MatrixLeaks: 2012

Which Obama should we believe?

As the news of the Connecticut school massacre sinks in, it would take a hard-hearted person not to feel for the parents, families and friends of the victims. It is the sort of event which most of us will not experience first-hand, but some of us may know someone who has gone through a similar tragedy.

In fact, a good friend of mine lost one nephew in a bomb attack in 2008 and last month another nephew was seriously wounded in almost identical circumstances. On the second occasion, President Barack Obama gave the people who wounded the young man - one leg was blown off, as was half of an arm - the green light to continue with their maiming and slaughter of innocents "in self-defence".

My friend, as you might have guessed, is a Palestinian from Gaza; his nephews' attackers were Israelis. There was no sign of any grief from Obama, the newly-elected US president on either occasion. No wiping of a tear, nor heartfelt words to try to comfort those left behind to cope with their grief and efforts to re-establish a normal life of the kind we all take for granted.

Like all of his predecessors since World War Two, Obama gives Israel carte blanche to do whatever it wants to the Palestinians. Indeed, he even makes sure that it has the most up-to-date arsenal with which to do its dirty work. Just last week, it was announced that America will replace the munitions used by Israel in its massive bombardment of civilians in the Gaza Strip for eight days and nights in November. Has he suggested that arms and ammunition should be made easier for US citizens to obtain in the wake of Connecticut? No way; he's already, less than 24 hours later, talking of re-opening the debate about gun control. The President of the United States is, however, more than willing to pump the most lethal munitions the military-industrial complex can produce to a state which breaks international laws and conventions at will, and with impunity thanks to his country's unflinching support.

Israel fulfils all of the usual criteria for classification as a rogue state, and yet America insists that it has a "right" to defend its citizens from "terrorism". As the dominant state in the world, the US definition of "terrorism" and who is a "terrorist" takes precedence, so the people of Palestine, whose right as a people under military occupation to resist in every which way they can must surely take precedence over any rights of the occupiers, are labelled as "terrorists". This is manifestly unjust, yet the same president, a "family man" who can shed a tear at the tragic loss of American lives is incapable of sharing the pain of the family men and women who lose their children in besieged Gaza and the occupied West Bank. Far from it; he encourages the killers to carry on with more of the same. And what about the victims of America's drone attacks, many of whom, like those in Gaza killed by Israeli bombs paid for by US taxpayers, have also been "children aged between 5 and 10 years... With their entire lives ahead of them..."? No US presidential tears are shed for them on prime-time television.

There are many aspects of Obama which are hard to stomach: the nauseous pseudo-sincerity which afflicts all US politicians, especially at election time (who are they waving at when they step on to the podium?); his crocodile tears at the deaths of innocent American children when he and his people know that he has been responsible for the violent and bloody deaths of hundreds of children around the world; his weasel words in Cairo in 2009 which haven't been matched by his actions; in short, the hypocrisy and double standards that affect international politics led by Washington. So which Obama on view should we believe?

Can we really believe him when he talks about the need for gun control at home while he is all too willing to spread death and destruction through arms sales and "military aid" to countries like Israel? Can we really believe him when he talks about protecting "US interests" when what he really means is bowing to the pro-Israel Lobby which dictates America's foreign policy and puts the interests of an alien state before those of the American people? Can we really believe him when he makes speeches promising better relations with the Muslim world but then continues to give the main protagonist in the Middle East and the biggest threat to world peace - the state of Israel - unbridled political, financial and military support to occupy Muslim lands and kill Muslims almost daily? Can we really believe anything the man says about "peace and democracy" when he presides over a government which sends drones to kill Muslims in foreign lands with an incredibly high body count of innocents along the way?

The enigma that is Barack Obama is becoming clearer. He is in thrall to Israel and the campaign donations and votes that his support elicits. Even as a second-term president able to pursue his own policies without fear of the lobbyists and their pernicious agendas, Obama is weak and incapable of standing up for what is right. The people of America should thus take his words about reassessing gun control with a massive pinch of salt. He doesn't mean them; his actions in the Middle East and elsewhere demonstrate that he cannot mean them. His hands are so blood-soaked that it is hypocritical of him or anyone else to pretend otherwise.

Nevertheless, unless he is telling us that American children are more deserving than children in Palestine, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen - as a family man with connections in Africa could he really believe that? - then he has to start making changes which are within his power to prevent even more young lives being lost needlessly. He will face a huge battle against the gun lobby in the United States, so he is unlikely to achieve anything in that respect. US support for Israel, however, is within his power to stop tomorrow, or make it much more conditional on Israel obeying the law like other responsible nations, if he wants to. That is the real question today as the world contemplates the massacre in Connecticut. Does President Obama really mean what he says on this and similar incidents? The evidence suggests that the answer is no, and the world - America included - will remain a dangerous place for children and their parents because an impotent US president won't, indeed can't, do anything about it.

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Computers - next target

~ Aircraft manufacturer Boeing have created a weapon that can knock out computers
~ The missile is thought to be able to penetrate bunkers and caves
~ Experts warn, in the wrong hands, could bring Western cities to their knees

Down the years and across the universe, the heroes of science-fiction classics from Dan Dare to Star Wars and The Matrix have fought intergalactic battles with weapons that wipe out enemy electronics at the touch of a button.

Now scientists have turned fantasy into reality by developing a missile that targets buildings with microwaves that disable computers but don’t harm people.

Aircraft manufacturer Boeing successfully tested the weapon on a one-hour flight during which it knocked out the computers of an entire military compound in the Utah desert.

Pre-programmed filghtpath: Aircraft manufacturer Boeing has successfully tested a missile which knocked out an entire military compound in the Utah desert

It is thought the missile could penetrate the bunkers and caves believed to be hiding Iran’s suspected nuclear facilities. But experts have warned that, in the wrong hands, the technology could be used to bring Western cities such as London to their knees.

During Boeing’s experiment, the missile flew low over the Utah Test and Training Range, discharging electromagnetic pulses on to seven targets, permanently shutting down their electronics.

Boeing said that the test was so successful even the camera recording it was disabled.

Codenamed the Counter-Electronics High Power Microwave Advanced Missile Project (CHAMP), it is the first time a missile with electromagnetic pulse capability has been tested.

For security reasons, Boeing declined to release film of the test, but instead issued an artist’s impression of it on video. In the clip, a stealth aircraft deploys a missile that emits radio waves from its undercarriage which knock out the computer systems inside the buildings below.

The company did release real film showing a row of computers that can be seen shutting down when the electromagnetic pulse is switched on.

Although the project is shrouded in secrecy, experts believe the missile is equipped with an electromagnetic pulse cannon. This uses a super-powerful microwave oven to generate a concentrated beam of energy which causes voltage surges in electronic equipment, rendering them useless before surge protectors have the chance to react.

Keith Coleman, CHAMP programme manager for Boeing’s prototype arm Phantom Works, said the technology marked ‘a new era in modern warfare’.

He added: ‘In the near future, this technology may be used to render an enemy’s electronic and data systems useless even before the first troops or aircraft arrive.

‘We hit every target we wanted and made science fiction into science fact. When the computers went out, it actually took out the cameras as well. It was fantastic.’

The project has cost £24 million and has been developed on behalf of the US Air Force Research Laboratory following a request from the Pentagon four years ago.

Lead test engineer Peter Finlay said: ‘We’re not quite at the place where the Star Trek and Star Wars movies are but this is definitely an advancement in technology able to give us an opportunity to do things we could not do before.’ James Dodd, vice-president of Advanced Boeing Military Aircraft, said there was a real need for a weapon that could knock out a target but not cause harm to people and structures.

He said: ‘We know this has capabilities and impact. We’re trying to see if we can get it implemented sooner rather than later.’

However, experts fear that the project could create an arms race, with countries scrambling to build their own electromagnetic pulse weapons.

Boeing CHAMP - Counter - Electronics High - Power Missile Project  - video

Professor Trevor Taylor, Professorial Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, said the Western world would be much more vulnerable to such an attack because of our increased reliance on electronics. He added: ‘This is a challenging area in political and military terms. Ideally there would have been an arms-control agreement to cover this field, because once technology is actually developed, control becomes harder.

‘The historical record shows that important technologies developed in one country are developed elsewhere within a relatively short period – look what happened with regard to the USSR and nuclear weapons.

‘Should the US be known to have developed such a technology to the production stage, it would drive others to try to act similarly.

‘Western countries are more dependent on electronics-based IT than others and would be vulnerable to extensive disruption.’

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Inhumane control

In a country where women are denied the right to vote, are not allowed to drive, and are basically treated like children, Saudi Arabia has taken its next giant leap backwards by rolling out an SMS electronic tracking system that alerts male "guardians" by text message whenever women under their protection leave the country. The development has been met with outrage by reformers, who have turned to Twitter to voice their concern.

Saudi Arabia is a complete mess as far as women's rights is concerned. It ranks 130th out of 134 countries for gender equality  — a nation where only 16.5% of women make up the workforce. As devout followers of Sharia Law, all women, regardless of age, require a male guardian and cannot leave the country without written consent.

And now, judging by a flurry of incoming accounts, it's clear that the country has covertly implemented a new system that will further serve to strengthen its control over women.

It all started last week when a Saudi man travelling with his wife began to get text messages on his phone from the immigration authorities alerting him to the fact that his wife had left the international airport in Riyadh (she was listed as a dependent on his national identity card). Concerned, he contacted Manal al-Sherif, a women's rights campaigner in Saudi Arabia, who then broadcast the news over Twitter.

Al-Sherif made headlines last year when she was arrested after uploading a video to YouTube in which she could be seen driving.

                                   Manal al-Sherif ended in jail just because she was driving a car

And as it turned out, the text messages weren't an isolated case. Similar accounts started to pour in, strongly suggesting that a new system had been rolled-out without so much as a peep from the Saudi authorities. It now appears that every guardian whose dependent has a passport is receiving a text after cross border crossings.

In response, the Ministry of the Interior has denied the allegations, saying it's not intended to connect women with their guardians. And according to the Riyadh Bureau,  the system has been in place since 2010, but now the service works without having to register with the ministry. It claims that the system is part of a larger e-Government plan to use technology in order to facilitate access to its services — such as electronic travel permits (thus replacing the need for "yellow slips").

 Former written permission to leave the country once it is now replaced with electronic control of the movement 

But while some see it as a convenience, others interpret is yet another way to exert control. It's becoming evident that Saudi Arabia has entered into a new era in which it's increasingly turning to high-tech solutions to enforce its laws. But as Wired reports, the issue has put the plight of Saudi women into the spotlight:

"For us, it's good to use this thing to go back to the main subject — treating women as minors," says Al-Sharif. "Before, I used to have to have a piece of paper for when I left the country saying my guardian had given me written permission. It could be for one-off travel or as long as the passport was valid. The Gulf used to make so much fun of us — 'how can you treat women this way?' they'd ask when we'd travel there. So what they did was start showing it electronically. Now it's invisible; we don't need to carry the piece of paper."  

It seems that in a rapidly changing world, Saudi Arabia has chosen to keep up with the times by concealing its controls to outsiders while ensuring technology makes those same controls as efficient as they are subtle.

                                              Women from advertising are simply deleted 

At the same time, it has also prompted a number of critics to express their angst over Twitter — what is the only real voice available to them. The French Press Agency  recently compiled some of the highlights :

"Hello Taliban, herewith some tips from the Saudi e-government!" read one post.

"Why don't you cuff your women with tracking ankle bracelets too?" wrote Israa.

"Why don't we just install a microchip into our women to track them around?" joked another.

"If I need an SMS to let me know my wife is leaving Saudi Arabia, then I'm either married to the wrong woman or need a psychiatrist," tweeted Hisham.

"This is technology used to serve backwardness in order to keep women imprisoned," said Bishr, the columnist.

"It would have been better for the government to busy itself with finding a solution for women subjected to domestic violence" than track their movements into and out of the country.

Women in Saudi Arabia cannot vote or be elected to high political positions. However, King Abdullah recently declared that women will be able to vote and run in the 2015 local elections, and be appointed to the Consultative Assembly. So perhaps reforms are coming — but given how far behind Saudi Arabia is compared to other nations, it's clear women still have a long road ahead.

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Who Benefits From the Organized Violence of War?

A state of war only serves as an excuse for domestic tyranny. - Alexander Solzhenitsyn

The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has nothing to gain and all to lose - especially their lives. -Eugene Victor Debs

Few nations have such extensive borders or coasts as the United States. Few have borders as blessedly uncontested and unthreatened. Why, then, is the US so contemptuous of international law? Why does the US intervene in and invade other lands, often far from our shores, with such alarming frequency?

Why does this nation squander trillions of dollars on "security" and "defense"? Why does this nation maintain fleets and hundreds of costly military bases all over the globe? Why does this nation dissipate its treasure deploying the world's most massive killing machine?

We may never solve these riddles unless we better understand both human nature and the nature of war. Toward that end, I'll pose some questions; these may imply some answers, if only fragmentary ones.

Let's start with "human nature" (whatever that means). Why does "human nature" seem often to lead to destruction, of others and of ourselves? (To really explore this issue, see Erich Fromm's "The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness," published in 1973 during the Vietnam War.) Is brutality just part of who we are? Does militarism - highly organized violence - stem from our mammalian or primate pedigree? Or, as some might plausibly suggest, is it a male thing? Would women-led societies be steeped in militarism?

Who "volunteers" to be the cannon fodder and why? Don't many enlistments - mostly male - stem from the "poverty draft" and from chauvinistic indoctrination? What impact does war have on those who serve and fight? How many come home intact? When the warriors come home, how do they and their families fare?

But maybe human nature - and men - get a bad rap. Perhaps war isn't human or even male, but a reflex or emanation of power structures. Such structures aren't persons: most humans have no say in the power structures' callous indifference to life. These structures - mostly regimes and corporations - tend to be machines with connected, but blindered parts.

Each nut and bolt plays its little role often oblivious to its contribution to the machine's malign functioning. Usually those who have risen to positions of oversight and command internalize the machine's inhuman dynamics. Consciously or not, malevolently or not, these leaders tend to make policy detrimental to the 99 percent. The logic of their positions calls for achieving short-term gains with little consideration of anyone out of sight, whether socially, geographically or generationally.

   More Questions

Historically, did militarism loom as large as it has over the past century? Was human governance more - or less - warlike before the rise of agriculture millennia ago and before the rise of industrialism two or three centuries ago? Was the power structure as warlike before capitalism turned greed into an MBA program and a science?

On a finite planet, does exponentially rising population lead to exponentially rising aggression? Along with population pressure comes two quantitatively and qualitatively distinct types of consumption - that needed for human survival (essential consumption) and that merely sought for status, comfort or self-indulgence (excessive consumption).

Excessive consumption is at least an order of magnitude greater than essential consumption. But those consuming little more than what is necessary greatly outnumber we who consume far too much. Together, both the haves and the have-nots - the over-developed and the not-so-developed nations - wreak havoc on the planet and severely tax its habitats.

Our dependence on increasingly scarce resources (especially fossil fuel) spurs the national and imperial rivalries that intensify militarism. (See Michael T. Klare's excellent "Resource Wars.") And note: within the global power structure, much of the world's limited resources are devoured maintaining the war machine(s). War itself is a major engine of ecological mayhem.

Can war - especially offensive or "pre-emptive" war - ever be morally justified? When has resorting to violence, rather than negotiation, ever served broad human interests? Doesn't violence usually or always generate more violence? Doesn't war corrupt? (What, for example, has become of the billions of dollars for which the Pentagon can't account?)

   War and Empire 

Who benefits from the organized violence of war? War is enormously profitable for US "defense" industries. These industries shape US governance and foreign policy. This is true whether the target was Vietnam or the Pentagon's current land and air wars elsewhere in Asia.

Despite the recent and projected drawdown of troops, will the US imperium ever voluntarily loosen its grip - all those bases! - on regions that corporations and the Pentagon deem strategic? Or must we wait until, like the Soviet empire, impending bankruptcy forces our full withdrawal and demilitarization?

Without designated "bad guys," corporate war profiteering would wither. Negotiation risks leading to a peace settlement; peace is the enemy of the war industry. The war industry, through lobbying and by financing election campaigns, buys and sells Congressional representatives. These kept men and women, in cahoots with the Pentagon and with the kxecutive branch, keep the war pot boiling.

Just look at all the manufactured frenzy about Iran - as if modern Iran has ever invaded its neighbors, as if Iran itself wasn't totally flanked by saber-rattling nuclear powers, as if Iran had a fraction of the air (or land or sea) power of the US and Israel.

   Nationalism and Patriotism

What is the role of nationalism and patriotism - each a type of tribalism, each promoted by imperialism - in fostering war? Considering how many of the victims are non-white or Islamic, what role do white racism and "Christianity" play in the mindsets that make mass killing so casual?

By refusing to close Guantanamo and by authorizing the Reaper drone's extrajudicial and civilian killings, Congress and the Pentagon assure that whole swaths of the Middle East and Central Asia will long remain hostile to the US. Since US contempt for the "other" isn't a policy calculated to "win hearts and minds" - i.e. to quell hostilities - what is it calculated to do?

We can imagine why the 1 percent don't embrace nonviolence. But why do the insights of prophets like Gandi, Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr. elude so many of the 99 percent? Is it "false consciousness"; how has Debs' subject class come to be so misled and dumbed down? Is critical thinking so absent from school curricula and university courses? Are our minds so colonized and compartmentalized that we can't see the consequences of our actions?

To mobilize the US population to support its interventions and invasions, the Bush administration eagerly seized on 9/11 as a pretext for its phony "war on terrorism." I say "phony" because many questions about 9/11 are studiously avoided. For example, the official 9/11 Commission failed to investigate leads suggesting that elements of the Bush administration, despite pointed warnings, chose not to take measures preventing that disaster.

Although "terrorism" is incessantly invoked by politicians and the corporate media, defining the word seems to be taboo. Surely such a taboo will persist as long as the Pentagon - with its gunships, napalm, Reaper drones, white phosphorus, cluster bombs, hellfire missiles, cruise missiles etc., etc. - keeps raining terror on poorly defended peoples.

   Weakness or Strength? 

Do militarism and the imposition of a surveillance state make a nation safe and strong - or vulnerable and weak? The "war on terrorism," it turns out, has been a wonderful device for stifling dissent and ratcheting up surveillance and social control here in the US - witness the Patriot Acts and the recently enacted National Defense Authorization Act. Witness the prosecution of Muslim charity head Dr. Rafil Dhafir and the calculated intimidation of Muslims in my hometown of Syracuse - a pattern repeated across the country.

Why do we refuse to see what the Pentagon does, not only over there, but here? The trillions squandered on US land and air wars provide the rationale for class-targeted domestic budget cuts. Such cuts help heighten the privilege precious to the 1 percent, and to those who curry their favor or aspire to join their ranks.

Such cuts decimate the safety nets that reduce human despair and help assure domestic tranquility. The ensuing social discord is then used to justify the further militarization of our police. With that domestic militarization, the US itself insidiously becomes an occupied territory. Unlike people of color, middle-class white folk seem blithely unaware of the process. As the middle class shrivels, that ignorance will diminish.

And can't we see our complicity in our own oppression? Don't we contribute to militarism through the federal taxes we pay - about half of which goes to the Pentagon? The Pentagon, of course, then funnels much of this swag to its corporate cronies.

Are we so caught up in personal debt, are our lifestyles too snared in addiction, distraction and co-optation, that we can't think straight? Are we so snared that our hearts have gone AWOL?

Don't we give a damn that our children are inheriting an increasingly depleted and dangerous world? Or that our nation's much vaunted democracy - like our proud Judeo-Christianity - risks becoming a soulless sham...

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The end of the New World Order

The upheavals of the early 21st century have changed our world. Now, in the aftermath of failed wars and economic disasters, pressure for a social alternative can only grow

In the late summer of 2008, two events in quick succession signalled the end of the New World Order. In August, the US client state of Georgia was crushed in a brief but bloody war after it attacked Russian troops in the contested territory of South Ossetia.

The former Soviet republic was a favourite of Washington's neoconservatives. Its authoritarian president had been lobbying hard for Georgia to join Nato's eastward expansion. In an unblinking inversion of reality, US vice-president Dick Cheney denounced Russia's response as an act of "aggression" that "must not go unanswered". Fresh from unleashing a catastrophic war on Iraq, George Bush declared Russia's "invasion of a sovereign state" to be "unacceptable in the 21st century".

Culture shock... the collapse of Lehman Brothers ushered in the deepest economic crisis since the 1930s. Photograph: Linda Nylind

As the fighting ended, Bush warned Russia not to recognise South Ossetia's independence. Russia did exactly that, while US warships were reduced to sailing around the Black Sea. The conflict marked an international turning point. The US's bluff had been called, its military sway undermined by the war on terror, Iraq and Afghanistan. After two decades during which it bestrode the world like a colossus, the years of uncontested US power were over.

Three weeks later, a second, still more far-reaching event threatened the heart of the US-dominated global financial system. On 15 September, the credit crisis finally erupted in the collapse of America's fourth-largest investment bank. The bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers engulfed the western world in its deepest economic crisis since the 1930s.

The first decade of the 21st century shook the international order, turning the received wisdom of the global elites on its head – and 2008 was its watershed. With the end of the cold war, the great political and economic questions had all been settled, we were told. Liberal democracy and free-market capitalism had triumphed. Socialism had been consigned to history. Political controversy would now be confined to culture wars and tax-and-spend trade-offs.

In 1990, George Bush Senior had inaugurated a New World Order, based on uncontested US military supremacy and western economic dominance. This was to be a unipolar world without rivals. Regional powers would bend the knee to the new worldwide imperium. History itself, it was said, had come to an end.

But between the attack on the Twin Towers and the fall of Lehman Brothers, that global order had crumbled. Two factors were crucial. By the end of a decade of continuous warfare, the US had succeeded in exposing the limits, rather than the extent, of its military power. And the neoliberal capitalist model that had reigned supreme for a generation had crashed.

It was the reaction of the US to 9/11 that broke the sense of invincibility of the world's first truly global empire. The Bush administration's wildly miscalculated response turned the atrocities in New York and Washington into the most successful terror attack in history.

Not only did Bush's war fail on its own terms, spawning terrorists across the world, while its campaign of killings, torture and kidnapping discredited Western claims to be guardians of human rights. But the US-British invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq revealed the inability of the global behemoth to impose its will on subject peoples prepared to fight back. That became a strategic defeat for the US and its closest allies.

This passing of the unipolar moment was the first of four decisive changes that transformed the world – in some crucial ways for the better. The second was the fallout from the crash of 2008 and the crisis of the western-dominated capitalist order it unleashed, speeding up relative US decline.

This was a crisis made in America and deepened by the vast cost of its multiple wars. And its most devastating impact was on those economies whose elites had bought most enthusiastically into the neoliberal orthodoxy of deregulated financial markets and unfettered corporate power.

A voracious model of capitalism forced down the throats of the world as the only way to run a modern economy, at a cost of ballooning inequality and environmental degradation, had been discredited – and only rescued from collapse by the greatest state intervention in history. The baleful twins of neoconservatism and neoliberalism had been tried and tested to destruction.

The failure of both accelerated the rise of China, the third epoch-making change of the early 21st century. Not only did the country's dramatic growth take hundreds of millions out of poverty, but its state-driven investment model rode out the west's slump, making a mockery of market orthodoxy and creating a new centre of global power. That increased the freedom of manoeuvre for smaller states.

China's rise widened the space for the tide of progressive change that swept Latin America – the fourth global advance. Across the continent, socialist and social-democratic governments were propelled to power, attacking economic and racial injustice, building regional independence and taking back resources from corporate control. Two decades after we had been assured there could be no alternatives to neoliberal capitalism, Latin Americans were creating them.

                                                                      Hugo Chavez

These momentous changes came, of course, with huge costs and qualifications. The US will remain the overwhelmingly dominant military power for the foreseeable future; its partial defeats in Iraq and Afghanistan were paid for in death and destruction on a colossal scale; and multipolarity brings its own risks of conflict. The neoliberal model was discredited, but governments tried to refloat it through savage austerity programmes. China's success was bought at a high price in inequality, civil rights and environmental destruction. And Latin America's US-backed elites remained determined to reverse the social gains, as they succeeded in doing by violent coup in Honduras in 2009. Such contradictions also beset the revolutionary upheaval that engulfed the Arab world in 2010-11, sparking another shift of global proportions.

By then, Bush's war on terror had become such an embarrassment that the US government had to change its name to "overseas contingency operations". Iraq was almost universally acknowledged to have been a disaster, Afghanistan a doomed undertaking. But such chastened realism couldn't be further from how these campaigns were regarded in the western mainstream when they were first unleashed.

To return to what was routinely said by British and US politicians and their tame pundits in the aftermath of 9/11 is to be transported into a parallel universe of toxic fantasy. Every effort was made to discredit those who rejected the case for invasion and occupation – and would before long be comprehensively vindicated.

Michael Gove, now a Tory cabinet minister, poured vitriol on the Guardian for publishing a full debate on the attacks, denouncing it as a "Prada-Meinhof gang" of "fifth columnists". Rupert Murdoch's Sun damned those warning against war as "anti-American propagandists of the fascist left". When the Taliban regime was overthrown, Blair issued a triumphant condemnation of those (myself included) who had opposed the invasion of Afghanistan and war on terror. We had, he declared, "proved to be wrong".

A decade later, few could still doubt that it was Blair's government that had "proved to be wrong", with catastrophic consequences. The US and its allies would fail to subdue Afghanistan, critics predicted. The war on terror would itself spread terrorism. Ripping up civil rights would have dire consequences – and an occupation of Iraq would be a blood-drenched disaster.

The war party's "experts", such as the former "viceroy of Bosnia" Paddy Ashdown, derided warnings that invading Afghanistan would lead to a "long-drawn-out guerrilla campaign" as "fanciful". More than 10 years on, armed resistance was stronger than ever and the war had become the longest in American history.

It was a similar story in Iraq – though opposition had by then been given voice by millions on the streets. Those who stood against the invasion were still accused of being "appeasers". US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld predicted the war would last six days. Most of the Anglo-American media expected resistance to collapse in short order. They were entirely wrong.

A new colonial-style occupation of Iraq would, "face determined guerrilla resistance long after Saddam Hussein has gone" and the occupiers "be driven out". British troops did indeed face unrelenting attacks until they were forced out in 2009, as did US regular troops until they were withdrawn in 2011.

But it wasn't just on the war on terror that opponents of the New World Order were shown to be right and its cheerleaders to be talking calamitous nonsense. For 30 years, the west's elites insisted that only deregulated markets, privatisation and low taxes on the wealthy could deliver growth and prosperity.

Long before 2008, the "free market" model had been under fierce attack: neoliberalism was handing power to unaccountable banks and corporations, anti-corporate globalisation campaigners argued, fuelling poverty and social injustice and eviscerating democracy – and was both economically and ecologically unsustainable.

In contrast to New Labour politicians who claimed "boom and bust" to be a thing of the past, critics dismissed the idea that the capitalist trade cycle could be abolished as absurd. Deregulation, financialisation and the reckless promotion of debt-fuelled speculation would, in fact, lead to crisis.

The large majority of economists who predicted that the neoliberal model was heading for breakdown were, of course, on the left. So while in Britain the main political parties all backed "light-touch regulation" of finance, its opponents had long argued that City liberalisation threatened the wider economy.

Critics warned that privatising public services would cost more, drive down pay and conditions and fuel corruption. Which is exactly what happened. And in the European Union, where corporate privilege and market orthodoxy were embedded into treaty, the result was ruinous. The combination of liberalised banking with an undemocratic, lopsided and deflationary currency union that critics (on both left and right in this case) had always argued risked breaking apart was a disaster waiting to happen. The crash then provided the trigger.

The case against neoliberal capitalism had been overwhelmingly made on the left, as had opposition to the US-led wars of invasion and occupation. But it was strikingly slow to capitalise on its vindication over the central controversies of the era. Hardly surprising, perhaps, given the loss of confidence that flowed from the left's 20th-century defeats – including in its own social alternatives.

But driving home the lessons of these disasters was essential if they were not to be repeated. Even after Iraq and Afghanistan, the war on terror was pursued in civilian-slaughtering drone attacks from Pakistan to Somalia. The western powers played the decisive role in the overthrow of the Libyan regime – acting in the name of protecting civilians, who then died in their thousands in a Nato-escalated civil war, while conflict-wracked Syria was threatened with intervention and Iran with all-out attack.

And while neoliberalism had been discredited, western governments used the crisis to try to entrench it. Not only were jobs, pay and benefits cut as never before, but privatisation was extended still further. Being right was, of course, never going to be enough. What was needed was political and social pressure strong enough to turn the tables of power.

Revulsion against a discredited elite and its failed social and economic project steadily deepened after 2008. As the burden of the crisis was loaded on to the majority, the spread of protests, strikes and electoral upheavals demonstrated that pressure for real change had only just begun. Rejection of corporate power and greed had become the common sense of the age.

The historian Eric Hobsbawm described the crash of 2008 as a "sort of right-wing equivalent to the fall of the Berlin wall". It was commonly objected that after the implosion of communism and traditional social democracy, the left had no systemic alternative to offer. But no model ever came pre-cooked. All of them, from Soviet power and the Keynesian welfare state to Thatcherite-Reaganite neoliberalism, grew out of ideologically driven improvisation in specific historical circumstances.

The same would be true in the aftermath of the crisis of the neoliberal order, as the need to reconstruct a broken economy on a more democratic, egalitarian and rational basis began to dictate the shape of a sustainable alternative. Both the economic and ecological crisis demanded social ownership, public intervention and a shift of wealth and power. Real life was pushing in the direction of progressive solutions.

The upheavals of the first years of the 21st century opened up the possibility of a new kind of global order, and of genuine social and economic change. As communists learned in 1989, and the champions of capitalism discovered 20 years later, nothing is ever settled.

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Provoking Russia

{ Matthew Spears, the first US air force specialist, has arrived in Poland. He is going to work at a military air base near Lodz. According to the Polish TVN24 channel, his colleagues are due to arrive there before the end of this month. There will probably be almost two hundred specialists: pilots, aircraft mechanics, and service staff. }

Poland’s recently expressed interest in acquiring an independent capability to counter theater-level missile attacks has much to do with insecurities over whether the United States, with all of its competing priorities, can reliably be counted on to defend Polish interests, according to issue experts and former diplomats.

Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski earlier this month said the desired antimissile system should be separate from the next-generation U.S. missile interceptors his country is slated to receive around 2018 under the Obama administration’s “phased adaptive approach” for European missile defense.

Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski, shown in June, this month said his country needs a theater-level missile defense capability of its own that would be separate from the next-generation U.S. missile interceptors planned for deployment in Poland (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz).

Former U.S. Ambassador to Poland Victor Ashe said his sense from speaking to contacts in the country is “there is a feeling that Poland needs to go more its own way and look after itself and be more European-related as opposed to seeing the United States as an ally who is there through thick and thin.”

Toward the end of the George W. Bush administration, Warsaw dismissed threats from Russia and agreed to allow the fielding by 2011 of 10 long-range interceptors on Polish territory.

President Obama, however, early on in his administration threw out that deal and replaced the Bush plan with a program to through 2020 field increasingly sophisticated sea- and land-based Standard Missile 3 interceptors around Europe. The Obama initiative forms the core of a broader NATO endeavor to augment and coordinate individual member nations’ antimissile capabilities as a hedge against ballistic missile strikes from the Middle East.

While the 24 SM-3 interceptors planned for deployment in Poland are envisioned as having the ability to defeat intermediate-range ballistic missiles and even ICBMs, Warsaw wants its own protection against limited-range missiles that could be launched from “near abroad” -- meaning Russia.

                                                                Patriot missile batteries

The fashion in which the Obama plan was announced -- without any prior consultation with Warsaw -- was seen as a slight by some Polish officials and caused speculation that Washington was kowtowing to Moscow, which strongly opposed the Bush-era missile defense scheme. Some officials questioned whether a reassessment was in order of Poland’s foreign posture, which has traditionally lined up with the United States.

“I just think there is a lot of Polish concern as to how reliable and how consistent the United States is going to be in the next several years,” Ashe, Washington’s top envoy to Warsaw from 2004 to 2009, said in a telephone interview from Knoxville, Tenn. “They want to have a system in place in which they are charge.”

 Polish leaders first publicly expressed interest in a Warsaw-owned-and-controlled missile defense capability earlier this month. A factor influencing Polish thinking is the desire to have missile interceptors in the country before the U.S. weapons arrive six years from now according to an analysis  by Michal Baranowski and Jacob Foreman of the German Marshall Fund.

The Kremlin has not relaxed its opposition to U.S. missile plans for Europe, which it sees as a threat to Russia’s nuclear deterrent.  Moscow has even threatened to send short-range Iskander ballistic missiles to the Kaliningrad -- a territory that borders Poland -- before the year is over.

                                                                Iskander ballistic misseile

“Komorowski’s call for the creation of Polish missile defense is not about Polish-American relations, but about the future of Poland’s security. Poland needs stronger anti-aircraft and anti-short and medium-[range] missile defenses independent of any proposed American MD system,” the GMF analysis states. “The two systems are complimentary, not competing.”

Poland’s existing air defenses consist of Soviet-era anti-aircraft systems that are now several decades old and will have to be retired by 2020, according to an assessment by military analyst Artur Bilski published last week by the Polish newspaper Rzeczpospolita. “They are not worth much, because they cannot counter currently popular ballistic and cruise missiles,” he wrote.

Since spring 2010, the United States on a rotational basis has fielded a Patriot Advanced Capability training battery and an accompanying contingent of U.S. soldiers at military bases in Poland. The final Patriot rotation is slated to occur at Ustka this November, according to information provided by Pentagon spokeswoman Wendy Snyder.

Andrew Michta, who directs the German Marshall Fund’s Warsaw office, said he “definitely” sees a need for Poland to acquire a theater-level missile defense system that would provide protection to a geographically limited area. Whether that infrastructure is independent or enfolded into NATO’s evolving command-and-control architecture for missile defense is “something they need to work out within the NATO alliance,” he said by phone from Poland.

Komorowski has said he wants Poland’s antimissile system to be incorporated into the NATO missile shield.

Bilski said he believes Warsaw’s desire for its own missile interceptors might have crystallized after President Obama in late March made an unguarded comment to then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that he would have more “flexibility” in responding to Kremlin demands for a compromise on European missile defense after the November U.S. presidential election.

Obama was picked up by a live microphone saying, “it's important for him [then-incoming President Vladimir Putin] to give me space. …This is my last election. After my election I [will] have more flexibility.”

Bilski claimed the U.S. president essentially told Medvedev “that the Americans could opt out even of the new version of the missile defense shield proposed to the Poles and Europeans and trade it for cooperation with Russia.”

The White House publicly insists it will move forward with its phased adaptive approach, regardless of Russian opposition; the administration continues to hold bilateral talks with Moscow aimed at reaching an accord on the matter.

"We are committed to the deployment of a U.S. missile defense site in Poland as part of our plan for ballistic missile defense of U.S. deployed forces and allies in Europe,” Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Damien Pickart said in a Tuesday statement to GSN. “We support Poland's interests in making further contributions to this mission should they choose to do so and we appreciate their support and cooperation with plans for the current SM-3 site.”

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Marilyn Monroe Mystery

A half century has not dimmed skeptics' suspicions about the death of Marilyn Monroe at age 36, but the intervening decades have seen technological leaps that could alter the investigation were it to occur today.

DNA, more sophisticated electronic record-keeping, drug databases and other advances would give investigators more information than they were able to glean after Monroe's Aug. 5, 1962, death – 50 years ago.

Whether any of the tools would lead to a different conclusion – that Monroe's death from acute barbiturate poisoning was a probable suicide – remains a historical "What If?"

"The good news is we're very advanced from 50 years ago," said Max Houck, a forensic consultant and co-author of "The Science of Crime Scenes." "The bad news is, we're still trying to put it in context," he said.

Monroe's death stunned the world and quickly ignited speculation that she died from a more nefarious plot than the official cause of death. The theories stem from the 35-minute gap between when Monroe was declared dead by her physician and when police were dispatched, incomplete phone records, and toxicology tests on digestive organs that were never done.

Interest has also focused on whether Monroe kept a diary filled with government secrets that was taken from her bedroom, or if she was killed to prevent her from revealing embarrassing secrets about President John F. Kennedy or his brother, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy. An investigation by the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office 20 years after her death found no evidence of a murder conspiracy, although it theorized that Monroe may have died from an accidental overdose.

                                                             Marilyn and the Kennedy brothers

The district attorney's report employed an outside coroner's expert who concluded "that even with the more advanced _1982 – state-of-the-art procedures would not, in any reasonable probability, change the ultimate conclusions" reached 20 years earlier.

The Internet, digital imaging and more sophisticated testing mean that Monroe's death if it occurred today would be subject to even more forensic scrutiny. Houck said some of the important stages of the investigation remain unchanged, including the necessity to quickly interview witnesses, control access to the crime scene and document its appearance.

"Like an archaeologist, you're trying to reconstruct past events," he said.

In Monroe's case, the first police officer on the scene later said he saw her housekeeper using the washing machine in the hours after the actress' death. The 1982 DA's report also states roughly 15 prescription bottles were seen at the scene, but only eight are reflected in the coroner's report.

5 August, 1962 file photo, police officers and newsmen stand at the driveway gate to the home of Marilyn Monroe after she was found dead in her bedroom. The Spanish-style one-story house is in the Brentwood area of Los Angeles. The first police officer on the scene later said he saw her housekeeper using the washing machine in the hours after the actress' death

"In cases of intense public interest, there's a tendency to not follow standard protocol," Houck said, which is a mistake. "You're going to be under that much more scrutiny."

While Monroe's autopsy report includes an accounting of the medications taken from her bedroom, investigators are now able to do far deeper analysis of prescriptions than in Monroe's time. A state database allows investigators to scrutinize prescriptions issued to patients and their aliases. Doctor's records are routinely subpoenaed, as in the cases of the deaths of Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Brittany Murphy and Corey Haim.

                                                                   Death of Marilyn Monroe

In Monroe's case, the DA's report noted, one of the doctors could not be located.

Houck said investigators in some cities now employ toaster-size scanners to document crime scenes, giving them the ability to create "a 3D reconstruction that you can walk through." In Monroe's case, it might have been employed to show the relationship between where her body was found and the location of other important items, such as her telephone and prescriptions.

Improved fingerprint collection procedures might have also aided Monroe investigators, said Dr. Victor W. Weedn, chair of the Department of Forensic Sciences at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

DNA evidence, which police typically collect, might have only proved useful if there was a suggestion that her prescriptions had been tampered with, said Weedn, who is an expert in the use of DNA testing in death investigations.

Houck said perhaps the biggest development for investigators to mine in a case similar to Monroe's is a star's digital footprints: their phone calls, emails, texts, tweets and other online activities. Those all now "play a huge role," he said.

Monroe's phone records were incomplete, showing her outgoing but not her incoming calls, according to the 1982 DA's report. "That's not going to happen today," Houck said.

Despite other advances, autopsy techniques have not changed dramatically since Monroe's death.

Aside from its dimensions (Monroe's autopsy report is printed on legal-size paper as opposed to current, 8 1/2 by 11 inch reports), the contents are similar to those prepared after recent celebrity deaths: a description of how she was found, detailed descriptions of her body – surgical scars, organs and all – and an accounting of prescription medications found at the scene.

"We forensic pathologists do talk about how much we're clinging to an old method," Weedn said, noting that basic autopsy procedures have been the same for centuries.

New technologies are available, such as CT scans of bodies, but they are outside the budgets of most coroner and medical examiner's offices, Weedn said.

The DA's investigation generally credited medical examiner Dr. Thomas Noguchi with doing a thorough autopsy of Monroe, including examining her body with a magnifying glass to check for needle marks.

                                                           Bedroom Marilyn Monroe in which she found

However toxicology testing, which has improved since 1962, was lacking in Monroe's case.

Samples from Monroe's stomach and intestines were destroyed before they were tested for drugs, Noguchi acknowledged in his 1983 memoir "Coroner," and he quickly realized that would prompt alternate theories about her death.

"A variety of murder theories would spring up almost instantly – and persist even today," Noguchi wrote.

Despite lingering questions, photographer Lawrence Schiller doesn't believe foul play was involved. Schiller knew Monroe in her final days and recently released the memoir, "Marilyn & Me: A Photographer's Memories."

"Was there a conspiracy to kill her? No. I don't think so," he said in a recent interview. He saw Monroe mixing champagne and pills and forgetting what she had taken several times, he said.

"Did she lose track of what she was taking that night, to me that's more than likely" than any of the conspiracy theories.

Schiller said it wasn't apparent to him at the time, when he was 23-years-old, but Monroe had reached a low point. "She was deeply a lonely person at the end of her life," he said.

The DA's office agreed. "Our inquiries and document examination uncovered no credible evidence supporting a murder theory," the report stated.

Weedn said that while death investigators around the country are better trained than they would have been in the early 1960s, their offices are often considered low budget Policy makers "should recognize that everything we do is for the living," he said.

In Monroe's case that is certainly true, with generations looking at how Monroe died and still finding questions and "What If" scenarios.

More about Marilyn Monroe -

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How Dangerous Is Childhood?

Although I did not ask Ms. Nicole Neal to permit the publication of this text, I hope that Ms. will not have anything against it. Indeed, I am proud of her work, because the world must know what danger lurks our children, the most innocent and vulnerable members of this, more dangerous world in which we live!
Thank you Ms. Neal you write about things that everyone should know!

How Dangerous Is Chilhood   (pdf)

Copyright © 2006, The Palm Beach Post. All rights reserved.
This article is reprinted with the permission of the author, Nicole Neal, The Palm Beach Post. 

Palm Beach Post
August 13. 2006

Adam Walsh's childhood wasn't the only one that ended 25 years ago.

Childhood - and parenthood - would never be the same.

On Aug. 10, 1981, the severed head of the South Florida boy was found in a canal in Vero Beach.

If a 6-year-old could be taken from a mall after being out of his mother's sight for just minutes; if he could be murdered and decapitated; if his killer could elude authorities, then our world must be a truly dangerous place for children.

It's an understandable response to what was surely one of the most horrific crimes of the 20th century.
But the fallout - a culture of parental paranoia that has become the norm today - may be just as tragic.

The casualties, beyond the death of one innocent little boy, are many:

The death of simple childhood pleasures.
The death of peace of mind.
The death of common sense.
The death of self-sufficiency.

Just last month: "FLORIDA PARENTS FEEL THE WORLD IS GETTING RISKIER FOR THEIR CHILDREN" bellowed a press release on the Web site of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, one of the organizations formed in the wake of the Walsh murder.

But how dangerous is childhood?
And just as important, how dangerous is the pervasive belief that childhood is dangerous?

In our effort to protect children from even the most remote chance that they might be harmed, in teaching them that danger lurks around every corner, have we reared a generation of overly fearful young adults, emotionally tethered to their parents and seemingly incapable even of walking across a college campus without holding someone's hand via cellphone?

                                                                      Adam Walsh

Of course, not every woe in the overparenting saga can be traced to Adam Walsh's tragic death. Sharing the blame: The relatively new tendency to focus on and over-analyze kids, and a social sea change that has devalued self-reliance and resilience and encouraged everyone to see themselves as victims of something.

But there's no doubt parenthood has changed dramatically in the past 25 years, and little Adam's murder was among the first turns of the screw.

The CNN factor
For one thing, we simply heard about Adam Walsh.

Again and again and again.
With CNN's launch in 1980, stories that would have been updated once a day on the inside pages of a newspaper are now revisited endlessly in the 24-hour news cycle.

Remember Jamie Bulger, the 2-year-old British boy murdered by two 10-year-old boys?
The case "had a major impact on parents" even a year later, writes Frank Furedi in "Paranoid Parenting: Why Ignoring the Experts May Be Best for Your Child." "In a survey of 1,000 parents . . . 97 percent cited the possible abduction of their children as their greatest fear."

The reason: "Many of these parents revealed that 'video images of the 2-year-old being taken by his killers were still fresh in their minds.' "

Relentless exposure erodes our ability to see the incident for what it is: A tragic but extremely rare occurrence. Instead, we think every child might be the next Adam Walsh, or Polly Klaas, or Jessica Lunsford, or Carlie Brucia, or Samantha Runnion.

"Because of news patterns, if a kid is abducted in California, you start locking your doors in New Jersey," says Peter Stearns, a professor at George Mason University and author of "Anxious Parents: A History of Modern Childrearing in America."

"We lose our ability to say, 'Yeah, but that happened 3,000 miles away.' "

  The real statistics

Child abduction is the airplane crash of parental fears.

Intellectually, we know the odds: The chances of dying aboard a plane are slim (Lifetime odds: 1 in 500,000, and that's for frequent fliers). But emotionally, we aren't convinced. Flying scares us.

The difference, though: Despite our fears, we continue to fly. To refuse to board a plane would be to condemn ourselves to a limited life.

But we think nothing of limiting our children's lives, based on fears that are even less likely to be realized.

As most people know by now, the majority of child abductions are custody related. There are also thousands of "lesser" nonfamily abductions, which "do not involve elements of the extremely alarming kind of crime that parents and reporters have in mind," according to a 2002 U.S. Department of Justice report. Examples included in the report: a 17-year-old girl held in her ex-boyfriend's car for four hours; a 14-year-old boy held at gunpoint by a man who accused him of hunting on his property; a 15-year-old girl forced into the boy's bathroom at school and sexually assaulted.

Not happy scenarios, but not Lifetime television special material, either.

But how common are what the Justice Department calls "stereotypical" abductions, the nightmare-caliber crime involving a stranger or slight acquaintance who whisks away a child with the intention of holding him for ransom, keeping him or killing him?

Statistics vary, but not by much. Some estimate about 40 such cases occur each year in the United States. The Justice Department report says there were 115 cases in 2002.

Either way, with 60,700,000 children 14 and under in the United States, the odds of your child being the victim of an Adam Walsh-style abduction are roughly 1 in a million.

You'd be wiser to cancel those horseback-riding lessons. Your child is more likely to be killed in an equestrian accident. (Odds in one year for people who ride horses: 1 in 297,000.) Or better yet, pull him off the football team. (Yearly odds of dying for youth football players: 1 in 78,260.) And if you really want to protect them, sell your car. (Lifetime odds of dying as a passenger: 1 in 228. Odds of dying this year alone: 1 in 17,625.)

Or, to put another spin on it, your child is 700 times more likely to get into Harvard than to be the victim of such an abduction.

Chances that the kidnapped child will be killed are smaller still. The U.S. Department of Justice says 40 percent of the 115 victims were murdered.

Horrific, yes, but "almost certain not to happen," says Stearns.

"But our emotions overwhelm our ability to calculate reality."

   What we've given up

Some say that if altering our lifestyles saves even one child, those measures are worth it.

But in protecting our children from the unlikeliest of scenarios, in the vain hope that no child will ever be hurt, we are inflicting greater harm on all of them.

The casualties in this world of parental paranoia:

•  Walking to school - barefoot, in the snow, and uphill both ways - used to be the norm. But so few children walk to school today - about 10 percent nationwide - that Oct. 4 has been named International Walk to School Day.

A major reason the K-8 crowd is sealed into the backs of SUVs and transported: Parental concerns about safety. And those concerns "have as much to do with 'stranger danger' - the chance that a child walking to school will be snatched off the sidewalk by a complete stranger - as a fear of traffic," states a article about "Safe Routes to School," an effort started several years ago to get more kids walking and biking to school.

Wendi Kallins, project manager for the Marin County, Calif., program, describes one father who attended a Safe Routes meeting: Intellectually, he understood his child was highly unlikely to meet a grisly end on the walk to school. But emotionally? "With my pretty blue-eyed daughter, I'm convinced she will be the one."

"When you're dealing with gut-level fears," Kallins is quoted as saying, "there's not much you can do.

"The whole level of fear in our culture is increasing."

And so a vicious cycle ensues: Fewer children walk, so they don't travel in the protective packs that once gave parents comfort. The increase in traffic heading to schools makes it more likely that a kid will be hit by a car, most likely driven by a parent. (Fifty percent of the children hit by cars near schools are hit by parents of other students, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.)

And kids miss a chance for exercise, social interaction and a dose of self-reliance.

•  The death of play.
Much has been written about the overscheduled child and the lost art of play. Structured fun does far less to bolster creative thinking, self-sufficiency, teamwork building and social and problem-solving skills.

Almost all parents wistfully wish that their kids could experience playtime as they knew it, when children organized their own games and came home when the streetlights were turned on.

Yet no one seems willing to let their children simply go out and play. There's the fear - that word again - that kids will be left behind if they don't take part in the requisite number of classes and organized activities. There's also a hands-off approach to other people's children that didn't exist 30 years ago, so parents can no longer count on "the village" to discipline or even keep an eye on their child. And many kids simply don't
want to play outside - video games and computers are the new playgrounds of choice.

But a 2001 Time magazine article quotes a Sarasota mom who sums up many parents' sentiments: Unsupervised play is also dangerous.

She lives next door to a park, but her children aren't allowed to play there. She has heard that people expose themselves there.

"It used to be that in the presence of one another, kids formed a critical mass to keep each other safe," says Roger Hart, a psychologist at City University of New York. "Gone are the days when children make any of their own plans."

•  The death of trust.
As children have been trained to look out for menacing strangers, adults have learned to fear false accusations. The fallout: teachers cautioned to never touch a child, Scout troops unable to find male leaders and men who must think twice before interacting with any child who isn't his own.

A New York writer shares his story: "A new child molester is roaming South Queens, N.Y. - me!"

He tells of walking behind an 11-year-old girl who kept nervously looking over her shoulder at him.

"When I sought to comfort her with a kindly smile, she became even more alarmed."

The story continues: "I wasn't some stranger cruising the neighborhood (didn't a man once have the right to walk any street in America?)." Turns out, his son attends the girl's school.
He didn't think about the girl until a few days later, when a letter went home to parents, describing the "incident."

The child's report: "While on my way to school I saw a man following me. I looked back and he smiled and nodded his head." The girl went into a drugstore, notified a security guard, and received a police escort to school.

Better safe than sorry? Maybe. But has this girl been trained to be cautious, or to be fearful? Will she grow into a young woman too timid to take a solo rail trip across Europe, drive herself across Route 66, or simply to walk through life taking pleasure in her own company, secure in her own good judgment?

•  The death of self-sufficiency.
On college campuses, our culture of fear is coming home to roost. We've reared a generation denied the chance to play or to simply walk to school, protected from all failure and risk, and taught that the world is a very dangerous place.

Now, they're struggling to grow up. Talk to any professor, any college administrator, and hear tales of comically overprotective "helicopter" parents and students tethered to their mothers via thrice-daily cellphone calls. And when they graduate? The "boomerang generation" goes right back home to mom and dad.

Not all of this is rooted in fear of physical harm, of course. But there's no doubt that a lifetime of protection from both menacing strangers and life's regular bumps and bruises has left its legacy.

"With few challenges all their own, kids are unable to forge their creative adaptations to the normal vicissitudes of life," an article in Psychology Today states. "That not only makes them risk-averse, it makes them psychologically fragile, riddled with anxiety. In the process they're robbed of identity, meaning and a sense of accomplishment, to say nothing of a shot at real happiness.

"Whether we want to or not, we're on our way to creating a nation of wimps."

•  The death of common sense.
The culture of fear, as every parent knows, is not limited to "stranger danger."

On the Web site Kids in Danger (the site's icon: the ominous opened safety pin from diapers of yore!) parents can read about the perils inherent in high chairs, "soft bedding," strollers, swings, cribs, etc. They can peruse a 44-page report on Baby Bath Seats/Rings.

They can bone up on the common childhood menace, toys: "Meant to provide joy and entertainment, toys, however, are linked to all-too-many injuries."

Provided they survive their toys, the well-parented child emerges, perpetually helmeted, into a world of car seats, padded playgrounds, sanitary hand gel, compulsive sunscreen applications, nut-free classrooms, sugar-free birthday parties, cell- phones-as-umbilical-cords . . .

And paranoia:
Furedi, the British author, points to the ban on small plastic prizes from children's snacks.
"There is no evidence that any child has ever choked to death (on a prize) - but the theoretical possibility that one just might do so one day is undeniable, and that is enough to justify a ban."

Stearns points to the alleged dangers of Halloween: the idea that within each plastic pumpkin lurks a
chocolate bar injected with straight pins or razor blades.

"As far as we can determine, this never happened. But it changed the whole pattern of Halloween."

Police departments and hospitals now screen kids' candy; parents tag along for the night.

"Boy, if my parents had come along with me, I would have been furious," says Stearns.
What's becoming troubling to more folks watching as the years go by: Hand-wringing parents no longer make kids roll their eyes. More kids have come to believe they need the protection. They feel inferior to the task of growing up, of making their own decisions, of trusting their own common sense.

Of ending up victims like those little kids on TV.

Actual odds of dying
In the end, though, numbers don't lie.
By all accounts, childhood is far less dangerous now than it once was, even back in those mythic, gentler times. In 1930, almost 11 percent of the population died before reaching age 20. For children born in 2000, that number will be 1.3 percent. (Most of those deaths: accidental injuries, and not, for the record, as a result of toys.)

But, as Stearns, the "Anxious Parents" author, says, "we're addicted to stuff that makes us insecure.

"It's like being mesmerized by a cobra."

   Let us preserve this treasure, innocent and pure!

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A Manifesto for Psychopaths

Objectivism is a philosophy created by Russian-American philosopher and novelist Ayn Rand (1905–1982). Objectivism's central tenets are that reality exists independent of consciousness, that human beings have direct contact with reality through sense perception, that one can attain objective knowledge from perception through the process of concept formation and inductive logic, that the proper moral purpose of one's life is the pursuit of one's own happiness (or rational self-interest), that the only social system consistent with this morality is full respect for individual rights embodied in laissez-faire capitalism, and that the role of art in human life is to transform humans' metaphysical ideas by selective reproduction of reality into a physical form—a work of art—that one can comprehend and to which one can respond emotionally.

                                                                    Ayn Rand

Ayn Rand’s ideas have become the Marxism of the new right

It has a fair claim to be the ugliest philosophy the post-war world has produced. Selfishness, it contends, is good, altruism evil, empathy and compassion are irrational and destructive. The poor deserve to die; the rich deserve unmediated power. It has already been tested, and has failed spectacularly and catastrophically. Yet the belief system constructed by Ayn Rand, who died 30 years ago today, has never been more popular or influential.

Rand was a Russian from a prosperous family who emigrated to the United States. Through her novels (such as Atlas Shrugged) and her non-fiction (such as The Virtue of Selfishness(1)) she explained a philosophy she called Objectivism. This holds that the only moral course is pure self-interest. We owe nothing, she insists, to anyone, even to members of our own families. She described the poor and weak as “refuse” and “parasites”, and excoriated anyone seeking to assist them. Apart from the police, the courts and the armed forces, there should be no role for government: no social security, no public health or education, no public infrastructure or transport, no fire service, no regulations, no income tax.

Atlas Shrugged, published in 1957, depicts a United States crippled by government intervention, in which heroic millionaires struggle against a nation of spongers. The millionaires, whom she portrays as Atlas holding the world aloft, withdraw their labour, with the result that the nation collapses. It is rescued, through unregulated greed and selfishness, by one of the heroic plutocrats, John Galt.

The poor die like flies as a result of government programmes and their own sloth and fecklessness. Those who try to help them are gassed. In a notorious passage, she argues that all the passengers in a train filled with poisoned fumes deserved their fate(2,3). One, for example, was a teacher who taught children to be team players; one was a mother married to a civil servant, who cared for her children; one was a housewife “who believed that she had the right to elect politicians, of whom she knew nothing”.

Rand’s is the philosophy of the psychopath, a misanthropic fantasy of cruelty, revenge and greed. Yet, as Gary Weiss shows in his new book Ayn Rand Nation, she has become to the new right what Karl Marx once was to the left: a demi-god at the head of a chiliastic cult(4). Almost one-third of Americans, according to a recent poll, have read Atlas Shrugged(5), and it now sells hundreds of thousands of copies every year.

Ignoring Rand’s evangelical atheism, the Tea Party movement has taken her to its heart. No rally of theirs is complete without placards reading “Who is John Galt?” and “Rand was right”. Ayn Rand, Weiss argues, provides the unifying ideology which has “distilled vague anger and unhappiness into a sense of purpose.” She is energetically promoted by the broadcasters Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Rick Santelli. She is the guiding spirit of the Republicans in Congress(6).

Like all philosophies, Objectivism is absorbed second-hand by people who have never read it. I believe it is making itself felt on this side of the Atlantic: in the clamorous new demands to remove the 50p tax band for the very rich, for example, or among the sneering, jeering bloggers who write for the Telegraph and the Spectator, mocking compassion and empathy, attacking efforts to make the world a kinder place.

It is not hard to see why Rand appeals to billionaires. She offers them something that is crucial to every successful political movement: a sense of victimhood. She tells them that they are parasitised by the ungrateful poor and oppressed by intrusive, controlling governments.

It is harder to see what it gives the ordinary teabaggers, who would suffer grievously from a withdrawal of government. But such is the degree of misinformation which saturates this movement and so prevalent in the US is Willy Loman Syndrome (the gulf between reality and expectations(7)) that millions blithely volunteer themselves as billionaires’ doormats. I wonder how many would continue to worship at the shrine of Ayn Rand if they knew that towards the end of her life she signed on for both Medicare and Social Security(8). She had railed furiously against both programmes, as they represented everything she despised about the intrusive state. Her belief system was no match for the realities of age and ill-health.

But they have a still more powerful reason to reject her philosophy: as Adam Curtis’s documentary showed last year, the most devoted member of her inner circle was Alan Greenspan(9). Among the essays he wrote for Ayn Rand were those published in a book he co-edited with her called Capitalism: the Unknown Ideal(10). Here, starkly explained, you’ll find the philosophy he brought into government. There is no need for the regulation of business – even builders or Big Pharma – he argued, as “the ‘greed’ of the businessman or, more appropriately, his profit-seeking … is the unexcelled protector of the consumer.”(11) As for bankers, their need to win the trust of their clients guarantees that they will act with honour and integrity. Unregulated capitalism, he maintains, is a “superlatively moral system”(12).

                                                                       Alan Greenspam

Once in government, Greenspan applied his guru’s philosophy to the letter, lobbying to cut taxes for the rich and repeal the laws constraining the banks, refusing to regulate the predatory lending and the derivatives trading which eventually brought the system down. Much of this is already documented, but Weiss shows that in the US Greenspan has successfully airbrushed this history.

Despite the many years he spent at her side, despite his previous admission that it was Rand who persuaded him that “capitalism is not only efficient and practical but also moral,”(13) he mentioned her in his memoirs only to suggest that it was a youthful indiscretion, and this, it seems, is now the official version. Weiss presents powerful evidence that even today Greenspan remains her loyal disciple, having renounced his partial admission of failure to Congress.

Saturated in her philosophy, the new right on both sides of the Atlantic continues to demand the rollback of the state, even as the wreckage of that policy lies all around. The poor go down, the ultra-rich survive and prosper. Ayn Rand would have approved.


1.  In the spirit of Rand, I suggest you don’t pay for it, but download it here: 

2.  The just desserts are detailed on page 605 of the 2007 Penguin edition.

3.  The gassing and subsequent explosion are explained on page 621.

4.  Gary Weiss, 2012. Ayn Rand Nation: The Hidden Struggle
for America’s Soul. St. Martin’s Press, New York.

5.  This was a Zogby poll, conducted at the end of 2010, cited by Gary Weiss.

6.  To give one of many examples, Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, says that “the reason I got involved in public service,
by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be
Ayn Rand.” This is a little ironic, in view of the fact that Rand abhorred the idea of public service. Quoted by Gary Weiss.


8.  Gary Weiss, pp61-63.


10.  Ayn Rand, Nathaniel Branden, Alan Greenspan and Robert Hessen (Eds), 1967. Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal. Signet, New York.

11.  Alan Greenspan, August 1963. The Assault on Integrity. First published in
The Objectivist Newsletter, later in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal.

12.  As above.

13.  From an article by Soma Golden in the New York Times, July 1974, quoted by Gary Weiss.

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