Saturday, June 2, 2012

This is a day which the Lord Hath Made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it!

Watered the Easter Half of Anne's (mom's) Garden, and then the entirety of John's (brother's) Garden which faces Anne's.  Today, for a change, I have done some good in the world!

After hobnobbing with politicians, planters and merchants, the war correspondent William Howard Russell, touring the United States for the London Times, observed that the Confederate elite “believe themselves, in fact, to be masters of the destiny of the world.” But they soon discovered they were not even masters of their own homes. (Would that one day soon, our own American Elites too find themselves realizing how smart they ain't, and how little power they have over anything except America's ability to make the lives of every day working people around the world MISERABLE)

JUNE 1, 2012, 9:00 PM

‘Our Servants Do Pretty Much as They Please’

Disunion follows the Civil War as it unfolded.
Touring the United States for the London Times, the war correspondent William Howard Russell reached New Orleans late in May 1861 to find a city ablaze. Confederate flags flew from the public buildings and private homes. Soldiers paraded through the streets in smart columns of dash and pomp. Gentlemen at the St. Charles Hotel pored over the latest papers for news of the dawning war. The police were rounding up suspected abolitionists, and every night mysterious fires flared up around the city – set, it was rumored, by the slaves.
After hobnobbing with politicians, planters and merchants, Russell observed that the Confederate elite “believe themselves, in fact, to be masters of the destiny of the world.” But they soon discovered they were not even masters of their own homes.
New Orleans was a slave city: its fortunes depended on the slave-based sugar and cotton plantations of the lower Mississippi Valley, and the buying and selling of people was a big local business. More than 13,000 enslaved people (1 out of every 12 residents) lived in the city itself in 1860, working as stevedores, carpenters, valets, cooks and laundresses. Some were hired out and earned wages for their owners. Women made up a majority of adult slaves, performing “domestic” labor for masters and mistresses who could be just as abusive as any whip-wielding plantation overseer.
Library of CongressA black man in New Orleans, ca. 1863
Yet daily routines took household slaves out to the city streets and shops, gave them the chance to socialize with friends and family and find refuge in hideaways outside their masters’ gaze. Their skills as laborers, and their networks of kinship and community, would aid them when the Union Army arrived in May 1862, barely a year after the war began.
The Union “occupation” of New Orleans was also a liberation, if that is the appropriate word to describe the gnarled process of emancipation that took place there. Freedom did not arrive on board David Farragut’s warships; the Union had not yet committed to a policy of emancipation. Nor did it arrive with the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863, which exempted the city and other territory once part of the Confederacy but no longer “in rebellion.” And yet slavery began to crumble in New Orleans from the moment Union troops arrived. The letters and diaries of Confederates in New Orleans in the weeks and months after the Federals arrived were already filling with despair and rage at the loss of authority over their slaves. What was going on?
We tend to look back at emancipation as a series of official acts. But in many places, including New Orleans, it was the result of local initiative as much as Union policy. In occupied New Orleans, slaves quickly recognized that the balance of power had shifted away from their owners, and they took advantage.
Many slaves, for example, ran away to the Union Army. Hundreds fled to Camp Parapet, a fortification just above the city, where the abolitionist commanding officer, Brig. Gen. John W. Phelps, welcomed them. Even those who were thought to be most loyal to their owners ran off. “There are many instances in which house-servants, those who have been raised by people, have deserted them,” complained Clara Solomon, a teenager in the city.
Slaveowners felt robbed by the Federals and betrayed by their slaves. Owners claiming to be loyal to the Union petitioned for the return of their human property, sparking a controversy on “the negro question” between Phelps and Gen. Benjamin Butler, commander of the Department of the Gulf. The hard-nosed Butler was famous for his ingenious policy of confiscating slaves as “contrabands of war” in Virginia, but he did not want to wreck Louisiana’s sugar plantations or alienate white Unionists. He thought that Phelps had crossed the line by fomenting slave unrest. “We shall have a negro insurrection here I fancy,” Butler confided to his wife.
Butler and Phelps clashed, too, over Phelps’s arming of black soldiers at Camp Parapet. Phelps resigned, but Butler eventually came around to the wisdom of the policy. By the end of 1862, black men – both free and slave – were joining the Union Army in southern Louisiana in droves. When asked whether slaves would fight their masters, one man told a Union officer, “Just put the gun into our hands, and you’ll soon see that we not only know how to shoot, but who to shoot.” The recruitment of black soldiers ate away at slavery, especially in Louisiana, which was credited with supplying over 24,000 black men to the Union Army, more than any other state.
Less well known are the contributions of enslaved women to the hastening of emancipation. Barred from battle, enslaved women fought daily skirmishes with masters and mistresses in their own kitchens and courtyards. They talked back. They refused to be beaten. They ran away, and returned with bayonets. “Our servants do pretty much as they please,” protested Ann Wilkinson Penrose, whose son was off fighting in the Confederate Army. Penrose’s torrential diary chronicles her family’s loosening grip on their slaves after the arrival of the Union Army and offers a striking example of what the historian Thavolia Glymph calls “the war within” slaveholding households.
Explore multimedia from the series and navigate through past posts, as well as photos and articles from the Times archive.
Simmering resentments boiled over on April 14, 1863. Penrose was angry at Becky, her cook, for baking bad bread and cakes. She went into the kitchen, slapped Becky, and “asked her how she dared to send in such bread & cakes.” Becky took offense. “She started up, looked furiously at me, and exclaimed, ‘don’t you do that again, let it be the last time, or I’ll just march out of this yard’” Becky was told to hush or else a policeman would be called in. As Penrose recounts, Becky retorted that “she might send for whom she pleased she didn’t care.”
Penrose didn’t send for a policeman; her family decided it wouldn’t have done any good. The police were now on the slaves’ side, they believed. Becky’s defiance – and Penrose’s inability to punish her for it – signaled the demise of slavery in New Orleans. The institution crumbled in New Orleans not from a single dramatic blow or stroke of a pen, but from the slow accumulation of resistance by slaves like Becky.
The law eventually caught up with the facts on the ground. Early in 1864, Union Gen. Nathaniel Banks (who had replaced Butler as commander of the Department of the Gulf) recognized that Louisiana’s state constitutional provisions and laws concerning slavery were “inconsistent with the present condition of public affairs” and declared them “inoperable and void.”
Finally, in September 1864, more than two years after the arrival of Union troops, Louisiana’s all-white electorate ratified a new State Constitution that formally abolished slavery in the state. Heartened by the summer’s debates over emancipation, one black soldier predicted that “under God, this will yet be a pleasant land for the colored man to dwell in.”
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Sources: Sources: William Howard Russell, “My Diary North and South,” Eugene Berwanger, ed.: John Blassingame, “Black New Orleans, 1860-1880”; Walter Johnson, “Soul By Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market”; Ira Berlin, Barbara J. Fields, Steven F. Miller, Joseph P. Reidy and Leslie S. Rowland, “Slaves No More: Three Essays on Emancipation and the Civil War”; Gerald M. Capers, “Occupied City: New Orleans Under the Federals”; Michael D. Pierson, “Mutiny at Fort Jackson: The Untold Story of the Fall of New Orleans”; “Private and Official Correspondence of Gen. Benjamin Butler”; George H. Hepworth, “Whip, Hoe, and Sword; or, The Gulf-Department in ’63”; Thavolia Glymph, “Out of the House of Bondage: The Transformation of the Plantation Household”; Ann Wilkinson Penrose Diary and Family Letters, Mss. 1169, Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, Louisiana State University Libraries; “A letter from a soldier in New Orleans,” Christian Recorder, June 19, 1864.
Adam Rothman is an associate professor of history at Georgetown University and the author of “Slave Country: American Expansion and the Origins of the Deep South.”

Protecting Many Species to Help Our Own (for it is in giving, that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned)

June 1, 2012

Protecting Many Species to Help Our Own

NEARLY 20,000 species of animals and plants around the globe are considered high risks for extinction in the wild. That’s according to the most authoritative compilation of living things at risk — the so-called Red List maintained by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
This should keep us awake at night.
By generalizing from the few groups that we know fairly well — amphibians, birds and mammals — a study in the journal Nature last year concluded that if all species listed as threatened on the Red List were lost over the coming century, and that rate of extinction continued, we would be on track to lose three-quarters or more of all species within a few centuries.
We know from the fossil record that such rapid loss of so many species has previously occurred only five times in the past 540 million years. The last mass extinction, around 65 million years ago, wiped out the dinosaurs.
The Red List provides just a tiny insight into the true number of species in trouble. The vast majority of living things that share our planet remain undiscovered or have been so poorly studied that we have no idea whether their populations are healthy, or approaching their demise. Less than 4 percent of the roughly 1.7 million species known to exist have been evaluated. And for every known species, there are most likely at least two others — possibly many more — that have not yet been discovered, classified and given a formal name by scientists. Just recently, for instance, a new species of leopard frog was found in ponds and marshes in New York City. So we have no idea how many undiscovered species are poised on the precipice or were already lost.
It is often forgotten how dependent we are on other species. Ecosystems of multiple species that interact with one another and their physical environments are essential for human societies.
These systems provide food, fresh water and the raw materials for construction and fuel; they regulate climate and air quality; buffer against natural hazards like floods and storms; maintain soil fertility; and pollinate crops. The genetic diversity of the planet’s myriad different life-forms provides the raw ingredients for new medicines and new commercial crops and livestock, including those that are better suited to conditions under a changed climate.
This is why a proposed effort by the I.U.C.N. to compile a Red List of endangered ecosystems is so important. The list will comprise communities of species that occur at a particular place — say, Long Island’s Pine Barrens or the Cape Flats Sand Fynbos in South Africa. This new Red List for ecosystems will be crucial not only for protecting particular species but also for safeguarding the enormous benefits we receive from whole ecosystems.
Another important step was the recent creation of a new Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. The organization, created under the auspices of the United Nations, will provide the scientific background for international policy negotiations affecting biodiversity.
Do we need to protect so many species? Or can we rely on ecosystems with a depleted number of parts? Recent results from a study of grassland ecosystems shed important new light on these questions. Seventeen grasslands with different numbers of species were created and then studied over many years. The analysis, published in Nature last fall, showed that more than 80 percent of the plant species contributed to the effective functioning of the ecosystems, causing, for instance, a greater buildup of nutrients in soils.
Another study, published in Science in January, showed that more species allow for better functioning in arid ecosystems, which support nearly 40 percent of the world’s human population. The bottom line is that many species are needed to maintain healthy ecosystems, and this is especially the case in a rapidly changing world, because species take on new roles as conditions change.
Benefits provided by ecosystems are vastly undervalued. Take pollination of crops as an example: according to a major United Nations report on the Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity, the total economic value of pollination by insects worldwide was in the ballpark of $200 billion in 2005. More generally, efforts to tally the global monetary worth of the many different benefits provided by ecosystems come up with astronomically high numbers, measured in tens of trillions of dollars.
These ecosystem services are commonly considered “public goods” — available to everyone for free. But this is a fundamental failure of economics because neither the fragility nor the finiteness of natural systems is recognized. We need markets that put a realistic value on nature, and we need effective environmental legislation that protects entire ecosystems.
scientist at the American Museum of Natural History and the author of “Driven to Extinction: The Impact of Climate Change on Biodiversity.”

Gaydar (colloquially refers to the ability to accurately glean others’ sexual orientation from mere observation) is indeed real. Iits accuracy is driven by sensitivity to individual facial features as well as the spatial relationships among facial features. So, see, all this money the U.S. is shipping to Israel for facial recognition software to detect the faces of terrorists is being very well spent, n'est ce que pas?


The Science of ‘Gaydar’

Other Means

“GAYDAR” colloquially refers to the ability to accurately glean others’ sexual orientation from mere observation. But does gaydar really exist? If so, how does it work?
Our research, published recently in the peer-reviewed journal PLoS ONE, shows that gaydar is indeed real and that its accuracy is driven by sensitivity to individual facial features as well as the spatial relationships among facial features.
We conducted experiments in which participants viewed facial photographs of men and women and then categorized each face as gay or straight. The photographs were seen very briefly, for 50 milliseconds, which was long enough for participants to know they’d seen a face, but probably not long enough to feel they knew much more. In addition, the photos were mostly devoid of cultural cues: hairstyles were digitally removed, and no faces had makeup, piercings, eyeglasses or tattoos.
Even when viewing such bare faces so briefly, participants demonstrated an ability to identify sexual orientation: overall, gaydar judgments were about 60 percent accurate.
Since chance guessing would yield 50 percent accuracy, 60 percent might not seem impressive. But the effect is statistically significant — several times above the margin of error. Furthermore, the effect has been highly replicable: we ourselves have consistently discovered such effects in more than a dozen experiments, and our gaydar research was inspired by the work of the social psychologist Nicholas Rule, who has published on the gaydar phenomenon numerous times in the past few years.
We reported two such experiments in PLoS ONE, both of which yielded novel findings. In one experiment, we found above-chance gaydar accuracy even when the faces were presented upside down. Accuracy increased, however, when the faces were presented right side up.
What can we make of this peculiar discovery? It’s widely accepted in cognitive science that when viewing faces right side up, we process them in two different ways: we engage infeatural face processing (registering individual facial features like an eye or lip) as well as configural face processing (registering spatial relationships among facial features, like the distance between the eyes or the facial width-to-height ratio). When we view faces upside down, however, we engage primarily in featural face processing; configural face processing is strongly disrupted.
Thus our finding clarifies how people distinguish between gay and straight faces. Research by Professor Rule and his colleagues has implicated certain areas of the face (like the mouth area) in gaydar judgments. Our discovery — that accuracy was substantially greater for right side up faces than for upside-down faces — indicates that configural face processing contributes to gaydar accuracy. Specific facial features will not tell the whole story. Differences in spatial relationships among facial features matter, too.
Consider, for example, facial width-to-height ratio. This is a configural physical feature that differs between men and women (men have a larger ratio) and reflects testosterone release during adolescence in males. Given that stereotypes of gender atypicality — gay men as relatively feminine and gay women as relatively masculine — play a role in how people judge others’ sexual orientation, our finding suggests that cues like facial width-to-height ratio may contribute to gaydar judgments.
Another novel finding: in both experiments, participants were more accurate at judging women’s sexual orientation (64 percent) than at judging men’s (57 percent). Lower gaydar accuracy for men’s faces was explained by a difference in “false alarms”: participants were more likely to incorrectly categorize a straight man as gay than to incorrectly categorize a straight woman as gay.
Why might “false alarm” errors be more common when judging men’s sexual orientation? We speculate that people overzealously interpret whatever facial factors lead us to classify men as gay. That is, it may be that straight men’s faces that are perceived as even slightly effeminate are incorrectly classified as gay, whereas straight women’s faces that are perceived as slightly masculine may still be seen as straight. That would be consistent with how our society applies gender norms to men: very strictly. (Decades of research has established that, at least in our culture, it is considered much more problematic for a boy to play with Barbie dolls than for a girl to play rough-and-tumble sports.)
We know that gaydar research may elicit discomfort. To some, the idea that it’s possible to perceive others’ sexual orientation from observation alone seems to imply prejudice, as if having gaydar makes you homophobic. We disagree: adults with normal perceptual abilities can differentiate the faces of men and women, and of black and white people, but such abilities do not make us sexist or racist.
Though gaydar may not be driven by homophobia, it is relevant to discrimination policy. One of the arguments against nondiscrimination protection for lesbian, gay and bisexual people is that if sexual minorities concealed their identities — à la “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” — discrimination would not be possible. We believe that such policies are unfair. But fairness aside, scientific experiments like ours indicate that such policies are also ineffective: discrimination against sexual minorities would not be eliminated by nondisclosure of sexual orientation, since sexual identity can be detected through appearance alone.
Should you trust your gaydar in everyday life? Probably not. In our experiments, average gaydar judgment accuracy was only in the 60 percent range. This demonstrates gaydar ability — which is far from judgment proficiency.
But is gaydar real? Absolutely.
Joshua A. Tabak is a doctoral candidate in social and personality psychology at the University of Washington. Vivian Zayas is an assistant professor of psychology at Cornell University.

I know, I'm not Roman Catholic, but, sometimes I think that church's hierarchy is literally nuts, and living in a time when the Pope, did, in fact, rule the Western World: Catholic laity immediately and rightly decried the attack as an insult to the high professionalism of the sisters and the vital importance of their good works.

June 1, 2012

When in Rome, Speak Up for Reality

The nation’s Roman Catholic nuns are pushing back against the Vatican’s unjustified attack on their fidelity. The president and the executive director of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which represents about 80 percent of the nation’s 57,000 nuns, intend to go to Rome and fully rebut the accusations that the group has “serious doctrinal problems” and a tendency toward “radical feminist themes.”
Catholic laity immediately and rightly decried the attack as an insult to the high professionalism of the sisters and the vital importance of their good works. To many, the Vatican’s decision to appoint three American bishops to oversee and remake the conference seemed to be retaliation for the group’s endorsement of President Obama’s health care reform. The nation’s bishops were opposed.
It’s heartening that after six weeks of official silence and spirited discussion in the ranks of the sisterhood, the leadership conference is finally speaking out in its own defense. On Friday, the national board said the Vatican’s assessment of its works was based on “unsubstantiated accusations” and a “flawed” review process.
This is obvious to anyone familiar with the sisters’ record of charitable, educational, health and social services work that has also been a badly needed bulwark for the church through the worst years of the child-abuse scandal by rogue priests.
The nuns are asking for nothing more than the opportunity to confer with Vatican officials and “speak the truth as we understand it about our lives,” as Sister Pat Farrell, the leadership conference’s president, aptly explained.
Raising the cry of “radical feminism” seems a particularly dated canard to anyone familiar with the nuns’ actual life and role in the nation. No one is denying their holy vows or demanding the overthrow of the male hierarchy at the Vatican. They are asking basic, nonheretical questions about gender equality in the church.
The same questions are being pressed by the laity, who have been busy organizing nationwide rallies and petitions to defend the sisters they truly know and value.

Around the world, some 42.5 million vulnerable people were forcibly out of their homes and on the move in 2011, according to the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. (Don't want to live like a regufee)

June 1, 2012

Set, and Left, Adrift

Around the world, some 42.5 million vulnerable people were forcibly out of their homes and on the move in 2011, according to the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
There are growing concerns that those numbers will get even worse in the face of armed conflicts and political violence that are increasingly exacerbated by climate change, population growth, rising food prices, natural disasters and struggles for scarce resources.
According to António Guterres, the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, Africa and Asia are the most vulnerable regions. But new crises are appearing unpredictably — in the past year, thousands have been driven from their homes in Syria, Sudan, Mali, Yemen and Côte D’Ivoire — and will continue to grow.
Since 2005, the agency’s caseload has expanded — from about 24 million, mostly internally displaced persons and refugees, to roughly 37 million at the end of 2010.
Today’s environment is also more chaotic. Instead of negotiating with governments for humanitarian access, the agency often must deal with multiple actors, including warlords and rebels and breakaway regions, even less subject to international pressure, law or shaming. The risk for aid workers and the displaced has increased.
There is also a crisis of political will. The international community, preoccupied with financial and domestic crises, has been less willing to help — whether with money or diplomacy or offers of asylum. Take the 7.2 million refugees considered to be in “protracted exile,” meaning they may never go home again. The report said that everybody involved — host countries, countries of origin and donors — “seem less able to work together to find solutions.”
There are no easy answers, but certain strategies stand out. In 2010, 94 percent of all resettled refugees went to just four countries: Australia, Canada, Sweden and the United States, which takes more than any other country. Surely there are scores of others that can also open their doors. Better systems for predicting crises and quickly responding to natural and man-made disasters would also help. As ever, the best solution is for the world to do a better job of pre-empting conflicts in the first place.

I see other things coming even sooner, caused by the same ruling elite’s insatiable greed and lust for power, and by the same political system’s actions in support of their goals.

Hot, Repressive and Locked in an Internet War

A Grim Vision of America’s and the World’s Future

My wife and I live on a 2.3-acre plot of forested land in a pre-Revolutionary house with a run-down old barn. When we first moved here, there was a rather large set of grassy areas, one in front of the house, another behind the kitchen, a large field in the back, behind the barn, a smaller lawn in front of the barn, and a hidden glen, as well as an island of grass in the middle of a circular gravel driveway.
It used to take me all day to mow all that grass, but over the years, because of my workload, particularly several books that were very time-consuming both to write and to promote, and the challenge of raising two kids, I allowed nature to reclaim much of it. Now I can mow what’s left in two hours. The glen is filled with brush, and the other lawns have shrunken dramatically as the forest has encroached in on them from all directions.
Now suddenly, I have to at least temporarily push back this march of nature, because my daughter’s getting married and she and her boyfriend have decided they’d like to have their secular jewish/hindu wedding at our place. This means that besides making the place look less derelect, I need to enlarge the big lawn out back to a size that could hold a large tent, in the event of rain, capable of accomodating 80-plus guests.
I have been struck as I set to work today by the astonishing amount of new growth that there has been this year already. Leaves on plants like the ubiquitous poison ivy and chokeberries are huge, and the asiatic bittersweet is growing so fast you can actually see its tendrils advancing out into the air as you watch them in the sun. Something frightening is clearly happening. Plants didn’t grow at this prodigious pace when we first moved here. That something, of course, is the increased CO₂ in the atmosphere, now approaching 400 ppm, a level not seen on earth in nearly a million years.
Now, I’m not normally a guy given to apocalyptic visions, but as I was hacking away at the jungle-like growth that has overtaken the remaining open spaces on our property, I can see clearly that the greed of our capitalist elite, the subservient inaction of our political class, and the shortsightedness and wilfull ignorance of the general population have pushed this planet of ours past its abilty to recover. We are now entering an era of runaway heating of the planet and these plants are the harbingers of what is to come. There will be rapid growth of plant life for a time, but before too long, the seas will rise high enough to make a reef of my stone house, despite its being twenty miles from Chesapeake Bay and searing heat and drought conditions will destroy most of the new greenery.
The Lindorff barn.
I’m not going to catalogue of all the catastrophes that are in store for us as the self-correcting mechanisms of Gaia turn instead into self-reinforcing trends, as when the rapid warming of the arctic, already underway, starts releasing huge quantities of the super heat-trapping methane gas long trapped in the permafrost. Suffice to say that my eyes have been opened by my yard work, and I can see it all coming.
But I see other things coming even sooner, caused by the same ruling elite’s insatiable greed and lust for power, and by the same political system’s actions in support of their goals.
First there is the accelerating march towards a police state, which began in earnest during the first year of the Bush/Cheney administration with the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the passage of the cynically named USA PATRIOT Act, and the launching of the so-called War on Terror, but which has been carried forward to a place I could never have imagined by Bush’s successor, Barack Obama. Today, police in America ride around with fully automatic M-16s in their squadcars, routinely taser people, including children, the elderly and the disabled, for minor offenses, and when confronted with a peaceful and permitted political demonstration, respond in full military SWAT gear, complete with guns, pepper spray, clubs, tear gas, and undercover agents who deliberately try to incite violence.
Just yesterday, long-time Latino activist Carlos Montes, 64, was arrested in Los Angeles during a joint LAPD/FBI SWAT-team midnight raid on his house. The charge: possessing illegal weapons. But Montes possessed only licensed guns in his home. The catch was, the FBI, which was clearly after Montes, a retired Xerox salesman, for political reasons, conveniently told local police that he was not allowed to register firearms because of a (get this!) 1969 felony conviction for allegedly throwing a coke can at a cop (Montes says he never threw such a can). Note that the police knew all about that conviction when Montes first registered his guns. He has not been in trouble with the law since then. Clearly he could have simply been informed that his gun registrations were invalid, and the guns had to be turned in. Why Montes, who has remained politically active and a critic of the government, was really arrested in this Gestapo-like manner became clear when an FBI agent hopped in the car with him right after he was picked up, and said, “I am from the FBI and I want to talk to you about the Freedom Road Socialist Organisation.” Montes is now facing a possible 22 years in jail for possessing legally registered guns that the LAPD has known for years that he had in his home, and that nobody ever cared about before. (I had to learn about this from the British newspaper the Guardian. The corporate media in America have covered up this outrageous political bust.)
America today is crawling with secret police–local, state and federal. They’re all connected too, through 72 so-called Fusion Centers that receive federal funds, but remain insulated from any kind of public oversight. Our phones and our internet communications are monitored automatically by National Security Agency super-computers that look for key words like “airport, exercise, flu, blizzard, bridge, or fundamentalism,” any of which prompt closer attention to what we are saying or writing.
Meanwhile, the president has claimed the right to detain–in secret, without charge–any American he deems to be a threat, and to hold such people indefinitely, without any recourse to lawyer or trial. He is even claiming the right to execute such captives. So much for the Fourth Amendment, as well as the First, Second, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and Eighth!
While I don’t think we live in a police state yet (having lived in China for two years, and visited there as a journalist over four other years, I know what a real one looks and feels like), but all the elements for one have been put in place and await only the throwing of a switch.
In the vision I clearly have, I feel strongly that someone, whether Obama or Romney, or whoever follows him, will throw that switch. When power is available to political leaders, they inevitably avail themselves of it. It’s just a question of time.
But there is another vision I have too. It has to do with America’s increasing international lawlessness and bellicosity.  As the nation turns increasingly to technology for its aggressive purposes, through the use of armed robotic drones, and through internet attacks on purported “enemies,” it not only opens the door to others to do the same to us; it virtually assures that we will be attacked ourselves in like manner to what we are doing.
It was one thing to be the world’s superpower when being a superpower meant having the biggest ICBMs and the most nuclear warheads — weapons that required an enormous military budget and a massive industrial base. Drone technology and internet “weapons” are something else altogether. As Israel has demonstrated with its Stuxnet virus, a very small nation can easily construct a weapon of tremendous destructive power.  Iran demonstrated its own capability in that area by using computer savvy to take control of a sophisticated US surveillance drone flying over its airspace, actually stealing it electronically, landing it, and now, apparently, back-engineering it. And remotely-piloted drones are not particularly complex technologically. Basic ones can be purchased off the shelf in any hobby shop.
How long will it be before foreign predator drones begin flying over US airspace, taking out targets without leaving any clue as to who was the attacker?  How long before other countries begin destroying American power systems, industrial sites or military command centers using internet-based computer viruses?
This is a game that many people can play, and I predict that it will not be long before we Americans will rue the day this country began playing it.
Meanwhile, I’m clearing out my lawns for a wedding. If the FBI or some hyper-ventillating local red-squad cops want to monitor my actions, they can fly a spy drone over my hoouse and check it out, of they can come on by with a weed whacker or some brush clippers, and offer to help.
Dave Lindorff is a founder of This Can’t Be Happening and a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. Hopeless is also available in a Kindle edition. He lives in Philadelphia. 

Intelligence agencies throughout the world could save a lot of money by simply interviewing taxi drivers.

Top Secret? Ask a Romanian Cab Driver
Those CIA Prisons
Ajijic, Jalisco, Mexico.

Intelligence agencies throughout the world could save a lot of money by simply interviewing taxi drivers. They know the secrets of their cities and countries. Somehow, they know the truth whether or not it has been officially denied or acknowledged by their governments. There was some news this week about secret CIA prisons in Eastern Europe and that reminded me of a taxi driver I met six years ago.
I was planning my first trip to Romania to attend a wedding in Bucharest in January 2006. A couple of months before my trip, I set up a Google News alert to send me links whenever Romania was mentioned in an English language news story. I wasn’t looking for anything in particular, but rather I just wanted to get a sense of current events in Romania.

Included in the Google News links were some reports that the CIA had a super-secret interrogation site for Iraqi and Afghan prisoners near the Black Sea city of Constanta in Romania. There were firm denials, of course, from both the Romanian and American governments that such a place existed, or ever did.

I had almost forgotten these news items. I had read the articles about the secret American base in Romania, but I was not particularly interested. (I’m still trying to
figure out the Kennedy assassination, so I don’t need another grand global mystery.)

I was living in France at the time. I flew from Nice to Bucharest on Lufthansa, changing planes in Munich. Glancing at the passports of other passengers going through Romanian immigration, I was the only American on the flight.

As I left the terminal, a taxi driver asked me in German if I wanted a taxi. “Ich spreche kein Deutsch,” I said. I don’t speak German. He could tell by my awful accent that I spoke English and he correctly assumed that I was an American.

Then, switching to English, the taxi driver surprised me. He offered to drive me to Constanta, about a two-hour trip. “Straight to base. Fixed price. But you tell me how much to write on receipt. You take tall Russian blonde, if you like. Nice girl. Medical student.” With a conspiratorial grin, he added, “Girl not on receipt.”

I explained that I was not going to Constanta and I did not want to meet the tall Russian blonde. We agreed on a fare to the center of Bucharest.

Constanta was where the rumored secret prison was located. Super secret. Mainstream U.S. media had mostly ignored reports of these “black sites”, secret prisons. In the European media and American alternative news websites, there was sketchy coverage about “rendition” of terrorist prisoners being held at secret CIA prisons in Eastern Europe. (By the way, what government public relations genius came up with using the word “rendition” for moving prisoners to secret prisons?)

So, I was amazed that this Romanian taxi driver not only knew of this supposedly top secret American base, but he assumed that I, as an American, must be going there. Plus, he knew enough about American expense reporting procedures to suggest that the receipt for the trip could be padded with extras, such as a nice Russian medical student.

Was my experience just an isolated incident? Do taxi drivers really know the location of secret U.S. facilities? Are U.S. government employees and contractors always completely honest when filing expense reports? Have you and I, fellow American taxpayers, ever paid for the company of a nice Russian medical student? Of course, I could guess, but I don’t really have answers to these questions.

I was also reminded of my trip to Bucharest with the recent events surrounding the Secret Service and some hookers in Venezuela. Just how stupid can a government employee be to argue with a prostitute in a foreign country while on official business to protect the President of the United States? The last I read was that the director of the Secret Service ordered a full investigation, which means that the paperwork will be shuffled from desk to desk until the incident is forgotten. If you want to know the truth of what happened in Caracas, my bet is that you could ask a taxi driver.

Maybe President Obama should put a taxi driver on retainer. Just this week, President Obama offended the entire country of Poland, plus millions of Polish-Americans, by referring to “Polish death camps”, as opposed to Nazi death camps in German-occupied Poland. Poles consider that a blood libel. I am certain that if Obama had checked his speech with any taxi driver in Poland, the offense could have been avoided.

The timing of the “Polish death camps” gaffe this week is made worse by the news that the CIA had a secret prison in Poland. Zbigniew Siemiatkowski, the former head of Poland’s intelligence service, is accused of helping build a secret prison for the CIA in a remote area of Poland. It is alleged that foreign prisoners in the prison were tortured in connection with America’s global war on terror.

As in Romania and elsewhere in Eastern Europe, rumors have been floating around Poland for years about a secret prison, though denied by the highest authorities. An official investigation into a CIA-run prison in Poland started in 2008, a year after Prime Minister Donald Tusk took office.

It looks like President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton have some work to do in regaining trust in Poland. I suggest a good start would be going to Warsaw and having a beer with a taxi driver.

Ken Smith, a semi-retired American, has lived in Mexico for the past five years, after four years in France, a year in Denmark, and another year bouncing around Europe. Ken is planning to leave Mexico, but he doesn’t yet know his next stop. Some place affordable and peaceful. Croatia? Vietnam? Portugal? Chile? His blog, “Leaving America,” is at http://kvsmith.comKen managed the website for his friend, Joe Bageant, who died a year ago. Two months ago, a collection of Joe’s online essays was published, titled Waltzing at the Doomsday Ball: The Best of Joe Bageant, for which Ken wrote an introduction and short biography of Joe. This introduction was published here on CounterPunch.

The death penalty is a fact of life in the United States. Despite the actions of many well-intentioned people, these premeditated murders continue to take place at a shameful pace.

Giving Faces to the Faceless
The Limbo of Death Row

The death penalty is a fact of life in the United States.  Despite the actions of many well-intentioned people, these premeditated murders continue to take place at a  shameful pace.  The fact that the death penalty does exist has brought many young people to question the morality of a system that supports and even champions execution.  Unlike the other form of murder carried out by the state–war–the death penalty is harder to rationalize for many people.  The act of intentionally putting an innocent human to death; the fact that life imprisonment is a worse punishment to many; the applied racism of the death penalty’s assignments; and the sheer pointlessness of execution by the state has caused many a thoughtful person to come out in opposition.

Those who are condemned to die in the United States wait out their time in parts of certain prisons.  Those places are commonly known as death row.  Occasionally, these unremembered places are the subject of books and movies.  Sometimes, they are also the focus of the infrequent sociological survey.  While the latter surveys do fairly well at creating statistics and prognostications, it is the fictional renderings that do better in evoking the life in these prison tiers of gates and concrete.  The despair and dashed hopes; the regret and the lack thereof; even the infrequent joy and laughter.

An exception to the factual/fictional disparity can be found in the recently published book from Bruce Jackson and Diane Christian.  Back in 1979 Jackson took his camera into Ellis Prison in Texas and photographed men living on death row there.  These photos were an adjunct to a documentary film he and Christian would release in the early 1980s.  The film features interviews, commentary and reflections of the inmates and the filmmakers.  The book, titled In This Timeless Time: Living & Dying on Death Row in Americaalthough just published, is also part of that documentary effort.  It is a fitting coda.

Designed something akin to a coffee table book, In This Timeless Time is made up of three parts.  The first part includes a selection of the aforementioned photographs.  The photos are accompanied by text.  Some of that text is narrative describing the physical setup of the part of the prison where death row is located.  Other bits describe the interior of certain prisoner’s cells and the prisoners. Still other text describes the prisoners’ limited lives while still other text includes the words of the prisoners themselves.  The life and surroundings described can be summed up in the words of prisoner Excell White when he talks about his introduction to the row: “The gloom, “he tells the writers,” wasn’t anything but emptiness

The second part of the text is titled “Words.”  That is what it is.  Words from the prisoners talking about the other prisoners.  Words from the writers about the prisoners and their particular cases.  Words describing the legal limbo of a death row when nobody is being killed (the book was begun during the period following the Supreme Court’s suspension of the death penalty in their decision on Furman vs. Georgia), and when executions are taking place.  Last but not least are the words the authors use when writing their impressions of individual prisoners or about the Row itself.

The authors’ description of their work on the Row concludes the book.  Gaining the trust of the prisoners and fending off the uneasiness of the guards are two of the dilemmas described by the authors.  Overcoming their own fears of being alone with potentially psychotic murderers is another.  Less wrenching but interesting nonetheless is the authors’ description of how they made the movie: funding, legalities and the like.  The grand finale is the showing of the film to the inmates.  Jackson and Christian admit their fears of the prisoners’ reactions.  Indeed, this was present in their minds during much of the process.
There is no way that a subject like death row can be presented with beauty. It is one of the ugliest of humanity’s activities.  The inmates are not the most beautiful humans and their crimes are ugly.  Yet, they too are human.  The authors tell of a man on the Row named Arturo Aranda.  Aranda is well-inked.  In other words, he has lots of tattoos.  The last tattoo he was getting before he went to prison was of the Lady of Guadalupe.  Because he was arrested for murder, the tattoo is without a face.  This image serves as a perfect metaphor for the denizens of death row; for the most part they remain faceless.  Jackson and Christian’s book gives some of those men a face.  Therein lies its beauty.