Local Theater, Sierra Cinemas, Now Showing Anti-Obama Propaganda

Our local movie theater weekly schedule arrived in email today, and I was surprised to see that Sierra Cinemas is now showing (starting today at the Del Oro Theater in Grass Valley) the right-wing propaganda documentary by author Dinesh D’Souza, “Fear and Loathing in 2016: Obama’s America,” based on his own widely-derided 2010 book,  “The Roots of Obama’s Rage.”

Here’s Sierra Cinemas‘ one-liner from its schedule:

“Immersed in exotic locales across four continents, best selling author Dinesh D’Souza races against time to find answers to Obama’s past and reveal where America will be in 2016.”

A tri-cornered hat is not required for admission, but you might feel more comfortable if you wear one while viewing this “campaign-season partisan hackwork.”

The following comments about the film are by Simon Maloy, from his blog at Media Matters for America:

“The most charitable thing I can say about 2016 is that it’s poorly timed. The movie argues that President Obama’s true ideology (inherited from his absentee father) is a “failed Third-World collectivism” that seeks to reduce America’s stature in the world, as evidenced (in part) by Obama’s determination to “lower NASA’s horizons” so that it no longer exists as a symbol of American greatness. And this might be a compelling argument had NASA not just successfully deposited a Volkswagen-sized robot with a rock-vaporizing laser on the surface of Mars a few weeks ago.

“Similarly, D’Souza’s film argues that this “Third-World anti-American” viewpoint of the president’s leads him to be “weirdly sympathetic to Muslim jihadis” captured in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Meanwhile, outside the movie theaters, news broke this weekend of an air strike that killed a senior Taliban official in Pakistan. (The obvious counterexample, Osama bin Laden’s demise, doesn’t merit mention in the film)


“D’Souza provides us a dossier for each of “Obama’s Founding Fathers,” drawn from the well-worn rogues gallery of intellectuals and fringe characters (Frank Marshall Davis, Bill Ayers, Jeremiah Wright, etc.), combined with the standard-issue warning that “we haven’t seen the real Obama.” He whips up some apocalyptic rhetoric about the debt, saying Obama will use it as a “weapon of mass destruction” to tank the country, and his discussion of the debt with former U.S Comptroller General David Walker is accompanied by — and I’m being completely serious here — high-pitched slasher-film music. (The fact that Walker also lays blame for reckless spending at the feet of George W. Bush does nothing to dampen D’Souza’s enthusiasm.)

“He whacks Obama for “blocking” the Keystone pipeline (not true) while loaning “billions of dollars” to Brazil to pursue offshore drilling (also not true). There’s a bit of Glenn Beck-inspired paranoia as snaking thorns of red, black, and green encircle the Middle East and North Africa, forming the new “United States of Islam.” This in turn leads to fearmongering about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and attacks on Obama for a) doing “nothing” to impede Iran’s nuclear progress (not exactly true), and b) seeking to reduce nuclear stockpiles globally.

“Here’s where D’Souza’s Reagan boosting comes back to bite him. The documentary attacks Obama for signing the New START Treaty with Russia, which calls for steep reductions in both countries’ nuclear stockpiles, and mocks the president for his vision of a world free of nuclear weapons. “Dreamy idea,” D’Souza quips, sparing no sarcasm. Unmentioned is the fact that the abolition of nuclear weapons was also the stated dream of… Ronald Reagan, who first proposed the original START Treaty with the Soviet Union. As Reagan told the nation in a January 1984 speech: “My dream is to see the day when nuclear weapons will be banished from the face of the Earth.”


“On Friday, after a sparsely attended showing Washington, I talked with Ray, a white, middle-aged DC resident who first came in contact with D’Souza through Glenn Beck’s Fox News program and was plugged in to conservative commentary (he went to see the movie after reading conservative columnist Thomas Sowell’s rave review). Ray thought 2016 was “very well done” and reinforced his belief that the president is motivated by anti-colonialism, though he was slightly dubious regarding some of D’Souza’s facts. When I asked if he saw any tension between D’Souza’s attack on Obama’s rhetoric on nuclear weapons and his Reagan boosterism, Ray said: “Well, every sane person wants a world without nukes.”

Read the full review here: “Fear And Loathing In 2016: Obama’s America

Further Resources:

“2016″: Dinesh D’Souza’s demented anti-Obama crusade

2016: Obama’s America’: Fact checking conservative author Dinesh D’Souza’s film 

The Dark Side of the “Green Economy”

Reprinted from Yes! Magazine (August 23, 2012)

By Jeff Conant

Why some indigenous groups and environmentalists are saying no to the “green economy.”

Everywhere you look these days, things are turning green. In Chiapas, Mexico, indigenous farmers are being paid to protect the last vast stretch of rainforest in Mesoamerica. In the Brazilian Amazon, peasant families are given a monthly “green basket” of basic food staples to allow them to get by without cutting down trees. In Kenya, small farmers who plant climate-hardy trees and protect green zones are promised payment for their part in the fight to reduce global warming. In Mozambique, one of the world’s poorest nations, fully 19 percent of the country’s surface is leased to a British capital firm that pays families to reforest.

These are a few of the keystone projects that make up what is being called “the green economy”: an emerging approach that promises to protect planetary ecology while boosting the economy and fighting poverty.

On its face this may sound like a good thing. Yet, during the recently concluded United Nations Rio+20 Earth Summit in Brazil, tens of thousands of people attending a nearby People’s Summit condemned such approaches to environmental management. Indeed, if social movements gathered in Rio last month had one common platform, it was “No to the green economy.”

Whose Economy? Whose Green?

Just a few years ago, the term “green economy” referred to economies that are locally based, climate friendly, and low-impact. But since the global economic meltdown began in 2007, the green economy has come to mean something more akin to the wholesale privatization of nature. This green economy is about putting a price on natural cycles through a controversial set of policies called “Payments for Ecosystem Services”—an approach to greening capitalism that some liken to a tiger claiming to turn vegetarian.

Rather than reducing pollution and consumption, protecting the territorial rights of land-based peoples, and promoting local initiatives that steward resources for future generations, the approach is doing the opposite: promoting monoculture tree plantations, trade in pollution credits, and the establishment of speculative markets in biodiversity and forests, all of which threaten to displace land-based communities.

A report by Ecosystem Marketplace, the leading purveyor of “Payments for Ecosystem Services,” lays out the green economy argument: “Ecosystems provide trillions of dollars in clean water, flood protection, fertile lands, clean air, pollination, disease control. … So how do we secure this enormously valuable infrastructure and its services? The same way we would electricity, potable water, or natural gas. We pay for it.”

The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), among the chief proponents of the green economy, says this approach will result in “improved well-being and social equity while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities.” The World Bank, also promoting the green economy, says, “Natural capital accounting would add to our national GDPs the wealth stored in our natural resources: minerals before they are mined, forests before they are felled, water while it is still in the rivers.”

But, for social movements, land-based communities, and indigenous peoples, the question is, who really pays? For what are they paying? And, most poignantly, since when has nature, the source of all life, been reduced to a service-provider?

One concern is that this new green economy is a form of “disaster capitalism”—a global effort to put the “services” of nature into the same hands that caused the global financial meltdown. And that seems like a very, very bad idea.

Increasingly, the evidence on the ground bears this out.

The reforestation plan in Mozambique has peasant farmers planting industrial monocultures of African palm for biofuel production, not native forest. The Kenyan farmers of the Green Belt Movement, while initially receptive to a World Bank-backed scheme that would pay them to protect agricultural soils, became discouraged when they realized the payments would add up to less than 15 cents per acre per year, and that they would have to wait many years for payment. In Brazil, the “green basket” of food staples adds up to 100 Reales per family per month—but cooking gas alone can cost 50 Reales a month, leaving families without access to the forest hungry and dependent on paltry state support.

And in Chiapas, where families in the Lacandon community are paid to protect the forest against their neighbors, the struggling campesinos from the Tzeltal, Tzotzil, Chol, and Mam ethnic groups are forced off the land and into prefab peri-urban settlements, where their customs and traditional livelihoods will be forever lost.

Carbon Dumps?

All of these initiatives are based on carbon offsetting—essentially, permission slips purchased by corporations and governments to allow them to continue dumping CO2 into the atmosphere in exchange for the ecosystem service provided by forests and agricultural soils in the Global South, which act as carbon sinks.

But, as Nigerian activist Godwin Ojo says, “Forests are not carbon sinks, they are food baskets.” Ojo tells of a rubber plantation near his home that has deprived hundreds of farmers of their livelihood under the auspices of the  United Nations Collaborative Initiative on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, a pillar program of the green economy.

“We find that most policies affecting indigenous peoples are designed without our participation,” Ojo says. “If this trend continues, it will lead to a vicious cycle of poverty and violence.”

If this is how the new green economy is playing out on the ground, it is no wonder that it has sparked resistance.

Social movements in the Global South do not mince words: The invitation for the People’s Summit in Rio declared, “Nothing in the ‘green economy’ questions the current economy based in extraction and fossil fuels, nor the patterns of consumption and industrial production, but extends this economy into new areas, feeding the myth that economic growth can be infinite.”

At the People’s Summit, spokespeople allied with smallholder farmers, women’s organizations, human rights groups, and others debated Achim Steiner, director of the UNEP.

Larissa Packer, a Brazilian lawyer with Terra de Direitos, an organization that works to secure land rights for landless communities, was among those who participated.

“Payment for environmental services,” Packer said, “posits that the actions of nature—the water cycle, the carbon cycle, the pollination of flowers by bees—are commodities, subject to the law of the market. In essence, such an approach implies the natural enclosure of these ‘services,’ and, when encoded in legal norms and property rights, the actual enclosure of the natural areas—forests, watersheds, wetlands. … Such an approach is akin to the continued enslavement of nature.”

She then offered a clear summary of the economics at work: “In the current market,” she said, “prices are based on supply and demand, that is, on scarcity. As petroleum becomes scarce, its value goes up. The green economy will follow the same logic. … If we put a price on forests, on biodiversity, on other common goods, those prices will be driven up by scarcity, So, for investors in these things, the greater the scarcity of ecosystem services, the greater their value. Where do we think this will lead?”

Steiner responded by saying that, while we may be frustrated with the state of the world, “whether we like it or not, economic thinking is dominating all our nations,” and we need to come to terms with this.

“When you say we give a price to nature and automatically it becomes a tradable commodity, I would ask, is it not useful to capture the value of an ecosystem also in economic terms? If countries began to understand how dramatic the value of our ecosystems and resources is to the future of our development prospects, then maybe we would enact laws to protect nature, we would increase protected areas, we would have far more indigenous peoples manage land and reserves, and we would pass far harsher laws to prevent the private sector from engaging in destructive practices.”

Steiner’s plea, however, left the social movements cold. Speaker upon speaker rose to denounce the green economy as the commodification of life, the final enclosure of the commons, and the largest land grab ever dreamed up by the corporate sector.

Tom Goldtooth, director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, boils it down to “the difference between money-centered Western views and the life-centered indigenous worldview based on the sacred female creation principles of Mother Earth.”

On June 21, winter solstice in Brazil, a delegation of indigenous people from an encampment called Kari-Oca II near the Rio summit delivered a declaration to U.N. officials. The declaration, signed by more than 500 indigenous leaders and blessed in a ritual ceremony, took direct aim:

“The Green Economy is a perverse attempt by corporations, extractive industries, and governments to cash in on Creation by privatizing, commodifying, and selling off the Sacred and all forms of life and the sky, including the air we breathe, the water we drink, and all the genes, plants, traditional seeds, trees, animals, fish, biological and cultural diversity, ecosystems and traditional knowledge that make life on Earth possible and enjoyable.”

Life-Affirming Alternatives

What is especially offensive about this new green economy is that it removes from the table all of the positive, life-affirming approaches that the social movements of the Global South have been nurturing for decades:

  • The solidarity economies, where values and prices are set within a local, social context in order to create an exchange of goods and services outside of corporate-controlled markets;
  • Rights-based frameworks that protect women, indigenous peoples, and other vulnerable populations not only within the market, but from the market;
  • The Rights of Mother Earth, which says that all of life has inherent and inalienable rights;
  • Territoriality, the notion that land-based people are not stewarding “a piece of land like a piece of bread,” but a sovereign space to call home;
  • Climate debt, the idea that northern countries, whose prosperity is built on resource extraction, slavery, and protectionism, must pay for what they have taken; and
  • The Commons, that age-old notion that democratic governance of shared resources must happen in spaces explicitly protected from the dominance of the market.

In other words, rather than expanding the scope of markets to every domain of nature, a true green economy would do the opposite: reverse the tide of commodification and financialization, reduce the role of markets and the financial sector, and strengthen democratic control over the world’s ecological commons.

As the Kari-Oca Declaration was delivered at the Earth Summit, many of those present looked up to notice a condor circling over the ceremony. In a week filled with acrimony and heated debate, with the United Nations poised to sell off the very foundations of life and our common heritage, the moment was rich with significance. If the social movements are able to stand their ground, that condor, the wind upon which it hovered, and the life which its solstice flight affirmed will remain ever as it was that day—just out of reach and priceless.

Jeff Conant wrote this article for It’s Your Body, the Fall 2012 issue of YES! Magazine. Jeff is an interdependent journalist and author of A Community Guide to Environmental Health and A Poetics of Resistance: The Revolutionary Public Relations of the Zapatista Insurgency. 

YES! Magazine encourages you to make free use of this article by taking these easy steps. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons LicenseCreative Commons License


Best Graphic I’ve Seen on Climate Change

Is The Internet An Amplifier Of Crackpottery (Anti-Agenda 21, UN World Domination, Chemtrails …)?

By Don Pelton

Idiocy, crackpot ideas and fringe beliefs are nothing new. Greece, Rome and Egypt probably all had their archaic versions of Todd Akin and Michelle Bachman. But — except when they became an emperor or queen — their ideas rarely gained traction or currency. So why is it today that almost any insane or crackpot idea — whether rightwing, leftwing or both — can find a constituency of thousands and sometimes of millions?

There’s a judge down in Lubbock County, Texas, who wants to implement a local tax to prepare for the inevitable civil war when Obama is re-elected and the United Nations invades the United States. There’s evidence that he’s not alone in this belief.

The good judge is only expressing the logical conclusion that follows from the widespread paranoia about the UN’s Agenda 21 initiative, an entirely voluntary set of policy recommendations to achieve sustainability at the local level, but which the anti-Agenda 21 hysterics are convinced is a vast left-wing socialist conspiracy to take over the United States.

Anti-Agenda 21 paranoia is widespread and growing. Our neighbor city, Colfax, recently had an anti-Agenda 21 resolution on its city council agenda.

And, from what I can tell since we moved to Nevada County after the infamous NH2020 debacle, that brouhaha was driven by the same paranoid property rights and anti-environmental fanaticism that now drives the anti-Agenda 21 hysteria.

One fascinating aspect of this modern style of crackpottery is that it is often dressed-up convincingly as intelligence. An example is an anti-Agenda 21 video series that the Gold Country Tea Party Patriots produced from a presentation done by Michael Shaw of Freedom Advocates. Shaw is a sort of Johnny Appleseed of the anti-Agenda 21 movement. Individual property rights are his religion, and globalism is his Devil.

In his critique of our local Sierra Business Council (tape 5 of his video series), Shaw says that the man-made “global warming fraud” is being used as an excuse to implement globalism, which will remove property rights and allow the government to “herd people around like cattle.”

“Globalism is socialism,” Shaw says. “It’s communism.”

So, why would I say that Shaw comes across as intelligent? Take a look at the video production values. As one who has done some video editing using the amazing professional quality software available to average consumers, I was very impressed by the slick editing of the Shaw videos: picture-in-picture of the speaker while showing his slides, smooth professional scene transitions, quality titles and captions, etc. The Freedom Advocates webpage and the Gold Country Tea Party webpage also look polished and professional.

Shaw himself is facile in the use of language and knows how to craft compelling sentences full of the sort of imagery that resonates with his audience, whose Tea Party sensibilities he seems to reflect. But, while Shaw is articulate in his own way, he is weak in the ideas department, a weakness clearly not apparent to his fans.

The most stupefying illogicality in Shaw’s thinking is the notion that globalism in the form of the United Nations is an existential threat to the United States, whereas globalism in the form of the overweening power of corporations is apparently not a problem.

It’s depressingly easy to find other examples of crackpottery disguised as intelligence.

Locally, Nevada County has one of the highest levels of immunization non-compliance among all the counties in California. I have friends on the left, very intelligent in most other respects, who will never subject their children or themselves to any sort of vaccination.

In various counties around the state, widespread immunization non-compliance correlates powerfully with the re-emergence of such previously well-controlled and potentially fatal childhood diseases as pertussis (whooping cough).

Vaccines in the 20th century were responsible for the near-eradication of polio, smallpox and measles, and were high on the list of significant reasons for the increase in life expectancy at birth among U.S. residents by 62%, from 47.3 years in 1900 to 76.8 in 2000. And yet today’s vaccination refusers seem unable to appreciate the significance of that fact.

As so often happens with the good things in modern life, immunization is the victim of its own success. Although, in this case, the victim is the community at large.

When I recently pointed out to one of our clever non-compliant acquaintances that he was not properly taking into account the importance of herd-immunity , he looked blank and continued his dissertation on the evils of vaccination. Herd immunity is the aggregate level of immunity in a population. It synergistically gives an increment of added blanket protection to each individual in that community, thus compensating in part for the relatively lower effectiveness of vaccination in some individual cases. 

In a simple example, because of herd immunity a non-vaccinated child in a classroom full of vaccinated children is sometimes better protected than a vaccinated child in a classroom full of non-vaccinated children.

The anti-vaccine movement, originating in the  mid 19th century, has in modern times been powerfully amplified by the Internet.

A related notion I’ve often heard expressed by the same group of vaccine refusers is that all of the alarms about swine flu and threats of another 1918-style devastating H1N1 pandemic are nothing but fear-mongering that (1) will be used by Big Pharma to sell more drugs, or (2) will be used as a justification to impose a national mandate requiring all Americans to get the swine flu vaccine, or (3) will be used by the President to declare a state of emergency and  pass control of our society to the United Nations.

Many of today’s most conspicuous crackpot conspiracy theories involve fairytales about Barak Obama, all of which are given more currency by being widely disseminated on the Internet:

  • Barak Obama deliberately orchestrated episodes of gun violence (Aurora, Colorado,the Sikh temple, “Fast and Furious” at the Mexican border) in order to have an excuse to take away our guns.
  • Obama is using the Social Security number of a deceased person
  • Nobody remembers Obama at Columbia College
  • Obama’s memoir, Dream From My Father, was ghostwritten by Bill Ayers

Both the political right and left have promulgated the Obama-orchestrated gun-violence conspiracy theory.

A friend of a relative recently told us that Obama is secretly funding Occupy Wall Street.

I’ve heard some of our friends on the left repeat — on Facebook and in person —  the chemtrails conspiracy theory, the notion that the government is spraying biological agents from airplanes at high altitudes as part of a nefarious experiment on the American people, or possibly for population control.

And “so it goes,” as Kurt Vonnegut famously repeated in order to describe a world — our world — in which the completely weird had become banal and ordinary.

There should be a special phrase or term for crackpottery so amplified by the Internet that it begins to resemble intelligence.

Perhaps “crackpottery squared” or “crackpottery2” would do.

Some media analysts lay the blame for this promulgation of crackpottery on the “democratization of information.”

Others point to the “information silo,” which allows for a kind of parochial ghetto within the Internet city of information, where crackpottery can flourish.


And so it goes.




Capuchin Monkeys Explain Occupy Wall Street (Hilarious)

Capuchin monkeys explain Occupy Wall Street for anyone who still doesn’t understand the corrosive effects of inequality (2 min 39 sec) …

Uncle Joe Unchained! A Delaware Native Explains Why the Veep Is Not a Racist

Reprinted from Alternet (August 21, 2012)

By Eugene Holley, Jr.

A recent comment by Biden was racial, but it wasn’t racist. And truth be told, it needed to be said.

I know what you’re thinking: There goes gaffe-prone Vice-President Joe Biden again, putting his foot in mouth, saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, causing headaches for the Obama administration. His latest offense: speaking in Virginia, the VP spoke to a cadre of Democratic African-American supporters, telling them how a Romney presidency would “unchain” Wall Street and “put y’all back in chains,” setting their hard-earned economic and civil rights back toward the dark decades of segregation. It didn’t take long for the usual traducers to accuse Biden of interjecting race into the campaign.

But here’s the problem – what Biden said was indeed racial, but it wasn’t racist. And truth be told, it needed to be said. A great many black Democrats in this country would agree with what he said, this writer included.

Why was it necessary for Biden to go for the metaphor of bondage? Because, as the great hip-hop trio De La Soul said, “The stakes is high.” I have personally heard some African Americans disenchanted that Obama is not the super-bad, black radical president they thought he would be say that they will sit this election out because Obama is just a politician, and the Democrats are just like the Republicans, so it doesn’t matter who wins. That defeatist mentality is dangerous when you consider how, if Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan’s fiscal policies take effect, Medicaid, Medicare and other “entitlement” programs will be cut and will push the poor, minorities and women who depend on those programs further into the Tea Party-soaked quicksand of debt bondage.

In an age where political correctness is the overdosed order of the day, Vice-President Biden delivered the right kind of castor oil to cleanse the toxicity that obscures truth-telling in the hypersensitive era of the supposed, post-racial Obama presidency. In this kind of atmosphere, politicians are always, in the immortal words of James Brown, “talking loud and saying nothing.” With Biden, it’s more like deeds, not words.

As a native Delawarean and African-American, I always chaffed at the caricature of Biden as forgetful loose cannon, ‘cause I (and we First Staters) get Uncle Joe! He is the living embodiment of the small-wondered complexities and contradictions of the nation’s second smallest state; simultaneously Northern and Southern, urban and rural, equally distanced from New York and Washington, DC; the first state to ratify the Constitution and the last to end slavery. To be a politician in this state (with only three counties), Biden learned how to navigate between the urban New Castle County, where Wilmington, the state’s largest city is based; Kent County, home to the state capitol and the Dover Downs Speedway; and Sussex County, “downstate,” or “slower-lower,” to us city-fied Wilmingtonians. The Vice Prez has spoken candidly and bluntly to whites and particularly, to blacks.

I know a host of old-timers who remember Biden when he was a teenaged lifeguard at Prices Run Swimming Pool in Wilmington’s East Side, which was (and still is) black. He was there when Martin Luther King Jr. was killed in 1968. “I was a fascination to everybody at Prices Run,” Biden wrote in his memoir,Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics. “Most of the people I got to know there had literally never really talked to a white person.”

Black Delawareans have known this fact about Biden ever since he began his political career in the late ’60s, and against local custom, campaigned in black neighborhoods. As Chana Garcia wrote on Root.com,

“In the early ’80s, he pushed for more minorities to enroll in service academies such as West Point. A decade later, he nominated Gregory Sleet to serve as Delaware’s first black U.S. attorney and then as the state’s first black federal judge. He also helped local politicians like former City Councilman-at-Large Theo Gregory get elected.”

More broadly to the point: blacks care less what white politicians say; they care about what they support – as evidenced by the overwhelmingly positive support Biden enjoys from African Americans who benefitted from his passage of the Voting rights Act, Affirmative Action and Great Society programs.

Ask most brothers and sisters in my home state about Biden’s alleged gaffes and they’ll just shrug their shoulders and say, “that’s Joe.”  What they do marvel at is the extraordinary way Biden kept his mouth shut all these years. That Colgate-perfect smile he flashed at that infamous “debate” with Sarah Palin held back the fury we know Biden is capable of unleashing whenever he encounters absurdity, which is an occupational hazard these days.

Black and tan Delaware residents also know that Biden’s smile belies a lifetime’s worth of pain. He lost his first wife and year-old child in an automobile accident in 1972, suffered a brain aneurysm in his first presidential campaign in 1988, and overcame a stuttering problem to become one of the most accomplished foreign policy experts in our nation’s history. Blacks will forgive Biden’s missteps, simply because he’s been solid on traditional liberal issues — affirmative action, the equalization of educational opportunities and a woman’s right to choose.  (His uncharacteristically chauvinist treatment of Anita Hill at the infamous Clarence Thomas Supreme Court hearing marking one big blemish against him.)

Because of Delaware’s small size, we always ran into Biden; at the supermarket, the University of Delaware Blue Hens Game, and more often than not, the Amtrak station, where as senator, he took the one-and-a-half train ride to DC, and came home to raise his kids. My late mother worked for the government, and often rode and chatted with Biden on the way to DC.

Of course, the haters have a list of supposed Biden blunders: his characterization of then-candidate Obama as the “first mainstream African American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy,” his blunt assessment of Delaware as “a slave state … [with] the eighth largest black population in the country,” and his accurate, though clumsy 2006 comment on the unprecedented influx of Asian storeowners in biracial Delaware,” when he stated that, “you cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. I’m not joking.”

Now that the Obama administration is vying for its second term, I think the world is going to see and hear the Joe Biden we Delawareans are used to. Compared to the coded language that counts for “straight talk” these days, I’ll take Uncle Joe’s jagged-edged truths any day.

Eugene Holley, Jr. is a Delaware-based writer/essayist. He has written for the New York Times Book Review, Amazon.com, Ebony.com and Vibe. His work was featured in the anthologies, Best Music Writing: 2010, and Albert Murray and the Aesthetic Imagination of a Nation.

5 Ways Privatization Is Ruining America

Reprinted from Alternet (August 12, 2012)

By Paul Buchheit

We spend lifetimes developing community assets, then give them away to a corporation for lifetimes to come.

A grand delusion has been planted in the minds of Americans, that privately run systems are more efficient and less costly than those in the public sector. Most of the evidence points the other way. Private initiatives generally produce mediocre or substandard results while experiencing the usual travails of unregulated capitalism — higher prices, limited services, and lower wages for all but a few ‘entrepreneurs.’

With perverse irony, the corruption and incompetence of private industry has actually furthered the cause of privatization, as the collapse of the financial markets has deprived state and local governments of necessary public funding, leading to an even greater call for private development.

As aptly expressed by a finance company chairman in 2008, “Desperate government is our best customer.”

The following are a few consequences of this pro-privatization desperation:

1. We spend lifetimes developing community assets, then give them away to a corporation for lifetimes to come.

The infrastructure in our cities has been built up over many years with the sweat and planning of farsighted citizens. Yet the dropoff in tax revenues has prompted careless decisions to balance budgets with big giveaways of public assets that should belong to our children and grandchildren.

In Chicago, the Skyway tollroad was leased to a private company for 99 years, and, in a deal growing in infamy, the management of parking meters was sold to a Morgan Stanley group for 75 years. The proceeds have largely been spent.

The parking meter selloff led to a massive rate increase, while hurting small businesses whose potential customers are unwilling to pay the parking fees. Meanwhile, it has been estimated that the business partnership will make a profit of 80 cents per dollar of revenue, a profit margin larger than that of any of the top 100 companies in the nation.

Indiana has also succumbed to the shiny lure of money up front, selling control of a toll road for 75 years. Tolls have doubled over the first five years of the contract. Indianapolis sold off its parking meters for 50 years, for the bargain up-front price of $32 million.

Atlanta’s 20-year contract with United Water Resources Inc. was canceled because of tainted water and poor service.

2. Insanity is repeating the same mistake over and over and expecting different results.

Numerous examples of failed or ineffective privatization schemes show us that hasty, unregulated initiatives simply don’t work.

Stanford University study “reveals in unmistakable terms that, in the aggregate, charter students are not faring as well as their traditional public school counterparts.” A Department of Education study found that “On average, charter middle schools that hold lotteries are neither more nor less successful than traditional public schools in improving student achievement, behavior, and school progress.”

Our private health care system has failed us. We have by far the most expensive system in the developed world. The cost of common surgeries is anywhere from three to ten times higher in the U.S. than in Great Britain, Canada, France, or Germany.

Studies show that private prisons perform poorly in numerous ways: prevention of intra-prison violence, jail conditions, rehabilitation efforts. The U.S. Department of Justice offered this appraisal: “There is no evidence showing that private prisons will have a dramatic impact on how prisons operate. The promises of 20-percent savings in operational costs have simply not materialized.”

A 2009 analysis of water and sewer utilities by Food and Water Watch found that private companies charge up to 80 percent more for water and 100 percent more for sewer services. Various privatization abuses or failures occurred in California, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, New Jersey, and Rhode Island.

California’s experiments with roadway privatization resulted in cost overruns, public outrage, and a bankruptcy; equally disastrous was the state’s foray into electric power privatization.

Across industries and occupations, according to the Project on Government Oversight, the federal government paid billions more on private contractors than the amounts needed to pay public employees for the same services.

3. Facts about privatization are hidden from the public.

Experience shows that under certain conditions, with sufficient monitoring and competition and regulation, privatization can be effective. But too often vital information is kept from the public. The Illinois Public Interest Research Group noted that Chicago’s parking meter debacle might have been avoided if the city had followed common-sense principles rather than rushing a no-bid contract through the city council.

Studies by both the Congressional Research Service and the Pepperdine Law Review came to the same conclusion: any attempt at privatization must ensure a means of public accountability. Too often this need is ignored.

The Arizona prison system is a prime example. For over 20 years the Department of Corrections avoided cost and quality reviews for its private prisons, then got around the problem by proposing a bill to eliminate the requirement for cost and quality reviews.

In Florida, abuses by the South Florida Preparatory Christian Academy went on for years without regulation or oversight, with hundreds of learning-disabled schoolchildren crammed into strip mall spaces where 20-something ‘teachers’ showed movies to pass the time.

In Philadelphia, an announcement of a $38 million charter school plan in May turned into a $139 million plan by July.

In Michigan, the low-income community of Muskegon Heights became the first American cityto surrender its entire school district to a charter school company. Details of the contract with Mosaica were not available to the public for some time after the deal was made. Butdata from the Michigan Department of Education revealed that Mosaica performed better than only 13% of the schools in the state of Michigan.

Also in Michigan, an investigation of administrative salaries elicited this response from charter contractor National Heritage Academies: “As a private company, NHA does not provide information on salaries for its employees.”

Education writer Danny Weil summarizes the charter school secrecy: “The fact is that most discussions of charters and vouchers are not done through legally mandated public hearings under law, but in back rooms or over expensive dinners, where business elites and Wall Street interests are the shot-callers in a secret parliament of moneyed interests.”

Beyond prisons and schools, how many Americans know about the proposal for the privatization of Amtrak, which would, according to West Virginia Representative Nick Rahall, “cripple Main Street by auctioning off Amtrak’s assets to Wall Street.” Or the proposal to sell off the nation’s air traffic control system? Or the sale of federal land in the west? Or the sale of the nation’s gold reserves, an idea that an Obama administration official referred to as “one level of crazy away from selling Mount Rushmore”?

4. Privatizers have suggested that teachers and union members are communists.

Part of the grand delusion inflicted on American citizens is that public employees and union workers are greedy good-for-nothings, enjoying benefits that average private sector workers are denied. The implication, of course, is that low-wage jobs with meager benefits should be the standard for all wage-earners.

The myth is propagated through right-wing organizations with roots in the John Birch Society, one of whose founding members was Fred Koch, also the founder of Koch Industries. To them, public schools are socialist or communist. Explained Heartland Institute President Joseph Bast with regard to private school vouchers in 1997, “we have come to the conclusion that they are the only way to dismantle the current socialist regime.”

But the facts show, first of all, that government and union workers are not overpaid. According to the Census Bureau, state and local government employees make up 14.5% of the U.S. workforce and receive 14.3% of the total compensation. Union members make up about 12% of the workforce, but their total pay amounts to just 9.5% of adjusted gross income as reported to the IRS.

The facts also strongly suggest that wage stability is fostered by the lower turnover rate and higher incidence of union membership in government. The supportive environment that right-wingers call ‘socialism’ helps to sustain living wages for millions of families. The private sector, on the other hand, is characterized by severe wage inequality. Whereas the average private sector salary is similar to that of a state or local government worker, the MEDIAN U.S. worker salary is almost $14,000 less, at $26,363. While corporate executives and financial workers (about one-half of 1% of the workforce) make multi-million dollar salaries, millions of private company workers toil as food servers, clerks, medical workers, and domestic help at below-average pay.

5. Privatization often creates an “incentive to fail.”

Privatized services are structured for profit rather than for the general good. A by-product of the profit motive is that some people will lose out along the way, and parts of the societal structure will fail in order to benefit investors.

This is evident in the privatized prison system, which relies on a decreasing adherence to the law to ensure its own success. Corrections Corporation of America has offered to run the prison system in any state willing to guarantee that jails stay 90% full. “This is where it gets creepy,” says Business Insider’s Joe Weisenthal, “because as an investor you’re pulling for scenarios where more people are put in jail.”

The incentive to fail was also apparent in road privatization deals in California and Virginia, where ‘non-compete’ clauses prevented local municipalities from repairing any roads that might compete with a privatized tollroad. In Virginia, the tollway manager even demanded reimbursement from the state for excessive carpooling, which would cut into its profits.

The list goes on. The Chicago parking meter deal requires compensation if the city wishes to close a street for a parade. The Indiana tollroad deal demanded reimbursement when the state waived tolls for safety reasons during a flood.

Plans to privatize the Post Office have created a massive incentive to fail through the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, which requires the USPS to pre-pay the health care benefits of all employees for the next 75 years, even those who aren’t born yet. This outlandish requirement is causing a well-run public service to default on its loans for the first time.

Also set up to fail are students enrolled in for-profit colleges, which get up to 90 percent of their revenue from U.S. taxpayers. Less incentive remains for the schools after tuition is received, as evidenced by the fact that more than half of the students enrolled in these colleges in 2008-9 left without a degree or diploma.

And then we have our littler students, set up to fail by private school advocates in Wisconsin who argue that a requirement for playgrounds in new elementary schools “significantly limit[s] parent’s educational choice in Milwaukee.”

In too many cases, privatization means success for a few and failure for the community being served. Unless success can be defined as a corporate logo carved into the side of Mount Rushmore.

Paul Buchheit teaches economic inequality at DePaul University. He is the founder and developer of the Web sites UsAgainstGreed.orgPayUpNow.org and RappingHistory.org, and the editor and main author of “American Wars: Illusions and Realities” (Clarity Press). He can be reached at paul@UsAgainstGreed.org.

Why Are Our Public Schools Up For Sale? Privatization Isn’t Working.

Reprinted from Other Words (August 6, 2012)

While charter proponents claim that their schools are less bureaucratic, more efficient, and more effective, the evidence doesn’t really back that up.

By Jeff Bale and Sarah Knopp

“Back-to-school” sales seem to start earlier every year. These days, more than binders and backpacks are on offer. Now, public schools themselves are for sale.

In July, Muskegon Heights, Michigan became the first American city to hand its entire school district over to a charter-school operator.

More than 1.6 million American kids attend charter schools, which emerged in the early 1990s. Whatever their original intent, charters are fundamentally restructuring the school system by placing it in private — often for-profit — hands. They’re making teachers and staff work harder and longer for less pay, usually without union benefits or protection.

In May, Philadelphia’s schools announced a plan to close 64 schools and outsource 25 more to so-called “achievement networks” run by charter operators. The goal: that 40 percent of Philadelphia’s children attend charters by 2017. Detroit’s plans are similar.

Restructuring may seem the best option. Urban school districts have long struggled to serve their students. And many of us know firsthand — as former students, teachers, administrators, or parents — that many of America’s public schools require radical change.

Charter proponents claim that their schools are less bureaucratic and more efficient, and thus save taxpayer money. Yet evidence is mounting to show that the opposite is true. When Philadelphia first announced its restructuring plans, the budget earmarked for charters stood at $38 million. By July, that figure was “rounded up” to an astonishing $139 million. Since when is a $100-million cost-overrun a sign of cost-effectiveness?

Moreover, charter proponents argue that competition and choice pressure all schools to perform better. This assumes that schools operate on even playing fields. However, Detroit officials followed their restructuring plans by imposing a contract on teachers that caps class sizes at more than 40 students starting in kindergarten and at a staggering 61 for sixth grade through high school. No school can possibly “compete” under such conditions.

Finally, consider Muskegon Heights. The city hired charter operator Mosaica Education, a for-profit company premised on earning more from contracts to run schools than it pays out in expenses. In fact, Mosaica expects to earn as much as $11 million in its Muskegon Heights deal. That’s roughly the same amount as the current budget deficit that officials gave as the reason to hire this outfit in the first place. Apparently, officials weren’t troubled by Mosaica’s record elsewhere in Michigan — its six other charter schools performed on average at the 13th percentile, according to the state’s annual ranking in 2011.

That none of these developments has made national headlines is mind-boggling. Perhaps this has something to do with the institutional racism that led to the Supreme Court’s crucial Brown v. Board of Education ruling in 1954.

Muskegon Heights is a highly segregated African-American community adjacent to the predominantly white Muskegon. In Muskegon Heights, median household income stood at just over $26,600 in 2010, with over 30 percent of residents living below the poverty line.

It’s primarily in minority-majority communities like this where schools are being sold off to the highest bidder, regardless of those bidders’ track records.

The same story has played out in Chicago for almost a decade. The city has closed dozens of neighborhood schools and considered replacing them with charters. What’s different in Chicago, though, is that the Chicago Teachers Union is leading the fight against this agenda. After several years of building strong alliances with parent and community groups, the union is challenging Democratic Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s attack on public schools. In July, Emanuel blinked and agreed to reinstate 477 laid-off art, music, PE, and foreign language teachers.

The union is demonstrating that teachers and students share common interests. Together with their parent and community allies, Chicago’s teachers and their unions are proving that they can put public schools back in the public’s hands and win the funding required for the world-class education that all our children deserve.

Jeff Bale is an assistant professor of second language education at Michigan State University. Sarah Knopp is a public high school teacher in Los Angeles. They are the co-authors of the book Education and Capitalism, published this year by Haymarket Books.
Distributed via OtherWords (OtherWords.org)

Do Romney’s Withheld Tax Returns Show He Committed Voter Fraud?

Is it possible that Mitt Romney’s withheld tax returns show he committed voter fraud by lying about his home address in the years 2008 and 2009?

That’s the speculation of MS Bellows Jr in his article in the Guardian yesterday:

… the Romneys, arbitrarily, refuse to disclose a copy of the returns they filed in 2010 or 2009 (for tax years 2009 and 2008) – which, perhaps not coincidentally, bracket the time period when Romney allegedly committed fraud by voting in Massachusetts when he actually resided in California. So here’s the question: did Romney put his son’s basement’s address on the returns he filed in 2009 and 2010? Or did he truthfully use his real (non-Massachusetts) address, thus implicating himself in voter fraud?

Read the full article here: “Mitt Romney’s tax returns: the ‘voter fraud’ theory

The American Way of Torture

Reprinted from TomDispatch.com (August 14, 2012)

Tomgram: Alfred McCoy, Perfecting Illegality

Introduction by Nick Turse

Her white hair peeked out from under a brilliant cerulean blue headscarf. Her lips and teeth were stained red from chewing areca nut and betel leaf, a mild stimulant favored by older Vietnamese women.  She was missing her right eye.  She also appeared to be in danger of floating away had a stiff breeze swept along the roadside where we were talking.  Le Thi Xuan couldn’t have weighed more than 90 pounds.

But this 77-year-old whose height topped out at four-feet-and-change was a survivor.  That now-empty eye-socket took an elbow from an American Marine back in the 1960s.  That same day she survived a grenade attack that killed one of her sons and gravely wounded another.

Le Thi Xuan also survived torture.  When questioned about the guerrilla fighters that the Americans called “Viet Cong,” she told me, “I did not reveal anything, so they kept on beating me.  Once they tired of that, they used electricity to torture me.”

Le Thi Xuan’s ordeal was no anomaly.  Electrical torture by Americans and their South Vietnamese allies was a commonplace of the Vietnam War.  The prime method involved the use of hand-cranked field telephones to produce electricity and two wires that were generally affixed to sensitive areas of the anatomy: ears, fingers, nipples, genitals.  The use of “water torture” or the “water rag” technique — what we now know as waterboarding — was also widespread.

Some years ago, investigating a military intelligence unit that had routinely subjected Vietnamese to torture, I got in touch with former Staff Sergeant David Carmon.  When Army criminal investigators questioned Carmon in the early 1970s, he admitted using the water rag method on a detainee.  “I held the suspect down, placed a cloth over his face, and then poured water over the cloth, thus forcing water into his mouth,” he said, according to his sworn statement.  Once-classified military documents show that he also admitted using electrical shock on detainees.  Decades later, he was still unrepentant.  “I am not ashamed of anything I did, and I would most likely conduct myself in the same manner if placed in a Vietnam-type situation again,” he told me.  American torturers of the post-9/11 era are, as best we can tell, generally no less unrepentant.

Until this moment, Americans (other than those who abused her) could have known nothing of Le Thi Xuan’s torture.  Similarly, for decades almost no one knew of the rampant use of torture by Carmon’s unit.  (The wartime investigation of it was buried in military files in the National Archives and forgotten.)  But torture by U.S. military personnel has a long history, going back to the Indian Wars and to the Philippine Insurrection at the turn of the last century, and its use has been no accident.  As TomDispatch regular Alfred McCoy makes clear in his latest piece, there’s a secret post-World War II and post-9/11 history of torture that’s been covered up and covered over — a bipartisan effort that extends to the present.  It’s a sordid story that McCoy has been unraveling for years and brings up to date in his new book, Torture and Impunity: The U.S. Doctrine of Coercive Interrogation.  Knowing it can teach us a lot about America’s covert past, its present, and where the country may be headed in the years to come.

Impunity at Home, Rendition Abroad

How Two Administrations and Both Parties Made Illegality the American Way of Life

By Alfred W. McCoy

After a decade of fiery public debate and bare-knuckle partisan brawling, the United States has stumbled toward an ad hoc bipartisan compromise over the issue of torture that rests on two unsustainable policies: impunity at home and rendition abroad.

President Obama has closed the CIA’s “black sites,” its secret prisons where American agents once dirtied their hands with waterboarding and wall slamming. But via rendition — the sending of terrorist suspects to the prisons of countries that torture — and related policies, his administration has outsourced human rights abuse to Afghanistan, Somalia, and elsewhere.  In this way, he has avoided the political stigma of torture, while tacitly tolerating such abuses and harvesting whatever intelligence can be gained from them.

This “resolution” of the torture issue may meet the needs of this country’s deeply divided politics. It cannot, however, long satisfy an international community determined to prosecute human rights abuses through universal jurisdiction. It also runs the long-term risk of another sordid torture scandal that will further damage U.S. standing with allies worldwide.

Perfecting a New Form of Torture

The modern American urge to use torture did not, of course, begin on September 12, 2001.  It has roots that reach back to the beginning of the Cold War and a human rights policy riven with contradictions. Publicly, Washington opposed torture and led the world in drafting the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 and the Geneva Conventions in 1949. Simultaneously and secretly, however, the Central Intelligence Agency began developing ingenious new torture techniques in contravention of these same international conventions.

From 1950 to 1962, the CIA led a secret research effort to crack the code of human consciousness, a veritable Manhattan project of the mind with two findings foundational to a new form of psychological torture. In the early 1950s, while collaborating with the CIA, famed Canadian psychologist Dr. Donald Hebbdiscovered that, using goggles, gloves, and earmuffs, he could induce a state akin to psychosis among student volunteers by depriving them of sensory stimulation. Simultaneously, two eminent physicians at Cornell University Medical Center, also working with the Agency, found that the most devastating torture technique used by the KGB, the Soviet secret police, involved simply forcing victims to stand for days at a time, while legs swelled painfully and hallucinations began.

In 1963, after a decade of mind-control research, the CIA codified these findings in a suassccinct, secret instructional handbook, the KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation manual. It became the basis for a new method of psychological torture disseminated worldwide and within the U.S. intelligence community. Avoiding direct involvement in torture, the CIA instead trained allied agencies to do its dirty work in prisons throughout the Third World, like South Vietnam’s notorious “tiger cages.”

The Korean War added a defensive dimension to this mind-control research. After harsh North Korean psychological torture forced American POWs to accuse their own country of war crimes, President Dwight Eisenhower ordered that any serviceman subject to capture be given resistance training, which the Air Force soon dubbed with the acronym SERE (for survival, evasion, resistance, escape).

Once the Cold War ended in 1990, Washington resumed its advocacy of human rights, ratifying the U.N. Convention Against Torture in 1994, which banned the infliction of “severe” psychological and physical pain. The CIA ended its torture training in the Third World, and the Defense Department recalled Latin American counterinsurgency manuals that contained instructions for using harsh interrogation techniques. On the surface, then, Washington had resolved the tension between its anti-torture principles and its torture practices.

But when President Bill Clinton sent the U.N. Convention to Congress for ratification in 1994, he included language (drafted six years earlier by the Reagan administration) that contained diplomatic “reservations.”  In effect, these addenda accepted the banning of physical abuse, but exempted psychological torture.

A year later, when the Clinton administration launched its covert campaign against al-Qaeda, the CIA avoided direct involvement in human rights violations by sending 70 terror suspects to allied nations notorious for physical torture.  This practice, called “extraordinary rendition,” had supposedly been banned by the U.N. convention and so a new contradiction between Washington’s human rights principles and its practices was buried like a political land mine ready to detonate with phenomenal force, just 10 years later, in the Abu Ghraib scandal.

Normalizing Torture

Right after his first public address to a shaken nation on September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush gave his White House staff expansive secret orders for the use of harsh interrogation, adding, “I don’t care what the international lawyers say, we are going to kick some ass.”


Soon after, the CIA began opening “black sites” that would in the coming years stretch fromThailand to Poland.  It also leased a fleet of executive jets for the rendition of detained terrorist suspects to allied nations, and revived psychological tortures abandoned since the end of the Cold War. Indeed, the agency hired former Air Force psychologists to reverse engineer SERE training techniques, flipping them from defense to offense and thereby creating the psychological tortures that would henceforth travel far under the euphemistic label “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

In a parallel move in late 2002, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld appointed General Geoffrey Miller to head the new prison at Guantanamo, Cuba, and gave him broad authority to develop a total three-phase attack on the sensory receptors, cultural identity, and individual psyches of his new prisoners. After General Miller visited Abu Ghraib prison in September 2003, the U.S. commander for Iraq issued orders for the use of psychological torture in U.S. prisons in that country, including sensory disorientation, self-inflicted pain, and a recent innovation, cultural humiliation through exposure to dogs (which American believed would be psychologically devastating for Arabs). It is no accident that Private Lynndie England, a military guard at Abu Ghraib prison, was famously photographed leading a naked Iraqi detainee leashed like a dog.

Just two months after CBS News broadcast those notorious photos from Abu Ghraib in April 2004, 35% of Americans polled still felt torture was acceptable. Why were so many tolerant of torture?

One partial explanation would be that, in the years after 9/11, the mass media filled screens large and small across America with enticing images of abuse. Amid this torrent of torture simulations, two media icons served to normalize abuse for many Americans — the fantasy of the “ticking time bomb scenario” and the fictional hero of the Fox Television show “24,” counterterror agent Jack Bauer.

In the months after 9/11, Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz launched a multimedia campaign arguing that torture would be necessary in the event U.S. intelligence agents discovered that a terrorist had planted a ticking nuclear bomb in New York’s Times Square. Although this scenario was a fantasy whose sole foundation was an obscure academic philosophy article published back in 1973, such ticking bombs soon enough became a media trope and a persuasive reality for many Americans — particularly thanks to “24,” every segment of which began with an oversized clock ticking menacingly.

In 67 torture scenes during its first five seasons, the show portrayed agent Jack Bauer’s recourse to abuse as timely, effective, and often seductive. By its last broadcast in May 2010, the simple invocation of agent Bauer’s name had become a persuasive argument for torture used by everyone from Supreme Court JusticeAntonin Scalia to ex-President Bill Clinton.

While campaigning for his wife Hillary in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary, Clinton typically cited “24” as a justification for allowing CIA agents, acting outside the law, to torture in extreme emergencies. “When Bauer goes out there on his own and is prepared to live with the consequences,” Clinton told Meet the Press, “it always seems to work better.”

Impunity in America

Such a normalization of “enhanced interrogation techniques” created public support for an impunity achieved by immunizing all those culpable of crimes of torture. During President Obama’s first two years in office, former Vice President Dick Cheney and his daughter Liz made dozens of television appearances accusing his administration of weakening America’s security by investigating CIA interrogators who had used such techniques under Bush.

Ironically, Obama’s assassination of Osama bin Laden in May 2011 provided an opening for neoconservatives to move the nation toward impunity. Forming an a cappella media chorus, former Bush administration officials appeared on television to claim, without any factual basis, that torture had somehow led the Navy SEALs to Bin Laden. Within weeks, Attorney General Eric Holder announced an end to any investigation of harsh CIA interrogations and to the possibility of bringing any of the CIA torturers to court.  (Consider it striking, then, that the only “torture” case brought to court by the administration involved a former CIA agent, John Kiriakou, who had leaked the names of some torturers.)

Starting on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, the country took the next step toward full impunity via a radical rewriting of the past. In a memoir published on August 30, 2011, Dick Cheney claimed the CIA’s use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” on an al-Qaeda leader named Abu Zubaydah had turned this hardened terrorist into a “fount of information” and saved “thousands of lives.”

Just two weeks later, on September 12, 2011, former FBI counterterror agent Ali Soufan released his own memoirs, stating that he was the one who started the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah back in 2002, using empathetic, non-torture techniques that quickly gained “important actionable intelligence” about “the role of KSM [Khalid Sheikh Mohammed] as the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks.”

Angered by the FBI’s success, CIA director George Tenet dispatched his own interrogators from Washington led by Dr. James Mitchell, the former SERE psychologist who had developed the agency’s harsh “enhanced techniques.” As the CIA team moved up the “force continuum” from “low-level sleep deprivation” to nudity, noise barrage, and the use of a claustrophobic confinement box, Dr. Mitchell’s harsh methods got “no information.”

By contrast, at each step in this escalating abuse, Ali Soufan was brought back for more quiet questioning in Arabic that coaxed out all the valuable intelligence Zubaydah had to offer. The results of this ad hoc scientific test were blindingly clear: FBI empathy was consistently effective, while CIA coercion proved counterproductive.

But this fundamental yet fragile truth has been obscured by CIA censorship and neoconservative casuistry. Cheney’s secondhand account completely omitted the FBI presence. Moreover, the CIA demanded 181 pages of excisions from Ali Soufan’s memoirs that reduced his chapters about this interrogation experience to a maze of blackened lines no regular reader can understand.

The agency’s attempt to rewrite the past has continued into the present. Just last April, Jose Rodriguez, former chief of CIA Clandestine Services, published his uncensored memoirs under the provocative title Hard Measures: How Aggressive C.I.A. Actions after 9/11 Saved American Lives. In a promotional television interview, he called FBI claims of success with empathetic methods “bullshit.”

With the past largely rewritten to assure Americans that the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” had worked, the perpetrators of torture were home free and the process of impunity and immunity established for future use.

Rendition Under Obama

Apart from these Republican pressures, President Obama’s own aggressive views on national security have contributed to an undeniable continuity with many of his predecessor’s most controversial policies. Not only has he preserved the controversial military commissions at Guantanamo and fought the courts to block civil suits against torture perpetrators, he has, above all, authorized continuing CIA rendition flights.

During the 2008 presidential campaign, Obama went beyond any other candidate in offering unqualified opposition to both direct and indirect U.S. involvement in torture. “We have to be clear and unequivocal. We do not torture, period,” he said, adding, “That will be my position as president. That includes, by the way, renditions.”

Only days after his January 2009 inauguration, Obama issued a dramatic executive order ending the CIA’s coercive techniques, but it turned out to include a large loophole that preserved the agency’s role in extraordinary renditions. Amid his order’s ringing rhetoric about compliance with the Geneva conventions and assuring “humane treatment of individuals in United States custody,” the president issued a clear and unequivocal order that “the CIA shall close as expeditiously as possible any detention facilities that it currently operates and shall not operate any such detention facility in the future.” But when the CIA’s counsel objected that this blanket prohibition would also “take us out of the rendition business,” Obamaadded a footnote with a small but significant qualification: “The terms ‘detention facilities’ and ‘detention facility’ in… this order do not refer to facilities used only to hold people on a short-term, transitory basis.” Through the slippery legalese of this definition, Obama thus allowed the CIA continue its rendition flights of terror suspects to allied nations for possible torture.

Moreover, in February 2009, Obama’s incoming CIA director Leon Panettaannounced that the agency would indeed continue the practice “in renditions where we returned an individual to the jurisdiction of another country, and they exercised their rights… to prosecute him under their laws. I think,” he added, ignoring the U.N. anti-torture convention’s strict conditions for this practice, “that is an appropriate use of rendition.”

As the CIA expanded covert operations inside Somalia under Obama, its renditions of terror suspects from neighboring East African nations continued just as they had under Bush.  In July 2009, for example, Kenyan police snatched an al-Qaeda suspect, Ahmed Abdullahi Hassan, from a Nairobi slum and delivered him to that city’s airport for a CIA flight to Mogadishu. There he joined dozens of prisoners grabbed off the streets of Kenya inside “The Hole” — a filthy underground prison buried in the windowless basement of Somalia’s National Security Agency. While Somali guards (paid for with U.S. funds) ran the prison, CIA operatives, reported the Nation’s Jeremy Scahill, have open access for extended interrogation.

Obama also allowed the continuation of a policy adopted after the Abu Ghraib scandal: outsourcing incarceration to local allies in Afghanistan and Iraq while ignoring human rights abuses there. Although the U.S. military received 1,365 reports about the torture of detainees by Iraqi forces between May 2004 and December 2009, a period that included Obama’s first full year in office, American officers refused to take action, even though the abuses reported were often extreme.

Simultaneously, Washington’s Afghan allies increasingly turned to torture after the Abu Ghraib scandal prompted U.S. officials to transfer most interrogation to local authorities. After interviewing 324 detainees held by Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS) in 2011, the U.N. found that “torture is practiced systematically in a number of NDS detention facilities throughout Afghanistan.” At the Directorate’s prison in Kandahar one interrogator told a detainee before starting to torture him, “You should confess what you have done in the past as Taliban; even stones confess here.”

Although such reports prompted both British and Canadian forces to curtail prisoner transfers, the U.S. military continues to turn over detainees to Afghan authorities — a policy that, commented the New York Times, “raises serious questions about potential complicity of American officials.”

How to Unclog the System of Justice One Drone at a Time

After a decade of intense public debate over torture, in the last two years the United States has arrived at a questionable default political compromise: impunity at home, rendition abroad.

This resolution does not bode well for future U.S. leadership of an international community determined to end the scourge of torture. Italy’s prosecution of two-dozen CIA agents for rendition in 2009, Poland’s recent indictment of its former security chief for facilitating a CIA black site, and Britain’s ongoing criminal investigation of intelligence officials who collaborated with alleged torture at Guantanamo are harbingers of continuing pressures on the U.S. to comply with international standards for human rights.

Meanwhile, unchecked by any domestic or international sanction, Washington has slid down torture’s slippery slope to find, just as the French did in Algeria during the 1950s, that at its bottom lies the moral abyss of extrajudicial execution. The systematic French torture of thousands during the Battle of Algiers in 1957 also generated over 3,000 “summary executions” to insure, as one French general put it, that “the machine of justice” not be “clogged with cases.”

In an eerie parallel, Washington has reacted to the torture scandals of the Bush era by generally forgoing arrests and opting for no-fuss aerial assassinations. From 2005 to 2012, U.S. drone killings inside Pakistan rose from zero to a total of 2,400 (and still going up) — a figure disturbingly close to those 3,000 French assassinations in Algeria. In addition, it has now been revealed that the president himself regularly orders specific assassinations by drone in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia off a secret “kill list.”  Simultaneously, his administration has taken just one terror suspect into U.S. custody and has not added any new prisoners to Guantanamo, thereby avoiding any more clogging of the machinery of American justice.

Absent any searching inquiry or binding reforms, assassination is now the everyday American way of war while extraordinary renditions remain a tool of state.  Make no mistake: some future torture scandal is sure to arise from another iconic dungeon in the dismal, ever-lengthening historical procession leading from the “tiger cages” of South Vietnam to “the salt pit” in Afghanistan and “The Hole” in Somalia. Next time, the world might not be so forgiving. Next time, with those images from Abu Ghraib prison etched in human memory, the damage to America’s moral authority as world leader could prove even more deep and lasting.

Alfred W. McCoy is the J.R.W. Smail Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A TomDispatch regular, he is the author of A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, From the Cold War to the War on Terror, which provided documentation for the Oscar-winning documentary feature film Taxi to the Darkside. His recent book, Torture and Impunity: The U.S. Doctrine of Coercive Interrogation (University of Wisconsin, 2012) explores the American experience of torture during the past decade.

Copyright 2012 Alfred W. McCoy

Next Page »