On a totally silly (ridiculous/asinine/crazy) personal note I just thought I'd mention that I saw my favorite teenage dream car being acquired and restored on Mike and Edd's "Wheeler Dealers" today - the Austin Healey Sprite - and fell in love with that baby blue born-free zoom-zoom get-down-and-boogie vision all over again.
My grandfather asked me when I was 13 if I'd like to have it when I reached driving age.
Yeah. I still want it. (And thank you for restoring it, Edd!)
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Max and Stacy say if you haven't been paying attention, you may want to get ready for de-dollarization. Along with lots of other scary financial news.
Yes, the center has not held.*
Things are falling apart.
Max's slinky metaphor is not to be missed.
Lee Adler of the "Wall Street Examiner" adds even more analysis, analogies and warnings.
We discuss the bonfire of the misallocated capital as everything from the S&P 500 to China’s Producer Price Index to South Africa’s rand signal a deflationary collapse. In the second half, Max interviews Lee Adler of WallStreetExaminer.com about distribution taking place in the stock market and why the IPO of Saudi Aramco could pull even more cash out of the economy.
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in the sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
- William Butler Yeats
"The Second Coming"
Speaking of darkness dropping again . . . .
I adored this man truly, madly, deeply even when he was playing Ollie North. Or a character in a Bruce Willis action flick. Or Harry Pottered. Bottle Shocked. Kevin Smithed. Anything. He was the lead in every movie I saw him in if gravitas or just good, solid character development counts.
What a week.
Now two of my favorite artists/intellectuals/creative geniuses/soul stirrers have succumbed to cancer.
I feel sick.
Cancer - the rack, wheel and stake of our age.
Most of it environmentally caused.
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I could run a few mostly pleasant and kind professional journalists' reviews of Obama's State of the Union speech from last evening. It's appropriate at this time in history, they say, to give props for gentle, intelligent, humorous (even joking) speeches with positive spin about politics in the face of terrorizing death squads. (Somehow, this doesn't seem to be one of those times.)
But being a nice patriotic sort of gal, I will.
From "The Atlantic:"
Policy proposals were indeed in short supply. Some of the few specifics to pop up were ideas that have been floating around for several years—such as free, two-year community-college degrees—or since the start of his presidency, as in the case of closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay. Several other signature topics were missing. Save a brief mention at the start, guns and gun control were notably absent from the speech, even as Obama rolls out new executive actions to further regulate firearm sales. Although debate about race relations and police reform has dominated the headlines since Obama last stepped to the rostrum in the House a year ago, he barely touched on either, except to rebuke Trump and to criticize restrictions on voting. There were few references to domestic terrorism, and none at all to abortion.
Obama spoke at some length about ISIS and global terrorism, however, as well as Middle East policy. In keeping with his recent remarks, he framed the comments as a plea for calm. “The United States of America is the most powerful nation on Earth. Period. It’s not even close,” he said, then tacked on a line that he perhaps intended as a joke but which garnered applause, especially from Republicans: “We spend more on our military than the next eight nations combined.”
As for what he intended to do with that military, Obama sought to strike a balance. On the one hand, he promised to chase terrorists down and kill them. (His “we have to take ‘em out” was a jarring echo of his predecessor.) He called on Congress to authorize military action against ISIS. But he also warned, “We also can’t try to take over and rebuild every country that falls into crisis. That’s not leadership; that’s a recipe for quagmire, spilling American blood and treasure that ultimately weakens us. It’s the lesson of Vietnam, of Iraq — and we should have learned it by now.”
Making one shake one's head wondering exactly who's doing the talking.
But he means well. And he's going to cure cancer next time.
Wise words about the SOTU speech from Salon:
As you see, I can’t help myself: Beneath all the things Obama said on Tuesday were all the things he didn’t say, or all the things he alluded to and brushed past. His delivery was suave, affable and relaxed; the speech was perfectly paced. It was fun to watch him repeatedly put House Speaker Paul Ryan, sitting stone-faced over his left shoulder, in an impossible position: Would Ryan applaud things that no reasonable person could oppose, like curing cancer or universal pre-K or extending tax cuts to low-wage workers, even at the risk of torrents of right-wing tweets accusing him of appeasing the socialist Kenyan dictator? (Ryan’s response: A few tepid claps, then hands back under his butt.) But if this SOTU was a car that looked good on the lot, we’re better off not opening the hood.
If the cliché holds that some men and women are born great, while others have greatness thrust open them, the same can surely be said of mediocrity and disappointment. Obama came to the White House openly aspiring to great things and almost overtly comparing himself to Abraham Lincoln, another tall Illinoisan with an analytical cast of mind and limited legislative experience. Despite the obvious differences between the two men and their historical contexts, the parallels are seductive: Both were political outsiders with unusual family backgrounds, who had been raised by independent-minded women. In office, they faced militant, implacable resistance from an opposition party that stood for the values and mores of the white Southern oligarchy.
Obama referred to Lincoln at least twice in Tuesday’s address. He did so once by name, in a striking admission that he has failed to address the partisan “rancor and suspicion” that dominates political life: “I have no doubt a president with the gifts of Lincoln or Roosevelt might have better bridged the divide.” A minute or two later, in urging the public to demand change and not to abandon the political process, he briefly paraphrased the concluding passage of the Gettysburg Address: “That’s what’s meant by a government of, by and for the people.”
. . . Of course the president who saved the union, ended slavery and redefined the mission of American democracy is quoted more often than any other, but Obama’s Lincoln references were not random or incidental. History will judge, over the next few decades or centuries, whether Obama’s failure to turn the tremendous wave of optimism that swept him into office toward meaningful policy or social change on any large scale was his fault or the Republicans’ fault or simply a reflection of a crumbling imperial nation in terminal decline. (If there is anyone left to write that history, that is.) We cannot possibly see that from the vantage point of the present.
. . . It is reasonable to claim that history and circumstance did not offer Obama a Lincoln-like moment of political opportunity, and that his opponents were too shrewd and too well financed, in a way the arrogant Confederates and their supporters were not. As I said earlier, conditions in 2009 were immeasurably different from those of 1861, and every new president must confront an immense interlocking apparatus of entrenched intelligence, military, financial and commercial bureaucracy — the “deep state” — that simply did not exist in the 19th century.
But it is also reasonable to wonder whether Obama was ever able to see past the predefined terms of 21st-century political discourse, as Lincoln was able, however briefly, to leap beyond 19th-century conceptions of rights, law and justice. Obama has never questioned the endless worldwide “war” against a nebulous non-state enemy called “terrorism.” (Philosopher Alain Badiou has pointed out that “war” was a word that previously signified military conflict between states, and now seems to be a meaningless term of art designed to make Americans feel impressed by their own majesty.) Indeed, he has pursued that “war” in devious and imaginative new ways.
Obama is highly skilled at delivering Democratic Party rhetoric about reducing economic inequality and limiting the political influence of bankers and big corporations. (Don’t get me wrong: Those positions are clearly preferable to the alternative.) But I see no signs that he has ever questioned the fundamental logic of neoliberal economics, in which Wall Street banks and those who run them are the disinterested guardians of public prosperity, too big to fail and too important to face punishment. Or the logic that dictates fiscal “austerity” and ever lower tax rates as fundamentally virtuous, and that insists on outsourcing all sorts of government functions to the private sector, at immense public expense and often with disastrous results.
Obama came to the White House amid the financial crash of the Great Recession, a moral and existential crisis nearly as big as the Depression faced by FDR, although nowhere near the scale of the armed rebellion faced by Lincoln. As many people have noted, he essentially reappointed the same people who had wrecked the economy, in a new configuration. Maybe he could have dealt with it no better than he did, for internal or external reasons. Maybe no president, or at least no president who could conceivably get elected, could have done more. You don’t make it to that point in American politics if you are likely to announce that we’re no longer having an imaginary war against an imaginary enemy and we’re no longer having an economy based on the superior moral virtue of the rich.
So much for the nice guys who believe that Obama did as well as could be expected or at least as well as he could (although he's constantly designated the smartest man to have served as president by this crowd).
Our woman at Sardonicky does the rare critic's job of perfectly translating politician-speak (take care with those NYT links - they'll open up on you):
The minute Michelle Obama walked into the hall wearing her blinding $2,000 dayglow yellow designer dress, I sort of figured Hubby would be giving us the full Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm schmaltz in his valedictory State of the Union spiel.
Barack did not disappoint, of course. His oratory always delivers. Despite numerous cracks in the content, there were no cracks in the rich baritone stereophonic sound. Nearly half the country was still drunk on his optimistic kool-aid this morning. Nearly half the country is still not tired of his purple state purple prose, because despite what Donald Trump says, America is Great Again and it always has been. Rah rah zis boom bah (humbug.)
I am not going to parse his whole speech because it's not worth my time or yours to do so. If nothing else, the speech was simply a pastiche of all the Obama speeches that have gone before, beginning with his 2004 Purple Prose audition at the Democratic National Convention. But for those of you who didn't, or couldn't, or refused to tune in, here's the Reader's Digest-Digest interpretation, amping up a bit on the hidden treblous dog-whistles to Wall Street. Stuff in italics are direct quotes so telling and so essential that condensation and satire are neither merited nor necessary. Res ipsa loquitur.
Without further ado, the Shorter Sardonic SOTU:
Kudos to Ayn Rand fanboy Paul Ryan speaker for helping us get the job done for the rich in the budget last month. (shakes Ryan's hand, laughs cynically.) Now let's hope we can get together with the Kochs to do criminal justice reform for them. Gotta do something about those opiates too, which I won't mention are killing off poor unemployed white people in droves.
But meanwhile, open up wide while I attempt to shove some severely heavy-duty secular opiates for the masses right down your throats.
I won't let up till I get the small-bore, gateway-to-oblivion stuff done. I definitely don't want to focus on the sucky here-and-now. I want to focus on 10, 20, a hundred years from now because it's easier and it sounds good.
We live in a time of extraordinary change, when stuff like technology is shaping us no matter our own human will and with little to no input from us. All the crap making your lives hard is a lot like the weather, you see. Headwinds, tides and the like. But anyway, the Internet is not only good for girls in remote villages, it helps the terrorists. America has been through crap and crises before, and every single time the Plutocracy has won. So we can do it again! Lebensraum, Volk!
We made change work for us, always extending America’s promise outward, to the next frontier, to more people. And because we did, because we saw opportunity where others saw peril, we emerged stronger and better than before. Achtung!
The American plutonomy is richer than ever, the wealth gap the widest in memory. We still deign to take care of the permanently wounded troops lucky enough to come home from the Forever Wars we wage in order to help the plutonomy grow like a cancer. And gays can marry each other in all 50 states.
The growth is the result of choices a few obnoxious rich people make, but for oratorical purposes I must insist that it's the result of choices "we" all make, together.
I have four questions for y'all to make you think you even have a choice in the matter.
First, how do we give ever'body the illusion that they have a fair shot at opportunity and security in the New Plutonomy? Second, how can we make technology work for ever'body? Third, how can we pretend we're not the Policeman of the World even when we invade countries like there's no tomorrow and invest a trillion dollars in nuclear weapons? Fourth, how can slimy politicians make themselves look good? (Applause, applause, applause from the millionaires and generals and judges in the audience. Close shot to Michelle Obama, her eyes brimming over with tears of pride... or something.)
We've created thousands of new crappy jobs, and our austerity policies cut the deficit and culled the herd - so pay no attention to Donald Trump saying that America is Not Great. Because it is, it is, it is! The Ruling Class still rulz, baby! The plebes just feel a little anxious, is all. We have to change their feelings, is all. Maybe a little Pre-K, a little science class, a little tech. No humanities, though, for the Lessers: it might encourage them to think. Our goal is to make them McJob-ready on Day One of their brutish, foreshortened lives.
We shouldn't weaken Social Security and Medicare. We should strengthen them. Notice that I am not saying "expand" them as Bernie Sanders suggests, See, whenever neoliberals like me say that we should "strengthen" programs, it means that we want to cut them so that future generations can hope to get a few pennies from them down the road. But I can't say this in an election year.
Oh, and with Obamacare you can move a lot and still keep the same high premiums and co-pays and deductibles and put off going to the doctor as much as you do now. Before, you were really screwed. You strike out and launch that new business and you're still covered. If you fail to launch, it's because you didn't go shopping for the best predatory insurance deal. So don't blame me if you get diabetes and stay a poor non-entrepreneur.
I want to have a serious discussion with Ayn Rand fanboy Paul Ryan about how to tackle poverty. He has some great ideas. He has successfully tackled poor people in the past.
The disagreement we've had with Republican sadists have been honest disagreements. You have to hand (it) to them. They are totally upfront in their brutalism. They don't try to hide it behind pretty words and platitudes like I do.
I believe a thriving private sector is the lifeblood of our economy. I think there are outdated regulations that need to be changed, there is red tape that needs to be cut. (The most deafening, protracted applause of the entire evening.)
I am ready, willing, anxious and able to cede more ground to the Republicans and reward more wealth to the voracious oligarchs represented most faithfully by their bipartisan political servants.
But, but, but. Since this approach is not fair to the regular Volk, I will rely upon the good greedwashing will of the Owning Class - that most talented creative class that ever outclassed the Volk - to throw a few crumbs in the direction of the poor. I refer to these crumbs as "Best Practices" - Neoliberal-speak for good corporate citizenship. I want to lift up and reward the rich owners and bosses and foundation donors who don't treat their workers like absolute crap right to their faces in an election year.
We've taken more steps to get poor people online so that they can start a new business in a single day. Notice these are only steps, not initiatives I am touting as much as I am touting the job-destroying Trans Pacific Partnership out of public view. But fellow Americans, I tell you that anybody can grow up to be Donald Trump. I do believe, I do believe, I do I do I do believe in Trickle-Down.
All this stuff won't happen overnight. All you need is a dollar and a dream to Win the Future.
We've already won. Trump is full of shit, because the whole world respects us, meaning they are scared shitless of us. I am really good at killing people. Let me tell you something. The United States of America is the most powerful nation on earth. Period. Period. (Stupendous applause from the millionaire audience in D.C., stupendous cramps from the viewing audience here at home.)
But the other terrorists we created? They must be destroyed! To create even more terrorists! To create even more profits for the Masters of War! In Africa, Central and South America, all over the world!
Oh, but we can't always be the Policeman of the World.
Then again ... we'll act alone whenever we think it necessary, and then call ourselves a Global Coalition. I'll even have the chutzpah to quote Pope Francis who said we cannot be tyrants. We must instead call our death and destruction of others "humanitarian interventionism." We only kill with love and respect.
And we gotta get the money out of politics. It really bummed me out personally, collecting a billion bucks from the billionaires instead of doing stuff for the regular Volk. But hey, it's up to you people, not moi. Pay no attention to the Rootstriker report proving that I am a big, fat, mendacious fake about this whole corruption issue. My donors got what they paid for, and I will continue to deliver for them.
My biggest regret as President is not that the wealth gap has increased to shameful proportions, and that millions of people are still suffering needlessly - but that I couldn't get the Republicans to like me.
So, as I embark upon my year-long Legacy-Burnishing Tour, burning up millions of gallons of jet fuel as I preach climate change amelioration, I just want to remind ever'body how easy it is to be cynical.
May the Invisible Guy in the Sky bless our pathocratic little hearts.
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I know that John Rutherford is a Republican. But he's a very worried and informed Republican who expresses himself very well. And although like all good, moral Republicans he almost despises "the welfare state," he knows that this is mainly because of how right-wingers have portrayed it historically as being more corrupt than those who corrupted it: fellow Republicans.
It's hard to argue with his facts.
By John W. Whitehead
“There will be, in the next generation or so, a pharmacological method of making people love their servitude, and producing dictatorship without tears, so to speak, producing a kind of painless concentration camp for entire societies, so that people will in fact have their liberties taken away from them, but will rather enjoy it, because they will be distracted from any desire to rebel by propaganda or brainwashing, or brainwashing enhanced by pharmacological methods. And this seems to be the final revolution.”—Aldous Huxley
January 12, 2016_ _ _ _ _ _ _
There’s a man who contacts me several times a week to disagree with my assessments of the American police state. According to this self-avowed Pollyanna who is tired of hearing “bad news,” the country is doing just fine, the government’s intentions are honorable, anyone in authority should be blindly obeyed, those individuals who are being arrested, shot and imprisoned must have done something to deserve such treatment, and if you have nothing to hide, you shouldn’t care whether the government is spying on you.
In other words, this man trusts the government with his life, his loved ones and his property, and anyone who doesn’t feel the same should move elsewhere.
It’s tempting to write this man off as dangerously deluded, treacherously naïve, and clueless to the point of civic incompetence. However, he is not alone in his goose-stepping, comfort-loving, TV-watching, insulated-from-reality devotion to the alternate universe constructed for us by the Corporate State with its government propaganda, pseudo-patriotism and contrived political divisions.
1 in 5 Americans claim to trust the government to do what is right, the majority of the people are not quite ready to ditch the American experiment in liberty. Or at least they’re not quite ready to ditch the government with which they have been saddled.
As "The Washington Post" concludes, “Americans hate government, but they like what it does.” Indeed, kvetching aside, Americans want the government to keep providing institutionalized comforts such as Social Security, public schools, and unemployment benefits, fighting alleged terrorists and illegal immigrants, defending the nation from domestic and foreign threats, and maintaining the national infrastructure. And it doesn’t matter that the government has shown itself to be corrupt, abusive, hostile to citizens who disagree, wasteful and unconcerned about the plight of the average American.
For the moment, Americans are continuing to play by the government’s rules. Indeed, Americans may not approve the jobs being done by their elected leaders, and they may have little to no access to those same representatives, but they remain committed to the political process, so much so that they are working themselves into a frenzy over the upcoming presidential election, with contributions to the various candidates nearing $500 million.
Yet as Barack Obama’s tenure in the White House shows, no matter how much hope and change were promised, what we’ve ended up with is not only more of the same, but something worse: an invasive, authoritarian surveillance state armed and ready to eliminate any opposition.
The state of our nation under Obama has become more bureaucratic, more debt-ridden, more violent, more militarized, more fascist, more lawless, more invasive, more corrupt, more untrustworthy, more mired in war, and more unresponsive to the wishes and needs of the electorate. Most of all, the government, already diabolical and manipulative to the nth degree, has mastered the art of “do what I say and not what I do” hypocrisy.
For example, the government’s arsenal is growing. While the Obama administration is working to limit the public’s access to guns by pushing for greater gun control, it’s doing little to scale back on the federal government’s growing arsenal of firepower and militarized equipment.
In fact, it’s not just the Department of Defense that’s in the business of waging war. Government agencies focused largely on domestic matters continue to spend tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to purchase SWAT and military-style equipment such as body armor, riot helmets and shields, cannon launchers and police firearms and ammunition. The Department of Veterans Affairs spent nearly $2 million on riot helmets, defender shields, body armor, a “milo return fire cannon system,” armored mobile shields, Kevlar blankets, tactical gear and equipment for crowd control. The Food and Drug Administration purchased “ballistic vests and carriers.” The Environmental Protection Agency shelled out $200,000 for body armor. And the Smithsonian Institution procured $28,000 worth of body armor for its “zoo police and security officers.”
The national debt is growing. In fact, it’s almost doubled during Obama’s time in office to nearly $20 trillion. Much of this debt is owed to foreign countries such as China, which have come to exert an undue degree of influence on various aspects of the American economy.
Meanwhile, almost half of Americans are struggling to save for emergencies and retirement, 43% can’t afford to go more than one month without a paycheck, and 24% have less than $250 in their bank accounts preceding payday.
On any given night, over half a million people in the U.S. are homeless, and half of them are elderly. In fact, studies indicate that the homeless are aging faster than the general population in the U.S.
While the U.S. spends more on education than almost any other country, American schools rank 28th in the world, below much poorer countries such as the Czech Republic and Vietnam.
The American police state’s payroll is expanding. Despite the fact that violent crime is at a 40-year-low, there are more than 1.1 million persons employed on a full-time basis by state and local law enforcement in this country. That doesn’t include the more than 120,000 full-time officers on the federal payroll.
While crime is falling, the number of laws creating new crimes is growing at an alarming rate. Congress creates, on average, more than 50 new criminal laws each year. This adds up to more than 4,500 federal criminal laws and an even greater number of state laws.
The prison population is growing at an alarming rate. Owing largely to overcriminalization, the nation’s prison population has quadrupled since 1980 to 2.4 million, which breaks down to more than one out of every 100 American adults behind bars. According to "The Washington Post," it costs $21,000 a year to keep someone in a minimum-security federal prison and $33,000 a year for a maximum-security federal prison. Those costs are expected to increase 30 percent by 2020. Translation: while the American taxpayer will be forced to shell out more money for its growing prison population, the private prison industry will be making a hefty profit.
The nation’s infrastructure—railroads, water pipelines, ports, dams, bridges, airports and roads—israpidly deteriorating. An estimated $1.7 trillion will be needed by 2020 to improve surface transportation, but with vital funds being siphoned off by the military industrial complex, there’s little relief in sight.
The expense of those endless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq will cost taxpayers $4 trillion to $6 trillion. That does not include the cost of military occupations and exercises elsewhere around the globe. Unfortunately, that’s money that is not being invested in America, nor is it being used to improve the lives of Americans.
Government incompetence, corruption and lack of accountability continue to result in the loss of vast amounts of money and weapons. A Reuters investigation revealed $8.5 trillion in “taxpayer money doled out by Congress to the Pentagon since 1996 that has never been accounted for.” Then there was the $500 million in Pentagon weapons, aircraft and equipment (small arms, ammunition, night-vision goggles, patrol boats, vehicles and other supplies) that the U.S. military somehow lost track of.
Rounding out the bad news, many Americans know little to nothing about their rights and the government. Only 31% can name all three branches of the U.S. government, while one in three says that the Bill of Rights guarantees the right to own your own home, while one in four thinks that it guarantees “equal pay for equal work.” One in 10 Americans (12%) says the Bill of Rights includes the right to own a pet.
If this brief catalogue of our national woes proves anything at all, it is that the American experiment in liberty has failed, and as political economist Lawrence Hunter warns, it is only a matter of time before people realize it. Writing for Forbes, Hunter notes:
The greatest fear of America’s Founding Fathers has been realized: The U.S. Constitution has been unable to thwart the corrosive dynamics of majority-rule democracy, which in turn has mangled the Constitution beyond recognition. The real conclusion of the American Experiment is that democracy ultimately undermines liberty and leads to tyranny and oppression by elected leaders and judges, their cronies and unelected bureaucrats. All of this is done in the name of “the people” and the “general welfare,” of course.
But in fact, democracy oppresses the very "demos" in whose name it operates, benefiting string-pullers within the Establishment and rewarding the political constituencies they manage by paying off special interests with everyone else’s money forcibly extracted through taxation. The Founding Fathers (especially Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, Madison, and James Monroe), as well as outside observers of the American Experiment such as Alexis de Tocqueville all feared democracy and dreaded this outcome. But, they let hope and faith in their ingenious constitutional engineering overcome their fear of the democratic state, only to discover they had replaced one tyranny with another.
So are there any real, workable solutions to the emerging American police state?
A second American Revolution will not work. In the first revolution, the colonists were able to dispatch the military occupation and take over the running of the country. However, the Orwellian state is here and it is so pervasive that government agents are watching, curtailing and putting down any resistance before it can get started.
A violent overthrow of the government will not work. Government agents are armed to the teeth and will easily blow away any insurgency when and if necessary.
Politics will not help things along. As history has made clear, the new boss is invariably the same as or worse than the old boss—all controlled by a monied, oligarchic elite.
As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, there is only one feasible solution left to us short of fleeing the country for parts unknown: grassroots activism that strives to reform the government locally and trickles up.
Unfortunately, such a solution requires activism, engagement, vigilance, sacrifice, individualism, community-building, nullification and a communal willingness to reject the federal government’s handouts and, when needed, respond with what Martin Luther King Jr. referred to as “militant nonviolent resistance.”
That means forgoing Monday night football in order to actively voice your concerns at city council meetings, turning off the television and spending an hour reading your local newspaper (if you still have one that reports local news) from front to back, showing your displeasure by picketing in front of government offices, risking your reputation by speaking up and disagreeing with the majority when necessary, refusing to meekly accept whatever the government dictates, reminding government officials—including law enforcement—that they work for you, and working together with your neighbors to present a united front against an overreaching government.
Unfortunately, we now live in a ubiquitous Orwellian society with all the trappings of Huxley’s A Brave New World. We have become a society of watchers rather than activists who are distracted by even the clumsiest government attempts at sleight-of-hand.
There are too many Americans who are reasonably content with the status quo and too few Americans willing to tolerate the discomfort of a smaller, more manageable government and a way of life that is less convenient, less entertaining, and less comfortable.
It well may be that Huxley was right, and that the final revolution is behind us. Certainly, most Americans seem to have learned to love their prison walls and take comfort in a dictatorship without tears.
(John W. Whitehead is an attorney and author who has written, debated and practiced widely in the area of constitutional law and human rights. Whitehead's concern for the persecuted and oppressed led him, in 1982, to establish The Rutherford Institute, a nonprofit civil liberties and human rights organization whose international headquarters are located in Charlottesville, Virginia. Whitehead serves as the Institute’s president and spokesperson, in addition to writing a weekly commentary that is posted on The Rutherford Institute’s website (www.rutherford.org))
The evidence suggests the FBI went to extraordinary lengths to set up one of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s best friends, to ensure his help in convicting the accused Boston Marathon bomber.
Stephen Silva, who testified against Tsarnaev, was released on December 22, 2015, and is now a free man after being sentenced to time served: 17 months. Had he not agreed to testify for the prosecution, he would have faced a maximum of 40 years for selling heroin — something the FBI manipulated him into doing.
Silva testified to loaning a Ruger P95 pistol to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, a childhood friend. That gun was used to shoot MIT Police Officer Sean Collier. But that wasn’t the most useful aspect of his testimony. Here is what the prosecution was really after:
“In particular, his testimony cut against the defense argument that Dzhokhar’s older brother, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was the driving force behind the entire operation and that Dzhokhar was essentially under his sway,” prosecutors wrote. “Silva’s testimony that it was Dzhokhar, not Tamerlan, who procured the Ruger was an important piece of evidence refuting this defense narrative.”
But was Silva’s testimony reliable?
According to research by the "Innocence Project," “in 15% of wrongful conviction cases overturned through DNA testing, statements from people with incentives to testify — particularly incentives that are not disclosed to the jury — were critical evidence used to convict an innocent person.”
The FBI has experience in providing potential witnesses with strong incentives to cooperate with them in the Boston bombing investigation. After learning that Silva was dealing marijuana, a government agent first approached him in June 2014 — over a year after the Boston bombing — posing as a customer asking for heroin. Silva responded that he did not deal with heroin, his court-appointed attorney, Jonathan Shapiro, told the court.
Although Silva had been an intermediary, or a “middleman” for various drugs, heroin had not been one of the drugs he sold, his lawyer said.
That is, until the FBI informant persuaded him to do it.
Silva was arrested in July 2014 for selling heroin on six different occasions to a confidential informant in Medford, according to his indictment.
One informant received over $66,000, according to a September 2014 court filing, for aiding the FBI in the sting operation incriminating Silva. That unnamed witness had been facing federal firearm charges. The money he received covers “payments for services, expenses, and relocation” as well as vehicle fines.
US District Judge Mark L. Wolf agreed with prosecutors that the government operation against Silva did not constitute entrapment, although he acknowledged that Silva had to be persuaded to sell heroin.
Silva’s lawyer seized on the latter point during a press conference outside the courthouse. He emphasized that the most serious crime the authorities could pin on Silva was in fact orchestrated by the FBI and only succeeded because of the cajoling of a paid informant.
“If it had been technically entrapment, we would have raised it,” Shapiro said. He also argued that Silva’s “possession of the gun in connection with the marijuana operation had nothing to do with the heroin trafficking that the government orchestrated.”
In the courtroom, the prosecution had attempted to portray Silva as a violent drug dealer, who first obtained the gun as part of a conspiracy to sell heroin.
The Importance of Spin
Without Silva’s testimony placing the Ruger in the hands of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the prosecution would have had far more difficulty proving that the Tsarnaevs were responsible for the death of Sean Collier. More importantly, Silva’s testimony helped the prosecution refute the defense’s narrative of Dzhokhar being a follower.
For this reason, the question arises of whether the government took unusual steps to secure Stephen Silva as its star witness, while at the same time preventing him from taking the stand for the defense.
Given what Stephen Silva told "Rolling Stone" in an August 2013 story, under the pseudonym “Sam,” Silva’s account of Dzhokhar’s relationship with his older brother, Tamerlan, could have been crucial for the defense, had he served as one of its witnesses. Silva spoke highly of Dzhokhar, and attested to Tamerlan’s radicalization and influence over him.
“He was never violent,” Silva told "Rolling Stone," describing his former friend as “one of the realest dudes” he had ever met.
Silva went on to say that, although he had always wanted to meet Tamerlan, Dzhokhar wouldn’t let him. “No, you don’t want to meet [my brother],” the younger Tsarnaev told him.
One of Silva’s assertions in the article directly contradicts the prosecution’s claim that Dzhokhar acted on his own.
“His brother must have brainwashed him,” Silva told "Rolling Stone." “It’s the only explanation.”
Sometimes witnesses are rewarded for cooperating with the prosecution, as was the case with Stephen Silva. And sometimes they are punished for cooperating, as "WhoWhatWhy" previously reported. The message to be taken away might be summed up this way: To serve its own ends, the government selectively and inconsistently metes out its own brand of “justice” in dealing with crucial witnesses
(A Talk in Honor of Daniel Ellsberg, Economists for Peace and Security, January 4, 2016)
I am very happy and honored to speak this evening, to this special audience of socially engaged economists, about my closest friend and mentor, Daniel Ellsberg. Though I have known Dan for forty years, I still continue to learn and appreciate new things about him.
Not long ago, for example, I told him there was a Berkeley economist who thought that Dan should have won the Nobel Prize in economics, and yet this man knew nothing about Dan and the Pentagon Papers. Dan in response told me of a conference in Vienna on his dissertation, with the title “Workshop on Risk, Ambiguity, and Decisions in honor of Daniel Ellsberg.” Many of the people there, he told me, also knew nothing about the Pentagon Papers.
Thus it was only by accident that I learned for the first time about the Ellsberg Paradox — something I am not going to mention further tonight, except to contrast it with another of Dan’s breakthroughs that might perhaps be called the Ellsberg Precept.
Timing of a Revelation, a Critical Factor
By the Ellsberg Precept I mean the revelation that the timely disclosure of suppressed truth can bring about needed social change. This sounds simple, but calls in its application for great intuition, intelligence and courage. Dan has sometimes said that he should have saved lives by going public years earlier with what he knew about the Vietnam War. I disagree: I think the spectacular impacts of Dan’s revelation depended on his having waited until he could sense the country was ready to respond to it. To ignite something, you need tinder, as well as a match.
It is important to recall the violence and paranoia of 1971 in America, ranging from the streets to the White House, when Dan gave the Pentagon Papers to "The New York Times." By 1971, Nixon, having been elected on a promise to end the war, had instead expanded it, first into Cambodia and then Laos. In response to the Laos incursion, the Weather Underground bombed the US Capitol Building in March 1971; and in the same month a break-in at an FBI regional office exposed the FBI’s COINTELPRO programs to “neutralize or otherwise eliminate” radical movements and their leaders.
By this time, Dan, obsessed by the countless lives being lost in an unwinnable war, had spent a year reading Gandhi, Thoreau, and Martin Luther King. His reflections about Gandhian satyagraha or truth-force led to this difficult, lonely, and dangerous decision: to release the Pentagon Papers to The "New York Times." It was a most painful decision: In addition to the risk of 115 years in prison, he also had to accept that some of his closest intellectual friendships at RAND and in Washington would be ruptured, perhaps forever.
The response to his disclosures, as we all know, was an unforgettable drama. Many prominent newspapers followed first the "Times" and then the "Post" in defying the White House, an unprecedented situation. A few weeks later, in July 1971, Nixon created the White House Plumbers; and their first action was to burgle the office of Dan’s psychiatrist Lewis Fielding, in the hopes of finding dirt to smear Dan’s reputation.
Then the Fielding break-in — and subsequent government concealment of it — helped lead, in May 1973, to the dismissal of all charges in Dan’s trial, and they continued to be prominent in the Watergate scandal that led to Nixon’s resignation.
In the same month of May 1973, a new, more anti-war Congress voted to end funding for combat operations in Cambodia. Three months later, in August, the cutoff was expanded to Vietnam. In other words, Dan’s revelations helped ignite, perhaps for the first time in history, a democratic cutoff to an imperialistic war; they contributed also to the unprecedented resignation of an elected U.S. president. And as an English professor, let me add a philological footnote: Wikipedia tells us that December 1971 marks the first known instance of a new noun, “whistle-blowing”.
Dan was not the first whistle-blower — the same year 1971 saw Vladimir Bukowsky come forward in the Soviet Union. But the unforgettable impact of his disclosures began immediately to encourage others, mostly here but also abroad, from “Winslow Peck” (Perry Fellwock) to Edward Snowden.
Some of you may not know that last fall David Sassoon, who organized the recent exposure of Exxon’s role in suppressing what it knew about climate change, wrote a letter to Dan, thanking Dan for having inspired him to undertake this important research project.
Seek Out Potential Whistleblowers
Let me quote a little from Sassoon’s account of how Dan inspired him:
At a journalism conference in Phoenix, Daniel Ellsberg spoke to me over dinner …. He said journalists should not wait for whistleblowers to come forward — we should go looking for them.
In particular, in the case of climate reporting, he suggested to me that we find people inside energy companies to expose the origins of climate denialism.
“You’ll find people of conscience in every company,” he said. “I should know.”
In fact we can all think of more recent whistleblowers whose courageous acts have exposed lethal corporate scandals in the energy, tobacco, automobile, and pharmaceutical industries, and such government scandals as illegal NSA spying, Abu Ghraib, and the government lies about Iraq’s uranium that were used to justify the Iraq War.
Both the history and the future health of modern mega-societies have come to depend increasingly on whistle-blowers, as bureaucracies develop to a level where formal accountability is dangerously inadequate, and people of conscience must supply a human corrective.