• Here’s Some Cocoa, America. Tell Me What You’re So Afraid Of.

    January 14, 2018 // 13 Comments »



    Here’s what I’m afraid of. While fear has always been a tool of the vested interests to retain power, make money, and keep us under control, things may be slipping off the rails. The basic political post-war strategy of the United States power block has metastasized. The old fears deployed – the Commies, the Terrorists – were reliably a fire only a few key people could easily feed fuel into, or cool down, as needed. There was an element of control, evil and insidious, but one that maintained a balance. After all, you want enough fear to make people compliant but no so much that they end up chasing each other with pitchforks. Or driving cars through crowds of protesters.

    It is too easy now for too many people to put fuel into the fire. The establishment media, which once thrived on trading information for viewers, now trades on promoting anxiety. Confirmations of our fears no longer show up in scratchy black and white only when the president addresses the nation. They rocket 24/7, unfiltered and unfettered, tailored to match what scares us most. Then we retweet them to like-minded others, to validate our fears and form bonded communities. These are deep waters; imagine an episode of Black Mirror where a device that algorithmically learns your deepest fears falls into the wrong hands.

    There’s a history to all this. We first got really scared just as we were emerging as the predominant power on the planet, armed with the world’s only atomic bomb. It seems an odd set of circumstances to have been frightened in, more like one where we would have sat back and enjoyed ourselves. Yet we near-demanded a succession of presidents build the most massive national security state ever known to make us feel safe.

    We were instructed to be afraid of all sorts of stuff — communists in government and Hollywood, domino theories, revolutionary movements, a whole basket of Bond villains. Those who supported peace were labeled as working for the enemy. Pretty much anything the people in charge wanted to do — distort civil liberties, raise taxes to pay for weapons, overthrow governments, punish Americans for things they wrote or said — was widely supported because we were afraid what might happen otherwise. Most people now realize the fear was overblown. Almost every American who died from the Cold War died in a fight we picked, inflamed, or dove blindly into. Cancer and car accidents took more lives than Dr. Strangelove. Fear justified terrible actions in our name.

    Then we got really scared following September 11, 2001, more than we ever were of the Russians. The terrorists lived among us. They were controlled by masterminds, simultaneously unpredictable and devious plotters playing the long game. They could turn our children into jihadis via MySpace. Pretty much anything the people in charge wanted to do — distort civil liberties, raise taxes to pay for weapons, overthrow governments, punish Americans for things they wrote or said — was widely supported because we were afraid what might happen otherwise. Some people now realize the fear was overblown. Diabetes and ladder falls took more lives than Bin Laden.

    For a long time we’ve been acting like a shelter dog when the Bad Man comes into the room. The difference is that we were mostly afraid of the same thing, a mass driven by anxiety more or less in the same direction, a straight line that could not be anything but purposeful.

    The nasty twist for 2018 is we live in a world of mainstream media with barely screened ideological bias, backed up by social media of barely contained mental stability. At the same time, we are ever more diverse and equally ever more separated, divided into a thousand incommunicado sub-reddits. It isn’t practical anymore for us to have common fears.

    Fear is powerful. A sound triggers a memory that sets off involuntary, subconscious processes: the heart rate jumps, muscles twitch, higher brain functions switch to fight-or-flight. Exist in this state long enough and you end up with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, the inability to control your reaction to certain stimuli. Imagine a whole country that way trying to make good decisions, where fear trumps rational thinking.

    Looking at a blog post from a few years ago about what we were afraid of then, there are some familiar names. Putin was going on to invade Europe and Kim Jong Un was going to start a war over a Seth Rogin comedy called The Interview. But there were no mainstream claims the president was unfit at his core; people who feared that were pushed aside as conspiracy theorists, crazy themselves, and made fun of as “birthers.” There was no widespread anxiety democracy was teetering; people who talked about coups and the Reichstag burning were mocked on reality TV as preppers. There was a kind of consensus on what to be afraid of we subscribed to in various degrees of earnestness.

    Now there is a fear for everyone. We’re afraid Trump’ll start a war with North Korea (Kim is the sane one). We’re also afraid he won’t start a war and they’ll get us first (Kim is the crazy one.) We’re afraid Trump’s a Russian spy slipped into the White House (end of democracy) and we’re afraid the Democrats are using Mueller to overturn a legitimate election (end of democracy.) We’re worried the fascist government is taking away free speech and we’re worried the government isn’t doing enough to suppress free speech to stop hate. There are too many guns for us to be safe and not enough guns to protect us. Elect more women or women’s rights are finished. If we do elect more women (or POC, LGBTQ) the rest of us are finished.

    Bad things no longer just don’t happen, they just haven’t happened yet, and there is never a time when we can exhale. So while the story used to be the tamping down of tensions on the Korean peninsula, the headline now is a mentally ill Trump might just push the nuclear button anyway, maybe even tonight (better check Twitter.) Whatever matters to you — transgender toilet rights, abortion, guns, religion — is under lethal attack and you are not just to help decide how we live in a plurality, but to determine whether we survive at all. It is always condition yellow, fight or flight. Fear is primitive; it doesn’t matter what we fear, as long as we remain afraid.

    Trump is not the demagogue you fear, just a cruder version of what has been the norm for decades. The thing to be scared of is what emerges after him. As such, there is still time. His bizarre ascension to the world’s most powerful office could become the argumentum ad absurdum that pulls the curtain back, Oz-like, on the way fear has been used to manipulate us. The risk is Trump may also represent a wake up call of a different sort, to even worse and much smarter people, who will see the potential to cross the line from manipulation into exploitation (the real burning of the Reichstag scenario), from gross but recognizable stasis into chaos.

    Frightened enough, people will accept, if not demand, extreme and dangerous solutions to problems whose true direness exists mostly within their anxieties – remember the way fear of invasion following Pearl Harbor led us to unlawfully imprison American citizen shopkeepers and farmers of Japanese origin? Now that’s something to really be afraid of.

     

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    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America, Trump

    We Are Still Alive (Non-Hacked Russian Stooge and Terrorism Edition)

    January 1, 2017 // 39 Comments »

    Passed out


    This is a version of last year’s January 1 article, updated to reflect the new fears of the World’s Most Frightened Nation.

    I survived. America, and the world, and you, survived. We awoke the first day of 2017 to find that once again, using the extraordinary power of fear, we again held off the terrorists. And Putin. And Trump, nationalists, racists, hackers, alt-Right fascists, CNN, persons of all colors, genders, shapes, sizes, and goddamn religions.

    Fear Classic: Terrorism

    Hard as it is to persuade a constantly re-frightened American public, there have been less than 100 Americans killed inside the Homeland by so-called Islamic terrorism since 9/11.

    Argue the number, hell, go ahead and double or triple it, and it still a tragic, sad, but undeniable drop in the bucket. Throw in a few mysterious “foiled plots” the government never seems to have many specifics on to share and tack on some more to the terror body count. No matter how hard you drive, you just can’t get the number of Americans killed or even in clear danger of being killed to a very large number.

    And do spare the tired trope of “well, security measures such as at our airports have saved us from who knows how many attacks.” Leaving aside the idea that the argument itself demands a kind of negative logic (the “who knows” part) to even make sense, a test by the Department of Homeland’s own Inspector General’s Office, posing as travelers, showed 95 percent of contraband, including weapons and explosives, got through during clandestine testings. If a failure rate of 95 percent did not have planes falling from the sky, one must conclude security does little to affect terrorism.

    CNN on the Eve told us that almost two million people were in Times Square to see in the New Year, along with 7,000 cops and 65 giant trucks filled with sand to stop the 2016 fad (actually two cases, in Europe) of car/truck driving terrorists. More Americans died of alcohol poisoning (booze terror!) last night than terrorism.

    A shout-out here also to a benevolent Allah, who mercifully did not tell any terrorists that while Times Square was secured on the Eve, the rest of the large crowds elsewhere in New York were pretty much not, and a suicide bomber could have ridden in on a camel. Same as the days after New Year’s, when there is the usual lack of any serious security everywhere but at Trump Tower. Luckily ISIS couldn’t figure any of that out. Whew.


    Our New Fears for 2017

    And despite the new fears, actually two old ones recombined, our such as it is democracy is still hanging around. The new fears are quite creative, lopping together that old standby, The Red Menace and its global evil genius Vlad Putin, and “hacking,” the computer thingie that scares old peoples and is why you need to go home every Thanksgiving and reboot grandpa’s PC so he can play Solitaire again.

    We endured the fear-mongering of the autumn that our Very Way of Life was at risk, because John Podesta’s emails were released and because the Electoral College was full of meanie rats who wouldn’t do something something Hamilton and elect Hillary like the script said they should. If only the Russians and FBI and Clinton Foundation and email server and Bernie Sanders and the nine votes cast for Jill Stein and the recounts that actually cost Clinton a few votes and 62 million Americans hadn’t interfered, we would be entering 2017 basking in the warm and eternal glow of Dear Leader Hillary Clinton leading us from bondage. Dammit.

    Trump has also failed (so far!) to start any wars with China, Planet Mongo, or Russia by breaking up with Putin and refusing to give the ring back. He has not instituted Sharia law or martial law or the Nuremberg laws or rounded up people who write liberal tweets or made all LGBTQ people marry illegal aliens and wear boring clothing to NASCAR races. That may come, it’s early in 2017, but so far, not yet.

    But don’t believe me. “We should be absolutely terrified in 2017—perhaps more than at any other point in the 20th century,” said Robin Kelley, historian of social movements in the U.S. at the University of California Los Angeles.

    Or maybe, believe me. It is all panic-mongering, designed to keep us in a state of fear. Fearful people are easy to manipulate. So stop being afraid.

    BONUS: Many have written in to ask what I get in return for being a Russian puppet. To be honest, not much, mostly just a hobby. I do get to crash on Snowden’s pull-out when I’m in Moscow for reeducation sessions, and that saves me a few bucks.

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    Explaining Trump and Clinton to a Global Audience (and to Americans)

    April 18, 2016 // 10 Comments »

    Trump_&_Clinton


    As the presumptive U.S. presidential nominees emerge, at least for now — Donald Trump for the Republicans and Hillary Clinton for the Democrats — more and more friends from abroad have started asking me to explain how a person like Trump could get so far, so fast, given utter lack of experience.

    A few also ask questions about Hillary’s qualifications, mostly centered around the money flow from Wall Street, and the “donations” from foreign governments into the Clinton Foundation. Many from places where corruption is more surfaced recognize what is happening perhaps more clearly than Americans.

    What I try to explain is that the success of Trump and Clinton, especially over the candidates they have defeated, is based on the same dark spot inside the American body politic now: our society is motivated by fear, and fear produced the 2016 versions of candidates Trump and Clinton.

    For its faults — referring more to the American Soul than the American government — the pre-9/11 United States was a relatively hopeful place. Despite the underbelly of prejudices and the crushing of the middle class, there was a sense that things might get better, or at least not worse. War? The last big one was Desert Storm in 1991. Nobody would claim society was perfect, or even uniformly good, but it was different than now.

    Then across the span of a day, September 11, 2001, America changed. We became, as a nation, afraid.

    We were afraid of enemies most Americans had heard little about. We were afraid of what might happen next. We were afraid of an attack against the shopping mall, the school, the tiny place in our tiny town that didn’t show up well on most local maps, never mind one bin Laden might use. Our fears were carefully curated by opportunistic people in two successive administrations, who used that fear to manipulate democracy itself. They turned America’s vast spying apparatus inward, imposed a global gulag archipelago of torture sites and secret prisons, and institutionalizing the drone wars.

    Amid the various causes and justifications, that it is all about oil, or empire, what it is all about at the root level is fear. Fear of the latest bogeyman, fear screeches of groups on YouTube are real, and that they are ready to strike what we now all call the Homeland. That word never existed in America prior to 9/11.

    America lost its guts. We’re scared of scary things we can’t see and can only identify as monsters, like a child alone at night who hears every noise and assumes the worst.

    So into that setting emerges the presidential candidates that had to emerge, our first true post-9/11 candidates, the ones who picked up on the fears of Americans as a predator catches a scent.

    Donald Trump speaks pointedly to America’s fears — Mexicans swarming to take our jobs, trade agreements that will hand China the keys to the store (“They’re killing us!”), and weaknesses that allow Islamic State, Putin, the Iranians, and all the rest, to wait coiled on our borders. Afraid? Then you need Trump on that wall, you want him on that wall, for it is only because of rough men like him that you’ll be able to once again (“Make America Great Again”) sleep peacefully.

    Trump’s form of fear-mongering is basically from the same toolbox every autocrat and dictator has used since government was invented. Trump plays on what one can call “positive fear,” fear of what will befall us if he is not there to stop it.

    While Hillary Clinton is no stranger to calling up global demons, the biggest fear she plays on is American’s fear of change.

    Clinton is well on her way to defeating Bernie Sanders by convincing Americans they do not want the same comprehensive health care system every other evolved nation on earth has, that they do not want the no-cost higher education most/all of Europe and Asia profits from, and that Americans do not want a political system less subject to influence buying. She told Americans she alone would continue decades of mediocrity, because there really was no other way. Convincing people to vote against their own self-benefit is not easy, but fear is a powerful motivator.

    Clinton’s fear-mongering is more subtle than Trump’s. The fear she sells is not so much of something (Islamic State, Putin), but fear of the unknown, a kind of “negative fear.” So, despite the often ineffective health insurance provided under the Affordable Care Act, she tells supporters her opponent might even see that taken away if he reopens a debate with Republicans. She brushes off concerns about big money influence saying if it was good enough for Obama, then why change that?

    The rest flows quite naturally. It is little surprise that both candidates are shaping a meme that while you may not like or even wish to support them actively, you should vote for them anyway, for fear that the other one will win.

    Barring any unforeseen circumstances, either Trump or Clinton will take the White House, and fan the flames; fear requires regular booster shots, each one bigger than the last. And that should in fact make the rest of us very, very afraid.




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    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America, Trump

    We Are Still Alive (Non-Terrorism Edition)

    January 1, 2016 // 11 Comments »

    Passed out


    I survived. America, and the world, and you, survived. We awoke the first day of 2016 to find that once again, using the extraordinary power of fear, we defeated the terrorists.


    Hard as it is to persuade a constantly re-frightened American public, there have been only 38 Americans killed inside the Homeland by so-called Islamic terrorism since 9/11.

    Argue the number, hell, go ahead and double or triple it, and it still a tragic, sad, but undeniable drop in the bucket. Throw in a few mysterious “foiled plots” the government never seems to have many specifics on to share and tack on some more to the terror body count. No matter how hard you drive, you just can’t get the number of Americans killed or even in clear danger of being killed to a very large number.

    And do spare the tired trope of “well, security measures such as at our airports have saved us from who knows how many attacks.” Leaving aside the idea that the argument itself demands a kind of negative logic (the “who knows” part) to even make sense, a recent test by the Department of Homeland’s own Inspector General’s Office, posing as travelers, showed 95 percent of contraband, including weapons and explosives, got through during clandestine testings. If a failure rate of 95 percent did not have planes falling from the sky, one must conclude security has little to affect terrorism.

    CNN on the Eve told us that over one million people were in Times Square to see in the New Year, along with 6,000 cops. The guest being interviewed helpfully said that meant each cop would have to watch 166 people (actually, the guy said 300-500 to upgrade the worry) for signs that they were terrorists, and worried that the ratio was not enough to protect those out of each bunch of 166 who were not bad guys. Guess what? None of them were. More Americans died of alcohol poisoning (booze terror!) last night than terrorism.

    We are not terrorists. No one was hurt. No bombs went off. Almost all of our homegrown lone wolves are all Google and no game. It was all panic, designed to keep us in a state of fear. Fearful people are easy to manipulate.

    Stop being afraid.



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    Top Ten Govt Things to Be Afraid of for Halloween

    October 31, 2014 // 1 Comment »

    pumpkin


    The government’s main function these days is to promote fear among Americans.

    Fear is good for our current way of life, allowing your opinion and votes to be manipulated, and to make sure you’ll go along with any terrible things the government wishes to do to you (surveillance, wars, detentions, quarantines, shredding of the bill of rights…)

    So, in honor of Halloween, our scariest holiday other than election day, here is the Official Government-Approved List of Fears:

    1) ISIS (they’re everywhere!)

    2) Ebola (it’s everywhere!)

    3) Al Qaeda (still around)

    4) People who tell you not to be afraid (they’re working for the terrorists)

    5) Something (as in “If you see SOMETHING, say something…”)

    6) For Kids: Your hippie parents and Occupy-creepy older siblings (be sure and report them to the nearest friendly Homeland Security personnel, they’ll give you tasty candies!)

    7) That Leatherface guy with the chainsaw and Twisty clown from the TV (they may be ISIS)

    8) The thing under your bed (could be an ISIS thing, and you’re not imagining it, we believe you)

    9) The Boogie-man as you choose to believe in him/her as a higher power (he has ebola and is a Muslim)

    10) People who are not like you based on skin color, preferences, religion, politics and everything else all the time everywhere forever, just to be on the safe side!

    Citizens remember, fear is your only protection against the forces of whatever, evil, so just stay afraid and you’ll be safe!



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    Living in Fear: A Fable for Trayvon

    July 16, 2013 // 7 Comments »

    The Commerce Department in 2012 claimed it suffered a foreign cyberattack that put its entire computer network at risk. It had to do with Trayvon.

    Commerce destroyed hardware worth $175,000, stopping only when they ran out of funding. Meanwhile, an outside cybersecurity contractor was hired at $823,000 to implement a $688,000 unneeded “solution.” After that, Commerce bought $1.1 million worth of new computers. The expenses ate up half the department’s technology budget.

    A year later, the Commerce Department’s inspector general determined the devastating attack was nothing of the sort, actually just a small malware infection on six computers that could have been erased with off-the shelf anti-virus tools.

    What Happened?

    Have a look at some of the explanations:

    — “In an environment of heightened vulnerability to cyberattacks, once you’re infected you often overact.”

    — “You feel violated.”

    — “All you feel is somebody’s in my house and I’ve got to get them out. And you get overly conservative.”

    — “[Commerce] did not know what it was facing. Under those circumstances, given the cyber risks, one has to be cautious.”

    — “It’s a question of which side do you want to err on?”

    — “Fear of foreign cyberattacks was so high that the department called in help from the Homeland Security and Energy departments, the National Security Agency and a private cybersecurity contractor.”

    — “Fear led the Office of the Chief Information Officer not to question the accuracy of the extent of the malware infection, despite a lack of supporting evidence.”


    Lessons Learned?

    At first brush this story is just another government screw up. Instead of assessing the situation, incompetent bureaucrats faced with a problem spent taxpayer money, lots of money. Expensive beltway bandit contractors sucked up panic spending cash to implement unneeded solutions. The whole thing was then hidden away until another beleaguered Inspector General stumbled upon it. The story gets reported with an eye-roll, fodder for the Daily Show.

    But look a bit deeper for the real lesson. Anyone controlled by fear will act this same way, desperate for solutions to the scary things they think are hiding under the bed. Actions capture more emotion than fact. That’s always the problem, isn’t it, trying to stay inside the lines when you’re boiling inside your heart.

    Even in 2001, considerably more Americans died of drowning than from terror attacks. Since then, the odds of an American being killed in a terrorist attack in the U.S. or abroad have been about one in 20 million, even less if you don’t work for the U.S. government or military. This real-world low risk isn’t evidence that homeland security spending has worked: It’s evidence that the terror threat was never as great as we thought.

    Indeed, from 2005 to 2010, federal attorneys declined to bring any charges against 67 percent of alleged terrorism-related cases referred to them from law enforcement agencies; the cases just weren’t terrorism.

    What you get is a society controlled by its fears. A lot like a guy I knew, Depression Kid, he kept old aluminum foil and shopping bags folded up in the basement, never threw out anything, used to lick the dinner plates clean in the kitchen when he thought nobody was looking. No matter what he achieved, Eagle Scout, college degree, captain’s rank, he could never rest. Nothing was ever, could ever, be enough.

    This leads in a direct line to gunning down an unarmed teenager because you fear the way he is dressed or the color of his skin. It leads to an internal spying system that can’t stop itself from trying to vacuum up everything for fear of missing something. It leads to a foreign policy that abandons hundreds of years of standards, norms and morality over a single “fugitive” person. It leads to an endless war on someone (Reds, Terrorists). You ban nail clippers on airplanes and force millions of travelers to trod through airports without shoes.

    Once you give in to the fear there is no end to things to be afraid of. When most of those fears turn out to be just made-up shadows– even non-viruses inside a computer network– unreal and unsubstantiated, nothing you can do can make them really go away. They don’t live externally and are not vulnerable to your countermeasures. Safety and security are fleeting, grabbed only in moments before the next threat grows inside you. Armed, you look for targets.

    Like an old Twilight Zone episode, the boogie men are inside you. Once you’re infected you often overreact.



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    Copyright © 2017. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

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    Posted in Democracy, Post-Constitution America, Trump

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