Friday, October 28, 2005

Merry Fitzmas

On Patrick Fitzgerald's website one can now find the indictment of "Scooter" Libby on five counts. A quick summary:

Libby is indicted on FIVE counts -- obstruction of justice, on perjury (two counts -- of lying to the grand jury), and making false statements (two counts -- for lying to the FBI). Via CNN. (Docs still not up on Fitz's site.)

Libby is accused of endangering the safety of the nation. But, as DiGenova notes, Fitzgerald has not charged a substantive crime in exposing her identity. Toobin, however, says that Fitz had to make the case to the jury into a manageable size and that he tailored his case to that end.

AP via WaPo: "The five-count indictment accuses Libby of lying about how and when he learned about CIA official Valerie Plane's identity in 2003 and then told reporters about it. The information was classified.

"Any trial would shine a spotlight on the secret deliberations of Bush and his team as they built the case for war against Iraq.

"Bush ordered U.S. troops to war in March 2003, saying Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction program posed a grave and immediate threat to the United States. No such weapons were found. The U.S. military death toll climbed past 2,000 this week."

More on Raw Story. It appears that the story is far from over, as Fitzgerald is expected to continue his investigation with a new grand jury. Rove remains in legal limbo for now. Hopefully this signals the beginning of the end of an administration that has proven to be far more of an embarrassment than any I've seen in my lifetime (Nixon and Clinton both come to mind).

Updated: Ted Kennedy puts things in perspective:
Today is an ominous day for the country, signifying a new low since Watergate in terms of openness and honesty in our government. This is far more than an indictment of an individual. In effect it’s an indictment of the vicious and devious tactics used by the Administration to justify a war we never should have fought. It’s an indictment of the lengths Administration officials were willing to go to cover up their failed intelligence, their distortion on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, and their serious blunders on the war. It is an indictment of their vindictive efforts to discredit anyone who challenge their misrepresentations.

The American people know the high cost of this misguided war – 2,000 U.S. soldiers dead, more than 15,000 wounded, hundreds of billions of dollars spent with no end in sight, and a continuing shameful effort by the White House to silence those who try to tell the truth about the war. Dissent is the ultimate form of patriotism, and it’s time we return to having an honest discourse in this country about changing direction and paying attention to the needs of the American people.

The President should take this opportunity to do everything he can to heal the country by not interfering with the prosecution of this case or the continuing investigation, and by cleaning house at the White House to immunize the country against any further corruption and dishonesty. As the President promised, anyone still in the White House who had anything to do with this scandalous plot or the cover-up should be dismissed immediately, whether or not they have been indicted. Something has to give — America can’t stand three more years of this failed Bush presidency.
Emphasis added.

Obscenity

Maryscott O'Connor has an excellent take on what is truly obscene. The War Party (whether on the GOP side or among the Dems who seem perfectly content to go along) would just as soon gloss over the casualties caused by their actions: kids, who could just as easily be any of our kids, nieces, nephews, grandkids.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

To commemorate the 2,000th deceased soldier

in the Iraq debacle, as regrettably that number will be reached and surpassed in a matter of days, I present a quotation from the Tao Te Ching (Lao Tzu) from which I find much guidance:
1. Military weapons are implements of ill omen,
Avoided even by natural creatures.
Hence the Taoist does not indulge in them.

2. The princely person in dwelling honors the left,
In military campaigns honors the right.
Hence military weapons are not teh implements of a princely person.

3. Military weapons, being implements of ill omen,
Are to be employed only in dire necessity.
Better to regard them with lack of interest.
Do not admire them.

4. If one admires them,
One would rejoice in the killing of people.
But whoever rejoices in the killing of people,
Will not be successful in the world.

5. Therefore in joyful affairs the left is honored,
In mournful affairs the right is honored.
The Second-in-Command takes the place of the left,
The Commander-in-Chief takes the place of the right,
Meaning that this is his place in the funeral rite.

6. When many people have been killed,
Wail them with sorrow and lamentations.
When victorious in battle,
Mark the occasion with the rite of funeral.
Translation by Ellen M. Chen: The Tao Te Ching - A New Translation With Commentary (1989: Paragon House). My emphasis added. I offer this as a counterpoint to the recent mischaracterization of the upcoming vigils marking this sad occasion by right-wing extremists such as Michelle Malkin. Tristero, who can be found over at Digby's Hullabaloo, has a few choice words for Ms. Malkin and fellow liars:
Such a terrible milestone should be a somber moment that the entire country, as one, should acknowledge. After all, pro-war or anti-war, no one wants our friends, our neighbors, and our children to die. It is clearly a time when all of us should support the troops by making sure they understand all Americans share in the mourning.

But no. Michelle Malkin, Peter Daou informs us (and I sure as hell won't pollute Digby's blog with a link to her), thinks we'll be partying, i.e. celebrating, on Day 2000.

And to prove it, no doubt Ms. Malkin and her fellow maniacs will grab their digicams and stalk the memorials, like the good fascist volunteers they are, looking to capture any and all grimaces of grief that could possibly be construed as a triumphant smile. After all, they photog'd us during the war protests, pretending the occasional nut represented all the middle-class marchers with families who were there. So they'll do it again on Day 2000. And they'll call us traitors again.

Well, Michelle, ma belle, I think we know who the real traitors are, don't we now? Oh, I'm not only talking about the clowns who placed loyalty to Texas Moses above their country's security. I'm also thinking of the people who sent American soldiers into battle with inadequate armor, inadequate intelligence, and deliberately false information on what they could expect in terms of a reception among the people they had been repeatedly told they were "liberating."

[...]

No, Michelle. Those of us opposed to the crooks you admire will not be celebrating on Day 2000; we'll be weeping.
We will be weeping indeed. Not that the Malkins of the world would notice: they're too busy celebrating what Lao Tzu would call "the implements of ill omen" and "rejoicing in the killing of people" to truly care.

Tristero has plenty more to say on what would cause many of us to celebrate - namely the removal from office and prosecution of the jackals who have caused so much suffering for so many. Whether or not that truly happens, of course, remains to be seen. Even then, I suspect, any celebration that would ensue will be tempered with sadness: for the lost opportunities on so many fronts - internationally, societally, environmentally.

See also Subjective Scribe's post Ignorant Hacks of the Right.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Rosa Parks: 1913-2005


Rosa Parks passed away at 7 pm on Monday.

Sister Rosa Parks was tired one day
after a hard day on her job.
When all she wanted was a well deserved rest
Not a scene from an angry mob.
A bus driver said, "Lady, you got to get up
cuz a white person wants that seat."
But Miss Rosa said, "No, not no more.
I'm gonna sit here and rest my feet."

Thank you Miss Rosa, you are the spark,
You started our freedom movement
Thank you Sister Rosa Parks.
Thank you Miss Rosa you are the spark,
You started our freedom movement
Thank you Sister Rosa Parks.

Now, the police came without fail
And took Sister Rosa off to jail.
And 14 dollars was her fine,
Brother Martin Luther King
knew it was our time.
The people of Montgomery sit down to talk
It was decided all gods' children should walk
Until segregation was brought to its knees
And we obtain freedom and equality, yeah

Thank you Miss Rosa, you are the spark,
You started our freedom movement
Thank you Sister Rosa Parks.
We'll sing it again
Thank you Miss Rosa, you are the spark,
You started our freedom movement
Thank you Sister Rosa Parks.

So we dedicate this song to thee
for being the symbol of our dignity.
Thank Sister Rosa Parks.

by the Neville Brothers

She was justifiably tired of the Apartheid-like system that existed in the US in the 1950s. As many of us are aware, there's still a long road ahead when it comes to equality. May Ms. Parks' legacy continue to inspire new generations of people in the struggle to create a more egalitarian and humane society. Peace.

Note: Picture from here.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Reactions to Survivors of Hurricane Katrina: Part 1 – Modern Racism

One does not need to be a psychoanalyst schooled in Lacan’s theory in order to appreciate the work of Slavoj Zizek. His latest writing for In These Times regarding the racism found in many of the reactions to the victims of Hurricane Katrina is well worth reading and pondering. Let’s explore:

According to a well-known anecdote, anthropologists studying “primitives” who supposedly held certain superstitious beliefs (that they descend from a fish or from a bird, for example) asked them directly whether they “really” believed such things. They answered: “Of course not—we‘re not stupid! But I was told that some of our ancestors actually did believe that.” In short, they transferred their belief onto another.

We do the same thing with our children by going through the ritual of Santa Claus. Since our children (are supposed to) believe in him and we do not want to disappoint them, they pretend to believe so as not to disappoint us by puncturing our belief in their naivety (and to get the presents, of course). Isn’t this also the usual excuse of the mythical crooked politician who turns honest? “I cannot disappoint the ordinary people who believe in me.”

The events in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina struck the city provide a new addition to this series of “subjects supposed to…”—the subject supposed to loot and rape. We all remember the reports on the disintegration of public order, the explosion of black violence, rape and looting. However, later inquiries demonstrated that, in the large majority of cases, these alleged orgies of violence did not occur: Non-verified rumors were simply reported as facts by the media.

The reality of poor blacks, abandoned and left without means to survive, was thus transformed into the specter of blacks exploding violently, of tourists robbed and killed on streets that had slid into anarchy, of the Superdome ruled by gangs that were raping women and children. These reports were not merely words, they were words that had precise material effects: They generated fears that caused some police officers to quit and led the authorities to change troop deployments, delay medical evacuations and ground helicopters. Acadian Ambulance Company, for example, locked down its cars after word came that armed robbers had looted all of the water from a firehouse in Covington—a report that proved totally untrue.

So we have the phenomenon of unfounded rumors being treated as reality by the mass media and indeed by any of a number of politicians and pundits. In addition to the accounts of murders and rapes, recall the allegations of cannibalism that showed up in some of the news reports. My immediate reaction was that this was in no way possible, although I could certainly find otherwise sober-minded individuals who momentarily took such accounts quite seriously. Why would this happen? According to Zizek:

Of course, the sense of menace had been ignited by genuine disorder and violence: Looting, ranging from base thievery to foraging for the necessities of life, did occur after the storm passed over New Orleans. However, the (limited) reality of crimes in no way exonerates “reports” on the total breakdown of law and order—not because these reports were “exaggerated,” but for a much more radical reason. Jacques Lacan claimed that, even if the patient’s wife is really sleeping around with other men, the patient’s jealousy is still to be treated as a pathological condition. In a homologous way, even if rich Jews in early 1930s Germany “really” had exploited German workers, seduced their daughters and dominated the popular press, the Nazis’ anti-Semitism would still have been an emphatically “untrue,” pathological ideological condition. Why? Because the causes of all social antagonisms were projected onto the “Jew”—an object of perverted love-hatred, a spectral figure of mixed fascination and disgust.

And exactly the same goes for the looting in New Orleans: Even if all the reports on violence and rapes had proven to be factually true, the stories circulating about them would still be “pathological” and racist, since what motivated these stories were not facts, but racist prejudices, the satisfaction felt by those who would be able to say: “You see, Blacks really are like that, violent barbarians under the thin layer of civilization!” In other words, we would be dealing with what could be called lying in the guise of truth: Even if what I am saying is factually true, the motives that make me say it are false.

In short, the behaviors, thoughts, and emotions tied into these reports and their ready acceptance by many can be seen as motivated by racism. However, the racism itself is hardly open:

Of course, we never openly admit these motives. But from time to time, they nonetheless pop up in our public space in a censored form, in the guise of denegation: Once evoked as an option, they are then immediately discarded. Recall the recent comments by William Bennett, the compulsive gambler and author of The Book of Virtues, on his call-in program “Morning in America”: “But I do know that it’s true that if you wanted to reduce crime, you could, if that were your sole purpose, you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossibly ridiculous and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down.” The White House spokesman immediately reacted: “The president believes the comments were not appropriate.” Two days later, Bennett qualified his statement: “I was putting a hypothetical proposition … and then said about it, it was morally reprehensible to recommend abortion of an entire group of people. But this is what happens when you argue that ends can justify the means.” This is exactly what Freud meant when he wrote that the Unconscious knows no negation: The official (Christian, democratic …) discourse is accompanied and sustained by a whole nest of obscene, brutal racist and sexist fantasies, which can only be admitted in a censored form.

For the most part, explicit racial prejudice and discrimination are taboo in American society. Instead, the racism is more hidden. Open admission of one’s own racism has the potential to be quite ego-threatening and anxiety-provoking. Hence, defense mechanisms such as sublimation are used to keep racist motives buried beneath the level of conscious awareness.

Outside of the psychoanalytic tradition, there has certainly been plenty of research examining racism – usually from a social learning or information processing perspective. Much of the recent focus has been on a phenomenon called “modern racism” (also called “cultural racism”; see Myers, 2005 for a summary). It’s a form of prejudice and discrimination that is not openly expressed, but is usually sublimated behind some other explicit motive, such as the desire for law and order. We might think of modern racism as a form of dual attitude system in which we have one explicit (and largely conscious) set of attitudes that can be openly express toward a target individual or group and another one implicit (automatic, and generally outside of conscious awareness and control) that we might express via nonverbal behaviors toward the same target individual or group.

To give you a sense of what modern racism looks like, let’s check out some examples of social psychological research. Duncan (1976) for example, had white subjects view a videotape of a man shoving another man during the course of an argument. In one condition, subjects viewed a black man who shoved a white man. In the other condition subjects viewed a white man shove a black man. In the former condition, 73% of the subjects interpreted the shoving behavior as violent. In the latter condition, in which a white man shoved a black man, only 13% of the subjects interpreted the shoving behavior as violent.

In terms of modern racism’s automaticity, several investigators have reported evidence of automatic priming effects. Two recent experiments by Correll et al. (2002) and Greenwald et al. (2003) had subjects primed with images of males who varied in race (white or black), who appeared to hold either a firearm or neutral object. Subjects were instructed to quickly press buttons to either “shoot” or “not shoot” as quickly as they could, following each image. The basic finding from these studies was that subjects were more prone to mistakenly “shoot” targets who were black. Similarly, a study by Judd et al (2004) found that when subjects were primed with black faces they were more likely to think about firearms – for example they would mistake neutral objects such as wrenches for guns.

Behaviorally, there is evidence from studies in which subjects were instructed to use electric shock in order to “teach” a task that those subjects who have been angered or who can act anonymously are more prone to give higher intensity electric shocks to black individuals than to white individuals (see, e.g., Crosby et al., 1980; Rogers & Prentice-Dunn, 1981).

Where does all of this originate. I tend to use the social learning (e.g., Bandura) and information processing (e.g., Bargh, 1994; Higgins, 1996) approaches to understand modern racism. As part of the socialization process, we pick up our racial attitudes from a variety of sources termed “models” (e.g., parents, peers, mass media). We store these modeled attitudes and behaviors in long-term memory, and over time – to the extent that we have repeated exposure to these attitudes and behaviors – the attitudes and behaviors become “over-learned” or automatic. For example, the more often the association between black pigmentation and criminal activity is practiced, the more likely one is to automatically invoke that association when they encounter a black individual either directly in person or indirectly via mass media.

It’s no surprise, then, that in the aftermath of Katrina the reports of criminal behaviors among the predominantly black residents of New Orleans. Contemporary Americans have been fed a steady diet of subtle and not-so-subtle racism from a sufficient number of sources that they have come to perceive the behaviors of ethnic minorities in a different light than they would the same behaviors by white individuals. There is a distinct tendency for media outlets to describe the behavior of black hurricane survivors foraging for food and supplies as “looting” while using much more neutral language to describe the very same behaviors by white hurricane survivors. Since the link between blackness and criminality is one that has been so deeply ingrained in the American cultural Zeitgeist, it is little wonder that stories of violent lawlessness amidst the wreckage in New Orleans were accepted at face value by many.

Part 2 will explore the effects of authoritarian beliefs on attitudes toward the survivors of Hurricane Katrina.

Ever wanted to know who invented the internet?

Find out here. By the way the blog Did You Know? has all sorts of interesting factoids. Worth checking out periodically.