‘Pre-Crime! It Works!’, Dear George: If We Are the Empire, Who Are the Rebel Forces?, Doctoring their Profits, That Giant ‘Psyching’ Sound, The Real ‘Axes of Evil’: US Lumber Barons
August 9, 2002

Equipped with E.T. mittens, Tom Cruise hunts "pre-crime" in the year 2050. Eat your heart out, John Ashcroft. Credit: 20th Century Fox/ Dreamworks
‘Pre-Crime! It Works!’
With its animated cereal boxes, talking wall ads and skittering robotic spider-spies, Steven Spielberg’s summer blockbuster Minority Report might have seemed a bit far out to some viewers.

Far out, maybe, but not far off.

The Defense Department has already created robotic spies the size of insects and several US inventors are close to commercializing innovative (and troubling) technologies that can beam sounds and messages directly into the brains of targeted individuals from a distance of 100 feet. (See “Hearing Is Believing,” Newsweek, August 2, 2002.)

Even Spielberg’s concept of a Department of Pre-Crime seems chillingly prescient as, across the US — from airports and sports arenas to shopping malls and public beaches — TV cameras are being installed and plugged into systems that can scan faces searching for suspected “evil-doers.”

Scientists at Kingston University’s Digital Imaging Research Centre (DIRC) in London even claim to have developed robot cameras that “will predict crimes before they happen.”

Britain’s pre-crime cameras use behavior-monitoring Cromatica software to observe crowd flow and body language. Using mathematical modeling programs, the system determines in advance when certain crimes are about to take place and sends a warning to the nearest police officer.

“Our technology excels at… highlighting potential situations that could otherwise go unnoticed,” DIRC’s Sergio Velastin boasts. DIRC’s closed circuit pre-crime cameras have already been tested at the Liverpool Street Station in the London Underground.

Back in the US, even Spielberg and crew are feeling skittish. Minority Report debuted just as US Attorney General was unveiling his program to identify, isolate, and eradicate terrorist “sleepers” in our midst. The US, Ashcroft explained, was shifting its law enforcement efforts from after-the-fact apprehension to pre-emptive “prevention.”

“Is this really happening? This is our movie!” a top Dreamworks executive reportedly exclaimed while watching Ashcroft’s press conference on C-SPAN. In comments published on The Drudge Report [] the Dreamworks honcho shuddered, “We set the clock [in the movie] in the 2050s, but it looks like we are already there…. Mr. Ashcroft is scary as s—t.”

As Ashcroft proceeded to detail his anti-terrorist program, the executive blurted out a box-office prayer: “Please let him say he is creating a Department of Pre-Crime!”

For his part, Spielberg says he supports Bush’s war on terrorism. On the other hand, he reflects, “Right now, people are willing to give away a lot of their freedoms in order to feel safe. They’re willing to give the FBI and the CIA far-reaching powers to, as George W. Bush often says, root out those individuals who are a danger to our way of living…. But how much freedom are you willing to give up?”

In related news, a Gallup poll reports that four out of five Americans stated that they were quite willing to give up “some freedom for more security.”

Dear George: If We Are the Empire, Who Are the Rebel Forces?
The Mole has emerged from burrowing through the May/June issue of Harvard Magazine wherein former Defense Department and National Security Council drone Stephen Peter Rosen (now a fully-endowed Harvard professor and director of the Olin Institute for Strategic Studies) rhapsodizes on the ever-popular theme of the US as an Imperial Power and Damn Proud of It.

In his essay, “The Future of War and the American Military,” Rosen waxes rosy about American puissance. “The United States has no rival. We are militarily dominant around the world. Our military spending exceeds that of the next six or seven powers combined, and we have a monopoly on many advanced and not-so-advanced military technologies. We, and only we, form and lead military coalitions into war. We use our military dominance to intervene in the internal affairs of other countries….

“A political unit that has overwhelming superiority in military power and uses that power to influence the internal behavior of other states is called an empire. Because the United States does not seek to control territory or govern the overseas citizens of the empire, we are an indirect empire, to be sure, but an empire nonetheless. If this is correct, our goal is not combating a rival, but maintaining our imperial position and maintaining imperial order.”

Rosen notes correctly that “planning for imperial wars is different from planning for conventional international wars.” Back in the days when Russia was a countervailing superpower, the US had to proceed with caution. Today, however, US military ambitions need not be “so constrained. The maximum amount of force can, and should be used as quickly as possible for psychological impact — to demonstrate that the empire cannot be challenged with impunity.”

With the Soviet Union behind us and a brand new century ahead of us, Rosen writes, “we are in the business of bringing down hostile governments and creating governments favorable to us.” Whereas “conventional international wars end and troops are brought back home,” Rosen reflects, under the new “world order led by the United States,” we should become accustomed to “imperial garrisons… left in place for decades to ensure order and safety.”

Yes, there is an alternative to global imperial dominance, Rosen grants. “The United States could help other countries defend themselves.” But it may be too late for that. The Pentagon and the White House have already had a taste of global blood and, as Rosen recalls (quoting Pericles), “empires are like tyrannies: They may have been wrong to take, but they are dangerous to let go.”

Doctoring their Profits
In June, the (formerly) prestigious New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) announced that its was setting a torch to the 190-year-old firewall that prevented doctors with vested interests from reviewing the performance of commercial drugs. NEJM Editor-in-Chief Jeffrey Drazen explained that the influence of free-spending drug companies had become so pervasive that it has become impossible to find any authors without a potential conflict of interest.

According to the Public Citizen Health Letter [Health Research Group, 1600 20th St., NW, Washington, DC 20009], in 2000, “Big Pharma” companies spent nearly $2 billion to sponsor more than 314,000 conferences, luncheons and weekend getaways for doctors.

Under NEJM’s new policy, it would be possible for contributors to receive as much as $50,000 a year from the drug companies they were called upon to review. Jerome Kassirer, NEJM’s editor from 1991 to 1999, was incredulous. “There’s a lot of depth in academic medicine,” he insists. “It’s almost always possible to find a first-class person to write an editorial or review article in which they do not have a conflict of interest.”

Regrettably, NEJM will no longer be making that effort.

That Giant ‘Psyching’ Sound
Big Pharma is not only co-opting doctors, it has also been busy buying-up psychiatrists. Writing in American Prospect magazine, E. Fuller Torrey, the president of the Treatment Advocacy Center in Arlington, Virginia and the author of The Invisible Plague: The Rise of Mental Illness from 1750 to the Present, laments the “virtual wholesale purchase of the psychiatric profession by the pharmaceutical industry.”

It was the inevitable market-driven consequence of the merchandising of mental anguish. Sales of Prozac, Zyprexa and other anti-depressant and anti-psychotic medicines have become a $4 billion-a-year industry. The incredible fortunes racked up by the 11 top pharmaceutical firms were largely the result of the promotion of “feel-good” pills.

There was, however, one problem that Big Pharma had to overcome. While anyone can buy a loaf of bread or a bottle of suntan lotion right off the shelf, when you want to buy medicine, you have to get a doctor’s OK. That puts the power of profit in the prescription-writing hands of America’s doctors. Torrey estimates that Big Pharma may be spending as much as “$13,000 per physician per year” to woo the prescribers.

Big Pharma now spends nearly three times as much money on marketing and administrative costs as it invests in actual research and development of new cures (a mere 12 percent of overall revenue).

Some of that promotional money is spent trying to indoctrinate the next generation of mental health practitioners. Big Pharma routinely cuts checks to provide medical students and residents with free gifts and pizza. This practice moved one commentator to remark in the New England Journal of Medicine that “Medical training should not include acquiring a sense of entitlement to the largesse of drug companies.”

At last year’s Seventh World Congress of Biological Psychiatry in Berlin, 15 Big Pharma firms mounted lavish pavilions to attract the 4,000 attending doctors. Flashing lights, T-shirts, free food and drinks (including sweet rolls, sodas and candy) were used to draw the doctors within striking range of the corporate hucksters.

Of the 136 symposia offered at the Berlin congress, Torrey reports, “23 were clearly labeled as being sponsored by pharmaceutical companies [and] all focused on the pharmacological treatment of psychiatric disorders.”

Psychiatrists are made keenly aware that “larger honoraria and invitations for future meetings are directly dependent on how they present their data,” Torrey writes. Conversely, they realize that “emphasizing adverse effects of a drug… may well cost the expert a trip to future congresses.”

The Berlin conference offered a case in point. According to Torrey, “more than half of the attendees had been sponsored by pharmaceutical companies.” This sponsorship included “tourist class airfare, hotel accommodations and Congress registration fees as well as special receptions and parties, some complete with dancing girls.”

Big Pharma has also put the power of the microchip to work. Torrey reports that drug companies “now use computerized pharmacy databases… to ascertain how many prescriptions per month any given physician writes for any given drug.” Torrey claims that this information is then used by drug company sales reps who call to remind under-prescribing doctors that they will be sorely missed at the industry’s next big all-expenses-paid conference in Cancun.

It may not be arm-twisting, but even if it’s just a friendly nudge, it works. Torrey cites a study that showed doctors who received this kind of positive reinforcement subsequently increased their approval of the company’s drugs by as much as 272 percent. Clearly, Torrey comments, patient care can suffer when “the psychiatric expert who is minimizing the adverse effects of Zyprexa receives a $10,000 per year retainer from Eli Lilly and also owns substantial company stock.”

If the problem is so bad, why haven’t the professional organizations stepped in? Alas, Torrey explains, “the American Psychiatric Association [and other like groups]… are themselves so indebted to the pharmaceutical industry that they are reluctant to offend it.”

A Microsoft billboard in Tel Aviv.
Ad-ing to the Confusion
Microsoft got its fingers burned when it tried to hop a ride on Israeli nationalism by posting a message in Hebrew on a Tel Aviv billboard. The message read: “From the depths of our heart, thank you to the Israeli Defense Forces.“

Coke's ads evoked a warm and fizzy feeling.
According to the July/August issue of Adbusters magazine [], after indignant protests from the Israeli Peace Bloc, “Microsoft USA pressured its Mideast division to dump the ad campaign.”

In a less partisan effort to merge merchandizing with geopolitics, the Coca-Cola Company sponsored a 1996 design competition that invited artists in the Mideast to express there visions of world harmony through the iconography of a Coke bottle. Here are two results.

The Real ‘Axes of Evil’: US Lumber Barons
One of the latest attempts to use the “war on terrorism” to promote the Earth-raping goals of an extractive industry saw the management of Pacific Lumber telling the Humboldt Country (California) Board of Supervisors that the activists trying to save old-growth forests from loggers were nothing more than “eco-terrorists.”

Responding to the charge, spokesperson Josh Brown pointed out that “North Coast Earth First! (NCEF!) has an impeccable 15-year record of nonviolence. In fact, those who have committed violence have been employees of MAXXAM/Pacific Lumber and the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department and have done so against nonviolent activists.”

Pacific Lumber’s slur has undermined the Forest Peace Alliance, an attempt to open a dialog between the timber industry and the activists. “I certainly don’t feel like I can have effective dialogue with people who have labeled be an eco-terrorist,” an NCEF! Veteran named Ash stated.

NCEF! noted that it had “gone to great lengths to promote a sustainable timber industry… whereas PL’s consistent policy of over-cutting without regard for their neighbors, employees or ecosystems has resulted in the loss of jobs and massive watershed destruction.”

NCEF!’s Sara March stated that it was “a despicable exploitation of tragedy to try to make a comparison between those who would take thousands of human lives and individuals sitting peacefully in trees.”

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