GilmerFreePress.net

The new abnormal

The Free Press WV

Thousand Oaks, California: a city torn apart by wildfire and gunfire. Both are unnatural disasters.

“This is the new abnormal,” Gov. Jerry Brown said this week at a press conference, talking about global warming and the three voracious fires that are tearing up his state, one of them — the Camp Fire, in Northern California — the deadliest and most destructive in the state’s history.

“Unfortunately, the best science is telling us that dryness, warmth, drought, all those things, they’re going to intensify,” Brown said.

In Thousand Oaks, northwest of Los Angeles, the new abnormal met the new abnormal. On Nov. 7, a gunman entered the Borderline Bar and Grill in that city and started shooting, killing 11 patrons and a police officer. He then shot himself. Several of the patrons, including one of the victims, had survived the mass shooting a year earlier at a Las Vegas concert.

There was no time to grieve. A day later, as the Washington Post reported, “catastrophic twin blazes had formed a ring of fire around this Southern California community. The second tragedy of the week had somehow dwarfed the first.” Thousands of people were forced to evacuate their homes.

Gunfire and wildfire. This is a country at war with itself in multiple ways.

The shooter, Ian David Long — described, of course, as a troubled loner — was a former Marine who had been deployed in Afghanistan. Is there a relationship between the shooting at the Borderline Bar and Grill and the fact that Long had been trained as a machine-gunner?

The American mainstream media are far more willing, it seems, to acknowledge a relationship between human activity and climate change, including the increasing intensity of natural disasters, such as hurricanes and wildfires, than they are willing to acknowledge a relationship between killing abroad, which is called war, and killing at home, which is called murder.

A New York Times story in the wake of the shootings, however, wades into the complexity of this relationship.

Reporters interviewed a number of his fellow Marines. One of them, utterly shocked by what happened, said: “He was a really good guy. He gave me the Bible I still carry today.” But he added: “We were trained as machine-gunners, so you know you are capable of doing something like this. But that he did it makes no sense. It is against all our values.”

Presumably the violated values concern the killing of Americans, which, I fear, is a precarious distinction.

The Times story also informed us that Long’s battalion “saw little action” during his deployment in Afghanistan, pointing out, without comment or further context: “The only casualty in the battalion died by suicide after being hazed by other Marines.”

Wait, what?

This bit of data may have absolutely nothing to do with the mass shooting spree in Thousand Oaks, but it seems to say something about values as defined by the military and reported by the media.
When life itself isn’t sacrosanct — when the taking of it is allowed to serve tactical and strategic purposes — values can quickly crumble. Killing people, at the very least, becomes no big deal. Sometimes it’s even, you know, necessary.

A Marine is “hazed” by fellow Marines and commits suicide. The awfulness of this resonated for me partly because it was reported with such a shrug, worth half a sentence. (The Times did, however, link to a longer story about the incident.)

Here’s another quote from the story, from someone who served with Long: “I’m not surprised someone I knew ended up doing a mass shooting. We had another guy recently committed suicide by cops in Texas. Guys struggle. We’ve lost more Marines in our peer group to suicide than we ever lost in Afghanistan.”

I fear the influence of militarism expands well beyond the strategy and tactics that are under its control. The essential value it maintains, with a budget almost beyond comprehension, is that safety, freedom and morality itself require belief in — and willingness to kill — a designated enemy. It’s the simplest possible solution to life’s paradoxical complexity: Kill the bad guy.

Sociologist Peter Turchin has called it the “principle of social substitutability.” After the Sandy Hook killings six years ago, he described this principle in an essay:  “On the battlefield, you are supposed to try to kill a person whom you’ve never met before. You are not trying to kill this particular person, you are shooting because he is wearing the enemy uniform. . . . Enemy soldiers are socially substitutable.”

I fear this principle has spread through our gun-saturated society like carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Angry and troubled souls can wage their own wars, and more and more of them are doing so. Perhaps the problem isn’t that many people are troubled — there are lots of reasons to be troubled, both crazy and legitimate — but that so many of them have embraced a simplistic, life-devaluing solution to the trouble.

It’s the same solution the country itself has embraced.

“Mass shootings and mass burnings,” said Stephen Pyne, a wildfire expert at Arizona State University, quoted by Wired magazine. “Welcome to the new America.”

Robert Koehler, is a Chicago award-winning journalist and editor. His book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound is available.

History shows things don’t always just work out

The Free Press WV

When confronting bad news these days, many tend to assume that it’s just a bump on the road and that things will work out. President Obama was fond of invoking Martin Luther King’s assertion that “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice.” Yet could we be wrong in assuming that, in spite of some backsliding here and there, forward movement is inexorable?

On Sunday, November 11 — at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month — we will commemorate the end of the largest and bloodiest conflict the world had ever seen. World War I marked a turning point in human history — the end of four massive European empires, the rise of Soviet communism, the entry of the United States into global power politics. But perhaps its most significant intellectual legacy was the end of the idea of inevitable progress.

In 1914, before the war began, people had lived through a world much like ours, defined by heady economic growth, technological revolutions and increasing globalization. The result was that it was widely believed that ugly trend lines, when they appeared, were temporary, to be overwhelmed by the onward march of progress. In 1909, Norman Angell wrote a book explaining that war between the major powers was now so costly as to be unimaginable. “The Great Illusion” became an international best-seller, and Angell became a cult celebrity (and was later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize). Just a few years after the book came out, a generation of Europeans was destroyed in the carnage of war.

Could we be similarly complacent today? There are serious statesmen who believe so. In a recent interview, French President Emmanuel Macron explained, “In a Europe that is divided by fears, nationalist assertion and the consequences of the economic crisis, we see almost methodically the rearticulation of everything that dominated the life of Europe from post-World War I to the 1929 [economic] crisis.” And in an address earlier this year to the European Parliament, Macron said, “I don’t want to belong to a generation of sleepwalkers that has forgotten its own past.” As historian Christopher Clark wrote in his book “The Sleepwalkers,” the statesmen of 1914 stumbled into a gruesome world war without ever realizing the magnitude or dangers of their isolated, incremental decisions — or nondecisions. So Macron is not simply talking; he has organized a Paris Peace Forum of more than 60 world leaders, set to begin this Sunday, to try to combat the dangers of rising nationalism and eroding global cooperation.

Are these dangers so real and pressing? If you compare the world today, it does feel less like the 1930s than the 1920s. Economic growth and technological progress were accelerating then, as now. We are also seeing a surge in nationalism and the breakdown of cooperation, which were hallmarks of the 1920s. New great powers were ascending, as they are now. Democracies were under strain from demagogues, such as in Italy, where Mussolini destroyed liberal institutions and established control. And amidst all this was the growth of populism, racism and anti-Semitism, which were used to divide countries and exclude various minorities as outside of the “real nation.” Of course, because of the pressures of the 1920s, we got the 1930s.

Today’s trends are all connected. Economic growth, globalization and technology have given rise to new centers of power, within nations and in the world at large. This is an age of big winners and big losers. The pace of change makes people anxious that their countries and cultures are changing — throughout the world. And they find comfort in strongmen who promise to protect them.

The historian Timothy Snyder makes a distinction in his new book “The Road to Unfreedom” between what he calls “the politics of inevitability” — the sanguine faith that it’s all going to work out — and “the politics of eternity.” The latter is the view, held by leaders like Vladimir Putin, that nothing is inevitable, that through force, cunning, strength and will, you can bend, even reverse, the arc of history. Snyder describes how Putin did just that in Ukraine, refusing to accept that it was inevitably joining hands with the West, and launching a relentless series of moves that have dismembered Ukraine and mired it in a seemingly endless internal conflict.

Putin may not win. The efforts of people like him to reverse the progress of the past might not win. But it will take more effort from those on the other side. Things are not simply going to work themselves out while we watch. History is not a Hollywood movie.

Fareed Zakaria writes a foreign affairs column for The Washington Post. He is also the host of CNN’s Fareed Zakaria GPS and a contributing editor for The Atlantic.

A Badge of Shame: The Government’s War on America’s Military Veterans

The Free Press WV

For soldiers serving in Afghanistan and Iraq, coming home is more lethal than being in combat.” ― Brené Brown, research professor at the University of Houston

Not all heroes wear the uniform of war.

In the United States, however, we take particular pride in recognizing as heroes those who have served in the military.

Yet while we honor our veterans with holidays, parades, discounts at retail stores and restaurants, and endless political rhetoric about their sacrifice and bravery, we do a pitiful job of respecting their freedoms and caring for their needs once out of uniform.

Despite the fact that the U.S. boasts more than 20 million veterans who have served in World War II through the present day, the plight of veterans today is America’s badge of shame, with large numbers of veterans impoverished, unemployed, traumatized mentally and physically, struggling with depression, suicide, and marital stress, homeless, subjected to sub-par treatment at clinics and hospitals, and left to molder while their paperwork piles up within Veterans Administration offices.

Still, the government’s efforts to wage war on veterans, especially those who speak out against government wrongdoing, is downright appalling.

Consider: we raise our young people on a steady diet of militarism and war, sell them on the idea that defending freedom abroad by serving in the military is their patriotic duty, then when they return home, bruised and battle-scarred and committed to defending their freedoms at home, we often treat them like criminals merely for having served in the military.

The government even has a name for its war on America’s veterans: Operation Vigilant Eagle.

As first reported by the Wall Street Journal, this Department of Homeland Security (DHS) program tracks military veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and characterizes them as extremists and potential domestic terrorist threats because they may be “disgruntled, disillusioned or suffering from the psychological effects of war.”

Coupled with the DHS’ dual reports on Rightwing and Leftwing “Extremism,” which broadly define extremists as individuals, military veterans and groups “that are mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely,” these tactics bode ill for anyone seen as opposing the government.

Yet the government is not merely targeting individuals who are voicing their discontent so much as it is taking aim at individuals trained in military warfare.

Don’t be fooled by the fact that the DHS has gone extremely quiet about Operation Vigilant Eagle.

Where there’s smoke, there’s bound to be fire.

And the government’s efforts to target military veterans whose views may be perceived as “anti-government” make clear that something is afoot.

In recent years, military servicemen and women have found themselves increasingly targeted for surveillance, censorship, threatened with incarceration or involuntary commitment, labeled as extremists and/or mentally ill, and stripped of their Second Amendment rights.

An important point to consider, however, is that under the guise of mental health treatment and with the complicity of government psychiatrists and law enforcement officials, these veterans are increasingly being portrayed as threats to national security.

This is not the first time that psychiatry has been used to exile political prisoners.

Many times throughout history in totalitarian regimes, such governments have declared dissidents mentally ill and unfit for society as a means of rendering them disempowering them.

As Pulitzer Prize-winning author Anne Applebaum observes in Gulag: A History: “The exile of prisoners to a distant place, where they can ‘pay their debt to society,’ make themselves useful, and not contaminate others with their ideas or their criminal acts, is a practice as old as civilization itself. The rulers of ancient Rome and Greece sent their dissidents off to distant colonies. Socrates chose death over the torment of exile from Athens. The poet Ovid was exiled to a fetid port on the Black Sea.”

For example, government officials in the Cold War-era Soviet Union often used psychiatric hospitals as prisons in order to isolate political prisoners from the rest of society, discredit their ideas, and break them physically and mentally through the use of electric shocks, drugs and various medical procedures.

Insisting that “ideas about a struggle for truth and justice are formed by personalities with a paranoid structure,” the psychiatric community actually went so far as to provide the government with a diagnosis suitable for locking up such freedom-oriented activists.

In addition to declaring political dissidents mentally unsound, Russian officials also made use of an administrative process for dealing with individuals who were considered a bad influence on others or troublemakers.

Author George Kennan describes a process in which:

The obnoxious person may not be guilty of any crime . . . but if, in the opinion of the local authorities, his presence in a particular place is “prejudicial to public order” or “incompatible with public tranquility,” he may be arrested without warrant, may be held from two weeks to two years in prison, and may then be removed by force to any other place within the limits of the empire and there be put under police surveillance for a period of from one to ten years. Administrative exile–which required no trial and no sentencing procedure–was an ideal punishment not only for troublemakers as such, but also for political opponents of the regime.

Sound familiar?

This age-old practice by which despotic regimes eliminate their critics or potential adversaries by declaring them mentally ill and locking them up in psychiatric wards for extended periods of time is a common practice in present-day China.

What is particularly unnerving, however, is how this practice of eliminating or undermining potential critics, including military veterans, is happening with increasing frequency in the United States.

Remember, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) opened the door for the government to detain as a threat to national security anyone viewed as a troublemaker. According to government guidelines for identifying domestic extremists—a word used interchangeably with terrorists—technically, anyone exercising their First Amendment rights in order to criticize the government qualifies.

It doesn’t take much anymore to be flagged as potentially anti-government in a government database somewhere—Main Core, for example—that identifies and tracks individuals who aren’t inclined to march in lockstep to the government’s dictates.

In fact, as the Washington Post reports, communities are being mapped and residents assigned a color-coded threat score—green, yellow or red—so police are forewarned about a person’s potential inclination to be a troublemaker depending on whether they’ve had a career in the military, posted a comment perceived as threatening on Facebook, suffer from a particular medical condition, or know someone who knows someone who might have committed a crime.

The case of Brandon Raub is a prime example of Operation Vigilant Eagle in action.

Raub, a 26-year-old decorated Marine, actually found himself interrogated by government agents about his views on government corruption, arrested with no warning, labeled mentally ill for subscribing to so-called “conspiratorial” views about the government, detained against his will in a psych ward for standing by his views, and isolated from his family, friends and attorneys.

On August 16, 2012, a swarm of local police, Secret Service and FBI agents arrived at Raub’s Virginia home, asking to speak with him about posts he had made on his Facebook page made up of song lyrics, political opinions and dialogue used in a political thriller virtual card game.

Among the posts cited as troublesome were lyrics to a song by a rap group and Raub’s views, shared increasingly by a number of Americans, that the 9/11 terrorist attacks were an inside job.

After a brief conversation and without providing any explanation, levying any charges against Raub or reading him his rights, Raub was then handcuffed and transported to police headquarters, then to a medical center, where he was held against his will due to alleged concerns that his Facebook posts were “terrorist in nature.”

Outraged onlookers filmed the arrest and posted the footage to YouTube, where it quickly went viral. Meanwhile, in a kangaroo court hearing that turned a deaf ear to Raub’s explanations about the fact that his Facebook posts were being read out of context, Raub was sentenced to up to 30 days’ further confinement in a psychiatric ward.

Thankfully, The Rutherford Institute came to Raub’s assistance, which combined with heightened media attention, brought about his release and may have helped prevent Raub from being successfully “disappeared” by the government.

Even so, within days of Raub being seized and forcibly held in a VA psych ward, news reports started surfacing of other veterans having similar experiences.

“Oppositional defiance disorder” (ODD) is another diagnosis being used against veterans who challenge the status quo. As journalist Anthony Martin explains, an ODD diagnosis

“denotes that the person exhibits ‘symptoms’ such as the questioning of authority, the refusal to follow directions, stubbornness, the unwillingness to go along with the crowd, and the practice of disobeying or ignoring orders. Persons may also receive such a label if they are considered free thinkers, nonconformists, or individuals who are suspicious of large, centralized government… At one time the accepted protocol among mental health professionals was to reserve the diagnosis of oppositional defiance disorder for children or adolescents who exhibited uncontrollable defiance toward their parents and teachers.”

Frankly, based on how well my personality and my military service in the U.S. Armed Forces fit with this description of “oppositional defiance disorder,” I’m sure there’s a file somewhere with my name on it.

That the government is using the charge of mental illness as the means by which to immobilize (and disarm) these veterans is diabolical. With one stroke of a magistrate’s pen, these veterans are being declared mentally ill, locked away against their will, and stripped of their constitutional rights.

If it were just being classified as “anti-government,” that would be one thing.

Unfortunately, anyone with a military background and training is also now being viewed as a heightened security threat by police who are trained to shoot first and ask questions later.

Feeding this perception of veterans as ticking time bombs in need of intervention, the Justice Department launched a pilot program in 2012 aimed at training SWAT teams to deal with confrontations involving highly trained and often heavily armed combat veterans.

The result?

Police encounters with military veterans often escalate very quickly into an explosive and deadly situation, especially when SWAT teams are involved.

For example, Jose Guerena, a Marine who served in two tours in Iraq, was killed after an Arizona SWAT team kicked open the door of his home during a mistaken drug raid and opened fire. Thinking his home was being invaded by criminals, Guerena told his wife and child to hide in a closet, grabbed a gun and waited in the hallway to confront the intruders. He never fired his weapon. In fact, the safety was still on his gun when he was killed. The SWAT officers, however, not as restrained, fired 70 rounds of ammunition at Guerena—23 of those bullets made contact. Apart from his military background, Guerena had had no prior criminal record, and the police found nothing illegal in his home.

John Edward Chesney, a 62-year-old Vietnam veteran, was killed by a SWAT team allegedly responding to a call that the Army veteran was standing in his San Diego apartment window waving what looked like a semi-automatic rifle. SWAT officers locked down Chesney’s street, took up positions around his home, and fired 12 rounds into Chesney’s apartment window. It turned out that the gun Chesney reportedly pointed at police from three stories up was a “realistic-looking mock assault rifle.”

Ramon Hooks’ encounter with a Houston SWAT team did not end as tragically, but it very easily could have. Hooks, a 25-year-old Iraq war veteran, was using an air rifle gun for target practice outside when a Homeland Security Agent, allegedly house shopping in the area, reported him as an active shooter. It wasn’t long before the quiet neighborhood was transformed into a war zone, with dozens of cop cars, an armored vehicle and heavily armed police. Hooks was arrested, his air rifle pellets and toy gun confiscated, and charges filed against him for “criminal mischief.”

Given the government’s increasing view of veterans as potential domestic terrorists, it makes one think twice about government programs encouraging veterans to include a veterans designation on their drivers’ licenses and ID cards.

Hailed by politicians as a way to “make it easier for military veterans to access discounts from retailers, restaurants, hotels and vendors across the state,” it will also make it that much easier for the government to identify and target veterans who dare to challenge the status quo.

Remember: no one is spared in a police state.

Eventually, as I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we all suffer the same fate.

It stands to reason that if the government can’t be bothered to abide by its constitutional mandate to respect the citizenry’s rights—whether it’s the right to be free from government surveillance and censorship, the right to due process and fair hearings, the right to be free from roadside strip searches and militarized police, or the right to peacefully assemble and protest and exercise our right to free speech—then why should anyone expect the government to treat our nation’s veterans with respect and dignity?

So if you really want to do something to show your respect and appreciation for the nation’s veterans, here’s a suggestion: skip the parades and the retail sales and the flag-waving and instead go exercise your rights—the freedoms that those veterans risked their lives to protect—by pushing back against the government’s tyranny.

Freedom is not free.

It’s time the rest of the nation started to pay the price for the freedoms we too often take for granted.

~~  John W. Whitehead ~~

Presidential Nuclear Nonsense

The Free Press WV

The Reagan Administration’s 1980s crazy talk of “winning” nuclear war with “only” 20 million US dead produced a lot of anti-nuclear activism — all over the world. In Europe, hundreds of thousands marched against the placement of US Cruise and Pershing II missiles in NATO countries.

Fear of nuclear war and anger over presidential ignorance of it also produced the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, or INF. The treaty banned nuclear-armed missiles in Europe with a range of 270-to-2970 miles. About 2,700 missiles were destroyed by 1991, a deal that weapons salesmen like President !#&$! don’t like.

What the British, German, Dutch and Belgian marching masses were so alarmed about was NATO’s plan to destroy Europe in order to save it. Former West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt explained it this way: “So-called ‘flexible response’ …. means that the West … says to the Soviet Union: ‘We threaten you with a military defense strategy which foresees the early use of so-called tactical nuclear weapons.’ That means for the Germans that the West in its self-defense would destroy Germany.”

Schmidt’s description was no exaggeration. In an October 5, 2018 report by the Congressional Research Service, “flexible response” was explained similarly. “NATO’s strategy of ‘flexible response’… is designed,” the C.R.S. wrote, “to allow NATO to … be the first to use nuclear weapons in a conflict, with the intent of slowing or stopping [opponents] if they … advanced into Western Europe.”

Now, President !#&$! says he will withdraw from the INF treaty because he claims Russia is in violation of it. Russia denies this, noting that research and development is not banned, that its new land-based cruise missile “fully complies” with the treaty’s requirements.

These questions could all be settled with negotiations, but President !#&$! wants to get contracts for new missiles signed the and the gusher of military spending pumping, so that electoral votes are bought and paid for this year, and in 2020. Last Feb. 12, the Prez boasted, “We’re increasing arsenals of virtually every weapon. If they’re not going to stop, we’re going to be so far ahead of anybody else in nuclear like you’ve never seen before.” Never mind that the president cannot speak English; he and Congress are handing hundreds of billions of your tax dollars to their friends.

• Boeing took down $14.6 billion for the year 2015, and last February, won a $6.5 billion contract from the Missile Defense Agency to complete an “a new missile field with 20 additional” ground-based interceptor rockets at Fort Greely, Alaska, according to the Washington Post. While missile defense systems have never worked, the Pentagon said the total Boeing contract would reach $12.6 billion through 2023. • Lockheed Martin, the world’s biggest arms merchant, is buried in money with $29.4 billion coming to it in 2015 under 66,000 contracts. • Raytheon was obligated to get $12.3 billion that year, including $31.8 million 464 Excalibur cannon-fired munitions that will also be sold to Sweden, Canada, Australia and the Netherlands. • General Dynamics drank up $11.8 billion building warships. • Northrop Grumman took down $9.5 billion, including the year’s portion of the (projected) $55 billion Long-Range Strike Bomber. • United Technologies nailed a cool $1 billion for a few more F-35 fighter jet engines, but was obligated to get $6.6 billion for its 24,000 contracts in 2015.

With the public demanding affordable health care, better public schools, energy efficient cars, mass transit, and safe energy production, weapons builders could instead be putting their engineering expertise to good use. Enough of our wartime frenzy of bomb-building waste and fraud may again move millions to demand a reversal.

Martin Schulz, leader of the German Social Democrats who campaigned against Angela Merkel last year, was being reasonable in September 2017 when he said, “As chancellor, I will commit Germany to having the nuclear weapons stationed here withdrawn from our country. The cap on nuclear weapons in our country must be zero.”

John LaForge, is Co-director of Nukewatch, a peace and environmental justice group in Wisconsin, and is co-editor with Arianne Peterson of Nuclear Heartland, Revised: A Guide to the 450 Land-Based Missiles of the United States

Click Below for additional Articles...

Page 2 of 469 pages  <  1 2 3 4 >  Last »





The Gilmer Free Press

Copyright MMVIII-MMXIVIII The Gilmer Free Press. All Rights Reserved