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Peter van Buren

America’s Civilian Killings are No Accident

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America and its allies make modern war in a way that assures “mistakes” destroy hospitals, and civilian lives are taken by drones. These horrors are all too often strategic decisions, or the result of the profligate use of needlessly destructive weapons. They are typically far from accidents.

The destruction of a hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, including the deaths of physicians from Doctors Without Borders, has become the celebrity example of America’s conduct of war. It is the one that made the news, much like a single child dead on the beach stood in for five years of unabated refugee flows out of the Middle East. But Kunduz is more important than just a dramatic news story, in that it stands as a clear example of a sordid policy.
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Yes, There Still are Some Benghazi Questions Worth Asking

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It is very, very difficult to discuss Benghazi and Clinton without almost immediately dipping deep into partisan politics cesspool, and no doubt any hearings she will testify at on Thursday will be ugly and deeply partisan. About half of the people reading this just clicked away to somewhere else. Thoughts on this topic are just that polarized.

But let’s not give up too easily. There are important questions about Clinton’s handling of Benghazi that are relative to her desire to be president. Here are some of them I hope someone will ask her.
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How to Sustain Perpetual War (It’s Easy!)

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Sustaining America’s state of post-9/11 perpetual war requires skillful manipulation of the public at home. The key tool used for this purpose is the bloodless narrative, a combination of policy, falsehoods and media manipulation that creates the impression that America’s wars have few consequences, at least for Americans.

How can the American government sustain its wars in the face of dead soldiers coming home? Why is there no outcry among the American people over these losses? The answer is the narrative of bloodless war.

The Dead

The bloodless war narrative’s solution to the dead is a policy of don’t look, don’t tell.

Dick Cheney, as Secretary of Defense for George H. W. Bush, helped decide in 1991 the first Iraq War would play better if Americans did not see their fallen return home. He recalled the images of coffins from the 1989 invasion of Panama on television, transposed against the president speaking of victory, and banned media from Dover Air Force Base, where deceased American personnel would arrive from the Persian Gulf.
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The Harsh Lessons of History: Faux Reports of Progress Against IS

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Allegations that American military analysts may have “cooked the books” to skew intelligence assessments about the campaign against Islamic State (IS), providing a more optimistic account of progress, are a sign of bad things to come.

Bad intel leads to bad decisions. Bad intel created purposefully suggests a war that is being lost, with the people in charge that loathe to admit it even as they continue to stumble forward, ever-more blind. And if that sounds like America’s previous war in Iraq, or its earlier one in Vietnam, you are not wrong.

A Pentagon Inspector General’s investigation into allegations of overly optimistic intelligence reporting, first reported in the New York Times, began after at least one Defence Intelligence Agency analyst claimed officials overseeing the war against Islamic State were improperly reworking the assessments prepared for senior policy makers. The focus is on whether military officials changed the conclusions of draft intelligence assessments during a review process and then passed them on.
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Why the War on Terror is Failing

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A well-done article in the New York Times reminds us that four years after the United States assassinated American citizen and Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki (and his teenage son) in a drone strike, his influence on jihadists is greater than ever.

At the same time, the UK’s Guardian tells us about William Bradford, an assistant law professor at West Point, who argued in a peer-reviewed paper that attacks on Muslim scholars’ homes and offices, Middle Eastern media outlets and Islamic holy sites are legitimate and necessary to “win” the war on terrorism.

Bradford threatens “Islamic holy sites” as part of a war against radicalism. That war ought to be prosecuted vigorously, he wrote, “even if it means great destruction, innumerable enemy casualties, and civilian collateral damage. Other ‘lawful targets’ for the US military in its war on terrorism,” Bradford argues, “include law school facilities, scholars’ home offices and media outlets where they give interviews, all civilian areas, but places where a causal connection between the content disseminated and Islamist crimes incited exist.”
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Follow the Money? Not with Hillary, Follow Pat…

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The old adage, “follow the money,” is still not a bad way to suss out wrongdoing. Originated during the Watergate era, the term says if you follow the trail of money through an organization or a caper, you’ll find the guilty people at the end.

With the State Department and Hillary Clinton, the advice should read: “Follow Pat Kennedy.”

Meet Pat Kennedy

The name of long-time State Department Under Secretary for Management, Patrick Kennedy, pictured, is unknown to most journalists and nearly all of the public, but he in fact is present at every significant public issue State confronts. Take a look…

Kennedy and Manning

Do a little Googling around, and there’s Pat helping drive nails into Chelsea Manning’s coffin, testifying at his trial about the “grave damage” done to America’s national security. Kennedy in September 2013 admitted his testimony “contained misstatements,” which he said were “inadvertent.” Kennedy also oversaw State’s internal report on Wikileaks’ impact and ran the working group that was supposed to identify people at risk because their names appeared in the State Department cables online.
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UK Police Scanned the Faces of 100,000 People at Music Festival

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Hey, Big Brother? It’s me. Can we talk about facial recognition please?

The Download Festival

See, the police used facial recognition technology to scan the faces of thousands of attendees at the Download music festival in the UK without their knowledge.

The excuse the Leicestershire Police used was that they were trying to catch “organized criminals” who specifically target music festivals to “steal mobile phones,” according to a report in Police Oracle. The collected footage is compared against a database of custody images to identify the criminals, in this case, an alleged music festival phone-robbing crime ring that nobody seemed to have heard about prior to it becoming the justification for searching an entire crowd who did nothing but show up to hear some tunes.

The festival saw 91 arrests out of 100,000 people. Most were for alcohol-related mishaps, none for phone theft.
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Understanding Why the Clinton Emails Matter

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In the world of handling America’s secrets, words – classified, secure, retroactive – have special meanings. I held a Top Secret clearance at the State Department for 24 years and was regularly trained in protecting information as part of that privilege. Here is what some of those words mean in the context of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails.

The Inspectors General for the State Department and the intelligence community issued a statement saying Clinton’s personal email system contained classified information. This information, they said, “should never have been transmitted via an unclassified personal system.” The same statement voiced concern that a thumb drive held by Clinton’s lawyer also contains this same secret data.
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My Dreams Seek Revenge: Revisiting Hiroshima One More Time

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I’ve visited Hiroshima many times.


There is a Japanese jail not far from the Hiroshima Peace Park, and in my guise as a diplomat working in Japan, one of my jobs was to visit Americans in jail, typically young men and women who’d smoked a little weed in drug-conscious Japan.

I’d check up on their welfare, pass messages to and from home for them, that kind of thing. There were always enough of these folks in Hiroshima for at least quarterly visits, and I always took the opportunity to visit the Peace Park, the Atomic Dome and the museum. You’ve seen them all in photos many, many times.

The thing that always struck me about Hiroshima was simply being there. The train pulled into the station under an announcement that you had arrived in Hiroshima. It was another stop on the bullet train’s long run from Osaka to Fukuoka, so they called out the name as if it was just another stop. I’d get off the train, step out into the sunlight — that sunlight — and I was in Hiroshima. I had the same feeling only once before, taking a bus out of Munich and having the driver announce the next stop as Dachau. Somehow such names feel wrong being said so prosaically.
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Post-Constitutional America, Where Innocence is a Poor Defense

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Rahinah Ibrahim is a slight Malaysian woman who attended Stanford University on a US student visa, majoring in architecture. She was not a political person. Despite this, as part of a post-9/11 sweep directed against Muslims, she was investigated by the FBI. In 2004, while she was still in the US but unbeknownst to her, the FBI sent her name to the no-fly list.

Ibrahim was no threat to anyone, innocent of everything, and ended up on that list only due to a government mistake. Nonetheless, she was not allowed to reenter the US to finish her studies or even attend her trial and speak in her own defense. Her life was derailed by the tangle of national security bureaucracy and pointless “anti-terror” measures that have come to define post-Constitutional America. Here’s what happened, and why it may matter to you.

The No-Fly List

On September 10, 2001, there was no formal no-fly list. Among the many changes pressed on a scared population starting that September 12th were the creation of two such lists: the no-fly list and the selectee list for travelers who were to undergo additional scrutiny when they sought to fly. If you were on the no-fly list itself, as its name indicated, you could not board a flight within the US or one heading out of or into the country. As a flight-ban plan, it would come to extend far beyond America’s borders, since the list was shared with 22 other countries.
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