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Take, for example Guatemala

Posted on January 24th, 2016 in American Hegemony,War by Robert Miller
John Foster Dulles (Secretary of State under Eisenhower; (right) and is brother Allen Dulles, head of the CIA

John Foster Dulles (right);Secretary of State under Eisenhower; and is brother Allen Dulles, head of the CIA

Ever since the United States, under then Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and his brother Allen Dulles, head of the CIA, deposed the democratically elected Arbenz of Guatemala (1954) the country has more or less been in a continuous state of civil war, in which an unending series of dictatorships have carried out murderous policies against their own citizens, with death squads trained here in the United States at the School of the Americas.  You can read about how Arbenz was deposed here. At the time, the Dulles brothers were especially proud of what they achieved first in Iran to depose Mossadegh and then in Guatemala to depose Arbenz;  Allen Dulles could hardly wait to let it all out so he selected two journalists from the Saturday Evening Post to tell the story, published in 1954. In the four decades since Arbenz was deposed, Guatemala became one of the twentieth centuries most infamous killing fields. CIA operatives called it the “stainless” coup; it consisted of assassinations, rampant torture and executions, by death squads that killed entire villages. Four decades later over 250,000 people had been killed in a nation whose total population was less than 4 million. Che Guevara was in Guatemala city when Arbenz was deposed and he took home a lesson that he and Castro would apply to the Bag of Pigs invasion—-fight fire with fire and never surrender. That is why Castro has survived hundreds of assassination attempts directed by the CIA.

Recently, Guatemala has seen widespread demonstrations in the streets, demanding the resignation of Otto Pérez Molina, the current dictator of Guatemala. In response to the crowd anger, Molina resigned and is now held in Jail to face charges of corruption. His replacement is Alejandro Maldonado, cut from the same cloth as Molina. Whether or not there is a true overthrow of the repressive dictatorship is not clear at the moment. Reporter Allan Nairn has been covering Guatemala since the 1980s; he reports that Molina has been involved in murders constituting genocide against the indigenous Mayan people.

In a new development, just a couple weeks ago, police have police have arrested 18 ex-military leaders on charges of committing crimes against humanity during the decades-long, U.S.-backed dirty war against Guatemala’s indigenous communities. The ex-military leaders face charges of ordering massacres and forced disappearances during the conflict, which led to the quarter-million deaths cited above. Many of the arrested former military leaders were backed by the United States, including Manuel Benedicto Lucas García, who had worked closely with U.S. military officials to develop a system of attacking the highlands where Guatemala’s indigenous Mayan communities reside. The system involved decapitating and crucifying people. Investigative journalist Allan Nairn (how he has continued to report on this turmoil for decades, without being assassinated himself is a topic ripe for a serious documentary)

Allan Nairn Reports:(from Democracy Now)

  • ALLAN NAIRN: “Well, for Guatemala, this is kind of the beginning of a Nuremberg trial-type process, except it’s not being done by a foreign, occupying power that just won a war, the way the Nuremberg trials were done. This is being done by the local justice system. Heroism on the part of survivors who brought complaints forward, and also on the part of forensic anthropologists, lawyers, prosecutors, who are risking their lives to bring these cases, have resulted in this round-up of some of the worst mass killers in the country. And they were working for the Guatemalan army—they weren’t renegades. They were, in turn, working for the U.S. government. The U.S. was backing the G2 military intelligence service, for which many of these arrested officers were working. Some were on the U.S. payroll. They were armed, they were trained, they were advised by the U.S. General Benedicto, who we just saw in the clip saying he wasn’t a coward, he worked together with Colonel George Maynes, the U.S. military attaché. Maynes told me that he and Benedicto together developed the strategy of the sweeps into the highland villages, where they would go in, execute civilians, throw them in mass graves, decapitate, crucify.”
  • “Those who were arrested on charges yesterday are facing charges tied to two specific cases. One is the case of a 15-year-old boy. The army raided his house with machine guns. They snatched him. They taped his mouth. They threw a nylon bag over his head. They dragged him into a van. He was never seen again. The reason they hit his house was because his sister, his older sister, had been held captive at an army base, where she was being tortured and repeatedly raped, but she—one account says she had grown so skinny from lack of food that she was able to slip out through the bars and escape. So, retaliation, they hit the house, they took the boy.”
  • “The other case concerns the army base at Cobán, where they’ve so far found 558 cadavers, so far—skeletons, 90 of them children. People were brought there from massacre sites all around the northwest. Some of them fled from the massacre sites surrounding the Chixoy Dam project, which is backed by the World Bank. The army would go into villages, burn the houses, take women down to the rivers and violate them. And a number were taken away in helicopters—helicopters, some supplied by the U.S., some supplied by Guatemalan oligarchs, some working out of a CIA operation at the Aurora airport. And from there, they were flown to the Cobán army base. And now, years later, their bones, the bones of these largely women and children, have been traced through DNA sampling back to the surviving families, who have been brave enough to stand up and report this. And these are the bases of the cases.”
  • “So, what we’re talking about was the ISIS of its day. The tactics that the world is now finally starting to understand because of the ISIS videos—beheadings, crucifixion, slavery, gang rape, mass slaughter of civilians—ISIS brags about this. Well, the Guatemalan army and their U.S. advisers didn’t brag about it—they concealed it—but they were doing—they were using those same tactics.”

Hopefully this is only the beginning of bringing justice, long delayed, to  people of Guatemala. Every American must ask themselves why we have supported such murderous dictatorships in nearly every country with which we have been involved. If there is a worse track record in the modern era, someone needs to let me know about. As a country that has been a leading advocate of democratic principals, our recorded foreign policy is just the opposite of what one might expect from from a country that espouses democratic values. These policies were started with the Dulles brothers, but we continued them into the Vietnam war and virtually every one of our foreign policy blunders since. Why do Americans continue to believe that we are a special nation, the shining city on the hill, when the facts speak to a record of a very different country. While the Dulles brothers started this, they are long dead and forgotten, but what isn’t forgotten is our continued path down the highway they established for us. Why can’t we set a path for ourselves that doesn’t involve such murderous treachery.


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Crossing the Moat into Dover redux

Posted on January 1st, 2016 in Culture,Education,Politics,Religion,Science by Robert Miller

Robert F. Miller

This is the tenth anniversary of the Dover school board decision in which “intelligent design” had its day in court and came up short. In celebration of this anniversary, I am reissuing “Crossing the Moat into Dover this time as a redux version.” This trial was all about converting creationism to intelligent design. The reason you have not heard much about either lately can be traced to the outcome of the Dover school board decision.

The biological scientists in America have always felt a little uneasy about the surrounding culture in which he or she lives and in the past two decades or so, this sense of being ill-at-ease with the outside culture of America has only become more intense. The rising crescendo of Christian Fundamentalism has a had lot to do with it. One has only to drive a few miles outside of the metropolitan area in which I live to see an abundance of anti-abortion billboards and other religious symbolism, speaking to a different culture, but an ever present reminder that the cultural wars are alive and well in Minnesota.
A large sector of the research biologists in this country work in universities and feel comfortably isolated from the outside world, by the friendly surrounds provided by students and colleagues who share a common set of interests and commitments, though not necessarily a common political and social identity. But, it’s good enough for government work. Most research university campuses have a decidedly blue color to their political slant, if for no other reason than their support is very dependent on the Federal government. For the students, the coloration is often not quite so clear, though it seems to be shifting towards the blue end of the visible spectrum. Expanding knowledge is a serious commitment for the research university and has been hugely beneficial to American industry, public health and social progress. But the university environment is in many ways an odd place, something like an ancient castle, surrounded by a virtual moat to protect those within, well separated from those that are hostile to its purpose and mission. Sometimes I wonder if we don’t feel a little like the Irish monks must have felt in the medieval monasteries when they were the sole scribes of knowledge and scholarship, isolated from a more hostile and ignorant world, with their monasteries often perched on islands for their protection and life-long sanctuary. While it is not always apparent, the attitude inside the castle of today is that of a serious learning environment on a crash program and a deep thirst for new knowledge, with the campus insulated by the virtual moat which protects the interior from the most culturally destructive forces in the country.

The crazies in America, on the outside of the moat looking in, include the religious fundamentalists, the born-again Christians, the right wing fringe groups, the skinheads, survivalists, neo-Nazis and other white nationalists to name just a few. Individuals from any of these groups may cross the moat and enter the castle, but thus far, the larger movements supported by these groups have not penetrated with sufficient force to change the mission, not nearly as much as they would like. But the university inside is not self-sufficient. Our research can only proceed with Federal support and already, in the case of stem cells or particle physics, these outside forces have helped to diminish the image of America as home to the greatest centers for science in the history of Homo sapiens. That image is fading rapidly, perhaps even gone for those living outside of America.

For any single researcher, there was a shared attitude that, as long as these outside groups didn’t interfere with things, like the funding of science and the function of the university, they could get as large and as obstreperous as they wanted: under the most drastic of conditions, most university professors foresaw that the virtual moat would continue to serve its ancient function and people inside could continue to do science. As long as funding for research was maintained, the country could go into a state of political apoplexy and scientists would still sleep well in Mudville that night. As bad as things might get, scientists could go to bed each night knowing that the Federal government needed them just as much as they needed funding from the government to keep their research enterprise afloat–inter-dependency–that was the original contract. This relationship of inter-dependency began at the close of WW II and the contract was more favorably redrawn after Sputnik I in 1957. But, in the 1990s some uncertainties began to creep into the formula. And, in the first year of the new millennium, the crazies won the presidential election and the Presidency of GW Bush began its vicious attack on science at nearly every level, including funding. In the 1990s the inter-dependency between scientists and the Federal government began to change in fundamental ways. In 1993, Congress canceled the supercollider in Texas and put thousands of physicists out of work, drastically reducing particle physics in the United States as a viable discipline. But the more insidious and less direct impact on science was the changing way that Americans made money. As the corporate profits in America evolved from manufacturing to the financial service sector, the need for research and research universities seemed less apparent than it did when manufacturing was the more dominant form of capitalism in America: manufacturing companies recognized the value and need for scientific research, since it would ultimately impact on the quality of their products or help them generate new ones. The same argument applied to health research. One can appreciate the vast materials science research that went into the Appolo Program for a trip to the moon, which resulted in many new manufacturing techniques and better knowledge of materials science such as ceramics. But the only research in the 1990s needed for the financial sector was market research–science was unnecessary, except that it might enhance the image of a country to invest in over that of another, or one currency to manipulate over another. International financiers no longer thought about national borders, but instead focused on corporate profits as internationalists: they insisted that corporate profits had to rise, just to keep up with Microsoft. These new internationalists seemed better at tearing companies apart than helping to make new ones, all under the false rubric of “increased efficiency.” The shift in the major income stream for America in the 1990s left government advocates for research beginning to ask if government should be supporting research to the same level that seemed necessary in the past. Furthermore, the stimulus for initiating the “Golden Era” of the American research university was the Cold War competition with the Russians and the race to the moon in the 1960s. Biological research prospered in this period because Congress was more interested in funding medical research, since that’s what helped get them re-elected (“we are working on a cure for cancer”). But, with the Cold War over, combined with the reduced dependence on manufacturing, many in government, mostly Republicans, began to wonder if the government needed to support research anymore? Do you need to support university research when our economy is increasingly based more on financial markets that have less to do with ideas and new inventions and more to do with the advantages of capital in a market that seemed to have unlimited growth potential, with the new emerging markets in Asia and Russia? Graduates from our elite universities went into the financial sector, committed to acquiring wealth early in their lives and far less committed to the concept of income distribution. They quickly learned the art of tearing things up to create personal wealth. As mentioned above, the first sign of this new emerging attitude was cancellation of the supercollider project in Texas in the early 1990s, an event which immediately threw thousands of physicists out of work and terminated America’s dominance in particle physics.
The past eight years under GWB produced a new low in the national climate for research. Before Clinton left office, he agreed with congress to double the NIH budget (1998-2003), and when Bush came in as President in 2001, he agreed to allow that process to go forward. So in 2003, as the NIH budget reached an all time high, Bush himself praised the doubling process and thanked his predecessor and Congress during his state of the union address. For a while it looked as though good research funding opportunities had returned and as a result, most universities hired new faculty, believing that the NIH doubling would be a new permanent part of the research climate. But, it didn’t work out that way. As soon as the doubling of the budget was completed, Bush began to apply draconian budget reductions to NIH, giving them an increase of ~1% each year, when NIH normally gets about 6.5% each year to help compensate for a higher rate of inflation in the industry of scientific research. In the last year of Bush’s 1% budgets, the NIH budget was less than what it would have been if it had not gone through the doubling period, but instead maintained on the traditional annual budget increase of 6.5% a year. The result of this process each year was to fund fewer and fewer grants. So, on a budget promise that had encouraged universities to expand their research faculty, universities found themselves worse-off than ever and new faculty found it difficult if not impossible to get their research funded. Scientists found themselves writing grants, not scientific research papers, and a smaller and smaller pool of money was available to support scientific research and training. The promise of Obama to restore funding for research to the highest levels in our history (as a % of the GDP), has brought a new sense of hope that research will resume, though a permanent scar and a sense of friction remains as to whether scientists can really trust the Federal Government as they once did, before the era of science politicization and before the crazies ran the country. The government under Bush found ways to suppress scientific research and ushered in a new relationship that was profoundly different than that which scientists had enjoyed since the end of WW II. Under Bush, scientists were attacked from many different directions and in many different ways: for the physicist it was a loss of the “hole in Texas,” which took place before the presidency of GWB, but an action which anticipated the arrival of the Gingrich Republicans. For the biologists the threat was creationism and its new moniker “Intelligent Design.” It was Ronald Reagan, as governor of California, who launched the first volley against biological sciences by suggesting that creationism should be taught alongside science in the public schools: that was a thinly veiled attack on biologists and the teaching of biology curriculum. Reagan’s suggestion was a trial balloon to see how well it resonated with his plans for a run at the U.S. Presidency. He found that creationism could be a wedge issue, especially among the fundamentalists and born again Christians, whose numbers seemed to be on the rise. The promotion of creationism in the class room was going to serve as one of the initial thrusts for the Republican party to re-organize itself around wedge issues, some of which would appeal to Southern voters. As Reaganism was ushered in, he brought with him an innate hostility towards the research university that he carried over from his interactions with the California system, where he cut budgets, froze salaries and set that state on a new trajectory of diminished support for education, including increased tuition costs and ambivalence about having prestigious universities in the first place. Until Reagan, tuition in California colleges and universities was free. One of Reagan’s additional wedge issues was AIDS: he never mentioned AIDS until his friend Rock Hudson acquired the disease, late during his second term. Reagan’s advisers encouraged him to treat AIDS as God’s punishment for homosexual promiscuity. GWB modeled his presidency after that of Reagan and established a new trend of anti-science policies, that included his hostility towards the concept of global climate change and the World Health Organization. Bush not only cut the budget of NIH, by slowing its rate of growth, but he instilled an anti-science mentality in the government that suppressed publications on global climate change and even forced some government scientists to change the title on their papers to avoid making too big a splash in favor of global warming. He also forced the Surgeon General to put his (Bush’s) name several times on each page, of his reports, so that the country would know who to thank for the information, as long as the reports dealt with material acceptable to the White House. While Reagan wouldn’t allow the Surgeon General to talk about AIDS until late in his second term, Bush didn’t allow the Surgeon General to talk about excessive sugar in the American diet for fear of alienating the American food industry. Under Reagan and Bush, the Surgeon General became the Surgeon Private.

Once the budget cuts (cut by reducing the increase below the cost of inflation) were put in place under GWB, the future for scientific research in America began to look increasingly dim: in many ways, research science began to look as if it were headed for contract teaching and research. Despite these early, shocking trends, scientists refused to criticize the government for fear of making their funding prospects even worse. In the middle of the Bush administration, I once gave a keynote lecture to a group of scientists at a scientific meeting, on how and why they needed to become science activists and speak out against the Bush policies. That lecture was met by an eerie silence, except for one former communist attendee in the audience who seemed to resonate with it rather well—-a woman I might add. In the midst of daunting pessimism about the future, a funny thing happened, beginning in 2005. In that year, a famous trial took place in Harrisburg, PA over a case that began with the school board in Dover, PA; it was the first trial that tested the validity of Intelligent Design (ID) as a valid refutation of evolution and as something that should be taught in science classes alongside traditional biological views of evolution. This was an important trial, because the Supreme Court, in a decision in 1987 (Edwards v Auillard) had already ruled that Creationism was not a science–it was a form of religion and had no place in the science curriculum–putting it there was a violation of the constitution, which provided separation between church and state.

So, if the school board in Dover could prove that ID was something different, scientifically meritorious, and could be classified as a science, then it could legitimately be taught alongside evolution in the classroom and this case had the potential of sweeping the nation into further degradation of the science curriculum in public schools. It would be one more giant step towards establishing America as a Christian Nation. The facts behind this case are that the Dover school board itself didn’t want what they eventually got: when the discussions on this issue first surfaced in 2004, it was labeled as Creationism and everyone thought it would eventually get solved like all other cases, with a dash of embarrassment handed out, once the board came face to face with the 1987 Supreme Court ruling, of which they obviously had no knowledge when their deliberations first began. So, one expected that a few red faces would be handed out when the Supreme Court decision was made available to them and that would be the end of it. But then things changed. The More Law Center, a Christian Issues Legal group, heard about the case. They had been looking for a legal test case for Intelligent Design for several years and convinced the board to change their rhetoric to include ID and use the book “Of Pandas and People” to assert the validity of ID. Thus, the Dover board changed their promotion from Creationism to Intelligent Design and overnight Dover turned into an international show, with media attention from all over the world, as it focused on a single issue: did the book “Of Pandas and People” establish ID as a science so that its inclusion in the scientific curriculum could be justified? The transformation from Creationism to ID changed the trial into one of great national significance. Even George Bush weighed in by favoring the ID side of the debate. The situation in Dover turned into one of the most celebrated trials of the Bush era and represented a showdown between the IDers and those who favored the traditional mode of teaching biological sciences with evolution and the process of natural selection as the central mechanism for all biological change: the trial became known as “Scopes II.” In a way this was also a referendum on the Bush Presidency, in the sense that his Presidency had served as an enabler for Christians to think more boldly about challenging legal restrictions on the insertion of Christian beliefs into the social and government fabric of the country. Dover would be also be battle ground for Bush’s war on science. The Dover case began under obscure circumstances, when the school board passed a ruling that teachers in biology classes had to read a paragraph expressing the view that evolution was a theory, not a fact and that there were a number of holes in the theory of evolution. The students were invited to read an alternative point of view expressed in the book “Of Pandas and People [1]” which was made available in the library. But, the three members of the board who voted against the proposal resigned from the board and the science teachers in Dover refused to read the paragraph to their class. Several parents organized an effort to sue the Board of Education and this case became known as Kitzmiller vs Dover. Both the ACLU, AAAS, National Association of Biology Teachers [2] and the National Center for Science Education joined the law suit for the plaintiffs. The More Law Center [3], the Christian legal firm, handled the trial for the Dover school board, as they were instrumental in shifting the emphasis from Creationism to Intelligent Design. What was different and unique about this trial, was the quality of the arguments favoring evolution and disproving the case for ID. One of the unsung heroes of this trial was Eugenie Scott from the National Center for Science Education. You can see her summary of some of the issues on YouTube [4]. During the six week trial that ensued, Scott played a major role in selecting and coordinating the witnesses who were scientists that provided a beautiful and persuasive series of informed and often elegant discussions about the nature of science and the facts surrounding evolution. The list of prestigious scientists that came to testify represented a wave of biologists, many of whom traveled over the moat to engage and confront ID and disprove its claims. Of course, the most convincing piece of evidence during the trial was provided by showing that “Of Pandas and People” came in two versions. The first version, published some years previous to the Dover case, had the words “creationism” whereas the second edition simply replaced those words with “intelligent design” making it rather easy for the judge to conclude that ID, as presented in the book, identified itself as equivalent to “creationism” and therefore ID was nothing more than an attempt to insert a religious view into the science curriculum of the Dover school district. The scientists who testified not only excelled in presenting their views, but they discovered that the lay public were enthusiastic to hear their arguments and the judge himself was riveted to their testimony. There was a sense that the Dover decision, which declared ID to be a religious, not a scientific point of view, helped to turn a cultural corner and that perhaps the Bush attempt to Christianize the nation, and in the process to establish the Republican Party as a permanent ruling party, had utterly failed.
The elections of 2006 and 2008 have verified how much of a corner had been turned though it is not possible to say how much impact the Dover decision had in helping America make an overdue left turn. The Dover trial cannot be over-emphasized for its importance. Nova has produced an excellent docudrama of the trial and the National Center for Science Education has numerous publications on the Dover trial that can be accessed on-line. You can get to them through this site [5]. As a result of the Dover trial, but also because of other similar cases, Eugenie C. Scott received the Stephen Jay Gould prize, awarded by the Society for the Study of Evolution, in recognition of how her “sustained and exemplary efforts have advanced public understanding of evolutionary science and its importance in biology, education, and everyday life.” She received high praise from Scientific American, which listed her [6] among the top 10 leaders who have “demonstrated outstanding commitment to assuring that the benefits of new technologies and knowledge will accrue to humanity.” That list also includes Bill Gates and Barack Obama. Chris Mooney [7] has written a nice summary of Scott. Thanks to her, biological scientists can take greater comfort in crossing the moat to deal with prejudice and false ideas about science: such things still abound across America.

The scientists who ventured over the moat of separation that has long existed between lay people and their own laboratory environments, discovered that people are hungry for knowledge when it comes from people who know what they are talking about; the trial of Kitzmiller vs Dover pitted knowledgeable, informed scientists, who were comfortable with the fact that science doesn’t usually prove that something is right, but instead the role of science is to look for new evidence that can be used to further validate or invalidate a theory. The difference between the biologists and the IDers was plainly evident in the trial and powerfully visible for all to appreciate–the scientist is disinterested in whether his or her work confirms a theory (it’s typically more exciting to the individual scientist when it doesn’t), whereas the IDer only wants to accept the ideas that conform to their ideological beliefs, and more often than not, they have to distort the picture that is already in place in order to claim a kind of “gotcha.” That single difference is powerful–science has a binary output, but ID has only one result they can live with. That difference alone explains why we have understood the real world and the universe we reside in to an increasingly sophisticated degree of satisfaction, all achieved through the efforts of scientists working in the name of science. In contrast, we are about where we started 2000 years ago when we listen to Christians tell us about the origins of man and the birth of the universe. Go figure.


[1] Of Pandas and People: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Of_Pandas_and_People
[2] National Association of Biology Teachers: http://en.wikipedia.org
[3] More Law Center: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_More_Law_Center
[4] YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oxpQ5xrMHVg&feature=channel
[5] this site: http://ncseweb.org/creationism/legal/intelligent-design-trialkitzmiller-v-dover
[6] listed her: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=scientificamerican-10&page=4
[7] Chris Mooney : http://www.scienceprogress.org/2009/05/great-scott/

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