Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Freedom of Choice is What You've Got

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Tuesday or Bust

The Midterm Election is on Tuesday, and, man, I cannot wait. I am so fucking sick of all this shit, I can’t even tell you. I guess I make a pretty poor political junkie, because I should be overdosing right now, and instead I can hardly even look at the crap.

Being a liberal political junkie is sort of like being a Cubs fan. Every once in awhile, they manage to put together a winning team and make it into the post season, but Don Kessinger always always always drops a routine fly allowing the Mets to score three runs in the top of the ninth in game seven, if you know what I mean, and I think you do.

Well, somehow, the Cubs have made into the playoffs again, and the BIG GAME is on Tuesday. The fans are gripping the arms of their chairs waiting for the inevitable Steve Bartman to appear and fuck everything up. The suspense wears me out. I just want to go to bed and try not to think about it and wait until morning to find out what happened. But the suspense never ends. Even if John Kerry doesn’t throw over the first baseman’s head and we make it past the finals, we still have to play in the World Series. It’s too aggravating. I want to return to the comfort of ‘wait-till-next-year.’

But I can’t.

It’s like a car wreck — despite the repugnance of it all, I just can’t turn away. But that’s another metaphor. See what I mean? I can’t even face the thing directly. I need all these fucking metaphors just to discuss it. What hell.

Well, the Cubs have signed Lou Piniella as manager, and rumors are flying that A-Rod might also join the squad. In any event, Cubs General Manager, Jim Hendry has vowed to spend the necessary money to put together a winning team, so the future looks bright for the Cubs once again.

But for the Democrats, the future is now. But instead of playing to win, I fear they are playing to not lose, and that makes me sick with that familiar apprehension. It also makes me wonder why I even follow this sport. I mean, they’re just a bunch of whiny millionaires.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Asylum Street Spankers

H/T: Norm

Saturday, October 21, 2006

This Explains A Lot

As some BDM readers may know, one of my favorite quotations is Bertrand Russell's observation that, "The problem with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt." Now, thanks to a Cornell University study, this witty aphorism is supported with evidence. Read on:

Incompetence is bliss, say researchers

There are many incompetent people in the world. But a Cornell University study has shown that most incompetent people do not know that they are incompetent.

People who do things badly, according to David A. Dunning, a professor of psychology at Cornell, are usually supremely confident of their abilities -- more confident, in fact, than people who do things well.

One reason that the ignorant also tend to be the blissfully self-assured, the researchers believe, is that the skills required for competence often are the same skills necessary to recognize competence.

The incompetent, therefore, suffer doubly, the researchers -- Dunning and Justin Kruger, then a graduate student -- suggested in a paper appearing in the December issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

"Not only do they reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it," wrote Kruger, now an assistant professor at the University of Illinois, and Dunning.

This deficiency in "self-monitoring skills," the researchers said, helps explain the tendency of the humor-impaired to persist in telling jokes that are not funny, of day traders to repeatedly jump into the market -- and repeatedly lose out -- and of the politically clueless to continue holding forth at dinner parties on the fine points of campaign strategy.

Some college students, Dunning said, evince a similar blindness: After doing badly on a test, they spend hours in his office, explaining why the answers he suggests for the test questions are wrong.

In a series of studies, Kruger and Dunning tested their theory of incompetence. They found that subjects who scored in the lowest quartile on tests of logic, English grammar and humor were also the most likely to "grossly overestimate" how well they had performed.

In all three tests, subjects' ratings of their ability were positively linked to their actual scores. But the lowest-ranked participants showed much greater distortions in their self-estimates.

Aiming high -- real high
Asked to evaluate their performance on the test of logical reasoning, for example, subjects who scored in only the 12th percentile guessed that they had scored in the 62nd percentile and deemed their overall skill at logical reasoning to be at the 68th percentile.

Similarly, subjects who scored at the 10th percentile on the grammar test ranked themselves at the 67th percentile in the ability to "identify grammatically correct standard English" and estimated their test scores to be at the 61st percentile.

On the humor test, in which participants were asked to rate jokes according to their funniness (subjects' ratings were matched against those of an "expert" panel of professional comedians), low-scoring subjects were also more apt to have an inflated perception of their skill. But because humor is idiosyncratically defined, the researchers said, the results were less conclusive.

Unlike their unskilled counterparts, the most able subjects in the study, Kruger and Dunning found, were likely to underestimate their own competence. The researchers attributed this to the fact that, in the absence of information about how others were doing, highly competent subjects assumed that others were performing as well as they were -- a phenomenon psychologists term the "false consensus effect."

When high-scoring subjects were asked to "grade" the grammar tests of their peers, however, they quickly revised their evaluations of their own performance. In contrast, the self-assessments of those who scored badly themselves were unaffected by the experience of grading others; some subjects even further inflated their estimates of their own abilities.

"Incompetent individuals were less able to recognize competence in others," the researchers concluded.

In a final experiment, Dunning and Kruger set out to discover if training would help modify the exaggerated self-perceptions of incapable subjects. In fact, a short training session in logical reasoning did improve the ability of low-scoring subjects to assess their performance realistically, they found.

The findings, the psychologists said, support Thomas Jefferson's assertion that "he who knows best knows how little he knows."

Such studies are not without critics. David C. Funder, a psychology professor at the University of California-Riverside, for example, said he suspected that most lay people had only a vague idea of the meaning of "average" in statistical terms.

But Dunning said his current research and past studies indicated that there were many reasons why people would tend to overestimate their competency and not be aware of it.

Concrete clues
In some cases, Dunning pointed out, an awareness of one's own inability is inevitable: "In a golf game, when your ball is heading into the woods, you know you're incompetent," he said.

But in other situations, feedback is absent, or at least more ambiguous; even a humorless joke, for example, is likely to be met with polite laughter. And social norms prevent most people, when faced with incompetence, from blurting out, "You stink!" -- truthful though this assessment may be.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

One that Should've Been in my Top 5

My Five Favorite Rap Songs

Last week, Howie held a contest over at C&L asking readers to name their five favorite rap songs and why. He selected five winners from over 300 entries and I was one. Yay! In case you're wondering, here's my entry:

“Tread Water,” by De La Soul, from the album 3 Feet High and Rising, was the first rap song to convince me that rap and hip hop were valid, versatile musical forms and not just clever novelties. The song uses the theme of treading water as a metaphor for surviving the hassles of daily urban life from the middle class black perspective, providing a welcome departure from the tales of street life that dominate the genre. The Motown groove and pioneering use of samples presage the emergence of such later electronic artists as Thievery Corporation and Herbaliser. De La Soul’s inventive blend of pop culture sound bites, country, pop and rock grooves, and we’re-all-in-it-together attitude changed a lot of people’s minds about what rap could accomplish.

“The Day the Niggaz Took Over/Nuthin’ but a “G” Thang”, by Dr. Dre, combined the party attitude of old-school rap with a hybrid of 60s black radicalism and insouciant criminal behavior. The opening track of this two-track medley from the multi-platinum album, The Chronic, fantasizes about opposing street gangs uniting to overthrow corrupt, white-owned society. The song opens with what sounds like a field recording of a black activist yelling to a crowd, “If you ain’t down for the Africans here in the United States, period point blank; if you ain’t down for the ones that suffered in South Africa from apartheid and shit, Devil you need to step your punk ass to the side and let us brothers, and us Africans, step in and start puttin’ some foot in that ass!” Heh heh. That rather sets the tone for the remainder of the song, which pretty much calls for a long overdue armed revolution. A chorus of apparently enraged men chants, “Break ’em off something. Break ’em off something,” as various rappers take turns describing their roles and their motives, culminating in Dre’s explanation: “Sittin’ in my living room, calm and collected/ Feelin’ that I gotta get my perspective/’cause what I just heard, broke me in half…” Later, he describes what he has in mind: “Bloods, Crips on the same squad/With the Eses’ help, nigga, it's time to rob and mob.” The insistent beat — reminiscent of the final scene of Sam Peckinpah’s legendary film The Wild Bunch — increases the song’s militant demeanor, and painfully illustrates how little progress we’ve made since CSN&Y sang, “Gotta get down to it/Soldiers are gunning us down/Shoulda been done long ago.” The song is interspersed with clips of news reports depicting widespread looting in Los Angeles, and the sounds of helicopters fading in and out. The song climaxes with Dre shouting, “Helicopters flyin’/these motherfuckers tryin’/to catch me and stretch me on Death Row/But hell no, suppose black refuse to go?” Moments later, rage and revolution blend into the stoned chill-out of “Nuthin’ but a “G” Thang,” with its Parliament groove and Snoop Doggy Dogg’s blithe delivery. Combined, these two songs revealed to the nation what black America was up against better than any academic treatise or militant manifesto ever could.

“She Watch Channel Zero,” by Public Enemy tells the tale of a woman who forsakes cultural awareness in exchange for television addiction. As Flava Flav says at the song’s opening, “You’re blind, baby. You’re blind from the facts of who you are ‘cause you’re watching that garbage.” The song appears on It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, one of the most revolutionary albums in all of music. Like De La Soul, Public Enemy influenced a generation of knob twiddlers with their limitless barrage of heavy metal riffs, hard funk beats and wildly divergent musical samples. The album’s lyrical themes mark an arrival for black music in that they directly confront the racial and social inequities that define modern urban America, unlike earlier black musicians who only hinted at such themes. This profoundly influenced such later rappers as Ice-T and N.W.A. This song has particular appeal to me because I share the song’s assertion that most television programming is pure garbage, and that TV is the main culprit behind America’s cultural ignorance and political naiveté.

Straight Up Nigga,” by Ice-T, from the album Original Gangster is probably my favorite rap song. The song’s narrator skillfully blends the righteous indignation undoubtedly felt by many urban blacks in the Rodney King era with a shrewd political awareness and sense of irony. “I’m a nigga in America, and that much I flaunt,” says the narrator, “’Cause when I see what I like, yo I take what I want/I’m not the only one, that’s why I’m not bitter, ’Cause everybody is a nigga to a nigga,” implying that the American Way is to steal or otherwise get away with as much as possible. He then uses American history to support his point by saying, “America was stole from the Indians, show and prove/What was that? A straight up nigga move/A low down shame, yo it’s straight insane/Yet they complain when a nigga snatch their gold chain/What the hell is a nigga supposed to do? Wait around for a handout from a nigga like you?” The song also manages to depart from the homophobia sadly common to much rap by saying, “She wanna be les, he wanna be gay/Well I’m straight, so nigga have it your way.”The song is accompanied by Evil E’s funk groove that both shuffles and slams, providing perfect punctuation for the lyrics.

Friday, October 13, 2006

What If?

The London Times online has published this graphic explanation of how long it would take Earth to recover from human occupation.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Back 2 Bidness

Okay, we’ve had our fun. An entertainingly stupid Republican was caught, once again, engaging in the very behavior he pretends to detest, and we all got to yell, “nanny nanny boo-boo.” Now back to business.

Plans are moving forward on the NAFTA/CAFTA SupaHighway2Hell, which nobody in the main$tream media seems to be noticing. This thing is a central pillar in the Iron Triangle’s endeavor to transform the world into a corporate feudal state. After that, things like the Jack Abramoff bribery scandal will be business as usual, and we will all be licking the boots of guys like this.

As I reported in May, colonizing the Caspian Sea region is also on the agenda. Israel is planning to tap into the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline terminus at Ceyhan, Turkey. One proposal calls for the construction of a 500-mile undersea pipeline from Ceyhan to Haifa along the eastern Mediterranean coast. But an overland route would be cheaper, and with Syria out of the way, Israel could tap into the BTC pipeline, as well as a proposed pipeline from Mosul, in Kurdish Iraq, to Haifa. The BTC pipeline would deliver fresh water, as well as oil and natural gas, eliminating Israel’s need to purchase drinking water. And the Mosul pipeline would not only solve Israel’s energy needs, it would also transform the Jewish state into a net energy exporter, and, in turn, reduce their economic dependence on the United States. This, in turn, would free up economic and military resources that the US could use elsewhere in the region. Viewed in this light, Israel’s recent overreaction to the July Hezbollah kidnappings makes more sense. And as Seymour Hersh and others have reported, the US war against Iran has already begun. Could Syria be far behind?

Meanwhile, the FBI is expressing growing concerns that the Mob is helping support Islamist terrorist organizations, including smuggling stolen American cars to the Mideast for use in carbomb attacks.

And just in case any dirty ferners decide to actually do something about all this, the Decider Regime has brought an end to the 800-year reign of that silly Habeas Corpus thingy. Luckily for The Decider, there aren’t many Democrats with the temerity to ask WWWD. But in case you’re wondering, here’s the answer.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Oingo Boingo

Monday, October 02, 2006

Blogger SAT Challenge

Cognitive Daily recently held a “blogger SAT challenge” to allow bloggers to test their writing-on-the-fly skills.

Here’s the skinny from CD:

Welcome to the Blogger SAT Challenge

Welcome to the home page of the Blogger SAT Challenge. The Challenge ran from September 15 to September 20, 2006, and invited bloggers and blog readers from around the world to test their skill at writing SAT-style essays under test conditions. They were given 20 minutes to answer a sample SAT question, and their entries were collected and sent to volunteer graders for grading based on the
official College Board standards.
The collected entries are posted here, with the "expert" score included with each post (click on the link at the bottom of the essay to see it; each essay was read by two graders, and the scores were averaged and then rounded to the nearest integer). In the spirit of the modern Internet, we have also included a poll so you can grade each essay yourself, and see what the collective wisdom of the Internet has to say about the essay.
Read on for some more explanation, or
jump right into rating random entries.
Why the Challenge?
The Challenge grew out of an
article in the New York Times about the new SAT essay test (see also the College Board press release). The author of the article and many of the commenters on it were fairly dismissive of the quality of the sample essays that had received a perfect score. We decided to see whether bloggers could do better.
The pro-blogger argument holds that people who write short essays on a regular basis for fun would have more practice at writing, and would thus produce better prose. The anti-blogger argument holds that there's a big difference between writing for fun, about a self-chosen topic, with no time limit is a very different thing than writing an essay on an assigned topic with a strict time limit. We designed the Challenge to see who was right.
What was the question?
The question was taken from a
list of practice SAT essay questions. Participating bloggers were given twenty minutes to write a short essay in response to the following:
Directions: Think carefully about the issue presented in the following excerpt and the assignment below.
'I have learned that success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed.'
-- Booker T. Washington
Assignment: What is your opinion on the idea that struggle is a more important measure of success than accomplishment? Plan and write an essay in which you develop your point of view on this issue. Support your position with reasoning and examples taken from your reading, studies, experience, or observations.
What was the result?
We invite you to decide for yourself. You can either
browse through the archived entries or click here to be sent to a random entry. Whichever you choose, you can rate the essays using the polls, and see whether you think that volunteer bloggers are better writers than high-school students taking the SAT.
Happy reading!

Now here’s my crappy-ass attempt:

There is no room for debate in the notion that struggle is a more valid measure of success than accomplishment. The most obvious contemporary example is that of President George W. Bush, who has achieved the highest elective office in the history of the world almost entirely on account of his position of privilege. Bush's careers in the military, business and politics are all marred by abysmal failures of judgment, performance and commitment, yet he has managed - with the help of powerful allies - not only to evade responsibility for those failures, but to parlay this string of embarrassing blunders into unparalleled political power.

One need only compare Bush's career with that of the average soldier in Iraq to come to the inescapable conclusion that struggle is a better gauge of one's character than accomplishment.

The time limit was the biggest obstacle for me. I’m pretty sure I could craft a much better essay than this one if I had a few hours to work on it. Excuses, excuses. I think you can tell where I was headed — I can never pass up a chance to take a poke at the Prez-ee-dent.

According to Cognitive Daily, around 500 entrants made an attempt, but only 109 completed the test, which automatically puts me in the upper fifth. Woo Hoo! But that’s where the good news ends. I scored a TWO out of a possible six. The average score was 2.9. I wonder how many of the 400 or so who bailed out without finishing actually ruminated on the question awhile and then tried again. At any rate, I’ll bet you’re happy they didn’t have this type of question when you were taking the SAT, eh?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Torture=Bad -- I mean, duh

Okay, let me see if I’ve got this right, cuz it’s really, really, really difficult to wrap my mind around it.

There was a compromise last week between the so-called Rebel Republicans, led by Sir John McCain the Lion Hearted, and the Bush administration regarding our country’s treatment (widely regarded as torture) of terror suspects and, presumably, anyone else being detained by the military, including, but not limited to, members of the press.

A compromise.

On torture.

Meaning, sometimes it’s okay to torture people.

In the words of Pete Townshend, “Is that exactly what I though I read?”

Here’s the issue, as I understand it:
In June, the Supreme Court ruled by a 5-3 vote — you can prolly guess who the three were — that the Bush Administration’s policy on handling terror suspects violated US law. We’re already in absurd territory by this point in the story, since it took a Supreme Court ruling to come up with a no-brainer like this, not to mention the fact that this no-brainer is beyond the ken of three of our Supreme Court justices. As a result of this ruling, Congress must now craft legislation regarding the military’s treatment of detainees in the War on Terror that does not violate US law, to say nothing of commonly accepted morality, both of which stick pretty close to the third Geneva Convention. The Bush Administration’s position is that the third Geneva Convention is for pussies and he can do whatever the fuck he wants. The so-called Rebel Republicans hold that some of the details of the third Geneva Convention don’t apply to the War on Terror, but that mostly it’s a righteous document so we should employ convoluted legalese to make it look like we’re adhering to international law without really doing so.

So, to recap, the POTUS, a BORN-AGAIN CHRISTIAN, who campaigned on the theme of “compassionate conservatism,” wants to torture with impunity. And Sen. McCain, the good cop in this good-cop-bad-cop routine, himself a victim of torture, wants legislation that violates inconvenient aspects of the third Geneva Convention. Meanwhile, as the Philadelphia Inquirer reports, “the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, called the compromise ‘promising.’”



In the words of David St. Hubbins, “Can somebody check me on this?”

The United States of America, the greatest nation in the history of the universe, the shining beacon of freedom and hope, is arguing in favor of torture.

There are no good reasons to torture someone, unless it’s just for shits and giggles. It is a purely sadistic exercise that produces no actionable intelligence. As Nice Guy Eddie observes in Reservoir Dogs, “If you beat him long enough, he’ll tell you who started the Chicago Fire, but it doesn’t make it so.”

The general consensus among intelligence experts is that torture doesn’t work. At best, as suggested in Seymour Hersh’s book Chain of Command, torture, when conducted by professionals, may expedite the corroboration of intelligence gathered from other sources. But how many torture professionals does a democratic republic have on hand at any given time? Not very many, hopefully. And unfortunately, with a coke-addled, dry drunk, pseudo-christian redneck at the helm in the White House, the demand for “torture professionals” has outpaced supply and the results are heartrending. As Abu Ghraib showed, once the demand is created, non-professionals rush to fill the vacuum.

“The Christian in me says it’s wrong, but the corrections officer in me says, ‘I love to make a grown man piss himself,’” admitted Abu Ghraib ringleader Cpl. Charles Graner.

Allowing rank-and-file jarheads like Graner, who have no training in “aggressive interrogation measures,” as they are euphemistically called, to operate utterly free from supervision, is a recipe for the very global distrust of America that we are now experiencing. When you include the fact that such measures are useless, unnecessary and morally reprehensible, our military’s professionalism plummets to sub-human levels.

But the lack of professionalism the United States brings to torture isn’t limited to the treatment of detainees. Our methods for identifying terror suspects are equally corrupt. Take Canadian telecommunications engineer Maher Arar, for example. From Wikipedia:

On September 26, 2002, Arar was returning to Montreal from a family vacation in Tunisia. During a stopover at JFK Airport he was detained by United States immigration officials. They claimed that Arar was an associate of Abdullah Almalki, a Syrian-born Ottawa man whom they suspected of having links to the al-Qaeda terror organization, and they therefore suspected Arar of being an al-Qaeda member himself. When Arar protested that he only had a casual relationship with Almalki (having once worked with Almalki's brother at an Ottawa high-tech firm), the officials produced a copy of Arar's 1997 rental lease which Almalki had co-signed. The fact that US officials had a Canadian document in their possession was later widely interpreted as evidence of the participation by Canadian authorities in Arar's detention.
He was
deported to Syria on October 7 or 8. The Canadian government was notified on October 10, 2002 and Arar was later discovered to be in the Far'Falastin detention center, near Damascus, Syria.
The deportation was condemned by the Canadian government and by groups such as
Amnesty International. On October 29, 2002, the Canadian foreign affairs department issued a travel advisory strongly cautioning Canadians born in Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya and Sudan against travel to the United States for any reason. The advisory prompted US conservative Pat Buchanan to describe Canada as "Soviet Canuckistan".
The American ambassador to Canada,
Paul Cellucci, later told Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham that all Canadian passport holders would be treated equally. In November 2002, Canadian privacy commissioner George Radwanski recommended that birthplace information be removed from all Canadian passports, in part because of fears of profiling in the United States and other countries. The recommendation was not implemented, but Canadian passport regulations already allowed citizens to request that this field be left blank.

Arar was held in a coffin-sized cell for 10 months in Syria, where he was beaten and forced to confess to training in Afghanistan, a country he has never visited. A report by Dennis O'Connor, Associate Chief Justice of Ontario, states that no evidence exists to link Arar to any terrorist groups or activities. Arar’s lawsuit against members of the Bush Administration was dismissed due to national security concerns.

It would be nice to be able to report that Arar’s ordeal was an isolated incident, but unfortunately there are others. On New Year’s Eve 2003, Khalid El-Masri, a German citizen of Lebanese descent traveled by bus to Macedonia for vacation. Since his name closely resembles that of a suspected Al Qaeda operative — Khalid Al-Masri — Macedonian officials detained Masri and alerted the CIA. A CIA “black snatch team” flew Masri to a secret prison in Afghanistan called the “salt pit,” where they tortured and raped him. CIA investigations into Masri’s background quickly exonerated him, but they continued his detention and interrogation anyway. Eventually, word of his situation reached then National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, who demanded his release. In May of 2004, five months after the beginning of what was supposed to be a brief holiday, Masri was turned loose on a deserted road in Albania. After convincing Albanian border guards that he wasn’t a terrorist, Masri returned home to find that his wife and children had returned to Lebanon thinking he had abandoned them. They were eventually reunited.

Like Arar, Masri’s lawsuit against his CIA captors was dismissed for national security reasons.

Okay, so torture doesn’t work and either does our apparatus for identifying terror suspects. So, why do we keep doing it?

Because it’s fun.

Torturers from Algeria to Phnom Penh speak of the rush received when they have complete control over another person. Torture is about manipulating or controlling someone, not obtaining information. In the instances in which useful information was obtained through torture, other methods would have worked, too, and usually more quickly, as demonstrated time and again throughout history. Doesn’t President Bush know that? Doesn’t our born-again compassionate conservative president realize that by arguing in favor of torture, he is joining the ranks of Josef Mengele and the Khmer Rouge and Idi Amin and Doc Duvalier? In past decades, America was criticized for supporting despots like Amin and Duvalier; as if that wasn’t bad enough, now we are taking a gigantic step backward by adopting their methods.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Pork Barrel Politics

In the vein of C&L’s Late Night Music Club, I present this video for the song "Itsu," by a group called Plaid. Enjoy.

From Wikipedia:
One of the earliest examples of pork barrel politics in the United States was the Bonus Bill of 1817, which was introduced by John C. Calhoun to construct highways linking the East and South of the United States to its Western frontier using the earnings bonus from the Second Bank of the United States. Calhoun argued for it using general welfare and post roads clauses of the United States Constitution. Although he approved of the economic development goal, President James Madison vetoed the bill as unconstitutional. Since then, however, U.S. presidents have seen the political advantage of pork barrel politics. Read On

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Sunday Sermon

There is a phenomenon occurring with disturbing regularity in the comment sections of lefty blogs: religious intolerance.

It seems some commenters are finding it difficult to maintain their open-mindedness in light of the current administration’s exploitation of certain weird Christian sects emanating from the American Southeast and the Colorado Springs area. But it’s important to keep in mind that, just as a succession of Soviet dictators exploited socialism in order to satisfy their own hunger for power, the current administration is exploiting Christianity (and, for that matter, Judaism & Islam) for the very same purpose.

Nothing even remotely like socialism occurred in the Soviet Union. It was a dictatorship in which a tiny minority had money and power while the vast majority languished in intellectual, emotional and economic poverty. Similarly, Bush’s shameless manipulation of religion bears no resemblance whatsoever to the Sermon on the Mount or any other genuine religious text. As a result, there is nothing even remotely like Christianity occurring in the White House.

But to use Bush or Jimmy Swaggart or Jim & Tammy Fay or the ghetto storefront charlatan as an excuse for religious bigotry is inexcusable. We don’t dismiss all of capitalism because of the “clapper” or the Popeil Pocket Fisherman, so we shouldn’t dismiss all of religion because Pat Robertson claims he can leg-press a ton. As Blue Gal demonstrates in this post, most Christians — indeed, most religious people — are honest, productive citizens who are embarrassed by these childish extremists.

It is not difficult to see why this is happening. If you’ve ever had a roommate or significant other with a slightly annoying habit — leaving dirty socks around the apartment, say — then you’ve encountered this problem before, albeit in a microcosmic way. The problem seems minor, and it is. Someone else believes something that you don’t. It could be that they don’t think dirty socks are any big deal; or it could be that they think a virgin gave birth to the messiah. It’s neither here nor there as far as you’re concerned, and yet it’s annoying. But it shouldn’t be. So rather than express your annoyance early on, you clam up and let it build and build until something awkward happens. Your co-workers come over for drinks one evening, and — YIKES — there are filthy socks everywhere.


Well, the incident didn’t really deserve that, now did it? But, you see, by not having the slightly uncomfortable discussion when the difficulty first presented itself, you insured the occurrence of a huge fucking blowout later on.

But there is another dynamic involved. For decades, the devout in America have enjoyed the luxury of publicly pronouncing their faith, and even attempting to convert others to their faith, without any significant challenge from non-believers. Many of these efforts even take place on Public Property, which, some argue, is a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. Sometimes, as with Luis Palau, they even employ deception as a means for luring the innocent into their clutches. Palau festivals, such as CityFest in Houston, feature pop stars, skateboarders and, often, a video message from President Bush himself, to attract folks who would probably stay away if they knew in advance that it was a Christian event. Notice how it’s called CityFest and not ChristianFest or EvangalismFest? CityFest makes it sound like Taste of Chicago or Summerfest in Milwaukee, not a Christian revival. Of course, for me to point that out means to many that I am practicing religious intolerance, and since I know that will be the response, usually I don’t say anything. So, as with the dirty sock thing, my annoyance grows into frustration, which grows into anger, which grows into…



There are frequent attempts by Christians to advance the myth that America was founded as a Christian nation, and that assertion is often used in defense of things like Houston’s CityFest. But nothing can be further from the truth. By the time of the Declaration of Independence, the so-called Founding Fathers had developed a pronounced animosity towards religion in general and Christianity in particular. As Thomas Jefferson wrote in a letter to a friend, “In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own.” Ben Franklin, Tom Paine, the Adams bros., among others, had suffered at the hands of Puritans and Calvinists in their younger years; and in adulthood, the King’s inherent divinity made honest intellectual debate impossible when it came to public policy. That is why the very first amendment to the Constitution protects both the freedom to worship as we choose and the freedom to talk about it. Jefferson had perhaps the most crystalline understanding of our Constitution. He should — he wrote it. Here is what he said about the First Amendment: “All men shall be free to profess AND BY ARGUMENT to maintain their opinions in matters of religion.” (Emphasis mine) The argument is never held, though, because polite society views religious debate as religious intolerance, and as a result, people who should know better get to repeat and repeat and repeat the nonsense that America was founded as a Christian nation. One result of this is that non-believers throw the gloves off when at last there appears a forum in which they can reveal their true feelings about religion. Then, of course, the good Christians — by which I mean most Christians — feel rejected from the larger struggle for justice. Justice, after all, was what Jesus was all about, even if Jesus exists only on the pages of some book. By dividing ourselves into believers and non-believers, those of us who long for justice ensure that what we will receive instead is ‘just us.’

So instead of dividing ourselves into believers and non-believers in God, we should be dividing ourselves into believers and non-believers in justice. As Ben Franklin, perhaps our founders’ most rigid non-believer, put it, “Morality or Virtue is the end, Faith is only a means to obtain that end; and if the end be obtained, it is no matter by what means.”

Monday, September 11, 2006

9/11 Is a Joke, Pt 3: The Hydra


“Nothing just happens in politics. If something happens you can be sure it was planned that way.”
—Franklin D. Roosevelt

In a 1954 letter to his brother, President Eisenhower wrote:

“Should any political party attempt to abolish social security, unemployment insurance, and eliminate labor laws and farm programs, you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group, of course, that believes you can do these things. Among them are H. L. Hunt (you possibly know his background), a few other Texas oil millionaires, and an occasional politician or businessman from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.”

As history has shown, Eisenhower was wrong to — as George W. Bush would say — misunderestimate Hunt and the others referred to in the letter, but he was right to identify that crowd as the insane miscreants that they were.

Haroldson Lafayette Hunt was a businessman and bigamist who fathered fourteen children by three wives and a mistress. Two of his marriages were concurrent. He is the father of Kansas City Chiefs owner, Lamar Hunt.

In 1934, Hunt used his poker winnings to bankroll a new oil and gas company called Hunt Oil. Before long Hunt Oil had operations in Canada and South America. Today, Hunt Oil is a subsidiary of Hunt Consolidated, a real estate and oil holding company owned by another Hunt offspring, Ray Lee Hunt.

H.L. Hunt poured millions into ultra conservative politics. He bankrolled two rightwing radio shows called Facts Forum and Life Line, which he used to promote the extreme views of the John Birch Society and Senator Joseph McCarthy. In 1951, he launched General Douglas MacArthur’s unsuccessful presidential campaign. In the 60s, Hunt helped finance two rightwing extremist groups — the Cuban Revolutionary Council, an anti-Castro organization with ties to the Mafia and the CIA, and the International Committee for the Defense of Christian Culture, which essentially functioned as a rightwing intelligence network operated through Christian missionaries abroad.

In 1961, President Kennedy initiated an effort to restructure federal tax schedules pertaining to the oil and gas industry. In the early 20th century, as the strategic importance of oil became apparent, favorable tax codes were established to encourage oil exploration and production. By 1960, however, the oil industry had produced many billionaires who paid little in income tax. Kennedy estimated that the government was losing around $185 million per year in uncollected income tax from oil tycoons. Kennedy specifically targeted Hunt, who, Kennedy noted, earned over $30 million a year in personal income but paid virtually nothing in income tax. Naturally, Hunt resented this initiative and intensified his support for ultraconservative politicians. Some evidence even suggests Hunt was involved in Kennedy’s assassination.

It would probably come as no surprise, therefore, that Hunt financed the political campaigns of conservative Republicans like Richard Nixon, George H.W. Bush and Edwin Walker, but he also supported at least one Democrat and even the Nation of Islam.

Hunt’s prodigious proclivity for procreation produced a plethora of protégés anxious to advance the as yet un-named neoconservative agenda. nifty, eh?

Ray Lee Hunt, for example, is the finance chairman of the Republican National Committee. He is also a Bush Pioneer, has a seat on the board of directors of Halliburton, and is a member of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. In 1984 (appropriately enough), Hunt Oil discovered an untapped oil reserve in Yemen. This discovery increased Ray Lee’s personal wealth from $200 million to over $2 billion, securing him a spot on Forbes’ list of the world’s richest people.

Another Hunt spawn, Nelson Bunker Hunt, is the scoundrel behind Silver Thursday, the result of Hunt’s attempt to corner the international silver market. That venture bankrupted Hunt, but with the help of the Federal Reserve and support from his family, he was back on his feet in no time, reinventing himself as a thoroughbred breeder with several championships and awards to his credit. Like the other Hunts, Nelson Bunker funnels millions into such rightwing organizations as the Moral Majority, Promise Keepers and the International Association for the Advancement of Ethnology and Eugenics.

But today’s links to H.L. Hunt and his ilk include more than just family ties; indeed, the entire neoconservative Hydra can be said to have hatched from the seeds sown by Hunt in the 50s & 60s, including its three main heads — Halliburton, the Carlyle Group and the Project for a New American Century.

A quick glance at Halliburton’s subsidiaries provides a clear picture of the connections between early archconservative industrialists and today’s neoconservative movement. Dresser Industries, for example, a Dallas, Texas energy products company went public under the guidance of Prescott Bush, who sat on the company’s board of directors for over 20 years. George H.W. Bush worked for Dresser before leaving in 1951 to form Zapata Oil. In 1988, Dresser Industries acquired a pipe fabricating company called M.W. Kellogg. Ten years later, when Halliburton acquired Dresser, M.W. Kellogg was merged with Halliburton’s construction subsidiary, Brown & Root, to form Kellogg, Brown & Root, now known as KBR. Brown & Root, also from Texas, achieved its success through a symbiotic relationship with H.L. Hunt’s friend, Lyndon Johnson, who, as congressman, senator & president awarded the firm many lucrative public contracts. During the Vietnam Era, Brown & Root came under fire for overcharging the military for its services. Those charges would be repeated 40 years later in Iraq.

Camps Under Fire
In 2005, civilian whistleblowers came forward to allege that Halliburton and its subsidiaries were benefiting from the company’s relationship with former CEO and current US Vice President, Dick Cheney. Bunnatine Greenhouse, the former chief contracting officer for the Army Corps of Engineers, accused the government of awarding secret, no-bid contracts to Halliburton subsidiary KBR when cheaper and better alternatives existed. She also accused KBR of overcharging for those services. Rory Mayberry, KBR’s Food Program Manager, accused the company of providing outdated food rations to military personnel and of deliberately falsifying the number of meals they provided and submitting false claims to the government for payment. Mayberry also testified that employees who spoke with government auditors were routinely sent to camps under fire, meaning military bases experiencing heavy casualties. “The threat of being sent to a camp under fire was their way of keeping us quiet,” he testified. An audit by the Defense Contract Audit Agency found $186 million in overcharges, but the no-bid contracts continue.

Since the September 11th attacks, Halliburtion stock has risen in value from around nine dollars per share to around $69 by late 2005. As of this writing Halliburton’s share price is $30.80. Its annual revenues over the same period have increased from $12.5 billion in 2002 to $20.5 billion. In short, the War on Terror has been good for Halliburton.

The Carlyle Group
The Carlyle Group makes Halliburton look like pikers. Known by many as the “ex-president’s club,” this private equity company wields more power than most governments. One of Carlyle’s most distinguishing characteristics is its ‘revolving door’ approach to employment. This approach often makes it difficult for outside observers to determine who is “officially” employed by the company at any given time; this in turn makes it difficult to determine exactly which conflicts of interest are in play at any given time. But a quick perusal of the company’s personnel past & present supplies a clear understanding of the company’s influence. Former US President George H.W. Bush, current President George W. Bush, former British Prime Minister John Major, former South Korean President Kim Dae Jung, former Secretary of State James Baker, former Secretary of Defense Frank Carlucci, former Prime Minister of Thailand, Anand Panyarachun all are or have been members of the Carlyle Group. Add to that several dozen other lesser-known cabinet members and elected officials who have served as official employees or “private consultants” through the years. This incestuous relationship with governments around the globe puts the Carlyle Group in a unique position to invest with unprecedented insight. Moreover, since Carlyle is a private equity company and not a trader in common public securities, it is virtually immune from oversight or regulation. What this means, of course, is that the company can engage in what is essentially insider trading with impunity. Government officials put certain policies in place, and then leave their government posts to join the Carlyle Group, where they initiate investment strategies that exploit the very policies they enacted while in government. It’s brilliant.

The Iron Triangle
CIA agent, Secretary of Defense, powerful businessman, the career of Frank Carlucci provides a fascinating glimpse into the power structure often referred to as the Iron Triangle — a partnership between the Pentagon, Wall Street and various governments around the world. Frank Carlucci was President Reagan’s Secretary of Defense from 1987 to 1989. It was during this time that the defense industry’s nightmare occurred: The Cold War ended. With no inevitable war with the Evil Empire looming just over the horizon, there was no longer any justification for the immense taxpayer-funded defense contracts that comprised such a large chunk of the federal budget. Defense contractors all over the world began selling off assets and laying off workers; they became sitting ducks for leveraged buyouts.

At the end of Reagan’s term, Carlucci became chairman of the Carlyle Group. Under Carlucci, the Carlyle Group became the 9th biggest defense contractor, but the only defense contractor that doesn’t actually manufacture anything. Carlucci used that post-Cold War slump to scoop up struggling defense industry companies, and he used his government connections to insure budget approval for his company's products. Three years later, Carlucci’s close friends, President Bush and General Powell, stationed 600,000 troops in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia as part of Operations Desert Shield & Desert Storm — troops that needed the supplies and support of the companies Carlucci had acquired.

When you consider the number of industry experts and former/future government officials employed by Carlyle, it becomes impossible to deny the alarming level to which the line between corporate profit and public policy had become blurred. Click here to read how the blurring of this line helped Carlyle turn their investment in a company called United Defense into a $237 million post-9/11 paycheck.

It is interesting to note that on the morning of 11 September 2001, the Carlyle Group was hosting a meeting at a Washington hotel. George H.W. Bush was in attendance, as was Shafig bin Laden, Osama’s brother. Carlyle et al. have taken great pains to minimize the importance of this partnership, referring to it as just a strange coincidence. Okay fine. But what do you make of recurring strange coincidences? In 1981, when John Hinckley Jr. tried to kill President Reagan, Vice President Bush was involved in a close business relationship with John Hinckley Sr. Their sons, Neil Bush and Scott Hinckley, had a dinner meeting on the day of the shooting. So on two separate occasions, relatives of Bush’s business associates were involved in spectacular, politically motivated crimes. I mean, I’m not sayin’; I’m just sayin’. Nahm sayin’?

But so far, all I have revealed is influence peddling and narrow corporate interest — albeit on a huge scale — not the orchestration of a gigantic false flag terrorist attack. For that, you would need something to suggest an ideology other than naked avarice. The Project for a New American Century provides just such an ideology.

PNAC was formed in 1997 to promote the philosophy of American global dominance, commonly referred to as neo-conservatism. Looked at charitably, it could be argued that the vacuum created by the Soviet Union’s collapse made it possible for destabilizing despots Slobodan Milosovic or burgeoning economies like India or China to achieve positions of worldwide supremacy. A preferable alternative, perhaps, would be an American-led effort to strengthen Western economies while promoting democracy and fair trade in emerging nations. Indeed, those are key phrases employed by PNAC to promote their vision of American global hegemony. The only problem is that democracy and fair trade are the least of their desires. The names of PNAC’s members pop up again and again throughout the neoconservative community, vividly illustrating that what they really want is a global government operated by the entities they control — entities like Halliburton, Whackenhut, DynCorp, the Carlyle Group, Marsh & McClennan, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, to name a few of the Hydra’s heads.

A New Pearl Harbor
In September of 2000, one year before the attacks, PNAC issued a 90-page report entitled, Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategies, Forces and Resources for a New Century, which suggested “that America should seek to preserve and extend its position of global leadership by maintaining the preeminence of U.S. military forces.” The report called for vigorous and even aggressive defense and promotion of Israel, Taiwan and South Korea, not to mention “the need for a substantial American force presence in the (Persian) Gulf.” The report conceded that these recommendations would incur widespread resistence from the public “absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event — like a new Pearl Harbor.” One year later, the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were attacked, and many of PNAC’s recommendations were implemented soon thereafter.

There’s no point in rehashing the copious physical evidence in the attacks themselves, or the fact that the 9/11 Commission Report ignored the copious evidence. Other sites cover that stuff better than I could here. My point here is simply to attempt to convey what I feel is an accurate analysis of the current American zeitgeist, and to reveal why something like the September 11th attacks was therefore inevitable.

The last two or three weeks has seen a barrage of commentaries — here’s one, here’s another, and anotherhere’s one more — attempting to debunk what they refer to as ‘conspiracy theories,’ culminating in a book by the wholesome folks at Popular Mechanics. The tone of these articles ranges from helpful but condescending, like the tone you might use with a fellow juror, to hostile and condescending, like the tone you might expect from, say, Michelle Malkin. What they seem to be reacting to is a poll conducted by Ohio University and Scripps Howard News Service indicating that over a third of Americans believe that “people in the federal government either assisted in the 9/11 attacks or took no action to stop the attacks because they wanted the United States to go to war in the Middle East.”

But as David Ray Griffin likes to point out, the question isn’t whether or not you believe in the conspiracy theory; the question is which conspiracy do you believe in. The accepted conspiracy theory is that 19 guys with box cutters evaded several layers of security and hijacked and crashed four airliners causing three skyscrapers to collapse and damaging the only unoccupied portion of the Pentagon without arousing NORAD or the Air National Guard. Another conspiracy theory is that rogue elements in the government, with the help of friends at powerful corporations, orchestrated the attacks for the purpose of launching an endless war abroad and eliminating civil liberties at home — in short, the creation of a corporate feudal state. Using the principle of Occam’s Razor, that is, accepting the explanation that makes the fewest assumptions, we are forced to conclude that the latter theory is the correct one.

Let’s return to the kids’ horseplay analogy I used in part one. Halliburton, the Carlyle Group and PNAC, along with a few other multinational organizations, are the main tricksters, the 36 percent (not to mention the victims and their families) represent the kid on his ass; everyone else represents the other kids — happy that they aren’t the ones who fell flat on their asses and uneager to start asking uncomfortable questions.

Robert Anton Wilson once said, “I have often wondered why people have such a powerful taboo against examining who owns and runs this nation.” From what I can tell, there are two reasons: fear and complacency.

I’m not sayin’; I’m just sayin’.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Like I Said...

I've mentioned this before, but it bears repeating: AMERICANS ARE DUMB. About four years ago, I was having dinner with some co-workers at a nice restaurant in Mexico City. The Americans at a nearby table thought it was the absolute height of hilarity to talk like Cheech Marin every time the waiter showed up. In pathetic, broken Spanish, I attempted to apologize to the waiter for my countrymen's embarrassing behavior. In excellent English, the waiter told me there was no need to apologize - he could tell I was embarrassed and that was apology enough.
There is something terribly, terribly wrong with a society in which willfully ignorant dunderheads rise to the top while thoughtful, compassionate citizens struggle to make ends meet. But as Bertrand Russel observed, "the trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt."

Saturday, September 02, 2006

My Linguistic Profile

***Your Linguistic Profile:***
60% General American English
20% Upper Midwestern
5% Dixie
5% Midwestern
5% Yankee
What Kind of American English Do You Speak?http://www.blogthings.com/whatkindofamericanenglishdoyouspeakquiz/

Five percent Yankee and five percent Dixie, eh? How's that for doing my part to reunite this fractured nation? Take the quiz. It's interesting. (H/T Tuckmac)

Friday, August 25, 2006

Lies & Greed: Republican Politics Minnesota Style

Salon.com: You write with great love about your native state and its traditions of Scandinavian decency. But Minnesota also elected Norm Coleman-- what went wrong?

Garrison Keillor: Norm Coleman is a man without a single principled bone in his body. He was a liberal Democrat who saw greater career opportunities on the other side and one night he sewed himself a new set of beliefs and crossed over. He is the first truly cynical politician in Minnesota in my lifetime. What went wrong? Sen. Paul Wellstone's plane crashed in the woods.

Another Bush, another war, another attempt by Minnesota Republicans to distance themselves from the President. In 1992, when I moved to the Land of 10,000 SUVs, the Minnesota Republican Party was referring to itself as the Independent Republican Party in a shameless attempt to distance itself from George Douche the first. Now, they are doing the same thing, only without the name change.

Senate candidate Mark Kennedy has been appearing in TV commercials boasting of his willingness to differ with the President. But as Congressional Quarterly notes, Kennedy sided with the President 97 percent of the time for three years running. Last year, however, Kennedy’s record dipped to just 87 percent. Could it be that Kennedy recognizes the peril in appearing too close to the White House? As Wy Spano, director of the Masters in Advocacy and Political Leadership program at the University of Minnesota, Duluth, points out, “Right now, pretty much all Republicans who are closely associated with the president are just not going to do well.” That could be why Kennedy doesn’t even mention his party affiliation in the ads. That, and the fact that he has been trailing his opponent, Hennepin County Attorney Amy Klobuchar, by at least six percentage points since January, when pollsters began watching the race. Most polls even show Kennedy trailing anti-war activist Ford Bell, who has dropped out.

Meanwhile, Senator Norm Coleman – Al Franken’s probable opponent in 2008 – was busted editing his Wikipedia entry, as was three-term Minnesota Republican Congressman Gil Gutknecht. Coleman, it seems, was trying to eliminate references to his hippy past, as well as his 98 percent record of siding with the White House in his senate voting. Coleman, you may recall, is the guy who won the St. Paul mayoral race as a Democrat with Minnesota Attorney General Hubert “Skip” Humphrey’s endorsement and then quickly changed his party affiliation. Gutknecht’s Wikipedia editing attempt focused on his self-imposed three-term limit – a limit he is now abandoning.

But wait! There’s more!

Anti gay activist and sixth congressional district candidate Michele Bachmann orchestrated an impressive sleight-of-hand trick when her campaign turned $40,000 into half a million dollars at President Bush’s recent campaign stop. You see, by spending less than an hour of the campaign stop speaking about health care, (PRESTO!) G.W. Douche was able to characterize his visit as a “policy event.” That means the taxpayers picked up the tab for a campaign rally. To be fair, it should be noted that the Bachmann campaign ponied up the forty grand, which is enough to pay for about 45 minutes of Air Force One’s $57,000-per-hour operating cost. But what’s $57,000 when we’re pissing away 4,807 times that much every day in Iraq.

Let’s see. Did I forget anything? Lies, greed, lies, greed and lies. Nope. That about sums it up. Laters.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Bully Plays the Victim

Awww, look at the darling pixies sending messages of love to their Lebanese neighbors. Brings a tear to your eye, dunnit? Good to know our tax dollars are so hard at work. I know it's hard to believe, but there actually is another side to the story - one in which Izzy is the bad guy and not the innocent victim so often portrayed in the main$tream media. Click here to see where these made-in-the-USA love notes ended up. I'm not saying Hezbollah is a shining example of human dignity and honor, but they are not the sub-human ogres seen on Fock Snooze and in Israeli fairy tales. How many incidents like this would you tolerate before you started contemplating launching a few rockets? Almost seems as if Israel wanted conflict with Lebanon. Indeed, Israel - or at least Likud - has been planning this thing for quite some time. Well, at least our illustrious Secretary of State is hard at work on the problem...NOT.
George Galloway Savages SKY NEWS!

Unlike Sean Vanity & Bill O'Liely, at least Rupert Murdoch's UK version allows the dissenters to get a word in. They won't be having Galloway back anytime soon, though.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

It’s the Jerry Springer Show and today’s guests are the leader of Hezbollah, Israeli PM Ehud Olmert, British PM Tony Blair and Bush.

First the Hezbollah leader comes out on stage and states his case in broad terms. He begins by saying, “I’m all, ‘you best stop fuckin wit us or we gonna rocket your ass.’ And he’s all like callin me a bitch and a towel head and a camel jockey and shit. And I’m all, ‘best stop wit dat. Ima warning ya.’”

Then Olmert comes out and states his case, saying, “Y’all started it when you kidnapped two of our soldiers, beeyotch.”

To which the Hezbollah guy responds with, “Nuh-uh. Y’all started it when you kidnapped two of our doctors, mothafucka.”

Then Olmert gets up and slaps the Hezbollah guy, who responds by tackling Olmert to the floor and the two of them wrestle desperately until the bald security guard comes out and separates them.

Springer restores order and gets them both to calm down. He then suggests that their problems are the result of machinations perpetrated by a third party, namely, Britain. “Wasn’t it Britain,” Springer asks, “who started this whole mess by abandoning the Arabs after WW1?” And the Hezbollah guy’s brow furrows. “And wasn’t it Britain,” Springer continues, “who forced the Palestinians to give up half of their territory so that the nation of Israel could be created?” The Hezbollah guy tugs his beard. Then, turning to Olmert, Springer asks, “And wasn’t it Britain who abandoned the newly created nation of Israel?” Olmert’s brow furrows. “And wasn’t it Britain,” Springer continues, “who signed lucrative oil contracts with Israel’s enemies, allowing them to purchase dangerous weapons?” Olmert grinds his teeth.

Hezbollah guy says, “Hey, he’s right.”

Olmert’s eyes light up. “Yeah. I never could stand that Tony Blair mothafucka.”

Then Hezbollah guy says, “Yeah, where that bitch at?”

Then the camera cuts backstage where a smug Tony Blair is waiting.

Olmert says, “That Blair mothafucka betta be glad he ain’t up in here, cuz if he was, I’d be kicking his ass.”

And then Hezbollah guy says, “Yeah, Ima shove a Cooper Mini up his narrow limey ass.” Olmert laughs and gives Hezbollah guy five. They both fold their arms defiantly, confident that they have identified the culprit behind their difficulties.

Then Springer says, “Well, fellas, you’re in luck. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome British Prime Minister Tony Blair!”

The crowd goes “Oooooohhhh!”

Blair immediately rushes up to Olmert and says, “I heard what you said.”

“So?” replies Olmert.

“So?!” mocks Blair. “So?! So why ain’t you kickin my ass, beeyotch? Now’s your chance, mothafucka. Why I don’t see no ass kickin?”

Hezbollah guy chuckles, attracting Blair’s attention. “And you. You gonna shove a Mini up my ass? That’s a good one, Towel Head.”

“Fuck you, honkey,” replies Hezbollah guy, shoving Blair. Olmert takes advantage of Blair’s momentary stumble to sucker punch Blair.

Blair says, “Oh yeah, bitch,” and punches Olmert in the nuts. Hezbollah guy tackles Blair to the floor, knocking over Olmert in the process and the three of them wrestle desperately until the bald security guard comes out and breaks it up.

Eventually, the three of them calm down and Springer again suggests that all of their problems have been caused by yet another party, namely, America.

“Wasn’t it America who toppled the democratically elected government of Iran in 1953, leading to an unfair trade pact with that country?”

“Hey yeah,” says Blair, wiping a trickle of blood from his lip.

“And wasn’t it America,” continues Springer, “who encouraged Hussein to attack Iran, thereby destabilizing the entire region and turning Arabs against Arabs?”

“Yeah, you right,” says Hezbollah guy, adjusting his turban.

“And wasn’t it America,” continues Springer, turning his attention to Olmert, “who helped weaken Labor and increase the suspicion of Likkud by highlighting nonexistent threats?”

“Uh-huh,” says Olmert, rubbing his nuts. “I never really liked that dopey cowboy act anyways.”

“Why that bitch can’t talk right?” demands Hezbollah guy. The crowd laughs.

Smiling broadly, Blair mimics Bush. “Ima help you put food on you family!” he says, laughing. “Don’t mis-underestimate me!” he says, laughing harder. Olmert and Hezbollah guy start to laugh.

“Is our children learning!” exclaims Olmert laughing.

“Will the highways of the Internet become more few!” adds Hezbollah guy gleefully. The crowd is roaring.

The camera cuts backstage where an angry George Bush is waiting. Finally, he can take no more; he rushes onstage to confront his mockers.

“Ladies and Gentlemen: The President of the United States!” announces Springer. The crowd hoots. First, Bush confronts Blair.

“I thought we was homies,” says Bush, “but now I see you ain’t nothin but a ho!”

The crowd goes “Oooooohhh.”

“Whip this ho, beeyotch,” challenges Blair.

“Yeah. Bring. It. On,” says Hezbollah guy. The crowd roars again.

“Where the WMDs at, fag?” says Olmert.

Blair shoves Bush, who falls easily to the floor. Blair, Olmert and Hezbollah guy start punching and kicking Bush Goodfellas style. The bald security guard comes out, but instead of breaking up the fight, he joins in stomping Bush’s face. Springer leads the crowd in a chant: “KILL! KILL! KILL!”

After a commercial break, Springer gives his moral of the story. “Lying and betraying your countrymen and your allies might get you to the top, but, as they say in Haiti, the higher the monkey climbs, the more you see his ass, and this monkey’s ass just got kicked!”

The crowd applauds and resumes its chant of “KILL! KILL! KILL!” Bush is already dead, but Blair, Olmert, Hezbollah guy and the bald security guard keep stomping him anyway.

The end.

Monday, July 10, 2006

9/11 Is a Joke pt 2

The problem with America – or a problem – is that we seem congenitally incapable of adhering to our own high ideals. Perhaps it is because we are comprised mainly of rejects from other countries. Or maybe it’s because the high ideals themselves are tainted by ulterior motives: The only way for the ruling class to gain support among the general populace for new paradigms is to frame the proposals in terms of inherent rights and an innate sense of justice. Indeed, the main impetus behind the American Revolution was the profits that colonial land barons were losing through taxes paid to King George. In order to convince working stiffs to do most of the fighting in that war, wealthy landowners resorted to espousing “self-evident truths” and “inalienable rights.” But once the shooting stopped, these truths and rights suddenly became less self-evident and inalienable, and working people were once again on their own. After all, what difference did it make to them whether they paid their taxes to a king in England or a congress in Washington? Shays’ Rebellion in 1786 and the Whiskey Rebellion eight years later vividly illustrate the alacrity with which early American rulers donned the crown they had knocked from George’s head.

This pattern repeats itself ad nauseam throughout American history. “Remember the Alamo” was the cry for justice that accompanied the shameless land-grab of the Mexican-American War. “Popular Sovereignty” was the principle behind Stephen Douglas’ westward railroad scheme that led inevitably to the Civil War. And as General Smedley Darlington Butler points out in his 1935 screed, War Is a Racket, “Woodrow Wilson was re-elected president in 1916 on a platform that he had kept us out of war, and on the implied promise that he would keep us out of war. Yet five months later, he asked Congress to declare war on Germany. What caused our government to change its mind so suddenly? Money.”

Time and again, the quest for corporate profit has drawn America into costly and unnecessary wars having nothing whatsoever to do with national security.

It is important to recognize that every war since the Civil War has been preceded by an unprovoked enemy attack against U.S. interests. The Spanish American War was sparked by an as yet unexplained explosion aboard the USS Maine while she lay at anchor in Havana Harbor. US entry in WW1 was triggered by the German U-boat attack on the civilian ocean liner Lusitania. The Pearl Harbor attacks inspired US involvement in WW2. The Korean Conflict was caused by unchecked Communist aggression along the 38th parallel; the Gulf of Tonkin Incident ignited Viet Nam. And then, of course, the September 11th attacks. Each of these incidents was accompanied by a massive PR campaign, including propaganda disguised as news. In addition to these conflicts, there have been numerous undeclared military operations in places like Nicaragua, El Salvador, the Philippines, Haiti, Panama, Cambodia and elsewhere, each accompanied by silence or, if necessary, spin from the media. In each of these cases, corporate, military and intelligence entities were the primary beneficiaries.

To supplement our military campaigns, declared and undeclared, America employs a rich arsenal of dirty tricks carried out by over a dozen top secret intelligence agencies. These dirty tricks include assassination, sabotage, kidnapping, terrorism, torture, propaganda, provocation and blackmail. With the help of press leaks, declassified documents and deductive reasoning, the observant news junkie can piece together a plausible scenario in which the inherent corruption of the American psyche combined with the unbridled greed of Wall Street could have led to something as insidious as the September 11th attacks. But first, let’s take a look at a few of the misdeeds that I feel illustrate America’s criminal tendencies.

Operation Northwoods
In 1962, General Lyman Lemnitzer, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Pentagon, authorized the implementation of a series of covert operations designed to justify military action against the communist regime in Cuba. Codenamed Northwoods, the plot involved “false flag” terrorist attacks in the Miami area and in Cuba, the sinking of an American ship reminiscent of the Maine episode, and perhaps most interestingly, the destruction of a drone aircraft disguised as an airliner. Had it been implemented, the scheme would have involved mock funerals for military and civilian “casualties,” and the framing and prosecution of innocent bystanders. As Body of Secrets author James Bamford writes, “Operation Northwoods, which had the written approval of the Chairman and every member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called for innocent people to be shot on American streets; for boats carrying refugees fleeing Cuba to be sunk on the high seas; for a wave of violent terrorism to be launched in Washington, D.C., Miami, and elsewhere. People would be framed for bombings they did not commit; planes would be hijacked. Using phony evidence, all of it would be blamed on Castro, thus giving Lemnitzer and his cabal the excuse, as well as the public and international backing, they needed to launch their war.”
Kennedy scuttled the project and removed Lemnitzer from his post as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Lemnitzer later became supreme allied commander of NATO forces in Europe.

COINTELPRO is spook-speak for “counter intelligence program,” and it is the name of a twenty-year domestic spying operation conducted by the FBI. Its initial purpose was to infiltrate and disrupt chapters of the Communist Party USA, but soon the scope of the operation grew to include civil rights groups, antiwar organizations and anyone else who FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover disliked. Agents would intimidate organization members into abandoning the group, use illegal phone taps, plant false evidence and use perjured testimony to blackmail leaders, conduct violent interrogations, assaults and beatings. The program remained secret until 1971, when activists burglarized an FBI field office and then leaked several key documents the press. Within a year, Hoover announced the cessation of “centralized” COINTELPRO operations, meaning FBI field offices could continue if they liked.

Operations AJAX and PBSUCCESS
Allen W. Dulles is one of the most diabolical figures in our history. Most of the weird, dangerous, hard-to-believe stories associated with the CIA originate with Dulles. His first success came immediately after he was named Director of Central Intelligence in 1953, suggesting the plans were already in place before he officially assumed command. Indeed, a similar British-led operation had been suggested to Truman, who refused to cooperate. But with Dulles in charge of the CIA, and his brother, John Foster Dulles, at the helm of the State Department, such plans had new appeal. Called Operation AJAX, the plot successfully toppled the democratically elected government of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh. You see, Mossadegh had the strange notion that most of the profits from Iranian oil reserves should go to Iran. But the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company – later known as British Petroleum – had other ideas. Kermit Roosevelt Jr., Teddy’s grandson, hired a band of agents provocateur to stage public demonstrations demanding the return of the Shah. After some key army units joined the movement, Mossadegh had no choice but to step down. AIOC changed its name to BP, and its Iranian monopoly was divided between seven other oil companies from the US, France and the Netherlands. The project was so cheap and successful that they tried it again the next year in Guatemala. This time the operation was called PBSUCCESS, and the hapless democratically elected president was named Jacobo Arbenz, and the commodity was fruit, not oil. One of Arbenz’ first acts as president was to redistribute the land, most of which had come under the control of the United Fruit Company. Naturally, United Fruit resented this, and they lobbied the Eisenhower Administration heavily. These efforts were unnecessary, however, since the Dulles bros. already had their eye on ole Arbenz, calling him a Soviet beachhead in the Western Hemisphere. Using fake radio broadcasts of fierce jungle fighting and occasional jet fighter fly-overs, the CIA convinced Arbenz and his supporters in the capitol that rebel forces had seized the countryside. Exiled general, Castillo Armas was installed as dictator. The plot was attacked in the European press and UN Secretary General, Dag Hammarskjold, accused the US of violating its UN charter. United Fruit’s international reputation was so badly damaged by this and other episodes of strikebreaking and exploitation that they did what anyone would do – they changed their name. Now known as Chiquita Brands International, the company continues to have large land holdings in Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Costa Rica and Colombia.

“Okay,” you may say, “if all this shit is true, then how’s come it ain’t in the papers?” Well, there are two answers. This first answer is that sometimes stories about this stuff do appear in newspapers. Click here to find out what happens to tenacious reporters who manage to sneak though the corporate gauntlet.

The second answer is that there are sophisticated mechanisms in place designed to keep anti-corporate news items out of the press and to replace them with pro-corporate propaganda.

Operation Mockingbird
Operation Mockingbird, for example, was a CIA plot to plant agents or agency friendly operatives in newspapers and magazines throughout the United States and abroad. These operatives were instructed to write stories showing CIA-backed foreign policy initiatives in a positive light, and to ignore or misrepresent failed or unsavory operations. In Mockingbird: The Subversion of the Free Press by the CIA, Alex Constantine writes, “some 3,000 salaried and contract CIA employees were eventually engaged in propaganda efforts.”

In addition to publishing propaganda as news, the CIA also would buy up entire press runs of books and magazines it wished to suppress. In 1964, for example, the CIA threatened to buy the entire run for a book titled Invisible Government, which attempted to reveal the CIA’s foreign policy influence. The ploy failed, however, when Random House countered by threatening to print a second edition. In 1966, the CIA targeted the anti-war slick Ramparts, which had recently run an exposé on CIA funding of the National Student Association. CIA operative Edgar Applewhite was ordered to orchestrate a campaign against Ramparts.

“I had all sorts of dirty tricks to hurt their circulation and financing,” Applewhite later admitted. “The people running Ramparts were vulnerable to blackmail. We had awful things in mind, some of which we carried off.”

In a 1977 Rolling Stone Magazine article, All the President’s Men co-author Carl Bernstein describes who the Mockingbird operatives were and their motivations:

“Some of the journalists were Pulitzer Prize winners, distinguished reporters who considered themselves ambassadors-without-portfolio for their country. Most were less exalted: foreign correspondents who found that their association with the Agency helped their work; stringers and freelancers who were as interested it the derring-do of the spy business as in filing articles, and, the smallest category, full-time CIA employees masquerading as journalists abroad.”

In 1975, Church Committee revelations forced then CIA director George H. W. Bush to close Mockingbird, but by then the lessons had been learned by other dirty tricksters. After Ramparts editor Warren Hinckle left to form Scanlon’s Monthly, he again encountered difficulty – this time at the hands of White House counsel John Dean. In 1970, Scanlon’s ran a cover showing a fist punching President Nixon in the face with the headline, “Impeach Nixon.” Inside, there was a photo of a bunch of labor goons meeting with Nixon in the White House. The accompanying editorial detailed the criminal convictions of the men pictured, along with the observation that some of the men were violating the terms of their probations by leaving New York to visit the White House. In his book, Blind Ambition, Dean reveals that one of his first directives from the president was to “get Scanlon’s.”

“The entire 200,000 press run of the magazine,” writes Hinckle, “which had been printed in Canada was arrested and confiscated by the Canadian Royal Mounted Police as the truck carrying Scanlon’s neared the U.S. border. The printer was also raided and his men roughed up. The Canadian press reported that the Mounties had acted at the request of the Nixon White House.”

The Modern Era
Nixon’s spectacular crash-and-burn and America’s failure in Vietnam brought a momentary halt to operations like Mockingbird. By the mid 1970s, with the help of Daniel Ellsberg’s Pentagon Papers, the Church Committee, the Watergate Scandal and other revelations, America had grown to deeply mistrust the CIA and the FBI and secrecy in general. Future efforts to deceive the public would require a new approach. In the 80s, public relations firms sprouted like mushrooms, many employing former intelligence operatives and veteran corporate lawyers, who, with the help of outfits like Wackenhut, the Steele Foundation, DynCorp and Kroll, quickly privatized huge portions of the intelligence business.

One advantage these companies have over the CIA and other government agencies is that they are accountable to no one. From financing to operations, they conduct business all over the world utterly free from congressional oversight.

“They're very closemouthed about what they do,” says Kevin McCauley, an editor of the industry trade publication O'Dwyer's PR Daily. “It’s all cloak-and-dagger stuff.”

In Part 3, we will examine how this privatized approach to covert activity emerged and what it means to a populace that is hopelessly married to the concept of self-government.

Luckily for the schemers, Americans have short memories.