From Hullabaloo, Digby quoting writer Chris Hays, who canvassed voters in Wisconsin during the 2004 presidential race:
"These questions, too, more often than not yielded bewilderment. As far as I could tell, the problem wasn't the word "issue"; it was a fundamental lack of understanding of what constituted the broad category of the "political." The undecideds I spoke to didn't seem to have any intuitive grasp of what kinds of grievances qualify as political grievances. Often, once I would engage undecided voters, they would list concerns, such as the rising cost of health care; but when I would tell them that Kerry had a plan to lower health-care premiums, they would respond in disbelief--not in disbelief that he had a plan, but that the cost of health care was a political issue. It was as if you were telling them that Kerry was promising to extend summer into December.
To cite one example: I had a conversation with an undecided truck driver who was despondent because he had just hit a woman's car after having worked a week straight. He didn't think the accident was his fault and he was angry about being sued. "There's too many lawsuits these days," he told me. I was set to have to rebut a "tort reform" argument, but it never came. Even though there was a ready-made connection between what was happening in his life and a campaign issue, he never made the leap. I asked him about the company he worked for and whether it would cover his legal expenses; he said he didn't think so. I asked him if he was unionized and he said no. "The last job was unionized," he said. "They would have covered my expenses." I tried to steer him towards a political discussion about how Kerry would stand up for workers' rights and protect unions, but it never got anywhere. He didn't seem to think there was any connection between politics and whether his company would cover his legal costs. Had he made a connection between his predicament and the issue of tort reform, it might have benefited Bush; had he made a connection between his predicament and the issue of labor rights, it might have benefited Kerry. He made neither, and remained undecided."
Just expanding a bit on yesterday's post.
I'm really starting to believe that whatever constitutes the political selves of most Americans has become so degraded in recent decades that we no longer have a population capable of democracy. Generally, the mainstream media have been hinting at this for years: think of all those silly tests offered by Time or USA Today, you know, the ones where you get to see how your political knowledge compares with high school seniors. Of course, as Howard Zinn used to observe, such journalistic exercises are much more about establishing that journalists know more than the rest of us than about showing where we really are in terms of political expertise. But even if these tests are something of a sucker punch, the overall idea that we have a wildly misinformed or uninformed electorate is right on. That is, that most Americans don't seem to know much about the formal structures of our nation's government is kind of a side show. The real problem is that voters have no real or relevant idea why they're voting on their chosen candidates.
I strongly asserted yesterday that cultural identity necessarily takes the place of rational consideration of issues for most Americans when it comes to voting. I think Republicans are better at appealing to this dynamic than Democrats are, but it probably wouldn't be much better if the situation was reversed. That is, while my lefty ideology makes me prefer the Democrats, the closest thing to a liberal party we have in the US, I don't want them in office just because Americans feel good about them. Rather, I want Americans to think deeply about the fate of the nation and to agonize accordingly over the issues. I want Americans to read every day about current events and political theory. I want Americans to have an understanding of political power, who has it, who doesn't, and why. I want Americans to study economics in their spare time, so they can truly decide when business should win, when workers should win, and when there should be compromise. And weighing the needs of consumers versus the needs of business ought to be in there somewhere, too.
In short, democracy isn't some passive thing, where citizens can go about their lives in their own personal bubbles, ignoring the world around them in order to concentrate on the details of their existences: rather, democracy is active, and requires a relatively high level of personal involvement from its people, study, contemplation, discussion and debate, and sometimes even street demonstration. Unfortunately, we have a society where such things are strongly discouraged, and, unsurprisingly, most people take the path of least resistance.
So, then, what do you get when you have the formal structures of democracy, but a citizenry which cannot or will not participate in a meaningful way? I have no idea what to call it, but it certainly isn't democracy. Somebody or something else runs the country; it sure as hell isn't the people.
Monday, May 30, 2011
Posted by Ron at 10:11 PM
Bill Clements Dead: Former Texas Gov. Dies
From the AP via the Huffington Post news wire:
Former Texas Gov. Bill Clements, who in 1979 became the state's first Republican elected governor since Reconstruction, has died at 94, his family said.
Clements, whose belief that state government should operate like a big business helped change the face of Texas politics, died Sunday after what his family said was a brief stay at a Dallas-area hospital.
Clements, a Texas oilman, saw his first term in office as a major change in the way the state operated.
"It is the largest business in Texas and yet we run it like it was a soda water shed – or a barbecue stand," Clements said shortly before turning over the chief executive's job to Democrat Mark White, a lawyer and part-owner of a barbecue firm who upset Clements' re-election bid in 1982.
Clements came back four years later to defeat White as governor and served until 1991.
This would be otherwise unremarkable. I mean, Clements was an old man, 94, and people die when they get old. Clements didn't do much as governor to really change how Texas functions, either--sure, he did sort of serve as John the Baptist to the GOP's Jesus in its ultimate takeover of the Lone Star State, but Clements dealt with a solidly Democratic state legislature for his two staggered terms, and necessarily played by their rules. As far as I can tell, he pretty much left the Governor's office as he found it. Unremarkable.
Except for the fact that he was the first politician I ever voted for.
I was eighteen, right out of high school, and in my freshman year at the University of Texas, right there in political town, Austin. I didn't know a goddamned thing about politics, or power, or economics. But I thought I did. Actually, I was certain I did. And that's why I voted Republican the first chance I got, November of 1986. And in extreme hindsight, that's not so bad. I mean, this was well before the GOP had collectively decided to go bat-shit crazy, you know, the way it is today. Clements was a conservative, to be sure, but pretty tame compared to our current bunch of psychotic Republican super stars. Really, he wasn't too far off the beaten path from the guy he lost to, and then beat, Mark White.
But there is something in extreme hindsight that is pretty bad: I voted for Clements, a Republican, out of tribal loyalty more than anything else. My family was Republican. My home town, Kingwood, was Republican. It was the Reagan era, Morning in America, and liberals were fools to be mocked, which they increasingly were on television and in movies. It couldn't have possibly been about any real grasp of the issues because I didn't understand them. I mean, I was all for shrinking the size of government, but I didn't really understand what that meant, what the "big government" actually did that made it a valuable institution. I understood foreign policy in terms of WWII movies, which are, needless to say, fiction set against a factual backdrop, not any real explanation of how national governments ought to interact with each other. My heart swelled when I saw the stars and stripes, which was for real Americans, who never questioned our nation's greatness.
In short, I voted Republican because it felt good to do so.
Within a few short years, after encountering actual liberals who could actually defend themselves, I made it a point to never lose any debates with them. So I started looking at the liberal construction of reality, and eventually found that liberals were able to answer numerous questions that conservatives couldn't--I mean sure, conservatives had responses, but they were unsatisfying, not real answers. Like CS Lewis who went on an intellectual mission to disprove Christianity, but instead became a believer, I tried to arm myself against snotty elitist liberals, only to come over to their side.
I look at conservatives today, twenty five years after my first trip to the voting booth, and, for the most part, I see people who aren't too terribly different from the guy I was back in 1986. There are notable exceptions, of course, but for the most part I get the sense that conservatives in 2011 are people who don't really get the issues in an intellectually fair way, but don't realize it, and can therefore never admit it, to themselves or anybody else. Actually, liberals are like this, too, but at least their moral sense of fairness and compassion guides them, roughly, in an ideological direction that I can side with in a debate.
The long and short of all this is that American politics in the 21st century is far more about identity, about what kinds of people we think we are, than it is about rational consideration of numerous issues. I got lucky in that I hate losing an argument, so I forced myself to think it all out, forced myself to confront ideas and topics I didn't want to consider. I mean, it is, of course, much more complicated than that--I had close friends come out of the closet; I decided to be an artist, which put me in a tough place as far as conservative ideology and free market fundamentalism go; I hung out with arm chair radicals and socialists. But, for whatever reasons, I ended up taking a long hard look at my own ideology and saw that it couldn't stand on its own two feet. This is unusual for most Americans. I'm definitely not saying I'm better than anybody or anything along those lines: I just got lucky.
But ideology is serious business. We really ought not to leave it up to luck. I'm not fool enough to believe that conservatives would naturally agree with me on most issues if they, too, submitted themselves to some politically harsh introspection, but I do know that I can have honest discussions with such people.
Right now, honest discussion is impossible.
Posted by Ron at 2:27 AM
Saturday, May 28, 2011
Gilbert "Gil" Scott-Heron (April 1, 1949 — May 27, 2011) was an American poet, musician, and author known primarily for his work as a spoken word performer in the 1970s and 80s, and for his collaborative soul works with musician Brian Jackson. His collaborative efforts with Jackson featured a musical fusion of jazz, blues and soul music, as well as lyrical content concerning social and political issues of the time, delivered in both rapping and melismatic vocal styles by Scott-Heron. The music of these albums, most notably Pieces of a Man and Winter in America in the early 1970s, influenced and helped engender later African-American music genres such as hip hop and neo soul. Scott-Heron's recording work is often associated with black militant activism and has received much critical acclaim for one of his most well-known compositions "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised". His poetic style has been influential upon every generation of hip hop since his popularity began. In addition to being widely considered an influence in today's music, Scott-Heron remained active until his death, and in 2010 released his first new album in 16 years, entitled I'm New Here.
Much more here.
Scott-Heron was a real artist. That is, he readily included political themes in his jazz poetry stylings, but more than that, his work blew me away when I first heard it. That's why I'm just going to let it speak for itself:
You will not be able to stay home, brother.
You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out.
You will not be able to lose yourself on skag and skip,
Skip out for beer during commercials,
Because the revolution will not be televised.
The revolution will not be televised.
The revolution will not be brought to you by Xerox
In 4 parts without commercial interruptions.
The revolution will not show you pictures of Nixon
blowing a bugle and leading a charge by John
Mitchell, General Abrams and Spiro Agnew to eat
hog maws confiscated from a Harlem sanctuary.
The revolution will not be televised.
The revolution will not be brought to you by the
Schaefer Award Theatre and will not star Natalie
Woods and Steve McQueen or Bullwinkle and Julia.
The revolution will not give your mouth sex appeal.
The revolution will not get rid of the nubs.
The revolution will not make you look five pounds
thinner, because the revolution will not be televised, Brother.
There will be no pictures of you and Willie May
pushing that shopping cart down the block on the dead run,
or trying to slide that color television into a stolen ambulance.
NBC will not be able predict the winner at 8:32
or report from 29 districts.
The revolution will not be televised.
There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down
brothers in the instant replay.
There will be no pictures of pigs shooting down
brothers in the instant replay.
There will be no pictures of Whitney Young being
run out of Harlem on a rail with a brand new process.
There will be no slow motion or still life of Roy
Wilkens strolling through Watts in a Red, Black and
Green liberation jumpsuit that he had been saving
For just the proper occasion.
Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Hooterville
Junction will no longer be so damned relevant, and
women will not care if Dick finally gets down with
Jane on Search for Tomorrow because Black people
will be in the street looking for a brighter day.
The revolution will not be televised.
There will be no highlights on the eleven o'clock
news and no pictures of hairy armed women
liberationists and Jackie Onassis blowing her nose.
The theme song will not be written by Jim Webb,
Francis Scott Key, nor sung by Glen Campbell, Tom
Jones, Johnny Cash, Englebert Humperdink, or the Rare Earth.
The revolution will not be televised.
The revolution will not be right back after a message
about a white tornado, white lightning, or white people.
You will not have to worry about a dove in your
bedroom, a tiger in your tank, or the giant in your toilet bowl.
The revolution will not go better with Coke.
The revolution will not fight the germs that may cause bad breath.
The revolution will put you in the driver's seat.
The revolution will not be televised, will not be televised,
will not be televised, will not be televised.
The revolution will be no re-run brothers;
The revolution will be live.
So...you know why the revolution will not be televised, right? It's because revolutionaries will take over and shut down the oppressive capitalist propaganda institution known as the mass media.
How could this song not blow me away?
Farewell Gil Scott-Heron.
Posted by Ron at 10:21 PM
Friday, May 27, 2011
Medicare and Mediscares
From the New York Times, my favorite Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman on the recent GOP attempts to gut Medicare:
Mr. Ryan may claim — and he may even believe — that he’s facing a backlash because his opponents are lying about his proposals. But the reality is that the Ryan plan is turning into a political disaster for Republicans, not because the plan’s critics are lying about it, but because they’re describing it accurately.
Take, for example, the statement that the Ryan plan would end Medicare as we know it. This may have Republicans screaming “Mediscare!” but it’s the absolute truth: The plan would replace our current system, in which the government pays major health costs, with a voucher system, in which seniors would, in effect, be handed a coupon and told to go find private coverage.
The new program might still be called Medicare — hey, we could replace government coverage of major expenses with an allowance of two free aspirins a day, and still call it “Medicare” — but it wouldn’t be the same program. And if the cost estimates of the Congressional Budget Office are at all right, the inadequate size of the vouchers — which by 2030 would cover only about a third of seniors’ health costs — would leave many if not most older Americans unable to afford essential care.
In fact, it wasn’t really a deficit-reduction plan. Once you remove the absurd assumptions — discretionary spending, including defense, falling to Calvin Coolidge levels, and huge tax cuts for corporations and the rich, with no loss in revenue? — it’s highly questionable whether it would reduce the deficit at all.
What the Ryan plan is, instead, is an attempt to snooker Americans into accepting a standard right-wing wish list under the guise of deficit reduction. And Americans, it seems, have seen through the deception.
Right. If you're actually serious about reducing the deficit, the first thing you want to do is get the economy revved up again such that more people are working and earning bigger incomes, which necessarily results in higher tax revenues. Indeed, as Krugman keeps reminding us, in addition to the reckless spending of the Bush years, on war and non-negotiable drug prices for senior citizens, the biggest factor increasing the deficit is the Great Recession, which has reduced government income on a massive scale.
But nobody in Washington really seems all that interested in getting people back to work. Instead, they want to gut the social safety net, Republicans because they just don't like the idea of a social safety net, and Democrats because they're stupid cowards. I mean, none of them actually say this. To them, it's all about being "serious" or about being "grownup." Hell, many of them have probably actually convinced themselves that this is what it's all about. But it's not. Nobody really gives a shit about the deficit. Republicans just want to fuck people over and Democrats are afraid of Republicans. That's what it's all about.
So there's this GOP Medicare "plan," which is increasingly looking like a deadly albatross around Republican necks, that its supporters insist is not destroying but rather modifying the very popular government program. This is, of course, a total lie, and it is only thanks to the resounding success of Medicare over the years that Americans immediately see such bullshit for what it is--I mean, Medicare is popular with everybody, from black and white to rich and poor, by and large because, unlike the private health care regime most Americans under 65 suffer, Medicare works, and it positively affects virtually the entire population. If it was a smaller scale program, one that only affected a much smaller percentage of the population, the GOP might have been able to get away with it. But no. The Republicans, drunk with a false sense of success based on national discontent with Obama's wishy-washy pro-corporate health care reform mixed with outrage over his being bedfellows with the banking sector, went for the knockout.
Instead, they've fallen flat on their faces. How long will it be before the Democrats fritter away yet another golden opportunity offered up by their opponents? I'd say about five minutes.
Posted by Ron at 2:14 AM
Thursday, May 26, 2011
The Crisis in America's Ghettos
In case you didn't know it, what's called a "recession" in White America is called a "depression" in Black America. During much of last year white unemployment held steady at around 8.8 percent. Down the block, though, it was about 12 per cent for Latinos and in Afro neighborhoods across town it averaged 16 per cent. And as unemployment spiked at 24 percent for white teens last year it hit 45 percent for black teens, according to the Kirwan Institute at Ohio State University.
Year after year, decade after decade, Washington has cheated black communities out of economic opportunity. Instead of investing in a framework to help blacks advance by their own initiative, the Federal government has flushed billions down the toilets of friendly foreign strongmen such as Egypt's Hosni Mubarek. Black neighborhoods have been the last to get public services from flower gardens to tot lots to street lamps to garbage collection to low-rent housing. They've been the first to have their children pulled off to fill the beds of privatized prisons and fill the ranks that march off to fight Washington's wars of aggression. Their children have gone to the most run-down schools and have been expected to learn to read from raggedy books. The story of dilapidated housing is also well known. As one child in a Washington, D.C., slum not far from the White House told me, "The rats come runnin' through here like express trains."
Back in 1962, the Urban League's Whitney Young pleaded for a "domestic Marshall Plan" that would revitalize the nation's ghettos. But Washington preferred to spend its money on military hardware in Viet Nam. A half century has gone by and not that much has changed. Marc Morial, the UL's president, is hard at work pushing childhood education, trying to stop home foreclosures, and canvassing employers to provide jobs for minorities. The change is that instead of fighting in Viet Nam, Washington is fighting in the Middle East. Same difference.
The unemployment figures cited above are the official ones, which do not include part time workers who wish that they were working full time, workers working for less than their skill set would earn if the right jobs were available, and workers who have been so demoralized that they have given up looking for work. Throw those groups in and you have much higher figures. Of course, the figures are much much much higher in black ghettos.
Yesterday, I posted about President Obama's apparent impotence on, or utter disinterest in, doing something about the fact that the socioeconomic fates of African-Americans have plunged dramatically during his tenure in the White House. I thought it would be a good idea to follow up with a post showing just how badly most black people have been doing lately, and let me tell you, it's looking pretty bad.
Conservatives, and lots of moderates, like to look at this ongoing crisis from the individual's perspective: all black people have to do is get an education, or start a business, or save their money, get off the drugs, stop having children out of wedlock, act like responsible men, and on and on and on. And because conservatives and moderates control the public discourse, that's what the conversation is about, essentially how black people are lazy and stupid.
Without addressing the racism inherent in this notion, it is obvious to honest observers that chronic poverty and social dysfunction exist within a social context, and totally ignoring that context in order to focus on individual behavior makes for a truly warped understanding of the situation. That is, when you go to shitty schools in crime infested neighborhoods with absolutely no prospects for a career or economic advancement in sight, when your parents have endured the same situation, and their parents before them, and their parents before them, well, that's your lot in life, and bland platitudes such as "go to college" tend to look like total bullshit--indeed, when you're in the ghetto, a life of drugs and crime doesn't seem half bad when compared to spending your entire life working at Burger King.
The only way to break this cycle is with some intense and hardcore social intervention, the likes of which haven't even been discussed since the 60s. Obama's obviously not going to do this.
So who is?
Posted by Ron at 2:16 AM
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
In the Age of Obama, Black America Suffering the Most
From the Nation via AlterNet:
In the black commentariat, opinion is divided over whether African-Americans should demand a more overt commitment to racial justice from a black president or refrain from doing so because it would weaken his appeal to others. The Rev. Al Sharpton insists that calling on Obama to be a “black exponent of black views” is “just stupid,” since it will embolden conservative attacks on projects black people need. Princeton professor Cornel West insists that Obama has “a certain fear of free black men” and “feels most comfortable with upper-middle-class white and Jewish men.”
By concentrating so heavily on race, both sides detract from his responsibilities. Obama should do more for black people -- not because he is black but because black people are the citizens suffering most. Black people have every right to make demands on Obama -- not because he’s black but because they gave him a greater percentage of their votes than any other group, and he owes his presidency to them. Like any president, he should be constantly pressured to put the issue of racial injustice front and center.
This is the track I've tried to take as a blogger and political critic: yes, Obama is a black man, but I accept and understand the position that he is the President of the United States, not chief representative for African-American concerns. I mean, obviously, it would have been suicide on the campaign trail to in any way encourage the notion that he would be going to Washington to clean up the centuries old mess of compounding injustices done to people of African descent in the name of America--we've come a long way as far as that goes, but we're still in a place such that white people, liberal and conservative alike, are freaked out by what they consider to be "identity politics," even though it's really all about justice.
But like the essay above asserts, Obama, as President of the United States, is, as an individual, the person who is most responsible for dealing with issues of racial justice, regardless of his own race and ethnicity--for that matter, so was Bush when he was in office, and Clinton before him, and back on down the line to the very beginning. So blasting the President for what appears to be utter impotence when it comes to making things right for African-Americans is totally fair game. I get that Obama is hyper-aware of the political risk he would take in being perceived as being too black, whatever that may mean, but frankly, I don't care. It has always been politically risky doing the right thing for black people in America--I mean, President Lincoln was fucking murdered for doing the right thing for black people; LBJ lost the South for the Democrats, an extraordinarily important region for the party's political fates, because he signed the Civil Rights Act back in 1965. There is no way to do what's right in this country for African-Americans without massive white backlash.
That is, no guts, no glory. If you sidestep the issue, things get worse. The only way to go is to deal with it head on. And Obama is most decidedly not dealing with the issue head on.
To some extent, I differ with Cornel West's point of view: while I agree with most of what I've heard him say about Obama in terms of political critique, I don't have the ability to stare into the President's soul to see what he's all about. That is, my view, based on Obama's issue positions and actions, is that he's a conservative pro-corporate Democrat, like the Clintons before him, meaning that he favors America's wealth-dominated establishment, which provided the lion's share of campaign funding that got him into office, and governs accordingly. In short, he's a neoliberal with socially progressive attitudes--neoliberals don't "fear...free black men;" they just don't give a shit one way or another unless such free black men have wealth and power.
But of this I am certain: African-Americans' lot in life has indeed gotten worse since Obama came to power, and it is his responsibility to reverse that trend, regardless of political risk. It is an absolute shame that his political ideology by and large rules that out.
Posted by Ron at 2:19 AM
Monday, May 23, 2011
Sunday, May 22, 2011
From Digby over at Hullabaloo:
This is the source of the mistrust that characterizes the relationship between the progressives and the centrists (or neo-liberals in Cruishank's piece ) in the Democratic Party coalition. It's not just that progressive goals are often thwarted --- so are conservatives'. Nobody always gets what they want. It's that progressive values and issues are actively disdained and used as bargaining chips in negotiations. It's one thing to feel that you aren't getting what you want, it's quite another to be constantly worried that you will lose what you already have --- and at the hands of your own coalition allies.
This all worked for the centrists when the Republicans played bipartisan politics. But they don't anymore. They have adopted a hardcore partisan approach that does not allow give and take with the opposition party. The Centrists learned this during the health care battle and their response has been to manipulate and strong arm the progressives in their coalition to get the votes they need. (In the old days, they could just leave them standing on the sidelines and make deals with Republicans.)
You simply can't have a working coalition in which a very large faction is constantly used as political cannon fodder. If the anger doesn't kill you the disillusionment will. The old bipartisan way is dead for now and Democrats had better adjust to dealing fairly and equitably within its own coalition or they're going to find that they don't have one.
Frankly, I'm amazed that the Democrats still manage to count progressives in their coalition.
Back around 2003 I was having one of those friendly arguments, fashionable at the time, about whether to vote Green or Democrat. It ended up being kind of tense, a bit less friendly than how it started, with my buddy trying to pin me into a corner: "Sure, vote Green and satisfy your conscience, but the Greens are in no position to do anything; the Democrats, at least, have some political power, and can get some results." My pleas that the Democrats actually don't get results, or at least the results I want, went unheeded. The conversation ended unsatisfyingly, with with my friend thinking I was an idiot for choosing ideology over pragmatism, and me frustrated that my friend didn't realize that, either way, practicality or idealism, the Democrats were no longer a party that could call itself liberal.
That was nearly a decade ago and things have just gotten worse since then. I've grown much more unflinching in my criticism of the Democrats, and pretty much refuse to vote for them until they get their shit together. I don't know these days if the Greens are the way to go, but I'm all the more certain that the Democrats have moved even further to the right. Meanwhile, the Republicans have become far right extremists. And I don't really talk much anymore with the above mentioned guy who got in my face about voting for Nader.
Digby's right in observing that liberals and progressives can take this bastard-child status only for so long before they bolt the party. I mean, I've been gone for years, myself. Lately, the Democrats have been enjoying some success, but only because the Republicans have gone so far around the bend that they're obviously bat-shit crazy, and most Americans know it. Sooner or later, though, they're going to figure out how to hide their lunatics, going to find a smooth-talking movie star type to be their party's public face, develop some language that sounds less psychotic, and then start winning again. All while the Democrats continue to be in profound disarray.
I really do want this country's traditional liberal party to get its shit together, if only because being a Democrat pisses off Republicans. But I just can't support a party that has nothing to do with my vision for the country. As far as I can tell, the Donkey Party is ultimately doomed.
Posted by Ron at 11:54 PM
Saturday, May 21, 2011
Why Are Cops Allowed to Film Citizens, But Citizens Not Allowed to Film Police Brutality?
But wait -- why not?
Though you'd expect that uncomfortable question to evoke dissembling, Fraternal Order of Police spokesman Jim Pasco was quite straightforward about it.
Police officers, he told NPR, "need to move quickly, in split seconds, without giving a lot of thought to what the adverse consequences for them might be." He added that law enforcement authorities believe "that anything that's going to have a chilling effect on an officer moving -- an apprehension that he's being videotaped and may be made to look bad -- could cost him or some citizen their life."
Obviously, nobody wants to stop officers from doing their much-needed job (well, nobody other than budget-cutting politicians who are slashing police forces). In fact, organizations such as the NAACP have urged citizens to videotape police precisely to make sure police are doing ALL of their job -- including protecting individuals' civil liberties.
This is not some academic or theoretical concern, and video recording is not a needless exercise in Bill of Rights zealotry. The assault on civil liberties in America is a very real problem and monitoring police is absolutely required in light of recent data.
Yeah, this is nuts and is becoming increasingly disturbing to me. The whole point to video recording the police is precisely to get them to hesitate. That, of course, and to catch them red-handed when they don't hesitate. And by "hesitate" I mean "make sure they don't shoot the wrong guy" or "make sure they don't tase the wrong guy" or "make sure they don't shoot or tase a guy who's already on the ground and not resisting" or "make sure they don't throw the elderly woman they just pulled over on the ground in a rage of self-righteousness and hyper-masculinity." Because, you know, bystanders have captured all that shit and more on video in recent years. All in the news, and it wouldn't have been if it hadn't been recorded on video.
What I haven't seen in the news is any story suggesting that cops hesitated in life or death situations because they were afraid of somebody with a video camera. I'm not saying it never happens, just that I've never heard of it. Certainly I've never heard of any academic studies suggesting such a thing. It's really difficult not to conclude that this is bullshit. Cops just don't want to be on video--it's too inconvenient for the power tripping that attracted them to the job in the first place.
Look, this really is basic civil rights stuff. If you believe that the 2nd amendment is about making governmental authority honest, then you've got to support the concept of recording the police. I mean, it's a lot less lethal than weapons, and essentially serves the same purpose. Except that nobody has to die. Unless of course there's actually something to the cops' undocumented fear of "hesitation," which there isn't, and, even if there is, can easily be overridden with training.
Seriously. There is an enormous problem with police misbehavior in this country, really, and video does a small part in helping to stem the tide. I'm not much of a video hound, myself, but in no way do I feel constrained by any of these anti-video laws, or any prosecutor's creative interpretation of existing statutes that don't really say anything about video. That is, I strongly advocate civil disobedience as far as recording the cops goes.
I mean, if we're not watching the cops, who is?
Posted by Ron at 10:23 PM
Friday, May 20, 2011
BIGGER THAN BIN LADEN: OBAMA CALLS
FOR ISRAEL WITHDRAWAL TO 1967 BORDERS
From the Washington Post:
The president pressed Israel, in unusually frank terms, to reach a final peace agreement with the Palestinians, citing the boundaries in place on the eve of the June 1967 Arab-Israeli War as the starting point for negotiation about borders.
The formulation goes beyond principles outlined by President George W. Bush, who stated during his first term that “it is unrealistic to expect” Israel to pull back to the 1967 boundaries, which were based on cease-fire lines established in 1949. Obama said the negotiations about final borders, which he indicated may include land swaps to accommodate Israel’s large settlement blocs, should result in “a viable Palestine, a secure Israel.”
The president said a “full and phased withdrawal of Israeli military forces” from the West Bank should be carried out in coordination with Palestinian security forces. He described a future Palestinian state as “nonmilitarized,” a key Israeli demand.
Some brief history you probably don't know:
When Israel emerged triumphant from 1967's Six Day War they ended up occupying land that had previously been controlled by the Palestinians, Arabs who had lived there for centuries before the Zionist movement brought hundreds of thousands of Jews to the region starting in the nineteenth century. The problem was that Israel's leaders didn't really intend to end up with all this new territory. They had no plans for dealing with it. It was nice to take more of what had historically been Jewish land in Biblical times, but there were already lots of people living there who were not friendly to the recently formed Jewish state. Israel had no idea what to do.
They couldn't just expel the Palestinians. The world would freak out on it, and besides, Arab nations in the vicinity already had tens of thousands of Palestinian refugees from the previous conflict of the late 40s, and didn't really want any more. In short, there was no place for the Palestinians of the Occupied Territories to go, and it would be diplomatically unwise to force them out, anyway. So Israel settled on long term occupation and control of these newly conquered Arabs. The idea, however imperfect, was to make life for the Palestinians so insufferable that they would leave voluntarily, in spite of the fact that there wasn't really any place for them to go. As Israeli General and statesman Moshe Dayan once said, “You shall continue to live like dogs, and whoever wishes may leave.”
But like I said, there was no place for them to go, so Israel just continued to treat the Palestinians like shit for decades, with no end in sight. That is essentially the Jewish state's official policy to this day, with a few variations here and there, such as Jewish settlements, or sending in the tanks from time to time. Of course, the whole thing is a total failure, and America's blind, deaf, and dumb support for Israel, no matter what it does, has gotten us into diplomatic hot water again and again--indeed, 9/11 and the whole "War on Terror" is simply another chapter in the ongoing epic tale.
That President Obama would even casually utter a desire to see Israel withdraw to the 1967 borders, which is pretty much what the entire civilized world has wanted since the late 60s, is a profound break with the last thirty years or so of US policy in the region. I mean, for decades we've just supported everything Israel has done regarding the Palestinians. But not now. Indeed, Israel's political establishment is freaking out about it even as I write this. And the political forces here in the US that have driven our schizophrenic policy toward Israel/Palestine, from both parties, are freaking out, too.
In some ways, this is as groundbreaking as an announcement that we were putting Bush and Cheney on trial for war crimes would be. I mean, mainstream US political discourse insists that Israel's existence is on the line here, which is, of course, entirely untrue because Israel is easily the dominant power in the region, a minor superpower, even. But that's what the US establishment believes. And Obama just told them all to go to hell.
I'm still pissed at the President for all kinds of shit, but this is good, really good. Now let's see if he can put his money where his mouth is.
Posted by Ron at 1:24 AM
Thursday, May 19, 2011
Catholic Church Investigation Says Hippies
Made Catholic Priests Sexually Abuse Children
From Think Progress courtesy of Eschaton:
"Instead, the report says, the abuse occurred because priests who were poorly prepared and monitored, and were under stress, landed in the midst of the social and sexual turmoil of the 1960s and 1970s."
This info was presented on the left side of the blogosphere with a sort of understanding that it's total bullshit to blame the massive pedophile scandal on the sexual revolution, and of course, that is total bullshit. After all, hundreds of millions of Americans went through the 60s and 70s and did not become child rapists. Catholic priests, presumably the guardians of traditional Christian morality from a Catholic perspective, should have seen themselves as a bulwark against such social changes, rather than as the new sexuality's vanguard. Indeed, this kind of makes no sense. If the Catholic Church has always been opposed to sexual liberation, how, then, could priests celebrate sexual freedom by molesting defenseless boys?
On the other hand, this is an interesting thought in the way of explaining such vile behavior, rather than providing an excuse.
I'm forty three years old, too young to have really seen or understood what it was like before the sexual revolution, so I certainly have no way to compare the world today to how it was then. But I imagine the change must have been fairly profound. It happened fairly quickly, over the course of about a quarter century. First, explicit sexual imagery started to appear in the mass media. Then the birth control pill hit the market. Then everybody started getting divorces. Then disco and Three's Company. Like I said, I can only imagine what it must have been like to have watched it all happen, but some sort of dysphoria must have surely resulted in a not insignificant portion of the population. I mean, Protestant clergy wasn't exempt, either, lots of sex scandals for them, too, over the years. Human beings are, in the end, human beings, whether they claim to speak for God or not.
On the third hand, short of NAMBLA, I don't recall reading that there was a substantial pedophilia aspect to the sexual revolution. So this notion that the sexual revolution played a role in the ongoing scandal is, to say the least, incomplete in terms of providing an overall understanding. I just think the Bishops have a point worth considering, and that liberals shouldn't dismiss it with a bunch of elitist snickering.
As long as they don't use the sexual revolution as an excuse. Because, you know, there is no excuse.
Posted by Ron at 1:20 AM
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
First Habitable Planet Close To Being Confirmed By Scientists
From the Huffington Post:
Gliese 581d, a planet orbiting the red-dwarf star Gliese, may be the first real candidate for human expansion. That is, if it didn't take 3,000 lifetimes to get there, according to Science Daily.
From Fast Company:
There are no days on Gliese 581d; one side is perpetually light and one side is perpetually dark. People thought this would mean that the night side would be perpetually frozen. But a new study by the Laboratoire de Météorologie Dynamique at the Institute Pierre Simon Laplace found that because of the local star's red light that penetrates deep into the heavy carbon atmosphere, the planet regulates heat quite well. Downside: It will always be a sort of red-hued dusk. And gravity is twice as strong, meaning it won't be too pleasant to walk around. But at least we'll be able to live there. The problem, as with most things in space, is the distance. At 20 light years away, it would take 300,000 years to get there.More here.
Twenty light years? Pish tosh!
It is indeed impossible to travel faster than the speed of light, but, in theory, we can approach the speed of light, and, needless to say, that's really fucking fast. Seriously. There have been designs for interstellar space ships on the books for decades now. I mean, the devil's in the details, of course, and it would be one of the greatest feats of engineering in human history, but we can do this. Even if we just traveled in old school rockets utilizing constant acceleration, rather than fancy sci-fi hydrogen scoop ramjets or nuclear pulse propulsion engines, we could travel at speeds matching a not insignificant portion of the speed of light. Fuck man, even half the speed of light gets us there in forty years.
What the hell are we sitting around for? Humanity's future awaits. And here we sit gabbing about Arnold Schwarzenegger's love child.
Posted by Ron at 2:13 AM
Monday, May 16, 2011
Why Hip is No Longer Hip
For example, an online dictionary defines hip as
Hip: Also hep adj. hipper also hepper, hippest also hippest. SlangThis could hardly be further from the use of the term in the 1940s and 1950s when its early use was at a peak.
1. Keenly aware of or knowledgeable about the latest trends or developments.
2. Very fashionable or stylish.
In this case, the shift is not merely a historical curiosity but revealing of changes in the culture of younger Americans in the two periods.
For example, one definition of the earlier meaning noted:
Hipster, as used in the 1940s, referred to aficionados of jazz, in particular bebop, which became popular in the early 1940s. The hipster adopted the lifestyle of the jazz musician, including some or all of the following: dress, slang, use of cannabis and other drugs, relaxed attitude, sarcastic humor, self-imposed poverty, and relaxed sexual codes.In other words, a culture of alienation instead of one of fashion and style.
With the end of the Vietnam War, America soon found itself without a counterculture or - with a few exceptions - even a visible resistance by societal draft dodgers. The young -- in the best of times the most reliable harbinger of hope; in the worst of times, the most dismal sign of futility -- increasingly faced a culture that seemed impermeable and immutable. The establishment presented a stolid, unyielding, unthinking, unimaginative wall of bland certainty. It looked upon pain, aspiration and hope with indifference, and played out false and time-doomed fantasies to the mindless applause of its constituency.Today the closest thing to the former definition of hip is punk culture. Perhaps a little too manic in its music and aggressive in its fashion statement to please a Miles Davis or Jack Kerouac, but miles closer to that earlier definition of hip.
The unalterable armies of the law became far more powerful and less forgiving. The price of careless or reckless rebellion became higher. Bohemia was bought and franchised. Even progressive organizations required a strategic plan, budget, and press kit before heading to the barricades. A school district in Maryland told its teachers not to include creativity or initiative in a student's grades because they were too hard to define. Hipness became a multinational industry and no one apparently thought twice about putting a headline on the cover of a magazine "for men of color" that declared "The Rebirth of Cool," exemplified by 50 pages of fashions by mostly white designers.
What difference does it make? Only this: America will most likely gain a new life when the young break dramatically away from the system that has left them in this miserable state. A fashionable rebellion is an oxymoron.
Does punk really exist in that sense anymore? Maybe it does somewhere, but as far as I can tell, punk, like everything else these days, has been totally commodified, just another look and attitude for weekend posing, just another store at the mall. One thing hipsters of the forties and fifties have over the alienated of today is that they weren't being drowned in the warped and distorted trappings of their antiestablishmentarianism by the corporate pop culture machine. That is, your leather jacket and blue jeans may very well mean you're cool, or your leather jacket and blue jeans may very well mean you're a plastic corporate tool with no taste or opinions--another thing going for the disaffected in bygone eras was that they knew each other, to some extent, by how they looked.
Back when I was a teacher, I was very conscious of the concept of "cool." I mean, that's a good idea when you're dealing with mobs of angry teens. Thanks to decades of the social conditioning known as advertising and mass media, teens are hip to being "cool." I knew that there was no way I could compete with any teen notions of "cool," so I just didn't try. For that matter, I had no desire to compete with such notions; generally, teen "cool" is tantamount to what they see on MTV, and emulating those carefully crafted corporate images is surely a sign of immaturity. Or stupidity. Instead, I just stuck to my own sense of aesthetics, and tried to appreciate theirs. My unapologetic iconoclasm paid off, I think, in that I feel I had the respect of most of my students, as both an educator, and as a fellow human being. That is, I was respected for being an individual, and appreciated for respecting my students' own individualities.
But that was back in the day. Since then all my former students have moved on into a world that offers little in terms of self-fulfillment. Some went to college and have been trained to be systems managers for the corporate state. Others went to work in the shitty service sector. A few of the lucky ones got good jobs in the local petrochemical plants, but those who stayed in Baytown have to suffer, along with their children, a toxic environment that has created a statistical blip in terms of local birth defects. All of them are probably a bit nervous about keeping their jobs and maintaining or improving the lifestyles they've built since high school. All of them have to live in a political reality in which the people they vote for don't give a shit about them. The good life is watching DVDs and reality shows and playing video games, maybe a trip to Padre or something if you've saved some money, but credit card bills are always pressing.
You can divide my former students into two groups, the disaffected, and those who haven't figured out yet that they are disaffected. Indeed, you can divide most Americans into these two groups. The modern corporate consumer state can take or leave us; it really doesn't matter. We don't matter. Just amuse yourselves, work hard, and shut up. Nobody cares what you think. And that's life in 21st century America. Kind of meaningless. Think I'm exaggerating? How many people do you know who are on medication for anxiety and/or depression? How many people do you know who ought to be on meds? Anxiety and depression are just industry-speak for alienation and disaffection. The corporate state is treating us all increasingly like rats in a cage. And we are behaving accordingly.
By that standard, we should all be hipsters in the traditional sense.
But the corporate state has denied us even that. The relentless cultural onslaught of the gigantic mass media machine rolls over all genuine grass roots culture. There is no refuge from it. No insulated cultural space from which to contemplate our drastic lot in life. No meaningful way to dress or speak or behave in terms of rebellion. All ideas from the past are sanitized, distorted, repackaged, and rammed down our throats. All potential ideas to be had are muted by the orgy of consumerism, or seized by the culture corporations and processed like the old ideas, as products. Cool now means square. So everything is square.
How can you resist such a society when rebellion itself is continually eaten up and made into a vital part of the very society against which you are rebelling? This is a world Fonzie never imagined.
Posted by Ron at 4:48 PM
Sunday, May 15, 2011
ALL ABOUT BIN LADEN (6 OF 6): WHAT'S NEXT FOR THE "WAR ON TERROR"?
From USA Today courtesy of the Huffington Post:
Strain on forces in the field at a five-year high
U.S. troops fighting in Afghanistan are experiencing some of the greatest psychological stress and lowest morale in five years of fighting, reports a military study.
"We're an Army that's in uncharted territory here," says Gen. Peter Chiarelli, Army vice chief of staff, who has focused on combat stress. "We have never fought for this long with an all-volunteer force that's 1% of the population."
Mental health strain was most severe among veterans of three or more deployments, with a third of those showing signs of psychological problems defined as either stress, depression or anxiety, the report obtained by USA TODAY says.
The research, based on a survey of soldiers and Marines in 2010, also found that the praise the troops have for their unit sergeants has never been higher as the United States approaches the 10th year of its longest war.
The report says decline in individual morale is significant: 46.5% of troops said they had medium, high or very high morale, compared with 65.7% who said that in 2005. About one in seven soldiers — and one in five Marines — reported high or very high morale.
So you already know what I think. I was opposed to both wars, Iraq and Afghanistan, almost from the beginning--I spent two days after the initial invasion of Afghanistan thinking I favored it, that we had no other option, but quickly changed my mind when one of my high school kids, a young anarchist, passionately argued against it; sometimes the teacher becomes the student. Both wars have been total disasters. We would have been much better off making friends with angry Muslims, figuring out their demands, sending in lots of aid, ending support for the violent dictators they're currently in the process of overthrowing, getting off the oil so we don't have to exploit the Middle East, pursuing sensible security measures to deal with terrorism, which can never really be ended, and on and on. The world would look very different today if we had taken that course ten years ago.
But no. We went to war. And we're still at war. We've wasted thousands of lives and trillions of dollars--tax money that could have been given to the states to pay teacher salaries has instead gone to kill Muslims; Republicans, who have always supported the war, are now telling us that we need to do away with medical care for the elderly in order to continue the killing abroad. We were already a sick nation back in 2001. Now we're worse. And there is no end in sight to this ghastly enterprise.
The ostensible reason for this "War on Terror" has now evaporated. Al Qaeda was broken up long ago. Bin Laden is dead. Terrorism continues. But so what? War can't end terrorism. You can only wage war against nations, against armies. You can't wage war against a tactic. It's like fighting a "War on Karate." It was always a foolish metaphor that has, at best, done nothing but confuse people, and, at worst, sickened our minds further still. And we will keep on fighting, even though the stated goals for our fighting have been achieved.
We will fight because the defense industry needs to sell weapons, and they send legions of lobbyists to Washington to see their will done. We will fight because the oil industry wants to keep making hundreds of billions of dollars, and, as the federal fucking around in the wake of the BP oil spill last year showed us, there is very little difference between the oil industry and the federal government. We will fight because numerous establishment individuals, from both parties, and in the corporate press, have bought the neoconservative point of view that we should always be fighting because that's what unifies us as a nation. We will keep fighting because we have the biggest and most expensive military in the world--when your best tool is a hammer, all problems start to look like a nail. We will keep fighting because the US public has been socialized to believe that war is like a football game, and our team is Florida State or Alabama.
And we will keep fighting because most Americans don't have to personally deal with the savage brutalities of war; we've contracted all that out to the tiny portion of the population that is now essentially a new socioeconomic group, the Military Class--they bear the suffering, not the rest of us, out of sight, out of mind. But how much longer can we keep abusing these people who have sworn to put their lives on the line for their country? I'm amazed they haven't yet reached their breaking point.
In short, the "War on Terror," like the "War on Drugs" before it, is now a bedrock institution of the United States. It has a life of its own. Nobody in the ruling class has any incentive whatsoever to do away with it. Quite the reverse, the same incentives that got us into it in the first place are still there. And the payoff for pushing all war all the time is quite lucrative to the individuals who embrace it.
So we just won the "War on Terror." Unfortunately, the carnage will continue long after I'm buried and gone.
Posted by Ron at 11:45 PM
ALL ABOUT BIN LADEN (5 OF 6): OH NO! NOW THEY'RE GOING TO REALLY GET US!
From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:
Al-Qaida vows revenge for Osama bin Laden's death
Al-Qaida vowed to keep fighting the United States and avenge the death of Osama bin Laden, which it acknowledged for the first time Friday in an Internet statement apparently designed to convince followers that it will remain vigorous and intact even after its founder's demise.
Al-Qaida's plots are usually large-scale and involve planning over months or even years. But Western intelligence officials say they are seeing increased chatter about cheap, small-scale attacks — perhaps by individuals or small extremist groups inspired to take revenge for the killing.
"USA, you will pay!" chanted more than 100 participants in a pro-bin Laden protest outside the U.S. Embassy in London on Friday.
A Western intelligence official said no concrete threat has emerged so far that authorities considered credible. "There have been mentions of shootings, bombings and random violence, though it is not surprising, given bin Laden's death," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Authorities in the U.S. and Europe chose not to elevate threat levels.
And from Los Angeles Times via the Albany Times Union:
Bombings to avenge bin Laden's death may hurt relations with Pakistan
Twin suicide bomb blasts that killed at least 80 paramilitary force recruits in northwest Pakistan on Friday -- an attack that Taliban militants said was meant to avenge the killing of Osama bin Laden by U.S. commandos -- could trigger new doubts among Pakistanis about the value of Islamabad's already rocky relationship with Washington.
The bombers targeted scores of Frontier Constabulary paramilitary recruits who had just completed six months of training and were boarding vans outside the center's main gate before going on a 10-day leave, police and survivors said. The base is located in Shabqadar, a town near the edge of Mohmand, a tribal area where Pakistani troops have struggled for years to rein in Pakistani Taliban militants.
The attack was Pakistan's deadliest this year, and the first major terror strike in the country since bin Laden's killing.
The whole "Al Qaeda's really gonna get us now" meme is probably the stupidest of all ideas arising from OBL's death. I mean, if they hated us enough ten years ago to fly planes into the World Trade Center, which was the most spectacular and deadliest terrorist attack in the history of humanity, there's probably not much more we could do to make them angrier. What are they going to do this time? Hijack six planes? Use a shoe bomb? Set off a "dirty bomb"? We're already on watch for all that stuff. We could probably do more to secure chemical plants and refineries and whatnot, but the point is that Al Qaeda got lucky, by and large, with 9/11: the Bush administration just wasn't concerned with their predecessors' mounting concerns about OBL, and fell asleep at the switch, which included the derisive dismissal of the now famous presidential daily briefing from the CIA entitled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike Within the United States" a month before the attacks.
So of course, I credit President Obama with the kill, but I will give Bush a little credit; after 9/11 he started taking the terrorist threat seriously--I mean, he was totally inefficient, and more concerned with amassing power and invading Iraq, but he did get the ball rolling again, after he had stopped it, in terms of anti-terrorism efforts. Since the 9/11 attacks, there has been no successful Al Qaeda operation on American soil. And I think Obama has been way more grownup about terrorism than Bush was, so any other sort of Al Qaeda operation on the scale of 9/11 is highly unlikely. And that's really what we're talking about when we discuss retaliation for the bin Laden assassination, another attack comparable in destruction to the Pentagon and WTC attacks.
I feel pretty sure that's not going to happen again. Of course, I could be wrong about that because anything could happen, but I, for one, am not at all afraid of being blown up because Obama took out bin Laden. I stand a better chance of dying from a piano dropping on my head.
And this recent attack in the tribal areas of Northern Pakistan, which may or may not be about avenging OBL's death, wasn't even Al Qaeda. It was a Pakistani Taliban group, which means it was very probably local, and very probably tribal in nature--after all such tribal violence happens often in these semi-lawless Pakistani tribal areas, so no surprise here. I'd bet ten bucks that this is business as usual stuff, and the revenge label was stuck onto it for sexiness and good press.
It's nice to know that saner people are deciding what the terrorist threat levels are these days--if Bush was still in office, this would be a great excuse to ramp it up to red alert and give us all full body cavity searches.
Posted by Ron at 2:13 AM
Friday, May 13, 2011
ALL ABOUT BIN LADEN (4 OF 6): THIS PROVES TORTURE IS GOOD
From Dan Froomkin:
Torture May Have Slowed Hunt For Bin Laden, Not Hastened It
Defenders of the Bush administration’s interrogation policies have claimed vindication from reports that bin Laden was tracked down in small part due to information received from brutalized detainees some six to eight years ago.
But that sequence of events -- even if true -- doesn’t demonstrate the effectiveness of torture, these experts say. Rather, it indicates bin Laden could have been caught much earlier had those detainees been interrogated properly.
"I think that without a doubt, torture and enhanced interrogation techniques slowed down the hunt for bin Laden," said an Air Force interrogator who goes by the pseudonym Matthew Alexander and located Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, in 2006.
It now appears likely that several detainees had information about a key al Qaeda courier -- information that might have led authorities directly to bin Laden years ago. But subjected to physical and psychological brutality, "they gave us the bare minimum amount of information they could get away with to get the pain to stop, or to mislead us," Alexander told The Huffington Post.
"We know that they didn’t give us everything, because they didn’t provide the real name, or the location, or somebody else who would know that information," he said.
In a 2006 study by the National Defense Intelligence College, trained interrogators found that traditional, rapport-based interviewing approaches are extremely effective with even the most hardened detainees, whereas coercion consistently builds resistance and resentment.
From the AP via Yahoo:
McCain: Torture did not lead to bin Laden death
McCain said he asked CIA Director Leon Panetta for the facts, and that the hunt for bin Laden did not begin with fresh information from Mohammed. In fact, the name of bin Laden's courier, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, came from a detainee held in another country.
"Not only did the use of enhanced interrogation techniques on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed not provide us with key leads on bin Laden's courier, Abu Ahmed, it actually produced false and misleading information," McCain said. He called on Mukasey and others to correct their misstatements.
And from the Daily Kos:
Rumsfeld flips on efficacy of torture for finding Osama bin Laden.
Less than a day after he said the Defense Department that he then headed did not gain critical information about Osama bin Laden's whereabout by means of "harsh treatment," as Joan McCarter discussed here, he was singing a different tune Tueday night on Foxaganda's Sean Hannity Show, with Hannity himself cheerleading the role of extraordinary rendition, CIA black sites and torture.
Of course, not being a guy who ever admits he was wrong, Rumsfeld applied his usual tortuous parsing in order to join the deluge of right wingers claiming that the torture they refuse to admit was torture was crucial in locating and killing bin Laden.
Click here for the rest.
So, of course, this is a fatally flawed argument from the get-go. It is essentially the old "ends justify the means" point of view, which civilized peoples have dismissed for generations. That is, no matter what beneficial results torture might produce, the practice of inflicting pain and suffering on imprisoned or incapacitated individuals is heinously immoral. There is no justification for it. Torture is always wrong, under all circumstances.
Okay, I might consider the so-called "ticking timebomb scenario" as something of a complication, but where does such a situation exist outside of Jack Bauer's fictional television world? And more generally, how does one even know that he's actually in the "ticking timebomb scenario"? This is an academic discussion dealing with unlikely hypothetical situations. For all intents and purposes, torture is wrong, immoral, and a crime against humanity. People who believe in the foundational ideals of this nation reject it as an option immediately.
So, in the most important ways, this is a stupid discourse. It doesn't matter whether intelligence information gained from inflicting cruelty on individuals who have been rendered harmless led to OBL's killing. Torture is deeply immoral, and bin Laden's death doesn't change that.
But it's definitely worth noting that torture, specifically the Chinese/North Korean communist variety, which was originally designed to elicit false confessions from American POWs, and which is now used by the United States against Muslim captives, is just plain counterproductive. In short, this kind of torture gets victims to tell their torturers what they want to hear. Not the truth. I mean okay, sometimes you get the truth, or little disconnected bits of it, but not the kind of truth experts say you can get with actual, tried-and-true interrogation techniques that are not morally reprehensible. It is highly unlikely that our brutish torture regime had anything at all to do with bin Laden's death.
Really, what's going on here isn't a debate. Rather, it's a combination of two recent cultural strains coming together at just the right moment. On the one hand, we have the people who came up with the idea of torturing Muslims in the first place, and their ideological supporters, trying to control public discourse in a desperate attempt to hold off what they fear might be eventual prosecutions. I wouldn't worry too much about that if I were them given that the Obama administration has made it achingly clear that there won't be any torture prosecutions, but that's definitely what's going on, an attempt to taint the jury pool, as it were. On the other hand, we also have that bloodthirsty twenty percent or so of the population who just genuinely like the fact that we're torturing brown people chiming in. They don't really give a fuck about intelligence; they simply like hurting brown people. So any justification they can get serves them well--beating the fuck out of brown people is good; it got bin Laden, didn't it?
But more honest conservatives are, well, more honest. Senator McCain, a right-wing asshole if there ever was one, and the only elected Republican who has ever actually been tortured, points out the obvious. And hell, Donald Rumsfeld, who as Bush's Secretary of Defense fully approved of "rough treatment" was against this bin Laden-torture meme before he was for it! Hopefully all this bullshit squawking will die down soon.
Frankly, I'm getting sick of it.
Posted by Ron at 12:26 AM
Thursday, May 12, 2011
PREPPING FOR ANOTHER AUDITION TONIGHT...
...so no real post. It's for something with Stallone, apparently. Seriously. Weird, huh? Anyway, for the time being, check this shit out from AlterNet:
Koch Brother Buys Professors At Public University to Spread Free Market Propaganda
Usually, when billionaires or millionaires give a large sum of money to a university, even a private one, they can specify where that gift will go -- which department or function, facilities, new hires, dorms, or what have you. And it's no secret that some of those big donations may lead to a little bit of wink-and-nudge affirmative action when it comes time for the little billionaires Jr. to apply to college.
But what these monied donors cannot do, what remains taboo in the academic world, is leverage that kind of gift to influence who gets hired and fired by the faculty and what they teach--until now, thanks to Charles G. Koch.
If that doesn't tell you all you need to know about the "science" of economics, I don't know what will. Anyway, back tomorrow with more bin Laden blogging! Tell me to "break a leg."
Posted by Ron at 1:57 AM
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
ALL ABOUT BIN LADEN (3 of 6): IT WAS AN ASSASSINATION
Narrative on Bin Laden Raid Collapses
Two things become clear. One, the SEALs were well-trained and had the element of surprise, and this overmatched their foes, who were not plentiful – there was not a phalanx of bodyguards protecting the Al Qaeda leader. Two, this was obviously a kill mission. There was no hesitation in the commando’s movements or actions. There were weapons in the room where bin Laden was found, and the SEALs claim that he reached for them, but he was unarmed and brought down quickly. About the only resistance they found was a brick wall blocking a door, which they had to blast out. These are the elite of the elite as far as assassination squads go, and they made it look easy.
Now, I’ve seen two schools of thought on this. One questions the legality of shooting unarmed enemy belligerents in a sovereign country against which we are not at war. I maintain that Pakistan, if not inviting us in, at least turned their back while we entered. And in the past, Pakistani leaders like former President Pervez Musharraf made handshake deals with the United States to allow special ops forces inside Pakistan to target Al Qaeda leaders. As for the rest, under the AUMF and perhaps the laws of war, it’s plausible that the man who directed the 9-11 attacks was considered a legitimate military target. It’s likely that there was a Presidential finding allowing for a raid like this. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who was ranking member on the Intelligence Committee before becoming Democratic leader, said to me on a conference call yesterday that she was briefed on the intelligence that bin Laden was in Pakistan “at the end of last year,” but added that the Administration was clear that, if they had actionable intelligence, they would act. “This was public knowledge,” she said. This suggests that an additional Presidential finding was not needed, because of some executive order dating back to the Bush Administration authorizing missions to capture or kill terrorists.
And from the AP via the Houston Chronicle, back in March of 2010:
Holder: Osama bin Laden will never face U.S. trial
Attorney General Eric Holder told Congress on Tuesday that Osama bin Laden will never face trial in the United States because he will not be captured alive.
In testy exchanges with House Republicans, the attorney general compared bin Laden to mass murderer Charles Manson and predicted that events would ensure “we will be reading Miranda rights to the corpse of Osama bin Laden” not to the al-Qaida leader as a captive.
Holder sternly rejected criticism from GOP members of a House Appropriations subcommittee, who contend it is too dangerous to put terror suspects on trial in federal civilian courts as Holder has proposed.
What miffs me is that we could have captured him and brought him to trial.
Yeah yeah, I am, indeed, glad he's dead, but I'm not at all happy about the way it happened. That is, we had him. There was very little resistance. He wouldn't have gotten away. He would have never plotted another terrorist attack ever again. We could have put him in cuffs, placed him on one of those stealth helicopters, brought him back to New York City, and put the fucker on trial for crimes against humanity, which is what you do with criminals of his ilk.
Instead, we just shot him dead. And the Obama administration had been planning on doing just that for at least a year; apparently, there were never any plans at all for actually bringing him to justice. It was always about killing him in cold blood. How are we any better than he is?
That's a serious question, and it gets to the heart of what is so fucked up about the entire "War on Terror" endeavor. That is, the United States, in its quixotic and endless quest to get the terrorists has compromised its own stated values so many times that it is easy to wonder if such values are actually our own anymore. Since 9/11 we have joined Nazi Germany, Khmer Rouge Cambodia, Imperial Japan, the Soviet Union, Red China, the Spanish Inquisition, and numerous other equally vile regimes as a nation that tortures its prisoners. We have oppressed countless Muslims for nothing more than belonging to the same religion as bin Laden. We have seen our precious civil rights, which are deeply embedded in our cultural identity, deeply eroded as we have lived out Benjamin Franklin's famous and dark maxim that "they who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." We have waged aggressive war, which was named at Nuremberg as the worst of crimes against humanity because all other such crimes can only happen during aggressive war. We have bombed civilians. We have used chemical weapons such as white phosphorus.
Gunning down bin Laden, instead of capturing him, which we could have easily done, is simply the cherry on top, a new symbol signifying our rapid descent into barbarity. And, as far as the many arguments that a trial would have been too difficult, that it would have given him a platform to spew his vile rhetoric, that it would have invited further terrorist attacks, and so on, I have nothing but disdain. Justice, real justice, isn't easy. But it does prove that we are a civilized people. A trial for bin Laden would have done nothing short of proving to the world that our way of life is superior to his dark, fundamentalist, and backward vision for humanity's existence.
But no. We simply killed him. Just like he killed so many others. I ask again, how are we any better than Osama bin Laden?
Posted by Ron at 1:59 AM