Posts Tagged ‘transparency’

“Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”—C.S. Lewis

Fool me once, shame on you.

“You” in this case is the government that keeps violating the sacred trust of its citizenry.

Fool me twice, shame on me.

“Me” in this case is the collective “we the people” who should have learned early on that a government that repeatedly lies, breaks the laws, overreaches its authority and abuses its power can’t be trusted.

Fool me over and over and over again, shame on both of us.

Shame on every politician, bureaucrat and technician who is a shill for the U.S. government’s abuses and lies, and shame on every gullible American who keeps buying into the government’s propaganda, believing that it has our best interests at heart.

Battlefield_Cover_300Unfortunately, as I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, the government has seldom had our best interests at heart.

The government didn’t have our best interests at heart when it propelled us into endless oil-fueled wars and military occupations in the Middle East that wreaked havoc on our economy, stretched thin our military resources and subjected us to horrific blowback.

There is no way the government had our best interests at heart when it passed laws subjecting us to all manner of invasive searches and surveillance, censoring our speech and stifling our expression, rendering us anti-government extremists for daring to disagree with its dictates, locking us up for criticizing government policies on social media, encouraging Americans to spy and snitch on their fellow citizens, and allowing government agents to grope, strip, search, taser, shoot and kill us.

Certainly the government did not have our best interests at heart when it turned America into a battlefield, transforming law enforcement agencies into extensions of the military, conducting military drills on domestic soil, distributing “free” military equipment and weaponry to local police, and desensitizing Americans to the menace of the police state with active shooter drills, color-coded terror alerts, and randomly conducted security checkpoints at “soft” targets such as shopping malls and sports arenas.

It would be a reach to suggest that the government had our best interests at heart when it locked down the schools, installing metal detectors and surveillance cameras, adopting zero tolerance policies that punish childish behavior as harshly as criminal actions, and teaching our young people that they have no rights, that being force-fed facts is education rather than indoctrination, that they are not to question governmental authority, that they must meekly accept a life of censorship, round-the-clock surveillance, roadside blood draws, SWAT team raids and other indignities.

One would also be hard-pressed to suggest that the American government had our best interests at heart when it conducted secret experiments on an unsuspecting populace—citizens and noncitizens alike—making healthy people sick by spraying them with chemicals, injecting them with infectious diseases and exposing them to airborne toxins. The government reasoned that it was legitimate to experiment on people who did not have full rights in society such as prisoners, mental patients, and poor blacks.

The mindset driving these programs has, appropriately, been likened to that of Nazi doctors experimenting on Jews. As the Holocaust Museum recounts, Nazi physicians “conducted painful and often deadly experiments on thousands of concentration camp prisoners without their consent.” These unethical experiments ran the gamut from freezing experiments using prisoners to find an effective treatment for hypothermia, tests to determine the maximum altitude for parachuting out of a plane, injecting prisoners with malaria, typhus, tuberculosis, typhoid fever, yellow fever, and infectious hepatitis, exposing prisoners to phosgene and mustard gas, and mass sterilization experiments.

It’s easy to denounce the full-frontal horrors carried out by the scientific and medical community within a despotic regime such as Nazi Germany, but what do you do with a government that claims to be a champion of human rights all the while allowing its agents to engage in the foulest, bases and most despicable acts of torture, abuse and human experimentation?

In Alabama, for example, 600 black men with syphilis were allowed to suffer without proper medical treatment in order to study the natural progression of untreated syphilis. In California, older prisoners had testicles from livestock and from recently executed convicts implanted in them to test their virility. In Connecticut, mental patients were injected with hepatitis.

In Maryland, sleeping prisoners had a pandemic flu virus sprayed up their noses. In Georgia, two dozen “volunteering” prison inmates had gonorrhea bacteria pumped directly into their urinary tracts through the penis. In Michigan, male patients at an insane asylum were exposed to the flu after first being injected with an experimental flu vaccine. In Minnesota, 11 public service employee “volunteers” were injected with malaria, then starved for five days.

In New York, dying patients had cancer cells introduced into their systems. In Ohio, over 100 inmates were injected with live cancer cells. Also in New York, prisoners at a reformatory prison were also split into two groups to determine how a deadly stomach virus was spread: the first group was made to swallow an unfiltered stool suspension, while the second group merely breathed in germs sprayed into the air. And in Staten Island, children with mental retardation were given hepatitis orally and by injection to see if they could then be cured.

As the Associated Press reports, “The late 1940s and 1950s saw huge growth in the U.S. pharmaceutical and health care industries, accompanied by a boom in prisoner experiments funded by both the government and corporations. By the 1960s, at least half the states allowed prisoners to be used as medical guinea pigs … because they were cheaper than chimpanzees.”

Moreover, “Some of these studies, mostly from the 1940s to the ’60s, apparently were never covered by news media. Others were reported at the time, but the focus was on the promise of enduring new cures, while glossing over how test subjects were treated.”

Media blackouts, propaganda, spin. Sound familiar? How many government incursions into our freedoms have been blacked out, buried under “entertainment” news headlines, or spun in such a way as to suggest that anyone voicing a word of caution is paranoid or conspiratorial?

Unfortunately, these incidents are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the atrocities the government has inflicted on an unsuspecting populace in the name of secret experimentation.

For instance, there was the U.S. military’s secret race-based testing of mustard gas on more than 60,000 enlisted men. As NPR reports, “All of the World War II experiments with mustard gas were done in secret and weren’t recorded on the subjects’ official military records. Most do not have proof of what they went through. They received no follow-up health care or monitoring of any kind. And they were sworn to secrecy about the tests under threat of dishonorable discharge and military prison time, leaving some unable to receive adequate medical treatment for their injuries, because they couldn’t tell doctors what happened to them.”

And then there was the CIA’s MKULTRA program in which hundreds of unsuspecting American civilians and military personnel were dosed with LSD, some having the hallucinogenic drug slipped into their drinks at the beach, in city bars, at restaurants. As Time reports, “before the documentation and other facts of the program were made public, those who talked of it were frequently dismissed as being psychotic.”

Now one might argue that this is all ancient history and that the government today is different from the government of yesteryear. But has the U.S. government really changed?

Has the government become any more humane, any more respectful of the rights of the citizenry? Has it become any more transparent or willing to abide by the rule of law? Has it become any more truthful about its activities? Has it become any more cognizant of its appointed role as a guardian of our rights?

Or has the government simply hunkered down and hidden its nefarious acts and dastardly experiments under layers of secrecy, legalism and obfuscations? Has it not become wilier, more slippery, more difficult to pin down? Having mastered the Orwellian art of Doublespeak and followed the Huxleyan blueprint for distraction and diversion, are we not dealing with a government that is simply craftier and more conniving that it used to be?

Consider this: after revelations about the government’s experiments spanning the 20th century spawned outrage, the government began looking for human guinea pigs in other countries, where “clinical trials could be done more cheaply and with fewer rules.”

In Guatemala, prisoners and patients at a mental hospital were infected with syphilis, “apparently to test whether penicillin could prevent some sexually transmitted disease.” More recently, U.S.-funded doctors “failed to give the AIDS drug AZT to all the HIV-infected pregnant women in a study in Uganda even though it would have protected their newborns.” Meanwhile, in Nigeria, children with meningitis were used to test an antibiotic named Trovan. Eleven children died and many others were left disabled.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Case in point: it has just been announced that scientists working for the Department of Homeland Security will begin releasing various gases and particles on crowded subway platforms as part of an experiment aimed at testing bioterror airflow in New York subways.

The government insists that these gases being released into the subways by the DHS are nontoxic and do not pose a health risk. It’s in our best interests, they say, to understand how quickly a chemical or biological terrorist attack might spread. And look how cool the technology is—say the government cheerleaders—that scientists can use something called DNATrax to track the movement of microscopic substances in air and food. (Imagine the kinds of surveillance that could be carried out by the government using trackable airborne microscopic substances you breathe in or ingest…)

Mind you, this is the same government agency that has been likened to a “wasteful, growing, fear-mongering beast” by the Washington Post.

This is the same government that in 1949 sprayed bacteria into the Pentagon’s air handling system, then the world’s largest office building. In 1950, special ops forces sprayed bacteria from Navy ships off the coast of Norfolk and San Francisco, in the latter case exposing all of the city’s 800,000 residents. In 1953, government operatives staged “mock” anthrax attacks on St. Louis, Minneapolis, and Winnipeg using generators placed on top of cars. Local governments were reportedly told that “‘invisible smokescreen[s]’ were being deployed to mask the city on enemy radar.” Later experiments covered territory as wide-ranging as Ohio to Texas and Michigan to Kansas. In 1965, the government’s experiments in bioterror took aim at Washington’s National Airport, followed by a 1966 experiment in which army scientists exposed a million subway NYC passengers to airborne bacteria that causes food poisoning.

And this is the same government that has taken every bit of technology sold to us as being in our best interests—GPS devices, surveillance, nonlethal weapons, etc.—and used it against us, to track, control and trap us.

So when so-called conspiracy theorists—including the late rock musician Prince and civil rights activist Dick Gregory—suggest that those streaks crisscrossing the sky are chemtrails laced with behavior-modifying chemicals, you might want to tamp down on that kneejerk reaction that chalks them up as nuts. After all, the government has done it before, lacing the fog over San Francisco with bioweapons (delivered by Navy ships moored nearby). In fact, not that long ago, the Obama administration declared by way of executive order that federal agencies are now authorized to conduct behavioral experiments on U.S. citizens in order to advance government initiatives?

Are you getting my drift yet?

What kind of government perpetrates such horrific acts on human beings, whether or not they are citizens? Is there any difference between a government mindset that justifies experimenting on prisoners because they’re “cheaper than chimpanzees” and a government that sanctions jailhouse strip searches of individuals charged with minor infractions simply because it’s easier on a jail warden’s workload?

And when all is said and done, what kind of people rationalize, write off, or just turn a blind eye to such monstrous acts of inhumanity?

Shame on the government, yes, but shame on us for blindly trusting that the government’s motives and priorities have changed.

Shame on us for believing that the government’s bloody wars on terror are keeping us safe in any way. Shame on us for placing greater value on the government’s phantom promises of security over our own hard-won freedoms. Shame on us for allowing our government, our freedoms and the rule of law to be held hostage at the end of a military-issued gun.

Shame on us for letting ourselves be played for fools by individuals who care nothing for us, our our health, our happiness, our welfare, our livelihood, our property or our freedoms. Shame on us for letting ourselves be bamboozled about the war on terror, deceived about the need to trade our freedoms for greater security, and conned into believing that turning America into a battlefield will actually make us safer. Shame on us for letting ourselves be double-crossed by politicians who promise change and reform and hoodwinked into believing that politics is the answer to what ails the nation. Shame on us for not doing a better job of ensuring that future generations have some hope for a better, freer future.

Most of all, shame on us that even after being repeatedly tricked, deluded, misled, swindled and betrayed by government officials, even after learning about the many ways in which we have been duped and deluded, shame on us for still falling for the government’s trickery, chicanery, hocus-pocus, scams and lies.

Shame on us, yes, but still, the question remains: why? What’s in it for the government?

Perhaps the answer lies in The Third Man, Carol Reed’s influential 1949 film starring Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles. In the film, set in a post-WW II Vienna, rogue war profiteer Harry Lime has come to view human carnage with a callous indifference, unconcerned that the diluted penicillin he’s been trafficking underground has resulted in the tortured deaths of young children.

Challenged by his old friend Holly Martins to consider the consequences of his actions, Lime responds, “In these days, old man, nobody thinks in terms of human beings. Governments don’t, so why should we?”

“Have you ever seen any of your victims?” asks Martins.

“Victims?” responds Limes, as he looks down from the top of a Ferris wheel onto a populace reduced to mere dots on the ground. “Look down there. Tell me. Would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever? If I offered you twenty thousand pounds for every dot that stopped, would you really, old man, tell me to keep my money, or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spare? Free of income tax, old man. Free of income tax – the only way you can save money nowadays.”

In other words, we are citizens of a government that has dehumanized us and reduced us to little more than faceless numbers, statistics and economic units.

What’s in it for the government? Money and power. Or as John Lennon summed it up, “I think we’re being run by maniacs for maniacal ends and I think I’m liable to be put away as insane for expressing that.”

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — During Sunshine Week, The Rutherford Institute joined with a broad spectrum of nearly 30 organizations and whistleblowers—including the Government Accountability Project, the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, the American Library Association and whistleblower Coleen Rowley (a retired FBI agent who disclosed the Bureau’s pre-9/11 lapses)—to urge Congress to strengthen protections for employees of the Federal Bureau of Investigation who speak out against government waste and misconduct.

In a letter to the ranking members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the coalition pointed out that the Federal Bureau of Investigation Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (FBI WPEA) of 2015 (S. 2390) would, if enacted, upgrade one of the least effective whistleblower policies in the U.S. Code and ensure that the nation’s top law enforcement agency is held accountable to the rule of law. The letter asserts that the lack of protections for whistleblowers within the FBI has imposed a culture of forced silence within the agency resulting in a continuous use of inaccurate lab results in federal prosecution, participation in mass surveillance of citizens, and other law enforcement failures and abuses.

Battlefield_Cover_300“While the NSA has repeatedly come under fire for its domestic spying programs, the FBI has continued to operate its subversive and clearly unconstitutional programs with little significant oversight or push-back from the public, Congress or the courts,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute and author ofBattlefield America: The War on the American People. “The FBI’s laundry list of crimes against the American people includes surveillance, disinformation, blackmail, entrapment, intimidation tactics, harassment and indoctrination, governmental overreach, abuse, misconduct, trespassing, enabling criminal activity, and damaging private property, and that’s just based on the little that we know. This legislation would hopefully shed some much-needed light on FBI programs that abuse the government’s powers and betray the public trust.”

Under the Federal Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA) of 1989, federal employees are generally protected from retaliation by superiors when they speak out about misconduct or waste that they become aware of within their agencies. However, the FBI was allowed to create its own system for whistleblower protection under the Civil Service Reform Act, which provides practically no protection for FBI whistleblowers. For example, employees who have revealed security breaches that contributed to lapses that led up to the 9/11 attaches and participation in warrantless surveillance of citizens have been silenced or removed. The FBI WPEA seeks to correct this problem and provide a credible free speech shield for FBI employees by, among other things, removing exemptions from whistleblower protection for disclosures to supervisors who report to Congress, allowing the Office of Inspector General (OIG) to seek the postponement of adverse actions against employees while the appeal process in proceeding, and expanding the coverage of protected disclosures to cover the full scope of relevant misconduct within the FBI.

The proposed legislation would also provide parity with the WPA in many critical respects, including by: protecting FBI employees who refuse to violate the law; affording employees the right to seek due process remedies if the OIG has not issued a ruling within 120 days; establishing identical burdens of proof for all fact-finding under the Act; conferring the right to independent due process before an Administrative Law Judge; fostering due process rights generally by requiring the publication of decisions on whistleblower complaints; and  adopting the Administrative Procedures Act’s requirements for judicial review.

“There is no evidence that Jesus himself openly advocated violent actions. But he was certainly no pacifist. “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth. I have not come to bring peace, but the sword” (Matthew 10:34 | Luke 12:51).” ― Reza Aslan, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth

Those living through this present age of SWAT team raids, police shootings of unarmed citizens, roadside strip searches, and invasive surveillance might feel as if these events are unprecedented. Yet while we in the United States may be experiencing a steady slide into a police state, we are neither the first nor the last nation to do so.

Although technology, politics and superpowers have changed over time, the characteristics of a police state and its reasons for being have remained the same: control, power and money. Indeed, as I point out in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, a police state extends far beyond the actions of law enforcement.  In fact, a police state “is characterized by bureaucracy, secrecy, perpetual wars, a nation of suspects, militarization, surveillance, widespread police presence, and a citizenry with little recourse against police actions.”

Just as police states have arisen throughout history, there have also been individuals or groups of individuals who have risen up to challenge the injustices of their age. Nazi Germany had its Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The gulags of the Soviet Union were challenged by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. America had its color-coded system of racial segregation and warmongering called out for what it was, blatant discrimination and profiteering, by Martin Luther King Jr.

And then there was Jesus Christ, an itinerant preacher and revolutionary activist, who not only died challenging the police state of his day—namely, the Roman Empire—but provided a blueprint for civil disobedience that would be followed by those, religious and otherwise, who came after him. Yet for all the accolades poured out upon Jesus, little is said about the harsh realities of the police state in which he lived and its similarities to modern-day America, and yet they are striking.

Secrecy, surveillance and rule by the elite. As the chasm between the wealthy and poor grew wider in the Roman Empire, the ruling class and the wealthy class became synonymous, while the lower classes, increasingly deprived of their political freedoms, grew disinterested in the government and easily distracted by “bread and circuses.” Much like America today, with its lack of government transparency, overt domestic surveillance, and rule by the rich, the inner workings of the Roman Empire were shrouded in secrecy, while its leaders were constantly on the watch for any potential threats to its power. The resulting state-wide surveillance was primarily carried out by the military, which acted as investigators, enforcers, torturers, policemen, executioners and jailers. Today that role is fulfilled by increasingly militarized police forces across the country.

Widespread police presence. The Roman Empire used its military forces to maintain the “peace,” thereby establishing a police state that reached into all aspects of a citizen’s life. In this way, these military officers, used to address a broad range of routine problems and conflicts, enforced the will of the state. Today SWAT teams, comprised of local police and federal agents, are employed to carry out routine search warrants for minor crimes such as marijuana possession and credit card fraud.

Citizenry with little recourse against the police state. As the Roman Empire expanded, personal freedom and independence nearly vanished, as did any real sense of local governance and national consciousness. Similarly, in America today, citizens largely feel powerless, voiceless and unrepresented in the face of a power-hungry federal government. As states and localities are brought under direct control by federal agencies and regulations, a sense of learned helplessness grips the nation.

Perpetual wars and a military empire. Much like America today with its practice of policing the world, war and an over-arching militarist ethos provided the framework for the Roman Empire, which extended from the Italian peninsula to all over Southern, Western, and Eastern Europe, extending into North Africa and Western Asia as well. In addition to significant foreign threats, wars were waged against inchoate, unstructured and socially inferior foes.

Martial law. Eventually, Rome established a permanent military dictatorship that left the citizens at the mercy of an unreachable and oppressive totalitarian regime. In the absence of resources to establish civic police forces, the Romans relied increasingly on the military to intervene in all matters of conflict or upheaval in provinces, from small-scale scuffles to large-scale revolts. Not unlike police forces today, with their militarized weapons and “shoot first, ask questions later” mindset, the Roman soldier had “the exercise of lethal force at his fingertips” with the potential of wreaking havoc on normal citizens’ lives.

A nation of suspects. Just as the American Empire looks upon its citizens as suspects to be tracked, surveilled and controlled, the Roman Empire looked upon all potential insubordinates, from the common thief to a full-fledged insurrectionist, as threats to its power. The insurrectionist was seen as directly challenging the Emperor.  A “bandit,” or revolutionist, was seen as capable of overturning the empire, was always considered guilty and deserving of the most savage penalties, including capital punishment. Bandits were usually punished publicly and cruelly as a means of deterring others from challenging the power of the state.  Jesus’ execution was one such public punishment.

Acts of civil disobedience by insurrectionists. Starting with his act of civil disobedience at the Jewish temple, the site of the administrative headquarters of the Sanhedrin, the supreme Jewish council, Jesus branded himself a political revolutionary. When Jesus “with the help of his disciples, blocks the entrance to the courtyard” and forbids “anyone carrying goods for sale or trade from entering the Temple,” he committed a blatantly criminal and seditious act, an act “that undoubtedly precipitated his arrest and execution.” Because the commercial events were sponsored by the religious hierarchy, which in turn was operated by consent of the Roman government, Jesus’ attack on the money chargers and traders can be seen as an attack on Rome itself, an unmistakable declaration of political and social independence from the Roman oppression.

Detail from Hans Holbein the Younger, The Passion of Christ (1524-25, Kunstmuseum, Basel)

Military-style arrests in the dead of night. Jesus’ arrest account testifies to the fact that the Romans perceived Him as a revolutionary. Eerily similar to today’s SWAT team raids, Jesus was arrested in the middle of the night, in secret, by a large, heavily armed fleet of soldiers.  Rather than merely asking for Jesus when they came to arrest him, his pursuers collaborated beforehand with Judas. Acting as a government informant, Judas concocted a kiss as a secret identification marker, hinting that a level of deception and trickery must be used to obtain this seemingly “dangerous revolutionist’s” cooperation.

Torture and capital punishment. In Jesus’ day, religious preachers, self-proclaimed prophets and nonviolent protesters were not summarily arrested and executed. Indeed, the high priests and Roman governors normally allowed a protest, particularly a small-scale one, to run its course. However, government authorities were quick to dispose of leaders and movements that appeared to threaten the Roman Empire. The charges leveled against Jesus—that he was a threat to the stability of the nation, opposed paying Roman taxes and claimed to be the rightful King—were purely political, not religious. To the Romans, any one of these charges was enough to merit death by crucifixion, which was usually reserved for slaves, non-Romans, radicals, revolutionaries and the worst criminals.

Jesus was presented to Pontius Pilate “as a disturber of the political peace,” a leader of a rebellion, a political threat, and most gravely—a claimant to kingship, a “king of the revolutionary type.” After Jesus is formally condemned by Pilate, he is sentenced to death by crucifixion, “the Roman means of executing criminals convicted of high treason.”  The purpose of crucifixion was not so much to kill the criminal, as it was an immensely public statement intended to visually warn all those who would challenge the power of the Roman Empire. Hence, it was reserved solely for the most extreme political crimes: treason, rebellion, sedition, and banditry. After being ruthlessly whipped and mocked, Jesus was nailed to a cross.

As Professor Mark Lewis Taylor observed:

The cross within Roman politics and culture was a marker of shame, of being a criminal. If you were put to the cross, you were marked as shameful, as criminal, but especially as subversive. And there were thousands of people put to the cross. The cross was actually positioned at many crossroads, and, as New Testament scholar Paula Fredricksen has reminded us, it served as kind of a public service announcement that said, “Act like this person did, and this is how you will end up.”

Jan Provoost, Crucifixion, 1500.

Jesus—the revolutionary, the political dissident, and the nonviolent activist—lived and died in a police state.Any reflection on Jesus’ life and death within a police state must take into account several factors: Jesus spoke out strongly against such things as empires, controlling people, state violence and power politics. Jesus challenged the political and religious belief systems of his day. And worldly powers feared Jesus, not because he challenged them for control of thrones or government but because he undercut their claims of supremacy, and he dared to speak truth to power in a time when doing so could—and often did—cost a person his life.

Unfortunately, the radical Jesus, the political dissident who took aim at injustice and oppression, has been largely forgotten today, replaced by a congenial, smiling Jesus trotted out for religious holidays but otherwise rendered mute when it comes to matters of war, power and politics. Yet for those who truly study the life and teachings of Jesus, the resounding theme is one of outright resistance to war, materialism and empire.

As Professor Taylor notes, “The power of Jesus is one that enables us to critique the nation and the empire. Unfortunately, that gospel is being sacrificed and squandered by Christians who have cozied up to power and wealth.” Ultimately, this is the contradiction that must be resolved if the radical Jesus—the one who stood up to the Roman Empire and was crucified as a warning to others not to challenge the powers-that-be—is to be an example for our modern age. — John W. Whitehead