Americans are becoming increasingly fearful of the one institution
A few minutes of surfing the Internet quickly reveals a disturbing trend: Americans are becoming increasingly fearful of the one institution that they have held with some degree of contempt since the nation’s founding, and that is their very government.
The cloud now hanging over America’s national mood is more understandable when we consider the escalation of events over the past decade. Somewhere between the clunky bookends of the terrorist attacks of Sept 11, 2001 and Edward Snowden’s NSA revelations of 2013, the United States began to appear less of a democratic superpower and more a repressive kingdom of fear, a neurotic empire of anxiety that trusts nobody, least of all itself.
Despite efforts to blame America’s slow-motion nervous breakdown on the Great Recession of 2008, that diagnosis shoots wide of the mark. Nevertheless, it can’t be denied that the government’s massive bailout of the bankers and corporations has created a level of political cynicism throughout America – and the world – that lacks historic parallels. It rammed home the ugly truth that politicians are more comfortable in bed with corporate lobbyists than in Congress defending the rights of the taxpayers.
With that said, the current level of fear and loathing, now weighing down American society, did not take root at the local level. Instead, the fear seems to have trickled down from above, perspiration rolling down the brow of Washington, so to speak, soaking the grassroots. The smell of fear is real, scientists say, and being scared is contagious.
In fact, the cornerstone in the foundation of our ‘Kingdom of Fear’ (the title of a 2003 book on the subject of America’s rising police state by the late Hunter S. Thompson) was lifted into place following the 9/11 terror attacks, when the entire nation was consumed by legitimate fear.
Although George W. Bush said Osama bin Laden attacked America because he “hated our freedoms,” the self-proclaimed ‘war president’ gave the Al-Qaeda leader exactly what he hoped to achieve by attacking America in the first place. With no loss of irony or shame, the Neocons opportunistically used the chaos of 9/11 as a convenient smokescreen to crack down on hard-fought civil liberties enshrined in the US Constitution.
The 363-page PATRIOT Act (introduced on October 23, the bill passed the next day by House members, many of whom were anxious over mysterious letters containing anthrax being delivered to some congressmen. Michael Moore in his controversial film Fahrenheit 9/11 records Congressman Jim McDermott alleging that no Senator had time to read the bill) surrendered a number of draconian powers to the federal government, including the indefinite military detention of Americans; the ability to search a home or business without the owner’s consent or knowledge; the power to search telephone, e-mail, and financial records without a court order; and access to business records, including library and financial records.
The argument that there has been a nearly seamless transition between the Bush and Obama administrations got a boost on May 26, 2011 when the Democratic leader used an Autopen (in France!) to sign off on a four-year extension of three key provisions in the PATRIOT Act: roving wiretaps, searches of business and library records, and conducting surveillance of ‘lone wolves’ – individuals suspected of terrorist-related activities not linked to terrorist groups. Many rightly argue that the Bush-Obama tag team is casting the domestic security net a bit too wide and deep, and risks catching many innocent people in the haul.
Obama himself, however, is to blame for delivering the coup de grace to American liberties when he won the right to indefinitely detain US citizens and foreigners under the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012. Today, every American is a potential terrorist, and we are treated as guilty until proven innocent.
But this marked just the early stages of America’s new Kingdom of Fear, as reports of other abuses of power began trickling in from around the globe. Due to space limitations, here is the abridged version: The 2003 invasion of Iraq, a sovereign nation that had no proven weapons of mass destruction, as asserted by the Bush administration, nor did the late Iraqi President, Saddam Hussein, assist Al-Qaeda in the attacks of 9/11; the human rights abuses at Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp (Gitmo), which saw detainees, many of whom have been cleared of their charges, forced to wear sensory deprivation garb, i.e. blindfolds and earmuffs, despite the fact that Gitmo sits on a corner of communist Cuba, is surrounded by shark-infested waters, not to mention barbed wire and US troops. Obama’s promise on his first campaign trail to shutter the “GULAG of our times” and give the detainees civil trials on American soil was fiercely contested by ex-Vice President Dick Cheney and today, despite the occasional hunger strike, the facility remains open for business, while the detainees are subjected to the whims of a kangaroo military tribunal; CIA ‘black sites’ in Eastern Europe, where detainees in the ‘War on Terror’ were hauled away for ‘enhanced interrogation,’ a euphemistic term for waterboarding and other such medieval pleasantries.
All of the above atrocities were pulled off by a non-stop fear-mongering campaign that has not ceased since Sept.11.
Meanwhile, a strange transformation has come over the Land of Liberty since the attacks of Sept 11: The American people, as opposed to the wily terrorists, are quickly becoming the main focus of the emperor’s attention. This should not be considered a positive thing.
In addition to the indefinite military detention of Americans, the US military is paving the way for bypassing Posse Comitatus, the 1878 law that forbids the US military from being used in domestic law enforcement. A recent Department of Defense instruction gives the green light for US troops to quell “civil disturbances” domestically without any presidential authorization (the site of armored vehicles and what amounted to martial law on the streets following the Boston Marathon bombing did little to inspire confidence among people, who see a definite move toward the militarization of America’s police forces). What better way to employ all those military personnel returning home from their tours in Afghanistan and Iraq than to assign them positions in local police forces?
But wait, it gets better. In addition to overwhelming police force being used to patrol Main Street, USA, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is in the process of hoarding some 1.6 billion rounds of ammunition – much of it in the form of hollow-point rounds, which are specifically banned in international warfare. (If ever there was a reason to defend the Second Amendment this is certainly it. As one well-known commentator put it: “The answer to 1984 is 1776!”) It’s important to remember that this massive stockpiling of guns and ammo is not designed to be used in some foreign battlefield, since the DHS was created specifically for guarding the homeland.
While some people may think this bullet-hoarding is no big deal, consider this factoid: At the height of the Iraq War, the US Army was firing less than 6 million rounds a month. In other words, 1.6 billion rounds of ammunition would be enough to sustain a war – on American soil – for over 20 years. Does that sound right? Will all those bullets just be used for target practice? Is it just coincidence that at the very moment the anti-gun movement is gaining traction among some US politicians, including US Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the DHS is busy buying up enough ammunition to outlast many generations of NRA members?
Unfortunately, it’s not just bullets that the DHS is busy stockpiling, but armored personnel carriers being repatriated from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to “paramilblogger” Ken Jorgustin who wrote last September: “These MRAPs are being seen the US streets all across America, by verified observers with photos, videos, and descriptions.
Regardless of the exact number of MRAP’s being delivered to DHS, why would they need such over-the-top vehicles on US streets to withstand IEDs, mine blasts, and 50 caliber hits to bullet-proof glass? In a war zone… yes, definitely. Let’s protect our men and women. On the streets of America?”
Ralph Benko, a contributor to Forbes, called the DHS accumulating such over-the-top military equipment “wrong in every way.”
“President Obama has an opportunity, now, to live up to some of his rhetoric by helping the federal government set a noble example in a matter very close to his heart (and that of his progressive base), one not inimical to the Bill of Rights: gun control. The federal government can, for a nice change, begin practicing what it preaches by controlling itself.”
However, since the terror attacks of 9/11, the last thing America seems able to do is “control itself.” This was obvious by the activities of the National Security Agency (NSA) made public by whistleblower, Edward Snowden, with the cooperation of Guardian reporter, Glenn Greenwald.
Although some level of spying should be expected by every government, the level of surveillance that the NSA was conducting on practically every corner of the planet, with absolutely no distinction being made between friends and enemies, simply boggles the mind. Although a follower of Machiavellian political philosophy may smile at such ruthless actions, little consideration seems to have been given to the consequences of getting caught with a hand in the proverbial cookie jar.
As more information about the NSA’s activities becomes more available with practically each passing week, it would be an understatement to say the revelations have been an embarrassment for the United States. Not only was the NSA’s PRISM program collecting the meta-data on millions of people, it was monitoring the mobile telephones of some 35 world leaders.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who, according to Reuters, suspected her phone was being tapped after discovering her personal number written on a US document, did not mince her words during a phone call to President Obama.
“The [German] federal government, as a close ally and partner of the US, expects in the future a clear contractual basis for the activity of the services and their co-operation,” she told the US leader.
Although the Vatican, which was also the target of US phone monitoring, may be counted on to forgive Washington for its many transgressions, it remains to be seen if the rest of the world will be so understanding.
Clearly, it’s time for the United States to give up the worldwide fear tour.
Robert Bridge is the author of the book, Midnight in the American Empire, which discusses the dangerous consequences of extreme corporate power in the United States today.
Face-scanners equipped with a hidden camera have been installed in 450 Tesco petrol stations in the UK to spy on supermarket shoppers and promptly target them with personalized ads.
Almost as in the Tom Cruise sci-fi blockbuster, Minority Report, where eyeball scanners were used to identify people, the OptimEyes screens are fitted with a camera that scans queuing customers. After the device detects their age and sex, it chooses which ads to play in 100-second loops.
For instance, energy drinks could be promoted to young customers in morning 10-second ad spots, or beauty items, should the cameras spot some ladies waiting to pay.
Chief executive of Amscreen, which developed the hi-tech technology, says secret cameras won’t intrude into people’s privacy, though.
“The OptimEyes does not store images or recognize people, but just works out gender and sorts customers into one of three age brackets,” Simon Sugar told The Grocer.
“Yes, it’s like something out of Minority Report but this could change the face of British retail and our plans are to expand the screens into as many supermarkets as possible,” he added.
It’s hoped that OptimEyes could reach a weekly audience of five million adults.
“The ability to tailor content based on time and location means this can be extremely useful and timely for interacting with our customers,” category director for Tesco petrol stations, Peter Cattell, told the industry magazine.
Although it yet remains to be seen how effective the ground-breaking technology proves to be, Amscreen already has plans to expand the screens into as many supermarkets as possible, and probably not just around the UK.
Nicknamed “Fat Leonard,” the gregarious Malaysian businessman is well known by U.S. Navy commanders in the Pacific, where his company has serviced warships for 25 years.
But prosecutors in court papers say Leonard Francis worked his connections to obtain military secrets by lining up prostitutes, Lady Gaga tickets and other bribes for a U.S. commander, in a scandal reverberating across the Navy.
The accusations unfolding in a federal court case in San Diego signal serious national security breaches and corruption, setting off high-level meetings at the Pentagon with the threat that more people, including those of higher ranks, could be swept up as the investigation continues. A hearing Nov. 8 could set a trial date.
Navy commander Michael Vannak Khem Misiewicz passed confidential information on ship routes to Francis’ Singapore-based company, Glenn Defense Marine Asia Ltd., or GDMA, according to the court documents.
Misiewicz and Francis moved Navy vessels like chess pieces, diverting aircraft carriers, destroyers and other ships to Asian ports with lax oversight where Francis could inflate costs, according to the criminal complaint. The firm overcharged the Navy millions for fuel, food and other services it provided, and invented tariffs by using phony port authorities, the prosecution alleges.
“It’s pretty big when you have one person who can dictate where ships are going to go and being influenced by a contractor,” said retired Rear Adm. Terry McKnight, who has no direct knowledge of the investigation. “A lot of people are saying how could this happen?”
So far, authorities have arrested Misiewicz; Francis; his company’s general manager of global government contracts, Alex Wisidagama; and a senior Navy investigator, John Beliveau II. Beliveau is accused of keeping Francis abreast of the probe and advising him on how to respond in exchange for such things as luxury trips and prostitution services. All have pleaded not guilty. Defense attorneys declined to comment.
Senior Navy officials said they believe that more people would likely be implicated in the scheme, but it’s too early to tell how many or how high this will go in the naval ranks. Other unnamed Navy personnel are mentioned in court documents as getting gifts from Francis.
Francis is legendary in military circles in that part of the world, said McKnight, who does not know him personally. He is known for extravagance. His 70,000-foot bungalow in an upscale Singapore neighborhood drew spectators yearly since 2007 to its lavish, outdoor Christmas decorations, which The Straits Times described as rivaling the island city-state’s main shopping street with replicas of snowmen, lighted towering trees, and Chinese and Japanese ornaments.
“He’s a larger-than-life figure,” McKnight said. “You talk to any captain on any ship that has sailed in the Pacific and they will know exactly who he is.”
Navy spokesman, Rear Adm. John Kirby said Navy Criminal Investigative Service agents initiated their probe in 2010, but declined to comment further, citing the ongoing investigation.
That same year, Misiewicz caught the world’s attention when he made an emotional return as a U.S. Naval commander to his native Cambodia, where he had been rescued as a child from the violence of the Khmer Rouge and adopted by an American woman. His homecoming was widely covered by international media.
Meanwhile, Francis was recruiting him for his scheme, according to court documents.
Misiewicz’s family went to a Lion King production in Tokyo with a company employee and was offered prostitution services. Within months, the Navy commander was providing Francis ship movement schedules for the USS George Washington Carrier Strike Group and other ships, according to the criminal complaint.
Shortly after that, the manager wrote to Francis: “We got him!!:),” according to court documents.
Misiewicz would refer to Francis as “Big Brother” or “Big Bro” in emails from a personal account, while Francis would call him “Little Brother” or “Little Bro,” according to the complaint.
The company bilked the Navy out of $10 million in just one year in Thailand alone, U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy said.
In December 2011, the two exchanged emails about the schedule of the USS Blue Ridge, investigators say. According to court documents, Francis wrote Misiewicz: “Bro, Slide a Bali visit in after Jakarta, and Dili Timor after Bali.”
The complaint alleges Misiewicz followed through on the demands: In October 2012, the USS George Washington was scheduled to visit Singapore and instead was redirected by the Navy to Port Klang, Malaysia, one of Francis’ preferred ports where his company submitted fake contractor bids.
After Francis offered Misiewicz five tickets to a Lady Gaga concert in Thailand in 2012, Francis wrote: “Don’t chicken out bro we need u with us on the front lines,” according to court documents.
The federal government has suspended its contracts with Francis.
The defendants face up to five years in prison if convicted of conspiracy to commit bribery.
This awesome dad 3-D printed a prosthetic hand for his son
5 days ago
3-D printers are one of the coolest pieces of technology available. Part of what makes them so cool is how easily they can improve someone’s life. Paul McCarthy was looking for an inexpensive but functional prosthetic hand for his son Leon. Leon was born without fingers on his left hand. Paul found a video online about a prosthetic hand that anyone could make with a 3-D printer, based on a design by Washington state inventor Ivan Owen. Now Leon proudly calls himself a cyborg as he shows off his functioning robotic hand. The coolest part: It didn’t even cost that much. After spending around $2000 on the printer, materials only cost about $10 — much less than the tens of thousands a prosthesis would cost