United States

American POW Bowe Bergdahl: “The horror that is America is disgusting.”

The bizarre tale of America’s last known POW

Bowe Bergdahl would detail his disillusionment with the Afghanistan campaign in an email to his parents three days before he went missing.

“I am sorry for everything here,” he wrote. “These people need help, yet what they get is the most conceited country in the world telling them that they are nothing and that they are stupid.”

Bergdahl also complained about fellow soldiers. The battalion commander was a “conceited old fool,” he said, and the only “decent” sergeants, planning to leave the platoon “as soon as they can,” told the privates — Bergdahl then among them — “to do the same.”

“I am ashamed to be an American. And the title of US soldier is just the lie of fools,” he concluded. “I am sorry for everything. The horror that is America is disgusting.”


How many people are locked up in the United States?

How many people are locked up in the United States

In addition to the 688,000 people released from prisons each year, almost 12 million people cycle through local jails each year.

Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie (prisonpolicy.org)

Thomas Jefferson on Constitutions

JeffersonTired of hearing about “muh konstitushion” in every discussion from the United States to Ukraine?

Some men look at constitutions with sanctimonious reverence, and deem them like the ark of the covenant, too sacred to be touched. They ascribe to the men of the preceding age a wisdom more than human, and suppose what they did to be beyond amendment…But I know also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times.

— A letter from Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Kercheval Monticello, 1816

On similar ground it may be proved that no society can make a perpetual constitution, or even a perpetual law. The earth belongs always to the living generation. They may manage it then, and what proceeds from it, as they please, during their usufruct. They are masters too of their own persons, and consequently may govern them as they please. But persons and property make the sum of the objects of government. The constitution and the laws of their predecessors extinguished then in their natural course with those who gave them being. This could preserve that being till it ceased to be itself, and no longer. Every constitution then, and every law, naturally expires at the end of 19 years. If it be enforced longer, it is an act of force, and not of right.

— Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 1789

Most of the constitutions of the world are, by a Jeffersonian standard, overdue. They have expired. No one alive today agreed, signed nor participated in their creation. They do not bind you, nor do they give authority to a government.

Lysander Spooner Social ContractAs Lysander Spooner put it at the very beginning of No Treason:

The Constitution has no inherent authority or obligation. It has no authority or obligation at all, unless as a contract between man and man. And it does not so much as even purport to be a contract between persons now existing. It purports, at most, to be only a contract between persons living eighty years ago. And it can be supposed to have been a contract then only between persons who had already come to years of discretion, so as to be competent to make reasonable and obligatory contracts. Furthermore, we know, historically, that only a small portion even of the people then existing were consulted on the subject, or asked, or permitted to express either their consent or dissent in any formal manner. Those persons, if any, who did give their consent formally, are all dead now. Most of them have been dead forty, fifty, sixty, or seventy years. and the constitution, so far as it was their contract, died with them.

The older the constitution the less relevance it has. How many issues do the constitutions of the world fail to address? Men who lived centuries ago were unable to account for the complexities of the Internet, email and social networks. They had little concept of mental illness and rehabilitative justice. The pinnacle of technology was a musket. Now we have consumer grade drones. Sexual taboos were untouched. Religion was ubiquitous. Communities were homogeneous.

They fail to, as Jefferson put it, keep pace with the times.

Many constitutions have some procedure for amendment, but this is insufficient. When a significant portion of a constitution is lacking, why amend it? It is best to start over. And, like Spooner said, a constitution cannot represent you except as a contract. And for this you must participate. You must give your explicit consent. If you do not participate — if you have not helped to create the constitution — it is a tyranny. A tyranny of dead men who have decided who will rule and who will obey.

Six Ways America Is Like a Third-World Country (Rolling Stone)

We all know the U.S. criminal justice system is flawed, but few are likely aware of just how bad it is compared to the rest of the world. The International Center for Prison Studies estimates that America imprisons 716 people per 100,000 citizens (of any age). That’s significantly worse than Russia (484 prisoners per 100,000 citizens), China (121) and Iran (284). The only country that incarcerates a higher percentage of its population than we do is North Korea. The U.S. is also the only developed country that executes prisoners – and our death penalty has a serious race problem: 42 percent of those on death row are black, compared to less than 15 percent of the overall population.

Six Ways America Is Like a Third-World Country (Rolling Stone)

Control and Plunder

I have evidence satisfactory to myself, that there exists, scattered throughout the country, a band of men, having a tacit understanding with each other, and calling themselves “the people of the United States,” whose general purposes are to control and plunder each other, and all other persons in the country, and, so far as they can, even in neighboring countries; and to kill every man who shall attempt to defend his person and property against their schemes of plunder and dominion.

Lysander Spooner

No Treason

Press Freedom Index 2014: USA Falls to 46th Place

Meanwhile, in the Land of the Free

The Press Freedom Index of 2014 has seen the United States of America fall 13 places to rank 46th out of the 180 countries surveyed. The United States continues to suffer due to post 9/11 legislation curbing press freedom, including legal restrictions on the Freedom of Information Act.  The United Kingdom is also down three places, to 33rd. Examples of new restrictions on press freedom in the United Kingdom include the harassment of Glenn Greenwald and his partner David Miranda as well as the raiding of The Guardian headquarters.

Persecution of whistleblowers Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden contributed to the major decline in the ranking of the United States. And journalist Barrett Brown, who faces over one hundred years in prison for leaking documents from private intelligence company Stratfor, is another example of the severe restrictions faced by journalists in the USA cited by Reports Without Borders.

It only takes a few harsh punishments to create a chilling effect whereby individuals self-censor due to the fear of government pressure or persecution. “Environment and self-censorship” is one of the criteria used in the methodology used by Reporters Without Borders to generate the rankings for the Press Freedom Index. Paraguay, like the United States of America, also fell 13 places due to strong pressure upon journalists to self-censor.

Countries similar to the United States in press freedom:

44. Papua New Guinea
45. Romania
46. United States of America
47. Haiti
48. Niger

The top 5:

1. Finland
2. Netherlands
3. Norway
4. Luxembourg
5. Andorra

African countries with more press freedom than the United States:

Namibia (#22)
Cape Verde (#24)
Ghana (#27)
Suriname (#31)
Botswana (#41)
South Africa (#42)

This may come as a surprise — it may seem unbelievable — to many Americans. The vast majority of US citizens have never left their own country (although only one third of Americans own a passport, only 3.5% travel overseas) and have been taught from a very young age that the United States of America is one of the, if not the, most free country on the planet. For individuals who are accustomed to curbed freedoms and only hear through second-hand stories how “unfree” the rest of the world is, these results may cause a great deal of cognitive dissonance. The same phenomenon can be observed in the recent Win/Gallup End Of Year Survey that found although most of the world’s citizens view the United States of America as the greatest threat to peace, American citizens view Iran as the world’s greatest threat. The beliefs of Americans largely reflect the American narrative.

Reporters Without Borders: World Press Freedom Index 2014

The NSA and the Octopus – The NSA Is Trying to Intimidate You

NSA NROL 39Not long ago a story made the rounds about the National Security Agency’s creepy, Orwellian logo. It is exactly as it seems. This is a real logo, from the NSA/NSO,  for a spy satellite. While the octopus motif is used overwhelmingly a negative context, this is not the first time octopus symbolism has been appropriated by a spy agency to represent itself. In 2007, India adopted the symbolism of the octopus in the form of an acronym. Nallari Kiran Kumar Reddy, Chief Minister of the Andhra Pradesh cabinet, created the Organization for Counter Terrorist Operations (OCTOPUS). A classic case of choosing the acronym before the name.

The National Reconnaissance Organization satellite carried a secret payload and twelve spy satellites. In yet another Orwellian twist, Karen Furgerson, spokesperson for the NRO, said, “NROL-39 is represented by the octopus, a versatile, adaptable, and highly intelligent creature.” This is transparently disingenuous. It would be neigh impossible not to recognize that the octopus would be viewed in a negative light. The octopus has been used to represent a creeping, strangling force emanating from area. Two very common themes have historically been depictions of communist and Jewish conspiracies. However, the octopus motif is by no means limited to these. It has been used to represent political parties within the United States, the federal government, law enforcement agencies, and most Western countries at one point or another. During WWII it was used by the Japanese to depict the USA, by the Chinese to depict Russia and by the Americans to depict the Japanese. Vulgar Army has dedicated an entire website to the portrayal of the evil octopus as a political motif if you’d like to see examples and read more.

The evil octopus motif is characterized by its grandiosity. Not only does it extend its many tentacles of influence, but it is enormous. The symbolism is not of a small threat, not of something realistic nor lifelike, but exaggerated and eminent.  It is often depicted, as for NROL-39, reaching out over the entire world. In other forms of propaganda, it may be reaching out from one country to another. Even at its smallest scale the octopus may still be influencing an entire community or a neighborhood.

The political cartoon above depicts the conspiratorial octopus. Its tentacles are politicians, the narcotics bureau, police officers, drug traffickers and drug pushers. The lone, street-level dealer and the street drug consumer are influenced by the very tip of a tentacle. This was a cartoon from 1979, when the Australian Federal Police Act of 1979 was passed. The Federal Bureau of Narcotics was merged with the new organization. Australia, too, has issues with the involvement between government, police and organized crime, serving dual roles as enforcers and importers, in the drug war. In a US American context, the most widely-known example is the CIA’s (alleged) involvement with cocaine trafficking. Cocaine provided the funds for the Contras to act as a US proxy against the Nicaraguan government.

Above is a political cartoon circa 1950, when Presidential Truman declared a State of Emergency to utilize Presidential war powers. The cartoon still resonates in 2014 in the wake of the NSA scandal, the PATRIOT Act, Guantanamo Bay and over a decade of additional encroachments upon liberty. As the cartoon indicates, the Korean War was initially referred to not as a war, but as a “police action,” one that influenced not only military endeavors in Korea but also domestically. The octopus is a spectre, a ghost of the Truman administration sneaking up on the Constitution. The symbolism could not be more clear.

The United States of America itself, including the US military, has also been depicted as a meddling cephalopod. A Latin American anti-war group, SOA Watch, brought the octopus motif into the 21st century. The School of the Americas (SOA), now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, is a United States Department Of Defense training center. It was found to have trained and taught torture (or is it enhanced interrogation?) techniques to Latin American forces in the 1980s. It helped prop up pro-US dictatorial regimes. It aided in stamping out free political and religious groups. After the Cold War it shifted its attention to the War on Drugs, which continues to be its primary focus today.

The United States, specifically the US military, is depicted with a human skull in place of the body, dollar signs in its eye sockets. The text in English reads: “Close the school of assassins. Never more. It’s enough.”

A French anti-colonialist propaganda poster uses a similar motif, with a very patriotic octopus who shares similar eyes. In English: “No! France will not be a colonial country. The Americans in America!”

Both share a similar theme. The octopus is, primarily, a representation of the United States of America. It is crossing an ocean or reaching across with its tentacles. It looks out with dollar signs in its eyes, either being driven by profit or seeking gain. And it looks to influence foreign nations against their will. The symbolism is distinctly negative.  This brings us back to an initial question. Why an intelligence agency appropriate a motif that has historically been used to depict various entities in a sinister, nefarious fashions?

One can only speculate. Perhaps it is intentionally Orwellian in nature. By appropriating a symbol you control it. It’s a form of Newspeak. The octopus is no longer a slimy predator, but it is, as Furgerson said, a symbol of “versatility” or “adaptability.” Maybe it is deliberately being used for the intimidation factor. Psychology is the name of the game and it is just as important to the NSA that you believe “Nothing is Beyond Our Reach” as it is for the motto to be a reality. If people are not afraid they will not implicitly consent nor comply. Maybe someone pushed a tongue-in-cheek idea through to poke fun at the growing mistrust of the American surveillance apparatus. Maybe someone just likes octopi and appreciates how versatile they are.

The USA may have also passed the point of being redeemable in the public eye. The a recent Gallup poll found that the USA is overwhelmingly viewed internationally as the world’s greatest threat to peace. Perhaps, like an evil organization from a James Bond movie, the USA will embrace its new image and utilize it to the fullest. Fear is an effective tactic. If the new plan is to eschew good PR for results, a shift toward fear-based imagery and terminology may be on the horizon. Maybe the NSA is trying to frighten you.