Meme Buster – The CIA / al Qaeda myth

We’ve all seen something like this at one point or another…


Or this…

Seems legit right?

One problem. Neither is true. The Taliban did not exist when we were helping the mujahideen in Afghanistan in the 80s.  The name “mujahideen” means (loosely) “those who struggle” and includes all of the diverse factions that were struggling to overthrow the soviets. If you really want to know who we were supporting, it was local Afghans like this great man: Sha Massoud. It was America’s failure to support the moderate Afghan government after the Soviets were defeated that allowed the radicals to fill the power void, not our support of the resistance. The Taliban are not Afghans. They are the true invaders of Afghanistan. Massoud tried to warn us of the danger in his 1998 “Letter to the people of America“. We didn’t listen.

As for bin Laden. He was a nobody to the CIA at the time. Just another of the many Arab fighters who had joined the fight. He was the son of a rich family playing war with his own money and people to help defeat the Soviets. The extent of the CIA/bin Laden link is this: The CIA funneled money and weapons into Afghanistan through Pakistan. In hind site, it was discovered that Pakistan sold some of those arms (AK47s and other low tech weapons) to radical elements that we were not trying to help.

If you really want to understand our involvement in Afghanistan read the report from

Former CIA official Milt Bearden, who ran the Agency’s Afghan operation in the late 1980s, says:  “The CIA did not recruit Arabs,” as there was no need to do so.  There were hundreds of thousands of Afghans all too willing to fight, and the Arabs who did come for jihad were “very disruptive . . . the Afghans thought they were a pain in the ass.”  I have heard similar sentiments from Afghans who appreciated the money that flowed from the Gulf but did not appreciate the Arabs’ holier-than-thou attempts to convert them to their ultra-purist version of Islam.  [Freelance cameraman] Peter Jouvenal recalls:  “There was no love lost between the Afghans and the Arabs.  One Afghan told me, ‘Whenever we had a problem with one of them we just shot them.  They thought they were kings.'”

There was simply no point in the CIA and the Afghan Arabs being in contact with each other.  . the Afghan Arabs functioned independently and had their own sources of funding.  The CIA did not need the Afghan Arabs, and the Afghan Arabs did not need the CIA.  So the notion that the Agency funded and trained the Afghan Arabs is, at best, misleading.  The “Let’s blame everything bad that happens on the CIA” school of thought vastly overestimates the Agency’s powers, both for good and ill.  [Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden (New York: The Free Press, 2001), pp. 64-66.]

So No… We did not create bin Laden, or the Taliban, or al Qaeda. Put these memes in the trash where they belong.


Adam Smith – The father of capitalism

Google “the father of capitalism”. Go ahead. I’ll wait. By all means, take the time to follow some of the links to learn about the man and his seminal work “An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations”. I recommend you start with Investopedia’s excellent article here.  The University of Glasgow has a deeper piece here.

In the mean time I’ll get to the point. The current republican definition of capitalism is pure bullshit. The dream of pure, unregulated capitalism comes not from our founding fathers who were influenced by Smith. But from Ayn Rand‘s twisted theory of objectivism and the simple minded fiction of Atlas Shrugged. The republican Speaker of The House loves Ayn Rand so much he said her influence was “the reason I got involved in public service”. Coincidently, she was also the inspiration for Anton LaVey’s Satanic bible. Take that as you will but I find it fascinating considering the devout religious views of so many on the right.

Tea Party libertarians like to claim that with deregulation, market forces and public perception will force corporations to act responsibly in such important matters as being good stewards of the environment. What they fail to take into account is human greed and the understanding that deception, aggressive public relations (propaganda), and the power of good old legal government corruption thanks to misguided campaign finance laws such as Citizens United.

Here’s what Adam Smith had to say about corporations.

“The interest of [businessmen] is always in some respects different from, and even opposite to, that of the public … The proposal of any new law or regulation of commerce which comes from this order … ought never to be adopted, till after having been long and carefully examined … with the most suspicious attention. It comes from an order of men … who have generally an interest to deceive and even oppress the public” 

Full text of the above quote to fill in the blanks can be found here here.

Lets be clear, Smith understood that self interest was the driving force of commerce and that it does drive the wealth of nations and their citizens. In short, Capitalism *does* work.

“The desire of food is limited in every man by the narrow capacity of the human stomach; but the desire of the conveniencies and ornaments of building, dress, equipage, and household furniture, seems to have no limit or certain boundary.”

“Nobody ever saw a dog make a fair and deliberate exchange of one bone for another with another dog. Nobody ever saw one animal by its gestures and natural cries signify to another, this is mine, that yours; I am willing to give this for that….But man has almost constant occasion for the help of his brethren, and it is in vain for him to expect it from their benevolence only. He will be more likely to prevail if he can interest their self-love in his favour, and show them that it is for their own advantage to do for him what he requires of them. Whoever offers to another a bargain of any kind, proposes to do this. Give me that which I want, and you shall have this which you want, is the meaning of every such offer; and it is in this manner that we obtain from one another the far greater part of those good offices which we stand in need of.” 

But he also understood that self interest can be harmful if not managed. Regulations are as necessary for corporations as laws are for citizens. Government by and for the people must be allowed to protect its citizens from toxic chemicals and the very real threat of global warming.

And what would he say about minimum wage laws?

“Our merchants and masters complain much of the bad effects of high wages in raising the price and lessening the sale of goods. They say nothing concerning the bad effects of high profits. They are silent with regard to the pernicious effects of their own gains. They complain only of those of other people.” 

“A man must always live by his work, and his wages must at least be sufficient to maintain him. They must even upon most occasions be somewhat more; otherwise it would be impossible for him to bring up a family, and the race of such workmen could not last beyond the first generation.”

Flat taxes?.. Lower tax rates for the rich?

“The subjects of every state ought to contribute towards the support of the government, as nearly as possible, in proportion to their respective abilities.”

Now some people might point out quite fairly that Smith was often critical about governments abilities to control such things as wages (enforcement would have been near impossible in his day) And the more Libertarian scholars will cling to this statement:

“There is no art which one government sooner learns of another than that of draining money from the pockets of the people.”

To which I reply:

“Civil government, so far as it is instituted for the security of property, is in reality instituted for the defence of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all.”

Because ladies and gentlemen, we are no longer a democracy; representative or otherwise.  We are a corporate oligarchy. The Supreme court has said that money equals speech. Government leaders are so beholden to giant corporate campaign donations that our representatives no longer represent the average citizen. Read the Princeton University study “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens” in PDF form here. The short version is here. The bottom line is that voting records don’t match public opinion at all, they match corporate sponsorship. So if you want to know what is driving the climate denial agenda here it is.

The Koch brothers are spending more than either party to elect the tea party candidate of their choice (A tea party which they helped create and fueled with their propaganda). If that doesn’t scare you, I’m not sure what will.

I leave you with a word from Smith’s “The Theory of Moral Sentiments”

“This disposition to admire, and almost to worship, the rich and the powerful, and to despise, or, at least, to neglect persons of poor and mean condition, though necessary both to establish and to maintain the distinction of ranks and the order of society, is, at the same time, the great and most universal cause of the corruption of our moral sentiments. That wealth and greatness are often regarded with the respect and admiration which are due only to wisdom and virtue; and that the contempt, of which vice and folly are the only proper objects, is often most unjustly bestowed upon poverty and weakness, has been the complaint of moralists in all ages.”


The Tao of good government

In 1967 a young Chinese immigrant revolutionized the world of martial arts and changed the world when he determined that the formal style of Gung Fu he had learned and taught was too rigid to adapt to the fluid dynamics of real world fighting.  That man’s name was  Bruce Lee, and he wrote a book  called “The Tao of Jeet Kun Do” or “the way of the intercepting fist”.  It was a name he later came to regret because it implied a specific method to what he considered a “style of no style”.

Lee had correctly concluded that the fixed responses of traditional martial arts could not foresee all possible threats and could be easily countered once you knew how your opponent would react to any given situation. He concluded that the fluid and unpredictable nature of combat required and equally fluid approach to fighting. Lee famously said: “All fixed set patterns are incapable of adaptability or pliability. The truth is outside of all fixed patterns.”

As applied to martial arts, fixed patterns can be seen as the use of a specific stance, block, punch or kick in response to a given action by an opponent. It’s important to understand that the specific techniques of traditional martial arts are not “wrong”. They work quite well when used in response to known or expected techniques by an opponent. They are simply limited.  Lee’s solution was to adapt any technique from any style to his own. His only requirement was that the technique work. From boxing to taekwondo. From gung fu to wrestling. Lee saw that each had it’s place in the real world chaos of combat. This may seem like common sense today, but at the time it was considered blasphemy by many practitioners of traditional martial arts.

So what does all of this have to do with good government? I’m sure many of you intuitively know. But for those who’s political leanings border on religious fever for their chosen political party, let me explain.

The Yin and Yang symbol was adopted by Lee and other martial artists as a symbol of harmony between opposite forms. I use it here (in simple terms) as a symbol of my vision for the Left and Right working together to form a more perfect government.*

There is no more direct test of one’s own knowledge and ability than to face a skilled opponent in one on one combat.  If you have a weakness or flaw, eventually an opponent will find it and use it against you. Often with painful results. Through combat, Lee proved that while physical skills are important, the open mind, willing to adapt to any method regardless of source will almost always win vs an inflexible system.

The point being that the art of governing a large, complex, modern society is far more complex than the direct nature of hand to hand combat. And if fixed responses to the challenge of relatively simple combat have been proven inferior to the fluid nature of a “style of no style”, what chance does any single rigid ideology have of meeting the myriad of challenges that a society faces?

Virtually all ideologies contain some useful knowledge which can and should be used to address societies problems when and where appropriate. With this understanding, strict adherence to any one ideology is in effect willful ignorance that encourages conflict over cooperation. Taking a lesson from Bruce Lee, what is needed is an ideology of no ideology.

It is long past time that we start treating politics as a science rather than a religion. We must adapt to each new challenge that society faces by matching the dynamic nature of each challenge with a dynamic and flexible approach to finding solutions. Or as Bruce Lee said:

“Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless – like water. Now you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup, you put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle, you put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”


* NOTE:  Don’t be confused. Balance does not mean I give equal support to the republican or democratic party. Balance refers to how I approach the solutions needed for each issue. I’ll support any party that is willing to take whichever approach fits the challenge we are facing best. Republican or democrat, capitalist or socialist, conservative or liberal. I don’t care what your name is. If you can make make a valid point. I’ll listen. I can forgive mistakes if you show that you learn from them. But I cannot forgive corruption, racism, a lack of compassion, or complete stupidity. One day I hope to see a more rational republican party, but at this time I am endorsing virtually any candidate who opposes the Tea Party  and/or denies man made climate change.