Saturday, May 2, 2009


From Boyz n the Hood:

"Don't respect anyone who doesn't respect you back"

Good rule to live by, no?

Academic freedom is still very much at risk

Dana L. Cloud has the lowdown.

Looks like OETA might be airing something useful

Apparently Oklahoma's public television station is airing a program on right-wing extremism, which no doubt will have plenty of our state's wingnuts' knickers in a twist, including ranting about this absurd notion of a left-leaning media (I'd be jumping for joy if there were indeed such a thing in the US), I'd actually think it would be much more productive to focus on right-wing extremism, given that it can do a great deal of damage (remember the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in OKC? Remember the individuals responsible for that?).

Just to give you one brief example, from The "tea parties" really did bring the nuts out of the woodwork:

Here's the coverage from David Neiwert:
In spite of all that voluminous airspace on Fox News that was devoted to promoting and then reporting on the 'Tea Parties' on April 15, I'll be willing to wager that they won't ever include this in their reports:

Oklahoma Man Arrested for Twittering Tea Party Death Threats

In a series of tweets beginning April 11, CitizenQuasar vowed to start a “war” against the government on the steps of the Oklahoma City Capitol building, the site of that city’s version of the national “Tea Party” protests promoted by the conservative-leaning Fox News.
“START THE KILLING NOW! I am willing to be the FIRST DEATH!,” read a tweet at 8:01 PM that day. “After I am killed on the Capitol Steps, like a REAL man, the rest of you will REMEMBER ME!!!,” he added five minutes later. Then: “Send the cops around. I will cut their heads off the heads and throw the[m] on the State Capitol steps.”
Hayden’s MySpace page is a breathtaking gallery of right wing memes about the “New World Order,” gun control as Nazi fascism, and Barack Obama’s covert use of television hypnosis, among many others.
Here's a sampler of his tweets:

Here's his blog, too.
Given how close this loonie's behavior comes to the anniversary of the Tim McVeigh bombing of the nearby Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building back in 1995, in addition to the fact that he was documenting everything on Twitter, my first thought was "what the fuck was he thinking?" This wouldn't be that much different from some asshole threatening to open fire on people or bomb a building in Manhattan at some point during the month of September. That aside, here's something to keep in mind - folks like Glenn Beck have been doing whatever they can to foment right-wing extremist behavior (at some point when I have the luxury of a few moments, I'll distinguish between radicals and extremists - short story, there is a difference and it would behoove us all to be aware of that difference), and succeeded in creating a space in which right-wing extremist behavior does occur. Fortunately for us, the goon who tried this in OKC broadcast intentions loudly enough for someone to stop him.
At Orcinus both David Neiwert and Sara have been doing yeoman's work on covering right-wing extremist movements in the US, and their accumulated body of work (which goes back over several years at this point on Orcinus alone) is eye-opening. Just type in the word eliminationism at Orcinus and you could go reading for a while. At both my old blog and at the current digs, I've been periodically commenting on the eliminationist rhetoric that characterizes the right-wingers, documenting the words of various right-wing political and media figures (including bloggers), and how those words (having become increasingly mainstream) translate into actions in the form of death threats, bombings, murder, etc. If anything, one lesson we can learn is that our corporate-controlled media fails to see actual right-wing acts of terrorism (such as bombings and shootings) for what they are. The demographic for our own homegrown Taliban is white, nominally Christian, and psychologically rigidly authoritarian. Since this particular faction has failed to persuade most Americans to voluntarily continue oppressing ethnic minorities, women, gays, and other alleged untermenschen, they resort to threats, and then violence (think about the mass shooting at a Unitarian Church last summer, by an avid fan of Bill O'Reilly, Michael Savage, and Rush Limbaugh). In the recent past, our own homegrown right-wing terrorists have tried to build cyanide bombs, car-bomb family planning clinics, terrorize migrant workers and activists, ad nauseum.

Fortunately, these goons tend to be relatively disorganized, and left to their own devices hardly pose a threat to civilization. Still at the risk of being politically incorrect, I'd much prefer keeping an eye on our own homegrown Taliban than continue the status quo of propping up an imaginary orientalized Muslim "threat."

Tortured misconceptions

As I read the latest coming out of the Internet tubes, I am struck by the level of obtuseness that seems to characterize what passes for discourse on torture. First, just looking at the comments to the recent ABC story on the psychologists who were hired as private contractors to develop torture techniques at Gitmo. Let's just start by noting that Jessen and Mitchell were private contractors (their company is Mitchell, Jessen, and Associates, LLC) - NOT CIA employees (as many times as I've read comments to the effect that these two clowns were CIA agents, I have to wonder how many of the whingers bothered to read the fucking article). Valerie Plame Mitchell and Jessen are most definitely not. Second, let's clear up the misconception that Brian Ross and his research team broke the story. They did not. The story had been circulating in online sources such as Salon, The New Yorker, and Vanity Fair for a good year or two. Although I will gladly give Ross and his team credit where credit is due insofar as they finally managed to get the story some publicity that it would have never otherwise received, these particular journalists are, as one might say, late to the party. Along with some of my fellow psychologists, I wish that Ross and company had been willing to push the story to the foreground a bit sooner.

Let's look at some other misconceptions.

1. There is no reason to believe that the use of torture has prevented a terrorist attack. Now there have been some thwarted terrorist attacks since 2001, but those attempts have perpetrated by the same sort of demographic that attended the "tea parties" a few weeks ago (in other words, start thinking about home-grown right-wing militia types a la Timothy McVeigh). Those attacks have been prevented by simple good old-fashioned torture-free investigations.

2. Contra Charles Krauthammer and other fellow wingnuts, the so-called "ticking time bomb" scenario is fictitious - at best the stuff of Hollywood or the ravings of Ivy League academicians and former OJ Simpson defense attorneys. As has been mentioned elsewhere, even under dire circumstances, traditional nonviolent interrogation methods work much more effectively at getting intelligence.

3. Similarly, contra Krauthammer and other fellow wingnuts, the so-called justification of torture in the case of allegedly "high-value" detainees in order to "save lives" is so full of loopholes that just about any unsavory dictatorship or terrorist group could use it as a justification for their own human rights abuses. Think about that the next time an American gets kidnapped overseas and is tortured mercilessly in the name of "saving the lives" of fellow jihadis. My guess is that to our torture apologists, the incident will seem far less "heroic" than when our government tortures those unfortunate enough to be of Central Asian or Arabic origin.

4. As I've mentioned before, what Krauthammer and his ilk have offered is all based on the false premise that torture "works." For over 2000 years, we've been given ample reason for skepticism, from the observations of such great thinkers as Cicero and Seneca all the way to today's professional interrogators in the military and FBI. The only "purpose" for torture is not to get at the truth, but rather to intimidate target groups of people (e.g., those of a colonized or occupied territory, or perhaps one's own citizenry at home). Usually such techniques are resorted to when other forms of persuading a populace to accept a regime's legitimacy have failed.

Surely the psychologists featured most recently in one of Brian Ross' reports shouldn't be the only ones under fire for their criminal actions. I've been on record for quite a while now of advocating that those who have crafted and signed off on the "legal" justification of torture should be punished, as should those in Congress who enabled these perps. Similarly, those in professional organizations such as the American Psychological Association who chose to look the other way while members of their organizations participated in torture, or who in one way or another collaborated with torturers should face appropriate repercussions - at bare minimum they should never be allowed to hold positions of influence within their professional organizations ever again.

Update: Regarding Jessen and Mitchell, the torture psychologists to whose defense many right-whingers are coming, they have some egg on their faces since it looks like Jessen and Mitchell have advertised before their work as private contractors for the CIA:

The CIA would not comment on Mitchell and Jessen's work for the agency, though the contractual relationship is not one Mitchell and Jessen entirely concealed. They advertised their CIA credentials as exhibitors at a 2004 conference of the American Psychological Association in Honolulu.

I agree with Tbogg - these people really are stupid.

More change you can believe in

Shades of Bush II.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Happy May Day

Today's May Day.

If you're curious about the origins of May Day, read here. It may well be the most ancient religious festival worldwide - primarily a homage to fertility goddesses as well as the renewal of life that we see in the spring time.

In more modern times, May Day is significant as the original labor day, and is tied with the struggle by organized labor movements to get the 8-hour work day that many of us take for granted recognized.

Last year, I read John Ross' book Murdered By Capitalism, in which the author discusses the labor movement in US history. In that book, I was reminded that by the middle of the 20th century May 1 was officially designated "Law Day" making us unique in that we're supposed to celebrate those who smashed organized efforts to improve labor conditions. That's not even getting into Bush II's designation of May 1 as "Loyalty Day" (let's celebrate the displacement of workers around the globe thanks to US-hatched 'free trade' policies).

This is a day usually marked by organized protests. If there's something in your area, check it out. If not, surely there is something you can do to educate those around you - if nothing else you might have kids, grandkids, etc. who would be willing to learn something about the historical significance of this particular calendar day.

Also should mention that today marks the third anniversary of the blog The Unapologetic Mexican. Keep on doing your thang, Nezua.

Note: images nicked from and Media Re:public, respectively to capture both ancient and modern meanings of May Day.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

The human face of professional torturers

The inquisitor controls the proceedings, arbitrary fancies distort, hope corrupts, fear disables, with the result that within the constraints that all these things impose, no place is left for the truth.

-- M. Tullius Cicero (106–43 BCE)

from Pro Sulla, § 78 (62 BCE)

trans. Gillian Spraggs
One thing about the profession of psychology, is that there is a ton of money to be made if one is willing to ignore some fundamentals of human decency, and unfortunately plenty of "professionals" who can do precisely that without so much as a thought. Such is the case with torture. The men pictured above are psychologists. They are, from left to right, Bruce Jessen and Jim Mitchell. Brian Ross and his team of researchers tell the story:
As the secrets about the CIA's interrogation techniques continue to come out, there's new information about the frequency and severity of their use, contradicting an 2007 ABC News report, and a new focus on two private contractors who were apparently directing the brutal sessions that President Obama calls torture.
According to current and former government officials, the CIA's secret waterboarding program was designed and assured to be safe by two well-paid psychologists now working out of an unmarked office building in Spokane, Washington.
Bruce Jessen and Jim Mitchell, former military officers, together founded Mitchell Jessen and Associates.
Both men declined to speak to ABC News citing non-disclosure agreements with the CIA. But sources say Jessen and Mitchell together designed and implemented the CIA's interrogation program.
Click here to see Jessen refusing to talk to ABC News.
"It's clear that these psychologists had an important role in developing what became the CIA's torture program," said Jameel Jaffer, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union.
Click here to see Mitchell refusing to talk to ABC News.
Former U.S. officials say the two men were essentially the architects of the CIA's 10-step interrogation plan that culminated in waterboarding.
Associates say the two made good money doing it, boasting of being paid a $1,000 a day by the CIA to oversee the use of the techniques on top al Qaeda suspects at CIA secret sites.
"The whole intense interrogation concept that we hear about, is essentially their concepts," according to Col. Steven Kleinman, an Air Force interrogator.
Both Mitchell and Jessen were previously involved in the U.S. military program to train pilots how to survive behind enemy lines and resist brutal tactics if captured.

Mitchell and Jensen Lacked Experience in Actual Interrogations

But it turns out neither Mitchell nor Jessen had any experience in conducting actual interrogations before the CIA hired them.
"They went to two individuals who had no interrogation experience," said Col. Kleinman. "They are not interrogators."
The new documents show the CIA later came to learn that the two psychologists' waterboarding "expertise" was probably "misrepresented" and thus, there was no reason to believe it was "medically safe" or effective. The waterboarding used on al Qaeda detainees was far more intense than the brief sessions used on U.S. military personnel in the training classes.
"The use of these tactics tends to increase resistance on the part of the detainee to cooperating with us. So they have the exact opposite effect of what you want," said Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich).
The new memos also show waterboarding was used "with far greater frequency than initially indicated" to even those in the CIA.
Abu Zubaydah was water boarded at least 83 times and Khalid Sheikh Mohamed at least 183 times.

Former CIA Officer John Kiriakou Says Waterboarding is Torture

That contradicts what former CIA officer John Kiriakou, who led the Zubaydah capture team, told ABC News in 2007 when he first revealed publicly that waterboarding had been used.
He said then, based on top secret reports he had access to, that Zubaydah had only been water boarded once and then freely talked.
Kiriakou now says he too was stunned to learn how often Zubaydah was waterboarded, in what Kiriakou says was clearly torture.
"When I spoke to ABC News in December 2007 I was aware of Abu Zubaydah being waterboarded on one occasion," said Kiriakou. "It was after this one occasion that he revealed information related to a planned terrorist attack. As I said in the original interview, my information was second-hand. I never participated in the use of enhanced techniques on Abu Zubaydah or on any other prisoner, nor did I witness the use of such techniques."
A federal judge in New York is currently considering whether or not to make public the written logs of the interrogation sessions.
The tapes were destroyed by the CIA, but the written logs still exist, although the CIA is fighting their release.
A CIA spokesperson declined to comment for this report, except to note that the agency's terrorist interrogation program was guided by legal opinions from the Department of Justice.
Of course Mitchell and Jessen have been in the news before, and several of my fellow bloggers (apparently there are still plenty of ethical researchers and practitioners within psychology) have shown the light of truth on what Mitchell and Jessen have perpetrated at a handsome profit.
As I mentioned last June in an essay entitled This Decade's Nazi Doctors:
If one delves into the profoundly depressing research on torture and genocide (something that has been a passion of mine since my teens), one will likely run into Robert Jay Lifton's book The Nazi Doctors. Even if one doesn't quite get to that particular classic, it becomes clear in a hurry that many members of the medical profession were implicated in Germany's genocidal activities during the 1930s and 1940s. This decade, it's a different regime, with our so-called helping professions implicated in torture. As someone who got into the field of psychology hoping to do some good for humanity, I've been horrified with what some of my peers have involved themselves in, and the seal of approval that the major umbrella organization for psychology (American Psychological Association) has given their activities. Thankfully, I'm not alone, as some of my peers have been speaking out against psychology's involvement in torture for quite a long time. Two who come immediately to mind: Steven Soldz via his blog Psyche, Science, and Society; and the psychologist who runs the blog Invictus. Both have been doing yeoman's work covering the latest developments regarding the role of the psychological profession in the perpetration of torture at Guantánamo Bay. Please read what they write. When I think of terms like "Nazi doctors" or "little Eichmanns", it's the so-called professionals who've devoted their lives to acting as perpetrators and/or apologists for the war crimes that have been committed this decade.
Suffice it to say, I would still stand by that statement, and furthermore will contend that however belatedly, ABC did the right thing by exposing Mitchell and Jessen for what they are. I will also note that the article has drawn a considerable firestorm, if the comments are any indication and that those comments should give us pause as we consider the current state of America's moral compass. For those who accuse Brian Ross and his team of investigative journalists as "traitors" I can only offer an expression of contempt. What they have done is expose not only Mitchell and Jessen as crucial architects of the torture practices at Guantánamo Bay, but as charlatans who misrepresented their expertise in interrogation - and guess who got to pay for it. They are not to be revered as heroes. They were not merely "working for their nation" and just "doing their job" any more than Adolph Eichmann was when he orchestrated his part of the Nazi genocide of Jews and Poles at Auschwitz.

As a reminder of some reflections on the banality of our evil and perhaps some pointers to a path toward redemption I offer something that I and several others considerably more prominent stated:
Interesting post by Richard over at American Leftist:
2007 will soon come to a close. We are over 6 years removed from 9/11, and over 4 and 1/2 years removed from the invasion of Iraq. 9/11 initiated the "War on Terror", the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the seizure of purported terror suspects around the world, their rendition to other countries where they can be more readily subjected to torture and their indefinite incarceration at facilities around the world under dehumanizing conditions. Hundreds of thousands, if not over a million people have died as these measures have been arbitrarily implemented.
After participating in numerous protests against the anticipated invasion of Iraq in 2002 and early 2003, and then, engaging in civil disobedience after it was launched, I expressed my great fear to my friends: the occupation would become normalized, that is to say, that it would be incorporated into the background mosaic of our lives by the government and the media. The public would come to see it as an immutable part of their existence, akin to paying taxes and sitting in cramped seats on airplanes. In retrospect, I should have expanded the focus of my concern to the "war on terror" in its entirety.
Despite everything that has happenend, Abu Ghraib, Fallujah, the forced feeding of hunger striking detainees at Gitmo and airstrikes in Iraq and Afghanistan that kill large numbers of civilians, there is no reason to believe there is any political prospect of ending the "war on terror". Just the notion of curtailing its excesses is out of the question. It has been incorporated into the background noise of our lives. The surge in Iraq, we are assured, is a success, even Harry Reid, in his own circumspect way, says so.
How did this happen? One is tempted to say that it was inevitable, given the postmodern state of contemporary politics and social life, the alienation of people from any belief that they can organize as a class, a coalition or an amorphous political movement to insist upon radical change, and perhaps, it was. Even so, we should not hesitate to indict those responsible for it.
Edward S. Herman sez:

Doing terrible things in an organized and systematic way rests on "normalization." This is the process whereby ugly, degrading, murderous, and unspeakable acts become routine and are accepted as "the way things are done." There is usually a division of labor in doing and rationalizing the unthinkable, with the direct brutalizing and killing done by one set of individuals; others keeping the machinery of death (sanitation, food supply) in order; still others producing the implements of killing, or working on improving technology (a better crematory gas, a longer burning and more adhesive napalm, bomb fragments that penetrate flesh in hard-to-trace patterns). It is the function of defense intellectuals and other experts, and the mainstream media, to normalize the unthinkable for the general public. The late Herman Kahn spent a lifetime making nuclear war palatable (On Thermonuclear War, Thinking About the Unthinkable), and this strangelovian phoney got very good press. ~

In an excellent article entitled "Normalizing the unthinkable," in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists of March 1984, Lisa Peattie described how in the Nazi death camps work was "normalized" for the long-term prisoners as well as regular personnel: "[P]rison plumbers laid the water pipe in the crematorium and prison electricians wired the fences. The camp managers maintained standards and orderly process. The cobblestones which paved the crematorium yard at Auschwitz had to be perfectly scrubbed." Peattie focused on the parallel between routinization in the death camps and the preparations for nuclear war, where the "unthinkable" is organized and prepared for in a division of labor participated in by people at many levels. Distance from execution helps render responsibility hazy. "Adolph Eichmann was a thoroughly responsible person, according to his understanding of responsibility. For him, it was clear that the heads of state set policy. His role was to implement, and fortunately, he felt, it was never part of his job actually to have to kill anyone."

Peattie noted that the head of MlT's main military research lab in the 1960s argued that "their concern was development, not use, of technology." Just as in the death camps, in weapons labs and production facilities, resources are allocated on the basis of effective participation in the larger system, workers derive support from interactions with others in the mutual effort, and complicity is obscured by the routineness of the work, interdependence, and distance from the results.

Peattie also pointed out how, given the unparalleled disaster that would follow nuclear war, "resort is made to rendering the system playfully, via models and games." There is also a vocabulary developed to help render the unthinkable palatable: "incidents," "vulnerability indexes," "weapons impacts," and "resource availability." She doesn't mention it, but our old friend "collateral damage," used in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, came out of the nukespeak tradition.
The concept of "banality of evil" of course comes from Hannah Arendt's writings - originally appearing in her classic work, Eichmann in Jerusalem. Bethania Assy notes in an essay on Arendt's term "banality of evil" that the key appears to be a lack of thinking, a noticeable shallowness - not just at an individual level but at a societal level. The sorts of evils that we can attribute to the Nazi Holocaust, to the bombings and sanctions against Iraq, the torture and extraordinary renditions, etc. are ones in which are treated with a sort of shallowness. They are normal, merely part of the background. One doesn't think much about them, but rather just accepts them and moves on to the next reality TV show. A point that shows up in Assy's summary as well as in Arendt's writings, is the potential that in reflectively thinking about what is going on, one might then question one's support for the status quo:
How, then, does the faculty of thinking work in order to avoid evil? First of all, according to Arendt, the moral and ethic standards based on habits and customs have shown that they can just be changed by a new set of rules of behavior dictated by the current society.In Personal Responsibility under Dictatorship, Arendt emphasizes: "It was as though morality, at the very moment of its collapse within an old, highly civilized nation, stood revealed in its original meaning, as a set of mores, of customs and manners, which could be exchanged for another set with no more trouble than it would take to change the table manners of a whole people." (28) Thenceforth, Arendt claims the bridge between morality and the faculty of thinking. In this same article quoted above she asks how is was possible that few persons resisted the moral collapse and had not adhered to the regime, despite any coercion. Arendt herself answers: "The answer to the ...question is relatively simple. The nonparticipants, called irresponsible by the majority, were the only ones who dared judge by themselves, and they were capable of doing so not because they disposed of a better system of values or because the old standards of right and wrong were still firmly planted in their mind and conscience but, ... because their conscience did not function in this, as were, automatic way, ... they asked themselves to what an extent they would still be able to live in peace with themselves after having committed certain deeds; and they decided that it would be better to do nothing, not because the world would then be charged for the better, but because only on this condition could they go on living with themselves." (29) (emphasis added)
Arendt clearly attributes to the faculty of thinking the presupposition for this kind of judging extremely necessary in times of moral collapse, that is to say, "when the chips are down." Arendt argues: "The presupposition for this kind of judging is not a highly developed intelligence or sophistication in moral matters, but merely the habit of living together explicitly with oneself, that is, of being engaged in that silent dialogue between me and myself which since Socrates and Plato we usually call thinking." (30) (emphasis added)
Another clip of Arendt (also from Personal Responsibility Under Dictatorship) courtesy of Arthur Silber:
In our context, all that matters is the insight that no man, however strong, can ever accomplish anything, good or bad, without the help of others. What you have here is the notion of an equality which accounts for a "leader" who is never more than primus inter pares, the first among his peers. Those who seem to obey him actually support him and his enterprise; without such "obedience" he would be helpless, whereas in the nursery or under conditions of slavery -- the two spheres in which the notion of obedience made sense and from which it was then transposed into political matters -- it is the child or the slave who becomes helpless if he refuses to "cooperate." Even in a strictly bureaucratic organization, with its fixed hierarchical order, it would make much more sense to look upon the functioning of the "cogs" and wheels in terms of overall support for a common enterprise than in our usual terms of obedience to superiors. If I obey the laws of the land, I actually support its constitution, as becomes glaringly obvious in the case of revolutionaries and rebels who disobey because they have withdrawn this tacit consent.

In these terms, the nonparticipators in public life under a dictatorship are those who have refused their support by shunning those places of "responsibility" where such support, under the name of obedience, is required. And we have only for a moment to imagine what would happen to any of these forms of government if enough people would act "irresponsibly" and refuse support, even without active resistance and rebellion, to see how effective a weapon this could be. It is in fact one of the many variations of nonviolent action and resistance -- for instance the power that is potential in civil disobedience -- which are being discovered in our century. The reason, however, that we can hold these new criminals, who never committed a crime out of their own initiative, nevertheless responsible for what they did is that there is no such thing as obedience in political and moral matters. The only domain where the word could possibly apply to adults who are not slaves is the domain of religion, in which people say that they obey the word or the command of God because the relationship between God and man can rightly be seen in terms similar to the relation between adult and child.

Hence the question addressed to those who participated and obeyed orders should never be, "Why did you obey?" but "Why did you support?" This change of words is no semantic irrelevancy for those who know the strange and powerful influence mere "words" have over the minds of men who, first of all, are speaking animals. Much would be gained if we could eliminate this pernicious word "obedience" from our vocabulary of moral and political thought. If we think these matters through, we might regain some measure of self-confidence and even pride, that is, regain what former times called the dignity or the honor of man: not perhaps of mankind but of the status of being human.
One can also find similar lines of thinking in Gene Sharp's three-volume work, The Politics of Nonviolent Action. Yes, the powers that be have a great deal at their disposal - a well-funded propaganda machine, a vast military, most of the instruments of a police state already in place, and global economic hegemony (for the time being). For many of us, it seems to have been that way from the cradle to the grave. What we need to remind ourselves is that no matter how brutal the dictatorship, no matter how powerful it may appear on the surface, its legitimacy ultimately rests on perception. I as one individual cannot "bring down the system." Nor does, as Richard points out, is there much of an organized opposition at the present. I can withdraw my support, if as I reflect, I come to realize that I simply cannot sleep at night by continued support of the status quo. Gene Sharp of course lays out numerous tools at one's disposal if one wishes to nonviolently resist evil - many of which are so easy that just about anyone could do them. Even a quiet withdrawal of support is better than continued support of a broken system. For some that might mean refusal to pay taxes. For others it may mean refusal to participate in electoral politics. Still others might refuse to participate in the consumerism that is so rampant - and which merely distracts us from what is going on. Whatever action it may be, what one is saying in deeds, if not in words is that the current system is not legitimate, that there is nothing inherent in the system to make it legit to begin with. Or to quote Auguste Comte:
"every social power [is] constituted by a corresponding assent...of various individual wills, resolved to concur in a common action, of which this power is the first organ, and then the regulator. Thus authority is derived from concurrence, and not concurrence from that no great power can arise otherwise than from the strongly prevalent disposition of the society in which it exists..."
Don't expect some powerful person to come charging in at the last minute to save you from yourselves. You had that power all along. That, my friends, is the dirty little secret your ruling class would rather you not know.
To drive the point home regarding the banality of torture, here's something I wrote last year:
Not only has torture become normalized, but the likability of its fictional perpetrators on prime time television has made it seem noble. With very few exceptions, the torturers on prime time shows such as 24 are attractive individuals to whom their primary audience can relate, with the victims portrayed in manners that dehumanize them. Not only are these fictional torturers ones to be admired, but also to be imitated; and if you spend just a bit of time over at the Human Rights First website that I linked to initially, one will find that just as with any other form of media violence, fictitious torture events are stored in memory and - to the extent that they are rehearsed - strengthened to the extent that some of these viewers go on to become real-life torturers in their own right.

So, we're bombarded by scenes of torture committed by likable characters based on an extremely unlikely premise in a manner that appears realistic and reinforcing. On the other hand, the counterpoint - torture as an evil and ineffective practice - gets almost no air time. When I ask myself why more folks haven't spoken out against torture and demand that those responsible in our government for green-lighting the abhorrent practice, and done so in an organized manner, all I have to do is realize just how banal torture has become. Hell, by the time the Abu Ghraib pictures first began surfacing in 2004, Hollywood had already had a good couple years of time in which to normalize it. Those of us struggling for the human rights of those victimized by torture have our work cut out for us in the present cultural Zeitgeist.
Our work consists of continuing to shine the light of truth as often and as loudly as possible - even at a time when the cultural Zeitgeist is hostile to that truth; especially at a time when the cultural Zeitgeist is hostile to that truth. Our work consists of telling the other side that is so often made invisible in our popular culture, as well as within the halls of political power. Exposing others to the brutal consequences of torture, exposing them to the evidence that there isn't even a practical rationale for resorting to torture, and leaving those with whom we communicate a choice - one in which they will have to rationally, explicitly, consciously decide to support or to withdraw support for such odious practices as torture. I have stated time and time again that when it comes to gross human rights abuses, when it comes to practices that are considered internationally to be criminal, there are no innocent bystanders. We are ultimately left with an existential question: why do you support? How we individually and collectively answer that question will have, and I say this with a great deal of understatement, profound consequences.

Ten terrible truths about torture and the CIA

An excerpt of Andy Worthington's latest essay can be found over at After Downing Street. I've found him to be an invaluable resource on torture over the last few years. The excerpt ends with an extensive footnote that will provide plenty of reading for those so inclined:

For a sequence of articles dealing with the use of torture by the CIA, on “high-value detainees,” and in the secret prisons, see: Guantánamo’s tangled web: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Majid Khan, dubious US convictions, and a dying man (July 2007), Jane Mayer on the CIA’s “black sites,” condemnation by the Red Cross, and Guantánamo’s “high-value” detainees (including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed) (August 2007), Waterboarding: two questions for Michael Hayden about three “high-value” detainees now in Guantánamo (February 2008), Six in Guantánamo Charged with 9/11 Murders: Why Now? And What About the Torture? (February 2008), The Insignificance and Insanity of Abu Zubaydah: Ex-Guantánamo Prisoner Confirms FBI’s Doubts (April 2008), Guantánamo Trials: Another Torture Victim Charged (Abdul Rahim al-Nashiri, July 2008), Secret Prison on Diego Garcia Confirmed: Six “High-Value” Guantánamo Prisoners Held, Plus “Ghost Prisoner” Mustafa Setmariam Nasar (August 2008), Will the Bush administration be held accountable for war crimes? (December 2008), The Ten Lies of Dick Cheney (Part One) and The Ten Lies of Dick Cheney (Part Two) (December 2008), Prosecuting the Bush Administration’s Torturers (March 2009), Abu Zubaydah: The Futility Of Torture and A Trail of Broken Lives (March 2009), Ten Terrible Truths About The CIA Torture Memos (Part Two), 9/11 Commission Director Philip Zelikow Condemns Bush Torture Program, Who Authorized The Torture of Abu Zubaydah? (all April 2009). Also see the extensive archive of articles about the Military Commissions.

For other stories discussing the use of torture in secret prisons, see: An unreported story from Guantánamo: the tale of Sanad al-Kazimi (August 2007), Rendered to Egypt for torture, Mohammed Saad Iqbal Madni is released from Guantánamo (September 2008), A History of Music Torture in the “War on Terror” (December 2008), Seven Years of Torture: Binyam Mohamed Tells His Story (March 2009), and also see the extensive Binyam Mohamed archive. And for other stories discussing torture at Guantánamo and/or in “conventional” US prisons in Afghanistan, see: The testimony of Guantánamo detainee Omar Deghayes: includes allegations of previously unreported murders in the US prison at Bagram airbase (August 2007), Guantánamo Transcripts: “Ghost” Prisoners Speak After Five And A Half Years, And “9/11 hijacker” Recants His Tortured Confession (September 2007), The Trials of Omar Khadr, Guantánamo’s “child soldier” (November 2007), Former US interrogator Damien Corsetti recalls the torture of prisoners in Bagram and Abu Ghraib (December 2007), Guantánamo’s shambolic trials (February 2008), Torture allegations dog Guantánamo trials (March 2008), Sami al-Haj: the banned torture pictures of a journalist in Guantánamo (April 2008), Former Guantánamo Prosecutor Condemns “Chaotic” Trials in Case of Teenage Torture Victim (Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld on Mohamed Jawad, January 2009), Judge Orders Release of Guantánamo’s Forgotten Child (Mohammed El-Gharani, January 2009), Bush Era Ends With Guantánamo Trial Chief’s Torture Confession (Susan Crawford on Mohammed al-Qahtani, January 2009), Forgotten in Guantánamo: British Resident Shaker Aamer (March 2009), and the extensive archive of articles about the Military Commissions.

Obviously this is not pleasure reading, but it is reading that is quite necessary as we continue the process of looking in the mirror to realize just what we as a culture have become. While we're at it, let's make sure to fully digest the link between the American Psychological Association, the DOD and CIA in the perpetration of torture by Jeff Kaye (h/t fellow psychologist Stephen Soldz).

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

This could get interesting

Rep. Jane Harman, a California DINO may be facing a primary challenge from a fellow blogger, John Amato. Harman has shown up on my radar before - most notably for her first-hand awareness of the US government's decision to waterboard "enemy combatants" and her eventual belated and half-hearted letter of protest against the CIA's choice to destroy videotaped evidence of torture. Harman has also been notoriously pro-war, pro-spying (she does love those warrantless wiretaps against us ordinary rabble) and has recently made the news for her apparent involvement trying to get charges against two alleged Israeli spies dropped. There is blood in the proverbial water, and it is unclear whether Harman could successfully withstand a primary challenge.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

From The Pope of Hope Files: Obama Reneges on NAFTA

Well fancy that: the same guy who has surrounded himself with neoliberal fundamentalists since the moment he hit the campaign trail breaks a promise to renegotiate NAFTA. Could have seen that one coming a mile away. Bruce Dixon describes what NAFTA is, and why it is so toxic:
NAFTA and all the other so-called “free trade agreements” are in fact investor rights agreements. They make businesses operated by international investors substantially immune to local laws and regulations on health, safety, wages, hours, labor rights, antipollution, financial and other practices. They establish secretive extrajudicial courts with no appeal where corporations appoint the judges who can decide in favor of them.

NAFTA was negotiated by the first Bush administration in 1991 and 92. Outside the community of market fundamentalists, it has always been wildly unpopular. George H.W. Bush couldn't move it through Congress, and it was a big issue in the 1992 presidential election. In a memorable moment of one presidential debate opposite Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush, independent candidate Ross Perot predicted that if NAFTA were enacted the “giant sucking sound” we'd all hear would be the movement of millions of jobs leaving the U.S., fleeing southward to Mexico.

Bill Clinton won that election. In the same way our current president is able to cheerfully hand over trillions to Wall Street, to refuse to investigate torture and violations of the Constitution, to leave 50,000 troops and many more mercenaries in Iraq, and extend the Afghan war to nuclear-armed Pakistan with scarcely a public murmur from his left, Clinton did for the bipartisan Party of Business what its Republican wing could not. Clinton abandoned congressional Democrats and “reached across the aisle” to Newt Gingrich, leader of the Republicans in Congress to work for NAFTA's passage. The fact as the National Review quoted Clinton aide Dave Dreyer at the time, "...that nobody wants this (NAFTA). There's just no popular sentiment for it,” made no difference. The Party of Business wanted it very badly indeed, and having a Democrat push it threw opposition into disarray. Though most congressional Democrats voted against NAFTA, it squeaked through with near unanimous Republican support and a minority of Democrats, championed by the Democratic president. Clinton invited Jimmy Carter and Bush back to Washington to take part in the signing.

Ross Perot proved prescient, according to NAFTA at 10, a comprehensive report put out a decade later by Public Citizen. An investor rights agreement rather than a so-called “free trade agreement” it drove down wages on both sides of the U.S. - Mexican border and put self-sustaining Mexican farmers, the people who invented corn and beans out of business by the millions. Mexico became dependent on corporate-grown food from the U.S. Millions of its ex-farmers were driven by hunger into the cities, where there were few or no jobs, and then came north to the U.S.
I've mentioned before that NAFTA was not only bad for workers in the US (which was all the Perotistas cared about) but also for workers in Mexico as well. That giant sucking sound wasn't just the sound of jobs leaving the US, but increasingly leaving Mexico thus leading to massive human displacement - the devastating consequences we're experiencing currently. To give you a taste of what I'm talking about:
By November 2002, the US Department of Labor had certified 507,000 workers for extended unemployment benefits because their employers had moved their jobs south of the border. The Department of Labor stopped counting NAFTA job losses, but the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, DC, estimated that NAFTA had eliminated 879,000 jobs. That was five years ago.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The real, dirty secret of trade agreements is displacement. During the years NAFTA has been in effect, more than six million people from Mexico have come to live in the United States. They didn't abandon their homes, families, farms and jobs willingly. They had no other option for survival.
From Kill NAFTA before NAFTA kills Mexican corn:
A few clips from a recent John Ross column:
Some say that these indeed may be the last days of Mexican corn.

In fact, this January 1 may prove to be a doomsday date for Mexican maiz when at the stroke of midnight, all tariffs on corn (and beans) will be abolished after more than a decade of incremental NAFTA-driven decreases. Although U.S. corn growers are already dumping 10 million tons of the heavily subsidized grain in Mexico each year, zero tariffs are expected to trigger a tsunami of corn imports, much of it genetically modified, that will drive millions of Mexican farmers off their land - in NAFTA's first 13 years, 6,000,000 have already abandoned their plots - and could well spell the end of the line for 59 distinct "razas" or races of native corn.


Monsanto, which dominates 71 per cent of the GMO seed market, has operated in Mexico since the post-World War II so-called "green revolution" that featured hybrid seeds ("semillas mejoradas") that only worked when associated with pesticides and fertilizers manufactured by the transnational chemical companies. Selling hybrid seeds and chemical poisons in Mexico continues to be profitable for Monsanto whose total 2006 sales here topped 3,000,000,000 pesos ($300 million USD.) It doesn't hurt that Monsanto Mexico sells hybrid seed for $2 Americano for a packet of a thousand when its states-side price is $1.34.

22,000,000 Mexicans, 13,000,000 of them children, suffer some degree of malnutrition according to doctors at the National Nutrition Institute and Monsanto insists that it can feed them all if only the CIBOGEN will allow it to foist its GMO seed on unwitting corn farmers. But the way Monsanto sells its GMO seed is severely questioned.

Farmers are forced to sign contracts, agreeing to buy GMO seed at a company-fixed price. Monsanto's super-duper "Terminator" seed, named after California's action hero governor, goes sterile after one growing cycle and the campesinos are obligated to buy more. By getting hooked on Monsanto, Mexican farmers, once seed savers and repositories themselves of the knowledge of their inner workings, become consumers of seed, an arrangement that augurs poorly for the survival of Mexico's many native corns.

Moreover, as farmers from other climes who have resisted Monsanto and refused to buy into the GMO blitz, have learned only too traumatically, pollen blowing off contaminated fields will spread to non-GMO crops. Even more egregiously, Monsanto will then send "inspectors" (often off-duty cops) to your farm and detect their patented strains in your fields and charge you with stealing the corporation's property.

When Saskatchewan farmer Percy Schmeiser came to Mexico several years back to explain how Monsanto had taken his farm from him for precisely these reasons, local legislators laughed that it was a science fiction scenario. "It is going to happen to you," the old farmer warned with all the prescience of an Aztec seer.
I've been trying to tune my readers in to the growing crisis facing our fellow humans who make their lives and livelihoods in Mexico. NAFTA, beloved by both the Clintonistas and Bushistas, has certainly been a godsend for their corporate cronies, but an utter nightmare for family farmers and merchants in Mexico since it went into effect in the early 1990s:

In Mexico, “Poverty has risen by over 50 percent during the first four years of NAFTA and wages in the manufacturing sector have declined,” reports the Data Center.

A 2004 report published by the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Ways and Means states that “At least 1.5 million Mexican farmers lost their livelihoods to NAFTA.” The situation is only expected to worsen in 2008 when Mexico is required to comply with a NAFTA deadline to totally eliminate its corn and bean import tariffs. Many policy experts predicted that farmers displaced by NAFTA would migrate to the United States.

Indeed, a comparison of U.S. censuses of 1990 and 2000 shows “the number of Mexican-born residents in the United States increased by more than 80 percent,” states Jeff Faux in “How NAFTA Failed Mexico,” The American Prospect (July 3, 2003.) “Some half-million Mexicans come to the United States every year; roughly 60 percent of them are undocumented. The massive investments in both border guards and detection equipment have not diminished the migrant flow; they have just made it more dangerous. More than 1,600 Mexican migrants have died on the journey to the north.”

While NAFTA is responsible for the latest “migration hump,” it is not the sole culprit. Practices by bodies like the World Trade Organization, “along with the programs dictated by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank, have helped double the gap between rich and poor countries since 1960,” reports Noam Chomsky in The Nation. The ensuing foreign debt deprives these countries from accumulating capital to develop competitive industries and has lead to mass migration northward.

After NAFTA was passed by Congress in 1992, “the agreement raised concerns in the United States about immigration from south of the border,” according to “NAFTA, The Patriot Act and the New Immigration Backlash” by the American Anthropological Association. To counter the predicted influx of Latin Americans, President Bill Clinton signed The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996. “The 1996 Welfare Reform bill included anti-immigrant and other measures that eliminated many social services for undocumented immigrants,” the report states. The current ICE raids are a result of these long term policies.

As you can gather from those paragraphs, when folks are driven to near-starvation, they have this amazing tendency to look around for some means of providing food and shelter for themselves and their families.
I followed that up with:
Migra Matters recently had an interesting updated take on what's going on as NAFTA continues to decimate not only the family farmer but also encourages the destruction of biodiversity. The usual propaganda in the US press trumpets how "wonderful" NAFTA is, claiming it's a "win-win" for farmers and ranchers. However,
Mexican farmers cannot see NAFTA as a win. Not by a long shot. They recognize it as a disaster.
[T]he changes [brought by NAFTA] are deeply unpopular in Mexico, where farmers fear unrestricted imports will depress prices and stir competition in producing white corn, which has been grown since the Aztec times.

Most of Mexico's three million corn producers and half a million bean producers make a living on small farms that are a far cry from the sweeping, industrialized operations that characterize U.S. agriculture.

Corn tariffs have gradually been phased out since the trade deal was implemented, and imports of U.S. yellow corn to Mexico, mostly used in animal feed, have skyrocketed. They now account for close to 35 percent of Mexican consumption.
Some background:
*At the start of the year Mexico lifted 14 years of protection for corn, beans, milk and sugar under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that took effect in 1994. The regional trade pact groups Mexico, the United States and Canada.

* Mexican lawmakers demanded [on 1/4/08 that] President Felipe Calderon consider renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement and meet with farmers, who fear a flood of cheap U.S. imports.

* "This is a national security issue," said Samuel Aguilar, of the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party, in a speech before the Congress. "The agricultural chapter of NAFTA could generate a social conflict." /snip

Mexico may lose as many as 350,000 farm jobs this year because of competition from the U.S.

* Some Mexican farmers say competing against highly subsidized U.S. goods could put thousands out of work on top of about 2 million Mexican farm jobs lost over the last decade.
NAFTA is a recipe for complete disaster in Mexico:
Timothy Wise, a professor at Tufts University in Massachusetts, calls unblunted liberalization in those sensitive goods a "recipe for disaster" for those who depend on Mexico's vulnerable farm sector.

"Just as the U.S. became the largest supplier of animal feed, it has the capacity to become a dominant supplier of dry beans and white corn, undermining markets in Mexico and creating a dependence on external sources for the two very clear main staple foods," he said.
Of course, this economic disaster will lead directly to the displacement of small, Mexican farmers, and act as an incentive to those farmers' forced migration to the US. In short: NAFTA's destroying Mexican subsistence farmers and forcing them through economic pressure to leave failing, subsistence farms and enter the US. I've discussed this before here and here.
Not only are the family farmers increasingly consigned to the status of the permanently displaced, but NAFTA is setting the stage for an ecological catastrophe:
NAFTA will have a gigantic, negative biodiversity impact. There are two primary kinds of corn grown in the US, white and yellow. Yellow is mostly animal food. And in the US, unlike Mexico, corn is a genetically modified crop. "In the US, by 2006 89% of the planted area of soybeans, 83 percent of cotton, and 61 percent maize was genetically modified varieties." source. Even before the end of NAFTA, genetically modified corn presented a problem in Mexico:
Rural and urban activists throughout the Americas are calling on grain exporters, the biotech industry, and the US and Canadian governments to stop dumping untested and unlabeled genetically engineered corn on Mexico and other nations, where irreplaceable corn varieties are being damaged by "genetic pollution." In Mexico researchers have detected widespread contamination of traditional varieties of corn, caused by surreptitious imports of genetically engineered corn into Mexico by grain export giants such as Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill

And now, there is even greater reason to be concerned:
Those who want to introduce bioengineered corn in Mexico appear to be gaining an upper hand.

A law to allow experimental planting of GMO strains in northern Mexico was passed two years ago but was never signed. Agriculture Minister Alberto Cardenas said this week the law could go into effect in a matter of weeks.

"We don’t want to be behind. We have to start testing now," said Catalino Flores, a geneticist working with Salazar’s organization in San Salvador El Seco.

Corn yields in the United States can be more than three times those in Mexico, according to Mexican growers.

"There will be drought resistant corn in 5 to 10 years. If you don’t plant something like that when everyone else is, you’ll be down the drain," Flores said.

About half of U.S. yellow corn sent to Mexico comes from genetically modified seeds. Mexico’s agriculture minister reckons GMO seeds smuggled in from the United States are already being planted in northern Mexican states.
So what's the big deal? It's fairly simple: GMO corn threatens non-GMO corn species, undermining bio-diversity.
[S]some farmers worry that introducing GMO seeds could contaminate hundreds of wild blue, red and multicolored corn varieties planted for centuries in Mexico.

"The farmers who want to plant transgenic corn are irresponsible, they don’t care if the are putting the genetic heritage of Mexico at risk," said Victor Suarez head of a small farmers’ group that wants keep trade protections for corn and beans.

The ancient Maya, who lived in southern Mexico over 1,000 years ago, believed the gods made men from maize. The plant was adopted over 500 years ago by Spanish conquerors and spread to the rest of the world.

So to make a long story short, not only will NAFTA destroy Mexican subsistence farming and contribute to migration from Mexico to the US for former subsistence farmers, it also will endanger the bio diversity of corn in Mexico (if not the entire hemisphere).
Think about what a loss of biodiversity means. You end up with far fewer strains of the plants you're harvesting, which means that in the event of some disease that wipes out one or more of those limited strains of plant, a lot of folks are going to starve, to put it bluntly. I'm sure the wonks from these corporations will try to assure the rest of us that they've got all sorts of lovely chemicals that will prevent that from ever happening, but I wouldn't bet on it. Heck, as the petroleum-fueled "green revolution" draws to a close in the post-peak-oil era, the availability of said chemicals will be questionable (as will the viability of the massive corporate farming enterprises) over the long haul. Expect famine, probably sooner rather than later.

Rather than being a win-win, NAFTA over the long haul is more like a lose-lose, outside of a small handful of corporate executives betting the future of humanity on their expected short-term profit margins.

What to do? I've been saying that we need to kill NAFTA before it kills Mexican corn. I'll keep saying it again, and again - as often as necessary.
Those most victimized by NAFTA have referred to it properly as genocidal:
Every once in a while, I mention that the Zapatistas had, in their communiques, referred to NAFTA as genocidal. Here is just one, by Subcomandante Marcos, that jumped out at me as I was doing some background reading this evening:
The U.S. government has been wrong more than once in regards to its foreign policy. When this has occurred it is due to the fact it is making a mistake as to the man it ought to be backing up. History is not lacking in this type of examples. In the first half of this decade, the U.S. government made a mistake backing Carlos Salinas de Gortari. It made a mistake signing a NAFTA which lacked a majority support from the North American people and which meant an order of summary execution against the Mexican Indigenous people.

On the dawn of 1994 we rose up in arms. We rose up not seeking power, not responding to a foreign order. We rose up to say "here we are." The Mexican government, our government, had forgotten us and was ready to perpetrate a genocide without bullets or bombs, it was ready to annihilate us with the quiet death of sickness, of misery, of oblivion. The U.S. government became the accomplice of the Mexican government in this genocide.

With the signing of NAFTA, the U.S. government acted as guarantor of and gave its blessing to the murder of millions of Mexicans. Did the people of the U.S. know this? Did it know that its government was signing accords of massive extermination in Mexico? Did the people of the U.S. know that his government was backing a criminal? That man is gone. We remained. Our demands had not been solved and our arms kept saying "here we are" to the new government, to the people of Mexico, to the people and governments of the world. We waited patiently for the new government to listen to us and pay attention to us. But, within the dark circles of U.S. power someone decided that we, the insurgent Indigenous people of the Mexican South East, were the worst threat to the United States of America. From the darkness came the order: Finish them up!

They put a price on our brown skin, on our culture, on our word, because, above all they put a price on our uprising. The U.S. government decided, once more, to back a man, someone who continues with the politics of deceit of his predecessor, someone who denies the people of Mexico democracy, freedom and justice. Millions of dollars were lent to that man and his government. Without the approval of the American people, an enormous loan, without precedent in history, was granted to the Mexican government. Not to improve the living conditions of the people, not for the democratization of the country's political life, not for the economic reactivation promoting factories and productive projects. This money is for speculation, for corruption, for simulation, for the annihilation of a group of rebels, Indians for the most part, poorly armed, poorly nourished, ill equipped, but very dignified, very rebellious, and very human.
I cleaned up a couple glaring spelling errors, and highlighted passages that struck me as deserving emphasis, but otherwise the text is as originally translated.
The Obama regime of course has precious little interest on job loss, displacement, environmental collapse, or genocide caused by NAFTA - after all Obama is merely playing for the money men who backed his presidency. It is crucial to realize Obama does not and in all probability never has cared about the impact that neoliberal economic policies have on the rest of us. He's only been a bit more slick in selling the snake oil than his predecessors and a bit more savvy when it comes to pushing the right buttons to get the so-called "progressives" to vote him and his sorry excuse of a party into office. That he spoke with forked tongue is of no surprise. That people will continue to suffer and starve as a consequence should also come as no surprise. That there are no innocent bystanders as such egregious human suffering continues to be perpetrated in the enforcement of policies such as NAFTA (remember what I was saying about organizational and structural violence earlier?) should not only recognized, but should be shouted from every street corner (physical and virtual) as possible.

Footnote to "When art and politics meet"

Perhaps one of many things on Kristian Zimerman's mind while making his decision to refuse to perform in the American Empire in the future is the presence of a CIA torture chamber in his native Poland.

There are no innocent bystanders

Naomi Wolf is only one of many to make that point:

As citizens' outrage over the torture memos heats up, and the US Congress is barraged with calls to appoint a special prosecutor, Americans may be about to commit an egregious miscarriage of justice. Republicans have now accused Democrats in Congress of having "blood on your hands too" in relation to the escalating calls to investigate. I would go further: not only do Congressional Democrats have blood on their hands – but so do we, the American people. And CIA agents may be about to be sacrificed to assuage their – and our – actual and associative guilt.

The suddenly urgent calls by our Congressional Democratic leaders, and even by many of the American people, to prosecute CIA operatives, military men and women and contractors who were certainly involved with, colluded in or turned a blind eye to torture are not only the height of hypocrisy, they are a form of unconscionable scapegoating. The scapegoating is political on the part of Congressional leaders, and psychological on the part of many Americans who are now "shocked" at what was done in their name.

Hello America, were you asleep for the past seven years? The fact that the Bush administration used torture has been the furthest thing from a secret. When the political winds were with the last administration, which framed qualms about torture as being soft on "the war on terror", just about every Congressional Democrat fell right into line to accept it, if not cheer it on. Even Hillary Clinton supported torture – right up through her presidential run. Nancy Pelosi was briefed on the torture in closed-door meetings. When activist groups and citizens called for a special prosecutor, all we heard from Congressional Democrats was how they did not wish to spend the political capital.

President Bush hid the torture in plain sight by championing it. Vice-President Cheney gave such explicit interviews about his role in directing the policy of torture that in legal terms, were there a prosecution, they would amount to a confession. Did the Congress that is now so piously calling for the investigation of rank-and-file agents and military personnel express their horror and outrage then? With a very few exceptions, they did not.

Since 2003 it has been fully documented by rights organisations, and accessible to anyone listening, that direct US policy for prisoners included electrodes on genitals, suffocation, hanging prisoners from bars by the wrists, beatings, concealed murders, sexual assault threats, sexual humiliation and forced nudity, which is considered a sex crime in warfare, international and domestic law. Many voices, from Jane Mayer's to Michael Ratner's to Jameel Jaffer's to Amnesty and Human Rights Watch, made similar documented charges. Did our leaders call for investigations? They barely even called for a moment's consideration; tolerating torture – "tough tactics", "enhanced interrogations" in those demonic euphemisms – polled well; supporting it made them look tough in close elections; it was overwhelmingly OK with them.

And may we please look in the mirror, for the sake of our own moral health? How many Americans spoke up when it was chic to thrill to the sadistic soundbite of "take the gloves off"? How many watched 24 without a murmur when the mass consensus was that it was OK – no, patriotic – to waterboard a bit? How many of us (as in civilised societies every­where when a wind of barbarism is set free) actually thrilled to the sadistic (and sometimes sexually sadistic) soundbites that came out of the Bush communications office: the "special sauce", the "belly slap", the phrase "we have our methods"?

Ms. Wolf suggests that the appropriate targets of investigation and prosecution would be the very officials who gave the orders to torture. Merely going after those down near the bottom of the chain of command merely allows us to maintain our dangerous mythology of the few "bad apples" without confronting that it wasn't just the apples, but the entire barrel (including the American Zeitgeist) that were rotten. If one wishes to be serious about preventing organizational violence - which practices like waterboarding and such are in part - one will need to ditch the feel-good narratives and come face to face with our own complicity as a culture an allowing such violence to happen in the first place.

When art and politics meet

Bernard Chazelle sez:

Krystian Zimerman might well be the finest classical pianist alive. Seems he won't board the Obama Express just yet.

And now, Sunday, making his Disney Hall debut in a recital sponsored by the Philharmonic, Zimerman, who has become arguably the greatest pianist of his generation, made the surprise and shocking announcement from the stage that in protest to America's military policies overseas and particularly in Poland, he would no longer perform in the United States.

“Get your hands off my country,” he said, soft-spoken but seething. He accused the U.S. military of wanting “to control the whole world,” and made a reference to the U.S. military detention camp in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Approximately three dozen in the audience walked out, some shouting obscenities.

“Yes,” he answered, “some people when they hear the word military start marching.”

(I say that scores pretty damn high on the comedy meter.)

Others remained but booed or yelled for him to shut up and play the piano. But many more cheered. He responded by saying that America has far finer things to export than the military, and he thanked those who support democracy.

Which does not seem to include airport security.

Zimerman has had problems in the United States in recent years. He travels with his own Steinway piano, which he has altered himself. But shortly after 9/11, the instrument was confiscated at JFK Airport when he landed in New York to give a recital at Carnegie Hall. "Thinking the glue smelled funny, the TSA decided to take no chances and destroyed the instrument."

Never heard of TSA? They look for terrorists at airports. The acronym stands for "Terminally Stupid Assholes."

One hallmark of an authoritarian society in general and of authoritarian individuals in particular is an insistence on separating art from politics - with one exception: if the artist is sufficiently politically correct, authoritarians among an audience will laud the "courage" and "candor" of the artist. In the case of Zimerman, he refused to be sufficiently politically correct. Had he lauded the US and its military adventures (and added in a few soundbites about the "Russian Menace"), the very people who walked out or who stuck around to heckle would have been among his most enthusiastic audience members. Instead, they got confronted with someone who hails from overseas who is sick and tired of the consequences of US foreign policy and they did what any "Good American" would do: they goose-stepped the hell out of there.

As an aside, Chazelle makes note of Zimerman's difficulties with our version of airport "security" when traveling with his piano, and it's worth noting that Zimerman is only one of a number of musicians who have been hassled by airport insecurity both at home and abroad (Terminally Stupid Assholes is a much more apt description than the official name). Jazz trumpeter Valery Ponomarev is one noteworthy example.

Monday, April 27, 2009

So, where's the change?

That's been my favorite question to ask ever since The Pope of Hope ascended the throne. Long-time readers already knew that I never harbored any delusions that somehow all the bad things that happened under the Bush II regime would magically go away under an Obama regime. In just about any way imaginable, I have yet to be disappointed. I do feel a bit bad about those who genuinely believed the hype and who now are experiencing anything from cognitive dissonance to outright cynicism. Those individuals may yet have the potential to still form something resembling a genuine progressive political movement. To do so, they'll need to ditch the cult of personality and to ditch the faux realpolitic advocated on the Gated Community Blogs (i.e., the ones who keep droning on and on about how we have no alternative to the Great Donkle). Whether that actually occurs of course is not something I'll bet my life's savings on any time too soon.

War crimes are indeed war crimes

no matter who commits them, and if the offending nation is not willing to conduct investigations and (as needed) prosecutions of its own volition, then it is up to other national and international bodies to intervene.

Drug war hits Zapatistas

Via Green Left Infoasis I got pointed to an article by Kristin Bricker on what the escalation of Mexico's war on drugs has meant for one of the most visible indigenist movements on the continent. Basically it amounts to an excuse to imprison, torture, and disappear dissidents under the pretense of public safety in the hopes that what's left of the federal government can quash what has been a thorn in its side for over 15 years. In the case of the Zapatistas, those cats tend to be so straight-edge when it comes to drug use, transport, and dealing that no one in their right mind would believe that the group would be involved in anything dodgy.

Congrats to the people of Iceland

I'd be remiss if I did not extend congratulations and a wish of good luck to the citizens of Iceland, who've swept a now-solidly socialist government into their parliament in their most recent election. José Tirado has more to say about the election in Iceland's New Dawn:

Is this a coup for the Left? Possibly. European Union membership is now the big issue, and unlike most of the Parliament, the Left-Greens are not in favor. Is this a big victory for the people against the moneyed interests who have ruined the world economy? Definitely. Without engaging in too much hyperbole, this next government will take office reflecting a new era of populist revolt against the policies embodied by speculative banking and investment, emblematic of the past 20 years or so in public policy around the world. Don’t let anyone tell you that 300,000+ people can’t signal a shift that might have repercussions for the US . At 1/1000th the population and a far more homogenous society than the US is, it might at first appear so. But looks can be deceiving.

Icelanders took to the streets with grit and determination following revelations that their ruined economy was driven into the ground by self-serving politicians interested more in hobnobbing with celebrities and selling off the country’s resources to the highest bidder than in advancing the people’s best interests. The people decided (in their typically reserved Icelandic manner) that enough is enough and nonviolently toppled the establishment in just a few short months. The people withheld their support, obstructed the governance of the country, and demanded completely new elections. They got all of that and more. A whopping 85.1% of eligible voters voted yesterday, an indication of Scandinavian civic-mindedness, to be sure, but also an indicator of how mobilized the people were.

The new governing coalition has its work cut out for it. The first step to positive change was showing those responsible for Iceland's miserable condition the door. The next steps will involve firmly repudiating any vestige of neoliberal capitalism and resisting any effort from the US, IMF and other usurers to draw them back into the cycle of impoverishment that has sucked the life out of not only Iceland, but for the vast majority of us throughout the globe.

The Four Torture Memos, Eichmann, And The Obama Administration

Here's an interesting thought experiment by Lawrence Velvel for your consideration. What Prof. Velvel does is to construct a memo set in the Nazi era based on the recently released torture memos by Bush II regime officials. The cold clinical nature of fictional piece by Velvel should be read side-by-side the actual torture memos to get the full effect.

The "tea parties" really did bring the nuts out of the woodwork

Here's the coverage from David Neiwert:

In spite of all that voluminous airspace on Fox News that was devoted to promoting and then reporting on the 'Tea Parties' on April 15, I'll be willing to wager that they won't ever include this in their reports:

Oklahoma Man Arrested for Twittering Tea Party Death Threats

In a series of tweets beginning April 11, CitizenQuasar vowed to start a “war” against the government on the steps of the Oklahoma City Capitol building, the site of that city’s version of the national “Tea Party” protests promoted by the conservative-leaning Fox News.

“START THE KILLING NOW! I am willing to be the FIRST DEATH!,” read a tweet at 8:01 PM that day. “After I am killed on the Capitol Steps, like a REAL man, the rest of you will REMEMBER ME!!!,” he added five minutes later. Then: “Send the cops around. I will cut their heads off the heads and throw the[m] on the State Capitol steps.”

Hayden’s MySpace page is a breathtaking gallery of right wing memes about the “New World Order,” gun control as Nazi fascism, and Barack Obama’s covert use of television hypnosis, among many others.

Here's a sampler of his tweets:

Here's his blog, too.

Given how close this loonie's behavior comes to the anniversary of the Tim McVeigh bombing of the nearby Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building back in 1995, in addition to the fact that he was documenting everything on Twitter, my first thought was "what the fuck was he thinking?" This wouldn't be that much different from some asshole threatening to open fire on people or bomb a building in Manhattan at some point during the month of September. That aside, here's something to keep in mind - folks like Glenn Beck have been doing whatever they can to foment right-wing extremist behavior (at some point when I have the luxury of a few moments, I'll distinguish between radicals and extremists - short story, there is a difference and it would behoove us all to be aware of that difference), and succeeded in creating a space in which right-wing extremist behavior does occur. Fortunately for us, the goon who tried this in OKC broadcast intentions loudly enough for someone to stop him.

And for the record, I was on the Fox News website, and could find no mention of this particular "tea party" success story anywhere.