’re born to sorrow, and their luck will never last.

8.  Blacks should keep quiet, and do first-rate work on jobs that are well below their ability, because things can always get worse, y’hear?

9.  There’s no point in women having ambitions, because one little mishap can wreck everything you’ve worked for.

10.  Keeping the rest of us in a constant state of low-level fear is the one consistent goal of the policies the donor class supports.

11.  Why? Because we have to tolerate some risk in order to successfully compete with them and their less-than-talented offspring.

12.  I’m not talking about rational, calculable risks.  I mean the unforeseeable: illness, accidents, market crashes, natural disasters.

13.  They want us to know in our bones that we have no defense against risk. If *anything* happens, we’ll be stuck paying for it forever.

14.  We’re not allowed to build a more level playing field that we all share.  They want us out of the game entirely, so they can always win.

15.  Meanwhile, they’re always angling to get their own risk reduced.  Always.  Because winning.

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Donald Trump is wrecking government, legally

August 7, 2017

President Donald J. Trump in just six months has done permanent damage to the working of the federal government.   It is not just that his policies are mostly bad.   It is that, due to incompetence and contempt for government, he is destroying the ability of government to function.

The trouble is that his wrecking is fully within his legal and Constitutional powers as President, while  the illegal and unconstitutional actions of which he is accused are either unproven and / or have precedent in the Bush and Obama administrations.

LINKS

Why the Scariest Nuclear Threat May Be Coming from Inside the White House by Michael Lewis for Vanity Fair.   Short version by Rod Dreher.

How the Trump Administration Broke the State Department by Robbie Gramer, Dan De Luce and Colum Lynch for Foreign Policy.  Short version by Daniel Larison.

What’s Worse: Trump’s Campaign Agenda or Empowering Generals and CIA Operatives to Subvert It? by Glenn Greenwald for The Intercept.

Trump Is Guilty, of Something by Andrew Levine for Counterpunch.   But what?