In a recent Hugh Eakin New York Books interview, Mark Danner does a masterful job of dissecting the voids, contradictions, and failures of the recent Senate report on the CIA’s torture program.  This interview article, “Our New Politics of Torture,” includes many observations and gems. One comment by Danner, in particular, stuck out because it points to a wider and more profound flaw in modern state sovereignty.  Danner concludes that the major problem with the U.S. torture, or “enhanced interrogation,” program was that it was mostly about our fears and, more exactly, the fears of our officials and leaders in the U.S. state. He states that,

“It’s an epistemological paradox: How do you prove what you don’t know? And from this open question comes this anxiety-ridden conviction that he must know, he must know, he must know. So even though the interrogators are saying he’s compliant, he’s telling us everything he knows—even though the waterboarding is nearly killing him, rendering him “completely non-responsive,” as the report says—officials at headquarters was saying he has to be waterboarded again, and again, because he still hadn’t given up information about the attacks they were convinced had to be coming. They kept pushing from the other side of the world for more suffering and more torture.”

Thus, we tortured because we were so afraid of another attack, of being surprised, of being embarrassed and shamed, of the terrorists! Aside from the idea that our fear is exactly what the terrorists wanted… and achieved, there is another very grave conclusion that we can make. It was not just the CIA that was afraid. The American people were very afraid too. And our state leaders, from Bush to Cheney to Rumsfeld to Congress, were very afraid indeed. Why? Primarily, I think, because terrorism strikes at the achilles heal of modern states, especially Super Powers like the U.S.  All of our weapons systems and armed forces are geared to repel and preempt attacks against us by other nation-states. But this is precisely what terrorism is not.

A Shiite pilrim w flag of martyr Iman HusseinTerrorists have no specific land to call their own. They have no military bases. They have no standing army. They operate without a specific chain of command. They operate like independent cells. There is no easy way to destroy its head, no matter how many drone strikes we deliver to eliminate terrorist leaders. Our missiles sit impotently in their silos. Our ships and planes circle “problem areas” but cannot encounter the enemy. We can spend billions and billions more on Defense, without a noticeable impact on our security.

Global travel, communications, and capital flows makes terrorist location, actions, and intentions so much more difficult to trace and block. The U.S. State is reduced to relying on information, and the CIA, in a much more profound and, ultimately incomprehensible way. The information we need is complicated, dense, unreliable, and often complicated by pesky things like human and constitutional rights. One can sense the exasperation of state leaders. Complaints about constitutionality of the bulk screening of U.S. civilian phone calls and emails are rendered irrelevant by the realization that intelligence officials have no other way of knowing what terrorists are up to. Thus, a recent government report lamented that

“From a technological standpoint, curtailing bulk data collection means analysts will be deprived of some information,” said Robert F. Sproull, the chairman of the committee that examined the problem and a former director of Oracle’s Sun Labs.”

That scares the hell out of state leaders. And thus, like a parent, who cannot get a child to behave with mere words and nagging, state leaders feel compelled to resort to violence. Their hope is that it will deliver the cooperation and information they need to not be embarrassed and shamed… by terrorists. But, ultimately, torture does not work.  It just inflames and expands the terrorism.

An interesting New Yorker article by George Packer explains the reasons behind the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo as a result of the deep alienation of many African immigrants in France. He writes that the product of that alienation is a turn to a religion as politics. Thus he states, “For some believers, the violence serves a will to absolute power in the name of God, which is a form of totalitarianism called Islamism—politics as religion, religion as politics. “Allahu Akbar!” the killers shouted in the street outside Charlie Hebdo. They, at any rate, know what they’re about.” 

Tribute To Victims Killed During Attack At Satirical Magazine Charlie Hebdo At Place De La Republique In Paris

I have no doubt that he is right about how this radical ideological Islamic movement has so powerfully captured the imagination of these immigrant young men. The cause, however, is not the religious ideology. It is the sense of powerlessness felt by these young immigrants, and by non-immigrant young French, caught in maelstrom of the on-going transition from a nationally based economy into something global, more automated, less secure, and requiring higher levels of education. Adding to that is the continuing frustrations of a democratic politics that has been captured by the ultra rich everywhere it claims to exist. Those economic and political transformations affect everybody in modern capitalist countries, but not evenly or without variation.

Terrorism experts everywhere understand that people resort to such violence when they find that other routes towards influencing those around them and the society at large seem closed or ineffective. Terrorism is a tactic used to terrorize a population to accept something (independence, an ideology, religion, etc.) when other methods fail. Thus, terror was used by Irish Catholics, Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolutionaries, Rwandan Hutus, and countless more. States also engage in terror tactics when they sense the population is no longer listening or obedient to the rulers. Thus, dictators like Trujillo in the Dominican Republic, Stalin in the Soviet Union, Tito in Yugoslavia, and many more.

But what makes terror such a prevalent tactic is not only that its users think that other attempted ways to influence policy and politics are not working. Terror is so prevalent because it is so easy to use and to work. Every other form of influencing others requires knowledge about what those others need, want, or desire. In democratic countries, influence comes from following accepted rules and laws (or appearing to) about how to process and channel individual claims and preferences, such as by voting. When we want to influence consumers in a capitalist society, we delve into consumer research with surveys, focus groups, or, more recently, with brain research that identifies how our minds operate. Then we tailor advertising to tap into those discovered preferences or subconscious desires for designer brands, stimulation, sweetness or whatever.

Violence, however, is a method of influencing others that requires very little knowledge of the other party. Nobody has to conduct any expensive research or try to mobilize and organize millions of people. Violence is simple.  In the vast majority of cases, probably 99.9% of all people, we already know that people do not want to be hurt or to die. That makes the threat of violence, like with terrorism, something that is very effective because it is so easy to influence others.

Terrorism, whether it is in France, Iraq, or the U.S., springs not only from the alienated psychological state of some marginalized populations. It springs from the characteristics of what makes coercive force so effective and easy to get. All anyone needs is a gun or bomb or knife or box cutter to get people to obey them…even into permitting their bodies and plane to be used to destroy symbols of Western capitalist power. With rare exceptions, the very vast majority of us are so afraid of harm and death that most threats instill enough fear to either paralyze us or make us more obedient to those dispensing the threat.

Will write more about this later.

There are good reasons why it is racist to focus on bad parenting in black communities as an explanation for their plight. Just as it is absurd to dismiss all charges made by minority people and leaders that racism may be at work in particular incidents. These knee-jerk rejections have little logical or historical support. Poverty is what causes family stress and disintegration. All the data shows, for instance, that marriage rates increase as income and education get higher. That is true in all communities. Divorce is increasing and marriage rates are dropping in the fading white middle class too. Blacks are just a lot poorer than whites… thus, they experience more marriage breakdowns. So, an explanation that claims that it is black family disintegration that explains their economic and social condition is misleading and destructive. It is the other way around.

And I find it funny that conservatives often accuse President Obama or Al Sharpton of stoking “racial hatred” any time they suggest that racism and police brutality are an endemic problem in minority communities. The conservative thinking seems to be that just by uttering some magical words, Black leaders can make “racial hatred” appear out of nowhere!! And yet, the same people adamantly reject the idea that racism from whites towards blacks and Latinos exists at all despite all the CONCRETE evidence SHOWING that they lack proper representation in media, job opportunities, housing, politics, business, education, etc. Thus, real evidence of a racial division counts for a lot less and has much less power than the power of magical words like “police brutality” and “racism” uttered by elected and other Black leaders. Amazing. We now live in a world of magical realism.

The New York Times pubished an article that argued that the CIA choose to torture because of their haste to respond to the attrocities of 9/11.  Aside from the realities that the torturing did not start in earnest till almost a year had passed since 9/11, there is evidence to suggest that torture was not just a hasty decision but rather a critical feature of the Bush administration.

The reason why the U.S. engaged in torture go beyond the CIA, contractors Mitchell and Jensen, President Bush, Vice President Cheney, the Congress, a petrified American people, and an uncritical media. The answer lies in the overarching political strategy and theory of “preemption” that occupied a large contingent of White House officials and that dominated White House decisions and actions after 9/11. That was what I and my co-authors argued in our 2010 book, The Iraq Papers, published by Oxford University Press. Preemption was a strategy advocated by a contingent of neoconservatives that included Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, and Donald Rumsfeld. They had argued for over a decade before 9/11 that the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1Hood_headphones_what_is989 gave the U.S. a singular, supreme Super-power status that could be put to use to fix the world’s problems without opposition from any other power. Preemption meant attacking and defeating opponents even though they may only pose a hypothetical threat. They had approached President Clinton with the idea of toppling Saddam Hussein during his administration without success. They finally succeeded with President Bush because of the 9/11 tragedy.

As we argued in the Iraq Papers, preemption was not only a Bush policy for international affairs. It also permeated domestic policies. Thus, the casual dismissal of our constitutional and ethical safeguards regarding personal privacy, human rights, judicial processes, and democracy. Our moral standards and international law regarding torture were preempted.

Eric Garner and the Police

Posted: December 5, 2014 in Uncategorized

Eric Garner’s killing at the hands of the police is about a lot of things. It is about racism, inequality, and male testosterone.  It is also about bad policing policy.  This came to mind when I read that Rand Paul declared recently that Garner got killed because of the high taxes in New York on cigarettes.

Rand_Paul_5

Paul’s tax lament is that “for someone to die over breaking that law, there really is no excuse for it. But I do blame the politicians, we put our police in a difficult situation with bad laws.” [MSNBC, Hardball12/3/14]

The real issue is not taxes, however.  It is the “Broken Windows” policing policy that has cops out looking for jay walkers, subway sleepers, spitters, open beer-can drinkers, and loose cigarette sellers. Broken Windows policy claims that reducing minor criminal infractions will result in the reduction of major criminal infractions. In practice, it means that police departments push cops to look for, fine, and arrest people for minor infractions. They end up doing this primarily to minorities, homeless, and the poor because they are the low-hanging fruit. This produces an ever increasing number of abusive interactions that often result in tragedy like what happened to Eric Garner.

The New York City Police, for their own malicious reasons, do not provide all the data that would conclusively prove the connections between their policing methods and increasing friction with poor and minority people. But analysis by organizations at the front lines provide estimates that reveals the high degree of terror by police in minority neighborhoods.  As a New York Civil Liberties Union analysis shows, “81% of New Yorkers slapped with a criminal summons between 2001 and 2013 for minor infractions are black or Latino.” Fix the broken policing policies and you will help to radically reduce police killings of innocent and mostly harmless people.

Some conservative websites are recirculating videos of a black man giving a rant on how what happened in Ferguson to Michael Brown, and to black men in general, could have been avoided if black men just took responsibility for their lives. In the video, he says things like:

“Black people it is 2014, hate to break this to you if your life is messed up, it ain’t because of slavery. Your a** was never a slave, you probably ain’t know nobody was a slave, you probably don’t know nobody that knew nobody who was a slave.”

“Civil rights about 50 years ago, we won. It was a fight. We sat, they marched, we won.”

Here is the video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gPUcA7yrErg

Here are a few of things commentators posted about the video:

  • if the other black males felt the same way as he does,,,, black people would rise up and become overall more successful in a single generation,,,, or quicker.

  • Like he said time to clean up! let’s start from the White House!

  • These are the cracks in the facade that Black people need to free themselves from the racism and control that white liberals and their approved black overseers have.

    If the Berlin Wall could be torn down and statues of Lenin pulled down, then maybe there is hope for the Black community.

  • This man says it in a way that ” ‘da brothers (& sisters)” will relate to. We whites got it when Bill Cosby said it alright, but this needs to go “stratospheric.”

  • Well said, Sir! It’s nice to hear people speaking from their intelligence instead of their posterior. Why isn’t this on MSM? Never mind, we ALL know why … it doesn’t fit their agenda! It’s a shame too. I know many people, of many races, colors, religions, and ancestry who think just like this man. We are special because we are Americans … act like it!

I think that white people want to see this guy say these things because it makes them feel better. It confirms their opinion that they have no role to play in this tragedy. But they DO! They want to believe that black people are so stupid as to want to stay in their misery when all they have to do is change their mindset. Hahahaha… That is a big joke. In the vast majority of these cases of police killings, the black man was doing nothing more than minding their own business when confronted by police. The police, like white people in general, are afraid of black men, even when there is no evidence to support the fear. The same people who applaud this man’s rant, will also walk across the street or shrink when they see him in an elevator. We all have to admit it! There is white people’s justice and black people’s justice, and the latter is severe, unjust, and deadly. Take a look at this article: http://www.miamiherald.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/leonard-pitts-jr/article4149075.html

Until we deal with an unjust justice system, we will continue to see these barbaric police crimes.

American politics has become increasingly polarized… even toxic.  Truth may never be a very high goal in political debate, but it is too often proudly rejected as a goal today.  A lot of this has to do with what social psychologists say is ideological confirmation bias.  We tend not to pay much attention to facts that contradict our world view and values.  In fact, opposing facts usually make us hold onto our ideological beliefs even stronger. Which makes my feeble attempts to insert some rational discourse into conservative commentary on issues like the undocumented, “takers”, government spending, and President Obama that much more preposterous.  I can’t help myself.  I read those bizarre and incorrect statements and I respond.  Here are some examples of what I mean.  It comes from a Facebook site called Conservative Daily.  The commentary was in response to a post that claimed that people leaned to Republicans because the Democrats have so wreaked the economy.  It came with a chart, see below, that purports to show that Democratic led states do worse with unemployment than Republican led states.

screen-shot-2014-07-19-at-6.27.34-am

 

 

 

They also provided an “analysis” of what the chart means:

“A quick look at the 5 states on either side of the graph and a brief analysis of their statewide party support is revealing.

High Unemployment states:

  • Mississippi: Strongly Republican – Republican governor and Senators, 75% of their Congressmen are Republican and their state legislature is 55% Republican.
  • Rhode Island: Strongly not Republican – Independent governor, 100% Democratic Senators and Congressmen, and Republicans are only 10% of the state legislature.
  • Nevada: Mixed – Republican governor, Senators and Congressional representation is split down the middle, and the state legislature is 63% Democrat.
  • Michigan: Mixed – Republican governor, Democratic Senators, mixed in the House, and 58% Republican in the legislature.
  • California: Republicans need not apply – Democrat governor and Senators, 75% of those in Congress are Democrats, and Republicans are just under 30% of the state legislature.

Result: Only one “Strongly Republican” state is in the bottom five.

Low Unemployment states:

North Dakota: Strongly Republican – Republican governor, senators are split, Republican House member, and the state legislature is 75% Republican.
Utah: Even stronger Republican presence – Everything is Republican except one House member and 18% of the state legislature.
Vermont: Republicans need not apply – only 32% of the state body is Republican and that’s it.
Nebraska: Most Republican of all – 39% of the state legislature is Democrat and everything else is Republican.
South Dakota: Stongly Republican – one Democratic Senator and only 24% Democratic representation in the state legislature.
Result: Only one Democratic state in the top five.”

Obviously, there is much that is left out of such rudimentary analysis.  States like Michigan have suffered because manufacturing has fled while states like North Dakota have benefited from the discovery of gas and oil energy.  And all states have been able to reduce their unemployment to levels below 8% since the highs of 2008 under Bush.  That is, of course, something that can be attributed to the limited policies that President Obama has been able to institute.  What is more fascinating is the response of Conservative Daily’s members.  Here is a sample:

Gary Ei takers tend to be liberal, workers conservativ

  • Shelly Erickson Wake up America liberal ideas do not work!
    Greg Manger The problem has more to do with overpopulation and lack of industry than it does a states political affiliations. Before I get blasted for being a liberal I will state that I am a republican through and through. However, I feel like the kind of hyperbole that this post boasts is the problem the Republican Party has had over the past 2 decades. Instead always blaming liberals and going as far right as we can, I think we need to get back to some common sense politics and solutions and stop constantly fighting the other side of the isle. Let’s be the bigger people and lead again.
    John Vanis Love poverty? then vote democrat
    Richard Shockley Look at DETROIT!! 50 years of democrat rule!! only bright spot– u can buy a 3000 sq.ft home for 1000 bucks!!
  • Mike Davis Why do people consistently leave out Wyoming. Most conservative state in the US. Lowest tax rate. 7th highest average income in the nation. Highest in personal disposable income in the US.
    Deb Chambers Smith Oh! Maybe you might want to keep the secret and keep WY healthy
    Sylvia Olson Way to go North Dakota!!!
    Christopher Stevens actually population’s role has everything to do with it. they keep electing democrats, err progressives, err socialists.
  • Jenifer Leslie Much of North Dakota (western part at least) is paying over $15 an hour starting wages at places like Menards and fast food restaurants and they still can’t find people to work. People may dis this state, but at least we aren’t broke….and it isn’t just because of the oil industry.
    Alex Kuban More like a connection between lazy and stupid LOL
    Daryl Kirk Clinton didn’t create a good job climate Paul O. Thompson. After the 1st two years of his presidency, the people wanted his nonsense like NAFTA, pressuring banks to give loans to people who couldn’t afford them, and raising taxes stopped. We voted in a conservative Republican Congress headed by Newt Gingrich which put a balanced budget on his desk to sign for several years in a row. Due to that and their easing of regulations and taxes, the economy soared, jobs were created and Clinton took the credit.
    Brandon Vale It’s the same thing here in Canada; the most prosperous provinces are always Conservative. The Left wing provinces always high unemployment, high taxes, and growing debt. With the rise of Liberalism we see the decline of society. Not just North America, but abroad as well
    Brett Watson It’s a fact that states led by Republican or Conservative Governors have better economies and growth than those run by Democrat or Liberal Leaders. The truth hurts!
    Bob Moller I worked in NYC when Democrats ran the city down the drain. Then Republicans and Independents came in and crime rates dropped. Now a Liberatard Dumbocrat is Mayor and crime is up. I worked in Newark New Jersey (Dumbocrats) it was so bad we needed Armed Security Guards to accompany us so we wouldn’t get killed. So tell me how wonderful cities and states are under Dumbocrats
    Mike Stott I have been in Mississippi foe 30 years and not unemployed one time . I would rather be controlled by Republicans than rounded up like an animals to prison camps by our Democratic leaning commie president !
    Ginger Stevens Pelletier Liberals have no morals. They are all liars.
    PamChris Holmes Well Greg, good to hear you are republican. But the states political affiliations are the cause. Liberals-progressive policies along with the lefts over regulation is what kills industry. Unions are funding the lefts policies. The lefts policies are to blame for the 98 week unemployment. Their policies are letting cities die from within. Detroit is a perfect example. Haydays in the 50 and 60’s where industry thrived are dead because of over spending, big government. The American industrial complex is being gutted by The EPA. Energy sources are being made illegal because of the left. Expensive energy, means expensive industry, which means middle class suffering, which means the country suffering, which means the country slows down and stops. All perpetuated by leftist liberal progressive policies. Obama said in2008, “your energy costs are necessarily going to go up”. Combine that with the costs to business of Obama care, it doesn’t pay to own a business. 29 hour work weeks, other reduced benefit packages, no wonder why liberal states are suffering. Greece, Italy, Spain, Russia, and a few others are collapsing from socialist policies. If America keeps going down the socialist, progressive policies, we are doomed as a country!
    Gennan Cameron Carabajal What do they know? The Libtard credo….Keep the People stupid so that they will vote for handouts!!! Tax those who ARE working to death to pay for those handouts. Know nothing about economics and the concept that jobs= revenue!!!
    Stewart Abernathy Hmm? What do you mean states without income tax cant support themselves over the long run? Texas has been running budget surpluses for several years.
    Chris O’Dell and I will say I live in MS and the vast majority of unemployed are democratic/liberal minded people. so even though MS has mostly republican representation this still show the democratic mindset doesn’t work. bad work ethic bad additude, no education no ambition etc….equals poverty level life.
    Jon Nagle Pesky statistics, but the government under the liberal wing just thinks these facts are anomalies. Square pegs in round holes if you just campaign enough and hold enough fund raisers and promise the unemployed free stuff from other people’s pockets. Oh yeh and get some more illegals to shore up your base.
    Dee Richard Liberal socialism does not work!
    Christopher Shaffer Politics and all of those involved, regardless of their political party, are stupid. It’s really that simple. It’s not just one political party which is destroying this once-great nation, it’s all of them.
    Michael Raiborn Devising new taxes & increasing old ones doesn’t create jobs or help anyone but the Feds!!!!! It bankrupts cities!
    Michael Clark All I know is to create jobs, states must make it attractive to the company’s bottom line. Low capital gains taxes and lower regulation. That’s why many companies are moving to Florida and Texas. These companies create jobs and those workers pay taxes and spend their paychecks at other companies…. And so forth.”

 

 As you can see, the commentary is sprinkled with a few rational responses about over-population, loss of industry, and taxation.  But it is dominated by people who simply make ad hominem arguments about “libartards,” Obama, and “socialism.”  Our politics has become so polarized that even Reagan might seem like a liberal today.  When presidential candidate Romney told his big lie in 2012 that 47% of Americans are “Takers” because they paid no federal taxes, he took a position that Ronald Reagan would have rejected.
Romney was talking about people who are too young or old to make enough money to be taxed as well as many more who work but pay little taxes because they have big enough families to claim dependent and other deductions. It is insulting and not true to label them “takers,” as even Ronald Reagan understood.  Reagan was a strong supporter of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).  This tax policy sends checks to Americans who work but earn less than around $46,000 a year, depending on family size. This means that these workers who receive the credit are going to be among those who don’t pay income tax.  Reagan did not see this as a problem. That 1986 tax code reform of the tax code removed 6 million working poor from the tax rolls. Reagan viewed this reform as a “sweeping victory for fairness” and “perhaps the biggest antipoverty program in our history.” But today, this kind of policy and this kind of centrist politics is no longer possible.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.