Safety Is Always Temporary


It's Just That Simple

Terrorism takes us back to ages we thought were long gone
if we allow it a free hand to corrupt democratic societies and destroy the basic rules of international life.

- Jacques Chirac

by Tom Tomorrow

Source: Village Voice 9 April 2002

The Real Theory Of Everything Or, War As An Advertising Campaign

Everyone has an opinion as to what these wars are really about...

by Chris Siebert

Thomas Friedman recently summed up his views on the aftermath of the war in Iraq with an essay in the New York Times called "A Theory Of Everything".  As with much of what Friedman writes, this column was a tour de force in the field of selective history.  In order to correct the record (the Times needs all the help it can get), here is a fairly short alternative theory of everything, which attempts to fill in what Friedman left out:

In The Beginning, Empire

For centuries of human history, empires come and go.  About 500 years ago, the British empire expands to the new world, colonising it for centuries while enslaving millions of Africans.  A rogue element of the British empire breaks off in order to more completely enjoy the fruits of violence.  Millions of Africans are kept in brutal bondage for another 90 years, more than 5 decades after Great Britain frees its slaves.  It takes a bloody civil war to achieve their liberation.

Tens of millions of immigrants are then brought in from around the world in order to provide cheap labour for the money-making feeding frenzy that results from industrialisation.  In the meantime, the indigenous population is subjected to what is now known as ethnic cleansing and/or genocide, and reduced to small, shattered groups of people living on a fraction of their former land.  In order to satisfy the appetites of the white men who enslaved the Africans and decimated the indigenous population, a huge swath of Mexico is conquered and annexed, followed by the colonisation of Hawaii, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and numerous south sea islands.  Many nations in Latin America and the Caribbean are taken over for years at a time.

In other instances, commercial interests are sated by the installation and maintenance of authoritarian regimes around the globe.  Democratic governments are destroyed in Iran and Chile, and replaced by brutal thugs.  Dictatorships are also funded in Cuba, Guatemala, Brazil, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, Uzbekistan, South Korea, Taiwan, and dozens of other nations.  The people in each of these nations, who suffer under brutal authoritarian rule, know who pays for the boot on their neck, even though most American people do not.  Those who suffer under US-backed dictators learn to hate the nation that props up their tormentors.

The People Fight Back

Still, the worst aspects of this runaway piece of European empire, known as the United States of America, are fought by many of its own inhabitants.  Millions of women, African-Americans, Latino-Americans, gay men and women, and progressive white men are inspired by the wonderful ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and attempt to make American reality fit the ideals.  They fight and die for the end of slavery, the right of women to vote, the direct election of senators, the progressive income tax, the end of child labour, the 40-hour work week, the weekend, the right to form a union and bargain collectively, social security, the end of fascism in Europe and Japan, the creation of the United Nations, the right of African-Americans to vote, medicare, medicaid, the minimum wage, public health and public housing, environmental protection and gay rights.

But the evil forces (for what else can we call slaveholders and the mass-murderers of the indigenous people?) in America fight back.  After slavery is ended, the conservative forces fight back and win for 100 years, in the form of Jim Crow.  Then, when Jim Crow is finally defeated in the 1960's, the conservative forces fight back yet again, leaving the Democratic party and electing Ronald Reagan and two George Bush's.  This brings us to the era that we live in now.

The conservative project of ending 100 years of progressive social legislation, started under Reagan, is continued under a new White House resident, selected in a judicial coup: George "Dubya" Bush.  This program is unpopular, and includes the repeal of much of the Progressive era (the progressive income tax), the New Deal (social security, collective bargaining and the United Nations) and the Great society (medicare and medicaid, environmental protection and voting rights-see Florida, 2000).  Long term trends toward peace, international cooperation, democracy, and environmental protection are seen as a direct threat to the interests of the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld cabal, and they try to turn back the clock.  The 2 Bushes bring us 4 wars in 6 years (one every 18 months) against former CIA clients (Manuel Noriega, the Taliban, Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein), largely in the hopes of whittling away at "the Vietnam syndrome", that is popular opposition to profitable wars of aggression.

War As An Advertising Campaign

This conservative counter-attack wouldn't stand a chance if it weren't for the fears of many Americans after 9/11.  War is undertaken not in self-defence (since all nation states have return addresses, no nation state threatens the US after the collapse of the Soviet Union), but as an advertising campaign.  The product is the 19th century American Empire, the target audience is a select group of only about 50 million scared and/or ignorant Americans (out of a worldwide population of over 6 billion people), and the TV commercial is footage of the US armed forces kicking ass.

Amazingly it works.  The Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld cabal invents threats and lies about policies at home and abroad, from war in Iraq to tax cuts for the rich.  50 million Americans support George Bush, and the remaining 6 billion people on the planet despise and fear him.  The international good will gained by the US in the aftermath of 9/11 is completely squandered.  American democracy is scaled back, international instability is fomented, and the threat of terrorism increases.  The defence and energy industries (led by Bechtel, Halliburton and the Carlyle Group), which run the US government, are pleased, and reap enormous profits.

Progress in our nation and the world is set back decades.  But the corporate media compare Bush to Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D Roosevelt, forgetting that their wars were fought in the midst of massive progressive movements at home and international cooperation (The League of Nations and The United Nations) abroad.  The US media is reduced to little more than a cheerleader for war, and becomes the laughing stock of the world, as millions of Americans turn to the BBC for fair and balanced coverage.  But as the Bush team rallies the 50 million Americans that buy its product, the rest of the world is mobilised against them.  As the old union slogan goes, which side are you on?

Chris Siebert is a blues and jazz piano player and the bandleader for Lavay Smith and her Red Hot Skillet Lickers.  He lives in San Francisco when he's not on tour in the US, Canada, or Japan.  He can be reached at

Source:  Monsay 9 June 2003

A Barrage That Buries All Truth

by Roger Franklin

These are strange days in America, times when truths you thought were hard as stone simply vanish in the twinkling of a lie.  It began on a fine blue morning 8 months ago, when Mohammed Atta and his hijackers made the Twin Towers disappear and left only the dark shadows of unanswered questions in their place.  Who helped the hijackers?  Who was Atta meeting on his many flying visits to bucolic burgs in rural America?  Was it just coincidence that two members of his team checked into the same motel where Timothy McVeigh holed up before the Oklahoma bombing?

One does not need to be paranoid to perceive a pattern.  Since 11 September, certainties have become chimæras and much of what we hear from Washington has grown vague and ill-defined.

Take what has been happening at the Pentagon, where Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld last week waved the wand of his disapproval and made a behemoth of a gun simply fade away.  Known as the Crusader, the giant howitzer had been high on a list of weapons America's generals have long coveted, in this case through almost 20 years of intense efforts to obtain the US$11 billion needed to build it.  Yet now, after just a few short days, it has been consigned to the trash, as were two decades worth of misleading arguments by the generals who swore blind that the project was vital to America's security.  Evidently the Crusader was nothing of the sort, at least not according to Rumsfeld, who said the giant howitzer was a relic of the Cold War, when the perceived threat was armies rather than terrorists armed with cheap knives and dreams of a martyr's glory. Far better to spend the money on satellite-guided artillery shells of the sort that could have buried bin Laden's followers in the caves of Tora Bora.

So who to believe?  Certainly not the generals, who responded to Rumsfeld's assault on their precious project by sending tame congressmen a list of made-to-order lies - "talking points" in the parlance of Washington - to be quoted and consulted by lawmakers keen to rescue the Crusader from its enemies.  Nothing unusual here - lobbying games and political offensives have always defined the way America stocks its arsenal.  In this form of warfare, a weapon's lack of usefulness on the battlefield has had little bearing on its ability to survive the budgetary process.

Ten years ago, it was another radar-guided, gee-whiz marvel that made the point, displaying its many failings at a public demonstration at which the billion-dollar prototype was supposed to knock a drone helicopter out of the sky.  Unfortunately, the gun ignored the target, swung menacingly over the spectator stand and pointed its multi-barrel gun at a portable toilet.  As red-faced Pentagon officials later conceded, the gun's "infallible" sensors had mistaken the porta-loo's ventilation fans for the rotors of enemy choppers.

This time, Rumsfeld did not allow matters to proceed even that far.  Furious that his anti-Crusader edicts were being questioned, he launched a witch-hunt to identify the moles trying to subvert his will.  At one stage, it looked as if Defence Undersecretary Thomas White would pay with his head, since he was a well-known ally of the Crusader and the prime suspect to find who authorised the sly lobbying campaign.  Well, you can add that theory to the list of crumbled certainties.  By week's end, Rumsfeld had cleared White.  The real leakers have yet to be revealed, but when they are, Rumsfeld has vowed that their futures will be as bleak as the Crusader's.  Given Rumsfeld's clout, not even the big gun's most ardent advocates openly defy him.

Could it be that America's defence is finally being organised according to the dictates of relative honesty and common sense?  For all the reluctant progress the Crusader's demise indicates the Pentagon has made in that direction, the babble of dubious tales coming from the US intelligence community can only make one wonder.

Mohammed Atta is again at the centre of the strange stories, whispers that change almost by the day.  Shortly after 11 September, when intelligence sources let it be known that Atta had met an Iraqi spymaster in Prague, all manner of theories were advanced to explain the rendezvous.  He was collecting the anthrax that was soon to be mailed out to newsrooms and lawmakers across America.  Or maybe Saddam's emissary was giving bin Laden's boy a final go-ahead for the attack.  But in the past few weeks, a slew of anonymous officials have begun insisting that the Prague parley never took place.

To New York Times columnist and former Nixon aide William Safire, the about-face smacks of an organised disinformation campaign being mounted by spooks keen to minimise the intelligence failures that allowed the 11 September attacks.  They are covering their culpability, he suggests, with the same sort of lies that the Pentagon deployed to save the Crusader.  So where's the truth?  In a country whose president seldom misses a chance to remind listeners that America is at war, the fog of uncertainty blurs everything - from the truth about big, useless guns to inconvenient details of butchers and their plotting.

Source: 11 May 2002

Big Brother Is Watching, Listening

by John Blackstone

San Francisco - It is America's new reality: security and surveillance.  From intense scrutiny at airports to expanded government authority to track Internet use, federal agents now watch American citizens more closely than ever.  Such scrutiny seemed over the line to retired phone company worker Barry Reingold, after the FBI got interested in remarks Reingold made at his health club.  After loudly criticising the war in Afghanistan, Reingold had some unexpected visitors a few days later.  "I said, you know, 'Who's there?'  And they said, 'It's the FBI,'" said Reingold, 60.

Reingold says the two agents wanted to know more about his locker room outburst.  "Someone's reported to us that you've been talking about what happened on 9/11 and terrorism and oil and Afghanistan," Reingold said the agents told him.  The FBI insists agents do not interview people because of their political views.  But since 9/11, the agency says it needs to cast a wider net than ever in its search for information.  That's helped create fears the FBI could slip back to the days of J Edgar Hoover, when the agency went outside the law to watch Americans whose politics Hoover disagreed with.  The current FBI director Robert Mueller says investigations today are lawful - and thorough.  "If we get a threat," he said, "we will do everything we can to interview anybody who may have some information about that threat."  When a locker room bull session can bring questions from the FBI, it's clear agents are casting a wide net indeed.

Kate Rafael, a California peace activist, often takes part in anti-war demonstrations.  But she was stunned when an FBI agent called her, seeking information about Muslim men.  "If it's your job to hunt Islamic fundamentalist terrorists," said Rafael, "then it's your job to know that they don't hang out with Jewish lesbians in San Francisco."

Josh Thayer got a surprise, too.  "I'm about to go to a meeting, very stressful day, all of a sudden, the FBI calls."  The agent wanted to know about the computer systems at Independent Media, a leftist Web site where Josh occasionally works as a volunteer technician.  Thayer said he has no idea how the FBI got his name.  "I really don't.  That is, to me, that's the scariest part.  You are being watched, you know, like what you do isn't anonymous."

From left to right, government surveillance since 11 September is raising privacy fears.  US Representative Bob Barr, a conservative Republican from Georgia, has joined liberal Democrats to back new privacy legislation.  "That sphere of what's left of privacy gets smaller and smaller and smaller," said Barr.  "Each incremental taking away of that privacy by the government becomes much more important."

John Blackstone is a CBS news correspondent

Source: 15 May 2002 © CBS Worldwide Incorporated; all rights reserved

"Big Brother" Amazon Automatically Removes 1984 from Kindle E-book Reader without Warning

Amazon has come under fire for "hacking" into customers' e-readers to delete a pirated book.  A school student is suing for deleting an e-book he purchased for his e-reader device without any prior warning.  Justin Gawronski, 17, was left confused after a his copy of George Orwell's 1984, which he was reading for a school assignment, disappeared from his Kindle reader.

Both 1984 and Animal Farm were removed from customers' devices without warning or permission after Amazon realised the electronic copies [they had sold] were pirated.  Amazon boss Jeffrey Bezos has apologised to customers for remotely removing the e-books and said the company gave customers automatic refunds.  However, lawyers on behalf of Michigan student Gawronski and Antoine Bruguier, an adult reader in Milpitas, California, have now filed a class action lawsuit against the online company.  The case seeks unspecified damages for all buyers of e-books that Amazon deleted from the Kindle as well as a ban on future deletions.  They argue that Amazon never disclosed to customers that it "possessed the technological ability or right to remotely delete digital content purchased through the Kindle Store."

Bruguier complained to Amazon repeatedly after losing his copy of 1984, appealing in vain for that or an authorised edition to be restored to his Kindle, according to the lawsuit.  "I thought that once purchased, the books were mine," he wrote.

Gawronski said he was assigned 1984 for an advanced placement course in which students must turn in reflections on every 100 pages of text when they return from summer break, then take a test.  He was 1/3 through the book when it disappeared from his Kindle.  His notes on the book were "rendered useless because they no longer referenced the relevant parts of the book," according to the lawsuit.

Jay Edelson, a Chicago lawyer who filed the lawsuit, said that Amazon's actions could have far-reaching consequences if allowed to stand.  " had no more right to hack into people's Kindles than its customers have the right to hack into Amazon's bank account to recover a mistaken overpayment," Edelson said.  "Technology companies increasingly feel that because they have the ability to access people's personal property, they have the right to do so.  That is 100% contrary to the laws of this country."

Patty Smith, an Amazon spokeswoman, said the Seattle-based company was aware of the filing but does not comment on pending litigation.

Source: 31 July 2009

See also:

bullet Freedom of the Press Is Never Safe - A Justice Department surveillance directive gives the government unchecked power to eavesdrop on confidential conversations between lawyers and any clients suspected of terrorism - without prior judicial authorisation or statutory basis...

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