Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Warped "News" And Legalized Propaganda For U.S. In 2015

Source: "The CIA Must Tell The Truth About My Rendition At 12 Years Old" by Khadija al-Saadi
When I blogged yesterday about how and why people in the U.S. seem to approve of the torture done in their name and with their tax support, I can't believe I forgot to include a link to this great piece by Glenn Greenwald: "U.S. TV Provides Ample Platform For American Torturers, But None For Their Victims" [emphasis mine].

Greenwald explains the information management that leads U.S. consumers into fear and ignorance and keeps them there. The non-white Other who is deemed deserving of torture is almost never heard from in corporate media. Only those who ordered or defend the torture are given a voice.
Gul Rahman froze to death in a CIA prison. Photograph: AP
Source: The Guardia
n "Rectal rehydration and waterboarding: the CIA torture report's grisliest findings"
There is a danger to the manufactured consent for torture in hearing from victims. A victim might reveal, like Maher Arar, that he was found innocent after all those months of torture. Or that she might reveal, like Khadija al-Saadi, that she was rendered by the CIA as a child and used, along with her younger siblings, to pressure her dissident father as he was tortured in Libya. 

I started my day with this bracing overview of the ways in which the U.S. public has been misled about another international crisis, the one in Ukraine -- where we are backing neo-Nazi militias in a power struggle on Russia's border. Patrick Smith writing in Slate focuses on the New York Times disinformation campaign which has falsely portrayed Russia's Putin as the aggressor. The NYT has now done an about face and admits that NATO was the aggressor all along. Acting as so-called "media clerks" to the U.S. State Department, those parrots for the Pentagon, apparently does not result in accurate news reporting. Big surprise!

There's a lengthy delay in most truth leaking out to the public, and that delay is undoubtedly deliberate. By the time some real facts emerge the news cycle has exhausted that topic and is on to the next. That the U.S. tortures people to death is a documented fact! Yawn, says the U.S. public.

The only current "news" that interests most is who won the game last night, and which celebrity is in the hall of shame.

I am extremely thankful to still have the Internet and a robust network of information streaming my way via activist friends who spend a lot more time reading than I can. Of course my news is filtered like anyone else's, and there is a Twilight Zone effect created by the gap of months or even years between what I learn from my news providers and when this information finally emerges in corporate media.

In my idealistic youth I wanted to be a journalist. This feeling stirs again sometimes when I see real journalists at work, as in the film citizenfour which depicts in real time the struggle for Edward Snowden to bring his truth to light with the help of journalists.

He actually respects the journalists' craft, and does not mistake his own expertise in accessing and evaluating the significance of information with effectively disseminating it to the public. (It's good that Snowden recognized his own strengths and weaknesses. Cloak and dagger spying is not a strong suit; it would be hard to find a more feeble attempt at disguise, for example, as he prepares to exit the hotel in Hong Kong where he has been hiding.)

Another nugget of information that slipped the news cycle: an amendment in the NDAA bill for FY13 that nullified the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948 and the Foreign Relations Act of  1987. This effectively legalized propaganda for consumption by the U.S. public. (In addition to the $2 billion spent annually to convince youngsters that the military is a good career choice, that is.) Taxpayer supported, of course. 

Are U.S. consumers really willing to pay their own government to lie to them? Probably not, but only if they know about it.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Do U.S. People Approve Of Torture Because Victims Are Non-White Or Non-Christian?

Burial of the dead at the battle of Wounded Knee, S.D. U.S. Soldiers putting Indians in common grave; some corpses are frozen in different positions. South Dakota. c1891 Jan. 17. Northwestern Photo Co. (Trager & Kuhn) Chadron, Neb. (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division) 
The most shocking and dispiriting news of 2014 was not the release of several hundred pages of executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee's investigation of CIA torture programs. It is indeed horrible but I already knew about most of it -- even if my senators wanted to pretend that they did not.

The worst news was also not the release late on Christmas Eve of the NSA's redacted internal investigation findings of gross misconduct by the surveillance apparatus we fund as part of the Pentagon's annual 50+ percent share of the federal budget. (Thanks, ACLU, for filing a Freedom of Information Act request so we could see at least some of this.)

I have read enough history of empires -- Elizabethan, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman spring to mind -- to know that spying is seldom subject to meaningful oversight and is often used for personal gain or retribution. Humans are frail creatures, suspicious and jealous, and if they think their spouse is cheating on them or they feel wronged by someone at work, it doesn't surprise me that they might begin searching another person's personal communications or private data.

Most people think ethics and laws are situational anyway. If a person is guilty of wrongdoing, that person has lost some of their rights. Right? Because if you're not doing anything wrong, why should you care that someone in the Pentagon -- or, more likely, working for a private contractor -- can read your emails or listen in on your phone calls. Right?

This kind of thinking quickly crosses the line into the murky zone where the "wrong kind" of people have fewer rights than others.

This brings me to the most alarming and discouraging news of 2014: that most people surveyed in the U.S. approve of torture.

Ok, they have been subjected to hundreds of hours of propaganda selling them on the false notion that torture produces useful information.

But the real bottom line is that they do not expect their child or other family member to be subjected to torture. Why this naïve expectation? Because most Americans are white, and most Americans are not Muslim.

An illuminating documentary that examines how early and comprehensive is the campaign to demonize this Other that could be deserving of torture in the right circumstances is Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People. Young people I watch this film with tend to be most horrified by the role of beloved Disney films in subtly creating racism.

As for the anti-Muslim bias it is well to remember that Islam is practiced by people of all sorts of colors and physical appearance, but that outward signs like a woman in a headscarf

(no, not this kind of headscarf)

(this kind of headscarf)

draw plenty of prejudice and hostile behavior.

Most respondents to a poll on torture have their minds made up and are not open to being confused by facts. 

Such as the twenty key findings in the Senate's report:
(Katie Park and Laris Karklis/Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency's Detention and Interrogation Program.)  Source: Washington Post
Perhaps the long tradition of violence against Native Americans lays the groundwork for approving of torture. Jamelle Bouie writing for Slate provided context in his post "Of course Americans are OK with torture. Look at how we treat our prisoners." People in the U.S. who aren't white are vastly more likely to be arrested, convicted, and sentenced to long prison terms that often include the casual use of torture methods like prolonged solitary confinement.

So that's my most discouraging news of 2014. 

The most encouraging? The multiple, vigorous and unstoppable uprisings for racial justice all over this wounded nation. Leadership from quite young people, especially girls, and of people color and their allies -- many of them athletes -- has been amazing. I look forward to listening to them and working as an ally in 2015.
Los Angeles activists shut down a freeway after the release of the autopsy report on yet another unarmed black man shot by police. Victim Ezell Ford was known to suffer from mental illness.

Lewiston, Maine Friday, Dec. 12, 2014 Walk For Justice, Walk For Peace #BlackLivesMatter

Mendocino High School Girls Varsity players:(Front row, left to right): Aimee Gordon, Naomi Baker, Sunny Scott. (Back row) Isobell Hall and Michaela Hubbard. [Photo from Mendocinosportsplus.] 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Obama Refused To Meet Moms Of Sons Killed By Police #BlackLivesMatter

Moms of sons slain by the police visit the U.S. Dept. of Justice.

Congressional staffers of color walked off the job to protest police brutality and to demand justice. Many of the staffers hugged moms of slain sons who were in Washington DC to speak out.
Hosted by Mothers Against Police Brutality, CODEPINK, National Congress of Black Women and Hands Up DC Coalition, mothers who have lost their children to police brutality traveled to Washington DC from December 9-11 to call for police accountability, policy reform and justice for victims’ families. 

Eternal pain forces mothers of slain black men to speak out for policing changes, The Washington Post, December 11, 2014

Mothers recount sons' deaths; protests go on, Click2houston, December 10, 2014

USA Today — 5 Things to know for Wednesday (Mentions Wanda Johnson), USA Today, December 10, 2014

Monday, December 8, 2014

Calling Out White Privilege Isn't Pigeonholing: A Glossary Of Terms

Voices of Grief and Struggle: Public Forum for Mothers
Coming to DC to Demand Police Accountability

Dec 9-11, Washington DC
With so much debate swirling around racial injustice in the U.S., people of color are suggesting that it's time for white people to have conversations -- with each other -- about racism and white privilege.

In these often hostile discussions it's become clear to me that people are using the two terms interchangeably, if as they meant the same thing.

Everyone is free to define words they use in their own way, so this is my glossary of basic terms and what they mean when I use them to post on social media.

This is the belief that certain things are true of entire large groups of people who share a similar appearance. For example, the claim that a group of people who appear to be the same race are naturally hard-working or naturally lazy would be an example of racism. It often goes along with the belief that certain races are inferior or superior to other races.
Source: "A woman stands in the rain near a taxi going by on Broadway in lower Manhattan June 18, 2009 New York City." This experience has been described as destination discrimination.
Institutional Racism
This is the expression of racism through structures of government and society that preference certain races and disadvantage others. It might be seen in schools and universities, in hiring practices, or in policing. For example, my friend Janet Weil was arrested in San Francisco protesting the Eric Gardner grand jury decision along with lots of other people who were shutting down Market Street. Police arrested all the young men of color first and only then began arresting the older white women, even though the women were facing off at the police line side by side with the men.

White Privilege
This is a result of racism that preferences white people such that all people who appear to be white experience certain advantages in society, whether they recognize it or not. One does not need to act racist, sound racist, or hold racist views in order to experience the advantages of white privilege. For example, a taxi cab will stop for you but not for the well-dressed African American professional standing on the same block as you also trying to hail a cab. Another example: when I lived in Tokyo in the 1983, my Japanese friends were denied admittance to a trendy nightclub while I was waved through by the doorman.

My father explained white privilege to me when I was still quite young by saying, "You are white. That does not make you better than other people, but it does make you luckier -- because there are a lot of advantages to being white in our country." For example, when my teenage son goes skateboarding in the middle of the road at 2am and the police stop him, they do not kill him or arrest him but instead issue him a ticket. This is the outcome even though my son fails to apologize and even argues with the officer while failing to address him as "sir."

Privilege is often invisible to those benefiting from it, and systems of information control are designed to keep it that way. One way I have heard this described is, "He was born on third base but thinks he hit a triple."

This is the concept that all struggles for justice and self-determination are connected and must act with awareness of one another to be effective.  For example, feminism cannot be for white women only, and it weakens itself when it focuses exclusively on matters pertaining to privilege, such the glass ceiling for female executives. The term was coined and subsequently elaborated by Kimberlé Crenshaw, an African American law professor, in 1989.

Economic Privilege
Much economic privilege attaches to white privilege. A glance at the relative net worth of black, brown and white people in the U.S. attests to this. Of course there are economically disadvantaged people of every race struggling to get by in these times of galloping austerity. Poor white people still have white privilege, but it can be hard for them to perceive this as the war against the poor rages on, and their families suffer.

This is how we define ourselves. It is inherently unjust to assign identities to other people. For example, many people object to being assigned to one of two genders at birth and then pressured into conforming to other people's expectations of that gender for life.

This usually means assigning an identity to someone else in such a way that it excludes the other facets of their self-chosen identity. For example, calling someone a dumb blonde is attaching a label that reduces the person to a stereotype based on appearance.

This means the same thing as labeling, with extra emphasis on the restrictive nature of the label. For example, calling someone a liberal as if this carried with it a whole set of beliefs and behaviors that could then be assumed.

This is a contrived identity applied to all members of a certain group, whether it fits those people or not. For example, it is a common stereotype that wealthy people are greedy.
Dr. Henry Louis Gates being arrested on the porch of his home in Cambridge, Mass. Source: Wikipedia
The belief that some things or ideas or people are more valuable than other things, ideas or people. Facts and further evidence do not tend to have an effect where prejudice is already entrenched. For example, police insist on arresting a Harvard professor whose front door has jammed for breaking into his own house.

This is unequal treatment of an individual or group, and could be either advantageous or not. For example, once racial quotas were introduced into college admissions to redress institutional racism, some white people claimed this made them victims of reverse discrimination.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Militarized Policing, School Lockdowns And Our Culture Of Violence

Source: Debra J. Groom blogging on
"School district officials wanted to alert district residents that there were no problems today at Oswego High School or Leighton Elementary School. Five state police vehicles were parked along Buccaneer Boulevard Friday, Nov. 3, but were there as the New York State Police Troop D canine units conducted training at the high school while providing a community service to the district."
Yesterday we stood in freezing rain outside of Bath Iron Works for an hour during the shift change. Aside from the ankle deep slush it was warming to be standing with the Smilin' Tree Disarmament Farm organizers of the annual Advent series of vigils outside the gates where weapons of mass destruction are made by hard-working Mainers.

Some of the workers were quite angry to see us while others exchanged friendly greetings with Bath resident Bruce Gagnon, a regular outside the gates when the shifts change. Hundreds walked or drove by Bruce's sign: "Zumwalt Provocative Expensive" referring to General Dynamics' (the corporation that owns BIW) latest product. One worker assured Bruce that "Ships protect the peace, ships keep us safe." Bruce politely disagreed, noting that the Zumwalt is a first strike weapon.
Maine's entire Congressional delegation paying homage at the launch of a $4 billion Zumwalt destroyer last April at BIW.
While standing I had time to connect with peaceworker Jane, who is 83 years old and can hold a sign for an hour in freezing rain without wearing gloves. Jane recently moved to Maine from Vermont, where she worked extensively in counter recruitment in the schools. Military recruiters in public schools use local, state and federal tax support to provide access to teenagers and sometimes even children younger than that. It's one of the ways education dollars are redirected to support the aims of our highly militarized and violent culture.

Another way came to light when we circled up at the end of the vigil. A vigiler who works at Rockland High School told us that she came out of her office this week to find the school was in lockdown mode. These are drills which are supposed to keep students and staff safe in the event of a school shooting. However, this drill went far beyond locking doors and closing window shades.

Every student was ordered to line up his or her backpack in the halls and then hide in a classroom while police moved through the packs with several police dogs trained to sniff out drugs. None were found, nor did the school have information that any would be found. Just a drill, folks. The dogs also sniffed the cars in the parking lot, including those of the adults who work there. A warrantless search that, again, found nothing. It seems clearly designed to scare people, and the woman who told us about it indeed reported that she found police dogs sweeping through the halls very intimidating.

At least one school board member has raised questions about the drill, as reported in the Bangor Daily News on Dec. 5:
Rockland police, assisted by canines and their handlers from the Knox County Sheriff’s Office and Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office, took about 45 minutes to search for drugs, said Rockland police Detective Sgt. Chris Young. He said students were instructed to take their backpacks and leave them in the middle of the hallway outside their classrooms and then return to class. 
The dogs came through and sniffed the lockers and backpacks, he said. One of the dogs detected something in a backpack, which was opened, but no illegal substances were found...
The school-wide search was done at the request of principal Renee Thompson. Thompson said that there had not been problems with drugs at the school, but she wanted to be proactive and send the message to students and the community that there is a zero tolerance for drugs on campus.
Also zero tolerance for the Constitution, apparently. Hope the U.S. government students don't get those questions wrong on the AP exams they weren't studying for while helping police and sheriffs practice teaming up to intimidate an entire student body.

If, like me, you're keeping tabs on the creep of fascism in the USA, you could note that your rights are checked at the door when you enter a school run by the likes of Principal Thompson. Or Oswego High School in New York, or who knows how many others with militarized police and county sheriff's departments bringing in dogs for your "safety."

If you're in Maine you can join  the Smilin' Trees Disarmament Farm's annual Advent peace vigils at Bath Iron Works (BIW) on December 13 and 20.  Folks meet from 11:30am on Washington Street in front of the BIW administrations building. 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

We Will Remember (Plessy v.) Ferguson, We will Remember Brown (v. Board of Edu)

I don't know why it took me so long to notice the eerie resonance between names of the landmark Supreme Court cases on institutional racism and the watershed event of Mike Brown's execution in Ferguson, Missouri. Last night at a book group of girls and women a teacher handed out some background on the two historic rulings, and seeing the words in print finally jogged my brain into making the connection. 

Plessy v. Ferguson established the odious concept of "separate but equal" public facilities being constitutional in 1896, beginning with a ruling by Judge Ferguson of the Criminal District Court of New Orleans, the Louisiana Supreme Court and SCOTUS following suit. Jim Crow segregation laws, lynching and suppression of voting rights were in full swing. Mr. Plessy had tried to sit in a train car reserved for white privilege and had been arrested.

Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas overturned the legal basis of segregation in public schools in 1954. The SCOTUS ruled that "separate but equal" in education was a denial of equal protection under the law as guaranteed by the 14th Amendment. Oliver Brown was a father who brought suit on behalf of his daughter, Linda Brown, who had to commute a long way to her segregated school because the local school was reserved for white privilege.

Now for years to come students will learn about the turning point in U.S. race relations that Mike Brown and Ferguson, Missouri have come to represent. Mike Brown was far from the first young man of color to be executed with impunity by a white policeman. Why should that particular wrongful death become the tipping point? 

It could be because his body was left lying in the street, riddled with bullets, in view of his family home. That act of cruelty and disrespect has sparked outrage and various protests to highlight the fact.  

From Buzzfeed:
On Saturday, November 29, 2014, days after the Grand Jury Decision, Knox College Women’s Basketball Player Ariyana Smith bravely held a one woman demonstration at the Knox College v. Fontbonne University game held in Clayton, MO.  During the singing of the national anthem, Ariyana walked with her hands up towards the American flag and fell to the ground for a full 4.5 minutes to bring awareness to the inhumane killing of Michael Brown in which his body was left to lay on a neighborhood street for 4.5 hours.

It could be because the Grand Jury that failed to indict Officer Darren Wilson to stand trial for Brown's death was conducted with such blatant bias and such poor application of due process. It's far from the first time that has happened, either.

Maybe the outrage that just won't stop is a sign of the times. Times in which neoliberals (e.g. presidental wannabe Hillary Clinton, who has said exactly nothing about the travesty of justice in Ferguson) are soundly trounced in midterm elections because liberal voters in vast numbers were too disillusioned to go to the polls.

Times in which white liberals are hopping mad at being called out on their white privilege. "I'm not racist!" they squeal, as if it were the same thing. They organized with black radicals fifty years ago! They're poor, too! Essentially they're angry because electing the first African American president did not deliver the "Get out of racism free card" they believed it did. (Like the reforms of the 60's and 70's were supposed to have ushered in a post-racist America. Uh huh, right.)
Clay Jones at  
But here's a theory: maybe Mike Brown's emblematic death became a watershed moment in the U.S. precisely because words matter, and they resonate deep in our unconscious where memories, fears and guilt roil.

Now and for the future, we will remember Ferguson and we will remember Brown.

Help get moms of young men of color who have been killed by the police to Washington DC on December 10 to confront lawmakers. Donate to support their trip.

Read their stories here: