Jim Wright at Stonekettle Station. Go here to appreciate fully the double bind he applies to the torture lovers of the GOP.
You know, it’s goddamned appalling that you actually have to torture a Republican to get them to act like a decent moral human being, to live up the morals and the ideals and the exceptionalism that we, the United States of America, that shining city on the hill, are supposed to represent.
John McCain the POW gets no credit from me for coming out against torture.
A reality check from Nafeez Ahmed on our national hand-wringing over government torture. Like the poor, official torture is always with us. Read it all and weep, if you have tears left.
Media coverage of the Senate report has largely whitewashed the extent to which torture has always been an integral and systematic intelligence practice since the second World War, continuing even today under the careful recalibration of Obama and his senior military intelligence officials. The key function of torture, largely overlooked by the pundits, is its role in manufacturing nebulous threats that legitimize the existence and expansion of the national security apparatus…
Yet Obama did not ban torture in 2009, and has not rescinded it now. He instead rehabilitated torture with a carefully crafted Executive Order that has received little scrutiny. He demanded, for instance, that interrogation techniques be made to fit the US Army Field Manual, which complies with the Geneva Convention and has prohibited torture since 1956.
But in 2006, revisions were made to the Army Field Manual, in particular through ‘Appendix M’, which contained interrogation techniques that went far beyond the original Geneva-inspired restrictions of the original version of the manual. This includes 19 methods of interrogation and the practice of extraordinary rendition. As pointed out by US psychologist Jeff Kaye who has worked extensively with torture victims, a new UN Committee Against Torture (UNCAT) review of the manual shows that a wide-range of torture techniques continue to be deployed by the US government, including isolation, sensory deprivation, stress positions, chemically-induced psychosis, adjustments of environmental and dietary rules, among others.
Here is a commenter on The Dish, defending waterboarding:
Hot irons are not the same as slapping someone or verbal threats of physical punishment. Plain and simple. Loud music and cold-water immersion are not the same as wrenching off toe nails. We aren’t talking nuance; we are talking intellectual honesty and reasoned examination. It may be ugly, and it make be torture, but there are levels, degrees, etc., of abuse and pretending otherwise is effective only when preaching to the choir.
And here is Long Island Republican Congressman Peter T. King, a piece of rough trade if ever there was one:
“I don’t believe these are torture at all. For instance, waterboarding, there were medical personnel present during the whole time. It creates tremendous discomfort – there’s no doubt about it. It creates tremendous fear, but the fact is there was no lasting damage to these people and we got information from them, which is very helpful. … We’re not talking about anyone being burned or stabbed or cut or anything like that. We’re talking about people being made to stand in awkward positions, have water put into their nose and into their mouth. Nobody suffered any lasting injuries from this.”And here is me, on September 14, 2006. I repost it now to remind us of the exact nature of the crimes committed by Bush, Cheney, Addington, Libby, Tenet, Bybee, Ashcroft, Gonzales, Yoo and the many others in a chain of command that stretched directly from the Oval Office to the secret overseas torture chambers of the CIA. None of these criminals will ever be brought to trial, the way they do it in Chile or Argentina or Germany or Cambodia. We’re the world’s greatest democracy, and we’re below that kind of thing.
Since the torturer Bush won’t tell us specifically what he has done, let’s turn to somebody to whom it was done half a century ago. This is from a 1958 book called The Question. The author, a French newspaper editor in Algeria named Henri Alleg, had already resisted a month of hideous torture at the hands of his own country’s paratroopers, including electric shock and having his testicles burned. The worst, inflicted only when all else had failed, was yet to come:
A few moments later L— came into the room. Twenty-five years old, short, sunburnt, pomaded hair, small forehead. He came up to me, smiling, and said, “Ah! So you’re the customer? Come with me…”
L— now laid on the ground a black plank, sweating with humidity, polluted and sticky with vomit left, no doubt, by previous “customers.”
I lay down on the plank. L— , with the help of another man, attached me by the wrists and ankles with leather straps fixed to the wood…
Together they picked up he plank to which I was attached and carried me into the kitchen. Once there, they rested the top of the plank, where my head was, against the sink. L— fixed a rubber tube to the metal tap which shone just above my face. He wrapped my head in a rag, while Captain D— said: “Put a wedge in his mouth.”
With the rag already over my face, L— held my nose. He tried to jam a piece of wood between my lips in such a way that I could not close my mouth or spit out the tube. When everything was ready, he said to me: “When you want to talk, all you have to do is move your fingers.”
And he turned on the tap. The rag was soaked rapidly. Water flowed everywhere: in my mouth, in my nose, all over my face. But for a while I could still breathe in some small gulps of air. I tried, by contracting my throat, to take in as little water as possible and to resist suffocation by keeping air in my lungs for as long as I could.
But I couldn’t hold on for more than a few moments. I had the impression of drowning, and a terrible agony, that of death itself, took possession of me. In spite of myself, the fingers of both my hands shook uncontrollably,
“That’s it! He’s going to talk,” said a voice.
The water stopped running and they took away the rag. I was able to breathe. In the gloom, I saw the lieutenants and the captain, who, with a cigarette between his lips, was hitting my stomach with his fist to make me throw out the water I had swallowed. Befuddled by the air I was breathing, I hardly felt the blows.
“Well, then?” I remained silent. “He’s playing games with us. Put his head under again!”
This time I clenched my fists, forcing the nails into my palm. I had decided I was not going to move my fingers again. It was better to die of asphyxia right away. I feared to undergo again that terrible moment when I had felt myself losing consciousness, while at the same time I was fighting with all my might not to die.
I did not move my hands, but three times I again experienced this insupportable agony. In extremis, they let me get my breath back while I threw up the water.
The last time, I lost consciousness.
M. Alleg, shown below in a 2004 photo, never broke under the torture and was sent away to ten years in prison, from which he escaped and fled to Czechoslovakia.
Anyone who reads the papers and cares about these things was already familiar, in general terms, with most of the horrors contained in the redacted summary of the Senate’s torture report.
But the details count, and are sufficiently gruesome to insure that we will never do such things again. Anymore than no trigger-happy cop will ever again murder an unarmed civilian.
One detail that struck me was how easy it is to con many, many, many millions of dollars out of the CIA in return for a steaming pile of horse shit. Just ask a couple of quack psychologists named James E. Mitchell and Bruce Jessen. They walked away with 81 million bucks, not bad for a couple of sociopathic clowns.
Their function was to provide advice on inflicting the maximum amount of pain without leaving marks on prisoners held by George Tenet, Dick Cheney and George W. Bush. Actually a good deal of work had already been done in this field by various Popes and Puritan divines, Hitler, Stalin, Pinochet, and on and on. More humbly, plenty of American prison guards and police detectives have more hands-on experience than Mitchell and Jessen, and work cheap. Scholarly studies in the field include The Story of O and the Marquis de Sade’s seminal work, Justine. Both are available as eBooks, at no charge.
…it’s worse. Read the whole Reuters investigation from which this comes:
A Reuters examination of nine years of cases shows that 66 of the 17,000 lawyers who petitioned the Supreme Court succeeded at getting their clients’ appeals heard at a remarkable rate. Their appeals were at least six times more likely to be accepted by the court than were all others filed by private lawyers during that period.
The lawyers are the most influential members of one of the most powerful specialties in America: the business of practicing before the Supreme Court. None of these lawyers is a household name. But many are familiar to the nine justices. That’s because about half worked for justices past or present, and some socialize with them.
They are the elite of the elite: Although they account for far less than 1 percent of lawyers who filed appeals to the Supreme Court, these attorneys were involved in 43 percent of the cases the high court chose to decide from 2004 through 2012.
The Reuters examination of the Supreme Court’s docket, the most comprehensive ever, suggests that the justices essentially have added a new criterion to whether the court takes an appeal — one that goes beyond the merits of a case and extends to the merits of the lawyer who is bringing it.
The results: a decided advantage for corporate America, and a growing insularity at the court. Some legal experts contend that the reliance on a small cluster of specialists, most working on behalf of businesses, has turned the Supreme Court into an echo chamber — a place where an elite group of jurists embraces an elite group of lawyers who reinforce narrow views of how the law should be construed…
From The Guardian:
In November 2002, a suspected Afghan militant, Gul Rahman, died of hypothermia inside a CIA black site north of Kabul known as the Salt Pit. Rahman had been left in a cold cell, stripped from the waist down and had been doused in water, according to reports from the Associated Press.
The torture report contains more details on Rahman’s death, including details of the CIA’s interrogation methodology used. This included “48 hours of sleep deprivation, auditory overload, total darkness, isolation a cold shower and rough treatment”. The CIA Headquarters did not approve these methods in advance, the report says. But the day before Rahman’s death, one CIA officer ordered that Rahman be shackled to the wall of his cell and sat on the cold floor whilst naked from the waist down. CIA headquarters had approved the use of “enhanced measures” at this point.
The CIA officer who sent these instructions received no reprimand. Instead, four months later, he was given a $2,500 cash reward for his “consistently superior work”.
Granddaughter Bethany on her way to a double-double as Iowa beat Colorado yesterday, bringing the Hawkeyes to 8 and 2 for the season. The losses were the result of biased referees and dirty play.
Foxes in London? Sure, okay. But maggot farms? Who knew? From the New York Times:
He charges 75 pounds, nearly $120, for the first fox and about £50 for every fox after that, disposal included. The cadavers go to a friend’s maggot farm, where they are turned into chicken feed. “Poetic justice,” Phil calls it.
In a letter to a friend, Alexander Hamilton once wrote, “The American people have all the passiveness of the sheep and all the folly of the ass in their composition.” I happen to agree with this sentiment, but not because I think the people are innately stupid or weak ( Hamilton also referred to the people as “a great beast”). Rather, sixty years of consumer capitalism has conditioned them be passive and ignorant. They have been subtly and relentlessly brainwashed by the most sophisticated propaganda organ in history, namely, the modern advertising industry.
As I write, the people of every country in the world are rapidly descending to the same level of stupidity and ignorance as their American counterparts. We just happened to get there first because America is the most advanced country in the world. Case in point: When I studied in Russia, my instructors lamented that “kids today” no longer read Pushkin and favored American TV shows instead.
At any rate, the other Founding Fathers more or less agreed with Hamilton, and the government they created was carefully designed ensure that only the best sort of people, meaning rich white men like themselves, would rule. They would have defended the system by telling you that governing should be the responsibility of educated men with enough leisure time to study politics and who could, therefore, make rational and informed decisions. Somewhat conveniently, that meant rich white guys exactly like themselves, because nobody else in the eighteenth century had any education or leisure time at all (although many people were allowed to drink beer on the job, the lucky sots!).
The people, on the other hand, were ignorant and susceptible to irrational hysteria and prejudices. If they were given too much power, they might do crazy things, like chop the heads off the rich and steal their property. No, it was much better to have intelligent elites run the show.
So how has it worked out? Let’s see. Intelligent elites, knowledgeable people who went to the best schools, studied the issues, and can be trusted to make wise and informed decisions about matters that are beyond the comprehension of the common folk, have given us: Vietnam, bank deregulation, and the wise and far-sighted policies that produced the blowback of 9/11. They responded to that by giving us the USA Patriot Act — an hysterical, paranoid over-reaction if there ever was one, the kind of thing the irrational masses might do if left to their own devices! And, of course, our expert elites, in command of all the facts and utilizing the soundest judgment, gave us the invasion of Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq.
It was the slickest, sharpest, most well-fed, well-educated brains in the US that introduced the world to sub-prime mortgages and credit default swaps. Their brilliant maneuvers created the conditions that ruined the world economy and are gradually turning the country into Burkina Faso.
It seems to me that the unwashed masses aren’t the ones driving stupid and dangerous policies. The biggest fuck-ups of the last fifty odd years have been the result of the calculated and deliberate policies of our most eminent and well-qualified elites. The folly, ignorance, irrationality and short-sightedness aren’t coming from the rabble. They are coming from the cream of our society. Is it possible we need to re-think this situation? Do you think we need to change this paradigm? Is it possible, to paraphrase a prominent elite fuck-up, that the model of how we think the world should be organized is wrong?
Let’s take a little trip through the business section of today’s New York Times and see what we can learn, shall we? (The link is here, but I’m working from the paper copy so the articles are arranged differently).
On the first page, we are greeted with the following headline: “Regular Bills, Irregular Work: Unsteady Incomes Are Keeping Millions Behind on Bills, And Undermining Savings.”
It tells us that seventy million people are underemployed, and that most of their jobs are only part-time or seasonal and pay shit wages. As a result they are falling behind on their bills and slipping into poverty. Apparently this is some kind of big surprise to the business reporters at the New York Times. To most of us, this story is about as revelatory as a headline that reads: “White Officer Kills Unarmed Black Man And Gets Away With It, Again.”
Economists call this situation “income volatility,” which is the best euphemism I’ve heard since the invasion of Grenada was referred to as a “pre-dawn vertical insertion.”
Let’s move on to item number two, right next door on page one: “Study Finds Violations Of Wage Law In 2 States.” It turns out that some noble job creators in New York and California are cheating their workers by not paying them the full minimum wage. The study finds that “more than 300,000 workers in each state suffered minimum wage violations” and, further, “if one assumes a violation rate half that nationwide, that would mean two million workers across the nation were paid less than the federal or state minimum wage.” Brace yourselves for another shock. Most of these workers are in the “restaurant and hotel industries, educational and health services, and retail and wholesale.”
So we’ve got marginalized part-timers living in chronic anxiety and despair, and downtrodden service workers getting ripped off by employers who are too greedy and cheap to pay them seven dollars an hour.…Read on
…it actually does repeat itself. This is from Henry George, Jr.’s The Menace of Privilege, subtitled “A Study of the Dangers to the Republic from the Existence of a Favored Class.” It was published in 1905.
There would, perhaps, be little need for the creating of corporations were it not for the granting of privileges. But artificial persons, which have more powers than natural persons and life-everlasting, are far better suited than natural persons to take care of privileges — to fight for their continuation and extension. As a consequence, it has now become almost an invariable rule either to form artificial persons under the general corporation laws to receive from Government the special grants of power; or else such privileges, being granted to natural persons, are at once turned over to corporations or artificial persons. And these artificial persons possessing Government grants, are the most active and most potent of all persons in politics.
The very significant aspect of the Presidential contest of 1904 was the charge by the opponents against the managers of each of the two great parties of receiving campaign contributions from the large privilege-possessing corporations. More significant still was the common belief that the charge was true, the partisan view being that, while the opposing candidate would of necessity be contaminated by such money, their own candidate was too upright and too strong to be swerved in the least from principle, affected in the least for evil. Yet Presidents are but men, subject to men’s strengths and weaknesses. And just as Mr. Buchanan was most complacent in the face of the growing aggressiveness of the slave power which seated him and supported him in the Presidency, so monopoly powers might reasonably expect at least protection from a Chief Executive which their money and their efforts materially contributed toward seating in the White House…
In April, 1904, Mr. William Bourke Cockran of New York, on the floor of the House of Representatives, repeated in an insinuating way a newspaper story that the election of 1896 — the campaign that was won for “honest money” — was bought. Mr. Cockran named $16,000,000 as the sum which was said to be paid…
If it should mean protection and profit, what would $16,000,000 mean to a syndicate such as, under Mr. Morgan’s guidance, cleared $100,000,000 within the space of a few months in underwriting and manipulating steel stock? The sum of $16,000,000 would be only one item in the expense account of railroad combinations whose annual gross revenue is $2,000,000,000. Have not the tariff-engendered monopolies first and last put many times $16,000,000 into Presidential, Senatorial and Congressional elections, to the end of shutting out competition and thereby conducting a systematic robbery of the people at large?
From USA Today:
AUSTIN -- Some 100 jars of brains, possibly including one from infamous UT sniper Charles Whitman, have gone missing from a psychology lab at the University of Texas at Austin…
Here’s one of those things you’re probably just as well off not knowing:
“That was some beautiful playing,” I said afterward, as we were helping break down the canopy over the grave.
“Actually, it was a recording,” the cemetery guy said.
“But he had a bugle.”
“Not a real bugle. It’s just a stereo that looks like one. You push play and hold it up to your lips.” The man shook his head. “I’ve seen the batteries go out sometimes when they’re halfway through. Talk about awkward. One time the damn thing quit and started playing later, from its case, smack dab in the middle of the eulogy.”
…or are you just happy to see me? This from The Associated Press:
DELAND, Fla. (AP) — Police in Florida say a Wal-Mart shopper denied slipping $35 worth of beef tongue into his pants, but the telltale tongue told a different story…
Republicans have thoroughly captured our political discourse. Right wing dogma has trickled down to the lowest depths of our society and saturates the very air we breath, so much so that your average, everyday, non-political working Joe accepts conservative talking points as truisms: cutting taxes creates jobs; we need a president who will run the country like a business; public employees and illegal aliens are living like Russian czars on the tax payer’s dime; global warming probably isn’t happening. On the other hand, Democrats are bad for small business and want to raise taxes, and they are weak on foreign policy and soft on crime to boot.
You know the drill. Everyone does. It is the incessant background noise of our political lives. It is relentless and inescapable. It never sleeps. It is forever hounding and haranguing us from day clean to dusk. Every barber, mechanic, grocery clerk, cab driver and garbage man in the country can stand on one foot and recite the entire conservative catechism before you can say “low-information voter.”
Why is that? Why is the Republican world view the default position of so many people, even non-political people? Because that’s all they hear. When things go bad, people latch on to whatever ideas happen to be circulating around. It just so happens that the ideas swirling around our culture are thoroughly and unapologetically right-wing.
I live in a poor area. There is a thin strata of granola eating hippy liberal types, but the most common demographic is poor working class whites. They mostly work in the service sector and the construction trades. Most of them don’t think about politics much at all. Some are outright rednecks. In general, their thoughts don’t venture beyond the immediate concretes of their environment: work, eat, drink beer, screw, buy lottery tickets, fantasize about sports cars, sleep. But bring up a political topic, any political topic, and the response you’ll get is pure Bill O’Reilly.
These people should be agitating for higher wages, unionization, universal health care. In short, they should be the natural constituency for a genuine populist agenda. But they aren’t, because no such agenda is on the radar, and the fault lies squarely with the Democratic party.…Read on
Further proof, not that you needed any, that comedians are smarter than other people. This is from Frank Rich’s interview with Chris Rock:
FR: What would you do in Ferguson that a standard reporter wouldn’t?
CR: I’d do a special on race, but I’d have no black people.
FR: Well, that would be much more revealing.
CR: Yes, that would be an event. Here’s the thing. When we talk about race relations in America or racial progress, it’s all nonsense. There are no race relations. White people were crazy. Now they’re not as crazy. To say that black people have made progress would be to say they deserve what happened to them before.
FR: Right. It’s ridiculous.
CR: So, to say Obama is progress is saying that he’s the first black person that is qualified to be president. That’s not black progress. That’s white progress. There’s been black people qualified to be president for hundreds of years. If you saw Tina Turner and Ike having a lovely breakfast over there, would you say their relationship’s improved? Some people would. But a smart person would go, “Oh, he stopped punching her in the face.” It’s not up to her. Ike and Tina Turner’s relationship has nothing to do with Tina Turner. Nothing. It just doesn’t. The question is, you know, my kids are smart, educated, beautiful, polite children. There have been smart, educated, beautiful, polite black children for hundreds of years. The advantage that my children have is that my children are encountering the nicest white people that America has ever produced. Let’s hope America keeps producing nicer white people.
FR: It’s about white people adjusting to a new reality?
CE: Owning their actions. Not even their actions. The actions of your dad. Yeah, it’s unfair that you can get judged by something you didn’t do, but it’s also unfair that you can inherit money that you didn’t work for.
Michael Eric Dyson’s piece in today’s New York Times is the most perceptive and persuasive thing I’ve seen yet on the Ferguson murder. Excerpt:
Bill Cosby didn’t invent the politics of respectability — the belief that good behavior and stern chiding will cure black ills and uplift black people and convince white people that we’re human and worthy of respect. But he certainly gave it a vernacular swagger that has since been polished by Barack Obama. The president has lectured black folk about our moral shortcomings before cheering audiences at college commencements and civil rights conventions. And yet his themes are shopworn and mix the innocuous and the insidious: pull your pants up, stop making racial excuses for failure, stop complaining about racism, turn off the television and the video games and study, don’t feed your kids fried chicken for breakfast, be a good father.
As big a fan as he is of respectability politics, Mr. Obama is the most eloquent reminder that they don’t work, that no matter how smart, sophisticated or upstanding one is, and no matter how much chastising black people pleases white ears, the suspicions about black identity persist. Despite his accomplishments and charisma, he is for millions the unalterable “other” of national life, the opposite of what they mean when they think of America.
Barack Obama, like Michael Brown, is changed before our eyes into a monstrous thing that lacks humanity: a monkey, a cipher, a black hole that kills light. One might expect the ultimate target of this black otherness to have sympathy for its lesser targets, who also have lesser standing and lesser protection, like the people in Ferguson, in Ohio, in New York, in Florida, and all around the country, who can’t keep their unarmed children from being cut down in the street by callous cops who leave their bodies to stiffen into rigor mortis in the presence of horrified onlookers…
He has employed a twin strategy: the “heroic explicit,” in which he deliberately and clearly assails black moral failure and poor cultural habits, and the “noble implicit,” in which he avoids linking whites to social distress or pathology and speaks in the broadest terms possible, in grammar both tentative and tortured, about the problems we all confront. It’s an effort that hinges on false equivalencies between black and white and the mistaken identification of effect for cause.
Peter Friedrich sends this email: Interesting article in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung today. “America, You Got it Worse — a situation report in 45 paragraphs.” Sounds as sad to me as it sounds true.
Which sent me on my first visit to Google Translate, where I found these paragraphs among the 45. Sounds to me as if Peter is right.
7 . In contrast to France, which, if it really came in the past in a dead end, has an immediate given several times a new constitution, is in the excessively tradition-conscious — and verfassungshistorisierenden — United States unthinkable such modernization of the political structures.
8. This means that virtually no chance to introduce a parliamentary democracy. Despite all the difficulties, it provides a “dictatorship period” during which an elected party (or coalition) can enforce that for which they fought in the campaign. The American-style presidential considered inappropriate for the age of globalization, since no one, particularly apparent in spite of positive political decision-making power has. America is in danger of turning into a huge Belgium.
11. The occupation with which the Supreme Court consistently anti-modern as a legal Tea Party, can operate based on three sources: first, the choice of (predominantly conservative for the foreseeable future) constitutional judges for life; secondly, the possibility of free-floating creation of law, in the context of a casuistic oriented legal thought; and thirdly, ideally things that did not exist at that time so as facts to declare on the ideological default, to orient on the spirit of the founding fathers and unconstitutional.
12. In general, the judiciary is primarily due to the holes ever expanding comprehensive selection of judges, including the principle of public campaign financing by industry interests, if not undermined in their democratic legitimacy…
20. Even if one thinks the phenomenon Silicon Valley would really be repeatable: Were the basic conditions of the then IT revolution really comparable to the conditions of the environmental and energy revolution of tomorrow? At that time it was enough to come forward with new ideas. The financing of Internet startups is known to be relatively cheap (“Seven people in a garage”...).
21. In the environmental revolution, however, the amortization of projects over much longer investment periods is required. Is American politics at all today in a position to stake periods of thirty years reliable? In Congress, the renewed tax rebates for research and development spending by companies at best in two-year periods? And what help because investors who want to take along everything and risk-free quickly and with a high “return”, but when possible?
25. This is all the more so as the same policy interests — is downright noisy — because of private campaign financing. A Kremlin strategist once said that Putin’s United Russia is modeled after the American party system. He leaned in trust to his American interlocutors over and whispered promising: “We both know that Republicans and Democrats are two sides of the same coin, right?”
26. The American media are more dependent on advertising revenue than elsewhere, both in terms of what newspapers as well as what television. A simple test question: Which industries were on average for most advertising revenue of the media? Automobile manufacturers, construction, financial services and pharmaceutical manufacturers. And which industries collapsed a few years ago? Cars, construction and banks, while the pharmaceutical companies (including other health care providers) so far managed to prevent a cost-saving reform.
27. Because the American media for material self-preservation interests do not bite, they contribute almost nothing to the timely combat efficiency and apparent lack of modernization. Hindsight is of course closely involved with it, to make an equally intense and stylistically brilliant analysis, to reap in the hope that after it’s too late at least a Pulitzer Prize for groundbreaking reporting. Overall social responsibility is different.
37. Can a modern industrial and service economy ever get back on their feet, when used as “bureaucrats” describes government officials and members of the public service exception (the favorite formula of Republicans)? Not that there were no irregularities in the management, but they are no worse than in Europe. What it says on the inner peacefulness of a society, when the entire public service is described in the same hatred perspective, as for the term “communist” was the case at the time of the Soviet Union?
44. Will the United States until then modern, though the country, not only in the births “majority minority”, but if minorities make up the majority of the electorate? If women in politics and in professional life more dominant? A wise observer of American politics, said the day of the confirmation of George W. Bush’s election by the Supreme Court, that a decade ago, now begin the last great gasp of “white Anglo-Saxon man.” There are many indications that she was right.
Waterboarding is in the grand old High WASP tradition, it seems. My son Mike came across this excerpt from George Biddle’s autobiography in a 1939 edition of Harper’s Magazine. The Reverend Endicott Peabody founded Groton School in 1884, with the object of shaping the moral character of rich kids.
For Peabody, the primary method of instilling a “manly, Christian character” was through athletics, primarily football. Sports taught cooperation, teamwork, along with a respect for following rules and sportsmanship. Everyone had to play. A letter from 1909 conveys the importance that Peabody placed on football. “In my work at Groton I am convinced that football is of profound importance for the moral even more than the physical development of the boys. In these days of exceeding comfort, the boys need an opportunity to endure hardness, and, it may be, suffering.”
Discipline was administered in a hierarchical manner by the faculty and older boys. George Biddle, who went on to become a well known artist, recounts going to a secluded basement bathroom and watching a dozen third form boys punishing a new boy, “little Teddy Roosevelt”, then 14 and the son of Theodore Roosevelt, who had violated some unspoken rule.
One boy held a stopwatch as the others held the offender under a faucet where the water “came from the open spigot with tremendous force and the stream could be concentrated in violence by thumb and forefinger. Besides the culprit was winded and frightened and held upside down during the pumping. He was being forcibly drowned for eight or ten seconds…” He recounts how they water boarded “little Teddy Roosevelt”, not for a specific transgression, but to send a message to the whole second form whose “tone … we disapproved of.” Amazingly, Teddy “was very plucky and began answering back. Shouts arose: ‘Shut up! Under again. Shut him up!” So they waterboarded him twice.
…nor do I play one on TV like some Republicans I could mention. Watch this amazing time-lapse picture of the sun and wonder. There are more things in heaven and earth, Marco Rubio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy
…this is getting boring. Maybe if a corporation showed up to petition for a redress of grievances?
At the Supreme Court, small teams of undercover officers dress as students at large demonstrations outside the courthouse and join the protests to look for suspicious activity, according to officials familiar with the practice…
A Supreme Court spokesman, citing a policy of not discussing security practices, declined to talk about the use of undercover officers. Mr. German, the former F.B.I. undercover agent, said he was troubled to learn that the Supreme Court routinely used undercover officers to pose as demonstrators and monitor large protests.
“There is a danger to democracy,” he said, “in having police infiltrate protests when there isn’t a reasonable basis to suspect criminality.”
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Lifted without permission from Carl Strock:
It is generally acknowledged that the low turnout in our just-completed election was a disgrace. We promote ourselves as a beacon of democracy, feeling pity for those people of the world who don’t have the right to vote, and how many of us trouble to vote in our own elections? This time it was a risible 36 percent nationally, and just 29 percent in our own state, which The New York Times characterized as “shameful.”
But I don’t know. I have never considered voting the civic virtue that public figures invariably consider it. Maybe knowledgeable voting is a virtue, but voting just for the sake of voting, whether or not you have any idea of who the candidates are and what kind of horse thieves they might be, I’m not sure. It might be just as well that you stay at home if you haven’t made a minimal effort to inform yourself. What is the value of combing the woods for the ignorant and uninterested and carting them to the polls?
I have sometimes entertained a fantasy of testing people in basic civic knowledge before allowing them to vote. Nothing too demanding. Nothing like having to explain the commerce clause or the doctrine of habeas corpus. Just, what state do you live in? Who is the governor? Which way is up? I know it wouldn’t work. Some people would do worse than others, and then there would be charges of discrimination, and that would be the end of that. But it would be interesting — wouldn’t it? – to see how elections might turn out if the only people who could vote were those who knew up from down.
I’m also not convinced that the reason so many people don’t vote is apathy, that much maligned lack of passion. It may be that they’re wise to the game and figure it doesn’t make any difference, or very little difference, who becomes their representative in the state legislature, in City Hall, in county court, or even in the White House. All politicians have the same primary interest, getting themselves reelected, and all are dependent on the same big-money backers. Voting “only encourages the bastards,” as the old saying goes.
Or they may figure the contenders are all equally unattractive and refuse to take the bait of voting for the lesser of two evils and thus seeming to endorse what they do not wish to endorse. That’s how I felt in this last [New York] gubernatorial contest, in which I declined to fill in an oval. I wasn’t indifferent to democracy, I was pissed off at having no choice that remotely reflected my own tortured values. Democracy is what I wanted more of.
So let us not be too quick to bemoan low turnout. Maybe non-voters are on to something.
This from The Economist. Does it surprise you? Thought not.
A study in 20 American cities, published in the American Academy of Pediatrics in 2013, found that young children in homes with little or no spanking showed swifter cognitive development than their peers. Other studies find that children in physically punitive schools perform worse.
Still, 81% of American parents believe that spanking is sometimes necessary (see table). That is more than in many other rich countries, 20 of which have banned spanking even by parents. In America Republicans spank more than Democrats; southerners more than north-easterners; blacks more than whites; and born-again Christians more than everyone else.
From Father Gerard Manley Hopkins’ journals:
Nov. 8— Walking with Wm. Splaine we saw a vast multitude of starlings making an unspeakable jangle. They would settle in a row of trees; then one tree after another, rising at a signal, they looked like a cloud of specks of black snuff or powder struck up from a brush or broom or shaken from a wig; then they would sweep round in whirlwinds — you could see the nearer and farther bow of the rings by the size and blackness; many would be in one phase at once, all narrow black flakes hurling round, then in another; then they would fall upon a field and so on. Splaine wanted a gun: then ‘there it would rain meat,’ he said. I thought they must be full of enthusiasm and delight hearing their cries and stirring and cheering one another.
Nation editor and publisher Katrina vanden Heuvel and contributing editor Stephen F. Cohen interview Edward Snowden in Moscow. Read the whole thing here. Snowden is a compelling figure, way above most of his detractors in both intelligence and love of country.
What defines patriotism, for me, is the idea that one rises to act on behalf of one’s country. As I said before, that’s distinct from acting to benefit the government — a distinction that’s increasingly lost today. You’re not patriotic just because you back whoever’s in power today or their policies. You’re patriotic when you work to improve the lives of the people of your country, your community and your family. Sometimes that means making hard choices, choices that go against your personal interest.
People sometimes say I broke an oath of secrecy — one of the early charges leveled against me. But it’s a fundamental misunderstanding, because there is no oath of secrecy for people who work in the intelligence community. You are asked to sign a civil agreement, called a Standard Form 312, which basically says if you disclose classified information, they can sue you; they can do this, that and the other. And you risk going to jail. But you are also asked to take an oath, and that’s the oath of service. The oath of service is not to secrecy, but to the Constitution — to protect it against all enemies, foreign and domestic. That’s the oath that I kept, that James Clapper and former NSA director Keith Alexander did not.
In case you missed them I wanted to note a couple of interesting contributions from Steve Benen today.
The first one notes that it appears something like 36.4% of eligible voters turned out for last week’s midterms. That’s the lowest percentage since 1942, when of course some of our citizens were geographically out of reach of the polls. For Democrats this is naturally bad news, but Benen points out that Republicans cannot in any sense claim a mandate, since they got about 52% of the 36.4% that voted, which comes out to just under 19% of those eligible.
The second one is a simple observation about Ted Cruz’s angry response to Obama urging the FCC to reclassify broadband into the public utility category where it could be heavily regulated rather than the category for businesses like Netflix and Facebook, which are lightly regulated. Benen says that “Cruz’s problem has always been surprisingly simple: he’s not dumb, he thinks you’re dumb.”
I would argue instead that Cruz’s strength is that he knows his audience. Seeing politics through a lens built around Bob Altemeyer’s Right Wing Authoritarians, Cruz is both an RWA and a Social Dominator, an SDO; Altemeyer calls this a Double High as it involves high scores on the two scales. Such folks have the greatest capacity for doing harm because they are true believers themselves, not the fake sort like a certain recent past President. Thus they can even more effectively convince their followers, and I use that term advisedly, that together they form a group which must hold onto its identity by any means necessary. The means that’s frequently closest at hand is to find an opponent or enemy and define the group by opposition to the Other. This emphasizes the natural tendency of certain groups to perceive opposition and even persecution where it doesn’t actually exist. Christians, for example, are so far from persecuted that Christian churches are everywhere, we’ve never had an avowedly non-Christian President, and any politician who is not a Christian had better have a good reason and an alternate religion, no agnostics or atheists allowed. Sure, many of the so-called Founding Fathers were actually deists rather than true Christians, but they were able to use terminology that emphasized their areas of agreement with the dominant tradition and they slipped by.
Anyway, I would say not that thinking you’re dumb is Cruz’s problem, but rather that it’s his limitation. He has a very strong hold on a constituency of which a disproportionate percentage actually shows up at the polls and which thus wields a huge amount of influence. His problem is really that he’s a self-righteous jerk whose shtick is basically throwing bombs wherever he thinks they’ll cause the most visible explosion. That makes him a hero with the true-believer crowd that follows him, but in my opinion it won’t fly with most Americans. He can be re-elected Senator in Texas, and he is already having an outsized influence on his party and its upcoming nomination process, but he will never be President.
Harry Leslie Smith has written what is to me a very moving piece at The Guardian on the upcoming remembrance we call Veterans Day. Here is one of those insightful folks who sees the ambiguity of life and does not quail but rather stares directly at it, and in so doing achieves a measure of understanding of the Other.
Smith volunteered for the RAF at the start of World War II, and he seems to feel nothing resembling regret about that decision. Yet he is able to look at the 60,000 men who registered as conscientious objectors in the UK and the 100,000 who deserted posts or failed to return from leave without rancor. He points out that many, especially the poor, in Britain at the time had been destroyed by the Depression and did not see a clear reason to offer their lives to support a state that didn’t support them. Some had gone through World War I and had PTSD, or shell shock as they called it then. Some had religious or moral objections. Some simply couldn’t handle the strain.
It is unfortunate that too many in this present age look upon these men as cowards whose objections to battle are best forgotten. But I believe it is important that we remember those who dissent in a time of war even if we believe our struggle to be true and just. How a nation treats those who oppose their war aims is the true measure of its enlightenment.
To say Smith is forgiving these people would be to underestimate his point. He is honoring multiple approaches, while maintaining his own approach as best for him. But what caused me to tear up was the phrasing of the penultimate sentence in this paragraph:
This is but one of the reasons I will no longer wear the poppy today: it represents only what is seen as the “courage” of war — those who stood and fought, but not those who stood and disagreed. It is the reason why, when I recently went to see the ceramic poppies that surround the Tower of London like a turgid lake of blood, I recalled not only lives lost in battles from ancient and modern wars but also those that were changed irrevocably by the consequences of having an individual conscience during a time of collective insecurity. I feel we must find a way to remember them too.
Here in the US, at least, there seems to be little social room for “having an individual conscience during a time of collective insecurity.” Our collective emotional insecurity is used by politicians, weapons and drug manufacturers, and insurance and health-care corporations to keep the economy going (“the economy,” as Bill Hicks said, “which is fake anyway!”). Our collective economic insecurity is ensured by the financial system enshrining inequality as the proper measure of a civilized society, offering an everyone-for-themselves ethic to confuse those who attempt to emulate the government dependence of those heroes who claim to bestride our world.
But I digress. My intent is to thank Harry Leslie Smith for his dedication to his own ideals and those he fought for. From the point of view of a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War, I’d like to return the kind words and say, along with Joseph Campbell, that one can disagree with the aim of a war and feel that it should not have been fought, but that does not detract one whit from the courage and heroism of those who offer their lives in the service of a cause they deem greater than themselves.
…not if you live in the White House.
Googling myself, I just now came across a piece I had forgotten writing for Salon back during the 2008 presidential campaign:
Is a man fit to be commander in chief if he won’t even fly the flag from his buttonhole?
Does that man, Barack Obama, think he’s “too good — too patriotic! — to wear a flag pin on his chest?” Because that’s what William Kristol believes.
Grow up, the Chicago Sun-Times advises: “Oh for Pete’s sake, Senator Obama, pin the darn American flag to your chest.” Otherwise, the poor dope will “catch a world of hurt for … polarizing comments [that] make him sound like a hardened leftist.”
Has Obama’s failure to wear a flag pin really done “more damage to his White House hopes than a bomb bursting in air?” The New York Daily News thinks so.
Or is it just possible that Barack Obama knows more about getting to be president than all of these pundits laid end to end, as they probably should be? Is it possible that an empty buttonhole might actually help a candidate of either party, now that the nation’s No. 1 flag-wearer is circling the bowl with the lowest presidential approval ratings ever recorded?
Let’s go beyond the Beltway and take a look. Out there on the campaign trail, who’s actually been wearing lapel flags in this race and who hasn’t — and how’s that been working out for you guys anyway?
On April 26 of last year in Orangeburg, S.C., the Democrats held the first debate in the campaign that never ends. First thing that morning the candidates were all in a hurry to throw on their clothes, grabbing any old thing that came to hand. Yeah, right.
It was the most important day of their political lives to date, and they agonized over each tiny sartorial decision. Windsor knot or four-in-hand? Blue or red?
Here’s where everybody came out on lapel flags. The photo coverage of the debate shows that only Joe Biden decided to wear one. The other seven — Mike Gravel, Dennis Kucinich, Bill Richardson, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards and Chris Dodd — went without.
Of course you’d expect that from a bunch of surrender monkeys, wouldn’t you? So let’s turn to the Republicans, tough-talking patriots to a man. Their first debate came a week later in Simi Valley, Calif. And sure enough, Tommy Thompson, Tom Tancredo and Rudy Giuliani, nonveterans all, were careful to pin on their flags.
Wait a minute, though. Mitt Romney, Ron Paul, Sam Brownback, Jim Gilmore, Duncan Hunter and Mike Huckabee all left their little flags back home on the bureau. And so did John McCain. Hmm.
By May 15, at the Columbia, S.C., Republican debate, Tancredo had stopped wearing his flag. By June, Democratic candidate Joe Biden had deflagged as well.
The only candidate of either party who chose to add a flag in the course of the campaign was Bill Richardson, who flagged up toward the end of the summer. With Biden’s flag gone by then, Richardson had become the only Democratic candidate to wear a flag in the debates.
On the Republican side, Tommy Thompson continued to wear his flag till the bitter end, which came in August when he placed sixth in the Iowa straw polls. The empty Thompson slot was filled the following month by Fred. The lobbyist/actor picked up Tommy’s banner, so to speak, and was still wearing it in January when he, too, dropped out.
Rudy Giuliani, who probably wears a flag to bed, dropped out a week later after racking up a pathetic 15 percent of the vote in the Florida Republican primary.
Do we see a subtle pattern emerging here? Every presidential candidate of both parties who ever wore a lapel flag during the debates, even as briefly as Biden, bought himself a one-way ticket to Palookaville.
And every major party candidate who remains viable today — John McCain, Mike Huckabee, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama — has seldom if ever been spotted with a flag in his or her lapel.
Don’t think the press hasn’t been noticing, either. To this day there has been a steady drumbeat of silence in the media over the flaglessness of Huckabee’s, Clinton’s and McCain’s lapels.
Nor would Obama’s disrespect have made news if only he had thought to point the finger at everyone else still in the race when a TV reporter posed his trivia question back in October. But instead he gave an honest if incomplete answer.
Obama said he had worn a pin after 9/11 but stopped once he began to notice, and here I paraphrase wildly but no doubt accurately, that most of the people still wearing lapel flags were assholes.
On the evidence of the campaign so far, Obama wasn’t the only one who noticed. Clinton, Huckabee and McCain, we may say with confidence, would wear anything or even nothing at all if they thought it would help them win the nomination. Then why, when it came to miniature flags, did the three join Obama in opting for nothing?
Dosed with Pentothal, each would most likely come up with a variant of the answer Obama had hinted at: that lapel flags no longer signify simple patriotism, but something that you don’t want sticking to your fingers these days.
For these past six years and more, men with those bright little flags apparently riveted to their lapels have fed the voters a daily diet of fear, secrecy, lies and a cruel war with neither point nor end.
No sensible politician would want to march under this tiny, metallic banner. Just look at all the fallen stars who did.
Nevertheless Obama, once in office, seems to have had the stars and bars stapled immediately to every lapel in his closet. What was he afraid people would think he was president of? Kenya?
…since 1996, when the late, great Mollie Ivins wrote this:
There is some kind of magical thinking that seizes politicians in election years. “I know how to fix welfare — we’ll just require them all to get jobs!” What jobs? The reason most people are on welfare in the first place is that they can’t find jobs — or child care. Or the jobs don’t carry health insurance, so when a kid gets sick his mom has to go back on welfare to get medical treatment for him.
The way this society works is really simple: The shit flows downhill and the people at the bottom are drowning in it. Every little change that makes it harder for them to climb up means that millions more of them drown. And most of them are children.
From Down With Tyranny!:
One trend that was interesting last night is that clear, strong progressives like Jeff Merkley (OR), Tom Udall (NM), Brian Schatz (HI) and Al Franken (MN) — who had massive right-wing money thrown at them — won, while conservative Democrats like Mark Warner, Mary Landrieu, Mark Udall, and Kay Hagan stumbled and the most conservative Democrat of all, Mark Pryor, lost badly. In the House, conservative Democrats — Blue Dogs and New Dems — lost everywhere, even in Democratic districts…
So, every single PVI neutral district with the exception of Israel’s own (which, honor among thieves, the NRCC doesn’t contest) and that of fellow Wall Street whore Sean Patrick Maloney (NY-18, which was extremely close) is now in the hands of the Republicans. The Blue Dogs were effectively wiped out and this was a very bad cycle for the Republican wing of the Democratic Party.
I had missed this political factoid in Tuesday night’s general catastrophe, but it seems logical and significant. Why would an actual Democrat bother turning out to vote for a phony one?