Monday, July 28, 2008

10 signs that the End of Democracy is near

From Wikipedia

Continuity of Operations Plan refers to the preparations and institutions maintained by the United States government, providing survival of government operations in the case of catastrophic events. A Continuity of Operations Plan (or Continuity of Government Plan) has been a part of government operations since at least the Cold War, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower provided by executive order various measures which were supposed to ensure that the government of the United States would be able to continue in case of nuclear war.

Today, the threat of a massive nuclear attack on the U.S. seems remote, and most of the reasons some once had for worry about the Continuity of Government plan have abated; however, many still do, because nuclear war is not the only reason that the so-called "unitary executive" may see fit to implement the COOP, and the ability to convert a great republic into an effective military dictatorship at the drop of a hat is a thing to be feared.

Evidence that preparations are under way to impose Martial Law.

Here are 10 reasons to be very afraid of what the US Government is planning.

1. NSPD 51 - National Security Directive NSPD 51 gives George Bush dictatorial powers.

2. Under the guise of urban warfare training the 26th Expeditionary Unit an elite group of U.S. Marines conducted a martial law training exercise at 26 "surrendered" locations in central Indiana from June 4th thru the 17th.

3. Congressman Olver declares that if the Democrats attempt to impeach Bush he will:
- Bomb Iran
- Declare Martial Law
- Suspend the 2008 elections.

4. Homeland Security Committee is denied access to the Continuity of Government Plan.

5. "Continuity of Operations" plan has a dry run in Iowa. Undocumented workers at an Iowa meatpacking plant are its victims.

Moreover, the agency is now diverting to this offensive resources earmarked for other purposes such as disaster relief. Wondering where the 23 trailers came from that were used in the Iowa "fast-tracking" operation? "In FY07, one of ICE's key accomplishments was the Mobile Continuity of Operations Emergency Response Pilot Project, which entails the deployment of a fleet of trailers outfitted with emergency supplies, pre-positioned at ICE locations nationwide for ready deployment in the event of a nearby emergency situation"

Here is a how a court interpreter who witnessed the incarceration and the "trials" of the undocumented workers described the process:

Well, the plant was stormed by what is really a paramilitary force of hundreds of agents. And they brought the detainees to the National Cattle Congress that had been prepared as a detention center. The security there was high security.

Well, it was a unique experience for me in my twenty-three years as a federal interpreter. It started with waiting around in the courtroom until they started bringing in the defendants, and they were shackled at the waist, wrists and feet and coming in in rows of ten. Then they sat down to be arraigned. And one of the first things that struck me is that there didn’t seem to be a presumption of innocence. The presumption of innocence became kind of like empty words, because they were shackled. They were on an immigration detainer, so they didn’t have any right to bail, like normally defendants would. And so, that’s how it started.

It was a very long process that lasted two weeks. And as I went along, day after day, there was a new irregularity in the process. And eventually, I guess, there was an irregularity at every step, I would say, comparing this process, these fast-tracking judicial proceedings, with the judicial proceedings that I’ve watched in federal court over twenty-three years of professional practice.

6. Ongoing tests are taking place in Washington. This is from an article in the Washington Post from 2006.

On Monday, June 19, about 4,000 government workers representing more than 50 federal agencies from the State Department to the Commodity Futures Trading Commission will say goodbye to their families and set off for dozens of classified emergency facilities stretching from the Maryland and Virginia suburbs to the foothills of the Alleghenies. They will take to the bunkers in an "evacuation" that my sources describe as the largest "continuity of government" exercise ever conducted, a drill intended to prepare the U.S. government for an event even more catastrophic than the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

7. "Terrorist Watch List" grows to over 1 million people.

Are you an activist, an author, a journalist, a patriot, or maybe a scholar who speaks out his or her mind in the defense of democracy? If you are, then, the chance of having your boarding pass stamped with the ominous symbol of “SSSS” on your next flight from the United States is very high.

SSSS stands for “selectee for enhanced security screening.” That means that Home Land Security and TSA have labeled you as a US citizen-security risk, and used your tax money to transform themselves into your dictators.

8. Oliver North Questioned - Rex 84 Exposed During Iran Contra

Rex 84, short for Readiness Exercise 1984, was a plan by the United States federal government to test their ability to detain large numbers of American citizens in case of massive civil unrest or national emergency. Exercises similar to Rex 84 happen periodically. Plans for roundups of persons in the United States in times of crisis are constructed during periods of increased political repression such as the Palmer Raids and the McCarthy Era. For example, from 1967 to 1971 the FBI kept a list of persons to be rounded up as subversive, dubbed the "ADEX" list.

9. Halliburton is building "immigration detention centers" in US.

KBR would build the centers for the Homeland Security Department for an unexpected influx of immigrants, to house people in the event of a natural disaster or for new programs that require additional detention space, company executives said.

10. Black military helicopters have been spotted recently buzzing around downtown Denver. The official explanation is that this is some sort of anti-terrorist training exercise.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Beijing Olympics coming to town

This should be the theme song of the Beijing Olympics. If you're planning on visiting Beijing, you should take the lyrics of this song literally.

You better watch out 
You better not cry
Better not pout 
I'm telling you why 
Chairman Mao is coming to town 

He's making a list 
And checking it twice; 
Gonna find out Who's naughty and nice 
Chairman Mao is coming to town 

He sees you when you're sleeping 
He knows when you're awake 
He knows if you've been bad or good 
So be good for goodness sake! 

O! You better watch out! 
You better not cry 
Better not pout 
I'm telling you why 
Chairman Mao is coming to town 
Chairman Mao is coming to town

Monday, July 14, 2008

Weapons of Mass Delusion

In one of the most ridiculous accusations against the Iranians imaginable, neocon extraordinaire John Bolton claims that Iranian missiles pose a direct threat to the United States. And as if that wasn't ludicrous enough, he follows up that comment with a confabulated story about an Iranian EMP (Electro Magnetic Pulse) weapon. I guess he ran out of time to talk about the part where the Iranian "bogeyman is gonna getcha". Ahhhh!

Scary stuff. Bolton's delusional claims seem to come right out of the pages of a Tom Clancy novel. Even Hollywood wouldn't buy a lame story like this. But Paul Gigot, editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page, ate it up and even egged him on. Appropriately, this show aired on Fox News.

Here's Bolton and Gigot pitching this story to Hollywood...

BOLTON: It's entirely possible they [Iran] could put a missile on a tramp steamer, sail it up the East or the West Coast, and that would put them in range of the United States.

HOLLYWOOD EXEC: Sorry John, but nobody's going to believe a story like that.

GIGOT: What about this possibility of what people are saying might be an EMP weapon, or electromagnetic pulse weapon or warhead, that could be put on top of a [Iranian] missile, exploded atop an American city or on the East Coast, and take down a lot of the American electrical energy grid?

HOLLYWOOD EXEC: Uh Paul, you and John really should cut back on the weed, man. And anyway the movie going public is tired of this old Middle East war theme. We're looking for some fresh ideas. One story we're looking at is about a doctor from Texas that goes to Congress and really shakes things up. Next!

And it doesn't end there. It seems that Fox News is determined to be the favorite source of news for all sci-fi fans under the age of 13. Continuing on the Star Wars theme is talking head Bill Hemmer on the very influential "America's Newsroom" show.

His guest is terrorism expert R.P. Eddy. How seriously can you take a terrorism expert that uses the name R.P.?

R.P. warns that Iranian terrorists could explode a EMP weapon over a the East Coast and the result would be to take out all of the electrical power grid. The solution suggested by our "expert" is to put a Faraday cage around our power lines. A Faraday cage is just a fancy name for surrounding something with conductive metal. So our "expert" is suggesting surrounding all our power lines with aluminum foil? Doesn't sound especially practical to me, but then I'm not a terrorism "expert".

R.P. was on such a roll, he just couldn't stop. I can just picture this guy as a kid coming up with some real whoppers when his teacher asked him why he hadn't finished his arithmetic homework. "Well the terrorist came while I was sleeping and stole it." To which I'm sure his teacher replied, "Oh please R.P., haven't we heard that terrorist story enough times. I'm really getting tired of it."

So here's R.P.'s latest warning to the world, "the bad news is you can also build an EMP weapon much more easily ... you explode a special magnetron, a magnetrometer, and you create an EMP weapon that way."

My BS meter went on full alert when I heard this last bit. A magnetron is a source of microwaves like that used in a microwave oven. If you explode a magnetron, you don't get an EMP you just get a mess. And a magnetrometer is a ??? I think I need to consult my classic Superman comic books on this one, because folks in the real world there is no such thing.

Friday, July 4, 2008

WALL•E: A post-Fascist Utopia

I just watched WALL•E yesterday, and today I have been reading everything I could find on the internet about the movie. I've been watching video clips from the movie on the Apple site and also on WALL•E's own Disney website.

Other Reviews of WALL•E

I read the Wikipedia piece about the movie which I thought was excellent. As usual the movie articles on Wikipedia are highly in depth and profound. It's really quite amazing that they are able to maintain such a high degree of excellence in the area of movie reviews.

Movies are IMO the highest form of popular art of our late 20th century and early 21st century consumer culture. They are the modern equivalent of the Greek play and Hollywood is the maximum exponent of this artform - if not in an artistic sense then at least in terms of technical mastery, and also of course in terms of the shear popularity which Hollywood movies enjoy on a global scale.

WALL•E is currently the number one rated movie and is destined to follow in the footsteps of other great Disney movies that have become cultural icons - movies like Lion King, Pirates of the Carribean, and Toy Story. WALL•E is of course a Pixar production like Toy Story, and Pixar is the crème de la crème of animation studios.

After reading many reviews of WALL•E I felt they missed the point, and so I decided to write my own review. Just a warning that I will need to discuss the story in some detail, so if you haven't seen the movie yet I recommend seeing it and then coming back to read my review.

My review of WALL•E

WALL•E is a robot that has spent the last 700 years cleaning up trash on the planet Earth. The humans have left Earth and gone to live in space waiting for their home planet to become inhabitable again. WALL•E is a Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class unit. He is a small mobile autonomous robot designed to collect trash, compact it, and place it in giant high-rise garbage heaps.

At the beginning of the movie we are transported to WALL•E's world where there are no signs of life - even the other automated units have all failed. The only ones left are WALL•E and his pet cockroach.

The audience is not told what happened to produce this man-made disaster, but WALL•E's companion perhaps provides a clue. This is the first clue that has been missed by the hordes of reviewers. Cockroaches and robots have one thing in common. They are both capable of surviving in a highly radioactive environment where any other living thing would perish.

So the implication is that the planet's death is caused not just by the sheer quantity of accumulated waste, but by its radioactive nature which has poisoned the planet and rendered it incapable of sustaining life. If this is true then the film is not just a warning about an ecological disaster caused by a non-sustainable lifestyle, but also a warning about the dangers of nuclear power.

This reminds me of the disaster at Chernobyl where the radiation levels were so high that the cleanup had to be handled by robots - perhaps WALL•E's distant cousins.

WALL•E as a form of Artificial Life

But the really interesting thing about WALL•E is that he has evolved. Over the course of 700 years he has through some mutation (perhaps caused by the very radioactive environment in which he exists) become conscious. It is conceivable that some stray radiation has altered some of the bits in his memory where his program is stored and that this has rendered him adaptable to his environment. He has become a self-learning automaton. He can learn from his environment and his experiences, and he has acquired the instinct of self preservation. He has even acquired the capability of self-repairing, as is demonstrated in a scene where one of his eyes has been damaged.

While all the other WALL•E's have fallen into disrepair, he alone has survived. As a side effect of becoming aware and intelligent he has developed feelings and emotions that guide him in his actions. I have long felt that there can be no intelligence without emotions. And as a consequence of emotions, he has formed a personality. And he has developed a sense of wonder about the world. The same curiosity about the world around him that we see in a young child or a kitten at play. 

And even more than this. He feels lonely and imagines what it would be like to have a companion. Imagination is perhaps the ultimate form of intelligence. It is what most distinguishes humans from other intelligent beings on earth. It is the ability to create a whole new world in our minds and in so doing, gives us the ability to make this perception a reality.

WALL•E is searching for a higher truth. He is looking for something to make his world complete. He watches a video of an old broadway musical and sees the protagonists holding hands. Without ever having met a real human, he feels some empathy for these characters. He strives to imitate their actions - learning to dance and using props. WALL•E is lonely and looking for a mate.

Along comes EVE (Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator), searching for the Garden of Eden. But I have gotten ahead of myself.

WALL•E as Everyman

WALL•E works on another level. He is after all the one that takes out the trash - the lowest of the low. He is a sort of Everyman - an unlikely hero. His daily life consists of the most menial task imaginable. And yet from his mundane existence he is able to extract some satisfaction from the odd assortment of junk that he encounters. So too, does the average man toiling in his everyday work world search for amusements to keep him motivated. And here is the reason that we at once can sympathize with this simple character.

For a child, I would imagine the connection to be much more visceral. Here is the essence of childhood: Exploring the world around you through play, and at the same time being low man on the totem pole of life.

Once WALL•E gets to the spaceship, his intelligence becomes for him an advantage over the ship's robots. While they have superior hardware, they are not programmed to think for themselves. They are nothing but highly sophisticated automatons - hardly more intelligent than a toaster. They cannot adapt to the changing situations the way WALL•E can. But again I get ahead of myself.

When WALL•E meets EVE, it's love at first sight. EVE however is not ready for this and constantly rebuffs him. She has come to Earth searching for signs of plant life - like the dove that is sent from Noah's Ark to search for land and returns with an olive branch. This was the sign that the flood had receded, and in the case of EVE isthe sign that life has returned to Earth.

Again the timescale of 700 years gives us an indication that the cause of the ecological disaster was radiation. Radioactive materials decay exponentially according to their half-lives. Some fission byproducts like plutonium-239 have half-lives of tens of thousands of years. The situation is actually worse than this first implies, because it takes about 10 half-lives for a radioactive material to reach safe levels. That means plutonium-239 waste remains hazardous for hundreds of thousands of years. So in this sense perhaps the movie is being overly optimistic. A nuclear contaminated Earth might be unsafe for human return for much longer than 700 years.

When EVE leaves Earth, we discover where the humans have gone. WALL•E hitches a ride on the spaceship that returns EVE to the mothership called Axiom. It is a kind of space cruise ship, where the crew consists entirely of robots. The humans float around in what look like deck chairs and have slowly devolved to look more and more like whales in the microgravity.

WALL•E emerges as a sort of savior. He alone in his isolation has rediscovered and nurtured the ideal of independent thought. He is like the Arabs which preserved the Greek ideals during Medieval Times in Europe. Once these ideas were returned to Europe, they sparked a Renaisance. So too WALL•E, the Everyman, sparks the Captain of the Axiom into digging back into the history of Earth and awakens the sleeping longing for freedom.

A post-Fascist utopia

On board the Axiom we discover the sequence of events that led to the evacuation of the planet Earth. In the past, one large megacorporation has gained control of all business and government on the planet. This is what I refer to as a post Fascist utopia. The human population is so distracted by consumerism that they never notice that they have been stripped of all their freedoms and are now dominated by the the BnL megacorporation.

BnL which is short for "Buy 'n Large" is a take on the English expression "by and large". As in, "By and large, Americans enjoy Disney films." This expression means "for the most part" but can be taken to mean "universally". The expression has an interesting nautical origin. It refers to being able to sail in any direction whether into the wind (by) or with the wind (large). But besides that, it has an obvious reference in the movie to addictive consumer buying habits. It also can be thought of as referring to the super-size phenomenon. In another sense, it also refers to the "bigger is better" philosophy of American industry.

So why do I call this a post-Fascist utopia? Well, if you are familiar with communist doctrine then you will know that the communist state is supposed to be a temporary condition. According to this theory, communism produces a "new man" which then creates a new egalitarian society. This was used to justify the harsh totalitarian extremes of Stalinism and Maoism.

A curious example is modern day China, which consists of an odd mixture of totalitarianism and consumerism. Any hint of a communist ideal leading to an egalitarian worker's state has been dropped. Chinese society presents us with the closest analogy in our modern world to the society of the Axiom. 

An "axiom" is a truth that is so fundamental that it cannot be proved or disproved. It must be taken on faith as a basic assumption. All other known truths are built up upon these axioms. An axiom cannot be questioned or challenged. And so the passengers aboard the Axiom never question their lives or their existence, until the Captain one day declares, "I don't want to survive, I want to live!" This reminds me of the battle cry of the American patriot Patrick Henry: "Give me Liberty, or give me Death!"

The current US is in imminent danger of following the Chinese model. More and more the freedoms and principles upon which this country were built are being abandoned in favor of a safe and comfortable existence. In the post 9/11 world, security trumps freedom. At the same time the privatization of government means the boundary between government and business is disappearing. The ultimate result is the mega-corporate-government entity represented by BnL.

Under Fascism the corporations rule by brute force, imposing severe punishments on anyone that defies their power. But in the post-Fascist society envisioned on the Axiom, the people are so engaged in mundane pleasures that they are unaware that they are being dominated and manipulated by an all-powerful corporate Police State. As long is there is no dissent there is no need for repression, but the BnL apparatus is nonetheless ever vigilant. And when a "rogue robot" appears on the scene the full force of the Police State is set in motion.

America today is in danger of slipping into just such a post-Fascist state. Americans civil liberties are being eroded while the American People are distracted by a constant stream of mindless entertainment. The Police State is becoming ever more powerful, while individual rights are weakened through legislation and court rulings. At some point the American People must decide whether they are willing to give up their Inalienable Rights in exchange for a comfortable existence without freedom.

WALL•E as a love story

WALL•E also functions as a love story. The romantic couple in this case are two robots. At first it is WALL•E pursuing the lovely EVE who rebuffs his every advance. But at the end of the story the roles are reversed. It is EVE who tries to romance WALL•E, and WALL•E who rebuffs her.

Which raises an interesting question: What happened to EVE? How was she transformed from a cold and heartless machine into a warm and loving being. Perhaps her software was so sophisticated that it was capable of learning from WALL•E about the nature of love. Or perhaps we can think of WALL•E as containing a kind of computer virus which infected EVE. 

In the end it is a "kiss" from EVE that causes a spark of life in WALL•E. It is like the hand of God touching Adam in the painting of the Creation by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel. And then there was life.

WALL•E as an homage to movies of the past

The movie WALL•E is in part an homage to movies of the past. In the sci-fi genre, the most obvious example is the movie "2001: A Space Odyssey". From the red eye of the Auto pilot to the use of the "Also sprach Zarathustra" theme, WALL•E is full of references to this 1968 classic. The scene where WALL•E is set adrift in a pod is right out of the 2001 script, except that in this case WALL•E survives. The scene where WALL•E first travels into space reminds me of the psychedelic scene in 2001 where astronaut Dave Bowman is transported through a worm hole.

WALL•E also pays homage to the silent film through its very limited use of dialogue. The movie relies on pantomine instead. One can think of WALL•E as being a modern day Charlie Chaplin, the Little Tramp. Like Chaplin in Modern Times, WALL•E is a comic criticism of our own contemporary society, and a warning of the fate that awaits us if we become too complacent.