Archive for International
With 2014 gone (and good riddance), perhaps in 2015 America will look itself in the mirror and reflect on what it means to behave as if civilized rules only apply to everyone else. We look somewhat less exceptional from across the pond. Take this op-ed from Christian Christensen, a professor in Stockholm, for example:
… 2014 has been a year in which the mythology of domestic U.S. legal egalitarianism — reinforced by the mantra of blind justice and a near religious reverence of the U.S. Constitution — was exposed as a pretense. As abroad, so at home: Some people are more equal than others.
After the police killings of unarmed black men, Michael Brown and Eric Garner; after the botched execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma; after the SCCI report on a torture program approved by the White House — more brutal than the world already knew, and in violation of domestic and international law; and after a majority of Americans when asked approved the torture; on reflection, exceptionalism looks more like license. There are not two sets of rules in America, Christensen concludes, but three: “one for white killers, one for black killers and one for police officers who killed black suspects.” And a fourth for rich, Wall Street bankers, I might add.
One thread ties together all these cases: The willingness of the U.S. to bend the law and condone the barbaric treatment of human beings is grounded in differences of race, ethnicity or religion. Police violence, the death penalty and torture are predominantly applied to nonwhites or non-Christians. How supportive would white Americans and lawmakers be of procedures such as “rectal rehydration” — a gruesome procedure that, according to the torture report, was applied to hunger-striking inmates — if they were performed on white Christians? How long would they would be to willing to tolerate routine police killings of unarmed white citizens?
It all seems, I don’t know, a little medieval:
Perhaps critics are right. Perhaps we’ve been wrong to base interrogation and prisoner treatment on traditions and superstitions of past centuries. Maybe as citizens of a democratic republic we should strive in the 21st century to live up to our lofty, Enlightenment ideals of freedom, equality, and justice for all. Maybe instead of falling prey to jingoism, we should reflect, examine our assumptions analytically, through experimentation and a “scientific method”. Maybe this scientific method could be extended to other fields of learning: the natural sciences, art, architecture, law. Perhaps it could lead the way to a new age, an age of rebirth, a Renaissance! … Naaaaaahhh!
(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)
What happens to America and its children once investment gurus decide the K-12 market is no longer the place to invest money? When education is no longer the Big Enchilada? When they dump their charter schools back on the states? Or raze them to build condos?
Those who have followed the school deform movement know that standing just behind parents expressing genuine concern for their children are investors. Millionaires and billionaires are targeting public education for the same reason banksters pimped mortgage loans. For the same reason Wall Street tried to privatize Social Security. For the same reason Willie Sutton robbed banks.
What is the largest portion of the budget in all 50 states?
The impulse among conservatives to privatize everything involving public expenditures – schools included – is no longer just about shrinking government, lowering their taxes and eliminating funding sources for their political competitors. Now it’s about their opportunity costs, potential profits lost to not-for-profit public-sector competitors. It’s bad enough that government “picks their pockets” to educate other people’s children. But it’s unforgivable that they’re not getting a piece of the action. Now they want to turn public education into private profits too.
But first, the “risk takers” must remove anyone that stands between them and that steady, recession-proof, government-guaranteed stream of public tax dollars. Teachers, and state and local boards of education, for example. The Midas cult won’t stop until it turns our daughters and our sons into gold, and maybe not then. If there is anything more addictive than wealth, it’s the power it brings.
Henry Giroux has been writing about that power for some time. He is back this week at Truthout with “Barbarians at the Gates: Authoritarianism and the Assault on Public Education.” Giroux writes:
Equality, justice and the search for truth no longer define the mission of public education. Economic policies that benefit the bankers, corporations and the financial elite result in massive inequities in wealth, income and power and increasingly determine how the US public views both public education and the needs of young people.
The shortsightedness of the investor class is as stunning as its avarice. And its fickleness. Once the Great Eye looks elsewhere, what will remain of public education and public infrastructure past generations paid for in taxes and sweat to make America a world power? Once demolished, how will we rebuild when the Midas cult inevitably moves on to its next shiny, new investment opportunity? Of these “dangerous times,” Giroux continues:
“We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings.”
— Ursula Le Guin, accepting the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, 2014 National Book Awards
So much of what bloggers write about is serendipity. Sometimes focusing fiercely on a single topic and searching out components to flesh out an idea, or else grazing the Net at random for articles that spark one, or sometimes just happening upon ideas floating around that connect in ways that say something about the zeitgeist.
This morning I ran across this post on Raw Story featuring Ursula Le Guin’s speech at the National Book Awards ceremony in November:
I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries — the realists of a larger reality. …
Books, you know, they’re not just commodities. The profit motive often is in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art — the art of words.
I have had a long career and a good one. In good company. Now here, at the end of it, I really don’t want to watch American literature get sold down the river. We who live by writing and publishing want — and should demand — our fair share of the proceeds. But the name of our beautiful reward is not profit. Its name is freedom.
A few years back I wrote an op-ed about extraordinary rendition flights and the case of Maher Arar, asking readers whether the Bush administration was fighting terrorists, breeding them, or becoming them. In a case of mistaken identity, Arar had been detained at Kennedy International while changing planes on his way home to Canada. He was taken by police in front of his family and sent to Syria where he was tortured for months. He’s been on Twitter recently for some reason:
"4 of the 20 cells at the facility included a bar across the top of the cell"- #TortureReport. A copycat of cell I was detained in in Syria
— Maher Arar (@ArarMaher) December 10, 2014
Mistaken identity as a terror suspect'd keep u in a Syrian dungeon 4months on end. Not any different in CIA-run prisons as in #TortureReport
— Maher Arar (@ArarMaher) December 10, 2014
Given the release of the SSCI torture report and this news from the Guardian, I guess the answer to my original question was all of the above.
Abu Ahmed (nom de guerre), a jihadist with misgivings about the brutality of the so-called Islamist State, spoke with Martin Chulov about the inner workings of ISIS and the rise of its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, at the Americans’ Camp Bucca prison in southern Iraq:
“We could never have all got together like this in Baghdad, or anywhere else,” he told me. “It would have been impossibly dangerous. Here, we were not only safe, but we were only a few hundred metres away from the entire al-Qaida leadership.”
Baghdadi had inside “a darkness that he did not want to show other people,” Abu Ahmed explained. But he hid it well from the Americans.
Baghdadi also seemed to have a way with his captors. According to Abu Ahmed, and two other men who were jailed at Bucca in 2004, the Americans saw him as a fixer who could solve fractious disputes between competing factions and keep the camp quiet.
“But as time went on, every time there was a problem in the camp, he was at the centre of it,” Abu Ahmed recalled. “He wanted to be the head of the prison – and when I look back now, he was using a policy of conquer and divide to get what he wanted, which was status. And it worked.” By December 2004, Baghdadi was deemed by his jailers to pose no further risk and his release was authorised.
“He was respected very much by the US army,” Abu Ahmed said. “If he wanted to visit people in another camp he could, but we couldn’t. And all the while, a new strategy, which he was leading, was rising under their noses, and that was to build the Islamic State. If there was no American prison in Iraq, there would be no IS now. Bucca was a factory. It made us all. It built our ideology.”
As Isis has rampaged through the region, it has been led by men who spent time in US detention centres during the American occupation of Iraq – in addition to Bucca, the US also ran Camp Cropper, near Baghdad airport, and, for an ill-fated 18 months early in the war, Abu Ghraib prison on the capital’s western outskirts. Many of those released from these prisons – and indeed, several senior American officers who ran detention operations – have admitted that the prisons had an incendiary effect on the insurgency.
Mission accomplished, eh?
(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)
Just because you don’t hear the term “free-market fundamentalism” much these days doesn’t mean the faith has gone away. More on that in a minute.
Der Spiegel looks at The Zombie System: How Capitalism Has Gone Off the Rails. The wizards of finance are not the choir boys that prove the moral superiority of capitalism, as analyst Mike Mayo believed when he entered the business. Instead, writes Michael Sauga, Mayo found “the glittering facades of the American financial industry concealed an abyss of lies and corruption.”
Ironically, some the most blessed(?) beneficiaries of the corruption, global financial and political leaders, now say they want to fix capitalism, make it more inclusive:
It isn’t necessary, of course, to attend the London conference on “inclusive capitalism” to realize that industrialized countries have a problem. When the Berlin Wall came down 25 years ago, the West’s liberal economic and social order seemed on the verge of an unstoppable march of triumph. Communism had failed, politicians worldwide were singing the praises of deregulated markets and US political scientist Francis Fukuyama was invoking the “end of history.”
Today, no one talks anymore about the beneficial effects of unimpeded capital movement. Today’s issue is “secular stagnation,” as former US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers puts it. The American economy isn’t growing even half as quickly as did in the 1990s. Japan has become the sick man of Asia. And Europe is sinking into a recession that has begun to slow down the German export machine and threaten prosperity.
Best wishes for a swift recovery, of course, to the two caregivers infected in Texas. Yet Ebola fever (the psychological kind) has so gripped the country that articles are popping up with titles like, Ebola hysteria is going viral. Don’t fall for these 5 myths. Fox News’ Shepard Smith went off script the other day and urged viewers, “Do not listen to the hysterical voices on the radio and television or read the fear provoking words online.” Michael Hiltzik felt it necessary to write 6 ways to avoid being stupid about Ebola in this week’s L.A. Times. His number five is pithy:
5. Listening to Rush Limbaugh may be hazardous to your health. As a one-stop shop of Ebola misinformation, you can’t beat the guy. Limbaugh’s only purpose is to stir up fear, alarm and mistrust of government among his listeners. Inform them, not so much.
But informing listeners was never the point. Fear, mistrust, alarm, and misinformation is right-wing talk’s business model. It’s what listeners tune in for. It’s just not church in some circles — you haven’t been touched by the spirit — unless the preacher works up the congregation with a mind-numbing, shouted cant into a hair-standing-on-end, ecstatic state followed by emotional catharsis.
Perhaps right-wing talk works the same way. A kind of addictive drug, maybe it has begun to lose its zing (along with Limbaugh’s ratings). Perhaps over the years, the ginned-up, faux outrage peddled every day by Rush and his kin has lost its punch. Perhaps the fear-addicted (and fear peddlers) hungering for stronger stuff to give them that old rush again just found it in an ISIS and Ebola cocktail?
That and, as Digby pointed out yesterday, it’s crazy season.
(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)
Muslim journalist Mehdi Hasan, political editor of the Huffington Post, argues that if Islam is a violent theology, then 99.99 percent of its 1.6 billion followers have failed to get it.
[h/t Jill Boniske]
JPMorgan Chase got its computers hacked this summer, compromising personal information from 76 million households. Like oil spills, the size of these breaches always seems to grow after the early low-ball estimates from company spokes-flacks. And nobody seems to have a statement from current chairman, president, and chief executive officer of JPMorgan Chase, Jamie Dimon. The NY Times reports:
Operating overseas, the hackers gained access to the names, addresses, phone numbers and emails of JPMorgan account holders. In its regulatory filing on Thursday, JPMorgan said that there was no evidence that account information, including passwords or Social Security numbers, had been taken. The bank also noted that there was no evidence of fraud involving the use of customer information.
Whew, that’s reassuring. Probably just some Matthew Broderick-style Russian kids wanting a sneak peak at Dimon’s newest release of Global Financial Meltdown. Heaven help us if they were real cyber criminals.
Noting that the attack may have begun when hackers breached the computer of a bank employee, the Guardian recounts other recent cyber attacks:
In September, Home Depot confirmed its payment systems were breached in an attack that some estimated impacted 56 million payment cards. Last year’s attack on Target impacted 40 million payment cards and compromised the personal details of some 70 million people.
But the Guardian describes the JPMorgan hack as “considerably more serious.” In addition to the size of the leak, banks hold much more sensitive personal information than retailers.
In his annual shareholder letter, Dimon wrote of cyber security, “We’re making good progress on these and other efforts, but cyberattacks are growing every day in strength and velocity across the globe.”
If those kids want to play Global Financial Meltdown that badly, they can probably get funding from Americans for Prosperity.
(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)
Pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong continue. As financial district crowds swelled Monday (reports conflict on this), riot police pulled back, CNN reported, to chants of “Stand down CY Leung!” (Leung is Hong Kong’s current chief executive). Protesters demanded elections free of interference from Beijing.
“The people of Hong Kong want freedom and want democracy!” a protest leader yelled into a megaphone as demonstrators — many of them university students — donned goggles, covered themselves in plastic wrap and held up umbrellas to shield themselves in case they were hit with tear gas or pepper spray. “Redeem the promise of a free election!” chanted the crowd.
With Washington focused on the Middle East, there was a tepid show of support from U.S. officials — and nothing from the White House that I could find — as pro-democracy protesters calling themselves Occupy Central with Love and Peace faced a police crackdown in Hong Kong on Sunday and into the early hours Monday.
The U.S. State Department said in a statement on Sunday that Washington supported Hong Kong’s well-established traditions and fundamental freedoms, such as peaceful assembly and expression.
The outbursts surprised some residents, the Guardian reported Sunday. People there are usually more interested in working and making money:
In many ways it was a very Hong Kong protest, down to the protesters who politely explained that they would not be present the next day as they needed to go to work.
But the resident saw something unique in the exuberance and spontaneity of the peaceful crowd – preempting plans to launch the civil-disobedience movement on Wednesday, a national holiday – combined with the tough tactics of the police. It is the first time officers have fired teargas in Hong Kong for almost a decade.
But the police response over the weekend changed that:
“Before dinner, I never would have imagined that I would join [the protests],” Candy Lamhttp://www.mozilla.com/en-US/firefox/central/, a 32-year-old bank employee, said.
“I thought it was unhelpful to confront the Communist Party in this way, and that we could find other ways to negotiate, but tonight is too much. I saw the 6 pm news and so many of us cried in front of the television.”
A 57-year-old construction worker, who only wanted to be identified by his last name, Ng, said he saw the tear gas on television and decided to join the protest then and there.
As of 7 a.m. EDT this morning, streaming video was still available here.
(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)