Tactical Linguistics Research Institute

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Posts Tagged ‘News

Wrestling with Phantoms

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Last month, ABC News reported on the results of an undercover Department of Homeland Security test to assess the effectiveness of security screening procedures at US airports.  Although the results of the study could not be independently confirmed, multiple media outlets repeated the claim that agents smuggling fake contraban through aiport security were able to get 95% of their fake weapons and explosves past screening agents the Transportation Security Administration’s travel checkpoints.

While most of the recycled news stories predictably framed the findings in terms of the ineptitude of the upopular TSA, from a statistical perspective the meaning of the report are much different.

A 95% security failure rate is the best empirical evidence we have to suggest there are no terrorists are airports.  If there were terrorists smuggling guns and bombs into airports, then, presumably, we would have heard about some horrible jihadi shooting spree at an airport by now.  It would seem the only people smuggling contraban into airports these days is the government itself.

This state of affairs — where the government bureaucracy terrorizes itself on TV, with the general population as collateral damage — has a long pedigree.  It is, effectively, a Cold War phenomenon wrapped in a new garb to keep the boogieman scary.

During the Cold War, American schoolchildren were periodically terrorized by “duck and cover” drills, which presumed to offer some defense against a suprise Soviet nuclear attack.  Despite all the hype about the Soviet nuclear threat, however, the only radioactive fallout Americans were ever exposed to during the Cold War came from the American government itself.  Decades of atmospheric tests, thermonuclear tourism in Las Vegas, nuclear accidents like Mighty Oak (radiation from which was blamed on Chernobyl) and Midas Myth, all exposed Americans to nuclear fallout in the name of fighting the Soviet nuclear threat.

Today, during the War on Terrorwhich continues despite the retirement of that epithet — we have a similar scenario, where the Federal Bureau of Investigation incites and entraps would-be terrorists in order to justify the government’s anti-terrorism policies.  From the “Detroit Sleeper Cell” (a farce created by prosecutorial misconduct) to the “Liberty City Seven”, most high-profile terrorism cases have been the creation of the FBI.  Even if the charges in these cases are overturned, once the incident gets into the mass media, the damage is done.  This is a reality TV replacement for the fruity loops terror alerts.

While the first victim in all this is the truth, the un-critical parroting of spurious claims by the media adds a new dimension to the current brainwashing.  We like to assume that because of the Internet, information is more accessible than ever.  Unfortunately, the critical distinctions between information, facts, truth, and intelligence has been lost.

Government Accountability and Efficiency

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In a recent talk about cyber security, NSA Director Mike Rogers claimed:

As it stands, Rogers explained, we’re losing somewhere between $100 billion and $400 billion worth of intellectual property to theft each year. This, he said, is of particular concern to the Department of Defense, which watches as its contractors networks are regularly compromised by adversaries.

To the extent that his statement reflects how US tax dollars are spent, the situation is to a considerable extent the result of military downsizing under President Clinton, which wasn’t really downsizing, but outsourcing.  Issued on May 21, 1996, Executive Order 13005 – Empowerment Contracting states its objectives as follows:

In order to promote economy and efficiency in Federal procurement, it is necessary to secure broad-based competition for Federal contracts. This broad competition is best achieved where there is an expansive pool of potential contractors capable of producing quality goods and services at competitive prices. A great and largely untapped opportunity for expanding the pool of such contractors can be found in this Nation’s economically distressed communities.

The problem is, this way of approaching “efficiency” leads directly to reduced accountability. Those who rail against government inefficiency don’t understand that accountability is not efficient: it is not efficient to justify your actions at every step. So the push to make government more lean and “efficient” by outsourcing government functions to the private sector leads directly to an erosion of accountability. You can’t have both accountability and efficiency as policy goals.

Pulitzer prize winning historian Gary Wills suggested that, for example, part of why the Manhattan Project was conducted with such extraordinary secrecy was specifically to evade accountability. The Russians knew what we were up to, the Germans probably knew too, it was the American people kept in the dark. Wills argues this was probably to avoid potential opposition to the development of nuclear weapons in light of the 1925 Geneva Protocols against chemical and biological weapons. Around the globe, people were shocked by the destructiveness of mechanized warfare during World War I and by the use of chemical weapons.  The First World War and the technological horrors is brought were still very much in public memory by the time World War II came around.

Wills also points out that this use of secrecy to evade accountability was no isolated instance. When the US bombed Cambodia, the Cambodians knew it, it was US citizens kept in the dark. When the US invaded Cuba, the Cubans knew what was happening and the Soviets knew, it was US citizens kept in the dark.

Today we have active drone campaigns in at least eight foreign countries responsible for the deaths of thousands in what is essentially an undeclared global war. Insofar as the targets are terrorists, the terrorists know they’re being targeted. Again, it’s US citizens kept in the dark.

The origin of the “state secrets” doctrine derives not from any law that Congress passed, but from efforts by the US military to evade accountability over flaws in the engine design of a new aircraft, which led to the deaths of several citizens.

Accountability is not efficient. To increase accountability with surveillance matters, there needs to be a reduction in contracting, which means, the government needs to get bigger. Edward Snowden — a contractor himself — would seem to be a clear cut example in support of this view.

Written by Indigo Jones

February 26, 2015 at 8:44 pm

Primer on Resistance and the Surveillance State

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There’s no Internet without surveillance. The Internet was built by the US military to be robust, not for privacy or security.  Privacy was not part of the Internet’s design goals.

The Internet became a commonplace household word in part because of the hype surrounding an economic bubble created during the presidency of Bill Clinton.  Under Bill Clinton, the US Congress also enacted the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act at the same time that Windows 95 introduced Americans to personal computers and the phrase “information superhighway” introduced Americans to networking. Surveillance was an integral part of handing the Internet over to commerce.

The relationship between commerce and the surveillance state is now well-established: Apple and Microsoft are suspect, and Yahoo has made surveillance a business proposition — as per 18 U.S.C. § 2706, Yahoo’s 2009 rates ran as follows:

Basic subscriber records cost $20 for the first ID, $10 per ID thereafter; basic group Information (including information about moderators) cost $20 for a group with a single moderator; contents of subscriber accounts — including email — cost $30-$40 per user; contents of groups cost $40 – $80 per group.

Given that typical internet advertising revenue brings in only pennies per click, the current scale of Internet surveillance clearly implies that spying on customers is big business for online firms.

Other telecommunications carriers have made similar overtures, some companies have faced legal and economic reprisal for refusing to cooperate, and yet others have availed themselves of their free speech rights as corporate persons to engage in this dubious commerce.

It should be reason enough to be disturbed by NSA surveillance that the Founders prohibited this type of information gathering in the 4th Amendment to the US Constitution. The excuse “I’ve got nothing to hide” misses the point.  The government should obey the law, that’s a core feature of what “rule of law” means. And the example of non-violent resistance through non-participation set by Ghandi and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and vegetarians and vegans offers a clear a lesson for how to resist the surveillance society: stop participating in an abusive system.  The Internet is cruelty to human animals and it’s bad for the social environment.

If it weren’t for so many Americans purchasing data plans on “smart” phones, purchasing home Internet access, and dutifully reporting their daily thoughts and habits psychological makeup on FaceBook accounts, the costs to Uncle Sam for maintaining the current surveillance state would very rapidly prove prohibitive.  That is, if the government had to pay your phone bill and your internet costs and pay a spy to follow you around to listen in on your conversations, it could no longer afford to spy on everybody. Through consumer habits and the cultural value placed on convenience, Americans effectively subsidize the surveillance state on behalf of the governmentDan Geer stated the matter succinctly: our online choices are between freedom, security, and convenience, but we can only pick two.

From a cost perspective, a “vegetarian” approach to resisting the surveillance state (that is, by simply opting out) is an inexpensive solution that aims at increasing the cost of surveillance to the state.  This approach requires little social coordination other than a shared will to change prevailing circumstances — and a little personal initiative.   Such a “vegetarian” approach also serves to inject additional uncertainty into what data is gathered (thereby diminishing the value of what data Uncle Sam does collect).  This doesn’t mean life without the internet any more than vegetarianism means life without food, it just means being more selective about where your internet comes from, where you take it, and what you do with it.

You don’t need to be online all day.  A good starting point would be to make a habit of leaving your cellphone tracking device at home once in a while.  Just because your cellphone is wireless, that doesn’t mean you need to take it with you everywhere you go.  If you take it with you everywhere you go, it’s more of a tracking device than a phone.  When Uncle Sam looks through your cell tower data, changing your cellphone habits will increase the uncertainty as to your location at any given time during the day.

If you care to preserve “democracy,” all that’s really needed is a little social coordination and a willingness to put up with a little less “convenience.”  This may sound incompatible with the modern world, but there’s good reason to get motivated: the modern world is incompatible with the perpetuation of the human race.  There’s more at stake than a little privacy, though the more fundamental problem is bound up with the psychology of consumer society: in a growth economy based on persuasion though advertising — where consumers must make choices about the allocation of their scarce resources — every new product requiring new investment must be presented as needful and fundamental to the modern way of life.

Many people know things have gone awry with the modern world: between the threats posed by persistent national militarism, thermonuclear war, war over resources, mass hunger, environmental degradation, climate change, shortening attention spans, new communicable diseases — something is clearly wrong.  And yet, somehow, everyone looks to another for the solution.  Nobody is willing to see their complicity and change their behavior.  So: if you don’t like internet surveillance, stop surveilling yourself.  The problem isn’t some nebulous “big brother,” it’s you. The government isn’t going to change its behavior, so stop waiting for the government to save you from the government. You have to save yourself from yourself.


Myth-Making for a Conservative Nation

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In 1988, Guy Debord observed:

“We believe we know that in Greece, history and democracy appeared at the same time. We can prove that their disappearances have also been simultaneous.”

“To this list of the triumphs of power we should, however, add one result which has proved negative for it: a State, in which one has durably installed a great deficit of historical knowledge so as to manage it, can no longer be governed strategically.”

This absence of historical knowledge manifests itself today.  In Fall of 2013, after weeks of partisan gridlock, the US Congress managed to re-opened the Federal government with a last-minute deal.  This partisanship, however, is not ideological: it is emotional, it is irrational, and its results are unpredictable.

In response to this minor “accomplishment” President Obama remarked:

“Let’s work together to make the government work better, instead of treating it like an enemy, or making it worse.  That’s not what the founders of this nation envisioned when they gave us the gift of self-government.”

The President’s statement seems, on its face, uncontroversial — and that’s a big part of the problem.  His statement is profoundly anti-historical, and in the most problematic manner possible, reads present values into the past.

Until 1850 or so, only white men with substantial wealth — such as bankers, factory owners, or plantation owners — were allowed the vote.  Renters, subsistence farmers, and the laboring majority — whites and blacks — lacked political representation at the time of the US’s founding.  The Constitution made no mention of suffrage until the 14th and 15th Amendments in 1868 and 1870 — almost 100 years after the original Constitution was ratified.  In 1875, the US Supreme Court explicitly ruled that the 14th Amendment — which defined citizenship for the first time — did not give women the right to vote.  Women didn’t get the vote until 1920.  Blacks didn’t get full rights until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

That’s an odd “gift of self-government.”  Truly, it sounds more like a long, hard struggle to obtain self-government — IN SPITE OF the Founding Fathers.  Indeed, despite being subjects to the Crown, the British managed to outlaw the slave trade, abolish slavery, and enfranchise women before the United States.  And despite being subject to the Crown, the British today enjoy many of the same rights — like freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom of speech — that Americans consider distinctly American innovations under the Bill of Rights.

Though the myth of Democracy endures, it is plain to see that the Founders feared Democracy, and made provision to prevent its emergence in the New World.  That so much time passed before American citizens obtained universal suffrage is testament to the effectiveness of the Founding Fathers’ plans.

In arguing for a new Constitution to replace the Articles of Confederation, Founding Father Elbridge Gerry complained to the Constitutional Convention on May 31, 1787: “The evils we experience flow from the excess of democracy.”  Founding Father Edmund Randolf also complained about the “turbulence and follies of democracy.”  In Convention, Founding Father John Dickinson argued against expanding political enfranchisement: “The danger to free governments has not been from freeholders, but those who are not freeholders.”  Dickinson went so far as to claim that a constitutional monarchy was “one of the best Governments in the world.”

Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, in Convention on June 18, 1787, expressed his belief that “nothing but a permanent body can check the imprudence of democracy … you cannot have a sound executive upon a democratic plan.”  In The Federalist #10, James Madison wrote: “democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention, have ever been found incompatible with personal security and the rights of property.”

Thomas Jefferson — who did favor democracy — was not particularly effective in pushing his views.  He was not even in the country when the Constitution was drafted and ratified.

The attainment of self-government in the United States was no “gift.” President Obama is either unaware of this nation’s history, or perhaps he has no problem brushing it aside in his public statements.  Perhaps he is content that the myth of America’s long history of revolutionary self-government is a suitable expedient in the short-sighted calculus of contemporary electoral politics.

Assuming a political narrative where “liberals” oppose “conservatives,” one might think the first black president in the United States would show some slight interest in calling attention to the heritage of liberal reformers and progressives who paved the way for him to attain high office.  One might suppose it would be in his political advantage to make it clear for all to see that the rights most “conservatives” today enjoy are the result of the efforts of their political adversaries.

Instead, the President’s choice to ignore this history — and to implicitly endorse the a-historical nationalist myth favored by self-described “conservatives” — obscures real threats to what measure of democracy Americans have gained by long struggle.

“Conservatives” who think they are defending the “gift” of democracy vehemently favor so-called “voter ID” laws — which have the effect of disenfranchising students and the elderly.  The ostensible rationale for these laws — that they prevent voter fraud — not only points to a problem that does not appear to exist, but affects a sort of bait-and-switch.  These laws brush aside legitimate concerns about election fraud — they ignore systemic flaws with electronic voting machines, irregularities in the 2004 elections which may have been covered up, voting irregularities and questionable legal activities surrounding the contested 2000 election, and ongoing voting irregularities in parts of small town America like Waukesha, Wisconsin.

In addition to enacting “voter ID” laws, “conservative” governors have been purging voter rolls, and continue to push for national policies — such as the failed War on Drugs and mandatory minimum sentencing laws — which have had the net effect of leaving one in five black men disenfranchised.

The “conservatives” perhaps don’t know to what condition their “traditionalist” views are returning this country — and our “liberal” President does not seem particularly concerned with remedying the matter.  And for all the lofty speech of “history” surrounding the 2008 elections, the word was routinely used not by way of elucidating the past, but by way of branding what was then the present moment.

All this is perhaps fitting.  President Obama’s policies are by and large center-right.  With the exception of gay marriage, he has a dismal civil rights record, that includes granting amnesty to CIA torturers, failing to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, extrajudicial assassinations of US citizens, requesting indefinite detention provisions in the 2012 National Defence Authorization Act, negotiating secret  treaties, expanding and legitimating Bush-era surveillance programsdespite well-documented evidence detailing what these programs can lead to, violating the sovereignty of foreign nations with drone strikes, prosecuting whistleblowers with a vengeance … and the list goes on.

Mr. Obama’s calls for “unity” are perhaps well-intentioned, but cannot be strategically effective in the absence of historical knowledge among the population.  Something closer to a one-party system is unlikely to mend the damage caused by a dysfunctional two-party system.  What America needs is not “unity” but a real opposition party — a role that, in the face of “conservative” efforts in the Tea Party Caucus — the Democratic party seems unwilling or unable to fulfill.

Written by Indigo Jones

October 21, 2013 at 1:35 pm

Terror on the Airwaves

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Over the weekend, there was a security breach at JFK International Airport: a man, who fell off his jet ski, swam to shore, climbed an electric fence, and then walked across two runways to a terminal entrance.  With little effort, he was able to defeat a new, state-of-the-art, $100 million Raytheon security system.

As the experts took to the airwaves demanding that heads roll, the more profound question remains unexamined: if a $100 million security can be so easily defeated, why haven’t fanatical terrorists done so since September 11, 2001?

The simplest explanation is that there are few — if any — active terrorists in the United States who are interested in targeting airports.

Of the high-profile terror cases that have targeted other types of locations, many have been cases of entrapment.  In 2009, Hosam Maher Husein Smadi was arrested in Dallas; the other members of his “sleeper cell” were all Federal agents, who provided him with what he thought was a bomb.  In 2010, Mohamed O. Mohamud was arrested in Portland; after being identified as “a person of interest,” he was approached by several undercover FBI agents, introduced to a fabricated bomb plot, given instructions for building a bomb, and given $3000 for living expenses.  Also in 2010, a man with the alias Muhammad Hussain was arrested in Baltimore after meeting a paid informant, who led the man to an undercover FBI agent with a fake explosive.  In 2006, the FBI broke up a cult in Miami, and the media packaged it as the Liberty City Seven Terror Plot; the group to which these men belonged was infiltrated by two paid FBI informants, who hired an additional infiltrator.  The FBI also paid the rent for their meeting place and arrested the men when they tried to buy weapons from the FBI; their first two trials ended in a mistrial because the jury could not reach a verdict.

In 2004, Federal agents broke up the Detroit Sleeper Cell: four men went to Disney World, where they recorded some amusement rides; a fifth man, who had plead guilty to credit card fraud and identity theft, earned a reduced sentence by testifying against the other four men, two of whom were convicted.  After these convictions were overturned, the Washington Post reported in 2005: “In its best light, the record would show that the prosecution committed a pattern of mistakes and oversights that deprived the defendants of discoverable evidence … and created a record filled with misleading inferences.”  That many of these cases rely on paid informants underscores serious problems with the approach, which incentivizes the creation of the appearance of criminality: for example, one such FBI informant, Craig Monteilh, made $177,000 working for the FBI — tax free — in just over a year (the median household income in the US is just over $50,000).   Without the encouragement of the FBI or paid informants, it seems unlikely that any of these people would have made any serious or successful attempts to disrupt the lives of Americans.

It might be argued that these people, nevertheless, harbored hostile sentiments toward the United States, and that we’re better off without them.  Aside from the problems associated with such ends-justify-the-means thinking, however, is a more basic problem of priorities: reckless bankers and speculators harm Americans, but they walk free.  Enron collapsed over a decade ago and the LIBOR affair has been unwinding for years: if entrapment tactics are legitimate, why don’t we see the FBI entrapping crooked accountants, or CEO’s engaged in fraudulent schemes, or bankers who launder drug money, or investors who gamble with the retirement accounts of hard-working Americans?

It might be argued that these so-called terrorists represent only the high-profile cases, and that, due to national security concerns and the need to protect “sources and methods,” we don’t hear about the many smaller cases that are successfully prosecuted.  The plea of “state secrets,” however, is often little more than a justification used to avoid oversight: our enemies often already know they’re being targeted, and it is taxpaying Americans who are kept in the dark.

During World War II, the Germans and the Russians knew about the Manhattan project before Americans learned of it.  Cuba knew we invaded their island, even when this information was kept from Americans; Fidel Castro even complained to the UN that he was being targeted.  Cambodians knew they were being carpet-bombed even when this was being kept secret from the American citizens financing the bombing.  Russia knew about the U2 spy plane well before Americans learned of it.  Everybody involved in the Iran-Contra affair knew of US involvement well before Americans learned of it.  The very nature of such “state secrets” justifications prevents us not only from knowing if any such smaller cases exist, but moreover prevents us from knowing whether they represent legitimate prosecutions, or cases of questionable conduct.  If there are smaller cases, it would seem that they have been treated as the criminal matters that they are, rather than as instances of organized international terrorism.

In any event, there is other evidence that terrorism is not treated as the priority it is made out to be in the news: the PATRIOT ACT, for example, which was passed in the wake of the 911 attacks, provides expanded powers for police to conduct “sneak and peek” searches.  Between 2006 and 2009, these PATRIOT ACT searches were used 100x more often in drug cases than in terror cases.

PATRIOT ACT provision used more often for drug cases than for terrorism cases
At present, it seems like a good possibility that the “War on Terror” is simply a substitute for the military and industrial subsidies put in place during the Cold War.  Now, instead of a shadowy global network of communist infiltrators, we face a shadowy network of “al Qaeda franchises.”  Just like McDonald’s or Starbucks, an al Qaeda “franchise” may be lurking around any city street corner.

If we are to extract any major lessons from the Cold War, it should include these: first, if, during the Cold War, the world had two powerful, ideologically-motivated governments each struggling for the global dominance of its ideology, and each was willing to destroy the entire planet with weapons of mass destruction for the sake of that struggle, it is a dubious “victory” for humanity that either side should come out on top.  Second, we should remember that, despite the “duck and cover” drills and media propaganda about Soviet nuclear attack, the only radiation to which Americans were exposed during the Cold War came from the American government itself: atmospheric tests in the Southwest and over the Pacific Ocean, a cloud of strontium-90 floating over the US in the late 1950’s, soldiers used as guinea pigs, prison inmates and the mentally ill deliberately and secretly injected with radioactive material…

Guns are abundant in the United States, and easy to acquire; yet, there have been no terrorist shooting sprees.  If a terrorist were willing to die for his or her cause, it would not be hard to take out several Americans too.  Former “Freedom Fighters” in Afghanistan seem to have little difficulty constructing improvised explosive devices, but jihadis stateside seem wholly incapable of this feat when removed from an impoverished desert environment swarming with US military personnel.  A terrorist could drive a car into a crowd, or sit in a boat by an airport with a high-powered rifle; if a terrorist wanted to disrupt American life, that terrorist could drive cross-country in the middle of the night attacking high-tension power lines without being caught.  If any of these things were happening with the regularity that would justify something like the PATRIOT ACT or a new bureaucracy the size of the Department of Homeland Security, “state secrets” wouldn’t be able to keep it out of the news for very long.  And yet, for over a decade now, we’ve remained under the same state of emergency declared by George W. Bush.  President Obama has repeatedly extended this state of national emergency.  Congress is required under the 1976 National Emergencies Act (50 U.S.C. 1601-1651) to review presidential emergencies every six months; this oversight, however, does not appear to be much of a priority, and Congress has not been actively reviewing this emergency declaration.

In the US, terror is spread almost exclusively by the media.  Most people traumatized on 911 were traumatized by watching TV in their kitchen or school classroom.  Whereas terrorists have killed around 3000 Americans in the past decade, in the same period, automobiles have been responsible for some 400,000 deaths.  The typical American is astronomically more likely to be killed or injured in a car accident than in a terrorist attack; yet, rather than treat effective mass transit as a life-saving national priority, politicians like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker make a show of turning down $1 billion in Federal funds for commuter rail.

In an important sense, we are our own worst enemy: Congress and the President have done more to disrupt the American Way of Life than any terrorist could have hoped to accomplish.  As the media obsesses over dramatic fictions, as the federalization of local law enforcement continues, as local police procure military hardware, as civil liberties are swept aside, as drones and dirigibles with high-resolution cameras appear over major urban centers, keep in mind that it is not just Muslims that are targeted: during the recent G-20 summit in Toronto, police have been accused of profiling protestors with “black backpacks” and women with “hairy legs.”  A Canadian police watchdog group calls these claims “substantiated.”  Over 1,000 protesters were arrested — mostly without charge — and only around 40 were successfully prosecuted.  Police profiling isn’t strictly a religious or an ethnic issue: control freaks don’t discriminate.  If they don’t come to lock you up in person, be sure that they’ll come for your heart and your mind.

Written by Indigo Jones

August 14, 2012 at 1:58 pm

Follow the Leader: There is Opportunity in Disaster

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Although many elected officials lay claim to the title of “leader,” it is becoming increasingly self-evident that such a title only applies insofar as they are leading us off a cliff.  It is profoundly problematic that the media unquestioningly reinforces such baseless claims to leadership by routinely using so inappropriate a term to describe these officials.

While various “leaders” may market themselves as catalysts for social change, and seek to secure the confidence of voters who also seek social change, a change in “leadership” rarely brings about the promised social changes.  Not only is electoral politics first and foremost a means of legitimating those very power structures voters would seek to change, but belief in leadership is furthermore a tool to enforce conformity among voters, since following leaders is a form of conformity.  Conformists don’t bring about social change.

That few officials, out of humility, demure that they are not “leaders” but, rather, public servants, offers an important glimpse into a profoundly disturbing dynamic underlying the facade of “politics as usual.”

Many politicians are literally sociopaths. Compare the behavioral profile of the sociopath with the actions and attitudes of the typical politician: sociopaths don’t have normal moral reservations about manipulating people like objects; this is precisely how politicians get elected. Sociopaths understand little about human emotion beyond ego gratification; the prestige of high office satisfies this desire for the politician. Sociopaths wear a facade of normalcy and are often charming, but lie compulsively. Politicians speak in polite terms while plotting to stab their colleagues in the back. If they’re not telling outright lies, they’re “spinning” facts to suit their needs. Sociopaths don’t feel guilt or remorse or empathy; no US official to date has apologized for invading Iraq on false pretenses, turning five million Iraqi’s into refugees, pumping Fallujah full of depleted uranium, or engaging in torture.  Nobody in government has publicly investigated the Bush Administration’s use of torture or civil liberties violations. Sociopaths are glib, superficial, impulsive; their goal is the creation of a dependent, willing victim.  Elected office is the ideal job description for a sociopath.  The desire to attain office should disqualify a person from holding such a position.

The term “sociopath” is imprecise.  Often, “sociopath” is used interchangeably with “psychopath,” whereas other times, “psychopath” is used to designate a genetic predisposition, and “sociopath” a set of learned behaviors.  Either way, the prevalence of this sort of anti-social personality disorder among the general population is estimated at between 1-4%.

It may not be a coincidence that 1% of the population controls some 40% of the wealth in the US, and that the top 5% controls close to 70% of the wealth.   Competitive society is in many ways optimized to benefit those who exhibit sociopathic personality traits, and it reinforces sociopathic tendencies among the general population as a behavioral adaptation.

In competitive society, people are trained by sociopaths to think like sociopaths.  The public relations and marketing firms employed by both commercial and political interests train people to be opportunistic and calculating, to always be on the lookout for ways to treat other people as means that can be manipulated to various ends.  People are taught to be individualistic and egocentric rather than compassionate and cooperative.  Much of the advertising with which individuals are daily inundated promotes impulsive behavior and acculturates individuals to the distortions of reality that characterize most advertising and marketing.  As young people are brought into the fold, they become adults who are active participants in this process of training others to think like sociopaths — to think in the terms expounded by commercial marketers and political spin doctors — to such an extent that genuinely different worldviews become completely incoherent, in virtue of a sociopathic lack of empathy.

Beyond accommodating the lies and distortions that characterize so much advertising, marketing, and political posturing, individuals are, in numerous other ways, trained to think like sociopaths.  The aesthetic appreciation of violence in films, TV, and video games is an obvious example; a less obvious example is the popularity of “funniest home video” programs.

While slapstick comedy may be the cultural context in which “funniest home video” programs are appreciated, these programs contain none of the observational humor or physical ingenuity that characterize most slapstick.  The “funniest home video” programs are not, in any substantive terms, the products of creativity or skill.  They harvest moments of trauma from among the general population, and, in terms of their presentation, they train audiences to override natural empathy responses and to find humor in the misfortune of others.

Without an awareness of these dynamics, little can be done about them.  It is hard to criticize or correct a social trend without being able to even name it.  But such contemporary developments as the imposition of “austerity measures” or the renewed effort to disrupt labor organization and revoke “collective bargaining rights” can be understood in a precise historical context; to the extent that ordinary citizens support such measures, these citizens are being manipulated by criminal sociopaths.

In The Second Treatise on Civil Government, John Locke wrote, “he that in the state of society would take away the freedom belonging to those in that society or commonwealth must be supposed to design or take away from them everything else, and so be looked on as in a state of war” (¶19).  John Locke is not some fringe figure; the Preamble to the US Constitution is more or less a summary of Locke’s basic ideas on legitimate authority.  What is happening today has happened before, has been studied, and named, and diagnosed already.  In the past, monarchs caused civil unrest; today it is powerful sociopaths who have rigged the game to serve their own ends, who create for themselves an aura of respectability, and thus wrest from citizens assent to a degenerate state of affairs.

Written by Indigo Jones

October 19, 2011 at 4:28 pm

Connecting the Dots: the Past Didn’t Go Anywhere

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Nobody can rightly say the Bush Administration committed any crimes.

This is not because no crimes occurred; rather, there have been no investigations, and therefore no charges, and therefore no convictions.  But the abuses of the Bush Administration are not history.

We are still at war, we are still grappling with massive deficits, we still torture, we still submit “enemy combatants” to arbitrary systems of justice, we still subject US citizens to warrantless surveillance.  These things are current events, even if they began a decade ago.

Each year that goes by evidence is lost.  Memories cloud over, papers get misplaced, files are deleted, the news moves on to the next story.

Few of the “difficulties” brought up by the Bush Administration’s actions have been adequately resolved.  Here is one case study:

Kurt Friedrich Gödel was an Austrian logician, mathematician and philosopher. Later in his life he emigrated to the United States to escape the effects of World War II. One of the most significant logicians of all time, Gödel made an immense impact upon scientific and philosophical thinking in the 20th century, a time when many, such as Bertrand Russell, A. N. Whitehead and David Hilbert, were pioneering the use of logic and set theory to understand the foundations of mathematics.


On December 5, 1947, Einstein and Morgenstern accompanied Gödel to his U.S. citizenship exam, where they acted as witnesses. Gödel had confided in them that he had discovered an inconsistency in the U.S. Constitution, one that would allow the U.S. to become a dictatorship. Einstein and Morgenstern were concerned that their friend’s unpredictable behavior might jeopardize his chances. Fortunately, the judge turned out to be Phillip Forman. Forman knew Einstein and had administered the oath at Einstein’s own citizenship hearing. Everything went smoothly until Forman happened to ask Gödel if he thought a dictatorship like the Nazi regime could happen in the U.S. Gödel then started to explain his discovery to Forman. Forman understood what was going on, cut Gödel off, and moved the hearing on to other questions and a routine conclusion.

Source: Wikipedia


The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no Vote, unless they be equally divided.

Source: US Constitution Article 1 Section 3

Early on in the Bush Administration, the Bush Transition Energy Advisory Team was tasked with formulating national energy policy.  Numerous industry executives met with Vice President Dick Cheney.

Cheney, who had been CEO of the energy company Haliburton in the years immediately prior to his run for office, had close ties to industry insiders, representing a possible conflict of interest.  Shortly after the Bush Energy Task Force met, the Enron scandal erupted, calling into question the value of whatever advice the Bush Administration had received from industry executives.

When Cheney was asked for details about his involvement with the Energy Task Force, he refused to disclose any documents, citing executive privilege.

Years later, when Cheney’s office was suspected of disclosing the identity of an undercover CIA agent to retaliate against her husband for criticizing the Administration, Cheney took a different approach.

To avoid disclosing how his office handled classified information, Cheney maintained that his office was not part of the executive branch, since the Vice President is also President of the Senate.

Since nobody has investigated Cheney’s actions in detail, it would seem he gets to have it both ways — and so might any future Vice President.

Written by Indigo Jones

October 12, 2011 at 7:00 pm

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