Saturday, December 1, 2007

Too little too late

Requiring a 35 mpg corporate average fuel economy standard within about a dozen years would have been useful if passed, oh, say, 20 years ago. That, along with a vigorous push toward public transport (think, railways like those used in Europe) might have cushioned the blow once the oil peak was reached. In a world in which black gold gets harder to find and pump out of the ground, and in which those few nations left that sit on remaining oil supplies become more prone to horde those supplies, I'm wagering that by 2020 it won't really much matter.

Raton, CO man tasered to death

Yet another

Man tasered while apparently witnessing his own house burning down

Woman tasered at protest

She looked unarmed to me.

Man tasered for filming warrantless police search

Polish passenger tasered to death

68 year old stroke victim tasered

His "crime"? Double-parking.

Tasered Man Dies

First a news video:

Next, a video response by rcthreats:

Pregnant Woman Tasered in Ohio

You might be curious to know...

who approves of H.B. 1804, and its proposed offspring: none other than the lovely white supremacists at Stormfront. Looks like Randy Terrill has himself quite a fan club.

Friday, November 30, 2007


Republicans apparently view themselves as having "excellent" mental health to a significantly greater degree than do independents and Democrats. Although it must be nice for so many of these folks to feel so darned good about themselves (after all, self-esteem is so important in the US), self-reports of self-perceptions of mental health are not necessarily the best means of mental health assessment. If you spend a bit of time dealing with folks who have some serious personality disorders, for example, they'll often tell you they're perfectly okay - it's everyone else who's messed up. So it goes.

No doubt that many of these same folks with "excellent" mental health are engaging in much rejoicing at the hostage situation at a Clinton campaign office. Praise the Lord and pass the Thorazine.

Worst American Birthdays

I'm sure there are plenty of deserving souls for the honor, but G. Gordon Liddy is definitely one for the books. From the blog, Lawyers, Guns, and Money:
As a child during the Great Depression, Liddy quivered with glee at the sound of Adolf Hitler’s voice on the radio. As he recounted in his autobiography (appropriately titled Will), the Fuhrer’s words filled him with hope and delivered him from fear.
Hitler’s voice called out calmly, in low, dispassionate tones, but as he spoke of what his people would accomplish, his voice rose in pitch and tempo. Once united, the German people could do anything, surmount any obstacle, rout any enemy, achieve fulfillment. He would lead them; there would be one people, one nation, one leader. Here was the very antithesis of fear -- sheer animal confidence and power of will. He sent an electric current through my body and, as the massive audience thundered its absolute support and determination, the air on the back of my neck rose and I realized suddenly that I had stopped breathing.
Hitler taught Liddy that if nations could be “lifted out of weakness,” so might a puny asthmatic boy like himself. To condition his body and soul for a long life of struggle against weakness, Liddy embarked on a fascist-inspired campaign of personal growth. He stood defiantly on railroad tracks, challenging oncoming trains to run him over; he scaled trees during storms and baited the lightning; he killed chickens and ate rats to prove that he could overcome his aversion to death and his fear of vermin.
I killed and killed and killed, and, finally, I could kill efficiently and without emotion or thought. I was satisfied; when my turn to go to war came, I'd be ready. I could kill as I could run -- like a machine.
This of course is the caliber of man considered worthy of mainstream media exposure, where he's been given free reign to transmit some rather extreme right-wing authoritarian views.

Bromwich leaves out someone:

Generally, his most recent column, The Torture Compromise of 2007 is right on, but note an omission in the following clip:

We have not yet come to terms with a fundamental self-deception. Such practices as rendition and torture and the indefinite detention of military-age Arab men, from street sweeps, where no charges are made and no names supplied (a tactic whose large-scale innovation is partly responsible for the reduction of violence in Baghdad)--these practices follow us home. Think of the post-2001 method of corralling anti-war demonstrators by police phalanx into intersection-sized boxes to be moved forward block by block against their will. Or the unwarranted mass arrests of demonstrators in New York City to "protect" the 2004 Republican convention.

Such have been some of our domestic experiments. But we have gone further. In August of this year, a Miami jury convicted of terrorism-conspiracy charges an American citizen, José Padilla, who had been tortured in prison, against whom the evidence was of exactly the character that would have convicted a Miami black man of rape in the year 1927. These things are happening. And yet, in the middle of the longest presidential campaign in our history, the only candidates to speak against the degradation that is now in progress are Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul--both of them ignored or, as often, ridiculed by the mainstream media. Their speech, and the silence or reticence or politic circumlocution of others, is the largest symptom of the silent crisis at home.
Notice who's missing? Mike Gravel. He, too, is on record against torture and our government's current warmongering ways, and has also been ignored and/or ridiculed by the corporate media, and in his case isn't even allowed to attend Democrat debates. I'm not especially surprised, as his views are far too, shall I say, pro-democracy to be given a proper airing. Instead, we'll get more "lesser-evilism" and plenty of folks willing to say that torture is bad when Bu$hCo does it but perfectly okay if Clinton/Obama/Edwards/Biden/whatever does it.

Thursday, November 29, 2007


This date marks the anniversary of the Sand Creek Massacre, one of many days of spilled blood during the American Holocaust. It also marks 60th anniversary of the start of another campaign of colonial genocide - in this case aimed at the Palestinians.

Mike Gravel might not have a hope in hell,

but I'll give him credit for being more gutsy, more real, than just about anyone else in this election cycle's candidates for the Democrat presidential nomination.

As an independent, I consider Gravel, and to a somewhat lesser degree Kucinich and Paul are the only ones that either the Dems or the GOP have offered up that are even worth the time of day, and Paul has some baggage that makes it highly unlikely that I'd ever endorse him.

That said, it's a shame that what passes for "leadership" in those two parties seem so afraid of these candidates. Personally, I think we should all be wary of any of the candidates who would continue colonizing Iraq, and who threaten to start a war against Iran.

The real illegals

Nerdified link

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Torture Nation: Audio/Visuals and Words

Handcuffed woman tasered:

Man on Utah highway tasered for not signing traffic ticket:

Hat tip to Freedom Rider for both of the videos.

Taser Nation:
A country that employs torture as an instrument of national policy should be expected to do the same on the local law enforcement level. The reverse is also true. The United States, with its long legacy of subjecting society’s “Others” to systemic violence, now elevates pain to a kind of universal principle, spreading torture and “rendition” as institutionalized components of its global offensive. Now the domestic legacy and foreign policy combine to trickle down upon previously immune white citizens, in the form of Taser-torture. Tasers, once defended as life-saving alternatives to police use of deadly force, have become weapons of arbitrary, sadistic choice. The circle of pain is complete.


The proto-fascist direction of the nation is now enveloping people who never saw themselves as the targets of state terror, that is to say, white people. Black people were always victims of police brutality. White people either approved or may have even felt sorry for Negroes but just didn't care enough. They didn't think the same treatment would ever be meted out to them.
Now thanks to video cameras and You Tube, everyone is now a witness to the trickle down movement of police brutality. If the president and vice president and Congress determine that torture is acceptable for some, inevitably it becomes acceptable for all.
Fox and Friends show their fascist colors yet again:
Monday morning as the hosts of Fox & Friends were talking about a Code Pink protester who heckled Senator Hillary Clinton in Los Angeles, Brian Kilmeade threw a hissy fit about the group saying the man in the video should have been tazed. He then went on to suggest that “these people” should expect to be brutally punished for exercising their right to free speech;
Kilmeade: “They should taze this guy!” [snip]
“…Why do they think they’re going to continue to be politely escorted out. At one point with security so high and tensions on edge, don’t you think they’re going to get at the very least tazed or beaten to a pulp by somebody?”
This is merely a few snapshots of the domestic side of the American Zeitgeist in all its glory. Not a pretty picture, is it?

The Other Window

One comment that I've seen more than a few times typically goes like this: "Silber has been amazingly prescient. Everything he's predicted has come true. Everything. I don't know how he does it." That's all very nice, and I also think it happens to be true. But when I first saw this sort of remark a year or so ago, I would usually get very angry. I wanted to shout, or at least add a comment of my own, all in capital letters: "SO WHY WON'T YOU LISTEN TO ME NOW?" The primary subject about which I would have such thoughts is the one that ought to concern everyone, the only subject that matters now in terms of what it could mean for the future of the world, and of the United States: the probability of an attack on Iran.

Did you hear that? An attack on Iran.

Do you understand what I'm saying? A LIKELY ATTACK ON IRAN.

Never mind. The point is that even commenters who offer this kind of praise for my musings will not listen to me now, despite what they themselves admit is a track record of 100% accuracy, or as close to 100% accuracy as anyone is likely to come. For such commenters always go on to add: "Oh, but I don't read him regularly. I can't. He's just too damned depressing."

Please note that they do not contend that I'm wrong on inaccurate in what I see coming down the road. They acknowledge that I've been right before, and that I'm probably right now. But they would prefer not to think about it. It's just too depressing, doncha know. Of course, this is an entirely valid and useful approach to politics, and to life in general. When the deadly boulder topples over the edge of the cliff and is headed toward a landing directly on top of where you're standing below, it's always most advisable to close your eyes, stick your fingers in your ears, and say over and over and over again: "It's not happening! There's no boulder! It will be fine! NOTHING'S WRONG!! IT'S NOT HAPPENING!!!!"
The Other Window
He took his seat on the foreign train
He thought it pleasant to travel again
Mindful of the journey's end
He read again the letter from his friend

Time passed as it often does

The seat was hard, the carriage fetid
He was dressed for summer, but still he sweated
It was better than being home
Feeling the cold, and living alone

Time passed slowly

Around him people spoke in French
Despite schooldays it made no sense
Occasional stares caught his eye
He was tempted to smile, but

Being shy, time passed

When he looked through the window
For the thousandth time
He saw a black horse fighting for its life

In a barbed wire fence
Fatally tangled
The more it struggled
The more it was strangled

Time sped up

He turned away
There was nothing he could do
The other window
Had a nicer view

Time passed painfully
My emphasis added. I always knew I'd find a use for one of my favorite Wire lyrics. The window showing the impending war and carnage is indeed an unpleasant one; The other window has a nicer view. Let's just look at that instead, and everything will be just fine - except, time will still pass painfully. That's the thing with denial: no matter how hard one tries, that edge of foreboding just never goes away, instead cutting ever-deeper into one's psyche.

More Stupid Facebook Tricks

6 Hamline Football Players Suspended For Blackface ST. PAUL (AP) ? Hamline University has suspended six football players from the team for wearing blackface and dressing as African tribesmen during an off-campus Halloween party.

A spokeswoman for the liberal arts college in St. Paul, JacQui Getty, said the school was investigating whether the students violated policy.

Hamline also is investigating two cheerleaders who helped the players with their costumes and reportedly posted photos on them on the Internet social-networking site Facebook.

Getty said the matter was brought to the university's attention by students who were upset by the photos on the Web.

If the investigation finds that a university policy was violated, the students could get a warning or be suspended from school, Getty said. She expects the investigation to be finished within the next couple of weeks.

The names of the players involved were not released.

Tasha Simmons, a friend of the students involved, said the matter has been blown out of proportion and taken out of context. "People misunderstood," she said.

She said the costumes -- which included black Lycra-type clothing and tight black pants -- were inventive. "It wasn't supposed to be offensive whatsoever," she said.

The students were sorry that people are suggesting that their motives were racist, Simmons said. "They have friends who are African-American and Native American," she said. "They have diversity in their families."

The players were not suspended from school but will not be able to play the rest of the football season.

Samuel Imbo, leader of Hamline's African-American Studies program, said he thought it was appropriate for the university to find out "who did what and why they did it.

Imbo, an African immigrant, said it's possible that the students didn't know that painting their faces black might offend someone.

"They probably did not know, but they should know," he said. "The offense here is not even being aware of American history. And not knowing this history leads people to do this kind of thing."

About 100 people gathered last Friday to discuss the incident at a campus forum.

The Hamline incident joins a list of recent controversies where students masqueraded as blacks.
Photo and article found at (sorry, no permalink available, so you'll have to scroll down). More discussion on the article can be found at that site's forum. Showing up at a party in blackface is dumb and racist. Posting the photographic evidence on Facebook is the height of stupidity. Like a previous incident discussed here, the usual excuses from the perps are trotted out: "we have black friends," "how was I supposed to know this would be offensive?" "it's just a big misunderstanding," ad nauseum. Since I feel the need to repeat myself (with slight modification where applicable):
I'm sure that the student(s) are very embarrassed (I mean, come one: what do you expect when you post inflamatory visual materials on a public Facebook profile? Of course other students are going to notice!!!), and obviously doing some damage control - although once someone utters "I'm not racist", my inclination is to roll my eyes in disbelief.

Of course, before you actually go using blackface on your blog (or Myspace or Facebook profile), you might wish to consult some sage advice.

Naturally, the tendency to obfuscate matters of racist or sexist behavior by playing the "good intentions" card (i.e., "Person X didn't intend to be racist, it just unfortunately looked that way") is pretty well par for the course in among Euro-Americans; whereas people of color tend to look at the tangible behaviors themselves (an approach I generally advocate taking).

In the meantime, the necessary conversation about the extent that American society is harboring latent (and periodically overt) racism both at individual and structural levels is long overdue.
Hat tip to Oh No a WoC PhD.

Nooses even at my old Alma Mater

I realize the story is over a week old, which in blog years makes it ancient history, but still worthy of noting and offering a little commentary since it hits home:
The discovery of several nooses at a tolerance rally has upset the normally tranquil Cal State Fullerton campus.

The nooses were found attached to a T-shirt display denouncing intolerance. In response, hundreds of students and faculty rallied against hate this week.


Sumanah Mithani, a Cal State Fullerton junior who helped organize an anti-hate rally Wednesday at Fullerton's quad, said she was "extremely shocked" to find such a "hateful symbol" on campus.

"It was a smack in the face that something like this could happen in central Orange County," said Mithani, who is chairwoman of the Assn. for Intercultural Awareness. "Incidents like this are not going to be tolerated anymore, and we're going to speak out. This was an attack not just on African Americans, but all ethnic groups on our campus."

Ernie Bridges, a lecturer in the Afro-Ethnic Studies Department who teaches a course on the history of racism, said the noose incident was disturbing but not surprising.
Hat tip to Vox es Machina. I lived in the area for about a decade (between the mid 1980s to the mid 1990s), and attended CSUF. My wife still has family in the area, so we still have a pretty decent idea about the vibe of the community. North and central Orange County has changed quite a bit in those years, from being a predominantly white and conservative suburban backwater to being a diverse urban community in its own right. That said, there is an undercurrent of racism in the OC, as well as the rest of southern California.

In 1986, for example, Tom Metzger (of White Aryan Resistance and KKK notoriety) was using CSUF campus facilities to broadcast his brand of hatred. The back story:
In the spring of 1986, Titan reporter Dollie Ryan learned that Tom Metzger, a television repairman who had been a member of the Ku Klux Klan and a group called White Aryan Resistance, was taping a public access cable show on campus. The show, "Race and Reason," held white supremacist views. After the Titan broke the story, student protests forced him to take his show elsewhere.
It was a pleasant surprise that a relatively small but very persistent crew of people representing the Coalition Against Apartheid, Young Democrats, etc. could sustain a sufficient level of noise to chase the bastard out. The more the university administration tried to ignore the issue, the louder - and eventually larger - those protests became. It took sizeable posse of human rights student activists paying a visit to the office of then-President Jewel Plummer Cobb to seal the deal. As much as I tended to bag on the Daily Titan back in those days, the newspaper actually did a decent job of covering the controversy and telling our side of the story fairly, and of course I will never forget the lampooning of Metzger's show by the comic strip Terry The Mighty Iguana (the "Wheel of Bigotry" strip was a classic).

I can also recall at various times during the remainder of the 1980s seeing decals with the W.A.R logo posted around the CSUF campus. Usually those didn't last too long. Those incidents did serve as a reminder that all was not quite well in the community and that as our corner of Orange County was becoming more diverse there was a subset of white folks who were filled with fear and loathing.

Since the noose meme has sadly gone sufficiently viral over the last few months, I'm not entirely surprised then to see the CSUF campus affected. The current university administration seems to be much more on the ball in dealing with it than the administration I recall from my early undergrad days, which is again a pleasant surprise. As of the writing of that article, it was unclear who the culprit(s) were. Could be an active neo-Nazi, some frat boys thinking they were being "cute", or some local teens getting their kicks while being racist assholes. Hopefully the folks responsible for the nooses will have to face the ire of some understandably pissed off people.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Still another reason why I gave up on the Democrats and became an independent

Get past the warmongering, the destruction of human lives and livelihoods by championing neoliberal predatory capitalist policies (e.g., NAFTA), and what do we have left? Fearmongering:
One would have thought that the systematic dismantling of the Constitution of the United States would have been enough to satisfy even the most Jacobin neoconservative, but there is more on the horizon, and it is coming from people who call themselves Democrats. The mainstream media has made no effort to inform the public of the impending Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act. The Act, which was sponsored by Congresswoman Jane Harman of California, was passed in the House by an overwhelming 405 to 6 vote on October 24th and is now awaiting approval by the Senate Homeland Security Committee, which is headed by Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut. It is believed that approval by the committee will take place shortly, to be followed by passage by the entire Senate.
Harman's bill contends that the United States will soon have to deal with home grown terrorists and that something must be done to anticipate and neutralize the problem. The act deals with the issue through the creation of a congressional commission that will be empowered to hold hearings, conduct investigations, and designate various groups as "homegrown terrorists." The commission will be tasked to propose new legislation that will enable the government to take punitive action against both the groups and the individuals who are affiliated with them. Like Joe McCarthy and HUAC in the past, the commission will travel around the United States and hold hearings to find the terrorists and root them out. Unlike inquiries in the past where the activity was carried out collectively, the act establishing the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Commission will empower all the members on the commission to arrange hearings, obtain testimony, and even to administer oaths to witnesses, meaning that multiple hearings could be running simultaneously in various parts of the country. The ten commission members will be selected for their "expertise," though most will be appointed by Congress itself and will reflect the usual political interests. They will be paid for their duties at the senior executive pay scale level and will have staffs and consultants to assist them. Harman's bill does not spell out terrorist behavior and leaves it up to the Commission itself to identify what is terrorism and what isn't. Language inserted in the act does partially define "homegrown terrorism" as "planning" or "threatening" to use force to promote a political objective, meaning that just thinking about doing something could be enough to merit the terrorist label. The act also describes "violent radicalization" as the promotion of an "extremist belief system" without attempting to define "extremist."
As currently envisioned, the Commission will not operate in perpetuity. After the group has done its work, in eighteen months' time, a Center of Excellence for the Prevention of Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism will be established to study the lessons learned. The center will operate either out of the Department of Homeland Security or out of an appropriate academic institution and will be tasked with continuing to monitor the homegrown terrorism problem and proposing legislation and other measures to counter it.
As should be clear from the vagueness of the definitions, the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act could easily be abused to define any group that is pressuring the political system as "terrorist," ranging from polygamists, to second amendment rights supporters, anti-abortion protesters, anti-tax agitators, immigration activists, and peace demonstrators. In reality, of course, it will be primarily directed against Muslims and Muslim organizations. Given that, there is the question of who will select which groups will be investigated by the roving commissions. There is no evidence to suggest that there will be any transparent or objective screening process. Through their proven access both to the media and to Congress, the agenda will undoubtedly be shaped by the usual players including David Horowitz, Daniel Pipes, Steve Emerson, and Frank Gaffney who see a terrorist hiding under every rock, particularly if the rock is concealing a Muslim. They and their associates will undoubtedly find plenty of terrorists and radical groups to investigate. Many of the suspects will inevitably be "anti-American" professors at various universities and also groups of Palestinians organized against the Israeli occupation, but it will be easily to use the commission formula to sweep them all in for examination.
Consider this one a reminder. I'm guessing aside from a handful of obscuroid bloggers such as myself, this particular legislation got roundly ignored. There might be the occasional "respectable" liberal who will be mildly bemused, but chalk it up to appearing "tough" when it comes to the on-going Glorious Perpetual War on Terra and dutifully show up at the polls in order to cast votes for the very folks who seem hell-bent on oppressing them. After all, it only matters to get more Dems elected - never mind if they are as just as implicated in the dismantling of the Constitution as their Rethug conspirators. Certainly those six legislators in the House who were "no" votes on this one deserve credit where credit is due. Their efforts undoubtedly have proven futile, but hopefully they'll be duly remembered as the last patriots in the eventuality that the current imperial set-up crumbles.

Monday, November 26, 2007

There are obsessions and then there are obsessions

Apparently, the Conservapedia readers have some rather fascinating obsessions. Those movement conservatives really know how to get their freak on!

Taser Footnote

In the comments to one of my earlier posts, Larry E of Lotus, Surviving a Dark Time provided a link to all of his posts relevant to the discussion of the human consequences of Taser use. You'll notice that those posts go back as far as March 2004, which should serve as a reminder that this is hardly a new issue.

While were at it, check out RickB of Ten Percent, who makes the following observation:
The technology itself has been in use enough to see comparisons with results from classic experiments on sadism and authoritarian dysfunction.
In other words, what we've been witness to in the US is a phenomenon quite predictable to anyone with even a passing knowledge of social psychology and who can recall the basics of Milgram's obedience experiments and Zimbardo's infamous Stanford Prison experiment. Those experiments, along with other field and lab studies, suggest a number of environmental factors that facilitate the perpetration of torture, which is something I have written about before. Although the remarks that I wrote regarding proximate environmental factors that facilitate torture back in June, 2007 were most immediately aimed at the human rights situation in Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay, they apply as well to the use and abuse of Taser stun guns by police:
Proximate Causes of Torture
In discussing torturers’ “obedience to the authority of violence,” Haritos-Fatouros (2003; see also, Huggins, Haritos-Fatouros, & Zimbardo, 2002; Zimbardo, 2004) outlines a number of proximate causes designed to increase compliance and bonding with those in authority as well as with peers, and to reduce stress and strain.
1.) Harassment, compliance, and conformity. If the perpetrators feel sufficiently trapped in the situation, authorities are better positioned to order them to continue escalating destructive behaviors against their victims. If the perception is that there is no viable recourse but to continue doling out the abuse, then it’s not terribly surprising that the perpetrators will do precisely as they are told.
2.) Deindividuation of the torturer. Destructive obedience is much more easily carried out if the perpetrator can distance himself or herself from the victim (Milgram, 1965, 1974). This can be facilitated by deindividuation (e.g., uniforms, etc., that make one blend in with the group, thus decreasing accountability; see Zimbardo, 1970).
3.) Dehumanization of the victim. Victims may be dehumanized in a number of ways, including the use of racial epithets, claims that the victims are “savages” or “have no souls” or are “sub-human”, thus reducing the perpetrator’s ability to empathize with the victim. Disguising victims with hoods or masks can also achieve similar effect (Zimbardo, 2004). The photos that documented the torture in Abu Ghraib showed prisoners who were hooded, whose faces were covered by female undergarments, or completely stripped of clothing altogether (Hersh, 2004) – which itself can have a dehumanizing effect to the extent that they are being stripped of their identities and their cultures. We can also look at the rampant racism and ethnocentrism that appears to be endemic in the U.S. military culture. The organization itself promotes the use of racial and ethnic slurs (e.g., Hajjis, ragheads) and stereotypes (e.g., Islam as a religion that is inherently violent) that serve to dehumanize their victims (see, e.g., Rockwell, 2005). The more psychological distance that can be created in such an environment, the more difficult it is for military personnel to have empathy with the prisoners and it is this loss of empathy that may pave the path to torture.
4.) Victim blame. One means of reducing the psychological strain of destructive obedience is to shift responsibility to the victim. In Milgram’s (1974) obedience experiments, for example, participants often blamed the victim for having volunteered for the experiment in the first place, or blamed the victim for being stupid or obstinate. Haritos-Fatouros (2003) observes a similar phenomenon among Greek torturers. The psychological function of blaming victims of torture for their humiliation is to make the torture victim appear less than human, which in turn reduces the perpetrators’ inhibitions. In fact, such victim blame is likely facilitated by techniques in which the victims’ pain or humiliation appears self-inflicted (McCoy, 2006). By releasing the psychological constraints regarding how to treat fellow human beings, torturers find it easier to engage in the cruel treatment of their victims.
5.) Belief in a higher cause. Atrocity perpetrators often believe that they are acting in the name of some higher cause. The Greek military junta of the late 1960s and early 1970s trained recruits to believe that they were serving a sort of “Greek Christianity” and that they were “pillars of the state” whose actions were necessary in the struggle against evil, inhuman dissidents (Haritos-Fatouros, 2003). Belief in a higher cause enables torturers to align themselves with those in authority while at the same time viewing torture victims as tangible threats to that order. To the extent that torture can be perceived as “just, moral, and worthy,” torturers can deceive themselves into believing that their actions are ultimately good.
6.) Social modeling. The modeling of torture may be done either formally (as in the case of the Greek military police; Haritos-Fatouros, 2003) or informally (as in the case of Brazilian torturers and executioners; Huggins, Haritos-Fatouros, & Zimbardo, 2002). Role modeling may be either direct or indirect, and may be either explicit or implicit. As part of formal or informal training, recruits may be directly involved in acts of abuse against victims or merely brought along as observers. In the case of Abu Ghraib, it is plain that the organizational culture was primed for human rights abuses. It appears that at every level of the US military organization there was an acceptance of cruel treatment. General Sanchez, for example, obviously had no problems with activities that were known violations of international law as recent news reports have shown (American Civil Liberties Union, 2005). He led by example. Of course we also know that the military was highly secretive about its treatment of POWs, as has been discussed in detail elsewhere (see, e.g., Ratner & Ray, 2004, for more detail).
7) Trivialization and routinization of evil. Destructive obedience does not occur overnight, but rather the perpetrator must be eased into increasingly brutal behaviors over a period of time. Both Milgram (1965, 1974) and Zimbardo (1970) aptly demonstrated this point with their own experimental research, and historically we’ve seen this point documented time and time again (the atrocities committed by the Germans during the Nazi era come most readily to mind). By gradually escalating the abuses against the victims, those who will perpetrate those abuses don’t realize what’s going on until it is too late. They become increasingly desensitized to the horrors that are going on around them, and that they too may be perpetrating.
Diffusion of responsibility is another vehicle for trivializing torture. Destructive obedience is most easily facilitated under conditions where the perpetrators can pass the buck to someone else. Perhaps the authorities in charge give their assurances that they, rather than the perpetrators, are in charge and responsible for whatever outcomes occur (Milgram, 1965, 1974). Diffusion of responsibility may be accomplished by compartmentalizing tasks sufficiently so that one has only a small role in the abuse that is perpetrated. Some individuals in a prison camp may be merely assigned clerical duties, whereas others have some other limited role in the process of torturing or harming their victims. This provides the basis for the so-called “Nuremberg Defense” in which one can claim to be merely following orders, or simply involved in filing paperwork, taking photos, or other routine tasks. Diffusion of responsibility can also be facilitated by group size. In large groups where individuals feel relatively anonymous, it is easier to engage in cruel behaviors, such as lynchings (e.g., Mullen, 1986).
That of course leaves out a discussion of the distal causes, but suffice it to say, one could call to mind examples of US cultural norms, violent media and propaganda (action movies, cops & robbers shows on TV), and potentially a tendency for right-wing authoritarians to self-select into fields such as law enforcement.

Taser Developing a Weapon of Mass Torture

This is not the most comforting thing to read:

But the more frightening news is this:

Di Zazzo's French company is also developing a mini-flying saucer like drone which could also fire Taser stun rounds on criminal suspects or rioting crowds. He expects it to be launched next year and to be sold internationally by Taser.

While Taser continues to insist the stun gun doesn't cause death,

There have been at least three other deaths this week in the United States after police use of the Taser.

So here we have the latest development of a weapon that has already been condemned as an instrument of torture by UN and Amnesty International, and that has been implicated in quite a number of deaths. A Taser weapon capable of electrocuting numerous people at once will no doubt facilitate further human rights abuses.

Taser Deaths in Oklahoma City

Since I've spent a bit of time the past few months on the topic of Taser use as a form of torture, and potentially lethal form of torture at that, I thought it would be instructive to note that some of the Taser deaths that have occurred nationwide have happened in our own state. In at least one case, the victim was handcuffed when the cop decided to zap her (including twice on the neck).

Say Hello To

Our children are the future

There is always a cautionary tale to be told regarding how we nurture them. Just as we (speaking of my household only) wouldn't want our kids to subsist on only the empty calories found in Doritos and Pepsi, we also don't wish to merely feed the kids the empty calories of racism, nationalism, and the warmongering lust for blood. Food for thought.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

NAFTA causes mass human displacement, so why repeat it in Peru?

Chalk it up to greed. Some executives will undoubtedly make out like bandits. As David Bacon notes, NAFTA boosted the profit margins of some corporations who could cut down labor costs, and yes, Mexico now has more billionaires than ever. Unfortunately, Mexico (and also the US) has merely become even more stratified since NAFTA went into effect. Funny how none of that wealth ever seems to "trickle down." Just a few clips from the article for your consideration:
By November 2002, the US Department of Labor had certified 507,000 workers for extended unemployment benefits because their employers had moved their jobs south of the border. The Department of Labor stopped counting NAFTA job losses, but the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, DC, estimated that NAFTA had eliminated 879,000 jobs. That was five years ago.

But US job loss didn't produce job increases in Mexico - it eliminated them there too. In NAFTA's first year, more than a million jobs disappeared in the economic crisis NAFTA caused.

To attract investment in Mexico, the treaty required privatization of factories, railroads and other large enterprises, leading to more layoffs of Mexican workers.

On the border, Ford, General Electric and other corporations built factories and moved production from the United States to take advantage of low wages. But more than 400,000 maquiladora workers lost their jobs in 2000-2001 when US consumers cut back spending in the last recession, and companies found even lower wages in other countries, such as El Salvador or China.

Before NAFTA, US auto plants in Mexico had to buy parts from Mexican factories, which employed thousands of local workers. But NAFTA let the auto giants bring in cheaper parts from their own subsidiaries, so Mexican auto parts workers lost their jobs, too.

The profits of US grain companies, already subsidized under the US farm bill, went higher when NAFTA allowed them to dump cheap corn on the Mexican market, while at the same time it forced Mexico to cut its agricultural subsidies. As a result, small farmers in Oaxaca and Chiapas couldn't sell corn anymore at a price that would pay the cost of growing it.

When corn farmers couldn't farm, or auto parts and maquiladora workers were laid off, where did they go? They became migrants.

The real, dirty secret of trade agreements is displacement. During the years NAFTA has been in effect, more than six million people from Mexico have come to live in the United States. They didn't abandon their homes, families, farms and jobs willingly. They had no other option for survival.
The same pattern is threatening to repeat in Peru. Apparently, one of the issues that quite a number of Democrats ran on in 2006 was to prevent further passage of these sorts of "free trade" agreements. Flush with success after attaining Congressional majorities, the Democrat party brass then changed their tune. Thus far, the House passed the "free trade" agreement with Peru. Given the leadership (or lack thereof) in the Senate, passage there should be a slam dunk. Miners, factory workers, and family farmers will lose out in Peru. I can imagine that the upcoming decade will be filled with the tragic stories of displaced workers and families making an increasingly treacherous journey northward hoping to simply subsist.

Obey or Die

As a follow-up to the previous post, I thought I'd point you toward the latest installment in Arthur Silber's series A Nation on the Edge of the Final Descent, subtitled Obey or Die.

Also see Alexander Cockburn's story on Dr. Catherine Wilkerson, who is facing felony charges for basically trying to do her job (in this case treat a victim of police brutality):
Here's how Wilkerson described what happened next, on this site on March 13 of this year.
I heard a commotion in the hall and stepped out of the room. In the hall I saw the same huge cop on top of the second protester who'd come to the first victim's aid. The cop had the man, a relatively small guy in his forties, pinned down, arms pulled behind his back, getting handcuffed. The cop used PPCT against this person also, not once but twice. The man writhed and cried out in pain.

The cop used his far-greater strength and body weight, along with the force of his knee on his victim's back to press his chest against the floor. It would be impossible for a person to inflate his lungs pressed against the floor with his hands cuffed behind his back like that. Asphyxiation being a well-known cause of death of people in custody, when the man started calling out that he couldn't breathe, I approached, identified myself as a doctor, and instructed the cop to turn him over immediately. The victim went limp. The cop turned him onto his back. I saw that the victim had a wound on his forehead and blood in his nostrils. He was unconscious. Reiterating numerous times that I was a doctor, I tried to move to where I could assess the victim for breathing and a pulse. The cop shoved me, until finally, after my imploring him to allow me to render medical care to the victim, he allowed me to determine that the victim was alive. But he refused to remove the cuffs despite my requests. A person lying with hands cuffed beneath his body risks nerve damage to the extremities and, moreover, cannot be resuscitated. I continually re-assessed the man, who had now become my patient, and who remained unconscious.

Eventually an ambulance arrived, along with the fire department and a contingent of Ann Arbor police officers. While the paramedics went about their business, the first thing being to have the cop un-cuff the patient, I tried to fulfill my obligation to my patient. I tried to oversee what the paramedics were doing, which, contrary to protocol and the normal relationship between physician and paramedic, was all that I was allowed to do. I was forced to stay away. What I witnessed in the course of their treatment appalled me. When the patient didn't respond to a sternal rub, one of the paramedics popped an ammonia inhalant and thrust it beneath the patient's nostrils. If you're interested in what's wrong with that, google Dr. Bryan Bledsoe, foremost authority on paramedicine, and read his article condemning this dangerous practice. That it's "just bad medicine" is sufficient to make the paramedic's actions unacceptable, but what happened next made my blood curdle. He popped a second inhalant and a third, then cupped his hands over the patient's nostrils to heighten the noxious effect. "You don't like that, do you?" he said.

At that point I issued a direct medical order for him to stop, but he ignored me. "What you're doing is punitive," I said, "and has no efficacy." Then as the patient retched, rather than rolling him onto his side to avoid the chance of his choking on his own vomit, a firefighter held his feet down and yelled, "don't spit." In thirty years of doctoring, I have never witnessed such egregious maltreatment of a patient. Again I spoke up, "this is punitive." I hoped to shame the paramedical into stopping his unethical behavior."
Please note that at no point did Wilkerson do anything other than offer verbal advice.


Buck Davis tells me that "ten or fifteen years ago this case would have been a slam dunk, on First Amendment and medical privilege arguments, with no physical contact with the cops, all in liberal Ann Arbor." Wilkerson would have been swiftly acquitted.

"But now people are scared to death. They know the social system is falling apart. They no longer have a generous spirit. I've learned that the erosion of the economic and social fabric means people want to believe the cops. They're frightened. So I'm not as arrogant about 'slam dunk' cases as I once was."
The words of a lawyer staring at the abyss that we are careening toward at breakneck speed.

UN Sez: Taser = Torture

A snip from the article:
TASER electronic stun guns are a form of torture that can kill, a UN committee has declared after several recent deaths in North America.

"The use of these weapons causes acute pain, constituting a form of torture,'' the UN's Committee against Torture said.

"In certain cases, they can even cause death, as has been shown by reliable studies and recent real-life events,'' the committee of 10 experts said.

Three men, all in their early 20s, were reported to have died in the United States this week, days after a Polish man died at Vancouver airport after being Tasered by Canadian police.
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.”

More of this blog's posts on the use and abuse of Tasers here.

Quotable: Hypocrite Edition

Truth is absolute, truth is supreme, truth is never disposable in national political life.