Archive for the ‘U.S. Domestic Affairs’ Category
On Flags and Cultural Cures – An Analysis (2 July 2015) by Lawrence Davidson
Part I – Racially Motivated Murder
On the evening of 17 June 2015 a 21-year-old white man by the name of Dylann Roof walked into an old and famous black church, the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) in Charleston, South Carolina. The church was occupied by a Bible study group. Roof actually sat in on the class for an hour before pulling out a .45 caliber handgun and announcing that black people were ”taking over our country. And, you have to go.” He then shot 10 of the 12 people in the study group, nine of whom died.
It should be pointed out that at 21 years of age Roof doesn’t have a fully developed pre-frontal cortex (which, in part, means his risk- aversion impulse is not fully developed) – a fact that is likely to do as little good in court as it did Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (also 21) in his Boston Marathon bombing trial.
It did not take long for the authorities to identify and apprehend Roof. It turned out that he is a thoroughgoing racist with delusions of starting a second Civil War. He also had a thing for flags. Among the Facebook-posted pictures of Roof that soon surfaced were ones showing him with the flag of apartheid South Africa and the flag of white-ruled Rhodesia. Both of these are reported to be used as symbols of white supremacy here in the U.S. And, there is the picture of him, with his handgun displayed, with the Confederate battle flag – the same flag that flies over the South Carolina state house.
By the day after the shooting the issue for the media was no longer Dylann Roof (who had confessed to the murders). The issue was now whether or not the Confederate battle flag over the state house should be taken down. For much of the country that particular flag was a symbol of the racism that had moved Roof to commit his murders. As Nikki Haley, South Carolina’s governor, stated, The flag is a “deeply resented symbol of a brutally offensive past,” and literally overnight, the AME massacre galvanized most of the country to show their support for the victims by demanding the flag’s removal.
However, it wasn’t going to be that easy. It turns out that many white citizens of South Carolina and beyond don’t see the flag as a symbol of a “brutal past,” much less the symbol of the nine dead people shot down inside the Emanuel AME Church. No. They now claim that flying the battle flag simply honors their ancestors who fought in the Civil War for the cause of “states’ rights.” Based on this interpretation, Dylann Roof got it wrong when he sported that handgun along with the battle flag.
Well, most of the African-American population of the United States, along with many whites, think this ancestor story is a rather poor ploy. Honoring one’s ancestors who fought in a lost cause to sustain the institution of slavery (that is why states’ rights was important to the Confederate South) is a bit weird in today’s cultural environment, but one can do it in the privacy of one’s own home or even at a veterans center. However, making it an obligation of the state (in this case South Carolina) is downright dangerous – because what you have is half the population commanding the government to pay homage to those who fought to maintain the enslavement of the other half. From a socio-political standpoint, that justifies the actions of those ancestors in a way that may encourage their descendants (like Mr. Roof) to mimic them. This is just asking for trouble, and on the evening of 17 June, South Carolina – and the rest of us too – got it.
Part II – Why Does Dylann Roof’s Kind Still Exist?
The Civil War ended for over 150 years. So one can reasonably ask why Americans are still dealing with this issue of racism? Why is it that, as President Obama said, shortly after the murders, that “slavery still casts a long shadow” on American life? There is no shortage of those who recognize that racism is still deeply ingrained in U.S. culture, but there are few suggestions as to why that is and what can be done about it.
That being the case, I thought I might revive my thoughts on these questions – ones originally posted in March of 2013 in an analysis entitled Civil Rights Takes a Hit. It was written on the occasion of the Supreme Court’s consideration of an Alabama suit to rescind Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Section 5 allows the Justice Department to review any changes in voting procedures of areas of the country traditionally tainted by racism.
Here are some of the points I made in that essay:
— Cultures can evolve over centuries, yet once their major parameters are set, they have remarkable staying power. The notion that such parameters can be reversed in, say, 48 years (counting from the 1965 Voting Rights Act) is naive at best.
— Why would that be the case? A good part of the answer is that a culture of racism shaped the way of life, particularly in the southern United States, for hundreds of years. This culture was only briefly interrupted by the Civil War. After that war, there followed a period known as Reconstruction, when the U.S. Army’s occupation of the South interfered with ingrained racist practices. But Reconstruction lasted only a brief twelve years, until 1877. Thereafter the South reverted to racist ways under a “legal” regime commonly known as “Jim Crow.” That lasted until the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. Subsequent Republican administrations have been chipping away at civil rights laws and regulations ever since. Because, over hundreds of years, the interruptions in southern racial practice were relatively brief, racism has persisted in that region of the country to a relatively greater degree than in other areas.
— This pervasive and long-lasting culture was reflected in local and regional laws. Laws, in turn, are to be understood as educational tools that tell citizens what society deems to be right and wrong behavior. If laws are consistently enforced over a long period of time, most citizens will internalize these messages and they will become part of their moral code. Except for the 12 years of Reconstruction, the South had known nothing but legally sanctioned racist rules of behavior right up to the middle of the 20th century. And so it was racist rules that were thoroughly internalized.
— What the Civil Rights laws of the1960s did was to suddenly, and partially, reverse the behavioral messages based on the older racist laws. They did so only partially because these new laws concentrated on making discrimination illegal within the public sphere. You could no longer segregate public schools, hotels, restaurants and the like, as well as government offices. Today, African-Americans in the South check into a hotel, eat at a restaurant, shop where they want to without much trouble. However, if they do happen to have trouble, there is recourse under the law to deal with the problem. That has now been the case for 48 years. Yet this is not nearly enough time to have the message that racial discrimination is wrong penetrate deeply into the private sphere of a region where the opposite attitude has long been the default position. My guess is that among some southern citizens, the new egalitarian way of thinking is superficially there, and among others it is not there at all.
Part III – Conclusion
Communities with historically ingrained patterns of thinking and behaving may be bludgeoned, say, by violent revolution, into changing their ways. However, if you are to change them in a non-violent fashion you must bring to bear all of society’s traditional rule-making devices. These are primarily the law and the schools.
In the case of the United States, laws that enforce civil rights must be strengthened and steadily applied for multiple generations (at least four or five) until obeying these laws is habitual. That should permanently reform the public sphere. Yet if Dylann Roof’s actions teach us anything, the rules regulating the private sphere must also be addressed. The teaching of the essential correctness of civil rights and the essential wrongness for racist attitudes must be put into the curriculum and taught in all the schools, public and private, from K to 12, and probably in undergraduate college as well. This too must be universal (whether parents like it or not), consistent and multigenerational.
None of this is really impossible. It can be done. We know enough about psychology to recognize that such an effort is not a waste of time. All it takes is the political and institutional will to do these things with patient persistence. Not until there are clear signs that racism has been erased from both the public and private spheres should anyone breathe a sigh of relief.
On the Perennial Nature of U.S. Urban Riots – An Analysis (9 May 2015 ) by Lawrence Davidson
Part I – Almost Normal
If one goes to Wikipedia under the subject of “mass racial violence in the United States,” one will find a “timeline of events” running from 1829 to 2015. There are so many race-related riots listed for these 186 years that, from a historical point of view, rioting appears almost normal. Prior to World War II these outbreaks mostly involved ethnic, racial or religious groups going after each other: Germans, Italians, Poles, Jews, Hispanics, African-Americans, Chinese, Catholics, Protestants were all involved in these set-tos. Often the causes were economic with a territorial overtone – one group moving into the neighborhood of another group and/or taking their jobs. When the violence came, it was one group against group.
In the post-World War II era, the nature of the still numerous instances of rioting changed. The group-versus-group scenario gave way to group-versus-state. Most of the categories listed above had successfully assimilated under the heading “caucasian,” and religious affiliations no longer seemed worth bloody murder. Immigrants could/can still instill anger in citizens who mistake foreigners for the cause of problems they themselves have caused, but the result, of late, has rarely been rioting.
Actually, in the present era, the cause of rioting has mostly been black resentment over prevailing inequality: why the distribution of wealth seems never to work to satisfy the needs of African- American poor. Thus all too many African-Americans, particularly men, have little opportunity for a decent life, while simultaneously having every opportunity to end up in confrontations with the police and then land in prison. It is these ubiquitous confrontations with agents of the state that are now the standard trigger to the phenomenon of modern American rioting.
Part II – The Inadequacies of the Civil Rights Acts
The ongoing phenomenon of urban riots involving African- Americans suggests that the civil rights acts that followed the widespread unrest of the mid-1960s have proved inadequate. In part this is so because their enforcement, such as it has been, was restricted to the public realm. That is, the effort to do away with discrimination went no further than preventing such acts within institutions serving the public: public schools and housing, restaurants, hotels, theaters, and the like. There were other aspects to the civil rights acts – grants to minority businesses, for instance – but they all just scratched the surface. As a result the number of African-Americans made upwardly mobile by this legislation was less than optimal. A black middle class did emerge, but it was small relative to the numbers who needed help.
To say that the civil rights acts proved inadequate in the fight against nationwide discrimination is to say that they proved unable to reorient America’s discriminatory cultural mindset. That mindset was the product of, among other things, nearly three hundred years of institutional racism. To change things was going to take the consistent reinforcement of the idea of racial equality over at least three or four generations. This would have to be done mainly through the educational system, yet no specific efforts were made to this end. Indeed, even attempting to integrate the public school systems could provoke their own riots, as the “Boston busing crisis” of1974 proved.
Another sign of this problematic cultural mindset is that, as far as I know, there is nowhere in the U.S. where one can find serious empathy for the fate of the inner cities amongst the vast, mostly white, population of the suburbs. For instance, in the wake of the recent riots in Baltimore, the mayor of Philadelphia, Michael Nutter, commented, “local government cannot itself fix problems of violence and unemployment.” This is absolutely true, but Nutter has looked in vain for any meaningful help from a state legislature controlled by a hinterland of conservative whites who may not feel they belong to the same species, much less the same broader community, as those in the inner cities. The suggestion that they should send their tax money to help the residents of Philadelphia appears to be beyond their understanding. I doubt very much if it is different elsewhere in the country.
Part III – The Police
The police, of course, cannot stand outside the general discriminatory orientation of the culture. So the limited impact of the civil rights acts meant that the police were not reeducated to the new standards of public behavior now sanctioned by law. To do so would have required more than simply increasing the number of black officers to at least match the racial demographics of American cities. It would have required extensive retraining and testing of those who sought to be part of law enforcement.
There is an entire industry out there to train and test people to safely drive cars. I know of nothing beyond piecemeal efforts to train police to act in an equable and lawful manner toward all the different sorts of people they come into contact with (plus to handle other problems that seem to affect the police as a group, such as stress and anger management). Nor are standardized ways of testing candidates applied so as to make sure that only the trustworthy in this regard are on the street. Because we do not do this, we risk having police who themselves may act in a criminal manner toward economically disadvantaged classes, thus expressing discrimination in a way that is violent enough to trigger mass unrest.
Indeed, as of now the preferred personality type for the position of police officer seems to be the same as that for professional soldier, which may be why it has been so easy to “militarize” American police forces. This effort, along with the “home security” business, has become a multibillion-dollar industry (major players in which are Israel companies, which now train an increasing number of U.S. police departments in techniques developed while enforcing the occupation of Palestine). Police departments and their suppliers have teamed up to lobby cash-poor municipalities for all manner of lethal gewgaws ranging from automatic weapons to armored cars. Military grade riot-control equipment is now de rigueur for most large police departments. So great is the demand for these deadly toys that the Defense Department now has a committee appointed by the president to look into what constitutes appropriate equipment to hand out to the cop on the beat.
Part IV – Conclusion
What this sad story tells us is that the United States has a very big problem of discrimination and exploitation of the urban poor that goes beyond the ideologically induced greed of a capitalist class. That is not to say that the capitalist structure of the American economy hasn’t played havoc with the aspirations of poor blacks to get out of poverty. There is a very good essay by Richard Rothstein of the Economic Policy Institute that provides insight into the government’s role in this aspect of the problem.
However, it is wrong to believe that after three hundred years of racist acculturation the problem of endemic discrimination would disappear if, however unlikely, the nation turned socialist. Americans would still have retrain themselves in order to overcome the racist cultural addictions acquired over their history.
It is relatively easy to write down some of the things that would have to be done to break these addictions. For instance:
– Tolerance and an attitude of community inclusiveness has to be taught to American children and done so consistently for multiple generations. This has to be done with consistency and not interpreted by the political efforts of those who believe teaching kids tolerance of other racial, ethnic and religious groups is doing the work of the Devil.
– The educational opportunities (including affirmative action programs), job training and meaningful low-cost housing programs that have been implemented piecemeal for the last fifty years have to be carried on seriously, and seriously funded by taxing the wealthy upper 20% of the population. Alternatively, the money can be taken from the bloated defense budget.
– No one should become a police officer (and while we are at it, a prison guard) without undergoing rigorous screening. And that screening should look to eliminate all those who have authoritarian personalities underlain with problems of impulsive anger. This is such a no-brainer that one wonders why it is not already being done. Perhaps part of the problem is that, in most cases, the police set their own criteria for admission into what has become a trade organization with the characteristics of a college fraternity.
Cultures can be both wonderful and horrible things. They tell us who we are and how we should act. To exercise some control over cultural evolution to accentuate commonsense beneficial ends such as tolerance and community inclusiveness is a worthwhile undertaking. But isn’t it a restraint on individual freedom to insist that people not behave in racist and intolerant ways? Sorry, that sort of “freedom” has already been made illegal at the institutional level within the public sphere. But it is not enough. We must insist that the effort go further until, slowly, the culture is wholly transformed.
The Structural Problem With Lobbies – An Analysis (23 April 2011)
In a piece titled Lobby, Lobbification, Lobbified (16 April 2011) I asserted that lobby power has corrupted the legislative branches of government particularly at the federal level. How and why this has happened needs further explanation. Most people point a finger at the corrosive impact of money and that certainly plays a pivotal role. It is extraordinarily expensive to run for any major office at either the state or national level, and increasing numbers of our candidates come from the super rich. Lobbies or special interests also supply a lot of the money a politician needs to fund repeated election cycles. However, the problem presented by special interests is still more fundamental.
I – The Structural Problem
The influence of lobbies and special interests is a structural part of our system and has been so since the founding of the nation. This being the case, the United States is not really a democracy of individuals. Rather, it is a democracy of competing interest groups or factions. In my book, Foreign Policy Inc. (U. of Kentucky Press, 2009) I coin the word “factocracy” to describe the real nature of American politics.
The country’s founding fathers were acutely aware of the nature of factocracy and they feared its influence. In his Farewell Address given in 1796, George Washington warned of “combinations and associations” which might succeed in substituting their own desires for “the delegated will of the nation.” James Madison dedicated his Federalist Paper number 10 to the issue of factionalism within the republican environment. He feared “men of fractious tempers, local prejudices or of sinister designs” who would “betray the interests of the people” by “intrigue” or by “corruption.”
Madison attributed the tendency toward factionalism to human nature. The pursuit of self-interest spurs faction formation and therefore its “causes cannot be removed.” So one is left with the task of designing ways to control it. Madison was of the opinion that the new born United States was a big enough conglomeration of groups that, if its governing institutions were properly arranged, the nation’s large number of competing interests would check each other. Also, the country was, in his opinion, territorially large enough that “ those who may feel a common sentiment have less opportunity of communication and concert .” So, in his work on the nation’s constitution he built in representative bodies with what he felt to be sufficient numbers of delegates to make the domination of one or a few factions difficult and augmented this with checks and balances between different parts of the government.
Unfortunately, Madison’s efforts have failed. Technology solved the communication problem and powerful factions formed not only in the legislature but also outside of it. Lobbies and special interests concentrated on the particular aspects of policy that interested their members and became so numerous that one or another special interest now influences all important aspects of both domestic and foreign policy. Presently there are over 11,000 lobbyists in Washington DC and they spend about $3.5 billion annually to assure that their parochial interests stand in for the national interest. Indeed, it is hard to recognize the national interest amidst all the special interest clamor.
II – Just who are the constituents?
Here is another way to understand this phenomenon. One might ask, who are a politician’s main constituents? At election time there is no doubt that the voters play that role. At that time all politicians focus their speeches, media measures and other propaganda on the voters. The candidate who wins this information combat (please note that campaign information need not be accurate or objective) and best organizes voter turnout wins the election. However, after the election the importance of the voters temporarily recedes. At best the now elected politician will perform a holding action with the voters. He or she may establish local offices to hear voters’ complaints and needs. This office may even assist the voters in solving problems concerning the government. But these will be low end delegated tasks. Between elections the real constituency on which the politician focuses his or her personal attention are the special interests that can supply large donations. It is these constituents that make it financially possible to engage in the organizing and information combat that goes on at election time. As the system presently operates, electoral victory would be very difficult without the support of the lobbies. Thus, these between election times constituents are in very good position to strike a deal with the politician that will strongly influence his or her legislative voting and/or policy formulation behavior.
Sometimes there is an overlap between the special interests and the election time voter. For instance, in some states defense contractors such as Boeing or General Electric are major employers and Senators or Representatives from such states who vote to lower the budget of the Defense Department may be seen as working against the interest of both the corporation and its employees. That is, against the interests of a major campaign donor and a relatively large group of voters. It is obvious how hard it would be to operate against these interests. However, at other times the special interest may have nothing to do with the economic welfare of the state or district in question. Such a lobby may have simply struck a bargain that trades its financial donations and media clout for the politician’s legislative support. That is the case of the Zionists and similar lobbies.
III – The Zionist Modus Operandi
Here is how a special interest such as the Zionists might operate. Let us say you are a new Senator from some U.S. state that has only a small number of Jewish voters and but scattered pockets of Christian Zionists ones. You come to Washington, DC and soon thereafter are visited by someone from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) . They explain that they can encourage both Jewish and Christian Zionists from around the country to contribute to your campaign fund and mobilize local media support for you often at their expense. As to the Jewish or Christian Zionist element among your voting constituents they will promise to get those voters out for you. In exchange, all you have to do is vote in a pro Israel manner in the Senate when required.
Chances are you know little about the Middle East in general and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict particular. Except, of course, you have grown up in the same pro-Israel informational environment as the rest of the American population. The conflict seems not to be a voting concern with the majority at home so taking up the Zionist offer apparently will not alienate anyone. So what do you have to lose? Even if you are one of the exceptional politicians who pay attention to complaints about Israeli barbarism and give them credence, and therefore are not inclined to take up this offer, the consequences of declining might cause you to hesitate. For if you say no to the Zionists they simply go to your opponents. Not just to the opponents in the competing political party, but also to whomever is your competition in the next primary election. From wealthy and powerful potential allies the Zionists could instantly become wealthy and powerful potential enemies. And they have a known record of success at defeating those politicians who will not cooperate with them.
Part IV – Conclusion
In truth it is a Faustian bargain. Once you sign on with a special interest such as the Zionists they soon become a primary constituent of yours, not only between elections, but also at election time via their media and voter mobilization efforts. They soon become a central part of your team. You no longer look to the State Department for information about the Middle East or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Now all that comes from AIPAC and similar sources. Thus your deepening dependency on this lobby is not just financial but also informational. They have melded your world view with theirs. Congratulations, you have been officially lobbified.
Islamophobia on Wheels – An Analysis (17 April 2015) by Lawrence Davidson
Part I – Promoting Hatred
On 1 April 2015 an anti-Muslim advertisement started appearing on 84 municipal buses in the Philadelphia regional area. The ad space was purchased for a four-week period by the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), which paid $30,000 to run its message: a picture from the early 1940s of Adolf Hitler speaking to Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti (chief Muslim religious authority) of Jerusalem, with an accompanying text, “Islamic Jew Hatred: It’s in the Quran” and a call to “end all aid to Islamic countries.” Philadelphia is just the latest city to experience this sort of offensive Islamophobia. Indeed, running Islamophobic attack ads on transit systems across the nation seems to be AFDI’s specialty.
The AFDI is part of an extremist organization called Stop Islamization of America (SIOA), which is led by the a hyperactive Islamophobe and strident rightwing Zionist Pamela Geller. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which has long tracked right-wing extremist organizations, has labeled the SOIA a “hate group.”
Philadelphia’s regional transit authority (SEPTA) tried to refuse the advertisement because it so blatantly did what it incorrectly alleged the Quran does – promote hatred. But the AFDI took SEPTA to court and won with a freedom of speech argument.
Part II – Analyzing the AFDI Advertisement
The ad now appearing in the Philadelphia area is actually a piece of propaganda. There is no accurate context given for the photo it displays, and the reference to the Quran lacks a citation. So let’s fill in what is missing with some analysis.
– The Photograph of the Grand Mufti Speaking to Hitler
Amin al-Husseini (1895 – 1974) was a member of a leading family in Jerusalem. Early in the British occupation of Palestine he was appointed Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, making him one of the most influential Muslim leaders in the colony. The British assumed they could control Husseini, who was only 26 years old at the time, and hoped that his appointment would placate Arab nationalist feelings. However, they had seriously underestimated him. Husseini’s goal was to achieve independence for Arab Palestine, and that made him a staunch opponent of the Zionist colonial project.
When a major anti-colonial Arab revolt broke out in 1936, the British mistakenly believed that Husseini was one of its major organizers and sought to arrest him. If they had managed to do so he probably would have been deported to one of Britain’s African colonies. To avoid this fate, Husseini fled to Iraq, which at this time was also a British colony in open revolt. When the British suppressed the Iraqi rebellion, Husseini fled to Fascist Italy from where he was eventually moved to Germany.
The advertisement that now appears on Philadelphia area buses shows Husseini speaking with Adolf Hitler. The implication, which is false, is that Palestine’s Muslim religious leader was himself a Nazi. If one does the research, one can find other pictures and documents that show Husseini recruiting Muslim soldiers in the Balkans to fight in the German army. He also did propaganda broadcasts in Arabic for the Germans urging resistance to British imperialism. Thus, it cannot be denied that he collaborated with Nazi Germany during the war years. However, none of this activity was undertaken because he was a Nazi. It was done because he was opposed to British imperial rule in Palestine and other Arab territories. If the British had been at war with Sweden instead of Germany, Husseini would have sought refuge among the Swedes and broadcast propaganda for them.
The same can be said for Husseini’s attitude toward a Jewish Palestine. He was adamantly against it. When he proclaimed, as part of his pro-German propaganda, that he wished to see Jews driven from the Arab lands, the most logical interpretation of this statement is that it was Zionist Jews he sought expelled, for in other statements to German leaders of the time he said the best solution for Palestine was for the Jews to go back to their countries of origin. Thus, Husseini’s statement seems to have no relevance for Palestine’s indigenous Sephardic Jews. There is no convincing evidence that he supported the Holocaust (though he was aware of it) despite an on-going Zionist effort to make it appear that he did.
Whatever one might think of the Mufti’s activities in wartime Germany, he was driven to them not by any belief in Nazi doctrines, but by the ongoing oppression of his native land by British policies in support of Zionist ambitions. Much like the British and American wartime alliance with Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union or, for that matter, the U.S. alliance with Osama Bin Laden and the Mujahedin in Afghanistan, Husseini’s alliance with Hitler’s Germany was a function of the enemy of my enemy is, at least for the moment, my friend.
– “Jew Hatred” and the Quran
The AFDI bus ad goes on to declare that “Jew Hatred” can be found in the Quran. It is hard to take such a charge seriously, because the Quran, like the Old and New Testaments, is a book of scripture in which one can find, and then misinterpret, almost anything one wants. Thus, through selective and out-of-context quoting, or by simple innuendo, one can make outrageous accusations. Of course, the present bus ad forgoes quotation or citation and just makes an unsupported declaration.
One has to keep in mind that the Quran is approximately 1,500 years old, and so framing the attitude of all modern Muslims in terms of a few statements critical of early 7th-century Jews (while ignoring statements that are positive) is like saying that all educated English people dislike Jews because they revere the same Shakespeare who, in the late 16th century, wrote the Merchant of Venice.
Actually, if you compare the Quran and the Old Testament on the violent treatment of “the other,” the Old Testament is much worse. It is a very bloody affair (for instance, see book 1 of Samuel), featuring a wrathful deity who arranges cruel fates for any group that gets in the way of ancient Hebrews. My personal opinion is that such a God deserves to be avoided rather than worshipped. On the other hand, the Quran’s portrayal of hell is pretty awful, but then its pains and tortures are attributed to that same wrathful deity found in the Old Testament.
Just to be even-handed on this topic, the New Testament’s Book of Revalations seems to inspire many Christian fundamentalists to earnestly yearn for global annihilation.
– Stop the Aid!
Finally, the ad calls for a halt to aid going to Islamic countries. Actually, this might not be a bad idea, considering that a lot of this aid is made up of loan gurantees to dictatorships for the purchase of U.S. weapons. If we could balance this out by halting the yearly $3 billion-plus in aid to Israel, we would have a win-win situation. However, on both counts the U.S. munitions manufactures would scream bloody murder (pun intended) because they are the ones profiting from such “aid.”
Part III – Conclusion
When a bigoted extremist like Pamela Geller places misleading and hate-promoting propaganda on buses, the Zionist establishment has nothing critical to say. They treat it as if it is all very proper and upheld by “free speech.” However, when supporters of the Palestinian cause put up billboards picturing a series of maps that show the absorption of Arab Palestine by Zionist settlers between1948 and today, pious rabbis and Zionist lobbysts protest and call it anti-Semitic. Hypocrisy is the name of the game.
This is all about the ongoing battle to control the message: that is the history and reporting of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the early 1970s, when I started supporting the Palestinian cause, the Zionists had a near monopoly on that message. There were almost no venues that would allow someone who was pro-Palestinian to speak or publish, and on the rare occasion that one found a platform, one was subjected to heckling and threats.
The situation has really changed. At least outside of the Washington Beltway, those who support Palestinian rights are on the offensive, and the Zionists on the defensive. However, the Zionists certainly have not given up, and the most egregious of them, such as those at the AFDI, still lash out with hate-filled messages. So, the fight goes on.
Getting Past The Issue Of Being Jewish – An Analysis (12 March 2015) by Lawrence Davidson
Part I – Is Being Jewish the Real Issue?
On 5 March 2015 the New York Times (NYT) carried a front page story about a second-year student at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) named Rachel Beyda. Ms. Beyda, who is Jewish, was seeking appointment as a member on the university’s Judicial Board – a student committee that considers judicial questions in reference to the activities of student government.
As the story goes, Ms. Beyda’s application was originally rejected because a majority of the board felt that her association with organizations such as Hillel, a group that uncritically supports Israel’s apartheid-style culture and maintains anti-democratic rules and procedures of its own, would represent a conflict of interest and result in possible bias on her part. Given the tension on many campuses, including UCLA, between those who support and oppose Israeli policies and behavior – tensions which occasionally result in student organizations being disciplined – it was not an unreasonable assumption. Unfortunately, the student board members who questioned Ms. Beyda’s affiliations made it appear that their concerns flowed from her religion and ethnicity.
Then “at the prodding of a faculty adviser … who pointed out that belonging to Jewish organizations was not a conflict of interest, the students [on the board] revisited the issue and unanimously put her [Beyda] on the board.”
Of course, the story does not end there. According to the NYT, the episode has “set off an anguished discussion of how Jews are treated” and served to “spotlight what appears to be a surge of hostile sentiment directed against Jews on many campuses in the country, often a byproduct of animosity toward the policies of Israel.”
The Los Angeles-area Zionists have had a field day blowing the incident out of all proportions. For instance, Rabbi Aaron Lerner, “the incoming executive director of the Hillel chapter at U.C.L.A.” told the NYT, “we don’t like to wave the flag of anti-Semitism, but this is different. This is bigotry. This is discriminating against someone because of their identity.” At least on one point Lerner is wrong. Hillel does “wave the flag of anti-Semitism.” After all, Hillel maintains that “Israel is a core element of Jewish life and the gateway to Jewish identity.” The organization follows the Zionist line that those who strongly oppose Israel, oppose the Jews and Judaism per se.
Lerner’s charge of “bigotry” is harder to evaluate without seeing the recorded video of the board meeting (which has been removed from YouTube.) However, in a letter to the campus newspaper, the students who originally voted against Ms. Beyda apologized for the tack they had taken in their questioning of her.
The NYT goes on to air the opinions of Rabbi John L. Rosove, senior rabbi of Temple Israel of Hollywood, who called the board incident “insidious”; Avinoam Baral, the president of student council, who said the board was unfairly suggesting Beyda might have “divided loyalties”; and Natalie Charney, student president of the UCLA chapter of Hillel who complained that this was all the result of an “overall climate of targeting Israel” that has led to the “targeting of Jewish students.” Well, no one can accuse the New York Times of putting forth a balanced interpretation of events.
Part II – What is the Real Issue?
There is certainly something upsetting about this incident. It might very well be that the recent acrimonious struggle that resulted in the UCLA student government endorsing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel set the scene for a less than sensitive approach to Ms. Beyda’s application to the Judicial Board. Nonetheless, the incident and its repercussions tell us that those who oppose Israeli behavior have to be careful not to fall into the Zionist trap of assuming, or even inferring, that Israel is identical with the Jewish people and that individual Jews cannot do other than support the Zionist state. This is simply not true.
It seems to me that the mistake the board members made was to focus on Ms. Beyda’s membership in “Jewish” organizations. We can infer that from the faculty adviser’s intervention as described above. If those objecting to her application had thought the issue through, they would have realized that the real problem is not membership in organizations that are Jewish, but rather membership in organizations that support institutional racism and oppression. Focusing on the latter points allows one to get past the issue of being Jewish. After all, there should be a problem if an applicant belonged to any such organization, be it Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, communist, or even pseudo-democratic.
In the United States we may be approaching a tipping point in the struggle against Zionist racism and Israeli oppression. As such it is extremely important that those involved in this struggle express their feelings in a way that clearly maintains a separation between what is objected to and Jews generally. The struggle is against racism, discrimination, oppression, occupation and illegal colonization because they are evils no matter who perpetrates them. The Israeli case has to be prioritized because Israel and its Zionist allies have bought and bullied our own government and political parties in a corrupting manner.
Expressed in this way, anyone who applied for the UCLA Judicial Board, regardless of religion or ethnicity, might properly be asked about their attitude toward such issues.
The Boehner-Netanyahu Cabal – An Analysis (4 February 2015) by Lawrence Davidson
Part I – The Historical Precedent
In the spring of 1793, France, then at war with Great Britain, sent a new ambassador to the United States. His name was Edmond Charles Genet (aka Citizen Genet). His instructions were to undermine the neutral position President George Washington had taken in the conflict. To this end Genet, who had the backing of anti-British elements within the American population, went about subverting peace by commissioning American ships to act as privateers against British commercial vessels. He also tried to provoke hostilities between Americans living along the western borders and the Spaniards (then allies of Great Britain) in Florida and Louisiana. This meddling in the internal affairs of the United States was quickly recognized as dangerous, and Washington demanded that France recall Genet.
Part II – A Shared Contempt
That was 222 years ago. Today we are faced with a similar situation, though the offending country is no longer France, but now Israel. Israel’s present ambassador to the U.S. is Ron Dermer, a former aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Like Genet, Dermer has instructions to promote discord, hopefully leading to war, between the United States and the country of Iran, which Israel sees as an “existential” threat. Also like Genet, Dermer has support from some Americans.
Thus, Israeli ambassador Dermer has meddled in the internal affairs of the United States by seeking to undermine ongoing diplomatic talks with Iran. However, he cannot successfully do so without allies – American citizens who are willing to conspire with a foreign official against the diplomatic policies of the Obama government. It turns out that Dermer’s co-conspirators are highly placed Republican members of the U.S. Congress: first and foremost the Speaker of the House of Representatives, John Boehner of Ohio.
Just prior to President Obama’s 28 January 2015 State of the Union address, in which he reasserted the importance of taking a diplomatic approach with Iran, Dermer approached Boehner, as well as Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. He asked them if they would invite Prime Minister Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress on the subject of Iran. There could not be another purpose for such a request than to sabotage a foreign policy deemed by the president to be in the best interests of the United States. Boehner, taking the lead, agreed to extend the invitation. As Robert Parry observes, the whole scheme shows a shared “contempt for this President’s authority to conduct American foreign policy as prescribed by the U.S. Constitution.”
This contempt is not new, nor is this the first time Republican leaders have expressed it by conspiring with Israel to foil President Obama’s Middle East foreign policy. Back in the fall of 2010, then-House Minority Whip, Republican Eric Cantor of Virginia, met privately with Netanyahu just a day before the Israeli leader was to meet then-Secretary of State Clinton. Cantor told Netanyahu that he could count on the GOP to “serve as a check” on President Obama’s foreign policy when it went against Israeli positions in the Middle East. That act came close to making Representative Cantor a criminal. It can be argued that his exchange with Netanyahu was a violation of the Logan Act, which forbids unauthorized U.S. citizens from negotiating with foreign countries. Cantor was probably (and inexcusably) ignorant of the Logan Act, and the Obama administration (again inexcusably) let him off the hook.
Part III – Ideology and Money
Both Boehner and Netanyahu are dangerous co-conspirators, and they both share the same Machiavellian low ethical standards. However, in my opinion it is former who is the more dangerous to the United States. Boehner, holding an important position of power in Congress, seems obsessively focused on destroying President Obama and is glibly willing to ally with a foreign power to help do so. This means he has little or no regard for the facts on the ground in the Middle East. Again, as Robert Parry has pointed out, Boehner ignores the machinations of the Netanyahu government that have aligned Israel with fundamentalist extremists in Syria, a brutal military government in Egypt, and the extremist policies of Saudi Arabia, all of which are arguably inimical to U.S. interests.
Why are Boehner and other conservative Republican leaders acting in ways so harmful to their own country’s national interests? There are two probable reasons.
First is their radical ideological stance. At some deep, non-rational level they seem to despise liberals, and that feeling prevents them from admitting any possibility of cooperation toward shared goals. They play a zero-sum game with President Obama and thus see anything that hurts him as a victory for them. Boehner seems to have no sense of limits when it comes to this contest. It has led him and his fellows to favor, de facto, turning over U.S. policy in the Middle East to the Israeli government.
The second reason also reflects this zero-sum game. Boehner and his fellow Republicans aim to deprive the Democrats of something allegedly important while capturing it for the Republicans. Boehner knows that pro-Israeli lobbies are key political donors, so his aim is to increase their contributions to Republicans and decrease them to Democrats. If this requires selling out an American president, Boehner is ready to do so. If it means embroiling the American people in yet another Middle East war, he appears ready to do that as well.
In all of this, the wishes of the American people count least of all. Despite years of negative media propaganda about Iran, polls indicate that most Americans support President Obama’s diplomatic efforts. Boehner appears not to care.
Nonetheless, as with Eric Cantor, no one in the Democratic ranks is willing to respect that popular judgment by openly challenging Boehner on his unconstitutional behavior. That is because the Democratic Party is as enamored of Zionist money as are the Republicans. Democratic Representative Nancy Pelosi, now the House minority leader, should be jumping up and down and screaming her head off about John Boehner’s invitation to Netanyahu. Yet all she has said is that it breaks protocol and might harm talks with Iran. But, she has refused to say that the invitation should be withdrawn.
Part IV – Conclusion
There was once a Speaker of the House of Representatives named Tip O’Neill. He served as the House majority leader from 1977 to 1987. O’Neill used to carry a pocket-sized copy of the U.S. Constitution along with him whenever he was on the job. He knew it thoroughly and respected its assigned powers and limits, particularly the division of powers. While Congress has a constitutional role in foreign policy through its right to approve ambassadorial nominations and all treaties, it is the president’s role to negotiate with foreign powers and make policy. O’Neill didn’t always approve of the resulting policies, but he knew that his position required him to act within the law.
Boehner must also know that this is the case. However, he is much more of a Machiavellian character. Apparently, the Constitution matters to him only to the extent that it suits his purpose. He and his fellow Republicans have refused to cooperate with President Obama since his election back in 2008. And, when the president has sought to work around their obstructionism through the use of constitutionally allowed executive orders, Boehner has complained bitterly, sued Obama, and threatened him with impeachment.
The fact that a man like John Boehner is in a position of power reflects the fact that the United States is a deeply divided land where, at least on the Republican right, ideology matters more than finding a basis for cooperative government. That is why a leader who distorts both facts and law to work within a worldview devoid of flexibility fits the times so well. There are probably millions of Republicans who mistake Boehner’s behavior for strength of character and an unwillingness to compromise conservative principles. Such naiveté always signals a country in trouble.
Global Warming Revisited: Reality vs Republican Theology – An Analysis (27 January 2015) by Lawrence Davidson
Part I – Reality
On 17 January 2015 the New York Times reported on a scientific study that showed 2014 to be “the hottest on earth since record-keeping began in 1880.” The report went on to explain that “records were set across large areas of every inhabited continent.” Particularly hard hit in 2014 was the western portion of the United States: Alaska, Arizona, California and Nevada all experienced “extreme warmth.” Temperatures in parts of California “sometimes [ran] 10 to 15 degrees above normal for the season.”
The vast majority of climatologists believe that this warming will go on for a very long time and that it presents “profound long-term risks to civilization and nature.” Also, most scientists agree, global warming is caused by human activity such as the burning of fossil fuels. According to Michael E. Mann, a climatologist at Penn State University, “it is exceptionally unlikely that we would be witnessing a record year of warmth, during a record-warm decade, during a several decades-long period of warmth that appears to be unrivaled for more than a thousand years, were it not for the rising levels of planet-warming gases produced by the burning of fossil fuels.” This consensus has led the scientific community to the conclusion that “climate change is perhaps the major challenge of our generation.”
Part II – Republican Theology
Well, that is the judgement of scientists who investigate matters of fact in the most objective way they know. Unfortunately, only a small number of them become convincing public spokespeople for their positions, and fewer still leave their day jobs to become politicians. Meanwhile, when it comes to global warming, the investigative talents of the latest crop of Republican congressional leaders is anything but objective. Of course, that does not stop many of them from loudly voicing their opinions – opinions now coupled to the wielding of power. Consider the following short list:
Representative Paul Broun of Georgia, a member of the House Science Committee, has recently declared “All that stuff I was taught about evolution and embryology and big bang theory, all that is lies straight from the pit of hell. And it’s lies to try to keep me and all the folks who are taught that from understanding that they need a savior.” As for human contributions to global warming, Broun considers it a hoax” perpetrated by the scientific community.
Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma is now chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Inhofe has written a book entitled The Greatest Hoax which presents climate change and global warming as a conspiracy of atheists and scientists who would deny the supremacy of Inhofe’s version of God. He is upset at the “arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate.” Inhofe’s starting point for the congressional debate on climate change is “God is still up there” and in charge.
Roger Wicker of Mississippi is the ranking member of the New Economy subcommittee of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Wicker insists that climate change is just a disputed hypothesis and not the threat the vast majority of scientists present it as. He suspects the scientific position is part of a “war on coal” – that is, an effort to repudiate the use of fossil fuel.
Arkansas Senator John Boozman is about to take over the Senate Water and Wildlife Subcommittee. He really doesn’t believe that climate change is due to human activity. Rather, he speculates that it is just another natural “cycle that happens throughout the years, throughout the ages.” This is a very popular point of view in the “coal-fired” state of Arkansas.
Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions will now head the Senate Clean Air and Nuclear Safety Subcommittee. He doesn’t believe that global warming is a problem and has asserted that he can interpret the data on climate change better than most climatologists. He does so by carefully selecting from the interpretations of the very small number of scientists who happen to agree with his point of view.
Part III -The Observational Context
Citizen views on climate change and global warming divide along the lines of conservative and liberal self-identification. Thus according to a Pew Research poll conducted in June 2014, over 70 percent of those who identify themselves as conservatives either do not believe in global warming or don’t consider it a danger, nor do they believe that human activity is a serious contributing factor. Finally, many of these self-described conservatives believe that the U.S. has “gone too far in efforts to protect the environment.”
Why do conservative Americans feel this way? There are several factors:
Many of them are very religious. An outlook of Christian fundamentalism pervades large sections of the country and, at least since the time of the Reagan presidency, has become a factor in U.S. politics. That is why men like Broun and Inhofe are where they are. They, and others like them, are often from what used to be known as the Bible Belt, a range of southern U.S. states from Oklahoma to Virginia. This is a stronghold of Southern Baptist and other basically fundamentalist sects. Similar Christian sects are scattered throughout the north, central and western parts of the country. It is hard for those who adhere to these sects to see the sciences that touch on both human evolutionary processes and those of nature (such as global warming) objectively because they clash with biblical tenets.
This leads most religious conservatives to reject scientifically accepted criteria for truth. Science is a process that seeks to approximate what is true through the positing of testable hypotheses. Scientific beliefs must be supported by observable and replicated data. In turn, new data can alter one’s perspective on established hypotheses and even overthrow them. It is an ongoing process and it has proven so powerful a tool that modern civilization’s physical attributes rest on its achievements. On the other hand, religion is a form of ideology that is based on absolute positions that are not testable. Questioning these sorts of “truths” equates to a crisis of faith, and that is often looked upon as a personal failure or giving in to the temptations of some evil spirit. Questioning also alienates you from your community.
To this we may add the following: particularly in the United States, there is a surprisingly strong anti-intellectual sentiment that prejudices many people against those who are educated, whom they label bookworms, eggheads, nerds, brainiacs, geeks, know-it-alls, etc. The fact that American English has so many derogatory terms for those who are actively involved in intellectual pursuits is an indicator of this anti-intellectualism. Therefore, if you have people that you already disparage because of their intellect, telling you things that question your faith, you are likely to go out of your way to oppose them, and “their” truth be damned. Yet another kind of dismissive response is likely to come from those who have an economic stake in the pursuits contributing to global warming. In their case profits stand in for faith. The two groups come together when the business people fund the campaigns of the politicians who, for religious reasons, do not believe in climate change.
Finally there is the almost natural tendency for all of us, conservative, religious or otherwise, to favor the local. By this I mean to favor what serves one’s local interests here and now. If you are from the “coal-fired” state of Oklahoma, you are most likely to see anything that would hurt the coal industry as something that will economically hurt you, and do so with certainty. Meanwhile, the future will be thought of as full of maybes. This will lead most people to hesitate to make major sacrifices today just because someone they may not particularly respect claims that, if they don’t, greater sacrifices will have to be made in the next hundred years.
Part IV – Conclusion
So here is the problem: on the one hand, it is a 95 percent certainty that human activity is causing global warming and it is certain that the effects, even in the near future, will be measurably negative (more damaging hurricanes, droughts, rising ocean levels, killer heat waves, etc.), getting increasingly severe as time goes on. On the other, too many Americans either don’t believe this or are too wrapped up in the present to care. However, the worst of it is that as voters they are putting into positions of power politicians who are willing to block any public policy that may slow, much less reverse the process. It makes little difference if the voters have more than one reason for voting for these politicians. The result for the environment is going to be the same.
We should keep in mind that the dispute over global warming is different from those over evolution or the age of the earth. If some American voters want to elect people who believe that the world is only 9,000 years old and that man is the product of a God looking for a supervisor for the Garden of Eden, they can do so without necessarily accelerating the melting of the polar ice caps. However, putting into office those who deny global warming and the human contribution to it is a catastrophe in the making.
The United States is a country whose prosperity and lifestyle depends strongly on scientific processes. The industrialists whose businesses drive climate change know this yet they and their stock holders are hopelessly fixated on today’s profits. It is less certain whether the large and growing number of religious fundamentalists make the connection. For them faith is stronger than reason and, in the end, “God is up there” and in control. And for the rest of us? We are left with two choices: organize to get the fundamentalists and other climate change deniers out of positions of power, or sit back and relax for apres moi le deluge.
Predictions Based on the 2015 Federal Budget – An Analysis (28 December 2014) by Lawrence Davidson
Part I – Predictions
I can make high-probability predictions for 2015 and the near-beyond without the benefit of a crystal ball, tarot cards or tea leaves. The only thing that I need is a list of items from the new 2015 federal budget. Here are some of my forecasts and the budget items that make them so highly probable:
1. There will be more deadly truck-related accidents than necessary on the nation’s highways in 2015. That means more deaths, injuries, highway delays, stress and frustration. How do I know? Because the 2015 budget rolls back the safety requirement that truckers need to get more rest between driving assignments. The regulation that was rolled back was itself barely adequate. It restricted drivers to a 70-hour week with mandated rest times between long periods behind the wheel. Nonetheless, despite obviously being in the public interest, this regulation could not survive the pressure of the lobbies representing the trucking industry and its corporate customers. Now we are back to truckers working 85-hour weeks with hardly any mandated rest at all.
2. Either in 2015 or soon thereafter there will be another major banking crisis requiring the outlay of enormous sums of public money to avert economic meltdown. How do I know? Because the 2015 federal budget rolls back the requirement, put in place after the last financial crisis, that forced the trading of derivatives to be done by corporate entities separated from the banks and not covered by the Federal Deposit Insurance Company. In other words, if the banks wanted to devise unreasonably risky investment strategies for their more gullible customers, they had to insulate these strategies from their main banking operations that are crucial to the national economy. In addition the government was not required to insure such undue risks through the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Although obviously in the public interest, these regulations could not survive the pressure coming from the banking lobbies and so, once more, we all must be prepared to pay the price of this version of insufficiently regulated capitalism.
3. The political influence of the nation’s wealthiest individuals will increase by a factor of ten in 2015, making the United States more of a plutocracy and less of a democracy than at any time since the 1920s. How do I know? Because the new federal budget emasculates what little was left of the 2002 McCain-Feingold Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act by increasing tenfold the amount of money individuals can give to political parties. This is the result of conservatives’ demanding that political campaigns be underwritten wholly by private funds. Common sense tells us that such an arrangement can only confirm political power in the hands of those who are already economically dominant. By the way, most countries claiming to be democracies regulate against just this dominance of private money because it is recognized as politically corrupting.
4. Environmental protection will deteriorate in 2015. If you live in a rural area where there are large farms, your water supply will become more suspect. How do I know all this? Because the 2015 federal budget slashes funding for the Environmental Protection Agency by $60 million and forbids the same agency from applying the Clean Water Act to farm ponds and irrigation ditches. In the public interest? Of course not. However this move pleases agribusiness concerns and other industries.
5. Israel, the economically developed nation that has violated just about every human rights regulation listed under international law, and also has repeatedly broken U.S. law forbidding the use of U.S.-supplied weapons for offensive actions against civilian populations, will continue to be both economically and militarily subsidized by the American taxpayer in 2015. How do I know this? Because the 2015 federal budget follows in the footsteps of so many past budgets by setting aside huge sums of money – in the present case $3.1 billion in total aid – for the Zionist state. Of that aid package, $619.8 million is military related.
I could not get exact gross figures for how much money the federal government gives back per year to U.S. states for various programs, but certainly Israel gets more of your federal tax dollar than any single state does, and maybe more than all fifty states put together.
On the same topic of foreign aid to undeserving governments, the 2015 budget will help insure the survival of the brutal military dictatorship in Egypt. That bunch of gangsters will be getting $1.3 billion in military aid.
These dubious expenditures are also not in the U.S. public interest for they will undermine democracy in Egypt and uphold dictatorship. In the case of Israel the money will help uphold racist authoritarianism, ethnic cleansing and religious bigotry. All of which (including the aid to Egypt) has been successfully encouraged by the financial power of the Zionist lobby.
Part II – John Boehner’s Bipartisanism
According to House Speaker John Boehner, the 2015 federal budget is a product of bipartisan compromise: “Understand all these provisions … were worked out in a bi-partisan, bi-cameral fashion.” However, this can hardly be the whole story. Boehner’s statement implies that there were only Republicans and Democrats in the proverbial back room where the budget was worked out and that everyone was practicing sweet reason so as to come to a compromise that benefits the nation. In truth, looking over the shoulders of those representing both parties were numerous lobbyists who had given a lot of money to all these politicians and now wanted something back for their investment. As a result, we as a nation, as a community, were thoroughly outbid by the trucking industry, the bankers, agribusiness, and a good number of conservative ideologues who want the right to gut the federal government (particularly the Environmental Protection Agency and the Internal Revenue Service) while monopolizing funding of our two major political parties. They want to do this so that, among other things, they don’t have worry about regulations or pay even a reasonable amount of taxes.
Part III – Conclusion
The ultimate conclusion we can draw from this “bipartisan” process is that there is no sense of national interest, and damn little sense of community, in the American political system. Both concepts have been superseded by the particular parochial goals and sense of solidarity of groups and subgroups with the deep pockets necessary to buy legislators and legislation. This is what happens when democracy allows itself to be captured by an increasingly unregulated capitalist ethic – an erosion of any politically based sense of a need to work for the com.mon good.
The really depressing part is that for most of our national history it has not been very different. In the mid nineteenth century President James Polk, himself a man of questionable integrity, observed, “There is more selfishness and less principle among members of Congress than I had any conception of, before I became President of the United States.” Well, the problem persists, and given our political way of doing things, it may never be fully overcome
The Forgotten Futility of Torture – An Analysis (18 December 2014) by Lawrence Davidson
Part I – Futility
It has long been known that torture does not work. One can go back to the Enlightenment. In 1764 Cesare Beccaria published his groundbreaking work, On Crimes and Punishments. Beccaria had examined all the evidence available at that time and concluded that individuals under torture will tell their interrogators anything they want to hear, true or not, just to get the pain to stop. Beccaria’s book led to a temporary waning of the state-ordered torture.
Nonetheless, the United States has used torture repeatedly. Indeed, the Senate Intelligence Committee’s release of its report (five years in the making) on the Bush administration’s use of torture testifies to only the most recent in a long line of such incidents. For instance, torture was used against prisoners during and immediately following the Spanish-American War, particularly in the Philippines. More recently the U.S. (and its adversary) used torture during the Vietnam War. Confirming Beccaria’s judgment, the consensus among U.S. military personnel who examined the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” (the latest euphemism for torture) against Viet Cong and North Vietnamese prisoners was that it did not work. This conclusion has been supported by Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) who was a prisoner of war in North Vietnam for over five years. He has repeatedly said that he knows, from personal experience, that “victims of torture will offer intentionally misleading information if they think their captors will believe it.”
Who in the executive branch of the U.S. government remembers, or even cares , about this history? President Obama gave his blessings to the 11 December 2014 television appearance of John O. Brennan, the present head of the CIA, so that he could tell the nation that, following the 9-11 tragedy, tortured prisoners provided “useful and valuable” information. The Senate Intelligence Committee report calls such claims “exaggerated if not utterly false.” Based on the evidence from Beccaria’s time to the present, the committee report’s position in this regard is the one to go with.
Part II – Illegality
Torture was made illegal in 1950 under the Third Geneva Convention, and this was reaffirmed in 1985 by the United Nations Convention against Torture. Both of these conventions were signed and ratified by the United States, making them the law of the land. Torture is also illegal under U.S. domestic laws such as the War Crimes Act of 1996.
Unfortunately, these laws and treaty obligations were called into question in 2002 by the Bush administration. To create a counterposition to them, the administration’s Justice Department produced what are now known as the “torture memos.” These postulated that the war against terrorism that followed 9-11 was a unique situation that nullified all the standing laws preventing torture. These memos were self-serving interpretations of the president’s powers during war and time of emergency. Contrived as they were, they served as Bush’s legal justification for his administration’s policy of waterboarding, “rectal hydration,” sleep deprivation, and other forms of physical abuse. As Dick Cheney, Bush’s pugnacious vice president, recently said, this was no rogue operation. “This program was authorized” by the memos. The question of how one legitimately “authorizes” what has already been determined to be illegal, immoral and degrading seems never to have occurred to Cheney.
When we weigh the authority of the “torture memos” against international law, treaty obligations, and indeed U.S. domestic law, we must conclude that Bush’s policy of torture broke was illegal. Let me put the consequences of that reasonable conclusion in plain English: President George W. Bush and everyone else in his administration involved in formulating, justifying and carrying out the policy of torture are criminals. So why hasn’t Mr. Bush (to say nothing of the rest of this gang) been brought to trial for his crimes?
One possible reason harks back to 1972-1973, when the infamous Watergate scandal was revealing President Richard Nixon’s criminality. At that time the main line of argument was that you don’t want an American president going to jail. This would constitute just too much of a national embarrassment. Therefore the pardon Nixon received was the best solution to a messy problem. Being of a contrary nature even back then, this writer went about saying that it was precisely because Nixon was the president that you wanted him on trial and, when convicted, put in jail. You wanted that precedent set because it would shape, for the better, the behavior of future presidents.
Of course, this course of action was never followed, and so when it came to George W. Bush, there was no such precedent to provoke any second thoughts. Perhaps he would not have hesitated in any case. We will never know.
Part III – The Present Debate
At present, the debate within the Beltway is not over the Bush administration’s culpability for illegal acts, but rather over the wisdom of releasing the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report detailing the CIA use of torture on the president’s orders. In other words, the wisdom of making public the evidence of Bush’s criminality. Many feel that the report will make some foreigners so angry that they will attack Americans abroad. But then those folks already knew about U.S. torture and don’t need the details to make them angry.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, the present chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, is the one who decided to release the report on torture. She did so because she is determined to “foreclose any prospect that the United States might contemplate such tactics again.” She did not
believe arguing about the morality of torture would achieve that goal and so she “set out to prove [through the released report] that they [techniques of torture] did not work.” There are two things wrong with Feinstein’s reasoning in this regard:
First, Feinstein too appears ignorant of the fact that the futility of torture has been established for hundreds of years. And, just because torture has long been demonstrated not to work, what is the probability that a restatement of this fact will prevent the U.S. from using it again in the future? As was the case in the Philippines, Vietnam, and in the war on terror, future American leaders will remain ignorant of or just forget about torture’s futility. The groundwork for this is already being laid. The incoming Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard Burr (R-North Carolina), says he will not hold hearings on what the report reveals or follow up on it in any way. “Put this report down to a footnote in history,” he says. Burr also dismisses the torture revelations as an attempt to “smear the Bush administration” – as if the facts of the matter were just contrived by political enemies to provoke a scandal.
Second, as former CIA analyst Ray McGovern suggests, it is quite possible that most in the Bush administration did not care whether torture really worked or not. McGovern tells us that what the White House wanted was a justification for an invasion of Iraq. “Evidence” suggesting a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda would do just fine here. The pressure was on the CIA to produce that link and so they tortured al-Qaeda prisoners until they told them what President Bush wanted to hear. This seems a tempting gambit for use by future presidents who might share George W. Bush’s character.
Thus, if Dianne Feinstein wants to make sure that the U.S. government will not use torture in the future, just demonstrating (once more) that it does not work won’t do. The only thing that has a chance of achieving her goal is the strict enforcement the law against torture – take Bush and his accomplices and put them on trial for the crimes we all know they committed. Then, put the whole gang in jail for long enough to make a deep impression. With that precedent set, you have a shot at preventing U.S.-sanctioned torture in the future.
President Obama actually had an opportunity to set this precedent but, as we all know, he has declined to do so. One can imagine his advisers telling him that all presidents break the law in one way or another and to charge Bush with a crime would open Pandora’s Box – from that point on it would be open season on every future president. Yet, is it necessarily true that all presidents must go around breaking the law? And, if so, why should any of us find this acceptable?
Part IV – Conclusion
Despite the revelations of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report, the chances are pretty good that Bush and his operatives will get away with their crimes. And that means that chances are just as good that it will all happen again. The public’s awareness of the facts is at best unreliable. According to a Pew poll just reported on 15 December 2014, half of the American public even now believes that the use of torture was both justified and provided worthwhile intelligence. It is probable that the opinion of most elected officials is no different.
No one has yet been able to secure a meaningful place for relevant and accurate historical knowledge either in the mind of the general public or in the deliberations of policy makers. However, in both cases, ignorance and false assumptions seem secure in their positions of influence.
Free Choice vs. Media Determinism – An Analysis (11 December 2014) by Lawrence Davidson
Part I – A Range of Choices Freely Made?
Most Americans believe they have a range of choices in their daily lives and that they may choose among them freely. That is, they intuitively believe that their choices are made autonomously and without outside interference. They would probably be surprised to learn that what they take for granted in this regard, the exercise of what is called free will, is a hotly debated topic among learned men and women in fields of study as widely separated as physics, philosophy and theology.
For instance, many physicists are convinced that if one could know the position and momentum of all the atoms in the universe, one could accurately predict the future behavior of those atoms (including the ones that make up you and me). Of course, one cannot acquire that sort of total knowledge, but the proposition does call into question free will in principle. Philosophers, in their turn, have debated whether free will is compatible with a natural world where cause and effect is the prevailing physical mechanism. And theologians have spent an equal amount of time trying to figure out how free will can coexist with their assumed omniscient and omnipotent God.
Part II – Media Determinism: Commercial
One doesn’t have to have a graduate degree in physics, philosophy or theology to question the notions that people have a wide range of choices and the unfettered will to choose among them. A close consideration of our social and cultural milieu reveals strong deterministic influences – particularly the mass media and its engines of advertising and selective news dissemination. How many individual daily decisions are determined by some degree of media manipulation? Well, for many they can include what we eat, what we wear, how we entertain ourselves, how we groom ourselves, even whether we feel safe or unsafe (and buy or don’t buy that burglar alarm).
Those that use the media to try to sway our behavior declare that they are simply providing information that allows informed choices: “advertising ensures that we don’t have to settle for second best. It helps us exercise our right to choose.” However, this is problematic. Advertisers seek to restrict choice, not broaden it and ultimately they want to determine the choice for you. So, generally, what you see as a range of choices is really limited options within a predetermined context – the context of the marketplace. And your freedom of choice? Your choice may well be made on the basis of which product sponsor is most effective in manipulating your perceptions.
This is media determinism in action and it has proven very successful. U.S. businesses spend some $70 billion a year on TV advertising alone. And, as one ad executive comments, “companies would not invest [that much money] in something they thought didn’t work.” This is discouraging news for those who believe in the everyday consumer’s freedom of choice, though indeed this sort of media persuasion leads to death and destruction only occasionally (think anorexia). There are, however, other categories of our lives where media determinism is much more likely lead us right off the proverbial cliff.
Part III – Media Determinism: Political
Given the ubiquitous presence of the media and its influence, the use of persuasive advertising has long since found its way into the realms of politics and policy promotion. Once again, the object is to limit choices, in this case by shutting down debate, and thereby sweep you along with enthusiasm or resignation.
You would think that when it comes to choosing political leaders and deciding between war and peace, the public would deserve information approaching objectivity. This is exactly what they never get. For instance, political campaign promises and party platforms are almost never scrutinized by the media, nor does the media point out that they are only rarely translated into post-election blueprints for action. Instead the media present manipulated information, mostly in the form of expensive campaign ads, as data upon which to base voter choices. Millions are swayed by these ads and millions more, recognizing the vacuousness of the undertaking, opt out of the political process altogether. The former play a manipulated game which has severely limited choices. Yet such is the power of the myth of democracy that the charade is ongoing.
In times of emergency the practice of media determinism gets worse. What little critical inclination might exist among journalists is suppressed in the name of national unity. The press rallies around a government position or storyline. This can be seen in the follow-up to the 9-11 attacks in 2001. An investigation as to why these attacks were carried out was suppressed. Therefore, any possibility for the public to examine the ongoing U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East – a policy that indeed provoked the 9-11 tragedy – was also shut down. The official line was that such critiques were attempts to blame the victim. In the same way, any option for the prevention of future attacks was limited to a military one rather than seriously considering diplomatic or policy change alternatives. The president’s approval rating at this time had reached 90%.
The alliance between government and media can be seen in what soon followed. President Bush’s determination to attack Iraq, a country that had nothing to do with 9-11, led to an orchestrated campaign of misinformation. In March of 2003, as the invasion took place, polls showed that between 72% and 76% of Americans supported the president’s war. In doing so, did they exercise free choice? Most of them would probably have told you that they did. Yet a strong argument can be made that because of the misinformation given them in the run-up to the war – for instance, misinformation about the Iraqi people’s desire to be rescued from Saddam Hussein and the notorious issue of weapons of mass destruction – they were in fact victims of media determinism.
It turns out that it is difficult for the media to sustain a campaign of misinformation in the face of gross contradiction. Thus, when U.S. troops were not welcomed with flowers as they invaded Iraq, and the weapons of mass destruction were nowhere to be found, the administration’s approval ratings took a dive. But by the time the events revealed the misleading nature of government-media information, the damage had been done.
Part IV – Conclusion
Despite having been shown to be misleading, the role and style of media news presentation has not changed much. Today, external issues vital to the nation’s future, such as the dangerous alliance with Israel, deadly drone campaigns, the catastrophic potential of global warming and the deteriorating relations with Russia, as well as internal ones, such as the need for more aggressive economic regulatory enforcement, the expansion of health care reform and increased taxation of the wealthy, are little discussed in the media or, when mentioned, come to us in suspiciously biased form. Objective information is hard to come by and the encouragement of debate is absent.
So what is real, free choice or media determinism? The picture sketched above suggests that the former is significantly limited by the latter. This appears to be the case when it comes to mundane things as well as matters of life and death. How many of us understand this to be the case? It has to be very few, for if very many realized the situation, they would surely demand that the media break its alliance with the powerful. Without objective information, there can be no meaningful free choices.