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People ‘still willing to torture’ December 19, 2008

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BBC News, December 19, 2008

Decades after a notorious experiment, scientists have found test subjects are still willing to inflict pain on others – if told to by an authority figure.

US researchers repeated the famous “Milgram test”, with volunteers told to deliver electrical shocks to another volunteer – played by an actor.

Even after faked screams of pain, 70% were prepared to increase the voltage, the American Psychology study found.

Both may help explain why apparently ordinary people can commit atrocities.

It’s not that these people are simply not good people any more – there is a massive social influence going on.
Dr Abigal San
clinical psychologist

Yale University professor Stanley Milgram’s work, published in 1963, recruited volunteers to help carry out a medical experiment, with none aware that they were actually the subject of the test.

A “scientist” instructed them to deliver a shock every time the actor answered a question wrongly.

When the pretend 150-volt shock was delivered, the actor could be heard screaming in pain, and yet, when asked to, more than eight out of ten volunteers were prepared to give further shocks, even when the “voltage” was gradually increased threefold.

Some volunteers even carried on giving 450-volt shocks even when there was no further response from the actor, suggesting he was either unconscious or dead.

Similar format

Dr Jerry Burger, of Santa Clara University, used a similar format, although he did not allow the volunteers to carry on beyond 150 volts after they had shown their willingness to do so, suggesting that the distress caused to the original volunteers had been too great.

 

HAVE YOUR SAY

Until humans value the lives of others equal to their own, this will unfortunately continue to be the case

Louise, Lincoln, UK

Again, however, the vast majority of the 29 men and 41 women taking part were willing to push the button knowing it would cause pain to another human.

Even when another actor entered the room and questioned what was happening, most were still prepared to continue.

He told Reuters: “What we found is validation of the same argument – if you put people in certain situations, they will act in surprising and maybe often even disturbing ways.”

He said that it was not that there was “something wrong” with the volunteers, but that when placed under pressure, people will often do “unsettling” things.

Even though it was difficult to translate laboratory work to the real world, he said, it might partly explain why, in times of conflict, people could take part in genocide.

Complex task

Dr Abigail San, a chartered clinical psychologist, has recently replicated the experiment for a soon-to-be-aired BBC documentary – all the way up to the 450-volt mark, again finding a similar outcome to Professor Milgram.

“It’s not that these people are simply not good people any more – there is a massive social influence going on.”

She said that the volunteers were being asked to carry out a complex task in aid of scientific research, and became entirely focused on it, with “little room” left for considering the plight of the person receiving the shock.

“They tend to identify massively with the ‘experimenter’, and become very engaged and distracted by the research.

“There’s no opportunity for them to say ‘What’s my moral stand on this?’”

The Shoe Heard Round the World December 17, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Humor, Iraq and Afghanistan.
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Published: December 16, 2008
New York Times

Hitting someone with a shoe is considered the supreme insult in Iraq. It means that the target is even lower than the shoe, which is always on the ground and dirty.

— The Times, Dec. 15

 

IN France, of course, it’s a waffle. Throw a waffle at someone and you have said, in essence: “I loathe you. You are scum. Your people are donkey traders.” It suggests that the target is even lower than a waffle, which is sometimes on the ground if it happens to fall off a plate, and the ground could be dirty, depending upon the ground.

Who’s to say why, exactly? Some say the waffle’s association with Belgium is enough to disgust any Frenchman. Others suggest it is its annoyingly spongy consistency. Still others say it’s the derivation of the word — “le waffle” in French, from the Flemish “wafflintis” and originally the Latin “wafflibus,” all of which translate, loosely, to “waffle.”

For scholars of insults, what comes to mind almost immediately after a high-profile insulting incident is the central African nation of Chad, where hitting someone with a pair of pants is the highest form of insult. It means that the target is lower than pants, the hem of which, while not on the ground, is often near the ground and, again, unclean. The only problem with this form of insult is that the thrower then has to retrieve the pants, as he or she had been wearing them.

For many years people threw shorts, but almost no one was offended, as the hem of shorts is a great distance from the ground. “We’re working on new forms of insult, as well as changing our country’s name, which, strangely, is a common first name in California,” said a Chadian cultural attaché. “We need to be taken more seriously.”

In the former Soviet Union it is not uncommon, especially among the savage Russian mafia, to throw a 68-ton American-made Abrams M1A1 tank. It means that the target is even lower than a tank, whose treads are always on the ground, unless they’re not for some reason — say, repairs or what-have-you. In fairness, though, the throwing of tanks appears to be happening with less frequency, due to the near impossibility of surprise, especially at indoor events.

In Peru, meanwhile, people throw their voices as a form of insult. While not technically near the ground, a voice suggests “sound” and “sound” rhymes with “ground,” the ground being low and possibly unclean, depending upon where, exactly, you’re standing.

Peruvians say that throwing your voice is the ultimate insult because the intended victim doesn’t know where it came from. It is not uncommon to hear someone say, “Who said that?!” on the streets of Lima after a particularly cutting remark. The danger, of course, is insulting someone by trying to throw your voice, but doing it poorly and instead moving your lips. The intended victim knows immediately where it came from.

And what of tiny Bhutan, snug between Tibet in the north and India to the south? In this mysterious Buddhist country, perhaps the only one in the world that measures its Gross National Happiness, people throw brightly colored tissue paper, so as not to hurt anyone. The paper falls harmlessly to the ground — a symbol of both lowness and dirt — and the thrower quickly picks it up, disposes of it, and then apologizes profusely.

John Kenney is a writer.

Murky past could haunt Ignatieff December 11, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Human Rights, Iraq and Afghanistan.
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Toronto Star, December 11, 2008

Set aside the debate over whether the Liberal party has been as cynical and undemocratic in the pursuit of power as King Stephen (Harper) or just agile enough to respond well to the extraordinary developments of the last 10 days.

Ignore that Michael Ignatieff’s coronation was engineered with the same ruthless methodology used by Paul Martin – elbowing out a leader by taking control of the party machinery. Time will tell if Ignatieff’s manoeuvre works any better in the long run than Martin’s.

Rather, consider this:

While Americans have turned to Barack Obama to thoroughly repudiate George W. Bush’s agenda, Canadians are saddled with a Prime Minister and now his potential replacement as well who have both been Bush cheerleaders.

Arguably, the Liberal leader has been even more so than his Conservative counterpart.

As is well-known, Ignatieff supported the war in Iraq, a position he only semi-retreated from last year, in Year 4 of the botched occupation. Even then, he argued that he had been wrong for the right reasons (saving the Kurds from Saddam Hussein), while opponents of the war may have been right for the wrong reasons (ideological opposition to Bush).

He also supported the use of such harsh interrogation techniques on terrorism suspects as sleep deprivation and hooding, even while saying he opposed torture.

He was also an advocate for American exceptionalism in defiance of international law.

Ignatieff’s supporters argue that he was merely thinking aloud as a public intellectual.

That won’t wash. He was an active participant in the American public debate both preceding and following the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He was among those liberals – a professor of human rights at Harvard, no less – who provided intellectual cover for Bush’s neo-conservative policies.

Ignatieff’s positions were the exact opposite of where a majority of Canadians stood on issues that are a point of differentiation between Canada and the U.S.

Canadians may no longer feel as strongly, preoccupied as they are with the economy. But we can be certain that the Tories won’t let him off the hook. They will remind voters of all that he said and wrote.

We got a taste of it early this year in Parliament. On Jan. 28, during a debate on Afghanistan, Defence Minister Peter MacKay noted: “He has said previously … `To defeat evil,’ we must `traffic in evils: indefinite detention of suspects, coercive interrogations, targeted assassinations, even pre-emptive war.’”

Two days later, MacKay added that the Taliban “might also be interested to know that he said, `Defeating terror requires violence. It may also require coercion, secrecy, deception, even violation of rights.’”

This is not an ideological issue of right or left. Managing the relationship with the U.S. is one of the central duties of the prime minister. We’ve had different models – Harper’s and Jean Chrétien’s, to take two contemporary examples.

But we’ve never had a Liberal leader, let alone a prime minister, who had lived in the U.S. long enough to count himself in among “we Americans,” and worse, had been a noisy apologist for some of the worst foreign and domestic policy disasters of American history.

Ignatieff is a man of formidable intellect, who has spent a lifetime thinking through some of the knottiest issues of our age. He is well suited to articulate a liberal vision for Canada, at home and abroad, the way Pierre Elliot Trudeau did.

But he cannot do so successfully while dodging his murky past.

 

Haroon Siddiqui writes on Thursday and Sunday. hsiddiq@thestar.ca

“Remember Pearl Harbor!” December 7, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in George W. Bush, Iraq and Afghanistan, Political Commentary.
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pearl-harbor

Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941. (Photo: National Archive and Records Administration)
Sunday 07 December 2008

by: John Lamperti, t r u t h o u t | Perspective, www.truthout.org

“Pre-emptive” war, then and now.

    The name Pearl Harbor resonates in American history; it is synonymous with the U.S. entry into World War II. It stands for tragedy – and for treachery. On December 7, 1941, Japanese carrier-based aircraft attacked United States naval and air forces in the Hawaiian Islands, and scored a major victory. Over 2,300 U.S. military personnel lost their lives – almost half of them when the battleship Arizona was blown up and sunk by bombs and torpedoes. The U. S. Pacific fleet was devastated.[1] The next day President Franklin Roosevelt called for a declaration of war, and described December 7, 1941, and the Japanese attack as “a date which will live in infamy.”

    But why, exactly, was the Pearl Harbor attack “infamous”? The Japanese planes attacked strictly military targets and there were relatively few civilian casualties.[2] The battle was a terrible blow for the American forces, which were taken completely by surprise. But a surprise attack is not infamous in wartime; every military commander would like to attack by surprise if possible. Nor did the bitter facts of U.S. defeat and heavy losses make the raid criminal. President Roosevelt used the word “infamy” because the raid was an act of military aggression. Until that moment Japan and the United States were not at war, although their conflicting interests had been threatening to boil over. The attack turned a dispute into a war; Pearl Harbor was a crime because the Japanese struck first.

    Sixty years after Pearl Harbor, the administration of G. W. Bush has made “preemption” an official part of U.S. policy. According to this so-called “Bush Doctrine,” the United States claims the right to use military force whenever it determines that its security or economic interests may be threatened by another nation in the future. The Bush National Security Strategy of 2002 states that “The greater the threat, the greater is the risk of inaction – and the more compelling the case for taking anticipatory action to defend ourselves, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy’s attack. To forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States will, if necessary, act preemptively.”[3] In other words, if it is to our advantage, we will strike first – begin a war – when we see a potential threat.

    That is exactly what the Japanese did in 1941, when the United States posed a huge threat to their leaders’ conception of Japan’s national interests. With bases reaching across the Pacific, the U.S. Navy, in particular, was potentially a major obstacle to Japanese expansion in China and Southeast Asia. Moreover, the United States had imposed an embargo on oil and steel shipments to Japan, a nation that depended on imports and had oil reserves sufficient for only about two years. By November 1941, negotiations to resolve or defuse these issues had stalled. Japanese military planners, by then in control of their country’s government, saw armed conflict with the United States as inevitable, and disabling U.S. naval power in the Pacific seemed essential for achieving their goals. They judged that a high-risk, high-gain surprise attack would give Japan its best chance for success. That is, they chose preemption.

    After the war, the United States and its allies did not accept Japanese or German claims that their preemptive acts had been legitimate. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson was the chief allied prosecutor of major Axis war criminals. In August 1945 Jackson wrote: “We must make it clear to the Germans that the wrong for which their fallen leaders are on trial is not that they lost the war, but that they started it… Our position is that no grievances or policies will justify resort to aggressive war. It is utterly renounced and condemned as an instrument of policy.”[4] During the next few years, officials and military officers of both Germany and Japan were tried and convicted for planning and carrying out aggression by their countries’ armed forces. There was no exception for “preemptive war,” although some of the accused tried to use that concept in their defense.[5] The Bush administration’s doctrine thus represents a reversal of long-standing principles of international law, principles that the United States has championed in the past.

    In the years since 2002, far from reconsidering its doctrine of preemption, the Bush administration has reaffirmed and extended it. The invasion of Iraq in 2003, for example, was supposed to preempt the use by that nation of “weapons of mass destruction,”[6] weapons which did not exist and could not in any case have threatened U.S. security. Moreover, the administration’s policy now specifically includes the possible use of nuclear weapons. The new (2005) nuclear doctrine identifies four conditions in which preemptive use of nuclear weapons could occur, including “An adversary intending to use weapons of mass destruction against U.S., multinational, or allies’ forces or civilian populations.”[7] The preamble states: “The US does not make positive statements defining the circumstances under which it would use nuclear weapons.” This “calculated ambiguity” is said to “reinforce deterrence”; it is a sort of “mad dog” strategy meant to induce fear of our dangerous unpredictability. Such threats are both dangerous and immoral. Instead, there should be absolute clarity that this country will never attack another with nuclear weapons; starting a nuclear war would be an act that would truly “live in infamy.” A declared U.S. “no first use” policy is long overdue, as part of a genuine campaign for world-wide abolition.

    The Bush administration has also broadened the scope of non-nuclear preemption, calling its policy an “expansive new definition of self-defense.” Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and other officials recently cited this doctrine to justify attacks such as the October 26 raid inside Syria and others inside Pakistan. The policy, they said, permits strikes on “militant targets” in a sovereign nation without its consent when that nation does not act on its own as the U.S. wishes.[8]

    If these standards are applied to the Japan of 1941, the Pearl Harbor attack can no longer be seen as criminal; certainly George W. Bush and his associates are in no position to condemn it. For the rest of us, December 7, 1941 will remain a “day of infamy” as the war crimes tribunals concluded and as virtually all Americans have believed ever since. And if Japan’s attack on that day was infamous, the policy of preemption must be condemned as well. Preemptive war was not legitimate for the Japanese in 1941, and it is not legitimate for the United States today.

    Any policy that plans for “preemptive” or “preventive” war to promote national interests must be considered criminal, for the same reasons as was the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. It is an urgent challenge for incoming U.S. President Barack Obama to repudiate the Bush Doctrine and correct this dangerous situation. The United States must once again “renounce and condemn” any policy of preemptive war.

    - – - – -

    Notes:

    [1] In addition to the Arizona, the battleship Oklahoma was lost, three others were sunk or beached but later salvaged, and three more were damaged. In all, 18 ships were sunk or seriously damaged, 188 U.S. aircraft were destroyed, and 158 other planes were damaged. The Japanese lost 29 planes in the raid. (From Walter Lord, Day of Infamy, first edition 1957.)

    [2] 68 civilians were killed and 35 others wounded. There were some 40 explosions in the city of Honolulu, but all except one were caused by U.S. antiaircraft fire. (Lord, page 212.)

    [3] The National Security Strategy of the United States of America, White House document, September 17, 2002, page. 19. Available on the web.

    [4] Department of State Bulletin, June 10, 1945.

    [5] Nazi leaders claimed, for example, that the 1940 German invasion of neutral Denmark and Norway was preemption, needed to “protect” them from an imminent British attack and occupation.

    [6] The introduction of this terminology may have been intended to blur the distinction between chemical and biological weapons, which Iraq could conceivably have possessed in 2003 (although it in fact did not), and true weapons of mass destruction, i.e. nuclear weapons, which it could not have possessed.

    [7] JP 3-12: Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations. Cited by Hans M. Kristensen in Arms Control Today, September 2005.

    [8] Thom Shanker, “Gates Gives Rationale for Expanded Deterrence,” New York Times, October 28, 2008.

    ——-

     John Lamperti is a Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at Dartmouth College. He is the author of several books on the theory of probability and on random processes. Since 1985 one of his main interests has been Central America and what the United States has been doing there. He is the author of “Enrique Alvarez Cordova: Life of a Salvadoran Revolutionary and Gentleman“(MacFarland, 2006).

David Duke Helps Son of ex-Klan Leader in Fight for Palm Beach County Republican Seat December 1, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in U.S. Election 2008.
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Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Monday, December 01, 2008

 

WEST PALM BEACH — — Derek Black says “of course” he will attend a meeting Wednesday for new members of Palm Beach County’s Republican Executive Committee. Never mind that the party chairman says Black’s “white supremacist” associations are not welcome and he will not be seated.

“I was elected,” Black, 19, says.

Brandon Kruse/The Post

enlarge

Don Black, a former Grand Wizard of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, has stepped in to defend the appointment of Derek Black, his son, to the Palm Beach County Executive Committee after local GOP officials sought to bar him from the process on a technicality.

Brandon Kruse/The Post

enlarge

David Duke, a former Grand Wizard of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, has stepped in to defend the appointment of Derek Black to the Palm Beach County Executive Committee after local GOP officials sought to bar him from the process on a technicality. Black is the son of former Klansman and Grand Wizard Don Black.

Brandon Kruse/The Post

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Derek Black can’t be seated with county GOP members because he didn’t sign an oath, the chairman says.

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Sporting a black hat, the son of former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard Don Black was seated last week in a restaurant off Southern Boulevard. Sitting next to him was one of his supporters: David Duke, former Louisiana state legislator and another former KKK grand wizard.

“We’re going to fight,” Duke said. “I know Derek Black is going to fight for his constitutional liberties. That’s why I’m here, because I want to assist Derek.”

Sorry, says county GOP Chairman Sid Dinerstein. In the qualifying period in June, Black didn’t sign a loyalty oath pledging he would not do anything injurious to the party. And that’s not the only problem.

“He participates in white supremacist activities,” Dinerstein said. “We’re the party of Lincoln. We’re the party that says we don’t judge anybody by the color of their skin.”

Derek Black’s response: “I’ve told (Dinerstein) I’m not a white supremacist; that’s an insult. I would describe myself as a white person who is concerned about discrimination against white people.”

A community college student who was home-schooled in West Palm Beach, Black once contributed a kids page to his father’s Stormfront Internet forum around the time he was 12. The page included puzzles, games, animated Confederate flags and white-pride songs. He has since helped with his father’s Internet audio broadcasts.

But did voters really have any idea who he is?

Duke leaned in.

“Irrelevant question,” Duke said. “He got the votes. He won election.”

Black says he campaigned around the district for the seat. Executive committee members elect the county party chairman and help determine where the party spends its money.

He said he answered any questions voters asked, but mostly talked about issues.

“I talked about immigration,” he said. “I talked about the presidential campaign. That was the biggest issue. This was back in August, July. Most of them weren’t happy with (Sen. John) McCain turning out to be their candidate. It did come up a few times that I didn’t like McCain.”

He continued: “A large part of the district, the Republican part of the district, is Hispanic, Cubans. They’re the ones I’ve gotten the most public support from. Walking down the street, going to Publix, it was old Cuban men who slapped me on the back and told me to fight the system.”

Duke, who lives in Louisiana, said he won’t be in West Palm Beach for the Wednesday meeting, but he conducted an Internet broadcast with Don Black from the restaurant. The Grateful Dead’s Truckin’ blared over the eatery’s music system in the background. In the broadcast, the men took Dinerstein to task: He has “chutzpah” to take an “anti-democratic” position, Duke said.

It’s a line Duke has used before on his Web site: “Sid Dinerstein, a Jewish-extremist loyalist to Israel, has the chutzpah to think that he has the right to deny Derek Black his legally elected office because he doesn’t like Mr. Black’s views.”

At least four books and dictionaries have defined Stormfront as the Internet’s first “hate” site dating back to 1995. Stormfront’s site link on a Google search comes with this description: “Racialist discussion board for pro-White activists and anyone else interested in White survival.”

Barack Obama’s election has helped drive up Stormfront traffic to record levels, Don Black said.

Duke said the historic election has helped galvanize support for the causes he believes in: “Obama enables people to see more clearly. It makes it clear we’re losing control of our country.”

But Don Black said press reports of threats against Obama on the Stormfront forums have been exaggerated. He said he suspects one contributor, who hadn’t posted in six years, was deliberately trying to stir up trouble for the site recently. He said he does not condone violence and wants a “peaceful revolution” that ends racial preferences for minorities and promotes the civil liberties of whites.

Echoing what Duke and his father say about themselves, Derek Black says he never uses the term “white supremacist.”

His case goes like this: He says he won 62 percent of the vote in his district (published reports put it at 58 percent at the time). The oath is a technicality that should not overturn an election, he contends. He says he is prepared to hire a lawyer to explore legal options if he is not seated.

When party leaders realized who he is, they scrambled to bar him within days of the August vote. Dinerstein said he has the backing of the state party.

“The loyalty oath is very important, and folks do need to sign it on time,” said Republican Party of Florida spokeswoman Erin VanSickle.

But Derek Black said he’ll keep up the fight for the seat, even if his opponents want to shun him as viper’s brood.

“I thought it was amusing. I’m accused of having a past when I’m 19,” he said.

Gen. Jim Jones: What Kool-Aid Will He Offer Obama? December 1, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Iraq and Afghanistan.
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Jones Profile

by: Steve Weissman, t r u t h o u t | Perspective

photo
Gen. James Jones, newly named Obama’s national security adviser. (Photo: AP)

   

 

 The best military advice I know supposedly comes from a subordinate of Napoleon at a time that the French emperor was facing difficulties with his ill-fated military occupation of Egypt. “One can do anything with bayonets, Sire, except sit on them.” If only Gen. Jim Jones, the new National Security adviser, had the wisdom to give President-elect Barack Obama the same advice about the already planned escalation of forces in Afghanistan. But don’t count on it. From all available evidence, the good general has already urged Obama to dig the United States even deeper into a far-off land that Alexander the Great, the British raj and 150,000 Soviets troops all came to know as “the graveyard of empires.”

    A former Marine Corps commandant and supreme allied commander of NATO, Jones is no simple war hawk. Far from it. He stood up against the way Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ran the war in Iraq and also opposed the surge that his longtime friend John McCain so passionately defended.

    As Jones saw it, the real fight against al-Qaeda lay in Afghanistan, not Iraq, a position that Obama echoed throughout the election campaign.

    So strongly did Jones feel, that he turned his back on heading US Central Command, the job now held by Gen. David Petraeus, and walked away from a chance to become chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. As he told his Marine Corps buddy Gen. Peter Pace, who later took the job, Jones was not willing to be “the parrot on the secretary’s shoulder.”

    After leaving the military, Jones co-chaired the blue-ribbon Afghanistan Study Group, which issued a report called “Revitalizing Our Efforts, Rethinking Our Strategies.” The second edition of their report appeared in January 2008, when the Taliban-led insurgency was even less strong than it is now. But the basic approach will almost certainly guide Jones in his new White House post.

    “The United States and the international community have tried to win the struggle in Afghanistan with too few military forces and insufficient economic aid, and without a clear and consistent comprehensive strategy to fill the power vacuum outside Kabul and to counter the combined challenges of Reconstituted Taliban and al Qaeda forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan, a runaway opium economy, and the stark poverty faced by most Afghans,” wrote Jones and his co-chair, former Ambassador Thomas Pickering.

    “We believe that success in Afghanistan remains a critical national security imperative for the United States and the international community.”

    That’s quite a mouthful, I know, and the awkward syntax should alert readers to what a gargantuan task General Jones has in mind for the incoming administration.

    In part, he worries that failure in Afghanistan would send a message to terrorist organizations that we and our allies can be defeated. It would. But, to use the new buzzword, let’s be pragmatic. Wouldn’t it be better to send that message at a time when a new American president offers the world new hope rather than after we follow the British and Soviets into a deadly Afghan quagmire?

    The answer could determine the success of Obama’s domestic dreams, and whether he will be a one-term president. Lest he actually believes in the possibility of winning even a half-baked victory, he should read Rudyard Kipling or call Mikhail Gorbachev.

    The problem with Jones goes even further. The vision offered by his Afghanistan Study Group draws heavily on his experience with NATO, as one can see in this recently released letter to the Washington Post that he co-authored with Harlan Ullman, the civilian architect of the Pentagon’s Rapid Dominance Strategy, or Shock and Awe.

    “For the first time in its history, NATO is engaged in a ground war, not against a massive Soviet attack across the northern plains of Germany or in Iraq against insurgents and al Qaeda, but in Afghanistan,” they wrote. “In committing the alliance to sustained ground combat operations in Afghanistan (unlike Kosovo in 1999), NATO has bet its future. If NATO fails, alliance cohesion will be at grave risk. A moribund or unraveled NATO will have profoundly negative geostrategic impact.”

    The words echo the rhetoric of the cold war, only now General Jones and so many other “foreign policy realists” see the big threat as radical Islam and other forces that threaten Western control of the oil and natural gas resources from Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf into Central Asia. Jones views this threat not only as a 40-year marine, but also as a director of both Boeing and Chevron, and to counter it, he has helped Washington push the Europeans to increase their defense spending and join the United States in a multi-national military force to defend Western interests wherever threats appear.

    Afghanistan is just the beginning, and many Europeans are already dragging their feet, seeing Washington’s view of NATO as too close to their own imperial past. Just as with the occupation of Iraq, they don’t think it will work any better this time. General Jones may hope that Obama’s charm can win them over, but I doubt they’ll drink the Kool-Aid.

AIDS: A Stigma Endures December 1, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Health, Uncategorized.
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health_120108_story

by: Susan Blumenthal and Melissa Shive, The San Francisco Chronicle

photo
Marvelyn Brown. (Photo: Marvelyn Brown)

   

 

 For two months, ostracized and alone, 19-year-old Marvelyn Brown slept on the gray vinyl seats of her 1996 Nissan Sentra in the parking lot of a Nashville Wal-Mart. When she visited her family, she used paper plates and plastic forks to eat so she wouldn’t share dishes; all surfaces that she touched were wiped down with bleach. Her newly pregnant friend told her that she did not want Marvelyn around her child. In a matter of a few weeks, Marvelyn had lost the support of her friends and family – all because she had been diagnosed as HIV positive.

    But Marvelyn’s story is neither new nor unique. Her friends and relatives were suddenly confronting the realities of a potentially life-threatening infectious disease, and they responded to their lack of understanding about HIV/AIDS as many people do – with fear and mistrust.

    Today is the 20th anniversary of World AIDS Day, and its message, “Stop AIDS. Keep the Promise,” calls on global leaders to deliver on the promise of universal access to prevention, treatment and care. Yet despite two decades of progress in the fight against this disease, there is still widespread stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS in the United States and across the world – fueled by myths, a lack of knowledge about how the disease is transmitted, and value judgments about how it is acquired. Though many people are familiar with the concepts of ageism and racism, there is another pervasive, pernicious form of discrimination that deeply affects many lives and must also be given a name: “aidsism.”

    Stigma, or aidsism, is a major barrier to HIV prevention, diagnosis, care and treatment. A national survey last year by the Foundation for AIDS Research found that 1 in 5 respondents would be uncomfortable even having a close friend who was HIV positive, and 59 percent would be uncomfortable with an HIV positive woman as a child care provider. Since 1990, there has been no change in the percentage of Americans who mistakenly believe that HIV can be transmitted by kissing (37 percent), sharing a drinking glass (22 percent), or touching a toilet seat (16 percent).

    Twenty-seven years after the emergence of HIV, first reported in San Francisco, AIDS has become an inextricable part of the modern world, with every country now reporting HIV infection rates. With 33 million people worldwide and 1.1 million people in the United States living with HIV/AIDS, this disease cannot be ignored.

    The United States has provided significant funding to developing nations through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, but America’s own neighborhoods need help, too. Consider this: The number of African Americans living with HIV in the United States exceeds the number of HIV-infected people in seven of the 15 focus countries covered by the president’s AIDS relief initiative.

    With an estimated 56,000 new infections annually in America, our country urgently needs a domestic AIDS relief plan with a comprehensive national strategy to eradicate the disease. Such a plan must include a clear definition of HIV/AIDS-related stigma, a standardized set of criteria to measure it, educational campaigns to eradicate it, and research to increase knowledge about its impact on HIV testing, treatment and prevention, particularly in vulnerable populations, including minorities, women, and men who have sex with men.

    As America turns a new page in its history with the landmark election of Barack Obama, our nation celebrates the values of equality and justice upon which it was founded. His victory ushers in a new era in HIV/AIDS policy with the promise of a national AIDS strategy to stop AIDS and help end the discrimination that people with this disease experience every day. This is essential.

    On this 20th anniversary of World AIDS Day, despite the medical advances that have been made, Marvelyn’s story serves as a powerful reminder of the struggles and indignities that people living with HIV/AIDS still face. The antiretroviral drugs that she takes to treat her disease have lengthened her life but cause side effects, including nausea, diarrhea, vomiting and mood swings. But Marvelyn says that those side effects are “still not the worst part of having HIV. It is the stigma.”

    ——–

    Rear Admiral Susan Blumenthal is the former assistant surgeon general of the United States and is the senior policy and medical adviser at amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research. Melissa Shive is a Fulbright Scholar and a medical student at the University of California, San Francisco.

Paulson and Bernanke Spread the Wealth Around December 1, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis.
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dollar-bills

by: Dean Baker, t r u t h o u t | Perspective

photo
Wealth is spreading right now as a result of the bailouts and most of it seems to be going upward. (Photo: Getty Creative)

  

 

  During the campaign, Barack Obama provoked a media flurry and right-wing outrage over his comment to Joe the Plumber about “spreading the wealth around.” They told us that this view was contrary to the American Way, that this was socialism.

    Given all the concern over Obama’s ideas about spreading the wealth, it is remarkable how little attention is being given to Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke’s much more ambitious effort to spread the wealth. They are putting in practice measures that swamp any plans put forward by Obama in the presidential campaign; yet, this massive government redistribution of wealth is drawing almost no attention whatsoever.

    The basic story is that the Treasury and Fed together now control several trillion dollars of bailout funds. This money is being used with almost no accountability, especially with the Fed’s portion of the bailout, which is by far the bulk of the funds.

    Fortunes will be made or lost depending on how this bailout money is used. For example, Secretary Paulson just agreed to lend another $20 billion of the Treasury’s bailout money to Citigroup.

    In addition, the Federal Reserve Board agreed to guarantee up to $300 billion of presumably bad assets. This is an enormously valuable guarantee. If Citigroup had to arrange a comparable guarantee in the private market, it would almost certainly pay more than $30 billion a year.

    This decision sent Citigroup’s stock soaring. In the week since the bailout was announced, Citigroup’s stock more than doubled, adding more than $25 billion to the company’s capitalization. (The government could have bought the bank outright with the money it lent to Citi.) This is great news for Citigroup’s shareholders, who would be holding almost worthless stock if Mr. Paulson had not been so generous.

    Paulson’s decision was also good news for Robert Rubin and other top executives at Citigroup. If the government had not stepped in, Citigroup would almost certainly be in bankruptcy and most of its highly paid executives would likely be out on the street.

    Creditors of Citigroup also benefited. If Citigroup went into bankruptcy, their loans would be frozen for a period of time while the court determined what percentage of Citi’s debts could be paid. At the end of this process, many creditors would only receive back a fraction of what they are owed.

    The fact that money is being redistributed doesn’t make it wrong to bail out Citigroup or any of the other companies now being aided by the various Fed and Treasury funds. We need to keep the financial system functioning. However, there is every reason in the world to be concerned about the extent to which these policies may be enriching the wealthy and well connected at the expense of the rest of us.

    In the case of the Citi rescue, there was no obvious reason the shareholders should not be wiped out. They understood (or should have) that when they bought shares of the company that they could lose their whole investment if the company was poorly managed and went bankrupt. Similarly, there is no obvious reason that the management that wrecked Citi should not be thrown out and replaced with a more competent and lower paid team.

    Even among creditors, there are serious grounds for concern. Many holders of Citi debt may have dumped their bonds for a small fraction of their face value because they did not know a bailout was imminent. On the other hand, those with more insight into the operations of the Fed and Treasury could have made enormous fortunes buying up debt, or shares of stock, at discount prices.

    Of course, Citi is just a small portion of the bailout story, but the same issues arise everywhere. Corporations that would be out of business if the market were left alone are instead kept operating, courtesy of the taxpayers’ dollars. Due to the secrecy surrounding the bailout, the taxpayers can’t even know whose vacation homes and private jets they’ve saved. (How can we know if we should expect a thank you note?)

    While we may not know the details, we can be fairly certain that many people are making millions, and some might be making hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars, as a result of the Fed and Treasury’s bailouts. Money is being redistributed to those who are skillful in anticipating Fed and Treasury actions or, alternatively, who are politically connected or perhaps just lucky.

    In other words, we are spreading the wealth around in a really big way right now, and most of it seems to be going upward. The amount at stake in the tax increases that President-elect Obama plans to put in place is almost certainly less than $50 billion a year. The money that is being redistributed upwards through this bailout may be 20 times as much.

    The politicians and media types who were upset about Senator Obama’s interference in the market should be yelling bloody murder about the bailout. Their silence shows that they care nothing about the market; they only care about ensuring that money flows upward. They are fine with “spreading the wealth around” as long as it lands with those already at the top.

Bush Aides Rush to Enact a Safety Law Obama Opposes November 29, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, George W. Bush.
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Published: November 29, 2008

WASHINGTON — The Labor Department is racing to complete a new rule, strenuously opposed by President-elect Barack Obama, that would make it much harder for the government to regulate toxic substances and hazardous chemicals to which workers are exposed on the job.

The rule, which has strong support from business groups, says that in assessing the risk from a particular substance, federal agencies should gather and analyze “industry-by-industry evidence” of employees’ exposure to it during their working lives. The proposal would, in many cases, add a step to the lengthy process of developing standards to protect workers’ health.

Public health officials and labor unions said the rule would delay needed protections for workers, resulting in additional deaths and illnesses.

With the economy tumbling and American troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, President Bush has promised to cooperate with Mr. Obama to make the transition “as smooth as possible.” But that has not stopped his administration from trying, in its final days, to cement in place a diverse array of new regulations.

The Labor Department proposal is one of about 20 highly contentious rules the Bush administration is planning to issue in its final weeks. The rules deal with issues as diverse as abortion, auto safety and the environment. One rule would make it easier to build power plants near national parks and wilderness areas. Another would reduce the role of federal wildlife scientists in deciding whether dams, highways and other projects pose a threat to endangered species.

Mr. Obama and his advisers have already signaled their wariness of last-minute efforts by the Bush administration to embed its policies into the Code of Federal Regulations, a collection of rules having the force of law. The advisers have also said that Mr. Obama plans to look at a number of executive orders issued by Mr. Bush.

A new president can unilaterally reverse executive orders issued by his predecessors, as Mr. Bush and President Bill Clinton did in selected cases. But it is much more difficult for a new president to revoke or alter final regulations put in place by a predecessor. A new administration must solicit public comment and supply “a reasoned analysis” for such changes, as if it were issuing a new rule, the Supreme Court has said.

As a senator and a presidential candidate, Mr. Obama sharply criticized the regulation of workplace hazards by the Bush administration.

In September, Mr. Obama and four other senators introduced a bill that would prohibit the Labor Department from issuing the rule it is now rushing to complete. He also signed a letter urging the department to scrap the proposal, saying it would “create serious obstacles to protecting workers from health hazards on the job.”

Administration officials said such concerns were based on a misunderstanding of the proposal.

“This proposal does not affect the substance or methodology of risk assessments, and it does not weaken any health standard,” said Leon R. Sequeira, the assistant secretary of labor for policy. The proposal, Mr. Sequeira said, would allow the department to “cast a wide net for the best available data before proposing a health standard.”

The Labor Department regulates occupational health hazards posed by a wide variety of substances like asbestos, benzene, cotton dust, formaldehyde, lead, vinyl chloride and blood-borne pathogens, including the virus that causes AIDS.

The department is constantly considering whether to take steps to protect workers against hazardous substances. Currently, it is assessing substances like silica, beryllium and diacetyl, a chemical that adds the buttery flavor to some types of microwave popcorn.

The proposal applies to two agencies in the Labor Department, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Mine Safety and Health Administration. Under the proposal, they would have to publish “advance notice of proposed rule-making,” soliciting public comment on studies, scientific information and data to be used in drafting a new rule. In some cases, OSHA has done that, but it is not required to do so.

The Bush administration and business groups said the rule would codify “best practices,” ensuring that health standards were based on the best available data and scientific information.

Randel K. Johnson, a vice president of the United States Chamber of Commerce, said his group “unequivocally supports” the proposal because it would give the public a better opportunity to comment on the science and data used by the government.

After a regulation is drafted and formally proposed, Mr. Johnson said, it is “all but impossible” to get OSHA to make significant changes.

“Risk assessment drives the entire process of regulation,” he said, and “courts almost always defer” to the agency’s assessments.

But critics say the additional step does nothing to protect workers.

“This rule is being pushed through by an administration that, for the last seven and a half years, has failed to set any new OSHA health rules to protect workers, except for one issued pursuant to a court order,” said Margaret M. Seminario, director of occupational safety and health for the A.F.L.-C.I.O.

Now, Ms. Seminario said, “the administration is rushing to lock in place requirements that would make it more difficult for the next administration to protect workers.”

She said the proposal could add two years to a rule-making process that often took eight years or more.

Representative George Miller, a California Democrat who is chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor, said the proposal would “weaken future workplace safety regulations and slow their adoption.”

The proposal says that risk assessments should include industry-by-industry data on exposure to workplace substances. Administration officials acknowledged that such data did not always exist.

In their letter, Mr. Obama and other lawmakers said the Labor Department, instead of tinkering with risk-assessment procedures, should issue standards to protect workers against known hazards like silica and beryllium. The government has been working on a silica standard since 1997 and has listed it as a priority since 2002.

The timing of the proposal appears to violate a memorandum issued in early May by Joshua B. Bolten, the White House chief of staff.

“Except in extraordinary circumstances,” Mr. Bolten wrote, “regulations to be finalized in this administration should be proposed no later than June 1, 2008, and final regulations should be issued no later than Nov. 1, 2008.”

The Labor Department has not cited any extraordinary circumstances for its proposal, which was published in the Federal Register on Aug. 29. Administration officials confirmed last week that the proposal was still on their regulatory agenda.

The Labor Department said the proposal affected “only internal agency procedures” for developing health standards. It cited one source of authority for the proposal: a general “housekeeping statute” that allows the head of a department to prescribe rules for the performance of its business.

The statute is derived from a law passed in 1789 to help George Washington get the government up and running.

The Labor Department rule is among many that federal agencies are poised to issue before Mr. Bush turns over the White House to Mr. Obama.

One rule would allow coal companies to dump rock and dirt from mountaintop mining operations into nearby streams and valleys. Another, issued last week by the Health and Human Services Department, gives states sweeping authority to charge higher co-payments for doctor’s visits, hospital care and prescription drugs provided to low-income people under Medicaid. The department is working on another rule to protect health care workers who refuse to perform abortions or other procedures on religious or moral grounds.

 

Deadly Effects of Racism and Lack of Healthcare on Latin American Immigrant Workers November 28, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Immigration, Latin America, Mexico.
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from: San Francisco Gray Panthers

Immigration, Health Care Highlighted in UC Report

Contra Costa Times, October 23, 2008

Sarah Terry-Cobo

BERKELEY — Immigrants, particularly those of Latin American origin, significantly contribute to the work force but are harmed by the lack of health care coverage, according to a UC Berkeley report released Monday. The study was based on US Census data.

“What this report is showing, unfortunately, is that immigrants and those who come from Mexico and Latin American countries are absorbing the most difficult jobs and are facing the highest job-related deaths,” said Xochitl Castaneda, director of the Health Initiative of the Americas, a program of the UC Office of the President.

Mexican immigrants make up nearly one-third of U.S. population, but because they are usually employed in dangerous occupations, such as farming and construction, they account for 44 percent of immigrant workers who die on the job or as a result of an on-the-job injury, the report states.

Professor Steven Wallace, associate director of the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, School of Public Health, described some of the findings.

“Despite taking the large number of dangerous jobs in the country, (immigrants) are not offered the basic necessities such as health insurance, where they are literally putting their life on the line,” he said.

The research for “Migration, Health and Work: The Facts Behind the Myths,” was conducted by the UCLA and UC Berkeley schools of public health, the UC Office of the President and the Health Initiative of the Americas.

In particular, Mexican immigrants often work at low-wage jobs that provide little or no insurance. Nationwide, about one-fifth of Mexican immigrants in sectors such as construction, agriculture and service industries have insurance, the report states.

In addition, the report notes that Latin American immigrants are in better overall health than most non-Latino whites, but their health declines the longer they reside in the United States This is most likely because of inadequate access to services and lack of funds to pay for prevention and treatment.

Immigrants arrive healthy, Wallace said. “There needs to be a concern with adequate levels of health care services so they can maintain the level of health,” that they had when they entered the country.

“The report is an instrument for those who want to make informed decisions,” said Castaneda. “It provides facts behind the myths for those who really want to construct a better world, who should be more informed.”

The release of the report coincides with the Binational Health Week and the Binational Policy Forum on Migration and Health held in Los Angeles.

By the numbers

# One in four workers in California are Latino immigrants.

# One in five employed men in California ages 18-64 are Mexican immigrants.

# Eight in 10 agricultural workers in California are Mexican immigrants.

# 94 percent of Mexican immigrant men in the United States are actively employed.

# One in four Mexican immigrant adults live in families that are below the federal poverty level.

# “Mexican immigrants report fewer chronic conditions overall, spend fewer days in bed because of illness and have lower mortality rates than U.S.-born non-Latino whites.”

Source: “Migration, Health and Work: Facts behind the Myths”

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