How the FBI’s War on Drugs Contributed to the 9/11 Attacks

How the FBI’s War on Drugs Contributed to the 9/11 Attacks

The story of 9/11 is filled with painful “what-ifs.” Among the most prominent:

  • What if the CIA hadn’t blocked two FBI agents from alerting Bureau headquarters that a future 9/11 hijacker had obtained a multi-entry U.S. visa?
  • What if the FBI hadn’t nixed agents’ request for a warrant to search the computer of “20th hijacker” Zacharias Moussaoui after his arrest in August 2001?
  • What if the FBI hadn’t ignored a Phoenix agent’s July 2001 recommendation to contact aviation colleges across the country, on suspicion that Osama bin Laden was preparing extremists to “conduct terror activity against civilian aviation targets”?

Those what-ifs give us all pause, but they weigh heaviest on those who were closest to them, such as retired FBI counterterrorism agent Ken Williams, author of the so-called “Phoenix memo.”

Though his unheeded warning about extremists at flight schools looms large in the saga of 9/11, Williams is haunted by two more what-ifs that are lesser-known but equally gut-wrenching:

  • What if his request for a surveillance team to monitor bin Laden disciples at an Arizona aviation school hadn’t been declined in favor of the FBI’s pursuit of drug smugglers?
  • What if he hadn’t been ordered to suspend his investigation of those extremists for several months to help with an arson case?

For Williams, the answer is all too clear: His investigation would have led to the scrutiny of two future 9/11 hijackers—and that scrutiny may have started unraveling the entire plot.

Extremists at Embry-Riddle

In April 2000, Williams received an important tip from a confidential informant who’d once been a member of a Middle Eastern terrorist organization.

The informant had built a stellar reputation for providing valuable information. “I used to refer to him as my E.F. Hutton,” says Williams. “When he spoke, you listened.”

The informant told Williams that two foreign students were attempting to recruit Phoenix-area Muslims to an organization called Al-Muhajiroun, or “The Emigrants.”

Founded in Saudi Arabia and then banned by the kingdom in 1986, Al-Muhajiroun was unabashedly extremist. Before 9/11, the group referred to itself as “the eyes, the ears and the mouth of Osama bin Laden,” says Williams.

In 1998, the group’s leader issued a fatwa, or religious decree, declaring jihad against the U.S. and British governments and their interests—including airports. After 9/11, Al-Muhajiroun became notorious for organizing a “magnificent 19” conference in London in honor of 9/11’s 19 hijackers.

The informant gave Williams one of the flyers the pair had been using in their recruiting drive. The phone number on the flyer belonged to Lebanese student Zakaria Soubra. Via surveillance of Soubra, Williams and his team identified his counterpart as a Saudi named Ghassan al-Sharbi.

Both were students at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona. Williams describes it as a prestigious school providing an “Ivy League” education in aviation and related sciences.

Soubra was studying aviation security, while al-Sharbi studied engineering. The two were also making frequent, two-and-a-half-hour drives to Phoenix to recruit new members of Al-Muhajiroun from area mosques.

Williams and another agent traveled to Prescott to interview them at the small room they shared at a cheap motor lodge. Williams quickly noticed it was decorated with photos of Osama bin Laden, Ibn al-Khattab of the Arab Mujahideen in Chechnya, and wounded mujahideen fighters.

In his years of experience, Williams had grown accustomed to Middle Eastern students being “meek, mild and intimidated as shit when you show up at their door”—the product of growing up in countries with iron-fisted security forces. Soubra, however, was a jarring exception.

“He told me he considered the FBI, the United States military and the United States government legitimate military targets of Islam, and he described bin Laden as a great Muslim brother,” says Williams. “He was raising his voice, and you could see the veins on the side of his temples start to pop out of his head.”

“Trust me, I did everything in my power to get him to assault me or my partner…try to push us or do something so we could arrest him for assault on a federal officer,” says Williams.

On the way out, he told them, “We know what you’re all about and we’re not going away. If you cross that line, you will go to jail. We’ll find you wherever you’re at.”

“I don’t generally don’t make those kind of threats, because they’re idle, but I wanted to kind of up-it a notch with them,” says Williams.

Links to a Possible 9/11 “Dry Run”

Williams discovered that Soubra and al-Sharbi were driving a car registered to Muhammad al-Qudhaieen, a Saudi student living three hours away at the University of Arizona.

Months earlier, in November 1999, al-Qudhaieen and Hamdan al-Shalawi, a Saudi attending Arizona State, were involved in an incident that prompted an America West flight to Washington, D.C. to make an emergency landing in Columbus, Ohio.

Crew members said the two had asked a variety of suspicious technical questions, and that al-Qudhaieen twice attempted to open the cockpit door. He told investigators in Columbus he’d mistaken it for the bathroom door.

Noting that these were students at a top-notch university with experience traveling internationally, Williams says he finds the excuse ridiculous.

“They were conducting an intelligence-collecting operation on board the aircraft, to see how the flight crew was going to react and see how far away they could get with doing things,” he says.

The America West incident has been cited in ongoing civil litigation in which 9/11 families, survivors and insurers allege various Saudi officials helped facilitate the al Qaeda plot. Al-Qudhaieen and al-Shalawi were traveling at Saudi expense to an event at the Saudi embassy.

The pair were released after questioning. Immediately after the incident, Williams says, they held a press conference in Washington and claimed to have been victims of Islamophobia.

Williams says the public relations move was likely part of al Qaeda’s strategy: Well-publicized, embarrassing accusations of bigotry against America West would make other airline and airport employees reluctant to react to future suspicious behavior.

Al-Qudhaieen and al-Shalawi’s profession of innocence was undermined in November 2000, when the FBI received reports that al-Shalawi trained in Afghanistan to conduct attacks like the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers housing facility in Saudi Arabia, which killed 19 American service members and injured hundreds.

After being questioned by Williams, Al-Sharbi fled the United States. In the wake of 9/11, he was arrested in Pakistan with Abu Zubaydah, who was then one of the world’s most-hunted al Qaeda associates.

Add it all up and Williams was clearly onto something big in the year 2000.

However, since his investigation subjects hadn’t committed any overt criminal acts, building a case would require a lot of work, with an emphasis on visual surveillance—tracking comings and goings, identifying associates by photographing them and checking their license plates, noting places subjects and their associates routinely visit.

It’s a highly labor-intensive undertaking. In the FBI, doing it well means calling in the agents of the Special Operations Group (SOG).

“Surveillance is the only thing these agents do,” says Williams. “They’re given extensive training on the tradecraft of whatever enemy they’re looking at…(including) how al Qaeda functions. They study whatever we have in our intelligence quivers so they know what to look for when they’re out there,” says Williams.

“Every agent can do some surveillance,” he continues, “but these guys have old beater automobiles, they have aircraft capabilities, electronic capabilities, photographic capabilities—video and still—and they’re trained how to use all this stuff.” Their observations are summarized in a daily report provided to the lead agent on the case.

However, none of that would be available to Williams: Despite the disturbing set of facts and associations he’d uncovered, his request for SOG support was denied.

Chalk it up to a warped set of institutional priorities: In the pre-9/11 FBI, counterterrorism often took a back seat to drug investigations.

“I’ve got this threat I’ve identified through my training and expertise. I’m telling my command staff ‘these guys are the real deal, this is no bullshit,’ yet (my bosses are) still held accountable to meeting what headquarters has set as priorities for the southwest border states—and that’s drug interdiction and that’s taking down cartel members,” says Williams.

Williams says he doesn’t blame his Phoenix supervisors, because they were following priorities dictated in Washington. He does, however, resent that the FBI had to pursue drug cases at all.

“What angers me about it and what I get upset about is—that’s what the whole Drug Enforcement Administration was created to counter. We were the only agency at that time that protected the United States from terrorists. You’ve got the DEA, every police agency and their mother looking at drugs. Why can’t the FBI get out of the drug trafficking arena and concentrate on protecting the national security of the United States of America in the areas where we have the sole purview to do it? If we don’t do it, nobody’s doing it at that time,” Williams says.

America’s powerful post-9/11 marijuana legalization trend makes the de-prioritization of his counterterrorism case all the more aggravating in retrospect.

“Some of the stuff we were competing with were marijuana smuggling cases. Now, for chrissakes, every other corner out here has a marijuana dispensary. They’re as frequent as Starbucks,” says Williams.

Denied SOG support, Williams and his teammates soldiered on without it, conducting their own off-and-on surveillance as best they could.

“I was doing it haphazardly. I was doing it by myself and maybe with a couple squad mates,” says Williams. “But there’s a huge degree of difference between having an SOG team on a target and a group of non-SOG-trained agents who do it part-time at best.”

Even in well-resourced situations, pursuing such a case can take a lot of time. “Some people think 12 months in an investigation is a long time—not when you’re working these kinds of cases like Soubra and Al Sharbi,” says Williams.

Collecting intelligence, trying to recruit informants, and amassing the information needed to obtain more investigative authority is a slow grind. The lack of SOG support made it all the more difficult.

The prioritization of drug cases was a major drag on Williams’ investigation, but things were about to come to a screeching halt.

An Arsonist Unwittingly Abets al Qaeda

In December 2000, someone started setting fire to million-dollar houses under construction along the border of the Phoenix Mountains Preserve. One of them was even burned twiceEleven structures were torched in all.

The media speculated that the arson was the work of an eco-terrorist organization—perhaps the Earth Liberation Front or something akin to it. In messages at the crime scenes and elsewhere, the perpetrator started identifying as the “Coalition to Save the Preserves,” and seemed to revel in taunting police.

The arson spree was racking up millions of dollars in damage and commanding high media attention. Between public pressure amid mounting concerns the fires could take a deadly turn, Phoenix police asked the FBI for help.

Williams received a profoundly unwelcome order: He and every member of the Phoenix counterterrorism squad would have to shelve their current investigations and pursue the arson case full-time.

“I went to my supervisor at the time, Bill Kurtz, and I said, ‘Bill, you can’t take me off this case. This is the real deal…these guys are with this al Qaeda group that we’re starting to learn about, that blew up the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania’.”

The decision stood. And the timing couldn’t have been worse.

The very month Williams was forced to turn his eyes away from Arizona’s network of al Qaeda sympathizers, Hani Hanjour and Nawaf al-Hazmi moved from Southern California to Phoenix.

Nine months later, they would hijack American Airlines Flight 77. Hanjour himself would steer the Boeing 757 into the Pentagon.

Williams is confident that, had he not been diverted to the arson case, Hanjour and al-Hazmi would have come under his scrutiny: “There’s no question in my mind. I’m convinced we would have crossed paths with them. Guarantee you.”

“All these guys were in the same circle. We got the two guys on America West Airlines doing their dry run and collecting intel. We’ve got Ghassan al-Sharbi who was arrested with Abu Zubayda, so he was kind of a big shot. And then we’ve got these two guys getting ready to kill themselves on September 11th coming into our area. All these guys are living within miles of each other. They would’ve been bouncing off each other, I guarantee,” he says.

Williams did help solve the arson spree, which turned out to be the work of a lone, thrill-seeking arsonist named Mark Warren Sands, who was indicted on June 14, 2001.

By that time, Hanjour and al-Hazmi had left Arizona, arriving in Falls Church, Virginia in April.

Williams gives his former supervisor Kurtz full credit for expressing regret to the 9/11 Commission about having taken Williams off the terror case.

He holds lingering anger, however, for the arsonist who put Kurtz in a tough position.

“I wish I could prosecute him for something tied to 9/11, because he really took our eyes off the guys in Prescott,” says Williams.

With the arson case closed, Williams ramped his counterterrorism investigation back up, posting his now-famous “Phoenix memo” on July 10.

With his investigation first slowed by a lack of surveillance assets and then halted for months by the arson investigation, his recommendation for a nationwide FBI campaign to contact civil aviation universities and colleges in search of extremist students was submitted just two months before 9/11—and then ignored until it was too late.

A Reunion with al-Sharbi

Having been arrested in Pakistan with Abu Zubaydah, Ghassan al-Sharbi—the quieter of Williams’ two Prescott investigation targets—is now detainee #682 at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. A 2016 government profile said “he has been mostly non-compliant and hostile with the guards…his behavior and statements indicate that he retains extremist views.”

You’ll recall that Williams closed his Prescott interview of al-Sharbi with a warning: “If you cross that line, you will go to jail. We’ll find you wherever you’re at.” Little did Williams know it would happen halfway around the world.

After al-Sharbi was captured, Williams traveled to Gitmo to question him. When Williams entered the room, he says al-Sharbi’s face signaled his recognition—with an expression that said, “Oh, shit.”

Williams greeted him by saying, “I told you we’d find you.”

Recalling the scene with a chuckle, Williams says, “It was a Hollywood moment. You couldn’t script it any better.”

A New Focus: Making a Case Against Saudi Arabia

While that moment gave Williams something to smile about, 9/11 remains a constant and grim presence in his life.

There’s no escaping the nagging question of how the world may be different had he received the surveillance support he’d requested, or if he hadn’t been reassigned to the arson case.

“I what-if that every day of my life and I will til the day I die,” he says. “How close were we?”

“My ex-wife used to say I was obsessed with it, but I’d say, ‘Well, how can you not be obsessed with it? There’s thousands of people dead and you’re somehow associated with this,” recalls Williams.

In 2017, Williams hit the FBI’s mandatory retirement age of 57. He soon found a perfect outlet for his 9/11 obsession: He’s working with attorneys representing the families and survivors of the 9/11 attacks in their civil suit against the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which is still in the pre-trial phase.

His work is done under a protective order that prevents him from sharing what he’s learned from depositions and from reviewing still-classified documents from Operation Encore, the FBI’s investigation of Saudi government links to 9/11.

However, he’s unequivocal about what it adds up to: “The evidence is there.”

His work on the case goes against the wishes of the FBI. As Williams told me in a 2018 story that broke the news, a lawyer from the FBI’s Office of the General Counsel told him not to join the plaintiffs’ legal team, saying it could impact “other pending litigation” and undermine the pursuit of warm relations with Saudi Arabia.

This time, though, Ken Williams gets to set his own priorities.

This article was originally featured at Stark Realities and is republished with permission.

The War in Afghanistan Should Make You Reconsider Military Enlistment

The War in Afghanistan Should Make You Reconsider Military Enlistment

Though the war in Afghanistan is over, its grim history is filled with hard truths about what it really means to serve in the American military.

Those truths are particularly relevant to anyone contemplating enlistment or commissioning in the armed forces. With that in mind, here’s a warning label informed by the grim lessons of Operation Enduring Freedom—the failed and futile 20-year war in Afghanistan.

You Could Lose Your Life Or Limbs In a War That Accomplishes Nothing

After 9/11, the U.S. government was right to lash out at Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. However, that mission was largely accomplished by the end of 2001. As Scott Horton wrote in Fool’s Errand: Time to End the War in Afghanistan, within three months of 9/11, “there were not enough (al Qaeda) left alive to fill a seventeenth-century pirate ship.”

The balance of the war was a futile effort to replace the Taliban with a government more palatable to western powers. Today, after more than 2,400 U.S. service members were killed and more than 20,000 wounded, Afghanistan is ruled by the Taliban, just as it was two decades years ago.

You May Have to Fight Enemies Created By Your Own Government

Al Qaeda and the Taliban can be traced directly to a 1979 CIA operation, conceived by national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski and approved by President Carter, that provided aid to opponents of Afghanistan’s then-pro-Soviet government, in hopes of drawing the USSR into a protracted, hopeless war.

As I wrote in a pointed 2017 Brzezinski obituary, “the Carter and Reagan administrations, along with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, funded, organized, transported, armed and trained Salafist extremists to fight the Red Army in a holy war on behalf of Islam. Among those who joined the cause were future al Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri and Khalid Sheikh Mohammad.”

“The enduring global impact of this 10-year program bears emphasis: The CIA and Saudi GID recruited jihadists from all around the Muslim world, creating relationships and networks that would evolve into not only al Qaeda, but also ISIS and many other Salafist terrorist groups across several continents.”

You May Be Ordered to Tolerate Pedophilia

A disturbing, centuries-old Afghan custom called bacha bazi (“boy play”) frequently involves the enslavement and sexual abuse of young boys. In the 1990’s, the Taliban government outlawed it. Under the U.S.-sponsored government, however, it was not only tolerated, but was often practiced by Afghan officers within nightly earshot of U.S. service members.

Veterans say superiors told them to ignore the sickening crimes. One of them, former Special Forces captain Dan Quinn, told the New York Times, “We were putting people into power who would do things that were worse than the Taliban did.”

Reckless Waste Management Could Kill You, Years After Your Service is Complete

The U.S. military is regularly billed as a modern fighting force. However, when it came to disposing of vast amounts of waste in Afghanistan and Iraq, military commanders chose a decidedly medieval method.

In both theaters of operation, the military piled everything from batteries and Styrofoam to human body parts, paintchemicals, fuel, electronics, medical waste and plastic in enormous, open-air pits and simply set it on fire, often using jet or diesel fuel as an accelerant.

In a phenomenon that’s been likened to the illness and death caused by Agent Orange jungle defoliant in Vietnam, there’s a growing consensus that the burn pits have given War on Terror veterans respiratory conditions and a variety of cancers. As with Agent Orange, symptoms may surface years after exposure.

Your Mission May Bring Death and Misery to Vast Civilian Populations

According to Brown University’s Costs of War Project, some 335,000 civilians have been killed in America’s post-9/11 wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq. At least 38 million people have been forcibly displaced in those countries along with Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and the Philippines.

Service May Harm You Psychologically

There have been more than 30,000 suicides among those who’ve served in the post-9/11 wars, and upwards of 20% of Operation Enduring Freedom veterans experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in a given year.

If PTSD strikes you, you may be inflicted with angry and aggressive behavior, recurring memories of traumatic events, nightmares, physical reactions to certain stimuli, difficulty expressing emotions, detachment from family and friends, feelings of hopelessness, lack of interest in things you used to enjoy, substance abuse, feelings of overwhelming guilt and suicidal thoughts.

Even thousands of miles of distance from your enemies can’t immunize you against PTSD: Drone operators working from the comfort of an air-conditioned buildings at stateside bases have been stricken too.

“How many women and children have you seen incinerated by a Hellfire missile? How many men have you seen crawl across a field, trying to make it to the nearest compound for help while bleeding out from severed legs?” asked one former drone operator at The Guardian.

Superior Officers May Deceive the American People About a War You’re Stuck In

In 2019, the Washington Post published a large set of documents about the Afghanistan war, including 1,900 pages of transcripts and notes from Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) interviews of U.S. and other officials.

Much like the Vietnam War’s Pentagon Papers, the Afghanistan Papers revealed senior officials’ optimistic public pronouncements about the war’s progress were completely at odds with the facts being reported to them on a daily basis.

As the Post wrote, “the documents contradict a long chorus of public statements from U.S. presidents, military commanders and diplomats who assured Americans year after year that they were making progress in Afghanistan and the war was worth fighting.”

Counterinsurgency Warfare Makes You More Likely to Suffer Genital Injuries and Double-Leg Amputations

Unlike conventional warfare, counterinsurgency operations emphasize foot patrols, which make soldiers vulnerable to improvised explosive devices.

Following a 2010 shift toward counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan, the military’s Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany saw a 60% spike in the share of inbound casualties with a limb amputation and a 90% increase in the proportion with genitourinary wounds.

If You’re Killed By Friendly Fire, the Pentagon May Lie to Your Family About It

Eight months after 9/11, NFL player Pat Tillman turned down a $3.6 million contract and enlisted in the U.S. Army. In April 2004, he was killed by fellow soldiers in the midst of a battle in Afghanistan.

Army brass, however, presented the public with a Hollywood ending to his unlikely story of selfless American patriotism. For weeks, the Army promoted a false account of his death—declaring he’d died in a line of “devastating enemy fire.”

Tillman’s family wasn’t told the truth until weeks after his death, and his nationally-televised memorial service. Subsequent Army and DOD investigations determined Tillman’s superior officers had almost immediately learned he’d been killed by friendly fire.

After You Swear Loyalty To the Constitution, You May Be Used In A Way That Violates It

By virtue of a widely-worded, open-ended congressional authorization to use military force (AUMF), one can reasonably argue the Afghan war was within the bounds of the U.S. Constitution, which reserves the power to declare war to the Congress.

The same can’t be said for most U.S. military action over the recent years. From an attack on Syria in “retaliation” for a government gas attack that didn’t happen to regime-change intervention in Libya, brazenly unconstitutional warfare is now the norm, not the exception.

You Will Be Joining An Enterprise That’s Pushing the U.S. Government Toward Financial Ruin

The doomed war in Afghanistan squandered $2.3 trillion, and with more than 800 installations in more than 70 countries around the world, the sprawling U.S. military empire will this year alone consume $700 billion the U.S. government doesn’t have.

If you naively thought the end of the Afghanistan war would spark some belt-tightening, consider that House Republicans just announced a proposal to tack on another $25 billion to President Biden’s already bloated 2022 proposed DOD budget of $753 billion.

The national debt is a towering $28.7 trillion..and counting. So-called “defense” spending—which has enriched contractors as steadily as it’s helped bring despair and alternating destruction and reconstruction to countless millions—is a major reason why the government is marching steadily toward a financial meltdown.

Journalists May Desert You

If your war is being mismanaged, don’t count on major American media to keep your plight in the public eye, pressure Congress to perform oversight of your mission or urge the president to end it.

In 2020, the regular nightly evening news broadcasts of ABC, CBS and NBC added up to over 14,000 minutes of programming. Out of that, the three networks devoted just five minutes to Afghanistan.

Military Service Doesn’t Equate To Serving One’s Country

Despite the best hopes of many an enlistee or newly-commissioned officer, it’s essential to understand that military service is primarily service to one’s government—not to one’s country. There’s a vast difference.

After the prompt shattering of al Qaeda in Afghanistan was complete, the 20-year nation-building fiasco there didn’t render a service to the people of the United States. Neither did the catastrophic invasion of Iraq on false premises, or the ensuing occupation.

Indeed, the entire war on terror has made the world a more dangerous place for Americans and non-Americans alike.

As Scott Horton writes in Enough Already: Time to End the War on Terrorism, “In a perverse imitation of our enemies, the policy of American dominance in the Middle East amounts to murder-suicide on a mass scale. The treasury is empty, the infantry is exhausted, the Bill of Rights is in tatters and the American people do not believe in the war anymore.”

Buyer Beware

Even if Horton’s correct in saying the American people have had enough already, eager foreign interventionists—working in harmony with defense contractors and parasitic foreign governments—still dominate Washington and the media-think tank ecosystem that surrounds it.

The war in Afghanistan may be over, but the potential for would-be U.S. military service members to be pointlessly harmed and to inflict pointless harm remains high.

Between a continued presence in Iraq, the illegal occupation of Syrian territory, troops deployed in Africa without the knowledge of Congress, saber-rattling over Taiwan, the pointlessly provocative expansion of NATO up to Russia’s borders and an Israeli government seemingly eager to fight Iran down to the last American, the late-stage U.S. empire and its too many allies are still poking hornet nests all around the globe.

As a (non-combat) veteran of the U.S. Army Reserve, Pennsylvania National Guard and U.S. Army, I can attest to the fact that there are many benefits to military service, and they’re well-advertised.

However, anyone contemplating military service owes it to themselves to look inside the shiny red, white and blue packaging wrapped around it, and come to a full and sober appreciation of what service in today’s stumbling U.S. empire could really mean to them.

This article was originally featured at Stark Realities and is republished with permission.

Surprised? Another Hate Crime Hoax Exposed

Surprised? Another Hate Crime Hoax Exposed

In mid-May, news broke of a disturbing incident at Bucknell University: Outlets across the country reported that, on the eve of final exams, a mob of 15 to 20 intolerant male students had victimized the school’s LGBTQ community via an attack on a residence hall established as a “safe space” for community members.

The intruders were members of a former Tau Kappa Epsilon (TKE) fraternity chapter that was shut down in 2019 over hazing violations. Before hosting the “Fran’s House” LGBTQ residential group, the building at the center of the disturbance was TKE’s decades-long home at Bucknell.

Students living in the house said the TKE brothers banged on doors and windows, yelling, “Let us in…this isn’t your home…this is our home.” One apparently exposed himself; someone allegedly urinated on the porch.

That same evening, the house’s residential advisor published a lengthy and emotionally-charged open letter to Bucknell President John Bravman, recounting how the experience of “20 inebriated former fraternity members harass(ing) the LGBTQ+ community” left his “legs shaking with adrenaline.”

On the morning after the disturbance, Bucknell raced to issue a statement condemning what it called a “horrific incident.”

In a fateful contradiction, the university simultaneously promised an independent investigation to ascertain the facts while embracing the assumption that this was an attack on the LGBTQ community.

“We cannot erase the ugliness and subsequent trauma of last night’s transgression against the students of Fran’s House and, implicitly, many others, but we can commit to addressing it in a way that protects LGBTQ Bucknellians and better ensures their safety in the future,” said the statement issued by Bravman along with the school’s provost and its associate provost for equity and inclusive excellence.

Bucknell’s dramatically-worded embrace of the hate crime narrative poured gasoline on the public relations fire. By characterizing the episode as a “horrific incident” against LGBTQ students that left administrators “sorrowful,” the university handed journalists and editors just what they needed for sensational, click-inducing coverage.

Stories erupted at the nation’s most prominent outlets, with headlines describing a shocking hate crime at the highly selective Pennsylvania school:

  • The New York Times: Bucknell Investigating “Horrific” Harassment of LGBTQ Students
  • USA Today: Bucknell University Condemns “Horrific” Attack on LGBTQ Residence: “We Are Outraged and Sorrowful”
  • The Washington Post: “Horrific” Attack on LGBTQ House Sparks University Investigation

Social media lit up with indignation. A professor arranged for people to take shifts standing guard outside the house. Students organized a “solidarity march against toxic masculinity.” TKE’s national office condemned the incident as an “act of intolerance.”

And then, two months after the school’s nationwide hate-crime humiliation, Bucknell announced that a university-commissioned independent investigation by law firm Cozen O’Connor “found no evidence that the students outside of Fran’s House on May 13 were motivated by bias against the residents and their affinity as an LGBTQ+ community.”

Good luck finding that news at the Washington Post, New York Times, USA Today, NBC News, CNN, Fox News, New York Post, The Hill, Boston Globe, The Advocate, New York Daily News, Insider Higher Ed, Los Angeles Blade, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, Seattle Times and countless other outlets that pushed the false, Bucknell-encouraged hate crime angle.

A clip of a New York Times headline: Bucknell Investigating 'Horrific' Harassment of LGBTQ Students...residents say they were terrified and traumatized by the episode
The New York Times, May 16, 2021

Hate Motive Doubtful from the Start

I took special interest in this incident: I graduated from Bucknell and I’ve been an enthusiastic booster of my alma mater.

When I first saw the headlines, I was embarrassed that such an ugly event happened at Bucknell. As I read the details, however, I immediately grew skeptical about the hate crime narrative and troubled by the university’s official statement.

From all accounts, it sounded like drunk senior-class TKEs—still deeply resentful of the university’s closure of their chapter—took a final trip to their cherished former home and obnoxiously took out their lingering anger at the expense of whomever was unlucky enough to be occupying it.

Consistent with that, something was conspicuously absent from the witness accounts: any claim that homophobic, transphobic or similar slurs were directed at them. Rather, the TKEs yelled, “This isn’t your home…it’s our home.”

As supposed evidence of an anti-LGBTQ motive, the residential advisor said the TKEs “(swung) a metal bar at our flag pole that displays our pride flag.” However, it seems plausible the inebriated intruders would have taken a swat at any flag on “their” house other than a TKE flag.

I wasn’t the only doubter of the hate crime narrative. Days after the incident, freelance journalist and self-described former “gay frat boy” Skylar Baker-Jordan, writing at Medium, said his initial reaction was “outrage.” After diving into the details, though, he concluded “there is nothing in this reporting to suggest what happened was a targeted attack on the LGBT community.”

It’s one thing for the occupants of the LGBTQ house—rattled by a jarring disturbance—to leap to the conclusion they were targeted because of their LGBTQ status. It’s another for the university to embrace that assumption in a message to the campus community and the media.

Reacting to a CNN story, a Bucknell classmate texted me his own thoughts, which concisely summed up the situation: “Don’t think it was quite an intentional LGBTQ hate crime, but it is now.”

Hate Crime Assumption a Recurring Phenomenon

In Bucknell administration offices, in newsrooms, dorm rooms and across social media, the fact that LGBTQ students lived in the house was enough to trigger firm convictions that the fraternity brothers’ trespassing was motivated by anti-LGBTQ bias.

Had a different special interest group happened to live in the former TKE house, we’d likely have seen headlines decrying a racist, xenophobic or anti-semitic attack at Bucknell. On the other hand, as Baker-Jordan wrote in May, “Had (this) been a regular dorm, this never would have made national news.”

The Bucknell incident exemplifies a broader phenomenon in which aggression directed at people who are members of a marginal group is assumed to be motivated by the victims’ status. Of many examples of this national syndrome, two stand out as particularly illustrative.

In March, a white man attacked three massage parlors in Atlanta, killing eight workers. The killer’s whiteness and the fact that six of the dead were Asian women was enough to ignite a media, government official and public uproar characterizing the attack as a racist, anti-Asian hate crime.

In the immediate aftermath, the Washington Post alone published sixteen articles framing the attacks as racially motivated. Then we learned the killer had patronized some of the parlors he attacked. He told police he’d battled sex addiction and lashed out at the parlors because he viewed them as a source of temptation—not because of the heavily Asian demographic profile of their employees.

In 2016, Omar Mateen murdered 49 people and wounded 53 others at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando. Five years later, politicians and activists continue to promote the fiction that Mateen was driven by anti-LGBTQ bias. There is absolutely no evidence to substantiate that assumption and plenty to contradict it.

Clinging to hate crime mythology about the Pulse attack isn’t just a dishonest means of advancing the LGBTQ cause, it also does harm by hiding Mateen’s real motive: He made it emphatically clear he killed in retaliation for the U.S. bombing of Muslims in the Middle East. Burying that motive diminishes Americans’ ability to weigh the domestic costs of their government’s foreign interventions.

As if baseless assumptions about real events weren’t enough to thwart Americans’ ability to gauge actual levels of intolerance in the country, the picture is further muddied by outright hate crime hoaxes, such as a black student writing racist graffiti at Albion College in April.

Kentucky State University criminal justice and political science professor Wilfred Reilly has created a database of hundreds of such hate crime hoaxes and written a book about the phenomenon.

Bucknell’s Reaction a Disservice to the University and LGBTQ People Everywhere

Particularly where college administrators are concerned, the urge to overreact and baselessly authenticate the hate-victim claims of aggrieved parties is, to some extent, understandable.

After all, in a woke culture that declares “silence is violence,” administrators who fail to immediately embrace the victims’ narrative run the risk that an activist mob will turn its wrath on school officials, accusing them of being “part of the problem.”

On top of the danger to reputations and job security, there’s the chance they could find themselves, like the president of Evergreen State College, essentially taken prisoner in their own office.

Of course, however imperative it may seem while under duress, abandoning reason, respect for facts and due process has its own costs.

Given Bucknell’s subsequent investigation found no evidence that the TKEs’ hooliganism was motivated by anti-LGBTQ bias, the university’s statement implicitly endorsing the bias-motive claim fed a media misinformation frenzy that baselessly bruised the school’s reputation.

Needlessly embarrassing alumni, students and faculty wasn’t the only bad outcome: The university’s approach surely stoked undue anxiety among LGBTQ people across the country.

“Stories like this, framed in a way to suggest there was some concerted attack on the LGBT community…help perpetuate an unwarranted climate of fear on our campuses,” wrote Baker-Jordan, who noted that support for gay and lesbian people has doubled over the last 30 years. “This was not a targeted attack on the LGBT community, rather a fraternity party gone too far. That distinction matters, because I do not want LGBT students feeling any less safe than they need to feel.”

By cultivating excessive fear via a false account of what happened at Bucknell, the nationwide mischaracterization of the incident feeds a cycle where future incidents in other places will be more prone to misinterpretation too.

It should be also be noted, that, while some of the TKE brothers who descended on their former house were apparently guilty of harsh, intrusive and lewd behavior that frightened members of Fran’s House, the university’s May 14 implication that the TKEs had carried out an anti-LGBTQ attack was inconsistent with the ideals of due process and fair treatment of the accused.

I asked Bucknell if President Bravman regretted the May 14 statement language, or if the university wished to acknowledge any lessons learned from the barrage of bad publicity invited by Bucknell’s dramatically-worded embrace of a false narrative.

A university spokesperson referred me to Bravman’s July 12 statement that “summarizes findings of the investigation and represents Bucknell’s final position on the incident.” However, that statement lacks any evaluation of the administration’s handling of the episode.

Meanwhile, since there’s been essentially no follow-up reporting that an outside investigation contradicted the school’s initial stance, for too many people, their “final position” is that Bucknell had a “horrific” anti-LGBTQ incident in May.

Bucknell Grants LGBTQ Group’s Request

In an open letter posted shortly after the incident, Bucknell’s LGBTQ residential affinity group requested it be assigned a permanent residence: “Under no circumstances should Fran’s House be in jeopardy of losing their physical space due to the requirements Bucknell enforces to fill roster spots as opposed to creating inclusive living spaces.”

In July, when Bravman announced the findings of the investigation, he declared the former TKE house would become “the permanent campus affinity house for LGBTQ+ students and their allies.”

When it made its plea for a permanent space, the LGBTQ residential affinity group said, “Never again should someone feel entitled to come to our home and say it’s ‘their house and not ours’.”

At the same time, let’s hope Bucknell University will never again undermine its own reputation by impulsively endorsing a false narrative.

This article was originally featured at Stark Realities and is republished with permission.

Government Never Had Control Over the Pandemic

Government Never Had Control Over the Pandemic

In the early 11th century, King Canute—while at the peak of his power—set out to demonstrate to his fawning courtiers the limited power of royal edicts.

After having his throne placed by the sea’s edge, he sat down and commanded the tide to stop rising. When the water began washing over his feet, he declared, “Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings.”

Nearly a thousand years later, facing a different force of nature—COVID-19—an entire global generation of presidents, prime ministers, governors, mayors, public health officials, scientists and citizens is being given the same lesson.

However, where Canute’s lesson sprang from his humility, this lesson springs from the hubris of the present-day ruling class and the credulity of the masses who place far too much faith in their rulers’ power.

The lesson was pointedly driven home on July 19th. That was “Freedom Day” in the United Kingdom, with government ending restrictions on social contact, allowing the reopening of remaining establishments such as nightclubs, and abandoning mask mandates.

Two weeks before Freedom Day, as the Delta variant relentlessly pushed the UK’s case count higher, 122 prominent scientists and doctors submitted a letter to The Lancet calling the planned easing of restrictions “a dangerous and unethical experiment.”

On the eve of Freedom Day, the UK’s daily case count was over 40,000. Imperial College London mathematical biologist Neil Ferguson told the BBC it was “almost inevitable” the end of restrictions would prompt daily cases to soar to 100,000 and perhaps even 200,000.

Mother Nature was about to deliver a harsh comeuppance to Ferguson and others who’d have us believe government restrictions and mask mandates offer a potent defense against Covid contagion: Cases promptly went into a two-week free fall.

Chart showing a steep decline in daily new Covid cases in the UK beginning two days after Freedom Day eased all remaining restrictions
Daily New Cases in the United Kingdom

In addition to fostering well-founded doubt about the benefits of lockdowns and face coverings, the turn of events should also cultivate healthy skepticism about the pronouncements of the public health establishment.

Hopefully, Ferguson’s particular humiliation will immunize officials, journalists and citizens against trusting Imperial College London’s COVID-19 models.

Those models, which played a key role in enabling unprecedented, draconian lockdowns around the world—have been wildly wrong again and again. For example, Imperial College London projected Sweden’s relaxed approach to COVID-19 would leave nearly 100,000 Swedes dead by July 1, 2020. The actual count: 5,700.

The United States has endured its own false alarms about what will happen when government-imposed restrictions are eased. Grim predictions and accusations of gubernatorial indifference to human life accompanied the ending of restrictions and mandates in states like Iowa, Texas and Florida, and proved as wrong as the ones made in the UK last month.

Lacking Canute’s humility and undaunted by contrary evidence, the great majority of officials, scientists and pundits who’ve favored coercive government measures have proven stubbornly incapable of entertaining the possibility that these interventions—which have boosted depressionsuicidealcohol abusedrug overdosesdomestic violence and undiagnosed cancer—aren’t a net positive for public health after all.

That resistance to contrary evidence extends to a great many everyday citizens whose unwavering support of lockdowns, business restrictions, remote schooling and mask mandates is part of a politicized tribal identity.

Exasperatingly, that tribe embraces “trust science” as a mantra, oblivious to the fact that the scientific method hinges on the reliable replication of results that supports one’s theory—something sorely lacking where lockdowns, masking and other measures are concerned.

Chart of new daily cases in Japan; a Forbes headline from last summer credits high rate of mask usage for Japan's then-low rate; the chart shows that UMD Mask survey shows steady 96%+ mask compliance, yet cases skyrocket in summer 2021

The “trust science” crowd is likewise oblivious to the fact that scientists are far from unanimous in supporting those government-imposed nonpharmaceutical interventions (NPIs), and that highly-credentialed scientists from esteemed institutions are among the most vigorous dissenters.

The most prominent demonstration of such dissent came with the October 2020 “Great Barrington Declaration.” Led by professors from Harvard, Oxford and Stanford, epidemiologists and public health scientists from around the world expressed their “grave concerns about the damaging physical and mental health impacts of the prevailing COVID-19 policies.”

The declaration has now been signed by more than 58,000 medical and public health scientists and medical practitioners. Their numbers and credentials don’t guarantee their views are correct; however, they do bely the presumption of a scientific consensus behind coercive mitigation policies.

Among three original Stanford signatories to the declaration is biophysics professor and Nobel Prize recipient Michael Levitt. He and a group of Stanford and international scholars have been analyzing Covid-19 data since January 2020.

Referring to the steep drop in cases after UK restrictions were eased, Levitt recently asked the Twitter-verse: “Can anyone show clear correlation between NPI or other restrictions & reduced COVID-19 cases anywhere? I keep trying & failing. We really need to know this to deal better with future pandemics.”

Levitt isn’t the only reputable scientist who sees little if any correlation between government-imposed NPIs and COVID-19 trajectories.

“We’ve ascribed far too much human authority over the virus,” said Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, in a recent interview with the New York Times. “These surges have little to do with what humans do. Only recently, with vaccines, have we begun to have a real impact.”

“We had record high cases, hospitalizations and deaths in January, followed by a precipitous decline throughout February and into March…this does not reflect anything to do with…human mitigation. This is the natural ebb and flow of the virus we’ve seen time and again around the world,” said Osterholm on his COVID-19 podcast.

In that vein, those who exclusively attribute today’s surging case counts in southern states to lagging vaccination rates and purported local mismanagement should note that:

  • The southern wave’s timing roughly parallels the region’s 2020 summer surge, which should prompt consideration that seasonality—alongside Delta’s greater transmissibility among even the vaccinated—may be the dominant driver
  • While Florida is considered the new epicenter of the pandemic, the state’s vaccination rate matches the national average
  • Oregon, despite an above-average vaccination rate, is experiencing its own sharp spike—but has been spared the kind of contemptuous scorn that journalists and Democratic politicians heap on Republican-led Florida

Every NPI Deserves Scrutiny

Over the course of the pandemic, some anti-Covid-19 measures have fallen out of favor in light of new findings and observations. For example, with the understanding that surface transmission of Covid-19 is extremely unlikely, far fewer people are wiping groceries with Clorox.

Perhaps because they’re bolted into place, the nation’s thicket of plexiglass dividers have shown more staying power, despite research indicating they may not only be futile, but could actually be making matters worse by thwarting ventilation. In March, the CDC withdrew its recommendation for barriers on school desks, but has apparently stopped short of discouraging their broad use elsewhere.

Though it’s now socially acceptable to question the use of disinfectants and plexiglass, questioning masks can get you suspended from social media and tarred as a promoter of disinformation—even when you’re citing peer-reviewed studies.

However, with other widely-embraced mitigation measures fading in light of new data, intellectually honest people should be equally open to the question of whether widespread face-covering—particularly with anything other than an N-95 mask—is worthwhile.

That forbidden discussion is starting to creep into mainstream media. In a recent appearance on CNN, the University of Minnesota’s Osterholm—a former COVID-19 advisor to President Biden—caused a stir by saying, “We know today that many of the face cloth coverings that people wear are not very effective in reducing any of the virus movement in or out.”

That’s because Covid-19 particles are astoundingly small. Hard as it is to imagine, the imperceptible gaps in surgical masks can be 1,000 times the size of a viral particle. Gaps in cloth masks are well larger than that.

Osterholman has offered a highly relatable standard by which to judge if a particular face covering serves as a meaningful barrier against particles that small: “If you were in a room with somebody smoking, would you smell it in your device that you are using?”

That standard not only eliminates cloth masks, but surgical ones too.

Beyond the realities of nanoparticle science and the conclusions of previous studies, the case for masking is undermined by what we’ve observed during the pandemic.

Sweden, for example, never widely embraced masking. While its per capita Covid death count is well higher than neighboring Finland and Norway, it’s the 15th lowest out of the 31 European Union countries and the UK.

If face-covering were such an essential life-saving practice, Sweden wouldn’t be found in the middle of the EU pack. It would be dead last.

That said, using COVID-19 death counts alone to evaluate outcomes is problematic. Different testing protocols can mean an individual would be positive in one country and negative in another. Jurisdictions also differ in what exactly comprises a COVID-19 death—was it a death from COVID or merely with COVID?

More importantly, though, when we solely focus on Covid-19 deaths, we ignore the suicides, fatal overdoses and other unintended deaths that result from the lockdowns themselves.

That’s why it’s best to compare countries using excess all-cause mortality: total deaths beyond what’s expected in a normal year. By that measure, lockdown- and mask-eschewing Sweden had one of the best 2020 excess mortality rates in all of Europe—23rd-lowest out of 30 countries.

(It again trailed Finland and Norway, but a variety of factors undermine the idea they present a full-on apples-to-apples comparison; what’s more, by some measures, Finland and Norway had even less stringent policies during the first several months of the pandemic.)

CDC is “Following the TV Pundits”

Vinay Prasad is an associate professor of medicine at the University of California San Francisco and co-author of Ending Medical Reversal: Improving Outcomes, Saving Lives. “Medical reversal” is what happens when new data shows a commonly-accepted practice is not helpful—or is actually harmful.

Decrying the lack of randomized trials backing many COVID-19 policies, Prasad recently wrote, “When it comes to non-pharmacologic interventions such as mandatory business closures, mask mandates, and countless other interventions, the shocking conclusion of the last 18 months is this: We have learned next to nothing,”

Referring to the CDC’s decision to once again recommend universal indoor masking in areas of higher COVID-19 transmission, Prasad wrote, “The CDC director calls this ‘following the science,’ but it is not. It is following the TV pundits.”

While declaring his openness to the possibility that masking can be an effective public health intervention, Prasad says mandates should be driven by evidence—and that the CDC isn’t offering any.

Prasad, who doesn’t shy away from endorsing coercive government action when he thinks it’s warranted, concludes:

“When the history books are written about the use of non-pharmacologic measures during this pandemic, we will look as pre-historic and barbaric and tribal as our ancestors during the plagues of the middle ages. What the books won’t capture is how, in the moment, our experts were simply so sure of themselves.”

This article was originally featured at Stark Realities and is republished with permission.

Revenge of the Masks

Revenge of the Masks

Just when the forces of rationality had seemingly established a beachhead in the public health domain, they’re back on defense again, as the CDC declares vaccinated and unvaccinated people should wear masks indoors in areas of the country experiencing high transmission, and every schoolchild should be condemned to wear a mask all day long.

The moves, which come in response to surging case counts, seem to demonstrate an impulse that animates many questionable government policies: “We have to do something,” regardless of whether that something can be reasonably expected to have a material impact on the problem at hand.

Ample Reason to Doubt Masks’ Value

Most public and media discussion of mask policy reflects a foundational assumption that may well be false—namely, that widespread, all-purpose mask-wearing has had any meaningful impact on slowing the spread.

Intuition tells us covering our faces must be worthwhile. After all, if the virus is emitted from our noses and mouths, covering those openings has to make a big difference, right?

That gut feeling misleads us, though, because we tend to only think of the virus in terms of visible, tangible droplets masks can absorb. Indeed, the initial scientific consensus held that COVID-19 was exclusively transmitted by droplets, prompting the emphasis on distancing six feet from each other—room enough for gravity to pull those droplets out of the air.

That exclusive-droplet-transmission consensus proved wrong. We now know COVID-19 is spread to a great extent via aerosols—a term that describes particles so small they can easily float along in the air, traveling well beyond six feet.

Even that description fails to convey how unfathomably small COVID-19 viral particles actually are—and why masks are a mismatch.

How small are they? As little as 20 nanometers.That means the “material gaps in blue surgical masks are up to 1,000 times” as large as a Covid-19 viral particle,according to Colin Axon, who has advised the UK’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE).

Gaps in typical cloth masks can be 5,000 times the size…to say nothing of all that air that’s merely redirected past masks’ edges when we exhale.

A Tale of Two Countries

While the comparative virus and mask dimensions give one pause, they merely form the basis of a reasonable hypothesis that masks do little to inhibit the mobility of viral particles.

What really counts is observed results in the real world—and what we’ve observed should sow creeping doubt in even the most fervent masking advocate.

“All around the world you can look at mask mandates and superimpose on infection rates, you cannot see that mask mandates made any effect whatsoever,” said Axon to The Telegraph.

While there are many illustrations of that conclusion, perhaps none is more vivid than a comparison of Sweden—which, as a society, never went all-in on masking—and Germany, whose government in January went beyond merely requiring “face coverings” and mandated the use of medical-grade masks.

Despite Sweden’s sharply lower use of masks—and a much more relaxed approach in general—the country’s 12-month experience is essentially indistinguishable from what’s observed in Germany. Rather, one sees a force of nature taking its seasonal course.

“The best thing you can say about any mask is that any positive effect they do have is too small to be measured,” said Axon, a Brunel University (London) lecturer in engineering who notes that “when the particle enters another body, it returns to a biomedical issue, but the mask debate is about the particle journey,” where his knowledge applies.

Meanwhile, the United Kingdom’s experience delivers a one-two punch. First, there’s no indication the imposition of mask mandates slowed transmission, which marched along in seasonal fashion. Second, the recent reopening of the country and lifting of mask mandates amusingly coincided with the beginning of a steep reversal of the summer surge in cases.

(Graphs courtesy of Ian Miller, whose Twitter and Substack pages offer many more statistical illustrations that raise questions about the effectiveness of both masks and lockdowns.)

Masks May Be Counterproductive

As with so many ill-considered government programs—such as the war on terror or the war on drugs—mask mandates may actually serve to amplify the peril they’re meant to minimize.

That’s because unwarranted confidence in masks can give wearers a false sense of security and lead them to neglect risk management steps that are actually worthwhile.

That’s the view of Harvard Medical School epidemiologist and biostatistician Martin Kulldorff. “Naively fooled to think that masks would protect them, some older high-risk people did not socially distance properly, and some died from #COVID19 because of it,” he said in a May 2021 tweet.

Kulldorff’s tweet was short-lived. Twitter’s thought police, whose Orwellian curation of Covid content centers on a presumption of CDC infallibility, promptly blocked the tweet and locked the Harvard scholar out of his account.

Masks: The Last Taboo in Covid Discourse?

Today, relatively few scholars and prominent health professionals join Kulldorff and Axon in publicly questioning the value of widespread masking.

However, if the history of the controversy over COVID-19’s origin is any indication, there may be many others who harbor doubts, but, fearing the social and professional repercussions of speaking their minds, are waiting until it’s safer to do so.

In May of this year, nineteen scientists published a letter in the journal Science demanding an investigation that would examine the possibility the virus escaped from China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology. One of the scientists said she and others didn’t speak up last year because they were apprehensive about being associated with Trump and his supporters.

There’s an obvious parallel to masks, which have been embraced by millions of Americans not only for their perceived health value, but as a means of signaling their virtue and membership in the liberal and/or anti-Trump tribe.

That emotional and political attachment to masks—which infects the media as well as individual citizens—represents a powerful barrier to an intellectually honest evaluation of their effectiveness. The sooner that barrier begins to crumble, the better off we’ll all be.

This article was originally featured at Stark Realities and is republished with permission.

Leaked: How GOP Insiders Torpedoed Attempt To Add ’28 Pages’ Declassification to Party Platform

Leaked: How GOP Insiders Torpedoed Attempt To Add ’28 Pages’ Declassification to Party Platform

According to leaked emails obtained by Middle East Eye, an unnamed Republican Party figure orchestrated the defeat of a proposed 2016 GOP plank calling for the declassification of 28 pages on Saudi government links to the 9/11 plotters.

That individual then notified Trump presidential campaign manager Paul Manafort of the plank’s defeat and claimed credit for providing instructions to “our political team” to kill it.

Manafort forwarded the news to Tom Barrack—Trump’s billionaire friend, surrogate and fundraiser—who notified Yousef al-Otaiba, the United Arab Emirates ambassador to the United States.

The behind-the-scenes communications seem to suggest that Trump campaign officials and associates, eager to strengthen their relationships with Gulf officials, supported efforts to thwart the release of the 28 pages even though candidate Trump had spoken favorably of it.

Months before the Republican convention intrigue, however, Trump implied he would release the 28 pages if elected, and suggested they could reveal Saudi guilt for 9/11.

At a February 2016 campaign event, Trump said, “It wasn’t the Iraqis that knocked down the World Trade Center. We went after Iraq, we decimated the country, Iran’s taking over…but it wasn’t the Iraqis, you will find out who really knocked down the World Trade Center, because they have papers in there that are very secret, you may find it’s the Saudis, okay? But you will find out.”

“Really confidential but important. Please don’t distribute.”

During proceedings of the platform committee at the July 2016 Republican national convention, the national security subcommittee approved a plank urging the release of the 28 pages. However, it was rejected when it went before the full platform committee.

Soon after, a Republican party source, whose name is not known, sent a self-aggrandizing email to Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. In part, it read:

“Paul. Something you can pass along to your friend Tom Barrack. I made certain that language that was anti the Saudi Royal Family was removed from the platform. It was inserted by AIPAC lobbyists and would have been a part of the 2016 Platform. When I saw the amendment that was passed in the subcommittee, I gave instructions to our political team to remove the language in the full committee.”

The full email follows this story. Middle East Eye concluded that “Paul” is Paul Manafort via other context in the leaked email conversations. (Below, I’ll dismantle the bizarre suggestion that AIPAC was behind the plank and reveal who actually wrote it.)

After receiving news of the plank’s defeat from Manafort, Barrack—who later chaired Trump’s inauguration committee—forwarded it to al-Otaiba, calling it “really confidential but important. Please don’t distribute.”

Since the platform proceedings were carried live by CSPAN, Barrack’s request for confidentiality seems intended to conceal Manafort and Barrack’s support of the plank’s demise, as they quietly worked to curry favor with the Saudi-aligned UAE and the kingdom itself.

Manafort, who now stands famously indicted for a variety of charges that include obstruction of justice, conspiracy to launder money, making false statements, witness tampering and acting as an unregistered agent of a foreign principal, was once a registered agent of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, along with many other regimes known for violating human rights.

“The emails will be of interest to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who has widened the scope of his inquiry into potential Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election to include whether the Emiratis and Saudis funneled payments to Trump’s election campaign,” writes Hearst.

His report also paints a picture of an increasingly warm personal relationship between Barrack and the UAE’s al-Otaiba. “You’re an amazing man,” gushed Barrack after al-Otaiba hosted him at a dinner that also included Saudi foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir. Barrack thanked his host for serving “irreplacable wine.”

The emails also illuminate Barrack’s project to mold Trump’s thinking about the region. “I would like to align in Donald’s mind the connection between the UAE and Saudi Arabia which we’ve already started with Jared (Kushner),” he wrote to al-Otaiba.

Saudi Guardians at the GOP Convention

If the unidentified Republican figure’s boast was truthful, then, by all indications, that person’s instructions to kill the 28 pages plank found their way to Steve Yates, a former deputy national security advisor to vice president Dick Cheney.

A member of the platform committee and then-chair of the Idaho Republican Party, Yates moved for the plank’s rejection and gave a brief speech heavy on fallacious arguments echoing those being contemporaneously advanced by Saudi-accommodating CIA director John Brennan.

Before it was voted down, two Trump-aligned members of the platform committee also spoke against the plank:

  • Thomas Dadey, who co-chaired Trump’s New York campaign and was later named to Trump’s transition team.
  • Darcie Johnston, Trump’s Vermont campaign manager who went on to receive a job as a special assistant in the new administration’s Department of Health and Human Services.

Yates become an informal advisor to the Trump transition team, where he played a supporting role in Trump’s controversial receipt of a congratulatory phone call from Taiwan’s president.

Barrack Sought to Curtail Trump’s Exploitation of Clinton-Saudi Links

Hearst provided with another email exchange not quoted in the Middle East Eye story, one that shows Barrack’s high interest in shielding Saudi Arabia from embarrassing comments by Trump on the campaign trail, and in making sure the UAE ambassador knew about it.

On June 22, 2016, Trump delivered a formal, high-profile campaign speech at the Trump Soho hotel in New York in which he attacked opponent Hillary Clinton, accusing her of corruption during her tenure as secretary of state.

On the same day, in an email to al-Otaiba, Barrack wrote, “I also made sure in his speech against Hillary today that he did not mention or antagonise the issue of her taking Saudi Arabian money! All good.”

Al-Otaiba replied, “I think he did mention Hillary taking Saudi money :)”

The ambassador was correct: Trump said “Hillary took $25 million from Saudi Arabia…where being gay is also punishable by death.”

The Saudi-Clinton monetary connection was one of many dimensions of Clinton’s record that dampened progressive liberal enthusiasm for her, and thus contributed to the low Democrat turnout that proved fatal to her campaign. However, in Barrack’s own political and perhaps financial calculus, fully exploiting that dynamic apparently took a back seat to protecting the interests of Saudi Arabia.

28 Pages Plank Not the Work of AIPAC

The unidentified Republican party member’s claim that the plank was the brainchild of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) is not merely odd—given the under-the-table alliance between Saudi Arabia and Israel—it’s also false.

The plank was introduced by delegate and Maine state senator Eric Brakey—and the language was personally drafted by me, Brian McGlinchey.

The libertarian Brakey contacted me after hearing my July 6, 2016 appearance on The Tom Woods Show, in which I discussed the growing, nonpartisan drive to declassify the 28 pages. He expressed his interest in introducing a plank supportive of the cause and I drafted language for him to use.

Reached with news of the intrigue surrounding his plank, Brakey says, “It doesn’t necessarily surprise me. There’s a lot that happens (at party conventions) out in front for people to see, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. If there were really powerful people trying to stamp it out, we must have been on to something, and we found out we were on to something when they were released.”

As it turned out, the 28 pages were declassified just days after the platform battle, albeit with many remaining redactions.

Among other things, the 28 pages revealed many troubling connections between the 9/11 hijackers’ support network and other people of interest to investigators and then-Saudi ambassador to the United States Prince Bandar bin Sultan.

However, thanks to a perfect storm of major competing stories, a comprehensive U.S. government campaign to downplay the pages’ significance, and the media tendency to report official stances with little or no questioning, their impact was muted.

“It’s kind of a shame they’ve been swept under the rug,” says Brakey.

Tom Barrack’s Email to UAE Ambassador Yousef al-Otaiba Regarding 28 Pages Platform Plank

Middle East Eye provided me with a copy of the content of this email chain

From: Tom Barrack

Sent: Wednesday July 13, 2016 8.02 AM

To: His Excellency Yousef Al Otaiba


Really confidential but important. Please don’t distribute. Where are you this summer. Would love to get together

Sent from my iPhone

Removed from Platform


Something you can pass along to your friend Tom Barrack.

I made certain that language that was anti the Saudi Royal Family was removed from the platform.

It was inserted by AIPAC lobbyists and would have been a part of the 2016 Platform.

When I saw the amendment that was passed in the subcommittee, I gave instructions to our political team to revoke the language in the full committee.

The final report of the Platform Committee does not contain the language.

1.       Saudi Arabia

a.     Removed a section in the Platform that was inserted to embarrass the royal family. The section called for the release of 28 pages of sensitive documents gathered during the 911 investigation. The pages allegedly contain information that asserts involvement by the Saudi Government/Royals as related to the alleged Saudi funding of terrorists who were involved in the 911 bombings

This article was originally featured at Stark Realities and is republished with permission.

Paying Your “Fair Share” of the Warfare-Welfare State

Paying Your “Fair Share” of the Warfare-Welfare State

A recurring theme in national tax debates is the idea that everyone should pay their “fair share” of taxes.

While that aspiration’s validity is widely taken for granted, the stark reality is there’s no such thing as a “fair share” of federal taxes.

To understand why, let’s first scrutinize what’s meant by “fair.” When paired with “share,” the most fitting definition is “reasonable, right and just.”

If the United States government were limited to its only morally sound function—protecting rights, liberties and lives—perhaps one could entertain the theoretical notion of a “reasonable, right and just” share of the cost.

However, that ideal is far from today’s grim reality, as tax revenue is used to assault rights, liberties and lives of Americans and people around the world—to say nothing of the sprawling waste and cronyism associated with a 2021 budget of $6.8 trillion.

So tell me:

  • What exactly is my “fair share” of the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), which enforces economic sanctions that purposefully inflict suffering on innocent civilians in foreign lands?
  • What’s my fair share of the tyrannical practice of civil asset forfeiture, in which cash and other property is seized from citizens without any requirement to file charges?
  • What’s my fair share of the $1.2 trillion allocated in 2021 for the unconstitutional Departments of Housing and Urban Development, Labor, Education and Transportation, and Small Business Administration?
  • What’s my fair share of the cages in which the government confines people for choosing to intoxicate themselves with a plant or a powder rather than a bottle?
  • What’s my fair share of the several trillion dollars spent on the overwhelmingly pointless war in Afghanistan or the even more catastrophic invasion and occupation of Iraq?
  • What’s my fair share of so-called “Covid relief” money used to bail out fiscally irresponsible state and local governments and pay unemployed people more than they were making on the job?
  • What’s my fair share of the jaw-dropping $81 million the CIA paid to two depraved psychologists who crafted the agency’s immoral and ineffective post-9/11 torture program?
  • What’s my fair share of the unjust prosecution of journalist Julian Assange for publishing documents that revealed wrongdoing and embarrassed powerful politicians?
  • What’s my fair share of the $3.8 billion handed over to the Israeli government this year—with every one of those dollars violating a U.S. law?
  • What’s my fair share of the $1.6 trillion cost of the snakebit, contractor-enriching F-35 fighter jet program—which the Pentagon already wants to replace with something else?
  • What’s my fair share of the ongoing salary of the U.S. Central Command’s General Kenneth F. McKenzie, who betrayed his oath to the Constitution by carrying out President Biden’s unlawful orders to bomb Syria?
  • What’s my fair share of $1.5 million spent encouraging eastern Mediterranean youth to stop smoking hookah?

Anticipating objections, please note that the moral standing of federal income taxation isn’t buttressed by whatever few authorized, proper, efficient and beneficial undertakings it finances.

Let’s say your homeowners association does a fine job providing basic services and maintaining common facilities, and you contentedly pay your annual “fair share” of $2,500.

However, the HOA then announces it will:

  • Spend $80,000 to impose unemployment, malnutrition and the degradation of medical services in a neighborhood across town
  • Give a contractor friend of the HOA president $200,000 to do $50,000 worth of sidewalk work
  • Pay two men $90,000 a year to torture suspected car burglars and vandals

Shrugging off your objections that the proposed new undertakings are immoral, corrupt, wasteful and unauthorized by the HOA bylaws, the board informs you that—using the same allocation method as before—your dues have doubled to $5,000.

“You may not like everything we’re doing now,” they say, “but don’t forget—some of the money goes to plow snow and maintain the swimming pool. You benefit from that.”

Given how half the money will be used, do you think one can rationally insist it’s only “fair” that you pay the $5,000?

For the record—and the benefit of our government monitors—I pay every dollar demanded by the federal tax code. I pay not because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s the coerced thing to do. And if the lawless, immoral HOA threatened to lock you in the clubhouse basement if you didn’t fork over the $5,000, I’m sure you’d pay them too.

But, like me, you’d thoroughly reject the idea that there can be anything “fair”—that is, reasonable, right and just—about your share of the coerced funding of unlawful, wasteful and morally repugnant pursuits.

This article was originally featured at Stark Realities and is republished with permission.

How Shipping Interests Have Rigged the Economic Game for a Century

How Shipping Interests Have Rigged the Economic Game for a Century

There’s a 101-year-old law most Americans have never heard of, one that shaves tens of billions of dollars out of the U.S. economy every year for the narrow benefit of politically-influential shipbuilders, shipyard unions and shipping lines.

The Jones Act does that by essentially barring foreign vessels from transporting freight or people between two U.S. ports. Among many other ill effects, the elimination of competition drives shipping prices far above what a free market would dictate.

Only 46 countries have such laws, and, according to the World Economic Forum, the United States imposes the most stringent ones of all. The Jones Act not only requires that commercial vessels traveling between American coastal ports or along inland waterways be American-flagged, but also American-owned, American-built, American-maintained, American-repaired and American-crewed.

In addition to covering transport from, say, Baltimore to Houston or river transport from New Orleans to St. Louis, the Jones Act even applies its anticompetitive muscle to non-contiguous parts of the country such as Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and Guam.

A bow-to-stern assessment of the Jones Act’s impact will lead rational observers across the political spectrum to conclude it should have been torpedoed long ago.

Antiquated National Security Rationales

National security is a claimed rationale for many a destructive policy, and that’s the case with the Jones Act as well. In the words of one of its defenders, the Jones Act is “crucial (for) the U.S. to maintain an independent shipbuilding and marine cargo capability to serve our nation in wartime.”

If the Jones Act is supposed to guarantee the country can tap a vast U.S. merchant marine fleet during major wars, it’s been a spectacular failure: Between 1960 and 2016 alone, the number of private, U.S.-flagged, oceangoing ships plummeted from 2,926 to just 169.

Officially titled the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, the Jones Act was enacted just after World War I, and the reasoning espoused by its defenders is correspondingly out of step with modern warfare and logistics.

Long gone are the days when soldiers piled into troopships for voyages across the sea. In today’s conflicts, they and much of their heavy equipment are whisked to foreign theaters on cargo jets.

That’s not to say ships are irrelevant to large-scale military deployments. However, in practice, the Pentagon places limited reliance on U.S. commercial ships. For Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, 26.6% of equipment was delivered by foreign-flagged ships and only 12.7% by U.S.-flagged commercial vessels. Notably, only one of them was a Jones Act-compliant craft.

“Protecting” Domestic Shipbuilding Weakens Domestic Shipbuilding

The protectionist shelter provided by the Jones Act has undermined the competitiveness of the U.S. shipbuilding industry by shielding it from market forces that would otherwise guide it to developing specialized expertise.

“Rather than specializing in the production of one, two, or several types of ships and purchasing other vessels from foreigner builders more adept at their production…U.S. shipbuilders complacently settle for mediocrity across a range of commercial ship classes,” wrote Colin Grabow, Inu Manak and Daniel J. Ikenson in a 2018 Cato Institute study.

High-cost mediocrity positions the U.S. shipbuilding industry to cater only to the domestic market forcibly made its captive by the Jones Act—little surprise, then, that exports only account for about 5% of the industry’s revenue.

The Jones Act is supposed to ensure a thriving American shipbuilding industry, yet the industry has withered. While Japan has more than 1,000 shipyards, there are now only around 124 of them left in the United States, just 22 of which are capable of building ocean-going cargo ships and other substantial vessels.

Meanwhile, there’s reason to question the premise that it’s risky for intra-country shipping to benefit from the efficiency and prowess of foreign shipbuilders—who could theoretically turn their backs during future hostilities.

When the Jones Act was enacted in 1920, shipbuilding was heavily concentrated in Europe. Today, however, the world’s top eight shipbuilding countries are South Korea, China, Japan, the Philippines, Taiwan, Romania, Vietnam and Germany. That’s a globally-diversified list dominated by treaty allies and countries with whom relations are friendly—to say nothing of the fact that trade helps discourage conflicts.

Artificially Raising the Cost of Shipping

All forms of protectionism push prices higher than they would be in the face of open competition. The Jones Act comprises multiple layers of protectionism, with a pronounced effect.

Thanks to the requirement that Jones Act vessels be American-made using American steel, the ships used in domestic transport are far more expensive than they should be. According to a 2017 Congressional Research Service study, U.S.-built coastal ships cost $190 to $250 million—compared to just $30 million for a similar ship built abroad.

The higher cost of building, maintaining, repairing and manning Jones Act ships makes the cost of operating such a vessel more than double what it takes to sail a foreign ship.

Ultimately, higher costs and restricted competition means sharply higher prices for users. For example:

  • A 2014 study noted that shipping crude oil from the Gulf Coast to the northeastern United States costs between $5 and $6 per barrel, compared to just $2 to move it from the Gulf Coast to eastern Canada.
  • A Federal Reserve Bank of New York study found that shipping a container to Puerto Rico from the east coast of the United States costs $3,063, compared to just $1,504 to deliver it to the Dominican Republic.

Higher prices for waterborne transport between U.S. ports is just the beginning of the Jones Act’s effect on America—by their nature, shipping prices have a powerful ripple effect on the cost of a vast range of raw materials and finished consumer products across the U.S. economy.

The Jones Act is especially harsh for American island territories: After all, Hawaii, Guam and Puerto Rico can’t consider alternatives like rails and roads. According to a report commissioned by the Puerto Rico Chamber of Commerce, the cost of importing goods from U.S. ports was 151% higher than from non-U.S. ports.

It’s worth emphasizing that Puerto Rico has a 44% poverty rate, and every dollar Puerto Ricans waste on artificially high shipping prices is a dollar that can’t be put to use for something else that’s dearly needed.

Pushing Commerce into Less Eco-Friendly Alternatives

Thanks to the high replacement cost of Jones Act-compliant ships, domestic maritime operators put off buying new vessels longer than they should.

Sixty-five percent of Jones Act container ships are more than 30 years old—11 years older than comparable ships in the fleets of other developed countries. Lacking the benefits of recent design and construction innovations, these vessels are necessarily less fuel-efficient and more accident-prone.

Meanwhile, higher prices for water-borne shipping pushes businesses to alternatives. The impact is apparent: In the United States, just 2% of freight travels by sea, compared to 40% within the European Union.

Sea freight is easily the most carbon-efficient mode of shipping. Given that, when the Jones Act pushes businesses to substitute trucks, railways or aircraft, that exacts a needless toll on the environment. Pound for pound and mile for mile, a truck emits 3.8 to 6 times as much carbon dioxide as a sea freighter.

The substitutions create other costs to society, including heavier road traffic and greater wear and tear on bridges and highways. While trucks represent just 10% of miles traveled in America, they drive over 75% of road maintenance needs.

Government Intrusion Warps Buying Decisions

Higher costs and ecological impacts aren’t the only poison fruit of the Jones Act: By limiting the number of available vessels, the Jones Act also distorts also the decisions of market actors to the detriment of American buyers and sellers alike.

For example, given a paucity of Jones Act-compliant vessels that can transport liquefied natural gas (LNG), Massachusetts is compelled to import much of its required LNG from Russia, despite America’s status as the world’s third-largest producer of that commodity.

It’s even worse for Puerto Rico, which buys almost all its LNG from other countries. Meanwhile, the nearby Dominican Republic buys about half its LNG from the United States. Yes, thanks to the Jones Act, being a part of the United States actually stops Puerto Rico from buying LNG from American producers.

A Failure in Times of Crisis

The Jones Act is said to better position the United States to persevere through natural disasters and other crises, but time and again, crises demonstrate the law has the opposite effect. With too few Jones Act-compliant vessels to meet sudden, urgent needs, the government is repeatedly compelled to issue waivers that allow foreign-flagged vessels to bring supplies to disaster areas.

For example, waivers were issued in the wake of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation of the Gulf Coast—over the callously self-serving objections of Jones Act-protected shippers, shipbuilders and unions, and Republican and Democratic legislators doing their bidding.

Waivers were also issued after Hurricanes Rita, Sandy, Irma and Maria, and earlier this year when the Colonial Pipeline shutdown created fuel shortages in the eastern part of the country.

Dispersed Costs, Concentrated Benefits

According to a comprehensive 2018 Cato Institute study, “Accounting for the actual inflated costs of transportation and infrastructure, the forgone wages and output, the lost domestic and foreign business revenue, and the monetized environmental toll puts the annual cost of the Jones Act in the tens of billions of dollars.”

Cato is not alone; others have also concluded the Jones Act is a net negative for the American economy, including the U.S. International Trade Commission, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the Mercatus Center at George Mason University and various economists and researchers.

Other countries have realized the benefit of easing similar restrictions: After New Zealand did so in 1994, it saw rates for coastal shipping fall by 20 to 25% over the next six years.

Despite the overwhelming case against the Jones Act, it has now commenced its second century of harming U.S. producers and consumers for the benefit of certain shipbuilders, shipyard employees and domestic maritime operators.

Short of total repeal, much good could be accomplished by easing any of the Jones Act’s restrictions. For example, Congress could exempt Puerto Rico, Alaska and other non-contiguous territories, or end the requirement to use ships built in the United States.

In May, Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) and Representative Tom McClintock (R-CA) introduced the Open America’s Water Act (S. 1646 and H.R 3205), which would repeal the Jones Act altogether.

In a stark demonstration of “the tyranny of the status quo,” neither has attracted even a single cosponsor.

This article was originally featured at Stark Realities and is republished with permission.

Why Patriots Shouldn’t Pledge Allegiance

Why Patriots Shouldn’t Pledge Allegiance

Flag Day is upon us, with the Fourth of July not far behind. No better time for a frontal assault on a cherished American ritual—the Pledge of Allegiance.

Though conservatives will be most aghast at this undertaking, the open-minded ones will soon discover they should be among the pledge’s greatest critics.

Before I open fire, a brief explanation for international readers: The Pledge of Allegiance is recited by children across America at the start of start of each school day. It’s also incorporated into many meetings held by federal, state and local governments and private groups as well.

Standing and facing the flag with hand over heart, one recites: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

A Government Loyalty Oath Written by a Socialist

Many who consider the pledge a cornerstone of conservative values will be surprised to learn it was written by a Christian Socialist named Francis Bellamy, who was run out of his pulpit at a Boston church for preaching against capitalism, and who called Jesus Christ a socialist.

His radical cousin, Edward Bellamy, wrote a popular novel, Looking Backward, which glowingly describes a future in which government controls the means of production and where men are conscripted into the country’s “industrial army” and compelled to work in roles assigned to them by central planners.

While working for The Youth’s Companion, a children’s magazine, Bellamy wrote the Pledge of Allegiance in 1892, timed to be introduced in patriotic celebrations accompanying the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s arrival.

According to a summary of Bellamy’s account of his writing of the pledge, he aimed for brevity, as well as “a rhythmic roll of sound so they would impress the children and have a lasting meaning when they became grown-up citizens.”

Given his beliefs, Bellamy was well-suited for creating a loyalty oath that conditions Americans to subordinate themselves to a powerful central government. Make no mistake—in pledging allegiance “to the republic,” Americans are doing precisely that.

That’s consistent with Bellamy’s wish for state sovereignty and individual liberties to yield to a centralized national government, but it’s starkly at odds with the founding spirit of the country.

Central to that spirit are the notions that government should be a servant and not a master, and that all government should be viewed with deep, ongoing wariness— certainly not the reverence demanded by the Pledge of Allegiance.

Free people have no business pledging loyalty to any government. It’s government that has a duty of loyalty to the people, with no more essential demonstration of that loyalty than the protection of the rights of individuals.

Conditioning America’s Youth for Subservience

Bellamy didn’t just write the pledge, but also instructions for an accompanying ritual that feels simultaneously religious and militaristic:

“At a signal from the Principal the pupils, in ordered ranks, hands to the side, face the Flag. Another signal is given; every pupil gives the Flag the military salute—right hand lifted, palm downward, to a line with the forehead and close to it… At the words, ‘to my Flag,’ the right hand is extended gracefully, palm upward, towards the Flag, and remains in this gesture till the end of the affirmation; whereupon all hands immediately drop to the side.”

Yes, Bellamy directed civilian children and adults to render a military salute to the flag, perhaps laying the philosophical groundwork for the eventual creation of the socialist “industrial army” his cousin envisioned in his novel.

The arm outstretched toward the flag came to be called the “Bellamy salute,” and it endured for several decades before its striking similarity to the Nazi salute prompted its replacement in 1942 by the familiar hand-over-heart gesture.

I haven’t always felt this way. Conditioned by 13 years of public school, I continued sincerely reciting the pledge at various functions far into my adult life. Following my U.S. Army service, I’d even stand at attention with heels locked—Bellamy would’ve been proud.

It was only after learning the true meaning of liberty and the animating spirit of our system of government that my mind was changed. If your experience is like mine, once you begin recognizing the pledge as the authoritarian loyalty oath that it is, you’ll soon develop disdain for its nearly every phrase.

50 States, Infinitely Divisible

Two elements of the pledge are especially destructive of a healthy mindset regarding the relationship between the American people and government: “One nation” and “indivisible.”

First, in creating the United States of America, the founders were not forming a single nation. The U.S. Constitution is a compact of independent states, with the word “states” taking its highest political meaning that puts Virginia, for example, on par with France.

That compact delegated certain, limited powers to a federal government so it could perform stated functions in service to the separate states. As James Madison wrote, “The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the state governments are numerous and indefinite.”

Fifty different sovereign societies exercising numerous and indefinite powers, without regard to the federal government and, whenever necessary, in outright defiance of it. That’s the United States of America.

With each “one nation” incantation, however, American children and adults are conditioned to view their states as insignificant political subdivisions, while embracing the primacy of the federal government and the centralization of power in Washington, DC.

However, of the pledge’s 31 words, “indivisible” should give greatest offense to American patriots. The very existence of the United States—created by secession from the British empire—is a testament to political divisibility as a foundational human right.

The Declaration of Independence explicitly expresses that sentiment:

“Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed—that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.”

By reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and proclaiming the United States of America “indivisible,” Americans disclaim their human right of self-determination. They also surrender their ultimate means of holding government accountable: Every government should exist under perpetual threat of disintegration.

Scouring the pledge for positives, one can appreciate that Bellamy rightly referred to the government as a republic and not a democracy—an important yet underappreciated distinction.

Likewise, we can all embrace the idea of “liberty and justice for all.” However, the pledge implies that’s the current state of affairs, rather than a far-off ambition.

That ambition is undermined by the powerful central government advanced by Bellamy’s pledge. Today, it faces a potent new threat from those who, pursuing “equity,” seek to undermine the rights of individuals by imposing new forms of government-sanctioned discrimination.

Making an Idol Out of Cloth and a False God Out of Government

Civics aside, it’s worth noting that, since its introduction, the pledge has also sparked objections on religious grounds—and I’m not referring to the 1954 addition of the words “under God,” and its attendant controversy about the separation of church and state.

Rather, many religious people reasonably view pledging allegiance to a flag as a form of idolatry, or something uncomfortably close to it. Before you scoff at the idea that the U.S. flag has evolved into a “graven image” in the Second Commandment sense, consider that citizens are encouraged to dispose of worn-out flags by burning them and, after a period of silent reflection, burying the ashes.

Other religious individuals are put off by the idea of swearing faith to a government. One such critic quotes the Christian bible’s Matthew 6:24: “No one can serve two masters.” You don’t have to ponder that long to see many profound conflicts between the bible’s values (e.g., “blessed are the peacemakers,” “thou shalt not steal”) and the U.S. government’s.

An Authoritarian Spectacle That’s Not Going Anywhere

No matter where the hand is placed in what Gene Healy rightly calls a “slavish ritual of devotion to the state,” it’s safe to say if the Pledge of Allegiance had never existed, and Americans were to observe a similar rite in another country, most would surely recoil at the authoritarian spectacle.

Alas, there could be no such opportunity: Richard Ellis, author of To the Flag: The Unlikely History of the Pledge of Allegiance, looked but couldn’t find another country that has anything like it.

Created by a socialist and now fiercely championed by those who think they’re conservatives, the Pledge of Allegiance will likely continue warping Americans’ thoughts about the relationship between citizens and government for many more years to come.

This article was originally featured at Stark Realities and is republished with permission.

Biden Proposes Globally-Imposed Corporate Tax Rates

Biden Proposes Globally-Imposed Corporate Tax Rates

In a move that would primarily benefit the world’s largest economies and most bloated governments, the Biden administration has proposed that all the world’s countries agree to impose corporate taxes at a rate no lower than 15%. Biden also proposes punishing countries that don’t adopt the minimum, by imposing heavier taxes on U.S. subsidiaries of companies headquartered in those countries.

In describing the initiative, Treasury secretary Janet Yellen made her aim all too clear: “It is important to work with other countries to end the pressures of tax competition,” she said in a speech to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

Though we’re conditioned to view them as something else, taxes are prices—albeit ones associated with no small amount of coercion. In that light, Yellen’s public opposition to tax competition should be just as jarring as if a corporate CFO said “it’s important to work with other companies to end the pressures of price competition.”

Aside from being an act of imperious, central-planning arrogance, the U.S.-led drive to fix the minimum corporate price of government is just the latest example of government pursuing an activity that’s illegal for private actors.

Plan Aims to Make Biden Tax Hike More Palatable

It’s no coincidence that Biden’s proposal comes alongside his drive to hike the U.S. corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%. While that would still leave it below the 35% level where it stood before a GOP-led 2017 cut, it would weaken America’s position in international competition for corporate investment.

According to the Tax Foundation, Biden’s corporate tax increase would lift the U.S. federal-state combined rate to 32%, which would be the highest among the 38-member Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

To the extent it encourages companies to shift investments and operations to more tax-friendly locales, the tax hike would be at least partially self-defeating. Thus comes the Biden administration’s campaign for a 15% global minimum.

Notably, that rate wasn’t the administration’s first choice—it originally floated a 21% floor. The administration likely sees a 15% pact as a precedent-setting foundation for eventually pushing a higher minimum.

Begging credulity, Biden told reporters he wasn’t concerned that higher taxes could prompt U.S. companies to relocate. “There’s no evidence of that…that’s bizarre,” he said.

Though proposed as a global minimum, the initial focus is on persuading the G7 countries: Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, United Kingdom and United States. Reuters has reported that G7 finance ministers will soon announce their commitment to the idea.

Plan Would Benefit Largest Governments at Expense of the Smallest

The sledding will get a lot tougher after moving beyond that group of the world’s wealthiest economic heavyweights to the G20, OECD and beyond.

Indeed, OECD member Ireland, which boasts a 12.5% corporate tax rate, has already declared its opposition to the scheme—a scheme that threatens to widen the divide between larger and smaller economies.

Smaller countries often use lower tax rates to heighten their appeal as they compete with larger, more advanced economies: The 24 largest European economies average a 20.8% corporate tax rate, compared to 14.5% for the 24 smallest.

Given Ireland’s 12.5% rate has spurred high-tech investment and prosperity in the country, it’s easy to see why it would promptly reject an invitation to surrender it for the benefit of the United States and other economic giants.

“We do have really significant reservations regarding a global minimum effective tax rate status at such a level that it means only certain countries, and certain size economies can benefit,” said Ireland finance minister Paschal Donohoe.

In a separate statement, the Irish government said could support a 12.5% minimum, “which is fair and within the ambit of healthy tax competition.”

Alas, to big-government proponents of a minimum corporate tax, “healthy tax competition” is an oxymoron: Yellen has decried a downtrend in corporate tax rates as a “30-year race to the bottom” that must be stopped.

Corporate Taxes Affect Everyone

Americans should be as hostile to a global minimum corporate tax as they would to a global minimum price for computer chips, lumber or steel. Higher corporate taxes mean businesses have less money to invest in new facilities, develop products, hire workers, pay dividends and command higher stock prices.

The ripple effect is potent. According to a study by the Organization for International Cooperation and Development, “corporate taxes are found to be most harmful for growth, followed by personal income taxes, and then consumption taxes.”

Some will scoff at the idea that higher stock prices and dividends are good for the public. However, via 401(k) plans, IRAs, mutual funds and direct stock investments, 55% of Americans are corporate shareholders of one type or another.

Though routinely vilified by demagoguing politicians, businesses are part of an economic ecosystem in which all of us live. When government increases the tax burden of either businesses or individuals, both groups are affected.

Feeding Washington’s Spending Addiction

Having said all that, let’s not let the latest tax debate divert our attention from an essential fact: The U.S. government doesn’t have a revenue problem—it has a spending problem. And it’s poised to grow even worse.

Biden has requested a staggering $6 trillion federal budget for the coming fiscal year—that’s nearly a third higher than pre-pandemic levels. As a percentage of GDP, the president’s plan for the coming decade would see sustained spending at levels unseen since World War II.

When that war ended, spending subsided. Today, as the government-exacerbated Covid-19 crisis winds down, Biden and congressional allies are proposing to spend even more, content to watch trillion dollar deficits become routine, and the federal debt mushroom even after hiking rates on individuals and businesses.

That’s the real race to the bottom, Ms. Yellen.

This article was originally featured at Stark Realities and is republished with permission.

The CDC is Planning to Destroy the Summer Camp Experience

The CDC is Planning to Destroy the Summer Camp Experience

The Center for Disease Control’s major easing of its mask-use recommendations was a welcome development, giving Americans hope that logic can triumph over the CDC’s bureaucratic inertia and its COVID-era tendency to push the most severe restrictions on human activity at every turn.

Next, let’s hope this outbreak of rationality proves contagious within the CDC, and brings a major overhaul of the agency’s absurd guidelines for summer camps.

CDC Trapped in March 2020 Mindset

In April, the CDC published guidance for operating youth camps that was the latest eye-rolling example of CDC maximalism that conflicts with what we’ve learned about COVID-19.

Before we examine the CDC guidance, let’s review some of the key things that we now know about COVID-19 that we didn’t in March 2020:

  • COVID-19 presents little risk at all to children. According to CDC data, only 295 children age 0-17 have died with COVID-19. Compare that to the CDC’s estimation that 600 died of the flu during the 2017-18 season.
  • Outdoor transmission pretty much never happens. An Irish study of more than 232,000 Covid-19 cases found only 0.1% of cases were transmitted outside.
  • Surface transmission isn’t a material source of spread. The CDC has declared the risk of contracting the virus by touching surfaces or objects is low, and that rather than cleaning with disinfectant, “soap and water is enough to reduce risk” (unless there’s a known or suspected Covid-19 case in a community setting).
  • Vaccines are abundantly available. According to the CDC’s vaccination data, 60.5% of U.S. adults have have received at least one vaccine dose, and 48.4% are fully vaccinated. Gone are the days when finding the vaccine was a challenge; today, anyone who wants the vaccine can readily find it.
  • COVID-19 cases and deaths are in a free fall. The 7-day averages for cases and deaths have respectively fallen 89% and 83% from their peaks. On Sunday, the entire state of Texas reported not a single death from the virus. Today, San Francisco General Hospital has no COVID-19 patients for the first time since March 2020.

With that knowledge in mind, here are some key ingredients in the CDC’s recipe for dystopian summer fun:

  • Two-layer masks should be worn at all timesindoors and out—except for eating, drinking and swimming
  • Don’t allow close-contact games and sports
  • Avoid sharing of objects such as toys, games and art supplies
  • Separate children on buses by skipping rows
  • Divide children into “cohorts” and then keep them away from other cohorts
  • Children should stay three feet away from kids in their cohort and six feet away from those outside their cohort; campers and staff should stay six feet from each other, as should fellow staff members
  • While eating and drinking, stay six feet away from everybody—even your own cohort

Who exactly are these draconian, fun-killing guidelines meant to protect? The children aren’t in any meaningful danger—the number of children who typically drown in a given year is more than double the number of child COVID deaths we’ve observed in 15 months.

Meanwhile, against a backdrop of rapidly-vanishing COVID-19 infections across the country, camp staff will have had more than ample opportunity to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before the first kids arrive.

We’re told to “follow the science,” but what is the CDC following? The agency’s guidelines read like they were written during the early dark ages of the Covid outbreak, when the peril was still filled with overwhelming mystery, and “erring on the side of caution” still had a trace of credibility.

As Columbia University pediatric immunologist Mark Gorelik told New York Magazine, “We know that the risk of outdoor infection is very low. We know risks of children becoming seriously ill or even ill at all is vanishingly small. And most of the vulnerable population is already vaccinated. I am supportive of effective measures to restrain the spread of illness. However, the CDC’s recommendations cross the line into excess and are, frankly, senseless. Children cannot be running around outside in 90-degree weather wearing a mask. Period.”

This article was originally featured at Stark Realities and is republished with permission.

How the Federal Reserve Inflated Away a Fourth of Your Wealth in 15 Years

How the Federal Reserve Inflated Away a Fourth of Your Wealth in 15 Years

As Americans warily eye new data showing both consumer and producer price inflation heating up beyond expectations, few of them realize the Federal Reserve has an explicit goal to relentlessly degrade the purchasing power of their savings.

The Fed weakens the dollar—and pushes prices higher—by creating new money and pushing it out into the economy. If the Fed hits its stated target, the U.S. dollar will lose 10% of its buying power over the next 5 years, 26% over the next 15, and 40% over the next 25. As bad as that sounds, history suggests the dollar will fare even worse than the Fed intends it to.

The Fed’s Evolving Mandate: So Long, “Stable Prices”

For much of its 108-year history, the Federal Reserve had either an implied or explicit mandate to preserve the value of the U.S. dollar—and it failed spectacularly. Between the Fed’s founding in 1913 and 2012, the dollar lost approximately 96% of its buying power.

In 2012, the Fed formally dropped the value-preservation pretense, brazenly declaring that, henceforth, it will deliberately cultivate price inflation at 2% a year.

In the context of a single year, that may not sound like much. However, just as small plumbing leaks quietly cause devastating damage over time, a steady loss of a modest amount of purchasing power accumulates to a major blow to the dollar. Naturally, the Fed didn’t say it wants to cut the value of a dollar by 26% in 15 years, but that’s how the math plays out.

When announcing its new philosophy, the Fed claimed a 2% inflation rate is “most consistent over the long run with the Fed’s statutory mandate.”

Is it? The Federal Reserve Reform Act of 1977 directs the Fed to “promote the goals of maximum employment, stable prices, and moderate long-term interest rates.”

The Fed is clearly applying a creative interpretation of the word “stable.” Would a doctor use that term to describe a patient’s pulse that keeps losing two beats per minute at hourly intervals?

It wasn’t long until the Fed was straining at the longer monetary leash it had given itself. Next, the central bank declared that, rather than viewing 2% as an upper limit on annual price increases, it will feel free to let inflation run hotter in a given year, pursuant to hitting a 2% average over time.

Given history’s many examples of runaway inflation, that sounds a lot like the Fed is playing with fire.

An August 2020 elaboration on the central bank’s philosophy offered little reassurance: Fed chair Jerome Powell said, “We are not tying ourselves to a particular mathematical formula that defines the average. Thus, our approach could be viewed as a flexible form of average inflation targeting.”

An “average” without “a particular mathematical formula” sounds all too flexible indeed.

Has the Inflation Virus Already Escaped the Fed’s Lab?

This spring, Fed officials have been assuring Americans that recent price increases are merely “transitory”—that they don’t mark the start of a major upward trend.

In the wake of April inflation data, those assurances are looking increasingly empty. First came a market-jarring report that consumer prices were 4.2% higher than the previous year. Next, we learned the Producer Price Index soared 6.2% from April 2020—the largest jump since the index started in 2010.

Remember that 2% inflation target? Consumer prices have already risen 2% in the first four months of 2021 alone, with month-to-month increases growing steadily larger. So far this year, the Consumer Price Index has risen:

·       +0.2% in January

·       +0.4% in February

·       +0.6% in March

·       +0.8% in April

The Fed’s Unspoken Mandate

Since consumer price increases are driven in large part by the Fed’s creation of new money, there’s ample reason to think inflationary pressures will continue to grow, thanks to the Fed’s unspoken mandate: aiding and abetting federal government deficit spending.

For the first seven months of the 2021 fiscal year, the federal government spent 90% more money than it took in—since October, $4.075 trillion in outlays against $2.14 trillion in receipts.

When the government spends more money than it takes in, it covers the difference by issuing debt in the form of Treasury bonds, bills and notes. To create artificial demand for that debt and force interest rates lower than what a rational market would demand from an entity that’s $28 trillion in debt, the Fed has been buying much of the new debt with money it creates out of thin air.

This eyebrow-raising practice is called “monetizing the debt,” and in recent times, the Fed has been taking it extreme levels. For example, in March and April of 2020 alone, the Fed monetized over $1.5 trillion of federal debt—everything the Treasury borrowed during that span.

Money in Circulation: M1 Money Supply (Source: Federal Reserve)

The Fed is barred from buying debt directly from the government. In what is essentially a sham transaction, the Fed defeats the spirit of that law by simply waiting until the debt is issued to the public and then buying it from a select group of large financial firms who are in on the arrangement.

It bears repeating that it does so by creating new money, with the consequence of reducing the value of the other money already in circulation. As a means of financing government, then, inflation is a tax everyone pays, but nobody votes for—unless you count the unelected appointees to the Federal Reserve.

A Cornered Fed Won’t Stop Printing Money Now

The U.S. government-Federal Reserve cartel has painted itself into a corner.

Absent the Fed’s purchase of Treasury debt, the federal government’s cost of borrowing would soar, as investors demand full compensation for the growing risk of loaning money to the increasingly debt-laden U.S. government. Since Treasury rates serve as a benchmark, consumer and corporate borrowing costs would soar too, tanking the economy.

At the same time, the prospect of higher inflation puts upward pressure on rates, prompting the Fed to create more money to buy Treasury debt and push rates lower—yet that new money is itself an additional source of inflationary pressure.

Meanwhile, blissfully oblivious to the growing peril, Congress and President Biden are eager to keep stacking trillion-dollar spending plans that hand out money to mismanaged municipalities, give cash payments to people who lost no income during the pandemic, finance a sprawling global empire, award cronies and incentivize unemployed people to stay unemployed.

There’s no telling how or when this will end, but it won’t end well.

This article was originally featured at Stark Realities and is republished with permission.

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