Saturday, December 22, 2007

Yup: J. Edgar Hoover had a fetish for fascism

Some of my older friends and acquaintances who remember the "good ol' days" of COINTELPRO won't need much convincing of course. But for those interested, occasionally New Pravda is worthwhile, as this article detailing a bit of the history of Hoover's efforts to suspend habeas corpus (sound familiar, anyone?) and essentially hold thousands of individuals (many of whom were American citizens) as political prisoners.

We'll consider this a reminder as Wendell Phillips (Jan. 28, 1852) once stated that "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty." Our current habeas corpus troubles have historical precedent, as the article makes plain, including Hoover's proposal in 1950 (lest we forget, Lincoln suspended habeas corpus during the Civil War as did his Confederacy counterpart Jefferson Davis, and Clinton dramatically restricted habeas corpus relief in the mid 1990s); and the idea of rounding and imprisoning those deemed "enemies of the state" go back at least as far as the Palmer Raids.

History may not repeat itself verbatim, but certain patterns seem to recur - including the pattern of those in power endeavoring to expand and abuse their positions of authority. Sometimes they succeed (at least for a time) as we've witnessed this century; sometimes they fail (Hoover's efforts to rid the US of inconveniences like habeas corpus ultimately fell short, although he certainly found plenty of other avenues for making dissent downright difficult if not hazardous). Being aware of those patterns is merely one form of vigilance needed to prevent additional repetitions.

The Human Face of Torture: Mohamed Farag Ahmad Bashmilah

Mark Benjamin's story last week (Inside the CIA's notorious "black sites") on the torture experienced by Mohamed Farag Ahmad Bashmilah at the hands of the US government is chilling but at the same time hardly surprising any more.

When Junior Caligula not too long ago exclaimed that the US does not do torture, I cringed. By the time he had issued that statement, the news that had filtered out of places like Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay, as well as the Clinton regime's approval of extraordinary renditions in the previous decade, were already well-known.

Given the gravity of what's been done in our names, it is as usual crucial to face the human consequences of torture - an issue that has been visited from time to time at this very blog (see The Human Face of Torture Dossier). Part of that humanization process to me is seeing the faces, reading or hearing their own words, learning their stories in order to be better able to walk in their shoes. In doing so, I hope that we can motivate another person or two here and there to stand up and oppose torture by whatever means are necessary.

An extended excerpt of Mohamed's story follow below:
Dec. 14, 2007 | WASHINGTON -- The CIA held Mohamed Farag Ahmad Bashmilah in several different cells when he was incarcerated in its network of secret prisons known as "black sites." But the small cells were all pretty similar, maybe 7 feet wide and 10 feet long. He was sometimes naked, and sometimes handcuffed for weeks at a time. In one cell his ankle was chained to a bolt in the floor. There was a small toilet. In another cell there was just a bucket. Video cameras recorded his every move. The lights always stayed on -- there was no day or night. A speaker blasted him with continuous white noise, or rap music, 24 hours a day.

The guards wore black masks and black clothes. They would not utter a word as they extracted Bashmilah from his cell for interrogation -- one of his few interactions with other human beings during his entire 19 months of imprisonment. Nobody told him where he was, or if he would ever be freed.

It was enough to drive anyone crazy. Bashmilah finally tried to slash his wrists with a small piece of metal, smearing the words "I am innocent" in blood on the walls of his cell. But the CIA patched him up.

So Bashmilah stopped eating. But after his weight dropped to 90 pounds, he was dragged into an interrogation room, where they rammed a tube down his nose and into his stomach. Liquid was pumped in. The CIA would not let him die.

On several occasions, when Bashmilah's state of mind deteriorated dangerously, the CIA also did something else: They placed him in the care of mental health professionals. Bashmilah believes these were trained psychologists or psychiatrists. "What they were trying to do was to give me a sort of uplifting and to assure me," Bashmilah said in a telephone interview, through an interpreter, speaking from his home country of Yemen. "One of the things they told me to do was to allow myself to cry, and to breathe."

Last June, Salon reported on the CIA's use of psychologists to aid with the interrogation of terrorist suspects. But the role of mental health professionals working at CIA black sites is a previously unknown twist in the chilling, Kafkaesque story of the agency's secret overseas prisons.

Little about the conditions of Bashmilah's incarceration has been made public until now. His detailed descriptions in an interview with Salon, and in newly filed court documents, provide the first in-depth, first-person account of captivity inside a CIA black site. Human rights advocates and lawyers have painstakingly pieced together his case, using Bashmilah's descriptions of his cells and his captors, and documents from the governments of Jordan and Yemen and the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to verify his testimony. Flight records detailing the movement of CIA aircraft also confirm Bashmilah's account, tracing his path from the Middle East to Afghanistan and back again while in U.S. custody.

Bashmilah's story also appears to show in clear terms that he was an innocent man. After 19 months of imprisonment and torment at the hands of the CIA, the agency released him with no explanation, just as he had been imprisoned in the first place. He faced no terrorism charges. He was given no lawyer. He saw no judge. He was simply released, his life shattered.

"This really shows the human impact of this program and that lives are ruined by the CIA rendition program," said Margaret Satterthwaite, an attorney for Bashmilah and a professor at the New York University School of Law. "It is about psychological torture and the experience of being disappeared."

Bashmilah, who at age 39 is now physically a free man, still suffers the mental consequences of prolonged detention and abuse. He is undergoing treatment for the damage done to him at the hands of the U.S. government. On Friday, Bashmilah laid out his story in a declaration to a U.S. district court as part of a civil suit brought by the ACLU against Jeppesen Dataplan Inc., a subsidiary of Boeing accused of facilitating secret CIA rendition flights.


The nightmare started for him back in fall 2003. Bashmilah had traveled to Jordan from Indonesia, where he was living with his wife and working in the clothing business. He and his wife went to Jordan to meet Bashmilah's mother, who had also traveled there. The family hoped to arrange for heart surgery for Bashmilah's mother at a hospital in Amman. But before leaving Indonesia, Bashmilah had lost his passport and had received a replacement. Upon arrival in Jordan, Jordanian officials questioned his lack of stamps in the new one, and they grew suspicious when Bashmilah admitted he had visited Afghanistan in 2000. Bashmilah was taken into custody by Jordanian authorities on Oct. 21, 2003. He would not reappear again until he stepped out of a CIA plane in Yemen on May 5, 2005.

Bashmilah's apparent innocence was clearly lost on officials with Jordan's General Intelligence Department. After his arrest, the Jordanians brutally beat him, peppering him with questions about al-Qaida. He was forced to jog around in a yard until he collapsed. Officers hung him upside down with a leather strap and his hands tied. They beat the soles of his feet and his sides. They threatened to electrocute him with wires. They told him they would rape his wife and mother.

It was too much. Bashmilah signed a confession multiple pages long, but he was disoriented and afraid even to read it. "I felt sure it included things I did not say," he wrote in his declaration to the court delivered Friday. "I was willing to sign a hundred sheets so long as they would end the interrogation."

Bashmilah was turned over to the CIA in the early morning hours of Oct. 26, 2003. Jordanian officials delivered him to a "tall, heavy-set, balding white man wearing civilian clothes and dark sunglasses with small round lenses," he wrote in his declaration. He had no idea who his new captors were, or that he was about to begin 19 months of hell, in the custody of the U.S. government. And while he was seldom beaten physically while in U.S. custody, he describes a regime of imprisonment designed to inflict extreme psychological anguish.

I asked Bashmilah which was worse: the physical beatings at the hands of the Jordanians, or the psychological abuse he faced from the CIA. "I consider that psychological torture I endured was worse than the physical torture," he responded. He called his imprisonment by the CIA "almost like being inside a tomb."

"Whenever I saw a fly in my cell, I was filled with joy," he said. "Although I would wish for it to slip from under the door so it would not be imprisoned itself."

After a short car ride to a building at the airport, Bashmilah's clothes were cut off by black-clad, masked guards wearing surgical gloves. He was beaten. One guard stuck his finger in Bashmilah's anus. He was dressed in a diaper, blue shirt and pants. Blindfolded and wearing earmuffs, he was then chained and hooded and strapped to a gurney in an airplane.

Flight records show Bashmilah was flown to Kabul. (Records show the plane originally departed from Washington, before first stopping in Prague and Bucharest.) After landing, he was forced to lie down in a bumpy jeep for 15 minutes and led into a building. The blindfold was removed, and Bashmilah was examined by an American doctor.

He was then placed in a windowless, freezing-cold cell, roughly 6.5 feet by 10 feet. There was a foam mattress, one blanket, and a bucket for a toilet that was emptied once a day. A bare light bulb stayed on constantly. A camera was mounted above a solid metal door. For the first month, loud rap and Arabic music was piped into his cell, 24 hours a day, through a hole opposite the door. His leg shackles were chained to the wall. The guards would not let him sleep, forcing Bashmilah to raise his hand every half hour to prove he was still awake.

Cells were lined up next to each other with spaces in between. Higher above the low ceilings of the cells appeared to be another ceiling, as if the prison were inside an airplane hanger.

After three months the routine became unbearable. Bashmilah unsuccessfully tried to hang himself with his blanket and slashed his wrists. He slammed his head against the wall in an effort to lose consciousness. He was held in three separate but similar cells during his detention in Kabul. At one point, the cell across from him was being used for interrogations. "While I myself was not beaten in the torture and interrogation room, after a while I began to hear the screams of detainees being tortured there," he wrote.

While he was not beaten, Bashmilah was frequently interrogated. "During the entire period of my detention there, I was held in solitary confinement and saw no one other than my guards, interrogators and other prison personnel," he wrote in his declaration. One interrogator accused him of being involved in sending letters to a contact in England, though Bashmilah says he doesn't know anybody in that country. At other times he was shown pictures of people he also says he did not know.

"This is a form of torture," he told me. "Especially when the person subjected to this has not done anything."

In his declaration, Bashmilah made it clear that most of the prison officials spoke English with American accents. "The interrogators also frequently referred to reports coming from Washington," he wrote.

After six months he was transferred, with no warning or explanation. On or around April 24, 2004, Bashmilah was pulled from his cell and placed in an interrogation room, where he was stripped naked. An American doctor with a disfigured hand examined him, jotting down distinctive marks on a paper diagram of the human body. Black-masked guards again put him in a diaper, cotton pants and shirt. He was blindfolded, shackled, hooded, forced to wear headphones, and stacked, lying down, in a jeep with other detainees. Then he remembers being forced up steps into a waiting airplane for a flight that lasted several hours, followed by several hours on the floor of a helicopter.

Upon landing, he was forced into a vehicle for a short ride. Then, Bashmilah took several steps into another secret prison -- location unknown.

He was forced into a room and stripped naked again. Photos were taken of all sides of his body. He was surrounded by about 15 people. "All of them except for the person taking photographs were dressed in the kind of black masks that robbers wear to hide their faces," Bashmilah wrote in the declaration.

He was again examined by a doctor, who took notations on the diagram of the human body. (It was the same form from Afghanistan. Bashmilah saw his vaccination scar marked on the diagram.) The doctor looked in his eyes, ears, nose and throat.

He was then thrown into a cold cell, left naked.

It was another tiny cell, new or refurbished with a stainless steel sink and toilet. Until clothes arrived several days later, Bashmilah huddled in a blanket. In this cell there were two video cameras, one mounted above the door and the other in a wall. Also above the door was a speaker. White noise, like static, was pumped in constantly, day and night. He spent the first month in handcuffs. In this cell his ankle was attached to a 110-link chain attached to a bolt on the floor.

The door had a small opening in the bottom through which food would appear: boiled rice, sliced meat and bread, triangles of cheese, boiled potato, slices of tomato and olives, served on a plastic plate.

Guards wore black pants with pockets, long-sleeved black shirts, rubber gloves or black gloves, and masks that covered the head and neck. The masks had tinted yellow plastic over the eyes. "I never heard the guards speak to each other and they never spoke to me," Bashmilah wrote in his declaration.

He was interrogated more. Bashmilah recalls an interrogator showing him a lecture by an Islamic scholar playing on a laptop. The interrogator wanted to know if Bashmilah knew who the man was, but he did not. It was in this facility that Bashmilah slashed his wrists, then went on his hunger strike, only to be force-fed through a tube forced down his nose.

The CIA seems to have figured out that Bashmilah was not an al-Qaida operative sometime around September 2004, when he was moved to another, similar cell. But there was no more white noise. And while his ankles were shackled, he wasn't bolted to the floor with a chain. He was allowed to shower once a week. He was no longer interrogated and was mostly left alone.

Bashmilah was given a list of books he could read. About a month before he was released, he was given access to an exercise hall for 15 minutes a week. And he saw mental healthcare professionals. "The psychiatrists asked me to talk about why I was so despairing, interpreted my dreams, asked me how I was sleeping and whether I had an appetite, and offered medications such as tranquilizers."

On May 5, 2005, Bashmilah was cuffed, hooded and put on a plane to Yemen. Yemeni government documents say the flight lasted six or seven hours and confirm that he was transferred from the control of the U.S. government. He soon learned that his father had died in the fall of 2004, not knowing where his son had disappeared to, or even if he was alive.

At the end of my interview with Bashmilah, I asked him if there was anything in particular he wanted people to know. "I would like for the American people to know that Islam is not an enemy to other nations," he said. "The American people should have a voice for holding accountable people who have hurt innocent people," he added. "And when there is a transgression against the American people, it should not be addressed by another transgression."
What follows is a diagram of his living conditions:
Imagine being an innocent person living as he was forced to live for as long as he did. Even more disturbing - although again as I've said before, hardly surprising - is that Mohamed's story is hardly the only one.

Props to the following bloggers - image of prison cell courtesy of Into My Own. Since I would not have necessarily noticed this story when it first appeared thanks to finals week, a huge debt of gratitude is owed to Cliff Schecter via Memeorandum. Image of Mohamad Bashmilah courtesy of Amnesty International's Spanish language site.

Mike Gravel will apparently go the third-party route

I can't really say I'm surprised. Nor am I surprised with the press coverage of Gravel's campaign that appears (if one were not to know any better) to have been written by a bunch of petulant bratty J-school interns.

Not to worry, Andrew Malcom, your wish for a non-unique candidate to end up occupying the White House will no doubt come true. In this conformist culture, uniqueness (which is what folks like Gravel promise) is sinful.

Still, I'll use this space once more to suggest that Gravel's ideal of uniting the nation's discontents (of which there are plenty, given the sorry state of partisan politics) is certainly worthy of entertaining. We have plenty of potential front-runners to try to unite a diverse and admittedly divergent proportion of the electorate. The wars (Iraq, Afghanistan), the frontal assault on whatever was left of Constitutional liberties, etc., are issues that have the potential to unite many of us, and Gravel has been one of the few to consistently discuss those issues as openly and as bluntly as possible. Heck, he even has plenty of anti-war street cred. Whether or not Gravel is the right messenger per se remains to be seen, but his ideas are quite reasonable, and I could think of far worse potential candidates (all of the front-runners in the Dem and GOP parties jump immediately to mind as among the worst of the worst).

I would once again politely suggest that it's high time as well for anti-war activists - whether leftist, libertarian, conservative, etc. - ditch the sectarianism and look at what we have in common. One point in common already is that the likely Dem and GOP nominees will be common enemies. That's a starting point.

Look what crawled out of the woodwork

Nancy an eliminationist in the comments sez:
You must sleep with a Mexican. illegals could correctly be called 'Wet-back SCABS'. 'Cause that's ALL they are. If you really wanted to HELP them, you would help them change their OWN country. You two-faced traitor. Born with a silver spoon in ur mouth, no doubt. Why don't you get down here with the rest of us and see if you can hold that stance with a real world veiw of poverty among the American people. You judge people and then you go screaming at people to stop dare you...and you think you're so smart because you have an EDUMACATION???? Pulezzzze. How far do you think you and your buddies can stomp on the American people before you get ur block knocked off? Who do you think you are to consider yourself and your lawbreakers to be above our laws? You're not very smart if you haven't learned anything about our laws. How immoral you are. You're disgusting.
Dear Nancy,

Next time you try to preach morality, you might wish to take a look in the mirror. First, you make a lot of assumptions about me that, well, would cause you embarrassment if you actually knew me. Second, making thinly veiled threats of violence simply won't impress me. I'm flattered, but I've been threatened by more articulate foes in first grade. Third, at the risk of being presumptuous, I trust that you have a Bible handy. After all, you do imply in your comment that you are a "moral" person. You might wish to look up a few verses as a refresher: Deuteronomy 10:17-19 and Psalm 146:9. On the off chance you've misplaced it, JMB has quoted these very same verses in one of his recent posts.

When the extreme becomes mainstream - immigration edition

Courtesy of Migra Matters:

First, here are some statements by neo-Nazi and white supremacist hate groups on immigration:
"America's culture, customs and language are under assault from foreigners who come to live here and, instead of learning the American way of life, choose to impose their own alien cultures, languages, and institutions upon us... . [E]thnic cleansing ... may seem a harsh term to apply here in America, but it accurately describes the expulsion of Americans from their communities by illegal aliens."

"[S]ince that time [about 1950], Western culture faces a growing and potentially fatal crisis: the widespread folly of believing that Hmong and Haitians can carry that culture forward as meaningfully as Europeans."

"These men [ranchers who capture illegal border-crossers at gunpoint] are the true heroes of our troubled times! Every illegal alien they halt is one less that will go on our welfare rolls, overcrowd our schools, bring in more drugs to poison our kids, or rob, rape and murder another innocent American citizen."

"[T]he meaning of this massive increase in non-white and non-Western populations groups within U.S. borders is that the United States is not only ceasing to be a majority white nation but also is ceasing to be a nation that is culturally part of Western civilization."

"America becomes darker — racially darker — every year, and that is the direct result of our government's immigration policy. ... We White people, we descendants of the European immigrants who built America, will be a minority in our own country. ... [M]alicious aliens [European Jews] came into our land and ... spread spiritual poison among our people, so that our spirits became corrupted and our minds became confused."

"Unless stopped now, massive illegal immigration from the Third World will surely make America more like the Third World than the nation of our forefathers. ... Forced integration and unrestrained immigration destroy schools, neighborhoods, cities and ultimately nations."

"[T]he very underpinnings of America are being gnawed away by hordes of aliens who are transforming America into a land where we, the descendants of the men and women who founded America, will walk as strangers... . Unless we act now ... we will be helpless to halt the accelerating dispossession of our folk."

"America is not just a geographical entity. It is a nation with certain values. I'd go beyond the proposal of a zero immigration moratorium and say we should begin deportation. Deportation now!"

"The Mexican culture is based on deceit. Chicanos and Mexicanos lie as a means of survival. Fabricating false IDs is just another extension of that culture ... [which] condones everything from the most lowly misdemeanor to murder in the highest levels of government."

"[Even] beyond immigration, legal or illegal, the very numbers of non-Whites already here, and their high birth rate, are enough to plunge North America into a banana republic status within two decades or less. ... [After America is split up into racial mini-states, if] an area like Florida wanted to accept the dregs of the Caribbean, let them, with the understanding that the second this mud flood oozed into the sovereign state of Georgia, it would be 'lock and load' time."

compliled spring, 2001 by SPLC
Now, let's take a segment from a recent conversation between Lou Dobbs and Pat Buchanan (also courtesy of Migra Matters):
DOBBS: And congratulations on the new book, a best seller doing great.

Let me turn to the very first thing. The first chapter, declaring that the American century is over. I would like to share this with our viewers. "America is indeed coming apart, decomposing, and that the likelihood of our survival as one nation through mid century is improbable and impossible if America continues on her current course. For we are on a path to national suicide." My God, I don't think you could be more pessimistic.

BUCHANAN: Well that is where we are headed, Lou. As I write in the last chapter, we can still have a second American century. But look what is happening. You've got 12 to 20 million illegal aliens in the country, 38 million immigrants. The melting pot that turned our grandfathers and great grandfathers into Americans is cracked, broken and rejected as an instrument of cultural genocide. You have that going on in the country at the same time that the dollar is going down, the manufacturing base is being exported, you're overextended abroad with a smaller army than we had in 1939. All of these things are hitting at once and I don't get the awareness of the gravity of the crises comes at us.

DOBBS: We're back with Pat Buchanan, author of the important new book, which I highly recommend, "Day of Reckoning." Let's deal with an issue on the minds of Americans. That is the issue of illegal immigration. What has to be done?

BUCHANAN: Well first thing, you've got to secure the border. If we don't do it, it won't exist anymore in ten years. You've got to crack down on businesses that hire illegals. You've got to cut off the magnets by ending social welfare benefits as they voted to do Arizona. You've got to end this absurd practice that if someone comes to the United States and has a baby the next day it is automatically a citizen for life and entitled to a whole lifetime of benefits. I think you need a time-out on legal immigration of about 250,000 a year. This is the sea into which illegals move. We need another time out to get the melting pot up and running again.

DOBBS: What about the 12 to 20 million illegals in this country?

BUCHANAN: Start the deportations with gang members, felons, scofflaws and you start with felons and people who are drunk drivers and others. Then you start the process by cracking down on business, removing the magnets, they'll go home. What draws them here is free education, welfare, good jobs, good paying jobs much better than in Mexico. Basically business and the welfare, the social safety net draws them here.
Note the eerie similarity between what Dobbs and Buchanan are saying and the words by the hate groups quoted at the top of this post. Most folks would likely not want any association whatsoever with the hate groups in question, yet many consider Dobbs and Buchanan to have a certain mainstream respectability. Heck, Dobbs comes into many living rooms each weeknight thanks to his CNN gig, and Buchanan is often included on the Sunday morning talkshow circuit. In all likelihood, we won't find either of these two individuals show up for the next Klan rally, and yet it is quite clear that both men are delving into some rather Klan-like arguments. Dobbs and Buchanan are what David Neiwert has characterized as "transmitters":
... ostensibly mainstream conservatives who seem to cull ideas that often have their origins on the far right, strip them of any obviously pernicious content, and present them as "conservative" arguments. These transmitters work across a variety of fields. In religion, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell are the best-known examples, though many others belong in the same category. In politics, the classic example is Patrick Buchanan, while his counterpart in the field of conservative activism is Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Foundation.

In the media, Rush Limbaugh is the most prominent instance, and Michael Savage is a close second, but there are others who have joined the parade noticeably in the past few years: Andrew Sullivan, for instance, and of course Ann Coulter. On the Internet, the largest single transmitter of right-wing extremism is, whose followers -- known as "Freepers" -- have engaged in some of the more outrageous acts of thuggery against their liberal targets.

And finally, there’s Fox News, which bills itself as "fair and balanced," but which in fact is a virtual data center for transmitting extremist material into the mainstream. One of the most egregious examples of this was Fox’s broadcasts, on several occasions in 2000-2001, of an anti-tax protester named Bob Schulz. Schulz operated a snake-oil outfit called We The People Congress which operated on the old Posse Comitatus theory that the 16th Amendment -- the one approving the income tax -- was never properly approved. The same theory was also the main serving of a number of Patriot outfits.
Neiwert goes on to describe how transmitters work here ,here, and here. The reason for delving into this is that nativism, as a form of eliminationism is back with a vengeance. Although folks like Neiwert and Lenin's Tomb will correctly note that the activist element among nativists (all one need do is look at the usual suspects: KKK, The Minutemen, Stormfront, etc.) is a relatively small proportion of the American public, they have managed to successfully transmit their particular form of hatred through various talking heads in the mass media and public officials. Eliminationist rhetoric thus becomes mainstream. If Rush Limbaugh or Ron Paul take a hardline stance on unauthorized workers, for example, perception is it must be at least within the recognized bounds of the US mainstream. Heck, just look at how the US GOP and Dem presidential candidates have been addressing the immigration issue in debates and public statements. I'd like to believe (to the extent that I still find some redeeming qualities among my fellow human beings) that if most folks realized where hardline views regarding immigration originated, they'd recoil in horror. The problem is that most folks have no idea of what the sources are, hence, nativism ends up having something of a sleeper effect - in this case ideas from a fairly small minority of racists are currently able to exact a disproportionate influence on US political discourse due to a failure by many to connect the dots. Unfortunately, a sound-bite addled corporate media does not allow much opportunity to make the necessary connections.

More on the origins of nativism here.

Friday, December 21, 2007

For once, something useful

I've been meaning to make note of this for a few days, but have been caught up in other issues - both blogging and the various and sundry responsibilities that must be taken care of at home and at the office. Representatives Robert Wexler, Luis Gutierrez, and Tammy Baldwin are trying to pressure their Democrat colleagues into opening impeachment proceedings against VP Cheney. Blocked from publishing an editorial in a number of corporate media outlets, they took their case directly to the internet. Their online petition has already garnered over 100,000 signatories.

Although I don't hold out a whole lot of hope that Wexler's colleagues can be pressured into doing the right thing, it's worth a shot. I've signed. Have you?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Torture survivors sue US mercenary outfit

Good on them!
More than 250 former detainees from Iraq's notorious Abu Ghraib prison have filed an amended lawsuit against a private US military contractor they say participated in a conspiracy to commit torture. The head of a human rights group involved in bringing the case told RAW STORY that unchecked abuses of contractors in Iraq are tantamount to a "license to kill."

The class action lawsuit, submitted Monday to a Washington, DC, federal court, asserts that employees from contractor CACI International Inc. routinely tortured, threatened and humiliated prisoners at Abu Ghraib and other US-run facilities. The complaint is an revised version of a suit first brought against CACI and another contractor, the Titan Corporation, in 2004.
Make sure to read the rest. See also the CCR press release.

Don't throw your vote away

Just keep recycling it every four years (or really every two years if we want to throw in those wonderful midterm elections). Keep telling yourself again and again that this time around it really will be different. Really. For shizzle.

Pic nicked from The Culture Ghost. More relevant commentary: Don't Throw Your Vote Away!!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Guymon Daily Herald Reports Newspaper Racks Vandalized by Racists

As a followup to my recent post, Nativist Hatred in Goodwell, I thought I'd share with my readers an article that recently appeared in the Guymon Daily Herald, by staff writer Miranda Gilbert:
GDH newspaper racks vandalized
Photo caption: Here's an example of the propaganda that can be seen on our own Guymon Daily Herald racks. Photo credit: Heather Avey

A group against illegal immigrants are now protesting – illegally.

Paper signs boasting racial slurs next to God’s name were found glued to newspaper racks this week, including the Guymon Daily Herald’s dispensers at Wal-Mart and Dizzy B’s.

The signs appear to be an advertisement, with the fine print reading “Paid for by the Citizen’s for Public Awareness” but no contract was signed for the $50 a week advertisement block.

“They have not paid us for that spot,” said GDH Circulation Manager Peggy Martinez, who has discovered the signs sporadically through the week. “It is a paid advertising spot, but no one from this group has contacted us.”

Law enforcement was notified of the vandalism and an investigation is under way at the Guymon Police Department.

“They’re worried about immigrants breaking the law, ‘illegals,’ but what they’re doing is illegal,” Martinez said.

The signs say, “Support ‘Operation Wetback’ Thou shall enter a country legally. Thou shall leave a country lawfully — God. Support removal of illegals Call Congress.”

Another sign listed the US code and section which states that harboring, abetting and employing illegal aliens is a crime and listed the phone number for Immigration Custom Enforcement (ICE).

Anyone with information may call CRIMESTOPPERS at 1-800-766-0146 or 338-1899. Callers can remain anonymous.
Whoever put these signs up were cowards, and yes, criminals.

The "Global War on Terra" is merely the cover story

It does of course serve a purpose - namely to consolidate or expand power of the rulers. Over the near term, the elites have a little matter of unrest at home as the economy continues to tank and some really pissed off ex-middle class folks look for someone to blame. Hence we can expect plenty of appeals to nativism and cultural warmongering in order to keep the working classes sufficiently divided lest the elites find themselves forced to appease with reforms of one sort or another. Over the intermediate term (over the next couple decades), there is that little matter of assuring easy access to and control of petroleum and preventing a growing rival (China) from snagging any of that access and control.

In the meantime, it's just a farcical (albeit deadly) rehash of the Cold War - just that now we have "terrorists" hiding in your broom closet, and al Qaida always threatening havoc. Those indigenists fighting for some semblance of self-determination? They're al Qaida. Those displaced compañeros? They're al Qaida. Or if that is too implausible for even the most rabid of nativist white supremacist knuckledraggers to believe, just simply using the term "terrorist" shall suffice. Don't think too hard about the human costs that a policy of predatory capitalism (i.e., neoliberalism) and unabashed bloodletting has exacted on so many; there's always the popularity contest between Hillary and Rudy to distract you - or if that's too boring, how about Jamie Lynn Spears' pregnancy? Now THERE is some IMPORTANT news.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Ah, the Quadrennial Mating Ritual Commences

As we know, in life there are various rhythms and cycles upon which we learn to rely upon: the cycle of day and night, the four seasons, birth-life-reproduction-death, etc. One of those cycles endemic to the US is at hand: the electoral mating ritual. Of course the courtship only officially begins in January each Leap Year, but the suitors begin to woo their mates well before then. The mating calls range from stump speeches, to debates with rival suitors, to guest blogging appearances, to the obligatory interview on Larry King. Their partners in this courtship dance, having been ignored and disappointed for the previous three years are of course reluctant and even resistant at first. But, eventually, one by one, they give in once there is some indication that the Alpha Donkle has been chosen, or that such decision will be very shortly forthcoming. At that point, mating with the Alpha Donkle is considered preferable to the Alpha Gooper, and anyone in the flock still refusing the Alpha Donkle's mating call are swiftly ostracized as purists and accused of mating with the Alpha Gooper by default. Following the end of the ritual in November, the Alpha Donkle and rivals will quickly forget that they had even mated, and go back to their hovels in a wilderness called The Beltway to do whatever the hell it is that they do there (the rare outsider to try to witness this wilderness activity have inevitably been so traumatized as to render impossible an accurate reporting). Those who had fallen under the spell of the Alpha Donkle will soon return to their usual reluctant and resistant stance, bitterly cursing their decision to mate and vowing vehemently never to do so again; until of course, the next Leap Year...

It's always the same

Some head of state or state official with a real fancy title orders airstrikes to "neutralize" some "enemy camp." Inevitably it is civilian villages that get attacked instead. The head or state or state official with the real fancy title claims success even though no enemy camps or bases were ever hit, perhaps with a denial of any civilian "collateral damage" just to appease uneasy folks at home. If all goes "well" the uneasy folks at home get distracted by the usual bread and circuses, and the dead and dismembered villagers are conveniently forgotten.

Hat tip to A Tiny Revolution

There are always alternatives

You merely have to open your eyes from time to time. As sour as I am about the electoral system (which functions about as well as someone with inoperable cancer that has metastasized to every internal organ, bones, and bone marrow), every once in a while I see a candidate who actually seems inspired and inspiring. Yes, Cindy Sheehan is not PC, nor is she "electable" according to the Democrat Party intelligentsia, but she earns my respect by calling things by their true names and by targeting one of the Beltway Dems who has proven to be one of the most persistent barriers to ending the Iraq War and holding the Lush/Zany Gang accountable for their corruption. If Pelosi can't see clear to keeping impeachment on the table with regard to Lush/Zany, then her district's voters could at least have the decency to do the next best thing: impeach Pelosi in November 2008. I know some bloggers, such as Avedon, would prefer Sheehan run in a Democrat primary against Pelosi instead. I say, screw that. Go for all the marbles in November. Simply stated, THERE IS NOTHING LEFT TO LOSE.

To those among the avowed progressive side of the blogtopia who would argue that we have no alternative to the Dems, and that "it's not like something new will just spring up overnight," here's a history lesson and counterpoint.

Update: Note in the comments that Avedon states that she does not oppose an independent Sheehan campaign, but would find a Sheehan primary challenge against Pelosi as instructive. Thanks for clarifying.

Same Shit, Different Year

Poll: Electability key among Democrats

As an editorial response, here's something from Tom Tomorrow:

Yeah, let's get another John Kerry-type candidacy. That one was such a smashing success. The other "electable" Dem, Obama the Bland, isn't exactly much of a prize either (with him we get a possible sequel to the Al Bore campaign). Feh.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The War on Terra is a racket, even some academicians are on the take

Just something I happened upon, while taking a break: On the take and loving it. Just as a number of behavioral and social scientists took grant money from the CIA in the 1950s and 1960s, it appears that today's academicians are doing likewise by accepting grants from the NSA. This time around it seems to be engineering and mathematics that are the target. Why? Two words: mass surveillance. The government's ability to spy on its most feared enemy - that is its own citizens - makes what these particular researchers do quite valuable much in the same way that anthropology and psychology researchers were deemed valuable to a government wanting to stay ahead of the Soviets when it came to "enhanced interrogation".

An aside: One of my profs in grad school once stated point-blankly to me that "you have to be cut-throat" in order to succeed in the academic world. That statement applies more to the sorts of institutions that are most likely to be recipients of large research grants than to the smaller teaching colleges and universities thankfully. Still, for those unfamiliar with the academic world, one need keep in mind that it tends to be hyper-competitive to a degree unseen in most other areas of life. There is usually an over-supply of Ph.D.-level individuals and an under-supply of tenure track positions (caveat: depending on your particular academic discipline and specialty your mileage may vary considerably). There are plenty of highly talented scholarly individuals who spend years, and sometimes entire careers stringing together adjunct gigs. It is possible that there might be research positions available in government agencies and in the private sector - but even here, the pickings are going to be slim (the usual caveat that your mileage may vary depending upon your field). If one is gunning for a position at one of the larger universities, there is typically a lot of pressure to bring in grant money, and of course publish (or perish). I can easily imagine the temptation one might feel under the circumstances to accept grant funding from the Devil himself if it means having a better shot at making tenure. I'm guessing that many of these cats will never so much as ponder the potential abuses of human rights and liberty that may ultimately be the fruit of their labor, as long as they have job security.

I like the quote at the end of the article - with some caveats that I'll mention in a moment:
Educated, intelligent people have many opportunities in life. Those who out-source their minds to secretive and abusive organizations demonstrate to us either a lack of intellectual ability or an impoverished moral standard. They do not earn our respect as scholars or as human beings.
That first sentence is definitely right on the money - if you're in the academic world you're in a fairly privileged position. Heck, simply having the opportunity to study and research whatever the heck you want - and be paid to do so - is truly a blessing. With the second sentence, I suspect that it depends in part on how one defines intellectual ability. One can be a genius as a theoretician or methodologist (or both) but lack foresight, personal insight, street smarts, etc. It is fairly easy if one is not careful to lose sight of the forest for that one or two tree limbs one is dedicated to researching. To the extent that many scholars internalize a sort of Machiavellian ethics (as illustrated by that grad school prof I mentioned earlier, who lived being cut-throat to the fullest) I suspect that impoverished moral standards are endemic within the Ivory Tower. I completed my grad school work realizing that there were folks whose research I could respect (to the extent that at least they seemed to avoid taking blood money and who managed to contribute something useful with their work) but whom I could not respect on a more personal level. I made a decision early on in grad school that what was important wasn't the product as much as it was the process. How I went about my work, how I went about treating anyone assisting me in my work, etc., meant more than those coveted lines on a vita. No backstabbing, no moral compromising, just what you see is what you get. That probably closed the doors on some jobs I wouldn't have wanted, but also opened some doors to positions more in keeping with my calling. Wouldn't trade it for the world.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Nativist Hatred in Goodwell

From the mailbag
As I was fixing to leave Goodwell this afternoon to run some errands in a neighboring town, I noticed the following two racist signs on adjacent dumpsters at College Corner, a local convenience store. Of course I didn't have my camera handy at the time, so I waited until this evening to get a couple shots of the offending signs. The only identifying information I could find was on one that claimed it was paid for by some entity called "Citizens for Public Awareness." A quick drive around town suggests that College Corner was the only location where these signs were posted. Given that store's location - right across the street from the university campus - I'm guessing the perps were shooting for maximum visibility.

Similar signs have been found in Arizona, as witnessed by a blogger, and an ASU student who shot the following video:

I recall that the blogger above was hoping to research the group behind the signs, so perhaps he'll offer some insight later. From what I've been able to gather, this Citizens for Public Awareness organization doesn't exactly have much presence on the internet. That said, what little info I've been able to dredge up suggests that its founder and president, Nancy Schaefer, has been known to make nativist statements in the past. So, assuming this is the same group, the signs are definitely in character.

I'll likely be making a few phone calls Monday to see who has jurisdiction over dumpsters, and see what it'll take to get the signs removed.

All that aside, there is something fittingly symbolic of racist garbage like the above signs glued to dumpsters.

For those requiring some context, here's a little something on nativism.

Presidental hopefuls roll call vote on war funding

The data turn out to be pretty bleak if you check the House and Senate votes. On the House side, only Kucinich cast a "No" vote. Ron Paul and Duncan Hunter were nowhere to be found. Had they been present, I think we can guess how they would have voted. On the Senate side, Biden, Clinton, Dodd, McCain, and Obama were all absentees. Somehow I doubt it would take much imagination to figure out how they would have voted.

Of course the absenteeism that seems to plague Congress critters during the Presidential primary season is ridiculous - partially an indictment of the increasing length of campaigning and partially an indictment of the absentees' priorities (or lack thereof).

Kudos to Kucinich for actually managing to show up and do his job.