Washington’s Infatuation with the MEK

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Inarguably, Washington has a long history of supporting terrorists. As General William Odom, President Reagan’s former National Security Agency (NSA) Director wrote in his 2007 article “American Hegemony, How to Use It, How to Lose It”:
“[T]errorism is not an enemy. It is a tactic. Because the United States itself has a long record of supporting terrorists and using terrorist tactics…”.
Despite this long-standing use of tactic, there is no record of terrorists operating but a stone’s throw away from the White House. Nor has there been such brazen embrace of a terrorist group dubbed an undemocratic cult - until now.

The 1997 Patterns of Global Terrorism report issued by the State Department stated the following about the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MEK or MKO, NCRI and various other acronyms):
During the 1970s, the MEK staged terrorist attacks inside Iran to destabilize and embarrass the Shah's regime; the group killed several US military personnel and civilians working on defense projects in Tehran. The group also supported the takeover in 1979 of the US Embassy in Tehran. In April 1992 the MEK carried out attacks on Iranian embassies in 13 different countries, demonstrating the group's ability to mount large-scale operations overseas.
Listed as a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) in 1997, the offices of the group’s spokesperson, Alireza Jafarzadeh was located at 1717 Pennsylvania Avenue. Even after the attacks of September 11 and America’s declared “war on terror”, the spokesperson and representative of the terror group was just down the street from the White House. Later, the organization would move its offices to 1747 Pennsylvania Avenue, remaining close to the residence of the President of the United States of America located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

It is said that "familiarity breeds contempt." This is certainly not true of Washington officials and their cozy ties with the MEK cult. It seems that they are inching ever closer and have the audacity to flaunt their ties. Washington’s actions are a long cry from Israel’s who in the 1990’s was secretly aiding the group. (The Israeli-MEK relations continue to be omitted from news headlines while the accusatory finger is pointed to Saudi Arabia for their financial support of the cult).

Connie Brock of The New Yorker writes: “Israel had a relationship with the M.E.K at least since the late nineties, and had supplied a satellite signal for N.C.R.I. broadcasts from Paris into Iran. An Israeli diplomat said: "The M.E.K is useful," but did not elaborate. According to the same report, the Israelis provided the MEK with unsubstantiated "intelligence" on Iran’s nuclear program. Not surprising since the aforementioned 1997 Patterns of Global Terrorism report states, “The MEK directs a worldwide campaign against the Iranian Government that stresses propaganda and occasionally uses terrorist violence.”

The close relationship with Israel may help explain why it was that in spite of being listed as terrorists, the group managed to bribe prominent politicians; even as a provision of the defense authorization bill would grant the military the authority to detain and hold anyone indefinitely, or to assassinate any individual suspected of having ties to terrorists/al Qaeda. Yet, these terrorists were giving speaking fees to American politicians. (The group also has its tentacles around British politicians – see HERE).

What is even more mind-boggling is the fact that Israel was supporting a terrorist cult that had massacred the Kurds in Iraq in 1991, and only a few year later, the Israelis were training the Kurds in Iraq who has survived the massacre (obviously something that has been lost on the Kurds) while their killers, the MEK, were being chauffeured around by American soldiers a short distance away in Iraq - in America’s "war on terror!"

Meanwhile, back home, politicians were being bribed by the terrorists! Clearly, FATF (Financial Action Task Force) did not prevent money from being funneled to and from terrorists. Shamelessly, Washington is demanding that Iran become a member of FATF to stop terrorism financing!

Even while the terrorist group was doling out money to corrupt politicians so they could be removed from the FTO list, and Washington politicians accepted money from terrorists, the group continued with its terrorism and carried out cross-border raids inside Iran with the full knowledge and encouragement of the Bush administration (History Commons).

Concurrently, Washington was using other group members to promote propaganda against Iran with emphasis on "human rights." The leader of the terrorist cult, Maryam Rajavi’s live satellite broadcast into Washington was cheered .  This certainly gave new meaning to "human rights" promotion by America – as well as its "war on terror."

The hypocrisy reached across the aisle. Democrats and Republicans don’t agree on much, but both parties supported this terrorist cult – all the way to the top.  When Hillary Clinton was running for President in 2008, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee (D -Texas), co-chair of Hillary’s presidential campaign, not only shared her friendship with America’s then presidential hopeful, but she also promoted America’s pet terrorists – the MEK. Congresswoman Jackson Lee went as far as calling Maryam Rajavi “Sister Maryam." (Would this make Hillary and Maryam "sisters" too?).

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Shelia Jackson-Lee (D-TX) and cult leader Rajavi

Certainly, Hillary’s push to remove the MEK from the FTO was a very sisterly act.

It is important to bear in mind that the group was removed from the list of FTO after US officials disclosed to NBC that the MEK terrorist group was financed, trained and armed by Israel’s secret service and responsible for the killing of Iran’s nuclear scientists; and at a time when the United States was negotiating the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iran Deal.

This year, as the Iranians mark the 38th anniversary of a horrendous attack by the MEK cult, the Trump administration is openly promoting the cult and flaunts Washington’s decades long, bipartisan infatuation with a notorious, anti-democratic cult. What makes the MEK stand out?

Israel’s support aside, they seem to be brought out in the open whenever Washington wants to play tis psychological games with Iran – its "stick," the term [offensive] policy makers like to use. Washington knows full well that the group is hated in Iran. That not a single member of this group will be tolerated in Iran, and there is no future for the group. History also shows that Washington has experienced blow-back every time it has supported an unsavory group or when it has encouraged terror and terrorists. Terrorism, like pollution, does not recognize borders. Why the mad romancing of the MEK?

Perhaps Washington hopes that this cult will simply come to an end. As the Council on Foreign Relations has reported: “Many analysts, including Rubin, have characterized the MEK as a cult, citing the group’s fealty to the Rajavis. Older women were reportedly required to divorce their husbands in the late 1980s, and younger girls cannot marry or have children.”. Perhaps Washington’s thinking is that their numbers will dwindle and there will be no future generations of this cult to come back and haunt it. Now there is a wish both Washington and Tehran share!

But wishes don’t make policies. Washington needs to understand that its stick is a boomerang that will come back at it. Washington has become morally and fiscally bankrupt as a result of its wrong policies. Its high time to save itself from the quagmire of its own creation before sinking beyond redemption.

Reprinted with permission from American Herald Tribune.

Bullies Like Me

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Harvard revoked a Parkland student’s admission, a survivor kid who supported the Second Amendment. Two former Central Park 5 prosecutors lost their jobs 30 years after the case, because of a Netflix movie released last week called “When They See Us.” By the time you read this, the Left will have forced another voice off Twitter, and bullied another small business for offending their rules on gender and cake.

I learned about bullying in a small Ohio high school you never heard of, both by being bullied and in some of the most shameful days of my life, as a bully myself. I came to understand bullies are frustrated by their own lack of power (there’s always someone bigger going after them) and, unable to do anything to the real target, find someone weaker to torment. It is never meant to be a fair fight. There’s also a third element, the adult in the room who stays quiet and lets it all happen. A football coach or room monitor in my high school, the elders at Harvard in 2019 America.

Trying out for football at my high school meant being bullied by the varsity. If you were lucky they only stole your food and made you embarrass yourself singing to the group. For others, it was sodomy with soap bars or caustic creams smeared in your jock. It went on after the coaches would mysteriously disappear during certain practice breaks. Some guys quit the team, some just endured, some sought empty relief bullying others. I was in that last group, mercilessly teasing a poor kid weaker than me, during lunch periods when the room monitors would mysteriously disappear; nobody really liked him. I was cruel in a way I wish I hated then the way I hate it now. He was an easy target who I thought 44 years ago was a way for me to feel better. I couldn’t beat up the varsity football team who humiliated me, so that kid was their surrogate. Nothing I have done before or after makes me more ashamed.

I know about bullying. So let’s not pretend what is happening around us, politically driven by the Left, is anything but bullying. Deeply frustrated the living embodiment of anti-progressive values was elected in 2016 over a candidate genetically created as the Successor in the post-Obama utopia, the Left went looking for someone weaker than them to work out its rage on after Trump proved too tough a target (see the Mueller Report, now three months old, so ineffectual most in Congress see no need to even read it.)

One writer made the frustration clear: “America finds itself in the grip of an endless and inscrutable daily mystery: How is it possible that the president — whose chief occupations seem to be tweeting, lying, lying about what he tweeted, watching television, and committing crimes — is not on the hook for anything? Not for the lying, and not for the criming [sic], and not even for the endless truculence and meanness.”

So the Left picks on kids now because they can’t get Trump. Harvard, dismissing how its past presidents brought their slaves to live on campus and how it filled its endowments from the exploitation of slave labor, never mind its decades of discriminatory practices against Jews and other “undesirables,” takes away Parkland survivor Kyle Kashuv‘s scholarship because a couple of years ago he used the term “n*ggerjock” in texts to “friends,” who then sent those to Harvard Admissions demanding his head. Use the wrong words, no matter how long ago or in what context — my high school coaches called us f*ggots when they felt we weren’t working hard enough — and it is not your action which is attacked, it is you. Kyle Kashuv is a racist now and forever and literally it appears beyond reeducation. Like the guy who hit that one home run junior year and thinks he is forever a baseball player.

(As an aside, imagine some people you once texted as friends, screenshotting those messages and then sending them on to the school you were going to attend, hoping to wreck your academic world.)

Kashuv of course was one of the Florida Parkland kids, those celebrity school shooting survivors, but not one of the nice ones who stood beside George Clooney and demanded an end to the Second Amendment. Kyle supports gun rights. So while his ostensible sin was a teenage wasteland version of racism, his actual transgression was being an easy surrogate for Trump. Meanwhile, Twitter played the role of the leering varsity players standing in a semi-circle cheering on the violence being done to a freshman.

Same for Harvard’s Ronald Sullivan, a lecturer at their law school, and faculty dean at one of Harvard’s residential houses for over nine years. He was fired for serving on #MeToo poster child Harvey Weinstein’s defense team. The bullies who attacked him claimed his decision to represent a person accused of abusing women (Weinstein has yet to go to trial and thus would be presumed innocent in some alternate universe) disqualified Sullivan from “serving in a role of support and mentorship to students.” Sure thing. Except Sullivan was really fired as a surrogate for Weinstein who is a surrogate for Trump, who still managed to get himself elected after bragging about pussy grabbing. Harvard law school’s adults stood silent in practice while teaching classes in theory about how a robust defense of even the worst defendants is a cornerstone of justice.

Linda Fairstein and Elizabeth Lederer prosecuted the Central Park 5 in 1989, helping wrongly convict five juveniles of rape. Fairstein kept her job at the NYC District Attorney’s office until 2002, and went on to write 20 best-selling novels. Lederer is still a prosecutor in the Manhattan district attorney’s office and had taught law at Columbia for the last seven years. However, a week after a Netflix dramatization which took liberties with the facts (among other things, the movie ignored evidence some of the teens were likely accomplices in the rape and committed other violent crimes ) of the 30-year-old case came out, online mobs and university students successfully demanded Fairstein’s publisher dump her, and Columbia force Lederer to resign. Ken Burns’ more careful documentary about the same case didn’t call forth the same fierceness, but then again it came out in 2012 in the warmth of the Obama years. Today, Fairstein and Lederer are the designated surrogates for Donald Trump. Trump, who in the 1980s shot his mouth off about nearly everything in his hometown of New York City, is being blamed for helping unfairly convict the boys because of statements he once made. People are demanding he, along with Fairstein and Lederer, issue an apology.

In Washington DC, another author was driven out by bullies. Her offense was reporting a black worker (breaking the rules by eating on the Metro) a crime of racism in 2019. “See something, say something” is the mantra unless it involves squealing on a POC, when it becomes fodder for the anti-Trump bullies. The Metro worker, who claimed she was “humiliated” by all the attention she got for breaking the rules, didn’t face any disciplinary action.

The same bully mentality is in force against small businesses who chose not to bake cakes for LGBT couples; the same bullies who celebrate the First Amendment’s lack of applicability to social media making decisions on who to allow in the store demand the power of the courts when it favors them. Even when the courts ultimately actually defend the bakers, the Leftist bullies relish the power to bankrupt offenders with legal fees, or try to crush them with mob-driven boycotts. The literal Heckler’s Veto has found a home with the bullies as they successful shouted down Charles MurrayAnn CoulterRichard Spencer, and others.

Among many black writers (one labels himself a “wypipologist“), Caucasians from Canada to the Caucasus mountains are mocked for all that they do, now surrogates for Trump. “Woke” female comedians use the same calculus when they make jokes about small hands, micro-penis’ and boyfriends who can’t satisfy them. If anyone tries to defend themselves (“um, you know we’re not all like that”) the bullies swarm with accusations of mansplaining, privilege or the catch all, whataboutism.

The attempted political assassination of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh was the most extreme example of bullying by the Left. There certainly has never been a more obvious Trump surrogate (though Paul Manafort is a close second): Kavanaugh the misogynist, Kavanaugh the gang rapist, Kavanaugh the serial liar, Kavanaugh the Old Straight White Man (apres Trump, a slur in itself.) The Left’s goal wasn’t to show the nominee was unqualified as a jurist, but that he was unqualified as a human being, to humiliate him with innuendo and gossip in front of his family and the nation hoping he’d quit the team. Due process and a modicum of fairness? It wasn’t supposed to be a fair fight.

The Heckler’s Veto on social media is a national pastime, where, frustrated by Trump’s instinctive skill for the medium, bullies use their malleable Terms of Service to deplatform people whose ideas they hate as hate speech. We have lost the ability to even understand the term hypocrisy anymore. Political commentary meanwhile has devolved into name calling. Samantha Bee called Ivanka a “feckless c*nt” and Stephen Colbert referred to Trump as “Putin’s c*ckholster” in ways my old coaches, or any schoolyard bully shouting f*ggot, would have understood.

The conventional wisdom for those bullied is you’re supposed to fight back. But any good bully creates a situation where the victim can’t. Whether backing him into a toilet stall with three big football jocks as he’s abused or leaving no avenues of appeal while gloating how the First Amendment and the coach who somehow sees nothing won’t protect him, the bully assures his victim’s humiliation. Everyone else just stands back, not wanting to get involved, humiliated themselves by their lack of courage or concern.

But it is actually all for society’s own good, you see. In 2019, the bullies gild themselves as striking blows against racism or sexism, as if solving those societal problems needed just one more gun-loving Florida kid kicked to the curb. My tormentors claimed it was all part of toughening us up for the football season, and about building comradery as they too had once been humiliated as freshmen. It was actually all for our own good.

It is not good. Take those feelings of emptied self-worth and humiliation felt as a victim, and multiply them across a society. Remember how you felt standing by doing nothing while it happened, and spread that through an electorate. Think over how watching those coaches look the other way made you feel, or when the media picked up the chorus that the kid, the prosecutors, whomever, deserved it for being a “racist.” Oh, we are something terrible.

Reprinted with permission from WeMeantWell.com.

You can work long, hard, or smart, but at Amazon.com you can’t choose two out of three

The central argument of Amusing Ourselves [Neil Postman] is simple: there were two landmark dystopian novels written by brilliant British cultural critics – Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell – and we Americans had mistakenly feared and obsessed over the vision portrayed in the latter book (an information-censoring, movement-restricting, individuality-emaciating state) rather than the former (a technology-sedating, consumption-engorging, instant-gratifying bubble).

Andrew Postman

So what would Neil Postman say about this fellow [note title of this essay, referencing Jeff Bezos’ proclamation on what work should mean to every breathing American], or the many fellows like Bezos who have zero patience for a world without disrupting economies tied to their authoritarian business plan of more billionaires deserving (sic) more power. Disruptive and destructive, and not just economies in the book sense, but structural violence and community disintegration, murdering people with debt, lack of housing, no medical care, suicide, that’s Bezos, et al looking to capitalize on every penny gathered from every nanosecond in our individual human lives.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has seen his company grow into one of the world’s biggest companies.

Back in 1997, Bezos told shareholders that employees at other companies “can work long, hard, or smart, but at Amazon.com, you can’t choose two out of three.”

Bezos acknowledges his high standards for employees every year, telling shareholders that “it’s not easy to work here.”

In the 24 years since Amazon was founded, CEO Jeff Bezos has seen his company grow from a modest online bookshop to one of the most valuable companies in the world.

Back in 1997, Bezos was already expecting big things out of his young company. In his annual letter to Amazon shareholders, Bezos described how much effort he expected from his employees.

“When I interview people I tell them, ‘You can work long, hard, or smart, but at Amazon.com you can’t choose two out of three,” Bezos wrote in the 1997 letter.

“Setting the bar high in our approach to hiring has been, and will continue to be, the single most important element of Amazon.com’s success.”

The New York Times reported in 2015 exactly how bruising the work environment at Amazon could be. Employees were reportedly expected to routinely work late, were encouraged to criticize coworkers‘ ideas at meetings, and were often found crying at their desks. Amazon disputed many of the claims in the Times investigation, though the newspaper defended its reporting.

God forbid we call Amazon Boss Bezos a plantation owner of a different mother, for sure. That Americans — living in small and large cities, far and wide — depend on the Amazon way as if Amazon is sutured into all aspects of American culture (sic) and hardwired into every new born’s head. Same day delivery. A shopping cart that would be the envy of any Rothschild or Leona Mindy Roberts Helmsley.

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This essay, first, was going to address those other masters of the Universe — Google Guys and Algorithm Titans. I barely criticized a billionaire in a DV article —   Household Income, or Higher Planes of Consciousness?*

I criticized Nick Hanauer for his false balance, contrived bifurcation, and his new wind as a billionaire fighting what he calls the educationalism mindset that says that a good, grounded, deep and holistic education might be a thing of kings, whereas Nick says education backing and financing ain’t worth diddly squat in capitalism until more people make more money to buy more things, or just to survive in his nihilistic world.

Taken with this story line, I embraced education as both a philanthropic cause and a civic mission. I co-founded the League of Education Voters, a nonprofit dedicated to improving public education. I joined Bill Gates, Alice Walton, and Paul Allen in giving more than $1 million each to an effort to pass a ballot measure that established Washington State’s first charter schools. All told, I have devoted countless hours and millions of dollars to the simple idea that if we improved our schools—if we modernized our curricula and our teaching methods, substantially increased school funding, rooted out bad teachers, and opened enough charter schools—American children, especially those in low-income and working-class communities, would start learning again. Graduation rates and wages would increase, poverty and inequality would decrease, and public commitment to democracy would be restored.

— Nick Hanauer

In my email box, Google, of course, I get an unsolicited email from an organization for which I have never associated with or even pursued. It’s the old surveillance state of Google and the internet Stasi, for sure —

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Alas, Neil Postman was correct, in so far as what we say and do as writers really does not count — we are only as smart and deep and truthful as our masters will allow:

In my college economics class, we were taught that wages depend on productivity. The more productive or skilled workers are, my professors used to argue, the more they will be worth on the labor market and, therefore, the higher their wages will be. That’s bunk.

Under this logic, the way to cure our economic woes – whether poverty, inequality, underemployment, or unemployment – is through education. By educating our citizens, we increase their human capital, making them more productive and, therefore, increasing their expected income.

It sounds good, right?

This seductive myth – of education as an economic cure-all – is something Civic Action founder Nick Hanauer calls “educationism.” As Nick writes in a recent article for The Atlantic, it’s a myth he used to believe, and it’s a myth many wealthy elites still propagate. It’s what leads philanthropists to donate billions of dollars to public schools and educational institutions.

There’s just one problem: Educationism doesn’t work. If it did, our middle class would be much better off.

In the last 40 years, while the real incomes of most Americans have been stuck, we’ve gotten a lot more educated. Almost everyone has a high school diploma and the share of Americans with a college degree has more than tripled since 1970.”

But all that education hasn’t translated into higher wages. In fact, if our incomes had done what my college profs told me – gone up with productivity – the average family today would be earning $29,000 more a year. An average of $105,000!

Of course, it’s true that getting an education is likely to increase your own income. But that’s not the same as raising incomes throughout the economy. Not when four out of five of the fastest growing jobs pay very low wages – jobs like cashiers and health care assistants. Meanwhile, the pay of most people who do have a college education barely keeps up with inflation.

What we do need to do is raise incomes for working families and the middle class throughout the economy. That’s how we build an economy that works for all of us, not just the wealthy few. As Nick writes:

“In short, great public schools are the product of a thriving middle class, not the other way around. Pay people enough to afford dignified middle-class lives, and high-quality public schools will follow. But allow economic inequality to grow, and educational inequality will inevitably grow with it.”

—  Stephen Paolini, Civic Action, email with an ask for $ support

But then, this essay takes a twist, as they always seem to do when I deploy some ground-truthing. You see, most of us in the USA, the 80 percent of the population —  many of which are on the skids, on the near skids, or those of us barely scraping by, and those of us who are unseen but are many short steps away from working for one of those sweatshops like we see with Amazon (there are so many warehouse jobs, forklift gigs, sorting careers) and finding down time in the back seat of our cars)  —  so-so tire of, really, the prognosticators writing away hard in semi-secure status —  even the smartish ones on leftish magazines like The Nation, or digital forums like Truthout or Truthdig or The Intercept.

They have NO idea of what is real in the world, and that rarefied realm of citing this study or making this or that prediction, well, it is bombast at best, propaganda at worst, denuded of humanity in many cases.

Case in point — tens of millions of men and women wandering the land (US), in some warped version of Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, really, in a society that eats-sleeps-dreams-believes the crap that Huxley warned of, and that which Neil Postman discussed. Oh the irony, those, that billionaire book salesman, Bezos, dead to the world, dead to us, the 80 percent, living, barely, in the middle of their hellish barbecue.

I was with three fellows — two literally are sleeping in campgrounds, and one fellow living with his parents. A million miles away from what any social worker or Sheryl Sandberg or Joe Biden or Elizabeth Warren or any of the scions of Holly-dirt or anyone in the Trump Loony Bin Show, or those clamoring around an Obama or Oprah or Rachel Maddow. It’s a triple sick experience even thinking about how vapid that so-called debate was yesterday with half of the half-wits of the Democratic Party wanting to play president.

So, a life of men truly on the extinction block, in several demographics. These fellows I hired on to help my spouse and I move from a rental to a house we had the temerity to purchase in a Time of Climate Heating, Oceans Rising, Food Wilting, Water Draining, Economies Imploding, Saber Rattling, and ICBM Immolating.

Their lives, broken down, seem to hold the familiar life story of many people I have worked with as a non-traditional social worker for the homeless, the just-out-of-prison returnees, and chronically physically and mentally ill. They work jobs, stacking halibut,  packing shrimp, pounding two-by-fours, hauling goods, sorting things, cutting trees, landscaping, roofing. Both of these fellows are 50, living in campgrounds, one with false teeth, the other with nubs and rotting teeth.

Child support for children they have never seen, or can’t see now. Felonies for this or that charge keeping them from even getting to first base on an apartment application. Vagabonds harassed by cops, and living life in a constant move. For my other helper, Brian, he’s a former marine, working as a social services provider, has a wonderful child on the spectrum (autism) and is currently living with aging and sickly parents. All three fit the bill for zero tolerance in this society. Never reflected in the news stories, in the Mass Murdering Media, never on the minds of the One Percent, Point Zero Zero One Percent. I know for a fact, though, that those Little Eichmanns who populate the other 19 percent of the 20 Percenters, well, many of them have one degree of separation when it comes to family members with substance abuse issues, chronic mental or physical illness, depression, suicidal, schizophrenic, and homeless.

You get both barrels of human pain and human survival and some human triumphs when talking with real people, albeit, denigrated folk, disenfranchised humans.

They are really rough around the edges, but these fellows, Tommy and Devon, they are examples of struggle and defeat and some triumph, as Brian and I note and agree. They are so far from any of the discourse going on around the world — the complete irrelevance of all the trolling, all the internet crap, all the stuff that makes for an echo chamber that sucks humanity and human connection from the ether.

You look at Tommy, and you see a man on the skids. Big laughing screwed up face, almost Dickensian, crazy might be one moniker. Hustling and wanting to have people know that there was once a time when he had some normalcy, some sense of being a man in society — not on the skids. Though, Tommy would not see himself on the skids.

Brain injury 23 years ago when a van hit him head on as a pedestrian. And he still works, moves heavy furniture, and hammers roofs.

Devon, a former truck driver, someone who has a few years in the Marines, and as Brian states — people are only awakened to the level of how they have been able to access those tools necessary to be woken up. Yet, Brian states that he’d much rather be in the company of these men than the MSWs and other graduate-level punishers he’s worked with, as I have also worked with, in the non-profit arenas as supposed social services workers.

They probably know nothing about this movement, which could affect Tommy and Devon:

When reporters for the International Amazon Workers Voice interviewed part-time Amazon “associates” (a cheap euphemism for “employees” used to disguise the exploitative relationship between workers and management at the company) in Baltimore to discuss their attitude toward Bezos’ fortune, they were met with a torrent of disgust, calls for sharing the wealth, and social anger.

“Tell Mr. Bezos and the rest of management to come out of their offices and get on the shop floor” said one worker who identified herself as a single mother of two. “At the end of the day, they never feel what we go through in a day for $12 an hour. They get to sit down in their offices and get paid more than we will see in a year,” she said.

Bezos’ wealth typifies the way an increasingly small number of multi-billionaire CEOs and finance operatives extract ever more obscene sums from the international workforce. This process of ever-increasing wealth for the few and exploitation for the majority is reaching a political breaking point.

Explaining her work environment during the holidays, the working mother said, “they just had us move 100,000 packages in 5 hours, and at the end we aren’t even paid enough to take care of our kids. I’m a single mother, I don’t receive food stamps. My rent is $850 a month. I have to pay for gas, electricity, bus passes, plus raise two kids.

“If we decided to quit, who would move these packages out of the door?” she said, noting the social power of the workers employed by the company. “We are the ones making you rich.”

Brian and I talk about Amazon, and the nefarious nature of how the guy at the Washington Post attacks the fourth grader Trump and others, while he is part of the Military Industrial Complex. From The Intercept:

Amazon’s extensive relationship with the NSA, FBI, Pentagon and other surveillance agencies in the west is multi-faceted, highly lucrative and rapidly growing. Last March, the Intercept reported on a new app that Amazon developers and British police forces have jointly developed to use on the public in police work, just “the latest example of third parties aidingautomating, and in some cases, replacing, the functions of law enforcement agencies — and raises privacy questions about Amazon’s role as an intermediary.”

Then there’s the patent Amazon obtained last October, as reported by the Intercept, “that would allow its virtual assistant Alexa to decipher a user’s physical characteristics and emotional state based on their voice.” In particular, it would enable anyone using the product to determine a person’s accent and likely place of origin: “The algorithm would also consider a customer’s physical location — based on their IP address, primary shipping address, and browser settings — to help determine their accent.”

All of this is taking place as Amazon vies for, and is the favorite to win, one of the largest Pentagon contracts yet: a $10 billion agreement to provide exclusive cloud services to the world’s largest military. CNN reported just last week that the company is now enmeshed in scandal over that effort, specifically a formal investigation into “whether Amazon improperly hired a former Defense Department worker who was involved with a $10 billion government contract for which the tech company iscompeting.”

Bezos’ relationship with the military and spying agencies of the U.S. Government, and law enforcement agencies around the world, predates his purchase of the Washington Post and has become a central prong of Amazon’s business growth. Back in 2014, Amazon secured a massive contract with the CIA when the spy agency agreed to pay it $600 million for computing cloud software. As the Atlantic noted at the time, Amazon’s software “will begin servicing all 17 agencies that make up the intelligence community.”

Given how vital the military and spy agencies now are to Amazon’s business, it’s unsurprising that the amount Amazon pays to lobbyists to serve its interests in Washington has exploded: quadrupling since 2013 from $3 million to almost $15 million last year, according to Open Secrets.

What would the house-less Tommy and Devon say about this Byzantine world of hyper billions of dollars and hyper trillions of human hours wasted on the things of capitalism, of power and control, consumption?

We were keeping our eye on 1984. But it’s Brave New World we should have feared instead.

I know many friends who wonder why we — people like me — still live in the US? Many wonder what it will take young people to stand down the systems of oppression. Some believe the young people have it, as in Greta the Carbon Dioxide Robin Hood, or AOC, the new face (sic) of American politics.

This system we have now is one where a few voices count (get read, heard, published, followed), and the majority of voices are just bursts of yelling in the woods, in campgrounds, in one’s lovely home in the old sedan, in our own bedlam. People travelling from one insane place to another, but in that realm, a sanity sets in for guys like Tommy and Devon. The world is pretty clear-cut, and on many levels, these people have positive outlooks — toothless, no real estate or swelling investment accounts. Just that hard way forward. Cigarettes and bicycling miles a day. Places to shower. Places to get out of the rain without the bulldozers of misanthropy pushing them further and further into ditches or out on the periphery until they stare us all down, face to face, the coming of a New Brave World. Is it the entertaining ourselves to death cycle, or a little bit of the other — big brother, watching our every move, holding every syllable mouthed in a cloud server, every speck of mole cataloged, and every word penned or typed, collected to hold us at bay, hold us as prisoners of our own faulty beliefs?

 

Needless to say, Charles Dickens grew to hate the system and rail against it in his works. In his seminal novella “A Christmas Carol,” Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by two portly men raising money for the poor.

“At this festive season of the year, Mr. Scrooge,” said the [one of the gentlemen], taking up a pen, “it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.”

“Are there no prisons?” asked Scrooge.

“Plenty of prisons,” said the gentleman, laying down the pen again.

“And the Union workhouses?” demanded Scrooge. “Are they still in operation?”

“They are. Still,” returned the gentleman, “I wish I could say they were not.”

“The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?” said Scrooge.

“Both very busy, sir.”

“Oh! I was afraid, from what you said at first, that something had occurred to stop them in their useful course,” said Scrooge. “I’m very glad to hear it.”

“Under the impression that they scarcely furnish Christian cheer of mind or body to the multitude,” returned the gentleman, “a few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices. What shall I put you down for?”

“Nothing!” Scrooge replied.

“You wish to be anonymous?”

“I wish to be left alone,” said Scrooge. “Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don’t make merry myself at Christmas and I can’t afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned: they cost enough: and those who are badly off must go there.”

“Many can’t go there; and many would rather die.”

“If they would rather die,” said Scrooge, “they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”

— Charles Dickens, 1843, A Christmas Carol 

Or, updated for 2020, as illustrated by a commentator on an article about Portland, OR, once the Rose City, now The City of Rocks:

To disrupt illegal camp sites set up by homeless in Portland, the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) is moving boulders onto the roadsides. The project will eventually cost about a million dollars, but ODOT argues this cost is less than the cost of dealing with existing campsites.

Many have pointed out that this policy does nothing to address the underlying problem or help the people in the camp, but only forces them to move somewhere else.

KGW8


odot boulders homeless camps highway 26 1015 2018

—Scrooge/Marley, Edward Sullivan, Planetizen

A debtor's prison in London.

A debtor’s prison in London.

Charter School Advocates Reject Analysis

Advocates of privately-operated charter schools that siphon billions of dollars a year from public schools have been a little more defensive and restive than usual in recent months.

This is to be expected given the growing number of mainstream and academic reports exposing their long-standing problems, as well as the fact that more people are seeing charter schools for what they really are.

There is a growing unstoppable social consciousness that charter schools are not just over-hyped phenomena which regularly over-promise and frequently under-deliver, but that they are fundamentally pay-the-rich schemes masquerading as “innovations” that “empower parents,” “promote choice,” and “save minority kids.”

The pious claims, platitudes, and grandstanding of charter school advocates are becoming more worn-out, hackneyed, and tired. They mean less with each passing week. Charter school advocates think that blindly repeating the same knee-jerk assertions and one-liners over and over again is the same thing as analysis and discussion. They believe that people develop convictions in a healthy and organic way by being bombarded by clichés, buzzwords, and counterfeit solutions.

Charter school supporters and promoters have always favored disinformation and irrationalism over analysis, discussion, and coherence. They have always feared that too much discussion, especially deep discussion and analysis, would expose them too much and undermine their antisocial agenda. They do not want people to think too hard and too much about what is really going on.

It is not a coincidence that in various cities charter school advocates are striving more desperately to organize more charter school “discussions” to combat the swelling irreversible social consciousness developing about major problems in the charter school sector. Of course, such “discussions” are often sponsored by pro-business organizations (e.g., chambers of commerce) and typically led by panels made up entirely, or almost entirely, of people who unequivocally support charter schools and repeat myths and banalities about them.

Some of the key topics and issues charter school advocates are unable and unwilling to analyze seriously include the following.

Blind Embrace of High-Stakes Tests

Charter school promoters never address, let alone analyze, the role, nature, meaning, and significance of expensive, curriculum-narrowing, anxiety-producing, punitive, high-stakes standardized tests produced by a handful of for-profit corporations. They are fixated on comparing and ranking schools, teachers, and students, as if this has anything to do with learning. Charter school advocates are obsessed with “win-lose” tests and feel comfortable raising no concerns about them. They automatically and erroneously assume that such tests are educationally sound, meaningful, and useful. They are too hidebound and anti-intellectual to even know what it means when someone points out that assessments today are based on psychometric pseudo-science.

Charter school promoters habitually accept the social Darwinist and Skinnerian ideologies underpinning these hazardous tests that fetishize competition and quantification, while debasing learning. But how useful and meaningful are “results” that come from assessments that are top-down and philosophically and scientifically flawed? Are civilizations built on timed, multiple-choice, memorization tests produced by large corporations? The bankruptcy of the tests charter school advocates support is also evident in the fact that there are many ways to improve test scores without improving learning. Test performance and genuine learning and growth are not synonymous. In fact, a greater focus on high-stakes standardized tests means less meaningful learning and growth. Obviously, charter school promoters have no use for such critical considerations. All they know is that high-hazard standardized tests are antidemocratic political instruments to be used for destructive neoliberal purposes.

Profound Differences Between Public and Private

Charter school supporters mindlessly repeat the disinformation that charter schools are public schools to create a pretext for seizing vast sums of public money and to conceal their inherently privatized character. They believe that a school becomes public just because it is called public or just because it receives public money. If they were openly and honestly treated as the privatized arrangements that they really are, then it would be obvious to all that charter schools have no valid or legitimate claim to public funds and assets. For this reason, charter school supporters self-servingly blur the profound distinction between public and private. They even go so far as to cynically urge the public to “move past discussions about whether charter schools are public or not.” They do not want anyone concluding that the private aim to profit from providing education will never fulfil the right to education.

Major Differences Between Choice and Rights

Another way charter school supporters avoid analysis and promote incoherence and confusion, is by manipulating the use and meaning of the word “choice” to suit their narrow needs. No one is opposed to choice as such. Everyone recognizes that, generally speaking, people should have the freedom and autonomy to select something from a list of alternatives. The key problem is that charter school advocates use choice in the narrow consumerist free market sense of the word because they view education as a commodity and see parents and students as consumers, not humans or citizens. They look at a social responsibility like education largely from the profit-oriented perspective of business and entrepreneurship. The two meanings of choice are different, however, and should not be mixed up.

It should also be recalled that charter schools usually choose parents and students, not the other way around. Unlike public schools, charter schools turn away many parents and students. Charter school advocates proudly embrace “free market” dogma. They see no problems with the chaos, anarchy, and violence of the “free market.” They are unable and unwilling to see that education is a basic human right and social responsibility that government is duty-bound to guarantee. Charter school supporters do not comprehend that parents in a modern advanced society should not have to shop for a school the way they shop for peanut butter. And they think it is normal and positive for hundreds of schools to close every year.

Why and How Public Schools Have Been Purposely Mandated to Fail by the Neoliberal State So As to Privatize Them

The last thing charter school advocates want is for people to investigate and analyze why so many public schools have been actively set up to fail by the neoliberal state. Charter school advocates have been deliberately repeating the self-serving narrative that public schools are failing in order to “argue” that students should enroll in charter schools, even though thousands of charter schools across the country perform poorly and are plagued by widespread fraud and corruption. Charter school advocates offer no analysis or discussion at all about how and why these schools have been set-up to fail by the same neoliberals behind charter schools and privatization. “Starve It-Demonize It-Privatize It” has been the mantra of privatizers and neoliberals for decades. The basic formula goes like this: first, cut funding for schools every year. Bleed them dry. Set them up to fail. Then demonize, attack, scapegoat, and discredit them relentlessly for months, even years, so as to set the stage for privatization as a “solution.” In this connection, charter school advocates also want to avoid any serious discussion on the enormous role of poverty, segregation, and over-testing in ensuring failure and chaos in America’s public schools, especially its urban school systems, which are the ones most heavily targeted by charter school supporters. Charter school boosters are adamantly opposed to any solution of these problems. But, as everyone can see, far from solving a single social, economic, or educational problem, nonprofit and for-profit charter schools have made everything worse.

Charter school promoters are opposed to admitting to, analyzing, and openly discussing numerous other persistent problems in the charter school sector. They quickly become defensive when confronted with these persistent unresolved problems:

  1. High student, teacher, and principal turnover rates.
  2. Widespread poor academic performance.
  3. Many charter school closures per year.
  4. High student suspension and expulsion rates.
  5. Unethical admissions practices.
  6. Extensive fraud, corruption, and racketeering.
  7. Increased segregation and stiff opposition to unions.

Many other stubborn problems could be listed. The point is that the crisis-prone charter school sector is causing great damage to public schools, the economy, society, and the national interest.

Instead of confronting issues, problems, and topics in an intellectually honest and rigorous manner, in a way that raises the level of discussion and thinking, charter school advocates prefer to keep things superficial and on the plane of platitudes, grandstanding, and anachronistic ideologies. There is no deep-dive into anything except how to profit off kids and the public.

New Culture, New Constitution, New Everything

North, Central, and South America were named after Amerigo Vespucci.  In “Letter to Lorenzo de’ Medici,”1 Amerigo Vespucci describes the New World.  Lorenzo de’ Medici is a member of the Medici family, a stupendously wealthy family of bankers and importers, who ruled the city of Florence, Italy for most of the 1400s.  The Medici family’s patronage of the arts promoted the Renaissance by sponsoring many of the most significant artistic achievements. They also gave financial loans to the Church.  Moreover, in 1513, another Medici, Giovanni de’ Medici, became Pope Leo X, which shows how influential and powerful this family was.2

Amerigo Vespucci referred to Lorenzo de’ Medici as “Your Excellency.”  He told Lorenzo how he and his crew in the Americas discovered “a very large village, the houses of which were built over the sea, like Venice with much ingenuity.  While we were struck with admiration at this circumstance, we determined to go see them; and as we went to their houses, they attempted to prevent our entering. They found out at last the manner in which the sword cuts, and thought it best to let us enter.”  The document also mentions that after entering, Amerigo Vespucci and his crew took a great quantity of cotton and dye-wood and returned to the ships.3 Apparently their religious motto of “do unto others, as you would have them do unto you” does not apply when the others are considered to be subhuman savages.

Niccolo Machiavelli was famous for writing the book The Prince which gave advice to political leaders of Florence that they must be ruthless, expedient, strong, and clever.  He also said, “It’s better for a ruler to be feared than loved.” The Prince is a treatise explaining how to gain and hold absolute political power.  Machiavelli dedicated The Prince to Giuliano de’ Medici, another member of the Medici family.4

If we examine the Middle Ages, as a contrast to the Renaissance period, the perfect ruler was Louis IX of France who was so virtuous that he was made a saint.  But with the Renaissance, men like Cosimo de’ Medici and Cezare Borgia took power boldly. It was considered a realistic politics that often meant a brutal disregard for ethics.4

In A People’s History of the United States, Howard Zinn on page 1 mentions that Columbus wrote “They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane…They would make fine servants.”  On page 2 of the People’s History, it mentions that Columbus wrote, “As soon as I arrived in the Indies on the first Island which I found, I took some of the natives by force in order that they might learn and might give me information of whatever there is in these parts.”5

The Medici family, Machiavelli, and Columbus represent the foundation and mentality upon which our nation and culture were built. You could also say that our oligarchical founding fathers imbued this same commercial spirit of capitalistic enterprise.  The Portuguese explorer Bartholomeu Dias explained the purposes that drove men to sail their ships across uncharted oceans: “To serve God and the King, to give light to those who are in darkness, and to grow rich, as all men desire to do.”6

Even today many people have the false hope that becoming rich is what will make them happy and fulfilled.  It is hard to fathom that the world’s billionaires do not seem troubled by the fact that half the world lives on less than $5.50 per day, according to the  World Bank. Many people aspiring to be millionaires and billionaires themselves see no justification in taxing the super rich at a higher rate.  Considering the needs of the planet and the rest of the world, I think the ratio of rich to poor annual incomes should be about 10:1, which means that any income above $120,000 would be taxed at 100 percent, based on the lowest wage being $15 per hour, about $30,000 a year. Moreover, everyone above the age of 18 could be guaranteed a basic annual income of $12,000 per year.  Reducing military spending by 90 percent would allow us to use tax revenues in a more humanistic way. After other nations reciprocate, we can reduce it even more.  I believe the other nations would reciprocate. It is the United States that is promoting outrageous military spending!

Instead of creating a survival-of-the-fittest, dog-eat-dog society, we can create a civilization that fosters cooperation and altruism.  If someone has the entrepreneurial skill of making a lot of money, that skill and motivation could be redirected and channeled into making the local community and the world a better place.  In a materialistic culture, the more we give, the less we have; it is a win-lose relationship. However, in an altruistic culture, the more we give the more we have; it is a win-win relationship.  Children learn what they live. We can teach different values to our children.

Today, as some of us complain about the never ending wars, a cursory study of history reveals that there have been many, many territorial and religious wars for very selfish and foolish reasons. Throughout history, in every age, there has been a small ruling class that has exploited the masses through the forces of hierarchy and domination.

Some would argue that the wars and hierarchical control are both just expressions of human nature, but you can also argue that humans just took a major wrong turn in the history of our so-called “civilization.”  We could have built a culture based on cooperation and sharing rather than competition and greed. We could have built our culture from the bottom-up, rather than from the top-down.  Even non-Western cultures and some primitive cultures have had their share of social problems, but now we know so much more.  We should be able to learn from history.

In hindsight, we must realize that we can still work to reverse the 9 social sins that have developed in the West, and especially in the United States: imperialism, nationalism, racism, corporate capitalism, anti-environmentalism, speciesism, materialism, patriarchalism, and the discrimination against the LGBTQ community.  Some of us are sickened by the never-ending wars of our national leaders who wreak havoc on the world — though few average Americans seem to be aware of it or troubled by it. Moreover, some of us no longer feel comfortable saying the “Pledge of Allegiance,” even though we deeply care about the other people who share this land.

To create a new culture, we have to have a democratic constitutional convention to create a new constitution.  But how do we select the delegates for this constitutional convention? Our current federal and state legislators or their chosen representatives should not be the delegates.  That is the main reason most people are fearful of a constitutional convention: they do not trust our current leaders. But a more democratic, bottom-up approach to having a constitutional convention would be to have the delegates come from the largest national political parties, as determined by proportional representation. This method would not create a new government that inherently favors the left or the right.  However, in time, if either the left or the right attracts more people into their fold through persuasion and argument once the playing field has been completely leveled, so be it.

A new culture and a new constitution created through a maximum level of democracy will not create an ideal society at first, considering all the pejorative influences of the last 5,000 years, but in time our society can gradually get better.  Moreover, we can become collectively wiser if we create a constitution that makes it much easier to create new laws, new amendments, and new future constitutions in a democratic and fair way.

Through the scientific studies of consciousness and meditation and the mounting evidence about Near Death Experiences and the New Physics which bridges science and spirituality, and through new research into ayahuasca as a form of therapy for problems such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which used to be called “shell shock” — all of the above can help us realize that we are one — we are interrelated ecologically and spiritually — one earth, one world, one humanity. We are all connected to the Source Energy at the deepest level of our being, which may be the same Source Energy that created the universe.

When we realize that an intellectual understanding of history and a psychological understanding of ourselves are far more fulfilling than a materialistic lifestyle; when we realize that the earth has an ecological carrying capacity that we must honor; when we realize that world peace is hampered to the degree there is a disparity between the rich and the poor; when we realize all of these things simultaneously — then the social sins of nationalism, imperialism, racism, and patriarchalism will no longer be the dominant themes of our culture.  Moreover, with a focus on internationalism, we will see the need for a democratic world government  built from the bottom-up,  not from the top-down through fascist oligarchs, also referred to as the one percent.  If we can create a constitutional convention in a democratic way, it can ultimately promote a new way of looking at the world and our human potential; it can merge science and spirituality; it can promote more loving-kindness, cooperation, sharing, honesty, and transparency in our personal, social, and international relationships.

Archetypically, the seven largest national political parties are the Republican, Democratic, Constitution Party, Libertarian, Green, Democratic Socialist, and Revolutionary Socialist.  Now imagine if these political parties were represented at a constitutional convention based on proportional representation. What would be even more democratic would be to have the national political parties that have garnered at least one percent of the national vote be represented at a constitutional convention.

At this link, I show how it can be done:  “The Most Democratic Way to Have a Constitutional Convention.”  I also share “15 Proposals that Could Make Our Nation and the World a Better Place.”  Not everyone will  support the proposals that you or I will recommend, but we have to realize that once we broaden the political spectrum and drastically reduce the influence of money in politics, citizens will have an opportunity to become better educated.  Creating a new constitution in a fair and democratic way may not create an ideal society — at least not immediately — but it will be a society that is much better than what we now have.

• First published at OpEdNews.com

  1. Sherman, Dennis and Salisbury, Joyce. West in the World: A History of Western Civilization, fourth edition, (2011), p. 388.
  2. Muntone, Stephanie. European History DeMystified, (2012), pp. 7-8.
  3. Sherman, Dennis and Salisbury, Joyce. West in the World: A History of Western Civilization, fourth edition, p. 388.
  4. Ibid. p. 323.
  5. Zinn, Howard. A People’s History of the United States: 1492-Present, (2003), pp. 1-2.
  6. Sherman, Dennis and Salisbury, Joyce. West in the World: A History of Western Civilization, fourth edition, (2011), p. 381.

G20 Osaka Leaders’ Declaration

PREAMBLE 1. We, the Leaders of the G20, met in Osaka, Japan on 28-29 June 2019 to make united efforts to address major global economic challenges. We will work together to foster global economic growth, while harnessing the power of technological innovation, in particular digitalization, and its application for the benefit of all. 2. Building on work done by previous presidencies, we will strive to create a virtuous cycle of growth by addressing inequalities and realize a society where (...)

Last Men or New Men? Nietzsche in the Global Age

Does Nietzsche have anything important to say to us, we the current inhabitants of a global age?

Nietzsche speaks of spiritual health as a result of the superabundance of the life force, of a Dionysian affirmation of one’s existence of one’s process of becoming what one is.

The courage of laughter is called for. A profound laughter that is in a position to negate what Nietzsche regarded as the worst possible thought: that existence, my existence, repeats itself over and over again without end, forever.

With this terrible thought as guide, am I still strong enough to absolutely affirm my current existence as it is, as well as the choices I am about to make for myself? Do I have the necessary spiritual resources to fully affirm myself and my willed trajectory of self-becoming?

Whether or not Nietzsche thought that the Eternal Return of Everything was an ontological reality or not (after all it could never be conclusively proven) is not the point. We must act as if it were real. Its function is as the ultimate moral instance in Nietzsche’s entire philosophy.

For indeed, despite some of his histrionic protestations Nietzsche is a moral philosopher.  Did he not call for a reevaluation of all values?

In his writings he went a long way towards such a reevaluation. For Nietzsche, everything that encouraged extreme energetic creativity was good, all that stood in its way was bad.

And, furthermore, all doctrines, habits, thoughts that steered ones gaze away from the world as experienced by our senses was delusion, demagoguery, and decadent.

Nietzsche, similar to Tocqueville, Mill, and Mathew Arnold, envisioned a future where people would be culturally, politically, emotionally, and, philosophically castrated. Nietzsche referred to such pitiful creatures as the “last men” or “men without chests”. Individuals purely concerned with their material well being, believing themselves to be perfectly happy in the historically diminished possibilities of their lives. These future beings would be the antithesis to the hero and would experience the current existence of such a person among them as “mad”. In the future there are no great deeds, only herd like obedience. Aldous Huxley wrote an entire book about them: Brave New World.

But what of our world? Are we too “last men” or are we, instead, preparing for the arrival of the overman (Übermensch)?  For Nietzsche, man was something that was to be overcome. He was a “rope tied between beast and overman–a rope over an abyss”.
In 2009, Stefan Lorenz Sorgner wrote a famous essay comparing Nietzsche’s philosophy with transhumanism. Not surprisingly, he found some strong overlap between the two. In this same essay, Sorgner also coined the expression “autonomous eugenics”. By this he meant the freely chosen physical transformation of the individual through the intervention of technology. Ultimately, according to Sorgner, the how, how much, and why of self-enhancement mediated by future technologies is, and should be, a moral choice, not, as in the past, a coercive policy carried out by the state (State Eugenics).

Where I take issue with Sorgner’s provocative article is whether Nietzsche really had the post-human of the Twenty-First century in mind. Frankly, I don’t think that he could have. I believe that Nietzsche, rather than looking to the far future of a technologized humanity, had the example of Aristotle’s “great souled man” in mind when thinking about the eventual arrival of the overman. Like Rousseau and Hegel before him, Nietzsche looked to some of the ancient Greeks for examples of exemplary human beings.

Continuing this thought, I suspect that Nietzsche would be initially suspicious of the transhumanist project of human enhancement or transformation. He, being a man of his time, would have expected the coming of the overman to be a question of self-discipline leading to a psychological transformation not a physical one. Indeed, we can ask in what way would a post-human necessarily be better at the self-creation of new life-affirming values than the old human being? Would physical, technological enhancement by itself lead to superior forms of cultural existence? I think Nietzsche would have been skeptical at the prospect.

Arguing now for the other side and thus beyond Nietzsche, I think Sorgner and other transhumanists are possibly right in assuming that a posthuman would be in a good position to create new values and ways of living. Simply because it is hard to imagine what the removal of the threat of imminent death would do to the self-understanding of a sentient being. What cultural, political projects would such a person pursue? Neither Nietzsche or anyone else for that matter has a clear answer.  So what’s the verdict? Last men or new (over) men? Some of both, I think.

Insofar as many of us are caught up in a lifestyle of consumption and the cultivation of daily, small pleasures, we cannot view ourselves as unduly heroic or value creating. On the other hand, technological advances are slowly holding out the promise of physical transformation, of a human being qualitatively different from the one now existing. Even so, it will remain a question for some time yet whether or not those who are pursuing transhumanist dreams are the harbingers of the overman or the last instance of a neurotically self-preoccupied, overly self-satisfied, fantastically egoistic, petty, cowardly, morally small pipsqueak of a human whom Nietzsche assumed would eventually and permanently inherit the earth.

G20 statement on preventing exploitation of the Internet for Terrorism

G20 OSAKA LEADERS' STATEMENT ON PREVENTING EXPLOITATION OF THE INTERNET FOR TERRORISM AND VIOLENT EXTREMISM CONDUCIVE TO TERRORISM (VECT) As leaders, one of our greatest responsibilties is to ensure the security of our citizens. It is the state's role, first and foremost, to prevent and combat terrorism. Here in Osaka, we reaffirm our commitment to act to protect our people from terrorist and VECT exploitation of the internet. We issue this statement to raise the bar of expectation for (...)

Happenings in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave

There’s something happening here/What it is ain’t exactly clear.

— Buffalo Springfield,  “For What it’s Worth,” 1967

The Sunday newspaper had been left on the park bench.  Its book page had lists of best-sellers, as if numbers two through ten could be the “best” along with number one.  Absurdities were everywhere for the taking.  On the Non-Fiction Hardcover list, numbers 3, 5, and 10 each had the word fuck in the title.  The books were published by two old and respected publishing houses: Harper and Little Brown.  However, something was odd, for the word fuck was spelled f*ck.  These books were about hope, acceptance, and living the good life, cliché topics in a feel-good culture: The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, Everything is F*cked, and Calm the F*ck Down.  It seemed you had to be fucked first before you could accept the hope that the good life was coming your way.  He wondered if these publishing houses thought that by eliminating the “u” they kept their hands clean and were not descending into the gutter with hoi polloi, while simultaneously titillating potential readers.  Did they think readers would be offended by the word fuck, but would not be by f*ck?  Then it occurred to him that he didn’t know what the fuck non-fiction books were anyway.  Maybe he had been wrong all his life and the opposite of up was non-up, not down.

*****

On every table in the seaside resort’s breakfast room there was a brightly colored flower in a clear watered vase.  When he picked it up to smell the orange blossom, there was no smell and the water didn’t move.  He imagined an ersatz form of plastic happiness, a conjurer’s delight, where everything was a trick, nothing moved, not even water.

*****

Leaving the Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in southern California where white and black Marines were regularly fighting and there were even some killings never reported by the press, the two young Marines escaped the tense and claustrophobic atmosphere on a weekend pass.  It was early February 1967, and they took an overnight bus up the coast to San Francisco where they wandered around and found a breakfast restaurant near Union Square.  There they read in the newspaper that for the week of January 12-19 the U.S. military had suffered its highest casualty count so far in Vietnam: 144 killed, 1,044 wounded, and 6 missing-in-action.  It jolted them awake more than the coffee.  Later that afternoon, the two naifs wandered into the Haight-Ashbury district were they were startled by the first waves of acid-dazed hippies, who would soon arrive in hoards for the “summer of love.” In the evening when they visited a bar for some beers, the waitress who delivered their drinks was topless. While they regarded this slight anomaly with manly indifference, she must have noticed their military haircuts that stood out among the longhairs, and so she served them buttons with their beers. The buttons read: Vietnam Love It Or Leave It. Heading back to the base, they knew where they didn’t want to go.

*****

The young man was studying for a PhD.  He was intent on learning what made the world and people tick. He was attending a small seminar at the home of his professor, a famous German emigre who had worked for the Rand Corporation and U.S. Intelligence. Each of the five students was to give a short presentation on the subject of fake news and the issue of knowledge, since the course concerned the sociology of knowledge. The student began his presentation by quoting a famous philosopher’s words: “In formulating any philosophy, the first consideration must always be: What can we know? That is, what can we be sure we know, or sure that we know we knew it, if indeed it is all knowable. Or have we simply forgotten it and are too embarrassed to say anything? Descartes hinted at the problem when he wrote, ‘My mind can never know my body, although it has become quite friendly with my legs.’ By ‘knowable,’ incidentally, I do not mean that which can be known by perception of the senses, or that which can be grasped by the mind, but more that which can be said to be Known or to possess a Knownness or Knowability, or at least something you can mention to a friend.” The student paused and the eminent professor said, “So very interesting. Who is that philosopher?” The student replied, “Woody Allen.” “He is very perceptive,” said the professor, “and yet I have never heard of him.  I will have to read his work.” The student realized he was in good hands with such U.S. intelligence and Rand Corporation experts, so he asked the professor’s wife for another glass of the German wine she was serving and toasted his good fortune with a wry grin. None of the other students got the joke.

*****

A young man was reading a book that he highly recommended to his uncle. Leafing through it, the older man came upon this passage: “the free individual is just a fictional tale concocted by an assembly of biochemical algorithms.” So what was the point of reading such a book, he wondered, since doing so was an exercise in pre-programmed absurdity since there was no freedom.

*****

You have probably seen the bumper sticker that says: “Shit Happens.” Some people are just lucky, I suppose, and odd coincidences mark their lives. When he was just out of Columbia College and working for a reputed CIA front company, Business International Corporation, Barack Obama had a chance encounter with a young woman, Genevieve Cook, with whom he had a 1-2 year relationship. Like Obama and at about the same time, Cook just happened to have lived in Indonesia with her father, Michael Cook, who just happened to become Australia’s top spook, the director-general of the Office of National Assessments, and also the Ambassador to Washington. Of course, Obama’s mother, as is well-known, just happened to be living in Indonesia with Barack and Obama’s step-father, Lolo Soetoro, an Indonesian military officer, who had been called back to Indonesia by the CIA supported General Suharto to assist in the CIA coup against the President Sukarno and the slaughter of over a million Indonesian Communists and Indonesian-Chinese. As is also well-known, it just so happened that Obama’s mother, Ann Dunham, trained in the Russian language, after teaching English in the US Embassy in Jakarta that housed one of the largest CIA stations in Asia, did her “anthropological” work in Indonesia and Southeast Asia financed by the well-known CIA conduits, USAID and the Ford Foundation. Then there is Cook’s stepfather, Philip C. Jessup, who just happened to be in Indonesia at the same time, doing nickel-mining deals with the genocidal Suharto government. Anyway, “shit happens.” You never know whom you might meet along the way of life.

*****

The hostess at the seaside restaurant had an eastern European accent, so he asked her where she was from.  She said, “Belgrade, Serbia.” He told her he was sorry for what the U.S. government led by Bill Clinton had done to her country and that he considered Clinton a war criminal. She said the bombing in 1999 was terrifying, and even though she was young at the time, she vividly remembered it. It traumatized her, her parents, and her family. Then she smiled and said that in the month she had been in the U.S. for her summer job, all the Americans she had met had been so friendly. He welcomed her to the U.S., and as he was walking away, he remembered that Clinton’s savage bombing of Serbia that had killed so many Serbian children and other innocents had been code-named “Operation Noble Anvil.” He wondered what kind of “noble” people would think of innocent children as anvils: “heavy usually steel-faced iron blocks on which metal is shaped,” and did the friendly Americans accept Clinton’s sick lies when he ended his March 24, 1999 war address to the American people with these words: “Our thoughts and prayers tonight must be with the men and women of our armed forces, who are undertaking this mission for the sake of our values and our children’s future. May God bless them, and may God bless America.”

*****

The banal, 1967 hit song, “San Francisco” (Be sure to wear flowers in your hair), which was influential in enticing young people to come to San Francisco for the Summer of Love, was written by “Papa” John Philips, who attended the US Naval Academy at Annapolis and whose father was a Marine Corps Captain. “Papa” John’s wife had worked at the Pentagon and her father was involved in covert intelligence work in Vietnam. His neighbor and Laurel Canyon (Los Angeles) buddy was Jim Morrison of Doors fame, whose father US Navy Admiral George Morrison commanded U.S. warships in Vietnam’s Tonkin Gulf during the “Tonkin Gulf Incident.” Frank Zappa, the father figure of Laurel Canyon’s many musicians who just happened to converge in one place at the same time where a covert military film studio operated, had a father who was a chemical warfare specialist at Edgewood Arsenal. Stephen Stills, David Crosby and many other soon to be famous musicians all came from military and intelligence backgrounds and frolicked in Laurel Canyon. Although they were draft age, none of them was drafted as they played music, dropped acid, and created the folk-rock movement whose music was catchy but innocuous and posed no threat to the establishment. But “shit happens.” In his disturbing book, Weird Scenes Inside the Canyon, David McGowan raises the question: “what if the musicians themselves (and various other leaders and founders of the ‘movement’) were every bit as much a part of the intelligence community as the people who were supposedly harassing them? What if, in other words, the entire youth culture of the 1960s was created not as a grass-roots challenge to the status quo, but as a cynical exercise in discrediting and marginalizing the budding anti-war movement and creating a fake opposition that could be easily controlled and led astray…. What if, in reality, they were pretty much all playing on the same team?”

*****

The reporter was interviewing four of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s young “executive governors,” who were all dressed in three-piece business suits.  They were in the process of conducting Transcendental Meditation’s week-long course leading to super-normal abilities, including flying, levitating, disappearing, x-ray vision, and other siddhis, or supernormal powers.  Their recent press release had advertised the course as “a new breakthrough for human life on earth” for any person.  The reporter was a bit skeptical that people could be taught – for a large fee – to fly or disappear.  He asked one of the executive governors, “Can you literally rise into the air and move horizontally; can you see yourself and can others see you actually fly?”  “Absolutely,” Larry Johnson replied without hesitation, “absolutely.  Once you eliminate all stress from your nervous system, you have unbounded, unlimited potential.  A human can achieve any desire he wants, flying is only one of them.”  “People will be skeptical,” the reporter continued, “How about a demonstration?”  “A public demonstration would cause too much of a ruckus,” said Johnson.  “And we couldn’t show you because we only do it for each other.  Actually, we do our techniques with our eyes closed, but we do peek out once in a while and see each other flying around the room.  You know, one of the siddhis is a technique for making yourself invisible, and the Mararishi has said, ‘Don’t peek out to see if you’ve disappeared.’”  Johnson giggled and added, “We can also teach people to x-ray their own bodies and see through walls. Absolutely, absolutely.  It’s all about infinite correlation.  Absolutely.”  As the battered reporter left the interview, he wondered if the Maharishi was a creation of the CIA.  He remembered John Lennon’s song lines about the Maharishi’s assistant:  “But he often spread rumors through his right hand man/Who used to be with the CIA”

*****

What is “exactly clear” is that Buffalo Springfield (Stephen Stills, Neil Young et al) toured with their Laurel Canyon buddies, the Beach Boys, in late 1967 (their other mutual bud, Charlie Manson, stayed out west presumably to work on his craft) and performed at a very odd venue for a “dissident” rock group, The U.S. Military Academy at West Point.  At that time nearly 500,000 American troops were waging war on the Vietnamese.  That concert was an odd happening, wouldn’t you say?

*****

If  everyone actually looked, they’d see precisely what went down, “what’s going down,” and why we are going down.  If you think many of these things “just happen” for no reason, then I guess you are just “f*cked.”  Excuse me, but it’s true.  Does the asterisk help?

Raging Against the Algorithm: Google and Persuasive Technology

The founder of Netscape said software is going to eat the world.

— Tristan Harris, Centre for Humane Technology, June 25, 2019

Monsters and titans share the stage of mythology across cultures as the necessary realisations of the human imagination.  From stone cave to urban dwelling, the theme is unremitting; kept in the imagination, such creatures perform, innocently enough, benign functions.  The catch here is the human tendency to realise such creatures.  They take the form of social engineering and utopia.  Folly bound, such projects and ventures wind up corrupting and degrading.  The monster is born, and the awful truth comes to the fore: the concentration camp, the surveillance state, newspeak, the armies of censorship.

The technology giants of the current era are the modern utopians, indulging human hunger and interests by shaping them.  One company gives us the archetype. It is Google, which has the unusual distinction of being both noun and verb, entity and action.  Google’s power is disproportionately vast, a creepy sprawl that cherishes transparency while lacking it, and treasuring information while regulating its reach.  It is also an entity that has gone beyond being a mere repository of searches and data, an attempt to induce behavioural change on the part of users.

Google always gives the impression that its users are in the lead, autonomous, independent in a verdant land of digital frolicking.  The idea that the company itself fosters such change, teasing out alterations in behaviour, is placed to one side.  There are no Svengalis in Googleland, because we are all free. Free, but needing assistance amidst chaos and “multitasking”.

People have what the company calls “micro-moments”, those, as behavioural economist Dan Ariely describes as “on-the-go mobile moments” where decisions are reached by a user while engaged, simultaneously, in a range of tasks: hotels to book, travel choices to make, work schedules to fulfil.  While Ariely is writing more broadly from the perspective of the ubiquitous digital marketer, the language is pure Googleleese, smacking of part persuasion and part imposition.  “Want to develop a strategy to shape your consumer decisions?” asks Google.  “Start by understanding the key micro-moments in their journey.”  Understand them; feed their mind; hold their hand.

The addiction to Google produces what can no longer be seen as retarding, but fostering.  A generation is growing up without a hard copy research library, a ready-to-hand list of classics, and the means to search through records without resorting to those damnable digital keys.  Debates are bound to be had (some already pollute the digital space) about whether this is necessarily a condition to lament.  Embrace digital amnesia! To Google is to exist.

What is undeniable is that the means to find information – instantaneous, glut-filled, desperately quick – has created users who inhabit a space that guides their thinking, pre-empting, cajoling and adjusting.  One form of literacy, we might kindly say, is being supplanted by another: the Google imbecile is upon us.

Given the nature of such effects, it is little wonder that politicians find Google threatening to their mouldy and rusted on craft.  The politician’s preserve is sound – or unsound – communication; success at the next election is dependent upon the idea that the electors understand, and approve, what has been relayed to them (whether that material is factual, or not, a lie or otherwise, is beside the point: the politician yearns to convince in order to win).

The old search engine titan supplies something of a snag in this regard.  On the one hand, it offers the political classes the means to reach a global audience, an avenue to screech and promote the next hair-brained scheme that comes into the mind of the political apparat.  But what if the message stymies on the way, finding delays in the means of what is called “search engine optimisation”?  Is Google to blame, or bog standard ordinariness on the part of the politician?

US politicians think they have an answer.  Only they are permitted control of the narrative, and disseminating the lie.  Of late they have been trying to sketch out a path they are not used to: regulating industries once hailed as sentinels of freedom, promoters of liberty.  Their complaints tend to lack consistency. On the one hand, they find various Google algorithms problematic (preference for alt-right sites, conspiratorial gruel as damaging), but their slant is wonky and skewed.  Had these algorithms been driving favourable search terms (conformist, steady, unquestioning, anti-Trump), the matter would be a non-starter.  Our message, they would say, is getting out there.

This week, the US Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation tried to make sense, in rather accusing fashion, of “persuasive technology”.  Nanette Byrnes furnishes us with a definition: “the idea that computers, mobile phones, websites, and other technologies could be designed to influence people’s behaviour and even attitudes”.  The Pope does remain resolutely Catholic.

The committee hearing featured such opinions as those of Senator John Thune (R-SD), who wished to use the proceedings to draft legislation that would “require internet platforms to give consumers the option to engage with the platform without having the experience shaped by algorithms.”  The Senator is happy to accept that artificial intelligence “powers automations to display content to optimize engagement” but sees a devil in the works, as “AI algorithms can have an unintended and possibly even dangerous downside”.  This is tantamount to wanting a Formula One Grand Prix without fast cars and an athletics competition in slow motion.

Facing the senators from Google’s side was Maggie Stanphill, director of Google User Experience.  Her testimony was couched in words more akin to the glossiness of a travel brochure with a complimentary sprinkling of cocaine.  “Google’s Digital Wellbeing Initiative is a top company goal, focusing on providing our users with insights about their digital habits and tools to support an intentional relationship with technology.”  Google merely “creates products that improve the lives of the people who use them.”  The company has provided access that has “democratized information and provided services for billions of people around the world.”  When asked about whether Google was doing its bit in the persuasion business, Stanphill was unequivocal.  “We do not use persuasive technology.”

The session’s theme was clear: oodles and masses of content are good, but must be appropriate.  In Information Utopia, where digital Adam and Eve still run naked, wickedness will not be allowed.  If people want to seek content that is “negative” (this horrendous arbitrary nature keeps appearing), they should not be allowed to.  Gag them, and make sure the popular terms sought are white washed of any offensive or dangerous import.  Impose upon the tech titans a responsibility to control the negative.

Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) complained of those companies “letting these algorithms run wild […] leaving humans to clean up the mess.  Algorithms are amoral.” Tristan Harris, co-founder and executive director of the Centre for Humane Technology, spoke of the competition between companies to use algorithms which “more accurately predict what will keep users there the longest.”  If you want to maximise the time spent searching terms or, in the case of YouTube, watching a video, focus “the entire ant colony of humanity towards crazytown.”  For Harris, “technology hacks human weaknesses.”  The moral?  Do not give people what they want.

The rage against the algorithm, and the belief that no behavioural pushing is taking place in search technology, is misplaced on a few fronts.  On a certain level, all accept how such modes of retrieving information work.  Disagreement arises as to their consequences, a concession, effectively, to the Google user as imbecile.  Stanphill is being disingenuous for assuming that persuasive technology is not a function of Google’s work (it patently is, given the company’s intention of improving the “intentional relationship with technology”). In her testimony, she spoke of building “products with privacy, transparency and control for the users, and we build a lifelong relationship with the user, which is primary.”  The Senators, in turn, are concerned that the users, diapered by encouragements in their search interests, are incapable of making their own fragile minds up.

The nature of managed information in the digital experience is not, as Google, YouTube and like companies show, a case of broadening knowledge but reaffirming existing assumptions.  The echo chamber bristles with confirmations not challenges, with the comforts of prejudice rather than the discomforts of heavy-artillery learning. But the elected citizens on the Hill, and the cyber utopians, continue to struggle and flounder in the digital jungle they had seen as an information utopia equal to all.  For the Big Tech giants, it’s all rather simple: the attention grabbing spectacle, bums on seats, and downloads galore.