Archive for ‘USA’ Category

Wanting to believe

datePosted on 17:02, August 12th, 2009 by Lew

Now that Barack Obama’s Kenyan ‘birth certificate’ has been revealed as a fairly simple forgery, you’d reckon the birther nutcases would crawl back into their holes in shame, right? Not a chance. (Original site here – the fact it triggers anti-malware warnings is proof of a coverup, natch.)

So it is with any such theory. Evidence brought to bear simply points to a wider, stronger and better-resourced conspiracy.

roveplato

Memo to birthers: you’ve lost Karl Rove.

(Cartoon via Open parachute.)

L

QoT nails it, again

datePosted on 23:44, August 11th, 2009 by Lew

I practically need to script this post.

Go and read Queen of Thorns’ thorough fisking of apologia for George Sodini.

L

Choose your own Americapocalypse

datePosted on 12:16, August 5th, 2009 by Lew

Pretend you’re a USian for a moment, go to Slate and pick up to five things you reckon will bring about the fall of the United States of America.

As for me:

apocalypse

You are a humanitarian internationalist. You’re convinced mankind will terminate America—but at least we won’t off ourselves in the process. You’ll know you’re right when: Everyone on Earth pledges allegiance to a world government; the feds default on the national debt.

The yellow dot is me, the blue dot is the average. Hmm.

(Via bOING bOING.)

L

It is what it is.

datePosted on 13:52, July 13th, 2009 by Pablo

Having returned to my Asian redoubt after 5 weeks in the USA at the family homestead, I can now take stock and reflect on the tone and tenor of American public discourse. Every time I make the yearly pilgrimage back to my native country I notice changes in how people phrase the moment. A few years back, when Dubya was leading his crusade against evil-doers, it was all about “bring it on,” and “opening a can of ass-whuppin.” Last year it was about, paradoxically, ‘change we can believe in” and “being thrown under the bus.” This year’s social motif is caught in the phrase “it is what it is.”

From public officials, to celebrities to the (wo)man on the street, the answer to most thorny questions or complex issues is captured in that phrase. This is remarkable because normally Americans have a strong sense of optimism and unbrindled faith in controlling their own destinies. But the public mood this year is one of resignation and fatalism, if not powerlessness and pessimism. People appear universally resigned to being pawns in a larger game, to be at the mercy of “powers that be,” to being unable to shift the course of their lives based on hard work and idealism alone. Cynicism abounds, apathy is on the rise once again, and people just expect to be disappointed by their leaders or do not expect much from that at all. Somewhat perversely, this debased threshold of consent gives the Obama administration added cushion or leeway when pursuing its policy reforms–anything it manages to accomplish in the policy field will appear to be unexpected and seemingly heroic. Coupled with Obama’s personal charisma, this means his administration really has to do very little in order to impress the mass public.

For the moment the dark mood is pervasive. When asked about personal indiscretions or ongoing subservience to corporate interests (most evident in the stilted debate on national health care), politicians reply: “it is what it is.” When asked about lawsuits, deaths and scandals, celebrities reply: “it is what it is.” When asked about job losses, foreclosures and stifled dreams, average Joe replies “it is what it is.” When asked about the utility of either of the the two wars the USA is fighting, the universal response is that “it is what it is.”When asked if Sarah Palin’s resignation speech was drug-induced or merely incoherent, the reply inevitably is “it is what it is.” This is the 2009 version of the 1970’s adage “s**t happens.” In each instance the point of the phrase is not only to convey resignation; it also signals an end to the conversation on a particular subject.

There also has been is a signal turn in the American social psyche. In a country that already saw little value in public intellectuals and critical discourse, the turn symbolised in this one-sentence fatalism is a sign of despair. It also may be a sign of social rot.

In that spirit I am compelled to ask a few questions myself. Why is it that the Republican Party is the party of moral hypocrites, racists and corporate thieves? What happened to the party of Abraham Lincoln and Nelson Rockefeller? Why does it not have any responses or initiatives to counter the Obama administration’s projects on a variety of fronts? Why does it continue to cater to religious extremists, social bigots and media charlatans? Why does it allow Dick Cheney, of all people, to be the defender of the faith? Why is it mired in McCarthyite fear of “socialism” or “communism?” Why does it deny any wrong done by the Bush 43 administration, be it the constitutional subversions of the “war on terror,” the trillion dollar national debt, the national financial melt down or the erosion of US international prestige and power? Why does its de facto leaders openly call for Obama’s downfall, in an abject display of disloyal opposition? Why does it not see the need to undergo serious self-examination and rejuvination along new ideological lines given the abject failures of the Bush 43 administration and the electoral massacre suffered in 2008? 

All of this is the stuff of Democratic dreams, and short of arrogance born of unchecked power, the Democrats pretty much have a free run through 2012 (and beyond) so long as the Republicans continue to pursue their 1950s Barbie and Ken dreams in a country where Barbie is increasingly of mixed race and Ken just might be gay. Therein lies the problem, because devoid of a real political opposition that offers substantive alternatives on matters of policy to them (and which extend beyond the tired opposition to abortion and gay rights), the Democrats will, inevitably, succumb to their own greed and indifference. We might call the latter the Clinton syndrome.

The question then is why, in an age of fatalism, the Republican Party does not respond to the challenges of the moment in something other than retrograde fashion?The answer it seems is that it is what it is.

Watching the watchers

datePosted on 23:04, June 26th, 2009 by Lew

Via Eric Crampton, of all people (his “interesting” sidebar is, well, interesting, and incidentally his co-fisk of the BERL booze report is brutal), the news that (in US prisons, at least) guards commit more rapes than inmates is pretty sobering.

Although sexual abuse of prisoners is widespread, rates vary across facilities. For example, 10 facilities had comparatively high rates, between 9.3 and 15.7 percent, whereas in six of the facilities no one reported abuse during that time period. More prisoners reported abuse by staff than abuse by other prisoners: 2.9 percent of respondents compared with about 2 percent. (Some prisoners reported abuse by other inmates and staff.)

Victims and witnesses often are bullied into silence and harmed if they speak out. In a letter to the advocacy organization Just Detention International, one prisoner conveyed a chilling threat she received from the male officer who was abusing her: “Remember if you tell anyone anything, you’ll have to look over your shoulder for the rest of your life.”

This isn’t a report from some two-bit bunch of pinko soft-on-crime liberal nancies – The National Prison Rape Elimination Commission was formed in 2003 by the (then-majority Republican) US Congress, by a unanimous vote in conjunction with the passage of the Prison Rape Elimination Act. It is a large-scale demographic and consultative research project intended to first determine the scale of the problem of prison rape, then to develop policy and procedure by which to eliminate it and standards to which prison operators must adhere in ensuring its elimination. As Senator Edward Kennedy, one of the initiative’s sponsors, said “it is not a liberal issue or a conservative issue. It is an issue of basic decency and human rights.” The research has been almost six years in the making.

So, for the benefit of David Garrett and Judith Collins:

Crowded facilities are harder to supervise, and crowding systemwide makes it difficult to carve out safe spaces for vulnerable prisoners that are less restrictive than segregation.

In other words: dorm-style and double-bunked prisoner accommodation means more rapes. Further:

In Farmer v. Brennan [1994], the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that deliberate indifference to the substantial risk of sexual abuse violates an incarcerated individual’s rights under the Eighth Amendment. As the Court so aptly stated, sexual abuse is “not part of the penalty that criminal offenders pay for their offenses against society.”

If it’s good enough for the USA, with the world’s highest incarceration rate per capita, then it’s good enough for New Zealand, which under the previous government as much as the current one, looks determined to challenge that record.

L

Welcome Standardistas

datePosted on 11:18, June 26th, 2009 by Lew

Lynn has linked through to us while The Standard is down – thanks. I won’t have time today to put much up, so in order that you’re not disappointed by the relative lack of content, here are a few other unusual suspects worth your attention:

  • BAGnewsNotes, because politics sometimes needs to be seen to be believed.
  • The Dr Seuss propaganda cartoon archive.
  • My old mate Gabe runs a radio show on FleetFM called Playing Singles, Drinking Doubles, dedicated to outlaw country, honky tonk, gospel, rock & roll, western swing and the blues.
  • The Objective Standard, whose watchword is Exploit The Earth Or Die. Magnificent in its delusion. Even the ad links on this site are interesting – here’s one to a book called The Values of Harry Potter: Lessons for Muggles. Who knew Harry Potter (by implication: JK Rowling) was a Rand cultist? Or wait, is it that Rand cultists are actually wizards? Clearly, since I can’t figure this out, I’m a muggle.
  • Here’s a wonderful montage of Fox News screengrabs. It’s a big file, but truly the gift which keeps on giving.
  • Save The Media – career journalist Gina Chen blogs on how old media can learn from new media.
  • The Peoples Cube – life behind the irony curtain. So overdone it initially made me wonder whether it was propaganda or ironic counter-propaganda, but nevertheless, an almost-endless trove of remarkably original material. Particularly righteous is the Pascal’s Global Warming Wager.
  • Submit on the Auckland local government reforms. Last stop today; train’s going to keep on rolling until it reaches the end of the line or the engineer dies.
  • Why Obama really won the Democratic primary.

Add your own unusual suspects in comments, if you like.

Cheers,
L

[If anyone has a post they’d like us to put up please email us (kiwipolitico @ kiwipolitico.com) and we’ll get it posted! Anita]

In the United States on Sunday George Tiller, a doctor, was shot and killed as he attended church. Tiller, who ran one of only three remaining clinics providing late term abortions in the US, had been shot in 1993, his name has been on anti-abortion assassination lists and his clinic was bombed in 1985.

In New Zealand we have never had an abortion doctor killed, but we have had doctors, nurses and clinic staff threatened, attacked and harassed. I pray that no further anti-abortion violence comes to New Zealand, and at the same time I pray that we will progress the issue to give women the right to control their own bodies and that we will find a social consensus for a woman’s right to choose.

But right now the cost seems very high, and all I can do is pray for the safety of everyone ensuring women continue to have access to the limited choices they are given. George Tiller was a great man whose personal actions gave more to women than I could ever hope to.

I try to not end too many posts with lyrics, but today I can’t help posting a section of Ani DiFranco’s Hello Birmingham. With an echo of Pablo’s recent posts, she is talking, at least in part, of the powerlessness of electors to make the changes that matter.

           now i’ve drawn closed the curtain 
in this little booth where the truth has no place 
to stand 
and i am feeling oh so powerless 
in this stupid booth with this useless 
little lever in my hand 
and outside, my city is bracing 
for the next killing thing 
standing by the bridge and praying 
for the next doctor 
martin 
luther 
king 
  

it was just one shot 
through the kitchen window 
it was just one or two miles from here 
if you fly like a crow 
a bullet came to visit a doctor 
in his one safe place 
a bullet insuring the right to life 
whizzed past his kid and his wife 
and knocked his glasses 
right off of his face 

and the blood poured off the pulpit 
the blood poured down the picket line 
yeah, the hatred was immediate 
and the vengance was devine 
so they went and stuffed god 
down the barrel of a gun 
and after him 
they stuffed his only son

Chosŏn Realism

datePosted on 12:37, May 28th, 2009 by Lew

(This and the last are posts I’ve been meaning to put up all week, having been prevented by a migraine and a deadline.)

This week seems an opportune time to link to a small but superb collection of North Korean propaganda posters reproduced (with two brief and fascinating contextual notes) from David Heather and Koen de Ceuster’s book North Korean Posters.

ess_north_korean_39
(“Let’s extensively raise goats in all families!”)

Discussion of the second test in the media has cast a great deal of heat and not very much light on the issues at stake, including one alarming statement in the NZ media by Tim Beal of Victoria University that the USA could defeat the DPRK militarily “without losing a single soldier” (audio), which runs contra to the understanding of the situation I had when I lived there. My understanding, admittedly mostly from pub discussions with officers in the South Korean and US defence establishment, was that the reason there’s a stalemate is a sort of mutually assured destruction, because while the forces in the South clearly have the strategic advantage, the DPRK has an unknown but very large number of well-protected and hidden artillery pieces and conventional rockets in the mountains just north of the border, within easy range of Seoul, and the few dozen hours it might take to destroy them all could result in catastrophic loss of life and infrastructure in that very densely-populated city.

Tough call.

L

Add Condi to the list

datePosted on 20:43, May 2nd, 2009 by Lew

According to this story, Former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has admitted involvement in a (technical) conspiracy to torture US terror detainees:

In little-noticed comments Thursday, the former White House counsel for President Richard Nixon John Dean said Thursday that former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice may have unwittingly admitted to a criminal conspiracy when questioned about torture by a group of student videographers at Stanford.
Rice told students at Stanford that she didn’t authorize torture, she merely forwarded the authorization for it. …
“She tried to say she didn’t authorize anything, then proceeded to say she did pass orders along to the CIA to engage in torture if it was legal by the standard of the Department of Justice,” Dean said. “This really puts her right in the middle of a common plan, as it’s known in international law, or a conspiracy, as it’s known in American law, and this indeed is a crime. If it indeed happened the way we think it did happen.”

Now, there’s a lot of ifs in there, and anyone with a more thorough knowledge of the issues in play is welcome to pour cold water on it. But to my eye, if this lawyer is right then it stands to reason that the Hat Trick of those at the top of the US torture agenda has now expanded to a Gang of Four.

Incidentally Pascal’s bookie, who ought to blog more often, makes a strong case in defence of Obama’s restraint on the torture issues in a series of comments at The Standard. The key point is the following:

[if Obama was too heavily involved] the story would become Obama v Bush, Dem v GOP. Rather than The Law v Criminals.

He’s right: if it’s to be done, it must be done right, and the taint of partisan politics mustn’t be admitted as a distraction. His role is to provide political and legal conditions within which such a prosecution can thrive of its own accord, not to drive the prosecution himself. He’s doing that; those who want Bush, Cheney, Gonzales and (perhaps) Rice to stand trial had best hold their tongues and show a little faith.

L

On the Torture Memos

datePosted on 20:29, April 23rd, 2009 by Pablo

At long last the paper trail authorizing the use of coercive interrogation techniques, to include tortures such as water boarding ( a simulated drowning technique) has been made public. The bottom line is that it reveals that high level Bush administration officials, to include John Ashcroft (Attorney General at the time), John Yoo (Deputy Attorney General), Alberto Gonzalez (White House counsel, later Attorney General) Dick Cheney (Darth Vadar) and Condoleeza Rice (Nurse Ratched), should be indicted for criminal offenses under both US and international law. What is worse, their authorization of criminal acts–no matter how Mr. Yoo’s convoluted legal arguments may wish to paint them as something less than torture and permissible under doctrines of Executive authority anyway–flew in the face of expert opinion that torture is an unreliable method for extracting reliable intelligence and could, in fact, be counter-productive both legally and practically. There are several layers to the story, so I shall briefly run through them.

The techniques used were derived from the SERE school practices. SERE is a program run by the US military to simulate the conditions of a prisoner of war camp in which US aviators and special forces operators might find themselves. It is modeled on 1950s Chinese prison camps. Under controlled conditions, SERE operators subject US personnel to what they admit are “torture techniques” (such as water boarding) in order to teach the US personnel how to resist coercive interrogations. Thus, the Bush White House and Justice department took techniques that were capable of being overcome by determined prisoner resistance and authorized their use, without fully exploring their history or the controlled circumstances of their SERE application, on suspected jihadis whose idea of glory comes in the form of martyrdom. Not to put too fine a point on it, but that is just arse-backwards.

In fact, once SERE camp administrators heard of the (mis) application in 2002 they wrote memos to the Defence Department protesting against the use of SERE techniques. They explicitly warned about the unreliability of the confessions extracted and the risk of accidental death. These memos were ignored by the Rumsfeld cronies who ran the Pentagon at the time and were apparently never passed onto the White House and Justice Department (or if they were, they were ignored). What is important to note is that the people who pushed for the use of these techniques were Republican ideologues who had no actual experience with interrogations. Most interrogators are US military counter-intelligence personnel, who are fully aware of the legal and practical pitfalls of using torture to extract confessions. These include the unreliability of the information extracted, the uselessness of such information for strategic intelligence purposes, the problems of garnering actionable information from atomized cells in a decentralized guerrilla network like al-Qaeda–in other words, the complete disutility of using SERE-type techniques for anything other than immediate tactical purposes (if that). Since these forms of punishment were being meted out in “black sites”  thousands of miles away from the battlefields of Iraq (Abu Ghraib was more of a test case rather than a systematic application of the Yoo doctrine) and Afghanistan (although the prison at Bahgram Air Force Base outside of Kabul is reported to contain a “black site’), or in Guatanamo, even the tactical intelligence obtained was mostly unactionable. Hence, professional interrogators such as Special Forces counter-intelligence officers did not conduct the interrogations, but instead were replaced by CIA operatives or private contractors. The can of worms that opens almost defies belief.

In a nutshell:  the Bush administration authorized unproven and unreliable torture techniques against the advice of those who were best informed about the use and results of those methods, then replaced seasoned interrogators with civilians and private contractors to do the dirty work. Presumably this was to gain some of distance on any potential legal repercussions down the road. When one looks at the results of the Abu Ghraib case, where two enlisted soldiers served short jail sentences, two field officers were reprimanded and demoted and one flag rank officer demoted and  forced to retire, it easy to see how Bush administration officials believed that they would never be held responsible for anything that happened in the “black sites.”

Bush administration defenders claim that the coercive interrogation program obtained results in the form of preventing terrorist attacks but are unable or unwilling to offer a single instance of such a success. They claim that revealing the torture memos jeopardizes current and future intelligence operations and demoralizes the CIA. The answer to these claims (other than to laugh when Dick Cheney makes them), is to say 1) provide a single shred of evidence that an attack was prevented by the use of waterboarding and other forms of torture; 2) prove that any information obtained that was useful could not have been obtained using other (non-torture) techniques. Let us be clear: getting the names of other cell members, or of liaison contacts, or of the early outlines of a terrorist plot is not “actionable” intelligence that could not have been obtained by other means (say, by good human intelligence in the field). Arresting some of the Guantanamo detainees was enough to disrupt the most grandiose of al-Qaeda plots, so once their role was ascertained and their backwards linkages traced, use of torture was just vengeance, not intelligence-gathering. If the claim is going to be made that the use of terror was efficient, i.e., that it actually prevented an imminent attack, then it needs to be supported with proof. After all, the “informants” are not going anywhere so need not fear retribution and whatever intelligence penetration of terrorist networks has occurred should not be vulnerable to exposure if the truth of the matter is revealed (otherwise it is simply shoddy workmanship on the part of US intelligence and its allies).

The best way to verify such claims is to grant immunity to interrogators and lower-level CIA and military officials who oversaw coercive interrogations in  order to find out not only whether the techniques were as necessary as the Bush defenders say there were, as well as their results. More importantly, the main purpose of the grants of immunity is to determine the chain of command responsible for authorizing the use of torture, and on what grounds. The last point is important because as it stands, the Bush administration will hide under the doctrine of “plausible deniability” where subordinates get blamed for the physical acts but no evidentiary link can be conclusively made to the orders of high level officials. That deception can be countered with a “due obedience” approach whereby legal immunity to lower-ranked officials is exchanged for their testimony on who gave the orders and how did they do so (as well as how they tried to conceal those orders).  That is the key to getting indictments of Bush administration officials. John Yoo and his chief lieutenants, in particular (the former now happily ensconced as a Law Professor at UC Berkeley, of all places, the latter now anxiously realizing that private legal practice does not afford them any cover in the face of a federal indictment), need to be held to account because they apparently took an untoward interest in specific techniques and were the keenest to authorize their use. Getting these toadies to turn under the threat of imprisonment could in turn be the key to finding out what exact roles were played by Cheney, Bush and Rice in opening the Pandora’s box embedded in the torture memos.

Of course, being a cautious and pragmatic person, Barack Obama may pull the plug on any prosecutions in the interest of political security (his own and of the Democratic Party). If so, it will be up to the International Criminal Court to seek the truth of the matter, so that even those who rule a seemingly unassailable superpower realise that they too are not above basic standards of human rights and international justice. I shall not hold my breath waiting for either to happen. What is certain is that, until something dramatically different is revealed to counter what is known so far,  from a moral-ethical as well as an efficiency-practical standpoint, the US use of torture in the fight against terrorism has been a failure more than a success.

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