Category Archives: History

BOOK REVIEW: The United States of Paranoia

Conspiracy theories are only believed by people on the fringe of American politics? Not so says Reason’s Jesse Walker in his latest book: The United States of Paranoia: A Conspiracy Theory. Walker argues quite the opposite in his opening chapter: “The Paranoid Style is American Politics”:

By the time this book is over, I should hope it will be clear that when I say virtually everyone is capable of paranoid thinking, I really do mean virtually everyone, including you, me, and the founding fathers. As the sixties scare about the radical Right demonstrates, it is even possible to be paranoid about paranoids. (p. 24)

For those who are hoping that this is another book in which the author’s goal is to prove or disprove any particular conspiracy theory, Walker makes is clear that this is not what this book is about (for the most part). He also makes a point to acknowledge that some conspiracies have been proven true (ex: Watergate among these, see Chapter 7 for more examples), “At the very moment you are reading this, someone somewhere is probably trying to bribe a politician. The world is filled with plots both petty and grand…” (p.21). Instead telling the reader what to believe, Walker tells a history about what people have believed on this continent from colonial times to now and how these beliefs have shaped the political debate and very the culture itself.

Among the earliest examples of American conspiracies shaping politics and culture resulted in the infamous Salem Witch Trials of the late 1600’s. According to the belief at the time, witches conspired together and with the Devil to bring evil to the land. Disease and other misfortunes the colonists suffered were believed to be the direct result of these alleged Satanic rituals. Men and women were accused, tried, and executed with little or no evidence. The legacy of Salem continues today. When some public official is accused with wrongdoing, credibly or not, the accused and his or her defenders inevitably will call the proceedings a “witch hunt.”

Soon after the colonies won their independence from Great Britain and became the United States of America, the citizenry turned its distrust of power inward. Who could be trusted to lead this new nation and how could the people keep another tyrant or a cabal of tyrants from taking control? As it turns out, many of these fears were quite legitimate. Not everyone was satisfied with the Articles of Confederation. There were actual conspiracies afoot to overthrow existing system under the AOC in which the several states had most of the power while the national government had little. An attempted military coup called the “Newburgh Conspiracy” was stopped when George Washington convinced his fellow soldiers that overthrowing the government by force was not the right way to go about changing the political system.

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Quote of the Day: MLK Day Edition

(Re-post)

Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech is unquestionably one of the most famous speeches in American history. In listening to the speech today, I found the following passages that aren’t as often quoted to be some of the most powerful lines in the speech.

In a sense we have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.” But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check — a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

America has come a long way since King delivered this speech. Racial and ethnic minorities have made great strides thanks to courageous individuals like King who made a stand for liberty and justice (and in King’s case, paid with his life) and we are all better off for it.

Here is the rest of the speech. Listen and be inspired.

It isn’t, wasn’t, aint ever gonna be…

I mentioned Social Security as an entitlement payment in my post on the government shutdown, and it raised a fairly common objection in several who read it:

They don’t think of Social Security as an entitlement, or a welfare payment; they view it as their right, by virtue of having contributed to the system for their entire working life.

So, time to correct a very major, and unfortunately common, misconception.

Social Security, is NOT a pension, nor is it insurance.

Now, I realize that the majority of the American public believe this is so, because they have been deliberately defrauded by our government…

First read this to understand the scope and scale of the fraud, and the problem it (now only vestigially) masks:

The Greatest Fraud in the History of the Human Race

Ok… so, by now, most people understand that Social Security, as it is, is essentially a legal Ponzi scheme (whether they accept that, or admit it… if they can do basic match, they at least understand it).

What I really didn’t fully appreciate until recently, is that often, even people who understand this is true, don’t understand why or how it got that way.

There is a very common misconception, even among otherwise economically, historically, and legally well informed and educated people, that the current state of Social Security is somehow a twisting of what it was intended to be, or taking advantage of loopholes etc…

Many people believe that Social Security was set up to be an annuity based insurance and pension plan. That paying FICA contributions was supposed to buy you into a long term annuity, or investment plan, and that your Social Security payments were intended to be the product of that investment.

They think that the “trust fund” exists, and was set up to collect and invest the contributions of the workers who paid into it, so that the investments would fund the workers retirements.

They believe that the problem with Social Security is that congress has been raiding the trust fund since 1958 (most don’t know it was since ’58, but they are sure that’s why Social Security is broke).

Unfortunately, every bit of this idea is entirely incorrect… and people who hold that idea generally do so, because they were deliberately misled.

I’s simply not true… though many… perhaps most… people believe it is; but in fact, Social Security was always nothing more than a pyramid scheme, and an entitlement.

They misunderstand entirely… Because they have been deliberately deceived; as has been the majority of the population.

Social Security was NEVER, EVER, an annuity, pension, or insurance.

Actual insurance, annuities, pensions etc… were not part of the legislation that created it, or anything thereafter.

Also, there never was an actual “trust fund” as such… simply an accounting of surplus contributions which were, in theory, to be placed into low yield “no risk” treasury bonds.

Note, I said “surplus contributions”… this means contributions in excess of payouts to existing recipients. Because benefit payments are not made from the proceeds of investment, they are made using the payroll taxes of those currently paying in today (this is why we call Social Security a ponzi scheme… When Bernie Madoff does it, it’s fraud and he goes to jail. When the government does it, it’s… well it’s still fraud, even worse fraud… but no-one goes to jail sadly).

The sham of it, particularly the sham of the accounting trick they called the “trust fund” was publicly proclaimed as early as 1936 (by Alf Landon in his presidential campaign).

Social Security is, and always has been, a tax and entitlement distribution scheme.

The government lied, and called it insurance, but in fact it has never been anything other than a payments and distributions pool, funded by taxes.

You can look it up, in 42usc (the section of U.S. code defining the various programs known as Social Security).

The programs collectively known as Social Security are referred to as insurance several times, but in fact they very clearly are not. The legal definitions and descriptions make this very clear. Social Security is a tax and entitlement disbursement scheme, by act of congress.

There is no individual ownership, no accrued value, no capital gain, it cannot be transferred, and it can be changed (or removed), at will, by congress; without being construed as a taking without due process.

It is NOT INSURANCE.

Perhaps I am not explaining this properly…

It’s not that congress went against the intent, or written provisions of the law, and changed Social Security from what it was supposed to be, to what it is…

It’s that in fact, the law was NEVER what they told the American people it was.

In fact, if the law HAD been what they sold it as, then that law would have been declared unconstitutional by the supreme court (as had the earlier railroad pensions act, which actually DID created a property based pension scheme). It was specifically because it WAS a tax and distribution, that congress had the power to do it; and was argued thus before the court in 1937.

Helvering v. Davis clearly defines Social Security “Contributions” as a tax, and social security “benefits” as welfare payments. This is the basis for it’s constitutionality.

Fleming v. Nestor in 1960, reaffirmed that FICA is a tax, and that the “contributions” are government property, to be done with as the government sees fit; and that “contribution” through FICA did not cause one to accrue a property right to any asset, pension, or insurance scheme, nor did it create a contract consideration, right, or obligation on the part of the government. Further, it affirmed that “benefits” were NOT insurance or pension disbursements, but entitlements by act of congress, and that congress could change them at any time in any way they chose, without being construed as a taking under the 5th amendment (though they did say that they must have cause and due process to do so… but any legitimate cause within their purview would do).

Justices Black and Reich, specifically dissented from the majority opinion, explicitly and expressly addressing the issue of property rights. They believed that such contributions, to such a program, SHOULD as a matter of moral and public good, be considered property, and have property rights attached. They acknowledged however that the law as written did not, and that by strict interpretation the majority was correct… They just thought it was better to make it property anyway.

Unfortunately, it’s not… It is neither a pension or insurance, and never has been, from the very beginning.

However, almost every explanation ever given the public, and in most documentation, it is referred to as insurance, or even a pension.

All as part of the greatest fraud in the history of the human race.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

Declassified: CIA Aided Iraq’s Chemical Weapon Attacks on Iran

Bashar al-Assad has allegedly crossed what President Obama called a “red line” using chemical weapons against up to 1,000 people. The threat of chemical weapons and other WMD by such unsavory characters as Saddam Hussein was the major pretext for “preemptive” war with Iraq.

President George W. Bush argued that regime change was necessary due to the fact that Hussein used these awful weapons in the Iraq-Iran war and against the Kurds. In this post 9/11 world, “outlaw regimes,” particularly those he dubbed the “Axis of Evil” (Iraq, Iran, and North Korea) were a threat to the civilized world which could no longer be tolerated. Chemical weapons are so taboo, after all, even the Nazis opted not to use chemical weapons on the battlefield!*

But as this article in Foreign Policy points out in analyzing declassified CIA documents, the use of these weapons was not so taboo inside the CIA at the time when Saddam Hussein used them against Iran (yes, the very same event which would later be cited as a reason to attack Iraq about a decade and a half later):

In 1988, during the waning days of Iraq’s war with Iran, the United States learned through satellite imagery that Iran was about to gain a major strategic advantage by exploiting a hole in Iraqi defenses. U.S. intelligence officials conveyed the location of the Iranian troops to Iraq, fully aware that Hussein’s military would attack with chemical weapons, including sarin, a lethal nerve agent.

The intelligence included imagery and maps about Iranian troop movements, as well as the locations of Iranian logistics facilities and details about Iranian air defenses. The Iraqis used mustard gas and sarin prior to four major offensives in early 1988 that relied on U.S. satellite imagery, maps, and other intelligence. These attacks helped to tilt the war in Iraq’s favor and bring Iran to the negotiating table, and they ensured that the Reagan administration’s long-standing policy of securing an Iraqi victory would succeed. But they were also the last in a series of chemical strikes stretching back several years that the Reagan administration knew about and didn’t disclose.

U.S. officials have long denied acquiescing to Iraqi chemical attacks, insisting that Hussein’s government never announced he was going to use the weapons. But retired Air Force Col. Rick Francona, who was a military attaché in Baghdad during the 1988 strikes, paints a different picture.

“The Iraqis never told us that they intended to use nerve gas. They didn’t have to. We already knew,” he told Foreign Policy.

It seems that U.S. foreign policy is quite hypocritical, no? Using chemical weapons are fine as long as they are being used against a nation the administration at the time happens to dislike, for whatever reason…until a later administration decides differently. While the use of chemical weapons is very inhumane and rightfully condemned by the civilized world, the U.S. hardly has the moral high ground in deciding where any red line is or what action should be taken whenever it is crossed.**

H/T: AntiWar.com

*Not that the Nazis had some sort of moral objection to using such weapons when exterminating the Jews. The reason these weapons weren’t used on the battlefield was probably due to the difficulty in using chemical weapons in anything other than ideal weather conditions and that they did not want the Allies to use the weapons used against them.

**Assuming there is no direct threat to national security of the U.S.

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