Meet Big Brother

Written: 12/18/2002
Published in The People’s Civic Record, a monthly, Wilmington, NC based progressive magazine.

According to President Bush the “war on terrorism” is supposed to last many years and most of it will take place in secret. The government will tell us all we need to know. There is no objective end in sight. Everyone seems to be willing to give up certain liberties if need be….

The U.S.A. Patriot Act, hastily passed shortly after 9-11-01, and certain executive orders, allows the government to monitor religious and political institutions or federal prison jailhouse conversations between attorneys and clients. It allows the government to search and seize your papers and effects without probable cause. It allows the government to jail you indefinitely without a trial, without right to legal representation, without being charged, or without being able to confront witnesses against you.

Now, there is a new office in the Defense Department’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. It is called the Information Awareness Office and it is charged with creating “Total Information Awareness” about every U.S. citizen….

This office is headed by John Poindexter, the man behind the illegal Iran-Contra affair under President Reagan. The stated purpose of assembling this “virtual, centralized grand database” of information is to increase the chance of spotting potential terrorists before they act.

The database will include your passport, driver’s license, credit card purchases, e-mails, website visits, medical prescriptions, travel records, academic records, court records, toll booth records, bank deposits….

The logo for this new department is the all-seeing eye over the pyramid in the reverse of the Great Seal of the United States looking out over the earth. The Latin below it reads; “Scientia Est Potentia” (Knowledge is Power).

According to their site; “the most serious asymmetric threat facing the United States is terrorism, a threat characterized by collections of people loosely organized in shadowy networks that are difficult to identify and define.”

Considering this statement, it is interesting that they would pick a logo which has so often been associated with the Illuminati and whose initials; I.A.O. have a meaning in Aleister Crowley’s mysticism. Not to mention the obvious similarities to George Orwell’s book, 1984, which included the all-seeing eyes of Big Brother, watching out over the populous, protecting them from a “vast shadowy army, an underground network of conspirators dedicated to the overthrow of the State.”

Freedom of movement has been restricted with increased security checks. Public spaces are being taken over with camera surveillance. The possibility of requiring all citizens to obtain a National Identity Card is being discussed….

We are conducting a war to have peace. We are sacrificing freedom for security. And the ignorance of the public about what is going on, gives us the strength to defend our country…

“War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, and Ignorance is Strength” are looking more and more like slogans we could adopt for the duration – or maybe beyond….

As we rush to our telescreens (computers) where Big Brother may be watching, we are not sure exactly who we are at war with this week because the “Enemy of the People” keeps changing. The war involves “mostly highly trained specialists,” the fighting “takes place on vague frontiers” and, if we incur “the displeasure of the Party,” we might get “disappeared” and no one will know what happened to us….

“Of course we can’t afford to take chances,” agreed Winston dutifully.

“What I mean to say, there is a war on,” said Parsons.

It looks like 1984 came a little later than expected.


UPDATE #1: The website for the Information Awareness Office has removed the biographies of those assigned to this office and removed the logo as it is rendered above. The logo, can still be found there – smaller and in a slightly altered form – if you look closely at some of the images explaining how the department gathers information.

UPDATE #2: The Total Information Awareness Office has changed its name to Terrorist Information Awareness and claims that it will not gather information on U.S. citizens and their site now has a new look, which included a change in the logo. These actions may be a result of pressure from Congress and civil liberties groups and may only have driven it underground. It seems that while DARPA may be backing off tracking citizens through its Total Information Awareness Office, it has started a new program called LifeLog which plans to pick up where the Total Information Awareness Office left off.

UPDATE #3: John Poindexter resigns.

An American Restaurant

Written: 06/13/2003
Published in The People’s Civic Record, a monthly, Wilmington, NC based progressive magazine.

THE HUBRIS IS SERVED…

Note of explanation: Senator Robert Byrd, from West Virginia, has accused the President of “hubris” (hubris: “to rush at impetuously” wanton insolence or arrogance).

[Scene: A dimly lit American restaurant with a little Wagner playing in the background]

Waiter: How are you tonight?

Patron: I’m fine.

Waiter: May I recommend the Hubris this evening?

Patron: No thank you.

Waiter: It’s our special….

Patron: No thank you.

Waiter: I must insist…..

Patron: I was thinking of having the Peace and Prosperity entree with Liberty salad.

Waiter: I’m sorry, sir, but those items are no longer available.

Patron: That was my favorite…. What happened??

Waiter: We are now under new management. We have a new menu. Would you like some time to look it over? …. I must say that you will regret it, if you don’t try the Hubris.

Patron: No, thank you. This place does seem different – I didn’t expect the body scan at the door and it looks darker in here…. What’s with the curtains?

Waiter: Our new cook doesn’t like to be watched…. I think you should try the Hubris. It is excellent this evening. Everybody else is having it.

Patron: No, thank you. What else do you have?

Waiter: The specials of today are: Guantánamo Bay Detainees – individually gagged and hooded, lightly tortured, and some of them are very young and fresh; Immigrant Stew – isolated indefinitely under strong lights, abused and traumatized, left without the will to object; the Preemptive Strike, an oil-based recipe, stuffed with false allegations and soaked in dreams of empire, guaranteed to shock and awe; the Patriot Act, made with shredded bill of rights and fostered on a cowardly congress; Poindexter’s Nightmare with Orwell’s eyeballs, arranged in such a way that it almost appears they are looking at you; and finally, and especially, the Hubris, which I think would be best….

[The lights go out – sounds of a slight muffled struggle]

Patron: What happened to the lights???

Waiter: One of our patrons is being moved to the Delta room.

Patron: What’s that?

[The lights return]

Waiter: You don’t want to know…. I am urging you most strongly to have the Hubris now….

Another Patron: Whasamatter, buddy? Hubris not good enough for you? You think you are better than us?

Waiter: Why won’t you have the Hubris? It is an arrogant pompous, filled with lies and deceptions, covered in a chicken-little fear-mongering, and soaked in a mixture of false patriotism and moral relativism to make it exceedingly smooth going down.

Patron: I find the lies difficult to swallow…. I was interested in something else….

Waiter: Oh, I see we have a Taliban lover tonight!

Patron: I never cared for the Taliban. The Taliban has always made me feel repressed.

Waiter: Perhaps you would like the Dissenter’s Protest in a bed of lazy socialists and godless communists? It comes with a liberal helping of unwashed and unshaven hippie greens in anarchy on the side….

Patron: What else do you have?

Waiter: Well, we have the Cheney Halliburton, the Wolfowitz/Libby Imperium, and Rumsfeld’s Remarkable Ruminations… We also have some fine Spineless Democrats with a republican lite dressing…or some very tender Media Pushovers with sheep dip…. but the Hubris is really your only choice. Everyone else is having it. It comes with freedom fries….

[The waiter motions to the side]

You simply must try it. I must insist….

[The Hubris is served…]

Patron: I didn’t order this!

Waiter: It doesn’t matter. It is all we really have. You must take it.

Patron: It looks like some kind of a bush! These fries are burnt to a crisp…and I wanted meat. Where is the meat?

Waiter: The Hubris is never served with meat.

Another Patron: Hey buddy, either take the Hubris or leave.

Patron: Excuse me, but I would like to speak to the manager.

Waiter: The manager is unavailable; he is posing for our next television commercial. We are advertising our new locations opening in the Middle East.

Patron: I don’t see anything I like on this menu. This place isn’t as nice as it use to be…. Don’t you have any Decency left? I could have some of that….

Waiter: I’m sorry sir, I must ask you to leave now….

Patron: But I am a life-long patron…and a stockholder!!!

Waiter: I must refer you to the new management.

Patron: You said he was unavailable….

Waiter: Mr. Ashcroft may see you. He handles these kinds of things.

[The waiter motions to the side]

Patron: I don’t want to see Mr. Ashcroft. I want to see the manager!

[Mr. Ashcroft appears]

Waiter: Perhaps, you would be more comfortable waiting in the Delta room while we figure your bill.

[The lights go out]

Patron: Hey, what happened to the lights!? What kind of place is this!? Muft! mumm….

[Muffled struggle]

Waiter: Everything will be fine, sir. Your ignorance and inattention will bring your just desserts.

The New American Justice

Written: 04/26/2003
Published in The People’s Civic Record, a monthly, Wilmington, NC based progressive magazine.

JUSTICE BEHIND THE CURTAIN

“Implicit in the term `national defense’ is the notion of defending those values and ideals which set this nation apart.”

– Justice Potter Stewart

In Bagram air base, north of the Afghan capital Kabul, U.S. military police run a detention facility. In December 2002, two detainees died while in U.S. custody shortly after their arrival there. Military coroners have determined that one man died on December 3rd of a pulmonary embolism and the second man died on December 10th of a heart attack. Autopsies found that a contributing factor in both cases was “blunt force trauma.” Both death certificates had “homicide” checked as the cause of death.

In an article on conditions of the detainees at the Bagram detention facility, the Washington Post reported that:

“According to Americans with direct knowledge and others who have witnessed the treatment, captives are often ‘softened up’ by MPs and U.S. Army Special Forces troops who beat them up and confine them in tiny rooms.”

Other conditions employed include: blindfolding and hooding, binding in painful positions, denial of medication to alleviate pain, sleep deprivation, and various other “stress and duress” techniques.

Several weeks ago, two prisoners judged innocent were released. Both told of being doused with water while confined naked in cells so cold there was ice on the floor.

One official, supervising the capture and transfer of accused terrorists, said, “If you don’t violate someone’s human rights some of the time, you probably aren’t doing your job.”

Sometimes, particularly uncooperative detainees are transferred to foreign intelligence services in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Pakistan, and Syria, who conduct “conventional” methods of torture – including beatings and electric shocks. These transfers require no legal process and are known as “extraordinary renditions.”

The March 2002, Washington Post told of a covert campaign by the U.S. to abduct terror “suspects” from “Indonesia, Pakistan, Yugoslavia, and other countries” and transfer them, without extradition procedures, to where they are imprisoned, tortured, and, in some instances, put to death.

Meantime, over 660 prisoners, from over 40 countries, are being held indefinitely at the U.S. naval facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, in a kind of legal limbo. Most of the detainees were captured during the fighting in Afghanistan, but the U.S. refuses to grant them prisoner-of-war status. The numbers include at least four, who are children, aged between 13 and 15.

These actions violate both the Geneva Conventions and international law.

A deputy commander at the base has been quoted as saying that some of the detainees appeared to be “victims of circumstance.”

According to Amnesty International, “Among the early transferees were six Algerian nationals seized by US officials in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Their case was described by a representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights as one of ‘extra judicial removal from sovereign territory.'” And it refers to the holding of children as “wholly repugnant and contrary to basic principles of human rights.”

Civil rights lawyer, Stephen Yagman, who has launched a lawsuit on the prisoners behalf, says treatment at Guantánamo includes “sensory deprivation to induce a feeling of depression so that they become receptive to any human contact.” Former U.S. intelligence officer Wayne Madsen called this “torture lite,” sleep deprivation and prolonged exposure to bright light.

It was reported recently that suicide attempts among the prisoners is on the rise with the total number of attempts now at 25.

Estimates by various human rights organizations are that there are roughly 3,000 people being held by the U.S. military and intelligence agencies – both foreign and domestic – in its “war on terrorism.” They have not been charged, and they have not been connected to the terror attacks of 9-11.

In November 2002, Abu Ali al-Harithi, a suspect in the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole, was spotted driving through the desert in Yemen by a CIA drone. Violating the sovereignty of another country and exacting sloppy justice, the drone launched Hellfire missiles at his vehicle, killing him and five others (whose associations with him were unknown), including a naturalized American citizen, Ahmed Hijazi.

Such brutal and arbitrary treatment of suspects and prisoners offends every notion of fairness and due process. Widely reported in the foreign press, it helps explain why not everyone is thrilled with the notion of America imposing its definition of freedom throughout the world.

Since most of the prisoners, that we have “detained,” are foreigners captured during the months immediately following September 11th, during the fighting in Afghanistan, it is often easy to dismiss the stories of abuses in far off places as part of the necessary response to the horrible events of September 11….

Meanwhile, back in the United States, the Justice Dept. continues rounding up, deporting, and detaining immigrants, while keeping their names, numbers, and cases secret. When legal hearings are held, they are held behind closed doors with the press – sometimes even the lawyers of the detained – barred from the proceedings. Many have been held without any outside contact and some unknown number are being held indefinitely, without being charged, by being designated as “material witnesses.”

Even American citizens are not immune from the new justice, as the cases of Yaser Esam Hamdi, José Padilla, and Maher (Mike) Hawash demonstrate.

Hamdi was arrested overseas. In January, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that because he had been arrested overseas in “wartime,” “the judiciary must defer to the military.” The government can now hold him indefinitely without constitutional protections simply by declaring him an “unlawful combatant.”

José, arrested in the U.S., is a native born American citizen, born in Brooklyn. Initially, the government planned to try him in a civilian court. But when it appeared that there might not be enough evidence to convict him, he was also declared an “unlawful combatant” and has been held in secret since June.

U.S. District Judge Michael Mukasey has ruled that Padilla should have the minimum right to consult with lawyers. The Justice Department however, has refused to comply with the order and will continue to appeal.

Hawash, the most recent American to be arrested, is a 38-year-old software designer for the Intel Corporation in Oregon and a graduate of the University of Texas. In mid-March 2003, a dozen armed police raided his home at dawn, terrifying his wife and three children. According to the New York Times, Federal Court search warrants were sealed in the case and the F.B.I. is holding him indefinitely as a “material witness” in an ongoing investigation by the Joint Terrorism Task Force. Friends, family, and supporters say they have no idea why he was arrested without normal legal protection or what the government wants with him.

Steven McGeady, a former Intel executive, has started a legal defense fund for Mr. Hawash. Explained Mr. McGeady, “You hear about this happening in other countries and to immigrants and then to American citizens. And finally, you hear about it happening to someone you know. It’s scary.”

Lucas Guttentag, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrant’s Rights Project, agrees, “The government doesn’t have, and should not have, the power to arrest and detain someone without charging them. If this kind of thing is permitted, then any United States citizen can be swept off the street without being charged.”

Secret arrests, indefinite imprisonment, and the apparent elimination of the most basic civil rights of American citizens on Justice Department say-so alone is but the tip of the iceberg of the new American justice. The U.S.A. Patriot Act, hastily passed shortly after 9-11-01, and certain other recent executive orders, allow the government the kind of arbitrary rights we have traditionally associated with totalitarian states. Hard-won privacy rights were undone overnight. The new powers allow the government to monitor religious and political institutions and conversations between attorneys and clients. They allow the government to examine patrons’ library records (including website visits), and to forbid librarians to speak about it. They allow the government to enter your home in your absence and search it, along with your papers and effects, without notifying you and without probable cause. They allow the government to jail you indefinitely without a trial, without right to legal representation, without being charged, or without being able to confront witnesses against you.

Apparently, the Justice Department thought the Patriot Act didn’t go far enough. It is now preparing a “National Security Enhancement Act” – dubbed Patriot Act II. The new proposals are reported to include a provision that the right of U.S. citizenship may be removed, if someone is declared an “unlawful combatant” by the executive branch of government. (Currently, only citizens themselves can renounce their citizenship.)

What has happened to our Bill of Rights?

If the terrorists “hate us for our freedoms,” why are we so eager to give them up to fight them?

As Benjamin Franklin said, “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

In last year’s State of the Union address, Bush said that “America will lead by defending liberty and justice;” in this year’s State of the Union, Bush said that our enemies will be learning “the meaning of American justice.”

Many Americans are also asking about the “meaning” of the new “American justice.” Two hundred years ago, our ancestors fought a revolution to replace the arbitrary rule of men with the rule of law. Individual rights were best protected, they believed, by due process, not the arbitrary rules of government no matter how well intentioned. In the interim, the American idea of rule of law became a model for patriots throughout the world to fight for in their own countries. Bush says this is a “new” kind of war, with “new” methods to deal with it. Is the successful American experiment at risk? Will the phrase “American system” become an idea to be feared? Are our leaders making up the rules as they go, or are they determined to impose a new kind of justice alien to the American experience?

In the months preceding the war in Iraq, our leaders described it as a war against “evil.” As the military phase of the war in Iraq draws to a close, perhaps we had better remind ourselves of the meaning of the “good” we claim to propagate.

In October 2001, Osama bin Laden said, “I tell you, freedom and human rights in America are doomed.”

Any “new” American justice should reflect our best ideals and greatest values — not those of our worst enemies and darkest nightmares.

 

 

Selling a War

Written: 03/16/2003
Published in The People’s Civic Record, a monthly, Wilmington, NC based progressive magazine.

“When you advertise fire-extinguishers, open with the fire.”

– David Ogilvy

Though the decision to wage war with Iraq had been made months earlier, the “buzz” about it first began this past summer. Asked to explain why the president was waiting until after Labor Day to push for war, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card said, “From a marketing point of view, you don’t introduce new products in August.”

The “new” product is war.

The following is a look at some of the arguments employed to make the “sell.”

Bush has claimed that Iraq is developing drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which “could be used to disperse chemical or biological weapons across broad areas.” “We’re concerned that Iraq is exploring ways of using these UAVs for missions targeting the United States,” he said.

U.S. military experts confirmed that Iraq had been converting eastern European trainer jets into drones, but said that they have a maximum range of a few hundred miles and that they were no threat to targets in the U.S.

Bush has claimed that Iraq has attempted to import hardened aluminum tubes “for gas centrifuges, which are used to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons.”

UN weapons inspectors have concluded that the aluminum tubes in question are not suitable for uranium enrichment centrifuges, saying, “It was highly unlikely that Iraq could have achieved the considerable redesign needed to use them in a revived centrifuge program,” and, after reviewing documents, calls the Iraqi alibi – that they were to be used for conventional weapons – “air-tight.”

Bush has claimed that Iraq attempted to buy uranium for nuclear warheads from Niger and the U.S. has presented documents to support this claim.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has recently concluded that the documents were forgeries.

Weapons inspector ElBaradei told the UN Security Council in March, “Based on thorough analysis, the IAEA has concluded, with the concurrence of outside experts, that these documents, which formed the basis for the reports of these uranium transactions between Iraq and Niger, are, in fact, not authentic,” and “we have also concluded that these specific allegations are unfounded.”

At this time, it is unknown who forged the documents.

Bush has claimed that Iraq is a few months away from developing nuclear weapons, “I would remind you that when the inspectors first went into Iraq and were denied — finally denied access, a report came out of the Atomic — the IAEA, that they were six months away from developing a [nuclear] weapon. I don’t know what more evidence we need.”

The IAEA report made no such claim.

The UN inspectors believe that they had dismantled the Iraq’s nuclear weapons capacity by 1998 and said in March that, “We have to date found no evidence or plausible indication of the revival of a nuclear weapons program,” and stated that they had found “no indication of nuclear-related prohibited activities at any inspected site.”

In February, Secretary of State Colin Powell quoted a British report on Iraq’s nuclear program and praised it as an “up-to-date and unsettling assessment.”

Later, it was reported in the New York Times that the report was plagiarized from several academic journals, some published in 1997 about “the activities of Iraqi intelligence in Kuwait in 1990 and 1991.”

One plagiarized author was quoted as saying, “Had they consulted me, I could have provided them with more up-dated information.”

Chief weapon’s inspector, Hans Blix has complained that the U.S. misquoted his reports and has openly challenged several assertions made by the U.S., while other weapons inspectors – increasingly irritated and angry with the quality of information provided to them by the U.S. – have called the intelligence “garbage after garbage after garbage.”

CBS News reported that weapons inspectors found “nothing” at U.S.-implicated nuclear research buildings and they have found “nothing” at specific coordinates supplied by the U.S. to find incriminating evidence in presidential palaces.

Even the recently discovered al-Samond 2 missiles, that Iraq is currently in the process of destroying, only exceed its 93-mile limit by 15 – 20 miles before being loaded down with the extra weight of their guidance system.

Other ascertains used to “sell” this war are:

* That Saddam gassed his own people – a true claim of an event occurring before the first Gulf War, during which time we were supporting Saddam in his war against Iran. The numbers killed in this instance may be exceeded by us when we invade.

* That he has invaded other countries – another true claim, also occurring before the first Gulf War, but note that Kuwait was violating OPEC oil production agreements as they pursued slant-oil well drillings from pools shared with Iraq, which was one reason Iraq began making threats against them, and when Saddam Hussein asked April Glaspie, the U.S. Ambassador, to explain the U.S. position regarding the matter, she told him that the U.S. considered it a regional concern and assured him that the U.S. would not intervene.

* That he is “evil” – but there are plenty of “evil” leaders in this world that we are not planning to remove from power. We have even supported “evil” leaders in the past – including support for the Shah of Iran for 25 years, whose brutal secret police had one of the worse human rights records in the world.

* That we will be liberating a repressed people. No doubt they are repressed, as are many other people in this world which we are not clamoring to “liberate.” Considering the recent reports that we will use an invasion plan called “shock and awe,” which consists of dropping 4-6 thousand bombs on Iraq in the first 48 hours, I wonder how many Iraqi citizens will be running around screaming “Liberate me!” when the sky starts falling.

* That Saddam is associated with Osama bin Laden – a claim which has not been confirmed with any serious evidence and is highly unlikely, as they are natural enemies. In his last reported statement, bin Laden even speaks out against Saddam stating that, “It doesn’t matter whether the socialist (Baath) party or Saddam disappear,” and that he does not seek victory for any of the “ignorant governments that rule all Arab states, including Iraq.”

* That an al Qaeda camp is operating a base in Northern Iraq – which is, essentially, out of Saddam’s control and so… why don’t we target it when we bomb every day in the no-fly zones where it is located?

Bush has also made claims that Saddam Hussein is “a man who hates so much he’s willing to kill his own people, much less Americans” and that “we must do everything we can to disarm this man before he hurts a single American,” that he is a “threat…that could bring sudden terror and suffering to America,” that he could decide on any given day to provide a biological or chemical weapon to a terrorist group or individual terrorists. Alliance with terrorists could allow the Iraqi regime to attack America without leaving any fingerprints” [Emphasis, mine].

Are we to become the world’s thought-police and decide what someone could do in the future – to punish them in advance, or are we to become some kind of paranoid avenger – blindly lashing-out against anyone who might stand against us – like a swaggering drunk in the night?

An Oct. 8th, 2002 letter by CIA chief George Tenet, reported the CIA had concluded that “Baghdad for now appears to be drawing a line short of conducting terrorist attacks with conventional or CBW (chemical and biological weapons) against the United States.” It said, “Should Saddam conclude that a U.S.-led attack could no longer be deterred, he probably would become much less constrained in adopting terrorist actions” and that “Saddam might decide that the extreme step of assisting Islamist terrorists in conducting a WMD (weapons of mass destruction) attack against the United States would be his last chance to exact vengeance by taking a large number of victims with him.”

Bush has repeatedly talked about being “forced into war” with Iraq. Iraq has not attacked us, Iraq has not threatened us, nor does Iraq appear to have the inclination or capability to bother us much. Saddam knows that any “attack” he might wage against us will be met with his ultimate destruction. He has been pinned-down and under restrictions for 12 years and we’ve been bombing on a regular basis all that time as we have been enforcing “no-fly zones” in northern and southern Iraq.

Since the last Gulf War, he has not attacked or threatened anyone.

So, how exactly have we been “forced” into this war?

If it is a matter of the UN being relevant only by enforcing its resolutions, why is there no talk of enforcing resolutions regarding Israel and why are we willing to defy it ourselves?

Propaganda before a war is nothing new – it is probably as old as war itself.

It has been said that truth is the first casualty of war.

In the last Gulf War, there were tearful testimonies of Iraqi soldiers removing 312 babies from incubators in a hospital and being “left on the cold floor to die.” (Seven congressmen cited this testimony as part of the reason they gave the first Bush authority to wage war – the resolution passed by five votes.)

Later, it was learned that the testimonies were produced by senior executives of Hill and Knowlton in Washington, “the biggest global PR firm at the time, who had a contract worth more than $10 million with the Kuwaitis to make the case for war.”

The witnesses had been coached and included – as the primary witness – the daughter of a Kuwaiti ambassador to Washington, who had no connection to the Kuwait hospital.

There were also fabricated reports of Iraqis – 250,000 troops with 1,500 tanks – amassing on the border with Saudi Arabia – intent on invasion within as little as 48 hours – used as justification for war. As the Christian Science Monitor reported, regarding evidence from satellite images of the area obtained by the St. Petersburg Times in Florida; “…no Iraqi troops were visible near the Saudi border – just empty desert.”

Jean Heller, the journalist who broke the story, said, “It was a pretty serious fib.”

“That was the whole justification for Bush sending troops in there, and it just didn’t exist,” she said.

Many of the same people who were in the first Bush administration are in the second Bush administration and they appear to be employing the same tactics as before.

The Bush administration’s success, and the media’s failure, may be reflected in polls showing large percentages of the American public, who believe, incorrectly, that Iraqis were among the 9-11 hijackers (44% according to a January 2003 Knight Ridder poll) and that Saddam had something to do with the 9-11 attack (45% according to a March 2003 New York Times/CBS poll).

American writer and commentator, H. L. Mencken, once said, “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”

Certainly, the hobgoblin Osama bin Laden is not imaginary, but the results of his attack on the United States of America only enhances this administration’s ability to present us with other hobgoblins, which may not be as much of a threat to us as they are made out to be. If Saddam Hussein is such a threat to us, why does this administration have to present misinformation to “sell” us on the danger?

Shortly after 9-11, president Chirac from France, our oldest ally, was the first foreign leader to pay his respects at ground-zero. Headlines in France proclaimed, “We Are All Americans Now.”

We had most of the world behind us.

In a year-and-a-half, we have managed to squander almost every bit of goodwill offered to us at that time. Today, headlines are more likely to read, “The United States of America Has Gone Mad” as did a recent article in France.

How did we manage to get ourselves in this position so quickly?

The answer is: by the arrogance of dismissing our allies as we move towards an attitude of “my way or the highway” with the rest of the world and by offering up lies to “sell” ourselves and our objectives.

I am not going to buy the “new” product being offered here and increasingly, the rest of the world isn’t buying it either.

PAX AMERICANA

Written: 01/14/2003
Published in The People’s Civic Record, a monthly, Wilmington, NC based progressive magazine.

In 1992, then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, and I. Lewis Libby drafted a report outlining the role the U.S. should play in the 21st Century which was called, “Defense Planning Guidance” It suggested an aggressive, preemptive, and unilateral approach that would “discourage advanced industrial nations from challenging our leadership or even aspiring to a larger regional or global role” and wanted to make sure that America would maintain dominance in the world “by force if necessary.”

When the draft was leaked, it met with plenty of criticism and was quickly withdrawn and denounced by Bush I, but the ideas it contained did not die with it.

During the Clinton administration, a group of like-minded neoconservative imperialists – funded by right-wing foundations, energy companies, and the military-industrial complex – continued the strategic planning outlined in the report, evolving into a group called, “The Project for a New American Century” (PNAC).

The group’s former and current members and contributors include: Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton, Defense Department Head of Office of Program, Analysis and Evaluation Stephen Cambone, Vice President’s Chief of Staff I. Lewis Libby, Undersecretary of Defense (comptroller) and Chief Financial Officer for the Pentagon Dov Zakheim, Defense Policy Board Member Eliot Cohen, and Chairman of the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board Richard Perle.

In September 2000, right before the election and one year before the “attack on America,” the PNAC released a report entitled “Rebuilding America’s Defenses,” from which Bush’s new National Defense Strategy derives.

“At no time in history has the international security order been as conducive to American interests and ideals,” the report says, “The challenge of this coming century is to preserve and enhance this ‘American peace.'”

Iran, Iraq and North Korea are identified as potential targets in the same sentence, hence explaining the “Axis of Evil” remarks from Bush. “Past Pentagon wargames have given little or no consideration to the force requirements necessary not only to defeat an attack but to remove these regimes from power,” it says.

It speaks of a “Pax Americana” where we will have to perform “constabulary duties” and act preemptively and unilaterally to obtain our goals. This requires “American political leadership rather than that of the United Nations.”

Both the National Defense Strategy and the PNAC report have the stated objective of insuring that no country will ever present a challenge to the United States and both recommend almost exactly the same increase in military spending which has now occurred. This is so we can “fight and win multiple, simultaneous major theatre wars.”

The report recommends that the U.S. establish permanent military bases “within and beyond Western Europe and Northeast Asia, as well as temporary access arrangements for the long-distance deployment of U.S. troops” in addition to the roughly 130 nations where U.S. troops are already deployed. It refers to our troops as “the cavalry on the new American frontier” and says we need new bases in the Middle East, in Southeast Europe, in Latin America and in Southeast Asia.

This helps explain why we have now installed troops in Georgia and the Philippines and why we are sending military “advisers” to Columbia.

The report recommends the repudiation of the anti-ballistic missile treaty, a strong commitment to a global missile defense system (otherwise known as “Star Wars”) and the development of small nuclear warheads “required in targeting the very deep, underground hardened bunkers that are being built by many of our potential adversaries.”

The report calls for control of the world’s energy resources and the targeting of Iraq to achieve our goals because “While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein.”

The report laments that the climate in America was not such that they could hope to achieve their goals in the near future without “some catastrophic and catalyzing event – like a new Pearl Harbor.”

The attack on 9-11-01 was just what they were looking for.

These people are now in power, in key positions, with the event they needed to accomplish their goals. They came ready with the blueprints for empire already in hand, and they have been following those blueprints to the letter.

The PNAC report soon became the basis for our new National Security Strategy.

According to CBS News, immediately after 9-11, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was telling his aides to come up with plans for striking Iraq and began pushing the intelligence community hard for some link between the attack and Iraq. According to notes taken by aides who were with Rumsfeld in the National Military Command Center on Sept. 11, Rumsfeld is quoted as saying he wanted “best info fast. Judge whether good enough hit S.H. (Saddam Hussein) at same time. Not only UBL (Osama bin Laden).” “Go massive,” the notes say, “Sweep it all up. Things related and not.”

Though no real evidence was found linking Saddam Hussein with 9-11, six days later, on Sept. 17th – according to senior administration officials – President Bush signed a “TOP SECRET” document outlining the plan for war with Afghanistan and directed the Pentagon to begin planning military options for an invasion of Iraq.

Lacking hard evidence that Iraq had anything to do with the attack, the Bush administration began effectively conducting a campaign of misinformation, misrepresentation, and dissemination regarding the threat by Iraq to the United States of America.

The CIA’s former head of counter-intelligence Vincent Cannistraro, has said, “Basically, cooked information is working its way into high-level pronouncements and there’s a lot of unhappiness about it in intelligence, especially among analysts at the CIA.”

During the Cuban Missile crisis, President John F. Kennedy presented incontrovertible evidence to the world that missiles had been introduced into Cuba. If Bush has some incontrovertible evidence that Iraq has WMDs, as he claims, why is he unwilling to share that information with anyone, including the weapon’s inspectors?

Based on the evidence, the “war on terrorism” is just a pretext for an imperial “Pax Americana.”

Why should we believe they have any other goals than what they have already self-professed in their report?

The Importance of “Coming Out”

Opening remarks from the 2013 Carolinas Secular Conference

Studies have shown that nonbelievers are the demographic most discriminated against above all others. Surveys have shown that fewer people would vote for an otherwise qualified atheist presidential candidate than would vote for a female, Muslim, African-American, or homosexual. Other studies have shown more respondents say that they would not want their child to marry an atheist, and that atheists as a group did not share their “vision of American society.” A study a few years ago had nonbelievers ranking with rapists as the least trusted demographic.

Even though the Boy Scouts have recently relaxed some of their restrictions regarding having gay members, they still don’t allow nonbelievers. Eight states (including both NC and SC) have exclusionary language towards nonbelievers holding public office included in their Bill of Rights, Declaration of Rights, official oath of office, or in the body of their constitutions.

In 2009, Cecil Bothwell, a duly elected councilperson in Asheville, N.C, had his right to hold office challenged because of the N.C. Constitution’s religious restriction against anyone that doesn’t believe in a monotheistic God. The restriction ranks at the top of the list, right above treason. The first George Bush supposedly said that he didn’t think “that atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots,” and that “This is one nation under God.”

The inspiring words “one nation indivisible” is the way the original Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892. It defined the nation as a melting pot to which people from all backgrounds and beliefs could contribute. No American was excluded in that statement. These words were both secular and inclusive.

When the phrase “under God” was inserted into the Pledge in 1954, it made the words surrounding them into a lie. It was a direct and deliberate insult to all Americans who do not believe in a monotheistic God and to all Americans who believe in the founding ideals of this country not to establish religion.

The Pledge became religious and exclusive.

Two years later, in 1956, Congress passed an act to adopt a new national motto, this motto would supersede our former de facto national motto, the motto that our founders had given us, the motto that had served this nation well for over 150 years. Instead of the secular and all-inclusive “E Pluribus Unum” — Latin for “Out of Many, One” – our new national motto became the religious and exclusive “In God We Trust,” which again excludes anyone that doesn’t believe in a monotheistic God.

We are made to feel like second class citizens in our own country, and we are not represented as a percentage of our population in government.

It appears that being an atheist is the last demographic most people feel they can openly disparage without fear of social repercussions.

We face both official and social discrimination. There are many of you here in groups who know people who are afraid to come out. Some fear that it will adversely affect their jobs or businesses, or that they might be disowned by their friends or families. When some do stand up and come out for one reason or another, they sometimes face bullying, bigotry, and even death threats. Some people here know this from personal experience.

The official and social discrimination and intimidation–that keeps many in the closet–keeps us marginalized and underrepresented. It makes it easier for those who try to promote the mythology that this nation was founded on so-called “Judeo-Christian principles” and for them to erode the separation between church and state in many areas. It makes it easier for theocrats to push for the establishment of religion (as some of our state representatives attempted to do in the last session). It makes it easier for those who want to push intelligent design in school science classes, for those who want to keep our children from learning the facts about birth control, and for those who actually want to bring church services into our public schools. It makes it easier for those who want to control a woman’s reproductive system, for those who want to discriminate about who can marry who, and even for those who don’t want to do anything about climate change (after all, Jesus is a-comin’ soon).

Almost every conflict in the world can be divided along religious lines. Even when religion isn’t the main reason for the conflict, it is always a exacerbating factor. People throughout the world are suffering and dying every day–directly or indirectly–because of religious extremists, and the moderates who provide them with the protective shell or the fertile ground for extremism to grow. It is the root cause of many of the problems we have, from suicide hijackers expecting to be rewarded with virgins for crashing planes into buildings, to children dying of AIDS in Africa because of policies in programs that avoid teaching about birth control contraceptives.

There are even some who look forward to the so-called “End Times” and would like to make it into a self-fulfilling prophecy. They expect humanity to ultimately FAIL. I see these people as the biggest threat to the future of humanity, and I personally don’t want anyone who believes in “End Times” in control of my future.

I respect the freedom of conscience of every individual to believe or not believe whatever they like, so I don’t want to fight these people on a battlefield. I want to eventually win out in the marketplace of ideas. I don’t want humanity to fail. I would like to see humanity SUCCEED, to evolve and progress into the indefinite future. I have hope for the future of humanity, or else I wouldn’t be here before you today.

Some in the secular community are so intimidated by religion in society that they don’t expect to see much change. They think it’s always been this way, so it always will be. But I submit that things ARE changing, and that there is something new in this world that’s never been a part of it before that is making the difference. The X factor in the equation today is the internet. For the first time in the history of humanity, religion will have to fight it out in the marketplace of ideas like it’s never had to do before.

The number of those professing no religion is the fastest growing demographic in the U.S. and the world, while overall religious belief has declined as a percentage of the population. If you look back on the rise of the nonreligious, it seems to coincide with the rise of the internet. It seems that even despite the fact that the religious are outbreeding us, we are gaining ground.

According to an ARIS survey, “Based on their stated beliefs rather than their religious identification” in 2008, roughly 12% of Americans are atheist (no God) or agnostic (unknowable or unsure), and another 12% are deistic (a higher power but no personal God). And our demographic has only gone up since then with almost 1/3 of the youngest generation surveyed now saying they are not religious. Polling from the Pew Research Center found the number of “nones” among all Americans grew from about 15% in 2007 to just under 20% in 2012. Nonreligious Americans now outnumber Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons combined.

Yet many of these other groups have great political clout, while we have almost none at all. None of these other groups feel they need to stay in the closet about what they believe, or have any problem sharing their worldview with others.

A 2005 study of religiosity, secularism and societal health in different countries found that more secular societies functioned better in comparison with more religious societies, with lower teen pregnancy rates, lower abortion rates, lower STD infection rates, lower juvenile and early adult mortality rates, and lower homicide rates. In 2009, a study of religiosity and teen birth rate in the United States found that teenage birth rates are higher in more religious states, even after controlling for differences in income and rates of abortion. Other studies have found that the highest divorce rates are to be found in the Bible Belt, that rates among conservative Christians are the highest, and “The 10 Southern states with some of the highest divorce rates were Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Texas.” There are even fewer nonbelievers in prison as a percentage of their population than any other demographic. So there are practical reasons to try to challenge the prevailing situation.

We have seen some very positive changes in the attitude people have towards the LGBTQ community recently, with over a dozen states now recognizing same-sex marriages. That community has come a long way towards gaining respect and their civil rights in my lifetime. The nontheist community can learn a lot from their efforts over the years. Perhaps the biggest lesson we can learn that we might apply toward ours, which has also been confirmed by studies, is that “coming out” will have the greatest effect in bringing about change. When people find out they personally know someone who is a nonbeliever, they are less likely to hold bigoted opinions about them. We need to let people know that we are their friends, neighbors, coworkers and family members. And we should be as free as anyone else to express our views openly.

I’ve now provided you with some of the many reasons I am out and why I think it is important for as many others to come out as possible. I understand that there are many practical reasons that many will not be able to come out, but I’d like to encourage as many to do so as can, and I’d like to encourage as many others to become active in this movement (to whatever degree possible), even if they can’t come out. The more people who can come out, the easier it will be for others to do so, and so on, until there is no longer any reason for anyone to remain in the closet.

I think it’s important to come out to bring about a better society and a better world. I think it’s important to come out for the future of humanity. And I think it’s important to come out for yourself and others. If you can come out, please do.

Regardless of if you can come out or not, please get involved to whatever extent you can. Be a part of the civil rights movement of our time. “We must be the change we hope to see in the world.”

Extraordinary Claims Require Extraordinary Evidence

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence

American scientist and science popularizer Carl Sagan is credited with the popular skeptical phrase, Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” or, later, Extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence.”

At or about the same time (possibly slightly later than Sagan), founding Skeptical Inquirer editor Marcello Truzzi is on record using the phrase, Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof.” All three of these variations of this concept are still currently in circulation.

A few years later, American writer and professor of biochemistry Isaac Asimov expressed the same basic idea when he said, “I’ll believe anything, no matter how wild and ridiculous, if there is evidence for it. The wilder and more ridiculous something is, however, the firmer and more solid the evidence will have to be.”

Tracing this thought back in time, we find American magician and skeptic Joseph F. Rinn expressing this idea in a 1911 Washington Post article debunking psychics. His version was Wonderful phenomena demand wonderful evidence in their support.”

Skipping back a little further we find French scholar Pierre-Simon Laplace considering this concept in some detail. In 1814, he argued that the more extraordinary the event, the greater the need of its being supported by strong proofs,” and the probability of the falsehood increases in the measure that the deed becomes more extraordinary,” and the probability of the error or of the falsehood of the witness becomes as much greater as the fact attested is more extraordinary.” Taking it a little further, he said, There are things so extraordinary that nothing can balance their improbability.”

Thomas Jefferson’s formulation of this concept predates Laplace by six years where he suggests that extraordinary claims’ verity needs proofs proportioned to their difficulty” in 1808….

“A thousand phenomena present themselves daily which we cannot explain, but where facts are suggested, bearing no analogy with the laws of nature as yet known to us, their verity needs proofs proportioned to their difficulty. A cautious mind will weigh well the opposition of the phenomenon to everything hitherto observed, the strength of the testimony by which it is supported, and the errors and misconceptions to which even our senses are liable.”

We can trace this idea back at least one step further to Scottish philosopher David Hume. His formulation of the idea in 1739 was A wise man, therefore, proportions his belief to the evidence.” Expanding a bit, he said, Suppose, for instance, that the fact, which the testimony endeavours to establish, partakes of the extraordinary and the marvellous; in that case, the evidence, resulting from the testimony, admits of a diminution, greater or less, in proportion as the fact is more or less unusual,” and Such an event, therefore, may be denominated extraordinary, and requires a pretty strong testimony, to render it credible…”

For some time I wasn’t able to trace the formulation of this idea any further back. I’ve now run across the basic concept expressed by Michel Eyquem de Montaigne (1533-1592) as [I]t is far more probable that our senses should deceive us, than that an old woman should be carried up a chimney on a broom stick; and that it is far less astonishing that witnesses should lie, than that witches should perform the acts that were alleged.”

The phrase, Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” has become very popular in the freethought and skeptic communities where it can be found on everything from bumper-stickers to tee-shirts.

Several years ago, a group of skeptics were sitting at a table in a restaurant. One of the group was wearing a tee-shirt with the phrase imprinted. Their waitress commented, “You must work for an insurance company.” Of course, this brought much laughter to everyone at the table.

“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” is more than just a good policy for insurance companies. It is a most useful idea to employ when assessing any extraordinary claims, and it is an essential aspect of critical thinking.

Apologies

Writing in the 9th century might lead you to give some apologies as an introduction.

Here is the basic outline from that time era that some people followed when saying something….

First Apology – Apology for saying whatever the author is planning to say or that he presumes to say it at all. He might also give recognition to whoever is supporting him (or who he would like to support him or gain some favor from).

Second Apology – Apology for saying it the way the author is planning to say it (others can say it better than he can).

Third Apology — The author admits that others know more than he does about whatever he has to say, and he bows to their superior knowledge to correct him where he goes astray.

Author’s Justification: The author thinks that no one else is going to say it (accurately) unless he does, or that no one might say it at all. He expresses a feeling of obligation to the task he has set himself. He feels he has been pressed into his situation by his personal passion on the subject and he is being forced to act. The author feels he is stepping up to the plate when others have not done so.

See Nennius’ apology (from “Historia Brittonum”) for an example of what I’m talking about below:

I, Nennius, disciple of St. Elbotus, have endeavoured to write some extracts which the dulness of the British nation had cast away, because teachers had no knowledge, nor gave any information in their books about this island of Britain. But I have got together all that I could find as well from the annals of the Romans as from the chronicles of the sacred fathers, Hieronymus, Eusebius, Isidorus, Prosper, and from the annals of the Scots and Saxons, and from our ancient traditions. Many teachers and scribes have attempted to write this, but somehow or other have abandoned it from its difficulty, either on account of frequent deaths, or the often recurring calamities of war. I pray that every reader who shall read this book, may pardon me, for having attempted, like a chattering jay, or like some weak witness, to write these things, after they had failed. I yield to him who knows more of these things than I do.

He apologizes for two pages as an introduction and then he has this section above titled “The Apology of Nennius.” I’m not sure that there are any recorded apologies as long or involved as Nennius’ apologies. At least there are none that I am aware of.

Thus results the un-popularized comment, “You are apologizing like Nennius” (something that I made up years ago and which I’ve just decided to try and promote here).

Finally, the author says what he has to say and most of it is wrong.