Sunday, April 12, 2015

US Spokespersons Get Tongue Tied

I rarely see these kinds of exchanges on mainstream media but they can be readily found online. The lengths the US will go to deny and deflect is unbelievable.

Take this first video for example. This State Department spokesperson actually said that the government can “use whatever definition of transparency we want.” This woman's definition of “transparency” is pure lunacy. Examples of “transparency” she cited is Obama giving speeches and sharing intelligence with other governments. Say what now? How is Obama standing in front of millions on television and lying to them, telling them that he will provide more oversight on, for example, the NSA spying or the drone campaign, and feeding the people more lies and propaganda on these issues and others, an example of “transparency?” If he were truly transparent he would not have
lied about civilian deaths.

Here is another example. Jen Psaki makes more excuses about the lack of transparency in the Obama Administration by arguing that all discussions about Edward Snowden are classified. But if this is a criminal case, the government often comments on criminal investigations. Why is this one all of a sudden off limits?

This final video is a perfect example of a US spokesperson getting tongue tied. While not coming outright and saying the US government would rather see Edward Snowden gagged, spokesperson Jen Psaki danced around the issue by voicing the US's displeasure that Russia provided Snowden with such a platform to make use of his “freedom” of speech. So which is it? Does Snowden have the freedom of speech, as all US citizens are supposedly allowed, or not? If so, why must they voice their displeasure about Russia allowing him to speak at this news conference? As AP reporter Matt Lee asked, does the US view Snowden as some kind of traitor-spy who shouldn't be allowed to talk about the illegality he exposed? And by the way Ms. Psaki, yes Edward Snowden is a whistle blower. He exposed one of the most massive illegal operations in world history that effects the entire world. Yes, I think that counts as a whistle blower, but you go ahead and continue to repeat that nonsense like a good little patriot. For good measure let's all look to see exactly how the word whistle blower is defined: “a person who exposes misconduct, alleged dishonest or illegal activity occurring in an organization.” Is the wholesale invasion of the entire world's privacy not illegal?! Is this a position that Ms. Psaki would like to maintain? If so, how might she do this? It is logically impossible since the over arching law of the land, the Constitution, forbids such activity by the US government: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” (Even the very common government refrain to argue that they do not “collect” your data because to “collect” it is to prepare it “for use by an employee of a DoD intelligence component in the course of his official duties” is unconstitutional since even the “seizing” of such material is illegal) Unless of course, this means that the US is no longer bound by this document, which is what it pretty much comes down to. In which case, we are living under a tyrannical government by definition, one without any checks on its power and no restrictions.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Going Clear, Going Insane

I just finished watching the newly released film called Going Clear, a documentary based upon the book by Lawrence Wright called Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (2013) (which just today found in a used book store for a bargain!). Over the last few days I have been seeing on the internet many reports about this film and peoples' reaction to it. After seeing these reactions I badly wanted to see this film and see for myself what all the hype was about. What might a person who has spent the last decade of his life learning about different religions and the psychology of belief think about such a film? After searching the internet I finally came across a website that currently hosts it. You may want to watch this film soon in case the website is hit with a DCMA take-down order.

I had looked a little bit into Scientology many years ago (Sadly, the videos I had posted are no longer at their original hosts. One of them was the infamous one of Tom Cruise, which is featured in this documentary, and it can currently be found here) during the process researching many different religions, prior to becoming an atheist, and I was surprised by several of the things I saw. It didn't take me long to see that it was a cult. But this documentary blew me away, and I learned a lot more about it. I'm sure once I read the book I will come away with even more shocking information.

After watching the film I have come away with a few observations. 1) L. Ron Hubbard was a manipulative psychopath. The film reports that he convinced his girlfriend to marry him by threatening to commit suicide. After their marriage and they had a child, it was reported that Hubbard convinced his wife to give him sole custody of the child, took the child out of the country, and he proceeded to call his wife to tell her that he had killed their child by chopping her up in a little pieces. Then he would hang up. He would soon call back and tell her the child was fine and then repeat the process. This manipulative behavior can be seen within the church hierarchy. A comment in the film about the followers eventually thinking like Hubbard and becoming just like him seems like a fairly accurate statement to me. Why anyone would want to act in such a manner I will never know. But judging by the footage I saw of Hubbard he seemed to be a very charismatic individual and a very likable individual (at first glance). People wanted to attain his “level” of perfection in this religion. Like most cult leaders he made use of that charisma and gained a massive following because of it. With his skill at manipulation he was able to control those followers and that is likely how it all started. 2) Scientology is one of the worst cults I have ever seen. 3) I am convinced that the goal of this cult is to make each Scientologist into a mold of L. Ron Hubbard, in all of his sociopathic glory. The stories I heard about the physical beatings, the forced labor and confinement (click this leak to be taken to Wikile@ks to view these “prison system” documents), and in particular the emotional manipulation, are signs of a dangerous cult

I am dumbfounded about why people stay. Why do these people, with all of these revelations out in the public, stay in this abusive and emotionally manipulative cult? I am thankful everyone who did has left the organization. I believe it is like any religion. People stay because for whatever reason it is emotionally satisfying and any conflicts that arise are rationalized away. The only difference between this film criticizing Scientology and a film criticizing Christianity is the vast majority of the population can see clearly that Scientology is a dangerous cult that utilizes emotional manipulation in order to control its members. Well, there is not that much difference from Christianity, with its doctrine of sin.

I saw an interesting parallel between the Christian doctrine of sin and confession to Scientology's process of Auditing. In both doctrines, the goal is to confess sins so as to cleanse yourself, and in the case of Scientology, attain ever higher stages of oneness and enlightenment. Both make use of shame and making the believer feel sinful or feel as if they are a defective person in order to make them believe that they need to believe; that they need to confess all their sins so they are able to purify themselves. The only difference is Hubbard utilized bullshit psychology to fool people into thinking they're actually doing something that works. And what is with that device called an E-meter?? It looks like some fancy child's toy. Does the Auditor manipulate the needle I wonder? Or does the needle just move randomly? Is the goal of the Auditor to manipulate the whole process to make the client believe the needle is actually measuring something? It sounded that way during the discussions about it. It clearly is not detecting your thoughts as the Scientologists argue, so how does this prop actually work?

The film was very well done and the former believers they talked with their stories touched me, especially Sara Goldberg's because her daughter cut off contact with her. That just broke my heart. In the closing moments of the film one of the former members mentions never once reading anything critical about Scientology and this is often like many religions as well. Take Christianity for instance, with their mega churches, religious music, religious movies, religious schools, etc. All of these things are designed to keep religious believers in a bubble. A number of years ago I dated a woman who was a very devout Catholic. She didn't know anything about atheism and she told me she viewed my Facebook profile and said she was “shocked SHOCKED” that I was an atheist because I was so “moral.” I explained to her that this is a common misconception about atheists. She was raised in a very religious home and I believe she was mostly kept in a bubble with religion being her life's main focus. She hadn't even listened to any “secular” music until a few years before we had met. Much like Scientology, they try as much as possible to keep people isolated in order to control them and their thoughts.

I am glad this film is getting as much exposure as it is. Maybe it will even get some to rethink their own religious beliefs since many of the criticisms of Scientology can also apply to other religions, like Christianity, as Sara briefly mentions near the end of the film. I hope this film convinces most of their members to leave in droves.

When You Thought the TSA Couldn't Get Any Dumber...

When you thought the TSA couldn't get any dumber The Intercept has just released a piece about a screening manual used by the TSA that supposedly aids in spotting behavior patterns of suspected terrorists.

I can hear Jeff Foxworthy now... 'You might be a terrorist if...'

- You are fidgeting!

- You have sweaty palms!

- You are whistling!

- You have a bobbing Adam’s apple!

- You arrive late for your flight! Wait, what?!

- You are rubbing or wringing your hands!

- You have a “pale face” after just recently shaving your beard!

And the number one sign you are a terrorist is...

- If you excessively complain about the screening process!

Doesn't it feel good? Our (stolen) tax dollars working hard to keep you safe!? (By the way, it was reported that this program has cost an estimated $900 million since the program began in 2007)

Monday, March 30, 2015

Diplomacy with Iran: Recommended Reading

Last year when it was announced that President Obama would be seeking a diplomatic solution with Iran I was pleased. This is a much better approach than the Bush Administration who reportedly responded with the following to questions about diplomacy with Iran: “We don't speak to evil.” (A Single Roll of the Dice: Obama's Diplomacy with Iran, Trita Parsi; 4) An author who seems particularly knowledgeable about these matters is Trita Parsi, the President of the National Iranian American Council. He has also taught at Johns Hopkins University and George Washington University. He currently teaches at the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University in Washington DC.

With this issue being out in the spotlight I thought I would highlight two books by Parsi that I found to be very educational, particularly this first one I am going to introduce. I have written reviews of each of these books which I will also reproduce below.

A Single Role of the Dice is an excellent and well-written book that covers Obama's foreign policy decisions in regard to Iran. The book explains how there was much anticipation, though at the same time much anxiety in Iran due to past experience, about Obama's calls for opening the door to talks with Iran. However, as negotiations stalled, the US changed directions and chose instead to use their so-called “two track” strategy: imposing sanctions while at the same time pursuing dialog with Iran. This approach, however, was criticized both domestically and especially globally, since sanctions could very well harm the diplomatic process. In the end, Obama's policies failed to achieve the US's goals and relations with Iran remain at a stalemate and Obama's policies did not differ much for that of George W. Bush's.

Much of the book dealt with one of the main issues surrounding Iran-US relations: Iran's nuclear research and enrichment of uranium. The book explores this very contentious issue, and places everything in a political and historical context in relation not only to the US but other powers, such as Israel, Brazil, Russia, and Turkey.

Insightful and educational, this book helps to open up private discussions and back room deals between countries regarding the Iranian and US relationship to the reader. It truly makes the politics easy to grasp and it is surely one of the best books I've read about US foreign relationships with Iran and the rest of the Middle East, as each country attempts to assert their own will and expand their influence in the region as US dominance has diminished since the Iraq invasion of 2003. (5-Stars)

Treacherous Alliance is one of the best books I've read dealing with both political and historical issues. The book's narrative begins soon after the creation of the state of Israel. It explains the relationships between the Israelis, the subjugated Palestinians, the U.S., Iran, and other Middle Eastern countries. In much detail the book explains how the forcing of Palestinians from Palestinian land angered many in the Middle East (and continues to this day) and continues through the Iranian revolution and delves into the relationships between the U.S., Iran, and Israel throughout the cold war and after up to the year 2006.

As the author takes you through the history of the Middle East and the U.S. he explains the various roles and the ideological and political decisions of the different states and individuals involved. For example, during the Iran-Contra scandal the U.S. used Israel as a proxy to deliver weapons to Iran during the U.S.'s weapons embargo, unbeknownst to the rest of the international community at the time. In addition, the author sheds light on the tough rhetoric from Iran towards Israel. Despite this tough talk, Iran has often traded with Israel during these times and their public hostility was partly for show in order to placate the surrounding Arab states and gain a more authoritative role in the region, something that has long been a goal of Iran.

The author skillfully weaves these interesting stories into the historical narrative and many of these events I am familiar with have been given new light given these new facts I was previously unaware of about how the different players weighed their national interests with their international obligations.

If you want to gain a better understanding of the Middle East this is the book to read. (5-stars)

Friday, March 27, 2015

FAIR: US Soldiers and Contractors Rape & Drug Young Girls in Columbia

The media watch group FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting) has noted a story that has gone virtually under the radar in the US mainstream media. It is one that turned my stomach and greatly disgusted me.

According to FAIR,

An 800-page independent report commissioned by the US-friendly Colombian government and the radical left rebel group FARC found that US military soldiers and contractors had sexually abused at least 54 children in Colombia between 2003 and 2007 and, in all cases, the rapists were never punished–either in Colombia or stateside–due to American military personnel being immune from prosecution under diplomatic immunity agreements between the two countries. […]

[FAIR quoting the Columbian newspaper El Tiempo] One case that has called most attention in Colombian media was that of a 12-year-old who in 2007 was raped by a US Army sergeant and a former US military officer who was working in Melgar as a military contractor.

Colombian prosecutors established that the girl had been drugged and subsequently raped inside the military base by US sergeant Michael J. Coen and defense contractor Cesar Ruiz.

However, prosecution officials were not allowed to arrest the suspected child rapists who were subsequently flown out of the country.

As I've noted before, Status of Forces Agreements are horribly one-sided and allow members of the military virtual immunity for illegal and immoral actions committed in “host” countries. This is yet another horrible example. When are countries going to learn not to sign such stupid agreements?

This is gruesome, yet something I think needs much wider press. Why the silence? Anyone who reads this, please repost this important news wherever you can.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Racist Statement Against Arab Voters

I am a few days late on this but I wanted to post it because I'm unsure of how many US news outlets published this story. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu just prior to the elections in Israel encouraged voters to come out to the polls because Jews needed to defeat the Arab voters who were “coming out in droves,” remarking how they were being bused in to vote.

The Times of Israel covered the story and his apology.

This merely highlights the inherent racism and Arab hatred that is infused within Israeli society, which is a factor in the continuous onslaught of oppression and murder of the Palestinians. In his re-election campaign Netanyahu stated that he no longer supports any two-state solution, which to many is not a change in policy, but is simply Netanyahu being honest for the first time.

Here is the video Netanyahu posted to his Facebook page:

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Much Needed Blog Update

Where do I begin. I have been horrible about keeping this blog updated. Life has kept me very busy as of late and that doesn't include my current blog projects. Rest assured I am working on some content but it may not be posted for a while. Right now I am hard at work reading and writing an extensive post about Islam. Specifically, it will be about my personal views about this religion and the severe misunderstandings about my views. In the past I have been accused of being an “Islam supporter,” a “terrorist supporter,” and most recently I have apparently been accused of believing that “Islam is a religion of peace.” All of these views are demonstrably false, and this future post will seek to set the record straight. The post will also serve as a defense of the billions of Muslims around the world who – ever since 9/11 – have been demonized, profiled, and murdered by intolerant fanatics and immoral and short-sighted U.S. foreign and domestic policy.

My head is about to explode with all of the reading I have been doing, and not just for this up and coming post. The books I have read recently or am in the process of reading over the last few months include:

Guantanamo Diary, by Mohamedou Ould Slahi (2015)
The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising, by Patrick Cockburn (2014)
Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam, by John L. Esposito (2002)
Data and Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World, by Bruce Schneier (2015)
Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence, by Mark Juergensmeyer (2003)
Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill, by Jessica Stern (2003)
Why I Am Not a Muslim, by Ibn Warraq (2003)
Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think, by John L. Esposito & Dalia Mogahed (2007)
Islam: A Very Short Introduction, by Malise Ruthven (2012)
Islam and the Challenge of Democracy, edited by Khaled Abou El Fadl (2004)
Islam: The Straight Path, by John L. Esposito (2005)
Inside Syria: The Backstory of Their Civil War and What the World Can Expect, by Reese Erlich (2014)
When Google Met Wikileaks, by Julian Assange (2014)
The Last Refuge: Yemen, Al-Qaeda, and America's War in Arabia, by Gregory D. Johnsen (2013)
The United States v.s. Pvt. Chelsea Manning: A Graphic Account from Inside the Courtroom, by Clark Stoeckley (2014)
The History of the World, (6th Ed.) by J.M. Roberts & Odd Arne Westad (2013)
And of course, the Quran and the Bible (Old and New Testaments) in their entirety

Prior to reading some of these books I did not know that much about Islam. Mostly my knowledge consisted of what Sam Harris has written and other “skeptical” critics (you know who you are...) of Islam who I have criticized in the past for their short-sighted, factually incorrect, and immoral views. It has been highly educational reading the Quran and reading about the history of Islam. The situation is certainly much more complicated than any of the “skeptical” critics of Islam seem to be aware of, and more complicated than I was aware of. Something many might be surprised to learn is that my views about Islam do not differ that much from most atheists, even those so-called “skeptical” ones. But someone tries taking an objective look at a situation and all of a sudden you are accused of being a “terrorist supporter.” Clearly, many of the people engaged in debate on this issue are not thinking rationally and are reacting with pure emotion and are failing to look at all the facts, which causes them to make horrible decisions about the possible solutions to the problem. This post will detail my thoughts on this issue. I'm looking forward to finishing it because it will help to clear the air regarding the several debates I've had about Islam within the last year.