Adam Ash

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Saturday, February 18, 2006

US Diary: living in Orwell's world

1. Orwell Wrote Bush's Script – by Ryan Blethen

The resemblance grows between the Bush administration and the sinister, monolithic political party INGSOC, from George Orwell's novel "1984," with every twisted and evasive defense for the violation of American civil rights.

Bush and Co.'s battle against terrorism has turned into a power grab and a war on Americans. Fear and contorted language are the weapons of choice.

The administration's assertive actions after 9/11 might have made sense in the raw aftermath of nearly 3,000 dead. With time and distance comes perspective. Those new presidential controls awarded to help ensure the safety of Americans now look more like the political clubs wielded by INGSOC.

Orwell might have got the year wrong, but his nightmarish vision of a super-nation at perpetual war, dominated by a government only concerned about control and party preservation, could gain purchase in 2006.

I hear more of Newspeak, the restrictive language created by INGSOC, with every presidential explanation as to why the government feels compelled to spy on Americans. Orwell wrote that the idea of Newspeak was to restrict the language to the point that people would have to think in the limited language of the party.

In true INGSOC fashion, the administration has used Bushspeak to spin a story broken by The New York Times about a domestic-spying program run by the National Security Agency and approved by executive order soon after 9/11 into a necessary program needed to weed out the deeply integrated terrorists living next door.

The timing was curious when, last week, Bush revealed that a terrorist plot was thwarted in 2002. Bush talked about the plot the same day stories surfaced about the doubts a secret surveillance court judge had about the legality of domestic spying. Of course, an administration spokesperson danced around the question of whether the NSA program was involved in stopping the terrorist plot.

The use of powerful and well-placed words and images worked for INGSOC. Its slogan — war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength — fits like a truncheon in the cradle of shattered bone with Bush's recent State of the Union address:

War is peace

"There is no peace in retreat."

Freedom is slavery

"The terrorist surveillance program has helped prevent terrorist attacks. It remains essential to the security of America."

Ignorance is strength

"... We have benefited from responsible criticism and counsel offered by members of Congress of both parties ... Yet, there is a difference between responsible criticism that aims for success, and defeatism that refuses to acknowledge anything but failure."

Political doublespeak is nothing new, but has become a real threat to democracy in the hands of this administration. Bush has taken communication strategy to new heights, said David Domke, associate professor of communications at the University of Washington.

"This administration has become preeminent in crafting messages for political gain," Domke said.

The Republicans have made no secret about what they will run on this year. A recent Pew poll showed that Americans believe the Democrats could lead the nation better on every issue except national security. Bush aide Karl Rove has given speeches about national security and the president skips across the nation talking about the importance of spying on Americans to keep us safe.

This strategy works only if the electorate is fearful that a hostile world is ready to overrun America. Bush's fear-mongering resembles a version of INGSOC's Two Minutes (of) Hate, in which party members watch a video of legions of the enemy army marching behind a bleating political enemy.

American democracy has buckled under the weight of Americans voting scared, a weak press diluted because of consolidation by mega-public companies, and no real political alternative.

It does not matter that the administration and, by extension, the Republican Party are only doing what is needed to hold on in November and again in the 2008 presidential election. Their actions are beginning to eclipse our civil rights, potentially reducing freedom to a dim flicker.

(Ryan Blethen's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Seattle Times.)

2. What Happened To My Country? -- by Steve Osborn

I grew up an American, and proud of it. I was taught in school about the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and Bill of Rights. My brother was a Merchant Marine Officer during the war and had three ships sunk beneath him. We beat the Nazis, the Fascists and the Japanese and made the world safe for democracy. After the war came Nuremberg and the assurance that things like the holocaust could never happen again. The Marshal Plan helped to rebuild the shattered portions of the world. America, Democracy, compassion and help. It was good to be an American. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were sad, but necessary to end the war and save lives, we were told.

We read George Orwell’s 1984, which could happen in Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union, but we could never have thought police and endless war here in the United States. Then came the Cold War, McCarthy, Korea, and later on Vietnam. My service time crossed those wars, but I thanked my stars I didn’t have to fight in them. I was at Bikini for the Hydrogen Bomb tests in 1956, which taught me the unthinkable horror of nuclear war.

Vietnam taught us the danger and folly of going to war on a false pretext. Tonkin Gulf was to be a lesson to us all, as was the intended impeachment of Nixon for violating the law and the Constitution. We wouldn’t let that happen again; no president was ever going to spy on his own people again, or persecute people who didn’t agree with him or his policies.

Yes, the United States was a nation of great wealth. A nation that took care to see to the freedom and well being of its citizens, and welcomed the downtrodden foreigner to the new land. It was a nation that pioneered the exploration of space and gloried in the advance of science. I was proud to be an American!

My God! What has happened to my nation? My nation that no longer pays more than lip service to its Constitution and Bill of Rights, which have been a beacon to the world for over two centuries. My nation that unilaterally discards treaties that were the hope of a world of peace, guided by law and diplomacy. My nation that will wage a war of aggression against a far off nation that was no threat to it, but that has lots of oil. My nation that gives all of its wealth to the rich and is satisfied to leave its citizens to starve, homeless, unemployed and sickly.

What happened to that Constitution that so wisely divided the government into three separate units, to provide a system of checks and balances against any one branch usurping power? How did we wind up with a President that refers to the Constitution that he swore to protect and defend as “just a goddamned piece of paper,” and a Congress that seems willing to rubber stamp any giveaway the President demands? How did we find ourselves with a Supreme Court that will set aside the Constitution in favor of unlimited presidential power for the duration?

Now I live in an America I don’t dare leave for fear of being spat upon, shot, bombed or kidnaped. I am looked upon as a citizen of a rogue nation that has no concept or respect for any law except bullying and strength. I need a passport even to visit Canada, which was to be our sister nation with open borders forever. I must expect to be required to show my “papers” at any time, to any official. I must accept that the government can break into my house and rifle my belongings and papers any time it wishes on the thinnest of excuses and it is not even required to let me know it has violated my home and my privacy. I must accept the fact that the government can listen in to my private conversations, my phone, my e-mail, can probably read my snail mail if they wish and can put a gag order on anyone who has information on me so I may not even be made aware that I am being spied upon. George Orwell’s absolute dictatorship has crept in to my home and my life and thrown out my beloved Constitution and Bill of Rights. The difference between the United States, Soviet Russia, Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy is steadily and inexorably diminishing and the people are letting it happen while they remain paralyzed with fear. Fear incited by the gang that runs the White House and their cronies in the propaganda ministry that used to be our last bulwark against tyranny; our once free press.

So now my pride in America is for our past; my sadness for our present; my fear for our future. I am no longer proud to be an American, but I have no place to go.

(Stephen M. Osborn ( ) is a freelance writer living on Camano Island in the Pacific Northwest. He is an "Atomic Vet." (Operation Redwing, Bikini Atoll 1956, ) who has been very active working and writing for nuclear disarmament and world peace. He is a retired Fire Battalion Chief, lifelong sailor, writer, poet, philosopher, historian and former newspaper columnist.)

3. Bioterrorism, Hyped – by Milton Leitenberg

The United States has spent at least $33 billion since 2002 to combat the threat of biological terrorism. The trouble is, the risk that terrorists will use biological agents is being systematically and deliberately exaggerated. And the U.S. government has been using most of its money to prepare for the wrong contingency.

A pandemic flu outbreak of the kind the world witnessed in 1918-19 could kill hundreds of millions of people. The only lethal biological attack in the United States — the anthrax mailings — killed five. But the annual budget for combating bioterror is more than $7 billion, while Congress just passed a $3.8-billion emergency package to prepare for a flu outbreak.

The exaggeration of the bioterror threat began more than a decade ago after the Japanese Aum Shinrikyo group released sarin gas in the Tokyo subways in 1995. The scaremongering has grown more acute since 9/11 and the mailing of anthrax-laced letters to Congress and media outlets in the fall of 2001. Now an edifice of institutes, programs and publicists with a vested interest in hyping the bioterror threat has grown, funded by the government and by foundations.

Last year, for example, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist described bioterrorism as "the greatest existential threat we have in the world today." But how could he justify such a claim? Is bioterrorism a greater existential threat than global climate change, global poverty levels, wars and conflicts, nuclear proliferation, ocean-quality deterioration, deforestation, desertification, depletion of freshwater aquifers or the balancing of population growth and food production? Is it likely to kill more people than the more mundane scourges of AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, measles and cholera, which kill more than 11 million people each year?

So what substantiates the alarm and the massive federal spending on bioterrorism? There are two main sources of bioterrorism threats: first, from countries developing bioweapons, and second, from terrorist groups that might buy, steal or manufacture them.

The first threat is declining. U.S. intelligence estimates say the number of countries that conduct offensive bioweapons programs has fallen in the last 15 years from 13 to nine, as South Africa, Libya, Iraq and Cuba were dropped. There is no publicly available evidence that even the most hostile of the nine remaining countries — Syria and Iran — are ramping up their programs.

And, despite the fear that a hostile nation could help terrorists get biological weapons, no country has ever done so — even nations known to have trained terrorists.

It's more difficult to assess the risk of terrorists using bioweapons, especially because the perpetrators of the anthrax mailings have not been identified. If the perpetrators did not have access to assistance, materials or knowledge derived from the U.S. biodefense program, but had developed such sophistication independently, that would change our view of what a terrorist group might be capable of. So far, however, the history of terrorist experimentation with bioweapons has shown that killing large numbers of people isn't as easy as we've been led to believe.

Followers of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh succeeded in culturing and distributing salmonella in Oregon in 1984, sickening 751 people. Aum Shinrikyo failed in its attempts to obtain, produce and disperse anthrax and botulinum toxin between 1990 and 1994. Al Qaeda tried to develop bioweapons from 1997 until the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, but declassified documents found by U.S. forces outside Kandahar indicate the group never obtained the necessary pathogens.

At a conference in Tokyo this week, bioterrorism experts called for new programs to counter the possibility that terrorists could genetically engineer new pathogens. Yet three of the leading scientists in the field have said there is no likelihood at this time that a terrorist group could perform such a feat.

The real problem is that a decade of widely broadcast discussion of what it takes to produce a bioweapon has provided terrorists with at least a rough roadmap. Until now, no terrorist group has had professionals with the skills to exploit the information — but the publicity may make it easier in the future.

There is no military or strategic justification for imputing to real-world terrorist groups capabilities that they do not possess. Yet no risk analysis was conducted before the $33 billion was spent.

Some scientists and politicians privately acknowledge that the threat of bioterror attacks is exaggerated, but they argue that spending on bioterrorism prevention and response would be inadequate without it. But the persistent hype is not benign. It is almost certainly the single major factor in provoking interest in bioweapons among terrorist groups. Bin Laden's deputy, the Egyptian doctor Ayman Zawahiri, wrote on a captured floppy disk that "we only became aware of (bioweapons) when the enemy drew our attention to them by repeatedly expressing concerns that they can be produced simply with easily available materials." We are creating our worst nightmare.

(Milton Leitenberg, a senior research scholar at the University of Maryland, is the author of "Assessing the Biological Weapons and Bioterrorism Threat." The book can be downloaded from the U.S. Army War College website at


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