totalitarianism

Hey Good Cop: Where Are You?

Rodney King Beaten By LA Cops

Rodney King beaten by LA cops

Reading time – 77 seconds  .  .  .

An open letter to the good cops of America

When Rodney King was blasted by a Taser and then had the stuffing beaten out of him by four Los Angeles cops, what did you have to say about that? Did you speak out?

Mike Brown on the street in Ferguson, MO

Mike Brown on the street in Ferguson, MO

After Officer Darrin Wilson killed Mike Brown in Ferguson, MO, why didn’t we hear your concern about Wilson’s actions? Why was the only public statement made by Ferguson cops focused on creating a legal defense fund for Wilson? What about Mike Brown?

Walter Scott attempts to flee in North Charleston, SC

Walter Scott is shot in the back in North Charleston, SC

This week Officer Michael Slager put 8 bullets into the back of Walter Scott in North Charleston, SC. Scott was attempting to flee, but his overweight, 50-year-old body could barely manage a jogging pace. Nevertheless, Officer Slager decided that his own life was in danger as Scott ran away from him and he shot Scott to death. Then he placed evidence near the body to make it look like he had justification for murdering Scott. We’ve all seen the video of the episode. So have you, good cop. Where is your voice of outrage over this? Where are you?

Francis Pusok being beaten by sheriff's deputies near San Bernadino, CA

Francis Pusok being beaten by sheriff’s deputies near San Bernadino, CA

Also this week, cops in San Bernadino, CA apprehended Francis Pusok after a car, foot and horseback chase ended in the high dessert. Pusok flattened himself face down on the ground, spread eagle, making it clear that he was surrendering. For his effort he got Tased, beaten with fists and clubs and kicked repeatedly in the head by 10 deputies. Other than Sheriff John McMahon saying that there will be an investigation and that the deputies were put on administrative leave, there simply haven’t been any voices of good cops raised in protest over the outrageous violence of the obviously bad cops.

In fact, when bad cops act out there never are voices raised by good cops. Is the fraternal bond so stupidly strong that good cops refuse to speak out against their own bad actors? If it is, then there is something dreadfully wrong with that fraternity. If this were a social fraternity on a college campus, it would be expelled.

Are we supposed to understand the frustration of deputies chasing on foot over rocks and up mountains after a bad guy and then accept that they get to vent their frustration on the guy who caused the chase and that it’s okay for them to beat him to unconsciousness? If you think that, good cop, then you are badly misguided. And you are part of the problem.

Here’s the thing: If you can’t keep your emotions in check so that you act professionally at all times, then find another line of work, because you aren’t worthy of the public’s trust, nor worthy of authority over anyone else.

On the other hand, you likely know quite well the difference between right and wrong. We’re just not hearing about it from you. We’re not hearing your outrage over the brutality of the bad cops. We’re not hearing you press for special prosecutors in cases of police misconduct so that the cozy relationship between cops and prosecutors doesn’t short circuit justice. All we are hearing is your thunderous silence in the face of the reprehensible behavior of your fellow cops.

It’s time to stand up and be counted for what is right, good cop. Where is your voice? Where are you?

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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.

ACTION STEP: Please offer your comments below and pass this along to three people, encouraging them to subscribe.  Thanks!  JA

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

Stop Pretending It’s Not Happening

Can you identify this?

Can you identify this?

Reading time – well worth it  .  .  . 

Something’s going on. You can feel it even if you can’t name it. Things are changing from what they used to be or should be or could be to what you don’t want them to be.

We humans aren’t very good at noticing small changes. Incremental stuff just doesn’t reach our consciousness until it accumulates into something big and we become aware of it well after the fact.

And that’s what is happening to America. There have been lots of changes over the past 35 years and especially since 9/11. Now, if you take a good look, eyes wide open, you won’t recognize your country.

Tom Englehardt wrote a stunning piece in his blog www.TomDispatch.com in an effort to make some sense of what you already sense but as yet have no words to describe. His piece is reprinted below with permission. Pay special attention to his last sentence: “Stop pretending it’s not happening.”

READ THE POST BELOW. IT IS VITALLY IMPORTANT. THAT’S WHY THESE SENTENCES ARE IN ALL CAPS.

Print Tom’s brilliant essay, grab your second cup o’ joe and settle into your reading chair for 15 minutes. Some things that haven’t made sense will suddenly begin to take on a solid form. Just be forewarned that you may not like it.

Thanks to JL for pointing us to Tom’s clarity.

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Tomgram: Engelhardt: Is a New Political System Emerging in This Country?

The New American Order 
1% Elections, The Privatization of the State, a Fourth Branch of Government, and the Demobilization of “We the People” 
By Tom Engelhardt

Have you ever undertaken some task you felt less than qualified for, but knew that someone needed to do? Consider this piece my version of that, and let me put what I do understand about it in a nutshell: based on developments in our post-9/11 world, we could be watching the birth of a new American political system and way of governing for which, as yet, we have no name.

And here’s what I find strange: the evidence of this, however inchoate, is all around us and yet it’s as if we can’t bear to take it in or make sense of it or even say that it might be so.

Let me make my case, however minimally, based on five areas in which at least the faint outlines of that new system seem to be emerging: political campaigns and elections; the privatization of Washington through the marriage of the corporation and the state; the de-legitimization of our traditional system of governance; the empowerment of the national security state as an untouchable fourth branch of government; and the demobilization of “we the people.”

Whatever this may add up to, it seems to be based, at least in part, on the increasing concentration of wealth and power in a new plutocratic class and in that ever-expanding national security state. Certainly, something out of the ordinary is underway, and yet its birth pangs, while widely reported, are generally categorized as aspects of an exceedingly familiar American system somewhat in disarray.

1. 1% Elections

Check out the news about the 2016 presidential election and you’ll quickly feel a sense of been-there, done-that. As a start, the two names most associated with it, Bush and Clinton, couldn’t be more familiar, highlighting as they do the curiously dynastic quality of recent presidential contests.  (If a Bush or Clinton should win in 2016 and again in 2020, a member of one of those families will have controlled the presidency for 28 of the last 36 years.)

Take, for instance, “Why 2016 Is Likely to Become a Close Race,” a recent piece Nate Cohn wrote for my hometown paper.  A noted election statistician, Cohn points out that, despite Hillary Clinton’s historically staggering lead in Democratic primary polls (and lack of serious challengers), she could lose the general election.  He bases this on what we know about her polling popularity from the Monica Lewinsky moment of the 1990s to the present.  Cohn assures readers that Hillary will not “be a Democratic Eisenhower, a popular, senior statesperson who cruises to an easy victory.”  It’s the sort of comparison that offers a certain implicit reassurance about the near future.  (No, Virginia, we haven’t left the world of politics in which former general and president Dwight D. Eisenhower can still be a touchstone.)

Cohn may be right when it comes to Hillary’s electability, but this is not Dwight D. Eisenhower’s or even Al Gore’s America. If you want a measure of that, consider this year’s primaries. I mean, of course, the 2015 ones. Once upon a time, the campaign season started with candidates flocking to Iowa and New Hampshire early in the election year to establish their bona fides among party voters. These days, however, those are already late primaries.

The early primaries, the ones that count, take place among a small group of millionaires and billionaires, a new caste flush with cash who will personally, or through complex networks of funders, pour multi-millions of dollars into the campaigns of candidates of their choice.  So the early primaries — this year mainly a Republican affair — are taking place in resort spots like Las Vegas, Rancho Mirage, California, and Sea Island, Georgia, as has been widely reported. These “contests” involve groveling politicians appearing at the beck and call of the rich and powerful, and so reflect our new 1% electoral system. (The main pro-Hillary super PAC, for instance, is aiming for a kitty of $500 million heading into 2016, while the Koch brothers network has already promised to drop almost $1 billion into the coming campaign season, doubling their efforts in the last presidential election year.)

Ever since the Supreme Court opened up the ultimate floodgates with its 2010 Citizens United decision, each subsequent election has seen record-breaking amounts of money donated and spent. The 2012 presidential campaign was the first $2 billion election; campaign 2016 is expected to hit the $5 billion mark without breaking a sweat.  By comparison, according to Burton Abrams and Russell Settle in their study, “The Effect of Broadcasting on Political Campaign Spending,” Republicans and Democrats spent just under $13 million combined in 1956 when Eisenhower won his second term.

In the meantime, it’s still true that the 2016 primaries will involve actual voters, as will the election that follows. The previous election season, the midterms of 2014, cost almost $4 billion, a record despite the number of small donors continuing to drop. It also represented the lowest midterm voter turnout since World War II. (See: demobilization of the public, below — and add in the demobilization of the Democrats as a real party, the breaking of organized labor, the fragmenting of the Republican Party, and the return of voter suppression laws visibly meant to limit the franchise.) It hardly matters just what the flood of new money does in such elections, when you can feel the weight of inequality bearing down on the whole process in a way that is pushing us somewhere new.

2. The Privatization of the State (or the U.S. as a Prospective Third-World Nation)

In the recent coverage of the Hillary Clinton email flap, you can find endless references to the Clintons of yore in wink-wink, you-know-how-they-are-style reporting; and yes, she did delete a lot of emails; and yes, it’s an election year coming and, as everyone points out, the Republicans are going to do their best to keep the email issue alive until hell freezes over, etc., etc.  Again, the coverage, while eyeball gluing, is in a you’ve-seen-it-all-before, you’ll-see-it-all-again-mode.

However, you haven’t seen it all before. The most striking aspect of this little brouhaha lies in what’s most obvious but least highlighted.  An American secretary of state chose to set up her own private, safeguarded email system for doing government work; that is, she chose to privatize her communications.  If this were Cairo, it might not warrant a second thought.  But it didn’t happen in some third-world state.  It was the act of a key official of the planet’s reigning (or thrashing) superpower, which — even if it wasn’t the first time such a thing had ever occurred — should be taken as a tiny symptom of something that couldn’t be larger or, in the long stretch of history, newer: the ongoing privatization of the American state, or at least the national security part of it.

Though the marriage of the state and the corporation has a pre-history, the full-scale arrival of the warrior corporation only occurred after 9/11.  Someday, that will undoubtedly be seen as a seminal moment in the formation of whatever may be coming in this country.  Only 13 years later, there is no part of the war state that has not experienced major forms of privatization.  The U.S. military could no longer go to war without its crony corporations doing KP and guard duty, delivering the mail, building the bases, and being involved in just about all of its activities, including training the militaries of foreign allies and even fighting.  Such warrior corporations are now involved in every aspect of the national security state, including torture, drone strikes, and — to the tune of hundreds of thousands of contract employees like Edward Snowden — intelligence gathering and spying.  You name it and, in these years, it’s been at least partly privatized.

All you have to do is read reporter James Risen’s recent book, Pay Any Price, on how the global war on terror was fought in Washington, and you know that privatization has brought something else with it: corruption, scams, and the gaming of the system for profits of a sort that might normally be associated with a typical third-world kleptocracy.  And all of this, a new world being born, was reflected in a tiny way in Hillary Clinton’s very personal decision about her emails.

Though it’s a subject I know so much less about, this kind of privatization (and the corruption that goes with it) is undoubtedly underway in the non-war-making, non-security-projecting part of the American state as well.

3. The De-legitimization of Congress and the Presidency

On a third front, American “confidence” in the three classic check-and-balance branches of government, as measured by polling outfits, continues to fall.  In 2014, Americans expressing a “great deal of confidence” in the Supreme Court hit a new low of 23%; in the presidency, it was 11%, and in Congress a bottom-scraping 5%.  (The military, on the other hand, registers at 50%.)  The figures for “hardly any confidence at all” are respectively 20%, 44%, and more than 50%.  All are in or near record-breaking territory for the last four decades.

It seems fair to say that in recent years Congress has been engaged in a process of de-legitimizing itself.  Where that body once had the genuine power to declare war, for example, it is now “debating” in a desultory fashion an “authorization” for a war against the Islamic State in Syria, Iraq, and possibly elsewhere that has already been underway for eight months and whose course, it seems, will be essentially unaltered, whether Congress authorizes it or not.

What would President Harry Truman, who once famously ran a presidential campaign against a “do-nothing” Congress, have to say about a body that truly can do just about nothing?  Or rather, to give the Republican war hawks in that new Congress their due, not quite nothing.  They are proving capable of acting effectively to de-legitimize the presidency as well.  House Majority Leader John Boehner’s invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to undercut the president’s Iranian nuclear negotiations and the letter signed by 47 Republican senators and directed to the Iranian ayatollahs are striking examples of this.  They are visibly meant to tear down an “imperial presidency” that Republicans gloried in not so long ago.

The radical nature of that letter, not as an act of state but of its de-legitimization, was noted even in Iran, where fundamentalist Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei proclaimed it “a sign of a decline in political ethics and the destruction of the American establishment from within.” Here, however, the letter is either being covered as a singularly extreme one-off act (“treason!”) or, as Jon Stewart did on “The Daily Show,” as part of a repetitive tit-for-tat between Democrats and Republicans over who controls foreign policy.  It is, in fact, neither.  It represents part of a growing pattern in which Congress becomes an ever less effective body, except in its willingness to take on and potentially take out the presidency.

In the twenty-first century, all that “small government” Republicans and “big government” Democrats can agree on is offering essentially unconditional support to the military and the national security state.  The Republican Party — its various factions increasingly at each other’s throats almost as often as at those of the Democrats — seems reasonably united solely on issues of war-making and security.  As for the Democrats, an unpopular administration, facing constant attack by those who loath President Obama, has kept its footing in part by allying with and fusing with the national security state.  A president who came into office rejecting torture and promoting sunshine and transparency in government has, in the course of six-plus years, come to identify himself almost totally with the U.S. military, the CIA, the NSA, and the like.  While it has launched an unprecedented campaign against whistle blowers and leakers (as well as sunshine and transparency), the Obama White House has proved a powerful enabler of, but also remarkably dependent upon, that state-within-a-state, a strange fate for “the imperial presidency.”

4. The Rise of the National Security State as the Fourth Branch of Government

One “branch” of government is, however, visibly on the rise and rapidly gaining independence from just about any kind of oversight.  Its ability to enact its wishes with almost no opposition in Washington is a striking feature of our moment.  But while the symptoms of this process are regularly reported, the overall phenomenon — the creation of a de facto fourth branch of government — gets remarkably little attention.  In the war on terror era, the national security state has come into its own.  Its growth has been phenomenal.  Though it’s seldom pointed out, it should be considered remarkable that in this period we gained a second full-scale “defense department,” the Department of Homeland Security, and that it and the Pentagon have become even more entrenched, each surrounded by its own growing “complex” of private corporations, lobbyists, and allied politicians.  The militarization of the country has, in these years, proceeded apace.

Meanwhile, the duplication to be found in the U.S. Intelligence Community with its 17 major agencies and outfits is staggering.  Its growing ability to surveil and spy on a global scale, including on its own citizens, puts the totalitarian states of the twentieth century to shame.  That the various parts of the national security state can act in just about any fashion without fear of accountability in a court of law is by now too obvious to belabor.  As wealth has traveled upwards in American society in ways not seen since the first Gilded Age, so taxpayer dollars have migrated into the national security state in an almost plutocratic fashion.

New reports regularly surface about the further activities of parts of that state.  In recent weeks, for instance, we learned from Jeremy Scahill and Josh Begley of the Intercept that the CIA has spent years trying to break the encryption on Apple iPhones and iPads; it has, that is, been aggressively seeking to attack an all-American corporation (even if significant parts of its production process are actually in China).  Meanwhile, Devlin Barrett of the Wall Street Journal reported that the CIA, an agency barred from domestic spying operations of any sort, has been helping the U.S. Marshals Service (part of the Justice Department) create an airborne digital dragnet on American cell phones.  Planes flying out of five U.S. cities carry a form of technology that “mimics a cellphone tower.” This technology, developed and tested in distant American war zones and now brought to “the homeland,” is just part of the ongoing militarization of the country from its borders to its police forces.  And there’s hardly been a week since Edward Snowden first released crucial NSA documents in June 2013 when such “advances” haven’t been in the news.

News also regularly bubbles up about the further expansion, reorganization, and upgrading of parts of the intelligence world, the sorts of reports that have become the barely noticed background hum of our lives.  Recently, for instance, Director John Brennan announced a major reorganization of the CIA meant to break down the classic separation between spies and analysts at the Agency, while creating a new Directorate of Digital Innovation responsible for, among other things, cyberwarfare and cyberespionage.  At about the same time, according to the New York Times, the Center for Strategic Counter terrorism Communications, an obscure State Department agency, was given a new and expansive role in coordinating “all the existing attempts at countermessaging [against online propaganda by terror outfits like the Islamic State] by much larger federal departments, including the Pentagon, Homeland Security and intelligence agencies.”

This sort of thing is par for the course in an era in which the national security state has only grown stronger, endlessly elaborating, duplicating, and overlapping the various parts of its increasingly labyrinthine structure.  And keep in mind that, in a structure that has fought hard to keep what it’s doing cloaked in secrecy, there is so much more that we don’t know.  Still, we should know enough to realize that this ongoing process reflects something new in our American world (even if no one cares to notice).

5. The Demobilization of the American People

In The Age of Acquiescence, a new book about America’s two Gilded Ages, Steve Fraser asks why it was that, in the nineteenth century, another period of plutocratic excesses, concentration of wealth and inequality, buying of politicians, and attempts to demobilize the public, Americans took to the streets with such determination and in remarkable numbers over long periods of time to protest their treatment, and stayed there even when the brute power of the state was called out against them.  In our own moment, Fraser wonders, why has the silence of the public in the face of similar developments been so striking?

After all, a grim new American system is arising before our eyes.  Everything we once learned in the civics textbooks of our childhoods about how our government works now seems askew, while the growth of poverty, the flatlining of wages, the rise of the .01%, the collapse of labor, and the militarization of society are all evident.

The process of demobilizing the public certainly began with the military.  It was initially a response to the disruptive and rebellious draftees of the Vietnam-era.  In 1973, at the stroke of a presidential pen, the citizen’s army was declared no more, the raising of new recruits was turned over to advertising agencies (a preview of the privatization of the state to come), and the public was sent home, never again to meddle in military affairs.  Since 2001, that form of demobilization has been etched in stone and transformed into a way of life in the name of the “safety” and “security” of the public.

Since then, “we the people” have made ourselves felt in only three disparate ways: from the left in the Occupy movement, which, with its slogans about the 1% and the 99%, put the issue of growing economic inequality on the map of American consciousness; from the right, in the Tea Party movement, a complex expression of discontent backed and at least partially funded by right-wing operatives and billionaires, and aimed at the de-legitimization of the “nanny state”; and the recent round of post-Ferguson protests spurred at least in part by the militarization of the police in black and brown communities around the country.

The Birth of a New System

Otherwise, a moment of increasing extremity has also been a moment of — to use Fraser’s word — “acquiescence.”  Someday, we’ll assumedly understand far better how this all came to be.  In the meantime, let me be as clear as I can be about something that seems murky indeed: this period doesn’t represent a version, no matter how perverse or extreme, of politics as usual; nor is the 2016 campaign an election as usual; nor are we experiencing Washington as usual.  Put together our 1% elections, the privatization of our government, the de-legitimization of Congress and the presidency, as well as the empowerment of the national security state and the U.S. military, and add in the demobilization of the American public (in the name of protecting us from terrorism), and you have something like a new ballgame.

While significant planning has been involved in all of this, there may be no ruling pattern or design.  Much of it may be happening in a purely seat-of-the-pants fashion.  In response, there has been no urge to officially declare that something new is afoot, let alone convene a new constitutional convention.  Still, don’t for a second think that the American political system isn’t being rewritten on the run by interested parties in Congress, our present crop of billionaires, corporate interests, lobbyists, the Pentagon, and the officials of the national security state.

Out of the chaos of this prolonged moment and inside the shell of the old system, a new culture, a new kind of politics, a new kind of governance is being born right before our eyes. Call it what you want. But call it something. Stop pretending it’s not happening.

Copyright 2015 Tom Engelhardt

Reprinted by permission

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Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He is a fellow of the Nation Institute and runs TomDispatch.com. His latest book is Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World (Haymarket Books).

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

Ferguson Follow-Up 1

Reading time – 16 seconds  .  .  . 

Last Sunday I wrote about the dreadful job that was done by the attorney underlings of St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch, including their complete absence of any direction for the grand jury regarding criminal charges sought. That story got worse.

Take a look at this segment of The Rachel Maddow Show from December 2, 2014 entitled, Botched grand jury instructions call Ferguson ruling into question. This gives a clear picture of how tainted the county’s work was and provides a window into the grand jury’s baffling finding.

Which leaves me wondering about what happened in Staten Island, New York such that a majority of the 23 people seated as a grand jury couldn’t figure out that Eric Garner should not have been strangled to death by New York cops and that at least one of those cops should stand trial.

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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.

Rodney, Treyvon, Michael Brown and Us

Reading time – 87 seconds  .  .  . 

After a high speed car chase, five LA cops took positions around Rodney King. Four of them beat the crap out of him while the fifth just watched and made no attempt to intercede. The four were charged in state court with assault with a deadly weapon and use of excessive force. They were acquitted. Two of them subsequently went to prison following their convictions in federal court for civil rights violations. Apparently, along with King, some civil rights were beaten up by those thugs. The other three cops got away with savagely beating a defenseless man.

Armed only with a package of Skittles and a soft drink, Treyvon Martin was gunned down by George Zimmerman, who claimed he was “standing his ground.” That, it seems, is the thing to do after identifying someone as a bad guy through positive identification of his hoodie, then stalking him. Zimmerman got away with murder.

Now Officer Darren Wilson has managed to avoid even a trial following his killing of Michael Brown.

When St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch announced the grand jury’s decision and delivered his ass covering statement, I flashed on a video that was released shortly after Brown was killed. It showed two construction workers who just happened to be working next to the killing zone. They are shown yelling at Officer Wilson, saying, “His f****** hands were up.” Another voice yells, “He was no f****** threat at all.” These guys were clearly aghast that the cop kept shooting at a submissive and wounded Brown. BTW, they are white guys. It seems some white guys in Missouri know the difference between right and wrong. I’m wondering if any St. Louis County officials do.

We know that the prosecutor presented both sides of the case, the prosecution and the defense, to the grand jury, something that is pretty much never done. The prosecutor’s job is to get an indictment and that’s always – except this time – done by presenting only the incriminating evidence. And after Officer Wilson gave his contradictory, inconsistent and self-serving testimony, the prosecutors didn’t even cross-examine him. That’s not the path to an indictment. What was McCulloch thinking?

We know that McCulloch’s prosecutors gave no recommendation to the jury as to how to charge Officer Wilson. That is odd to the point of being singular. The prosecutor always directs the grand jury to the criminal charge that is sought. McCulloch just let the members of the jury fumble through their ignorance of the law and try to figure out what to do. Now, why would McCulloch be so passive and even neglectful in his duties?

Here’s Human Being 101:

1. When we don’t have all the information, we make up stuff to fill in the blanks, because we just can’t stand not knowing. For example, when some guy cuts you off in traffic, even though all you know is that you were cut off, you instantly “know” the mental limitations of that idiot.

2. When we are anxious, afraid or angry, the stuff we make up is always negative. Trust me on this. When your kid is out past curfew and you’re lying in bed staring at the ceiling, you’re not thinking about the good time your kid is having. You’re wondering if you should call the police or the hospital emergency room.

Applying that understanding to the behavior of the prosecuting attorney, we can and probably do make up all sorts of stuff to explain what happened. My noggin goes directly to asking who benefits from this kind of sloppy prosecutorial behavior, this by a fellow with a reputation for being a strong prosecutor and also for having a racially – let’s call it “flexible” – history. This is the same guy who, when implored to appoint a special prosecutor in the Brown case in order to avoid both the substance and the appearance of bias, refused. Really, now, who benefits from that and from the deeply crappy and one-of-a-kind unusual prosecution?

I know who doesn’t benefit and it’s us, including the next unarmed kid who gets gunned down by a cop or a cop wanna be.

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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.

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.

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