Vice News revealed the details of a confidential database that banks, employers and others use to blacklist customers.
The World-Check database also includes major charities, activists, and mainstream religious institutions under its category of “terrorism.”
The confidential service claims it is used by over 300 government and intelligence agencies, 49 of the 50 biggest banks, pre-employment vetting agencies and 9 of the top 10 global law firms. It says it provides “an early warning system for hidden risk.
The database now lists more than 2.7 million individuals and entities spanning a variety of categories. Since 2007, the number of terror entries has risen fivefold.
But don’t worry (too much) about snagging the wrong bad guy — the tool’s website claims “in many cases, false positives have been reduced from 30 to 15 percent.”
In addition to those individuals on the blacklist, the database also boasts that for each person listed, they also include their immediate relatives and associates.
And this is handy — the database’s “Early Warning System” includes persons who are “pre-conviction.” In other words, people who have not been found guilty of any crime.
World-Check claims to be an impartial resource. However, critics argue this claim is at odds with its “terrorism” designation, in which profiles are accompanied by a logo of a red balaclava. Each terrorism profile includes a list of the sources of information used by World-Check when compiling the profile — some have been created solely from allegations written on conservative blogs, Islamophobic websites and political organizations.
So what does this mean to you?
Like the ever-growing number of lists compiled since 9/11, such as the No-Fly, you will never really know if you are included, or, if you are included, based on what information. You will never have a chance to examine and rebut the evidence. You will be subject to a 30-15 percent “false positives” rate. You will be targeted if you are immediate family member or associate of someone on the list.
You will be denied a bank account, turned down for a job or refused legal representation because your name is on this list. It is very possible complaining about the list will get you added to the list.
Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
When we speak of the government’s ongoing assault against the First Amendment, it is typically in the context of Freedom of Speech. That is indeed primarily the focus, using the tools of The State to silence its critics. But not if you are a Muslim.
For many Muslims, the clause inside the First Amendment most often violated is that of Freedom of Religion. One of the latest battles in that war is playing out now in New York City.
Because the worst of the 9/11 attacks happened in New York, the city has always claimed a kind of de facto exemption from having to follow the rule of law. Under its former mayors, the NYPD actively conducted blanket surveillance of the Muslim community, to include sending undercover cops into mosques and Muslim social events for “intel.” Though no obvious terror attacks were identified or thwarted, the NYPD insisted the program was critical (see the same tired arguments expelled as “torture worked, though we won’t tell you how.”)
NY’s current mayor, Bill Blasio, promised in April of 2014 to dismantle the so-called NYPD Demographics Unit, which was responsible for singling out one religious group among all others, apparently based on the twisted post-9/11 logic of “Muslim –> Likely Terrorist –> Spy on all Muslims.”
However, despite the promise, the NYPD has continued its spying in violation of the First Amendment.
The most recent example was discovered when the website The Gothamist wrote about an NYPD undercover detective who converted to Islam to spy on students at a local college. The police admitted to the spying, but claimed it did not violate the First Amendment in that it was “targeted” and not “overarching blanket surveillance.” The undercover cop developed intimate ties with the students she met, even attending bridal showers and weddings. She also joined the school’s Islamic Society to gather information on Muslim students.
Glenn Katon, legal director for Muslim Advocates and a lead attorney in Hassan v. City of New York, which alleges that the NYPD engaged in a program of “blanket, suspicionless surveillance” that discriminated on the basis of religion, recently won a small victory when the Third Circuit court found that the Hassan plaintiffs had standing and raised valid constitutional concerns, and reversed the suit’s previous dismissal. The courts had previously in that dismissal required the plaintiffs to prove on an individual and personal basis that they had been surveilled, a difficult request given that while the NYPD admitted blanket surveilling the Muslim community, it would not confirm individual cases (see “Catch-22” in the dictionary.)
An attorney in another ongoing lawsuit against the NYPD, Handschu v. Special Services Division, stated that for a police officer to be placed undercover for as long as in the current case, there would have to be a terrorism enterprise investigation in place, which would require permission from the Commissioner of Intelligence and proof of an ongoing criminal conspiracy. No such terrorism enterprise or ongoing criminal conspiracy has even been alleged by the NYPD. They conducted the spying anyway based on the idea that terrorists are Muslims so therefore all Muslims must be treated as potential terrorists.
Indeed, Handschu originally dates back to 1985, when the courts prohibited the NYPD from investigating political and religious organizations and groups unless there was “specific information” that the group was linked to a crime that had been committed or was about to be committed. Following 9/11, the NYPD has counter-sued, sought to modify and/or ignored what are known as the Handschu Guidelines as they wished.
NYPD Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence and Counterterrorism John Miller said, without apparent shame, that the need to prevent terrorist attacks sometimes comes into conflict with the need to respect the constitutional rights terrorists in theory are attacking. “We have two sets of tensions that pull against each other every day, and the hardest thing to have to do is find a balance.” Um, no. Our freedoms are ensured by the Constitution John Miller, that document you are sworn to uphold and protect.
Miller might want to run his ideas by the Supreme Court, and perhaps a few of the innocent Muslim students whose religion alone put them under surveillance. They might argue that what the cops call the need for public safety indeed puts them outside the scope of Americans who qualify for that safety.
Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
The U.S. government was nice enough to gift our loyal friends the Afghans $17 billion of your tax money, and, in the true spirit of giving, asked nothing in return for itself.
What that means in actual dollars and nonsense is that the U.S. government wasted $17 billion in taxpayer money in Afghanistan on various projects that never made it off the ground or were doomed to fail because of incompetence or lack of maintenance, according to a new report.
ProPublica looked at over 200 audits conducted by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) over the last six years and tallied up the costs for the wide range of failed efforts to reach the $17 billion price tag. This greatest hits study only scratched the surface of the estimated $110 billion spent to rebuild the country (the U.S. spent some $47 billion in rebuilding Iraq, and how’d that work out?)
The new study touches on only the most egregious examples of waste, including:
— $8 million to end Afghanistan’s drug trade, which is flourishing today as never before;
— $2 billion for roads that the Afghan government is unlikely to maintain due to lack of funds and security concerns;
— $1 billion for unrealized criminal justice reform efforts;
— $936 million for aircraft that can’t be maintained;
— $486 million for cargo planes that can’t fly;
— $470 million on the Afghan Police;
— $43 million for a gas station that doesn’t work.
The timing of the report couldn’t be better. The chief of the watchdog office is slated to appear before a Senate Armed Services Committee subpanel shortly after lawmakers return from their extended holiday break.
That January 20 hearing was originally set to scrutinize only the work of the Pentagon’s Task Force for Business and Stability Operations, which spent $700-$800 million (no one knows the exact amount) on economic redevelopment in Afghanistan, as well as $150 million on villas and private security for the group’s staffers. The agenda will now likely expand to a whole-of-government waste review.
Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!
This story makes me so angry that I can’t even come up with my usual snarky introduction. I only weep.
The Guantánamo parole board approved the release of a Yemeni “forever prisoner,” dismissing intelligence that imprisoned the man for 13 years without trial. And if that level of evil and scorn for justice doesn’t radicalize a 100 people to join ISIS, then nothing can.
The so-called Gitmo Periodic Review Board heard the case of Mustafa al Shamiri, 37. Intelligence analysts, I’ll say it again, 13 years ago, wrongly labeled him as a high level al-Qaida guy, because his name was similar to actual extremists. For 13 years of hell, like some modern-day Jean Valjean, he was known only as Detainee 434 by his American jailers.
“In making this determination, the board noted that the most derogatory prior assessments regarding the detainee’s activities before detention have been discredited, and the current information shows that the detainee has low-level military capability.”
The military says the U.S. “ally” Northern Alliance captured Shamiri in Afghanistan in late November 2001 and held him for a time in a crammed fortress near Mazar-i-Sharif. He was then rendered over to the U.S. Such renditions were typically paid for in cash bounty by the U.S. to stock up its offshore penal colony.
Now look at him, Detainee 434 Mustafa al Shamiri:
…that works out to about 28 dead every day.
It is also an estimate, given that many areas of the country are not readily accessible, and because the death toll from the siege of Ramadi is not accounted for in the figures. More than 3.2 million Iraqis are internally displaced and/or homeless.
Iraq is now an ungoverned, failed state, a killing field on the scale of genocide.
At least 18,802 civilians were killed and 36,245 wounded in Iraq over the last 22 months, according to the UN’s Report on the Protection of Civilians in the Armed Conflict in Iraq. Another 3,206,736 Iraqis are internally displaced, including more than one million children. The study emphasizes that these are conservative estimates. The UN also is careful to note that the number of civilians killed by secondary effects of the violence, such as lack of access to food, water or medical care, is unknown. In many areas of Iraq schools are closed and basic infrastructure is not functioning.
All that is in addition to the more than one million people already killed during the American occupation period.
These horrors are directly caused by the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq and subsequent occupation. In addition to unleashing near-total chaos in the nation, the U.S. invasion led directly to the rise of Islamic State, which found the consuming violence fertile soil for growth. ISIS went on to see a new role to emerge, protector of the Sunni population, which was being slaughtered and impoverished by the Shiite majority empowered by the Americans and Iran.
“Armed violence continues to take an obscene toll on Iraqi civilians and their communities,” remarked the UN high commissioner for human rights. “The so-called ‘Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’ continues to commit systematic and widespread violence and abuses of international human rights law and humanitarian law. These acts may, in some instances, amount to war crimes, crimes against humanity and possibly genocide.”
ISIS is targeting non-Sunni ethnic and religious communities, “systematically persecuting” them, subjecting them to violent repression and crimes, the UN notes. Women and children are particularly affected by these atrocities. Women face extreme sexual violence and even sexual slavery. Children are being forcibly recruited as fighters.
In addition to ISIS violence, the UN notes that civilians have been killed and kidnapped, and that civilian infrastructure has been destroyed by pro-government forces, militias and tribal fighters. Moreover, civilians are being killed by U.S. airstrikes.
Adding to the depth of horror in Iraq, many Iraqi refugees have sought asylum in the West, but have been largely unwelcome. In a time of heightened Islamophobia, some European countries and many right-wing American politicians — including more than half of the U.S. governors — have made it clear they do not want to accept Muslim refugees.
There will be many, many articles today speculating what Dr. Martin Luther King would say about this event or that. There is much to talk about — the ongoing police killings of young black men, crippling economic inequality that helps keep Blacks in poverty, the use of gerrymandering and election day tricks to disenfranchise African-Americans, the fact that we disproportionately imprison Black men — the list is a long one.
Dr. King’s most powerful message revolved around freedom. Freedom for Blacks, freedom for whites, freedom for Americans, freedom. Writing from jail, in his famous letter from Birmingham, King said “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” King was rightly focused primarily on the injustices of segregation. But his concept of freedom extended far beyond simply race. He understood the word in the broadest possible sense, and so I’ll add one more article to the stack today putting words into Dr. King’s mouth, seeking to bring his message forward.
Following a singular day — one day — of terror attacks, we set fire to the whole world. Willingly, almost gleefully, we invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, the former on the promise of bloody revenge and the latter based on flimsy falsehoods that today seem as real as childhood beliefs. We reinvaded Iraq in 2014, and brought war to many other places. But we want to believe and so it is easy to lie to us.
Worse yet, we turned on ourselves. With a stroke of a pen, we did away with 226 some years of bitterly fought for civil rights — silence the First Amendment and do away with critics and whistleblowers, cow journalists and use the police to break up the peaceful assembly of citizens seeking to address their government, rip open the Fourth Amendment and allow the government to spy into our lives. Plumbing for the depths of evil, we as a nation tortured men, created an archipelago of secret prisons and make excuses to keep them still open, build a regime of indefinite confinement and rendition to feed our concentration camps, hungering for flesh. When even that was not enough, we unleashed death from the sky, smiting people who bothered us, maybe occasionally threatened us, often times simply people who were nearby or looked like our possible enemies. In the calculus of the day, we kill them all without a concern that any deity would sort the bodies out later. How much would be enough for revenge?
That our nation can be both vengeful and impersonal at the same time horrifies. I wonder what Dr. King would say.
We thought we had a chance at change in 2008 but instead were proven again to be just dupes and amateurs. He could have turned it all around, in those first weeks he could have asked the rivers to flow backwards and they just might have. He could have grounded the drones, torn up the Patriot Act, held truth commissions to bring into the light our tortures, re-emancipated America in ways not unlike Lincoln did in the 1860s. Slam shut the gates of Guantanamo, close the secret prisons that even today still ooze pus in Afghanistan, stop the militarization of Africa, bring the troops home, all of it, just have done it. What a change, what a path forward, what a rebirth for an America who had lost her way so perilously.
One man could have made a difference and when he did not even try, he helped solidify in America a sense of cynicism and powerlessness that empowers evil people further. I wonder what Dr. King would say.
Today, this day, we are left with only ironic references to where we were and what we had been. We now today go through the motions of a celebratory day like an old married couple dutifully maintaining civility where joyous lust once was. We are raising a new generation who accept that their nation tortures, invades, violates and assassinates, all necessary evils requiring us to defame democracy while pretending to protect it.
On this same day we celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, who wrote to us all from a jail cell in sweltering Birmingham. King’s guidance in that letter was that the “means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek.”
We cannot fight wrongs by committing wrongs. For what noble crusade do we allow the torturers to walk free? To claim the right to kill people, even Americans, anywhere in the world simply because we can do so? Why do we prolong wars, long ago not just lost but rendered pointless, in Afghanistan and Iraq and elsewhere? For what crusade do we keep our enemies in Guantanamo? These are the features and questions of Post-Constitutional America. I wonder what Dr. King would say.
I’ve been accused of over-romanticizing America’s Constitutional Era, 1789-9/11/2001. Indeed, didn’t the worst of the abuses Dr. King fought against take place during that time, as King described them “vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize, and even kill your black brothers and sisters with impunity.”
The horrors ranged from those depths to the smallest of examples; again, from Birmingham, King wrote “when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she cannot go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her little eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see the depressing clouds of inferiority begin to form in her little mental sky, and see her begin to distort her little personality by unconsciously developing a bitterness toward white people.”
America’s Constitutional Era was grossly imperfect. Yet for its obvious failings, there was a sense of the possibility of progress; halting, awkward, unfinished, but, well, for lack of a better word and to use a word that has become a symbol of modern times’ irony, hope. Dr. King believed in hope, and indeed based the soul of his movement on it — things could be made better, saying “If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail.”
I wonder what Dr. King would say today about America. Lots of talk today, Martin Luther King Day.
Since our providers and tech makers in Silicon Valley are already deep in bed with the NSA to help spy on us, it should be little surprise that the White House now wants them to climb on board another Bill of Rights busting train and help “disrupt” ISIS online by editing the Internet.
This new strategy is based on the government’s firm belief that the real cause of radicalization is because some suburban kid reads a Tweet and then poof! skips Spring Break for jihad. The idea that the roots of radical actions lie deep and involve complex motivations, including being torqued off at bloodthirsty U.S. foreign policy, meh, let’s blame social media and that damn rock ‘n roll you kids like and use it all as a way to clamp down on political speech the government doesn’t like.
And now, mighty tech giants, you can help.
Silicon Valley executives met with top government officials in a private (of course!) meeting this week to game out strategies to counter Islamic State online. The goal is for technology companies to crack down on ISIS’ social media. See, if Google does it based on government instructions instead of the government doing it directly, it does not technically violate the First Amendment.
According to America’s best newspaper, the UK Guardian, executives from Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Apple, and Microsoft attended along with FBI Director James Comey, NSA Director Mike Rogers, NIA Director James Clapper, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough.
The Guardian obtained a copy of the agenda for the meeting, which focuses heavily on the devil’s tool, social media. So here’s how the government thinks ISIS will be defeated online:
a. How can we make it harder for terrorists to leveraging [sic] the internet to recruit, radicalize, and mobilize followers to violence?
b. How can we help others to create, publish, and amplify alternative content that would undercut ISIL?
c. In what ways can we use technology to help disrupt paths to radicalization to violence, identify recruitment patterns, and provide metrics to help measure our efforts to counter radicalization to violence?
d. How can we make it harder for terrorists to use the internet to mobilize, facilitate, and operationalize attacks, and make it easier for law enforcement and the intelligence community to identify terrorist operatives and prevent attacks?
I especially love the bit in Item C about providing “metrics to help measure our efforts to counter radicalization to violence.” Exactly how does one gather metrics to prove a negative, i.e., how many people allegedly don’t join ISIS because of something they read online?
Anyway, as a loyal American myself, and as a public service, I offer the following suggestions:
— Hack each ISIS site so that it includes pop-ups, multiple invitations to sign up for newsletters and take surveys, autoplay videos set to high volume and use banner ads, lots of banner, ads for payday loan places and boner pills. No one will stay long enough to read the ISIS content.
— Include more photos of Kim Kardashian interspersed with the ISIS Twitter feed as a distraction. Offer an hour with Kim (she’s a patriotic gal but maybe not a virgin) for each person who denounces ISIS with an emoticon.
— Redirect any ISIS phone numbers to a call center in India with an endless loop of “Press or say 145.89 for customer service” prompts.
— Stop killing Muslims and stop throwing gasoline into Middle East fires, close Guantanamo, have a truth commission expose American torture practices, and realign U.S. foreign policy to stop sucking up to the Saudis as its mainstay.
A kid is dying in the Bronx.
He was in a miserably poor and dangerous neighborhood. He shot at a cop, and the cop shot back. Now that’s the whole story, if you can understand it.
I know his name from the news articles, but I’m not going to use it, because if I said his real name somebody reading this would say, “Oh, another Black kid,” and stop reading.
I know the cop’s name from those same articles, which included a lot more information about the cop than the kid. The cop is going to be OK, luckily will heal up from his wounds, and in fact was struck by rounds fired by another cop, not the kid. That pretty much ended the media’s interest in much of a follow up story. “Cop Shooter Who Missed” is weak copy compared to “Cop Killer,” and somebody reading would say, well, that’s that. Mouse click and what was the score of the game? Sports is easier, every game has a winner.
The media did take time to write about what they said were the circumstances of the shooting: street party, some fights got out of control, maybe something to do with gangs. They quoted a resident, who “spoke on the condition of anonymity because he feared for his safety,” and said that these kinds of things happen all the time in the neighborhood.
Kid shot at a cop, and I make no effort here to justify that. Can’t and shouldn’t be done. But questioning isn’t justification, so I’m going to do that instead. If you thought about stopping reading this at “kid shot at a cop,” here’s where you likely will stop reading.
But I want to know why there are square mile after square mile of miserably poor and dangerous neighborhoods in my city. They’re only a 15 minute subway ride away from where some of the richest people on earth – the Koch Brothers, a bunch of investment bankers whose names aren’t familiar – live. Among all that wealth, in 2016, why do we have such places? I looked for them in Tokyo and Ottawa, and while there are always rich and poor, there weren’t square mile after square mile. I did see something like them outside Nairobi and Delhi.
I want to know why that part of the Bronx has charity-run drug clinics and liquor stores and payday loan storefronts and pawn shops and a few fast food places selling only carbs and fat as fuel as its only real commerce.
I want to know why the only government offices in the neighborhood are a police station and an armed forces recruiting center.
I want to know how a kid barely old enough to legally vote can illegally have a handgun.
I want to know why a kid his age has a rap sheet that includes an assault on a cop in March 2015, a resisting arrest bust in September 2014 and another arrest in 2012 for another assault. The resisting charge has to do with him screaming “F*ck you, cops, I hate you all” but the news reports said nothing about the underlying event that brought the kid and the cops to that.
The kid’s most recent bust came the day before he was shot, after he was arrested for skipping on a $2.75 subway fare. He was held overnight for that, released only a few hours before the party shooting, after a judge simply set him free. I want to know the thinking behind an arrest and 24 hour police detention for a subway fare.
I want to know where the kid went to school. I want to know what happens in his home, what his parents say to him.
I want to know why a kid would shoot at a cop, knowing the only two possible outcomes would be his own death or 20-to-life upstate.
I want to know why we quickly ascribe these crimes to an individual without simultaneously asking why they happen so constantly and consistently across our society and not really any others.
I want to know, amid the other daily news about celebrities and ISIS under every bed, why this all isn’t really news.
We used say America was a place where anyone could grow up to be president. I’m not naive enough to believe that was ever really true, but I want to know if anyone thinks this kid ever had a chance to even grow up.
I watched a documentary about North Korea which explained how the government there assigns a score to each citizen, based on how large a threat to the regime s/he is perceived to be. When I lived in Taiwan under a military government years ago, such a number was encoded into every national ID card. Those citizens every interaction with the government and police force was shadowed by those scores.
Same as in 21st century post-Constitutional America.
Even as our nation learned more about how our daily lives are cataloged by the National Security Agency, a new generation of technology is being used by local law enforcement that offers them unprecedented power to peer into the lives of citizens. Ominously, software that is part of such systems, assigns each citizen monitored a Threat Score, allegedly to alert cops enroute to a crime scene of what to expect of the once-innocent-until-proven-guilty citizen they will encounter.
One such product is a software suite called Beware. On their website, the maker claims:
There are no such things as routine calls… Accessed through any browser (fixed or mobile) on any Internet-enabled device including tablets, smartphones, laptop and desktop computers, Beware® from Intrado searches, sorts and scores billions of publically-available commercial records in a matter of seconds – alerting responders to potentially dangerous situations while en route to, or at the location of, a 911 request for assistance.
Intrado Beware® is a tool to help first responders understand the nature of the environment they may encounter during the window of a 911 event.
Police officials say such tools can provide critical information that can help uncover terrorists or thwart mass shootings, though no such uncovering has ever happened.
Programs such as Beware scour billions of data points, including arrest reports, property records, commercial databases, deep Web searches and social media postings. One example is how authorities in Oregon are facing a civil rights investigation after using social media-monitoring software to keep tabs on persons using #BlackLivesMatter hashtags.
Does anyone expect that a police response to a citizen labeled at a “low threat” level will be as preloaded for disaster as one for a “high threat” person? What if that police response is based primarily on the free speech protected use of a hash tag?
I wonder if my score will change after this article. Or yours, for reading it.
For 25 percent of your grade this term, compare and contrast the following two true descriptions of the same thing.
The opening to the New York Times story:
A 25-year-old man in Rochester has been arrested and charged with preparing to stage a New Year’s Eve machete attack on diners at a local restaurant on behalf of the Islamic State. The man, Emanuel L. Lutchman, is accused of gathering knives, a machete, ski masks and zip ties as part of his plan to raid the restaurant and possibly kidnap someone, taking advantage of what a self-identified Islamic State member overseas described as his position “behind enemy lines.”
Mr. Lutchman appeared in federal court in Rochester on Thursday on a charge of attempting to provide material support and resources to the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, as he pursued a goal of joining the terrorist organization overseas. “This New Year’s Eve prosecution underscores the threat of ISIL even in upstate New York but demonstrates our determination to immediately stop any who would cause harm in its name,” William J. Hochul Jr., the United States attorney in Buffalo, said in a statement.
However, we learn later in the same article:
… [Lutchman] despite his not having enough money to buy basic weapons or much apparent expertise in carrying out an attack… The investigation relied on undercover informers, some of them paid by the government, who prodded Mr. Lutchman for details of his plan and said they would help him.
In part because he had no money, he said, Mr. Lutchman scaled back his plans, according to the complaint. On a drive with an informer, he pointed out a restaurant and bar in Rochester as a potential target of a knife attack, noting that his wife had a dagger and he knew someone who could sell him ski masks for five dollars.
Another informer urged him not to be discouraged, and that same day the informer and Mr. Lutchman went to a Walmart store in Rochester to buy supplies. They picked up two black ski masks, zip ties, two knives, a machete, duct tape, ammonia and latex gloves, according to the complaint. The informer had to pay the $40 for them because Mr. Lutchman did not have money.
New York governor Andrew Cuomo said in an interview that “the arrest of Emanuel Lutchman is an important reminder of the new normal of global terrorism.”
Now, who is the real threat to us?
Ho, ho, ho, can’t tell the good guys from the bad guys. That might as well be America’s war of terror slogan (copyright, 2001-2015.)
So see if you can sort out the Good from the Bad. Pretend you’re Secretary of State and this is a puzzle Barack has asked you to solve. Here are the facts:
Afghan militiamen loyal to no government but currently used by Haji Zahir, deputy speaker of the U.S.-created Afghan parliament, beheaded four Islamic State fighters and publicly displayed their severed heads. This ultra-violence highlights an increasingly brutal conflict as ISIS makes inroads in Afghanistan.
The beheadings by the Afghans of ISIS are in retaliation for ISIS earlier beheading four of Zahir’s own Afghan fighters. In what is a great statement, Zahir said “If they behead you, behead your son, do you expect us to cook sweets for them? Sweets are not distributed during war. People die.”
To make his point crystal clear, Zahir’s men placed the severed heads of the four ISIS fighters atop stacks of stones on the side of a main road.
ISIS, for its part, continues to scoop up disaffected Taliban fighters, who are unhappy with their own group’s level of violence and are increasingly lured by ISIS’ signature brutality.
— ISIS is now a thing in Afghanistan, after 14+ years of American occupation and nation building there. Fun facts: ISIS did not even exist when the U.S. first invaded Afghanistan in 2001, and the younger American soldiers now deployed there were in First Grade when the initial U.S. invasion kicked off;
— The deputy speaker of the U.S.-created Afghan parliament has his own militia;
— People sort of on the good Afghan side are doing the same brutal things such as beheadings without U.S. condemnation, as ISIS is doing elsewhere with U.S. condemnation, but that’s OK;
— Afghanistan is so f*cked;
— And so sorry to the 3,512 American and coalition deaths expended to create that free Afghanistan! Things will work out better in Syria, we promise.
Continuing to jump at Islamic State shadows, Americans once again have embarrassed themselves globally with a display of fear. We are back to the days of pissy fit stuff like “Freedom Fries” as a way of telling the world the home of the brave is made up of silly cats.
To wit, the entire Augusta County, Virginia, school district will be closed Friday, after a teacher asked students as part of their study of world religions to copy an example of Arabic calligraphy, the Islamic statement of faith, or shahada.
The statement is one of the cornerstones of Islam, and knowing what it is and what it says and what it means is critical to any understanding of Islam. Calligraphy itself is also a major part of Islamic art and intellectual culture.
The evil assignment was given by Cheryl LaPorte, a longtime
jihadi teacher at Augusta County Schools. In the course of learning about different regions around the world, students also study the regions’ culture, which includes its predominant religions. Students had learned about Christianity and Judaism, and will learn about Hinduism and Buddhism, all of which America does not currently regard as terrorism.
In English, the shahada states, “There is no God but God [Allah], and Muhammad is His Messenger.” While recitation of the shahada is part of the conversion process to Islam, students were not asked to recite it, but simply to copy it.
(Quick Note: The shada is not a Harry Potter-esque spell. Anyone who writes or utters it is not magically transformed into a Muslim. You are safe if you read that last paragraph.)
Initial reaction from loving Christian parents called for such extreme actions as having LaPorte
lynched fired for “violating children’s religious beliefs.” However, both the Virginia Department of Education and the local superintendent reviewed the material and found it both in line with state standards, as well as not in violation of students’ rights, because, among other things a) common sense; b) normal people’s rational thinking, and c) the First Amendment’s protections for all religions.
And yet… and yet… during a forum, Kimberly Herndon, the parent who organized the event, said she didn’t want a “false doctrine” spoken in schools.
“She gave up the Lord’s time,” Herndon frothed of teacher LaPorte. “She gave it to Mohammed. If my truth cannot be spoken in schools, I don’t want false doctrine spoken in schools.”
On the sheriff’s recommendation, the school system decided to cancel Friday’s classes after coming under a deluge of hate calls and ugly emails from outside the community, all prompted by conservative media picking up the story and fanning the flames.
Meanwhile, hate crimes against Muslims across the U.S. of A have tripled in the past month, not that there is any connection.
BONUS: I have no idea what the Arabic script above actually says. It could be some boring state government notice or it could be the recipe for Islamic cooties. You are risking jail time, never mind eternal Christian damnation, just by reading this.
(It is some boring state government notice from the state of Oregon website. You may exhale now.)
A society’s prison system mirrors the society. What does America’s say about America?
Some numbers: With only five percent of the world’s population, the U.S. has more than 20 percent of the world’s prison population. America has the largest actual prison head count in the world and the second-highest per-capita incarceration rate (first place is held via a statistical oddity by the tiny Seychelles island nation.) In the U.S., from 1978 to 2014, the prison population rose 408 percent, to the point where the nation is closing in on a full one percent of the entire population being in prison proper. If you include all forms of correctional control –prison, jail, parole and probation — about three percent of Americans are included. The numbers are currently as high as they have ever been in history.
The world’s self-proclaimed freest society is anything but.
It actually gets worse when one looks at the statistics broken down by race. Black men are six times more likely than white men to be in prison. Hispanic men are 2.4 times more likely than whites to be locked up.
And all this comes at a cost: the American prison system runs an estimated $74 billion a year, more than the GDP of 133 nations. A report by the organization The Price of Prisons states that the average cost of incarcerating one inmate $31,307 per year, though in states like Connecticut, Washington state, New York, it’s anywhere from $50,000 to $60,000. That’s a teacher’s salary, or a nurse’s.
Those are the costs. But what does America get for its money?
Not much. Despite locking up more people than any other place on earth, American society remains one of the most violent; there is almost no comparison outside of actual war zones. About the same number of people are killed by guns alone in Miami as in Colombia. L.A. has more gun deaths than the Philippines, Phoenix more than Mexico.
If America’s prison population, 2.2 million people, was a city, it would be the nation’s fourth largest, behind only New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. But it would clearly be America’s most violent city, a place where residents suffer routine cruelty at rates unlike anywhere else in the country, where they are raped and beaten by both their neighbors and by the officials paid to keep them safe. Some four percent of inmates report sexual assault, while 16 percent say they are physically assaulted. It is plausible to assume unreported incidents keep the numbers low. Like our society, our prisons are terribly violent places.
The U.S. remains also the only Western nation to impose the death penalty. World leaders in sentencing people to death alongside the United States include China, Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and many African nations. Awkward company given the image Americans otherwise hold of themselves.
Yet at the same time, sending people to prison in America does not stop them from committing new crimes once released. Again, the statistics are appalling. One study found that within three years of release, about two-thirds of released prisoners were rearrested. Within five years of release, about three-quarters of released prisoners were rearrested.
America has clearly chosen to use its prisons for punishment, not rehabilitation, despite the former most obviously not working. What about elsewhere?
Norway is one of many examples of simply the opposite of the United States. Its incarceration rate is just 75 per 100,000 people, compared to 707 people for every 100,000 people in the U.S. It has one of the lowest recidivism rates in the world at 20 percent. Its prisons are clean, more like dorms than medieval facilities, and seek to prepare inmates for life on the outside with vocational programs. Inmates enter as criminals and emerge as people.
In Japan, the prison population is relatively small, as crime throughout the nation is low. Conditions in prison are harsh, in a military-style way, but there is no danger to prisoners and near-zero inmate-on-inmate violence. The system is clear on its goals: in almost mimicry of Buddhist tradition, prisoners are subjected to austere conditions. The goal is for them to see they have, through crime, been selfish, placing their needs above society’s. They must repent, and then serve their term as penance. Recidivism is around 40 percent, mostly among hard-core yakuza gang members. Most other inmates enter as criminals and emerge as people.
We know — by statistics, by the fear we have inside our urban neighborhoods — that in America inmates enter as criminals and emerge as criminals, often beaten and raped in between. Our society remains the most violent among industrialized nations. Our prison populations reflect the sad racism that still plagues our nation. America must face itself and know that our prisons are us, and cannot be made like Norway’s or Japan’s.
We can’t fix our prison system until we fix us.
For us old-timers, memories of those post-9/11 days persist like that rotting squirrel stuck somewhere under your back porch.
One of the features of those dirty days was the panic index, actually called the terrorism alert system, created by the then-new Department of Homeland Security. The system featured a five-step, color-coded “alert level” ranging from black (normal) to red (attack imminent.) The system was criticized for doing little more than promoting a constant background hum of anxiety when it basically got stuck at “elevated risk” for nearly eight years.
The Obama administration, in 2010, replaced the old five step system with a new two step one: imminent and elevated. It too got stuck in elevated mode and faded into obscurity. Most people today don’t even know it exists.
That is now over. Following the events of San Bernardino, the Department of Homeland Security announced this week that a new level will be added to cover less serious threats, though officials declined to say what it will be called. “It wouldn’t be specifics like time and place,” one of the officials said. “It would be along the lines of terrorists have expressed interest in attacking this type of target.”
The new system sounds suspiciously like the State Department travel advisory system. Originally created to send out bulletins on immediate dangers affecting travelers (“flood in Mali”), the system quickly morphed into a steady stream of “world-wide” generalities along the lines of “something terrorist may happen somewhere sometime, so better just stay home.”
The new Homeland Security warning system will by definition add a new threat layer that is unspecific. That raises the point of what is the point. The media already is doing a fine job of stoking the public’s fear levels via a steady stream of exaggerated reports on ISIS (replacing the old steady stream of exaggerated reports on al Qaeda, could be a pattern here.) The result is quite clearly of value only in keeping alive among a gullible public anxiety and fear.
And so the new warning system will enter the media-government feedback loop as follows. Homeland Security will issue a non-specific warning of “something terrorist may happen somewhere sometime.” The media will then dutifully report that warning, amplifying its pointlessness across TV, the last few newspapers and the web. Pundits will pick up the media reports and comment on them, keeping alive for another few news cycles a non-story that should never have been taken seriously in the first place.
The result: Panic. Anxiety. Fear. Public support for further erosion of our civil rights and freedoms because we will have to “do something” in response to the new threat. Repeat, and repeat.
Mustafa Abd-al-Qawi Abd-al-Aziz al-Shamiri was captured in 2002 and believed then to be a major al Qaeda facilitator or courier, or maybe a trainer, according to the Department of Defense.
He was interrogated “vigorously” and when he did not admit to those activities and did not supply detailed, high level information on al Qaeda, was thrown away, without charge, into America’s offshore penal colony at Guantanamo Bay.
For 13 years.
Now, desiring after 13 years to reduce the prison population at Gitmo, the Department of Defense says al-Shamiri’s imprisonment was all a simply mistake of confused identity. In the Kafkaesque world America created post-9/11, al-Shamiri could not answer his torturers because he had no knowledge of what they were demanding from him. His silence was taken as insolence, and he was punished accordingly.
For 13 years.
Al-Shamiri is now age 37. He spent about one third of his entire life in Gitmo because of a mistake. And if somehow you are not human enough to be moved by that alone, perhaps you can care about the $2.7 million per prisoner per year it costs the U.S. to keep a person in Guantanamo.
For 13 years, the cost was $35 million (+ a life.)
“We now judge that these activities [first attributed to al-Shamiri] were carried out by other known extremists” with similar names or aliases, the Department of Defense stated as part of its plan to finally release al-Shamiri.
“Fragmentary reporting” did link the al-Shamiri to fighting in Bosnia in 1995. He also told interrogators that he fought in Afghanistan with the Taliban from 2000 to 2001. He was at worst one of tens of thousands of foot soldiers, never a mastermind or significant threat. He did not belong in the high-security confines of Gitmo. But he was left there.
For 13 years.
With more than a little irony, al-Shamiri will not be returned to his native Yemen. Following a U.S.-led change of government there, and years of American anti-terror actions in the country, civil war broke out. American aid to Saudi Arabia enabled a bombing campaign against civilian targets. Iranian proxy fighters moving into the power vacuum completed the transition of Yemen into a fully-failed state.
Al-Shamiri’s representative stated “He wants to make a life for himself. He is aware that Yemen is not an option and he is willing to go to any country that will accept him.”
There have been no plans announced to offer any form of restitution to al-Shamiri to help him restart his life.
After 13 years. Shame, shame on us.
Serial idiot Lindsey Graham, among too many others, stated that if only more people in Paris had been armed, the tragedy would have been lessened.
He echoed a popular right-wing meme in America, that “all it takes is a good guy with a gun to defeat a bad guy with a gun,” and that therefore any form of gun control in these United States would render us more vulnerable to attack.
Such statements ignore multiple realities, one of which is that a bunch of would-be vigilantes would go to nightclubs and restaurants always armed, and that their blasting away inside a dark, crowded place in the midst of a panic would not kill more innocent people than the terrorists. Many people, for example, dramatically overestimate their own skills, never mind the accuracy of a handgun at distances of more than a few yards. Add in accidental shootings, deadly overreactions to things that are not threats, amateurs unsure who the bad guys are killing each other, stray rounds and that fact that many people in nightclubs and restaurants have had a drink or two, and you have a recipe for even more danger, not less.
But before we even worry about that, let’s enjoy the hypocrisy of this: it is perfectly legal in the United States for person on the FBI terrorist watch list to purchase guns and explosives, and many of them do.
Who in America other than terrorists cannot legally buy guns. That list includes felons, fugitives, drug addicts and domestic abusers. Fair enough.
But not terrorists (unless they are also felons, fugitives, drug addicts or domestic abusers.) A report from the Government Accountability Office hilighted by the Washington Post says at least 2,043 known and suspected terrorists in the United States legally purchased firearms between 2004 and 2014.
“Membership in a terrorist organization does not prohibit a person from possessing firearms or explosives under current federal law,” the Government Accountability Office concluded. This includes persons on the FBI’s consolidated terrorist watchlist. Note that records for 2011 and 2012 are incomplete “because of a programming error the FBI subsequently fixed,” according to the GAO. So no one really knows how many terror suspects legally bought guns over the last 11 years.
A bipartisan bill offered this year (the “Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act of 2015”) is strongly opposed by the National Rifle Association (NRA). The NRA states the bill is “aimed primarily at law-abiding American gun owners,” and that the bill was “sponsored by gun control extremists.”
Yes, yes, there are ways to purchase guns illegally on the street, and legally at gun shows, that bypass background checks and any other controls, so any would-be terrorists can still pick up some semi-automatic iron as needed.
At the same time, however, that our First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendment rights are being stripped away in the name of freedom and security, perhaps it is worth also taking another look at what might be done with the Second Amendment at the same time.
Fun game time. Let’s see who are the most inhuman monsters in the Middle East, ISIS or Saudi Arabia.
— ISIS commits terror acts against Western targets. Almost all of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudi, and most believe that Saudi money in part funded 9/11, and that Saudi money in part funds ISIS. Winner: Saudi.
— ISIS beheads people. Saudi beheads people. In 2014, the Saudis beheaded 59 people. The headcount, as it were, for ISIS is unknown. Winner: So, ISIS, by a nose.
— Both ISIS and the Saudis cite the Koran, Islamic teachings (the hadith) and Sharia law as justification for their brutal acts. Winner: Tie.
— The U.S. claims Saudi as one of its closest allies in the Middle East and supplies them with weapons. The U.S. claims ISIS as its worst enemy in the Middle East, and supplies them with weapons stolen or retrieved from other U.S. allies. Winner: Big, big win for ISIS.
— Saudi leaders are regularly invited to the White House. ISIS leaders are not. Saudi, FTW!
— The U.S. claims not to know where Saudi money goes. The U.S. claims not to know where ISIS money comes from. Winner: Double-win for ISIS!
— ISIS publishes a list of hadd crimes considered to be “against the rights of God,” such as theft, adultery, slander, homosexuality, and banditry. Saudi Arabia publishes a list of hadd crimes considered to be “against the rights of God,” such as theft, adultery, slander, homosexuality, and banditry. Winner: Dead tie.
— ISIS tortures political prisoners. Saudi tortures political prisoners. Winner: Tie again!
— ISIS and the Saudis are dedicated to Wahhabism, an ultra-conservative interpretation of Islam. Tie again!
— ISIS uses atrocities against both its internal and external enemies. Saudi uses atrocities against its domestic enemies who oppose the royal family. Winner: Saudi.
I could go on, but in the interest of efficiency, here, from Middle East Eye, is a handy chart:
You don’t want to read this, and I take no pleasure in writing it, and no one really wants to hear it right now. But I believe it needs to be said.
I join the world in grieving for the dead in Paris. I have grieved for the dead from 9/11 forward — the Australians who died in terror attacks on Bali in 2002, Londoners who died in terror attacks in 2005, the French citizens who died in the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January of this year, the Russians whose plane went down over the Sinai a week or so ago. So many more non-Western deaths barely noticed in the U.S. media. I grieve also for those killed in smaller attacks already smuggled deep into the obscurity of our memory.
And so we Tweet hashtags and phrases in high school French and post GIFs to Facebook. We know what to do; we’ve done this before.
But it has to be said, especially looking at the sick repetition of the same story, that despite fourteen plus years of a war on terror, terror seems to be with us as much as ever, maybe even more. It is time to rethink what we have done and are doing.
Since that day in 2001, the one with those terrible sparkling blue skies in New York, we have spied on the world, Americans at home and foreigners abroad, yet no one detected anything that stopped the Paris attacks. We gave up much to that spying and got nothing in return.
Since 2001, the United States has led nations like Britain, France, Australia and others into wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria, with drone attacks on people from the Philippines to Pakistan to all parts of Africa. We have little to nothing to show for all that.
Since 2001 the U.S. has expended enormous efforts to kill a handful of men — bin Laden, al-Zarqawi, al-Awlaki, and this weekend, Jihadi John. Others, many without names, were killed outside of media attention, or were tortured to death, or are still rotting in the offshore penal colony of Guantanamo, or the dark hell of the Salt Pit in Afghanistan.
And it has not worked, and Paris this weekend, and the next one somewhere else sometime soon, are the proof.
We gave up many of our freedoms in America to defeat the terrorists. It did not work. We gave the lives of over 4,000 American men and women in Iraq, and thousands more in Afghanistan, to defeat the terrorists, and refuse to ask what they died for. We killed tens of thousands or more in those countries. It did not work. We went to war again in Iraq, and now in Syria, before in Libya, and only created more failed states and ungoverned spaces that provide havens for terrorists and spilled terror like dropped paint across borders. We harass and discriminate against our own Muslim populations and then stand slack-jawed as they become radicalized, and all we do then is blame ISIS for Tweeting.
Note that it is the strategy of Islamic terror to generate a crackdown in France in order to radicalise French Muslims. Hundreds of French citizens have already traveled to Syria to fight with groups including ISIS.
As one of the most intelligent commentators on all this, Bill Johnson, said, terrorism is about killing pawns to affect the king. The attacks in Paris are not about the murder of 150 innocent people. Hell, that many die nearly every day in Iraq and Syria. The true test for France is how they respond to the terror attacks in the long-game — that’s the king in all this. America failed this test post-9/11; yet it does not sound like France understands anything more than America. “We are going to lead a war which will be pitiless,” French president Hollande said outside the Bataclan concert hall, scene of the most bloodshed.
If I had exactly the right strategy, I’d tell you what it is, and I’d try and tell the people in Washington and Paris and everywhere else. But I don’t have the exact thing to do, and I doubt they’d listen to me anyway.
But I do have this: stop what we have been doing for the last 14 years. It has not worked. There is nothing at all to suggest it ever will work. Whack-a-mole is a game, not a plan. Leave the Middle East alone. Stop creating more failed states. Stop throwing away our freedoms at home on falsehoods. Stop disenfranchising the Muslims who live with us. Understand the war, such as it is, is against a set of ideas — religious, anti-western, anti-imperialist — and you cannot bomb an idea. Putting western soldiers on the ground in the MidEast and western planes overhead fans the flames. Vengeance does not and cannot extinguish an idea.
Start with those things and see, even if you won’t give it 14 years to succeed, if things improve. Other than the death tolls scaling up further, I can’t imagine we could be doing anything worse.
The same ridiculed and useless techniques used by the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) to not find terrorists at America’s airports are now being used at Orlando theme parks, including Disney World, Seaworld and Busch Gardens, to not find terrorists.
A Billion Dollars Hits the SPOT
The Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques, or SPOT, program is TSA’s one billion dollar “behavioral detection” scheme. SPOT requires TSA staff to be on the lookout for indicators, “tells” to you poker players out there, that give away bad guys. Some of the actual indicators are listed on the graphic, above.
There are actually 92 individual indicators (terrorists are sneaky!), divided into various categories with a point score assigned to each. Those categories include a preliminary “observation and behavior analysis.” Those passengers pulled over for additional inspection are scored based on two more categories: whether they have “unusual items,” like almanacs and “numerous prepaid calling cards or cell phones,” and a final category for “signs of deception,” which include “covers mouth with hand when speaking” and “fast eye blink rate.”
TSA agents are also told to watch out for persons traveling “wearing a disguise.”
You can also be judged less suspicious. Points can be deducted from someone’s score based on observations that they are part of an “apparent” married couple, as long as both people are over 55. No word on same sex couples. That’s two points deducted. Women over the age of 55 have one pointed deducted; for men, the point deduction doesn’t come until they reach 65.
SPOT On Failures
As to how well the SPOT program works, let’s check in with the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security.
That office found in 2013 that TSA had failed to evaluate SPOT at all, and thus “cannot ensure that passengers at United States airports are screened objectively, show that the program is cost-effective, or reasonably justify the program’s expansion.”
The Government Accounting Office and independent scientists who bothered to evaluate SPOT say it performs no better than a coin-toss at catching terrorists.
Enter the Mouse
With that kind of track record, you are left shaking your head when you learn that Orlando TSA officers trained 400 local cops and security for area attractions like Disney in the SPOT system, all of whom are now watching for “excessive throat clearing,” “improper attire,” “gazing down,” and “wide open staring eyes” as signs of potential theme park terrorism.
At least now, with SPOT, everyone has a “scientific basis” for their racial profiling.
So this tells you about what you need to know about the cops’ respect for the First Amendment and the public’s right to know, as well as their contempt for the judicial system when caught in a lie.
A New York police officer who arrested a journalist/photographer on assignment for The New York Times in 2012 was convicted, albeit three years after the fact, in what was a simple, straightforward case, of falsifying a record to justify the unlawful arrest.
The officer, Michael Ackermann, 32, in the center of the photo above, was found guilty of a single felony count of offering a false instrument for filing. Officer Ackermann had claimed the photographer, Robert Stolarik, interfered with the arrest of a suspect by repeatedly discharging his camera’s flash in his face.
A subsequent “investigation” found that Stolarik did not own a flash or have one on his camera at the time. One does wonder how long such an investigation might have taken, considering it should have taken about 10 seconds after the arrest. Got a flash, sir? No? Ok, thanks, you are free to go.
“I think it’s important; it’s rare that people are held accountable for their actions,” the journalist said. “In this case, he lied, and he lied to protect himself, and it turned on him.”
Officer Ackermann testified during the trial that he had made an “honest mistake” when he claimed Stolarik’s camera partially blinded him as he helped fellow officers make an arrest. He said he had mistaken ambient light at the scene for a camera flash.
Wait, could we stop right there for a moment? Who has ever had a flash photo taken of themselves? You know, like when you see spots in front of your eyes for a few moments? Is there anyone other than this cop who can say with a straight face that it is possible to mistake a flash for no flash? In the dark, for God’s sake?
The prosecutor rejected Officer Ackermann’s explanation and contended that his actions had interfered with the freedom of the press and had subjected Stolarik to unlawful search and seizure, violating his First and Fourth Amendment rights.
Stolarik was taking pictures for a story about the NYPD’s controversial stop-and-frisk tactics, themselves considered by many to be a violation of the Fourth Amendment, when he saw officers arresting a young black woman. He was thrown to the ground and arrested by Officer Ackermann, charged with obstructing government administration and, of course, resisting arrest. The charges were quickly dropped.
They also cannot find their own butt squatting over a mirror, but they sure can grope yours.
Remember airports before 9/11? You walked through a metal detector, had a quick bag check, all done by contract employees who swung between polite, and bored. Shoes stayed on, your laptop could stay in its case, it all took minutes and no one bullied you. No one touched your junk for freedom.
Then, because of massive intelligence failures, some Saudis with simple box cutters were able to commandeer planes and do 9/11. The paradigm then was for passengers and crew to cooperate with hijackers, presuming they wanted the plane or money. Fast forward to now: we take our shoes off because some dumbass failed to blow up a plane with a shoe bomb years ago. We pull out all our electronics because, well, nothing really. We go through scanners that display our junk on screens. The government created a massive bureaucracy of TSA bullies to harass and embarrass us for the audacity of trying to fly somewhere. We all can now enjoy watching old ladies, people in wheelchairs and soccer moms groped in public.
But at least that all keeps us safe, right?
Well, there’s the problem.
U.S. lawmakers and federal watchdogs took the occasion Tuesday to deride the Transportation Security Administration’s ability, or lack thereof, to adequately detect weapons and other contraband during the passenger screening process at the nation’s airports. And TSA didn’t just miss a few things. Nope, according to auditors from the Inspector General’s Office, posing as travelers, 95 percent of contraband, like weapons and explosives, got through during clandestine testings.
“In looking at the number of times people got through with guns or bombs in these covert testing exercises it really was pathetic. When I say that I mean pitiful,” said Representative Stephen Lynch, speaking Tuesday during a House Oversight hearing concerning classified reports from federal watchdogs. “Just thinking about the breaches there, it’s horrific,” he added.
“The failures included failures in the technology, failures in TSA procedures, and human error,” the Inspector General told the committee. “We found layers of security simply missing.”
The General Accounting Office piled on, adding “TSA has consistently fallen short in basic program management.”
Peter Neffenger, the new TSA administrator, said the agency was undertaking a “full system review.” It is also considering using dogs to search passengers as well.
UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced new plans to address the radicalization of young British Muslims, including measures to withdraw the passports of those believed to be at risk of joining jihadist groups abroad.
As part of a strategy to tackle extremism, parents will be able to ask the government to seize the passports of 16- and 17-year-olds thought to be considering travel to Syria and Iraq. British parents can already request the cancellation of passports of those under 16. Another measure will ensure that anyone with a conviction for a “terrorist crime or extremist activity” will automatically be barred from working with children or other people regarded as vulnerable.
Cameron’s critics worry that the new measures may be seen as heavy-handed and exacerbate the sense of alienation and resentment among young British Muslims, which is itself a driver of radicalization.
Left unsaid is any tally of exactly how many 16- and 17-year-olds have traveled to join ISIS, the practicality of knowing where they are going since most would-be jihadis travel via a circuitous route, and the question of what happens to the 18-99-year-olds who want to join up. The vagueness of what constitutes a “terrorist crime or extremist activity” and who the hell are “other people regarded as vulnerable” is noted.
Doubling down, Cameron described the battle against terrorism as the struggle of his generation. He is also expected to restate the case for expanding Britain’s laws on electronic surveillance, because why not throw that in while you’re on a roll.
Apart from a natural desire to expand fascism, grow government power and try and tie himself to things like surviving WWII, an actual struggle of a generation, what might be driving Cameron (as well as his contemporaries in the U.S., who are frothing over similar ideas)?
Simply this: pointless, knee-jerk reactions and security theatre are a whole lot easier to sell to the average frightened citizen than the idea that their safety actually depends on foreign policies that do not inspire rage and hatred in very large numbers of people.
Shaker Aamer was just released, after 13 years in captivity, from Guantanamo, and returned to Britain. His wife lives there, and he has permanent residence there. He was never charged with anything by the United States, simply kept. Here is what was done to him over the course of his 13 years at Gitmo.
Bush denied, and Obama helped hide, the nasty stuff even existed, then used an ever-so-compliant media to call it all necessary for our security and very survival, then shaping dumb-cow public opinion with ersatz terms like enhanced interrogation to keep the word torture out of the discourse, then having the CIA destroy videos of the brutality, then imprisoning officials, such as John Kiriakou, who sought to expose it all, then refusing to hold hearings or conduct investigations, then employing black ops to try and derail even a cursory Senate report and finally allowing the torturers at the CIA themselves the final word on the watered-down public version of a Senate report on torture.
The Torture of Shaker Aamer by the United States
Yet, like a water leak that must find it’s way out from inside the dark place within your walls, some things become known. Now, we can read a psychiatrist’s report which includes, in detail, the torture enacted on just one prisoner of the United States, Shaker Aamer.
The once-U.S. ally Northern Alliance captured Aamer in Afghanistan and sold him to the United States as an al Qaeda member. Who knows at this point who Aamer was at that time, or what he did or did not do. If you think any of that matters, and perhaps justifies what was done to him, stop reading now. This article cannot reach you.
What was Done to One Human
In his own words, Aamer describes the casual way his Western jailers accepted his physical presence, and skinny confessions made under Afghan torture, as all the proof necessary to imprison him in U.S. custody from 2002 until 2015. The U.S. created a world of hell that only had an entrance, not caring to conceive of an exit. In no particular order (though the full report dispassionately chronicles every act by time and location), the United States of America did the following to Aamer:
— On more than one occasion an official of the United States threatened to rape Aamer’s five year old daughter, with one interrogator describing in explicit sexual detail his plans to destroy the child;
— “Welcoming Parties” and “Goodbye Parties” as Aamer was transferred among U.S. facilities. Soldiers at these “parties” were encouraged and allowed to beat and kick detainees as their proclivities and desires dictated. Here’s a video of what a beating under the eyes of American soldiers looks like.
— Aamer was made to stand for days, not allowed to sleep for days, not allowed to use the toilet and made to shit and piss on himself for days, not fed or fed minimally for days, doused with freezing water for days, over and over again. For 13 years.
— Aamer was denied medical care as his interrogators controlled his access to doctors and made care for the wounds they inflicted dependent on Aamer’s ongoing compliance and repeated “confessions.”
— Aamer was often kept naked, and his faith exploited to humiliate him in culturally-specific ways. He witnessed a 17-year-old captive of America sodomized with a rifle, and was threatened with the same.
— At times the brutality took place for its own sake, disconnected from interrogations. At times it was the centerpiece of interrogation.
— The torture of Aamer continued at Gitmo, for as an occasional hunger striker he was brutally force-fed.
The obsessive debate in this country over the effectiveness of torture rings eternally false: torture does indeed work. Torture is invariably about shame and vengeance, humiliation, power, and control, not gathering information. Even when left alone (especially when left alone) the torture victim is punished to imagine what form the hurt will take and just how severe it will be, almost always in the process assuming responsibility for creating his own terror.
And there you have the take-away point, as briefers in Washington like to say. The real point of the torture was to torture. Over twelve years, even the thinnest rationale that Aamer was a dangerous terrorist, or had valuable information to disclose, could not exist and his abusers knew it. The only goal was to destroy Shaker Aamer.
The combination of raw brutality, the careful, educated use of medical doctors to fine-tune the pain, the skills of psychiatrists and cultural advisors to enhance the impact of what was done worked exactly as it was intended. According to the psychiatrist who examined Aamer in detail at Guantanamo, there is little left of the man. He suffers from a broad range of psychiatric and physical horrors. In that sense, by the calculus his torturers employ, the torture was indeed successful.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan failed at great cost, al Qaeda has been reborn in Africa and greater parts of the Middle East and the U.S. has willingly transformed itself into at best a bully abroad, and a police state at home. But no mind; the full force and credit of the United States of America destroyed Shaker Aamer as revenge for all the rest, bloody proof of all the good we failed to do.
Never Again, Always Again
Despite the horrors of World War II, the mantra– never again– becomes today a sad joke. The scale is different this time, what, 600? 6000? men destroyed by torture not six million, but not the intent. The desire to inflict purposeful suffering by government order, the belief that such inhuman actions are legal, even necessary, differs little from one set of fascists to more modern ones. Given the secrecy the Nazis enjoyed for years, how full would the American camps be today? Kill them all, and let God sort them out is never far from the lips.
Torture does not leave its victims, nor does it leave a nation that condones it. The ghosts don’t disappear the way the flesh and bone can be made to go away.
The people who did this, whether the ones in the torture cell using their fists, or the ones in the White House ordering it with their pens, walk free among us. They’ll never see justice done. There will be no Nuremberg Trials for America’s evils, just a collapsing bunker in Berlin. But unlike Shaker Aamer, you are sentenced to live to see it forever in your nightmares.
When I was a kid, three presidents told us we had to fight in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, because if we didn’t fight them over there, we’d have to fight them on the beaches of California. We believed. It was a lie.
I was a teenager during the Cold War, and several presidents told us we needed to create massive stockpiles of nuclear weapons, garrison the world, invade Cuba, fight in odd little places and use the CIA to overthrow democratically elected governments and replace them with dictators, or the Russians would destroy us. We believed. It was a lie.
When I was in college our president told us that we needed to fight in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua or the Sandinistas would come to the United States. He told us Managua was closer to Washington DC than LA was. He told us we needed to fight in Lebanon, Grenada and Libya to protect ourselves. We believed. It was a lie.
When I was a little older our president told us how evil Saddam Hussein was, how his soldiers bayoneted babies in Kuwait. He told us Saddam was a threat to America. He told us we needed to invade Panama to oust a dictator to protect America. We believed. It was a lie.
The next president told us we had to fight terrorists in Somalia, as well as bomb Iraq, to protect ourselves. We believed. It was a lie.
The one after him told us that because a group of Saudis from a group loosely tied to Afghanistan attacked us on 9/11, we needed to occupy that country and destroy the Taliban, who had not attacked us, for our own safety. The Taliban are still there. But we believed. It was a lie.
After that we were told that Saddam Hussein threatened every one of us with weapons of mass destruction, that the smoking gun would be a mushroom cloud, that Saddam was in league with al Qaeda. We believed. It was a lie.
In 2011 the president and his secretary of state told us we needed regime change in Libya, to protect us from an evil dictator. We believed. It was a lie.
In August 2014 the same president told us we needed to intervene again in Iraq, on a humanitarian mission to save the Yazidis. No boots on the ground, a simple act of humanness that only the United States could conduct, and then leave. We believed. It was a lie.
Now we are told by that same president that Americans will again fight on the ground in Iraq, and Syria, and that Americans have and will die. He says that this is necessary to protect us, because if we do not defeat Islamic State over there, they will come here, to what we now call without shame or irony The Homeland.
We want to believe, Mr. President. We want to know it is not a lie.
So please address us, explain why what you are doing in Iraq is different than everything listed above. Tell us why we should believe you — this time — because history says you lie.
But rich people have problems, too. Luckily, a group of brave psychiatric professionals, dubbed “wealth therapists,” have emerged to come to their aid.
The UK Guardian (America’s best newspaper) profiled Clay Cockrell, a former Wall Street worker turned therapist, who spends his days helping New York’s wealthiest people.
So what issues are America’s One Percent struggling with? Cockrell tells us there is guilt over being rich in the first place, which makes the rich feel that they have to hide the fact that they are rich. And then there is the isolation – being in the One Percent, it turns out, can be lonely.
And the problem is growing. According to Oxfam, the richest One Percent have seen their share of global wealth increase from only 44 percent in 2009 to 48 percent in 2014. It will break 51 percent by next year.
The wealth therapists also say things have only gotten worse for their clients since the debate over income inequality that has been spurred on by movements like Occupy Wall Street.
“The Occupy Wall Street movement singled out the One Percent and painted them globally as something negative,” said Jamie Traeger-Muney, another wealth psychologist. “I am not necessarily comparing it to what people of color have to go through, but it really is making value judgments about a particular group of people as a whole.”
Traeger-Muney specializes in the unique issues inheritors face. “You can come up with lot of words and sayings about inheritors, and not one of them is positive: spoiled brat, born with a silver spoon in their mouth, trust fund babies, all these things,” she said, adding “I am shocked by things that people say. If you substitute in the word Jewish or black, you would never say something like that.”
Hyper-wealthy, we all feel your pain. Thus, today, we are all part of the One Percent. #WealthyLivesMatter (say the wealthy.)
I welcome guest blogger William Astore today, whose own blog, The Contrary Perspective, is always worth your time. Bill?
Francis Bacon is famous for the aphorism, “Knowledge is power.” Yet the reverse aphorism is not true. The United States is the most powerful nation in the world, yet its knowledge base is notably weak in spite of all that power. Of course, many factors contribute to this weakness. Our public educational systems are underfunded and driven by meaningless standardized test results. Our politicians pander to the lowest common denominator. Our mainstream media is corporate-owned and in the business of providing info-tainment when they’re not stoking fear. Our elites are in the business of keeping the American people divided, distracted, and downtrodden, conditions that do not favor critical thinking, which is precisely the point of their efforts.
All that is true. But even when the U.S. actively seeks knowledge, we get little in return for our investment. U.S. intelligence agencies (the CIA, NSA, DIA, and so on) aggregate an enormous amount of data, then try to convert this to knowledge, which is then used to inform action. But these agencies end up drowning in minutiae. Worse, competing agencies within a tangled bureaucracy (that truly deserves the label of “Byzantine”) end up spinning the data for their own benefit. The result is not “knowledge” but disinformation and self-serving propaganda.
When our various intelligence agencies are not drowning in minutiae or choking on their own “spin,” they’re getting lost in the process of converting data to knowledge. Indeed, so much attention is put on process, with so many agencies being involved in that process, that the end product – accurate and actionable knowledge – gets lost. Yet, as long as the system keeps running, few involved seem to mind, even when the result is marginal — or disastrous.
Consider the Vietnam War. Massive amounts of “intelligence” data took the place of knowledge. Data like enemy body counts, truck counts, aircraft sorties, bomb tonnages, acres defoliated, number of villages pacified, and on and on. Amassing this data took an enormous amount of time; attempting to interpret this data took more time; and reaching conclusions from the (often inaccurate and mostly irrelevant) data became an exercise in false optimism and self-delusion. Somehow, all that data suggested to US officialdom that they were winning the war, a war in which US troops were allegedly making measurable and sustained progress. But events proved such “knowledge” to be false.
Of course, there’s an acronym for this: GIGO, or garbage (data) in, garbage (knowledge) out.
I don’t think the whole of Southeast Asia, as related to the present and future safety and freedom of the people of this country, is worth the life or limb of a single American [and] I believe that if we had and would keep our dirty bloody dollar-crooked fingers out of the business of these nations so full of depressed, exploited people, they will arrive at a solution of their own design and want, that they fight and work for. And if, unfortunately, their revolution must be of the violent type…at least what they get will be their own and not the American style, which they don’t want…crammed down their throat.
But few wanted to hear Shoup and his brand of hard-won knowledge, even if he’d been handpicked by President Kennedy to serve as the Commandant of the Marine Corps exactly because Shoup had a reputation for sound and independent thinking.
Consider as well our rebuilding efforts in Iraq after 2003. As documented by Peter Van Buren in his book “We Meant Well,” those efforts were often inept and counterproductive. Yet the bureaucracy engaged in those efforts was determined to spin them as successes. They may even have come to believe their own spin. When Van Buren had the clarity and audacity to say, We’re fooling no one with our Kabuki dance in Iraq except the American people we’re sworn to serve, he was dismissed and punished by the State Department.
Why? Because you’re not supposed to share knowledge, real knowledge, with the American people. Instead, you’re supposed to baffle them with BS. But Van Buren was having none of that. His tell-all book (you can read an excerpt here) captured the Potemkin village-like atmosphere of US rebuilding efforts in Iraq. His accurate knowledge had real power, and for sharing it with the American people he was slapped down.
Tell the truth – share real knowledge with the American people – and you get punished. Massage the data to create false “knowledge,” in these cases narratives of success, and you get a pat on the back and a promotion. Small wonder that so many recent wars have gone so poorly for America.
What the United States desperately needs is insight. Honesty. A level of knowledge that reflects mastery. But what we’re getting is manufactured information, or disinformation, or BS. Lies, in plainspeak, like the lie that Iraq had in 2002 a large and active program in developing WMD that could be used against the United States. (Remember how we were told we had to invade Iraq quickly before the “smoking gun” became a “mushroom cloud”?)
If knowledge is power, what is false knowledge? False knowledge is a form of power as well, but a twisted one. For when you mistake the facade you’re constructing as the real deal, when you manufacture your own myths and then forget they’re myths as you consume them, you may find yourself hopelessly confused, even as the very myths you created consume you.
So, a corollary to Francis Bacon: Knowledge is power, but as the United States has discovered in Vietnam, Iraq, and elsewhere, power is no substitute for knowledge.
You are a tool of the state, according to NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The NSA in the U.S., and its equivalent in the UK, GCHQ, are taking control of your phone not just to spy on you as needed, but also to use your device as a way to spy on others around you. You are a walking microphone, camera and GPS for spies.
Snowden, in a BBC interview, explained that for the most part intelligence agencies are not really looking to monitor your private phone communications per se. They are actually taking over full control of the phone to take photos or record ongoing conversations within earshot.
According to Snowden, the UK’s spy agency, the Government Communications Headquarters, uses NSA technology to develop software tools to control almost anyone’s smartphone. He notes that all it takes is sending an encrypted text message to get into virtually any smartphone. Moreover, the message will not be seen by the user, making it almost impossible to stop the attack.
GCHQ calls these smartphone hacking tools the “Smurf Suite.” The suite includes:
“Dreamy Smurf” is the power management tool that turns your phone on and off with you knowing.
“Nosey Smurf” is the hot mic tool. “For example,” Snowden said, “if the phone is in your pocket, NSA/GCHQ can turn the microphone on and listen to everything that’s going on around you, even if your phone is switched off because they’ve got the other tools for turning it on.
“Tracker Smurf” is a geolocation tool which allows spies to follow you with a greater precision than you would get from the typical triangulation of cellphone towers.
“Paranoid Smurf” is a defensive mechanism designed to make the other tools installed on the phone undetectable.
Snowden said the NSA has spent close to $1 billion to develop these smartphone hacking programs.
About the Democratic debate last night on CNN: Is this it? Is this the best the Democratic side of America can offer?
I have to admit, by not screwing up, Hillary did well.
She clung to her talking points tenaciously, brushed off any scandals (aided by CNN’s Anderson Cooper lobbing her softballs on the tough issues, and of course, Bernie absolving her of any email problems, the FBI investigation be damned), invoked her dead blue collar mom several times to the point where we were looking for the ghost to appear on stage, and absent a weird and untrue story about her and Barack chasing down some Chinese fellas to yell at them about climate change, told no apparent whoppers. She even made a funny about how long it takes us ladies to pee pee between commercials.
She did muff on Wall Street, claiming oddly she “represented Wall Street” as Senator. That line will live on in a thousand Republican attack videos. In that same little speechlet, Hillary also mentioned in 2007 she went down to Wall Street and told them to “cut it out,” in relation to the massive financial crisis dumped on American a year later.
Her statements about how well Libya worked out, and how she personally took down bin Laden with a rusty switchblade, were utterly false, but whatever, she’s said all that before. She did not shapeshift into her lizard form, and thus was the debate’s big winner.
Bernie. Oh Bernie.
Bernie played to his loyal base and left the vast pool of others disappointed. At times he sounded like your drunk old hippy uncle, ranting about revolution. His most salient points, about climate change and the one percent, were often shouted. One could imagine the spittle that some poor stagehand had to swipe off the lectern afterwards. It is very unclear how many voters Bernie persuaded to switch over to him. He instead cemented his place in history as an “issue” candidate, one who runs to push some ideas further into the mainstream with no hope of actually winning.
Bernie’s ideas are good. But he needed to show enthusiasm, righteous anger, and instead we just got a lot of bitching. See ya, Bernie, you have achieved footnote-in-the-history-books status for all time.
The others really should have just stayed home. They were the equivalent of the Star Trek red shirts, background actors filling out scenes, handy to have around when a scriptwriter needs to kill someone off.
Martin O’Malley was running for something, maybe Hillary’s foot massager come 2016, but stumbled to make any real points. He sounded desperate about his turn as Baltimore’s mayor, saying things were actually pretty good then. Come on Martin, we’ve all seen The Wire.
Lincoln Chafee — brother, it is over, if it had ever begun. When you explained you flubbed an early vote in Congress because you were new and your dad had died, you sounded like an undergrad begging his Psych 101 prof for extra credit.
Then there was Jim Webb, the man who has overnight spawned a million Tweets. Webb was angry. Webb whined about not getting called on. Webb didn’t seem to remember his kids’ names. Webb dragged his wife into this, twice, the only family member pictured out the audience unless someone was related to the Santa Claus guy. But Webb saved the best for last, playing out his PTSD live on stage, grinning manically while explaining how he killed a man in Vietnam. Get some help, Jim, we’re worried about you, man.
And no props to CNN. A full thirty minutes of trash and commercials before the debate proper started? Why not bring out some Vegas showgirls? Letting Obama do a full-on promo piece saying “Vote Democrat?” Having their Official Black Guy Reporter Don Lemon ask one and only one question about #BlackLivesMatter? Then having the Official Hispanic guy (“Gracious, Anderson”) do the questions about weed and illegal immigration? And no questions at all about Israel, the Palestinians, the current war in Iraq, Afghanistan, or Planned Parenthood?
The only question left: what was Joe Biden, watching this all at home, thinking?
Ed Snowden is right. We have lost too many of our freedoms. What the hell happened?
The United States has entered its third great era is what happened. The first, starting from the colonists’ arrival, saw the principles of the Enlightenment used to push back the abuses of an imperial government and create the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The next two hundred some years, imperfect as they were, saw those principles progress, putting into practice what an evolving government of the people might look like.
We are now wading in the shallow waters of the third era, Post-Constitutional America, a time when our government is abandoning the basic ideas that saw our nation through centuries of challenges. Those ideas– enshrined in the Bill of Rights– are disarmingly concise, the haiku of a People’s government. Deeper, darker waters lay in front of us, and we are drawn down into them. The king, jealous of the People’s power, wants some back.
Pre-Constitutional America: 1765-1789
History turns out to be everything that matters. America in its Pre-Constitutional days may seem familiar to even casual readers of current events. We lived under the control of a king, a powerful executive who was beholden only to the rich landowners and nobles who supported him. The king’s purpose was simple: to use his power over Americans to draw the maximum financial gain out of the colony, suppressing dissent in service to the goal and to maintain his own power.
If you lived in Pre-Constitutional America, you knew that imposed laws could be brutal, and punishments swift and often extra-judicial. Protest was dangerous. Speech could make you the enemy of the government that ruled you. Journalism could be a crime.
Nothing to Hide, Nothing to Fear?
There were many offenses against liberty in Pre-Constitutional America. One pivotal event, the Stamp Act of 1765, stands out. To enforce the taxes imposed by the Act, the king’s men used “writs of assistance” that allowed them to burst into any home or business, with or without suspicion. Americans’ property and privacy were torn apart, ransacked, often times more as a warning of the king’s power than any “legitimate” purpose the original approved law might have held. Some American was then the first to mutter in ignorance “But if I have nothing to hide, why should I be afraid?” He learned soon enough everyone was treated as an enemy of the government, everyone, it seemed, had something to hide, even if it turned out they did not.
The Stamp Act, and the flood of similar offenses, created in the Founders a profound suspicion of government unchecked, a confirmation that power and freedom cannot coexist in a democracy. What was needed, in addition to the body of the Constitution which outlined what the new nation’s government could do, was a remuneration of what that government could not do. The answer was the Bill of Rights.
Never Again: 1789 – 9/11/2001
There was no mistaking it: the Bill of Rights was written to make sure that America’s new government would not be the old government of a king. Each important amendment spoke directly to a specific offense committed by the king. The Bill would protect Americans from their government. The rights enumerated in the Bill were not granted by the government, but already present within the People. The Bill said what the government could not take away. Never again, the Founders said.
For over 200 years the Bill of Rights expanded and contracted. Yet through out, the basic principles that guided America were sustained despite war, depression and endless challenges. It was a bumpy road, but it was a road that traveled forward.
(The Founders were imperfect men, and very much of their era. As such, the rights of women and Native Americans were not addressed. Shamefully, the Bill of Rights did not destroy the institution of slavery, our nation’s Original Sin. It would take many years, and often much blood, to make up for those mistakes.)
Post-Constitutional America: 9/12/2001 to the Present
Then, one sharp, blue September 11 morning, everything changed, and our Post-Constitutional era began.
You know the story: NSA spying, drone killing, Guantanamo, arbitrary arrests and police violence. And for every short-hand example, there are many other motes of shame you have probably thought of as you read. If not, open today’s newspaper or Google “NSA” and they’ll most likely be there. Remember too that Manning, Snowden and other whistleblowers were able to pass on only relatively small portions of the information the government is trying to hide, and we haven’t even seen all of the Snowden documents yet.
But isn’t it all legal? Taking the most generous position, all the things the king did, and the government now does, were (albeit often in classified form) approved in (albeit often secret) courts. But in Constitutional America, there was a standard above the law, the Constitution itself. The actions of the executive and the laws passed by Congress were only legal when they did not conflict with the underlying principles of our democracy.
The accepted history of our descent into a Post-Constitutional state is following 9/11, evil people under the leadership of Dick Cheney, with the tacit support of a dunce like George W. Bush, pushed through legally-lite measures to allow kidnapping, torture, imprisonment and indefinite detention, all direct contraventions of the Bill of Rights. Obama, elected on what are now seen as a series of false promises to roll back the worst of the Bush era-crimes, went full-in for the same or more. That’s the common narrative, and it is mostly true.
What is missing is a more complete view. Even today, years after 9/11, 45 percent of Americans say that torture is “sometimes necessary and acceptable to gain information that may protect the public.” Snowden’s revelations about the NSA revealed in depth how far the government has gone, though much of the raw outlines of what he filled in have been known for several years without much exposure in the mainstream media.
Americans, ignorant of their own history, seem unsure whether or not the NSA’s actions are indeed justified, and many feel Snowden and the journalists who published his material are criminals. The most common meme related to whistleblowers is “Patriot or Traitor?” and toward the war on terror, “Security or Freedom?” There is no widespread movement toward any real change in what the government has been doing. It seems many Americans like it, and support it.
To return to the set of rules, laws and beliefs that we still claim in high school civics classes define us, the Bill of Rights, means first deciding we will no longer agree to have those rights taken away from us. No, no, not taken away– given away, too easily. Too many Americans, compelled by fear and assured by propaganda, want the government to expand its powers further, embracing dumb-headly the idea that freedom is in conflict with security. The Founders, even as they remained under significant threat from the then-World’s Most Powerful Nation, knew all along the real dangers did not lie out over the water, but on land, at home, inside.
But wait, people say. I write angry emails all the time and nobody has kicked down my door. I went to court for something and it worked just the way the rules said. I was randomly selected at the airport and it took five minutes, no big deal. True all. For people who’s last strongly held belief was over who got cheated on the last round of Dancing with the Stars, life isn’t very different.
At issue in post-Constitutional America is not that all rights for all people all the time will disappear (though privacy seems on the chopping block.) It is that the government now decides when, where and how the rights which were said to be inalienable still apply. Those decisions will likely be made in secret and will be enforced without recourse. You’ll never know who is next.
We are the first to see what is post-Constitutional America, and perhaps the last who might stop it.
Demagogues come and go, and are certainly nothing new in politics in general (Hitler) and American politics in the specific (nearly every Republican candidate.)
But Trump is special, a man of his times, as if evolution created him in match with his environment.
Trump is a top-level predator, not smart enough to understand but somehow evolved enough to know: the myth of the American Dream is falling apart, and the angry low and middle class people who are experiencing the collapse are unable to understand what is happening to them, essentially that they got played in one of the grandest long cons in the history of grifting. Trump senses this, and tells them it is not their fault. Blame the immigrants, blame the Muslims and, even though the Dream dumped even harder on them, why not, blame the Blacks. It’s not you, folks. The deck is stacked, says Trump.
Trump is of course right — the deck is stacked. But not in the way he says it is.
The American Dream
The myth of the American Dream has been the dominating factor in keeping most people mostly complacent in the United States for 150 years, and allowing most of us to blame a minority of us for shortcomings. You know it — work hard, and your life will improve. Well, maybe not your life, but your kids’, or at least your grandkids’. If that doesn’t happen, you probably didn’t work hard enough, try again next generation and it’ll most likely stick. And if that doesn’t work, it was the fault of the Irish immigrants, or the damn Chinese, or those welfare freeloaders.
The thing that made the myth so powerful was that 10 percent of the truth that proves the 90 percent lie. As long as near-constant growth could be assured, enough pieces would fall to the the lower and middle classes to keep the Dream alive in their minds. It helped that a kindly media would promote the hell out of every exception, whether it was the shoeshine boy in the late 19th century who went to college, or the plucky guys who invented some new tech in their garage and became billionaires.
Things did slip up from time to time, culminating in the Great Depression in the United States. The old economy, the heavy metal machinery and industrial one, had maxed out and financial scamming by the one percent of the day hit the tipping point. But some social programs to tamp down any real sense of rebellion and a timely world war reset the Dream. And better yet, the outcome of that war, with the U.S. emerging as the only superpower and the only intact economy, virtually in control of all the world’s natural resources, the newly-created monetary and trade system and, for a few years, as the sole possessor of the Bomb, created a new cycle of growth never before seen in human history.
Growth Via Consumerism
The new growth, based on all of the factors above, was fueled by consumerism, not big iron; the Dream would be succored by the recycling of the lower and middle classes’ own wages, upward of course. Earn more, spend more, need more, buy more. That sucking sound heard between 1950 until around 1975 was money moving upward, leaving a little trail of bread crumbly growth in its wake, just enough, but not too much.
But a straight line is a straight line, and that movement of money had an end point, now fast approaching, where in 2015 one percent of Americans own some 43 percent of the wealth and through that, nearly all of the power. The cycle is accelerating, because, as proven by Thomas Piketty, wealth in capital form grows faster than wages. The race to one percent owning 99.9999999 percent is on.
Now under certain circumstances such a situation would have people at the barricades armed with pitchforks. But myths die hard, and especially when the basic American Dream myth is backed by the additional proviso that if you are falling behind it is a) because you are not working hard enough or b) somebody is messing with your piece of the pie.
No politician plans to tell lower and middle class people they aren’t working hard enough, though such prescriptions are nearly required to be spouted at folks already poor. Instead, it is that second part, blaming someone else, that has always been the tool smart pols use to cage votes.
What is New
No nothing new, right? Wrong.
What is new is not the message Trump is promoting, but the America in which he is promoting it. It has become impossible for the lower and middle classes to not see that they are slipping behind. The industrial jobs are gone. People have been talked out of most union jobs, convinced somehow that organizing was not in their own interest. Food stamps and other need-based programs are finding more and more middle class audiences, as suburban people who once donated to charities are now lining up out front of them. The snowball is accelerating, downhill.
And so there is Trump, a man of his times, telling people who still want to believe that it is OK to believe. Trump made it, so can they. America is f*cked up, just look around, but it is not your fault, voters. And it is certainly not Trump’s, squarely in the one percent, fault. Nope, it is someone else’s fault, and to people desperate to Believe, that is very, very powerful medicine.
Watch out for this guy, Trump. He has tapped into something deep and fearful and motivating.