Wednesday, May 16, 2007

It ain't rocket science

In concluding a bit of a history lesson on the confluence of influences (uniquely American strains of Protestantism, the Progressive movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the drive toward expansion that led to an increasingly interventionist foreign policy, and the prohibitionists) that continue to affect our current sorry decade Arthur Silber lays it all out in very basic terms:
Utilizing the power of the state to constrain or forbid individual action, when the targeted individuals and behavior harm no one else, is wrong. The effects are always significantly worse than the alleged problem the state action was proposed to solve.

Using the power of the state to conquer foreign lands and to coerce other governments and peoples into acting in accordance with our dictates is wrong. The effects are uniformly terrible, and evil: large-scale death and suffering, and an endless number of bodies and souls that are destroyed, crippled and damaged forever.

Forging an alliance between the power of the state and one particular set of moral beliefs, either religious in nature or in a secular variant, is wrong. If your personal beliefs are so important to you, then live your life in the manner they require. Unless they demonstrably harm someone else, what other people do is none of your damned business. That you might convince certain members of the ruling class to use the power of the state to coerce your fellow citizens into living their lives as you demand multiplies the evil involved a thousandfold.

The United States does not have a monopoly on virtue or on an "ideal" political system, and it never did. No country whose origins include the slaughter of the native population and the enslavement of millions of human beings ever could. The United States is "the last, best hope" of precisely nothing. Even today, and in many critical ways especially today, we desperately need to set our own house in order. Until and unless that monumental task is achieved in large part, morality and the practical realities demand that we leave the rest of the world the hell alone. Genuinely free trade and travel are good in themselves and very positive in their effects, and should be encouraged. Embargoes, sanctions and all similar restrictions are always extraordinarily damaging, and aggressive, non-defensive war is a loathsome evil; such acts are profoundly damaging not only to the countries that are the targets, but to the country that initiates them.

The drive to world hegemony and Empire is evil, in its motives and in all its effects.
Not too surprisingly, the elites who occupy the government and dominate the board rooms will refuse to listen. Just check out the recent Presidential nomination debates of both the Democrats and GOP: the front-runners for the GOP seem to envision a continuation of Bu$hCo's brand of warmongering; the front-runners for the Democrats want a return the "kinder and gentler" warmongering favored by the Clintonistas. Both of these two parties do have their own candidates who are to varying degrees less committed to the current imperial project. Needless to say, one will find next to no coverage of them in the corporate media. There has been some talk of a "centrist" third party, but its potential front runners (such as NYC's Mayor Bloomberg & politician turned actor Fred Thompson) seem just as steeped in the sort of American Exceptionalism that has poisoned our political discourse for far too long. As for Congress, let's say actions speak louder than words, and that thus far the actions of this year's Congress is every bit as committed to the "drive to world hegemony" as the previous year's. The tactics might change (albeit superficially), but the vibe is the same.

For too long we've witnessed the power of Big Bad Government (sometimes in collaboration with Big Bad Religion, sometimes not) to coerce individuals at home and whole civilizations abroad. Whether we're talking about the "war on drugs" or the "war on terra" we've seen way too many lives lost or ruined for absolutely nothing.

The end result will be fairly predictable: as long as the ruling elites continue on their present course, they'll run the US (along with much of the rest of the planet) into the ground. In spite of all the high and mighty religious talk, the truth is that the US is generally a morally bankrupt nation and has been so for quite some time. We're not that far away from a financial bankruptcy that will rival the collapse of the former Soviet Union. Like Silber I'm not particularly optimistic that there is anything near the critical mass needed to reverse course (too much inertia to overcome). It's more a matter of just how hard the nation collapses (economically and militarily), and to what extent the collapse ends up resembling a murder-suicide on a global scale.

On Iran: Don't Drink the Economic Sanctions Kool-Aid

I've mentioned from time to time that the "sanctions" (with some bombings added just for shits and giggles) against Iraq, initiated by Papa Doc Bush and escalated under Bubba Clinton, that were essentially genocidal. There is no way to sugarcoat it, as the following quote from Arthur Silber's blog illustrates:
At this point, I suppose I should also remind you that the "unsustainability" of a sanctions policy was one of the reasons used to support the invasion of Iraq in 2003. That particular reason was enormously popular with many liberals, among others. Moreover, it is well-known -- or at least, it should be well-known -- that sanctions do nothing to deter the targeted country's leaders from pursuing the policies disfavored by those who demand the sanctions, while they inflict grievous, terrible suffering on the country's population in general. In brief, sanctions are an unspeakably cruel, complete failure.

On this subject, I will turn the floor over to Stanley Kutler, whose entire article I recommend with special emphasis to those liberals and progressives who continue, with no factual support whatsoever, to view Clinton's foreign policy in the 1990s through rose-colored glasses so heavily tinted that they render those who wear them almost completely blind:
Where was our attention for the decade following the Gulf War in 1991? ...

And what attention did we give to the thirteen-year campaign of sanctions and bombings of Iraq? For Barry Lando, in his useful new book Web of Deceit: The History of Western Complicity in Iraq, From Churchill to Kennedy to George W. Bush, sanctions were the weapon of mass destruction used against the Iraqi people to starve and reduce them to a Third World level of poverty. Lando's work opens our eyes to one of the most tragic episodes in the lengthy, sorry history of "Western" dealings with Iraq. ... The British preferred Winston Churchill's imperial ambitions. We chose Bushes, a Clinton and their respective entourages. Either way, disaster was not far behind.


The sanctions and bombings of the 1990s are directly linked to Bush's determination to invade Iraq in 2003 and attempt to remake it--again, in our image. History illuminates the present, and we would do well to absorb Lando's narration.

The United Nations imposed sanctions on Iraq as part of the run-up to the first Gulf War. The Security Council severed all imports and exports between Iraq and the world--from food and vaccines to hospital equipment and medical journals. Iraq imported 70 percent of its food, largely paid for by oil exports. The UN's writ is not meaningless--not when the United States and Great Britain rigorously enforced the sanctions. And to underline for the Iraqis where the muscle was, the two powers regularly bombed the country.

We estimate between 500,00 to 1 million Iraqis died in the 1990s, a very large proportion being children. To what end? Not, Lando maintains, to destroy Saddam Hussein's WMDs but to force him out. ...

The CIA badly miscalculated that sanctions, coupled with Iraq's devastating defeat, would result in a military coup, toppling Saddam. Anything but. The sanctions and Saddam's heightened repression insured his survival--much to the frustration of Western leaders.

The sanctions worked only as partly intended: They imposed untold suffering on the population. Americans at the UN blocked a request to ship baby food because adults might use it. They vetoed sending a heart pill that contained a milligram of cyanide because tens of thousands of such pills could become a lethal weapon. The banned list included filters for water treatment plants, vaccines, cotton swabs and gauze, children's clothes, funeral shrouds. Somehow, even Vietnamese pingpong balls found their way to the proscribed list.

Sanctions devastated the country's medical system, once one of the best in the region. Sanctions insured that malnutrition would morph into virtual death sentences, as Lando notes. Babies died in incubators because of power failures; others were crippled with cerebral palsy because of insufficient oxygen supplies. As early as May 1991, a visiting Harvard medical team concluded that Iraq had a public health catastrophe.


Iraqis hoped for a better day with the new President, Bill Clinton. Alas! Clinton's background and his political calculus determined that he had to establish his macho credentials and his credibility with the right. He authorized a Tomahawk missile attack against Baghdad, supposedly in retaliation for Saddam's alleged plot to assassinate former President Bush. (The Kuwaiti-provided evidence, many believe, is quite tenuous.) In any event, Clinton's attack went off track and killed eight civilians, including a gifted artist. His UN Ambassador, Madeleine Albright, carefully monitored the ever-tightening sanctions. In late 1994 the New York Times reported on children in filthy hospitals, dying with diarrhea and pneumonia, people desperately seeking food, and Iraq's inability to sell its oil--the country faced "famine and economic collapse." Without doubt, the sanctions consolidated Saddam's power. UN Administrator Denis Halliday wrote that the people blamed the United States and the UN for their travails, not Saddam Hussein. Halliday resigned, refusing to administer a program that he called "genocide."


The present Iraq War and occupation is but another chapter in our melancholy, misguided and decidedly bipartisan relations with Iraq. Lando painfully underscores how we knew--and deliberately enforced--such policies just to heighten that civilian suffering. The chimera of Saddam's imminent overthrow only tightened the screws for the Iraqis.


When in March 2003, the Bush Administration launched its inevitable invasion, American forces confronted an empty shell of defenses and a dispirited, devastated and despairing populace. The invasion was a cakewalk. But our not-so wise policy-makers wanted more, and Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz promised our troops garlands of flowers as Iraqis would welcome their liberators. Some welcome. The American and British sanctions' policy had done its work quite well--painfully, devastatingly well. Remember: Much of this was pursued by the Clinton Administration, anxious to show that its statesmanship credentials could match any Bush. So the last word properly belongs to Secretary Albright. Although she belatedly disavowed her comments after the Iraq disaster was obvious to all except George W. Bush, nevertheless, she said of sanctions and bombings: "It was worth it."
The Clinton administration's Iraq policy, as well as its interventions in the Balkans, strengthened the groundwork of our bipartisan foreign policy and provided unbroken continuity to the invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003. Anyone who tells you otherwise is ignorant or lying, or both. The Clinton administration and its defenders in the realm of foreign policy have a great deal to answer for.
Those who pine for the "good old days" of the Clinton regime and would do practically anything (and I do mean anything) for a return of Clintonism (be it under the Clinton II, Obama, or Edwards) really need to ask themselves how many more starving kids, how much more spilled blood, how many more ruined lives they're willing to gleefully ignore for the "noble cause" of keeping the dollar as the reserve currency and of course opening up those Iranian oil fields up to the big oil conglomerates (and hence line the pockets of already rich and spoiled CEOs)? Anyone who tries to convince themselves that there is something "humane" about US hegemony under the Clinton era are seriously deluded; the genocide perpetrated in Iraq during the course of the 1990s was not "kinder or gentler."

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Falwell's Dead

Not that I'll be exactly missing the hatemonger. Part of his legacy:
"I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians ... the A.C.L.U., People for the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America, I point the finger in their face and say, 'You helped this happen.'"

-- Jerry Falwell, September 13th, 2001, on The 700 Club

I remember that quote all too well. It was that statement alongside Pat Robertson that made salient that the US was to slide closer to a 21st century fascism in the aftermath of 9-11.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Torture -The Guantanamo Guidebook

UK's channel 4 "Guantanamo Handbook" documentary

Suffice it to say, the video footage will be very disturbing. Definitely for mature audiences. That said, the video is one that must be watched, as it gives the viewer some idea of what life is like for those held captive in the Guantánamo Bay gulag. The prisoners here were volunteers, and their time in captivity was relatively brief (48 hours). Of the seven volunteers, four remained at the end. One was released after showing early symptoms of hypothermia. Two others simply broke down before the 40 hour mark. The impression I got was that these volunteers began experiencing hallucinations due to the conditions (as should be noted, conditions which were mild relative to what Guantánamo Bay prisoners are subjected to). The methods used to "interrogate" are ones that have been sanctioned by the US government, and the narrator points out ones that have been deemed torture, as well as ones that would violate the Geneva Conventions.

Since psychologists have been involved in the procedures used at Guantánamo, it is imperative that any of us in psychology and related fields not only re-examine our role in perpetrating gross human rights violations, but our affiliations with professional organizations that continue to permit the involvement of their members in such violations (the American Psychological Association comes most readily to mind).

Hat tip to Stephen Soldz at Never In Our Names.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Happy Mother's Day

I may not have a lot of spare change laying around for material gifts (as my wife and my mom both know), but I can always give the gift of knowledge:

Ever wondered about the origin of Mother's Day? Check out Mother's Day for Peace.

Hat tip to shirlstars.

Ethnic cleansing: It can't happen here, right?

In writing about the current the NYT's blasé coverage of Israel's ongoing ethnic cleansing of Jerusalem's Palestinian dwellers, some cat named Jeremy Sapienza states:
I can’t imagine the vitriol that would be packaged as journalism if some southern US state were to, say, subsidize the construction of white neighborhoods and yet refuse permits for private building in overcrowded black neighborhoods. In 2007. It would be the only news for weeks. But it’s Israel, so the New York Times shrugs.
Not so fast cochis! Black Agenda Report's Glen Ford offers a counterpoint that simply cannot be ignored (except, perhaps by the NYT and its ilk):
An urban policy does exist, hatched in corporate boardrooms and proceeding at various stages of implementation in cities across the nation. Urban America is not being "abandoned" - rather, the corporate plan calls for existing populations to be removed and replaced, incrementally, a process that is well underway. And the land is being "reclaimed" - by Big Capital, with the enthusiastic support of urban politicians of all races from coast to coast.

The problem is not the lack of an urban policy, but the failure to formulate progressive Black urban policies and plans. Corporate America and finance capital have both general and detailed visions of what the cities should look like and which populations and enterprises will be nurtured and served by these new and improved municipalities - "renaissance" cities of the (near and, in some places, very near) future.

Corporate planners and developers believed they had been blessed by nature when Katrina drowned New Orleans, washing away in days the problem-people and neighborhoods that would ordinarily require years to remove in order to clear the way for "renaissance." Greed led to unseemly speed, revealing in a flash the outlines of the urban vision that would be imposed on the wreckage of New Orleans. As in a film on fast-forward, the "plot" (in both meanings of the word) unfolded in a rush before our eyes: Once the Black and poor were removed, an urban environment would be created implacably hostile to their return. The public sector - except that which serves business, directly or indirectly - would under no circumstances be resurrected, so as to leave little "space" for the re-implantation of unwanted populations (schools, utility infrastructure, public and affordable private housing, public safety, health care).


Most importantly, the "new" New Orleans would no longer accommodate a Black majority (previously 67 percent), thus ensuring that the "renaissance" could proceed politically unencumbered in what corporate folks call a "stable" and "positive" business environment.


Let there be no doubt, however, that the general "back to the cities" corporate imperative - resulting in gentrification - will soon begin tilting other heavily Black municipalities in the same direction. Newark, New Jersey, once considered among the quintessential "chocolate cities," went from 58.5 percent Black in 1990 to 53.5 percent in 2000. Since then, the center city "renaissance" project has gone into high gear, attracting thousands of prized white professionals. By 2010, Newark is likely to no longer have a Black majority. Atlanta will be significantly less Black.


Others will maintain that the decline in Black proportions in central cities is a sign of progress, because African Americans are rapidly suburbanizing. However, as anyone who knows the environs of Washington, DC, understands, a great chunk of the Black exodus across jurisdictional lines is "push-out" - the direct result of gentrification of the inner city. In many cases, the ghetto has simply moved across the city line. Upscale Blacks - and the term is quite relative, especially when considering wealth, or net worth - are also priced out of the most attractive city neighborhoods, and encamp on the periphery to occupy homes formerly owned by whites who have fled the poorer Blacks who were forced out of the city.

James Howard Cunstler has been writing about the bleak future of suburbia (and other major structural changes) in the eventual post-oil economy. As travel to and from the suburbs and exurbs becomes more impractical, we're going to see these 'burbs become the new ghettos. Think of it this way - poorly constructed housing, lack of an infrastructure for those without access to automobiles, out of the way, the 'burbs are the ideal place to warehouse the next generation of üntermenschen as the predominantly white elites make their way back to the inner cities. And yes, the trend has already started (and of course there's been barely a peep from the mainstream media).