totalitarianism

Backlash Quiz

Reading time – 127 seconds  .  .  .

Mohammed Mosaddegh was the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran. In 1953 he was deposed in a coup d’état orchestrated by British MI6 and the American CIA, along with foreign oil firms. They established Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi as the absolute ruler of Iran. That was a handy thing for the Brits and the Americans, as it ensured an uninterrupted supply of cheap Iranian oil. On the other hand, the Iranian people did not like that very much.

The Shah turned out to be a brutal dictator. Not surprisingly, his people did not care for that either, and in 1979 he was shoved out of the country as part of the Iranian Revolution. To express their displeasure with America for forcing this monster on them, the Iranian Guard took 52 people from the American embassy and held them hostage for 444 days. Today the Iranians are making atomic bombs. Funny how pissing people off has a way of producing backlash.

The west and most notably the United States has maintained an enormous footprint in the Middle-East for over one hundred years. For example, we have provided the assurance of control of Saudi Arabia by the House of Saud. That has kept American oil interests firmly established and has ensured – guess what? – an uninterrupted supply of cheap Saudi oil, often to the detriment of the local population. Come to think of it, Osama bin Laden was a Saudi. Hmmm. Funny how pissing people off has a way of producing backlash.

In addition, over those decades the cultural imprint of the U.S. has been both enormous and anathema to the locals. Again not surprisingly, the locals haven’t liked that and that, in part, led to al Qaeda. Those people want their section of the world to themselves and have devised a strategy to get it back. Here is a part of their strategy:

  1. Provoke the United States and the West into invading a Muslim country by staging a massive attack or string of attacks on US soil that results in massive civilian casualties.
  2. Incite local resistance to occupying forces.
  3. Expand the conflict to neighboring countries, and engage the US and its allies in a long war of attrition.
  4. Convert al-Qaeda into an ideology and set of operating principles that can be loosely franchised in other countries without requiring direct command and control, and via these franchises incite attacks against the US and countries allied with the US until they withdraw from the conflict, as happened with the 2004 Madrid train bombings, but which did not have the same effect with the July 7, 2005 London bombings.
  5. The US economy will finally collapse by the year 2020 under the strain of multiple engagements in numerous places, making the worldwide economic system which is dependent on the U.S. also collapse leading to global political instability, which in turn leads to a global jihad led by al-Qaeda and a Wahhabi Caliphate will then be installed across the world following the collapse of the U.S. and the rest of the Western world countries.

Funny how pissing people off has a way of producing backlash.

Which brings us to ISIS/ISIL. They are barbaric. They rape, torture and kill indiscriminately. They have beheaded two Americans and a Brit and we want revenge, our pound of flesh. While that may be a normal human reaction, think about the consequences of killing more Muslims. Those still living would not like that and, well, it’s funny how pissing people off has a way of producing backlash.

This post touches on just a few examples of predictable retribution for our long history in the Middle-East and of course there are more. The point is that when we do things that produce impoverishment, suffering and death for others, those remaining want to hit back, just like we want to hit back at ISIS/ISIL right now. If we do that, if we allow ourselves to be sucked into that rope-a-dope, we will be playing right into the strategy outlined by al Qaeda and ensuring the next atrocity that will be visited upon Americans.

If you always do what you’ve always done,

you’ll always get what you always got.

I understand muscular chest-thumping and I appreciate the desire for simple solutions to complex problems. But, really, we’ve seen this movie and we know how it never ends.

Pop Quiz

  1. Are we dumb enough to set ourselves up like that again?
  2. Exactly who will benefit if we stay at war in the Middle-East? Hint: Follow the money.
  3. Bonus question: The Soviet Union collapsed in large measure because they had to keep up with U.S. militarily expenditures and at the same time they bogged themselves down in a long term war in Afghanistan. In the process, they spent themselves into economic collapse. Is there anything in that for us to learn? If so, what is it?

You get 10 points for each correct answer and a perfect score gets you entered to win an all expense paid trip to the next Ground Zero.

Insert your answers below.

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Ed. note: There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better. It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That is the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue. Please help by offering your comments, as well as by passing this along and encouraging others to subscribe and do the same.  Thanks.  JA

Copyright 2018 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Father Flannigan in Texas

Skip LeveThis is a guest essay from reader Frank Levy of Houston, TX. It was submitted as a comment to an earlier post, Father Flannigan, Your CEO and the Supreme Court, and was deemed too important to bury at the bottom of the Comments section. It is offered here for your consideration and comment.

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In Texas we are very accustomed to the “Father Flannigan phenomenon,” and much worse. Not only do we have the usual school day, pre-game, and government pre-meeting prayer, the state Republican Party primary ballot includes a statement that reads, “America is a Christian country, and Texas is a Christian state.” Voters get to agree or disagree. The “initiative” carries by over 95% every 4 years.

It is fundamentalist Christian beliefs like this that are part and parcel of the religious civil war going on across the country. The Hobby Lobby decision is but one of the skirmishes in this religious civil war.

The Hobby Lobby decision by the “Fab 5” – the 5 Catholic men on the Court – is deeply disingenuous and sharply at odds with American law and legal precedent, and imposes very real long-term negative impacts on American democracy and on Americans who believe in real freedom of religion.

On the subject of the disingenuous nature of the Hobby Lobby suit and decision – as Stephanie Mencimer noted in Mother Jones in March 2014, “a neglected aspect of the Hobby Lobby case is the fact that Hobby Lobby’s self-professed belief appeared out of nowhere just in time for them to file suit. The company admits in its complaint that until it considered filing the suit in 2012 its generous health insurance plan actually covered Plan B and Ella (though not IUDs). The burden of this coverage was apparently so insignificant that God and Hobby Lobby executives never noticed it until the mandate became a political issue.”

It should also be noted that Hobby Lobby owners held significant investments in the companies that manufactured the exact abortifacients and birth control products that were the basis of the law suit.

In short, Hobby Lobby’s “deeply held beliefs” claims are transparently bogus — as well as being scientifically invalid, since none of the methods involved are abortifacients, as Hobby Lobby claims.

In Hobby Lobby the Court handed corporations religious rights for the first time in history. As Norm Ornstein points out in the National Journal, “For the majority on the Roberts Court, through a series of rulings that favor corporations over labor or other interests, it is clear that corporations are king, superior to individual Americans — with all the special treatment in taxes and protection from legal liability that are unavailable to us individuals, and now all the extra benefits that come with individual citizenship.”

The Hobby Lobby decision also lends support to the Christian Right’s (they are neither) efforts in the new religious civil war to create a Christian theocracy in America, and to further their erroneous claims that their religious rights are being suppressed, or even outlawed.

Led by the dominion theology of the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), those seeking the creation of America as an evangelical Christian nation seek to block any and all legislation that promotes real equality, as well as seeking to block legislation that opposes discrimination based on gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or race, especially in the areas of voting rights, access to health care, birth control and abortion and marriage, among others. These self-proclaimed Christians also oppose social programs like food stamps, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, and Social Security, this based on their proclaimed religious beliefs.

These new religious warriors want an America built on their repressive and narrow understanding of Christian theology. As researcher Rachel Tabachnick explains: “Instead of escaping the Earth (in the Rapture) prior to the turmoil of the end times, they [the NAR] teach that believers will defeat evil by taking dominion, or control, over all sectors of society and government, resulting in mass conversions to their brand of charismatic evangelicalism and a Christian utopia or ‘Kingdom’ on Earth.”

Their favorite, and most powerful lie used to gather fellow warriors is their lament that their religious rights are being eliminated or oppressed. A. Jay Michaelson writes in, ”Redefining Religious Liberty: The Covert Campaign Against Civil Rights” published by Political Research Associates in March, 2013, “While the religious liberty debate is a growing front in the ongoing culture wars, it is actually an old argument re-purposed for a new context. In the postwar era, the Christian Right defended racial segregation, school prayer, public religious displays and other religious practices that infringed on the liberties of others by claiming that restrictions on such public acts infringed upon their religious liberty. Then as now, the Christian Right turned anti-discrimination arguments on their heads: instead of African Americans being discriminated against by segregated Christian universities, the universities were being discriminated against by not being allowed to exclude them; instead of public prayers oppressing religious minorities, Christians are being oppressed by not being able to offer them.

In the “religious liberty” framework, the Christian Right attacks access to contraception, access to abortion, same-sex marriage, and anti-discrimination laws—not on moral grounds (e.g., that contraception is morally wrong or that LGBTQ rights violate “family values”) but because they allegedly impinge upon the religious freedoms of others (e.g., by forcing employers to violate their religion by providing contraception coverage).

In fact, there is not a single “religious liberty” claim made by the Christian Right that does not involve abridging someone else’s rights.

When any religious group tries to impose its beliefs on others we ought to be afraid and strenuously oppose such efforts. We need to be extremely vigilant in opposing any effort by one group to impose its beliefs on anyone else, no matter how light or innocent that imposition might be claimed to be. If you don’t want your religious beliefs questioned, then don’t impose them on others. When push comes to shove, real religious freedom can be just as simple as that.

I wonder how the Court would have voted if the Hobby Lobby suit had been filed by a Muslim, or Jewish, or Buddhist, or Hindu owned business instead of the Christian owned Hobby Lobby.

Frank Levy, M.A., MFA. is Director of Outreach Resources, which provides consulting services to local and statewide disaster and public health preparedness and response agencies and to non-profit agencies engaged in improving the lives of the most vulnerable and at-risk residents. Frank currently lives in hiding from the thought police in Tom “the Exterminator” DeLay’s Congressional district outside Houston, TX.

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Ed. note: There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better. It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That is the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue. Please help by offering your comments, as well as by passing this along and encouraging others to do the same.  Thanks.  JA

Copyright 2018 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Tiananmen Square and the U.S.

Tank Man 2

Tank Man waiting to confront tanks – look carefully. Photo Terril Yue Jones

Reading time – 62 seconds  .  .  . 

The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars published a stunning article by Terril Yue Jones, Associated Press correspondent in China in 1989, entitled Tiananmen Square at 25 that has a shocking message for us as we continue down our slippery slope from one person, one vote.

By now you’ve heard the reports of the complete vanishing of information from the Chinese people of the protests for reform by hundreds of thousands of Chinese in their April through June, 1989 demonstrations. Those born since that time have no knowledge that anything happened then. The Communist leaders want it that way so that they stay in power. (Funny how people in power will do amazing things to stay in power.)

In addition to censoring all information about the events in Tiananmen Square, the government made certain it would retain control by buying off the people with the opportunity for upward mobility – things like an apartment or a car – and the ever-present threat of harm.

Jones reported a conversation he had just a few years ago with a worker from Hunan province about the 1989 events in Tiananmen, who told him, “If I don’t steal, swindle or kill, no one will bother me.” Jones commented,

“It’s that kind of disinterested focus on self that Chinese authorities have very effectively fostered in the years since the uprising at Tiananmen Square. Yes, the economic and social improvements for which workers, teachers and other citizens agitated in 1989 — from increased salaries and home ownership to social and economic rights — have largely been accomplished, giving rise to a massive middle class. But it’s those masses in the middle class and below who see the yawning wealth gap between themselves and China’s legions of millionaires.”

How eerily similar that sounds to America today.

Americans are afraid of losing whatever they have been able to retain and so keep their heads down to avoid harm. As a result we have that same “yawning wealth gap” between we the people and the Big Money controllers of our country.

One can’t help but wonder how bad will things have to become for people – millions of Americans – to stand up and, like Howard Beale in the movie Network, say, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” Perhaps it will require an American Tank Man.

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Ed. note: There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better. It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better. That is the reason for these posts. To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue. Please help by offering your comments, as well as by passing this along and encouraging others to do the same.  Thanks.  JA

Copyright 2018 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Propaganda

Editorial note: Before anyone goes hyperbolic, imagining that this is a comparison of anyone today to the Nazis, get that it isn’t.  The issue is propaganda, and you need to be clear about what that means to you.

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I recently visited the Field Museum in Chicago to see the exhibit, “State of Deception: The Power of Nazi Propaganda.” It is a special production of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington and this visit was my second time reviewing the material.  I came away with a shocking realization.

The Nazis were early masters of manipulation through words and images and they managed to cow an entire nation into support of or, at the very least, indifference to their aggression and brutality.  The exhibit is about how they went about messaging that.

First, some basics about propaganda from the exhibit.

Propaganda:
 
  •      –  Uses truths, half-truths or lies
  •      –  Omits information selectively
  •      –  Simplifies complex issues or ideas
  •      –  Plays on emotions
  •      –  Advertises a cause
  •      –  Attacks opponents
  •      –  Targets [tailors its message to individual] desired audiences

A fine point about the propaganda of attacking opponents is the accusation that opponents are the ones doing the terrible things that the propagandist attempts to create.  For example, the Nazis falsely accused the Jews of trying to gain world domination.  They claimed that the German people were the poor victims of this fictitious attempt, leaving Germany the only option of all-out war to stop the takeover.  Bear in mind that this claim was made while  Hitler was leading Germany in a quest to dominate the world for 1,000 years (“Deutschland Uber Alles”).  That kind of claim allowed citizens to feel justified in supporting German atrocities.  That is to say, the propaganda of attacking the opponent  by accusation worked.

In response to President Obama’s State of the Union address this year, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) made a quick reply, emphasizing the need for jobs for Americans.  There is truth to that claim.  However, in the same breath he accused the President of being ineffective at creating the conditions to promote jobs, asking the question, “Where are the jobs, Mr. President?”

Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) gave the formal Tea Party response to the President’s speech and asked exactly the same question, “Where are the jobs, Mr. President?”  Interesting, that they used exactly the same words.  I wonder how that happened.

Now, that’s pretty good propaganda, accusing their opponent, President Obama, of poor performance regarding job creation.  There’s just one thing: President Obama has promoted job creation with ideas for infrastructure work, hiring incentives and several jobs bills.  Nearly every one has been shot down by – guess who – John Boehner and Rand Paul using the propaganda of attacking opponents by accusation.

President Obama has repeatedly promoted comprehensive immigration reform.  When that wasn’t possible he proposed bite-sized pieces (e.g. The Dream Act).  Now Republican leadership is blaming the President for the lack of immigration reform, this even as John Boehner has blocked any action on this issue yet again.  Once again, the propaganda of attacking opponents by accusation rears its ugly head.

In Nazi Germany propaganda helped to incrementally take away rights, property, freedom and the lives of the “undesirables,” the Jews, the Communists, the gypsies and others.  Hmmm, incrementally taking away rights  .  .  .  that sounds disturbingly familiar.

Republican state legislatures and governors are crusading to create voter ID laws in over 30 states.  They claim that their purpose is to stop the epidemic of voter fraud that plagues and pollutes our elections.  And they say that people have to show ID to get on an airplane, so why not when they vote?

They have successfully created a boogeyman for we good people to fear and hate, those who are cheating our voting system. That plays effectively on our emotions.  And that propaganda uses half-truths and lies quite effectively.  But let’s look at the truth.

Investigation after investigation has shown that voter fraud is infinitesimal, bordering on non-existent.

Of course, it is true that we all have to show a government issued picture ID to get on an airplane.  On the other hand, air travel is not a Constitutionally guaranteed right.  Voting is.  The comparison is nothing more than the propaganda of selective information and playing on emotions.

Clearly, voter suppression laws are being attempted for reasons other than to stop non-existent voter fraud.  And it has been amply demonstrated that such laws will overwhelmingly restrict the voting of poor people, minorities, the young and the elderly, all of whom but the elderly vote mostly for Democrats.

Now who do you suppose would benefit from restricting voting as these Republican controlled legislatures are attempting to do?

Actually, that’s the kind of question to ask about any of these and dozens of other propaganda-laced issues.  As always, stick to the advice of Deep Throat: “Follow the money” to find out who  benefits.

And dig through the layers, because stopping at identifying the politicians who benefit from such manipulation gives the big kahunas a free pass.  Ask who doles out cash to those legislative beneficiaries?  What do they get out of rigging the system by manipulating you with propaganda?  And to whom do those people answer and how do they benefit from the half-truths and lies?

My shocking realization following the museum visit was about how pervasive propaganda is, how it has become slicker over the years but the basics haven’t changed.  Don’t imagine for a moment that propaganda became a thing of the past with the demise of Nazi Germany and later of the Soviet Union.  It’s being played on you every day.

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Ed. note:  There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better.  It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better.  That is the reason for these posts.  To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue.  Please help by passing this along and encouraging others to do the same.  Thanks.  JA

Copyright 2018 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

I Get It – At Last

Why would senators and congressmen intentionally force the United States to the brink of financial disaster?

Why would legislators drive us to default on our national debt and tell us that default will be a good thing?

Why would billionaires fund grass roots organizations that have their members wave Confederate flags and spout hateful lies?

Why would Bible thumping go on everywhere, such that no speech can end without invoking God?

Why would otherwise sensible people in Kansas, Texas and elsewhere deny verified facts and long proven theories and instead be promoting science as seen through the eyes of relatively ignorant people of thousands of years ago?

Why has congress been gridlocked for so long?

The answers to those questions and more can be found by taking a step back from vilifying the (insert your own epithet here) extremists and railing at the stupid things they say and do.  Instead of thinking they are (re-insert your epithet here) irrational, assume that they are sensible and determined warriors fighting for their desired goal.  What would their goal be?

That is the answer I found in reading Deborah Caldwell’s article in the Huffington Post.  The insanity of current events disappeared with the clarity that hordes of powerful people want to eliminate our government and put in its place a Christian theocracy.

Doubt that?  First read Caldwell’s article.  Follow through to the links she provides.  Then test it all with your experience of hearing Ron Paul tell us he wants to eliminate government support of public education (what would that leave for our children?) and Grover Norquist wanting to shrink the government so that it can be drowned in a bathtub (what would take its place?).  Test it against Michele Bachmann glorying in the coming end times that will be hastened by the destruction of our American structure.  Don’t dismiss that just because Bachmann says crazy things most of the time, because there are thousands – perhaps hundreds of thousands – of Americans who agree with her and 50 of them are in congress right now and they are destroying our government.

I had long thought that they did that because they got off on the power trip and the attention they received that fed their self-promotion.  I had thought that the people in the streets spouting radical stuff were just venting their anger and hoping that finally someone was listening to them and that for a brief moment they had a little bit of control.  I may have been right, but that is not the big story.

The big story is that there is a huge number of Americans who want this country to be a Christian theocracy.  They will say and do anything to make that happen and they care not at all about the destruction they will cause to America and the world with their fundamentalist, literal interpretation zeal.  They think that our Founders wanted America to be that way, this in spite of the fact that the Founders specifically designed the Constitution to prevent America from being a theocracy and they wrote about the importance of that extensively.  And that perfectly captures the denial of reality that goes on for our current day extremists.

Now imagine if the zealots had all the power, that the only law of the land was the Christian Bible and that those in charge believed in a literal interpretation of the Bible.  America would look a lot like fundamentalist, theocratic Iran.  Get ready for public stonings.

Are you scared yet?

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Ed. note:  There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better.  It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst for things to get better.  That is the reason for these posts.  To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue.  Please help by passing this along and encouraging others to do the same.  Thanks.  JA

Copyright 2018 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Droning On

I recall seeing the first drones.  Unmanned aircraft.  I’m a pilot and thought the technology was nifty.  I also admired the surveillance capabilities of those things.  Protect the troops without endangering AWACs and helo crews.  Find the bad guys.  Like that.

Then we started using these things to kill people at weddings.

Now my friend and futurist David Houle has pointed out that Grumman has a programmable 330-pound robot.  This thing is cool and can trek where no man has gone before or ever should go and has capabilities no human will ever have.  Major geek factor.

They also have a surveillance “bat” airborne drone – also a major cool and high geek factor item.  While watching the video I couldn’t help but notice how its superb surveillance eye was able to find a human “target”.  That is the label Grumman pasted on some guy walking on an airport tarmac.

We truly do have the capability to make a weapon out of anything, perhaps even a lampshade.  It’s just what the fertile minds of our war materiel contractors, the military and our secret CIA army dream up to do with that stuff that scares me, because the power and the decisions seem to be unbridled and even unchecked.

The NSA is supposed to get warrants for its spying, but it often doesn’t.  The CIA is prohibited by law from engaging in activities within the US, but it does so all the time.  The FBI is legally limited in its spying efforts, but it reads your email without a warrant, even going beyond the lawless powers of the so-called Patriot Act.  Now we have a programmable 330 pound robot that “they” will be able to program to do whatever they want it to do.  Look for a knock at your door soon.  And have a nice day.

For David Houle’s comments on privacy, have a look at his new e-Book, Is Privacy Dead?.

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Ed. note:  There is much in America that needs fixing and we are on a path to continually fail to make things better.  It is my goal to make a difference – perhaps to be a catalyst – for things to get better.  That is the reason for these posts.  To accomplish the goal requires reaching many thousands of people and a robust dialogue.  Please help by passing this along and encouraging others to do the same.  Thanks.  JA

Copyright 2018 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

George Orwell Was an Optimist

The NSA is spying on everyone and there is no privacy.  The government lies about who it spies on, the things they look at and who has access to all that information.  Although the NSA is minimally limited by law in what its spooks can do without a warrant from a FISA court, even then they routinely ignore the requirements of the law and instead spy with impunity on anyone and anything they like.  When the NSA does go to court for a warrant, only the government’s case is presented – there is no challenge to its claims – so  the FISA court approves NSA requests more than 99% of the time.  And there is next to no congressional oversight exercised over the FISA court, much less over the NSA.  Nobody is watching the watchers.

We enacted laws to protect whistle blowers, because we want to encourage citizens to call out wrong-doing and wrong-doers.  Then we routinely shame and humiliate the whistle blowers, calling them traitors, spies and quite a few other names that would be expected if they came from a 12-year-old brat on a playground.  We also end the careers and prosecute those same whistle blowers, this in order to discourage others from blowing whistles, lest actual wrongdoing be cast in sunlight and we expose the nefarious behavior of legislators and bureaucrats.

It may be comforting to say, “I obey the laws so I don’t care about the ubiquitous snooping,” but that myopic and self-focused attitude is, well, myopic and self-focused, even to the point of self-destruction.  Today they may be coming for the neighbor whom you don’t care about, but they will be at your door tomorrow and you will be presumed guilty.  Not officially, of course.  It’s just the way things will happen.  Who will stand up for you?

Shift for a moment to something that may seem to be a separate topic.  I promise that it is not.

I’ve been saying for years that we still haven’t learned all the lessons of our war in Vietnam.  We intruded there on someone else’s civil war, arguably on the wrong side, and stayed involved for almost ten years, leaving the imprint on US history of this being the first war we lost.  The stated reason for our intrusion was a lie – fighting the Communists there instead of in Kansas – and we further excused our invasion by claiming an attack on a US Navy ship, but that attack never happened.  The war took over 58,000 American lives and well over a million Vietnamese lives.

The one lesson of the war in Vietnam that politicians did learn is that they could not wage dishonest wars by means of a military draft.  That was made clear by mass demonstrations during that vastly unpopular war.  So, the draft is gone, replaced now by a volunteer military supplemented by civilian “contractors.”  That word does not mean plumbers and carpenters.  It means mercenary armies and ours are accountable to no one and they kill with impunity.

Fast forward to 2003 when we inserted ourselves into Iraq for two lies – non-existent WMD’s and Saddam’s non-existent ties to al Qaeda – and we stayed there nearly nine years.  That took over 4,500 American lives and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives.  It also teed up an Iraq civil war that continues today with no end in sight.  The killing goes on.

There was just a handful of al Qaeda terrorists who attacked America.  In order to bring them to justice “dead or alive” we sent battalions of our troops to Afghanistan to wage war on that entire country in 2001.  As of this writing, we’re still making war there, with tens of thousands of people dead – nobody has a clue exactly how many – and over 4,000 “on our side” dead.  It is not clear if the US will win this war, since the goals have shifted repeatedly.  The original goal was the elimination of al Qaeda.  Then it shifted to the removal of the Taliban from power in Afghanistan. Neither of those goals will be fully met.  In fact, it is not clear what will be achieved.  However, it is clear that we will have a very long term involvement there, well past the oft-declared 2014 “end of combat operations” date.

  • What these three wars have in common are:
  1. Each was started under false pretenses – i.e., lies.  Not mistakes.  Lies.
  2. The goal posts were in constant motion.
  3. A lot of troops were wounded or killed without ever knowing what they had served.
  4. A lot of civilian contractors became extremely wealthy.
  5. A lot of politicians won office and stayed there thanks to contributions from wealthy war materiel contractors.
  • The real question is why all of that happens and that “why” is the connector between unbridled spying and endless war.  It is about pills.

We as a people have accepted that the solution to our problems can be found in a pill.  The biggest selling pharmaceuticals in America are psychotropics – Zoloft, Ambien and the rest.  We are, to some degree, a continent of zombies.  We cope by means of decreased sensitivity to what goes on around us.  That’s good for Big Pharma.  Not so good for the rest of us.

“Pill,” of course, is a placeholder for all the ways we disengage, tune out.  It includes the vague assumption that someone else will step up and handle the situation or that our little contribution won’t make a difference, a key rationalization for why only 37% of eligible voters will show up to vote on November 4, 2014.

We as a people have been fed such a torrential river of lies, false innuendo, public stupidity and hollow promises for so long that we no longer believe in our government and we have dropped out.  Indeed, public trust in government is at 19% and falling.  We don’t engage with the things that fail to poke through the tough barrier of our own narrow vision.  That lets those in power get away with making laws that promote terrible things, breaking laws on a whim and without consequences and with waging dishonest wars for decades.  We are treated with sleight of hand so that we do not focus on the official unpatriotic actions and instead are exhorted with disingenuous pleas to “support our troops,” as though that is the only worthy test of patriotism. 

If you and I don’t all drop back in soon, all of that will continue until you have no privacy, no freedom and no safety at all.

George Orwell was an optimist.

Copyright 2018 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

Frog Boil

Boiling FrogThe news was broken by Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian and also by The Washington Post that FISA court Judge Roger Vincent approved a warrant drafted by the National Security Agency (NSA) to require Verizon to turn over all of its records of calls made to and from the US and any foreign telephone.  It was done under the provisions of FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.  

FISA was designed to enable the gathering of – guess what – foreign intelligence.  It works in secret and is accountable to nobody, so we have no way to know if its actions are justified or appropriate and its provisions and restrictions are not well understood by the public.  Not surprisingly, our government has a way of stretching the meaning of the act to suit its purposes.  Here is an example of that stretching.

In addition to Verizon’s domestic-to-foreign calls being reported, the NSA also requires Verizon to turn over its records for all completely domestic calls.  Remember that part about FISA being about gathering foreign intelligence?  How a call from a domestically registered phone to another domestically registered phone is foreign is an unholy stretch, but that is what our government is doing.  And it gets worse.

The Washington Post broke the story that the NSA has a surveillance program called PRISM.  It is a another lovely piece of FISA stretch that delivers to the NSA all of the records of all the big online servers, like Microsoft, AOL, Yahoo, Google, Facebook and more.

With the Verizon intelligence grab the NSA knows every call you’ve made and all the  calls made to you, the duration of the calls and the number your phone was connected to, the location of both phones and all of the records are delivered to the NSA daily.  With the PRISM program, the NSA can dig into anything you’ve ever done online, including your used-to-be-private emails and web surfing history. 

As reported in The New York Times, “James R, Clapper, Jr., director of national intelligence, “.  .  .  the government ‘does not unilaterally obtain information from the servers’ of telephone and Internet providers, saying that information is turned over only under court order, when there is a ‘documented, foreign intelligence purpose for acquisition’ of the data.”

Sounds reassuring.  And not confidently believable, if there is anything substantive to what whistle blowers Edward Snowden and William Binney have said.

These kinds of “data mining and harvesting” were supposed to be do-able only as part of a specific investigation that the NSA was conducting, not as a “grab the entire universe of information” fishing expedition.  Further, the warrant that is required for the NSA to dig its tentacles into you was supposed to be authorized by a FISA court judge using a very hairy eyeball, but nearly ever warrant requested has been allowed.

You may have committed no crime nor even have known anyone who has, but the NSA has all of your records, phone, emails and web surfing history, and is looking at them, even though you are not part of an ongoing investigation.  Honest person that you are, you are being snooped and groped.  Every day.

Let’s see – is there more?  Well, we’re killing people overseas with drones and we have a most strange way of quantifying the effect of these machines.  We identify the people we kill in various categories, including al Qaeda, militant, civilian and unknown.  Strangely, we’ve killed thousands classified as unknown yet our government has claimed that there were very few civilian casualties.  If we don’t know the identity of the people we killed, how can we know they weren’t civilians?

And, by the way, surveillance drones are already flying inside the U.S.

This is just the most recent few outrageous things our government is doing under the cover label of national security.  What is disturbing is that these kinds of government power grabs, this taking control of our privacy, our freedom and our lives is exactly what we used to abhor about the Soviet Union.  That government robbed its people of their freedom and millions of Soviets were killed by the state.  Indeed, our rendition programs are functionally identical to the Soviets sending their people to die in labor camps in Siberia.  Put any face, label or justification on it that you like; stealing your freedom is stealing your freedom.

It is said that if a live frog is suddenly thrown into a pot of boiling water that it will thrash violently and do everything it can to get out of the pot.  On the other hand, if a frog is thrown into cool water and then the heat is turned up so that the water warms gradually, the frog will swim about calmly until it is boiled dead.  That is to say, slow change doesn’t seem to get the frog’s attention, and then suddenly it is too late.

We’re a lot like that frog.  Our government has incrementally changed at a pace that doesn’t seem to get our attention, but we are gradually losing the America you believe in, as we plunge headlong into totalitarianism.

“Americans are living in a totalitarian state.  They just haven’t figured it out yet.”  Russian immigrant.

Copyright 2018 by Jack Altschuler
Reproduction and sharing are encouraged, providing proper attribution is given.

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