SYNDICATED COLUMN: Torture is an All-American Value

https://filipspagnoli.files.wordpress.com/2009/01/torture-devices.jpg

Dianne Feinstein, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and long-time-until-recently NSA apologist, claims to be shocked by an internal CIA report that documents the agency’s grisly record of torture after 9/11. “The report exposes brutality that stands in stark contrast to our values as a nation,” Feinstein said April 3rd. “It chronicles a stain on our history that must never again be allowed to happen.”

Among the “stunning revelations” that have leaked out of the still-classified 6,600-page CIA torture report are stories that long-time followers of my writing have long been aware of, having read about them in my column during the Bush years. Guantánamo isn’t just a concentration camp; it’s also a CIA “black site”/torture dungeon, as was a joint US-UK “extraordinary rendition” depot on the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia. The CIA outsourced torture to Third World shitholes/U.S. allies, knowing/expecting/hoping that they would be murdered.

Disgusting stuff. For sure. Yet there’s something even more nauseating — and infinitely more dangerous — than a country that tortures:

A nation in denial about its true values.

Feinstein speaks for most Americans when she characterizes War on Terror-related torture as an aberration. But she’s mistaken. Conventional wisdom is wrong.

Torture is as American as red, white and blue.

Like the citizens of Nazi-occupied Europe during World War II who had a pretty good idea that those eastbound trains were a one-way ticket to hell, Americans have known since the beginning of the War on Terror that their government was going to torture, was torturing and had tortured. It is still torturing today. Yet hardly anyone complains.

Five days after 9/11, on September 16, 2001, Dick Cheney told Tim Russert on “Meet the Press”: “We also have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will. We’ve got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies, if we’re going to be successful. That’s the world these folks operate in, and so it’s going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective.”

At the time, everyone knew what that meant.

The Vice President of the United States, speaking on behalf of the President, had announced to the world that the gloves were off, that the “quaint” Geneva Conventions were history. That the U.S. would torture.

Had Cheney’s endorsement of “brutality” been “in stark contrast to our values as a nation,” as Feinstein puts it, there would have been political blowback. Imagine if the president of, say, Sweden, had said the same thing. The dude would’ve been out of a job.

Au contraire — Cheney’s siren call to the “dark side” drew mainstream political approval, even from self-identified “liberals” in the corporate media.

In October and November of 2001, Newsweek‘s Jonathan Alter, FoxNews’ Shepard Smith (usually the network’s calm voice of reason), and CNN’s Tucker Carlson jumped on the torture bandwagon. All three reporter-pundits called torture a necessary, lesser evil in the fight against Islamist terrorists. Carlson (he’s the one with the bowtie): “Torture is bad. Keep in mind, some things are worse. And under certain circumstances, it may be the lesser of two evils. Because some evils are pretty evil.”

“Mr. Alter said he was surprised that his column did not provoke a significant flood of e-mail messages or letters,” reported The New York Times. “And perhaps even more surprising, he said, was that he had been approached by ‘people who might be described as being on the left whispering, I agree with you.’” (Or, more precisely, by people who were formerly on the left.)

If torture were repugnant to Americans, Cheney — and his pet pundits like Alter — would have met with a firestorm of criticism. They would have been fired. They were not.

By January 2002, the United States had defeated the Taliban and installed Hamid Karzai as the leader of a U.S. puppet regime in Afghanistan. Still, public tolerance/approval of torture continued. A famous legal scholar, Alan Dershowitz, published an op/ed calling for the creation of “torture warrants”: “The warrant would limit the torture to nonlethal means, such as sterile needles, being inserted beneath the nails to cause excruciating pain without endangering life.”

These are the words of a madman.

By objective standards, if the U.S. were a nation where torture stood “in stark contrast to our values,” Dershowitz would have been shouted down and ridiculed. It would be hard to imagine Harvard Law — Harvard Law! — keeping such a raging nut on its payroll. But they did.

Because torture is not at against our values. Not in the least.

Dick Cheney: not forced to resign.

Jonathan Alter, Shepard Smith, Tucker Carlson: all still legit, all still capable of landing big book deals and big speaking fees. They run in circles where real lefties like me — who bitched about CIA torture and kidnapping in countless cartoons and columns — are blackballed.

Which makes perfect sense. Because Americans love torture. A dozen and a half years after 9/11, 68% of Americans still tell pollsters — even though it’s been proven ineffectual — that torture is A-OK.

A polarized nation? When it comes to anally raping young men with flashlights and broomsticks — that happened at Gitmo and the U.S.-run Bagram torture center, and may be continuing — we’re still United, We Stand.

So when newly-minted President Barack Obama told Americans in 2009 that he planned to “look forward, not back“— i.e., not holding anyone accountable for Bush-era torture — and visited Langley to assure nervous torturers that they could chillax, no one cared.

When government-sanctioned torture continued under Obama, no one cared.

Even when Americans rose up in 2011 to protest their government, as part of the Occupy Wall Street movement, torture was less than an afterthought on the activists’ menu of complaints.

American “progressives” don’t care either. There has never been a mass demonstration against torture. (Well, not in the U.S. There have been big marches in Egypt and Bahrain.)

Torture against American values? Hardly. From American troops who mutilated the genitals of Native Americans to waterboarding Filipino independence fighters in the early 20th century to organized rape gangs in Vietnam, torture has been all-American.

(Support independent journalism and political commentary. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditDiggStumbleUponEmail

LOS ANGELES TIMES CARTOON: Why split Calif. into only six states? Go libertarian all the way!

40,000,000 Californias Can't Be Wrong

Before now I was unclear on why California should be divvied up into six smaller states. But I didn’t feel bad. Tim Draper, the Silicon Valley venture capitalist billionaire guy who is trying to collect enough signatures to put a California Balkanization proposition on the ballot, seemed unclear about his idea too.

Thanks for George Skelton’s column, however, Draper has finally shed some light on why California should fade into history, replaced by six new states (assuming Congress were to admit them to the Union), one of which would be called, um, Jefferson.

Skelton explains: “Draper’s split-up-California proposal, he contends, would result in more local control and focus on regional problems.”

Local control! Bien sur.

Draper may or may not be nuts, but you can’t reflexively dismiss the argument that Sacramento may be a too far away to understand the issues affecting people 600 miles away in Calexico.

But that’s where I get stuck.

If more local control is better, and if the way to get more local control is to divide the state into smaller statelets, the question locally follows: why six? Why not seven or eight?

Connecticut is a small state. It’s well run. Why not cut California into 49 Connecticut-sized states?

Actually, scratch that “well run” part. The Nutmeg State ranks 41st out of 50.

Um, Rhode Island? Smallest of them all?

Number 47.

Anyway.

Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that there was evidence to support the notion that smaller is better. Where does it stop? Why not declare every one of California’s 38 million people the sole citizen of their own state, with their home their capitals? With 76 million United States Senators, that would give The States Formerly Known as California serious juice in Congress.

(Draper argues that ex-California would have 12 Senators, which would be better than two. Though he doesn’t explain why they’d necessarily cooperate with each other, what with having gone their separate ways in the first place specifically because they don’t have enough in common to stay together.)

Speaking of inconvenient truths, few people have brought up the fact that the U.S. Constitution doesn’t allow new states to be created by splitting up existing states (as happened, for example, when West Virginia left Virginia) without approval of Congress. With the Senate controlled by Democrats, it’s unlikely they’d sign off on a new configuration that would add a net of Republican seats.

Everything said, I don’t know if splitting the state would be a net benefit or net disaster. What I find fascinating is the transparently faulty logic being floated for a project with breathtaking implications — from a man who’s obviously smart enough to know better.

FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditDiggStumbleUponEmail

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Schools Should Teach Nowology

Everyone has a strong opinion about education. But the controversies are always about the same topic: testing, teachers unions, funding, merit pay, vouchers/school choice, charter schools. Is college a smart investment? Is affirmative action fair? Has political correctness supplanted the basics?

I keep waiting for someone to bring up Now. As in the study of now — what’s currently going on in the fields of politics, history, literature, mathematics, science — everything.

Can we call it Nowology?

From K through 12 through senior year of college, American education focuses obsessively on the past. No matter what you study, the topics either relate to the past or the knowledge is dated.

Since I was a history major in college, I’ll focus on that.

I’ve never understood why history is taught chronologically. A book’s opening is crucial; either you get hooked straight away, or you get bored and turn blasé. So how is it that textbook publishers think it makes sense to start a fourth-grade history textbook with prehistoric humans who lived 10,000 years ago? It’s tough enough for me, at age 50, to relate to our hunter-gatherer ancestors. How can a typical American 9-year-old, who lives in the suburbs, connect intellectually to people who foraged for food (not in the fridge)?

Another problem with teaching history chronologically is that teachers rarely make it to the relevant, interesting history students might actually care about — what’s going on now. From junior through senior high, my high school teachers got bogged down in the battlefields of the Civil War. We never once made it as far as Reconstruction (which is actually fascinating), much less to the controversies of my childhood (Vietnam, Watergate, the Iran hostage crisis).

TV, radio and newspapers — that’s where what mattered was discussed. My classmates and I had fathers who served in Vietnam. We had neighbors who’d dodged the draft, whose faces stared at us from wanted posters at the post office. We argued over Nixon and Ford and Carter, but all that stuff — the controversy, the drama, the Now — took place outside school.

The not-so-subliminal message soon sunk in: school is where you learn about old stuff. Now stuff is everywhere else.

This is, of course, exactly the opposite of how we choose to teach ourselves.

Example: pop culture, like movies and music. No one’s musical education begins with recordings of recreations of primitive music, simple claps or banging objects together. Most children start out listening to contemporary music — whatever they hear on Pandora, Spotify, the radio, TV, etc. Those who decide to dig further usually work backward. They listen to older works by their favorite artists. They hear a musician talk about the bands that influenced them, and they check them out.

(When I was a kid, friends were surprised that Paul McCartney had been in some other band before Wings.) They might wind up getting into ragtime or Bach. Last. Not first.

Ditto for movies. No one starts out watching silent films.

There is some discussion of teaching history in reverse chronological order in other countries. Writing in the UK Prospect last year, Christopher Fear of the University of Exeter argues: “We should begin by showing children how to scratch the surface to find the recent pasts of their parents’ and grandparents’ generations — pasts which they can talk about together.” But the British too continue to teach history the boring/chronological way.

We’re constantly worrying about whether our schools are preparing children to compete in the global marketplace. To support their calls for reform, activists (mostly, but not exclusively, on the political right) point to surveys that show that Americans are woefully ignorant about basic facts such as evolution, essential geographic knowledge as the location of the country where U.S. troops have been fighting, killing and dying for a decade and a half, and even heliocentricity.

Sure, it would be nice if more Americans cracked open a newspaper (or its online edition) now and then. On the other hand, a lot of this material ought to be taught in schools — and it isn’t. Day one of American history class should begin with Obama, Congressional paralysis, the early jockeying for the 2016 presidential campaign, America’s clash with Russia over Ukraine, and the wars against Afghanistan and Iraq. All of these subjects naturally require digging deeper, back in time, to explain why and how what’s going on now is happening.

And it’s not just history. Studying physics at Columbia in the 1980s, no one taught us about the latest advances in cosmology and quantum mechanics — some of which, ironically, were being discovered in labs in the same buildings by the same professors who were filling our heads with obsolete material.

Nowology: better late than never.

(Support independent journalism and political commentary. Subscribe to Ted Rall at Beacon.)

COPYRIGHT 2014 TED RALL, DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditDiggStumbleUponEmail

TALE Podcast: Ted Rall and Lynn Bixenspan

TALE is an awesome The Moth-like storytelling live show in New York City. If you know me personally, and you’ve seen me with beer inside me, you know I like telling stories. So anyway, TALE has launched storytelling podcasts! I’m in the first one, along with comedian Lynn Bixenspan and cohosts Harmon Leon and Alex Schmidt.

It’s about my personal experience as the target of post-9/11 government surveillance.

FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditDiggStumbleUponEmail

LOS ANGELES TIMES CARTOON: It’s Easier to Fight Poverty Where People Are Rich

Easier to Fight Poverty in Wealthy Areas

 

The United States of America in Year 2014 is the wealthiest nation that has ever existed. Poverty among Americans is an obscenity: immoral, unnecessary, counterproductive. As disgusting as it is to watch $100,000 cars zoom past homeless panhandlers, however, there’s something even worse: politicians who pretend to care, who say they’re trying to help the poor and downtrodden, but are actually ignoring them as they revel in the institutional corruption of politics as usual.

As The Times’ Michael Finnegan, David Zahniser and Doug Smith reported:

In January, President Obama announced a block-by-block approach to relieving poverty in Los Angeles. Federal money, he said, would pour into a newly created Promise Zone.

The boundaries encompassed crowded immigrant communities around MacArthur Park and Koreatown, as well as upscale areas of Hollywood and Los Feliz. Left out was South L.A., where the poverty rate is higher. The exclusion stunned many South L.A. leaders.

Why did the White House snub South L.A., which is quantifiably poorer?

Only those previously funded organizations were eligible to seek Promise Zone aid. In Los Angeles, there was only one such group: a nonprofit led by Dixon Slingerland, a major campaign fundraiser for Obama and frequent White House visitor.

Under rules set by the White House and federal agencies, Mayor Eric Garcetti‘s office, working with Slingerland’s Youth Policy Institute, was required to draw the zone’s boundaries around an area where the nonprofit already was focusing its federal grants — either Hollywood or the northeast San Fernando Valley.

The result was an anti-poverty zone that left out communities south of the 10 Freeway, including areas of chronic poverty that drew worldwide attention after the 1965 and 1992 riots. Neighborhoods around Watts have a poverty rate 21% higher than communities within the Promise Zone, according to a Times analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data. Neighborhoods east of USC have a poverty rate 39% higher.

This appears to be a political manifestation of the phenomenon described in the important 1996 book “The Winner-Take-All Society.” Influence begets influence, wealth and power aggregate into increasingly fewer hands. It’s why, for example, the best-paid professional athletes get the biggest offers for lucrative product endorsement deals. The more famous you are, the more stuff you can sell. The more stuff you sell, the more famous you get.

“It just seems like those that have keep getting,” shot U.S. Rep. Janice Hahn, who represents South L.A., after the news broke that South L.A. had been excluded. “And those that never had don’t even have a chance.” Hahn “pointedly skipped” a White House ceremony where Obama announced L.A.’s Promise Zone.

City Councilman Bernard C. Parks, who represents part of South L.A., pointed to Dixon Slingerland’s influence with the president: “You know exactly why they came out first. It was preordained.”

Slingerman denies that the Promise Zone’s odd mapping had anything to do with political payback.

Perhaps not. But if Slingerback wanted favors from Obama, he was certainly in a position to ask. Finnegan et al noted: ” Since Obama took office, Slingerland has been to the White House 19 times, logs show. The visits included one to the residence for a reception, three to the West Wing and 10 to the Old Executive Office Building. He attended two receptions at Vice President Joe Biden‘s home at the U.S. Naval Observatory.” I don’t know about you, but I’m still waiting for my first invite.

The soft corruption of coziness, or coincidence? I know not. But it definitely looks bad.

And it doesn’t just look bad in Los Angeles. The other four PZs are drawing fire too.

According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, “several areas of the city face challenges similar to or worse than Mantua,” the West Philly neighborhood designated as that city’s Promise Zone.

Politics appears to have influenced the selection of at least three of the first five Promise Zones. “Rural Kentucky, of all the distressed rural districts and deserving areas across the country, seems a somewhat random choice, but Kentucky Senators Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell both attended the [Promise Zone] announcement, perhaps boosting the chances of bipartisan support,” wrote Susan Greenbaum.

But hey, maybe residents of South L.A. should be relieved that the Obama Administration gave them the cold shoulder. If the Promise Zones work as advertised, planning experts say, they’ll spur gentrification, rising rents and — ultimately — evictions.

And as always, the rich get richer and the poor get ignored.

FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditDiggStumbleUponEmail

Four Cartoonists of the Apocalypse

Support a roster of four smart political cartoonists – Marxist environmentalist Stephanie McMillan (“Minimum Security”), conservative Scott Stantis (Chicago Tribune), anarchic wild man Steve Notley (“Bob the Angry Flower”) and yours truly. For $5 a month, you get all our stuff pluseverything else at Beacon. Click here to support the Four Cartoonists of the Apocalypse.

FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditDiggStumbleUponEmail

Like a Stephen King Story

When I was 14, this man kidnapped a 14-year-old girl walking to school three miles from my house, raped and killed her. She was not his only victim. Now, due to a DA screwup, he is back in town and may soon be released. This is such a creepy flashback, like something out of a Stephen King story. I never imagined I’d be so upset by something like this, especially since I didn’t know the victim, but it’s like I’m right back there.

http://www.daytondailynews.com/news/news/crime-law/oakwood-girls-murderer-back-town/nfRYH/

FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditDiggStumbleUponEmail

LOS ANGELES TIMES CARTOON: Bruised Egos in Sacramento

Bruised Egos in Sacramento

 

 

 

Anything can be a point of pride. Your local baseball team. The weather. Political corruption.

The genesis of today’s cartoon is a barroom argument I found myself having at least 20 years ago with a Chicagoan. “The Illinois state legislature,” he stated confidently, “is the most corrupt in the country.” I made cases for my home state of Ohio and my adopted home of New York. Overhearing us, a third man approached, loaded for bear, to make clear that anyone who challenged Harrisburg, home of Pennsylvania’s state house, as the stinkiest cesspool in all of American politics would have to deal with him and his voluminous knowledge of the Keystone State’s seemingly infinite list of dirty deeds.

There was never any doubt that this week’s piece would be about Leland Yee, the pro-gun control state senator accused of attempted arms smuggling. As they say, you can’t make these things up. To think that people still ask me where I get my ideas!

“[Yee] held press conferences denouncing violent video games and helped pass legislation in California prohibiting sales of such games to minors. And yet, secretly, he was living the life of a Grand Theft Auto character,” Scott Shackford writes in Reason. Me, I thought Walter White from “Breaking Bad.” Whatever. Hand slaps forehead, jaw drops.

But how do you cartoon a story whose central character is itself a cartoon? Exaggeration isn’t possible; it’s already too extreme.

You can go with straightforward editorializing. “Isn’t it just awful.” “One more reason people don’t trust politicians.” “What a hypocrite.” Trouble is, the ballpeen hammer to the skull approach disproves the cliché that “it’s funny because it’s true.” It’s true — Yee’s alleged misdeeds are awful and do nothing to help citizens feel good about government ­ — but it’s not funny. Nor interesting.

Instead I approached this story through the back door. Inspired by having recently watched the finale of “Breaking Bad,” a show in which viewers are simultaneously appalled by and admiring of a criminal character, I decided to turn the perspective around. Rather than single out Yee as a bad apple (whom, thanks to the FBI, we can feel happy has been extracted from the newly virtuous political gathering in Sacramento), I depict his corrupt colleagues bemoaning their own lack of ambition and scope compared to Yee’s staggeringly over-the-top perfidy. Given the string of recent scandals out of the state capital, from Roy Ashburn (the gay state senator who voted against gay rights, arrested for DUI) to Michael Duvall (the family values conservative caught bragging about his affairs over an open mic), Yee’s arrest does not likely signal a 99-44/100ths pure state assembly.

It makes a bigger point about a more important issue.

With a little luck, it might even make you laugh.

Bitterly laugh, but still.

Appeared originally at The Los Angeles Times.

FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditDiggStumbleUponEmail