Category Archives: PR, Propaganda, Disinformation and Spin

Rare media articles expose how the mass media manipulate public opinion

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Media manipulation currently shapes everything you read, hear and watch online. Everything.”

Forbes magazine article on mass media influence, 7/16/2012
examiner.com | Feb 12, 2013

By Fred Burks

The influence of the mass media on public perception is widely acknowledged, yet few know the incredible degree to which this occurs. Key excerpts from the rare, revealing mass media news articles below show how blatantly the media sometimes distort critical facts, omit vital stories, and work hand in hand with the military-industrial complex to keep their secrets safe and promote greedy and manipulative corporate agendas.

Once acclaimed as the watchdog of democracy and the political process, these riveting articles clearly show that the major media can no longer be trusted to side with the people over business and military interests. For ideas on how you can further educate yourself and what you can do to change all this, see the “What you can do” section below the article summaries. Together, we can make a difference.

obeyU.S. Suppressed Footage of Hiroshima for Decades
2005-08-03, New York Times/Reuters
http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/news/news-media-anniversary.html

In the weeks following the atomic attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, U.S. authorities seized and suppressed film shot in the bombed cities by U.S. military crews and Japanese newsreel teams to prevent Americans from seeing the full extent of devastation wrought by the new weapons. It remained hidden until the early 1980s and has never been fully aired. “Although there are clearly huge differences with Iraq, there are also some similarities,” said Mitchell, co-author of “Hiroshima in America” and editor of Editor & Publisher. “The chief similarity is that Americans are still being kept at a distance from images of death, whether of their own soldiers or Iraqi civilians.” The Los Angeles Times released a survey of six months of media coverage of the Iraq war in six prominent U.S. newspapers and two news magazines — a period during which 559 coalition forces, the vast majority American, were killed. It found they had run almost no photographs of Americans killed in action. “So much of the media is owned by big corporations and they would much rather focus on making money than setting themselves up for criticism from the White House and Congress,” said Ralph Begleiter, a former CNN correspondent. In 1945, U.S. policymakers wanted to be able to continue to develop and test atomic and eventually nuclear weapons without an outcry of public opinion. “They succeeded but the subject is still a raw nerve.”

Note: As this highly revealing Reuters article was removed from both the New York Times and the Reuters websites, click here to view it in its entirely on one of the few alternative news websites to report it. And to go much deeper into how the devastating effects of the bomb were covered up by various entities within government, click here.

Misinformation campaign targets USA TODAY reporter, editor
2012-04-19, USA Today
http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/story/2012-04-19/vanden-brook-locker-…

A USA TODAY reporter and editor investigating Pentagon propaganda contractors have themselves been subjected to a propaganda campaign of sorts, waged on the Internet through a series of bogus websites. Fake Twitter and Facebook accounts have been created in their names, along with a Wikipedia entry and dozens of message board postings and blog comments. Websites were registered in their names. The timeline of the activity tracks USA TODAY’s reporting on the military’s “information operations” program, which spent hundreds of millions of dollars on marketing campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan — campaigns that have been criticized even within the Pentagon as ineffective and poorly monitored. For example, Internet domain registries show the website TomVandenBrook.com was created Jan. 7 — just days after Pentagon reporter Tom Vanden Brook first contacted Pentagon contractors involved in the program. Two weeks after his editor Ray Locker’s byline appeared on a story, someone created a similar site, RayLocker.com, through the same company. If the websites were created using federal funds, it could violate federal law prohibiting the production of propaganda for domestic consumption. Some postings … accused them of being sponsored by the Taliban. “They disputed nothing factual in the story about information operations,” Vanden Brook said.

Note: For more on a proposed amendment to a U.S. bill which would make it legal to use propaganda and lie to the American public, click here.

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FBI stages another fake bombing with mentally disabled stooge-asset to maintain fear levels and bolster the illusion they are keeping us safe

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Bank of America at 303 Hegenberger Road in Oakland, CA Photo: Google Maps

An undercover FBI agent posing as a go-between with the Taliban in Afghanistan had been meeting with Llaneza since Nov. 30 and accompanied him to the bank, according to an FBI declaration filed in federal court. The declaration said the FBI had built the purported bomb, which was inert and posed no threat to the public.

sfgate.com | Feb 8, 2013

by Jaxon Van Derbeken and Bob Egelko

A mentally disturbed man who said he believed in violent jihad and hoped to start a civil war in the United States was arrested early Friday after trying to detonate what he thought was a car bomb at a Bank of America branch in Oakland, prosecutors said.

Matthew Aaron Llaneza, 28, of San Jose was taken into custody near the bank at 303 Hegenberger Road at 12:30 a.m. after pressing a cell phone trigger device that was supposed to set off the explosives inside a sport utility vehicle and bring down the four-story building, said U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag‘s office.

An undercover FBI agent posing as a go-between with the Taliban in Afghanistan had been meeting with Llaneza since Nov. 30 and accompanied him to the bank, according to an FBI declaration filed in federal court. The declaration said the FBI had built the purported bomb, which was inert and posed no threat to the public.
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Llaneza appeared before a federal magistrate in Oakland on Friday on a charge of attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction, which is punishable by life in prison. He is due to return to court for a bail hearing Wednesday. Assistant Federal Public Defender Joseph Matthews, who was assigned to represent him, declined to comment.

Court records and lawyers in a 2011 criminal case against Llaneza in San Jose described him as delusional and suicidal. He told police in that case that he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. His attorney in the San Jose case said a judge had verified in two court hearings that Llaneza was getting mental health treatment.

Echoes of N.Y. case

His arrest came a day after a New York man, Quazi Nafis, pleaded guilty to attempting to detonate what he thought was a 1,000-pound bomb at the Federal Reserve Bank in Manhattan in October, in a case unrelated to Llaneza’s. The FBI said an undercover agent had provided Nafis with 20, 50-pound bags of fake explosives.

In Llaneza’s case, the FBI declaration said he told the supposed Taliban representative in their Nov. 30 meeting that he wanted the bank bombing to be blamed on anti-U.S. government militias. He said he supported the Taliban and believed in violent jihad, the agent said, and hoped the bombing would prompt a government crackdown, a right-wing response and, ultimately, civil war.

He chose the Bank of America branch because of its name and because Oakland has been a center of recent protests, the declaration said. It said Llaneza told the agent he would “dance with joy” when the bomb exploded.

Bank cooperation

Anne Pace, a spokeswoman for Bank of America, said the bank was “cooperating fully with law enforcement” and declined further comment.

Llaneza and the agent met several times in December and January, and the FBI, following Llaneza’s suggestion, rented a storage unit in Hayward, the declaration said.

On Thursday night, agents said, Llaneza drove an SUV from the storage unit, hauling a dozen 5-gallon buckets of chemicals, prepared by the FBI to look like explosives, to a parking lot in Union City, where he assembled the bomb in the agent’s presence.

He then drove to the bank, parked the SUV under an overhang near a support column of the building, retreated on foot to a safe distance, and pressed an FBI-constructed cell phone triggering device that was supposed to ignite the bomb, the FBI said. Agents them moved in and arrested him.

The FBI did not say how it first contacted Llaneza, but he had been subject to law enforcement monitoring since serving a jail sentence in the 2011 criminal case in San Jose involving assault weapons charges.

In April 2011, San Jose police were called to a trailer where Llaneza lived with his father, Steve, according to court records. Described as suicidal and combative, and shouting “Allahu akbar” – “God is great” – he was held for observation for 72 hours.

Two days later, his father told police he had found an AK-47 assault rifle and a 30-round extended ammunition clip in the trailer. Officers found two more 30-round clips and other items, including a military-style camouflage sniper suit.

Llaneza was not arrested immediately, but a judge ordered him into custody when he appeared in court in May 2011. He pleaded no contest five months later to transportation of an assault weapon and was sentenced to six years in jail, with all but one year suspended, after agreeing to seek mental treatment. With credit for good behavior, Llaneza was released on Nov. 30, 2011.

Santa Clara County prosecutors objected to the sentence, which they considered too light, said Deputy District Attorney Alaleh Kianerci. She said he got the jail term under California’s realignment law, which took effect in October 2011 and sends most low-level felons to county jail instead of state prison. Under the previous law, she said, prosecutors would have sought at least a four-year prison term.

“Obviously he was a threat to the community,” Kianerci said. “We couldn’t keep him in custody forever, so we are lucky law enforcement was monitoring him.”

She said Llaneza was hearing voices and was apparently suicidal when he was taken to a hospital.

Father’s concern

The prosecutor said Steve Llaneza told police that his son, a native of Arizona, had been living with his mother there, had been in the Marines before being kicked out, and was familiar with weapons. He had worked as a window washer in Arizona before losing his job in May 2010 and was taking medication for bipolar disorder.

The father told police he was concerned about his son, who had recently converted to Islam.

While the AK-47 and the clips were purchased legally in Arizona, bringing them into California is illegal. Matthew Llaneza told police he had bought the rifle to protect himself from people who were after him, and mentioned previous suicide attempts.

“Someday you are going to find me dead in the desert,” he told San Jose officers.

Treatment needs

Llaneza was a different, more stable person when he was in custody and on medication, said Cameron Bowman, his lawyer in the San Jose case. He said he verified that Llaneza had been in the Marines, but that his claims to have been an armorer and a sniper were “his own fantasies – he had a lot of fantasies.”

“When I met him, I thought he was a very troubled person, with clear mental problems,” Bowman said. “I think that the court was trying everything possible to get him into treatment, get him supervised by professionals. I saw him as somebody who is at least bipolar, probably schizophrenic, and not somebody who should be turned out to the streets.

“This new case shows he was not getting the mental health treatment he needed.”

David Cameron begins propaganda war against Scottish independence

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Mr Cameron says the government papers – likely to be disputed by Alex Salmond’s Scottish National Party (SNP) – would provide “expert-based analysis to explain Scotland’s place within the UK and how it might change with separation. Photo: GEOFF PUGH

David Cameron has praised the “unbreakable bonds” between England and Scotland as he launches a new phase of the campaign against Scottish independence.

telegraph.co.uk | Feb 10, 2013

By Patrick Hennessy

On Monday, ministers will fire the opening shots in the propaganda war by publishing the first in a series of government documents designed to show how being in the UK benefits Scotland.

The papers will examine key issues in the independence debate ahead of the planned referendum, which is likely to be held in the autumn of 2014, including the economy, the currency, defence, foreign policy and welfare.

In an article published on the Downing Street website, the Prime Minister restates his “passionate” belief in retaining the historic Union between the two countries, declaring: “I will make the case for the UK with everything I’ve got.”

Mr Cameron argues that the case for the Union depends on the head as well as the heart, claiming: “Our nations share a proud and emotional history. Over three centuries we have built world-renowned institutions like the NHS and BBC, fought for freedom and democracy in two World Wars, and pioneered and traded around the world.

“Our ancestors explored the world together and our grandfathers went into battle together as do our kith and kin today – and this leaves deep, unbreakable bonds between the peoples of these islands.”

Polls north of the border suggest support for an independent Scotland is stalling, at around 23 per cent.

Mr Cameron states in his article: “Put simply, Britain works. Britain works well. Why break it?”

Mr Cameron says the government papers – likely to be disputed by Alex Salmond’s Scottish National Party (SNP) – would provide “expert-based analysis to explain Scotland’s place within the UK and how it might change with separation. We don’t shy away from putting facts and evidence before the Scottish people.

“I know those arguing for independence are already preparing their separate transition plan, as though they’ve got this in the bag, but to me that is wrong. It’s last fast-forwarding to to the closing credits before you’ve been allowed to see the movie.”

The Prime Minister’s intervention came after Mr Salmond outlined transitional arrangements if Scotland voted to go it alone – with Independence Day likely to be in March 2016, and the first elections to a stand-alone parliament two months later.

Mr Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister, said last week: “We’re putting forward what we think is the best future for Scotland, the best way to do it. We’re putting forward how the processes will unveil.”

Anticipating domestic surveillance boom, colleges rev up drone piloting programs

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Doctoral candidate Brittany Duncan assembles an unmanned aerial vehicle in a lab at Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas. John Brecher / NBC News

“We want them to think about how to apply this military hardware to civilian applications.”

The University of North Dakota, which launched its unmanned aircraft systems operations major in 2009, has similar success stories. Professor Alan Palmer, a retired brigadier general of the North Dakota National Guard, said 15 of the program’s 23 graduates now work for General Atomics in San Diego, which makes the Predator and Reaper drones used in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

NBC News | Jan 31, 2013

By Isolde Raftery

Randal Franzen was 53, unemployed and nearly broke when his brother, a tool designer at Boeing, mentioned that pilots for remotely piloted aircraft – more commonly known as drones – were in high demand.

Franzen, a former professional skier and trucking company owner who had flown planes as a hobby, started calling manufacturers and found three schools that offer bachelor’s degrees for would-be feet-on-the-ground fliers: Kansas State University, the University of North Dakota and the private Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla.

He landed at Kansas State, where he maintained a 4.0 grade point average for four years and accumulated $60,000 in student loan debt before graduating in 2011. It was a gamble, but one that paid off with an offer “well into the six figures” as a flight operator for a military contractor in Afghanistan.

Franzen, who dreams of one day piloting drones over forest fires in the U.S., believes he is at the forefront of a watershed moment in aviation, one in which manned flight takes a jumpseat to the remote-controlled variety.

While most jobs flying drones currently are military-related, universities and colleges expect that to change by 2015, when the Federal Aviation Administration is due to release regulations for unmanned aircraft in domestic airspace. Once those regulations are in place, the FAA predicts that 10,000 commercial drones will be operating in the U.S. within five years.

Although just three schools currently offer degrees in piloting unmanned aircraft, many others – including community colleges – offer training for remote pilots. And those numbers figure are set to increase, with some aviation industry analysts predicting drones will eventually come to dominate the U.S. skies in terms of jobs.

At the moment, 358 public institutions – including 14 universities and colleges – have permits from the FAA to fly unmanned aircraft. Those permits became public last summer after the Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act.

The government issues the permits mainly for research and border security. Police departments that have requested them to survey dense, high crime areas have been rejected.

Some of the schools that have permits have been flying unmanned aircrafts for decades; others, like Sinclair Community College in Dayton, Ohio, received theirs recently to start programs to train future drone pilots.

Alex Mirot, an assistant professor at Embry-Riddle who oversees the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Science program there, said this generation of students will pioneer how unmanned aircraft are used domestically, as the use of drones shifts from almost purely military to other applications.

“We make it clear from the beginning that we are civilian-focused,” said Mirot, a former Air Force pilot who remotely piloted Predator and Reaper drones used to target suspected terrorists in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere for four years from a base in Nevada.

“We want them to think about how to apply this military hardware to civilian applications.”

Among the possible applications: Monitoring livestock and oil pipelines, spotting animal poachers, tracking down criminals fleeing crime scenes and delivering packages for UPS and FedEx.

With U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, drone manufacturers also are eager to find new markets. AeroVironment, a California company that specializes in small, unmanned aircrafts for the military, recently unveiled the Qube, a drone designed for law enforcement surveillance.

The FAA hasn’t allowed police agencies to fly drones over populated areas – because of concerns about airspace safety, as drones have crashed or collided with one another abroad. But that hasn’t stopped some agencies from buying them in anticipation of their eventual approval. The Seattle Police Department, for example, has two small aircraft, which two officers occasionally fly around a warehouse for practice. For now, a police spokesman said, federal rules are too restrictive to use them outside.

The domestic market is so nascent that there isn’t even agreement on what to call unmanned aircraft – “remotely piloted aircraft,” “unmanned aerial vehicles” – UAVs – or by the most mainstream term, “drones.” The latter makes many advocates bristle; they say the term confuses their aircraft with the dummy planes used for target practice – or with the controversial planes used to kill suspected terrorists abroad.

Industry attracting engineers and pilots

Students at Embry-Riddle train on flight simulators that closely resemble the Predator, an armed military drone with a 48-foot wingspan, because the FAA will not issue a drone license to a private institution.

Without guidance from the FAA, Embry-Riddle has struggled with how to create a robust program that will turn out employable graduates.

“As of now there aren’t rules on what an (unmanned aircraft) pilot qualification will be,” Mirot said. “You have to go to employer X and ask them, ‘What are you requiring?’ And that becomes the standard.”

The bachelor’s degree program also includes 13 credits in engineering, so students understand the plane’s whole system, Mirot said.

Embry-Riddle recently graduated its first student with a bachelor’s degree, but those who graduated earlier with minors in unmanned aircraft systems have fared well, Mirot said.

“I had a kid who deployed right away and he was making $140,000,” Mirot said. “That’s more than I ever made. Yeah, he’s going into Afghanistan, but he had no previous military experience or security clearance.”

Mirot said many of his students aspire to be airline pilots. But with salaries for commercial airline pilots starting as low as $17,000 in the first year, they plan to start in unmanned systems to pay off their loans, then maybe apply for an airline job, he said.

The University of North Dakota, which launched its unmanned aircraft systems operations major in 2009, has similar success stories. Professor Alan Palmer, a retired brigadier general of the North Dakota National Guard, said 15 of the program’s 23 graduates now work for General Atomics in San Diego, which makes the Predator and Reaper drones used in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Engineering and computer science students, too, are in demand by the drone industry. At least 50 universities in the U.S. have centers, academic programs or clubs for drone engineering or flying. Many of the engineering students work on projects making the drones “smarter” – that is building more sensitive sensors – and studying how the robots interact with humans.

George Huang, a professor at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, who builds drones the size of hummingbirds, said nearly all his 20 students work as researchers for the Air Force. This means they’re earning between $60,000 and $80,000 a year while still enrolled, instead of the $15,000 stipend that graduate students typically receive from their schools.

At the University of Colorado in Boulder, doctoral candidate Sibylle Walter said unmanned systems appeal to her because the results are immediate. In the past, she said, aerospace students typically ended up at Boeing or another big company and spent years working on one element of a project. Instead, she is working with her adviser to build a supersonic drone capable of flying up to 1,000 mph.

“The link between education and application is much more compact,” Walter said of the unmanned aircraft. “That translates to this new boom. You can build them inexpensively – you don’t need $100 million to build one.”

Ethical warfare?

Despite the promise of numerous civilian applications, drones continue to be controversial because of their role as weapons of war.

At Texas A&M University, which has an FAA permit to fly drones, computer science student Brittany Duncan is unusual among her peers: She’s a licensed pilot, a computer scientist and a woman. She probably could land a high-paying job for a military contractor, but she’s intent on staying in academia, studying robot-human relations, specifically how robots should approach victims of a natural disaster without scaring them.

On a recent hot, dusty morning, Duncan, 25, pulled a small aircraft from the back of a 4×4 pickup. Wearing black work boots and Dickies, she quickly assembled a remote-controlled aircraft that resembled a flying spider, then launched the aircraft – equipped with sensors and a video camera – over a pile of rubble to practice capturing footage.

At her side was Professor Robin Murphy, her adviser and a veteran of real-world unmanned aircraft operations, having flown over the World Trade Center after 9/11, the Gulf Coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the nuclear reactor in Fukushima, Japan, after the 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster there (although she stayed in Tokyo). She believes drones could revolutionize public safety.

“I could show you a photo of firefighters from today, and it could be a photo of firefighters from 1944,” Murphy said. “They haven’t had a lot of boost in technology. [Unmanned aircraft] could be a real game-changer.”

Duncan knows there is resistance from communities where drones have been introduced. In Seattle, for example, the ACLU argued that drones could invade privacy. But as Duncan sees it, this makes her work even more relevant.

“That’s the most important thing to me – that people understand good can come from drones,” Duncan said. “Every technology is scary at first. Cars, when they went only 6 mph, people thought there would be a rash of people getting run over. Well, no, it’s going slow enough for you to get out of the way. And it’ll change your life.”

Duncan said she considers the implications of working on machines that are for now mostly used for war. Despite conflicting reports on civilian casualties in drone strikes, she’s convinced that unmanned aircraft offer a more-ethical battlefield alternative because they take the pilot’s “skin” out of the game.

“If you’re flying a UH-60 Blackhawk Helicopter and look down and think someone has a surface-to-air missile, you’re going to shoot first and figure it out later because you’re a pilot and your life is in danger,” she said. But with drones, “(You) can afford to make sure that someone is a combatant before they engage – because you don’t have your life on the line. It takes your emotion out of the equation.”

While that debate continues, the Department of Defense is showing no loss of appetite for drones, despite the drawdown in Afghanistan. This year, it plans to spend $4.2 billion on various versions of the unmanned aircraft, 15 times more than it did in 2000.

For Professors Mirot and Palmer, that is evidence that their programs will stay relevant, no matter how the domestic deployment of drones plays out.

Looking ahead

There is an ironic twist to Randal Franzen’s move to climb aboard the cutting edge of aviation: When he went to Afghanistan, he learned that his assignment was to monitor surveillance video from a tethered balloon near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border – a military technology that – minus the cameras – dates to the Civil War.

From the base miles away, he monitored the rural area for Taliban activity, but mostly watched Afghans going about their daily lives. The retrained drone pilot said he found it fascinating.

“I grew up in Montana, swam in irrigation ditches, and they do the exact same thing – they’re just trying to make a living, raise some cattle and kids and do the exact same thing as everyone else,” Franzen said. There were moments that caught him by surprise – such as when he saw a man leading 10 camels through the desert while talking on a cellphone, walking several feet ahead of his wife, who was dressed in a full burqa.

Now home in Colorado, Franzen figures he’ll take at least one more far-flung military assignment as he waits for the domestic drone market to open. This time, though, he’d like to put his newfound remote flying skills to better use.

“I had three offers yesterday to go back and do the same thing for three different companies,” he said. “I talked to them about flying. I’d rather pilot something. I’d like to go play with something cooler.”

Thriving Freemasonry expanding in Asia

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Thriving: many young professionals working overseas join the Freemasons Photo: PA

‘Secret’ society the Freemasons is expanding in Asia, as expats look to join its ranks.

Telegraph | Dec 10, 2012

By Justin Harper

The Freemasons are thriving in Asia as expats look for a ready-made network of professionals to help them settle into a new country.

The supposedly secret society, which dates back to the 18th century, is seeing a lot of young blood join its ranks overseas to help break the stuffy image of retired old judges meeting behind closed doors.

The numbers of young professionals signing up to the Freemasons is helped by the fact that the fraternity is on a drive to become more “relevant” and “open” in its dealing with the public.

Nigel Brown, grand secretary of the United Grand Lodge of England, said: “We have always been open but want to be more pro-active in doing this, such as being recognised for our charitable work and donations. There are a lot of myths and misconceptions about the Freemasons which we need to get rid of by helping people understand what we do and cutting out the jargon we use.”

Mr Brown was last week in Singapore to reopen Freemason’s Hall, a heritage building gifted by Queen Victoria to the Freemasons.

British-born Australian Nick Jacobs, 41, is an example of the new breed of Freemasons helping to grow the membership. He said: “It definitely has an attraction to expats as you get to meet up with people in a strange city and very quickly they are like brothers to you. And these are people you wouldn’t normally be friends with as they are outside the expat community.”

He added: “There are many older gentlemen who are active Freemasons in Singapore but we are finding that we are also attracting a much younger demographic of expats and locals.”

Freemasons in Asia regularly take part in social activities such as inter-lodge paintballing sessions and pub quizzes.

Singapore has eight English lodges and is part of a district that includes Malaysia and Thailand. Many countries in Asia are seeing a spike in popularity for the Freemasons, especially those nations with colonial roots and established lodges.

Dennis Heath, a British expat and Freemason in Singapore, added: “We see a lot of expats passing through Singapore who want to come to the lodge where they know they will be welcomed warmly. We also have expats who were previously part of a lodge back in the UK, along with those joining for the first time. The traditions and history of the Freemasons has a strong appeal in the fast-paced, digital world we live in”

But he admitted: “There is still a certain mystique, and many false myths, about joining the world’s oldest fraternal and charitable society.”

John Kerry, Tipped as the Next Secretary of State, Has Bilderberg Links

Editor’s Warning: PR, Propaganda, Disinformation and Spin. Read at your own risk.

forbes.com | Dec 18, 2012

by Eamonn Fingleton

US Senator John Kerry: Secretary of State in the  wings?  (Image credit: AFP/Getty Images via @daylife)

US Senator John Kerry: Secretary of State in the wings? (Image credit: AFP/Getty Images via @daylife)

The news this morning is that John Kerry is in line to become America’s next Secretary of State. If so, it is another piece of  red meat for Bilderberg conspiracy theorists.

Operating  from a tiny office in a Dutch university, the Bilderberg organization is hardly known outside the highest reaches of power. Yet as networking organizations go, it is so rarefied it makes Davos look about as exclusive as Facebook. Adding spice to the story is the fact that the Bilderberg organization has embarrassing links with Nazi-era Germany.

Bilderberg is not well known because – highly controversially – it doesn’t want to be. But its annual get-togethers in five-star hotels in Europe and North America are noted for their apparent clairvoyance in identifying future top leaders.

Bill Clinton was one such pick. A relatively obscure governor of a poor southern state, he was invited to his first Bilderberg meeting in 1991. The following year he was elected president of the United States.

Now, John Kerry may figure in a similar sequence. He participated in the latest Bilderberg gathering in Northern Virginia this summer and as of this morning is being touted as Secretary of State in President Obama’s second administration.

This follows hard on the heels of the appointment of another Bilderberger, the Canadian investment banker Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England. Having attended his first Bilderberg meeting in 2011, Carney was invited back in 2012. As I have pointed out in a previous note, it may be significant that the British finance minister George Osborne, who announced Carney’s appointment last month, also attended both get-togethers.

Conspiracy theorists have long argued that Bilderberg is a uniquely powerful organization that constitutes a sort of shadow world government whose approval can prove decisive for aspirants to a host of top jobs.

Of course this is a classic case of “post hoc, propter hoc” — just because phenomenon A is followed by  phenomenon B does not mean that A caused B. And in the Bilderberg group’s case, there is  rarely, if ever, any evidence  of a causal link between its gatherings and subsequent developments. To the extent that the group may sometimes invite fast-rising future leaders to its  gatherings, this may merely reflect the fact that it is reacting to fundamental forces beyond its power to influence. This applies in spades to the Kerry episode in that, as the Democratic nominee for president in 2004, he was hardly a rank unknown when he got the Bilderberg invitation.

One thing is clear: as a supposed  ultimate pinnacle of world power Bilderberg comes up short. Although some Bilderbergers  probably privately enjoy all the masters-of-the-universe chatter, the reality is that they are still bogged down trying to secure their original, rather limited, and more or less openly stated, objective of establishing European unity.

This is not to say that there are not axes grinding. On closer examination, the Bilderbergers break down into two camps:

1. A  tightly focused hard core representing the  national interests of Germany, the Netherlands, and Austria. One of their top objectives seems to be to get Britain and the United States to continue to facilitate central European trade policies.

2. A ragbag of British and American notables who have led their nations’ push towards unconditional, and often unreciprocated, free trade. Some of these are showboaters  (Bill Clinton and Henry Kissinger come to mind) and some are idealists (Financial Times commentator Martin Wolf might be among them). But irrespective of whether or not they believe the radical free market dogma they spout, they  rank high on any list of  people the export-minded governments of central Europe might want to encourage.

The Bilderberg group is notably secretive,  which catches the lunatic fringe’s imagination. But it has also attracted reasoned criticism from quite sane observers over the years. An early example was Phyllis Schafly, a conservative American Catholic who tackled the group in a book as far back as the mid-1960s. A decade later the British journalist C. Gordon Tether, a then prominent columnist for the Financial Times, tried to focus attention on the group. For his pains he was fired by FT editor Fredy Fisher.

What is undeniable is that the group’s genesis is highly controversial. In a previous note, I wrote that the group was founded by Prince Bernhard, a one-time Nazi who went on to marry the future queen of the Netherlands. My facts have been challenged by a commentator who uses the pen-name Hegemony.

As Hegemony is not prepared to use his or her real name, I would normally shrug off the challenge.   But let’s give him or her the benefit of the doubt. Take Hegemony’s suggestion that Bernhard somehow had little to do with Bilderberg’s genesis. The fact is that Bernhard owned the Bilderberg hotel in the Netherlands where the group held its first meeting in 1954. He not only served as president of the organization at that first gathering but continued in this capacity into the mid-1970s – and even then had to be bundled off the stage only because he suddenly emerged at the center of the Lockheed bribery scandal.

As for Bernhard’s Nazi past, again there is little room for debate. It is a matter of historical record that he was a member of the notorious Sturmabteilungen (SA) until late in 1934. My edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica describes SA members as “the select exponents of the Nazi doctrine” and adds, “force was the keystone of their existence.” The Dutch author Annejet van der Zijl has published evidence that Bernhard joined the SA well before the Nazis seized power – and thus his action was voluntary and cannot be excused by any suggestion of coercion.

It is true that soon after he married the future Dutch queen, he switched sides. What is clear is that truthfulness was not his strong suit and he persisted to the end in denying he was ever a Nazi.

If Mr. or Ms. Hegemony is to be believed, the Bilderberg’s principal founder was the Polish political leader Joseph Retinger. Perhaps. What seems to be true is that he was the originator of the idea which he then took to Bernhard. But Retinger was also a notably controversial figure. Born in the Austro-Hungarian empire, he was not necessarily the unalloyed Polish nationalist he has been portrayed. It is a matter of historical record that the Polish resistance were sufficiently convinced that he was a Nazi secret agent that they tried to have him assassinated.

Of the early Bilderbergers the third most important was Paul Rijkens, chairman of Unilever. Rijkens too had a record that was less than ideal. While it would be going too far to suggest he was a Nazi collaborator, he knew Hitler quite well and, up until the outbreak of war, the two did much mutually satisfactory business together.

Is the Bilderberg organization some sort of shadow world government? Disappointingly for the conspiracy theories, this does not withstand  examination. For one thing, Bilderberg boasts almost no East Asian participation. For those who follow the money, any get-together of putative masters of the universe that does not include heavy representation from East Asia is Hamlet without the prince. After all East Asia now accounts for close to 75 percent of the world’s capital exports. To be sure, Bilderberg meetings recently have included one or two participants from China but these are obvious lightweights. What is remarkable is the almost total absence of other East Asians, most notably the Japanese but also the Koreans, Taiwanese, and Singaporeans. The Japanese absence is particularly significant given that Japan – that alleged basket case of global economics – has somehow increased its net overseas assets from less than $200 billion at the end of 1989 to nearly $3.5 trillion on the latest count.

TSA airport confiscation of personal property creates new surplus store re-sale market


Tom Zekos of Newbury, N.H., searched tubs of confiscated pocket knives for sale at the surplus property store.  CHERYL SENTER FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

Surplus store offers up stuff that just won’t fly

TSA does not like to say they confiscate items.

bostonglobe.com | Nov 21, 2012

By Billy Baker

CONCORD, N. H. — As the busy holiday travel season ­arrives, so too does the infrequent flyer. That means a very particular secondhand market is about to start booming, one that depends on people who, more than a ­decade after the Sept. 11 attacks, still do not know that you cannot carry a machete onto an airplane. Or a baseball bat. Or scissors. Or hammers. Or . . . you wouldn’t believe it all.

But if you’d like, you can see it all.

And you can buy it real cheap.

The New Hampshire State ­Surplus Store in Concord has ­become a hub of this secondhand market, the spot where the bulk of the items people surrender to security at New England’s major airports is resold to the public for pennies on the dollar. (They also sell the things people forget while going through security, in case you’re in the market for a belt, a watch or sunglasses.)

“It’s amazing what people travel with,” said Rocky Bostrom, an employee at the store who spends a good part of his day going through boxes of items and shaking his head.

“I like to say we get soup to nuts, heavy on the nuts. I’ve got a bullwhip under my desk right now. I can’t put it out in the store because it’ll take out someone’s eye.”

And with the holidays, the ­inventory in the store will swell, as the quantity and savviness of airline passengers changes.

“With Thanksgiving and the holidays, you’re going to have more infrequent flyers, people who are less familiar with travel than your business travelers, which leads to more issues with the carry-on rules,” said Ann ­Davis, a spokeswoman for the Transportation Security Administration, which oversees airport security.

TSA does not like to say they confiscate items. “They’re surrendered,” Davis said. “Passengers have options.”

For all but the most serious incidents, such as a loaded gun, a passenger can leave the security line and bring the item to their car; give it to the person who dropped them off; and, at many airports, they can mail the item to themselves. They can also, of course, choose not to fly.

But short of that, the options require time, something many travelers do not have, so the prohibited items are simply left with security, an accidental gift to the government.

A look around the surplus store, an oddball series of rooms in an old dairy farm surrounded by cornfields, reveals a menagerie of items that fall into categories.

First, there are the accidental things, the sort that travelers might understandably forget they had in their possession. The core of this cache is pocketknives and tools, such as screwdrivers and corkscrews. They get them by the thousands, so many that there is an entire subculture of resellers who start waiting in line two hours before the surplus store opens so they can pounce on the newest inventory and then turn it around on eBay.

“Once in a while, there’s some pushing and shoving,” Bostrom said. “They just charge through the door, reach over each other, and then complain that everything is priced too high.”

Many visit the store — which is open Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. — three or four times each day. The store also, as the name implies, sells the state government’s surplus items, everything from used snowplows to old office furniture and fax machines.

TSA collects so many miniature multitools and Swiss Army knives that each model has its own bin at the surplus store, where they sell for $2.

The next major category is the laughable, which has two subcategories: those items people can’t possibly think they can bring on an airplane and those items that can’t possibly be prohibited on an airplane.

Saws, pick axes, a prison shank. Come on, people.

Snow globes. Come on, TSA.

The ban on snow globes, which were outlawed along with many liquids and gels in 2007 ­after an apparent terrorist plot in London to use liquid explosives on US-bound planes, has long been the subject of ridicule and a source of bewilderment for souvenir-toting passengers who are not aware of the edict.

Though the agency relaxed its standards this summer to allow snow globes that contain less than 2.4 ounces of liquid, the surplus store still gets enough of them that you can buy 10 for a dollar.

Another laughable item they see a lot of is bowling pins, usually covered with autographs, from bowlers returning from tournaments. These are usually bought by a sheriff’s department, which uses them for target practice.

The final category is those items that are, you might say, unforgivable. “We get tons and tons of boxcutters,” said John Supry, who is the store manager. “That’s really how it all started” — boxcutters were a key weapon for the Sept. 11 hijackers — “and yet people still carry them.”

TSA says it makes every effort to reunite passengers with items accidentally left at security; they keep them for at least 30 days. But the employees of the New Hampshire State Surplus Store say there is simply too much to be in the match-making game.

Occasionally, they can be persuaded by someone who surrendered something of sentimental value. They have helped couples find engraved wedding cake serving knives and recently ­received a nice thank you note from a woman who was reunited with her grandmother’s heirloom silverware.

But for the most part, it’s people who call and say, “I lost my Swiss Army knife.”

Sorry, there’s no way they’re looking for it. But if you want one, come on up. They have boxes full of ones just like it.

And take some of these snow globes while you’re here.