It's time for me to dive back into the murky waters of Lake Blogistan. I must confess that it was pleasant not to think about the news for a while.
Let us consider the strange case of Jonathan Pollard, the treasonous former intelligence analyst who had specialized in Soviet matters in the 1980s. Many people who don't know the case well presume that he worked for the CIA; actually, he toiled on behalf of a little-known group within Naval intelligence called Task Force 168. There is some mystery as to how he managed to acquire a security clearance, since the CIA had rejected him due to his history of drug usage. As soon as he had wormed his way into the U.S. intelligence community, he sent feelers out to the intelligence services of both South Africa and Australia. This was a man who desperately wanted to betray the United States, and he wasn't very picky as to his potential dance partners.
Finally, inevitably, he established a relationship with Israel. In the mid-1980s, Pollard gave the Israelis enough secret documentation to fill a room not much smaller than my first apartment. His treason was uncovered in 1985; in 1987, he pleaded guilty to a charge of espionage.
Until 1998, the Israelis refused to admit that Pollard had worked for them, even though he had taken $1500 a month from spymaster Rafael Eitan. This inability to admit the obvious was a bit like a married man denying an affair while slipping off the condom.
Jonathan Pollard has spent some three decades in prison. During that time, many pro-Israel writers (including -- but of course! -- the beloved Alan Dershowtiz) have argued passionately in favor of his release. The Obama administration now seems determined to let Pollard walk free on November 20 of this year in order to sooth Israeli feelings after the Iran deal. This gesture seems pointless, since Israeli opposition to that wise agreement will remain implacable.
Seymour Hersh revealed that the Israeli leadership sent Pollard's pilfered information directly to the Soviet Union, at a time of heightened Cold War tensions, in return for the expedited immigration of Soviet Jews. The original Hersh piece, published by the New Yorker in 1999, is behind a paywall, but Justin Raimondo quotes the relevant portion, which you can also find here. According to Hersh, former CIA Director William Casey said the following to a station chief:
‘For your information, the Israelis used Pollard to obtain our attack plan against the U.S.S.R. all of it. The coordinates, the firing locations, the sequences. And for guess who? The Soviets.’ Casey had then explained that the Israelis had traded the Pollard data for Soviet émigrés. ‘How’s that for cheating?’ he had asked.”
There was much more, of course -- in fact, we may not even know the worst of it. (And by "we," I mean not just the American public but also the intelligence community.)
Most of the current stories about the Pollard case give the impression that his upcoming release is a routine matter of "mandatory parole," as many journalists have put it. As Raimondo points out, this idea is ridiculous.
There is no such thing as “mandatory parole.” What’s mandatory is that the Parole Commission must consider parole in Pollard’s case, but they are free to deny it on the grounds that a) Pollard violated rules while in custody, and 2) that he may commit crimes if released. Although the government has made it clear it will not oppose parole, both conditions apply to Pollard and constitute grounds for denial.
You've got to wonder about the media automatons who have mindlessly repeated the term "mandatory parole" in story after story. If you Google the name "Jonathan Pollard" and the phrase "mandatory parole" (in quotes), you'll find that this nonsense has appeared in articles published by The Washington Post, USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, NBC and other major news organizations. This degree of journalistic obeisance is quite remarkable.
Fortunately, Raimondo is at the very top of his game. Until I read his piece, I did not know that Pollard has shown an absolute lack of remorse, preferring to view his continuing incarceration as an example of the gentile world's ineradicable anti-Semitism. Apparently, we are supposed to believe that anti-Semites have run the United States government during the last few decades.
Aside from all this, after agreeing to plead guilty and entering into a written plea agreement, Pollard brazenly violated its terms by doing two interviews with Wolf Blitzer, then a correspondent for the Jerusalem Post. The written plea agreement specifically forbade Pollard from doing interviews, or otherwise engaging in any written or broadcast accounts of his crimes, without the permission of the Director of Naval Intelligence. The intent here was to prevent the public dissemination of any more classified material, and Pollard and his lawyers agreed to these terms in exchange for the promise of leniency for himself as well as his wife, who had assisted him in his crimes. Yet Pollard went behind his lawyer’s back and did the Blitzer interviews, in a clear attempt to chuff himself up as a martyr to the cause of Israel and to mobilize the Jewish community behind him.
Prosecutors – and the judge – retaliated by throwing the book at him.
Many of my readers would become furious at me if I suggested that (say) Leslie Van Houten deserves parole, even though she has been an exemplary prisoner whose remorse is unquestioned.
The Pollard affair is, or should be, a simple matter. Parole may be justifiable if Pollard has met the criteria -- but if he has not, then the November 20 release will be an injustice. If Raimondo has the story right, then the traitorous Jonathan Pollard should remain in prison until he kicks the habit of arrogance.
That said: I suspect that the Pollard story still has a few hidden compartments. Why was this man given access to so much classified material, even though the CIA had rejected his application due to his history of drug abuse? Consider these paragraphs from his Wikipedia bio:
Pollard was given temporary non-SCI security clearances pending completion of his background check, which was normal for new hires at the time. He was assigned to temporary duty at another NIC Department, the Naval Intelligence Support Center (NISC) Surface Ships Division, where he could work on tasks that did not require SCI clearance. NOSIC's current operations center and the NISC were co-located in Suitland, Maryland.
Two months after Pollard was hired, the technical director of NOSIC, Richard Haver, requested that he be terminated. Pollard had offered to start a back-channel operation with the South African intelligence service and lied about his father's involvement with the CIA. Instead of terminating Pollard, Haver's boss reassigned him to a Navy human intelligence (HUMINT) operation, Task Force 168 (TF-168). This office was within Naval Intelligence Command (NIC), the headquarters for Navy intelligence operations (located in a separate building, but still within the Suitland Federal Center complex.) This may have been due to Pollard's having a friend from graduate school in the South African intelligence service. It was later discovered that Pollard had lied repeatedly during the vetting process for this position: he denied illegal drug use, claimed his father had been a CIA operative, misrepresented his language abilities and his educational achievements, and claimed to have applied for a commission as officer in the Naval Reserve. A month later Pollard received his SCI clearances and was transferred from NISC to TF-168.
Published accounts indicate that his approaches to both the South Africans and the Australians were brazen and unprofessional. It's hard to believe that a reckless man like Pollard managed to escape the detection of both the CIA and the NSA as he offered his wares to any and all buyers.
In short: The overall picture we have is of a man who should never have been granted access to secret material -- yet somehow, he managed to scoop up enough classified goodies to fill an entire room. Did the system fail? Or was something else going on?
It is quite possible that someone "on high" intended for Pollard to pass information on to the Israelis or the South Africans. The information he acquired may have included disinformation -- stuff that we wanted another government to believe.
After 30 years in prison Pollard should be released.
I despise the blood-drenched entity for which he spied, and for which he still works, and I despise the arrogant scumbags who twist and bullshit in favour of it, including him. But that doesn't make me lose my humanitarian principles. His arrogance shouldn't keep him in prison any longer. He's an Israeli spy - do we expect him to be a decent guy with morals?
Hersh can say Casey said whatever. I don't believe an intelligence analyst paid by a foreign agency could singlehandedly have ensured that the agency got hold of the entire US attack plan against the USSR. The Zionists are so powerful in the US that they would have held that information anyway. They have never had any underlying loyalty to the US, whether in its relations with the USSR or in any other matter. In short: big deal.
When the frame is set by the ongoing news agenda, the big picture gets obscured. That's one of the functions of 'news'.
The only reason Pollard has been kept in jail - unlike the hundreds of art students, movers, dancing photographers, neocon 'experts' etc. etc. etc. - is that he is small fry and his continued incarceration was useful to US intel chiefs who wanted to keep a bit of loyalty from the more dimwitted of their own officers and known assets for whom the penny hadn't dropped yet regarding who the US belongs to. Didn't Tenet threaten to resign because releasing Pollard would have been bad for CIA morale? Well that's what I'm sayin'. He didn't threaten to resign over the fact that Israeli assets do practically whatever the fuck they want in the US, including at a senior level.
That pair of US traitors, working for Israel, against whom the criminal charges were dropped as soon as Obama came to office (or was it George W Bush?) - I was going to mention their names here and say they were probably much bigger fry than Pollard, but after 10 minutes searching the web I couldn't find them. Not even when I asked for pages that didn't contain the word "Pollard".
As Orwell put it, those who control the past control the future, and those who control the present control the past.
Couldn't the US find a single one of their own spies held by the Israelis for whom Pollard could have been swapped? A "backpacking planespotter"? A "businessman caught in a spy flap"? That kind of thing? Why not? Because servants don't spy on their masters. (Or at least, if they do, it's considered a very different sin from people spying on their own masters for another lot of masters.)
posted by b : 4:35 AM
Recently, in an interview to a German television chanel M. Hayden said that it is a common understanding among all secret services, internationally, like "When You steal my secrets, shame on ME. When I steal Your secrets, shame on YOU" Extract, in German -> http://ptrace.fefe.de/hayden.html http://blog.fefe.de/?ts=ab4620db The first time we can be SURE he doesn't lie. ->
posted by Anonymous : 4:56 AM
"Hersh can say Casey said whatever. I don't believe an intelligence analyst paid by a foreign agency could singlehandedly have ensured that the agency got hold of the entire US attack plan against the USSR. The Zionists are so powerful in the US that they would have held that information anyway."
That last sentence is ridiculous. The attack plan on the USSR would have been on of America's most well-guarded secrets. That fact led me to suspect that someone wanted Pollard to get hold of that material -- because why would an untrustworthy jerk like him have access to it? Did everyone in that Task Force have that kind of access? I don't think so. Frankly, I'm not even sure that the guy who ran Task Force 168 would have need to know.
It's worth noting that Pollard claimed that he had been ordered to try to pass information to the Australians, and that his Australian contact immediately suspected that the approach was some sort of "CIA ruse."
All in all, I can't claim to know just what happened. But I think that the real story is rather more complex than we have been told.
By the way, do you know what the code name was for the attack plan against the USSR in Harry Truman's time? MAJESTIC.
Cute, huh? Looks to me like some clever counterintelligence officer had a lot of fun with that one.
No apology needed, Joseph. That you regularly provide us with such a wealth of information, research and resources--without monetary compensation--is greatly appreciated. We all have to keep up with our bills.
posted by Jon : 10:23 AM
Don't worry about us, we'll find something else on which to waste time, take care of your dinner plate first. Maslow's rules!
Conservatives reflexively shout "MUNICH!" or "APPEASEMENT!" or "NEVILLE CHAMBERLAIN!" whenever a politician suggests not giving the neocon warmongers everything they want. Latest example. (Good rebuttal.)
That example came from Bill Kristol, one of the guys who talked this country into the Iraq invasion. If we lived in a sane world, Congress would pass a law forbidding this jerk from ever putting his lying lips within 50 feet of an open mic.
On the domestic front, political cliche aficionados will also want to savor what Jeb Bush recently told Iowans. Prepare for a shock: Jeb says that he intends to "change the culture in Washington."
Now is time for a new approach: It starts by cutting off the oxygen to Mount Washington — the tax-spend-and-borrow culture of Washington.
(A Bush complaining about government borrowing. It's so cute!)
Obviously, Bush and Kristol have given up on the very concept of saying anything original. That is why I believe that a software developer should concoct a new app designed to create a political speech of modest length, filled entirely with familiar guff that we can all easily tune out.
Call it the APP app. APP = Automated Political Pablum.
As we head toward an American election year, all eyes are drawn to the color purple. The poll numbers that count -- that really, really count -- concern the battleground states. And that's why the most recent Quinnipiac poll offers unsettling news for fans of Hillary Clinton:
Hillary Clinton trails three top Republican presidential candidates in head-to-head matchups in Colorado, Iowa and Virginia, a new survey shows.
The latest Quinnipiac University swing state polling released Wednesday shows the Democratic frontrunner trailing former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in each of those states.
Webb has proven that he can win over in Virginians, and I think that he could be the kind of candidate likely to appeal to Coloradans.
In Colorado, only 34% of voters said they see Clinton as honest and trustworthy while 62% said they don't. In Iowa, the numbers were 33% to 59% -- a drop from 45% to 47% in April. And in Virginia, Clinton did best, at 39% saying they trust her to 55% saying they don't.
In large part, these numbers reflect Republican smear tactics. The poll respondents are not concerned about the things that concern me, such as Hillary's Syria policy. Instead, most of the people who consider her untrustworthy have been bamboozled by Republican propaganda about Benghazi and similar non-issues.
I could accept Hillary's sinking numbers more easily if the dive occurred for what I consider the right reasons. One does not like to see the smear merchants succeed. It is infuriating to think that we live in a country in which a Koch puppet like Scott Walker is considered honest while Hillary is not. As for Bush -- well, all I can say is that the words "Jeb Bush" and "honesty" are antonyms: See here and here.
Nevertheless, we are approaching the point at which the presumed Democratic frontrunner may be considered hopelessly damaged.
"Hillary Clinton's numbers on honesty and trust may border on abysmal but Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, the GOP front runner, is still battling a name recognition handicap," said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll.
"Do Colorado voters trust Hillary? No, they do not. Do they think she cares about their needs? No, they do not," he said. "So the door is open to a GOP candidate voters can believe in."
If not Hillary, then who? Sanders is a good man but an impossible candidate: No-one in his right mind would suggest that a socialist could out-perform Hillary Clinton in the purple states.
Martin O'Malley was the mayor of Baltimore, a city filled with the rotting shells of factories and businesses that shuttered years ago. Give me a camcorder and let me loose on Howard Street, and within an hour I'll have the raw footage for a TV commercial that would annihilate that man's chances. O'Malley also initiated (or, at the very least, permitted) the police practices that have alienated and terrorized Baltimore's black community.
Jim Webb is a populist when it comes to reining in Wall Street and an anti-interventionist when it comes to foreign policy. On those two fronts -- the important fronts, in my opinion -- he represents truly progressive values. Can the same be said of Hillary? True, she has recently espoused some good economic ideas, but she cannot extricate herself from Obama's wretched trade agreements, and she is tied to the TPP deal. On the foreign front, eleven words sum up the Hillary problem: When you lie down with neocons, you wake up with crabs.
Webb's stand on gun control should appeal to conservative voters. So will his record of heroism in combat. I can't think of any issues on which Hillary would have any appeal to male conservatives.
Right now, America does not know Jim Webb. Perhaps we should work to make him known.
Sandra Bland: There's a telling contradiction in that jail cell video
I'm sure that most of you are now familiar with the story of Sandra Bland's strange encounter with the cops in Texas, and with the even stranger video edits that have been found in the dashcam record. Cars disappear and reappear, as if we were watching an early experimental film by Georges Méliès. The Texas Department of Public Safety says that the odd jumps were an uninentional product of the encoding process.
Jump cuts of this kind have never marred my own YouTube videos. Just last night, I watched an entire Hollywood classic which had been not-quite-legally uploaded to YouTube. All very glitch-free. In fact, in this household we watch YouTube videos nearly every single night, and I've yet to notice any unintended jump cuts created by the encoder.
A blogger named Ben Norton (to whom I have linked already) thinks that the Texas government's response has been incredibly fishy.
They told the Texas Tribune that the video has not been edited. This seems unlikely. It is possible parts of the repeated footage are encoding errors, but it is unlikely that the 15-second repeated clip of a man leaving the truck is an encoding error.
Others have also noted that police dashcam videos usually have timecodes on the footage. In this video, the timecodes do not appear. Why this is is unclear. There is no answer at this point and an investigation needs to be conducted. A possibility some have suggested, however, is that, if the footage was indeed edited, as it likely was, whoever edited it zoomed in on the video or cropped the timecodes.
YouTube does re-encode most videos, and quality suffers. But the process simply does not create jump cuts -- at least, not in my experience.
Even more troubling is the woman's alleged "suicide" in her cell.
I simply cannot believe that this committed and determined young woman committed suicide. Both the evidence and common sense indicate that the Waller Counter police are guilty of murdering a captive whom they discovered to be an anti-police activist.
Bland’s family and local activists have demanded an independent investigation, insisting that the young woman who was preparing to take a new job as a college outreach worker would not have ended her own life.
“This was not a suicide. This behind me was murder. All of America knows something is rotten,” the Rev. Jamal Bryant of Empowerment Temple in Baltimore said at a news conference in front of the Waller County Sheriff’s Department and jail.
We should question all reports of holding cell suicides. The only cases which I would consider credible would involve individuals accused of serious offenses, or individuals with histories of depression. Bland obviously did not belong in either of those categories.
Even more troubling than the dashcam footage is the surveillance camera video of the hallway leading to Bland's jail cell. There is a gap from 7:18 to 7:24 a.m. -- due, we are told, to the fact that the camera was motion-activated. However...
From 7:34 to 9:07 a.m., the video shows no movement in or out of cell 95.
Then, about 9:07 a.m., a female officer can be seen checking the window of cell 95 — and running for help.
A telling contradiction. If the camera was motion-activated, and if the video shows no movement -- then why is there video at all?
I see no time stamp. I question whether this hallway would be completely clear for more than an hour-and-a-half.
In any editing program (even the most basic), it would be child's play to create a cover-up by manipulating the video record. Less than a minute's worth of motionless footage can easily be stretched into 90 minutes of motionless footage. If a video clip shows no motion whatsoever, that clip can simply be looped. (If I were doing the job, I would cover the seams with a brief dissolve, just to make things extra-tidy.) A twelve-year-old with access to a duo-core computer could pull off this trick.
"Suicide cell" syndrome. For as long as I can recall, there have been unnerving cases of people who suddenly became suicidal in their holding cells. A few days ago, a young woman named Kindra Chapman died under mysterious circumstances while in custody in Alabama.
It would seem that our cops want to insure that America's underclass remains perpetually terrified of arrest, even in cases unlikely to result in conviction.
By the way: If you're curious, the aforementioned Hollywood classic was Gilda, which I had never seen before. A bit over-rated, perhaps, but well-directed and worth watching. Checkov's gun receives rather bizarre treatment, given the circumstances. Even by today's standards, that "zipper" line is kind of...wow.
I think your speculation regarding the cops murdering someone they discovered to have been an anti-police violence/black lives matter activist seems likely to have been the cause here. The question now would be whether or not they knew she was coming their way and were looking for any reason to pull her over and take her into custody.
I know this sounds like a stretch, but remember we're facing a nascent full-spectrum intelligence apparatus that's tracking everyone's cell phones, email, financial transactions, ez-pass, etc. Totalitarian governments don't build systems like this unless they're planning on building files on and categorizing everyone.
We already know the NSA was feeding the DEA and local police departments intelligence regarding drug deals and the like with specific instructions to utilize "parallel construction" to hide the surveillance state fingerprints from the evidence trail, so is it that much of a stretch to extrapolate that behavior into this type of activity, as well?
If the corrupt police state is perfectly willing to lie and cheat to get convictions in the senseless drug war, then why wouldn't they resort to the same dirty tricks to silence and intimidate those who would oppose their abuses?
Essentially, the police are pirates now. Revenue-grubbing is their main job, and almost no one mentions the fact that Sandra Bland switched lanes in order to move OUT of the way of the police car, which was crowding her from behind. They pull this tactic ALL the time, so no, they were not originally targeting Sandra over anyone else. When I went to traffic court there were 3 or 4 others who recounted this same tactic so I pointed this out to the judge when it was my turn and she asked the officer what was an "illegal lane change?" He said there was nothing in front of me to warrant a lane change and I agreed, saying it was the police car BEHIND me that caused me to change lanes. She threw out my ticket.
The officer was needling Sandra as he wrote the ticket, asking if she was "irritated." She said yes, because she moved out of his way only to be pulled over. He wanted to rub it in, and maybe get her going, but she told him to just finish writing the ticket. Then he asked her to put out her cigarette and when she didn't he immediately escalated, telling her to get out of the car or he would "light her up."
This is happening everywhere. Why do we have people in JAIL for DAYS over traffic tickets?? Even if she did have a breakdown and commit suicide it is still death by police state. (Some friend of hers was supposed to come bail her out then just.....went radio silent. For days. No one has covered this yet as far as I know)
I don't have a TV so I missed the entire marijuana "angle" but....how would she ingest that in jail?
Today in the Washington Post, someone finally covered the orchestrated arrest, starting with the police car rushing her from behind. Finally! And it was prominently featured below the fold....in the Style section.
Thanks for this, Joseph. The lack of the timeline on the video and your comments on the glitch help.
posted by prowlerzee : 10:02 PM
What bothers me most is the officer ASKED her to put out her cigarette. She said no. Now, if he really has a legitimate reason for wanting the cigarette, out, he now must explain the reason. THEN, if she refuses, he would be somewhat justified. To escalate from asking for something, hearing a no, to an automatic arrest is outrageous. I sincerely hope the officer involved dies, and dies soon, because his abominable actions led to the loss of life and in my opinion a malaise on society.
The Des Moines Register says that Donald Trump should "pull the plug" on his candidacy, even though he has surged ahead of the other Republican candidates. By calling Trump a "feckless blowhard," the Iowa newspaper has expressed a clear preference for blowhards who possess feck.
I disagree with the Des Moines Register. Here are ten good reasons why Donald Trump deserves his party's nomination:
1. He is the only candidate who could or would say "Blow me" to Sheldon Adelson, Chaim Saban and the Kochs. (I'm being serious.)
2. Trump is the peace candidate: Since no soldier in his right mind would fight for him, war would become impossible.
3. His nomination would be a great step forward for orangu-Americans.
4. He'd be the first wig-wearing candidate since James Madison. (Yes, James Monroe wore a wig, but he gave up the practice years before his presidency. I'm full of fun facts like that. That's why you come here.)
5. If he gets the nomination, someone will surely ask him how he can simultaneously say that "Mexico has our jobs" and that Mexicans are coming to America to find work.
6. If there's another crash, he will assure the country: "Don't worry about America going bankrupt. Everything's safe. I've arranged it so my personal fortune will not be touched."
7. Europe will announce with one voice: "Fuck this. We're joining BRICS."
8. Trump opposes the TPP treaty. (Not a joke; he really does.)
9. Trump has vowed to protect Social Security. (Not a joke; he really did.)
10. Albert Camus: “The absurd is the essential concept and the first truth.”
Added note. I just thought of reason 11: He likes women with large breasts -- thus, there probably aren't any incriminating photos of Trump carousing with Jeff Epstein's girls.
Don't forget that one of the meanings of the verb "trump" in British English is "fart".
posted by b : 3:29 PM
Apparently Scott Walker recently said that any incoming President must be prepared and willing to attack Iran immediately after being sworn in, and no one is writing editorials telling him to go away.
Not an admirer, but Trump can and will say what's on his mind and therefore is perfectly situated to create havoc during the Republican nomination process simply by expressing opinion on verboten topics. Trump's opinions don't matter much, but punching holes in a tightly vetted and controlled process should always be encouraged.
posted by Anonymous : 7:12 PM
#11: if Trump becomes president, we'll have the hottest first lady in a century or two, even if he changes horses once or twice before he's inaugurated.
Some idiots are better than others; for example, Donald Trump is better than George W. Bush or Hillary Clinton.
Moreover, some idiots are better than some intelligent people; Trump is, for example, better than Barack Obama. After all: If, as is now to be expected, Obama gets all three of his big 'trade' deals, he'll be the most disastrous President the U.S. has ever had. If Trump opposes that, then his stepping into the White House would constitute a step up for the American public.
Kagan, who cut his teeth as a propaganda specialist in support of the Reagan administration’s brutal Central American policies in the 1980s, is now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a contributing columnist to The Washington Post’s neocon-dominated opinion pages.
On Friday, Kagan’s column baited the Republican Party to do more than just object to President Barack Obama’s Iranian nuclear deal. Kagan called for an all-out commitment to neoconservative goals, including military escalations in the Middle East, belligerence toward Russia and casting aside fiscal discipline in favor of funneling tens of billions of new dollars to the Pentagon.
Kagan also showed how the neocons’ world view remains the conventional wisdom of Official Washington despite their disastrous Iraq War.
One day, historians will be able to give an honest answer to one of the great questions of our time: Since the Kagans clearly dislike Obama, and since most of the world despises the Kagans, why does Victoria Nuland (Robert Kagan's wife) continue to have an important job in the State Department? Indeed, at this point she seems to be running the State Department, with John Kerry functioning as a figurehead.
I'm thinking blackmail. It seems to be the only real answer.
In the talk embedded a couple of posts down, Max Blumenthal reveals how Israel manages to recruit snitches among the Palestinians. Israel's Unit 8200 (their NSA) listens in on all Palestinian communications and identifies gay people. Islamic culture being what it is, many of the gays would rather inform than have their secrets known.
If they are willing to spy there, why not here?
We all have secrets. I suspect that blackmail on an industrial level has been going on. How else can we explain the fact that the architects of the Iraq disaster still control the foreign policy narrative?
Take our president, for example.
Obama took a lot of pay-offs as he rose to power, as this blog (and few other outlets) frequently noted during the 2008 campaign. The Tony Rezko affair always seemed that close to turning into a political thunderstorm, yet the cloudburst never came.
Let's switch metaphors: Obama's life is a mansion with a locked basement. I don't pretend to know the contents of that basement, but I suspect that it contains many things that our President would prefer to see unmentioned in the history books.
On one hand, the very existence of the Iran deal indicates that Obama is not fully under control. On the other hand, the fact that Nuland still runs so much of the show indicates that Obama is not fully in charge. I hope I live long enough to learn how that situation came about.
But Nuland is a foreign policy force of her own, considered by some in Washington to be the up-and-coming “star” at the State Department. By organizing the “regime change” in Ukraine – with the violent overthrow of democratically elected President Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014 – Nuland also earned her spurs as an accomplished neocon.
Nuland has even outdone her husband, who may get “credit” for the Iraq War and the resulting chaos, but Nuland did him one better, instigating Cold War II and reviving hostilities between nuclear-armed Russia and the United States. After all, that’s where the really big money will go – toward modernizing nuclear arsenals and ordering top-of-the-line strategic weaponry.
And there are Yet More Kagans to Worry About:
For instance, Robert’s brother Frederick works at the American Enterprise Institute, which has long benefited from the largesse of the Military-Industrial Complex, and his wife Kimberly runs her own think tank called the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).
Funny you should mention that, Robert. The video below is less than a minute long, and it ends with a very revealing comment by General Petraeus.
Blackmail is 100% the order of the day and it's the same dirty trick business that's in essence behind the entire pedophilia scandal currently enjoying a limited hang-out in the UK. Jeffrey Epstein wasn't just a pervert; he works for the same shadowy forces behind the UK blackmail scheme, and that was his business, too.
There's a reason Lesley Wexner gave Jeffrey Epstein his 51,000 square foot mansion in Manhattan for $1, and that reason is that they both - and these billionaire benefactors of modern American politics - answer to the same bosses. The REAL power.
posted by Anonymous : 10:53 AM
Talking of apocalypse, Lloyds insurance market is warning that
"(t)e ability of the global food system to achieve food security is under significant pressure
"(...)the food system is becoming increasingly vulnerable to acute shocks.
As the writing on the wall grows ever more clear, insurance - almost as scummy a sector as money-lending - is an interesting area to watch.
It could be that insurance price hikes will play a role in triggering the downhill hurtle the risk of which the hikes themselves would supposedly be a response to.
posted by b : 11:32 AM
What's Nuland up to in the Ukraine? She was there this week for the parliamentary vote on constitutional change and Donetsk and Luhansk.
Although Zionists were involved in destabilising the Ukraine and in installing the fascist regime in Kiev (see in particular the banker Igor Kolomoyskyy, a figure in the international criminal-religious organisation Chabad, a group which is of increasing importance in many countries), I don't buy the line that Nuland has "okayed" Russian control over the mainly Russian areas in the east as a price for the Kremlin's cooperation with the US on Iran. That sounds like bullshit aimed at the kind of media consumer who doesn't appreciate either broad strategy or narrower military considerations but likes hearing about "deals" because it makes them think they're sceptical or even cynical about what's in the media.
The conflict in Novorossiya has subsided and a line has been drawn and the military position is not currently particularly volatile or hairy. Which isn't to say that that can't change quite quickly - and I assume the US and British military 'advisers' are still in place - but it was obvious which way the vote in Kiev would go. Anyone who talks about a deal in the context of Nuland's visit should consider Ukrainian debt and of course the EU...
posted by b : 9:36 PM
Here is Peter Pomerantsev in the Guardian, whinging his socks off about Russian superiority in psywar.
(I mean was it ever likely that Boris Berezovsky, favourite of the British royal family, would ride back into the Kremlin on a white horse following a 'colour revolution' in Moscow set in motion by young middle class people who enjoy listening to western-style pop music on their expensive stereo equipment, who don't like Christianity, who are pro-gay all the way, and who belong to the 15% of the Russian population who have internet access at home? Do I also have to spell it out that the renamed KGB is as powerful as it ever was and that Putin is in the 'Slavophile' mould of Stalin rather than the 'Westerniser' mould of Lenin or Yeltsin? There's not going to be a fucking colour revolution in Moscow and the KGB must be pissing themselves laughing at the efforts made through the US and British embassies, and using NGOs and Twitter, to treat Russia as if it were Arabia, Georgia or the Ukraine.)
D'you know what? If it's Twitter against Russia Today, my money's on Russia Today.
Rick Perry, one of just two Republican primary contenders to have served in the military (the other is Senator Lindsey Graham), called for Trump to withdraw from the contest.
Hold on. Let's ignore the Trump business for a minute -- after all, he was never going to be the candidate. Is it really true that only Graham and Perry have served? Since neither of those two will be nominated, then it is a certainty that the eventual Republican nominee will be a chickenhawk.
The Dems have gotta go with Webb. He'd clobber Scott Walker or Jeb Bush.
Look, I admit that I've hurled insults at southerners in the past. I've done so because so many of them have spoken condescendingly to me. They always presume that I must be a drug-using hedonist because I don't share their views on Jesus or sexuality. (And never mind the fact that drug usage and out-of-wedlock parentage is worse in the south than in the north.) I just got sick of being hectored by condescending southerners who arrogantly think that they have the right to talk down to me or to give me lectures on morality.
So I decided to return fire. Since so many of them think that they have a right to insult me, I have the right to insult them. When they stop, I'll stop.
That said: Someone has to break through the brainwashing that rules in the south. Poor whites in that region have been governed solely by the Republican party for decades now. Have their lives improved?
Only Jim Webb has ANY chance of getting that message across. I can't talk to people who live in the south. He can.
Despite the results of 2004, I still think that military service is a net plus. In 2004, a decorated veteran from Massachusetts could not attract many southern votes, and could not defeat a Republican in the general election. But in 2016, a war hero from Virginia has a very good shot at accomplishing both goals -- in my opinion.
Of course, I will admit that these things can be hard to judge. In 1972, both McGovern and Nixon were veterans of World War II. McGovern's war record was extraordinary, while Nixon's service -- though honorable -- was rather more modest. Nevertheless, McGovern suffered a spectacular electoral loss.
Winning in the general election means nothing to the Democratic leadership, better to lose than to return to the horrible 1932-1978 years. John Glenn polled well against Reagan and since he could have won, to DLCers, it was better to support Mondale and later Dukakis, knowing that the Democratic party's loss was their gain.
posted by S Brennan : 9:08 PM
S, I certainly can't agree that winning in the general election means nothing to the Democratic leadership. In fact, i think it means a great deal.
I do think that Glenn would have done better than Mondale, although I liked Mondale. Glenn did poorly in an initial debate and his support fizzled. Well, in truth, I saw that debate and I don't think he did THAT poorly. But the perception was that he blew it.
I cannot see how anyone in the party gained from the failures of Mondale and Dukakis.
"I cannot see how anyone in the party gained from the failures of Mondale and Dukakis."
And you can't see that Reagan was able to win in 1980 because he helped make sure Ford lost in 1976...read Reagan's convention speech, until Obama Back stabbed Kerry/Edward's in his convention speech...it was the record holder for betrayal.
You need to read up on the rise of the DLC and their very intense grip on party politics
posted by S Brennan : 10:15 PM
Boy, S, you and I have very different memories of those days. It's true that Reagan and Ford represented different wings of the GOP: Ford was part of the "We're all Keynesians now" wing (he even called for price and wage controls during Reagan's presidency) while Reagan was more intent of rolling back the New Deal. But when it counted, Reagan always invoked the 11th commandment.
The DLC came into being precisely to recapture the White House. So the argument that they don't care about winning in the general election is inane. The whole idea is unsupported by any facts or quotations you could cite. At any rate, I've argued in the past (back in 2008) that the DLC is not the all-powerful bogeyman that a lot of progressives seem to believe it to be.
They've stopped bothering me. They used to bark at me several times a day, but now they've stopped. I miss them. They were funny.
If you don't know what the term "sealioning" means, go here (scroll down) and then here. If you want to know more about the sub-specialty of hasbara sealioning, go here or check out the modified cartoon below:
Well the Zionists do just seem to have got the world's on-paper 'major' powers (ha ha) to serve as their military-intelligence subordinates against Iran, with the Iranian leadership saying oh what a wonderful agreement.
Funny how according to the propaganda of the US and its NATO "allies" it was "mutually assured destruction" which kept the "peace" during the "cold war" (sic), but where the Jewish state is concerned the line is that the shitty little country must monopolise the means to nuke its opponents to kingdom come without those opponents having any counter-means.
Still, even the Nazis didn't have a religion based on the Aryans having been specially "chosen" by the one god who created the world.
The lack of hasbara effort against posters to that thread at Reddit is strange. Distributed or no, the hasbara effort has always been under central command. The hasbara army won't just be stood down.
The big question is the same as with the Iran agreement: what's the next step?
We'll probably soon find out.
posted by b : 3:26 PM
The Nazis did have such a religion, I think, although it was in its germinal phase and not really codified. I mean, the only Nazi "scripture" was "Mein Kampf," and I don't think many people took that book too seriously, even in Adolf's heyday.
I also don't think that many Jews take their own scripture too seriously. The paradox of Ben-Gurion is that he didn't believe in God yet he believed that God gave Israel to the Jews. Netanyahu seems to think the same way, and so do other Israelis with whom I've spoken. An Israeli who proudly announces that he or she is an atheist will balk at the suggestion that the homeland could have been established in any other part of the world (with friendlier borders and better resources and more acreage) because...well, it always comes down to the Bible, even to people who don't take the Bible seriously.
It's a crazy situation. But no crazier than the American doctrine of Manifest Destiny. And there was a lot of similar quasi-religious racism in play when it came to the English experience in Ireland. So I really think that what's happening in Israel right now is simply the current manifestation of a sin -- a kind of madness -- that has gripped many, many ethnic groups at one time or another.
It isn’t that I feel some fervent nostalgia for the good old days of moderate Republicanism, although it’s true that the Nixon-era GOP was only microscopically to the right of today’s Democratic Party on most major policy questions – and decidedly to its left on healthcare and social spending. (Which United States president actually proposed a nationwide, single-payer healthcare system? Well, I’ve already given you the answer.) Go back to Dwight Eisenhower, who presided over a more progressive and redistributive tax code than anything seen before or since, and sent federal troops to desegregate the schools in Little Rock, and in relative terms it looks like Lenin and Trotsky trying to out-radical each other. (The top marginal tax rate on the wealthiest Americans in 1960 was 91 percent. Just try to convince your Fox News uncle of that one.)
Among other things, the GOP’s flight to Crazytown has permitted leaders of the Democratic Party to crawl ever more cozily into the pockets of Wall Street bankers and to become ever more intertwined with the national security state — while still proclaiming themselves, in all innocence and with considerable plausibility, to be less noxious than the alternative. So we see millions of well-meaning people getting ginned up to vote for Hillary Clinton, despite the nagging sensation that the political universe in which she represents the best available option is a cruel hoax. Pay attention to that feeling! It’s the reality we have discarded, banging on the door.
Planned Parenthood is constantly and unanimously vilified by today’s Republicans as a Satan-worshiping, baby-killing feminist cult. But in 1970 it was granted federal funding by none other than the guest star of today’s show, President Richard Nixon. Furthermore, here’s what Nixon said at the time: “No American woman should be denied access to family-planning assistance because of her economic condition.”
I know: Mind blown. Read that quote to any of the 97 current Republican candidates for president and watch their heads explode.
Does anyone suppose that the Koch brothers, a pair of globetrotting culture-vultures whose names are carved in marble on the front of every New York fine-arts institution, give a single solitary fuck about all those Megachurch Dad-Pants Yahoo Apoplexy issues at the supposed heart of the supposed Republican ideology? Unless and until it impacts the bottom line, that stuff is just the icing on the delicious cake the Kochs are baking, a rich and eggy batter of soft corporate fascism inside a candy shell of imitation democracy. Can you smell it? It’s in the oven right now.
I stand with those who think that the plot began when William F. Buckley expelled the Birchers from the conservative movement. The Birch wing, now embodied by the Kochs, took over the GOP, while the Buckley wing (having nowhere else to go) took over much, but not all, of the Democratic party. O'Hehir's essay fails only in that it ignores the role played by neoconservatism (the deformed offspring of Commentary magazine), which has established hegemony over the foreign policy of both parties. Despite this omission, his essay is the best piece of writing that the internet has produced within the past week.
I'll add this. One could argue that the turning point election was not Reagan's victory in 1980 but George H.W. Bush's race in 1988. The key issue in that election was, sweartagod, the freakin' Pledge of Allegiance, which Republicans supposedly favored and Democrats supposedly hated. The Bush victory taught strategists the unimportance of facts, history or logic. Elections are now pure Id.
I thought that the Donald had no further lines to cross, but he found one. He tried to cross it, and he tripped.
Appearing on Saturday at the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa, the real estate mogul took his running feud with Arizona Sen. John McCain to a new level.
“He’s not a war hero,” said Trump. “He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”
I disagree with Senator McCain on many issues. In recent years, his bellicosity and neocon tendencies have struck me as wrongheaded and even repellent. But I still respect the man, and I would never disparage his service in Vietnam.
Of course McCain is a hero. Anyone who says otherwise is an idiot.
(Well, let's add one exception to that rule: There have been philosophers who would argue that the very concept of heroism is wrongheaded. Although I don't agree with that position, I'm always up for a good abstract argument of that sort. Sophistry is fun. But speaking in everyday, down-to-earth terms, I do believe that heroes exist, and that John McCain is one of them. Besides, Donald Trump ain't no philosopher.)
Heretofore, I've enjoyed Trump's surge in the polls: He is one of America's classic clowns. Had he pursued a more respectable career path as a professional entertainer, he might have ranked with Burt Lahr, Jackie Gleason, Curly Howard and Oliver Hardy.
But this shit isn't funny.
I'm trying to think of something more offensive Trump could do. Perhaps he could favor us with a striptease during one of the debates? Or maybe a display of public defecation? After today, he'll have to do something really extreme if he wants to top himself.
His position seems to be that winning is heroic while getting captured and living at the mercy of the enemy is cowardly. Like a Klingon, McCain should have killed himself to escape the dishonour. You'd think someone who'd been through so many bankruptcies would understand the value of failure and triumph over adversity.
I don't know much about McCain's military record, but I'm not inclined to consider someone a hero for fighting in an unjust war or for being captured. The draft dodgers would be more my cup of tea. Not the Bush and Cheney type who engineer alternative assignments and deferments, real draft dodgers. Like those conshies who were executed rather than fight the Kaiser in my own country. Following orders is never really heroic, it's always the easy way out, even when the order is suicidal.
Stephen, we have to admit that soldiers throughout history, in many armies, in many parts of the world, have performed acts of heroism, bravery and courage. Often -- more often than not, perhaps -- they have done so while fighting for leaders who were unworthy of their efforts and their sacrifice. If you do something extraordinary while fighting in a war that should never have begun, is your act any less extraordinary?
We are dealing with a bit of a paradox, I confess. Inevitably, this argument gets us into morally difficult territory. Can we say that a German soldier in Stalingrad performed bravely, even heroically? An Italian soldier in Ethiopia?
I think that most people would admit that Napoleon's troops did some amazing things during the invasion of Russia. Some of those poor bastards literally walked so much that the bones in their feet started to crumble. The fact that they had no right to be there does not erase their heroism.
That said, it's a lot easier -- a lot less morally complex -- to say that the Russians who fought under Kutusov were heroic, since they were the ones who sacrificed themselves on behalf of a just cause.
Is it possible Donald Trump is a Trojan horse trying to sabotage the Republican party's election chances? Or is the truth that he is simply an idiot?
posted by Anonymous : 7:25 PM
Trump's position is that of the WWII Japanese who believed that to die in battle was honorable, while surviving by allowing oneself to be captured alive was a disgrace. Aside from that, John McCain is a worthless shitbag who set fire to the USS Forrestal, killing 134 sailors and injuring 161 more because he thought he was a hotshot pilot who could show off before others and initiate a "hot start" of his fighter plane with live ammo on board his own plane and those behind him. The rest of McCain's military career consisted of crashing 5 navy aircraft and earning the nickname "Songbird" from his North Vietnamese captors while he was incarcerated. If he hadn't been the son and grandson of US admirals, he probably would have spent 30 years in a military prison for nearly sinking the vessel he was assigned to. After returning from Vietnam and realizing his military career was at a dead end, McCain divorced his wife while she was being treated in a hospital (classy guy) and then married a wealthy Jewess who was related to the billionaire Bronfman family of Canada, the owners of Seagram's distilleries. They have financed his political career ever since, as long as he remains more loyal to Israel than Bibi Netanyahu. The founding father of the Bronfman empire was head of the World Jewish Congress. McCain has been working hard to keep up ever since, going so far as to visit and endorse Islamic terrorists financed by Israel and calling for more US support for the criminal regime in Ukraine created by Zionist activists in the US State Department. Johnny has been a busy boy, and he has done more damage to the US military than any member of Al Quaeda or ISIS. He also sang in public "Bomb, bomb, Iran", overtrumping (no pun) Hillary Clinton. But he's a hero.
posted by Muffin : 8:30 PM
You know, a lot of us have fucking had it with John McCain. We don't trust a word that comes out of his mouth. No not one word. And this creep has gotten a LOT of milage out of his time as a war prisoner; far more, for example, than John Kerry who won a fucking Purple Heart.
Could a man of despicable character in civilian life have been a hero in war? Perhaps, but the question isn't as settled as you make it sound.
In my books, to be a "war hero" in requires evidence of selflessness during combat. Serving your country in uniform oversesas doesn't make you a war hero. Being in prison a long time doesn't necessarily qualify one as a war hero either. I would argue Trump's real mistake was overlooking that McCain has been recognized for trying to save a life prior to his time in prison. By that account, he's clearly a hero, ASSUMING the reported account of the fire on the USS Forrestal is credible. As a politician, McCain has exhibited sufficiently duplicitous and truly WICKED behavior (trying to stir up a war here, a war there) that questioning the actual facts of his war years is not unreasonable, even if it may not be popular (or considered in good taste) to do so. Most veterans are not war-mongers. In public life, the man is a fucking disgrace to all veterans.
Questions have been raised about the McCain legend, and Trump is likely alluding to them:
"So who is the real John McCain? A credible case has been made that McCain may have crossed the line and collaborated extensively while a prisoner in North Vietnam. His subsequent actions to block any inquiry into the status of possible POWs have also been examined in some detail and quite reasonably questioned. Many journalists and former government officials have long been aware of McCain’s possible misrepresentation of his deportment in Hanoi even if the story has not exactly made the front pages. The Pentagon reportedly has recordings of McCain’s radio broadcasts, which could be released if the Senator allows the Department of Defense to do so." http://original.antiwar.com/giraldi/2013/05/29/john-mccain-war-hero-or-something-less/
Trump's attack on McCain was perhaps extremely foolish politically, but because he was attacking a media icon, it was also brave. Maybe even a little heroic.
posted by Anonymous : 10:17 PM
The idea that the Vietnamese called McCain the "songbird" is a scurrilous, Swift Boat-level lie.
As for his plane crashes, though, there's lots of murkiness there. Seems he was a reckless pilot. But I don't really care to do any research on it, because the subject bores me. I cared about McCain in 2008 - in the sense that he was a presidential candidate and I desperately didn't want him to get elected - and blessedly I haven't had to give a rat's ass since.
I'm sad about what Trump said. I was hoping he'd be more of a contender and irradiate the Republican primary. Now he's gonna implode.
posted by Anonymous : 2:19 AM
It's not so much the unjustness of the cause that makes me doubt the heroism of these heroes. It's the fact that they aren't operating under their own free will and therefore don't deserve credit any more than those half-wit foot-soldiers at Abu Ghraib should have been blamed for what they did.
People, reprehensibly, give up their will to others. Some heroes can even have no conscious will at all, like Voytek the bear, or Gander the dog, recipient of the Dickin medal. Most recipients of the Dickin medal have been pigeons. I do no accept the possibility of a heroic pigeon. Dogs, maybe. Horses, perhaps. The one cat that won it, won it for catching rats "under fire", but that's just what nature has programmed them to do, and humans in a herd are the same thing and are no more heroic than a pigeon. Those who exercise their will are a different matter.
The word hero has little meaning anymore in the "Homeland". Anyone who puts on a uniform is now a hero. McCain has never had a problem questioning the patriotism of other Americans when it served him to use them as punching bags to score political points. McCain and Trump deserve each other.
posted by Gareth : 9:37 AM
I've had issues with you in the past. But, you are absolutely correct on this one.
McCain is as much a hero as any SS officer captured in Russia during WWII was a hero... Trump is an idiot, but there is nothing scandalous in saying that being captured surely does not make one a hero - especially in an openly imperial war like Vietnam. Calling McCain a hero is a sloppy attempt to whitewash this criminal war.
Everyone's talking about a story that Gawker published, then removed. The story concerned text messages between the CFO of Conde Nast, David Geithner (brother of Timmy) and a male escort called "Ryan." (I mention the client's name only because Talking Points Memo decided to publish it.) It appears that the escort made the texts available to Gawker out of spite, because he had asked Geithner for a favor and Geithner refused. This situation reeks of blackmail, or something unnervingly close to blackmail.
Geithner denies knowing the man at all.
The executive denied texting with Ryan in a statement to Gawker.
"I don’t know who this individual is. This is a shakedown," he said. "I have never had a text exchange with this individual. He clearly has an ulterior motive that has nothing to do with me."
Prominent journalists, several of whom are openly gay, assailed Gawker for "gay-shaming" the executive and accused the website of helping Ryan blackmail him...
Had I been a Gawker editor, I would have argued against running such a story. That said, let us ask ourselves: Would there have been an outcry if the escort were female? Would the story have been removed if the escort were female?
Compare the current Gawker imbroglio to the way the press covered the case of Eliot Spitzer. Do we now live in a culture in which "hooker-shaming" is unacceptable if
the hooker in question has a penis, but acceptable if the hooker has a vagina?
Of course, there's one important difference between the two cases. Spitzer was a public official while the CFO of Conde Nast barely qualifies as a public figure.
In the final analysis, I don't think that Gawker should have run such a tawdry story in the first place, and I'm glad that it was pulled. All I ask is that the same standards apply to situations involving heterosexuals.
The most pertinent ethical issue here is that Gawker may have helped consummate a blackmail scheme.
posted by Anonymous : 7:09 AM
The farmers are not like you and me, Joseph. They have more social clout.
posted by Anonymous : 10:09 AM
The good news is that Gawker may soon be no more. This seems to be the final nail that breaks the back of the Gawker coffin. They were already losing millions in ad revenue thanks to Gamergate, the journalistic ethics movement of which they are primary antagonists, and they had announced that they probably can't cover likely damages from the Hulk Hogan sex tape lawsuit. And now the Gay Mafia are after them too.
Dave Geithner is, in fact, a public official. He is an officer of a publicly traded company.
It is a problem that the issue is outing a gay rather than blackmail, but you've got to take what you can get.
I don't think there's any hooker-shaming going on, though. The shaming is obviously aimed at Geithner, who is not a hooker. IT is a pity that the revenge-porn against Weiner and the similar outing of Spitzer didn't elicit the same response.
No, there's no double standard. The guy wasn't a public figure, and his arranging to see a prostitute (a plan he never carried through) had little to no public relevance. If Gawker had written the same story, but the prostitute was a woman, it still would've been heinous and outraged people. Maybe a little less, granted. But that's because when you expose a married man for seeing a male prostitute, you're not only catching him cheating but also outing him, either as gay or bisexual (I suspect this guy is more bi than gay) - and that can ruin families in a total way that mere cheating might not. Again, there's no double standard. It's that outing a man and exposing him as a cheater in one fell swoop is more devastating than just exposing him as a cheater, which would've been the situation had he been talking to a callgirl.
The Spitzer case was news. I think prostitution should be legal, but it ain't, and if a governor can break the law in his private life without the media reporting it, he's effectively above the law.
As for Weiner, the incessant dick puns were tawdry, no doubt. But the real problem was the way Weiner pretended he was hacked or framed. Had he just come clean, he might've stayed in Congress or at least retained some respectability. The story was the crazed lying from an elected official.
I'm not particularly interested in the news today. Yes, there was another horrific shooting, but I have nothing to say about that matter that you don't already know. So this will be a non-political post. (Normally, this blog prints that kind of trivia only on the weekends.)
For quite a few days, I've been working though some personal matters. Unpleasant memories. After a certain age, one spends a lot of time looking back, often with regret. In my case, I wasted much of the 1990s in the company of people who were...well, in a word, toxic. Let's stretch that out to three words: Add infuriating and exhausting.
And yet some of these people were also helpful, wonderful, and caring. That's the problem. Sometimes, wonderful and caring people can become deeply invested in very dubious beliefs, and they will associate only with those who share those beliefs. Thus, in order not to lose my friends, I held my tongue and nodded my head while people around me spewed a lot of hooey.
(If this story sounds far too cryptic, apologies. Specificity would cause many problems.)
As the 1990s drew to a close, it became clear that the only way I could write as I please -- to think as I please -- was to break off all associations (aside from my ladyfriend and a couple of family members -- and, of course, the dog). In the terminology used by the Jehovah's Witnesses, I was "disfellowshipped." More accurately, I self-disfellowshipped. Friends are not as necessary as many think, and may actually be a hindrance. This blog was born in the peace of solitude and the productivity of loneliness.
So here we are, more than fifteen years later. When one's life has much more past than future, one must deal with the past. Truth is, I feel like a former cult member who still suffers from PTSD.
Why the hell did I let so many unreasonable people in my life? Why did I waste years dealing with nonsense? Why am I wasting so much time now thinking about the time I wasted then?
I've been telling myself that it is ridiculous to use a word like "cult" to describe the oddballs and eccentrics of my former social network. Lay off the hyperbole, I chided myself.
Then came the epiphanic thought: What if all social networks are, in fact, cults?
The pip is not the orange, and the orange is not the tree -- yet all three are, in a sense, the same organism. The seed, the fruit and the tree all partake of "orange-ness." Similarly, all friendships, networks and social groups partake of "cult-ness." The group of friends depicted on The Big Bang Theory may seem utterly unlike the Scientologists, yet there is less distance between the two than may be apparent.
Cults are hierarchies. So are friendships -- all of them, or nearly all. Reflect upon the friendships you formed in childhood, and upon the patterns that inevitably arose within every social network -- formal or informal, trivial or non-trivial -- you have ever joined. Friendships devolve into a "Batman and Robin" pattern, never a "Batman and Batman" pattern. Two Batmen will inevitably become rivals. Enemies.
If one wishes neither to lead nor to follow, one must walk alone.
In both cults and major religions, the ultimate weapon of psychological control is ostracism -- the threat that one may be denied the comforts of camaraderie. As noted above, the JWs use the term "disfellowship." Scientologists declare former members to be "suppressive persons." Mormons are discouraged from association with apostates, although there is no official policy forbidding contact. Christian fundamentalists shun backsliders, who are undoubtedly possessed by demons. All good Bahais detest the nāqeżīn. The Islamic fundamentalist hates the murtadd (who, in several countries, may face the death penalty). Jewish fundamentalists can employ that wonderful old term kofer, although nowadays they prefer the labels "self-hating Jew" and "anti-Semitic Jew." (That'll keep 'em in line.) The NOI says that all blacks who oppose separatism have a slave mentality. Wiccans sneer at the mundanes and Subgeniuses sneer at the Pinks. Crowleyites just sneer.
It all comes to the same thing: Think as I tell you to think or I'll call you a bad name. And then you'll be all alone.
The accusation of bad faith is a formidable tool of control. In a political cult, dissenters always run the risk of being called informers or agents. "How much are they paying you?" is just another way of saying "Death to infidels!"
Leninists expelled members (and even leaders) who stood accused of "factionalism." Anyone who joins the Uhuru movement fears being labelled "bourgeois." The LaRouchies may accuse a troublesome member of being a spy for Her Majesty. The Alex Jonesians see apostates as the minions of freemasonry or the Vatican. A libertarian cult will use the bogeyman of creeping socialism as a way of enforcing approved thought patterns. The Ayn Randroids had an index of impermissible literature; those caught reading a forbidden work would be forever denied the grace of Her Holiness. Tea partiers are paranoid about infiltrators even as they practice the infiltration of competing groups. The John Birchers (the movement that gifted us with the Koch brothers) would see the dark hand of Moscow -- or, worse, Fabianism -- whenever anyone questioned their sick weltanschauung.
As I've said before: All isms are prisons; all movements are bowel movements. All beliefs are false. Even your belief or disbelief in the previous sentence is false.
I think we've all encountered groups which, even if they are not usually considered cult-like, nevertheless have some of the traits associated with cults. Everyone is constantly questioned, constantly judged, constantly scrutinized. Anyone capable of independent thought must defend himself on a 24/7 basis. Anyone with secrets is a probable infiltrator; thus, any insistence on having a private life (or more than one set of friends or interests) is considered grounds for suspicion.
Hell, I've been accused of "hiding something" when I balked at letting someone borrow an expensive book.
If any of my old "friends" were in the room right now, I know precisely what they would say:
"So. I see you've got headphones on. Uh-HUH. What are you listening to, Cannon? Bruckner? Hm. Why Bruckner? I think you should spend the next thirty minutes mounting a defense of your decision to listen to Bruckner -- and it had better be good, Cannon. Remember: I am over YOU. You must defend your listening tastes to me, while I never have to defend my music choices to you. Hey...wait a minute. Bruckner was that Catholic guy, right? I see. It's all clear now. How long have you been paid by the Jesuits, Cannon?"
Even though those people have been out of my life for ages, I can still hear their voices. (In my imagination, not literally. I haven't gone that far round the bend.) Lo, they are with me always: "Defend yourself, Cannon. Every decision you make, however trivial, is ours to judge. You're eating Fig Newtons? Why?"
An academic named Dennis Tourish wrote an article about a left-wing political cult. Although the article itself seems to be offline, this blogger quotes a few insightful paragraphs which describe the attributes of that organization:
1. A rigid belief system. In the case of left wing political cults this suggests that all social, natural, scientific, political, economic, historical and philosophical issues can only be analysed correctly from within the group’s theoretical paradigm – one which therefore claims a privileged and all-embracing insight. The view that the group’s belief system explains everything eliminates the need for fresh or independent thought, precludes the possibility of critically appraising past practice or acknowledging mistakes, and removes the need to seek intellectual sustenance outside the group’s own ideological fortress. All such thinking is dismissed as contaminated by the impure ideology of bourgeois society.
2. The group’s beliefs are immune to falsification. No test can be devised or suggested which might have the effect of inducing a reappraisal. The all-embracing quality of the dominant ideology precludes re-evaluation, since it implies both omniscience and infallibility. Methods of analysis which set themselves more modest explanatory goals are viewed as intrinsically inferior. Those who question any aspect of the group’s analysis are branded as deviationists bending to the ‘pressures of capitalism’, and are driven from the ranks as heretics.
"Immune to falsification." Just so.
We've seen this process at work in less-formal movements, as when one of the makers of the infamous documentary Loose Change proudly announced that his shoddy 9/11 research was non-falsifiable. If this clown managed to reach adulthood without understanding the concept of falsifiability in science, then he is too ill-educated to tell me anything about politics.
We've all met people who think that Obama is a Muslim. No amount of documentation or argumentation will persuade such people that the president is not secretly devoted to Islam.
I've had dealings with people who think that Alternative Three is real. When I told them that I've spoken to the author of the book, and that Leslie Watkins assured me that the whole thing really was just a hoax, the Believer would persist in his belief. Maybe the Conspiracy got to Leslie Watkins. Maybe I am one of the conspirators.
The same predictable drama played out every time I tried to argue with those who insist that the Torbitt Document (a bizarre piece of early-70s political samizdat) contains All The Answers. There are still fruitcakes who think that a UFO crashed near Roswell, New Mexico. You will never win an argument with the jackasses who insist that the Vatican ordered the murder of Abraham Lincoln.
I can cite many further examples. So can you.
Regular readers know how I feel about philosophy professor Jim Fetzer, the most buffoonish of the JFK assassination researchers. As I've said on a previous occasion, Fetzer would probably believe you if you told him that Oreo cookies are imported from Mars. Yet, to be honest, even the sane-and-sensible researchers are prone to fits of Fetzerian weirdness -- and so are the "lone nut" believers. (Are John McAdams and Jim Fetzer the same person? They're both professors, they're both kind of goofy, and I've never seen them in the same place at the same time...)
When someone has a fixed idea, no amount of proof will dislodge that notion. A document? Documents lie. A book? Books lie. If you have become convinced by, say, a certain blog post about the Bush family that was published nine years ago, you would never believe the author himself if he were to tell you: "Hey, it was just an April Fools prank." Obviously, someone paid that writer to say that.
(Maybe Neil threatened his family. An intimidating guy, Neil is...)
Back to Tourish:
There is an intense level of activism, precluding outside interests. Social life and personal ‘friendships’ revolve exclusively around the group, although such friendships are conditional on the maintenance of uncritical enthusiasm for the party line. Members acquire a specialised vocabulary (e.g. they call each other ‘comrade’), which reinforces a sense of distance and difference from those outside their ranks. The group becomes central to the personal identity of members, who find it more and more difficult if not impossible to imagine a life outside their organization.
Back in the bad old days when I still socialized with people, a friend asked me about the novel I had started to write. I told him. He didn't like what he heard: "What's political about THAT?"
Nothing, I said. It's just a story.
He was flummoxed. Almost furious. Why would anyone write "just a story"? Such foolishness was almost criminal. It was certainly grounds for suspicion. Defend yourself, Cannon...
We thus return to our main theme: Cults are simply extreme manifestations of the evils present in all social organization. Whenever three are gathered -- even if it's just three guys gathered in a living room to drink beer and watch the game -- there will be hierarchy and control. A cult is born. It may be small and inconsequential, but it is still a kind of cult in its germinal phase.
To illustrate the point, consider the gang on The Big Bang Theory. We may interpret the show as the chronicle of a cult.
The leader of the cult is clearly Sheldon, who forces everyone around him to tolerate his idiosyncrasies and bizarre behavior. They do so because Sheldon is a genius. And even though the others often become exasperated with Sheldon, they never puncture his defining delusion: His conviction that one day he will make a scientific breakthrough that will result in a Nobel Prize.
The secret of Sheldon is that, as brilliant as he is, he does not have it. He lacks the kind of imagination necessary for his goal. He will never make the grand conceptual leap that will revolutionize our understanding of reality.
His friends all know this, but will never express the thought out loud. They go along with his hallucinatory presumptions of future importance. If one member of the group -- of the cult -- were to say "You will never make that breakthrough, Sheldon, and I refuse to pretend otherwise," that member would be excommunicated. Perhaps the entire group would dissipate.
Because most of us fear being alone, we all live with lies. All friendships, all societies, all relationships are cults writ small. Only the one who does not fear solitude can speak the truth.
Life is short, and beyond this life there is only Hell or obliteration. The addiction of connection makes our brief hour here as hellish as Hell itself. Hell is other people.
You've got some good views here Joseph and they accurately reflect the problem of other people and shared belief systems. And you would not be alone in shaking off the legacy of negative people. We've all got views on religion/cults and belief systems. At the wrong end of life I'm wise to some facts on this that make sense to me:
(1) People use words and beliefs like rough tokens for social progress rather than as common currency to define and safeguard shared experiences with others. In other words, despite appearances you're on your own.
(2) People, and their words and ideas, are infinitely malleable because humans are organic, topsy entities like pot plants rather than rational, mechanical automatons. We all go along with the second model because it holds out the promise that we are not alone and we can control aspects of our destiny.
(3) The human mind is a sausage machine that produces what we hope are useable life answers. But it can't hope to capture all of life (and hence make us safe from our multiple fears) because we are still just pot plants. So the sausage machine runs wild with our own and society's full approval and expresses itself as religion/cults/wild ideas. That's why religion is a persistent human phenomenon that cannot be reasoned out of existence no matter how much the atheists insist. Maslow's hierarchy of needs is the real driver of religious behavior.
(4) If you want to know what we are, walk up to a person and stand 3 inches from their face. In most cases they will "drop their bundle." Their reasoning, judgement, defenses, history, intellect and "maturity" will vanish immediately. (The effect is even more pronounced if the confronter is a Bengal tiger or a Mac truck traveling at high speed).
(5) What we remember and cling to ultimately is the few people whose intimacy with us has lifted our spirit, made us feel complete, at ease or inspired us. And that is even if the ideas they present would shame a cheap tent preacher.
Moral of the story: stay away from negative people; associate with happy, kind, intelligent ones. It's pretty basic but there you go. Cheers.
posted by fred : 6:00 PM
...beyond this life there is only Hell or obliteration"
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot? Here I thought I was cynical, maybe even nihilistic, but you make me look like Pollyanna McHappygrin.
God is not petty like we talking apes can be--certain authoritarian, oligarchic misunderstandings of the Deity notwithstanding.
As for the Martian origin of Oreos--well, in the late 1980s version of the Justice League, the Martian Manhunter did love Oreos... ;)
I remember during those years, in the JL letter column, someone asked the lettercol editor why J'onn J'onzz (the Martian Manhunter) never tried the similar Hydrox cookies. The editor responded that by an unfortunate coincidence, "Hydrox" was the Martian word for "nose hairs". :D
I self-disfellowshipped too. A few years ago I saw someone write on the web that I and another named self-disfellowshipper were "dregs" and "detritus".
I am pretty sure I know who this poor soul is - a former "friend". What a sad cretin, I thought.
Look at his choice of insulting words. If someone is "dregs" in relation to some undifferentiated volume of "fellows", that suggests that those fellows are capable of moving - that they did move and left the self-disfellowshipper behind.
And if someone is "detritus", that suggests that the wise and aware "fellows" threw the person out.
No, baby - I was the one who moved, who upped and left and broke off all relations. This guy's still enmired - and jealous of escapers too.
"Dregs" also suggests that the "dreggy" one is made of different material from the gloopy mass from which he has departed, so thanks for that compliment at least.
I always felt exactly that.
But at least there's some amusement value in a nano-scene of fellows whose more junior members think of the members of other nano-scenes within the same micro-scene as "nutcases". Like yeah, right. "Politics of small differences", eh? Count me out.
But the leaders often don't think that about other leaders. They respect them. For fairly obvious reasons.
As you rightly say, Joe, a person who can think for themselves must defend himself 24/7. Whereas now I only have to do it when I talk to other people :-) (Just kidding. It's not quite that bad!)
posted by b : 6:20 AM
Wow Joseph, I did the same thing. I've found it incredibly freeing. Like removing a metal helmet from ones head. One of the reasons I love your blog so much is because you ARE independent and can THINK. I don't always agree with you, but more often than not. It is the same reason I like other independent bloggers. The bloggers I like may dislike each other, but they are ALL very independent, have a personality and can THINK rather than just repeat something they heard.
Here's a great piece of independent writing that I bet you never saw. I thought the author was an idiot because i was told that since I was about 3. I decided to actually read him a few years ago and found out he was one of the best writers of the last century (whether you agree with him or not). And if you read this book review of his online you will know what I am talking about. Are you ready - don't faint (don't ban me). Online you can easily find a review of Atlas Shrugged by Whittacker Chambers.
I never could have read him years ago, it would have never entered my mind, or if it did, I would have immediately scrubbed my brain. Just an example of how all this works.
posted by Hildy : 10:00 AM
When I hear "detritus" I always think of the troll from Discworld.
In any case, disfellowshipping implies having previously enjoyed the burdensome presence of other people.
Actually, I think Whittaker Chambers had an interesting mind. A bit like Harvey Matusow's, who got up to the same racket.
Of course, I also suspect that Jack the Ripper had an interesting mind.
One of these days, I'd like to publish a line-by-line rebuttal of Galt's Big Speech, which is an appalling exercise in unreason.
Stephen, we are social animals for obvious evolutionary reasons. But in the end, when evolution completes its task, we shall all be giant brains floating in individual glass jars, lost in the ecstasy of Pure Thought, and oblivious to presence of other giant brains. Won't that be GLORIOUS?
Stephen, at the end of history, machines -- exquisitely engineered bio-organisms -- will carry out the task of brain-jar maintenance. Or perhaps our highly-evolved superbrains will need no containers, no air, no sustenance and no sensory apparatus. We will simply fly through the void of space, creating new universes with every thought.
I've never read Epictetus. What a cool name. We should revive it.
We already are exquisitely engineered bio-organisms. So we already have a system whereby people breed to create exquisitely engineered bio-organisms to "polish their jars" when they get old and retire. I do not like transhumanism. Humans are good enough already.
If we're bringing back names I want "Grim", or possibly "Glum", which were common viking names. I could then be grim, or glum, both by name and by nature. Or Tiberius, after my hero Tiberius Gracchus, who was brutally murdered as a martyr of the Roman populares.
Epictetus is one of those Stoics, I believe. Doesn't like Epicureans or Academics, I'll tell you that for nothing.