Saturday, January 12, 2008

The dark side of observational learning


Cartoons from The Pleb Site.

This week's anniversary



Friday marked the sixth anniversary of beginning of the Guantánamo Bay gulag. Here's a roundup of some commentary to mark the occasion, as we now enter the seventh year.

First, note that the above two images were nicked from Andy Worthington's blog - the first is a photo of prisoners of the war on terra en route to Guantánamo Bay; the second is of a few of these prisoners on January 11, 2002 upon their arrival. The author of The Guantánamo Files has a post up called Six Years of Guantánamo: Enough is Enough. Worthington writes:
In some ways, of course, there is more to celebrate today than there was on Guantánamo’s fifth anniversary. In the last year, a number of whistleblowers – former military officials who worked on the tribunals – have bravely stepped forward to condemn the tribunal process. Lt. Col. Stephen Abraham, who spoke out in June, described them as a sham, reliant upon vague, unsubstantiated and generic evidence, and designed merely to approve the detainees’ prior designation as “enemy combatants,” and in October an Army Major, speaking anonymously, added his complaints, revealing the deliberate exclusion of exculpatory evidence, the reconvening of tribunals when an unfavorable result was produced, and the pressure exerted on tribunal members from higher up the command structure.
Plans to scale down the prison population also continued throughout 2007. 492 detainees have now been released – 122 in the last year alone – and the majority of those have been freed on their return home, but the gross injustices of Guantánamo have not come to an end. Two detainees died at the prison last year (to add to the four who died in 2006), and five more detainees were transferred into the facility, even while the President was claiming in public that he wanted to close it down.
For the 281 detainees who remain, moreover, life is as hard as ever. Although a few are housed in Camp 4, which contains communal dorms, the majority are held in solitary confinement for up to 23 hours a day in the newest camps, Camps 5 and 6, and are deprived of the meager comforts – including access to TV, and some sort of a social life – that are routinely enjoyed by the majority of convicted criminals on the US mainland.
Others continue to be held in complete isolation, an unknown number are suffering from severe psychiatric disorders, and for the few dozen long-term hunger strikers the prison remains a torture center. Prevented from exercising the only power they still hold – the right to starve themselves to death in protest at their endless detention without charge or trial – twice a day they are held in restraint chairs, using 18 separate straps, and are fed through a thick tube inserted into the stomach through the nose, which is removed after each feeding in a deliberate attempt to “break” their will.
To compound the detainees’ misery, it’s unclear how some of them will ever be freed. Up to 70 have been cleared for release – some for more than two years – but the majority are still held because of international treaties preventing their return to their homelands – including China, Uzbekistan, Tunisia, Libya and Algeria – where they face the risk of torture. Attempts by the authorities to bypass these treaties through “memoranda of understanding,” guaranteeing the humane treatment of returned detainees, recently came unstuck after two returned Tunisians received jail sentences following dubious trials, and the decision by a District Court judge to prevent the return of a third Tunisian seems to have put the whole errant project on hold.
Another 80 are scheduled to face trial by Military Commission, a system of show trials concocted by Dick Cheney and his advisors in November 2001, but as these, like the tribunals, rely on secret evidence obtained through the torture, coercion or bribery of other detainees, and have yet to produce a single significant victory, it remains unclear if they will ever function adequately. As the uproar over the destroyed CIA tapes has demonstrated, the administration is desperate to conceal all evidence of torture by US forces, because it remains illegal under domestic and international law, and it seems inconceivable that military trials which conceal evidence of torture can ever be regarded a legitimate.
Moazzam Begg asks How Much Longer? and reminds us that
as long as it remains open there will be people calling unequivocally for it to close.
The title of a recent isen.blog post sums it up: Close the Gitmo Gulag along with a reasonably straightforward comment:
I protest everything it represents: torture, kangaroo courts, suspension of Habeas Corpus, abnegation of U.S. treaty commitments, rejection of "innocent until proven guilty", and the very idea that some humans are not worthy of the rights we U.S. citizens claim for ourselves.
Over at Salon.com, Anthony D. Romero says
Repressive regimes have cited America's example to defend their abysmal human rights practices; for instance, Malaysia's law minister insisted that his country's practice of detaining suspects without trial was "just like Guantánamo Bay."
In her latest column, Stains, Cindy Sheehan (who by way of reminder is running against Nancy "Impeachment is off the table" Pelosi in this year's Congressional election) says:
Our world is saturated with the blood-stains of millions of people who have been victimized by war. Death from war is one-hundred percent preventable and must be truly outlawed as any kind of way to solve problems; just, unjust; legal or illegal. The true criminals reside in places with lofty names like White House, palace and legislature.
Also, don't forget the importance of supporting the Center For Constitutional Rights' efforts on behalf of those who've been imprisoned at Gitmo, and make sure to check out their latest press release, which underscores just how much of an uphill battle we have in getting any justice at all for those who've been victimized by the war on terra.

A declaration of class warfare

U.S Chamber of Commerce president Tom Donohue says, "We will crush the middle and working classes to dust! To those who say 'eat the rich' I say, it's the rich who will eat you."

Chamber of Commerce vows to punish anti-business candidates:
WASHINGTON -- Alarmed at the increasingly populist tone of the 2008 political campaign, the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is set to issue a fiery promise to spend millions of dollars to defeat candidates deemed to be anti-business.

"We plan to build a grass-roots business organization so strong that when it bites you in the butt, you bleed," chamber President Tom Donohue said.

The warning from the nation's largest trade association came against a background of mounting popular concern over the condition of the economy. A weak record of job creation, the sub-prime mortgage crisis, declining home values and other problems have all helped make the economy a major campaign issue.

[snip]

Reacting to what it sees as a potentially hostile political climate, Donohue said, the chamber will seek to punish candidates who target business interests with their rhetoric or policy proposals, including congressional and state-level candidates.

Although Donohue shied away from precise figures, he indicated that his organization would spend in excess of the approximately $60 million it spent in the last presidential cycle. That approaches the spending levels planned by the largest labor unions.

The chamber president is scheduled to announce the broad outlines of the organization's plans for the 2008 election and beyond at a news conference here today. Donohue also plans to fire a rhetorical warning shot across the bow of candidates considered unfriendly to business.

"I'm concerned about anti-corporate and populist rhetoric from candidates for the presidency, members of Congress and the media," he said. "It suggests to us that we have to demonstrate who it is in this society that creates jobs, wealth and benefits -- and who it is that eats them."

In advance of today's news conference, Donohue told The Times of his plans to be active in 140 congressional districts this year, as well as the presidential contest.

At the state level, Donohue said his organization would be active in nearly four dozen contests for attorney general and state supreme courts. Both state courts and attorneys general are involved in decisions affecting business, including consumer protection and a wide range of litigation.

The chamber has become a significant force in state and national politics under Donohue's decade of leadership. Once a notably bipartisan trade association with a limited budget and limited influence, it has hugely increased its political fundraising and developed new ways to spend money on behalf of pro-business candidates.

Under Donohue, the organization has also frequently aligned itself with GOP priorities.
Hat tip to Avedon Carol; my emphasis added.

Two Dem Front-Runners; Two DLC Approved Candidates

Guess who. Yup. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are the anointed ones. That's the same DLC that brought the Democrats into the realm of triangulation and Friedmanesque neoliberalism that has completely fucked so much of the planet.

Avedon Carol sez:
It's so, so painfully ironic to see young people expressing their disgust with the DLC-led Democrats in Washington by backing a candidate who exactly those people are quite happy with.
Trojan Horse indeed.

Apparent War Criminal Charged With Murder

A Fort Carson soldier told Army investigators he and another soldier routinely shot at Iraqi civilians while on patrol in Baghdad, according to court records filed in a Colorado Springs homicide case.

The Army's Criminal Investigation Command is investigating the alleged war crimes.

Pfc. Bruce Bastien Jr., who faces a first-degree murder charge in the December death of Spc. Kevin Shields, told a CIC agent "about potential crimes which occurred in Iraq during these soldiers' deployment there," the records reveal.

Nerdified link

Hat tip to The Try-Works

Friday, January 11, 2008

Dirty hands

Beyond a somewhat half-hearted recommendation from Rep. Jane Harman against the CIA's planned destruction of its torture videotapes, it doesn't really appear as if much of anyone in the Dem. hierarchy actually gave much of a damn. One can easily say that too many of their own party members' hands were dirty as well.

As I noted back in Why Pelosi Took Impeachment off the Table:
For those who would like to keep on believing that torture is merely a GOP thing (and more specifically a Bu$hCo thing), they need to wake up and smell the coffee. There was undoubtedly plenty of bipartisan support for such cruel techniques as waterboarding. If Pelosi ever had a problem with these techniques, she apparently didn't voice it then, when it might have meant something. Same goes for pretty much the rest of the sorry lot that was privy to the same information.

Of course, the Democrats' own tortured history goes back a way. All we need do is travel in time to the early days of the Clinton regime to witness the acceptance and use the practice of extraordinary rendition - including both Bill Clinton and Al Gore (yes, one of the darlings of today's self-styled progressives). Heck, by 1996, the Clinton regime was signing into law limitations on habeas corpus - thus serving as a precedent for last fall's sorry Congressional spectacle in which torture was made the law of the land and habeas corpus was essentially erased altogether. As noted previously, the CIA for numerous decades has been given pretty much carte blanche to research, utilize, and export torture techniques without any objection whatsoever from White House administrations of either party. Congress up to the present time seems perfectly okay with continued funding of one of the US government's notorious vehicles for exporting torture (SOA/WHINSEC) - there was this summer quite the rogue's gallery of Democrats among those voting in favor of continued funding. And on it goes.
Indeed Harman's main concern about the possibility of the CIA destroying its videotaped evidence of torture seems to have much more to do with the keeping up of appearances rather than anything to do with human dignity, which is why I tend to view even her apparent protestations as at best half-hearted.

Impeachment of the perps in the White House, or even a really serious investigation of the gross human rights abuses committed by our government is simply beyond the scope of possibility for the current Congressional leadership. Not only would a lot of GOP skeletons come out of the closet, but since the Dems share the same closet their skeletons would be exposed for all the world to see as well. In the game of keeping up appearances, I suppose it is seen among Beltway apologists (including alleged "progressive" bloggers) that it is better for Pelosi and colleagues to appear spineless than to be exposed as part of the same criminal enterprise. The former allows for the continued delusion that all that is needed is simply larger Dem majorities in order for the necessary "courage" to manifest itself. The latter would be much harder to explain to constituents and would likely be viewed as it should as beyond redemption - which would not bode well in an election year.

Disaster capitalism's early positive reinforcement

For those plotting the overthrow of Allende just as Suharto's program was kicking in, the experiences of Brazil and Indonesia made for a useful study in contrasts. The Brazilians had made little use of the power of shock, waiting years before demonstrating their appetite for brutality. It was a near fatal error, since it gave their opponents the chance to regroup and for some to form left-wing guerrilla armies. Although the junta managed to clear the streets, the rising opposition forced it to slow its economic plans.

Suharto, on the other hand, had shown that if massive repression was used preemptively, the country would go into a kind of shock and resistance could be wiped out before it even took place. His use of terror was so merciless, so far beyond even the worst expectations, that a people who only weeks earlier had been collectively striving to assert their country's independence were now sufficiently terrified that they ceded total control to Suharto and his henchmen. Ralph McGehee, a senior CIA operations manager during the years of the coup, said Indonesia was a "model operation....You can trace back all major, bloody events run from Washington to the way Suharto came to power. The success of that meant that it would be repeated, again and again."
From Naomi Klein's recent book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, page 69 - my emphasis added.

Back to the future

"Lesley Stahl on U.S. sanctions against Iraq: We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that's more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright: I think this is a very hard choice, but the price--we think the price is worth it.

--60 Minutes (5/12/96)"
I'm sure those whose lives were directly affected by that "hard choice" would offer a starkly different opinion about the price that was paid.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Speaker Pelosi's office shows just how much your opinion matters

Not one damn bit:

You read that right - the card was returned to sender REFUSED. That's what you get if you dare to remind these fools that they took an oath of office in which they swore to uphold the Constitution. I suppose, just like the Lush/Zany gang, that document is just another "stupid piece of paper." The front of the card, for those curious:

That's Pelosi's idea of "leadership" for ya: avoid the inconvenient voice of the voters at all costs.

P. T. Barnum was right

NH Voters Thought McCain Opposed the Iraq War?

For those needing a quick refresher - here's a link to that classic P. T. Barnum quote.

40,000 pounds of bombs required to combat a group already declared "defeated"

That bouquet of burnt rotting (mostly civilian) flesh in the rubble? That's the smell of success, baby!

"Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer!"

6. Take over the curriculum, the classroom, and the laboratory: Needless to say, not every student is considered a homeland security threat. Quite the opposite. Many students and faculty members are seen as potential assets. To exploit these assets, the Department of Homeland Security has launched its own curriculum under its Office of University Programs (OUP), intended, it says, to "foster a homeland security culture within the academic community."

The record so far is impressive: DHS has doled out 439 federal fellowships and scholarships since 2003, providing full tuition to students who fit "within the homeland security research enterprise." Two hundred twenty-seven schools now offer degree or certificate programs in "homeland security," a curriculum that encompasses over 1,800 courses. Along with OUP, some of the key players in creating the homeland security classroom are the U.S. Northern Command (Northcom) and the Aerospace Defense Command, co-founders of the Homeland Security and Defense Education Consortium.

OUP has also partnered with researchers and laboratories to "align scientific results with homeland security priorities." In Fiscal Year 2008 alone, $4.9 billion in federal funding will go to homeland security-related research. Grants correspond with 16 research topics selected by DHS, based on presidential directives, legislation, and a smattering of scientific advice.

But wait, there's more: DHS has founded and funded six of its very own "Centers of Excellence," research facilities that span dozens of universities from coast to coast. The latest is a Center of Excellence for the Study of Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism, the funding for which cleared the House in October. The Center is mandated to assist a National Commission in combating those "adopting or promoting an extremist belief system… to advance political, religious or social change."

From Repress U: How to Build a Homeland Security Campus in Seven Steps.

My emphasis added. Not only are the kiddos brainwashed throughout the K-12 years, but they can grow up to become brainwashed adults as our government does its level best to make sure that anything even remotely resembling dissent is removed from the academy. You are free to do what you are told.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Congrats to Goose Gossage

He becomes the 7th relief pitcher to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

I got turned on to baseball back in the 1970s, which was a great decade for pitching. Among starters there were flame throwers such as Nolan Ryan and Steve Carlton. Blyleven was no slouch, come to think of it. The Niekro brothers - especially Phil - proved to be durable players who demonstrated that making a productive late career throwing knuckleballs was quite doable. Then there was Tommy John, who came back from what should have been a career-ending injury in order to put together what were arguably the best seasons of his career, pitching reasonably well even into his mid-40s. Relief pitchers were just beginning to get the respect they deserved. Gossage came into his own in the late 1970s, Bruce Sutter was an ace reliever for the Cubs and Cardinals, and of course Rollie Fingers dominated the game with the Oakland A's and later the San Diego Padres. Those were the years when the 300 career victory and 3,000 strikeouts clubs expanded exponentially, and in which the seeds were planted for a 300 career saves club.

The last couple decades have not been good ones for pitching, although there are some folks who will definitely be Hall of Fame contenders for their longevity and exceptional performances - Randy Johnson comes to mind. Former starter-turned relief ace Dennis Eckersley is in the Hall of Fame already. In other words, it's not that there are no talented pitchers out there, but rather they seem too few and far between and largely ignored in an era dominated by the long ball.

I'm a bit unusual perhaps as baseball fans go - the home runs are okay, but I really prefer a good pitchers' duel. The 1970s and early 1980s were a sort of golden age for pitching, and I wouldn't mind seeing a pitching renaissance - and not just the power pitchers; let's give the cats who throw with finesse or who tame the knuckler their due as well. That might not be the cure-all for ending the steroids era in baseball, but the change in emphasis could certainly help.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Defending your homeland from Homeland "Security"

Brenda Norrell has been on the story for a while regarding the US government's threat to invoke eminent domain in order to build its Great Wall. Her latest:
Apache land owners on the Rio Grande told Homeland Security to halt the seizure of their lands for the US/Mexico border wall on January 7, 2008. It was the same day that a 30-day notice from Homeland Security expired with the threat of land seizures by eminent domain to build the US/Mexico border wall.

"There are two kinds of people in this world, those who build walls and those who build bridges," said Enrique Madrid, Jumano Apache community member, land owner in Redford and archaeological steward for the Texas Historical Commission.

"The wall in South Texas is militarization," Madrid said of the planned escalation of militarization with Border Patrol and soldiers. "They will be armed and shoot to kill."

It was in Redford that a U.S. Marine shot and killed 18-year-old Esequiel Hernandez, herding his sheep near his home in 1997.

"We had hoped he would be the last United States citizen and the last Native American to be killed by troops," Madrid said during a media conference call on January 7 with Apaches from Texas and Arizona.

Dr. Eloisa Garcia Tamez, Lipan Apache professor living in the Lower Rio Grande, described how US officials attempted to pressure her into allowing them onto her private land to survey for the US/Mexico borderwall. When Tamez refused, she was told that she would be taken to court and her lands seized by eminent domain.

"I have told them that it is not for sale and they cannot come onto my land." Tamez is among the land owners where the Department of Homeland Security plans to erect 70 miles of intermittent, double-layered fencing in the Rio Grande Valley.

Tamez said the United States government wants access to all of her land, which is on both sides of a levee. "Then they will decide where to build the wall. It could be over my house." Tamez said that she may only have three acres, but it is all she has.

Tamez' daughter Margo Tamez, poet and scholar, said, "We are not a people of walls. It is against our culture to have walls. The Earth and the River go together. We must be with the river. We must be with this land. We were born for this land."

Margo Tamez said the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples now guarantees the right of Indigenous Peoples to their traditional territories.

Rosie Molano Blount, Chiricahua Apache from Del Río said the Chiricahua Apache have proudly served in the United States military."We are proud to be Americans," Blount said, adding that the Chiricahua have always supported the United States government.

Now, with the increasing harassment of people in the borderzone, Blount said the people have had enough.

"Ya Basta! Enough is enough!" Blount said, repeating the phrase that became the battle cry of the Zapatistas in Mexico struggling for Indigenous Peoples' rights.

Blount said there needs to be dialogue concerning the issues at the border, but not forced militarization or a border wall. She also directed a comment at Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. "Don't come here and divide our families Chertoff. You believe this is the only way to do things."

Michael Paul Hill, San Carlos Apache from Arizona, described how US border agents violated and molested his sacred items, including a sacred stone, Eagle feather and drum used in ceremonies while crossing the border.

"They called me a foreigner." Hill described how Border Agents told him that he might "get away" with crossing the border in Nogales, Arizona, with ceremonial items that were not manhandled, but not in Texas.

After participating in a an Apache ceremony in Mexico, when Hill and other Apaches reentered the United States, a SWAT team in full riot gear was waiting for them and interrogated them.

"It was incredibly frightening," said Margo Tamez who was also there. She pointed out how the escalating militarization at the border is terrorizing people as they go about their lives, working, with their families and in their ceremonies.
Read the rest. All emphasis mine. Tip o' the hat to Madman in the Marketplace.

Bonus - an old Dead Kennedys tune that continues to remain relevant:
"The Great Wall"

Great Wall of China
It's so big it's seen from outer space
Put there to keep starving neighbors
Locked outside the gates

What's changed today?
Empires hoard more than they need
And peasants threaten our comfort

We'll build a Great Wall around our power
Build a Great Wall around our power

Bankrupt L.A.'s streetcar line
So people pay more to drive
Plant strategic freeways
To divide neighborhoods by color lines

We'd rather pay for riot squads
Than pump your ghetto back to life
We let your schools decay on purpose

To build a Great Wall around our power
Another Great Wall around our power

Warlords in grey suits
Take a different route to work each day
Second-hand green berets
Form the companies' private armies.
We'll take all your gold
But won't teach reading or feed your poor
The League of Gentleman
Would rather feed guns to puppet dictators

There's too many people in your world
And refugees are expensive
When they trickled down onto our soil
We hunt them and arrest them
Classify them insane
And put them back on the next plane
To the waiting arms
Of the same death squads they fled

We've built a Great Wall around our power
Economic Great Wall around our power
Worldwide Great Wall around our power

Give us your poor,
Your tired and your weak
We'll send 'em right back
To their certain death

The thing governments most fear

Angry and radicalized citizens taking it to the streets. A commenter at The Oil Drum sez:
Point in fact, there are two reasons that even more farmers did not lose their farms. First, radical action. The corporate ideologues who shape our school system are loathe to point out that the depression radicalized many. Farmers came together and blocked roads to farms up for auction, declared farm holidays (much like bank holidays) where they refused to participate in auctions, and generally threw monkey wrenches in the machinery of the corporation and its banks. The second reason there were not more foreclosures was due to the Frazie-Lemke Farm Bankruptcy Act (1934) which suspended farm foreclosures for five years.
Another commenter adds:
That what gov’s (I know it is in the US) fear the most. Millions of people in the street and radicalized. All the repeals of laws on demostrating, Marshal law changes, etc.
Listen to a lesson learned by the establishment put into words by G. Gordon Liddy in his reply to Timothy Leary.
Leary "...During the Sixties an undeclared civil war took place and the right side won."
"Yeah, my side," says Liddy. "And we're not about to let it happen again."
http://www.joebageant.com/joe/2007/05/ghosts_of_tim_l.html
"We're not about to let it happen again.
THAT'S when the start of the control of all media to a few companies became an objective of the people who Liddy was talking about.
Notice how we in the states NEVER saw on nightly news nearly ANYTHING on demonstrations on BUSH around the world a few years ago.
Radicalized people in the streets are their greatest fear.
Hence the propaganda, the various Patriot Acts, "homegrown terrorism act", shredding of the Bill of Rights, and so on. Once the jig is finally up and an angry homeless formerly middle-class mob begin demanding heads of CEOs on sticks, the powers that be know that they need to create just enough of a barrier between themselves and the rabble. Maybe those Blackwater-operated Hummers with well-armed mercenaries taking potshots will do the trick, at least temporarily. Economic depressions tend to bring out the worst in those with the most to lose - and if I were to bet, I'd be betting on a depression in the future. Unlike the 1930s, there aren't the natural resources or the necessary infrastructure with which to rebuild, hence my dismissal of claims that we're on the verge of a new "progressive era" along the lines of the mythical 1930s-1960s. We may be on the verge of something else, the likes of which are bound to be considerably different from what happened during the mid-20th century. I'm guessing that the concept of sustainability will gain increased currency by the next election cycle and come to dominate political discourse for the foreseeable future with the primary issue being how to balance a sustainable existence within the bounds of our natural resources with the desire for material comforts.

Jim Kunstler sez

A lot of folks need their asses kicked - Hillary, corporate execs, the GOP, etc.

I just can't imagine either Edwards or Obama having the capacity to deliver.

Speaking of fear

Yet again, that fear of a black planet seems to be possessing a number of right-wing commentators.

Be afraid, be very afraid

Yes, it must indeed be an election year.