Archive for the ‘U.S. Domestic Affairs’ Category
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 interrogator 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.
Attack on Academic Freedom Redux – An Analysis (1 December 2014) by Lawrence Davidson
Part I – The Present Moment
Of late there has been news about attacks on academic freedom. Much of this is the result of aggressive efforts of Zionist organizations and individuals to silence those academics they see as enemies of Israel. The latest example of this is the successful pressure brought to bear, apparently by a Zionist donor, on the chancellor of the University of Illinois, to rescind a job offer for Professor Steven Salaita. This was done because this influential donor, noting Salaita’s anti-Israel tweets, decided he was anti-Semitic. The Chancellor was apparently convinced that hiring Salaita would cost the university a lot of support – a pretty clear example of donor blackmail.
The Salaita case is not the only recent attempt to intimidate academics critical of Israel. An organization calling itself AMCHA (“your people” in Hebrew) and purporting to work for the “protection of Jewish students” has posted a list of over 200 professors who support the boycott of Israel. They too have been judged anti-Semitic and Jewish students are urged by the organization to avoid their classes.
These attacks are tied to a long-standing and growing movement in American higher education to confront Israeli persecution of Palestinians particularly as regards the Occupied Territories – to point out the barbaric nature of the Israeli/Zionist state, not because it is Jewish, but because it is deeply racist. However, because the leaders and many of the supporters of Israel are Jewish, they confuse the issue and claim a stance against Israel must be one against Jews per se and that is anti-Semitism. It is a claim that makes little sense if only due to the fact that many of those opposing Israeli actions, both within and without of academia, are Jewish.
Part II – The Recent Past
This attack on academics who see things differently than the Zionists is not new. Back in 2007 David Horowitz organized teach-ins on campuses across the nation during which professors critical of Israel were accused of purposely withholding information about the threat of “Islamo-fascism.” Horowitz also asserted that many of these same “left-wing” professors had taken over the country’s universities and were systematically harassing conservative students. Through his influence, seventeen state legislatures ordered investigations of these charges. Later he would publish a book entitled The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America. All were critics of Israel. This set the precedent for the recent listing put forth by AMCHA.
Horowitz was acting in coordination with Daniel Pipes. In 2002 Pipes founded Campus Watch, a website on which he posted the names of academics, mostly in the field of Middle East studies, whom he accused of being “apologists for suicide bombing and militant Islam.” Pipes encouraged students who supported Israel to “hover over the shoulders” of such professors and let them know they were being monitored.
There are many other examples of attacks on academic freedom, and as a consequence Professor Salaita’s career is by no means the only one to be harmed by this sort activity. Dozens of faculty at all levels of higher education have suffered threats, harassment, discipline and/or termination.These range from well-known figures such as Edward Said at Columbia University and Juan Cole in his dealings with Yale University, to perhaps less-known, but still important teachers and scholars such as Terri Ginsberg at North Carolina State University and the horribly persecuted Sami al-Arian at the University of South Florida.
Part III – Larger Historical Context
And then there is the larger historical context for all this. In terms of U.S. history the suppression of free speech, academic or otherwise, can be traced back to 1778 and the Alien and Sedition Acts. Among other episodes, suppression reappeared in the 1830s under Andrew Jackson and during the Civil War under Lincoln. Woodrow Wilson used the Espionage Act to jail vocal opponents of the First World War beginning in 1917, and this was followed by the first Red Scare in the early 1920s. McCarthyism appeared in 1950s. The intimidating finger-pointing of Islamophobia appeared even before the tragedies of 2001.
What does all this history, stretching from the very beginning of the nation until the present day, tell us? It demonstrates that the effort to control dissenting speech has always been present and probably always will be. There are a number of factors that support this sober conclusion:
First, there is the fact that most people have short historical memories. On the average the United States experiences significant attacks on dissenters and their right to free speech once every 30 to 40 years. This suggests that most citizens have forgotten the essentially barbaric nature and consequences of the previous episode and how, in the end, the claims and charges that ruined so many lives turned out to be false or greatly exaggerated.
Second, there is the difficulty of thinking critically about events of which we have little knowledge. When confronted with such a situation, most citizens rely on the government and its allied media to provide them supposedly accurate information. These sources may well slant stories in a certain way so as to produce public support for specific policies.
The consequences of such distortions are particularly noticeable when it comes to foreign events. Thus, the effectiveness of the ongoing attack on academic freedom, and specifically the freedom of those who are critical of Israel and U.S. policies in the Middle East, is directly related to the ignorance of most Americans about the persecution of Palestinians and the Muslim world’s perception of U.S. behavior.
Third, there is the majority’s ignorance of or indifference to the Bill of Rights. The Bill of Rights is the result of a strong demand that the original U.S. constitution be amended so that it enumerates the basic rights – including freedom of speech – of citizens, residents and visitors on American soil. However, who is it that usually exercises their rights in ways that might need such protection? It is not the mainstream majority, but rather a vocal minority usually disapproved of by the mainstream.This disregard of the importance of the Bill of Rights is all the more dangerous because those who seek to suppress free expression almost always claim to be acting in defense of the majority. Such is the power of this claim that often the courts, the job of which entails the enforcement of the Bill of Rights, end up sanctioning their violation.
Part IV – Conclusion
It is clear that there is a recurring pattern to the assaults on free speech. Perhaps the pattern has its roots in a community’s natural preference for group solidarity. Whatever the origins, the pattern of periodic negative reactions is so well established that we can justifiably conclude it is not going to go away. We are historically stuck with it.
The only way to minimize the consequences of these repeated assaults is to continuously defy them. In other words, only by maintaining a counter-pattern of vigorously defending and using the right of free speech and academic freedom can space be sustained for critical voices. If at any time we fail to sustain this space we risk the possibility of being overwhelmed by a combination of closed-minded ideologues and the mass indifference of the majority.
A Sober Look at U.S. Democracy – An Analysis (15 November 2014) by Lawrence Davidson
Part I – The Best of the Worst
Given the dangerous results of the recent election in the United States – one that saw the Republicans, a right-wing party increasingly populated with neocon warmongers, reactionaries, and plutocrats, take control of both houses of Congress – it might be time to take a look at a sober look at U.S. democracy.
We can begin be taking note of the generic observation made by Winston Churchill: “Democracy is the worse form of government, except for all the other forms that have been tried from time to time.” The implication here is that democracy is really not the God-blessed system so many of Americans take it to be. For instance, the public in a democracy is as just as vulnerable to manipulation by various elites and interest groups as are those in non-democratic environments. The difference is that a democracy has a built-in procedure which allows citizens to have second thoughts about past manipulation. Thus they can kick out the bastards they were originally persuaded to kick in – even if it is often only to replace them with a new set of bastards. This repeated procedure results in a time limit on the damage elected leaders can do. It is, of course, possible that democratically elected politicians can come close to ruining a nation (their own as well as others) even given their limited tenure.
Part II – The Recent Election
The recent nasty election results tells us a lot about the weak points of democracy as practiced in the U.S. For instance, there is the fact that, at any particular time, one-half to two-thirds of Americans are paying little or no attention to what is going on in the public realm. They do not know, and maybe they don’t care, who is making policy for their community, be it in the mayor’s office, the state house or the White House. Yet, despite this disregard, they can be readily manipulated by their politicians using the media. This is often done through scare tactics involving innuendo and outright lies about things of which the populace is ignorant: weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, barbarian Russians in the Ukraine, terrorists in Israel/Palestine, and a more recent one, the danger of an allegedly pending Ebola plague in the U.S. The extent to which this sort of misinformation can be used to sway the opinion of an otherwise uncaring public is limited only by how much money candidates and their parties have to spend on media advertising.
Even with millions upon millions of dollars spent on campaigning, moving Americans to the polls, particularly in a mid-term election like the recent one, is like herding cats. In the last election only 36.4% of eligible voters turned out, the lowest turnout in 72 years. Such turnouts give an edge to those who have best mobilized their constituency. Both parties certainly do try to do this, but Republicans appear to have an edge. That edge comes from an ideological orientation that drives many Republicans to actively oppose causes ranging from gun control, to abortion, to the regulatory power of the federal government, all of which is pursued in the name of maximum individual “freedom.” To exert such negative influence, hardcore Republican voters will turn out in great numbers, particularly in the U.S. South and Midwest.
There are other unseemly weaknesses as well, such as the gerrymandering of voting districts by whatever party controls a state legislature so as to minimize the number congressional districts controlled by the opposing party. Through gerrymandering you can win most of the congressional seats while losing the overall popular vote. This is actually a form of cheating, but to date it is legal. And there is a certain level of stupidity that seems particular to the Democratic Party. The Democratic leadership has a real knack for designing platforms and campaigns that ignore the working class, rural poor and much of that part of the U.S. population that is left of center. We know the left-of-center folks are out there and active because during most national election times a number of progressive local ballot initiatives are passed into law.
In more general terms what does this all tell us of U.S. democracy? Well, it tells us that, just like more authoritarian forms of government, it is a system that is open to officially sponsored deceit. It tells us that this lying and other forms of corruption have been so persistent over time that millions of Americans are alienated from the political process. And, finally, it tells us that democracies are not immune to the harmful consequences of ideologies that quite often override national needs. One can see this in the influence of those who, for ideological reasons, stand in the way of rational gun control or seek to prevent the federal government from asserting necessary financial, business and environmental regulation.
Part III – Democracy and Foreign Policy
We should also remember Churchill’s observation that democracy is not a flawless political system when we consider the dubious claims made for popular government in the realm of foreign policy. For instance, the claim that democracies don’t war against each other. This claim is not well thought through and therefore, at best, an over-simplification. For if democracies do not often wage open war against each other, the stronger ones seem to have no compunction about subverting weaker ones for strategic and/or economic reasons.This behavior includes frequent efforts to transform independent democracies into compliant dictatorships. The United States has quite a record in this regard – an ironic fact because it proclaims that a central goal of its foreign policy is to spread democracy. If that were true, how would Washington account for the following?
In 1953 the U.S. government destroyed through subversion the democracy in Iran. In 1954 it did the same thing to the democracy in Guatemala. In 1956 the U.S. refused to go along with United Nations-sponsored free elections in Viet Nam and instead backed an unpopular authoritarian regime in the south of that country. In 1958 Washington sent marines onto the beaches of Lebanon to support a minority Christian party’s attempt to subvert that country’s constitution. In 1973 the U.S. was complicit in the overthrow of the elected government in Chile. Since the late 1990s the U.S. has been engaged in an effort to subvert the democratic government of Venezuela because it disapproved of Hugo Chevez, the elected president, and his successors. And, of course, the U.S. actively subverted the free and fair election held in Palestine in 2006.
There are other examples of this sort of behavior that can be given but these are sufficient to establish the fact that democracies do act with hostility toward one another. Thus, the proposition that if all the world’s nations were democracies there would be no armed conflict is very naive.
Part IV – Conclusion
There is a recent study by researchers at Princeton University that concludes that the U.S. is no longer a democracy of voting citizens. Rather, it is an oligarchy of “rich, well-connected individuals on the political scene [who] now steer the direction of the country, regardless of or even against the will of the majority of voters.” My take on this is only slightly different. Long ago I came to the conclusion that the United States was in fact a “democracy” of competing interest groups whose parochial goals override the national interest and/or those of ordinary citizens.
The average voter is an important constituent of his congressperson, senator, governor, or even mayor only for that short period of time when he or she must be convinced to cast a ballot. When that time is over, the voter recedes into the background and the real constituents are now powerful interest groups with the money to buy political access and influence. Those who control and represent these interest groups are part of this country’s ruling oligarchy.
Such is the pseudo-democracy most Americans hold so dear. It still has its virtues relative to more authoritarian forms of rule. However, these too may be shrinking. After 9/11 the rule of law and freedom of speech in the U.S. have been compromised. You can still write an essay like this one, but if you work for the government or the mainstream press and divulge the government’s criminal excesses, you are likely to end up in jail or exile. These are precarious times and they don’t show American democracy in a very good light – a sobering picture indeed.
On The Purpose of U.S. Education – An Analysis (16 October 2014) by Lawrence Davidson
Part I – Complaints, Complaints
Every so often books and articles appear bemoaning the state of U.S. education. The complaints address all levels, from the elementary grades to high school to college and university. You can get a sense of this by going to Google and doing a search under the heading “American Education.” Most of what comes up is negative. In 2001 President Bush, who is not exactly a poster boy for U.S. schooling, told us that, at the lower levels, a whole lot of American children were being “left behind.” And, at the upper levels, who can forget the angst of Alan Bloom who, in 1987, told us higher education was destroying students’ minds and ruining the country by endorsing relativism and multiculturalism.
The most recent example of this negativity is William Deresiewicz’s book Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life.” Deresiewicz’ s concern is with America’s elite colleges and universities which, in his view, “manufacture students who are smart and talented and driven, yes, but … with little intellectual curiosity and a stunted sense of purpose.” As a result “what we’re getting is thirty-two flavors of vanilla.”
I think that all those who complain in this fashion, be they parents, teachers, administrators or politicians, are missing the point. It may seem odd, but those most critical of today’s schools seem not to recognize what mass education is really designed to accomplish. Such education has always had two main objectives: one vocational and the other civic. Let me elaborate.
Part II – The Vocational Objectives
Historically, the notion of educational proficiency has always been tied to making a living. In other words, either through apprenticeship or formal schooling, what most students have learned over the ages is what their economic environments required of them. Thus, today, whether one wants to be a lawyer or an auto mechanic, the primary curriculum is vocational and everything else is, shall we say, elective. This elective category may or may not include critical thinking skills which, in any case, is a subject that is often disapproved of by local school boards. By the time American kids are in junior high school a good number of them know the difference between what is vocationally valuable and what is not, and most focus their attention on what they believe will be economically beneficial. This means that it is not the school per se, or the teachers, that are actually setting the criteria for learning. It is the community job market.
Therefore, if the economy demands for most students reading and writing abilities at the level of business memos and math skills sufficient to balance a check book, that is the proficiency, on average, that schools will produce. At some point higher administrative, math, science, or other skills might be taught to a minority. That is what we call specialization.
Ask yourself how many American students want to, or will be required to, know anything beyond the most rudimentary math and science in their future workplaces? Does between 20 and 30 percent sound right? Because that is the number of 12th grade (white) students who presently have those skills. Thirty years ago computer knowledge was not a job-related or, for that matter, a social communication required skill. Schools largely ignored it and relatively few people had real proficiency in this area. Today, the situation is completely reversed and almost all schools teach such skills.
Actually, almost all American schools, even the “failing” ones, deliver employment knowledge relevant to their locale. You might think that this claim is off base, but it really is not. High-end public schools cater to students who, by virtue of their class background, mostly have professional career expectations. And that is the educational preparation they get. Just so, low-end schools (admittedly underfunded) cater to those who for the most part have been conditioned by their circumstances to have different expectations, and they are educated accordingly. I am certainly not claiming this is a good thing, only that this is the way it works. If you want to change it, just relying on standardized tests and teacher performance won’t do it. Rather, you have to alter education’s class-driven expectations. To achieve this sort of change means a lot of economic rearrangement and revenue shifting. The U.S. has never been willing to do these things.
Part III – Civic Objectives
Historically, the other major goal of U.S. education has been the production of loyal, relatively passive citizens. This is not the same thing as U.S. citizens knowing the three branches of government, recognizing the Bill of Rights, or naming their senator and congressperson. Actually, most American students do not know such things and so, in this regard, are civics deficient.
However, this is not the level we are speaking of. Students in the lower grades repeat the Pledge of Allegiance in their homerooms every morning and become aware that they are citizens of the United States. They learn a sanitized and idealized history of their country and internalize the myth that it is the “best and freest” nation on the planet – all of which is reinforced by their general cultural milieu and the media. Floating around at the edges of many high schools are military recruiters who play on these feelings. This is particularly true of the schools in poor neighborhoods, where the military is often seen as the only viable vocational alternative to crime on the streets and the illusion of making it in the sports and entertainment industries.
Producing loyal and uncritical citizens is something our schools, at all levels, do pretty well. The uncritical thinking aspect of this goal is quite important and puts in doubt the place of critical thinking in the national curriculum. For a nation of critical thinkers would, from the perspective of citizen loyalty, be a dangerous thing. It brings up the question of whether you can have a stable community when everyone is thinking independently about politics and policy.
Part IV – Conclusion
If you are not satisfied with the status quo in education, but are not willing to acknowledge where the real issues and challenges lie, you might be tempted to find a scapegoat. That is what happens when the media and politicians begin pointing fingers at “bad teachers.” Are there “bad teachers” – that is, teachers who lack the skills or interest to make a good faith effort to address the given curriculum? Of course there are, just as there are incompetent people in every other profession. However, poor student scores on standardized tests is not good evidence of teacher incompetence. More likely it is evidence that the exams are testing for information which the student’s local economic culture deems unimportant.
If there is a “problem” with America’s teachers it is not that they are incompetent, but rather that they are idealists. Most of them want to produce well-rounded, well-read, intelligent young men and women who are at least as knowledgable as those who concoct standardized tests. Most students, however, quickly become confirmed materialists. They want to learn what they need to be well-employed and well-integrated into their communities. Everything else is just an elective.
The Question of State Legitimacy – An Analysis (6 October 2014) by Lawrence Davidson
Part I – State Legitimacy and Human Rights
The traditional criterion for state legitimacy was very simple. If a state and its government could hold and govern territory, it was legitimate, at least in the eyes of other governments. The form of government and its behavior did not matter in this definition – Stalin’s USSR, Mussolini‘s Italy, Hitler’s Germany – these regimes held territory and ruled as surely as did the ones in Britain, France and the United States. And, in each other’s official eyes, one state was as legitimate as the other.
This outlook began to change in 1945. Just before and then during World War II, fascist behavior in general and Nazi behavior in particular was so shocking that many post-war governments became convinced that state legitimacy required well-defined codes of national behavior enshrined in international law.
Therefore, right after the war, human rights became a recognized standard by which to judge states and their governments. This new standard, which was implied in the Nuremberg trials, was soon articulated in such documents as the International Declaration of Human Rights and endorsed by the United Nations. It was simultaneously reinforced by a worldwide process of decolonization that focused the international community on issues of human rights, particularly as they touched on the practice of racism and apartheid.
Most importantly, this process led growing segments of civil society to support human rights law as a standard by which to judge state legitimacy. In one case, pressure from civil society worldwide was applied on apartheid South Africa throughout the 1970s and 1980s with sufficient force to help change not only the nature of that country’s government, but its national culture and therefore the character of the state itself. By 1994 South Africa was no longer an apartheid state.
Part II – The New Attack on Human Rights
Recently things have not gone so well. There has been a tendency for the lessons learned about the importance of human rights to fade with time, particularly from the institutional memories of state bureaucracies. The proclivity of all state apparatuses to behave in a Machiavellian way has reasserted itself, particularly in the foreign policies of Western democratic states and their subsequent alliances with all manner of horrid right-wing dictatorships the world over. This complicity with oppressive regimes produced inevitable anti-Western sentiment culminating in the 11 September 2001 attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. Subsequently the United States declared a “war on terror,” and this effort seems to excuse everything from indefinite detention and torture to assassination.
To accommodate this revival of amoral statecraft, there is now an effort to rewrite international law in a way that restricts or eliminates the human rights standard of behavior for state legitimacy. The end game here is to get the international community to recognize as “legal” actions by certain great powers and their allies that include the intrusion into the territory of other states and peoples in order to change governments, control populations, capture or kill wanted individuals, and destroy installations and other property. This is carried out by various means ranging from invasion, enforced apartheid regulations and assassination. At the forefront of this effort are the policies and actions of the United States and its prime ally, Israel.
Part III – Rationalizations
How is this effort to override international human rights law rationalized? Essentially, what the governments of the United States and Israel – as well as their neoconservative and Zionist supporters – say is that all of their enemies can be classified as terrorists, and because terrorists do not adhere to the standards set by international law, they (the U.S. and Israel) are forced to adopt wartime measures in combating these enemies. The cornerstone of this approach is the practice of “extraterritorial targeted killing.” Just listen to the well-known Zionist lawyer Alan M. Dershowitz, who has proclaimed that “at the moment our legal system is playing catch-up with military technology.” What he finds “imperative” is that drone attacks and the like be made legal by, for instance, allowing someone in the government to obtain a warrant that allows an assassination (and its “collateral damage”) to take place. Dershowitz is referring to the U.S. government but, the precedent having been set, his scenario for “legal” murder could be adopted by any government – certainly the Israelis have elevated “targeted killing” to a high art.
There is nothing in international law that substantiates this position, and it certainly violates core tenets of international human rights law as well as aspects of the Geneva Conventions. Nor can this behavior be passed off as part of a “just war,” for it fails to meet several accepted qualifications for such a venture as comparative justice and last resort. Nonetheless, an array of criminal practices have been put into practice under the assumption that “if you do something long enough, it becomes accepted standard practice.” In other words, in Washington and Tel Aviv, the hope is that what starts out as a corruption of the law eventually becomes the law.
Part IV – Standing Up for the International Law
There is now a struggle going on that will determine both the viability of international human rights law and the role of civil society in defining state legitimacy. Should states that adopt practices such as “extraterritorial targeted killing” or adhere to the racist practices of apartheid continue to be regarded as legitimate, or should they be seen as criminal “rogue states” by virtue of their violation of international human rights law? In this struggle those who stand in support of human rights should not be underestimated. They are serious, numerous, worldwide in scope, and well organized. But, they are not governments, they are elements of the general population: they are civil society.
This contest may have still greater implications. It may really come down to the fate of the rule of law itself. If we allow international law, and particularly international human rights law, to be marginalized or even done away with, we will return to same international conditions that destroyed the League of Nations, facilitated the rise of the fascists, Nazis and Stalinists, and allowed for the prolonged existence of apartheid South Africa. In each case the lack of effective international human rights law helped lead to a drastic deterioration in the domestic rule of law in countries like Italy, Germany, Russia and South Africa. And, today we can see signs of deterioration of the rule of law in countries such as Israel and, to a lesser but still real extent, the United States.
There is a lot at stake here and we can be thankful that even as the majority of people blithely go about their daily affairs, a growing minority has become aware of what their governments are doing and its implications for everyone’s future. We should be thankful and supportive – actively supportive.
Zionism and the Educational Elites – An Analysis (23 September 2014) by Lawrence Davidson
Part I – The Zionists Have a Problem
Due to Israel’s brutal racism and repeated attacks on Palestinian civilians, it is losing popular support internationally. As this happens, the Zionists appear to be intensifying pressure on societal and political elites, particularly in the U.S. and other Western states, to maintain policies that support and protect Israel’s criminal behavior. Their vehicle for achieving this goal has always been financial gifts and donations to elite individuals and institutions. These gifts and donations help grease the wheels, so to speak, of the systems of power through which the elites operate, and create a monetary dependency on, among others, Zionist donors. It also creates an obligation to respond to these donor’s needs. The result is a growing disconnect between evolving popular attitudes toward Israel and the static positions held and actions taken by the elites.
American Zionist leaders are aware of this gap and they take it seriously. However, they have a problem in that open debate and the offering of evidence can no longer win the argument for their side. In short, the Zionists don’t have a monopoly anymore on the story of how Israel came to be and Palestine came not to be. And without that monopoly the imperialist origins and ongoing racist nature of Israel are can no longer be concealed.
Part II – Donor Blackmail
If you cannot win by debate, how do you combat the growing popular suspicion of Israeli and Zionist actions? You do it by pressuring the donor-dependent elite leadership of institutions, such as universities and colleges, to suppress and punish those who criticize Israel. That such action, if carried forth in public institutions in the U.S., would be a violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, does not bother the Zionists at all. Their standard of rights is that practiced in the discriminatory environment of Israel and not the ideal established by the United States constitution.
A good example of American Zionists subtly urging what is in fact unconstitutional behavior can be seen in a letter sent by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), an aggressive Zionist organization, to top administrators at several U.S. universities and colleges.
The letter purports to offer “information and recommendations about how to respond to conflicts that may arise on your campus due to the recent conflict in Gaza.” It goes on to accuse those critical of Israel of “stifling dialogue … refusing to work with pro-Israel and Jewish student groups” and pressuring educational institutions to “engage in ‘Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions’ activities.” The letter goes on to warn that 23 September 2014 will be a day of “action on college campuses” by such groups critical of Israel as American Muslims for Palestine.
It is interesting that the letter seeks to turn the tables on pro-Palestine groups by labeling them as the ones that seek to limit freedom of speech by advocating the boycott of Israel. On the one hand, this is a misinterpretation of the tactical rules of the boycott (which principally targets Israeli institutions rather than individuals) and, on the other, it fails to mention that Israel is a country that systematically undermines the civil rights of the Palestinians. The ADL letter also ignores the fact that Zionist organizations on U.S. campuses (Hillel, for example) actively try to suppress dialogue and debate when it comes to Israel. The letter goes on to accuse those who stand against Israel of “attempting to harass and intimidate Jewish and other students.” Actually, there have indeed been minor instances of such behavior on both sides of what is, after all, a very heated issue. However, when it comes to modeling the suppression of rights, it should be noted that Israel has turned harassment and punishment of Palestinians and their few Jewish Israeli supporters into a high art.
The ADL letter concludes with an invitation that seeks to strengthen the dependency of academic administrative elites on this highly biased Zionist organization. It states, “As one of the country’s premier civil rights organizations, ADL has decades of experience in helping administrators and students on campus respond to bigotry and intergroup strife. We would be happy to discuss the challenges many campuses face today and to assist your efforts to ensure your campus remains a place where all viewpoints can be discussed.” So said the spider to the fly.
The ADL might have been a “premier civil rights organization” in 1913, when it was founded, but soon after 1967 it went the way of most major American Jewish organizations by becoming a mouthpiece for the uncritical defense of Israel. To this end it has confused opposition to Israel and its behavior with anti-Semitism and, in doing so, has lost any ability to objectively know what civil rights means within the context of the Israeli-Palestinian struggle.
Part III – Tragic Consequences
So why would a highly placed academic administrator such as Chancellor Linda Katehi, of the University of California, Davis, accept this missive from the ADL and distribute it to all her vice chancellors, deans and, significantly, the head of the UC Davis police department? Because, unlike her student constituency, which is evolving an accurate view and critique of Israel, she is stuck in the world of elites dominated by donors and ideologues who have always been pro-Israel. In other words, her world remains static while the world outside her clique is changing.
It is because of the continuing vulnerability of higher education’s administrative elites to donor blackmail that we continue to witness the tragic and unjust treatment of scholars and teachers who have taken a public stand against Israel. An editorial in the Los Angeles Times describes the negative institutional consequences:
“For any university, but especially a public institution … the encroachment of donor pressure on the administration is a harbinger of the destruction of academic freedom. Wealthy donors are able to step in and exert strong influence because public funding sources, such as the state legislature, have systematically withdrawn support for public universities. They seldom have an interest in independent, objective academic study; they’re interested in advancing their own notions of how the world works or should work – in ideology, not ideas.”
Donor blackmail is the last front line for the Zionists as they continue to suffer defeats in the battle for public opinion. Unfortunately, their activities on this front have resulted in dozens of ruined careers, and no doubt there will be more in the future. As Stephen Lendman has observed, American Zionists have collectively taken on the role of a modern-day Joe McCarthy now attempting to purge higher education of those critical of Israel. In so doing they join the ranks of other dubious pressure groups such as those who would purge the teaching of evolution from the classrooms and censor books in our libraries. And, in the case of the operatives at the ADL, they go about this corrupting process while proclaiming themselves a “premier civil rights organization.” Well, you know the old saying: actions speak louder than words.
International Law vs U.S. Democratic Practice – An Analysis (13 September 2014) by Lawrence Davidson
Part I – The Importance of International Law
International law is vital to the welfare of every man, woman and child on this planet, although the vast majority of them do not know this is so. The vital aspect lies in the fact that the universally applicable nature of human rights – which prohibit such actions as the use of torture, arbitrary arrest and detention while supporting freedom of movement, conscience, cultural rights and the right to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being, among other things – has its primary foundation in international law. Examples of this can be found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the various Geneva Conventions.
To understand just how important international law is to the universal application of human rights, one has to consider just how inadequate to this end are national and local laws. This inadequacy should come as no surprise. For hundreds of years now, the dominant form of political organization has been the nation-state. The most common sort of law is that specific to the state, and in the vast majority of cases, protection of rights under such law is reserved for the citizen. In other words, if you are not a citizen of a particular state, you cannot assume you have any rights or protections within that state’s borders. Worse yet, if you happen to be stateless (and the number of such people is rapidly increasing), you are without local legal rights just about everywhere.
Ideally, this is not how things should go. Indeed, Article 6 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights asserts that “everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.” And, if you find yourself in a country that has ratified this Declaration, you should come under its protection. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case in practice. The mystique of the nation-state and the nativism that goes along with it often leads to the denigration of this vital legal obligation just because it originates from outside of the state.
Part II – U.S. Behavior
Many people in the West assume that the denigration of international law upholding human rights occurs mostly within authoritarian states – states that do not protect such rights for their own citizens, much less recognize them as universally applicable. But that is not the case. Such flouting of international law is common among democracies as well. It is even noticeable in the behavior of the United States. Take for instance the current treatment of illegal immigrants. Their human rights are certainly not respected in this country which, historically, is a nation of immigrants.
The problem goes beyond the maltreatment of immigrants. In fact, the current dismissive attitude toward human rights and the international laws that uphold them has its roots in the fear of terrorism. Such actions as arbitrary arrest, indefinite detention, the use of torture, and so forth are all justified by the so-called war on terror. These actions by the U.S. government are illegal under international law, but because the enforcement of law is almost always the business of the state, and the United States is a “superpower,” who is to call U.S. officials to account for their crimes? No one. International law has no designated policemen.
Part III – The Culpability of Special Interest Politics
Although the “war on terror” appears to be an open-ended one, its influence on policy and national behavior may wax and wane. There are other obstacles that are actually structurally embedded within U.S. democratic practice that also undermine adherence to international law. One of these is the pervasive influence of apparently all powerful special interests or lobbies in the formation of state policy.
Within the United States, there are a myriad number of special interests that ply the halls of power at every level of government. Some of them are dedicated to good causes. Indeed, advocates for human rights and supporters of international law have their own, albeit not very influential, lobbies.
There are other interests of great power, however, that devote themselves to, among other things, the dehumanization of entire groups of people. A good example are the Zionists whose multiple lobbies influence U.S. Middle East policy so as to assure unquestioned support of Israel, and thereby secure American involvement not only in the destruction of Palestinian human rights, but of the Palestinians as a nation and a people. In short, the power of some special interests is sufficient to involve the U.S. in what amounts to international criminal behavior.
The average U.S. citizen, engrossed as he or she is in their local environment, does not understand this aspect of their politics. The media, from which U.S. citizens take most of their information on government behavior, are themselves subject to the influence of the same special interests that stalk the halls of power in Washington, D.C. Therefore, the media cannot be relied upon to educate the citizenry on the role of lobbies. We are thus faced with a messy set of problems: widespread lack of popular awareness of how special interests can control government, what this can result in, and the fact that this lack of awareness is likely compounded by the public’s equally widespread apathy regarding their own ignorance.
It is this insularity and the know-nothing attitude that goes along with it that has allowed special interests to become the main center of political power in America. Short of catastrophic political breakdown, this arrangement is not going to change. The only thing that those who value international law and human rights can do is to continue to build their own special interest lobbies and compete for influence in government against the dehumanizers and other assorted international law breakers.
Justice Corrupted – An Analysis (10 July 2014) by Lawrence Davidson
Part I – Dogmatists in the Justice System
Scattered throughout the ranks of U.S. federal prosecutors and judges there have always been men and women who are unwilling to make a distinction between their own biases and the rules of evidence that are designed to keep the system focused on the goal of justice. Such closed-minded individuals, embedded in the system, can find themselves set free to act out their prejudices by special circumstances. One might think back to the “hanging judges” who appeared here and there on the American frontier in the 19th century. Being among the few enforcers of law and order in an otherwise anarchic environment, they indulged their fantasies of playing the wrathful god.
The “War on Terror” has likewise created a special circumstance that has liberated Justice Department dogmatists: Islamophobes, Zionists, neoconservatives and others who fancy themselves on a special mission to protect the nation from evil and conspiratorial forces. And, as with the hanging judges before them, the result has been an enhanced possibility not of justice, but rather of the miscarriage of justice.
Part II – The Case of Sami Al-Arian
In the past twenty years one of the most notable victims of doctrinaire judges and prosecutors has been Sami Al-Arian. Al-Arian is the son of Palestinian-refugee parents. He came to the United States in 1975 to attend university and earned his degree in computer systems engineering. Eventually he earned a Ph.D. and obtained a tenure-track position at the University of South Florida.
Not only did Al-Arian become a prominent professor, winning several teaching awards, but he also became a community activist, defending the civil liberties of minority groups, particularly Muslim Americans. During the Clinton administration he was an active campaigner against the Justice Department’s pre-9/11 use of “secret evidence” to hold people in jail indefinitely. He also actively and publicly supported the right of Palestinians to resist Israeli oppression.
At some point in the mid-1990s what may have been a coordinated effort to ruin Dr. Al-Arian developed among neoconservative and Zionist elements. Steven Emerson, a man who has made his living as a faux expert on terrorism and a professional Islamophobe, accused one of Al-Arian’s organizations, the World and Islam Studies Enterprise, of being a “terrorist front.” This accusation proved to be baseless, but it nonetheless led other Islamophobe radicals to focus on Al-Arian. Some of these people resided within the Justice Department and the FBI, and they went on a fishing expedition looking for alleged connections between Al-Arian and a recently designated “terrorist organization” called the Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ).
During the 2000 presidential election Al-Arian became a prominent figure in national politics as it played out in Florida. His major concern was the government’s use of secret evidence, and it was George W. Bush who promised to rein in the practice. Therefore Al-Arian backed Bush in the election. His trust in this regard proved horribly misplaced.
On September 26, 2001, Bill O’Reilly invited Al-Arian onto his TV show ostensibly to discuss Arab-American reactions to the 9/11 attacks. It was a trap. O’Reilly immediately asked Al-Arian if he had said “Jihad is our path. Victory to Islam. Death to Israel” at a rally thirteen years before (in 1988). Though Al-Arian tried to explain that it was a reference to his support for Palestinian resistance against apartheid policies in Israel, O’Reilly proclaimed that the CIA should watch Al-Arian from now on. Almost at once Al -Arian started to receive death threats. At this point the University of South Florida placed him on administrative leave. He would eventually be fired by the University.
The O’Reilly interview may have been a public relations booster for the ongoing Justice Department investigation mentioned above.That lasted until September 2003, when Al-Arian and three others were indicted on 25 counts of “racketeering” for the PIJ. The Bush administration’s Attorney General John Ashcroft went on television to extol the indictment as a great blow against terrorism (thus confusing an indictment with a conviction) that was made possible by the extensive powers of the USA PATRIOT Act. Among these powers were those George W. Bush had promised Al-Arian he would rein in.
After a 5-month, 13-day trial Al-Arian was acquitted on 8 counts and the jury deadlocked on the remaining 17. When a juror was interviewed after the trial and asked what was lacking in the government’s case he replied, “evidence.” Nonetheless, the outcome allowed the government to hold Al-Arian pending retrial on those deadlocked counts. The case had a distinctly contrived and corrupt feel to it – the result of Islamophobes turned loose by the events of 9/11 to substitute their own biases for the rules of legal evidence.
In 2006 Dr. Al-Arian was still in prison. His health was deteriorating and the strain on his family (his wife and five children) was great. Given the situation he agreed to a plea bargain agreement whereby he would plead guilty to one count of acting in a fashion that benefited the PIJ. In exchange the other counts would be dismissed by the government. He would be incarcerated for a relatively short period on the guilty count with time already served counting toward this sentence. In order to secure the plea bargain, Al-Arian also had to agreed to be deported upon release.
Once more the government, in this case the judge and the federal prosecutor, proved untrustworthy. Despite the jury verdict, the judge had decided that Sami Al-Arian was a “master manipulator” and “a leader of Palestine Islamic Jihad.” This was exactly what the jury decided the evidence could not substantiate. However, the judge, moved by emotional convictions, had equated statements on the part of Al-Arian showing understanding of acts of Palestinian resistance with actual material support of those actions. In doing so the judge went beyond the rules of evidence and corrupted the system he was sworn to serve. The judge gave Dr. Al-Arian not the minimum recommended in the plea bargain but the maximum of 57 months for the one count to which he pled guilty.
Then began a series of additional prosecutorial steps involving the issuing of repeated subpoenas demanding that Al-Arian testify at grand jury investigations. This was also in defiance of his plea bargain and so he refused. He was held in civil and later criminal contempt which added substantially to his jail time.
So egregious was the behavior of the prosecutors seeking his testimony that another, more objective judge eventually stepped in and halted the government’s efforts to force Sami Al-Arian’s to appear before grand juries. Dr. Al-Arian was also let out of prison and allowed to live under a liberal form of house arrest at his daughter’s home in Virginia. His case was held in a kind of legal limbo until just recently, when on 27 June 2014, prosecutors decided to drop all charges against Al-Arian. One should not think of this as a total victory, for the government still intends to deport Sami Al-Arian.
Sami Al-Arian and his family had to endure eleven years of persecution on the basis of assumptions that were substituted for evidence. In the process the life of an upright man, devoted to teaching, charitable works and the cause of a persecuted people, was ruined. The people who did this to him simultaneously corrupted the justice system the integrity of which they were sworn to uphold.
Part III – Other Victims
While Sami Al-Arian was perhaps the most high-profile of these cases, his was not the only one. Four members of the Holy Land Foundation charity were charged with materially aiding Hamas when, in fact, all the foundation did was supply money to charitable Palestinian organizations which had been accredited by Israel. It took two trials, one in 2007 and another 2008, for the U.S. government to eke out a conviction on weak evidence that included the testimony of anonymous Israeli witnesses.The Supreme Court refused to interfere with this prima facie unconstitutional procedure.
At present a Palestinian civil rights activist in Chicago, Rasmea Odeh, is being prosecuted for an alleged immigration fraud for failing to report on her immigration application that forty-five years ago, when she was a child, she was arrested by the Israeli military and briefly held without charge. The same prosecutor who went after the Holy Land Foundation is involved in the prosecution of Odeh.
Part IV – Conclusion
Times of high tension often result in the lowering of important standards in the application of law. They do so by heightening the fears of the general public, which in turn gives license to bigots embedded in the justice system such as judges and prosecutors who have Islamophobic prejudices, Zionist biases, or neoconservative delusions. All of these motives may come into play in cases such as those mentioned above.
Normally the appeals process should catch and reverse such problematic behavior. However, if the period of public fear is prolonged, the appeals process might also become corrupted by public hysteria and political pressures. It took Sami Al-Arian eleven years to overcome his prosecutorial ordeal and those of the Holy Foundation members and Rasmea Odeh are ongoing.
The last word on this dilemma should go to Sami Al-Arian’s son, Abdullah, who in a recent statement observed,“It’s a sad day when you have to leave America to be free.” Indeed, when dogmatists are in control none of us are really free.
Repugnant Republicans – An Analysis (12 June 2014) by Lawrence Davidson
Part I – Something Disturbing
There is something disturbing about the Republican response to just about everything President Obama does. It has a knee-jerk yet patterned nature. It displays a meanness that is acted out with a certain gloating quality as well. Take for instance Republican Representative Joe Wilson shouting “You Lie!” during Obama’s speech to Congress on health care. Wilson’s anger was displayed with the malicious satisfaction of a nasty child. Subsequently, Republican politicians have called President Obama a “tar baby,” a socialist, lazy, Hitler, and perhaps most tellingly, un-American. None these epithets are accurate, yet apparently they are believed to be true not only by the persons who said them, but many others among the Republican base.
What is the reason for this?
The New York Times editors think Republican attitudes towards Obama are politically motivated. As they put it in an editorial on 5 June 2014, referencing Republican reaction to the negotiated release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl from captivity in Afghanistan: “The last few days have made clearer than ever that there is no action the Obama administration can take — not even the release of a possibly troubled American soldier from captivity — that cannot be used for political purposes by his opponents.” Of course the Democrats are political opportunists as well, but usually they do not operate in such a persistently mean-spirited manner.
According to liberal commentator M.J. Rosenberg the source of Republican animosity is racial. “The right knows that nothing they can do will remove … what they see as the … the indelible stain of an African American president having been elected. Twice.” However, seeing racism as a primary motivation is probably inadequate. The Republicans reacted in a similarly bloodthirsty way toward Bill Clinton when he was caught fooling around with Monica Lewinsky in the Oval Office. At that time Republican congressmen gleefully rushed to impeach Clinton even though a number of them had pursued extramarital affairs of their own.
Part II – Fear and Loathing
No doubt there are Republicans who are both racist and politically unprincipled in their attitudes to President Obama. However, it seems to me that there is something else going on – something repugnantly familiar – a suffocatingly narrow defining of the nation, an intolerance and disdain of everything outside of that definition, and a belligerency toward those who disagree. What some Republicans are doing is declaring President Obama not only politically wrong but downright un-American, someone who is, in essence, a traitor. Against this backdrop the Republican moderates are very few and very quiet.
The last time we got a glimpse of this attitude was during the 2011 televised Republican presidential primary debates. Back in December 2011 I wrote an analysis entitled “So What Shall We Ruin in November 2012?” that noted this outlook. Here, in summary, is some of that piece:
Most of the Republican nominees are reflections of the so-called Republican base, representatives of which constitute the audience for the presidential primary debates. There is something at once humorous and horrifying about this audience. Their cheers and jeers reflect attitudes that used to be seen only at drunken fraternity parties and out-of-control soccer games.
Who are these people with whom the Republican hopefuls now identify? They appear to be highly partisan Republicans who largely define themselves by what they don’t like: minorities, abortion, big government and the lack of religion in politics, among other things. When we say these are aspects of society they don’t like we really mean that they feel personally threatened by them and see them undermining their way of life. Therefore, they approach those who appear to represent these aspects of public life with fear and loathing. People who meet this description make up about 20 percent of eligible voters in the U.S.
What is important to understand is that these are not just people addicted to a set of traditions. They are folks who possess a nebulous anger, which is the other side of the coin of their fear. This anger can potentially lead them to act in dangerous ways. And, of course in the U.S., most of these people are armed. The Republican Party leadership, from Nixon onward, has catered to this 20 percent – not just because these leaders are political opportunists, but also because they have an unhealthy affinity for this population and its outlook. That today’s Republican leadership has this affinity constitutes one of the major differences between the Republican and Democratic parties.
Part lll – On the Democratic Side
President Obama’s response to the consistent nastiness of his opponents is usually mild and ineffectual. For instance, referring to the stubborn Republican opposition to his health care reform, he complained, “This does frustrate me, [Republican controlled] states that have chosen not to expand Medicaid for no other reason than political spite. You got 5 million people who could be having health insurance right now, at no cost to these states – zero cost to these states – [yet] other than ideological reasons, they have chosen not to provide health insurance for their citizens.” The president’s observation is quite true, but truth rarely breaks down the barriers put up by ideology.
Obama’s response reflects the liberal take on politics and social decorum. Reason and compromise are supposed to be the guiding lights of domestic public life. While this might have been possible in the days before Richard Nixon led the Republican Party it is not so today. As Obama realized, reason has nothing to do with Republican actions. Those actions are now directed by a nebulous ideology that partakes of anarchism, laissez faire economics, and neoconservative aggressiveness all at once. Underlying it all is a fear and anger that breeds meanness and the behavior of the bully.
Of course the Democrats are also capable of saying and doing stupid things. However, their foibles and hypocrisies tend to be based on misplaced principles (as against no principle at all). Take Secretary of State Kerry’s recent “Man Up” proclamation reported on 29 May 2014. Referring to Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency (NSA) contractor who revealed that the agency was pursuing wholesale spying on just about the entire U.S. population. Kerry said the following: “The bottom line is this is a man who has betrayed his country, who is sitting in Russia, an authoritarian country where he has taken refuge. He should man up and come back to the United States.”
This was a stupid and misleading statement. It is actually U.S. leaders, starting with George W. Bush and continuing on with President Obama, who “betrayed their country” by allowing the NSA to run wild. Snowden just caught them at it and made their betrayal public. However, as distasteful and downright silly as is Kerry’s “man up” pronouncement, it lacks the hateful quality of the typical Republican attack stance.
Part IV – Conclusion
There is a qualitative difference between today’s Democrats and Republicans. That difference does not lie in the potential to pursue policies that negatively impact the world. Both parties do that. The difference is in their attitude toward policy and action as such. When it comes to the Democrats, particularly their supporting base, many of them seem to retain the ability to think critically about their positions and sometimes even change course. But with the Republicans, one gets the sense that they are really true believers. They see their positions and actions as absolutely right and good, and if you disagree with them you are absolutely wrong and bad. In other words, while both parties are often dangerously wrong, the Republicans are wrong in a demented ideological fashion. As such they really are more repugnant than the Democrats.