Saturday, September 12, 2009

Tea-baggers show their true colors

Images via Think Progress, Matthew Yglesias, and Andrew Sullivan. So you get a crowd filled with birthers, deathers, and racists. I don't know how much of that actually filters to the usual news outlets, but somewhere in the morass is very little that would strike me as serious and informed concern over health care (once you start making Nazi references to characterize a very mild reform of an obviously dysfunctional health care system, you're pretty much going to lose the interest of sane persons; encouragement of end of life planning is nowhere near mandating euthanasia). As usual, I see a bunch of folks who really should study in depth and before hauling off and making the health "care" status quo look even less palatable then it was already.

Friday, September 11, 2009

9-11 Means Different Things to Different People

This year marks the eighth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center twin towers and Pentagon. In the aftermath of that attack, several narratives emerged. There was of course the official narrative favored by our corporate and governing elites: one that emphasized nationalism and militarism, along with Manichean "clash of civilizations" imagery. Another narrative held that the proverbial chickens had come home to roost: that the attacks were blowback for decades of oppression and exploitation at the hands of the US corporate and political establishment. This second narrative was perhaps expressed most infamously by Ward Churchill, but can be found in the writings and speeches of others of varying levels of prominence. Finally, for the more conspiracy-minded, there was the "false flag" narrative that likened the attacks to the Reichstag Fire that cemented Hitler's hold on power in early 1930s Germany.

What we shouldn't lose sight of is that in all the memorials this year is that what 9-11 means or "should mean" has a great deal of variability among individuals across the globe. There is no doubt in my mind that terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center twin towers and the Pentagon were a terrible tragedy that would be exploited by our own ruling elites in the US. However, let's not forget that September 11 marks the anniversary for numerous other events: some tragic, some inspirational.

1. We shall remember that 36 years ago, the democratically elected government of Chile and its President Allende were overthrown in a US-backed coup that resulted in Allende's death. Countless thousands of people were executed or "disappeared" during Pinochet's reign of terror that subsequently followed this tragic day in history. Let's remember the victims of the coup and its aftermath.

2. Forty years ago today, in 1959, the US Congress authorized food stamps for Americans living in poverty. For those congressional leaders who voted to aid those in need, let's remember them.

3. On this day in 1851, in Christiana, Pennsylvania there was a stand-off between several ex-slave families (led by William Parker) and a posse of several armed white men led by a slave owner (Edward Gorsuch). By the time the stand-off ended, Parker and the remaining ex-slaves prevailed, and Gorsuch paid for his attempt to re-enslave these families with his life. That day was a stark reminder of the struggle that lay ahead for those endeavoring to break the bonds of slavery in the U.S. Let's remember Parker and those brave families who were willing to stand up for their human rights and dignity by any means necessary. The same day that was rife with tragedy at the beginning of our current century marked the sesquicentennial of what was truly a day of triumph for Parker and his crew.

4. On this day in 1945 retiring Secretary of War Henry Stimson sent a letter to then-President Harry Truman urging that the Truman administration follow a cooperative path with the USSR as the Soviet government worked to develop nuclear energy and weapons capability. Said Stimson:

“I believe that the change in attitude toward the individual in Russia will come slowly and gradually and I am satisfied that we should not delay our approach to Russia in the matter of the atomic bomb until that process has been completed.... Furthermore, I believe that this long process of change in Russia is more likely to be expedited by the closer relationship in the matter of the atomic bomb which I suggest and the trust and confidence that I believe would be inspired by the method of approach which I have outlined.”

Stimson reasoned the Russians would at once pursue obtaining such a bomb for themselves. It was not a secret, as Americans were for years led to believe, but an industrial technology being explored before the War, and which the Soviets would obtain in, say, four to twenty, years.

In a reference to the US "having this weapon rather ostentatiously on our hip," Stimson noted, "their suspicions and their distrust of our purposes and motives will increase. It will inspire them to greater efforts in an all out effort to solve the problem."

"The chief lesson I have learned in a long life is that the only way you can make a man trustworthy is to trust him; and the surest way to make him untrustworthy is to distrust him and show your distrust."

Tragically, his advice was ignored by the Truman administration, and what followed was a protracted "Cold War" that served only to inflate our elites' Military-Industrial Complex and sense of paranoia at the expense of much more humanitarian endeavors. Let's remember Stimson's words, as our current White House (p)resident threatens to pursue a belligerent reaction to Iran's efforts to become a nuclear power in its own right.

5. On this day 103 years ago Mohandas Gandhi began his famous Satyagraha in opposition to British imperial rule. Although requiring decades, Gandhi's efforts at nonviolent resistance begun on 9-11-1906 would prove successful. Let's remember Gandhi and those he's inspired to follow a different, nonviolent path in the struggle for freedom and dignity.

6. On this day six years ago, the world lost one of the truly great slapstick comedians, John Ritter, who died of a heart attack. Ritter is likely best known for his role as Jack Tripper in the late 1970s & early 1980s sitcom Three's Company (based on the British sitcom Man About the House). Let's remember Ritter and others like him who've shared the gift of humor in these troubled times.

7. Last year on this day, indigenous campesinos were massacred by right-wing forces in what turned out to be a failed attempt to overthrow Bolivia's democratically elected President, Evo Morales. As several people observed as the events unfolded, the coup attempt was eerily reminiscent of the one in Chile that led to the installation of Pinochet. Let's remember those in Bolivia who died that day, and those whose hard work prevented the coup from succeeding.

Clearly, This day marks the anniversary of numerous events - some tragic, some uplifting. But bear in mind that ultimately today is merely another day on the calendar. We need not be straight-jacketed by the events of the past, nor need we forget them. There are many lessons to be learned from the events mentioned above with regards to human freedom and dignity. Let's spend some time today pondering those lessons.

Let's end by going back to September 11, 2001 for a moment. For me, it will be remembered as a day when we saw the schizophrenic character of American society in sharp relief. The acts of courage and helpfulness by countless individuals, and their willingness to reach out to others was truly inspiring. On the other hand, the American tendency to engage in belligerent jingoism and to immediately blame and attack people, nations, and cultures for the bombings reared its ugly head that day and in the aftermath, which to me was truly sickening. Sadly, the latter won out in the aftermath leading to an America that has since been on the warpath, with little regard for the consequences - either at home or abroad. Although our hope of the tide turning may be faint, that hope is the one candle we do possess in these dark times. To take a line from the late Bob Marley: "light up the darkness."


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Good riddance

John Stossel is moving from his role as propagandist at ABC (he's succeeded in making 20/20 unwatchable) to Fox News. Usually, if my wife wants to see me flee the living room for any other part of the house, the presence of The Moustache, as I refer to him, is sufficient. Good riddance.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Musical Interlude: PiL

Here's another blast from the past, this time as a sort of response to C&L's Late Night Music Club. Later PiL had its moments - and "Rise" with its fusion of rock and Celtic folk is one of more memorable moments from the band's later catalogue - but ultimately my heart belongs to their abrasive post-punk roots. "Poptones" was a track off of PiL's second album, Metal Box (or Second Edition as it was known in the States). Think of Lee "Scratch" Perry and Captain Beefheart meeting in a dark alley with some nihilistic antagonist out of a Dostoevsky novel, and you'll know what to expect. It's hard to believe that 30 years have gone by since Metal Box was originally issued.

Apparently, John Lydon is reforming PiL for a few tour dates. Like C&L's MaxMarginal, I see this kind of revival as likely to come off better than the Sex Pistols revivals simply because Lydon's post Sex Pistols work doesn't contain so much as a hint of pretense of youthful abandon or rebellion. Too bad former PiL bassist Jah Wobble isn't in the lineup. The band really was never the same once Wobble split. Which reminds me: Wobble's own creative output has been nothing short of stunning over the past couple decades, including my personal fave album Heaven and Earth in the mid 1990s (Bill Laswell produced, and jazz legend Pharoah Sanders appeared on a couple tracks - nuff said), and more recently Passage to Hades with jazz saxophonist Evan Parker.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Safe as milk

After witnessing from a distance the manufactured outrage over Obama addressing US school children, the text from the actual address itself is quite a let-down. After either reading or hearing people try to tell me that the Pope of Hope is a front man for the International Communist Conspiracy (just after I finally got used to tuning out all the babbling about the International Islamist Conspiracy - come to think of it, the two seem to be used interchangeably these days), I end up finding no good slogans like "Workers of the World Unite" or "Death to Capitalism" or the like. In fact, there is not a sliver of radicalism (left-wing or otherwise) to be found. Instead, its message is "work hard" and "stay in school" - in other words, the very things that I tell my kids daily. As I've said before, there is absolutely nothing radical about the current Prez or the wing of the Democratic Party with which he is most identified. Obama represents the CEO class quite well, offering up a sort of neoliberalism with a happy face. A genuine leftist (or reasonable facsimile thereof) would already have long since been disappointed or turned off as I was last year. So it goes. I could easily point to any of a number of genuine communists, socialists, anarchists, and the like who are in the current political climate a genuine breath of fresh air, insofar as they're willing offer reasoned critiques and proposed alternatives to the current economic and political structure.

The folks who've gone entirely overboard over a bland speech to school kids leave me to speculate as to their real agenda. Personally, I suspect that at least some of it can be chalked up to fear and loathing of a Prez who just happens to have darker pigmentation than the (almost) entirety of the assorted tea-baggers, birthers, deathers, and now speechers. In actuality, these assorted wingnuts overlap so much that the same individual often can be described as all four of those categories. Part of what led me to such a conclusion that racism is involved came from the code words used by wingnut extremists last year during the height of the electoral silly season (e.g., "I just don't know who Obama is" reminds me of the sorts of remarks made by white suburbanites whenever a family of color moved into the neighborhood), and more recently by demographic analyses of the birthers, who tend to be predominantly white, Southern, and Republican. I'd offer that these folks wouldn't be nearly as stirred up if the Prez was anyone else that the Dems and the GOP offered up last year. Call it a hunch.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

A happy anniversary

I'm a long-time baseball fan, and as I was watching tonight's Dodger-Padres game (Dodgers lost, but still lead their division) the announcers reminded their audience that today marks the 14th anniversary of Cal Ripken Jr.'s breaking of Lou Gherig's record for consecutive games played. Ripkin would then extend that streak for another five hundred or so games, before taking a day off. That feat was a combination of hard work and good luck. Ripken largely avoided the sorts of injuries that would have potentially derailed such a streak, played and practiced hard, and somehow gave credence to the old adage that 90% of life is just showing up. There was something curiously old-school about Ripken's play and persona. In an era when star professional athletes rarely stay with the same team for more than a handful of years in the chase of the next multi-million dollar contract, Ripken managed to spend his entire lengthy career with the same organization.

I'm sure that there were many back in Gherig's day who were convinced that his consecutive games played record would never be broken, so I know better than to preclude the possibility that Ripken's record may one day be topped. I don't see that happening for a long time though. The sort of athlete who can pull that one off seems to come around but once in a generation.

Signs of the times

Over at Calculated Risk, I noticed a couple posts worth mentioning. One has to do with the surge in homeless children and their impact on school districts. Now although Calculated Risk didn't notice the surge in homelessness generally, some of us did notice. In my remote outpost in the American outback, we've also seen a surge in homeless travelers hitchhiking or bicycling their way along the nearby highway, and occasionally paying our few local facilities a visit (near as I can reckon, our community's locals react as if they've been invaded by aliens from outer space). I'm sure considerable effort has been expended to make sure that the homeless are invisible as possible, which may be part of why our intelligentsia fail to notice. If the "recovery" proves as ephemeral as I think it will be, this very human problem will only get worse. I'm not intending to come across harsh (I hold the blog in high regard), but merely wish that more people whose writing can reach large audiences would open their eyes a bit more often.

Next up is a mention of the likely psychological impact of the unemployment rates we've witnessed during the Great Recession. This recession has hit the all of us hard, but has been a bit unusual in that it has actually affected those with college and professional degrees, and who are relatively affluent to a relatively high degree. As a group, they're still faring better than those with less education or less affluent circumstances, but the shock experienced by many former middle and upper middle class workers will have long-term repercussions. Let's just say that those who manage to somehow get back on their feet aren't going to be going on shopping sprees.

Those Nazi doctor comparisons are compelling

Read for yourself:
"CIA doctors face human experimentation claims":

[Physicians for Human Rights] says health professionals participated at every stage in the development, implementation and legal justification of what it calls the CIA's secret "torture programme".

The American Medical Association, the largest body of physicians in the US, said it was in open dialogue with the Obama administration and other government agencies over the role of doctors. "The participation of physicians in torture and interrogation is a violation of core ethical values," it said.

The most incendiary accusation of PHR's latest report, Aiding Torture, is that doctors actively monitored the CIA's interrogation techniques with a view to determining their effectiveness, using detainees as human subjects without their consent. The report concludes that such data gathering was "a practice that approaches unlawful experimentation".

Human experimentation without consent has been prohibited in any setting since 1947, when the Nuremberg Code, which resulted from the prosecution of Nazi doctors, set down 10 sacrosanct principles. The code states that voluntary consent of subjects is essential and that all unnecessary physical and mental suffering should be avoided.

The Geneva conventions also ban medical experiments on prisoners and prisoners of war, which they describe as "grave breaches". Under CIA guidelines, doctors and psychologists were required to be present during the use of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques on detainees.

In April, a leaked report from the International Committee of the Red Cross found that medical staff employed by the CIA had been present during waterboarding, and had even used what appeared to be a pulse oxymeter, placed on the prisoner's finger to monitor his oxygen saturation during the procedure. The Red Cross condemned such activities as a "gross breach of medical ethics". PHR has based its accusation of possible experimentation on the 2004 report of the CIA's own inspector general into the agency's interrogation methods, which was finally published two weeks ago after pressure from the courts.

If the ICRC, AMA and PHR are all talking about gross violations of medical ethics, verging on contravening the Geneva Conventions and being actual war crimes, then that's serious, right?

But by the terms of Holder's remit to his special prosecutor, all these CIA-employed medical staff are off the hook. How does that work?

Simple: as long as the nation committing these acts is in charge of the investigations, it will do whatever is necessary to protect its leadership in particular from facing any possible repercussions, including letting medical personnel under CIA employ go unpunished. It would really take something dramatic like the US experiencing military defeat on the scale that Germany did in WWII before we actually see any serious investigations and prosecutions with regard to gross human rights abuses that violate international law. I just don't see that happening for the foreseeable future.