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Sunday, August 23, 2015

Are We #1 at Being BAMBOOZLED?

How many times must we get “sucked into” some huge brouhaha or issue or circumstance that often turns out to be of little value or of limited consequence?  Many blame the media.  I concur.  Others blame politicians.  Why not?  They are to blame for many of our unnecessary problems and debacles.  And, let us not forget the so-called "Elite" who basically have too much money, power, status and access resulting in political, social and economic control over the rest of us.  Victims of this triumvirate are ordinary citizens who either don't care, aren't informed, or get left out and left behind.  Many have simply dropped out of the political, social and economic merry-go-rounds.
 
Notwithstanding, let us look briefly at some examples of bamboozles that are happening now, or that happened in the very recent past with effects lingering into our present.  We start with the most obvious right now.

1)  Donald Trump.
Remember the presidential election in 2007-08 when it appeared in early 2007 that Rudy Giuliani, mayor of the City of New York during the 9/11 attack, was leading the Republican pack of candidates by a comfortable margin?  The media was going crazy, making Rudy’s campaign the focus of just about every news-related article and TV show (some that had little to do with news).  Not only did he have the lead, but there was story after story about what Rudy’s stance on issues might do to the Republican Party.  Wikipedia helps to tell more of the story in summary fashion:
In 2007 early polls showed Giuliani -- America's Mayor -- with one of the highest levels of name recognition and support among the Republican candidates. Throughout most of 2007 he was the leader in most nationwide opinion polling among Republicans… and most polls showed Giuliani to have more support than any of the other declared Republican candidates, except in some per-state Republican polls. 
However, Giuliani's campaign hit a difficult stretch during November and December 2007, during which time his recommendation for Secretary of Homeland Security was indicted on 16 counts of tax fraud.  It was also reported that while Mayor, Giuliani had billed to obscure city agencies several tens of thousands of dollars of mayoral security expenses incurred while visiting a mistress. 
Giuliani's national poll numbers began steadily slipping and he finished a distant fourth in the January 8, 2008 New Hampshire primary. Similar poor results continued in other early contests.   On January 29, 2008, Giuliani finished a distant third in the Florida result…  Giuliani withdrew from the race on January 30, endorsing McCain.

Admittedly, Donald Trump’s current situation and campaign differ in themes, strategies and issues, but a general similarity is beginning to emerge:
1) This is a media campaign, meaning that Trump and the media are using this as an attention-getter, bringing attention to themselves mostly, and perhaps some money flow as a result;
2) Donald Trump is the obvious leader over several other candidates, but enjoying only 25-28% of essentially neo-conservative Republican support.  Although he retains that support, like Giuliani, he does not seem likely to capture much more;
3) Trump, like Giuliani, varies from Republican base conservatism, but has maintained his lead; question is, will that lead hold steady through states like South Carolina and Florida, or will it begin to show itself for what it is – the protest vote of a limited number of dissatisfied Republicans and independents?  We shall soon know.

One thing is clear: we are once again being bamboozled by the media and the analysts and the prognosticators just to capture our attention and our viewership.  The media and others already know how this will end up – they’ve seen it all before.  And so have you, my friends – but being drawn in once again by people who want to control our responses is standard fare for too many of us. 

2)  Hillary's Email.
Republicans and the media are hyping this right now.  Yes, 300+ emails have been set aside by the federal agents examining the emails, but so far there is little indication that anything really secret has been violated by those emails. While I believe that it was not a good idea for Hillary to use a private server for her State Department-related email, I also recognize that she was not the only one doing so.  It was not that unusual for high-ranking officials in State and other departments to do so.  There were protocols established in the State Department (and other departments) as to what could be used or discussed while using such servers, and what could not, but those protocols were not strictly enforced nor entirely clear.  There were even disagreements as to what should and should not be 'classified.' 
Those disagreements were within and across various departments.  The agents now examining these documents may themselves have entirely different views of what should be classified than what was considered by State Department to be "classifiable" or "secret" back when Hillary was Secretary of State. 
The point: there is no such thing as one unqualified definition across all of government that is determinant of what is considered "secret" or "classified" because it is difficult to determine the meaning of vague terms in those definitions.  But the Republicans continue to flail away hoping you will believe this fiction.

Wikipedia has some helpful information in summary form regarding levels of classification.
"The United States government classifies information according to the degree which the unauthorized disclosure would damage national security.”

Top Secret
"Top Secret shall be applied to information, the unauthorized disclosure of which reasonably could be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security that the original classification authority is able to identify or describe." 
Secret
This is the second-highest classification. Information is classified Secret when its unauthorized disclosure would cause "serious damage" to national security.  Most information that is classified is held at the secret sensitivity level.
Confidential
This is the lowest classification level of information obtained by the government. It is defined as information that would "damage" national security if publicly disclosed, again, without the proper authorization.

Those now 'hyping' the situation are focused on what might in retrospect be seen as 'secret' but may not necessarily been so classified at the time the emails were written.  What is being missed in this whole issue are several questions of major importance:
  • When did each email occur?
  • What State department protocols, policies and rules governed the situation at the time? 
  • Were any of these clearly violated, or were they too vague or open to interpretation? 
  • Who determines if something in Hillary's emails might have been "reasonably expected to cause serious damage to national security" at the time they were written?  Not the Congress, although they can investigate and criticize all they want.  Not the President, although his State Department can determine if any of their rules were violated.  Certainly not the Republican candidates for President. 
  • In the final analysis, the Courts get to decide whether there was a reasonable expectation that exposure of certain information in those emails at the time could have caused 'serious damage' to national security. 
It is obvious from the reporting engaged in so far, there is nothing but hype, innuendo and inference governing this situation to make us pay attention and to make this story seem like something huge in implication, but to date, nothing substantiates that judgment or claim.  Meanwhile, it seems we just enjoy being bamboozled, or at least, teased.
  
(3)  War on Drugs.
This is one of the biggest deceptions ever perpetrated upon our society.  It has unhinged our concept of crime, has over-burdened our prison system, and ended-up incarcerating one particular group of people beyond any reasonable concept of punishment fitting the “crime.”   In addition, it has devastated our cherished principles of human rights and dignity, and has led to an on-going system of punishment and restriction that goes beyond “serving one’s time” and “paying for what one has done.”  It is a response out of all proportion to the so-called ‘crime,' and in fact, may have never really been about 'crime' in the first place.  Let's have a brief look at some history.

A war on drugs was actually initiated long before we might have expected.  At the turn of the 20th century, the drug market went mostly unregulated. The Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 targeted toxic drugs, and was expanded to address misleading drug labels in 1912. But the piece of legislation most relevant to the later War on Drugs was the Harrison Tax Act of 1914, which restricted the sale of heroin and was quickly used to restrict the sale of cocaine as well.  Prohibition ended in 1937 and more meaningful federal health regulations came about under the Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act of 1938, following upon the 'Marihuana' Tax Act of 1937, which attempted to tax marijuana into oblivion.   An alleged popularity among Mexican-American immigrants made marijuana an easy target.

The Boggs Act of 1951 established mandatory minimum federal sentences for possession of marijuana, cocaine, and opiates, and Congress further increased federal penalties with the Narcotic Control Act of 1956.  It was Dwight Eisenhower's establishment of the U.S. Interdepartmental Committee on Narcotics, in 1954, by which a sitting president first literally called for a war on drugs
Then, Richard Nixon got the "War on Drugs" rolling in a special message sent to Congress on July 19, 1969 in which he cited a dramatic jump in drug-related juvenile arrests and street crime between 1960 and 1967.  Marijuana was ultimately caught up in a broader cultural backlash against the perceived permissiveness of the 1970s.  The Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970 established federal anti-drug policy as we now know it.  In June of 1971, Nixon officially declared a "war on drugs," identifying drug abuse as "public enemy No. 1" (or was he targeting young protestors?).  In July of 1973, Nixon set up the DEA to be the federal drug law enforcement agency and the coordinating agency for all the anti-drug efforts of other federal agencies.  (for more detail, see NPR Timeline: America's War on Drugs published June 02, 2008).

In the late 1980s, a political hysteria about drugs led to the passage of draconian penalties in Congress and state legislatures that rapidly increased the prison population.  "The presidency of Ronald Reagan marked the start of a long period of skyrocketing rates of incarceration, largely thanks to his unprecedented expansion of the drug war. The number of people behind bars for nonviolent drug law offenses increased from 50,000 in 1980 to over 400,000 by 1997."

Our drug war history begs for this question to be asked:  just why do we have a War on Drugs?  Civilliberty.com reminds us:

"The War on Drugs has always been a rhetorical convention--you can't declare war on inanimate objects, social phenomena, moods, or abstractions--and it's a rhetorical convention that has determined the way our country views drug policy enforcement. In other words:  it's a colloquial term that does not refer in any meaningful way to a specific policy or objective, but rather to a series of anti-drug initiatives that are vaguely directed towards the common goal of ending drug abuse." (emphasis added).

It might not be untruthful to say that we have little concept of why certain drugs should be legal and others be declared illegal.  The Drug Policy Alliance (drugpolicy.org) says that's because "it's not based on any scientific assessment of the relative risks of these drugs – but it has everything to do with who is associated with these drugs."  For instance, the "first anti-opium laws in the 1870s were directed at Chinese immigrants. The first anti-cocaine laws, in the South in the early 1900s, were directed at black men. The first anti-marijuana laws, in the Midwest and the Southwest in the 1910s and 20s, were directed at Mexican migrants and Mexican Americans. "And one could easily add the targeting of Black men again for use of "crack cocaine."

We could rightfully say that we have been bamboozled for at least a century into thinking that if we declare certain drugs "illegal" we are addressing the problems of crime, addiction, or social disruption.  As a matter of fact, that is not necessarily the result.  In fact the point could be made, and often is, that the War on Drugs has been more deleterious for society than the drugs themselves, and has produced outcomes that have actually added to our problems as a country.  Had this nation continued along a path of treatment and rehabilitation (as others have done) instead of embarking on over-incarceration, we might have saved money and lives.

  1. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 55% of federal prisoners and 21% of state-level prisoners are incarcerated on the basis of drug-related offenses. This means that over a half million people are presently incarcerated as a result of anti-drug laws--more than the population of Wyoming.
  2. The illegal drug trade also sustains gang activity, and is indirectly responsible for an unknown number of homicides. (The FBI's Uniform Crime Reports describe 4% of homicides as being directly attributable to the illegal drug trade, but it plays an indirect role in a much larger percentage of homicides.)
  3. As of August 19, 2015, according to the Drug War Cost Clock, the federal government has spent over $9.6 billion and states and local governments over $16.3 billion for a grand total of $25.9 billion in just under 8 months of 2015! 
  4.  Arrests for drug law violations this year are expected to exceed the 1,663,582 arrests of 2009.  Someone is arrested for violating a drug law every 19 seconds
  5. Since December 31, 1995, the U.S. prison population has grown an average of 43,266 inmates per year. About 25 per cent are sentenced for drug law violations.
The hype and the falsity surrounding our rhetoric of the "War on Drugs" is a diversionary and misleading con job of the first order.  This bamboozle has led our society into anti-social, anti-constitutional and anti-rehabilitative modes that are at this very moment corrupting our democratic ideals. 

(4)  Iran - the War Game
Here we go again.  The War Hawks are squawking.  They demand toughness and eschew diplomacy.  They want to scare us into war with the nation of Iran by blocking an historic Agreement that is designed to at least delay, if not deny, nuclear bomb capability to the Iranians.  The Agreement is a major diplomatic accomplishment of the Obama Administration, and some Republicans cannot abide that possibility so they invent reasons for War with Iran just as they did for War against Iraq.  And guess what? 

The similarity in the drumbeats for war with Iraq and Iran is no accident: it is just one example of the most common justification employed by US (politicians) to influence public opinion in favor of the use of military force overseas, a justification which is formulated as: the necessity to deter foreign aggression, protect the United States and defend freedom. Similar justifications have been employed for overseas interventions on numerous occasions in the past.  These appeals to public opinion employ a variety of standard techniques of rhetorical persuasion.  Let me give you a few samples of the same old war rhetoric that sends us down a path to destruction every time we accept what we hear:
1)    The Bush administration’s ability to connect the invasion of Iraq to the tragedy of 9/11 was a textbook example of diversionary rhetoric.  “Iran must not have a nuclear weapon”, (and) “the international community must come together to make it very clear to Iran that we will not tolerate the construction of nuclear weapons” are current equivalents.

2)     A form of fallacious argument used in the build-up to the war on Iraq:  the phrase “Iraqi WMD programs” was bandied about so much that it became unquestionable fact, even though inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had failed to find the alleged WMD
    Rather than proving the existence of a widespread nuclear-weapons program in Iran, it is easier to let people assume that its existence has already been established and is an incontestable fact.  In addition to overt references to Iran’s “nuclear-weapons program”, there may be references to Iran’s nuclear “threat”, or vague statements about Iran’s nuclear “ambitions”, or even more tenuous allusions to Iran’s “intentions” to obtain a nuclear-weapons “capability," or more specifically, to "build a bomb."

3) The generic form of the "slippery slope" justification for war is usually, “If we don’t fight them there, we’ll have to fight them here;” like the “domino theory” which was used as a justification for the US role in Vietnam: "if we don’t stop the godless communists in Vietnam, ultimately all of South-East Asia could succumb to communism." Of course, although we abandoned the war, that proved not to be the case.

When applied to Iran’s nuclear program, the slippery slope fallacy usually predicts that if Iran is allowed to develop nuclear technology, the result will be an uncontrollable wildfire of proliferation and a regional arms race.
It is highly ironic that Iran’s mere capability to build nuclear weapons will supposedly spark this uncontrollable cascade of nuclear proliferation, and yet "Israel’s existing nuclear weapons are not considered to have this same effect."

Since the end of the Second World War, the USA has been greatly worried about Russia, China, North Korea, Pakistan and others who have acquired nuclear bomb capability.  However, unlike the U.S.A, none of them has ever actually dropped a bomb on another country.  Even the bellicose and threatening North Korean government has been fully restrained in not dropping a nuclear warhead on someone else. 

Amazing isn't it, that now we are terribly worried that Iran will all of a sudden wish to bomb us and the Middle East into oblivion.  Doubtful, given past history.  What appears to be the pattern is that these more bellicose nations seem to want to have nuclear capability "just in case..."  Iran is probably no exception to that desire.  But a slippery slope, a wildfire of proliferation and a regional arms race?  Again, unlikely. 

There is more deterrence out there than one first imagines.  Sanctions, inspections, cut-off of trade, isolation from the world, nuclear disarmament treaties and fear of total retaliation have so far been enough to hold back the use of nuclear weapons by other countries   Will that continue with Iran?  Will they dare to release a nuclear bomb on Israel or the United States?  It's just not realistic given the total retaliatory annihilation of Iran that would ensue.

So just what is realistic in regard to Iran? 
  • They probably desire nuclear weapon capability, as have many other nations
  • Without the Iran Agreement being approved by the U.S. Congress, they will most likely accelerate their nuclear weapons program
  • Without the Iran Agreement, they will probably increase their leveling of threats at Israel
  • If the provisions of the Iran Agreement are allowed to die, and there is no Agreement, there will be no formal restrictions, no inspections and no verification process, and we will have difficulty knowing what steps Iran is taking to progress toward a bomb
  • Some sanctions will be lifted by the likes of Russia and China; but more may be imposed by the US and its more sympathetic allies
  • War will be much more inevitable because Republicans will push for it, along with their guest speaker and fellow warmonger, Bebe Netanyahu
  • With the Iran Agreement in place, there is hope for a delay in nuclear weapons capability - perhaps 15 years, but some monitoring aspects will last up to 25 years
  • With the Iran Agreement, investigations of a variety of facilities by outside observers will take place on a permanent basis
  • The Agreement is the best course of action simply because it stands as an alternative to war; allowing for diplomacy, verification and even cooperation on some levels, and for re-imposition of sanctions if necessary. 
  • Give Peace a chance.
We have become a people virtually enslaved to forms of rhetorical fallacy that literally capture and twist our minds, our thoughts, our ideas and our actions toward the aggrandizing of corrupt capitalists, dishonest politicians, poorly informed prognosticators, prevaricating media, dubious public servants and other bamboozlers.

We may have finally reached a new #1 in the world:  the most bamboozled, misled, and misdirected citizenry on this planet.  It is time to free ourselves from such manipulation and to begin to believe little or nothing that comes across our television screens or that is contained within social media on electronic devices until we can thoroughly examine and research the facts behind the bamboozling rhetoric.  The time has come to stop being victims of falsity and fallacy, and to begin to be the purveyors of facts to a fact-starved, and non-investigatory public.
Put a stop to bamboozling whenever and wherever you can!