Saturday, March 1, 2008

Postscript: A series of quotes

Living with the Holocaust by Sara Roy:
Within the Jewish community it has always been considered a form of heresy to compare Israeli actions or policies with those of the Nazis, and certainly one must be very careful in doing so. But what does it mean when Israeli soldiers paint identification numbers on Palestinian arms; when young Palestinian men and boys of a certain age are told through Israeli loudspeakers to gather in the town square; when Israeli soldiers openly admit to shooting Palestinian children for sport; when some of the Palestinian dead must be buried in mass graves while the bodies of others are left in city streets and camp alleyways because the army will not allow proper burial; when certain Israeli officials and Jewish intellectuals publicly call for the destruction of Palestinian villages in retaliation for suicide bombings or for the transfer of the Palestinian population out of the West Bank and Gaza; when 46 percent of the Israeli public favors such transfers and when transfer or expulsion becomes a legitimate part of popular discourse; when government officials speak of the "cleansing of the refugee camps"; and when a leading Israeli intellectual calls for hermetic separation between Israelis and Palestinians in the form of a Berlin Wall, caring not whether the Palestinians on the other side of the wall may starve to death as a result.
J.A.G., the Jerusalem Post & Kalandia

Members of a group called Jews Against Genocide (JAG) claimed responsibility for defacing the newly erected sign to the Kalandiya terminal checkpoint north of Jerusalem, daubing on it the infamous Auschwitz inscription “Arbeit macht frei” (Work liberates).

Shlomo Bloom, one of the founding members of the organization, said the action was not to say that Kalandiya is equivalent to Auschwitz but to accentuate the frightening similarities between the two. “Kalandiya is not a cheerful place for Palestinians,” he told The Jerusalem Post . “There are disturbing parallels between the tactics used by the occupying forces and those of the Nazis,” he said. The sign, decorated with a painted flower and inscribed in Arabic, English and Hebrew with the slogan “The hope of us all,” is one of many being erected at checkpoints, security officials said.

But Bloom views the move as a degrading and humiliating message for the Palestinians. “If we were talking about a sovereign Palestinian state with a border checkpoint between it and Israel, it would be a different matter,” said Bloom.

swearing substituting for a rational argument:

That Israel's American supporters so often resort to angry outbursts rather than principled arguments -- and seem to find emotional blackmail more effective than genuine debate -- is ultimately a sign of their weakness rather than their strength. For all the damage it can do in the short term, in the long run such a position is untenable, too dependent on emotion and cliché rather than hard facts. The phenomenal success of Carter's book suggests that more and more Americans are learning to ignore the scare tactics that are the only tools available to Israel's supporters.

Saree Makdisi, professor of English and Comparative Literature at UCLA and a frequent commentator on the Middle East.

Norman Finkelstein sez:
Yet, it is an incontestable fact that Israel has committed a broad range of human rights violations, many rising to the level of war crimes and crimes against humanity. These include:

Illegal Killings. Whereas Palestinian suicide attacks targeting Israeli civilians have garnered much media attention, Israel's quantitatively worse record of killing non-combatants is less well known. According to the most recent figures of the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories (B'Tselem), 3,386 Palestinians have been killed since September 2000, of whom 1,008 were identified as combatants, as opposed to 992 Israelis killed, of whom 309 were combatants. This means that three times more Palestinians than Israelis have been killed and up to three times more Palestinian civilians than Israeli civilians. Israel's defenders maintain that there's a difference between targeting civilians and inadvertently killing them. B'Tselem disputes this: "[W]hen so many civilians have been killed and wounded, the lack of intent makes no difference. Israel remains responsible." Furthermore, Amnesty International reports that "many" Palestinians have not been accidentally killed but "deliberately targeted," while the award-winning New York Times journalist Chris Hedges reports that Israeli soldiers "entice children like mice into a trap and murder them for sport."

Torture. "From 1967," Amnesty reports, "the Israeli security services have routinely tortured Palestinian political suspects in the Occupied Territories." B'Tselem found that eighty-five percent of Palestinians interrogated by Israeli security services were subjected to "methods constituting torture," while already a decade ago Human Rights Watch estimated that "the number of Palestinians tortured or severely ill-treated" was "in the tens of thousands - a number that becomes especially significant when it is remembered that the universe of adult and adolescent male Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza is under three-quarters of one million." In 1987 Israel became "the only country in the world to have effectively legalized torture" (Amnesty). Although the Israeli Supreme Court seemed to ban torture in a 1999 decision, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel reported in 2003 that Israeli security forces continued to apply torture in a "methodical and routine" fashion. A 2001 B'Tselem study documented that Israeli security forces often applied "severe torture" to "Palestinian minors."

House demolitions. "Israel has implemented a policy of mass demolition of Palestinian houses in the Occupied Territories," B'Tselem reports, and since September 2000 "has destroyed some 4,170 Palestinian homes." Until just recently Israel routinely resorted to house demolitions as a form of collective punishment. According to Middle East Watch, apart from Israel, the only other country in the world that used such a draconian punishment was Iraq under Saddam Hussein. In addition, Israel has demolished thousands of "illegal" homes that Palestinians built because of Israel's refusal to provide building permits. The motive behind destroying these homes, according to Amnesty, has been to maximize the area available for Jewish settlers: "Palestinians are targeted for no other reason than they are Palestinians." Finally, Israel has destroyed hundred of homes on security pretexts, yet a Human Rights Watch report on Gaza found that "the pattern of destruction…strongly suggests that Israeli forces demolished homes wholesale, regardless of whether they posed a specific threat." Amnesty likewise found that "Israel's extensive destruction of homes and properties throughout the West Bank and Gaza…is not justified by military necessity," and that "Some of these acts of destruction amount to grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention and are war crimes."

Apart from the sheer magnitude of its human rights violations, the uniqueness of Israeli policies merits notice. "Israel has created in the Occupied Territories a regime of separation based on discrimination, applying two separate systems of law in the same area and basing the rights of individuals on their nationality," B'Tselem has concluded. "This regime is the only one of its kind in the world, and is reminiscent of distasteful regimes from the past, such as the apartheid regime in South Africa." If singling out South Africa for an international economic boycott was defensible, it would seem equally defensible to single out Israel's occupation, which uniquely resembles the apartheid regime.
From the newspaper Haaretz:
Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai went as far as threatening a "shoah,"
the Hebrew word for holocaust or disaster. The word is generally used to refer to the Nazi Holocaust, but a spokesman for Vilnai said the deputy defense minister used the word in the sense of "disaster," saying "he did not mean to make any allusion to the genocide."

"The more Qassam fire intensifies and the rockets reach a longer range, [the Palestinians] will bring upon themselves a bigger shoah because we will use all our might to defend ourselves," Vilnai told Army Radio on Friday.

Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri said of Vilnai's comments: "We are facing new Nazis who want to kill and burn the Palestinian people."
From a photography website:

Christopher Anderson PALESTINE. 2007. Palestinian day workers crowd into the corral that leads to the checkpoint to Jerusalem. [The] line starts at around 4:45 am every day as the ordeal can often take around 2 hours.
Israel army forces violin recital:
A Palestinian man queuing to pass an Israeli checkpoint was forced by soldiers to perform an impromptu violin recital, a human rights group says.

The group's footage of the incident shows the man playing to an audience of border guards and waiting Palestinians.

[snip]

Film footage of the checkpoint violin recital was shot on 9 November by Horit Herman Peled, a volunteer with women's human rights group, Machsom Watch, which monitors the conduct of Israeli troops.

Ms Herman Peled told the Associated Press news agency the Palestinian man complied with the soldiers' demand to play his instrument because "he just wanted to get through the roadblock".

Some of the soldiers were laughing during the performance, which lasted for about two minutes, she said.

Her footage shows a soldier checking the man's documents as he plays the violin, while a queue of Palestinians waits behind him.
Of course the aforementioned violin recital got a few Israelis to ask what the neighbors might think:
Of all the revelations that have rocked the Israeli army over the past week, perhaps none disturbed the public so much as the video footage of soldiers forcing a Palestinian man to play his violin.

The incident was not as shocking as the recording of an Israeli officer pumping the body of a 13-year-old girl full of bullets and then saying he would have shot her even if she had been three years old.

Nor was it as nauseating as the pictures in an Israeli newspaper of ultra-orthodox soldiers mocking Palestinian corpses by impaling a man's head on a pole and sticking a cigarette in his mouth.

But the matter of the violin touched on something deeper about the way Israelis see themselves, and their conflict with the Palestinians.

The violinist, Wissam Tayem, was on his way to a music lesson near Nablus when he said an Israeli officer ordered him to "play something sad" while soldiers made fun of him. After several minutes, he was told he could pass.

It may be that the soldiers wanted Mr Tayem to prove he was indeed a musician walking to a lesson because, as a man under 30, he would not normally have been permitted through the checkpoint.

But after the incident was videotaped by Jewish women peace activists, it prompted revulsion among Israelis not normally perturbed about the treatment of Arabs.

The rightwing Army Radio commentator Uri Orbach found the incident disturbingly reminiscent of Jewish musicians forced to provide background music to mass murder. "What about Majdanek?" he asked, referring to the Nazi extermination camp.

The critics were not drawing a parallel between an Israeli roadblock and a Nazi camp. Their concern was that Jewish suffering had been diminished by the humiliation of Mr Tayem.

Yoram Kaniuk, author of a book about a Jewish violinist forced to play for a concentration camp commander, wrote in Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper that the soldiers responsible should be put on trial "not for abusing Arabs but for disgracing the Holocaust".

"Of all the terrible things done at the roadblocks, this story is one which negates the very possibility of the existence of Israel as a Jewish state. If [the military] does not put these soldiers on trial we will have no moral right to speak of ourselves as a state that rose from the Holocaust," he wrote.

"If we allow Jewish soldiers to put an Arab violinist at a roadblock and laugh at him, we have succeeded in arriving at the lowest moral point possible. Our entire existence in this Arab region was justified, and is still justified, by our suffering; by Jewish violinists in the camps."

The eighth stage of genocide: denial

From The Guardian:
An Israeli minister today warned of increasingly bitter conflict in the Gaza Strip, saying the Palestinians could bring on themselves what he called a "holocaust".
From Genocide Watch:
They deny that they committed any crimes, and often blame what happened on the victims.
h/t IOZ.

See also: Israeli minister threatens Palestinians with a "Holocaust

Friday, February 29, 2008

RIP: Buddy Miles

Drummer Buddy Miles is dead. A quick note from Left I:

Buddy Miles, who drummed with Jimi Hendrix, the Electric Flag, and others, has died. In his honor, have a listen to the Electric Flag's song, "Another Country," with lyrics starting:
If I could lose
All my troubles
By running away
No, no I wouldn't stay
No I wouldn't
...
Find yourself another country.
No doubt we all feel that way sometimes, whether it be personal troubles or the troubles of the world. Keeping up the fight, sometimes in the face of very long odds indeed, is a difficult proposition.
And, if you haven't had enough Buddy Miles and the Electric Flag, here's an earlier post of their hit, "Killing Floor."
Tonight I'll be playing Doriella Du Fontaine (an early rap tune in which Buddy Miles and Jimi Hendrix performed the instrumental backing for one of the Last Poets members, Jalal Mansur Nuriddin, who was then going by Lightnin' Rod) on my radio show in his honor.

Well, that's a chunk of change

See The Three Trillion Dollar War:
Thanks to Kat for bringing an interview at Democracy Now to my attention - one with Nobel laureate and former chief World Bank economist, Joseph Stiglitz, and Professor of public finance at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, Linda Bilmes. They say that the true cost of the Iraqi war and occupation is now somewhere in excess of $3 trillion - and that the Bush administration are keeping a second set of books to hide this from the American people.
what they claim as the cost of the Iraq war in the budget is not the full cost. There are the operational costs that everybody understands, but then there are costs hidden elsewhere in the defense budget. But then there are really some very big costs hidden elsewhere, like contractors that have been the subject of such concern. We pay their insurance through the Labor Department.

But the most important cost, budgetary cost, that we haven’t talked about publicly, that haven’t been talked about, are the costs of veterans—their disability, veterans’ healthcare—that will total hundreds of billions of dollars over the next decades.

[snip]

There are a whole set of macroeconomic costs, which have depressed the economy. What’s happened is, to offset those costs, the Federal Reserve has flooded the economy with liquidity, looked the other way when you needed tighter regulation, and that’s what led to the housing bubble, the consumption boom. And we were living off of borrowed money. The war was totally financed by deficits. And eventually, a day of reckoning had to come, and now it’s come.
Go read the whole thing.
My emphasis added.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

We're still number one!

1 in 100 U.S. Adults Behind Bars, New Study Says:
For the first time in the nation’s history, more than one in 100 American adults is behind bars, according to a new report.

Nationwide, the prison population grew by 25,000 last year, bringing it to almost 1.6 million. Another 723,000 people are in local jails. The number of American adults is about 230 million, meaning that one in every 99.1 adults is behind bars.
To put it in some perspective:
The United States imprisons more people than any other nation in the world. China is second, with 1.5 million people behind bars. The gap is even wider in percentage terms.
Germany imprisons 93 out of every 100,000 people, according to the International Center for Prison Studies at King's College in London. The comparable number for the United States is roughly eight times that, or 750 out of 100,000.
Urahn said the nation could not afford the incarceration rate documented in the report.
"We tend to be a country in which incarceration is an easy response to crime," she said. "Being tough on crime is an easy position to take, particularly if you have the money. And we did have the money in the '80s and '90s."
Now, with fewer resources available, the report said, "prison costs are blowing a hole in state budgets."
On average, states spend almost 7 percent of their budgets on corrections, trailing only health care, education and transportation.
In 2007, according to the National Association of State Budget Officers, states spent $44 billion in tax dollars on corrections. That is up from $10.6 billion in 1987, a 127 percent increase when adjusted for inflation. With money from bonds and the federal government included, total state spending on corrections last year was $49 billion. By 2011, the Pew report said, states are on track to spend an additional $25 billion.
It cost an average of $23,876 dollars to imprison someone in 2005, the most recent year for which data were available. But state spending varies widely, from $45,000 a year in Rhode Island to $13,000 in Louisiana.
"Getting tough on crime has gotten tough on taxpayers," said Adam Gelb, the director of the public safety performance project at the Pew center. "They don't want to spend $23,000 on a prison cell for a minor violation any more than they want a bridge to nowhere."
Just a couple years ago, that figure was 1 out of every 136 US residents behind bars. To think that relatively speaking, those can now be called "the good old days." This, my friends, is the much ballyhooed "land of the free." When more than one in one hundred Americans is in prison, it's pretty safe to say that the "land of the free" is little more than a slogan bereft of meaning. Might as well string together a set of nonsense syllables. By contrast, Venezuela has the lowest incarceration rate in the Americas.

Of course we've been "number one" in incarceration rate for a while now. The US is essentially a gulag nation. We'd been heading in that direction for all of my adult lifetime (in other words, roughly a quarter century), as part of a "get tough on crime" kick that began during the early days of the Raygun era. As I noted a couple years ago while discussing Chris Floyd's essay Gates of Eden: A Nation in Chains:
Floyd goes on to note how the whole Prison Industrial Complex has evolved since the Nixon years, in the process making it crystal clear that both major parties have been involved in its development at the expense of its citizens and residents, as well as to the detriment of what the Constitution was supposed to stand for. It's pretty difficult to crow about how "free" and "democratic" our nation is when our government is so intent upon imprisoning its own people at a rate that would have made Stalin envious.

Floyd's conclusion is worth chewing on as well, given the current xenophobic wave of anti-immigrant hysteria that seems to have engulfed the nation:
Like the war on drugs, the equally ill-conceived war on immigrants will be directed at the poorest and most vulnerable, not the "coyote" gangs who profit from this human trafficking – and certainly not the American businesses and wealthy Homelanders who love the dirt-cheap labor of the illegals. Those for-profit prisons will soon be filled to bursting with this new harvest.

A nation's true values can be measured in how it treats the poor, the weak, the damaged, the unconnected. For more than 30 years, the answer of the American power structure has been clear: you lock them up, you shut them up, you grind them down – and make big bucks in the process.
When I was a young activist way back when, I recall the US ranking just behind the Soviet Union (which has since collapsed) and South Africa's Apartheid regime (which has thankfully been replaced). Our GOP types were demanding policies that would only swell the ranks of the imprisoned, and the Democrats seemed eager to go along (either to appear "tough on crime" or because they themselves were hostile to the very notion of a free society). Really, the only folks who seemed to have voiced a serious concern about the modern day police state that we've witnessed during this generation were the various leftists (whether Green, socialist, etc.), libertarians (and there is a good deal of variety among libertarians ranging from the LP to anarchist), and those activists on the front lines of the various civil rights and human rights struggles.

For those with a pop culture interest, we'll simply note that the punks and rappers of the 1980s and early 1990s were the harbingers of what we see before us today. Check out old Dead Kennedys tunes like "California Uber Alles" (later updated as "We've Got a Bigger Problem Now" at the dawn of the age of Raygun, and later covered and modified by Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy) and "Saturday Night Massacre"; or the anger expressed by those most targeted in such tunes as NWA's "Fuck tha Police" or Ice-T's "Cop Killer".

If I were to have any advice for aspiring immigrants to the US, I would say it is best to ditch the whole "land of the free" or "land of opportunity" nonsense. The ugly reality is one of fatcats whose bank accounts swell as the prison population increases and of in-bred KKK wannabes acting as mercenary border patrols. That's certainly not a politically correct thing to note, but it's difficult to deny. At this point, the US is a financial and military powerhouse and little else. I don't see that changing much regardless of which of the two major parties is in charge of the White House or Congress.
I think it bears repeating that back around the mid to late 1980s, there were a few of us around who were outraged that the US was in the same league as the Soviet Union and the Apartheid regime in terms of the proportion of human beings imprisoned - in fact during the Raygun era, those were the only two regimes who imprisoned a greater proportion of their populations. A large part of the problem was, and still is, the "war on drugs."

Once more, I'd admonish my partisan Democrat friends to not get too giddy about possible Democrat party domination in DC, as the Clintonistas were - if anything - overzealous when it came to expanding the current prison-industrial complex. Once more, I'd suggest a serious perusal of some alternatives to the Democrats (the Greens, for example). Once more, I expect such advice to fall on deaf ears. Going back to Chris Floyd's essay referenced earlier, perhaps we can say that the American Zeitgeist (or at least that of the nation's ruling classes) has been all too receptive to more and more prisons and imprisoned:
Earlier this month, the International Centre for Prison Studies at King's College London released its annual World Prison Population List. And there, standing proudly at the head of the line, towering far above all others, is that shining city on the hill, the United States of America. But strangely enough, the Bush gang and its many media sycophants failed to celebrate – or even note – yet another instance where a triumphant America leads the world. Where are the cheering hordes shouting "USA! USA!" at the news that the land of the free imprisons more people than any other country in the world – both in raw numbers and as a percentage of its population?

Yes, the world's greatest democracy now has more than two million of its citizens locked up in iron cages: an incarceration rate of 714 per 100,000 of the national population, the Centre reports. The only countries within shouting distance are such bastions of penological enlightenment as China (1.55 million prisoners, plus some unsorted "administrative detainees"), Russia (a wimpy 763,000) and Brazil (330,000), whose exemplary prison management has been on such prominent display this week.

Inside the Homeland, the state of Texas sets the pace, as you might imagine. During George W. Bush's tenure there as governor in the 1990s, Texas had the fastest growing prison population in the country, almost doubling the national rate, as the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice reports. In fact, by the time Dubya was translated to glory by Daddy's buddies on the Supreme Court, one out of every 20 adult Texans were "either in prison, jail, on probation or parole," the CJCJ notes; a level of "judicial control" that reached to one in three for African-American males. George also killed more convicts than any other governor in modern U.S. history as well – a nice warm-up for the valorous feats of mass slaughter yet to come.

But although the U.S. prison population has soared to record-breaking heights during George W. Bush's presidency, America's status as the most punitive nation on earth is by no means solely his doing. Bush is merely standing on the shoulders of giants – such as, say, Bill Clinton, who once created 50 brand-new federal offenses in a single draconian measure, and expanded the federal death penalty to 60 new offenses during his term. In fact, like the great cathedrals of old, the building of Fortress America has been the work of decades, with an entire society yoked to the common task. At each step, the promulgation of ever-more draconian punishments for ever-lesser offenses, and the criminalization of ever-broader swathes of ordinary human behavior, have been greeted with hosannahs from a public and press who seem to be insatiable gluttons for punishment – someone else's punishment, that is, and preferably someone of dusky hue.
My emphasis added.

More Abu Ghraib Photos Surface

If you go to Wired's website, you'll find some previously unissued Abu Ghraib photos taken from a recent talk that Phil Zimbardo gave. The pictures are as disturbing as the others that have been made public.

Something I wrote about three years ago:
Recently, I've begun reading a couple books on torture that are a bit unique. Most of the research on torture has looked at the victims of such violence. These books differ in that they offer case studies of the perpetrators of torture. Violence Workers, by Martha Huggins, Mika Haritos-Fatouros, and Philip Zimbardo (2002) examines Brazilian police torturers and murderers; The Psychological Origins of Institutionalized Torture, by Mika Haritos-Fatouros (2003) is a systematic case study of those who carried out torture during the Greek military dictatorship of the late 1960s-early 1970s. What these researchers are doing is to build upon some of the experimental work conducted by folks like Stanley Milgram & Philip Zimbardo back in the 1960s and early 1970s, and the theoretical work of folks like Hannah Arendt. In the process they put a human face on a very inhumane practice. One of the features of both of these books is the inclusion of a few photos of some of the torture as it occurred and some of the sites of the abuse. Those, along with the extensive stories, help to shed some light regarding what causes people to perpetrate such acts along with the long-term psychological effects on both the perpetrator and the victim. I won't say a whole lot about the books just yet as I am still in the process of reading and absorbing them, but a few things do stand out for me. Most notably, both case studies help to put to rest the myth that torturers are psychopathic monsters. If anything, potential torturers are strikingly average, and from Haritos-Fatouros' work it appears that there is typically an effort by the governments sponsoring torture to screen out people who are psychologically disturbed. We also learn a good deal about how potential torturers are trained, and just how extensive the training is. It turns out that there has to be rather strong institutional support for torture in order for it to occur as a general rule of thumb. Finally, both books lay out a tentative theory of torture that owes a great deal to the social learning theoretical approach (an approach I happen to find reasonably useful).

Typically, as Haritos-Fatouros (2003) notes, there are a number of ways that governments and their respective societies can react to the news that their state police or military personnel are engaging in torture. One is denial. The release of the first set of pictures last year makes denial a moot point. It's obvious it did occur. Another approach is to minimize the torture, by simply villifying and punishing the supposed "few bad apples" who typically are the low men and women on the totem pole. Both of those approaches are certainly self-serving for the government, which would prefer to keep its current policies in practice. My take on the Abu Ghraib photos, then, is one of illumination. I see their release to the public as a means of shedding some light into what is going on in our US run prisons in Iraq (and perhaps elsewhere). By knowing what has happened, and learning how and why it happened, we have some hope in preventing future acts of torture.
From about two years ago, coinciding with the release of what were then some new Abu Ghraib photos:
... I note that the so-called "bad apple theory" is inadequate as an explanation for the abuses perpetrated at Abu Ghraib (and also Guantánamo Bay & Baghram). In fact, I've tried to note periodically news articles depicting the widespread practice of torture against not only adults but kids at Abu Ghraib. Rather, there are some strong situational factors that serve to foster widespread practice of torture:
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 the very excellent Guantánamo: What the World Should Know [Ratner & Ray, 2004] for more detail).
Of course there is much more to the story than that. In a post a few weeks ago, I mentioned some of the distal causative factors involved in producing torturers: cultural norms favoring violence, as well as pervasive media violence and propaganda. Those factors certainly seem present in social and cultural Zeitgeist of our torturers, just as they were for the Greek and Brazilian torturers that Haritos-Fatouros and Huggins have studied.
Or, as Zimbardo might say - it's not the apples that are rotten, it's the barrel that's rotten.

Today's edition of "Theatre of the Absurd"

Those Homeland Insecurity folks are desperate to justify their existence. Check this out:
More that 900,000 people are currently listed as suspected terrorists on the US government's "do not fly" list, and that number will grow to beyond 1 million by summer, says the American Civil Liberties Union.

"If there were a million terrorists in this country, our cities would be in ruins," Barry Steinhardt, director of the ACLU's Technology and Liberty Program, stated in a press release from the group. "The absurd bloating of the terrorist watch lists is yet another example of how incompetence by our security apparatus threatens our rights without offering any real security."

The ACLU has launched a new Web site to track the growth of the watch list, which it says includes thousands of innocent Americans, including prominent politicians and authors as well as people with common names.

If you check the ACLU's site, they've got a sample of some of the names that have landed on those lovely watch lists. Apparently, if you were named after the late bluesman Robert Johnson, you might have to put up with hours of interrogation each time you go to an airport. Apparently, you don't want to be named Gary Smith or John Williams. The wife of Republican Senator Ted Stevens is named Catherine ("Cat") Stevens, and apparently she's also on a terrorist watch list - she looks nothing like the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens though (nor could I vouch for her singing or songwriting skills).

This is just plain nutty. Is terrorism the most pressing issue facing humanity? Hardly, as this post from Left I (circa fall 2003) reminds us:

Here are some random facts I scrounged from the web. This is a table I would love to see someone with more time and expertise expand on, in order to paint a fuller picture, but here's my start:

I'm much more at risk of being killed crossing the streets of a university town than I am of being killed by terrorists. That should help put things in perspective just a bit. Quit being afraid of the wrong things. I'll tell you something that I have been saying over and over again since about mid-September 2001 - I am not afraid of terrorism. Jim at World Report goes further:

You could simply refuse to be terrorized. Send this to your elected officials:

I am not afraid of terrorism, and I want you to stop being afraid on my behalf. Please start scaling back the official government war on terror. Please replace it with a smaller, more focused anti-terrorist police effort in keeping with the rule of law. Please stop overreacting. I understand that it will not be possible to stop all terrorist acts. I accept that. I am not afraid.
Food for thought.

At least Congress has its priorities straight

I'll give 'em that. After all, asking the Justice Department to investigate allegations of Roger Clemens' steroid use are clearly much more important than any of the myriad of crimes committed by the current White House occupants. Just when I thought Congress was completely useless. Now I can go to sleep secure with the knowledge that our Congress critters are keeping us safe from washed up baseball players.

Why being ahistorical sucks

You get treated to a variety of inane pronouncements - some of which are presented over at Liberal Street Fighter.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Chaos in Iraq? No problem as long as those profit margins go up, up, up!

This is a theme that needs to be repeated as often as possible, in the faint hope that enough folks get it. Your government does not care about how many people are killed and maimed in Iraq. Your government does not care if the infrastructure in Iraq ever gets rebuilt, or if there is some form of "democracy". If anything, there's good reason to believe that any form of genuine democracy is the very last thing your government would want (if the CPA's response to municipal elections back in 2003 is any indication). All that matters is the bottom line:
As the British government's top advisor revealed this week in a remarkably candid interview with the Observer, Western business leaders don't care how many Iraqis die -- or who kills them -- just as long as their own profits can be guaranteed. It is the oil law -- not civil war, sectarian strife, or the cynical U.S. "surge" policy of arming all sides to guarantee continuing conflict -- that is holding up Western investment.

That's the word from Michael Wareing, chief executive of the multinational consultancy firm KPMG. Prime Minister Gordon Brown has put Wareing in charge of the Basra Development Commission, the Big Business quango tasked with developing southern Iraq -- where British forces once held sway, but now hide away in a remote enclave while Shiite militias and criminal gangs battle for control of the lucrative region.

Wareing told the paper that security in the area "was no longer an issue for investors." After all, he said, you will often find a spot of bother amongst the dusky peoples who have unaccountably found themselves living on top of America and Britain's oil:
"If you look at many other economies in the world, particularly the oil-rich economies, many of these places are quite challenging places in which to do business," he said. "Frankly, if you can successfully operate in the Niger Delta, that is a very different benchmark from imagining that Basra needs to be like London or Paris."
Indeed. You don't have to bring the savages up to the level of white folks in order to get in there and grab their oil. (And certainly not to the level of London or Paris! The very idea!) Again, Wareing is quite frank on this point:
Iraq's parliament has yet to pass a hydrocarbon law setting out the terms oil companies will operate on and how profits will be split. "My sense is that many of the oil companies are very eager to come in now, and actually what they're waiting for is the hydrocarbon law to be passed and various projects to be signed off. That is what is causing them to pause, rather than the security position," he said.
And as Chris Floyd warned a last year (in what he refers as a mashup of previous articles spanning several years on the topic):
In a world of dwindling petroleum resources, those who control large reserves of cheaply-produced oil will reap unimaginable profits – and command the heights of the global economy. It's not just about profit, of course; control of such resources would offer tremendous strategic advantages to anyone who was interested in "full spectrum domination" of world affairs, which the Bush-Cheney faction and their outriders among the neocons and the "national greatness" fanatics have openly sought for years. With its twin engines of corporate greed and military empire, the war in Iraq is a marriage made in Valhalla.

And this unholy union is what Bush is really talking about when he talks about "victory." This is the reason for so much of the drift and dithering and chaos and incompetence of the occupation: Bush and his cohorts don't really care what happens on the ground in Iraq – they care about what comes out of the ground. The end – profit and dominion – justifies any means. What happens to the human beings caught up in the war is of no ultimate importance; the game is worth any number of broken candles.

And in plain point of fact, the Bush-Cheney faction – and the elite interests they represent – has already won the war in Iraq...They've won even if Iraq collapses into perpetual anarchy, or becomes an extremist religious state; they've won even if the whole region goes up in flames, and terrorism flares to unprecedented heights – because this will just mean more war-profiteering, more fear-profiteering. And yes, they've won even if they lose their majority [in November 2006] or the presidency in 2008, because war and fear will still fill their coffers, buying them continuing influence and power as they bide their time through another interregnum of a Democratic "centrist" – who will, at best, only nibble at the edges of the militarist state – until they are back in the saddle again. The only way they can lose the Iraq War is if they are actually arrested and imprisoned for their war crimes. And you know and I know that's not going to happen.

So Bush's confident strut, his incessant upbeat pronouncements about the war, his complacent smirks, his callous indifference to the unspeakable horror he has unleashed in Iraq – these are not the hallmarks of self-delusion, or willful ignorance, or a disassociation from reality. He and his accomplices know full well what the reality is – and they like it.
The reality looks great to Bu$hCo and cronies. The carnage they've left behind will likely not touch them. Yeah, there will be the occasional spectacle of one of them being shepherded off to an awaiting helicopter to avoid the gendarmes in some European country that's issued an arrest warrant. The war criminals tend to get away with it except under very extraordinary circumstances. It would take a catastrophe of epic proportions - some sort of spectacular and sudden economic and military collapse - and some outside force or forces imposing some form of justice against the Bush/Cheney gang (including their CEO buddies) to do the trick. I wouldn't rule that scenario out. I just wouldn't bet the ranch on it either. Under what we will consider "normal" circumstances, there is every reason to believe that any sort of internal solution, such as impeachment, will never even be attempted. The odds are quite favorable that the Bush/Cheney gang will be dead or practically dead before any sort of criminal proceedings even threaten to touch them, if ever. In the meantime, they can live secure in their luxuriously appointed compounds while the world goes to hell in a handbasket.

No matter what slogans your politicians utter during this year's election campaign silliness, there will be no "change" from the status quo. More and "better" Democrats in Congress will be meaningless. A Democrat in the White House? Yeah, there might be a dime's worth of difference between, say Obama or Clinton II and McCain; but a dime ain't worth much. I really don't care who you wish to support at this point. If it's one of the figureheads from the two corporate parties, I'll put it bluntly: I don't want to know. These clowns won't change anything, because deep down they really do not want to. What "change" actually occurred after November 2006? Got an answer for me? I didn't think so.

Monday, February 25, 2008

A brief moment of sanity followed by more insanity

Apparently, one of Oklahoma's esteemed US Senators, Tom Coburn, managed to say something suggesting he'd stopped drinking the Kool-Aid:
"I will tell you personally that I think it was probably a mistake going to Iraq."
A little late to the party, but better late than never, right?

Not so fast.

Coburn's apparent epiphany is alas short-lived. While has transitioned from the usual Bushista happy talk (e.g., about what a great idea it was, how Iraq was on the verge of becoming a veritable 21st century democratic paradise, etc.), regrettably, his transition appears to be along the lines of "we broke it, we bought it":
Last weekend, Coburn said "we are on a glide path in the Muslim world" to creating a sustainable democracy and warned that withdrawing would "expose 570,000 people to genocide."

"How we got there is (the) past," he said.
In other words, "Our bad. So what. Things will be even more fucked up if we leave." How the US government got there is not to be dismissed, as an enormous propaganda campaign replete with shameless lies was a primary means of persuading not only fellow elites from around the globe, but our own populace that such a conflict was necessary. That said, it would be useful to clear up a misconception that Coburn seems to have about a US military presence in Iraq "preventing" genocide there. Quite the contrary, there is ample reason to believe that the US invasion, and for all intents and purposes colonization of Iraq has caused genocide, rather than prevented it. Once one gets past the million-plus death toll, there is also the matter of urbicide, mass displacement of Iraqis (some as exiles, many trapped in refugee camps or in a state of homelessness in what was once their own country), and even the wholesale elimination of once-thriving cultures unique to Iraq to consider.

In discussing the nature of the US occupation of Iraq, I tend to prefer Rafael Lemkin's definition of genocide:
By "genocide" we mean the destruction of a nation or of an ethnic group. This new word, coined by the author to denote an old practice in its modern development, is made from the ancient Greek word genos (race, tribe) and the Latin cide (killing), thus corresponding in its formation to such words as tyrannicide, homocide, infanticide, etc.(1) Generally speaking, genocide does not necessarily mean the immediate destruction of a nation, except when accomplished by mass killings of all members of a nation. It is intended rather to signify a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves. The objectives of such a plan would be disintegration of the political and social institutions, of culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence of national groups, and the destruction of the personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and even the lives of the individuals belonging to such groups. Genocide is directed against the national group as an entity, and the actions involved are directed against individuals, not in their individual capacity, but as members of the national group.

[snip]

Genocide has two phases: one, destruction of the national pattern of the oppressed group; the other, the imposition of the national pattern of the oppressor. This imposition, in turn, may be made upon the oppressed population which is allowed to remain or upon the territory alone, after removal of the population and the colonization by the oppressor's own nationals.
In other words, whole patterns of existence are destroyed. That, of course, is precisely what has happened and continues to happen in Iraq since at least 2003 (more properly I'd place the beginning in early 1991, as Bush 1 and Clinton certainly exacted their own damage against Iraqi civilians via air raids and economic blockades). Central to any discussion of genocide is the concept of social death - a concept derived from Orlando Patterson's research, as Claudia Card notes in the following passage:
Specific to genocide is the harm inflicted on its victims' social vitality. It is not just that one's group membership is the occasion for harms that are definable independently of one's identity as a member of the group. When a group with its own cultural identity is destroyed, its survivors lose their cultural heritage and may even lose their intergenerational connections. To use Orlando Patterson's terminology, in that event, they may become "socially dead" and their descendants "natally alienated," no longer able to pass along and build upon traditions, cultural developments (including languages) and projects of earlier generations (1982, 5-9). The harm of social death is not necessarily less extreme than that of physical death. Social death can even aggravate physical death by making it indecent, removing all respectful and caring ritual, social connections, and social contexts that are capable of making dying bearable and even of making one's death meaningful. In my view, the special evil in genocide lies in its infliction not just of physical death (when it does that) but of social death, producing a consequent meaninglessness of one's life and even of its termination.
Again, when we consider not only the physical decimation of the nation's infrastructure, but also the ensuing displacement occurring as a consequence, it becomes pretty obvious that some sort of social death is being perpetrated that is no less startling than the sheer number of physical deaths. Regrettably, far too little is mentioned of the plight of the Mandaeans, an indigenous Gnostic people who existed in Iraq for a couple millennia prior to the March 2003 invasion. Since 2003, almost the entirety of the Mandaean population has been displaced, primarily in exile, and probably doomed to extinction as a culture as traditional social patterns are proving difficult if not impossible to maintain as part of the Iraqi diaspora. We could also look at the looting of artifacts dating back to Mesopotamia as yet another perpetration of social death. Back about four years ago I noted:
...the artifacts of an ancient civilization are not merely showpieces but a critical part of the history of humanity. They are data points that help us to understand ourselves. They also are most vulnerable to loss and destruction during times of war and chaos.

To put the loss of our collective intellectual data in perspective, here's a few excerpts from Carl Sagan's book, Cosmos:
The glory of the Alexandrian Library is but a dim memory. Its last remnants were destroyed soon after Hypatia's death. It as if the entire civilization had undergone some self-inflicted brain surgery, and most of its memories, discoveries, ideas and passions were extinguished irrevocably. The loss was incalculable. In some cases, we know only the tantalizing titles of works that were destroyed. In most cases, we know neither the titles nor the authors. We do know that of the 123 plays of Sophocles in the Library, only seven survived. One of those seven is Oedipus Rex. Similar numbers apply to the works of Aeschylus and Euripides. It is a little as if the only surviving works of a man named William Shakespeare were Coriolanus and A Winter's Tale, but we had heard that he had written certain other plays, unknown to us but apparently prized in his time, works entitled Hamlet, Julius Caesar, King Lear, Romeo and Juliet.

Of the physical contents of that glorious Library not a single scroll remains. In modern Alexandria few people have a keen appreciation, much less a detailed knowledge, of the Alexandrian Library or of the great Egyptian civilization that preceded it for thousands of years...There are a million threads from the past intertwined to make the ropes and cables of the modern world.

Our achievements rest on the accomplishments of 40,000 generations of our human predecessors, all but a tiny fraction of whom are nameless and forgotten. Every now and then we stumble on a major civilization, such as the ancient culture of Ebla, which flourished only a few millennia ago and about which we knew nothing. How ignorant we are of our past! Inscriptions, papyruses, books time-bind the human species and permit us to hear those few voices and faint cries of our brothers and sisters, our ancestors. And what a joy to realize how like us they were!
The Library of Alexandria, to which Dr. Sagan referred, was a major center for research and a major data base during the height of the Roman Empire. But it was certainly vulnerable and during periodic wars was damaged along with some of its contents. During the long decay of the Roman Empire, the Library was looted and ultimately destroyed under the approval of Alexandria's bishop who viewed whatever contents remaining as the work of those evil Satanic Pagans.

When I took an undergraduate course on Greek Philosophy, the loss of the writings of the great thinkers came into the foreground. Of the Pre-Socratic philosophers, only fragments survive, and in some cases, such as Thales (arguably the first genuine philosopher), all we have is second-hand information with regard to their thoughts and their lives. We know of Zeno's famous paradox, but very little of his work survives. Of the post-Socratic era, Aristotle is reputed to have written some beautiful Socratic dialogues that would rival those of his mentor, Plato. None of those survived.
It wouldn't occur to me until later that destruction of nearly all trappings of "paganism" during the late Roman Empire and into the Medieval era in Europe was a sort of ancient version of what today's neoliberals would call "shock therapy." Getting back to Iraq, the loss of its ancient artifacts (the majority probably lost forever) amounts to a collective equivalent to massive brain trauma. In Naomi Klein's book, The Shock Doctrine, which I have recommended and will continue to recommend, the destruction of these cultural and historical artifacts in Iraq (many dating back thousands of years) is compared to the destruction of a lifetime's worth of memories experienced by Ewen Cameron's psychiatric patients. Cameron's patients were unwitting human subjects who underwent (without their consent) excessive amounts of electroconvulsive "therapy" along with massive dosages of major tranquilizers and other psychoactive drugs (such as LSD) that served to induce comas lasting from days to weeks. That loss of a whole personal histories proved devastating for Cameron's victims; the loss of a culture's history is equally devastating to its members. At this juncture, it is too early to assess the long-term effects, but one thing that becomes clear if one reads through Klein's narrative and reflects on the various news items on Iraq over the years, is that it is highly likely that the looting and destruction of so much of Iraq's rich cultural history was no accident, but rather was by design. Much like Cameron, the social engineers who occupied Iraq expected, by destroying Iraq as it had once existed, a blank slate upon which to fashion something more conducive to the currently dominant predatory capitalist dogma.

Earlier in this essay I mentioned that I found Coburn's dismissiveness with regard to how the US got into Iraq to be disingenous. We need to know how "we got there" as a means of prevention of future genocides. Along those lines, I've mentioned before at least one resource that would be helpful:
Genocide Watch has a taxonomy of eight stages of genocide that should be useful to those trying to determine what some early warning signs might look like. If we notice a tendency to classify, symbolize, and dehumanize other groups either within a particular nation or in the process of colonial conquest, that's the time to stand up and be counted. Once the killing starts (both in the physical and social senses), there's not much left to do but to try to bring the perps to justice after the fact.
The stages of genocide are to be viewed as dynamic, and at times occurring in parallel. In the case of the US, the time to prevent the current genocidal war in Iraq passed about five years ago. The classification, symbolization, and dehumanization stages were passed through during the run-up to that war. At this point, the US is not only in the extermination stage, but the denial stage as well. That denialism, as I suggested last November, is manifest by:
a tendency to minimize the Iraqi death toll, to come up with euphemisms for the mass slaughter and for the torture in order to sanitize these atrocities, and so on, and have particularly noted that such efforts read eerily like Holocaust denialism as practiced by folks that we would rightly consider Neo-Nazis, kooks, and crackpots. I also think it's worth noting that the sort of Iraq holocaust denialism that seems to be the norm is not merely the purview of right-wing authoritarians, but is also evident among the "respectable" moderate and liberal wings of American political discourse. Our distinct brand of denialism is likely tied to American Exceptionalist mythology, which of course is pervasive throughout the culture and arguably most strictly adhered to among the most educated and elite among us.
Coburn seems to have a bit of the denialist streak in his remarks on the Iraq war as well, and among our ruling elites and their court jesters (the pundits making the rounds on the morning talk shows) that denialism is epidemic. If history is an indicator, in all likelihood, the denial stage will not be let go of voluntarily, but rather will be imposed upon its perps from outside if at all.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Okay, so Ralph's running again

I'm not sure how to react to the news. My first question is, with what "third-party" would he run? I know there's been some scuttlebutt that he'd run as a Green, but the Greens alread have some good contenders, including Cynthia McKinney. Would he run as an independent like in 2004? If so, how many state ballots could he get himself on? Oklahoma would already be out of the question. Heck, Greens and Libertarians, who would ostensibly have the best chance of getting onto our state's ballot, are facing an extremely uphill fight to do that as it is under our state's draconian laws. Beyond the fact that he at least gets a lot of the faithful Donkle followers' knickers in a knot (always good for a laugh or two), I'm just not finding much in a Nader candidacy to get too excited about.

The arguments against impeachment are mere excuses

For once a semi-decent diary over at DailyKos: Dismantling the arguments against impeachment. I wish I could muster up some faith in the Democrats in Congress to do the right thing, but for reasons already articulated elsewhere, I seriously doubt that will happen. Never mind that the gang of criminals in the White House is so unpopular that at least within the minds of the public they have next to no legitimacy at this juncture. Never mind that the laundry list of impeachable offenses has done nothing but grow over the course of the decade: lying about the "threat" posed by Iraq (leading of course to the current war which has been an unqualified disaster for Iraqis but a great success for a few Bu$hCo corporate cronies), not to mention lying about the "threat" allegedly posed by Iran (which thankfully hasn't led to a war yet). That's not even getting into obstruction of justice, illegal wiretapping, torture (the PC term "enhanced interrogation techniques" simply won't cut it), ad nauseum. Never mind that many of the most notorious offenders are likely to be pardoned by Bush if Bush and Cheney are not impeached.

None of this is secret. Oh, no sir! It's all right out in the open at this point. Under the circumstances, one would expect Congressional Democrats to be chomping at the bit to get this party started. Ho Ho Ho. That's not to be. Pelosi took impeachment "off the table," and "off the table" it has stayed. It's a safe gamble from her perspective - where else is the left (whatever that's supposed to mean any more) supposed to go? It's not like the Dems really have to care any way - their constituency is not "the people" but the CEOs who keep donating them obscene sums of money to do their bidding.

If you're still among the Donkle faithful hoping that more and "better" Democrats in 2009 will bring about that much ballyhooed change, think again. Unless you're prepared to abandon this corrupt ship of fools, there will be no change whatsoever except perhaps for the worse. But if a critical mass of y'all would withdraw your support for what has become a monstrous imperial leviathan, what tales we could tell our children and grandchildren.