Saturday, November 10, 2007

Some bumper sticker commentary





More available at Liberty Stickers. Tip o' the hat to Scott Horton.

Nails it

Over at LGM, D handles this jaw-dropper of a column, in which Alan Dershowitz defends the utility of torture by arguing that it worked for the Nazis. Seriously.

Dersh:

"There are some who claim that torture is a nonissue because it never works--it only produces false information. This is simply not true, as evidenced by the many decent members of the French Resistance who, under Nazi torture, disclosed the locations of their closest friends and relatives."

D:

"I'm not even sure there's an appropriate response to this, except to congratulate Dershowitz for finding virtue in a program of torture that -- while it may have helped extract information (useful or not) from some of its victims -- failed to accomplish the objectives of those who administered it."

Let's see, Monday we had Max Boot defending torture because it was used in Vietnam, yesterday it was Dershowitz defending torture because it was used by the Nazis, now all we need is for someone to defend torture because the Soviets used it in Afghanistan and we'll have hit the self-contradictory trifecta. But who could that someone be? Clearly, this sounds like a job for Charles Krauthammer.

nerdified link

RIP Norman Mailer: January 31, 1923 - November 10, 2007

Caption: Author Norman Mailer speaks at an anti-war rally at the bandshell in New York's Central Park, in this March 26, 1966 file photo. Mailer, the macho prince of American letters who for decades reigned as the country's literary conscience and provocateur, died of renal failure early Saturday, his literary executor said. He was 84. (AP Photo/David Pickoff)
You can read the article here (see also here) Undoubtedly, one of those rare prominent voices against empire has been silenced. I first recall encountering his work in conjunction with my then-budding interest in the Beat Era. Fascinating writer and equally fascinating individual.

A selection from his 2003 essay, "The White Man Unburdened," offering a provocative description of the subtext for the Iraq War (and perhaps the War on Terra more broadly):

They would prove quintessential morale-builders to a core element of American life—those tens of millions of Americans who had been spiritually wounded by 9/11. They could also serve an even larger group, which had once been near to 50 percent of the population, and remained key to the President's political footing. This group had taken a real beating. As a matter of collective ego, the good average white American male had had very little to nourish his morale since the job market had gone bad, nothing, in fact, unless he happened to be a member of the armed forces. There, it was certainly different. The armed forces had become the paradigmatic equal of a great young athlete looking to test his true size. Could it be that there was a bozo out in the boondocks who was made to order, and his name was Iraq? Iraq had a tough rep, but not much was left to him inside. A dream opponent. A desert war is designed for an air force whose state-of-the-art is comparable in perfection to a top-flight fashion model on a runway. Yes, we would liberate the Iraqis.

So we went ahead against all obstacles—of which the UN was the first. Wantonly, shamelessly, proudly, exuberantly, at least one half of our prodigiously divided America could hardly wait for the new war. We understood that our television was going to be terrific. And it was. Sanitized but terrific—which is, after all, exactly what network and good cable television are supposed to be.

And there were other factors for using our military skills, minor but significant: these reasons return us to the ongoing malaise of the white American male. He had been taking a daily drubbing over the last thirty years. For better or worse, the women's movement has had its breakthrough successes and the old, easy white male ego has withered in the glare. Even the consolation of rooting for his team on TV had been skewed. For many, there was now measurably less reward in watching sports than there used to be, a clear and declarable loss. The great white stars of yesteryear were for the most part gone, gone in football, in basketball, in boxing, and half gone in baseball. Black genius now prevailed in all these sports (and the Hispanics were coming up fast; even the Asians were beginning to make their mark). We white men were now left with half of tennis (at least its male half), and might also point to ice hockey, skiing, soccer, golf (with the notable exception of the Tiger), as well as lacrosse, track, swimming, and the World Wrestling Federation—remnants of a once great and glorious white athletic centrality.

Justin Raimondo also has a few kind words for Mailer.

Just read it

Scruggs has a good one up that sums our sorry political state eloquently and succinctly.

The end is nigh

Saw this essay by Bruce Rodgers at Sooner Thought:
Historians in the future will debate at what point in time the United States started its descent from a world symbol of prosperity and freedom to a crumbling, divided military power intimidating other nations with its imperialistic prerogatives.

Maybe they will point to the 1960s as America sought to “win the hearts and minds” of the Vietnamese people through carpet bombing and propping up an illegitimate government. Maybe it will be at the election of a former Hollywood B-movie star as president who began the dismantling of government regulations, giving rise to America’s growing income gap between the rich, and the middle class and the poor. Maybe it was in the early 1990s when American-based multinational corporations raced to unload capitalism at the feet of the sleeping economic giant of China. Maybe it was when a golden-voiced politician dropped his pants in the White House bringing on an expensive, derisive and ridiculous pursuit of impeachment. Maybe it was in 2000 when the U.S. Supreme Court, by one vote, gave the presidency to a self-deluding and privileged son of a Texas oilman.

Maybe a finite timeline doesn’t matter. Maybe the disintegration began when the people failed to heed President Eisenhower’s warning about the “military-industrial complex.” Such public ignorance opened the door for the corrupting influence of money in politics, the intolerant pursuit of depositing religion into public policy and the consolidation of media, transforming the journalist from an attendant to democracy to a mouthpiece for the status quo.

In the face of such despair for one’s country, maybe it doesn’t much matter that this Congress, the Democratic-controlled body of upper-income agents of this republic, don’t begin the impeachment process against, first, Vice President Cheney. The means to begin is there, courtesy of Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH).
I'd give "the people" a bit more credit than does Rodgers, but we'll come back to that some other time. The seeds of authoritarian dictatorship were sown in the post-WWII years, with the witch hunt against alleged "communists". "The people" may have been a bit more savvy about the dangers of a military-industrial complex, but clearly the political ruling class of the time didn't give a damn. Nor did they give a damn about the consequences of massacring much of Southeast Asia, the human consequences of pursuing a neoliberal economic agenda (what a friend of mine refers to as predatory capitalism), nor with the decay of Constitutional protections that was already beginning decades ago, but escalated by the 1990s and the first decade of this sorry century under Clinton and Bush the Lesser. Arthur Silber and Chris Floyd have been expressing far more eloquently than could I a very simple observation about the ruling class (which, lo and behold includes not only Republicans but Democrats!): they do not give a fuck what you or I think. We are irrelevant beyond fulfilling our duties of donating portions of our paychecks to their campaigns and showing up at the polls come election day. Otherwise, our concerns about unabated slide into the depths of dictatorship are mere trivia that would "distract" them from more important matters such as consolidating power and lining the pockets of themselves and their cronies. There maybe the very occasional member of the political class who "get it", and even occasionally throw a Hail Mary pass in order to stave off further decay, but they do too little too late, and are left with the unsavory choice of remaining with their party and enduring the shame that comes with enabling monstrous abuses of power by their peers, or cutting the Gordian Knot and risk ostracism.

I'll leave you with a few words from Silber that pretty well sum it up with regard to the Situation and those who keep making excuses for their political leaders:
I am sick to death of hearing Democratic apologists, including many prominent liberal and progressive bloggers, make excuses for these loathsome human beings -- or, which is worse, watching them ignore these assaults on liberty, humanity and civilization, just as these presidential contenders ignore ongoing crimes that they could try to stop if they cared to. Try to understand this: the Democrats will not "save" you, me, the United States, the Constitution, or the dying, moaning animal that just got run over in the road. The Democrats are coequal partners in this monstrousness. They have been for many decades. In one critical respect, the Democrats are worse than the Republicans.

But go on. Keep telling yourselves you support the Democrats because otherwise, the state of things will be even worse. How exactly will they be worse? We are now a barbarian, pariah nation, one that officially endorses and utilizes torture, just as the most disgustingly brutal and inhumane regimes in history have endorsed it. We commit genocidal murder against peoples and nations who have never seriously threatened us. The Democrats could stop the murder, but they refuse to do so. The foundations of liberty have been completely destroyed, and the Democrats have no intention of restoring them. Full dictatorship could descend upon us via many routes -- and the Democrats refuse to close off even one of them.

So how exactly could things be worse? Lie to yourselves if you must, simply to get through the day without detesting yourselves as much as some of the rest of us detest you. But don't lie to everyone else any longer.

Decent, intelligent people see through the lies, all the way to your pathetically rotten souls. If you support Democrats as inextricable parts of one of the core institutions of power in contemporary America, you are supporting evil -- while you simultaneously make sickeningly dishonest claims to some kind of superior moral virtue. At present, it would appear that some bloggers can do virtually nothing but lie. In such cases, I have one suggestion to offer: shut the hell up.
Word.

Sickening

Bonuses paid for dropping sick patients:
A health insurance company serving customers in a half-dozen states set out to drop hundreds of customers and paid lucrative bonuses to an executive in charge of eliminating coverage.
One customer is suing the company, Health Net Inc., after a company salesman pressured her to switch to a Health Net plan only for the company to cut-off her coverage in the middle of costly cancer treatment.
California small-business owner Patsy Bates was one of more than 1,600 customers who had their Health Net policies rescinded between 2000 and 2006 saving the company $35.5 million, the Los Angeles Times reports. Over the same period the senior Health Net analyst in charge of canceling policies received more than $20,000 in bonuses based in part on her meeting annual targets for revoking the coverage.
Bates, who owns a beauty salon outside Los Angeles, is suing the company because it canceled her insurance when she was in the middle of chemotherapy treatments for breast cancer. She alleges the company acted in bad faith and left her with $200,000 in unpaid medical bills while she remains unable to continue the cancer treatment.
A televised version of this story was what greeted me when I came home Friday afternoon. There isn't much to say beyond the fairly straight-forward observation that the above is one of the consequences of putting blind faith into a purely for-profit health "care" system. You're only covered until you need the coverage, and then the corporations supposedly insuring you suddenly don't know you.

This past spring, I found an interesting graphic and article regarding health care costs and life expectancy. The basic gist was that the US is a multivariate outlier when it comes to the amount of money spent on health care and life expectancy - that is, in our case, we spend more money per capita than practically any nation on the planet but have a life expectancy roughly equivalent to nations such as Portugal. Given the huge expenses, one would think that Americans would outlive everyone else. Instead, we're behind nations like Japan, Sweden, France, and even the Czech Republic. There is something wrong indeed with this picture.

Quotable

"The spirit of a person is without boundaries."

- from the liner notes to Blood Drum Spirit by Royal Hartigan (2003 - innova)

Friday, November 9, 2007

ACLU shocked, but I'm not

A civil liberties and human rights group says the US has failed to correct policies that violate international conventions on torture and cruel treatment, and it accuses the US of continuing to violate international treaties.
“With the debate over waterboarding front and center, it is shocking to see the U.S. government continue to defend its shameful record of sanctioning secret and indefinite detention and its lack of accountability for torture and abuse,” said Jamil Dakwar, Advocacy Director of the ACLU Human Rights Program. “The torture committee attempted to give the U.S. government a chance to correct its wrongs, but unfortunately the Bush administration responded with nothing more than empty gestures and hollow words.”
[snip]
The UN demanded an end to interrogation techniques including "sexual humiliation, 'waterboarding,' 'short shackling' and using dogs to induce fear." The US repeatedly insists that "torture" is a violation of US law, but it does not renounce the listed techniques. News reports have indicated that US interrogators have engaged in those practices.
[snip]
According to the ACLU, today’s response from the U.S. reveals that it has failed to respond to the torture committee’s directives from last year, including:
• Ensuring that no one is detained in any secret detention facility;
• Prohibiting the transfer or the rendition of persons to countries where they could be at risk of being tortured and providing detailed records on all diplomatic guarantees assuring that a person will not be tortured if expelled, returned, transferred or extradited since 9/11;
• Closing the detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, and either permitting access by the detainees to a fair judicial process or releasing them as soon as possible while ensuring that they are not returned to any state where they could face a real risk of being tortured;
• Ending gender-based humiliation and the mistreatment of women detainees, including the federal Bureau of Prisons’ policy of shackling of women during childbirth in certain circumstances;
• Promptly, thoroughly and impartially investigating all allegations of acts of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment by law enforcement personnel and bringing perpetrators to justice;
• Addressing sentences of life imprisonment for children, which could constitute cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;
• Ensuring that reports of brutality and ill-treatment of members of vulnerable groups by law enforcement personnel—including those related to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina—are independently, promptly and thoroughly investigated and that perpetrators are prosecuted and appropriately punished.
nerdified link
To those convinced that there is still something noble about the US, I suppose such news would be shocking. On the contrary, I would merely note that torture is as American as apple pie. Has been for quite a while. By all means we need to stop the practice of torture, but there's little need to even so much as feign surprise over its continued occurrence by our government.

Guantánamo by the numbers

As compiled by Joanne Mariner:
Year in which Cuba signed a perpetual lease giving the United States "complete jurisdiction and control" over the Guantanamo Bay naval station: 1903

Number of days that the longest-held detainees have, to date, been held without charge at Guantanamo: 2,127

Number of people who have been held in military detention at Guantanamo: 778

Number of people currently held at Guantanamo: approximately 320

Number of Guantanamo detainees who were sent back to their home countries: nearly 450

Number of Guantanamo detainees who were sent to Albania: 8

Number of Uighurs (members of an ethnic minority from Western China) who were sent from Guantanamo to Albania: 5

Number of other people in Albania who speak the Uighur language: 0

Age of the oldest prisoner ever held in military custody at Guantanamo: approximately 75-78 (As he put it, "How could I be an enemy combatant if I was not able to stand up?")

Age of the youngest prisoner ever held in military custody at Guantanamo: 13

Number of juveniles previously held at Guantanamo: at least 6

Number of apparent suicides at Guantanamo: 4

Number of attempted suicides at Guantanamo: many dozens

Percentage of Guantanamo detainees reportedly taking antidepressants such as Prozac: 20

Number of countries in which Guantanamo detainees were arrested: at least 17

Number of countries whose nationals have been held at Guantanamo: 43

Number of Western countries whose nationals have been held at Guantanamo: 9

Number of Western countries whose nationals remain at Guantanamo: 1

Number of non-Western countries whose nationals remain at Guantanamo: nearly 30

Number of "high value" detainees currently held at Guantanamo: 15

Number of detainees, in addition to the 15 "high value" suspects, whom the New York Times reported in 2004 were closely linked to al Qaeda: two dozen

Number of detainees whom the U.S. alleges conspired in the September 11 terrorist attacks: 5

Number of people who were held at Guantanamo who the U.S. admitted were not "enemy combatants": 38

Bounty that the U.S. government paid to Afghan warlords and Pakistani police for turning over people that they claimed were linked to the Taliban or Al Qaeda: $5,000

Percentage of detainees who were arrested by Afghan or Pakistani forces, and then handed over to U.S. forces (of those for whom arrest information is known): 86

Percentage of detainees not alleged to have committed a hostile act against the United States: at least 55

Number of farmers, aid workers, missionaries, and refugees who were entirely unconnected to terrorism or armed conflict, but who were arbitrarily arrested and wrongly held at Guantanamo: unknown, but undoubtedly hundreds

Number of Guantanamo detainees whom a U.S. court has ordered to be released: 0

Number of Guantanamo detainees who, at some point during their detention, have been charged with a crime: 12

Number of detainees who have been convicted of a crime: 1

Number of detainees who have been convicted of a crime after a full trial: 0

Number of former Guantanamo detainees who have written books about their experience in U.S. custody: 8

Number of former Guantanamo detainees who have written books describing abuses in U.S. custody: 8

Number of hours, according to a Boston FBI agent who witnessed the incidents and complained about them, that two Guantanamo detainees were left chained in a fetal position, so that they had urinated and defecated on themselves: between 18 to 24

Number of medical experts who signed a 2006 letter urging the United States to stop force-feeding detainees at Guantanamo and to close down the prison: 250

Percentage of people in 26 countries surveyed in a 2006 BBC poll who said that they disapprove of Guantanamo prison and of U.S. treatment of detainees: 69

Number of independent human rights experts with U.N. mandates who have been barred from interviewing detainees at Guantanamo: 6

Number of family members who have been allowed to visit their detained relatives at Guantanamo: 0

Amount that former Guantanamo detainees are compensated for the years of their life spent in detention: 0

Chances that a former Guantanamo detainee will ever be compensated for the years of his life spent in detention: practically zero

Cost (in millions of dollars) of Camp 6, the newest prison at Guantanamo, which opened in December 2007: 38

Approximate annual cost (in millions of dollars) of running Guantanamo, not including military salaries: 100

Odds that the next president of the United States will inherit the mess at Guantanamo: 9 out of 10

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Connecting the dots

Oil is nearing that magic $100 per barrel mark - only a matter of time now before that threshold is reach. Just think, we'll be talking about these days as the "good old days" before too long.

Jim Kunstler sez:
One of the biggest laughs of the season came out of a New York Times business section story last Tuesday by reporter Michael Grynbaum, who wrote, "Oil is on a steady march toward toppling the inflation-adjusted high of $101.70 it set in April 1980, analysts said, though many are at a loss as to what keeps driving the price." (Italics mine.) Actually, lots of people know what is driving up the price -- just not anybody who works at that once-august and now-clueless newspaper. It can be stated simply -- the demand line has crossed the supply line -- though that simple fact has many curious ramifications.

Among the most subtle is a theory out of Doug Noland's latest Credit Bubble Bulletin (published every Friday).
"There are literally trillions of dollars of liquidity sloshing around the world keen to hold “things” of value. Liquidity sources include the massive central bank reserve holdings as well as funds at the disposal of the sovereign wealth funds. Importantly, the more apparent becomes U.S. financial fragility, the keener they are to stockpile real 'things'. . . . Indeed, it should be noted that this is the Federal Reserve’s first attempt at reflation where U.S. securities are not the speculators’ or foreign central banks’ asset class of choice . . . . Not only is the pool of potential global buying power unparalleled in scope. It is fervidly attracted to tangible assets -- as opposed to U.S. securities -- and is highly speculative in character. At the same time, an unwieldy global boom is stoking unprecedented demand in China, India, Asia generally, and the other “emerging” markets including Russia and Brazil. Throw in various weather related issues and energy production constraints and the prospect for some very serious bottlenecks and shortages has developed."
In short, foreigners stuck holding dollars that are hemorrhaging value would rather spend them on something other than dollar-denominated financial paper, and nothing is more crucial to the maintenance of industrial economies than oil. Noland's theory comes on the heels of reported oil and gasoline shortages in China, bad enough to have caused some civil unrest -- and bad enough for China's leadership to want to spend some of its vast US dollar reserves bidding up oil prices in the open markets to quell that unrest.

This is nothing more complicated than hoarding behavior on a global scale, a mounting crisis of frightened self-interest that has already been well-described by investment banker Matthew Simmons. Simmons was only one of many analysts who spoke at the mid-October Houston conference put on by ASPO-USA (the Association for Study of Peak Oil) -- to which The New York Times failed to send a reporter. Simmons has also said that the American public (and its leaders) will probably not "get" the fundamental problem with oil until rising prices are joined by spot shortages -- i.e. gas station lines, which will represent hoarding behavior on the basis of individual motorists.

Behind the hoarding dynamics are several clear circumstances.

One biggie is the growing export crisis, described by geologist Jeffrey Brown. Countries like Saudi Arabia and Mexico that sell oil to importing nations like The USA and Japan are using more of their own oil and producing less. Mexico's trajectory is so steep (due to the severe depletion of its giant Cantarell oil field) that it could easily go from being America's Number 3 source of imports to zero in less than five years. The anticipated yearly growth in worldwide oil demand next year will equal 80 percent of the USA's entire oil production.

The export crisis is only an additional layer on top of the general peak oil situation, but it illustrates the way that complex systems we depend on -- and oil markets are one -- are liable to wobble and fail just as the world comes off the all-time oil production peak for good. Finance is another complex system and it, too, is entering a stage of robust instability. Food production is yet another, with a grain scarcity that has driven wheat prices to all-time highs. The roster of complex systems entering phase change is long and gruesome.
In the meantime, you'll be happy to know that our government is going even further into debt, and should be able to keep on borrowing money through 2009.

Your tax dollars at work

Like Hansel and Gretel hoping to follow their bread crumbs out of the forest, the FBI sifted through customer data collected by San Francisco-area grocery stores in 2005 and 2006, hoping that sales records of Middle Eastern food would lead to Iranian terrorists.

The idea was that a spike in, say, falafel sales, combined with other data, would lead to Iranian secret agents in the south San Francisco-San Jose area.

The brainchild of top FBI counterterrorism officials Phil Mudd and Willie T. Hulon, according to well-informed sources, the project didn’t last long. It was torpedoed by the head of the FBI’s criminal investigations division, Michael A. Mason, who argued that putting somebody on a terrorist list for what they ate was ridiculous — and possibly illegal.

A check of federal court records in California did not reveal any prosecutions developed from falafel trails.

FBI spokesman Paul Bresson would neither confirm nor deny that the bureau ran such data mining, or forward-leaning “domain management,” experiments, but said he would continue to investigate. “It sounds pretty sensational to me,” he said, upon his initial review of the allegation. The techniques were briefly mentioned last year in a PBS Frontline special, “The Enemy Within”.

Mason, who is leaving the FBI to become security chief for Verizon, could not be reached for comment.

The FBI denies that sifting through consumer spending habits amounted to the kind of data mining that caused an uproar when the Pentagon was exposed doing it in 2002.

“Domain management has been portrayed by the bureau as a broad analytic approach, not specific data mining activities,” says Amy Zegart, author of the much-praised recent book, “Spying Blind: The CIA, the FBI and the Origins of 9/11.” “It is a methodology to determine what is known about a problem, develop indices to measure it, and take steps to close knowledge gaps.”

Zegart said her recent interviews with FBI officials “suggest that domain management has been implemented in a spotty fashion; L.A. and New York appear to be ahead of the curve, but some other field offices are not using it and at least one had never heard of it.”

As ridiculous as it sounds, the groceries counting scheme is a measure of how desperate the FBI is to disrupt domestic terrorism plots.

nerdified link

It takes a special kind of paranoia to be looking for "terrorists" behind falafel purchases.

Hat tip to A Sense of Urgency.

Be careful what you wish for

Bankruptcy Law Backfires as Foreclosures Offset Gains:
Nov. 8 (Bloomberg) -- Washington Mutual Inc. got what it wanted in 2005: A revised bankruptcy code that no longer lets people walk away from credit card bills.
The largest U.S. savings and loan didn't count on a housing recession. The new bankruptcy laws are helping drive foreclosures to a record as homeowners default on mortgages and struggle to pay credit card debts that might have been wiped out under the old code, said Jay Westbrook, a professor of business law at the University of Texas Law School in Austin and a former adviser to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
``Be careful what you wish for,'' Westbrook said. ``They wanted to make sure that people kept paying their credit cards, and what they're getting is more foreclosures.''
Washington Mutual, Bank of America Corp., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Citigroup Inc. spent $25 million in 2004 and 2005 lobbying for a legislative agenda that included changes in bankruptcy laws to protect credit card profits, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-partisan Washington group that tracks political donations.
The banks are still paying for that decision. The surge in foreclosures has cut the value of securities backed by mortgages and led to more than $40 billion of writedowns for U.S. financial institutions. It also reached to the top echelons of the financial services industry.
[snip]
People are putting their credit card payments ahead of their mortgages, said Richard Fairbank, chief executive officer of Capital One Financial Corp., the largest independent U.S. credit card issuer. Of customers who are at least three months late on their mortgage payments, 70 percent are current on their credit cards, he said.
``What we conclude is that people are saying, `Honey, let the house go,''' but keep the cards, Fairbank said Nov. 5 at a conference in New York sponsored by Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.
The new bankruptcy code makes it harder for debtors to qualify for Chapter 7, the section that erases non-mortgage debt. It shifted people who get paychecks higher than the median income for their area to Chapter 13, giving them up to five years to pay off non-housing creditors.
[snip]
``We have people walking away from homes because they can't afford them even post bankruptcy,'' said Sommer, a Philadelphia- based bankruptcy attorney. ``Their mortgage rates are resetting at levels that are completely unaffordable, and there's nothing the bankruptcy process can do for them as it now stands.''
Four million subprime borrowers with limited or tainted credit histories will see their mortgage bills increase by an average 40 percent in the next 18 months, according to the National Association of Consumer Advocates in Washington. About 1.45 million of those will end up in foreclosure by the end of 2008, said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Economy.com, a research firm and unit of Moody's Corp. in New York.
[snip]
Personal bankruptcies rose 48 percent to 391,105 in the first half of 2007 from a year earlier and Chapter 13 filings accounted for more than one-third of those, according to the American Bankruptcy Institute. In the first half of 2005, they were just 24 percent of the total.
Of course there were a few of us (from a variety of perspectives) who saw the 2005 bankruptcy bill as bad news. The birds are, as one might say, coming home to roost.

So stupid it almost defies comment

Girl gets detention for hugging two friends. Between that and an earlier story about schools banning such childhood games as tag, I can't help but wish for the good old days. Mind you, I'm not talking about some mythical period when school was paradise. It sucked back in my day too. The day after high school graduation, when it truly sank in that the nightmare was over, was arguably one of the best days of my life (I'll put it in my top ten list, at minimum). Back then, kids could still occasionally be kids during school hours rather than (as a parent in the latter article puts it) having their activities "micromanaged".

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

You just can't make this stuff up

Junior Caligula sez:
"I spoke to President Musharraf right before I came over here to visit with President Sarkozy. And my message was that we believe strongly in elections, and that you ought to have elections soon, and you need to take off your uniform. You can't be the President and the head of the military at the same time."
Of course the Lush/Zany boys have been playing those dual roles for some time now. They also seem to need to look at their own closets before giving other dictators fashion tips:





Jonathan David Farley sez

Obviously there is racism in Britain too, but I find that there is also an intolerance for intolerance. And that is why I believe James Watson, despite years of espousing his eugenics mush in America, met his El Alamein in Britain. As you probably know, the American biologist and Nobel laureate recently stated that Africans are less intelligent than whites - it's in the genes - and, to its credit, the Science Museum in London cancelled a talk Watson was to give. By contrast, many Americans still defend the man.
nerdified link

As I mentioned earlier, there was something eerily eugenicist in Watson's remarks. It doesn't take much digging to find that Watson has plenty of academic kindred spirits. The differential reactions of British and US audiences to Watson's racist statements (as he does have a bit of a history) also didn't surprise me. One thing to note, if one looks at the history of the eugenics movement (Edwin Black's book, War Against the Weak is a good place to start), is that although the person who coined the term and founded the first society devoted to eugenics was British (Sir Francis Galton), the movement thrived primarily in the US and later Germany. The American eugenics movement was well-organized, well-funded, and its proponents possessed a missionary-like zeal that simply was lacking in the UK.

As I noted a few weeks ago:
Eugenics was defined as "the study of the agencies under social control that may improve or impair the racial qualities of future generations either physically or mentally" (cited in Guthrie's Even the Rat Was White, 2004). The intellectual roots of Galton's eugenics goes back arguably to Plato's Republic. Galton eventually went on to establish the Eugenics Society of Great Britain in the early 1900s and shortly thereafter began publishing a journal called the Eugenics Review. Around the same time the American Eugenics Society was founded. A number of these eugenics advocates gravitated toward the early IQ tests - which were used and abused to support their thesis that those of Western European stock were superior to those of other races. By arguing that individuals of African descent (as well as those of American Indian and Mexican-American descent) were intellectually inferior, they could advocate various restrictive laws regarding marriage between races, as well as the legalization of involuntary sterilization of those deemed "unfit."

The eugenics movement was largely discredited over time, namely due to the shoddiness of much of the research purported to support its thesis, as well as legitimate questions regarding the definition and measurement of intelligence. On the former, it became quite apparent that individuals who didn't share the same educational and socioeconomic advantages and experiences of a predominantly white upper class and upper middle class would be at a disadvantage from the get-go. Also, it turns out, as Guthrie (2004) points out, that cultural factors could influence test results - for example kids from the Dakota tribe considered it impolite to answer questions in front of others who might not know the answer. The question of what actually composes intelligence is also rather thorny - Howard Gardner has perhaps come as close as anyone to developing a comprehensive theory of multiple intelligences; and his theory goes to underscore the limitations of standard IQ tests (which typically measure spacial and verbal ability and little else; see also research on intelligence by Robert Sternberg).

Virtually all eugenicists supported compulsory sterilization for the "unfit"; some supported castration. Indeed, compulsory sterilization laws became commonplace in the US during the first couple decades of the 20th century. The last prominent group to promote and practice eugenics was the Nazi regime in Germany. Their reign of genocidal terror is well-documented. It should be mentioned that US eugenicists during the 1930s looked at the Nazi approach to eugenics with a mixture of admiration and envy.
Indeed one US eugenicist organization that managed to survive the decline and fall of the Third Reich was the Pioneer Fund. I've mentioned the Pioneer Fund before. Its founder (Draper) and its first president (Harry Laughlin) were well-known for their racist views and advocacy on behalf of eugenics. The academicians who have received Pioneer Fund grants are, interesting, to say the least:

Nobel Laureate William Shockley (1910-89), a physicist at Stanford best known for his "voluntary sterilization plan," received $188,710 between 1971 and 1978. Arthur Jensen, an educational psychologist focusing on race since 1966, got more than $1 million in Pioneer grants over three decades.

In his famous 1969 attack on Head Start — the early education program that aims to help poor children — Jensen wrote in the prestigious Harvard Education Review that the problem with black children was that they had an average IQ of only 85. No amount of social engineering could improve that performance, he claimed, adding that "eugenic foresight" was the only solution.

Roger Pearson, whose Institute for the Study of Man has been one of the top Pioneer Fund beneficiaries over the past 20 years ($870,000 from 1981 to 1996), provides the clearest indication of the extremists supported by the Fund.

Pearson came to the United States in the mid-'60s to join Willis Carto, founder of the anti-Semitic Liberty Lobby. In 1965, he became editor of Western Destiny, a magazine established by Carto and dedicated to spreading far-right ideology.

Using the pseudonym Stephan Langton, he then became editor of The New Patriot, a short-lived magazine published in 1966 and 1967 to conduct "a responsible but penetrating inquiry into every aspect of the Jewish Question." Its articles carried such titles as "Zionists and the Plot Against South Africa," "Early Jews and the Rise of Jewish Money Power" and "Swindlers of the Crematoria."

Pioneer support for all the groups linked to Pearson between 1975 and 1996 amounted to more than $1 million — nearly 10% of total Pioneer grants in that period.

In more recent decades, University of Western Ontario psychology professor J. Philippe Rushton has replaced Jensen as the top individual beneficiary of Pioneer largesse, receiving more than $1 million since 1981. Rushton argues that behavioral differences among blacks, whites and Asians are the result of evolutionary variations in their reproductive strategies.

Blacks are at one extreme, he claims, because they produce large numbers of offspring but offer them little care; at the other extreme are Asians, who have fewer children but indulge them. Whites lie somewhere in between.

Despite Rushton's controversial theories — including positing an inverse relationship between brain and penis size — he has been embraced by the scientific mainstream. He has been made a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and is a member of the American, British and Canadian psychological associations.

As the Southern Poverty Law Center has noted, the American academic climate is quite receptive to eugenicist viewpoints:

In much of academia, a pillar of the racist argument has become the accepted view. Polling a large sample of mainly academic experts anonymously for a 1988 book, Mark Snyderman and Stanley Rothman found that 53 percent believed IQ differences between blacks and whites have a genetic component.

Only 17 percent thought the differences between the racial groups' scores on intelligence tests were strictly environmental in origin. Another 28 percent thought that there was insufficient data available to make a judgment.

Going back to Farley:

What's more alarming is that, in America as opposed to Britain, it is more likely that the academic who criticises racism will be dealt the punishing blow and not the academic who promotes it.

For instance, in 2002, I criticised the erection of a statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest in the city where I then lived, Nashville, Tennessee. Forrest was not only a Confederate general who, according to Harper's Weekly and other contemporaneous sources, massacred black prisoners at Fort Pillow during the American Civil War, he was a former slave trader and the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

I pointed out in an essay in the local newspaper that Forrest and his fellow night-riders, had they performed these same actions today, would have been convicted of treason and crimes against humanity, and hence would have faced the same penalty as their ideological descendants at Nuremberg. Neo-Confederate organisations with over 30,000 members, and local and national media, said I was advocating genocide against whites.

I received a few dozen death threats, but that didn't stop my employer, Vanderbilt University, from calling me the extremist. As Vanderbilt Chancellor Gordon Gee admits in the book University Presidents As Moral Leaders, "[a]rdent devotees of the Confederate cause demanded Farley's job ..." and, "[e]ventually I had to write an editorial piece ... covering Professor Farley's hellraising" and "clean up in his wake".

Vanderbilt spokesman Michael Schoenfeld wrote that my criticism of the Klan leader was "rightly offensive to, and rejected by, most people" without, however, specifying whether he had found even one black person who was offended by my statements, and without specifying what statements in my essay, if any, were factually incorrect. Vanderbilt and the media, from the Washington Times to Fox News with Brit Hume, with the sole exception of The Nation's John Nichols, failed to criticise in any way Nathan Forrest, slave-owners, the Confederacy, or the groups that had targeted me. (A typical one of the threats sent to me read: "Hey, communist nigger monkey!!! Another worthless jigaboo hasn't killed your worthless ass yet? Too bad. I hope someone rapes and kills your white, race-traitor wife and/or girlfriend as well ... Heil Hitler!!! Hail the Reich!!! Death to all niggers and all other nonwhites!!!")

I learned later through The Chronicle of Higher Education that Princeton historian James McPherson had received similar treatment in 1999 for discussing what he called the "thinly-veiled support for white supremacy" of the United Daughters of the Confederacy. But the point is that, in the United States, this kind of persecution is possible, and can be career-killing when the "offender" is African-American. In contrast to what just happened to James Watson in Britain, the losers in America are generally not the racists, but the anti-racists.
White supremacy is very much alive and well in the US - both inside and outside the academy.

Plagiarist Dershowitz to Democrats: Waterboarding is Good Clean Fun

Not that the Dems need all that much convincing (as evidenced by the recent move to approve Mukasey as AG), but Mr. "Ticking Time Bomb" just can't seem to help himself. After all, one mustn't be seen as "weak" on national "security" - even if it means advocating and engaging in war crimes. I've said it before and will say it again: torture does not work, and is just plain evil. Its effectiveness has been attacked as far back as Cicero and Seneca.

Bonus: just remember - if you're in good with the PC police, you can get away with anything - including plagiarism.

Hussein-al Qaeda link not only false, but coerced via torture

Under torture after his rendition to Egypt, al Libi had provided a confession of how Saddam Hussein had been training al Qaeda in chemical weapons. This evidence was used by Colin Powell at the United Nations a year earlier (February 2003) to justify the war in Iraq. ("I can trace the story of a senior terrorist operative telling how Iraq provided training in these [chemical and biological] weapons to al Qaeda," Powell said. "Fortunately, this operative is now detained, and he has told his story.")

But now, hearing how the information was obtained, the CIA was soon to retract all this intelligence. A Feb. 5 cable records that al Libi was told by a "foreign government service" (Egypt) that: "the next topic was al-Qa'ida's connections with Iraq...This was a subject about which he said he knew nothing and had difficulty even coming up with a story."

Al Libi indicated that his interrogators did not like his responses and then "placed him in a small box approximately 50cm X 50cm [20 inches x 20 inches]." He claimed he was held in the box for approximately 17 hours. When he was let out of the box, al Libi claims that he was given a last opportunity to "tell the truth." When al Libi did not satisfy the interrogator, al Libi claimed that "he was knocked over with an arm thrust across his chest and he fell on his back." Al Libi told CIA debriefers that he then "was punched for 15 minutes." (Sourced to CIA cable, Feb. 5, 2004).

Here was a cable then that informed Washington that one of the key pieces of evidence for the Iraq war -- the al Qaeda/Iraq link -- was not only false but extracted by effectively burying a prisoner alive.

Although there have been claims about torture inflicted on those rendered by the CIA to countries like Egypt, Syria, Morocco and Uzbekistan, this is the first clear example of such torture detailed in an official government document.

nerdified link; my emphasis added

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Say hello to

waterboarding.org

Three lessons from Guy Fawkes Day

Scott Horton offers these:

1. Torture never works and is always wrong

2. Beware the government that rules by fear

3. A government that stereotypes is unjust

Structural Violence and the Iraqi Death Toll

Via Left I on the News:
In today's news about "success" in Iraq:
The number of internally displaced people, or IDPs, in Iraq grew by 16 percent in September — to 2,299,425, the Red Crescent said. That figure has skyrocketed since the beginning of 2007, when less than half a million people were listed as displaced.

"In addition to their plight as being displaced, the majority suffer from disease, poverty and malnutrition," the Red Crescent reported.
And, by the way, if any of them actually die because of that "disease, poverty, and malnutrition," you will only see those deaths reflected in studies like the ones conducted by Johns Hopkins scientists (the "Lancet" studies), not by those (e.g., Iraq Body Count) who only report of the so-called violent deaths that are reported in the English-language media. Why "so-called"? Because death from disease and malnutrition can be no less violent. The violence may be less intense, but it lasts a lot longer.
Structural violence refers to physical harm (including death) suffered by a particular group of people who do not have access to the same services and benefits as the rest of society. Internally displaced Iraqis would be considered victims of structural violence - in this case due to the collapse of their baseline socio-economic situation as a result of the US invasion. Structural violence is often the most deadly and insidious forms of violence. To take a few words from the book, Frantz Fanon and the Psychology of Oppression by Hussein Abdilahi Bulhan (1985):
Structural violence is a feature of social structures. This form of violence is inherent in the established modes of social relations, distribution of goods and services, and legal practices of dispensing justice. Structural violence involves more than the violation of fairness and justice. [p. 136]

Structural violence is the most lethal form of violence because it is the least discernible; it causes premature deaths in the largest number of persons; and it presents itself as the natural order of things. A situation of oppression rests primarily on structural violence which in turn fosters institutional, interpersonal, and intrapersonal violence. Structural violence pervades the prevailing values, the environment, social relations, and individual psyches. The most visible indicators of structural violence are differential rates of mortality, morbidity, and incarceration among groups in the same society. In particular, a situation of oppression increases the infant mortality rate and lowers the life expectancy for the oppressed. [p. 155]
The displaced are systematically deprived of the basics for survival, resulting in poverty, malnutrition, premature death. That's what structural violence is. The physical harm suffered in this case usually falls underneath the mass-media radar because it is less salient, less spectacular than deaths due to IEDs or aerial bombing raids. The structural violence in this case (as is true of various colonial genocides of the past) will also fall underneath the radar because it is built into the very fabric of the oppressors' worldview. Starvation and malnutrition for example are simply written off as "those savages cannot take care of themselves." The more liberal of the oppressors might even acknowledge such phenomena as partially their responsibility, but cheerfully contend that in the end "it was worth it" as Madeleine Albright said of the half million Iraqi children under five who had died as a result of economic sanctions during the 1990s.

The deaths caused from the stress of being displaced, and without access to fundamental human needs for survival are no less real, even if they don't make their way to the front page of New Pravda or cause CNN to break away from its coverage of the latest Britney Spears meltdown. Sooner or later, there will be a price to be paid. Bet on it.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Notes from the "Land of the Free"

This is just plain wrong:
Berwyn, IL - November 2, 2007. Over 70 students participated in a sit-in against the Iraq War on All Saint's Day, Thursday, November 1st. It began third hour when dozens of students gathered quietly in the lunchroom at Morton West High School and refused to leave. The administrators and police became involved immediately and locked down the school for a half hour after class ended. Students report that they were promised that there would be no charges besides cutting classes if they took their protest outside so as not to disturb the school day. The students complied, and were led to a corner outside the cafeteria where they sang songs and held signs while classes resumed.
So our story so far, some kids hold a sit-in. School administrators promise everything's cool as long as the kids hold their vigil outside the building. From the following paragraphs, we gather that the sit-in continued largely without incident.
Despite a police line set up between the protestors and the student body, many other students joined the demonstration. Organizers say they chose November first because it is the Christian holy day called the feast of All Saints and a national day of peace. They wrote a letter and delivered it to Superintendent, Dr. Ben Nowakowski who was present at the time, stating the reason for their protest.
Next, check these administrators trying to persuade some of these kids to be a bit more "politically correct."
Deans, counselors and even the Superintendent tried to change the minds of a few, mainly those students with higher GPA scores to abandon the protest. The school called the homes of many of the protestors.
Now what's the usual protocol for cutting classes, which is what the administrators were apparently promising these kids at the beginning? Looks like they were speaking with forked tongues:
Those whose parents arrived before the end of school and took their students home, or left before the protest ended at the final bell, received 3-5 days suspension. All others, an estimated 37 received 10 days suspension and expulsion papers. Parents report that Nowakowski stated those who are seventeen will also face police charges.

Parents who are frantically trying to spare their child's expulsion flooded the school yesterday to file appeals on the matter. So far, Superintendent Nowakowski has held firm on the punishments. They are expected to find out the results of the appeals on Tuesday. Parents and students report and the school's videotape shown to some of the parents confirms that the students were non-violent in their action and there was no damage to property.
There you have it. The kids in this case if anything appeared to bend over backwards to be cooperative while expressing their First Amendment rights. Up until that point, I'd wager that most of them still believed that the US was "the land of the free", and to expect that to be reflected in the nation's institutions. After all, isn't that the propaganda that the very same school probably pushes?

Arthur Silber, who turned me on to the story, hits it about right:
You may as well break the damned rules because, in these glorious, liberty-loving United States in the Year of Our Final Descent 2007, if you stray even an inch beyond the bounds of "approved" discourse and those views that the authoritarian Establishment considers "acceptable," you may well be destroyed whether you in fact break the rules or not. And of course, this does not even address the fact that most rules are designed to protect the status quo and prevent alternative views and serious challenges to authority from being heard in the first instance

[snip]

Ain't freedom just grand? A few more years of this, and who the hell will remember? Not that many people remember now. I can just hear some of you, hopefully not too many: "Oh, maybe I'd better not sign it. Don't want to be associated with those wackos. Could be trouble." Etc.

Get how it works? You see once more what all those rules are for: to shut you up, and shut you down. See how easy it is?

Well, they'll distract you again soon enough. How would bombing another country do? Yeah, that should do just fine.
As Bruce Schneier made clear, this is the new front on the Eternal Glorious War on Terra:
It's an attack on the unique, the unorthodox, the unexpected; it's a war on different. If you act different, you might find yourself investigated, questioned, and even arrested -- even if you did nothing wrong, and had no intention of doing anything wrong.
Be a Good German and conform, or risk the wrath of the enforcers of The New American Century. Don't protest, don't ask questions, just do as you're told if you don't want to risk your future as a middle class denizen of Wisteria Lane. As Ward Churchill put it:
You’re in the United States. You’ve never read the thing, but the Constitution guarantees you certain rights. And you unequivocally have those rights, right up until the moment you exercise one. Ultimately, you have one tangible freedom in the United States: you’re free to do exactly what you’re told, all the time. That’s the one freedom you have. And the alternative? Well, we’ve got cages. We’ve got clubs. We’ve got the 82nd Airborne Division. What have you got?
Also via Silber, I got turned on to a petition in support of the kids at the Morton West school district that are facing far more hot water than they either expected or deserved. As of this afternoon, I'm one of the signatories. There are quite a few names I recognize among the signatories to this point - some decidedly leftist, some libertarian, some conservative (and I'm not talking about this punk-ass right-wing authoritarian bullshit that is passed off as "conservative"). Whether or not this petition helps these kids, I don't know. It's worth a try.

"Remember, remember, the 5th of November

The Gunpowder Treason and plot;
I know of no reason why Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot."

This day marks the 402nd anniversary of the failed Gunpowder Plot, whose most famous of the conspirators Guy Fawkes serves as inspiration for the film (and earlier graphic novel) V for Vendetta. Great film by the way - quite a tonic for these increasingly dystopian times.

A couple V-related videos for your consideration, starting with the pirate televised speech V gives early on in the film:


Then, check this short video, "Remember":


What do you want the world to remember? How will you celebrate? Someone over at Political Fleshfeast has some words that I endorse:
Today, like every Guy Fawkes day, I celebrate the plot. The bravery of the plot, the tragedy of the martyr, and the beauty of people willing to do anything to stand by their beliefs. Without a doubt, qualities that are sorely missing in America today.
Remember.

Denialism

I saw this over at Lenin's Tomb and thought it dovetailed nicely with some of my own observations regarding denialism concerning US atrocities in Iraq:
There is a minor industry devoted to studying Holocaust-denial, its tactics, its presuppostions, its origins, and particularly its goals. It is an immensely worthy enterprise, because it frustrates the efforts of denialists to pretend that they are engaged in disinterested inquiry or are free speech martyrs of some kind. At some point, we have to systematically come to grips with the modes of denialism used by supporters of imperialism, which is the direct and legitimate parent of Nazism, and which is not merely a danger but the prevailing system of global violence. For example, Vivek Chibber aptly deals with Niall Ferguson's denialism about the British Empire here, but we need a consistent, encompassing effort to understand this as a historical trend, its roots, its goals and so on. If the effort to remove the Nazi holocaust from historical memory is motivated principally by the desire to facilitate the re-emergence of fascism as a 'legitimate' and worthy doctrine, the far more pervasive and hegemonic denial of imperialist atrocities is designed to reconcile humanity to ongoing bloodbaths, and future bloodbaths. It is designed to naturalise aggression, to transfer responsibility, to undermine natural empathy, to vilify others and coarsen discussion so that we think in terms of 'ass-kicking' even while families are shredded and burned. It has structural support in the military-industrial complex, in PR industries hired by nation-states to legitimise violence, in the academia, and in the media. It has its ideological origins in European colonial expansion and slavery. It encourages us to feel at home in a world of repeated misery and abuse and torture and enslavement and robbery, and at the same time it attempts to obscure the ongoing realities in such a way that those who can not be made to feel at home in such a planet do not take decisive action to change matters.

For example, there is a way of talking about Iraq without mentioning the genocidal levels of murder there, without mentioning the death squads and the torture chambers and the corrupt autocracy behind the facade of elections, and that happens to be the way that most media commentators discuss it. In light of this, a reader or viewer might be expected to accept wholly absurd conclusions about Iraq being a 'failure' or the empire being a force for good in the world, despite the little screw-up here and there.

[snip]

We have some of the tools for understanding how this denialism is propagated (Chomsky and Herman's Manufacturing Consent, for example), but I think we would benefit from systematically labelling and categorising different forms of this denial, looking at its ideological and structural origins and exposing it as such.
I've noted in the past a tendency to minimize the Iraqi death toll, to come up with euphemisms for the mass slaughter and for the torture in order to sanitize these atrocities, and so on, and have particularly noted that such efforts read eerily like Holocaust denialism as practiced by folks that we would rightly consider Neo-Nazis, kooks, and crackpots. I also think it's worth noting that the sort of Iraq holocaust denialism that seems to be the norm is not merely the purview of right-wing authoritarians, but is also evident among the "respectable" moderate and liberal wings of American political discourse. Our distinct brand of denialism is likely tied to American Exceptionalist mythology, which of course is pervasive throughout the culture and arguably most strictly adhered to among the most educated and elite among us.

I'm sure this is a theme to which I'll be returning as time permits over the coming weeks and months.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

A little matter of torture

First, from columnist Neil MacDonald:
The torture called waterboarding is a pretty violent business.
The torturer straps down the victim, feet elevated above the head, then covers the subject's face — often with cloth or cellophane — and pours water onto it. This triggers the gag reflex, persuading the mind that the body is drowning, provoking an atavistic terror. The straining and flailing against the restraint straps can sometimes break bones. If the torture is protracted, lung and brain damage can occur.
Now.
This would be the Bush administration's description of the same procedure: The detainee, an illegal combatant who may have intelligence valuable to the Worldwide Struggle Against Extremism, is restrained, and subjected to a robust interrogation. An enhanced interrogation technique is used, which for national security reasons must remain classified. But the detainee is not tortured, because the United States does not torture people.
That's not a caricature. It is a composite of actual administration jargon. And the last bit of circular logic has become the fulcrum of Washington's policies on treatment of foreign prisoners: The U.S. does not practise torture. Therefore its interrogation techniques cannot be torture, because if they were, then certain prisoners in the United States' secret prisons would have been tortured, and that cannot have been, because the U.S. does not practise torture.
By that logic, the following are not torture, either: dousing a prisoner with water and shackling him naked to the floor for extended periods in frigid temperatures; striking him on the head during questioning; manacling him in "stress" positions for prolonged periods; and inflicting sexual humiliation.
And, necessarily, the prisoners who have turned up dead in American custody after being beaten senseless, smothered in a sleeping bag or shackled to the ceiling, shrieking, as jailers using the technique of "peroneal strikes" smashed their legs into useless mush could not have been tortured.
A little over a year ago, I gave a visual of waterboarding (What waterboarding looks like), and perhaps it is an ideal time to revisit some words and imagery. Here's what I said then:
There are certainly plenty of folks who would refer to waterboarding as "torture-lite", or as not torture at all, but rather an "enhanced" interrogation technique. Heck, the technique of waterboarding might not seem that big a deal to someone who's never seen one or bothered to ask what one looks like or how it would be put into practice. If you didn't know before, now you do.

Waterboarding is one of the techniques that our government now deems acceptable as a means of gathering evidence to be used against alleged "enemy combatants" (who, now apparently can include practically anyone at Bu$hCo's whim). Getting aside from the moral issues (which in and of themselves are sufficient to say no to torture), on the practical side torture - via waterboarding or whatever - does not produce legit intelligence. It does not produce truthful confessions (follow the link to my previous post to read what a torture victim said of his experience). It is strictly a form of terror. Nothing more, nothing less.

As MDC might have said a couple decades ago, "who's the terrorist now?"
In that post I showed some pictures of waterboards that had been used by Pol Pot's regime, along with a former torture survivor's artistic portrayal of the practice of waterboarding. Here are some more visuals just to drive the point home.

Further, here's some video footage of what waterboarding involves:

As I've mentioned before, the international standards on the definition of torture are reasonably straightforward:

The Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Punishment or Treatment (UN General Assembly, 1984) defines torture as: "any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.” Acts that would be considered torture under the above definition include a variety of methods: severe beatings, electric shock, sexual abuse and rape, prolonged solitary confinement, hard labor, near drowning, near suffocation, mutilation, hanging for prolonged periods, deprivation of basic biological needs (e.g., sleep, food, water), subjection to forced constant standing or crouching, and excessive continuous noise. Torture may also include actions inducing psychological suffering such as threats against the victim’s family or loved ones.
Torture involves violence at all levels: interpersonal, organizational, structural, and intrapersonal. The interpersonal facet is fairly obvious, as someone must be physically present to apply the torture to someone else. At the organizational level, the various civilian and military bureaucrats who draft the legal rationale for torture (e.g., John Yoo), order its use (e.g., Donald Rumsfeld, Alberto Gonzales), and sign off on whatever paperwork might be involved in renditioning victims to torture sites - while themselves not directly engaging in the act of torture are indeed responsible for perpetrating it. At the structural level: members of selected out-groups are the ones most systematically targetted (all you have to do is be "different"). Intrapersonally, those directly victimized (as well as those are directly there at the torture scene) suffer permanent psychological scarring. Victims may later commit suicide while still imprisoned (as happens in places like Gitmo); torturers may turn to alcohol and drug abuse; all may show PTSD symptoms lasting well past the events themselves.

Columnist MacDonald, whose words opened this particular post, goes on to reference the recent "debate" (if we can call it that) regarding the nomination of Mukasey as Abu Gonzales' replacement as Attorney General. Mukasey himself engaged in all manner of verbal acrobatics on the topic of waterboarding that were nothing short of Orwellian. In the end, he will likely have the nomination as there are sufficient "Good Germans" in both the Republican and Democrat parties willing to go along. I can only hope that by pointing out that waterboarding as a practice is one originating with the Spanish Inquisition, and seems befitting of such notorious figures as Torquemada and Pol Pot that I might stir some faint semblance of a conscience among the more liberal of the American Exceptionalist crowd to at least actively denounce the practice as un-American and denounce those political figures who consistently go on record supporting torture and torture's perpetrators.

Naturally, my hope is faint at best, as I can imagine plenty of "respectable" liberals grumbling a bit about the behaviors of some of their Congressional representatives (e.g., Feinstein & Schumer) but go on to dutifully vote for said representatives come election time and dutifully continue donating money to their campaigns and to their party. Doing so will be counter-productive to stopping the US from torture. As it is now, we will soon be graced with yet another pro-torture AG, and the prospect that the next president (whether Democrat or Republican) will be pro-torture. For the sake of a clean conscience and for the sake of humanity, your only recourse is to stop enabling these goons. Make a clean break. Stop giving them your consent. If need be, stop traffic.

Photo Ops Do Not A Just Cause Make

Poland, 1939:

Baghdad, Iraq, 2003:


Jonathan Schwartz has this to say about the first picture:
It's hard to tell, but these are pictures of ethnic Germans in western Poland, throwing flowers at the invading Nazi army in September, 1939. They're screengrabs from the BBC series The Nazis: A Warning From History.
I don't know who took this footage, but I would bet a lot of money it was the Nazis themselves, and that they rushed it back to the home front to demonstrate the extraordinary morality of their cause.
Supposedly many Ukrainians were also quite excited when Germany invaded them, shortly afterward. One odd fact of history is that in every invasion you could find someone in the invaded country who was thrilled about it. Thus, if you're in an invading country, you really shouldn't depend on this as a gauge of whether you're doing the right thing.
As for the context surrounding the second picture, in an earlier post I treated viewers to an aerial shot showing the "crowd" surrounding the dismantling of the Saddam statue was underwhelming, to say the least. Made for a nice photo op for the various news outlets during those heady early days of the Iraq War, when its perpetrators and apologists were drunk with hubris. Some of the apologists later tried a bit of sobriety. The perps - well, I don't think they ever stopped drinking their own Koolaid. Promises that those invaded will greet the invaders with flowers (even if they do manage to transpire - as they appear to have for the Nazis, though not for the US) should be dismissed as propaganda.

Learn something new every day

Found at UFO Breakfast Recipients:
“The Klan's resurgence in the 1920s partially stemmed from their role as the extreme militant wing of the temperance movement. In Arkansas, as elsewhere, the newly formed Ku Klux Klan marked bootleggers as one of the groups that needed to be purged from a morally upright community. In 1922, 200 Klansmen torched saloons that had sprung up in Union County in the wake of the oil discovery boom. The national Klan office ended up in Dallas, Texas, but Little Rock was the home of the Women of the Ku Klux Klan. The first head of this female auxiliary was a former president of the Arkansas WCTU.”
The WCTU refers to the Women's Christian Temperance Union - which apparently still exists today, and is every bit as authoritarian. Name a right-wing issue, and you can find a WCTU chapter that advocates it. At the link from which the above paragraph originates, we can find additional nuggets, such as this one:
The rapid growth of the new Klan probably reflected the fact that “It promised to reform politics, to enforce prohibition, and to champion traditional morality.”
And this one:
Prohibitionists often advocated strong measures against those who did not comply with Prohibition. One suggested that the government distribute poisoned alcohol beverages through bootleggers (sellers of illegal alcohol) and acknowledged that several hundred thousand Americans would die as a result, but thought the cost well worth the enforcement of Prohibition.
The rest is worth checking out as well. In some respects this bit of info didn't really surprise me. Just going back to my late teens and early adulthood, I encountered the punk equivalent of a "temperance" crowd. They tended to call themselves "straight-edge". One thing that quickly struck me was that outside of an isolated individual or two, straight-edgers seemed to have an amazing lack of tolerance for all manner of behaviors and ways of life, from alcohol and drug use, to the consumption of meat, to homosexuality, and (given the generally white, middle-class suburban male dominance of the straight-edge movement) members of other races. Some made their intentions readily known - the O.C.-area band Vegan Reich comes to mind. Others tried for a bit more subtlety. Really, that bunch were a living example of how intolerances of one sort or another tended to strongly correlate - in other words, blue noses and bigotry seem to go together, and do so across subcultures.