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Who is Watching the Watchers?

Snowden’s heroic efforts to prevent totalitarianism:


The terrifying reality we face is that the U.S. government has the capabilities to make Orwell’s telescreens in 1984 look like child’s play. Edward Snowden has said we are on the brink of “turnkey tyranny.” He told The Guardian that while working for Booz Allen Hamilton, he “had the authorities to wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant to a federal judge, to even the president, if I had a personal email.” More broadly, he asserted, “the NSA specifically targets the communications of everyone. It ingests them by default. It collects them in its system, and it filters them, and it analyzes them, and it measures them, and it stores them for periods of time, simply because that’s the easiest, most efficient and most valuable way to achieve these ends.”​

As much as I fear another 9/11-like terrorist attack, which is inevitable according to nearly every authority I’ve consulted, from former terrorism czar Richard Clarke to former head of the CIA’s Bin Laden Unit Michael Scheuer, I’m even more afraid of the government’s response. With modern technology, governments have the capacity to monitor everything that everyone does. We could conceivably face a future in which the government flips the switch on the surveillance apparatus it has created, and there will be no possibility to escape or form a coherent rebellion. It will be a form of totalitarianism unrivaled in human history… Read the rest of this entry

Why the West is Losing the War on Terror

Ironically, his Jew-baiting and religious fantasies notwithstanding, we can learn a lot more about the world from Bin Laden than from our leaders:

The first time I saw the title of Michael Scheuer’s Imperial Hubris at my local bookstore many years ago I assumed it was merely another liberal tirade about the Iraq war and how terrorists are victims, not criminals. But I recently learned a lot about the author.  Scheuer served in the CIA for over 20 years, headed the Bin Laden Unit, studied every public statement issued by Bin Laden, considers himself a student of history, particularly the history and art of warfare, and is a hard-core conservative who calls Ronald Reagan a “great and good man.” Equally important, Bin Laden himself has said to Americans that “if you would like to get to know some of the reasons for your losing of your war against us, then read the book of Michael Scheuer in this regard.” Though the book was written in 2004, it remains as important as ever because it shatters many myths peddled by Western propaganda, explains what Bin Laden is really up to, and exposes the folly of the Afghanistan occupation. Read the rest of this entry

Reform, More Illusory than Real

Why I no longer stand by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act:

Wendell Potter, former PR executive for CIGNA turned whistleblower and author of Deadly Spin, writes, “Medical debt was a key reason for 62 percent of personal bankruptcy filings in 2007. In 2008, there were 1.07 million household bankruptcies […] Lack of coverage will contribute to the deaths of 45,000 people this year, or 123 people every day” (144). And it is precisely because of this tragic state of affairs that “in 2009, the five largest for-profit insurance companies […] set records for combined profits.  WellPoint, UnitedHealth Group, Aetna, CIGNA and Humana reported total profits of $12.2 billion in 2009, up 56 percent from the previous year. It was the best year ever for big insurance” (144). As a previously ardent supporter of Obama’s healthcare reform, quotes like these have compelled me to dramatically alter my opinion. The truth is that nothing short of a publicly owned universal system will solve the crisis.

One of the great ironies of the healthcare debate is that enemies of real reform call a public option/single payer system “socialist” and a “government takeover.” As Potter explains, in 1883, Otto von Bismarck, the “Iron Chancellor” and founder of the German Empire, created “the world’s first ‘compulsory sickness insurance’” in an effort to keep the Communists at bay. Extreme conservative anti-socialist that he was, von Bismarck’s universal healthcare system was a ploy designed to cater “to the working classes as leverage against their joining true socialist and labor movements of the day” (83). Other conservative European governments adopted this strategy of “turning benevolence into power” as a measure that “kept Communism from becoming a dominant force,” according to Potter. It’s comparable to how some regimes in the Middle East, such as Saudi Arabia, have recently extended largesse to the population in an effort to discourage revolution. Read the rest of this entry

Corporate Death Spiral

Privatization and lobbying have given some corporations the ability to commit murder with impunity:

We often hear that corporations “get away with murder,” such as when the banks got bailed out and at worst faced meaningless fines, but many people are unaware of the many ways corporations are legally permitted to murder people. And we have virtually no recourse, at least through the current political system. In the worlds of for-profit healthcare, military contracting and privatized water supplies, corporations can murder with impunity.

In his book Deadly Spin, an Insurance Company Insider speaks out on how Corporate PR is Killing Healthcare and Deceiving Americans, Wendell Potter discusses a legal weapon called ERISA. It is one of the most Kafkaesque mechanisms in America, and that’s saying something in the post-9/11 era. Originally designed to help workers protect their pensions during the 1970s, ERISA, or the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, has been transformed into a tool to make insurance companies immune from lawsuits for refusing to provide healthcare. Read the rest of this entry

The Terrifying Christian Right

The gap between fundamentalist and fascist is narrowing:

The Christian Right’s assault on America is frightening, and, as someone who grew up in a world of religious fanaticism, my personal experience gives me a sharp sense of where this is heading. In his 2007 book, American Fascists, the Christian Right and the War on America, Chris Hedges, a self-identified Christian who graduated from Harvard Divinity School, describes what America would look like if evangelicals, or dominionists, complete their takeover of the American political system

“America becomes, in this militant Biblicism, an agent of god, and all political and intellectual opponents of America’s Christian leaders are viewed, quite simply, as agents of Satan. Under Christian dominion, America will be no longer a sinful and fallen nation but one in which the 10 Commandments form the basis of our legal system, creationism and ‘Christian values’ form the basis of our educational system, and the media and government proclaim the Good News to one and all. Labor unions, civil rights laws and public schools will be abolished. Women will be removed from the workforce to stay at home, and all those deemed insufficiently Christian will be denied citizenship. Aside from its proselytizing mandate, the federal government will be reduced to the protection of property rights and ‘homeland security…’ The only legitimate voices in this state will be Christian. All others will be silenced.” Read the rest of this entry

The Coup In Slow Motion

Be sure to read unedited version…

While the rich get much much richer, everyone else gets the shaft– how corporations dependent on welfare have orchestrated a coup in slow motion:

Many Americans know that our government is run by and for the rich.  But few understand just how dramatically the game is rigged.  Investigative reporter and specialist in tax and economic issues David Cay Johnston describes in his 2007 book, Free Lunch, How the Wealthiest Americans enrich themselves at Government Expense (and Stick you with the Bill), the extent to which the levers of power in this country have been utterly corrupted and manipulated by the superrich.  Nothing goes untouched.  Every industry has been subverted.  Each branch of government transformed into a tool for the powerful to further enrich themselves and consolidate control.  And nearly every celebrity millionaire and billionaire, such as Warren Buffet and George Steinbrenner, steals money from the nanny state all the while preaching the wonders of the free market.

Free Lunchoffers a graphic description of how the great philosophers in political economy, primarily Adam Smith and Karl Marx, were right.  They understood that the wealthy and powerful always conspire to enrich themselves at society’s expense.  They do so by securing massive government subsidies, tax breaks, and using eminent domain to kick people out of their homes and steal public land, among others.  And they will continue to succeed unless we resist. Read the rest of this entry

Never Forget: How Bush Lied Us Into War

John Prados’  book Hoodwinked, The Documents that Reveal How Bush Sold Us a War uses smoking gun evidence to expose the administration that knowingly deceived the American public in the build up to the Iraq War:

Many Americans are vaguely aware that George W. Bush lied us into a war. Everyone knows about the infamous 16 words in his State of the Union speech and Valerie Plame. But few appreciate the full extent to which the administration brazenly manipulated intelligence, the United Nations, Congress, the media and ultimately the American people. The common perception is that Bush was just misled by his intelligence analysts. That he may have been wrong about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction but was only acting according to what the CIA told him. This is false.

In perhaps the most comprehensive analysis of the Iraq war deception,Hoodwinked, The Documents that Reveal How Bush Sold Us a War (published in 2004), John Prados, an analyst for the National Security Archive who has spent decades observing the CIA, exposes in great detail with smoking gun evidence how the administration knowingly deceived the public and forced CIA director George Tenet to take the fall during the lead-up to war. With the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and the recent propaganda blitzes by Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, now is an important time to reflect on where our government has taken us since that fateful September morning, as the assault on truth and the rule of law launched by Bush has opened the floodgates for executive overreach, which has arguably increased under Obama. Read the rest of this entry

The True Nature of the War in Afghanistan

In her book, A Woman among Warlords, Malalai Joya speaks out on the real purpose of the United States’ occupation, and the war’s disastrous consequences

The Afghanistan war is not the good war we should have fought instead of Iraq.  It is not about making us safer from terrorism.  It is not about suffocating the rising tide of Islamic extremism.  It is not about spreading women’s rights.  And it is certainly not about exporting democracy.  The war is a part of the grand chess game being played out by the United States and its rivals in what state planners have long regarded as “the most strategically important area in the world”— the Middle East.  In A Woman Among Warlords, the Extraordinary Story of an Afghan who Dared to Raise Her Voice, Malalai Joya—a young Afghan who has served in Parliament, stood up to the warlords and faced countless assassination attempts while heroically leading the struggle for her country’s freedom— describes in graphic detail the true nature of the war, and the disastrous consequences it has wrought.

“The real purpose” of the occupation, she writes, “is for the United States and its allies to establish permanent bases to serve their strategic aims.”  Joya explains that “Central Asia is a key strategic region, and the United States wants to have a permanent military presence there to counteract China’s influence in particular.”  Furthermore, “Central Asia is also very rich in oil and natural gas resources.  One of the reasons that NATO wants to stay in Afghanistan is to ensure that the West has better access to these riches.”  For example, “it was recently announced that a pipeline is to be built from the Caspian Sea, through Turkmenistan and Afghanistan, and then on to Pakistan and India.  The West does not want these resources flowing through Iran or Russia.”  Finally, “Afghanistan has many other untapped natural resources,” such as “massive deposits of copper,” “iron,” and “other metals in Eastern Afghanistan.” Read the rest of this entry

The Tyranny of American Healthcare

Do you realize how badly the health insurance corporations are screwing you? Let me give you an idea. While the average American family pays $13,770 a year in premiums, in France premiums are dirt cheap, with a single person making $20,000 a year paying only $12.25 a month in 2007. The co-pay for a visit to an orthopedic costs 10 bucks. And the system is much cheaper than ours: per capita costs in France are $3165 compared to $7000 in America, while healthcare spending as a percentage of GDP is 10 percent there and 17 percent here. According to journalist T.R. Reid’s 2009 book, The Healing of America, a Global Quest for Better, Cheaper and Fairer Health Care, if we could get our spending down to France’s levels we’d save $600 billion a year. More broadly, America is way behind the rest of the industrialized world when it comes to health care, and it’s almost entirely because of the for-profit insurance model and our jungle-like fragmented system.

Reid traveled across the world to study other health care systems to offer guidance in our quest for reform. He reports that American health care is a laughingstock: “Whenever some aspect of a nation’s health care system is criticized, the all-purpose response from those in power is ‘At least we’re not as bad as the Americans.’” Although people in other countries clearly have an idea of how evil for-profit healthcare is, in interviews many were nonetheless astonished to learn from Reid that in America people go bankrupt and die because they can’t afford their medical bills. In fact, Reid says roughly 700,000 go bankrupt every year, and around 45,000 die from curable diseases because they were either uninsured or underinsured. Read the rest of this entry

A Sense of Betrayal

“The issue for me is the morals and ethics behind it, the standards that were let down, all the things that went wrong, you know that’s all I think about, how can the people that are supposed to be taking care of us take such a nonchalant attitude about what’s happening to us?” These are the words of Javier Ocasio, a staff sergeant who served in Iraq from July 2006 to October 2007. As one of the many victims of American imperialism, he feels betrayed by his leaders. He knows he was sent to the Middle East for oil, that his president lied America into war, and that Halliburton/KBR grossly neglects the army. Ocasio has suffered tremendously, but he has not given up. He is committed to fighting the system, and he is determined to do whatever is necessary to run for president in 2016.

The sense of betrayal is acute: “Anybody that’s ever been there [Iraq] man, knows straight up that… it’s about oil, everybody knows it’s about oil. They’re like, what are we doing here? This is about oil, why are we trying to, you know, whatever? This does not make any sense; we’re wasting our time, our lives. You know, just get us out of here! We don’t need to be here, they don’t even want us here. But nobody listens, everybody says, ‘Oh, they need our help, they need this, they need that,’ no they don’t, who are we to tell them what they need?” Read the rest of this entry

Abolish the Imperial Project

From Guatemala to Iraq, U.S. imperialism has harmed our subjects and our citizens.

I recently watched the excellent HBO documentary Burma Soldier about Myo Myint, a heroic dissident who left the Burmese army to fight against his country’s evil system. It is a terrifying story—the man was arrested, tortured and locked up in solitary confinement for years by a brutal military dictatorship. He has one leg, one arm and three deformed fingers. At the end of the film Myint moves to America to join his family, who emigrated over a decade earlier. The civilized nature of our free society made America look like the antithesis of Burma’s regime. At the time I couldn’t help but contemplate the irony of how America’s policies—which have been rooted in imperialism and given rise to countless regimes as ruthless as Burma’s—completely contrasts with that picture. The scope of America’s empire is almost worldwide and deeply ingrained in our culture. Stephen Kinzer’s Overthrow, America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq offers a nice outline of how this has played out during the past century.

Kinzer’s description of life in Guatemala after the United States organized a military coup to overthrow the democratically elected government of Jacobo Arbenz in 1954 and impose a military dictatorship favorable to American corporate interests describes the situation in Burma today, as depicted in Burma Soldier: “death squads roamed with impunity, chasing down and murdering politicians, union organizers, student activists, and peasant leaders. Thousands of people were kidnapped… Many were tortured to death on military bases. In the countryside, soldiers rampaged through villages, massacring Mayan Indians by the hundreds.” Kinzer adds that “This repression raged for three decades, and during that period, soldiers killed more civilians in Guatemala than in the rest of the hemisphere combined.” Throughout, “the United States provided Guatemala with hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid.” Furthermore, “Americans trained and armed the Guatemalan army and police… and dispatched planes from the Panama Canal Zone to drop napalm on suspected guerrilla hideouts.” Read the rest of this entry

Occupy Wall Street is Here to Stay

(Photo by Adam Lempel)

They keep trying, but they keep failing.  The elites are doing everything in their power to crush the revolution.  But they will continue to fail.  Every time they crack down we just get bigger.

After Bloomberg launched a most vicious, illegal and egregious raid on Liberty Square, we bounced right back.  I spent all Tuesday at the park, and at first it was depressing.  Seeing the police occupying Zuccotti Park in blatant contempt of a preliminary judicial ruling was tough.  But I saw someone holding a sign thanking Bloomberg for being the best propaganda vehicle for our revolution.  He was dead silent as he brandished his message, clearly tired, but steadfast in demeanor.

I walked up to him in the hopes of finding inspiration.  I introduced myself, saying I appreciate his optimism but cannot find a reason to be optimistic myself; “I’ve been here since day one but feel really down; can you tell me why I should be hopeful?” I asked.  A big smile lit his face up, brimming with exuberance and assurance.  He said his name is Murdoch. Read the rest of this entry

The Crackdown Should Come As No Surprise

(Photo by Adam Lempel)

As I documented over a week ago, this was coming.  The corporate elites have been gearing up to crush Occupy Wall Street.  They wanted to take the battle right to the heart of the revolution, in Liberty Square.  They launched a propaganda blitz, transformed Lower Manhattan into a sphere ruled by martial law, and then subverted the legal system to support their crimes.  And their propaganda is so powerful that many people, even those who should know better, actually side with the state.  Anyone who stands on the sidelines now is complicit.  If you permit the corporate state to get away with destroying the First Amendment you deserve what you will get.

I wasn’t on Wall Street Monday night.  I was out of the city and couldn’t return in time.  My friend through Occupy Wall Street, Priya, was there.  I read her text right before I went to sleep—“OWS raided now!!!!!”  I called her first thing in the morning.  She was hysterical.  “It was horrible,” she said.  “They just came in, destroyed all the tents, beat people up, sprayed people with pepper spray.  They destroyed everyone’s property and threw the books from our library into dump trucks.”  I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, even though I should have been prepared.

“Sorry,” sobbing, “but this is just very emotional for me.  This was like home.  This was a spiritual center, a community.  And now everything’s gone.  It’s all gone.  So many people have nowhere to go.” Read the rest of this entry

There Are No Good Jobs to Occupy, Mr. Giuliani

Unless you have the right friends in government (photo by Adam Lempel):

It’s fitting that former mayor Giuliani, himself one of the elites responsible for America’s decline and the explosion of crony capitalism, would denounce Occupy Wall Street as consisting of lazy hippies.  His accusations are false, exposing his embarrassing ignorance about the plight of ordinary Americans today, and he conveniently omits any talk of his own criminal efforts to enrich himself and his friends through government.

The first thing to be said is that nearly everyone I’ve met at Occupy Wall Street has a job, albeit one that is very much beneath their qualifications, leaving them grossly underpaid and lacking benefits.  And those who are unemployed are not so by choice.  One friend I’ve made, Max, is a carpenter.  He’s extremely smart, educated and articulate.  But he doesn’t make much money and has a liver condition which will kill him within the next decade or so if he fails to get surgery.  Of course he can’t get that surgery in America, thanks to our corporate health care system.  He will have to eventually move to Costa Rica, which has superior health care even though it’s a poor country, or die.  Read the rest of this entry

A Land Where the Law Protects the Powerful

The People v. Goldman Sachs, a personal account (photo by Adam Lempel):

What a day.  It started with a hearing at Liberty Square—the people vs. Goldman Sachs.  Victims came to tell of the suffering they have endured at the hands of this criminal firm.  And after the verdict was reached, the victims were arrested while the guilty were protected by the police.  Hours later, I found that the New York Post is calling for further arrests and an end to free speech, part of a broader misinformation blitz launched by the mass media intended to set the stage for the state to break up Occupy Wall Street.

One woman came to the mock trial at Liberty Square to express her grievances over how Goldman Sachs has ruined her life.  The organization she works for had invested money in Goldman, and most of it got wiped out by the sub-prime mortgage bubble.  She has seen her paycheck, which had already been paltry, cut in half, and it will likely evaporate entirely in a few months because of Goldman’s fraud—the firm played both sides of the game by packaging worthless mortgages as collateralized debt obligations (CDO) and selling them to pension funds, banks and other institutions under the guise that they were secure all the while betting against these very securities through credit default swaps (CDS).  As Rolling Stone journalist Matt Taibi reports, they knew they were selling shit, and “Goldman’s mortgage department accounted for 54 percent of the bank’s risk.”  The object was to maximize profits at everyone else’s expense.  And they wiped out millions of people, from small investors to pensioners to ordinary workers. Read the rest of this entry

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