Monday, May 30, 2011

Debating Truth Decay: A Response

Little did I guess, when I posted some thoughts last week about how hoaxes, predictions and theories affect our politics and relationships, that so many people would respond – and many so angrily. The article initially appeared here, then on the AlterNet, Common Dreams, Truthout and other websites, where about 1000 comments have been posted to date. That’s almost twice as many as responded to my previous essay about psychopaths and power. And these were much more often critical.

Responding to every person or argument is impossible, so I'm posting this brief reply. Like the article, it doesn't pretend to cover every angle. It merely gives my own view and a few impressions.

The comment that apparently sparked the angriest replies was the idea that arguing 9/11 was an “inside job” is a radical conclusion. Not necessary wrong, just radical. Many people were offended, and felt I was debunking that and every other conspiracy theory. This is far from true.

I also came away from reading the comments with the impression that many readers didn’t finish the article. Maybe I’d already made them too mad. But the point of the piece, which was stated early and reiterated near the end, was to explore why some theories and predictions get all the attention while others that may be more credible and crucial get downplayed. I specifically pointed to the gradual and dangerous government “takeover” of cyberspace, a problem largely downplayed. Only a few people seemed to notice. I also made the point that some theories -- the word “conspiracy” was added to the headline and only appears once in the article, in reference to myself -- are distractions or disinformation, while others are very serious and need more attention. I was pointing to the need for some accountability and discrimination. But for many people any questioning of certain ideas – for example, that bin Laden wasn’t killed last month, or that 9/11 was actively orchestrated by the government, or that Roosevelt let Pearl Harbor happen -- is evidence of ignorance or being a government agent.

In a way, many responses inadvertently reinforced the argument I presented: “…some theories may be distractions or even deliberate deceptions, but others are worth considering, as long as we stipulate that they aren’t necessarily facts and resist exaggeration. The problem is that it’s becoming more difficult to tell the difference in an era when facts have been devalued. There are so many possibilities, the standard of proof appears to be getting lower, and theories tend to evolve, expand and mutate rapidly in unexpected ways as they circulate through cyberspace. As yet, there is little follow up to see whether new facts reinforce or discredit a particular idea or prediction. Corruption of truth meanwhile contributes to social division and civic decay. Yet there are apparently no consequences for stoking paranoia, intentionally confusing speculation with fact, or perpetrating a premeditated hoax.”

What made the personal accusations ironic – especially that I was debunking any questioning of official stories – is that I’ve spent so much time as a journalist doing just that, and much of my life generally questioning authority. More than thirty years ago I exposed a large-scale disinformation program designed to scare people about European terrorism supposedly coming to the US. In 1980, I also exposed how the FBI used to pose as Census takers, and began to go after the perception management of the intelligence community. A long and detailed article on perception management appeared in Project Censored 2008.

Over the years I’ve written and published articles about the JFK conspiracy, the Bilderberg group, and the hidden hand of the Council on Foreign Relations and Trilateral Commission. Here’s one example, an article called Conspiracies Unlimited that was published in Toward Freedom, which I edited for more than a decade. I’ve continued to follow the activities on the Bilderberg Group, for example in this IndyMedia Update on the 2002 Bilderberg meeting. Prior to the 2008 election I noted that Barack Obama was being cultivated in the same way, and by some of the same people, that helped Jimmy Carter go from obscurity to the White House.

In 2005, while I was editing a weekly newspaper, Vermont Guardian, I covered David Ray Griffin’s 9/11 research and published a piece called Mission Improbable: Challenging the Official Story on 9/11. There had been a news blackout of his appearances. Several months later, when I became CEO of Pacifica Radio, a number of leftists uncomfortable with the 9/11 Truth movement declared that I was a conspiracy nut just for exploring the issue. While at Pacifica I helped organize a September 2006 public forum in Berkeley with Griffin, Peter Dale Scott, Ray McGovern, Peter Phillips and Kevin Ryan. It was called 9/11 & American Empire: Intellectuals Speak Out (released as a DVD). Now I’m a collaborator or enemy of truth for not accepting the most extreme view of what happened.

By the way, I’ve also done research and writing that points to the invasion of Afghanistan as a pretext for the first resource war of the 21st Century, noting that the plans were in place months before the Towers fell. Check out The Oily Road to 9/11. And I’ve frequently written about older conspiracies, notably the fact that the US lured the USSR into Afghanistan in order to create a quagmire that might bankrupt the country and undermine the Soviet regime. In my book Uneasy Empire: Repression, Globalization and What We Can Do, I begin by noting that even the first war on Iraq was initiated through a phony pretext.

However, in the current polarized environment, when information you don’t like can easily be ignored and extreme arguments go viral, trying to make distinctions between speculation and facts can be seen as a form of betrayal and establishment complicity. More and more people retreat into a self-constructed reality –  unfortunately, too much like conservatives who “know” Obama is a Socialist despite considerable evidence to the contrary – and condemn anyone who isn’t prepared to buy in 100 percent.

That said, thanks to everyone for reading and writing. Personally, I think such a discussion -- despite the more nasty stuff that comes with it -- is valuable, even if we aren't likely to agree.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Do Psychopaths Misrule Our World?

In recent days the political news has been like an episode of some TV drama about high-level corruption – call it Criminal Minds meets The West Wing. The head of the International Monetary Fund – the global financial organization that sets terms for development aid -- was jailed in New York for allegedly assaulting a housemaid sexually at his hotel. Meanwhile, in California news broke that the state’s movie-star governor – known as both the Terminator and the Gropinator – fathered a love-child almost a decade ago and it didn’t come out until he was about to leave office.

Then, of course, there’s the presidential campaign of Newt Gingrich, a poster child for bad behavior, launched last week with a series of disastrous missteps and rationalizations.

What the three men have in common, aside from wielding more influence than they can handle or deserve, is that their serial misbehavior went unchecked for years. In fact, it was rationalized as mere exuberance, frequently excused in “exceptional” people, when it actually demonstrated something else – ruling class impunity.

Ask yourself: Is it possible that these were isolated lapses in judgment? In other words, was this the only time Dominique Strauss-Kahn went after the help, or the only instance of Arnold Schwarzenegger cheating on his wife and exploiting those beneath him? Not too likely. And it’s surely not the only time Gingrich has excused his own bad behavior as a side effect of patriotism – while simultaneously trashing the basic humanity of a political opponent.

If these are patterns, why are millions so fascinated, often even seduced, by people whose behavior actually points to pathology? Perhaps we are wired to be attracted by psychopaths, sociopaths, narcissists, people so focused on their own central role in whatever takes place that the rest of us are sucked into their reality.

Think about entering a portal and emerging into the head of Donald Trump. What could that level of self-absorption be like? Begin by imagining a complete lack of empathy, one of the tell-tale signs of the psychopath.

Is Trump a psychopath? Well, he does score well on a 20 item checklist. And are there more psychopaths around us than we think? Not just serial killers and the violent type, but successful, powerful psychopaths who will do anything to win and affect our lives in profound ways?

The checklist, a way to help identify potential psychopaths among us, was developed by Bob Hare, a prison psychologist who conducted remarkable experiments and eventually codified his findings. Jon Ronson has provides an excellent history and analysis in his new book, The Psychopath Test.

Here’s the basic list, a collection of tendencies and an analytical tool to spot those who might be functioning psychopaths. The last two items relate specifically to criminals, but you don't have to be caught to have "criminal versatility." Keep in mind that having mild tendencies doesn’t make you a psychopath. But a high score – more than 30 on Hare’s 40 point scale – should be a warning sign. Personally, I give Trump and Gingrich high marks:

1.Glibness, superficial charm
2.Grandiose sense of self-worth
3.Need for stimulation, proneness to boredom
4.Pathological lying
5.Conning, manipulative
6.Lack of remorse or guilt
7.Shallow affect
8.Callous, lack of empathy
9.Parasitic lifestyle
10.Poor behavioral control
11.Promiscuous sexual behavior
12.Early behavior problems
13.Lack of realistic long-term goals
16.Failure to accept responsibility for own actions
17.Many short-term marital relationships
18.Juvenile delinquency
19.Revocation of conditional release
20.Criminal versatility

In his book, Ronson follows the trail of research about psychopaths, gets to know a few, and sees how they have affected society. For example, he tracks down Toto Constant, former leader of Haitian death squads backed by the CIA, who was given asylum in the US but restricted to Queens. Although the guy was basically in hiding, he still thought he was beloved in Haiti (#2), took no responsibility for his crimes (#16), and badly imitated strong emotions. Since psychopaths don’t experience emotions that same as other people (#7), they often compensate through imitation. But not all are excellent actors. Constant even thought he would someday be called back to “help” Haiti again (#13).

Psychopaths could be the reason the world seems so screwed up. If so, humanity’s tragic flaw may be that a few bad apples – people whose amygdalas don’t fire the right signals to their central nervous systems – really can spoil the whole barrel. Prime examples include the corporate psychopaths who trashed capitalism a few years back. To dig into that group check out Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work, by Bob Hare and Paul Babiak. Examining these financial terrorists, you might well conclude that the conspiracy theory about shape-shifting lizards who secretly rule the world isn’t so far off. After all, psychopaths are often social shape-shifters.

So, the question is: Do psychopaths run the country and maybe the world? Dominique Strauss-Kahn is a strong candidate. Among recent presidents Nixon, Bush 2 and Clinton could qualify. The masters of the universe at places like Goldman Sachs are solid choices. And it only takes a few to destabilize a financial system, poison a community or destroy a business. Yet some studies suggest that, percentage-wise, there are more potential psychopaths among CEOs, directors and supervisors than in the general population, or even in prisons.

Who hasn’t known a business type who was borderline, a mercurial tyrant subject to fits of rage and impulsive acts? Or followed a public figure who was charming but also irresponsible, manipulative and self-aggrandizing? The tell-tale signs of the psychopath are often ignored or excused.

In his book, Ronson recalls a meeting with businessman Al Dunlop, a ruthless executive famous for his apparent joy in firing people. Together they go through Hare's psychopath checklist and Dunlop simply redefines many of the traits as aspects of leadership. Impulsiveness becomes quick analysis. Grandiose sense of self-worth? Absolutely, you have to believe in yourself, says Dunlop. Manipulative? Hey, that’s just leadership. Inability to feel deep emotions? Emotions are mostly nonsense, he says. And not feeling remorse frees you up to do great things.

Newt Gingrich would likely have a similar response if confronted with his own psychopathic tendencies. At the moment, he is engaging in a standard strategy – claiming redemption and re-inventing himself. In his case it's an epic rationalization that may not work.

It is widely agreed that Newt is an opportunist and a scoundrel. But that clearly doesn’t disqualify him from becoming president. Warren Harding, the Ohio senator who became president in 1920, carried on a 15-year affair both before and during his presidency. The "other woman," Nan Britton, gave birth to a son.

This was shortly after the end of World War I. People were disillusioned with Woodrow Wilson, and Democrats deserted the party to give Harding the biggest landslide in US history, 60 percent of the vote. That year Eugene Debs, who was in federal prison, got his best turnout, a million votes. Less than three years later, in the middle of a “goodwill” tour,” Harding dropped dead suddenly in San Francisco. He was replaced in August 1923 by Calvin Coolidge, a native Vermonter and Massachusetts governor who had been picked for vice-president in the original smoke-filled room.

Some people said Harding had been poisoned by his wife, Florence DeWolfe, a cold, snobbish banker’s daughter known as The Duchess. Rumors spread that she was trying to avoid disgrace, possibly even Harding’s impeachment. The administration had become notoriously corrupt. The Duchess fed the rumors by refusing to allow an autopsy.

It remains a mystery to this day. But Harding provided his own epitaph in advance. “I am not fit for this office and never should have been here,” he once admitted. That self-awareness suggests, despite his shortcomings, that at least he wasn’t a psychopath.

The point: if Warren Harding could become president, why not Newt Gingrich or someone equally disturbed? Just think of the future scandals and all the pathological behavior we would get to witness. Bad behavior is, after all, catnip for millions of information consumers. Can they ever really get enough?

This is adapted from Maverick Media’s Rebel News Round Up,* broadcast live at approximately 11:15 a.m. Friday on WOMM (105.9-FM/LP – The Radiator) in Burlington.

*Edited transcripts don’t include extemporaneous comments and last minute changes or additions.

Check out The Vermont Way: Restless Spirits and popular Movements

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Last of the Power Couples

The breakup of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver could be a sign, a political omen reminding us that nothing lasts, not even the bond between an indestructible cyborg governor and his iconic trophy wife. Is it too soon to say they never seemed quite right for one another?

But wait: if nothing lasts – not even the bond between Mr. Universe and a Kennedy– what does that mean for the country, especially for the idea that the US is exceptional, blessed, unbeatable, the last best superpower in the world? The Big One, as Michael Moore once tried to rename it in his movie of the same name.

It certainly has more and bigger weapons than anyplace else. Militarily there’s no competition – except maybe from asymmetrical warfare, cyber warfare, possibly psychic warfare, and the power of a motivated civil society. But aside from the undisputed ability of the US to take out opponents or destabilize regimes, it role and standing in the world is nevertheless changing. We sense it every day. Can the Big One still make things happen? Is the Age of America over after less than a century? Can an over-the-hill empire make new friends and “win the future?”

Experts have been predicting the end of the US as the leading power on the planet for some time. It just appears to be happening faster than anyone expected. The new thinking in some quarters is that whoever wins the next presidential election may preside over America’s public fall from Number One.

And what country could overtake it? The smart money is on China, already the second largest economy in the world. In 2001, Goldman Sachs predicted that it would rival Germany by 2011. Mission accomplished. In April, the International Monetary Fund revised the forecast: China’s economy, they now project, will be the world’s largest by 2016. That’s five years from now and it could be sooner.

But China’s leaders, despite their pride and ambitions, don’t want to see the US go belly up. It’s more of a symbiotic relationship, competitive but respectful and slowly leaning toward long-term commitment. China needs US economic growth. Budget deficits and low interest rates in America fuel inflation around the world, drive up food prices and create the type of instability that makes China’s old men worry. They also need US consumers – Hey, it’s what we’re good at – as well as the relative security of US bonds and the occasional deployment of US or NATO troops. America is a cash cow with a big stick, and will be for some time.

But beyond that, America doesn’t matter much in Asia anymore. Japan and Russia are resolving their own conflict over the Kurile Islands. Indonesia is mediating a border dispute between Thailand and Cambodia. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations is working out the argument over islands in the South China Sea. The US isn’t calling many shots these days.

Some says it is still indispensible to balance China’s power, especially in the region. That’s Cold War logic, updated as a war of civilizations. But there’s a difference. No one says China is planning to physically take over other countries. Instead, it has been watching these last 30 years as, first, the Soviet Union bankrupted itself while struggling to compete with the US militarily, and then the US over-extended itself and alienated much of the world. So far China is showing more restraint.

The current moment is playing like the end of a classic western. The grizzled, battle-weary lawman – the US in this case – finally takes out his nemesis (Osama), leader of the Hole in the World gang. But it’s a last hurrah, a True Grit moment just before the sanitarium and Boot Hill. The next feature is about to begin.

One sign of the change underway, according to Nicholas Kristof, is that, statistically, a child in Shanghai will now outlive a child in the United States. While the US was intervening to secure oil supplies and chasing an exaggerated enemy – one whose leader was holed up like some has-been super-villain – a new power arose in the East and the Pacific Century began.

That’s one version of geo-political reality. But the establishment, whose views are often well articulated in Foreign Affairs, produced by the Council on Foreign Relations, claims that although the “great wheel of power is turning,” the US isn’t really in decline. It’s just that other states are catching up.

In a recent article called “The Future of the Liberal World Order,” Princeton Professor G. Jon Ikenberry admits the danger that “liberal internationalism” – as loosely administered through various multilateral agreements, organizations, and the UN – could give way to a “fragmented system” with competing blocs, spheres of influences and regional rivalries. That’s the nightmare scenario, and it does sound bad when you put it that way.

In the future, the list of big players will surely expand to include China, India and Brazil. You could also call that the beginning of a multi-polar world, an opportunity for diversity and self-determination, something positive. Yet the only alternative most think tankers can see to the current neoliberal “internationalist” model is a more authoritarian capitalist one. Reagan’s Ambassador to the UN, Jeanne Kirkpatrick, called States that followed this path Moderately Repressive Authoritarian Regimes, or MRAGs. She thought we could work with them well enough, more so of course than with dreaded “socialist” renegades like Nicaragua and Cuba.

Ikenberry claims that the struggle isn’t over basic principles, that not even China wants to “contest the basic rules and principles of the liberal international order; they wish to gain more authority and leadership within it.” Thus, maybe the future will just be a mild update of neoliberalism with some moderately authoritarian features. Sounds inviting, doesn’t it?

One intriguing element of this analysis – triumphalism in the face of adversity – is the plain admission that the current international system is basically a “mutual-aid society,” a “global political club” that provides tools for advancement – regulatory agreements, trading opportunities, security guarantees and other frameworks. All true, except for omission of that fact that the playing field isn’t close to level. As many nations have learned, the “frameworks” generally serve the interests of the dominant players, generally the most developed countries. In most cases it’s a pay-to-play question, a top-down power sharing arrangement that gives lip service to democracy while simultaneously undermining sovereignty and distorting development through structural adjustment.

In the world according to Foreign Affairs, however, the only choice is between expanding the current system or “a less cooperative order built on spheres of influence,” between the status quo and “isolationist, protectionist and anti-international factions.” Not much of a choice, but a handy way to marginalize movements around the world that are fighting for a fair, democratic, and humanistic alternative to a corporate world order.

But don’t worry, Ikenberry predicts, because the “liberal international order” will ultimately prevail. How? By drawing China and other rising states into the existing web of institutions and rules, and getting them to “share the burdens” of global governance. In other words, by opening up more seats at the table but getting the newcomers to pick up a chunk of the check. This way the US, key player in creating the original rules and creating much of the debt and damage, “will remain at the center of the global system.”

The political play is to convince China and other rising powers that the US knows it can’t “rule” anymore – if it ever did. And it certainly never wanted to. It’s like saying, “I didn’t do that, baby, and I won’t do it again.” Sounds like a classic abusive relationship. All America wants to do is lead, you see, that and keep the basic rules and institutions in place. Is that so much to ask?

This assumes of course that the country is still capable of leading, the big hope being hawked by Obama – that America can still “do big things.” But let’s be honest, aside from an occasional executive action, it looks pretty ungovernable at this point. It rarely does big things and can barely keep its infrastructure from collapsing. Just saying the country is indispensable or exceptional doesn’t make it so. On the surface, China looks more functional. But the national mood in the People’s Republic is as uncertain as America’s, and its power elite is struggling to control access to information, continuing to force-feed its people socialist slogans while it pursues its own version of crony capitalism.

So, you might say there are two Big Ones now, similar in some ways, two superpower behemoths, both ruled by unlovable elites and desperately clinging to hegemony. It looks like a good match, possibly the early days of a long, intense love-hate relationship. In that case pity the poor planet.

On the other hand, maybe they will break up before too long, like Arnold and Maria, before doing too much damage. Better yet, maybe we’ll stop being impressed with gigantic, dysfunctional couples. In the long run they’re too big to survive anyway. Superpowers – aren’t they, after all, political dinosaurs overdue for extinction?

This is a preview of Maverick Media’s Rebel News Round Up,* broadcast live at approximately 11:15 a.m. Friday on WOMM (105.9-FM/LP – The Radiator) in Burlington. This Week:

Shake Up: Many people in Italy believe that the Earthquake there this week was predicted by a guy who died more than 30 years ago. Is it possible?

According to the Internet (take that for what you will) Raffaele Bendandi, an Italian who died in 1979, predicted that a massive earthquake would strike Rome on Wednesday, May 11. It's not certain that he actually made the prediction, but for many Romans the  rumor was enough to send them fleeing. Over 20 earthquakes struck in Italy this week–  but none as big as Bendandi predicted. On the other hand, Bendandi did correctly predict the approximate date of an earthquake in the Adriatic region in 1923. He was knighted for that.

Death Match 2012: Did killing Osama win Obama another term? Bloodlust, leadership and the state of the race. Plus, can a person named Newt possibly be president in an English-speaking country?

Voting Equality: A History Moment, the story of how Vermont stopped being a Republican state. From The Vermont Way.

And questions like this: No matter how the system is set up, is democracy overrated -- or just too often badly used? Are there limitations, like size? Or balancing factors, like efficiency? Is the state the enemy of democracy? And what are we talking about anyway? Has democracy been linguistically subverted?

"Totalitarianism begins in a linguistic subversion of reality." So said Victor Klemperer, a lit professor who lived through the Nazi era. He said it half a century ago. What I'm wondering is, if it was obvious back them, how linguistically subverted are we by now?

*Edited transcripts don’t include extemporaneous comments and last minute changes or additions.

Check out The Vermont Way: Restless Spirits and Popular Movements

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Vermont Way: Voting Equality

May 14, 1965: The Vermont House of Representatives voted to reduce its size from 245 to 150 seats and elect members based on population rather than geography. Find out more about the "young turks" who made reapportionment happen, the role of Governor Phil Hoff, and how “one-man one-vote” altered the political balance of power in an excerpt from The Vermont Way.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Selective Justice: Gaddafi and bin Laden

Tunisia, Bahrain, Yemen, Syria, Egypt and even Saudi Arabia. All have seen protests and government repression in recent days. But not one of them has been attacked by the US, France or Britain and none of their “rebels” are receiving military, financial, or moral support from Western powers.*** Also keep in mind: Libya’s rebels are a bit like some of Kosovo’s rebels — a mixed bag. Freedom fighters, not so much.

So why is Libya the only target of “humanitarian” intervention? Gaddafi, right? Over the years we’ve heard a stream of horror stories and strange tales: He takes various drugs, he’s Hefner in a tent, a bisexual, or maybe a cross-dresser, who cuddles with a teddy bear and has epileptic seizures. Some of it might be true, but none of it provides a reason to bomb.

They also say he would “kill his own people." Duh. That's what happens in civil wars. Lincoln killed his own people.

What we know for sure is that Libya has provided its citizens with a higher standard of living than most of Africa. The 2010 UN Human Development Index, a measure of health, education and income, ranked Libya first on the continent. Until this year, no other country in the region had a more secular government, or a better human-rights record. In Egypt almost a 1000 people were killed during the recent uprising. Police shot them with live ammunition. Similar stories have been reported in Syria, Yemen and elsewhere this Arab Spring.

According to Fox News, as the UN rushed to condemn Gaddafi for attacking protesters in late February, its Human Rights Council was about to adopt a report “chock-full of praise for Libya's human rights record." They lauded Libya for improving education, making human rights a ‘priority’ and upgrading its ‘constitutional’ framework. Several countries, including Iran, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia but also Canada, give Libya positive marks for the legal protections afforded to its citizens — who are now revolting against the regime and facing bloody reprisal." Again, that’s Fox News reporting.

In the past Libya has been charged with involvement in an attempt to blow up the US Embassy in Cairo, various hijackings, an explosion on a US plane over Greece, blowing up a French airliner over Africa, a synagogue in Istanbul, and a disco in Berlin. The last of those killed US soldiers. In 1990, when the US needed a country to blame for bombing PanAm flight 103 over Lockerbie in Scotland, Libya was the easy choice. But ultimately not to blame.

Gaddafi has been a handy enemy for the US longer than anyone living except Fidel Castro. Reagan dubbed him the "mad dog of the Middle East." That's why he's called the Great Communicator. But the demonizing started shortly after he took power. His initial crime wasn't the coup, it was closing down a US air force base. Of course, he subsequently supported what he regarded as revolutionary groups and was accused of using his oil revenues to support various radical, sometimes terrorist organizations, particularly Palestinian and Muslim dissident movements. He backed the IRA and separatists in Europe, groups struggling against apartheid in South Africa, opposition groups in Latin America, the Japanese Red Army, the Red Brigades, and the Baader-Meinhof gang.

Still, Gaddafi's real crime isn’t his support for terrorists and/or freedom fighters, but rather backing the wrong ones, from the US point of view. He didn’t back the Nicaraguan Contras, UNITA in Angola, Cuban exiles in Miami, and the governments of El Salvador and Guatemala – all beneficiaries of generous US backing. There was just one band of “freedom fighters” that both Gaddafi and Reagan supported – bin Laden’s old group, the Moujahedeen in Afghanistan. Twisted minds evidently think alike.

Gaddafi has often been a vocal critic of US foreign policy, playing the role of an anti-Zionist pan-Africanist leader. Plus, he called his regime socialist, clearly too much for the US to endure. When protests erupted in Tunisia and Egypt – even though Gaddafi had been rehabilitated during the Bush II era and became an ally in the war on al-Qaeda – US spooks just couldn’t resist spurring on dissidents in a country strategically located between them. Beneath the media radar, the CIA has likely been supplying Libya's rebels with arms, money, and advisors for more than a few weeks.

What does the US get if the big guy goes? Well, ask yourself what other African country would accept a US military base? There's only one at the moment, in Djibouti. But foreign policy scholar Phyllis Bennis predicts that another may pop up in Libya after the dust settles, probably near some oil wells. Or maybe Libyans will get a choice — between a US and a NATO base.

There is another option: The US could admit that Gaddafi isn’t a real threat – except maybe in a fashion sense – just another eccentric dictator with bad taste and a crush on Condoleezza Rice.

Maybe we should make him a judge on American Idol. Or start a new series, Strongmen, in which exiled dictators compete to see who will get a political makeover. Trump could host.


Bin Laden's death could be a moment to replace vengeance with justice. But not so far. Too many people have died for anyone to claim, as President Obama's did last week, that "justice has been done." However you calculate when this so-called war actually began, the US government chose how to respond to 9/11. From the start it chose vengeance.

Then, last week American justice was officially redefined – as summary execution with two bullets in the head. When did foreign policy become like the Judge Dredd comic?

We’ve played into Osama’s hands. He wanted to bankrupt the US by getting it to overreact and overspend. Mission accomplished. He also knew that the best tactic for a weaker opponent is to use the weapons of the powerful against them. They can also gain an advantage if their enemies believe that they’ve won the war when they’ve actually only won a battle.

Holy war, martyrdom, arrogance, economic waste – these are some of the weapons the weak use against empires. And in this clash the preeminent weapon has long been martyrdom. Bin Laden certainly didn't want to end up like Saddam Hussein, a hunted animal trapped a hidey hole, put on public trial and ritually executed. He wasn’t the type to go down like Al Capone, captured and jailed on a technicality. He wanted out in an explosion or blaze of gunfire. We’re told that he wasn’t armed but somehow resisted. However it happened, the Osama myth got another assist from his enemies.

But his greatest coup was to get the US and its allies to spend enormous amounts of money – literally trillions of dollars – to fight a small, isolated, anti-modern force that operated at the edge of the Muslim world. That was his prime objective and it worked.

Al-Qaeda drew the US into a conflict that drained its political, moral and financial resources. Last week, with the media mindlessly cheerleading, Americans again persuaded themselves that an "exucutive action" proves the US is in control. But what actually happened? An extrajudicial killing. Bin Laden glorified himself one more time at the West’s expense. Those who celebrate the public emergence of assassination as official US policy are playing into his dead hands.

The US has even managed to make Native Americans mad. Leaders of the community want an apology for use of the code name "Geronimo" to represent an international terrorist. They have a point. How would Christians feel if the code word had been Jesus?

At least they’re not releasing bin Laden’s post-mortem head shot. Transparency can be overrated, and won’t change minds when they insist on not believing. That's cognitive dissonance, the mass psychological malfunction of our times.

On the plus side, his exit may accelerate negotiations with the Taliban to end at least one of our wars. And we heard about a cool new stealth helicoptor. So there is that.

This is Part Two of Maverick Media’s Rebel News Round Up,* broadcast live on Friday on WOMM (105.9-FM/LP – The Radiator) in Burlington.

*Edited transcripts don’t include extemporaneous comments and last minute changes or additions.

*** Re bombing targets: The US hasn’t been shy about it since WWII, bombing 25 different countries, several over many years in separate campaigns. Eight have been in Latin America, seven in Asia.

Photo: Al Dhahra Square, Tripoli, Libya Dept. of Information and Culture Affairs

Check out The Vermont Way: Restless Spirits and popular Movements

Thursday, May 5, 2011


This just in: Donald Trump is now demanding Osama Bin Laden’s long form death certificate. While we’re at it, let’s see some paperwork on the death of Trump’s campaign for president.

Finally, the bold absurdity of Sideshow Don has burst through the media bubble. As Trump fired another has-been on his “reality” show last Sunday, the real President ran a high-tech hit on the most wanted man in the world. That’s counter-programming.

It is also one way to get a second term as president, and pretty well buries the theory that Obama is a Muslim. Or a pacifist. He’s not just ready to talk trash. He puts contracts out on designated enemies – and follows the firefights in real-time. Apparently, he’s a stone cold executor-in-chief.

As CIA Director Leon Panetta acknowledged afterward, the mission was to kill bin Laden. No capture, no Board room, no trial. In this reality unless you actively surrender, you’re seriously fired. But hey, bin Laden could have been wearing an explosive vest. Match that, Meatloaf**.

It was also a big news week for Vermont. Passing universal health care, the first in the nation, and then, in a pop culture coup, prominent feature placement in Rolling Stone, in an issue with articles on Kevin Smith and Steven Tyler. Kind of a mixed message about health there.

The article, “The Fire Next Time,” is about the country’s creaky, cranky old nuclear reactors. Word is that they’re more dangerous than another Stones Tour.

But seriously, here are some questions raised by events this week: Why have the US and NATO intervened in Libya and not anywhere else? Does the killing of bin Laden really mean justice was done? And given how intrusive our online technology is becoming, should we be more worried?

This is a preview of Maverick Media’s Rebel News Round Up,* broadcast live at approximately 11:15 a.m. Friday on WOMM (105.9-FM/LP – The Radiator) in Burlington. This Week: Osama has left the building – justice or vengeance? Plus, Vermont’s big move on health care and Rolling Stone’s rap on Vermont Yankee, the danger of persuasion profiling, and why the West is only helping Libya’s rebels. Now the news…


Leading the Way on Health Care    In a historic vote on Thursday, April 28, the Vermont Legislature passed legislation for a first-in-the-nation universal health care system. The state Senate approved the plan for a single-payer system in a 21-9, party-line vote after four hours of debate. Conservatives tried unsuccessfully to muddy the victory with an amendment to deny health care to undocumented immigrants. But Vermont is about as far from Arizona as you can get.

Governor Peter Shumlin campaigned on a promise to create a state level single-payer system that would contain health care costs and guarantee universal access to medical. After the Senate vote, he celebrated the victory with an appearance on “The Rachel Maddow Show.”

Stuck in the Nuclear Age    Meanwhile, Rolling Stone reminded America that the Vermont Yankee nuke, a virtual twin of the Fukushima plant that went critical in Japan, got a 20-year license renewal even though “the reactor’s cooling tower had literally fallen down, and the plant had repeatedly leaked radioactive fluid.”

The article by Jeff Goodell says about 60 new nukes are in the works worldwide. But without taxpayer support, especially in the form of US legislation that limits the legal liability of plant operators if an accident does occur – otherwise known as the Price-Anderson Act of 1957 – no new reactor would ever be built in this country.

The longer a nuke keeps operating, however, the more profitable it can become. The NRC has helped by letting plant owners “uprate,” a euphemism for letting them run harder without safety improvements. Goodell writes: “Vermont Yankee, for example, was permitted to boost its output by 20 percent, eroding the reactor’s ability to cool itself in the event of an emergency.” These modifications put millions of people at a higher risk.

The article also discusses the biggest safety issue for old nukes, what to do with the waste. It was supposed to be moved to the Yucca Mountains in Nevada, but that proved unfeasible. Thus, tens of thousands of tons of irradiated fuel is being held in spent fuel pools across the country. “The release of just one-tenth of the radioactive material at the Vermont Yankee reactor,” write Goodell, “could kill thousands and render much of New England uninhabitable for centuries.”

Solutions? Get an outside agency to review safety and security at the older nukes. The NRC has proven itself to be compromised. Or else repeal the Price-Anderson Act and force the industry to take responsibility for the real risks. The nuclear renaissance will end immediately.

In the meantime, Vermont will work to stop Entergy in court, close Vermont Yankee in less than a year, and establish that States do have the right to protect their environment and their citizens from threats the federal government refuses to acknowledge.


Google is facing a $50 million lawsuit over location tracking. Should we be concerned about online privacy? Where is all this going?

The problem is called personalized profiling, an evolving aspect of online profiling of individual consumers. Obviously, when we search on the Internet for "used motorcycles" or gardening books, we’re not shocked when ads for those products appear at the edges of many websites we view. But retailers not only can personalize which products are shown, they can even personalize the way they are pitched.

Videographer James Valastro notes that in one experimental online bookstore, customers were encouraged to browse titles and mark a few for purchase as a way to test a new technique. By alternating the types of pitches — Appeals to Authority like “Malcolm Gladwell says you’ll like this,” Social Proofs like “All your friends on Facebook are buying this book”), and so on — marketers could track which kind of argument persuaded best for each person.

They also found that many people respond to the same type of argument in multiple domains. In other words, if you figure out how to sell someone books, you can use the same basic technique to sell them clothes. If that finding holds in future tests, your “persuasion profile” could someday have a major financial value: a surefire way to sell you on almost anything.

Persuasion profiling is a new concept and still being developed, but potentially offers quick, easily transferable, and targeted access to your personal psychological weak spots. Now how do you feel about Google tracking people?

Check back after the Friday broadcast for more news and commentary.

*Edited transcripts don’t include extemporaneous comments and last minute changes or additions.

** Meatloaf is one of the contestants hoping to be Trump’s protégé on his show, Celebrity Apprentice. This is as much authority as society has seen fit to give the deluded real estate brand name: he gets to fire Meatloaf.

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