Saturday, November 17, 2007
The Geneva Conventions have hardly been a panacea of course, as Davidson notes the number of nations (including the US) in which torture has been perpetrated and the rather large subset of those nations that engage in torture on a regular basis. Apparently, under conditions of peace, it is relatively easy for folks to pay lip service to the concept of civilized treatment of prisoners. However, when there is some real or perceived threat, all bets are off.
There's an interesting psychology that Davidson seems to touch upon. On the one hand it becomes readily apparent that there are some individuals (probably a relatively small proportion) of any society who are eager to torture "the Enemy" whoever and wherever that Enemy may be. These days, we'd refer to such individuals as highly right-wing authoritarian (perhaps in combination with high levels of social dominance orientation). Even in the most enlightened and progressive of times, this is an element that will at bare minimum be latent. Under conditions of threat (again either real or perceived), there are many who would otherwise preach civil treatment for those imprisoned but who will side in with the authoritarians on matters such as torture. From a Terror Management Theory (TMT) perspective, this is of little surprise. Individuals tend to deal with perceived threats to existence by experiencing greater levels of anxiety and are more prone to accept punitive measures against those Others deemed to be threats to themselves or their way of life. There is evidence that for Americans the 9/11 attacks led to increased favorableness to various attitudes toward violence (such as war, and violent punishment of penal code offenders), and that attitudes can become increasingly authoritarian under perceived threatening conditions.
One thing to keep in mind is that the US has as part of its Zeitgeist a sort of siege mentality that goes back to the early colonizers. That said, the perception of threat from Others (be they American Indians, freed slaves, non-WASP immigrants, Communists, or Arabs) has waxed and waned somewhat throughout American history. The last half century has been one of almost unending "threat": the "Communist Menace" which led to genocide in Southeast Asia during the 1960s & early 1970s, as well as provided cover for the overthrow by the US of democratic governments across the globe, as well as the training in torture techniques provided to brutal right-wing dictatorships that has been on-going for numerous decades; after the fall of the USSR, communism was replaced by terrorism, with a new cast of shadowy and threatening Others to fear. For just about anyone from the Baby Boom generation onward, we have been well-trained to be afraid, and to turn a blind eye to those abuses perpetrated in the name of keeping us "safe."
There are of course, even in the current era, those who call for the use of reason and civility when it comes to human rights and humane treatment - perhaps not as prominent as Baccaria or Voltaire, but every bit as forceful nonetheless. What Davidson seems to be advocating is a new Jacobin effort (Jacobin perhaps in Gramsci's usage of the term) in which the advocacy of reason and tolerance in the struggle against torture is seen as a perpetual effort.
Hat tip to The Try-Works.
Friday, November 16, 2007
Nativism has a long history in the US:
In the nineteenth century, the term "nativism" referred to white, native-born, Protestant Americans' hostility to European immigrants. Since many of those immigrants prior to the Civil War were Roman Catholics, ethnic prejudice against immigrants was usually accompanied by visceral hatred of Catholics as well. Indeed, because Americans had overtly identified themselves as a Protestant, anti-Catholic nation since the seventeenth century and because prominent Protestant clergymen had warned since the early nineteenth century of a Papal plot to subvert American liberty and seize control of the United States politically through the use of slavish Catholic immigrant minions, waves of new European immigration which spawned outbursts of nativist sentiment also provoked anti-Catholicism. Immigration from England, Ireland, and Germany — as well as Canada and other European nations — was constant throughout the nineteenth century, but it especially swelled between 1845 and 1855 as immigrants fled famine, poverty, and political turmoil in Ireland and Germany.Nativism has come back with a vengeance in recent years. Although there have been efforts to expose these folks for the clowns they really are, they continue to take themselves very seriously (sometimes violently so). Psychologically, the latest generation of nativists are no different from the the "Know Nothings" of the 19th century. Their mindset is highly authoritarian, their rhetoric is filled with hatred and violence.
Nativism took a variety of forms. Middle-class and elitist gentlemen, who sniffed that socially inferior immigrants lacked the intelligence and experience to be good republican citizens, occasionally gathered in exclusive nativist fraternities such as the Order of United Americans or the United Sons of America. But when immigration coincided with hard times, as it did in the late 1830s and early 1840s and especially in the mid-1850s, and/or with periods of political discontent, then the charges advanced against immigrants multiplied and nativist groups formed independent political parties. In certain cities like Baltimore, New York, and Philadelphia, for example, anti-immigrant American Republican and Native American parties appeared in the 1830s and 1840s. They attracted working class and middle class voters angered by the job competition from immigrants, the increase in crime, public drunkenness, and pauperism that accompanied immigration, the supposed pollution of the body politic by ignorant immigrant voters, and an assertiveness by Catholic clergymen that supposedly threatened the nation's Protestant values and institutions.
By far the most massive and powerful political backlash against immigrants and Catholics before the Civil War, however, came with the Know Nothing movement of the mid-1850s. Not only did Know Nothings blame immigrants for economic, social, and political ills, but they focused on particular political actions by the Roman Catholic hierarchy, especially its attempt to secure public tax support for Catholic parochial schools, and the huge increase in the immigrant vote since 1848 as evidence that the long-warned of Papal plot to subvert America's republican institutions was reaching fruition. Demanding that immigrants be prevented from voting until they had resided in the United States for twenty-one years and that all foreigners and all Catholics be proscribed from public office, the Know Nothings, who began as another secret fraternity called the Order of the Star Spangled Banner, enlisted over a million members across the country in 1854 and 1855. In those years, moreover, their candidates won a string of astonishing political victories that smashed Lincoln's beloved Whig party while also contributing to massive Democratic defeats. During and after 1856, however, most northern Know Nothings were absorbed into the Republican party, and they would help elect Lincoln president in 1860, even though Lincoln himself had nothing but disdain for Know Nothings' anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic bigotry.
From an earlier post on this blog:
Duke1676 has a recent post that caught my eye: When evil words turn to evil deeds. A few clips to get to the gist:See also Orcinus' Eliminationism in America: Apendix. The statements collected on the issue of immigration are simply blood-curdling.
The heated rhetoric coming from the "anti-illegal-immigration" camp over the last two years has had numerous effects on political discourse. While managing to turn the debate over meaningful immigration reform toxic, leaving many politicians unwilling to do the hard work of crafting much needed legislation, it has had the unwanted added effect of empowering some who advocate truly hateful and dangerous agendas to act out their violent and extremist ideas.Duke1676 then proceeds to summarize a couple of these right-wing terrorist plots that have been uncovered. He then goes on offer some of the instigation for this new wave of anti-immigrant violence:
Reports from the Anti Defamation League and the Southern Poverty law Center have documented the growing intrusion of hate groups like the KKK and neo-Nazis into the "anti-illegal-immigration movement".
But perhaps even more dangerous has been the a growing proliferation of violent "homegrown" organizations and possible "lone wolf" fanatics willing to take their twisted agendas to the extreme.
In the past weeks there has been growing evidence that there is a catastrophe just waiting to happen, as domestic terrorist plots were uncovered to attack immigrants on a scale much larger than had yet been seen.
Fueled by the daily tirades of O'Reilly, Dobbs, Buchanan, or Limbaugh, and the caustic political rhetoric of Tom Tancredo and scores of other "border enforcement" politicians, radical fringe elements, who would normally be relegated to the periphery, are further emboldened and urged to action in their belief that they represent the "mainstream" of American thought.These groups and individuals have something in common, namely strongly held right-wing authoritarian attitudes. Psychological research on right-wing authoritarianism goes back at least to the 1930s when a team of psychologists and fellow travelers embarked on a series of studies culminating in the groundbreaking book, The Authoritarian Personality. The more recent theoretical and empirical work on right-wing authoritarianism has been conducted primarily by Bob Altemeyer, who has made available an e-book (The Authoritarians) that summarizes in lay terms his four decades worth of research.
Political discourse and debate need never be passionless, but the level of vitriol accepted as constructive debate has increasingly grown to a level that now seems to border on the dangerous. With talk of "invading hordes" of "disease ridden aliens" pouring over the border daily, the line between responsible political debate, and eliminationist rhetoric has become blurred ... especially for those predisposed to violent racists acts.
In the case of Tyler Joseph Froatz, the man arrested in Washington DC, he was not only a member of the local Herndon Minutemen, but also the conservative Internet based discussion forum Free Republic where he was regular poster and attended rallies and other events sponsored by the group. This acceptance of Froatz's anti-immigrant views by the Free Republic crowd could only lend credence to his belief that he was in the mainstream of conservative thought.
One thing that becomes abundantly clear if you read any of Altemeyer's work, or if you simply type in the search terms "authoritarian" or "authoritarianism" into PsychInfo, is the robustness of the findings from numerous independent researchers. In particular, what has caught my attention as an aggression researcher is the link between right-wing authoritarianism and aggressive and violent behavior (both in terms of attitudes toward such violence and actual aggressive behaviors). Lab research shows, for example, that individuals measuring high in RWA (right-wing authoritarianism) tend to show greater levels of compliance (deliver higher levels of electric shock) in a modified version of Milgram's destructive obedience studies (see Altemeyer, 1981). There is also reason to expect that high RWAs to hold more favorable attitudes toward vigilantism (if sanctioned by authority figures) and to hold more prejudicial attitudes toward ethnic minorities (see pretty much any of Altemeyer's books for a reference point). So, what's the connection?
Something I wrote three and a half years ago:One of the things that Orcinus points out in his recent post Projecting Violence is that the general trend of political hate speech is truly the domain of the right wing's politicians, pundits, and rank and file. Research on authoritarian aggression is especially pertinent, as it appears that individuals who are high RWA tend to be prone to act in aggressive or violent ways if those actions appear sanctioned by those they consider as authority figures (see, e.g., Altemeyer, 1981, 1988, 1996).Since I wrote that, things have only become worse, with regard to eliminationist rhetoric transmitted via mainstream media. Also, since then I've been publishing some of my own work on right-wing authoritarianism and attitudes toward violence. The basic upshot is that high RWA individuals already hold favorable attitudes toward a variety of forms of punitive violence, and that such folks will be especially vulnerable to the steady diet of eliminationist rhetoric found at CNN, FauxNews, radio talks shows (e.g., Rush Limbaugh, Mike Savage), politicians (from the virulent anti-immigrant Tom Tancredo all the way to the spineless politicians who sign hate legislation into law, such as Oklahoma's Governor Brad Henry), and prominent right-wing columnists and bloggers (e.g., Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, Glenn Reynolds). For a right-winger, these authority figures' pronouncements carry a great deal of weight. If they're saying that someone needs to "stomp out the rot" that's crossing the borders, as long as they make it clear in words and in deeds that immigrants are to be treated as üntermenschen, authoritarians in the audience are going to be more prone to take matters into their own hands. We're living with the consequences now as I write this.
What is troubling from my standpoint as a social scientist is that much of the writings and speech advocating violence against liberals and other political enemies is coming precisely from those authority figures. Television and radio talk show hosts are for better or worse viewed as authorities by those who make up their core fan base. Same with those who hold political offices or who are considered religious leaders. If these authority figures appear to sanction violent acts against other groups, there is an increased risk that someone among their followers will ultimately act violently. The danger isn't so much from what is said by these authority figures (most of it comes across as sophomoric at best) but rather the danger is from the interpretation of the meaning of those hate-filled words based on the rather black-and-white mentality held by their followers.
Needless to say, there is lots of talk about "huntin' feral mooj", along with the usual assortment of use of terms like "nigger", "cocklicker", and "fuckstain". Oh, let's not forget another bit of "witty" verbosity: "I'll send you to Paradise with your fourteen virgins...you son of a bitch."
The Zeitgeist in the US has traditionally been hostile toward those of Arab descent, so in a way I'm not particularly shocked by the content of this video. We'll just chalk this one up to yet another example of how NOT to win the hearts and minds of the colonized.
The article does make mention that the current consumption needs of the military are simply not sustainable over the long haul. I'm personally wagering that even over the short to medium term the current imperial setup is not viable. I've periodically made reference Dmitry Orlov with regard to the eventual post-peak oil crash that we will be experiencing sooner or later, and some lessons that we in the US could learn from the Russian experience after the crash of the Soviet government. One thing Orlov says in particular jumps out as I read about our military's oil habit:
I am also worried about soldiers getting stranded overseas – abandoning one's soldiers is among the most shameful things a country can do. Overseas military bases should be dismantled, and the troops repatriated.That is a concern that I share as well. Stranded soldiers tend to fare poorly, especially when the governments they represent have bad reputations. Starting the process of dismantling overseas bases, repatriating troops, and abandoning imperial ambitions would actually be useful in terms of our nation's economic well-being, reducing dependence on petroleum, and reduced risk to life and limb. At this juncture, I'm quite pessimistic about any of our current crop of political "leaders" showing the good sense or the courage to even so much as advocate such a thing. One can hope, I suppose.
The first Oklahoma state flag that flew from 1911 - 1924. It became a casualty of the Red Scare in the US following the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. Image from Historical Flags of Oklahoma. Of course there was a bit of an agrarian socialist tradition in Oklahoma in its early state history. I'm guessing that our rather restrictive stance toward "third" parties stems in part from joint efforts by the Dems and GOP to quash the threat the Socialists posed to OK Dem & GOP hegemony.
As an aside, I couldn't help but notice that Red Flag Press has its own t-shirt to mark the occasion of the centennial.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
OCS expects the following climate change scenarios and the associated impacts to be realistic should the projected range of warming materialize for the remainder of the 21st century:Nerdified link
• The frequency of hot extremes and heat waves will increase.
• Cold extremes and cold air outbreaks will decrease.
• Atmospheric water content will increase.
• The jet stream and its associated storms will move poleward.
Implications for Oklahoma:
• The warm season becomes longer and arrives earlier.
• The cool season warms and shortens which leads to a longer frost-free period and growing season.
• Earlier maturation of winter wheat and orchard crops leave them more vulnerable to late freeze events.
• Increased year-round evaporation from the ground and transpiration from green vegetation.
• Drought frequency and severity increases, especially during summer.
• Drier and warmer conditions will increase the risk of wildfires.
• Rain-free periods will lengthen, but individual rainfall events will become more intense.
• More runoff and flash flooding will occur.
The rest makes for an informative read. One of the graphics shows that while summers the last handful of years have been a bit milder than usual (as opposed to hot and dusty), winters have actually trended warmer than normal.
The fall/winter trend seems to be shaping up similarly this year out in the panhandle region, although it does appear that the streak of slightly cooler summers was snapped as of August. In the panhandle in particular, we've been unusually warmish and dusty since August. Of course the climatologists are reminding us that there will still be relatively warm years and relatively cool years, but that the longterm trends will be towards increased warmth, with all the baggage that comes with it.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
If homeless were included, the figures would be more bleak. The article goes on to list those states with the highest prevalence of hunger. Naturally I was curious as to how Oklahoma fared, since it didn't quite make the top four, so I checked the actual USDA report. We weren't that far from the top, unfortunately. Mississippi (18.1%), New Mexico (16.1%), Texas (15.9%), and South Carolina (14.7%) were the "winners" in that particular contest. Oklahoma came in at number five (14.6%), with Arkansas, Louisiana, and Utah close behind.
More than 35.5 million people in this country went hungry in 2006 as they struggled to find jobs that can support them, a figure that was virtually unchanged from the previous year, the Agriculture Department said Wednesday.Single mothers and their children were among the most likely to suffer, according to the study.
The 35.5 million people represented more than 1 in 10, or 12.1 percent, who said they did not have enough money or resources to get food for at least some period during the year, according to the department's annual hunger survey. That is compared with 35.1 million people who made similar claims in 2005.
"This is encouraging, but we know we have more work to do," said Kate Houston, USDA's deputy undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services. She said the numbers aren't much different from 2005, which saw a decline after five straight years of increases.
Of the 35.5 million people, 11.1 million reported they had "very low food security," meaning they had a substantial disruption in the amount of food they typically eat. For example, among families, a third of those facing disruption in the food they typically eat said an adult in their family did not eat for a whole day because they could not afford it.
"No one in America should go hungry," Houston said.
The survey was based on Census Bureau data and does not include the homeless. About three-quarters of a million people were homeless on a given day in 2005, according to federal estimates.
I view basic needs such as adequate food, water, and shelter as fundamental human rights. To quote an old Clash tune, "A lotta people won't get no supper tonight/A lotta people won't get no justice tonight." In that regard, our nation is failing us, as are a number of our state governments - including Oklahoma's.
Via Okie Funk:
Apparently the only criticism that the Daily Oklahoman can muster up is along the lines of, "Terrill is too excited" and should "slow down." Yeah, that's telling him. I'm willing to bet that he'll have next to no opposition from either the GOP (like that even needed to be said) or the Democrats. Heck, Brad Henry had no issues with signing HB 1804 into law, and the apparent progressive (I use the term very loosely) "savior" in next year's US Senatorial race, Andrew Rice, seemed to have no problem with voting in favor of the legislation last spring. These politicians and their supporters have made it crystal clear in words and in deeds that individuals and families fleeing starvation are merely üntermenschen, and shall be treated as such. Our corporate and political elites have historically had a "love" (as in love the cheap labor)/hate relationship with those immigrating to El Norte. These days, in Oklahoma, it is hate that comes to the forefront. As a Christian, I find that entirely unacceptable.
Terrill, who authored House Bill 1804, which gave Oklahoma some of the strictest anti-illegal immigration laws in the nation, has started publicly calling his next initiative “son of 1804 bill” in a political stunt that can only be viewed as calculated and mean-spirited. People’s lives are at stake here. Maybe we should ditch the colorful nomenclature.
The new laws essentially make it illegal for anyone to help an undocumented person and cuts off state aid to anyone here illegally. Under Terrill’s new, proposed initiatives, English would become the state’s official language, law enforcement agencies could seize assets used to help undocumented workers and school districts would have to provide more extensive reporting on students here illegally.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Monday, November 12, 2007
That might strike one as a bit harsh, but if anything I suspect I'm understating things. The notion of being ruled by a handful of elite families, that is of dynasties, is alien to the concept that most of us hold about the US. And yet, it is precisely what has been occurring, right in plain sight, during much of my lifetime. I've been making allusions to a Bush Dynasty since practically the start of my blogging days in 2003, and probably to a Clinton dynasty as well on some of the gated community blogs with increased vigor over the last few months. It's time to ditch the allusions and just come right out and say it: in the US presidency is now a dynastic entity. We might refer to alternating Bush and Clinton dynasties, or as I would prefer, just do away with the distinction altogether and refer to it as the Bush-Clinton Dynasty that has ruled with an increasingly iron fist since the late 1980s with little hope for an end in sight.
There has probably always been a patrician streak to US political life, but that was largely subsumed by an egalitarian national mythology that has finally over the last couple decades begun to decay. Let me drop the latest Justin Raimondo joint on the topic:
The rise of dynastic politics – of powerful political families that, in effect, constitute political parties in themselves – is a sign of empire, which appears as the imperial reality begins to fill the empty republican forms it is fast displacing. Yes, we still have a president, not a king; yes, the Constitution is still referred to, albeit almost never enforced; and, no, we don't have hereditary titles, unless you're counting the editorship of Commentary magazine. Yet an American president has more power than any king ever did, and this has come about as a result of his role as commander in chief as well as chief executive.
In the early days of the American experiment, the dual character of the office of president did not produce permanent distortions in the constitutional order, and the balance of power between the three branches of the federal government was, roughly, maintained, in spite of a few unfortunate lurches in one direction or another. However, a sea-change occurred in the modern era, specifically when we began to abandon the foreign policy of the Founders, who warned against entangling alliances and going abroad "in search of monsters to destroy." Two world wars and a long Cold War enlarged the federal government, especially its executive branch, beyond all recognition, until, by the time Harry Truman stepped into the Oval Office, the presidency was infected with a case of elephantiasis.
It was Truman, you'll recall, who set the fateful precedent of not bothering to consult Congress before sending American troops to fight in Korea. It was a first step down the fast lane to presidential supremacism in the realm of foreign affairs, one that was taken with no thought of the consequences, except among those few Republican "isolationists" – as they were unfairly tagged – who wondered about the fate of the Constitution. American presidents since that time have hardly bothered to ask the elected representatives of the people for permission to go to war, and military action has been largely relegated to the realm of presidential caprice.
The argument went that we couldn't wait for Congress to consult, argue, debate, and vote while the fate of the Free World hung in the balance, when a moment's hesitation could mean the difference between survival and extinction, and the Soviets were supposedly ever ready to take advantage of the West's democratic dithering. We had always to be in a state of hair-trigger alert – so the cold warriors told us – or else we faced certain defeat at the hands of our enemies. In the post-9/11 era, this argument has reached its only logical conclusion, and it is now embodied in the Bushian doctrine of presidential primacy, which avers that the president in wartime has the power to suspend the Constitution (in the name of "defending" it, of course) and can rule by decree.
Our devolution into a system, like ancient Rome's, in which political dynasties are dominant is a function of the bipartisan consensus on matters both foreign and domestic. Now that both parties have agreed that the federal leviathan is an immutable fact of American life, and that it is our moral and patriotic duty to police the world, the only debate that occurs in Washington is over who shall wield the power. In the imperial era, American politics is increasingly a battle of personalities, not ideologies, a clash of rival celebrities competing for public adulation rather than antipathetic platforms competing for the allegiance of the voting public.
With Democrats gleefully anticipating what some call the "Clintonian restoration," the politics-of-celebrity syndrome easily trumps the ideological tics still remaining in the Democratic Party, such as its ostensibly "antiwar" sentiments in the face of Republican super-interventionism. It is no accident that the dynastic candidate, Hillary, is also the most interventionist: she represents a party Establishment that is thoroughly invested in maintaining and expanding the American Empire, and her "right" of succession, based on dynastic loyalties, is more than a match for the ideological fervor of the Democratic grassroots.
There have always been those who preferred the pretensions of titled aristocrats and royal courts to the stern republican virtues of our forefathers, but they were in a distinct minority, mostly confined to certain moneyed precincts of the Eastern seaboard. Most Americans regarded the class distinctions of, say, the British as rather silly, as well as unfair. Today, however, American culture is less egalitarian (in the best sense of the term), more impressed by snobbery, and more inclined to worship at the altar of celebrity: add to this the centralization of power in the hands of an imperial presidency, and you have a recipe for disaster.
As Freeland put it, the "structural weakness in how you get to be president of America" is restricting the pool of possible applicants for the job. The effect is to keep the office open only to those who would maximize the power of the presidency, thereby continuing the policies that virtually ensure the triumph of neo-royalism in America – especially our foreign policy of perpetual war.
The rise of dynastic politics in the U.S. is going not only unopposed, but also almost completely unnoticed by Americans – not even Ron Paul has denounced it. That alone should tell us that American politics as we used to know it – as a battle of competing philosophies of governance – is coming to an end.
Actually, the battle of competing philosophies came to an end some time ago. There haven't been any genuine ideological battles in ages. By the time I was born in the mid 1960s, successive "Red Scares" had effectively wiped out any hope of socialists holding elected office. The old school conservatives (not to be confused with the right-wing authoritarians who stole that label) are a dying breed, and are increasingly marginalized. You get the picture.
Said it before, and will say it again: those holding office - regardless of whether they wear the brand "Democrat" or "Republican - are on the same page. There might be a few differences in terms of favored cronies, but let's face it: that's merely window dressing. Both the Clinton and Bush families are in favor of the contemporary form of predatory capitalism called neoliberalism (not surprisingly both families are on board when it comes to supposed "free trade" agreements and "guest worker" type programs to import cheap labor for example). Both families have steadily increased the raw power of the Executive Branch to the point where we are effectively ruled by a "unitary executive" not only in theory but in fact. Both have no problems with initiating destructive wars, and I would not be the least bit surprised to see that trend continued under a second Billary regime. If you liked the Panama and Balkans wars, and this decade's wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, you'll just love the on with Iran. Insiders say it will be "tha bomb". So it goes. It's all about consolidating and expanding power for the sake of power, baby.But hey, why worry your beautiful mind with all that? Stay focused on Dog the Bounty Hunter's latest mea culpa, or J-Lo's pregnancy. That's where it's at. While you're at it, keep telling yourself that the Clintons and their Democrats will "restore" the US (or for my "conservative" counterparts, that whoever is heir to Bu$hCo will "restore" the US). Repeat that enough times, and who knows, perhaps you'll be able to believe the hype. Good luck with that.
Sunday, November 11, 2007
The Democrats, however, also deserve a large measure of blame. They did almost nothing while they were in the minority to demand better nominees than Mr. Bush was sending up. And now that they have attained the majority, they are not doing any better.Ya think? As I was putting it yesterday:
On Thursday, the Senate voted by 53 to 40 to confirm Mr. Mukasey even though he would not answer a simple question: does he think waterboarding, a form of simulated drowning used to extract information from a prisoner, is torture and therefore illegal?
Democrats offer excuses for their sorry record, starting with their razor-thin majority. But it is often said that any vote in the Senate requires more than 60 votes — enough to overcome a filibuster. So why did Mr. Mukasey get by with only 53 votes? Given the success the Republicans have had in blocking action when the Democrats cannot muster 60 votes, the main culprit appears to be the Democratic leadership, which seems uninterested in or incapable of standing up to Mr. Bush.
All of this leaves us wondering whether Mr. Schumer and other Democratic leaders were more focused on the 2008 elections than on doing their constitutional duty.
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.Instead, expect the same sorry cycle to repeat. During the 2000, 2002, 2004, and 2006 election cycles, voters were told by the Democrat party politicos and their netroots propagandists that all we needed were more Democrats in office. Democrats were supposedly unable to do a goddamn thing, so the story went, because they were in the minority in Congress. Hence they had no choice but to capitulate whenever the White House or the GOP leadership wanted to quash civil liberties, commit war crimes, etc. Eventually, as voters got increasingly sick of GOP shenanigans, the Dems end up with Congressional majorities (as of the 2006 election cycle).
Now, we're led to believe that those majorities are not good enough because they are too small. So, if the White House wants yet another pro-torture bureaucrat confirmed to a cabinet level position, or if the GOP minority leaders do so much as sneeze, the Democrats are simply "powerless" to do anything but go along - or so we are told. More plausible is the observation that the GOP and the Dem leadership are pretty much on the same page, with one party playing "Bad Cop" and the other playing "Good Cop" while all along their constituents continue to be ignored.
I've been saying for a while now that the best that can be said of the Democrats is that they are "less bad." From two years ago:
The question that I can never leave far behind is this: "is less bad good enough?" When lives and quality of life are at stake, the answer is no. As of late I have given the words of the late Malcom X a fresh read, and I have a couple observations. One is that in many respects, when we're talking about civil rights and human rights in America things really haven't changed much since Malcom's day. The images from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina of the dire poverty that has consigned so many of our fellow Americans to a lifetime of marginal existence (what the Marxists would call the lumpenproletariat) and neglect by the very government that is supposed to serve them, will haunt me for as long as I can still draw a breath. Those images should haunt all of us. The specter of racism and classism continues to plague our political and social landscape, just as it has all of my life. The second observation: politicians from one party or another haved talked a good game when it comes to promoting progressive ideas and policies - but with few exceptions they don't walk the talk. That was a problem that Malcom confronted with the issues that were salient to him, and is a problem that we on the left continue to confront. The Dems have assumed for so long that they have the leftists, the women, the ethnic minorities in their back pockets because presumably we have "nowhere else to go." The result is, as it was in the 1950s and 1960s, a not-so-benign neglect of our issues and values from the powers that be. And as long as we keep registering Democrat and periodically show up to vote when expected, nothing changes, except maybe for the worse. We have a party where its members say the right things more often than not, but then by and large approve laws like The Patriot Act, the bankruptcy bill that will end up burying working families who've encountered exhorbitant medical expenses; they've been silent when the White House nominated an architect of the current pro-torture policy to the office of AG; when it comes to the illegal war being fought against the Iraqis, many of the Dems want to send more troops and kill of even more people; they've been largely silent on the issue of voting irregularities both in Ohio and Florida; and we know that privacy rights are also no longer sacred in Dem circles.At the time I might have been slightly more disposed to hold the Dems on a very short leash. Currently, I see that as a luxury we can ill afford. I'm equally sour on the prospects for participating in electoral politics, though I do continue to contend that whether one continues to show up to the polls or chooses to engage in alternative forms of political action, it would behoove us to look for common threads rather than get too hung up on the labels we give our selves and others. As I've tried to make clear over the last four years, when it comes to two of the most important issues of the day (stopping the current imperial wars and preventing further imperial warfare, and restoring civil liberties that were once guaranteed by the Constitution), there is a great deal of common ground among leftists and greens of various stripes as well as libertarians and old school conservatives. Along those lines in June, I said:
What to do? In Malcom's last year on this planet he offered up some simple advice that I think we can all use: be organized, and don't affiliate with either the Dems or the GOP.
Certainly it's been heartening to read polls in which more folks are identifying themselves as independents rather than affiliating with the Dems or GOP. I'll merely echo what I know has been said so many times in so many other contexts that folks identify as "independent" for a lot of reasons, and hold many diverse (indeed often divergent) political positions. To lump us all together as "moderates" or "centrists" would be idiotically mistaken at best.Malcom X once observed that those who stand for nothing will fall for anything. The netroots folks and their partisan masters stand for nothing other than consolidating power in 2008, without actually standing for anything else. They are willingly playing dumb, and are counting on a sufficient proportion of the electorate to follow suit. As a blogger, I consistently stand against war, against torture, for a sustainable environmental and economic future, and in solidarity with those who've been oppressed by neoliberalism's predatory capitalism. The lines we're getting from our partisan netroots pundits remind me too much of a chronic drunk claiming that this time they really will stay sober and that the last couple decades of failure are anomalous. There comes a point when the kindest thing one can offer to that drunken relative is to cut all ties and let them hit rock bottom, rather than to keep falling for the b.s. and enabling them to further destroy themselves and those around them.
That said, I'm sure that there are at least a few common threads among a good number of us, and those common threads could and should be exploited by independents in order to exact some form of meaningful change in the social and political order - ending the damned imperial aspirations of our current partisan elites would be as good a good place as any to start. Or how about smashing the current dysfunctional health "care" system and replacing it with something that would actually keep us (regardless of income) healthy. As un-PC is it is to say, they sure do a damned good job in Cuba; why not here? You get the picture. A lot of independents were willing to cast their lot with the Dems in 2006 under the impression that said Dems were actually going to end the war. One can also find a sizeable proportion of independent voters who are way unsatisfied with a medical system that benefits CEOs of HMOs and pharmaceutical corporations rather than the patients themselves.
As independents we have nothing to lose by casting off the shackles of the Democrat and GOP parties and instead thinking and acting independently of them. Hell, we have plenty to gain, including the potential to give to our kids and grandkids a more sustainable and healthier future.
Julie Myers, who heads Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), unmasked her true character recently at a Halloween party she hosted on behalf of a charity.Myer’s was so overwhelmed with the sheer brilliance of this individual’s attire that she and two other individuals on the judging panel selected this white employee’s Halloween getup for the most original costume award. Caught up in the excitement of the moment, Myers also sought to memorialize the moment by posing for a photo shoot with the blackfaced reveler.
The event was meant to raise money for the Combined Federal Campaign, which is a federal government charity effort similar to the United Way campaign. But Myers must have deemed it an appropriate event to also raise awareness of her affinity for the bygone era of Minstrel shows.
Myers, the leader of a federal law enforcement agency that has some 15,000 employees, was part of a three-member panel at the Halloween event that was assigned the holiday task of doling out awards for the best costumes. Some 50 to 75 people were at the Halloween gala, according to press reports, so the competition was fierce.
But apparently, in Myer’s mind, one of the winners was a clear-cut choice. That individual played off the law enforcement theme of the gathering by donning a striped prison outfit as a costume. His originality was only outdone by his creativity. In a clever allusion to the century’s old history of slavery and its more recent Jim Crow cousin, the ICE employee also sported a dreadlock wig and blackface.
The leadership of Customs, and its successor agency ICE, has a long history of tolerating and even rewarding racism within its ranks. History offers evidence for that claim.
Customs was among the three federal law-enforcement agencies that were the subject of congressional hearings in the 1990s in connection with an event called the `Good O’ Boy Roundup,’ and all had agents attending or organizing the event.
The Good O’ Boy Roundup was an annual party held in the backwoods of Tennessee that was marked by blatant racist activity. The other two agencies involved in the 1995 congressional hearings were the U.S. Secret Service and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) -- both also part of the Treasury Department at the time.
“On July 11, 1995, a newspaper article appeared on the front page of the Washington Times entitled, Racist ways die hard at Lawmen’s retreat -- Annual ‘Good O’ Boy Roundup’ cited as evidence of ‘Klan Attitude’ at BATF,” states a March 2002 court filing by the law firm of Shaffer, Rapaport & Schmidt, which at the time represented African American BATF agents as well as Hispanic Customs agents in class-action discrimination lawsuits filed against their agencies.
“... The article detailed allegations of racist misconduct by personnel of the BATF and other federal law enforcement agencies [including Customs] at an annual retreat outside Ocoee, Tenn.”
The court pleadings continue as follows:
“... The tape (of the event) was shocking. It showed a ‘Nigger check point’ sign at which, ostensibly, cars were checked to determine whether blacks were trying to attend the Roundup. Another sign asked, ‘Any niggers in that car?’ There were also Confederate flags posted at the event.
“In his testimony (before the Senate Judiciary Committee in July 1995) BATF Director John Magaw … acknowledged that racist activity had taken place at the Roundup every year it occurred since 1985. Director Magaw described to the committee some of the activities at the Roundup, including a skit that was put on in which a person dressed as a Ku Klux Klansman simulated performing sodomy on a person with a blackened face.”
In the wake of the Congressional hearings in the mid-1990s prompted by the "Roundup," little appears to have changed with respect to the racist atmosphere of federal law enforcement agencies. Myers’ recent display of bigotry is just one more example of that reality.
The case of Customer supervisor Ricardo Sandoval is yet another illustration.
Sandoval, who served as the resident agent in charge of the Customs Office of Investigations in El Centro, Calif., in July 2000 won a U.S. Court of Appeals case in which Customs was challenging a 1998 lower court’s finding that he had been the victim of discrimination and retaliation. In that lower-court case, Sandoval raised allegations that a neo-Nazi ring was operating inside the Customs Service in the San Diego area. The case stemmed from an incident in 1992 in which Sandoval’s first-line supervisor in the Office of Internal Affairs in Calexico, Calif., ordered him to investigate a complaint that involved a white supervisor assaulting a black officer.
Legal documents filed in federal court in Washington, D.C., in May 2002 in a related class-action discrimination lawsuit against Customs describe the rock-throwing incident as follows:
Several white Customs managers had thrown rocks at Ken Lakes and it appeared to be racially motivated. One of the perpetrators wore a Nazi Swastika ring. Evidence was developed showing that these Customs managers collected Nazi memorabilia and they had scrawled swastikas on lockers and elevators in Customs buildings.
Sandoval came to believe that a neo-Nazi group was behind the incident. He reported it to his superiors and recommended that it be referred to the United States Attorney’s Office for prosecution as a “hate crime” under the civil rights statutes. His request was denied and he was told that Customs would send out a memo saying inspectors should not throw rocks at black employees.
Sandoval ignored his superiors and reported the results of his investigation to the United States Attorney’s Office, where the case was referred to the Justice Department’s hate crimes unit in Washington, D.C.
Thereafter, Agent Sandoval’s upgrade to GS-14 (rank) was denied and he was not selected for the Internal Affairs/Office of Enforcement rotation. He did not receive temporary acting supervisory assignments. Based on the foregoing, Agent Sandoval filed an EEO complaint alleging discrimination and retaliation.
In 1998, a California federal jury awarded Sandoval $200,000 for discrimination and retaliation. Several jurors said they believed that corruption and discrimination may be systemic within the Customs Internal Affairs unit where Sandoval worked in 1992.
And then there’s the case of the “Racist Manifesto.”
In the late 1990s, an anonymous letter was sent to Customs headquarters by a Customs agent in El Paso, Texas. The letter was addressed to Raymond Kelly and sent to headquarters in the spring of 1998, about three months before Kelly was sworn in as Commissioner of Customs. On September 29, 1998 — nearly two months after Kelly took over the helm at the agency — an Internal Affairs unit from Customs headquarters was dispatched to the El Paso office to investigate the allegations made in the letter.
Copies of the anonymous letter and the subsequent Customs investigative report were obtained from the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). In addition, related legal documents were obtained in which the anonymous letter writer is identified as Special Agent Sean Mulkearns.
In the correspondence, Mulkearns makes a series of unsubstantiated charges concerning a group of Hispanic Customs agents working in the El Paso Customs Office of Internal Affairs. Mulkearns is Caucasian, and the individuals referred to in the missive as “Mexican Mafia” are Hispanic Customs agents.
Among the accusations made in the letter are the following:
“There are a number of agents/supervisors which have banded together into what the … office calls the ‘Mexican Mafia.’ These agents have gravitated to the Office of Internal Affairs. They have and are pursuing what can only be called ‘vendettas’ against a number of agents. ... Many of these vendettas started years ago but these Mafia agents never forget.”
Later in the letter:
“All of these ringleaders/agents [the Mexican Mafia] have started their careers, either as patrol officers, inspectors, or El Paso police, in the El Paso office’s jurisdiction. They have significant ties and dealings with smugglers. Some rumors state that some smugglers are in their close family relations, but that information is closely guarded. They have positioned themselves to know when one of their ‘OWN’ relatives or close friends is being investigated and to snuff out any competition. ... They [the Mexican Mafia] have gravitated to and infiltrated the Office of Internal Affairs [in Customs’ El Paso office) in a slow and progressive manner.”
Later in the letter:
“I believe if these rogue agents [the Mexican Mafia] are allowed to solidify into a ‘Hit Team’ in IA [Internal Affairs], it will eventually lead to physical violence and possibly someone being shot.”
Mulkearns at one point refers to the Hispanic agents as a “band of low lifes” and says they should be forced to submit to polygraph tests. “If they refuse to submit, then they should be transferred—with no hope of returning to the El Paso area,” Mulkearns’ letter states.
“I have always believed that nothing sanitizes better than shining the light of day onto it,” the letter concludes.
It is signed (spelling as it appears in the letter): “Sempre Fi, a Good/Honest Customs Agent.”
When you hog-tie a human being, tilt him head down, stuff a rag in his mouth and over his nostrils and pour water onto the rag slowly and steadily to the point where his lungs start to fill with water and he's suffocating and drowning, that is torture.nerdified link