Saturday, June 7, 2008

A day in the life

Dr. Martin Kilson, PhD, relates this story in a Black Commentator article entitled What Obama's Democratic Party Nomination Victory Means.

This simple fact: white folks will never understand nor comprehend the every day racism directed at people of color in America. NEVER.

A 55 year-old black woman named Ruth Simmons came to New York on an autumn shopping trip in the first year of the twentieth-first century and chose to examine the finery at Saks Fifth Avenue, one of the city’s premier emporiums. She soon became aware that her movements were being followed by the store’s security people, evidently fearful that she was a potential, if not likely, shoplifter. “And I greatly resented that,” she said in recounting the incident. To add to her distress that day, a taxi driver locked his door as Simmons neared so that she could not get in. What made these slights, endured daily and disproportionately by black Americans, worth noting is that Ruth Simmons is president of Brown University.

People making "bad judgments"

From the Des Moines Register comes a story of the top two police officers, the chief of police and assistant chief of Creston, Iowa, the county seat of Union County in South central Iowa, accused of raping a bartender at a country club.

The assistant chief originally denied any contact with the victim, later admitted he had touched, kissed and penetrated the victim, and finally admitted to having sex but claimed it was concensual.

The chief of police originally went from denying any contact with the woman, to conceding that he might have seen her dance with the other officer, to confessing he had touched her hand and heard her protests as the other officer assaulted her.

Reading between the lines of the story, the assault might not have occurred if only the bartender would have performed oral sex on the police officers, but she refused. After the refusal, one officer apparently went to lock the door (the rape took place at 2 a.m.) while the other kept her trapped behind the bar.

A sad, ugly story. What struck me most, however, was the following graf:

"People make bad judgments, and consequently law enforcement officers are not exempt from that," John Quinn, assistant director of field operations for the Division of Criminal Investigation, said at a press conference where authorities
announced the arrests. "One thing I will say is that officers make mistakes, they make bad errors in judgment, and they will be held accountable."

Note: People make bad judgments -- so, rape is a "bad judgment"?

"Consequently law enforcement officers are not exempt from that" once again, police officers no exempt from making bad judgments.

People "make mistakes, they make bad errors in judgment"

I'm curious to what extent the officers will be held accountable (for their mistakes, and bad errors in judgment).

Reading through comments on the article give the impression that law may be selectively enforced in Creston. One commentor offered an interesting suggestion on using modern technology:

I now have a recording system that if I am stopped or if a road rager driver acts, everything is recorded. And, it is not recorded in my car or on my person. My cell phone automatically sends it to a voice mail box that no one but me can access on the spur of the moment.If you are hassled with an unjustified ticket, take camera pictures. I always have a cell camera and digital camera
when I drive. The police in another city used to set up people with a false traffic charge. I knew it and purposely went through it, took pictures, told others who were also pulled over to get with me in court. All charges were dismissed and the games were over at that intersection.Again, I support LEO's but acting like criminals, or beating black men, or setting people up are criminal acts requiring the citizens to act as police.

View from across the pond

Writing for The Independent, Johann Hari suggests that looking at the fathers of Senators John McCain and Barak Obama gives us insight into the candidates' world views, and we might expect them to conduct foreign policy.

Hari considers the autobiographies they have written and finds what initially appears to be similar narratives:

Both men have written strange, searching books about their fathers. It is in their pages that we can find the clearest clues to their potential presidencies. ... both books tell the autobiographical story of an insecure young man who flails around for an identity, and finds it by chasing the ghost of his absent father to a dangerous place far beyond the United States. Yet Obama ended up writing a complex story of colonised people – while McCain wrote a simple celebration of the coloniser.


While Obama's father and grandfather were being whipped and detained without charge, McCain was being taught to revere the people doing it. He writes of his father: "He was a great admirer of the British Empire, crediting it with keeping 'a relative measure of peace' in the world for 'someplace in the neighbourhood of two hundred years.'" This is a view his son holds to this day – as we can see from the fact that his foreign policy adviser, Niall Ferguson, calls for the US to pick up where Britain left off. He describes his own childhood in the wreckage of Obama's Snr's Kenya as "a magical time" where "scarcely anything had changed since the days of White Mischief".


When he returned [from Vietnam, McCain's] father told him the only problem with the war is it wasn't fought hard enough: Nixon and Kissinger should have bombed more civilians, with less restraint. (They killed 3 million.) His son still agrees: he is angry at the "utterly illogical restraints on the use of American power". McCain says of his predecessors: "I still aspire to live my life according to the terms of their approval." It's true. His father's reaction to failure in Vietnam was to urge bombing of Cambodia; his reaction to failure in Iraq is to sing "Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran."


From his father, Obama learned to eschew "the confidence reserved for those born into imperial cultures" that they should rule the world their way, with "a steady unthinking application of force". He can imagine the mentality of the boy in Basra whose father has vanished into an occupiers' prison, because it
happened to his father and grandfather too. McCain learned the opposite from his father: that the natives only ever learn "to behave themselves" at the end of a big stick. So now we have to ask: which ghostly father will America choose?

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Years overdue, climate report released

From the Atlantic Free Press

Just a few days ago in the Navajos' Chuska Mountains, I was listening to a traditional Navajo farmer talk about how dry the earth is. Looking at the dry pinon trees and dusty earth, she said it would be hard to get the corn and squash to grow this summer. The earth is so dry that it does not absorb water like it used to. Every year it gets worse.

The U.S. censored climate report, just released under court order, reflects this truth about the drought in the Southwest. The report also reveals the truth foretold by the Hopi spiritual leaders. Hurricanes and storms are increasing with global warming and changes in ocean air circulation.

Common Dreams provides details on how the report came to be released

May 29 - A report released today by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, Scientific Assessment of the Effects of Global Change on the United States, summarizes evidence of global climate disruption, the harmful impacts it is already having on society and the environment, and future projections of potential damages. The report, years overdue under a requirement of law, was produced only in response to an August 2007 federal court order that an assessment be produced by May 31, 2008.

Here are some of the reports eye-opening passages:

1. Earth's surface is getting warmer - humans the cause - mostly due to increased carbon dioxide emissions.

... it is unequivocal that the average temperature of Earth’s surface has warmed recently and it is very likely (greater than 90% probability)2 that most of this global warming is due to increased concentrations of human generated greenhouse gases


Of the greenhouse gases that are increasing in atmospheric concentration as a direct result of human activities, carbon dioxide is contributing most to the recent warming. The globally averaged concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased from about 280 parts per million (ppm) in the 18th century to 383 ppm in 2007. Emissions of carbon dioxide from fossil fuel use and from the effects of land use change are the primary sources of this increase. The current atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide greatly exceeds the natural range of the last 650,000 years (180 to 300 ppm) as determined from ice cores.

2. Snow cover will keep decreasing, glaciers and ice sheets will lose mass, sea level will rise

Snow cover is projected to continue to decrease as the climate warms. According to the IPCC, results from multiple model simulations indicate that an Arctic Ocean free of summer ice is likely by the end of the century, with some models suggesting that this could occur as soon as 2040. Glaciers and terrestrial ice sheets are projected to continue to lose mass as increases in summertime melting outweigh increases in wintertime precipitation. This will contribute to sea level rise. Widespread increases in thaw depth are projected over most permafrost regions.

3. Abrupt climate change occurs when a threshold is crossed

An abrupt climate change occurs when the climate system crosses a threshold, which triggers a transition into a new state that may have large and widespread consequences. Over at least the last 100,000 years, abrupt regional warming (up to 29 °F within decades over Greenland) and cooling events occurred repeatedly over the North Atlantic region. Greenhouse warming and other human alterations of the Earth system may increase the possibility of abrupt climate change.

4. Life in the U.S.A has already been affected, and will continue to be

According to CCSP SAP 4.3, it is very likely that temperature increases, increasing carbon dioxide levels, and altered patterns of precipitation are already affecting U.S. water resources, agriculture, land resources, biodiversity, and human health, among other things. SAP 4.3 also concluded that it is very likely that climate change will continue to have significant effects on these resources over the next few decades and beyond.

5. Longer, more intense wildfire seasons, insect outbreaks, tree mortality

In the last three decades, the wildfire season in the western United States has lengthened and burn durations have increased. Climate change has also very likely increased the size and number of insect outbreaks and tree mortality that help to fuel wildfires in the interior West, the Southwest, and Alaska. These trends are very likely to continue.

6. Oceans have become more acidic

The increasing carbon dioxide level in the atmosphere has made the oceans more acidic. This acidification is expected to have negative impacts on marine shell-forming organisms and consequently large portions of the marine food chain.

7. Expect increasing crop failures

With increased carbon dioxide levels and temperature, the life ...cycle of grain and oilseed crops will likely progress more rapidly. But, as temperatures rise, these crops will increasingly begin to fail, especially if climate variability increases and precipitation lessens or becomes more variable.

8. Expect changes in crop yields

The marketable yield of many horticultural crops (e.g., tomatoes, onions, and fruits) is very likely to be more sensitive to climate change than grain and oilseed crops.

9. Crops and domestic animals more subject to diseases - parasites / pathogens to proliferate

Disease pressure on crops and domestic animals will likely increase with earlier springs and warmer winters, which will allow proliferation and higher survival rates of pathogens and parasites. Regional variation in warming and changes in rainfall will also affect spatial and temporal distribution of disease.

10. Increased risk and spread of infectious diseases

Climate change is likely to increase the risk and geographic spread of vector-borne infectious diseases, including Lyme disease and West Nile virus.

11. More polluted air will cause more premature deaths in people

In studies holding pollution emissions constant, climate change was found to lead to
increases in regional ground-level ozone pollution in the United States and other countries. It is well-documented that breathing air containing ozone can reduce lung function, increase susceptibility to respiratory infection, and contribute to premature death in people with heart and lung disease

12. Spread of allergies

Climate change and changes in carbon dioxide concentration could increase the production and allergenicity of airborne allergens and affect the growth and distribution of weeds, grasses, and trees that produce them, which may increase the incidence of allergic rhinitis

They will always be with us

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. navy (retired) on the real problems with letting Bush administration flaks and hacks walking away to make fortunes from their tell-all tales of why the ship sank:

The real problem with the likes of Scott McClellan and Doug Feith walking away from the Bush shipwreck not just Scot free but filthy rich sends an unmistakable signal to every potential young Republican in the country: You can be one of the unlimited power rangers and pull whatever illegal, unconstitutional shenanigans you want. All you have to do afterwards is say three Hail Maries, two Our Fathers, have some schmuck write a book for you and boom, the keys to the kingdom are yours on a silver platter.


Scooter and Scotty wannabes don’t have to look far for suitable mentors. Neocons have effectively infiltrated America’s institutions of higher learning. Newt has been a college guest lecturer for years. Doug Feith teaches at Columbia University. John Yoo, godfather of the plenary (absolute) executive powers theory, is a professor of law at University of California, Berkley. Bill Kristol is on the faculty at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. Mackubin Thomas Owens, co-author of the neocon manifesto Rebuilding America's Defenses, is an associate dean of academics at the U.S. Naval War College. Condoleeza Rice wants to go back to Stanford and teach political science, and Standford will probably lose funding if they don’t let her.

So, for any of you who have worried about the preponderance of liberals teaching in the colleges and universities, rest assured, that trend is being bucked.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Media culpability for the invasion

War propaganda echoed by TV and print media was instrumental in drumming up support by the U.S. public for invading Iraq. A piece by Danny Schechter at the Common Dreams web site hits hard on media irresponsibility. Clearly, the media are culpable for the ruinous consequences of the invasion and occupation.

It’s hard to fight back against media irresponsibility. Public shaming seems the only response, and its effectiveness depends on whether critics can be heard in the so-called public square. In the case of Iraq, there were 800 experts on all the channels in the run-up to the war. Only 6 opposed the war. No wonder judgments like this are left to historians.

After the Second World War at the Nuremberg Tribunal, American prosecutors wanted to put the German media on trial for promoting Hitler’s policies. State propagandists were condemned. More recently, hate radio was indicted by the Rwanda tribunal investigating the genocide there, while in the former Yugoslavia, Serbian and Croatian TV were criticized for inciting a war that divided that country, encouraging murderous ethnic cleansing.

The principle that media outlets can, for reasons of omission or commission, be held responsible for their role in inflaming conflicts and promoting jingoism, has been well established. Many remember William Randolf Hearst’s famous yellow journalism dictum: “You give me the pictures, I will give you the war.”

In February 2005, Italy hosted the citizens-initiated World Tribunal on Iraq, which put the media “on trial” for its role in selling of the Iraq War. It was of course not covered here. The Tribunal was modeled on an earlier initiative during the Vietnam War by the then-leading international intellectuals Bertrand Russell, Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone du Bouvoir.


Critics today believe the media has covered up war crimes in Iraq, minimized civilian casualties, downplayed the destruction of cities like Fallujah, and misreported the reasons for going to war and how it was conducted. And they are right.


Media companies were happily co-opted as embeds while naysayers like Peter Arnett were banished. Later, many reporters were killed and wounded while trying to tell a story that has now largely disappeared from view.


Now it’s time to consider potential remedies even if we lack the power to enforce them. Our main media outlets have already been convicted in the global court of public opinion.

When America Goes to War

Tom Dispatch features a piece by Chris Hedges adapted from his newest book: Collateral Damage: America's War Against Iraqi Civilians (Nation Books), which he has co-authored with Laila al-Arian.

Speaking about reporters from Iraq:

Most reporters know that the invasion and the occupation have been a catastrophe. They know the Iraqis do not want us. They know about the cooked intelligence, spoon-fed to a compliant press by the Office of Special Plans and Lewis Libby's White House Iraq Group. They know about Curveball, the forged documents out of Niger, the outed CIA operatives, and the bogus British intelligence dossiers that were taken from old magazine articles. They know the weapons of mass destruction were destroyed long before we arrived. They know that our military as well as our National Guard and reserve units are being degraded and decimated. They know this war is not about bringing democracy to Iraq, that all the clichés about staying the course and completing the mission are used to make sure the president and his allies do not pay a political price while in power for their blunders and their folly.

The press knows all this, and if reporters had bothered to look they could have known it a long time ago. But the press, or at least most of it, has lost the passion, the outrage, and the sense of mission that once drove reporters to defy authority and tell the truth.

On conflating capacity to wage war with a right to wage war

We have embarked on an occupation that is as damaging to our souls as to our prestige and power and security. We have become tyrants to others weaker than ourselves. And we believe, falsely, that because we have the capacity to wage war we have the right to wage war.

On our civic religion - national self-idolatry

We make our heroes out of clay. We laud their gallant deeds and give them uniforms with colored ribbons on their chests for the acts of violence they committed or endured. They are our false repositories of glory and honor, of power, of self-righteousness, of patriotism and self-worship, all that we want to believe about ourselves. They are our plaster saints of war, the icons we cheer to defend us and make us and our nation great. They are the props of our civic religion, our love of power and force, our belief in our right as a chosen nation to wield this force against the weak, and rule. This is our nation's idolatry of itself. And this idolatry has corrupted religious institutions, not only here but in most nations, making it impossible for us to separate the will of God from the will of the state.